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Ideas and Society Newsletter for March

You can now borrow brand new tablets from Wellington City Libraries for three weeks! This month’s Ideas and Society recent picks feature Katherine Mansfield’s poetry collection, a New Zealand home buyer’s guide, festivals in the southern hemisphere, and planet Vulcan.

Library News

Literature

Katherine Mansfield is New Zealand’s best known writer, but it’s for her short stories we remember her. It now emerges that she was a significant poet too. Claire Davison has arranged the poems chronologically in a beautiful little book so that we can chart her development, her experimentation with different forms and see the themes which preoccupied her throughout her writing life.
At the other end of the spectrum are two amusing little books, one of limericks written by Michael Palin and the other an imaginary look at what celebrities might carry in their handbags.

Syndetics book cover The collected poems of Katherine Mansfield / edited by Gerri Kimber & Claire Davison.
“This edition is made up of 217 poems, ordered chronologically, so that the reader can follow Mansfield’s development as a poet and her experiments with different forms, as well as tracing the themes – love and death, the natural world and the seasons, childhood and friendship, music and song – that preoccupied her throughout her writing life.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The man who invented fiction : how Cervantes ushered in the modern world / William Egginton.
“In the early seventeenth century, a crippled, graying, almost toothless veteran of Spain’s wars against the Ottoman Empire published a book. It was the story of a poor nobleman, his brain addled from reading too many books of chivalry, who deludes himself that he is a knight errant and sets off on hilarious adventures. That book, Don Quixote , went on to sell more copies than any other book beside the Bible, making its author, Miguel de Cervantes, the single most-read author in human history.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Carry this book / Abbi Jacobson.
“With bright, quirky, and colourful line drawings, Jacobson brings to life actual and imagined items found in the pockets and purses, bags and glove compartments of real and fantastical people-whether it’s the contents of Oprah’s favorite purse, Amelia Earhart’s pencil case, or Bernie Madoff’s suitcase. Carry This Book provides a humorous and insightful look into how the things we carry around every day can make up who we are.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Little grey cells : the quotable Poirot / Agatha Christie ; edited by David Brawn.
“A charming, beautifully designed collection of bite-sized wisdom from Agatha Christie’s beloved detective Hercule Poirot–delightful, witty, and perceptive quotations and bon mots to stimulate every fan’s little grey cells.” (Syndetics summary)

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Popular Non-Fiction

The highlight of this months’ books is The Machine Stops, in which 12 artists write to E.M. Forster’s imaginary Machine. The story “The Machine Stops” is included, and the book makes for fascinating reading. Also important at the moment is What is a Refugee?, a very timely book, a touch of comedy in The Revenge of Anguished English, and a new edition of the well praised Prosperity without Growth rounds up our selection.

Syndetics book cover The machine stops / E.M. Forster; with contributions by Julieta Aranda, Fia Backström and R. Lyon … [et. al.] ; edited by Erik Wysocan.
“In 1909 E.M. Forster (1879-1970) wrote his one work of dystopian science fiction, The Machine Stops, which imagines the world in the aftermath of an ecological crisis, where humans live in underground chambers without physical contact. Here, 12 artists–Julieta Aranda, Fia Backstrom and R. Lyon, Ed Atkins, Ian Cheng, Melanie Gilligan, Pedro Neves Marques, Tobias Madison, Jeff Nagy, Rachel Rose, Bea Schlingelhoff and Mariana Silva–contribute texts addressing culture in the networked age.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover What is a refugee? / William Maley.
“Arguing that Western states are now reaping the consequences of policies aimed at blocking safe and ‘legal’ access to asylum, What is a Refugee? shows why many proposed solutions to the refugee ‘problem’ will exacerbate tension and risk fuelling the growth of extremism among people who have been denied all hope. This lucid book also tells of the families and individuals who have sought refuge, highlighting the suffering, separation and dislocation on their perilous journeys to safety.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Buyer beware : a New Zealand home buyer’s guide / Maria Slade.
“How to negotiate the minefield of buying a home in New Zealand today. Property prices going through the stratosphere, leaky buildings, P contamination, bullying body corporates – purchasing a house today can feel akin to entering a minefield. Written by a news journalist who has covered many of the horror stories, this book takes a no-holds-barred look at the challenges facing home buyers and offers savvy advice on how to navigate that minefield. It will appeal to all home buyers, from first-timers hoping for a small apartment to older people looking to downsize and everyone in between.” (Syndetics summary)

