Comment remains one of my favourite journals, publishing thoughtful pieces on a wide variety of subjects, often asking how best to think as Christians and what practices emerge from our reflections about God’s redemptive work in the world. Readers care about a lot of stuff, and want to learn how to live in these times fruitfully and faithfully.
Of course, as a bookseller, it is a joy to talk about books that might be of interest to this exact sort of engaged, open-minded, and discerning reader. Here are a few choice titles that Comment readers might enjoy.
Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us by Christine D. Pohl (Eerdmans, 2012)
In what is surely one of the most important and well-received books of the last decade—Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition—Christine Pohl did a magnificent job describing the call and quest of Christian community, looking at the topic through lenses of Biblical studies, theological insight, and autobiography (she spent time years ago at the Swiss study center L’Abri). Her insights about hospitality are profound, and her 1999 book set off a string of releases about generous outreach, inclusion, being hospitable, serving guests, offering welcome, and the like. In this long-awaited new release, she offers a beautifully written, wonderfully conceived follow up, exploring four core practices that can sustain healthy, caring, relational community. It is surprising how few very good books on forming intentional fellowship in a hospitable community there are, and this will be considered by many as a life-saving gift. Meaty but not obscure, this book is highly recommended as it guides us through helpful practices, living lives of gratitude, promise-keeping, truthfulness, and hospitality. There is a useful study guide in the back, making it ideal for adult classes or small groups. Marva Dawn exclaims “Every Christian should read this provocative book!”
Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good by Amy L. Sherman (InterVarsity Press, 2011)
Sherman is a Comment contributor, and her new book is very important. The clever double entendre of the title and the mature insight laden in the subtitle make it clear that this is a book informed by some of the deepest convictions of Cardus: we are all called to holy work; notions of vocation are central (not incidental as Cardus friend Steve Garber puts it) to the mission of God in the world; we are called to care for the common good. Indeed, it is this last notion, that we can use “the work of our hands” (as the epigram of Psalm 90:17 puts it) for “the common good,” that is such a great strength of this study of our work lives. Sherman says she wrote this mostly for pastors and Christian leaders (and there are practical suggestions on how to get “vocational stewardship” on the agenda of a church or ministry), but it will be helpful for anyone.
Her insights deserve much further elaboration, but she offers a unique take on notions of calling and career: she reminds us that we are to honour God by caring about the city, the public square, and that God will bless our efforts to relate work and service, personal meaning, and the hope for an improvement of the state of the common good. She explains how such people are called in Scripture tsaddiqim, and she explores four different avenues, or levels, of living into the promises of Proverbs 11:10, which states, “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.” Does the success or flourishing of your work cause your neighbours to be glad? Does our own prosperity come by way of making a contribution to the world? Can we go beyond a “bloom where you are planted” faithfulness to a more robust, missional perspective that sees our work as service to others? This is a remarkable book, full of statistics and stories, analysis and reflection, insight and application, reassurance and challenge. It is missional, passionate, inspiring. One of the best books on this subject yet written, it is made all the better by a well-written, profound afterword by Steve Garber.
A Walk Across the Sun: A Novel by Corban Addison (SilverOak, 2012)
I tend to suggest non-fiction in this column, but this outstanding new novel deserves special attention, in part for its artfully told global story, but also because the topic is so urgent—any bit of insight gleaned or motivation to act is to be celebrated. The plot is complex, the writing rich, but the short summary is that this story is about sex trafficking, moving from a coastal town in India, to a Mumbai brothel, to a Washington D.C. law firm, where attorney Thomas Clarke signs up to do some pro bono work with an NGO that works against sexual violence and slavery. I was glad to hear that a novel was going to tell this tale and was even happier to realize that the author of page-turners, John Grisham—who has not endorsed a book since his first novel was published over 20 years ago—felt compelled to offer a stellar blurb. New York-based International Artist Movement (IAM) has done a podcast and held a book release event with this author as well, allowing him to read portions of the book to their unique audience. This book is highly recommended.
Secularism and Freedom of Conscience by Jocelyn Maclure & Charles Taylor (Harvard University Press, 2011)
Many know of (although few have actually finished) the massive treatise, A Secular Age by Taylor, who is an esteemed McGill philosophy professor; Maclure is also an esteemed philosopher at Universite Laval. This recent book is as controversial as it is luminous, and Canadian readers, especially, may know that it had its origins in the very real problem of Quebec’s need for guidelines to balance equal respect due to all citizens with the right to religious freedom. The authors here claim to go further than the Quebec guidelines, rethinking secularism in light of other critical issues of our time, drawing on secularism’s alleged strengths (equal respect, freedom of conscious, separation of church and state, and the like). Of course, they are working toward how to manage moral and religious diversity in a free society, and they make a surprisingly strong case, insisting that secularism offers the best basis for authentic pluralism. They hope that people of devout traditional faith will agree. It may be that Taylor’s astute and important insights will become better known as this wide-ranging analysis is offered in a readable 110 pages.
Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God by J. Brent Bill & Beth A. Booram (InterVarsity Press, 2012)
Comment readers know that the God of the Bible cares about all of life, and that Christian conviction offers a particular way of leaning into daily living—our world-and-life view is more than a view, but an embodied experience of life itself. A part of this, of course, is that we live in a world that is rightfully called creation; God made this world good, and we are embodied persons, living with eyes and ears and noses and tongues and skin: we can experience life with our very senses! Yet few books of Christian spirituality celebrate this sensuous reality, let alone plumb taste and smell and bodily touch for our spiritual development. This lovely book, written by two evangelical Quakers, not only ruminates on knowing God more deeply through our attention to the wonders of daily experience, but offers exercises that enable us to awaken or deepen these “right brained” avenues to God. From tasting chocolate to seeing a beautiful moon, from hearing music (or silence, or the news) to smelling gardenias or strong coffee, these experiences help us savour the sacrament of life itself.
The books listed above are all available from Byron Borger’s bookstore—Hearts & Minds Books.