Tag Archives: HarperCollinsPublishers

Astoria – John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire – A Story of Wealth, Ambition and Survival by Peter Stark – A Book Review by Bill Dahl

Riveting. Incomparable suffering. Courage. Stamina. Determination.

Another in a superb series of the history of the Pacific Northwest. A terribly important tale that played a seminal role in the discoveries and exploration of this geographic region – and the lust for wealth that propelled those engaged in this endeavor.

The research here is fantastic. The writing is accessible for all audiences. Frankly, this story is shocking – in far too many ways to recount here. Simply a splendid story that I HIGHLY recommend.

The human drama – the sheer determination to survive when confronted with unimaginable hardship – is a seminal contribution of this work.



Christianity After Religion – The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening by Diana Butler-Bass – A Review by Bill Dahl

Butler-Bass, Diana Christianity After Religion – The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, Harper-One – An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, Copyright © 2012 by Diana Butler-Bass.

David Brooks has written:

The human race is not impressive because towering geniuses produce individual masterpieces. The human race is impressive because groups of people create mental scaffolds that guide future thought. (1) (emphasis is mine)

Diana Butler-Bass would be the first to tell you that she did not write Christianity After Religion – The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, alone in an ivory tower somewhere. Quite the contrary, this book is our story: The story of those who claim the name of Christ in North America. It is a story told by a talented historian, scholar, student, thinker, inquirer, advocate, friend, daughter, author, mother, teacher and wife. It is our story; the story of our past, the present, and the possibilities for our future. It is a story of our humanity, our struggles, our failures, our triumphs and our tragedies. It a the story of a woman who has spent countless years with us, listening intently, observing us, questioning, prodding us to think, probing the history and mystery of the practice of the human pursuit of the divine. It is the story of a people who diversely believe, belong and behave rather passionately (to say the least). It’s the story of how we have come together, agreed and disagreed, formed relationships, neighborhoods, tribes, congregations, communities and a nation. It’s our story. It’s personal. It’s prophetic. It’s real.

At times, this story hurts, makes one angry, confused, perplexed, disgusted and embarrassed. That’s not the story-tellers intention. It’s simply part of our story…an important part of presenting an authentic depiction of where institutional religion came from in this hemisphere, what it has become, a characterization of the current challenges, and a look ahead – down the hallways of hope.

It’s a profoundly challenging story to tell, particularly if the story-teller cares deeply about the individuals and organizations involved, as Diana Butler-Bass clearly does. The task is even more daunting for the story-teller when many of the subjects of this tale are asleep in the comfort of their smug self-righteousness; whose primary desire is to remain undisturbed. Yet, provocation inhabits the purview of the imaginative leader – the story-teller. Diana Butler-Bass does not cower at the prospect nor play patty-cake with the imperative to awaken the slumbering herd to see both the obvious and obscure threats around us, and the nascent opportunities before us. As one author says:

“What if you’re trapped in the wrong space and don’t know it? Blindness is always hard to deal with. After all, how can you discover what you don’t even realize you don’t know? As an imaginative leader, your basic stance should be that there is always something you are blind to that is both a threat and an opportunity.”(2)

Many will be threatened by certain passages in this story. This reaction is predictable, as the history of human civilization confirms the same, particularly when what we thought we knew is being challenged by the outcomes resulting from the thinking we have adopted, and the franchises of faith we have empowered to dispense our truth to the masses. As George Barna has written:

“It’s time to acknowledge that the institutional, programmatic approach to facilitating true faith is as broken as it can get – much more broken than the people being numbered as God’s chosen ones.” (3)

To exacerbate the difficulty of the story-tellers dilemma even further, Diana Butler-Bass is required to provide us with details we would rather not hear: that Christians now comprise a declining percentage of the American populous (p.12), people have aptly demonstrated an increasing willingness regarding their anger toward religion in general, and Christianity in particular (p.17), that the past ten years might be termed The Great Religious Recession (p.20), “unaffiliated” or “none” have become the third largest religious group in the country (p.46), that 44% of residents have departed the faith of their childhood (p.59), that “old church institutions are unsustainable and failing (p.71), that outsiders view Christians as homophobes, judgmental, hypocritical, and out of touch with reality (p.86). etc. etc. etc.

