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.

Sunday, July 31, 2005


"Slaves cannot skip a day of work, but free people can. Not all free people choose to do so, however; some of us remain glued to our computers and washing machines every day of the week. To keep sabbath is to exercise one's freedom, to declare oneself to be neither a tool to be employed---an employee---nor a beast to be burdened. To keep sabbath is also to remember one's freedom and to recall the One from whom that freedom came, the One from whom it still comes."

Dorothy Bass
Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Battle Will Not Live Up to the Telethon

Yesterday, I may have given the impression that the remarkable collection of essays, Off Main Street: Barnstormers, Prophets & Gatemouth’s Gator (compiled after his acclaimed Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time) by Michael Perry is just funny, redneck tomfoolery. And there is some of that; Perry is laugh-out-loud funny at times, and is often nicely amusing. Who else can wax on about the joys of small town water -towers, and end up interviewing a guy who removes water-tower graffiti for a living? He does have his rural jokes and has an affection for bus and truck drivers and country music. A couple of these pieces originally appear in No Depression, the alt-country mag.

So, he’s clever and he’s rural. But I did not adequately convey just how insightful and smart he is, how seriously lovely his writing is and how important some of these essays are to me.

To remedy this, I want to type in a bit of one of his pieces, composed when Hope magazine asked for submissions about 9-11. It is from an article called Taking Courage which is a chapter in Off Main Street. Perry starts out with wonderful prose that puts you right in his wilderness cabin, a place he sometimes goes to write.

He continues:
I wonder what we know now. Now, the moment you are reading this. The tumblers have been set in motion. Every second is a forking path. As I write, the woods are dark, save for the pale daubs of lantern light angling out the cabin windows. It seems like Earth might be rotating around this coordinate. It is stunning to think of all humankind made contiguous by the globe. It is difficult to think in terms of governments, of man’s inhumanity to man. It is earthen and peaceful here.

Where I live, we were looking east all day. That Day. Through the television, over the Web, with an ear to the radio. We peered through the smoke and the flags and began to get a sense of magnitude. In a faraway city, skyscrapers were falling—would the tremors reach our little township. Where the only structure over two stories is a four-legged water tower?

Our volunteer fire department met for training the following evening. There are twenty-four of us, amateurs playing at a game in which the professionals regularly get their tails whipped. Flipping through Firehouse magazine before the meeting, I saw that 102 firefighters died in the line of duty in the year 2000. One rumbling instant in New York, and that number was eclipsed. The last burning structure I crawled into was a trailer. We were looking for a guy who turned out to be gone. Until courage meets circumstance, there are no heroes.

Tell me: How is the nation’s resolve? Very few volunteer firefighters quit the department at the sight of big flames. They quit when they realize the bulk of the battle is a back-breaking slog. Hours spent burrowing and hacking through soggy debris to extinguish intransigent little hot spots. You begin a warrior and wind up a drudge, rolling hose, cleaning equipment, restocking the rigs. The September 11 attacks were nationally iconic. Our response was equally so. United. Strength. Charity. But the battle will not always live up to the telethon. Resolutions of substance generally require heavy lifting and extended attention to the mundane. I reckon I’m a pickup-truck-coveting blue-collar capitalist, but this talk of preserving the nation through the wielding of credit cards and the acquisition of king cabs at 0 percent APR makes me snort. It’s hard to know what more—if anything—will be required of us. I’m not overly worried. My neighbors have already crawled through fire with me.

An East Coast friend said she figured I’d be hearing a lot of rural tavern talk of how it was time to kick some towel-head ass. Well, sure. There’s always some loudmouth eager to swab the flag around like a World Wrestling Federation banner. But I have heard equivalent sentiments expressed on NPR and CNN, refined only in terms of diction and dress. Bigotry and extremism have commonality: Both are difficult to eradicate; both respond poorly to benevolence; and both are an embarrassment to those impugned through putative associations, whether we wear NASCAR caps or turbans. The battle for civility will outlast all others.
After a few other good paragraphs, he tells of arising the next morning, going for a hike. He finishes with this finely-crafted and important paragraph:

By morning, the woodstove is dead cold. It takes a little internal dialogue to get me to unzip my army surplus sleeping bag. I stow the Smith Corona under the bunk and shoulder by backpack. When I come out of the woods, I hear Osama bin Laden say there is fear in America. So be it. Courage does not arise out of comfort.

Excerpted from: Off Main Street: Barnstormers, Prophets & Gatemouth's Gator Michael Perry (HarperCollins) $13.95

Friday, July 29, 2005

Off Main Street

As you may know, I’ve been doing some bedside sitting with my frail and amazing father-in-law. It has been hard, soul-piercing and exhausting. I had imagined myself reading lots in the silence of the hospital room, at least between bathroom visits, beeping from the techno stuff, and doctor calls. Reading? It just wasn’t meant to be.

By the way, I suppose this hardship is relatively routine for many elderly folks and many friends my age have expressed solidarity in this end of life journey that we face with our parents. For younger others, whose trudge through the institions of health care have been to face the hard and crazy stuff of cancer treatments, nobody I know has written with as much verve and honesty, passion and guts, faith and honest hope as my buddy Dwight Ozard, music critic, writer and social activist. He has chronicled his cancer-fightin' ups and downs---more downs, I suppose, until lately---at his own website. His journals were blogged over the last year or two and you should check out his very interesting website, and then dip into his gut-wrenching and colorful and compelling reportage. And his reminders to pray for the poor and those who have no support and no hope.

Here, though, I wanted to fulfill my promise of this blog and not wax uneloquent on our personal stuff (although the reality of the hardships of Grandpa G, as he has been affectionately known by my children, is so major it is difficult not to mention.) Rather, I am supposed to note some books.

