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Reiki: The Art of Healing Through Universal Energy

Carmen Fernandez. Lorenz, $15 (96p) ISBN 978-0-7548-3514-1

Reiki healer Fernandez (Step-by-Step Reiki) skillfully breaks down the essentials of Reiki for general audiences and aspiring practitioners. The purpose of Reiki, Fernandez writes, is to channel a universal life force of love and healing through the placing of hands on recipients to generate heat and energy so as to relieve pain, release trauma, and promote wholeness. Fernandez explains how, during a Reiki session, the recipient lies in a prone position or is seated while a practitioner uses his or her hands to access hot spots of tension or cold spots of energy blockage. The author provides instructions on vibrational healing, hand positions, working with symbols, and creating a cleansing space. (Clear instructions and helpful photos walk readers through the practices.) This comprehensive introduction will provide novices with an easy entrée into Reiki healing. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Lies My Preacher Told Me: An Honest Look at the Old Testament

Brent A. Strawn. Westminster John Knox, $16 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-664-26571-7

Strawn (The OId Testament Is Dying), professor of theology at Duke University, “unabashedly borrows” from James W. Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me for this concise, insightful study that digs into 10 “mistruths” that are “more insidious and intractable than a bold-faced lie” about the Old Testament. Among the ideas he addresses are “The Old Testament Is a Boring History Book” and “The Old Testament Has Been Rendered Permanently Obsolete,” the latter of which he calls “a doozy” and “a very large mistake to correct.” Strawn refutes each straw-man statement, filling his defense with biblical quotes and references in his quest to reorient readers to the importance and relevance of the Old Testament. To that end, he suggests the Old Testament is only boring if one reads it without “knowing what to look for,” and that it remains “a lively and useful part of Scripture for Christian reflection.” Each chapter includes a clarifying statement (on “The Old Testament God Is Mean”: “God in scripture is deeply upset about injustice and sin”) and discussion questions. Strawn’s systematic analysis persuasively defends the Old Testament’s relevance for any Christian in doubt. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America

Anthea Butler. Univ. of North Carolina/Ferris and Ferris, $24 (176p) ISBN 978-1-46966-117-9

In this vigorous volume, Butler (The Rise of the New Religious Right) forcefully argues that racism is “a feature, not a bug, of American evangelicalism.” She traces how white evangelicalism has responded to and been influenced by eras of slavery, emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the civil rights era, and in the rise of the “Moral Majority” and makes a persuasive case that evangelicalism is a “nationalistic political movement whose purpose is to support the hegemony of white Christian men over and against the flourishing of others.” Butler’s narrative revisits famous figures such as Frederick Douglass (whose autobiography “provided fuel for the abolitionist movement” and caused rifts in communities of white evangelicals), Franklin Graham (whose overt Islamophobia demonstrated how “racism became an undeniable aspect of American evangelicals and their public persona”), and Sarah Palin (who “tugged at the heartstrings of older white evangelicals who did not want to see a Black man in the White House”) to show how evangelicals’ contemporary embrace of right-wing politics is rooted in its centuries-long problem with race. This scathing takedown of evangelicalism’s “racism problem” will challenge evangelicals to confront and reject racism within church communities. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Beauty in the Browns: Walking with Christ in the Darkness of Depression

Paul Asay. Focus on the Family, $15.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-64607-005-3

In this stirring work, journalist Asay (Burning Bush 2.0) offers hope and encouragement to Christians wrestling with depression or helping a loved one navigate it. Drawing from his own experiences as well as his son’s, Asay examines the ways depression can intensify feelings of anxiety, emptiness, insecurity, loneliness, shame, and sadness. Asay acknowledges that the church unintentionally “sometimes shuts down or shuts out some of the very people whom Jesus said were blessed: the poor in spirit, those who mourn.” However, he reassures Christian readers that they can find redemption and purpose despite their depression, and he shares how the practice of prayer and volunteer work have helped him cope with depression. He also considers how he’s come to view depression and suffering as gifts one can learn and grow stronger from: “When depression makes me feel empty, perhaps God can fill me with something better.” He recommends Christians embrace faith when God seems far away, seek out counseling or professional help when necessary, and find joy in family. Any Christian can appreciate Asay’s encouraging examination. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Saint Makers: Inside the Catholic Church and How a War Hero Inspired a Journey of Faith

Joe Drape. Hachette, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-0-316-26881-3

Sportswriter Drape (American Pharaoh) provides an illuminating exploration of the heroism of Korean War military chaplain Emil Kapaun (1916–1951) and ongoing efforts to canonize him in this meandering history-cum-memoir. Kapaun received a posthumous Medal of Honor for his efforts to look after the troops he was assigned to—even after he was captured by the Chinese. Eventually, an ailing Kapaun, who was viewed by his captors as an ideological threat, was taken away from his fellow POWs and died alone. In 1999, Fr. John Hotze, inspired by Kapaun’s commitment to his faith and to his fellow captives, began amassing evidence in support of Kapaun’s candidacy as a saint. This led, in 2020, to a scheduled discussion of his worthiness that was derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic. As Drape researched Kapaun—and the elaborate processes the Catholic church has for assessing potential saints—his own faith in the power of miracles was bolstered by miraculous medical recoveries, such as that of 12-year-old Avery Gerleman, who Drape believes was saved from mysterious organ failure years ago due to her father’s prayers to Kapaun. Unfortunately, the shifts to Drape’s own experiences, which include an extended account of his Catholic upbringing, tend to distract from Kapaun’s story and the otherwise moving account of courage and faith in the killing fields of Korea. Faith-minded history buffs will best appreciate this. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Art and Faith: A Theology of Making

