10 Books for Lent – 2014

Yesterday’s review was meaningful for me to write; I hope you read my remarks about the new Sara Miles book, City of God: Faith in the Streets.  Although it is a memoir about her experiences of mostly one Ash Wednesday, it raises profound and urgent questions about how the church will (or won’t) adapt its liturgies and symbols and language to reach a “spiritual but not religious” or syncretistic, confused un- or de-churched population.  Sara loves her liturgy, loves her liberal Episcopal church, andcity of god.jpg loves her neighborhood.  Her assumption that it is that very geography, outside the walls of the sanctuary, that is the locus of the Kingdom of God is missional and more.  Those that follow our blog here know that these questions have circled around our own hearts and minds for decades. Her new City of God is, without her saying so, a reply to the early fifth century book you should also know about, Augustine’s classic City of God. The question is real: where can we see God’s redemptive work on Earth even as the cities of human hands are such as they are. What is the relationship between the church and the world? What can we say about God’s will be unfolded in history? What does it mean that Jesus’ Kingdom is coming? Her feisty and very contemporary memoir is pregnant with the most important questions we can ask, isn’t it?

Another reviewer might have chosen to highlight views, anecdotes and practices in Sara’s book that are perplexing, and different than St. Augustine’s, and that would be fair enough. I choose to say what I admired about her book and why it is so very interesting and even valuable. I hope my comments drew you towards her story, her questions, her efforts, for you to ponder and to be provoked.  How do you effectively serve the poor and the refugee and the lonely? Do you draw on other ethnic and cultural traditions and strengths, as she so heartily does? And how does your own preferred style of liturgy and ritual and tradition contribute to faithful living in the world God loves?  Would you do church in public?

The questions about the role of liturgy as it shapes embodied practices are the questions steaming up from the streets there in Sara’s Mission District neighborhood, but they are, in a different way and with considerably more theological and philosophical refinement, also emerging from James K.A. Smith and his grand, profound (and for some, game-changing) work in Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom (both Baker; $22.99 each.) To ask about embodied faith, a (re)new(ed) creation coming into being through the grace of the killed and resurrected One, to ponder the implications of what Jamie might call a neo-Calvinist or neo-Kuyperian worldview and way of life, leads us to, I believe, similar questions as are raised by Sara’s good tale.  I know that some of our customers are reading Smith so hope they see the connection; other friends love Sara’s other books, and wanted to commend Smith to them.  Anyway, I hope you found the Ash Wednesday story of City of God somewhat interesting. 

Such a wild and wooly adventure story maybe isn’t for everyone, or isn’t what everyLentIntro.png small group needs during this meditative time of Lent.

So here are a few excellent resources that follow a bit more conventional devotional structure. (See a previous year’s list here.) We highly recommend using such books as companions for your spiritual reflections this time of year, and if this isn’t your custom, to build this sort of quiet and intentional reading into your own schedule this time of year, we invite you to consider it.  These books will help, I’m sure.

                                                                                                                Thanks to Margaret Feinberg for her #LentChallenge

Ggod-for-us-rediscovering-the-meaning-of-lent-and-easter-7.jpgod for Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter  edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete Press) $29.99  There is no doubt that this is the most eagerly awaited volume of this sort, with some customers praying for it (literally, I hope) for several years, now.  It is the fantastic, luxurious follow-up to the splendid and beloved devotional God With Us which is an Advent/Christmas volume. Here is what you should know about it: it was produced in cooperation with one of the most classy literary journals being published, the wonderful, rich, sophisticated, artful Image Journal. Image brings together serious writers, literary figures, and quarterly offers weighty essays, short stories, poetry, interviews with artists and musicians, and generally holds up a wonderfully crafted flag for the art/faith dialogue. It is less about the dialogue – what is a Christian view of aesthetics, how does faith impact literature and the like – but is an example of it. It is highly regarded.

Alas, when editors like this set out to do an Advent or Lenten devotional, it will be replete with Biblical reflections by artists and poets and it will be handsomely designed, with visual art and typography and color and all that makes a book truly a multi-faceted delight.  And this is it, as good or better than God With Us, God for Us shines with wonder, inviting us to savor the spiritual mood and themes of this season of the church calendar.   As they put it, “Lent is about nurturing a posture that holds all things lightly, that ensures that our passions are subject to us and not the other way around.”

They insist that Lent is not “a time of vaguely spiritualized gloominess” and who better to help us realize the “bright sadness” of Lent than good poets and deep thinkers and those gifted with artful skills of offering rich and evocative meditations on the Bible?  

These fine daily reflections and prayers (and a few other pieces, too) are by Beth Bevis, Scott Cairns, Kathleen Norris, James Schaap, Luci Shaw, Richard Rohr, Ronald Rolheiser and Lauren Winner. What an absolutely great gathering of perspectives, from an a Orthodox poet to a Presbyterian contemplative, Catholic mystics, an Episcopalian priest and writer, a Dutch Reformed short story writer and a scholar of Victorian literature.  And dear, beloved Luci Shaw – oh how her work thrills us!  There is art and iconography aplenty, useful for lectio vizio, and delight.  

On the back cover it says “Lent and Easter reveal the God who is for us in all of life – for our liberation, for our healing, for our wholeness. Lent and Easter reminds us that even in death there can be found resurrection. 

This is a book to own, to give, to cherish.  Kudos to Paraclete Press and Image for this magnificent book and for the great honor of getting to sell it.  

HHe Set His Face to Jerusalem- A Lenten Study for Adults .jpge Set His Face to Jerusalem: A Lenten Study for Adults  Richard Wilke(Abingdon) $8.99  We heard Bishop Wilke years ago when he was passionately working and writing for renewal within the United Methodist church.  He has done Advent books, contributed to the popular Disciple Bible Study series, and is a strong, good leader. This is a fairly straight-on, obvious study (which is to say, it isn’t trendy or odd) of Jesus’ own journey to Jerusalem (announced so tersely in Luke 9:51.) There are seven chapters, one for each week in Lent and one for Holy Week and Easter. Each session includes a Scripture reference, a personal reading, questions for reflection, a closing prayer, and a focus for the week. The book can be used for personal devotions but is ideal for small groups wanting a no-nonsense study of the seasons main story.

Aworld worth saving.jpg World Worth Saving: Lenten Spiritual Practices for Action George Hovaness Donigian (Upper Room) $14.00  Perhaps you have been inspired by the memoirs of Sara Miles or others who have given themselves to organize their communities, to work for justice, to take stands in the name of the gospel for peace and human rights? Maybe you were inspired by the recent simulcasts of the Justice Conference or even attended Jubilee, the college conference that invites students into the good news of the gospel in ways that “transform everything.”  If you are a bit reluctant to celebrate Lent through spiritual practices that are too internal, too quiet, too seemingly disengaged for the world of need, this guide is for you.  God believes the world is worth saving, and you can help!

This is a 6-week study for Lent and it will help you grow your prayer life. You learn to pray about the new, discern the needs of those around you, and it helps you see how you can respond with greater compassion.  Can you fast from apathy? Starve our guilt? Serve God by serving others? Refine our friendships?  This is a praxis-oriented spiritual guide, a rare blend of the journey inward and the journey outward. Each weekly session has great readings, and good reflection questions for personal pondering and good ones for your small group to discuss together.  It does give each reader some daily readings, too.  Very nicely done.

FForgiveness- A Lenten Study.jpgorgiveness: A Lenten Study Marjorie J. Thompson (Westminster/John Knox) $12.00  Many of us value Marj Thompson’s Soul Feast as one of the best overviews and handbooks for developing a deeper spiritual life and as an excellent guide to enter into practices and disciplines for spiritual growth.  Along with Richard Foster, say, she is a hero in the genre, and highly respected across denominational lines. It has been a while since she has published, and this lovely little books is a real gift. There are six chapters and there is a fine six-part study guide.  She writes, “Forgiveness is the healing stream flowing out from the crucified Christ over a world that does not know how desperately it needs the healing.” This is a fine study of this perennial topic and offers remarkably detailed insight and guidance about the bold love we need to forgive those who have hurt us. It uses Biblical teaching and real-life stories.

This really is so appropriate for the Lenten journey for almost all of us, although I suspect it will be well-used in other times and seasons as well.  This is theologically rich and pastorally sound, and very, very inspiring.

HHidden in Christ.jpgidden in Christ: Living as God’s Beloved James Bryant Smith (IVP) $17.00  We just love the trilogy of “apprenticeship” books by Smith (The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community) and this amazing month of daily devotionals is a chunky hand-sized hardback.  This is very, very good; here’s what the publisher says about it:  “In this unique introduction to the hidden life in Christ, James Bryan Smith walks readers through a thirty-day immersion in Colossians 3:1-17. Each of the thirty short chapters of this book bring out the main truth of just one word or phrase of this rich passage. You’ll also find a very simple daily practice to take up, reflection questions and a guide for five weeks of group discussion. The only way to tell a story is to use words. May the words of Colossians 3 become a companion to you as God continues to write your story.” You will benefit from using this, I assure you. 

Tkingdom and the cross.jpghe Kingdom and the Cross James Bryant Smith (IVP) $8.00. Speaking of Smith, by the way, last year we promoted this slim book, co-produced by Renovare, which prayerfully asks “why did Jesus have to die?” and offers good responses to the false narratives about the nature of God and our dumb ideas about religion. In six short meditations, this zooms in on Christ’s work on the cross and what it all means about who God is and how we’re to live as His people. It invites readers to see themselves as apprentices of Jesus and offers these reflections as crucial to help us live more faithfully into His Kingdom.

Mmaking crosses.jpgaking Crosses: A Creative Connection to God  Ellen Morris Prewitt (Paraclete) $17.99  Paraclete has published a number of books that invite a more interactive approach to prayer (for instance their Praying with the Body and their Praying in Color) and this is one of the more interesting interactive one’s they done. It shows you how to take found and abandoned objects and turn them into crosses.  It is a lovely, even at times moving, exercise, and she offers step-by-step guidance.  She mentions the “discarded bits of brokenness” which become, as Sybil MacBeth notes, “physical ways to offer our own broken selves to God, who loves, redeems, and repairs us.”

Wwho.pngho Is This Man: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus  John Ortberg (Zondervan) $22.99 It is customary to think about Jesus during this liturgical cycle, and although we should always affix our eyes on Him, and keep always in our mind the work of the cross, now is certainly a time to ponder who He is, and what he has done.  I think this is one of the best recent books about Jesus for ordinary readers, especially for those that aren’t familiar with heady theology or deep doctrine. In fact, this is ideal for seekers and skeptics, and has, despite its casual style and reportage of basic stuff, moved more than one mature reader to tears.  May we suggest you use this time of the year to share this basic book about Jesus with someone who may not warm up to a typical devotional. This one is well worth it, and I highly, highly recommend it.

