Religion Gone Astray by Pastor Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon, Imam Jamal Rahman

Subtitle: What We Found at the Heart of Interfaith

Recommended by: Rabbi Ted Falcon’s website

I felt welcomed into this book right away when the authors say they will address exclusivity, violence, sexism, and homophobia in their three religions. These are the major issues that keep me away from organized religion.

For each section, each author writes in turn about his religion, where it goes astray, and how that can be addressed. They appear in the order that the religions were founded: first Judaism, then Christianity, then Islam. They take full ownership of problematic scriptures, and explain how they can be re-interpreted to support a more inclusive, whole spirituality.

They say the core teaching of Judaism is oneness, of Christianity is unconditional love, and of Islam is compassion.

They address exclusivity as a (misguided) attempt to define each religion in contrast to other options. Violence is defensive, and also a reflection of the human authors and interpreters of scripture. “The more aware I am of the potential for violence within me, the more likely I am to refrain from acting that violence out in my world.”

I was least satisfied with the way they address sexism. Each affirms that men and women [people of all genders] are of equal value and should be treated equally. I did not see them take a step back and acknowledge that the scriptures were written/interpreted by and for men, and that they would be very different if they had been written by women as well.

Their section on homophobia has both the most welcoming and least welcoming passages. Least welcoming is that the exercises at the end are clearly written for straight people, not imagining that LGBT people will be reading as well.

Most welcoming:

The forgiveness we need as a culture and a world is for thinking that homosexuality is anything but natural. And this forgiveness is not needed because we are bad people, but because we need to start over in our thinking about homosexuality.
In effect, we need to be born again to a different and positive and supportive sensibility concerning homosexuality.

The book ends with the comforting idea that both people and institutions go astray in order to grow.  Our mistakes show us where there is more work to be done.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“I Am Not Sick I Don’t Need Help!” by Xavier Amador, PhD

Subtitle: How to Help Someone with Mental Illness Accept Treatment

Recommended by: a friend with a mentally ill relative

This is a book about how to communicate better with people with mental illnesses involving psychosis like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The focus is on getting people to accept psychoactive drugs when they don’t believe they are ill.

Rather than assuming non-compliant patients are immature, defensive, stubborn, or oppositional, Xavier Amador documents that poor insight into being mentally ill is a symptom of being ill itself. People carry their self-image from before becoming ill and don’t update it to match their new reality. Anosognosia is the official diagnosis for lacking self-awareness of a disability.

He also presents research that early and consistent use of medications leads to better long-term outcomes than longer periods of untreated psychosis. My intuition says that there may be correlation rather than causation there.

Rather than arguing with someone about whether they are ill and need medications, Amador proposes the LEAP protocol: Listen, Empathize, Agree, Partner. Listen to what the person has to say, ask questions to clarify, and reflect it back, even if it is delusional. Empathize with the underlying emotions. Find places of agreement. Partner to meet common goals, such as avoiding repeated hospitalizations. Be an ally rather than an adversary. Recognize the person’s autonomy.

Reflective listening can be difficult when we have an urgent agenda, especially when we believe someone is delusional. It’s easy to believe we are listening reflectively while being patronizing instead, which undermines all attempts at creating an alliance.

  1. Make it safe – Apologize for past attempts at coercion and indicate an intention to listen. It will take time to rebuild trust.
  2. Know your fears – Many people fear worsening or joining in delusions if they are not immediately contradicted.
  3. Stop pushing your agenda – Drop attempts to be in control. The agenda is to listen and learn.
  4. Let it be – Don’t fan the flames of conflict. Don’t try to impose order on disordered thinking.
  5. Respect what you’ve heard – Reflect back without comment or criticism.
  6. Find workable problems – Find out how they see their problems, and help them address them.
  7. Write the headlines – Listen for what is most important, and underlying themes.

Delay giving opinions, especially about whether the person has a mental illness and needs drugs. Say things like, “I’ll answer that, but first I want to hear more about how you’re feeling.” When giving an opinion, Apologize, Acknowledge, Agree. Apologize for having an opinion that may be hurtful to hear. Acknowledge that it is only an opinion and could be wrong. Agree to disagree. Above all, acknowledge that the person is in charge of their own body and will be making the final decisions about taking meds when not in the hospital.

Recommended for the respectful communication skills, with the caveat that this book emphatically advocates for meds, with one brief paragraph about the benefits of intensive therapy instead.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Knots” by R.D. Laing

Recommended by: David Mitchell

These are the knots of human relationships, stripped down to their raw bones, layered like acrostic puzzles into brief poems. It starts with parent-child relationships, and moves on to (presumably) romantic relationships, indicated by dialogues between Jack and Jill.

There is no untangling in this little book; just knots. I’m not sure these are the sort of knots that are helped by awareness. They may just be pulled tighter. The book came up in the context of complementary schismogenesis, when two people (or groups) get more and more polarized in their roles. That can sometimes be interrupted with awareness and consciously adopting the opposite qualities.

Jill I’m ridiculous
Jack No you are not
Jill I’m ridiculous to feel ridiculous when I’m not.
You must
    be laughing at me
for feeling you are laughing at me
    if you are not laughing at me

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Rails View” by John Athayde and Bruce Williams

Subtitle: Create a Beautiful and Maintainable User Experience

Recommended by: Working with the authors

It took me two years to get around to reading this book, but fortunately (?) my project is on a version of Rails that’s three years old, so it’s a perfect time to read it.

This book is the next best thing to sitting down with Bruce and John to learn about Rails views. It’s organized as a tutorial with specific code examples. It would be beneficial to follow along and actually type in the code, although I didn’t do that.

