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Zen Is Right Now: More Teaching Stories & Anecdotes of Shunryu Suzuki

Shunryu Suzuki, edited by David Chadwick. Shambhala, $14.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-61180-914-5

Buddhist writer Chadwick (Crooked Cucumber) collects vignettes from the life of Shunryu Suzuki (1904-1971), an influential figure in 20th-century Zen Buddhism in this insightful appreciation. Most of the accounts come from Suzuki’s students at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in San Francisco and occurred during shosan, a formal question and answer ceremony with the teacher. While the stories relate only brief exchanges between teacher and student, they convey the depth and humor of Suzuki’s teaching. The snippets are often only a few sentences and never longer than a page, with many beginning “Suzuki said” or “a student asked.” Speaking to these nameless students, Suzuki challenged them to open their minds and face the reality of death—while also making space for laughter and playfulness. He urged students to see the meaning present in everyday life, but to avoid getting attached to one’s thoughts, preferences, and even one’s practice. For Suzuki, the point of Buddhism was not so much about enlightenment, but about sharing in “the joy of practice” and in learning how to “die well.” Buddhist readers both new to or already familiar with Suzuki’s teaching will find disarming simplicity and great wisdom here. (July)

Reviewed on 05/21/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Called to Care: A Christian Vision for Nursing

Judith Allen Shelly, Arlene Miller, and Kimberly Fenstermacher. IVP Academic, $32 (312p) ISBN 978-1-5140-0092-2

Nurses Shelly, Miller, and Fenster­macher give their vocation a close examination in this invaluable tool for Christians who have chosen nursing or caregiving as a profession. The authors begin by explaining nursing’s Christian roots and note that Christ’s healing ministry and instruction to care for the disenfranchised motivated the likes of Florence Nightingale and inspired the establishment of many nursing schools and missionary charities. Arguing that “true nursing cannot be divorced from the Christian story,” the authors discuss how to approach each patient as a whole person created in the image of God. That means taking into account a patient’s culture, family, and surroundings, as well as their physical ailments. Health isn’t limited to physical well-being, the authors point out, and is better defined as shalom—a God-centered wellness of peace, rest, and safety. Each chapter ends with reflective questions and a case study to apply the concepts discussed. Also included are sections on how nurses can navigate a toxic work culture, the difficulty of continual exposure to death, and praying with patients. This measured, empathic analysis will be perfect for Christians of all stripes working in patient care. (July)

Reviewed on 05/14/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Manifestation Magic: 21 Rituals, Spells, and Amulets for Abundance, Prosperity, and Wealth

Elhoim Leafar. Weiser, $18.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-57863-742-3

Astrologer Leafar (Rites of Happiness) presents a diverse, practical guide meant to help readers “achieve happiness, economic prosperity, and abundance” through rituals and spells. Leafer provides brief overviews of astrology and planetary influences; how to arrange spells around days, times, and lunar phases; deities associated with abundance and wealth (such as the agricultural goddess of Greece or the seven gods of fortune of Japanese folklore); ways of using candles and crystals; and a history of making wishes (such as wishing on stars and Middle Eastern djinni worshipped as guardians and wish granters). While some suggestions for activities are sprinkled throughout—particularly meditations for building connections with spirits and ways to consecrate magical tools—the book closes with Leafer’s personal grimoire for prosperity. There’s an “abundance scroll” that can be customized with personal symbols to align oneself with long-term goals, instructions for creating a soap that attracts wealth, and explanations of rituals to dispel negative or harmful energy. Leafer draws from a plethora of cultural sources and also helpfully touches on psychological barriers to obtaining wealth. Those interested in the magical power of ritual will find Leafer to be a sage guide. (July)

Reviewed on 05/14/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Afrikan Wisdom: New Voices Talk Black Liberation, Buddhism, and Beyond.

