Staff Picks for July: Positive Reviews

The theme for the staff picks for July is “books we have or could positively review.” Here are our recommendations for July:

Ed recommends Dog On It by Spencer Quinn. Ed thinks this is the funniest and most enjoyable book he has read in a long time. It is a mystery story featuring a Dog and his Detective.

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Cindy recommends Lila by Marilynne Robinson. Of course if you haven’t already read Gilead or Home Cindy suggests you read those first.

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Heather thinks you should read Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior. You should read it right now. Learn about Hannah More, an ordinary woman who did extraordinary things.

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Carolyn suggests Wearing God by Lauren F. Winner. Metaphors for God can get old and worn. Winner helpfully points out some overlooked God-language to revive our views of God.

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Sheila suggests Messengers of God by Elie Wiesel. Sheila decided to revisit her collection of Wiesel books after his recent death. If you haven’t met Wiesel’s writings yet, then this might be a good time and place to start reading him.

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Connor suggests Seven Last Words by James Martin. Connor feels that this pick is appropriate as he likes the book so far, and it fits his self-proclaimed token-Catholic-on-staff identity.

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Andrew recommends The Unintended Reformation to your attention. He keeps on recommending this book. It turned his understanding of the Reformation upside down, possibly your understanding will also shift if you read it.

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For more summer reading suggestions, try our cloudy, rainy, and sunny day suggestions. Plus we have a general summer reading suggestions list.

 

 

Dear Pope Francis: A Review

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Reviewed by Carolyn J. Mackie

I am a huge fan of both Pope Francis and children’s picture books, so I was full of anticipation for the release of Pope Francis’s new children’s book, Dear Pope Francis. But there was a little part of me that was slightly skeptical. On the one hand, the idea of Pope Francis answering letters from children all over the world sounded like a win on all counts. On the ther hand, it sounded like the kind of book that could be just a little too formulaic to hold any lasting interest. I wanted to see the final product before deciding whether Dear Pope Francis was a book I wanted to own for myself.

I needn’t have worried. Firstly, the book’s presentation (always important, but especially for a picture book!) is beautifully rendered. Loyola Press has done a fantastic job with the design and formatting of this full-colour hardcover, escaping the cheesy or tacky elements sometimes present in non-fiction children’s books. Each child’s letter and drawing is included in full, along with a photo of the child and the text of their letter translated into English (where applicable). On the facing page is Pope Francis’ response to the letter in large, readable type.

Secondly, and most importantly, Pope Francis himself saves the book from any temptation to become cliché. Always kind, yet never patronizing or slipping into maudlin sentimentality, Pope Francis addresses each child with gentle respect. Difficult questions are not glossed over, yet are answered in simple language that children can understand. The children’s letters cover a broad range of questions, all the way from thorny theological problems to personal questions about Francis himself, such as what he wanted to be when he grew up (spoiler alert: a butcher!!) and whether he liked to dance as a young man (he did!). Especially endearing is the personal way in which the pope interacts with each child’s artwork and questions.

This book may be especially welcome in Catholic households, but I would wholeheartedly recommend the book for any child – or any adult, for that matter. While a few of the letters and responses are more particularly Catholic in nature, most of Pope Francis’s answers are truly catholic and represent the teaching of all Christian denominations. If there a few points at which a Protestant parent might want to dispute with the holy father, these present an ideal opportunity for discussing theological claims with children.

An enchanting collaborative effort between “The Children of the World” and dear Pope Francis, this book just can’t lose. It may make you cry; it certainly will make you smile. It’s a keeper.

Works of Ecological Significance

Our first staff pick theme for April is Ecology. There are a wide range of books represented in the staff selections, with few choices actually from our Eco-Theology section. Let’s have a look at the recommendations.

Ed chose The Land by Walter Brueggemann. The subtitle says it all: “Place as gift, promise, and challenge in biblical faith.”

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Cindy picked Raised-Bed Gardening because local food production is an important part of thinking about ecological stewardship — and how more local can you get than your own garden?

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Heather chose Frankenstein by Mary Shelley because a scientist creates life in his lab — what could possibly go wrong?

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Carolyn picked Fixing Fashion by Michael Lavergne because it is important to think about how we consume clothes as part our ecological stewardship.

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Sheila picked Being Consumed by William Cavanaugh because she likes the book’s theological approach to thinking about ecology.

