Faith seekers – New Beliefs books

There are more than two sides to every story, and this month we present several contrasting views : of science, faith, sin and the church.

Syndetics book coverPost-traumatic church syndrome : a memoir of humor and healing, by Reba Riley.
Reba Riley’s twenty-ninth year was a terrible time. An untreatable chronic illness forced her to take stock of things and she decided if she couldn’t fix her body, she might heal her injured spirit. This began a circuit of visiting thirty religions before her thirtieth birthday. She visited an Amish community, a Buddhist temple, a virtual reality church, movie theater, a drive-in bar, sweat lodge, and fasted for thirty days without food. She realised she didn’t have to choose a religion to choose God. This is a book for questioners, doubters, misfits, and seekers of all faiths. (drawn from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverArt + religion in the 21st century, by Aaron Rosen.
“The relationship between art and religion has been long, complex, and often conflicted, and it has given rise to many of the greatest works in the history of art. Artists today continue to reflect seriously upon religious traditions, themes, and institutions, suggesting a new approach to spirituality that is more considered than confrontational. Art & Religion in the 21st Century is the first in-depth study to survey an international roster of artists who use their work to explore religion’s cultural, social, political, and psychological impact on today’s world. … Each of the book’s ten chapters introduces a theme e.g. ideas of the Creation, the figure of Jesus, the sublime, wonder, diaspora and exile, conflict, etc followed by a selection of works of art that illustrates that theme.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBreaking the Mother Goose code : how a fairy-tale character fooled the world for 300 years, by Jeri Studebaker.
“Who was Mother Goose? Where did she come from, and when? … Several have tried to pin her down, claiming she was the mother of Charlemagne, the wife of Clovis (King of the Franks), the Queen of Sheba, or even Elizabeth Goose of Boston, Massachusetts. Others think she’s related to mysterious goose-footed statues in old French churches called “Queen Pedauque.” This book delves deeply into the surviving evidence for Mother Goose’s origins – from her nursery rhymes and fairy tales as well as from relevant historical, mythological, and anthropological data.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHow’s your faith? : an unlikely spiritual journey, by David Gregory.
While NBC journalist David was covering the White House, he was taken aback by President George W. Bush asking him “How’s your faith?” In his early years he had no real beliefs although he identified culturally with the Jewish faith then his marriage to a Protestant woman of strong faith inspired him to explore his own spirituality. This question prompted him to explore more – he visited Christian mega-churches as well as deep into Orthodox Judaism. He interviewed leaders such as Joel Osteen and Cardinal Timothy Dolan. “David approaches his faith with the curiosity and dedication you would expect from a journalist accustomed to holding politicians and Presidents accountable. But he also comes as a seeker, one just discovering why spiritual journeys are always worthwhile.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSearching for Sunday : loving, leaving, and finding the Church, by Rachel Held Evans.
What does it mean to be part of the Church? Like millions of millennials, Rachel Held Evans didn’t want to go to church. The hypocrisy, the politics, the budgets, the scandals – church culture seemed too removed from Jesus. Yet, something kept drawing her back. Her journey took her through seven sacraments often associated with church – baptism, communion, confirmation, confession, marriage, vocation, and death. This is not theology, but a memoir about taking risks, community, grace, and finding hope, somewhere in the messiness of church.

Syndetics book coverNot in God’s name : confronting religious violence, by Jonathan Sacks.
This author tackles the phenomenon of religious extremism and violence committed in the name of God. If religion is perceived as being part of the problem, Rabbi Sacks argues, then it must also form part of the solution. Rabbi Sacks shows that religiously inspired violence has as its source misreadings of biblical texts, and offers a new interpretation of early myths. “Abraham himself,” writes Rabbi Sacks, “sought to be a blessing to others regardless of their faith.” Our task is to be a blessing to the world, not destroy it in God’s name.

Syndetics book coverMemories of heaven : children’s astounding recollections of the time before they came to Earth, by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer and Dee Garnes.
“British poet William Wordsworth expressed the idea that we gradually lose our intimate knowledge of heaven as we grow up, observing that “our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting” of our previous heavenly existence…. Curious about this, Wayne and Dee decided to issue an invitation to parents all over the world to share their interactions with children. The overwhelming response they received prompted them to put together this book, which includes the most interesting and illuminating of these stories in which very young children speak about their remembrances before they were born. … This fascinating book encourages parents and grandparents to realize that there is far more to this earthly experience than what we perceive with our five senses.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFaith versus fact : why science and religion are incompatible, by Jerry A. Coyne.
Evolutionary biologist Jerry A. Coyne argues that science, based on reason and empirical study, will be in conflict with religious faith, and revelation. Building on the books by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, he demolishes the claims of religion to provide verifiable “truth” by subjecting those claims to the same tests we use to establish truth in science. Coyne urges us not to mistake faith for fact.

Syndetics book coverInventing the universe : why we can’t stop talking about science, faith and God, by Alister McGrath.
We just can’t stop talking about the big questions around science and faith. Some have expected them to go away – in fact, we seem to talk about them more than ever. … Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists argue that religion is at war with science – and that we have to choose between them. But it’s time to consider a different way of looking at these two great cultural forces. What if science and faith might enrich each other? What if they can together give us a deep and satisfying understanding of life? Alister McGrath, argues that the relationship between science and faith is complex.

