Leading religion lists next year are books that address classic topics, as well as those that cluster around current events.
Violence & Forgiveness
How do you forgive the unforgivable? For many, that difficult task is only possible through their religious beliefs. When it seems that every day brings some new outbreak of senseless violence, people of faith who have been harmed by violence can find a way to forgive even the most evil actions.
Called to Forgive: The Charleston Church Shooting, a Victim’s Husband, and the Path to Healing and Peace by Anthony B. Thompson and Denise George (Bethany House, June) tells Thompson’s story of forgiving the racist shooter who killed nine people in a South Carolina church, including his wife. Thompson and relatives of three other victims “chose to privately and publicly forgive the shooter,” the publisher says. “Years later, the church and community still struggle to understand the family members’ deliberate choice to forgive the racist murderer. But as Charlestonians have witnessed these incredible acts of forgiveness, something significant has happened to the community—black and white leaders and residents have united, coming together peaceably and even showing acts of selfless love.”
Sharon Risher lost her mother and two cousins that day; she tells that story in her new book, tentatively titled For Such a Time as This: A Daughter’s Story after the Charleston Massacre (Chalice, June). “The road to forgiveness was long and painful,” the publisher says. “In this inspiring memoir of faith, family, and forgiveness, Sharon tells of her transformative path through grief and despair to a new life as a national advocate for gun control and antiracism,” on media platforms such as BBC Radio, CBS, CNN, and GMA and in Time magazine.
Baker imprint Brazos cites the now familiar, yet still shocking, statistics: “Although the U.S. has less than 5% of the world’s population, Americans own nearly half the world’s guns, with the most gun deaths—homicide, suicide, and accidental gun deaths—at around 90 a day and about 33,000 per year.” In Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence (Mar.), authors Shane Claiborne and Michael Martin root their activism in the biblical image of forsaking violence and beating swords into plows. Martin is the founder and director of Rawtools, an organization that turns guns into tools and musical instruments. The book contains full-color images of those transformations; a documentary based on the book is set for release next year.
Kerri Rawson struggled to forgive someone close to her who harmed others—her own father. A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love and Overcoming (Nelson, Jan.) tells of Rawson’s shocking discovery that her father is the serial killer known as BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill). Arrested in 2005, Dennis Rader confessed to killing 10 people, including two children. Nelson says the book is for “anyone grappling with how to forgive the unforgivable” and how to “hold on to sanity in the midst of madness,” adding that Rawson has become “an advocate for victims of abuse, crime, and trauma, sharing her journey of hope, healing, faith, and forgiveness.”
We Too: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis by Mary Demuth (Harvest House, Aug.) addresses another front-page issue that requires both healing and forgiveness, and it is one that has invaded the church as it has almost every other arena in society. According to Demuth, the church has failed to root out abuse and help survivors. She writes that Christians should be Christ’s “ambassadors of healing love, blessedly counterintuitive to the world’s system that grabs at power and control,” noting that abuse within the church often leads to “a clash of kingdoms.” She adds, “Instead of acting as Jesus would toward a victim of abuse, we revert to the kingdom of power and control—preferring reputation management over actually doing what is right.”
Demuth draws on her own experience as a survivor of neglect and sexual abuse and gives other survivors a platform to speak. “I write these words not as an angry victim, but as one who has experienced the best the church has to offer,” she writes. “I healed because people in the church dared to listen to my story and pray for me.”
Releasing on the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, Forgiveness Makes You Free: A Dramatic Story of Healing and Reconciliation from the Heart of Rwanda by Ubald Rugirangoga (Ave Maria, Mar.) recounts how the Catholic priest survived the carnage but lost 80 of his family members and 45,000 of his parishioners. In the aftermath, Ubald felt commissioned by God to preach forgiveness, and the book is the story of “how he forgave the man who killed his family and cared for the man’s children while he was in prison,” according to Ave Maria.
“No, forgiving is not forgetting, and it is not easy,” Ubald writes. “And yet, deciding to forgive is the only way to take the first step toward finding the peace you seek.”
Mind & Soul
Several forthcoming books explore the ways faith can help with psychological and emotional pain. Prescribing the Dharma: Psychotherapists, Buddhist Traditions, and Defining Religion by Ira Helderman (Univ. of North Carolina, Mar.) “is the first comprehensive study of the surprisingly diverse ways that psychotherapists have related to Buddhist traditions,” UNC says. “Through extensive fieldwork and in-depth interviews with clinicians, many of whom have been formative to the therapeutic use of Buddhist practices, Helderman gives voice to the psychotherapists themselves. Some are invested in maintaining a hard border between religion and psychotherapy as a biomedical discipline. Others speak of a religious-secular binary that they mean to disrupt.” Helderman is a clinical psychotherapist and professor of human development counseling at Vanderbilt University.
