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story.lead_photo.caption Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious, by David Dark

The long, lazy days of summer offer the perfect opportunity to catch up on some reading.

Buechner 101: Essays and Sermons, by Frederick Buechner
Transformed by God’s Word, by Stephen J. Binz
Black Gods of the Asphalt, by Onaje X.O. Woodbine
Becoming Wise: An Inquiry Into the Mystery and Art of Living, by Krista Tippett
The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right, by Lisa Sharon Harper

For those who enjoy a bit of religion in their reading, these books are a sample of what's available. Pick one and settle in for a good read.

Transformed by God's Word, by Stephen J. Binz (Ave Maria Press, $16.95) -- Best-selling author, biblical scholar and Little Rock native Binz combines Christian spiritual practices of the East and West in his latest book.

In the church of the West, lectio divina is known as "sacred reading" and is used as a way to encounter God through the reading of Scripture. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, visio divina, or "sacred seeing," is the practice of gazing at sacred icons as a way to connect with God. Binz fuses the two as he leads readers through 20 Scripture readings, each paired with a contemporary icon.

Each entry takes readers through six steps -- reading, seeing, meditating, praying, contemplating and acting on the Scripture passages. Binz starts with the Annunciation, which is when the angel Gabriel visits Mary to tell her she will be the mother of the son of God. He calls on readers to "be still in body and mind" as they slowly read the passages. An explanation of the text follows, and then readers are directed to the icon and encouraged to notice the details of the story the icon tells. As for the icon of the Annunciation, he writes, "Fix your eyes upon the face and gestures of both the angel and Mary. Imagine the emotions in this scene and let them lead you into the heart of Mary."

Readers are then led into meditation on the text and icon and given suggestions on details and messages to ponder. Praying comes next, followed by silent contemplation. Finally, readers are instructed to think of how they can act on what they've read and experienced.

This unique combination of lectio and visio divina is sure to interest those searching for a new way to experience the Scriptures.

Black Gods of the Asphalt, by Onaje X.O. Woodbine (Columbia University Press, $30) -- Woodbine knows basketball. He grew up playing street ball in inner-city Boston and went on to play at Yale University before leaving the court to study philosophy and religion.

In Black Gods of the Asphalt, the worlds of religion and hoops come together as he explores what he calls the "lived religion" of street basketball.

Woodbine, who teaches philosophy and religious studies at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., spent four years studying street basketball in Boston, talking to players and playing alongside them, as he looked at the spiritual dimension of street hoops. "I learned that the ways the players move, style and display their bodies on the court says something profound about their search for ultimate meaning in the world," he writes.

For many of the players, basketball offers a temporary escape from the violence of inner-city life. One player, Marlon, summed it up: "I feel like a free spirit ... I feel like my soul overtakes my body."

Woodbine shares how the courts can be a place of healing, of ritual, of community and even transcendence. Through the stories of the players he hopes readers "might sense what it is like to walk inner-city streets, to lace up sneakers, stand on cracked asphalt, hold a ball in sweaty palms, and let the injury of race ride one's body into the ground."

Becoming Wise: An Inquiry Into the Mystery and Art of Living, by Krista Tippett (Penguin Press, $28) -- Public radio listeners will know Tippett from her Peabody-Award-winning show and podcast, On Being, which focuses on some of life's big questions. In Becoming Wise, Tippett shares insights she has gained from the "spiritual geniuses" she has talked with on the program, from scientists and theologians to poets and politicians.

The book is organized around what Tippett calls the "raw materials" -- words, flesh, love, faith and hope -- and each chapter is sprinkled with portions of interviews and conversations featured on the radio program.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggmann talks about the power of language and what he calls "prophetic imagination." Poet Christian Wiman discusses finding God again. Physician Rachel Naomi Remen shares the Jewish teaching of "tikkun olam" or the collective task to be "healers of the world."

Readers also will find out more about Tippett and her Southern Baptist upbringing, about her travels and her thoughts on the "gift of presence," and of really listening to what people are saying so that we can fully know one another.

"I can disagree with your opinion, it turns out, but I can't disagree with your experience," she writes. "And once I have a sense of your experience, you and I are in relationship, acknowledging the complexity in each other's position, listening less guardedly. The difference in our opinions will probably remain intact, but it no longer defines what is possible between us."

The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right, by Lisa Sharon Harper (WaterBrook, $19.99) -- Harper examines the concept of "shalom" in The Very Good Gospel. It's a word that means many things -- well-being, wholeness, abundance, peace and the "perfection of God's creation."

Harper opines that the good news of the gospel is lacking for some, and what they are missing is the call to shalom. She was one of those who found that the "good news" wasn't good enough.

Harper is black and has American Indian heritage. While on a pilgrimage she confronted the harsh realities of the Trail of Tears and the experience of black Americans, from slavery through the civil rights movement and beyond.

"To live in God's Kingdom, in the way of shalom, requires that we discard our thin understanding of the gospel," she writes. "I had to face a hard truth: My limited evangelical understanding of the gospel had nothing to say about 16,000 Cherokees and four other sovereign indigenous nations whose people were forcibly removed from their lands, and it had nothing to say to my own ancestors who were enslaved in South Carolina."

She has begun searching for the "truly good news of the gospel," as well as working to understand shalom and what it means for her life and work. In the book, she focuses on nine areas where she thinks shalom is needed -- with God, with self, between the sexes, in creation, in broken families, in matters of race, between nations, in peace and in life (and death).

"There is a way back to shalom," Harper writes. "It is the way of God demonstrated through the person of Jesus and made possible through his death and resurrection. This is the good news. This is the very good gospel."

Life's Too Short to Pretend You're Not Religious, by David Dark (InterVarsity Press, $20) -- In an increasingly secularized world the word "religion" conjures up negative thoughts for many. Saying "I'm religious" can be a conversation stopper, Dark says.

As a person who loves the Bible, Dark said he became increasingly frustrated by the way people talk about religion and decided to write about it.

"Be it an online rant, a headline, a news report or a conversation overheard, I feel a jolt of sympathy pain whenever someone characterizes someone else as religious," he writes. "It's as if a door just got slammed. A person has been somehow shrink-wrapped. Some sweet and perfectly interesting somebody gets left out. And in a subtle, hard-to-get-a-handle-on kind of way, it's kind of like someone's been told to shut up."

Dark argues that for all the negative attention religion gets, it's worth not giving up on. He starts by sharing his admittedly "weird" religious background and says we all have one and that by examining our stories we can learn to reclaim the idea of being "religious."

Buechner 101: Essays and Sermons, by Frederick Buechner (The Frederick Buechner Center, $15.99) -- Compiled in celebration of his 90th birthday, this collection of essays and sermons will delight fans of the writer and theologian.

Buechner (pronounced BEEKner), who is also an ordained Presbyterian minister, has written more than 30 books, including fiction, nonfiction and memoirs. His books continue to inspire fellow ministers and writers, including Anne Lamott, who writes in the introduction that Buechner is "the person I consider America's most important living theologian."

The book includes a commencement address Buechner gave at Union Theological Seminary in New York, excerpts from some of his books, as well as sermons and lectures and his thoughts on God, forgiveness, faith, grace and what it means to be Christian.

On grace, he says, "The grace of God means something like: 'Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you.'"

Religion on 07/09/2016

Print Headline: Soulful summer sojourns

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