Tasty summer selections
Some restaurants have a table d'hÃ´te where you get to pick an appetizer course, a main course, and a dessert. If you're spending time in good conversation and the setting is right, you splurge on a cappuccino or two.
Here is my table d'hÃ´te of appetizers, main courses, desserts, and after dinner coffees. May I suggest—he says in his most waiterly voice—that you take advantage of the full course meal? It may take awhile, but it will be well worth it, especially if you are in the company of friends. Please, eat up this summer!
Pick one book from each course for each of your summer months. Throughout, keep the beverages flowing—that would be a fill and re-fill from the last category, sipped throughout, alongside the others. Please know that we do encourage you to "mix and match" for your own palette. Substitutions are no problem, but the point of this plan is—well, I don't have to lecture you about a well-balanced diet, do I?
For our first course, we have a few hand-selected choices for basic Christian growth. The core convictions of Comment are rooted in the Christian faith, deepening discipleship: knowing the basics and growing in faith are a perpetual necessity. Here are some good appetizers.
Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper. Piper is passionate and radical in his calling on us to find gladness in Christ alone—that we live for God's glory in all we do and find purpose in living a Christ-exalting life. I dare you to read his chapter, "Making Much of Christ in the 8 to 5," and not have it affect your labours at your summer job.
Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob Bell. This interesting set of reflections offers a taste considerably different from Piper's Calvinist piety and missionary zeal. Bell is a bit postmodern, artsy, and whimsical, and he's a great storyteller. His worldview is a bit less overt, yet he invites us to playfully enter a way of life that is vibrant and authentic in following Jesus. His insistence that we keep thinking, experimenting, and living in hope of the Kingdom makes this a zesty appetizer.
Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N. T. Wright. Wright is one of the most important New Testament scholars alive. Here, he offers his 21st-century version of Mere Christianity. Like Lewis, Wright shows that certain human longings are signals of transcendence, and our heart cries for meaning, justice, and intimacy are indications that something is wrong. Could the biblical narrative of creation-fall-redemption offer hope? If the Christ-centered biblical drama is the basis for the fulfillment of our deepest hopes, what might that look like? Clear, thoughtful, and wonderful for seekers or followers of Christ.
Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology by Eugene Peterson. This is the first in a magisterial series of spiritual theology. It is hardly an appetizer, but a robust and lasting meal in itself. We list it here, as it is so foundational, so basic, so important, as Peterson walks us through key aspects of Christian living, guided by his richly literate exposition of the gospel's impacts on daily living. It is spectacular and lasting. For those unaccustomed to meaty reading like this, start with his eloquent set of reflections on the Psalms, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.
For our next course, we proudly recommend the chef's recent choices that will help you understand your world, enjoy an awareness of the flow of ideas, make you more sensitive to the hurts and brokenness of our times. Call it cultural criticism, current affairs, or Christian reflections on public life. These are essential for faithful, Christian discernment about our place in history, and should be part of our regular diet. We do live the faith in the world, after all, so history, culture, and politics matter—an insight still too rare among church folk. Eat up!
Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade—and How We Can Fight It by David Batstone. In recent years, perhaps starting with the extraordinary work of Gary Haugen's International Justice Mission and his book, The Good News About Injustice, there has been an outcry over human rights concerns: the rise in our lifetime of slavery, more child labor abuses, and a multiplication of the evil of sexual trafficking. This book is the best study of human rights horrors in the contemporary world, but it's full of hope and ideas for making a difference. Batstone knows corporate culture well (he has written widely on business ethics) and he has travelled on every continent. He is our strongest ally in entering this urgent battle.
It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, edited by Ned Bustard. This newly re-edited volume is perhaps the best collection available about various aspects of Christian engagement with the arts: lots of art reproductions, stories, ideas, and full of celebration and challenge. What a sumptuous feast this book is! Taste and see that God and God's world are so good.
Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight by Norman Wirzba. This is a stunning book, part of a very thoughtful series, "The Christian Practice of Everyday Life"—all are well worth chewing on. This one, though, is the best—a thoroughly biblical call to Sabbath rest, attentive to the realities of creation. More than "taking a day off," this invites us to a lifestyle of restfulness, to break with modernity's frantic pace, and to think through responsible stewardship as it applies to how we relate to food, education, entertainment, and such. Life-changing!
Hope in Troubled Times: A New Vision for Confronting Global Crises by Bob Goudzwaard, Mark Vander Vennen, and David Van Heemst. This new book is a labour of love from a former member of the Dutch parliament, a Canadian social activist and family counselor, and an American political theory professor. What a combination of insights, passions, concerns, and dreams for our world! A significantly re-worked version of an older classic, Idols of Our Times, this reflects on the relationship between various social problems—poverty, the environment, and terrorism. It offers hope as a viable basis for social initiatives. With a forward by Desmond Tutu, this may be one of the most important books of the decade. If you are confused or anxious, apathetic or uninvolved, read this book.
Whether or not you are a student, you may enjoy books about learning, and you should be reminded that all are called by God to "think Christianly." If you are a college student, this is an especially urgent aspect of your calling and vocation. Not every church or fellowship group knows how to invite students (let alone assist them) to relate faith and scholarship, so our chef is ecstatic to offer some rare delicacies in this course. Good taste for the student palette and strong meat for the bones! Please help yourself to some savoury selections for the Christian college student.
