Wonder by arj Palacio

This is a work of fiction and was recently made into a movie starring Julia Roberts.  August is a little boy with a severely deformed face.  This book chronicles his entrance into 5th grade - middle school.  It is full of the angst and misery that only middle school and high school can engender.  It is also about friendship and standing up for people who need a little extra help.  It is told from his point of view, but also his sister's, her boyfriend's, an old girlfriend of his sister's, and a boy who befriended August in school.  It is well written from the children's and teenager's points of view and it reminds us how difficult communication between children and their parents can be.  It is an excellent book.

1. Was August handicapped?

2. How is kindness a central theme in this book?

3. Why did the "War" between August and his friends and the other boys run out of steam?

4. Who was Daisy and what role did she play?

5. Why was the scene where August yells at his mother and sister and then runs to his room and hides under his stuffed animals significant?

6. Why do all the illustrations of people only have one eye?

7.  Why was the book named "Wonder"?

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Rescue by David Milibrand

This is a book about refugees and what needs to be done about them on a world-wide basis.  The author was a senior member of the British government and he is now head of the IRC (the International Rescue Committee).  He has first-hand experience with refugees as his parents were Jews trying to escape Europe in the 1940's.  This is not an emotional appeal.  There are some stories that are quite moving, but there is mainly practical information.  As the author says, you can be big-hearted and hard-headed at the same time.  But this is a test of how we live up to our values.  Especially in today's climate of hate and mistrust, we need to stand up for what we believe.  It is a big problem, but not hopeless.  It is up to us to do what we can.

1. What is the difference between refugees and asylum seekers?

2. Is refugee displacement usually short-term?

3. Do most refugees live in camps?

4. Are most of the refugees in Western countries?

5. Can climate change cause refugees?

6. What country has taken in the most refugees in the last couple of years?

7. What do refugees need to get back on their feet?

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One Church, Many Tribes by Richard Twiss

Native Americans have been evangelized by Christian missionaries for several hundred years with very few conversions.  One who did accept Christ is Richard Twiss.  He is trying to spread the Christian message but he acknowledges that there have been many problems in how white people have treated Native Americans.  One of his biggest concerns is how white Christians have rejected the Native American culture.  Things like drumming and dancing which are central to the Native American culture are not permitted in the white churches.  Syncretism is a concern, but people need to be who God created them to be.

1. What percentage of Native Americans are Christians?

2. Who is Richard Twiss?

3. What percentage of treaties with Native Americans did the US government break?

4. Contrast the Native American view of time with the European view of time.

5. What is syncretism?

6. What is the relationship between culture and religion?

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Nonviolent Resistance by Todd May

This book is about the PHILOSOPHY of nonviolence.  In exploring this topic the author did discuss many of the aspects of nonviolent resistance.  I did learn a few things.  He gave several examples of nonviolent resistance movements and explored what the definition of such a movement entails.  Several of the values of nonviolent resistance were discussed at length.  Finally, the difficulty of economic resistance was explored.  It was difficult for me to get through this book, but someone who was really interested in this philosophy would get more out of it.

1. Why does the author use references to ju-jitsu?

2. What is pragmatic vs principled nonviolent resistance?

3. What is the difference between nonviolent and passive resistance?

4. What is Kant's categorical imperative?

5. What two values of nonviolent resistance does the author discuss at length?

6. Is nonviolent resistance moral and violent resistance immoral?


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Pushout by Monique W Morris

This book is about Black girls and the educational system.  We are all familiar with dropout; pushout is a name for children forced out of the educational system, eg by suspension and expulsion.  "Actions that degrade and marginalize their learning and humanity" also cause them to abandon school.  This is a complicated subject.  These girls are affected by both gender and racial bias and by poverty.  And their culture teaches them to behave in ways that may be difficult for people from the dominant white culture to deal with.  This book is full of interviews with Black girls.  Many did not like or respect their teachers.  Yet the author says that she talked to the teachers and they care about the girls, but the teachers are often overwhelmed.  They do not know and have not been taught how to deal with the girls and their problems.  And many of these girls do have problems.  Poverty and abuse, both physical and sexual, are common.  Anyone interested in racial justice and education will find this book fascinating.