So, I’ve been trying to dip into short essays and stuff that can be read on the run. I’ve been meaning to read a guy who I had a hunch I’d like. Been putting it off for a year at least. And now that I've started reading him, I cannot believe it. He is so funny, such a good writer, so interesting and odd and good. I refer to emergency CPR guru, Michael Perry. His big breakthrough book, now out in paperback, is called Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time (HarperCollins) $13.95. Long before reading him, I was convinced I wanted this slice of heroic Americana for three reasons that converged when I ordered them into the shop a year or so ago: somebody said he did for EMT work what Thomas Lynch did for undertaking. (If you haven’t read Lynch, at least go to my website review that I wrote of his extra, extra-ordinary, brilliant work, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade and Bodies in Motion and at Rest: Essays on Metaphor and Mortality, here. And then call immediately and order them. They are truly among my most favored books, ever, and everyone we push them comes back for more.) So, I was disposed to think highly of Perry. Secondly, Beth and I were enjoying some small town memoirs and essays about rural life, like the work of wonderful writer, Barbara Holland, whose new memoir I am anxious to take to a local joint and slurp coffee and eat egg salad and devour. And I love to dip into her brief pieces in Wasn't the Grass Greener or Endangered Pleasures. (Our favorite of hers, though, is sadly out of print, about her move from to very small town life in Virginia.) And, as always, we were reading Wendell Berry, then, I think, Jayber Crowe, perhaps his finest novel and a great way into the themes of his nonfiction essays. So this nearly gonzo-crazy rugged rural collection of articles about redemptive insights gleaned from the siren trade, well, it just seemed weird and quaint and quirky enough…and still seemed to be a book that mattered. It has gotten some good reviews, and I was not wrong.

I started with Perry's more recent one, also now in paperback, Off Main Street: Barnstormers, Prophets & Gatemouth's Gator which is a splendid and rich collection of rural life bits, magazine-type features and fine essays about all sorts of junk. A bit darker and I think funnier than Lake Wobegon, and more white-trash straight than the good Mr. Lynch—whose deeply moral work about mortality, though rooted in a small town of ordinary and not so ordinary dyings, is still necessarily serious and a bit literary (even if often funny.) Perry writes about fighting fires, passing a kidney stone, hammering down I-80 in an 18-wheeler and meditating on the relationship between cowboys and God. The back cover says “his essays balance earthiness with poetry, kinetics with contemplation, and is regularly salted with his unique brand of humor.” I am not sure about that kinetics thing, but I just want to shout, "Yeah, hell, yeah." The chapter about traveling with a butcher who does his itinerant work from a traveling slaughterhouse in way below freezing temperatures did more than make me cold, it made me gape with my mouth open at the hard work of our northern mid-West farmers. What a chapter!

One of his truly funny pieces was about a group of frat guys who buzz-sawed up a huge plastic Bob’s Big Boy Statue. This gruesome bit of tomfoolery isn’t glorified, really, but becomes the opportunity for him to go visit the place that makes these kinds of corporate fiberglass items, roadside colossi and other big plastic things. He tells of some of their hugest creations—a giant fish which people walk through at the Fishing Hall of Fame, for instance (it's a Muskie, if you really must know, and people have been married in there) and ponders the significance of these kinds of things. It is, trust me, a great chapter.

* * *

I’ve only dipped in to it a little bit, but we’ve received a new book that I can only say is something like the highly acclaimed—we told you about him years ago, but nobody believed me! ---Donald Miller. If you liked Blue Like Jazz or Searching for God Knows What may I recommend the brand new flashBANG by Mark Steele*. The cover sports a hip little firecracker (or is it a big stick o dynamite?) and a subtitle which says: How I Got Over Myself. (Relevant) $13.99. The marketing hype isn’t quite Velvet Elvis proportions [see my earlier blog about this new book by Rob Bell], but I think it walks in similar turf. One can tell from the back cover which asks, boldly, “Why would someone want to read the back cover of a book?” and proceeds to answer that with direct prose (dripping in irony, no?) Steel admits that he “feels like the last person chosen in dodgeball. Potential reader,” he pleads, “Pick Me.” You can pick it, pick it up, but I don't think you have to work with it, read it straight through. Just mess around, a chapter here and there. I think you'll be hooked.

I love Charlie Peacock’s heartfelt endorsement (and Charlie wouldn’t blurb this thing if he didn’t mean it, and I know that he is disinterested in the evangelical subculture’s “starmaker machinery” these days. And he is into the story-telling of memoir, seriously, so I trust this line: “Mark’s words will set people free, and free people change the world.” There you have it. And do click on the hyper-link to Charlie's site; it is very cool.

*In the preface Steele compliments Patton. Could this be Patton Dodd, of My Faith Thus Far: A Memoir of Conversion and Confusion Jossey-Bass) $21.95. Now there is one great ride of a tale. Couldn't put it down, even his part about being at Oral Roberts and all. Wow.

* * *

Lastly, if you want a memoiristic devotional, a 30-day experiment, check out Surprise Me by Terry Esau (NavPress) $10.99. He wrote the interesting Blue Collar God/White Collar God—the very best part was the two-sided, upside down covers. Here, the advertising executive shows us his chops, coming up with sheer cleverness that is not just a jingle, but communicates. And he is communicating about life, about the journey, about experimenting in finding God, seeking the surprises of the Kingdom, hoping against hope. As the omnipresent Brian McLaren puts it, “Surprise Me (gives us) a way to take some steps forward in our spiritual life, wherever we’re staring from, without guilt and without pressure but instead with joy, adventure, fun and serendipity.” I think it it’s going to be nice.

* * *

PS: Since I am writing about short stuff, does anybody out there read short story collections? You know how I raved and raved about the funniest and most interesting book of last year, Candy Freak by Steve Almond. (The subtitle is sweet: A Journey Through the Chocholate Underbelly of America.) I finished his short story collection not long ago and it was brilliant. Vulgar, nearly pornographic at times (how does a guy learn to write about sex like that and isn’t he worried that his mother will see?) But through that all, The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories (Alconquian of Chapel Hill Press; $22.95) was a collection I could not put down. His previous short story anthology was so sexual and vulgar that I could hardly take it, like searching for gold among the garbage. But The Evil B.B. really shows that Almond is an amazingly imaginative thinker, a hip and witty writer, and a very talented guy. I can’t wait for him to write more, and hope he continues to seriously plumb the human quandary, sugar, sex, and all. May God bless him. (Please be warned. I was not kidding about the graphic nature of some of his writing and the subject matter of some of his stories. Email me if even me citing this worries you, as we would be happy to talk further…) His website gives you a taste of his stuff--check it out. You can read excerpts and reviews. And e-mail him your "candy testimonals" too. Fun.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Missional Church

Sometimes folks have said they'd like to listen in as I talk with customers about books. Well, actually, not too many folks have said that, but I imagine they might.