Wounds into Wisdom: Healing Intergenerational Jewish Trauma by Tirzah Firestone (Adam Kadmon, Apr.) offers the message that “our past does not simply disappear,” the publisher says. “The painful historical patterns of our ancestors as well as their rich cultural wisdom intertwine within us to create the psychological and genetic material of our future.” Firestone—a Jungian psychotherapist and founding rabbi of a congregation in Boulder, Colo.—“explores the profound impact of protracted historical trauma on the psyche of the Jewish people as she examines the possibility of redemption by means of true narratives.”
Firestone’s sister is radical feminist Shulamith Firestone (The Dialectic of Sex), who worked alongside Gloria Steinem. The book, Steinem says, “is for anyone who has suffered trauma, either directly or in a family whose generational trauma is buried. It helps readers uncover suffering and use it to help others—the final stage of healing.” Firestone and Steinem will appear at a book launch event at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on April 24.
In This Hour: Heschel’s Writings in Nazi Germany and London Exile by Abraham Joshua Heschel (JPS, June) provides historical context for post-Holocaust intergenerational trauma with the first English publication of the rabbi, scholar, and philosopher’s writings from his years in Nazi Germany and in exile in London. According to JPS, the book “reveals his insights on the redemptive role of Jewish learning. He became one of the most influential modern philosophers of religion in the United States and formulated an original philosophy of Judaism” in books such as Man Is Not Alone (1951) and God in Search of Man (1955).
Samuel Levine’s Was Yosef on the Spectrum? A Contemporary Reading of the Joseph Story in the Torah (Urim, Jan.) views the familiar story through the lens of contemporary psychology. According to Urim, “Yosef’s behaviors, interpersonal relationships, and personal journey and development are often difficult to understand, and at times seem to defy explanation. This book presents a coherent and cohesive reading of the story that offers a plausible account of Yosef’s behaviors toward others and those of others toward him, painting a portrait of Yosef consistent with an individual on the autism spectrum.” Levine is a professor of law and directs the Jewish Law Institute at Touro Law Center in Central Islip, N.Y.
Men and women disfigured by war in mind or body can find healing in faith, the subject of two titles coming next year. Army Ranger Steven Elliott was among the soldiers in Afghanistan who believed they were firing at the enemy when they killed fellow Ranger and former NFL player Pat Tillman. In War Story: A Memoir (Tyndale Momentum, May), Elliott recounts his struggles with guilt, depression, and PTSD in the aftermath. He turned to alcohol, his marriage fell apart, and he renounced his faith. His memoir tells of the journey back to faith and, Tyndale says, he is now “a volunteer-veterans court mentor, and advocates for change in how the unseen wounds of war are recognized and treated.” (All of the author’s proceeds from the book will be donated to organizations serving the mental health needs of active-duty military and veterans.)
Carlos R. Evans lost both legs and one hand to an IED. Standing Together: The Inspirational Story of a Wounded Warrior and Enduring Love (Kregel, June), which he and his wife, Rosemarie Evans, wrote with Cecil Murphey, is the story of how Evans’s faith and faith community preserved his marriage and protected him from the addictions that fell so many suffering veterans. Evans is now a minister, a Wounded Warrior spokesman, and a motivational speaker.
Jason Wilson’s trauma came from his family history—his grandfather’s lynching, the deaths of two brothers, and a remote and absent father. Cry Like a Man: Fighting for Freedom from Emotional Incarceration (Cook, Jan.) is both a memoir and a message to men that they can escape prisons that might not have walls but still steal their freedom, by embracing a more positive masculinity. Wilson is the founder of the Cave of Adullam Transformational Academy, a nonprofit youth development organization in Detroit that has been featured on The Dr. Oz Show, Today, and CNN.
Addiction Nation: What the Opioid Crisis Reveals About Us by Timothy McMahan King (Herald, June) deals with a kind of damage that has become all too common. Prescribed narcotics for a life-threatening illness, King became addicted. “Opioids claim the lives of 115 people per day,” he writes. “One of them could have been me.”
“Eventually King learned to manage pain without opioids,” Herald says. “But not before he began asking profound questions about the spiritual and moral nature of addiction, the companies complicit in creating the opioid epidemic, and the paths toward healing and recovery. He looks not only at the rise of opioid abuse but at policy, pain, virtue, and habit.”