The story-teller must also ask questions; the type of questions that are penetrating, practical and poignant. Questions, frankly, that many would rather avoid than confront; are currently unanswered and buried deep within others; or whose answers were assumed to be a certainty by still others – a certainty shaken by the boldness and characterization of context the story-teller places them within. Examples of these questions are: What Do I Believe (p.111), How Do I Believe? (p.113), Who Do I Believe? (p.114), How Do I Do That (p.142), What Do I Do? (p.145), Why Do I Do That? (p.153).. Having asked disturbing questions, she slays the reader with another possibility: Perhaps Christianity was never intended to be primarily a structured belief system. (p.119).

The story crafted here by Diana Butler-Bass explores the realm of the unspoken what-ifs that inhabit the mind and hearts of Christians everywhere: What if it’s our behavior that matters versus the group to which we belong and the belief systems that reign therein? What if the essence of faith is a divine encounter in daily life? (p. 123). What if we’re wrong about the way we are currently practicing the Christian faith? What if we’ve become captives to our creeds, deceived by our dogma, and prisoners to current practice? Harvey Cox, )former Hollis Professor of Divinity emeritus at Harvard) suggests the following in his book, The Future of Faith; “Christianity is the story of a people of faith who sometimes cobbled together creeds out of beliefs. It is also the history of equally faithful people who questioned, altered and discarded those same creeds.”(3) What if we’re currently enmeshed in a struggle of building walls vs. bridges, of protection vs. the prospects of connection, or the penchant to compete vs. the desire to complete? Consider the merits of the following:

“If there is a single maxim that runs through this book’s arguments, it is that we are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them. Like the free market itself, the case for restricting the flow of innovation has long been buttressed by appeals to the “natural” order of things. But the truth is, when one looks at innovation in nature and in culture, environments that build walls around good ideas tend to be less innovative in the long run than more open-ended environments. Good ideas may not want to be free, but they do want to connect, fuse, and recombine. They want to reinvent themselves by crossing conceptual borders. They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete.” (emphasis is mine) (4).

If all the above were not befuddling enough, the author confronts us with the incredibly sensitive issue of our own identity. She unties us from the mooring to the the dock – within the safe harbor of certainty when she asks: Who Am I? (p.173), Where Am I? (p.175), Whose Am I? (p.182), Where Am I Going? (p.196), and With Whom? (p.196).  Yet, the story-teller is duty bound to encourage. Diana Butler-Bass does not disappoint us. Listen to the following from her heart: “Belonging is the risk to move beyond the world we know, to venture out on pilgrimage, to accept exile. And it is the risk of being with companions on that journey, God, a spouse, friends, children, mentors, teachers, people who came from the same place we did, people who came from entirely different places, saints and sinners of all sorts, those known to us and unknown, our secret longings, questions and fears. Whose am I? O God, I am thine!” (pp.197-198).

The way ahead always seems counter-intuitive to those plastered in place in the present. The story-teller strips the old wallpaper away, revealing the possibilities inherent within a new approach; one in which: “Behavior opens the door for believing. Doing what once seemed difficult or impossible empowers courage to envision a different world and believe we can make a difference. Without practices, faith is but an empty promise.” (p.208).

In conclusion, the story-teller guides us through what she envisions as The Great Awakening; a movement that has no name (p.247). Yet, it is one that is inhabited by “a generative spirit, a creative and innovative openness, a sense of hope-filled realism, of pragmatic idealism, of an interconnectedness of all things, of urgency and wonder, and of experiencing the divine in the here and now.” (p.247). She adds, Awakening is not a miracle we receive; it is actually something we can do.” (p.251)….I can make a difference. You can make a difference. We can make a difference…God makes a difference…We must prepare, practice, play and participate (p.259). Yet, it’s up to us:

 “It’s our awakening. It is up to us to move with the Spirit instead of against it, to participate in making our world more humane, just and loving.” (p.269).

This book, this story, our story is about life; life with God, self, one another, the other and world we are privileged to inhabit. It encompasses past, present and future. Diana Butler-Bass is a savant. She is the teller of a desperately important, timely, meaningful, sensitive, tragic and prescient story. We are so very fortunate to be present to receive this gift, her gift, to us; Christianity After Religion – The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening.

This book should be embraced as an awakening to the prospects for celebration. In honor of the author’s history of florists in the family, a poignant quote is in order; a quote that captures the essence of the beauty of hope that this book represents. This book is one in which we are awakened to see, to nurture, and to celebrate what theologian, thought leader, author and activist Brian McLaren refers to as:the green tips growing out on many of the fragile branches of the ancient tree of faith and spirituality that has been growing throughout history.”(6)

Yet, one must pause and then ponder the green tips of new growth budding on the ancient tree of faith and spirituality. Diana Butler-Bass has done just that – for us. I urge you to buy this book and do just that. I read in excess of a hundred books a year. Books like Christianity After Religion – The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening come along about once every five years. You’ll be blessed by this book. Trust me. I was. If you feel a torque in your torso while reading this book, don’t fret. It’s just your heart being rearranged in your chest. Expect it. Embrace it. This book was birthed to blossom and bear fruit…








Don’t wait.