Syndetics book coverSaving the original sinner : how Christians have used the Bible’s first man to oppress, inspire, and make sense of the world, by Karl Giberson.
“When global exploration, anthropology, geology, paleontology, biblical studies, and even linguistics cast doubt on the historicity of Adam and his literal fall into sin, Christians responded by creatively reimagining the creation story, letting Adam “evolve” to accommodate his changing context. Even conservative evangelical institutions until recently encouraged serious engagement with evolutionary science, unhindered by the straitjacket of young-earth creationism, intelligent design, or other views demanding that Adam be a historical figure. Giberson calls for a renewed conversation between science and Christianity, and for more open engagement with new scientific discoveries, even when they threaten central doctrines. ” (drawn from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBorn bad : original sin and the making of the Western world, by James Boyce.
“”Original sin is the Western world’s creation story.” According to the Christian doctrine of original sin, humans are born inherently bad, and only through God’s grace can they achieve salvation. In this captivating and controversial book, acclaimed historian James Boyce explores how this centuries-old concept has shaped the Western view of human nature right up to the present. … religious ideas of morality still very much underpin our modern secular society, regardless of our often being unaware of their origins. If today the specific doctrine has all but disappeared (even from churches), what remains is the distinctive discontent of Western people–the feelings of guilt and inadequacy associated not with doing wrong, but with being wrong.” (Syndetics summary)

Reform and reflections – New Beliefs books

The month features several contrasting books on Islam, together with a thoughtful biography of Judas Iscariot, a discussion on karma, and metaphors for God.

Syndetics book coverIslam and Nazi Germany’s war, by David Motadel.
German troops on the ground in North Africa, the Balkans, and the Eastern front engaged with diverse Muslim populations. This is the first comprehensive account of Berlin’s attempts to build an alliance with the Islamic world. David Motadel explains how German officials tried to promote the Third Reich as a patron of Islam, and explores Germany’s policies and propaganda in the Muslim war zones. This details the profound impact of the Second World War on Muslims around the world. (drawn from Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe dark night of the shed : men, the mid-life crisis, spirituality & sheds, by Nick Page.
Whether it’s splashing out on a sports car, having an affair, moving to the country, getting divorced, or joining a church, there is a time where a man looks up and asks whether this is really where he wants to be. Whatever choices he’s made, maybe that’s not enough any more. Nick Page has been there, and he decided to build a shed. Not to answer any big questions but to create space to think, properly think. “Join him on a journey of discovery, into what the midlife crisis really is, and whether there’s a better way to go at it than frittering away time and money trying to pretend you’re really younger than you are.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverJudas : the troubling history of the renegade apostle, by Peter Stanford.
Beginning with the Biblical gospels, Peter explores two thousand years of cultural and theological history to unravel how the very name Judas came to be synonymous with betrayal. But is this most vilified of Bible characters a traitor, a victim, or a scapegoat? Was his role essential in the divine drama of salvation? Whatever you decide, this is a balanced and compelling read about one of Christianity’s most troubled characters.

Syndetics book coverOne Islam, many Muslim worlds : spirituality, identity, and resistance across Islamic lands, by Raymond William Baker.
Islam has emerging as a strong transnational force. What implications does this have for the West? Baker argues that this renewed vigour does not stem from official religious institutions, nor violent, marginal groups. His analysis of the Islamic world leads him to look to centrists to bring new life to Islam, and build a cohesive Islamic identity that belongs in the modern world.

Syndetics book coverHeretic : why Islam needs a reformation now, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
The author argues that a religious Reformation within Islam is needed to end the terrorism, in-fighting, and mistreatment of women and minorities throughout the Muslim world. Are these extreme acts just that, or driven by thinking integral to Islam? The majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are very peaceable but there is only one Islam. Ayaan Hirsi Ali proposes five key amendments to Islamic doctrine for all Muslims.

Syndetics book coverDisquiet time : rants and reflections on the Good Book by the skeptical, the faithful, and a few scoundrels, edited by Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani.
“An engaging and hilarious collection that encourages readers to tackle those strange, awkward, worrying, yet endlessly compelling passages of the Bible. The Bible is full of not-so-precious moments, from murder and mayhem, to sex and slavery. … Why did the artist of the oldest known picture of Jesus intentionally paint him with a wonky eye? … written by and for Bible-loving Christians, agnostics, skeptics, none-of-the-aboves, and people who aren’t afraid to dig deep spiritually, ask hard questions, and have some fun along the way.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverKarma : what it is, what it isn’t, why it matters, by Traleg Kyabgon.
“By now, we’ve all heard someone say, “It must have been his karma” or “She had bad karma.” But what is karma, really? Does karmic theory say that we are helpless victims of our past? Is all karma bad, or can there be good karma too? Is reincarnation the same as the Buddhist theory of rebirth? Traleg Kyabgon answers these questions and more by elucidating the Buddha’s teachings on karma and rebirth. He distinguishes the Buddhist view of karma and rebirth from related notions of karma and reincarnation found in the Hindu tradition, explains why the notion of karma is indispensable to the theory and practice of Buddhism, and demonstrates how karmic theory provides a foundation for morality that doesn’t require belief in God.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFinding the forgotten God : credible faith for a secular age, by Ron Hay.
“A brilliant explanation of the Christian faith which deals in a fresh way with the questions people often ask. This work among other things provides in depth information regarding the recent advances made by science, advances that lead toward where the mystics have sat for thousands of years. It is in short, an original and valuable resource book and one that will stand the test of time.” (Syndetics summary) Winner of 2015 Mind Body Spirit Literary Award.

Syndetics book coverThe Vatican prophecies : investigating supernatural signs, apparitions, and miracles in the modern age, by John Thavis.
This is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how the Vatican investigates claims of miraculous events, balancing tensions between traditional beliefs and contemporary thought. Some prophecies or miracles lead to headlines that often test the Catholic Church’s concepts of faith and reason. Are these absurd or evidence of a private relationship with God? Within the Vatican there is a complex evaluation system to judge the authenticity of supernatural claims. Suitable for both Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Syndetics book coverWearing God : clothing, laughter, fire, and other overlooked ways of meeting God, by Lauren F. Winner.
Are your pictures of God as an old man? How is God described in the Scriptures? These questions led the author on a search through the images and metaphors used there. Yes, there are the familiar images: creator, judge, father, but also lesser-known pictures of clothing, laughter, or food. Reflecting on these can deepen our spiritual lives was each reveals God to be much closer and more personal than we previously imagine.

Travelling life’s paths – Recent Religion reads

This month’s beliefs selections explore journeys that we may encounter – why we make life decisions to leave or join groups, how we transition through stages in our lives, or how certain events can transform our whole perspective.

