Children’s books for Advent and Christmas — and a gem or two illustrated by Ned Bustard ON SALE NOW

As promised, here are a handful of picture books for children.  Some are brand new, a few are imported, a couple are reprises of favorites from Christmas past.

And then, hang on, as I’ll tell you about two other recent releases featuring artwork by beloved Lancaster area artist, Ned Bustard.  More on that, soon.

So, a dozen or so nice choices for the little ones you love. (And you can always search the archived BookNotes columns to see older reviews and recommendations we’ve done in the past.) .

All of these show the regular retail price. We’ll deduct 20% off when you order. You can use the secure order form page by clicking the link at the bottom of this post or give us a call.

The Christmas Promise (board book) Alison Mitchell & Catalinea Echeverri (The Good Book Company) $7.99  We love the “Tales That Tell the Truth” series from this gospel-centered, British publisher, and we happily stock them all. (The most recent in this series by the same writer/artist team, by the way, in the standard 8 x 10 hardback size, is called Jesus and the Lions’ Den: A True Story about How Daniel Points Us to Jesus and is quite nice.) The Christmas Promise has been a staple for us as it highlights this profound theological insight that the Incarnation and Christ’s birth is a part of a story of promise, and God is faithful to the plot of the redemptive story. The standard one sells for $14.99 but, this year, they did the book in an inexpensive, smaller board book, and it’s very cool.  Yay.

The Christmas Promise Advent Calendar and Family Devotional  (The Good Book Company) $9.99  Oh, my, this is the same colorful, upbeat, but substantive approach as the book and/or board book, but in a contemporary Advent calendar and activity book. There is also a 32-page family devotional guide based on the book. This is great.

 

 

 

 

The Hoity Toity Angel Caroline Hoile, illustrated by Hazel Quintanilla (SPCK) $9.00  Ya  just gotta love a book that has “hoity toity’ in the title.  And it so works. You see, when the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary, the Hoity Toity Angel is not at all impressed — Mary isn’t even a Princess! As it says on the back cover, “And, later, how can her baby possibly be a king when he’s just been born in a scruffy old stable?”

One doesn’t have to be a high-class, upstairs, Downton Abby snoot to need this reminder. Looks and prestige and status are not most important and things aren’t always as they seem. A proud angel who thinks this manger stuff is a bit too mundane? Maybe we all could learn this lesson.

The Night of His Birth Katherine Paterson, illustrated by Lisa Aisato (Flyaway Books) $18.00  This may be one of the very best new seasonal books with lush and truly beautiful art and an eloquent, well-told rendering of the heart of the classic Christmas story. You may know of Katherine Paterson, a Newberry Award winner and one of the most esteemed (and beloved) YA authors of the last 40 years or so. She was born in China to Presbyterian missionary family and has served the church for decades (even having done some YA curriculum.) This is a story in her own style that appeared in a Presbyterian woman’s magazine maybe in the 80s, and it has been one of their most popular pieces used, read, reprinted, sought out. The poetic text is mostly about Mary pondering the newborn baby, looking so carefully and expressing such joy, knowing he is somehow God’s gift to the world. What a treat to take this wonderfully tender storytelling of the nativity night and pair it with exquisite, striking, and somewhat artfully modern wash. Aisato is an artist and children’s book author herself whose distinctive work has been published around the world. Highly recommended.

Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Alison Joy (Zonderkidz) $16.99 or Board Book, $7.99  Forgive me for highlighting this once again — we do every year because it is so very good. It is subdued, yet passionate, simple — with an Americana sort of art, it seems rural, almost — and yet teaching the big, big truth that the whole creation gets in on this whole redemptive plan of God; even the animals realize that this is something they should care about. It has a touch of whimsy but it isn’t goofy. It has class, but yet isn’t stuffy. The art is expansive, the text beautiful, the simple allusive theology utterly pregnant with vast implications. We love this book, both the nice hardback and the smaller board book, although we favor the larger, bolder impact of the regularly sized 9 x 11″ one. If you order, tell us which you prefer.

Here is the author reading the book herself. Check it out and then send us an order!

The Worst Christmas Ever Kathleen Long Bostrom, illustrated by Guy Porfirio (Flyaway Books) $17.00 Well, with this vivid, colorful cover of the wide eyed boy and his wide eyed dog, you know something is up. On the back cover there is spare art and one sentence reading, “Needed: One Christmas miracle.” You know your kid is going to want to know what’s up.

Bostrom has done tons of lovely and often quite thoughtful religious books for children and is well respected in mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, and evangelical Christian education circles. She’s thoughtful and knows how to write important stuff in ways little ones, even fiesty little ones, will understand. Giving her this task — the “worst Christmas ever” schtick — is a fantastic idea. Kudos to Flyaway Books (the publishing arm of the Presbyterian Church USA.) We’re pleased with this fun book and you will be, too, especially as you learn the touching plot. Matthew and his family have moved to California and he is upset that it appears that there won’t be Christmas trees or snow this holiday season. And his dog, Jasper, has disappeared.  He has a little sister Lucy who has faith that things will work out, and, who knows, maybe the surprising events of Christmas eve will change everything — helping this new place feel like home, after all.

To give you a hint, it has to do with the family’s involvement in their church’s Christmas pageant. The scenes of the family and restless kids in the pew holding their little candles and drip guards is just so perfect. The reunion with Jasper is sweet, too. This is a book for anyone who feels ill at ease this Christmas, or who just wants a good story about a family who actually goes to church on Christmas eve.  Vivid, touching, fun. We recommend it.

`That Baby in the Manger Anne Neuberger, illustrated by Choloe Pitkoff (Paraclete Press) $15.99  This is one we’ve raved about before, a beautifully told and beautifully illustrated story of a Catholic school where the first-graders are gathering around the manger scene. The ethnically diverse school children realize that the baby jesus doesn’t look like them and an ingenious priest invites them to… well, you’ll have to read this lovely solution that reminds us all that Jesus came for everyone. This book is a delight and can open doors for all kinds of conversations about faith and race and ethnicity and God’s incarnation.

Santa’s Favorite Story: Santa Tells the Story of the First Christmas Hisako Aiki & Ivan Gantschev (Simon & Schuster) $9.99  I think when we discovered this nice hardback decades ago, it was for many of our young parent peers a godsend — so artful, international, clever, done in soft watercolors with some pleasant, unique touches. Mostly, though, it was an answer to the perennial quandary: what to do about Santa? Here’s the simple answer this book so artfully offers: in the story, Santa himself has to gather the animals around to insist to them that he is not what Christmas is all about. So we have it, from Santa’s own authority, as he tells the reindeer, that the story of Jesus is what it is all about! This is a nuanced and delightful approach that is less tacky and blunt than that one showing a ceramic Santa Claus bowing piously before the manger, but I suppose the sentiment is the same. This beautiful book really works, without feeling preachy or overwrought.

The Shepherd Who Couldn’t Sing Alan Barker, illustrated by Thea Baker (SPCK) $9.00  We introduced this last year and our customers loved it, so we thought we’d announce it again.  Here is what it says on the back:

Jake is a shepherd boy on the hills of Bethlehem, and he loves taking care of his sheep. He’s not afraid of the dark or of the wolves who wait in the shadows, but he is afraid of singing!

One night, he is greeted by a host of angels, singing of a special baby’s birth. With such good news to tell, will Jake be able to find his voice and join in the song?

And here is what I’d add: the soft blue artwork makes this both evocative and pleasant; the artwork on the shepherds robes seem to be cut out of real cloth, so stand out in a way that reminds us this is a Middle Eastern story. And then there is this surprising sort of glee, the question of the song. I don’t have to tell you that this becomes a big open question for children and those reading the story: will we join in? Can we find our voice and sing our part?? What a great, great question, worth much more than the price of this handsome children’s book.

The Sleepy Shepherd Stephen Cottrell, illustrated by Chris Hagan (SPCK) $10.00  I’m not sure what I said about this last year to make it such a popular selection, but it was a big seller for us as folks enjoyed the great art, the great story, pitched on the cover as “a timeless retelling of the Christmas story.” I suppose sleeping through the excitement is something many can relate to.  But this story goes deeper (and has more text making it suitable for older readers.)

Silas is the shepherd boy who fell asleep on the job. Years later he meets Jesus and is there on Palm Sunday. Later, (spoiler alert) the grown man Silas watches over a scene while some friends of Jesus themselves fall asleep while in a garden called Gethsemane and things come full circle. I dare you not to be touched and moved as Silas recognizes Jesus and, this time, stays awake. Although mostly a Christmas story, it tells a bit of holy week and the death and resurrection of Christ. After some bright spreads of full color pages, we learn of Silas’s joy when he hears of the resurrection. The last line reads, “This really is worth staying awake for.” Highly recommended.

Kristoph and the First Christmas Tree Claudia Cangilla McAdam, illustrated by Dave Hill (Paraclete Press) $16.99 This is a large sized picture book and tells in marvelous prose and vivid art the story of a young orphan who is accompanying the missionary priest Boniface through the German countryside. The year is 722 A.D.  If this doesn’t interest you, well, I’d invite you to give it a try anyway. Or, maybe you are the kind who thinks, “You had me at 722.”) I think kids need these kinds of old, old stories. This one is pretty powerful.

Not sure if you know this bit of legend but Boniface comes upon a group of people in the forest worshipping an oak tree and preparing to sacrifice a son of the village chieftain. As the book promises on the back cover, “What happens next recalls the legend of how evergreen trees became part of the celebration of Christmas.”

As Kathleen Pelley (author of Raj the Bookstore Tiger) writes, this “tender tale told in lyrical language and illustrated with old world charm… reminds us that we are called to be beacons of hope and grace and light amidst the darkness.” Nicely done, although the pagans do seem a bit frightening, like a comic book wild man. Probably pretty realistic.

Home By Another Way Barbara Brown Taylor, illustrations by Melanie Cataldo  (Flyaway Books) $18.00 Here is what I wrote last year when we laid eyes on the eagerly awaited book by BBT.

When one of our most beloved and interesting preachers and writers teams up with an excellent, talented illustrator to re-tell one of her famous seasonal sermons, you’d expected it to be much anticipated and much discussed. And this certainly is. Surely one of the most beautifully-illustrated children’s books of the year, it is great addition to the library of anyone who collects Christmas books. It’s a bit odd, even funny at times, but so many holiday books are. It’s part of the fun, I think, re-telling and re-imagining these great, classic stories. And how she puts us right onto the quirky camel rides of these three mystics from the East. Great for after Advent.

Miracle on 10th Street: And Other Christmas Writings Madeleine L’Engle (Convergent) $15.00   I wanted to list in my earlier Advent devotional post this lovely new edition of the great collection of L’Engle’s seasonal writings but wasn’t sure. Some of these collected entries are stories, even stories that older children would appreciate. Some of it is poetry, and much is about Christmas and Epiphany and also general essays on the incarnation. I wasn’t sure it was an adult Advent devotional.

But I’m not sure it is mostly for families with children, either, although some of it surely is. I can’t say how you might use this, but I have to celebrate it, and happily recommend it to you. There are stories and essays and poems and Biblical reflections and more stories in Miracle on 10th Street. We so respected Madeleine and cherish the stories of those friends who knew her. And we do love her Christmas work — it it so very interesting and edifying, made more so when framed by thewonderfully-written introductory essay in this new version by Diana Butler Bass, who honors her well in her lengthy foreword.

I like that this new cover matches her other adult holiday collection, Bright Evening Star: Mystery of the Incarnation which I have mentioned before. Thanks to Random House’s Convergence imprint for bringing us new editions of many of L’Engle’s great works. We have ’em all.  Cheers!

AND THESE TWO FABULOUS NEW CHILDREN’S BOOKS ILLUSTRATED BY NED BUSTARD

I hope you know the name of our friend and Hearts & Minds supporter, Ned Bustard. He is a Lancaster-based artist, a professional graphic designer, the managing editor of the acclaimed Square Halo Books, and a leader in the world of organizations like CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts.) His clever linographs — sort of like woodcuts — grace several books, including Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books and the exceptional, one-of-a-kind prayer book Every Moment Holy (Rabbit Room Books) and several children’s books.

Bible History ABCs: God’s Story from A to Z  Stephen Nichols, illustrated by Ned Bustard (Crossway) $16.99  Quite recently, Crossway released Bible History ABCs and we are so happy about it. Mr. Nichols, the head of Ligonier Ministries, did the writing and our pal, Ned, did the artwork, although I suspect they collaborated plenty. It’s a colorful and smart ABC book, about 8 x 8 in size, just like their previous Reformation ABCs: The People, Places, and Things of the Reformation–From A to Z. (The first collaboration between these zany, Reformed Presbyterian guys was the must-have, but oversized, Church History ABCs: Augustine and 25 Other Heroes of the Faith.) There is so much happening in these bright books that even adults will be delighted and informed by their third or fourth reading as more hidden stuff becomes evident.

We appreciate not only the clever art and intentional effort, but also that this isn’t just a random ABC book of random Bible facts; that has been done often. This is, as they themselves put it, about “the story of God’s promises” and has this emphasis of helping kids see the flow of the unfolding drama of Scripture and its coherent plot. Nichols even has his own book about this very thing and it’s good. (See his Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, and Living God’s Word.)

Each letter in Bible History ABCs (as it explains on the back cover):

“…briefly introduces an important concept from the story of the Bible and is accompanied by corresponding Scripture passages, whimsical illustrations, and images of classical fine art from church history — all to help children see how their lives are part of the bigger story God is telling throughout the Bible.”

Oh yes, we need this approach, we need this blend of whimsey and fine art, and we need this kind of colorful, modern way to introduce a coherent approach to the Biblical story. A few of the pictures are oddly of people from times/contexts other than the Bible (like the cover, for instance and the inexplicable guy in the letter H) which will have to be discussed, making this all the more interesting. Enjoy!

The Light Princess George MacDonald, illustrations by Ned Bustard (Rabbit Room Press) $18.00  Those who have followed Hearts & Minds for decades know that we used to feature lots of the great novels — children’s and Victorian adult novels — of the brilliant writer, orator, preacher, and artiste, George MacDonald. (Many know of how C.S. Lewis even edited an anthology of his favorite MacDonald quotes.) Sadly, many editions of many MacDonald books have been dropped by legitimate publishers and few stellar editions of his volumes are readily available.  We are so, so glad that the classy and fun Rabbit Room crew of Rabbit Room Press released a new edition of the fairy story The Light Princess. 

This really is an exquisite edition, with a blue leather-over-board creation very much like their lush Every Moment Holy prayer book. Bustard’s art is, I believe, a style of relief printmaking. As Ned put it in an interview about his work Every Moment Holy, “The pieces were made using linoleum so they are called linocuts (in the same way that if they were made using wood they’d be called woodcuts.)”

Jennifer Trafton wrote an excellent foreword for which we can be grateful — what a gift to be reminded of the former renown of the Scottish author who has been so esteemed by everyone from Mark Twain to James Barrie to Maurice Sendak to Madeleine L’Engle, and how nice to have this story framed by this good background introduction.

Head Rabbity author and singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson did a fabulous afterword to this edition of The Light Princess. He writes about being “Gobsmacked” and reminds us of the Tolkien-Lewis-MacDonald-esque vision of true myths. Peterson writes,

MacDonald’s “The Light Princess” reminds us that the world is an unsettling place, and mystery clouds the corners of our days.That means strange and terrible things are bound to happen, whooshing in from the dark periphery without warning… But mystery also means that grace and light can come whooshing in, too, so you might as well keep an eye out.”

Kudos to all at Rabbit Room Books for doing this lovely edition of this great old tale. But we offer special hat tips to Mr. Bustard for his playful linographs, his titling characters, and his other design work on the volume, making it a most handsome, almost exquisite, edition.

In the foreword, Trafton writes about Bustard and what his art contributes to the book:

Artist Ned Bustard has paid homage to all the multilayered themes and resonances in MacDonald’s writing by threading visual symbols throughout the illustrations like little Easter eggs for you to discover. Some are images drawn from centuries of Christian iconography — seashells, dolphin, anchor, bread, wine, and more. He’s also hidden objects and elements from some of MacDonald’s other fantasy stories, such as The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and Curdie, “The Golden Key,” and Lilith. To those of you who’ve read these other stories: look carefully! Do you spot the allusions?

So, enjoy some good children’s picture books — whether they are holiday themed ones, or fun, classy ones like these two on which Mr. Bustard recently worked. We have so many more in many categories (and will be doing another BookNotes column on kid’s books soon.) Call us if you need more help — we’re always eager to serve you well with our best ideas. We’re open every day but Sunday and you can call 717-246-3333.

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Hearts & Minds ADVENT BOOK SALE 2019 — and a special expedited shipping offer (one week only.) ALL BOOKS ON SALE 20% OFF

TWELVE NEW ADVENT RESOURCES AND SOME OLDER CLASSICS (and an offer for some bargain pricing on expedited shipping, good until Novermber 30th.)

I know these Advent recommendations are a bit late coming for some of you so here’s what we’ll do. For an order from this list placed here through our website (or by phone or email) this week only, we’ll upgrade your shipping to “Priority Mail” charging you just $5.00, no matter the size of the package. We’ll cover the rest to get a shipment of Advent resources to you in just a few days. (Sorry, this is just good for our US customers since international shipping is more complicated.)

We will describe some children’s Advent and Christmas books in another BookNotes soon.

Know anybody you can send this to? We’d sure appreciate it — I know a few of these worth books are titles that most likely aren’t on folks radar, that aren’t terribly well known. I’ll bet you know somebody who would appreciate the news. And the discounts.  Thanks for helping us get the word out.

TWELVE BRAND NEW ADVENT RESOURCES

Advent Is God With Us: An Advent Study Based on the Revised Common Lectionary Robin Wilson (Abingdon) $9.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99 We highlight this resource each year, an annually done, nice Bible study book for Adult classes, small groups, preachers needing study insights to the Lectionary texts for the season or anyone who wants to do a bit more than a quick Advent devotional reading. This booklet offers five thorough studies, this year mostly on Isaiah and Matthew (the readings for Year A.)

Robin Wilson is the senior pastor of a large United Methodist church in Alabama, has served on the Board of Upper Room Ministries and she is a graduate of Duke Divinity School.

Advent for Everyone – Matthew: A Daily Devotional N.T. Wright (WJK) $16.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80  I suppose you know the compact New Testament for Everyone commentaries by Wright. This devotional is very much like those, but not reprinted from them. That is, this is fresh, new material. Always clear, insightful, useful, often with a helpful illustration or story to make the point. An added bonus is Wright’s own “Kingdom” translation of the Greek text. And so, these brief reflections are ideal for anyone who wants to work through the Year A gospel passages or who wants a Biblically-focused study. Good for personal use or for a small group or Adult class.

 

Rejoice! Advent in All of Scriptures Chris Wright & John Stott (IVP-UK) $12.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $9.60 How great to import this from England via IVP here in the states – what a gem of a little book. I hope you know John Stott, one of the leading evangelical voices in the entire world in the last decades years of the 20th century and into the early 2000s. He was kind and rigorous, orthodox and justice-minded, thoughtful and wise, missional before the phrase was used. Some of my favorite writers to this day see Stott as a mentor and his books as among their most sturdy influences.

In this new book, Old Testament scholar and International Ministry Director of Langham Partnership (one of the global organizations Stott founded) Chris Wright offers a Biblical meditation jump-started by a quote or quip or excerpt from a John Stott book. There are 25 Advent readings, drawn from throughout the Bible, each linked to a Stott quote or story. This is more than just a tribute to John Stott, more than a Christ Wright devotional (although either would make the price of the book a good investment for your study) but the synergy here is notable, good, inspired. Do you see your life somehow part of the big Biblical story? This book will help you see the big picture of the drama of Scripture as it unfolds and it will help you understand Christmas in its full-orbed Kingdom context, and it will remind you (or introduce you) to the wit and wisdom of the late John Stott, the sort of leader that gave evangelicalism a good name.

The Characters of Christmas: The Unlikely People Caught up in the Story of Jesus Daniel Darling (Moody Press) $13.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.19  Listen to me here: I bet you, like Beth and I, have sat through bunches of sermons on various characters of the Bible story. It is a fairly easy sermon series to do, it seems, a common trope. That’s not to say the sermons we’ve heard or the books we’ve read about these personalities and their episodes in the Christmas accounts are simplistic, but they can be a bit sentimental or miss the mark of the huge, redemptive story breaking in on human history in the birth of the Christ child. As we often note, too often our Bible study and churchy sermonizing is not gospel centered but mere moralism. We ought to be brave or just or kind or have a lot of faith. We should do this or that. Too often we miss what God is doing in the story, how we are invited in to God’s own gracious working out of God’s own plan.

Daniel Darling is a brilliant young scholar and activist of sorts, active promoting (mostly within his conservative Southern Baptist circles) a fuller vision of a Christian social ethic beyond the typical conservative family values. His groundbreaking book The Dignity Revolution makes the case that humans made in the image of God carry innate dignity which serves as the foundation for standing up for the fair treatment of immigrants and prisoners and the elderly and the disabled – sort of a consistent pro-life ethic applied to racism and poverty and such. (Oh, if more anti-abortion folks were more adept and making this case – if they even believe it, which some do, I’m sure.) Darling gets that God’s Kingdom is multi-dimensional and that our work in the world is for the common good; let justice roll down! He knows the full gospel and knows well the ethical implications that flow from it. (Beth and I so enjoyed hearing him lecture and chatting with him and, yep, selling books to him, at the recent Christian Legal Society annual conference in Chicago.) So our hats are tipped to this good, very well read, young dude.

And my hat is tipped again for how he has redeemed this tired trope of looking at each of the Bible characters in the Christmas narratives. As a good writer, he brings fresh energy and colorful insight to the lives of Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and more. You’ll lean about the innkeeper and the angels, the shepherds and wise men, and, yes, Herod. I loved the chapter on Simeon and Anna – what pathos this story carries, and how wonderfully it reminds us of the ancient promises. In fact, speaking of which, there is a chapter here called “The Surprising People in Jesus’ Family.” I’ve preached on the genealogy texts and it’s a blast to uncover this good stuff. Kudos to DD for bringing the Word even in what is at first glance a boring list of begetting.

Like many recent Moody Press books there are a few nice design touches – some red ink, some graphics that enhance the text. There are good reflection questions (that could be used in a family with kids, I’d think) and a suggested Christmas recording. Many of these songs, by the way, are excellent choices, and not always your well-known carols. You can find the songs on Google, I’m sure, and have some fun as you read after you read each interesting chapter in The Characters of Christmas.

Hey, just so you know: Darling may be a Southern Baptist fella, but guess what author he cites, I think more than any other in his fascinating footnotes that includes everyone from J. Vernon McGee to Frederick Buechner, from Tim Keller to Martin Luther? Who? Fleming Rutledge and her essential book Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ. Just saying. We highly recommend The Characters of Christmas: The Unlikely People Caught up in the Story of Jesus by Daniel Darling.

Keep Watch With Me: An Advent Reader for Peacemakers compiled by Claire Brown & Michael McRay (Abingdon Press) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59  What a book! Even the beautiful cover, if pondered, is a bit jarring. What a broken world we live in, and yet there’s that star, that glimmer of hope over the barbed wire. Given that the angels announcing the weighty, holy, glory of God come to Earth on that first Christmas sang about “peace on Earth” one would think that peacemaking might be more connected to Christmas than merely a ubiquitous sentiment on greeting cards or yard decorations. Good will often abounds in this time of year, but, really, how might this holy season invite us to more risky and bold actions for peace and justice and social righteousness? This little one-of-a-kind devotional will inspire you to think about this very thing.

Each entry in this Keep Watch with Me Advent devotional offers a story of a mostly unknown (but occasionally well-recognized) peacemaker or justice leader. One is written by a gifted prisoner. Others are involved in various significant social ministries. You may have heard of (and will certainly enjoy) reflections by Nontombi Naomi Tutu and Shane Claiborne, Irish mystic and peacemaker Padraig O Tuama, Middle Eastern evangelical activist Sami Awad, Tennessee-based Becca Stevens to Belfast born/North Carolinian film critic Gareth Higgins, and bunches of other eloquent, unsung activists with stories to tell around Advent texts and prayers, connected to their deep passions for peacemaking, reconciliation, and justice.

I love this book and ask, and hope, that you consider it. Maybe you could gift it to a rising activist, or an old-timer who needs a reminder to keep at it. Why not buy a couple of Keep Watch With Me and share them?

As Brian McLaren writes of it

I can’t imagine a more meaningful, interesting, spiritually enriching, and relevant Advent resource than this. Amazing people with amazing insights for a season of wonder and welcome.

Light of the World: A Beginner’s Guide to Advent Amy-Jill Levine (Abingdon Press) book – $16.99; DVD – $39.99; Leader’s Guide – $14.99   OUR SALE PRICES: book = $13.59; DVD = $31.99; Leader’s Guide = $11.99  I hope you know the popular Professor Levine (New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School.) She has brought her Jewish faith and her academic scholarship of first century Judaism to the study of Jesus and the gospel in books like The Misunderstood Jew, Short Stories by Jesus, The Annotated Jewish New Testament and last Spring’s Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week.) This new one by Amy-Jill Levine has been our biggest selling new Advent book these last few weeks as many are intrigued with her new look at the history of the birth of Christ, tracing the Christmas narrative through the stories of Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary and other standard seasonal texts. Of course, everyone knows these gospel texts have obvious and profound connections to Old Testament texts; as one Lutheran scholar put it, “There’s no one I’d rather have guide me through Advent and the first chapters of Matthew and Luke than Amy-Jill Levine.” There are four good chapters to the book, four lively sessions in the DVD. The four-week Leader’s Guide includes session plans, activities, and discussion questions, as well as multiple format options.

Watch this short video trailer to hear her say why she (as an outsider to the Christian faith) loves Christmas and how she’ll guide us — with laughter, a little bit of Hebrew, and a little bit of Greek — to get more out of these beloved stories.

Christmas in the Four Gospel Homes: An Advent Study Cynthia M. Campbell (WJK) $13.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.40  Okay, this is a creatively conceived, lovely little book. Imagine, if you will, what it would be like to decorate your home for the holidays inspired by each of the four gospels? What would “Mark’s house” or “John’s house” or “Matthew’s house” look like if decorated for Christmas? In other words, how might a house look for Christmas, this book asks, if it is based on what each gospel says about it? There are beautiful illustrations from architect Kevin Burns, even. Nice idea, huh?

Dr. Cynthia Campbell is the former President of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago and is pastor of Highland Presbyterian in Louisville. She has contributed to the preaching guide Feasting on the World and the worship planning resource Connections. How nice to have a book that celebrates and explores the unique tellings of the Christmas story from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – and connected to this somewhat sensual and visual construction.

Freedom Is Coming: From Advent to Epiphany with the Prophet Isaiah Nick Baines (SPCK) $15.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00 It seems to me one can hardly understand the fullest meaning of Jesus’ incarnation and the Christmas season without spending quality time with Isaiah. This is a good serious of what Paula Gooder says are “deep but accessible reflections.” The Archbishop of Canterbury (Justin Welby) says Baines “brings out both challenge and hope from living Advent side by side with the story of God’s people in Isaiah. A great book.”

There are six weeks of daily reflections, well written, important, I think. One Cambridge Anglican Dean says Freedom is Coming “dispels illusions without leaving us disillusioned.” What a blessing to have a resource like this, walking us through the complexities of the extraordinary Isaiah.

Wake Up to Advent! Archbishop John Mugabi Sentamu (SPCK) $15.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00 We are grateful we can important books from this good UK publisher through our friends at InterVarsity Press; this one is the Advent book selected for a big read by the Archbishop of York (England) and we think it looks amazing. The brilliant Oliver O’Donovan wrote the foreword and Sir Philip Mawer says it is “the perfect antidote to the stress and commercialism of our preparations for Christmas.”

Archbishop Sentamu reminds us of the Apostle Paul’s works in Romans,

This is the hour of crisis: it is high time for you to wake out of sleep, for deliverance is nearer to us now than it was when we first believed.

Using that as a springboard he call us to Wake up, Clean up, Feed up, and Grow up. This is lively and invigorating, written by a Ugandan-born, evangelically-minded, Anglican bishop serving as Metropolitan of York and a Primate, making him the second most senior clerical position in the Church of England (after that of the Archbishop of Canterbury himself.) So nice to have such an important little book available on this side of the pond.

Repeat the Sounding Joy: A Daily Advent Devotional on Luke 1 – 2 Christopher Ash (The Good Book Company) $12.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39 Are you looking for a classic, no-nonsense but warm-hearted explication of the Luke texts for the season? Christopher Ash is a fine thinker and writer, a straight-arrow Reformed theologian in the heritage, perhaps, of the Puritans or the Banner of Truth Trust. Blurbs on the back cover include great endorsements such as one by speaker and author Kathleen Nielson who says Repeat the Sounding Joy is “profound and wonderfully Word-filled.” Sam Allberry (of Ravi Zacharias Ministries) notes that it shows us “the refreshing, startling realities that lie behind our Christmas festivities.”

There are 24 reflections, each with hymn or carol lyrics to ponder, a closing prayer and a lined page for journaling. Ashe himself is a writer-in-residence at Tyndale House in Cambridge.

7 Days of Christmas: A Season of Generosity Jen Hatmaker (Abingdon Press) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59  What a great gift book, a square sized, smallish hardback, nicely packaged with glossy paper and color drawings and sketches, making this a great gift to share with anyone who may feel stressed during the holiday. Perhaps you know Ms. Hatmaker’s first book called 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess which was her story of cutting out excess and inviting us follow her guidance into seven categories/areas of life where we need relief and liberation. Following those same seven categories – kitchen, fashion, stuff, streaming, tossing, spending, stressing – in which we’ve practiced idolatrous and unhealthy behaviors causing distortion and anxiety, Hatmaker here shares simple ideas for replacing excess in each arena this Christmas.

7 Days of Christmas… is witty and lively, funny, even, as she tries to help us find relief from the constant pressure to “manufacture joy.” You may know and value the big picture study The Advent Conspiracy which we still recommend (both DVD and book!) This new one, though, is a simple, gifty version. We heartily recommend it. She says it is for:

“…every jingle-bell sweater-wearing, Michelin-rated casserole-making wife, mother, sister and friend” or those who who may be “hitting your limits on more than just your plastic.”

 

The Wondrous Mystery: An Upper Room Advent Reader (Upper Room Books) $9.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99  Even before the current church emphasis on spiritual practices and contemplative/monastic spirituality, Upper Room Books, from Nashville, has long published gentle and touching reflections, often rooted in a mature awareness of the issues of our interior lives. Perhaps you know of their beautiful journal Weavings which for years has published literarily rich and thoughtful spiritual reflections and essays. This wondrous (if brief) and inexpensive new seasonal collection brings together for the first time some of the best and most beloved pieces from Weavings published about Advent during the last 30 years by exceptional authors such as Barbara Brown Taylor, Henri Nouwen, Sue Monk Kidd, Wendy Wright, John Mogabgab, even Wendell Berry. What a delight to see in book form some of this pieces that were only seen by those who subscribed to Weavings. 

Each entry has a brief reading, a reflection question and a short prayer. This is affordable and brief but my, my – so good. I’m sure many are going to appreciate and hold the messages in their hearts.

A FEW MUST-READ, RECENT CLASSICS – FAVORITES FROM PREVIOUS BOOKNOTES WHICH WE HIGHLY RECOMMEND

Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $30.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00  Last year I raved and raved about this, insisting that I have never, ever, read anything like it. (I have promoted it at events off site as well, holding it and waving it and trying to persuade folks that it is worth every penny.) Those who know Rev. Rutledge’s many books of sermons or her great book on Tolkien (The Battle for Middle Earth) or her magisterial tome The Crucifixion,  know that she is one of the most important theological voices – a working preacher, actually – alive today. I am not exaggerating her importance (or her eloquence.) She is a friend and hero to us; anyone that knows her knows of her sharp mind, her Christ-centered demeanor, and her sermons and lectures on the gospel, always informed by care study of the Biblical texts and mature theology about which is punctilious without being anything close to being fundamentalist. This book collects a lifetime’s worth of sermons for Advent (and Christmas and Epiphany, too and a few others.)

This book collects the most robust, sturdy, solid, important, lively, eloquent, seasonal sermons I’ve ever heard. As with some of her other sermon collections, she brings in allusions to film, articles in national newspapers or magazines, and current events (often in New York City  where most of these sermons were preached) and the arts. There is a fabulous frontispiece in Advent explaining the Blake drawing on the cover which is, in fact, the basis for the sermon in this collection called “What’s In Those Lamps?”  Again, this book is, doubtlessly, the most important such collection in print.

I know I’m prone to enthusiasm whenever I find a book or author I like. But trust me here: there is no book written that I know of in our lifetime that even approximates such a profound and Biblical study of the season of Advent and its requisite longings, hard looks, somber tones. With blurbs on the back from Richard Hays and Wesley Hill and Alan Jacobs and Marilyn McEntyre who call it everything from edgy to unflinching to eloquent to sober, you know it is to be taken seriously.

Dr. Hays says the writing in Advent

“bursts upon us with the same elemental force as the preaching of John the Baptist… do not drift anesthetized through another season of Advent: read this book.”

Last December we decided to read a number of these sermons out loud during an Adult Education Sunday school class in our fairly ordinary PCUSA church and, engaging as the sermons are, I wondered if it would work. I feared the good folks in my Sunday school class might not be up for such intense preaching, let alone just reading them out loud and studying them. Alas, our fears were misguided – the class was a big hit. The sermons that we selected from the beginning of this almost 400-page book were very well received and the conversation was edifying and fruitful. Especially for those of us who don’t do Advent well – Rutledge is an Episcopalian and rigorous about the liturgical season among those who at least have heard of it – Advent is a godsend. Unlike many pop books, it is one you should own and keep. We cannot exclaim enough how important and beautiful and useful this exceptional volume is.

The Art of Advent: A Painting a Day from Advent to Epiphany Jane Williams (SPCK) $15.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00 This was our biggest selling Advent devotional book last season (as the Lenten companion, The Art of Lent by Sister Wendy Beckett, was our biggest selling Lenten devotional last Easter time as well.) We are so glad to announce it again as it is just a fabulous little book –a full color painting reproduced for each day of Advent with a lovely devotional on the facing page. This is compact sized and quite affordable and the paintings are diverse. That is, they are not all obviously about the nativity, but Williams sees into the artwork, knows something about the painters, and weaves a bit of art history and aesthetic insight into an interesting and uplifting Advent devotion. What tremendous and invigorating and classy little readings these are — very highly recommended. There are nearly 40 famous and lesser-known masterpieces here, and it will, they hope, “lead you into a deeply prayerful response to all that these paintings convey to the discerning eye. What a great gift this is, too – sturdy paper, full color, sophisticated but not too heady or too expensive. Get a few and give ‘em out. You won’t regret it.  I explained a bit more about it last year in our Advent list, which you can visit here.

Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany compiled by Sarah Arthur (Paraclete) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE $15.19  This is a prayer book comprised of excerpts of great literature, poets, playwrights (old and new) aligned with Biblical texts. What a feast! (You may know of her others in this series, similar literary devotional guides. The one for Lent and Easter is called Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide and the marvelous one for Ordinary Time is At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time. We are happy to carry several other Sarah Arthur books, from her tremendous co-written memoir about community and discipleship (The Year of Small Things) to her spiritual biography of Madeleine L’Engle, A Light So Lovely. She’s a great writer and wise compiler of the good, good stuff.

Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $13.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.40  Although this came out three years ago, we continue to promote it. Walt Brueggemann, one of the great Bible scholars and church activists of our day preaches with evocative insight and writes stuff like this:

“Advent is not the kind of ‘preparation’ that involves shopping and parties and cards. Such illusions of abundance disguises the true cravings of our weary souls. Advent is preparation for the demands of newness that will break the tired patterns of fear in our lives.”

Some of these are drawn from the two volumes of his collected sermons but most are newly published. Remarkable.

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (Plough Publishing) $24.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20 Over the years this has been one of our consistent best sellers and a handsome hand-sized hardback book people delight in, treasure, recommend. (They then buy the Lenten/Easter companion volume Bread and Wine.) It includes short readings from great writers from throughout church history from Thomas Aquinas to Annie Dillard, John Donne to Martin Luther, Thomas Merton to Evelyn Underhill. Where can you find, I often ask, eloquent portions of writers as good but as diverse as Guardini, L’Engle, Kierkegaard, Oscar Romero, and Philip Yancey? Beautiful stuff.

Bright Evening Star: Mystery of the Incarnation Madeleine L’Engle (Convergent) $15.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00 This first was released in 1997 by the publishing imprint developed by Harold and Luci Shaw and it was beloved by many. After oddly being unavailable for a long while it was reissued a year ago with a great new cover and a lovely new foreword by thoughtful memoirist Addie Zierman. For those that enjoy Madeleine’s previous memoirs or nonfiction reflections such as The Rock That is Higher or Icons and Golden Calves (both also recently reissued) Bright Evening Star offers stories and ruminations and theological reflections by a great poet and writer. Includes a “reader’s guide” making it ideal for a holiday book club.

Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ Timothy Keller (Penguin) $15.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00  I suppose you know how we esteem the great and insightful books by Tim Keller; we stock them all. As you may know he was a serious pastor in lower Manhattan, doing a church plant that has attracted thousands of (often young, often successful, often sophisticated) seekers with a need for the gospel and a desire to learn about how their vocations and callings in the world are related to their faith. (He has retired as pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian and heads up a supportive church planting network called City to City, so remains exceptionally active and influential.) This book is an intellectually provocative and thoughtful exploration of the nativity story, including some of what Keller calls “the hard edges of the story.” It is enjoyable and interesting, a bit more mature than some inspirational devotionals might be; it might even be considered a work of cultural apologetics. This small paperback includes 8 chapters so it isn’t really an Advent devotional, but for those that want solid, contemporary, compelling sermons on the historical reliability and theological importance of this wonderful season, Hidden Christmas helps us uncover the “true meaning” – the very good news of hope and salvation. Not to be missed.

God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas: Reader’s Edition edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete Press) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19  If you’ve read BookNotes for years (as some stalwart friends have) you may recall may several rave reviews of this masterpiece of a book, truly one of the great Advent book releases of the last 30 years! It was firstly released as a hardcover with full color art but (as we’ve explained the last few years) the copyright for the art ran out and the little publisher had little choice but to re-issue the book without most of the artwork and lavish design) but it now available as a very handsome paperback with classy French folded covers, but not as much artwork. There are a few plates and some nice design touches making this “reader’s edition” a truly magnificent paperback. The first edition hardbacks are out of print ad unavailable.

God With Us includes an ecumenical array of thoughtful writers – Eugene Peterson, Beth Bevis, Emilie Griffin, Richard Neuhaus, Kathleen Norris and poets Scott Cairns and Luci Shaw. There’s eloquent, rich, moving insights here about the incarnation and the deeper meaning of the season and this book is a gem.

Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations David Bannon (Paraclete) $29.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99 Allow me, if you will, to simply reprint what I wrote last year about this book that had just come out last season.

This glorious full-size hardback book (with a wonderful foreword by Philip Yancey) is the most beautiful devotional book of the season. Each meditation is paired with a moving reproduction of classic art, nicely reproduced on rich, glossy paper.  In this mature and artful presentation, it reminds us of the early (now out of print) Paraclete classic God With Us. (That is still available in the “readers edition” that omits most of the artwork and remains one of our best-sellers in recent years with its literary ruminations and poetry and mature reflections.) Like that one, this is a treasure to behold.

Wounded in Spirit stands out not only because of the subtly lavish design but because of its amazing content and spirit. David Bannon writes from profound personal experience, offering ways to commune with God through Scripture. He also tells some poignant stories of artists who lived through great pain. He himself has gone through some very odd stuff, and much grief. His adult daughter died of a drug overdose even as his own professional life was in difficulty.

I could review this book in greater detail, but I suppose you get the picture – it is very handsome, mature, thoughtfully spiritual and honest about the great brokenness of our lives, of our society, of our times. This book will inspire in the deepest, truest sense of the word as it evokes ways to be honest about our sadness and helps us find God’s comfort (and joy) in this season. That is uses artwork to help us get there is such a blessing as sometimes words just fail. This book is a gift for the hurting, but a gift for any of us who feel what we feel these days.

Because this book deserves to be known and taken seriously, allow me to excerpt a quote from the good Christian Century review written by Elizabeth Palmer:

Bannon… has lived through the realities of failure and grief. In this book, he intersperses carefully curated photos of Christian art with his own reflections on the artists—their lives, their tragedies, and their persistent hopes. Bannon also evokes an honest grappling with grief by including brief quotations from a variety of thinkers: Carl Jung, Annie Dillard, Terence Fretheim, Isabel Allende, Elie Wiesel, Julian of Norwich, Simone Weil, N.T. Wright, and Søren Kierkegaard make appearances. Particularly evocative are the excerpts from Friedrich Rückert’s poems, which Bannon translates here into English for the first time: “Do not wrap yourself around the night, / bathe it in eternal light. / My tent is dark, the lamp is cold, / bless the light, the Joy of the World!”

Advent of Justice: A Book of Meditations Brian J. Walsh, J. Richard Middleton, Mark Vander Vennen, Sylvia Keesmaat (Wipf & Stock) $12.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39   I hope you recall that I did a serious BookNotes review telling about one of the most important books of 2019, a major study of the book of Romans called Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire/Demanding Justice by Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh. (Read that BookNotes review here.) (They will be visiting our store and speaking about the book this coming March so stay tuned and we’ll keep you posted.) Sylvia, as we explained in that review, is not only an ecological activist and homesteader, but continues to teach New Testament in Toronto. (She has a PhD earned years ago under N.T. Wright.) She’s an important figure in Pauline studies — especially exploring echos of Old Testament writings found in the New. I say all this to remind you — as we do almost every year — that the book she edited, Advent of Justice: A Book of Meditations, is a remarkable bit of Biblical study informed by nothing short of brilliant understanding of the relationships between Old and New Testament texts.

Here is some of what I wrote about Advent of Justice a few years ago when it was re-issued.

I have long said that there is no other Advent devotional like this, nothing in print that comes close. It has been out of print for a few years, and we are glad it has been re-issued, with a nicer, full-color cover. (Otherwise, the inside, the handsome fonts and nicely designed pages with a few art pieces by Willem Hart remain.)

This is a collection of four week’s worth of daily readings, studies of lectionary texts (mostly from Isaiah coupled with seasonal NT texts) with a serious contextualized reading of these passages. Some of the Isaiah passages are familiar to us while a few may be less so. The hard-to-pronounce names of kings and prophets, nations and armies, are made more clear, brought into focus so we realize what was going on, geo-politically and religiously among the divided kingdoms and such. That they invite us to ponder this and to apply the lessons to our own times, indeed our own lives, is a great holiday gift. Advent of Justice is not sentimental and there is nothing about Christmas ornaments or hot cider or snowy winterscapes. This is Bible study with cultural analysis.  Dare I say it is an urgent antidote to some of the ways we’ve construed Christmas and, well, you know… One friend who appreciated it a lot called it “Advent with a Vengeance.”  Well, sort of.

I have read through these short pieces many times, and get something new with each reading.  Brian Walsh brings the big picture gospel to bear, as always, and Richard Middleton especially explains the intricacies and drama of Old Testament politics.  Mark Vander Vennen – an old pal and peace activist from our days in Pittsburgh, now a wise and respected family therapist – brings his own well-trained Old Testament scholarship to the plot, with very nicely written daily meditations, journeying with us as we wait expectantly. The last week New Testament scholar (and organic farmer) Sylvia Keesmaat eloquently brings it all together. Dr. Keesmaat, by the way, served as chief editor for this whole project, and brings the touch of a scholar and creative wordsmith.

This thin book is not light-weight, and for those not used to Old Testament prophetic literature, or for Advent being a time to inhabit the broad Biblical drama, this may even be just a bit challenging. Not surprisingly, it has some themes of social criticism, a faithful emphasis on justice and the common good, even as the texts point us towards these concerns.  That Advent of Justice was firstly produced to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a Canadian social justice advocacy group – the Citizens for Public Justice (formerly the Committee for Justice & Liberty) – is fitting. These authors live this stuff, and their own rich Biblical reflections have emerged out of their own engagement with issues in the public square, service to the marginalized, and taking stands for public justice and the common good.

Still, even though this is dedicated to the justice activists and citizen advocates of CPJ and brings themes of justice to the fore, it is – let me be clear – an Advent Bible devotional, short readings, day by day to help us through this season. They invite us to read the Bible text first, spend time pondering their explication, and then to return to the Bible text again, reading and hearing it with new eyes and ears. They do this to help us have a meaningful and joyous holiday season, to wait well, to make time for God’s Word during Advent. They really do hope you have a good holiday season. May it help you wait well and long more urgently for the coming of justice.

By the way, if you’ve read and appreciated Keesmaat & Walsh’s  Romans Disarmed or their previous Colossians Remixed you’ll love this little Advent devotional. And if you’ve read Advent of Justice as some have, you really should explore their more extended work, and the work of the author authors, all good friends, people we highly recommend. Cheers.

Coloring Advent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Bethlehem Christopher D. Rodkey and Jesse & Natalie Turri (CBP) $12.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39  We have happily explained this the last few years and I’d invite you to revisit my discussion of it in a previous BookNotes announcement here. (My BookNotes review of the previous one, Coloring Lent, my be more explanatory, so enjoy that, here.) It’s super fun for a few reasons: first, Chris cooked this up while serving his church right up the street from us, so it’s truly a Dallastown book! Yay. He is an outside-of-the-box, philosophically oriented theological teacher (besides his duties as pastor of the UCC church here in town.) Chris has a few books published on indie-presses and was the editor of the immensely prestigious The Palgrave Handbook of Radical Theology (which is a momentous scholarly volume with all sorts of essays by major players in this odd stream of modern theology.) It sells for $250.00 (shame on you Palgrave!) but if you know any libraries or serious scholars, give us a shout; it’s quite a volume. But I digress, seriously.

Because, no matter that Pastor Chris has these bone fide scholarly chops, this is, yes, a coloring book. Coloring Advent follows the lectionary readings for this season of the liturgical calendar and has some provocative and thoughtful touches (Easter eggs, if you will) not to mention some fabulously interesting footnotes. There is – and this is absolutely true – nothing like it at all in print. Chris, by the way, also did one for Lent called Coloring Lent and yet another called Coloring Women with each coloring book drawing a woman of the Bible, including lesser known ones. His progressive theology and scholarly framework informs even how he did these coloring books!

As we said in previous reviews, though, delightfully curious as they may be, informed with ecumenical scholarship and duly noted Bible texts and Feast Days in the footnotes, it is, at the end of the day, a simple tool to help you slow down, relax, be attentive to the Advent texts, and engage – as in physically interact with – the God given passages from Holy Scripture. Highly recommended.

So there ya go, some brand new Advent reads and some from previous years. Great books to have, to use, and to give. All are 20% off the retail price.  We can take credit cards safely at our secure order form page by clicking on the link below. Or, as we say there, we can just send a bill for you, too, if you’d rather send pay by check later. We’re happy to help and we are at your service.  Thanks for caring about our recommendations and for your interest in these kinds of quality books.
May these help you and yours on your Advent journey and Christian celebrations this season.

 

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Hurry up and read these four books: “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry” by John Mark Comer; “Carpe Diem Redeemed” by Os Guinness; “When Faith Becomes Sight” by Beth & David Booram; and “Earthkeeping and Character” by Steven Bouma-Prediger ALL ON SALE – 20% OFF

 

Most modern commentaries on the parable of the Prodigal Son explain that the detail of the father running to greet his wayward boy is important. I suspect it was the brilliant Middle Eastern scholar, the late Kenneth Bailey, who introduced this detail; I vividly recall hearing Ken describe the slow, regal walk of certain Middle Eastern men. To walk in haste (let alone run) was a great indignity. Slow is beautiful.

Some of the brilliant books I want to tell you about today deal directly with questions of hurry, of haste, of our understanding and use of time, of the dangers of busy-ness. The others mention the quandary of living gentle and wisely in this hot-wired, fast-paced culture so even if they are not about time, they are perfect selections for this BookNotes list and utterly germane. I’ve read all four of these beautiful, good books and invite you to read my essay about them.

As usual, we have these on sale for our BookNotes readers and you can easily order them by clicking on the order link at the end of this column. It’s easy and secure.

Allow me to ease into this issue of BookNotes by inviting you to read these books conscientiously and perhaps a bit slowly. At least three of these demand an intentionally slower pace. The first – ironically, the one that deals most directly with the sickness and dangers of hurry – can be read quickly as it is written in a light, clever way that keeps you turning pages easily. But don’t be fooled, breezy as The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry may be, it is serious and profound. As you will see, I very, very highly recommend it.

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer (Waterbrook) $23.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.19

In “So Far So Fast”, one of the stand-out songs on I Am Easy To Find, the brilliant, recent album by The National, the driving, building, rhythm keeps the song moving but the slow vocals are anguishing. Parts of the song almost make me cry, it aches so. They sing “There’s so much that drives me crazy,” but then confesses how it helps to “talk to you.” And then the plaintive: “can you get away to talk to me?” That is, can you find the time?

In my more melancholy moods I hear myself as the singer — lonely, needy, wanting to connect with somebody who cares. But, truth be told, it’s usually the other way around. I’ve got plenty of people who (for whatever reason) want to talk to me.

And, too often, I’ll admit, I feel like the esteemed religious leader in the story of the Good Samaritan who is too busy to stop. Too busy to listen. Too busy to care. Or maybe too exhausted, because I was too busy the week before.

In those moments I realize the damages on a life of viewing going “so far, so fast” as a virtue, or even as normal. After spending quality time with these four remarkable new books I realize that it is not too late to deepen my resolve to pursue – in the famous words of Dallas Willard from which John Mark Comer took the title of his amazing new book – “the ruthless elimination of hurry.”

Comer, by the way, admits (although I would have wished for a bit more emphasis) that hurry is often called for. I don’t know if Willard was just a privileged college prof with tenure who didn’t have to burn the candle at both ends but those of us who have to work two jobs or those whose work is not routine – teaching three days a week – often have little choice about our pace of life. Sometimes slowing down is a luxury some can hardly afford.

Still, the many consequences of the addiction to hurry are well known and we all must grapple with our failures to live within our God-given limitations and our God-ordained rhythms. We are glad that there has been a discovery of ancient practices of Sabbath-keeping and books about rest. We have a large section of books about Sabbath and can recommend some if you want.

(And there are plenty of other books like this new one by Comer. Last month we recommended Rebecca Lyon’s Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace and Purpose and I think we’ve mentioned the one-of-a-kind, amazing book about youth ministers addressing their young friends about this propensity to overwork called Wrestling with Rest: Inviting Youth to Discover the Gift of Sabbath. Just last week we got the new book by Jefferson Bethke called To Hell with the Hustle: Reclaiming Your Life in an Overworked, Overspent, and Overconnected World. As a preacher of a gospel-centered, grace-filled way of life, I suspect he means this quite literally.)

John Ortberg (who has served as a bit of a mentor to John Mark Comer and wrote a great forward to The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry) has told how when asking Dallas Willard for advice about his spiritual life (while he was serving one of the fastest growing churches in America with much on his plate and a life of pressing demands) and Willard told him to (ruthlessly) cut out his addiction to hurry. Ortberg asked, “What else?” Comer tells it as well as Ortberg, but after a pause, the answer was blunt. There was nothing else.

Beth and I got to hang out once with Dallas before a function. It was years ago, and I didn’t realize at the time that Willard had mentored one of my own heroes, Richard Foster, and encouraged him and prayed him through the writing of The Celebration of Discipline. I viewed Willard as a heady philosopher and apologist, not quite a contemplative, but it became evident that he was, as we say these days, present. He was intrigued about our bookstore, interested in our lives, attentive (when he didn’t have to be.) He was smart but he was also calm and kindly. His thoughtful approach to being apprenticed by Jesus – described so accessibly in Renovation of the Heart and most carefully in Spirit of the Disciplines – shaped him in ways so that everyone who knew him felt cared for. Having read his other books and watched his DVDs and having gotten to know him a bit by perusing the wonderful books about him (Becoming Dallas Willard: The Formation of a Philosopher, Teacher, and Christ Follower by Gary Moon and the anthology of testimonials, Eternal Living: Reflections on Dallas Willard’s Teaching on Faith and Formation and Gary Black’s Preparing for Heaven: What Dallas Willard Taught Me about Living, Dying and Eternal Life I see why so many people esteemed him so.) John Ortberg has been Willard’s chief popularizer, though, and the older friend to John Mark Comer. I can only underscore Comer’s great appreciation of how Ortberg guided him to Willard.

Ortberg quipped that his splendid book The Life You Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People could be called “Dallas for Dummies.” Years later, before Willard’s death a few years ago, IVP released a DVD from a conference with the two of them: Willard would lecture and then Ortberg would follow up in a gee-whiz sort of way and explain “this is what Dallas was trying to say.” (And, conversely, sometimes Ortberg would lecture and Willard would say, “let me tell you more about what John was trying to develop.”) They were quite a team, both excellent communicators, and both in agreement that evangelicals needed the broader church teaching on spiritual disciplines and formation for whole-life discipleship. Each chapter of Ortberg’s wise and wonderful book (and DVD series) Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You starts with a story of a conversation he had with Willard. He notes that that book could just as easily be entitled “everything I learned from Dallas Willard.”

Enter John Mark Comer, hip Portland mega-church preacher and creative writer and energetic speaker. Some of us met him at our Pittsburgh Jubilee conference last year (watch him here) and he lived up to his reputation as a good thinker and good speaker. (Beth and I so appreciate it when speakers actually browse our conference bookstore and we bonded over books as he gave us so much enthusiastic support and encouragement!) Comer is perhaps best known for his book Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human and for a writing style (even a book design) that brings to mind the aesthetics of a young Rob Bell. The books are punchy, with short paragraphs, a few pages of reverse black/white printing, lots of white margin, sleek, simple fonts, no fussy, old-fashioned dust jacket. The minimalist vibe served his young readers well in Loveology and Garden City and God Has a Name and it works very well – in an ironic kind of way – in this new volume about being too fast paced. The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry seems to be written for those in a hurry, which perhaps is as it should be. Not everybody can wade through Willard’s dense and thick Divine Conspiracy. After a busy, draining day I just don’t have it in me to dig into my Merton.

But let me be clear: cool and hip and funny and snarky as Comer is, he is wise beyond his years, honest about his journey, realistic in his description of our fast paced lives and our personal foibles that to a large degree are formed by our crazy lifestyles. He understands the anxiety many of us feel and he knows it is related to our chronic busy-ness. He talks candidly about being too tired to pray, about binge watching Netflix and crushing Candy Crush. Maybe he worries about drinking too much wine late at night. He knows his youngish Portland congregation, and, I think, knows much about you and me, too. I’ve never once played Candy Crush, but I waste time in my own ways and have huge regrets about the state of my interior life. Ya dig?

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry is written in three major parts, and they are all tremendously interesting. It is easy to read as he translates the latest research on our malaise in these digital days and as he describes the draining impact of days of go, go, go, go. He brings an informed understanding without getting bogged down in too many scholarly details.

In the opening pages Comer reveals a bit about his own crisis of near burnout and I was hooked. My hands shook as I turned those first pages. I’m no mega-church CEO or a world-travelling speaker, and I live in a small town and have few aspirations of a living a fancy-pants, big impact lifestyle. But, man, I could relate to the honest angst and real pain suffered by John Mark. Sometimes one’s job and calling and choices propel us on and on and we realize we’re exhausted, stuck on the proverbial treadmill in ways that are anguishing. Said treadmill might be deeply meaningful and entail good, important work. But too much of even a good thing, they say…

And so Comer details his near breaking point, the deep questions of what to do — one can hardly just quit one’s job if it is too stressful, especially if it a job one is called to. But surely, things can be done, changes can be made. There are answers.

And here’s the thing: rather than jumping to the quick fix, resourcing us by guiding us towards sane plans of “ordering your private world” and towards useful tools like Margin (by Richard Swenson) or Greg McKeown’s Essentialism (which Comer does eventually recommend) or even big picture reminders like Richard Foster’s overlooked Freedom of Simplicity or Matthew Sleeth’s 24/6, Comer nicely takes us back to the Willard quote about hurry and, importantly, what lies behind it and beneath it.

Comer knows what Ortberg knows: for Dallas Willard, we eliminate hurry because it is dangerous, bad for our hearts and for our souls, but more, because it is not the Way of Jesus. And this is the key to Comer’s invitation: we are invited to take the easy yoke of Jesus our Rabbi/Teacher and learn his ways. We are to be disciples, after all, which implies that we are apprentices. We don’t just slow down a bit to regain our health, catch our breath. We slow down because it is the way of Jesus and we are to be like Him.

We who are in Christ, part of His church, are to be life-long learners who are shaped in a pattern or lifestyle that is Christ-like, in all aspects of our lives. (That is, not just in “religious” or “spiritual” matters, but about the very ethos and habits and texture of our regular, daily lives.) Yes, there is theological and Biblical content to learn for those following the Jesus way, but more, the way of Jesus is just that – a way of life, not just a system of doctrine. (See The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus is the Way by Eugene Peterson for a rich and serious study of this.) And, it is not just a “relationship” as if that’s all we need to say. What is obvious in our marriages, Comer reminds us, should be obvious in our relationship with God: we have to slow down, take time, show up, talk; we must simply be together.)

After the powerful ruminations on how hard contemporary life can be with our speed sickness and habits of haste and then some very interesting and relevant cultural analysis deepening our understanding of our modern mess, Comer shifts to his winsome invitation to solve this problem.

And, so, he preaches on being an apprentice of the Lord Jesus, the nature of a formational faith where we are transformed by living like Jesus lived. In ways I’ve only partially considered Comer reminds us that Jesus was never in a hurry. The gospels report that Jesus spent time in solitude, in silence. He prayed, he partied, he dined, he slept in, he embodied what Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama calls “the three mile an hour God.”

I often make a big deal that Jesus is God incarnate, that the idea of and reality of the incarnation is essential grist for understanding our own humanness and our human dignity.

(We recommend a small booklet, What Is the Incarnation? by our friend William Evans, for starters, or the classic On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius, of course. Will Willimon even has a short and fabulous little study simply called Incarnation. And there are plenty of great introductory books on the humanity of Jesus, too, such as Trent Sheppard’s fabulous Jesus Journey or Patrick Reardon’s The Jesus We Missed.)

However, we must – as Comer makes delightfully clear – not just affirm that Jesus was fully human, but we must pattern ourselves after the particular kind of human life he lived.

Follow me, Christ says. For some of us that mostly means the so-called Great Commandment (loving everyone) and for others it tends to mean the Great Commission (preaching the gospel news to everyone). For Comer (as we know from his books and podcasts) it is all that and more. But in this book, it is this: we are to act like Jesus acted, and that means to walk slowly, to breath deeply, to not worry about speed and pressure and performance. To be attentive to others and to carve out time to pray. This spiritual lifestyle is no detached mindfulness in keeping with Buddhist disinterest but is a deeply, vividly alive way to be human in the world. Welcome to the Jesus way of transformation, learned by practicing the slower habits he Himself exhibited. Surely there are these nearly mundane, practical lifestyle implications of our union with Christ, of abiding in Him.

Comer has a really helpful section of four “practices for unhurrying your life.” These are preceded by a great couple of pages (in reverse white on black printing perhaps to signal its significance) called “Wait, what are the spiritual disciplines, again?” Ha. The next unit on the four practices explores silence and solitude, Sabbath, simplicity, and slowing. Whether this is the first time you’ve read about these rather counter-cultural habits or whether you are well-schooled in writers like Ruth Haley Barton and Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Ronald Rolheiser and Richard Rohr or Donald Whitney and Marj Thompson, this stuff is sweet. It’s upbeat, honest, clear, funny, even. This is a call to think about “A Rule of Life” as you’ve never heard it before.

John Mark Comer is a book lover and I really appreciate how he describes (sometimes with great verve) the books he is citing. The footnotes are a blast. (I’m telling ya, don’t miss reading them!) He’ll tell you why he is quoting a book and then tells you where to start with that author. He even contradicts himself, I think, which makes me grin. (And, like me, in his righteous exuberance, says that is his favorite author or this one is the best and you’ve got to read that one. He likes a lot of books and they are all golden choices. He’s reliable and insightful and motivational, truly enjoying these helpful resources. I sort of like it when he says to just close his book and read, instead, Spirit of the Disciplines or that what he’s trying to say is already said in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality or that Alan Fadling’s The Unhurried Life and The Unhurried Leader says what he’s trying to say, but better. Ho! But he’s not quite right there, as The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry has things that none of those books do (and, did I mention, easier to read and more fun than any of ‘em.)

Sure, JMC is not the only one plowing these fields, calling us to reconsider our Christian growth in the ways of Jesus by slowing down and paying attention, and there are others who write more thoroughly. But ya know what? Comer is really, really appealing and he’s really processing this stuff in his own life and he is speaking honestly about it all. He knows the hardships, he knows the temptations, and he’s glimpsed healing hope that things can be more sane. We can have an emotionally healthy spirituality, but it has to be (as we say these days) intentional. And under the (easy) yoke of our leader, Jesus.

I think you will enjoy this book. It’s loaded with witty comments that are worth taking to heart. And some simple experiments and playful ideas. For instance, in a section about “unhurrying” he says,

Come to a full stop at stop signs.

None of this California nonsense.

By the way, next time you try this, notice how hard it is. Maybe that’s because I’m from California. But maybe it’s because I feel like I’m not moving fast enough, or even because I’m not enough…there’s that disordered heart, right under the surface of my hurry.

Or, how about this?

Get in the longest checkout line at the grocery store.

Aah, you’re all hating me now! In an efficiency-obsessed culture, why would we do that? That’s literally wasting time on purpose.

Well, here’s why I do it…

I thought he was going to be a “loving resistance fighter” a la the late great Neil Postman and his rousing counter-cultural call in Technopoly. And there’s a little of that, just throwing a wrench in at least our own systems of rush and hurry. But Comer also notes that there is a deeper motivation:

He continues,

It’s wise to regularly deny ourselves getting what we want, with practices as intense as fasting or as minor as picking the longest checkout line. That way, when somebody else denies us from getting what we want, we don’t respond with anger. We’re already acclimated. We don’t have to get our way to be happy. Naturally, this takes a while for most of us. So start small, at aisle three.

So, hurry up and get this book. Read it right away (I’ve only got my tongue half in my cheek.) And then read it again, slowly, ruthlessly. As extreme as that sounds, believe me. We’ve got to give up trying to get so far, so fast.

Carpe Diem Redeemed: Seizing the Day, Discerning the Times Os Guinness (IVP) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00  If the new John Mark Comer book, sans dust jacket, is upbeat and breezy in a very cool, conversational style, with goofy asides and postmodern allusions and pop culture references, Dr. Os Guinness’s book (with an old school hour glass on the cover) is rather scholarly, full of historical and sociological allusions – with references to Greek thinkers and Roman historians through Shakespeare quotes and lines from his beloved American Founding Fathers to contemporary academics like Peter Berger or Francis Fukuyama and intellectual leaders such as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and John Ralston Saul. Comer, in admitting his lack of serious commitment to long distance running jokes about how he’d look in spandex. You aren’t going to hear Os Guinness quip about that.

Still, he is a man of great joy and I’ve seen him laugh loudly. He is kind to everyone he meets. He has a refreshing hope in His Lord even though he has seen – as he says in this book – two of his brothers starve to death as youth in China. Seventeen million died in the horrendous Japanese invasion of China and he and his missionary family were there. Let that sink in.

So, when Guinness – an esteemed scholar who has offered his astute observations through dozens of important books about the American condition and the times in which we live – writes about purpose and zeal and meaning, seizing the day, redeeming the time, we should listen, and expect something more than motivational pizzazz to do your thing. He has earned the right to be heard well and deeply considered. Agree always or not, he is, as BookNotes readers surely know, one of my favorite writers and Christian leaders who I count as a friend.

When we announced this book months ago and offered to take pre-orders we summarized it as the publisher had suggested, and it was not untrue: Os himself says this is sequel to his seminal, must-read 1990s title The Call: Finding Meaning and Significance. (It was, as we have heralded, re-issued earlier this year in an anniversary edition with some new chapters.) To “seize the day” does, indeed, seem to sound like a book about living out one’s call, finding one’s vocation and taking off into Kingdom initiatives.

Yet, let me be clear. To take up one’s calling, to live into visions of vocation, to “seize the day”, one has to know what time it is. (That is, by the way, the fifth “worldview question” that New Testament scholar N.T. Wright added to the “four worldview questions” proposed by Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton in Transforming Vision and Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be. You may know Wright’s rich discussion of the “five worldview questions” that everyone implicitly answers and lives by in his New Testament and the People of God, the first big volume in his massive “Christian Origins” series.) The question of what time it is – something’s happenin’ in the air, CSNY used to sing — can only be answered, though, when one knows what time is, how it works, why it has been so mysteriously potent in philosophical thinking down through the centuries. In Carpe Diem Redeemed Guinness is not giving us a guide to discerning our careers or a plan to maximize our impact. Nope. He is pondering how we might be timely. Or – you’ll have to read it yourself to fully understand – untimely, as the case may be. In a sense, this book is drawing from his lesser-known, small, potent treatise called Prophetic Untimeliness, which is, in fact, the title of his fifth chapter.

For years Os has been a dynamic public speaker, mesmerizing his audiences as he speaks flawlessly without a note, listing the significance of this, the pressures of that, the obstacles and the opportunities, moving effortlessly through nearly byzantine outlines which gel brilliantly by the hour’s end. His books are no different, offering the joy of logical argumentation, wrapped in the beauty of rhetorical persuasion. I will read anything Os writes for as long as he writes and for as long as I am able.

He is sometimes a bit stern, it seems. He calls us to be “implacable” in Impossible People which is to say he warns us not to be placated, appeased. We dare not compromise, we must not back down; he exhorts us to be sturdy. Although he writes on civility and eschews talk of culture wars, he knows well the Biblical assumption that we are in for a fight. The Christian faith, the cost of discipleship, is to be lived out through blood, sweat, and tears, and although he preaches about and stands in merciful grace, he has a stout bit of Winston Churchill in him. He doesn’t mess around. He knows what time it is. It’s no wonder he has books that sound an alarm of warning even about our American republic – one is called A Free People’s Suicide and another is Last Call for Liberty.

So, in Carpe Diem Redeemed Guinness offers a bit of criticism of the popular and often shallow pretenses that pass for vocational insight and the “making of meaning” in these secularizing times. He knows we cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, that we need more than a shot in the arm (or a call to relax.) Both the emotive, bohemian “be yourself” creative voices and the more corporate, business-world advice-miesters about becoming entrepreneurs or captains of industry are both woefully inadequate. We need an approach rooted in more substantive, deeper, sustainable truths. What is this day we are supposed to seize? What’s the point? Is there such a thing as destiny? Can we really discern the times while in our own time? Could a more fruitful perspective be found in the Judeo-Christian view of time as essentially unfolding and meaningful?

To understand and live by this appropriate, wiser view of time, we must guard against what he calls “distorting the past” and “distorting the future.” Offering a Biblically-guided view of generations, he objects to much of the trendy talk about Millennials and Generation Z and Boomers and so forth. It’s a section well worth reading and discussing.

Always a teacher, Os often says that “differences make a difference” and helpfully compares and contrasts different worldviews. One of my favorite books to suggest to serious seekers is his The Long Journey Home which looks at the essential differences between three “families of faith” that have very different views from each other about the nature of things – the Eastern, the secular West, and the Judeo-Christian. In that book, to make the point that what we believe about fundamental things really matters, he compares their respective views of death and dying, grief and hope.) In a brief but essential section of Carpe Diem Redeemed Guinness discusses the differences between the Eastern and secularist views of time (which are very different!) and shows how a reorientation to a Christian view would be a boost to our own sense of dignity and agency, worth and purpose. But, again, this is no cheap sloganeering but a deeply coherent view of purpose in light of a Christian view of history and history-making based on a Biblical view of time itself.

“Thus we can,” it promises on the back cover, “seek to serve God’s purposes for our generation, read the times, and discern our call for this moment in history.”

I am sincerely not trying to balance out a lightweight and a heavyweight book in pairing The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry and Carpe Diem Redeemed. I’m hoping to put for you Comer and Guinness in conversation. (Maybe over a Guinness, but I digress.) Comer is a hoot to read, but remains substantive, important. Mr. Guinness is a different sort of thinker, has a different calling and audience, and brings a rare (but not quite rarified) viewpoint to the big questions about the nature of time and of our times. Carpe Diem Redeemed is a good supplement to Comer’s Elimination of Hurry book. Os Guinness, by the way, has shared the stage with Comer’s big influence, Dallas Willard, and both men respected each other deeply and were friends and colleagues, so while Comer & Guinness are stylistically miles apart they are simpatico. Both books worry about the anxiety produced in a milieu that Guinness dubs “survival of the fastest.” He almost sounds like Comer when he talks about “the tyranny of time.”

As the pop culture and media journalist Steve Turner asks about Carpe Diem Redeemed,

“Most of us feel instinctively that we should seize the day, but is the day worth seizing and should it be grabbed so unreservedly?”

This is a huge question. It is related, I think, to Comer’s invitation to unhurry our lives, to see our apprenticeship to Jesus as the central context for how we live and what we do. Guinness is no quietistic contemplative (and as the head of a big church with multiple sites, Comer is no monk, either.) I suspect both should read Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by C. Christopher Smith & John Pattison, a book I think is brilliantly insightful about the gods of efficiency and speed and how they have deformed our faith communities. Still, in Carpe Dime Guinness is asking us to think about one of the most basic things in our lives – time – in light of our knowledge of God and God’s Word. This itself takes time, takes a willingness to be shaped by the liturgies of church and the rhymes of spiritual discipline and to do some serious pondering. It is interesting to me that both Comer and Guinness have been influenced by the legendary Jewish mystic and civil rights activist, Abraham Joshua Heschel, who is perhaps best known for a dense, passionate book on the 8th century Hebrew prophets and the little gem on time, The Sabbath.

As Guinness ponders what it means to “partner with God” and to find “undimmed hope even in the darkest hour” he invites us to “long-term thinking.” (There’s a time-related metaphor for you. And it is one rooted, I might add, in patience, itself a virtue related to our coping with the passing of time.)

Such hope-filled long-term thinking comes from our profound grasp of the Biblical teaching of covenant. Guinness writes,

“For those who live and act within covenantal time, two immensely practical implications flow from this principle.”

You’ll have to read the book yourself to hear more about the implications but they are connected to this notion that we can be long-term in our thinking. (He warns against “the all-at-oncers” or “impatient hotheads” as well as the “never neverers.” Okay, one can’t be elegant in every sentence.) The second implication of a covenantal view of time is that we are “always reliant on God for the final outcome.” He draws a distinction between being responsible but not self-reliant. The end of history is not up to us; “there is a promised time as well as a promised land.”