The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness: A Guide for Students by Derek Melleby and Donald Opitz. These two have cooked up the tastiest book of its kind! This is a fun, yet altogether serious call to be outrageous, to be full of wild hope even in your college learning. To be so committed to Christ that you struggle to discern the joys and sacrifices, pleasures and perplexities that come when you take your discipleship into the classroom. The Bible speaks of "taking every thought captive" (2 Corinthians 10:5) and the "renewal of your mind" (Romans 12:2), and this book makes it relevant for young students. Have you pondered how to serve God, even in your schoolwork? This is the best entry point to this wonderful idea.
Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living by Cornelius Plantinga. This beautifully written volume invites us to think how the grand, biblical story affects ordinary college students. Insightful, profound, and engaging, this is a must-read for any serious student
The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior by Steven Garber. This is one of the most often discussed books for collegians, and anyone who cares about learning, relationships, culture, and vocation must know of it. Deeply compassionate, wise and well-informed, it is a feast, a work well worth reading several times. Garber has mentored students, activists, artists, and cultural leaders for a lifetime, and he draws upon the three most important traits of those whose lives develop in sustained and integrated ways.
Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling by James Sire. No Christian college student should miss out on the many good books by this helpful friend of students, this "worldviewish" scholar who so loves to think through the implications of Christian truth for spirituality, intellectual life, and public engagement. Here, he offers serious guidance for anyone wanting to mature in the life of the mind.
Ah! Like we said, keep the water glass filled throughout this summer-long meal. Top up and warm up that coffee cup? Refill the sweet tea? You bet! Novels, memoirs, short stories, poetry, and comedy are excellent for summer reading, to be grazed even while chewing on books of ideas. One should never have just one book going at a time, so at least keep sipping at some of these sorts.
Here are just a few choice memoirs our chef recommends, fresh and refreshing, maybe a little frothy . . .
Cross X by Joe Miller. One of the best books of the year, this is a memoir which tells "the amazing true story of how the most unlikely team from the most unlikely of places overcame staggering obstacles at home and at school to challenge the debate community on race, power and education." Even if you've never been to a high school forensics tournament, or don't find the idea of public debating all that interesting, like a high-octane Akeelah and the Bee and Freedom Writers this is a page-turning study of an inner city, mostly black, debate team who rocked the debate world by studying Foucault and Paulo Friere. It asks what the point of education is.
The Only Road North: 9000 Miles of Dirt and Dreams by Erik Mirandette. This breathtaking travelogue tells the riveting story of some college pals who drove around Africa doing short-term mission service, checking out the scenes, and experiencing the horror of a terrorist attack. Through grief and darkness, they sought to recover a sense of God's purpose for their lives.
Who Are You People? A Personal Journey into the Heart of Fanatical Passion by Sheri Caudron. This is an entertaining story that sees the author travel to odd places to get to know people with extreme hobbies. From "Trekkie" conventions to Barbie Doll collectors, from ice fisherman to the weird subculture of "furries," she wants to know why people get into the stuff they do. Why do they care about their hobbies, and what sense of belonging do they get from their eccentric interests? You won't be able to put it down, and it may make you wonder about your own deepest passions.
Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond. Yes, that is really his name, and he is a brilliant writer. This hilarious book is his travelogue, going to independent candy manufacturers, studying their equipment, hearing their tales, and stealing their stuff. Anybody who loves candy, small business, questions about the global economy, or the debate about what really is "the best fix for a sugar jones," this is a sweet read.
Girl Meets God: A Memoir by Lauren Winner. This has been acclaimed for a few years, and Winner has become a staple in the edgy evangelical community, writing, reviewing, and speaking. This is her well-realized memoir of becoming an Orthodox Jew and then slowly coming to Christian faith. One of the best spiritual autobiographies of our time. Read all three of her books, but start here.
The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On by Dawn Eden. Perhaps a bit like Lauren's memoir, this is a story of the author's dating life (think Sex and the City) and her slow realization that this was not good. Her conversion to a more appropriate lifestyle, and her journey into thoughtful Catholicism is smashing. One of her PR pieces described her as "a Jewish-born rock journalist turned salty Christian blog queen."
Crossing Myself: A Story of Spiritual Rebirth by Greg Garrett. There are several new memoirs of young adults grappling with Christian faith, rejecting the narrowness of the fundamentalist subculture (Blue Like Jazz, for instance). This is one of the better-written faith journeys: interesting, insightful, and important as it deals vividly with his struggles with depression and doubt. The author ends up an evangelically minded, liturgically rich Episcopalian.
The Pine Island Paradox: Making Connections in a Disconnected World by Kathleen Dean Moore. Going hiking or camping this summer? Grab any of Moore's books of lyrical nature essays and ponder with her as she invites us to care about our surroundings, to be committed to our families and to our places, and to think ecologically about life. Her stories are riveting, her writing, glorious. See also Riverwalking and Holdfast.
All the books recommended may be ordered from Byron at Hearts & Minds Books.