Thought you might like to see a list I compiled for a friend, an administrator in the Presbyterian Church (USA). The leadership of the Synod he serves has been thinking a lot about
The Missional Church by Darrell L. Gruder and other similar books in the "Books and Our Culture network." See here or here for some info about that movement, and here for some articles to download. He asked me to offer a list of other titles that might be more accessible and useful for ordinary pastors and other congregational leaders. As you can see, I spent a couple hours putting together my response.

There are books that are important to Gruder's project---one immediately thinks of Leslie Newbigin (anything of his, really) and his spectacularly influential and wise book
The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society and the important work of George Hunsberger and Craig Van Gelder. And there are plenty of other really good books on the church of various sorts, some that I wish I had space to tell about, even if they aren't a part of that gang. But here, I am, remember, answering a specific question, for a certain customer, serving in a certain context. Pray for customers of ours like this, and other church leaders, that they might get good resources and inspire their pastors to read more deeply and start book discussions and reading clubs if they haven't already. I am convinced that paying attention to these kind of books can make a difference. Maybe you might copy this or forward it to somebody you know who might find it interesting. Am I foolish to think that a simple bibliography can make a difference??

Anybody care to comment on any of these? On
The Missional Church that started the whole question? Wanna order anything?

So here is my reply. Hope you enjoy eavesdropping...

Dear friend,

Thanks again for asking for some book ideas. It is a real honor to suggest some things for denominational leadership like yourself and I hope that a couple of these books might prove fruitful. There are oodles of books I’m excited about at any given time, so your question helps me focus on a special few. Let me know if you want to talk further about any of these.

So, to your question:

Treasure In Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness Lois Barrett et al (Eerdmans) $18.00 This is the latest in the “Gospel and Our Culture network” books and it is by far their most accessible. I like all of those, by the way---Confident Witness, Changing World is especially useful since it is a collection of essays. A congregation study group could pick and choose the chapters that they found most useful.

What is so great about Treasure in Clay Jars is that is focuses on nine congregations, showing what a missional church looks like. The foundational work is Gruder and the missional church vision, but each of these congregations are living it out in their own unique setting and context. This examination of what makes these churches tick is informed by solid theological reflection but the case study approach makes it very practical in nature. Nicely done.

By the way, the “Gospel in Our Culture network” book that was released last year, Storm Front: The Good News of God by James Brownson et al is shorter than the others and a touch feisty. It really does make the claim for God’s reign being the fundamental context of our contextualized ministry. It isn’t quite like Resident Aliens or, the one I liked better, Where Resident Aliens Live but it does highlight the uniqueness of a commitment to the gospel in a pagan culture. It, too, would make a good, accessible study to get the over-all framework and vision of this kind of thinking.

Shaped By God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches Milfred Minatrea (Jossey-Bass) $23.95 Gruder himself as a hefty quote on the back of this, but perhaps Carol Davis says it most clearly: “Minatrea has distilled the essence of what it means to be a missional church. The insightful summarization and articulation of distinctive practices can be the launch pad for every courageous church leader who wants to bring Kingdom impact to their world both locally and globally.” A wonderful invitation to an outward focused pilgrimage.

The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church Diana Butler Bass (Alban Institute) $17.00 I have reviewed Diana’s great memoir, Strength for the Journey, at our website when it came out a few years ago and raved about her way of telling her own faith journey in light of her experiences in the parishes of which she was a part. Here, she teaches about the new configurations—especially rejecting the old and unhelpful “liberal vs conservative” dichotomy---in creative congregations that dare to root themselves in the tradition and yet be innovative and culturally savvy. An excellent book, especially for those of us working for renewal within the mainline traditions.

By the way, if you want missional, I’d encourage you to struggle with the powerful little book she wrote a hear ago called Broken We Kneel which is an extended essay on church/state stuff, pacifism, patriotism and being responsible civic citizens who are firstly loyal to Jesus. The narrative drive of this little book is from her experience after 9-11, when she worked as a spiritual director at a Northern Virginia Episcopalian church, and, after much dialogue, discussion, pain and discernment, felt she had to leave over the issue of flags in the sanctuary. I reviewed it in my monthly book review column when it came out a year ago . That certainly raises one of the big missional kinds of questions, doesn’t it? Highly recommended.

Diana is not only a good writer, but a clear communicator and she will be at the State Pastor’s conference this November so get folks talking about Bass and help push her lectures at that Harrisburg conference. We never have enough Presbyterians at that, anyway…

By the way, there will be a bit of a theme of the emergent congregation movement, too, this year, as they tap into younger (post) evangelical, postmoderns doing hipster ministry in new forms. (The new congregation that Pittsburgh Presbytery sponsors, pastored by a team including my good friend B.J. Woodworth, is one of those “new kind of Christian” kind of projects…) In that whole arena there are plenty of great new books, but perhaps the most useful for thinking about change in the local congregation is Brian McLaren’s The Church On The Other Side. A new book from England, Emergingchurch.intro by Michael Moynaugh (who wrote Changing World, Changing Church) may be the best starter book on that movement---and that emergent conversation is always citing Newbigin, Guder, using the language of missional churches, etc. Moynaugh’s may be really useful for congregations of all sorts…

Becoming a Blessed Church: Forming a Church of Spiritual Purpose, Presence & Power Graham Standish (Alban Institute) $18.00 I suppose you kow Graham (from Zelionople) and his several other books. He is known as a powerful organizer and a good spiritual director and here he combines in good fashion a variety of streams, helping congregations become balanced, passionate and full of vision. This has very, very good endorsements and will become highly regarded, I'm sure. Very nice.