Cchrist in conflict.jpghrist in Conflict: Lessons from Jesus and His Controversies John Stott (IVP)$16.00 I recommended this before, celebrating that the always reliable, thoughtful, solid early work of John Stott has been re-issued in this updated version.  This is a fabulous study of the trouble Christ caused, the questions he asked, the ruckus that followed him.  He invites us to ponder the meanings behind these controversies, and to see how he modeled a passion for truth and a life of grace.  This is a marvelous book and I think you’ll come away knowing the gospel accounts better, and the Lord Himself better as well.  That’s a big promise for a small book, but I am confident it will bear good fruit as you read Stott’s accounts of these dramatic encounters.

Tcross of christ.JPGhe Cross of Christ John Stott (IVP) $26.00 By the way, one can not go wrong studying carefully this magisterial work which offers good accounts of mostly traditional understandings of the many sides of Christ’s death and the saving power of the cross.  Stott is very clear, serious but accessible, and always appealing to both the heart and the mind. This is a meaty evangelical work, worth pondering for Lent and well beyond. There are other ways to understand the crucifixion, and we would be wise to reflect on many authors, from many cultures and with different insights. This a classic, even beautiful rendering of a core, historic approach.  If you don’t have a book like this in your library, you should consider it.


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City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles ON SALE – 20% OFF

Tomorrow I will offer a list of very nice Lenten books. They are useful for one’s own spiritual reading, for your small group, or adult ed class. We hope you will enjoy seeing them recommended. These are books about Jesus and/or our own response of undertaking spiritual disciplines which invite us into a season that many in the church have long found very meaningful, that intentional joining of our lives to Christ’s as He moves towards the cross.  Look for that list coming soon.

First, though, I want to tell you about one of the most interesting books I’ve read in quite a while and it is perfect to read here as we approach Lent; as you’ll see it is a memoir mostly about experiencing Ash Wednesday. It arrived into the shop a few weeks ago, but, because I know this writer is thoughtful and such a very good wordsmith (and would be writing about some fairly intense stuff that I would want to consider carefully) I wanted to hold it until I had time to savor, to appreciate, to ponder, and to grapple with it. 

Today I feel a little like Jacob after that long night of struggle, a bit banged-up myself, but blessed for the effort. I read the new book City of God: Faith in the Streets (Jericho Books; $20.00) by a truly fascinating person and gifted, remarkable writer, self-confessed Episcopalian “church nerd” Sara Miles. I have read her earlier books and spent a few days at an event with her a year ago. I respect her a lot, as a writer and as a follower of Christ.

Tcity of god.jpghe City of God: Faith in the Streets is mostly about celebrating in high church fashion the service of putting ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent.) And doing it out on the streets, for one and all.

City of God: Faith in the Streets is an amazing book for several reasons. Firstly, it chronicles one day in Mile’s life, a busy Ash Wednesday, and three Ash Wednesday services in which she was involved that day.

The book opens with preparations for an early morning liturgy in the church at which she works, the liturgically rich and eccentric St. Gregory’s of Nyssa in San Francisco.  It ends with a late evening service, also at St. Gregory’s. This is an Episcopal church that is experimental in liturgy and while expansive and broad in theology, claims to be well-rooted in the best of the Christian tradition. It wouldn’t be confused with a formal Anglo-Catholic church, let alone an indie-evangelical congregation; many from other traditions find them nearly heretical even though they clearly see themselves as a herald of God’s good news in Christ. 

It is ancient and future, weird and, apparently, full of wonder. It is a chanting, dancing, singing, liturgically-driven parish that serves the poor and hungry and crazyjesus-freak.jpg and needy within its progressive, urban neighborhood through ministries often led by Ms Miles; she tells about all this with great spunk, breath-taking detail and vivid writing in the second book she wrote after her conversion, called Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead (Jossey Bass; $21.95.) It is extraordinary for what it tells and for how gloriously it is told, her living out this radical faith in her Mission District setting.

You can read a brief excerpt here, but skip the cheesy amazon link, and come back to us, please.)

Her first religious book, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion (Ballentine; $16.00) put hertake this bread.jpg on the map of mainline denominational folks, earning accolades from The Christian Century and Sojourners and the like; Anne Lamott wrote that it “blew me away… I am going to foist this on every single hard-core left-wing religious nut I know.”  Of course the emergent villagers came to know her, but, even some doctrinally-conservative evangelicals (like, for instance, PCA pastor Steve Brown on his Steve Brown Etc radio show) noticed her conversion narrative and have counted her as an ally for the gospel.  It isn’t every day, after all, that a left-wing, atheist foodie is immediately touched by the living Christ, causing her to be baptized and join the church, precipitated by the unexpected receiving of communion at an open table.

As she puts it, “I came late to Christianity, knocked upside down by a mid-life conversion centered around eating a literal chunk of bread. I hadn’t decided to profess an article of doctrine, but discovered a force blowing uncontrollably through the world.” Get a short glimpse of her reading a brief summary of her intriguing and moving story, told so well in Take This Bread in a “This I Believe” piece on NPR.

Miles’ story unfolds in those first two books — her conversion, her learning about church history and theology and joining the church, her radical service to the poor, her zany antics of bringing ancient faith to her hurting neighbors, her admirable willingness to work with fundamentalists and others, her wife’s secular Judaism and their caring relationship, her ups and downs within the ecumenical Body of Christ, and the specific Body of Christ known in tangible bread (and the bodies of the strangers, if you take Matthew 25 literally, which she does.) She has a good eye for the good line, is a bit snarky and funny at times, but often poignant and kind and occasional nearly luminous.  

Hsaramiles.jpger story is a surprisely wild one. Wilder, I think, than, say, Anne Lamotte, to whom I sometimes compare her. Her tatted up friend, writer and emergent Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber looks a bit more edgy (well, a lot more edgy) than Sara, but Sara’s story is even more unexpected, curious and deeper, and her prose is more eloquent than the cool stuff in NBWs Pastix.  If you read Diana Butler Bass or Barbara Brown Taylor, or, better, if you read Dorothy Day, you will be attracted to this postmodern example of the work of the Risen Christ, bewildering as it may be for some readers. Strap on, folks, this isn’t an easy ride, and it does get bumpy.  She certainly upsets conventional views of the devout life, but as Becky Garrison puts it, she is just “so dang Jesus-y.”

The heart of the book centers around a particular narrative and holds to a certain theme. I will not do it justice so If you are inclined you really should buy the book, take in her story, and ponder it in your own heart. It would make for a lively book club read, that’s for sure. 

Firstly, the obvious center to the story’s plot is her planning and prepping and actuallysarah doing ashes.jpg offering an Ash Wednesday distribution of ashes in public.  She flashes back and forth to other services and of some people who, like her, were un-churched until they encountered thick, meaningful (mystical?) liturgical rituals that drew them to faith.  And she tells of the conversations she had with other local religious types (for instance, a transgressive punk rocker who is also a seminary trained deacon at his church) about this event. Can a distribution of ashes on this Holy Day to one and all in the public square be liturgically and theologically sound? Can it bear some fruit as witness?  Why do it, and what will people get out of it? This memoir includes some fabulous tellings of interesting episodes from her larger life and the life of her neighbors and friends and some very insightful reflections on the spirituality of it all. It is a tenderly told story, but laden with complex theological questions.

I think many readers will relate to different aspects of her work – the frustrations of trying help an indigent friend, trying to remain gracious in grid-locked traffic jams when there is the Lord’s work to do, realizing the hypocrisies of preaching about love for others while not paying much attention to a grumpy neighbor, etcetera, etcetera. Her willingness to lay bear her own fears and foibles invites us to similar vulnerabilities, I think and that may be a good outcome of reading her work, too.

As one who has done public protest and liturgical reenactments in high traffic urban areas, I related to Miles’ own conflicts about this very public act of Christian street theater. (She hopes nobody she knows from her neighborhood sees her, decked out in cassock and carrying a thurible, but then wonders if she is so reticent, why does she want to do this in public in the first place? Been there!)  

Miles and her comrades wonder if it is adequate to just take an “in-door” liturgy and do it outdoors, or might the (sacred) space of the secular plaza help define what might besarah and friend in cassocks.jpg done?  And how will the whole affair come loose (evolve or devolve?) as folks want in on it – children, immigrants, commuters coming up from the BART subway elevators, believers and others, too?  From where they set up a make-shift altar with a card table and after they have censed the area properly, she and another liturgist walk down the street, being invited in to local joints to offer ashes, compelled, blown by the Spirit into nail salons and Asian markets and burrito shops and, eventually, McDonalds where they gently used their thumbs to make the sign of the cross with the little jars of ashes they’ve brought.  It is a chapter I’ve read twice already and was thrilled each time to read about her grace and grit during this intensely joyful hour.

Why do people hunger for a symbol of their own mortality? (Granted the largely immigrant neighborhood may have been mostly Catholic and had familiarity with the ritual.) What does it mean to do this “ashes to ashes” ritual, and can this counter-intuitive human fascination with death actually become good news? Can a Christian ritual find substantive meaning when taken out of the grounding context of the bigger liturgy and church year? (One of her priest friends thinks not, that the “dust to dust” affirmation must yield to repentance, which must be done in the context of a proclamation of the gospel of Christ, which is to say, the whole kit-and-caboodle of the church year.) That is, they wonder if it is it even wise or sound to offer this ritual to the un-churched in this abbreviated out-of-the-sanctuary tableaux? As you might guess, Sara has few misgivings about it, and her impulse is to take risks to live out faith in ways that appeal to the people. (“The people” — ha, wait til you read her line about that lefty phrase, as she passes a Socialist Workers Party bookstore.) This has now become somewhat of a trend, and she does have some slight concerns about differing motivations and expectations. Do “Ashes to Go” experiences just play into fast-food style consumerism, gutting the substance (and community) of thicker, slower liturgies?

My, my, this is important stuff, and her human and humane observations about it all are perhaps more theologically profound than any number of abstract and dry books offering proper teaching on the sacraments.  Her passion for the outsider, the excluded, the marginalized and the poor – and her real neighbors in this largely Chicano neighborhood – is palpable and her sense of being an oddball ambassador for an inclusive, mestizo church is amazing to behold. Scary, for some of us, to be sure, but amazing, still.

