For one week, we’ve been conducting a poll, asking about New Year’s Resolutions. There’s 1 more day to vote! Here’s a link to take the poll—or to see how results are coming along, if you took the poll earlier.
The results already show high hopes for this new year!
To help you meet some of those hopes, we’re publishing two lists of recommendations: TODAY, we’ve got 10 terrific new books to help guide us in the new year. NEXT WEEK, we’re going to publish our annual “10 To Watch” list. (If you’re keeping track, year to year, here’s a quick link to our “10 to Watch in ’09” list a year ago.)
HERE ARE 10 NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS:
READING FOR ENLIGHTENMENT AND HOPE
“We Side with the Morning”
By William Cleary
Thousands of prayer books flow from publishers, but it’s hard to find a fresh voice that just might startle us into a moment of awe. True awe is a rare and rejuvenating spiritual experience. Seeking this kind of surprising daily prayer book for 2010, I was pleased to find that “We Side with the Morning” was written by a poet now in his 80s.
William Cleary is a former Jesuit who left the priesthood years ago to marry and raise a family. Both of his grown sons are musicians. His wife is a Unitarian minister. In a family like this, beautiful prayers seem to blossom on a daily basis.
As I am growing older myself, like most Baby Boomers, I’m humbled by life’s daily crises and my own human limitations—but a boundless faith pushes me out of bed each morning to rejoin the global community. That’s why I love prayers like one that Cleary calls “May It Be So: Giving thanks despite imperfection.” The prayer includes these words: “You have made us as you made us: imperfect, crudely shaped, dull of mind—but full of promise, every single one of us. Give us insight and gratitude for things as they are.”
To that, we all can say: Amen!
CLICK HERE to order “We Side With the Morning: Daily Prayers to the God of Hope” from Amazon.
“The Best Spiritual Writing 2010”
Edited By Philip Zaleski
Let’s continue to flex our spiritual muscles in 2010, expanding our awareness of the many religious perspectives around us. Even if our own path runs deep in a particular tradition, glimpsing different vantage points can help refine our own vision. And who can argue with a collection that includes pieces by Diane Ackerman, Seamus Heaney, Robert Pinsky and John Updyke—and comes with glowing recommendations from Thomas Lynch and Phyllis Tickle!?!
Remember that exercising our muscles involves some aches and pains and I can’t imagine a single reader who won’t want to pick a bone with at least a few of the writers in this collection. I know that, from my perspective, there are a couple of writers in this book who drive me crazy. Yet, here they are in this rich pot of stew simmering nicely for us as the new year dawns. And that’s precisely what makes this such a hearty and, as Thomas Lynch puts it, “soul-bracing” collection.
CLICK HERE to order “The Best Spiritual Writing 2010” from Amazon.
“The Eden Diet”
By Rita Hancock, MD
If you’re like me, which means perennially overweight, then dieting is almost an extra sacrament—a rite in which we come face to face with God’s grace. It’s obvious from our poll of New Year’s Resolutions that I’m not alone in mingling physical fitness with faith.
I’m no MD, but I am a veteran dieter and I have to say: I found fresh inspiration in Hancock’s approach to the spiritual challenge of overeating. Despite the strange title, this is not some zealous collection of biblical recipes. Rather, it’s based on Hancock’s conclusion that Americans are turning eating into more of an obsession than a simple matter of coming to terms with our hunger. One of her exercises involves visualizing an apple, but the Eden reference mainly is to simplifying the way we live with food in general.
Is this a miraculous cure for overeating? Hardly. But it is an excitingly different take on an age-old challenge.
CLICK HERE to order “The Eden Diet: You Can Eat Treats, Enjoy Your Food, and Lose Weight” from Amazon.
“Claiming Earth as Common Ground”
By Andrea Cohen-Kiener
There are dozens of good books linking faith and the natural world, but if you’re looking for a single “good read” for 2010, pick up this sturdy paperback. I call it sturdy, because this volume is built to be useful: For instance, it comes with a study guide to help discuss the book with your small group in eight weeks.
Veterans in this movement will recognize names like the Rev. Sally Bingham, the founder of Interfaith Power and Light, who wrote the Foreword. But, the real usefulness of this book is its breadth. Eboo Patel even contributed a Muslim perspective and you’ll find Tariq Ramadan’s viewpoint mentioned as well. This is the kind of bold expansion we need in the global community to confront what this book correctly calls “A Spiritual Crisis.”
CLICK HERE to order “Claiming Earth As Common Ground: The Ecological Crisis Through the Lens of Faith” from Amazon.
“Doing Justice in Our Cities”
By Warren R. Copeland
You can fill your congregation’s library with books about the role faith plays in combating our world’s many problems, especially hunger, poverty and racism. I’m recommending this slim new volume from WJK Press because it is distinctively different from most books on social justice.
Warren Copeland is Professor of Religion and Director of Urban Studies at Wittenberg University and he’s worked for many years as an elected official in Springfield, Ohio, including several terms as mayor. Of course, that means you’re going to read a whole lot of examples from this city situated between Dayton and Columbus.
What’s so eye-opening about this book—and what places it on our list of truly enlightening new books for 2010—is precisely this sleeves-rolled-up specificity in Copeland’s approach. Lots of other good books inspire us to feed the hungry or donate to poverty-relief programs, but Copeland opens up his briefcase and gets down to the nitty gritty of making a difference in a real-life city. For example, has your congregation ever spent time studying access, or lack of it, to hospitals in your town? Have you ever discussed the various legitimate perspectives on urban growth that local leaders may take? This is a great choice for small-group study.
CLICK HERE to order “Doing Justice in Our Cities: Lessons in Public Policy from America’s Heartland” from Amazopn.