The Community of the King Howard Snyder (IVP) $17.00 There may be other books like this, but I so like this new revision of a classic. What is really good about this Wesleyan author is how his work resonates with a Reformed vision, too. He maintains that God’s work in the world can be understood most fundamentally as the reign of Christ over His world—the Kingdom of God. The church is central—literally—to that vast, healing work, but the church is not quite the same as the Kingdom. The Kingdom is God's shalom breaking out through Christ in every zone of life, so it entails laypeople being equipped to live out their faith in work, citizenship, service, neighborhoods, whatever. The community of faith is nurtured by intentional relationship and God-centered, Kingdom-oriented liturgy, so the church becomes the launching pad, if you will, for whole-life discipleship of a Kingdom sort. It emphasizes the missional character of the local church, the need for renewal that is more organic and less institutionally structured, and calls for Kingdom-centered congregations. I love this book!

A conservative PCA guy (Reformed Heritage Presbyterian Church) who uses the historic-redemptive approach to the unfolding of the Biblical drama in a way that leads him to this same, similar vision is Peter Leithart, who wrote The Kingdom and the Power: Rediscovering the Centrality of the Church. (Presbyterian & Reformed) $11.99 He makes an important case for a significant understanding of worship and sacraments, too, and this might be helpful especially for our more conservative or theologically serious congregations.

Truly The Community: Romans 12 and How to Be Church Marva Dawn (Eerdmans) $16.00 This is a hefty, mature book that would make a fabulous study for a serious group. She unpacks the Scriptures wonderfully, offers good stories and testimonial, and offers us the call into community—for the world’s sake. Some of Marva’s chapters in her collection of essays on worship, A Royal Waste of Time are similarly missional and highly, highly recommended. (One of those chapters, by the way, was first delivered at the aforementioned PA State Pastor's Confernece, and it is wonderful to see it in this collection.) We've got to get our people reading more of her stuff, I'd say. She once told me that she thought her most radical was Is It a Lost Cause? Having the Heart of God for the Church's Children.

Road Runner: The Body in Motion Thomas Bandy (Abingdon) $12.00 A lot of folks know Bandy (and his partner Easum) for their gonzo congregational change stuff. This is a solid, reasonable, visionary, serious-but-fun call to get busy in mission, joining Christ “on the road” as we move out into action. This is wise, challenging, and yet pleasant, making it very useful for small groups. A great choice.

Doing Evangelism Jesus’ Way: How Christian Demonstrate the Good News Ronald J. Sider (Evangel Publishing House) 13.00 These were once preached as sermons, and, as always with Ron, it is visionary and practical, combining deep piety with serious passion for social change. These insist that we must preach and live the good news, show and tell, rejecting all dualisms between word and deed, saving the person or reforming the society. Under the Lordship of Christ, we are to become communities who nurture faithful outreach that lives out faith in practical ways. Lovely and challenging.

Seeing Beyond Church Walls: Action Plans for Touching Your Community Steve Sjogren, editor (Group) $19.99 Each chapter is clear, motivational, concrete and very inspiring. With new paradigms of ministry and new visions for the importance of culturally-relevant contextualized outreach, this book gives several great avenues of transforming the church to transform the world. Very practical, not too academic.

Building a Contagious Church: Revolutionizing the Way We View and Do Evangelism Mark Mittelberg (Zondervan) $14.99 Not long ago we spent a weekend selling books at an event where Mark was one of the main speakers—and love him. What a fun and funny guy. This is a very thorough study of how congregations can be more effective in evangelism training and holding up an ethos which values outreach.

Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God Greg Ogden (Zondervan) $16.99 An earlier version of this was entitled The New Reformation and it is a vigorous and systematic study of how churches can equip the laity, raise up agents of outreach, and move from “maintenance to mission.” A major contribution that, while thorough, is very readable.

Healing Spiritual Amnesia: Remembering What it Means To Be the Church Paul Nixon (Abingdon) $15.00 With a passionate forward by Tony Campolo, this is an upbeat call to return to “first things” which certainly includes a robust sense of mission, outreach, purpose and passion for God’s work in the world.

The Small Church At Large: Thinking Local in a Global Church Robin Trebilcock (Abingdon) $17.00 We stock a pretty good selection of books about smaller churches—wee kirks. This is the best on missional thinking for small church leaders. Exciting!

For All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church N.T. Wright (Eerdmans) $12.00 This little study, if taken seriously, could have an incredible impact in our vision and work. The first half are a few good chapters on worship, the significant second half are about the implications of our worship for our life in the world. This is a powerful call to become cruciform-shaped community that is sent to live out Christ’s Lordship over history, in daily and practical ways. Very highly recommended.

Saturday, July 23, 2005


It is late Saturday night, just back from the hospital, and I am wanting to tell you how deeply meaningful reading books on the sabbath has been for me. As I think about tonight, and tomorrow, I think of that. We don't really get it right, I am sad to admit, but I come back often to the theological depth and importance of Marva Dawn's Keeping the Sabbath Wholly and the lovely elequance of Dorothy Bass' Receiving the Day: Christian Pracitices for Opening the Gift of Time. Gene Peterson insists that Heschel's Sabbath is an all-time must-read. On this topic, thank goodness, there are some old ones and great newer ones. But, you know, I think I won't take the time or energy to describe them. Tomorrow will be a hard day for me, I think---back to the hospital---and I pray for grace and hope. Beth, for those that know us, is close to her dad, and the kids are, too. And even if family crisis was not part of the days toil, it is sabbath-time already...

So, here is what I think: if you are reading this on Sunday, why not just shut down the darn computer, quite doing this stuff, and go take a walk or get out a novel or write a letter to your congressman, or listen to an old album, or make some fun recipe and give it to your neighbor, or take extra time to pray or laugh or take a nap. You know the drill. Just do it. Or don't do it, as the case may be.

