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When Brown University student Kevin Rouse applied to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, he wasn’t just a liberal Ivy Leaguer slumming in a fundamentalist “Bible boot camp.” As The Unlikely Disciple demonstrates, he was making an honest leap across a giant gaping cultural and religious chasm. What he learned in his “sinner’s semester” at this stern Christian institution (no sex, no kisses, no protracted hugs) should convince would-be warriors on both sides of the great divide that they can learn something from other viewpoints; but even if you read this book as just a brave anthropological experiment, it’s worth your time and its price.



Message Edited by PaulH on 05-28-2009 07:58 AM


This unconventional history justifies Jeffrey Toobin’s description of it as “[a] compelling intellectual detective story, one that illuminates the present as much as the dusty past.”


 On a frigid February day in 1650, Re Descartes was buried in the frozen ground of Stockholm, far from his French homeland. Sixteen years later, a French government official surreptitiously unearthed the philosopher’s remains and returned them to the country of his birth. That, however, was only the beginning of the posthumous journeys of “the Father of Philosophy. In this refreshingly heterodox history, Russell Shorto follows Descarte’s bones over three centuries and six countries, showing how the battle over his body and most especially his skull exemplifies a far more significant war between faith and reason. Descartes’ Bones deserves to be read by anyone who ever puzzled over mind/body problems.
Message Edited by Kevin on 02-19-2009 10:22 PM

"Dandelions, like humans, don't always have a strategic growth plan."

Picking Dandelions 


In Sara Cunningham’s latest book, each chapter begins with a fact about the pesky weed as the author effortlessly uses them as a metaphor for a life of ongoing transformation.


Readers will find an exuberant mix of passion, insight, and humor wound up in a narrative spiced with stories, diatribes, laughter, tears, and what at times seems far too much self-deprecating humor.  However her real genius lies in capturing the indescribable, revealing how faith does not grow out of perfect moments, but imperfect ones. . .


Cunningham uses down-to-earth metaphors of growth and renewal, planting and reaping, flowers and weeds mixed with stories from her days of  her conservative childhood as  the daughter of a Baptist minister to her current roles as a public school teacher and mother. Along the way she recognizes that faith isn't a "one and done" event to be marked on the calendar, but involves a lifetime of growing changing and growing some more. Her journey to and through this understanding is full of imagery that challenges readers to examine their own spiritual journey as well.


The narrative begins with a childhood filled with jumping from rock to rock to avoid the lava in the yard, competitiveness for bragging rights at bible school games, eraser dust thievery, WWJD bracelets, voicing her opinion during "grown-up" meetings,  pilgrim shirt debacles, and playground confrontations for being audacious enough to wear pants to a Christian school. Ramona Quimby never had this much fun.


The Book turns more serious as the author describes going to Ground Zero within days of the attacks on the Twin Towers, "I'm convinced God was there somewhere too, browsing about the tents and the conversations, reuniting with people he had not talked to in ages and lapping up quality time with others before the moment passed and our to-do lists invited us back into oblivion, to routine tasks like picking up dry cleaning and washing our cars. But for the moment, in the skeleton of life left in the tower rubble, everyone had the time to reflect about life. We had, as a generation, been detached from the comfort of our past in just one day. And now we were drifting, fallen seeds learning to grow in even life's hardest soil."


Cunningham describes how she outgrew laissez-faire Christianity, and began moving into mature faith, because in the end the Christian life is about, becoming the person you were created to be, not the person the worlds troubles and toils try to shape you into.


What does it mean to change? Does it matter if your faith is stale? How do you go about dealing with spiritual weeds? The author pointedly asks asks these questions of herself with beauty and clarity, all while somehow never getting preachy at the rest of us who may not have yet had the boldness to ask these questions of ourselves.


"I had been faithfully weeding for a while, attacking my flaws left and right, knowing that they must die, but I had no idea how to grow a healthier, fuller life in the extra space I was creating. I needed a blueprint, the layout of a master."


In the end this is a memoir of a conversion and a realization that live as a follower of Jesus is to recognize life is a constant growth process. It is a great read for anyone wishing to explore spiritual things but unwilling to accept status quo faith.

Picking Dandelions  

In A Christianity Worth Believing  Doug Pagit writes "My hope is that this book is my invitation for people to pursue a Christianity that is good for world, good for their spirits and good for their faith."


Doug's latest work is by far his best. It is simple and accessible because it reads like an old-school testimony, but it accomplishes this without sacrificing any of the depth needed to address the issues Doug sets out to cover.


Doug invites readers to follow along as he recounts his own faith journey of growing up as an un-churched child and then becoming a Christian while experiencing a Passion play as a teenager. Doug details how he was immediately immersed in the Christian culture and was quickly leading Bible studies and even involved in court cases for Christian rights.


Doug explains that he is a contrarian (a person who questions any majority opinion) by nature. And how this led him to question and explore the roots of the theology and doctrines of the modern western church culture.


For longer than I care to admit, I naively assumed that the popular theology and widely accepted doctrines of the church were well, unchanging biblical truths. I simply took it for granted that were the apostle Paul to show up at my door he would recognize and affirm all of the theology and doctrine I was taught. But the truth is our Christianity has been passed down through a great many generations and our doctrines have been shaped and reshaped by many folks who were simply trying to make sense of things in their time. The danger here is that we have come to view these doctrines as set in stone and allowed them to become stagnate.


