Another stack of new books related in some way to religion and spirituality has landed on my home office desk, and it's time I let you know about them in brief in case you want to run out to your favorite independent bookstore (or order from Amazon, say) and pick up any of them.
I won't do full reviews of them but will give you enough to whet your appetite along with a link to learn more and order a copy.
-- Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win, by John M. Perkins. The author is the co-founder of the Christian Community Development Association and a longtime civil rights leader and preacher. He's pushing toward age 90 now and this engaging book may serve as a summary of his message that people of all kinds must overcome racism and learn to love one another. "The church," he writes, "needs to be a witness to the world of what nonviolent change can look like. We should be leading the way in offering alternatives to the broken systems of this world so that cycles of poverty and hatred don't lead to violent reactions." (I hate it that we are losing some of these magnificent voices, but we should pay attention to Perkins while we still can.)
-- Psychotherapy East & West, by Alan Watts. This book was first published in 1961, and became something of a classic as it brought the insights of Eastern religions and philosophies to bear on Western psychotherapy. In that process, it introduced to Westerners such traditions as Buddhism, Vedanta, yoga and Taoism. Watts (1915-1973), as an Anglican chaplain at Northwestern University, helped to bridge the gap between East and West to the benefit of both. Here's something from the book worth remembering: "Totalitarian states, however, know the danger of the artist. Correctly, if for the wrong reasons, they know that all art is propaganda, and that art which does not support their system must be against it. They know intuitively that the artist is not a harmless eccentric but one who under the guise of irrelevance creates and reveals a new reality."
-- Piety and Plurality: Theological Education since 1960, by Glenn T. Miller. There may not be many takers for this book, but it's an important piece of work nonetheless. It's the third volume in a series that has examined theological education in the U.S. from the earliest days of the nation until now. Seminaries and other institutions of theological education have had to adapt numerous times over that history even while holding to the timeless values and stories of their faith traditions. Even today seminaries face constant challenges, including financial ones, and those challenges directly affect the quality of religious leadership available to Americans. This book will give you a good sense of all that. Recently in my monthly Flatland column I wrote about the several seminaries in Kansas City and their efforts to stay whole and relevant. You can find that column here.
-- Preparing for Easter: Fifty Devotional Readings from C.S. Lewis (selected by Zachry Kincaid). The late C.S. (Jack) Lewis has become one of the best known Christian authors both for his theological nonfiction works and for his fiction. In this collection readers will get a renewed sense of what made Lewis so popular.
-- The State of Pastors: How Today's Faith Leaders Are Navigating Life and Leadership in an Age of Complexity, by the Barna Group. This research organization does a lot of religious polling and related studies, and now, in a study commissioned by Pepperdine University, offers this broad look at how Christian clergy are doing in the U.S. There's a lot of detail here, some of it reassuring, a lot of it not.
-- Crossing Myself: A Story of Spiritual Rebirth, by Greg Garrett. This book was first published 10 years ago and now is out in an anniversary edition with updates by the author. It's the stark story of the author's serious depression and suicide attempts and the way he found rescue in the Episcopal Church. Garrett teaches English now at Baylor University.
And now several books with Catholic themes:
-- All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters, by Pat Gohn. Maybe you can't judge a book by its cover but sometimes you can judge it by its title. Like this one. If you've ever wondered why someone would find Catholicism a welcoming spiritual home, the author answers that question at least for her life and, she hopes, maybe for yours, too.
-- Joined by Grace: Preparing for the Sacramental Journey of Marriage, by John and Teri Bosio. This is something of a guide book or handbook for those Catholics getting ready to tie the knot. What does a good marriage require? How can an engaged couple get ready to take this important step in confidence? And what role do the church's other sacraments play in sustaining a marriage? Answers here.
-- Rebuilding Confirmation: Because We Need More Than Another Graduation, by Christopher Wesley. All kinds of churches, not just Catholic, are looking for ways to improve faith formation among youth. Confirmation classes have traditionally been one important way to do that, but often they aren't very effective. This book offers ways for churches to structure their confirmation programs that can have lasting results. Many of the ideas here would be useful to churches that are not Catholic, too, and even to different religious traditions beyond Christianity.
-- Be Transformed: The Healing Power of the Sacraments, by Bob Schuchts. This book takes human sinfulness seriously but finds that the Catholic sacraments are a way of healing what is broken. The author offers prayers and guidance from scripture as he explores the restorative nature of the sacraments.
-- Couriers of Grace: My Daughter, the Sacraments, and a Surprising Walk of Faith, by Nancy Jo Sullivan. When the author gave birth to a daughter with Down Syndrome, she had to learn how to understand the child as a gift, as is any child. This is the story of that spiritual journey. The message here is to slow down so that we can see what is sacred.
-- Praying the Angelus: Find Joy, Peace, and Purpose in Everyday Life, by Jared Dees. In Catholicism, the Angelus is a devotional prayer that begins with affirming that God spoke to Mary, mother of Jesus, and that the result was the incarnation. This book, due to be published March 3 (the same is true of the next three books, too), seeks to teach its readers the richness of that prayer because the author says the prayer is needed now more than ever.
-- Getting Past Perfect: How to Find Joy and Grace in the Messiness of Motherhood, by Kate Wicker. This book seeks to help new mothers relax and recognize that perfection in being a mother is simply unattainable, but being a loving, caring parent despite inevitable mistakes is a reachable goal. As she writes, "There will be poop. But there will also be grace."
-- Prayer Seeds: A Gathering of Blessings, Reflections, and Poems for Spiritual Growth, by Joyce Rupp. The many fans of this nun in the Servite (Sisters of Mary) community will be glad to have another collection of her writing, especially her prayers written for the various workshops and retreats she leads. This is a book to be read a little at a time, with time between for meditation.
-- BeDADitudes: 8 Ways to be an Awesome Dad, by Greg Popcak. This family and marriage counselor draws on his experience and the Beatitudes preached by Jesus (found in Matthew 5) to help men become better fathers. "Every man," he writes, "wants to leave a mark on the world, to leave a legacy. Sadly, many men sacrifice their fatherly vocation pursuing generativity by means that will be forgotten within a few years, if not days or weeks, after they are gone from this earth. But a father will always be remembered for the impact he has had on his family."
* * *
BUT FEWER HOLIDAYS
Pope Francis has just suggested that it might be better to be an atheist than a hypocritical Catholic. For one thing, you wouldn't have to listen to a pope preaching at you about hypocrisy.