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I Am Restored: How I Lost My Religion but Found My Faith

Lecrae. Zondervan, $26.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-310-35803-9

Grammy Award–winning hip-hop artist Lecrae delves into his struggles, shame, and destructive habits in this powerful follow-up to his 2016 memoir Unashamed. Lecrae writes that he used to see himself as “the tribal devotee addicted to proclaiming my own self-righteousness,” but after the publication of his last book, he began to feel like he hadn’t fully faced himself yet and realized that “accolades couldn’t hide the weaknesses of the heart.” He describes his life as “a wreck,” and says he turned to alcohol and pills to deaden the pain of long-buried childhood and teenage traumas. Lecrae discusses growing up in a family that felt “apathy toward pain and dysfunction,” suffering sexual and physical abuse, and his tumultuous “history with organized religion” and Reformed theology. To “rehabilitate [his] life,” Lecrae took a four-month sabbatical from work, and he credits daily therapy for “revamping safeguards [he] had previously torn down” and “recultivat[ing his] relationship with God.” Lecrae also riffs on the current state of American politics, particularly the power of the Black Lives Matter movement and the nefarious effects of white privilege, as well as his own process of self-care and the ways he’s adjusted to celebrity, always returning to faith and his healing process: “I finally feel true joy. I feel the love that comes from allowing myself to be forgiven without constant shame.” Lecrae’s fans will love this. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/21/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Grieving Is Loving: Compassionate Words for Bearing the Unbearable

Joanne Cacciatore. Wisdom, $16.99 trade paper (220p) ISBN 978-1-61429-701-7

In this soothing work, Cacciatore (Bearing the Unbearable) serves as an empathetic and compassionate companion to those experiencing grief. Grief is a natural response to loss, Cacciatore writes, and it can be an overwhelming emotion for those going through it. Cacciatore urges readers to “fully inhabit” the process of grief rather than succumbing to narratives that pathologize it, and argues that grief is inevitable but also the very process by which “we are able to become fully human.” It also, she writes, creates opportunities for celebrating love, forging connections, and cultivating wisdom. The bulk of the text is a collection of stream-of-consciousness meditations, which are studded with the words of writers including James Baldwin, Kahlil Gibran, C.S. Lewis, Mark Twain, and Rumi, among others, and can be read in any order. Anyone who has mourned a loss will find Cacciatore’s insights about the difficult yet transformative experience of grief to be helpful. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 08/21/2020 | Details & Permalink

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American Catholic: The Politics of Faith During the Cold War

D.G. Hart. Cornell Univ., $29.95 (280p) ISBN 978-1-5017-0057-6

In this informative work, Hart (A Secular Faith), a history professor at Hillsdale College, tracks Catholic influences on mainstream politics and media from the election of President John F. Kennedy to the George W. Bush administration. Using profiles of Catholic political activists (such as midcentury conservative William F. Buckley Jr. and writer Phyllis Schlafly), Hart depicts how Catholics forged a path in the Protestant-dominated political scene of the mid-20th century. He highlights Roman Catholic clergy who “looked for ways to affirm in a Roman Catholic idiom the modern ideals of religious freedom, democracy, and human rights.” He also points out how Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical, which questioned the nuclear arms race, coincided with rising Cold War tensions. Hart laments the lack of attention historians have paid to Roman Catholic thought in the American political arena and the decline of what he terms “pious patriotism”—a blend of Americanism and faith that “united a nation of diverse immigrants.” Using vignettes from the lives of politicians, religious leaders, and even popes, he further contends that American Catholics are in a better position than Protestants to adjust to the liberalization of American life and uphold the country’s reputation as a Christian nation. Academics and historians will learn much from Hart’s thorough analysis. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Bound in the Bond of Life: Pittsburgh Writers Reflect on the Tree of Life Tragedy

Edited by Beth Kissileff and Eric Lidji. Univ. of Pittsburgh, $25 (264p) ISBN 978-0-8229-4651-9

