Unwavering convictions – Latest Beliefs books

Holding steadfast to decisions characterises many of the books in this months new releases – even when those decisions were counter-cultural or unpopular, bringing personal cost.

Syndetics book coverMartin Luther : renegade and prophet, by Lyndal Roper.
2017 is a milestone 500 years since the emergence of Martin Luther as an influential change agent in the church. This is a full-blooded portrait of a revolutionary thinker who was, deeply flawed and full of contradictions. Distinguished Oxford University historian, Lyndal Roper looks inside the heart of this complex figure. The force of Luther’s personality, she argues, had enormous historical effects–both good and ill. “This is Luther in colour.” (The Times) “Anyone seriously interested in one of the most influential figures of the last half-millennium will need to make time to read this one.” (Literary Review) The library has also recently purchased Martin Luther : Catholic Dissident.

Syndetics book coverThe souls of China : the return of religion after Mao, by Ian Johnson.
“From the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a revelatory portrait of religion in China today–its history, the spiritual traditions of its Eastern and Western faiths, and the ways in which it is influencing China’s future. China is now filled with new temples, churches, and mosques–as well as cults, sects, and politicians trying to harness religion for their own ends. Driving this explosion of faith is uncertainty–over what it means to be Chinese and how to live an ethical life in a country that discarded traditional morality a century ago and is searching for new guideposts.” (drawn from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverEverything is workable : a Zen approach to conflict resolution, by Diane Musho Hamilton.
“Conflict is going to be part of your life–as long as you have relationships, hold down a job, or have dry cleaning to be picked up. Bracing yourself against it won’t make it go away, but if you approach it consciously, you can navigate it in a way that not only honours everyone involved but makes it a source of deep insight as well. Seasoned mediator Diane Hamilton provides the skill set you need to engage conflict with wisdom and compassion, and even–sometimes–to be grateful for it.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA nun’s story : the deeply moving true story of giving up a life of love and luxury in a single irresistible moment, by Sister Agatha, with Richard Newman.
“One happy day, in the midst of writing to her fiancee, her hand stopped writing unbidden; then it continued by itself, etching the words which would change her life forever: “. . . but there’s no point now, as I am going to be a nun.” That bolt from the blue set events in motion that caused Shirley to lose her mother and sisters, her husband to be, her horses, her parties and life of ease. Within months, Shirley had become Sister Agatha. But her faith in her choice never faltered, …. Now 85, she looks back on an incredible life of love, loss, and belief. …. Sister Agatha’s momentous life will touch and inspire, while reminding us that it is perhaps better to accept that not everything in the world is yet explained.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSecular Buddhism : imagining the Dharma in an uncertain world, by Stephen Batchelor.
The practice of mindfulness is more common in mainstream Western culture, although many have little interest in the religious aspects of Buddhism. Is it possible to recover from the Buddhist teachings a vision of human flourishing that is secular rather than religious without compromising the integrity of the tradition? Batchelor explores the complex implications of Buddhism’s secularization and offers a detailed picture of contemporary Buddhism and its attempt to find a voice in the modern world. (drawn from the Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSalafi-jihadism : the history of an idea, by Shiraz Maher.
“While much has been said about the way jihadists behave, their ideology remains poorly understood. As the Levant has imploded and millenarian radicals claim to have revived a Caliphate based on the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, the need for a nuanced and accurate understanding of jihadist beliefs has never been greater. Shiraz Maher charts the intellectual underpinnings of salafi-jihadism from its origins in the mountains of the Hindu Kush to the jihadist insurgencies of the 1990s and the 9/11 wars. What emerges is the story of a pragmatic but resilient warrior doctrine that often struggles … to consolidate the idealism of theory with the reality of practice.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverUnwavering convictions : Gao Zhisheng’s ten-year torture and faith in China’s future, by Gao Zhisheng.
“Gao Zhisheng was one of Beijing’s most successful lawyers. Self-taught and brought up in poverty, he came to prominence through his defense of individuals persecuted by the Chinese government for their religion and practice of Falun Gong, before being detained, tortured, and imprisoned himself by the same regime. These pages are not an easy read, because they detail the regime’s attempts to break one of the greatest spirits of our time. Despite this, Gao Zhisheng’s unwavering convictions, profound beliefs, and commitment to humanity shine through.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe hidden school : return of the peaceful warrior, by Dan Millman.
“In the long-awaited conclusion to the international bestselling Peaceful Warrior saga, Dan Millman takes readers on an epic spiritual quest across the world as he searches for the link between everyday life and transcendent possibility. Continuing his journey from Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Dan moves from Honolulu to the Mojave Desert, and from a bustling Asian city to a secluded forest, until he uncovers the mystery of The Hidden School. While traversing continents, he uncovers lessons of life hidden in plain sight–insights pointing the way to an inspired life in the eternal present.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDays? or ages? : the Genesis question : a layman looks at Creation’s calendar, by Jerry Harmon.
“This work summarizes a thorough examination of Genesis 1, including relevant passages from other parts of the Bible, all in plain, straightforward language. … it draws from a wealth of scholarly works by some of the world’s leading theologians and other learned professionals. Whatever one’s opinion might be, this thesis will be informative reading and a significant resource to help clear away some of the clouds of mystery surrounding one of the Bible’s most challenging subjects.” (Syndetics summary)

