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, January 31, 2007

Henri Nouwen & William Wilberforce

Last night I visited with the fellowship group of our friend, Vickie. She offers wise and good leadership to a singles ministry (of various ages) at a local church. Her group, with the cool name, SoulPurpose, asked me to speak about responding to the call of God, the spirituality of surrender to God's grace. Later, I will meet with them to do a series on faith lived in the workworld, the vision of vocation, and the integration of our commitments to Christ's reign and transforming ways, with our daily grind of (so-called) secular occupations. For now, though, they are working their way through the extraordinary Surrender to Love, the wonderful first book of David Benner's small spiritual formation triology published by InterVarsity Press.

They didn't just ask me to talk about calling and vocation, about seeking God's will, about yielding our lives to God. That would be plenty, but they've had excellent speakers, already. I was invited to consider the ways in which a few saints have actually done this. As poet-farmer Wendell Berry has warned, "abstraction" finally isn't helpful, so we need examples, models and ways to actually live into this whole Soul Purpose thing.

I compared and contrasted the journey and spirituality of two men I greatly admire, one who has effected me by his writing, the other, more by his legendary life, Henri Nouwen and William Wilberforce. I had at my disposal, of course, here in the shop, numerous books by and about both of them. I hadn't really worked through any of the several good biographies of Nouwen and really enjoyed doing that in preparation. I more than enjoyed it, I found it deeply, deeply moving, being reminded of his hard journey, his pain and anxiety, his insecurities and desires. It is well known that Nouwen talked openly about many of his fears and his longing to know God so well as to find healing and wholeness, making him a "wounded healer" who has moved towards greater authenticity and hospitality. I suggested, as I read excerpts of Henri's journals and books, that his surrender, his vocation, the focus of his particular spirituality was less on what he did, but mostly on who he was. His gift was to be, to teach us all about the inner journey and the call to love. (Not unlike John Calvin, Nouwen regularly related the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self.)

Wilberforce, about whom I will soon write in my monthly website column, will be someone we will be hearing more about with the February release of the amazing film, Amazing Grace. I trust you know about Wilberforce's "great change" (as he called his evangelical conversion) and how the writer of the song, Amazing Grace (John Newton) influenced him not only to grow in love for Christ and a submission to the central truths of orthodox conviction, but to work year upon year for the abolition of slavery in England. What a momentous influence Newton had upon this young and influential parlimentarian, who has come to be known as the world's greatest social reformer. And what a life of struggle, faith, trust, philantrophy, suffering and activism Wilberforce lived! As John Piper tells us, in his excellent new (if very brief) book, Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce, it was a life of hardship and yet obvious joy; he was known for his humor and pleasant demeanor and insisted that service to God is a matter of immense joy. His response to God's call, like Nouwen's, was intimate and deep, but, more than Nouwen, he left his mark in the history-making things he accomplished in his public career.

Two styles of response, one known more for being, one for doing. Both were engaged in public issues, significant outreach and regularly showed their compassion for the less powerful, children, the needy. Both made room for guests and seekers and friends galore. Both had a ministry of correspondance, and both were known by some of the finest artists and philosophers of their day. Still, Nouwen's legacy is as the gentle contemplative who teaches us about the nature of our deepest inner issues, even as they spill over into peacemaking, servanthood and "downward mobility." Wilberforce, along with his Clapham community, reminds us to "think Christianly" and strategically work for political and cultural reforms that are rooted in the clarion call of the gospel. I enjoyed refreshing myself by studying these two titans. I hope you have such influences, know such books, have written resources around you like the writings of these men (or the books they so often cited) to draw upon when you have a sabbath hour to ponder such things.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Leonard Sweet on Starbucks

The new Leonard Sweet book is so much fun, packed with so much interesting information---how does he find all these eccentric statistics and factoids, anyway? ---and important cultural analysis that I really, really want to tell you all about it. I understand that for some who do very heavy postmodern studies (pro or con) his popular level books aren’t exactly what you may need. Fine. But for most of us, these popular books are jam-packed with provocative sentences, winsome Christian insight, innovative connections between faith and culture, and a surprisingly fun reminder of core convictions of the Christian faith----stuff like our passion for Jesus, God’s ability to use our broken lives, the goodness of creation, the importance of beauty, the way God’s Spirit calls us to participate in authentic community, how love can triumph…basic good stuff. Sweet stuff, if I might say so.

