In her debut religious title, Wynn takes postings from her online presence and compiles a daily devotional.
Each selection begins with “Good Morning!” and ends with “Have a Nice Day...” These short snippets are designed to inspire and encourage readers, as are the biblical quotes sprinkled throughout the book. The book includes 124 daily devotions instead of the standard 365, and each devotional page has just one message on it. Some are shorter than others, but all are lighthearted and meant to convey a message about the comfort, support, love and mercy of Jesus Christ and God. As a licensed minister and ordained elder, Wynn attests that her warm smile—given freely to all she meets—radiates the warmth of Christ that lives in her heart. It’s this warmth she puts in her work as she advises, “When you have accomplished your task at hand, and done the very best that you can do, you will receive your just reward!” (Day 16) Most readers will likely consider her words inspirational and comforting. However, not all of her advice is quite as sound: “When people who possess certain talents and skills come together to contribute to a project, there is no telling what they can do together. The Tower of Babel was the first proof of this.” (Day 17) Some devotionals contain conflicting messages, and the content of others can be so short that it feels incomplete, as with Day 6: “You were chosen even before you were born, that is how special you are and your purpose.”
Chance’s step-by-step introduction to biblical scripture breaks down ambiguous, abstract concepts—like righteousness and faith—into friendly, interpretable bits.
In this short, snappy prelude to the central texts in Christianity, Chance offers counsel and personal interpretations of relevant passages. Understanding that the messages of the Old and New Testament require an understanding of language’s flexibility, Chance is adept at offering line-by-line “translations” of significant moments in the Bible. Divided into seven sections—with names like “The Armor of God” and “The Helmet of Salvation”—Chance’s guide offers advice to aid not only first-time readers of the Bible but also converts seeking a practical approach to implement the holy book’s teachings. To this end, the book is rife with illustrations and quickly digestible lists summarizing key points and useful tips to help embed biblical teachings into readers’ daily lives. Though the author remains committed to Christian doctrine, she also offers her own moral beliefs alongside quoted excerpts, providing an additional level of analysis to the topics she discusses. Chance’s relatively slim title may only be useful to readers looking for a quick, straightforward version of a religious self-help text. Still, the book’s adherence to scripture—and extensive citations of it—will please devout Christians as well as believers looking for new interpretations. The images and artwork Chance includes are intriguing, if not always drawn directly from scripture, and dubious illustrations implying that the world will end in 2012 are left unexplained.
Believers and nonbelievers alike will appreciate this light, modern-day approach to understanding the Bible.
Trang’s debut memoir relates her four years at Yale Divinity School, where she examined the sacraments, sacrifice and sex within the tenets of Christianity.
Writing from “the perspective of someone sitting in the classroom,” Trang intends her story for not only religious scholars and pastors behind the pulpit, but for lay and nonreligious readers as well. With effortless grace and delicious humor, the book traces the author’s course load and the exchanges she has with her professors, whom she affectionately renames after desserts—Professors PoundCake, BakedAlaska, GingerSnap, RhubarbCrumble, etc. But Trang is ever serious and respectful in her desire “to learn to think..., to pray..., to live like these people.” Trang enters Yale with big questions about the efficacy of a priest committing himself to a life of celibacy and the outrageousness of a sacrament where a priest stands for Christ at the altar and says, “This is my body..., This is my blood....” And then there is the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit problem,” a space of being “in-between” the “already and the not yet”—not unlike that of the sexual act and the bearing of a child. As Trang enthusiastically yet steadily works her way through the catechism of the Catholic Church, Holy Scripture and Aristotle’s Poetics under the guidance of Professors SnickerDoodle, PeachCobbler, KeyLimePie and others, her knowledge organically coalesces, unravels, reassembles, expands and contracts. Struggling with the tedious, vast and complex puzzle of faith and often finding God dwelling in her fellow humans, Trang’s spirit never wavers while investigating the curiosities and delights of her faith.
A refreshingly rebellious exploration of Christianity that is well-written, thoughtful and totally unpretentious.
Silvers’ extended essay examines the complex relationship between biblical and scientific perspectives.
