Hearts & Minds BookNotes

annotations, blurbs and ruminations

to enlarge the heart & stimulate the mind

and to happily generate mail order business for Hearts & Minds bookstore

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Location: Dallastown, PA

My lovely wife Beth and I own and operate--proprietors makes us sound more classy than we really are--a cluttered, diverse and independent bookstore in Central Pennsylvania. After well over 20 years, we are still not sure what to say when people ask if our shop is a "Christian bookstore." I do a monthly book review column over at our website; we hope that these new blogged bits will afford friends and customers the chance to see other books I happen to be reading, wishing to read, pretending that I read or at least believe that others should, if not read, know about. We have three children, attend a Presbyterian church in York, PA and have no hobbies.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Books on the Ten Commandments...and Hedges

Yesterday, I posted a heart-felt tribute about the moving experience of reading Christopher Hedges very worthwhile rumination on the ten commandments called Losing Moses on the Freeway. You may know of Hedges for his powerful, wise, and deeply moral critique of the seductions of warfare ideologies, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. Both are important works, and Losing Moses was surprisingly entertaining.

I noted that it didn’t do serious, let alone Christian, exegesis and, as a journalistic memoir, was rooted less in the authority of the text than in the telling of the tales. I still loved the book, and found it wonderfully helpful and healing for me. I promised to explain more, which I will do, soon.

But, so friends and visitors know that Hearts & Minds does carry more standard Bible study approaches, let me just note a couple of books on the Ten Commandments that have crossed our counter lately.

I Am the Lord Your God: Christian Reflections on the Ten Commandments Carl Braaten, Christopher Seitz, et al (Eerdmans) $22.00 A grand and serious collection by some of the most provocative theologians, ethicists, and Biblical scholars today---Rusty Reno, Ephraim Radner, Seitz, David Bentley Hart, William Cavanaugh, Gilbert Meilander…pastoral, radical, aware of postmodern culture, ecumenical, orthodox. Good, meaty stuff.

The Ten Commandments: A Reciprocity of Faithfulness William Brown, editor (Wesminister/John Knox) $35.00 Again, a meaty, serious, nearly academic theological set of reflections by some very important writers. Walter Brueggemann, John Barton, George Lindbeck, Nancy Duff, Patarick Miller. AND, the seminal authors of the church, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin. Some of these pieces are very helpful and some are nearly classic.

Do We Still Need the Ten Commandments? John Timmerman (Augsburg) $13.99 A lovely, helpful book by a professor at Calvin College. The blurb from Lewis Smedes says, “Like no other book on the commandments. Beautiful, tender, poignant, strong.”

The Truth About God: The Ten Commandments in the Christian Life
William Willimon & Stanley Hauerwas (Abingdon) $11.00 Think what you may about this tag-team of Methodist trouble-makers, they are committed to a close reading of the Biblical text and proclaiming it as truth to be lived. Very nice for small groups or personal devotional reading.

Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments Joy Davidman (Westminister) $18.95 No, I did not say “Smoke on the Water.” And yes, it is that Joy Davidman. C. S. Lewis himself wrote the forward—he calls her Miss Davidman, at that point. Ha! Tell your cool Lewis friends about this one.

Other serious exegetes do good work and there are commentaries and small group discussion guides and all kind of resources for those wanting to explore the Biblical law. We commend them, of course. The ones above are a nice little sampling for you to file away for when you may want to embark on such a study.

For now, though, recall my enthusiasm for Chris Hedges. It is a very, very wonderful book.

Here is an extensive interview by the feisty and very conservative John Whitehead. It is a good interview and an fabulous and very intriguing website and I think you will find it worthwhile.(Browse through his postings on the arts, politics, etc. Fascinating and thoughtful worldview stuff.) Hedges, though, in his book, is much, much more elequent, turning remarkable phrases and telling unforgettable stories. The grace of the prose and the power of the narrative is lost in the interview.

Here is another link with a favorable review, and a way to click to read a brief excerpt.

Mess around the internet if you have time—there are critiques, video interviews, the works. Just don’t buy it elsewhere. There has to be a “Thou Shalt Not” about that, eh?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Losing Moses on the Freeway

I spent nearly all day on Sunday moving around the house and yard reading a book that I just could not put down. I had to slap it onto my lap, though, on occasion, to literally catch my breath. And, truth be told, once to stop bawling. (More on that later.) It is an excellent read, a book written by a man I admire who is a strong writer, and, who, I might as well mention up front, is a former Christian, one with what people call baggage. Now a good-hearted if cynical agnostic of some kind, Christopher Hedges is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and the son of a good United Methodist pastor. His journey away from Christian faith has been driven, somewhat, it seems, by the bankruptcy and hypocrisy of the sort of liberal theology he studied at Harvard and his understandable disdain for the right wing, materialistic televangelists. (Why a guy as smart as he doesn’t really grapple with the other forms of orthodox faith is a mystery, a mystery I have been haunted by all day as I read and all day today as I’ve pondered this moving book.)

This new favorite book is called Losing Moses on the Freeway: The Ten Commandments in America (Free Press; $24.00.) Hedges previously wrote the powerful, powerful and very important book called War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning (Anchor; $12.95) which I gave to my Congressman during a meeting talking during the earliest days of the Iraqi War. That book, expertly crafted, powerfully argued, wonderfully written, makes the case that it is dangerous when a nation elevates war to a national cause whereby it provides cohesiveness, camaraderie, values, direction, meaning. He wisely uses Greek literature---Ulysses and The Iliad, especially---to offer a more limited and tragic view of war. No pacifist, he still has grave warnings of war's horrors and the seduction that can occur when a nation makes an idol out of the sadnesses of killing. His decades of front-line warfare reporting in places that we’ve all heard on the evening news---harsh places like El Salvador, Kosovo---has permitted him to see more savagery than most people ever have. His ponderings deserve to be read and we are glad that War Is A Force… has gotten rave reviews (and was a finalist for the prestigious National Book Award.)

His new one, on the ways in which the Torah of the Hebrew Scriptures, and the 10 commandments specifically, can help heal a torn and dysfunctional culture, has a marvelous, if often brutal, story at the heart of each chapter, each illuminating someone who struggled with one of the Ten Commandments, someone who lived into it or, more often, was nearly crushed by it. A few of the chapters are fascinating, a few chilling. All make you think. None are what I might call exegetical—the only serious flaw in the book (if he only would have quoted Bruggemann a time or two to help him look at the text.) In fact, occasionally he issues forth a touching little truism (“the meaning of this commandment is such and such”) and a traditional Jew or Christian might just sigh, and wonder what about the Bible, really, they teach in liberal seminaries.

For instance, he asserts that the meaning of keeping Sabbath is to love your family, to spend time with your kids. Now that may be a very wise suggestion and, in a deep way, submitting to God’s order in the family, rather than speedily pursuing the idol of material success may be a very, very mature insight that is significantly related to this particular command. But to just say that love of family equals Sabbath is just shallow exegesis and ignorant of classic theological reflection. We shouldn’t be surprised, of course, that an agnostic who writes like a tenderhearted and socially prophetic Unitarian doesn’t end up with orthodox, Christ-honoring teaching---I remind you that this is not written by a Christian and it certainly not aimed at the “Christian bookstore” market (but oh how I wish the popular and fine authors known in those circles like Lucado, Swindoll, Elderidge or Warren would read him) What we should not, not, not say is that because Hedges isn’t a solid evangelical, he gets it all wrong. No. In fact, he gets it mostly right; really right. And that is why I want to tell everybody about this rich and provocative book. Why I hope folks check it out of their library or buy it from us, here Like some combination between Jim Wallis and Jonathan Kozol and William Sloane Coffin and Desmond Tutu and Bill Moyers and Abraham Heschel and Anne Lamotte. Okay, skip all that, I’m not helping…

This great book has deep insight, a powerful narrative drive, sharp social analysis and, on nearly ever page, a reminder that God does not abide idolatry--- when we put anything in place of God’s ways, we bring distortion and ruin and heartache to our lives, our relationships and our culture. I can’t wait to tell you more about this moving set of 10 journalistic pieces, each with it’s own lesson. Check back soon, as I’ll share a bit more about Hedge’s excellent, emotionally-charged and wise new book.
I think you will enjoy knowing just a bit more about it. I know I have to tell some one.

Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America Chris Hedges (The Free Press) $24.00

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Books on Calling & Vocation

Passion, purpose, meaning, vocation, calling, career. These are all hot topics nowadays, and we are glad. We have been talking about our human office as history-makers since we first learned the theological phrase “cultural mandate” from Al Wolters and Paul Schrotenbauer. My last blog mentioned our often used, often discussed favorite book, The Call, by Os Guinness. It is a must-read.

Here are some others along those lines. I will briefly tell you if they are more difficult or more lightweight than Guinness’ classic.

Here I Am: Now What on Earth Should I Be Doing
Quentin Schultze (Baker) $11.99 Give this to any highschool kid you know, any Christian who wonders what the idea of calling is or anybody who wants to see God’s hand in every zone of life. Really nice, lots of stories, easy to read.

(I must add another thought, if any publishers or authors are out there reading this: Quint, as he is affectionately called by his enthusiastic students at Calvin, has given us a rare gift here---a truly accessible work, deeply spiritual, interesting and yet packed with insight and solid with substance. Why aren’t more books this clear, brief, approachable, and—dare I say it? —radical?)

Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life Douglas Schuurman (Eerdmans) $20.00 The best study of the subject. His brief description of the discussion between Miroslov Volf and Lee Hardy on the theological/biblical basis for thinking about vocation (Spirit or creation, respectively) is worth the price of admission. Very important for those who want to dig deep into the field.

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation Parker Palmer (Jossey-Bass) $18.95 A precious little hardcover that is well loved for its contemplative feel and wise guidance. His The Active Life on bringing together spirituality and work is better, I think, with a tip of the hat to Tom Merton.

Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation edited by William Placher (Eerdmans) $24.00 This new, huge mama deserves its own full review as it has become the definitive collection on what the best thinkers of the broad church tradition in the West have said on this topic. Arranged chronologically, it has primary source references from the early church, the medieval era, the post-Reformation period and from the contemporary world. We could all benefit from hearing Justin Martyr, Anthanasius or Gregory of Nyssa (and Augustine, of course) in the first section; John Cassian, Bernard of Clairvaux, Aquinas or a Kempis from 500-1500; Luther, Calvin , Theresa or Baxter (and Edwards, Law, Wesley, et cetera) from the era up to 1800’s; and then, from the modern church, the likes of Kierkegaard, John Henry Newman, Horace Bushnell, Pope Leo XIII, Bonhoeffer, Sayers, Barth… These are only a few of the many authors represented here in the 450 pages. A very useful handbook and a great education in practical theology down through the ages. Apparently, the questions of the Purpose Drive Life are not new. And the answers have been diverse, rich, and substantial.

Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth Derek Bell (Bloomsbury) $14.95 I couldn’t put this down! Not written, as many books on this topic are, within the evangelical mold (or, thank goodness, from the positive thinking stuff of climbing the American Dream to be “successful” like many “leadership” books) this is a serious call by a fellow Christ-follower in the grand tradition of civil right activism and the African-American church. Bell is a renowned legal theorist and tells many heart-wrenching stories of times he took a stand (including at places like Harvard Law School) and had to struggle to balance his ambition and his calling, his principles and his desire for success, his sense of vocation and his desire to be an agent for institutional reform. With all our reformational worldview-ish talk about taking up our callings in the world, there isn’t enough story-telling going on, stories like this. A powerful dose of honest reality by a kind and good man.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Late night picnic and The Call

Last night was an absolutely wonderful evening for a late night picnic. After the serious heat here the last few weeks, it was a delight to feel the cooler breeze, to sit behind our home, with the bookstore lights glowing out onto the lovely back yard with huge trees. Our house isn't well-ordered, we've got junk too often laying around in places that would lead the casual observer to think I've never heard of beauty or truth, let alone love Calvin Seerveld books. (See this month’s review over at the website of Rainbows for a Fallen World to see his invitation to take the aesthetic dimension of life more seriously.)

Still, the grill was on, with my son Micah doing the honors, and we had a casual picnic with a gang of friends of the CCO staffer over at Elizabethtown College, the droll and hilarious and brilliant Derek Melleby (who sometimes blogs at Aslan Is On The Move.) I say the group was friends of his; actually, most are friends of ours, too, since he has driven them the 45 minutes here to the shop on many occasions.

Derek and his wife and some other sharp folks connected to their church have been leading a couple of groups of mostly younger adults through a guided reading of Os Guinness' The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose in Your Life (Word; $17.99.) You may know that this is one of my all time favorite books, an absolutely essential resource for a deep and balanced whole-life discipleship kind of Christian worldview. Written with insight and grace, the CD lectures are Dr. G at his finest. The book is a must-read. Every church library should have a couple of copies and every pastor should recommend it often.

After reflecting on the sense of vocation that the book celebrates, some of the folks in the study group decided that they would want to spend some time talking intentionally with somebody who embodied these kind of truths, who seemed passionate about calling and intentional about vocation. Beth and I were chosen—foolishly, perhaps—to be the case studies. Derek brought the burgers, others brought the fruit and salad and chips. I made a big deal about the fair trade all-organic coffee and as the air grew chilly we told stories about the store. We remember the hopes and dreams of our young adult years, our prayerful discernment of our own vocation, the struggles of the early years (including everything from fundamentalist customers who thought we were satanic for selling Richard Foster or medieval spirituality, my Marxist buddies who hated our pro-life activism or the death threat we got from the KKK for our window display against racism.) We told of the ups and downs of trying to hone our craft as booksellers and our efforts, such as they are, to be faithful to our convictions in the mundane details of display, accounting, advertising and competition. We listened as they tried to tell us what they thought of Guinness (many had come to hear him when we hosted his lecture in the Spring) and together we pondered how to connect conviction and behavior, faith and work, an authentic Christian worldview and the too-often constricting vision of the Christian Booksellers Association, the public’s presumptions about religious books and, more generally, the Christian life.

Of course, we ended up with a digression (that maybe wasn’t a digression at all) about our favorite books, and most beloved novels, what we’re reading now.

It was a great night for us---I sometimes think Derek’s group humors me as I try to wax eloquent about trying to be a somewhat different kind of religious bookstore. Beth and I hope they at least enjoyed the backyard breeze.

A quick question that arose but that we didn’t explore in detail: in what ways are The Call by Os Guinness and The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren similar or dissimilar? And, further, how do either help fund or energize and sustain a lifestyle that is redemptive in the workaday world, especially if one is working in a non-professional capacity (it isn’t too hard to think purposefully in light of vocation if one is an inner city lawyer or an heroic teacher or compassionate hospice nurse, of course)? Are there some jobs that are so degrading or mindless that one could hardly think of them as holy callings or filled with purpose? There are serious resources that help answer that, I think, but the night was getting late. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

excerpts from Holdfast

If you didn’t read my little intro to this marvelous book yesterday, please scroll back and read those remarks. It is a fine book and it means a lot to me, as does her exceptional other titles. (I gave a link to her website, too, so you could read longer excerpts and view photos of her wild places.) There are some of you wilderness-type-wannabees that will enjoy the vicarious thrill of reading such expert and glorious writing about nature. Even if you aren’t wild at heart, this is a sweet and good-hearted book, important and insightful. Like her others I mention, it’s a keeper.