To tell you about his new book The Gospel According To Starbucks I have to make a disclaimer or two. In fact, I will write about my critical concerns at length, below, after my enthusiastic promotional overview here. I do, in fact, have some concerns, but the main reason I want to note them is so that you don’t resist getting this book because you share these same concerns. Len once advised me, “Byron, you can do ministry in the world we’ve got, or the world you wished we had.” Uh-huh. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we shouldn’t be discerningly critical, but that we should at least look at things the way they are. He wasn’t trying to shut down my discernment of how best to engage the culture; he's very interested in that question—in fact, he edited a great book with five different participants in conversation (from Orthodox writer Frederica Mathews-Green to Mosaic dream-caster, Erwin Raphael McManus; from Straight Arrow Calvinist Michael Horton to emergent guru Brian McLaren. In the middle of them all is the ever-thoughtful and exceptionally balanced Andy Crouch, who at the time edited the supercool and very substantive re:generation quarterly. It is called The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Views.) So Sweet isn’t shallow or a one-note tune. And I suppose I think of that story now as my criticisms below are of that sort that authors find perplexing (“Why did he complain about what I didn’t say—or review the book I didn’t write” some authors understandably ask. “If you wanted to say all that about the topic, why didn’t you write such a book,” one author told me when I chided him for not doing the book I wished he had. Fair enough.) I am so enjoying this new Starbucks book that is so clever, passionate, and informative that I don’t want anybody to dismiss it casually. It is worth reading, even if you’ve heard Sweet’s song(s) before. Or even if you don’t like Starbucks.

The Gospel According To Starbucks: Living Life With a Grande Passion (Waterbrook; $13.99) is a fun and handsome paperback that basically uses Starbucks as an example of the postmodern shift to what Sweet has famously coined as EPIC. This stands for Experiential, Participatory, Image-Rich and Communal. And he makes the case pretty well, at least a superficial one, that Starbucks is a leading edge new business with an EPIC perspective, offering folks not so much a product, but an experience, not just an item you get, but one which becomes an inter-active experience, etc. This EPIC handle is really useful, and I think goes a long way in helping us appreciate very recent trends (like, say, Reality TV or E-bay.Or the legendary customer-loyality of Starbuck's patrons.)

As I’ve implied, it doesn’t really matter if you like Starbucks (more on that below) and it doesn’t even matter if you enjoy coffee. The point is that this one cultural phenomenon, an unavoidable one, has been nicely studied and plumbed as a case-in-point of the postmodern way of being in the world. He uses it as a preacher does, as a springboard. So, to be clear, the book is less about Starbucks and more about our EPIC culture (and how, sometimes, the church is anything but.)

For instance, in a truly brilliant section he reports on the decline of standard athletics and the rise of participatory sports. (Ahh, with more snowboards being bought than ball gloves, what are we to think about the great American pastime? Remember that guy—a huge Detroit baseball fan—who infamously leaned over the outfield wall and messed up an important play in a big play-off game for the Tigers? As only Sweet can and would, he makes this guy into an icon of participatory trends, saying that the writing is on the wall, so to speak. People don’t go to games just to sit and watch them any more (think of how tailgating has become such a big deal, or, better, how about this trend of painting your body? Whew!) That more kids play video game baseball than watch it is very important. (Sweet observes that the computer game industry is much larger than, say, Hollywood, yet there is little Christian analysis of it.) That NASCAR has mics inside the racecars so fans can "be there" becomes a matter of great cultural importance in Sweet's hands, and it is an important little section. If you don’t quite see where he is going with all this, you have to get this book. If you like these kind of discernment exercises about “reading” cultural texts (the decline of baseball and the rise of extreme sports, say) than you will just love this book, jam-packed as it is with episodes and examples of just such provocative stuff. Either way, I think it is a great little easy read, loaded with wit and insight.

Sweet is clearly on the pomo edge of things, as he has been for years, in part because he insists that Jesus Christ is not a proposition, but a Person, and our knowledge—yada, yada, yada, is the intimate Hebrew word of "knowing," remember---is a relationship, not mere intellectual assent. That writers and theologians as diverse as John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards, or John Wesley and A.W. Tozer all said similar things may remind us that Sweet’s wholistic, post-Enlightenment epistemology isn’t heresy. It just seems a bit “out there” when he unpacks some of the implications of taking a multi-sensory, non-reductionistic, various-ways-of-knowing, whole-life approach to Christian discipleship, explaining it not only in terms of Bible texts, but by way of cultural icons like American Idol or iPods, or our love for the frappachino.

Sweet is a coffee fanatic, and he does love Starbucks. He has some good reflections on their in-house lingo, their excellence in barista training, their décor, their unorthodox marketing plans, and such. But, again, this book (it seems to me) isn’t really saying that the local church should mimic the franchise and do “Starbucks” services. Come on, left-brain literalists, give him a bit of credit for his imagery here…work with him, let the book tickle your fancy, your spiritual taste buds, your imagination. He isn’t saying we should do away with ordinary church and classic worship and have Zen meetings down at the espresso bar. But he is saying that Starbucks, and other emerging, new businesses, are onto something. They both reflect and contribute to the cultural zeitgeist, and we would be wise, at least, to pay attention. And, if Sweet is even partway right, we have some learning to do.

