Four important new books to “bring things to light.” ON SALE 20% OFF

As we move towards the celebration of Epiphany, we think, among other things, of Light. Of course that which “shines through” (the meaning of the word) is the person and work of Christ, His divinity and His redemptive plan to restore the cosmos. Themes of Christ being the Light from heaven are a central liturgical motif and a true word from Scripture. In John 1 it reminds us that the true Word has come into the world as light and the darkness has not be able to put it out.

Although, as we shall see, it tries.

Naturally, this is a time to refocus on Christ, on His saving power, his merciful grace, the way the Wise men culminate what we already know in the incarnation — that Christ comes also for those outside of Israel. (Ahhh, just think of those four women named in the genealogy in Matthew!). I was drawn this past season to a book we mentioned a week or so ago which was a hefty hardback full of great reproductions of renaissance paintings of Jesus. It is called Fair Jesus: The Gospels According to Italian Painters 1300 – 1650 by Robert Kiely (Paraclete Press; $39.99.)  We still have it at that announced 20% off  (making it $31.99) and it might be a good resource for your meditations this season, or any.

For this edition of BookNotes I’d light to run a bit of a riff on the Epiphany light theme, inviting you to join me in, in naming some things that need exploring in light of the Light; as the saying goes, “holding it up to the light.”

It is an exceedingly important role, investigative journalism or expose. Creatively done non-fiction that calls us to study and understand hard things is a gift; such work is prophetic some might even say, if it warns of idols and the consequences of our misguided ways. Here are four brand new books that are thoughtful and helpful and wise and bold in telling us – in light of the Light – about some distortions and dysfunctions, sins and sadnesses. If we are to live in the light of Christ’s truth, we have to face this stuff. We commend these authors to you, beseeching you to buy their books, born of love and tears, I’m sure. The publisher, naturally, will be encouraged to continue to take the risks of publishing this kind of (perhaps controversial) work if these sorts of titles actually sell. We want to support this kind of deeply Christian investigation into the shadows and hurts, and we hope you agree that you need to know this kind of stuff. Some religious bookstores don’t carry this kind of thing, so we hope we are offering you a service in highlighting at least these four. All are marked down 20% off and can be ordered easily by using the order tab link at the very bottom of this column. Thanks for caring. Happy Epiphany!

The #MeToo Reckoning: Facing the Church’s Complicity in Sexual Abuse and Misconduct  Ruth Everhart (IVP) $17.00  You may remember that we reviewed the amazing, gripping, important memoir, Ruined, Everhart wrote about being raped as a college student decades ago and how her conservative Christian college, admirable in so many ways, didn’t seem to have the heart or mind, the resources or interests, to help her much. As we learned in that book Ms. Everhart went on to get a seminary degree and was called into ordained ministry through the PC(USA.). She has served several churches in her calling (rural and suburban, multi-staff and smaller.) As a loyal shepherd in Christ’s church she continues to care for those who have been abused and has, in fact, be involved in churches where there has been sexual misconduct. Not every pastor faces this ugly stuff, but more do than you might realize.

Since the flood of stories that have come out since the #metoo movement started a few years ago, there have been other books highlighting sexual aggression against women and men, girls and boys, and this one may be the best book on this topic I’ve yet seen. Of course the child sexual abuse scandal and the scandal of cover-up within the Roman Catholic church has been catastrophic and there has been award-winning investigative reports, movies, and books about it.  Everhart’s book focuses on Protestant churches and, like most #metoo stories, is more about sexual harassment and abuse of women and less about the crime of pedophilia.

The #MeToo Reckoning: Facing the Church’s Complicity is powerful and readable. The prose is straight forward and captures the reader easily—it is not lurid but neither is it bloodlessly clinical. It is not explicit or graphic but there is some awful stuff reported (if not described in detailed.) It has a pastoral tone of listening well, naming things clearly, caring for victims and of demanding justice. The notion of “complicity” in the book is important, as, like the #metoo movement, has exposed cover-ups and refusal to be honest about all this. Yet, Everhart still loves the church, is a dedicated follower of Jesus and is a Christian leader; she desires the best not only for wounded victims but for our religious institutions and faith communities as well. Shining the light is not an act of vindictiveness but of faithful truth-telling, offered in a spirit of righteousness — wanting to make things right. If you care about how women are treated in churches and have a hunch that some of these #metoo concerns are more prevalent than we like to admit, you need to read this book. If you are perhaps a bit naïve and can’t quite imagine that youth pastors or ministers or personnel committees or elder boards would commit these kinds of sins (or cover up misbehavior) you have to read The #MeToo Reckoning.

One of the great benefits of reading these hard stories, testimonials of clergy abuse, and other sexist acts of abuse of power, is that we are introduced to the victims and survivors, hearing their own stories in nearly their own voices. This is a must, and Ruth is a safe and trusted ally for these women to tell their own stories. This safe space has been a gift to the women, too, as many of these wounded sisters have reported that they weren’t believed or were not taken seriously. Their stories were minimized or silenced; sometimes, fearing this would happen, they just were never told in the first place. Holding this up to the light is good for the tellers and it is good for us to hear.

A second really good reason to buy this book is for the Bible reflections offered within each chapter. Each chapter is a telling of a certain sexual assault or #metoo type misconduct and as that story is told, a Bible story is told, in tandem. In a way, the Biblical narrative brings light to the victims story; the Scriptures are opened up in their relevance and power, even in the messy way a patriarchal culture (then) tells the stories of abuse and rape and aggression. While the stupid patriarchy of our churches is being described (including, I might add, denominations and judicatories that pride themselves in being progressive and justice-seeking!) the Bible’s own engagement with this stuff is explored. Ruth is really good in this back and forth, allowing the Light of the Word to shine on these contemporary injustice.

But there is more: in fact, she is doing much more in these Bible studies: she admittedly is reading and interpreting them through the lens of abuse. That is, since nobody reads the Bible plainly or without some lens or interpretive grid, she is trying to allow the pain of our sisters in these modern church settings to inform how we grappled with the meaning of the text. It’s not overly academic or abstract womanist hermeneutics, just good honest back and forth interpretation by a Bible scholar and pastor, in light of what she knows to be true about the world. Again, she has experienced this, even as an associate pastor, in a story she bravely tells about her own almost unbelievable situation.

In every chapter Ruth ends with a few key points, including insights into the Biblical text and then a hashtag point of what she is hoping the church will learn from these tragic fiascos. The take-aways are useful and every church needs to be attentive to these kinds of practical recommendations.

When we pre-ordered our copies of The #Metoo Reckoning we assumed we would want to tell folks about it. We have had a section of books about sexual abuse and domestic violence (also in the church) since the day we opened. We’ve always tried to facilitate conversations about what the Bible does and doesn’t say about gender justice and we’ve always carried a good amount of feminist theology, evangelical and Catholic and mainline. In our years of stocking this kind of stuff, I’ve not found in many years a fresh, new resource that is as gripping and as powerful and as prophetic and yet as deeply faithful with a wholesome sort of spiritual piety and pastoral sense as The #MeToo Reckoning by Ruth Everhart. Yes, we ordered a bunch and yes we intended to feature it. Now that I’ve read it in its entirety, I can’t say enough about it. We are ordering more now so we have plenty on hand. We hope you order a couple. It’s time this crisis in our churches, even in our best and seemingly most healthy, is understood and, where necessary, exposed.

 

Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah (InterVarsity Press) $17.00  This recent release has been a much-anticipated book, in part because Mark Charles, a man of Navajo and Dutch American descent, has been a tireless speaker, an inspiring and powerful teacher, and a helpful mentor to many, speaking out about Native issues for years. Soong-Chan Rah is also quite well known (he teaches Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary) and has published several important books. This recent one is perhaps the first in its genre being published within the evangelical world so it is, in a way, historic; it is a strong theological critique of the fifteenth century church edict which gave Christian explorers the right to claim territories they “discovered.” Exploration, missionary work and crass colonialism combined in ways that were hardly ever helpful for indigenous people. (See the powerful award winning film The Mission for a compelling, tragic, beautiful treatment.)

Many have documented how this kind of colonialism often lead to injustices and even genocide. (See, for instance, the important Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys by Richard Twiss or a few of the chapters in Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith co-edited by Rah, by the way) but few have tackled the fundamental legal question about this institutionalized legitimization of repression by church and state as has Mr. Charles in Unsettling Truths.

As Unsettling Truths — get the double entendre of the title — explains, such institutionalized “divine right” to grab land and subjugate indigenous peoples naturally led to other unhealthy and detrimental notions, from American exceptionalism and triumphalism to white supremacy and slavery. As Bruce Cockburn starts his song “Stolen Lands”, “From Tierra del Fuego to Ungava Bay/The history of betrayal continues to today…”

No one can ever justify to brutal treatment that many First Nations peoples faced but we have to do more than lament and shrug. We must understand and critique and deconstruct the powers that set this awful history of stolen land in place. We must figure out what to say about the “Doctrine of Discovery” and what to think about a church that would declare such thing.  It all has to be brought into the light of truth, the light of Christ, the light that can reveal ways to move forward.

There are amazing chapters in here — agree or not with all of them, you should read “The Doctrine of Discovery and Why It Matters” and “The Power of Narratives and the Imagination” and the beautiful “The Kingdom of God Is About Relationship Not Empire.” These authors explore the “Dysfunctional Theology Brought to the ‘New’ World” and explores not just settle colonialism but even stuff about Abraham Lincoln (including, then, the era of Native Genocide.” He asks about the complexities of American trauma in our historic story and invites a “truth and conciliation” project. The sharp words about the failure of “re-concilation” is urgent, I think. There is a lot of vital content in here.

I so respect the esteemed historian Mark Noll. I appreciate his thoughts here saying that he may wish for other interpretations of some of the events in described in this book and he finally does not fully agree with all of their conclusions. But yet, he endorses and recommend reading it. Listen to the always prudent Professor Noll:

“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.”

Listen to these two passionate endorsements, among many:

“Oh that this book’s thesis were merely ‘unsettling’ like a brisk wind or a cancelled flight might be. Instead, Charles’s and Rah’s argument feels more like an earthquake or a tsunami. To hear the Doctrine of Discovery this richly, poignantly, and painfully explicated will press readers to face ‘truths’ that are not merely unsettled but undone. Therein lies the book’s hope.”
–Mark Labberton, President, Fuller Theological Seminary
“There is an inherent danger in attempting to decolonize and deconstruct one’s faith without an understanding of how deeply Western Christianity wed itself to the false and dangerous Doctrine of Discovery. Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah skillfully give us an unflinching look at Western political and church history, weave in personal stories, and help connect the past to present policies, appealing to both our hearts and minds.”
–Kathy Khang, author, Raise Your Voice
Healing Racial Trauma: The Road to Resilience Sheila Wise Rowe (InterVarsity Press) $17.00  This is a brand new book and we must say that there is, to the best of our knowledge, nothing in print that approximates it. This is not a general book about racial injustices, not just a call to racial justice and reconciliation, not even a handbook for minority Christians to navigate the tensions of living and working in largely white culture and institutions. There are many good books on those topics, many done by this same publisher (who has by far contributed more to evangelical awareness of racial and ethnic concerns and ministries that any other publisher in the last 50 years) but this, this is something unique. It is, as the title plainly notes, a book about healing from trauma caused by racism. Ms Rowe’s Healing Racial Trauma is a rare and important book.
I have heard speakers on this topic and have had conversations with those who are learning about trauma studies and the trauma inflicted upon people of color. But no one has yet brought it together in a full length book study like this. Not only is it pioneering, it is astute and wise and poignant and good. Dan Allender — who knows something about trauma and has written eloquently about healing from abuse of other kinds — is right to say that Healing Racial Trauma by Sheila Wise Rowe is “a magisterial gift.”
You will be glad to know that Ms Rowe holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology and she has ministered to abuse and trauma survivors in the United States and in South African. She is also a spiritual director. Again, this is so good to have someone trained in spiritual practices and mental health and psychology, through the healing lens of a deeply integrated Christian worldview. As a woman of color (who was bused to an almost all white school amidst great animosity) Rowe knows first hand that hurts and damages that come from racist cultures.
I suppose most readers will know or at least intuit this, but for the record: this book is not mostly about “getting over” or “coping with” or forgiving rare episodes of racist slurs. As hurtful as such demeaning gestures or episodes can be, there are other sorts of injustices and demeaning and hurt that comes less overtly, perhaps, more ubiquitous, the normalization of white supremacy. Some people almost joke about the dangers of “driving while black.”  But it is a constant low level anxiety among many, many people of color, for good reason. This book explores some of that systemic weight that is carried by people of various colors and hues and ethnicities — and invites reader to a journey of finding hope and healing and, indeed, spiritual power that looks like resilience.
Listen to these authors and activists who are glad this notion of “racial trauma” is being brought to light, and want you to read this, helping deepen the conversation in the light of God’s gospel:

“I am excited to recommend people of faith pay close attention to the work of Sheila Wise Rowe in her much-needed book, Healing Racial Trauma. The road to resilience is long and lonely. Black people in the United States are often required to believe that we can sprint to strength and that we need not heal from what happened in our history. Sheila’s careful surveys of interpersonal, systemic, historical, and transgenerational issues inspire and remind us that there is deep work to do, not simply for resolve and survival but for the sake of future generations. I was especially pleased to note the author’s strivings for First Nations solidarity. I appreciated the boldness of each chapter focus and the spiritual connections employed with psychology and critical race theory, not against. This is fearless and much too rare in faith-rooted trauma counseling. I hope that black Christians, all Christians of color, and their families will use this book as an inspiration, affirmation, and a guide to addressing the bitter pieces of our stories. I expect white Christians to find a resource of patient assistance on their own road to resilience and deliverance from the vestiges of whiteness and its demonic grip on the global household of God.” —Michelle Higgins, co-host of Truth’s Table and executive director of Faith for Justice

Healing Racial Trauma is one of the most revelatory, fiercely honest, and hope-filled books that I’ve ever read. My dear friend Sheila Wise Rowe performs open-heart surgery on those wounded by racial trauma by acknowledging their stories, validating their pain, and offering the only actual solution: Christ-centered healing. Regardless of your background, you cannot read this book and not be changed.” —Dorothy Littell Greco, author of Making Marriage Beautiful

Healing Racial Trauma is outstanding. This book forced me to pull back the makeshift Band-Aids, which on the surface hid some deep-seated wounds from the racial trauma I had experienced. Reading this book reminded me of the stories my black grandparents would share of racial tension and outright hatred with my siblings and me at a very young age. Tears filled my eyes while I was holding on to every written word. I pressed beyond the immediate feelings that welled up within me to find solace and embrace authentic healing. This book is a must-read if you are serious about healing racial trauma. I give Sheila Wise Rowe a standing ovation for this life-altering book!”       —Gail Dudley, author and speaker
“With a Christian’s worldview, a counselor’s expertise, and a survivor’s personal perspective, Sheila Wise Rowe weaves together her personal memoir with history, social science, and a biblical framework to offer a pathway for healing to those who have experienced racial trauma. She also brings a Galatians 6:2-like advocacy for all who pray for healing and restoration of our brothers and sisters.”  —Kristie Anybwile
“Sheila Wise Rowe taught me much in this well-written, vulnerable, and heart-shaping book. As the pastor of Sheila’s multiethnic church, I’ve too often wanted to rush my Black and Brown brothers and sisters to forgiveness, ignorant of the process of healing that must surround and support them. Her work here helped me understand something that hadn’t clicked for far too long, and I’m grateful. Shining a light without shaming, I read this book and learned from an author who loves her readers, whoever they happen to be. Pick up this needed addition to an all-too-often acrimonious conversation and learn to heal, hear, and walk together as the diverse disciples that Jesus our savior calls his church to be. I want my whole staff to read this, and I recommend that you read it too.”  — Adam Mabry, lead pastor Aletheia Church
Healing Racial Trauma is a magisterial gift for those who have suffered harm as a person of color, and it is also a revelation for those whose whiteness has served as a pair of blinders from racial trauma. Sheila Wise Rowe brilliantly exposes, narrates, honors, and calls forth from Scripture, clients, and her own life, the stories of violation and the power of hope. There are few books I have read where I wept and raged and was humbled and offered a vision of what it might be like to fulfill the Lord’s prayer: ‘Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ This is must-read for all who hunger for righteousness.”  — Dan B. Allender, author, professor of counseling psychology, founding president of The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology

Revolution of Values: Reclaiming Public Faith for the Common Good Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (InterVarsity Press)  $22.00  Talk about bringing things into the light. I am nearly positive that you will learn things in this book you didn’t know, you will be inspired to hear about stories you may have not heard about, and you will see things — mostly, the Bible and the social ethics demanded by a Christ-like worldview — in a very new way. Might I say, in a new Light?

A few quick comments: there is too much to discuss in the very impressive (but very readable) Revolution of Values to cover here, now, so I hope to do an extended treatment where I can let loose a bit more. (For starters, for reasons I might discuss more later, I don’t approve of the late-60s clenched fist on the cover. I have no idea who that is supposed to appeal to or why conjuring up connections to SDS and leftist revolutionaries of the late 60s has much to do with this book. There are a lot of stories in Revolution of Values but most are about Christians that had little connection to that particular era. I suspect the art designer for the publisher knows little about this era; I know that Wilson-Hartgrove was not connected to that period, either, so it’s an unhelpful choice in my view; cheap appropriation that’s a miss. But I digress already.)

