Suggested Titles for 2021-22 Soul Food Discussion

2021-22 Reading Choices

Soul Food Book Group meets weekly during the school year, from 9:30-11 on Wednesday mornings, to discuss books from a faith perspective. What books should we read and discuss this year? Review the following suggested titles.  When you’ve had the chance to consider which look most interesting to you, CLICK HERE to submit your choices. For more information, contact Pastor Lois Pallmeyer.

  1. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson. Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity. 496 pages, 2020.
  2. Difficult Gifts: A Physician’s Journey to Heal Body and Mind, by Courtney Burnett. An honest, intimate, and liberating memoir written by physician who becomes a patient. At first filled with sadness, she learns she can also find joy. Facing mortality before the age of thirty, she finds courage rather than fear. Through it all, she shares how to embrace the life we have been given. With daring honesty, this new writer teaches us the value of a difficult gift: a gift that teaches us, motivates us, changes us, and inspires us. Using lessons learned as a physician, a patient, an avid reader, and a student of Buddhist wisdom, Burnett shares how sometimes, suffering can open a door to happiness, and through dying, we can learn to fully live. 208 pages, 2021.
  3. Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It, by Brian D. McLaren. Sixty-five million adults in the U.S. have dropped out of active church attendance and about 2.7 million more are leaving every year. Faith After Doubt is for the millions of people around the world who feel that their faith is falling apart. Using his own story and the stories of a diverse group of struggling believers, Brian D. McLaren shows how old assumptions are being challenged in nearly every area of human life, not just theology and spirituality. He proposes a four-stage model of faith development in which questions and doubt are not the enemy of faith, but rather a portal to a more mature and fruitful kind of faith. The four stages―Simplicity, Complexity, Perplexity, and Harmony―offer a path forward that can help sincere and thoughtful people leave behind unnecessary baggage and intensify their commitment to what matters most. 256 pages, 2021.
  4. Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence, by Diana Butler Bass. Many believers ponder as they wrestle with disappointment and disillusionment in their church and its leadership.  While many Christians have left their churches, they cannot leave their faith behind. In this book, the author challenges the idea that Jesus can only be understood in one dimensional way and asks us to instead consider a life where Jesus grows with us and helps us through challenges in several capacities. The book is an invitation to leave the religious wars behind and rediscover Jesus in his many, manifestations.  To experience him beyond the narrow confines we have built around him.  It renews our hope in faith and worship at a time when we need it most. 320 pages, 2021.
  5. Gilead (a novel), by Marilynne Robinson. In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames’s life, he begins a letter to his young son, an account of himself and his forebears. Ames is the son of an Iowan preacher and the grandson of a minister who, as a young man in Maine, saw a vision of Christ bound in chains and came west to Kansas to fight for abolition: He “preached men into the Civil War,” then, at age fifty, became a chaplain in the Union Army, losing his right eye in battle. Gilead is a hymn of praise and lamentation to the God-haunted existence that Reverend Ames loves passionately, and from which he will soon part. 256 pages, 2004, republished, 2020.
  6. Jesus and the Disinherited, by Howard Thurman. Famously known as the text that Martin Luther King Jr. sought inspiration from in the days leading up to the Montgomery bus boycott, Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited helped shape the civil rights movement and changed our nation’s history forever.  In this classic theological treatise, the acclaimed theologian and religious leader Howard Thurman (1900-1981) demonstrates how the gospel may be read as a manual of resistance for the poor and disenfranchised. Jesus is a partner in the pain of the oppressed and the example of His life offers a solution to ending the descent into moral nihilism. Hatred does not empower–it decays. Only through self-love and love of one another can God’s justice prevail. 128 pages, originally published, 1949, republished 1996.
  7. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson. Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever. Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice. 368 pages, 2015.
  8. Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone, by James Martin. Beloved spiritual leader, Father James Martin teaches anyone to converse with God in this comprehensive guide to prayer. Learning to Pray explains what prayer is, what to expect from praying, how to do it, and how it can transform us when we make it a regular practice in our lives. Father Martin makes clear there is not one secret formula for praying. But like any relationship, each person can discover the best style for building an intimate relationship with God, regardless of religion or denomination. Prayer, he teaches us, is open and accessible to anyone willing to open their heart.  400 pages, 2021.