Women and faith – Recent Beliefs arrivals

A strong feminine focus is featured in this month’s selections, but from widely different viewpoints. Read about Dominican sisters in NZ, the life of Buddhist nun Freda Bedi, or the latest title by best-selling author Ann Voskamp.

Syndetics book coverFighting hislam : women, faith and sexism, by Susan Carland.
Between the extremes often portrayed in western media, there is a group of Muslim women who have chosen to fight sexism from within, committed to this fight and their faith. “Here, Carland talks with Muslim women about how they are making a stand for their sex, while holding fast to their faith. At a time when the media trumpets scandalous revelations about life for women from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia, Muslim women are always spoken about and over, never with. In Fighting Hislam, that ends.” (publisher’s summary)

Syndetics book coverThe revolutionary life of Freda Bedi : British feminist, Indian nationalist, Buddhist nun, by Vicki MacKenzie, foreword by Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo.
Freda Bedi (1911-1977) was an English woman who become both a revolutionary in the fight for Indian independence and then a Buddhist icon. She was the first Western woman to become a Tibetan Buddhist nun and broke the rules of gender, race, and religion–in many cases before it was thought that the rules were ready to be challenged, and counted among her friends, and teachers Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, and many others. (Drawn from publisher’s summary)

Syndetics book coverWindows on a women’s world : the Dominican Sisters of Aotearoa New Zealand, by Susannah Grant.
10 Dominican sisters arrived in Dunedin in 1871, and for the first 100 years here the sisters were teaching nuns, living in large enclosed convents cut off from the outside world. But when the Second Vatican Council ushered in a period of radical change, they moved into small homes in local neighbourhoods, with new roles in education, social justice, pastoral care and spirituality. Grant completed a large number of oral histories with the sisters, and describes this transformation. (based on publisher’s summary)

Syndetics book coverThe religion of tomorrow : a vision for the future of the great traditions : more inclusive, more comprehensive, more complete, by Ken Wilber.
To be relevant to contemporary society, spiritual traditions need to take account of recent scientific discoveries about the mind, brain and emotions. Using Buddhism as an example, Wilber discusses his comprehensive Integral Approach — and shows how we can apply this to our own spiritual practice. “This is a call for wholeness, inclusiveness, and unity in the religions of tomorrow.” (Drawn from publisher’s summary)

Syndetics book coverGrace without God : the search for meaning, purpose, and belonging in a secular age, by Katherine Ozment.
Journalist Katherine Ozment guides us to understand the trends and impacts of the western flight from organized religion. Yet studies show that religion makes us happier, healthier and more giving, connecting us to our past and creating tight communal bonds. Spirituality & Health Magazine Best Book of 2016.