1. What is "permission to fail"?

2. Do these girls feel that education just isn't important?

3. Are the problems of Black girls the same as those of Black boys?

4. What does the author think of zero-tolerance policies?

5. Does a six year-old who throws a tantrum deserve to go to jail?

6. How does the mother's experience affect the daughter?

7. What is "the talk"?

8. Do you think that this is really a problem?


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NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman

This is a book about autism.  It is a big book, but is well written and goes fast.  90% of it is about the history of the diagnosis and treatment of autism.  Some of it is not pretty.  Great strides have been made in recent years.  The last part is about a movement lead by high-functioning autistic people which is much like the movement for the rights of disabled people.  For a long time there has been a search for a cure for autism.  These people are saying that its not a "disease" that needs to be cured.  Rather it is a different way of thinking and responding to the environment.  Autism is known to have a spectrum; think of Asperger's syndrome.  Children with autism (and their parents!) do need help.  But they also need educational opportunities and environments more suited to their way of seeing things.  The idea of NeuroTribes is that there is a spectrum of human thought and those of us who are "normal" need to recognize this and accommodate those who are in other places on the spectrum.

1. What did Kanner say about autism that impeded research for decades?

2. Is autism a modern phenomenon?

3. What are some of the things that have been cited as the cause of autism?

4. Are Idiot Savants autistic?

5. What are "neurotypicals"?

6. What are some drawbacks that autistic people see in those who are not?

7. What effect did the movie "Rain Man" have on people's perception of autism?

8. What do you think of the idea of neurodiversity?


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Weird Church by Beth Ann Estock and Paul Nixon

This is another book about the changing Christian Church.  There are three parts.  The first, the Introduction, tells about the book and the theory of Spiral Dynamics.  We are all familiar with the idea of the pendulum; think of Bush to Obama to Trump.  Combine that with advancement and you get a spiral.  For example, in worldview, we have gone from primitive, through strong religious influence, through reason and into a global outlook.  The authors feel that this is one reason that the Christian Church is changing.  The next section details several areas where the church must change its message.  For example, the first chapter "From Fear to Freedom" is about leaving the current climate of fear and moving in to living in faith in God.  The third part of the book describes a number of forms that the Christian Church in the 21st century could take.  Both of the authors are church coaches.  They talk a lot about how the changes relate to God's will.  This is a thoughtful book and a good addition to the literature on the church transition.

1. How are the "colors" of worldview changing in our time?

2. What is "liminal"?

3. Describe three of the possible forms of future churches.

4. What form of future church appeals to you?

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Money On Purpose by Shayna Lear

The author is a Certified Financial Planner.  She is also a Christian.  The subtitle of the book is "Finding A Faith-filled Balance".  It was refreshing to read a book where the author did not call money "evil".  What it causes people to do can be evil, but money itself is just an object.  Much of the information she gives, you may already know.  But it is a good refresher.  And she talks about the four purposes of money: spending, saving, giving and investing.   The last section is about the Financial Perspective Personalties.  Yes, there is a test to determine which personality you have and the pros and cons of each.  The information was not new, but I found the book very enjoyable.

1. Is money management a spiritual issue?

2. How important is it to have the various purposes of money in balance?

3. How important are relationships to money management?

4. What are the pros and cons of the saving personality?

5. In some couples, one person handles the money and the other just spends it.  Do you know how your money comes and goes?

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Soul Repair by Rita Brock & Gabriella Lettini

The subtitle of this book is "Recovering From Moral Injury After War".  It follows several people who were in the Army and Marines (foot soldiers, a chaplain and a man attached to a missile unit).  It tells how they got into the service, their experiences there and what it was like when they got out.  There is also a lot of commentary on war and its affects on those who participate in it.  The focus of the book is on the toll that it takes on the soldiers' sense of morality.  We have and always have had, people in our society who have been in this situation.  And suicides and PTSD are not uncommon among them.  We need to do a better job of understanding what they are going through and how to support them as they try to deal with it.  We also need to do a better job of understanding war and its' costs.

