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, May 30, 2007

Okay bloggers: "Get Reaaady to Rum-baaaaalllll"

Michael J. Behe is a heck of a pleasant fellow and, as far as I can tell (ah, the rumble will start here, I'm sure) a very thoughtful scholar. He made his name with the New York Times reviewed--that would be a positive review---Darwin's Black Box and his work in what the intelligent design movement calls "irreducible complexity." Dr. Behe is a researcher and professor at Lehigh University here in Pennsylvania, and many of us truly respect him. Even now I grind my teeth when I recall how a friend in the local paper mocked his testimony at the infamous Dover "panda trial" implying he was some sort of wacko. A wacko he is not. Even most reasonable Darwinists who disagree with him see it fit to debate his work, and take him seriously.

The long awaited The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism has just been released by the very presitigous The Free Press. Michael Denton, of course, has a nice blurb on the back as does Dr. Philip Skell, Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, at Penn State, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, who says this:
Until the past decade and the genomics revolution, Darwin's theory rested on indirect evidence and reasonable speculation. Now, however, we have begun to scratch the surface of direct evidence, of which this book offers the best possible treatment. Though many critics won't want to admit it, The Edge of Evolution is very balanced, careful, and devastating. A tremendously important work.
Another scholar we admire, and have also met, and who also is a fine fella and an extraordinary scholar, is Francis S. Collins, the well-known evangelical who heads the Human Genome Project. His book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief will be out in paperback in July, with a new, updated chapter. It has some critique of the ID movement, and affirms the processes of evolution in ways that are consistent with the Christian faith. We highly recommend it, and the new edition will be a very important addition to the faith and science dialogue. We'll let readers know the day it arrives.

Would, in this ideological and scientific smack-down, that all those fighting for their views were as gentlemanly (and smart) as these two good men. When hard-core Darwinists pull stunts like stopping exceptional scholars from getting tenure, and when fundamentalist Christians send death threats to evolutionists, we know that we need examples of civil and thoughtful discourse. We've had some fun debates on this blog, in fact, about this stuff, and we are grateful for those who chime in. (Pray for Neil, by the way, who was in a very serious biking accident.) I am confident that Behe's new book will be one of the most discussed and debated titles of the year. He may take the intelligent design movement in a new direction, and he will certainly advance the conversation. For anyone interested in the sciences, it is truly a must-read.

The Edge of Evolution
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Saturday, May 26, 2007

A good day in the book biz

It has been a good day. Of course there have been troubles, shipment problems, ordering problems, customer problems, issues with finances, paperwork, computers. Things often seem to go wrong around here (probably just about like your workplace and home.) And there are our health issues (Beth is doing just a bit better, by the way.) Still, with all the hassles of small business life and the nearly insurmountable obstacles for entrepreneurs, today, I think you should know, has been a good day.

Today we got to set up books for a lecture on Harry Potter, by the fascinating Orthodox Latin scholar and Hogwart fan, John Granger (who must tire of the inevitable Hermione jokes.) He wrote the excellent Looking for God In Harry Potter (SaltRiver) and Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader (Zossima Press.) He also co-edited the remarkably thorough, speculative collection, Who Killed Albus Dumbledore?: What Really Happened in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? Six Expert Harry Potter Detectives Examine the Evidence (Zossima Press.)

At the display at Derry Presbyterian we offered other books on theology and culture, on Christian views of the arts and literature, a few things about the need to raise children with imagination and discernment. If you’ve been in our shop or been to places we’ve had book displays you may have seen Terry Glaspy’s lovely book, Your Child's Heart: Building Strong Character and a Lasting Faith (Cumberland House) which is very much about nurturing a child’s moral imagination, in part, through great literature. Honey for a Child’s Heart (Zondervan) by Gladys Hunt is a classic in that area, too, and we are grateful for an updated edition. And, there is a brand new book on play therapy and children, just released by Eerdmans, called: Beyond Deserving: Children, Parents, and Responsibility Revisited by Dorothy Martyn.

Something else that made me happy was that I got to feature the new book by H&M supporter and often-mentioned youth culture guru, Walt Mueller. His new book is a must for older youth workers, parents, pastors, teachers or anybody that needs a clear and authoritative guide to the latest trends, the hip stuff kids are into, and ways to think faithfully about the meaning of all that. Check out Youth Culture 101 (Youth Specialties.) You may recall that I've reviewed his insightful and important study, Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture: Bridging Teen Worldviews And Christian Truth (IVP) which I still insist is a must-read for any youth worker or parent.