Makoto Fujimura. Yale Univ., $26 (184p) ISBN 978-0-300-25414-3

Painter Fujimura (Culture Care) centers creativity in this elegant treatise that blends reflections from his own artistic practice with biblical texts. He proposes a “theology of making,” or practicing one’s spiritual beliefs through the creation of art, and argues that humanity needs more than “plumbing theology,” which offers utilitarian tools for solving a problem. Fujimura argues that “culture has led to a dehumanized view of art” and that art must be “treated as a gift, not just a commodity.” He implores Christian artists to consider the ways in which their process relates to God’s reliance on cooperation to bring about his intentions, such as the human involvement in making the bread and wine of the Eucharist. He closes with a long, beautiful exegesis of the raising of Lazarus and a call for “practicing resurrection” by expanding what one imagines is possible through the creation of art. Fujimura’s sensitive, evocative theology will appeal to believers interested in the role religion can play in the creation of art. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Money Matters: Faith, Life, and Wealth

Paul R. Stevens and Clive Lim. Eerdmans, $19.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-8028-7751-2

In this robust study, Lim (Chinese Entrepreneurship in Singapore) and Stevens (Work Matters), both professors of marketplace theology at Regent College, draw on Christian scripture, the history of money’s use throughout world history, and their own financial and spiritual backgrounds to offer suggestions for Christians wondering about the role of money in their faith lives. With remarkable clarity, the authors summarize economists’ and anthropologists’ theories on how money emerged in human society and assert that the use of currency in ancient temples provides money a “canopy of sacredness” and an “insidious tendency to pull on our heart strings for security and power” that needs to be overcome. The authors suggest that the way to keep money in perspective is to have an “integration of faith and life” so that all one’s activities are done with a focus on serving God—and money becomes one of many gifts from God that one has responsibility to use. To that end, Lim and Stevens recommend financially supporting developing countries and underserved populations through direct mutual aid and microeconomic development projects. The authors overreach at times with claims to the universality of their perspective, and a perfunctory attempt to examine how money functions in Korean churches falls flat. Overall, though, this is a strong introduction to the social history of money from a Christian perspective. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Turning of Days: Lessons from Nature, Season, and Spirit

Hannah Anderson. Moody, $15.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-0-8024-1856-2

In this enjoyable collection of devotional essays and sketches, Anderson (Humble Roots) challenges Christians to see how “God chooses to reveal Himself through the natural world.” Sharing memories of foraging in the forest with her grandmother and the quiet joys of garden maintenance, Anderson discusses God’s goodness as seen in nature. She examines seasonal changes and how they illustrate “faith in a future we cannot yet see.” Each reflection begins and ends with a Bible verse and a quote from a classical poem, including selections from the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Blake, and Emily Dickinson. Whether she uses the planting of a seed as a metaphor for faith or compares signs of new growth in a cut down tree to Jesus’s resurrection, Anderson shares the many ways the gospels are reflected in nature: “In the end, nature exists for the same reason that you and I do—to praise and rejoice in the God who made us.” Anderson’s meditative collection will appeal to those who enjoy the work of Barbara Brown Taylor. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Aging with Grace: Flourishing in an Anti-Aging Culture

Sharon W. Betters & Susan Hunt. Crossway, $16.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-4335-7007-0

Betters (Treasures of Encouragement), cofounder of Markinc Ministries, and Hunt (Spiritual Mothering), former director of women’s ministries for the Presbyterian Church in America, speak eloquently to women about aging gracefully, combining personal experience (Betters is 72; Hunt is 80), scripture study, and prayer. Their core scriptural study is an in-depth look at Psalm 92 (“The one who created us promises we can flourish and bear fruit, we can be full of sap and green, even in old age”) and Psalm 71, and a survey of biblical figures who thrived in old age, including Anna (a widow whose strong faith grows through the 60 years she lives alone), Elizabeth (who used the disappointment of not being able to have children to develop “perspective of her life and the world that was God-centered and not self-centered”), and the matriarchs of the Israelite exile. Scattered throughout are “Growing in Grace” principles: “As life slows down, we can become controlling and critical, or we can reflect on God’s sovereign love that chose and planted us in his house.” While Betters and Hunt provide insightful profiles, the end result is more of a scriptural study than a guide, and there isn’t much in the way of advice. Despite this, older Christians will comfort in these moving scriptural lessons. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/20/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It

Brian McLaren. St. Martin’s Essentials, $26.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-25026-277-6

Former pastor McLaren (A Church on the Other Side) asks Christians to contemplate what faith might look like “on the other side of doubt” in this smart rumination. Written for those wrestling with aspects of the Bible or their church culture that they don’t agree with, McLaren’s work introduces doubt as a companion to faith, a “tough but effective teacher and a difficult but faithful friend.” He uses personal stories to show how doubt can lead to breakthroughs in one’s faith, such as describing his experiences in pastoral care while protesting opposite other Christians, who felt no doubt about their racial antagonism, at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.: “We need radical change flowing from a new set of values and deeper spiritual narratives… only doubt will open a doorway out of hostile orthodoxies—whether religious, cultural, economic, or political.” Prompts for “Reflection and Action” are also included at the end of each chapter: “How would you describe the differences among certainty, uncertainty, and faith?” or “Respond to the statement: Doubt is necessary, but not sufficient.” McLaren’s persuasive argument for doubt as a means to save one’s spirituality and rescue religion at-large might turn off evangelicals, but it will appeal to questioning Christians. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/20/2020 | Details & Permalink

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