Brief Reviews of 12 New Books on the Shelves at Hearts & Minds (ON SALE)

I have written some long and hopefully helpful BookNotes reviews lately. I’ve gone on and on about two important new ones by James K.A. Smith — Who’s Afraid of Relativism and How (Not) To Be Secular;  I’ve raved about the captivating and wonderful and important memoir by Bill McKibben, Oil and Honey, and last week, ruminated more than a bit upon the new and very lovely book by Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark.  Thanks for hanging in there with me, reading BookNotes — and even subscribing, if you do.

And then there were those two lists of gift ideas for high-school and college graduates.

But new books keep being released and I cannot even pretend to keep up, alerting you to the releasespicture of storefront.jpg on our ever-changing “new book table.”  If you are ever in South Central Pennsylvania, we do hope you will stop to browse.  As you know, we don’t have our inventory listed on line, so you really do have to come and see for yourself.

Here, though, is a least a glimpse of a few that have caught my attention in the past few weeks.  Even this isn’t an exhaustive list of new titles, but just a smattering of some we thought you’d like to hear about.  

All  are on sale at 20% off.  We’ve shown the regular retail price, and will deduct the discount when you order, which you can easily do by clicking the order tab shown below hat takes you to the secure order form page. 

We appreciate your interest and are glad for your support.

Ssoul keeping.jpgoul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You  John Ortberg (Zondervan) $22.99  Although IVP recently published a wonderful book co-written by John Ortberg and Dallas Willard before Willard’s death in May 2013 (Living in Christ’s Presence which I reviewed here) and HarperOne promises a June release of a posthumously finished sequel to Willard’s famous Divine Conspiracy, still, this new Soul Keeping is the one that I was looking forward to the most. It is just wonderful!  In the clear and honest and poignant and funny prose for which Ortberg has come to be known and appreciated, he tells about the stuff Willard taught him over many visits to the Box Canyon home in which Jane and Dallas lived, and in many other calls and letters over the decades. This is a great book by Ortberg about his own faith development and care for his soul, and a call and guide for us to attend to our own interior lives. He tells stories of his own life — some quite candid — and about seeking spiritual guidance from Dallas Willard, recounting lessons the great and kind thinker taught him. Obviously the point here is how we, too, can have a more vibrant, healthy and Christ-transformed center. Ortberg, drawing on Willard, helps us understand the soul as our deepest center (what the Bible sometimes calls “the heart”) and why attention to our interior lives is so important. I highly, highly recommend this accessible, sweet, and very wise book.

By the way, we also stock the new 6 week companion video curriculum, also released by Zondervan.  Ortberg is a real delight to watch and listen to, and the DVDs are very aesthetically pleasing — they are expertly produced. These are perfect for small groups, adult ed classes, spiritual formation partners, or even your own individual home use.  Here is a short youtube trailer for it — very nice. The DVD and workbook pack sells for $36.99 (but at our 20% off sale price it is just $29.59.)
We stock all of his great DVDs, too, so let us know if we can help decide which to use.

Tkeillor reader.jpghe Keillor Reader Garrison Keillor (Viking) $27.95  I do not have to tell you about how great Garrison Keillor is as a storyteller, writer, novelist, essayist.  Perhaps, though, you haven’t read his stuff lately, or have forgotten how prolific he is, (beyond the weekly Prairie Home Companion radio show.) This is a fabulous 350+ page book with pieces showcasing his several styles and across his good career.  More than a retrospective “greatest hits” of the satirist (some call him that, anyway) there are some new pieces here, too, including a new essay, “Cheerfulness” in memory of his mother, a list of Lake Wobegon precepts, “What Have We Learned So Far?” that you must read if you are a fan, and a recollection of a series of fortuitous events that accidentally steered him to where he is today.  Mr. Keillor continues to do good work, but says his ambition is gone: “burned away, but I’m still in the game, still contribution to the clatter and hubbub, the Niagara of wordage flowing through America.”  I wished they’ve have subtitled it that, clatter and hubbub, don’t you? 

Ffound Micha B.jpgound: A Story of Questions, Grace and Everyday Prayer  Micha Boyett (Worthy) $14.99  Some evangelical publishing houses put out fairly standard- fare stuff, even best-selling books by big names in the conservative televangelist circuit, but I sometimes don’t pay due attention to these houses.  One never knows where some really fine treasures can be found!  My friend Margaret Fienberg, herself a really energetic writer, is on this publishing house these days, and consequently, I keep an open mind for what they do. And they do some great books!  This quiet new one has a wonderful preface by Ann Voskamp who says “I read Micha’s words and my breathing slows. She gives perspective. And hope. And a refreshing lightness to not take what doesn’t matter too seriously.” Popular blogger Rachel Held Evans says “With this beautiful book, Micha Boyett opens a door to Benedictine spirituality through which regular, busy, people can enter and taste, see, smell, hear, and feel what it means to life life as a prayer” and that gets it just right.  It is a book about spirituality for busy folks. Spunky and talented author of When We Were on Fire Addie Zierman has a great blurb, as does Sarah Bessey (Jesus Feminist) if this gives you sense of the circles she runs in. I happen to know that Ms Boyett, a mom with a Fine Arts in Poetry degree from Syracuse, by the way, is serious about her craft and I suspect a real up-and-coming writer.  How many folks get an endorsing blurb by memoirist and poet Mary Karr? 

Ms Karr writes,

I read Micha Boyett’s Journey Into Prayer as any blackbelt sinner will, by which I mean anybody will — with sheer delight at her graceful language and riveting struggle for a hard-won faith. In a sense Found is a deep, sweet, invitation into God’s loving presence. A must read for nonbelievers and believers alike.

Tthird plate.jpghe Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food
Dan Barber (The Penguin Press) $29.95 This hefty and handsome hardback
is surely going to be one of the most talked about books of the year,
talking the conversation further about localism, sustainability, the
joys and ethics of using food, and — since he is a chef — the actual
meaning of eating. Andrew Solomon says “Dan Barber writes with the
restrained lushness with which he cooks. In elegant prose, he argues
persuasively that eating is our most profound engagement with the
non-human world. How we eat makes us who we are and makes the
environment what it is.”

There are a lot of books around these themes, and we write about it from time to time.  This one truly looks to be a very wonderful, and very important contribution. It is an impassioned “farm-to-heart” book.
Barber is the executive chef of Blue Hill in Manhattan and a very
important work for anyone concerned about the state of our food
systems.  Can’t wait to start it!

Bbeginning with the word.jpgeginning with the Word: Modern Literature and the Question of Belief Roger Lundin (Baker Academic) $24.99 This is the latest in the impressive “cultural exegesis” series, and, as the title makes clear, it is about the question of religious faith and belief in modern lit.  Lundin is a generous soul, a great reader and writer, and beloved as an esteemed professor at Wheaton.  He exudes much that is the best about the whole “integrating faith and learning” conversation and this book is the accessible fruit of his lifetime of thinking about reading well. On the back there are stunning endorsements by stellar authors — Alan Jacobs, Christian Wiman, Jeremy Begbie.  Ralph Wood of Baylor — I hope you know his books on O’Connor and on Tolkien — says he is “a master interpreter of modern culture…with no desire to damn or dismiss.”   Yes, modern literature has been seemingly secularized and many write out of an aggressive naturalism, if not atheism.  “Lundin replies not with grim rejoinders and loud laments but with a surprising revelations that our modern literary masters, when rightly read, still enflesh words with the weight of hope and even glory.” I am part way through this and it is a serious read, but oh, so good.  A must for anyone who pays attention to contemporary literature and letters, and, of course, for any college lit major.