It isn’t the main point, hardly even a minor point. But I suppose it is all right to say it. At the very least, we can learn that a good quality coffee roast is important to many of us. Churches, fellowship groups and Christian retreat centers could serve up a better cup o' java, couldn't we? And that may, at least, be a start. Read this book and see what you think. As the subtitle puts it, he invites us to live with a grande passion. I love it!

The Gospel According to Starbucks: Living Life With a Grande Passion
Leonard Sweet (Waterbrook) $13.99


Okay, here are my concerns. I have already indicated that I don’t think this book is really about Starbucks, as such. It merely uses this popular business and it’s unique vibe as a springboard for his EPIC spiel, which I like. So whether or not you like Starbucks is really beside the point. One doesn’t really have to be married, you know, to appreciate a book on the “bride of Christ” imagery from the New Testament. One need not be a card-caring pacifist to study a good book on the Biblical principles of peacemaking, perhaps learning from contemporary examples of those who have worked for reconciliation. It doesn’t matter much whether one likes U2, say, or 24 or Tolkein. The books that have explored the spiritual themes in these works are fabulous and can be appreciated in their own right. And, if you don’t know much about those cultural artifacts, maybe that is all the more reason to read about them. So, again, I commend this book with vigor whether you like coffee or Starbucks or not.

But, Sweet does say some pretty positive things about the Starbucks corporation, their founder and their shops. He does hold up their coffee shops in an exemplary manner, indicating that we should celebrate their successes and affirm their insights and emulate their practices. And so I want to get on record a few quick (Light) Notes. (Sorry, little in-house Starbucks joke, there.)

First, while I do not boycott Starbucks myself, I appreciate that some think that we should only support independent shops. [Just today, I drove past a Starbucks while out of town to buy from an overpriced indie shop, as a matter of principle, and had a righteous, if sub-standard brew.] As one who waxes angrily eloquent at the mere mention of Amazon, and has testified in public hearings about the expansion of a local Wal-Mart, I understand deeply the concern about the invasion of out-of-town chains that may hurt smaller, local businesses. (You’ve seen
You’ve Got Mail haven’t you?!) Big box stores are nearly iconic of modernist applications, though, with mass-marketed “product” selected by somebody somewhere else, based more on "numbers" than quality, displayed in slick, big, ways, with little earnest charm and sometimes, not even much knowledge or care. (Barnes and McNoble may have sophisticated literary selections, but I have had some very frustrating conversations with staff who, to say it nicely, don’t seem to be passionate about books or bookselling.) I am not sure that Starbucks is the same as Amazon (a faceless, mostly un-normative business, I think) or the big box retailers, since they do nurture a local touch, are passionate about their product, and, as Sweet observes, attempt to nurture participatory community in each locale. Still, I am very concerned that Sweet does not mention this concern, and wonder how I would feel about the book if I owned an indie coffee shop. Or, if he wrote a book about the (imagined) glories of Borders. I’d be irked. Again, The Gospel According to Starbucks is a call to rich and sensory and communally experienced faith, using the never-ending wit of Sweet’s over-caffeinated brain, by way of a quickie look at the cultural zeitgeist that the commercial success of a place like Starbucks signifies. It isn’t a study of the economics, stewardship, justice or appropriateness of national chain franchises entering local economies. So I’m willing to cut him a break on this and am happy to promote the book, as a way to reflect on that which the book is actually about---postmodern sensibilities, EPIC discipleship, full-on Christian passion and purpose. I think it is nonetheless an oversight that he did not at least approach this matter, and he should have at least broached the subject.

Secondly and closely related, is the whole movement that some have called the search for “third places.” I will blog, eventually, on the
Great Good Place book, and my friend Larry Bourgeois, a renowned coffee Master himself, who has written about his coffee-house/meeting place in the sequel, Celebrating the Great Good Place, and on the need for real social places, safe havens that truly foster community and hold the possibility of cultural restoration. Sweet himself has written nicely about his vision of a “Soul Café” in his book with that title, and understands the need for retail places that promote conviviality, community, local responsibility. He used to run a retail shop that only sold products that had a "story" and were made by real folks, with some connection to somewhere particular. To the extent that Starbucks promotes their take-out attitude, paper cups and drive-through windows (!) it is a stretch to imagine that they are deepening real care, celebrating local culture or even helping people meet each other. Although Sweet’s call to connectedness and community in his EPIC acronym is right on, the reality is that Starbucks may be deconstructing local neighborhoods, dumbing down the practices of serious latte culture, and foisting on us an overpriced experience of haste, hurry, consumerism and disposability.