But it is a great day for another reason. My very good friend, Derek Melleby called me. The book that he and mutual friend Don Opitz (of Geneva College) wrote for Christian college students will be out within a few weeks. Derek had gotten his author’s first copy and it was a sacred moment. I scooted home by another way, met him at some rural intersection, and he gave me one. That I have an endorsement on the back (along with very prominent and thoughtful Christian leaders) is pretty nifty, but the important point is that The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness: A Guide for Students is now in hand. What a fun and upbeat and radical call to take faith seriously, to allow our primal convictions—the core of what we most deeply believe as people of the Biblical tradition---to color and shape our thought life, especially in the college classroom. I will review this at greater length later, but to hold this little gem, standing by the roadway with cars blowing by, was fabulous. Way to go, Derek, Don & Brazos. What a great day!

And, I got word that an article I wrote for Comment, the extraordinary Canadian e-zine, is now on line. They have been doing a series with established Christian thinkers offering bibliographies for summer reading, each on a specialized topic. These lists are astounding; just great! You will want to read them all---on the arts, on urban design, or politics, on business and finance, on novels. Mine is a season-ending bit of basic Christian growth, cultural analysis, and the outrageous idea of developing the Christian mind, especially for students. And then a fun batch of memoirs. I hope you read my playful little essay, as well as the other great pieces there. (PLEASE DO!) The “hard copy” version of this colorful magazine will be out before long, too, and we will surely have some to sell later in the summer. It is the best-kept secret of the magazine world and I can't believe I get to write for them.

Thanks for caring about what goes on around here, for your prayers and support.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Path of Celtic Prayer

Our previous post noted some recent books on spiritual formation. I introduced those great titles by insisting that an emphasis on spirituality was not in order to escape this world or to turn inward, only, but to form us in ways so we could, as faithful followers of Jesus, be wise in the ways of cultural engagement and, particularly, creation-care. As we've enjoyed lucsious spring weather, here, I've tossed back my head in joy for the beauties of the Earth; as I've pondered the books I reviewed last week about ecology, I am again urgently reminded of the need to integrate faith, spiritual renewal, and creational stewardship.

A tradition that helps with that, of course, is the Celtic one. We have oodles of books---wee ones and big ones---on Celtic spirituality. Some are ancient, some recent. They are, natch, attuned to the cycles of creation and attentive to God showing up in the ordinary.

Here is a brand new one by a very favorite reliable author, the much-respected Calvin Miller, called The Path of Celtic Prayer: An Ancient Way to Everyday Joy (IVP/formatio; $18.) Miller, who reminds me of his friend Eugene Peterson, is a crisp and wise writer, and we commend his work no matter what he is writing about (most often the inner journey and faithful spirituality or guidance for pastors on resisting professionalization in ministry.) This new one looks just fabulous, describing various ways to pray (as taught by these ancients.) And it has a chapter "Nature Prayer" as the Irish show how to glory in the goodness of God's handiwork.

The Path of Celitic Prayer
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Monday, May 21, 2007

Digging In: new books on spiritual formation

I have written, in the April monthly column, and the last blog post or two, about creation-care, food, ecology and such. I have an op-ed piece appearing next week in our local Sunday paper about urban sprawl (more on that later.)

I want to segue into mentioning some books on spirituality, a move that might appear to be---to those who don't follow BookNotes carefully---an altogether different subject. Yet, we are convinced that there are connections between our inner and outer lives (even saying it that way makes me uncomfortable), the things of the heart and things of the feet. Rejecting the harsh body/soul dualism of neo-Platonism and the Gnostics, of course, or the individualistic pietism of much of recent evangelicalism, leads us to a gritty and wholistic worldview, and a style of discipleship that is truly "in the world." So my applauding the Barbara Kingsolver memoir and that list of books about the ethics of eating is related, deeply so, to the sorts I mention today. I hope you agree!

You Gave Me a Wide Place: Holy Places of Our Lives by Paul E. Stroble (Upper Room Books; $15) I quickly mentioned this in last month's column. I note it again because it is very much about a spirituality of place. It is a dear book, actively calling us to reflect on God's presence in our places and ways the sacred appears in those places that we care about. The title comes, by the way, from Psalm 18:36. Although not an instructional book on how to pray, care about place or garden, the lovely little memoir by Robert Benson, Digging In: Tending to Life in Your Own Backyard (Waterbrook; $12.99) was a sheer delight, well written and plain, even as he tells of caring for his little plot of backyard, and the people who are part of his story there. Wonderful.

