Small group Resources for Civic Engagement

I hope my reviews and announcements here encourage you in your commitments to reading, and that perhaps they inspire some to organize book groups or a small group study of some sort.  These kind of low-risk, informal social initiatives can only strengthen communities, bond folks together around the struggle for new ideas, and, hopefully, honor God as people of faith grapple with ideas found on the printed page.  The great revival preacher and social reformer  John Wesley, you probably know, gave rise to the movement known as “Methodism” which got its name from his method of disciple-making: reading groups!  Wesley was very widely read and quite the Oxford bookman, but his method for groups was simple: read the Bible and good books and pray.  Not a bad method, if you ask me. 

And, as an aside, it is fabulous that Shane Claiborne, author of The Irresistible Revolution  and Jesus for President, the dread-locked poster boy for radical social activism, has a great new book with his old Eastern College pal Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrave, which draws on the early saints and medieval mystics, rooting social action in deep spirituality.  It is called Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals (IVP; $13.)  TheyBecoming Answers.jpg didn’t learn this stuff—and offer these amazing sidebars of quotes and prayers—just by googling ancient prayer, or snooping the local big box bookstore, but by being together, doing small group stuff, exploring books together, and being in relationships with others around these important ideas.  Young Baptist evangelicals like Shane & Jonathan don’t just start citing Dorothy Day and William Stringfellow, let alone Gregory of Nyssa and Saint Benedict out of nowhere; somebody passed those books to them!  They read as they worked, prayed as they protested, learned from traditions other than their own.  Congrats to the IVP Likewise imprint for putting out this kind of stuff, spreading the good news around, helping us read widely.  Would I be too blunt to say you should “go and do likewise”? 

In recent posts I’ve mentioned some important books for the journey towards increasing cultural responsibility, social engagement and Christian views of civic life.  Maybe you don’t want to read a big book on Christian political persepctives or dive deep into foundational studies just now.  Well, how about small group stuff?  How about DVD?

Here are some very, very useful tools that are thoughtful but brief and arranged for small group use.  Maybe they’d be just the resource you could pick up to pull together a group this month. Email or call us today and we can ship ’em right out! 

CT politics.jpgChristianity Today Study Series  (Current Issues Bible Studies)  Politics  (Nelson) $9.99  They’ve taken some of the best articles about faith and politics from CT in recent years and added great discussion questions, sidebars and solid Bible study.  The first essay is a thoughtful and important framing one, written by our friend James Skillen (of the Center for Public Justice.)  Other authors include Dave Gushee, Stephen Carter, Timothy George, Andy Crouch, Richard Kauffman (now of The Christian Century), Nancy Pearcey, William Willimon and a large handful of other men and women.    It is arranged in 8 weeks (although you could skip some, if you wanted) and I could imagine spending more than one session on some of the chapters. 

We have their other new studies, too, Faith & Work, Engaging the Culture and one on Islam.  Excellent.

healing for a broken world.jpgDVD Healing for a Broken World: Christian Perspectives on Public Policy  Stephen Monsma  (Henry Institute/Crossway) $24.95  I’ve raved about the book, which explores four Biblical principles and then applies those principles in a balanced manner to an array of contemporary issues. This well-crafted and content-heavy DVD has interviews with fabulous folks—Jennifer Butler, Rich Mouw, Richard Czik, John Dilulio and others—and is ideal for a small group that wants to hear some brief insights, follow along as a small group of young adults discuss the content. Obviously, you then enter in with your own conversations of consequence. 12 Sessions.  Highly, highly recommended, especially in this election season.

EMC DVD.jpgDVD  Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis and a Revolution of Hope  Brian McLaren  (Nelson) $39.99  This is a bit edgy in style, creative and interesting, as Brian lectures, ever so briefly but with very compelling insight, about the major themes of his important book and recent tour.  There are clever pull out quotes and drop in interviews and a small bit of footage from the tour.  From our ideological idolatries to our deepest questions and yearnings, this relates the framing narrative of the gospel and how a Christian vision might help respond to the great global challanges of our day.  A great study booklet guides you through 8 strong sessions.