Think what you will of the soundness of this whole scene, the liberal Episcopalian ethos, her unashamed identity as a lesbian, her mystical bent of finding God in ritual, her penchant for liturgical chant and  ancient song, her openness to meaningful interfaith spiritual experiences, her affinity for liberation theology. It is a remarkable story, a beautifully-written book, and even if it makes you sputter, it is worth reading.   

I looked around at the members of the congregation, their faces smudged with ashes. The marks reminded me of the cross of sticky ointment a priest had sealed my forehead with at baptism, and the mark God put on the forehead of the fratricidal Cain to place him outside human judgement. We were all so messed up.

“The worst thing we can imagine is that we’re made out of dirt and going to die,” Paul said to me once. “But when we say it aloud, we discover the worst thing isn’t the last thing. The last thing is forgiveness.”

Iashes.jpgf you know little about Ash Wednesday and the custom of marking the sign of the cross on another’s forehead with ashes (are they a reminder of our mortality or a call to repentance, or both?) or if you don’t have much experience with creative urban outreach, this book will be an eye-opening and helpful introduction to some of our sisters and brothers who do this kind of stuff. You learn about liturgy and you learn about justice, and you learn about the relationship between the two.

If you fancy yourself an urban activist or peace and justice fan, I suspect you’ll dig this, but be aware: her compassion for the poor and her insistence upon treating all with human dignity may end up sounding nearly conservative: like Dorothy Day or Desmond Tutu she bases her revolutionary politics on personal encounters with real people who are poor and upon basic apostolic truths of a Triune God who saves us through the person of Jesus the Christ who is made manifest in His church. I don’t know that she cites it, but I’m reminded of Dorothy’s famous line, “The church may be a whore, but she is still my mother.”  

I don’t know if Sara sees the church as her mother, as she is a woman not reared in the church and whose own heart beats for the fast and furious, smelly and secular, perplexing and political vibes of the real city in which she lives.  On this she is like Wendell Berry on steroids of urban concrete and glass, maybe a postmodern Jane Jacobs. 

Which brings us to the second important thing to say about City of God: Faith in the Streets. Yes, it is a narrative about one day in the life of a woman who offers Lenten ashes on the streets and loves the worship in her local church.  Got it.

But it is more profoundly a meditation on how Miles seems to have faith in the streets themselves. In a world created, blessed, sustained, and being redeemed by the Christ, there is no sacred/secular divide, no real split between the life of the church and the life of the world; she is utterly right to realize that the spiritual is not to be contrasted with the material, that faith is incarnated. She is way beyond “missional” and more akin to the Russian Orthodox view of a sacramental life (think of the wonderful, dense work of Alexander Schmemann such as For the Life of the World.) Although it is not her tradition, she wouldn’t disagree with the Kuyperian slogan of God in Christ re-claiming “every square inch” of a good but fallen creation.

A theme of Miles’ City of God: Faith in the Streets is how God is really at work in the world, and how this simple realization allows her to see her place – this particular neighborhood of this exact city – as, literally, the geography of the Kingdom coming, “on earth as it is in heaven.” She might like the down-to-Earth concerns of new urbanist Eric Jacobsen who wrote a book we like, with a great preface by Eugene Peterson, called Sidewalks of the Kingdom (Brazos Press; $22.00.) And, as an aside, don’t miss Jacobsen’s spectacular and very important The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment (Baker Academic; $25.00.) The implications of a down-to-Earth, all-of-life-redeemed faith, and the Bible’s insistence that it is this very world that God so loves, are vast and also minute; sidewalks of the Kingdom, indeed.

Miles isn’t a systematic theologian and this is a memoir, not a textbook, so she doesn’t get everything said that needs saying about all of this. For instance, she doesn’t mention much about Augustine’s “city of man” (in his famous book City of God to which she surely alludes) as an aspect of or a counterpoint to the “city of God.” Her book surely isn’t a thorough theological study of what we mean by “God’s work in the world.” 

But her impulse is right, her generous instincts helpful, as she names some signals of what some of us call “common grace.”  Her assumptions about all of this — since the Bible story moves from a garden to a city, real geography matters as a locus of the Kingdom of God — are stated outright, occasionally, and are pervasive between the lines of this moving set of reminiscences. I think many of our readers will appreciate this, and it would make a wonderful study, even if one isn’t particularly interested in Ash Wednesday or liberal Episcopalians who maybe make a fetish out of good ritual. City of God is about Ash Wednesday in the streets, about God’s Kingdom coming in those streets, and what she means by that, and how she experiences it that is the heart of the book.

Here is how Phyllis Tickle’s important endorsement reads:

Rarely, if ever, have I heard or read or experienced a more poignant or persuasive presentation of the city as metaphor and prototype for the Kingdom of God.  Mile’s panorama is lived theology, and its result is a kind of holy magnificence.

I am smart enough not to quibble with Phyllis very often, but as good and beautiful as this blurb is, I think it is not quite right; I suspect Miles doesn’t view her city as a metaphor for anything. Maybe it’s a prototype, although even that implies it isn’t the real thing. I believe Sara believes it is the real deal. Thy Kingdom Coming, right here, right now. 

Here is how the deep Catholic thinker James Alison writes about City of God:

Sara Miles gives us much more than a beautiful love song to her neighborhood… she offers us a glimpse of how living Christian faith can re-enchant the world.

Ponder these lines of endorsement:

Sara is so inspiring… Where most of us aim for the clouds, she’s focused on the dirt and sweat and blood and struggle of this world and the presence here in it with us – which is, of course, the best news of all. (Rob Bell)

Gorgeously written, City of God takes Jesus from the walls of the church to the streets of the city, showing us that where two or three or more Anglicans or prostitutes or head-injured junkies or housewives are gathered, He is with us. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. (Nadia Bolz-Weber)

city of god.jpg

Although this book is a fascinating study of Ash Wednesday, and good to read now, early in Lent, it is, mostly, a memoir. Like her savior, the rabbi Jesus, Ms Miles tells stories. She comes at it all quite slant, bringing insight through a rip-roaring narrative, teaching and explaining and offering illumination, but mostly just showing us a glimpse into her daily life, set as it is within the ministry of this fascinating neighborhood and this fascinating parish. 

Read City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles to learn a bit, to be informed about important stuff, to raise questions about the very nature of Christian faith lived out in the real world, about how these sorts of Christian folk construe their faith and use their rituals to reach out and serve their neighbors; yes. 

Read it also if you want a glimpse into the life of a gritty multi-ethnic contemporary urban neighborhood and parish.

But read it more for the thrill of the story, as a great memoir, to enjoy colorful characters we meet, scenes so vivid we can find ourselves there, places she allows us to nearly see, tastes she describes so well we can almost savor them on our own tongues. It is an enjoyable read, I assure you.

I wished the book were longer. I didn’t want it to be over.

Reading it now might help frame your Lenten journey, and it might help you ponder your own story, and your own place —  imagining it as, at least, a holy signpost of the coming City of God.


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JUBILEE IN YOUR MAIL-BOX — deep discounts on Jubilee-ish book packages ONE WEEK ONLY

I hope you took the extra few minutes it took to read my essay describing some key books, authors and overlapping connections in my post-Jubilee column a few days ago — you can find it at our Heartseverything matters.jpg & Minds website here. 

I named some books and authors that we really believe in, and that mean a lot to us, described as I explained some of the moving experiences we had at the Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh.

The campus ministry organization CCO runs Jubilee and (in partnership with the outstanding Serving Leaders ministry of Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation) the adult mini-conference Jubilee Professional, events that bring together speakers and students and so many others to celebrate God’s gracious care for all areas of life. 

Andy Crouch’s Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power (for the adults gathered at the JubileePro pre-conference) and his magnificent Culture-Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling  (for the big opening Friday night for the students) framed much of the event.  

Our launching there the brand new books Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide tolearning for the love of god.jpgvisions of vocation.jpg Academic Faithfulness by Derek Melleby & Donald Optiz and Steve Garber’s Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good made this year’s event particularly meaningful and joyous for us. 

CCO talks a lot about the unfolding flow of the Biblical narrative, and the main-stage plenary conference talks are about the goodness of creation, the shame and dysfunction of sin, the grace of Christ’s mercy seen in the offer of gospel redemption, and the surprising hope for a renewed cosmos where all things are made new.  

Ycfrc - W.jpges, the creation/fall/redemption/restoration acts of the drama, explored so well by N.T. Wright (or, more succinctly, in Al Wolter’s Creation Regained) shapes the very structure of Jubilee conference, inviting participants into this developing saga as the weekend evolves. 

Brilliant! (Kudos Chris Carson!)

Within this broad framework for Biblical thinking (drawing, almost subconsciously) on the generous, historic insights of Dutch neo-Calvinism (which is to say, the theological writings of the likes of Herman Bavinck, Louis Berkhof, and Abraham Kuyper, and even the philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, for those who follow such things) there is a strong emphasis on what they call the “cultural mandate” of Genesis 1:26-28. 

That is, we learn from Genesis 1 & 2 (and the creation poems and hymns in Psalms and Job) much about the goodness of creation, God’s delight in creating things (in love), God’s wise ordering of things, and the wonder and beauty and glory of it all.

The Biblical story does not — it. does. not. — start with original sin, but original blessing. 

But, perhaps more importantly (if only because it is often not plumbed for its deep meaning) the cultural mandate tells us that we are made in the image of a creator/worker God who is in relationship, and who authorizes us women and men to be image-bearers, reflecting God’s rule over the good, and potential-laden creation. In other words, as Andy Crouch so wonderfully put it Friday night, we are to “make stuff and make sense.”  

We are call to “take dominion” which of course does not mean to stomp down or abuse or conquer, but to tenderly steward all that is around us. Genesis 2:15 retells this part of the creation story by using the famous gardening metaphorculturemaking.jpg.  Adam and Eve are to “tend and keep the garden” of creation.

This is why environmental concerns are always part of the workshop selections at Jubilee.

And it seems to me that it is why there is a connection between Jubilee and Jubilee Pro.  Creation bids us to be busy, and to find meaning in daily work.

This mandate really is the first and only task given to humankind before the fall into sin: to be busy developing the raw stuff of Earth and giving shape to history.  Interestingly, Adam firstly named the animals, and even wrote a little couplet for his wife, using his God-given language abilities. From the playful use of arts and natural sciences, and more, creation is to be developed by humans; we are, indeed, culture-makers, Earthlings with dignity, invited into partnership with the God we reflect, doing God’s work as the teeming, good creation is developing into societies. (Not a few writers in this tradition observe that the flow of the Bible itself starts in a garden but ends in a city.) This is what it means to be made in God’s image: we rule/serve and develop culture on God’s behalf as managers, house keepers, stewards, vice-regents; we play and we work, we create and we rest.

