I really do try to keep up with newly published books about matters of faith, but the publishing industry apparently operates 57 hours a day 16 days a week and 4,894 days a year.
So I get behind and occasionally need to heave lists of new books at you instead of longer reviews. But even when I simply mention the title of a book below I at least give you a link to a site where you can read more about it and discover for yourself whether it's one you'd like to explore further and maybe even buy a dozen copies a week for the rest of your life.
But let's begin this weekend's post with a few books that I want to tell you a about:
* God's Other Children: Personal Encounters with Faith, Love and Holiness in Sacred India, by Bradley Malkovsky. Almost every time I speak to people about the importance of interfaith dialogue and understanding I try to make the point that the object of such interaction is not conversion. Rather, it's to know and to be known. What interfaith conversation and contact almost inevitably produces is a greater commitment to one's own faith tradition. This engaging book demonstrates that very point as the author, a Catholic Christian, describes how his encounter with the religions of India increased his understanding and commitment to Catholicism while simultaneously helping him to appreciate what is beautiful in Hinduism, Islam (he married a Muslim), Buddhism and other faiths with Indian roots or presence. The book is full of personal stories told by this University of Notre Dame teacher, but most of them carry a universal message about seeing other traditions with appreciative eyes. And while we're talking about religion and India, let me also recommend India: A Sacred Geography, by Diana L. Eck. I reviewed that last year here. These two books would make great companions.
* The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus, by John Dominic Crossan. Leave it to Dom Crossan to offer fascinating, if intentionally provocative, scholarship that drives many conservative or fundamentalist Christians crazy. He's been doing that for a long time and continues his tradition in this book, which is well worth reading even if the title suggests that nothing in the Bible about Jesus is historically accurate. That's really not what Crossan is saying, though he does conclude that "Jesus really existed, that we can know the significant sequence of his life -- from John the Baptist to Pilate the prefect -- but that he comes to us trailing clouds of fiction, parables by him and about him. . ." In the end, this is an argument against literalistic readings of the New Testament. It proposes that we always be aware of the uses of metaphor and parable and not get tied in knots over whether this or that particular incident reported in the gospels should be understood as history in the way we 21st Century Americans understand history. And Crossan is right about that.
* Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life, by Renée Peterson Trudeau. No matter what some radio evangelists say (I'm looking at you, James Dobson), family is not the institution God created to be at the center of life. It is not the primary vehicle through which the sacred becomes available to us. Yes, family is important. Terribly important. But for Christians it is not the church and shouldn't be. This book offers sound and sane advice for how to make family life rich and nourishing without directly suggesting that the family is God's vehicle for salvation, although it's possible to draw that conclusion from this work. Indeed, the press release from the publisher, New World Library, asks this: "What if your family became your greatest source of joy?" Well, as a Christian I would answer this way: "It would mean the eternal God I meet in Jesus Christ no longer is my greatest source of joy." And that would be sad. So read this book for its wisdom about how to create families that are wholesome and happy, but don't read it thinking that families -- however you define them -- make up the whole point of existence. When you do that you make families an idol and the last thing we need is more idolatry.
And now some books I just want to list and allow you to explore further if you're interested.
* Not Less Than Everything: Catholic Writers on Heroes of Conscience, from Joan of Arc to Oscar Romero, edited by Catherine Wolff. This will appeal mostly to Catholics, but whether you're Cathoic or not, don't miss the chapter on one of my favorite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins.
* It Don't Get Any Better Than This: Stories from a Small Town Church, by David A. Shirey. There are engaging stories here from the author's experience as pastor of a Disciples of Christ church in Carthage, Tenn. Any book recommended by the great preacher Fred Craddock, as this one is, is worth a look.
* A Mystic Garden: Working with Soil, Attending to Soul, by Gunilla Norris. One-page chapters accompanied by poetry. Keep this one on your screened-in back porch to read as you look at your garden, if you have one. If you don't, make it up.
* Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards, by Kyle Strobel. Jonathan Edwards was far more complicated and interesting than one-track mind people imagine from reading only his most famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."
*An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus' Rhythms of Work and Rest, by Alan Fadling. Take your time reading this one.
* Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice, by Christine Valters Paintner. My wife and I take photos that we use on the cover of blank greeting cards. This book may give us ways to see what we're photographing through new, more spiritually sensitive eyes.
* Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier, by David E. Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw. This is about being the church in this century. In one interesting chapter one of the authors rejects his father's view on biblical inerrancy.
* The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers, by Dale Hanson Bourke. No book about this subject will be read with complete sympathy and understanding by all the parties in this struggle, but this book seems quite even-handed and helpful, sticking more to fact than opinion.
* Essential Chan Buddhism: The Character and Spirit of Chinese Zen, by Chan Master Guo Jun. For those of you, like me, barely knew there was a practice called Chan Buddhism, this can be your guide.
* More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity, by Jeff Shinabarger. What do you need? And is it different from what you want? And is what you want more than enough? Guidance for such questions here.
* How to Pray When You're P* * * * * at God: Or Anyone Else for That Matter, by Ian Punnett. Maybe it's just me, but I hate the title of this book. I see no need for this kind of street language in a book like this. But you may love it, so have a look.
* Ray of Light, by Shelley Shepard Gray. This novel is No. 2 in "The Days of Redemption" series about Amish life.
And finally a reminder that on Thursday of this past week I reviewed Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, by Kate Bowler.
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FAITH AND THAT OKLAHOMA TWISTER
What role is religion playing in the recovery from that terrible tornado in Oklahoma? It's pretty central, this report suggests. Despite the nincompoops who think such weather disasters are God's punishment for something or other, most people of faith find such catastrophes opportunities to demonstrate how their values affect how they react.
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P.S.: Just curious what you made of Pope Francis' recent declaration that everyone -- not just Cathlics, but everyone, including atheists -- is redeemed through Jesus. That is, by the way, a traditional Christian belief, though it's rarely said so clearly, especially from the Vatican.