Hidden in Plain Sight by Mark Buchannan (Word) $17.99 This is a gem of a book, one I am dipping into occasionally and enjoying much. You may know how we love his other good stuff, especially the previous one (now out in paperback) called The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul By Restoring Sabbath (Nelson; $14.99). Here, he shows that finding more of God may be redundant: his text in 2 Peter 1 tells us it has already been given. What a great, practical and visionary view of daily spirituality. Read Mark Buchannan, you will not go away uninformed or unaroused.

PunkMonk: New Monasticism and the Ancient Art of Breathing Andy Freeman & Pete Greig (Regal) $14.99 You may have heard of Greig from his work with the 24-7 Prayer movement, or for writing Red Moon Rising and God On Mute. Here, they reflect, in a postmodern, hipster way, on the daily disciplines of attending to the presence of God in the ordinary and living faithfully in that Spirit. The book tells of new "desert fathers" and "monastic communities" around the world. From Moravians to Franciscans, from Celts to charismatics, these new radicals are making a difference in the world, growing in deeper faith and action, and, as they put it, creating "greenhouses of shalom." Prayer, mission, justice. Quotes from Francis Schaeffer on the arts and Ian Bradley on celtic models of church and, of course, Shane Claiborne, Bonhoeffer, etc. It's a whole new world out there. Thank God.

Spirituality Old and New: Recovering Authentic Spiritual Life Donald G. Bloesch (IVP) $18 My goodness, this is a stunning work, a deep and reflective book connecting the earliest spiritual insights of the church fathers and applying it today, in rich and theologically orthodox ways. Gabriel Fackre (emeritus prof at Andover Newton) says, "Here is a biblical and churchly spirituality so needed today as an alternative to the new age nostrums that crowd the mall bookstore shelves." David Gill says that this book "has to be put on everyone's all-time top five list of books on this topic" and John Armstrong says it makes it case "with exceptional clarity and ecumencial irenicism." Serious and important.

The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life
Robert Webber (Baker) $16.99 What a shame that Bob Webber has passed away, as he was such a beloved and helpful saint. Here, he tells of the history of spirituality---something those who are reading recent popular writers like Foster, Nouwen, Barton, Nouwen and such---should do. And, he shows, in very thorough and compelling ways, how the Christian story and full-life gospel got truncated and reduced, turned inward and self-centeredly pious (there is that dualism, again!) This is at once a guide to passionate faith and deeper spirituality, formation in the ways of Christ that are "inner and outer" and a very wise and helpful warning about how such longings for the things of God can go wrong. His working metaphor of the Divine Embrace is a good one, and he argues for a spirituality that opens up our daily lives as we respond to God's embrace of God's good creation. What a helpful and informative work.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I'm sure if you are a book-lover, you've seen, and held, those books that are just so perfect, so filled with possibility, that your anticipation is nearly thrilling. Just holding them is sheer delight, the design and look and feel and importance and quality and perhaps the author (maybe not, maybe it is a new writer for you.) You nearly shudder as you enjoy just holding the thing. And if it has been long-awaited, or highly recommended, you might (am I the only one who does this?) even wait for an appropriate time to honor such a book by opening it with due solemnity. (I'm this way with albums, sometimes, too, hands shaky as I try to get the dumb cellophane off, and that stupid sticky strip, only to wait to put the disc on 'til I can listen with the care the artist deserves.)

Barbara Kingsolver is a novelist well-loved by many; Bean Trees is on the top of lots of people's lists. She is good at her craft, a good story-teller and writer yet isn't so dense and literate that the novels are difficult. Most have serious and not-so-subtle things to say about important matters. She may be known by some BookNotes readers for Poisonwood Bible, her most ambitious and dark story, set amongst missionaries in Africa during the early days of the post-colonial era. For my money, the delightful romp--with hugely significant questions about Anglo/Native relations and inter-racial adoptions and PC thinking and multi-ethnic families--- Pigs in Heaven is a fabulous summer read. Animal Dreams is another set out West, and Prodigal Summer illustrated her recent interests in Appalachia. You may know that she has started awarding a yearly "Bellweather Prize" for new fiction-writers who raise important social questions in their stories, questions of justice, social location, a sense of place and such.

