It's time to heave some new faith-based book titles at you as possible additions to your summer reading. I know some people choose escape literature -- mysteries, romances, that sort of thing -- for summer, but I see no reason why you also can't mix in a few volumes of theological substance.
So I'm going to describe a few new books to you here this weekend, some in much less detail than others. But I'll give you links to a place where you can buy the book or learn more about it if it sounds a little bit enticing.
-- Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity, by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz. A few days ago here on the blog, I reviewed an excellent book, For the Healing of the Nation: A Biblical Vision, by Russell Pregeant, that is in deep harmony with this book by Volf and McAnnally-Linz.
Which is to say it looks at how the Christian faith should lead people to be engaged in public life in ways that are consistent with life-affirming biblical values. Volf is a terrific theologian from Yale Divinity School. He book Allah: A Christian Response should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand and heal the divisions between Muslim and non-Muslim Americans. McAnnally-Linz is a Yale research scholar who has worked with Volf for several years.
Together they look at some of the more pressing issues in American politics from the environment to poverty to health care, migration and more. They begin by insisting that "Christians aren't Christ's followers just in their private and communal lives; they are Christ's followers in their public and political lives as well." So that must make a difference in how they approach public issues.
They emphasize the need for Christians to debate and discuss these issues honestly and to recognize that there will be differences among people of faith. But differences do not mean that people of faith can't work together as followers of Jesus to work for the reconciliation of the world. In this tawdry, distressing, explosive election year, this is the kind of book that can provide a reasonable framework for much of the American population to be in dialogue that builds up instead of the kind that destroys and demonizes others.
-- If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, by Eric Metaxas. This book is in harmony with the one above it here in the sense that it acknowledges serious problems in the American political system and in the ability -- or, more accurately, the willingness -- of the American people to protect and defend our system of government of, by and for the people. If we fail in our task as a people, he writes, "our nation will soon cease to exist in any real sense." In various ways, Metaxas urges Americans to "go forth and love America." Which, of course, has a lot to do with sacrifice, with thoughtful participation in the political process, with being discerning and with carrying through with our civic responsibilities.
-- Dying to be Happy: Discovering the Truth About Life, by Chris Stepien. This is a book about death, dying and Christian faith by a Catholic writer whose previous novel about Jesus as a boy I reviewed here. This one is a call to live fully in the present and to appreciate the gift that life is. It's quite personal, dealing with his wife's breast cancer and his mother's escape from the Nazi killing machine in Poland in World War II. The writing lacks some freshness but it expresses a deep faith and sincerity and its lessons about grasping the reality of death are on target.
-- Live Like You Give a Damn, by Tom Sine. I very much liked Sine's 1991 book, Wild Hope, and, in fact, helped to get him invited to speak at my church about what he called his "Mustard Seed Conspiracy" of Christians seeking to be more faithful followers of Jesus. In this new book Sine encourages readers to listen to the needs and wisdom of young people he calls "social innovators," who are challenging the Christian church to break out of its walls and engage in ministries that respond to the many wounds of today's world. Sine has been a useful voice in spurring the church to be open to new ideas, and this book is his way of continuing that journey in a new era of global consciousness and social media.
-- God and the Afterlife, by Jeffrey Long, with Paul Perry. The author, Long, is a radiation oncologist whose previous book, Evidence of the Afterlife, proved popular. It and this new book are based on studying thousands of so-called "Near Death Experience" reports. This book focuses more on the fact that many people who have gone through NDE says they have encountered God. "Remarkably," Long writes, "the content of near-death experiences is strikingly consistent. Even after rigorously studying NDEs for over fifteen years, I still marvel at how amazingly similar these experiences are regardless of the experiencer's age, cultural beliefs, education, or geographical location." None of this constitutes scientific proof of a God or of heaven and and afterlife, of course, but because such proof is unavailable these findings may be as close as we can get for now. (This book's official publication date is June 28.)