Syndetics book coverThe saffron road : a journey with Buddha’s daughters, by Christine Toomey.
“Part travelogue, part history, part spiritual enquiry, this records stories of Buddhist nuns from both the East and West including why they decided to become nuns, often leaving professional careers or marriages. Their answers varied but one common thread is a search for spiritual satisfaction. Toomey offers some explanations of Buddhist principles in context, but this is suitable for readers who know nothing about Buddhism.

Syndetics book coverBridge between worlds : extraordinary experiences that changed lives, by Dan Millman and Doug Childers.
This is a collection of inspiring stories about people whose lives were changed by extraordinary events – “unique journeys across bridges to a higher reality.”(Syndetics summary) In the authors’ cases a sudden crash changed Millman’s Olympic hopes, while Childers experienced a violent attack. Lives of ordinary people as well as more famous figures invite the reader to reconsider the mysterious possibilities for growth hidden in daily life.

Syndetics book coverHiding in the light : why I risked everything to leave Islam and follow Jesus, by Rifqa Bary. Rifqa Bary grew up in a devout Muslim home, and was used to following her parents’ practice of Islam obediently. This is the story of Rifqa’s remarkable spiritual journey from Islam to Christianity, a decision with considerable personal cost, including a controversial court case in Florida. This is the story of a young girl who made life-changing sacrifices to follow the God calling her to follow Jesus.

Syndetics book coverSoul shifts : transformative wisdom for creating a life of authentic awakening, emotional freedom, and practical spirituality, by Barbara De Angelis.
“There are pivotal moments in the lives of all seekers when we realize that we’ve been traveling on our path of growth toward happiness and ful­fillment, but, simply put, we want to go faster. How we have been living, working, and loving just isn’t enough or even acceptable anymore. We know we’re being called to something more signi­ficant and expanded–we can feel it. At these times what’s needed is not simply more change or an adjustment in our outer life, but profound transformation. We don’t just want to rearrange the pieces of ourselves so that they look better temporarily. We want nothing less than rebirth. We are ready for Soul Shifts. ….” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAll the places to go… how will you know? : God has placed before you an open door. What will you do? by John Ortberg.
God opens doors through circumstances and invites us to walk through. There are no guarantees what is on the other side, but how we respond shapes the person we will become. Author John Ortberg opens our eyes to the many opportunities which are placed before us each day, teaches us how to recognize them, and gives us the encouragement to step out in faith and embrace what follows.

Syndetics book coverAfter this : when life is over, where do we go? by Claire Bidwell Smith.
Smith wonders: How do we grieve our loved ones without proof that they live on? Will we ever see them again? Can they see us now? Smith attempts to show how exploring the afterlife can have a positive impact on the grief process. Smith undergoes sessions with mediums and psychics plus ceremonies of organized religion to try and find the answers.

Syndetics book coverJewish wisdom for growing older : finding your grit & grace beyond midlife, by Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman, MSW, MA, BCC.
While most of us (irrespective of our age) have lived alongside ‘older persons’ nothing really prepares us for our own senior years – whether viewed as opportunities or increasing frustrations. Our youth-centred culture often offers us few clues to living fully and well as we age. Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman, shares ancient Jewish wisdom for values, tools and insights to rejuvenate your mission, embrace changing family roles, and your reflect on your experiences with a healthy combination of reverence and realism.

Syndetics book coverI met a monk : 8 weeks to happiness, freedom and peace, by Rose Elliot.
Join chef Rose Elliot and her guests to learn about mindfulness meditation from the wise and witty Buddhist monk Rose has invited into her home. This is an introduction to mindfulness meditation and the simple core tenets of Buddhist teaching, showing how we can easily apply them to 21st-century life, set out as an 8-week course. Each chapter has recommended practical exercises. ‘I hope that as you read this book you too may feel you are taking part, and that it may be as life-changing for you as it was for me.’ – Rose Elliot.

Image from amazon.comWalking the Bible : a journey by land through the five books of Moses, by Bruce Feiler.
Feiler has joined archaeologist Avner Goren in a trek through the Middle East, visiting the sites mentioned in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. This weaves together archaeological evidence, history, theology, myth, and travelogue, to explore many stories in the Pentateuch as he visited the places. His account also includes encounters with other pilgrims and interviews with local residents. One senses that Feiler’s own spiritual journey was strengthened by his first hand experience of this significant stories on location.

Beliefs Biographies Abound – June Recent Picks

This month’s selections include three windows into Pope Francis’ life and contribution, and two very different rites of passage away from fundamentalist family communities.

Syndetics book coverMama Maggie : the untold story of one woman’s mission to love the forgotten children of Egypt’s garbage slums, by Marty Makary and Ellen Vaughn.
This chronicles the story of the Maggie Gobran, “Mother Teresa of Egypt”, from privileged child to stylish businesswoman to college professor and now the figure in white who walks among Cairo’s notorious zabala, or garbage slums. Her work has seen multiple Nobel Prize nominations. “Smart and savvy, as tough as she is tender, Maggie Gobran is utterly surrendered to her mission to the “garbage people” who captured her heart. At her request, the book also spotlights the people she serves – the men, women, and children who prove every day what a little bit of help and a lot of love can do.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWhere the dead pause, and the Japanese say goodbye : a journey, by Marie Mutsuki Mockett.
Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s family owns a Buddhist temple 25 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. In March 2011, after the earthquake and tsunami, radiation levels prohibited the burial of her Japanese grandfather’s bones. As Japan mourned thousands of people lost in the disaster, Mockett also grieved for her American father, who had died unexpectedly. Her journey towards consolation leads her into the radiation zone in a white hazmat suit; to Eiheiji, a school for Zen Buddhist monks; to a Crab Lady and Fuzzy-Headed Priest’s temple on Mount Doom; and into the “thick dark” of the subterranean labyrinth under Kiyomizu temple, among other twists and turns. … (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe great reformer : Francis and the making of a radical pope, by Austen Ivereigh.
At its heart, this book is as much about Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the remarkable man whose background and total commitment to the discernment of God’s will transformed him into Pope Francis, as it is about the intersection of faith and politics. This investigates Francis’ teenage years growing up in Buenos Aires and events during the Perón era that shaped his beliefs; his ongoing conflict and disillusionment with an authoritarian and militaristic government in the 1970s and priestly training gave him a unique understanding and advocacy for a “Church of the Poor”; through to present days. The library has also received The future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis, by Garry Wills, and Pope Francis : conversations with Jorge Bergoglio, by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti.

