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Charles Lindbergh: A Religious Biography of America’s Most Infamous Pilot

Christopher Gehrz. Eerdmans, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8028-7621-8

In this convincing biography, historian Gehrz (The Pietist Option) argues Charles Lindbergh was an early example of a public figure wholed a spiritual but not religious life. Lindbergh did not grow up devout, but when the dawn of aviation sparked an optimistic “winged gospel” marked by the desire to merge technological progress and evangelicalism, Gehrz writes, Lindbergh became a symbol of religious idolatry by the admiring public. Lindbergh’s friendship with French doctor Alexis Carrel, who was investigating “questions of existence and immortality whose answers lay beyond the reach of science,” heightened his desire to blend certain spiritual notions with modern scientific ideas. Carrel also encouraged Lindbergh’s eugenic and anti-Semitic impulses, which underpinned Lindbergh’s resistance to American involvement in WWII. Despite the pilot’s anti-interventionist stance, the war stoked Lindbergh’s patriotism and paved the way for his postwar writings, a “fusion of anti-Communism, atomic anxiety, and spiritual rumination” that questioned scientific supremacy and urged a return to spiritual principles. Using Lindbergh’s journals, writings, and public statements, Gehrz builds a thorough portrait of the aviator’s inner life, and the inclusion of the equally complex spiritual path of Lindbergh’s wife, Anne, adds useful context. Readers curious about a lesser-seen side of Lindbergh’s life will gain much from this well-argued biography. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Messy Truth: How to Foster Community Without Sacrificing Conviction

Caleb Kaltenbach. WaterBrook, $16.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-525-65427-8

In this compassionate guide, pastor Kaltenbach (Messy Grace) urges Christians to “make room for people not like them” in order to create a community of acceptance. Raised by three gay parents and accustomed to judgmental reactions from some Christians, Kaltenbach emphasizes that biblical convictions do not have to be sacrificed to foster a sense of belonging. He unravels misconceptions and erroneous interpretations of scriptures pertaining to LGBTQ people and encourages readers to engage in dialogues with those whose beliefs are different than theirs. He shares examples of how to broach difficult topics (as well as what not to do) and emphasizes the role personal connections and open conversation play in directing others toward Jesus, posing the question: “What are you willing to do to build and keep influence with” those you respect? He contrasts people he terms “gatekeepers” of Christian communities (those who use scare tactics and name calling) with those willing to be guides (who lead by example) and concludes that, while conversations about strongly held convictions may seem daunting: “God’s truth is pure, trustworthy, altogether right, and best discerned when lived out with others.” Pastors, teachers, church leaders, and anyone wishing to develop a more welcoming Christian community should take a look. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/18/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Tao of Bowie: 10 Lessons from David Bowie’s Life to Help You Live Yours

Mark Edwards. Atlantic, $17.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-91163-086-9

Music critic Edwards (Belonging) invites readers onto a swirling, entertaining path of self-discovery by following advice gleaned from the life and work of the late rock star David Bowie. Mining Bowie’s lyrics, public interviews, and written reflections, Edwards argues the musician’s life provides a template for going from feeling “lonely, adrift, and desperate for help” to finding happiness, love, and even “equanimity and bravery” in the face of death. He explores and interprets lessons—such as confronting one’s “shadow side” and opening oneself to love—gleaned from Bowie’s lifelong personal pilgrimage toward greater happiness and purpose. Each chapter features contemplations on Bowie’s personal evolution, providing a melange of meditation practices meant to help readers identify unmet needs, focus more on others, or label and name distracting thoughts and feelings: “You cannot discover your true self unless you are prepared to spend some time sitting quietly alone, but many of us would rather do anything else.” This cheery guide, filled with insightful facets from Bowie’s “magpie” approach to enlightenment, will appeal to fans of the music legend and spiritualists alike. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/18/2021 | Details & Permalink

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In My Past Life I Was Cleopatra: A Sceptical Believer’s Journey Through the New Age

