Wednesday Morning Book Group

Join us on Wednesdays beginning at 10 a.m. to discuss books selected by the group ranging from topics of Christianity, comparative religions, historical perspective, societal engagement, scientific exploration and more. We are currently meeting via Zoom. Join the Ascension mailing list for weekly updates on book titles and chapters to be discussed.

Current Book

  • “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together” by HeatherMcGhee

Heather McGhee’s specialty is the American economy–and the mystery of why it so often fails the American public. From the financial crisis to rising student debt to collapsing public infrastructure, she found a common root problem: racism. But not just in the most obvious indignities for people of color. Racism has costs for white people, too. It is the common denominator of our most vexing public problems, the core dysfunction of our democracy and constitutive of the spiritual and moral crises that grip us all. But how did this happen? And is there a way out?

McGhee embarks on a deeply personal journey across the country from Maine to Mississippi to California, tallying what we lose when we buy into the zero-sum paradigm–the idea that progress for some of us must come at the expense of others. Along the way, she meets white people who confide in her about losing their homes, their dreams, and their shot at better jobs to the toxic mix of American racism and greed. This is the story of how public goods in this country–from parks and pools to functioning schools–have become private luxuries; of how unions collapsed, wages stagnated, and inequality increased; and of how this country, unique among the world’s advanced economies, has thwarted universal healthcare.

But in unlikely places of worship and work, McGhee finds proof of what she calls the Solidarity Dividend: gains that come when people come together across race, to accomplish what we simply can’t do on our own.

The Sum of Us is a brilliant analysis of how we arrived here: divided and self-destructing, materially rich but spiritually starved and vastly unequal. McGhee marshals economic and sociological research to paint an irrefutable story of racism’s costs, but at the heart of the book are the humble stories of people yearning to be part of a better America, including white supremacy’s collateral victims: white people themselves. With startling empathy, this heartfelt message from a Black woman to a multiracial America leaves us with a new vision for a future in which we finally realize that life can be more than a zero-sum game.

Next Book (TBD)

Titles in Consideration for Future Discussion

How to be an Antiracist by Abram X. Kendi

Kendi relates his evolving concept of racism through the events of his own life, touching on observations from classes he has taught, contemporary events such as the O. J. Simpson robbery case and the 2000 U.S. presidential election, and through historical events such as the scientific proposals of polygenism in Europe in the 1600s and racial segregation in the U.S. Kendi further deals the manifestations of racism, such as scientific racism, colorism and their intersection with demographics including gender, class and sexuality.

Kendi comes to define racism as any policy that creates inequitable outcomes between people of different skin colors. Therefore, a person is not “a racist” (noun). A policy is “racist” (adjective). And policy is made by the powerful. He examines his own internalized racism and disagrees with the prejudice plus power model of racism, which would not allow for Black racism.

Just Mercy by Bryan Steveson

Bryan Steveson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and the women and children trapped in the reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinkmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

Spirit Run by Noé Alvarez

Growing up in Yakima, Washington, Noé Alvarez worked at an apple-packing plant alongside his mother, who “slouched over a conveyor belt of fruit, shoulder-to-shoulder with mothers conditioned to believe this was all they could do with their lives.” A university scholarship offered escape. But as a first-generation Latino college-goer, Alvarez struggled to fit in.

At nineteen, he learned about a Native American/First Nations movement called the Peace and Dignity Journeys– epic marathons meant to renew cultural connections across North America. He dropped out of school and joined a group of Indigenous American runners, all fleeing difficult beginnings. Telling stories alongside his own, Alvarez writes about a four-month-long journey from Canada to Guatemala that pushed him to his limits. He writes not only of overcoming hunger, thirst, and fear—dangers include stone-throwing motorists and a mountain line—but also asserting Indigenous and working-class humanity in a capitalistic society where oil extraction, deforestation, and substance abuse wreck communities.

