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.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Years-End Best Books Awards from Hearts & Minds: Break Out the Spinny Tin Things

It was just a few posts ago that we referred you to the recent Hearts & Minds website that listed, in our November monthly column, our description of the best of the landslide of Narnia-related books. I have no cynicism about this recent publishing trend and many of these Lewis bios and Narnia studies are really quite good. We hope that we helped renew your interest in Kilny stuff and trust it was worth reading. Maybe your gang should host some post-movie LWW discussion groups or book clubs, using one or two of these as a resource.

NOW, we are very pleased to announce the Hearts & Minds End of the Year Best Book Awards. Check it out to see our website's December column and see my picks for everything from the Best Really Big Fat Book I Read This Year (and it wasn't 1776 which was almost fat enough to count, but I haven't read yet anyway) to a celebration of the year's best re-issues; I awarded some odd little picks about good books with bad covers, and named some of our favorite novels. Of course, there is "the" best book of the year; couldn't name just one, natch, so there are a couple of runners up (or should that be runner-ups?) There's even an Half-hearted Award for a popular topic about which I had huge ambivalence.

It is almost time to break out the spinny tin things you swing around and shake on New Year's eve, or those little horns that uncurl those annoying paper tongues. You can warm 'em up here by tooting along for these H & M award winners. It may not be the New York Times or Christianity Today, but we are confident we have honored some truly important books. Anybody find any glaring misses? Want to add your favs? Come on, readers! What would you list?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

O Holy Night

I am amazed at how often people note that they didn't know about the third verse of the powerful song, O Holy Night. Sentimentality and the wonderful romance of the holiday has nearly gutted the radical edge of the coming Kingdom of God.

Written in the years as the abolitionist movement was heating up, it is solid gospel. Let us pray that those of us who sing this tonight will be graced to hear it well, and allow it to work God's ways in us.

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord, O praise His name forever!
His pow'r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow'r and glory evermore proclaim!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christian Zionism?

As the date to celebrate Christmas draws near, and as our Advent texts help us ponder the remarkable promises of Hebrew prophets, we think of that horrific period of exile, and the extraordinary hope offered by these passionate poets like Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekial, dreamed up in times of oppression and hardship. Walt Brueggemann's The Hopeful Imagination offers insight into the pathos of those post-exilic prophets who, through grief, renewed a subversive hope. I've told you before how that theme sounds out in the best Advent devotional we most often recommend (see my comments from a few posts ago), Advent of Justice by Walsh, Middleton, VanderVennen and Keesmaat (Dordt College Press.) And so, care for the politics of the Middle East, the questions of how Advent longing stirs within us a hope for the world made better, and--of course!--the ways the Baby King of Bethlehem fulfills this Jewish expectation and hope are floating around my sad heart this season. O Come, O Come Immanuel, indeed. It reminds me of the need for "comfort and joy."

And so, with that little reminder as background, it seems appropriate today to note quickly two books that have come in here at the shop in recent weeks, books that explore the complex and painful politics of Israel and Palestine and, specifically, how evangelical Christians have perhaps too quickly thrown their tradition and weight behind the nation of Israel, even when it does wrong. These books make one wonder what Amos or Jeremiah (or King Jesus Himself) might say about this.

The Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend by Timothy P. Webber (Baker) $24.99 is a serious hardcover that offers excellent and important religious history, illuminating how certain end-times beliefs shape fundamentalists view of current events. This is a well-researched historical and theological analysis of the evangelical attachment to Israel and its roots in premillennial dispensationalist theology. As Donald Wagner writes, "With the ascendancy of the Christian Right in the United States and its significant role in shaping U.S. foreign policy, Weber's book is a must read..." From the current popularity of the Left Behind novels to certain efforts to increase military aid to Israel, this is a timely and careful work. It may not immediately seems like a holiday title, but if we are to, with God's own help, see even a bit of "peace on Earth" it will be, in part, due to historic evangelicals re-evaluating their understanding of Middle Eastern politics.

Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? Stephen Sizer (IVP) $29.00 This thick paperback, written by the Chairman of the International Bible Society (UK) is a grand and important study brimming with insight and hope. This really opens our eyes to how this ideological theology can oppress and hurt. Anyone interested in peace, social justice or the integrity of Christian mission must grapple with this serious critique. With rave reviews from the likes of Colin Chapman, Don Wagner, Garth Hewitt (from the Amos Trust in England, a former folk singer turned activist) and Wheaton College's Gary Burge, this clearly is an important, evangelical text. As John Stott puts it, "I am glad to commend Stephen Sizer's ground-breaking critique of Christian Zionism. His comprehensive overview of its roots, its theological basis and its political consequences is very timely." So timely, that I thought I'd tell you about it tonight.

