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Recommendations for your fall programming

Looking for a book to use as a part of a class or small group this fall? Amy Pagliarella has you covered.

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

The 272: The Families Who Were Enslaved and Sold to Build the American Catholic Church by Rachel Swarns

Rachel Swarns
Random House, 352 pages | Published June 13, 2023

Catholic journalist Rachel Swarns digs deep into the shocking story of Georgetown University’s sale of enslaved persons. Despite their promises not to separate families, in 1838 Jesuit priests sold 272 enslaved people for $3.3 million (in today’s dollars) to fund the struggling university.

The 272 overflows with discussion starters: What does an institution owe the descendants of those it has harmed (and whose free labor laid its foundation)? What does restorative justice look like, and are apologies even meaningful without actions? Letters reveal the priests’ biblical and theological justifications — can we learn from these assumptions and “do better” in our own time? Even now, many of the descendants are left out of the conversation — who is seated at our decision-making tables, and do we continue to exclude those who lack power?

Read my full review here.

Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond

Matthew Desmond
Crown Publishing, 304 pages | March 21, 2023

In the past 50 years, America’s infant mortality rates and deaths from heart disease have fallen by about 70%, the internet and smartphones were invented, and scientists eradicated smallpox and mapped the entire human genome. Yet, through all these advances, our country’s poverty rate has hovered between 10-15%. In a time of such change and growth, why are so many Americans still poor? A professor of sociology at Princeton University who grew up in poverty, Matthew Desmond is perhaps uniquely qualified to answer this question.

I found myself wishing I had a group to discuss this book with — including someone with a deeper understanding of economics and one from a different political persuasion. Poverty, by America is ripe for discussion. Desmond is clear that we “can’t just spend our way out of this” by funding policies that accommodate poverty rather than disrupt it. But what does that look like? And how can people of faith be a part of the solution?

Read my full review here.

Reading for the Love of God

Jessica Hooten Wilson
Brazos Press, 208 pages | Published March 28, 2023

While screens and devices challenge our attention spans and encourage shallow engagement with their content, Wilson suggests that we return to books, reading secular works as an “invitation to a broader vision.” She is a warm and faithful guide to reading as a spiritual practice, offering varied approaches (based on heroes like St. Augustine or Julian of Norwich) that help us draw closer to the sacred as we go deeper in our reading practices.

Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology, fourth edition

Daniel L. Migliore
Eerdmans, 568 pages | Published May 31, 2023

Faith Seeking Understanding has seen several generations of seminarians through Reformed Theology classes and ordination exams. Migliore’s theological primer is more essential than ever; updated to connect our trinitarian faith with the climate crisis (“Christ and Cosmos”) and to respond to the questions raised by the COVID pandemic, the fourth edition continues the accessibility of earlier versions while adding contemporary content.

When Church Stops Working: A Future for Your Congregation beyond More Money, Programs, and Innovation

Andrew Root and Blair D. Bertrand
Brazos Press, 176 pages | Published May 16, 2023

Our churches have a major problem, but it is not decline. Root and Bertrand believe that the real problem is that this secular age leaves us with a vastly diminished concept of God. What should we do? Wait – actively wait – for the “God who is God” to reveal Godself. And while waiting, implement a theology of encounter — as we encounter each other in our churches, as well as encounter and serve others, we just might meet the Living God. Root’s other six volumes in his “Ministry in a Secular Age” series are worth a read, but When Church Stops Working is the best place to start — particularly for pastors and church councils to read together.

— Rev. Dr. Philip J. Reed, a “retired” pastor from Michigan serving as summer interim in Cooper Creek Church, Champaign, Illinois

Second Thoughts About the Second Coming

Ronald J. Allen and Robert D. Cornwall
Westminster John Knox Press, 194 pages | Published February 28, 2023

Allen and Cornwall noticed a trend in mainline churches: pastors generally steered clear of Jesus’ second coming, despite congregations’ curiosity about the Bible’s promises for a life beyond this one. Their response is a slim book that covers vast territory — Old and New Testament teachings, an overview of different movements and varied explanations throughout history. Particularly interesting is the discussion of life after death and the realization that the biblical witness is more diverse than we may realize. Remarkably accessible summer reading that includes a practical study guide for those eager to share this with their study group in the fall.

Life in Five Senses

Gretchen Rubin
Penguin Random House, 272 pages | Published April 18, 2023

Rubin helps us kick life up a notch with a new book subtitled “How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World.” When an eye doctor warned Rubin that she could go blind, she realized how much she was tuning out. She takes us with her on a journey to deeply appreciate each sense and to connect bodily experiences with the soul. The result is deeper relationships and increased vitality. As she explains, “feeling the full range of sensation made me feel more present, more alive.”

Lincoln’s God: How Faith Transformed a President and a Nation

Joshua Zeitz
Viking, 334 pages | Published May 16, 2023

Dramatic stories of Abraham Lincoln often categorize him as a martyr whose zealous Christian faith drove him to declare war on slavery. Zeitz, a historian and writer, suggests that the truth is more complicated. Lincoln was not a churchgoer, yet he balanced a growing personal faith with a pragmatic approach to using faith to rally the country for war. Lincoln’s God observes Lincoln, the Civil War and American society through the lens of faith, with new insights for history buffs.

The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness

Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz
Simon & Schuster, 352 pages | Published January 10, 2023

Harvard University has been studying two generations of the same families for over 80 years to determine what makes for a happy, fulfilling life. The answer? Relationships.

A team of researchers meet regularly with men born in Boston’s inner city or students at Harvard (eventually adding their wives), assessing their physical health and conducting days-long interviews. The result is a more comprehensive study of human flourishing than ever attempted. Waldinger and Schulz, the study’s current directors, share anecdotes and observations from their subjects, drawing conclusions to help us all live our best lives.

P.S. If you’re looking for a curriculum to use this fall, you may want to take a tour through our store. We just published “Fresh Outlook,” which looks at topics like spiritual practices, the devil, and women in the Bible. We also offer a mission-focused confirmation curriculum along with a six-week curriculum for adults exploring the vocabulary of faith. Plus, we offer discussion guides in all of our magazines.