I started Searching For Sunday by the late Rachel Held Evans last year after learning about her through The Liturgists Podcast. It must've stopped feeling relevant to me, so I put it down but picked it up again recently and finished it. I'm glad I did, this was a good memoir about wrestling with organized religion and Evans' journey to ultimately rediscover her faith and find a place again in church. She realizes that none of it is clean and simple - it's messy and complicated, but that's sort of the point of it. Anyone who has been cynical about religion or wrestled with ideas of faith and community will connect with this one.
I will likely be recommending The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr for a long time to anyone looking to discover or rediscover Christianity in a way that actually makes sense and can provide lasting value.
This is Rohr's latest book in which he explores what it means that Jesus was called Christ, and how things got pretty distorted over the last 2,000 years due to limited cultures, religious debate and our tendency to put ourselves at the center of everything.
Using scripture, history and spiritual practices, Rohr talks about how to understand God and rediscover the fundamental truths of life and faith - all on the basis of not trying to prove Jesus was God, but rather about learning to recognize the divine presence all around us, in everything. This was such an eye opening read.
I read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, a recommendation from Pete Holmes. This book may seem a little out there to some, but it really has stood the test of time, it was first published in 1997. I definitely read it at a time and place in my life where it really resonated with me.
I enjoyed reading Singer's The Surrender Experiment, which made me interested in the idea and practice of meditation. But it wasn't until I read The Power of Now that I actually understood what the goal of mediation truly is and how to get there.
Meditation, ancient wisdom and philosophy, religious teachings - they all get you to the true goal, which Tolle says is full consciousness and enlightenment. Tolle makes an effort to get you there by teaching how to exist in the present moment and no longer identify with the mind, which causes thought to become compulsive. This incessant mental noise is normal (and unnoticed) among most people and is what blocks the discovery of inner stillness that is your true self, your Being.
This book can be read and enjoyed with or without a religious background. For anyone who is interested in mindfulness and stillness, this is a must read. The mindfulness trend that seems to be all around us in the U.S. right now is good and necessary but sometimes feels superficial in my opinion.
I understand the rejection and decrease in the practice of religion in our current times (I'm speaking of my observation in America since I live here), but there still must exist a way to "access" the one spiritual teaching that every religious and spiritual leader in history seems to be pointing us to. Tolle is a great start before diving into any specific teachers such as Buddha or Jesus, as well as a good read for anyone currently practicing/following a particular religion.
After I read Love Wins by Rob Bell I had to read another one of his books so picked up What Is the Bible. Bell brings to this book more perspective about the Bible and Christianity that I wish I knew about sooner. But as Bell says, it's never too late to change and develop knew thoughts and beliefs, and something as big as spirituality and historic and religious texts should be constantly wrestled with and questioned with the goal always being personal growth and improvement of the earth.
Rob makes a strong argument for why and how we should look at the Bible in a new way and why it's still relevant and helpful in today's world. One of the key points Bell makes is that the Bible was not created by God, it was created by humans, and you cannot get to the holy without going through the human first. So you have to understand the humans that wrote the book, and its historical context.
Therefore, it's pointless to argue whether the Bible is true or not or whether or not it's the word of God and needs to be followed exactly as written. Yes, people in the Bible quote God and say things are the word of God, but that was their perspective of God in their time..
The Bible was written by real people, in a real world at a point in time in history when real (and terrible) things were happening to them. When we take that into consideration as we read the Bible, we can start to understand it better and actually allow it to be useful to us for growth.
We must ask ourselves, why did these people decide to keep this story alive (at a time when there was no printing press)? What where they trying to get across and could they perhaps be using language and innuendo and humor in strategic ways to be sure this message gets across in the right way and creates change?
I loved this fresh perspective on the Bible and think this is a must read even for those who are not religious or don't believe in God. The Bible is a historical document. It was refreshing learning more about it from this perspective.
I picked up Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell after Pete Holmes recommended it in his book Comedy Sex God as well as Ryan Holiday in his books to read newsletter. This was a great follow up to the insightful and pleasantly surprising commentary about God and the meaning of life from comedian Pete Holmes.
Bell gives a refreshing take on Jesus's story that I've been waiting to hear. Here's a Christian Pastor who's saying, 'yea, some people just are looking at this the wrong way.'
He starts by acknowledging the staggering number of us who have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven while the rest of those who did not accept Christ into their heart will burn in hell forever. Bell says this is misguided and a toxic way to spread the word of God and Christianity.
Instead, Bell hopes to spread a contextualized version of the story that focuses on spreading Jesus's message of love, peace, forgiveness and joy that our world desperately needs to hear. This book is about the meaning of life and why we should be good people - now. His take is that people can find peace and "heaven" and "eternal life" here and now, and alternatively have the chance and choice to live in hell on earth - now.
