Cut Dead But Still Alive by Gregory C. Ellison II

This is a book for pastoral counselors working with African American Young Men. It is not intended for lay-people. This can be a dangerous area for the untrained. That said, this book is helpful for gaining another perspective on the problems that these people have and ways to deal with them. Cut Dead is a cultural expression which means basically to ostracize. The author's contention is that problems occur because these young men feel unseen and unheard. The counselors main purpose is to give them hope. They may know how to cope with their problems, but they don't see any reason to try. When your education, your home life and your job prospects are poor, life is an uphill battle. There are no easy answers, but thoughtful insight as shown here may help.

1. What is social junk?

2. What is social dynamite?

3. What is countertransference?

4. What is SFBT?

5. As the author states several times, "how would it feel to be a problem"?

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First White Frost by Homer Noley

This is basically a history book about the Native Americans from the time of the Pilgrims to the 1980s with mention of Methodist activity related to them. There are lots of names and dates with connecting narrative. From the time of the Pilgrims through the Civil War, the white man (or the immigrants as the author calls them) took the Indian's land by means of ineffective treaties, trickery, squatting and military conquest and pushed them to the West. It was eventually noticed that the number of Indians had fallen precipitously. They were no longer rich and powerful, but were poor and discouraged. From the turn of the twentieth century, missions to the Indians were just that. There were some bright spots in the early days, but overall it is a tragic story. The engagement of the Methodist church seems to have been a minor footnote. It is a wonder that there were any converts but there were. This is not a book for casual reading, but for someone who is interested in the history of the Native Americans during the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, it is very informative.

1. Where does the phrase "first white frost" come from?

2. What happened to the Native Americans during Reconstruction (after the Civil War) ?

3. Who were the "five civilized tribes" and why were they called that?

4. What do you think about the Native American situation today?

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Jackie Robinson. A Spirtual Biography by Michael G Long & Chris Lamb

Many of you have probably read about Jackie Robinson's career with the Brooklyn Dodger's and how he broke the color barrier in major-league baseball.  This book tells that story but also tells about his background and his life after baseball.  It puts things in context.  It tells about his mother, who taught her children to have faith in God and to be proud of their black skins.  And it tells about Branch Rickey, who enlisted him to play with the Dodger's and who was also a strong Christian.  And it tells about the period after his athletic career when he was a greatly admired role-model.  He was a strong advocate for equality, both racial and religious.  He was probably not easy to get along with; he could be vehement and outspoken; but he was honest, a man of faith and a fierce fighter for the rights of his fellow men.

1. How did his mother show her feelings about equality when she lived in Georgia?

2. Who was Karl Downs and what influence did he have on Jackie?

3. Who was called a cautious revolutionary?

4. What kind of person was Jackie Robinson?

5. What kinds of harassment did Jackie face in his first season with the Dodger's?

6. What is the story about the hoe?

7. How did Jackie feel about President Eisenhauer?

8. Did Jackie Robinson know Martin Luther King, Jr?

9. What part did Jackie Robinson play in the struggle for racial equality?

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Hoping For More by Deanna A. Thompson

This book is mainly about 6 months in the life of a woman with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer; the time from the diagnosis to remission.  She didn't know she had breast cancer - mammograms missed the tumor twice.  It was discovered when pain in her back lead to the diagnoses.  There followed radiation, chemotherapy and many visits with the doctors.  Following the treatment, she was in remission.
This book would be helpful to people facing such a diagnosis and their loved ones because it gives a detailed account of the medical procedures.  The author is a Professor of Religion.  In the book she also reflects on suffering, God's role in her illness, etc.  She was very lucky.  She had a great support system and that helped a lot.  And she experienced remission, which is the hoped for outcome; there is no cure.  Hence the title.

1. What is metastatic?

2. What is Stage 4?

3. What is CaringBridge?

4. What does the author have to say about the church universal?

5. Did the author ever experience despair?

6. Did her husband?

7. What kinds of support did she receive?

8. What is the story of the delivery of meals?

9. How does this story speak to the acceptance of grace?

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Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

The author attended Harvard Law School in the early 80s.  In 1989 He and a colleague started the Equal Justice Initiative.  Their mission was to work with inmates on Alabama's Death Row.  At that time, the inmates had no access to legal council.  Many of them had been poorly represented or arrested on false pretenses.  Trying to get them free was not easy.  The book is a mixture of facts about the criminal justice system in America and stories of people that the author met.  The story of Walter McMillian runs through the book.  He was on Death Row for six years for a crime he did not commit.  The author also worked on cases of people who were sentenced as juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  He tells some of their stories as well.  This book is very readable and timely.