Thirdly, the fair-trade movement is one that Sweet has promoted, and he brings it up here. Earlier books addressed these fundamental justice concerns, even his great, older book on the Holy Spirit. His groundbreaking
Soul Tsunami had excellent chapters on the green movement and global justice issues. However, there is some debate about how “fair-trade” Starbucks really is. They claim they pay above the industry average, and I have no reason to disbelieve them. They have in recent months increased some of their publicity (at least around here) about how they support bio-regions, and they do a bit of geographic teaching in some of their lovely brochures. Still, those that know me know that I’ve embarrassed myself and my baristas more than once with my complaint that we ought not to have to choose between helping the workers or helping the Earth. To have to choose between a bag of the earth-friendly shade grown, or a bag of the organic (good for consumer and farmer) or a bag of their fair-trade just isn’t right. Being such a large, lucrative, and influential staple of the worldwide coffee culture, they should be leading the way towards being entirely certified fair trade. We should be grateful that Sweet talks about all of this in the book, affirms Starbuck’s policy efforts and chides them (in more than one particularly pointed sentence) about not promoting the idea of fairly traded goods.

My favorite coffee bean company, by the way, is Peace Coffee, which we buy at the local Farmer’s Market. They specialize in dark roasts, and are all shade-grown, all organic and all certifiably fair trade. And they have that nifty, Biblical name. There are others, and we are grateful for missionaries, justice activists and denominational church offices that make fully fair trade certified blends available. Before you jump too fully on the Starbucks train, check out other local, vibrant, indigenous shops, working with them to offer fairly-traded products to your locale.

For one friend’s story of starting up a coffee shop (in Beaver Falls, PA) that has struggled admirably to attend to these matters, see “Working With Beans” in

One of the best brief articles, with helpful resources on the agricultural impact of coffee growing, see this from our friends at
Catapult, “Fair-Trade Coffee Is For the Birds

So, having hopefully “head off at the pass” any closed-minded bias against my suggestion that you should read a book with Starbucks in the title, duly noting these important concerns, we invite you to think more deeply about your own economic patterns and purchasing choices, and buy
The Gospel According to Starbucks from some independently owned, personally-caring booksellers you may happen to know. We think it will be a fun book for small groups or book clubs and will help you not only deepen your cultural awareness, but may help you embrace an EPIC faith in the One who is the Living Truth. Which is Len’s biggest passion, giving folks a taste of the goodness of the gospel of the Kingdom of God.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Long-awaited C.S. Lewis Letters

Those who read Lewis in any more than a casual way know that his letters are gems. From his kindness in corresponding to the hypochondriac woman in Letters to an American Lady to his wise counsel on prayer in Letters to Malcolm, we not only take great pleasure in older styles of correspondence, but drink deeply from the wells of his wisdom. Letters are also a good way to see in to both the biography and the character of a person. There is a reason that the letters of nearly all famous people get published.

The long-awaited final volume in the three-book set of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis has finally hit the stores. The sub-title tells of the importance of this volume: Narnia, Cambridge and Joy (1950-1963.) These have been expertly edited by Walter Hooper (Harper SanFransico; $42.95.) We are honored to have such a volume on our shelves (like my last post I feel a certain gravity in announcing this, as these will be enduring classics) and hope you will find it of interest. To be honest, the first two---now available in paperback in a slip-cased boxed set, by the way---were less interesting to me than this one. Here, we have his most important correspondence---stuff about Narnia, letters to Tolkein, notes to people about his most famous books. And, plenty of more ordinary writing. We have, for the first time, the complete collection of letters to Mrs. Shelburne (the "American Lady") as well as many written to ordinary folks who had written to him. (Lewis had rheumatism in his right hand and the hours he spent writing each day was difficult, but he endured, faithfully.) The complete, charming Letters to Children is reproduced here, along with others which have not been seen by the public. These are, of course, an important source of information about Narnia as Lewis loved telling kids about the story, why he wrote them as he did and so forth.

An appendix to this hefty volume includes the early philosophical exchange between Lewis and Owen Barfield, who had become interested in Rudolf Steiner and a view that now might be called "new age." These debates---at a time before Lewis' conversion when he was a secular naturalist (with no hint of anything supernatural)---are particularly fascinating and may be useful for many, today.

Pieces to other literary and theological figures are here, including all fifty letters he penned to Dorothy Sayers. And, of course, Joy Davidman---letters to and about her!

Mr. Hooper's decades of dilgent work bringing these letters together deserves a medal of honor; his work as literary advisor to the Lewis Estate is well-respected. Lewis fans, students and scholars alike will thank God for him for bringing these letters to publication.

at 25% off
get a small hardback anthology of Lewis's writings free

Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Family Letters (1905-1931)
Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Books Broadcasts, and the War (1931-1949)
Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy (1950-1963)

The first two are available in a slip-cased paperback set ($39.95) or in hardcover at $34.95 each.)
Volume three is only available in hardcover for $42.95

We will deduct 25% off any purchase and enclose a free gift hardback book.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Magisterial At Canaan's Edge