-- Grace Without God: The Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Belonging in a Secular Age, by Katherine Ozment. In recent polls, almost a quarter of American adults now identify as religiously unaffiliated. That doesn't mean they don't believe in God or don't have some kind of spiritual life, just that they aren't members of any definable faith tradition. When this author found herself unaffiliated from having essentially lived an unexamined life after growing up Presbyterian, she set out to explore the options for a moral foundation for such persons. This interesting book is the result. It seeks answers to such questions as "Where do secular people go to celebrate and transmit their values? Where is the nonreligious ritual space?" Faith communities that are struggling with membership losses might well learn some useful information here on the basis of the findings of a careful observer and good writer.
-- Buechner 101: Essays and Sermons by Frederick Buechner, with an introduction by Anne Lamott. Consider this a sampler for the world's many fans of Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian pastor who has spent his life writing terrific things. The book contains chapters about Buechner and by him. If you've deprived yourself of his wisdom and insight in fiction and non-fiction, start here.
-- The Way of Silence: Engaging the Sacred in Daily Life, by Brother David Steindl-Rast. The author draws on experiences in his family of origin to encourage in readers the idea that "we are all meant to be mystics." In whatever faith tradition, mysticism is the path of a personal experience with God, and Steindl-Rast suggests that the corridor we must pass through to have such an experience is full of pregnant silence and one in which one senses being profoundly alone: ". . .when I am truly alone, I'm one with all."
-- The Pilgrim Journey: A History of Pilgrimage in the Western World, by James Harpur. Because the senior pastor of my congregation is on sabbatical, we're having more guest preachers until mid-August. This recent sermon from such a preacher, Wendie Brockhaus, focused on pilgrimage, the subject of this helpful book. Clearly it's a topic of growing interest in various faith communities, and this book provides some context for the renewal of the practice of pilgrimage in the West. "The first Christian pilgrimage," he writes, "could be said to be the journey of the Magi to the Christ child. But Christian writers have also looked back to the Hebrew Bible to find inspiration for the idea of pilgrimage, one example being Abraham, who was called upon by God to leave his home and to start a new life in the land of Canaan." The practice of pilgrimage is in a resurgence mode, and this is the book to take along on your own journey.
-- A Way to God: Thomas Merton's Creation Spirituality Journey, by Matthew Fox. Can there ever be too much written about the thoughtful, prolific, fascinating 20th Century American Trappist monk Thomas Merton? Well, not yet. And Fox's book is a worthy addition to the literature on Merton. Clearly Fox finds in Merton a lot of Fox, just as historians in search of the historical Jesus usually find the historian's Jesus. But there is a lot here about Merton's insights and teachings that, if not new to his millions of fans, at least will be good reminders of why he has been so honored.
-- Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics, by Christine Valters Paintner. It's hard to learn from those who have preceded us if we don't know about them, of course. So the author, who describes herself as the online abbess for Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery, has put together profiles of a dozen monks and mystics, each of whom represents a particular admirable characteristic or trait. Build your life on these models and you'll almost certainly be on your way to being a saint.
-- The Cross, Our Only Hope: Daily Reflections in the Holy Cross Tradition, edited by Andrew Gawrych and Kevin Grove. This is a revised volume of year-long daily reflections that first was published in 2008. The new edition contains some new entries, a new forward and introduction and other revisions. The reflections come out of the Congregation of Holy Cross. If you're not familiar with this corner of the Catholic Church, know that its ministries include the University of Notre Dame and Ave Maria Press, the publisher of the book. The Congregation was founded in France in 1837.
And, finally, a work of fiction:
-- A Daughter's Dream, by Shelley Shepard Gray. This is the second novel about Amish life in Gray's "Charmed Amish Life" series. She's written many novels about the Amish. In this one a young woman who always wanted to be a teacher finally gets a job in an Amish school, but it she finds it's not what she expected.
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MUSLIMS REPORT POTENTIAL TERRORISTS
It probably will not shock you to know that Donald Trump was wrong again -- this time when he said that American Muslims "don't report" potential violent extremists. As this RNS piece notes, various law enforcement official say the opposite is true. That's not a bad rule in this political season: If Trump says something, it's wise to investigate the probability that the opposite is true.