Only Os Guinness can wisely quote Jane Austen and Soren Kierkegaard in the same sentence:

“Time will explain,” Jane Austen wrote in Persuasion, and Soren Kierkegaard was right that “life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” Only the perspectives of time allow us to distinguish the trivial from the important, the passing from the permanent, and the random from the significant.”

The book is searching, eloquent and I highly recommend it. The closing afterward in Carpe Diem Redeemed is worth the price of the book, a few beautiful pages I’ve read several times.  It closes with the marvelous lyrics to the majestic hymn by Isaac Watts, “O God Our Help in Ages Past.” Inspired by Psalm 90, which poetically reflects on a Godly view of time, it’s a perfect ending to an important, thoughtful book. You’d be wise to take time to read it.

 

When Faith Becomes Sight: Opening Your Eyes to God’s Presence All Around You Beth & David Booram (IVP/formatio) $17.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60  When a new book on spiritual formation, written by seasoned spiritual directors and retreat leaders comes out, I take notice. However, I will be honest: there is so much being released on spiritual practices and attentiveness to God and the spirituality of the ordinary, and discerning God’s guidance, and so forth that it is hard not to grow almost cynical. What more need to be said? How many more resources do we need in this genre of contemplative spirituality? Curiously, the Booram’s themselves wondered this as well, it seems, and I am delighted they overcame their initial reluctance and released this beautiful, touching, gentle, helpful book. With blurbs on the back from giants like Tilden Edwards and the artfully Celtic Christine Valters Paintner and the amazing Phileena Heuertz and the popular podcasting enneagrammer, Suzanne Stabile, you really need to pay attention.

And paying attention is much of what When Faith Becomes Sight is about. It really is a guide to nurturing in our deepest habits of our heart of hearts, our mind’s eyes, the ability to see. Is God breaking in to our mundane days? Is the Holy Spirit prompting us, wooing us, pushing us? Are we taking notice? Perhaps we are just too tired to care. Or too distracted.

Distraction. That has been a theme of the upbeat John Mark Comer book, even though he (in his hip, whimsical way) speaks hard truth about the urgency of changing our deadly habits the cause us to give in to superficial distractions. Os Guinness, in his more academic and sociological voice, is inviting us to be attentive to God and God’s ways (not the shimmering ways of the world or false dreams of being superficially relevant and timely) and thereby see more faithfully. But this lovely new book is directly about recognizing God’s presence, about learning what to look for and how to look for it. Urban activist Juanita Rasmus called When Faith Becomes Sight “the equivalent of spiritual LASIK, offering improved vision.” Exactly.

I was drawn into the adventure of this book by its very structure. It is nicely written and wonderfully organized. There are a handful of chapters that comprise each section. Part One is called “Looking For” and is about “recognizing the signs of God.” With discussions of transcendent moments and “slender threads” and a chapter called “The Fertile Void” I was very impressed. I hope we are never too busy to look for God’s presence, but, well, we all know better.

Part Two is called “Looking Through” which is about discovering what they call “our unconscious and conscious lenses.” I’m still pondering some of this but it is rich and thoughtful, without being too deep. With chapters like “expectations and assumptions” and “The Holy Flame” it really does invite us to God, to Jesus, even to the Holy Book itself. What good stuff.

The third part is called “Looking Within: Entering the Deep Waters of Your Soul.” I was glad it started with “(Dis)Orientation” (a nod to Brueggemann, I suppose) and a chapter called “Befriending Desire.” I’ve not yet finished the chapter “Night Work” in part because it evokes much and I have to sit with a bit more. There is a lot here. It is a book to read slowly.

This journey to actually experience “when faith becomes site” presumes we have time and calm to be attentive to this work. With or without a spiritual director or soul friend, or even without a healthy tool like this guidebook, we still, sooner or later, have to come to grips with our schedules, our time, our hours and how we fill them. We have to be comfortable with “unhurrying” and even entering periods of sustained silence. We have to slow down and take time to reflect. I myself skipped over the reflection questions mostly because I wanted to get done and move on. To my detriment, I can get “so far so fast.” Sigh.

“God is on the lookout for you,” they say. I trust that that is true. So, curiously, even in the midst of a busy, busy life, thanks to God’s own initiatives, we can learn to practice the presence of God and be able to see what might be true moments of transcendence. We can discern God’s role in our own lives. We must slow down and be attentive, and When Faith Becomes Sight, by trustworthy guides, can help.

Helpfully, the Boorams’ good book includes a special appendix that offers a page or two about the role of experience. Beth Booram co-wrote a fabulous IVP book with J. Brent Bill about using your senses to be awakened to God’s presence (and even another, Starting Something New, which told her own story of hearing and following her calling) so they know something about this.  I’m not at all kidding -that small piece, too, is well worth taking the time to ponder deeply and discuss with friends. This is a book that is a joy to read but will best be absorbed slowly, with others, even.

Earthkeeping and Character: Exploring a Christian Ecological Virtue Ethic Steven Bouma-Prediger (Baker Academic) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99  Have you ever hugged a book? I mean, right in the middle of it you are just so grateful, so glad, so appreciative that you just hold its pages to your chest and smile and whisper a prayer of thanksgiving?

If not, I hope you don’t think I’m too weird, but I did this with the new release by Professor Bouma-Prediger. It’s hard to explain why I am overcome with joy for this title but I suspect it is partially because I’m so glad for a book that is truly pioneering – making a reader feel like he or she is in on something vital and groundbreaking and redemptively new; the Lord doing that new thing promised in Isaiah 43 perhaps? It is also my gladness for seeing a scholar that writes so well, a good storyteller who knows his philosophy, a professor that is as keen on telling about kayaking technique or his love for the Northern Lights as he is on the history of the sacred-secular dualism in Western rationalism or the scholarship behind certain schools of theological thought. Further, I am nearly verklempt whenever I see a seriously Reformed Calvinist who is fluent in Catholic theology and spirituality and when I see an evangelically-oriented Bible scholar who cites so widely across the theological spectrum (in this case, from Lutheran Joseph Sittler and German Reformed Jurgen Moltmann.) He so deftly weaves into his scholarship gracious moments by citing the likes of poetry by Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver and profound excerpts of Nicholas Wolterstorff and Sylvia Keesmaat and Tom Wright. I believe this book’s content and teaching is exceptionally important and I commend it urgently; aside from its significance, I recommend it for how it is a model of generous, interesting, relevant, elegant scholarship.

I have read Steven’s excellent book on creation care For the Beauty of the Earth and the extraordinary co-authored volume (with Brian Walsh) called Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement. (We even stock his deep Oxford University Press book The Greening of Theology where he compares the ecological models of Rosemary Ruether, Joseph Stiller and Jurgen Moltmann.) He is a scholar who you should know and has done books you should read. Listen to A.J. Swoboda, author of Subversive Sabbath:

“Bouma-Prediger’s groundbreaking For the Beauty of the Earth woke me up to Christ’s call to care for the earth. One might struggle to imagine how he could top that prophetic book. He has done it. This book will change the way we think about discipleship. And it will change the way we think about how a discipled people can transform the world.”

Listen to Jonathan Moo, environmental science prof at Whitworth University, (who co-authored the splendid Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World with his father, the famous New Testament scholar, Douglas Moo) who says:

“This book cements Bouma-Prediger’s reputation as one of our best thinkers and writers on the most important issue facing Christians today: how we relate to God’s creation and care for it well in a time of profound crisis. This important book will now be required reading in my environmental ethics courses.”

You should realize that this book really is covering a topic that is unlike any other accessible Christian creation-care book we know: it is, as it says, about character, about virtue ethics.

In a moving story in the beginning Steven and some students are hiking and as they come to their wilderness campground, the find the place nearly trashed — litter scattered, burnt logs and ashes scattered, bark stripped from the glorious white birches. “Who kind of a person would do a thing like this?” a student cries? (And, conversely, he revisits the story and comes across a wonderfully well-kept spot, protected, nurtured, stewarded. And the question remains: “What kind of people do something like this??

And so, we start a journey that I found very helpful and – as many have said in recent decades – is exceptionally important; namely, a study of virtue ethics. That is, we need more than the standard sort of right vs. wrong mentality that asks us to do the right thing out of duty, obedience, a proper response to the rules. Rather, some have said (perhaps you’ve heard of Aristotle, or, in our day, Alistair McIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas) that a more helpful and fruitful and lasting kind of ethics isn’t just merely our duty to do right, but the question of being a good person; that is, a virtuous person who wants to do the wise and good thing. It ends up, there is a large difference between a person who is dutiful to obey the rules, to do good, and a person who desires to be good.

(Some Hearts & Minds friends heard Karen Swallow Prior introduce us to this when she visited here and described the first chapter in her splendid On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books and many more have read it. I myself sometimes recommend the wonderful rumination on all this by Dennis Hollinger in his book Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World. And of course, there’s the lovely, late Lewis Smedes and his very practical, down-to-Earth reflection called Choices: Making Right Decisions in a Complex World. Perhaps an author who has helped us all at least start thinking about this, even though he isn’t an ethicist as such, is James K.A. Smith whose You Are What You Love is a supremely excellent study of character formation, how stories shape our imaginations that in turn call us to live out a certain sort of vision of the good life. We live our of our hearts desires, he explains, which is shaped by some assumption and longing for and construal of the good. It’s a great introduction to the discussions of virtue and character and how we live.)

Bouma-Prediger is a great teacher and he not only explains what is meant by virtue ethics and how that school of thought (about character formation, not merely obedience to ethical principles) is an important aspect of uniquely Christian and deeply human ways of being a good person. And then, just when it was getting interesting, he makes it even all the more interesting by telling us about a recent school of thought in our generation about Environmental Virtue Ethics, known as EVE in the biz, apparently. Who knew?

So, within the environmental studies field there is some insider baseball stuff about whether we need to go deeper than passing environmental legislation and policies to save the planet but to the question of what kind of people we must be if we are going to serve our fellow creatures in that capacity. And, of course, to answer that, even though Aristotle and other virtue ethicists can help, people admittedly need deeper, perhaps more sustainable voices, calling us to a view of our selves and our role within creation. Perhaps our sacred story revealed in the Bible can help.

I love that Bouma-Prediger writes unashamedly as a person of deep Christian faith. He is an evangelically-minded professor at a Christian college (Hope College is affiliated with the Reformed Church of America.) And yet, he writes as if any seeker or nature lover or person curious about ethics and living well, might be listening in. He is like one of his heroes in this regard, the late, great Lewis Smedes. Smedes was a Dutch neo-Calvinist at Calvin College who did seriously Reformed work in Biblical studies and theology, alongside friends like Nicholas Wolterstorff, Richard Mouw and Alvin Plantinga. He, near the end of his days, was writing delightfully wise articles for places like Readers Digest offering all sorts of readers a Biblical worldview without the lingo. Smedes asked us to be “pretty good people” and guided us towards virtues and hope and goodness with grit and grace, in language the whole world could understand. Bouma-Prediger is perhaps more interested in Biblical exegesis than Smedes was, and remains a studious scholar, but he has this charming sense that in writing about Christian ethics and Biblical perspectives and theologically-informed virtuous ways of being in the world, he is not just calling out to church-folk and Christ-followers but all who care about the state of the Earth.

Earthkeeping and Character, then, could be – Lord, please! – a major contribution to two conversations, received by two main audiences. It will surely deepen the Christian work of thinking about – and doing something about – the crisis of the creation and our call to steward well our role in creation’s ecology. Anyone in the Christian tradition writing about creation care or Earthkeeping or environmental stewardship and the like will simply have to grapple with his wonderful insights and vital proposals. This includes not just ecologists and activists, but Bible scholars, theologians, outdoor education leaders (that’s you my XD friends!), those in camping ministries, youth pastors and more.

But, secondly, E & C could be a contribution to the broader world of environmental studies and those working on EVE. Dr. Bouma-Prediger knows the major textbooks and other people of Christian faith who have contributed wisely, profoundly, to this developing academic discipline. (This, too, is a remarkable feature of the book, how he interacts with these other key texts and figures, religious or otherwise, making some serious stuff so very interesting.) May this book be seen not as an in-house religious resource for church folk only, but the serious contribution that it is to mainstream environmental ethics. We need all hands on deck and only the most fundamentalist secularist would ignore this helpful vision for having something substantive to offer.

(One small thing that I really like which all might ponder: he does not like the world environment, much, and prefers the more wholistic, nuanced word ecology. He explains why, using the Bible, naturally, and he cites Saint Wendell on this – I hope you know Berry’s rant in Sex, Economy, Freedom, Community. Bouma-Prediger’s pages explaining this is simply wonderful and we should consider well his linguistic insight here.)

I wish I could walk you through his marvelously ecological vision of virtues and vices, showing how such character traits have such vast repercussions for our role in God’s creation. I suppose it should be evident, but nobody has written this stuff with such passion, wisdom, and verve. He looks at wonder and humility, self-control and wisdom, justice and love, and courage and hope. The stories and examples are thrilling, the trajectory of this both exciting and a bit challenging, if not overwhelming. Can we become these kinds of people, the kind the planet needs? And how does it happen?

Can we make the time to slow down, to experience creation, to reflect on who we want to be in our vocation in our watersheds and places?

Well, it might happen as we, at least, follow in the ways of others. Character ethics are transmitted like that – by mentors, in community. (Ahh, remember Steve Garber’s Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior which showed how young adults, especially, move from “head” to “heart”, from abstract convictions to ways of life, by watching a mentor?) And so the good explanations of virtue and vice, the ruminations on character, the teaching on how classic Christian virtues apply to our stewardly care for fellow creatures, adept analysis of various aspects of how the creation is groaning, are illustrated by stories, examples, episodes, people. Yes, by slowly working with this profound book – as Karen Swallow Prior said about great novels – we can be changed. In fact, not only does Steven introduce us to places and stories and people, he himself is one such model for us all.

Listen to his friend Brian Walsh, who has also written a bit about Biblical virtue and ecological crisis in the recent Romans Disarmed:

“Bouma-Prediger can only write about the shaping of ecological virtues because his own life is such a brilliant testimony to the character of an earthkeeper. He has gifted us with a philosophically astute, ecologically attuned, and biblically profound meditation on ecological virtue.”

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Short Reviews of a Big Bunch of Brand New Titles You’ll Want to Know About — almost all 20% OFF

Welcome, BookNotes readers. I’m going to actually put it in writing as a way to help remind me: this column is going to be (relatively) brief. [Addendum: it didn’t work. Sorry.] What I mean is that I’m not going to indulge my keen interest in telling you lots and lots about the following books. In order to trumpet a larger batch of new books, I’m going to have to keep it moving. I’m sorry, as I do have opinions about these, and hope in a quick sentence or two I can give off clues as to whether any of these are for you; most are very, very good. Read widely, we say, so here ya go.

It has been fun this past season sending out books that we announced way in advance – books that folks pre-ordered. Helping create a bit of an advanced buzz on a forthcoming book is fun, and we thank those who allowed us to send to the books like Jamie Smith’s On the Road With Saint Augustine, Diana Butler Bass’s Broken We Kneel: Reflections on Faith and Citizenship, Justin McRoberts & Scott Erickson’s artsy prayer book, May It Be So: 40 Days with the Lord’s Prayer, Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon by David Kinnaman & Mark Matlock and, of course, Os Guinness’s Carpe Diem Redeemed. These were our biggest selling books in the early fall, and we hope you know about them.

There are plenty of other good books we’ve received in the last month or so, and plenty good ones to come. Here are just a few highlights of our in-store selection.

History and Eschatology: Jesus and the Promise of Natural Theology: The 2018 Gifford Lectures N.T. Wright (Baylor University Press) $34.95 ** no discount on this item The scholarly community respects the legendary Gifford Lectures (which often bring together the world’s finest minds on faith, science, natural theology and such.) They are always published and are often immediately esteemed. It is not surprising, but it is still remarkable, to see N.T. Wright now standing among this illustrious list of philosophers and scholars who have done a Gifford.

But I don’t know of many who start explaining the notion of these famous lectures to his elderly mother who says “I’m glad I don’t have to listen to those lectures.” We love Tom Wright.

Scholars from throughout the West are raving about this deep dive. John Cottingham of the UK says it is Wright’s “crowning achievement.” Frances Young says it is an “extraordinary reappraisal.” A theologian from St. Vladimir’s Russian Orthodox Seminary calls it a “tour de force.” Miroslav Volf says it is “Wright at his best – an exegete, theologian, churchman, and public intellectual.”

Friends of Hearts & Minds might appreciate this review by Brian Walsh (most recently co-author of Romans Disarmed) who has been a long time pal and colleague of Wright’s:

With a stunning breadth of research Wright takes his Gifford lectures as an occasion to deepen the paradigmatic shift in biblical studies that he has shaped over the last thirty years. Wright offers a model of historical exegesis that just might release us from our Platonic bondage. This book combines breathtakingly creative brilliance with a lovely eloquence. Since an ‘epistemology of love’ is at the heart of Wright’s natural theology, we wouldn’t have expected anything less. Read this book, then read it again. It takes its place in the esteemed tradition of Gifford lectures becoming classics.

DVD + study guide The New Testament You Never Knew: Exploring the Context, Purpose, and Meaning of the Story of God N.T. Wright & Michael F. Bird (Zondervan) $51.99 for book + study guide together. Our 20% off sale price = $41.59. This eight-session video curriculum is filmed on location in the Middle East, Rome, Greece, Turkey, and captures not only the geography and places where the New Testament developed, but a brilliantly succinct overview of the bigger Story of God of which the New Testament is a part. There is solid teaching on the canon of the NT, great preaching about Jesus, about the early church and the apostles and Paul. Spectacular.

The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians N. T. Wright & Michael Bird (Zondervan Academic) $59.99. Our 20% off PRE-ORDER sale price = $47.99. This major text will be coming out mid-November. There will be a workbook one can buy to go with this selling regularly for $22.99; our pre-order sale price = $18.39. DVDs of the seminary level classroom lectures that go with the content of the book will also soon be available (regularly $47.99; our sale price = $38.39.) Wow; imagine: you can sit in on serious lectures of N.T. Wright and Michael Bird! Pre-order the book, the workbook, or the DVDs and we’ll send them out promptly.  (The more popular level, filmed on location DVDs called The New Testament You Never Knew listed above are available now.)

A Big Gospel in Small Places (Why Ministry in Forgotten Communities Matters) Stephen Witmer (IVP/Praxis) $18.00 Our sale price = $14.40 This is one of those books that we need so badly – I can count on one hand a few good books on rural and small town church ministry – that I’m truly thrilled to be able to tell you about it here. In fact, I had heard so much about it from mutual friends who trust this author and his good work (Small Town Summits) that I was willing to announce it at a recent conference, trying to garner pre-orders, before I even laid eyes on it. I had heard enough to know that this author is evangelical and very thoughtful (he’s an adjunct professor of New Testament at Gordon Conwell) and that he was a beloved small church pastor in Massachusetts. He has a heart for what God is doing in small towns and rural places.  I was struck by the audacious claim by Echard J. Schnabel (of Gordon Conwell) who said about A Big Gospel in Small Places:

This is one of the more important books written about the gospel and missions in recent decades.

He continues:

Stephen Witmer takes the gospel seriously: he is more interested in the good news than in church-planting strategies. He takes people seriously: he is more concerned for people than for programs. He understands success in terms of faithfulness to God’s calling rather than in terms of fame, in terms of the transformation of people’s lives rather than in terms of the numerical size of a congregation. Here writes an academic who wears his scholarship lightly, a pastor who challenges his audience to think deeply, a follower of Jesus who follows Jesus to all the places where people live. Witmer explains that strategic thinking about ministry must acknowledge one of the great truths about God who lavishes his grace on city people, on small-town people, and on village people alike. This book is a pleasure to read, indeed a must-read for professors, students, and pastors who think about gospel ministry in the twenty-first century.

Reading Buechner: Exploring the Work of a Master Memoirist, Novelist, Theologian, and Preacher Jeffrey Munro (IVP) $18.00  Our sale price = $14.40  We have long been waiting for an authoritative, charming, wise and thoughtful guide to the many sorts of writing done by the imitable Frederick Buechner. I ran across some letters of correspondence with Buechner that a woman in my church had given to me before she died and was again struck – existentially, so – how important of a voice Buechner was, bridging the worlds of literary fiction and mainline Protestant thinking and the best of modern evangelicalism, whose institutions (such as Wheaton College or King University in Tennessee, say, or the famous Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing) honored him more than anyone. There is a lovely, powerful forward by visual artist and writer Makoto Fujimura and blurbs on the back of this book are from the well-known Marilyn McEntyre, Michael Card, John Wilson and Calvin University English prof and co-director of the Calvin Festival of Faith & Writing Jennifer Holberg who commends it to both newcomers and longtime readers of Mr. Buechner. What a gift this brand new book is; I’ve paged through a bit and it nearly got choked up. I, like many of you, I’m sure, can’t wait to read it.

We hope we sell a bunch which, in turn, gets people reading Buechner again. It’s as easy as ABC. (And if you are mystified by that allusion, you really need this book!)

The Reading Life: The Joy of Seeing New Worlds Through Other’s Eyes C.S. Lewis (HarperOne) $19.99  Our sale price = $15.99  What a fabulous idea this is, a brilliant idea, really, taking so much that Lewis has written about reading and writing and putting it together in one small, very handsome hardback volume. Kudos to David Downing (co-director of the Wade Center) and Michael Maudlin (of HarperOne) for bringing this little treasure chest together. Anyone who loves Lewis, and anyone who loves reading, will be beyond thrilled.

The Reading Life follows on the heels of a few others where they’ve gleaned from Lewis’s large body of work (from essays and sermons to letters and speeches) and compiled his insights together topically. For instance, there is one called How to Pray and another compilation, How to Be a Christian. So these gathered collections showcasing a theme are great. And this gem just  appeared last week!

C.S. Lewis was, famously, a reader. A lover of books, of good writing, of the reading life. He was a literary critic and writer of nearly every genre. But he loved to read and advise othres on reading well. These pieces honor that aspect of his life, and invite us to the joys of literature, learning to follow in his footsteps in being a better student, a more vibrant lover of the printed page. This little hardback will inspire many, and would make a truly lovely gift for any book lover or Lewis fan you know. Cheers!

Tending Soul, Mind, and Body: The Art and Science of Spiritual Formation edited by Todd Wilson & Gerald Hiestand (IVP Academic) $25.00  Our sale price = $20.00  Here is another tremendous volume from the Center for Pastoral Theologians; their previous conferences yielded tremendous collections – such as the amazing Creation and Doxology: The Beginning and End of God’s Good World. This brand new one should be of interest to anyone who does spiritual direction, who is interested in the interface of psychology and spirituality, and who longs for a deeper, human, and integrated faith experience.

And, there’s a special Hearts & Minds connection: there is a chapter by a Presbyterian pastor friend, Rachel Stahle, who we knew as a neighbor girl who visited our shop decades ago. So nice to see her appropriating the old insights about the soul from Jonathan Edwards (about whom she has written her own book) and offering them in this thoughtful collection! Congrats, Rachel! Dallastown is proud of you!

The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying the Our Father Wesley Hill (Lexham Press) $15.99  Our sale price = $12.79  For starters, realize that this is the second in a series of handsome compact hardcovers, the first being the nuanced, compelling, and surprisingly popular volume The Apostles Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism by Ben Myers. The Lord’s Prayer is brand new in the “Christian Essentials” series. We so respect Wes Hill, who teaches Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA, and is exceptionally astute, eloquent, and very well-read. He is increasingly known in his field and is a gracious, good guy. With blurbs on the back of this small book from the likes of Marianne Meye Thompson and Matthew Levering, you can be assured that he is thoughtful and solid and that this book will bring some new passion for this old chestnut of a topic.  No lesser preacher and scholar than Fleming Rutledge commends it.

Indeed, listen to what Rev. Fleming Rutledge says:

Most Christians say the Lord’s Prayer with great frequency and familiarity, so that we scarcely know what we are saying. In this treasure of a book, Hill opens up the prayer with great freshness for the ordinary reader, so that we seem to hear Jesus himself speaking to us, showing us how to pray to his Father in the same spirit that he himself does. This little volume will enrich a reader’s life immeasurably. — Fleming Rutledge, author of The Crucifixion and  Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God Sarah Bessey (Howard Books) $26.00  Our sale price = $20.80 This should be one of the most talked about books (at least in some circles) this season. It may help to know that Sarah launched this book at the “Evolving Faith” event put together each year (this year in Denver, just a week or so ago) by Nadia Bolz-Weber and the late Rachel Held Evans. Bessey’s earlier books were very well written and I liked them a lot, including Jesus Feminist and the reassuring Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith.

I assumed this eagerly anticipated one is a bit of a follow up, but one of the important things to know is that Sarah was in a serious car wreck the damaged her body, and shook her faith; chronic pain can do that, you know. Realizing this back-story makes me want to read it all the more…

The blurbs on the back are truly notable and, we think, inspiring:

“Sarah Bessey is a writer of remarkable gifts. Beyond her ability to make a breath-taking sentence, and to tell the truth about the dying and rising of faith, she can tell a story as if she is whispering it straight into your heart. She is, by her own definition, a dangerous woman, with wisdom to spare about learning to love the broken miracles God offers us once we’re honest about where it hurts.”–Barbara Brown Taylor, author of Learning to Walk in the Dark and Holy Envy

“Sarah Bessey’s Miracles and Other Reasonable Things is immediately one of my favorite books. I can’t think of a single other work that brings together such raw, vulnerable pain with such a real sense of enchantment. Sarah is not too pious to tell us the truth about suffering, but not too cool to tell us the truth about the magic, either. In this trail-blazing, bush-burning book, anything can happen: the Pope shows up, and God does too . . . except of course, when God doesn’t.”–Jonathan Martin, author of How to Survive a Shipwreck and Prototype

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things will surprise and delight you. Sarah’s writing is so breathtaking, sometimes you think you are reading poetry. The story is so thrilling, sometimes you think you are devouring a novel. And the Spirit she describes is so compelling, you’ll swear you experienced a revival. You won’t put it down once until you close the last page. We are so lucky to be readers in the era of Sarah Bessey.”–Jen Hatmaker, author of For the Love and Of Mess of Moxie and 7 Days of Christmas

“Sarah Bessey, the self-described introvert, has given us all a witty and intimate personal reflection on faith and life that borders on liturgy. She walks the walk of an evolving faith, with power and vulnerability, guiding us through the common experience of listening to God’s nudge (and painful jolt) so we can relearn God again and again, and in so doing witness our own process of unbecoming and re-becoming people of faith. Thank you, Sarah, for putting yourself out there!”–Pete Enns, author of How the Bible Actually Works

Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery Mark Charles & Soong-Chan Rah (IVP) $17.00  Our sale price = $13.60 This is a big, serious, and very (very) important work that, despite its heavy, hard-hitting content, is readable, informative, and well written. It has been very highly anticipated and long awaited, offering, as it does, a distinctively Christian critique of the old European “Doctrine of Discovery” with the blunt assertion that “you cannot discover lands already inhabited.” Healing from the trauma of colonization, slavery, genocide, and dehumanization, they suggest, may take something akin to a “Truth and Reconciliation” commission as we so famously heard about in South Africa and, more recently in Canada. I hope to tell you more about this eventually, but for now know that we think it fills a real void and will be a gift for readers willing to take it up. Endorsers include a wide array of Christian leaders, including John Witvliet of the Calvin Institute on Christian Worship and Gene Green, a NT scholar at Wheaton, and activist Kathy Khang. The back includes Native theologian Randy Woodley (who says it is a “righteous and integral narrative” and from Andrea Smith (who serves on the board of the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies.”

Historian Mark Noll writes, wisely, I think (as one who doesn’t agree with all of the book), the following important recommendation:

Why should I endorse a book when I do not agree with some of its historical judgments? Answer: for the same reason you should read it. Charles and Rah attack a pernicious principle (the Doctrine of Discovery), review an evil history (the United States’ treatment of Native peoples), challenge a persistent stereotype (American exceptionalism), and psychoanalyze white America (in denial about the nation’s history). The entire book, even when you think things could be evaluated differently, will make you think, and think hard, about crucially important questions of Christian doctrine, American history, and God’s standards of justice.

Acts of the Almighty: Meditations on the Story of God for Every Day of the Year: A 365-Day Devotional Walter Wangerin, Jr. (Zondervan) $18.99  Our sale price = $15.19  I hardly have to say anything, I trust, about this famous writer, a Lutheran pastor, fantasy writer, poet, Bible teacher, and recipient of the National Book Award (and a New York Times Best Children’s Book of the Year Award.) I’m sure he’s gotten a few Hearts & Minds Best Books of the Year Awards over the years, too… and this one looks as good as any of his many marvelous books. It is, as it says on the back, “God’s grand story. Told in Single Moments.”

Oh my, this looks just splendid, creative, insightful, reading “the Bible’s expansive and arresting story in a brand-new way.” Beautiful cover, too.

Rings of Fire: Walking in Faith through a Volcanic Future Leonard Sweet (NavPress) $17.99 Our sale price = $14.39  It is almost impossible to adequately review a Len Sweet book – they have to be experienced first-hand! – and it is even harder to do so briefly. He uses images and metaphors in ways that are unlike any writer I know and he is entertaining, thought-provoking, (and sometimes, maddening.) He plays with words, interprets data in fresh ways, and cites more scholarly (and poetic) literature than anybody you’ll read, always with a preacherly bit of exhortation. It is a robust reading experience, to say the least. The footnotes are a major part of the book, too, and not to be missed; Sweet is a polymath and it is a delight to just soak in his vast knowledge. In this creative wake up call to the nature of our times and the coming future, Sweet invites us to a sweeping study of what’s a-coming in the 21st century. (And he makes a good joke about brooms in admitting how sweeping his observations may be.) Many who are born these days, he reminds us, will live to see the 21st century, (think about that) and the church simply has to be better prepared to not just cope but to offer fiery leadership in this era of volcanic eruptions in economics, communications, technology, bioethics and such. And he describes here in special chapters in Rings of Fire, a lot of cultural hotspots.

I will have to do a longer review after I’ve read more of this. I’ve read the first two chapters twice and studied the footnotes — which is another reason this latest BookNotes has been delayed.

For those that follow Sweet, I might say that with this book, he’s back in full. Big time. For the last several years he has offered a valuable stream of fine, smaller books, each lovely and exceptional and marked with that sweet wit and big picture insight. All of these books in the last decade have been potent and unique in the marketplace of religious titles, such as the short biography of his mom, Mother Tongue, and the compact book about community, From Tablet to Table, and his clever Bible study about the “bad” stuff Jesus did or the one about relationships or The Well Played Life, a theme he has often memorably taught about. (One doesn’t “work” at the violin, after all, but “plays” it, so he recoils about “working” at one’s marriage or life…) But they have all been fairly brief and somewhat conventional, super-smart and above average with his trademark connecting-the-dots style, but accessible and limited in focus. But none would be called magisterial. (Except maybe Giving Blood, which was about preaching, with that limited, specific audience in mind.)

With Rings of Fire, though, Len has given us a major work, akin to his previous, award-winning, meta-mega-monumental manuscripts, Faithquakes (1994), the unforgettable and still relevant Soul Tsunami (1999), and 2001’s Carpe Manana (we still promote this – he suggests that if we “seize the day” we’re already too late; we must seize tomorrow, which will be, by the way, multi-ethnic in a way many of us still haven’t realized. You should order one while supplies last! And then follow up that one with his very clever Soul Salsa, using the metaphor of the dance, not the condiment, although he writes about that, too.) Rings of Fire is hot, on fire offering what he is most known for, semiotics and future-studies, quantum faith engaging with the likes of Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Pink, for instance. We might need to get Earth-shaking verses like Nahum 1:5 in view as we join this master futurologist into this volcanic, seismic age. He wryly notes:

Rumbling, erupting, and exploding volcanoes signal the time for volcanic drive and cyclonic energy among us, to carve anew some breath-giving vistas of the future. Bob Dylan’s “The Time’s They Are A-Changin” may have worked for the twentieth century, but the soundtrack for the twenty-first century may be Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” Or, if classical music in not your thing, try Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”

Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace and Purpose Rebekah Lyons (Zondervan) $24.99  Our sale price = $19.99  We have long enjoyed the speaking and writing of Rebekah (who is also part of the team that runs the gloriously interesting and important Q gatherings, with her husband Gabe Lyons.) We’ve promoted her other books that are so honest about her own panic attacks, anxieties, and the complexities of raising four children, two with Down syndrome. Her first book was Freefall to Fly and her next was You Are Free.  

It seems that this new Rhythms of Renewal is very practical, offering colorful, fun, essays of advice arranged in four sections, describing four kinds of rhythms, what she calls “Rest Rhythms”, “Restore Rhythms”, “Connect Rhythms”, and “Create Rhythms.”

New York pastor and author Jon Tyson writes,

Rebekah Lyons has given us a great gift. Rarely does a book combine a compelling vision, theological insights, and a vision of practical faith so well. This books touches a deep longing we all have for a more beautiful and sustainable life one lived to the depth and height of what God actually offers. You will find rest for your soul and strength for your heart in here.

For what it is worth, we have a DVD curriculum with Rebekah sharing this same content that would make a great small group learning experience or could be used in an adult Sunday school class.

Reframation: Seeing God, People, and Mission Through Reenchanted Frames Alan Hirsch & Mark Nelson (100Movements Publishing) $18.99  Our sale price = $15.19  Oh, man, I’m telling you, this is one of the most significant, rousing, interesting, re-framing books that have appeared in recent years within the genre of books about the missional/incarnational church. Alan Hirsch, as you may know, is a seminal voice in the missional church movement and is a vibrant and award-winning author of books on movements, organizations, congregations, leadership; his co-author Mark Nelson is lead pastor of a faith community called Crossings, in Knoxville. (He is involved with the Forge movement as well, serving their Knoxville Hub and on their American board.) Their playful messing with the word “reformation” and calling us for a new sort of reformation, that creates a full-orbed re-framing and an imaginative enchantment of our worldview is remarkable, if maybe a bit blustery at times and full of lingo like “paradigmatic” and “catalytic” and “movement practitioners.” It is fascinating with lots of intellectually stimulating excursions and lots of stories from the authors. It is, if anything, a full gospel manifesto. Much, much more needs to be said, but we encourage you to order this a start a conversation about it in your church circles.

Anybody who is anybody in this movement has offered wildly supportive blurbs for this new work. For instance, there are raves by hip activist writers such as Christiana Rice, Hugh Halter, JR Woodward, David Fitch, Danielle Strickland, Linda Bergquist, John Mark Comer, Mark Sayers, and, of course, Hirsch’s occasional co-author, Michael Frost (who wrote a glowing afterword to Reframation.) Others have weighed in, from Walter Brueggemann to Bill Hull to Christine Sine to Bishop Graham Cray.

There is so much going on in this book calling on us to re-frame and re-enchant our understanding of God’s work in the world (and, consequently, but not only, our understanding of the structure and mission of the church.) To “re-frame” is a hugely audacious response to the work of the Spirit, and this book offers a visionary, complicated, big-picture, ride through our post-modern/secular/mystical culture to find ways to re-frame how we think of God and God’s role in our lives and world.

