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The Galápagos Islands: A Spiritual Journey

Brian D. McLaren. Fortress, $16.99 trade paper (282p) ISBN 978-1-5064-4825-1

In this enjoyable first entry in a new series that brings together travel, spirituality, and ethical reflections based on a single locale, former pastor McLaren (A New Kind of Christian) explores how he found a personal “wild theology” while visiting the Galápagos Islands. The first half of the book narrates his trip to “one of the most unique, beautiful, and important ecological situations in the world,” lacing together rich entries plucked from his travel journal (“Below the surface, our familiar reef fish defend their little sacred home territories. King angelfish truly are regal”) with regional history and mundane specifics of his tour group’s itinerary. The second half of the book, with its defense of Darwin and evolution, dives into a soulful examination of McLaren’s personal theology as he reckons with the relationship between science and spirituality, but also with the destructive human impulses that have wreaked havoc on the environment. Confessing, “My inherited religion does not seem well adapted to its deteriorating environment. And... seems to be accelerating the deterioration,” McLaren observes that “the ability to see, to notice, to love—surely that is our most God-like quality.” This wonderfully candid travelogue will appeal to spiritual readers interested in environmental concerns. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/13/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Revolution of the Soul: Awaken to Love Through Raw Truth, Radical Healing, and Conscious Action

Seane Corn. Sounds True, $25 (272p) ISBN 978-1-62203-917-3

Yoga instructor Corn’s spirited debut blends yoga practices and personal stories to help readers look beyond their “limited perceptions” in order to “get to the truth of your soul.” She begins with an affecting story of living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the 1980s. There, she worked at a gay bar and met Billy, a recovering addict and AIDS patient, who helped her reconsider her spirituality. Corn unflinchingly reveals her own traumas (including sexual abuse as a child) and recurring depression that led her to yoga. Through humor and a brutally forthright narrative, Corn dives deep into her experiences practicing yoga sutras and understanding yoga’s “layers” of the body, making complex topics clear with many highlighted boxes of definitions broken out from the normal narrative. In the book’s second half, she shares personal experiences of white privilege, racism, and the “shadow self” (one’s true self, deeper than the ego), and urges readers to use any self-assuredness gained from yoga for a greater good. Peppered with gems of wisdom and Corn’s generosity, this hopeful book will appeal to yoga practitioners, as well as readers looking for stories of connection. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/13/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Becoming C.S. Lewis

Harry Lee Poe. Crossway, $22.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4335-6273-0

Poe (The Gospel and Its Meaning), professor of faith and culture at Union University, chronicles C.S. Lewis’s first 20 years in this meticulous biography, the first in a planned trilogy. It is the death of Lewis’s mother, when he was nine years old, that Poe asserts caused Lewis (1898–1963) to ponder life’s big questions and the problem of suffering. Poe closely examines Lewis’s education, starting with two years at Wynyard School in England—a miserable place known for beating its students—then short stints at other schools, before, at age 14, studying under William Kirkpatrick, who influenced Lewis’s atheist beliefs (Lewis’s conversion to Christianity didn’t occur until his 30s). Because of a genetic defect with his thumbs, Lewis was clumsy and others bullied him for being bad at sports and activities. He didn’t have any friends until age 16, when he met fellow student Arthur Greeves, whom Lewis began to open up to. Much of Lewis’s personal life (including details of his sexual desires) has been pieced together by Poe through his letters to Greeves. As Lewis’s knowledge of literature grew, and as he immersed himself in Norse mythology, fantasy, and epic poetry, readers can see how his ideas for his books began to form. This excellent work will have readers eagerly anticipating the next volume. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/13/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Zen of R2-D2: Ancient Wisdom from a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Matthew Bortollin. Wisdom, $16.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-61429-620-1