  9. My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, by Resmaa Menakem. Therapist Resmaa Menakem examines the damage caused by racism in America from the perspective of trauma and body-centered psychology. The body is where our instincts reside and where we fight, flee, or freeze, and it endures the trauma inflicted by the ills that plague society. Menakem argues this destruction will continue until Americans learn to heal the generational anguish of white supremacy, which is deeply embedded in all our bodies. Our collective agony doesn’t just affect African Americans. White Americans suffer their own secondary trauma as well. So do our police. My Grandmother’s Hands is a call to action for all of us to recognize that racism is not only about the head, but about the body, and introduces an alternative view of what we can do to grow beyond our entrenched racialized divide. 300 pages, 2017.
  10. Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God, by Kaitlin B. Curtice. As both a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation and a Christian, Curtice offers a unique perspective on these topics. Curtice draws on her personal journey, poetry, imagery, and stories of the Potawatomi people to address themes at the forefront of today’s discussions of faith and culture in a positive and constructive way. She encourages us to embrace our own origins and to share and listen to each other’s stories so we can build a more inclusive and diverse future. Each of our stories matters for the church to be truly whole. As Curtice shares what it means to experience her faith through the lens of her Indigenous heritage, she reveals that a vibrant spirituality has its origins in identity, belonging, and a sense of place. 208 pages, 2020.
  11. Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm, by Robin DiAngelo. Does our culture of niceness inadvertently promote racism? In White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo explained how racism is a system into which all white people are socialized and challenged the belief that racism is a simple matter of good people versus bad. DiAngelo also made a provocative claim: white progressives cause the most daily harm to people of color. In Nice Racism, her follow-up work, she explains how they do so. Drawing on her background as a sociologist and over 25 years working as an anti-racist educator, she picks up where White Fragility left off and moves the conversation forward. 224 pages, 2021.
  12. Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America, by Maria Hinojosa. NPR journalist Hinojosa shares her intimate experience growing up Mexican-American on the South Side of Chicago. She offers a personal account of how the rhetoric around immigration has not only informed American attitudes toward outsiders, but also sanctioned willful negligence and profiteering at the expense of our country’s most vulnerable populations. An urgent call to fellow Americans to open their eyes to the immigration crisis and understand that it affects us all, this honest and heartrending memoir paints a vivid portrait of how we got here and what it means to be a survivor, a feminist, a citizen, and a journalist who owns her voice while striving for the truth. 352 pages, 2020.
  13. Pillars: How Muslim Friends Led Me Closer to Jesus, by Rachel Pieh Jones. Personal friendships with Somali Muslims overcome the prejudices and expand the faith of a typical American Evangelical Christian living in the Horn of Africa. When Rachel Pieh Jones moved from Minnesota to rural Somalia with her husband and twin toddlers eighteen years ago, she was secure in a faith that defined who was right and who was wrong, who was saved and who needed saving. She had been taught that Islam was evil, full of lies and darkness, and that the world would be better without it. But her experiences in Somalia open her mind to new appreciation of her neighbors. Jones recounts, often entertainingly, the personal encounters and growing friendships that gradually dismantle her unspoken fears and prejudices and deepen her appreciation for Islam. Unexpectedly, along the way she also gains a far richer understanding of her own Christian faith. Grouping her stories around the five pillars of Islam – creed, prayer, fasting, giving, and pilgrimage – Jones shows how her Muslim friends’ devotion to these pillars leads her to rediscover ancient Christian practices her own religious tradition has lost or neglected. 264 pages, 2021.
  14. The Seed Keeper (a novel), by Diane Wilson. A haunting novel spanning several generations, The Seed Keeper follows a Dakhóta family’s struggle to preserve their way of life, and their sacrifices to protect what matters most. On a search for family, identity, and a community where she can finally belong, Rosalie Iron Wing learns what it means to be descended from women with souls of iron―women who have protected their families, their traditions, and a precious cache of seeds through generations of hardship and loss, through war and the insidious trauma of boarding schools. Weaving together the voices of four indelible women, The Seed Keeper is a beautifully told story of reawakening, of remembering our original relationship to the seeds and, through them, to our ancestors. 372 pages, 2021.