Bell dives into how and when the Bible mentions the word heaven and hell (a surprisingly few number of times), what the context is around it, how the Hebrew words got translated and what the original words meant to the people at that point in time. It's a quick read and if you haven't read Rob Bell, I'd recommend reading this.
I picked up Comedy Sex God by comedian Pete Holmes after he promoted it on a podcast and was recommended by my favorite person to get book recommendations from, Ryan Holiday.
I liked this book more than I thought I would, and Holmes surprised me with his insightful look into spirituality and religion. I had no idea this book would help me continue down my religion rabbit hole I took last year (see my book reviews from summer of 2018). I'm glad I read this.
Holmes grew up an Evangelical Christian, and tells his story about this upbringing, getting into comedy, falling out of religion and then ending up finding God again just through a different lens. His story is very relatable. I hadn't seen any of his comedy work or shows, but once I read this I watched his latest stand up special and enjoyed it more because I felt I knew him.
I probably would've laughed more at the book if I knew about his comedy beforehand, but because I resonated with the religious content, I was hooked. His podcast You Made it Weird is also great. If it doesn't resonate, I'd suggest reading the book first.
I officially went down a spiritual rabbit hole these last few months and once I read The Surrender Experiment I had to read Michael Singer's other book The Untethered Soul.
This book does a deep dive into making the leap from being a self absorbed person living in the fog that most of us live in (making daily decisions based on our own preferences, getting angry over the minutia as we are oblivious to the fact that we live in a world for a tiny amount of time when you look at the big picture), to becoming enlightened and taking the brain and the self to a higher state of living.
I must admit, I'm glad I started with Michael Singer's other book (which he wrote after this one), because otherwise I probably would've judged Singer as a little too out there for me. But if you stick with this book, I think it's a great book for anyone looking to do some serious personal growth.
Singer starts by explaining that voice that we all hear in our heads. That voice narrating the world for us, judging what we see. The untrained eye (most of us) think that's us. But it's not. We can observe this chatter like a subject-object relationship, and the first step to a higher level of consciousness and true personal growth is to recognize this voice.
So what's so wrong with this voice? Well, it's ruining us and we don't even know it. What typically happens is this constant narration makes us feel more comfortable and in control of the world around us. But what really is happening is these thoughts influence the experience of the world around us so what we end up experiencing is really a personal presentation of the world according to us, rather than the stark, unfiltered experience of what is really out there.
Basically, we are buffering reality as it comes in so that we can control the experience so it all fits inside our own minds. We re-create the world within our minds because we can control our mind and we can't control the world. Some people may think this is fine, but what you end up with are people who are limited very much so by their own preferences and controlled by fear.
So that's how Singer sets up the book, leaving us with the idea that true personal growth is about getting past that part of you that is not okay and needs protection. He then walks through how to connect with a higher power and truly live in a state of happiness.
I read The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer in 4 days after hearing Singer on James Altucher's podcast. I guess Oprah loved this book too.
In his book, Singer walks readers through his 40 year experiment of surrendering - letting life happen according to its natural flow.
He starts by saying that as humans, we believe that things should be the way we want them, instead of being the natural result of all the forces of creation. So we say things like, "I better get that raise because I really need the money," or "It better not rain on my wedding day." These claims are based solely on our personal preferences we've made up in our own minds.
So without realizing it, we do this with everything, believing the world around us is supposed to manifest itself in accordance to what we prefer. We make strong attempts to control the world around us. When we win that battle, we are happy and relaxed. When we don't we are stressed. Therefore we constantly attempt to control every thing in our lives.
The reality is, life will continue with or without us. Energy moves around the world to create beings and all matter, the Earth and the planets orbit in space and don't combust.
The basis for Singer's experiment is this: is he better off making up an alternate reality in his mind then fighting with reality to make it be his way, or is he better off letting go of what he wants and serving the same forces of reality that managed to create the entire perfection of the universe around him? The experiment would not be about dropping out of life, it would be about leaping into life to live in a place where he is no longer controlled by his personal fears and desires.
The journey Singer takes is pretty cool, and if nothing else, a fun read to follow him every step of the way. This book gave me interest in learning more about Eastern traditions such as Yoga, Buddhism, meditation, etc.
Jesus: A Biography from a Believer by Paul Johnson was a quick read and I thought a perfect written record of Jesus's life (as we know it from historical documents), from beginning to end.
This was a nice refresher of the history of Jesus's life and his teachings without diving into the complexity of the Bible. This book could be used as a precursor to reading the Bible (or the Gospels) to give you more context going in.
I thought the author did a good job trying his best to keep things historically accurate, but it's clear that this book comes from a Christian perspective.
Christian or not, there's no doubt that the history and teachings of Jesus stand the test of time, and are important to learn from a historical perspective. As Johnson points out, as you read about Palestine in the first century AD, you notice a world that in many ways is familiar to ours today.
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