Books

Wonder and Whiskey: Insights on Faith from the Music of Dave Matthews Band
Wipf and Stock, 2018

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Dave Matthews likes Jesus, but not dogmatic beliefs about him. He openly wonders about God’s existence while singing of showing love to each other as life’s highest ideal. His songs celebrate making the most of each day’s pleasures because we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow, but also caution against overindulgence. His music wrestles with deep questions about identity and mortality, while proposing that upholding others’ worth is one of the most important roles we can fulfill. Wonder and Whiskey is an exploration of the lyrics of Dave Matthews Band as a multilayered call to be present in the moment, both for oneself and others, as well as how these ideas intersect with the highest aspirations of a lived Christian spirituality.

This book is for...

...fans of Dave Matthews Band interested in an analysis of music from across their catalogue...

...general music fans wanting to learn more about the band's background and songs...

...non-fans nonetheless curious about the band's relevance to modern spiritual and social issues...

...spiritual seekers who'd find the interpretation of song lyrics more accessible than that of Biblical texts...

...those who have declared themselves done with formal religious affiliation but who have retained an interest in charting their own faith path...

...Christian believers who enjoy making connections between faith and popular culture.

Praise for Wonder and Whiskey:

"Jeff Nelson has taken his love for the music of Dave Matthews to a new level! Drawing from Matthews's life experience and inspiration, Jeff pulls the reader into the stories that crafted the lyrics and musical fabric of such a diverse musician. Not only does Jeff take into consideration Matthews's own life but Jeff goes one step further by viewing the songs through a lens of spirituality. While I learned so much about Dave Matthews in reading Wonder and Whiskey, I also learned more about myself, and for that I am grateful for Jeff Nelson's dedication to create such a book as this." - Leanor Ortega Till, saxophonist for Five Iron Frenzy and Staff Member at Urban Skye Ministries

"Fans of the Dave Matthews Band will love this book! And if you are not a fan, this book will make you want to become one. Demonstrating a thorough familiarity with the life and career of Dave Matthews, the other members of the band, and the band’s musical catalogue, Jeff Nelson tells us not only how he came to hear his own life in the band’s songs, but he also invites us to do the same. Defining spirituality as connectedness to something or someone transcendent, to others, and to our own selves, Jeff relates lyrics of the band’s songs to several crucial spiritual issues – the nature of faith and religious experience, understandings of God and Jesus, celebrating life, avoiding greed and over-indulgence, finding one’s identity, the importance of community, doing good, and awareness of our finitude. Along the way, Jeff is also in conversation with several biblical passages, as well as with spiritual greats such as John of the Cross, Ignatius Loyola, and Thomas Merton. I was instructed and inspired, and you will be too!" - J. Clinton McCann, Jr., Evangelical Professor of Biblical Interpretation, Eden Theological Seminary

"There’s something reliably inspiring about listening to anyone wax eloquent about whatever it is they deeply and truly love, whether or not you love it yourself.  Jeff’s point here isn’t to project his supernatural faith onto his favorite band, but rather to help their music draw his readers into what he calls following Jesus and I call humanism: Making the most of this life by learning to love, doing good work for others, and cultivating joyful gratitude for the many wonders of nature, including consciousness itself. So then, get out your headphones and read on." – Bart Campolo, Humanist Chaplain at the University of Cincinnati and co-author of Why I Left, Why I Stayed

Coffeehouse Contemplative: Spiritual Direction for the Everyday
Noesis Press, 2016

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Through anecdote, engagement with scripture, theological reflection, and practical application, Coffeehouse Contemplative explores concepts of spirituality, prayer, and spiritual direction for those who are either unclear about these terms' meaning, or haven’t considered them despite a lifetime of religious participation. Over the course of this book, the reader will be introduced to a variety of thinkers including Ignatius of Loyola, Brother Lawrence, Karl Rahner, and Teresa of Avila. Their writings and traditions will help shape a definition of spirituality as seeking a deeper connection with God and understanding of self, wherever we are and in whatever we do. To encourage further consideration of the subject matter, each chapter will include a list of questions for reflection in an individual or group context.

Praise for Coffeehouse Contemplative:

"He had me at 'traffic routes to Akron, Ohio.' Jeffrey Nelson lays out the contemporary practice of spiritual direction in a careful and concise way with questions for reflection that remind me in each chapter to go deep rather than fast. Then he suggests that there are as many routes into this traditional practice as there are people seeking paths to their own spiritual goals. I have become very tired of the literature of “one answer will fix” … our prayer lives, our church communities or the problems of the world and this book gave me a new and generous map." - Maren Tirabassi, author of From the Psalms to the Cloud


"Coffeehouse Contemplative offers a warm and accessible invitation to an intentional spiritual life. The grace of God meets us in the ordinary moments of life, and Jeff Nelson's book beautifully captures the down-to-earth nature of life in the Spirit." - Carl McColman, author of Befriending Silence

"As the nursery rhyme asks of Mary, Mary, quite contrary, so Jeffrey Nelson asks that most timeless and faithful question: 'How does the spirit grow?' With reflection and prayer, experience and care comes the pastoral answer in Coffeehouse Contemplative, a resource that invites readers to stroll through the garden of spiritual direction, not merely to observe it but to linger in its richness and to be nourished by its attention to holiness in the everyday. This primer on spiritual direction offers accessible space for digging in the dirt of life to touch and taste God’s goodness and to grow in faith." - Rachel G. Hackenberg, author of Sacred Pause and Writing to God

"We are all looking to make meaning out of our lives. For many, the old forms that once offered such insight are now failing us. Spiritual direction is a practice for discerning meaning that promises to not disappoint. Jeff Nelson provides many ways to engage this ancient but never-more-relevant spiritual practice for today’s seeker." - Phileena Heuertz, author of Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life and founding partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism

"Jeff Nelson has made the contemplative life accessible in Coffeehouse Contemplative. Bringing light to the murky waters of 'spirituality,' Nelson fleshes out concepts like meditation, mindfulness and prayer. Most importantly, perhaps, is the encouragement that one find a traveling partner on the path of spiritual deepening, which holds many surprising places in which to encounter the divine." - Bryan Berghoef, author of Pub Theologian: Beer, Conversation, and God

“'Spiritual direction' in many quarters often carries (unfair) overtones of theology that is more therapeutic than rigorous. In this text, Nelson defies that stereotype by demonstrating how the God-images at play in spiritual direction influence not only outcomes but also the rationale for why direction takes place. Written from a progressive Protestant perspective, the text deftly blends ancient wisdom with contemporary concerns. It will be useful both as a textbook in spiritual direction programs and as a more general guide for those interested in how questions of vocation and mindfulness take shape in our age of pressure and distraction." - Robert Saler, Executive Director, Center for Pastoral Excellence; Research Professor of Lutheran Studies, Christian Theological Seminary

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