Then again, it’s up to you.

Thanks is insufficient for a magnificent story like this.

In any event, thank you Diana!!!












(1) Brooks, David THE SOCIAL ANIMAL – The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, Random House – an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group, a Division of Random House, Inc. New York, NY Copyright © 2011 by David Brooks. p. 149.

(2) Ogle, Richard Smart World – Breakthrough Creativity and the New Science of Ideas Harvard Business School Press Boston, MA USA Copyright © 2007 by Richard Ogle. P. 258.

(3) Barna, George Maximum Faith – Live Like Jesus, Metaformation, Inc. Ventura, CA & Strategenius Group, LLC New York, NY and WHC Publishing, Glendora, CA Copyright 2011 by George Barna.

(4) Cox, Harvey The Future of Faith  HarperOne – An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers – New York, NY Copyright © 2009 by Harvey Cox, p.4.

(5) Johnson, Steven Where Good Ideas Come From – The Natural History of Innovation, Riverhead Books – Published by The Penguin Group New York, NY Copyright © 2010 by Steven Johnson p. 22.

(6) McLaren, Brian – A New Kind of Christianity – Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith, HarperOne – An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, San Francisco, CA USA Copyright © 2010 by Brian D. McLaren. pp. 228 & 229

Naked Spirituality – A Life With God In 12 Simple Words by Brian McLaren

McLaren, Brian Naked Spirituality – A Life With God in 12 Simple Words HarperOne – an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers New York, NY. Copyright © 2011 by Brian D. McLaren.

By Bill Dahl

Beyond Beautiful – or – It’s Wednesday – But Sunday’s A Comin’

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has said, “Theology is not best understood as a system — narrative might have something to do with theology.”[i] Narrative is fine Stanley – but I’d like some tools that have practical application to my life, and those around me, as a person of faith. I’d also like some boots on the ground authenticity from the real life experiences of a fellow sojourner.

Enter Brian McLaren – Naked Spirituality – A Life With God in 12 Simple Words. Here’s the honest truth about the impact this book had on my life:

I had just finished Chapter 20Why – When You Have Come to Zero.” My wife arrived home from work. She began to prepare dinner and I wandered into the kitchen to catch up together on the day’s events – an uneventful Wednesday.

As we stood there chatting, the phone rang. It was our daughter Liz calling from her home in Utah. Liz and her fiancée Aaron had buried Aaron’s mother on Monday – just two days ago. They had just received a phone call – Aaron’s father had been killed in a car crash.

We concluded the tearful call with our daughter. I went into another room and sat silently – questions, remorse, sorrow, anger, dismay, confusion – ricocheting throughout my being. We ate half our dinner and adjourned to a couch. Jacki looked at me – sorrow and befuddled are two words that were embossed on her facial expression. We were both at zero – in shock – wounded – naked and fully exposed to the unconscionable in life. I leaned forward, grabbed my reading glasses and Brian’s book. I turned to the first page of Chapter 20 and read the chapter aloud to my wife.

I looked up and closed the book. Beautiful?” I remarked, gazing at my wife. – Beyond Beautiful,” she replied – as restorative waves of soothing, healing truth rolled through our souls.

In Naked Spirituality – A Life With God in 12 Simple Words Brian McLaren gets real with God, with life, the seasons inherent within human existence – sharing his boots on the ground experience as a fellow sojourner. Another formulaic, step-by-step, overly simplistic, bogus promise-laden landmine from an over-caffeinated evangelical Christian? Not Hardly.

At this stage in life, I need to learn from the experience of others…others who live in my world…the real world – the world of faith that Brian McLaren lives in. I’m worn out on opinions, perspectives and narrative nonsense of people trying to sell books – suggesting that “if you do this, you’ll be fine.”

In this book, Brian shares his own personal life lessons that are raw, real and uncut. McLaren’s dance with language provides hues of color that I had overlooked in the life of. He provides vistas and vantage points where the reader can stand side-by-side with him gazing beyond what we are presently able to visualize. There’s no artificial ingredients in the flavors McLaren serves up.

