Women and faith – Recent Beliefs arrivals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Religion picks for March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big questions – Recent Beliefs books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The grammar of God – Latest Beliefs books

A strong biblical theme runs through this latest bookshelf, from popular author Bishop Spong’s latest reflections to stories from the Bible for minecrafters, or missionary journeys to North Korea.

Syndetics book coverThe tweetable pope : a spiritual revolution in 140 characters, by Michael J. O’Loughlin.
How do you transform a church that treasures two thousand years of tradition? Jorge Mario Bergoglio made it his mission to “rebrand” the Catholic Church when he was elected pope to better reflect Jesus Christ. With more than 21 million followers reading Tweets in 9 languages, Francis regularly posts his 140-character (or less) sermons a few times each week – communicating directly with his flock. Common themes include the poor, forgiveness, mercy, joy. These little sermons help us understand his vision for the church to be inspired to be better Christians. Also received is The name of God is mercy : a conversation with Andrea Tornielli.

Syndetics book coverBiblical literalism : a gentile heresy : a journey into a new Christianity through the doorway of Matthew’s gospel, by John Shelby Spong.
“Using the Gospel of Matthew as a guide, Spong explores the Bible’s literary and liturgical roots – its grounding in Jewish culture, symbols, icons, and storytelling tradition – to explain how the events of Jesus’ life, including the virgin birth, the miracles, the details of the passion story, and the resurrection and ascension, would have been understood by both the Jewish authors of the various gospels and by the Jewish audiences for which they were originally written. Bishop Spong makes clear that it was only after the church became fully Gentile that readers of the Gospels took these stories to be factual, distorting their original meaning….” (drawn from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe grammar of God : a journey into the words and worlds of the Bible, by Aviya Kushner.
Aviya Kushner grew up in a Hebrew-speaking family, reading the Bible in the original Hebrew and debating its meaning over the dinner table. She knew much of it by heart – and was therefore surprised when, while getting her MFA at the University of Iowa, she took the novelist Marilynne Robinson’s class on the Old Testament and discovered she barely recognized the text she thought she knew so well. … the English translation often felt like another book entirely from the one she had grown up with. … In this eye-opening chronicle, Kushner tells the story of her vibrant relationship to the Bible, and along the way illustrates how the differences in translation affect our understanding of our culture’s most important written work. A fascinating look at language and the beliefs…”(Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverThe cities that built the Bible, by Robert R. Cargill.
“For many, the names Bethlehem, Babylon, and Jerusalem evoke epic stories from the Bible – fortresses, moonlit mangers or magnificent temples. This is a magnificent tour through fourteen cities: the Phoenicia cities of Tyre, Sidon, Ugarit, Nineveh, Babylon, Megiddo, Athens, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Qumran, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Rome, with dig sites, ruins, and relics. An interesting and informative adventure through time.

Syndetics book coverThe Bible from scratch, written & illustrated by Simon Jenkins.
“For first-time readers, the Bible can be an intimidating and hefty read. This lively and witty resource offers a lightning sketch of the Bible that clearly explains the essential meaning of every book from both the Old and New Testaments. It provides helpful hints for understanding the motives and messages behind each of the Biblical writers and introduces all the famous people and events from key stories. Filled with humorous illustrations and plenty of wit, this is an ideal guide for getting to know the Bible.” (Syndetics summary) We’ve also received The unofficial Bible for Minecrafters : stories from the Bible told block by block.

Syndetics book coverApostle : or bones that shine like fire : travels among the tombs of the twelve, by Tom Bissell.
Combining travel writing, and biblical history, and a deep lifelong relationship with Christianity, Bissell explores who the apostles were as men but also how their identities have been shaped ever since. This takes him around the world, from Rome to India and Kyrgyzstan, as the apostles travelled from ‘Jerusalem to Samaria and the ends of the earth’.

Syndetics book coverThe last supper : the plight of Christians in Arab lands, by Klaus Wivel ; translated by Mark Kline.
“In 2013, alarmed by scant attention paid to the hardships endured by the 7.5 million Christians in the Middle East, journalist Klaus Wivel traveled to Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, and the Palestinian territories on a quest to learn more about their fate. [He] spoke with priests whose churches have been burned, citizens who feel like strangers in their own countries, and entire communities whose only hope for survival may be fleeing into exile. Wivel asks, why have we not done more to protect these people?” (drawn from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverNot forgotten : the true story of my imprisonment in North Korea, by Kenneth Bae ; with Mark Tabb.
“Bae moves to China and leads guided tours into North Korea. Six years later, after eighteen successful excursions in and out of the country, Ken is suddenly stopped at the border, arrested, brought to Pyongyang for further questioning, and sentenced to fifteen years of hard labour. His crime? Attempting to overthrow the North Korean government. Media attention culminates in President Obama’s call for prayer on behalf of Ken at the 2014 National Prayer Breakfast. Meanwhile, Ken grapples with his new, solitary reality as a captive of one of the world’s most brutal governments….” (drawn from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGood faith : being a Christian when society thinks you’re irrelevant and extreme, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.
“Many Christians today feel overwhelmed as they try to live faithfully in a culture that seems increasingly hostile to their beliefs. … This isn’t just a problem that affects individual Christians; if left unaddressed, the growing gap between the faithful and society’s tolerance for public faith will have lasting consequences for the church in America. … Readers will discover the most significant trends that offer both obstacles and opportunities to God’s people, and how not only to challenge culture but to create and renew it for the common good. David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons invite fellow Christians to understand the heart behind opposing views and show them how to be loving, life-giving friends despite profound differences.” (Syndetics summary)

