Archives For Religion


TODAY (Jan. 9) is the birthday of sociologist and public Robert Putnam.

In honor of the occasion, we offer a series of brief video clips that introduce his work…

*** Books by Robert Putnam



Overview of his book OUR KIDS:

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A Hero On and Off the Diamond
A Review of

Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography: The Faith of a Boundary-Breaking Hero
Michael G. Long and Chris Lamb

Paperback: WJK Books, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]
Reviewed by Jeff Crosby


Just two years prior to Jackie Robinson’s death, New York literary giant Random House turned down the chance to publish the retired Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Famer’s memoir. Why? Because he insisted the book address not only his career as a professional athlete but also his work beyond the ballpark.

Based on that factoid alone, it’s safe to say that the principled Jackie Robinson would highly approve of this appreciative new biography by Michael G. Long and Chris Lamb.

Surprisingly, Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography devotes just one chapter to the iconic Brooklyn infielder’s nine seasons with the Dodgers. In contrast, the authors devote four full chapters and portions of several others to Robinson’s work in civil rights, politics and business.

It’s undoubtedly as Robinson would want it.

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The Unforced Rhythms of Grace

A Review of 

Spiritual Sobriety:
Stumbling Back to Faith When Good Religion Goes Bad

Elizabeth Esther

Paperback: Convergent Books, 2016
Buy now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]
Reviewed by Kristin Williams
I didn’t want to be moved by Elizabeth Esther’s new book, Spiritual Sobriety.  I started reading it with a little notebook beside me, thinking I could keep track of all the ways I disagreed with what Esther was saying.  I don’t have a story of what Esther calls “good religion gone bad” and I didn’t even think I believed a person could be addicted to religion.  It sounded a little hokey to me so I was prepared to find a lot to dismiss and nothing I could relate to in this new book.

Then I read the first chapter and kept seeing myself.  Elizabeth Esther spends the first chapter defining spiritual sobriety and, in large part, the definition revolves around what it is not.  She describes her first religious high, the first time she asked Jesus to live in her heart and how she wanted to keep experiencing that high and so she asked Him into her heart again the next day.  She kept seeking that high in many of the same ways I looked for spiritual highs: knowing all the answers, winning “sword drills” in youth group and surging forward at the decision time of conferences and concerts.  She, and I, used God for how He made us feel and also, perhaps, for the blessings we were sure He would pour out on us because of the displays of devotion that we offered God.

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Hopeful Suspence

A Review of

History and Presence
Robert Orsi

Hardback: Harvard UP, 2016
Buy now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]


Reviewed by Ben Brazil

In 1988, Robert Orsi, an eminent historian of American religion, visited a shrine in a dead boy’s bedroom.  The shrine’s story had begun a decade earlier, just after the boy’s death, when a circle appeared on an image of Jesus hanging in his bedroom.  According to the boy’s parents, the circle grew and changed shape until it took the form of their son’s face.

A miracle, a comfort, a divine gift:  such was the judgment of the grieving parents and a priest they consulted.  Word spread, and others flocked to the house, seeing both comforting images of their own dead loved ones and disturbing images of the living.

Yet Orsi’s own visit to the home, which he recounts in History and Presence, also involves a distinct dramatic question:  when the great historian looks at the image himself, what will he see?

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Very excited about this new book, which drops today…


The Gospel According to
David Foster Wallace:
Boredom and Addiction
in an Age of Distraction

Adam S. Miller

Paperback: Bloomsbury, 2016
Buy now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

Even if you disavow religion … altogether, you can’t avoid worship. The impulse to worship is a human problem, not a religious problem. “In the day to day trenches of adult life,” Wallace reminds us, “there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not  worshiping. Everybody worships.” Try as you might there’s no place to hide from your yen for transcendence. And, more, there’s no place to hide from the consequences of its failure. Choose your gods wisely but pretty much anything you worship “will eat you alive.” Getting eaten alive by your [gods] is part of what it means to be human.


Read more:

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A Path Toward Peace is Revealed

A Feature Review of

FLOURISHING: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World.
Miroslav Volf

Hardback: Yale UPress, 2016
Buy now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle
Reviewed by Robert D. Cornwall

Miroslav Volf is one of the preeminent theological voices of our time. He has a kept a keen eye on the broad religious and cultural issues that play out in the world, with his book Allah: A Christian Response being a masterpiece of theological reflection that seeks to build bridges between Christianity and Islam.  Volf’s latest book, titled Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World, continues the kind of work exemplified in Allah and Exclusion and Embrace.  More importantly, this book speaks to the moment at hand. At a time when religion is seen by many as a danger to the world’s existence, Volf offers a trenchant defense of the role religion can play (at its best) in shaping the ongoing globalization of our world.

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One of the books that I’m most excited about in early 2016 is David Dark’s latest:

Life’s Too Short to Pretend
You’re Not Religious

Hardback: IVP Books, 2016
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]
My blurb for the book:

David Dark is one of the most important prophetic voices of our day. Life’s Too Short To Pretend You’re Not Religious is another beautiful demonstration of the winsome way in which he unsettles our language and our imagination. Not content to unravel the basic fabric of our existence, Dark re-weaves the fibers into a rich and vibrant vision of the flourishing religious life for which we were created.
– C. Christopher Smith, co-author of Slow Church and founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books
Here is a nice excerpt that will give you a taste of the book…

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All Music is One

A Review of 

Spirits Rejoice! Jazz and American Religion
Jason Bivins

Hardcover, Oxford UP, 2015
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Matt Miles

In the first chapter of Jason Bivens’s Spirits Rejoice! the author introduces a trumpeter named Lester Bowie, who satirically asked “Is jazz as we know it dead yet?” before charging ahead with a boundary-breaking trumpet solo. He follows this example with one of a saxophonist named Charles Gayle who alternated between live shows in clubs and playing on the streets as a homeless musician and clown, preaching against abortion and homosexuality in all of his shows. Bivens also mentions Anthony Braxton, a saxophonist/composer who merges metaphysics with his music. These three artists provide an introduction to some of the ways jazz transcends its own labels and constraints, especially those of language. It’s important to understand the way music as a medium defies categorizing, as many musicians consider the limits of the term “jazz” to be as limiting and offensive as a racial slur. Any attempt to categorize music or religion using language limits it, and, all too often, the people trying to use music to overcome the limits of music, religion, and culture. Attempting to capture this experience is as daunting a task as trying to write a book about jazz itself, a task Bivens rises to meet through the use of story.

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A new book, out tomorrow, makes a broad case against football.

Publishers Weekly’s review notes:

Almond makes a convincing case for the theory that Americans have turned to football in order to meet spiritual needs that arose as a result of industrial and social progress.

Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto
Steve Almond

Buy now:   [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

Read an excerpt from the book, and tell us what you think…

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A Mischievous and Playful Argument

A Feature Review of

Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense

Francis Spufford

Hardback: HarperOne, 2013
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Kurt Armstrong


Before we get started, I’d better state my bias: I love this book. Spufford’s Unapologetic has tied Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss for my favourite book last year, something I suspect my co-workers will hate me for. I’ve been cornering staff members and waving Unapologetic two inches in front of their noses, insisting that they to drop whatever it is they might have planned for the evening and go out and buy a copy right now.

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