Search Results For "book of the month"

One year ago, internationally acclaimed artist Makoto Fujimura published a small booklet entitled On Becoming Generative: An Introduction to Culture Care. This booklet, and Fujimura’s concept of “Culture Care,” have resonated with many. This month Makoto Fujimura released the full length expansion of his Culture Care concept, Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life.

Culture Care Makoto FujimuraFujimura has written eloquently and inspiringly on faith and art before. With Culture Care, he gives us many important concepts to ponder and pursue. Fujimura talks about the culture wars that are all too familiar for most of us. Unlike those who would glamorize our modern culture, Fujimura acknowledges that there is much in culture today that should sadden us, much that is toxic, much that harms the soil in which we are trying to grow. But unlike those who want to throw up their hands in disgust and sit in condemnation of culture until Jesus returns, Fujimura insists that we have a responsibility to the culture all around us.

“Culture is not a territory to be won or lost but a resource we are called to steward with care. Culture is a garden to be cultivated.”

Culture Care means viewing all of life as a gift, viewing culture itself as a gift. Our own abilities, and the abilities and cultural goods of the people around us, whether Christian or not, are gifts from God. Rather than disdaining culture or the works of those outside the church, we need to be life-giving participants in culture. Fujimura explains:

“Artistic expressions are signposts declaring what it is to be fully human.”

When we free ourselves of our utilitarian mindset that insists on valuing only that which is useful, when we begin living “generatively,” creatively bringing something new and life-giving into existence, then we create new possibilities in the lives of the people around us.

For Fujimura, this is a matter of stewardship. If we all fall prey to the utilitarian mindset that fails to value beauty, creativity, and generativity, then the cultural soil will be further poisoned by the time our children inherit the cultural world we have failed to steward. But if we labor to tend the soil of culture, our children may live in a cultural world that is bursting with life, in which gospel seeds can grow, in which beauty takes root and shapes the imagination and daily life of society.

Too often, the cultural efforts of Christians are derivative (simply imitating the “secular” culture with a Jesus-twist) or speak almost exclusively to other Christians. But Fujimura’s concept of Culture Care calls us beyond this introspective existence.

“Western Christianity in the twentieth century fell into an ‘adjective’ existence with Christian music, Christian art, Christian plumbers. Even today, artists are often valued in the church only if they create art for the church, or at least, ‘Christian art.’ Culture Care will mean moving away from such labels…I am not a Christian artist. I am a Christian, yes, and an artist. I dare not treat the powerful presence of Christ in my life as an adjective. I want Christ to be my whole being.”

In this mentality, Fujimura sees artists functioning as “border-stalkers” (think of Strider/Aragorn in Lord of the Rings) who are able to cross boundaries with ease and mediate between diverse groups. Fujimura’s vision here of what an artist’s role might become in relation to the church and the surrounding culture is especially insightful, and he gives very practical and helpful advice for those seeking to fulfill that role.

Fujimura leaves us with a number of “what ifs” to spur or thinking about what might be possible if we took Culture Care seriously. Here are a few of my favorites.

What if each of us endeavored to bring beauty into someone’s life today in some small way?

What if artists became known for their generosity rather than only their self-expression?

What if we committed to speaking fresh creativity and vision into culture rather than denouncing and boycotting other cultural products?

What if we saw art as gift, not just as commodity?

What if we empower the “border stalkers” in our communities, support and send them out?

What if we created songs [and other forms of art] to draw people into movements for justice and flourishing?

All in all, I believe that Culture Care is an important book, one of the few that is taking the discussion of Christian involvement in the arts and culture to a new level. If you are an artist at any level, this is an important book to read. If you are convinced of the importance of art and culture in the life of the church and/or world, this is an important book to read. And if you’re just becoming interested in the concept of art and culture as it relates to your faith, this would be a great place to start.

As I write this, I am only aware of one place to purchase the Culture Care book, and that’s through the International Arts Movement’s website (click here).

GileadThis is the first fiction work to be included as our Book of the Month. I’m sure it won’t be the last. After years of people telling me that I need to read Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, I finally did (the book is a Pulitzer Prize winner, by the way). Quite simply: This is far and away one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s in my top three, for sure. Having just finished it this weekend, I’m still feeling emotional and inspired.

