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As Long As You Need: Permission to Grieve

J.S. Park. Thomas Nelson, $19.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-4003-3684-5

Park (The Voices We Carry) extends a heartfelt invitation for grieving readers to refrain from “sprinting to closure” and instead mourn on their own timelines. Drawing on his experience as a hospital chaplain, he outlines four types of loss—physical, spiritual, mental, and relational—and the challenges of each, such as losing bodily autonomy (the inability to move or eat on one’s own, for example) or the curtailing of dreams, as experienced by a mother with stillborn triplets who, in a particularly harrowing anecdote, asked the author to narrate what their futures might have been. According to Park, grief is “not something you get over, but something you carry everywhere you go.” Though there’s plenty of gentle advice—construct a healthy support system, grieve in community—readers will welcome Park’s willingness to raise as many questions as he answers, whether he’s describing his patients’ challenges or his own, including how his faith disintegrated early on in his chaplaincy, when he often felt that “prayers are radio waves but God has no antenna, no receiver, no face.” It’s an excellent resource for those working their way through loss. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/23/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Religion of Whiteness: How Racism Distorts Christian Faith

Michael O. Emerson and Glenn E. Bracey II. Oxford Univ, $24.99 (216p) ISBN 978-0-19-774628-8

The past decades have seen white Christianity in the U.S. shift priorities from love and community to white supremacy for about two-thirds of its members, according to this contentious study from Emerson (Divided by Faith), the Chavanne Fellow in Religion and Public Policy at the Baker Institute for Public Policy, and Bracey, a sociology professor at Villanova University. Drawing on Émile Durkheim’s concept of totemistic cults (in which the object of worship is the tribe or clan itself), the authors depict a Christianity that effectively worships the white race and opposes all those who fail to ascribe to it, including Christians of color. The authors outline the religion’s social support network of churches, schools, and media outlets; categorize its adherents (a “White Veil” group denies “seeing whiteness” and defends their faith “through the power of denial,” while a “White Might” group expressly defends the “centrality of being white”); and take note of “the remnant” of white American Christians who subscribe to “actual” Christianity. Though some of their boldest assertions are difficult to support (whiteness is described as “a claim to colonize the world”), the authors persuasively depict a religious movement that seeks to defend its destructive principles at all costs. This is sure to spark debate. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Maktub: An Inspirational Companion to ‘The Alchemist’

Paulo Coelho, trans. from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa. HarperOne, $24.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-06334-6543

Novelist Coelho (The Pilgrimage) gathers an eclectic array of the parables, musings, and ephemera he published from 1993 to 1994 in a daily column for the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo. Inspired by Pablo Picasso (“God is an artist.... He was never trying to follow a style; he was simply doing whatever he felt like doing”) and St. Francis of Assisi (the spiritual journey “is, above all, a challenge... anyone who uses it to escape from his problems will never get very far”), Coelho meditates on creative and spiritual quests; the power of a disciplined mind (negative thoughts “can’t harm you as long as you don’t allow yourself to be seduced by them”); and how unconditional love for others “transforms the Universe around us.” The parables for which the author is best known are carefully wrought even if they convey standard messages, as in a story about a servant who misinterprets his master’s instruction to “entrust everything to God” by failing to tie up their horses, which later run away (the takeaway being that God can appear in unlikely places, including within humans). These brief nuggets of wisdom are conveyed in evocative prose (“God acts as the echo of our actions”) and enrich the themes of faith, destiny, and spirituality running through Coelho’s most famous works. The author’s many fans will find much to appreciate. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Learning to Disagree: The Surprising Path to Navigating Differences with Empathy and Respect

John Inazu. Zondervan, $27.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-310-36801-4