1. What is EJI?

2. What is the story about Mrs. Williams?

3. What are stonecatchers?

4. Did Bryan ever get discouraged?

5. What happened to Walter as a result of his conviction and imprisonment?

6. What role did lies and corrupt justice officials have in Walter's story?

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Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

This book is a novel about an immigrant family from Cameroon.  I won't tell you the plot because it is a good read and I don't want to spoil it.  There are surprises.  But the story touches on many subjects including immigration, poverty, the status of women and the American Dream.  The author was herself an immigrant.

1. What attracts immigrants to America?

2. How did Winston attain his position?

3. How did support groups, family and friends, differ for the Jonga's and the Edward's?

4. How do Jende and Neni feel about home?

5. Was Neni changed by her experiences in America?

6. Did Jende go home in defeat?

7. What does Vince Edwards represent?

8. According to this story, how are women treated?

9. How does Clark Edwards change over the course of events in this story?

10. What did you think of Bubakar?

11. What role did race play in this story?

12. What do you think of immigration?

13. Is having a dream good or bad?


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Walk To Beautiful by Jimmy Wayne with Ken Abraham

Jimmy Wayne Barber was born and raised in North Carolina.  He was abused and neglected as a child and he spent some time in foster care.  At 16 he met a couple who gave him a home and unconditional love.  He went on to become a country music songwriter and singer.  In 2010 he walked from the foster center in Nashville to the foster center in Phoe nix (the Meet Me Halfway campaign).  It was not a continuous journey, he left for concerts and to appear before congress, but he walked the entire way, the last part of it with a broken foot.  The reason for the walk was to raise awareness for foster children aging out of the system.  They often had no skills and nowhere to go.  It is a remarkable story and highlights the plight of children in sometimes dire circumstances.

1. What was Jimmy like as a child?

2. Who was Sparkles?

3. How old was Jimmy's sister the first time she got married?

4. How was Jimmy almost killed as a boy?

5. How did he meet Bea and Russell Costner?

6. Why is the word "beautiful" so meaningful to Jimmy?

7. What part did his talent play in his story?

8. What surprised you most about this story?

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Ferguson & Faith by Leah Gunning Francis

The author is a teacher at the Eden Theological Seminary in St Louis.  This book is basically about the response of Christian clergy to the events in Missouri after the killing of Michael Brown.  It is at least half transcripts of people's statements and pictures concerning that  situation.  It talks about the clergy's participation in the events and their support of the young activists who were leading the response (without trying to take over) and the role some of the churches played during this time.

This is a tough situation for many of us to understand.  As was mentioned in the book, a white person said "I can't believe this is happening here" and a black person said "I can't believe it took so long".  We don't see the problem.  But (black) people are (still) being oppressed.  The clergy saw it and responded in the name of justice and equality.  Reading this book helped me to understand the situation better.

1. What are four ways that clergy participated in this situation?

2. What is respectability politics?

3. Does it work?

4. What are the three basic tenets of BlackLivesMatter?

5. What does #stayawoke mean?

6. How do you feel about the BlackLivesMatter movement?

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City of Thorns by Ben Rawlence

Dadaab is the largest refugee camp in the world.  There are actually several camps located around the town of Dadaab in the north-eastern desert of Kenya.  For those who remember the crisis in Darfur (in Sudan) much of this is depressingly familiar; starving people, long walks through inhospitable surroundings, those with very little having that taken away from them, etc.  There is certainly that aspect, but this book goes further.  It tells the stories of several people who live in the camps and it explains some of the things happening outside of the camps that make life for the refugees so difficult.  It is a sober look at refugee camps and the situations that many of their inhabitants face.

1. What ethnic groups are in the Dadaab camps?

2. What percentage of the refugees are Somalians?

3. What role did religion play in the story of Monday and Muna?

4. Why did the relocation of Monday and Muna take so long?

5. What does a "cinema" in the refugee camp consist of?

6. What is khat?

7. What role did the Kenyan police and politicians play?

8. What role did the UN play?

9. What surprised you most about the camps?

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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?

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