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.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Blessed Are the Uncool

I don't know about you, but I have a deceidedly love/hate relationship with the Christmas season. I suppose it isn't all that profound---isn't it obvious?---that our culture has nearly ruined Christmas with the commercialization and fashion and sex and Santa stuff. Yet, I love it. Yep, I work in retail, I enjoy watching our staff "wait on" customers and ring in sales. I believe in our products (well, most of them, anyway) and I think shopping can be an act of blessing, a meaningful service, not just a mindless ritual or capitulation to crass consumerism. Still, I get really, really sad at the mall, perplexed by the lostness of our world and feeling very lonely. Even as deeply orthodox truths are sung in Christmas carols (there is sometimes better theology in the mall's muzak than in some churches) the whole busy season zooms by in a blur. So, I'm perplexed and sad, even though I love all the holiday stuff. I get all sentimental even listening to "I'll Be Home For Christmas"....and we watch the corny Christmas movies, too. I love Elf and The Santa Clause and the like. I love our big Christmas tree, even as I worry a bit about Jesus and his call to serve the poor. I know I don't live as simply as I once aspired to. The whole X-mas vibe, people talking about vacations and parties and the lovely decorations everywhere just makes me feel all this stuff very deeply.

And, so, I have a love-hate relationship with that new aesthetic that is all over the tube; have you seen the oh-so-cool Target ads, the "Love-Peace & Gap" ads, these ads with Moby-esque soundtracks? Man. Everything is so detached and cool and ironic and weird in a hip kind of way.

Blessed Are the Uncool: Living Authentically in a World of Show by Paul Grant (IVP; $13.00) may be the most important book of the season because it challanges us to think about how badly we desire to be cool. And I hardly need to mention the ironies of this; a very cool book, laden with hipster allusions and quotes from chic sociologists who write books with titles like Cool Rules: Anatomy of an Attitude and Hip: The History (both very good books that we stock, by the way) calling us away from inauthenticity and the shallowness of coolness. How cool is that?

I suspect as I spend more time with this book, it will move me deeply, and I will try to take to heart Grant's call to uncoolness. I sometimes make fun of myself as a bit of a bookish geek, but I'd wonder if it is just pride--- playing dumb with tongue in cheek to impress the crowd. I wonder if this book will convict me. I am sure it will be insightful, both as cultural criticism and as personal spiritual formation. From dipping in to it here and there, I can assure you it is very smart, and very well written, and deeply faithful. That the author grew up (son of a missionary family in Europe) in a multi-ethnic setting, and has a serious interest in hip-hop culture (how many other books written by white evangelicals quote Fifty Cent or bell hooks?) makes this exceptional. There is an uncool website, too, and blogs for each of the chapters. Paul Grant hopes to have readers share their stories and discuss all matters of uncoolness. Check it out at uncoolbook.blogspot

Know anybody that is cool enough to want to read about it? Know anybody whose sunglasses mask an inner shame, whose preformance rebellion is rooted less in serious cultural witness and more about posturing? Know anybody who desires to be set free from this odd coping mechanism and wants live authentically as God sees us and as God call us to be? This could be a very rare gift, an invitation to break out of the vexations we have about Christmas, the "merchants of cool" and find ourselves free enough to live into a lifestyle of real compassion, pathos and care. Now that would be cool!

And, if this rings a bit shallow to you, perhaps you need this one: Seeing Through Cynicism: A Reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion by Dick Keyes (IVP: $16.00.) (Check out Dick's work at the L'Abri in Massachusetts, here.) Although I hope to review it more substantially later, this brillant book, on a topic about which little is written, will surely be on our "best of the year" list, and it may be just the thing for some of you out there. Moi? you ask. If the shoe fits, buy the book. My friend Steve Garber has a great blurb on the back, so cool or uncool, this book is really a very important contribution.

Merry Christmas.

Blessed Are the Uncool: Living Authentically in a World of Show
Paul Grant (IVP) $13.00
Seeing Through Cynicism: A Reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion
Dick Keyes (IVP) $16.00