Yet, the “revolution” that Wilson-Hartgrove does talk about, and that he has been deeply involved in is, in fact, pretty wild and wooly. From his early transformation into a radical Christ-follower (after having been raised as a foot soldier in the religious right — he was even a Senate page for legendary segregationist Strom Thurmand) Jonathan became friends with pacifist and neo-Catholic Worker Shane Claiborne where they together forged the “new monastic” movement as exemplified by Shane’s community in Camden, NJ (The Simple Way) and Wilson-Hartgrove’s Rutba House in Durham, NC. (For a good study of the principles developed as they nurtured a network of such radical communities living in service to the poor “as exiles in the Empire” see School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism) or the more popular level The Awakening of Hope: Why We Practice a Common Faith.) Not many of us have gone into live war zones with Christian Peacemaker teams to bear witness to nonviolence or have taken up long term relationships with small, nearly forgotten urban churches, or have studied so carefully the spiritual disciplines (such as Saint Benedict) to see how they could sustain an interior life within a community that would allow them to endure in serving the poor and standing for justice. So, yep, this “revolution of values” is pretty revolutionary stuff, stuff that makes the clenched fist silkscreen hippy flag poster aesthetic seem like kids stuff.
Jonathan, himself a child of the south, studied more carefully — after years in a largely African American church in a working class neighborhood — the legacy of slavery that undergirds a culture of Jim Crow white supremacy and continues to loom over contemporary race relations.  In the 2018 book that was the fruit of these important reflections, Jonathan called for Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion. The flamboyant, nationally-known organizer of the 21st century Poor People’s Campaign and the “Moral Monday” movement, Reverend William Barber, wrote the foreword. This is significant because (or so it seems to me) because Reverend Barber is an esteemed nationally recognized black activist, a Reverend in the historic African American church. He preaches the gospel as good as anybody, but he did not come up through the evangelical subculture. That is, he is not one of the safer, known names within the evangelical world of this particular publisher. Jonathan was befriended by, perhaps mentored by, one who is many people’s eyes the closest thing we’ve ever had to a successor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  And Jonathan has learned much through his deep involvement in the Moral Monday protests and as organizer for the ongoing Poor People’s Campaign.
Enough back story. Wilson-Hartgrove is, in Revolution of Values, bringing a handful of deep, important justice causes to light, viewing them in light of — get this — the victims of those injustices, those on the front-lines fighting them, and their view of how to read the Bible. Although I wished for a bit more of this, he says in the beginning of the book that, in fact, what we most need to do is learn to read the Bible anew. And the major resource for this, the main teachers, are those who have been on the front lines of service, resisting injustices, standing up, saying no, doing the works of mercy. That is, those, as we say, in the trenches.
(There is a wonderful chapter in Lauren Winner’s moving book Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God about how she learned much from incarcerated students to whom she taught Bible; Jonathan cites that chapter in a footnote, and I was glad — he too teaches in that program and is skilled at listening well to his students, allowing them to become his teacher. That upside down methodology seems sort of like what Jesus said, doesn’t it?)
For instance, the book powerfully starts with an episode of ministry with and solidarity with mothers at the border, parents separated from loved ones. They meet in the middle of the Rio Grande river in Texas for a few moments of baptism-like embrace and in these moments he is deeply moved. In the whole larger experience, he is taught much about how these immigrant women read the Bible. He sees new things in the text he never say and he interprets older passages in new, fresh ways, ways that ring true because they come from the sorts of people the text is speaking about. Wilson-Hartgrove has travelled the world and I am sure has sat under great, scholarly Bible teachers and well informed, highly educated preachers. But at some point, new insights are learned from those on the margins. That is very much what this book is about.
Throughout the book he tells us about others he has met and how they altered his way of seeing, his social imagination, his spirituality, his understanding of the Word of God. He meets environmental activists (in a chapter that is spectacular, by the way) and in “A Woman’s Work Is for Justice” he meets women working for fair wages and women’s suffrage — it’s a great history lesson. In one chapter he interviews soldiers who came to regret their militarism and in another he spends time with those working for an end to mass incarceration and prison reform. I know myself that I find it hard to sing the song “Lord Prepare Me to be a Sanctuary’ in any traditional worship setting because I sang it week after week for years with activists in the gravel road in front of a York County prison as we literally tried to get sanctuary for Chinese dissidents being held unfairly in the US; similarly, Wilson-Hartgrove’s “moral imagination” is newly renewed as he meets those doing that kind of work.
Can poor women, immigration activists, conscientious objectors to warfare and Native American Water Keepers teach us things, even things about how to understand our Bibles? If these issues and insights are brought into the light, could God’s own Light just beam brighter? I think this book is a very useful resource for this project — you will see learn or be reminded of important things, important things to God, important things for our culture, important things for your own soul.
There is more to this book besides walking alongside activists and allowing their justicey insights to shape our piety and our Bible reading. Wilson-Hartgrove does all this in direct contrast, chapter by chapter, to the organized efforts of the generation-old Christian Right. Like investigative journalists such as Jeff Sharlet or historians like Randall Balmer or John Fea or scholars such as Kevin Kruse or rowdy muck-rackers like Rachel Maddow, he documents some unsavory forces and connects the dots.  He names names, explores the history of who funds who, who influences whom — James Fifield and D.W. Griffith, the Koch Brothers, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Robert Tilton, the whole tawdry bunch — and asks us to be aware of what ideologies (and what profiteers) are behind much of the think tanks that shape the not-so-religious right. He is stronger and more forthright and educational for most of us than, say, Jim Wallis’s recent Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus, which I have previously reviewed. That book, too, is inviting us to a more Biblically-faithful formation in the ways of Jesus. Jim gets there, in that book, by telling stories and studying Biblical texts. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove brings more history and stories of remarkable people who call us to a similar sort of “revolution of values” that would be consistent with a truly Christian frame. This is in exact contrast to the recent comment by Franklin Graham saying he does not look to Jesus for his political views.
Well, I get fired up about this stuff, even though the book is written fairly calmly, allowing the force of the stories and the impact of the truth to carry the weight. I think he makes a few mis-steps, and I may not agree with all of his assessments on each page. But still, Revolution of Values: Reclaiming Public Faith for the Common Good is a truly admirable project, drawing on great stories and great research, and offered for our edification. Hold this up to the light and see what happens. Highly recommended.
Jonathan has served as a scribe for the moral movement in America today. In Revolution of Values, he tells the truth about how the Bible was hijacked by the religious Right. But more importantly, he highlights the people who are challenging a false moral narrative and shows us how faith can revive the heart and soul of this democracy.” — William J. Barber II, president of Repairers of the Breach, cochair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival
“We are witnessing the climax of America’s longest war―the culture war. Born in the nascent years of both Ronald Reagan’s presidency and the religious Right, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove was a trained culture warrior―until he turned coat and ditched the delusion of moral grandeur revealed by mercenary politics. Revolution of Values is a gift to every person straining for clarity in the fog of the culture war’s climax. Read this book. Share it. Talk about it. Both the witness of the church and the future of our nation depends on our capacity to see through the fog right now.”  — Lisa Sharon Harper, president of Freedom Road and author of The Very Good Gospel

Revolution of Values puts words to the inarticulate frustrations, confusion, and righteous anger many have felt in response to the increasingly visible distance between the teachings of Jesus Christ and the actions of his followers. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove aims a pointed critique at the way some Christians have weaponized the Bible to promote policies that work against the poor, the immigrant, and people of color. He puts a face to the systemic and institutional abuses that have occurred over the past several decades by sharing the stories of people he personally knows. This book encourages all of us to work for nothing less than a revolution in our morality that will usher in more justice, equity, and love in the twenty-first century.” — Jemar Tisby, president of The Witness, author of The Color of Compromise

“Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s urgent message for the church is both a return to Jesus and a call for the body of Christ to no longer be held captive by the politics of our day. Revolution of Values returns to the heart of the Christian message―to follow Jesus, love our neighbor, bless those who persecute us, and pursue justice on behalf of the least of these. Revolution is an inspiring and prophetic book at a critical time in our country’s history!”  — Mae Elise Cannon, executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace, author of Social Justice Handbook and Just Spirituality

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An epic list of books to give to people with various interests during the Twelve Days of Christmas (and for New Year’s gift-giving!) + ALL 20% OFF

It has long been our custom to suggest gift giving — especially something like a book, which makes the perfect size and shape and price range for a special gifting in the middle of the holiday week. It isn’t mostly because we’ve got books to sell, although there’s that, but because we love the slow and mournful longing of Advent followed by the lavish celebration of the Incarnation. For years we’ve been encouraging Epiphany gift giving, too. It’s the feast in the church calendar when the Wise guys gave gifts to the baby king, after all.

So, if you want to give a book to somebody this season, or to hint at a New Year’s resolution for more learning and more reading in 2020, here are some ideas.

Send us an order and we’ll ship it out right away. We gift wrap for free, too, if you ask, we can mail something to your recipient with a little note tucked in. There’s a place at the website order form for you to tell us that if you’d like. We have shown the regular retail price but will take 20% off those prices when you place an order.

Happy reading, and happy gift giving.

Please, don’t write to tell us you wished we had released this sooner. We just couldn’t, but here’s some unique book ideas for now. It’s never a bad time to share books.

FOR THOSE WHO LOVE READING ABOUT FOOD AND WINE

The Soul of Wine: Savoring the Goodness of God Gisela H. Kreglinger (IVP) $16.00 This is one of those wonderful compact sized hardbacks, a less heady, more accesible, and more inspiring version of her fabulous Eerdman’s book, The Spirituality of Wine. This new one is great book for anyone who appreciates fine wine, or those who want a deeply Christian entre to the fermented fruit of the vine (reminding us and evoking a robust theology of creation, the goodness of God’s world and God’s good gifts, in both joy and grief.) Blurbs on the back include raves from Andy Crouch and Sandra McCracken and even Karen MacNeil (author of The Wine Bible.) There’s a wine-tasting guide and book club guide, too. This makes a perfect New Year’s Eve gift, too.

Tasting Grace: Discovering the Power of Food to Connect Us to God, One Another, and Ourselves Melissa d’Arabian (Waterbrook) $21.99  We have a large section of books about food and farming here in the shop and I’ve written before about many of our lovely favorites (and that doesn’t even mention cookbooks, from last year’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat to the old standby More-With-Less Cookbook.) Some are so, so good, mature and deep and well written. From the Episcopal theologian and food writer Robert Capon’s classic, Supper of the Lamb, to the extraordinary anthology The Spirit of Food: Thirty-Four Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God (edited by Leslie Leyland Fields — one of my favorite writers) we love telling people about these sorts of books. Tasting Grace is a new one by a writer that we did not know. She is apparently a bit of a celebrity chef, television host and the winner of The Next Food Network Star season five. She wrote two down-to-Earth books called Ten Dollar Dinners and Supermarket Healthy, illustrating her own passion for family meals and common food to nourish body and soul. Anyway, she has now offered this overtly Christian reflection, telling her own story, speaking with wisdom and goodness and grace. She’s seen a lot — from food addictions to the whole TV thing, so this helps us learn about life along with her, reminding us of delight and stewardship, about hospitality and comfort, about creation and redemption. She invites us to “lean into God” and find God in the ingredients, even as we worship only Him.

Here is what the great Norman Wirzba says of it:

If you thought eating food was little more than ingesting some calories as cheaply and conveniently as possible, think again. In Tasting Grace, d’Arabian invites us to take a personal journey into the deep meaning of eating and to discover the power of food to illuminate and heal life. This book will help you taste food and savor life in ways you may not have thought possible.”—Norman Wirzba, author of Food and Faith

FOR WRITERS, ARTISTS, CREATIVES, or THOSE WHO LOVE THE ARTS

When Poets Pray Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $19.99  Oh my my, this is a tremendous book, a must for poetry lovers and a helpful guide for those who maybe aren’t drawn to poems. (Or conversely, since it is also a book about praying, it might appeal to those who like prayer books.) Marilyn McEntyre, both a literate critic and a poet herself, imagines what it might be like if certain poems were, in fact, prayers. Or, at least, if we used them as such. What a great idea — a bit of literary insight, a creative reading of good poems, and a fresh way to enhance one’s prayer life. We recommend Ms. McEntyre regularly, including her must-read Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, the lovely word-oriented devotional called Word by Word, and the almost self-helpy handbook called Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts. These books are just a touch allusive and creative but not at all odd or eccentric, making them suitable to share with almost anyone. You’ll see When Poets Pray on our “Best Books of 2019” list soon… order one today!

The Courage to See: Daily Inspiration from Great Literature Greg Garrett & Sabrina Fountain (WJK) $20.00This is such a great idea, a lit-based daily devo. They aren’t the first to do this, but The Courage to See may be the best yet. It features inspiring words from Maya Angelou, Jane Austen, James Baldwin, Annie Dillard, C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, Zadie Smith, and more. Garrett has written memoir (Crossing Myself) and theological studies of various pop culture projects (The Gospel in Hollywood) and teaches English at Baylor. Fountain is a write on art and culture. Nicely done.

 

The Grace of Les Miserables Matt Rawle (Abingdon) $16.99 This is not super heavy but is a lovely, useful, starter guide to this great conversation — how does Christian theology show up in great literature, in this case, the enduring novel by Victor Hugo. Rawle has done other such books (a nice one on To Kill at Mockingbird and one on Scrooge and Charles Dickens. They each are available also as  a six-session DVD for small group use. What fun. (Yes, you can have a small group or Adult Ed forum on the DVD The Grace of Les Miserables and you can purchase a Leader’s Guide to utilize it.) The book, though, is fun to read on its own, in six good chapters covering grace, justice, poverty, revolution, love, and hope. Perhaps you should give it to someone now and they might consider it as a Lenten study. Nice!

The Reading Life: The Joy of Seeing New Worlds Through Other’s Eyes C.S. Lewis (HarperCollins) $19.99 A perfect hand sized shape in a classy hardback offering insights from Lewis on reading, literature and the meaning of the literary experience.  Lewis reminds us, literature can “heal the wound”… and in reading great literature we expand our vision. Lewis writes, about taking up good books:

I see with myriad eyes, but it is still I who see.  Here… I transcend myself; and am never more myself when I do.

 

Sister Wendy’s 100 Best-loved Paintings Sister Wendy Beckett (SPCK) 35.00 Wow, what a book, a smallish coffee table book that has lovely reproductions of Sister Wendy’s most beloved and most often described artworks. She was putting the final touches on this one-of-a-kind anthology when she died in December 2018. The result is (as it says on the back cover): “this enthralling collection of 100 famous and lesser-known masterpieces of Western art, ranging from the sixth century to the present.” This is beautifully produced and, as British broadcaster Peter Stafford puts it, it is “a fitting tribute to the unique Sister Wendy. Prepare yourself to be surprised.”

Sister Wendy was known for often insightful and always delightful interpretations of art history trends, and readings of specific paintings. When she tells you what to look for, what this or that most likely meant, what the artist him or herself was considering in the years he or she did the painting, you just know you’ve got so much more to use to enjoy and appreciate the painting. She brings what Seerveld calls “rainbows for the fallen world” by using her discerning eye and her deep commentaries. If you know anybody who likes the visual arts, or is eager to reflect on spiritual themes within the art, this handsome book is the best. It’s 9.5 x 0.8 x 11 inches and about 225 pages, so it is substantial but not overwhelming

Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making Andrew Peterson (B+H Publishing) $16.99  This handsome paperback was award one of the coveted Books of the Year awards from Christianity Today and we heartily concur. Peterson is a smart, thoughtful, singer-songwriter (his Behold the Lamb of God is a great Advent/Christian concept album.) In recent years he is well known for his role in the Rabbit Room community and publishing venture in Nashville. He released a wonderful, witty, fantasy series called the Wingfeather Saga. (We still have some of the paperbacks of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and North! Or Be Eaten which will be coming out in hardcover editions in March 2020.) If you know any writers, storytellers, artists, or cultural creatives, this set of essays would be a wonderful blessing for them. What a line for an aesthetic manifesto — “adorning the dark.” Order one or two today and share generously.

No Avatars Allowed: Theological Reflections on Video Games Joshua Wise (Church Publishing) $18.95  Do you recall the review I gave this in BookNotes earlier this fall? There are hardly any books bringing together sharp, serious theology and gaming, and this is a valuable resource for anybody wanting to be intentional about their enjoyment of the gaming culture. Video games, the author (a professor of theology at Villanova, Saint Jospeh’s University, and Rosemont College, and founder of the “No Avatars Allowed” podcast) takes seriously “the idea that video games can challenge us to think more deeply about our reality, faith, and community.” The blurb on the back is by the insightful Kevin Schut (professor of Media + Communication and Game Development at Trinity Western University and author of Of Games and God.) The foreword is by Father Benjamin Gildas, a friend and popular podcaster who serves as a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.

Cinematic Faith: A Christian Perspective on Movies and Meaning Years William D. Romanowski (Baker Academic) $ 22.99  Years in the making, we are very, very glad to remind you of a recent book by professor Romanowski of Calvin University in Grand Rapids. As an old college friend of the author, I am drawn to his work (and have read it twice, actually) but, I must say, even if he wasn’t a pal of Hearts & Minds, we’d be insisting this is very important and would be recommending it earnestly. For anyone who likes going to the movies or can’t wait for the next NetFlex DVD to show up (please don’t tell me you watch films on your little phone!) or streams movies often, this big book will be an education and a joy. It isn’t preachy and it isn’t simplistic but it isn’t overly academic. If you love movies, you need this book. It will help you understand the art of film and more.

After a long-winded ramble through a whole bunch of our backstory and stuff we’ve been promoting this year, in the BookNotes where I introduced this book I got around to explaining Bill’s other important books, which finally, half way down the column, led me to announce and explain the importance of Cinematic Faith. You can read that here if you’d like — I mention other books in this “faith and film” genre and suggest what is distinctive about Romanowki’s contribution. Check it out here, then come back and order one or two. We’ll send ’em right out.

THESE THREE ARE PERENNIAL CLASSICS IN OUR MOST-RECOMMENDED LIST:

It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $24.99
It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $24.99                       It Was Good: Performing Arts to the Glory of God edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $19.99

Give any or all of these three old chestnuts: we recommend them regularly, highlighting them as great, great collections of essays and exceptionally special for those wanting to think well and faithfully about the interface of their life of faith and their work in the arts. They are astute and interesting, and look really, really good, too. Seriously recommended. with great joy.

FOR THOSE WHO LOVE MEMOIR & BIOGRAPHY

Exactly As You Are: The Life and Faith of Mister Rogers Shea Tuttle (Eerdmans) $23.99 There is so much written, now, about Mister Rogers and we are grateful; he was a complex figure, important (and, in case you didn’t hear it yet, a Presbyterian minister.) This recent release is a delightful, serious, insightful biography, warmly written and (as Publishers Weekly put it) explored with “a keen sense of the deeply religious forces” behind “the classic TV show and its widely lauded creator.” One of the very best biographies of Roger’s yet, by a woman affiliated with the notable “Lived Theology” project at University of Virginia. She holds an MDiv from Chandler at Emory. Great!

 

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God Sarah Bessey (Howard Books) $26.00  What a great writer Sarah is — you may know her previous books (Jesus Feminist and Out of Sorts.) There is a foreword to this new one by Shauna Niequist and great blurbs on the back by Jen Hatmaker, Kate Bowler, Peter Enns, and the exquisite writer Barbara Brown Taylor. Miracles… tells a bit of her journey away from conventional, conservative, fundamentalism and towards a different sort of evolving faith, but then the whole thing takes a painful twist as she experiences an serious car accident, suffering with chronic pain and the like. And then, surprisingly, an extraordinary miracle of healing and what that means for her. There is so much going on here, it is hard to summarized. The narrative is filled with theological thinking but is rooted in her own story. She is a compelling writer, a beautiful writer, a fun and funny writer. Jonathan Martin (whose Prototype on Jesus is superb) says Miracles and Other Reasonable Things is “trailblazing and bush-burning.” I am grateful for her story and how she talks about sickness, hope, healing, and the like.

Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love: How a Violent Klansman Became a Champion of Racial Reconciliation Thomas Tarrants (Thomas Nelson) $24.99  This stunning story hardly needs the front-cover blurb by hair-raising, edge-of-your-seat author John Grisham who calls it “riveting” and a truly “remarkable memoir” since the very subtitle speaks volumes. But, for what it is worth, Grisham — who has seen his share of wild stuff and imagines even more — is spot on. This page-turner of a story is beyond remarkable, it is the sign of a miracle. Those of us who have had the pleasure of knowing Tom (he was the Director for many good years of the DC-area C.S. Lewis Institute) could hardly believe it when stories of his past came out. Humble, gentle, kind, impeccably orthodox in faith and behavior, Tom is a beautiful, generous friend and brother. As this book shows, it has not always been this way.

Tom was the sort of domestic terrorist who thought the KKK too mild. As an Alabama-based far-right activist he made bombs, terrorized people of color and Jewish families, was arrested after a shootout with the police (that included awful fatalities) and, later, escaped from prison, landing on the FBI’s “most wanted” list.  You will have to read Consumed by Hate for yourself to learn how he was “redeemed by love” and how — miracle upon miracle — he was graciously released from prison as a Governor commuted his life sentence.

After years in prison paying for his many crimes, and after a sincere and remarkable transformation into a Christian leader, Tom co-pastored an inter-racial, urban church, became friends with and co-authored a book with John Perkins. Needless to say, with the rise of the alt-right and virulent racism and xenophobia now on the rise, we need to understand how extreme ideology can become cult-like and violent. In these rancorous times, we need stories helping us see how all this works.

I love Russell Moore’s blurb, saying it is “a riveting narrative” and…

This is the path from burning crosses to the cross of Christ himself, from raging hate to amazing grace.

Burden: A Preacher, a Klansman, and a True Story of Redemption in the Modern South Courtney Hartgrove (Convergent) $26.00  Perhaps you’ve seen the powerful trailer about the film version of this that is coming out in March. (Watch the trailer here.) Or, maybe, you saw my brief review last week in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Okay, maybe you didn’t, but I raved about it. Or maybe you saw my previous BookNotes review raving about what a well-written, honest, captivating story this was, months ago. It’s a story you’ll never forget. Read my BookNotes review here and then com back and order it quickly. This is one true story they will be talking about…

 

Accidental Preacher: A Memoir Will Willimon (Eerdmans) $24.99  If you’ve been around the broader Christian world at all in the last 40 years you probably know Will Willimon, renowned scholar, preacher, pastor, former Chaplain of the Duke chapel, United Methodist Bishop, and very, very prolific writer.  For years people have been bugging him to write down more of his own life stories, to draft a memoir, to tell about his life as he has seen it. We’ve been waiting for this, a fabulous book to crown the career (at least this part of it, since he ain’t dead yet) of this curious, brave, witty, Southern preacher. The endorsements are themselves a hoot — Lillian Daniels (a UCC preacher) says “If I believed in bishops, I’d want one like Will Willimon — flawed, fearless, and wickedly funny.” Richard Lischer (a Lutheran) says, “If Mark Twain had been a Methodist, his name would have been Will Willimon.) I like that the African American preacher and scholar now at Duke University Chapel, Luke Powery, says “Bishop Willimon is a Jesus-loving, story-telling, truth-talking, laugh-generating gift from God for the church.”

Powery continues:

This is a literary gem, an honest and holy revelation about vocation.

How to Burn a Goat: Farming With the Philosophers Scott H. Moore (Baylor University Press) $34.00  Okay, this isn’t exactly a memoir, but a collection of first hand, personal essays. I think of Farmer Moore as sort of a more brainy and professional Michael Perry, after all, besides working his farm, he’s a college prof. How to Burn… is a bit pricy although it is very well bound, nicely designed trim hardback. And it’s worth every penny, as it is amazingly eloquent, if plain-spoken, and a nearly brilliant set of farming essays that are intelligent, but not academic. Yes, Moore is a philosophy professor and on occasion brings in a theory of Wittgenstein or discusses the relationship of Plato and pigs. But it includes a lot of his own story, plenty of entertaining and even inspiring stories from his farm, and is less “philosophical” than the subtitle suggests. Texas pastor Kyle Childress is right to say it is a fun book — I so enjoyed it and read parts out loud to Beth. Listen to this great quote from Childress:

What a fun book! A self-described ‘inexperienced philosopher hobby farmer,’ Moore writes about chasing guinea fowl, the virtues of mules, the vices of geese, the sounds heard on a farm, or why it is important to watch grass grow, mixed with quotations by everyone from Wendell Berry to Wittgenstein all in a clean prose style reminiscent of E. B. White. Moore had me laughing out loud and then pondering his wisdom the rest of the day.

The Galapagos Island: A Spiritual Journey Brian McLaren (Fortress) $16.99  You could give this to any number of folks — anyone who reads McLaren, of course, will want this book which is a new genre for him — very much a memoir. A travel memoir, to be exact, reflecting on his journey to the famous islands. You may recall that the study of these famous South American islands (that figured into the research of Charles Darwin) figured into one of Brian’s earlier novels (A New Kind of Christian) but this report is for real. You get to travel with McLaren on what could be called “a spiritual pilgrimage to one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems.” So, gift it to anyone who likes reading about pilgrimages, or anyone interesest in either the interface of faith and science, or who is curious about ecological studies. This is part of a new series called “On Location” and carries blurbs on the back by Barbara Brown Taylor, Mike (Science Mike) McHargue, and Bill McKibben. Wow.

SPEAKING OF SCIENCE…

Science & Faith: Student Questions Explored edited by Hannah Eagleson (Hendrickson) $14.95  This little paperback deserves much applause and I’m sure you could give it to anyone interested in the basics of a serious explorations of the faith/science conversation these days. Created by the Emerging Scholars Network (a ministry of the Graduate Student and Faculty ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) it offers thoughtful essays by rising young scholars and is a great tool for conversations; there is a very useful discussion guide, with questions at the end of each chapter. The emerging scholars here are experts in the fields of aeronautics, molecular biology, chemistry, physics, philosophy of science and more.

Leslie Wickman wrote the foreword; she is the Executive Director of the American Science Association and a Professor of Engineering. Kudos to Hannah Eagleson, too, for managing this project and doing the compilation work. She’s an old customer of Hearts & Minds who, we suspect, had her own commitments to and explorations of academic discipleship deepened when she visited here often as a central Pennsylvania undergrad student. We’d be thrilled to have folks buy this from us and celebrate this good work.

Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image updated and combined edition Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey (IVP) $25.00  Perhaps you recall our announcement of this late last summer, a marvelous hardback combining newly edited versions of Fearfully and Wonderfully and its sequel, In His Image. Here the world famous hand surgeon and the talented and wise Christian writer combine to offer a uniquely Christian look at the glorious of the human body. Each chapter is on a part of the human body — blood, skin, eyeballs, brain, bones, etc — which opens up conversations about the richness of life, the role of community, the value of pain and more. The blurb on the back includes a lovely endorsement by Shane Claiborne and another by the famous former Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop.  There’s a study guide, too, done by one of our very own customers here in Dallastown. Give it to anyone interested in medicine, physical therapy, science, the body, athleticism, or the structures of God’s creation. It’s a great, great read.

ESSAYS and POEMS ON DEATH AND MORE…

The Depositions: New and Selected Essays on Being and Ceasing to Be Thomas Lynch (Norton) $27.95  We were so glad, earlier this year, to see the long-awaiting release of a new collection of essays by undertaker and poet and essayist Thomas Lynch, Whence and Whither: On Lives and Living (WJK; $18.00.) It was marvelous and I know book lovers and Thomas Lynch fans were delighted by it. It’s a paperback with a striking cover and deckled pages and makes a nice inexpensive gift.

The hardback The Depositions was just released late this fall and, as you can tell from the subtitle, is mostly an anthology of previously published pieces (including from his brilliant, essential The Undertaking and Bodies at Motion and at Rest.) But there is some new stuff, too. Yes!

The brand new collection has a rave review on the back by Billy Collins. Phillip Lopate says “Lynch is one of my favorite living essayists. His mordant humor and openness to grace and mystery are a tonic.”

As the Boston Globe review wrote, Lynch is able to take us inside the palpable business of blood, tears, and the final verse of life in a manner that is almost shocking in the relief it delivers.

FOR ONE’S DEVOTIONAL LIFE

Captivating Grace: 365 Devotions for the Reformed Thinker compiled by Susan Hill, with a foreword by Scott Sauls (Zondervan) $19.99  What a beautiful book, a solid cloth/embossed hardback with sturdy paper, offering a daily devotional full of thoughts and prayers and reflections from the likes of Luther, Calvin, Beza, Zwingli, Turretin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon and more… It is nicely arranged in five units, with devotionals themed in each section by the historic five “Solas” of the Reformation era — Christ alone, Faith alone, Grace alone, the Scriptures alone, and for the Glory of God alone.

 

Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans edited by Robert Elmer (Lexham Press) $23.99  As it says on the back promotional paper insert, “For the Puritans, prayer was neither casual nor dull. Their prayers were passionate affairs, from earnestly pleading for mercy to joyful praise. These rich expressions of deep Christian faith are shining examples…”  And indeed they are.

For those who are familiar with the very popular Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (Banner of Truth; $17.00) it is clear that the Puritans illustrated a combination of warm piety and careful intellect. Piercing Heaven is a classy (embossed) hardback sans dust jacket and it is adapted around topical headings. Kudos to the publishers.

 

A Month of Sundays: Thirty-One Days of Wrestling with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John Eugene Peterson (Waterbrook) $16.99 This is a never-before published collection of thirty one reflections on the gospel — a compact sized hardback, perfect for a monthlong journey into the life of Jesus — were first preached by Peterson in his role as pastor of Christ our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland. These are not necessarily cozy, inspiring devotionals that offer cheap inspiration but are solid explorations of the “big ideas, hard choices, and intimate conversations” that help you wrestle along side Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

 

Live in Grace, Walk in Love: A 365-Day Journey Bob Goff (Thomas Nelson) $16.99 This is a bargain price for this great, solid hardback. As we’ve described it at BookNotes before, it is a year’s worth of all new inspiring stories from Bob’s one-of-a-kind, dream-big, love does, kinda of life. The publisher says it offers “unexpected, thought-provoking teaching that will prepare Christians for the days ahead.” Yes, that’s true. But Bob would want you to live big and love well right now. There’s interesting Bible reflection here and tons of Goffian shenanigans, holy capers, stories of loving everybody always, offered with a whimsical nod and a gracious prayer. You could give this out to almost anybody as it is fun, humane, upbeat, and incredibly interesting. Yes!

FOR THOSE WHO APPRECIATE CULTURAL STUDIES AND ENGAGEMENT

Rings of Fire: Walking in Faith Through a Volcanic Future Leonard Sweet (NavPress) $17.99 I hope you have somebody in your circle of friends and loved ones or church members who are fans of Leonard Sweet. A futurist by trade, a United Methodist gadfly and instigator of studies and projects and leadership initiatives, Sweet is one of the most widely read, brilliant thinkers I’ve ever come across. He maps out trends and concerns of the future as it relates to the church, now, and invites us — insists! — that to be faithful we have to allow God’s Kingdom which is coming to pull us into the future. He calls us to less handwringing and more action, more stimulating (prophetic) critique and less simple accommodation. As I often say, he is witty, creative, delights in wordplay (and all kind of play, a theme that shows up in his many books) so he’s a hoot to read. Even his (copious) footnotes are an education in itself. This book is worth twice the price.

Rings of Fire captured my full attention in the first sentence, describing the island in the Pacific Northwest (Orca Island) which is, as part of the Pacific basin called the “Ring of Fire.” He talks about fault lines, tremors, and lava, working that as a metaphor easily into his forecast of our hot culture. The whole world is a global Ring of Fire.

The book is arranged in sections he calls “hot zones” and “hot topics” and “hot church” and throughout he has “hot takes” which are excursions into even more specific (“global refugees and migrants”, “acid baths of irony”, “identity crises galore”, and more. The “hot topics” cover so much — from sexuality, gender formation, suicide culture, race relations, scientism, ecological stuff, and more. He has clever names for most of these chapters and he dives deep, if only for a chapter or two. Between the big hot zones and the specific hot topics, it at times feels a bit disorganized and fragmented. Maybe that is as it should be as things are heating up and we’re getting a bit frantic, with “fires” smoldering everywhere. There are “eruptive and disruptive” blowing all around us. This may be Len’s most sweeping book since his seminal Soul Tsunami. 

Not From Around Here: What Unites Us, What Divides Us, and How We Can Move Forward Brandon O’Brien (Moody Press) $13.99  We’ve recommended books by this author before. He’s a curious fellow, brilliant, really, working now for Redeemer’s City to City with Tim Keller, but having written a book for small congregations which we like and another on a religious liberty advocate from during the colonial era Demanding Liberty: An Untold Story of American Religious Freedom and co-authored a near classic called Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. He thinks widely about a lot and is Biblically informed, theologically reliable, and yet seems open to new ideas and is always learning. So when we heard about this new book, I couldn’t wait. It is not only about the fragmented nature of our polarized society, but, most foundationally, about the divide between rural and urban folks. We have these tidy categories, or at least it seems the media often presents tidy categories, but, as he says “people are more complex up close.”

So, Not From Around Here is trying to see what it’s really like in a given place — “how the squish of creek water between your toes or the crunch of autumn leave on a city sidewalk shape yours sense of what’s normal and write and good.” This is a hugely important and generative, if provocative, thesis, that these bodily sensations are part of how our places shape us to experience life in certain ways. This will appeal to those who have paid attention to James K.A. Smith’s “Cultural Liturgies” project, I’d think, or even books like Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch that remind us of bodily postures as we lean into life.  To be agents of God’s reconciliation, O’Brien says, we need to listen to the stories of people that emerge from their places. We need to “get to know the nuance of people and have empathy for their way of seeing.”

As it says on the back cover, “Brandon O’Brien is, in many ways, a man torn between places. Raised in the rural South, educated in the suburbs, and now living and doing ministry in Manhattan, he’s seen these places, and their complexity, up close.”

Working in the Presence of God: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Work Denise Daniels & Shannon Vandewarker (Hendrickson) $24.95  I suppose this isn’t exactly cultural criticism, but it does move us into the culture at large, helping us think about faith and vocations, the common good and the ways unbiblical dualism has kept us from thinking well about work and finances. These women work well in corporate America and while there has been a generous batch of books released in recent years on marketplace ministry and Christian fidelity in the work world, few have been as insightful as this, and even fewer have been written by women. My, my, you could give this to anyone interested in this faith and work movement, about whole-life spirituality, about how spiritual disciplines (sabbath, lament, solitude) can be useful in formation for our work-world service.

There are important endorsements on the back from important voices in this movement such as Richard Mouw and Katherine Leary Alsdorf and Tom Nelson and Jeff Hanaan and Lisa Slayton and Steve Garber. These are authors we admire and some of our favorite people so if these leaders also endorse this book, you can trust us that it’s a good one.

The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work Steven Garber (IVP) $20.00  If you saw the big celebration we did about this brand new book at BookNotes a week or so ago you’ll know it is one of the most amazing books we’ve discussed this year. It is a lovely collection of short essays on a variety of topics related by the deep desire of the author to live a coherent life, one that hangs together, with seamlessness. From church life to work, from global justice to family matters, from reading novels to speaking with corporate leaders about the meaning of just profits, Steve reminds us it is all worship, that it all matters. It should be obvious, but in this distracted consumerist age it may not be, that we hunger for meaning and purpose; the live well This book ponders these things without silliness or cheesy zeal; his struggle for a seamless life is hard-earned and has integrity. These elegant essays are accompanied by photos of Steve’s travels, giving this a “report from the road” sort of feel. (And he has seen some remarkable stuff, making this in its own quiet way, a real page-turner.) It is a hand-sized hardback, with textured paper dust jacket, and makes a truly beautiful little gift. I find it hard to express how much this book means to me, and Beth and I would be pleased if you ordered some to share during this holiday season.

For what it is worth, some who ordered it promptly last week have now lined up to (re)order more. That’s the sign of a very special book.

The Library Book Susan Orlean (Simon & Schuster) $16.99  I had heard such good things about this remarkably written, meticulously researched study of the largest library fire in the US (April 29th,1986) but for some reason waited until it recently came out in paperback to pick it up. What was I thinking — it took my breath away on the first page and didn’t let up; it has been a constant pleasure to read, page by page.  It is, without a doubt, one of the most captivating and well written books — heartbreaking and exciting, edge-of-your-seat, stuff as she investigates the arson accusations, the impact of the fire, and the remarkable civic spirit of the librarians.

Anyone who loves books, anyone who appreciates libraries, anybody who appreciates creative non-fiction — part memoir, part investigative/immersion journalism — will love The Library Book. This elegant report is a book somebody you know will love. The opening pages about the author’s memories of going to the library as a girl with her mother is gloriously poignant. Reviewers have called it “soul-expanding” and “mesmerizing” and “spellbinding.” Here are what a few of the many, rave reviews have said:

This is a book only Susan Orlean could have written. Somehow she manages to transform the story of a library fire into the story of literacy, civil service, municipal infighting and vision, public spaces in an era of increasingly privatization and social isolation, the transformation of Los Angeles from small provincial hamlet to innovative collossus and model of civic engagement–and the central role libraries have always and will always play in the life and health of a bustling democracy. Beyond all that, like any good library, it’s bursting with incredible tales and characters. There could be no better book for the bookish.”
–Dave Eggers, author of The Circle and The Monk of Mokha
Exquisitely written, consistently entertaining . . . A loving tribute not just to a place or an institution but to an idea . . . What makes The Library Book so enjoyable is the sense of discovery that propels it, the buoyancy when Orlean is surprised or moved by what she finds. . . . Her depiction of the Central Library fire on April 29, 1986, is so rich with specifics that it’s like a blast of heat erupting from the page. . . . The Library Book is about the fire and the mystery of how it started–but in some ways that’s the least of it. It’s also a history of libraries, and of a particular library, as well as the personal story of Orlean and her mother, who was losing her memory to dementia while Orlean was retrieving her own memories by writing this book.”
–Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times
“Susan Orlean has long been one of our finest storytellers, and she proves it again with The Library Book. A beautifully written and richly reported account, it sheds new light on a thirty-year-old mystery–and, what’s more, offers a moving tribute to the invaluableness of libraries.”
–David Grann, author of Killers of the Flower Moon and The Lost City of Z
“After reading Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, I’m quite sure I’ll never look at libraries, or librarians, the same way again. This is classic Orlean–an exploration of a devastating fire becomes a journey through a world of infinite richness, populated with unexpected characters doing unexpected things, with unexpected passion.”
–Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City, In the Garden of Beasts, and Dead Wake

FOR THOSE INTERESTED ON WORLD MISSIONS

On Mission Together: Integrating Missions Into the Local Church Richard Noble, with a foreword by Peter Kuzmic (Falls City Press) $14.99  A very, very good friend out in Beaver Falls, PA (home of Geneva College) started a few years ago what he affectionately called a “micro-press.” (Sort of like micro-brew, I guess; small, local, tasty; indeed, Falls City is classy, thoughtful, unique — a boutique shop doing important little books that deserve a hearing. This is there latest and you should know about it.