From the forward:

In the green, light-shot sea along the Oregon coast, bullwhip kelp lean toward land on the incoming tides and swirl seaward as the water falls away, never letting go of their grip on the ocean floor. What keeps each plant in place is a holdfast, a fist of knobby fingers that stick to rock with a glue the plant makes from sunshine and salt water, an invisible bond strong enough to hold against all but the worst winter gales. The holdfast is a structure biologists don’t entirely understand. Philosophers have not even begun to try.

In blue, halogen-lit places of constant movement, so many of us live in a time of separations---the comings and goings at the turning of the century, the airport embraces, the X-ray rooms, loneliness, notes left by the phone. Children grow tall, then restless. Grandparents grow wise, then forget their children’s names. My work takes me from place to place---Ohio, Oregon, Minnesota, Oregon, Alaska, Arizona, British Columbia, Oregon again. Everywhere I go, I pass people who have come from someplace else. We all have left so much behind. Sunday dinners. Front porches. Small certainties. Knowledge of when to plant tomatoes, and where to buy string, and what to do when someone dies. Secret places of safety and meaning---a worn bank beside the creek or a patch of hollyhocks, scratchy with pollen and bees.

We professors, who should be studying connection, study distinctions instead. In white laboratories, biologists find it easy to forget that they are natural philosophers. Philosophers, for their part, pluck ideas out of contexts like worms out of holes, and hold them dangling and drying in bright lights. When people lock themselves in their houses at night and seal the windows shut to keep out storms, it is possible to forget, sometimes for years and years, that human beings are part of the natural world. We are only reminded, if we are reminded at all, by a sadness we can’t explain and a longing for a place that feels like home.

Sitting on a boulder whitewashed by western gulls, watching the sliding turf, I resolve to study holdfasts. What will we cling to, in the confusion of the tides? What structures of connection will hold us in place? How will we find an attachment to the natural world that makes us feel safe and fully alive, here, at the edge of the water?

From: Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World Kathleen Dean Moore (The Lyons Press) $14.95. Order here.


A year ago I wrote in my monthly column a review that I was pleased with (is it unseemly to say that?) It was a splendid book, well written fun, interesting and a bit sad at times called Pine Island Paradox (Milkweed Editions; $20.00.)

The author, Kathleen Dean Moore, is an outdoorswoman par excellance and obviously spends much time in the backcountry. She writes well---really, really well—and tells of her hikes, kayaking adventures, and natural observations so beautifully that I longed for the book not to be finished. In that review I said that I wanted to wait until fall to sit amidst changing leaves and read her earlier book, Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World (published by The Lyons Press; $14.95.) It has been a too-busy year, I have not spent nearly enough time out in God’s good creation, and I have not found time or emotional space to get to that book. (Am I the only one that wants the time and mood to be right before I read a certain book?) It has been sitting in my bedroom for a year.

The caring for Beth’s dad these past hard weeks has put me, as I’ve said before, in a melancholy mood, which has directed my reading towards only the most wondrous reflections, beautiful writing, deeply meaningful prose and, yes, nature writers. I am in the middle of a really deep and highly literary collection of intellectual essays entitled A Field Guide To Getting Lost by award-winning Rebecca Solnit (Viking; $ 21.95) which is actually more diverse than I thought when I picked it up—it is more than just about getting lost on hikes, which is what I heard it was about. (She wrote the acclaimed book Wanderlust: The History of Walking a few years ago.) Interestingly, it blazes through all sorts of reflections and memories---the blue of distance, as she explains---and includes everything from the glamorization of urban ruin in the punk aesthetic of the 80’s to how someone becomes a “new person” in classic captivity narratives (“losing themselves” in their new idenity in a new culture.) It is ponderous and artsy and serious and I read just a chapter a day. Man. But there isn’t much of a field guide there; more finely tuned cultural criticism, really.

For more about real fields, and real animals, I’ve turned to Holdfast. This, my friends, has suddenly become one of my favorite books of the year! What a read! What a great essayist, a fine botanist, a sentimental family mom, a thoughtful college professor. And what a joy to find someone who is truly able to appreciate the joy of creation, to see the very hand of God in all things, to know her place in the world and long for great connection. It is no accident or mere turn of a phrase that the subtitle mentions being “at home.” And I suppose that is what I am longing for most poignantly, lately. Connection.

The book takes its title from a rather mysterious plant—a kind of kelp called bullwhip kelp—that marine biologists can’t quit figure out. Moore is so much more eloquent than I, but she starts the book with a luminous bit of prose, telling of the swaying of the kelp with the moving tides, and how it yet holds fast with a rather odd pile of something-or-other affixed with some kind of gunk on the bottom, technically called a holdfast. And so, she is off and running with a metaphor in her pack that means the world. How do we hold fast in a fast moving world? How to we grow and change (and move locations in our mobile society) and yet stay rooted? How can we have progress and tradition, fluidity and stability? You get the point. She does it all with huge nuance, joyful stories, meaningful, meaningful essays, with such insight, I want to emblazon it somehow on my forehead. I wish I could just read out lout half the pieces in here. And have the time to reflect on ordinary stuff as deeply as she.

(One, a rather unusual piece for this collection, is about her dressing up in Halloween costume, pretending to be a child, and it is hilarious with renegade zest and yet offers a frustrating glimpse into the plight of women academics. I know one dear scholar friend who may pee her pants when we send it to her, and then will grit her teeth by the perturbing story near the end.)

This is not, for the record, an intentionally Christian book; the one chapter which most overtly addresses Christian faith is well written and touching, but sadly shallow, it seems to me; a philosophy prof ought to know better. Still, most chapters are mature and precious. If you know anybody who loves nature, who does the wilderness stuff, who enjoys that genre we’ve come to term “nature writing” this is truly one of the very, very best. It fits my mood of mourning and yet has been a delight. To see another enjoy her surroundings, holding fast to a high environmental ethic, nurturing in her words a sense of place and yet tell the tales so very nicely-- this is a grand treat. Like the hardback Pine Island Paradox that so captured me late last summer, this one has become an all time favorite. I think I am going to start some of it all over again. And this time, take it outside on a rock by the Susquehanna River. Or at least my backyard, under the big maples behind the store. Why not buy the book from us and then tell me where you’re going to read it? Click here for our order form. I think it would be good for your soul.

To see pictures of Moore, some of her outings and, best, to read some excerpts of her three books, click here for her website. I'll maybe do an excerpt myself from Holdfast tomorrow.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

A Sacred Sorrow by Michael Card

I hope you don't mind me commenting on the funeral and the death in our family, one more time. The service today was notable for a couple of reasons, not the least of which, of course, was the stature of the deceased, my wife's father, Harry H. Gross (1908-2005.)

But also, helpful and interesting to me (and I think I speak for my wife and family, too) was that the pastor, filling in for one who was away, ended up being a guy who was what they used to call a "son of the church." That is, he grew up with Beth and Debi in that church, saw Beth's parents as spiritual mentors of sorts, knew their lives and congregation and town, well. His deep knowledge of and care for the situation meant that, even though he was highly liturgical as a well-trained contemporary Lutheran, he was authentic. He got choked up when talking about Harry, choked up when reading the Scriptures of grace, choked up when he assured us that Harry was in the New Jerusalem, choked up at the gravesite, for and with us all. He cared, he loved, his heart was in it, as they say. This is theological and pastoral ministry as it should be. Sad that it seems less common these days.

