They just keep coming, all these new books with religious themes. And I'm guilty of contributing to the pile.
My new co-authored Holocaust-related book will be out this summer (click here for details). That's a picture of the cover of that book on the left. And my new book about the 100 years of Visitation Catholic Church in Kansas City also will appear this summer (click here for details).
But enough about me.
Before I get into this list, let me remind you that nobody can do an exhaustive review of every book with faith-related themes being published these days. So this list contains a sample. And by listing a book here I'm not saying I agree with everything the author writes:
* The Murmuring Deep: Reflection on the Biblical Unconscious, by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg. This is a serious, nuanced, scholarly but quite readable book that brings the discipline of psychoanalysis to characters in the Hebrew Scriptures to help us understand their movtives -- indeed, their hearts -- better. But this is not pop pschobabble nonsense. Not by a long shot. This is wonderfully insightful material that anyone who has ever wondered what made biblical characters tick will appreciate. You even will learn (well, I learned) more about why Abram's name was changed to Abraham after God called him.
* The Theology of Tariq Ramadan: A Catholic Perspective, by Gregory Baum. The author is an experienced and well-known Catholic scholar who has spent much of his career in interfaith work. What he offers here is an intriguing analysis of one of the most interesting Muslim scholars now working, Ramadan, though often mired in controversy, essentially locates himself between traditionalist Muslims who would like nothing to change and to have little to do with modernity and those Muslims who pretty much want to throw over traditional Islam as a way of accommodating the religion to modernity. Ramadan wants Islam to engage modernity and to adapt to it but not to give up on its historic strengths. For any Christian seeking to get a better grasp of the dynamics of Islamic scholarship these days, this book is a must.
* World Religions: At Your Fingertips, by Michael McDowell and Nathan Robert Brown. This is another in the "at your fingertips" series (think "Idiot's Guide to Blank") and is useful as a handy reference for people who don't need lots of depth. It sacrifices some nuance for brevity but generally does a fair job giving the basics of a dozen and a half or so religions plus some general religious concepts. I'll keep it near my Huston Smith books, my Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions and my Introduction to World Religions, edited by Christopher Partridge.
* Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion, by Richard J. Foster and Gayle D. Beebe. If you are familiar with Foster's famous Celebration of Discipline, first published just over 30 years ago, you will want to look at this volume, which moves the discussion along a useful path. Here, Foster and his co-author look back at the work of more than two dozen influential Christian leaders, starting with some Church Fathers, seeking ways to engage in spiritual formation. For instance, they rescue John Calvin from the hyper-Calvinists who followed him and remind us of his crucial focus on the role of the Holy Spirit. This is a book that I bet study groups of Christians will be using for decades.
* The Furious Longing of God, by Brennan Manning. Not many authors can convey the power of God's love for humanity in quite the way Manning does. For that gift, one is tempted to overlook his repeating the falsehood that Jesus was the first Jew to call God father. Well, Manning puts it this way: "But only Jesus revealed to an astonished Jewish community that God is truly Father." That's just historical silliness, as is the simplistic notion that "Abba" translates to "Daddy" and that Jesus was the first Jew to employ the term in that way. That bad scholarship aside, Manning grasps the astoundingly relentless nature of God's love, and he celebrates it here.
* Signs & Wonders: Why Pentecostalism is the World's Fastest Growing Faith, by Paul Alexander. Some scholars believe that at the current rate of change, South America will be a Pentecostal continent before the end of this century. Indeed, Pentecostals now account for perhaps a quarter of the roughly two billion Christians on the planet. And Pentecostalism, with its attachment to the more sensational gifts of the Holy Spirit, are increasing in number in many places in the world. The author of this accounting of that phenomenon grew up in an Assembly of God church in Sedan, Kan. Eventually he moved away from this charismatic style of worship, but now he's been drawn back in. The book, though containing the author's personal story, is much broader. It's a fair and intriguing report on the phenomenon of Pentecostalism in our time.
