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Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad

John Eldredge. Nelson, $24.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-40-020866-1

Christian counselor and lecturer Eldredge (Wild at Heart) examines in this insistent work the toll of what he sees as society’s relentless pace and obsession with social media. “My soul just can’t do life at the speed of smartphones. The world has gone completely mad, and it’s trying to take our souls with it,” he writes, assuring readers that their lives can be renewed by receiving help from Jesus. He introduces simple practices—one minute pauses, “drinking beauty” (taking in the miraculous quality of nature), unplugging from technology, practicing kindness toward others and the self—and explains how to implement these habits with a daily schedule. Eldredge encourages readers to fully experience feelings, even uncomfortable ones, and recommends setting healthy benchmarks (such as hours working or exercise time) to prevent falling into unhealthy patterns, as well as to help recognize when pressures (such as the push to share one’s personal life online, or to constantly keep up-to-date) are building. Eldredge gives personal examples, like spending time with his horses or taking daily walks, that help him avoid being “sucked back into the madness.” With its suggestions for Christians that their “only rescue” is found in seeking more of God, this restorative guide will appeal to faithful readers wishing to slow down their lives to live out God’s plan. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Dalai Lama: An Extraordinary Life

Alexander Norman. HMH, $30 (416p) ISBN 978-0-544-41658-1

Norman, who collaborated with the Dalai Lama on Freedom in Exile, debuts with this significant exploration of the life work of Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader. Norman situates the Dalai Lama, first and foremost, as a powerful leader within the context of Tibetan history and culture. To this end, he begins with the prophecies of the Dalai Lama’s predecessor, and embeds the Lama’s life within his larger role as a spiritual guru. Norman runs through the major events of the Dalai Lama’s life: his birth in 1935 as Lhamo Thondup, recognition as the Dalai Lama four years later, his upbringing in the palaces of Lhasa, the Chinese occupation of Tibet, and his subsequent life in exile—always portraying his subject sympathetically, but also never shying away from controversies, such as accusations that the Dalai Lama infringed upon religious liberty by restricting worship of the protector deity Dorje Shugden. Because of the strong emphasis on religious context, Norman often shirks providing scrutiny of the contemporary political situation in Tibet, but this remains a thorough catalogue of the Dalai Lama’s thinking and worldview. Despite Norman’s disclaimer that he writes as a non-Buddhist outsider looking in, anyone interested in the Dalai Lama’s spiritual influence will enjoy this insider biography. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Beyond Shame: Creating a Healthy Sex Life on Your Own Terms

Matthias Roberts. Fortress, $16.99 trade paper (250p) ISBN 978-1-5064-5566-2

Therapist Roberts debuts with a pithy dissection of shame that delivers useful insights for a coherent, healthy sexual ethics. He opens with a discussion of three ways people cope with the pervasive shame around sex that Christianity has encouraged. They can live shamefully by keeping their sexual desires and actions secret, they can attempt to leave their faith shamelessly (which only temporarily removes the psychic pain), or they can bumble somewhere in the middle with unclear ideas and ad hoc solutions. Before providing the resolution to these approaches, Roberts hastily unpacks various inaccurate views that have informed Christian sexuality, including that the Bible is unambiguously consistent, pro-patriarchy, and anti-queer. For Roberts, the way through shame is gaining comfort with four paradoxes about sex: that it is both healthy and risky, that it causes and covers vulnerability, that it needs safety while being inherently unsafe, and that one has to make mistakes to use it correctly. The author’s explanations of the physiological responses to sex, openness to many varieties of sex (including hookups), and personal stories of clients combine into a persuasive argument about honoring and understanding sex as connection. All readers, especially LGBTQ Christians, will come away feeling energized and equipped to deploy the suggestions for healthier sexuality without the weight of shame. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: A Practical Commentary for Leading a Successful Spiritual Life

