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Published: Saturday, 8/22/2009

New booklets give lessons on the simple, sacred life

Brother Francis DeSales Wagner is the author of  Invitation to Prayer. Brother Francis DeSales Wagner is the author of Invitation to Prayer.
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The call to monastic life is not for everyone, but everyone can benefit from the ageless wisdom and disciplines of monks.

Notes From a Monastery: The Sacred Way Every Day, is a new series of booklets published by Abbey Press that offers insights and lessons from the monastic life.

The series covers different aspects of The Rule of St. Benedict, a sixth-century book written by the founder of modern monasticism. The topics include prayer, work, simple living, and pursuing God with passion.

The 12-page booklets are written by monks of Saint Meinrad Abbey in southern Indiana as well as men and women from other Benedictine communities.

Among the initial five publications are two by Benedictine monks with Toledo ties.

The Wisdom of Benedict was written by the Rev. Justin DuVall, St. Meinrad's archabbot and a native Toledoan.

Invitation to Prayer was written by Brother Francis DeSales Wagner, a junior monk and former copy editor at The Blade who before taking his vows last year was known as Craig Wagner.

"I think there is a deep yearning in the world today for a simple, sacred, and intentional way of life that connects the every day to the eternal," Brother Francis said. "The Rule of St. Benedict offers precisely that."

Four more titles will be published in November and Brother Francis said the series may eventually be developed into a book, periodical, Web site, and retreat resource.

The covers and illustrations for the booklets feature the unique and inspiring artwork of Brother Martin Erspamer. The booklets sell for $1.95 each and are available by calling 800-325-2511 or online at carenotes.com.

Rob Bell is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., and one of the shining stars of the "emerging church" movement.

He also is a best-selling author

who often breaks

his sentences

into short

little lines,

a way of letting

the rhythms of the syllables

ebb and flow in distinct patterns that effectively give little nudges to his spiritual insights.

Now Mr. Bell is boosting his poetry-prose hybrid to a bigger scale, literally, with Drops Like Stars, a coffee-table book published this week by Zondervan (160 pages, $34.99).

After such memorable earlier efforts as Velvet Elvis and Jesus Wants to Save Christians, Mr. Bell's fourth book is essentially an essay exploring the relationship between suffering and creativity.

It's an easy read that features the author's colorful and original writings along with Scriptures and quotations from a multicultural array of artists, writers, musicians, and creative folks that includes Rick Rubin, Catherine of Aragorn, Brian Eno, the Rev. Timothy Keller, Irving Stone, and Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II).

One of the more amusing items is an application to New York University by Hugh Gallagher that is a marvel of creativity and whimsy in a setting normally reserved for serious, solemn nonfiction. It's an example of people who don't try to "think outside the box," Mr. Bell writes, but ask a completely different question: "There's a box?"

Drops Like Stars is an inspiring, challenging, and wonderfully illustrated book that keeps percolating in your mind and spirit long after the last page is turned.

If you want to hear more from Mr. Bell, the author/pastor is taking his show on the road, giving lectures in theaters on what he's calling the "Smitten with the Mitten" Tour. More information on the book, the author, tour, and his church is available online at robbell.com and marshill.org.

You'd think someone who's about to turn 80 would be winding down instead of starting off on a new adventure.

Not so for Clarence Fountain, one of the founding members of the legendary gospel vocal group the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Mr. Fountain, who will be 80 year old in November, decided to take the almost unthinkable step and leave the Blind Boys - a group he co-founded in 1939 - over "creative differences."

The five-time Grammy Award winner has teamed up with another member of the Blind Boys, guitarist-vocalist Sam Butler, and formed a new band - simply called Clarence Fountain, Sam Butler, and the Boys - that will release its debut disc Tuesday, titled "Stepping Up & Stepping Out," on Tyscot Records.

Mr. Fountain's wise-as-the-ages voice shines through on a mix of funky, soulful, and reverent gospel tunes. Longtime fan Donald Fagen of Steely Dan plays melodica on "The Birth of Jesus" and wrote the liner notes for the CD.

For more on this new group, check out fountain-butler.com.

The way that the Bible depicts women has been a source of controversy for millennia, from Eve being the one who persuaded Adam to bite the apple to Delilah snipping Samson's locks and Bathsheba luring King David into sin.

Sarah Forth is one of those who begs to differ with the way the Bible describes the roles and contributions of women.

Ms. Forth, a university lecturer who has a doctorate in theology from Northwestern University and Garrett Seminary, challenges prevailing wisdom in her provocative new book, Eve's Bible: A Woman's Guide to the Old Testament ($14.99, St. Martin's Griffin).

She says, for example, that some of the Bible's "bad girls" including Jezebel, Delilah, and Eve aren't really bad, just misunderstood.

Eve's Bible offers a scholarly, but definitely alternative, point of view that hinges on Ms. Forth's assertion that Scripture is not always factual even though it is always truthful.

As Ms. Forth states in a "travel advisory" to her tour of Bible: "The book called the Bible is not, by itself, holy, any more than are the sun or the stars. Holiness is what happens in our lives through dynamic encounters that let us hear the voice that guides us."

For a brief moment, Bono's talk delivered by pre-recorded video earlier this month at the Chicago-based 2009 Leadership Summit was available on YouTube.

The free online videos featuring an interview with humanitarian and rock singer Bono were quickly removed, however, when the summit's host, the Willow Creek Association, cited copyright infringement.

But Bono's soul-stirring comments are still available, along with talks by all the other speakers at the two-day Leadership Summit, but for a price.

The four-DVD set, with a downloadable discussion guide, is $299 for the general public and $199 for members of Willow Creek Association.

It includes talks by Tim Keller, Bill Hybels, Tony Blair, Carly Fiorina, and others as well as a bonus "downloadable discussion guide to facilitate learning and application for your unique organization and set of challenges."

More information is available at willowcreek.com.

One of the summit speakers was Wess Stafford, president and CEO of Compassion International.

Teary-eyed, he talked about how he was abused as a child by teachers, administrators, and older students at a school for missionaries' children in Africa.

In his new book Too Small To Ignore (WaterBrook Press), Mr. Stafford tells some harrowing stories of suffering, but he also recounts how, through faith, family, and the power of forgiveness, he managed to overcome his childhood traumas to lead an organization that advocates for the weak and the poor around the globe.

Toledo band Sanctus Real is getting ready to headline its "Something Heavenly" fall tour, hitting 25 cities in September and October.

Opening will be Addison Road and Phil Wickham.

It will be the first time, after 13 years of touring, the band will have its own bus.

The scoop on Sanctus Real's tour, its new customized tour bus, and a free download of an acoustic version of "Something Heavenly" are available on the band's Web site, sanctusreal.com.

Information about Compassion International is available by calling 800-336-7676 or online at compassion.com.

David Yonke is The Blade's religion editor. Contact him at dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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