The author of this book, Rich Noble, himself a friend of Geneva College and other important para-church ministries in Western Pennsylvania, has been leading “missional engagement” as a consultant for churches for years. He is especially known within his own Christian Missionary Alliance circles. So this book is very nicely published but you might not know about — it’s one of those “under the radar” titles. We are thrilled to get to amplify Noble’s good work, and introduce you to his helpful book. Come to think of it, there is no other book that we’d recommend as highly on this topic as this one; On Mission Together is savvy, practical, useful, creative, motivating, designed for anyone on a local church mission committee, a planning team for a missions conference, a mission pastor or anyone wishing for their local congregation to be more supportive of those on the global front lines of fulfilling the Great Commission. Our local faith communities (“from massive suburban churches to small rural parishes”) are central to the project of bearing witness to the expanding Kingdom of God and this book is a concise guidebook full of great ideas to mobilize your own worshipping body.

In On Mission Together there are 9 good chapters and half a dozen appendices, making this a go-to resource for anyone interested in developing their mission engagement.

The End of Hunger: Renewed Hope for Feeding the World edited by Jenny Eaton Dyer and Cathleen Falsani (IVP) $17.00  I raved about this earlier this fall and wanted to recommend it again, now. I guess it may not be the most common gift idea for seasonal gift giving but you know there are folks in your circles who are (or ought to be) very keen on learning about global justice. What missions committee doesn’t at least pay some attention to global development and world-wide poverty and starvation. As I said before, this truly is one of the best resources we’ve get seen — very engaging, lots of stories, plenty of big picture analysis and lots of concrete steps for taking up action on a special aspects of global hunger. This is a great little book and we highly recommend it.

ON THE SOCIOLOGY OF MEETINGS, LANDSCAPES, AND PLACE

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters Priya Parker (Riverhead Books) $28.00 What an amazing book this is, released this fall on the significant, storied publishing imprint. This is a book that is hard to describe but will be of interest to those who plan meetings, do programming, teach informal classes, whether in the work-world, the nonprofit sector, or, I’d say, in the local church or para-church. It is charming, fascinating, full of insight about the meaning of encounters, of gathering. What happens in meetings and how do the arrangement of the room matter? How does the mood and tone affect the participants? Why settle for lackluster and unproductive meetings? Why gather in ways that aren’t memorable (or even meaningful)? Parker is not a scold and although she is astute in her critique of many status quo kind of practices, she is upbeat and stimulating.

As it says on the flyleaf:

Drawing on her expertise as a facilitator of high-[power gatherings around the world, Parker takes us inside events of all kinds to show what works, what doesn’t, and why. She investigates a wide array of gatherings — conferences, meetings, a courtroom, a flash-mob party, an Arab-Israeli summer camp — and explains how simple, specific, changes can invigorate any group experience.

I bet you know somebody in experiential education or group facilitation or Christian ministry that would get a real kick out of this book that has been described as “both journey and guide” that is full of “exciting ideas and real-world application.” Whether you are hosting a backyard barbecue or a professional conference, you won’t think of your next meeting in quite the same way, I guarantee  it.

The Absent Hand: Reimagining Our American Landscape Susan Lessard (Counterpoint) $26.00 You will see this shortly in our list of my favorite books of 2019. It is intellectually rich, beautifully written, elegant at time, fierce, heady, yet full of insight as she longs for what we miss when we lose natural landscapes. Lessard, who was a staff writer for decades at the New Yorker studies remarkable places (including the “geography of nowhere” in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and the nearly sacred, civic space in Gettysburg) Part Annie Dillard, part Howard Kunstler, part Witold Rybczynski (who, by the way, called it “Whitman-esque”) this is a book I savored.

Here is what the New York Times Book Review wrote:

Half memoir, half cri de coeur, Lessard’s lambent, thoughtful, exquisitely written collection of interconnected essays dissects–as an art historian would a picture, a literary critic a text, a medical examiner a cadaver–a diverse swath of America, from Gettysburg and the King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania to Truth or Consequences, N.M.; from the seat of an airplane, 30,000-odd feet above Alaska, to the stoops and sidewalks of Brooklyn during the 1990s; from Georgetown, in Washington, where the author used to live, to Youngstown, Ohio…

 FOR THOSE WANTING TO TURN OVER A NEW LEAF THIS NEW YEAR

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry John Mark Comer (Waterbrook) $23.99  I did a long, breathy review of this earlier this fall and the book quickly became one of our best selling titles of the year. John Mark Comer is fun and cool, the design is hip and youthful, but the content — riffing on a line from Dallas Willard — is perennial, good for anyone who wants to deepen their spiritual lives by slowing down, learning to be mindful, and create transforming space to know God more intimately, so to be remade into the image of Christ. Fun and clever as this is, reading The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry becomes a great way into conversations about spirituality, lifestyles, pace of life, serenity, repentance, discipleship. He writes movingly about Christ’s (easy) yoke. About being an apprentice of the true Lord who shows us what it means to be human. Comer’s Garden City is about vocation and calling, work and rest. It is about being made in God’s image and you can see this new one as a natural follow up, focusing less on the call to work, and more on the call to rest. There is a great foreword by John Ortberg, who calls Ruthless Elimination… a “prophetic word for our time.” It is clearly pitched to young adult readers, but this old guy turning 65 this week thinks it is one of the books of the year!

Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace and Purpose Rebekah Lyons (Zondervan) $24.99  Perhaps this is a bit of a theme (see the JMC book above) as we tire of our fast-paced, hot-wired lifestyles. Like Comer, Rebekah Lyons isn’t just inviting us to be more healthy, avoid stress and burnout, being more calm and present. Although, heavens, we need help with that. For her, though, the “rhythms of renewal” are gateways to deeper, more wholesome and sustainable spirituality.  Comer admits that as the pastor of a large, multi-site church, and a global conversation partner around theme of social and cultural engagement, he has an unusual amount of stress. And in the past has struggled with depression and anxiety. This is Rebekah’s story, too — her anxiety and panic attacks are vivid and she is honest about how, even as a leader in the Q movement (her husband is Gabe, founder of Q) she is often debilitated by the stress of her callings. There are lovely blurbs on this book — clearly written in a woman’s voice — by the likes of Bob Goff, John Townsend, and Lysa Terkeurst.

The four major sections of Rhythms of Renewal are Rest, Restore, Connects, and Create. This is not your mother’s book on Christian living, but is, still, reliably solid as a guide to healthy Christian discipleship.

The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place Andy Crouch (Baker) $15.99  This is not new, but if you don’t know it, or haven’t given it, it ought to be on your own radar screen (to use an older technological image.) There are lots of books that have come out in recent years documenting the dangers of over-doing digital technologies and there are plenty of books for parents of teens or youth, helping offer guidance and prudence, strength and insight, about how to use technology well.

I won’t bore you with my views of the nuances of all of this but will just say as plainly and clearly as I can that this is still the best book on the topic and one that everyone should read, whether you are a parent or not. It is moving, thoughtful, wise, big-hearted, and plenty practical. I know you know that we really, really wish folks would read Andy’s three other books, Culture Making, Playing God, and the more recent Strong and Weak. We are fans. Don’t miss this one which brings a good framework and wise approach to this urgent matter.

FOR SOMEONE INTERESTED IN BIBLICAL STUDIES

The Old Testament in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic Christopher Wright (IVP) $16.00 There are plenty of books which offer fine, even fabulous overviews of the Old Testament and its coherent story. This one (in part because of the clever and succinct seven sentences approach) is fantastic. Chris Wright is one of the great Old Testament scholars of our time and an important leader in wholistic ministry (working out of the Langham Trust in the UK.) The publisher says about it:

It’s easy to see the Old Testament as confusing, out of date, or irrelevant. Using seven key sentences drawn straight from the Old Testament, Christopher J. H. Wright fits the pieces together, shows us the coherent whole, and points us toward Jesus. This short survey shows God’s faithfulness and love for his people and illuminates how the Old Testament Scriptures prepared for the identity and mission of Jesus.

The New Testament in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic Gary Burge (IVP) $16.00  A great companion to the one above, this, too, is a clever way to do a fabulous overview of the key plot and teachings of the entire New Testament. I like Burge a lot (and value his insight into the cultural backgrounds and contexts of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament.)

Here is how the publisher describes this one:

“To understand the breadth of the gospel’s message, we need to perceive the full tapestry of Scripture. Using seven key sentences from the New Testament, Gary M. Burge demonstrates how the themes of fulfillment, kingdom, cross, grace, covenant, spirit, and completion set a theological rhythm for our faith, outlining the broader pattern of Scripture that illustrates what God has done–and is bringing to fulfillment–in Christ.”

The Liturgy of Creation: Understanding Calendars in Old Testament Context Michael Lefebvre (IVP Academic) $30.00  At first, I wasn’t sure I should list this as it isn’t a very typical kind of gift, although written for those outside the academic guild, it is dense. The two (…Seven Sentences ones) that I listed above would be fun for almost anyone — beginners or not — and the one below (Romans Disarmed) is something I’m just telling everyone about, like it or not. It’s that impressive and important. This, though, may be an acquired taste for those interested in Genesis 1. The Liturgy of Creation is a serious, almost tedious study of something that may seem arcane — liturgical calendars in the ancient near East and time (and holidays!) in the Bible? This is not the place to explain in detail why this is important, but Old Testament scholars will immediately realize this is vital stuff. This book is nothing short of a gold mind of rare treasures, stuff that will pay off, earning readers knowledge and insight if they pay attention. It explores the rich (meta/poetic) style of creation narratives, brings in temple language and theories of history and time, and ties it together with other teachings on calendars in the Hebrew Scriptures. As the publisher explains, Lefebvre argues that “dates were added to Old Testament narratives not as journalistic details but to teach sacred rhythms of labor and worship.” Old Testament heavyweight John C. Collins has a brilliant, enticing foreword. 

As Carmen Imes, an Old Testament professor writes:

His reassessment of Genesis 1 moves beyond the stalemate in the creation debates without recourse to extrabiblical or scientific arguments. His thesis grows organically from a close reading of the biblical text. LeFebvre shows himself to be a master teacher with pastoral sensitivity, able to patiently explain what he has so carefully studied. This book will change the way I teach the Torah. I can’t wait to share it with my students!

Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire/Demanding Justice Sylvia Keesmaat & Brian Walsh (Brazos Press) $26.99  Well. I reviewed this audacious book at great length at a major BookNotes announcement about it when it first came out and said then that I’m sure it will be on our “Best Books of 2019” of the year award. It is a detailed, creative, imaginative, hard-hitting, insistent study of epistle of Paul to the Romans and insists that the bigger point and context was for Paul to encourage church unity as a witness to the coming upside-down Kingdom of Christ which was explicitly anti-Imperial. That is, this is a reading of the famous book of the Bible, a letter, really, that has been dis-armed or maybe newly weaponized for the nonviolent struggle for peace, justice, reconciliation, ecological sanity and full inclusion of all people in the open table of God’s own. Yes, the authors argue (convincingly, I believe) that Romans has been misconstrued as an abstract theological lesson and that reading has been used to bully people, shutting down the impulse of hospitality that is at the heart of the epistle itself. So the letter — or, more precisely, our interpretations and applications — needs to be disarmed. And they show us exactly how, but experiencing the letter as it first might have been experience, calling us to be the sort of justice-seeking community that grieves with the hurting and welcomes the marginalized, as the book of Romans tells us to.

This over 400 page volume (with a chapter which is essentially a fictionalized novella set among characters in the house church in Rome) may jokingly be called an “anti-commentary” because it is almost a new genre. Some said that about their rather similar Colossians Remix, released in 2014, too, for the way it wove together old context and contemporary stories and socio-political analysis. (And, heavy as this gets sometimes, intellectually and rhetorically, there is plenty here about the lives of Walsh and Keesmaat, their watershed discipleship at their organic farm, and their deep connections to urban folk in inner city Toronto and college students at Brian’s Wine Before Breakfast community and their friendships with many other more traditional church folks might shy away from (at best)  — unhoused street folks, oppressed indigenous people, LGTBQ friends.) Directly inspired by the text of Romans, they teach us much about the dysfunctions and injustices or our day, the idols of progress and the violence of late modern capitalism and the inequities due to white privilege and the like. This is an amazing book which will be seen as groundbreaking if disturbing to some. If you give this as a gift, or invite your small group to study it, be prepared for lots of honest conversation. Whew.

“Keesmaat and Walsh write into the headwinds of Trumpism, deepening social disparity, ecological crisis, and endless war. Building on recent scholarship, this brilliant study engages the original audience, who labored under the shadow of empire, in a way that brings its message to life for similarly struggling North American Christians. The result is a fresh and committed reading by two of our generation’s best interpreters of Word and world.”                         — Ched Myers, Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries

The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy Timothy Keller (Viking) $20.00 Another one of these compact sized hardbacks that make a nice little gift. And, seriously, this is fascinating. Not only is Keller always clear and thoughtful and widely read, this is recent and provocative. It’s about the prophet Jonah, of course, and that’s always a blast, ending as it does under the unpredictable plant, as Eugene Peterson put it. Here, Keller makes a creative move and connects Jonah to the parable of the Prodigal Son. Nice!

 

 

FOR THOSE WHO ARE INTERESTED IN PRAYER AND SPIRITUALITY

The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father Wesley Hill (Lexham Press) $15.99 This is a very small, compact-sized guide that is more meaty and generative and useful than some books twice the size. Hill is a New Testament scholar and a dear man and a clear (but never stuffy) writer. He’s created a very solid, useful book.

There is a blurb on the back by Fleming Rutledge, another by New Testament scholar Matthew Levering. Marianne Meye Thompson says it is “a book worth savoring.” This little book, as Rev. Rutledge says, “will enrich a reader’s life immeasurably.” A small book in a matching formate to last year’s popular Apostles Creed by Ben Myers. Highly recommended.

May It Be So: Forty Days with the Lord’s Prayer Justin McRoberts & Scott Erickson (Waterbrook) $16.99 This will make a great gift for a special someone, but, admittedly, may not be for everyone. Justin McRoberts is a recording artist, writer, retreat leader who brings raw truth and hard-hitting insight about our longings for a better discipleship and Scott Erickson is an edgy sort of artists and graphic designer. So May It Be So has a very contemporary, design forward feel, with graphic art (with a silkscreen sort of appearance.) In fact, the hip art pieces are invitation to ponder — they are remarkably allusive and evocative, designed to help us enter into a more meditative and curiously thoughtful space, and Justin’s meditations are perfect supplements. These two guys are convinced that humans long for connections, for prayer, for a deeper sort of spirituality that may seem just beyond our reach. Good books on the theology of prayer are important, but they are not enough. We need prompts and on-ramps and stories so we can not sure think about praying, but actually do it.

This is a companion to their award winning, much-celebrated (and equally visual and provocative) Prayer: Forty Days of Practice. You could give ’em both and your recipient would be overjoyed.

Not sure? Listed to these good folks:

“Justin and Scott have compiled the most beautiful anthology of prayers and images, interwoven with suggestions for contemplation and spiritual practices. I’ve been using these words and pictures in my own devotional life for a couple of years. They have refreshed and renewed me. This book is a gift.”
–Michael Frost, author of Surprise the World and Keep Christianity Weird

“McRoberts and Erickson are flip artists: they take what is commonly assumed or known and flip it in unexpected ways, all for the sake of greater authenticity and deeper wisdom. Their book Prayer surprises, interrupts, explodes, confronts, and inspires. I encourage you to take up their invitation for Forty Days of Practice.”
–Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary”

“In my home we have a special shelf where we keep sacred things of beauty. On the shelf are a few icons, seashells, the Book of Common Prayer, and this book, Prayer. Each person in my family–from children to adults–sits in quiet wonder as they flip these pages. This meditative and practical book brings together prayer, practices, and visual art to provide a feast for the soul. McRoberts and Erickson have created something beautiful, thoughtful, and mesmerizing.”
–Tish Harrison Warren, priest in the Anglican Church in North America and author of Liturgy of the Ordinary

This Life That Is Ours: Motherhood as a Spiritual Practice Lauren Burdette (Upper Room Books) $12.99  What mom wouldn’t like a small, compact, meditatively written book about the spirituality of mothering? This is reflective, lovely, moving, even… a great gift. Lauren is part of a wonderful, small Presbyterian church we know in Pittsburgh — missional, visionary, yet deeply rooted in ancient spiritual practices. In this context she reflected on her own calling as a new mother, and how these habits of doing her daily mothering stuff were, in fact, shaping her, and have the potential to shape other moms, in profound ways.

This is really well written, poetic and inviting, warm and thoughtful. It is brief, and very honest about the swirling vortex of diapers and feedings and sleepless nights. In this new world, she observes, one’s identity can be in flux. And she assures us that God wants to meet us where we are.

An Ocean of Light: Contemplation, Transformation, and Liberation Martin Laird (Oxford University Press) $18.95  Again, a small hardback that is somehow weighty, serious, but yet a perfect shape in the hand to take on retreat or to a quiet chair. This is one that truly gets to be described as “beautifully written” combining scholarly awareness of the deepest mystical tradition and warm and enticing stories of his own life as a conetmpatlive and spiritual director.

As Rowan Williams says on the back cover, “Laird’s writings on this subject is simply in a different league of seriousness from most other books on ‘spiritual’ practice.” Sarah Coakley of Cambridge calls it “a new, modern classic.” This is the third in a uniform series, all quite nice, following Into the Silent Land and A Sunlit Absence. They are all gorgeous, compact, very sophisticated books that deserve multiple readings; an investment for a lifetime.