Tpsalms as Christian LAMENT.jpghe Psalms as Christian Lament: A Historical Commentary Bruce Waltke, James Houston & Erika Moore (Eerdmans) $28.00 I hope you know that we promoted an early work by Waltke and Houston, The Psalms as Christian Worship, which was also a fascinating and valuable “historical commentary.”  Not only do we get, here, like in that one, a robust bit of exegesis and spiritual insight from the texts, but we get a history of how the church has over the years used these passages to fund their imaginations — in the previous one, for worship, in this one, for lament.  Erika Moore, a young scholar in Pittsburgh (the Old Testament and Hebrew professor at Trinity School for Ministry) joined these older stalwart, ecumenically-informed, evangelical scholars. Endorsements are vivid and good from J.I. Packer to John Walton, from Tremper Longman to Gordon Wenham. These essays are clear, thoughtful, broadly informed and pastorally useful. Wow.

A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace Brianfarewell to mars.jpg Zahnd (Cook) $14.99  I am already thinking of what to award this book in our “best books” and most significant releases of the year, which we will run next January.  Hmm; it will surely deserve some sort of acclaim. I know it is significant that a non-Mennonite, evangelical, theologically conservative pastor has written such a compelling book on Biblical nonviolence.  (This is the second such book this publisher has released — see the very good Fight by Francis Chan’s pal, Preston Sprinkle, and that in itself is fascinating.)   More-so, this is nicely written, heart-felt, humble, passionate, great for younger evangelicals or anyone wanting to revisit this complex topic with an open heart and mind. Zahnd is a good thinker and good writer — his earlier book that we carry and regularly take to events we do was on aesthetics and wonder, entitled Beauty Will Save the World.) He is an important voice to hear.  A Farewell to Mars invites us to reconsider our whole “god and country” worldview. His critique of the gods of mars, the call to be peacemakers, the Christ-centered vision of serious, Biblical peacemaking, is commendable.  And it is good to have an evangelical offer theological critique to the blasphemy of the “cross” made of fighter plans in the worship space of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.  That the church itself is made out of warplanes is itself odd enough, but that cross — I am amazed that no-one who exalts the cross like the guys who write at the Gospel Coalition, or Desiring God Ministries — have never commented upon it.  Kudos to Zahnd and prayers for the team at David C. Cook, who will take some heat for this, I am sure.  

There is a great forward to A Farewell to Mars by respected New Testament scholar Scot McKnight which is helpful, an opening epigram of a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. But I share this, from Eugene Peterson, who writes that “Brian Zahnd fuses his vocation as prophet and pastor into a powerful evocation of the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Peacemaker… The writing is simply brilliant — not a dull sentence in the book.”  Nice!

Yyawning.jpgawning at Tigers: You Can’t Tame God So Stop Trying Drew Dyck (Nelson) $16.99  At first, I wondered if this might just be the “same old, same old” of the new kind of spiffy, evangelical writing. Clever, passionate, all about the grand dynamic of a God who loves us furiously, the most recent most popular adjective used these days, it seems, among the young, restless and really, really live. Nope.  This guy is smart, really, smart, and is a judicious, but lively writer, offering what Phil Yancey calls “a needed corrective to self-indulgent Christianity.”  Look: Yancey doesn’t endorse that many books, and he is as thoughtfully solid as they come, and such a fine writer to boot. If Yancey says it’s good, I’m checking it out.  The footnotes themselves illustrate his wide sources — from the Babylonian Talmud to Oswald Chambers to Annie Dillard, from early church mystics to Christian Wiman’s thoughtful My Bright Abyss, from Leslie Newbigin to Jorgen Moltmann to R.C. Sproul.  Love that breadth; a sign of a serious reader and good writer.   Plus, he named his son Athanasius.  Who wouldn’t want to read a book by a dad like that?


Tgreat and holy war.jpghe Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade Philip Jenkins (HarperOne) $29.99  I am not exaggerating when I say that Philip Jenkins is one of the most important popular scholars of our time, and he is a man I like and admire.  (He for years taught at Penn State, although is now at the prestigious Institute for the Study of Religions at Baylor University in Texas.) He is an impressive and colorful historian and here he brings his vast knowledge and keen eye to this very, very important question: how do wars take on the tone of religious crusades, and in what ways to ideologies work to heighten the meaning and purpose (and destructiveness) of war itself? Here Jenkins explores the hidden religious motivations that sparked WW I and how that catastrophe reshaped religion for the next century. We were, by the way, the first to have this book as we helped launch it at a lecture at Cornell, co-sponsored by our good friend at Chesterton House there.

The Twilight of American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief 

Georgetwilight of.jpg Marsden (Basic Books) $26.99

I am not alone to suggest that not only is Marsden (perhaps even more than Jenkins) esteemed in his field, he is an honored exemplar of the evangelical/Reformed project of “integrating faith and learning” by offering a faithful orientation and perspective on the tools of his trade as a historian. He has written about a Christian historiography elsewhere, and very nicely about the vocation of a being a Christian in the academy and as an intellectual — see his small but important Oxford University Press book The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship.  In a review of this recent work, the Washington Post suggested that Marsden is “one of the most esteemed intellectual historians of his generation….” They continue, saying that The Twilight of the American Enlightenment “shines as a clear introduction to the dominant intellectual voices of the era.”  Here, he makes a case for the significance of the 1950s for American liberal ideology and how religion, also, played into that; it is so important for any of us who needs to more deeply understand the religious voices and the self-understanding of our nation’s leaders in the previous generation.  I read a really interesting review of this in The Christian Century and immediately started reading the book after that. It may be the most important book in the field of American studies and US history to be released this year. 

VView of the Top- An Inside Look at How People in Power.jpgiew of the Top: An Inside Look at How People in Power See and Shape the World 
D. Michael Lindsay (Wiley) $28.00 Michael Lindsay is a sharp,
evangelical sociologist, the young President of Gordon College, and
author of a previous Oxford University press book talking about how
evangelical Christians in past decades found themselves in positions of
power and influence.  I’ve heard him lecture on this (at an Evangelicals
for Social Action gathering, actually) and his interest in networks and
practices of cultural transformation — think of James Davidson
Hunter’s famous book To Change the World —  is fascinating. This
new one is based on his personal interviews with more than 500 of
America’s premier business, political and noon-profit leaders, what
Michael Useem (Professor and Director of the Leadership Center at the
Wharton School at U of Penn) calls “a research tour de force.” Rakesh
Khurana (professor of Leadership Development at Harvard Business School)
says “View From the Top is one of those rare books in leadership research that deftly connects biography to the larger social structure and society.”



