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The Peace Seeker: One Woman’s Battle in the Church’s War on Homosexuality

Susan E. Gilmore. Peace Seeker Press, $12.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-0-615-96692-2

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Gilmore recounts her coming to terms with her homosexuality amid strong opposition from the evangelical Christian environment surrounding her. After briefly relating her childhood, she describes her expulsion from a Florida Bible college, her sense of vocation and missionary work in Europe, and intricately details the romantic relationships she has to hide. She eventually finds an affirming congregation and accepts that loving same-sex relationships are not in conflict with her faith. Before this acceptance, she deftly portrays herself and others as firm in their sexual orientation, but also feeling any sexual behavior would be a sin. Her account is a standard gay Christian narrative, including a re-reading of the supposedly anti-gay Bible verses and a resolution that loving same-sex relationships are acceptable. Although there is little new, the writing is engaging in this memoir that addresses and softens more conservative evangelicals’ opposition to homosexuality. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/07/2014 | Details & Permalink

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From Generation to Generation: A Story of Intermarriage and Jewish Continuity

Jane Larkin. CreateSpace, $14.99 trade paper (286p) ISBN 978-1-4953-0152-0

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In this spirited memoir, Larkin, a columnist for he Jewish Daily Forward, presents a personal challenge to the idea that intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews spells doom for the Jewish people. Through the example of her own family and others where the children are raised as Jews, and with her citations of recent demographic and ancestry studies on the Jewish population, Larkin demonstrates convincingly that the key to continuity, intermarried or not, is active engagement with Jewish tradition. By contrast, inmarried families where engagement is low and Judaism is taken for granted often fare worse in transmitting Judaism’s core values. Beyond describing a model for other interfaith families, the book includes a call for greater welcome and outreach to intermarried families, and for abandoning the notion that a relatively high level of intermarriage—a natural consequence of living in an open society—should be seen as either a symptom of, or the reason for, modern Judaism’s “failure.” Engaging, bloglike, and conversational, the book unfortunately has gratuitous detail and grammatical errors that good editing could have eliminated. Yet Larkin’s disarming informality should not be mistaken for lack of substance. She is clearly an important voice in the current discussion of intermarriage and Jewish continuity. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/07/2014 | Details & Permalink

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God’s Message to the World: You’ve Got Me All Wrong

Neale Donald Walsch. Rainbow Ridge (Square One, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-937907-30-3

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Repetition is a time-honored teaching tool, particularly in a church setting, where the rhythm of the sermon helps to imprint a preacher’s message on listeners’ minds. Walsch (Conversations with God) uses the same technique in his writing, repeating themes and phrases from book to book, and within one volume, as he does here. While his newest sharpens his focus—he provocatively questions 17 widely held assumptions about God—both his salesmanlike style and the controversial content will feel familiar to anyone who has dipped into any of the nine Conversations with God books, some of which he excerpts. Walsch’s main argument—that people should question everything they’ve ever thought about God—is intriguing when he considers how human assumptions have in fact changed over time. His look at the church’s shifting messages on things like racial equality and marriage helps him make his point, although he would be more convincing if he included more authoritative sources as support. Mostly, though, Walsch writes to articulate his own interpretation of God. This book is for true fans of his work, looking for more of what they’ve loved in earlier titles. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/07/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary

Brian Doyle. Ave Maria/Sorin, $15.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-933495-62-0

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Doyle is an underappreciated writer with a slew of books (Mink River, The Plover, Grace Notes) and distinctions to his name, and this literary prayer book will enhance his reputation as a writer more people should read. He offers one hundred prayers in a totally idiosyncratic voice, and they’re not about much at all: proofreaders, possums, women named Ethel, and so on. Doyle carefully observes quotidian details, and sings them, fashioning a litany of description: “the Soxness of the Sox, their awful seasons, their cheerful motley fans.” Any prayer—they’re all short—is a truffle of writing, which some readers may find a little too rich and over the top, but others will savor. Seen from a spiritual perspective, these prayers are plainspoken, witty fun; those who like Anne Lamott’s engaged and everyday religious stance should make Doyle’s acquaintance, though he is more of an observer of scenes than is Lamott. The book will be especially useful for novice writers interested in reading a playful and accomplished veteran author and those legions that say they don’t know how to pray. Read it on your knees in prayer or over a glass of something that hits the spot. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/07/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as a Spiritual Practice

Belden C. Lane. Oxford Univ., $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-19-992781-4

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Lane’s work blends genres, combining the literature of the outdoors with the formal literature of the spiritual as he reviews the work of the world’s prominent religious and spiritual writers and ties their insights to the features and experiences of exploring the natural world. A respected professor of theological studies at Saint Louis University and a frequent backpacker, Lane (The Solace of Fierce Landscapes) juxtaposes the academic with the personal, presenting brief historical summaries of thinkers like Rumi, Therese of Liseux, and Thich Nhat Hanh while using his own life experiences and backpacking trips to parallel certain spiritual insights from his reading. Lane’s prose is lush and descriptive, but occasionally self-indulgent as he encounters the difficulties of expressing the sublime and the spiritual in words. The book also starts slowly, overly laden in theory. Yet it eventually becomes more compelling as the author situates his useful introduction to the joys of backpacking and the work of the featured thinkers in his open and tender detailing of his life’s trajectory, creating pleasure for readers of all genres. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/07/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Merlin Stone Remembered