George Burke. Light of the Spirit Press, $24.95 (534p) ISBN 978-1-73-252660-0

Going verse by verse through the ancient Hindu text the Bhagavad Gita, Burke, director of the Light of the Spirit Monastery in Cedar Crest, N.Mex., enthusiastically explores the story as a means for knowing oneself, the cosmos, and one’s calling within it. This dense work is not for those with a mere curiosity; Burke goes deep, with transliterations of Sanskrit terms that pepper every page alongside his commentary on their meanings. Burke also argues that the Gita is inherently practical and not overly philosophical. His plainspoken insights often distill complex lessons with simplicity and sagacity: “those who live for their personal gratification... really live to no real purpose, for death in a moment sweeps away everything they value.” Burke also interweaves numerous quotes from the Bible, the Buddha, and other religious traditions to support his points, encouraging readers to be “Krishna-minded” and “Christ-minded” at the same time. While Burke’s intended audience is vague, those with a deep interest in the Gita will find much wisdom here. (Self-published.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Princess and the Prophet: The Secret History of Magic, Race, and Moorish Muslims in America

Jacob S. Dorman. Beacon, $28.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-80-706726-0

Dorman (Chosen People), a professor of history at the University of Nevada, combines a picaresque account of the enigmatic John Walter Brister with a kaleidoscopic history of the origins of the Nation of Islam in this complicated history that argues the Nation of Islam grew out of the Moorish Science Temple of America. Brister was a black child musician in the late 19th century; he went on to perform as the “Hindoo Wonder Worker” and “Egyptian Adept” in circuses, before becoming the self-proclaimed prophet Noble Drew Ali. Dorman asserts that Brister-as-Ali realized America was enchanted with “Orientalism” as he performed magic shows in the guise of a Hindu, and persuasively argues that Ali used this interest in exotic ancestry as a way to appeal to descendants of slaves. He championed trading African identities for Moorish, or Arab, ones that were more agreeable to white audiences. Against the backdrop of Chicago’s Jazz Age, Dorman tracks Ali’s founding, along with his lion-tamer and snake-charmer wife, Eva, of the Temple as a formal Muslim fraternity, whose core members went on to create the Nation of Islam. While Dorman often gets bogged down in a litany of names and dates, this remains a remarkable study. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Otherwise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation

Chris Paige. OtherWise Engaged, $9.99 ebook (216p) ISBN 978-1-951124-00-7

In this invigorating dive into scripture, writer and activist Paige (Christian Faith and Gender Identity) reads the Bible in provocative ways to affirm support for transgender experience. Paige’s transgender lens on the text brings to the foreground lesser-known biblical figures (Deborah) and topics (eunuchs, mentioned 50 times in the Bible). Jesus’s celibacy is fraught with meaning from a transgender perspective, Paige writes, and the argument that Joseph (he of the many-colored coat) was genderqueer is surprising yet plausible. Paige’s study of the many eunuchs that appear in biblical stories, which he argues should be translated as “intersex,” is especially strong and imaginative. The author also examines Jewish biblical exegesis for its insights into expansive readings of gender, and articulates a larger declamation against Western European colonialism as the source of oppressive gender binaries. This is a treasure chest of resources for those interested in ways transgender individuals can live faithful to God and to one’s self. (Self-published.)

Reviewed on 11/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Healing Racial Trauma: The Road to Resilience

Sheila Wise Rowe. IVP, $17 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-83-084588-0

In this useful work, abuse and trauma counselor Rowe (The Well of Life) uses her own experiences as a Christian and the stories of her friends to address systemic racism. Rowe shares eye-opening stories of racial injustice including her own personal stories, such as when her brother was arrested for holding a BB gun in his own yard—as well as profiles of others, such as a Japanese-American who suffered prejudice in a WWII-era internment camps as a child and later, his son, during the L.A. riots. She also includes definitions of relevant terminology (such as white privilege, internalized racism, and defensive othering), stressing the universal experience of pain and the burden that people of color carry due to unhealed wounds of racial trauma. Speaking specifically to Christian readers, Rowe provides “Reflection and Prayer Prompts” to address topics covered in each section (such as silence, rage, fear, and resilience) and to help readers enact change. Rowe’s evenhanded approach, while welcoming to all, leaves much to be desired, as it never delves into how systemic changes will look in practice. While Rowe’s analysis will be helpful for readers looking for a simple introduction to structural racism, those seeking more concrete steps forward will be disappointed. (Jan.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the title of the author's previous book. It also incorrectly stated the author used stories of her clients in the book, and conflated the experiences of two Japanese-American men.

