Category: Recent picks

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.

Keeping the faith: Religion recent arrivals

Musings on the meaning or purpose of faith can be found in this month’s new books – encompassing philosophy, faith through a scientific lens, or an active faith on the streets of Sydney or US.

Syndetics book coverThe soul of the world, by Roger Scruton.
Philosopher Roger Scruton defends the experience of the sacred against today’s fashionable forms of atheism. He argues that personal relationships, intuitions, beauty, and aesthetics in art or music hint at dimensions that cannot be understood solely through scientific eyes. This is not so much an argument for the existence of God, but a thoughtful musing that a quest for ‘the sacred’ is essential to humanity.

Syndetics book coverLimitless sky : life lessons from the Himalayas, by David Charles Manners.
The author was trekking in Nepal when he stumbled upon the mountain home of a jhankri, or Nepalese shaman. The jhankri accepted him as his pupil, and so began the next stage of David’s extraordinary journey. In this book, he shares the wisdom and insights he learnt from those transformational days in the Himalayas.

Syndetics book coverKeeping the faith without a religion, by Roger Housden.
Faith is not something received from a religion, nor must we abandon it in order to become rational. Housden asks the reader to keep faith not in God but in life. This does not exclude but also does not assume a God.

Syndetics book coverAngels and saints : a biblical guide to friendship with God’s holy ones, by Scott Hahn.
Are angels and saints different to ordinary people? Some art would have us believe that they are, very different. But what does the Bible say? Jesus has united heaven and earth closely and we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses.” Their prayers rise to God, in the Book of Revelation, like the sweet aroma of incense. This book shares the stories of several saints and angels who are no strangers to real life, but are grounded and motivated by the spiritual life that every person is called by God to live.

Syndetics book coverBlood moons rising : Bible prophecy, Israel, and the four blood moons, by Mark Hitchcock.
In 2014 and 2015, there will be four blood moons falling during Jewish feasts – which has only happened before in 1493-94, 1949-50 and 1967-68 (significant dates in Jewish history). This discusses the prophetic significance of the moon darkening and appearing as blood. The library has also received Blood moons : decoding the imminent heavenly signs, by Mark Biltz which discusses the same phenomenon.

Syndetics book coverThe book of chakras & subtle bodies, by Stephen Sturgess.
Learn about chakras, nadis, and kundalini with the in-depth section on Yoga philosophy, then follow Stephen’s variety of practices and techniques for removing any obstacles that may be standing in the way of uniting with your true nature. The book includes Hatha Yoga techniques using asanas, mudras, bandhas, pranayama, and kriya purification, as well as Raja and kriya Yoga techniques – mantras, concentration and meditation. (drawn from the publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverCulture and the death of God, by Terry Eagleton.
Since the Enlightenment, religion has been undermined and replaced by various philosophies e.g. modernism, cultural forces and postmodernism. On the one hand, many people no longer feel a need to be redeemed, but interestingly this is accompanied by a renewal of religious fundamentalism across the world. Because, Eagleton points out, “religion provides … a degree of spiritual depth to otherwise shallow lives.”

Syndetics book coverA nun on the bus : how all of us can create hope, change, and community, by Sister Simone Campbell, with David Gibson.
“Campbell – activist, attorney, and nun – mixes autobiography with a strong call for justice in this brisk-paced, crisp, inspiring account. … Under her leadership, NETWORK advocated health care reform, work that garnered censure from the Vatican, which claimed that NETWORK was devoting too much time and energy to social justice. “Well, yes, social justice is what Catholic sisters do,” Campbell tartly writes. In order to advance the organization’s mission in the wake of this Vatican censure, Campbell and other nuns took a nine-state bus tour, highlighting the struggles of low- and middle-income people…” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverLove over hate : finding life by the wayside, by Graham Long.
Long writes of his life journey – from social worker to postman, to pastor and CEO of The Wayside Chapel in Sydney’s King Cross. Love Over Hate explores the day-to-day life in Kings Cross. This community often judged for its problems, and the struggles faced by the homeless, those who’ve suffered abuse or battled alcoholism or drugs are not glossed over. But there are also encouraging examples of perseverance and fortitude, joy, and kindness.

