If you are a regular reader of this blog, you almost certainly are a book reader. And fairly often here I pass along information about (and sometimes longish formal reviews of) books that have some kind of religious or spiritual content to them.
In doing this, my primary goal is simply to make you aware that this or that book has been published so you can read about it and see if it's one you want to add to your library or borrow from a library.
(This assumes, of course, that you've already acquired a copy (or, better, multiple copies) of my own latest book, The Value of Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions, Not Unquestioned Answers, Build Faith. If not, I just gave you the Amazon link. If you want an autographed copy, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll tell you how that can happen.)
At any rate, here are some books that recently have crossed by desk. Perhaps you'll find one or more here of interest either to you or to someone for whom you'll be buying a gift:
-- Very Married: Field Notes on Love & Fidelity, by Katherine Willis Pershey. The author is a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor who serves a United Church of Christ congregation near Chicago. This book is an ode about marriage. Rooted in the author's personal experiences, it shows how beautiful and even sacred marriage can -- and, in the end, must -- be, as well as sexual relations within marriage. It is not a politically right-wing idolization of the institution of the marriage of one man and one woman. Indeed, the author finds critics of same-sex marriage to be missing the point about marriage. Rather, it is a profoundly honest description of not just the author's own marriage but a carefully painted picture of the value of marriage and how the many demands that it makes on a couple can be life-enhancing because those demands also bring joy. Pershey says that writing about marriage, including hers to her husband Benjamin, has "made me more keenly aware that our love story -- like every good love story -- has eternal significance. We love because God first loved us."
-- Dying in Indian Country: A Family Journey from Self-Destruction to Opposing Tribal Sovereignty, by Lisa Morris. This is a revised edition from a 2015 book. And I frankly don't know what to make of it, given that my knowledge of life on reservations of Native Americans in this country is quite limited. But the book is an argument that federal policies are contributing to many of the problems found on such reservations -- from alcoholism to suicide to dependency. The author is co-founder and chairperson of the Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare. You can have a look at the group's website to see what it's about. What I do know is that this book comes out of a long, sad and sordid history of the way Native Americans have been treated by those who conquered the land that became the United States. There is much for which to atone.
-- Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art, by Madeleine L'Engle. Convergent, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, which itself is a division of Penguin Random House, is doing the world a favor by republishing (in new packages) 12 of L'Engle's books on spirituality. This is the first, with the rest to follow through 2018, which will be the 100th anniversary of L'Engle's birth. The book rings with truth and beauty and, of course, L'Engle's special insights, such as: "There is much that we cannot understand, but our lack of comprehension neither negates nor eliminates it." And: "We live under the illusion that if we can acquire complete control, we can understand God or we can write the great American novel. But the only way we can brush against the hem of the Lord or hope to be part of the creative process is to have the courage, the faith, to abandon control."
-- The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman's Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine (the 20th anniversary edition), by Sue Monk Kidd. This, too, is a republication of a popular book from the past. Sue Monk Kidd is a terrific writer and thinker, and this book not only plowed new ground for and about women (primarily, but men also), it also led the author to move into fiction writing. If you missed this book the first time around, now's your chance to catch up.
-- Confessions of a Convert, by Robert Hugh Benson. Continuing something of a theme here, this book, too, is a revised version of an earlier book. First published in 1913, this book has become something of a classic about conversion. The author grew up as the son of the archbishop of Canterbury in the Church of England, but eventually became a Catholic priest. This is his highly personal story of that journey. The book's official publication date isn't for a week or so, but it can be pre-ordered now.
-- The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery, by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. Not unlike the Meyers-Briggs personality type indicator, the enneagram is an ancient tool to help people understand who they are and how they approach life. It includes nine personality types. It can be helpful not only to know which of the types best describes you but also which of the types best describes other people in your life (like your spouse). This book will walk you through the types and guide you to a better understanding of yourself and others.
-- Great Catholic Parishes: How Four Essential Practices Make Them Thrive, by William E. Simon Jr. If the author's name seems familiar, you may remember it from when he ran unsuccessfully for governor of California in 2002 or from when his father was secretary of the treasury under Presidents Nixon and Ford. Now Simon Jr. is founder of Parish Catalyst, a non-profit organization that tries to support Catholic parishes. That organization studied 244 Catholic parishes and from that material comes this book. A somewhat related new book is The Rebuilt Field Guide, by Michael White and Tom Corcoran, which follow their 2013 book, Rebuilt, about bringing new life to a church in Maryland. If you found Rebuilt intriguing you'll find this guide useful.
-- Walk in Her Sandals: Experiencing Christ's Passion through the Eyes of Women, edited by Kelly M. Wahlquist. This book, written by 10 different women, combines scripture with fictional accounts of women at the time of Jesus moving through his passion week. It's an interesting and innovative way of letting feminine voices respond to the biblical narrative.
-- Fully Engaged: Using the Practicing Mind in Daily Life, by Thomas M. Sterner. This small guide book is in harmony with Buddhist teaching that urges people to be mindful, to pay attention, to notice, to live in the moment. This is a follow-up to Sterner's earlier book, The Practicing Mind.
-- The Best Is Yet to Come: Living Fully in Each Moment, by Sr. Anne Bryan Smollin. The author, a Catholic nun, had almost finished this book when she died an unexpected death in 2014. The book is being published posthumously in her honor. It's a call to fully awake living and, as she writes, an encouragement "to risk doing things we would never think possible."
-- A Year of Daily Offerings, by James Kubicki. Relying on the liturgical calendar, saints and scripture, this book offers daily devotions aimed at Catholics. The book is to be officially published next week but can be pre-ordered now. The author is the national director of the Apostleship of Prayer.
-- Around the Table: Retelling the Story of the Eucharist through the Eyes of Jesus' First Followers, by R. Scott Hurd. The author, an executive with Catholic Charities USA, seeks to unpack the meaning of the Eucharist by telling stories of 14 people who were around and connected to Jesus in his time on Earth. This book, like a few others in this list, will be published officially soon but is available for pre-order now.
-- Fearless: A Catholic Woman's Guide to Spiritual Warfare, by Sonja Corbitt. The author, a former Southern Baptist and now a Catholic convert, suggests here that temptation and sin are what cause the angst of postmodern life. She uses Christian spiritual practices and scripture to point the way toward the light.
-- Finally, though I rarely review fiction, here are two new novels by Shelley Shepard Gray, who has made a name for herself writing fiction about the Amish. The first is A Sister's Wish, a love story with detours. The second is An Amish Family Christmas, in which characters have to face some distressing issues in the past to find joy now.
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THE ROAD TO HEAVEN RUNS THROUGH WRIGLEY FIELD
Could baseball really be a road to God? This writer (and teacher) thinks so. Makes sense. After all, the Bible starts out with a baseball story: "In the big inning. . ." Go, #Cubs.