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Recommended religious/spiritual books

2013-January to June


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Previous months' recommendations

The current month's recommended book

Tentatively scheduled selections for future months

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2013-January's selection

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"Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening" by Diana Butler Bass

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

Amazon's book description:

"The data is clear: religious affiliation is plummeting across the breadth of Christian denominations. And yet interest in 'spirituality' is on the rise. So what is behind the sea change in American religion? With the same comprehensive research and insider reporting that made Christianity for the Rest of Us an indispensable guide to cultivating thriving churches, Diana Butler Bass offers a fresh interpretation of the "spiritual but not religious" trend.

Bass—who has spent her career teaching the history, culture, and politics of religion, and engaging church communities across the nation—brings forth her deep knowledge of the latest national studies and polls, along with her own groundbreaking analysis, as she seeks to fully comprehend the decline in Christian attendance and affiliation that started decades ago—and has increased exponentially in recent years."

Available from Amazon.com in hardcover for $15.98 plus shipping, in paperback for $15.98 plus shipping, and in Kindle eBook format for $17.18. The Kindle price is a major rip off by the publisher HarperOne. If you buy a copy, we recommend that you send a letter of complaint to the publisher at feedback2@harpercollins.com.

Other reviews:

  • "Bass has done it again! She’s spot on-prophetic, compelling, and most importantly, hopeful." (Rob Bell, author of Love Wins)

  • "Refreshing, evocative, well informed and original." (Harvey Cox, author of The Future of Faith)

  • "Bass explains how experience, connection, and service are replacing theology as keys to the next Great Awakening. It’s a fascinating story." (Bill McKibben, co-author of Earth under Fire, and founder of 360.org)

  • "Interesting, insightful, impressive and important." (Marcus Borg, author of Speaking Christian)

  • "…an important and life-giving book, written by … one of our finest religious writers." (Parker J. Palmer, author of Let Your Life Speak)

  • "Join Bass in rebuilding religion from the bottom up!" (Richard Rohr, O.F.M., Center for Action and Contemplation and author of Falling Upward )

  • "It is one blockbuster of an analysis that is also a delight to read." (Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence)

  • "Diana reminds us here that, before every great awakening, folks say it is impossible... and after every great awakening, folks say it was inevitable." (Shane Claiborne, author and activist)

  • "Of Bass’s many excellent books, this is the most substantive, provocative, and inspiring yet. . . . it leads to a powerful finale of sage guidance for the future." (Brian D. McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christianity)

  • "Bass ably analyzes the struggle for awareness and change that defines spiritual awakening." (Publishers Weekly Religion Bookline)

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2013-February's selection

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"The River of God: A new history of Christian origins" by Gregory J. Riley

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

Amazon's book description:

"Acclaimed author Gregory Riley embarks on a remarkable journey in this readable and persuasive account of the origins of Christianity. Riley demonstrates that early Christians held widely differing beliefs about God, Jesus, the Devil, and the human soul, and follows these beliefs back to their sources in Greek science and philosophy and the religions of the ancient Middle East. An expert on the context in which Christianity arose, Riley maps out a new understanding of the forging of Christianity, and conveys a vital message for today about the true nature of Christian faith as inherently diverse."

"Most helpful customer review" by K. R. Vincent:

"In The River of God, Gregory Riley shines light on much of the history of Christian origins often ignored by scholars. Most researchers of Christianity restrict themselves to the influence of the West (Greek and Roman) and often confuse Rabbinic Judaism with the Judaism of Jesus' times; Prof. Riley adds the whole of Middle Eastern religious history to the story of our search for God. Riley includes the development of Cannanite and Mesopotamian religion in the history of ancient Judaism. In addition to Greek ideas of Orphism, Pythagoreanism and Plato, he recognizes the Egyptian and Persian Zoroastrian influences on the development of Christian concepts of afterlife. Riley outlines the role of Persian Zoroastrianism on our understanding of Satan and a world savior. He details how various ancient religious models of God from both East and West as well as Greek science contributed to the development of our understanding of the division of body and soul and the creation of the doctrine of the Trinity in the fourth century. The River of God is not a general overview of world religions; it is specifically about the development of Christianity from a modern Christian perspective. Prof. Riley writes with a broad brush in his outline of the development of Christianity and, while scholars will quibble over some of the details and generalizations, I found The River of God to be an excellent overview of our understanding of "the process of the River of God."