“Memories of Muhammad”
By Omid Safi
In this second decade of the century, we have a chance to read some remarkably mature new books on Islam, the Prophet Muhammad’s legacy and the whole host of issues that were raised so explosively on 9/11/2001. As a journalist covering these issues, I collected the scores of books produced in the years immediately following 9/11—some of them good, some of them politically biased and some of them absolutely dreadful. Beyond pure bias, the haste in which many books were produced led to tragic inaccuracies and limitations in authors’ perspectives.
Unfortunately, the non-Muslim world still is desperately seeking information about Islam largely because of continuing violence linked to individuals and groups claiming to represent the faith.
Whatever factors led to HarperOne’s decision to publish “Memories of Muhammad,” the fact is that this book ranks as a milestone for non-Muslim readers. Dr. Safi is professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina and he serves as the chair of the Study of Islam at the American Academy of Religion.
He’s a Muslim scholar writing for general readers from the wealth of his authority as an academic. Looking over the stacks of books available about Islam, he correctly identified the Prophet Muhammad as a central point of confusion for non-Muslims and produced this book to help guide us in understanding the significance of this major religious figure.
When most of the other books in this era are forgotten, people will continue to read “Memories of Muhammad.”
CLICK HERE to order “Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters” from Amazon.
“In the Name of God and Country: Reconsidering Terrorism in American History”
By Michael Fellman
In 2004, I criss-crossed America for Knight-Ridder newspapers exploring the roots of “Anger in America.” The resulting series of front-page reports showed readers how deeply terrorism is rooted in American history. The series included a controversial portrait of John Brown, the pre-Civil War militant, describing him as a deliberate terrorist. There are many other examples in American history, as well, including instances condoned by our government that amount to terrorism.
This isn’t an idle argument to spark debate—it’s an insight into this problem we all would like to stamp out. Realizing that terrorism has reared its ugly head down through the centuries of American history allows us to analyze the problem in a more effective way.
In this important new book, Civil War historian Michael Fellman begins with John Brown, continues with examples during the Civil War and Reconstruction, and eventually reaches the U.S. war to suppress Philippine independence from 1899-1902. The latter war, which most Americans have long forgotten, so enraged Mark Twain that he publicly declared himself an anti-imperialist opposed to America’s conduct. Fellman’s very readable history is likely to ignite your awareness as well.
This book is guaranteed to prompt spirited small-group discussion, especially in passages where Fellman argues that 19th-century American religious fervor helped to fuel some of these tragedies.
CLICK HERE to order “In the Name of God and Country: Reconsidering Terrorism in American History” from Amazon.
“No Act of Love Is Ever Wasted”
By Jane Marie Thibault and Richard L. Morgan
As a journalist who has covered American religious life for more than 20 years, I can’t recommend this new book more strongly than this: A copy of “No Act of Love Is Ever Wasted” should be available in every congregation in the U.S. and should be given to every family that includes a person with Alzheimers.
The authors, both leading experts in this field, chose to use the term “Dementia” in their title—a word that I know scares families first encountering this disorder. But, in simpler terms, they’re talking about what we tend to call Alzheimers, the most common form of Dementia.
This is a disorder that quickly compounds itself due to our fears and biases. First, congregations nationwide regard elderly people as a problem to be solved—as in, “My congregation is getting too old!” Couple that bias against older men and women with the challenges of Alzheimers and affected families tend to feel shame and retreat into isolation in a hurry.
Thibault and Morgan give terrific advice about how congregations can change that ugly pattern into something much healthier and more hopeful. They describe how congregations can relate to fairly high-functioning people going through this struggle—and also to people living in institutions or limited to their homes.
If you’re reading this review and someone in your extended family is dealing with Alzheimers, I urge you to buy two copies of this book—one for your family and one to give to your congregation.
CLICK HERE to order “No Act of Love Is Ever Wasted: The Spirituality of Caring for Persons with Dementia” from Amazon.
“101 Exercises for the Soul”
By Dr. Bernie S. Siegel
If you haven’t discovered Bernie Siegel, you’re missing out on a real pleasure. Think of him as a coach who works on your mind, body and spirit all at the same time.
Siegel’s nationally known work on the relationship between these three factors unfolded mainly after he retired from his practices in medicine and pediatric surgery in 1989. For years as a physician, he had seen the healing power that stems from active, creative engagement by patients in their own healing process. That awareness now has led to more than a half-dozen popular books.
“101 Exercises for the Soul” is classic Siegel, gathering a long list of tried-and-true motivational techniques, then organizing them into an inspirational plan that readers can follow at their own pace. Quite simply, the world’s a better place for many people because Bernie Siegel’s still sharing his wisdom in new forms like this book.
CLICK HERE to order “101 Exercises for the Soul: Simple Practices for a Healthy Body, Mind, and Spirit” from Amazon.
By Robert J. Wicks
I got hooked on the work of Dr. Robert J. Wicks, the renowned pastoral counselor and expert on overcoming stress, with the release of his earlier book, “Prayerfulness: Awakening to the Fullness of Life.” We’ve published an in-depth interview with Robert, talking about that earlier book.
In “Bounce,” Wicks boils down his wisdom on springing back from stress into 200 very well-organized pages. Depending on where you find yourself in the spiral of stress, you may wind up dwelling more on one chapter than another. Wherever you turn in this book, though, Wicks offers helpful inventories to assess your own situation and tools to begin grappling with your daily challenges.
I like his eclectic approach to explaining these general principles. You’ll find references here to psychologist Carl Jung and folk singer Joan Baez, to the Catholic monk Thomas Merton and the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
This is a great gift idea for someone you care about—especially if that someone is you.
CLICK HERE to order “Bounce: Living the Resilient Life,” from Amazon.
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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)