Inazu (Uncommon Ground), a professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, draws on his 12 years in the classroom for solid lessons on handling disagreements in this helpful guide. Much of his wisdom is “simple stuff that’s hard to put into practice.” For example, he advises readers to remain empathetic yet committed to their beliefs; use impasses to “deepen your understanding of what’s at stake”; and prioritize the “person over the problem” even when it takes time and energy. Inazu learned the latter lesson firsthand when he impatiently translated a lengthy fight with his wife into billable hours (“Do you realize how much money this argument just cost us?”). More time is spent unpacking communication issues than offering practical solutions, and those provided can be vague, as when Inazu recommends “asking an appropriately personal question rather than making all of your impersonal relationships purely transactional” without providing an example of such a query or how to work it into conversation. Still, the balanced mix of logic and compassion will help readers better understand how human nature informs conflict. It’s a good starting point for those looking to extend an olive branch. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Life After Doom: Wisdom and Courage for a World Falling Apart

Brian D. McLaren. St. Martin’s Essentials, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-1-25089-327-7

In this bracing study, theologian McLaren (Faith After Doubt) challenges readers to recognize “the dangerous future into which we are presently plunging ourselves, our descendants, and our fellow creatures.” He casts aside capitalism and “socially disengaged and anti-ecological” Christian theology as tools for tackling climate collapse in favor of a “creative path of resistance” that prioritizes sacrifice, courage, kindness, and wisdom gleaned from “indigenous leaders” and the Bible. (In McLaren’s telling, Jesus is as an Indigenous prophet who challenged the “supremacy” of the day’s dominant civilizations with values of love.) While the emphasis isn’t on action items (suggestions include connecting with neighbors and friends over shared fears, as well as reading a list of books by Indigenous authors), McLaren motivates without resorting to panic and provides insight on why it’s hard to come to grips with an existential threat as one’s brain ricochets between immediate, primal survival instincts, higher-order risk assessment, and concerns about friends and family. It’s a valuable resource for believers concerned about climate change. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Carrying a Big Schtick: Jewish Acculturation and Masculinity in the Twentieth Century

Miriam Eve Mora. Wayne State Univ, $39.99 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-814349-62-5

Historian Mora debuts with a rigorous analysis of American Jewish masculinity. Driven partly by a desire to adapt to American culture, many Jewish men in the 20th century entered the military and other “macho” fields; others sought a “closer connection to... traditional Jewish life” to “redeem Jewish manhood.” A third group acknowledged the antisemitic trope of “feminized” male Jews and sought to change that image without changing themselves. Yet all accepted that “something in Jewish heritage, culture, or physicality held them apart and necessitated an active effort to become men,” according to Mora. As a result, their actions helped to solidify “the American assumption of Jewish difference and resistance to full assimilation.” Tracing that idea through the world wars, Israel’s 1948 founding, and beyond, Mora sheds light on Theodor Herzl’s belief that dueling could “demonstrate the Jewish ability to perform masculinity on par with their national brethren,” and the notion—which the author unpacks through a discussion of Jewish peddlers in the early 1900s­—that “mainstream Americans did not fully regard Jews as men.” General readers may find the jargon-filled prose tough sledding (“By identifying and recognizing the importance of a hegemonic masculinity, we can better evaluate the gender politics taking place... through inclusion and exclusion of more peripheral masculinities from the hegemon”). For those with a background in the subject, however, this is a trenchant analysis of assimilation and otherness. (May)

Reviewed on 02/16/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Book of Juju: Africana Spirituality for Healing, Liberation, and Self-Discovery

Juju Bae. Sterling Ethos, $19.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4549-5128-5

Bae, the host of A Little Juju Podcast, debuts with a chatty guide to African and African diasporic spiritual practices that emphasize ancestral traditions and connection, known loosely as juju. Drawing on the Ifá religion, Bae outlines how readers can connect with relatives and such “collective ancestors” as Harriet Tubman and Toni Morrison by building altars, setting out offerings, and attuning to bodily signs during prayer. Also explained is how to seek through divination “clear and direct answers in order to avoid future problems” (“I can personally attest to how divination has saved me from bad business deals and unfavorable relationships,” Bae writes). According to the author, readers needn’t go far to access the “medicine within our lineages”—“Many of our blessings have already been... paid for—we just need to remember them.” Alongside the basic principles of juju, Bae provides context on how it has been historically “demonized” by colonizers seeking to strip Black people of their heritage. Throughout, she conveys the wide scope of the topic without losing sight of her focus on how readers can adapt African religious practices to seek joy, success, and ancestral connection in their own lives. Those looking to broaden their spiritual horizons will find plenty to celebrate. (July)