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Religion & Beliefs

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

Syndetics book cover Talking God : philosophers on belief, edited by Gary Gutting.
Where does belief come from? This book features conversations with twelve skeptics, atheists, agnostics, and believers including challenges from evolution, cutting-edge physics and cosmology, and meditations on the value of secular humanism. Insights on Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, as well as Judaism and Christianity are offered.
Syndetics book cover A little history of religion, by Richard Holloway.
Richard Holloway begins at the dawn of religious belief and retells, quite succinctly, the history of religion to the twenty-first century. Suitable for those with faith and those without, he accentuates tolerance, mystery, and calmly restores a sense of the value of faith. The discussion covers all of the major religions, and is simple without being simplistic. Evil done in the name of religion is not overlooked. This is an important snapshot to aid understanding different beliefs.
Syndetics book cover Awakening from the daydream : reimagining the Buddha’s wheel of life, by David Nichtern.
“Although traditionally thought of as modes of reincarnation, Nichtern describes the realms as mental states that we move between, sometimes quite rapidly. He clearly and briefly describes how each blocks our path towards enlightenment but also contain unique possibilities. He also provides concise and easily implemented meditation practices for coping with the negative effects of each and includes a basic guide to karma and advice for finding a spiritual guide. …this is a clear, and current introduction to Buddhist thought and practice.” (drawn from Publisher Weekly, courtesy of Syndetics).
Syndetics book cover Festivals 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.

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History

This month have a look at far-reaching histories on today’s nation-states both new and old in Tokyo: A Biography and A History of South Sudan. Leaf through the intimate notes of Lydia Ginzburg from St. Petersburg under siege, or the unpredictable encounters of Tom Lutz’ ramblings through every country in the world. Take a trip through past and future in Robert L. Kelly’s Fifth Beginning, or follow the indigenous footsteps that made it back to deal directly with empire, at the heart of London.

Syndetics book cover A history of South Sudan : from slavery to independence / Øystein H. Rolandsen, M. W. Daly.
“South Sudan is the world’s youngest independent country. Established in 2011 after two wars, South Sudan has since reverted to a state of devastating civil strife. This book provides a general history of the new country, from the arrival of Turco-Egyptian explorers in Upper Nile, […] to the Anglo-Egyptian colonial era. The book concludes with coverage of events since independence, with insights into what the future might hold.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Tokyo : a biography : disasters, destruction and renewal : the story of an indomitable city / Stephen Mansfield.
“The history of Tokyo is as eventful as it is long. In a whirlwind journey through Tokyo’s past from its earliest beginnings up to the present day, this Japanese history book demonstrates how the city’s response to everything from natural disasters to regime change has been to reinvent itself time and again. Readers see a city almost unrivalled in its uniqueness, a place that–despite its often tragic history–still shimmers as it prepares to face the future.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The Great War for New Zealand : Waikato 1800-2000 / Vincent O’Malley.
“A monumental new account of the defining conflict in New Zealand history. It was war in the Waikato in 1863-64 that shaped the nation in all kinds of ways: setting back Māori and Pākehā relations by several generations and allowing the government to begin to assert the kind of real control over the country that had eluded it since 1840. Vincent O’Malley focuses on the human impact of the war, its origins and aftermath.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Science

