Below is the beginning of a mess of books. We thank those who suggested them to us, and hope that you will find them to be of value as well.
Although the zeitgeist here at Another-Fine-Mess.com would suggest that they be presented in no particular order, we have recently attempted to put them into categorical boxes. By now you are well-aware that their contents will ultimately refuse to remain in their assigned boxes. Higgs Boson will see to it that their meanings spill over into one another . . . particularly if you are open to Higgs doing that!
To read more about the book and perhaps order yourself a copy, just click on the book's image to the left if it's available.
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Books Offering Practical Help With A Focus on Relationships and the Self
A Guide for Caregivers: Keeping Your Spirit Healthy When Your Caregiver Duties and Responsibilities Are Dragging You Down, W. Benjamin Pratt (David Crumm Media, LLC, 2011). This latest book from Benjamin Pratt offers a splendid resource that is readily accessible and easy to use on the fly for caregivers with limited time. Its longish title says perfectly what you'll find inside. Drawing upon his own experience as a caregiver, along with interviews with numerous others who are taking care of elderly parents, spouses with life-threatening illnesses, children with chronic special needs and the like, Pratt weaves together the narratives of those who find themselves thrust into the spiritually draining role of caregiver with resources to keep those spirits alive. The web site that accompanies the book -- http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/2011/11/16/guide-for-caregivers-recommended-resources.html -- should provide an ongoing and expanding resource as well. Excellent care for the caregivers! Highly recommended.
Ian Fleming's Seven Deadlier Sins and 007's Moral Compass, W. Benjamin Pratt (David Crumm Media, LLC, 2008). Here's a book that will open your eyes and fascinate you with the many guises of evil in our times. It's also a book that will usefully disturb you, as you find these evil processes at work in your own life. Ultimately, it's a book that will reward your efforts as you look at evil through the eyes of Ian Fleming's James Bond books. Like bond, you too might be roused to take on the dragons of evil in our midst. Great for individual reflection or small group study. Includes a complete study guide and other extras to help you quickly spark discussion in your group. Learn more about this book.
Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, Dr. Sue Johnson (Little, Brown, 2008). This is an excellent book for both counselors and couples. From the book's jacket: "The message of Hold Me Tight is simple: . . . Get to the emotional underpinnings of your relationship by recognizing that you are emotionally attached to and dependent on your partner in much the same waqy that a child is on a parent for nurturing, soothing, and protection. . . . (T)he way to enhance or save a relationship is to be oplen, attuned, and responsive to each other and to reestablish emotional connection."
Getting The Love You Want: A Guide For Couples, Harville Hendricks (Henry Holt & Sons, 2007). If you read the digression about marriage in the box called "Wine Labels," then you'll understand something of the perspective of this excellent book. (See what we mean about the contents of one box spilliing into another!)
The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, John Gottman. This book makes comments about marriage that come out of the extensive research of the authors and their videotaping of couples as they interacted with one another. Blood tests measured the presence of stress-related hormones. Their blood pressures during their unproductive arguments were compared to their neutral-emotion baselines, etc. The result, they claim, is a "scientific" book about marriage. Whether you agree with that assertion or not, it's an excellent volume for couples who want some very practical - and detailed if necessary - guidance for getting and keeping their marriage on the right track.
Forgive and Forget, Louis Smedes (HarperOne, 2nd ed., 2007). It's an unfortunate title since it expresses a concept the author disputes: we should forgive, he sayd, but forgetting is not involved. (A different author has suggested that forgiving is, instead, a different way of remembering.) We guess that his publishers thought it would sell well if they gave it the title they did, and they were correct in that. The book is helpful in describing the many things forgiveness is not, as well as suggesting more useful ways of thinking about this important topic.
Books on Spiritual Growth (Broadly Understood)
To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, John O'Donohue (Doubleday, 2008). John O'Donohue was an Irish teacher and poet who, in this volume, focuses on life's transition points, and in poetic form, presents guidelines for making those transitions. His material takes the form of blessings. In the Introduction he says: "There is a quiet light that shines in every heart. It draws no attention to itself, though it is always secretly there. . . . This shy inner light is what enables us to recognize and receive our very presence here as a blessing. . . . The gift of the world is our first blessing."