To wit: a book comment. In my regular review this month (over at the website column, here) I rave about the newly re-issued Rainbows for the Fallen World by H&M friend, Calvin Seerveld.

A newish book by long-time and thoughtful CCM singer-songwriter Michael Card, called A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament (NavPress; $13.99) starts off in the introduction saying that he got a card after 9-11 from Cal Seerveld, asking why it is that so many churches these days have "praise teams" but no one has "lament teams." He invited Michael to write some suitable laments. Card also says that about that time he read the powerful, powerful, dense and rich book, The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann, which has as a major theme the (subversive) power of grief. A note from Seerveld, a book by Brueggemann, and Michael Card started writing. His new book is very, very good.*

I tell you this to set up a story, a story that I can only briefly paraphrase. In the foreward, guest writer Eugene Peterson tells of someone that he didn't even know offering "preacherish cliches" in response to Peterson crying during his role leading a funeral---the funeral of his own father! A well-intended person who should have known better said something really dumb to Peterson, as if grief, or displayed grief on the part of a pastor, was inappropriate, or that deeply felt hurt could be easily swept away by reciting a Christian truth.

And so, Eugene writes:
This is a magnificently conceived and executed book. Michael Card has saturated himself in the rhythms, music, and truth of our people-of-God ancestors and written a necessary book for all of us Christians (and there are many of us) who have lost touch with our native language of lament, this language that accepts suffering and our freely expressed suffering as the stuff that God uses for our salvation. At-homeness in the language of lament is necessary for expressing our companionship with our Lord as He accompanies us through the 'valley of the shadow of death'...
Later, Peterson concludes,
So, learning the language of lament is not only necessary to restore Christian dignity to suffering and repentance and death, it is necessary to provide a Christian witness to a world that has no language for and is therefore oblivious to the glories of wilderness and cross.
Peterson is right, it seems to me. Many in our culture, including in our churches, have thin language for this hard work of bereavement, no sure framework to help make sense of it, certainly no sane way to way to construe it as "glory." I am not sure I do. I know it hurts; I know the gospel is deeply true. And we shall cling to that. And, whenever we can, we shall tell people that Christian faith makes us more human, not less (to quote Charlie Peacocke, in New Way To Be Human) fully able to grieve and hurt, and not disguise our pain in "preacherish cliches." Therefore, we need help in learning anew to be real in our grief, to affirm the power of lament, and to deal with the dead. That is what we did today. As most of you know, it is hard work. Thanks for writers like Thomas Lynch (who I noted yesterday) and Michael Card who gives us wise and courageous words along the way.

*There are several other good books that have been released in the last year or two about lament, the Psalms of lament, and the theological and pastoral implications of lamentation. Let us know if you want to know of others.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Just a bit about two new ones...

I have some very great news to share about a new book by my friend, Sam Van Eman, whose new book on advertising, and a faithful Christian response, is called On Earth as It Is In Advertising? Moving From Commercial Hype to Gospel Hope and was just released from Brazos ($14.99.) Sam has done workshops on discernment in media and pop culture with college students for years, and this is a very nice guide to the hard work he’s done. It is one that we feel strongly about and it is (and this is rare, these days) a solid Christian book on a topic about which there really are no other similar books. Kudos to Sam. Way to go. You'll have to bear with me as I try to tell you about it in a way that is more than commercial hype and which invites you into Sam’s deepest heart: to share gospel hope.

I will tell you about this new book, though, later. As you know, I’ve held the hand of a man as he breathed his last this week; the funeral is tomorrow. (And, I've been beaten up in the paper, too, a bit, by those who say I am way wrong to condemn nuking civilian cities, and that such a conviction applied to Hiroshima is anti-veteran. I have drafted a reflection on how my father-in-law, and my own father—both named Harry, and both proud W.W. II vets—had moral qualms about Hiroshima, based on this historic, Christian-influence of the West: the immunity of civilians. So, I am still thinking about how to give witness to a Christian perspective on the bombing of civilians, wondering how my dad and my father-in-law would speak to this, this week and wishing blog readers would ponder those last couple of posts.) So. I just can’t quite find the energy to give Sam’s book the authentic enthusiasm it deserves. Order On Earth as it is in Advertising from us right away, I’d say. But if you need some coaxing, I’ll get to that when I am less pensive.

Similarly, there are other fun and good books that I am itching to tell you about, but, again, can’t quite work up the energy to sit at the keyboard for long. I’ll have to post often over the next weeks…

Here’s a providential one, though. You may know about my high, high regard for the extraordinary, remarkable and finely crafted books by undertaker/poet Thomas Lynch. For my little rave about The Undertaking: Life Notes from the Dismal Trade and the sequel, Bodies at Motion and at Rest: Essays on Metaphor and Mortality see here. They were the first books I read a few years back after my dad’s death in a car accident, and they had extra poignancy, then. But they are still top-shelf and among my all time favorite books.

I was browsing through one of my father-in-law’s new AARP magazines in his empty living room yesterday and found an insightful article on funerals and their shallowness, these days. (We were, fittingly, in said living room meeting with the pastor to plan the funeral service.) After the second or third line, the writing was so fine that I exclaimed out loud “This has to be by Thomas Lynch.” And so it was. I tried to find it on line for a hyperlink, but couldn’t. He had a cover story a year ago in Christian Century too. Again, no link. He has bunches of columns at Beliefnet but not sure how to get you to 'em. So go here, for a printed interview with Lynch, and a video stream.

Mr. Lynch's brand new book, Booking Passage: We Irish and Americans (Norton; $24.95) just arrived at the shop. Gordon rushed over right away to pick one up---a new book by Lynch is an event around here. I myself, of course, would relish reading more of his wisdom about death, dying and the dispatching of the dead. But this travelogue and reflection on his trips to the land of his people may just may be a very pleasant treat, in a couple of weeks. The blurbs on the back are spectacular, and I will tell you more about that, later, too. Promise.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Harry Gross

My father-in-law, Harry Gross, died early this morning. Beth, Stephanie and I were with him, giving him reassurances of God's grace, his eternal destiny, our love for him and the good, good job he did as a parent and provider.

A few who read the blog have sent notes wishing to stay informed----long time H & M friends will recall how both Beth's parents and my parents helped us regularly in the early years. We moved here to Central PA from Pittsburgh, after a stint with the CCO, to be closer to our parents, and to get their help in starting this family business. That was 23 years ago. We are glad for their support in launching this ministry* that you, dear reader, are a part of, and are happy that our three children have grown up around them.

*Beth's dad owned and operated a excellent local hardware store and her mom, who died a year ago, was formerly a school librarian, so they had special care for our work.

Friday, August 12, 2005

excerpt from: The Gospel According to America

A brief excerpt from the David Dark book I mentioned yesterday:
Like many Americans, my father was haunted by the Bible. Figuring out what it said, what it all meant, and how to live a life somehow faithful to it was a lifelong obsession. The Bible was always in the back of his mind. Like a leather-bound black hole, it pulled on his thoughts, painted the matter-of-fact a different color, called into questions whatever anybody nearby described as common sense, and uproariously unsettled the agreed-upon obvious of every scenario. It was the measure of authenticity for all speech, and speech that presumed to have its backing ("It's biblical," "According to the Bible," "God says...") was to be viewed with particular scrutiny and suspicion, because the Bible belonged to everyone and no one. It was nobody's property. Always dangerous, a double-edged sword. Like absolute truth, it's out there, but anyone who presumed to own its copyright was criminally insane.