Reviewed on 11/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism

Katherine Stewart. Bloomsbury, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-1-63557-343-5

Journalist Stewart (The Good News Club) provides a comprehensive, chilling look at America’s Christian nationalist movement, which she convincingly portrays as a highly organized political coalition that has “already transformed the political landscape and shaken the foundations upon which lay our democratic norms and institutions.” Arguing that Christian nationalism has been misunderstood as focusing on social issues (mainly abortion and gay marriage), Stewart shows, through painstaking reporting over the past decade, that the movement aims “to replace our foundational democratic principles and institutions with a state grounded on a particular version of Christianity... that also happens to serve the interests of its plutocratic funders and allied political leaders.” For example, she writes, Christian nationalists have embarked on an extensive, coordinated campaign to radically reform public education, particularly within the charter school sector, where “egregious examples of church-school fusion are far from anomalous,” an effort spearheaded by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Stewart also explores how Catholic ultraconservative Leonard Leo used the Federalist Society to target judgeships and “establish religion in the name of ‘religious liberty’ ” and how multinational Christian organizations, such as the World Congress of Families, are organizing to fight a grassroots “global holy war” against secularism. Her insightful investigation places the power of Christian nationalism into full context. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 11/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Evangelicals: Who They Have Been, Are Now, and Could Be

Mark A. Noll, David W. Bebbington, and George M. Marsden. Eerdmans, $29.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8028-7695-9

Three scholars of the history of Christian evangelicalism deliver a thorough anthology of essays that responds directly to the strong support for Donald Trump’s presidency among white evangelicals in the United States and asks readers to consider what that support can and cannot say about evangelicals broadly. The opening section historicizes and complicates traditional understanding of the beliefs, practices, and demographics of evangelical Christianity. Among the highlights are Marsden’s 1984 attempt to define what makes certain strains of Christianity “evangelical” and a 2016 essay by Linford Fisher that makes the case for a fluid rather than fixed definition. The other two sections are concerned with knotty question of what Donald Trump’s 2016 victory means for evangelical faith and practice. Michael S. Hamilton’s assessment of Trump in the context of Christian nationalism, Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s piece on militant masculinity, and the essays by Jemar Tisby and Brian C. Stiller, which challenge a white-centric understanding of global evangelicalism, are particularly insightful. Readers with an interest in Christian evangelical history will find this a valuable collection to study, reflect on, and argue with. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Wake Up to What Matters: A Guide to Tibetan Buddhism for the Next Generation

Avikrita Vajra Sakya. Shambhala, $16.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-61180-660-1

Buddhist monk Sakya explores Mahayana Buddhism, “the altruistic system of Buddhism for attaining full awakening to benefit all sentient beings,” in his welcoming and lucid debut. Rather than “a totally secular and materialist or psychotherapeutic approach” to the ancient teachings, Sakya instructs 21st-century Buddhists on fundamental principles, such as the Triple Gem: “the Buddha who shows us the path; the verbalized and realized Dharma, which is the path; and the Sangha, especially the companionship of aryan [noble] bodhisattvas, who assist us on the path.” Rather than the traditional eightfold path, Sakya explains the five progressive paths of bodhisattvas in the Mahayanistic tradition, as well as the nature of bodhi (enlightenment), the conditions that strengthen and impede bodhichitta (“the altruistic determination for full awakening”), and the six transcendent perfections, or the paramitas. Sakya particularly shines in the chapters which explore the power of compassion and the “inner demons” of bodhisattvas (such as misknowing, anger, pride, and doubt). This thorough yet approachable treatise on Mahayana Buddhism will be invaluable reading for newcomers to the religion. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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