  15. The Seeker and the Monk: Everyday Conversations with Thomas Merton, by Sophfronia Scott. In The Seeker and the Monk, Scott mines the extensive private journals of one of the most influential contemplative thinkers of the past for guidance on how to live in these fraught times. As a Black woman who is not Catholic, Scott both learns from and pushes back against Merton, holding spirited, and intimate conversations on race, ambition, faith, activism, nature, prayer, friendship, and love. She asks: What is the connection between contemplation and action? Is there ever such a thing as a wrong answer to a spiritual question? How do we care about the brutality in the world while not becoming overwhelmed by it? Most enjoyable is how she engages with Merton as a man and human being, all the while “conversing” with him on topics of relevance to every person today. She talks about his complaints, his sarcasm, and playfulness, and how it all makes her laugh. She clearly likes him, and that long-distance friendship forms the foundation of the book. Joy and friendship between the two writers — even across significant generational, racial, and religious differences — provides a groundwork of good feelings which are infectious for the reader. 202 pages, 2021.
  16. Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life (2014 Newly Revised Edition), by Marjorie J. Thompson. First released in 1995, this spiritual classic continues to be a bestseller, as thousands each year accept Marjorie Thompson’s invitation to the Christian spiritual life. Offering a framework for understanding the spiritual disciplines and instruction for develop­ing and nurturing those practices, Soul Feast continues to be a favorite for individual reflection and group study. Many new additions, including a new chapter on keeping the Sabbath, make this newly revised edition of Soul Feast a must-have. 205 pages, 2014.
  17. What Does Justice Look Like?: The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland, by Waziyatawin. Many Dakota people say that the wounds incurred since their Minnesotan homelands were invaded over 200 years ago have never healed. The injustices of genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass executions, death marches, broken treaties, and land theft still have not been made right. The Dakota People paid and continue to pay the ultimate price for Minnesota’s statehood. In What Does Justice Look Like, Dakota scholar and activist Waziyatawin of Pezihutazizi Otunwe explores how we can embark on a path of transformation on the way to respectful coexistence with those whose ancestral homeland this is. Without justice, healing and transformation on both sides cannot occur, and good, authentic relations cannot develop between our Peoples. The book offers the further opportunity to explore what we can do between us as Peoples to reverse the patterns of genocide and oppression, and instead to do justice with a depth of good faith, commitment, and action that would be genuinely new for Native and non-Native relations. 200 pages, 2008.
  18. When Breath Becomes Air: What Makes Life Worth Living in the Face of Death, by Paul Kalanithi. In a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir, a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis attempts to answer the question, “What makes a life worth living?” When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality. 228 pages, 2016.
  19. Whole Hearted Faith, by Rachel Held Evans and Jeff Chu. At the time of her tragic death in 2019, Rachel was working on a new book about wholeheartedness. With the help of her close friend and author Jeff Chu, that work-in-progress has been woven together with some of her other unpublished writings into a rich collection of essays that ask candid questions about the stories we’ve been told—and the stories we tell—about our faith, our selves, and our world. Whole Hearted Faith is for the doubter and the dreamer, the seeker and the sojourner, those who long for a sense of spiritual wholeness as well as those who have been hurt by the Church but can’t seem to let go of the story of Jesus. Through theological reflection and personal recollection, Rachel wrestles with God’s grace and love, looks unsparingly at what the Church is and does, and explores universal human questions about becoming and belonging. 224 pages. To be published November, 2021.
  20. Writing In The Sand: Jesus, Spirituality, and the Soul of the Gospels, by Thomas Moore. Moore reinterprets the gospel stories, shining a new light on the profound teachings of Jesus and recasting him as a spiritual visionary with a radical vision for humanity. The book offers a fresh, new way of imagining human life and society. It presents Jesus not as the founder of a religion but as a world reformer offering a spiritual path to everyone, from every background. Moore shows that the teachings of Jesus are challenging in a far different way than the moralism often associated with them. Based on being open to life, deepening your understanding, and giving up all defensiveness around your convictions, the Gospels can be the source of a new kind of certainty and stability that cannot be codified and enshrined in a list of rules. Writing in the Sand presents the essence of Jesus’ teachings and offers a way of understanding them intelligently and devotedly in the twenty-first century. 200 pages, 2010.

When you’ve had the chance to consider the above titles, CLICK HERE to submit your choices.