Living with awareness and intention – New Beliefs books

This edition covers quite a mix of approaches and worldviews. Two books chart the growth of individuals across a year of challenges, while others urge a return to the beliefs at the heart of their faiths.

Syndetics book coverThe Bloomsbury reader on Islam in the West, edited by Edward E. Curtis IV.
Some assume that Islam is foreign to the West, but it has been part of western civilisation for more than a millennium. The Reader discusses the impact of Islamic ideas and Muslims on Western politics, societies, and cultures. Part 1 takes a more historical approach e.g. significance of Islam in medieval and early modern times e.g. Islamic Spain, while Part 2 addresses more contemporary issues. A timeline of key events in the history of Islam in the West is particularly helpful.

Syndetics book coverSecular meditation : 32 practices for cultivating inner peace, compassion, and joy, by Rick Heller.
Written by meditation teacher Rick Heller includes step-by-step instructions, personal stories, and question prompts to encourage the reader develop more empathy, reduce stress and build resilience. “Heller simplifies what is often found mysterious, describing and providing detailed instructions for thirty-two different practices, ensuring that anyone can find the right one.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverKarma : what it is, what it isn’t, why it matters, by Traleg Kyabgon.
“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? In this short and eminently readable book, 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 … Throughout he shows how to work with karma intelligently to bring about beneficial changes in the way we relate to our thoughts, feelings, and circumstances.” (drawn from the publisher’s description.)

Syndetics book coverA year of living prayerfully : how a curious traveler met the Pope, walked on coals, danced with rabbis, and revived his prayer life, by Jared Brock.
Brock takes readers on a world tour, but learns something of “the practice of the presence of God” (prayer according to 17th-century monk Brother Lawrence), trust, reverence, evangelism, and the need for silence. This book is a story of a young man finding his way as a pilgrim, although at times his honesty leads the reader through insensitive comments (humour?). However, after this year, Brock realises that he is just at the beginning of his journey.

Syndetics book coverAfter Buddhism : rethinking the Dharma for a secular age, by Stephen Batchelor.
As the subtitle suggests this focuses on the need for considering a Buddhist world view alongside within the context of today’s global and secularized world. What was the core of the Buddha’s vision ? Chapter titles include Letting Go of Truth, Experience, The Everday Sublime, and A Culture of Awakening, together with selected discourses from the Pali Canon.

Syndetics book coverInterrupted : when Jesus wrecks your comfortable Christianity, by Jen Hatmaker.
Hatmaker was a pastor’s wife and far too busy doing church than being church. She describes God asking her questions like, “What is really the point of Church? What have I really asked of you?” She realised she had missed the point. She invites readers to take a similar journey through Scripture towards a more frontline mission.

Syndetics book coverCathedrals and churches of Europe, edited by Rolf Toman ; photography by Achim Bednorz ; text by Barbara Borngässer.
Whether your interest is in travelling, or in church architecture across the ages, this explores the cathedrals and churches along the Rhine, to the brick Gothic and Romanesques in the Baltic Sea to the Baroque and Rococo in the foothills of the Alps as well as the iconic buildings in the heart of Italy and France before crossing the channel to the medieval cathedrals in England.

Syndetics book coverHow would Buddha act? : 801 right-action teachings for living with awareness and intention, by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD.
“Based on the Buddhist teachings of Right Action, this inspirational guide will help you gain insight into the importance of your actions, improve your relationships, and live a more meaningful life. Author Barbara Ann Kipfer offers a unique, modern take on the ancient teachings of Right Action–the Buddhist concept of acting in loving, compassionate ways and responding to others with the intention of doing no harm. In the book, you’ll learn that every thought, word, and deed has a consequence, and that by trying to be a better person in day-to-day life, you will be taking meaningful steps toward true enlightenment.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe year without a purchase : one family’s quest to stop shopping and start connecting, by Scott Dannemiller.
“In 2005, a life-changing mission year in Guatemala inspired Dannemiller and his wife, Gabby, to develop a family mission statement: live with integrity, be grateful what they have, grow in faith together, and serve God’s people. Ten years later, living in the suburbs with two children and feeling spiritually off-track, they embark on another yearlong experiment to reinvigorate their mission … Dannemiller explores a handful of recurring themes, such as wanting “to do the right thing, but not wanting to force our values on other people,” the difficulties around deciding what’s a necessity, and managing social pressures, particularly rituals and expectations around gift-giving.” (drawn from Publisher Weekly)

Religious relevance – New Beliefs books

The first crop of beliefs books for 2016 reveals musings on atheism, mysticism, hospitality and islam, the holy grail, and writings inspired by the good book.