And--note this, as I don't say it often: don't order anything from Hearts & Minds today. We don't check our emails on Lord's Day, anyway. So there. Amazon-Mart-dot-you-know-what is open 365 and, you know, it just ain't right. Peace.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Total Truth wins award

It is later than I would wish, regardless of what the mistaken clock thingie on the blog says. And it has been a hard week---my beloved and previously sturdy father-in-law, Harry Gross (if you are the praying type) has been hospitalized for serious things. Beth is still out of town, staying there a bit longer to be bedside. We are all pretty raw, fearful, sad to see the hard options the frail elderly have. But that is another blog, as many of us know too well. Don't get me started...

Still, I am eager to celebrate something altogether good, a good grace and perhaps noteworthy sign of something. I have been happy to serve as a finalist judge for the Evangelical Christian Publisher's Association's Gold Medallion Award* in various catagories in recent years (and, truth be told, sometimes it is perplexing what gets nominated or submitted---books that are utterly fine and utterly undistinguished.) This year, a wonderfully-earned and well-deserved Award goes to Nancy Pearcey, author of the important Total Truth: Liberating the Gospel from Cultural Captivity. It does the kind of thing I talked about in yesterday's post, except without the goofy stuff about Quidditch. It is interesting, sober, thoughtful and very inspiring.

If we are going to raise up a generation of Christian folk who honor the Lordship of Christ across the whole of life, and work out the implications of God's redemptive plan in all of science, art, politics and family life, then this kind of intentional contribution to building up the Christian mind will be essential. It is a reminder, a foundation, a helpful polishing of the lenses through which we imagine our lives. Along with the kinds of things I mentioned yesterday--T.M. Moore on creational theology, Bill Romonowski on popular culture--this book can really make a difference.

I've mentioned Total Truth a time or two back at the website over the past year and agree with the many good reviewers who have suggested that it is one of the best worldview books yet done. I am confident that it is the closest thing to a Francis Schaeffer book we've had in years, although it is a more hefty, sustained argument, and altogether readable.

Nancy is an old acquintance, actually; in fact, she acknowledges us in her first book The Soul Of Science (we helped with some book research, of which she did quite a lot!) It remains an excellent overview of the history of the philosophy of science, from a solid and accessible Christian perspective. We stayed in touch a bit during her stint helping Chuck Colson with his worldview formation, then as she founded and served in executive leadership of the innovative and important Breakpoint radio show and through her work as a senior fellow and policy director of the think-tanky Wilberforce Forum. Colson continues to draw on Abraham Kuyper's "Stone Lectures" (see yesterday's blog) and Nancy was a big part of his broadening horizons, I'd guess. She co-authored the award-winning How Now Shall We Live (Harold Fickett, a fine writer and storyteller in his own right, helped with that nicely, too) and Total Truth is in many ways a follow up to that ground-breaking study. It isn't precisely a sequel, though, so even if you haven't yet worked through How Now, I'd say start with Total Truth.

In Total... Pearcey tells some of her own journey--her experience at L'Abrai, her skepticism about faith, her intellectual struggles, her studying the heady work of Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, her conviction that the hard dualism between the so-called sacred and secular is Biblically unwarranted (and inevitably leads to a water-down, compromised faith--technically called synthesis), her on-going desire to combat the secularized ideology of naturalism as it appears most frontally in Darwinist science and sociology. She is a great teacher, using good illustrations and potent stories to further explain her solid reflections on the nature of truth in God's good world. It is a good book, raising truly important matters in a fine, fine way. It deserves the Gold Medallion.

As I said, it is late, and I'm thinking about my own dad---killed in a car wreck a few years back---and Beth's dear mom, who died last summer. And Harry, now in great pain. It is a fallen world, isn't it, and in these tender moments it becomes absolutely clear. But we live in a world where there is truth, not just "values" or spiritual sentiment or opinion or (or, on the other hand, a world where truth is nothing but hard fact, data, numbers.) We know that things are more than either option--no truth, or a reductionistic kind of truth that is nothing human. No, truth is whole and it is real and we live and move and have our being in it all. This is the real deal. Whether it is the horror of African genocide or global injustice---do see my July website book reviews if you haven't---or the ordinary harshness of a daily, fallen world, seen in crummy institutions and less than humane ways to live and die, what the church has called the Fall is real.

And, thanks be to God, God's promises, presence and plan of redemption is true, too. What Lewis' critters in Narnia call Deeper Magic. Really real. Totally true, for all of life. Nancy says it better than I in my feeble mood now so I yield to her.

We commend the book to you, invite you to order from our website if you want; get a group going, buy one for your public library. At least, check out her Total Truth website and see the handsome cover, the good news of the award and some blurbs and impressive endorsements there. THere are links to her speeches--she's been on C-Span and NPR, you know. And links to several good reviews (including one insightful one written by H&M friend Jim Skillen from the Center for Public Justice, where he compares her book to David Naugle's stunning work, Worldview: The History of an Idea. Read that one here. Enjoy. Knowing that what she says is true.

*For a complete listing of the 2005 ECPA Gold MedallionAward winning books by catagory, click here.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Abraham Kuyper, Quidditch and a Velvet Elvis

A few friends who humor me by reading the blog have sent links for good essays about Harry Potter. (Thanks, especially, to Erick Bierker, for reminding me of the good piece by Jerram Barrs from Covenant Seminary, which can be read here.) I frankly am not that passionate about this nifty novel—I’m mad, actually, since it is preventing my wife from even talking to me for long periods of time. But its omnipresence does raise the question that I daily live with: why are most Christian bookstores so insular? Why are evangelical customers taken aback to see us stock books like Potter, or current affairs bestsellers or jazz albums? Or novels which are promoted on Oprah? Why do friends who know us a bit and have shopped here for years still express surprise that we would promote things?

It seems that even our little effort to deconstruct the assumptions of what is or isn’t “Christian art” or what faithful citizens should or shouldn’t be advocates for (imagine! not all Biblical Christians are part of the ideological right) or why showing interest in contemporary thought forms like postmodernism and cultural forms (like blogs) just doesn’t catch on. People who we thought understood our vision, our story, that we have this “in the world but not of it” culturally-relevant, uniquely Christian worldview thing going on are shocked—shocked---about our little stock of Potter. (When I hear how many thousands (!) some of the big chain stores have sold in a few days, I am shocked, shocked.) Or fairly loyal customers got it somewhere else because they just didn’t think of us. We’re a “Christian” bookstore, after all. Why do many good Christian folk have these assumptions? (Did you ever hear me tell of the time a customer was perplexed that we carried a Christian children's picture book about animals and their God-given habitats? That is new age enviromentalism that lady warned me!)