This heartrending and vibrant collection brings together journalists, religious leaders, writers, and others to reflect on the 2018 mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. It opens with several essays providing a rich sense of Squirrel Hill, the Jewish neighborhood where the synagogue is located. Journalists recount reporting on the attack, while others remember being unable to follow the news because of Shabbat observance. Rabbi Daniel Yolkut shares two sermons (one from a week following the attack and one from a year later). Poets offer works that tie the tragedy to other mass shootings (Arlene Weiner’s “Shocked, Not Surprised”) or Jewish ritual (Jonathan Perlman’s “Eleh Ezkerah in Pittsburgh”). Historian Laurie Zittrain Eisenberg provides descriptions and photographs of the spontaneous memorials, and archivist Eric Lidji recounts his “tedium shot through with a complex, winding sorrow” as he collected and organized a historical record of the event. This remarkable collection is a powerful testament to how individuals and communities cope with an act of unbelievable violence. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Christian Citizens: Reading the Bible in Black and White in the Postemancipation South

Elizabeth L. Jemison. Univ. of North Carolina, $29.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4696-5969-5

Historian Jemison debuts with a thorough exploration of how Black and white Christians drew on their faith in the aftermath of the Civil War to make radically divergent claims about an ideal political order. According to Jemison, Black Christians asserted that racial prejudice was a sin and Christian practice demanded religious, social, and political equality. White Southerners, on the other hand, drew on antebellum proslavery and patriarchal theologies to justify their campaign of white supremacist terror. They also constructed false histories of their own Christian benevolence toward the Black Southerners whose autonomy they so fiercely opposed. Jemison charts the theological and political arcs of Black and white Christian practice from emancipation to 1900, arguing that both groups understood their “Christian identity formed the contours of social and civic belonging” and “demarcat[ed] the boundaries of what was possible.” Jemison’s enlightening investigation will be of interest to both scholars and readers with a more general interest in the nation’s religious history. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Opening to Grief: Finding Your Way from Loss to Peace

Claire B. Willis and Marnie Crawford Samuelson. Dharma Spring, $18.95 (144p) ISBN 978-1-59003-512-2

Clinical social worker Willis and documentarian Samuelson (coauthors of Lasting Words) provide a succinct, comforting reference for those dealing with the loss of a loved one. The authors weave clinical observations, consolations, and practices (such as blessings to repeat and guided journaling prompts) into short chapters that explain the process of “opening to grief,” which happens through embracing kindness and gratefulness, finding joy in nature, and using “writing as a refuge.” The authors acknowledge the influence of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s work and stress that periods of grief can provide opportunities for growth and change, and also allow one to “become more authentic with yourself and with other people.” Meditation is recommended, and each chapter offers a guided practice; in a particularly helpful section, the authors unpack the meditation process (which “can open a doorway into compassionate awareness and understanding”) and relate it to the uncomfortable emotions of grief: “When we bring an attitude of mindfulness to grief and suffering, we try to look clearly at, and experience directly, everything that has happened, just as it is.” This accessible guide will be most useful for those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious. Anyone suffering loss will find wisdom and helpful practices here. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Cosmic Flow: A Creative Guide to Harnessing the Rhythm of the Moon

Nikki Strange. Leaping Hare, $16.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-0-7112-5348-3

Textile designer Strange (Watercolour Plant Art) delivers a beautifully illustrated workbook that encourages creative thinking and actualization based on the cycles of the moon. Each of the book’s sections—one for each of the moon’s eight phases—describes the spiritual symbolism of a phase and includes artistic exercises and writing prompts. For instance, in the new moon phase she recommends a ritual for understanding one’s true desires by creating an altar to the moon, meditating on one’s “inklings and desires,” writing down one’s intentions, and making a list of personal attributes. Basic information about the Western zodiac is included to guide focus and intentions for each month, which change according to which zodiac sign the moon is within. Strange also brings in a grab bag of global spiritual traditions—such as sacred Sanskrit chanting, Hindu goddesses, and spirit animals—though these fit awkwardly alongside her lunar cycle advice. Each page is filled with colorful illustrations that enhance the dreamy aesthetic. Strange’s charming lunar guide will help any New Age spiritualist build awareness and appreciation of natural cycles. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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God Intervenes Between A Person and Their Heart: Key Lessons from the Prophets

