Loneliness By John Cacioppo and William Patrick

This is not anecdotal stories about loneliness. Rather it is a comprehensive look at the science of loneliness. The author is a psychologist. The book describes several experiments done to see how loneliness affects behavior. It also includes information about how loneliness shows up in the brain. It speculates on how social behavior might have evolved. It describes how several societies operate; ours and two closely related species. Lastly it offers advice on how to deal with loneliness. It is ultimately about the human condition.

1. What is meant by “obligatorily gregarious”?

2. What does loneliness signify?

3. Is loneliness benign?

4. How does loneliness affect human behavior?

5. What is The Prisoners Dilemma?

6. How can a female chimp stop two males from fighting?

7. Which is better, individualism or community?

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Eleanor: A Spiritual Biography by Harold Ivan Smith


Eleanor Roosevelt was the wife of Franklin Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States.  They had 5 children and she nursed him through the early days of his disease (polio).  But after his affair with Lucy Mercer, she became more independent.  She was a tireless advocate for causes she believed in.  She was Episcopalian and took Jesus’ commandments very seriously.  There is a saying “it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness”.  As  Adlai Stevenson said at her funeral, Eleanor wasn’t afraid to light a candle; or several.  From her position of prominence, she was able to do a lot for the poor and downtrodden.  She had many critics and not everything she tried worked but she didn’t let that deter her.  She was a formidable example of what one talented and persistent woman can do.

  1. Describe the incident with the chair in the aisle.

  2. What was her childhood like?

  3. Did she travel much while she was First Lady?

  4. Why did she regret not doing more for the Jews during WWII?

  5. How does the US Immigration policy toward the Jews in WWII compare with today?

  6. What did she do after she left the White House?

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The Wife’s Tale by Aida Edemariam

The subject of this book, Yetemegnu, was the author’s grandmother.  She was born in 1916 and died in 2013 and she lived her whole life in Ethiopia.  She was married very young.  She had 10 pregnancies, although only seven children survived to adulthood.  Her husband was a higher ranking churchman (like a bishop?).  As a young wife she followed a traditional role, with her main activities being cooking, overseeing the household and caring for the children.  Then came periods of political turmoil.  World War II occurred.  Her husband was imprisoned and eventually died.  She lost her lands which had supplied food as well as income.  So she went to the seat of government to petition to regain what she had lost.  She still had 7 children and a household to support and she wanted to clear her husbands name.  Eventually she was successful.  Later, the emperor, Haile Selassie, was overthrown and there was a Communist revolution.

 

This is not a book in the Western style.  The author does not try to analyze her grandmother’s character or develop a main theme.  Rather it is a history; it tells about what happened in her grandmother’s lifetime.  And it gives a feeling or an impression of the place and time and how people lived.  It is a gripping story and gives us an insight into a world we probably aren’t familiar with.

 

1. What were Yetemegnu’s early years of marriage like?

 

2. How did Yetemegnu and other Ethiopian women react to abuse by their husbands?

 

3. What role did fatalism play in her life?

 

4. What role did religion play on her life?

 

5. What was her legacy?

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When Did Everybody Else Get So Old? By Jennifer Grant

 

Spoiler Alert: Old means middle aged.  The author has four children, all of whom  are older adolescents.  The oldest is off to college.  About half of the book is about raising children.  And it tells about things from a mother’s point of view.  The author also touches on other topics including self esteem, marriage and a difficult sibling.  She is a Christian so she talks to God about some of her problems.  It is a good read; sometimes funny, sometimes sad.

 

1. How old is the author?

 

2. Who is Susan and what is her story? 

 

3.What are some things that flight attendants and mothers of teens have in common?

 

4. What is the U-Curve of Happiness?

 

 

 

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Thanks A Thousand by AJ Jacobs

 

The author, a writer, decided to thank all the people who contributed to his morning cup of coffee.  He found there were MANY, so he limited it to one thousand.  He called many people and even travelled out of the country.  Gratitude is something we probably don’t think about very often, but especially in our globally connected world, there are many people to be thanked.  It is an eye-opening project.