I am letting you in on this little irritation not to show myself as a money-grubbing retailer who has sour grapes about not adequately milking the Potter cash cow. It is the deeper, bigger question of my life---how to help those whose primary loyalty is to the Kingdom of God to more robustly serve our living Lord in such a way that it makes us more human, not less, better citizens, sharper artists, more aware of current events, engaged, alive and evaluating all of this in light of our deepest convictions. (I like the nice, basic, new John Fischer book, Confessions of a Caffienated Christian, which not only riffs on the coffeehouse culture, but invites us to a very hipster play on John 10:10. And of course the title I often mention in this regard, Charlie Peacock's New Way To Be Human.) Indeed, from the arts to the sciences, politics to business, education to entertainment, questions of global politics to questions of what books we read to our children, all of this can be joyfully pursued not out of fear of this world, but out of a keen sense that, as the old hymn puts it, “This is our Father’s World.” The Potter question, like the question of the third world debt or Live 8 or fair trade that I wrote about at the Hearts & Minds July column, are just examples, case studies, daily quandaries of what it means to be faithful in living out the implications of our confessions in everything.

So, thanks to those who recommended some nifty articles and good websites. There are just tons of resources that help us “think Christianly” about pop culture, film, media, the arts, and the like. One very helpful site is the blog from the Student Activities board at Calvin College, where some of the lectures from the scrumptious “Festival of Faith and Music” conference are downloadable. Hear talks by performing artists like Bill Mallonee, David Bazan or Sarah Masen, or cultural critics like David Dark or Steve Stockman. It was a gathering that was (and their lectures are) as their main man Ken Heffner likes to say, “a signpost of the Kingdom.”

One book that helps us get beneath the popular culture controversies and probe more deeply into the deepest theological underpinnings of common grace ministries and finding God in the ordinary comes from the pen of T.M. Moore. Moore (who himself wrote a book called Redeeming Popular Culture: A Kingdom Approach, which is not unlike my old house-mate Bill Romanowski’s Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God In Popular Culture) just released Consider the Lilies: A Plea for Creational Theology which were lectures given at the Jonathan Edwards Institute conference in Annapolis a few years back.

(We just came back from selling books at that event a couple of weeks ago and we commend their website to you ---the recordings of the lectures from previous JEI events are available as are the stellar ones from this year’s event. They are excellent, especially those done by good friends and former CCO staffers, Dale Westervelt (On Callings and Vocations) and Steve Garber, who did two excellent and moving, intellectually rich keynotes.) Our friend the Jolly Blogger also has some nice notes from the conference as he gave his day-by-day impressions and summaries of the main talks.)

Consider the Lilies by T.M. Moore essentially explains how a high Calvinist regard for the doctrine of creation gives us the basis for not only the obvious—caring for the ecology of creation---but for exploring the vast array of possibilities God put into the creation. He does this, not surprisingly to those who know these things, by exploring some of the teachings of 18th century Puritan leader, preacher, philosopher and President of Princeton University, Jonathan Edwards. In T.M.’s capable hands, Edwards is shown to unlock the grand notion of God’s sovereignty over God’s world, holding before us the obligation to care, to open it up, to explore and (as Genesis 2 puts it) to “tend and keep the garden.” An odd century or so after Jonathan Edwards, Dutch neo-Calvinist Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper came to that same Princeton and delivered the “Stone Lectures” whose themes ring into the 20th century and into my heart through the likes of Francis Schaeffer or Charles Colson or Calvin Seerveld or the Pittsburgh Jubilee conference and animate our bookstore efforts that we ruminate about with you now. Kuyper insisted, in those lectures, that Christ is King of all creation, that the Reformation era emphasis of God’s sovereign grace has implications not just for salvation, election and assurance of eternal life, but for the implications of our daily thinking about commerce, the arts, science and politics. The Stone Lectures are still in print (Lectures on Calvinism) and although laden with a thick, late 1800’s rhetorical style, they provide a potent counter-punch to the lame religious attacks against Harry Potter; this whole-life vision of creation and redemption is a viable alternatives to the kind of piety that teaches us to run away from God’s good world or the complex issues of the day.

Not only have the ideas of those lectures and the Dutch revival/reformation that shaped them, influenced Beth and I and our team here at Hearts & Minds, but it has significantly shaped at least a few streams within contemporary evangelicalism. Peter Heslam, for instance, does an extraordinary job of documenting the vast impact of these amazing Princeton lecture of Prime Minister Kuyper in Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism. It isn’t quite as thick as Harry P and it isn’t, I suppose, nearly as much fun---nobody plays Quidditch, I’ll admit---but it surely will bring you irrevocable insight about a movement of God that gives us good basis for the sort of cultural engagement friends of Hearts & Minds are all about.

If our story here is part of your story there, thank God with us for the likes of T.M. Moore who writes about God’s creation so nicely, and Peter Heslam, who unpacks the historical and cultural significance of Abraham Kuyper. And thank God that, in His mercy, Christ really does reign over a very good world.


You know somebody else who gets us to this kind of place, this Christ-honoring affirmation of a good, if considerably fallen and idolatrous, world, a world about which we are called to care? One wild and honest emerging church dude, Rob Bell, of Mars Hill Church and nooma video fame. Yes, we stock his nooma DVD’s and, happily, we announce---shout about, really!---his brand new book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith. Now that needs a blog or two itself. (He is, after all, the kind of cool guy who most likely does play Quidditch.) Order it from us right away if you dare—it is a refreshingly honest and creative and visionary work, packaged in a particularly handsome, innovative hardcover, which brings to mind the White Album---or hang in there with me here as I will surely be talking about it again.