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Speaking about God’s glory in the work-world and university

Scholarship: Seeing and Savoring God in Every Branch of Learning

The task of Christian scholarship is to study reality as a
manifestation of God’s glory, to
god's passion for his glory.jpg speak about it with
accuracy and to savor the beauty of God in it. 

I think Edwards would regard it as a massive abdication of scholarship that so many Christians do academic work with so little reference to God.  If tall the universe and everything in it exists by the design of an infinite, personal God, to make His manifold glory known and loved, then to treat any subject without reference to God’s glory is not scholarship, but insurrection.
John Piper
                             God’s Passion for His Glory

Oh, my, what a privilege to try to remind scholars (and other ordinary folks) of this, to remind myself, too, that the reason we sell books on so many topics—from engineering to political science, from family studies to geology, from liturgical studies and worship to race relations and multi-ethnic ministry—is so that God might be glorified in all these vast and varied arenas of life.

This week I got to tell our story, once again, about our vision of having a bookstore that equips people to think seriously about life, to read widely, finding books that “warm the heart and stimulate the mind” that help us become leaders in social innovations and lives of integrity.  We are serious about the call of the Bible to “take every thought captive” and to have non-conformed minds, “renewed minds” as Romans 12:1-2 puts it.  So, again, I drove a van-load of book, this time to the fabulous CCO Christian fellowship group at the University of Pittsburgh, sharing with 130 some under grads, talking about why buying books and thinking well is the way to a more meaningful college education and a more faithful Christian style of discipleship.  We cited to these students some of our favs (which I hope you don’t grow tired of me naming) like Os Guinness’ The Call and Don Opitz & Derek Melleby’s The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness and Andy Crouch’s Culture Making and others who invite us to think seriously about the foundational questions of a Christian way of being in the world.

transforming vision.jpgThe Transforming Vision by Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton has a new cover and we still think it to be one of the most important books I’ve ever read. (Brian’s new one, Beyond Homelessness:Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, is another we’ve raved about!)  The lovely little hardback The Mind of God by James White is another example of the way habits of reading can help us know God better and serve Christ more faithfully in the real world of daily living. I often cited in these settings Steve Garber’s Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Believe and Behavior, an elegant and thoughtful book that emerged from Steve’s own work years ago in that same university complex.  Garber identified three things that those with serious faith commitments need if their discipleship will be meaningful and sustained;  we talked about those three things the last few nights. Thanks to Chris and his “Cornerstone” team for a great night.  

The next day, I had the immense privilege to share this same vision with a group of Pitt and CMU grad students, a few Ph.D. candidates, faculty and professors, a few law students and med students.  And a whole batch of very sharp post-college work-world professionals.  We struggled with big questions, how the goodness of God’s world, distorted by cursedness and sin, can be healed and renewed by Christian folk serving as God’s agents of restoration.  What difference does it make, we asked, for people of faith to reject the dualism or secularity of our times, and boldly invite Christ into our marketplace vocations, our office cubicles, research labs, or job sites.  Of course we talked about the secularization of the university, George Marsden’s little Oxford book The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship and, for the post-college crowd, resources such as Your Work Matters to God by Doug Sherman & William Hendricks.

I talked with a guy working with “thinking machines” who is designing “smart wheelchairs” and I talked with an insurance agent. There were chemistry Ph.D. researchers and social workers doing urban ministry and a specialist in international economics.  A pacifist and an Air Force pilot had respectful conversation.  How do our Christian convictions impact these fields?
Can I suggest books that guide them more deeply into the journey of work-world fidelity?
Can Christians even in seemingly arcane fields like mechanical engineering or robotics or mathematics find God’s glory and see their work as an avenue of God-honoring, neighbor-loving, service?  We can, as Parker Palmer reminds us in his beautiful Let Your Life Speak,
let your life speak 2.jpghelp make the world a better place by “listening to the voice of vocation.”  Which should lead to some Curious George-like attributes, as was recently written over at

Thanks to Mitch from Bellefield Presbyterian Church for not only hosting our book show, but by introducing me using this splendid quote shown above by John Piper whose book God’s Passion for His Glory (Crossway; $15.99) is a vast and warm and profound reflection on what some consider to be the most important sermon of Jonathan Edwards.