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Connor chose Brave New World by Aldous Huxley because “This is what happens when there’s no regard for the natural world around us.”

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Andrew approved the book we picked for him, Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss because he found this book “disturbing to read given my own eating habits.”

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March Madness

You know March Madness is happening when your brother gives you updates on basketball scores during Easter dinner. The second Crux staff pick theme for the month is March Madness, variously interpreted.

Cindy chose When God Interrupts by M. Craig Barnes because the chaos around unwanted and uninvited change seems like madness.

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Ed picked The Mad Farmer Poems by Wendell Berry because of the title.

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Heather thought that since the prophets in the Bible were often thought to be mad, she’d pick The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary by J. Alec Motyer.

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Carolyn is reading Darkness is My Only Companion by Kathryn Greene-McCreight on the recommendation of several people, and appreciates the insights of a trained theologian with personal experience of mental illness.

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Sheila recommends The World’s Last Night by C.S. Lewis because it is helping her navigate the madness of the current political landscape.

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Connor chose Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands by Roger Scruton because of the title.

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Andrew picked Should We Live Forever? by Gilbert Meilaender, because maybe that is a mad idea, that living forever thing.

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Ethically Minded: March Staff Picks Part 1

This month our staff picks are books that remind us to be ethical in some way.

Ed picked Being Consumed by William Cavanaugh. Ed picked this because it reminds him not to be consumed by consuming stuff.

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Cindy chose God, Medicine, and Suffering by Stanley Hauerwas because “This is one of those rare books that leaves the reader changed, that touches both the heart and mind.”

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Heather decided on After You Believe by N.T. Wright because “it is a book that reminds readers that changes in behaviour are intentional and take time — we learn to act differently.”

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Carolyn chose Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard because Kierkegaard. In a longer reason, Carolyn wrote: “What would you do if God asked you to kill your son? It’s an intriguing ethical question. OR IS IT?!! The distinction between universalized ethics and religious faith may have never been so powerfully parsed as in this classic work penned by Kierkegaard’s pseudonym Johannes di Silentio.”

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Sheila picked Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald Sider. Sheila says “I am reading this to be challenged in my practice of generosity and to increase my awareness of hunger locally and globally.”

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Connor chose Confessions by St. Augustine because confession is what you do when you haven’t lived ethically.

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Andrew chose Ethics by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It’s all about the title in this case.

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Love Books — Staff Picks for February Part 2

Our staff picks for the second part of February are on the theme of love and relationships.

Ed suggests The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman because it is about showing love in relationships.

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Cindy recommends The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller because if you are married, you should know the meaning of marriage.

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Heather is reading Works of Love by Soren Kierkegaard because Carolyn had it as a staff pick so many times she decided to see what the fuss is about.

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Carolyn recommends It’s Not You: 27 (wrong) Reasons You’re Single by Sara Eckel because she thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and thinks all of you should read it too. Well, what she actually said was this:

You’re too picky. You’re desperate. It comes when you’re not looking for it. You need to put yourself out there more. When you’re single, it seems like everyone (including you!) wants to know the reason why… and wants to tell you how to fix the problem. New York Times journalist Sara Eckel sifts through the well-meaning but often hurtful and contradictory love advice dished out to singles by friends and family, delivering a message that is refreshing and freeing: maybe there’s nothing particularly wrong with us, maybe we just haven’t found love yet.”

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Sheila suggests The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. Lewis, Love, how can you really go wrong? Sheila describes the book this way: “C. S. Lewis examines different kinds of love: Loves for the Sub-Human, Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Charity. He argues that all must be grounded in Agape (the love of God) to be expressed fully and rightly.”

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Connor chose Eclipse of God by Martin Buber because it is about the RELATIONSHIP between religion and philosophy. (Clever, Connor, clever.)

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Finally, Andrew is reading On Marriage and Family Life by St. John Chrysostom. For a class. On Marriage.

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February Staff Picks Part 1: Books We’re Reading for Lent

Cindy is reading God’s Wider Presence: Reconsidering General Revelation by Robert Johnson because she was intrigued by the premise of the book as found in the preface:

“What are we as Christians to make of those occasional encounters with God in our everyday lives that seem more real than everyday reality, more fundamental than everything else? . . . While not having to do with one’s salvation in any direct way, and occurring outside the church and without direct reference to Scripture or to Jesus Christ, such encounters for that is what they are experienced to be, are seen, heard and read as foundational to life.  This book attempts to think constructively—both critically and imaginatively—about such experiences.  What is the inherent value of God’s wider revelation, of experiences of God’s Presence not directly tied to our salvation?  And how are they to be understood theologically?”