Like all good fiction, Gilead pulls you away from the strains of every day life so that you can see life in a new light and then be thrust back into life with a new sense of appreciation and wonder. Here’s how Robinson does it.

Gilead is written as a memoir from an old preacher writing to his young son after having been diagnosed with an illness that will soon end his life. John Ames, the preacher, writes to explain himself to the son who will be too young at the time of his death to understand who his father was. He writes about his preacher father, his preacher grandfather, the small and quirky town in which they live, the old and dilapidated church and its history, etc.

The storyline itself is fairly simply and endearing. It’s Robinson’s fascinating ability to draw her readers casually into the deep mysteries of life and faith that give this book its power. Here are just a couple of examples from near the end of the book. The Reverend Ames tells his son:

“I love the prairie! So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turn radiant at once, that word ‘good’ so profoundly affirmed in my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing.”

“It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance—for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light. That is what I said in the Pentecost sermon. I have reflected on that sermon, and there is some truth in it. But the Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems to imply. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?”

These are just a couple of the gems Robinson offers in this masterful book. The plot and character development are wonderful, and the pacing of the book itself is a breath of fresh air. Robinson has a calm writing style, and John Ames’ simple outlook on life as he reflects on a long life in a quiet but often troubled town is oddly life-giving.

Marilynne Robinson

I would have a hard time explaining exactly why I love this book as much as I do, but I’m certain that I have closed the back cover with a greater appreciation for life, a greater respect for the mysteries of God, an increased love for the Creator, and who knows what else. I am also certain that I will be re-reading this book multiple times.

If you love reading fiction, this is a must read. If you have not yet learned to love fiction, this would be an excellent place to start. And if you need to be convinced of why fiction matters, click here for some wise words from C. S. Lewis.

To this point, the books we’ve recommended as our book of the “month” have been popular level books—books that the average reader can get through without too much difficulty. This “month,” I’m recommending a book that will require more effort from the average reader, but I think it’s worth it.

The book is Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith and it’s the first in his “Cultural Liturgies” series. I think this is an important book, especially for those of us who are convinced of the importance of “worldview.” Here’s why.

Smith invites his readers to view our familiar world in an unfamiliar way. One poignant example he explores is the shopping mall. We believe the mall is a purely secular location that we visit on our terms to pick up items we need for our own reasons. But Smith paints the mall in a religious light (or rather, reveals the inherently religious nature of the mall, hence the term “cultural liturgies”).

Mall Cathedral

The moment we enter the mall, we gain a sense of transcendence from the vaulted architecture, the skylights, and the lack of windows, which divert our attention from the sea of cars outside and the mundanities of daily life. In this place, time is marked not by the ticking of the clock (which you’ll be hard pressed to find) but by cycle of festivals and celebrations for which the “cathedral” is regularly re-adorned. Oversized photographs on the walls and mannequins in shop windows function as icons, embodying for us a vision of the “good life,” reminding us of what our “worship” will produce and calling us inside to “taste and see.” When we decide to partake of this vision of the good life, we approach the altar, item(s) in hand, and the priestly salesclerk guides us in consummating our worship, sending us out with a benediction (“Thanks, have a great day”).

On one level, this is all nonsense—the mall is not a church. But Desiring the Kingdom argues that this interpretation of the mall is profoundly realistic. The world around us shapes us, not simply at the level of our intellect, but at the level of our desires. Commercials don’t convince us of the logic of buying their products, they appeal to our desires. They make us want it. And in doing so, Smith argues, the marketers are exhibiting a more biblical view of humanity than most churches hold.

Our society recognizes that we are not primarily thinkers. Rather, we are primarily lovers. We do what we do not because we follow our logic in every case, but because we are driven by desire. Think about it: Do you drink Starbucks coffee (or the more obscure and therefore more trendy type of coffee that you consider far superior to Starbucks) because you intellectually believe it is so much better than the alternative that you’re wiling to spend $2 for a small coffee and $5+ for other drinks? No. You drink Starbucks because your desires have been trained, not just for the flavor, but for the atmosphere and experience. It’s not necessarily illogical, but it’s deeper than logic. It’s about a vision of the good life that resides more in our gut than in our brain.