This month’s selection features a myriad of stellar books discussing adventures to Mars, meteorites, the planet Vulcan, and telescopic advances, as well as popular authors such as Brian Cox and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Syndetics book cover Forces of nature, by Professor Brian Cox & Andrew Cohen.
Popular presenter Professor Brian Cox uncovers some of the most extraordinary natural events on Earth and in the Universe and beyond. The forces of nature shape everything we see and the results are astonishing. In seeking to understand the everyday world, the colours, structure, behaviour and history of our home, we develop the knowledge and techniques necessary to step beyond the everyday to understand the Universe beyond.
Syndetics book cover Mars : making contact, by Rod Pyle.
This book offers a visually stunning insider’s look at how Mars has been explored and the challenges facing future missions. The first 22 grainy closeups were in 1965, but the probes didn’t land until 1976. Today the two rovers Curiosity and Opportunity have allowed us to make even more discoveries of ancient rivers, lakes, ocean beds, and valleys. Plans for a manned mission to Mars, are discussed including the spacecraft design and surviving on the planet’s inhospitable surface. Another new book on Mars is Mars One, humanity’s next great adventure.
Syndetics book cover Meteorite, by Maria Golia.
‘Meteorite’ tells the long history of our engagement with these sky-born rocks, which are among the rarest things on earth. … This richly illustrated, wide-ranging account surveys the place of meteoric phenomena in science, myth, art, literature and popular culture.”(Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The hunt for Vulcan : how Albert Einstein destroyed a planet and deciphered the universe, by Thomas Levenson.
In 1859, scientist Urbain LeVerrier discovered that the planet Mercury’s orbit shifts over time. His explanation was that there had to be an unseen planet Vulcan circling even closer to the sun. Astronomers of their generation began to seek out Vulcan and at least a dozen reports of discovery were filed. But a young Albert Einstein came up with a theory of gravity that also happened to prove that Mercury’s orbit could indeed be explained – not by Newton’s theories but by Einstein’s own theory of general relativity.

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Mind and Body eNewsletter for March

This month’s Mind and Body newsletter features urban cycling, the big question about science, faith, and god, a festival survival guide, and the serious business of enjoying ourselves. You can also now borrow the brand new library tablets! See below for details.

Library News

Sports, Fitness & Recreation

This month’s selection includes books on cycling, boat racing, running, cricket soccer and fishing. Perhaps you’ll find inspiration for a hobby to take up in the new year!

Syndetics book cover Urban Cycling : from the BMX to the fixie / Laurent Belando.
“City cycling is on the up all over the world, and this stylish book is the perfect celebration of its growing popularity. With beautiful photography and street-style profiles of cyclists of all walks of life, Urban Cycling is a fascinating study of the cyclists that roam our city streets – from BMX gangs to cycle couriers and everything in between.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Winning Isn’t Luck : how to succeed in racing dinghies and yachts / Fred Imhoff ; translated by Chris Schram.
“Whether racing dinghies or yachts, every sailor wants to drive through the fleet and cross the line first. In this ground-breaking book, international racer Fred Imhoff shows how to do just that. By means of on-the-water action shots and detailed commentary about a sailor’s tactics, sail trim, helming, crew positioning and psychological attitude, Fred shares the secrets of competitive racing success….this book is full of never-before-discussed gold dust that will be absolutely indispensable to all racers, whatever their age or level.” (Sydetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Running Man : A Memoir / Charlie Engle.
“After a decade-long addiction to crack cocaine and alcohol, Charlie Engle hit bottom with a near-fatal six-day binge that ended in a hail of bullets. As Engle got sober, he turned to running, which became his lifeline, his pastime, and his salvation. He began with marathons, and when marathons weren’t far enough, he began to take on ultra-marathons, races that went for 35, 50, and sometimes hundreds of miles, traveling to some of the most unforgiving places on earth to race…. In Running Man, Charlie Engle tells the gripping, surprising, funny, emotional, and inspiring story of his life, detailing his setbacks and struggles–from coping with addiction to serving time in prison–and how he blazed a path to freedom by putting one foot in front of the other.” (Book jacket)
Syndetics book cover Fifty Places to Camp Before You Die : camping experts share the world’s greatest destinations / Chris Santella ; foreword by Mike Harrelson.
In Fifty Places to Camp Before You Die, Chris Santella illuminates the best destinations for exploring the great outdoors. The book features the world’s top spots for sleeping under the stars and enjoying a host of outdoor recreational activities that make camping such a time-honored tradition. Featuring favorite US National Parks destinations—as well as more exotic locales in Italy, Chile, France, Botswana, Germany, and more—Santella provides helpful information and tips that will appeal to novice campers and seasoned outdoorsmen alike.” (Amazon.com)