Available from Amazon.com in paperback for $11.69 plus shipping. Curiously, it is not available in Kindle eBook format. Used copies are often available for little more than the $3.99 shipping cost. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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2013-March's selection

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"Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity" by Gregory J. Riley

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

Amazon's book description:

Amazon's editors selected this title as one of the Best Books of the Month for 2012-NOV.

"Anyone who’s ever said (or heard or thought) the adage 'chip off the old block' might burrow into Andrew Solomon’s tome about the ways in which children are different from their parents--and what such differences do to our conventional ideas about family. Ruminative, personal, and reportorial all at once, Solomon--who won a National Book Award for his treatise on depression, The Noonday Demon -- begins by describing his own experience as the gay son of heterosexual parents, then goes on to investigate the worlds of deaf children of hearing parents, dwarves born into 'normal' families, and so on. His observations and conclusions are complex and not easily summarized, with one exception: The chapter on children of law-abiding parents who become criminals. Solomon rightly points out that this is a very different situation indeed: 'to be or produce a schizophrenic...is generally deemed a misfortune,' he writes. 'To...produce a criminal is often deemed a failure.' Still, parents must cope with or not, accept or not, the deeds or behaviors or syndromes of their offspring. How they do or do not do that makes for fascinating and disturbing reading." --Sara Nelson

Available from Amazon.com in hardcover for $22.20 plus shipping. It is available in Kindle eBook format for $24.94. The latter is clearly a price ripoff by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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2013-April's selection

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Karen Armstrong, "The Battle For God, A History of Fundamentalism"

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

Amazon.com review:

"About 40 years ago popular opinion assumed that religion would become a weaker force and people would certainly become less zealous as the world became more modern and morals more relaxed. But the opposite has proven true, according to theologian and author Karen Armstrong, ... who documents how fundamentalism has taken root and grown in many of the world's major religions, such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Even Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism have developed fundamentalist factions. Reacting to a technologically driven world with liberal Western values, fundamentalists have not only increased in numbers, they have become more desperate, claims Armstrong, who points to the Oklahoma City bombing, violent anti-abortion crusades, and the assassination of President Yitzak Rabin as evidence of dangerous extremes.

Yet she also acknowledges the irony of how fundamentalism and Western materialism seem to urge each other on to greater excesses. To 'prevent an escalation of the conflict, we must try and understand the pain and perception of the other side,' she pleads. With her gift for clear, engaging writing and her integrity as a thorough researcher, Armstrong delivers a powerful discussion of a globally heated issue. Part history lesson, part wake-up call, and mostly a plea for healing, Armstrong's writing continues to offer a religious mirror and a cultural vision."

Amazon.com book description:

In our supposedly secular age governed by reason and technology, fundamentalism has emerged as an overwhelming force in every major world religion. Why? This is the fascinating, disturbing question that bestselling author Karen Armstrong addresses in her brilliant new book The Battle for God. Writing with the broad perspective and deep understanding of human spirituality that won huge audiences for A History of God, Armstrong illuminates the spread of militant piety as a phenomenon peculiar to our moment in history.

Contrary to popular belief, fundamentalism is not a throwback to some ancient form of religion but rather a response to the spiritual crisis of the modern world. As Armstrong argues, the collapse of a piety rooted in myth and cult during the Renaissance forced people of faith to grasp for new ways of being religious--and fundamentalism was born. Armstrong focuses here on three fundamentalist movements: Protestant fundamentalism in America, Jewish fundamentalism in Israel, and Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt and Iran--exploring how each has developed its own unique way of combating the assaults of modernity.

Blending history, sociology, and spirituality, The Battle for God is a compelling and compassionate study of a radical form of religious expression that is critically shaping the course of world history.

Karen Armstrong, "The Battle For God, A History of Fundamentalism", Ballentine Books, (2011). Available in paperback at $10.85 plus shipping or in Kindle versions for $22.04. Used copies are often available at much lower prices plus shipping. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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2013-May's selection

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Susan J. Stabile, "Growing in Love & Wisdom: Tibetan Buddhist sources for Christian Meditation."