Edited by Valerie Mason-John. North Atlantic, $16.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-62317-562-7

This stimulating anthology brings together 34 essays exploring the intersection of Black experience with Buddhist practice. It opens with pieces highlighting the need to find space for Black people in Buddhist practice and a particularly smart unpacking of different Buddhist traditions by Marisela Gomez. The second section, “Black Liberation,” considers a range of liberation-focused religions and practices and includes helpful primers on Rastafari and Kwanzaa by Elisha Precilla and Afua Cooper, respectively. A section focused on social justice features a provocative essay on the impact of Malcolm X in Canada and an unusual reframing of Martin Luther King Jr. as a bodhisattva; another on decolonizing mindfulness features Rima Vesely-Flad’s insightful message of turning the feeling of “being silenced” on its head by focusing on how silence brings “regeneration” and “a heightened capacity to be at ease with difference.” The final section, “The Personal is Political,” is full of moving personal essays, among them Kabir Hypolite’s unearthing of his family’s intentionally hidden Native American and African ancestry. Detailed liturgies for Buddhists of color appear amid the rich theorizing and individual reflections. These bite-size and profound essays are a powerful introduction to the overlooked possibilities of Black Buddhism. (July)

Reviewed on 05/14/2021 | Details & Permalink

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So Long, Normal: Living and Loving the Freefall of Life

Laura Story. Thomas Nelson, $18.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-7852-4852-1

In this encouraging guide, Story (When God Doesn’t Fix It), a Grammy Award–winning musician and worship leader at Perimeter Church in Atlanta, invites Christian women to say “goodbye to normal and hello to unshakeable faith.” She shares biblical stories, personal experiences, and anecdotes from friends that illustrate the value of letting go of safe expectations and learning to trust God’s plan. For instance, Story writes of how the birth of her daughter coincided with the popularity of her first hit song, “Blessing,” which made her “trust that God would show me how to be a good mom, even away from home.” Story acknowledges her need for routine and how the pandemic threw everything into “strain and upheaval.” To remain steadfast, she emphasizes finding one’s identity in Christ and discusses the challenge of letting go of perceived security, contrasting the responses of bitterness and faith as illustrated in the biblical story of Naomi and Ruth. Story also stresses the need for a freeing view of one’s personal mission: “The beauty of anything God calls us to is that it was never intended to be burdensome.” She draws from scriptural examples of Gideon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the disciples who initially expressed reluctance about God’s mission for them to illustrate that “when we step into our divine roles within the story of redemption, God will do something remarkable in and through us.” Story’s uplifting challenge will resonate with Christians who enjoy the work of Lysa TerKeurst. (July)

Reviewed on 05/14/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Christians Against Christianity: How Right-Wing Evangelicals Are Destroying Our Nation and Our Faith

Obery M. Hendricks. Beacon, $24.95 (216p) ISBN 978-0-80705-740-7

Hendricks (The Politics of Jesus), a professor of religion at Columbia and elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, delivers a thorough condemnation of right-wing evangelicalism in this lacerating work. Taking pains to distinguish between right-wing evangelicalism, Christian nationalism, and classical conservatism, Hendricks castigates contemporary “right-wing evangelicalism” for being a “brutal sham” and a “cynical conceit.” Over eight thematic chapters—covering abortion and gender rights, firearms, minorities, and big business, among other topics—Hendricks explores how a desire for political power and religious uniformity has induced evangelicals to “[violate] to its very depths the Gospel’s call to love and care for one another.” He argues that “not only is their worldview not loving, not generous, not socially inclusive, but the notion of religious freedom they so extol extends no farther than their own ranks.” In contrast, Hendricks praises the early evangelicals of the 19th and 20th centuries who advocated for gender equality, universal education, and the rights and well-being of minorities. While Hendricks’s pessimistic conclusion is undoubtably genuine, the lack of hope or suggestions for ways to reconcile will leave readers disheartened. Ttrenchant and meticulous, this is certain to be a conversation starter. (July)

Reviewed on 05/14/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Millennial Nuns: Reflections on Living a Spiritual Life in a World of Social Media