Take a seat with Brian McLaren – at his table – The table of life with the living God. Enjoy the feast that Naked Spirituality provides – one course at a time. Savor the tender, succulent, mysterious seasonings contained in each course: Here, Thanks, O, Sorry, Help, Please, When, No, Why, Behold, Yes and Silence.

No, this is not another fast-food systematic theology or another bland narrative. For us, Naked Spirituality is a unique and nutritious innovation from Brian McLaren – as he continues to evolve his craft in delivering fare for the faithful. There’s one thing that separates Brian from the rest of the authors in faith and culture – he has eaten his own stuff before he allows anybody else to sample it in print. He readily identifies the faith dishes he has dined on, admits the tastes he has worn out, the spices that have turned out to be bland, the sinew of life he has choked on – the wards of people he has encountered, hospitalized after being poisoned with the fare of faith served up with a seal of God attached to it.

“Beautiful?” – “Yes – Beyond Beautiful.”

For us, this book was, and shall be, both a timely and enduring blessing. For us, it was It’s Wednesday – But Sunday’s a Comin’.

Forgive me Tony – Thank you Brian!

Please pray for our daughter Liz, son-in-law Aaron and their daughter Rebekka.

This book is precious – so is life – so is the privilege of relationship with the living God – here – today – in any and all circumstances – even when you’re at zero….or not.


[i] Hauerwas, Stanley Hannah’s Child – A Theologian’s Memoir, Wm. B. Eerdsman Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, MI, Cambridge, U.K. Copyright © 2010 by Stanley Hauerwas, p.63. —- Please don’t misinterpret my quote from Dr. Hauerwas. His life, and the book from which this quote is excerpted – are distinctly admired by me – and many others.

Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers

The Diagnosis of Digital Disease – Required Reading


We’re sick and we don’t even know it,” a friend of mine recently shared, regarding the negative consequences of constant connectivity that the unrelenting “progress” in the digital dimension of our lives has thrust upon us. “No we’re not,” I said.

In his classic work, The Manufacture of Madness, Thomas Szasz (Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus at the Health Science Center, State University of New York – Syracuse) writes: “in vain does the alleged madman insist that he is not sick; his inability to “ recognize” that he is, is regarded as the hallmark of his illness.” [i](1)

Well, maybe we are and we just don’t know it or are unwilling to admit it.”

Enter William Powers and his first, phenomenal book, Hamlet’s Blackberry – A Practical Philosophy For Building A Good Life In The Digital Age. Powers is a former staff writer focusing on media, technology and the like for the Washington Post, the Atlantic and the New York Times to name a few. Powers speaks from experience – both personal and professional. His story-telling is poignant, well-organized and his arguments and experiences flow.

Life is busy – that’s one fact we can all agree on. However, according to Powers, “Digital busyness is the enemy of depth.” (P.17). “as we connect more and more, they’re changing the nature of everyday life, making it more frantic and rushed. And we’re losing something of great value, a way of thinking and moving through time that can be summed up in a single word: depth. Depth of thought and feeling, depth in our relationships, our work and everything we do. Since depth is what makes life fulfilling and meaningful, it’s astounding that we’re allowing this to happen.” (P.4).

Why is depth so dang important? According to the results of her research conducted over the past fifteen years, at Yale, City University of New York, and, for the past twelve years, in the Department of Psychology at Harvard, Dr. Ellen Langer’s book entitled ‘Mindfulness’ bolsters Powers perspective on the necessity to examine the consequences of connectivity, when she writes, “People create uses for objects. A use is not inherent in an object, independent of the people using it. The successful use of an object depends on the context of its use.”[ii](2) P.122.

Translation: Our addiction to all things digital is impacting the human experience – life as we live it – in both positive and negative ways. Powers opines; “The tool that giveth also taketh away. Once again, it all comes down to what digital busyness does to the mind.” (P. 58). Progress has a price. “Spectacular benefits and enormous costs, in the very same tools,” says Powers (P.65).

The concept of “disease” has an interesting progression in the western, developed world. Take the consumption of alcohol for example. We start out with something whose consumption is viewed as acceptable. It comes in a variety of flavors. Its use becomes rather pervasive. For some, its consumption becomes rationalized as “I deserve it – it makes my life more enjoyable.” For others, they can’t seem to get enough of the stuff. Industry(s) develops around the production, consumption and sale of the substance. Some folks get in trouble. Trouble becomes more frequent. Laws are passed criminalizing public drunkenness. Some folks get ‘addicted’ to the stuff (Humans seem to have a history of difficulty determining when ‘enough is enough’). They require ‘treatment.’ Science declares that alcoholism is a ‘disease.’ Pharmaceutical companies develop “anabuse” to assist those who have become ill and can’t seem to stay away from the dreaded juice. Yet, the use of the substance continues to cause a whole host of societal ills, which become “the price to pay for progress.”

