In our bleak midwinter, it's time to curl up in a comfortable chair, turn off the incessant television and read a decent book or three. Lucky for you I have several that may interest you to highlight.
All of them have some sort of faith connection. Big surprise on a blog called "Faith Matters," right?
Let's begin with:
* Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible Through Palestinian Eyes, by Mitri Raheb. The author is a Christian pastor, born in Bethlehem and still living there as senior pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church. If we hope to understand Middle Eastern history and the current status and shape of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we must listen carefully and deeply to both Jewish and Arab/Palestinian voices, whether Muslim or Christian. In this book we have a chance to pay attention to a Palestinian point of view that finds its roots in the reality that over the centuries the Holy Land has been ruled by a series of outside empires. Indeed, a lot of New Testament scholarship in recent years has focused on the ways in which Roman rule of ancient Israel affected the lives of Jesus and the people to whom he ministered. This book moves that scholarship forward. Jesus stood against the oppressive power of empire in countless ways and, in the end, his opposition contributed to his death. One of the inevitable questions raised by this book is whether modern Israel today should be thought of as a kind of foreign and occupying empire. On one side we find Israelis who would object strongly to any such suggestion. On the other, we have Palestinians who make something like that very charge. This small book helps us understand the latter point of view and whether it's possible, given those differences, to create a movement toward reconciliation that will allow everyone to live in peace and prosperity. Such an outcome will not be possible if we don't first acknowledge the differing and contrasting views on the question of empire.
* United America, by Wayne Baker. The long subtitle is: "The surprising truth about American values, American identity and the 10 beliefs that a large majority of Americans hold dear." Besides being the chair of the management and organization area at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, Wayne Baker is part of the ReadTheSpirit.com family. His job there is to oversee the "Our Values" section there. Here's an interview with him in which he talks about the 10 beliefs Americans hold dear, values he thinks can help reunite the country. Is he right? I don't know but I'm pretty sure that whatever we're doing now isn't working, so let's give Wayne's ideas a try, starting with "Respect for Others." Oh, I know that's a radical concept in today's culture wars, but it's worth a shot.
* Frames: Season One, from the Barna Group. This is a different approach. It's a series of 10 small booklets, each written by people with religious connections and each tackling some current trend, from schools in crisis to wonder women to fighting for peace. These booklets could be a great tool for a small-group study through a church. Have a look at the website. Glad to see Presbyterian pastor Carol Howard Merritt as one of the authors. The plan is to turn out 10 more such booklets annually.
And now, briefly, a few others.
* Mercy in the City, by Kerry Weber. This is a young Catholic's account of her attempt to act out the works of mercy listed in Matthew 25. It's a good, inspiring read that has the benefit of a sense of humor and perspective.
* Christ in Conflict: Lessons from Jesus and His Controversies, by John Stott. This popular author died in 2011, and now Intervarsity Press is offering a revised version of his 1970 book, Christ the Controversialist, under this new title. Stott was long recognized as a leader among evangelical Christians both in the U.K., where he was rector of a London church, and in the U.S.
* Buddhist Biology: Ancient Eastern Wisdom Meets Modern Western Science, by David P. Barash. This Buddhist attempt to reconcile science and religion receives, on the back cover, a half-hearted endorsement from the famous atheist Richard Dawkins. Had he made a full-throated endorsement I'd have thought twice about even mentioning the book to you.
* Pick Your Yoga Practice, by Meagan McCrary. Here's a book that describes about 20 different kinds of yoga. Who knew? Well, more and more Americans know, and this introduction lets them know how one type of practice differs from another and which ones are more connected to yoga's Hindu source in India.
* Is Reality Secular?: Testing the Assumptions of Four Global Worldviews, by Mary Poppin. The author, an education professor at Claremont Graduate University, analyzes "material naturalism," "secular humanism," "pantheism" and "Judeo-Christian theism." And comes out in favor of the latter as a worldview that most helps us understand reality even though much of the culture would choose another worldview. It's sort of Christian apologetics in a different dress.
* Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman's Ties to Two Worlds, by Saloma Miller Furlong, with David Furlong. I reviewed this woman's first book about leaving the Amish life here. This book moves her story along from her efforts to leave the Amish world in which she grew up to her eventual marriage to a non-Amish man and what she considers her freedom from the strictures of the faith of her childhood.
* Hopeful, by Shelley Shepard Gray. Speaking of the Amish, this is another novel about Amish life from a writer who has made something of a career out of telling stories from that tradition. This is the first book in a planned trilogy called "Return to Sugarcreek."
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THE FAITHFUL SHAPE OF POLITICS
The latest demographic figures about America's religious landscape don't look good for the Republican Party. Religion scholar Mark Silk explains. Of course, often such projections turn out wrong because of events and developments no one can see coming. Well, except God, and she's an indepenent, I hear.