In God's Presence: Theological Reflections On Prayer, Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki (Chalice Press, 1996). Suchocki is a process theologian, but don't let that deter you! This book is clear and mind-opening. Using a variety of fresh and inviting metaphors for God, Suchocki invites the reader to consider what is meant by "God" as a necessary prelude to considering "prayer." This book is highly recommended for readers who are looking for something with more "meat on the bones" than many conventional books on prayer which tend to assume a notion of "God" that many modern readers do not relate to. Again, don't let her obvious intelligence as a seminary professor get in your way: this is a wonderful book on prayer . . . and one that just may help rescue a prayer life that has been suffering from neglect and/or disillusionment.
The Richest of Fare, Phyllis Strupp (Sonoran Cross Press, 2004). This beautiful and profound book integrates photographs from the Sonoran Desert, and teachings from Marcus Aurelius to the Bible, to Darwin and Thoreau to help the reader locate where they are in their spiritual journey. To quote a review by Alan Jones, "This is a book not only to read but also to contemplate. Finding our place in the universe means recovering a sense of hopeful connection with creation, with each other, and with God. This book is about that gift of hope-filled connection . . . . Read it and look at its wonderful photographs. It will affirm your place in the pattern of things."
Touching the Holy: Ordinariness, Self Esteem, and Friendship, Robert Wicks (Sorin Books, 2007). One reviewer accurately says: "There is nothing that we could do that would make God love us any more than God does right now. We don't hear that enough. Robert Wicks reminds us of our holiness in our ordinariness. It's what God works best with. It's what God needs for us to be so God can introduce God's self to others through us. Wicks will reacquaint the reader with their goodness and the goodness of others simply by acknowledging that being human is "holy enough". He also challenges the reader to take an honest look at the different dimensions of friendship, helping the reader identify what is a healthy relationship and what may not be for now."
The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, Richard Rohr (Crossroad Publishing Company, 2009). Franciscan priest Richard Rohr is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation and a leader in the Emerging Church "movement." This book finds many ways to develop its central theme: that there is another way of approaching the big questions of life . . . things like death, love, infinity, suffering and God . . . a way that transcends the either (you're in with us) /or (you're beyond the pale/redemption/etc) . . . and moves to a "non-dualistic" mode of thinking that is both/and. It is the way of the mystic. It is the way of contemplation. But don't let that word confuse you with navel-gazing passivity! This book is a call to the renewal of spiritual life personally and institutionally so that love and justice can be pursued more hopefully and well. The naked now is "the sacrament of the present moment" in which the reality of God can actually be experienced, once we leave our either/or thinking behind, however briefly. Rohr is a prolific writer and his other books are well worth your attention too! A good example is Falling Upward: A Spirituality For The Two Halves Of Life (Jossey-Bass, 2011). Read more about Richard Rohr and this book. The God Who Fell From Heaven ~ The Hour of the Unexpected, Encore Edition in One Volume, John shea (Thomas More Press, 1992). Prayers in an unconventional style with wonderful metaphors. The introductory essay on prayer - "Music, Laughter, and Good Red Wine" - is, alone, more than worth the price of the book!
Joy Is Like The Rain, an album of folk ballads suitable for use in worship by Sister Miriam Therese Winter (Medical Mission Sisters, Philadelphia, PA/ Vanguard Music Corporation, 1996). "Spirit of God" is found on this album. Most of Winter's songs are settings of the parables of Jesus, or on basic themes of Christianity. The songs have catchy tunes - some of them such as "Spirit of God" are beautiful to the ear - and are highly singable. They are very useful in teaching as well as in worship settings. There are other albums of hers available as well.