With this vibe at work throughout my growing up years, my father made it very difficult for anyone in our family to keep religion and politics in their assigned categories, because the Bible, as he read it, didn't go for that kind of thing. He understood as well as anyone that there is a hard-won arrangement at work in America whereby we're expected to keep our talk of the Lord, eternal salvation and a certain coming kingdom out of "the business world," "politics," and whatever the polity seems to agree on as "polite conversation." But the demands of genuinely candid exchange, with all the hilarity and illumination that frank discussion can promise, would not allow such deluded misconceptions about what any of are really talking about. He spent too much time exchanging jokes and anecdotes at our near-by Waffle House and holding forth in conversation with Muslim gas station attendants for the public/private distinctions in political and religious matters to ever really hold absolute sway. And in the deepest sense, he didn't think it polite or even friendly to pretend that certain elephants aren't in the room; that Jesus of Nazareth has very little to say about a nation's wars on terror or that the demands of Allah or Jehovah upon humankind can be conveniently sequestered with the "spirituality" section of the global market. Without a costly commitment to candor among family and potential friends, the possibility of truthful conversation (a preprequisite for the formation of more perfect unions) begins to tragically diminish, and responsible speech that communicates what we're actually thinking and believing has become a lost art.
I wish I could type more...the opening pages continue on, telling of his father (a combination of Peter Falk's Columbo with a dash of Atticus Finch) who I figure must have been a wonderfully fun man to be around; wise, with Biblical common sense and decent care for other's opinions. His comments reminded me of my dad, and I miss him much. With Beth's father also quite ill, I have been thinking about dads lately. This wonderful start to this important book---I blogged about it the other night---is a beaut.

Inspired partially by his father's Waffle House laughter and truthfulness, he calls for a blue-collar kind of collegial conversation about important things. One more brief quote:
Our preferred pundits, who many of us consult throughout the day like shots of espresso, need not define the terms by which we speak with our co-workers, and if they're making us less peaceable in the way we disagree, we might want to rethink our dependence upon them. The Biblical alternative is an enlarged sense of neighborliness that strives to maintain "neighbor" as an ever-widening category. The injunction to love the neighbor in the minute particulars of speech and action has never been an easy one, but it might be the nearest and most immediate form of patriotism available to any of us...
from: The Gospel According To America: A Meditation on a God-blessed, Christ-haunted Idea by David Dark (Westminister/John Knox) $14.95

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Gospel According To America by David Dark

In the letter to the editor I shared with you a few days back--written to reply to a public call by a U.S. Senator to "nuke Mecca" and a local letter calling for even worse--I mentioned that I am annoyed by the often-made accusation that anti-war folk are unAmerican. I suppose the Hebrew prophets themselves were considered in similiar terms, but it still galls me. I love our land, and come from patriotic stock. So when these people start saying that it is unAmerican to be critical of public policy or our elected leaders, I just makes me want to go throw some tea in the harbor. What part of participatory democracy don't these guys understand?

America does have a fabulous, haunted history, perplexed and perplexing, glorious and important with truly great ideas. Os Guinness routinely reminds me of these marvelous and brillantly birthed concepts, which were so utterly innovative when dreamed up by the Founders. (The recent best-seller by David McCullough, 1776 by the way, is on my summer list; big news in these parts is that he mentions York.)

A very, very moving read about our land that is out by a Hearts & Minds favorite is David Dark's recent The Gospel According To America: A Meditation on a God-blessed, Christ-haunted Idea (Westminister/John Knox) $14.95 You may know Dark from his exceptional and important Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, The Simpsons, and Other Pop Culture Icons. One of the best in that genre, for sure.

Here is what the publisher website says about this new one:
This book is an effort in moral orientation," the author begins, "an attempt to make sense of the times, and, if you like, a project in anger management. It is also a call to confession and a primer in American patriotism." Under a broad pop-culture umbrella, using icons from music, literature, film, the media, and politics, David Dark hopes to provide fodder for lively conversation about what it means to be Christian and American in this "weird moment" in which we live. It is a moment when we are increasingly polarized along political and religious lines, a moment when we are too busy forming our response to listen to the one who is speaking. And yet we claim more than ever to be one nation, under God. What does all this mean? Dark shows us examples from America's rich cultural history-from the writing of Faulkner and Melville to the music of Bob Dylan and R.E.M. to the social witness of Dorothy Day and Will Campbell-to help us understand how we might become our better selves. The end result, he hopes, will be a better understanding that "there is a reality more important, more lasting, and more infinite than the cultures to which we belong," the reality of the kingdom of God.
On the back cover, Brian McLaren asks "Is this a young Wendell Berry among us?" Kurt Andersen, host of public radio's Studio 360 says, "If I prayed, I would pray for all the David Darks---all the smart, funny, thoughtful, quirky, tough-minded, well-read, culturally-engaged Christians in America--to arise and speak up. " I wonder if Andersen knows about all the Hearts & Minds readers out there?? Maybe if we bought this book, pondered it well, spread around the vision, continue to nuanced and appropriate social engagement of this sort, we could help shape the public face of Christianity in our time. This really is a well-written and thoughtful study. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Nuclear Realism

I got this from the regular Sojourners listserve that goes out, and I thought I'd share it, since I wrote about this the last two posts. This well spells out what we can do about this urgent matter. I promise to tell about a very exciting new book tomorrow. Read this first and pray hard for guidance.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and nuclear realism
by David Cortright

This week, hundreds of children at the Yamazato Elementary School in Nagasaki gather for a ceremony, as they do every year, to commemorate the 1,300 students who were killed there when the atomic bomb fell on their city 60 years ago. As part of the ceremony, children pour water on a stone monument, symbolically quenching the thirst of the bomb's victims and offering prayer for their souls.

Ceremonies are taking place all over the world this week to remember the more than 300,000 Japanese who died from the atomic bombings (95% of them civilians), and to reflect upon the enormous moral and political implications of those events.

They remind us that nuclear weapons cause indiscriminate mass annihilation. They are tools of terror. By their very nature they violate the moral principles of justice, discrimination, and proportionality. Nearly all major Christian churches, and many Jewish and Muslim bodies, have spoken out against nuclear weapons.

After declining at the end of the Cold War, the nuclear danger is increasing again - due to the risk of terrorists acquiring such weapons, the spread of nuclear capability to North Korea and beyond, and plans in the U.S. to develop new "bunker buster" weapons and resume nuclear production and testing.

Former Defense Secretary William J. Perry said last year, "I have never been more fearful of a nuclear detonation than now.... There is a greater than 50% probability of a nuclear strike against U.S. targets within a decade."

To address these threats and reactivate the religious voice for disarmament, Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr., former minister at Riverside Church in New York City and longtime peace and anti-nuclear activist, has issued an "Appeal to the Religious Communities of America." In response, Sojourners and other groups are joining together to create a new Inter-Religious Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons, which will build public awareness and support for concerted efforts to freeze, lockdown, and eliminate nuclear weapons.

The first challenge is to prevent the funding of the "bunker buster" bomb and halt the production of new nuclear weapons. The new bombs the Pentagon wants to build are dozens of times larger than those that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When exploded in the earth they would release vast quantities of lethal radioactive fallout. Congress will vote on appropriations for the bunker buster this fall. It is urgent that religious people take the lead in speaking publicly against such weapons and urging their elected representatives to vote no.

The more difficult long-term challenge is to build pressure for the further reduction and elimination of all nuclear weapons. The Inter-Religious Network will develop a campaign to demand that the governments of the United States and other nuclear powers develop detailed blueprints for how to eliminate nuclear weapons.

So-called realists claim that the advocates of nuclear abolition are utopians. On the contrary, the naive utopians are those who believe that governments can maintain nuclear weapons in perpetuity without their actual use, either by accident or design. As former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara has said, the indefinite combination of human fallibility and continued reliance on nuclear weapons will lead to catastrophe and the destruction of cities.