That’s a lot of freight to get out of one or two verses, but there you have it. We “occupy creation” as Jamie Smith evocatively put it a few years back from the Jubilee stage.  Too few churches teach much about this foundational stuff, from our book of beginnings. We are proud that the CCO Jubilee team thinks enough about this to arrange the conference itself this way.

Plumbing the depths of the cultural mandate and how we image God in this way isn’t unique to the Dutch neo-Calvinist tradition, but Abraham Kuyper (even in his newly translated work on common grace) makes a big deal of it.  It is the start of what Jubilee is all about, helping college students develop theological resources for “making stuff and making sense” particularly as they relate their faith and their future careers to this robust vision of a Biblically-informed way of seeing things.

Similarly, Jubilee explores the other “acts” in the Biblical drama. The fall and the alienation and pain of human sin and shame were explored in plenary gatherings by IJM human rights activist Bethany Hoang and the exquisitely honest psychologist and author Dan Allender (who came to faith in the 70s along with his roommate Tremper Longman, the now-famous Biblical scholar, with the help of thisyork moore.jpg broad vision of Christian thinking as CCO staff befriended him in his own college days at Ohio Wesleyan.)  It won’t do to minimize the pain and injustices of this fallen world, so we face it head on.

The grace of the gospel was brought home in utter clarity by the passionate black preacher from urban Philadelphia, Eric Mason, on Saturday night, and what a service it was! 

Sunday morning reminded us of the “all things new” hope for the (re)new(ed) creation and how that wedding imagery of final consummation can become our own wedding-work, now.  Kudos to author York Moore for a very thoughtful sermon, developing and consummating much of the work of the conference that went on that jam-packed weekend.

And, of course, that was just the four major plenary gatherings — which also featured the best and most talented and most lively worship band I’ve ever been with, hilarious skits and tomfoolery, testimonials from important ministries and organizations (three cheers for Margot Starbuck and her good Compassion International pitch.  She reminded us of a lot, and observed that sexual trafficking and child slavery is simply “off the table” when a child is adopted through Compassion. Wow.)  

There were dozens of workshops exploring faith and learning, vocation and calling, making a difference and growing in practices of whole-life Christian discipleship.

AByron on stage w_ D Jubilee 2014.jpgnd then there are my book announcements.

What a joy to get to highlight key books and important resources in front of thousands of people.  We don’t take this responsibility lightly and spend a lot of time thinking it through, finding a good and coherent mix of titles and authors.

Which brings me to this.

Sometimes I have great success in highlighting some books succinctly, and it seems to strike a nerve, with students snapping up almost everything I suggest.  

Or not.  One never knows what resource capture people’s imaginations and what will sell well at gigs like this.

Sometimes, there are just so many good workshop leaders recommending their own resources, and so many books by powerful keynote speakers (we sold out of almost every Dan Allender book we took!) that we have plenty of books left over.  

It is precious for us to realize the role we get to play in this work, and through God’s grace, it seems to be considerable. It blows us away every single year when somebody says that the books they bought the year before changed their life, or brought them to faith, or encouraged them to explore more faithful living in some aspect of their work. The spontaneous bookish testimonials are just amazing to hear! 

Quite a few people tell us that the book display and our non-stop conversations there about books, ideas, resources, and further study, are central to their Jubilee experience.

We hear that often, at other events, too, to be honest, and we are very grateful to be able to serve atderek stack of books.jpg various sorts of gatherings and conferences. Buying books at events allows participants to take ideas home, interact more thoughtfully with those ideas over time, maybe joining with others to think through “next steps” gleaned from an educational event where motivation and energy is high. Careful later study is, we believe, a key aspect of attending events, allowing a process of engaging with and an avenue for applying truths and dreams and insights learned.

We had over 75 categories of books at Jubilee this year.  And we sold stuff from every single category, from prayer to politics, math to mothering, social work to sexuality, racial diversity to theological diversity.  Where else do we get to focus on worldview and work, the mind and the body,jubilee  booktable.JPG too.  No wonder I want to tell you about it.

So, you couldn’t be at Jubilee, you say?

You can still be a part of the post-Jubilee follow-up, taking in the core insights and the practical application of a Kingdom vision, living into the dream of a creation restored.

We’ve come up with take-home idea.

You can buy some books and start up a Jubilee-ish reading plan.  Maybe get some pals to join in.

Here is an introductory Jubilee reading list, and we will send to you Jubilee in a box (minus the almost 3000 folks, high energy, loud music, joyful tomfoolery, cross-cultural opportunities, mighty, youthful prayer and amazing conversations that surrounds the actual event.)

And they are at great discounts. 

Discounts good for one week only, until February 28th, 2014.



Pick one from each category and get 25% OFF 


Pick two from each category and get 30% OFF

And we’ll throw in some good freebies, too, we promise.

The regular prices are shown; we will deduct either 25% or 30% off.

These offers are good this week only, expiring February 28, 2014. While supplies last.



Wwork matters smaller.gifork Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work Tom Nelson (Crossway) $15.99  Written by the pastor of one of the nation’s best congregations nurturing of culturally-engaged, thoughtful expression of the gifts and insights of laypeople and professionals for marketplace service.  Nelson has learned to equip the people for relating faith and work, Sunday and Monday.  They are really doing it, and their vision for why it all matters is nicely spelled out in a way you’ll surely appreciate.  There are numerous two-page sidebars, too, documenting the stories of some of the folks in the church—a brilliant, Christ-honoring architect, an ethical businessperson, a good teacher, a Christian lawyer, and the like. 

If this topic is somewhat new to you, consider buying this (and, even better, buy one for your pastor.) It is excellent.

Eevery good e.jpgvery Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World  Timothy Keller & Katherine Leary Alsdorf (Dutton) $26.95  I hope you know about the Redeemer Presbyterian Center for Faith & Work, one of the premier ministries offering encouragement to professionals in several spheres of service. This book emerges from Keller’s good concern for the laypeople in his Manhattan church and his strong realizations that we are all called to serve in various institutions across all of culture as agents of God’s Kingdom.  

Early on, he knew to hire a director for this ministry who had extensive corporate experience, and who knew how to relate faith and work in ways that are gospel-centered, profound, and practical. Ms Alsdorf knows as much about this as anyone, was the perfect leader for this job, and her role as co-author is important, giving the book an extra gravitas and informed realism.

Many of our readers know the intellectual integrity and clear insight offered by Keller’s helpful books. This is the very best book on a theology of work; that Katherine Leary Alsdorf co-wrote it, as I’ve said, makes it that much better. It is a must-read, must-have book for anyone who cares about this topic.  As a review in Comment magazine put it, “This book is theologically rich and philosophically informed, yet accessible and filled with practical wisdom. Drawing on decades of study and ministry, Every Good Endeavor may soon become one of the most important contemporary books on faith and work.”  A classic.

Wwork a kingdom p.jpgork: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor Ben Witherington (Eerdmans) $18.00  This is pretty short but don’t be deceived by its simple size.  Witherington is one of the finest New Testament scholars around and has a profound awareness of the NT teachings about the Kingdom of God.  As he writes about work one can sense his practical, Biblical insight, especially as he unpacks some of the parables of Jesus to help us get a Kingdom vision for our jobs and labor. This helpfully breaks down the pagan sacred-secular divide and calls us all to a robust way of life where discipleship colors all we do, even our daily 9-to-5 labor. 

Wwork matters stevens.jpgork Matters: Lessons from Scripture R. Paul Stevens (Eerdmans) $16.00  Paul Stevens, professor at Regent College in B.C., has long been one of the most steadfast allies in the effort to educate about the meaning and dignity of labor. He has encouraged this conversation for decades, and he has written very widely about it.

Stevens’ newest book is gleaned from hundreds of workshops, lectures, and classes where he has offered Biblical case studies of those who viewed their jobs as related to the unfolding work of God. He avoids forced or cheesy interpretations, but has the eyes to see remarkable insights in stories as familiar as Joseph in Pharaoh’s empire and Daniel exiled in Babylon, and as freshly interesting as Bezalel and Ezekiel. He visits Ruth, to teach about “survival work,” David, to ponder “royal work,” and Martha, to esteem “contemplative work.” I can hardly think of a better small group study or adult Christian education resource that combines insightful Scripture reflections and helpful application as we think about our work as integral to God’s mission in the modern world. Discussion questions are included. 

Kkingdom calling.gifingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good by Amy Sherman (IVP) $16.00 We have celebrated this excellent book on several occasions, thinking it to be one of the very best books ever on this topic.  Truly, this is masterful and adds excellent new insight, new layers of meaning, and teaches in great and helpful detail about four ways of relating faith and work.  Kingdom Calling is a serious, thorough, study of how our jobs can become avenues of social change honoring God and loving neighbor as we steward our vocations for the sake of the common good.  Not for beginners, but if you’ve read a book or two on calling and on work, this is simply a must-have, must-read. 



By Design: Ethics, Theology and the Practice of Engineering  Brad Kallenberg (Wipf & Stock)by design.jpg $36.00  Pretty serious; fantastic to see this kind of discourse. We sold a number of books about engineering and the philosophy of technology, and I wish more folks knew about this one.

The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment Eric O. Jacobsen (Baker) $25.00  I’ve raved about this for two years, now.  His Sidewalks of the Kingdom is a fine introduction to new urbanism, but this is brilliant.  What a great book!

Making a Difference: Christian Educators in Public Schools  Donovan Graham (Purposeful Design) $16.95  Always popular at Jubilee.  Nicely done, about character formation and more.

Called to Care: A Christian Worldview for Nursing Judith Shelley & Arlene Miller (IVP) $25.00  Still my go-to book for anyone in health care related fields.  So important.

Of God and Games: A Christian Exploration of Video Games  Kevin Schut  (Baker) $16.99 Really, really good by a thoughtful young man who is not only a gamer, but has spent time pondering the joy and dangers of this complex, popular arena. Somebody you know will love this.

Christianity and Counseling: Five Views edited by Stephen Greggo & Timothy Sisemore (IVP) $22.00 A wonderfully provocative study, with fivec and c 5 views.jpg impressive Christians who are professional counselors in dialogue with just how faith shapes counseling and what model or approach they think is most faithful and fruitful.  We told students at Jubilee that this sort of thing is a very helpful way to get up to speed on the conversations happening among Christians in this field, an opportunity to do foundational thinking about basic matters.  Every career should have this kind of mature, comparative overview.  I is my hunch that many devout church folks who happen to be counselors just use whatever model they were taught by whichever teacher they most liked during their formative training.  This kind of book may be a chance to revisit what we do, if we do this kind of work, and why.  There is also a more theoretical, and more foundational one called Christianity and Psychology: Five Views edited by Eric Johnson (IVP; $22.00.)