Syndetics book coverKings of the Grail : tracing the historic journey of the cup of Christ from Jerusalem to modern-day Spain, by Margarita Torres Sevilla and José Miguel Ortega del Río ; translated from the Spanish by Rosie Marteau.
The authors, a medieval history lecturer and an art historian, came across the clues leading to the Grail’s discovery in parchments in the Egyptian University of Al-Azhar. This led them on a three-year investigation as they traced the Grail’s journey across the globe and discovered its final resting place in the Basilica of San Isidoro in Leon, Spain. This is the definitive guide to one of history’s most sought-after treasures, the origin and object of both Arthurian myth and Christian legend, offering objective information to support an extraordinary discovery. (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBattling the gods : atheism in the ancient world, by Tim Whitmarsh.
How old is atheism? It did not start in the Enlightenment, but in a far more remote past. Priests were functionaries rather than sources of moral or spiritual wisdom. There was an extraordinary variety of perspectives on sacred matters. Whitmarsh explores individuals who challenged their existence of gods such as ancient poets and philosophers and writers, such as Socrates, who was executed for rejecting the Athenian gods. “By shining a light on atheism’s first thousand years, Battling the Gods offers a timely reminder that nonbelief has a wealth of tradition of its own, and, indeed, its own heroes. (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFighting God : an atheist manifesto for a religious world, by David Silverman.
Silverman is the president of American Atheists and one of the best-known atheists in America. Known as “America’s loudest heathen,” a term he embraces proudly, Silverman is passionate about atheism and atheist equality. He presents his arguments and personal reasons for being an atheist and wants to call atheists to emerge from the shadows. Fighting God is a provocative, unapologetic book that takes religion to task.

Syndetics book coverWhat the mystics know : seven pathways to your deeper self, by Richard Rohr.
Each chapter examines one of the seven core mystical truths. Organized according to the mystical paths that every worshiper must follow, Rohr identifies the despair of everyday life, promotes opportunities for change even in the face of pain, thereby transforming one’s deeper self into a beacon of light that aids in the perpetual metamorphosis of others. Rohr offers a window into the wisdom of the mystics. (drawn from publisher’s summary)

Syndetics book coverThe good book : writers reflect on favorite Bible passages, edited by Andrew Blauner.
A collection of previously unpublished pieces by 32 of today’s most prominent writers shares their thoughts about biblical passages they find personally meaningful.” (NoveList)

Syndetics book coverWings of forgiveness : working with the angels to release, heal, and transform , by Kyle Gray ; foreword by Gabrielle Bernstein.
Wings of Forgiveness is a book written for anyone who is ready to release their past and find freedom from fear. Forgiveness is not an easy subject, but it is a necessary focus in spirituality and personal growth. In Wings of Forgiveness, the reader is taken on a journey – not outside of themselves, but within. They are encouraged to see and accept that they are held and cherished by the divine, that there are loving angels by their side, and master souls in heaven that have walked the path before them. Another book by the same author is Angels whisper in my ear : incredible stories of hope and love from the angels.

Syndetics book coverLosing our religion : how unaffiliated parents are raising their children, by Christel Manning.
Manning says the fact that someone checks “none” in response to a survey question that asks about his or her religious affiliation doesn’t mean that he or she isn’t religious or “unchurched,” as is often assumed. ‘Nones’ may include everyone from the disinterested to devout Christians who don’t identify with a particular denomination. Based on qualitative interviews of parents across the United States, Manning provides some insights into about today’s American ‘Nones’ and their approaches to teaching the next generation. (drawn from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHospitality and Islam : welcoming in God’s name, by Mona Siqqidui.
Considering its prominent role in many faith traditions, surprisingly little has been written about hospitality within the context of religion, particularly Islam. In her new book, Mona Siddiqui, explores and compares teachings within the various Muslim traditions over the centuries, while also drawing on other materials such as diverse as Christian reflections on charity, and Islamic and Western feminist writings on gender issues. Applying a more theological approach to the idea of mercy as a fundamental basis for human relationships, this book will appeal to a wide audience. (drawn from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe relevance of religion : how faithful people can change politics, by John Danforth.
Former United States senator, ambassador to the United Nations and Episcopalian priest John Danforth offers a thoughtful, and deeply personal look at the state of American politics today. Danforth calls his own Republican party to task for its part in creating a political system in which the loudest opinions and the most polarizing personalities hold sway. And he suggests that such a system is not only unsustainable but unfaithful to our essential nature to care about other people. Our willingness to serve more than our self-interest is religion’s gift to politics. He asserts that traditional religious values of sacrifice, selflessness and a commitment to the greater good can and should have prominent roles in America’s politics.

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.

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.