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

Amazon.com's book description:

"Although raised Roman Catholic, Susan Stabile was ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun and devoted 20 years of her life to practicing Buddhism before returning to Catholicism in 2001. In Growing in Love and Wisdom, she draws on this unique dual perspective to explore the value of interreligious dialogue, the spiritual dynamics that operate across faith traditions, and how Buddhist meditation practices can deepen Christian prayer. She begins by examining the values and principles shared by the two faiths and shows that both traditions seek to effect a fundamental transformation in the lives of believers. Both stress the need for experiences with deep emotional resonance that goes beyond the level of concepts to touch the heart. The center of the book offers 15 Tibetan Buddhist contemplative practices, adapted for Christian use. Stabile provides clear instructions on how to do these meditations and helpful commentary on each, explaining its purpose and the relation between the Buddhist original and her Christian adaptation of it. Throughout, she highlights the many remarkably close parallels between the teachings of Jesus and the Buddha. The meditations offered in this unusual book will be extremely useful to thoughtful Christians, to those responsible for giving spiritual direction, and also to Buddhist sympathizers who will be intrigued and pleased to see familiar contemplations handled so skillfully by a former Buddhist practitioner who has gratefully learned so much from her former religion and now introduces the riches of that tradition to her fellow Christians."

Book reviews:

  • "In the growing crowd of books on Buddhist-Christian dialogue, this one is different. It's a 'hands-on' book. Susan Stabile's intent is to help Christians learn from what Buddhists do, rather than from what they believe. In practical, step-by-step instructions on how Christians can use Tibetan techniques of meditation, she opens new possibilities of clarifying and deepening Christian experience. This is a book for those who what to practice before they preach, or are preached to."--Paul F. Knitter, Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions, and Culture, Union Theological Seminary, New York

  • "Stabile's very readable book lucidly presents similarities in values between Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism. Her clearly-explained prayer suggestions for Christians, which make up most of the book, are adapted from Buddhist practice and are mainly discursive in nature. They offer a rich variety of ways in which their Christian spiritual life can be enriched by Eastern teachings."--Mary Jo Meadow, author of Christian Insight Meditation: Following in the Footsteps of John of the Cross.

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Susan J. Stabile, "Growing in Love & Wisdom: Tibetan Buddhist sources for Christian Meditation." (2012). Available in hardcover at $14.00 plus shipping or in Kindle versions for $10.07. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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2013-June's selection

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Marcus J. Borg, "Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power - And How They Can Be Restored."

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

Amazon.com's book description:

"Modern Christians are steeped in a language so distorted that it has become a stumbling block to the religion, says internationally renowned Bible scholar Marcus J. Borg. Borg argues that Christianity’s important words, and the sacred texts and stories in which those words are embedded, have been narrowed by a modern framework for the faith that emphasizes sin, forgiveness, Jesus dying for our sins, and the afterlife. Here, Borg employs the “historical-metaphorical” method for understanding Christian language that can restore for us these words of power and transformation. For example,
  • Redemption: now narrowly understood as Jesus saving us from sins so we can go to heaven, but in the Bible it refers to being set free from slavery.
  • Savior: now refers to Jesus as the one who saves us from our sins, but in the Bible it has a rich and wonderful variety of meanings having nothing to do with the afterlife.
  • Sacrifice: now refers to Jesus’s death on the cross as payment for our sins, but in the Bible it is never about substitutionary payment for sin.

In Speaking Christian, Borg delivers a language for twenty-first-century Christians that grounds the faith in its deep and rich original roots and allows it once again to transform our lives."

Reviews:

"This book could start a revolution. Borg cracks open the encrusted words of faith and pops them into fresh language that people can understand and trust. The last time this happened, we got the Reformation." (Anne Sutherland Howard, Executive Director of The Beatitudes Society)"

  • "'Speaking Christian correctly may seem like it’s just a fuss over semantics, but it’s ultimately about something bigger: defining Christianity… When Christians forget what their words mean, they forget what their faith means. (CNN)"

  • "Ranks with his earlier volumes as efforts to renew and rebuild Christianity by healing long-standing wounds and welcoming millions of alienated men and women.” (Read the Spirit)

  • "A primer to help correct misunderstandings and help those unfamiliar with Christian language become fluent. . . . An important figure on topics from the historical Jesus to religion and culture, he challenges Christians to live for God’s justice in the world and not just focus on the next world." (Englewood Review of Books )

HarperOne, (2011). Available in hardcover, Kindle, and in paperback versions, Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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Want a Kindle?

Amazon.com has way over a million eBooks, newspapers, and magazines available for download into their Kindle eBook reader. They have apps that work on PCs, tablets, and many other devices. Not only is this more portable than lugging up to 3,500 books with you but you can save a lot of money, because eBook versions generally cost significantly less than print versions. Ebooks have a search function. You can highlight passages from books and store them in a text file for use by an editor program on a PC or Mac:

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Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2013-FEB-01
Latest update: 2013-JUL-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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