Physical healing isn’t always possible, but another kind of health is described in Wondrously Wounded: Theology, Disability, and the Body of Christ by Brian Brock (Baylor Univ., Aug.). The book, Baylor says, describes Brock’s development of “some of the fundamental concepts in disability theology” and is “punctuated by vivid stories from his life with his own learning-impaired teenage son, Adam. Far from being an object of charity or a needy weaker member, Adam emerges as an agent pressing readers to grapple with the theological truth that people who today carry the label disabled may, in God’s providence, offer the world much more than they receive.”
Many saw on television the inspiring story of Kevan Chandler, whose friends traveled the world with him, which is told by Chandler in We Carry Kevan: Six Friends. Three Countries. No Wheelchair. (Worthy, Apr.). Although disabled by spinal muscular atrophy, Worthy says that on this journey, “Kevan is just one of the guys.” Leaving his wheelchair behind, his friends carry him on a tour of Europe. Chandler, usually looking up from his wheelchair, becomes “one head level above everyone else for the first time in his life and enjoys camaraderie unlike anything most people ever experience,” Worthy says. “Along the way they encounter the curiosity and beauty of strangers, the human family disarmed by grace, and the constant love of God so rich and beautiful in the company of good friends.” Chandler has founded We Carry Kevan, a nonprofit designed “to redefine accessibility as a cooperative effort. “
Living the Dharma
A number of new books on Buddhism are on the horizon, including The Dalai Lama: An Extraordinary Life by Alexander Norman (HMH, June). Norman is a scholar of the history of Tibet, who, HMH says, “delivers the definitive biography—unique, multilayered, and at times even shocking.” In the book, Norman reveals that “while the Dalai Lama has never been comfortable with his political position, he has been a canny player—at one time CIA-backed—who has maneuvered amidst pervasive violence, including placing himself at the center of a dangerous Buddhist schism.” Yet, the publisher adds, Norman also writes of “the Dalai Lama’s astonishing spiritual practice, rooted in magic, vision, and prophecy.” Norman collaborated with the Dalai Lama on several of his bestselling books, including Freedom in Exile and Beyond Religion.
For author Stephanie Kaza, Buddhist principles provide a natural context for environmentalism. In Green Buddhism: Practice and Compassionate Action in Uncertain Times (Shambhala, Mar.), the publisher says Kaza offers “both personal and philosophical perspectives, balancing the sobering data of climate science with the optimism born of practices of gratitude and connection with the natural world.” Kaza is professor emeritus of environmental studies at the University of Vermont and the Institute for Deep Ecology. In the book, Kaza writes that she has “lifted up central Buddhist principles of compassion and nonharming, interdependence and no separate self.”
Buddhist principles are applied to the simple acts of preparing and eating food in Just Enough: Vegan Recipes and Stories from Japan’s Buddhist Temples (NWL, June). American Gesshin Claire Greenwood writes of entering a Buddhist monastery in Japan and being ordained as a Buddhist nun in her early 20s. “Greenwood was attracted to Zen’s all-encompassing approach to life and how to live it, the way it did not shy away from the big questions about life’s meaning, and the radically simple yet profound way it suggests one view the moment, reality, the now,” NWL says.
Working in the monastery kitchen, Greenwood learned the Zen philosophy of oryoki, or “just enough,” and how to use “whatever was at hand to create delicious, satisfying meals even when what was at hand was bamboo,” the publisher notes. She finds in food “a direct, daily way to understand Zen practice.” The book includes recipes and peeks into “the monastery kitchen and markets, messy kitchens and four a.m. meditation rooms.” Greenwood was ordained by Seido Suzuki Roshi in 2010 and in 2015 received dharma transmission (authorization to teach). She is also the author Bow First, Ask Questions Later.
The Pope Prays, the Vatican Is Revealed
Two titles bookend another of the great faiths—one positive, one not so much. Ave Maria: The Mystery of a Most Beloved Prayer by Pope Francis (Image, Mar.) “provides an enlightening new vision of the importance of women in the Church and the world, seen through the lens of Mary, the mother of Jesus,” the publisher says.
The pope writes that, at the beginning of the world’s re-creation, there is a dialogue between God and Mary, the mother of Jesus, a beloved figure who is, Image says, “the central role model of faith and service in the Catholic Church.” The pope’s coauthor is theologian Marco Pozza, who also collaborated with him on Our Father.
According to Image, “Francis demonstrates Mary’s complex nature and how her example challenges all of us to lead lives of faith, hope, and perseverance. In the end, she is an icon not just for the religious, but for all who look to grow more deeply in their purpose in life.”
Editor Gary Jansen notes the book “explores the beauty of the Hail Mary prayer and provides thoughtful and pertinent reflections on motherhood and the role of women in the Church.”
