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Recommended religious/spiritual books

2014-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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2014-January's selection

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Reza Aslan, "Zealot: The life and times of Jesus of Nazareth"

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. $16.20 plus postage in paperback & $16.81 in Kindle format

Amazon.com book description:

"... Sifting through centuries of mythmaking, Reza Aslan sheds new light on one of history’s most influential and enigmatic characters by examining Jesus through the lens of the tumultuous era in which he lived: first-century Palestine, an age awash in apocalyptic fervor. Scores of Jewish prophets, preachers, and would-be messiahs wandered through the Holy Land, bearing messages from God. This was the age of zealotry—a fervent nationalism that made resistance to the Roman occupation a sacred duty incumbent on all Jews. And few figures better exemplified this principle than the charismatic Galilean who defied both the imperial authorities and their allies in the Jewish religious hierarchy.

Balancing the Jesus of the Gospels against the historical sources, Aslan describes a man full of conviction and passion, yet rife with contradiction; a man of peace who exhorted his followers to arm themselves with swords; an exorcist and faith healer who urged his disciples to keep his identity a secret; and ultimately the seditious “King of the Jews” whose promise of liberation from Rome went unfulfilled in his brief lifetime. Aslan explores the reasons why the early Christian church preferred to promulgate an image of Jesus as a peaceful spiritual teacher rather than a politically conscious revolutionary. And he grapples with the riddle of how Jesus understood himself, the mystery that is at the heart of all subsequent claims about his divinity.

Zealot yields a fresh perspective on one of the greatest stories ever told even as it affirms the radical and transformative nature of Jesus of Nazareth’s life and mission. The result is a thought-provoking, elegantly written biography with the pulse of a fast-paced novel: a singularly brilliant portrait of a man, a time, and the birth of a religion."

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2014-Febuary's selection

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Timothy D. Sisk, "Between Terror and Tolerance: Religious Leaders, Conflict, and Peacemaking"

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. $29.66 plus postage in paperback & $18.52 in Kindle format

Amazon.com book description:

"Civil war and conflict within countries is the most prevalent threat to peace and security in the opening decades of the twenty-first century. A pivotal factor in the escalation of tensions to open conflict is the role of elites in exacerbating tensions along identity lines by giving the ideological justification, moral reasoning, and call to violence. Between Terror and Tolerance examines the varied roles of religious leaders in societies deeply divided by ethnic, racial, or religious conflict. The chapters in this book explore cases when religious leaders have justified or catalyzed violence along identity lines, and other instances when religious elites have played a critical role in easing tensions or even laying the foundation for peace and reconciliation.

This volume features thematic chapters on the linkages between religion, nationalism, and intolerance, transnational intra-faith conflict in the Shi'a-Sunni divide, and country case studies of societal divisions or conflicts in Egypt, Israel and Palestine, Kashmir, Lebanon, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Tajikistan. The concluding chapter explores the findings and their implications for policies and programs of international non-governmental organizations that seek to encourage and enhance the capacity of religious leaders to play a constructive role in conflict resolution."

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2014-March's selection

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Sharon L, Baker, "Razing Hell: Rethinking Everything You've Been Taught About God's Wrath and Judgment"

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. $11.89 plus postage in paperback & $9.00 in Kindle format

Amazon.com book description:

"The idea of hell can haunt dreams and disturb sleep. Many wonder at the justice (or injustice) of it all, feeling confounded by a God who deems it necessary to send the majority of humanity to burn there forever. Seventy percent of Americans believe in hell, as do ninety-two percent of those who attend church every week.

Clearly, it's a hot topic. Baker offers readers a safe space to contemplate tough issues as they rethink traditional views of hell. In her candid and inviting style Baker explores and ultimately refutes many traditional views of hell, presenting instead theologically sound ways of thinking that are more consistent with the image of God as a loving creator who desires to liberate us from sin and evil. This is an excellent selection for general readers, students, pastors, professors, and grief counselors, and will provide clarity for those with questions about hell, God's judgment, and what happens to us when we die."

