List of Potential books for Book Club at GMUUC
The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, by Wendell Berry
Since its publication by Sierra Club Books in 1977, The Unsettling of America has been recognized as a classic of American letters. In it, Wendell Berry argues that good farming is a cultural development and spiritual discipline. Today’s agribusiness, however, takes farming out of its cultural context and away from families. As a result, we as a nation are more estranged from the land—from the intimate knowledge, love, and care of it.
Sadly, his arguments and observations are more relevant than ever. We continue to suffer loss of community, the devaluation of human work, and the destruction of nature under an economic system dedicated to the mechanistic pursuit of products and profits. Although “this book has not had the happy fate of being proved wrong,” Berry writes, there are good people working “to make something comely and enduring of our life on this earth.” Wendell Berry is one of those people, writing and working, as ever, with passion, eloquence, and conviction.
Joanna Macy’s “Active Hope”
“The challenges we face can be difficult even to think about. Climate change, the depletion of oil, economic upheaval, and mass extinction together create a planetary emergency of overwhelming proportions. Active Hope shows us how to strengthen our capacity to face this crisis so that we can respond with unexpected resilience and creative power. Drawing on decades of teaching an empowerment approach known as the Work That Reconnects, the authors guide us through a transformational process informed by mythic journeys, modern psychology, spirituality, and holistic science. This process equips us with tools to face the mess we’re in and play our role in the collective transition, or Great Turning, to a life-sustaining society.”
Faitheist, Chris Stedman
The stunning popularity of the “New Atheist” movement – whose most famous spokesmen include Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens – speaks to both the growing ranks of atheists and the widespread, vehement disdain for religion among many of them. In Faitheist, Chris Stedman tells his own story to challenge the orthodoxies of this movement and make a passionate argument that atheists should engage religious diversity respectfully.
Bart Ehrman, “God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer.”
In God’s Problem, the New York Times bestselling author of Misquoting Jesus challenges the contradictory biblical explanations for why an all-powerful God allows us to suffer.
“Saving Jesus From the Church”, Robin Meyers
The marriage of bad theology and hypocritical behavior by the church has eroded our spiritual lives. Taking the best of biblical scholarship, Meyers recasts core Christian concepts in an effort to save Christianity from its obsession with personal salvation. Not a plea to try something brand new, but rather the recovery of something very old, Saving Jesus from the Church shows us what it means to follow Jesus’s teachings today.
Frank Schaffer, “Why I’m an Atheist Who Believes in GOD”
Caught between the beauty of his grandchildren and grief over a friend’s death, Frank Schaeffer finds himself simultaneously believing and not believing in God – an atheist who prays. Schaeffer wrestles with faith and disbelief, sharing his innermost thoughts with lyricism that only great writers of literary nonfiction achieve. Schaeffer writes as an imperfect son, husband and grandfather whose love for his family, art and life trumps the ugly theologies of an angry God and the atheist vision of a cold, meaningless universe. Schaeffer writes that only when we abandon our hunt for certainty do we become free to create beauty, give love and find peace.
Annie Dillard, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”
Her personal narrative highlights one year’s exploration on foot in the Virginia region through which Tinker Creek runs. In the summer, Dillard stalks muskrats in the creek and contemplates wave mechanics; in the fall, she watches a monarch butterfly migration and dreams of Arctic caribou. She tries to con a coot; she collects pond water and examines it under a microscope. She unties a snake skin, witnesses a flood, and plays King of the Meadow with a field of grasshoppers. The result is an exhilarating tale of nature and its seasons.
Marilynne Robinson, “Lila: A Novel”
Lila, homeless and alone after years of roaming the countryside, steps inside a small-town Iowa church-the only available shelter from the rain-and ignites a romance and a debate that will reshape her life. She becomes the wife of a minister, John Ames, and begins a new existence while trying to make sense of the life that preceded her newfound security.
Neglected as a toddler, Lila was rescued by Doll, a canny young drifter, and brought up by her in a hardscrabble childhood. Together they crafted a life on the run, living hand to mouth with nothing but their sisterly bond and a ragged blade to protect them. Despite bouts of petty violence and moments of desperation, their shared life was laced with moments of joy and love. When Lila arrives in Gilead, she struggles to reconcile the life of her makeshift family and their days of hardship with the gentle Christian worldview of her husband which paradoxically judges those she loves.
Albert Camus, “The Plague”
A haunting tale of human resilience in the face of unrelieved horror, Camus’ novel about a bubonic plague ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of twentieth-century literature.
Barbara Brown Taylor, “Learning to Walk in the Dark”
Taylor has become increasingly uncomfortable with our tendency to associate all that is good with lightness and all that is evil and dangerous with darkness. Doesn’t God work in the nighttime as well? In Learning to Walk in the Dark, Taylor asks us to put aside our fears and anxieties and to explore all that God has to teach us “in the dark.” She argues that we need to move away from our “solar spirituality” and ease our way into appreciating “lunar spirituality” (since, like the moon, our experience of the light waxes and wanes). Through darkness we find courage, we understand the world in new ways, and we feel God’s presence around us, guiding us through things seen and unseen. Often, it is while we are in the dark that we grow the most.
With her characteristic charm and literary wisdom, Taylor is our guide through a spirituality of the nighttime, teaching us how to find our footing in times of uncertainty and giving us strength and hope to face all of life’s challenging moments.
Mary Doria Russell, “The Sparrow”
A visionary work that combines speculative fiction with deep philosophical inquiry, The Sparrow tells the story of a charismatic Jesuit priest and linguist, Emilio Sandoz, who leads a scientific mission entrusted with a profound task: to make first contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life. The mission begins in faith, hope, and beauty, but a series of small misunderstandings brings it to a catastrophic end.
Jonathan Rosen, “Joy Comes in the Morning”
Deborah Green is a woman of passionate contradictions–a rabbi who craves goodness and surety while wrestling with her own desires and with the sorrow and pain she sees around her. Her life changes when she visits the hospital room of Henry Friedman, an older man who has attempted suicide. His parents were murdered in the Holocaust when he was a child, and all his life he’s struggled with difficult questions. Deborah’s encounter with Henry and his family draws her into a world of tragedy, frailty, love, and, finally, hope.
Alice Hoffman, “The Dovekeepers”
Nearly two thousand years ago, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman’s novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father, an expert assassin, never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by what they have witnessed. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow soldier. Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power.
The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets—about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.