Thanks for caring about these things, supporting our business and spreading the word about these little essays. We are very, very appreciative.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The sighs and joys of selling Harry Potter

I suppose a few of my few blog readers might want to know this, although, who knows, maybe you tire of it as I do: we have had as many negative comments about our stocking Harry Potter as we have appreciative ones. I’ve been quoted in local papers and in the national press---was it Christianity Today, perhaps, I forget---a few years ago about being thrilled with these wonderfully written books about virtue and kindness, loyalty and victory over darkness and how a thorough-going Christian worldview permits reading such novels. We thought maybe with each passing year, the Christian opposition would subside. And we would have been wrong.

Of course, Christians we know and like are reading them (alas, only a very few have bought them from us.) But some of those who don’t like seeing them on our counter have bluntly told us so; a few other good-hearted souls have kindly expressed legitimate concern but have heard us out. I needn’t review the whole long debate here, I suppose. Just know we are happy to sell fiction, some of us (although not me, actually) here are fond of fantasy, and, despite our serious attempts at holding up the importance of Christian holiness and nonconformity to the ways of the world (Romans 12:1 and 2, you know) we find Harry just not all that scary to fuss about. As always, the call is to be “in the world but not of it.” We take a cue from I Timothy 4:1-5 (oh, sweet irony, eh?) and celebrate the good things in God’s creation.

We are not cavalier about witchcraft or evil; not at all. We would not sell books that minimize these things knowingly. We just don’t think Potter is occultic. For one good study of this, check out The Gospel According to Harry Potter by Connie Neal. Or, the important book by John Granger (Looking for God In Harry Potter), who shows that there are some telling echoes and hints of Lewis in Rowling.

There isn’t an exact parallel here, but a story comes to mind about U2. In their zany, hyper-ironic Zooropa tour days, Bono would dress like a schiester devil character—with layers and layers of meaning and irony and deconstruction. He sometimes would draw a fan up on stage to dance with this devilish persona. Alas, one time a gal chastised him in his ear as they danced before tens of thousands. “You shouldn’t be dressed like the devil,” she scolded him, “you used to be a Christian band.” Lewis, he told her. “You can’t understand a thing we are doing if you haven’t read The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.”

Which not only reminds us to think broadly about Potter but to root our 21st century sensabilities about fantasy (and this little controversy, if it has hit your circles) in the tradition of the formative work of Lewis and Tolkein. And, to continue to think about (and listen to) U2, again, in light of their significant Christian influences. Do you know that Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 by Steve Stockman is now out in a nicely expanded, new edition? (Click here to learn more about it, but do come back!) And did you know my best friend Ken Heffner (who works at Calvin College) has an impressive blurb on the book endorsing Mr. Steve Stockman’s qualifications for writing this book? Way to go Ken. (And, that Tim Bogertman, big-time Hearts & Minds cheerleader at Messiah College, is also thanked in the preface.) Now, if we can just get the book into the hands of U2 fans who may not yet fully understand their work in light of Christian faith.

We stocked U2 since the month we opened, 23 years ago. And some customers have been critical. We’ve stocked all the Harry Potter books, and, again, the criticisms, while not devastating, have buzzed around like pests in summer. They tend to be demoralizing.

So we rejoice for the gift of authors like Connie Neal and Steve Stockman, who give good, accessible introductions on these themes for those who need to have their dots well-connected. We are glad for the work of the Spirit in these expressions of common grace in popular culture, and glad to be in a line of work that allows us to talk about this stuff day by day by day.

And hey, if you don’t believe me about Potter, just read the big fat things. My wife and daughter assure me you’ll love 'em. And, regarding U2, even if you don’t like rock music (and who reading this blog doesn’t) order from us ASAP the wonderful collection of sermons inspired by U2 lyrics. Real sermons inspired by real U2 songs. Brian Walsh (who co-wrote Colossians Remixed that I raved about at the website column in November) has two splendid chapters, importan, even, as they exegete the songs so well, and more so because they open up the Bible so well. And Steve Garber has two really marvelous chapters, again, faithful to Word and world, strong and beautifully written. That book is called Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching Through the U2 Catalogue edited by Raeawynne Whiteley and Beth Maynard (published by Cowley.) Give us a call if you want it.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

New Square Halo art books

We don’t get out all that much for purely social pleasures—tied to the family business, too busy, trying to watch the budget, blah, blah, blah—so it was a particularly nice gesture of Lancaster friends Ned & Leslie Bustard to invite us to dinner at their very cool, simply but artistically appointed, urban row home. Why might you care about this?

The Bustards are co-owners and chief editors for Square Halo Books. You can learn all about them here, or read my older reflections on their good books, here. Square Halo deserves to have someone tell their little story (anybody from Books & Culture or CT looking in on this? Call me. I write for cheap.) Briefly, it can be said that they cooked up this plan to have a classy little indie publisher that does theological books (like Alan Bauer’s The Beginning and The End) and good stuff about the arts. They have made quite a name for themselves, pouring themselves out as a labor of love to bring their first handful of books about Christian perspectives in the arts. I’ve raved here before about And It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God (we have a few left, then it will be out of print until the new, revised and considerably expanded edition hits later this year) and the excellent collection of interviews and artpieces, Objects of Grace: Conversations on Creativity and Faith edited by James Romaine. They’ve got a few other great titles, and we stock them here at the shop.