*Refuge: A True Story of Faith and Civil War, by John and Bessie Gonleh, with Bruce Beakley. The the next two books, this is set in Africa. Liberia, to be specific, and tells the harrowing story of a Christian family -- the Gonlehs and their nine children -- caught in that chaotic country's devastating civil war. There is plenty of what I would call God language here but the authors aren't looking for easy answers that smooth over some of the world's absurdities and miseries. Rather, it's in the midst of all that hardship that they seek to be faithful. See also http://refugethebook.com.
* Where Mercy Fails: Darfur's Struggle to Survive, by Chris Herlinger and Paul Jeffrey. With a mixture of stunning photographs and searing text, this new book takes us inside the genocide in the Darfur section of Sudan. We learn anew -- and in heartbreaking detail -- what a monumental human failure the international response to the killing there has been. In some ways, this is like seeing a book showing the gas chambers of Auschwitz while they were still being used. Darfur is an ongoing catastrophe, and leaders of many countries -- especially the Sudanese perpetrators -- have blood on their hands. If we can't stop what's happening there, will we ever be able to stop evil anywhere?
* Emmanuel Kolini: The Unlikely Archbishop of Rwanda, by Mary Weeks Millard. Most of us know at least the basics of the story of genocide in Rwanda that started in April 1994. It was a massacre that took place (think Darfur today) while people who might have helped to stop it (Bill Clinton later apologized for not taking action in time) stood by. This book is the story of the Anglican archbishop whose job it was to pick up the pieces and work toward reconciliation after the slaughter. It's quite an admiring biography told by a woman who became the archbishop's friend. People interested in the difficult process of reconciliation after trauma will learn from what Emmanuel Kolini was able to do after such a bitter time.
* No Enemy to Conquer: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World, by Michael Henderson. To follow the previous two books, this one celebrates the power to forgive and to create new possibilities after terrible breaches. Drawing inspirational -- at times almost unbelievable -- stories from all over the world, the author describes what it took to offer forgiveness and what difference it made. In the end, this is a book of hope in a world in desperate need of exactly that.
* The Lost Ark of the Covenant: Solving the 2,500-Year-Old Mystery of the Fabled Biblical Ark, by Tudor Parfitt. A few years ago when I was auditing a Christian history class at a local seminary, I learned that there is a strong tradition in Ethiopia that the biblical Ark of the Covenant ended up in that country and still is there today, though the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has refused to show it and has said he doesn't have to prove the claim. One prominent theory among Ethiopians is that King Soloman and Queen Sheba had a child who brought the Ark to Ethiopia. Well, Tudor Parfitt, a professor of Jewish studies, has spent much of his life tracking down the so-called lost tribes of Israel. And now he believes he has found perhaps not the original Ark of the Covenant on a dusty museum shelf in Harare, Zimbabwe but quite possibly a direct descendent, with ties to the original. Whatever you think of his conclusion, it's a gripping story about an artifact with profound ties to Judaism, Chrsitianity and Islam.
* Hidden Holiness, by Michael Plekon. The author, both a college professor and a priest in the Orthodox Church in America, suggests here that it's too limiting to think of saints as just those halo-bearing people whose deeds no one can hope to match. Rather, he suggests we look to lesser-known people who offer us models for particular types of behavior that is both admirable and, in the end, holy. He introduces us to such people in a way that suggests we might do similar things in our own lives.
*Deepest Differences: A Christan-Atheist Dialogue, by James W. Sire and Carl Peraino. Oh, to have all conversations between Christians and atheists to be as civil and enlightening as Sire, a Christian, and Peraino, an atheist, have produced here. The book is a collection of their e-mail discussions that began after a book club meeting they both attended. People of all faiths and none can learn from this exchange. By the way, Sire got his Ph.D. from my alma mater, the University of Missouri. You need not know that to read the book, but I like to give the old school a nod now and then.
* Seeking Life: The Baptismal Invitation of the Rule of St. Benedict, by Esther de Waal. Anyone familiar with Esther de Waal's prominent writings on the Rule of Benedict will be glad she has returned to the subject to focus on the sacrament of baptism. She is a lovely writer who sheds light here on the inaugural event in Christian life and what it can mean on the road of discipleship.