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Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor ON SALE (and six other recommendations, too.)

Learning to Walk in the Dark  Barbara Brown Taylor (HarperOne) $24.99  20% OFF  our sale price, $19.99

You are buried under all this light, all these lines… “Loneliness and Alcohol” Jars of Clay 

To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings. “To Know the Dark”  Wendell Berry

I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. Isaiah 45:3

This book with a beautiful cover arrived a weeklearning to walk in the dark.jpg ago and despite a heavy and very late-night schedule of setting up displays to sell books at events, some speaking and some family stuff, I carried it with me, wishing just to dip in a tiny bit.  Even a page of Barbara Brown Taylor can make one glad to be a bookseller; her eloquent, crisp, prose is so good – clever, but not overly so, lively with fabulous metaphors and similes without being gaudy, her sly turn of phrase can just takes one’s breath away. I am not the only one who will read anything she writes.

And her ideas? They shift between uncommon good sense and the pretty provocative. You may know she is a former Episcopalian pastor who left parish ministry and is a progressive, thoughtful religion professor and very popular speaker on the mainline denominational circuit. Typical evangelical readers who read her may be teased into re-thinking some things, and nearly all readers will resonate with fresh ideas that are striking, and often quite sensible. Her writing is almost always an energizing, lovely, inviting blend of beautifully-rendered, gracious, open-minded insight, layered within great storytelling that approaches memoir. Agree or not with every point she draws from her experiences, her books are always, always a “must read.” There is atime magazine with BBT on cover.jpg reason she is considered one of the best preachers in America and why she is beloved not only in her own Episcopalian tribe, but across the spectrum of mainline Protestants, emergent, and evangelicals, as well. (No one since Frederick Buechner, perhaps, has had this sort of broad, ecumenical, literary acclaim.) When her book first came out, it was Jonathan Merritt (a Southern Baptist) who first interviewed her for Religious News Service. See part two of his interview, here.

And, as you can see, she was recently on the cover of Time magazine, again attesting to her popularity.

There are books – I am sure you know what I mean – that are pleasurable to read, fascinating, and lovely, just because they are so exquisite or elegant or eloquent; these are so well-crafted that you cannot put them down, even if you don’t agree with them in full, and you are enriched by the art of the writing. (Think also of brilliantly-made films or expert, classic paintings that are wondrous to behold and bring great pleasure and value even if the worldview behind them is less than compelling or good.) We thank God for the gifts of common grace — great writers, poets, storytellers, memoirists, who give us a window into the mysteries of life and offer us pleasure and joy as we read, even if we must read them carefully, with discernment. 

And there are those authors who are laden with reliable insight, who hold up important truths, who examine and explore and teach – but, you know, they just don’t have that gift of being a truly great writer.  We thank God for these teachers too, glad for the opportunity to wade through their work, knowing it will instruct us wisely, even if it doesn’t sing.

And then – Jubilation! – there are those who combine artful delivery and helpful ideas, who are great writers and good thinkers. These are the books that thrill us most, those rare ones that are pleasing and important to consider; artful and wise. This good combination of style and content really creates a wonderful experience of reading. It is a matter I’ve mentioned before, when form meets function, when the medium and the message have integrity, when a book is good to read, and good for the soul.

Some may put Barbara Brown Taylor in the first category, the sort of writer who isBBT portrait.jpg gifted, talented, gloriously interesting, a real joy to read, but with a seductively dangerous worldview, offering a less than theologically-sound perspective while sounding so very good. I realize why some say this as she seems less theologically conventional with each new book.  Yet, in my view, she remains a very helpful ally for those of us on the journey to be what God intends, a fine example of what some call “a generous orthodoxy.” I believe it is an honor to spend time with her, even if only on the printed page. (I have met Ms. Taylor, heard her lecture and preach and chatted with her and as those who have met her know, she is a dynamic, gracious presence; I think it is fair to say that much of her lovely personality seeps into her pages. Your really do get to know her a bit through her honest writing.)  

I believe Barbara Brown Taylor is one who combines artful craft with good insight. Her writing is beautiful and her content is mostly solid. I say that having read all of her major books (and many of her sermons), as a fairly conservative evangelical myself, wanting a view of things that is significantly informed by the Bible. I believe she is more than just a great writer; she is a great writer with great insight. She herself is profoundly rooted in a Biblical sensibility – she has four or five collections of sermons on Biblical texts, after all, and a wonderful book on how to preach. (She helped edit the multi-volume Feasting on the Word lectionary preaching commentaries, too, so she knows well the details of exegesis, Biblical studies, and the multi-layered readings of Biblical texts.) Even when I think she overplays a point, or underestimates another, and I think she misconstrues a text or two in this new one, there is very little in Learning to Walk in the Dark that is truly objectionable, even from the evangelical and Reformed perspective shared by many BookNotes readers.

I start there because at least one prominent review warned that she heads a bit too much into the dark in this book, complaining as she does about the images of light that are so prevalent in the Bible. Granted, she warns about taking too much of the Bible at face value, and she draws on other traditions (mostly Buddhism) to help explore themes of uncertainty and the absence of God. But this should not alarm us; most Hearts & Minds readers know why we should (as the Bible itself instructs and models) read widely, generously, drawing true truth from many sources, and why a mind open to fruitful insight where-ever it pops up is a good and healthy; using our minds well is a righteous practice.  BBT gets this right, even if I sometimes wish she’d sound more robust in her description of God as the Triune One seen most clearly in Jesus the King.  

Llearning to walk in the dark.jpgearning to Walk in the Dark is a book about which I am very excited, a reading experience that was for me intense and wonderful; I want to tell you that you should read this book, and that it will be a great experience, an encounter with mystery and self-discovery and, I think, true spirituality. I believe it will be a balm for some who may be drifting from strictly conventional faith or those who resist simple clichés of evangelical piety. I myself was challenged and gripped and moved as I read, listening in to her own tale, her journey exploring darkness. I don’t know of any other book that does this so well, bringing together so much so effortlessly.

Taylor makes clear that she intends to explore darkness and night as a legitimate and needed spiritual metaphor. She is in good company, of course: just think of the medieval classic Dark Night of the Soul or the contemporary spiritual memoir Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren Winner, or even Walt Brueggemann who brings Biblical material to fund our efforts to cope with loss.

But Taylor also wants to explore her love of night-time and moonlight (which is to say, literal darkness.) She writes beautifully about creation, in ways that remind us of nature writers like Annie Dillard or Chet Raymo (who she quotes.) This brings her to concerns about the science of sleep and the remarkable dangers of light pollution.  And, too, she ruminates on darkness as a psychological reality — fear of the dark, night terrors, dreams, the good and bad of the stuff that dwells deep down. And through storytelling, she invites you to see how it lines up with your own experience and common sense.