Interestingly, I intended to draw upon John Piper, from his great chapter “Serving God in the 9-to-5” in his Don’t Waste Your Life where he reflects on the difference between human work and the work done by, say, a beaver, who also works studiously.  Piper reminds us that our labor, if it is to glorify God and be laden with meaning and not “wasted”, must be aware of four things: we do our work for God’s glory, using and acknowledging gifts and talents God gives us, studying and being in submission to the creational realities that are there, done in service to our neighbor.  I like that, our work is for God and neighbor, done in and through Him, but, importantly, also studying the creation, and submitting ourselves to the “laws” or “norms” embedded in reality.  Or, as Piper says above, “speaking about it with accuracy.”  

Piper, citing Edwards, in the opening quote above, is correct also about this: to not study all areas of God’s world is an abdication of our cultural mandate.  To fail to see God in each spher
e of life is to steal from Him His glory.  And to fail to see God in the details of life we end up, finally, warping the meaning and potentials of that arena, of that aspect of culture, and thereby keep it from truly helping our world, truly serving our neighbor.  Just was blunt, we are to love God and neighbor.  Hopefully, our bookish work here reminds people of how to make that happen, in the ordinary stuff of daily life, and especially, in our work, callings and careers.  We think our book selection, being a bit different than more typical “Christian bookstores” offers a broader range of resources to help live into this grand Edwardsian vision about ordinary work.  We think we can help you learn more of how to know God and enjoy serving Him in the real world.

Thanks to the young professionals, the campus ministry teams and the good folks at Bellefield Presbyterian and the CCO who allowed us to sell books and preach about all this life changing stuff out at Pitt.  It is our partnership with lively and relevant congregations and ministries that allow us to stay in business, doing this kind of resourcing work.  I didn’t get back home, after driving all night, and sleeping a bit along the road, until 6 am, but was worth every minute.

Want to help keep this conversation going among your church, fellowship, friends or work-world colleagues?  Do you long for more discussion about this stuff?

Choose any of the books I’ve mentioned in passing above and we’ll give you a 20% discount.  Over at the website you can inquire about prices or other details or you can just order a few.  To order, go here. We thank you very much.

The Long Retreat: In Search of a Religious Life

It is my habit to read novels or memoir on Sundays, when I can, and in recent weeks I’ve cherished a book that I could hardly put down. (In fact, I read it throughout the week, when I had long retreat.jpgwork stuff to do, as I was so enthralled with the author’s journey, his writing, his faith and struggle, all so well told.)

 The Long Retreat: In Search of a Religious Life (FSG; $25.00) is the wonderfully rendered memoir of a Northeastern Pennsylvania boy who joins the Jesuit order, working for 8 long years in prayer, discernment, service, travel, study, and huge amounts of (hardly realized) self-doubt and the clarification of vocational discernment, to come to that place of needing to finally decide if he would make his final vows to pursue ordination.  Andrew Krivak is a very good writer, very aware of his own deepest issues and able to tell of his emotional and spiritual journey without sounding overly pious and certainly never sentimental.

It is a fabulous story, filled with romances (yes), weird colleagues, thoughtful spiritual directors, stirring scenes of social service and college teaching and urban ministry. (His harrowing account of a working with a manipulative, distressed student rivals the scenes of almost being mugged on ghetto streets by a drug dealer/pimp.)  He explains much about Catholic monastic life, about orders and vows and praying the Divine Hours which are revealing and demystifing—hearing about brothers arguing about who does the dishes, or being grumpy about another’s annoying habits was refreshing in a way.  Mostly, though, it is a long, long journey to figure out what in the hell to do with one’s longings, with certainity and uncertainity, with one’s sense of self and God. 