Syndetics book coverWhy science does not disprove God, by Amir D. Aczel.
Mathematician Aczel argues that Dawkins and his New Atheist allies have misrepresented scientific methods and findings of science e.g. proving God’s non-existence based on probability theory fails under robust scrutiny. He accuses them of over-simplifying complexities in metaphysical thinking. Aczel concludes with a realisation of the extent of fascinating mysteries, such as the stunning vistas of infinity. “Such mysteries may not signify the presence of the divine, but they will surely stir deep wonderings.” (Booklist)

Soul keeping : recent beliefs books.

Recent offerings from Tom Wright and Hans Kung rub shoulders with the Munk debates between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair in July’s new religious books.

Syndetics book coverMormon and Maori, by Marjorie Newton.
Examines why Maori have been attracted to a Mormon belief system since the 1880s, the impact of a quintessentially American religion on the people and their culture, and the reasons for its ongoing success. The attempts of American leaders and missionaries to find a consistent policy reconciling Mormonism and Maoritanga are also covered. A fascinating story of accommodation and adjustment.

Syndetics book coverSurprised by scripture : engaging contemporary issues, by N.T. Wright.
Chapter headings from this popular author include Do we need a historical Adam? — Can a scientist believe in the Resurrection? — The biblical case for ordaining women — How the Bible reads the modern world — Our politics are too small — Becoming people of hope. Each question is examined with compassionate and serious biblical interpretation in looking a modern concerns through a fresh looking glass. A welcome addition to the debate on current issues.

Syndetics book coverIndie spiritualist : a no bullshit exploration of spirituality, by Chris Grosso ; foreword by Noah Levine.
Drawing upon his punk rock roots and question everything mindset, Grosso offers a collection of stories for today’s generation who seek a non-conventional spiritual path. Spirituality is not something that only happens on meditation cushions or yoga mats, in churches, mosques, temples, or synagogues. “This isn’t a text for a reader who has developed spiritual or theological questions but, rather, for readers who want to look over the shoulder of a fellow who explores the nature of his soul by mixing up individuality and spirituality.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverImagine there’s no heaven : how atheism helped create the modern world, by Mitchell Stephens.
The author – historian and professor of journalism at New York University – proposes that major advancements in science, politics, and mathematics were enabled by disbelief in gods. He makes a strong case that thinkers have questioned or opposed the existence of god, which, together with enlightened rationalism, has prompted learning and change. The link between this disbelief helping to shape the modern world more than other belief systems is less established.

Syndetics book coverCan we save the Catholic Church? by Hans Küng.
The German Swiss priest and theologian describes the Roman Catholic Church as gravely ill – suffering from a centralized, hierarchical structure of authority and imperialism, with power entrenched in the pope and bureaucracy. He urges restoration by reviving the faith and priorities of early Christianity.

Syndetics book coverAngel dreams : healing and guidance from your dreams, by Doreen Virtue and Melissa Virtue.
Discusses where dreams come from, how to interpret them, what role angels play, and whom to call upon for guidance. Personal stories illustrate the different types of dreams. Also contains tools to enhance dreamtime journeys, including techniques for creating your own dreams and improving recall upon awakening.

Syndetics book coverMaking sense of the Bible : rediscovering the power of scripture today, by Adam Hamilton.
Who decided which books made it into the scriptures and why? Is the Bible ever wrong? Often, underlying debates within denominations aren’t about the particular issue, but instead about understanding the nature of scripture and its interpretation. Hamilton, is not afraid to tackle hot-button issues that continue to plague some church communities.

Syndetics book coverHitchens vs. Blair : be it resolved religion is a force for good in the world : the Munk debates, edited by Rudyard Griffiths.
Atheist Christopher Hitchens goes head-to-head with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on the highly charged topic of religion. Here they ponder: How does faith influence our actions? What is the role of people of faith in the public sphere? Is religious doctrine rigid, or should we allow for flexible interpretations? Hitchens vs. Blair represents two formidable minds in a great debate.