Through it all she reminds us of her pet peeve, namely, that darkness is a symbol of all that is bad, troubling, evil, demonic, scary. (Yes, this is in her view because of the Bible, although it is problematic in other faiths and philosophies and current usage as well.) Although the book doesn’t dwell on it, she reminds us that this usage has been hurtful, especially to those with dark skin or those who are visually impaired.  What psyche toll does it place upon people of color to be told that black is the color of doubt and demons? That we are to be on guard against darkness? How do blind people feel about the spiritual metaphor of blindness? Why has all of this developed? Why are we scared of the dark?

(That Ms. Taylor is herself at home in the natural world – we learned that in her very first book — and fairly fearless in this regard gives her an advantage, I guess. She tells of gathering eggs from her chickens in the dark, reaching into one nest to feel the cold hardness of a black snake, and it doesn’t faze her a bit. Neither does sleeping in a cabin with a scorpion; “I hope he doesn’t walk in his sleep” is her only note about this. Yikes!)

HBBT page.jpger first few pages drew me nicely into this question of from where we get our fear of the dark (and disarmed my skepticism of the project) by using her storytelling art and clean, effective powers of description. She can conjure an image without trying to hard – I am reluctant to call her vivid, as that seems too splashy. As only the very best writers can, she uses her abilities discreetly, and it is so effective.  She tells of her mother calling neighborhood kids in at dusk – it was getting “dark” out, of course – and as Barbara returned home, the lights of the house came on. As she describes the feelings of coming in from the dark and the sights and sounds and feelings of those electric sources of light appearing (over the sink, in the living room, the TV room, the nightlight, the warmth and glow and glare each brings) I thought it was 1964 and I, too, was being called in by my own mom standing on the porch in Mullertown. I was hooked by the end of page 2.

I do not know if you will be choked up as you read, but this was a very moving read for me – I wiped away literal tears more than once, and chuckled with recognition more than once. On almost every page I thought, “there, she does it again, using just the right word, surprising us with image and simile, and an understated story, connect previous words or cadences. And, as I’ve said, she raises vital issues, doing on-the-ground theology by way of artful prose and great storytelling.  This is a perfect blend of memoir and practical spirituality, fun reading and life-changing re-orientation of our assumptions and attitudes and convictions. At the very least, it reminds us that the waxing and waning of faith  — the rhythms of lunar faith — is not bad.  It is not even that unusual, if only we had the honesty to say so.

Her sturdy theology is not just “on the ground” in this book, but also above ground, and even underground.

Barbara loves the night sky, and thinks we underestimate the importance of moonlight.moonlight-night--large-msg-117807345376.jpg There are beautiful passages about star-gazing and various stages of the moons cycles; an episode of laying a blanket out with her husband to watch the moon rise is plainly told, yet beautiful and oddly moving. She reports that it had been twenty years since they had done this. (They could hardly say the reason why, although they knew: “too busy.”) As tears rolled down my cheeks, I too, had to make such a sad admission.  Too busy to lay with my beloved under the stars.

One whole chapter is about going to a wild cave with experienced guides, a funky fundamentalist couple who are civil war historians and serious spelunkers. Again, she writes about this beautifully and even though I am as scared of caving as I am of rock climbing, I found this to be a wonderful, wonderful chapter.  What she learns about the dark — the very, very dark — is multi-dimensional; she tells of the geology and psychology of caving, the bats and bugs and crevices and water, how her body felt and how the issues of her own interior life arose, sitting in that ancient, black, underground chamber. The bit about a shiny rock she brought up with her, examining it back in her hotel room, was nothing short of brilliant, wonderfully crafted as a bit of writing, and a stand-out, take-away insight from the whole book.  Things do look different in the dark, and too much light can prove adverse.  Thanks, Barbara, for sharing with us your souvenir from Organ Cave and your experience of “entering the stone.”

Another spectacular chapter narrates the author’s experience participating in an experiential performance art installation which replicates blindness. In this episode, sighted people are given white canes, and enter a very large darkened space, and are asked to follow the sound of a guide (who ends up being herself truly blind, enacting the saying, “the blind leading the blind.”) Participants hear sounds, are asked to engage in common tasks such as shopping in a small grocery store, and crossing simulated streets as car-horns blare.  Perhaps you, too, have read accounts of those who are visually impaired – at least the moving works about Helen Keller, and you know how powerful even reading about this can be.  This part of the chapter called “The Eyes of the Blind” was riveting, indeed, making me catch my breath and stop to unclench my muscles. I recommend it to you, even for this portion. Taylor goes deeper in her reflections upon this experience by telling us of the important writings of a blind European scholar (captured by the Nazis in 1944) named Jacques Lusseyran (and a book of his writings Against the Pollution of the I.)  Barbara’s reflection upon the line from the Book of Common Prayer about “celestial brightness” — “that by night as by day your people may glorify your holy Name…” ends this moving chapter. Nice!

There is a chapter about her trip to the world-famous Chartes Cathedral, and her discovery of the statues of the black Virgins in the underground below the more famous sanctuary. There is a chapter about a night spent in a dark cabin, experiencing natural circadian rhythms. There is a great chapter (“Hampered by Brilliance”) about light pollution.  As one who has testified about the value of night sky (at a public hearing trying to stop a local Wal-Mart from encroaching on rural fields) I found this very, very interesting. Did you know that some large sea turtles, after laying eggs, are drawn to the new lights of beach towns — the bars, casinos, strip malls, hotels — thinking that these lights are moonlight shimmering on the water and become stranded, dying in deep sand, rather than heading back to sea as they ought? Her brief look at the ecological dangers of light pollution from poorly managed development was alarming – what to do? (I couldn’t help but think of another great book I read and reviewed recently, Bill McKibben’s Oil and Honey, which not only looked at climate change, but at the beauty of the bees.)

Coming to not fear the dark is part of the solution, whether on a very emotional level (facing the fears about the hard work of attending to grief or other messy feelings) or on a more societal level — literally, why all the extra lights, when they’ve not been proven to stop crime or bring humane flourishing, after all?  Why do we have all-night shopping, why do we not sleep well, why are we careening towards more and more, driven by such an impoverished view of progress? Fear of the dark — physically, emotionally, even spiritually — is behind much dysfunction in our culture, and this book gently, through story and memoir and often delightful rumination, points towards healing and hope.

I agree with Shauna Niequist who writes about Learning to Walk in the Dark saying that it is “a gift to every person who’s felt the darkness but not had the words to articulate it, which is to say it’s for all of us.” 

I get what Lauren Winner says, too: “Beautiful. Profound. Nourishing. I have needed to read this book for a long time.”  

Can it be that twilight and the experience of the absence of light (and the perception of the absence of God) can be generative? Barbara Brown Taylor thinks so. It is pathological to be in denial about the so-called dark stuff, it is foolish to bypass a central part of the human experience.  With trust in the benevolence of a very real and present God, we can dive deep. 

Taylor writes, “Learning to walk in the dark is an especially valuable skill in times like these – or maybe I should say remembering to walk in the dark, since people of faith have deep pockets of wisdom about how to live through long nights in the wilderness. We just forgot, most of us, once we got where we were going and the glory days began.”