It is Martin Luther King, Jr. day and each year, especially later in the day, I feel like I sometimes do on Sabbath; something is special, and something is not right. There have been times, a long time ago for me, I'm afraid, when this important day brought forums, protests, anti-war activity and worship in black churches. These days had me feeling somehow more authentic in my admiration of the Nobel Prize winner. Today, my little framed picture of King with a rough cop twisting his arm behind his back in a classic 1958 arrest scene---as iconic for some of us as Fr. Dan Berrigan flashing the peace sign low to his waist, handcuffed---sits as a reminder of King's insistence not only on non-violence, but on civil disobedience. But we don't talk about it much, except when I marvel at the popularity of youthful "ordinary radical" Shane Claiborne, author of Irresistable Revolution ($12.99---on sale here for $10.00.) He gets it as much as anybody, is being read by a young generation of evangelicals, and is, happily (and mysteriously, it seems to me) published by Zondervan. Who says God doesn't work in mysterious ways?

Brother Martin almost had all that commitment to non-violent love and Sermon on the Mount guts stolen from him when he studied at a liberal Protestant seminary, but recovered a passion for the ways of Jesus by studying Gandhi. It is one of the great shames of my heritage---mainline Protestantism---that when it mattered most, we had little to aid this heroic giant of a Christian leader. Thank God (as Bonhoeffer had discovered earlier in the century when he worshipped at Abyssinian Baptist while studying at Union in 1931) for black gospel songs and the evangelical truth they carried.

Today, I thank God for those who most helped me in this area, a black roomate in college, who turned me on to the jazz-funk of War and traditional gospel, and affirmed my interest in James Cone. Thanks to Clarence Jordon, Tom Skinner and Bill Pannell, John Perkins and, more recently, Vincent Harding and Cornell West. And Vince, an Italian goofball who came to Christ through Young Life and lives like a combo Abbie Hoffman & Saint Francis, who stood alone for so many years, protesting Carnegie Mellon University's war contracts and their refusal to honor Dr. King. Tonight, I listen to the vapid news stories and read the paper about all the services in his honor with politicos of all stripes saying they admire him, and wish I was doing something more true. I wish I could at least sell his books, so people know.

To wit: a book recommendation, at least. We here at Hearts & Minds stock more about King than most bookstores, and more about racial reconcilation and justice than perhaps any Christian bookstore anywhere. Nobody much notices, except the Klan, once, but we've got 'em. So call us sometime if you want an update on oldies or goodies.

This year, though, you must know that the third and final volume of one of the most significant historical works of our lifetime came out this year, At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965-1968 by the renowned Taylor Branch (Simon & Schuster; $35.00 in hardback, just out this week in paperback; $20.00.) This completes the much-acclaimed triology that began with the Pulitzer Prize-winning Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963 and Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-1965. Like the first two, Canaan's Edge combines meticulous detail well told on a broad social canvas; passion and zest with a notable lack of sentimenality. Fair and serious and interesting. It weighs in at over 1000 pages. There may be easier ways to get some of this (Vincent Harding's splendid Hope and History: Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement comes to mind) but nothing as significant, as thorough, as truly magisterial. This is what a good book is all about and will be something to treasure for the rest of your life.

From the dust jacket:
In At Canaan's Edge, King and his movement stand at the zenith of America's defining story, one decade into an epic struggle for the promises of democracy. Branch opens with the authorities' violent suppression of a voting-rights march in Alabama on March 7, 1965. The quest to cross Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge engages the conscience of the world, strains the civil rights coalition, and embroils King in negotiations with all three branches of the U.S. government.

The marches from Selma coincide with the first landing of the large U.S. combat units in South Vietnam. The escalation of the war severs the cooperation of King and President Lyndon Johnson after a collaboration that culminated in the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act.

After Selma, young pilgrims led by Stokely Carmichael take the movement into adjacent Lowndes County Alabama, where not a single member of the black majority had tried to vote in the twentieth century. Freedom workers are murdered, but sharecroppers learn to read, dare to vote, and build their own political party. Carmichael leaves in frustration to proclaim his famous black power doctrine, taking the local panther ballot symbol to become an icon of armed rebellion.

Also, after Selma, King takes nonviolence into Northern urban ghettoes...

Parting the Water : America in the King Years 1954-1963 ($20.00, pb)
Pillar of Fire
: America in the King Years 1963-65 ($17.00 paperback)
At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68 $35.00 cloth or $2o.00pb)

read@heartsandmindsbooks.com or 717.246.3333

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Purpose, Passion, & Bookselling...

Today I had two fascinating, long, good conversations about what many call, these days, a "purpose-driven life" or a "search for significance." The first was with a gang of high school business students at Central York High School, where I was asked to speak about why we started Hearts & Minds 25 years ago, what the benefits and liabilities of owning your own business might be, and how to integrate personal convictions and vision with a business plan. While I mentioned our business goals and advertising plans and money management, I felt strongly to invite these future entrepreneurs to think big, seek out their passions and gifts, and ask big questions about life, times, vocations and community service.
I got to share some of our early dreams (how young we were) to cook up this thing, our passion to run our own business, our love for books and love for people, our hope to forge a way of life that harmonized various sides of life---family, work, church, community, politics...

