Books

New & Noteworthy

WAGS AND WISDOM
Critically acclaimed author Sue Halpern writes about experiences with her trained therapy dog, Pransky, illuminating seven classic virtues along the way, in A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home: Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher. A charming and insightful book. Riverhead Books

GOD AT THE BORDER
In Kinship Across Borders: A Christian Ethic of Immigration, Kristin E. Heyer develops a theological analysis, mainly rooted in Catholic thought, that examines the injustices of the current U.S. immigration system in the light of concepts of social sin, Christian family ethics, and broader policy considerations. Georgetown University Press

FOR BUDDING WRITERS
Skipping Stones, a nonprofit literary magazine for young readers ages 8 to 16, is celebrating its 25th year of encouraging creativity and multicultural and environmental awareness. Published five times a year, each issue includes poetry and prose by children and book reviews and resources for parents and teachers. skippingstones.org

FINDING MUTUAL RESPECT
The two-part film In the Footprints of Francis and the Sultan: A Model for Peacemaking explores the historic meeting of St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malek al-Kamil and how it continues to inform a powerful model for interreligious dialogue today. FranciscanMedia.org/francissultan

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Fr. Michael Lapsley’s 'Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer'

Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer
Fr. Michael Lapsley's Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer

Most Americans sat glued to the TV or radio on April 15 (or raced to finish tax returns) transfixed by the horrific Boston Marathon bombing and aftermath. Nearly 100 friends of Fr. Michael Lapsley’s gathered that evening at Busboys and Poets restaurant and bookstore in Washington, D.C., to be soothed with a testimony of faith by South African Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool, soul-stirring cello music, and a transporting testimony of healing by apartheid regime bomb victim “Father Mike.”

One of my favorite newspapers in the world, the South African Mail and Guardian, reported on April 19 this way: 

“Boston bombings: the marathon struggle of survival and healing … a priest from South Africa, apartheid fighter and a bomb victim himself reaches out to Americans about forgiveness … He had not planned it that way. The event was to launch his book. It had been scheduled for last October but Hurricane Sandy scuppered those plans. Instead it took place on a day when three people were killed and more than 100 injured in Boston.”

If You Eat Food, Read This

'Fat Chance' and 'Salt Sugar Fat'
'Fat Chance' and 'Salt Sugar Fat'

If you eat food, here are two newish books you should know about.

You may already have met Robert H. Lustig, author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease (2012). Lustig is the UCSF professor whose surprisingly riveting 90-minute lecture, "Sugar: The Bitter Truth," has already had nearly 3.5 million hits on YouTube. The thesis of his lecture: it's not dietary fat that's making Americans gain weight, it's sugar. And sugar is doing much worse things than increasing our clothing size. It's setting us up for a whole range of lethal diseases that are almost entirely avoidable.

...

In Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (2013), Moss, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, tells what the food industry has been up to during the last couple of decades. Food executives, Moss says, are nervous: people are figuring out that convenience foods aren't good for them.

Colm Toibin’s 'Testament of Mary' Brings Jesus’ Mother Down to Earth

Photo by Paul Kolnik/courtesy The Testament of Mary production
iona Shaw in a scene from The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín. Photo by Paul Kolnik/courtesy The Testament of Mary production

How far can one go in retelling a Bible story, adding things that are not in the original? In The Testament of Mary, Colm Toibin goes a long way.

His 2012 book is now a Broadway play presenting a view of the mother of Jesus so different from pious tradition that it angers some Christians, creating a “new,” intellectually and spiritually challenging Virgin Mary.

Yet in the end, Toibin’s searingly human Mary may be ultimately more accessible than the Mary of porcelain perfection set high on a pedestal.

The Irish writer, who has written about his strong Catholic childhood, imagines Mary 30 years after the crucifixion of her son. She lives as a virtual prisoner of two of Jesus’ disciples, still mourning her son’s death, bitter at what has happened since, and seeking consolation from pagan idols, which make more sense to her than what happened to Jesus.

Top 3 Reasons Rob Bell Matters: Rob Bell Blogalogue Part 8

Rob Bell at Powerhouse Arena. By Paul Williams, Via Flickr.
Rob Bell at Powerhouse Arena. By Paul Williams, Via Flickr.

(The Controversial figure Rob Bell has created another firestorm with his latest provocative book What We Talk About When We Talk About GodRaven Foundation Education Director, Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins will share our thoughts on the book in this blogalogue. We invite you to join the discussion by leaving a comment.)

Sadly, this is our last post on Rob’s book What We Talk About When We Talk About God. As Tripp Hudgins stated, my previous post was a lengthy missive, and yet I feel like we have just scratched the surface of this book. I promise to make this concluding post shorter, but I’m tempted to inflict upon you the longest post ever! because there is so much in these final 30 pages.

I noticed that we haven’t made a list yet, and every blogalogue needs a list! So, to keep this from becoming the longest post ever!, I offer you the top 3 reason that Rob Bell matters.