Syndetics book coverThe broken way : a daring path into the abundant life, by Ann Voskamp.
Best-selling author Ann Voskamp contemplates her own brokenness and asks: Is it really possible to live abundantly? Can we be whole? “This one’s for the busted ones who are ready to bust free, the ones ready to break molds, break chains, break measuring sticks, and break all this bad brokenness with an unlikely good brokenness. You could be one of the Beloved who is broken — and still lets yourself be loved.” (publisher’s summary)

Syndetics book coverGod’s generals : the military lives of Moses, Buddha, and Muhammad, by Richard A. Gabriel.
One of the more startling facts of religious history is that the founders of three of the four “greats” were also accomplished military generals with considerable battle experience. Muhammad, fought eight battles and was wounded twice, while Siddhartha Gautama (later, the Buddha), suffered from post-battle collapse, and Moses led his people to new lands, defeating the occupants. Where did the influence of militarism and religion end and begin in their lives?

Syndetics book coverLove hurts : Buddhist advice for the heartbroken, by Lodro Rinzler.
Lodro Rinzler has good news for those suffering heartbreak: the 2,500-year-old teachings of the Buddha have much to say about emotional pain. “In this short and compact first-aid kit for a broken heart, he walks you through the cause and cure of suffering, with much practical advice for self-care as you work to survive a breakup.” (publisher)

Syndetics book coverGrace, not perfection : embracing simplicity, celebrating joy, by Emily Ley.
“When Ley realized she could not do it all, at least not well – she began to simplify her life and prioritize her goals. Instead of holding herself to a picture-perfect standard, the author extended grace to herself and was able to give mental and physical space to those ambitions which mattered most. In a friend-to-friend tone, she advises investing in oneself, surrendering control, and cultivating contentment and gratitude. Simple exercises and response blanks follow each chapter. VERDICT A powerful antidote to society’s pressure to have all and be all to everyone.” (Library Journal, courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverWomen who knew Jesus, by Bonnie Ring.
Women were seen as low status citizens whose testimony couldn’t be trusted in court. The author paints a picture of Jesus interacting with women – becoming friends, and healing or teaching them. This mixes anecdotes, biblical commentary and short meditations to help readers engage with the stories.

Recent Religion picks for March

Fresh off the printing press is a guide-book to Martin Luther’s Reformation locations, an introduction to a Buddhist approach to economics, and two books of special interest to Jewish readers.

Syndetics book coverMuslim integration : pluralism and multiculturalism in New Zealand and Australia, edited by Erich Kolig and Malcolm Voyce.
This collection discusses the future of religio-cultural pluralism, multicultural policies, and the growing demands for greater emphasis on assimilation. Contributors examine issues such as parallel societies, Islamophobia, radicalization, tolerance, adaptation and mutual adjustment, legal pluralism, the role of mosque architecture, and media depictions of Muslims are examined. (Drawn from publisher’s summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Islamic Jesus : how the King of the Jews became a prophet of the Muslims, by Mustafa Akyol.
“Akyol exposes an extraordinary historical connection between Judaism, Jewish Christianity and Islam–a major mystery unexplored by academia. From Jesus’ Jewish followers to the Nazarenes and Ebionites to the Qu’ran’s stories of Mary and Jesus, The Islamic Jesus will reveal links between religions that seem so contrary today.” (drawn from the Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBuddhist economics : an enlightened approach to the dismal science, by Clair Brown.
Traditional economics measures the ways in which we spend our income, but doesn’t attribute worth to the crucial human interactions that give our lives meaning. Clair Brown, an economics professor at U.C. Berkeley and a practicing Buddhist, has developed a holistic model, which emphasises interdependence, shared prosperity, and happiness into her vision for a sustainable and compassionate world. This leads us to think mindfully as we go about our daily activities, and offers a way to appreciate how our actions affect the well-being of those around us.