PrintAnd here’s where Smith’s argument gets very important. The world is busy shaping our desires. Meanwhile, the church fights back by filling our minds. We fight love with facts. This is where the worldview approach often falls short. Descartes famous saying, “I think therefore I am,” summarizes our default view of humanity. We are thinking beings. So put the right knowledge into a person’s head and he or she will behave accordingly. And there is some truth here. But we all know it’s not the whole picture. We don’t upgrade to the new iPhone because we believe the new features are worth the price. Our desires have been trained to despise our (months) old iPhone and long for the newest.

Smith’s solution is worship. Our desires are trained through worship, not just ideas. We need to shape our worldview, but we also need to shape our longings. We need formation, not just informationWe need to desire the kingdom. In this regard, Smith advocates liturgy, but in a broad sense. He’s not saying we all have to become “high church” in the sense that we all do responsive reading and observe lent. But he does argue that those things can play an important role in shaping our desires. Biblically speaking, we are whole beings. We’re not disembodied minds, we are embodied creatures. So involving our senses in worship, engraining deep habits and rituals into our routines can help to train our desires. It’s not just about thinking, it’s about worship. It’s about love. The marketers understand this, the church should as well.

That’s Smith’s overall contention, and I’ll warn you that he’s persuasive. As I said, it’s not the easiest book to read, but it’s also not the hardest. Smith intentionally took a middle path: the most scholarly discussions are moved to the footnotes, but the overall discussion is still meant to contribute to higher-level debates. Anyone who has had a year or more of college education should be able to hang with Smith’s arguments, and his writing style continually emphasizes key points.

This book has been very influential for me, and it’s shaping the way I view my role as a Christian, as a parent, as a church member, and as an educator. I would say this is one of the most important books I’ve read in a long time. Give it a shot.

 

Purge with PassionI have to admit, when I first heard about Purge with Passion: Organizing Principles from a Christian Perspective, I was skeptical. First of all, I’m a dude. Were it not for my intensely organized wife, I would not value organization. But I was also skeptical from a theological perspective. I was afraid that this was going to be a book on organization with a few verses tacked on in an attempt to “Christianize” it. But I was happy to discover that Purse with Passion delivers, and I heartily recommend it to our readers.

Jodie Watson is a professional organizer. She is the organizing expert on TLC’s Real Simple, Real Life, the founder of Supreme Organization, and has been featured in InStyle and Real Simple magazines. In other words, Jodie knows about de-cluttering and getting organized.

But Jodie is even more unique in that she is a careful student of the Scripture, and views organization through the lens of her Christian worldview. Purge with Passion is not a handbook to organization decorated with out-of-context Bible verses. Jodie begins her discussion of organization in the right place: with the heart.

If your home is packed with too much stuff, you can always put your belongings in a closet or a storage container. But how long will that last? For Jodie, you have to begin your organizational journey by asking yourself why you’ve accumulated so much stuff. If your heart is set on the things of this world, then setting it all in good order will only help you so much. If you clean up your home but don’t deal with your heart, then what have you really accomplished?

But if you first deal with your heart, learning to see all of your possessions, all of your time, and all of your resources as gifts from God to be used for his glory, then you will begin to see your stuff in a different light. Suddenly, letting go becomes a lot easier. And having a clean home or workspace becomes more than a means of impressing your neighbors or coworkers. It becomes a way to free up your time, space, and assets to be used by God.

Jodie addresses the full range of human disorganization—your stuff, your finances, your time, your information, and even your inner world—and shows that each of these areas of life can and should be ordered according to God’s design and for his glory. Purge with Passion strikes a skillful balance between biblical interpretation, wise counseling, and practical tips to help you order your life.

Few would argue that modern America is not a materialistic society, generally speaking. We seem to be insatiable accumulators. If you see any hint of this impulse in your life, whether that accumulation and disorder is material, digital, or spiritual, Purge with Passion will help you understand why you have this tendency and how to reverse it.

I’m biased about this book, because Jodie is a friend of mine and a student at Eternity Bible College (we’re proud to say). But I can affirm that this book was helpful for me, and I’m sure it will be for you. I encourage you to take a look and prepare to purge!