Do you know Bruce Cockburn's amazing folkie Christmas album, Bruce Cockburn? We still have some in stock, even though it has gone out of print. Some of the minor key arrangements, and slight inflections make it laden with pathos and relevance; those that know him for his social justice advocacy, his environmental songs and his anti-war stuff may hear these songs for all their worth; his arrangements and context make me just love these holiday favorites. And, while I'm talking Christmas music to listen to while reading about social justice, do you know The Band's lovely and moving ballad "Christmas Must Be Tonight"? It is covered on the powerful new Carolyn Arends Christmas album--The Irrational Season. [You should know that that line is swiped from a much-loved poem by Madeline L'Engle.] Something about that song, and one on the Cockburn album, remind us that the ripples from Bethlehem have come down to us today. Thanks be to God.

And, speaking of social justice (but not Christmas) the brand new recording by former Caedmon's Call frontman Derek Webb is now out. I will blog about The Mockingbird later. It is doubtlessly the most overt record about social justice done on a CCM record label. This is stunning, faithful stuff and we will be promoting it in the new year. Just the thought of that will help us have a Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Narnian book reviews at the website

I have been meaning to announce here the monthly website article listing our picks for the best new books from the batch of C.S. Lewis and Narnia releases. We read quite a few this fall, and give our reports; one friend (okay, it was a friend) said that ours was more intersting than the good survey in Christianity Today. The author of that one may be more reliable, I'd say, but it may be worth your time to check out the November article over at our website, www.heartsandmindsbooks.com.

Here is how that big 'ol annotated list begins:

C. S. Lewis, we find, is an author that is widely known (well, not to one lady we met at a conference this fall who asked if he would be coming to the event) but not as widely studied as we might expect. In the new, informal and very heartfelt biography of Jack (as he liked to be called), Jack’s Life, by his stepson Douglas Gresham, Gresham writes, "…if you are someone who reads, then the chances are that you have read something by C. S. Lewis, and if you haven’t, then you have a great feast of reading before you." Very true; very true!
Click here to read the actual recommendations.

(Better do it soon, since the year-end Hearts & Minds awards and honors will be posted there soon...)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Wholistic ministry for your church

A good friend, a pastor of a church in another state, was wisely wanting to work through a book this coming year with the deacons in his congregation. He had hoped to use the now out of print Cup of Water, Bread of Life by Ronald Sider, and emailed me for advice. Ron, of course, is well respected in these parts for his clear and fully Biblical call to be multi-faceted and equally commited to social action, verbal evangelism, political advocacy and vibrant spirituality, all rooted in an open-minded but orthodox theology.

So here are some books I recommended to this pastor, knowing a bit of what he had hoped for (something brief, not to demanding, something that could be done each month over a year.) This list isn't exhaustive, but it does offer some suggestions that would be readable and useful for his group. Please read along as we make some recommendations. If you want, send the list to the leadership of your church. What kind of books do they read?

...There may be some other options, but I haven't exactly thought of just the right thing for your setting. Some are too academic, some too simplistic, some too evangelical, some kinda weird; some are more political or only about urban outreach and others are more about lay counseling (Stephen's Ministry kind of things.) I am sure you know the dilemmas...There are some I like, though, a lot, actually, and given what you've said, they may work well for your leaders. Thanks so much for asking. It is a pleasure to serve you in this way---let us know what we might do further.

Doing Evangelism Jesus' Way: How Christians Demonstrate the Good News Ron Sider (Evangel Press) $12.95 This may be as close to the one you wanted as anything out there. Great sermons from Ron on wholistic service, peace, justice, service, holiness and so forth. Seven fairly short chapters, good stories, a compelling call to living radically, sharing good news and good works. The deeper (and very important) work behind all this is what used to be entitled One Sided Christianity and has been re-released as Good News and Good Works which, although a bit more serious, is still one of my all time favorite books.

Living Like Jesus: Eleven Essentials for Growing a Genuine Faith Ron Sider (Baker) $12.99 You may know this by its previous title, Genuine Christianity where Sider gives his list of the traits of growing faith, the stuff Christians are committed to. It is just a delight to see a chapter on working for social justice next to one on having strong marriages and high sexual ethics; a great chapter on prayer next to a chapter on ecological concern; a teaching on servanthood next to a lesson on the Christian mind. He calls for radical action infused with grace. Whole-life discipleship made commonplace for everyone. This surely has Ron's special emphasis on concern for the poor and forming churches that stand for justice, but it really is a book on basic, Christian growth, wholistically expressed. Fabulous. Eleven chapters, plus a very moving introduction.