Two collections of nonfiction essays are excellent, and would be good literary companions on your bookshelf with the likes of Wendell Berry or Terry Tempest Williams, Annie Dillard (who has a new novel forthcoming, by the way) or my favorite nature writer, Kathleen Dean Moore.

And so, the hand-handshaking, can't-wait-to-read new book: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (Harper Collins; $26.95.) The textured, linen-feel dust jacket is a perfect package for a beautiful book about caring about sensual matters, in this case, as the title says, food. The family, as we learn in the first exquiste pages, has moved from their beloved, harsh Arizona, to Kentucky. They intend to eat only what they can grow, or buy locally. (Each family member gets to pick one exception---her husband chooses organic, and fairly traded, coffee, and she chooses spices for cooking, with the kids making similiar requests.) And so the story begins.

This is Kingsolver's first full-length memoir, and she brings her essayist insight and fiction-writer's sense of story into fabulous play. Her husband has some informative sidebars, and her 19 year old offers her perspective in some of her own nice writing. Sure, it is also polemical. The dust jacket tells of their hopes: "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle makes a passionate case for putting the kitchen back at the center of family life and diversified farms at the center of the American diet." Or, as she writes, "This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew...and of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced in the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air." But be prepared for some laughter and pluck. This is a fun book.

They have a wonderful website about the book---with more stuff, some of the recipes, pictures of the farm and all kinds of advice for further action. See www.animalvegetablemiracle.com.

Perhaps you have been following the trends in this whole area--and there have been many good resources coming out. Consider the books about the slow foods movement or the new kid's edition of Fast Food Nation (called, Chew on This), the recent, wonderful, Mennonite cookbook Simply in Season and last year's much-talked about, very thoughtful, Omnivore's Dilemma. Theological reflections have included the breathtakingly fascinating, liberal Episopalian conversion-through-eucharist memoir, Take This Bread (by anti-hunger activist Sarah Miles) to the brand new theological study of meals, wonderfully-entitled Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation by John Koenig. Shannon Jung's two important paperbacks, Food for Life: The Spirituality and Ethics of Eating and Sharing Food: Christian Practices for Enjoyment are both recent and wonderful. There are more books about the sacraments of the everyday, about the ecology of eating, about faithful approaches to hospitality, meals, cooking and eating, than any recent time--even though Wendell Berry, just for instance, has a chapter entitled "The Pleasures of Eating" in What Are People For? published in 1990. And what thoughtful Christian who cares about these things doesn't know the spectacular cookbook and fiesty, foodie essay by the inestimable theologian and cook, Robert Farrar Capon, Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection? I suppose we could list Diet for a Small Planet (even though Capon might protest) and note that we still stock it. Even the book I've raved most about in the past few years, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, has some of this thinking in it, as authors Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat are doing sustainable agriculture in community with other friends in Canada.

Our family does not do this stuff well. Like prayer or evangelism, I specialize in reading about it, hoping that somehow it counts for something. Am I fooling myself? I have regrets, and hope to make changes, even as I understand that we have some unique obstacles here. But many folks have obstacles, and, in God's grace, we may take steps towards more normative and joyous and just lives. Maybe these books will help.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

two great articles by Andy Crouch

I hope, as I suggested last week, you visited our website, and read my sprawling (a word I often use to describe my monthly column of book reviews) piece about my anti-nuclear power activism years ago, and the books that have helped nurture and sustain our environmental perspectives. I mentioned some brand new books, of course, but told the story of some older books; it's amazing, isn't it, how Wendell Berry, who I first read in the late 70's, or Walt Brueggemann's The Land, have only become more urgent over time.

I hope you don't mind if I give a very big straw hat-tip to the excellent writer Andy Crouch, who has done, per usual, absolutely excellent reviews of some similar books in the past two issues of Books and Culture. Firstly, from last month's issue, Andy gives a very critical look at a book by a writer we stock, Roger Gottlieb, a lefty activist who has written about how mainline churches and synagogues have helped in progressive social causes over the years. Gottlieb has a new book (on Oxford University Press) on religion and the environment, and Andy, with very interesting stories and good care for the topic, takes Gottlieb to the woodshed. Gottlieb wrote a nice letter to the editor back, appearing in this month's edition, saying that even if his details are debated, he is glad to hear that evangelicals like those in Books and Culture care about the Earth. Who knew? I highly commend this piece, especially if one is involved in mainline, ecumenical or more liberal faith traditions, since Gottlieb would be an ally, and it is helpful to see how a smart evangelical like Crouch replies. And, as I've said, Andy is such a good writer, I'd read any of his reviews..