She continues,

The remembering takes time, like straightening a bent leg and waiting for the feeling to return. This cannot be rushed, no matter how badly you want to get where you are going. Step 1 of learning to walk in the dark is to give up running the show. Next you sign the waiver that allows you to bump into some things that may frighten you at first. Finally, you ask darkness to teach you what you need to know. If you have never had a spiritual director before, you have started near the top. Let this one guide you and you will soon have new companions as brave and curious as you are about the nightlife of your soul.

Taylor helps us see what she means in many, many ways, with lots of good examples. Her narration of being a barmaid in underground Atlanta while being a seminar student — and the ways being a barmaid and pastor are in some ways similar — was just wonderful, even if she has written about this before. Her willingness to tell about her own weird nearly Pentecostal conversion and early faith formation (which perhaps traumatized her with sermons against dark things, demons, dangers) was brave and candid, and this, too, points us towards a more balanced approach to things that go bump in the night. She gives further pointers about listening to the darkness in her chapter (with an assist from Gerald May) by way of the sad yet fascinating story of the persecution of Carmelite reformers, Teresa of Avila and her friend, John of the Cross, and the rich, mystical writing that emerged from those jail cells. Her insights drawn from being a hospital chaplain, learning to deal with hard emotions are good, if not novel, but the writing will bring you to your knees. My, my.

Although I could write more about this, I want to offer one aside: Barbara wisely and helpfully exposes the way in which much popular Christian theology is stuck in the dualisms that we often critique here — body vs soul, secular vs sacred, nature vs grace, higher vs lower, creation vs redemption, and the like. She herself wrote eloquently about this even in her first book, The Preaching Life, and it has been a major theme of her last two.  For her to now suggest that many are driven from faith, and she herself from the traditional parish ministry, in part because this dualism is such a part of the orthodox Christian orientation — when she herself has shown that it is not proper to think in these split-level, ways —  is a little odd. The critique she makes is fairly common among evangelicals and I can list a dozen books and blogs largely based on a rejection of Platonic dualism — think of old Francis Schaeffer, say, or Al Wolter’s Creationcreationregained.jpg Regained. Indeed, many with wholistic vision reject mysticism for this very reason, thinking it presumes too much nearly gnostic other-worldliness and a disembodied view of the human person. Why hasn’t her broad vision  — certainly celebrated in other books — given her more resources sooner to embrace a reasonable and fruitful view of darkness and doubt? Certainly she isn’t really new to these questions, let alone the first to grapple with this stuff, even if she brings a colorful and good spin to it all. I don’t mean to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm for her good contribution — that should be clear — and I wouldn’t accuse such a lovely person as she as being disingenuous. But there ya go: she herself has been a good voice in creation-honoring, human-affirming, honest, incarnational faith, that allows questions and struggles and doubts and darkness, even, for decades, actually, and the caricatures of overly happy “solar” faith seems somehow maybe a bit of a foil. Or a marketing schtick.  Could it be?  Nonetheless, the book is good, even if I want to say–oh yes, many of us have been saying this, and she herself has been saying it, for years.  Thank goodness it is being said so nicely, once again.

Her closing epilogue, “Blessing the Day” starts with Psalm 19:2. I’ve preached on this text myself — I learned to love it from the opening sermon in Calvin Seerveld’s book on aesthetics, Rainbows for the Fallen World. But I must say I’ve never noticed the bit about night. It is a good last chapter, even though I myself am a little anxious about sharing it with you — not because grappling with the dark is dangerous, or that lunar style faith that waxes and wanes is bad, but because she tends to minimizes Christian certainties. I do not want to derail anyone’s healthy confident faith, and I know some strict critics will shame me for promoting an ambiguous theologian who they fear is on a very slippery slope. 

Well. Read this, and see if it is for you or someone you know:

The reasons that I had been given for staying out of the dark were becoming less and less convincing as I had more and more occasions to walk in it – caring for aging parents, going to funerals of people I loved, coping with economic crisis, seeing ice caps melt and watching churches close – all the while weighing a bag of Christian certainties that had less in it all the time. The energy required to keep darkness at bay was fast becoming more than I could manage. Perhaps there was another way?

Rev. Taylor is critical of those who insist that Christian faith is always about living in the light — “full solar spirituality” she calls it, and she means more than merely the wacky “name it and claim it” prosperity folk or the ever smiling Joel Osteen types — and she worries about using faith to bypass the hard stuff. “This full solar version of Christianity works so well for so many people that those of us who cannot buy it are bound to wonder what is wrong with us. I wondered what was wrong with me, anyhow, which was why I needed to know more about darkness.”

The best thing I can say is that learning to walk in the dark has allowed me to take back my faith, removing it from the glare of the full solar tradition to recover by the light of the moon. Now the sun still comes up, but is also goes down. Blessing the day means accepting my full quota of light and dark, even when I cannot see what I am blessing. Is this dangerous? Perhaps. At this point I am more afraid of what I might leave out instead of what I might let in. With limited time left on this earth, I want more than the top halves of things – the spirit but not the flesh, the presence but not the absence, the faith but not the doubt. This late in life I want it all.

Among the other treasures of darkness I have dug up along the way are a new collection of Bible stories that all happen after dark, a new set of teachers who know their way around the dark, a deeper reverence for the cloud of unknowing, a greater ability to abide in God’s absence and – by far the most valuable of all – a fresh baptism in the truth that loss is the way of life. That last one is hard to trust, which is why I need to keep walking in the dark. It takes practice to keep stepping into la noche oscura, to keep seizing the night as well as the day. My hope is that when the last big step comes, both my legs and heart will know the way.

In the meantime, I am planning a moon garden in the open patch outside my kitchen window, to go with the day lilies that crowd the driveway from late spring through autumn. Moon gardens have been around a long time, though most people who plant them nowadays supplement the moonlight with cleverly hidden artificial lights that do not wax or wane. The light in my garden will wax and wane. 

In a passage just a bit too long to quote here (but perfect on the last page of the book) she lists the flowers and plants she’ll plant, and why. It’s really nice.

And then she says,

The names are so lovely that I may just say them over and over again instead of punishing my knees with the actual planting of a garden. Then again, what better way to keep track of what phase the moon I in than to watch the light in my garden grow? And what better way – when the moon and the flowers are both full, and I go outside to walk among them – to remember how much light there is in the dark.

You can order this beautiful book from the Hearts & Minds website by clicking on the order form tab below. Or, you can ask questions by clicking on the inquiry tab.  But first, consider these good books that came to mind to supplement Taylor’s book.  We have them all on sale, of course.  Enjoy!

If you still aren’t sure, listen to or watch this wonderous lecture, given at the Rothko Chapel in Houston, which includes direct passages from the book, Learning to Walk in the Dark.