A less sanctified view is offered in Power and Corruption: Inside the Vatican by Frédéric Martel (Bloomsbury, Feb.), which the publisher calls a startling account of corruption and hypocrisy at the heart of the Vatican that “spills the shocking secrets behind the political, financial, and sexual scandals that are rotting the modern Catholic Church.” Martel writes that, although Francis refers to the church as being for the poor and the marginalized, those in the Vatican continue to live in luxury.
“Here, the fiscal mayhem and malpractice behind the Vatican Bank are finally revealed in depth,” Bloomsbury says. “At a time when sexual abuse scandals are universal, Martel explores the deep hypocrisy surrounding homosexuality, with insider accounts of the gay Archbishops who continue to issue edicts against civil partnerships and gay marriage while insulating themselves against charges of hypocrisy.” The book includes interviews with 23 cardinals.
A new book from Oxford University Press looks at both the present and the future of another major faith. In The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church (Mar.), Jana Riess writes that the trend of American millennials leaving organized religion now extends to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which, according to Oxford, “once was an exception: nearly three-quarters of people who grew up Mormon stayed that way into adulthood.” Riess’s book “demonstrates that things are starting to change.”
Drawing on long-term research and personal interviews, Riess, Oxford says, finds that though “the religious beliefs and behaviors of young adult Mormons remain strong, their institutional loyalties are less certain than their parents’ and grandparents.’ ” In a church that emphasizes traditional marriage and family, millennials find themselves conflicted by “their generation’s more inclusive definition that celebrates same-sex couples and women’s equality,” Oxford notes, adding that “more Mormons are remaining single, parents are having fewer children, and more women are working outside the home than a generation ago.” Riess is a senior columnist for Religion News Service and the author and coauthor of many books, including Flunking Sainthood, Mormonism and American Politics, and The Prayer Wheel: Rediscovering Prayer with an Ancient Spiritual Practice.
Book of Books
Of course, there will always be new books about the Bible, some offering fresh takes. In The History of the Bible (Viking, June), John Barton seeks to remedy views that have “denied the depth, variety, and richness of this fascinating text,” Viking says. “Barton argues that a thorough understanding of the history and context of its writing encourages religious communities to move away from the Bible’s literal wording—which is impossible to determine—and focus instead on the broader meanings of scripture.” Barton also is the author of Ethics in Ancient Israel and The Bible: The Basics, as well as editor-in-chief of the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion.
Controversial evangelical scholar Peter Enns offers his own correctives in How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How an Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers—and Why That’s Great News (HarperOne, Feb.). “Enns explains that the Bible is not an instruction manual or rulebook, but a powerful learning tool that nurtures our spiritual growth by refusing to provide us with easy answers, instead forcing us to acquire wisdom,” HarperOne says. The publisher adds that the book argues that there is no one right way to read the Bible, and that it encourages readers to “focus on pursuing enlightenment and building our relationship with God—which is exactly what the Bible was designed to do.” Enns is the host of The Bible for Normal People and is also the author of The Sin of Certainty, The Bible Tells Me So, and Inspiration and Incarnation.
Consider the Women: A Provocative Guide to Three Matriarchs of the Bible by Debbie Blue (Eerdmans, Mar.) offers another corrective to traditional readings of the Bible that neglect the stories of women such as Hagar, the mother of Islam; Jewish heroine Esther; and Mary, the Christian matriarch. “I believe Scripture loses some of its capacity for revelation if we don’t enter it honestly as women weary of patriarchy or as people who have seen so much injustice go down that they will never stop questioning authority,” Blue writes. “The Bible loses some of its capacity for revelation if we don’t bring our questions to it. The Bible invites—almost demands—our questions.”
Eerdmans says Blue “tells stories of contemporary women—a Muslim tattoo artist, a Saudi Arabian sculptor, a rabbi in a Darth Vader costume—who also live and move in places and ways outside the strict boundaries of tradition, as Hagar, Esther, and Mary did.” Blue is also the author of Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible.
And atheists also get a say. The Varieties of Nonreligious Experience: Atheism in American Culture by Jerome P. Baggett (New York Univ., July) characterizes atheists as “one of the most stigmatized groups in the U.S., frequently portrayed as immoral, unhappy, or even outright angry, yet we know very little about their lives,” the publisher says. Baggett surveyed and interviewed more than 500 American atheists to reveal “what atheists think about morality, what gives meaning to their lives, how they feel about religious people, and how knowledgeable they are about religion,” according to NYU. Baggett is a professor of religion and society at Santa Clara University, faculty member at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and visiting professor of sociology at UC Berkeley.