Better yet, may I commend his well written new Books and Culture piece, enthusiastically noting three newer books, including Serve God, Save the Planet by J. Matthew Sleeth, that we promoted last week. Whew. I hate it when we plug something, only to find really informed friends who criticize the book I've endorsed. Please read Andy's great review, where he does the book justice. The first anecdote is worth the moments it will take to point and click, believe me. Will anybody agree to do what he describes? (By the way, if you haven't subscribed to this often heady journal, we would highly recommend it. I wouldn't be without it...)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Visit the April column: Books on Earth-Keeping and Creation-Care

I thought I should provide a link to our April column over at the website, www.heartsandmindsbooks.com. (Click on the April 07 highlighted spot, under the bookcover.) The monthly review essay this time includes some very personal stuff about my (mostly previous) life as an enviromental activist, working to educate folk about stuff likeThree Mile Island, hearing Kurt Vonnegut and how Christian faith has motivated us to care about peace, justice, and, as some put it, "the integrity of creation." If you don't care about my revelations of former escapades, jump part way through where I annotate a bunch of books on creation care, Earth-keeping, and mention a brand new book that I am very, very excited about, by a hero of mine, Bob Goudzewaard. Those important books ought not be missed.

Please pay the website a visit. Do any of these books seem urgent to you? Are you not glad that evangelical leaders, especially, are so outspoken these days about God's good Earth?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sabbath music: new Matthew Smith of Indelible Grace

Some of you may know of our fondness for the band Indelible Grace, who have put out four good albums of old, old hymns, redone in a contemporary folk-rock, somewhat acoustic, Americana/rootsy style.

I love grungy feedbacky guitar and mandolin, sweet violin and indie rock vocals. Indelible Grace's arrangements are very cool, worship music not as big as David Crowder or Chris Tomlin but still appreciated by young music fans.

This is very sobering music, just a bit unplugged, energetic, passionately moving. The tunes are well crafted, and most are truly singable.

But the lyrics are the bigger point, and the band would say so. They are convinced (as you can read about at their website, here) that contemporary praise and worship is too often too cheery, peppy and passionate, but not theologically substantive enough. (And, as I sometimes tell the leaders at our church, not just shallow, but theologically wrong-headed!) These older hymns, at least the sort that they pick, often written in the 18th or 19th centuries, really get it right. That the band is sponsored by Reformed University Fellowship makes sense of their appreciation of the old Puritan insights about the human condition, our inability to rescue ourselves, God's merciful initiatives to save us, and the curious ways exalting Christ leads to deep, deep, gladness.

Matthew Smith is the front man of the traveling IG band and we loved his first solo album, and his excellent Christmas recording. (Make a note: call or email Hearts & Mind December 1st 2007 and order it!) A new, mellow release---featured as brand new at Jubilee 2007---is called All I Owe. I recommend it not only as Lord's Day listening, but for any day. It has truly blessed me in recent hard times, and I want not only to help promote and sell 'em, but to thank Matthew for his friendly interest in H&M. Check out his blog, here, and listen to some of the CD online.

The wonderful Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing is done pretty acoustically and spare, using the normal tune. It, alone, is worth the price of the disc. I've been touched by the truths of the 19th century poem, by Robert Murray McCheyne, rendered by Smith as the title track, which reminds us of the core matters of the gospel. And, in times of trouble, The Lord Will Provide is a fine reminder, penned in the late 1700's by one John Newton.

The remarkable Anne Steele centuries ago wrote How Helpless and in Matthew's hands, its lyric richness becomes a very moving contemporary hymn.

How helpless guilty nature lies,
Unconscious of its load
The heart, unchanged, can never rise
To happiness and God
Can nothing less than power divine
The stubborn will subdue?
'Tis Thine, eternal Spirit, Thine
To form the heart anew.

'Tis Thine, the passions to recall,
And upwards bid them rise;
And make the scales of error fall,
From reason's darkened eye
To chase the shades of death away
And bid the sinner live
Heaven's beam, a vital ray
'Tis Thine alone to give

Oh change these wretched hearts of ours
And give them life divine;
Then shall our passions and our powers,
Almighty Lord be Thine.
Oh change these wretched hearts of ours
And give them life divine;
Then shall our passions and our powers,
Almighty Lord be Thine.