Syndetics book coverThe spiritual child : the new science on parenting for health and lifelong thriving, by Lisa Miller ; with Teresa Barker.
Psychologist Lisa Miller explains the evidence for a link between spirituality and health to explain that children who are developing a positive approach to spirituality are 60% less likely to be depressed as teenagers, and have significantly more positive indicators for thriving including an increased sense of purpose, and high levels of academic success. Miller then translates these research findings into practical advice for parents to encourage their children’s wellbeing in concrete ways.

Syndetics book coverCut me loose : sin and salvation after my ultra-Orthodox girlhood, by Leah Vincent.
This memoir tells of a young woman’s promiscuous and self-destructive spiral after being cast out of her ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbi’s family. At sixteen she was caught sending letters to a male friend, and her parents packed her up and put her on a plane out of New York. She spent the next few years using her sexuality as a way of attracting male approval and becoming increasingly unfaithful to the religious dogma of her past. This is the story of one woman’s harrowing struggle to define herself as an individual. (drawn from the Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGirl at the end of the world : my escape from fundamentalism in search of faith with a future, by Elizabeth Esther.
What happens when a pastor holds unchecked sway over his followers? How can we leave behind the harm inflicted in the name of God without losing God in the process? “I was raised in a homegrown, fundamentalist Christian group … I know hundreds of obscure nineteenth-century hymns by heart and have such razor sharp “modesty vision” that I can spot a miniskirt a mile away. Verily, verily I say unto thee, none of these highly specialized skills ever got me a job, but at least I’m all set for the end of the world. Selah.” This is a story of the impact of spiritual abuse on young psyche and the growing hope that God can still be good when His people fail. (drawn from the Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverTurning the hearts of the children : early Māori leaders in the Mormon Church, edited by Selwyn Kātene.
This book discusses twelve influential men and women, who joined the Mormon Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and became leaders. Each chapter is written by direct descendants of these rangatira. What inspired so many Maori in the 1880s to question the mainstream churches and turn to the Mormon church? Unlike other missionaries, the Mormons did not reject traditional Maori socio-cultural mores, but shared reverence for family and genealogy, and guidance by visions and dreams.

Syndetics book coverThree journeys to Heaven : the true stories of my near death experiences, by Marilou Trask-Curtin.
Having died and returned to life several times, the author shares how her experiences have shaped her behaviour, goals, attitude, and life mission. Guardian angels, and healing miracles have also been part of her journey.

Syndetics book coverJesus on trial : a lawyer affirms the truth of the gospel, by David Limbaugh.
A former law professor relies on his lifetime of legal experience to examine the evidence within the gospels for the life and work of Jesus Christ. He reflects on his own spiritual and intellectual passage from determined sceptic to devout Christian. Limbaugh concludes that gospels stand up to examination e.g. internal consistency, together with historical and religious evidence beyond the gospels.

Syndetics book coverGod’s bankers : a history of money and power at the Vatican, by Gerald Posner.
After an investigation for nine years this book traces the political intrigue and inner workings of the Catholic Church, and its accumulation of wealth and links with financial markets across the world throughout the last 200 years. The vast cast includes Popes and cardinals, financiers and mobsters, and even kings and prime ministers. This is the challenge of any church leader – how to overcome and rein in the obstructive financial excesses of its privileged headquarters far from the ‘leper’ on the street corner.

Recent Beliefs Books added

Get a sneak peek into a world ruled by nuns, 50 important Roman or Greek myths, or novelist Debbie Macomber’s depiction of life as a grand narrative written by God.

Syndetics book coverGod, faith & identity from the ashes : reflections of children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, edited by Menachem Z. Rosensaft ; prologue by Elie Wiesel.
Eighty-eight contributors from a broad range of occupations and professions, including theologians and spiritual leaders offer reflections on how the memories of the Holocaust shared with them have affected their lives. Contributors include: Stephanie Butnick, associate editor, Tablet Magazine, London Rabbi Abie Ingber, Germany Rabbi Lody van de Kamp, author, Holland Rabbi Lilly Kaufman, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Vilnius Rabbi Benny Lau, Ramban Synagogue, Israel Rabbi Michael Marmur, provost, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg, Congregation Beth-El, Edison, Philadelphia Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, Temple Beth Zion. Intended for a popular audience of people of all faiths.

Syndetics book cover30-second mythology : the 50 most important Greek and Roman myths, monsters, heroes and gods, each explained in half a minute, editor, Robert A. Segal ; contributors Viv Croot [and six others].
The sub-title says it all. Why did Odysseus’ journey take 10 years? Who was Oedipus, and what did Hercules do to deserve his 12 labours? A snappy quick reference guide to Roman and Greek gods and goddesses, heroes and monsters, and the classic tales of heroism and exploits.

Syndetics book coverMy way : a Muslim woman’s journey, by Mona Siddiqui.
“The vast majority of Muslims do not wish to see Islam used as a divisive force within the largely secular societies in which they live. How then can Muslim stereotyping be challenged? Mona Siddiqui is one of the foremost Western authorities on the reconciliation of 21st-century life and Islamic custom. In this new and searching book, she applies a uniquely probing intelligence, as well as a female sensibility, to crucial issues of faith and identity (such as wearing the veil) within society at large.” (excerpt from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOnce upon a time : discovering our forever after story, Debbie Macomber.
“Debbie Macomber has inspired readers with her stories for decades. Now for the first time, she helps each of us to understand that life is a story, part of a grand narrative that God is writing day by day. With chapters that cover the importance of literary elements such as characters, setting, backstory, and conflict, Macomber uses the structure of a story to illustrate God’s hand in our lives. Each chapter has a storytelling prompt-a searching question that will help frame our story….” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverKernel & husk : the waning of Jesus in Godzone, by Bill Cooke.
New Zealanders are relatively indifferent to questions about Jesus. The author explores through a historical lens why this could be. Read about religious controversies and developments and their impacts over the decades – from Ron Glover, the only New Zealander to be tried for blasphemy, to Richard Stacey, who changed his name to Jesus Christ, to CK Stead’s novel My name was Judas.