Last evening, we actually got to pick up and hold the brand new collection that they designed for CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) entitled Faith + Vision: Twenty-five Years of Christians in the Visual Arts. It is a spectacularly glorious example of contemporary artists and (taa-daaa) they were kind enough to use a blurb by me on the back (I had seen all the advance page proofs and text before.) The book deserves a more lengthy evaluation (watch the website) but for now, here is what I wrote about it upon first seeing it:
Nicholas Wolterstorff reflects in his important introduction upon the double alienation felt by many of the artists whose work graces this gorgeous book and it is a tough testimony that should be read by church folk everywhere; what damage we have done to hinder the artists amongst us, what a mediocre ethos we have too often created which discourages those with gifts of brooding allusiveness, creative imaginativity or colorful joy. But his pondering is only part of the story: herein is documented in word and image, the pages of this book record the glorious work of an organization dedicated to supporting the Christian artist. CIVA is a wonderful association and this book shows off the God-blessed glory of their members’ work in extraordinary fashion. Thank God for the gentle steadfastness of CIVA, for those who compiled this excellent book, and for Square Halo who publishes manna like this.
Joyfully and significantly, Square Halo also produced a collected volume of the important work of Sandra Bowden (herself a notable leader in CIVA and a wonderful art collector and artists.) Not only does The Art of Sandra Bowden showcase beautiful reproductions of Sandra’s fine work, it has criticism and essays and tributes to her by some thoughtful essayists (like the very sharp NY critic, James Romaine.) This is a beautiful, beautiful book and to see it, too, while trying to sip white wine with Ned and Leslie and keep an eye on our passel of young daughters, was nearly overwhelming. Maybe like you, I will have to save my nickels and dimes and buy these as soon as I can. In the meantime, they will soon grace the shelves of Hearts & Minds. We want to support Square Halo and get their good books into stores, reviewed, and bought and given as gifts. Know anybody that cares about God’s glory being seen in a respectable renewal of faith-based modern art?

Lastly, in time for the CIVA summer gathering, as were these two aforementioned titles, Eerdmans just released a major, major coffee table book edited by near-by Messiah College art prof, Ted Prescott. Entitled A Broken Beauty, this oversized book has what looks like brilliant essays and tons of nicely produced, fabulous Christian art. Thanks be to God for a book like this, a solid collection chapters of thoughtful reflection in Christian art historiography and aesthetics, but just a real classy gift book, too. What a treasure!

And the good news doesn't stop here. We are very, very excited to announce that Calvin Seerveld's significant and widely-quoted (but hard to find in stores) Rainbows for the Fallen World is now back in print, with an updated bibliography and a slightly new cover. We have it and are eager to let folks know---we've had not a few inquiries over recent years. Seerveld is another Christian leader in the arts and aesthetic theory (and a bit of a hero of ours here.) We will comment more on Rainbows...in months to come, you can be sure.

So: in any season any one of these four books would be a treat, and I would be shouting from the rooftops. Having three real art books and a re-issue of Seervled to promote is nearly a minor miracle. Let us pray that none fall the through the cracks, that they get reviewed and somehow promoted. (Do you think these guys have the huge funds to do national advertising? Do you think Hearts & Minds does? Ugh.) Anyone have ideas how we can promote these kind of thoughtful, accessible but somewhat bohemian Christian artbooks? And while your thinking about ordering these, or telling your local library about them, or donating them to a church resource room, why not say a pray for the Bustard family and Square Halo?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

There we go.

Leonard Sweet once quipped that Luther's famous "Here I Stand" may have worked well for the start of the modern world, but in the fast-paced, communal, liquid world of postmodernity, faith's missional cry should be "There We Go!" Well, I don't know about that; Len also taught us to look for loopy self-contradictory paradoxes as a sign of postmodernism. So I want it both ways: Here I Stand. Right here in the blogosphere, with God as my witness, I can do no other. And, yes, There We Go.

Anyway, in this setting at least, where is here, really? Maybe it is more there than anywhere. And I never could have gotten (t)here in blogland without the inspiration of remarkably wise and good bloggers like intensely smart Gideon Strauss and David Wayne, the rightfully well-read Jolly Blogger and many of the writers whose links they provide in their respective circle o blog-friends. So it is definitly a we thing here. Even if I wished to mess around at what they do so well, it simply wouldn't have happened if not for the prodding and cyber-savvy help of one Scott Calgaro, of Beaver Falls, PA, King of the stellar Jubilee conference. Scott--ever the neo-Calvinist Kingdom visionary with a bookish past--insists that this will help us sell mail-order books. That is to say, blogging will help us accomplish our God-given vocation, do our thing, "serve the Lord, serve the People" as we used to say in our hippie days. So, indeed, there you have it: There. We. Go. It is definitely not Kansas for me anymore, now that I am doing this. And it hopefully will remain a "we" as I am supported by those friends foolish enough to get me blogging in the first place. It surely seems like less "standing" and more "going." So Sweet's quip feels right.

Now that I've expired my allotment of cheap cliches for the evening, I will in all seriousness say that I am grateful to those bloggers I do occasionally read like Derek at Aslan is on the Move* (he too often says nice things about me) and Dick at Viewpoint (I too often say bad things about him) who encouraged me to start this up. May I be half as elequant as they. And very serious props to Scott. And, yes, to Sweet, who, in what seems like another life, re-lit my fire for culturally relevant mission, an appreciation of the forms of our fluid new hot-wired culture, and the joy and usefulness of playfully clever sloganeering. I suppose he was the first blogger I knew (before anybody called it that) and certainly remains the master of the clever turn of a phrase, soli deo gloria, right t/here in cyber-space. We are glad for books like his that keep us thinking and imagining...

There we go.

Next time, perhaps I'll comment a bit more on my latest massive book review, posted at the H&M website (www.heartsandmindsbooks.com). It tells of my journey into social activism at the ripe young age of teenish and how the insights about structural change, institutional reform and social justice catapulted me into new views and, truth be told, nearly a new life. Decades later, I'm trying to make a living telling others about books to accomplish just that. We praise God for His faithfulness, for mainstay books we can sell and still sleep at night, written by the likes of Ron Sider, whose new edition of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger is lauded at my column, and for the common grace of God who allows for events like Live 8, despite what the nay-sayers say. (In my review, by the way, I also describe a fabulously interesting recent book by a pro-market economist that follows her T-shirt being made and sold all over the world, which gives good light into the trade and aid stuff we've heard about lately in a very balanced, careful way.) By the way, did anybody see the Cockburn set during the Canadian 8 show? More on that, later, too. Thanks for dropping by. Send me an email if you'd like.

*please check Derek's blog in mid-July. He just returned from doing tsnumi relief in a very hard hit part of Thailand and his reflections are well-written, very illuminating and honestly mature. Don't miss it!