I was drawn in right away even though I couldn’t quite imagine a young teen being given, by his working class mother, Thomas Merton’s classic The Seven Story Mountain.  Mr. Krivak is very smart, a bookworm in his youth, eventually attends St. John’s in Annapolis to read Great Books (and spends a semester in their renowned New Mexico campus, allowing for some exploration at a zen center and deeply spiritual Catholic retreat house way out off the grid in the desert.)  He learns to sail, works in a boat-building job, all while reading serious poetry, pondering his own contemplative spirituality and coming of age in the head-spinning 80s.  His being drawn to the serious life, to Merton-esque faith and social action, his intellectual journey and his sense of being called to a specific vocation as a Jesuit was told with such clarity and in the context of his own unfolding young adult life, that I was telling others how great this book was within the first few chapters. 

When he recounts the death of his father, I was hooked, knowing this would be one of those books I count as my own, the author a friend even though we will most likely never meet.  And yet, we do meet him in these 300 plus pages, and I was wiping away tears of joy and sadness, too, for his choices, for the complexities of life’s turns and the joys of pursuing God, and the graces of knowing how to be loved.  Sitting outside in a cheap plastic chair with a light chasting a shadow on my book late last night, I knew I had to tell you about this wonder memoir. I hope he is working on another…

The Long Retreat gets it name from an experience of long silent retreat every Jesuit novitate makes, (among many others) and it becomes an extended metaphor for the whole book.  Even when he’s flashing back to tell of his boyhood–chopping wood with his burly father, or exegeting parts of the detailed Spiritual Excercises of Saint Ignatius, the context is this long retreat, this ongoing intentional plan to see, often in times of silence or counsel with spiritual directors, how our interior lives and our daily living find coherence.  From mission work amidst injustice in a village of Haiti to exploring his father’s Eastern European roots during a study trip to Slovakia, from his teaching at LeMoyne College in Syacuse to the ordinary hassles of living in community with other often colorful men with similiar purposes, this spiritual journey is fascinating, helpful, provacative, beautiful.  If you read it, you too will, I am sure, long for substance and confidence about your life, for a sense of God’s will, and you will hunger for beauty (and understated by essential part of Krivaks search.)  In fact, it may remind you again not only of your own passion for your sense of vocation but of the need to be reflective about your inner life, your fears, doubts, yearnings, choices made or unmade.  Andrew Krivak is an honest man and a heck of a narrator. His story is funny at times, ribald and learned and devout.   Some of our readers—especially those who read stuff like Taste This Bread,(Sarah Miles)  Virgin Time (Patricia Hampl), Here If You Need Me (Kate Braestrup) or the memoirs of Kathleen Norris or the aforementioned Mr. Merton—will want to get their hands on this right away.

Patricia Hample concurs: “This is the best spiritual memoir I’ve read since The Seven Story Mountain–and that was a long time ago.”  Novelist Ron Hansen says that it is “not just a fascinating insider’s look at Jesuit formation, but a beautifully written case study in prayerful discernment of one’s proper vocation.  Few memoirs of religious life are as wise and revelatory as this.” 

I have also started Kathleen Norris’ long-awaited new book, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer’s Life (Riverhead; $25.95) a book (she writes early on) which isacedia.jpg somewhat a follow-up to her lovely little chapbook The Quoitidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work.” (Paulist Press; $6.95.)  Acedia is not exactly depression, not laziness (as in the seven deadly sin, sloth.)  As she notes early on, it is rather a question of living without the energy to hope, an inability to care. Considerably more gentle and subdued than Krivak (and a bit of different generation) Norris narrates her story of “through the geography of her life as a writer; her marriage and the challenges of commitment in the midst of grave illness.”  Her interest in the monastic tradition is evident and her fascination with the the “noonday demon”—and her own youthful melancoly—shapes this book about her recent years, including the tragic death of her husband.  Can a lack of joy undermine commitments to work, marriage, friendship, faith, community?  I am eager to explore this book more, because, as with The Long Journey, we can escape into a novel-like experience of another’s life, but, as with the best novels, we can find resonance and hope and healing.  Thank God for faithful and honest and gifted writers who tell their tales with candor and grace.  As the Minneapolis Star Tribune puts it, “Norris is one of those writers who demands to be handed around.  You want to share this great discovery, giving her work as a gift—or you simply shove a copy into in the face of a friend, saying, ‘Read this.'”