Syndetics book coverAn atheist and a Christian walk into a bar… : talking about God, the universe, and everything, by Randal Rauser and Justin Schieber.
“Theology professor Rouser and YouTube personality Schieber offer complex, rigorous arguments that will challenge the thinking of believers and atheists alike…. They argue about whether testimony is valid evidence, what the major theological disagreements between religions suggest, what the creator’s seeming hostility to the universe means, whether the neat mathematical pattern of the universe proves intentional design, and how to best explain the problem of human suffering…” (From Publisher Weekly courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe story of Hebrew, by Lewis Glinert.
Although found in the language section, this book will be of interest to religious scholars. It shares the history of the development of the Hebrew language until modern times, as well as how religions have imbued it with rich symbolic power.

Syndetics book coverThe genius of Judaism, by Bernard-Henri Lévy ; translated by Steven B. Kennedy.
Chapter headings include : The strength of the Jews ; Jewish France ; How modern Judaism abolished the idea of revolution ; The temptation of Nineveh. What does it mean to be a Chosen People? ; Thus spake Jonah ; The Ninevites of Ukraine and Libya ; Does God arrive as an idea or through faith?

Syndetics book coverMaking sense of God : an invitation to the skeptical, by Timothy Keller.
Timothy Keller invites skeptics to consider that as human beings, we cannot live without meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, justice, and hope. Christianity provides us with unsurpassed resources to meet these needs. Written for both the ardent believer and the skeptic, Making Sense of God shines a light on the profound value and importance of Christianity in our lives. (Drawn from the publisher’s summary)

Syndetics book coverMartin Luther’s travel guide : 500 years of the ninety-five theses : on the trail of the Reformation in Germany, by Cornelia Dömer.
It’s often quite fun to set yourself a mission when travelling. If you’re planning a European trip, here’s an opportunity to make that mission places connected to Martin Luther – each town, castle, and church where the famed German preached, spoke ….. or fought. Travelers will find information on the historic towns of Dresden, Eisleben, Erfurt, Gotha, Leipzig, Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Weimar, and Worms. Also includes stories about Luther’s life and work as well as maps, and timelines.

Syndetics book coverLive better : a book of spiritual guidance, by Sophie Golding.
“Your spiritual journey can take many forms, and it’s important to choose the path that’s right for you. This handbook will introduce you to traditions and practices with the power to open your heart and broaden your mind. Along with practical tips and enlightening quotes, the insights here are stepping stones towards a better life.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAtlas of Christian history, by Tim Dowley ; cartographer, Nick Rowland.
“Concise, helpful text, written by acknowledged authorities, guide the experience and interpret the visuals. … The atlas is broken into five primary parts that correspond well to most major introductions to the topic. The final section on the modern era pays significant attention to the growth of Christianity as a global religion. Extensive maps are provided that illuminate Christianity in Asian, African, and Latin American contexts.” (drawn from the Publisher’s description).

Beliefs books : January edition

If you’re looking for inspiration, challenge, or reflection, there’s some great holiday reading to begin the year. Two important recommended titles to note are The Little History Of Religion, and the latest biography of Samuel Marsden.

Syndetics book coverThe world, the flesh & the Devil : the life and opinions of Samuel Marsden in England and the Antipodes, 1765-1838, by Andrew Sharp.
“By diving deeply into key moments – the voyage out, the disputes with Macquarie, the founding of missions – Sharp gets us to reimagine the world as Marsden saw it: always under threat from the Prince of Darkness, in need of ‘a bold reprover of vice’, a world written in the words of the King James Bible. Andrew Sharp takes us back into the nineteenth-century world, and an evangelical mind, to reveal the past as truly a foreign country”–Publisher information.

Syndetics book coverTalking God : philosophers on belief, edited by Gary Gutting.
Where does belief come from? This book features conversations with twelve skeptics, atheists, agnostics, and believers including challenges from evolution, cutting-edge physics and cosmology, and meditations on the value of secular humanism. Insights on Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, as well as Judaism and Christianity are offered.

Syndetics book coverA little history of religion, by Richard Holloway.
Richard Holloway begins at the dawn of religious belief and retells, quite succinctly, the history of religion to the twenty-first century. Suitable for those with faith and those without, he accentuates tolerance, mystery, and calmly restores a sense of the value of faith. The discussion covers all of the major religions, and is simple without being simplistic. Evil done in the name of religion is not overlooked. This is an important snapshot to aid understanding different beliefs.