Syndetics book coverSoul keeping : caring for the most important part of you, by John Ortberg ; foreword by Dr. Henry Cloud.
‘What is the soul?’ Author and pastor Ortberg, student of Dallas Willard, shares wisdom about the soul he learned from Willard, who died last year, throughout the book. He absorbs Willard’s calm wisdom and explores the soul by the various things it needs: before reflecting on the life and passing of his friend and teacher. This is a reflective study which counsels readers to nurture their souls.

Syndetics book coverThe spirituality of Bono, edited by Nicholas Nigro.
Collected quotes from the rock music icon and activist that highlight his insights, zeal, good humour, and humanitarianism. His spirituality is heartfelt and will most definitely make readers think.

Latest Beliefs books for June

Topics in this month’s edition range from Celtic shamanism to the history of confession, while the latest Bart Ehrman fosters debate on the Jesus’ divinity.

Syndetics book coverMandala sourcebook : 150 mandalas to help you find peace, awareness and well-being, by David Fontana & Lisa Tenzin-Dolma.
Each of the 150 mandalas is accompanied by a guided meditation which details the symbolism which underpins the design. No expert knowledge or faith base is required – they are suitable for anyone wishing to meditate for the first time. The book is divided into five distinct sections: Introduction to Mandalas; Toward Awareness; Natural Mandalas; Myth, Symbol and Cosmos; and Healing Mandalas. Some are drawn from traditional designs while others are drawn from architecture, mythology, or natural elements.

Syndetics book coverThe new encyclopedia of Islam, by Cyril Glasse.
This work remains one of the few sources to provide a thorough study of Islamic theology. It updates an earlier 2001 edition, but generally ignores contemporary issues and events, although it is well illustrated with maps and charts. Absolute beginners may need to consult something else first “but the work’s breadth and scope make it a solid source for the study of Islam.” (Choice)

Syndetics book coverFaith in the face of empire : the Bible through Palestinian eyes, by Mitri Raheb.
As a Palestinian Lutheran, Raheb brings a new perspective to the story of Palestine. He takes a broader historical view across colonial avarice and aspiration since time immemorial. His hope is that by thinking outside “empire” and all that that implies, a new more harmonious direction is possible.

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 Soka Gakkai International, the largest contemporary Buddhist movement today, with its commitment to social justice and equality. Early leaders aimed to transform Buddhism from within and by restoring it to its purpose. “The result is a uniquely relevant form of Buddhism – one that “just makes sense” to the modern mind and is ready to meet the challenges of a global age.” (publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverTaking God at his word : why the Bible is knowable, necessary, and enough, and what that means for you and me, by Kevin DeYoung.
“Kevin DeYoung has written an accessible introduction to the Bible that answers important questions raised by Christians and non-Christians. This book will help you understand what the Bible says about itself and the key characteristics that contribute to its lasting significance.” (from publisher description)

Syndetics book coverHow Jesus became God : the exaltation of a Jewish preacher from Galilee, by Bart D. Ehrman.
How did a messianic Jewish rabbi ever come to be identified as God? And how different was this idea to Jesus’ actual teaching? One crucial consideration is whether Jesus’ disciples saw a resurrected Christ or a vision, and Ehrman explains that whether the apostles actually saw Jesus or saw a vision is irrelevant. It was their belief that they had which shifted and shaped Christianity. Borrow this at the same time as another point of view ….

Syndetics book coverHow God became Jesus : the real origins of belief in Jesus’ divine nature : a response to Bart Ehrman, by Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon J. Gathercole, Charles E. Hill, Chris Tilling.
Five biblical scholars join here to debate Ehrman’s thesis that the idea that Jesus was God only developed over time. Two interesting chapters are ‘Did Jesus think he was God?’ by Michael F. Bird ; and ‘Getting the burial traditions and evidence right’, by Craig A. Evans. Unfortunately this book has a dry scholarly tone which is another contrast with Ehrman’s accessible style. However, this is an important debate and the two perhaps deserve reflection together.

Syndetics book coverLiving with a wild God : a non-believer’s search for the truth about everything, by Barbara Ehrenreich.
This is part memoir and part mystical journey – a frank personal look at the author’s search for truth about spirituality. The dysfunction and alcoholism within parents’ relationship affected her spiritual development both positively and negatively. For example she gained the freedom to question everything around her, including religion.