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Brother Yun, The Heavenly Man

heavenly man.jpgEvery so often we meet people who lead us outside of our comfort zone, or remind us of older commitments.  Although Hearts & Minds prides itself in a diverse and interesting selection of books on global missions, and cross-cultural relationships, it is easy to lose passion for these large, important concerns.  It has been a while since I read a mission biography or spent time in tears praying for the persecuted church. So it was with great joy that we had the privilege of selling books at a lecture and author appearance by the Chinese underground church leader known as The Heavenly Man, Brother Yun.  He acquired his nick-name when he refused to offer his given name to the communist authorities, knowing that if he told of his home village, others there would be endangered.  Such fidelity earned him persecution, repression and torture, and the claim that he was “from heaven.”

Through a Chinese-loving, cross-cultural Finnish translator—more a brother and ministry partner than a mere translator— we heard and felt the message of God’s faithfulness during persecution, the need for boldness in outreach and obedience, and the possibilities of miracles, as the house church movement so often sees.  When Brother Yun would start to sing (sometimes with hymn tunes Westerners would recognize) with rich and throaty Chinese whisps of sound, it was truly trans-cultural and very moving.  Knowing this brave soul had suffered so, yet could still burst into joyous passion for Jesus, was haunting;  what power as he invited us to serve as “good Samaritans” giving the presentation a serious sort of integrity.

living water yun.jpgAs the books were signed—-in long stripes of beautiful Chinese characters—and Yun said “hallelujah” to each customer, Beth and I commented that this was an author signing unlike any we’ve done.  And it reminded us of our past involvements with Chinese dissidents and asylum seekers, of God’s heart for global missions, and for how the Christian church and world is changing in our lifetime.  As you may know, the millions of believers in China (not to mention other places on other continents) are spilling out into mission, especially in the conflicted areas of the  Central Asia, the subcontinent and into the Middle East (what missiologists called the 10/40 window.)  This mission outreach from China towards the West they call the “Back to Jerusalem” movement.  It was striking to hear Brother Yun call us to care about Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and communists.  As he shared his meager food in prison with atheistic murderers on death row, so we all must, in Christ-likeness, give our lives away.

Brother Yun has two books.  The first, about his harrowing and remarkable life is called The Heavenly Man (Kregal; $16.99) and the newer one is a collection of his devotional and spiritual insights called Living Water (Zondervan; $15.99.)

We have some of his books left, and are pleased to offer a special deal for those who might enjoy a good mission read, a glimpse into the persecuted church, or a vibrant reminder of what it means to trust God as we know Christ’s suffering and joy.  Here’s the deal: buy both and get ’em for $20.  That is a large savings, and a lovely set of inspirational stories.

For those interested in other ways the gospel is being discussed in China, consider this rare find, a book which reports about (even with wonderful photos) and offers the transcripts of an ongoing debate held in China A Friendly Dialogue Between an Atheist and a Christian by Luis Palau & the renowned diplomat, Zhao Qizheng (Zondervan; $14.99.)

One of the very best overviews of Christianity in China is called Jesus in Beijing by the estimable journalist, former Beijing Bureau Chief for Time magazine, David Aikman (Regnery; $16.95.)  The subtitle is How Christianity is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power.

You probably know the important watershed work about the global expansion of faith done by Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom (Oxford; $14.95).  He is a dear man and an important scholar.  A more slim and very inspiring book ongod's global mosaic.jpg the same topic is one of our favorites, God’s Global Mosaic: What We Can Learn from Christians Around the World by Paul-Gordon Chandler (IVP; $15.)  This tells in moving prose how Christians from each continent have something in their own faith journey that they have particularly learned, hard-won insights that we in the often cozy West should learn.  With a forward by John Stott, this is a generous and upbeat book, even if full of the gravity and pain of Christlikeness that comes from great suffering.  Our experience meeting Brother Yun reminded us of the great ethnic and racial and cultural diversity that we will someday experience in the new creation.  Why not start now, at least by reading up a bit?  You won’t, for eternity, regret it.