1. What is Moral Injury?

2. What is selective conscientious objection?

3. Why do most soldiers enlist?

4. What are some of the positive things that soldiers experience?

5. What are some of the negative things?

6. Is "Thank you for your service" a good response?

7. Is the toll on our troops justified by winning the war?


Love Casts Out Fear by Brother Nathan

Brother Nathan is an Egyptian Christian.  He is well known as an educator and a speaker.  He and his father were very close when he was young.  Then, when still a young boy, his father was assassinated right in front of him by terrorists.  He vowed to find the man who killed his father and kill him.  He says that for several years there were two Nathans.  One was a good Christian and the other was bent on revenge.  Then he accepted Jesus as his savior and he gave up his desire for revenge.  He went on to become an educator and a speaker.

1. How old was Nathan when his father was killed?

2. How old was he when he accepted Jesus?

3. What happened to his family after his father was killed?

4. Did he and his wife and children stay in Egypt?

5. Where in the Bible does the title of this book come from?

6. Do you think love is the answer to terrorism and the cycle of revenge?

Seabold AdminComment
America And Its Guns by James Atwood

The author was a Presbyterian minister in Virginia and he is an avid hunter.  He presents a theological approach to this problem.  We have all heard a lot about it, but there are some new and interesting things to be learned from this book.  He talks about violence, idols and laws.  Obviously this is not an easy problem to deal with, but it is a major part of our culture.  Sober and mature thought and action are required.

1. Are guns purely a political matter (spiritual, psychological, ethical)?

2. What happened to the NRA in 1977?

3. What do you think of the argument that people need guns to fight back in case the government runs amok?

4. What do you think of the argument that people need guns for self-protection?

5. How does the author feel about "redemptive violence"?

6. What does the author say about guns in the Old West?

7. How could the gun be an idol?

8. Do the majority of people in the US favor some kind of gun control?

9. What is the story of gun control laws?

10. Is physical power (ie a gun) the most important thing in our society?

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Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

The author was born and raised in Ohio but his family was from Kentucky.  He was a member of the poor, white, working class and he lived in the Appalachian culture.  This book is part biography and part analysis of the psychological and social factors affecting these people.  They have a lot of problems and he endeavors to explain why.  He describes his childhood, which was traumatic.  At one point he thought his mother was going to kill him.  But a stranger took him in and protested him until the police arrived.  He also tells about his grandmother, Mamaw, who was very important in his life.   Eventually he enlisted in the Marine Corps, and graduated from Ohio State University and Yale Law School.  He now works at an investment firm and lives in San Francisco with his wife and two dogs.  This is a book about "the forgotten people" who were brought to national attention in the last political campaign.  It is a gripping and informative book by an intelligent and perceptive person.

1. What is an "elegy"?

2. What was Mamaw famous for?

3. Why was she so important in J.D.'s life?

4. What did he learn in the Marines?

5. What did he learn at Yale?

6. How can we begin to heal the cultural divide that currently exists?

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Assimilate Or Go Home by D.L. Mayfield

The author grew up reading stories about great missionaries and she wanted to be one.  She attended a Bible College and when she got out, she started working with a group of refugees from Somalia.  She didn't convert anyone.  Things did not go as she thought they would.  Eventually she became very discouraged.  She persisted in visiting people who were now her friends and did what she could to be of use.  She baked a lot of cakes.  It took several years, but eventually she gained a deeper understanding of God's love and grace.  She gave up trying to be a savior and became a better Christian.

1. Does it make a difference where the refugees came from?

2. What difference did her persistence make?

3. What role does poverty make in the lives of refugees?

4. What was the lesson of the "life lists"?

5. What was the lesson of the cookies?

6. How do you feel about refugees?


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One Imperfect Christmas by Myra Johnson

Natalie Pearce has a tough year.  The story begins just before Natalie's mother has a stroke and Natalie blames herself for not being there.  As the year progresses, she separates from her husband and becomes estranged from her daughter.  Then things start to go wrong at work.  Spoiler alert - there is a happy ending.  But you have to wade through a lot of grief to get there.  It is a good read; and a good Christmas story.

1. Merry Christmas!

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