God in the Alley: Being and Seeing Jesus in a Broken World Greg Paul (Shaw) $10.99 My, my, what fine writing, as this guy tells of being Christ to others, and seeing Christ in others, set in his inner city mission in Toronto. Powerful stories, compelling teaching, wonderful book. Seven or eight short chapters, easily read and discussed.

Radical Outreach: The Recovery of Apostolic Ministry and Evangelism George Hunter (Abingdon) $18.00 You probably know Hunter's very good and really helpful other books on evangelism; this tells how the contemporary church can reclaim its ancient witness through hands-on ministries with the unchurched. Fabulous analysis, lots of stories, a good mixture of inspiration, history, Biblical study and wise coaching. Eleven chapters, although a few (well, most) are pretty thorough. Fascinating.

Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road Tim Keller (Presbyterian & Reformed) $10.99 What a wonderful and solid study of mercy, the need for mercy ministries, and how to mobilize a church around social outreach. Keller, of course, is a very popular and innovative PCA pastor in Manhattan, who has done very effective ministry in many settings. This is a must-have handbook for any church wanting to expand the ministry into community involvement.

Standing in the Margin: How Your Congregation Can Minister With the Poor (and perhaps recover its soul in the process) Mary Alice Mulligan & Rufus Burrow (Pilgrim) $16.00 Although there are six chapters, it is arranged to be used in 12 small group sessions, With a powerful little forward by David Buttrick, this book helps define what is meant by the margin, how to be more inclusive, seems to share a liberationist vibe, and calls on the church to stand with the marginalized in ways that is more than mere charity. Very provocative.

Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development John Perkins (Baker) $12.99 This is one of those extraordinarily popular books that has been so influential in the lives of many evangelical (mostly) to help them actually see how to do wholistic ministry, respecting the dignity of the poor, understanding the call to racial reconciliation and leadership development among the disadvantaged. A wonderful rich book by a true hero.

Help: The Original Human Dilemma Garret Keizer (Harper) $14.95 This may be a bit more serious and thorough-going reflection that you had in mind, but with your literary background (am I remembering correctly?) you might find this masterful writing both tender and thoughtful. Keizer writes in the Christian Century sometimes and is highly regarded in mainline ecumenical circles. His excellent and helpful earlier book that got a lot of attention a few years back--also a deep reflection well worthy of a slow reading--was Anger. His absolutely lovely meditation on the call and vocation of pastoring is beautiful and brief, A Dresser of Sycamore Trees. I think he lives in Vermont...

Yours Are the Hands of Christ: The Practice of Faith James Howell (Upper Room) $9.95 Again, this is a rather reflective and spiritually enriching meditation on the image of "hands" and what it means that we are to service Christ well. It really is a fine reflection on the ministry of Christ, what it means to partake in His journey, and how to be like Him. Twelve very nice chapters.

Churches That Make A Difference: Reaching Your Community With Good Words and Good News Ronald J. Sider, Heidi Unruh, Philip Olson (Baker) $19.99 While this may be more than my friend's deacons might want to tackle, it is the definitive book on how effective wholistic ministry can be done, based on good case studies. I have blogged before on the new Oxford University Press book by Ron & Heidi that more academically studies these wholistic outreaches of these diverse churches. That scholarly work is called Saving Souls, Serving Society: Understanding The Faith Factor in Church-Based Social Ministry. It sure would be great if some of the church folk reading this got their people reading Churhes That Make a DIfference. Or any of the other great books listed above. It is a good time of year to be thinking about study groups for next year. Maybe these kind of resources would help keep your care-givers alert to those with the most serious needs.

Not long ago was the feast day of Saint Nicholas, after all. He knew what Christmas was all about, eh? Do we?

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Advent of Justice

Wednesday we spent all day packing and loading the van to get to Antiochian Village in Western PA for a book set up for a several day event with the Coalition for Christian Outreach. A few guys helped me load in about midnight, and I set up---with a little help from Tim B from Messiah, who was out there early--til about 6 am the next morning. Thursday and Friday brought plenty of good conversations, some hefty book sales, some significant reports of books used in ministry and good book clubs and Bible studies that we have resourced, and some fun, funny, times. While a couple of new parents on staff of the CCO browsed our book room, they left their babies in look-alike carriers in a row in front of the cash register, as I was wheeling and dealing, offering discounts and give-aways and such. Somebody quipped "And yes, today's special: with any hardback purchase you can have the baby of your choice!" It still cracks me up...