The book’s unusual title comes from the author’s occupation. Silvers is a practicing dermatologist in Southern California, and members of his profession often do biopsies—the removal of skin tissue to determine its state of health. The author argues that the Bible requires another kind of biopsy—the excision and scientific examination of certain biblical claims. Silvers, born an Iranian Jew, critiques the Old Testament and several biblical commentaries by scholars and clergy from a nonsuperstitious, Jewish perspective. He fuses this with his medical training. Among the contemporary issues he discusses: kosher dietary laws, abortion and homosexuality. Silvers claims that many biblical viewpoints can be substantiated through scientific understanding. For example, he finds that forbidding pork is based on sound medical principle since it can spread parasitic infections through tapeworms. The practice of circumcision is warranted since, he reports, circumcised men have lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases. Silvers puts science first and states that the Hebrew Bible’s claims can only be trusted when scientifically tested and confirmed. His goal is “to purge my religion of the personal opinions of rabbis in relation to science, thereby allowing Judaism to shine like the pure gold and light it is.” In spite of the sometimes shrill tone when discussing mystical elements in Judaism, the book presents a readable and controversial argument for a Judaism rooted in science. Most valuably, he has also written a powerful memoir about escaping Iran’s totalitarianism in order to pursue a medical career in the U.S. Readers who might find his arguments about “purging” Judaism of the irrational tedious can find much to appreciate in his thrilling description of his odyssey to freedom.
A sustained, well-reasoned argument that biblical viewpoints unsubstantiated by scientific proof should be discarded as superstition.
Entrepreneurial advice and astonishing tales from a tire company founder and pitchman retracing his spiritual journey.
Charles “Chuck” Curcio first made his mark starring in his own late-night television commercials for Tire Kingdom, the highly successful South Florida–based company he built from scratch. The inventive musical parodies and his colorful personality have achieved near-cultish adoration; the ads are still viewable on YouTube. But in this cosmological autobiography, Curcio says he always had other talents, particularly as a healer and psychic. One October morning in 1995, his life changes forever when he pauses beneath a banyan tree while riding a golf cart across his 10-acre Jupiter Island oceanfront estate. From out of the blue—and out of the author’s own mouth—God speaks to him, asking if he is ready to fulfill his purpose as a divine servant. It’s the dawning of a new day, as referenced in the title. So, Curcio embarks on a fantastic—arguably a bit too fantastic—journey of metaphysical discovery that, he says, is now more open than ever for all humanity to join. His path leads him to the Great Pyramid in Egypt to the healers and channelers of Brazil and elsewhere, and ultimately to Delphi University of Spiritual Studies in Georgia, where he’s a director and teacher. Along the way, he leaves his wife and children for his teacher and soul mate, a striking blonde with exceptional psychic credentials whose entry into Curcio’s life had been foretold to him. Curcio doesn’t merely believe in what the earthbound would call miracles; he witnesses and performs them frequently and even suggests that his healing work extends to curing the gravely ill and raising the dead. A chapter entitled “Signs and Wonders” begins with the author’s bare back to the sun as he absorbs what he calls the Christ energies, “which many believe emanate from the Sun.” This spiritualist path will be a revelation to the uninitiated, as will many of the book’s other esoteric, believe-it-or-not pronouncements. Gratuitously over-the-top asides may further raise doubts about the veracity of the whole. In one example, Curcio says he can send love over telephone lines, such that loved ones on the other end feel their receivers warming from the abundance of love energy. The latter part of the book is pure Christian–Eastern mystic theology, where explanations of reincarnation and karma appear to show clear understanding of these theories. Why did God come out of the void in the first place? As He tells Curcio, “Charles, I just couldn’t contain my Self.”
Engaging leap-of-faith answers to the big questions.
Landon’s debut Christian devotional book goes where relatively few such books have gone by examining how grief can influence Christian worship.