Healing for a Broken World: Perspectives  on Public Policy Steve Monsma (Crossway) $16.99 Balanced, thoughtful, a fine introduction, with Kuyperian nuance.  Highly recommended.

Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity Lauren Winner (Baker) $14.99 Simply the best. I think every adult should read this, although it is especially poignant for younger adults who are unmarried.

Bbusiness-for-the-common-good-a-christian-vision-_publication.jpgusiness for the Common Good: A Christian Vision for the Marketplace  Kenman Wong & Scott Rae (IVP) $24.00 One of our top few books on this vital topic.  Anyone who does business should know this.

Shaping Digital Culture: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology  Derek Schuurman  (IVP) $18.00 Again, there isn’t much in this field that is comprehensively Christian.  I raved about it in a long review last year, and appreciated his thoughtful presence at Jubilee.

Eat with Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food  Rachel Marie Stone (IVP) $16.00  Love it.  Love it some more.  We take this everywhere we go, and showed it from up on the main stage at Jubilee.

Ppced.jpgopcultured: Thinking Christianly About Style, Media, and Entertainment Steve Turner (IVP) $17.00  I think we should all read a couple of books on this topic from time to time, helping us navigate wisely the ubiquitous pop culture air we breath.  Some books in this genre are too cantankerous, some are needlessly academic and not much fun,and some are hardly faithful in Biblical discernment. This is simply the best recent one and really, really great. Gladly, it includes good insights about fashion and advertising, video games and some other stuff not in the earlier books that focused mostly on film and music.

Turner is nothing short of brilliant, so you should read whatever he does.  This one rocks.

Nnot just science.jpgot Just Science: Questions Where Christian Faith and Natural Science Intersect edited by Dorothy Chappell & E. David Cook (Zondervan) $24.99  I tout this at Jubilee some years, as it is a fine overview of many different scientific specialities, including the natural sciences, but also astronomy, pharmacy, engineering, math, chemistry, agronomy, and more.  Very useful.

It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $24.99 We took almost everything Square Halo Books publishes to Jubilee, and they are always shown off with great pride.  They are excellent books, and this is their finest. A must-read collection for anyone interested in the arts.

Why Study History? Reflecting on the Importance of the Past  John Fea (Baker)$19.99 The latest by our friend from Messiah College, the award-wining historian, John Fea. Short and solid.

Redeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession  Michael Schutt (IVP) $24.00  Again, this is simply the best book in this field. So glad for Mike’s work and this fine resource.

A Little Manual for Knowing Esther Lightcap Meek (Cascade) $14.00  Dr. Meek has been workinlittle manuel on knowing.jpgg for years using the insights of (among others) of the brilliant philosopher of science, Michael Polanyi, to come up with a Biblically-shaped, wholistic vision of what it means to know. Yada, yada, yada, you know.  With endorsements from friends of Jubilee like Gideon Strauss and Steve Garber, you can tell she is respected and working on important stuff.  Her valuable work needs to be more widely known. While her major book on covenantal epistomology is excellent for philosophers this handy little book is useful for anyone. 

Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World JR Woodward foreword by Alan Hirsch (IVP) $16.00 Of course we have plenty of books about the nature of the church and thinking fruitfully about congregational life.  This one seems appropriate today, thoughtful and urgent.



Ppreemptive love.jpgreemptive Love: Pursing Peace One Heart at a Time Jeremy Courtney (Howard) $24.00 We named this a Best Book of 2013 and having Jeremy fly to Jubilee from Iraq where he does medical missionary work– procuring heart surgery for the epidemic of heart problems among children in that war-torn country — was a major event for us.  He left Pittsburgh, heading to the nationally-known LA Justice Conference. This is a very, very moving book.

Good News About Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World Gary Haugen (IVP) $16.00 The first book by the founder of IJM, thoughtful and nuanced and wise. Highly recommended.

Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for a Restless Christian Gary Haugen (IVP) $18.00 Dramatic and powerful chapters, mostly talks and sermons and passionate invitations to live for others, seek public justice, and make some sort of effort to better the world.

Mmany colors.jpgany Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church Soong-Chan
Rah (Moody) $17.99 Doubtlessly one of the most important books to
explore multi-ethnic stuff, racial reconciliation, and the need for
greater competency in cross cultural ministry.
Concerns about racism should continue to be on our radar screen, it seems to me, and a celebration of multi-ehnic ministries has long been important to the CCO. We are proud for their efforts in this area, and proud to say that Rah spoke from the main stage at Jubilee a few years ago. He is an very astute observer and highly recommend reading widely in this field.

Living in Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Racial Diversity  Randy Woodely (IVP) $18.00  This is another go-to standard book we often recommend, highly recommended for anyone, anywhere. This names the sins of racism, but also happily explores the Biblically-required realities of multi-racial faith communities, and celebrates ways the Body of Christ, inspired by the same Spirit that united tongues at Pentecost, can bring us together in bold acts of racial healing.

Ppermission granted.jpgermission Granted: And Other Thoughts on Living Graciously Among Sinners and Saints  Margot Starbuck (Baker) $14.99 Oh, my, having Margot at Jubilee was such a joy — she’s a passionate, funny, creative, caring woman of such color and such integrity.  What a good writer, sharing with us all how to push the boundaries and be every more full of grace and care. Very inspiring and a very enjoyable read.

Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture, and the Church  Stephen Um (Crossway) $15.99 Strategic stuff from a gospel-centered angle, inviting us to think about the role of urban life in the new century. 

Evangelicals on Public Policy Issues: Sustaining a Respectful Political Conversation  Harold Heie (Abilene Christian University Press) $17.99  I reviewed this in my CPJ “Capital Commentary” column this month, noting how lovely it was to see seven different thoughtful authors engaging in civil dialogue around key issues.  Narrated by the gentle and discerning Dr. H. Heie, this is a grand example of how to think about justice and peace and citizenship — and civility. Nice.

Just Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action Mae Elise Cannon (IVP) $16.00 Oh my,just spirituality.jpg how I love this book. It includes a whole bunch of short but informative biographies of great justice leaders, showing us about their deeper spirituality, and how their interior lives and contemplative practices informed their outward mission, service and activism.  From well known Catholic leaders to evangelical missionaries, this is fabulous for understanding the relationship of faith and action, prayer and politics, spirituality and service.  Right on.

Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and DIe for Bigger Things Ken Wytsma  (Nelson) $19.99 Some of our Jubilee speakers made a bee-line out to Los Angeles for the very impressive Justice Conference the following week.  Wystrma is the man who cooked that who thing up, and this is the fabulous handbook explaining why justice matters, and why evangelicals, especially, should continue to engage the issues of the day, pouring our lives out for others, and standing for God’s mercy in the world.



Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling  Andy Crouch (IVP) $20.00  Okay, this is just essential. Pivotal stuff, refreshing and helpful.

Pplaying god.jpglaying God: Redeeming the Gift of Power Andy Crouch (IVP) $25.00  We named this one of the top books of last year, and it is a wise and provocative study of institutions and taking up power within them. My, my, how we recommend this, a superlative book, grappling with questions few of explored.

Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Believe and Behavior Steve Garber (IVP) $17.00 Started out as a study of how higher educational practices do or do not help young adult Christians develop lasting faith, it ended up being a classic for any serious thinker about culture, sustained faith, wholistic discipleship and the ways in which “convictions, character and community” can be shaped over the long haul of whole-life discipleship in a complex world. It is one of the most influential books I know, with very important folks indicating that this book is one of their all time favorites. You should know about it.

Vvisions of vocation.jpgisions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good Steve Garber (IVP) $17.00  I said much about this in a little review inviting folks to pre-order this from us and it became the largest pre-order of a book in our three decades of book-sellilng.  I ruminated a bit about how influential it was in yesterday’s column, and trust you believe me when I predicted that it will be one of the most talked books of the decade.  Simply amazing.

Sabbath (The Ancient Practices Series)  Dan Allender (Nelson) $12.99 Dan Allender was tapped by Phyllis Tickle to do the “sabbath” teaching in this seriessabbath.jpg of “ancient practices” books, and it is fantastic. He makes the case that playfulness is central to sabbath-keeping.  Re-creation, you know. This is very interesting, and a bit different then some of the other standard books available on sabbath and rest. This is an important aspect of living into our freedom in Christ, and a nearly counter-cultural practice. Nice.

You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Faith…and Rethinking Faith David Kinnaman (Baker) $17.99  The definitive book on this topic, drawing from thousands of interviews with un-churched young adults.  Very, very impressive.  Having David at Jubilee again was a true privilege.

In Search of Deep Faith: Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness, and Heart of Christianity Jim Belcher (IVP) $17.00  You know how much we think of this, since we named it one of the Best Books of 2013. It is truly a luminously written narrative of his journey to key cites in Europe, helping re-capture (and explain to his kids) the wonder of historic faith, as learned from the likes of Lewis, Bonhoeffer, Trocme, Ten Boom, Van Gogh, and more. Steve Garber calls it “a 21st century Pilgrim’s Progress” and it deserves to be considered so highly. Very, very nicely done, thoughtful, rich, rewarding.

CCMYK book.jpgMYK: The Process of Doing Life Together Justin McRoberts (Justin McRoberts) $24.99  Hanging out late at night with Justin was one of the high-points of Jubilee for me; missing his concert was one of the low-points. We love this colorfully designed book of stories, inviting us to wonder, to honest struggle, to be in community, to seek authentic faith in tough times. What a great storyteller, and what a great collection. Highly recommended.

Learning for God’s Sake Derek Melleby & Donald Opitz (Brazos) $14.99  Okay, we announced this at Jubilee, and I raved about it in yesterday’s column. It is the best book of its kind, hands-down, about something that few explore with much passion, although I am convinced it is absolutely essential to comprehend.  Written with the Jubilee conference in mind, naming Hearts & Minds as a resource, it is a topic, and a book, as you can tell, something I am very, very committed to.  Can’t have “Jubilee in a box” without something like this!

Kking of the campus_house.jpging of the Campus Steve Lutz (House Studio) $17.99  I love this book and it deserves to be on the shelf of anyone in college, or anyone who does campus ministry. It is, basically, a guide to multi-faceted living, growing in gospel grace, and helping reader name and appreciate the ways in which the cross can defeat the idols of the campus. There are not too many books on basic Christian growth for students and this is the best of ’em all.  One of the highlights is that there is a section on “academic faithfulness” and he cites Kuyper’s “every square inch.” It’s a CCO-ish handbook, ideal for anyone wanting to mature in grace and obedient faith.