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Civitas: Christian responsibility for Politics, Public Life and the Common Good

We just got in the much anticipated new book by Phyllis Tickle, a book called The Great great e 2.jpgEmergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why  (Baker; $17.99.)  It is a slim volume, rich and gracious and elegant. It walks us through our “contemporary cultural upheaval and the religious consequences” (as Diana Butler Bass puts it on the back jacket) of these huge sea changes.  Although I’m not sure she is so pedestrian as to name it, one of the obvious changes is that the faith and politics discusion is remarkably different, extraordinarily so as the religious right is not the only faith-based voice in the conversation.  Part of the shift, I think it is obvious, is a new frame for discussing the deepest matters of faith and public life, religion and politics.  Happily, as many of us have been saying for decades, Christianity ought not be exiled from public discourse nor aligned with any one party, and can offer insight for a new way of transending the polarities common in typical public discourse.  Tickle is a wise guide to the biggest cultural picture, and I’m sure the book will be helpful to explain some very big notions, with very real consequences of these new times.

So, into the eye of the storm we go, and last week I started teaching an adult Christian ed class at our church, a class I’m calling Civitas: Christian Responsibilities for Politics, Public Life and the Common Good.  The word “civitas” is from the same root Latin word from which we get civility, and implies that we are part of a commonwealth, belonging to a citizenship.  Christian citizenship, I’m suggesting, is more than about working for what we want, not even just what helps Christianity.  The Bible itself tells us much more and we will explore the themes of public justice, social righteousness, pluralism, violence, and a Biblical view of the state.  Ahhh, the “Christ and culture” stuff come up again and we will wrestle with various ways Christians have engaged the surrounding world.  You know I’m appreciative of the “beyond the religious right and secular left” rhetoric of Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics and The Great Awakening (and his Sojourners movement) as well as the similiar “red letter Christians” movement of Tony Campolo as described in his book of that name. And even Shane Claibornes radical Jesus for President stuff is very helpful for reminding us to be intentional about our sacred texts and our foundational loyality to Christ, even as we serve within the broader civil society.  That there are now resources like this, movements and organizations and books is part of this change.  Thank goodness!

Yet, as Ron Sider’s explores in the wonderful Evangelicals for Social Action website (and in his excellent book The Scandal of Evangelical Politics) and as Jim Skillen at the Center for Public Justice has taught us, we must have a comprehensive and Biblically informed public philosophy out of which can emerge a thoughtful and coherent Christian view of citizenship.  I reviewed a few books about this last winter at the website column, and we have a somewhat more extensive starter biblio at the “books by vocation” pages,  but I now want to add another book which I used the first two weeks of our class.  It is just great!   It was a special delight—a real blessing!—to re-read it and I truly want to commend it to you.

uncommon decency.jpg I am referring to the beautiful and insightful (and I’d say urgently needed if it weren’t so obvious) Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World by Richard Mouw (IVP; $15.00.)  This fine book explores heady stuff like pluralism, how Christians (and others) can have deep convictions and yet remain civil, and how civility works out during particular kinds of conversations (like, say about sex.)  His call to this uncommon decency is something I feel very strongly about and his guide is the best I’ve seen.  For those who know us well, you can be sure I’ve read and re-read his brillant chapter called “Abraham Kuyper, Meet Mother Theresa.”  Again, Mouw is so sweetly and admirable able to be clear about his own (Dutch neo-Calvinist) tradition where, with Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper he insists on the Lordship of Christ claiming “every square inch” of his world, and yet is also able to be self-critical of that tradition’s tendencies towards excesses of triumphalism and pride as we work for God’s plan in culture.  So, wisely, he introduces Kuyper to the simple and servant heart of Mother T.  Ahh, that is it, isn’t it: Kuyper and Theresa.  Uncommon Decency indeed.

For what it is worth, here is my description of the first two weeks of our class.  We’ve got a spiffy poster that Ned Bustard at Square Halo Books and World’s End Images designed for us (I couldn’t figure how to copy my adobe attachment here on the blog but I wish you could see it) and a full syllabus if you want to see it.  Just let us know.  We’re even taping the class, I think, if you’re desperate for this kind of fellowship and conversation… 

For now, we relish the insight of Rich Mouw  in Uncommon Decency as the basis from which I can introduce my Presbyterian church friends to “thinking Christianly” about politics with Ron Sider and Jim Skillen and Paul Marshall and David Gushee and so many other moderate, thoughtful, integrated Christian social thinkers who, with civility and insight, call us to be faithful, even in our work as citizens in the civitas.  Pray for us if you think of it.  And maybe in this urgent season, consider telling others about good books on this topic, buying them now and reading together this fall.  Maybe this could be you’re starting point, too.