In this fun guide, Bortollin (The Dharma of Star Wars), ordained member of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Zen community, divines parallels between the way of the Jedi—as exhibited in “astromech droid” R2-D2—and Zen Buddhism. Bortollin’s clever text takes the form of a dialogue among the author, C-3PO, and R2-D2, which references the style of traditional religious texts based on conversations between master and “padawan.” A self-described Star Wars nerd, Bortollin seamlessly weaves together the principles and practices of Zen (patience, persistence, connection to suffering) with the language of Star Wars and the wise bloops and bleeps of R2-D2 as he advises and calms down stressful situations. Bortollin draws many comparisons between R2-D2 and Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen, who departed from India for China to teach that scriptures were not enough for enlightenment—what was needed was direct practice. For instance, Bodhidharma taught that “looking deeply” required “actively observing” by “wholeheartedly engaging the present moment,” a state exhibited by R2-D2 when he ignores C-3P0 to fix the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive during an attack and selflessly carries Princess Leia’s secret message to Obi-Wan Kenobi. This delightful introduction to the tenets and traditions of Zen Buddhism will appeal to Star Wars fans. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/13/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Transcending: Trans Buddhist Voices

Edited by Kevin Manders and Elizabeth Marston. North Atlantic, $16.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-62317-415-6

The healing power of compassion and community is exemplified in this frank, uplifting collection of opinions, reflections, and poetry by transgender, genderqueer, and nonbinary Buddhists. In a world of violence and intolerance, mental health worker Manders and political philosopher Marston write in their introduction, non–cis gender Buddhists have found courage to overcome tragedy and spiritual doubt by sharing their stories. Sebastien De Line listens to Tibetan Buddhist mantras and chakra meditations to dispel anger and fear and gain self-assurance in “The Bardo.” Chance Krempasky writes of embracing dharma and mindfulness to recover from drug abuse and to express a trans identity in “Growing to Know.” Kathleen P. Lamothe’s superb entry “The Prodigal Daughter Returns” recounts her suicidal thoughts, recovery from addiction, and dharma practice of vipassana in the morning and karuna in the evening to find refuge and re-inhabitation of her body (which took the form of asking her body questions to feel fully comfortable with herself again). Exhibiting inspiration and solidarity, these journallike essays from non-cis Buddhists will be particularly eye-opening to readers new to Buddhism who are interested in the diversity of contemporary Buddhist practice. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide to Atheism

Richard Dawkins. Random House, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-984853-91-2

Dawkins (The God Delusion) purports to guide his readers through letting go of belief in God in this underwhelming repackaging of ideas from his previous works. For the first half of the book, Dawkins argues that the Bible is a faulty foundation for belief that lacks any basis in historical reality and advances a cruel, inconsistent set of values. He then proceeds with a thorough explanation of evolution and critique of intelligent design. As this progression makes clear, the book primarily concerns itself with Bible-based Protestantism. Dawkins avoids seriously considering non-Western religions, Judaism, Islam, and Roman Catholicism; they appear when they bolster his claims, and are curiously absent when they might undermine them (for instance, he frames religious opposition to abortion as a conflict between “absolutists and consequentialists” without mentioning religions that don’t fit his paradigm, such as Judaism). Dawkins’s glib analysis is paralleled by his slipshod engagement with the ideas and methods of the humanities. Historical evidence from the times of the Bible’s creation, for instance, is deemed wholly unreliable—unless it undermines biblical narratives. By starting with the assumption that religious belief is too ridiculous for serious and sustained engagement, Dawkins is preaching to the converted. Readers interested in the rationale for atheism will be disappointed in this underdeveloped argument that never takes spiritual belief seriously. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Everyday Gita: A Spiritual Outlook for Life in the Modern World

Nirali Shah. Nirali Shah, $6.99 (144p) ISBN 978-0-578-54173-0

Shah explains the Bhagavad Gita and applies it to everyday questions and situations in her amiable debut. After her mother was hospitalized for a brain hemorrhage and her uncle died from cancer, Shah found solace in the Bhagavad Gita. In the ancient Indian text, Krishna answers questions posed by Arjuna about how he must live his life, and Shah views the work as a source of guidance for ordinary people. Shah organizes her book around life and spiritual concerns, such as obstacles and failure, pleasures and addiction, fitness and food, and the nature of the soul. After providing synopses of Krishna’s responses to each chapter’s topic, Shah elaborates on the broader spiritual teaching and brings in both fictional and nonfictional anecdotes. For instance, the Gita taught Shah that addiction is extreme attachment to pleasurable sensory objects or sensory acts, and discipline gained through yoga can help alleviate attachment. Much of Shah’s interpretation leans on trusting the plan of God by detaching from the material and viewing life as many opportunities to grow in self-understanding. This breezy guide to the practical applications of the Gita is a good entry point to the text. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Free to Believe: The Battle Over Religious Liberty in America