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Some book reviews:

  • "This should be a useful book for Christians struggling to reconcile Jesus' sacrifice and a loving God with the place of punishment and the necessity for justice."--Publishers Weekly

  • "A lively, thoughtful and accessible rethinking of one of the most disturbing notions in Christian theology, the prospect of eternal damnation. Put this book on your 'must read' list." John D. Caputo, Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Humanities and Professor of Philosophy, Syracuse University.

  • "What I tried to do in my book The Last Word and the Word After That, Sharon Baker has done in Razing Hell - with more brevity, more levity, and probably with more clarity and accessibility too. Highly recommended." Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christianity

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2014-April's selection

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David Nirenberg, "Anti-Judaism, The western tradition"

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. $14.21 plus postage in paperback, $10.19 in Kindle format. & $23.49 plus postage in Hardcover.

Amazon.com book description:

"This incisive history upends the complacency that confines anti-Judaism to the ideological extremes in the Western tradition. With deep learning and elegance, David Nirenberg shows how foundational anti-Judaism is to the history of the West.

Questions of how we are Jewish -- and, more critically, how and why we are not -- have been churning within the Western imagination throughout its history. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans; Christians and Muslims of every period; even the secularists of modernity have used Judaism in constructing their visions of the world. The thrust of this tradition construes Judaism as an opposition, a danger often from within, to be criticized, attacked, and eliminated. The intersections of these ideas with the world of power—the Roman destruction of the Second Temple, the Spanish Inquisition, the German Holocaust—are well known. The ways of thought underlying these tragedies can be found at the very foundation of Western history. 8 pages of illustrations."

Some book reviews:

  • "“Learned and disquieting. . . . Anti-Judaism identifies a persistent and pervasive thread in the fabric of Western thought that no future commentary ... will be entitled to ignore.” R. I. Moore - Nation

  • “Chilling. ... Nirenberg offers his painful and important history so that we might recognize these patterns [of intolerance and violence] in hopes of not falling into them yet again.” Michael S. Roth - Washington Post

  • “[A] magisterial work of intellectual history.” Publishers Weekly.

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2014-May's selection

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"The Last Circle," by Gretchen Blickensderfer

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
$4.50 in Kindle format
, $18.86 plus postage in Paperback, and $32.36 plus postage in Hardcover.

Amazon.com book description:

" 'If you will not be saved, there will be consequences.' Based upon platforms and quotes from Conservative political and church leaders, The Last Circle chronicles the [future] rise to power of a United States evangelical theocracy and the small group of Pagan and LGBT friends who must escape the country to survive. A terrifying chase through the southern states tests the limits of their friendship and someone from among them is secretly tipping off their pursuers."

Some book reviews:

  • "The thing that is so chilling about this book is, given our current political and social climate, it is easy to imagine this REALLY happening in our country today. I enjoyed the author's vivid descriptions of her characters and the thrilling journey that she took them on. There were certain points in the story where I could not put the book down and it stayed with me after I finished reading it. This story is about much more than acceptance; of yourself and others and standing up for what you believe in in the face of great danger and retribution. It is about abuse of power, a fanatical belief system, and a single-minded ruthlessness. That is the truly scary part of this story - it's very clear parallels to our world today." Sue Keller, Amazon.com customer.

  • "Gretchen Blickensderfer has painted a chilling portrait of what could happen if the United States was taken over by the Christian far-right. She describes a country in which certain groups (including, but not limited to, the LGBT community, pagans, and nonbelievers) who don't conform to the views of the Evangelical theocratic government, have their rights and freedoms, slowly but surely, stripped away until they have no choice but to hide or run. The story becomes even more terrifying as you realize that many of the policies and punishments that are enacted by this fictional government have a basis in reality. Blickensderfer begins each chapter with quotes from right-wing pundits, pastors, and politicians that openly support many of these policies. The author also delivers an excellent cast of multi-faceted characters, at once familiar and surprising. At a time when America is once again becoming more socially and politically polarized, this story offers us words of warning, about what could be, and words of hope, about what should be." Written by an Amazon.com customer.