Nuclear abolition is realistic. Opinion polls show that two-thirds of the public agrees that "no nation should possess nuclear weapons." Detailed plans for how to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons were developed in 1996 by the Canberra Commission, a prestigious group of former defense officials from the nuclear weapons states. The plans feature step-by-step reductions, accompanied by stringent monitoring and verification, and an international agreement outlawing nuclear weapons. Treaties against biological and chemical weapons already exist, and it is past time for a similar ban on nuclear weapons.

New campaigns need new language. A key concept for the new campaign might be "nuclear lockdown." The lockdown phrase has strong appeal. It has been tested in focus groups and public opinion polling, which show broad public support for energetic efforts to lockdown nuclear weapons so that terrorists do not acquire them.

The lockdown term implies robust, vigorous action. It embodies security and safety. It paints a mental picture of the physical steps that are necessary to eliminate nuclear weapons and materials. It provides a frame, to use George Lakoff's term, for how to eliminate the danger from nuclear weapons.

The following would be our definition of the term:

"Preventing nuclear weapons and materials from falling into the hands of terrorists or tyrants is and must remain the top priority for U.S. and global security. Achieving this goal requires locking down and securing all nuclear weapons and materials on earth, through a rigorous international monitoring system and a universal ban on the development, production, testing, or use of such weapons."

As Coffin says, "Only God has the authority to end all life on the planet. All we have is the power." It is time to relinquish that power, to serve rather than usurp God by preserving life.

"Never again" is the plea that the children of Yamazato Elementary School offer every year in memory of the students who died there. It must be our plea too, as we remember the horrors of 60 years ago and recommit ourselves to eliminating that danger for this and future generations.

David Cortright, a Sojourners contributing writer and board member, is founder of the Win Without War coalition and president of the Fourth Freedom Forum.

Letter to the Editor

I mentioned on August 6th that I had written an op-ed piece in our local paper. It was a response, as you will see, to a guy who wrote that if there is ever another terrorist bombing, we should nuke every city that has ever harbored a terrorist.

Likewise, a U.S. Senator has recently stated that if there is another attack, we should nuke Mecca. This is so outrageously provacative and unethical that even hawkish, conservative blogs and talk radio are condemning it.

Here is a link to the Viewpoint blog of my friend Dick Cleary-an avid supporter of the war--who has weighed in on the limits to war and the appropriate consideration of the death of civilans. He kindly suggests that we not judge too harshly the leaders in Truman's circles who made the hard call to destroy Hiromshima; he offers a good bit of perspective, even if I think his concern about the innocent ought to be sounded with more outrage. Still, it is a thoughtful piece, and an indication of strong ethical thinking on the political right.

My piece, below, was featured in our local paper as a Hiroshima reflection, but do recall it was crafted in reply to one particular letter to the editor, so it bears that specificity. I hope it at least is enough to cause us to pause today, the 60th anniversary of Nagasaki. There, you may know, the steeple of the only cathedral in that country was the target. Nagasaki was the most Christianized city in Japan, the home of a large convent. Peaceful, missionary-minded nuns were the first to be incinerated.

Op-Ed Column
York Sunday News

With the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima upon us, we should hope to see renewed conversations about the ethics of nuclear weapons.

One such letter, by Mr. H. Darius Gray, however, left me annoyed, offended, and horrified.

I was annoyed that Mr. Gray simply gets his facts wrong. He says with great assurance that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved U.S. lives. This may be so, but we do not know. The Japanese had already agreed to surrender (if they could keep their Emperor) but we insisted upon unconditional surrender (a demand considered unethical by classic “ just war” teaching, by the way.) Some of those involved suggested we unleash the atomic horror over the ocean to see if that, too, might lead to greater clarity in negotiations. My own father was poised in the South Pacific used to say that some guys then even thought that. There is no doubt that the Japanese were brutal; it simply is not a matter of historical fact how things might have played out differently without the incineration of those two cities. Helpful conversations about this need to admit that.

I was offended that Mr. Gray writes with such self-righteous passion—he is “sickened”, he says, by what he calls anti-Americanism. He has no right to judge the patriotism of those of us who, out of a desire to honor the best instincts of our country, and, for some, our deepest religious convictions, oppose bombing civilians. To tar those of us who argue for a moratorium on nuclear weapons with such a brush is rude and inaccurate. He may think that all peacemakers hate our beloved land, but he is wrong.

One of the first, clear voices against nuclear war that I ever heard was from an impeccably patriotic civil servant who was somewhat of a mentor to me—a Republican Senator, a military man who was on the first boatload of troops to go into Hiroshima days after the bombing. Mr. Gray’s glib talk about being sickened by peaceniks would most likely not be so nasty if he had to look Senator Mark Hatfield in the eyes as he recalls being literally sickened by the horror of walking through that rubble. Few who have actually seen or touched the dead children of warfare are so eager to lightly advocate such things…

I was truly horrified, though, by seeing one of the vilest things I have read in this paper in recent memory. Mr. Gray says he works in the health care profession, and says he has three children. Surely in his medical work he offers kindness to decent folks---the frail elderly, handicapped kids, heroic young adults with chronic illness; would he wish them harm? I am sure that he would not. With his own children, I am sure he is tender. And yet, he says that if there is another terrorist attack we should nuke every town that harbored terrorists. Towns that are made up of kids, kids not that much different than our own.

Just wipe out the sick, the elderly, the decent, the children? That is called genocide, Mr. Gray, and is profoundly evil. To wipe out innocent civilians even if it can be known that their town leaders are in cahoots with terrorists is so illogical and uncaring, I wonder what kind of soul would say such a thing.

Imagine, if you will, that somebody in York “harbored” terrorists. Suppose, worse, that even the town fathers had something to do with it. Hard to imagine, here, I know, but in some town, somewhere in the world, just such a scenario is reality. And now look carefully at your dear children, Mr. Gray. Do you think your children deserve to die a horrible death because somebody you don’t even know harbors terrorists that you don’t believe in? Look at your wife, your children, your patients, your home, your history. Destroy it all because of something somebody else did, even if you are not responsible? Those of you who cheered his letter, are you willing to incinerate the innocent for the sake of revenge?

When things like this are spoken in public it is time to search our hearts. The years to come will be no doubt hard and foreign policy questions are admittedly complex. I pray that this bellicose attitude—kill the children, and be “thrilled” of it---is not held by many in our good land. I pray that those who have spoken such wickedness would re-consider their attitudes and ask why we would ever, ever, justify intentionally, massively killing unarmed civilians, the sick, the frail, the elderly, the children. That is what has been proposed. It is on the table. It is what we did twice already. In the name of God, we must say, “Never again.” It is never right to mass-murder children. Never. Never. Never. Never

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Hiroshima & Nagasaki

Years ago, I developed some inner compulsion (Holy Spirited-leading?) to pray for peace on August 6th and 9th, in a manner that might honor the horrific history of those tragic anniverseries. There are more stories to tell, perhaps, about ways we've witnessed to Christ's Kingship even over what some consider one of the defining moments of the 20th century---the annihilation of civilian populations using nuclear technologies. Along with others, we have agitated against the spiraling of increasing arms expenditures as a way to express our convictions about Christ's call upon us and the Biblical mandate to make a prophetic witness against corporate evil. The on-going arms race of the second half of the twentieth century and the proliferation of atomic weaponery (not to mention the other sorts of modernized, high-tech ways to destroy) have been a concern for many folks, including many who are not pacifists. Nearly anyone with half a heart would lament the incineration of whole cities and the deaths of so many families. For one of many websites (with lots of good links) that can give helpful resources and information, click here.