Luke Goodrich. Multnomah, $24 (288p) ISBN 978-0-5256-5290-8

Goodrich—attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty who has argued and won multiple cases at the Supreme Court, including the 2014 case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby—explains the current state of religious liberty in his instructive debut. For Goodrich, American openness to all religious practice, founded on the principle that “the government, within reasonable limits, leaves religion alone as much as possible,” promotes good works while protecting the rights of dissenters. Drawing on both legal doctrine and biblical lessons, he provides analysis of five divisive issues—religious discrimination, abortion rights, gay rights, the unfounded fear of Islam, and use of the public square—and encourages readers to look for ways to protect all sides of any deeply held moral question. For instance, he explains how Christians should embrace the religious freedom of Muslims as a sign of a free culture of evangelism. American society should also, Goodrich argues, “aim for a public square that neither promotes religion nor suppresses it, but instead welcomes religion as an essential part of human culture.” Christian Supreme Court watchers will get the most out of Goodrich’s lucid exploration of American religious freedoms. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Wounded Shepherd: Pope Francis and His Struggle to Convert the Catholic Church

Austen Ivereigh. Henry Holt, $30 (416p) ISBN 978-1-250-11938-4

Ivereigh, British journalist and papal biographer, pulls back the curtain on the first six years of the papacy of Pope Francis in this definitive study. Unlike The Great Reformer, Ivereigh’s biography of the pope, this effort focuses on “the conversion of a Church that is struggling to put Christ at its center” and begins with a private conversation between Ivereigh and Pope Francis. “He was warning me against the ‘great man’ myth.... I realize now that The Great Reformer contributed to that myth.” Shirking chronology, Ivereigh catalogues many of Pope Francis’s actions, among them maneuvering to prevent the Vatican from entering bankruptcy, his acceptance of responsibility for decades of sexual abuse and the resulting cover-up, and his encyclical for confronting climate change. For each reform, Pope Francis has seen a common adversary in far-right, anti-Vatican II reactionaries, such as the traditionalist Order of Malta and American cardinal Raymond Burke, who has formed a coalition to resist many of the pope’s reform efforts. Using unprecedented access, Ivereigh provides detailed, frank analysis informed by his own deep Catholic faith and also warns against threats such as a rise in populist nationalist movements. Ivereigh’s insider account will be a revelation to readers interested in the inner workings of the Vatican. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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I Bring the Voices of My People: A Womanist Vision for Racial Reconciliation

Chanequa Walker-Barnes. Eerdmans, $24.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8028-7720-8

Walker-Barnes (Too Heavy a Yoke), a theologian and clinical psychologist, presents an urgent, penetrating analysis of Christian racial reconciliation theory and practice that centers the voices of black women and other women of color. Beginning by noting the upsurge of white supremacist violence in the U.S., the author argues that racial reconciliation must reject the dominant model of antiracism work that primarily focuses on building interracial relationships and supporting “symmetrical treatment.” Such a paradigm, which she terms the “interracial playdate” model, ignores that racism is not about friendship or feelings but is, instead, “an interlocking system of oppression that is designed to promote and maintain White supremacy.” Walker-Barnes calls on readers to move toward a commitment to liberation, justice, and transformation through working in solidarity with others who share the goal of dismantling white supremacy. The author contextualizes racism as one component of intersectional oppression—for example, as expressed through “gendered racism and racialized sexism.” The alternative she suggests is confrontational truth telling about oppression, “prioritizing the narratives of women of color,” establishing “networks of mutual support and empowerment,” and reviving the Christian obligation to struggle in solidarity with the oppressed. “A distinct process is necessary for oppressors,” she writes, “that of repentance and conversion.” Walker-Barnes’s important evaluation of racial reconciliation will be crucial for any Christian engaged in antiracist activism. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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