  • "... I was bowled over. As I started out, part of me thought, "this couldn't REALLY happen, (could it) ?" But considering that Gretchen has placed real quotes from 'public figures', the reality sinks in as you read. As a Christian myself, I often grieve that so many will use their belief as an excuse to persecute. This story gives you characters who are attacked for no other reason other than they are different. I should note that Gretchen does not paint all Christians as bigots, just the ones who seem to believe their hatred is 'divine'. But this is not a story that preaches, it is a thriller with twists and turns, (some you will not see coming !). Totally worth your time!" Eric Dinse, an Amazon.com customer, and friend of the author.

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2014-June's selection

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"Open Mind, Faithful Heart," by Pope Francis (Author), Jorge M Bergoglio (Author), Gustavo Larrázabal (Editor), and SJ Owens Joseph (Translator)

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. $9.01 in Kindle format. & $22.19 plus postage in Hardcover.

Amazon.com book description:

"Pope Francis connects with people, especially the young, the forgotten, and the forlorn. The cameras show him in Rome, in Brazil, in Lampedusa reaching out to the crowds, holding infants, embracing the disabled. What is the source of his energy, and his spiritual vitality? This book is perhaps the best introduction to what makes the Pope the engaging pastor he is.

The inspiration needed to address the urgent challenges to our world and human living today is clearly outlined in this book. The spiritual foundation for much of what Pope Francis has surprised the world with since his election, radically reframing the Catholic contribution, is found in these texts which their author wished to gather just before expecting to retire--but then being called to Rome instead. Open Mind, Faithful Heart offers an irreplaceable window into the heart and soul of the pope who is changing how the world sees the Church.

The strong scriptural orientation of the Pope is evident in the countless references to both the Old and New Testament. To help the reader, this edition supplements the original text by providing scriptural citations. The language of these pages speaks to the heart as much as to the mind."

Some book reviews:

  • "The well-deserved initial public adulation for Pope Francis is giving way to an ardent desire to know more about this inspiring man and his previous work. This unique volume of reflections of Bergoglio, carefully selected and superbly translated, fills the void. Reading these four dozen brief texts of conferences Francis gave to pastoral workers will help anyone encounter Christ anew, and encounter the Pope in a new way as well. I highly recommend this volume as instructive and illuminating spiritual reading for all audiences. Thomas Massaro, SJ.

  • "The Jesuit who translated this book into English calls it 'a path for prayer and a guide for life.' An Archbishop says 'in this book is found the secret of Pope Francis.' I agree with them both.

    This is a powerful handbook, accessible, but not something to read and forget. I've enjoyed and benefited from the initial reading, now as I reread it's clear this will be a constant companion.

    It is a compilation of Pope Francis's writing that he and others painstakingly pulled together and edited into this book shortly before he was called to be our new Pope. It is not something thrown together at the last minute.

    I'm going to suggest we discuss this in our online Jesuit Guide Faith Sharing Group, if you'd like to join the conversation see http://Facebook.com/groups/Jesuit.Guide.Group, John Wren, Amazon purchaser.

  • "Pope Francis' Public Exhortation is a well reasoned approach to understanding the role of the Catholic Church in the twenty first century. Without changing the essence and essential truths of the Church, we must be open and available to the needs of the wider world around us. This new openness does not signal a change in Church doctrine, but a call to practice the essence of the Gospel of John, as outlined in John 3:16, that God so loved the world that he gave us His only Son", so we too, must also love one and another. It was another early Church father, St. Polycarp of Symirna who said that if we loved one another, and worshiped the Holy Trinity, we are doing the most important work of the Church.

    As the word Mass in Latin means to be sent forth, we are sent forth each Sunday not just to exist in a secular world, but to boldly proclaim our faith and to make a positive difference to those we encounter in our daily lives. Those who read the Holy Father's words cannot help but to be energized by his level of humility and enthusiastic support for the Catholic faith." John P. Minogue, Amazon purchaser.

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Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2014-FEB-01
Latest update: 2014-JUL-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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