Syndetics book coverThe druid shaman : exploring the Celtic otherworld, by Danu Forest
Covering folk traditions, literature and archaeology, the author integrates the basics of Celtic shamanism, with both ancient and modern Druidry. Topics include working with guides and allies, interacting with spirits, accessing powers of place, and exploring and navigating within the Celtic Otherworld. Danu Forest is a Celtic Shaman, Witch and Druid Priestess with over 20 years working in the Celtic Mysteries, and runs courses on Natural magic, Celtic shamanism, Faery tradition and Seasonal Celebrations.

Syndetics book coverThe dark box : a secret history of confession, by John Cornwell.
“Confession is a crucial ritual of the Catholic Church, offering absolution of sin and spiritual guidance to the faithful. Yet this ancient sacrament has also been a source of controversy and oppression, culminating, as prize-winning historian John Cornwell reveals in The Dark Box, with the scandal of clerical child abuse. Drawing on extensive historical sources, contemporary reports, and first-hand accounts, Cornwell takes a hard look at the long evolution of confession.” (publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverThe pocket A-Z of the Knights Templar : a guide to their history and legacy, by Gordon Napier.
At over 400 pages, this is rather more than a pocket guide. From Aaron to Zion, this is a welcome reference of the people, places, and themes of the Crusades, and the Knights Templar – one of the more famous of Christian military orders. It was created after the First Crusade of 1096 to ensure the safety of European pilgrims to Jerusalem and was easily recognised with their white tunic and red cross. On October 13, 1307 King Philip of France had many of the order’s members in France arrested, tortured into “confession,” and burned at the stake. In 1312, Pope Clement forcibly disbanded the order. Since that time legends have kept the name “Templar” alive in popular imagination. (adapted from the back cover)

Getting through the storm: Latest Beliefs Arrivals

A welcome addition to the catalogue is the latest book by Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh on fear, while two new books on Pope Francis offer different insights, and a clay tablet recently donated to the British Museum sheds new light on Noah and the flood.

Syndetics book coverBuddha, Jesus and Muhammad : a comparative study, by Paul Gwynne.
Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad together represent three of the largest religions in the world. There are surprisingly few truly comparative studies, making this insightful book ideal for those pondering the place of religion in contemporary society. Gwynne explores the analysis through key themes – political and historical, as well as religious – and this reveals some fascinating similarities and differences.

Syndetics book coverThe God debate : a new look at history’s oldest argument, by Gerald Benedict.
Our beliefs do affect the way we live our lives, both as individuals and communities. This book explores many controversial issues contained within the debate about the existence of God, touching on such questions as the validity of Scriptures, miracles, and the key tenets of faith versus evidence, with topics such as free will and determinism, or morality and ethics, thrown in for good measure. A useful summary of the issues.

Syndetics book coverFear : essential wisdom for getting through the storm, by Thich Nhat Hanh.
“Fear has countless faces: from the fear of failure to worries about everyday life, from financial or environmental uncertainties to the universal despair we all experience when faced by the loss of a friend or loved one. Even when surrounded by all the conditions for happiness, life can feel incomplete when fear keeps us focused on the past and worried about the future. While we all experience fear, it is possible to learn how to avoid having our lives shaped and driven by it. In these pages, Thich Nhat Hanh offers us a timeless path for living fearlessly.” (Back cover)

Syndetics book coverIntergenerational Christian formation : bringing the whole church together in ministry, community and worship, by Holly Catterton Allen and Christine Lawton Ross.
Although some practical issues are covered, for the most part this is not a how-to manual. Topics covered the Benefits of intergenerationality; Feasts, Jehoshaphat and house churches : biblical foundations; Becoming Christian in community ; Millennials, Xers, Boomers and Silents : generational theory ; Intergenerational learning experiences ; Intergenerationality and story sharing ; Intergenerationality in small groups, multicultural and megachurches.

Syndetics book coverThe ark before Noah : decoding the story of the flood, by Irving Finkel.
Dr Finkel is the curator in charge of clay inscriptions from ancient Mesopotamia at the British Museum. This is the story of one day in 2008 when a single, Babylonian tablet arrived at the museum. It turned out to be a copy of the Babylonian Story of the Flood, together with instructions for building a large boat to survive a flood. The reader accompanies Dr Finkel on his thorough journey of discovery to unravel fascinating insights into the ancient past.