Books on Renewing or Refocusing the Church
Journey Inward; Journey Outward, Elizabeth O'Connor (Harper Collins, 1975). You can still get used copies of this book by one of the founding members of The Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C. "The Potter's House" is the name of their coffee house ministry on Columbia Road, NW, Washington, DC. The sole reviewer on Amazon.com says this, and quite accurately so: "O'Connor's book "Journey Inward, Journey Outward" is a marvelous account of how one church inspires & directs ALL it's members into active ministry and discipling. I mean that each believer is discipled as they minister to others. This is the essence of the Inward/Outward journey; each complements the other, in Gods economy. Some examples would be: a coffee house ministry, a woodwork & pottery shop, a retreat center, refugee work, etc, etc. New church members (Church of the Savior, Wash. DC) initially join an existing ministry, but anyone who feels a call from the Lord into any type of ministry, may submit the idea to the leadership for approval, and start another core group. It is one of the healthiest New Testament concepts I've ever run across!" O'Connor has written a number of other books through the years. Her latest is The Eighth Day of Creation (Potter's House Book Service, 2007).
Saving Jesus From The Church, Robin Meyers (HarperOne, 2010 reprint edition). One of the best takes on progressive Christianity by this UCC pastor in Oklahoma. It speaks clearly and profoundly from within the Biblical tradition itself in advancing the notion that Christianity must focus on the teachings of Jesus more than the theological statements made about him. Those who admire Marcus Borg will no doubt praise this book as well.
Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, Diana Butler Bass (HarperOne, 2012). Bass explores the relationship between "spirituality" and "religion" and suggests that we are currently undergoing "a great reversal" in Christianity. In contrast to the Christianity of the Protestant Reformation of 500 years ago when beliefs led to behavior and thence to belonging, Bass says that in our day it is just the reverse: belonging and being in relationship is the main heart-hunger of our time . . . belonging to a community founded upon love and service to others, i.e. Christian behavior . . . and then beliefs that are experientially based upon that belonging and behaving. Based on her analysis of the latest trends in religion and church membership, Bass' own deep spiritual core guides her in what amounts to the delineation of a clear path forward for Christianity after (the failures of institutional) religion.
Leaving Church (HarperOne 2007), An Altar In The World (Canterbury Press Norwich, 2009) and others by Barbara Brown Taylor. Be prepared to read some of the finest prose you'll ever encounter in these "spiritual autobiographies." She writes with amazing candor and gracefulness about the twists and turns in her own search for a spiritual life that is authentic and down to earth. She is considered by many to be one of the most important preachers in America today.
The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg (HarperOne, 2004). Borg describes his journey from a fundamentalist Swedish Lutheranism to progressive Christianity and worshipping now as an Episcopalian. His book is addressed to those who are in both "paradigms" and, while propounding a progressive Christianity, helps more conservative Christians to understand their own paradigm as well as the one that is "emerging." Speaking Christian (HarperOne, 2011) covers much of the same territory but comes at it differently: as a word book of the Christian faith. More succinct than The Heart of Christianity, it would be a good place to start for those who are confused by the words Christians use . . . AND MISUSE! Learn more about this book. Anything this man writes is worth a read.
Finding God Beyond Religion: A Guide for Skeptics, Agnostics & Unorthodox Believers Inside & Outside the Church, Tom Stella (Skylight Paths Publishing, 2013). With a title like that, how could we neglect a prominent mention of it! This is the latest of Tom Stella's books and is well worth a read, particularly for those readers who may not yet be familiar with the writings of authors such as Marcus Borg, Robert Farrar Capon, John Shelby Spong and Richard Rohr. A Roman Catholic priest who resigned from his order, Stella now serves as a pastoral counselor to hospice patients, leads retreats and workshops, and writes. In this book, he recounts parts of his own spiritual journey and invites the reader toward a more mature understanding of Christianity and the spirituality at its core. Stella's writing style is clear and inviting. He often turns an almost poetic phrase as he develops his theme. For example, "Perhaps what is needed is not to take Jesus off the pedestal but to come to the realization that there is a place on it for us as well." Continuing in the same vein, a bit later on he writes (on pages 44 & 50), "I believe that when we recognize Jesus as the stream and God as the source, we might also catch a glimpse of ourselves as tributaries whose lives flow from the same source that gave life to him." Readers drawn to his perspectives might want to visit his website: www.tomstella.org. He not only writes for seekers: he gathers them together. He is the founder and Director of www.soullinkonline.org. For an interview with Stella go here.