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Religion and beliefs

Syndetics book cover The world, the flesh & the Devil : the life and opinions of Samuel Marsden in England and the Antipodes, 1765-1838, by Andrew Sharp.
“By diving deeply into key moments – the voyage out, the disputes with Macquarie, the founding of missions – Sharp gets us to reimagine the world as Marsden saw it: always under threat from the Prince of Darkness, in need of ‘a bold reprover of vice’, a world written in the words of the King James Bible. Andrew Sharp takes us back into the nineteenth-century world, and an evangelical mind, to reveal the past as truly a foreign country”–Publisher information.
Syndetics book cover Awakening from the daydream : reimagining the Buddha’s wheel of life, by David Nichtern.
“Although traditionally thought of as modes of reincarnation, Nichtern describes the realms as mental states that we move between, sometimes quite rapidly. He clearly and briefly describes how each blocks our path towards enlightenment but also contain unique possibilities. He also provides concise and easily implemented meditation practices for coping with the negative effects of each and includes a basic guide to karma and advice for finding a spiritual guide. …this is a clear, and current introduction to Buddhist thought and practice.” (drawn from Publisher Weekly, courtesy of Syndetics).
Syndetics book cover Angels on Earth : inspiring stories of fate, friendship, and the power of connections, by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski.
An inspiring book about the incredible impact that acts of kindness from strangers can have – impacting not only the receiver but also the giver. Schroff’s own journey has deepened her belief that angels (those sent by God) are all around us.
Syndetics book cover The 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.

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Health

This month, develop both strength and flexibility for a healthier you and understand the underestimated link between body, brain and wellbeing. Find strategies during the day for a better night sleep (for adults and babies). Finally, we explore the world of psychology & psychiatry through the ages.

Syndetics book cover The no-cry sleep solution : gentle ways to help your baby sleep through the night
“There are two schools of thought for encouraging babies to sleep through the night: the hotly debated Ferber technique of letting the baby “cry it out,” or the grin-and-bear-it solution of getting up from dusk to dawn as often as necessary. If you don’t believe in letting your baby cry it out, but desperately want to sleep, there is now a third option, presented in Elizabeth Pantley’s sanity-saving book The No-Cry Sleep Solution. Pantley’s successful solution has been tested and proven effective by scores of mothers and their babies from across the United States, Canada, and Europe. The No-Cry Sleep Solution offers clearly explained, step-by-step ideas that steer your little ones toward a good night’s sleep.” (Syndetics)
Syndetics book cover The autoimmune wellness handbook : a DIY guide to living well with chronic illness
“Autoimmune diseases sufferers Trescott (The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook) and Alt (The Alternative Autoimmune Cookbook) searched online for answers and became guinea pigs for paleo diet pioneer Loren Cordain’s autoimmune protocol, a prescriptive eating plan that sets out foods to avoid and include, and provides detailed shopping lists for four weeks of menus using the recipes provided. Recipes are paleo-level protein-rich; merely reading a suggested Tuesday breakfast-lunch-dinner lineup of double-pork pesto patties, hidden liver chili, and curried chicken salad will be enough to make some swoon.” (Syndetics)
Syndetics book cover A vegan ethic : embracing a life of compassion toward all
“If veganism is about doing your best to not harm any sentient life, we must logically extend that circle of compassion to human animals as well, writes Mark Hawthorne in this practical, engaging guide to veganism and animal rights. Along with proven advice for going and staying vegan, an overview of animal exploitation, and answers to common questions about ethical eating (such as “Isn’t ‘humane meat’ a good option?” and “Don’t plants feel pain?”), A Vegan Ethic draws on the work and experiences of intersectional activists to examine how all forms of oppression – including racism, sexism, ableism, and speciesism – are connected by privilege, control, and economic power.” (Syndetics)
Syndetics book cover Festivals : a survival guide : cope with everything – tents, toilets, torrential rain, too much booze, and more
“Every year when summer rolls around, millions of us sacrifice the joys of a comfortable bed and warm running water in favour of a weekend of debauchery in a field in the middle of nowhere. Whether you’re planning a weekend hobnobbing with the A-listers at Coachella, trading goods in the desert at Burning Man, raving through the night at one of Croatia’s beachside parties or seeing the biggest bands in the world at Glastonbury, the pull of a music festival is undeniable, but it can all be a bit daunting.” (Syndetics)