Hhome behind the sun.jpgome Behind the Sun: Connect with God in the Brilliance of the Everyday Timothy Willard & Jason Locy (Nelson) $19.99  This may be counter-intuitive or seem as if I’m hedging my bets, offering a book about light and brilliance beside a book on darkness. Yet, this is not cheap grace or a cover-up of the scary stuff, it is about finding the glory of the mundane, the presence of God in the midst of the daily. These guys are poets and passionate writers, citing Yeats and Blake and John Muir and Flannery O’Connor. They ought to cite BBT, too, as this is a bit like her remarkable An Altar in the World. It is about purpose and joy and healing and hope, naming our brokenness and hurts, but also looking for signals of transcendence in the ups and downs of a life intentionally lived for God’s glory. This is creatively written, powerful, poetic, and includes a study guide to help guide good discussions about its offer for a deeper, more brilliant awareness of God’s holy presence in all things.

Jonathan Merritt writes, “Home Behind the Sun is so elegant and moving that it nearly took my breath away. The prose glimmers and rattles and nearly every page forced me to wrestle with important questions about joy, whimsy, imagination, and purpose. Home Behind the Sun is a poetic portrait of God’s glory that is as brave as it is beautiful. As you read it, breath deeply.”

It isn’t of the same tone or theological leanings of Ms. Taylor, but it is a good companion volume, moving and exciting, rooted in the grand story of God’s redemptive work in the world, and our truest identity as children of God. 

EEchoes of a Voice.jpgchoes of a Voice: We Are Not Alone James W. Sire (Cascade Books) $29.00  For years and years many of us have looked to James Sire as a guide to apologetics, worldview studies, Christian philosophy.  He was an influential editor at InterVarsity Press (influenced by and introducing the wider world to the early work of Francis Schaeffer.) Sire is a gentleman, a real scholar, widely read, and allowed me years ago to help with a bibliography he updated from The Transforming Vision in his own Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling. This is about his own experience on the rim of the Nebraska sandhills, and how he came to conclude that ordinary life – and extraordinary emotions drawn from attentiveness to real life — points to a higher power. Is there meaning in these unbidden and strange experiences? What are the signals of something Other? He brings his logic and philosophical training to bear on finding the meaning in experiences that all of us have encounters, and how we interpret things, exploring our deepest longings.

Here is how his long-time friend Os Guinness explains the significance of this important new book:

For dwellers in our modern ‘world without windows’ or for prisoners in Plato’s cave content with the flickering shadows on the wall, Sire has given us a brilliant and helpful survey of pathways to the sun and freedom – some sure and some illusory. Echoes of a Voice should be read by all who wrestle with communicating faith persuasively today.

Yyearning for more.jpgearning for More: What Our Longings Tell Us About God and Ourselves Barry Morrow (IVP) $15.00  This book is similar in theme to the thoughtful one by Sire, above, but it is more beautifully written, a less autobiographical, and a bit more broad.  I cannot say enough good about it. As John Wilkinson, author of the provocative No Argument for God puts it, “Yearning for More uncovers the reality of God in the most unexpected places. Barry Morrow cleverly identifies ‘signals of transcendence’ in our hatred of death, our desire for heaven, and even the humdrum of daily living. So often we are told to ‘go with your gut.” Morrow takes this to a whole new level.” Another rave endorsement comes from the always reliable Kenneth Boa. As Boa puts it, “my friend Barry Morrow has a penchant for leveraging culture to illuminate timeless spiritual issue.” Yes, indeed, this puts him in similar territory as great saints of the past, as he explores touchstones or reality in our work and play, our desires and alienations, our leisure and joys, and yes, our dark nights of the soul. Very highly recommended.

Tend of exploring.jpghe End of Our Exploring: A Book About Questioning and the Confidence of Faith Matthew Lee Anderson (Moody Press) $13.99  This small paperback has more value than some books twice the size or price – it is splendidly written, very moving, a fine example of younger evangelicals and new kind of invitation to think deeply and faithfully.  Do we know what it even means to “question well’?  Anderson (whose book about the body called Earthen Vessels is very good) insists that “we need not fear questions, but by the grace of God, we have the security to rush headlong into them and find ourselves better for it on the other side.”

I am not sure why I wanted to share this little book, now.  Barbara Brown Taylor’s memoir is a call to question, and call to embrace ambiguities, to walk in the dark.  As I’ve said, I think this is a very good thing, and she is helpful to guide is into hard stuff.  Yet, I also want to commend a solid and helpful book like this which reminds us that “faith helps us see, and that means not shrinking from the ambiguities and the difficulties that provoke our most profound questions” and yet also that “we must learn to question well.” We are called to walk worthy of the calling of Christ. Matthew lives now in Oxford where he is studying for an M.Phil in Christian ethics. Sharp, thoughtful, nice.

Sseeing beauty and saying.jpgeeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully: The Power of Poetic Effort in the Work of George Herbert, George Whitefield, and C.S. Lewis John Piper (Crossway) $19.99  For those who know the fiery, dogmatic, Puritan preacher who has given his life to “the supremacy of Christ in all things” and a passion for advancing the idea that we can take joyful delight in making much of God, it might seem at first incongruous — some might say unthinkable — to put Piper and Taylor on the same list.  But yet.  This is the latest installation of his fine “Swans Are Not Silent” series, the series which takes up the line from Augustine’s successor, who in 426 AD was so overwhelmed that the eloquent bishop and great thinker was would fall silent. No, great voices from great lives of the past remain vital, and in this series, Piper gives three short biographies in each volume (each around a theme, such as perseverance or coping with suffering or preaching well about sovereign grace.) This one, as the subtitle notes, is about the very thing with which I started the Barbara Brown Taylor review — how to combine beauty and truth, writing that is at once creative and artful and helpful and good.  

Piper would no doubt disagree that some of Barbara’s more liberal ideas are truly true, but nonetheless, this volume is brilliant. We learn about the great English poet, the eloquent and gifted oratory, and the uniquely talented novelist and apologist.  Yes, in these three wonderful chapters we learn about the beauty of poetry and “the relationship between poetic effort, on the one hand, and perceiving, relishing, and portraying truth and beauty, on the other hand — especially the truth and beauty of God in Christ. The three men in this book made poetic effort to see and savor and show the glories of Christ.” Piper observes that the three were each Anglicans — a pastor-poet, a preacher-dramatist, and a scholar-novelist. Pastor Piper, who has studied the rich theories of beauty in Jonathan Edwards and in C.S. Lewis (just for instance) says his thesis is simple: “the effort to say beautifully is, perhaps surprisingly, a way of seeing and savoring beauty.”  I might add, “even in the dark.”  

Mmaking manifest.jpgaking Manifest: On Faith, Creativity, and the Kingdom at Hand Dave Harrity (Seedbed Publishing) $16.95  I have been wanting to mention this very special book once again, and this is the perfect time — it is a gem of a guidebook for exploring well the stuff of of our real lives, including nature, experiencing God by using our own senses, our attentiveness, our creative ruminations, our own love of words.  This is a well-crafted handbook for meditative writing, using words well, and allowing our own sense of poetry to point us to deeper awareness of our own lives, and of God. As Brett Foster, Professor of Creative Writing at Wheaton College says, “Rarely have I encountered a writer and teacher of writing who thinks so highly of poetry’s potential to give voice to our lives… in such a persuasive, inspiring way.”  