The wise and gentle and powerful African American preacher Anthony Carter, author of On Being Black and Reformed spoke, inviting CCO to dig deeper into their Calvinist roots, relying on God's sovereign grace and the creedal tradition of the Reformation in order to root well their equally important efforts to work on ethnic diversity, racial reconciliation and becoming advocates for social justice. Carter was too young to have worked with the civil rights movement, so is a new generation of black leader, and his trust in the providence of God and desire to glorify Christ was palpable. His impeccable theological standards made him a very, very compelling speaker as he invited us to learn or remember the hidden history of minorities within the dominant culture. Although passionate about preaching reconciliation, and doing God's work in God's ways, he advised that we allow God's Spirit to guide us into our own needed repentence before crusading on social issues. (That is a strategy, by the way, which, on the face of it, is nearly self evident; on the other hand, I detected a frustrating invidualism and pietism there that didn't sound like the broad and socially engaged Calvinism I know.) I got to do some book plugs and promoted the obvious--John Perkins, Vincent Harding, Martin Luther King, Carl Ellis and the like. Do you know Randy Woodley's Living in Color: Embracing God's Passion for Diversity? Or More Than Equals by Perkins & Rice? Or Barbara Salter McNeil's The Heart of Racial Justice? These are the kind of resources this CCO group uses. It is a serious privilege to hang out with those who have radically gospel-based theology and equally radical commitments to cultural diversity and racial justice.

Speaking of which: I did not stand up and shout about this small Advent meditation book and I should have; I can't believe I haven't blogged about it sooner. The Advent of Justice is always the holiday book we tout the most. It is thoroughly rooted in the longing for liberation described in the Bible during the period of exile of the Old Testament Hebrews, and works well with the social context of the seasonal readings from Isaiah and the prophets. It is therefore truly solid, liturgically and theologically, for the Advent season and not the least bit sentimental. (Okay, put some sweet instrumental CD like The Gift by Tingstadt and Rumble on if you want sentimental.) The four authors are all dear freinds, and among those whom I admire most: Brian Walsh, Sylvia Keesmaat, Mark Vander Vennan and Richard Middleton. They put these seasonal reflections together as a gift for the Citizens for Public Justice (a faith-based, progressive social ministry in Canada) a few years back and it has subsequently been re-issued each year by Dordt College Press. It is, I believe, the best and most Biblical Advent devotional I've ever used, and I dip into it each year. It reminds us that these religious holidays of ours can best be understood when framed by the socio-political understandings of the orginal. This book, Advent of Justice, does this with care and brillance.

Oh come, oh come Immanuel...yes, come Lord Jesus! This time of longing for Christ's regime can be deepened and more properly understood by using this brief, inexpensive devotional. It is not too late to order it.

On Being Black and Reformed Anthony Carter (Presbyterian & Reformed ) $9.99

Advent of Justice: A Book of Meditations Brian Walsh, Sylvia Keesmaat, Mark Vander Vennan, Richard Middleton with illustrations by Willam Hart (Dordt College Press) $6.95

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

short post: new Indelible Grace CD

Indelible Grace IV, called Beams of Heaven, has now been released, and we have them in stock. Indelible Grace, I hope you know, is a remarkable project started a few years ago by Kevin Twit and his comrades in Reformed University Fellowship who had thought long and hard about contemporary worship, good theology, classic hymns and how to get the rich, narrative doctrinally-mature hymns better known to today's praise & worship crowd.

Kevin is a smart guy and an excellent musician (does Berklee School of Music mean anything?) He gathered some roots-type, neo-folk singer/songwriters, mostly from Nashville, picked up some edgy guitars, some light percussion and a whole lot of acoustic stuff---sharp mandolin and lush violins--and set out to write some new tunes for some of the better old, old hymns.

After recording the underground classic, (that would be the first Indelible Grace) Kevin wrote some very thoughtful articles about their project---why postmoderns need songs about lament, need narrative, need theology, and some guidelines for picking worship music and such---and compiled very moving stories about the composers of the orginal lyrics, hymnwriters such as William Cowper orHoratius Bonar. These are all available for free at the website (click on extras to find the articles.) They have downloads of stuff,sample songs, lyrics, guitar charts, ways to make overheads, a massive songbook and all kinds of goodies at their site. We'd highly recommend checking it out.