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Personal Development

These could be New Year resolutions with far reaching implications, subverting the current consensus on tidiness and connectivity. Food for thought during the festive season!

Syndetics book cover The 2 AM principle : discover the science of adventure
“Adventures don’t happen by accident – just ask Jon Levy. Once a high school geek, he is now a world-traveling behavior scientist and the creator of the EPIC Model of Adventure, a breakthrough four-stage process for creating unforgettable experiences – from assembling the right team and the finer points of party crashing, to the science of being funny and ending the evening with style. The 2 AM principle combines outrageous triumphs, embarrassing failures, and life-changing lessons from Levy’s adventures with concrete science to show anyone how to life life more fully and adventurously.”(Syndetics)
Syndetics book cover Emotional agility : get unstuck, embrace change, and thrive in work and life
“The path to personal and professional fulfillment is rarely straight. Ask anyone who has achieved his or her biggest goals or whose relationships thrive and you’ll hear stories of many unexpected detours along the way. What separates those who master these challenges and those who get derailed? The answer is emotional agility. Emotionally agile people are not immune to stresses and setbacks. The key difference is that they know how to adapt, aligning their actions with their values and making small but powerful changes that lead to a lifetime of growth. Emotional agility is not about ignoring difficult emotions and thoughts; it’s about holding them loosely, facing them courageously and compassionately, and then moving past them to bring the best of yourself forward. Emotional Agility serves as a road map for a new way of acting that will help you reach your full potential.” (Syndetics)
Syndetics book cover Lecretia’s choice : a story of love, death and the law
“A successful young lawyer in Wellington, Lecretia Seales met and fell in love with Matt Vickers in 2003. In Lecretia’s Choice, Matt tells the story of their life together, and how it changed when his proud, fiercely independent wife was diagnosed with a brain tumour and forced to confront her own mortality. Lecretia wanted to die with dignity, to be able to say goodbye well, and not to suffer unnecessarily—but the law denied her that choice. With her characteristic spirit, she decided to mount a challenge in New Zealand’s High Court, but as the battle raged, Lecretia’s strength faded. She died on 5 June 2015, at the age of forty-two, the day after her family learned that the court had ruled against her. Lecretia’s Choice is not only a moving love story but compulsory reading for everyone who cares about the dignity we afford terminally ill people who want to die on their own terms.” (Amazon.com)
Syndetics book cover Isn’t this fun? : investigating the serious business of enjoying ourselves
“Michael Foley wants to understand why he doesn’t appear to be experiencing as much ‘fun’ as everyone else. So, with characteristic wit and humour, he sets out to understand what fun really means, examining its heritage, its cultural significance and the various activities we associate with fun. In fact, fun is a profoundly serious business often motivated as much by spirituality as hedonism. Also, while fun is a modern phenomenon it turns out to have recreated many of the elements of early ritual. His findings will invigorate you with insights, make you laugh at life.” (Syndetics)

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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)

Passwords to Paradise : Beliefs books

A fascinating and detailed work on the influence of language and linguistics on the development of religions across the ages is featured in this month’s latest arrivals together with a thoughtful treatment on globalisation by Miroslav Volf.