I happened to an endorsement of these authors in the book, and here’s is what is printed next to a lot of much more significant figures:

Every once in a while a book comes along that is so audacious, so sprawling, so visionary, so learned, so fascinating, that one almost wonders what wild prophets could come up with such a work? Hirsch and Nelson have been at this ministry, playing in these fields of the Lord, for a long time, and they offer us a deep and wise manifesto of how we might reframe our view of God, God’s work, our human vocation, our hope, and yes, the church’s mission — so we might be faithful and full and fruitful in these times. Uber-contemporary reports such as Hirsch’s taking in The Burning Man festival and Nelson’s moving account of hiking the El Camino trail, to scholarly engagement with extraordinary thinkers like Von Balthasar, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Taylor, will add to the urgent conversations of our day about the quest for meaning, the proper understanding of gospel-centered faith, the nature and scope of redemption, the joy of beauty, and the goodness of longing for a better world. Serious scholarship is illuminated by the transcendental vibe of Blake’s poetry and awesome exegesis of Biblical praise songs, by tender stories and great quips and quotes.  In a hurting, searching, God-haunted world, Reframation is itself a signal of transcendence.

Semper reframation!

What Does Your Soul Love? Eight Questions That Reveal God’s Work in You Gem and Alan Fadling (IVP/formatio) $22.00  Our sale price = $17.60  I hope you know that we carry all the books in the remarkable “formatio” line. They without fail offer solid insights about spiritual formation, our interior lives, the way in which God can transform us from the inside out to be of great service in our broken world. Many are about prayer and solitude and the contemplative life, but some are more general, as this one seems to be. You may know Alan Fading from his wonderful (and wonderfully convicting, I suspect) Unhurried Life and The Unhurried Leader.

This book deserves greater explanation, but a quick look at the Table of Contents shows us it offers nuanced and evocative reflections on desire, resistance, vulnerability, pain, fear, control, joy, and other key emotions. The invitation to “change from the center” seems clear and the last piece (before some great appendices) offers us guidance about “staying on the path of change.” This has good “process stuff and invites us to be honest about what is getting in the way, what we are hiding, what we cling to, and how we might find something more real and healthy.

Retreat leader Will Hernandez writes of What Does Your Soul Love?: 

Books on the subject of transformation abound. What makes this book stand out is that Gem and Alan crystallize for us what real change looks like through their very down-to-earth, living examples–concrete and relatable. One comes away after reading their accounts–peppered with story after story–convinced that authentic growth in God is indeed possible when our souls are focused in the right direction. Not only inspiring but downright practical!

No Avatars Allowed: Theological Reflections on Video Games Joshua Wise (Church Publishing) $18.95  Our sale price = $15.16  We have a big section in our store about faith-based reflections on popular culture, books offering Christian (and other) thoughtful perspectives on advertising, film, Super-heroes, hip hop, and more. We have books like Brent Laytham’s Ipod, Youtube, Wii Play: Theological Engagements with Entertainment next to Watching TV Religiously: Television and Theology in Dialogue edited by Kutter Callaway and Dean Batali. All framed by the best of the bunch, Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture by William Romanowski. 

It’s a fun section in the shop with lots to browse through, but, to be honest, there are not many serious and thoughtful (and fun) Christian books about video games that are worthwhile. Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games is our go-to, and the author, Kevin Schut Professor Media and Communications at Trinity Western University, happily, has a good blurb on the back of the brand new No Avatars Allowed.

Schut writes:

No Avatars Allowed is a valuable contribution to discussions Christians are having about video games. Joshua Wise writes in clear and accessible language about important topics surround theology, philosophy, and gaming. He raises insightful points that will hopefully spur discussions around a part of culture that the Christian Church still struggles to come to terms with.

Another fun connection with Wise’s book is that it is dedicated to (among others) our young friend and customer, Father Benjamin Gildas, who has graced the book with a very nice and informative foreword. Fr. Ben helped Wise start a lively podcast about gaming and God (also called No Avatars Allowed) and has been at the center of conversations about theology and technology and pop culture for years. Both serve Holy Sacrament Church in Drexel Hill, Philadelphia, and Wise also is an adjunct professor of systematic theology at Villanova. He is, curiously, drawing on some of the Patristic Fathers here, and early on cites Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Christology of Cyril of Alexandria. He offers a measure of George MacDonald, it seems, too, all in a study about very contemporary gaming. What a book!

Exactly As You Are: The Life and Faith of Mister Rogers Shea Tuttle (Eerdmans) $23.99  Our sale price = $19.19  Oh my, just having this book face out in the store brings a certain calm and joy and pleasure. It looks so very good; we respect Ms Tuttle for her important work as co-editor in the “Lived Theology” project called Can I Get a Witness: Thirteen Peacemakers, Community Builders, and Agitators for Faith and Justice that came out from Eerdmans earlier this year. I raved about it at BookNotes earlier this summer, and I’m glad that she has taken up this project. I’m sure she brings a kindness but also a certain suitable gravitas to the study, although with a light touch.

As it says in the publisher promo:

In Exactly as You Are, Tuttle looks at Fred Roger’s life, the people and places that made him who he was, and his work through Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. She pays particular attention to his faith – because Fred Rogers was a deeply spiritual person, ordained by his church with a one-of-a-kind charge: to minister to children and families through television.

I trust you know the fabulous, hefty Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King (now out in paperback) and I really hope you know the remarkable Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers by Central Pennsylvania religion professor Michael Long. Both are indispensable. But this brand new one, lovingly researched and wonderfully written, may now be considered one of the very best books on this amazing, amazing, Presbyterian Christian and media icon.

My Heart Cries Out: Gospel Meditations for Everyday Life Paul David Tripp (Crossway) $24.99  Our sale price = $19.99  Paul Tripp is a conservative, Reformed Christian/Biblical counselor who draws on the gospel truths of the Scriptures in everything he does and writes. He is very widely respected and appreciated for being raw and real and always rooted in the great news of the transforming power of the cross of Christ. The over-used phrase “gospel centered” can properly be applied to his approach and his many books illustrate these no-nonsense commitments to keeping first things first, even as he loves living in the real world and helps others cope with their hurts and foibles, sins and struggles.

So it is no surprise that contemporary, theologically rich, hymnodists Keith & Kristyn Getty have an endorsement on the back of this book of devotions, saying:

Tripp has the great ability to grasp the vast riches of biblical truth and distill it for us in creative, compelling, and wonderfully-practical ways.

It may be a bit more surprising to see hip hop recording artist and writer Lecrae write:

As an artist who uses words as expressions, I found joy in reading My Heart Cries Out. This work connects with the human condition in a unique and awesome way.

You see, these artists appreciate this book because, unlike Tripp’s other books, this is poetry. (And there are other endorsements from women and men who are artists, singers, hip hop guys.) Yes, it is offered as “gospel meditations” and it is somewhat of a daily devotional. But the form is sheer poetry. Written, as one observer notes, by a “sage with scars.”

By the way, kudos to Crossway for the nice design. the book is a bit larger than usual, with French fold covers, and some full color photography in side. It’s a beautiful paperback.

The Fragility of Order: Catholic Reflections on Turbulent Times George Weigel (Ignatius Press) $24.95  Our sale price = $19.96  Agree or not with the conservative Roman doctrine or the culturally traditionalist commitments of this remarkable thinker, his work is significant. (A blurb on the back by Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon calls him “a steady voice of reason.”) He writes mostly around the intersection of faith and culture, societal concerns, public justice, social ethics. In this heady collection he draws us to the questions of how to keep order when the very notions that sustain order are eroded. (For a recent, evangelical, Protestant book that follows similar grooves, at least in political matters, think of Os Guinness’s A Free People’s Suicide or Last Call for Liberty.)

Agree or not with his particular take on history and evaluation of the times and his conservative religious loyalties, you surely will be intrigued with a book by an author who garners a blurb like this:

Mary Eberstadt, Senior Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute), says:

Every page in this book shines with moral clarity, literary pyrotechnics, and the illumination of history. The Fragility of Order proves once more that George Weigel is our Virgil through the dark woods of modernity.

Consumed By Hate, Redeemed By Love: How a Violent Klansman Became a Champion of Racial Reconciliation Thomas A. Tarrants (Nelson Books) $24.99 Our sale price = $19.99  Our lives have been too busy, and I have felt badly that I have not reviewed for you this major release, truly one of the most amazing, God-glorifying stories I’ve ever heard. We are friends with the author, the President Emeritus of the C.S. Lewis Institute in Washington, DC. Tom is a good, good man, redeemed and made new by Jesus Christ, and when we first heard that he had been in jail for attempted murder in a violent KKK incident, I was stunned, breathless, sick to my stomach. Beth and I so admired Tom’s quiet and peaceful demeanor and his sharp, well-read mind. We had no idea of his background and found it hard to belief. We didn’t know much, then, but realized he was the guy who had once written a book about his racial hatreds with African American faith leader, John Perkins. It wasn’t terribly well known, but maybe you’ve seen it. It was called He’s My Brother and it only told part of this dramatic, wild, redemptive story. Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love tells the whole backstory in all it’s scary ugliness and amazing, amazing grace.

I surely will have to review this more carefully and thoroughly later, but, for now, know that this autobiography tells of Tom’s past, his anti-Semitism and racism, how he had engaged in what we now might call alt-right militia type activities. He was involved in shoot-outs with law enforcement and went to prison for an attempted bombing of a Jewish synagogue.

This bombing, an awful chapter in the US civil rights struggle, was something novelist John Grisham heard about as a kid growing up in Mississippi, and he later used it as a backdrop for his novel The Chamber. As the Southern Baptist Grisham writes, “Now, one of the bombers, Thomas Tarrants, tells the real story in this remarkable memoir.”

Grisham continues,

It is riveting, inspiring, at times hard to believe but utterly true, and it gives some measure of home in these rancorous times.

You will have to read his own well told story to learn how he got keep into this mess, and how, in prison, he found a personal relationship with Christ which transformed his identity and his racial prejudices. The governor of the state granted him clemency and he ended up working in a multi-racial church in urban Washington DC.  There is a lot more to this story, but we wanted to introduce it here, now. Listen to Russell Moore, who says Consumed by Hate, Redeemed… is a “riveting narrative…  the path from burning crosses to the cross of Christ himself, from raging hate to amazing grace.”

This astonishing portrait of captivity to a corrupt ideology and eventual authentic conversion is well worth reading. As journalist (and convert from a rigorous atheism, himself) Lee Strobel says:

Put on your seat belt and prepare to enter into one of the most extraordinary true stories you’ll ever encounter.

Not Home Yet: How the Renewal of the Earth Fits Into God’s Plan for the World Ian K. Smith (Crossway) $15.99  Our sale price = $12.79  Increasingly there are books which – praise the Lord! – show that the ultimate plan for the created order is re-creation and renewal. We are not going to be raptured to some ethereal heavenly plane but the Bible teaches that God returns to fulfill his promises, to heal the creation; the good news is one of restoration, not destruction. A few books and movements with this vision of “all of life redeemed” and “every square inch” reclaimed by Christ link it to what ought to be obvious: environmental concerns; but some do not. This little volume of Biblical studies is not primarily about stewardship of the environment, as such, but it frames our ecological concerns in light of this wonderfully robust, solidly Biblical vision of God’s faithfulness in the past and future to the work of His hands.

This has something to do with, and will be of great interest to those who have come to understand the descriptor “creation-fall-redemption-restoration” as the best over-view of the Bible’s story and the history of the plan of redemption. (Not Home Yet also looks at themes in the Old Testament about exile and homecoming and the temple being destroyed and restored.) Those four “chapters” of the Biblical story influence much, but few accessible Bible scholars have done good work on the hope of a restored planet. (The very, very best study of this, although a bit academic and lengthy for some, is the classic A New Heaven and A New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology by J. Richard Middleton.)

What is the nature of our “future home?” How might a high regard for God’s covenant and promises for the Earth influence our living, now? (Think of the good insights about these very matters in N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope.) Not Home Yet explores this all quite nicely. He insists that what we do now has value, because God values the Earth. This beautiful place is not “second best” as if we’re going “somewhere better.” This is, as Smith shows, exactly what the Bible teaches.

I love it that pious Scottish Presbyterians like Sinclair Ferguson endorse this little book. A highly regarded and fabulous Old Testament scholar, Tremper Longman endorses Not Home Yet, by saying:

I have never seen such a clear articulation of the theme of creation and re-creation anywhere.

Choosing Community: Action, Faith, and Joy in the Works of Dorothy Sayers Christine A. Colon (IVP Academic) $16.00 Our sale price = $12.80  I said I want to keep these announcements short. But oh my, there’s so much to say about Dorothy Sayers, her friendship with C.S. Lewis and the Inklings, her work as a Dante scholar, as a mystery writer (do you know the detective fiction featuring Lord Peter Whimsey?), her contributions as a playwright, her legendary letter writing, and her rise as a extraordinary and somewhat surprising example of a respected Christian scholar. One of her famous books was called, of course, The Mind of the Maker and many in the contemporary faith and work movement draw on her seminal essay about the essential dignity of human labor, called “Work Matters.” She is a figure we should know more about.

And so, I’ve wished for years for a book like this. And here it is. (If only I had time to dive in, which I surely will, soon.)  Choosing Community… as you might be able to tell, isn’t just a dry overview of the famous Dorothy Sayers and her many books. It presses us to grapple with Sayers’ life and work and learn from it how to thrive in our particular day and age, troubled as it may be.

Listen to these endorsements.

Christine Colón has written an original and thoroughly fascinating book on Dorothy L. Sayers and community. Sayers enthusiasts will appreciate her meticulous research, but even the general reader who doesn’t know Sayers will learn something about how people can live together in harmony despite the traumas of this world.” (Suzanne Bray, professor of English, Lille Catholic University)

“Colón wends her way through Sayers’s detective novels and religious plays in the context of her life and times to help us see what Sayers wanted us to learn about community and the work that God has given each of us to do with joy for the health of our communities ― especially the church. Sayers comes through as one who passionately grounded these insights in essential Christian doctrines, such as God’s triune existence and the atonement, during times of war and societal decay. At a time when we seem to be sinking into tribalism in a contentious world, there are lessons to be gleaned from Sayers thanks to Colón’s guidance. And this study might just prompt one to hurry to the bookshelf and read or reread a Sayers piece, seeing in it what otherwise would have been missed.” (Dennis Okholm, professor of theology, Azusa Pacific University, author of Learning Theology Through the Church’s Worship)

Near the Exit: Travels with the No-So-Grim Reaper Lori Erickson (WJK) $17.00  Our sale price = $13.60  Before I ran out of time, I had a plan: I was going to do a longer review of this in time for the Mexican Day of the Dead ceremonies (now oddly celebrated all over the world) which mostly coincide with Halloween and, yes, All Saints Day. Near the Exit is a very vividly written, entertaining travelogue book where the author (known for bringing religious sensibilities to expert travel memoirs, like in her popular Holy Rover) explores how people all over the world dispatch their dead. It isn’t gloomy, but some readers might find it a bit creepy. On the very first page she is embedded in a Day of the Dead event in Chicago. Whoah.

When a world-renowned doctor who has specialized for a lifetime writing about care for the dying such as Ira Byock (Dying Well) writes that a book is “informative, insightful and thoroughly entertaining” it’s worth checking out. When an author is as witty and irreverent and yet deeply tender as Erickson is, she is, for my tastes, worth reading. This is one fascinating book.

She is honest about some of her immediate motives: her brother dies rather suddenly and her mother is in a dementia-care unit. (Some of the writing around that was very, very moving for me, having lost my mother recently.) Erickson moves from curious strolls through church graveyards to Egypt’s Valley of the Kings to Mayan Temples to a Colorado cremation pyre to writing about her own care for her own dying mother. Erickson is an Episcopal deacon so stands firmly within the broad Christian tradition, although some with traditional orthodox theology will find her cavalier writing about what happens after death a bit wanting. Still, if one can get past that this isn’t a theological treatise or Bible-based sermon, but a colorful travelogue (did I mention she has won writing awards in the Travel Books category) by a person who respects global faiths and diverse cultural customs – more an anthropologist than a theologian – it could be a real enjoyable read for you. And, who knows, in exploring how others including Erickson herself) process the mysteries of death and dying, maybe you will glean a bit more empathy for others and a bit more willingness to explore what you believe and why. After all, as she notes in the preface, to be human is to be mortal. We all, whether we enjoy it or not, have reason to be interested.  Near the Exit is one entertaining way into that big question…

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More on “Christ in Crisis” by Jim Wallis, “Love Anyway” by Jeremy Courtney, a great new book “The End of Hunger” by IVP, two new books by Walt Brueggemann, and the brand new devotional by Bob Goff, “Live in Grace, Walk in Love.” ON SALE NOW

We’ve been on the road out selling books – just last week at a camp hosting a wonderful annual conference for small Presbyterian congregations. We helped host photographer and social entrepreneur Jeremy Cowart at our church, selling his book I’m Possible: Jumping Into Fear and Discovering a Life of Purpose. Soon, we serve a Lutheran preaching workshop with Paul Scott Wilson and then head to a speaking engagement out at Grove City College, even as we’re prepping for the national Christian Legal Society annual gathering coming up soon in Chicago. Thanks for your prayers and for sending us orders which sustains our bookish ministry.

As you may have seen at our Facebook group, we have author Shawn Smucker coming to the store on Saturday night, October 19th. Shawn has written two YA fantasy novels (which, like the best YA novels, are good for adults, too), a mysterious adult novel called The Light from Distant Stars and a moving memoir about meeting a Syrian refugee and what that taught him about “loving my neighbor.” It starts at 7:00 pm and will be a great time to hear an accomplished writer read from his books and talk about his stories and his craft. All are welcome.

 

In the last BookNotes I announced that we had just gotten in, that day, brand new books by Jim Wallis (Christ in Crisis) and Jeremy Courtney (Love Anyway.) I told you that these are two authors we respect and whose books are surely worth reading, even if may not agree with everything said or implied. Jim is an old friend who founded the underground Post American that became Sojourners; Jeremy wrote the breathtaking Preemptive Love about doing medical missions and building interfaith friendships and peacemaking coalitions in the Middle East, showing how the power of love can help enemies unite around saving kids lives. If the old ’60s student radical turned evangelical peace and justice advocate Wallis represents an older school of progressive faith leader, Jeremy is a Gen X social entrepreneur/activist who is on the ground with skin in the game, right now. I had skimmed both of these books quickly for an hour and sent my BookNotes accolades into the ether just like that.

Over the next week I read them both. I now want to weigh in to assure you that they are as good as I had predicted and that I believe many of our Hearts & Minds customers should read them. Each in their own way they are exceptionally current and very important.

Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus Jim Wallis (HarperOne) $25.99 OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $20.79

As I said in the previous newsletter announcement, Christ in Crisis is what Jim suggests may be his most important book yet, certainly one that focuses on our civic polarization and political crisis through the lens of questions that Jesus asks, reminding us of some pretty basic things, Biblical truths too often forgotten or ignored. Like the earliest days of Sojourners, Wallis calls us to conversion, to turn from our idols and from accommodation and complicity in worldly injustices and the abuse of power.

And he talks about baseball. About his family. And draws on a lifetime of fascinating stories working with the urban poor while traveling around the globe encouraging faith-based activism for peace and justice, equality and reconciliation.

I’m not going to lie: I’ve read every book Jim has written (even though I may wish he’d adopt a different tack or tone here or there) and have written and taught and preached most of this same stuff myself over the years. I was glad for a book on Jesus and the political implications of His reign, but wasn’t expecting to be so moved; I’ve been there, done that, I figured. As I told one group last week, I started the book assuming it would be fine but mostly a rehash of stuff I knew, and to my delight, my heart was strangely warmed with each consecutive chapter. Yes, much of this is like a Sojo greatest hits album, but framed by these significant questions raised by Christ in the gospels, reading it became a deeply moving experience for me, and each chapter got better and better. Like a socially consequential but almost old-fashioned altar call, Wallis invites us to grapple with the Biblical truth of who Jesus is and what it means to be shaped by His ways. Who doesn’t need that renewal and revival from time to time?

The subtitle “Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus” is a directly jab, of course, at the Christian right. Those who want to be faithful in the ways of Jesus need to counter the way the media and the fundamentalist right has co-opted the lingo of evangelicalism without much obvious commitment to Christ’s teachings. Good people can disagree about the application of the Sermon on the Mount mandates and we should admit that a Christ-like social ethic (let alone public policy) can be complicated. Wallis is a preacher, not a politician, but he knows a bit about the policy debates, so his direction in political Christ-likeness isn’t cheap rhetoric. Granted it’s not Jamie Smith’s Awaiting the King on political theology or James Skillen on the task of the state (as in his The Good of Politics) but it is really, really good Bible stuff that somehow we too often miss in thinking about the relevance of our faith for our civic lives.

As well-known black preacher Otis Moss III puts it,

American yearns for an appropriate reintroduction to the person named Jesus. Jesus has been hidden by shallow religion and dishonest commentary. Jim Wallis reclaims and reintroduced us to a radical spiritual figure even nonbelievers will find inspiring.

Others, too, have summarized Jim’s new book nicely. Diana Butler Bass says it could be called Following Jesus Again for the First Time. Parker Palmer notes that “Some Christians believe Jesus is an advance man for ‘Make America Great Again,’ but for those who long to restore the church’s integrity… Wallis teaches us to struggle for love, truth, and justice while resisting the seductions of political power.”

Jim’s old friend Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, a respected, Reformed scholar, engaged leader of global Christianity, and author of books like Future Faith: Ten Challenges Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century, notes that Wallis “calls us to de-Americanize the Gospel.”

Wes continues:

Take and read; these words will feed your heart, and if heeded, heal the soul of the nation. Wallis resurrects the spiritual wisdom and moral clarity so desperately needed to speak words of prophetic power, integrity and truth.

Brittany Packnett, a young black activist he tells about in the book (cofounder of Campaign Zero), notes that “For too long, we’ve ceded the power and person of Jesus to political movements with no ambitions toward His radical love.” I think this is too-often correct which I why I hope BookNotes readers from across the political spectrum will take up this book to at least consider and discuss and debate. You can read the “Reclaiming Jesus Declaration” here to get a feel for what inspired Wallis to write about these eight questions.

Watch this video of Jim talking passionately (if soberly) about this crisis of our culture, the crisis of faith, and why we have to recover the person and work and values of Jesus. (But be sure to come back to keep reading BookNotes — there’s a lot more you’ll want to see!)

Anyway, I shared in the last BookNotes just a bit about this new book so you knew it was out. Now that I’ve read it, I’m very eager to commend it, seriously so. As we announced last week, we have it at 20% off. You can use our secure order form page by clicking the “order here” tab below.

Love Anyway: An Invitation Beyond a World That’s Scary as Hell Jeremy Courtney (Zondervan) $17.99 OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $14.39

I’ve got the same need to tell you just a bit more about Jeremy Courtney’s latest book. Last week it had just come in and although we’ve met Jeremy a time or two and follow his brave work of offering relief and supplies to those in the war zones of Iraq and Syria, I was simply unprepared for the captivating read Love Anyway was.  My heart raced as I heard my friend talk about unbelievable dangers, betrayals, persecutions. Those who read Preemptive Love will recall some painful relationship losses as Jeremy and Jessica and their children tried to earn the trust and solidarity with Shia and Sunni Muslims, Turkmen and Kurds, Jews and Christians and Zoroasters, radicals and revolutionaries. Part of the vision of their Preemptive Love organization is relational, trading in the arts of friendship, human-scale entrepreneurial start-ups, collaborative team-building and the like. He drinks a lot of Middle Eastern tea and strong sweet coffee with a lot of folks in a lot of villages.

As the Gulf wars raged and the US invaded Iraq and ISIS emerged and the horror deepened, Jess and Jeremy re-doubled their resolve to “overcome evil with good” and to be nonviolent agents of friendship and grace.This was new ground for them – for most of us – so they had to imagine and dream and experiment in building signposts towards the world they believed could break into human history. Despite grotesque barbarism – rape, genocide, chaos, hunger – they look for acts of kindness and celebrate beautiful things. They are artists of the impossible, it seems, conjuring dreams and visions few of us can hardly imagine and inviting others to join the movement of forgiveness and love.

And they do it. They started a local soap-making project and helped form a candle-making business; they teach job skills as ways to bring income to a region, they work well with woman and help with child protection services, even as they arrange for emergency medical work. In the midst of severe crisis, they get semi-trucks loaded with healthy food into places no aid organizations dare go. (Backing out the huge trucks is another story!) This becomes a bit of a theme in some of the chapters – why aren’t the established, major relief organizations where they are so badly needed? The Preemptive Love Coalition is small and the need is great. Where are the big, well-known charitable groups? The answer may be one of organizational culture with the larger agencies mired in bureaucracy and politics and a clunky  top-down organizational flow in contrast to Jeremy and Jess’s nimble, audacious style, guided by a Gen X metric of relationship and Christ-like idealism. So there they go, fearless it seems, right into the heart of violent, ISIS occupied Mosul, the only Western charitable organization on the ground.

But I must tell you – and this is one of the reasons this book is a must-read for anyone who cares about global realities and visionary Christ-like ways of public service – it doesn’t always go well.

Yes, there are gloriously inspiring episodes in this book which is chock-full of good stories.  Yes, Jeremy writes eloquently about the dream of the world God wants, a way we can hardly imagine but believe in our hearts is somehow possible. Yet, I am choked up, even now, trying to tell you, dear readers, how hard it was to read this painful book by our friend. He saw things perhaps few Westerners (other than our soldiers, some relief workers and missionaries, maybe) actually see. Except for the military (who in this book seem at times benign and helpful and other times threatening and brutalizing), most Westerners have not entered these danger zones or left when ISIS advanced. His journalistic reporting is always interesting as he talks about the food and terrain, sometimes mundane, and sometimes gripping, like when he is passing by the grave site of the executed Saddam Hussein, buried in his ancestral village, Al-Awja, about 100 miles north of Baghdad.

Sometimes, things get very ugly. With vile Chinese-made scatter bombs and fear-producing videos of beheadings and the demonic realities of mass rape, it is no wonder the world didn’t know what to do.

I am unclear about some of the time line of this memoir – it’s due to my bad memory and ignorance, not a fault of the book – but some of the harshest stories in Love Anyway are set when the Yazidis were surrounded at Sinjar and slaughtered in the summer and fall of 2014. My hunch is that Jeremy would say that President Obama’s foreign policy wasn’t helpful, but that President Trump’s has unleashed even more chaos on the ground. He never names any US political figures as that isn’t his focus; as oppression continues and air-strikes and drones from various sources do their damage, he clearly reports in a vivid, informative way, telling just what it is like in this place near Nineveh where ISIS black flags are spray painted on homes, the ubiquitous N (for Nazarene, or Christian) is a death-threat, and ancient churches with ancient manuscripts are bombed and burned. He’s an electrifying storyteller and most of us have read some of this stuff in the newspapers, but some of this, in his intimate telling, is still quite shocking.

And so, this is a book about a former evangelical missionary evolving in faith to become more inclusive and less evangelistic – having real friends who are Muslims or Sikhs or Kurds softened his self-righteous zeal to convert them (which damaged some of his old church-related friendships and hurt his Southern fundamentalist funding sources, another fraught theme of the story.) Love Anyway offers a bit of a quick overview of some of what is told so dramatically in the earlier volume about arranging (cross-cultural and interfaith) pediatric heart surgeries, Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time. In those early days in Iraq they adopted the motto “love first, ask questions later” in contrast to what they heard US military men and women say, famously, “shoot first, ask questions later” or “kill them all, let God sort ‘em out.” He is quick to admit that this isn’t US policy, of course, and his soldiering friends may or may not have actually endorsed these slogans of dark humor, but – as we know – this is part of the culture of military training and there have been gross abuses and civilian deaths in our waging war. Without sounding off in protest against the warriors (with whom he sometimes partners) The Preemptive Love Coalition tried to wage peace.

As much as I’ve studied this topic – social change through nonviolent resistance, peace-building, direct action, holistic development, community organizing for justice and the like – I have never read an account like this. I suspect you haven’t either. Love Anyway: An Invitation Beyond a World That’s Scary as Hell is one of the most captivating books I’ve read this year.

I do not want to spoil too much, as this really is an exciting read with some fascinating twists and turns, but there is a painful crisis of faith that reverberates just below the surface of much of this. It will strike many readers as understandable but sad. As the chapters unfold you can just feel the tension, the philosophical struggles, the draining setbacks, the frustrations, the loss. Some think he’s too focused on one thing or another, others criticize this or that; folks back home don’t approve of something, others disapprove of something else. Even his own colleagues and friends are troubled. He is haunted by the accusation that he is a bad husband and father for involving his family in this dangerous work. He experiences trauma leading to something akin to post-traumatic stress.

Jeremy and his wife and their dearest friends are performing a high-wire dance without a net, and when things get scary, they are too often not supported well (or so it seems to me.) Naturally, they wrestle. They have doubts about their evangelical faith. Does this love stuff even make sense? Is there a chance it can be effective? Are their interfaith cooperation efforts a quixotic dream better suited to progressive Christian conferences and podcasts about making a difference or can we really “be the change we want to see in the world”? Where is God? These are my words, not his, exactly, but this wonderfully-written report from the ground, written amidst power outages and water shortages and extremes of heat and cold and threats of arrest (rumors were spread that his organization was a front for the CIA) and not surprising relational issues and problems with donors back home are just riling with large anxieties, despite truly great accomplishments. Most of us who have tried to innovate or start something or serve in hard places understand something of these quandaries, but this is like nearly anything I’ve ever read. I think you won’t be able to put it down. Your heart make ache a bit and you may want to pray harder for Jeremy and Jess and their children, Micah and Emma, and their friends and team-members. I hope so.

Check out their website here which nicely explains their efforts to “Help fast, to stop the spread of war” and to offer “help that lasts, which reduces the risk of war” and to “heal the past, which, by reaching across enemy lines and creating a diverse community, can change the ideas that lead to war.” With their friendship and relief aid they want to “unmake” violence. It’s a large-hearted vision and it takes a toll anywhere. Especially in this hard place. Jeremy and his publishers are to be honored for talking about it all so beautifully and yet so candidly.

Will you help us spread the world about Love Anyway? It would very meaningful for us to get to send some of these out, at our 20% off BookNotes sale price. Use the secure order link below and just tell us what you want and where to send your order. We’ll confirm everything personally, of course.  Thanks.

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Now I have to do it again – tell you immediately about four brand new books that just arrived that I haven’t had time to read carefully yet. We’re on the run, balancing our own swirling plates, but we simply must give a quick shout out to these wonderful new titles.  Read on!

From Judgment to Hope: A Study on the Prophets Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $14.00 Walt may be aging a bit and he has largely retired from travel and speaking, I’m told, but he is as generative and productive as ever, doing new books, writing introductions, collating previous stuff into serviceable, inspiring, resources for God’s people. I know he isn’t the only one, but in many ways, Brueggemann has almost single-handedly inspired many (especially in mainline churches, at first, and now more widely) to recover the profundity of the counter-narrative of the Bible, the prophetic imagination, the subversive and transforming vision that offers an energetic faith-filled alternative to the dominant ideologies of the age.  As he has said over and over (perhaps most clearly in his little The Bible Makes Sense) those on the cultural right and left have both tried to read the Bible within their own chosen proclivities and ideologies, and the texts simply won’t allow it. Any honest reading of the raw and wild poetry of the Scriptures simply must renew our assumptions and set us on a trajectory unlike the worldly options of left or right, religious or secular, the poles of freedom or control.

And so, we know Brueggemann has done commentaries and heady technical studies of the prophets. In this new book we have six short chapters designed for ordinary readers, complete with discussion questions.  There is a nice summary of the prophetic books in an appendix and an approximate timeline. From Judgment to Hope is fresh stuff (although a few of these studies were previously available for purchase on line, I think.) We are glad for WJK releasing this and commend it for your personal use or your small group. It is rich and evocative and will be a stretch for those not used to his prose. But it’s a perfect introduction. Highly recommended.

From Judgment to Hope: A Study on the Prophets by Walter Brueggemann is just $14.00 and with our BookNotes discount we can send it media mail (or other ways if you want) for 20% off the usual retail, making it $11.20.

An On-Going Imagination: A Conversation about Scripture, Faith, and the Thickness of Relationship Walter Brueggemann and Clover Reuter Beal (WJK) $18.00  Okay, this is a different sort of book than the little study of the prophets listed above. This is as good as it gets, though, as an introduction to Brueggemann, as it literally is a collection of often brief, rather informal, but always rich conversations.

There is another book of longer, deeper interviews with him by a former student and Harvard Divinity School professor, Carolyn Sharp, called Living Countertestimony: Conversations with Walter Brueggemann (WJK; $20.00) but this brand new one is a congenial set of shorter conversations recorded (on a cell phone, often) by a Presbyterian pastor. “Pull up a chair and plan to stay awhile,” says Christine Roy Yoder, a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary. Walt here starts by telling his story, in personal, intimate conversation with a friend (and spouse of a former student, Timothy Beal, who helped pull this together.) A few of these conversations were public (such as a major conversation held at Forest Hill Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio) and others were over coffee at Clover’s kitchen table.

The introduction by Clover’s husband, Timothy, telling of how he tried to mimic Walt’s legendary teaching style, drawing from his copious notes on Samuel from his seminary days, is fantastic. (Come on, some of you, you’ve swaggered and shouted and whispered with Brueggemann affectation, sometimes haven’t you?)  My, my, that is a beautiful, fun, and exceptionally wise chapter. It is followed by two other great introductions, by both Walt and Clover, both telling why they have valued these dialogical sessions and how we readers can enter the lively conversations. These three early chapters are worth the price of the book, right there!

An On-going Conversation asks foundational questions – what is the Bible? How can we develop an “alternative literalism” by “losing our Bible baggage.”  Why does it matter today? What is the purpose of prayer? How can we best describe the attributes and character of God? They explore some familiar ground for Walt – what is the importance of lament and attending to our pain? Why is keeping the Sabbath important (and why is it counter-cultural?) What methods of Bible study and exploration are most fruitful and faithful –how do we better appreciate the rhetoric of the Bible and preach it with imagination?  And why is it so strange, and what is good about that? How does the social analysis of the Biblical writers help us navigate our own socio-political issues? What does it mean to approach creation-care and science with a spirit of doxology? What should church renewal look like?

You are going to be enriched by reading this, whether you are a long-time Brueggy fan or new to his work. You’ll like hearing about his early experiences at church camps and his “personal-theological” work. There are brief chapters (again, in dialogue/conversational format) about a theology of sin, about “Eucharistic empowerment” and a chapter called “Liturgy Versus Empire” which is on the elements of worship. They talk about public prayer and about private prayer, they explore neighborliness and talk about money and possessions and so much more. Clover asks him “what keeps you going” and what he believes in. This truly is an on-going conversation and we highly recommend joining an on-going conversation by nurturing an on-going imagination.”

An On-Going Imagination: A Conversation about Scripture, Faith, and the Thickness of Relationship by Walter Brueggemann & Clover Reuter Beal (published by WJK) for $18.00. On sale now for 20% off, which makes it just $14.40.

For what it’s worth, here is a lovely interview with Brueggemann about his scholarship created by the publisher Wipf & Stock, who has done a number of short collections of Brueggemann essays.

The End of Hunger: Renewed Hope for Feeding the World edited by Jenny Eaton Dyer & Cathleen Falsani (IVP) $17.00  You may recall that a few weeks ago I suggested two recent books on hunger – one by Bread for the World founder Art Simon called Silence Can Kill: Speaking Up to End Hunger and Make Our Economy Work for Everyone (Eerdmans; $29.99) and another by Texas Anti-Hunger Initiative leader, Jeremy Everett entitled I Was Hungry: Cultivating Common Ground to End an American Crisis (Brazos Press $16.99.) As I said there, both are splendid. They are still on sale for 20% off the shown prices.