* The Recollected Heart: A Guide to Making a Contemplative Weekend Retreat, by Philip Zaleski. This is an updated version of a 1995 guide to help readers use the Rule of Benedict to create a retreat to refresh their souls and gather strength for the journey. It would be a good book to combine with Esther de Waal's new book, mentioned above.
* Sojourner Truth's America, by Margaret Washington. At nearly 500 pages, this biography by a Cornell history professor illuminates in extraordinary but readable detail the life of the person she calls "perhaps the most remarkable woman in the nineteenth century." It is a thorough and careful book about a woman convinced she was called by God to fix much of what was wrong with her world -- or at least to inspire others to try to fix all that. It's a powerful biography about a powerful woman.
* The Limits of Liberal Democracy: Politics and Religion at the End of Modernity, by Scott H. Moore. The author, a Baylor philsophy teacher, gives us here a thoughtful and needed challenge to a lot of assumptions American Christians often seem to have about the value of democracy. The movement into post-modernity is requiring that we rethink these categories and ideas so that we remain faithful to our religious beliefs while remaining good citizens. That's nowhere near as easy in our changing world as it used to be, and Moore helps us think through that reality.
* All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, by Robert Jensen. What if the people who would call themselves religious fundamentalists and the people who would call themselves atheists were able to find away to learn from one another? And what if that learning led to action that increased the justice in the world and the possibility that we might nurse the Earth back to health? That's an overly simplistic way of describing the concerns of this book, but the author is worried that our current approaches to all this aren't working. Many might describe him as a political or even theological liberal, but he would argue -- correctly -- that such labels don't move us forward. This book is evidence that people who aren't trained in theology are, nonetheless and inevitably, theologians and called to think theologically.
* Faith Under Fire: An Army Chaplain's Memoir, by Roger Benimoff with Eve Conant. Even pastors have crises of faith. And perhaps nowhere is a pastor more vulnerable than in the midst of war. This is the story of how an Army chaplain, on duty in Iraq, dealt with his sense of being abandoned by God. It's frank and moving and should be a help not only to all chaplains but also to anyone whose faith has been tested in trauma.
* Reclaiming Virtue, by John Bradshaw. At more than 500 pages, this is a profoundly detailed journey through the territory of virtue -- what it is, how to get it, how to celebrate it. The author, who gained fame doing PBS lectures on what shames us and how to fix that, seeks to help us understand what moral intelligence is and why it's so vital in our time. Bradshaw is not for everyone, but he's does what good authors always do -- he makes readers think. Some of those readers eventually may act on what Bradshaw says, and that would be good for society.
* Cartwheels in a Sari, by Jayanti Tamm. The author was born into what she now describes as a cult, the Sri Chinmoy Center. Chinmoy, a guru from India who came to the United States to teach, quite literally named Tamm and claimed her, she writes. The book is the story of how she finally freed herself from what she believed was an unhealthy, even sick, life within the Chinmoy community. It's a cautionary, fascinating tale about giving one's unquestioning devotion to someone who is anxious to control nearly every facet of one's life.
* Turtle Feet: The Making and Unmaking of a Buddhist Monk, by Nikolai Grozni. Oh, my. You'd better be sitting down at all times to read this one. It's the fast and furious story of a man born in Bulgaria who becomes -- and then un-becomes -- a Buddhist monk. His travels to northern India and his eventual realization that he has to leave something in order to understand it make for an almost dizzying ride. If you are a spiritual explorer, this may appeal to you, though I'm guessing that Grozni has out-explored you.
* Jesus in the Lotus: The Mystical Doorway between Christianity and Yogic Spirituality, by Russill Paul. The author seeks to connect the best of Christianity with the best of Yoga. No doubt many people will have difficulty making this connection between Western and Eastern spiritual traditions. And, indeed, it won't work for everyone. But interfaith dialogue and connections can be many and need not require followers of one tradition to abandon their roots and practices just to experience another tradition. That's part of the message here.