Syndetics book coverLife’s too short to pretend you’re not religious, by David Dark.
Religion is often a forbidden topic in conversation. Some prefer the word “spirituality” which doesn’t have quite the same association with ritual, self-righteousness, or hypocrisy. But religion includes the stories that make up a person’s values and beliefs. Dark illuminates how thoughts are handed down to us, what we judge to be essential, and argues a convincing case for religion’s place in modern society.

Syndetics book coverFlourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World, by Miroslav Volf.
In this perceptive and thoughtful book, a leading theologian discusses how world religions and globalization have interacted across the centuries, but what ought their relationship to be? How do we judge globalization – how well it enables us to live out our authentic humanity? Despite their flaws, religions remain one of our most powerful sources of moral motivation and renewal. The ongoing process of reform in religions needs to shape globalization to encourage people to flourish at every level.

Syndetics book coverPasswords to paradise : how languages have re-invented world religions, by Nicholas Oster.
“Ostler (The Last Lingua Franca) roams across several millennia of world history and delves into precise linguistic shifts looking for clues to how the “missionary religions” of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam have been affected by the new language communities they entered. [He demonstrates how] they may have been altered not only by the imperfect art of translation but by their social, political, and military contexts. … For those fascinated by linguistic transitions, this impressive study is a feast. (drawn from Publisher’s Weekly, courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverPutting God second : how to save religion from itself, by Rabbi Donniel Hartman.
“Rabbi Donniel Hartman tackles one of modern life’s vexing questions: Why are the great monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – chronically unable to fulfill their own self-professed goal of creating individuals infused with moral sensitivity and societies governed by the highest ethical standards?” He observes that the primary focus of a relationship with God can distract religious believers from their own traditions’ ethics. So he argues that decency toward one’s neighbour must always take priority over acts of religious devotion.

Syndetics book coverThe surrender experiment : my journey into life’s perfection, Michael A. Singer.
Shares stories from the author’s pursuit of enlightenment, from his years as a hippie introvert and successes as a computer engineer through his work in humanitarian efforts, counseling readers on how to navigate confusing aspects in the spiritual journey, with lessons on how to put aside conflicting beliefs, let go of worries, and transform misdirected desires. Singer provides a road map to a new way of living not in the moment, but to exist in a state of perpetual happiness.

Syndetics book coverPagan planet : being, believing & belonging in the 21st century, edited by Nimue Brown.
“What does it mean to live as a Pagan in this uncertain world of climate change, economic hardship and worldwide social injustice? What does it mean to hold nature as sacred when ravaging the land is commonplace? How do we live our Paganism in our families and homes, our communities and countries? Pagans are stepping up in all kinds of ways. … This is a book of grass-roots energy, of walking your talk and the tales of people who are, by a vast array of means, engaged with being the change they wish to see in the world.” (drawn from the publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverThe heaven promise : engaging the Bible’s truth about life to come, by Scot McKnight.
“Heaven. Eternity. The Afterlife. Mention any of these concepts, and people of all ages and from all walks of life are certain to have opinions. Maybe that’s why there are so many books and movies that feature heaven-and-back experiences. …. Separating fact from fiction, McKnight helps the reader examine the over-arching story of scripture in order to discover what awaits us. Heaven isn’t the construction of a fairy-tale or some mythical narrative. It’s …the fulfilment of God’s promise to us.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBrand Luther : 1517, printing, and the making of the Reformation, by Andrew Pettegree.
“Pettegree illustrates Luther’s great gifts not simply as a theologian, but … as the world’s first mass-media figure, its first brand. He recognized the power of pamphlets, written in the colloquial German of everyday people, to win the battle of ideas. … Luther had a partner in the form of artist and businessman Lucas Cranach, who together with Wittenberg’s printers created the distinctive look of Luther’s pamphlets. Together, Luther and Cranach created a product that spread like wildfire.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Emmaus code : finding Jesus in the Old Testament, by David Limbaugh.
This made The New York Times Best Seller List in 2015. Limbaugh takes as his starting point a meeting between Jesus and two travellers where the former began discussing “Moses and all the prophets” to explain to them what was already in the (OT) Scriptures about himself. The reader is taken on a journey through all 39 OT books to reveal Jesus Christ and God’s meta-narrative.