Shortly thereafter, I talked with a friend I admire, a guy who has great vision for relating faith and business, right livlihood and corporate ethics, and who happens to be involved in helping plan others' financial futures. Righteous dude that he is, he knows that his clients may have money to manage, but the real issue is that they have lives to life. He wants to help them get a vision for what they feel called to, and help them think about their personal goals and assets in a way that is consistent with their values and best hopes. Come to think of it, maybe
he should have done the High School talk.

Anyway, here are a few books that might be of interst to anybody who is thinking about purpose, meaning, vocation and such. Instead of listing serious theological books on this as I am sometimes wont to do, I've listed some pretty easy reads. My new high school friends might even get a kick out of some (even though a few swore that they don't read.) And my professional guy could use these with nearly any of this clients.

You should know (if you read this blog or my book reviews over at the website) that I have been deeply moved and greatly influenced by the excellent and wonderfully-penned classic The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Word; $17.99) by Os Guinness. I won't even mention that one here. And I won't make one of those computer facey things with a semi-colon that looks like a wink.

Living on Purpose: Finding God’s Best for Your Life Christine & Tom Sine (Baker) $14.99 Tom is the only guy I know who is more energetic and visionary than Tony Campolo; he brings a broad social vision and offers very practical advise about creating a personal mission statement, so that families can form communities with others to make a difference over their life-time. Focused on God’s call to transforming culture and whole-life discipleship—around the theme of purpose—before Purpose Driven Life. I’ve promoted it as a perfect follow-up. My kind of folks…

What Now: Making Sense of Who You Are and Where You’re Going Marc Estes (Relevant) $19.99 This brand new one is one of the first hardcovers that Relevant released; handsome, young, vibrant. Ed Young (who is really popular these days) wrote the forward. All about finding a fulfilled and passionate life, through focus and resolve to pursue the best…nice. It really is rooted in very traditional Christian doctrine and has several appendices with inventories about spiritual gifts and such.

Made To Count: Discovering What to Do With Your Life Bob Record & Randy Singer (Word) $13.99 This includes acess to a free online personality profile and gifts analysis. This starts off asking not what are you best at, but "What is your greatest fear?" Fascinating, for anybody that wants practical advise about how to leave a positive imprint on the world...and yet struggles with fear of failure. Both visionary and quite practical.

Whose Life Is It, Anyway? Neil Hood (Authentic Books) $9.99 I love the depth and clarity of these, thoughtful, British evangelicals…this goes along with a nice companion handbook about work, called Whose Work Is It Anyway? The subtitle of this reads: "A Lifeline in a Stress-Soaked World” and has chapters on various sides of life, showing practical ways to develop a uniquely Christian perspective. There is some good, brief teaching on resources, money, stewardship; stuff on work, citizenship, ethics, etc. Applied worldview thinking.

Don't Waste Your Life John Piper (Crossway) $15.99 Radical Baptist preacher man John Piper doesn't mince words. He insists that the Bible teaches that we are made for joy. And joy comes from finding pleasure in God. So everything we do---everything!---must be done for God's glory. What freedom, purpose, danger. What a life. This edition comes with a DVD of him preaching up a storm at the Passion conference. Kids: you can watch the video, and then read the book.

Visioneering: God's Blueprint for Developing and Maintaining Personal Vision Andy Stanley (Multnomah) $12.99 Some people really love this book, a practical guide to develop God’s blueprint for your life, and for maintaining personal vision. Powerful, but basic. Very good for emerging leaders.

Life-Mapping John Trent (Waterbrook) $14.95 This is a workbook on getting one’s life going in a healthy direction. Invites evaluation of various sides of life, bringing the journey together, knowing where your going, overcoming roadblocks and detours (get the driving metaphor!) I think this fresh look at the map could be very helpful for many folks.

Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists and Innovators Who Are Changing the World Through Faith Heather Zydek (Relevant) $14.99 This is it, kids: hipster magazine formate with short biographies of, well, activists, artists and innovators. Who are changing the world. Through faith. Very, very cool. That H&M friends like Shane Claiborne and Lauren Winner are in here makes it even better. Check it out!

Forgetting Ourselves on Purpose: Vocation and the Ethics of Ambition Brian Mahan (Jossey-Bass) $19.99 Now this is of an entirely different calibre and tone than the others I've noted before. It is beautifully written, deep and rich, thoughtful and exceptional. That Harvard prof Robert Coles wrote the lovely forward speaks volumes. For those who have read, say Listen to Your Life by Parker Palmer or who want to pursue this question of how to be called to a vocation of service, and still want to exhibit healthy ambition. Highly recommended.

Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth Derrick Bell (Bloomsbury) $13.95 I have written about this before. Bell is a renowned civil rights activist, legal scholar, and African-American lawyer who gave up several prestigious jobs in order to take a stand for what he thought was right. Gotta love a guy that get's fired for doing the right thing. He has stood on the right side of things often, and at personal cost, so he is able to tell moving stories about this question of ambition, social change and the call to work for justice. Great!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Art of Worship

I recall a pleasant conversation or two several years ago with a very thoughtful young man, with very smart, edgy musical tastes (do you know the Violent Femmes? Talking Heads? Bruce Cockburn?) who was involved in music ministries at a leading evangelically-minded Presbyterian Church. He wondered if there needed to be a book that was both solid theologically and creative musically that would help address what some were just beginning to call "the worship wars." When my wife and I lived in Pittsburgh in the late 70's we worked for a small, urban Presby church, but Bellefield Presbyterian was renowned. They are still one of the great churches near a college campus (University of Pittsburgh) that bring together young and old, professors, students, city folk and seekers in a vibrant Christian outreach. Greg Scheer spent years there, as choir guy, church musician and composer while doing graduate work and I would like to think our friends there helped him formulate his vision of worship and music, church and the arts. He went on to (among other things) teach at Northwestern College and now is minister of music at the nationally-renowned, very exceptional, artistically-rich and liturgically deep CRC Church of the Servant, in Grand Rapids, MI. Interestingly, there are other old Bellefield church and Pittsburgh friends at Church of the Servant now, too.

Scheer not only has these relational and ecclesiastical connections, his new book, The Art of Worship: A Musician's Guide to Leading Modern Worship (Baker; $15.99) is all about connections: he brings together various strains within worship theology, connecting charismatic, liturgical, traditional and contemporary stylings; he brings considerable passion for serious theology and very practical, specific planning expertise. This book unites more formal musical tastes with more rockin' sensibilities. As a music associate with the prestigious Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, he interacts with academic scholars and working church musicians. This book is all about bringing stuff together. You can see his useful website, here.

And bring it all home, he does. My, my, Greg does bring together the best thinking in recent years and very practical advise about sound systems and composition, instrumentation and making the bulletin. He ruminates on theology ("Repertoire is theology!") and church renewal ("Repeat after me: Contemporary worship music will not revitalize my church.") He helps anyone involved in crafting contemporary worship to do it better, with greater doctrinal integrity and attention to liturgical aesthetics. And yet, it is one of the more "nuts and bolts" books done, with very nice descriptions of different kinds of vocals and harmonies and tons of good recommendations. He makes suggestions about different kinds of instruments and percussion. He lists oodles of resources (which compilation albums and "fake books" are useful for worship teams, etc.)

With endorsements from the likes of Robert Webber and John Witvliet, this will be a book that is talked about for years. It is rooted in a thoughtful, Biblical worldview and emerges from his work in very respected congregations. While the theological underpinnings are discussed in greater depth elsewhere, this book is a reliable and user-friendly guide.

I don't remember what I advised Greg about his manuscript in those nearly-forgotten phone calls from years ago. I think I might have said that if we are going to have yet another book on church music and contemporary worship, it will have to be exceptional--- not just a rant against how cheesy so much CCM is, or how unsound so much CW music is, and not just a reactionary screed for traditionalism, and not just a mushy middle. Not scholarly but not unconnected to serious thinking. Something as quality and radical and interesting as he himself was. I'm happy to report that that book is now here, written by that very exceptional now not-so-young man. Thanks be to God.

The Art of Worship: A Musician's Guide to Leading Modern Worship Greg Scheer (Baker) $15.99

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Guide to Great Books

Yesterday, I invited you to read the article I wrote about the joys and significance of reading, published in a special issue for college students, on-line at Comment. Not a bad suggestion for a bookseller, eh, to highlight an essay on reading? In case you missed it, scroll back to yesterday and read my little bookish cheerleading. You may note that the hard copy magazine which collects Comment's "Making the Most of College" series is available for sale, here.

Yes, yes, you may say, I want to be a better reader. I at least want to be familiar with the better books, the classic authors. I'd like to know my way around the discussions and debates about the canon, at least know which century in which great writings appeared, and have a reputabile guidebook to the very best. Where do I start?

There are a few great guides. I've often recommended the great little paperback by an old H&M acquintance, Terry Glaspey, The Book Lovers Guide to Great Reading: A Guided Tour of Classic and Contemporary Literature (IVP; $11.00.) It is still one of the greatest inspirations for book lovers in one typically-sized paperback. Well written, with lot's of opinions, and loaded with practical suggestions (even how to run a book discussion group) it is a sweet, helpful winner by a very well-read young man.