Syndetics book coverIf nuns ruled the world : ten sisters on a mission, by Jo Piazza.
Ten nuns and the causes they have dedicated their lives to are explored. These are catalysts of change – from a brave sister rescuing victims of human trafficking, to serving poverty-stricken communities, eliminating nuclear weapons, or seeking acceptance of gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church. “These sisters offer inspiring, provocative counterstories that are sure to spark debate.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverAgainst the odds : true stories of forgiveness and healing, by Carmel Thomason.
” No relationship can survive without the ability to forgive, but sometimes we are hurt so deeply or so often that forgiveness appears impossible. This collection of inspirational true stories demonstrate the healing power of forgiveness through ordinary people’s experiences of war, crime, terrorism, betrayal, relationship breakdown and the uncertainty of life’s path. … this uplifting and practical book will encourage you to think about your own experience of forgiveness – how you might make this gift an everyday part of your life, let go of pain, restore relationships and live your life to the full.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverYour true nature : wisdom of living masters, by Natalie Deane and Damien Lafont.
French scientist Damien Lafont and Australian publisher Natalie Deane journey the world to meet spiritual masters and speak with indigenous elders, quantum physicists, gurus and philosophers. Each person shared their wisdom on love, lessons and the keys to living a truly awakened life. One important message was the vital need to awaken to the wisdom of who we really are.

Syndetics book coverThe afterlife bible : the complete guide to otherworldly experience, by Sarah Bartlett.
“This is both a definitive companion to the beliefs of the afterlife, and a practical guide to the spiritual realm – seeking it for comfort and healing in this life. Beliefs are drawn from ancient myth and religion as well as contemporary spiritual faiths, and include tales of supernatural contact between worlds. It examines the role of mediums and healers, and scientific evidences. Exercises include meditation, channelling, dream work, astral travel, and scrying.

Syndetics book coverLanguage for God in patristic tradition : wrestling with biblical anthropomorphism, by Mark Sheridan.
“God is not a human being” (Num 23:19). Yet many passages attribute human characteristics to God and Mark Sheridan provides a theological and historical analysis of this anthropomorphic language. Some Jewish and Christian theologians read these texts allegorically or theologically in order to discover the truth contained within them. “Sheds new yet ancient light on both the early Church Fathers and the cruxes and crises of modern biblical interpretation.” (Library Journal December 2014).

Beliefs recent arrivals

There’s something for everyone here – Celtic and North American traditional stories, two very different reflections on faith journeys to NZ, an introduction to Islamic beliefs, and a Buddhist call to remain relevant to social concerns.

Syndetics book coverTe Rongopai 1814 ‘Takoto te pai!’ : bicentenary reflections on Christian beginnings and developments in Aotearoa New Zealand, edited by Allan Davidson, Stuart Lange, Peter Lineham, Adrienne Puckey.
2014 was the bicentenary year for Rev Samuel Marsden’s arrival in the Bay of Islands. Ruatara, Hongi Hika, Korokoro and five others accompanied them from Australia. Marsden’s church service Christmas Day is taken as the beginning of the mission in New Zealand made possible by the important friendship that had developed between Marsden and Ruatara, a Rangatira in the Bay of Islands. The several essays here explore different aspects of the Anglican missionaries, including dialogue between Maori and missionaries.

Syndetics book coverThe Celtic myths : a guide to the ancient gods and legends, by Miranda Aldhouse-Green.
This includes both vivid retelling of Irish and Welsh myths as well as social history, evidence from archaeology (such as the Gundestrup Cauldron) and a guide to themes such as animals or the environment. the book begins with a discussion on how myths are handed down and ends with a discussion on the influence of monastic writers and translators. This is a great guide for anyone interested in Celtic history. The library has also received Pagan Britain, by Ronald Hutton, which takes a different approach to a similar topic.

Syndetics book coverThe handy Islam answer book, by John Renard, Ph.D.
This user-friendly guide answers nearly 800 questions that cover Islamic history, religious practices, and Muslim cultural perspectives. Some questions include Why is Mecca a holy city for Muslims? What do Muslims mean by the term Allah? What is the Muslim “call to prayer”? Do Muslims, Christians, and Jews worship the “same God”? Why do some people not want girls to get an education? Muslims are diverse, and they have a vast range of views about Islam, just as any other religious adherents. This guide brings us further down the path of understanding.

Syndetics book coverThe God code : the secret of our past, the promise of our future, by Gregg Braden.
The author shares his discovery of a coded message within the molecules of life, deep within the DNA in each cell of our bodies. Regardless of race, religion, heritage, or lifestyle, the message is the same in each cell of every man, woman, and child, past and present – forming evidence of a universal bond.

Syndetics book coverThe perfect I : fitness in mind, fearless in body, by Mike Ansari.
Martial arts expert and mystic, Mike Ansari, describes his forty-year search for God. He first visited a Moslem shrine at aged four and the reader follows him from Iran to his journey to New Zealand. Mike’s beliefs in the need for fitness in mind, body and spirit has led him to follow a strict Sufi regime of self-sacrifice, fasting and meditation. (summarised from the Back cover.)

Syndetics book coverWaking the Buddha : how the most dynamic and empowering Buddhist movement in history is changing our concept of religion, by Clark Strand.
This tells the story of the Soka Gakkai International, the largest, most dynamic Buddhist movement today. This movement invites Buddhism to “wake up” so it can truly work in ordinary people’s lives, rather than foster a style of meditation which detaches from reality. The author draws on his experiences as a Buddhist teacher and journalist to offer insight into how and why the Soka Gakkai’s commitment and approach to social justice has become a role model.