The Great Conversation: Nature and the Care of the Soul Belden Lane (Oxford University Press) $29.95  I hesitate to call this spirituality, proper — it is actually written as memoir, as most of it is in the first person as Lane — who has written similar books like Backpacking with the Saints — tells of his extraordinary adventures finding God in creation. (And they are extraordinary, spiritually, yes, but just in terms of the places he visits and tells about, literally all over the globe. Wow.) James Martin, S.J. calls The Great Conversation “luminous” and Presbyterian spiritual life professor Elizabeth Liebert says it is “scholarship born of passion, love, and commitment to the continuing existence and well-being of fellow creatures.”  He is a good writer, he is passionate, and his experiments in relating to the world around us as he hikes and attends are really fabulously interesting.

Lane realized long ago that he is implicated in the crisis of the planet and he knows that God’s good creation — or so the Bible and the mystics say — can speak to us. (See Psalm 19:1-4 or the command in Job 12:7-10 if you don’t believe him.) So in prose that is beautiful and haunting he tells of his journey to cherish and commune with fellow creatures. I understand that some of us (myself included, actually) will fret that this verges on pantheism; yet, a Franciscan priest says, “as a Franciscan, i can say that this is pure Gospel.” The Great Conversation is a heady and unforgettable story of a theologian and mystic learning to listen to creation, even as he uses books by great contemplatives to help him along the way. Just like he did with Backpacking with the Saints (combining one saint’s work with one hike) he here uses one particular book from a spiritual writer with one episode of relating well to a fellow creature. From talking to a beloved tree to standing in awe by a river to being aware of God’s voice in specific birds or wind, in wildfire or stars, in deserts or canyons, The Great Conversation is stunning. Somebody you know will really love it (even if others may think it a bit much.) We’re happy to stock all his books, and commend this one to be read with discernment to anyone who loves the great outdoors and longs to live into the vision of a lively creation we can really know.

Don’t forget, as we said at the beginning, we’ve shown the regular retail prices, but we will deduct 20% OFF any book mentioned. As we always say, our order form page is easy to use — just click on the link at the bottom which takes you to our secure order form page at the Hearts & Minds website. You can safely enter your credit card information and we’ll be sure to reply promptly and confirm all the details. As we say there, you can choose your shipping method (USPS is cheaper than UPS for smaller packages) and you can ask us to just send a bill if you’d like. Easy.  
Now, back to this list…

FOR FANS OF JAMIE SMITH, THOSE WANTING A CONTEMPORARY LOOK AT ANCIENT FAITH OR FOR THOUGHTFUL, SPIRITUAL SEEKERS

On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real World Spirituality for Restless Hearts James K.A. Smith (Brazos Press) $24.99  Okay, hear me out: this is one of the most important, and best, and most discussed serious Christian books of 2019. It’ll be on the top of our “Best of” awards list in a week or two. You should buy two to give away, and one for yourself (duh) if you haven’t yet. We are glad so many Hearts & Minds customers have ordered it this fall, and we hope to continue to promote it almost anywhere we go. It is just one of those books that discriminating buyers of religious books should get.

Yes, it’s a bit deep. Smith is a philosopher, after all. He has written books that are appreciative of postmodernity (see the heavy Live Theory on Jacques Derrida and the must-read, introductory-level Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism) and the always contested, situated nature of knowing (see The Fall of Interpretation and, more recently, Who’s Afraid of Relativism about what pragmatic philosophers call “contingency.”) Smith’s most popular philosophically-minded book is a heady introduction to the nearly impenetrable Harvard University Press book, The Secular Age by Charles Taylor. (That is called How (Not) To Be Secular and is an introduction to Taylor’s work and is important, if still a bit demanding.) His important “Cultural Liturgies” trilogy have been essential for many of us and we rejoice that those big three (Desiring the Kingdom, Imagining the Kingdom, and Awaiting the King) have been summarized in the popular You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit which I have touted as the “Book of the Decade.” Smith is a friend of Hearts & Minds and we have been influenced by him, and his own teachers.

Smith is a professor at Calvin University in Grand Rapids and studied previously at the neo-Calvinist Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, so has been influenced by that big stream of Christian cultural engagement that is the line of the Dutch theological and civic leader Abraham Kuyper. All of this, though, goes back (Al Wolters used to say this regularly) to the fourth century African convert and church Bishop, Saint. Augustine. His massive City of God is seminal for social and political thought in the West and his Confessions remains a classic in Western literature, often called the first memoir. Baptized by Ambrose after a walk on the wild side, his legacy is hard to underestimate. Yet few of us know much about him.

It is this self-aware reflection on Augustine’s own interior life and his “on the road” search for identity that Smith plumbs in On the Road with Saint Augustine. As Smith explains, many of the most important contemporary philosophers — Heidegger, Camus, Sartre, just for instance — studied and lectured and wrote on Augustine. In a way, Smith says that the bohemian and “on the road” counterculture (think Kerorouc and Ginsberg and Dylan, even) which was informed by the existentialists of the mid-twentieth century is almost directly connected to the road trips of the  ancient searching thinker who Smith calls “the patron saint of restless hearts.” Man, he knows how to connect the dots, joyfully.

There are prestigious and important blurbs on the back of this book, indicating that it is being taken seriously. (It’s not just me saying this!) What popular religious book carries raves from the likes of poet Christian Wiman and NPR interviewer Krista Tippet and Jesuit writer James Martin and one of the Avett Brothers band, yes, the philosopher Charles Taylor?

There are chapters on mothers and justice and sex and identity and friendship and death and conversion and more. His opening chapter “orientation” in this field guide is so helpful as he explains how Augustine is, truly, our contemporary. Smith expresses the zeitgeist in chapters like “Heart on the Run” (about “how to hit the road”) and “A Refugee Spirituality (about “how to live between…”

The heart of the book, as I’ve explained before at a previous description at BookNotes, is really this next section called “Detours on the Way to Myself” where he explores the meaning of freedom and ambition and enlightenment and other themes about authenticity and community and homecoming. There is stuff about “how to believe” and “how to hope” and what it means to aspire or connect and protest and hope. It is rare, I think, to have such a wise guidebook that is also so philosophical, drawing on history and telling about the lives of figures as diverse as Albert Camus and Leslie Jamison and books and films and pop music from Don Quixote to the movies of Wes Anderson the the haunting songs of The Postal Service.  That he is able to move so effortlessly between what feels like an upbeat, illuminated philosophy class and a quiet moment of spiritual direction and a rowdy conversation over drinks after hours is one of the glories of this book. For those willing to work through a few of the dense parts, there’s plenty of fun reading and lots of deep, profound Christian truth.

One of the reasons the book is so lively is that throughout there are narratives of the journey (ironically, an on-the-road pilgrimage, perhaps –ironic because the classic road trip is to get away, the opposition of a pilgrimage) that Smith and his wife made retracing some of the steps of Augustine. Dehanna figures into the book quite a bit. In an interview, Smith tells of how surprising it was to be there:

There’s something visceral about walking those worn stones of Ostia, seeing the mix of paganism and politics in Rome, feeling the light on the Mediterranean, that overcomes the distance between not only the fourth century and the 21st century but also the gap between the printed page and your own imagination. Augustine became less abstract, and more human.

There are great stories of their trip and some inserts of art and images and those are very nice, enhancing the book with the pieces he discusses. There are even some cool, free postcards (for your own journey on the road) that we can share for free, while supplies last. It’s a handsome, well-designed book that will help anyone open to thinking deeply about finding themselves.

Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion Rebecca mcLaughlin (Crossway) $24.99  If you want to give a gift for someone who wouldn’t resonate with Smith’s rambling, complex, beautiful guide through our search for identity and roots and hope by way of studying a third century seeker, maybe a more straight-away gift would be appreciated. Confronting Christianity admits that those who advocate and live out the Christian faith simply must cope with a few key, legitimate, important questions. Some of these are general questions being asked by secularists (“Aren’t we better off without Religion” and “Doesn’t Religion Cause Violence?” and the questions about religion and science) and others are questions specifically about the Christian religion — does the Bible condone slavery?, isn’t Christianity homophobic?, how can you say there is only one way?, and the like. These sort of collections of honest answers to hard questions are plentiful, but this one is very smart and fair-minded. It won a Christianity Today Best Book award a few weeks ago and has endorsements by the likes of Oxford University mathematics professor John Lennox and Harvard University epidemiologist Tyler Vanderweele. MIT prof Ian Hutchinson calls is “deep and caring” and “not an easy stroll through imagined virtual reality but an adventurous rocky pathway through true and abundant life.”

Confronting is written by woman with a PhD in Renaissance literature from Cambridge and a theology degree from Oak Hill, also in the UK. She has worked for Veritas Forum and is cofounder of Vocable Communications. Very impressive.  It’s got a great cover, too, with 12 die-cut circles on the cover.

FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN THE ENNEAGRAM

We have numerous good books on this ancient, and newly popular, personality profile. We have often said that The Road Back To You by Ian Cron & Susan Stabile is among our favorites. Richard Rohr’s is big and impressive, Chris Huertz’s The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth is really good and has a workbook, now. There are others, of course.

But, whew, if you want to gift somebody with a nice little book that explores their own unique Enneagram number, well, get a load of this. What a great idea!

We just got in this set of nine small hardbacks, one on each of the Enneagram types, each with a different foreword by a person who identifies as that E profile. These numbered guides are written by Beth McCord (“Your Enneagram Coach”) and are published by Thomas Nelson. They regularly sell for $14.99 each and you can order any of them individually. If you buy the whole set we’ll bump up our BookNotes discount of 20% off to 30% off.  How’s that?

Enneagram Type 1        Enneagram Type 2          Enneagram Type 3        Enneagram Type 4        Enneagram Type 5        Enneagram Type 6        Enneagram Type 7        Enneagram Type 8        Enneagram Type 9  

Beth McCord (Thomas Nelson Publisher) $14.99 each.  Note the extra discount (30% off) if you buy the whole set of nine books.

TWO NEW BOOKS ON MARRIAGE

Modern Kinship: A Queer Guide to Christian Marriage David & Constantino Khalaf (WJK) $16.00  I love the story about Mark Twain’s reply when he was asked if he believed in infant baptism. “Believe in it?”, he retorted, “Why, I’ve seen it.” Whether you “believe in” marriage equality or not, you most likely have seen it. You may have gay people you care about who are married. Why not wish them well and offer them some faith-based insight about the complexities of navigating their admittedly unusual marriage situation? This is the only overtly Christian book for gay folks (men or women) talking candidly about a Christian marriage. Most often, for obvious reasons, queer folks who are churched are involved in mainline or progressive sorts of congregations, but not always; in any case, this is no fundamentalist scold. The couple who wrote the book together themselves have to navigate their different religious backgrounds; one spouse was rooted in a more traditionalist mainline church tradition while the other was non-denominationally evangelical. I have to admit I read a lot of books about marriage (including memoirs of marriage) and I found this hard to put down.

We hope Modern Kinship blesses those who may find it difficult to locate reliable resources that might help them in their own context and ethos. I recommend it to straight couples, too, by the way; most of us need all the help we can get. Somehow the struggles and fears and joys of gay couples working out their faith and marriage in a counter-cultural way (perhaps too religious for many of their LGTBQ friends and too gay for their straight churches) just might offer some insight for others, as well.

The Meaning of Marriage: A Couple’s Devotional – a Year of Daily Devotions Timothy & Kathy Keller (Viking) $20.00  I have said that, with a few qualifications, I think Tim & Kathy Keller’s 2011 release, The Meaning of Marriage, is one of the better books on a theology of marriage I’ve ever read. It is interesting, Biblical, culturally aware, and quite thoughtful. We are happy to promote all of Keller’s many books (including the other two devotionals that he wrote with his wife, The Songs of Jesus, on the Psalms, and God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life on Proverbs) and were so very glad to see this gifty looking small daily devotional of 365 readings to supplement their Meaning of Marriage.

 This is a small sized hardback, lavish in a subdued sort of pastel way, with a nice ribbon marker, making it a great shower gift or a New Year’s gift for your spouse. Good, meaty stuff, gospel-based and often profound. This is a very nice book.

FOR FANS OF CS LEWIS & THE INKLINGS

Pursuing an Earthy Spirituality: C. S. Lewis and Incarnational Faith Gary S. Selby (IVP Academic) $22.00  I don’t need to say much about this. You know, I hope, that Lewis wrote much about the joy of human pleasures and the goodness of creation. He wrote the forward to a famous edition of Saint Athanasius’s On the Incarnation. His vision of the cosmic nature of sin and salvation makes his fiction so earthy. Without much bluster, he calmly reminded us in so many ways that gnosticism is not Christian.  So, if spirituality is “earthy” what, then, does that mean? What does it look like? Can the old Oxford don help us with a “down to Earth” holy worldliness? Can we live out of an incarnational worldview? What in this world is “Earthy spirituality”? This is a suburb book for anyone wanting to think more deeply about spiritual formation and whole-life discipleship, but it is a gem for anyone who likes drawing on Mr. Lewis. A great book, highly recommended.

Becoming C.S. Lewis: A Biography of Young Jack Lewis (1898 – 1918) Harry Lee Poe (Crossway) $22.00 With the slightly textured dust jacked, the old fashioned photo and the wallpaper-like flyleaves, this book itself is so handsome it almost feels vintage.  It is what is says, a biography of Lewis’s youth. It is the first part of what will be a massive and major three part biography. So far, it is off to a conspicuous start — some reviewers insist this is a must-read and more than one has observed that there is material in here that has not been explored in any previous Lewis biography.

When important Lewis scholars like Don King says it “breaks new ground” and Lyle Dorsett says it is “filled with glimpses… that cannot be found in any other biography” and Colin Duriez says it “stands out” you know this is a major contribution to the field. Fans will savor Becoming C.S. Lewis, we’re told, and I suspect they are right. Is there somebody you could give it to this Christmas? Remember: for Lewis, Christmastime surely was 12 days long.

Choosing Community: Action, Faith, and Joy in the Works of Dorothy Sayers Christine Colon (IVP) $16.00  Released under the auspices of the Marion Wade Center at Wheaton College, this is one of the most accesible and important new books on Inkling Dorothy Sayers yet done. Colon is a professor of English and a scholar of the Victorian Literary tradition and a sharp. popular instructor. Choosing Community was initially presented as part of the prestigious Hansen Lectureship series and it was very positively received. There is a lot here on the Lord Peter Whimsey detective novels so this could make a great gift for anybody who enjoys that mystery genre or that knows of Sayers’ literary work. (For instance, her significant work translating Dante.) The book cites unpublished letters of Sayers and works well with her religious drama and theatrical work, too. Nearly everyone who specializes in this field seems to shout “bravo” to Colon for her meticulous research, her good writing, and the urgently necessary vision of a broad and caring sort of beautifully orthodox faith.

By the way, for those who follow such things, the previous Hansen lectures were put out in a book that we celebrated at BookNotes, Timothy Larsen’s incisive George MacDonald in the Age of Miracles: Incarnation, Doubt, and Reenchantment (IVP; $18.00.) Know any George MacDonald fans out there?

Speaking of George MacDonald and Lewis’s appreciation of him, allow me to reprint my review of a book that we had shared a month ago at a BookNotes column about kid’s books:

The Light Princess George MacDonald with 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, may of which are now out of print. 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?

FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN CIVIC LIFE AND CONTEMPORARY POLITICS

The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump Peter Wehner (HarperOne) $25.99 As we’ve shown at BookNotes, there are a bunch of books on civility, or finding common ground, but on also being principled and integrally Christian in our citizenship lives. You may know that Wehner worked in the Reagan administration has been a major voice in thoughtful Republican and conservative circles and because of his deep involvement with the Right is now outspoken about the vulgar and immoral ways of the current administration. He is frustrated about his own movement’s lack of coherent, abiding principles but he is also alarmed — as we all should be –about the fraying body politic, about culture wars and anger and fragmentation. He believe that politics can be a noble calling but that this has been corrupted, not least by Donald Trump.

The back cover of this remarkable book has blurbs by the likes of Mona Charen (a colleague of his at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center) and Mark Noll ( the esteemed evangelical historian) and public intellectual and writer Jon Meacham and a great, helpful endorsement by James K.A. Smith.  David Axelrod calls him “a literary Paul Revere, shining a light on the causes of the withering polarization that has seized our democracy.”

Them: Why We Hate Each Other– And How to Heal Ben Sasse (St. Martin’s Press) $17.99 We had reviewed this at BookNotes when it was still only in hardback and it has just recently come out in paperback (with a new preface from the author.) I think Mr. Sasse is a better thinker and writer than he is a Senator, but, no matter what you think of his voting record, he argues here that our crisis is deeper than partisan politics. He writes about the epidemic of loneliness and a path forward that is rooted in paying attention to place. In fact rootedness is a theme of the book. NPR says even if you disagree with his ideas, this book is well worth reading and we agree.

As the National Review notes:

Them is an attempt to diagnose and repair what has led us to this moment of spittle-flecked rage… a step toward healing a hurting nation.

Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation Ken Starr (Sentinel) $28.00  It seems that if one is following the ups and downs of the current impeachment controversy, it would be helpful and certainly interesting to compare it with the other memorable impeachment from a few administrations back. As you should know, Ken Starr, a conservative, Christian, kindly, constitutional law scholar, a thoughtful law professor and attorney (who, by the way, was under consideration for a nomination for the Supreme Court) was given the unsavory and complicated task of investigating financial shenanigans (of which people were indicted and went to jail) in which both President Clinton and the First Lady were deeply involved. There was legal stuff, grand juries, investigations, subpoenas, lawsuits, and, eventually pretty obvious contempt from the First Lady and, then, perjury from the President of the United States. The President’s own Attorney General (Janet Reno) commissioned Mr. Starr to lead the team doing the investigation into the President’s financial craziness that became known as the Whitewater scandal. As Starr says (and I have good reason to believe him) he did this a bit reluctantly, but out of civic duty as a public servant, knowing it would delay his own career goals and perhaps bring anxiety to his family; that is, it was not his great desire to become known for this. (Little did he know that he would soon have to have armed security guards, as would his young adult children when they went off to college, and that he would get pulled into years and years worth of complicated, controversial, even tragic work.)