If only we had then the brand, brand new The End of Hunger edited by Dyer & Falsani. What a perfect supplement to those books this great one would be. It has a great cover, a fabulously curious array of contributors, and covers all sorts of ground. Please listen to me on this: this may be the best primer on world hunger and poverty issues I’ve ever seen – and I have seen a lot. The End of Hunger has stories, reports, agricultural stuff, economic wisdom, Bible explorations, practical suggestions, imaginative dreams, first-hand testimonials (from coffee growers and refugees, Africans and Asians, adopted children and rising leaders from the global South.) This book never gets dry, the chapters are short but remarkably well informed and moves deftly from the good news of what is working, the ways we can be involved, encouraging our involvement in the most effective sort of charities, helping with wise and fruitful philanthropy, and taking up the citizenship vocation of advocacy about just policy proposals, all in upbeat prose, vibrant and passionate and good. The End of Hunger is a great book!

You might be surprised by the varied sorts of topics covered and those who have written short pieces for this great collection. You’ll read a piece by Chef Rick Bayless and learn about brain studies from “Science Mike” McHargue. Heroic politicians like William Frist, Diane Black, and Tony Hall are here as are long-time anti-poverty workers. Inspiring stories come from Tony Campolo and Gabe Salguero and Ron Sider, with a great chapter on eating and cooking by Rachel Marie Stone (who, by the way, edited the latest, updated edition of the classic More-With-Less Cookbook.) I loved the chapter “From the Garden to the Table” by Amy Grant and was surprised how fantastic the piece on raising dignity was, co-written by Kimberly-Williams-Paisley and her country music star husband, Brad Paisley. From Bob Corker to Sammy Rodriguez, from the great writer Cathleen Falsani (whose chapter is called “A Thousand Days and a Million Questions”) to ONE campaign leader Rudo Kwaramba-Kayombo, this book just has so much. There’s a piece about sexual trafficking by Nikole Lim and a lovely one called “Hunger, Fasting, and Faith” by Angel F. Mendez Montoya. There is a piece on holistic health. Of course there’s a piece by Jeffrey Sachs and we’re glad to see Bread for the World’s David Beckman, right next to Steve and Debbie Taylor interviewing their own daughter Sarah, adopted from Africa. It is arranged coherently in four sections but my point is that there are diverse approaches and lots of interesting writing, making this a must read for those interested in feeding the world and a great one to give to someone who hasn’t read on this topic yet.

Again, you get the point: unlike some heady and dense tomes on this complex topic, EoH is a great, upbeat reader with stuff about the role of women and children, farming and fasting, what needs to be done and what we can do. The remarkable news is that in the last generation or so we have nearly halved the number of starving people and halved the number dying from HIV/AIDS. We are on track, moving in the right direction regarding public health and sustainable solutions, it seems. With blurbs on the back from authors as wise as Norman Wirzba and as exciting as Jo Saxton, you can be assured that this book will help us, truly, effectively, faithfully, respond to the clear command of Jesus to feed the hungry. It is possible. We can do this. With the pastors and scholars and artists and activists and politicians and charitable organization leaders in this book (even without Bono, who only gets an allusive shout out from his friend Cathleen Falsani) is fantastic. It will inform you, inspire you, equip you to do this gospel work.

The End of Hunger: Renewed Hope for Feeding the World edited by Jenny Eaton Dyer and Cathleen Falsani regularly sells for $17.00 in a very well designed paperback. At our BookNotes discount of 20% off we can send it out for $13.60 plus shipping, which, if we use media mail, is cheap. Kudos to IVP for caring about this, for working with these two women who put together this surprising volume, this labor of love. Let’s be sure there’s a copy in every church library, used at every Christian college and para-church ministry and nonprofit, in your congregation, your home and ours.

Live in Grace, Walk in Love: A 365-Day Journey Bob Goff (Thomas Nelson) $16.99 We gave a quick shout out about this a while ago and have some pre-orders that will go out Monday. The book “drops” – as they sometimes say – on Tuesday and we are thrilled. Bob is a friend and supporter (is there anybody he meets he doesn’t befriend and encourage?) As you know from Love Does and Everybody Always he is a consummate storyteller, a funny guy who lives in whimsy, and whose adventures – holy capers – are designed to create a better world of love and grace. From offering balloons to the sick to starting a girl’s school in the face of the Taliban in Afghanistan, how does he do it? Bob truly is one of the most unforgettable people we’ve ever met and his energy and cheer befuddles me.

He joked with me the last time we were together that he had thought he might get out of this (with a bit of tongue in cheek and faux bluster, I’m sure) book contract by writing just 30 days of devotions for a nice month-long reader. Oh no, no way! The publisher was not having it – they wanted a full-on 365-day reader of all new content. Stories, Bible studies, inspirational faith-building lessons? Yep, all of the above. An entire year’s worth. Bob Goff has a storehouse of adventures to draw upon and as an old Young Life guy, knows how to re-tell a Bible episode like the best of ‘em. Live in Grace, Walk in Love is going to be a great, great devotional. It releases this week and we have it at 20% off.

(By the way, he’s no Yankees fan. He made a deal with a woman dying of cancer — it’s a long story you can read for in his book –and now has to wear the cap for the rest of his life. Ha!)

As if that doesn’t clue you in to his zany care, for those that may not be familiar with Bob’s extraordinary style, I want to note just two quick things. He’s no theologian (but sure is smart; he does have a law degree and is pretty darn successful in that field.) But he does know the Bible. Some think he’s just all joy and balloons and smiles, but he quotes the Bible all the time. He just does. So don’t underestimate the Scriptural warrant of his dreams and visions of making the world a better place.

Secondly, as I’ve said, Goff does have a blast doing the unexpected, living well in gracious, good ways. That is, this new, yearlong reader could inspire those who are bored, those who are dreamless, those who can’t see that faith or spirituality might be real or exciting. Live in Grace, Walk in Love will be for many un-churched folks, I suspect, the best invitation to the Christ-promised “abundant life” that they’ve ever encountered. Buy it for the young and the old, the faithful and the faithless, the light-hearted and the too serious.

Give it to those who are, in the words of Canadian singer Bruce Cockburn,

The numb and confused
The battered and bruised
The counters of cost
And the star-crossed.

Live in Grace, Walk in Love: A 365-Day Journey by Bob Goff is a handsome hardback which regularly sells for $16.99. At our 20% off it is just $13.59 and we can send it out today.

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Faithful Witness in a Fractured World: Models for an Authentic Christian Life (How Not to Be  Crappy Christian) by Nicole Johnson & Michael Snarr AND Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus by Jim Wallis AND Love Anyway: An Invitation Beyond a World That’s Scary as Hell by Jeremy Courtney ON SALE NOW

THREE BRAND NEW BOOKS ON CHRISTIAN SOCIAL ACTIVISM — all books mentioned 20% off.

Faithful Witness in a Fractured World: Models for an Authentic Christian Life – How Not to Be  Crappy Christian by Nicole L. Johnson & Michael T. Snarr (Cascade) $18.00 As I explain below, a collection of great stories of ordinary folks doing good work in taking up their vocations as social activists with principles and insights gleaned from traits they each exhibited. A great study, important for all of us.

Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus by Jim Wallis (HarperOne) $25.99 . The latest by Sojourners founder, a book he says may be the most important one he’s ever done. It’s about questions Jesus asked and their implication for us today in these trying times.  It’s brand new and I describe it a bit, below.

 

Love Anyway: An Invitation Beyond a World That’s Scary as Hell byJeremy Courtney (Zondervan) $17.99 . The brand new set of memories and stories from a peace activist who lives in the war-zones and needy places of the Middle East, learning to see beauty, stand for justice, and live beyond our fears into a better world. Wow.

 

 

All books mentioned show the regular retail price. When you order from Hearts & Minds we’ll deduct the 20% off discount. Our order form below takes you to our secure order form page and you can enter credit card numbers safely. Or just ask us to send you a bill if you’d rather pay later by check. Easy. We’re grateful to tell you about these kinds of books and hope you will support our indie bookstore by ordering some soon.  Thanks for caring.

 

I hope you saw the last BookNotes column which featured two serious books about world and domestic hunger. Silence Can Kill: Speaking Up to End Hunger and Make Our Economy Work for Everyone by our friend Art Simon (founder of the citizen’s anti-hunger lobby, Bread for the World) is a very important new book, up-to-date and informative. Although fewer children are starving to death than 50 years ago, this dare not lull us towards an optimistic apathy; needless starvation and chronic, painful poverty are evils that must be battled. Bread for the World may be the most important and effective anti-poverty organization because of the legislative work they do and the sheer scope of the impact of public policy (from foreign aid to funding for TANF and SNAP and the like.) You should read that book and learn how (and why) it all works.

Yes, Jesus said “the poor you will have with you always” but that is, I hope you know, a quote from Deuteronomy. He didn’t’ have to finish the sentence because they knew the indictment – therefore we are not to hardened our hearts or close our hands.  For a deep theological and Scripture dive into this topic of poverty in the Bible, see Always with Us?: What Jesus Really Said about the Poor by Liz Theoharis (Eerdmans; $25.00.)

Another book I highlighted in that review was I Was Hungry: Cultivating Common Ground to End an American Crisis by Jeremy Everett (Brazos; $16.99) which documents the exciting work done by the Texas Hunger Initiative.  I loved this book and the energetic stories of faith communities partnering with civic and even governmental agencies. No matter what state your in – the play of words and smile – you need this book! 

We know that some of our most loyal customers are rather brainy types, and look for us to highlight more scholarly books. (Although, truth be told, Art Simon is as scholarly on this topic as you may need; as I mentioned in that review, he knows some of the world’s leading economists, development scholars, think-tankers who spend their days crunching the numbers making his book very, very well-researched.)

There are plenty of more theoretical books, too. Think of the book released just this past summer, the magnum opus of Duke University scholar Luke Bretherton entitled Christ and the Common Life: Political Theology and the Case for Democracy (Eerdmans; $49.00.) It has been called “a tour de force, a “monumental achievement”, “a transformative contributions” and “impressively expansive.” He moves from secularity to pluralism to democratic ideals to what notions of neighborliness mean for our public thinking and, everyone agrees, breaks new and important ground.

Think of the much-discussed (although, in my opinion, not read or discussed enough) third volume in James K.A. Smith’s “cultural liturgies” trilogy, called Awaiting the King: Reforming Political Theology (Brazos Press; $22.99.) Think of the vital, serious study by Yuval Levin, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism (Basic Books; $17.99.) For deep Biblical study in conversation with political theorists like John Rawls, you’ve got to see the remarkable, new God’s Sabbath With Creation by CPJ founder James W. Skillen (Wipf & Stock; $35.00.) And don’t overlook (for whatever reason) the book I mentioned earlier this season, the recent, remarkably interesting and valuable collection called Evangelical Theologies of Liberation and Justice edited by Mae Elise Cannon & Andrea Smith (IVP Academic; $36.00.)

Less academic but so very foundational and wise – I recommend it for anyone wanting a uniquely and truly Christian way to think about the meaning of life and human flourishing – is the one I commended to you in the last BookNotes called Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty is Not the American Dream (Moody Publishers; $15.99.)

Through all of these serious works are questions of what we mean by the common good, what social justice is and how a Biblical worldview gives us a framework that is beyond the ideological poles of left and right. The must-read political science book from this reformational Christian perspective is, as I say over and over here at BookNotes, Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies by David Koyzis with a thoughtful foreword by Richard Mouw (IVP Academic; $33.00.)

And yet, we have to think about how to live this stuff out. We need deep thinkers pondering the “neither left nor right” ideal, policy folks considering what reforms and norms should guide our proposals for the society we want to see, but we also have to respond to the awful poverty and injustice and racism we see here and now. We need truly Christian thinkers and public intellectuals but we need on-the-ground, daily discipleship, what Shane Claiborne calls “ordinary radicals.” People who pick up the cross of sacrifice, get involved with the issues of the day, learn to know the needs of the marginalized and accompany them towards fresh starts and new hopes. We need scholars and we need activists.

The brand new book called Faithful Witness in a Fractured World: Models for an Authentic Christian Life – How Not to Be  Crappy Christian by Nicole L. Johnson & Michael T. Snarr (Cascade) $18.00 [our sale price = $14.40] makes an important claim – that many young adults are drifting from faith (and sometimes loudly denouncing traditional religion) because it does not do this. Big name televangelists and Christian right loud-mouths condemn gays and mock science and want to push their views on everybody, but it seems they do little to care about the hurting, the disillusioned, the poor or oppressed. Unlike Francis Schaeffer – who some on the Christian right seem to claim to like, even if they haven’t read his more serious works – they don’t show that they want to weep with those who weep over our culture’s lack of compassion and the injustices that are so prevalent these days, from gross injustices in immigration policy to police violence to species extinction to sexual abuse cover-ups, even in exceedingly pious evangelical churches. They don’t offer young seekers “honest answers to honest questions.” They just want to fight culture wars and defeat anybody they don’t like.

And so, younger folks are leaving the fold, rejecting evangelical purity culture and conservative economics and right wing politics in record numbers. If the cool songs and hip branding and relevant video clips attracted young seekers who found some evangelical churches relevant for a while, those very churches, insofar as they’ve adopted an a-political or right wing agenda, have turned off the very young ones they previously attracted. Nobody contests that this is one of the big religious stories of our time, the exodus from the evangelical community and the animosity many feel about them, indicating an erosion of moral authority among their leaders.  At the very least, read Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons (Baker; $16.00) or You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman (Baker; $16.99) to get a sense of the data and the urgency of this huge concern.

Or just dive right into Faithful Witness in a Fractured World: Models for an Authentic Christian Life – How Not to Be  Crappy Christian.

Enter, as your guides, Niki Johnson and Michael Snarr, friendly and popular profs at a small liberal arts college in Ohio. As a religious studies teacher (and former campus minister) and poly sci teacher (who has served with Christian Peacemaker teams and other lively activist groups), these two listen well to their young students, work eagerly with the emerging adults these college students are, and help them navigate the big questions of their search for direction, their making of meaning, their grappling with the faith of their childhood and their new experiences in college. Like most caring professors, they do more than relay information in the classroom but are accompanying students on a journey of discovery and walking alongside them in these critical years.

And so it comes up. Former church kids and new atheists alike, wondering what in the world is that rabid “God hates fags” guy about? Why do churches seem so judgmental? Why would religious leaders be so happy about the harsh anti-immigration policies of President Trump?  Why don’t churches invite their members to serious dreams, to big issues, to passion and conviction about making the world a better place? Why are so many religious folks, to use the language their students give them, “shitty Christians”? Not a bad question, eh?

Heaven help us all, when a common vulgarity is the way some describe the religious people they know.

Although, I guess it isn’t as bad as what Jesus called religious leaders in his day. (See Matthew 23 if you don’t believe me.) The problems of hypocrisy and power-mongering among the religious are perennial, it seems.

Now here’s the thing: as Johnson and Snarr show in their new book, and show beautifully, I might add, not everybody who follows Jesus is all that bad. Sure there are “crappy Christians” and no not one of us gets it fully right. But there are lots of “ordinary radicals” out there, taking up causes, serving their neighbors, living self-sacrificially to help others, being servants of the poor and winsome agents of the sorts of goodness Bob Goff describes in Love Does and Everyone Always. Bob has an all-new devotional coming out mid-October, by the way, called Live in Grace, Walk in Love: A 365-Day Journey (Thomas Nelson; $16.99.) You may want to pre-order that from us at our 20% off discount.  I suspect we’ll have it a bit early.

We have any number of books that hold up some of these kinds of exemplary Christian leaders who made a difference in big ways. There are anthologies that look at Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King, Caesar Chavez and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Desmond Tutu and Mother Theresa and the like. Just think of David Gushee & Colin Holtz’s recent Moral Leadership for a Divided Age: Fourteen People Who Dared to Change Our World (Brazos Press; $24.99) or the exquisite, serious, Can I Get a Witness?: Thirteen Peacemakers, Community-Builders, and Agitators for Faith and Justice edited by Charles Marsh, Shea Tuttle & Daniel Rhodes (Eerdmans; $26.99) which we’ve raved about here at BookNotes or a personal favorite by Mae Elise Cannon Just Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action (IVP; $17.00.) I’ve mentioned these before and they really are good.

These can inspire us, pointing younger folks (and others) to real models of coherent and feisty Christian change-making. I named them and their prices for you so you might consider ordering them. These really are great collections and they truly make a difference if we read them openly.

(To see how one old saint, Dorothy Day, influenced an elite public intellectual in his own road to recovered faith, see the nice recent essay in America about David Brooks.)

But you know what? You do, I’m sure. These books, as inspiring as they may be, aren’t usually as transformative as we would wish because they are about big-name heroes. Few of us have the status or calling of William Wilberforce. Who of us can be in a place like Nelson Mandela and become what he became? Who of us are situated in a context like Oscar Romero? Admire them as we should, and learn from them as we can, at the end of the day, I’m simply no Bonhoeffer and you are no Dorothy Day.

Which is what makes “How Not to Be a Crappy Christian”, that is, Faithful Witness in a Fracture World, so very, very good. It follows the lives of a handful of people the authors admire, some who are former students that they’ve come to know well, that are living out faith in concrete ways, in authentic ways, sometimes in rather dramatic ways. But they are fairly normal people, doing good work but nothing that will catapult them to international fame. Our authors call them “unsung.” These folks are living what John Perkins once called “a quiet revolution.”

In Faithful Witness… Johnson and Snarr tell us about this handful of folks, serious Christians of a rather activist sort, and ask what traits they all hold in common. How did they discern their call into their respective passions or ministries? What shaped their moral imagination? In what ways do they sustain their good work? How do they understand their identities? How did they get a broad view of the scope of God’s redemption – repairing the world, restoring creation – when they most likely were introduced to faith as a personal, inner sort of salvation.

Unlike some of these other anthologies that introduce us to valiant (super) Christian lives to serve as models for us, Faithful Witness…does not give a chapter to each person, but rather, each chapter explores a sustainable spiritual trait, a practice or way of understanding faith that, it seems, most of their case studies exemplify. Almost all of their friends to which they introduce us had these similar sorts of stories, a constellation of traits that became the insights that created the book. These are case studies, and the authors nicely extrapolate from these interesting stories and fascinating testimonies a handful of features that will allow any of us move beyond our crappy religious lives.

UCC leader (and Messiah College professor) Douglas Jacobsen says,

“This is the best and most refreshing discussion of what it means to be a Christian that I have read in years… it winsomely preaches the gospel without ever getting preachy.”

I think Jacobsen (himself author of a lovely book called Gracious Christianity) is mostly right, although being a little preachy ain’t a bad thing, in my view, and this book has plenty of passion and zeal and wit and sass. The authors are deeply committed to seeing a better sort of model for those of us who want to help bridge the fractured and hurting world and repair the “branding problem” that Christianity has these days. They do generally write like scholars, documenting their subject, presenting the evidences, making their cases by quoting their subjects extensively, being nicely teacherly because they want us to get it; these testimonials and the insights they draw from them become somewhat of a manifesto. This makes for a book that is oddly both scholarly and yet easy to happily read, exciting and restrained, winsome and hard-hitting. You’ll be glad to meet their friends and learn about their practices of holistic discipleship. And you’ll learn from them. And have fun doing it.

Kudos to Johnson and Snarr not only for telling us these stories and introducing us to these witnesses, but for drawing the principles from them, sifting through their narratives to find humble, gospel treasure, as an alternative to crappy Christianity.

The Apostle Paul, I might note, used a bit of dung language himself when he exclaimed that anything other than following Jesus and knowing Him was a pile of crap. (Don’t blame me, let alone Niki and Michael; if you don’t like the lingo, take it up with the Holy Spirit who inspired Saint Paul.) But here’s the thing: for Paul, knowing Jesus was not unrelated to following Him. We are one with Christ, transformed from the inside out to become people remade into His own image and members of his subversive, counter-cultural community. This has huge, huge, socio-political implications and although none of the characters described in Faithful Witness in a Fractured World are professional Biblical scholars, they would, I think, resonate with the anti-Empire, pro-justice themes in the detailed exploration in Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire/Demanding Justice by Sylvia Keesmaat & Brian Walsh (Brazos Press; $26.99.) If you missed my review of that stunning book, check it out, HERE.

Which reminds me: if there were any weaknesses to these “models for an authentic Christian life” I’d have wished to learn more about their own engagement with Scripture.  Even as these young Jesus followers and their creative witness become springboards to deeper reflections about holistic faith, church and state, white supremacy, and Christian social ethics (the authors are United Methodists, so there’s some good Wesleyan stuff, too) there isn’t much about the practice of Bible study to sustain a faithful sort of social gospel.

Sure, good guys like Bob Goff humorously quips in his own talks that he’s tired of mere “Bible studies” and would rather be a part of “Bible doings” but anybody that knows Goff knows he quotes the Bible by heart endlessly. As do Shane Claiborne and Jim Wallis and Lisa Sharon Harper and Miroslav Volf and Ron Sider and Donna Barber, to name a few leaders in the movement to help Christian folks be more active in caring for God’s world. 

Johnson and Snarr quote lots of reliable Bible-based thinkers to undergird their call to a gracious sort of “non-crappy” Biblical social gospel such as Al Tizon and his Whole & Reconciled: Gospel Church and Mission in a Fractured World and Lisa Sharon Harper and her The Very Good Gospel and NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope.  Although their cast of characters tends more towards Hauerwas & Willimon’s Resident Aliens and The Upside Down Kingdom by Don Kraybill and the feisty multi-ethnic perspectives of Healing Our Broken World by Grace Ji-Sun Kim, they also quote John Piper and Tim Keller. Which makes this a truly fascinating book, not just a hall of heroes, but a study of real life activists, living out their faith, making a difference. There’s a lot to learn, and we’re happy to recommend this book.

Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus Jim Wallis (HarperOne) $25.99 This brand new book just arrived a few hours ago so I’ve hardly got a chance to look at it. I wish I had an earlier version, or took time to study it before telling you about it, but it so fits this week’s theme that I simply have to announce it. I’m very excited.

I’m excited to share this for a number of reasons. Wallis is an old acquaintance and, in fact, he was one of the first authors we ever had in-store here in Dallastown, decades ago, when we crammed a dozen or so people into our small space. (That was before the expansion when we doubled our size back in the last century.) I’ve always read Sojourners and we’re glad to still carry the magazine here. I’ve read and appreciated all of Jim’s many books but his first two – Agenda for Biblical People and The Call to Conversion — were very, very important for Beth and me. I have a hunch that Christ in Crisis may be somewhat of a return to his earliest evangelical roots. It is, after all, a book about Jesus.

And he says it may be the most important book he’s ever written.

The thesis of this brand new book is simple enough: the way the religious right has so enthusiastically entered politics in a fairly undiscerning way, behind the morally suspect President Trump, makes us all wonder if they’ve lost their first love for the Lord Jesus. Jerry Falwell, Junior was quoted saying not long ago that he simply doesn’t look to Jesus at all for his politics. Can you believe it?

(Of course, this isn’t new: Martin Luther King complained (in Stride Toward Freedom) about Niehbuhr trying to talk him out of Jesusy nonviolence and Deitrich Bonhoeffer, as Eric Metaxas documents in his big biography, was frustrated that he studied all manner of things at Union Seminary in the year he was there, but they failed to talk about Jesus.)

And so, has the church become captive to the modern American Babylon? This was an early theme in Sojourners when they were more obviously influenced by William Stringfellow and Daniel Berrigan and the like. Things were dire, and this radical “politics of Jesus” was counter-imperial, helping us say “no” to Empire and power and such. It may be the crass compromise of the evangelical right in these Trump years may have shaken Jim back to his roots – a call to conversion to the ways of Jesus.

In the book Wallis has ten major chapters, one introductory, one at the end, the other eight, a question evoked by a question Jesus Himself asked. He asks how Jesus addresses “the neighbor question”, “the truth question”, “the image question”, “the power question”, “the fear question”, “the Caesar question”, “the peacemaker question”, and “the discipleship question.”

I think it is a good thing that some non-Christians endorse the book saying that they are drawn into thinking about the life of Jesus through this hard-hitting, socially relevant reflection. The last chapter is called “Becoming Salt, Light, and Hope” and the Epilogue is a lovely reflection on “The Light of the World.” Agree or not with all of Jim’s stands (or lack thereof) there is no doubt he’s a good preacher, and this heart-felt and passionate manifesto is going to help us recalibrate our faith back to the center of our Biblical story: the person and work of Jesus the Christ.

The soul of the nation is at risk, he says, and these eight questions from Jesus have to be answered. Wallis thinks that getting these things right about Jesus will have helpful and healing consequences in the broken, divided culture.

There is a movement afoot called “Reclaiming Jesus” with a document (of course, there is always a document) and Jim offers it at the end of the book. It’s worthy of our prayer and reflection and oodles of good elders have signed it – from Barbara Williams Skinner to Wes Granberg-Michaelson, from Ronald Sider to Bishop Vashti McKenzie. From Otis Moss to Pegter Borgdorff, Richard Rohr to Will Willimon, JoAnne Lyon to John Perkins, there’s many good leaders from a variety of faith traditions within the broad Body of Christ, although – since it is somewhat of a rebuke to the accommodation of conservative evangelicals, it is almost exclusively Protestant.

The book just arrived, so you can be among the earliest readers, joining this call for the sake of the common good to refocus on Jesus and take seriously a public theology connected to His teachings. Here are what some advanced reviewers said:

“Wallis courageously calls us to de-Americanize the Gospel and reclaim Jesus. Take and read; these words will feed your heart, and if heeded, heal the soul of the nation. Wallis resurrects the spiritual wisdom and moral clarity so desperately needed to speak words of prophetic power, integrity, and truth.”– Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, author Future Faith: Ten Challenges Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century

“Jim Wallis reminds us that the core of Christianity is not a policy or a principle but a person–Jesus Christ. For anyone who wants to carefully ponder how to live as a person of faith, a loving neighbor, and a concerned citizen… Christ in Crisis is an indispensable guide.”– Jemar Tisby, author of The Color of Compromise

“This is Jim Wallis at his best, a ‘Jesus book’ better than any I’ve seen in some time, and could not be more timely or more challenging. It offers a drink of fresh water to anyone who has felt despair at the state of the world–Christian and non-Christian alike.”– Richard Rohr, author of The Universal Christ

“To choose to follow Jesus is necessarily to engage in a quarrel with the world. For fifty years, Jim Wallis has worked to help Americans remember the politics of Jesus. His Christ in Crisis is a timely reminder of what it means to confess, ‘Jesus is Lord.'”– William J. Barber, II, President of Repairers of the Breach & co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival 

Jim Wallis is faithful, relentless, and intrepid in voicing the prophetic reality of Gospel faith. He does not flinch at truth-telling, and he is not weary of hope-telling. This book will provide energy, grit, and courage for the living of these days.”– Walter Brueggemann, author of The Prophetic Imagination

Love Anyway: An Invitation Beyond a World That’s Scary as Hell Jeremy Courtney (Zondervan) $17.99 I can’t tell you how glad we are to get to announce this book by a friend we respect immensely. We’ve only been together two or three times, I thinks – once for a great evening when he allowed us to host him at our church as he shared about his first book, Preemptive Love and the amazing organization he created mostly arranging heart surgeries for children in the radiation enhanced war zones of Iraq.

As I wrote when I did a long review at BookNotes about Preemptive Love and as I’ve often said as I’ve commended his ministry, I was delightfully surprised to see such a passion for peacemaking from a Southern evangelical doing overseas missionary work — the great subtitle of Preemptive Love is “Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time.” (Howard Books; $16.00.) God has worked quite a shift in many younger evangelicals with a global vision who have written widely about this – a middle Eastern missions guy name Rick Love comes to mind, as does Carl Medearis . They have come to embrace peacemaking (between nations and between religions) as central to the overall Christian missionary task. With scholars like Al Tizon writing major works like Whole & Reconciled: Gospel, Church, and Mission in a Fractured World (which is cited in the Faithful Witness book reviewed above) we see a good and healthy shift uniting not only words and deeds, evangelism and justice, but peacemaking and reconciliation. The kingdom of God really does include the hope of restoration!

Jeremy found himself in a war zone helping children – sick in part from the product of the Gulf Wars – in a culture torn by mistrust and violence between Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others as he was thinking about these very things. To hear a philanthropic medical mission also talking about multi-ethnic reconciliation and global peace-building efforts more than caught our attention. We rejoiced and celebrated the amazing, rare, brave, solid work of Preemptive Love. It is compassionate and savvy, bold and brave, evangelical and ecumenical. And we still tell people that Jeremy’s memoir, Preemptive Love is a great, great read.

And just today we got a carton of the brand new paperback Love Anyway. I would love to describe this in better detail, but I can assure you it is jam-packed with stories of Jeremy and his teams heading off into war zones. There are heartbreaking reports from his time with the viciously persecuted Yazidis. (For a short season he was truly one of the world’s spokespersons for this awful standoff in Northern Iraq as he was there trying to serve the poorest of the world’s poor.)

Some of these chapters are fairly short and they seem to have the feel of a memoir. There are memories and stories galore, Biblical insight, missionary bravado, honest testimony of his fear and brokenness. He and his family have seen so much and I hope you, like me, can’t wait to read about it.

Love Anyway starts off on the first page of the first chapter with a sort of preface, an invitation to you, the reader. That first chapter is called “Your Presence Is Requested on the Other Side of the Way Things Are.”

In a footnote (I always start with footnotes!) Jeremy says,

In my first book, Preemptive Love, I called this place that I was pursuing The Far Country, but I’ve since seized onto this new phrase, “The More Beautiful World Our Heart Know is Possible” thanks to the wonderful book by Charles Eisenstein by the same name, as he deftly puts words to so many of my longings.

So, Love Anyway is a call deeper in to this Far County, this beautiful world that we believe just might be possible. I think many of our Hearts & Minds customers and even occasional BookNotes readers will love it.

Look: I really think the above books are all important.

We need scholarly analysis and a balanced, coherent framework for thinking about public justice in our hard times. I listed a good handful of important, serious works.

We need testimonies and stories to keep us going – those of the famed and sometimes martyred are good, inspiring, important, even. I named a few really great collections.

But I’m really glad I got to tell you about Faithful Witness in a Fractured World: Models for an Authentic Christian Life about some good souls who, in the hands of the authors Nikki Johnson and Michael Snarr, help us learn how not to be a “crappy Christian.”

Jim Wallis helps us learn to focus, or re-focus on Jesus, on His answers to life’s biggest questions as we try to live out the public implications of our deep, personal belief in Jesus as Lord. Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus is a vital, important manifesto.

But this —  Love Anyway: An Invitation Beyond a World That is Scary as Hell is as honest and urgent as can be. It is the beautifully written tale of one man and his seeking, his serving, how he and his family and the movement he’s started are truly making a notable difference in some of the most hellish places on Earth. And he finds beauty and goodness there. He and his friends are creating home amidst the displaced. Now that’s worth reading about, eh?

Like I said, it’s brand new. Here is what some early readers report:

 I was transfixed by Jeremy’s writing. This book, this way of life, is a game changer. Propaganda, hip-hop and spoken word artist

Jeremy Courtney understands the moving truth that hate breeds violence, and he acts on that truth in ceaselessly bold preemptive love for the enemy. I strongly endorse his actual life of peacemaking. We Koreans urgently need a peacemaker like Mr. Courtney – truly shalom incarnate – today. Dr. Han Wan-sang, former deputy prime minister of South Korea, former president of the Korean Red Cross Society

I read every single word, perched on the edge of my seat… You’ll keep turning the pages as fast as you can. Jen Hatmaker, New York Times bestselling author of Of Mess and Moxie!

Love Anyway is raw, honest, wrenching, and beautiful. Jeremy lays it all out there with a story that will rip your heart out and inspire you. This book is a call to put everything on the line. Shane Claiborne, activist and author of Irresistible Revolution and Beating Guns

 

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TWO IMPORTANT REVIEWS – “Silence Can Kill” by Arthur Simon and “I Was Hungry Cultivating Common Ground to End An American Crisis” by Jeremy K. Everett and a whole bunch more — ON SALE NOW

Thanks to those who read and even shared our Labor Day BookNotes that described a few recent books on faith and the work-world. We listed a compilation to past columns that we did on this topic and I’m sure if you click through on those you will learn about books you haven’t heard of, religious ones and more general ones. There are so many resources to help us think about our careers and callings, the good and bad of our working lives. And new ones keep coming – for instance, any day now we’ll have the long-awaited Working in the Presence of God: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Work by Denise Daniels & Shannon Vanderwarker (Hendrickson; $24.95.) If you missed that column, skim back to our past BookNotes and check out those links. You won’t want to miss that James Taylor video!

In that column I mentioned Tom Nelson and his “Made to Flourish” network.

They have a simulcast (A Church for Monday) coming up October 5th – it would be a great way to enter or learn more about this conversation, this aspect of ministry. Learn more about it here.

One of the books that Tom Nelson wrote that I didn’t mention the other day is a helpful guide to thinking about the economic development and consequences of the work world. In The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity (IVP; $18.00.) he makes clear that people of faith should always be thinking about how we can help our regions flourish; supporting good businesses and even being entrepreneurial can be ways to serve our neighbors. Voting in the marketplace (that is, the decisions we make as to we chose to spend our dollars) has consequences, often significant ones. (Tom doesn’t address it, precisely, but this is one of the big criticisms of mega-size and placeless entities like Amazon, who drain money from local economies and get out of paying taxes, even as they hurt local businesses and services. Data shows that wherever Amazon moves in, the wealth flows away from the local community, especially when municipalities and states give them huge tax incentives; I support them with my tax dollars and then they announce they want to put me out of business. Yep.) More can be said about community development and what “neighbor love” means for our stewardly, home-making economics, but this book by Tom Nelson is a nice start, recommended for anyone who hasn’t read this sort of thing.

Another great, great book (that was reviewed in greater detail in one of those older links I shared to past BookNotes) that addresses this and, no doubt, influenced Nelson in his own Economics… book is the magisterial Kingdom Callings: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (IVP; $22.00.) by Amy Sherman. In that book she makes a powerful case (based on Proverbs 11:10) that even the poor and marginalized will rejoice in the success of a just business; truly righteous, just businesses make things better, even for the poor. So she invites us to think faithfully about stewarding our vocational aspirations in ways that not only please us or help us find our own professional sweet spot but in ways that serve the common good. She offers several different styles or “levels” of involvement showing numerous ways (from the simplest to the most sophisticated) that our work lives impact and serve the world.

I don’t know if you hear about this stuff at your church, but it seems to us that any wise missional vision will include this fairly ordinary (but extraordinarily interesting and challenging) task of helping each other think about faith in the marketplace. Start with Sherman’s call to “steward our vocational aspirations” and see how it leads to, as Nelson puts it, “the economics of neighborly love.”

Which leads me to the theme of this BookNotes column.

It is good for us mostly middle class folks to talk about serving God in our work-a-day lives. What else can we do? Christ as Lord calls us to honor His rule over “every square inch” of our lives, so obviously we must thinking religiously about our jobs, our callings, our employment, and occupations.

But we must be aware of the fact that for many, talking about such things – being a Christian in the business sector, seeing the relationship of faith in the sciences, thinking about education from a Christian perspective, wondering about how to be a faithful follower of Jesus in health care or media or computer science or management – is a luxury. Most people in the world are poor; even these days in our country, many are unemployed; here and abroad, children are starving. And are all, as Steve Garber reminds us in Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, we are all implicated. We are part of the broken, broken world that God so loves.

Ronald Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Thomas Nelson; $15.99) remains a must-read to explore and motivate us to care about the poor; it is surely one of the most important books of the last 50 years. The best-selling The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? The Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World by Richard Stearns came out ten years ago this month, and we have a brand new, 10th Anniversary Edition (Thomas Nelson; $17.99) His story of finding meaning by shifting away from his successful big business career to take up more directly the cries of the poor important and inspiring reading for all of us.