Have we now encountered that point in time when the implications of the effects of digital devices and delivery systems that inhabit our existence require reconsideration for their overall impact on our health and welfare? Sounds prudent to me. That’s Powers’ thesis in this book, as identified in the following excerpt:

How is this device affecting me and my experience? Is it altering how I think and feel? Is it changing the rhythms of my day? Does life seem to be moving more quickly (or slowly) as a result of this gadget? Is it affecting my work? My home life? If so, are the effects good or bad?” (p.160).

Powers carefully and masterfully weaves insights from Plato, Seneca, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Ben Franklin, Thoreau and McLuhan into the mix, as the book explores the question: “What can seven dead white guys possibly teach us about life in a rapidly changing global society? More than you might imagine.” (P. 79). I deeply appreciated this journey with the wisdom shared by the guides into the present day depth of dilemma of the digital dimension of our lives. You’ll love this aspect of the book! Powers observes a parallel between previous historical periods and today: “The mind of two thousand years ago often felt hounded, too, cornered, with no place to hide. And back then, as now, there was a need for creative solutions.” (P. 107).

“Creativity.” Ah – I’m glad Powers mentioned that subject. According to the cover story in a recent edition of Newsweek[iii](3) the authors represent that “creativity” is on the decline in the U.S. Although the exact causes of this phenomenon are unclear, the authors point to “one likely culprit is the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities.” [iv] (4) Is it possible that the dependence on digital distraction is diluting our creative capabilities? Listen to Powers: “When work is all about darting around screens, we’re not doing something that’s even more valuable than thinking quickly: thinking creatively. Of the mind’s many aptitudes, the most remarkable is its power of association, the ability to see new relationships among things.” ( emphasis is mine – P.60). As Mihaly Csikszsentmihalyi has said, “Creativity does not happen inside people’s heads, but in the interaction between a person’s thoughts and a sociocultural context. It is a systemic rather than an individual phenomenon.”[v] (P.23). Translation: Creativity requires focus and a free flow of concentration that is devoid of unproductive digital distractions. We must pursue the dimensions of depth on the inside that the gift of human existence affords us. As Powers says: “The first step would be to adopt a different philosophical approach, one that acknowledges that in a busy, crowded world, less is more. That for many of life’s most important and rewarding tasks, inwardness isn’t just nice but essential.” (P.136).

Powers concludes with a plethora of practical advice for managing the madness that has been manufactured around us. Yet, he reminds us that the choice is ours:

We’re all different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all way to balance the outward life and the inward one. That has always been true. What matters most is engagement, being conscious that you’re shaping your own experience every moment. If you spend most of your time pressing keys and managing electronic traffic, that’s what your life will be about. Maybe that makes you happy. If not, you have other options.” (P.203).

This book should be required reading in the business community, healthcare, high schools, community colleges and universities throughout the U.S. I truly enjoyed it. You will too. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this book.

Are you concerned about the consequences that connectivity may be having on your life or your friends, co-workers or children? Or are you insisting that I’m fine?

Remember:  Your inability to “ recognize” that you and yours are being bombarded by the designs of the digerati on a daily basis and that this is, in fact, impacting your life in a myriad of ways, is regarded as the hallmark of your illness.”

Please pass the digibuse…then buy this book and start passing it around to your family members, friends and colleagues.


[i] Szasz, Thomas The Manufacture of Madness – A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental Health Movement, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, New York Copyright © 1970 by Thomas S. Szasz – Originally published in 1970 by Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., p.xvi.

[ii] Langer, Ellen J. MINDFULNESS, Da Capo Press – A Member of the Perseus Books Group, Cambridge, MA Copyright © 1989 by Ellen J. Langer, Ph.D.

[iii] http://www.newsweek.com/2010/07/10/the-creativity-crisis.html

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly Creativity – Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, Harper Perrenial, HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, New York Copyright © 1996 by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, p. 23

An Altar in the World – A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor

An Altar in the World – A Geography of Faith – by Barbara Brown Taylor is akin to putting on a sweatshirt, your sweatpants and a pair of clean warm socks on a cold winter night – It’s a bundle of warmth and comfort.


I simply adore the way Barbara expresses herself with language, her insights, experiences and her story-telling ability. You savor this book like a hot cup of tea.

Get comfortable. Sip this book. Cuddle and cradle it. Enjoy!