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Ed is reading Embracing Wisdom: The Summa theologiae as Spiritual Pedagogy by Gilles Mongeau because it is Prof. Mongeau’s newest book.

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Heather is (re)reading the Chronicles of Narnia. All of them. Because it is time to revisit Narnia.

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Carolyn is reading Forgotten Among the Lilies by Ronald Rolheiser because of a friend’s recommendation. She says “It has been the right book at the right time for me. Rolheiser reminds us that our lives will always hold elements of unfulfillment, both as lack and as excess. This unfulfillment is what propels us toward God, and is a timely theme for Lent.”

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Sheila is reading Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Brant Pitre. Sheila says “I am reading this book for Lent because Pitre examines the theme of Christ’s mission as Bridegroom of the Church, inviting his readers to engage in readings from the Old and New Testament as we look at the great mystery of the Passion of Christ.”

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Connor is reading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis because there’s something humbling about hearing your own flaws presented in such an engaging and comical way.

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Andrew is reading The Twenty-Piece Shuffle by Greg Paul. He calls it the best book he’s read in a long time.

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How about you? What are you reading for Lent?

January Staff Picks: Winter Reading

Winter Reading seems somehow different from summer reading. Books should go well with hot drinks and snowy scenes somehow. Of course, what goes with firesides and hot drinks depends on the person. Here are the Crux staff’s Winter Reading picks.

Ed is reading The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by James Martin, SJ

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Ed claims he’s reading this “because the author signed the book for me (and I really enjoyed listening to his lecture at Regis College).

Cindy is reading Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

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Cindy says she’s finally reading this book “because it’s been on my reading list far too long.”

Carolyn is reading The Sickness Unto Death by Soren Kierkegaard.

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Of course, Carolyn frequently reads Kierkegaard. This time, she claims it is “because Winter is for Kierkegaard, and if you don’t believe me, listen to Tyler Lyle’s gorgeous song by the same name. January is a good month to confront the various forms of despair we live in.”

Heather is reading Not God’s Type by Holly Ordway

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Heather is reading this book “because I like the cover, and I got it for Christmas.”

Sheila is reading The Divine Comedy by Dante.

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Sheila decided to read this epic “because I heard a great discussion on the book How Dante can Save Your Life on the radio, and this encouraged me to follow up on my long-held intent to read Dante’s epic. I did read “The Inferno” for school, but never went further, so I guess I’m also reading this to get out of hell.”

Connor is reading Wittgenstein: Duty of Genius by Ray Monk

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Connor says: “Long book? Of course it is! I’m reading it to add background to my study of Wittgenstein this coming term.”

Andrew is reading Unintended Reformation by Brad S. Gregory
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Andrew is reading this (despite controversy) because “whether one agrees with his arguments or not, Brad Gregory’s  book needs to be taken into account.”

Giving Gifts

December Staff Picks Part II — Here are some more books we love to give.

Cindy is giving The Gardener by Sarah Stewart and David Small because “my granddaughter planted her first garden this year and was thrilled to see things sprout and grow. I think this children’s book will be a great gift for her.” (We hope none of Cindy’s family happens on gift spoilers on the blog!)

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Ed likes giving Return of the Prodigal by Henri Nouwen because he feels like this is a book he can give to anyone.

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Heather suggests giving Home by Marilynne Robinson because she likes giving prize-winning fiction to unsuspecting relations.

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Carolyn suggests John Jensen Feels Different by Henrik Hovland because “I gave this lovely Norwegian children’s book to myself recently, and I may give it to my goddaughter when she is a little older. If you don’t fall in love with John Jensen in 30 seconds, it’s not my fault, nor is it the fault of Hovland or his brilliant illustrator, Norwegian-Canadian Toril Love.”

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Sheila suggests The Experience of God by David Bentley Hart because it is a good book. We all know that Sheila always suggests good books.

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Connor, following the colouring book trend, suggests giving All the Libraries Toronto by Daniel Rotsztain because “It’s fun, and another way to connect with Toronto’s growing library system.”

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Andrew suggests giving The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky because “Everyone should read at least one classic novel at Christmas time.”brothers