HERE ARE TWO NEW EXCELLENT BOOKS ON HUNGER & POVERTY and a few others on justice work…

Silence Can Kill: Speaking Up to End Hunger and Make Our Economy Work for Everyone Arthur Simon (Eerdmans) $29.00 Does our apathy or even our silence really indict us? Can silence really kill? It is a strong accusation and Art Simon is careful to explain why. This book is the most important and comprehensive faith-based study of poverty and hunger (in the US and abroad) in ages; Art has written some wonderful books in the past but this may be his magnum opus. In it, he deftly explores the complications and controversies around poverty and public policies that might fruitfully address the crisis of hunger. Although trained as a Lutheran pastor, he has spent most of his adult life organizing citizens to lobby –through the organization he founded, Bread for the World – for legislation that helps the poor, so much of our political legislation has direct consequence (sometimes for good, sometimes for ill) on the impoverished. Maybe you’ve heard the story – Art and other Bread for the World leaders tell it often – of how one year, in one quick vote in the Reagan years, US Congress cut more from life-saving foreign aid than all the charities of all the US churches combined had given that year. I forget the exact figures, but imagine if all the churches, together, raise and generously share 10 million dollars for relief. And imagine that the government cuts $100 million from our aid budget. For those that truly want to save lives and bring relief to starving brothers and sisters in Africa, say, might it have been better to spend more time letting our congressional representatives know that we favor such aid? If we love our neighbors by sincerely donating to charities, why are we silent when so much more is cut?

So Bread for the World helps citizens who are willing, inspired by their Biblical faith, to pay attention to the sometimes obscure (but oh-so-significant) legislation battles brewing in Congress, or even in Congressional committees. Sometimes just a few House Representatives or Senators can prevent a bill from even being voted on, so even a few letters to a few leaders or one or two letters to the editor in the paper can make a difference!) This is true in legislation regarding international aid and global concerns as well as for domestic concerns affecting those in poverty here. From TANF funding or SNAP reform to clean water proposals or the significance of the much-discussed Farm Bill, Mr. Simon knows more than almost anyone, drawing on experts from across the ideological spectrum and nurturing friendships in think-tanks, philanthropies, front line relief agencies, among third world church leaders, in small town church-based food programs, and dysfunctional urban school systems; he has listened and learned and advocated (building bipartisan teams) for decade after decade about how to reduce poverty and end hunger.

And he has learned to be savvy and wise; nobody wants to “throw money” at a problem or squander limited revenues and he knows the strengths and weaknesses of the critiques made against foreign aid and US entitlement programs. When Art Simon and his BFW movement leaders invite church folk to get behind a certain piece of legislation you can be assured they have studied it from a variety of perspectives and have held consultations with theological scholars and policy wonks and anti-poverty activists from here and abroad. As this book documents, they know what they are doing.

You may recall the movie Schindler’s List about the German businessman that tirelessly shuttled Jews out of Nazi-occupied Poland. He increasingly put his time and money and life at risk to save just one more family. He is rightly held up as a hero, an example of the “righteous Gentiles” who rescued Jews who were being lead to the slaughter.

When I think of heroes like Schindler, I think of Art Simon. It may be that he has saved more people from unjust death than anyone living today. This is not hyperbole — give the guy a Nobel Peace Prize already! Read Silence Can Kill: Speaking Up to End Hunger and you’ll learn much and you will be impressed by Simon’s extraordinary life, about which he writes humbly.

As you will learn, briefly, it all started in the early 70s while a pastor of a small urban parish in New York City. Pastor Simon realized that although several churches were doing food pantries and offering immediate assistance for the neediest, include those ground down by poverty and racism and slumlords in his own parish, so many of the causes and so many of the answers to systemic poverty and hunger was structural, most with a political dimension. Which is to say, food pantries were not enough: restoring justice and flourishing was a matter of public policy and legislation. (The Bible has said this all along, of course, with the clear policy mandates in the Old Testament law that give the poor a fair second change, and holy warnings like, “Woe to those who pass bad laws that crush the poor” which you know if you’ve ever got far into the book of Isaiah.

That is, a simple vote in Congress to support a life-giving policy can literally change lives, even save lives. (Just think of the fair housing legislation or of the early legislation about child labor or the impeccably documented value of Food Stamps and the perennial congressional battles about funding; or more globally, the huge questions of foreign aid, how our aid is sometimes tied to our military support for corrupt dictators that refuse land reform or ways in which global banking legislation through the World Bank or the IMF ripples consequences to developing economics from South America to South Africa, from East Timor to East Asia.)

So, as we’ve said, Mr. Simon and some other church folks started what they imagined to be a faith-anchored citizen’s lobby. They would get church folks to actually vote – this was before the rise of the Christian right when voting against homosexual rights or for pro-life issues became part of the identity of many conservative evangelicals – inspired by what would best serve their poorer brothers and sisters. They would be invited to lobby as politically engaged Good Samaritans. Church folks would be called to unite around a seemingly non-controversial but overlooked piece of anti-hunger legislation, or some anti-poverty bill, or something about WIC, say. It grew to become a nation-wide movement, organized by church folks in each congressional district and Bread for the World was formed. BFW passed out no bread; it is not a relief or development organization. I invites Christian citizens to use their gift of citizenship to lobby their elected officials to vote in ways that reflect our desire to help the poor, to do justice, to create (insofar as government is able) a sustainable, healthy economy, and to prevent economic injustice while fostering solutions to poverty and hunger, here and abroad.

In other words they were inviting citizens to get busy doing the hard work of shift the conversation and passing legislative initiatives for the sake of the poor.

Art often tells the story about a British economist who had met (in the early 1970s) with the Vatican, where Catholic leaders were calling on religious folks to step up their advocacy around world hunger concerns. Barbara Ward seemed enthused as she talked with a US Senator, suggesting that any day his office would be flooded by calls from the faithful, showing citizen support for a certain anti-hunger bill. The Senator said “I’ll call you when I get the first call.” Later, the Senator reported to Art that “I never had to make that call.” That is, nobody contacted his office, and the legislation – as it sometimes does – dies of atrophy, of apathy; our elected officials aren’t going to go to the mat on an issue they don’t think anybody cares about and since most citizens only call about stuff that peeves them, personally, the bigger issues of reforming unjust economic policies or offering aid to the poor often languish. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, they sometimes say, and this is a truism in citizen political action: a few calls from ordinary folks supporting this or that bill or resolution, can make a huge difference as Congressional aids sit up and take notice when they start hearing from constituents about a certain obscure bill about food or water or foreign aid or school lunch programs. We can make a difference. And conversely, our silence can kill.

Art’s many years at the helm of Bread for the World brought him into conversation with anti-hunger scholars, front line folk doing work in refugee camps and in well-digging programs and girls schools in the Third World. He learned what works and is the first to admit that government and policy cannot solve all the problems of poverty. However – as this book shows — very many of the injustices of global (and domestic) poverty are connected to big picture, systemic matters. The realities of war and climate change, the legacy of colonialism, old and new racism, practices such as government subsides of cash crops exporting wealth, arcane details of tariffs and trade agreements, immigration law, bad faith in dangerous technologies, naïve hopes, corrupt legislators and leaders, the undue influence of self-interested agribusiness lobbyists, and what educational visions governments support, all come to play to create a better or worse economy.

The right bill (alone) cannot change the world but an increase in certain kinds of aid administered in directed ways can save lives. Years ago BFW speculated (based on their own research about how many letters and calls to Congress it took to get a certain piece of foreign aid legislation passed) that each person who wrote a letter saved thousands of lives. Sure you should continue to support your Compassion or World Vision child. But being involved with Bread for the World will magnify your life-saving influence and incarnate your compassion one hundred fold!

After Art retired from Bread for the World, another extraordinary Lutheran leader, David Beckman, took the helm (after a time working at the World Bank where he lead Bible studies with global leaders.) Beckman wrote a short and really useful little book called Exodus From Hunger: We Are Called to Change the Politics of Hunger (WJK; $18.00) that tells the BFW story in the 21st century; it, too, is very highly recommended.

The new Silence Can Kill: Speaking Up to End Hunger and Make Our Economy Work for Everyone, though, is amazingly comprehensive and a must-have resource for anyone seriously engaged in this work. It is, in a way, the fruit of Art Simon’s decades of living and learning in the midst of this amazing, complex, fascinating, dramatic story of making strides to reform our economies.

It seems to me that if you care about this topic, it will be a great handbook to school you in more of what you need to understand. (And, frankly, as the Presidential primaries are heating up, and there are more debates about economics and taxes and tariffs and welfare and charts and statistics, this would be a useful primer to help you sort out much of the contested claims and counter-claims.)

It also seems to me that if you have read some of the criticisms about the corruption and waste in government-based foreign aid programs and are a bit skeptical of this whole project, it is worth reading this for a fair-minded, evidence-based view. Agree or not with everything Art concludes, it is an exceptionally useful contribution to the discussions about all this and you will be better informed to make up your own mind.

I’m not going to lie: there are some (nicely explained) details about the percentages of aid the US actually gives, about complicated economic theories, about wealth and wage differences, about the injustices we hear about. There are a few charts. He is making a case for what he thinks are wise and helpful solutions and to do that he has to dive a bit deep.

He explains what government can and should do. As we’ve said, charities alone cannot solve these complex big-picture problems. Although ideologues on the right end of the partisan spectrum insist that it’s mostly the private sector’s task, almost everyone on the front lines of global poverty relief or who work with the poor in the US say otherwise; they all see and experience the limits of charity and the need for appropriate governmental action. (President Reagan was just wrong when he said, simplistically, “government is the problem.”) So Art explains all this with data and stats and footnotes that are themselves an education, explaining (thanks be to God) the complexities of dense scholars like Thomas Piketty and other Nobel Prize winning economists, wading into questions about wealthy creation, the implications of the national debt, etc. etc. etc.

Years ago a Dutch economist and Reformed Christian leader in the old Kuyper party in Holland, Bob Goudzwaard, wrote a book about the idols of our age. (It was later updated and expanded with two other authors as Hope in Troubled Times: A New Vision for Confronting Global Crisis (Baker Academic; $24.00) and, upon reading it, Brian McLaren was inspired to write Everything Must Change: When the World’s Biggest Problems and Jesus’ Good News Collide (Thomas Nelson; $14.99) that explored the ideologies and philosophies and assumptions about society and culture and government and meaning and values that propel our idolatrous cultures. Goudzwaard’s rather dense book and McLaren’s lively interpretation of it are both excellent and I recommend them for those wanting to see the way big issues (from poverty to environmental degradation to militarism) combine and are driven by certain spirits or ideologies.

Arthur Simon doesn’t tackle many of the philosophical assumptions pushing our cultures and economies, but his insights will take us a long way towards asking the right questions about this unavoidable, central part of our lives. His data and insights really to get us “under the surface” and force us to reflect, even as we are equipped to act. If we are to be like the “sons of Issachar” in 1 Chronicles 12:32 and understand the times, and “keep ourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21) we must be aware of these spirits of the age, the idols of progress and growth and materialism behind standard-fare capitalism.

(Just the other day a conservative journal that I read did a book review about some books about economics and celebrated the “engines of progress” in ways that assumed, without question, that growth is good, that driving towards bigger and bigger is the essential meaning of healthy economics, an assumption behind both the right and the left, by the way; both who ought to know better, that “progress” is more than economic growth. (Yeah, tell that to the child of rich parents who are getting a divorce, that they are experiencing “progress” by getting their nicer house, even if their family is demolished. Try telling them that those singular “engines of progress” were a blessing and not a curse.)

Goudzwaard called this “reductionism”– where we reduce the multi-dimensional development of human and cultural flourishing to just one thing: money. As we all know, when we elevate money to that height, asking it to bear that sort of idolatrous weight, it is called Mammon. Art Simon himself did a beautiful, thoughtful book on this a few years back, for personal reflection and it is as potent now as it was then. It is called How Much Is Enough?: Hungering for God in an Affluent Culture (Baker; $16.00.) For a comprehensive study of all the key passages about money/Mammon in the Bible see the hefty Money and Possessions (in the Interpretation series) by Walter Brueggemann (WJL; $40.00.) For a more practical and delightfully well-balanced study of how all this might inform our daily financial habits, see Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How We Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give by Michael Rhodes, Robby Holt and Brian Fikkert (Baker Books; $19.99.) It is very, very useful, balanced, thoughtful, wise.

Mr. Simon is aware of these deep theological questions about economics but he’s an activist, wanting to save lives through marshaling political will to achieve sensible ends. He wants evidence based reforms and he’s listened and learned and here interprets for us a way forward towards how to change the world in helpful ways.

One of the ways this vital book is helpful is its reminder that reducing the gross tragedies of starvation and hunger and poverty is a moral matter that could unite us beyond our partisan divides. As Senator Bob Dole writes on the back cover “ Silence Can Kill makes a credible case that ending hunger is a surprisingly attainable goal.” It offers a hopeful, healing vision and it’s an issue most of us would agree is important. The question is if we are willing to learn, to become empowered to use our voices, to speak up. This book by this fine gentleman will help.

Tucked away in a small footnote is a hint to how it is that Rev. Simon learned to speak up and get involved. In the book he is exploring some of the related matters in the constellation of issues that affect the poor, that contribute to the causes of poverty. He tells about the legacy of racism in our culture and, without much drama – Simon is never flamboyant or breathy – quietly tells of the sudden and unfair internment of our Japanese citizens during World War II and how his father protested. Simon writes:

On the spot in Eugene where many were taken away on short notice with only what they could carry, a memorial to those citizens includes a stone with my father’s name and the inscription: Martin P. Simon. He spoke in protest. His courage inspired others.” My brother and I were among the “others.”

Perhaps this story will remind you of the legacy we leave among those who watch our lives, even our children and grandchildren. Will you be known as one who speaks up for the poor and oppressed? Will you consider doing the sort of civic work that BFW calls us to, leveraging our citizenship for others? Will you commit to reading Silence Can Kill?

 

I Was Hungry: Cultivating Common Ground to End An American Crisis Jeremy K. Everett (Brazos Press) $16.99 What a blessing to have a second major book released this season within the religious publishing world – kudos to Brazos Press for taking up this terrific, exciting read by a young-ish activist, founder of the Texas Hunger Initiative. Informed by the framework and inspiration of Bread for the World and other faith-based public policy initiatives, Jeremy Everett (a graduate of Baylor University and Truett Theological Seminary) has spent years as an advocate for the poor. From an inspiring story of being moved to give away his stuff to the homeless after watching the Saint Francis film Brother Son, Sister Moon to the riveting opening pages about running a special needs medical shelter for hundreds of evacuated folk in the immediately aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we learn that Everett has a big heart and has learned, often the hard way, what it means to not only be proximate with the poor and hurting, but how to organize social services in ways that help stem the tide of human anguish. He’s colorful and dedicated and, I gather, not only winsome but seemingly unstoppable. I suppose one has to be if one is doing serious research to learn the facts and doing on-the-ground, directly care giving and energetic advocacy for the poor. His community organizing skills become evident early on in this page-turner of a book. I Was Hungry ­– notice the way the words are crossed out in the art design of the book – is a wild, hopeful read!

What other book makes the Consumer Price Index and discussions about SNAP interesting, and playfully calls Father Gustavo Gutierrez, the father of liberation theologians, a “Peruvian Yoda” and tells about singing happy birthday to him at a Southern Baptist preacher’s home? Or tells a story of inviting gang members who had broken in to their community coffee shop to a re-opening celebration, showing how “love wins” can be more than a slogan, but a business practice?

In fact, Bread for the World President David Beckman (who has read and written tons on this topic) writes in a moving foreword, “Once I started the first chapter of this book, I had a hard time putting it down. Jeremy Everett is a great storyteller. And the overarching story of this book is God’s call to Jeremy – to all of us actually – to end hunger.”

After his early episodes of giving away his stuff inspired by St. Francis, and his eventual entry into the worlds of poverty and dislocation, homelessness and abuse, Everett tells us about his years working in community-based organizing. He introduces us to people he knows – giving essential faces and back-stories to fellow-citizens who struggle with what some call “food insecurity.” Unlike some in utter starvation in Sub Saharan Africa, say, or the malnourished in Haiti or Chad, there are many in the US who simply don’t know if they will have enough to eat, especially for the working poor, between paychecks. Economic injustice and policy questions are complicated – as we’ve learned from Art Simon’s book, Silence Kills. I Was Hungry dives in to some of this, too (although with an exclusive focus on domestic, and often rural or small town poverty.)

Everett’s Texas Hunger Initiative is an organization that partners with the United States Department of Agriculture, Texas state agencies, the corporate sector, and thousands of churches and community-based organizations. When he says in the subtitle that this book is for “cultivating common ground to end an American crisis” he knows what he’s talking about. I’d say you might read it just to learn about his adept navigation of various social sectors, non-profits and governmental agencies, to advance social entrepreneurship, uniting different kinds of folks to accomplish this good, lasting work.

I like that as he tells the story of the organization’s history he tells stories of its work with communities “from West Texas to Washington DC” and — get this! – “helping Christians of all political persuasions understand how they can work together to truly make a difference.” I like that he talks about building trust. It seems to me that he is right: if we are going to eradicate hunger and work well on helping stop poverty and food insecurity (or any other pressing social issue) we are going to need everybody involved. Our civic infrastructures and local friendships are going to have to become more bi-partisan. We are going to have to learn to trust each other and work together.

So there’s that.

In fact, Everett has a chapter on politics called “Searching for Consensus amid a Landscape of Contention.” There are some brilliant stories and essential lessons learned.

One story is about how, due to state budget cuts, regional offices were closed that had been the places for poorer folks to go to sign up for benefits (like SNAP, which we used to call “Food Stamps.”) This proved a hardship on many, many people and the Texas Hunger Imitative partnered with the State government to retool delivery platforms and venues. Talk about caring about the common good, about wise and savvy faith-based partnerships working well with big governmental bureaucracies. Alas, that story doesn’t end there and there is another chapter of the story about justice advocacy groups waging a campaign which ended up demonizing conservatives who disagree with a certain plan about serving refugees. It gets ugly and counterproductive.

Everett explains,

Just like the group fighting the golf course in San Antonio, this group was on the right side of justice, but their tactics proved to be not only unpersuasive but also damaging to the communities they served.

He continues,

State leaders were outraged by the public shaming and looked into the organization behind it. When they found the organization had a contract with the state and was playing a leadership role in providing the poor with federal benefits access, the state leaders attempted to end the program. When that did not work – because it was legislatively created – they cancelled the contract with the P3 consortium and slowly strangled the initiative until it failed to exist.

Granted, that is sometimes how the big boys of the far right work, deliberately hurting agencies that serve the poor. I’ve seen it, and this is not an exaggeration.

However, Everett’s take-away is golden:

…the tactic of shaming the powerful didn’t just fail to change the minds of the powerful, it also motivate them to look for ways to hurt those opposing their interests. Once again, the shared-power approach proved to be life-giving – generating the model to increase access, nutrition, health – and the shaming-power approach proved to be life-taking. When we are operating on a state or federal level, politics can be catastrophic when we get it wrong. Demonizing those who we are trying to persuade does not work.

The rest of the chapter will be worth the price of the book for some of us, I think. He reminds us about shared power, about building consensus, about common ground. He reminds us that we are all made in the image of God and we dare not hurl insults against even those with whom we disagree. Collaboration and finding common ground is not easy, but we must “honor the createdness of the other.” We want to “move the world toward just, toward shalom” so our “tactics and strategies must reflect the integrity we hope to achieve for our cause.”

His story of the slow change of the heart of a congressman, a Christian, who gradually learned more about the realities of poverty in his district brought tears to my eyes. I know a congressman like that, a leader with whom I had regular political disagreements. Praying together in his home about how his party’s policies were causing great harm in Central America is a memory I’ll never forget, regardless of how he ended up voting on that particular foreign policy bill. I so love that Everett doesn’t want to throw anybody under the bus on the way towards the beloved community.

This short book is an excellent primer on anti-hunger activism, on the questions of poverty that plague these United States. It is faith-infused, but civic minded, pushing for good goals in good ways. It is a prefect companion to Silence Can Kill by Arthur Simon. We have purchased a lot of these for our little store and hope many folks pick it up. It would make a great small group study or book club title.

AND A FEW MORE…

And Social Justice for All: Empowering Families, Churches, and Schools to Make a Difference in God’s World Lisa Van Engen (Kregal) $13.99 This is an excellent resource, more than 300 pages, with information and insight about a dozen different topics — from creation care to human trafficking, from fair-trade wisdom to disabilities rights, from racial justice concerns to family care. There’s stuff about bearing the “fierce light” of being a change-maker and guides on creating a community gathering. There’s even a plan to raise awareness, topic by topic, month by month, which looks intriguing to try. This evangelical educator and mom from Holland, Michigan, has given us a rare combination of gospel-centered faith and down-to-Earth education for social change.  She and her family are members of Covenant CRC in St. Catharines, Ontario. Highly recommended.

Loving God and Neighbor with Samuel Pierce Michael A.G. Haykin & Jerry Slate (Lexham Press) $12.99 This is the second in a little series called “Lived Theology.” (I will be writing more about the other, an introduction to the public engagement theology of Abraham Kuyper, also in this little series.) Those that know much about evangelical missionary work may know the name of Samuel Pierce, a nearly forgotten saint who embodied a late eighteenth-century Baptist piety and advanced a wholistic vision of the gospel. This handsome little book invites us to explore Pearce’s “holy love” and tells of his years of ministry in England (and his trip to India and preaching trip through Ireland.) Loving God and Neighbor models how older-school evangelical faith can propel one to care deeply about serving one’s neighbors and about caring about God’s world as an expression of a deep appreciation for the saving grace of Christ.

Missional Economics: Biblical Justice and Christian Formation Michael Barram (Eerdmans) $26.00  We have a pretty hefty economics section (besides our section of global development, world hunger, and international affairs.) Some are heady, some less so. Some are tough in their critique of mainstream capitalism, but some, like, say, Redeeming Capitalism by Kenneth Barnes, with a foreword by Miroslav Volf (Eerdmans; $25.99) are thoughtful, with a serious, moral center, but more balanced. We have extraordinary, serious works like Just Capitalism: A Christian Ethic of Economic Globalization by Brent Waters (WJK; $40.00) that seem very much like something neither right nor left, but seeking a deep, alternative vision. That is also why we’ve often recommended Completing Capitalism: Heal Business to Heal the World by Bruno Roche and Jay Jakub (Berrett-Koehler; $19.95) about their surprisingly good work with the Mars Corporation.

Steve Garber, who has worked with this team of authors, says,

With a rare willingness to ask the most critical questions about the nature of business, their ‘economics of mutuality’ is a vision for doing good and doing well in the context of one of the most iconic brands in the modern world. Neither charity nor corporate social responsibility, but rather a way for sustained profitability, Completing Capitalism argues for making money in a way that remembers the meaning of the marketplace.”

With so many good resources like this, it is hard to suggest just one, but these days, I’m inclined to most heartily recommend this Missional Economics for starters because it so helpfully explores the biblical material. It does not do everything a book on economics does, but it does what we Christian must have: a good study of the pertinent Biblical texts. This is a remarkable book, exceptionally helpful and vital.

Mark Labberton of Fuller Theological Seminary calls it, “a stunning gift.”

Our friend, New Testament scholar Michael Gorman, writes:

This readable but challenging book compellingly unpacks the Bible’s consistent focus on transforming the ways we think (and therefore act) about money, possessions, the poor, and more. The result is a desperately needed antidote to the consumerist, self-indulgent culture in which Western Christians live today. And it is also a persuasive invitation to participate in God’s loving care for a needy world.

The publisher says:

Barram searches for insight into God’s purposes for economic justice by exploring what it might look like to think and act in life-giving ways in the face of contemporary economic orthodoxies. The Bible repeatedly tells us how to treat the poor and marginalized, Barram says, and faithful Christians cannot but reflect carefully and concretely on such concerns.

Written in an accessible style, this biblically rooted study reflects years of research and teaching on social and economic justice in the Bible and will prove useful for lay readers, preachers, teachers, students, and scholars.

Bread for the Resistance: 40 Devotions for Justice People Donna Barber (IVP/The Voices Publishing) $15.00 We’ve written favorably about books by Leroy Barber and it is a delight to know of Donna, his wife and ministry partner, co-founder of The Voices Project which is trying to “influence culture through training and promoting leaders of color.” She is the director of Champions Academy, an initiative of the Portland Leadership Foundation and is the first African American to serve on her local district’s school board. This is just what you’d think, a feisty, visionary, inspiring set of devotional readings for justice activists. Are you tired or over-worked, struggling, wondering how to keep on keeping on? This will refresh your soul and keep you going. Brand new – we have it on our counter at the shop!

Rest for the Justice Seeking Soul: 90 Meditations Susan K. Williams Smith (Whitaker House) $14.99 FORTHCOMING – PRE-ORDER: due to be released November 12, 2019 Wow, this is another small collection of daily meditations by an experienced leader who is a woman of color, the communications director and secretary to the Board of Directors for the Samuel D. Proctor Ministers Conferences. Those who know the African American church know that the Samuel Proctor name is deeply esteemed and Ms. Smith’s connection there is indication of her stature. Perhaps more importantly, she’s known on the streets as a voice for faith-based social change; she has been involved in organizing in her home-town of Columbus, Ohio, and on the national level. She is involved with numerous social justice organizations, including Dr. William Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign. These short readings were designed for those who are feeling beleaguered and battered down in their activism during these hard days. Kudos to Whitaker House (not known for these sorts of social action books) for taking up the writings of this important sister in the struggle. PRE-ORDER IT NOW.

Created to Flourish: How Employment-Based Solutions Help Eradicate Poverty Peter Greer & Phil Smith (Hope International) $19.99  What a handsome, joyous, wonderful book this it. It is not new, but wanted to mention it here because we are so glad to stock it, and you may not know of it. I hope you do know about the remarkable ministry directed by Lancaster-based Peter Greer called Hope International. They do micro-financing and employment-based work in developing countries and, as such, know so much about what actually works in helping create human flourishing all over the world. This wonderful book — made with full color photography on nice paper, making it an attractive artifact of their good work — was formerly out in an edition called The Poor Will Be Glad. This updates that excellent book adding new insights from their recent years of good work. There is a foreword by Jeff Rutt, founder of Hope International. There is more I could say about this book, but know it is handsomely designed, with lots of great stories, and in this lovely resource you’ll learn a lot about the Biblical call to wholistic development and economic possibilities.

 

Jesus’ Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, The Currency of Love and a Pattern for Lasting Change John D. Barry (Whitaker House) $15.99  I was amazed that folks I respected from a variety of theological views and who tend to tilt left or right, so to speak (favoring more governmental adjustments to reform the economy or those who trust the free market as the best way to bring people out of poverty) all agreeing that this author is a gem, that this book is a great little guide. John Barry is one well-respected, behind the scenes leader.

Barry is a Biblical scholar and has worked in business, and is known as a missionary, I suppose. His bibliography is loaded with excellent resources on missiology and, better, his book is loaded with first hand accounts of folks from all over the developing world who lives – body and soul, communities and cultures – were transformed by a Kingdom vision of Christ’s Lordship in their lives. This is a great, easy-to-read manifesto about God’s love, about the way of Jesus, about His Kingdom coming all over the world and, especially, about the best ways to alleviate poverty and injustice. He is convinced that Jesus’ teachings are the guide to help us make better choices than can help us all help make the world a better place. Simple, direct, clear, and good introduction to a wholistic gospel and economic development strategies. Read something like SIlence Can Kill: Speaking Up to End Hunger and Make Our Economy Work for Everyone by Art Simon, I’d say, but this is a fabulous intro.

Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty Isn’t the American Dream Brian Fikkert & Kelly Kapic (Moody Press) $15.99  Wow, what a book!  I have alluded to this before, mentioned it at book groups, and shown it here in the shop. It deserves an even more detailed review that I am able to do at this time, but, trust me – it deserves your attention. An important project of The Chalmers Center (at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis) it is, in a way, a prequel to the bestselling and much discussed When Helping Hurts. Many have read that important volume (alongside the equally valuable Toxic Charity and Charity Detox by Robert Lupton) and somehow concluded that all foreign aid (or even local charitable mission) is suspect. This has become so common that Calvin College Press published a helpful little study called When Helping Heals by Tracy Kuperus & Roland Hoksbergen (Calvin College Press; $10.99.)

Of course few would argue with the central thesis of When Helping Hurts. Too often big bureaucracies and government programs, or smaller, well-intentioned local charities, are patronizing, even toxic, and build dependency. Nobody wants poor folks to be dependent on somebody else’s charity. And, really, nobody wants to serve our needy neighbors in ways that are hurtful. But yet, we do.

Well, Fikkert and Kapic want to be sure we understand the philosophical assumptions and theological anthropology – a view of society and the person and the like – that informed their big-seller. If When Helping Hurts is a critique, what should we do, to do service well? We’ll get to that – there is a third volume in this trio of books – but, for now, this text, Becoming Whole is a full, nicely written, clear study of what human flourishing is. Obviously, merely helping poor people become rich isn’t the goal. Obviously, helping dysfunctional, unjust economies work more efficiently isn’t enough. Helping Mammon win isn’t what we want, is it? Becoming Whole, then, is a companion volume to When Helping Hurts. It can be read as a stand-alone or as a prequel.

This is one of the reasons I love Becoming Whole. It brings together a Biblical world and life view, a coherent public theology, a seriously Christian social analysis that both affirms jobs and markets and askews receiving simple handouts as normative ways for people to live, but doesn’t suffer under allusions of progress, as if more money is going to solve problems of a fragmented culture and lonely souls. Whether we are helping poor folks at home or abroad, whether we are trying to figure out a Christian view of economics or society, this book exposes the misconceptions and idols of Western culture (and, too often, the Western church.)

I think this book, therefore, is great for any of us, whether we are involved in poverty alleviation ministries or not. With sections like “The Shaping Power of Stories” you know it’s on to something good. And the middle section is so good! This section is called “When False Stories Make Helping Hurt” – warning against two main visions/stories. These two false visions are “you can become a consuming robot” or “who can be a harp-playing ghost forever.” Their Reformed worldview has long been strong in critiquing the errors of this sort of naturalistic consumerism (on one hand) and other-worldly pietism (on the other) but it doesn’t hurt that they’ve been reading N. T. Wright.

They even reference the cult-classic novel Flatland. And then, in “God’s Story of Change” offer a reconsideration of creation, a realization about the profundity of sin and the fall, and the “full embodied hope” of redemption as we await the dawning of the new creation. This is good, good stuff as we all try to live into that creation-fall-redemption-restoration story.

As the publisher promised in their description of Becoming Whole.

Through biblical insights, scientific research, and practical experience, they show you how the good news of the kingdom of God reshapes our lives and our poverty alleviation ministries, moving everybody toward wholeness.

A Field Guide to Becoming Whole: Principles for Poverty Alleviation Ministries Brian Fikkert & Kelly M. Kapic (Moody Press) $14.99 Okay, as I suggested above: a few years ago this team from the Chalmer’s Center put out what became a best seller, When Helping Hurts. They did a side-project called When Helping Hurts in Church Benevolence and a video curriculum on short-term mission trips. It’s a big deal, and good stuff.

Then, as I mentioned above, they did a prequel to all of this, concerned that the theological and worldviewish framework for their work would help people better understand their proposals about how to best serve those who are in poverty or hurting.-Becoming Whole: Why The Opposite of Poverty isn’t the American Dream is that volume, and it is wise and helpful instruction. Whether you’ve read When Helping Hurts or not, Become Whole is highly recommended.

And now, there is this, the potent little sequel. This little field guide is just that – a no-nonsense field guide to applying the big picture worldview stuff of Becoming Whole in a setting where the principles of When Helping Hurts are taken seriously Of course, there is no “one size fits all” solution, so they don’t call this a “how-to manual.” It really is an evocative field guide, unpacking “ministry design principles” developed over decades. It promises to offer valuable guidelines as you seek to live into God’s story in your particular context.

 

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A reminder about our best books about faith & work, a bunch of links to vital book lists, and 20% off FIVE NEW BOOKS ON WORK

Happy Labor Day, friends.  I suppose you know this day means a lot to us, here, since part of our original vision for our Dallastown bookstore was to bring to ordinary folks in an ordinary part of the country what was then, as now, somewhat rare: resources for living out the implications of Christian faith in the work-world. Unlike most Christian bookstores, we stocked books on various spheres of life and culture, from business to politics to science, art to education, medicine and law, raising kids to raising crops.  Which is to say, we had books (some theological in nature, some Biblical, some just fun and helpful) on callings and careers, for those in sales or public service or scientific research, for artists and teachers, for nurses and attorneys, parents and farmers. We lamented the gap between worship and work, between Sunday and Monday, and hoped that those who claimed Christ as Lord would see rather obviously, once exposed to these many kinds of fascinating books, that they should read them, talk about them, start study groups and professional associations, maybe even in their workplaces. We thought that pastors, even, seeing books for engineers and journalists and wood-workers and business people, would start to suggest such books for their congregants. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

And so we sit on books offering Christian perspectives on math and medicine, counseling and cooking, books for followers of Jesus who want to honor Him and build signposts of his Kingdom wherever they work, all their live-long days. Butchers and bakers and candlestick makers, as they say.

I describe our vision often by citing Martin Luther’s important line about how the men making  the beer barrels and the women milking the cows are every bit as important to the Kingdom of God as are the priests and the nuns.

Or, at least, Martin Luther King’s famous lines:

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’

Later, I even edited a book of graduation speeches, each rooted in this central idea that work is good, that God calls us to serve in careers or jobs or occupations, and that we can make a difference for reform of this fallen world (usually in small ways) by allowing the Christian mind to shape our thinking and practices about our work-world. That book is called Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Lives (Square Halo Book; $13.99) and even though it is designed for young adults just out of college or trade school, it captures much of what I think about when Labor Day rolls around. There’s even pretty good reflection questions too, making it a fine book for a book group, especially, but not only, for young adults.

(You can read more about Serious Dreams, here.)

Alas, too many churches fail to invite their congregants to think well about all this. We have all sorts of unbiblical assumptions about work. As is often the case in various arenas, we sometimes nearly make a demon out of it; other times we make an idol out of it. Too often to stop to recall the serious struggle that many (often in the labor union movements) accomplished to humanize work and insist on dignity and fair wages and job safety and the like. Few allude to the work-world in the talk about the missional church, too few sing anthems or praise songs about our callings or vocations, few sermons tackle the subject. Few prayers are prayed about the ordinary laborers that they might see their daily grind as holy ground.

Do you know the great album of worship music that was commissioned to create songs somehow about or alluding to our work and callings in the world? We are proud to know some of the song-writers and recording artists behind this marvelous Porter’s Gate worship project called Work Songs. Here’s a little background about the artistic vision of Porter’s Gate. Check out the incredibly artful, deeply moving videos, from the soulful “Establish the Works of Our Hands” to the lovely “In the Fields of the Lord” to the amazingly, folksy “We Labor Unto Glory” to the phenomenal, quiet “Little Things with Great Love.” Joy Ike’s contribution, “Day By Day” captures the theme wonderfully and is as direct as any on the album; you should sing this at your church!  “Wood and Nails” featuring Audrey Assad and Josh Garrels is gorgeously amazing, about “a humble carpenter.” The one about parenting “Every Father, Every Mother” is so moving. You’ve got to hear this whole album.  We recommend buying it directly from Porter’s Gate…

As you will see below, we have often made book lists about this topic of Christian views of work and thinking faithfully about living out faith in the marketplaces. Most of the best are written (or co-written) by real-world workers, not academics or pastors, but business executives or public school special ed teachers or advertisers or scientists or shop floor stewards. Often considered the very best, Every Good Endeavor Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (Penguin; $17.00) is by the always-thoughtful Timothy Keller (whose Manhattan ministry has long been known by his seriousness about orthodox faith related in gracious ways to the contemporary culture, especially to matters of calling and vocation) but in this he got a major assist from co-author Katherine Leary Aldsorf, who has spent years working in the business world, living out her faith in a high-powered corporate culture. Katherine was the first director of Redeemer’s extraordinary Center for Faith and Work.