It was in those years in the Arkansas investigation that the President perjured himself about a sex scandal in his home state (regarding an affair with Paula Jones) and the Attorney General wanted Starr — against his own best wishes and intuitions — to investigate that. The Clinton’s response was legendary. And then the Monica Lewinksy thing happened. Again, against his own wishes (as he explains in Contempt) Starr was assigned that investigation and the resultant obstruction of justice proceedings. Unsavory as Mr. Clinton’s sexual involvement was with his younger intern was — in the contemporary #metoo era this would have been seen in much harsher light, I am sure — it wasn’t until further perjury and obstruction and misuse of power came up that Starr pressed that part of the case. As Contempt shows, such grand jury investigations and hearings and procedures are byzantine and slow. (Oh, how this sheds light on the Trump hearings and eventual impeachment processes.) These things take time, and, in that case, the President clearly was in the wrong, legally. What the House and Senate would do with the final report was not Starr’s call, and he reports that he instructed the House to not release the un-redacted, salacious report to the public. (He asked Congress to not share the most embarrassing details, out of respect for the Presidents dignity and marriage. House leaders, famously, in an exceptionally rare and hurtful move, posted it unredacted on line within hours. Of course, Starr took the heat and was for a while the most hated man in America.) Even though the writing is straight-forward and not particularly artful, it was a page-turner, revealing all that goes in to holding public officials accountable under the rule of law. As Starr says often, and we must say today, no one is above the law.

Regardless of what you think you know about Mr. Starr’s work or the Clinton Whitewater case and the subsequent impeachment hearings, Contempt is riveting, what one reviewer called a “firecracker” of a book. After two decades of silence he finally tells his side of the story and the first-person account of the day to day tedium and flare-ups of high drama that became the legal warfare in DC. Our own current partisan polarization has something to do with these events, I am sure, and think it is a timely read for this very month.

Michael Wolfe, author of Fire and Fury says that,

Now, as we try to navigate another president’s epochal confrontation with the law and the Constitution, Starr is a national treasure.

Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus Jim Wallis (HarperOne) $25.99  I’ve heard a few conservative-leaning persons suggest that they know what Wallis thinks, don’t need the book, and that may mostly be so. He’s written books like God’s Politics and continues to edit the lefty, social justice rag, Sojo. But I’m not sure I get the ambivalence to this: each chapter is about a question Jesus asked and the implications such holy questioning might have on our body politic. Yes, it is an anti-Trump manifesto, but more, it is an insistence that we take Jesus seriously. He does admit that good people can disagree in good faith and he does not say that one cannot support Trump and be a sincere disciple. But if he leans towards those convictions, he tries to be civil and play fair, and he does continue to tell stories and make applications from the gospel texts. There are level-headed folks offering endorsing blurbs, from Senator Chris Coons to Princeton professor Eddie Glaude to Fuller Theological Seminary president, Mark Labberton.

When I reviewed this earlier at BookNotes I said I agreed with Brittany Packnett (of Campaign Zero) who wrote:

“For far too long, we’ve ceded the power and person of Jesus to political movements with no ambitions toward His radical love. Reclaiming Jesus is not only our responsibility, it is necessary now more than ever. This is a book for all God’s people.”

Can I Get a Witness: Thirteen Peacemakers, Community Builders, and Agitators for Faith and Justice edited by Charles Marsh, Shea Tuttle, and Daniel Rhodes (Eerdmans) $26.00  Do you recall the review I did of this earlier this fall? This isn’t about statecraft and government, as such, but it is about public life, about Christians whose faith motivated them to be involved in matters of civic life, public justice, social concerns. My, my, what a great book, created out of the “Project on Lived Theology” at University of Virginia. There are fabulous theologians and public leaders (Soong-Chan Rah, Daniel Rhodes, Becca Stevens, David Dark, and more) teaching us very much about Cesar Chavez, Howard Thurman, Dorothy Day, Mahalia Jackson, Richard Twiss, and others. This book is mature and thoughtful, profound, even. Can we work towards the transformation of American culture through better religious convictions? Can those with helpful beliefs be inspired to live them out in public life by learning about these others that did so in other places and times? Of course. This is a sturdy, serious book and could be shared with anyone who loves history, biographies, or wants to explore the depths of wholistic, radical faith. Highly recommended.

The Possibility of America: How the Gospel Can Mend our God-Blessed, God-Forsake Land  David Dark (Westminster John Knox) $17.00  One of the most stimulating, thoughtful, remarkably-written, and provocative books I’ve read about the state of our times and the state of our union in these times is The Possibility of America: How the Gospel Can Mend our God-Blessed, God-Forsake Land written by my friend David Dark.

David is a lover of words, a lover of truth, a lover of what some call common grace – gladly thanking God for the signs of life that pop up in even a secularized culture, offered up even by those who seem not to be religious. (Ahh, there’s an interesting idea: is anybody really not religious? Don’t we all live by and for something? That’s the theme of Dark’s fabulous book called Life’s Too Short To Pretend You’re Not Religious [IVP; $18.00.] What a fascinating book!)

Discerning the signs of life or signals of transcendence in common grace gifts of popular culture is the theme of his only slightly dated first book Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, the Simpsons, and Other Pop Culture Icons (Brazos; $20.00.) He has for many years been helping us understand how to understand the culture, how to see the good and the bad, the sacred and the profane. (Or, should I say, the sacred in the profane. And vice versa.)

In a way, this new one about America is a continuation of that project, finding how deeply wise and transformative insights show up in the best of our American dream, from our politics to our classic landscapes, our shaping documents to our best literature and song. I joked to somebody in the shop that he should have called this Everyday American Apocalypse.

The Possibility of America: How the Gospel Can Mend our God-Blessed, God-Forsake Land is actually a considerable re-working and expanded edition of his 2005 book, The Gospel According to America: A Meditation on a Christ-haunted, God-blessed Idea. It is, for those who are familiar with that stimulating, much-discussed book, different enough that it demanded a new title; it is not just a “revised” edition. There’s so much new content in The Possibility of America that it earned a new title; not only is there considerable re-working and new content, the overall tone is a bit different. Understandably.

It seems to me that the very title indicates a change in the panic level of professor Dark, mirroring the anxiety many of us feel in these contested, Trumpian times. It was a bit easier (not that much, really, for those paying attention, but a bit) to see “the gospel” within America a decade ago. As the subtitle of that first book put it, we were in a “Christ-haunted” land. Now, with a vain sex offender known for his rude impetuousness and shameless dishonesty in our highest office, supported loudly by religious leaders who take pictures of themselves with him with photos of Playboy on the nearby wall, who say firmly, as Jerry Falwell, Jr. did, that he does not take his political cues from Jesus, who have actually affirmed inhumane treatment of immigrant families — tearing children from their parents – we are in, shall we say, a different position then we were before. These are awful times for the US of A, and it seems that anyone in touch with the Bible and the current political ethos simply has to wish things were otherwise.

Enter David Dark, who once was a bit less outraged and a bit less consumed by the dark antics of our leaders, and who has deepened his long standing passion for Biblical justice and relating prophetic truth to current realities.

Relating faith to popular culture and current events, by the way, is not new to him. In a weighty introduction called “Notes on the New Seriousness” he talks nicely about his father, a father for whom “the Bible was always in the back of his mind.” He tells us:

In his lifelong enthusiasm for candor, fair play, and the well-chosen word, freewheeling Bible study as a space in which everything could be talked about (war, celebrity, R-rated films, a living wage) was among my father’s favorite jams. Karl Barth’s dictum concerning life lived with a Bible in one hand and The New York Times in the other was an imperative he took up with glee.

He continues on about lessons learn from his father in this regard; I’m sure many of us envy being raised by a parent who, “as a conversation partner, treated words with an amused affection and reverence… “ Who offered a vibe of “conscience and candor.”

Dark describes his father, a lawyer, as one who understood how we fool ourselves, how we can use our virtue signaling for power, how we “can create or undo the impression of order and control through our use of language.” (Did his father read Derrida, or maybe just Amos and Jeremiah?) Dark talks about “disturbing the fixed scripts of the powerful.” And that “reverence and obsession are to one another near allied.” “For better or worse,” David says, “I am a child of his obsessions.”

No wonder he wrote a fascinating, stimulating book a few years ago called The Sacredness of Questioning Everything (Zondervan; $15.99.) (I might add, although it doesn’t add much, that I am honored to have a back-cover blurb on that one, sharing endorsement space with the late Eugene Peterson, who notes that Dark finds Jesus in surprising places and “he is also a reliable lie detector. And there isn’t a dull sentence in the book.”)

Dark is not only obsessed with lie detecting, with principles and words and “of who said what and how generalizing statements hide specific atrocities.” He is also obsessed – although it seems to come naturally to him – to say things in creative ways, putting side by side words that are not often combined, phrases that raise the eyebrow, that sometimes are jarring, sometimes amusing. (His sneaky little dropping of pop culture allusions, lines from rap songs or phrases from criticism or novels may go unnoticed by most – how many such “Easter eggs” did I miss, I wonder?) Which is just to say he’s a good, colorful, playful, if at times intense writer.

For instance, in that same serious introduction he describes his role as a teacher as the common good of attempted truthfulness. The paragraph-long explication of that sacred space is nearly worth the price of the book. “It could be the most insanely presumptuous task undertaken by any member of our species,” he writes. “I actually attempt to help people with their own thinking.”

I sit in classrooms with women and men in prisons and college campuses, and, together, we make assertions, put questions to one another, tell stories, read poems aloud, and wonder of our own words. They write sentences, I write sentences next to their sentences. And we get a conversation going somehow. We attempt truthfulness together. For some students, I sometimes have the feeling that this might be the first time someone’s calmly and respectfully urged them to think twice.

And, teacher that he is, obsessed with weighing in, he writes, furiously at times, hoping to help us think twice. Perhaps we need to see more clearly the shape we’re in, in this “God-forsaken” land. Or, perhaps, perhaps, we need to see the “possibility.” This book is his love letter to us all, even if it is more troubled and troubling than his first go at it in The Gospel According to America more than a decade ago.

The Possibility of America, as you can tell from the title, is still not without hope. Dark believes in the resurrection of Jesus, after all, and he loves our land. He loves our land passionately, concretely, especially as many Southerners do. Although his writing is at times dense and loaded with metaphor and allusion, he is not, finally, an abstract writer. He’s a deep and colorful thinker, but his writing is full of specificity, of place and details, of vim and vigor, as we used to say, salt and vinegar, maybe even fire and brimstone. And empathy and love and the occasional dose of self-deprecation and honest humility. He speaks his mind, tells stories, explores American writers and singers and films, and helps us see what kind of deep patriotic wells we might draw from in order to become more Christ-like and more earnest in our civic lives. In this, he seems to be nearly a postmodern, 21st century Will Campbell. Campbell, you might know, was a wordsmithy himself, published a theological journal, was a bit cantankerous, a Southern Baptist preacher who was a civil rights activist (the only white person at the founding of the SCLC) and yet friends with several Klansman. (“Jesus died for bigots, too,” he famously said.) It comes as no surprise that Dark cites Campbell’s classic memoir Brother to a Dragonfly.

Did I mention he draws on great America literature? Oh my, he starts with James Baldwin, and June Jordon, a hefty sign of where this might be going. He quotes public intellectuals, from Lincoln to Thoreau, from Octavia Butler to Wendell Berry. He loves American lit, and explains Faulkner (a lot of Faulkner), Cormac McCarthy, Melville (and more Melville), Whitman, on to contemporaries Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Dick, Ursula Le Guin, and Toni Morrison, among others. Who else these days recalls the televised conversation about poetry (and the detached judgment of analysis) between howling Allen Ginsburg and mumbling straight-man William F. Buckley?

If you know David (or read his Everyday Apocalypse) you know he’s going to cite Bob Dylan, and he does. Alongside Patti Smith, Chance the Rapper, and the lovely young alt-folkie Julien Baker.

David is a very creative writer and some may find him an acquired taste. This is a grand compliment – I regularly say it about two authors I adore, Calvin Seerveld and Daniel Berrigan (and, I suppose, James Joyce, although I haven’t acquired a taste for that kind of weirdness, yet.) It is interesting that David is a student of (saying a “fan of” would trivialize the matter) the poet, priest, and prophet, the late Daniel Berrigan. He thinks like him, it seems to me; he sounds like him.

Berrigan (for those who weren’t taught it in school) was until his death last year a radical Catholic priest known for speaking truth to power by way of symbolic gestures of civil disobedience, disrupting state events, exposing the ludicrous idolatry of nuclear weapons (among other shameful atrocities, from torture to abortion to our neglect of the ill.) His poetry and Biblical commentary were held in great esteem among a rag-tag group of followers, many who joined him in non-violent civil disobedience and symbolic actions to dramatize the Bible’s call to repent from social injustice, such as throwing their blood on the pillars of the Pentagon, or chaining the doors shut of multi-national corporations profiteering from cluster bombs which knowingly target little children.

Importantly, they knew Martin Luther King and American resistors such as Howard Thurman and AJ Muste, were mentored by Thomas Merton, befriended by Dorothy Day. These are American icons that Dark is attuned to and to bring their witness into conversations with Faulkner and Stanley Kubric and Americana folk music and Star Trek and The Twilight Zone and rapper Kenrick Lamar is nearly geniusit’s a gumbo mix of high octane social theory, old school American literature, pop culture, and Biblical study yielding a prophetic public theology that could (please God!) lead us closer to Beloved Community.

FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN THEOLOGY

That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, & Universal Salvation David Bentley Hart (Yale University Press) $26.00  I may be one of the only half-way aware observers of contemporary theological conversations who doesn’t care much about this book, for whatever reason I can’t quite say, but for what it is worth, I can’t recall a bone fide book of serious academic theology that has been so hotly contested and greatly appreciated and widely reviewed. Hart is a good writer, except for when he’s showing off, drawing attention to his imposing vocabulary. HIs ideas are serious as you would expect from someone called “the most eminent living anglophone theologian” and his writing has been called “exacting” and “perspicuous.” The sensible, super smart Robert Louis Wilken says it is “original and lively.” Hart is Orthodox, used to write for First Things, and is discussed by the likes of John Milbank. Know anybody who wants to join the fun? We’re sitting on a small stack here.

The Cross Before Me: Reimagining the Way to the Good Life Rankin Wilbourne & Brian Gregor (Cook) $22.99  Although this is tackling a meaty and nearly un-utterable mystery — the Cross of Christ — it is a topic that is endlessly open to new insights and always vital. For the Apostle Paul, it seems the like “the cross” is shorthand for the saving work of Christ, his suffering, his atonement, his resurrection power, the cosmic scope in his redeeming work, and the reality of the church as a sign of the Kingdom coming. Whew. Can all of that — that is, the cross — help our life flourish? Help us find meaning and even joy?  Does understanding more about salvation help us find the way to what Jesus called “the abundant life”? Wilbourne and Gregor think so, although, like Jesus and Paul, they define “glory” in an upside down way. This is not a self help book, let alone a guide to “success” but it helps redefine the good life “as we learn to delight in losing ourselves to embrace the life-giving weakness of the cross.”

Wilbourne’s previous book was Union with Christ. About it, Tim Keller said it was “simply the best book for laypeople on the subject.” John Ortberg weighed in about that one, saying:

I’m trying to remember the last time I was more excited about a new book or a new author.

Evangelicals: Who They Have Been, Are Now, and Could Be edited by Mark Noll, David Begginton & George Marsden (Eerdmans) $29.99  I would very much like to review this in greater detail once I spend more time with the many interesting chapters by so many remarkable scholars. Allow me to say that it is the opinion of many who read advanced copies, and my own hunch, that this will be known as the definitive study of this lively and diverse and important sub-culture on the conservative end of the theological spectrum. That many of us identify as some sort of evangelical (in distinction from harsh and often not too cultural savvy fundamentalism on one hand and an often bland and unbiblical sort of theological liberalism on the other) makes this that much more important. (For a really readable and lively collection by a group of concerned evangelicals about whether or not that phrase is worth holding on to, re-captured from the far right political folks who use it, see Still Evangelical?: Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning edited a year ago by Mark Labberton (published by IVP; $16.00.) I gave it a good review at BookNotes last winter.)

So, the next level up for those reading in this field is surely this remarkable 325+ page anthology. Historian Grant Wacker (who wrote an important, recent biography of Billy Graham, by the way) says it may be the benchmark book. Heath Carter (reminding us that this debate has been around for decades and have intensified in the wake of Donald Trump’s election) says those looking to get their bearings in this bewildering topic should “start here” — in part because Evangelicals is a brand new book that “sheds welcome light on a subject that too often generates only heat.” Join voices younger and older, from various social locations, each different sorts of Christian scholars with affection for the term, evangelical, but as diverse as Kristin Du Mez and D.G. Hart, Timothy Keller and Amanda Porterfield, Jemar Tisby and Molly Worthen, Thomas Kidd and Mark Noll, and more.

Engaging the World with Abraham Kuyper Michael Wagenman (Lexham) $12.99 Readers of our BookNotes newsletter may have noticed that we often recommend authors who are somehow connected to the heritage of the fascinating, unstoppable, pious leader of a cultural renewal in Holland at the turn of the 20th century, Abraham Kuyper. We’ve highlighted books that explain the broadest Kuyperian tradition (Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition by Craig Bartholomew is magisterial) and Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction by RichMouw that offers a great, but brief introduction to the robust thinker, leader, who eventually became Prime Minister. We’ve offered collections of articles about Kuyper and, of course James Bratt’s definitive biography published by Eerdmans, Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat .

But yet, I’ve wished for an even more basic book that highlights just a bit about the man and his theology, and a bit about the unique Kuyperian approach to culture and renewed social spheres. How might his thought guide us today — especially if we are disillusioned (or, as a matter of principle, opposed) to the first principles of the so called left and right? That is, if we are wanting to be somehow uniquely loyal to Christ in our civic lives, what insights might Kuyper bring us. This little book offers just that sort os exploration of what Kuyper meant (and what we might learn from) by insisting that Christ is Lord over “every square inch” of his beloved creation. Engaging the World with Abraham Kuyper illustrates nicely just why so many folks are learning to appreciate this “neither left nor right” alternative approach and are yearning to explore fresh ways the gospel can permeate all aspects of society.

Live the Questions: How Searching Shapes Our Convictions and Commitments Jeffrey F. Keuss (IVP) $17.00  Admittedly, this isn’t precisely theology. It’s not academic or scholarly, But the author teaches undergrads in Christian ministry, theology, and culture at Seattle Pacific University, so I wanted to list it here. I read a book years ago that Keuss wrote about pop music (Your Neighbor’s Hymnal) and know he’s a good writer and a creative thinker. I am very, very impressed with this vital book about questions in Scripture.

I suspect you know folks who want to be more thoughtful in their faith and they may call this “theology” when it is just fairly normal thoughtfulness, nurturing an informed and self-aware worldview. Call it what you want, Live the Questions is raising great (theology-like) questions and inviting us — using the famous Rilke quote — to not just sit around pondering big questions, but to live into them, to experience the struggle and pain as well as the goodness and joy of discovery. Lively Biblical faith is not about settling on tired certainties, anyway, but (as a review of it by Walter Brueggemann put it) “on ongoing, deep, and unflinching travel into deeper wonderment and open-ended trust.” Now there’s a theological claim, eh?