They continued to recruit guest singers--former vocalist for Caedmon's Call's, Derek Webb often appears, for instance, and put out now four albums. The second was called Pilgrim Days and the third For All The Saints. The brand new one, as I've said, is called Beams of Heaven.
You've just got to hear this stuff to believe it.

After visiting their site, please come back to us to buy the albums: we've got all four (and Matt Smith's and comopany's very acoustic and very cool Christmas CD, Your King Has Come as well.) Thank God for this extraordinary project, for the ways in which many, many younger folks and campus ministry groups have resonated with their spared-down sound and rich, wordy, and substantial lyrics. We are honored to be among the first retails shops to carry it, and happy to do what we can to spread the word. May we make the suggestion that you buy a few to give a way to those who might find them helpful?

I could be wrong, but the way these recordings have had a word of mouth popularity has caused somewhat of a buzz in the CCM subculture. It has been one of the reasons--he speculates boldly--why so many cool Christian rock bands are doing hymns albums, now. Indelible Grace, though, stands in the classic tradition of re-writing contemporary tunes for the old lyrics. With a few exceptions, you understand, you will not recognize the tune. The words will sink deep into your heart and mind, though, and if you grew up hearing these songs, and don't hear them much anymore, the words will be a solace to your soul.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

a few random books: spirituality, art, human things, and unrequited love

While we have been out and about (please read our last few posts) new books keep stacking up by the computer. We are pleased to tell you about some random, but oh-so-good, new titles.

Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us Adele Ahlberg Calhoun (IVP) $16.00 This books is worth twice the price as it is a treasure-trove jam-packed with ideas, resources, discussion guides, reflective experiences on a large variety of classic diciplines. From fasting to solitude, contemplation to lectio divina and much more, this helps us through these life-giving practices. Calhoun works with our dear friend and highly regarded author Ruth Haley Barton (author of Invitation to Solitude and Silence) and combines an evangelical theological rigor with an ecumenical and broad awareness of the best resources on spiritual formation. An invaluable resource for individuals, spiritual directors or small groups.

Art and the Christian Mind: The Life and Work of H.R. Rookmaaker Laurel Gasque (Crossway) $16.99 On occasion, readers have told us that they appreciate our reviews of books about the arts and our blog posts and website bibliographies on faith and the arts. Many of the best writers make references to the significant work and lovely insight of this great 20th century Dutchman. Rookmaaker was friendly with the heavyweight Kuyperian philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd, and took much of the insight gleaned from his association with reformational philosophy, and shared it during visits with Philadelphia-area, blue-collar, post-fundamentalist Francis Schaeffer, who had moved to Europe in despair of his insular fightin' fundy irrelevance, longing to relate to counter-cultural students of the 60's who were asking the big questions, and finding little accepatance in the traditional churches. Schaeffer's L'Abrai movement (which Rookmaaker and his dear wife Anky) took up in Holland, continues to be a resource for cultural engagement, serious, applied theology and shaping a uniquely Christian worldview. Rookmaaker, then, is an important person in both the L'Abrai story generally, and in the renewed interest in the Christian and the arts specifically.

Laurel Gasque is a cultural historian living in British Columbia and artist herself who is on the board of the spectacular Image: A Journal of the Arts & Religion. She has researched well for this biography, and it is evident she has great sympathy for Rookmaaker's vision. We announced at our website a couple of years ago that a British publisher has reprinted the complete collected works of Professor Rookmaaker and that we are pleased to stock them. We are even more pleased that this little volume can serve as a wonderful introduction to the life and ministry of one of the more important Reformed thinkers of the 20th century.

Rallying the Really Human Things: The Moral Imagination in politics, literature, and everyday life Vigen Guroian (ISI Books) $25.00 Although I have known his name for years---Guroian is an Easter Orthodox theologian and cultural critic (he teaches at Loyola College in MD) who has written widely; we have stocked his books on and off for years and read him sometimes in First Things. (I just love his little pocket-sized memoir on the spirituality of gardening, surely one of the more lovely books in that growing genre.)