If you like Barbara Brown Taylor, if you are inspired by her artful writing — or her invitation to face the nightimes of our lives — I think this workbook on paying attention, making manifest God’s reign through sacred writing and learning to craft your own true lines could be very, very useful.



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10 EXCELLENT BOOKS TO GIVE FOR HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION GIFTS ON SALE — 20% off the regular prices which are shown.

There are many little “gift books” that are fine, I suppose. Nothing too substantial, a little inspiration. My hunch is kids don’t pay much attention to them.  For the grads of 2014, you need something winsome and powerful, serious and fun, important without too much gravitas.

I’m sure you have a library full of favorites, and any good book is always worth giving. Give a collection of Wendell Berry short stories if they like such reading, or a book about science if they are big on that. Try any book about basic discipleship if they are eager to grow in faith, or a poetry volume, or a prayer book or a Bible. Or anything that means a lot to you — we’ll gift wrap and tuck in a note from you about why you liked a certain title if you’d like.  I know, I know, it’s a little old-school and maybe conventional, but, you know what? Yes you do know what. Books make great gifts, and the right one in the right hands will be appreciated, maybe even yet this summer.  Do it.

Here are a few, including a few that I think are essential for college-bound students. 

All 20% OFF.

And we’ll send along a free book with each order —  while supplies last.

MMake College Count.jpgake College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning  Derek Melleby (Baker Books) $12.99  I have written about this with all the gusto I can muster in past years, even sneaking a reference to it in my last list. I have read a number of these kinds of smallish gift books designed for high school grads, and this is without a doubt the best, nicely written, interesting, wise, and– yes — very important. Derek raises 7 questions that everyone heading off to college should ask themselves, and he ruminates on them in helpful ways.  It is nicely designed, has a forward by smart guy David Kinnamen, and mentions Hearts & Minds.  I’m telling ya, this is the book to give to every college-bound kid you know.

TPDL - Grads.jpghe Purpose Driven Life: Selected Thoughts & Scriptures for the Graduate Rick Warren (Zondervan) $12.99  This is a nice, cool looking gift book with a slightly padded cover, very nicely designed, with bright full color photographs on each glossy page. It isn’t overdone or saccharine sweet, but it is quite lovely. There are excerpts from the updated version of Warren’s best-selling and beloved book, and a very upbeat tone of discerning God’s purposes, being in community, making a difference, as we find God’s presence in all we do.  Is there life after graduation? This prepares new graduates how to make future decisions, and, of course, is clear about the basics of the gospel. 

Rrising to the call.jpgising to the Call: Discovering The Ultimate Purpose of Your Life Os Guinness (Nelson) $12.99 Yes, this little gift edition is still in print, a paperback and small sized book which offers 5 chapters from Os Guinness’s magnificent book The Call.  I so highly recommend this as it is eloquent and elegant and smart and full of allusions to history and literature, artists and thinkers, inviting us to deepen our commitment to Christ in ways that allow us to discern our vocations, take the notion of calling seriously, giving our very utmost to His highest. before “an audience of One.”  Wondrous, good, but still brief.

Whwhat's.jpgat’s Your Mark: Every Moment Counts Jeremy Cowart (Biblica/Zondervan) $14.99 This is a really cool book, square sized, paperback, but with artful full color photographs of famous (and less famous) people. Cowart is a celebrity photographer and curated this collection of his work, as each person’s story is told, about how they are making a mark, alongside an excerpt from the Gospel of Mark. What do TV producer Mark Burnett, Twitter and social innovation leader Claire Diaz-Ortiz, and rapper Lecrae have in common? They are all making their mark in the world. This interweaves the story of Jesus with the stories of these followers of Jesus, and somehow yet invites readers to add their own story to the Big Story of God’s work in the world. There are 120 full-color pages of Scripture, stories  and expert professional photography  — 21 photos of folks as diverse as Gary Haugen and Ann Voskamp and Bob Goff.  This would make a great gift for almost anyone. 

TThe-Me-I-Want-to-Be-Becoming-Gods-Best-Version-of-You-0.jpghe Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You John Ortberg (Zondervan) $19.99  I sometimes tire of books about being all you can be, positive thinking, knowing your own self, as if you are the center of the universe. In some hands, that can be deadly or dumb. But in the hands of the wonderful Presbyterian pastor and spiritual director John Ortberg, this becomes a clear and generous and helpful guide to knowing your own strengths and knowing God’s grace and goodness can hold you. This is a very good book.  There is a teen edition, actually, which we stock, but for a grad, leaving home, perhaps, why not go with the big boy one.  Really, this makes a very nice gift for anyone in a transition time of life, wanting to move on, knowing who they really are, and who God wants them to be. Nice.

Kking of the campus_house.jpging of the Campus  Stephen Lutz (House Studio) $14.99  This was written by a good friend, am ordained pastor who serves at Penn State, affiliated with the CCO. I have a blurb on the back, saying basically that I don’t know of any other book like this, that offers a “basic Christian growth” overview of faith and daily discipleship that is set on the college campus. If you have a student going off to school who needs an overview of faith and wholistic Christian living, full of grace and vision, this is a fantastic guide.  I like that in the context of multi-faceted and culturally engaged faithfulness on campus, there is a nice section on the life of the mind, taking faith into the classroom, and being discerning about the ideas uncounted at college or university.  Nicely done.

Llearning for love of god banner.jpgearning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness  Donald Optiz & Derek Melleby (Brazos Press) $14.99  I have written often at BookNotes that this is my favorite book for students, a wholistic, delightful call to a Christian worldview, vibrantly lived out on campus, serving God in all areas of life, including the stuff of the classroom.  It isn’t too difficult, and at times is truly enchanting — these guys are great writers.  Jamie Smith calls this book “marvelous” and then suggests that we “buy a box of these and give them to every high school senior you know.”  Other prestigious blurbs come from Kara Powell, Scot McKnight, Walt Mueller, George Marsden, Steve Garber, and one Byron Borger. Yes, this is a must-read for any college student who cares about the Lordship of Christ and the meaning of college learning. Maybe you gave a student Make College Count last year.  Now is the time for this one.  Please.

Tnext c paper.jpghe Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World  Gabe Lyons (Multnomah) $14.99  Again, this is a favorite here at Hearts & Minds, a book that offers a fresh and culturally-relevant way of thinking about faith, lived out in community, with spiritual disciplines, informed by a sense of vocation, rejecting the partisanships of the so-called Christian right. For smart Christians eager to for a big picture and authenticity, this description of the younger generation of believers may prepare college bound students (or others) for the sorts of faith expressions they may encounter.  Thanks be to God.

Treason for god ipage.gifhe Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism Timothy Keller (Riverhead) $16.00  Most of our readers probably know that Keller is a respected urbane church planter, successful in articulating the core beliefs of historic faith among young professionals who may or may not be eager to explore Christian faith.  It isn’t simple or silly, but for serious readers or young skeptics, this is one of the first books we recommend. The Washington Post called it “a tight, accessible case for reasoned religious belief.” Perhaps you know a young person for whom it would be a godsend.