The Daughters of Saint Paul. Tiller, $19.99 (200p) ISBN 978-1-982158-02-6

Showcasing the personal histories of nuns from the millennial generation, this illuminating anthology shatters stereotypes of nuns as strict, elderly, and out of touch. The authors—who are technically religious sisters rather than nuns, as they engage fully in society instead of remaining in a cloister—detail their journeys from “normal” lives to joining the order of The Daughters of St. Paul, a congregation focused on using all kinds of media to share the gospel. Danielle Victoria Lussier explores bringing together her faith and artistic impulse through religious documentary photography. Tracy Dugas explains how spoken word has allowed her to “carry my relationship with God into the world and show by my witness what it means to be a disciple.” While the treatment of similar themes of finding conversion and discerning a vocation in the convent becomes repetitive, the essays also tackle topics such as anorexia, overcoming bullying, and difficult childhoods. Together, these insightful testaments show how a commitment to spiritual practice and the will of God can heal and empower devotees. This charming glimpse into a forward-thinking group of young nuns will appeal to anyone interested in the convergence of new media and religious practice. (July)

Reviewed on 05/14/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Valediction of Moses: A Proto-biblical Book

Idan Dershowitz. Mohr Siebeck, $39 (216p) ISBN 978-3-16160644-1

Dershowitz (The Dismembered Bible), chair of Hebrew Bible and Its Exegesis at the University of Potsdam, presents an innovative analysis of biblical manuscripts that were discovered then dismissed as forgeries during the late 19th century. In 1878, British antiquities dealer Moses Shapira acquired leather strips found near the Dead Sea that appeared to be an unknown version of Deuteronomy. While the discovery fascinated the English public, the British Museum in 1883 declined to purchase the manuscripts after two experts declared them forgeries. Dershowitz, however, makes a convincing case that the texts are authentic and represent a version of Deuteronomy older than the canonical one, and that “the odd details that made Shapira’s manuscripts seem so dubious in the late 1800s have now transformed into evidence substantiating their antiquity.” For example, vertical creases showing leather had been folded once was considered evidence of forgery, but that same treatment of texts has been found in verified ancient manuscripts, including the Dead Sea Scrolls. He goes on to explore the significant differences between the Valediction of Moses and the traditional Deuteronomic text, notably the Ten Commandments, which here includes the additional prohibition “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.” This is an astounding work of scholarship. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/07/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Reclaiming Rest: The Promise of Sabbath, Solitude, and Stillness in a Restless World

Kate H. Rademacher. Broadleaf, $16.99 trade paper (214p) ISBN 978-1-5064-6599-9

Memoirist Rademacher (Following the Red Bird) reflects on the meaning and necessity of rest in this elegant work. Embracing the spiritually grounded practice of rest, she writes, “has slowly transformed my life.” What began for her as a struggle to avoid professional burnout (which she calls “anorexia of the soul”) evolved into an exploration and practice of the Judeo-Christian tradition of Sabbath rest, as taught by ancient rabbis and practiced by Jesus, by “reclaiming a 24/6 schedule” which incorporates a Sunday sabbath, and “cultivating moments of rest” in one’s daily life. Rademacher also addresses those who feel the work of social justice or combating inequality requires constant energy and attention. Arguing that only when one feels “relief from having to save the world” can the personal and emotional space for real connection occur, Rademacher explains how “godly grace beyond... control” allowed her to move tentatively toward becoming “bilingual”—speaking both the language of faith and the language of rational effort for social justice and progress. This theologically provocative work will speak to Christians looking for ways to slow down in a hectic world. (July)

Reviewed on 05/07/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Staying Awake: The Gospel for Changemakers

Tyler Sit. Chalice, $16.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-0-8272-3552-6

In this eloquent debut, Sit, pastor of New City Church in Minneapolis, offers a blueprint for committing to social justice. His program, which he dubs “love training,” consists of nine spiritual disciplines that aim to increase individual and community capacity for withstanding adversity, navigating complex social issues, and living meaningful lives—while participating in a “Spirit-led justice” movement. The disciplines include worship (“Staying Awake to Love”), centering marginalized voices (“Staying Awake to Empire”), prayer, leadership development, generosity, and church planting. Two powerful stories bookend this spiritual manifesto: first, Sit’s account of participating in a Black Lives Matter protest after the 2015 police shooting death of Jamar Clark, and an epilogue detailing how Sit enacted his recommended practices following the murder of George Floyd not far from his church. Incorporating cartoons, poetry, practical exercises, personal testimony, and scriptural references, Sit’s work sizzles with energy, humor, and empathy. This impressive guide conveys urgent, timely guidance for pastors, Christians, and seekers looking to marry faith and social justice. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/07/2021 | Details & Permalink

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