Syndetics book coverA brief guide to Native American myths and legends, by Lewis Spence.
“In this reworking of Lewis Spence’s seminal ‘Myths and Legends of the North American Indians’, Jon E. Lewis puts the work in context with an extensive new introductory essay and additional commentary throughout the book on the history of Native Americans, their language and lifestyle, culture and religion/mythology.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGod loves sex : an honest conversation about sexual desire and holiness, by Dan B. Allender and Tremper Longman III.
The church’s general attitude to sexual matters has been clear and consistent – all sexual activity outside marriage is sin. But it has seldom honestly addressed the real needs those with sexual desires they believe to be different to the Bible. This book explores a new view of sensuality by recovering the clear meaning of the Song of Songs which it uses to answer questions such as ‘How can our sexual struggles take us deeper into the purposes of God?’

Beliefs Recent Picks for February

Several explorations in spirituality, either within the context of traditional beliefs or subjective experiences, are included in this month’s list, together with recent books by popular authors Deepak Chopra and Philip Yancey.

Syndetics book coverSpirituality : a guide for the perplexed, by Philip Sheldrake.
What exactly is spirituality? Is it different from religion? This book is a guide to different spiritualities as areas of study, religiously, historically, philosophically and in the social sciences. It explores the tools used to study spirituality or interpret spiritual classics from different times and cultures. Mostly, themes associated with five major world religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism – are represented, but especially Christian Spirituality from its early days. A useful overview.

Syndetics book coverThe future of God : a practical approach to spirituality for our times, by Deepak Chopra.
Describes the development from unbelief to faith to knowledge. Although covering Richard Dawkins’ arguments for atheism, this is not really an apologetic for theism, and science is no enemy. He offers possible ways forward in spirituality in a readable and balanced way as he explores spiritual living without eschewing secular knowledge.

Syndetics book coverWhy can’t they get along? : a conversation between a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian, by Dawoud El-Alami, Dan Cohn-Sherbok, George D. Chryssides.
The 21st century is no stranger to conflicts over religious conflict. Islam, Christianity and Judaism all can trace roots back to Abraham so what are the differences? Three men discuss what their faiths teach on the big issues of life, and what can be done to form closer partnerships? How can they get along?

Syndetics book coverThe lost Gospel : decoding the ancient text that reveals Jesus’ marriage to Mary the Magdalene, by Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson ; translation of the Syriac manuscript by Tony Burke.
Explores a first-century manuscript that asserts that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene; that she was gentile, not Jewish; that they had children; and that there was another plot on Jesus’ life prior to his trial and execution.

Syndetics book coverYou can’t make this stuff up : life-changing lessons from heaven, by Theresa Caputo with Kristina Grish.
Author Theresa Caputo shares the insights she’s learned through her spiritual work as a medium. Client stories are shared and include discussion of themes such as choice, faith, fear, gratitude, healing, surrender, relationships, compassion, and living each day to the fullest, as well as spiritual topics such as Angels, Heaven, signs, miracles, and dreams, to help people to better understand the spiritual world.

Syndetics book coverTo walk a pagan path : practical spirituality for every day, by Alaric Albertsson.
Contains inspiration and ideas for living as a pagan through every day of the year, not only on full moons and holidays. This is a practical guide to cultivate a meaningful Pagan practice by developing a personalised sacred calendar, making everyday activities sacred through your own rituals, and expressing your spirituality through craft projects.

Syndetics book coverVanishing grace : what ever happened to the good news? by Philip Yancey.
Why does the church stir up such disdain? Popular author Yancey explores whether Christians have contributed towards these negativity by presenting their beliefs in judgemental and critical ways. Yancey offers stories of how faith can be expressed in gracious ways.

Syndetics book coverWe make the road by walking : a year-long quest for spiritual formation, reorientation, and activation, by Brian D. McLaren.
Meditations organized around the traditional church year include Why we worry, why we judge ; The choice is yours ; Peace march (Palm Sunday) ; A table. A basin. Some food. Some friends. (Holy Thursday) ; Everything must change (Good Friday) ; Doubt. Darkness. Despair. (Holy Saturday) ; The uprising begins (Easter Sunday) ; The uprising of discipleship.

Syndetics book coverA storm of witchcraft : the Salem trials and the American experience, by Emerson W. Baker.
Mention Salem, Mass., and the infamy of its 1692 witch trials, is bound to spring to mind quickly even today. Around 170 people were accused and 19 hanged as witches. Baker’s approach places the trials in the larger context of American and English history, examining what made them so different from other witch trials of the era. He ends the book comparing 17th-century concerns about witches and 21st-century concerns about terrorists. Writes at a scholarly than populist level.

Syndetics book coverThe incarnation : finding our true self through Christ, by Tom Ravetz.
The Incarnation in Christianity is a key belief of Christianity : God becoming human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This discusses the theology of the Incarnation, and traces the development of beliefs in it. The author pays particular attention to Rudolf Steiner’s ideas about the Incarnation and shows how incarnation is reflected in each one of us (from Galatians “Not I, but Christ in me”). He argues that the Incarnation can make a difference in our own lives today.

Religion reflections – New books

The first beliefs post of 2015 features popular authors such as Joyce Meyer and Karen Armstrong whose books are interspersed with thoughtful treatments on life beyond religion, a rite of passage as a Morman missionary abroad, and a background to holy communion.

Syndetics book coverFields of blood : religion and the history of violence, by Karen Armstrong.
The first part of this sweeping history traces the development of relationship between violence and religion in ancient times – Mesopotamia, India, China, and among the Hebrews. The second part examines the challenges of Jesus and Muhammad to the violence of empires of their times and how Christianity and Islam became distorted as they were legitimised. The third part covers modernity – the idea of separation of religion from the state, secularism, and the battles between religion and secularity in our own time.

Syndetics book coverThe divine matrix : bridging time, space, miracles, and belief, by Gregg Braden.
Contents include : Shattering the paradigm: the experiments that change everything — Are we passive observers or powerful creators? — Once connected, always connected: living in a holographic universe — When here is there and then is now: jumping time and space in the matrix — The universe is talking to us: messages from the matrix — Reading the mirrors of relationship: messages from ourselves — Rewriting the reality code: 20 keys to conscious creation. Another recently received by the same author is The spontaneous healing of belief.