This handsome hardcover is a collection on "Christian humanism"--- a marvelous anthology of pieces, inviting deep reflection on matters as diverse as the fiction of Flannery O' Connor and the quest for international human rights. Several of the core chapters revolve around themes of literature, children's books (he has an earlier, marvelous book entitled Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child's Moral Imagination) and the significance of serious ficiton. (Ahh--one chapter is called "Why Should Businessmen Read Great Literature?") I have not read most of these, yet, and will dip into them on occasion. I am sure I will love his stuff on family life, children and hoping for a restoration of humane and workable values around issues of sexuality (his chapter "Dorm Brothel" is a walk through the creepy territory of I Am Charlotte Simons, with some help from Walker Percy.) Anybody who can write about St. John Chrysotom, a "non-liberal" view of nationalism, and fairy tales in the same book may be the brillant incarnation of C.S. Lewis. (Or, as Ralph Wood has said, he may be our very own modern-day G.K. Chesterton!) Rallying the Really Human Things promises to be an altogether rewarding read, challanging both liberal and conservative sentiments, with insight and wit.

Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love Laura A. Smit (Baker Academic) $18.99 I have been wanting to blog about this unbelievable book for a month or so. A while back I posted about a book which is a collection of (mosty) progressive Calvinist theologians reflecting on the movement known as radical orthodoxy (one obscure tradition writing on an even more obscure tradition, I think I said; that post oddly generated more interest than nearly anything I've written and has been linked here and there in the blogosphere.) Well, Ms Smit--the dean of chapel at Calvin College and an assistant professor of theology there--was a contributor to that wild, astute volume. So she is known in her field of serious theological and cultural reflection.

Here she writes compellingly about something that few (if any) theologians have written on: the matter of a broken heart. Our buddy and tremendously observant writer Lauren Winner has the first blurb on the back: "Simply smashing! Witty, intricate, and smart---this is the most important, thought-provoking book I have read this year." If you know anything about Lauren's serious reading habits you know this is one heck of a quote.

There is, as many of us know too well, a deep sorrow that plagues those heart-broken over unrequited love. (The phrase sounds victorian; how else, though to say it?) This stuff is common in romance novels and contemporary film, but, as The Library Journal observes, it "has rarely been touched in nonfiction writings and even less often by ethicists or theologians."

A few months back on our monthly webpage column I did an annotated listing of books that might be called "self-help" or "personal growth" books that I hoped would be seen as thoughtful, helpful, not cheesy nor predictable. Even those with deeper reading dispositions, I figured, need sometimes to know about helpful books on getting by, finding wholeness and healing, coping with ordinary losses and stresses. I wished I had had this book then---it is certainly a meaty and profound study, yet, at it's kind heart, is a book about breaking up and being hurt in romantic relationships that don't work out. This is a one-of-a-kind title. Kudos to Ms Smit for applying her serious theolgoical mind to such an aching, common experience. And thanks to Baker Publishing Group for bringing these kinds of books out. It is my fear that it will not sell in the academic market (it is about romance for crying out loud) yet will be seen as too scholarly for your typical hurtin' heart. Let us hope it does not fall through the cracks in the market.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Brueggemann, dayenu and the blood on the books

I apologize for straining your patience and eyesight with the length of my last post. I just had to tell you about the Brueggemann event with my Episcopal friends, and highlight just a few of his many books. He really is an extraordinary speaker and often, a very engaging writer. I think those in mainline churches with more liberal sensibilities need to hear his insistence that we be people of the Book. More conservative folk will scratch their head at how he routinely presumes critical scholarship--- that there were three Isaiahs, that the Pentateuch was written after the exile, that redactors added in or re-wrote stuff. Still, he has very high regard for the shape of the canon and all of us need his radical opening up of these texts, especially in their socio-political context.


I was selling books once at a Bread for the World gala—BFW is a faith-based lobbying group trying to protect (at least) and expand (please, God) social programs and federal budget commitments to the poor—and there were some big-wigs from Washington there, folks from the World Bank, the head of the Department of Agriculture, a few Bishops, denominational execs. I didn’t know Brueggemann at the time, and was unprepared for his passion and power as he preached after the banquet. There were long lines of people at the book display and I was nearly overwhelmed (doing that event by myself is still one of our more memorable gaffs.) I had cut my finger quite badly on a sharp metal bookend and was bleeding a bit, blood literally dripping down my sleeve as I held my tissued finger high as I rang the cash register. Except for one dear nurse who ran out to a local pharmacy and brought back bandages, nobody in this good crowd of socially-aware activists said a word. I was in distress, wiping little droplets of blood off the book jackets. Not a word of concern from anybody.

After a busy half-hour or so of my one-handed changing-making fiasco, the event was over. The crowds were gone, the hangers-on were getting autographs as somebody was ushering Dr. Brueggemann out, to some private reception on Capitol Hill or in the White House (as I said, this was a few years back.)