Syndetics book coverAwakening from the daydream : reimagining the Buddha’s wheel of life, by David Nichtern.
“Although traditionally thought of as modes of reincarnation, Nichtern describes the realms as mental states that we move between, sometimes quite rapidly. He clearly and briefly describes how each blocks our path towards enlightenment but also contain unique possibilities. He also provides concise and easily implemented meditation practices for coping with the negative effects of each and includes a basic guide to karma and advice for finding a spiritual guide. …this is a clear, and current introduction to Buddhist thought and practice.” (drawn from Publisher Weekly, courtesy of Syndetics).

Syndetics book coverThe great good thing : a secular Jew comes to faith in Christ, by Andrew Klavan.
Klavan shares his own story – growing up Jewish in New York, and his eventual conversion to Christianity, at the end of a long search, through university and professional help. But he was gifted to receive an encounter with the living Christ, the Jewish Messiah, which brought him to a sure knowledge of his place in the cosmos and God’s kingdom. God’s answer to his prayer was “wildly generous, an act of extravagant grace.”

Syndetics book coverAngels on Earth : inspiring stories of fate, friendship, and the power of connections, by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski.
An inspiring book about the incredible impact that acts of kindness from strangers can have – impacting not only the receiver but also the giver. Schroff’s own journey has deepened her belief that angels (those sent by God) are all around us.

Syndetics book coverA Jewish guide in the Holy Land : how Christian pilgrims made me Israeli, by Jackie Feldman.
Jackie Feldman (born into an Orthodox Jewish family in New York) reflects on his work guiding many groups of Christian pilgrims – “counterintuitive work” for more than 30 years. The writing style is a mix of memoir and sociological study, which also documents his personal journey across this time.

Syndetics book coverThe universe has your back : transform fear to faith, by Gabrielle Bernstein.
“New York Times best-selling author Gabrielle Bernstein teaches readers how to transform their fear into faith in order to live a divinely guided life. Each story and lesson in the book guides readers to release the blocks to what they most long for: happiness, security and clear direction. The lessons help readers relinquish the need to control so they can relax into a sense of certainty and freedom.” (drawn from the publisher’s description).

Syndetics book coverMaking life easy : a simple guide to a divinely inspired life, by Christiane Northrup, M.D.
“Dr. Northrup explores the essential truth that has guided her ever since medical school: Our bodies, minds, and souls are profoundly intertwined. Feeling your best is about far more than physical health; it’s also about having a healthy emotional life and a robust spiritual life… You will learn to: – Untie the knots of blame and guilt that harm your health – Use sexual energy consciously to increase vitality – Balance your microbiome through healthy eating – Cultivate a healthy ego that serves you (not vice versa) – Communicate directly with the Divine.” (drawn from the Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPreaching : communicating faith in an age of skepticism, by Timothy Keller.
“We can discern at least three levels of “Word ministry” in the Bible. … Every Christian should be able to give both teaching (didaskalia, the ordinary word for instruction) and admonition (noutheo — a common word for strong, life-changing counsel) that convey to others the teachings of the Bible. This must be done carefully, though informally, in conversations that are usually one on one.”(drawn from chapter 1)

Big questions – Recent Beliefs books

Two very different approaches to the questions of faith versus science are featured this month, together with a unique view of London, the Pyramid texts, and an award-winning book on religious violence.

Syndetics book coverFestivals in the Southern Hemisphere : insights into cosmic and seasonal aspects of the whole earth, by Martin Samson.
Many festivals draw on northern hemisphere seasons. This has led some to suggest that some festivals in the southern hemisphere should be celebrated at opposite times of the year: for example, celebrating Christmas in June. Rudolf Steiner shared cosmic, spiritual imaginations for the northern hemisphere, and in this book Martin Samson develops a useful equivalent guide for the southern hemisphere.

Syndetics book coverLondon : a spiritual history, by Edouardo Albert.
Viewing the expanse of religious history through the lens of one city provides a great snapshot of beliefs over the centuries. Albert discusses what its inhabitants believed and what they worshipped, delving into where, when, and how, and covering the landmarks, the names, the issues, and the arguments. It begins in early pagan times, and comes forward in time and is peppered with the author’s own spiritual journey.