Running through mountains, deserts, and cities, and through the Mexican territory that his parents left behind, Alvarez forges a new relationship with the land, and with the act of running, carrying with him the knowledge of his parents’ migration, and—against all odds in a society that exploits his body and rejects his spirit—the dream of a liberated future.

The Small Light in the Universe: A Memoir by Sara Seager

Sara Seager has always been in love with the stars: so many lights in the sky, so much possibility. Now a planetary scientist, she searches for exoplanets—especially that distant, elusive world that sustains life. But with the unexpected death of Seager’s husband, the purpose of her own life becomes hard for her to see. Suddenly, at forty, she is a widow and a single mother of two young boys. For the first time, she feels alone in the universe.

As she struggles to navigate her life after loss, Seager takes solace in the alien beauty of exoplanets and the technical challenges of exploration. At the same time, she discovers earthbound connections that feel every bit as wonderous, when strangers and loved ones alike reach out to her across the space of her grief. Among them are the Widows of Concord, a group of women offering advice on everything from home maintenance to dating, and her beloved sons, Max and Alex. Most unexpected of all, there is another kind of one-in-a-billion match, not in the stars but here at home.

Probing and invigoratingly honest, this book is its own kind of light in the dark.

The History of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez

Volume 1 (528 pages) and Volume 2 (560 pages) Comprehensive and readable.

Also, in Spanish in a single volume in case you want to practice your Spanish
The First 3,000 Years Diarmaid MacCullach This is an excellent and comprehensive history of Christianity used by a number of seminaries as a core history text. MacCullach’s storytelling is engaging. Highly recommended to read. There is also an excellent 6-part video series that accompanies the book.

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

Two thousand years ago, an itinerant Jewish preacher walked across the Galilee, gathering followers to establish what he called the “Kingdom of God.” The revolutionary movement he launched was so threatening to the established order that he was executed as a state criminal. Within decades after his death, his followers would call him God.

Sifting through centuries of mythmaking, Reza Aslan sheds new light on one of history’s most enigmatic figures by examining Jesus through the lens of the tumultuous era in which he lived. Balancing the Jesus of the Gospels against the historical sources, Aslan describes a man full of conviction and passion, yet rife with contradiction. He explores the reasons the early Christian church preferred to promulgate an image of Jesus as a peaceful spiritual teacher rather than a politically conscious revolutionary. And he grapples with the riddle of how Jesus understood himself, the mystery that is at the heart of all subsequent claims about his divinity.

Zealot yields a fresh perspective on one of the greatest stories ever told even as it affirms the radical and transformative nature of Jesus’ life and mission.

Recently Completed Books

  • “His Truth is Marching On – John Lewis and the Power of Hope” – Jon Meacham
  • “Living Buddha, Living Christ” – Thich Nhat Hanh and Elaine Pagels
  • “The Gospel of Jesus” – A Historical Search for the Original Good News – James M. Robinson
  • “Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned about life” – Harold S. Kushner
  • “The Color of Law” – Richard Rothstein
  • “Holy Envy” – by Barbara Brown Taylor
  • “So You Want to Talk about Race” – Ijeoma Oluo
  • “The Gospel of Jesus” – James Robinson
  • “Enlightenment Now” – Stephen Pinker
  • “Sapiens” – Yuval Harari
  • “The Universal Christ” – Richard Rohr
  • “Take this Bread” – Sara Miles
  • “Brief Answers to the Big Questions” – Stephen Hawkin
  • “The Lost Way” – Stephen Patterson
  • “Why Religion: A Personal Story” – Elaine Pagels
  • “The Grand Design” – Stephen Hawkin
  • “Finding God in the Waves” – Mike McHauge
  • “Becoming Wise” – Krista Tippett
  • “Let Your Life Speak” – Parker Palmer
  • “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” – Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • “Christ Actually” – Carrol
  • “Night” – Elie Wiesel
  • “Is Jesus God; Finding Our Faith” – Moorewood