Fadwa Wazwaz. Little Wonders, $8.99 e-book (312p) ISBN 978-1-73479-75-1-0

Blogger Wazwaz offers a collection of devotional reflections drawn from the lives of the prophets of Islam in this enjoyable debut. Based on words from the eighth chapter of the Koran—“know that Allah intervenes between a person and their heart and that to Him you will be gathered”—her meditations are wide-ranging: addressing radicalism and speaking truth to power through the lives of Noah and Moses, oppression and sexual harassment in that of Joseph, interreligious exchange through Jesus and Mary, and slander and the #MeToo movement in the stories of Muhammad and his wife Aisha. Rather than focusing on the superficial legalistic readings of prophets’ stories, Wazwaz unearths universal messages of hope, faith, and forgiveness for a wide range of readers. Though Wazwaz primarily draws on the narratives of the Koran, she also quotes a range of other sources, including Martin Luther King Jr., Stoic philosopher Seneca, evangelical preacher Charles Spurgeon, and the New Testament. The result is a breezy, eclectic patchwork of inspiration that creatively applies the principles and practices of Islamic tradition to the world’s most urgent concerns. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 08/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Rescuer: One Firefighter’s Story of Courage, Darkness, and the Relentless Love That Saved Him

Jason Sautel. Nelson, $24.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4002-1647-5

In this moving debut, high school dropout and Oakland firefighter Sautel shares his experience of job stress that led to depression and how he came to be saved by faith. One of the writer’s earliest memories is of his first day of school, when his teacher placed him in a dark closet because he misbehaved; it was there he learned to carry around his own “closet of fear.” After his parents divorced, his mother moved across the country to North Carolina, while Sautel remained in California with his abusive, emotionally distant father. Sautel became a firefighter at age 18, and initially he found the work and camaraderie rewarding. But the buildup of traumatic experiences nearly led him to give up after a particularly harrowing moment when he failed to convince a bridge jumper not to jump. Then, a near-death experience in a fire causes Sautel to take a relationship he’d started a few months prior more seriously, making him realize how much he wanted to live and that “the times of peace, the genuine love, was God.” Mostly concerned with the unique difficulties of his life in the line of fire, Sautel’s riveting account will appeal to Christians concerned with the effects of trauma on mental health. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Spiritual Practices of Jesus: Learning Simplicity, Humility, and Prayer with Luke’s Earliest Readers

Catherine J. Wright. IVP Academic, $24.99 (226p) ISBN 978-0-8308-5226-0

In this gratifying debut, Wright, associate professor of biblical and theological studies Bethel University, explores the book of Luke as it correlates to Jesus’s foundational practices of simplicity, humility, and prayer. In three sections corresponding to each practice, Wright reframes Luke’s narrative with the intent “not only to inform but also to transform” through a consideration of Jesus’s leadership. For example, Jesus advocates a life of simplicity that is centered on God’s kingdom rather than money, which encourages dependence on God’s provision for daily needs and a willingness to give generously to others. Wright argues humility is the most undervalued virtue in modern times, contrasting this contemporary perspective with past Christian leaders and writers, such as Augustine of Hippo, Cyprian of Carthage, and Cyril of Alexander, who viewed it as a foundational Christian characteristic. She also discusses Jesus’s instructions regarding prayer, and rails against the current lack of “urgent, persistent, and laborious” praying as “the lost art of waiting on God.” Academically inclined Christians and those in church leadership will enjoy Wright’s transformative guide to Jesus’s model of living and leading. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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