Feeding our Imagination

CRITICS HAVE BEMOANED the lack of fiction centered on climate change, which seems to mirror our public sluggishness about this scientific reality. But two recent novels, Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior (Harper) and Lauren Groff's Arcadia (Voice), artfully integrate climate change into their plotlines, weaving scientific truth about global warming into the lives of fictional characters. Just as compelling, both works of fiction feature spiritual community at the center of critical decisions about the future of the land and its inhabitants.

Flight Behavior is a lyrical story set in rural Tennessee with the fiercely intelligent Dellarobia Turnbow as the main character. She encounters a vast sea of monarch butterflies that seem to have taken a wrong turn on their migratory path, a result of a miracle—or a warming planet. Journalists, ecologists, and locals speculate about the misplaced monarchs. In an impassioned but measured plea for the land, the local pastor invokes a biblical mandate for creation care.

In Arcadia, climate change doesn't enter the narrative until the conclusion of the story, which is the tale of an intentional community started in the 1960s. The central character, Bit Stone, returns to a failed commune in upstate New York, where he grew up, to care for his ailing mother. Set in 2018, the dystopian conclusion is marked by climate change and global pandemics, but the values of the original spiritual community set up a struggle between the desire for freedom and the creation of shared life.

Reading both books, I could imagine myself inhabiting these worlds, in ways more personal than when I read a news report about global warming. Fiction allows us to live into a reality relevant to our time and to visualize our own reactions to the events on the page.

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Blessed Fiction

Glorybound, by Jessie van Eerden. WordFarm.
A luminous debut novel that features two sisters shaped by family estrangement and holiness faith in a hard-scrabble West Virginia mining town.

Hold It 'Til It Hurts, by T. Geronimo Johnson. Coffee House Press.
This debut novel and 2013 PEN/Faulkner-award nominee follows an African-American combat vet in his search for his missing sibling, a journey tangled with the fallout of war and race.

The Mirrored World, by Debra Dean. Harper.
A reimagining of the life of an 18th century Russian saint, Xenia of St. Petersburg, set against the excesses of the royal court.

Benediction, by Kent Haruf. Knopf.
An elderly man in a small Colorado town receives a terminal diagnosis, and the intricacies of human community are revealed in the stories of the people who gather around him.

Pastors' Wives, by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen. Plume/Penguin.
Inspired by reporting the author did as a former Time writer, this debut novel explores the stories of three women whose lives converge at a Southern megachurch.

Good Kings Bad Kings, by Susan Nussbaum. Algonquin.
This winner of the 2012 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction is a look at life in a Chicago institution for adolescents with disabilities.

—Compiled by Julie Polter

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New & Noteworthy

Whom Shall I Send?

Drawing on years of pastoral and executive experience in churches and parachurch organizations, Sherry Surratt and Jenni Catron deliver on the pragmatic promise of their book's title, Just Lead! A No Whining, No Complaining, No Nonsense Practical Guide for Women Leaders in the Church. Jossey Bass

Giving Thanks

Dreams. Wind. Bread. Oriental rugs. Puppet shows. These are a few of the inspirations for Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast's 99 Blessings: An Invitation to Life. These short, concise, sometimes whimsical prayers of gratitude for gifts great and small are invitations to increase our awareness of life's daily wonders. Image

Thine is the Power

An anti-nuclear-weapons activist and a pastor, Tyler Wigg-Stevenson has had ample experience with fervor meeting disillusionment. He writes of how to avoid compassion fatigue and cynicism without retreating to solely personal piety or apathy in The World is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good. IVP Books

A Way Forward

Life after Death: Practical Help for the Widowed, by Elizabeth Bookser Barkley, offers guidance on the nitty-gritty of finances, self-care, finding emotional and spiritual support, caring for children while you're all grieving, and more, all framed in a frank, grounded spirituality. Franciscan Media

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A Glorious Mess

ANYONE WHO LIVES in Christian community or participates in congregational life knows that it is a holy mess. A group of flawed individuals trying to do "life together" can bring out the worst in one another. But that's precisely where God calls us to be.

In our hyperindividualistic culture, it's often difficult to remember that God has created us to be in community. Christian faith and discipleship, from the beginning, have been shaped not by going at it alone but by engaging in ancient and contemporary communal experiences. The first house churches and the formation of communities among the early desert fathers and mothers, as well as today's megachurches, parachurch organizations, and new monastic groups, all point to how we long to be connected to God and with one another.

Our faith and character are refined by the miraculous gifts of grace, reconciliation, and forgiveness made available to us in community. In such a demanding and disconnected world, it is indeed a miracle when two or more gather to break bread and give of themselves in service to God and one another.

Here are some books to help us along the Way, as we seek to deepen our understanding of what it means to be in communion with Christ and with each other.

In 2009 I was co-leading a new intentional community in Washington, D.C. Our nascent group endured many struggles, including interpersonal issues, conflicting visions and goals, and the involuntary removal of a community member. How I wish The Intentional Christian Community Handbook: For Idealists, Hypocrites, and Wannabe Disciples of Jesus (Paraclete Press), by David Janzen, was available when we first began our journey.

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No Time for Arm-Chair Activists

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