Amal Awad. Murdoch, $20.99 ISBN 978-1-91163-295-5

Journalist Awad (Beyond Veiled Cliches) investigates her own spiritual skepticism in this refreshing memoir-cum-self-help guide. In surveying a plethora of “woo-woo” new age practices, Amal shares her own experiences trying them out and identifies various belief systems and practices that have resonated with her. She details her upbringing in a Muslim household before becoming a “sceptical believer” who sees Islam as simply one system within a continuum of viable supernatural beliefs. With a mix of genuine curiosity and journalistic apprehension, she explores meditation, quantum physics, energy and chakra healers, witches, and mediums. For instance, she shares how Vedic meditation helped her understand “oneness” and how quantum physics opens up scientifically plausible explanation for “a single unified field” between the physical and “virtual” realms of existence. A highlight is her trip to an event featuring Marianne Williamson, Caroline Myss, and Joe Dispenza, after which she developed a chart for understanding where one falls on the “spectrum of woo woo,” which readers can use to situate themselves within the often amorphous field of gurus. This thorough yet easily accessible guide will be of particular interest to those questioning their spirituality. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/18/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Finding Refuge: Heart Work for Healing Collective Grief

Michelle Cassandra Johnson. Shambhala, $17.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-61180-936-7

Social worker and yoga teacher Johnson (Skill in Action) suggests uplifting methods for processing grief resulting from cultural trauma and systemic oppression. She writes with wisdom and clarity (“Spiritual practice is designed for us to see things as they are, which means we must see, sense, and feel collective suffering”), offering meditation and journaling exercises to help readers connect with a “loving Spirit.” Each chapter centers on a personally traumatic experience that caused her to feel “collective grief,” such as recognizing racial bias in the medical system after doctors presumptuously dismissed her mother’s mysterious ailments as a pinched nerve and delayed treating her spinal stenosis, and unpacks concepts such as spiritual bypassing (using one’s spiritual beliefs to avoid hard topics instead of confronting them) and understanding that one is constantly “deciding what our legacy will be with our actions, intentions, and beliefs.” She also recommends creating boundaries in order to maintain one’s “life force” and communicating with one’s ancestors by creating an altar or composing letters. Spiritualists interested in social justice will get much out of Johnson’s engaging stories, practical advice, and contemplative practices. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/18/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Wild Woman: A Footnote, the Desert, and My Quest for an Elusive Saint

Amy Frykholm. Broadleaf, $27.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-5064-7185-3

In this sharp meditation, journalist Frykholm (Rapture Culture) recalls her pilgrimage in which she sought to connect with the spirit of Mary of Egypt. Traveling through Egypt, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, she found that the desert saint’s legacy is elusive, and her own travels were replete with “dead ends [and] closed chapels.” Nevertheless, Frykholm views her quest with a mystic’s eye, finding meaning in dreams, small breakthroughs, and even emptiness, as with the “life-giving mystery” of life in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a “monument to emptiness” that forces one to consider the nature of absence. Frykholm’s lyrical reflections on Mary of Egypt as an “icon of desire” are stirring (“At the edge of yourself, you stumble onto her. She is already ahead of you in the wilderness—the Wild Woman, that deep woman of myth, who goes away from outer authority to find an inner authority, who goes out into the wilderness to seek bewilderment”), though her attempts to tease out Mary’s story never reach a definitive conclusion, and readers will likely find this works better as a spiritual reflection than as a travelogue. Despite this, patient readers will find many intelligent takes on the value of pursuing the sacred in one’s life. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/18/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Death, Where Is Your Sting: Dying and Death Examined

Robert Reiss. Christian Alternative, $16.95 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-78904-247-4