Today, though, I'd like to announce---heck, I'd like to shout and sing and tip my hat and spritz a confetti shooter or something---a truly wonderful resource which has recently been released in an inexpensive paperback edition. I refer to the magnificent Invitation to the Classics: A Guide to the Books You've Always Wanted To Read which was masterfully compiled a few years ago by Louise Cowen and Os Guinness. Baker Books has just released an affordable $24.95 edition, in paperback, which still has all the very rich illustrations, the quality, glossy paper, the full-color reproductions. It is fantastic! We've stocked the handsome hardback previously, but wished for one that we could promote that was more affordable. (We do have the hardback, which is sturdy, selling for $34.99.) Thank goodness, for your New Year's Resolutions or up-coming Ephiany gifts (who do give ephipany gifts, don't you?) it is now out in paperback!

An Invitation to the Classics is just that: an invitation. It gives nice summaries of great authors, overviews of important literary and historical writings, and places these great books in thoughtful context, with suggestions for further study or discussion. That Cowen and Guinness and their extraordinary team of colleagues are themselves so remarkably well-read, and can so naturally evaluate the Western heritiage through responsible Christian lenses, make this a treasure trove of deep insight. Some may want to read it cover-to-cover, others will use it as a lovely coffee table book for occasional edification. Still others will refer to it often as a reference tool and handbook.

Reading is a delight and joy. Knowing our literary heritage makes reading that much more fun, more fruitful. But, also, it helps shape who we are, our character, our ability to be effective and well-spoken, wise contributors to our society. It is no accident that Dr. Guinness developed the vision for this reader while working with The Trinity Forum in his efforts to mentor leaders in the public sector. Great literature can be an ally in efforts to bring Christian wisdom to the culture. Cowen & Guinness et al make that case here, and have enriched us with a fabulous guidebook. We are happy to commend it.

while supplies last
Invitation to the Classics
regularly $24.99

read@heartsandmindsbooks.com or 717.246.3333

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Learning to Love Good Books

I know I am not the first to wish you a Happy New Year, although, if you subscribe to this blog and read it promptly, I might be the first to wish you a Happy Tenth Day of Christmas. (Do you see any Lords A-leaping anywhere?) And, if you are like most North Americans, you’ve considered, even if you aren’t the resolving type, what you might want to do differently in this new year of our Lord. Some of you, I’d bet, are hoping for deeper spiritual lives, wiser use of time, somehow remaining faithful to God in ways that are fruitful, in your personal and public lives. I hope my occasional book reviews are at least somewhat helpful as we commit ourselves to learn and grow. I need not remind most of my readers that the Christian word disciple means to be a learner.

I usually announce books here, and have avoided linking you to other blogs or articles. But to an article that I wrote, well, that is permissible, isn’t it? Our good friends at Comment (an opinion journal published by the Work Research Foundation) did a series of essays last fall for college students, at their on-line journal which always features thoughtful, rather serious pieces on how a broad vision of living out Christian principles can impact culture in the slow, hard work of responding to God’s call to bring reform to Christ’s creation. For that batch of articles they asked me to write one about the discipline of reading, the call to love good books, the ways in which busy, post-modern young folks can take up the task of life-long learning by appreciating the printed page.

I must admit I’m a bit proud of it (not only to be published in such a fabulous series) but because I think what I wrote is a bit unique. Too many bookish types are priggish on popular culture. Some have a philosophical presumption that pits words over images, that blames the lack of reading on TV, that seems, finally, somehow rooted in dualisms that just don’t seem right to me. So I call for a celebration of electronic culture, an appreciation of the arts, a realization that God has made us as multi-faceted creatures with (therefore) different ways of knowing. I offer hope for a balanced lifestyle even as we insist on the need to read books, love books, buy books, study hard, read widely, for fun and profit. I think it is a pretty important piece and some have told me they’ve found it helpful. Read Learning to Love Good Books here.

And while your there, feel free read the other essays, too.

Perhaps you will want to read this article to remind you why you love books and why, almost surely, your New Year’s hopes include making more time to spend between the covers of some well-chosen titles. Or maybe you will want to share it with somebody who doesn't quite get your passion for authors, bookshops, reviews, and all things bookish.

I announced this earlier, but you may have missed it: the folks at Comment publish a hard (real magazine format) copy each quarter-- a “best of” their on-line journal. The one on college life, with my article in it, came out this fall and it is very nice, with articles on learning how and when to talk about faith in college, on learning to evaluate art, on developing important friendships, on studying history. Cal Seerveld has a demanding piece on philosophy, and Jeffry Davis, a creative writing instructor from Wheaton, has a great piece on learning to write well. Gideon Strauss’s spectacular article is called “Asking Big Questions.” It is advice not just for collegiates, I’d say, but for all of us who want to start off the year knowing we are life-long learners, disciples.

Check it out on line and if you like it, please order the hard copy from us here. It sells for $8.00 and is a great resource. Perhaps you could send one to a student you know?