Reviewed on 02/16/2024 | Details & Permalink

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This Fresh Existence: Heart Teachings from Bhikkhuni Dhammananda

Cindy Rasicot. Windhorse, $18.95 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-915342-31-7

Rasicot (Finding Venerable Mother) presents a flattering and digressive biography of Bhikkhuni Dhammananda (born Chatsumarn Kabilsingh), who in 2003 became the first modern Thai woman to receive full monastic ordination. A Buddhist scholar and longtime host of a dharma TV show, Dhammananda had been married for over 30 years when, unfulfilled and lonely, she asked her husband for a divorce and was ordained as a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka. Rasicot met Dhammananda in 2005 and draws on their conversations to reveal, among other insights, how exposure to the feminist movement in the 1980s informed Dhammananda’s activist work, including her attempts to ordain female bhikkhuni in Thailand. Elsewhere, Rasicot discusses backlash from the Buddhist establishment sparked by Dhammananda’s ordination, and outlines lessons on meditation, aging, and compassion. While Rasicot’s insights into the lesser-studied world of female Buddhist monasticism fascinate, her tangents on the struggles that fueled her own spiritual quest, including a divorce and feelings of isolation amid the Covid-19 pandemic, are distracting. The result is a thorough if uneven portrait of a trailblazing Buddhist figure. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2024 | Details & Permalink

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For Love of the Broken Body

Julia Walsh. Monkfish, $22.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-958972-27-4

Walsh debuts with an introspective chronicle of her rocky path through physical trauma and self-doubt to nunhood. After she began her novitiate at age 25, Walsh fell 20 feet from a cliff near her Iowa family home into a creek bed, lacerating her face and breaking her nose, jaw, and many of her teeth. She recounts the accident in the book’s dramatic opening, then rewinds to detail her young adult years, during which she weighed whether to become a nun; her initial forays into the religious life, including a stint as a Jesuit volunteer; and her anxieties over romantic and physical longings, including a friendship with a Franciscan postulant. As she simultaneously wrestled with an arduous recovery process and her internal conflicts over a life of obedience and celibacy, Walsh was moved to commit to the order and use her “brokenness” to serve “the broken body of Christ, the Church—as complicated and messy” as “[it] can be.” With evocative prose, she captures the days and months after her accident and how her bodily trauma served both to defamiliarize and clarify. “Every tooth has moved while my jaw has healed, while the brackets and wire held everything in place.... I don’t know my mouth anymore,” she writes at one point. And yet, “I still smile a lot,” as “the goodness of God’s creativity continues to impress me.” This leaves a mark. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Metaphysical AF: Harness Your Dreams in the Ethereal Realm

Maggie Wilson. Sterling Ethos, $19.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4549-5244-2

With this erratic debut guide, Wilson (The Metaphysical Cannabis Oracle Deck) invites readers to embrace a “metaphysical mindset” by looking “beyond the surface of reality” into “the unseen.” Outlining 12 universal rules such a perspective is based on, Wilson details the law of oneness (all of humanity shares “one existence as part of the same organism”) and the law of attraction, which calls for “embodying a change in your inner world” so that “you can see it reflected in your outer world.” Also featured are such practices as journaling, Reiki, and meditation. While the book’s first half is shot through with solid insights on manifestation as a means to “attract what you give your time and attention to” (for instance, readers are advised to remain “conscious of the energy you’re emitting,” because it’s impossible to “invite anything into your world unless you experience your desire emotionally”), the second digresses into such topics as the “companion kingdoms” of crystals, animals, and mycelium, offering dubious interventions and prompts for connecting with the energy of each (those eager to commune with the animal world, for example, are asked,“Do you visit the zoo?”). Even readers who agree there’s “more to reality than meets the eye” may feel shortchanged by Wilson’s haphazard approach. (May)

Reviewed on 02/16/2024 | Details & Permalink

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