I have often noted books over the years about realistic peacemaking and conflict resolution. There are basic resources for those new to that issue and there are very scholarly books which also explore this principle for diplomacy. I could note some if anybody is interested. A good starting point, though, is to get a more general vision of international relations and foreign policy. For instance, I have commended other places the newest Jim Skillen book, from the Center for Public Justice, who applies a sort of contemporary Kuyperian worldview framework to his exploration of international affairs--see, With or Against the World: America's Role Among the Nations (Rowman & Littlefield) $24.95. There are others that are more specifically about international peace-building, but I think this is a wise and very helpful contribution about American's role in the world and gets us thinking in broad and serious ways about international justice.

But, today is August 6th. I wanted to write something reflective about the horror of The Bomb, and ponder why there is not a cultural movement about this, the way there was in the 70's and 80's.

But I am exhausted, and my promise to God to allow the Spirit to mold my heart on this day, prayed so many years ago, is weakly held tonight. I did start the day at a conference on faith and science where we are selling books* where I heard a friend tell of his many years working, as he put it before his conference colleagues, as an engineer who was "an atomic bomb-maker." As he told it, his conscience developed and his thinking about his craft matured and he felt that to be reformationally busy with the work of his hands, he needed to find a new job. (He is now even writing a book about the peril and promise of modern technology and how to think faithfully about such things.) Maybe that is the best Hiroshima Day tribute out there: one more repentant heart, willing to take and stand, pay the price, re-think and live a new way.

Spiritually-attuned writers have enriched my life over the years, and in May I wrote at the website a lengthy piece on the recent trend in spirituality and contemplative piety (here). Two writers that have helped shaped that interest in our lifetime are Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwan. Interestingly, on this 60th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both have new books out about resistance to the arms race that had been surpressed in earlier years.

Peace in the Post-Christian Era by Thomas Merton (Orbis) $16.00 This is a long-with-held manuscript, long known "underground" among religious peace activists. Merton influenced the Catholic left and the faith-based resistance to Viet Nam from his monastery--the Pope, then, silenced him in the early 60's and he would write in The Catholic Worker under a fake name. Still, he is well-known as one who was moved deeply by the real suffering and iconic nature of Hiroshima (do you know his long poem about that, The Original Child Bomb?) This newly released collection is a profound warning and a testament on war and peace.

Peacework: Prayer-Resistance-Community Henri Nouwen (Orbis) $16.00 This beautifully little hardback is a set of articles and talks Nouwen gave in the early 80's, I believe, for religious peace protestors and others who felt called to even commit civil disobedience to, like the Old Testament prophets, dramatize the call to end the idolatry of weaponry and come to some sort of spiritual awareness of the unmitigated evil in planning to commit mass murder. With folks like Billy Graham saying such things in the late 70's, and nearly every major denomination weighing in on the dangers of nuclear proliferation, one wouldn't think that, in those years, Nouwen's gentle call to deeply spiritual resistance would be that controversial or unexpected. Still, he sensed that he ought not publishsome of these and withheld the manuscript for years. (Parts of it appeared in the volume edited by John Dear, The Road to Peace so it isn't all brand new.) I am happy it has now seen the light of day, in this format; it seems right for me to share such a wise and tender book on this most important day in the modern world. Work for peace, pray for peace. These little reflections don't answer the big political questions about statecraft and international terrorism and such, but they may help form our hearts to care about the right kind of concerns.

* * *

I will have an op-ed piece in the local paper tomorrow. Between the science conference and the visits to the hospital, I will try to post it for your sabbath reading. Do take a look, as it is a passionate, brief response to a guy who wrote a letter-to-the-editor saying we should nuke every town that harbors terrorists. Heaven help us.

* * *

I swiped this from a blogger (Daily Kos, who I know nothing about) who got these links from another guy. They are well worth checking out.
  • Go here for the Wikipedia entry on the bombings.

  • Go here for information on the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 over the objections of the U.S. and China.

  • Go here for information and background on John Hersey's Hiroshima, which is just as stark and compelling as it was on that August, 1946 day when it first appeared as a whole-issue article in The New Yorker.

  • And finally, go to your local independent bookstore and get your own copy of Hiroshima. It should be in every thinking, feeling person's library.

*We have a largebook display set up at the conference of the ASA (The American Scientific Affiliation) which is a broadly evangelical group of scientists and engineers. It is hosted this year at near-by Messiah College and one of our staff and I are working there along with volunteer extraordinare, Scott Calgaro. Thanks to Scott, sponsor, motivator and techie-nerd helper for my blogging efforts who is sitting there even now, allowing me to post this blog and say hello to my family. Thanks to to Jeff Rioux and Derek Melleby for lending hands setting up. I will most likely report about that good event next week, after we lug the boxes back and let the dust settle...

Thursday, August 04, 2005

new Donald Miller: Through Painted Deserts

I just got back from the hospital--an experience I wrote briefly and poorly about in a reply to a comment from the last posting (if anybody cares about such things.) I am tired and choked up, fuzzy and unsure. Yet, this is my life--I am with my dying father-in-law and come back to the house, which is in the same building as the bookstore, and I can't help myself. Gotta see what came in today. After 23 years, the big UPS boxes and smaller padded envelopes from the mail person, still feel a bit like Christmas.

So I have to tell ya: today was a winner. Some good stuff, brand new and nifty, stacked up all over the place. Keep checking back here as I might tell you about some.

One, though, needs blogged about here and now, late as it may be. Telling you about this may be helpful to you and it will surely lift my spirits.

Through Painted Deserts: Light, God and Beauty on the Open Road by Donald Miller, is the long-awaited re-issue of his first book. For those who don't know, Donald Miller is the hipster, evangelical counterpart to Anne Lamott and writes (usually) like a dream. Funny, a bit jaded, stream-of-consciousness, dripping with post-modern irony, and then not, clever, clever and then plain as day. Honest. Really, really enjoyable, and pretty insightful, too, for being 20-something. His books Blue Like Jazz (and the better, next one, Searching for God Knows What) have got the biggest buzz sort of thing going we've seen in years and years. Everywhere we go we hear people talking. Sometimes, people even buy them from us. And then they come back and buy more.

As well they should. I swear we were among the first to cheer for his first pretty good book--parts were truly great--that we so enjoyed. It was called Prayer and the Art of Volkswagon Maintenance and we reviewed it at our monthly book review column, back before we were ever on line. (In those days, the review was in a lovely little newsletter published mostly for the staff of the Coalition for Christian Outreach, a campus ministry outfit around Pittsburgh.) Oddly, few really knew that the title was a play on the classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance so they didn't get the pun from the git-go. And, Miller was post-moderny Gen X before evangelical-dum knew there was such a thing.

My friend Terry Glaspy is a genius reader and writer who works for a, shall we say, less than scholarly publishing house, known for cheesy gift books and bad romances. Terry gets some fine writers on board with this low-end company and has steadily made them a better house. I am glad for his fidelity there and when he called me, years ago, and said they had secured the manuscript for a guy smart enough to riff on ZatAofMM I took his word for it. I read it early, wrote about it with gusto and, despite the couple I sold to CCO staff, it went out of print. Terry, as is sometimes the case, broke a great author, and a bigger publisher--Thomas Nelson--made him famous. (He doesn't really seem like a Word-Nelson author to me, either, but that is another story...)

Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God Knows What really are finely written, memoiristic ruminations, and a joy to behold. This brand new edition of Prayer and the Art... with its new title, is considerably re-written, expanded, revised. And the cover is a stunner. It really looks like the kind of book you ought to have laying around, if you know anybody under, like, 30. It is going to be a bohemian, Christian classic. And that isn't a bad thing. It really is about him driving around and praying for his too-often breaking down VW van. If you want to check him out, go to www.Bluelikejazz.com or www.theburnsidewriterscollective.com. But please motor back here and order 'em from us.

Through Painted Deserts: Light, God and Beauty on the Open Road Donald Miller (Nelson) $13.99

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

How to best bring Liberty to Captives...

As you know, I have written passionately about my own journey as a follower of Christ and how that has led me to embrace many causes and concerns about social justice, peacemaking, racial justice and the like. In July, at my monthly book review column, I commented on books by Ron Sider and other important resources for those who want to respond to God’s call to be agents of Christ’s justice. It tells some of the "Hearts & Minds story" and suggests some important books, so please check it out if you haven't by clicking here.

I recently read two articles in last week's New York Times Sunday Magazine which I promptly wrote to a dear, dear friend about. He is a Biblically faithful and very wise leader of those who desire to make a difference in the world and the fruit of his ministry can be seen in folks taking up challenging and important work all over the world, inspired by this guy's mentoring care.

I wanted my friend to read these two pieces---one a wrong-headed but important critique of agencies like International Justice Mission which works to rescue children out of sexual slavery and the other a brief reflection on an aid worker in Haiti who was kidnapped and robbed. For those of us who care about these things, and who involve ourselves (or try to get others involved) these are the kind of things that come up.

So: no big book reviews today, but it is worth logging in to the Times on line (for free) to read these brief pieces.

Here is an expanded version of some of what I wrote to my friend:

...Anyway, I wanted to tell you about a piece I read in the New York Times Sunday Magazine last Sunday, which offered some interesting critiques of the work of our friends at the International Justice Mission (IMJ) and other rescue groups. Rosemary Barbero, who works out of Cambodia, a woman whose work the story explores, organizes prostitutes and garment workers and thinks that the rescue efforts (except when applied to children, as IJM most-often does) may make matters worse.

You know that I/we have long talked about and worked for the reform of institutions and, when it comes up with younger students, they wonder if all institutions can be restored in normative ways. What does it mean to bring God’s principles into every kind of social organization or cultural pattern? Can every institution be reclaimed in a Godly fashion? What about advertising, Hollywood, giant corporations, the military? Yes, yes, we say (well, at least I do!) Sometimes, though, there are some organizations (organized crime) or cultural patterns that simply cannot be reformed. Prostitution, for instance, is so thoroughly wrong that we must say that it cannot be "redeemed" but only eliminated. (It is, as all sin, though, a serious distortion of a creational good—sexual activity is not of itself wrong, of course. But an institution that traffics in such an obviously evil distortion of God’s intentions cannot be reformed. It must be resisted.) So I would imagine that we would agree with efforts to link foreign aid programs to anti-prostitution measures, as the Bush administration has done. (The fascinating story that I mentioned starts off by noting that the government of Brazil recently rejected $40 million in American AIDS financing because of restrictions the U.S. would have imposed on groups that work with prostitutes.)

So, in this article, Ms Barbero, an aid worker and experienced human rights activist, says, (through secular lenses that do not have a Biblical view on these things, of course) that after being “rescued” women are then consigned to violence and the indignity of sweatshops, which she maintains is a worse option. She opposes these uniform efforts to link foreign aid to shutting down brothels, and suggests that organizing prostitutes is a step in the right direction of self-determination and safety, etc. She wonders if some highly-publicized rescues are self-serving, with the agenda of the rescue group more important than the actual lives of the actual people they are trying to help. It is a case she doesn’t exactly document in any detail, but the charge made me think; at the very least it was another voice in the complex matter of creating movements for social transformation. Reading Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger or being active in Bread for the World sure does take us a long way into the world of global justice, but it never got to the details of this! We sure do have a lot to learn!

I gag at Ms Barbero’s assumptions about some of this, of course, but still think it is a critique we need to hear and respond to. (And I am sure Gary Haugen or the staff of IJM is well equipped from a Christian worldview to thoroughly do so; perhaps he should write a piece in to the Times.) We should think about her critique, though. Is severe economic exploitation ever worse than sexual exploitation? Are safer brothels better than unsafe ones? And how does the economics of poverty create a climate for women’s opting to be involved in such sad matters? [And, if you read my book review column in July you may note that I commented on a great new book, Travels of a T-Shirt that suggests "sweat shops" are not as bad, given the options, as we sometimes make them out to be, especially for women. I would be interested in Barbero’s reply; in Travels... the author suggests that in China, many garment factory workers use their first paychecks to pay off the guy who had previously paid a dowry that would have consigned the women to an arranged marriage. Working in the factory, it is argued, is a step up the ladder, away from the injustices of the traditional village.]

So, for the record, I do not agree with the woman interviewed in this anti-rescue story, but since I know you sometimes mention this topic in your public speaking, and have been helpful to Gary H at key moments in the formation of IJM (do you recall that you had him call me when he was still at the State Department; I still feel honored to have had that simple conversation) and that your heart has had you follow these human rights struggles, I thought you may want to see this important little story, hear of this woman's "on the ground" alternative plan, and wonder how to be Biblically faithful and structurally wise in efforts to build systems that can truly help. I am sure the staff at IJM have heard this criticism before, but to see IJM mentioned in the New York Times Magazine in this rather off-handed way which implies they aren't really helping as much as they think they are was shocking. It is worth reading. The Question of Rescue by Matt Steinglass (7-24-05.)

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By the way, in the same New York Times Sunday Magazine issue last week (7-31-05) there was a very, very moving story of a woman who has worked in Haiti much of her adult life, in a family planning non-profit. She was kidnapped, nearly killed, robbed by desperate men and she told of her ordeal, her anguish and yet her understanding of conditions that have created such despair and anger.

She writes,
The strange thing was that I knew the men who were doing this. I don’t mean that I knew them personally, but I knew all about them. I’m a medical anthropologist, and I went to Haiti to help solve the public health problems resulting from too many people in too little space. I believed that family planning would help. I spent 10 years living and working with the masses in Cite Soleil---a harsh, urban landfill in Port-au-Prince…In many ways, I had watched the gunmen grow up…
The rest of the piece is riveting and you should read it for yourself. She hopes to return again someday, but for now, she says, must give her "Haiti eyes" a rest.

For those of us who challenge people to go into this kind of work, we ourselves must be aware of the serious consequences of the options we commend. I know you know, but since we both have friends in Haiti, this well written piece, again, seemed important to share. It just took my breath away and I had to share it with somebody...thanks for caring. Read the piece, Haiti Eyes by M. Catherine Maternowska (7-24-05.)

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For those that don’t know, IJM really is an incredibly important group, working out of a thorough and thoughtful Christian worldview, on human rights abuses on the ground, marshalling legal reform and citizen action to document and rescue those victimized by sexual and economic slavery, human trafficking and human rights abuses. Founded by Gary Haugen, his first book gave the vision and is highly recommended for small group study, adult, or teen education or for anyone wanting to understand how Christians can respond to overwhelming social injustice. See The Good News About Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World by Gary Haugen (with a forward by John Stott) (IVP) $13.00. There is also a youth kit with videos and such, and an adult-oriented video as well. Excellent.

His next book, which more dramatically documented one of the rescues they accomplished—saving kids from a awful existence as sexual slaves in Thailand—is told powerfully in Terrify No More (Word) $21.99. I reviewed it at our monthly column at the website in February, weeks after it was released and featured on national TV. Read that review here.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Questions, Anyone?

A friend requested a post for people to pose their questions about books in the comment section. So, here it is.