 

1. What did the author hope that this project would do for him?

 

2. How did an attorney in Seattle figure into this project?

 

3. Were all the people thanked receptive to the sentiment?

 

4. Were all the contributions positive?

 

5. What advice did the author get about charitable giving?

 

6. Did anything in this story surprise you?

 

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The Smell of Other's Peoples Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

The Smell of Other's Peoples Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

 

This is a novel about a group of teenagers, most of whom live in Fairbanks, Alaska.  There are Eskimos, Indians and Caucasians.  Some of the events seem too good to be true, but good things do happen.  This book is about people whose life-style is in some ways very similar to our own, and in some ways very different.

 

1. What is Dora's story?

 

2. Why was Alaskan statehood opposed by some?

 

3.  How does this story incorporate a ballerina on a fishing boat?

 

4. What is Eskimo ice cream?

 

5. What happened to Dumpling on the trip to the fishing camp?

 

6. How do people like Dumpling's father treat children?

 

7. Old people?

 

8. How do these people from different ethnic groups get along?

 

9. What role has the Catholic Church played in northern Canada and Alaska?

 

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White Fragility by Robin Diangelo

We are accustomed to think of racism as hatred toward people of another race.  We think of the killing of people in the church in Charleston, SC.  However, this book is about a more subtle form of racism; being prejudiced against people of another race.  In many cases it is probably subconscious.  This book is about the inherent racism in white people.  The term "white" is itself problematic.  And racism is probably something we learned from an early age.  It does not mean that we are "bad".  It does mean that we don't realize how our words and actions affect the other person.  It took a lot of trauma and a lot of years to drum racism into our national psyche.  It will take a lot of effort, discomfort and time to root it back out.  We must learn to communicate better with people of other races.  This is a complicated subject and just reading this book once may just make things more confusing.  But this is something that we need to understand.

 

1. What is white fragility?  White superiority?   White privilege?  White nationalism?

 

2. What is the "white race"?

 

3. What are some ways that we can deal with white fragility?

 

4. Have you experienced white fragility?

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Rising Out of Hatred by Eli Saslow

This is a fascinating book.  Derek Black is the son of Don Black, a former KKK Grand Wizard.  Don started a website, Stormfront.com, and a radio show both of which are devoted to promoting the white nationalist agenda.  His son Derek was a rising star in the movement.  He chested the radio program with his father.  Then Derek went to college.  He is intelligent, articulate and personable.  He went to a very liberal college.  At first no one knew who he was, but his background became known.  Most people reviled him.  His girlfriend, who was Jewish, broke up with him.  But several people chose to associate with him.  A Jewish student, who hosted a weekly Shabbat dinner, invited him to attend a dinner.  (And kept on inviting him.)  His  deep conversations with his small circle of friends and the things he was learning were carefully considered.  Eventually he changed his beliefs.  This story ends when he is in graduate school.

 

1. What is white nationalism?

 

2. What is Shabbat?

 

3. Who was Allison?

 

4. What college did Derek go to?

 

5. What organization did the white nationalists fear most?

 

6. Who is Richard Spencer?

 

7. How did Derek's family react to his change of beliefs?

 

8. Why did Derek change his beliefs?

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A Lawyer's Journey by Morris Dees

The Southern Poverty Law Center was founded by Morris Dees and Joe Levin in 1971. the Center’s purpose is to defend and provide education about civil rights. They monitor hate groups, provide educational materials free of charge, pursue cases in court and built and maintain the Civil Rights Memorial Center. This book is mainly the story of Morris Dees’ life as a lawyer. During the 70s and 80s, he participated in several cases against the Ku Klux Klan. He believes strongly in desegregation and the rule of law. This book is very reminiscent of another book about a lawyer, “Just Mercy”. However, Dees can and does play hard ball on occasion. He has been threatened with death several times. Several of the court cases boiled down to holding the organization and its head responsible for the actions of some of their members. What you say does matter. Hate is on the rise in this country and the story of how it was dealt with in the past is timely.

1. Where was Dees born and raised?

2. Where is the SPLC?

3. Is Dees independently wealthy?

4. What was the Michael Donald case about?

5. What do you think about this approach to hate groups?

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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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