Syndetics book coverTen : why Christianity makes sense, by John Pritchard.
Contents include : Ten problems people have with faith; Ten things I believe about God; Ten things I don’t believe about God; Ten Commandments for today; Ten cliches to avoid; Ten ways to pray; Ten ways to enliven your faith; Ten values for tomorrow’s Church; Ten lessons learned; Ten reasons to procrastinate about faith.

Syndetics book coverThe age of atheists : how we have sought to live since the death of God, by Peter Watson.
“In his 14th book, British journalist and historian Watson (The Great Divide) turns his estimable intellectual skills on the history of non-belief – which he calls “a major plank of modernity” -beginning with Friedrich Nietzsche’s 1882 declaration that “God is dead.” While this ground is well-trodden, Watson takes an intriguing course: he charts it by genre. Particularly fascinating are passages about non-belief’s impact on the arts.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverMy door is always open : a conversation on faith, hope and the church in a time of change, by Pope Francis ; interviewer, Antonio Spadaro.
This is the first book written by the Pope since he was elected, and therefore is a good guide to his vision and faith as he looks forward in his new role. This is the complete collection of interviews with Spadaro, fellow Jesuit and head of Catholic Civilisation periodical based in Rome.
Another recent title is Pope Francis : why he leads the way he leads : lessons from the first Jesuit Pope, by Chris Lowney.
“Here Lowry focuses on Pope Francis’ Jesuit training and its impact on the leadership roles he has held, such as priest, bishop, cardinal, and what this tells us about how he is likely to lead in the future.” (Adapted from the publishers’ descriptions).

Syndetics book coverReligion 101 : from Allah to Zen Buddhism : an exploration of the key people, practices, and beliefs that have shaped the religions of the world, by Peter Archer, MA, MLitt.
“Written in easy-to-understand language, Religion 101 offers a fascinating – and memorable – glimpse at the sacred stories, traditions, and doctrines that have influenced today’s most popular religions. From Jesus and the Four Noble Truths to the Buddhist Wheel of Existence, this book provides you with thought-provoking insight into the customs and beliefs of common faiths like Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam.  So whether you’re looking to unravel the mysteries of existence and meaning, or just want to find out what Kabbalah is all about, Religion 101 has all the answers – even the ones you didn’t know you were looking for.” (Page 4 of cover)

Compassion, personal spirituality, restlessness : March Beliefs and Religion books

Is the universe specifically designed to make life possible? Is the Gospel of John history or literature? Do you feel like you’re restless – missing out on something?
Explore the answers to these questions in the latest religion books.

Syndetics book coverA religion of one’s own : a guide to creating a personal spirituality in a secular world, by Thomas Moore.
Another title from the author who penned Care of the Soul – a classic spiritual text. This latest volume continues to bring together religion and psychology, and encourages readers to cultivate their own spirituality. Moore’s own spirituality is Catholic, and he counsels paying attention to your dreams and intuitions to foster creativity. “This book should appeal to many of the unchurched, as well as the faithful across traditions.” (Library Journal)

Syndetics book coverBig gods : how religion transformed cooperation and conflict, by Ara Norenzayan.
Using quantitative studies, cross-cultural examples, and by examining the practices of followers, Norenzayan argues that religions with Big Gods succeed because they expect tangible commitment rites which encourage cooperation and trust, and by default this weeds out the half-hearted. He also considers cooperative societies without God, such as modern Scandinavia, with a majority of atheists where similar cooperative functions are provided by secular institutions.

