Thursday, December 14, 2006

Merry Christmas 2006

A blessed Advent season to you! We’ve had another full and invigorating year. We celebrated Elijah’s first birthday this April, a milestone we commemorated with three separate parties. We are tremendously grateful for all the ways that he has been growing; his therapists are all very pleased with his physical and cognitive development. He had minor surgery to put tubes in his ears and has been hearing better ever since. He has been learning to communicate with sign language and recently signed a three-sign sentence: “eat,” “all done” and “bye!” At meals he has this little salute where it looks like he’s waving, “Waiter!” He’s now happily cruising and climbing up and down the stairs with a minimum of tumbling. His favorite book is Sandra Boynton’s Dinosaur’s Binkit.

Josiah is now five years old. This year he’s been fascinated with I Spy books, and he’s enjoyed David Wiesner’s books (including a postmodern, alternative retelling of The Three Pigs and his latest, Flotsam) and Mo Willems’s pigeon books, most recently Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! He’s been doing well in preschool, learning math and spelling, and on occasion has written little handmade books of stories. Josiah is also now into educational games on his Leapster and v.Smile, which of course are gateways to non-educational video games, like his current obsession, the Lego Star Wars game on PlayStation 2.

After two years of research, writing and revision, Al’s third book was released this June: The Suburban Christian: Finding Spiritual Vitality in the Land of Plenty. It was favorably reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Booklist and Books & Culture. In conjunction, he started blogging at and has wasted entirely too much time in the blogosphere since. He’s done a number of radio interviews and a bit of speaking and writing related to the book. (Let him know if you’d like to buy a signed copy!)

This July, we were in Denver for the International Christian Retail Show, and then we spent two weeks on campus at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There Al was a participant in a Calvin Seminar in Christian Scholarship on the topic of writing as Christian proclamation, and we discussed books such as Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy, Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis and Russell Rathbun’s Post-Rapture Radio. Ellen and the boys came along, and Josiah and Elijah had a great time in the seminar kids’ program, going to the children’s museum and the beach, picking blueberries and going on treasure hunts.

At the end of the summer, Ellen had a business trip to Asia and Al tagged along. We first spent a weekend in Seoul, South Korea, to meet with several publishers that Ellen works with in her international rights work. We visited the world’s largest church and did a little sightseeing. Then we had a week in China for the Beijing International Book Fair. We learned about publishing opportunities in China and also got to see how various church and children’s ministries are doing there. We also visited the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. Al picked up a bunch of 2008 Beijing Olympics stuff. In October, Ellen went to Germany again for the Frankfurt Book Fair.

We’ve been continuing to lead worship at our church once or twice a month, and visiting our local library is often a weekly event. We’ve also enjoyed getting to know other families through local Down syndrome networks and dinner groups. We got into Lost and have been working our way through season two. The only TV show we catch live is Heroes on Monday nights. And besides our ongoing hobbies of stamping and collecting comic books, we also started solving Sudoku puzzles. But as always, most of our discretionary time is spent reading. Here’s what kept us up late at night this year:

In fiction: We highly commend Dwelling Places by fellow Calvin seminar participant Vinita Hampton Wright, the award-winning This Heavy Silence by Wheaton prof Nicole Mazzarella, and Winter Birds by Jamie Langston Turner. We also appreciated The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Ellen read the legal mysteries of Lisa Scottoline, the chick lit of Tracey Bateman and Jodi Picoult’s compelling My Sister’s Keeper. She also read through Lemony Snicket’s entire thirteen-volume Series of Unfortunate Events, including the final volume, The End. Al is not usually into vampire books, but he enjoyed Stephenie Meyer’s young adult novels Twilight and New Moon.

In non-fiction: Al appreciated The Long Tail by Wired editor Chris Anderson and The Wal-Mart Effect by Fast Company writer Charles Fishman. Not Buying It by Judith Levine is an interesting chronicle of a year without shopping. Sprawl: A Compact History by Robert Bruegmann is an important contribution to discussions about suburbia. 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published by Pat Walsh is a brutally honest look at book publishing. And for nostalgic fun, we enjoyed Bill Watterson’s three-volume The Complete Calvin & Hobbes.

Some of this year’s most significant religion books were The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne and Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N. T. Wright. There has been no shortage of recent books about evangelicalism, but one nice overview is Believers: A Journey into Evangelical America by U.S. News & World Report religion editor Jeffrey Sheler. Another noteworthy portrait of a religious subculture is Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish by Tom Shachtman.

Our favorites from IVP this year were The Contented Soul by Lisa McMinn, Evil and the Justice of God by N. T. Wright, Surprised by Jesus by Tim Stafford, The Danger of Raising Nice Kids by Timothy Smith, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith by Crystal Downing, Finding God Beyond Harvard by Kelly Monroe Kullberg, More Than Serving Tea edited by Nikki Toyama and Tracey Gee and Reconciliation Blues by Ed Gilbreath. IVP’s new Likewise line includes Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant? by Preston Jones and punk-rocker-with-a-Ph.D. Greg Graffin, Flirting with Monasticism by Karen Sloan and Sacred Travels by Christian George. And to commemorate IVP’s 60th anniversary, we published Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength. An Anecdotal History of InterVarsity Press, 1947-2007, by Andy Le Peau and Linda Doll. Since Al is such an IVP geek, he served as project editor for the history, and both Al and Ellen appear at various points in the narrative.

Shortly after Christmas, we’ll be off to Urbana 06 in St. Louis for a week of global missions and book sales. Blessings to you this new year!