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Filled with Fire and Light: Portraits and Legends from the Bible, Talmud, and Hasidic World

Elie Wiesel. Schocken, $25.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8052-4353-6

The late Nobel laureate Wiesel (Night) displays his rhetorical gifts in this collection of essays, which have been adapted from his lectures on Judaica. Wiesel casts a wide net, taking in lesser-known biblical figures including the prophet Elisha and King Josiah, as well as broader topics, such as depictions of God in the Torah. His treatment of Josiah is emblematic; though the Judahite monarch is known for implementing religious reforms, the discovery of a scroll supposedly written by Moses himself calls into question his legacy: “Could it simply be that just as Noah was considered righteous in his evil generation, Josiah was considered righteous amid all the evil in his?” Wiesel poses and answers questions about whether Josiah’s morality was only relative to his time, and concludes that he had been a notable exception “to the corrupt, idol-worshipping Jewish kings.” All the sections, including a look at the unusual friendship between an ancient rabbinic scholar and a reformed criminal, achieve Wiesel’s goal of studying the stories “in the context of our need to create through learning a community” and in a way that can inspire joy and ethical behavior. Wiesel astounds with these timeless lessons drawn from ancient texts. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Wisdom Is Bliss: Four Friendly Fun Facts That Can Change Your Life

Robert Thurman. Hay House, $19.99 (232p) ISBN 978-1-4019-4343-1

In this galvanizing guide, Buddhist scholar Thurman (Infinite Life) explores Buddhist axioms in order to help readers create a more lasting happiness. In presenting the Buddha as a scientist and calling The Four Noble Truths “the four friendly facts,” Thurman makes the concepts at hand digestible to lay readers. He divides “a buddha’s threefold super-education” (science, ethics, and meditative mind-power) into four key areas—love, compassion, joy, and equanimity—and uses his own life experiences and the Buddha’s teachings to explain how to obtain “the full experience of this real world.” For instance, Thurman recommends readers strive for realistic speech (“speaking the truth and avoiding falsehoods” and “senseless chatter”), realistic evolutionary action (“the realization that actions are evolutionary in their causal impact on oneself and others”), and realistic livelihood (choosing one’s “calling or profession with the intention of maximizing evolutionary progress”) in order to reject egoism and connect to fellow humans, resulting in “the wisdom of nirvana.” Best suited for those already familiar with Buddhist concepts, Thurman’s inviting advice will appeal readers of Pema Chodron. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Zen and the Art of Dealing with Difficult People: How to Learn from your Troublesome Buddhas

Mark Westmoquette. Watkins, $16.95 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-78678-548-0

Mindfulness teacher Westmoquette (The Mindful Universe) draws on personal experiences of loss and emotional abuse in this helpful guide to facing fear, letting go of negativity, and finding new ways of dealing with difficult situations. He begins with an introduction to the benefits of mindfulness, the functions of emotional regulation and “dysregulation,” and various strategies for coping with stress, such as breathing exercises. The core of the book covers “troublesome buddhas” (those one struggles to get along with), including coworkers, friends and family, and even oneself—and offers examples of ways to deal with each. For instance, Westmoquette shows how an office manager used mindfulness to help him make difficult hiring decisions. Another man found that his frustration with a neighbor’s habit of parking directly in front of his house (leaving him only a half space to park) served as a “mini-revelation” of how his mind dealt with strife. Westmoquette concludes with a discussion of how suffering creates the potential for awakening, and implores readers to act from a place of compassion. Readers who enjoy the work of Thich Nhat Hanh should take a look. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Finding Rest: A Survivor’s Guide to Navigating the Valleys of Anxiety, Faith, and Life

Jonathon M. Seidl. Kregel, $16.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-8254-4671-9

Seidl—founder of the Veritas Creative, a digital media consulting firm—delivers a practical, spiritually driven primer on dealing with anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and depression. Though he writes of being terrified to reveal he has these disorders, Seidl explains his goal is to “tell your story by telling my story.” He delves into the biblical book of Job to understand the nature of Job’s (and humankind’s) suffering, pointing out that God allows troubles “for our good and His glory.” Seidl also offers excellent advice on medication, physical care, and spiritual care, making strong arguments for developing all three by seeking professional treatment and building a prayer and exercise routine. He also calls on churches to take action (“Church, I understand that mental health may be scary to address and you may feel ill-equipped to deal with it. But that’s no excuse not to try”) and provides advice to those who love a person with anxiety: “your loved one’s disorder is not a curse.” Christians who suffer from anxiety and OCD will benefit from this cogent, revealing guide. Agent: Cyle Young, Cyle Young Literary Elite. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Interior Silence: My Encounters with Calm, Joy and Passion at 10 Monasteries Around the World

Sarah Sands. Chronicle Prism, $26.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-79721-045-2

In this insightful debut, journalist and self-described “spiritual tourist” Sands visits 10 monastic communities in search of wisdom and tools she can incorporate into her chaotic “5G life.” Traveling to Japan, France, Egypt, Catalonia, Bhutan, and Austria, Sands stays at Benedictine, Buddhist, Carmelite, Celtic, Cistercian, Coptic, Franciscan, and Tibetan monasteries. (She provides an overview of each community’s history and literature, and interviews contemporary practitioners.) Sands is frank about her struggles with her “constant ticker tape of anxieties,” and her amusing accounts of trying to feel monastic peace while quarreling with her daughter in a Buddhist temple, being ravaged by mosquitos in Egypt, and discovering that she has her husband’s phone in a Cistercian monastery will win over readers. After the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown disrupts her travel plans, Sands’s visits to Marham Abbey in Norfolk, U.K., lead to nuanced reflections on the parallels between monasticism and enforced isolation. This physical and spiritual travelogue both piques and inspires. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Lemons on Friday: Trusting God Through My Greatest Heartbreak

