The great American clergyman and social reformer Henry Ward Beecher described summer as "a temperate zone in the mind ... just between laziness and labor." It was to this season, Beecher said, that "summer reading belongs."
With the arrival of Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer, days grow long, allowing a few extra hours for certain indulgences like stretching out on a porch chair and climbing into a good book.
This summer brings a rich collection of new spiritually themed titles that promise to captivate both the soul and the imagination as they reveal secrets and explore dark corners of the world of faith.
"Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church"
By Jason Berry
For more than 25 years, investigative reporter Jason Berry has been at the forefront of exposing sexual abuses by Catholic clergy. His 1992 book, "Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children" was the first major work on the issue, followed by 2004's "Vows of Silence."
In "Render Unto Rome," Berry turns his attention to a different kind of ecclesial corruption in this investigation of the financial secrets (and alleged deceptions) of the Roman Catholic Church. What happens after checks or cash are dropped into the collection basket each Sunday? Where does the money go when a diocese sells property for tens of millions of dollars?
In light of the more than $2 billion paid out in recent years to the victims of clergy sexual abuse in the United States alone, Berry "follows the money," from U.S. parishes to the Vatican, exposing what he believes are practices that fly in the face of Catholic moral teaching and values.
"Secrets and Wives: The Hidden World of Mormon Polygamy"
By Sanjiv Bhattacharya
British journalist Sanjiv Bhattacharya expands on his 2006 U.K. television documentary, "The Man with 80 Wives," about polygamist Warren Jeffs, leader of the breakaway Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. "Secrets and Wives" is a breezy investigation of the broader culture of polygamy among fringe Mormons.
Bhattacharya gained impressive access inside the polygamist compounds, weaving a fascinating and entertaining tale that is as much about his attempts to understand these fringe dwellers and their ideology as it is about their ideologies themselves. The author becomes a character in the book himself as he turns his journalistic lens inward and examines his own spiritual and cultural ideology with the same unblinking candor and disarming humor.
"Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir ... of Sorts"
By Ian Morgan Cron
An Episcopal priest in Greenwich, Conn., and author of the critically acclaimed novel, "Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale," Ian Morgan Cron returns with this surprisingly tender, brutally honest and blessedly humorous account of his journey "through the harrowing straights of memory," as he comes to terms with the wounds left by his father, an enigma of a man who was a CIA agent, and a depressed alcoholic.
More than simply a personal story of one man's journey to forgiveness and healing, Cron, who overcame alcoholism himself as an adult, weaves a much more universal story about the messiness of life and the startlingly beautiful tapestry God makes from its seemingly disparate parts.
"This is neither a simple memoir of hurt endured, nor a tidy story of reconciliation and resolution," Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says of Cron's memoir. "It is ... a testimony to the unfinished business of grace."
"The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism"
By Deborah Baker
After discovering a cache of letters and personal papers belonging to Margaret Marcus in the New York Public Library, acclaimed biographer Deborah Parker went digging for answers to the puzzle that was Marcus' life.
Her question: What would compel Marcus, a post-war secular Jew raised in suburban New York, to convert to Islam, change her name to Maryam Jameelah and move to Pakistan in 1962, where she became one of the world's preeminent voices for conservative (some would say radical) Islam?
Jameelah, who lives in Lahore, Pakistan with her husband, Muhammad Yusuf Khan, leader of Pakistan's oldest religious political party (Jamaat-e-Islami) and their five children, became an outspoken critic of Western culture, particularly American foreign policy. In her fascinating recounting of Marcus' confounding spiritual journey, Baker also contemplates what effect Jameelah's writings may have had on extremist groups such as al-Qaida and the Taliban.
By Lee Strobel
After years of phenomenal success as a Christian apologist with a string of best-sellers including "The Case for Christ," former journalist and pastor Lee Strobel has penned his first novel -- a darkly gripping, intricately plotted thriller about a mob trial, a corrupt judge, a power-hungry pastor, a cynical reporter and a gambling addict.
Set in the halls of a flourishing suburban megachurch, the newsroom of a struggling big-city newspaper and the shadowlands of political kingmakers, Strobel proves in this page-turner that he has as much flare for secular intrigue as he does for theological discourse.
This column appears via the Religion News Service.