Death by LivingI’m particularly excited about this month’s recommendation: Death by Living by N. D. Wilson. And this time, you’ll have a chance to win one of three free copies of the book. (But you’ll have to wait till the end. Unless you know how to scroll.)

Last year I read, loved, and recommended N. D. Wilson’s first nonfiction book (he writes excellent children’s—and let’s be honest, adult’s—fiction) Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl. Wilson aptly describes that book as a “whirly-gig,” a characterization that fits Death by Living as well.

What you need to understand about Wilson’s nonfiction writing is that it doesn’t read like nonfiction. It’s a lot more fun than virtually anything else you’ll read. In short, Death by Living is insightful, playful, serious, whimsical, emotional, reflective, challenging, and whatever other fun adjectives you want to throw its way.

If we can learn anything from broccoli, it’s that what’s good for you and what’s enjoyable don’t go together. But Wilson’s fiction exposes broccoli’s lie. I can simultaneously affirm that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and that it was very, very good for me. This is the kind of book you can finish reading and then immediately turn around and read again (which I did).

Death by Living covers a lot of ground. Wilson takes his readers on a journey through the lives of his grandparents, his family vacations and parenting strategies, his growth as a fiction writer, and how all of it relates to the way we live. And die.

The idea behind the book is that life is meant to be spent. If you try to hold onto your life, you’re not truly living (sounds like something Jesus said…). And yet we hold on tight, trying to preserve our feeble, fleeting selves rather than using every drop of strength we are given for the right things. Wilson writes:

Your heartbeats cannot be hoarded. Your reservoir of breaths is draining away. You have hands, blister them while you can. You have bones, make them strain—they can carry nothing in the grave. You have lungs, let them spill with laughter. With an average life expectancy of 78.2 years in the US (subtracting eight hours a day for sleep), I have around 250,000 conscious hours remaining to me in which I could be smiling or scowling, rejoicing in my life, in this race, in this story, or moaning and complaining about my troubles. I can be giving my fingers, my back, my mind, my words, my breaths, to my wife and my children and my neighbors, or I can grasp after the vapor and the vanity for myself, dragging my feet, afraid to die and therefore afraid to live. And, like Adam, I will still die in the end. Living is the same thing as dying. Living well is the same thing as dying for others.

N.D. Wilson

N.D. Wilson

Wilson explores a concept that has often be turned cliché—life is a story—and shows that it holds more power than we can imagine. Life is indeed a story. It’s a story spoken by the God who spoke this universe into existence. My life is a story, but I shouldn’t assume it’s a light-hearted comedy. It’s a story wrapped within the near-infinite narrative threads that together comprise God’s unparalleled story.

Clear your throat and open your eyes. You are on stage. The lights are on. It’s only natural if you’re sweating, because this isn’t make-believe. This is theater for keeps. Yes, it is a massive stage, and there are millions of others on stage with you. Yes, you can try to shake the fright by blending in. But it won’t work. You have the Creator God’s full attention, as much attention as He ever gave Napoleon. Or Churchill. Or even Moses. Or billions of others who lived and died unknown. Or a grain of sand. Or one spike on one snowflake. You are spoken. You are seen. It is your turn to participate in creation. Like a kindergartener shoved out from behind the curtain during his first play, you might not know which scene you are in or what comes next, but God is far less patronizing than we are. You are His art, and He has no trouble stooping. You can even ask Him for your lines.

If you choose to read Death by Living, expect to find storytelling elements that don’t make immediate complete sense. That’s Wilson’s style. But as you read, you’ll find that he weaves these elements together, revisiting earlier threads and adding greater significance as the book develops. It’s a quick read, and one that I highly recommend.

Now for the free book part. As part of a blog tour promoting the book, N. D. Wilson’s “people” have graciously provided us with three copies of the book to give to our wonderful readers. If you want one, just enter your information below anytime between now and 5pm PST on Thursday (Aug 29). Once you enter your email address below, I promise to send you only one email, which will announce the contest results. If you’re one of the winners, I’ll ask for your mailing address. After that single email, I will delete your information and never spam you again.

—Update—

The book giveaway is now over, but don’t worry. Amazon will still give you a copy of the book if you give them a specified amount of money. And it’s worth it.