Mattie Jackson Selecman. Thomas Nelson, $19.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-7852-4127-0

In this moving debut, Selecman, the daughter of country music star Alan Jackson, chronicles her journey from heartache to hope after her husband, Ben, died three weeks shy of their first wedding anniversary. She explains how Ben’s accidental fall on a boat dock resulted in a traumatic brain injury, and describes how grief and widowhood affected her faith. “I am going to tell you the truth,” she writes, “about how I wrestled with a God who is absolutely good but who absolutely did not give me the miracle I prayed for.” Selecman recalls fond memories—meeting Ben, their wedding day, their hopes for the future—and describes the pain of her loss, her struggles moving forward, and how she has learned to see God’s goodness despite a suffering she compares to “lemons on Friday,” a “bitter, stomach-turning” situation that need to be turned into lemonade. Cooking and writing aided her healing, as did the support she received from friends and family, who invited her to watch the new season of a show Ben enjoyed, and took her to pick pumpkins ahead of Halloween. Her friends’ efforts to continually show up, Selecman explains, kept her from shutting down. Selecman’s honesty about her pain will encourage others who have questioned their faith while grieving. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Sit Down to Rise Up: How Radical Self-Care Can Change the World

Shelly Tygielski. New World Library, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-60868-744-2

Mindfulness teacher Tygielski debuts with an uplifting guide on building a platform of social activism through meditation and channeling one’s energy into collective activism. The founder of the aid organization Pandemic of Love and a 2020 CNN Hero, Tygielski explains how to build personal courage, connections, and momentum to enact change in one’s community by “showing up”: “Show up for yourself and for others.... Show up consistently. Show up even when others don’t show up.” Three sections describe the communal journey: in “Sit Down,” Tygielski lays out “the inner journey to me” through meditation, arguing that “we are all broken” and have the responsibility to help others; in “Show Up,” she considers “the outer journey to we” through forming strong community bond and mutual support networks; and, finally, in “Rise Up,” she explains “the movement to us,” where one practices what one preaches by making sure everyone in one’s neighborhood has basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter met. Readers involved in community outreach will value Tygielski’s integration of self-reflection and humanitarian objectives for healing a broken world. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Prayers for the People: Things We Didn’t Know We Could Say to God

Terry J. Stokes. Convergent, $20 (208p) ISBN 978-0-59323-943-8

Stokes, a New Jersey youth pastor, debuts with an insightful compendium of more than 200 short original prayers that challenges the assumption that worship has to “be spontaneous, new, or unique in order to be faithful.” Occasions for the prayers range from somber (“For bereaved mothers”) to celebratory (“For after getting the job or offer”), and they often speak to modern concerns, including pleas for ecumenical unity among Star Wars fans and prayers “for when one has accidentally liked their crush’s old photo.” Yet Stokes’s most stirring entries are those which draw on the biblical injunction to do good, seek justice, and correct oppression, or those which address contentious contemporary topics—such as sexual identity (“For those experiencing gender dysphoria”) or economic inequality (“For economic justice”): “O Christ, who fills the hungry with good things and sends the / rich away empty, melt down and reshape our economy.” It is a mark of Stokes’s wisdom and empathy that prayers of excoriation and lamentation come across as more conciliatory than sermonic. Wonderfully blending traditional prayer rhetoric with humor and an eye for contemporary concerns, Stokes’s work will be a stimulating, inspiring resource particularly for those working in youth ministry. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Profaning Paul

Cavan W. Concannon. Univ. of Chicago, $27.50 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-226-81565-7

Concannon (When You Were Gentiles), a religion professor at the University of Southern California, argues that the apostle Paul’s legacy has been distorted for progressive purposes in this provocative theology. In pushing back against efforts by both theologians and philosophers to contextualize and explain Paul’s words, Concannon points out harmful passages in Paul’s seminal writings, including his message for slaves to obey masters and his calls for women to submit. He also accuses previous thinkers (such as Simon Critchley’s praise of a “Paul who takes on the establishment”) of being “sanitation workers” who attempt to displace the bad parts of Paul in order to redeem him. With this lens, Concannon critiques theological and philosophical approaches to interpreting Paul’s writing (including philosopher Alain Badiou’s) and offers some praise of those that show Paul as double-edged but still valuable, including filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini and scholar Brian Blount. Using Giorgio Agamben’s theory of profanation (returning something sacred to everyday use) and the creative reworkings and rejections of Paul’s writings by enslaved African Americans, Concannon argues that Paul does not contain universal truths but there is still utility in studying his words against his intentions. This heady blend of Continental philosophy, biblical studies, and critical theory will be sure to spark debate among scholars grappling with Paul and his legacy. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Sacred Decisions: Consensus in Faith Communities

Marcia Patton and Nora J. Percival. Judson, $12.99 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-8170-1829-0

Patton, former executive minister of American Baptist Churches, and Percival, a Quaker representative on the Church Council of Greater Seattle, explore consensus as a decision-making tool for communities of faith in this practical guide. The authors explain that, as utilized in Quaker churches for hundreds of years, consensus is often a successful strategy because it is “deeply rooted... in the testimonies of equality and community,” and thereby more inclusive and egalitarian than traditional Christian churches that are directed by a leader. They cite three major requirements for establishing a consensus model: “openness to new ideas; rejection of one-sided advocacy; and regard for creative compromise.” Challenges to the model are also discussed, such as an implementation process that is “non-linear and complex,” the importance of having a good facilitator, and the amount of time it can take to reach decisions. The authors also provide real world examples of their model in action taken from a variety of churches, including one from a University Friends Meeting resulting in acceptance of the validity and performance of same-sex marriage within the church. This is a valuable guide for ministers looking to create more open, inclusive faith communities. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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