Deepening the Soul for Justice  Bethany Hoang (IVP) $5.00  A small booklet, with a big, big message, all about praying for justice, and doing justice work out of a deep awareness of the heart of God for these concerns.  Lovely.

Growing Your Faith by Giving it Away: Telling the Gospel Story with Grace and Passion R. York Moore (IVP) $15.00  Yes, this is a book about evangelism. And, yes, we all need to brush up on this great adventure of sharing faith with others.  The theme of this includes this interesting notion that we grow and understand our own faith better as we explain it to others and have to say what we believall things new.pnge and why.  I think this is an overlooked gem, and should be highly recommended.

All Things New: God’s Dream for Global Justice R. York Moore (IVP) $15.00  It was perhaps on the strength of this great study that York was invited to do the grand final sermon on Sunday of Jubilee, tying together God’s great story of creation/fall/redemption/consummation. It includes a good study of future hope as found in Revelation and a bit of concrete storytelling about his own passion to fight sexual trafficking and abolition.  He has quite a story, and good eye for bringing together things that matter.  This is a very useful book, unlike almost any you’ve ever read.

Fframes season 1 collection.jpgRAMES: Season 1: The Complete Collection Boxed Sets edited by Roxanne Stone & David Kinnaman $59.99  You may recall our reviewing each of these pocket-sized research booklets, each wise and smart and fun.  Kinnaman and Stone were interviewed on the main stage of Jubilee, and it’s cool to offer all 8 of ’em in this handsome boxed set. Buying the boxed set is itself quite a bargain, and with this discount, it’s a really sweet deal.  You can learn about each of these Frames books and their authors, here.  In a way, these were ideal for Jubilee — brightly colored, solid up-to-date data about trends that matter, excellent writing, helping us think anew about current issues. Yes!


If you are buying either PACKAGE 1 (one from each of the four categories at 25% discount) or PACKAGE 2 (two from each of the four categories at 30% discount) you may then order any of these, also at either a 25% discount or 30% discount (matching your discount level from your package.)

These are fantastic, important, worldview-shaping books that we featured at Jubilee 2014.  Offers good while supplies last.

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation James K.A. Smith (Bakerimagining the kingdom cover.jpg Academic) $22.99  If anyone has deepened the evangelical conversations around worldview and education and what it means to be shaped in the ways of wanting God’s Kingdom, it is this serious, young philosopher from Calvin College.  You need this book.

Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works James K.A. Smith (Baker Academic) $22.99 This is the second in this series on cultural engagement, the role of litanies, and the power of liturgy. This is heavy stuff, especially important for anyone who works in the church, hoping that worship is deep and thick.

Whwho.pngo Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus John Ortberg (Zondervan) $22.99  This is just a lovely book, clearly written, informative, inspiring. Perfect for any seeker, or anyone who wants to be struck anew by the power of this spectacular person who once walked His Earth.

Common Grace Book 1 Volume 1 Abraham Kuyper (Christian’s Library Press) $25.00  We talk about Kuyper a lot and I am the first to admit that reading 19th century theology is, well, an acquired taste. But if you want to buckle down and dig deep, this is historic stuff, important to have in English, as it was so seminal shaping neo-Calvinism and its celebration of God’s goodness in sustaining ordinary life and wholesome culture.

Aabraham-kuyper-short-personal-introduction-richard-j-mouw-paperback-cover-art.jpgbraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction Richard Mouw (Eerdmans) $16.00 One of my favorite books, this explains the Kuyperian vision and why his pioneering work at the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th was a way out of the brewing dead-end between liberal social gospel stuff and fundamentalist pietism. This is the third way, wise and epic, explained simply by one of the finest example of gracious, Kingdom thinking writing today. Mouw, by the way, was influential in the early days of the CCO; his friend, the Dutch philosophy titan, Peter J. Steen, had us reading him in the early and mid 70s.

Heaven is Not My Home: Living in the Now of God’s Creation Paul Marshalheaven is not my home.jpg (Nelson) $15.99 Marshal says he was inspired to write this by Os Guinness, and it draws out uniquely Christian insights for thinking about key spheres of life.  Kuyper’s fingerprints are seen here as he offers playful stories and riveting teaching about politics, work, education, art, science, leisure, worship, and more. If ever there was a post-Jubilee handbook, this is it!

Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks Walter Brueggemann (Westminster/John Knox)reality grief hope.gif $15.00  We take a lot of Brueggemann books to Jubilee, but many youngsters aren’t quite ready for his evocative, profound insights, and his dense, moving rhetorical stylings. This is nearly a sequel to Prophetic Imagination, and invites serious consideration about what it means to be prophetic in our day and age. 

DVD Love Does Small Group Study (Zondervan) $36.99 Yes, the popular Jubilee speaker, storyteller, prankster and global human rights activist, has distilled his book, telling stories live and shared some of himself live, in this very well produced, fascinating 5-part video curriculum.  Wow. Just wow.  You. will. love. this.

Hgoff- ballooons.jpgere is a short video promo about the Love Does  book upon which the DVDs are based.

Here is an short video promo for the DVD curriculum.

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A Jubilee Rumination in Which I Announce a New Book by Steve Garber, a New Book by Derek Melleby & Donald Opitz, Recall the Significance of Playing God by Andy Crouch, Name-Drop a Pretty Famous Rock Star, and Cite the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This may seem like a long, circuitous ride, but hang on.  It’ll be worth the trip.  Thanks for reading.

It’s a small world, we often say when we connect with someone in a surprising way, or when the “six degrees to Kevin Bacon” works out in a delightful surprise.  At the Jubilee conference this past weekend we were replete with gratuitous surprises – you know him? She has been influential in your life? That book, that film, that event? Forget Bacon’s six degrees, often it is just a few.  Martin Luther King Jr.’s wonderful line aboutweb of networks.jpg the “inescapable network of mutuality” in which we are involved here on God’s good Earth is so true, and being at this annual event in Pittsburgh with thousands of students, dozens of authors and bunches of booths from mission agencies and institutions of higher education, artists and activists, non-profits and think-tanks, well, our heads are still spinning (and our hearts are overflowing) from the connectivity.  If Walsh and Bouma-Prediger in their stunning work Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement (Eerdmans; $27.00) describe the gospel flow of the Biblical drama as home/ exile/ home-coming, the annual Jubilee conference feels very much like a sort of home-coming. 

There in Pittsburgh each year the CCO organizes this conference about the in-breakingE M .jpg Kingdom of God and the cultural implications of Christ’s claims and offer of redemption, and we get connected, again, to our deepest vision and values and to very good friends and organizations. We are delighted by possibilities. What joy to realize and embrace the connections!  It is no surprise that the rousing refrain from the blazing worship band includes the lines “God is good!”

Perhaps I will later do a fuller report of the many authors met and books sold at the “Everything Matters” 2014 Jubilee, but for now, allow me to notice a few strong strands of connection that are palpable in some of the best books of the season and their role to our great week-end selling books to over 2000 college students. 

This may seem like a circuitous ride, but hang on.  It’ll be worth the trip.

Did you see my review last week of the stunning new Oxford University Press book by Gary Haugen, the founder and director of the International Justice Mission, the extraordinary organization that works for the rule of law in some of the most violent and lawless places on earth? The very important The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence (Oxford University Press; $27.95) moves beyond Haugen’s previous work explaining the Biblical case for seeking justice and offering hope of stopping human trafficking and slavery, to building legal structures to protect the weak and vulnerable against manifestations of abuse of violent power. In this major work he links this strategic resistance to injustice to more conventional relief and development goals.

That IJM encouraged folks to buy the book from us (as did an article in the Gospel Coalition blog) a few weeks ago was a great blessing to us but we are surprised at how few of these books we’ve sold. Again, it is a remarkable achievement, carefully researched and well written, even inspiring, painful as it may be at places.  

Not only do we sell all of Haugen’s other books and this new one, but we note – connection alert here! – that Andy Crouch’s book on the abuse of power, and the redemptive ways to use the gift of power appropriately (Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power IVP; $25.00) draws heavily on his own experiences working with IJM.  We named Andy’s book a Book of the Year a month ago (and hosted him here last fall) and we were glad for the IJM connection.  Of course, Andy was the opening speaking at Jubilee last week in Pittsburgh. Cool.

Here are two more interesting connections I noticed at Jubilee. I mentioned in mydeepening soul of j.png BookNotes review of The Locust Effect that IJM believes deeply in the power of prayer.  Bethany Hoang is one of the key IJM staff and she wrote a lovely little booklet (Deepening the Soul for Justice IVP; $5.00) on praying for justice, a brief and inexpensive book that would serve well anyone interested in spiritual formation; it would be a blessing if you need to be reminded of the power of intercession or how to hold the great issues of the day in our hearts before God.  

Bethany spoke at Jubilee 2014 from the main stage and told about a particularly brutal brick-making operation where the work is done by indentured (and often beaten) captives, held for years against their will, which was recently exposed by IJM. Notably, this vile workplace was in the country that has more slavery than any other, where laws against such brutality are routinely ignored.  After several serious days of IJM prayer services the police in that country unexpectedly (astonishingly!) got involved in an IJM complaint about a few abused slaves in that place and what came to light was (even to those who have seen the worst) was breathtakingly bad. But through their work, saturated in prayer, hundreds of slaves were set free and given legal declarations of their newly received human rights status; this liberation episode set a significant legal and cultural precedent that is nothing short of historic in the struggle for contemporary abolition.  Not only did Bethany bring us to tears with her poignant, powerful story, but the chief lawyer negotiating all this was in the house, doing a smaller workshop at Jubilee.  We were on holy ground.

IVoV.jpg tell you this not only to celebrate this good IJM news, and remind you of our stocking this amazing new Haugen book, or to give you a glimpse of the program at Jubilee, but to share this: the new book by Steve Garber, Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP; $16.00) tells the story of Gary and his stepping up and into this world-changing, history-making call.  Steve Garber is one of the most eloquent, thoughtful, authors I’ve ever read and although he is a deep philosopher himself and well able to craft mature and wise essays, he loves telling the stories of others.  He networks people, puts folks in touch with one another, deflects attention to others, and points us to the ways God’s work is spreading by serving as a Kingdom raconteur.  