Walt made a big point to his handlers that he wanted to go back and thank the bookseller. He gave me the big thumbs up, offered his thanks for doing the heavy lifting, and then—you guessed it—said, “Man, you’re bleeding! What did you do to your finger? Are you gonna be all right?”

Brueggemann had preached about trusting God in this age of scarcity where we fret and fight over resources guided by an ideology and a globalized commitment to economic progress, using Isaiah, Moses and Wendell Berry, naming the anxiety that such scrambling produces. He powerfully taught us a Hebrew word—dayenu-- about God’s abundance, the gift of brimming shalom that comes from the memory of the manna texts, and we cried it out over and over…

And then he illustrated his keen care for the hurting in this simple little act of kindness. One need not agree with all his hermeneutical moves, his unique interpretations of Scripture, let alone his theology or politics. But, I want to say again: he is the real deal. I hope you read last night’s blog; if you started it and your eyes got droopy, please try again. I didn’t begin to do him justice and at least knowing about the books I described is important.

A version of the sermon Dr. Brueggemann preached at that Bread for the World meeting, by the way, is found in an anthology of his pieces. The chapter is called “The Truth of Abundance: Relearning Deyenu” in The Covenanted Self: Explorations in Law and Covenant (Fortress; $18.00.) Another version of that message as I remember it is “The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity” included in a similarly great collection, Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope: Contested Truth in a Post-Christian World (Fortress; $17.00.)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Walter Brueggemann

I know a few of you will be jealous, but you should know it really, really was a very hard set up---got into the loading dock, swiveled the blasted carts of books through the too narrow kitchen doors, upa coupla elevators and into the well-appointed ballroom of a swanky regional hotel where we shoved tables and crawled on our knees on the carpet til our hands were brush-burned, looking for just the right arrangement of space, bookselling space.

We had a bit of help for a bit (thanks, again, to Derek and Pierce) but then even Beth had to leave---still settling the "estate" (which means cleaning out her girlhood home of a lifetime of memories after her father's death last summer)--so I set up books by myself from late afternoon til well after 3:00 am. An hour's drive home, picking more titles (like we had room for any more on the umpteen tables we already had jammed with books) and then hurried back the next morning, putting on my tie in the rear-view mirror during rush hour traffic. I say all this--conjuring up images of me sweating, back-hurting, emotionally-drained and fretting everthing there is to fret when setting up a large book display for a pack of pastors with high expectations and diverse reading habits--to try to get your sympathy. Bookselling Hearts & Minds style is very labor intensive and I am too often nearly brain-dead by the end of the set up, when the crowds show.

( And where do the books on black feminist liturgy go, anyway---with other books on women, or with liturgy, or with racial diversty? And those pesky books with dual topics---The OLd Testament and the Significance of Jesus, say, or the new Richard Hays, The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as the Interpreter of Israel's Scripture: with Old Testament or New? And then there's the Wendell Berry (with world hunger books and consumerism or with worldview and social ethics?) And where in the world do you even put G.K. Chesterton---not exactly theology, now, but almost... and how big of a stack of the new N.T. Wright should I build, knowing that some in this group think he is too fundamentalist. (Ha, just last week, in this blog, I was reminded that some find him too liberal!) Ahh, I fret at these working gigs. I fret a lot.)

I say all this, as I say, to garner sympathy. Because as we used the calculator and wrote up invoices and swiped credit cards, and re-set shuffled books back up on their little bookstands, and tried to serve the gathered participants well, showing this and fetching that, explaining why I trust John Stott and not John Spong, apologizing for bringing the wrong thing or why we ran out of the right thing, during all this, we got to hear Walt Brueggemann deliever five majestic lectures, and preach at two eucharistic services. Brueggeman on the Bible. ("I really don't have any ideas as a teacher," he modestly began, "all I've got are texts.")

All he has are texts. Texts that speak volumes. Texts that, in his able hands, were well told. Prophets, laws, poems, subversive stories kept alive by Jewish folk who were scheming an alternative world, living counter-cultural lives, upsetting the Empire, trusting God, for crying out loud. He challenged us with the victory dance of Miriam--he invited us to pick up our tambourines!---and the post-exilic prophets upsetting the Torah interpretation that was bent on exclusion and judgement; he spent two lectures upon texts about the encoded Sabbath laws and Jubilee, calling for a work-stoppage, a routine time of saying no to the consumption rat-race, laws and codes and prophetic rejoinders all reminding us that the creation is built for beauty, for abundance, for sustainance, and that God--thank you very much--can take care of business without our frantic book lugging and sweating. We have good news to offer the poor, of course (well, maybe not of course in some churches) but we have good news for those in the upper class rat race, too, who are, in their quiet times, and surely in their night dreams, admit "I can't keep this up much longer." He preached and lectured and explained and hoped and dreamed with us all that God in Christ could, through us and the Holy Spirit of God, take steps in helping our churches live into these mighty stories, not in boring, wooden obedience, but in delightful and free imagination. To call people out of death and into life. To live in and share God's fidelity.