Syndetics book coverShi’i Islam : a beginner’s guide, by Moojan Momen.
“Provides readers with an accessible and insightful introduction to the Shi’i branch of Islam, from its beginnings after the death of the Prophet Muhammad through to the present day. As well as providing a historical overview, the book also introduces readers to Shi’i doctrines and practices, explains the key differences between the Shi’i and Sunni branches of Islam, and addresses the role and position of women within Shi’i communities.” (drawn from publisher’s description)

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.

Ramadan Mubarak!

In Aotearoa New Zealand, Ramadan started Friday 19 June. What does this mean for our Muslim community? Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection and worship during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, in which participating Muslims refrain from eating and drinking during daylight hours. The dates of Ramadan vary, moving backwards by about eleven days each year depending on the moon.

Muslims believe Ramadan to be the month in which the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. Ramadan is thought to establish a link between themselves and God through prayer, charity, good deeds, kindness and helping others. The elderly, the chronically ill, and the mentally ill are exempt from fasting, although the first two groups must endeavor to feed the poor in place of their missed fasting.

At the end of Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr celebrates the conclusion of the month of dawn-to-sunset fasting. Eid is an Arabic word meaning “festivity”, while Fitr means “breaking the fast”.

Since it is a festival of giving and sharing, Muslims prepare special foods and buy gifts for their family and friends and for giving to the poor and needy who cannot afford it; this can involve buying new clothes, shoes and other items of need.

Have you visited our Popular Topics pages on beliefs? On the page we have for Islam you will find a cross-section of what the library holds on this religion, some quick links into our online databases and the library’s catalogue, and links to websites on Islam selected by our subject librarians. The Dewey Decimal call number for Islam as a subject is 297.