Anglican clergyman Reiss (Sceptical Christianity) contemplates what happens (or doesn’t) after death in this middling survey of religious teachings about the afterlife. Reiss begins with a selective summary of views of the afterlife found in world religions (primarily Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism) and ancient Greek philosophy. Christianity’s robust theology concerning life after death is then unpacked as Reiss describes thoughts on the afterlife from such formative thinkers as Origen of Alexandria, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and René Descartes before dipping at greater length into theories about Jesus’s resurrection and how it became the linchpin of Christian belief: “what is most important about belief in the resurrection now [is that] Jesus’s life and death remain a motivating factor and example in the way countless people throughout the world live their lives.” Unfortunately, Reiss brings little new to the discussion, and he rarely goes deeper than surface level. Turning away from historical analysis, the book’s most insightful chapter applies ideas about dying to ethical topics of assisted dying and euthanasia, urging readers to plan in advance to ensure one’s wishes for end-of-life care are clear. This perfunctory work will only benefit those looking for a basic introduction to Christian thought on the afterlife. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/11/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Awakened Brain: The New Science of Spirituality and Our Quest for an Inspired Life

Lisa Miller. Random House, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-984855-62-6

In this insightful study, psychologist Miller (The Spiritual Child) shares research on the role of spiritual experiences in the human brain to argue that “an awakened brain is the healthier brain.” She explains personal spiritual experiences, including a Lakota ceremony that taught her “healing was not synonymous with brokenness [but] part of life,” and how such spiritual insights inspired her to start treating patients in an “intentionally spiritually supportive way” that was at odds with conventional psychiatric wisdom; the approach was based on developing a “personal relationship with a surprising transcendent presence” so as to allow one to “stop trying to fix the world.” Miller explores the long-term effects of spiritual searching and recounts her breakthrough discovery of the awakened brain, or “the neural circuitry that allows us to see the world more fully and thus enhance our individual, societal, and global well-being.” While Miller’s writing can veer toward the academic—with many technical terms and lengthy sections of data—the practices she suggests to “awaken the brain” are relatively straightforward and include mindfulness practice, exposure to nature, prayer, and therapy. Those interested in the interplay between spirituality and neuroscience will find much to consider. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/11/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Dare to Be a Green Witch: The Grounded Goodwife’s Guide to Wellness & Holistic Healing

Ehris Urban and Velya Jancz-Urban. Llewellyn, $19.99 ISBN 978-0-73876-545-7

In this handy guide, the mother-daughter duo of Urban and Jancz-Urban (How to Survive a Brazilian Betrayal) share tips, tricks, and recipes for holistic living. The core message is one of following holistic medicine and being aware of the products and ingredients one puts on or in one’s body. The authors provide information on fermenting, homemade tonics, and recipes using ingredients such as bone broth and whey. A section focused on natural body care, meanwhile, features recipes for skin and hair care products, including facial masks and perfumes. The authors strike a nice balance between instruction and background information to help readers understand why each recipe is included and its intended effects (such as hawthorn tonic, for example, to help maintain healthy blood pressure and heart rhythm and to help “heartache, grief, or anxiety”). Readers, however, should be prepared for dismissive attitudes toward certain aspects of modern science—notably vaccines—which may be a deal-breaker for some. But for those simply interested in green living, the recipes are worth the price of admission. (July)

Reviewed on 06/11/2021 | Details & Permalink

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How (Not) to Save the World: The Truth About Revealing God’s Love to the People Right Next to You

Hosanna Wong. Thomas Nelson, $18.99 trade paper (268p) ISBN 978-0-7852-4302-1

Poet Wong (Superadded) exposes common “lies” that prevent Christians from embracing their faith in this clever guide. She successfully addresses self-defeating beliefs, such as that one needs perfection to accomplish God’s plan or that avoiding embarrassment is more important than speaking up. For instance, to expose the assumption that one needs “a certain skill, particular occupation, or a specific title” to have an impact on others, Wong tells the story of a Mrs. Lee, who spoke to Wong’s father about Jesus when he tried to sell her a vacuum. Through her willingness to share God’s love, Mrs. Lee changed Wong’s father’s life and proved to Wong that “God does not just have the ability to use ordinary people, He also has the desire.” Warning that many Christians are consumed by overworking, Wong emphasizes rest as an integral part of living abundantly. She also identifies “three Es” of sharing God’s love through social media—engage, encourage, and encounter God—and challenges Christians to view every post, comment, and photo “as a way of building God’s kingdom here on earth.” Readers who enjoy the work of Beth Moore will appreciate this insightful guide for sharing in Jesus’s message. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/11/2021 | Details & Permalink

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