It was Steve who first asked Gary Haugen to call us years ago as IJM was being formed and it was Steve who helped encourage and shape Gary’s early work.  Gary’s story, from Harvard undergrad asking the biggest questions anyone can ask about truth and meaning, to Justice Department investigator into police brutality cases, to State Department researcher amidst the mutilated bodies in Rwanda, to his involvement in establishing global justice, is explained in Visions of Vocation. In those few pages, Garber uses Gary as an example of how one comes to one’s sense of obligation in the world (and how one’s cares and concerns unfold in an ordinary life towards one’s God-given destiny.)  To have Steve’s book, so full of such stories, launched into the world at Jubilee, even as Bethany shared the latest IJM efforts, promoting The Locust Effect and the other IJM books in her workshop, was striking.  Backstage, with both Garber’s and Hoang’s books in my hands, I became undone, dropping to my knees at the glory of it all.

Another wonderful story of “visions of vocation” that Garber tells in Visions of Vocation includes another friend who was at Jubilee, Dan Hasseltine.  You should know him from the very cool (and very smart) band Jars of Clay (whose latest album, if I may digress, is called Inland, with the title track inspired, I believe, by Homer’s Odyssey.) In a lovely story of God’s providence and timing, Steve tells of coming to know the passions for Africa the boys in the band had developed and how they heard him speak about beinblood-water.jpgg morally serious, thoughtful, taking up callings to love the world even more deeply then we might – loving it in its brokenness and beauty, as God does.  Steve had in that very month been getting to know Jena Lee, a sharp young woman (who has been to Jubilee often) and together, Steve and Jena and the Jars guys founded their organization working for clean water and clean blood in Africa, Blood:Water Mission.  

Jars of Clay are artists, extraordinary ones, in fact, but they wanted to leverage their influence in this particular project as well. (Bono, I was once told, bumped their performance up in front of a larger known act at an internationally-viewed benefit festival because they “knew more than anybody here about this stuff.”) As Steve explains in VoV, Jena has since helped oversee thousands of health care projects (wells and such) in Africa. That Dan visited our book display, hugged Steve, as they recalled Jena’s good work with Blood:Water Mission, it, again, felt like more than mere coincidence, but profound connection. 

Look. Beth and I are mere booksellers, and I’ve never traveled internationally or started any life-saving nonprofit. We do not do what Gary Haugen does or what Jars of Clay does, or even what Steve Garber does, but to be able to sell books like these that tell these stories offers us the grand sense of playing a small part in repairing the world.  Creating “stitches in the torn fabric” as Anne Lamott would say.

What a gift to help celebrate the release of Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, surrounded literally by hundreds of people in the CCO orbit who would say that Steve has been a mentor, and his influence one of the great blessings offabric of f.jpg their lives. Not a few of us “keep on keeping on” because of the ways Steve brings us together, tells our stories, connects us and our lives with the Story of God. I am not ashamed to note at this point that an episode from my own life (working for asylum claims for Chinese refugees) and our own passion for selling books is described in Garber’s first book, The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior (IVP; $17.00.) Connection abounds and it feels right to invite you in to it all by way of reading these authors and their books.

TjubileePro.pnghe day before the fast-paced and high-octane collegiate Jubilee is a slightly more heady event, a serious-minded but utterly joyful pre-Jubilee for adults called Jubilee Professional. JubileePro is also sponsored by the CCO – many of our students have indeed been launched into the world over the years with a “Jubilee vision” and they desire, as Steve’s first book Fabric… puts it, to “weave together belief and behavior” in ways that are consequential.  So CCO co-hosts this event fostering deeper conversations about leadership and vocation and calling in the contemporary work-world.  Actually directed by another great client of Hearts & Minds and a great friend of CCO, Pittsburgh’s Serving Leaders, JubileePro brings together business leaders, cultural creatives, educators, technology experts, social entrepreneurs, church folks and the proverbial mix of butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers.  What a thrill that I even get to address this crew.

Garber came to Pittsburgh early to help lead their conversations alongside Andy Cplaying god.jpgrouch, inviting profound considerations of the redemptive use of power.  Crouch’s excellent aforementioned book, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power – ahem, the Hearts & Minds 2013 Book of the Year – is a lively and serious follow-up to his ground-breaking Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (IVP; $20.00) and it became a core text for the day at JubileePro, even as we premiered the brand- spanking new Visions of Vocation. We say we “launched” Visions of Vocation at Jubilee, but, in fact, it was unveiled at the JubileePro gathering early Friday, the first gathering to lay eyes on it. Then, along with another gentleman with whom Steve works, doing consulting about sustainable economics for the Mars Corporation, Steve wove together stories of those sensing their own calling, underscoring a big and deep view of social responsibility and a solid and generative view of the Biblical theme of calling. His friend who works on “Jubilee Economics” for Mars, Jay Jakub, appeared later that night on the platform for the 3000 gathered at Jubilee.

My talk warned of arrogant power misused — Bacon said “knowledge is power” youBB in brown shirt.jpg know, and that created an ideology of knowing that quickly turned to violent “mastery” and conquering of nature.  Rather, as Garber himself suggests, we need a better way of knowing, a kinder-gentler reason for reading and an approach to learning that is perhaps better captured by Parker Palmer in what he calls “education as a spiritual journey” in his lovely To Know as We Are Known (HarperOne; $13.99.) I held up bunches of books making the case for a wise stewardship of the power of words — including (I must tell you) Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre (Eerdmans; $19.00) and the brand new book by our friend Esther Meek, A Little Manuel of Knowing (Cascade;the-call-by-os-guinness.jpgcaring_for_words.jpg $14.00.) Garber introduced many of us to the philosopher of science Michael Polayni in his first book (Polayni’s work is Esther’s specialty) and the question of what it means to know, deeply, responsibly, continue to haunt his work.  I said to the Jubilee Pro folks, seriously, that if they want to redeem the awful legacy of Francis Bacon and that kind of violent knowing and power, they should read Garber’s new book.  Audacious, I know.  And I recall that that is the precise afterward in Garber’s sweet last chapter, a moving reflection on the scientist and Enlightenment philosopher Francis Bacon, and the modern painter with the same name (whose work graced to the cover of the first edition of Rookmaaker’s Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, for those keeping track of Jubilee connections!)

That I named Os Guinness’ The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Word; $17.99) in my JubileePro talk, and then again in my Jubilee workshop, seemed apropos.  Garber (and, I suspect, Haugen and Hoang and Crouch) have all been influenced by Dr. Guinness over the years. The Call is one of those seminal books for me, and for Steve, and yet Os himself says that he views Steve as one of his own teachers.

Many other good leaders do, too.  For instance, listen to Lisa Slayton, President of Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation’s Serving Leaders, host of Jubilee Professional: 

Visions of Vocation calls its readers to make a commitment to a journey, one of calling and courage that will challenge not just your mind but also your heart and soul.  This remarkable book will cause you to desire a whole new way of knowing and seeing….in the last fifteen years the conversation on calling has been animated by many voices, and never far from these important dialogues you will find Dr. Garber, asking the questions that have shaped and informed the trajectory of his work: What does it mean to be human? How are we to live? What truly matters? God calls us to engage this world in all its brokenness.  Visions of Vocation is a gracious and faithful companion for this journey…

Sfor the life- letters to the exiles.jpgome of all this — insights from Andy on culture making and responsible use of power and Steve on calling and love, and so many other leaders in these networks (many influenced by old time Dutch statesman Abraham Kuyper) – was seen in a film series premiered at JubileePro, soon to be released on DVD by the Acton Institute called For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles. (With, by the way, a stellar original soundtrack by none other than Jars of Clay. Speaking of overlapping circles of connection, the “connection radar” is going gonzo right about now.) Sitting there with Stephen Grabill (translator of the newly released first-time-ever English translation of the first volume of Kuyper’s magisterial work on common grace) who helped script and acted in the film, with Andy and Steve nearby, was simply thrilling. After you finish my ruminations, come back and check out the spectacular For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles trailer, here. What a blast!

I hope, dear reader, that you do not misunderstand my BookNotes post here today.  I am not engaging in prideful name dropping (okay, maybe a teensy bit.) Rather, I am showing that our years of observing the Jubilee gathering and exploring the Jubilee vision, has allowed us to sense deep connections, forming lasting friendships, and creating important networks helping ideas grow legs.  We say all this once again in order to invite you into these transforming visions and catalytic ideas among suchVoV.jpg remarkable people and their books. That Garber tells the stories of IJM and Blood:Water Mission and the risky faith shown by resisting Hitler at Le Chambon (yes, the same Le Chambon written about so beautifully by Philip Hallie in Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, and, more recently, by Jim Belcher in In Search of Deep Faith) and that he uses the Kuyperian language of “common grace” and that these folks were all in Pittsburgh together helping to teach and model for students God’s redemptive purposes in the world, is more than cool, better than nice, it is (like this breathy sentence!) breathtaking. It is testimony. These inter-connections and common visions and mutual concerns and particular language all bear witness to the truth of the gospel, the Kingdom coming.

(Ha; another aside: the overlapping circles and stories of connections keep coming, and make me giddy. Jim Belcher — another Hearts & Minds “Book of the Year” author and another good speaker at Jubilee this year — wrote a chapter in his In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beautyin search of deep faith .jpg, Goodness and Heart of Christianity (IVP; $17.00) about his visit to Le Chambon in France. I am pretty certain that Jim learned about this historic place of Protestant resistance to Hitler “and how goodness happened there” from his time studying for a semester in Washington DC with Dr. Garber, who, in his own new book, has a chapter about it. In those years, Garber read Philip Hallie’s remarkable book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed.  And I am pretty sure that it was I who sold Steve a copy of that book years ago.)

I would like to think that all of this Jubilee connectivity, this web of influence and mutual testimony, this communion of the saints with a Kingdom vision, somehow vindicates our own feeble efforts to help you read the best stuff, to take up books that make a solid difference, our hope of helping you read wisely for the sake of your own formation – for the sake of the world.  From our own listing of books about work, calling, and career to our (admittedly dated) “Books by Vocation” bibliographies, to our suggestions on things like social justice, racial reconciliation, creation care or the arts, we believe that we are trying to provide resources to help you serve the common good in the exact sorts of ways that the Jubilee conference suggests and that Andy Crouch and Steve Garber make explicit.  As Steve’s Washington Institute on Faith, Vocation & Culture puts it, “Vocation is integral, not incidental, to the mission Dei.”  We do hope you feel somehow connected to this vision, to thinking deeply about your own sense of call, and how to “think Christianly” about your own life and times, cares and careers, whatever and wherever you find yourself.  (Guinness has a memorable chapter in The Call entitled “Everyone, Everywhere, in Everything.”)  As Garber notes, passionately, however, these sorts of large questions of what we most love, how we are complicit in the falleness of the world, and how we are sometimes too slow to take up God’s radical ways, are not simple.  No shallow answers or glib responses will do. 