Syndetics book coverLiving with an open heart : how to cultivate compassion in everyday life, by Russell Kolts and Thubten Chodron.
“Contains brief readings which blend Buddhist and western psychology. This book presents ideas and techniques drawn from Buddhism, western psychological approaches, as well as the authors’ personal experiences in working to develop compassion in their own lives and in their work with others.” (Library catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe four virtues : presence, heart, wisdom, creation, by Tobin Hart, PhD.
“Most of us are hungry for a life of meaning, connection, and fulfilment, but in the midst of today’s demands and pressures, a deeper life doesn’t come automatically. We must increasingly focus on certain virtues – four universal principles needed to foster wholeness and meaningful purpose in humanity. Drawing from decades of research across the wisdom traditions, neuroscience, psychology, poetry, physics, religion, the arts, and literature, ‘The Four Virtues’ provides a field guide for developing your deepest self.” (Publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverThe fourth gospel : tales of a Jewish mystic, by John Shelby Spong.
Spong continues the thesis of his other books and cautions us not to take the Bible literally or as historical literature. The Gospel of John is no exception : Jesus did not speak the sermons; none of the miracles happened; most of the book’s characters are meant as literary characters. But, he argues, it does call on the reader to believe that Jesus achieved “mystical oneness with the God who is the source of life.”

Syndetics book coverMy name used to be Muhammad : the true story of a Muslim who became a Christian, by Tito Momen with Jeff Benedict.
Tito Momen (Muhammad Momen) was raised as a strict Muslim. Every morning he attended the mosque and prayed with the other men in his Nigerian village, and even began copying the entire Qur’an word for word. However, his path took an expected turn when he was introduced to Jesus Christ. His decision cost him his family and his freedom, and for 15 years he endured a life sentence in an Egyptian prison. “Tito said, “I never gave up hope. I never stopped believing.” Although he was falsely imprisoned, beaten, and ridiculed, Tito’s remarkable true story is one of faith, and forgiveness.” (adapted from Global Books)

Syndetics book coverPilgrimage : my journey to a deeper faith in the land where Jesus walked, by Lynn Austin.
This is an account of travel through the Holy Land with an organized tour group, visiting biblical sites (Hezekiah’s tunnel, Calvary), and historical ones (e.g. Israel’s Holocaust memorial). “Austin’s story is part travel journal, part biblical recounting and reflection, part history lesson, and part personal insight…. her search for a renewed source of joy after loss is sure to be familiar to many.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverRestless : because you were made for more, by Jennie Allen.
Borrowing from the biblical story of Joseph, Allen leads readers through the process of responding to a call from God. She describes a tool she calls Threads, to help readers organize personal stories, strengths, and passions and tie them together in a way they can use to move forward. Testimonies from Allen’s friends and family illsutrate the tool. “Allen’s experiences reflect her age (mid-thirties), so she may appeal most to her peer group of young women between the ages of 18 and 35.” (Adapted from Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverBig bang big God : a universe designed for life? by Rodney D. Holder.
“Is the universe specifically designed to make life possible? How did the universe begin and how has it evolved? Does a scientific explanation mean that we can do without God? … Can the existence of a multiverse, a vast or infinite collection of universes, explain the specialness of this universe? This book argues that only God provides an explanation for the universe to exist at all, and that design by God provides the best and most rational explanation to adopt for the fine-tuning.” (from the publisher’s description, Global books)

Latest Religion and Beliefs arrivals

Our first list of 2014 covers a wide spectrum, from angels to Asian religions, and authors from Jefferson Bethke (youtube poet) to TV presenter Joyce Meyer.

Syndetics book coverBeyond betrayal : trouble in the promised land – restoring the mission to Māori, by Keith Newman.
“After the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, a succession of governors resisted missionary advice, despite their local knowledge and peacemaking skills, and influenced a raft of misunderstandings that provoked violent outbreaks across the country. The rise of Māori prophetic movements, and an intense desire for Māori to have a unified political voice, saw allegiances split between those supporting the government and those frustrated at failed Treaty promises. The pressure to surrender tribal lands had the same impact – a shattered economy and a dispossessed people.” (Back cover) This follows on from the author’s Bible & Treaty : missionaries among the Māori, which the library also owns.

