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Reinvent: Start Fresh and Love Life!

Beth Jones. FaithWords, $23 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5460-1725-7

Pastor Jones (Getting a Grip on the Basics), host of the TV show The Basics with Beth, leads readers struggling with doubt through the process of Christ-centered transformation in her invigorating guide. She recounts the biblical tale of the maven (2 Kings 4:1–7), in which a widow with two sons who was being threatened by creditors became a “successful, entrepreneurial, oil tycoon,” as an example of self-reinvention. In the section “What Do You Want?” she helps readers distinguish between wants and desires, and then in “What Do You Have?” asks questions about one’s experience, expertise, passions, and quirks in order to nudge readers toward understanding their inherent gifts. In the final sections, Jones instructs readers to contemplate how their passions can be used for “naming a niche” or meeting a need. Jones recommends asking for help and, if needed, borrowing—money, time, or resources—to kick-start one’s vision. The text is rife with scriptural passages and easily conveys Jones’s ebullient faith: “Remember, no matter where you’re at in life, God’s specialty is reinventing the last, the least and the lost, and turning them into the first, the favored and the found! He’s got you! #praisehands.” Jones’s practical, zesty guidance will help orient Christian readers looking for ways to rejuvenate their passions. (May)

Reviewed on 03/13/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Horse Magick: Spells and Rituals for Self-Empowerment, Protection, and Prosperity

Lawren Leo and Domenic Leo. Weiser, $15.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-57863-698-3

History, psychology, and magic blend nicely in this equine book of spells from Lawren (Dragonflame), a spiritual counselor, and Domenic, a former art history professor at Duquesne University. Drawing from a variety of traditions of horse imagery, including Greek mythology, Native American shamanism, and voodoo, the authors present a vast array of spells and rituals intended to furnish a better understanding of the ways the spirit of the horse acts upon everyday human life. Each spell includes explanations of steps and supplies, as well as information about the specific horse archetypes and spirits involved in the ritual. For instance, the jade horse of Chinese mythology promotes good luck, and the Leos recommend an offer using a borrowed bowl, hay, flower petals, and a jade piece (preferably a horse figurine), while the winged horse of Greek mythology can be a catalyst for lucid dreaming through a ritual using water, anise pods, and a moonstone. Though “no contact with actual horses is required” for these rituals, this enchanting guide provides pleasant reflective rituals for contemplating the connection between horses and humans. (June)

Reviewed on 03/13/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Make It Happen: Manifest the Life of Your Dreams

Jordanna Levin. Murdoch, $19.99 trade paper (344p) ISBN 978-1-76052-436-4

Levin, host of the Lunar Lover podcast, debuts with an upbeat, empowering method for “manifestation,” or action realized through thoughts. Levin suggests that one can discover greater self-worth, make money, find love, and attain career success by using her Manifestation Equation, which consists of four components: thoughts that are aligned with what one wants to manifest; feelings that shift one’s vibrations toward what one wants to attract; actions that demonstrate responsibility and drive to achieve one’s dream; and faith in oneself, the universe, and the process. Levin insists that readers conduct “shadow work” (actions that promote one’s manifestations), rather than believe “the universe is looking out for [me] so I can do whatever I want,” and includes suggestions for those looking for new love (such as tips for on talking to strangers) and even for budgeting. She often shares personal stories to explain her principles, and walks readers through her first efforts to provide the perspective of both learner and expert. Sections on faith in nature’s rhythms and the uses of breath work, meanwhile, are particularly powerful. Those who believe in manifesting and the influence of vibrations will find much of use in Levin’s approachable guide. (May)

Reviewed on 03/13/2020 | Details & Permalink

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God and Guns in America

Michael W. Austin. Eerdmans, $21.99 (216p) ISBN 978-0-80287-643-0

Austin (Humility and Human Flourishing), an Eastern Kentucky University professor of philosophy, proposes in this well-reasoned work “peace building” methods for Christians engaged in the debate over guns. Austin explains that for some Christians, the “right to bear arms” isn’t only a constitutional right, but a God-given mandate to protect loved ones and guard against evil. For others, gun control is a moral imperative for Christians called to pacifism. Austin, proposing a “third way,” urges Christians to go beyond the trite “thoughts and prayers” sentiments frequently issued after mass shootings and to support common-sense solutions like universal background checks, mandatory federal gun safety courses, and repealing stand-your-ground laws. Austin brings together a cogent combination of philosophical rationalism, moral theory, and theological know-how to confront weak arguments on both sides of the gun control debate. His logical efforts elevate the conversation as he critiques false connections between gun ownership and self-defense, misinterpretations of Jesus’s admonition to “carry a sword,” and the idolatrous relationship that some Christians seem to have with guns. He also firmly defends the right for gun ownership and the place of firearms within American history and culture. Austin’s sound arguments, welcoming tone, and emphasis on building peace alongside protections of individual rights have the potential to sway Christians on both sides of the discourse around faith and firearms. (May)

Reviewed on 03/13/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Not All Who Wander (Spiritually) Are Lost: A Story of Church

Traci Rhoades. Church, $14.99 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-64065-279-8

Bible teacher Rhoades debuts with a consuming chronicle of her churchgoing life, spanning four different denominations and nine churches. Beginning with fond memories of attending Southern Baptist and Methodist churches during her childhood, Rhoades explains how those experiences have shaped her perspective and given her a greater passion for Jesus. Sharing stories and examples from Christian contributors, Rhoades examines different church traditions and various forms of worship and shines a light on issues that can result in divisions within a congregation. Rhoades also explores the dynamics of Baptist, Methodist, and Church of God congregations as she moves from place to place amid changing jobs and life circumstances, reminding readers that no church is perfect, and that one should attend “expecting to find a community and always, always, more of Jesus.” She emphasizes that by listening and approaching others with an open heart, one can find new opportunities for experiencing Christ. Christians looking for community will relish this memoir of embracing differences. (May)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Bewitching the Elements: A Guide to Empowering Yourself Through Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit

Gabriela Herstik. TarcherPerigee, $15 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-08621-6

Herstik (Inner Witch), a witch and columnist for Chakrubs magazine, delivers a comprehensive guide to magic practices as a “reclamation of earth-based spirituality” from modern dissociation. Focusing on the five elements that appear in many spiritual traditions—earth, air, fire, water, and spirit/ether—Herstik breaks down the correlations of each to deities, crystals, astrological signs, and tarot cards. She also provides easy-to-follow rituals, such as grounding meditation work for earth, breath meditations for air, sex magic rituals for fire, and Moon rituals for water. Some practices call for casting circles and building altars, while others concentrate on everyday magic, such as recurring sections on glamour that explore using one’s own appearance and clothing to build relationships with each element. While supplies like salt, herbs, and candles are recommended, Herstik reminds readers that “belief that nature is multi-dimensional, magical and powerful” is all that is needed for the cultivation of mindfulness. Herstik’s knowledge and love for magic is exhibited in her instructive and welcoming tone. This thorough manual will be of interest to spiritual practitioners looking for rituals intended to increase one’s connection to nature. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism

Taylor G. Petrey. Univ. of North Carolina, $29.95 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-1-4696-5622-9

Petrey, a professor of religion at Kalamazoo College, combines meticulous research with illuminating insight in this landmark work on gender and sexuality in Mormon thought. Petrey shows how Latter-day Saint teachings about race, marriage, homosexuality, and gender roles have adapted to different social contexts between post-WWII America and today, and argues that opposition to same-sex marriage has replaced opposition to interracial marriage or egalitarian marriage as a lightning rod for LDS leaders. He also examines contradictions in LDS ideologies—such as church leaders explicitly teaching that gender roles are inherent, while also fretting about parents not properly teaching their children how to “perform” their gender role properly. Information-packed, with a forceful thesis and jargon-free prose, this is an important contribution to Mormon studies as well as a convincing consideration of the ways religions construct and maintain frameworks. Any academic studying the intersection of religious practice and progressive social change will want to pick this up. (Jun.)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Relationship Goals: How to Win at Dating, Marriage, and Sex

Michael Todd. WaterBrook, $23 (188p) ISBN 978-0-59319-257-3

Todd, lead pastor of Transformation Church in Tulsa, Okla., offers millennials strategies for building strong relationships in his fresh if meandering debut. Using personal anecdotes and readings of scripture, Todd encourages an in-depth exploration of the Bible to discover what it teaches about being single, dating, and being happily married, namely the virtues of remaining faithful and supporting each other. With a somewhat overwhelming number of stories, Todd tells readers to wait for the right time to cultivate healthy “soul ties,” and offers instruction on when and how to sever those ties if relationships become unhealthy or unproductive. Warning that “some of the things you’ll read in this book are not usually said in books by Christian Pastors,” Todd includes up-to-date biblical interpretations, such as how the tale of Abraham and Hagar functions as an example of a good breakup. For Todd, one must first get to know oneself and realize one’s purpose before beginning to date and cultivate healthy bonds. The author’s wife joins him in one chapter to counsel readers on keys to a successful marriage, stressing the importance of learning and responding to the needs of one’s partner. Todd stays admirably true to his intent to “keep it 100” with his readers in this instructive, relatable guide. (May)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Renovated: God, Dallas Willard & the Church That Transforms

Jim Wilder. NavPress, $17.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-64158-167-7

Wilder (Rare Leadership), founder of Life Model Works, an organization that incorporates brain science research into the development of Bible-based religious practices, delivers an in-depth if convoluted study of a “soteriology of attachment” based on the blending of neuroscience and theology. Arguing that neuroscience proves people can be retrained into better habits (what Wilder calls “character”) through “attachment love” (“vision, attention, and means” that come from an “active force created by an attachment”), he proposes that attachment to God can bring about deep character change for Christians. He structures the book around talks given by the late philosopher Dallas Willard, alternating between Willard’s talks and his own commentary. Included are discussions of slow and fast track thinking, “hesed” attachments to God (bonds formed neurologically), and the breakdown of different spiritual disciplines. Wilder’s engagement with the work of Willard is rounded out by short exercises that encourage the application of some of his points, such as a “mindful presence” prayer at sunrise or sunset, and meals organized around spiritual reflection and communal storytelling. While the dense explanations of neuroscience research will prove too opaque for many readers, fans of Willard will rush to this evocative study. (May)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity

Robert P. Jones. Simon & Schuster, $28 (294p) ISBN 978-1-9821-2286-7

Sociologist Jones (The End of White Christian America), founder and CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, offers in this vociferous work a refreshing blend of historical accounting, soul-searching reflection, and analysis of white supremacy within the American Christian identity. “White Christian churches have not just been complacent; they have not only been complicit... as the dominant cultural power in America, they have been responsible for constructing and sustaining a project to protect white supremacy at the expense of black equality.” He challenges white Christians to see how white supremacy operates in their religious lives; learn its history, theology, and physical presence; to understand how racism has become “constitutive of white Christian identity”; and to take antiracist action. Woven throughout is the author’s personal story of growing up white in a Southern Baptist community in Jackson, Miss., his journey toward a fuller understanding of his family and faith history in relation to racism, and his efforts to chart a more just path forward. Only with honest assessment, followed by deliberate individual and collective reparative justice work, Jones argues, can white Christian Americans do the necessary work of addressing structural racism within their faith and nation. Jones’s introspective, measured study is a revelatory unpacking of influence and history of white Christian nationalism. (June)

Reviewed on 02/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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