Together we can explore better ways to construe coherent, lasting faith and live out the implications of our faith in the world as it is. This is the burden of his reflections and his storytelling in Visions of Vocation, helping us not be apathetic of cynical in our “culture making” and gospel-centered hope.  Garber writes, 

Over many years now, it is this tension between the world that we imagine, and theSteve Garber Jubilee headshot.jpg world in which we live, that has most intrigued me.  All of us live with this tension, because in the deepest possible way all of us long for coherence. We are not finally satisfied with incoherence, with dissonance between what we believe and how we live. And that is why I have asked, and asked again, “So what is it that you care most about? What are your deepest commitments?” Does the way we answer those questions offer a sense of vocation that gives coherence, that connects the things that matter to us? And, of course, then I am always interested to see how all this plays out in ordinary life, the day by day life of all of us. Sometimes it takes a while, sometimes many miles, to see with much clarity.

Our bookstore’s customers are mostly not college students, and most don’t attend Jubilee (or anything like it) and are probably not as excited about this project of helping find profound connection and coherence through visions of vocation as I am. I realize that for many, the day to day choices have already been made, and most people’s faith style is well-worn and firmly established.  Even many of my good pastor friends, clergy called to equip the flock for missional service, may not want to probe this deeply into the meaning of it all. We are all busy, and we all have our own personal pains and foibles.  I get that.

But I pray that you take up these questions anew, that you, like me, feel somehow connected to the CCOs Jubilee vision and particularly to this good new Garber book by my dear, dear friend.  I occasionally want to say “if you are a friend of Hearts & Minds, if you value what we do, if you trust me at all about anything, you should buy this book.”  I am just a little reluctant, even fearful, to be so vulnerable, but there is it.

I gladly affirmed Crouch’s Playing God as one of the best books I’ve ever read, and certainly the most important of 2013. Before that I lauded his ground-breaking Culture Making, a quintessential Hearts & Minds favorite.

I will, I promise you, name Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good as the best book of 2014.  I will most likely be the book of the decade.

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But here is yet another connection, and it is huge.  Thanks for bearing with me as Ilearning for the love of god.jpg ramble my way into a celebration of one more book that is extraordinary and that is another example of the significance and impact of Jubilee, the work of Steve Garber, and (so the authors say) even a bit of the influence of Beth and I here at Hearts & Minds. I’m referring to Learning for the Love of God: A Students Guide to Academic Faithfulness (Brazos Press; $14.99) Let me explain.

As you may know, I used to serve on the committee that ran Jubilee back in the 70s, with Tom McWhertor, who still comes down to the conference from Grand Rapids most years.  Steve Garber later directed the conference in the 80s (and the daughter of yet another early conference director was in my workshop this year – a new generation stepping up and living out this wide as life vision of creation restored!) Jubilee is grounded in a pretty clear theological vision, drawing on Kuyper and others, standing in the cadences of promise and deliverance found most robustly in the reformational worldview that all of life is being redeemed because God is restoring his good but vandalized creation. 

That big picture animates the conference, but it is the CCO task and passion to serve young adults who are transitioning from teenage faith to young adult faith, situated, as they are, in settings of higher learning.  CCO is a campus ministry, after all, and although Garber’s book is most obviously written for serious thinkers and mature adults (even non-Christian ones, by the way, with its tone of “common grace for the common good”) Jubilee invites collegians to their particular vocation at this stage in their life, to be students. It calls them to relate faith and learning.  This concern about faith lived out on campus and even in the classroom is exceedingly important and should concern anyone concerned about the future of Christian leadership and the next generation.

In my own Jubilee workshop I shared “aha” moments where I came to deeper understanding of the dualisms that plague our vision, the stupid dichotomies between the so-called sacred and secular, the unbiblical habit of pitting the soul over and against the body, the super-spiritual and anti-intellectual ways we make faith private and sentimental and the subsequent lack of a wise and fruitful social vision.  

In that workshop I ended with a plea to read widely, to read seriously, and to read wisely. We need — I hope you don’t tire of me saying it, as it is a foundational truth for our curating books here at the shop — the mind of Christ and must use our God-given gray matter to study the ways the creation is ordered. (Colossians 1:17 says everythingfor the life - schmemann.jpg holds together in Christ, so all study is, among other things, a search for God’s glory in each and every square inch of creation and certainly in every college major and academic subject.) I am not sure the Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann is fully correct in his wonderful book For the Life of the World to point us to a Eucharistic and sacramental vision of life in the creation, but it is surely close. (Apparently the good folks at Acton think so, naming their film as a nod to the great Orthodox thinker.) 

Study is a matter of spiritual formation and it is strategic matter of missional integrity. If it is truly true that all of life, what we do in our bodies, is worshipdesiring-the-kingdom.jpg (Romans 12:1-2) then the stakes are simply too high to casually walk through life without reflection or repentance, to merely go with our gut, to live like our peers, to buy the American Dream, to allow the practices (what Jamie Smith in Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom calls “secular liturgies”) to form our desires and our lifestyles.  We need to be intentional about nurturing the renewed (and, yes, as Smith insists, embodied) Christian mind (again, drawing on Romans 12:1-2.) 

That is why I regularly promote little books (for those who aren’t quite up to a major study) like the feisty Your Minds Mission by Greg Jao (IVP; $5.00) andyour minds mission.jpg the lovely A Mind for God by James Emory White (IVP; $13.00) and the collection of essays by James K.A. Smith called Discipleship in the Present Tense: Reflections on Faith and Culture (Calvin College Press; $14.00.)

If you want to be a cheerleader for this whole-life discipleship vision, if you believe in the Hearts & Minds project, if you want to faithfully to take up vocations as Garber invites, you should have a few of these on hand to give out to friends, church folks, book club members and your dearest family and neighbors. They are simple but consequential waysmind for g.jpg to expand the conversation, to illustrate why books and reflection matter and why learning to reframe our thinking along Biblical lines really counts. Let’s spread this vision, and start with the Biblical invitation to think and then live well, in light of Scripture, to God’s glory, for the sake of the world.


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There is no better book to get at this amazing aspect of responsible discipleship than the brand new Learning for the Love of God: A Students Guide to Academic Faithfulness by Dr. Donald Optiz (professor of sociology and the philosophy of higher education at Geneva College) and Derek Melleby (director of the College Transition Initiative for the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.) It is the newly revised and expanded edition of a Hearts & Minds favorite (previously known as The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness.) This brand new edition, with its new chapters and updates and appendices, was celebrated and premiered at Jubilee, too, and we couldn’t have been more earnest when I said that it may have been one of the most important books for students in the entire (huge) book display. 

We had thousands and thousands of books there, and while Jao’s Your Minds Mission is punchy and helpfully brief, and Garber’s VoV is eloquent and profound, Learning for the Love of God fleshes out the vision, explains the challenge and offers essential guidance to all that we mean by “developing the Christian mind” in just the right way and a cheerful, intermediate level. It is easy to read and yet challenging, thoughtful but not arcane. Learning for the Love of God is ideal for students, offering insight about the nature of learning, the ways to think faithfully in college, and how to discern God’s fingerprints (and the smear of idolatry and ideology) all over the subjects they are studying. 

I cannot easily tell you how wise these two guys are, and how fresh their writing is.DonOpitz2-300x225.jpg There is no other book that covers this stuff so well (and I mistrust any other book on faith in college that doesn’t cite it.) That Optiz and Melleby stand on the shoulders of GarberDerek arms.jpg is obvious, and — again! — the connections are palpable.  If you are a college student reading this and you have read the earlier edition (Outrageous Idea…) you should read Garber.  If you are a Garber fan, I am confident that Learning for the Love of God will please you (even if you aren’t a student!  It is that interesting!) Beth and I are honored to know these authors, and for the nice acknowledgments they give about us and our work.  We are truly grateful.

Those who understand the roots of the Jubilee vision (drawing on seminal texts for the CCO like The Transforming Vision or Creation Regained or The Fabric of Faithfulness or, say, the work of Richard Mouw) should know this book; you will relish the ways it playfully invites us into this sort of worldview.  I mean no disrespect to philosophers like David Naugle (Worldview: The History of an Idea; Eerdmans) or Roy Clouser (The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Theories in Scholarship; University of Notre Dame Press) or Nicholas Wolterstorff (Reason Within the Bounds of Religion; Eerdmans) or even historian George Marsden (The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship; Oxford University Press) but they themselves would know that their books are pitched at a pretty demanding academic level. College profs should certainly have read all four, and serious undergrads at good schools should take them up.  But for most students, new to rigorous thinking and deep learning, Opitz and Melleby are just what is needed – fun, funny, interesting, challenging and very practical, but connected to very astute Christian philosophy.  I know of no other book like this, and we praise God for the new edition (and the new title and the new cover, all of which are fantastic!)  

MA students guide to Academic Faithfulness.jpgay Learning for the Love of God be used to invite students to take their faith into the classrooms and labs and study halls, to make their own connections between their deepest religious beliefs and their studies, and find, early on, a sense of God’s call upon their lives, even as they grow in this exciting period of life for them lived out on campuses across this land. 

May it also be used by pastors and youth workers and parents and older siblings to help young adults grapple with finding a relevant and coherent faith in their college years.  May it stimulate, perhaps even among older adults, a fresh realization of the breadth of the Kingdom of God, the obligation to think faithfully, and the vision of vocation that circles around so many of the best books we promote here at the shop.

And so, dear readers, fans and friends of Hearts & Minds.  I feel warm, almost choked up, as I type these final lines of this lengthy essay.  Thanks for bearing with me – it is important, as I hope you understand, for Beth and I to name our own deepest impulses and visions, shouting out kudos to the authors and friends that have so shaped us. 

These sorts of books are not our best sellers, but they are the best books we’ve got.  Thanks to this web of connection, seen at Jubilee in Pittsburgh this year, once again.  We invite you into our story, invite you to read and talk about and share these good books, from Crouch to Garber to Melleby & Optiz.

I believe what L. Gregory Jones (of Duke Divinity School) says of Garber applies to all of the books I’ve mentioned above: Jones says that Visions of Vocation

engages us with important and big questions, narrates stories of remarkable people, and keeps great company. And along the way, we see God and the world —  and ourselves — more clearly and deeply.

That’s a large part of what this is all about, what good books can do.  Thanks.


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