Mullins, Chesterton, and the Renovaré Book Club


My first experience with a book club of sorts was more like a boot camp. It happened over 25 years ago when, much to my delight, I found myself serving as one of the opening acts for Rich Mullins on a 63-city tour.

Rich was enormously generous. I would later learn that there is a certain hierarchy to almost all tours, an appropriate and respectful deference to the headliner. Typically, an opening act’s sound is quieter, the lights less bright. Everyone follows these implicit rules—everyone except Rich, apparently. Every night he wandered out on stage, usually barefoot (so he wouldn’t disappoint the fans who had come to count on his shoeless-ness), to introduce me to his audience, command for me their attention, and generously ease my way into the spotlight.

Alongside this open-handedness, however, Rich insisted on a simple but demanding rule: If you wanted to be his friend, he had a list of certain books you were required to read. He was not negotiable on this.

That’s how the Brother’s Keeper Tour became, for me, the Rich Mullins Book Boot Camp. Over the three-month tour, I worked my way through Rich’s list. Dakota by Kathleen Norris. John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. There was a third book—the title eludes me now—set in the pioneer west. And then the fourth and most important title in the Mullins canon: Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.

I was only a few pages into Orthodoxy when Rich charged into the green room one night to read one of his favorite sections aloud, struggling to get the words out over his guffaws. “Huh,” said one of the players in Rich’s band. “I’ve been trying to read that book for weeks and I didn’t realize it was funny.”

It’s likely we never would have discovered Orthodoxy’s riches without both the insistence and the guidance of a friend who had learned to love it well.

Carolyn Arends

Orthodoxy, written in 1908, is truly as witty as it is profound. But for me and a bunch of the other ragamuffins in Rich’s orbit, we needed help to really get Chesterton. It’s likely we never would have discovered Orthodoxy’s riches without both the insistence and the guidance of a friend who had learned to love it well. That’s the potential magic of a Book Club—whether one joins voluntarily or is conscripted.

These days, it brings me much joy to help oversee the Renovaré Book Club. This year, which happens to be the 25th anniversary of Rich’s passing, one of the four books of the season will be Orthodoxy.

While the Renovaré Book Club selection process is committee-based and rigorous, I confess I campaigned for Chesterton with unabashedly-biased vigor. It makes me smile to know that the hundreds of folks in the Club this season will be, at least indirectly, beneficiaries of the Rich Mullins Book Boot Camp.

You are warmly invited to be one of those beneficiaries. Each year, we’re delighted when the good folks at the Rabbit Room invite us to reach out to you about the Renovaré Book Club, because we believe our communities overlap in some beautiful ways. So let me tell you just a little more about the titles we’ll be reading from October to May:

Book One: Seeking God: Finding Another Kind of Life with Dallas Willard and St. Ignatius, written by South African pastor and author Trevor Hudson. In this just-released book, Hudson draws upon his close friendship with Dallas Willard and his long experience with the Ignatian spiritual exercises to invite us into transforming, real-time encounters with the risen Christ. It’s powerful stuff, and we’re thrilled that Trevor himself will be facilitating our journey through the book.

Book Two: Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton. In a 2015 piece in The Atlantic, James Parker describes Orthodoxy “as a masterpiece of Christian apologetics …  ontological basics retailed with a blissful, zooming frivolity, Thomas Aquinas meets Eddie Van Halen.” Renovaré staffer and Chesterton aficionado Justine Olawsky will help us get the jokes and mine the treasures.

Book Three: Learning Humility: A Year of Searching for a Vanishing Virtue by Richard Foster. This book comes out in December, just in time for the third slot in our season. Using the Lakota calendar as a framework, Foster (Renovaré’s founder) provides us with a look into the insights he gathered from sources ranging from Native American culture to Julian of Norwich to Scripture to personal friends. Richard himself will be facilitating our reading, alongside his friends Brenda Quinn and Bob Fryling.

Book Four: The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, by Sojourner Truth and Olive Gilbert. First published in 1850, this book gives us access to the powerful faith, perspective, and experiences of Sojourner Truth, an African American preacher, abolitionist, and women’s rights advocate. Renovaré team members Tina Dyer and Grace Pouch will guide us through this remarkable narrative and its associated history.

We begin October 3rd, and registration is open now. (In fact, if you register by September 9, you’ll get Early Bird Pricing.) Membership in the Club includes weekly podcasts and exclusive resources from the authors/facilitators, online community, and the option to join or start an in-person or video discussion group.

In the spirit of our old pal Rich, we sure do hope you’ll join us in the Club.

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