SEPTEMBER 8th  Introduction and the Big Picture  

Any Christian study of any topic must be put in the broadest context of God’s call to be involved in service in His world, the matter of how the Bible does or doesn’t influence us, and how to formulate a Christian worldview.  That is, we have to develop the mind of Christ and exhibit Christ-likeness, allowing His ways to shape our human activities.  We are called to live our lives—in business, recreation, work, or citizenship–in ways that are different than the typical, and may not be beholden to any ideology or partisan viewpoint.  We are called to be faithful to God’s Word (which is seen most clearly in Jesus.)  Of course there are various ways in which Christians have related the gospel and our life in the world so we will explore several tendencies and highlight a Reformed perspective.

SEPTEMBER 15th  Why politics?  And how?

There are several reasons why we should develop a Christian political perspective and make an effort to be active in public life.  Pragmatically, politics influence
s the lives of our neighbors (not to mention our own) and our call to love others should lead us to care how policies effect them.  We are members of a country, a political community, a civitas.  Of course we confess that Jesus Himself is the true King and every aspect of our lives must reflect our commitments to His ways.  We desire to be faithful in all of life, including public life and citizenship. No aspect of life is removed from our spirituality; political life, like all of life, is an avenue of worship, a way to honor God and witness to Christ’s Kingdom.  It can be said that civic life is largely about the common good, the civitas.  And certainly, Christians should be in the forefront of a call to civility, fairness and integrity in all our discussions and activism, even when we robustly disagree and are compelled to speak prophetic truth to distorted power.

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Eyes to See Volume Two

Last year I raved about a lovely hardback collection of classic short stories, handsomelyeyes to see.JPG packaged and released by Thomas Nelson publishers, a renowned evangelical publisher, a stalwart in the often cheesy world of the “Christian Booksellers Association.”  So-called Christian fiction is often very nice, but the mainstream classic stuff still is often more mature, richer— aesthetically, and in terms of complexity and nuance.  That short story collection, Eyes To See, was compiled by popular author Bret Lott (himself a follower of Christ and New York Times bestselling fiction writer.)  It was a delight, and wonderful to see the CBA publisher taking that initiative. Many of the stories were brand new to me.  It was fun to send a few out to email customers.  Here is that brief blog post from last December.

It truly pleases us to announce that Mr. Lott has compiled a second collection, simply entitled Eyes to See Volume Two (Nelson; $22.99.) As you can see, although the pixels don’t do it justice, it has a similar dusk jacket making it truly lovely to behold.

eyes to see vol 2.gifAnd behold it you will, if you take a good look.  Eyes to See Volume Two has some classic authors—Charles Williams, Charles Dickens, G.K. Chesterton, Leo Tolstoy, all doing truly short stories from their large body of work.  Some are rather contemporary (John Updike’s “Pigeon Feathers” is the selection from that master and a piece from the newly released Yellow Leaves the contribution from Frederick Buechner.)  Several of the authors are new to me, but apparantly known in finer literary circles.  Gina Ochsner is a very contemporary writer,  Mary Wilkins Freeman wrote at the turn of the 1900s.  (She was, along with Edith Wharton, the first women writer to be inducted into the National Institute of Arts & Letters and has left a mark on American literature, especially exploring the stories of woman of faith.)  Sarah Orne Jewett is included, a name also well-known in the late 1800s as she befriended the likes of Twain, Henry James, Tennyson, Kipling, Willa Cather…

So, with older and newer tales, this is nearly 300 pages (in print that is not too tiny) of important, inspiring, meaningful entertainment.  It can capture your attention and, maybe, your heart.  There are some brief bios of the authors and a discussion guide in the back. We are happy to offer it to you, either with or without the first volume.  See the blog special pricing, below, a discount offered on either or both.