* The Living Universe, by Duane Elgin. Is the universe in which we live dead or alive? The answer has profound implications for how we live. Elgin argues that it's very much alive and that we must live in its presence in ways that respect that. It draws on the insights of faith traditions to foster the idea that someone human life must exist in harmony with the living cosmos.
* Making the Good Life Last: Four Keys to Sustainable Living, by Michael A. Schuler. In some ways, this can be thought of as a companion book the the Duane Elgin book I just mentioned. The author, a Unitarian-Universalist pastor, seeks here to walk readers through ideas about how to live responsibly on an Earth that humanity has been degrading for a long time and how to root that kind of lifestyle in reliable spiritual guidance.
* God's Master Plan for Your LIfe: Ten Keys to Fulfilling Your Destiny, by Gloria Copeland. If you're into the kind of name-it-and-claim-it, prosperity gospel approach that TV evangelist Kenneth Copeland and his wife Gloria promote (I'm not), then you'll want this book. It's a spiritual self-help volume. I found it offered pretty unremarkable advice.
* Work in Progress: An Unfinished Woman's Guide to Grace, by Kristin Armstrong. The woman who went through a difficult divorce from bicyclist Lance Armstrong speaks here forthrightly and even tenderly to women about what's really important in life. As a male, I found what she has to say about physical beauty and its dangers especially interesting.
* Designer Women: Made by God, by Ruth Tuttle Conrad. The author, now ordained as a Christian pastor, struggled with ideas about the place of women in the church. In this book, she outlines what she has learned by looking at the lives of 10 women in the Bible and offering encouragement to other women.
* Promises I Made My Mother, by Sam Haskell, with David Rensin. Sam Haskell spent a lot of years in the television entertainment industry, where it's easy to lose one's moral bearings. He kept his, he writes here, by remembering things his mother told him when he was growing up in Mississippi. It's a refreshing story about solid moral values that takes us inside the lives of lots of people we know from the world of entertainment.
* Angel Animals Book of Inspiration: Divine Messengers of Wisdom and Compassion, by Allen and Linda Anderson. This is a charming little book full of charming little stories about how animals can be bearers of truths from God. If the premise sounds a little suspect, well, I might agree. But some of the stories are quite engaging. The the animals here are more active than the only dog I own, which is ceramic. I've named him after what he does best. His name is Stay.
* Angels in My Hair: The True Story of a Modern-Day Irish Mystic, by Lorda Byrne. The author lives in rural Ireland and has been seeing -- and communicating with -- angels since her early childhood, she says. She tells straightforward stories of bumping into angels all over the place, and it's hard not to think that she's perfectly sane and that she believes what she writes.
* Esteem MakeOver: God's Edition, by Mishunda Wallace. A review copy of this wasn't available, but I've had some e-mail conversation with the author, a Kansas Citian. She tells me that she long struggled to see herself as "pretty, talented, worthy or lovable. . . An abusive childhood, bad decisions and the absence of a personal relationship with God made it impossible for me to see myself as the glorious creature God had made me to be." The book describes her struggle with all that and how she overcame it.
* As you may know, I don't mention many fiction books here, but since I did point you to the first in the "Belles of Timber Creek" series of Christian fiction in this 2008 posting by a Missouri writer, Lori Copeland, I thought you might want to know that her second book in the series, Three Times Blessed, is out now. It's a tale of survival and relationship, and you can read more about it at the Amazon page to which I've linked you. By the way, the author has been inducted into the Missouri Writers Hall of Fame.
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THE POPE'S TASKS ON THIS TRIP
Pope Benedict XVI is on his Middle East journey now, and I thought this Time Magazine piece about what he must do there was pretty much on target. As you may know, I think the best Vatican observer is John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter. Click here for his report from Jordan, the pope's first stop. And for a description of the trip on the Web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, click here. AND: For a Sunday update on the pope's trip, click here.
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P.S.: Mental Health America of the Heartland, with some other agencies, is offering a program called "Help for God's Hurting People" on Friday, June 5, in Kansas City. It's for pastors and others to help them recognize signs of depression and to equip them to get help for people who need it. Details are on the site to which I've linked you here.