Syndetics book coverEager to love : the alternative way of Francis of Assisi, by Richard Rohr.
Interest in Francis of Assisi has piqued since the current Pope Francis took office. This is not a biography, but an examination of themes in Francis’s ministry : on loving and identifying with the poor, suffering, and outcast, and simplicity. This thinking stands in contrast to those who think they can love God without loving their brothers and sisters. This Franciscan message is helping to inspire and motivate contemporary people of faith.

Syndetics book coverThe meal Jesus gave us : understanding Holy Communion, by Tom Wright.
Most Christians obey Jesus’ command to “do this in remembrance of me”: breaking bread and drinking wine as he did at the Last Supper. Tom Wright explains the background to the Last Supper, the ways in which Christians have interpreted Jesus’ actions over the centuries and what it means for us today.

Syndetics book coverPrayer : experiencing awe and intimacy with God / Timothy Keller.
Keller’s own desire for a deeper prayer life prompted him to study what prayer is and how to pray. Drawing on Psalms, as well as theologians Keller shows that prayer is a conversation and an encounter with God. His thoughts are summarised into 12 “touchstones” and include outlines for developing sound daily prayer times.

Syndetics book coverThe approval fix : how to break free from people pleasing, by Joyce Meyer.
We all need affirmation, acceptance, and approval. But when we depend on the approval of others to the extent that careless remarks upset our whole emotional stability then this is unhealthy. Meyer argues that our value is not on how people see us but through God’s unconditional love for us as his children. Joyce Meyer gives practical insights on how to accept who we are – to experience greater confidence, deeper emotional stability, and healthier relationships as God intended.

Syndetics book coverWay below the angels : the pretty clearly troubled but not even close to tragic confessions of a real live Mormon missionary, by Craig Harline.
“No missionary returns home unchanged. Harline recounts his experience as a young missionary in Belgium. After intensive training at the Mormons’ Missionary Training Center, he and thousands of his fellow are cast out into the world with minimal language skills and training for the real world. This tale is, at heart, a reflection, 40 years later, on how life doesn’t always follow the rules, and how growing up away from home can be profoundly unsettling.” (adapted from Publisher’s Weekly)

Syndetics book coverLife after faith : the case for secular humanism, by Philip Kitcher.
“Kitcher thoughtfully and sensitively considers how secularism can respond to the worries and challenges that all people confront, including the issue of mortality… Whereas religious belief has been important in past times, Kitcher concludes that evolution away from religion is now essential. He envisions the successors to religious life, when the senses of identity and community traditionally fostered by religion will instead draw on a broader range of cultural items–those provided by poets, filmmakers, musicians, artists, scientists, and others. With clarity and deep insight, Kitcher reveals the power of secular humanism to encourage fulfilling human lives built on ethical truth.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book cover50 great myths about religions, by John Morreall and Tamara Sonn.
This introduction will get readers thinking about how and why certain myths have arisen, and their continuing influence. It discusses myths about religious belief in general, as well as specific ideas that surround Judaism, Christianity, Islam, atheism, and agnosticism. Each individual myth is accompanied by an explanation of how it arose, and spread, and why the subsequent beliefs can be questioned. All this is underpinned with observations about human nature, and the characteristics that predispose us to create and circulate myths.

Worship, work and war : beliefs books

A new biography of the Devil, a nearly infallible history of the Christian church and disappearing religions of the Middle East all feature in this month’s recent arrivals, together with an insightful ‘pilgrimage’ to Mecca.

Syndetics book coverThe great and holy war : how World War I changed religion for ever, by Philip Jenkins.
With the 100th anniversary of World War One upon us, the time is ripe for a fresh look at how religion created and prolonged the First World War, and the lasting impact it had on world religions. The war was fought by the world’s leading Christian nations who conveyed messages in the language of holy war or apocalypse. Belief in angels and the supernatural was a driving force and paved the way for modern views of religion and violence. He argues that we cannot understand our 21st century context without understanding the impact of the First World War on religion.

Syndetics book coverWork & worship : religious diversity at workplaces in New Zealand, by Edwina Pio.
Many NZ work-places are coming to terms with greater inclusiveness in some areas but what about religious diversity? Dr Pio notes that religion sometimes gets left out of diversity policies in organisations. Focusing on five minority religions: Hindus, Indian Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Zoroastrians, she offers insights to organisations with minority religions in their workforces, asking questions such as – do we have a policy on diversity? How is it defined? Does it include religion? Should policy extend to dress code and food?

Syndetics book coverHeirs to forgotten kingdoms : journeys into the disappearing religions of the Middle East, by Gerard Russell ; foreword by Rory Stewart.
The Middle East is home to many faiths, some which represent the last traces of civilizations of the past such as Persia or Babylon. Former diplomat Gerard Russell lived alongside the Mandaeans and Ezidis of Iraq, the Zoroastrians of Iran, the Copts of Egypt, and others which are threatened by extinction in the face of globalization or other phenomena. He includes the historical development of each discussed as well as contemporary characteristics.

Syndetics book coverWhat is veiling? by Sahar Amer.
“Ranging from simple head scarf to full-body burqa, the veil is worn by vast numbers of Muslim women around the world. What Is Veiling? explains one of the most visible, controversial, and least understood emblems of Islam. Sahar Amer’s evenhanded approach is anchored in sharp cultural insight and rich historical context. Addressing the significance of veiling in the religious, cultural, political, and social lives of Muslims, past and present, she examines the complex roles the practice has played in history, religion, conservative and progressive perspectives, politics and regionalism, society and economics, feminism, fashion, and art.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMecca : the sacred city, by Ziauddin Sardar.
Mecca is the birthplace of Muhammad, the direction towards which Muslims turn when they pray and the site of pilgrimage which draws about three million Muslims every year. The author traces its history, from its origins to its beginnings as a religious centre of a world empire. He includes stories of his own and others pilgrimages to peel back the layers and mystery to present a warmth and fascination with the place. This is a blend of history, narrative and memoir, and worth exploring irrespective of one’s faith.