It was an awesome, awesome couple of days.

I, of course, had to stand up and speak about a few of his books. I am glad I noted his very famous and often-cited The Prophetic Imagination and the lesser known but equally important, The Hopeful Imagination which are two of the most amazing of Brueggemann's many works and books that I would list among my most treasured. (Pete Steen, a college mentor, threw a photocopied edition of The Land at me in about 1976 saying that with my interest in ecology and world hunger I should read it, so that is still a favorite.) Of course Professor Brueggemann has worked well with the psalms of lament, a theme I've posted about before and his Message of the Psalms is very useful. And he writes about preaching (the book Cadences of Home: Preaching Among Exiles is one I should have highlighted more, since it fit his theme, and he was talking to pastors who have to preach; and his well-known homiletics book, Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclaimationis classic.) He is a major, major scholar, and yet he preaches quite a lot, serving the church as much as the academy, so he has collections of sermons and of beautiful, evocative prayers( Insribing the Text may be the finest such collection although The Threat of Life: Sermons on Pain, Power & Weakness is a fabulous paperback, well worth pondering.) He continues to do anthologies and collections of scholarly articles and academic commentaries. His powerful, small introduction to Bible study is one of my favorites, simply called The Bible Makes Sense.

Brueggemann is not a typical theological liberal who distrusts the Bible, spends great energy explaining why it isn't reliable and who deconstructs the truthfulness of it all, relativizing it's role among us. Yet, he is not a typical evangelical, either. (As a theologically orthodox Protestant, I don't even want to hear him expound on his understanding of how revelation happens and the doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible.) But he preaches like no other; his books have meant more to me than any other books about the Bible and, although at times he troubles me, I find that when reading his work I must pay attention to it all (as I did this summer when I re-read Israel's Praise: Doxology Against Ideology and found myself underlining nearly every paragraph on almost every page. I came home from the coffee shop, some mornings, with tear stains on my glasses and ink on my hands.) I had been working through his construal of the ways in which authentic praise---at least praise of the true Biblical God, the one whose mighty deeds in history include setting the captives free, the One whose true story is rooted in the real accounts of slaves being liberated from Pharoah--is the sustainance for all faithful social reform and that any praise that isn't rooted in that tradition of Moses, is essentially false. (Brueggemann didn't get this from Marx, if you wondered, but in the texts of the Scriptures.) Some of the Psalms, he shows, functioned to authorize an on-going prophetic faithfulness, keeping the story alive, making room to host God's own presence in the real messiness of human history and politics. (Interestingly, he speculates that some Psalms were extracted from that history of God's covanantal dealings with His poor, and thereby became royal justification for David's power and the hegemony of one power-hungry view. Sounds familiar, today, eh?)

All the fine-tuned conservative writers who have taught me (well) to have high, high regard for the authority of the Biblical text, simply do not preach like Brueggemann. He regularly admits to the ambiguities and interpretive differences, and is aware of postmodern thinking (see his brief but generative Texts Under Negotiation) but, again, he is not a relativist; he doesn't think that no one is right and that it doesn't really matter. He cares deeply for making legitimate claims upon these texts, interpreting them correctly. Or, I might say, allowing them to interpret us.

He will say, after pouring his heart for 10 minutes on a certain Hebrew phrase or the history of a certain turn of rhetoric in Isaiah: "Well, you know, it's only a poem, for God's sake." And then he asks us to stake our lives upon it. There among the invoices and book lists in the back of the hall, I could hardly contain myself. He asked us to believe this stuff. I shake my head even now...

I count it a privelege to serve the pastors gathered to hear brother Walter, and thank them. I pray for him, that he might grow in his own fidelity, and I pray for them, as leaders in the Episcopal church, that they, too, might take heed, shepherding well their flocks, into the radically-counter-cultural vision that these Spirited texts call us to. And I pray for us, glad and nervous, that we have such opportunity to sells books at such very important gatherings. I thank not only the Diocese leadership, but Dr. B for his kindness to Beth and I, and for his own prophetic imagination, that stirred so many.