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Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve by Tom BissellIn this combination of travelogue and Christian history, author Tom Bissell explores the lives and deaths of 13 men specifically identified in the New Testament as close followers of Jesus (the twelve Apostles plus Paul). He analyzes the New Testament and other historical sources while enlivening his narrative with anecdotes about people he meets at the apostles' burial places in far-flung locations that include Rome, Turkey, Jerusalem, and India. He also considers how stories about the saints influence and shape the Christian faith -- both official teachings and individual beliefs. Bissell's "crafty rhetoric and irresistible charm" (Publishers Weekly) make Apostle a compelling read.
Saving Alex: When I Was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I Was Gay... by Alex Cooper with Joanna BrooksAfter 15-year-old Alex Cooper told her Mormon parents she was a lesbian, they sent her to a family in Utah who promised to reorient her to "normal" sexuality. Using a combination of physical and emotional torture and intensive lessons in Mormon orthodoxy, they abused her for eight months until she contacted closeted gay people in the community, who helped her obtain legal assistance. In this troubling but inspiring memoir, Cooper relates how she persevered in seeking the right to make her own choices while striving to maintain her personal sense of faith. For a similarly heartwrenching account, try Boy Erased, Garrard Conley's memoir of evangelical Christian efforts to reorient his sexuality.
Seven Last Words: An Invitation to a Deeper Friendship with Jesus by James MartinThe "seven last words" of Christ consist of the phrases Jesus uttered while being crucified. In this thoughtful combination of biblical commentary and pastoral reflection, James Martin, a Jesuit priest and writer, considers how these verses can help believers find their way closer to God. Through meditation on the "words," it becomes possible to understand how God can be present to people who are suffering. In chapters that address each verse, covering forgiveness, doubts about the afterlife, parental love, feelings of abandonment, pain, disappointment, and self-offering, Martin explains how Jesus meant to bring joy to ordinary, struggling people through his preaching and teaching.
Judas: The Most Hated Name in History by Peter StanfordJudas was the name of the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the authorities. In this detailed historical study, journalist Peter Stanford reviews not only the extremely negative connotations of the name, but also the surprisingly ambiguous and even positive views of Judas in Christian doctrine and popular traditions. For example, one medieval legend says that the reason Judas committed suicide was so that he could wait for Jesus in paradise and beg his forgiveness. Stanford's engaging, thoughtful narrative provides a complex understanding of the "most hated name in history."
Focus on: Spiritual Biographies and Memoirs
Have a Little Faith: A True Story by Mitch AlbomAuthor Mitch Albom, best known for his memoir Tuesdays with Morrie, became friends with a rabbi in New Jersey and a Christian pastor in Detroit, and these men offered Albom a new appreciation of religious faith. Recounting the insights he received from Rabbi Albert Lewis and Pastor Henry Covington, Albom adds reflections on his own spiritual growth in Have a Little Faith, revealing nuances and complexities of faith and friendship that surprised and inspired him. Though it's not specifically religious, Joan Anderson's A Walk on the Beach offers another reflective and inspiring consideration of friendship.
Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything by Barbara EhrenreichAuthor Barbara Ehrenreich, who wrote Nickel and Dimed and Bright-Sided, was raised by vehemently atheist parents and regards herself as an unbeliever. However, when she was a teenager she noted an unexplained sensation of expanded consciousness in her journal, and this was just one of many such events throughout her life. In Living with a Wild God, Ehrenreich relates how she rediscovered that journal entry and decided to explore both the nature of her own experiences and the phenomenon of mysticism. Though this "powerful, honest" (Kirkus Reviews) autobiography takes an unusual approach to spirituality, it offers absorbing reflections on human awareness of the external world.
An Unquenchable Thirst: A Memoir by Mary JohnsonAs Sister Donata, author Mary Johnson belonged to the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa's religious order that serves the poorest of the poor. Inspired to join by an article she read when she was in high school, Johnson was devoted to the order for 20 years, but ultimately left not only the order but the Catholic Church. In this memoir she describes her devoted spiritual life while depicting the severe challenges of belonging to an intensely committed group. Though some of her story may be controversial, her devotion is inspiring; An Unquenchable Thirst is an absorbing and eloquent memoir.
The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow WilsonIn 2003, journalist G. Willow Wilson traveled to Egypt to teach at an English-language high school in Cairo. She'd long felt drawn to Islam, but due to the events of 9/11, she was conflicted about those feelings. In Cairo, she learned Arabic and converted to Islam, while falling in love with (and becoming engaged to) fellow teacher Omar, an Egyptian Muslim. As she strove to adjust to her new life, her friends and family struggled to come to terms with her decision. The Butterfly Mosque is at once a coming-of-age story, a cross-cultural romance, and a reflection on faith and community.
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