Some books on Islam recently added to our collection are

Syndetics book coverThe handy Islam answer book / John Renard, Ph.D.
“In an age of continued Middle East volatility, religious extremists, and terrorist threats, the mere mention of Islam and Muslims too often provokes misunderstanding and even rancor. Often overlooked are the important links between the Qur’an and the Bible. Also ignored are the significant historical overlap between Islamic interpretation of history with those of Christianity and Judaism, including the monotheistic belief in a single God. Islam is too often confusing and even opaque to those unfamiliar with it. The Handy Islam Answer Book , is clearly and eloquently written by John Renard, Ph.D., a scholar of Islam with more than 40 years of research and teaching experience. He provides detailed descriptions of the history, beliefs, symbols, rituals, observations, customs, leaders, and organization of the world’s second largest religion. Renard explains the significance of the Five Pillars, Muhammad, various sects, the Qur’an, Islamic law, and much more. This engaging primer is a resource for reliable information about Islam and Muslims and it brings an understanding of the shared humanity that joins Muslims and non-Muslims far more deeply than cultural or religious differences separate them. Truly a must-have reference for our changing and trying times, this user-friendly guide answers nearly 800 questions and offers fun facts that cover Islamic history, religious practices, and Muslim cultural perspectives, including … * When did Islam begin? * Why is Mecca a holy city for Muslims? * Do Muslims worship Muhammad? * What was the fate of Medieval Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land? * What do Muslims mean by the term “Allah”? * What does the crescent moon and star symbol mean to Muslims? * What is the Muslim “call to prayer”? Is it similar to “church bells”? * Do Muslims believe that God “tests” people? * Does Muhammad play a role in Islamic spirituality in a manner similar to Jesus’ role in Christianity? * Is jihad a legal concept for Muslims? * Is it true that Muhammad both preached and engaged in military campaigns? * Do Muslims, Christians, and Jews worship the “same God”? * Why do Jews, Christians, and Muslims all claim parts of Israel/Palestine as “Holy Land”? * Why do some people, such as the Taliban, not want girls to get an education? * Does Islam require wearing face veils? * Does Islam have theologians like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and the other great Christian thinkers? * Is there any similarity between Muslim and Christian art? Muslims are diverse, and they have a vast spectrum of views about Islam. The Handy Islam Answer Book aims for understanding, which is the first step to uniting, instead of dividing. This helpful books provides a historic timeline, a glossary of commonly used terms, a genealogy from Adam to Muhammad and beyond, a calendar of major observances, and a bibliography help further exploration of one of the world’s great religions.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMy way : a Muslim woman’s journey / Mona Siddiqui.
“Polarized debates about ‘Islam’ and ‘the West’ are now so ubiquitous that it is easy to forget how damaging they can be. The vast majority of Muslims do not wish to see Islam used as a divisive force within the largely secular societies in which they live. How then can Muslim stereotyping be challenged? Mona Siddiqui is one of the foremost Western authorities on the reconciliation of 21st-century life and Islamic custom. In this new and searching book, she applies a uniquely probing intelligence, as well as a female sensibility, to crucial issues of faith and identity (such as wearing the veil) within society at large. While speaking from within a particular tradition, she touches on matters of universal concern. Who are we? How do we cope with growing older? What kind of world will we leave to our children? Placing her rich personal journey in a wider context, the author is able to explore love and sex, multiculturalism and diversity, and ageing and death through the prism of her experience as both a Muslim and a modern woman. Her book shows why she is one of the most vital thinkers of our age.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverIznik : the artistry of Ottoman ceramics / Walter B. Denny.
“Covering both Iznik pièces de forme and the famous Iznik tiles that decorate Ottoman imperial monuments, Iznik integrates the entire spectrum of Iznik production, both tiles and wares, and the broader artistic tradition in which it originated. Walter B. Denny begins with a description of the particular nature of Islamic art under the Ottoman empire, as well as the methods of the craftsmen who worked under the imperial auspices. He then examines the links between the court style of Istanbul and the ceramic ateliers in Iznik itself, and the crucial role of the dominant styles of the golden age of Iznik ceramics and their most famous creators, Shah Kulu and Kara Memi. The book showcases the array of motifs floral, vegetal and figurative used on Iznik wares, looks at the relationship between non-Muslim communities and the Ottoman empire, and closes with an examination of the rich stylistic heritage that Iznik ceramics have given to Western art. Lavishly illustrated in full colour throughout, this is a panoramic overview of a spectacular and refined artform.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverArt of Islam [electronic resource] / Gaston Migeon.
“Islamic art is not the art of a nation or of a people, but that of a religion: Islam. Spreading from the Arabian Peninsula, the proselyte believers conquered, in a few centuries, a territory spreading from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. Multicultural and multi-ethnical, this polymorphic and highly spiritual art, in which all representation of Man and God were prohibited, developed canons and various motives of great decorative value. Thorough and inventive, these artists expressed their beliefs by creating monumental masterpieces such as the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, the Taj Mahal in Agra and the Alhambra in Granada, architectural works in which one recognises the stylisation of motives of the Muslim ceramics. Lively and coloured, Islamic art mirrors the richness of these people whose common denominator was the belief in one singular truth: the absolute necessity of creating works whose beauty equaled their respect for God.” (Syndetics summary)

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.


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