Tod Bolsinger (a bone fide theologian) says of Live the Questions,

If you are ready for a more authentic faith and a more meaningful life, then Professor Keuss is the right guide and his good is a good tool.

Give Live the Questions: How Searching Shapes Our Convictions and Commitments to anyone who is open to delving deeper, who wants to learn to ask better questions about ourselves, about God, and our world. As the author himself says:

Life is best shaped by good practices that build good habits for human flourishing, and asking good questions is one such habit, one that’s often overlooked.’

There are eight key chapters, each exploring a certain sort of question — about identity, about shame, about justice and evil, about loss, about community, and more. The author has been a mentor to many college age students and many older adults esteem him greatly. For instance, the evangelical elder statesman John Perkins writes:

Over the years, I have had so many questions of God. How long will injustice go on? Where is God in our pain? But my friend Jeff Keuss says that we make our spiritual journey through wrestling with the questions, not just getting easy answers. This book will help you live the questions. If you ask good questions on your knees in prayer listening to God, then God will speak to you. And within his body of the church, together we can transform the world.”

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GREAT (BOOK) CHRISTMAS GIFT IDEAS FOR KIDS — it’s not too late! ALL ON SALE – 20% OFF while supplies last

Nope, it’s not too late. We are getting orders out right away and Priority Mail remains as quick or quicker than UPS — and much less expensive. With our customary 20% OFF BookNotes specials, you can get lasting, impressive gifts at a good price, sent with a prayer and smile.

As you may recall, we can send packages anywhere, so if you’d like us to nicely wrap a book and tuck in a little note to your loved ones, we’d be delighted to help you with that. We can take credit cards at our certified secure website (click the link at the end of this newsletter) or we can send you a bill so you can pay later. Easy. Just let us know how we can help.

We’ve got so many great kids books, we wanted to highlight a handful of mostly recent ones.

We show the regular retail price and then our sale price. Order today. Supplies may be limited. If your looking for something else, send us an email (read@heartsandmindsbooks.com) or give the store a call at 717-246-3333.

How to Read a Book Kwame Alexander, illustrated and art by Melissa Sweet (Harper) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39  Ms Sweet has been a Caldecott honoree for her amazingly creative art and her colorful paper cut patchwork style here (utilizing, among other things, actual printed pages) is a wild and sensational match for this poetic, almost zany (if at times tender) tribute to the art of opening and reading and power of a book. This is one energetic, fun, complex picture book that finally invites kids to dream and hope. Ages maybe 4 to 8 or 9… wow! If you want kids to value the beauty and joy of entering a world of imagination, this is a great, great gift. Let’s create young book lovers!!

How Great is Our God: 100 Indescribable Devotions About God & Science Louie Giglio, illustrated by Nicola Anderson (Tommy Nelson) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39  One of our popular children’s books this past year or so was Giglio’s 2017 release Indescribable: 100 Devotions About God and Science. This new one is more of the same, perhaps even better and for slightly older kids. There are full color photos and nicely done art illustrations and great storytelling and plenty of whimsy as the author reminds us of fun facts about the creation that help us learn science while recalling that it comes from the hand of a good, good God. There are upbeat lessons that are so interesting about space and time, about earth and weather, about plants and climates. You will thrill to learn about our bodies, emotions, and imaginations even as we learn a bunch about animals (“from their habits to their habitats.”  This does not (as far as we can tell) enter the debate about creationism or evolution, although it is clear that Giglio wants us to see scientific facts as pointers to the God of the Bible. This is great fun and inspiration for boys and girls in elementary school. Some have said it is best for ages 6 – 10, although maybe it’s a bit broader than that.

Friends Around the World Atlas: A Compassionate Approach to Seeing the World Compassion International, illustrated by Emma Trithart (Tyndale Kids) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99  Children’s books showing in full color the way other kids live, guides to other countries and their geography and culture are a stable of globally-aware educators (and should be in the homes of your kids and grandkids and on the shelves of every Sunday school classroom.) Every now and then a new one comes out that is just stellar, up-to-date, colorful, interesting and we just have to rave and rave.

Very big kudos to Compassion International for producing this pleasantly informative and upbeat picture book that gives kids a chance to “travel around the world — no passport required!” This includes a fold-out map, a prayer “passport” and more. We have an 112-page, spiral-bound very handsome Friends Around the World Activity Book that goes with it, too, if you want to order that as well. That’s also created nicely by Compassion International and sells usually for $12.99, but at our sale price, it would just be $10.39. Nice.

By the way, we’ve suggested other years and wanted to remind you again of the splendid, essential children’s prayer guide for praying about countries all over the globe called Window on the World: An Operation World Prayer Resource which was revised a year ago. It is published in the US by IVP and sells regularly for $25.00. (OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00.) Window on the World goes through the world alphabetically and gives details of important things to pray for in those various countries. It would make a great and more detailed pray guide and companion to the Atlas.

Far From Home: A Story of Loss, Refuge, and Hope Sarah Parker Rubio, illustrated by Fatima Anaya (Tyndale Kids) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99 Please, please, consider this. There is no doubt that immigration, migration, and refugee resettlement will be an important part of the life of your children as they grow up so you should prepare them now to have a compassionate, realistic understanding of the plight, fears, joys, and humanity of migrant families. It is hard to do a kids book that is colorful and interesting, honest and engaging without being dour or overly tragic. This book is brilliant in that regard and you’ll love the vivd art by Anaya. I’m not sure if stuffed animal rabbits are part of the real culture of the family illustrated here, but the child’s love for his toy is sweet and will surely resonate with your young one. As Mike Nawrocki (a co-creator of VeggieTales) says, Far From Home is “a fresh and inspired perspective on the refugee that will resonate with kids.” Beyond that, it will shape and form them in good, tender ways. By the way, there is this allusive few pages where an old lady tells the child about another person who had to leave his home — the illustrations make it clear it is about the incarnation of Jesus — and that brings another layer of moving thoughtfulness to discuss. It isn’t a Christmas book, but the last page does show a touching painting of the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt with the words of Matthew 2:13-14.) Highly recommended.

God’s Big Plan Elizabeth Caldwell & Theodore Hiebert (Flyaway Books) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60  We complimented this at BookNotes when this colorful gem came out last Spring, noting that Libby Caldwell is an esteemed Christian educator who has done research on how children learn, how they imaginatively engage the Bible, and, has, in fact, lead a team that created the fabulous children’s Bible Growing in God’s Love. We stock that big children’s Bible and Caldwell’s books about children and youth for adults.

This new, bright picture book offers an intersting look at the Tower of Babel story and celebrates diversity, affirming that difference — between races and cultures, languages and genders, abilities and preferences, etc. etc. etc. — is part of God’s good plan. God’s renewal of the world through God’s own grace and plan of reconciliation does not wipe out our uniquenesses, but helps us honor and embrace God’s amazing world. This gets at “unity within diversity” but more — it reminds us to wonder.

Alma and How She Got Her Name Juana Martinez-Neal (Candlewick) $15.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79 This remarkable book won the esteemed Caldecott Award this past year (and our copies have the lovely silver seal.) At first one might wonder if this pencil (charcoal, maybe?) sketching — with pastel pink colors added — is deserving of a coveted Caldecott, but the more one explores it, looks and looks, reads and re-reads, one surely sees its creativity, its artfulness, its genius. What’s perhaps even better than the simple, sketchy, yet illuminating drawing art is the story itself– a young girl tracing back her ancestry and learning the varied relatives and their places who become part of her own name. You’ll learn to care for Alma and her family.  Here is how the cover puts it:

“How did Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela end up with such a long name? As Daddy tells the story of her many names, Alma can almost feel herself growing into them!”

By hearing how this little girl learns a big story, author-illustrator Martinez-Neal opens a treasure box of discovery for children curious about their own names.  Nicely done.

The Undefeated Kwame Alexander & Kadir Nelson (Versify/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39 This is one of the most bright and vividly illustrated children’s books of the year, and it is strong, powerful, informative, enlightening. What genius to bring these two creators together, the poetic Alexander and the vivid visual artist Nelson! The Undefeated tells of jazz musicians and athletes and activists and writers and leaders and ordinary folks, those African American people who survived as they had to, who became “dreamers and doers.” Kwame Alexander has written nearly 30 books, some New York Times bestsellers and many award winners. Kadir Nelson, the artist, similarly is highly regarded (and has won two Caldecott Honors) and is a favorite of ours. (Maybe you know his cool book We Are the Ship which is an illustrated kid’s book on the Negro Baseball League, or the big, striking picture books on Coretta, on Martin, on Mandela, or the one on Harriet Tubman (simple called Moses) among many others. I can’t say enough about this powerful, righteous, book, and commend it to families across the land. Very nicely done, showing joys and hardships, tenacity and resilience.

Jesus and the Lion’s Den: A True Story About How Daniel Points Us to Jesus Alison Mitchell, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri (The Good Book Company) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99  I am sure that those who follow BookNotes remember that we announce every new release in this fabulous series (“Tales That Tell the Truth”) that remind us that Christ is the center of the Biblical story and that creatively unpacks key Biblical stories in ways that delightfully point kids to a gospel-centered reading, a gospel-centered life. So, no, this isn’t a typo — as many Bible scholars remind us, the story isn’t about Daniel, after all, nor is it about King Darius. It is about the real King, the one whose birth we are celebrating this month.  Happily, the book — like the others in the series such as the The One O’Clock Miracle or The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross or God’s Very Good Idea (go here to see the whole list) — isn’t preachy, but nicely invites kids to look for clues to the ultimate meaning of the story in the text. It’s an outstanding and creatively illustrated book, great for ages 4 to 8 or 9.

Drawing God Karen Kiefer, illustrated by Kathy DeWit (Paraclete) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39 This is, I think, a charming book, with fairly traditionalist little kids artwork and a profound story that is, on the face of it, pretty simple.  A group of children go on a field trip to an art museum and young Emma is inspired to draw like Picasso, but wants to draw something really spectacular. She decides to draw God but immediately realizes that this is tricky. What does God look like?  Here is how one reviewer summarized the story:

Emma draws the brightest sun and feels she has drawn God because God is light, but her best friend disagrees. She drew a loaf of bread because it reminds her of God’s grace, but another friend says that bread is not God. Next she draws a huge heart because God is love. Her friends tell her God is not a Valentine. She goes home and prays that somehow she can draw God so that her friends will see Him.

So, this story about a girl drawing a picture of God ends up inviting readers to consider how they might draw a picture of the Divine. The author is a catechist in the Roman Catholic church and a staff person at Boston College. (And the popular Jesuit Father James Martin has a nice endorsement on the back.) The prestigious Kirkus Review liked Drawing God and reminded us that “it closes with suggestions for faith-based activities for children that connect with Emma’s story. A simple, easily understood, and welcome book about children’s relationships with God.” Could be used in an interfaith setting.

En la escuela de los Salmos/At Psalms School John D. Witvliet & Maria Eugenia Cornou, illustrated by Joel Schoon-Tanis (GIA Publications) $18.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.16 What an amazing new book, bi-lingual (obviously, in Spanish and English) offering a guide to using Psalms in worship. “Reading Psalms is kind of like going to school,” they write. “They teach us how to listen to and talk with God in worship, at church, and every day. What do we learn at Psalms School? Let’s read and find out!”

The tone and vision and the acrylic art by Schoon-Tanis reminds us of their previous bi-lingual project, En La Mesa de Dios/At God’s Table published by Calvin College Press in cooperation (as this one is, too) by the Calvin Institute on Christian Worship. There is simply nothing like this in print and we are proud to recommend it.

Child of Wonder Marty Haugen, illustrated by Stephen Nesser (GIA Publications) $16.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.56  While we’re recommending titles we carry from GIA, allow us to give a very large hat tip to this gloriously attractive, warm, evocative book of wonder. Marty Haugen is an old folksinger who was one of the pioneers of early contemporary liturgical songs (maybe known by those who remember the St. Louis Jesuits, David Haas, or the Monks of Weston Priory or more recently, say, Bryan Sirchio. Marty is a member of the UCC but writes music often for the Lutherans.) This lovely children’s book shows childhood rituals from all over the world so although it was composed for the baptism of his godson, the lyrics “celebrate the sacredness of human life and delight in the lives of children.” It’s tender and touching, beautiful and nicely multicultural. Included in the volume is a free mp3 download of the song itself, although one hardly needs to song to appreciate the lyrical cadence of the words of the book and the wonderful pictures.

So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom Gary D. Schmidt, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Roaring Brook Press) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19   I wish I had time and energy and space to tell you the many details of why Beth and I think this is one of the very best children’s books of recent years — it should have been nominated for a Caldecott, at least! (And it has won a number of great accolades and awards!)  You may know Gary Schmidt, a beloved English professor at Calvin University in Grand Rapids who has given us great middle-school age stories like the fabulous Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, The Wednesday Wars or Okay for Now among many others. Here Schmidt uses his great wordsmithing gifts to craft a moving tale about a woman named Isabella who took a new name: Sojourner Truth.

Written with luminous prose (called “poetic and soaring”) complimented by artful, moving, water color illustration and good design, it’s very engaging for even older children. (There is a poem unfolding within the book itself, a sentence set apart every few pages, that is stunning and extraordinary, itself worth the price of the book!) So Tall Within is a book that is powerful, moving, transformative, a fitting biography of this American Christian hero. There is an excellent biography in the back for parents, teachers, or older youth.

“Schmidt’s fluid prose is nicely suited to reading aloud to primary-grade audiences, but Minter’s arresting artwork extends the age range… Even picture-book collections in which [Sojourner Truth] is well represented will surely make space for this engrossing work.” – Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

Frog’s Rainy-Day Story and Other Fables Michael James Dowling, illustrated by Sarah Buell Dowling (Carpenter’s Son Publishing) $19.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96  Beth and I love the look of this recent book, and offer our congratulations to the author who worked on this a long time to get it just right. In a way, this is a playful effort to teach the values of a classic Christian worldview — using the device of these fables and parables, Biblical wisdom lived out by animals (have you heard of Aesops? Of course!) In one of the clever stories, Frog tries to write a story the letters decide to walk off the page, thinking they can make their own story without a Creator. Ha! In another, Gander gets an invitation from a King that upsets his plans. There are eight imaginative tales designed actually for the whole family — some of these will make you laugh and some might just make you think. Although the very professional water colors are perfect for kids, this almost could be a whimsical gift book for adults who want to use the stories for further conversation or cultural apologetics. As the alway brilliant Kenneth Boa says of it, Frog’s Rainy-Day Story “wonderfully contrasts the wisdom of this world with the wisdom of the Word.”

What Boa is alluding to is more than the stories, actually, because at the end of each story there is a “wisdom of the world” quote (often by someone well known from popular culture or scholarship) contrasted and compared with Bible quotes. What a useful resource to invite reflection and conversation; heck, you might not even agree with the upshot of the story and what lesson is supposed to be learned. All the better for a learning resource, eh? There’s even a hefty glossary in the back. Like I said the author put a lot of effort into this labor of love.

Listen to Marty Machowski, himself a very popular gospel-focused children’s writer:

Written with the whimsy of Aesop, these engaging fables will challenge your family toward deeper thought. The marvelous illustrations will delight children and adults alike and bid them return again and again.

Candle Walk: A Bedtime Prayer to God Karin Holsinger Sherman (Church Publishing) $17.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.36  This is a bit quirky and we like to highlight some unique ones for those interested in harder to find books of children’s spirituality. As the solid Publishers Weekly writes, Candle Walk,

“…prepares kids for sleep by taking them on a walk through the woods and inviting them to experience the Compline, a centuries old practice of contemplative evening prayer.”

It has a degree of whimsy — outdoor animals and insects are reading the Scriptures — and the art is sometimes even silly, but the point is to not only formalize the classic bedtime prayer or to have a time of intersession, but to create a ritual which can illuminate, as one reviewer put it, “God’s peace, protection, and love.”

The author has worked in ecological activism and is trained in spiritual direction, so she knows creation care and Anglican monastic spirituality. Here is how the publisher describes the book, as a child’s introduction to Compline:

Share the beauty of nature and bedtime prayer with a special child In this bedtime book, join in a candlelit wander through the woods, listening attentively to the river, trees, stars, and moths singing verses from scripture. This beautifully illustrated picture book invites families to enter into a calm, contemplative quieting-down based on a centuries-old practice of evening prayer from the Christian liturgical tradition. Like the beloved Office of Compline, the book helps children “complete” their day and prepare for sleep, fulfilling a hunger for a bedtime prayer that is not simply intercessory, but offers an opportunity to practice listening and contemplation. Appropriate for toddlers and school-children alike, Candle Walk is a wonderful way to prepare children for sleep, assured of the nearness of God.

Love Does for Kids Bob Goff and Lindsey Goff Viduchich, illustrated by Michael Lauritano (Tommy Nelson) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59  Oh man, you know I’ve talked about this before and can’t say enough about it. The hand-sized hardback is comprised of great stories from our best-selling, exceptionally popular book by Bob Goff called Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World, re-told by his elementary school teacher daughter in a style a kid can enjoy. Yep, these are the best capers and Christ-like adventures and goofy escapades from Goff’s first book, written for children ages 6 – 10 or any elementary grade. What fun! What a great gift for a boy or girl.

Here is what the publisher has written to explain more about it:

In the same way that Love Does has struck a deep chord with adults, kids will experience God in new and thrilling ways and see that living out our faith certainly isn’t boring! With this book, children will laugh, dream, and be inspired to make a difference for God, and they’ll learn to:

    • take ownership of their mistakes and forgive others for their mistakes.
    • never give up–no matter how scared they are.
    • put their faith into action by spending time with–and acting more like–Jesus.

Kids everywhere will love Bob and Lindsey’s stories about how love does. With childlike faith, enthusiasm, and great whimsy, young hearts will feel instantly connected to a love that acts as much as it feels. Children will walk away with a sense of wonder at how great God is and will feel empowered to do things that will make a tangible difference in the world.

As a little boy with a big personality and even bigger dreams, Bob Goff had lots of questions, and they didn’t go away when he grew up. It wasn’t until he learned just how big and wild and wonderful God is that he began to find answers. Once Bob learned about the deep goodness of God, he began to learn about the great power God gives His kids when they live a life full of love for others.

Bob and Lindsey invite kids to get to know God better and to see the world as a place designed to be changed as we put our faith in action.