Syndetics book coverThe big question : why we can’t stop talking about science, faith, and God, by Alister McGrath.
“McGrath develops a perspective in which science and religion enrich rather than threaten one another. That perspective highlights the formative influence of Christian faith during the scientific revolution and exposes the urgent need to move beyond the limits of contemporary science to find transcendent sources of morality and meaning. … McGrath calls for a full-bodied humanism invigorated by both scientific reasoning and religious devotion.” (Drawn from Booklist, courtesy of Syndetics) Also by the same author: Inventing the universe : why we can’t stop talking about science, faith and God.

Syndetics book coverFaith versus fact : why science and religion are incompatible, by Jerry A. Coyne.
“Religion and science compete in many ways to describe reality – they both make “existence claims” about what is real – but they use different tools to meet this goal. In his elegant, provocative, and direct argument, leading evolutionary biologist and bestselling author Jerry Coyne lays out in clear, patient, dispassionate details why the toolkit of science, based on reason and empirical study, is reliable, while that of religion – including faith, dogma and revelation – is unreliable and leads to incorrect, untestable, or conflicting conclusions.” (drawn from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPushing boundaries : New Zealand protestants and overseas missions, 1827-1939, by Hugh Morrison.
Quite a lot has been written on the very first wave of missionaries to come to New Zealand. But our understanding of why, within a generation or two, the settler church was sending missionaries from NZ, is weak. Hugh Morrison outlines why missions were important to the colonial churches. What motivated these New Zealanders to leave their new home to live elsewhere? Was it similar colonial trends of culture, empire, childhood and education, or something else?

Syndetics book coverNot in God’s name : confronting religious violence, by Jonathan Sacks.
“2015 National Jewish Book Award Winner. Through an exploration of the roots of violence and its relationship to religion, and employing groundbreaking biblical analysis and interpretation, Rabbi Sacks shows that religiously inspired violence has as its source misreadings of biblical texts at the heart of all three Abrahamic faiths. “Abraham himself,” writes Rabbi Sacks, “sought to be a blessing to others regardless of their faith. That idea, ignored for many of the intervening centuries, remains the simplest definition of Abrahamic faith.” (drawn from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWithout rival : embrace your identity and purpose in an age of confusion and comparison, by Lisa Bevere.
Bevere, popular conference speaker, offers insights on women’s identity within her place in God’s kingdom, and draws on Christ’s own teachings. She recognises the gender prejudice still to be found in many churches but reaches beyond that to remind readers of God’s message of love to women, despite the challenges they face in every age.

Syndetics book coverThe quest for Mary Magdalene, by Michael Haag.
Recent novels and films have painted Mary Magdalene as a significant figure in early Christian tradition. This book follows her through the centuries from the gospels, and shows how each age has redefined her image, role, and identity – whether as a key disciple, Jesus of Nazareth’s wife, fallen woman, or a symbol of humility. This book shines a light on this mysterious figure.

Syndetics book coverThe silver eye : unlocking the pyramid texts, by Susan Brind Morrow.
“The Pyramid Texts were carved onto the walls of burial chambers in royal pyramids 4,000 years ago. They have intrigued scholars, mystics and historians ever since they were discovered in 1881… These writings are in fact among the world’s oldest poetry, cosmological speculations and reflections on nature. Susan Brind Morrow has recast The Pyramid Texts as a coherent work of art, arguing that they should be recognized as a formative event in the evolution of human thought.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBattling the gods : atheism in the ancient world, by Tim Whitmarsh.
Atheism is not a modern invention but was a capital offence in ancient Greece and Rome due to state beliefs that the gods stabilized society – despite being depicted in popular culture as cruel, or distant. Whitmarsh puts forward the view that this civic strategy spawned a large underground atheist community, hinted at in classical texts, papyri and inscriptions. When Christianity surfaced, this approach to civic order was replaced by one god and one moral code was useful uniting the large empire, and atheism was still a counter-culture.