Landon states several times in his book that he has observed a correlation between grief and a bereaved person’s interaction with the rest of the world, including their church participation. As a pastor of several different churches and a former hospice chaplain, Landon wrote this book to combat this troubling link. After describing the grieving process, he offers ways to invite the notion of grief into worship services. He presents complete worship services for a variety of occasions, from All Saints Day to Ash Wednesday to run-of-the-mill Sundays that may fall near the anniversary of the death of an important church member. In his services, he includes hymns, litanies, special poems and readings, and even full texts of sermons. Although he acknowledges that every church will pick and choose elements from these services to match their own styles, seeing a complete service helps convey the tone and intent behind the offering. Landon also discusses the importance of rituals in the grieving process, in both personal and communal worship. Rituals can be as complex as a full funeral service or as simple as lighting candles. One particular ritual that receives in-depth examination is walking a labyrinth—an ancient, revered Christian tradition that’s tied to the theme of grieving through worship—but with an entire chapter devoted to the practice, it seems out of place. It’s obviously a passion of Landon’s, although it’s not quite clear why walking a labyrinth has been singled out here. Also, a distracting number of grammatical errors detract from the thought-provoking premise.
An enlightening though unpolished take on a universal subject, which could prove useful for pastors and worship leaders trying to reach their own grieving members.
In Nelson’s debut memoir, a committed Catholic comes to terms with the fact that his son’s gay.
Expanding on his award-winning 2005 article for Notre Dame Magazine, “God Gave Me A Gay Son,” Nelson explores his son’s sexual orientation as well as his own growing awareness about life, family and the church. During a 2004 sermon that pushed for a measure on Michigan’s ballot to ban gay marriage, the author stood up, expressed his disgust and walked out of his church. How did a devout, unquestioning Catholic become an outspoken critic of the church’s homophobic policies and a fierce supporter of his son and the LBGT community? To answer this, Nelson delves into his own story, covering his strict Catholic upbringing, the rigors of raising six children, the revelation that his son was gay, his yearlong separation from his wife of 30 years, his emerging activism in the gay community and his struggles to cope with his wife’s death. Nelson’s memoir is a thorough study of a man coming to terms with his faith and his family. But the narrative does diverge on several tangents, including a large section on boating in the Great Lakes. But the story is consistently poignant and meaningful, buoyed by the author’s earnestness, his love for his family and his readiness to look at his own faults. Even when his writing wanders, Nelson’s work has heart; his insistence throughout the story that the experiences in his life have been a part of his continuing education feels authentic. Nelson frames himself as a layperson with important questions for his church, and his courage and curiosity should be appreciated by other adherents—not simply written off as the complaints of a disgruntled parishioner. His concerns are real, and the Church would be wise to listen.
A thoughtful, deeply personal reflection on a controversial institution.
Touched by a higher power through dreams and visions, Works uses her experience as a seer to illustrate God’s love.
Works, a self-described seer, claims to be exceptionally intuitive when awake, in addition to having visions of angels, demons, God and Jesus when asleep. In her first book, she presents her chronological spiritual journey. Most chapters open with a description of dreams or visions, and then, with friendly enthusiasm and an impressive array of biblical references, the author interprets the experience, revealing a theme of love directed at her and all of humanity. Chapters are fine-tuned to reach the eager Christian reader; however, due to the by-the-numbers lessons, the distance between the author and reader can make the book less powerful. Despite the author’s attempts to turn the reader into a participant (she encourages the reader to have pen and paper at the ready and there are questions at the end of each chapter), the dreams and visions the author describes are so personal that the reader more often feels like an observer. Additionally, the author’s interpretations often inform a passive rather than actionable direction, which may widen the reader’s disconnect. In one dream, the author attempts to follow her friends home from a conference, but she gets lost; a man enters her car, promising to help her get home. Along the way, he stops to distribute food to the needy, so the dream evidently reveals to the author the importance of following Jesus, not your spiritual friends. In a separate vision featuring a cloud of doves, the author advises readers to ask for the Holy Spirit to enter their lives. Although most chapters highlight standard themes in Christianity, a few of the author’s interpretations are surprising, particularly in “Law Versus Spirit,” a chapter that offers a notable challenge to the conventional understanding of the relationship between religion, rules and law.
Well written with a couple of surprises, despite some narrative distance and overly familiar themes.
FitzGibbon draws on Scripture, the life of Jesus and 25 years in the ministry to give a wise, sometimes entertaining and always practical guide to growing a ministry from the ground up.