Doug presents a unique critique of western Christianity. Unique in the fact that it is not meant to be an argument about who is more "correct" in their theology. Doug shows how Greek philosophy, mid-evil superstition, and modern reasoning have permeated into the story of Jesus and left their mark on our own theology and doctrines. Such as the idea that Greeks, who worshiped vengeful impersonal gods, did not have any frame of reference or understanding of an intimate or personal God such as Yahweh. He walks through the ideas that developed through the centuries to explain Jesus and the Kingdom of God and how they have shaped our own theology.


This book offers us all a beautiful, holistic, compelling vision of the Kingdom of God. One that will resonate with many people who have always felt there must be more to Jesus and the kingdom of God than what you were taught on the flannel-graph. If you are drawn to, mystified, or even intrigued by Jesus, but put off by the religion that bears his name then this book is exactly what you need. It truly is "a hope-filled pursuit toward an alive and well faith for our day."


"I want it to be an invitation to a Christianity that makes sense in the world we live in." - Doug Pagitt


You can give A Christianity Worth Believing   to seminary trained pastors as well as people who can not name a single book of the Bible and they will both enjoy its depth and simplicity.

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Love Wins by Rob Bell (a real review)

Status: Bookseller Picks


Would a loving, all powerful, God sentence human souls to infinite torment and suffering for something they did in a finite amount of time? What about a child who grew up and never had the chance to get to know this loving God? What about a person who is repulsed by those who claim the name of Jesus but, live a life closer to his teachings than some of his followers do? 


Many people in the evangelical world find Rob Bell's style of asking more questions than giving answers unsettling. The idea that Bell might suggest something different than the modern  "turn or burn" and "hellfire and brimstone" evangelism has caused quite a stir, including making Rob bell a trending twitter topic.


Weather you agree with Rob Bell or not it's is hard to deny that he has the power to reach an extremely large audience. In his latest book, Love Wins, he uses this ability to ask serious questions that deeply affect the faith of, well "Every Person Who Ever Lived."


The book is masterfully written to engage the reader with serious questions and help folks wrestle with real issues. It is not a new highly developed theological stance or a break from Bell's core convictions. However, it is a far different point of view on the bible and Christianity than the one painted by most evangelical Christians today.  


With searing insight, the book puts heaven and hell under the microscope, and the message is decidedly hopeful.  Yes ultimately Love Wins!


*This book has been endorsed by Eugene H. Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, and author of The Message and Greg Boyd, senior pastor at Woodland Hills Church and author of The Myth of a Christian Nation*


Love Wins












*I received an advanced uncorrected proof of this book from Harper Collins Publishers and used it to write this review. The views expressed here are solely my own and not the views of Barnes and Noble, Harper Collins, or any of their subsidiaries. 

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One of my top 10% favorites

Status: Bookseller Picks


Every now and then, I hit on one of those books that I can't put down.  I know I've found one of those books when I'm neglecting all the other forms of entertainment in my life--TV, Xbox, the Internet--just to read.  This was the case with "The Unlikely Disciple."


I started reading this book with high expectations, and they were delivered on.  Roose's style of writing is both accessible and entertaining at the same time.  His depictions of his semester at Liberty University are vivid and will make you angry and make you laugh in the same paragraph.  In case you're wondering, he treats Liberty very fairly--if you're expecting a brutal smackdown, you won't find it here.  Most of the time he just lets Liberty speak for itself, the good and the bad, and I think in the end that might be what I like so much about this book.


Of all the books I've read in my 7 years at Barnes & Noble, this is definitely in my top 10%, and I will be recommending it to customers for a long time to come.


Great for: non-fiction readers, expose enthusiasts, and people with an open mind about religion.

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I was first drawn to this book because of two previous works by Peter Manseau, its author: his novel Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter and Vows, his extremely moving memoir about growing up as the son of a Catholic “married priest” and former nun. Rag and Bone reads like a novel, but it conveys the unvarnished intimacy of a very personal travel essay. Basically, this reverent skeptic journeyed around the world, seeking out sites where holy relics of different faiths are kept and cherished. To a non-believer, these vestiges might sound strange, even bizarre: They include chipped skull fragments, blackened mummified fingers, upright-sitting skeletons, and even toes, shinbones, and whiskers. Manseau approaches all these oddities with curiosity, but not blanket disdain, making Rag and Bone a diverting, enlightening pilgrimage.



Message Edited by PaulH on 05-28-2009 08:12 AM
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“Holy troublemaker” Barbara Brown Taylor offers comforting guidance for those who seek to lead spiritually rich lives outside church walls.


For many people, authentic spiritual experience and practice doesn’t begin or end inside the walls of a church, synagogue, or mosque. Barbara Brown Taylor’s Altar in the World  serves as a beacon and counsel for those “unchurched” faithful who see themselves not as religious, but as spiritual. In this evocative, wise book, the author of Leaving Church describes how she learned to encounter the God who does not live in the church. An exploration that is both memoir and spiritual guide.

Message Edited by Kevin on 02-19-2009 10:21 PM
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An exciting saga about a brilliant 18th century iconoclast that matches a talented storyteller with a superb subject.


Internationally famous in his own time, British polymath Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) is best remembered today, if at all, as the discoverer of oxygen, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and other “different kinds of airs.”  Few of us know that this eminent scientist was also a prominent participant in the early shaping of our republic. Steven Johnson’s riveting The Invention of Air  renders that story with all its implicit drama, tracking this protean thinker through an active life punctuated by controversy. In England, Priestley’s radical religious views and support of the French Revolution made him the target of violent riots; when he and his family emigrated to the United States in 1794, his ideas and writings became political lightning rods, influencing many thinkers, most significantly Thomas Jefferson. This carefully researched narrative by the author of The Ghost Map provides a revealing view of a history we thought we knew.

Message Edited by Kevin on 02-19-2009 10:21 PM

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