But I often say that one of the best starter books was, in fact, written by a pastor, my friend Tom Nelson (now of “Made to Flourish” ) who, in Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work (Crossway; $17.99) wrote about his own “professional malpractice” in not talking about his flock’s true vocations, the way their jobs were their natural venues for Christian service, how their workplaces were their most natural mission fields. He shifted the tone and emphasis and conversations and formational practices and worship language at his church and over time saw remarkable results. It’s a good one to read if you are a pastor, or if you want to give a book to your pastor, but it is also good for any of us (complete with sidebars written by members of Nelson’s church about their own sense of being commissioned to serve God in their careers; these include great little pieces by a teacher, an attorney, an architect, and many more.) Tom rightly observes that this will stretch the imagination of readers and bring practical energy to this bigger theology of work project.  Here’s a short interview with him about the book — nice! I love this guy!

Another that I’ve raved about came out a year ago, also by a pastor, who creatively did a long series of sermons about what we can learn about God from various jobs. I’ve shared the stage with the thoughtful John Van Sloten and think he is exceptionally gifted in offering a profound theological framework for this project of nurturing a spirituality of the workplace, Every Job a Parable: What Walmart Greeters, Nurses, and Astronauts Tell Us about God (NavPress; $14.99.) To his credit, John interviewed tons of folks about their jobs, thought well about all manner of careers and callings, including some unique ones, and preached on the redemptive aspects of car repair and what forensic psychologists or a residential landlord can teach us about the Kingdom. It’s really, really good.

Here is a fabulous talk Van Sloten gave at the Colorado Christian Business Alliance’s annual conference last fall. It is well worth paying attention to and his book is very highly recommended. As I mentioned in my earlier review of it, I wondered if we really needed yet another book on this faith/work theology, and when I realized what he was doing, and read it, I soon realized he brings more to this than most. What a book!

Because I’ve got two terrible tooth aches — one was pulled a day ago and one is going to be worked on soon, I can’t write much more, now. I’ve got a host of examples of bad views of work I’ve noticed lately (including some awful experiences over 13 hours at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital where they could use some reminders about caring and excellence starting with the receptionists and custodians all the way up to the highly paid docs and specialists) and some good ones, like a teen at our local grocery store at whose line I’ll wait longer to go through, just to interact with her and her cheerful and helpful demeanor. But my essay will have to wait. You can pick up some of my passion and thoughts in the links below – including the one with the great James Taylor song.

Here is what I’d like to do for you. I will link to several past BookNotes where I’ve written on this topic and described some of the very best books on this subject. Some are on vocation and calling, some are on work; some religious, some not. I’m pretty proud of this compilation and the several times we’ve shared about these sorts of resources over the years. Feel free to pass them on. (Please note that the prices may have changed since I first reviewed some of these, and, in fact, may be described as hardbacks although they are now out in paperback.) There is such good stuff out there these days that it’s a shame that they aren’t more widely used.

And then, I’ll list a small handful of new ones on this topic. One is a pre-order option.

So, here are some older BookNotes columns on faith and the work-world. I invited you to read through a few of these as part of your Labor Day celebration and ponder if any of this might be helpful to anybody you know.

  • https://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/2016/09/more_books_on_work_vocation_ca/
  • https://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/2012/11/every_good_endeavor_connecting/
  • https://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/2012/09/books_on_vocation_calling_book/
  • https://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/2017/08/reintegrate-your-vocationwith-gods-mission-by-bob-robinson-and-four-other-key-resources-on-faith-work-and-economic-life/
  • https://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/2017/06/a_review_of_a_book_that_brings/
  • https://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/2009/09/labor_day/ 

    FIVE NEW BOOKS ON FAITH AND WORK – 20% OFF

    Discovering Joy in Work: Transforming Your Occupation into Your Vocation Shundrawn A. Thomas (IVP) $22.00  I am eager to read this soon (it just came a day or so ago) as I need it, believe me. My own job is harder and more painful than I would wish and our situated context within the current less-than-bookish culture, the broken supply chains, the shuttering of faith-based bookstores, the larger global economy, and more, make my days regularly feel “cursed.” My own sins and foibles loom large, too, so I need this. Do you? Coming from IVP as it does, I am sure it’s going to be very well done. And a quick skim leads me to think this is some fresh and practical stuff.
    Shundrawn Thomas is president of a trillion-dollar global investment management business and is a management group member of a leading financial service company. He’s active in community service work, serves as a trustee of board member of some significant institutions and is active in his local Chicagoland church. He is one of these young men who has already worked in very high-level corporate environments, so Discover Joy in Work might be especially appealing to those who work in the financial sector or in the corporate world.  It is interesting, to me, too, that he is an African-American leader; many of the best books so far on the faith/work conversation have been by white guys. It’s nice to have this significant contribution by a person of color.
    Shundrawn Thomas’s ability to seamlessly weave together timely research, piercing insights, and vivid storytelling provides a truly unique perspective on work as calling.
    –Carla Harris, Vice Chairman of Wealth Management, Morgan Stanley
    In this enthralling book full of personal experiences and practical insights that come from his Christian convictions, Thomas guides his readers through a process of self-reflection that can transform the drudgery of a job into the joy of a calling that serves other people and gives glory to God.”–Philip Ryken, president, Wheaton College

     

Shundrawn Thomas has written a remarkable book, a work full of cosmic wisdom and concrete advice for anybody seeking to live a life of greater joy, fulfillment, and service. By highlighting the ways our work lives might be improved, Shundrawn shows us a path where our whole selves can be enriched. I highly recommend this book.” –Eboo Patel, author of Acts of Faith, president of Interfaith Youth Core

Thank God It’s Monday: Flourishing in Your Workplace Mark Greene (Muddy Pearl) $15.99 This book came out of Scripture Union in the UK a decade or more ago and was very widely respected. It was just re-issued in an updated edition by this cool Scottish publisher. Greene (who once was a Mad Man in New York, working in advertising for the famed Ogilvey agency) now is the Director of the brilliant London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. This book is packed full of stories, inspiration, transformative opportunities, great ideas about how to be a whole-life follower of Jesus in the ever-changing workplaces of the global economy. As one British Anglican put it, it is “intelligent, invigorating, inspirational, and, ultimately, indispensable.”

For what it is worth, I’ve loved Greene for years, and we have even imported a small booklet he once did rejecting the false assumption of a sacred/secular dualism. That was called The Great Divide and I don’t think it was overstating things by saying it was the greatest challenge facing the church today. In the face of a secularizing materialistic naturalism on one hand and a privatizing, nearly Gnostic spirituality on the other, we simply have to recover a wholistic faith within the story of God’s good but fallen creation.

This delicious book is a must-read for everyone who works – which is just about everyone. Why? It winsomely demonstrates how ordinary people working in the world, whether remunerated or not, are doing something beautiful. Work is an act of worship that is pleasing to God. But more than that, this book shows how our daily work contributes to human and creational flourishing – what Jesus called the kingdom of God. Of course, there are problems, and Mark Greene helps us to navigate the complex reality of today’s workplace; he has been there. In the work we do, people of faith rub brains and brawn with people who do not know how beautiful is the Good News of Jesus and the kingdom. And this practical, biblically founded and richly story-formed book is the best I have read on how we can be ambassadors for Christ and agents of the kingdom of God in the workplace. An empowering gift it certainly is.
–Dr R. Paul Stevens  Professor Emeritus, Marketplace Theology, Regent College, Vancouver; BC    Chairman, Institute for Marketplace Transformation; Author of Work Matters and Taking Your Soul to Work

The first time I read Thank God it’s Monday years ago, it totally revolutionized my thinking, my leading and my preaching. With this latest version, I find myself even more inspired, encouraged and challenged that it’s not just important, but it’s also utterly possible, to see the kingdom of God break out in the workplace. In fact, it’s happening! All over the place. Through normal people who simply make themselves available to God. With his wonderful wit, lashings of scripture, pacey storytelling and gentle – but necessary – prodding, Mark has once again delivered a book which envisions and equips us to live for Jesus wherever he places us. Read it! Pray it! Do it! And let’s see all Heaven break loose … –Matt Summerfield  Senior Pastor, Zeo Church

 

Work: It’s Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation Daneil M. Doriani (Presbyterian & Reformed) $15.99  You may know enough about us to know that our earliest visions for relating faith to work, to seeing our jobs as connected to the great “cultural mandate” of Genesis 1, of developing a Christian perspective on work and labor, came from our years ago working for the campus ministry called the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO) on the committee coming up with the ideas for the very first collegiate Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh. (The Jubilee conference, held annually and now in its fourth decade, remains close to that whole-life vision of Christ-centered cultural transformation and relating faith to work, inviting 4000 college students to grapple with the biggest questions about the Biblical story as they relate to their majors and vocations. You should come to Pittsburgh in February; we will, of course, be selling books there. Or, at least, come to the one-day pre-conference for work-world adults, Jubilee Professional.)

I mention this because the author of this fine, no-nonsense, theologically solid (and yet very interesting) book was also once on staff with the CCO. Doriani has had other jobs too — the book tells us he’s been a security guard, construction laborer, freight handler, tennis coach and tour guide. He knows a bit about the hardships of work, the ugly stuff. He has pastored churches and has served as a faculty member of colleges, most notably, at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, where he is now the vice president of strategic academic projects (and professor of theology.)  My good friend Steve Garber, author of the must-read Visions of Vocation, has done some teaching at Covenant about how to prepare future pastors to equip their future congregants for work-place calls and vocations in the work-world. Not many seminaries have stepped up to make this a clear part of their ministerial formation, and Garber and Doriani have been part of that. Thanks be to God!

And so, Dan asks, “How does work fit into a meaningful, God-honoring life?” Dan has been thinking about this a long time — in a way, his publisher notes, it was twenty years in the making — and he has conducted hundreds of interviews with people about their faith, their work, what it means to be true to their craft, how to see work as a way to serve the common good, and more. This really is a very good resource to deepen your thinking about this topic.

Notice these rave reviews:

PRE-ORDER  forthcoming due September 2019  Church for Monday: Equipping Believers for Mission at Work Dr. Svetlana Papazov (Brookstone Publishing Group) $14.99 This is another book that is mostly aimed at church leaders to help them develop a passion and the skill sets necessary in order to equip congregants to see their workplace as a missional context. Svetlana is a dynamic pastor and connected with our friends at Made to Flourish, and she and her church are highly regarded. She is energetic and entrepreneurial. She is Spirit-led, evangelical, and innovative about the church’s impact in the public sphere; her small business startup background has made her particularly sensitive to and insightful about issues of marketplace ministry.

Church for Monday will be out soon and we’d be delighted to send you one. Just order at the link below.

Here is what the publisher says about this dynamic book:

Church for Monday is a call to action with a proven plan to unite worship on Sunday to mission on Monday. It offers the local church a practical re-tooling to equip believers for the workweek on Monday, regain relevance in the lives of the lapsed and non-Christians, and re-establish the Church’s witness in the public arena. Dr. Svetlana Papazov shows that churches equipping for Monday seek sustainable ways to grow spiritually, socially, and economically. This is the gospel for a new generation; it is the how-to churches have been looking for.

Papazov (along with her husband, and small, multi-ethnic team) planted their Assembly of God congregation several years ago. Real Life Church, as it is known, is “an entrepreneurial church with a heart for de-churched people and for bridging the sacred and secular divide.  The entrepreneurial church is not a “how” church, but a “why” church. It’s not about the methodology, but about the Christology.”

Now that’s a church, I bet, that celebrates Labor Day.

All books mentioned are 20% OFF.  The link below easily takes you to our secure order form page where you can enter credit card information (or ask us to send you a bill.) 

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12 New books on small, indie, boutique presses or that are self-published. Three cheers to these bold authors and 20% off.

Thanks to those who pre-ordered some of the great forthcoming books we highlighted in the last BookNotes. As I wrote to many of you, it really does give us hope when folks buy books; it’s a reminder that there are those who want to learn, to grow, to deepen their discipleship, to serve God more fruitfully. Who still care about the printed page and about bookstores. Who look to us to help them out. That you appreciate our curation and order from our small town, independent, bricks-and-mortar  family business is really appreciated. It matters to us a lot.

Those books were written by authors you most likely have heard of (and if you’ve read BookNotes before, I’m quite sure you have!) Some of the books are eagerly awaited; they’ve got that buzz going on. Sometimes, though, I want to give a quick shout-out to some authors you mostly haven’t heard of, or, in some cases, a well-known author who releases a new book that is published by a small or indie press that you may not know about.

We get unsolicited manuscripts and samples of self-published books all the time. I’m sorry to say that many are pretty poorly done. Even the covers and font and page design illustrate that they are sub-par. As they say down south, “Bless their hearts” for trying. Some are fine, but just very personal, or for a niche interest and not the sort of thing we can in good conscious recommend very widely.

Sometimes, though, there are small press or self-published titles that are really good, well crafted by thoughtful authors, books that we think we should amplify a bit. Here, then, are twelve new indie/self-published works we want to tell you about.

We show the regular retail price, but all are 20% OFF; we will deduct the discount for you.  You can easily order them by using our secure order form page by clicking the link at the end of the column.

Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart Karl Forehand (Quoir) $19.99 Karl is a new friend, a friend of some other friends, and a former pastor who now attends Brian Zahnd’s church in Missouri. Forehand’s story is gently told and it is, I think, a fairly common one, especially these days. He has shifted from a more legalistic and strict conservative faith to a more open and generous one. Memoirs of how folks have shifted in their faith journey are not uncommon and are often moving – think of Rachel Held Evans or Pete Enns, just for instance – and in a way, this is one of those sorts of stories of a traditionalist evangelical has refreshed his understanding of God.

Here’s what makes this different: Karl offers here less a diatribe against wrong-headed fundamentalism and rather tells a story of his life as a father. As a dad of adult children that I admire, I liked this a lot. In a quiet, non-nonsense way he wears his heart on his sleeve, telling how he raised his children (and how he and his wife are loving their grandchildren.) It may have been from Brian McLaren where I first heard this analogy, but Karl notes that surely God (who Jesus tells us to call Father and to relate to as a caring parents) is a better parent than we are. We forgive our kids when they screw up, we are patient, we try to understand their issues, we don’t make them grovel. Good parents are a signal of transcendence, as they say, a pointer, in some ways, to the goodness of God’s holy, royal, cosmic Parenthood. It is a commonplace that we form our view of God from our earthly parents. There are books that even explore that, how we think about our own parents and how (sometimes) that has given us bad views of God. I don’t think I know of any book like this, that explores a change in one’s view of God by pondering one’s own parenting.

Kudos to Karl Forehand for his own work as a leadership coach and faithful follower of Jesus. Thanks for sharing in plain prose how as a dad you see your family, your parenting, your faith. As Brian Zahnd says of the book “I call this the water to wine journey. Karl’s journey has not been without pain, but it has been beautiful.”  Indeed.

Beyond Stewardship: New Approaches to Creation Care edited by David Paul Warners & Matthew Kuperus Heun (Calvin College Press) $17.99 We stock everything of this small college press (including their marvelous, brief paperbacks in their “Calvin Shorts” series.) This is a major new work and might have been well-served by being shopped around to be released on a major, prestigious publisher because Beyond Stewardship is brilliant in its overall vision and wonderful in how it has offered so many interesting, astute, and vitally important contributions to the conversations about faith and what some call creation-care. This fascinating and generative book deserves a more careful review and I hope to do that, soon.

Here’s the basic gist: Beyond Stewardship is a collection of about 15 chapters offered by a wonderful crew of interdisciplinary scholars who invite us to think whether “stewardship” is the best way to describe humankind’s relationship with the other-than-human creation. For decades, theologians (especially those within the evangelical tradition who want to be intentionally shaped by the Bible) have drawn on the deep and rich notion of being house-holders, care-takers, managers and vice-regents of God’s good but fallen world. Stewardship, we often say, is more than giving money to church (as it has woefully been reduced to within the common church-goer’s imagination.) It is caring for resources and managing them well.

It doesn’t take too much thought or observation to realize the importance of asking if this is actually the best way to talk about what Genesis calls oikonomia, the home-making calling to tend and keep the economy of the garden. And it doesn’t take too much thought or consideration to see that it may not be fruitful to think of ourselves as “over” the other creatures, distant from, “using” them. This fine book from Calvin College Press is a tremendous and important conversation about that question.

Here are three quick things that might inspire you to order this from us. First, I’m happy to say that one of the authors in this book is one of our very best friends, Gail Gunst Heffner, who has for years, with other colleagues and students at Calvin College (now University) have been painstakingly and lovingly working to restore a deteriorating stream in their Grand Rapids area watershed. The “Plaster Creek Stewards” have gotten some national attention and their deep involvement helping the college use its resources to serve the community has helped many of them, Gail included, to increasingly doubt the ultimate usefulness of the “stewardship” model. (Gail, by the way, has a chapter in Beyond Stewardship on what is often called environmental racism and it is clear, succinct, tender, and prophetic.) Gail used to work for the Pittsburgh-based campus ministry organization. the CCO, and is truly beloved by so many. So – friends and alum of CCO and others who appreciate Gail’s friendship and work and witness – you should pick this up.

Secondly, Gail isn’t the only person in this book we admire. Steven Bouma-Prediger (who teaches at Hope College and has a forthcoming book, releasing in January 2020 called Earthkeeping and Character: Exploring a Christian Ecological Virtue Ethic) has a lovely piece I adored, making the overt case why we should “move from stewardship to earthkeeping.” James R. Skillen (son of the political scientist and neo-Calvinist author) uses his expertise in geology to get at the topic in light of the Biblical teaching of the Kingdom of God. There are other Calvin profs who have made vital contributions – English professor and wondrous writer Debra Rienstra has a chapter called “What’s That? Naming, Knowing, Delighting, Caring, Suffering” that is a great essay helping us to reorient our imagination and find hopeful ways forward. The piece “From Stewardship to Place-making and Place-Keeping” resonated with me a lot. Editor David Paul Warner’s has a beautiful chapter called “Walking Through a World of Gifts.”

There’s so much in here. There is an art piece, a delightful student contribution, excellent discussion questions and other creative touches. Contributors include the likes of Aminah Al-Attas Bradford, an ordained CRC minister and a PhD candidate at Duke; she is theologian who knows her way around the sciences, a Barth and microbial scholar. Matthew Halteman has written on our relationship with animals and co-editor Matthew Kuperus Heun is a professor of engineering. One author is a city and regional planner, another teaches economics. One is climate change activist, another tells of outdoor educational experiences. All of these involved scholars are deeply committed to notions of sustainability and asking big questions about a faithful worldview and how to live into God’s ways in God’s world.

I will explain more in a future review, but there is a great afterword by the great Loren Wilkinson whose book Earthkeeping was the first book (in the late 70s) produced through the Calvin Center on Christian Scholarship. They grappled with the word stewardship in those years and his story (shared briefly, co-authored by Cal DeWitt and Eugene Dykema) offers a very nice historical touch. For those who have followed this movement over the years, is nearly worth the price of the book.

Prophetic Whirlwind: Uncovering the Black Biblical Destiny Onleilove Chika Alston (Voices Publishing) $24.99  Again, every now and then we are just delighted to find a vibrant writer and spokesperson who is doing extraordinary work but whose book is not widely known outside of their own niche circles.

We have heard of Onleilove (who holds both an M.Div and MSW degrees) since she was an active student leader at Penn State, a scholar in New York City, an activist in Baltimore, and a contributed editor to Sojourners. (In fact, she had a much-cited cover story on “King Coal” and other Appalachian struggles. Kudos to Leroy and Donna Barber for re-issuing her Prophetic Whirlwind book through their recent Voices Project.

Prophetic Whirlwind is a whirlwind tour through a lot of content, deftly combining historical research and Bible study, African American studies scholarship and African stories. She has traveled all around the world (Scotland! Switzerland!) lecturing on her topic about the African roots of the Bible (and the Hebraic culture preserved in Africa!) Is the Bible an African book? Are some of the indigenous cultures of black people really the social context of some of the Bible? Why have many missed the allusions to many African and black-skinned people and cultures in the Scriptures? Who and where are the “lost tribes” of Israel? Why do many African tribes seem to have Hebraic connections?

She was asked to come to West Africa by the African Hebrew leaders there and has done research in Ghana, Togo, Nigeria. This is mind-blowing and fascinating stuff, and while not the first book exploring this “white washing” of the Bible, it is certainly one of the best.

It is a unique book, even within Afro-centric Biblical studies and you should know about it. The author worships with Beth-El The House of Yahweh, a 65-year old Messianic Hebrew congregation in the South Bronx.

A Restless Age: How Saint Augustine Helps You Make Sense of Your Twenties Austin Gohn (with a foreword by Wesley Hill) (GCD Books) $12.99  As many are waiting on the forthcoming work by Jamie Smith (On the Road with Saint Augustine) might I suggest this as an excellent companion volume. In fact, whether you are attracted to Smith’s heady study or not, A Restless Age is the best introduction to Augustine’s Confessions I have yet seen. Everybody knows that Confessions (for any number of reasons) is an important classic in the Western canon and a must-read for anyone wanting to be fluent in the standards of ancient Christian books.

We met this young pastor, Austin Gohn, at the Pittsburgh Jubilee conference a few years ago when he was in the research stage for this book; he was fired up and confident and a year later, the book was in production.  What a delight to have seen it develop, to come to know Austin just a bit, to realize that he is a rare leader – a lively evangelical working with teens and young adults who has read deeply and widely. And he gets exactly how Augustine’s own restlessness is similar to the postmodern angst and restlessness of emerging adults in these days. This book is a great introduction to the great third century frat boy turned seeker turned disciple of Jesus who became a Bishop from Northern African.

Here is what I want to be clear about: A Restless Age is a book for anyone even though Gohn wisely guides young adults through this relevant text, showing how Confessions can be useful for such young-ish readers. But I think it is equally helpful for any of us who need some help realizing why Augustine is important. It is more than a “Cliff Notes” summary, although it might serve that useful function for someone who has no idea what to expect from reading Confessions. Gohn even has a fabulous appendix which is a playful and candid reader’s guide, inviting beginners to even skip certain parts of the tome (the first time through, at least) telling us what to look for and what to watch out for. Gohn recommends, by the way, the lovely, lively translation by Sarah Ruden who has a great endorsing blurb on the back. Nice!

So, if you are new to Augustine no matter your age, you will enjoy A Restless Age. If you are in your late teens or a twenty-something, by all means, realize this book is for you. And if you care about young adults, are a youth leader or college minister or campus pastor/chaplain, or parent of a millennial, you really should read this book. It’s from a small, classy publisher you may not have heard of. We’re thrilled to be able to let folks know about it.

As Wes Hill writes in his generous introduction,

Although it’s been almost a decade since I exited my twenties, I still recall with mingled happiness and grief my trip through those trying, stretching, enlivening years. I started to question the certainties of my childhood faith. I fell in love for the first time and lost my best friend. I moved away from home and tried to forge a new identity. Through it all, I never lost my hunger to fine God – or to be found by Him. I wish I had had A Restless Age to read during those years, not only for its witty diagnoses of twentysomething angst and its “Oh that’s so true!” insights into what makes young adults tick but also for its generous, compelling introduction to a saint who could have helped me hold on to faith and maybe even thrive.

Listen to our friend Erica Young Reitz, who wrote the fabulous After College:

One of life’s biggest struggles for twentysomethings – for most of us – is making time for self-reflection in the midst of our hurried, on-to-the-next-thing lives. We’re running on the outside and restless on the inside == just like Saint Augustine. With witty metaphors and a deep understanding of our cultural moment, Austin Gohn brings this ancient saint into our present struggles. A Restless Age normalizes our angst, but — most importantly – offers a way out of it.

The Just and Loving Gaze of God With Us: Paul’s Apocalyptic Political Theology Henry Walter Spaulding III (Wipf & Stock) $36.00  Hank has become a good friend and a great customer of ours, even stopping by the store (on his way to and fro from, oh, say, stuff like a Princeton Barth conference where he was presenting.) Young, casual, widely read, a passionate teacher and principled supporter of indie booksellers like us – what’s not to like? Well, I have to admit, I’m inclined to promote books by authors who support us (it’s a bit annoying when folks expect us to sell their book, even if they’ve never darkened our door or sent us as much as a an email and push people to Amazon regularly on their own social media. Really?) But Hank showed up here seeking books perhaps not even knowing we had his book in our cluttered and jam-packed New Testament section. With blurbs on the back from the likes of William Cavanaugh and citing many other “ethical” readings of Pauline politics I realized quickly that The Just and Loving Gaze is a serious and important contribution to New Testament studies and contemporary discipleship. Now that we’ve met him, we’re even more thrilled to tell you about it and to commend it to you.

I can’t say for sure who should buy a book like this; it is serious, academic (most likely a PhD dissertation made more user-friendly for a wider audience) but yet would appeal to those who have read, say, Roman’s Disarmed or even the good work of Michael Gorman, who he esteems. In this work, Spaulding quotes womanist ethicist Emily Townes and, naturally, political exegetes like Neil Elliott. He does the critique of modernity a la Foucault and Walter Benjamin. This maybe leads him to Oliver O’Donovan. From his time at Duke he became friends with race scholars Willie Jennings and J. Kameron Carter and knows Amy Laura Hall. He draws on Yoder a bit, which I suspect he got from Hauerwas, and thanks Richard Hays. He loves Barth’s epistle to the Romans and is a Wesleyan. So there ya go.

And he is a clear writer; a good teacher who cares about the gospel and its implications for the hyper-modern world.

As Philip Ziegler (of the University of Aberdeen) says:

Provoked by recent philosophical interest in the Apostle Paul, Spaulding here pushes back into Paul’s inalienably theological politics in pursuit of an understanding of Christian political responsibility today. The resulting theological, biblical, and philosophical conversation that ensues is rich and engaging, drawing together a range of voices (when did Wesley, Kasemann, Arendt, and Iris Murdoch last meet one another on the pages of a book!) It offers a compelling vision of an inhabitable Pauline politics of both the already and the not yet.

The Dream: A Novel  Deborah Arlene (Christian Faith Publishing) $16.95  If you visit our Hearts & Minds Facebook group you might find a handful of folks offering suggestions and reviews. I invited Deborah to tell us there just a bit about her new novel in part because – whether it’s high quality, literary literature or just an inspiring, earnest story nicely told – some books deserve to be known. And there’s a bit of backstory about The Dream, and it is so frustrating. Let me explain. First, you should know that it is a story that has an anti-abortion message, or, I should say, a truly pro-life one, as the tender story embraces the controversial and painful topic of abortion by imagining the tale of a woman who is helped by good folks at a Christian crisis pregnancy center. As one who has been involved with a couple such centers, I am happy to know there is a novel that captures the life-changing stories that the care-givers in those places hear and help facilitate day in and day out. Carrying a pregnancy to term when the situation is complicated is emotionally hard, and the support these sorts of places give is often extraordinary. The hardships of an unexpected (and, at first, perhaps unwanted) pregnancy can be made less so with a little bit of lovin’ care. This shouldn’t be controversial, and all sides of the policy and legal debates should affirm that helping women with her choice to carry a crisis pregnancy is a good thing.

Alas, Deborah told me that for some odd reason, Twitter cancelled all her followers. They somehow though her simple story was too controversial for even the wild digital West of social media. Are you kidding me? She rebuilt a bunch of followers and tried again to communicate with them about her new novel and – yep – got oddly banished again. I see this as an inexplicable affront to liberal values like freedom of speech and freedom of the arts, but can’t say much more since I don’t understand why Twitter would ban an innocuous, inspiring story about evangelical women helping promote their pro-life views by actually helping another woman. Maybe they realize that a simple story can be more subversive than we think: maybe various sides of this issue might see things a bit differently by engaging a tale like this that is honest about the twists and turns of those involved in these kinds of complex decisions. Even if the big guns try to silence her, we’re happy to stock this new novel by a central Pennsylvania writer.

A More Christlike Way: A More Beautiful Faith Bradley Jersak (CWR Press) $19.99 I’m really excited to tell you about this small press release even though I don’t even know what CWR Press is; its related to CWR Magazine, which is some Jesusy Canuck ‘zine that I also don’t know much about. But I love this author! We’ve stocked other books by this ambitious thinker and Dean of the Masters of Ministry program at St. Stephen’s University in New Brunswick, Canada. We stock his serious academic tomes like Her Gates Will Never Be Shut about “Hell, Hope, and the New Jerusalem” to the lovely, thoughtfully done children’s picture book with sophisticated text, Jesus Showed Us! This new one, A More Christlike Way is a sequel to his A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel. In each case, Jersak is doing what other thinkers are also helping us with (I think of Brian Zahnd and his Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God) in raising up a very high Christology and insisting that however we know God, think about the Old Testament, o define the gospel itself, it has to be done through the lens of Jesus the Christ, the second person of the Trinity, God-in-the-flesh. It is hard to argue with that, it seems to me, and his pressing Christ-like and Christ-commanded compassion to its logical implications (a non-violent understanding of the atonement, a Christ-like mercy in thinking about eternity, a Kingdom-centered gospel where Christ is lifted up and actually followed, and the like) is urgent, vital, important. Theologians will debate all of this, I’m sure, but Jersak here sets forth, as Zahnd puts it, “a vision for following Jesus that is in keeping with the kind of faith that first turned the world upside down two thousand years ago.”

The endorsements on the back of A More Christlike Way come from a wide variety of readers – Wendy Gritter, who wrote Generous Spaciousness, Jim Forest, the Orthodox peacemaker (and old friend of Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day) and Father Kenneth Tanner (an evangelically-minded Anglican) who says that “Jersak is here your reliable Sherpa, a guide and fellow pilgrim…”

By the way, we have his other small-sized, brand new, independently published release, In: Incarnation & Inclusion, Abba & Lamb (St. Macrina Press; $18.95.) Yes!

Calling Mother: Out of Darkness into Light Cathleen Cody Lauer (self published) $19.95 This wondrous book is a small, quiet gem, wonderfully crafted and creatively written. It is nearly a small art book – more than a poet’s chapbook – but glorious in that same, artful way; the paper quality is good and there are touches of color throughout. To have it in your hand is to realize you are experiencing something very special, owning a book that but for serendipity you may not otherwise even know about, and you will be glad. Perhaps offering an outright “thanks be to God” or a Nunc Dimittis. How did we even learn of this?

Cathleen has long been a supporter of our store and her husband, Jonathan, is a dear pal – he spent most of his professional career laboring as a librarian at Messiah College near us in central Pennsylvania. (And on occasion, teaching legendary courses on Bob Dylan.) Cathleen took up writing a decade or more ago and started to experiment with her craft – journals, memories, essays, poems, prayers, and more. About the same time she was learning to be a spiritual director, increasingly entering that world of ecumenical spirituality and contemplative reflections. And she wanted to write.

As she tells us in the beginning of Calling Mother she started using her phone calls with her colorful, elderly mother as a catalyst, a holy nudge, to pick up her pen. This new powerful collection of short essays and ruminations is the result.

I like very much that she utilized the extraordinary gifts of small bookmaker and graphic designer Kathy Hettinga to do the artful design work for Calling Mother. Hettinga has a brief afterward explaining some of the historically inspired doo-dads (okay, that’s not the word for these shapes that adorn the pages – they are actually Bodoni Ornaments from 1798 and the more modern (1997) Hypnopaedia. These touches – along with some exceptionally well-selected handwriting pages reproduced from Cathleen’s grandmother! – make this a delight to behold.

With the passing of my own mother a few weeks ago, I am sadder than I think I expected to be. I’m not sure why I need to write this to you other than to say that his poignant book is, as I’ve noted, a set of memories and creative writing pieces inspired by real conversation the author had with her aging mother and it has come to mean a lot to me, now. A few of the essays capture, in fact, good talks they had not long before Cecelia died. There is stuff here about calling home, about calling mom and it moves me just thinking about this holy ritual. Some of you know what I’m talking about. Although the lovely prose (and a few poems and prayers) about these calls will surely be appreciated and pondered by many readers – especially those of us with aging parents, or those of us interested in our parent’s own younger lives – it really is a mother/daughter book. It is about their relationship, more so, their conversations and, as one reviewer put it, the holy silences in the spaces.

Do you wonder what mindful conversations are really like? Would you like to deepen the habits of heart that allow you to ponder good talks with loved ones? Do you wish for deeper relationships with your own parents? This great little book documents an authentic relationship and is a beautiful artifact of those conversations. And the holy spaces. We are so pleased to commend it to you. Perhaps you might even give it to your own mother (or daughter.)

The Theopolitan Vision Peter J. Leithart (Theopolis Books/Athanasius Press) $12.95  Do you know Peter Leithart and his fascinating, Birmingham-based “Theopolis Institute”? He invites men and women into an intense, residential Fellows program relating, as they put it, “Bible, liturgy and culture.” Doc Leithart is colorful, undeniably brilliant, liturgically-minded, Reformed. You many know of his serious Bible commentaries, his little studies of Jane Austen, or his little book Shining Glory on the Terrence Malick film The Tree of Life which he relates to the book of Job. He’s done Between Babel and the Beast (on “America and Empires in Biblical Perspective”) and a curious study called Defending Constantine: The Twilight of Empire and the Dawn of Christendom that I suspect I don’t adequately understand. Leithart has written on Mercersburg theology and did a fabulous book called Solomon Among the Postmoderns. I liked this Traces of the Trinity: Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience. He did a big, scholarly book on the history and experience of gratitude published in hardback by Baylor University Press. And that’s not even all of it. Despite this prodigious, thoughtful output, he’s started this recent educational/formational ministry and this new little book is a bit of a manifesto.

Here is how his publisher describes the small book, the first in a handful of succinct tracts about the vision for the Institute. It’s a bit generic, I suppose, but if you know Dr. Leithart, you know the small The Theopolitan Vision is anything but generic and certainly spicy enough to stimulate even the hardest of hearts.

As the modern world crumbles, Christians scramble for answers. The solution is the Christian church, an outpost of the heavenly city among the cities of men. The author explains what the church is, and how the Spirit empowers the church’s world-transforming mission through Word and worship, and Scripture and liturgy. It shows how the church can be a city of light in a dark age.

Godly Character(s): Insights for Spiritual Passion from the Lives of 8 Women in the Bible Lisa Smith (Square Halo Books) $16.99  How can I offer a list of rare books by indie publishers and not mention our friends at the classy boutique publisher out of Lancaster, PA, called, curiously, Square Halo Books? We love this little outfit and appreciate their eager collaboration with us. (They are the ones who surprised us with a book on our bookstore’s 35th anniversary, created with chapters by friends and respected scholars, called A Book for Hearts & Minds: What to Read and Why.) You may know they do widely respected books on faith and the arts, on popular culture (like BIgger on the Inside, their book on Doctor Who) and books that teach us how to best “lean in” to and faithfully engage our contemporary world. (See, for instance, the fabulous, entertaining and deeply wise Good Posture: Engaging Current Culture with Ancient Faith by Square Halo booster and pal, Tom Becker of the Lancaster Row House Forums. And, okay, I’ll say it — my own little book, the quite handsome and meaty Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life.) We stock all the books that Square Halo publishes and have reviewed all of their two dozen or so books here at BookNotes. They are top-shelf!