Wonderfully Goofy Fiction With Spiritual Value
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (Harper Paperbacks, 2003), Dirty Job (HarperCollins, 2007), You Suck (Harper Paperbacks, 2008), Bite Me (Harper Paperbacks reprint edition, 2011) and most others by Christopher Moore. His completely outrageous books provide him with an occasion for making trenchant comments about life and our society.
Fierce Invalids Back From Hot Climates (Bantam, 2001), and others by Tom Robbins. Ditto what we said of Christopher Moore. Avoid reading Robbins' books if you need to avoid the fantastical and have a difficult time suspending disbelief.
American Gods (William Morrow, 2013) is the 10th anniversary edition of this look at the "operational" gods of the American culture and features a clash between them and the gods brought to America by the people who settled this place. Rich satire, and a playful ride through the American religious landscape, it is written by an author who has a rich sense of the sacred woven into, above, and beneath what appears to be ordinary "reality."
A Box for Books That Don't Fit Into The Boxes Above and Probably Deserve a Box of Their Own
The Most Revealing Book of the Bible: Making Sense Out of Revelation, Vernard Eller (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981). One of the more enlightening and sensible interpretations of this fount of apocalyptic writing. A lengthy example follows: "However, what John intends, I now am convinced, is nothing other than to tell his churches: "Look, my friends, whether you recognize it or not, your history is part of the great and universal mission being directed from God's throne. What you do and what happens to you is an integral and meaningful part of the wonderful thing God is doing with the cosmos, through Christ, to Evil, for mankind. My story starts with you and ends with all things being made new--but it is one story! Until you can understand what it is you're part of, you're bound to see yourself and your efforts as lowly; you're defeated before you even get into the game. But look at it once with me from the true perspective of God's throne, and you'll see that because of Jesus there's no way we can lose--no way!" , p.71
The Magnificent Defeat, Frederick Buechner (HarperOne, 1985). Few preachers and writers can match Buechner's beauty, clarity, and insightful writings. This book of sermons, originally shared with young people in a school setting, is typical of his writings and a real gem. "Written simply and directly, Buechner delves into topics ranging from Jacob's wrestling with the angel (this is the "magnificent defeat" of the title) to the annunciation and birth of Jesus and beyond. Whatever the topic, Buechner writes with clarity and honesty. He does not present himself as among the saints so much as among the seekers. He doubts and questions but always comes back to the central place of beauty and of joy: here, he suggests, is where we must place our faith. Here is the true miracle of life, inviting us to 'open our arms, our lives, to the deepest miracle of reality itself and call it by its proper name, which is King of kings and Lord of lords, or call it by any name we want, or call it nothing, but live our lives open to the fierce and transforming joy of it.'" --Doug Thorpe in an Amazon.com review.
Healing the Heart of Democracy, Parker J. Palmer (Jossey-Bass, 2011). Parker Palmer comes from the Quaker tradition with its emphasis on holding divergent opinions about what God wants in creative tension until a consensus can emerge. In this volume he examines our current disastrous political polarization and provides concepts and a language for understanding and changing that polarization. He asserts that Americans are "heartbroken" over what has happened in our nation, particularly after 9-11. When the heart breaks it can go two ways. First, it can shatter and break into fragments. When this happens, our response to our heartbrokenness is to become angry . . . to disengage and drop out . . . to defend our heart against further trauma by armoring it with cynicism. This is what has been happening all-too-often within our selves and amongst our citizenry. The result is angry, shouting, demonizing-the-opponent polarization. The other response is that the heart can break open. When this happens, we can see that we are all in the same boat . . . that each of us has our own unique, very human story of heartbreak and struggle . . . and that our response to our narratives takes us down different political roads. This breaking open of our heart represents a real step forward in healing our body politic, for it enables us once more to see those who differ from us as fellow citizens and neighbors. It is the path toward the common good. Parker's book is rich with practical suggestions about how to handle this heart dimension of our current dilemma. Highly recommended reading! Learn more about this book.