By the way, just a brief mention.  We have followed the life and work of Larry Woiwode, who had a contribution selected for the first Lott collection.  He was a seriously esteemed man of letters, an awarded writer, and, after a Christian conversion, he somewhat fell out of favor amongst the critics.  He wrote a memoir, a commentary on Acts and a couple of serious novels, has become the Poet Laureate of North Dakota, and continues doing pieces in prestigious journals.  Recently, there has been a buzz on his moving telling of his farm accident, a memoir entitled A Step From Death (Counterpoint; $24.00.)  Booklist calls him a “gripping storyteller as well as a ruminative thinker.”  This one, they say, is “darkly beautiful, lanced with portent and gratitude.”   And a lot of high-brow literary citations, references to poems and stories of doing his amazing work as writer, father, husband.  Anybody whose conversion story somehow involved the books of Calvin Seerveld, as I’m told Mr. Woiwode’s does, is my kind of author.  This literary telling of his brush with death on his organic farm in North Dakota and the memories these evoked are written nearly like a collection of short stories.

Lastly: over at the First Things blog a Junior Fellow, a serious young man with political and theological concerns, posts that he and many of his like-minded friends aren’t much into fiction.  A mentor there apparantly got him reading novels again, and he’s taken up Jane Austen. Yet, he wonders if others share his plight.   Another light-hearted post comes in recommending that he drop everything (including Austen) and read Master and Comander and the other 19 in that fine historical series about the British Navy. Hmmm. What would you tell a ambitious young adult, who loves non-fiction and reads widely, but isn’t quite so sure he enjoys novels so much.  Favorite recommendations anyone?

usually $22.99
Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown, PA  17313     717.246.3333

The new Marilynne Robinson novel, Home

Home.jpgWe are happy to announce that we have gotten our shipment of the new Marilynne Robinson novel, Home (FSG: $25.)  It is, surely, one of the most eagerly anticipated new novels of the year, with Ms Robinson being a great example of the sort of deeply thoughtful, exceptionally talented, fascinating, faith-filled writers we so eagerly want to promote.  There are many talented writers in the “Christian Booksellers Association” (CBA) sold as “Christian fiction” but we are thrilled to find theologically astute authors who can transcend the usual confines of so-called inspirational fiction. Robinson is exactly that kind of writer.  The New York Times Book Review writer James Woods noted in his review of Gilead that “Robinson’s words have a spiritual force that’s very rare in contemporary fiction.”  Here is one great review of her work, and of the new novel.

The last thing I read, I think, of Marilynne Robinson (Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 ) was her serious forward to a collection of pieces by John Calvin. HarperOne has this nifty series of smallish paperbacks of classic theologians and mystics with sometimes surprising contemporary authors offering introductions (they are called HarperCollins Spiritual Classics, each $11.95.)   Her intro to Calvin was excellent.

Interestingly, Robinson also contributed a preface to the lovely Vintage paperback John Calvin: Steward of God’s Covenant: Selected Writings ($13.95.)

So, she is obviously quite a thinker, a good writer, and a fine (if deep) essayist, as can be seen in her collection The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (Picador; $15.)  She writes critical pieces on topics as wide-ranging as the notion of wilderness to growing up Presbyterian to historical topics such as abolition, and, of course, more directly literary essays.

But her gift to us all of the two novels, Housekeeping, published in 1980 (and the favorite of some) and the beautiful Gilead, is why she is so beloved.  Giliead, if you don’t know, is the splendid story told by an old man, a minister, telling his young child about his life.  I hope it isn’t too far afield (or obvious) to say it reminded me, at least in approach and tone, of The Memory of Old Jack by Wendell Berry.  The brand new Home is a parallel story, told in the voice of Reverend Robert Boughton, the best friend of John Ames, the main character in Gilead.  Set in the same Iowa town, this is another luminous and tender tale.  As it says on the dust jacket, Home is about families, family secrets, the passing generations, about love and death and faith.

We are happy to be able to sell such radiant fiction, books to be savored and discussed.

regularly $25.00
$5 off

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown, PA  17313     717.246.3333