From the pews, a minister might appear infallible. But FitzGibbon cuts through the illusion to speak minister to minister, with foibles and pitfalls laid bare and readily applicable advice on how to avoid them. Proverbs—not hackneyed adages, but the holy wisdom from the Bible’s Book of Proverbs—and examples from Jesus’ life inform this guide, and on that bedrock rest anecdotes from the author’s own experience that illustrate what to do and what not to do to build a church that can help bring people closer to God. The author’s life straddles both the ministry and a career in business, so the wisdom tends to touch upon administration, public speaking, anger management and personal responsibility, all with a decidedly Christian spin. Many of the ideas here show how to effectively deal with people: in the words of James, quotes remind readers to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger; in the words of Moses’ father-in-law in Exodus, delegate our duties; and, in the words of Paul, beware of pride, haughtiness and stubbornness. New ministers filled with youthful exuberance yet untested in the field might find the solace here that they need to keep their ministry afloat when their dreams collide with reality. A dozen PowerPoint illustrations help visualize the concepts discussed in the text.
Down-to-earth, Christ-inspired advice on leading a congregation.
A contemporary mystical Islamic philosopher offers clarification about common misconceptions of the Islamic concept of God.
Hulusi is an Islamic scholar whose writings mirror the mystical dimension of Islam known as Sufism, made well known in the U.S. through translations of the Sufi poet-theologian Rumi. But many who read the English translations of Rumi fail to realize the complexity of the system of spiritual thinking that Sufism represents. Hulusi explicates one of the most difficult concepts in mystical Islam—the notion that “Allah,” commonly misunderstood in the West and even in parts of the Muslim world as “God,” encompasses more than the word “God” can illuminate. Drawing upon his interpretations of the Quran, Islam’s most sacred scripture, Hulusi claims that nowhere in Muhammad’s transmission of the Quran is there the assertion that Allah is a god. Instead, Hulusi writes that Allah is “an infinite, unlimited, whole One, in which case...there is nothing in existence other than Him.” The consequences of this assertion are that individual lives are fated by Allah, predestined to heaven or hell after physical death. The point of religion, writes the author, is to gain nondualistic awareness of Allah, which is realized through essential self-knowledge and the rejection of illusionary dualities in daily life. The author relies on short paragraphs to frame his beliefs and uses abstract language to describe consciousness, but the gist of these abstruse ideas is helpfully noted in bold throughout the book. One can only imagine the difficulty translator Atalay faced in converting the author’s esoteric Turkish style into readable English. Yet it does read clearly as a kind of Sufi manifesto of faith.
Readers interested in learning about the Sufi spiritual philosophy hinted at in Rumi’s poetry might profit from this deeply considered study but only after reading the Quran in an accessible English translation.
Harris writes in a simple, straightforward style about her experience bringing song, dance and flags into communal and individual worship. She discusses the presence of flags in the Bible as a means of gathering people together, indicating allegiance and heralding events, with textual support from biblical quotes and linguistic examinations into the roots of words like “standard” and “banner.” Her use of flags is firmly situated in a severe view of prayer as spiritual warfare against evil, which can sometimes seem incongruous with her opinions of flags as tools and representations of love and healing. However, this belief is well supported and stirring, if potentially challenging to some who may see prayer and worship in a gentler light. Harris explains how to construct a flag—even suggesting colors and what they could represent—and provides a helpful chapter with explanations and diagrams of certain flag movements to help beginning flag-wavers get started. Besides these basics, Harris also brings in her own experiences with the Holy Spirit, which often seem to involve God taking things—be they steering wheels or flags—out of her hands. Physically losing control takes on spiritual meanings in light of the full-body worship style she describes. With that in mind, Harris provides a context for the use of flags in worship, which may be an unfamiliar practice to many readers. Chapters connect well to each other, though some rearranging would make the overall flow of the book more fluid. Nevertheless, Harris writes earnestly and unpretentiously from a place of deep faith and motivation. A list of references and a section for notes make the book a helpful jumping-off point for those looking to bring more movement and flair into their religion.
A sincere, practical guide for adding flags to faith.