David B. Axelrod, Carol F. Thomas, and Lenny Schneir. Llewellyn, $21.99 trade paperback (384p) ISBN 978-0-7387-4091-1

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A tribute to the life of one of the pre-eminent figures in the goddess worship cultural movement of the 1970s and 1980s, lovingly composed by her surviving life partner Lenny Schneir, has the expected features of a posthumous retrospective—family reminiscences, a little bit of scholarly contextualization, and the old photographs, fan letters, and unpublished writings that emerge when a loved one raids the files to find everything possible to share. Taken together, they offer a somewhat more complex view of a figure sometimes remembered mostly in short feminist sound bites from the 1980s. Schneir’s opening personal memoir, even with writing help from Carol Thomas, is bland and linear. An extended excerpt from When God Was a Woman offers nothing new to likely readers. Much more interesting are a miscellany of lecture notes and essays, in particular, one from a pamphlet on racism that highlights Stone’s broader interest in historically informed activism. Those who share Schneir’s idolization of Stone will find much to delight them, but this material adds little of actual significance to the understanding of her work. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/07/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Tongue Pierced: How the Words You Speak Transform the Life You Live

Nelson Searcy and Jennifer Dykes Hanson. David C. Cook, $15.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-4347-0874-8

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Searcy (Connect), lead pastor of the multisite Journey Church and former staff member at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, defines words that exemplify a “tongue pierced” lifestyle: those “that reflect a heart filled with love.” In nine chapters, the author examines the power of words and what they say about the speaker; the use of words in prayer; the impact of words on loved ones (especially on spouses and children); words that express gratitude; the negative effect of cursing (including a 30-day no-cursing challenge); healthy approaches to confrontation; and the importance of making consistently thoughtful word choices. He stresses that children need to hear encouraging, uplifting, empowering words when young—not cursing or angry words that will only tear them down. Searcy’s study, while slow to start, is filled with examples of both hurtful and healing words and relatable situations, thoughtful and gentle reminders of the impact words have on people, and a light smattering of scripture to reinforce his message; it will leave readers searching for the right words to make their relationships more positive. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/07/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Igniting the Fire: The Movements and Mentors That Shaped Billy Graham

Jake Hanson. Barbour/Shiloh Run Press, $14.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-63058-448-1

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Before Billy Graham was filling stadiums and preaching to millions, he was a North Carolina farm boy with little interest in religion. All that changed one November night in 1934 when the 15-year-old Graham recommitted his life to Jesus at a local revival service. Drawing deeply on letters and other writings and on new interviews, Hanson traces the forces that shaped Graham’s life in this straightforward account of the evangelist’s formative years. Focusing on the evangelistic environments of the Florida Bible Institute and Wheaton College, the many mentors in Graham’s life, and Graham’s energetic and relentless pursuit of holiness, Hanson chronicles the ways that each of these sources kindled Graham’s flame for reaching others for Jesus. For example, John Minder, dean at the Florida Bible Institute, taught Graham a lesson about preaching that Graham embraced for the rest of his life: know your subject, believe your message, preach with conviction. Hanson’s book offers the portrait of the preacher as a young man, though it reads like a long college paper. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/07/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Simply Open

Greg Paul. Thomas Nelson, $16.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-40020-6-681

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Pastor and award-winning author Paul (Close Enough to Hear God Breathe) invites readers to open themselves up to God in the course of each day by using their five senses as well as hearts and minds. Paul lays out a contemplative path to develop greater awareness through the senses and become more conscious of God in a four-step process of releasing old perceptions, receiving new ones, becoming more authentic, and doing things differently. He works through each sense in successive chapters, though he notes that there is no one right way to travel the path, suggesting that readers may vary the sense they work with as they desire. He draws on stories from scripture and his own congregation, as well as church history and writings from Catholic contemplatives such as Thomas Merton, Thomas à Kempis, and Henri Nouwen. While not all evangelical Christian readers will be comfortable with Paul’s contemplative approach, which leans heavily on liturgical Christian traditions, he marries it well with a looser, less formal style of meditation and writing. Agent: Greg Daniel, Daniel Literary Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/07/2014 | Details & Permalink

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One Nation, Under Gods: A New American History

Peter Manseau. Little, Brown, $28 (480p) ISBN 978-0-316-10003-8

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The last few decades have produced several magisterial tomes on American religious history, from such authors as Sydney Ahlstrom and Edwin Gaustad. None, however, matches the subversive and much-needed revisionism of Manseau's tour de force. Arguing that "we have learned history from the middle rather than the margins... from which so much of our culture has been formed," Manseau (Rag and Bone; Vows) undertakes a thorough reimagining of our nation's religions. Christopher Columbus, in this telling, is not nearly so interesting as contemporaneous Moorish and Jewish conquistadores, who were already accustomed to cultural pluralism; Mormon founder Joseph Smith was influenced not so much by the revivalist Protestantism of western New York as by the legacy of the Iroquois spiritual leader Handsome Lake; and the Salem witch trials are evidence of Puritans' inability to stamp out persistent folk beliefs and practices from the Old World. Indeed, Manseau suggests, "a spectrum of beliefs has shaped our common history since well before the first president." Engagingly written, with a historian's eye for detail and a novelist's sense of character and timing, this history from another perspective reexamines familiar tales and introduces fascinating counternarratives. Agent: Kathleen Anderson, Anderson Literary Management. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/07/2014 | Details & Permalink

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