The language is casual and friendly, with lots of tips, tricks, and best practices. There are some sexist (“marketing guys”) and ableist (“don’t get too insane”) phrases that detract from an otherwise great book.


Currently out of print, although Amazon has used copies.

“Disarming the Narcissist” by Wendy T. Behary, LCSW

Subtitle: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed

Recommended by: Focusing-discussion list

The person recommending this book spoke of narcissistic wounds rather than narcissistic people. I think it’s useful to have compassion, and at the same time it is easy to lose sight of the people hurt by narcissistic behavior.

The author is a therapist who works a lot with narcissists and couples containing a narcissist. She classifies narcissists as spoiled, deprived, dependent, or combinations of these. She describes abusive childhoods which can sometimes lead to narcissistic behavior. She distinguishes between “moderate” narcissists who might reform after a great deal of work, and “perilous” narcissists who are abusive and unreachable.

The reader, assumed to be in a relationship with a narcissist, is encouraged to hold boundaries more strongly, and be more present and aware. On the one hand the author wants to be helpful and give concrete advice, and on the other hand the most helpful advice I’ve found around narcissists is, “You’re already good enough. You’re already trying hard enough. There is nothing wrong with you.”

If the following sounds like new and useful advice, you might want to read this book.

“Putting yourself in the narcissist’s shoes means trying to sense and genuinely feel his inner world. Specific techniques can help you do this. For example, when the narcissist begins to address you sharply, you could superimpose the face of a lonely and unloved little boy over that of the grown man before you.”

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Art of Empathy” by Karla McLaren

Subtitle: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill

Recommended by: Reading The Language of Emotions

The first part of this book analyzes the six components of empathy, including the ability to sense emotions internally, sense emotions of others, and manage emotions. It continues with a recap of the material in The Language of Emotions, including the recommended skills of burning contracts, conscious complaining, and rejuvenation.

It’s a dense book, and I did not have time to continue before returning it to the library. I’m noting it here because I do want to get back to it eventually, and I think it can be useful for people who are curious about empathy.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Mass” by Leonard Bernstein

I heard Bernstein’s Mass on the radio as a kid and was hooked by both the words and the music. I bought the double CD set at some point, but hadn’t listened to it for years. I got it out recently, thinking about interfaith. It’s a theater piece of a full Latin mass, interspersed with more modern songs and commentary, written by a Jewish man. It still grabs me, and to my amazement large parts of it are stored in my head.

The odd rhythms struck me, and I looked on Multnomah County library’s website. Lo and behold, they have sheet music for the entire Mass (3 copies), including stage directions. The part that I thought was in 7/8 was in 5/8, and other parts are written in combination 3/4 and 3/8, or 12/8 with a few measures of 6/8 interspersed. I can imagine what the singers and musicians thought as they were learning their parts!

The library has a CD of the music too.

“A Theory of Everything” by Ken Wilber

Subtitle: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality

Recommended by: David Mitchell

I read this book to learn about Spiral Dynamics, a classification of cultures that makes room for change and values all levels, from bare subsistence to military control to cooperative and aware. The levels are labeled with colors and called “memes” (not the usual Internet meme definition).

A “Theory of Everything” includes these levels, mapped onto quadrants of Interior/Individual (“I”), Exterior/Individual (“IT”), Interior/Collective (“WE”), and Exterior/Collective (“ITS”). The quadrants are also described as Intentional, Behavioral, Cultural, and Social.

The book focuses on how to facilitate a cultural transformation to the next level, from green, relativistic and empathic, but narcissistic according to Wilber, to turquoise, truly holistic and less likely to wreak environmental disaster.

The second section describes various disciplines in “all-level, all-quadrant” ways. Medicine, for example, can look at someone’s emotional state, physical symptoms, availability of care, and social support.

Throughout the book, Wilber refers to his other books. In some ways, this is a condensed summary of his life’s work.

This book felt like an interesting intellectual exercise, ungrounded in intuition or the body. I might agree with some of the conclusions about how to lead a “good” life, but I arrive at them by trying different things and sensing what works for me, not constructing grand edifices and then reasoning from there.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Sea Change” by S. M. Wheeler

Recommended by: s.e. smith at this ain’t livin’

This wild fantasy felt true to me, true to inner journeys and struggles and transformations. It has violence in it, but not a lot compared to the modern fashion, and deaths are grieved instead of being passed over without comment. Heroes, villains, and monsters alike are complex, whole people. Friendships are important enough to endure loss and hardship for.

Definitely worth spending an afternoon on the porch in the sun with this book!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Core Awareness” by Liz Koch

Subtitle: Enhancing Yoga, Pilates, Exercise, and Dance

Recommended by: David Mitchell

I enthusiastically endorse this book’s focus on awareness, especially in core areas that we often learn to block out. The psoas muscles connects the front of the lumbar spine to the inside of the pelvis to the inner upper femur, all areas we largely ignore. I like the image of telling small children, “Sense yourself!” rather than, “Be careful!” to avoid injury. My own experience supports that the psoas does not like to be deeply palpated, but responds better to gentle invitations to relax.

At the same time, while Part I is nicely poetic, it desperately [needs citation], as well as an editor who knows how to spell muscle names and types of bodywork. The statement that the psoas only contracts eccentrically is simply false. (More information at wikipedia’s psoas article.)

Part II contains carefully described exploratory exercises to connect with and relax the psoas, illustrated with photographs of people with a diversity of body types.

I recommend this book to explore new ideas around internal awareness, as long as the first part is read as metaphorical. It is helpful to look at a good anatomy book such as Trail Guide to the Body to visualize the psoas muscle.

Available at Powell’s Books.