Aart that.jpgrt That Tells the Story Christopher Brewer (gospel through shared experience) $ 24.99 We were involved in this project before it came out, and reviewed it occasionally since. It is a wonderful, slightly over-sized coffee table book — a handsome paperback with quality print and paper — that include paintings and brief amounts of Biblical text that attempt to use imagination and allusion to point towards the flow of the Scriptural narrative.  That is, there are paintings that illuminate the doctrine of creation, the tragedy of the fall into sin, the beautify of God’s gracious redemption in Christ, and the promised hope of restoration.  I don’t think I know of any other more creative way to offer an overview of how to make sense of life from a Biblical perspective — creation/fall/redemption/consummation — and it would make a great gift for anyone.  Esteemed abstract painter Mako Fujimura writes of it, Art That Tells… is “a fantastic mixture of art and conversation — an estuary where salt water meets fresh water, providing a rich array of creatures and expressions.”  


On the Edge: Transitioning Imaginatively to College  Eric Bierker (Lulu) $14.00on the edge - eric bierker.jpg   FREE with the purchase of any book listed.

My friend Eric Bierker earned his PhD in educational psychology from Temple University where he researched the college transition.  He wrote this book, creatively and colorfully, for the high school students with whom he works as a guidance counselor at a nearby public high school. He’s been quoted in USA Today and The Wall Street Journal and is a thoughtful, Christian leader, conducting workshops and doing talks for college-bound high-school seniors.  Here he uses the metaphor of mountain climbing and helps readers know what to expect and how to best be prepared for their first year experience.  He graciously gave us some of these and we’re happy to offer (while supplies last) a complimentary copy with any order of any other book on this list.  Your senior high friends will enjoy it, I’m sure. Parents or youth workers, too, would benefit from this, knowing what their kids are facing. Fun.  For now, free with a purchase of another book  on this list.  While supplies last.


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On the Edge
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                   Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313     717-246-3333


It is a great, great privilege to have the opportunity to be the commencement speaker for the graduategrad picture.jpg school programs at Geneva College this weekend. This isn’t the place to talk much about that, but wanted to share this news with our BookNotes friends. I am happy to note that my own Master’s degree in the philosophy of higher education is from Geneva.  I love the folks there, and it is an impressive school, with quite a legacy — it was a stop in the underground railroad, an early place for women to earn degrees, the venue where Francis Schaeffer gave one of the two historic lectures that became the book Art and the Bible, back in the mid-70s. I am honored to be a part of their celebration and thank them for their hospitality.

Which is a happy little segue for this list.

I put together a list of my favorite, most-often recommended books that would be fabulous gifts for college graduates. 

I’ll list some for high-school grads soon, although I can tell you now that my go-to, nothing-like-it, favorite little gift book for high school grads who are college bound is Making College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning by my good friend, the always thoughtful Derek Melleby (Baker Books; $12.99.) If your church gets a batch of books for students, tell them about this right away. It is without a doubt the best such one I’ve seen.  More on that, later.  Now, some for college grads, on sale.  Just click on the order form link shown below.


A Jjourney w taking.jpgourney Worth Taking: Finding Your Purpose in This World  Charles D. Drew (P&R) $12.99  While I sometimes compare this to Purpose Driven Life that isn’t quite right. It is more theologically interesting and better written.  It really is about discovering a life of meaning as one enters into God’s redemptive story for the world which is so loved.  One learns a bit about the covenantal flow of the drama of Scripture, from creation to fall, from redemption to new creation.  Anyone should thrill to learn about their role as agents of restoration and hope and healing, but college graduates are particularly open to this invitation to purpose, meaning, vocation and service.  Highly recommended, especially for those a bit unsure of this leg of their faith journey.

Tthe call.jpghe Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life  Os Guinness (Nelson) $17.99  This handsome volume is, doubtlessly, one of my all time favorite books. It is eloquent and elegant, radical and influential, important and good.  The chapters are mature, but short, interesting and instructive, inspiring and very, very helpful.  Much of what is taken for granted about vocation and calling in recent years dates to the publication of this splendid, must-read classic.  A nearly perfect graduation gift.

Eevery good e.jpgvery Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work Timothy Keller & Katherine Leary Aldsdorf (Dutton) $26.95  This handsome, solid hardback is Biblically-grounded, perhaps the best and most substantial book on a Christian view of the work-world. Visionary, culturally-relevant, theologically mature and yet very practical, this is great for anyone entering any career, but especially for those in the professions, working in corporations or businesses. Very, very impressive and highly recommended.

Lliberating tradition.jpgiberating Tradition: Women’s Identity and Vocation in Christian Perspective Kristina LaCelle-Peterson (Baker) $24.00  Although it should go without saying that all of the books on this list are suitable for thoughtful Christian women, this one focuses particularly on the challenges and unique context of women who are discerning their vocation, involved in this conversation about calling, and wanting “renewed minds” as they approach the many implications of this topic.  It’s an important contribution, especially useful for women who are pondering all this through the lens of their identity.

Vvisions of vocation.jpgisions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good Steven Garber (IVP) $16.00  I’ve mentioned more than once that this has been, in my experience, the best book I’ve read in years.  It is so eloquent, thoughtful, interesting, important. Garber’s call to care deeply about the world, even as we sense its hurts and brokenness, and to be responsible agents within the contours of history, is beautiful and vital.  If you know young adults who are idealistic and care deeply about the world, this would be a significant gift to honor them at this season of their life.  And how about that lovely cover design, featuring a Van Gogh?

Ffollowing jesus in the real world.jpgollowing Jesus in the Real World: Discipleship for the Post-College Years  Richard Lamb (IVP) $17.00  This wonderful author is very solid, really wise, very helpful as he guides evangelical students who have been active in religious groups on campus to find a new identity as more ordinary church members in more ordinary places. From finding a job to getting involved in a church, from spiritual disciplines to common advice for daily living, this is a great guidebook as young adults transition from campus to the so-called real world. 

Ththis is water.jpgis is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, About Living a Compassionate Life David Foster Wallace (Little, Brown) $15.00  I wanted to list this gift book edition of this prestigious speech because it is nearly legendary with its moving call to take life seriously, to figure out what one worships, to live life meaningfully in the mundane day to day of life in the daily grind. That this eloquent, award-winning young novelist and essayist took his life after delivering this commencement address at Kenyon College a few years ago makes it that much more poignant. This small hardback makes a very cool gift, especially if a more conventionally religious book isn’t appropriate. 

LLove_Does_240_360_Book.625.cover_-196x300.jpgove Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World  Bob Goff (Nelson) $16.99  I’m always looking for an excuse to get people to give away copies of this fun, funny, stimulating and uplifting book.  Goff is glorious in telling stories about his wild “capers” and offers tales from his own life with vivid and often hilarious detail.  He is active in all kinds of good stuff — including building an orphanage in Uganda, and mentoring the likes of his younger friend, Donald Miller.  This is a perfect gift to inspire anyone to live large, make a difference, serve Jesus by loving others. Fun, upbeat, enjoyable. Great for one who isn’t much of a reader. I promise.



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