Here is an informal YouTube video of them live, doing Come Ye Sinners.
Here, from the same informal concert, is a spiffy version of them ripping through How Can It Be. (It isn't every day you get Puritan hymns with the descant singer wearing a Husker Du shirt.)
is a live version of a song that I can hardly listen to without tears, sung by Sandra McCraken and Derek Webb, who have helped with the IG projects. Listen to her casual intro remarks, talking about why old hymns are good, and why learning some old vocabulary words may be nice, too. Say Amen sombody!
And if the emotions don't flow with this one, I would check my heart. Here, Sandra and Derek do an informal, live version of one of the Indelible Grace re-makes of a song written by a blind 18th century preacher,
O Love That Will Not Let Me Go.

Like this stuff?
Order from our
saying you saw it here, and we will offer a couple bucks off, selling Matthew Smith's All I Owe for $10.00
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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Church educators and the Mystery of Children

I have just been with a favorite group that we work with, having the privelege to set up a large book display with the Eastern region of APCE (Association of Presbyterian Church Educators.) Presbyterians plus educators equals an unmitigated enthusism for books, resources, tools with which to teach. They usually have very good speakers ---main- line Presbys, usually, often somebody famous or published. It is a good time, they laugh a lot, and treat me like I'm a hero. Gotta love 'em.

We thank God for the generous spirit of these folks, and their hours of hard work doing what they do, week after week after week. And, although it isn't with some human ambiguities, I suppose I am grateful, on a good day, for the theological diversity and congregational uniquenesses we find in the broader body of Christ. It certainly is interesting to see what authors different folks like, which churches are interested in what aspects of Christian learning, and the way new approaches and models and perspectives do or do not take hold in various locales.

They, of course, knew about Diana Butler Bass's important and fascinating book, Christianity for the Rest of Us, a study of mainline churches and the spiritual practices that, as excercised in fairly ordinary neighborhood congregations, are bringing new energy and renewed vigor to many. Her two books with the Alban Institute, Practicing Congregations and the collection of various church stories, From Nomads to Pilgrims, are both very good for anybody thinking about congregational life, and we sold them at the retreat. The media may too often imply that only evangelical churches are growing, or that the mega-churches are the way of the future within American Protestantism, or that the Christian right speaks for most followers of Christ. Diana shows it ain't so. And, given the buzz on her book at APCE, and others like it, we are very proud that we raved about it months ago, and named it in our year-end list (December 06 and Janurary 07 over at the website. Do read our remarks about it if you haven't seen our mini-review. That, and her other fine books, are very, very important.)

Yet, I have shown two book covers, one above and one below---one by a very famous author that just arrived this week!---that capture much of the interest of these church educators, namely, the desire to think carefully and theologically about our children within our faith communities. We've pushed Marva Dawn's Is It A Lost Cause and Miller-McLemore's Let the Children Come and the excellent compilation, edited by Beth Posterski and others, Children Matter: Celebrating Their Place in Church, Family & Community and other such works to anyone that will listen; although we sell many books, many good books, that might be considered in the "self-help" or how-to catagory--parenting and family stuff that is instructional and wise and helpful--it is vital that we think more foundationally and theologically about the nature of our kids, or, as Marva puts it, "the church's children."

And so, Martin Marty's new book must be celebrated. Martin Marty! On children! He is a dear man, a preminent scholar, a fine religious leader and life-long congregational member. (And he bought a book from us once, and then wrote me a lovely note thanking me for having it. I should have been thanking him for doing business with a scrappy little place like ours.) Dr. MM is a serious, erudite writer. We cannot commend it enough, even if it is, at times, a bit academic. It is part of a series edited by Don Browning and John Witte, if that rings any bells for the scholars out there. Publisher's Weekly in its glowing review, notes that it is "breathtakingly ambitious in scope" although they also assure us that it is also quite inspirational.

And, the new Bonnie Miller-LcLemore, In the Midst of Chaos, is equally fabulous, if a little less heady (and with a very lovely dust jacket.) This Jossey Bass series on the practices of faith is some of the best stuff coming out on thoughtful and theologically rich reflections on the distinctives of being Christian in the world, living out faith in every aspect of daily life. This one, with that great subtitle: "caring for children as spiritual practice" has much to teach us, and it is presented in a cogent and gracious manner. (Jerome Berryman, of "Godly Play" fame, writes that "it is as good as it is beautiful.") Like Marty's, it understands the mystery of all this, too. Wonderful stuff, for church leaders, educators, parents, and anybody who cares about children, or the spirituality of the ordinary. Highly recommended.