Syndetics book coverThe sacred history : how angels, mystics and higher intelligence made our world, by Jonathan Black.
The Sacred History tells the story of angels, from Creation, to Evolution through to the supernatural in the modern world. It tells of how people and peoples have been helped by angels together with traditional stories of Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Elijah, Mary and Jesus, Mohammed, or Joan of Arc, plus explores stories from African, Native American and Celtic traditions. “This is the angelic version of events.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverHappiness is a state of mind : how to create space for happiness in your life, by His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa with Kate Adams.
Can we really decide to be happy? We spend our lives searching for happiness – that one dream we think will finally make things better – the perfect home, job, family, relationship. His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa gives the tools to calm anxiety, let go of expectations and embrace life as it is.

Syndetics book coverThe devil : a new biography, by Philip C. Almond.
The devil has many names and guises across religions – from Lucifer, or Beelzebub, the Adversary to Shaitan. Philip C Almond explores the figure of the devil from the first centuries of the Christian era through the rise of classical demonology and witchcraft persecutions to the modern perspectives of Hell. The devil remains a rich subject in religion, art, or literature.

Syndetics book coverA nearly infallible history of Christianity, by Nick Page.
Another welcome addition from popular author Nick Page who manages to combine historical research with story-telling and a bit of savvy speculation. From Abelard to Zwingli, he guides the reader through the creeds, architecture, and church backgrounds in a thoroughly readable way. The church continues to survive across 2,000 years of heroes, villains, misfits, and internal strife.

Sacred spaces : recent beliefs arrivals

Public and private faith emerges as one theme across several of our beliefs arrivals in September, together with sacred design and architecture.

Syndetics book coverThe Buddha walks into the office : a guide to livelihood for a new generation, by Lodro Rinzler.
Rinzler’s aim is to draw on Buddhist principles and recommend their use in the Western workplace. There are four parts : Hinayana: Live with Purpose, Mahayana: On-the-Job Compassion, Mahayana: Six Tools for Compassionate Leadership, and Vajrayana: Be Awake for Every Moment. Rinzler refers often to his own experiences as examples of how to apply Buddhist ideals. Easy to read, with plenty of practical suggestions for building strong teams for anyone looking to build a harmonious working environment.

Syndetics book coverThe secret language of sacred spaces : decoding churches, temples, mosques and other places of worship around the world, by Jon Cannon.
How are sacred ideals expressed in architecture? From the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, to the Angkor Wat, Cambodia, to the Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China, the key strength of this book is the fantastic photos which illustrate how various religious traditions used design elements to express differing ideas about worship and beliefs, and how those changed over time (or in different locations) within the same faith tradition. A fascinating contribution and approach to comparative world religions. Another recent arrival focusing more on design than architecture is Gateway to the heavens : how geometric shapes, patterns and symbols form our reality, by Karen L. French.

Syndetics book coverShigeru Ban : cardboard cathedral, by Andrew Barrie ; photographs by Bridgit Anderson & Stephen Goodenough.
Shigeru Ban is a world-class architect and expert in disaster-zone building – and now designer of the new transitional Christchurch cathedral, which is his largest post-disaster structure yet. Originally it was conceived as a temporary building, but the finished, now permanent structure seems set to become an enduring symbol of Christchurch’s revival. Includes essays, building plans and excellent photography.

Syndetics book coverThe complete illustrated history of Catholicism & the Catholic saints : a comprehensive account of the history, philosophy and practice of Catholic Christianity and a guide to the most significant saints, by Tessa Paul ; consultant, Ronald Creighton-Jobe.
Despite it’s inclusive title, this book focuses solely on the Roman tradition, with no reference to any other, as one reviewer notes. However, even taking that into account, there is much to recommend if you want a one volume history of its rich history and church traditions, significant rituals, festivals and holy Days. Well illustrated.

Syndetics book coverThe shamanism bible : all you ever wanted to know about shamanism, by John Matthews.
Shaman John Matthews shares his incomparable breadth of knowledge of shamanism and the significance of power animals. The book opens with a survey of the roots of shamanism among the Celtic, Siberian, Norse, Sami and Inuit cultures, as well as in Africa, the Americas, the Far East and Oceania. Chapter 2 covers the tools a shaman uses such as ritual, costume, dance and drumming, plant medicine or healing, while the last section covers practical topics such as making a shrine, or divinization.

Syndetics book coverEncounters with Jesus : unexpected answers to life’s biggest questions, by Timothy Keller.
“Jesus changed the life of every person he met in the Gospels, through powerful experiences and words that led them to unexpected and transforming answers to their big questions. These conversations can still address our questions and doubts today.” (publisher’s description) Studies several encounters reported in the Gospels, even Jesus’ mother.

Syndetics book coverPublic Zen, personal Zen : a Buddhist introduction, by Peter D. Hershock.
As the title suggests, the author presents an overview of Zen from two different viewpoints: its “public” or institutional history and its “personal” or practiced history. The development of Zen as a religious institution in Japan is traced, together with how Zen has been practiced by both laypeople, clergy, and the ruling classes throughout its history. This is also a good study of the connections between a religion and the political, social, and economic institutions with which it lives.

Syndetics book coverWaking up : a guide to spirituality without religion, by Sam Harris.
Neuroscientist Harris argues from a growing body of scientific research that the idea of ‘self’, is both “an illusion and the primary cause of human suffering”. He argues that we need to transcend this, which will lead to a deeper sense of personal well-being, plus increased ethical behaviour towards others.

Syndetics book coverAs it was in the days of Noah, by Jeff Kinley.
This takes a different tack to many others. It does not focus so much on the famous rainbow story we were told as a child, or recent archaeological excavations for the ark, or even Flood legends. The title is drawn from a quote by Jesus recorded in the gospels. The author attempts to compare contemporary society with Noah’s ancient times, and to explore this prophetic insight from Jesus.