Syndetics book coverHow to wake up : a Buddhist-inspired guide to navigating joy and sorrow, by Toni Bernhard.
“The author begins with the core idea that life is a string of experiences engendered by and producing suffering. From here Bernhard walks her readers through the concepts used in Buddhism to accept and engage this state of being and, in doing so, hopefully become more awake to the reality of life. The book is organized around three fundamental tenets of the Buddha’s teachings wisdom, mindfulness, and open-mindedness with each section broken into chapters that examine these ideas and offer practices that help incorporate them into daily life. Bernhard presents all of this in an easy, straightforward manner that will reassure readers who are less familiar with Buddhist tradition.” (from Booklist review, courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe faithful scribe : a story of Islam, Pakistan, family and war, by Shahan Mufti.
Journalist Mufti, incorporates the stories of his family and ancestors into the larger story of Pakistan and America both before and after 9/11. He tells of his family’s experiences briefly living in Ohio before they moved back to Pakistan. “This astonishingly detailed, well-researched history is brought to life by the addition of Mufti’s personal story’ and journalistic acumen.” (Publisher Weekly, courtesy of syndetics)

Syndetics book coverAsian religions : a cultural perspective, by Randall L Nadeau.
“This all-embracing introduction to Asian religious practices and beliefs takes a unique approach; not only does it provide a complete overview of the basic tenets of the major Asian religions, but it also demonstrates how Asian spiritualities are lived and practiced, exploring the meaning and significance they hold for believers. In a series of engaging and lively chapters, the book explores the beliefs and practices of Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Japanese religions, including Shinto. Using a comparative approach, it highlights the contrasts between Asian and Western modes of thinking and living, and debates the influence of religion on real-world issues including work, economic growth, the environment, human rights, and gender relations.” (publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverWorld religions, by Markus Hattstein.
Presents information on the world’s main religions concisely, including cultural and historical contexts. Although it aims to be no more than ‘a quick guide’ the text is supplemented by timelines, illustrations and maps.

Syndetics book coverA million little ways : uncover the art you were made to live, by Emily P. Freeman.
Uncovers the personal creative imprint God has placed upon every individual, and encourages readers to reexamine their lives by approaching it the way an artist approaches a canvas–with wonder, bravery, and hope. (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGod is not mad at you : you can experience real love, acceptance & guilt-free living, by Joyce Meyer.
Another title from one of the world’s leading practical Bible teachers. She teaches on a number of topics with a particular focus on the mind, mouth, moods and attitudes. Her candid communication style allows her to share openly and practically about her experiences so others can apply what she has learned to their lives. Joyce has written nearly 100 books, which have been translated into 100 languages.

Syndetics book coverBand of angels : the forgotten world of early Christian women, by Kate Cooper.
“Cooper reveals a vivid picture of the triumphs and hardships of the first mothers of the infant church. As far as recorded history is concerned, women in the ancient world lived almost invisibly in a man’s world. Piecing together their story from the few contemporary accounts that have survived requires painstaking detective work, but it can render both the past and the present in a new light. Following the lives of influential women across the first centuries of the church, Band of Angels tells the remarkable story of how a new way of understanding relationships took root in the ancient world.” (publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverAngel prayers : harnessing the help of heaven to create miracles, by Kyle Gray.
“Do you ever feel frustrated because your prayers are going unanswered, and you feel like God and the Angels are not listening? If you are feeling unsupported, Angel Prayers will turn this situation around for good. Kyle reveals how to use affirmative prayer to focus on the positive outcome of a situation rather than praying to change something that is perceived as negative. Learn about: the power of prayer, demonstrated by true stories from Kyle’s clients, and his own personal experiences, the spiritual laws at play in the world and how your words and intentions affect your life.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverKilling Jesus : a history, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard.
Bill O’Reilly and Dugard team up again for this investigation into another murder of major cultural and historical icons – this time a thorough account of the death and crucifixion of Jesus Christ by the Romans. Although drawing heavily (but not exclusively) on biblical sources, the authors state that though they are Roman Catholics, their aim is not to write a religious book, but an historical account of an historical figure. One of the book’s strengths is setting Jesus in his historical, political and social contexts.

Syndetics book coverJesus > religion : why He is so much better than trying harder, doing more, and being good enough, by Jefferson Bethke.
This book is based on material similar to his highly successful youtube video ‘Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus’ which has been viewed over 26 million times. Told through the lens of his own life story, which is far from perfect, his aim is to shine the spotlight on Jesus and separate Him from church culture. His message is accessible : old truth but in modern language e.g. We’ve never said the f- word out loud, but not supported our local homeless community either. A challenge to any wanting to live lives consistent with their beliefs.

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