Emblems of the Infinite King: Enter the Knowledge of the Living God J. Ryan Lister, illustrated by Anthony M. Benedetto (Crossway) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99  Wow, this is an amazing looking book, created by the leaders of the hip-hop record label Humble Beast. (Perhaps you’ll recall us talking about Ryan Lister’s cool adult book on a theology of the arts, Images and Idols.)  The artist involved here, Anthony Benedetto, is the cofounder of Nova Nimbus, a multidisciplinary creative studio so this isn’t a kiddie book. Emblems of the Infinite King is stunning — black and gold graphics, sometimes with reverse print (white print on black pages) with embossed gold edges and a black ribbon marker — which offers, in the words of Randy Alcorn,”a sound systematic theology conveyed to kids in a vibrant and accessible way.” It playfully uses the compelling notion of an ancient key and offers creative storytelling to bring theology to life. It has been called “strikingly imaginative” even as it pulls readers into the Throne Room of the great King to explain eight key core truths.

This exploration of the grand story of redemption is unlike anything you’ve seen and we’re happy to suggest it to families with kids from 10 or so up through middle school or even high school if they like this sort of vibe.

SIX FOR OLDER KIDS OR TEENS

Sawdust in His Shoes Eloise Jarvis McGraw (Plough Publishing) $9.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $7.96 Space does not permit us to describe this in detail, but the fact that the thoughtful Plough Publishing (of Bruderhof fame) chose to find and re-publish this older classic (by a three-time Newberry Award winner) should be all you need to know; they are careful, literary, and esteem high-quality literature that has some sort of humane story and helpful values.

When this youthful book — what we now call YA fiction — was reviewed in the New York Times in 1950, they said:

“A good book for children is a good book for any age, and Sawdust in His Shoes belongs in that rare category.”

In those same mid-20th century years, the very respected Kirkus Review called Sawdsust “a good, hearty, full-blooded yarn, appealing to both boys and girls.” A story about an outside who becomes a hero — of course they’d love it. A coming of age tale set in the heyday of the three ring circus? Well, kids may not know much about that, making this all the more alluring as they learn about Joe Lang, a kid of a third generation circus family and a star bareback rider, sent away to a vocational school after his parents die. Will the old clown Mo Shapely become his guardian? When I say this book has acrobatics, I mean it literally. It’s amazing. Sensitive kids or those looking for something other than fantasy-adventure, will adore it. And like that TImes quote, channeling C.S. Lewis, maybe it would be good for anyone, of any age.

Forward Me Back To You Matali Perkins (Farrar Straus Giroux) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39  I’m not sure why, but it is a special delight to find a book that is getting some advanced buzz from the mainstream (secular?) YA establishment and then to discover that the author is a person of faith and that her story includes a plot line of great concern to many Christian readers. Obviously, many good books have no overt religious themes, nor should they, but when one comes up on a publishing house not affiliated with the religious publishing world, well, it is good.  Forward Me Back to You is just such a book and we hope our readers might support it.

Mitali Perkins has written many award winning, respected, ambitious books for young readers. (You Bring the Distant Year won bunches of awards a few years ago.)  She was born in India and has resided in both South Asia and Africa, but now in in the US. Her global awareness has equipped her to write realistically about some hard stuff in our sad world — human trafficking.

Here is how the book’s flap sets it all up:

Katrina King is the reigning teen jiu-jitsu champion of Northern California, but she’s having trouble fighting off the secrets of her past. Robin Thornton was adopted from an orphanage in India and is reluctant to take on his future. If he can’t find his roots, how can he possibly pick a college. Robin and Kat meet in the most unlikely of circumstances and find themselves signing up for a summer service trip to Kolkata to work with survivors of human trafficking. As bonds build among the travelers, both teens discover that justice and healing are entwined, like the pain in their past their hopes for the future.

We respect this author a lot and think this handsome hardback could be just the think for a thoughtful young teen who likes good, contemporary stories.

On the Come Up Angie Thomas (B+B) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19  I’m surprised we don’t have more customers asking about this — it came out this summer to some good acclaim, the eagerly anticipated (at least in some quarters) follow up to the YA phenomenon, The Hate U Give. That novel won some of the most coveted teen book awards there are — long-listed for the National Book Award, a Coretta Scot King Honor Book, a Boston-Globe Horn Book award winner, a Michael Printz honor book, and more.

In case you aren’t aware, The Hate U Give (which was made in to a movie which I did not see) was riveting, well told in the voice of a black teen, about police brutality and systemic racism in America. One reviewer wrote that it was “fearlessly honest and heartbreakingly human.” The famous John Green (The Fault in Our Stars) said,

“Angie Thomas has written a stunning, brilliant, gut-wrenching novel that will be remembered as a classic of our time.”

Well, that’s about her previous one. The newer one is On the Come Up, about sixteen year old Bri, the daughter of a deceased rap star who herself wants to become a rapper.

“For all the struggle in this book, The New York Times Book Review wrote:

“Thomas rarely misses a step as a writer. Thomas continues to hold up that mirror with grace and confidence. We are lucky to have her, and lucky to know a girl like Bri.”

I suspect these YA books about rough urban life and high school aren’t for everyone. But I also think some teens will find them to be a real blessing, giving voice to issues they are thinking about, experiencing in their own ways. There’s a lot of heart and hope in On the Come Up.

The Faithful Spy: A True Story – Graphic Novel John Hendrix (Amulet/Abrams) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE – $13.59  We’ve recommended this before — oh yes! The Faithful Spy: A True Story is an expertly done graphic novel that anyone interested in the genre will appreciate. And it is about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer! John Hendrix is an accomplished and fascinating Christian author and artist and we can’t say enough about this colorful, serious story about the German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and his efforts to stop Hitler’s campaign of terror. 175 pages, including hand-written text. Impressive.

 

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness  Andrew Peterson (Waterbrook) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.70  This is the first installment of the popular Wingfeather Saga created by singer-songwriter, writer, recording artist, Rabbit Room founder, poet and all around creative thinker, Andrew Peterson. On the front cover of this swashbuckling fantasy it says this: Adventure. Peril. Lost Jewels. and the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree. Well, look out for that! This has been very popular this year (and, in a month or so, the first two Wingfeather Saga books will be re-issued in hardcover, which is a bit unusual, a sign of how they are catching on in a big way.) Great for Middle School readers, and up to at least younger teens.

 

We have the second Peterson Wingfeather Saga volume, too, of couse —North! Or Be Eaten: Wild Escapes, a Desperate Journey, and the Ghastly Fangs of Dang Andrew Peterson (Waterbrook) $15.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.70 What a blast — this is sequel to Dark Sea of Darkness and equally adventurous, good stuff, thoughtful wise, even.  We listed these curiously fascinating and well written fantasy stories here since they aren’t little children’s picture books. Teens and older fantasy lovers everywhere would like them but I think they are ideal for Middle School readers and younger teens.  Flee, now, and watch those ghastly fangs of dang. Nobody wants to get eaten by fangs of dang.

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PRE-ORDER the soon to be released gem by Steven Garber – “The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work” ON SALE

The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work Steven Garber (IVP) regularly $20.00 (hardback with full color photographs.) OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

This is a BookNotes post I’ve been eager to share as it is an announcement about a forthcoming book that is about to be released and, although it has an official 2020 publication date, will be here by mid-December. You can PRE-ORDER it now on sale as a Christmas gift and we promise to get it to you (or directly to your recipient) in plenty of time for gift giving on Christmas day.

Like those artsy Hollywood films that are released in December so they can qualify for that year’s Academy Awards, we just might count this as a 2019 release and will therefore surely name it as one of the very best books of the year. Then, I can name it again next year as one of the best of 2020, too. Believe me, I will. It’s that good.

Author Steve Garber is a very dear friend and an esteemed teacher and writer who is deeply respected by almost everybody who knows him. He smiles a lot, loves great movies and novels and pop music (and seems to have crossed paths in meaningful ways with smart bands such as the guys in Jars of Clay and respected visual artists like Mako Fujimura and so many more) and has talked about deep things with writers as diverse as rock poet Billy Corgan to the late urbane novelist Tom Wolfe to the great rural Wendell Berry. I say this not to name-drop or brag but to impress upon you that this quiet professor and skillful writer is a very, very interesting person who has been named as an influence upon important influencers. He talks about “conversations with consequence” and sometimes convenes gatherings with old theologians and modern makers, with writers and justice activists, with older scholars and young moms. He connects chefs and rock stars and poets and pastors. He cares about faithful Biblical thinking and beautiful, meaningful work in the world. He enjoys long walks outdoors. Like one of his mentors, Francis Schaeffer, he believes in honest answers to honest questions. With his sharp intellect and big picture of God’s work in the world and his patient capacity for long conversations over cups of hot tea, I have heard more than one informed person say he’s the closest thing to a combo of Edith and Francis Schaeffer we have these days.

The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work is a collection of shorter essays, reflections, reports, if you will, of Steve’s travels and conversations, often (although not only) on the questions that come up when ordinary folks are trying hard to relate their Christian faith to their work, to their jobs and their responsibilities in society. He shares much about his anguish over this broken world and yet shares good glimmers of hope, stories of goodness and wonder and of those making a difference in constructive ways. The Seamless Life is a perfect introduction to Steve’s writing for at least three reasons.

First, it’s accesible and the entries are relatively short. These pieces capture his eloquence and unique way with words – he’s got some distinctive styles that are signature formulations – without being overly dense. I think his writing style is spectacularly interesting and moving, tender and at times so poignant, yet without ever being sentimental or shallow. Unlike some authors who turn up the prose to make it artsy, but aren’t writing about stuff that deserves such weighty words, Garber’s intensity as a writer matches his seriousness as a thinker and bears witness to his life lived with quiet zeal and utter integrity and a nerdy sort of sincere passion.

But here’s what is so good about this new book: as a collection of stand-alone pieces, many reporting on places he’s visited or people he’s met, the chapters are short and often nearly punchy; he meanders through history and the meaning of words or places he’s visited but quickly gets to the point. One need not wade through long arguments and complex analysis to get to the writerly pay-off. I hope you enjoy the genre of essays, and appreciate how this collection carries the benefits of this short-form approach, even if they are sometimes memoiristic — reportage, testimony. He has honed his writing craft and has so very much to say, but brings the insight easily, here, with a really nice touch. Some of these chapters were first published as Facebook posts but as anyone who follows Steve on social media will attest, one long Facebook post from Steve is worth a whole book from a less profound author. These shorter essays are a great “gateway” to his longer books — accessible and interesting and handsomely offered, with pictures. Even if they are not exactly succinct or concise, they are relatively brief.

Secondly, it covers a lot of ground, interestingly. The entries in The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work are, besides being somewhat shorter than the weighty chapters in Fabric of Faithfulness or Visions of Vocation, a bit more diverse in content than those previous books. Both of those books are extraordinarily interesting and he brings in authors and artists and stories of unsung people he knows. He’s a born storyteller; he loves to hold up the work and witness of others to help us all be inspired to live more creatively and faithfully in-but-not-of this broken, broken, already-but-not-yet world. Yet, still, the movies and stories and exemplars in the other books are arranged to illustrate the big points of the book, so, interesting as they are, they are mostly connected to that particular theme and illustrative. In The Seamless Life, however, Garber covers more topics which allows him to introduce to us even more of his friends, his favorite writers, his discoveries about family and friendship and church and more. The stories are front and center. In a way, these pieces are just more of the same we’ve come to expect from Steve but the scope is a bit more broad, and the short form allows him to dip in to this topic or that, tell this episode or quote that lyric with even more personality and obvious wisdom. It makes for very inspiring and interesting and energetic reading, urgent reports from the road. I don’t want to overstate this, but it is almost devotional, doxological.

If you, like me, ever quote Steve’s previous two books, photocopy pages, cite certain stories or episodes, you will love The Seamless Life. It is eminently readable, quotable, and in that sense, very useful for those in ministry, who teach or preach or post. You can confidently give out this book as a gift even to those readers who you fear might not stick with his excursions into Michael Polanyi’s philosophy of science or Lesslie Newbigin’s view of truth or the political theory of Vaclav Havel (in Fabric) or the critique of the eroding influence of capitalism a la Wendell Berry or the notion of “proximate justice” (in Visions.) Not that either of those two previous books are too academic (they are not written for the scholarly market, even though Fabric was most interested in how lasting faith is developed in the young adult years within the context of higher education) and not that Seamless is overly light or cheap. Garber can’t write a cheap phrase and is always profound, even in his gentle storytelling and good humor. But The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work is an easier read than his previous two and so it’s great to give out, sure to please anyone interested in faith and public life, about honestly weaving together worship and work, wishing for a life that ties together, coherently, seamlessly, a long obedience in the same direction, hard as that may be for us frail humans.

Thirdly, it helpfully revisits some of his previous concerns working them out in real places, reporting back from the journey. Please realize that Seamless… is not a greatest hits album, since that beloved genre offers a collection of previously recorded stuff, a compilation. This handsome hardback volume has the charm and familiarity of such a device, but is not culled from the two earlier books; it is absolutely not rehash. If you’ve read Fabric of Faithfulness or Visions of Vocation, it just sort of feels like you’ve heard some of this before. Which is to say, if you appreciated his two previous books – and let us be clear, some think his books are the most important books they’ve ever read – you will adore these shorter ruminations, revisiting themes and topics and concerns and passions that thread their way through his earlier books, his many classes and speaking engagements, his very life. These are Garber’s eloquent but short-form reports from the road. And what an interesting road he’s been on!

(By the way, Visions of Vocation has been translated into Mandarin Chinese, into the language spoken in Indonesia, and, just recently, into Slovak. Steve has travelled to these places to teach and mentor and celebrate with those who have found enduring wisdom and sturdy, thoughtful value in his work. Did I mention that the photos and pieces in A Seamless Life are mostly reports from the road? Did I mention what a very interesting road he has been on? I sometimes think of him as a global Frodo…and he invites us to follow along.)

If Fabric of Faithfulness and Visions of Vocation taught us anything it is that to live out an enduring faith, seamlessly and coherently, bearing some of the weight of the hurting world as we must, and our personal brokenness, as we do, we need models and mentors. If you want a glimpse of a life well lived, culturally aware and spiritually rooted, realistic and morally serious, knowing more about Steve Garber will be edifying and perhaps life changing for you. Even more than his previous books,­­­ The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work tells more of Steve’s own story. He tells of his parents and grandparents, the geographies and places he has loved, writes sweetly about his beloved wife of many decades and his children (now grown) and ponders his various careers and callings, letting us in a bit more, telling great anecdotes about others, but also about himself. If you like his books or classes or legendary Facebook posts, you simply must read this. If it is a great gateway introduction for those who haven’t read him yet, it is also a perfect follow up and follow through to those who have been introduced to his good work in the previous books. Indeed, you will smile knowing a bit more about some of the folks that are mentioned in those previous volumes (like Hans of Elevation Burger and Bruno and Jay from the Mars Corporation Jubilee project.) Man, this is good stuff, and this new book delights to invite you into deeper membership of this broader circle of Garber’s friends and comrades.

I have read the soon-to-be-released manuscript of The Seamless Life and offered a heart-felt and glowing endorsement, which, I am told, may be inside the front cover. I count that as a great honor and I will copy that intentionally breathy endorsement below, along with others written by more important leaders, that I trust you will find informative and compelling, persuading you to care about this wonderfully written collection of shorter reports by my friend Steve Garber. You should know, too, that this hardback is designed almost like a gift book with full color photographs taken by Steve, often informally, it seems, capturing more of the embodied, real-world texture of these reports and stories and episodes of his life in the real world. I was unsure if reproducing these pictures (and doing the book in hardback) would be effective, but the more I think about it, the more glad I am about this. It really does create a reminder that these essays emerged from real places; this is not abstracted idealism. Garber has cared for a lifetime about places and cultures and people and institutions, in their beauty and sadness, so real shots of the scenes truly is apropos. I think you’ll agree that it’s a very nice touch.

I will tell you more about the various strengths of these essays later, but for now, we wanted to give you these reasons to pre-order this right away. The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work has been announced as a January 2020 publication, but we have been told that it will be released early and we will have it soon. We can send it out promptly to you (or to another address for you) if you pre-order. We invite you to be among the first to get and give it. Send an order our way today by using the “order here” link below which takes you to our secure website order form page.

The Seamless Life is a scrumptious feast for mind and heart, meticulously prepared in bite-size pieces of timeless wisdom, transforming truth, and life-giving grace. The depth and beauty of the poetic words as well as each breathtaking photograph point longing hearts to a God well loved and a life well lived. Steve Garber is a remarkably good man with a rare gift of storytelling. This may be his finest work. I highly recommend it.”

Tom Nelson, senior pastor of Christ Community Church, Leawood, Kansas, and author of Work Matters and The Economics of Neighborly Love

“In The Seamless Life, Steven Garber culls a lifetime of observation, reflection, and writing into what can only be called a masterpiece on vocation. With gentle, persuasive, artful language, Steven gives the reader a true picture of a faithful life. It is a seamless vision of word and work based in love, lived for the benefit of all and the glory of God. I cannot recommend this manual of meaning and mission more strongly. This book contains the truest truths, the deepest wisdom, and love that knows no limits.”

Charlie Peacock, Grammy Award–winning music producer and cofounder of The Writer & The Husband blog

“This modern life often feels fragmented. Steve Garber’s new collection of words and writings, The Seamless Life, gently weaves coherence and grace from the far corners of vocation, friendship, and spirituality. A skillful storyteller, Garber puts himself forward effortlessly. The Seamless Life is like good conversation, and it reads as if you are sitting with an old friend across the table. These chapters can be savored daily, as each page is filled with sacred questioning, wisdom, and hope.”

Sandra McCracken, singer-songwriter and recording artist

“I do not think I can name another author whose books are so intensely esteemed and indeed treasured by a cadre of followers, readers who in many cases have become friends of the author, than Steven Garber. His transforming words are always given flesh in his books as he moves deftly from big ideas to daily consequences, between hearing and doing, principles and practice. But in this new collection of essays, stories, anecdotes, and reflections, he allows us deeper into his life, his work, and his marriage. The Seamless Life is a kingdom-sized glimpse of a good life lived with coherence and commitments, animated sometimes with rather ordinary days and then with astonishing episodes of extraordinary experiences. This is one of the best collections of essays I have ever read and is perhaps Garber’s finest achievement yet. Don’t miss this wise, achingly beautiful book.”

Byron Borger, Hearts & Minds bookstore, Dallastown, Pennsylvania

The Seamless Life is wise, warm, and winning. Steven Garber generously offers a lifetime of thoughtful engagement with work, vocation, and worship (and many other topics) in photos and short vignettes that are poetic, full of good stories, and a joy to read. This is a nourishing feast in bite-size portions. I sat down to savor it and found I did not want to put it down. If you’ve ever wondered how your ordinary work—and ordinary life—matter to God or in the big, wide world, this book will encourage and inspire.”

Tish Harrison Warren, Anglican priest and author of Liturgy of the Ordinary

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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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