Their most recent release is Godly Character(s) and I did indeed give it a nice mention when it arrived several months back. Alas, it is so handsomely done, so winsome and smart, so engagingly written, that it surely deserves another shout-out here. Lisa Smith is a college literature professor so she is a good writer, creative and eloquent and colorful and vivid. She tells about Bible characters and relates them wonderful to our contemporary culture. She mixes references from acclaimed literature and pop culture, relating Word to world in a way that is gospel-clear and yet beautifully relevant. To be sure, it is about gaining a passion for habits of godliness and it is about how God’s grace can transform us from the inside out. This is the point – helping us all be shaped in Christ-likeness in these weird times. That she does it through a good study of women In the Bible is nice – and not just for women readers or ladies Bible studies.

The book is rich and engaging, so this blurb doesn’t quite capture it all, but here is how they explain their final hopes for it:

Igniting spiritual passion doesn’t have to be a mysterious process. By conforming our character to God’s design, we can awaken in our hearts a sincere love for him. That rekindled affection can drive us to deeper intimacy with God and lead to greater joy in our daily lives.

With Us: Everyday Evidence of God’s Presence Kelly Willie (XulonElite) $15.99  When this inspiring, delightful book first came out, I was eager to read it and happy to promote it. It is about a topic we think folks find helpful — the spirituality of the ordinary, so to speak — and also because it was nicely written, sensible, interesting, with some great stories and illustrations of her spiritual discoveries. One reviewer on the back cover said “With Us is a wakeup call for the soul that has been lulled to sleep by the inattentiveness to God’s presence every day.”

Ms Willie is a contemporary worship pastor at the large Grace Church just south of us in Shrewsbury PA and is a singer-songwriter with some Gospel Music Association connections Nashville. Maybe because she is an artist she has a particularly keen sense of what it means to see God’s creative hand as we “number our days” day by day.

We’ve made big lists of books about the spirituality of the mundane and how to practice the presence of God in ordinary stuff. From the best-selling, incredibly interesting and wise Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren to the beautiful A Tree Full of Angels: Seeing the Holy in the Ordinary by Sister Macrina Wiederkehr to the latest by popular woman’s writer Shannan Martin, The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You there are lots of books that help us expect to sense God’s presence in the commonplaces of life.

Yet, although With Us is somewhat like those sorts of books, celebrating God’s sometimes quiet intrusion into our daily lives, this one has a certain upbeat verve to it that was captivating for me, making it a real encouragement. Other authors give you tools and techniques to move towards mindfulness or a centered attentiveness to the love and presence of God. This book tells you about how the author herself discovered that, coming to know and trust God more deeply, day by day. And what discoveries she has had!

Kelly Willie has survived near death experiences and (maybe surprisingly?) is still, obviously a fun and funny person who likes to laugh. She has seen some hard stuff, but still wants to follow Jesus. She trusts the Divine pointers she’s discerned and followed the glimpses of His glory in a way that she really, truly believes that God is pursuing us and that if we are open, we, too, can discern these “fingerprints that are evident everywhere.”

With Us has 30 chapters, each rooted around an episode that she brings to life through her splendid storytelling. Some of her exploits are hilarious, some quite serious, most really down-to-Earth. Given that she is a worship leader at an evangelical mega-church, I assumed With Us would be overly pious with lots of charismatic lingo. Of course, there is some of that. And the girl can preach!  But I was delighted at how down to earth and real she was. Kelly explores a theme in each chapter — but it isn’t too didactic or self-evident, as the insights unfold through the story. The stories are simply rendered and captivating, as she introduces us to a cast of characters, from a woman who wore pearls with her flannel and camo to the tender, awful story of the death of a child, to “cliff jumping” with her hubby. Or a chapter about our legendary friends at the local Brown’s Orchard where she plays the role of Norm from Cheers. There is plenty of Bible references here and there are reflection questions inviting us to go a bit deeper in our own faith journey. With Us is a nice book by a local evangelical leader and we are happy to tell you about it.

A Theology of the Ordinary Julie Canlis (Godspeed Press) $12.99 I mentioned above our fascination with books about ordinary life, about the spirituality of the mundane, about practicing God’s presence in the quotidian of daily life. There are remarkable books about this, and many are anecdotal or experiential or in the genre of spirituality, I suppose. But this, this is a bit different and nothing short of brilliant. Quiet, but brilliant. A Theology of the Ordinary is less a spiritually or reflection and more a theology; not academic, but still. It is written by a woman with a PhD in theology who has written a stunning, academic book on John Calvin (Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension) but the impetus for the writing of this is part of the story. And it’s a great story.

Maybe you have heard of Godspeed which is a set of short films about an energetic, world-changing, zealous, young (very American) pastor who went to Scotland and learned to settle down, move slow, care for his people and place, become known — he learned to take up such calm and focused ministry not (only) by reading Eugene Peterson or the novel Love Big Be Well or Wendell Berry, but by walking alongside a sane, caring, parish pastor. Together with his wife — the aforementioned Julie Canlis — Matt was transformed to a new identity and pace of life and different sorts of affections. We stock the seven-week study guide to Godspeed, by the way, and would love to talk more about it.

But here, now, I want you to know of this precious small press (they’ve just done the short films, the study guide, and, yep, A Theology of the Ordinary. The book is handsomely made, classy, even though it is a thin, mass market size. The book came from three lectures she gave (at Whitworth College in Spokane, WA) after returning to the States after their experience in the UK and in those lectures she explored a Trinitarian theology to undergird the notion that our ordinary lives in God’s real world is, truly, the only place we have to see God work. Our Christian growth is, literally, down to Earth and does not have to be extraordinary.

Here’s how they tell the story:

Upon returning home to America, Julie Canlis was struck by the emphasis within Christian circles on being ‘extraordinary’ or ‘radical’ or ‘passionate’ for God. But what about the goodness (and challenge) of living our ‘normal’ lives for God? The joys and challenges of living an ordinary life in the presence of God gave rise to this little book, and is the lived theology behind what Godspeed is about

With an easy, conversational style, she writes about the blessing of the Father on ordinary life and creation and the inhabitation of the Son in ordinary life as the rule, not exception, for redemption and the ways the Spirit works in our ordinary lives to bring us into the new creation.

With each section, she also examines a ‘cultural temptation’ that threatens to undermine our ability to offer God our ordinary lives. The questions at the end of each chapter make this a fabulous book for small groups and book clubs. What a shame most readers — on the lookout for substantial, classy, thoughtful, approachable books — don’t know about it. You’re welcome.

Again, we noted the regular retail price. We’ll gladly deduct a 20% off for you on any orders. Just use the link to our bookstore order form page and tell us what you want.  Thanks for shopping small, supporting indie presses, and giving lesser known authors a chance.

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SEVEN FORTHCOMING BOOKS YOU CAN PRE-ORDER NOW: books by Rachael Denhollander, David Kinnaman, Justin McRoberts & Scott Erickson, Os Guinness, Mae Cannon, James K.A. Smith, and Diana Butler Bass

Thanks for your patience, friends, as we’ve been a bit uneven with the BookNotes schedule this past month. With Beth’s head injury and some serious aches and pains, the death of my mom, and some other heartbreaking stuff, we’re still reeling. Yet, we find great solace and hope every time we get an order for a good book or two or three.

That people still read, that people of faith want to think and understand our glorious, broken world, that our bookstore staff and good customers carry on with vigor in these peculiar times says a lot. We rejoice that authors and artists do that thing that legendary sports writer Red Smith mentioned — just open a vein and let it bleed — and that publishers release their good prose and that customers actually want to buy real books from real bookstores. We thank you, gentle readers.

Which brings me to this: here are some highly anticipated, eagerly awaited, forthcoming books that you can PRE-ORDER from us now. We won’t run your credit card until the day we ship them out, of course, but you can fill out the order form page and get a 20% discount.

This stuff gives me hope and keeps us going.

(Of course you can pre-order anything from just — just tell us what you want. There are so many other great titles coming that it was difficult to suggest just these seven. We think this handful deserves advanced attention and with which we have an affinity, so wanted to suggest you get them —  and get them from us. Again, you can order anything, any time. We’re eager to serve. Tell us how we can help.)

Did I mention these aren’t out yet? But that you can PRE-ORDER them now at the link below? Here’s a thing: for several of these, we will have them (as an independent, bricks and mortar store) before the famous faceless behemoth. Unless they have an official release date where we’re not allowed to sell them early, we suspect we’ll have these as early as almost anybody. And on sale.

Allow us to introduce you to a few forthcoming books. A few of these we’ve read already in advanced manuscript editions. What fun.

Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon David Kinnaman & Mark Matlock (Baker) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59. For some in our audience, this will be a very important book as they have already read what might be seen as the first two in a trilogy co-authored by David Kinnaman. Whether you’ve read them or not, you most likely have heard of the Barna research and the books that came out about young adults who are not Christians and their views of the church (unChristian) or who have left the church of their youth (You Lost Me.) Both of those important books showed that churches of all sorts have a major problem in that many older teens and 20-something think the church is unhelpful and the gospel is irrelevant (or worse.) Those two books explain, in some detail, what the data suggests about how we in the churches have failed our young adults. In a nutshell, one might say those books diagnose the problem and feature (as they should) what we’re doing wrong.

This long-awaited third one in this series, Faith for Exiles, however, offers some practical (if at times visionary) notions based on the latest Barna studies about churches and ministries that have retained their young adults or ministries; Faith for Exiles examines programs and practices that have been successful and fruitful in effective ministry with that age group. For those that want guidance, ideas, suggestions, best practices, and solid stuff that works in doing ministry with young adults, Faith for Exiles is a must-read.

Further, because it spends some time in fascinating descriptions of our “digital Babylon” culture and what it means to live as exiles, Faith for Exiles is not just how to offer a faith that resonates with and equips the rising generation of emerging adults to have lasting faith, it is, I’d say, a book for rising adults, younger folks, college age students, those in their twenties or thirties who may wonder how to keep on keeping on.

Kinnaman’s co-author for this forthcoming volume is Mark Matlock who is the former Executive Director for Youth Specialities; as such, he’s written bunches of books for and about youth ministry and it is good to see him with this passion for David’s work in following up our youth who are often active in church camps or youth fellowships or teen ministries and mission trips and such, only to drift away in their college years. Together, Kinnaman and Matlock are quite a pair and this research is something all of us should know. It’s packed with stories, is nicely written, and loaded with good ideas. I highly recommend this book.

For what it’s worth — no, I’m not going to spoil it by trying to summarize all of it — they’ve documented five things that any viable young adult ministry or college-age outreach should include. Frankly, these are things that interest me, too, and if a church or ministry doesn’t do this stuff, it isn’t going to capture the imaginations of many of us (regardless of our age or generational cohort.) They share the five insights as key practices. For instance, one great chapter talks about holding out a vision for work and vocation so the practice is offered as “To ground and motivate an ambitious generation, train for vocational discipleship.”  Another practice is spelled out like this: “When isolation and mistrust are the norm, forge meaningful, intergenerational relationships.” Each practice counters a certain bit of data that they’ve come to realize is true for this generation, and each is accompanied by stores and examples. There is great hope here, for those who dare to have this God-sized dream of doing young adult ministry in a church that feels ill-equipped and is losing that cohort, and there is great hope for those who need to, as they put it, “develop muscles of cultural discernment” and who will “curb entitlement and self-centered tendencies.”

Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon by Kinnaman and Matlock is going to be a groundbreaking, clear-headed and helpful book. That it gives a shout-out to the CCOs legendary Jubilee Conference (and a nod to a bookstore from Dallastown that shows up every year to resource book-loving young Christians at that event!) makes it that much more fun for Hearts & Minds friends. It releases September 3, 2019. Pre-order it today!

What Is a Girl Worth? My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth About Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics Rachael Denhollander (Tyndale) $26.99  OUR SALE PRCE = $21.59.  We are proud to be able to promote this and trust that many other bookstores will champion this riveting, troubling and inspiring memoir of a Christian leader who has become an international hero. That she and her husband have gotten disgusting letters and social media harassment makes us want to try even harder to show off this fine Christian book. I has gotten some national attention already, received a starred review at Publishers Weekly and is going to be widely discussed. Beth Moore (herself a sexual abuse survivor) has recently said, “This is one of the most important books you’ll ever read.”

Here is  what is on the back cover:

“Who is going to tell these little girls that what was done to them matters? That they are seen and valued, that they are not alone and they are not unprotected?”

Rachael Denhollander’s voice was heard around the world when she spoke out to end the most shocking scandal in US gymnastics history. The first victim to publicly accuse Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor who abused hundreds of young athletes, Rachael now reveals her full story for the first time. How did Nassar get away with it for so long? How did Rachael and the other survivors finally stop him and bring him to justice? And how can we protect the vulnerable in our own families, churches, and communities?

What Is a Girl Worth? is the inspiring true story of Rachael’s journey from an idealistic young gymnast to a strong and determined woman who found the courage to raise her voice against evil, even when she thought the world might not listen.

This deeply personal and compelling narrative shines a spotlight on the physical and emotional impact of abuse, why so many survivors are reluctant to speak out, what it means to be believed, the extraordinary power of faith and forgiveness, and how we can learn to do what’s right in the moments that matter most.

Rachael Denhollander is a serious Christian, a mom of four, an attorney, and was named as one of Time magazines 100 Most Influential People, one of Glamour magazine’s Women of the Year and was a recipient of ESPN’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award. She has spoken within the faith community, too, in venues as prominent as Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York and upon other significant platforms seeking to help us learn to be attentive to issues of abuse and how to be agents of justice in God’s broken world. It releases to the world on September 10, 2019.

By the way, we also have the soon to be released How Much Is a Little Girl Worth? a children’s book also written by Rachel Denhollander (and illustrated by Morgan Huff) released by Tyndale Kids! ($14.99; OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99.) It’s very nicely done. More on that later…

Listen to Karen Swallow Prior:

No two sexual abuse cases are exactly alike, yet Rachael Denhollander’s story reveals what they all have in common and the part we all can play in preventing abuse, defending the vulnerable, and pursuing justice. Sexual abuse does not take place only in dark alleys late at night. It occurs in brightly lit offices and in quiet church sanctuaries, in public spaces and in the privacy of homes. If you don’t understand how this can be, please read this book. If you know too well why this is, you have even more reason to read this book. Rachael writes with moral clarity grounded in biblical truth and love. What Is a Girl Worth? is a must-read for anyone who cares about protecting precious lives from predators and pursuing justice for those for whom we were too late. — Karen Swallow Prior, author of On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books and co-editor of the recent Cultural Engagement: A Crash Course in Contemporary Issues 

Carpe Diem Redeemed: Seizing the Day, Discerning the Times Os Guinness (IVP) $20.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00. Those that know me know that one of my favorite books — and one we promote tirelessly — is The Call: Finding and Fulfilling God’s Purpose for Your Life, which was released last year in an anniversary edition, a bit more trim in size but with some editing, expansion, and a few new chapters. This book almost single-handedly help create a hunger within certain parts of North American evangelicalism to explore the long-neglected doctrine of calling, especially as it applies to ordinary folks. For too long only priests and nuns, ministers and missionaries, got to use the language of discerning and receiving a call to a particular vocation and Guinness explores how that de-formation happened, how a revitalization of Western culture depends upon a renewed focus on faith and calling, and how a “purpose driven life” is more, much more, than many have realized. Erudite and gracious, literary and beautifully informed by great stories from history (from the Greeks and Romans through to Winston Church and many modern folks, from Picasso to the great filmmaker who created Lawrence of Arabia and the curious jazzman Coltrane.) Guinness is well read and Biblically wise and The Call is simply a contemporary masterpiece, a book nearly everyone should read at least once in their lives.

Os has been a friend to me and Beth and always has much nice to say about our efforts here at the store. He’s a bookman and life-long learner and it is frightening to think where modern/classic evangelicalism would be without his thoughtful influence over these past forty years since his life-changing Dust of Death appeared in the early1970s. He has studied at Oxford and worked with Peter Berger. He has been a journalist with the BBC and helped draft the important Williamsburg Charter on religious freedom. His books have explored the nature of Christian persuasion, the idols of our postmodern times, doubt, the nature of evil, the role of the mind in Christian discipleship, the cultural captivity of the church, the threats facing American democracy and more.

Carpe Diem Redeemed is due in mid-to-late September, and is being touted as a long-awaited sequel to The Call. As you can tell from the title, it takes that popular phrase about “seizing the day” and asks fundamental and important questions (that, oddly, many of fail to ask) about what that means, and what it should mean for those committed to the Lordship of Christ. If God’s glory, pursued faithfully out of a Biblical world and life vision, is what drives us, then what do we mean by seizing the day? Why and how and what for? And as we redemptively find purpose and meaning by seizing the day, does that not demand of us a critical analysis of (and perhaps countercultural witness to) the society around us? We must, as the subtitle says, “Discern the times.” Such questions about how to discern the times and the point of a determined life, interestingly, have been wrestled with by the best thinkers down through the ages.

Carpe Diem Redeemed opens, as many of Guinness’s books do, with a few pages of remarkable quote from writers, philosophers, artists, political leaders, and historians who are as diverse as Lao Tzu, Horace, and Dante; Kierkegaard, Oscar Wilde, Vincent Van Gogh, on to Susan Sontang and Kurt Vonnegut, a tweet from Richard Branson and a line from Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue. From the ancients to the existentialists, they have written about seizing the day, using our time wisely. He reminds us that the most thoughtful and often the most successful leaders consider the nature of one of the biggest mysterious that shape cultures: their view of time.

Yes, in a way, this is a Christian reflection upon a perspective on time. Those familiar with Dr. Os’s body of work will know this has long intrigued him — the modern age, after all, evolved as clocks were invented and life was increasingly measured and scheduled and Os has regularly reminded us of the remarkable consequences of these sorts of things. Guinness even wrote a book called Prophetic Untimeliness about the idol of relevance, in which he explored with great insight some basic stuff about the nature of time, generations, history, and our daily experience of the passage of time and what it means to be up to date (or not.) A chapter of that book, in fact, is reprinted in this new one, giving it a helpful continuity to his previous cultural assessments, perhaps somewhat inspired by that famous poetry in the start of Ecclesiastes 3. One chapter hits hard, playing with an old social Darwinist phrase wondering if we live in a culture of “the survival of the fastest.”  What’s with the ubiquitous slogans like FOMO and YOLO?

So, yes, we must discern the nature of the fast-paced times, guarding against just going with the flow of history with too little sense of distinctiveness or holiness; trendy or thoughtless accommodation to the ethos of the times is rarely a healthy approach for God’s people. And, without getting into the thick weeds too much, to study our times, we have to study our era’s view of time. Yes, again, this is a book about time.

But more, it is about our own sense of calling, following up The Call and inviting readers to a 21st century sort of realization that we are — as people shaped by the vital notion of covenant — “singular, significant, and special.” An extraordinary chapter is called “The Way to Seize the Day” and that is followed up by this call to “prophetic untimeliness.” I’m telling you, this is good, good stuff — a bit deeper than The Call, perhaps, but just as inspiring. We would be pleased to have you sign up for one so we can send it out in a timely fashion. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Carpe Diem Redeemed releases officially on September 24th but we’ll have it early. A new book by os Guinness is always worth celebration, and this one will be much discussed, I’m sure.

As a man in midlife, I am often reminded that like a piece of fruit or a loaf of bread, I, too, have an expiration date. With this awareness comes searching questions such as, ‘What’s it all for? Is there meaning to anything that I do, since it will one day all be forgotten? What does it mean to live well in light of such realities?’ In characteristic fashion, Os Guinness not only explores these searching questions but offers satisfying, proven answers to them. If you are asking similar questions―or even if you’re not―I can’t recommend this book to you highly enough.   — Scott Sauls, author of Befriend

Evangelical Theologies of Liberation and Justice edited by Mae Elise Cannon & Andrea Smith (IVP Academic) $36.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.80. I know there are just dozens of wonderful, beautiful, powerful books on a Christian view of justice; Biblically-informed, deeply spiritual books to inspire us to care more about what God most cares about. God moved me to tears not long ago as I read out loud a few passages which link deep knowledge of the God of the Bible with the doing of justice and I was strangely warmed again, gladly. There was a time when one had to insist these verses were really in the Bible, so meager were most church people’s familiarity with the themes of justice in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. (I still return to Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger for a good overview.) Happily, we have moved deeper into the Biblical story these days and many of our best customers are looking for more detailed or more profound studies to equip them as agents of God’s peace and justice in this distorted, unfair world.

My friend Mae Cannon has done a few books that are staples in this aspect of discipleship, excellent and useful. See, for instance, her great collection of biographies in Just Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action (IVP; $17.00) or her very useful study resource Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World (IVP; $25.00) or, reflecting her recent work, A Land Full of God: Christian Perspectives on the Holy Land (Cascade; $38.00.)

As much as we value these great books — write us if you need other suggestions, such as the soon to be released Bread for the Resistance: Forty Devotions for Justice People by Donna Barber (IVP; $15.00) — that guide us to be activists for the common good, to be just congregations, to be citizens for public justice, and such, we also think that some of us really ought to be studying how this recent development has actually occurred. What theologians, and what sort of theologies have funded this recent interest in social concerns amongst evangelicals? And in what ways have the late 20th century flurry of liberation theologies been adopted or refined by evangelicals (especially those on the margins, people of color, immigrants, people imprisoned, woman, and others.) Is there such a thing as an evangelical liberation theology? (If you are reading the book I raved so much about last month, Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire/Demanding Justice by Walsh & Keesmaat, you might be asking the same thing, more curious and open now than ever before.)

As it becomes increasingly clear that the Christian right has no theology at all anymore, and moderate evangelicals remain pietistic with a personalized faith with little public square commitments, what theological work needs to happen to serve a Bible-centered, Christ-honoring, historically orthodox foundation for liberation, reconciliation, peace, creation-care, freedom and justice? This is the big project that Mae Cannon and Andrea Smith has taken up, bringing together some older and newer voices and it is a major project. There are amazing pieces in this handbook/anthology called Evangelical Theologies of Liberation and Justice — serious chapters on body shame, on animal liberation, chapters by thinkers of various ethnicities and social locations on how their own status shapes their understand of the Biblical hope. Wow, this is a wild and generative compilation! Kudos to the women editors, of course, and to their evangelical publisher for doing this kind of serious work for the overturning of death-dealing idols and the flourishing of the common good. We hope to get this in very soon, but the official release day is September 10, 2019.

May It Be So: Forty Days with the Lord’s Prayer Justin McRoberts & Scott Erickson (Waterbrook) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59.  I mentioned above that Dave Kinnaman describes the big Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh in his forthcoming Faith for Exiles. (He will be speaking there this February, so make plans now to attend! No matter where you live — come to Pittsburgh!) Justin McRoberts & Scott Erickson are two friends who have spent their share of time hanging out in the big book room at Jubilee and, in between speaking and painting and praying and playing music there (they are a talented duo) they cooked up a plan to collaborate on a book which would serve as a prompt to pray. Not exactly a book about praying nor exactly a book of prayers. The readings are nearly like Zen koans, I’ve said, Justin’s allusive and mystical and generous ruminations inspired by Scott the Painter’s very hip graphic designs. I suppose I’m not sure what came first, the pictures or the text, but somehow, they created our of that Jubilee vision an imaginative, remarkably useful, and very popular Prayer: Forty Days of Practice (Waterbrook; $16.99.) This book is one of those rare ones that they self-published — what they called their “Jubilee baby” (conceived as it was, right there in their conversations at the conference) — and it was so hugely well respected that a mainstream publisher picked it up, issuing it in an affordable hardback. This doesn’t happen often, folks, so it is an indication that it was a a very special book.

That first one, and now this forthcoming one, are not for everyone, I suppose. The art is cool, but a bit unusual, blunt yet allusive. The writing is evocative and poetic. As they say, this book is a work of art, it is a work of love. We know many of our customers will love it.

May It Be So follows the artful pattern of Prayer: Forty Days of Practice but unpacks the possibilities of focused, imaginative prayerfulness around the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

“Deep down in every human being is a fundamental awareness of God and a desire for divine help in turbulent times,” it says on the back. “We instinctively long for relationship with God. Yet, a flourishing prayer life sometimes feels just beyond our reach.”  This book, it says, is designed to “help you gain spiritual clarity and maintain a meaningful and ongoing conversation with God.”

Can you contemplate your own life? Those whom you love?  Is God around and in and present there? Justin & Scott think so, and this invites you to experience it. It releases September 23, 2019 and it’s one we are not permitted to sell earlier.

If you are in central Pennsylvania, keep your eyes peeled here as we are hoping for a in-store bookstore visit from Justin as we do an East Coast book launch in late September. More on that soon. Stay tuned.

On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real World Spirituality for Restless Hearts James K.A. Smith (Brazos Press) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99. With no disrespect for any of the other great authors and marvelous books coming out this fall, I think many in our circles will agree that this truly is one of the most highly anticipated and certainly will be one of the most significant spirituality books of the year. Those who followed Smith’s tour de force “Cultural Liturgies Project” comprising of three volumes (Desiring the Kingdom, Imagining the Kingdom, and Awaiting the Kingdom) or the one-volume, more accesible, You Are What You Love, you know of his affection for the great Saint Augustine from Northern Africa. Discipled by Ambrose on the mid-300s, Augustine became a Bishop, helping navigate the church’s role in a deteriorating Roman culture. How can those graciously swept up into the reign of God relate to the corrupt powers of this world?  What does it look like in a world falling apart to be “in but not of?” Despite huge foibles and flaws, Augustine’s City of God shaped much Christian public theology and cultural engagement for centuries.

Augustine, flawed and broken man that he was, didn’t get it all right. But what he is perhaps most known for — and why even the most secular universities sometimes assign his book Confessions — is because Confessions is considered the first memoir. Not a history book or even a biography, but a rumination on the shape and texture of a person’s interior life, it is penned with a self-awareness that was pioneering in its day. To consider one’s own deepest longings and desires and temptations and sins, to give voice to a quest for meaning and a reframing of one’s deepest sense of self — that’s all before the rise of a sense of the modern day self, before Freud, before evangelical testimonies, before all those modern day memoirs that I highlighted in a BookNotes column a month ago. Confessions was groundbreaking.

And so, Jamie Smith takes seriously the adage that is said to be Augustinian: if you want to know what somebody is really like, don’t ask so much what they believe, but what they love. That is the power of his best-selling You Are What You Love as it reminded both modern day evangelicals and classic mainline denominational folks that dogma and doctrine and even talk of the allusive worldview doesn’t change people’s lives. The center of gravity of the human person is the heart, not the brain, and we must re-oriented our loves, our passions, our affections, note merely try to change minds. And that, as he explains brilliantly in the “Cultural Liturgy” trio and in You Are What You Love, happens through stories. We are conscripted into stories of the good life (or what is said to be the good live), and that often happens through habits and rituals. I won’t re-iterate it now, but that’s why Smith thinks that our hopes to deepen our discipleship in ways that shape us into the sorts of Christians who can faithfully engage the issues of the day and reform the society must start in deep and thoughtful worship of the Triune God. We are what we love, after all.

Which brings us to this pretty obvious connection with that Saint from Northern Africa. Augustine’s Confessions (and other sermons and letters and books) help us get to this wholistic sort of faith, shaped by an interior life, a spirituality, if you will, that allows us to love our place, our world, and give our lives for the common good. Want a bigger picture, a better story? Do you agree with You Are What You Love that we are more than “brains on a stick” and therefore need a deeper, richer sort of life? Does your church maybe not offer that? Do you feel somehow alienated, even, from the culture and the church, maybe, as well? You need a road trip with Augustine.

As On the Road with Saint Augustine explains, this really is not a book about Saint Augustine. “In a way, it’s a book Augustine has written about each of us.” That is, Jamies suspects that Augustine knows far more about us than we might expect. Smith has spent time on the road with Augustine and invites us to join him on this journey.

This puts it nicely:

Augustine is the patron saint of restless hearts — a guide who has been there, asked our questions, and knows our frustrations and failed pursuits. Augustine spent a lifetime searching for his heart’s true home and he can help us find our way.

This soon-to-be released master-work is (as you might guess from Smith) both learned and fun; aware of ancient insights, contemporary realities, and the pop culture voices who remind us of our current age. It is rigorous, to be sure, but lively, moving from Augustine and his ancient contemporaries to Jack Kerouac to Jay Z to Heidegger to AA meetings to Camus to the films of Wes Anderson and back to Sal Paradise. It’s a philosophical road trip as he takes us throughout Italy and offer glimpses of his own life, from Canada to Philadelphia, from Milan to Seattle.

If you want to know more to determine if this one you want to purchase, read this great story, “Restless on the Road” about the book in the Calvin College student newspaper, the Chimes. 

Or, watch this moving, evocative video trailer for the book.

On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts deserves to be taken seriously (and deserves a full review which I will attempt later.) For now, allow these remarkable early endorsements from such an array of thought and cultural leaders — Charles Taylor! A member of the Avett Brothers! Lauren Winner! — to illustrate how amazingly rich this forthcoming book truly is:

“This book is James K. A. Smith’s Born to Run. It’s the story of the journey we are all on. For Smith, Saint Augustine is the perfect navigator. He’s familiar with that ‘highway jammed with broken heroes’ because he knows what it feels like to be a heart on the run. If you lust for the highway and feel the engine idling deep inside, your ride is here. Augustine is in the passenger seat with the map of our heart unfolded on his lap, waiting to take us home.”
— Bob Crawford, member of The Avett Brothers and cohost of The Road to Now podcast

On the Road with Saint Augustine is a learned, large-hearted, and quite lively introduction to Augustine, or to life by way of Augustine, or to God by way of both. The variety of Smith’s references is astonishing, as is the seamless way he moves among them. I expect many modern readers will find themselves–and, crucially, much more than themselves–in this book.”
— Christian Wiman, author of My Bright Abyss and Every Riven Thing

“Augustine of Hippo is the patron saint of restless hearts. Now James K. A. Smith, long one of our most interesting theological thinkers, both orthodox and outlier, reintroduces this figure who is at once strange and familiar, ancient and contemporary. This book is a journey into the greatest journey of all, and a delight to read. Highly recommended.”      —Krista Tippett, founder and CEO, The On Being Project; host, On Being; curator, The Civil Conversations Project
“Fascinating, engrossing, insightful, beautifully written, and often brilliant, this new book will open up the story and spirituality of St. Augustine to a new generation of readers and seekers.”
— James Martin, SJ, author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage

“Smith opens this book by placing the contemporary culture of seeking the real, authentic self alongside the works of Augustine; then he continues by placing our contemporary experience alongside Augustine’s biography; both moves yield a fund of interesting insights.”
— Charles Taylor, author of A Secular Age
On the Road with Saint Augustine offers a fresh articulation of Christianity that speaks to our deepest hungers, fears, and hopes. Addressing believers and skeptics alike, this book shows how Augustine’s timeless wisdom speaks to the worries and struggles of contemporary life, covering such wide-ranging topics as ambition, sex, friendship, freedom, parenthood, and death. As the author well says, this is not a book about St. Augustine. But it certainly is a guide for reading Augustine as he wrote it and would probably prefer to be read, with a restless heart.”                                                         — Justo L. González, author of The Mestizo Augustine
“It is a fundamental Augustinian trope that we are not home. Here Jamie Smith riffs with unrivaled depth and texture on what it means to be in via–to be on the way–to be not at home. I am grateful, and I will keep this book with me as I pilgrim.”
— Lauren Winner, author of The Dangers of Christian Practice and Still
The official launch day for this is October 1, 2019, but look for it from us a few weeks early.
Broken We Kneel: Reflections on Faith and Citizenship (Second Edition) Diana Butler Bass (Church Publishing) $18.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.16.  Oh my, this will be a new, somewhat expanded edition of one of my all time favorite books by an author I deeply respect. It isn’t coming until mid-October but we are eager to alert folks that it is being re-issued. Kudos to our friends at the Epsiopalian publishing arm, Church Publishing, for giving this little volume a new life. And, boy, do we need it.
In the aftermath of the awful 9/11 attacks, a slogan appeared in some circles “United We Stand.” It was fair enough, I suppose, expressing a certain civic feeling about coming together after the brutality of the evil aggression against us. When Diana — working for an Episcopal Church near the Pentagon — started seeing this sort of sentiment in church, being used to support a war posture, celebrating in pompous bragging ways, America, not the gospel, making America great, not deepening reliance on Jesus’s ways, it caused her great sorrow. Conversations got no-where. Increasingly, she felt — as did many of us in those hard years — like she had to leave her faith community that seemed so accommodated to the nation state and its red-white-and-blue visions of power and might and revenge. Broken We Kneel tells that story and offers healthy reflections on citizenship.
I wrote a lot about this book when it first came out as it captured much of my own dissatisfaction with an unholy alliance between church and state. It wasn’t just the far-out religious right, either: everywhere we went we heard the drums of war. I admired that Diana — a historian and sociologist with theological training and a congregational, parish educator — was willing to risk her job, perhaps her reputation within her own denomination, to speak out against this warring madness (as the old hymn puts it.) “Broken We Kneel” seems a more faithful and honest and profound and Christ-like slogan, doesn’t it? Broken We Kneel explored her own experience within a church that didn’t quite agree and what it means to adopt this posture of peacemaking and Christian identity. It is a memoir of her season coming to grips with this civil religion stuff but it is also a guide for all of us. The new edition will have some updated chapters showing how this question is as lively and contemporary as ever.
Times have changed, pressures and political ideologies are even more brazen than before (even though we are not entering a major war as of this writing, at least.) And yet, and yet. We need this conversation about who we are (as Christians following Jesus and as a diverse and pluralistic country) now, perhaps more than we did even fifteen or so years ago.
Here is what the publisher is saying about the urgency of this forthcoming second edition:

Bass looks at Christian identity, patriotism, citizenship, and congregational life in an attempt to answer the central question that so many are struggling with today: “To whom do Christians owe deepest allegiance? God or country?”

America’s unique and often fractious relationship between church and state is, if anything, more relevant to who we are as a nation than when Diana Butler Bass’ examination of it in Broken We Kneel was first published 16 years ago. This second edition contains a new foreword and introduction, as well as a new conclusion outlining her vision for the future. Born in the tumultuous aftermath of 9/11 and now a spiritual classic, the book draws on both her personal experience and her knowledge of religious history. Bass looks at Christian identity, patriotism, citizenship, and congregational life in an attempt to answer the central question that so many are struggling with today: “To whom do Christians owe deepest allegiance? God or country?”

In writing both impassioned and historically informed, Bass reflects on current events, personal experiences, and political questions that have sharpened the tensions between serious faith and national imperatives. The book incorporates the author’s own experience of faith, as writer, teacher, wife, mother, and churchgoer into a larger conversation about Christian practice and contemporary political issues. Broken We Kneel is a call to remember that the core of Christian identity is not always compatible with national political policies.

We are delighted to be able to announce this forthcoming new, somewhat expanded edition. This new, expanded edition of Broken We Kneel releases October 17, 2019 and we will be eager to talk about it, again, once it releases. You may not agree with all of it or the nature of her conclusions (also about what congregations can do) but it will be a fabulous discussion resource. Why not plan to get a group reading it together later this fall?
IF YOU ORDER MORE THAN ONE BOOK — AND YOU KNOW YOU WILL — JUST TELL US IF WE SHOULD HOLD THE FIRST TO ARRIVE UNTIL THE OTHER(S) RELEASE, OR SHIP EACH AS IT RELEASES.  WE CAN SEND VIA MEDIA MAIL WHICH IS A BIT SLOWER BUT LESS COSTLY THAN OTHER METHODS.  JUST TELL US YOUR SHIPPING PREFERENCES, IF WE SHOULD RUSH ‘EM OUT OR HOLD UP AND SEND SEVERAL TOGETHER. 

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