More than 2 billion Christians around the world are preparing for a Lenten season unlike any other.
Lent 2021 will be a wiser, safer, less-risk-taking Lent than the season of reflection that led to Easter 2020. Last year, the starting points for this season—Ash Wednesday for Western Christians and Clean Monday for Orthodox Christians—both were observed before the first major pandemic closing orders took hold. So, millions of Christians gathered, last year, at least for the start of this season. Many congregations already had plans underway for Lenten readings and small-group discussions.
This year—after more than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. alone—Lent 2021 begins on February 17 (Ash Wednesday) and March 15 (Clean Monday) with strict new national guidelines for masks and social distancing. If you’d like more background on this season, Stephanie Fenton, the ReadTheSpirit magazine Holidays & Festivals columnist, explained Lent in this column. This year, Stephanie once again will chronicle the diverse religious customs and milestones of this season as they unfold. News stories change every week about the seasonal plans in congregations around the world. For example, Catholic churches just recently were given guidance on the distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday to reduce the opportunity for spreading the deadly virus.
Lent 2021 will be different for many American Christians, not just because of the Covid-19 precautions, but also because our nation is recovering from a divisive presidential election, we are in the midst of a second impeachment trial for the previous President, and we have faced and are challenged to address deeply entrenched racial inequities—as our ReadTheSpirit writers pointed out just last week.
Due to the pandemic, Lent 2021 has provided many of us with unusual down time at home, which could become more time for personal reflection and Lenten observance. Front Edge Publishing has a wide variety of books that will either guide you through the Lenten season or will enrich your spiritual life generally, as you prepare for the upcoming Easter.
A 40-Day Companion for Lent
In his book Our Lent: Things We Carry, ReadTheSpirit magazine Editor David Crumm notes that Lenten observance continues to increase each year. “So, why is this season rising in popularity? As a careful observer of religious life over the past three decades, I believe that Lent is the perfect Christian season for the 21st century era of change, anxiety, and spiritual transformation.”
Many of our readers, over the years, have told us they enjoy reading David’s book focusing on Lent, because it combines both inspirational reflections on Bible readings as well as a sometimes light-hearted look at contemporary life, today. The book is widely available via online bookstores. Here is the Amazon link for paperback and Kindle.
What’s the book about? Our Lent is a 40-day, 40-chapter invitation to enjoy self-guided reflection. Each daily chapter explores something Jesus showed us, including: coins, basins, bowls, bread, cups, swords and tables. In each chapter, Crumm shares a biblical story from Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem and explains the significance of the tangible things Jesus lifted up for his followers. Then, each chapter connects the Bible lesson with our own daily lives as well as the lives of men and women who are celebrated in our culture, including the spiritual writer Thomas Merton, the actress and singer Judy Garland, the country musician Merle Haggard and even the beloved Cat in the Hat. After 40 days of connecting scripture with modern life, readers will find themselves freshly aware of the many blessings they have received and the challenges we all face in helping to heal the world around us.
Healing Our Political Divide
The 2020 Presidential election and the recent 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol still has many of us reeling in sadness, pain and confusion as we search for answers. When Harold Heie wrote Reforming American Politics: A Christian Perspective on Moving Past Conflict to Conversation, none of these recent events had even happened. Yet, Harold understood that our nation was divided and that the divide was going to take significant effort to heal.
What’s the book about? A lifelong practitioner of respectful engagement with others, Heie lifts up core Christian values that can transform toxic confrontations into constructive conversations. He proposes a “Way Forward” beyond the us-versus-them tribalistic mentality that currently plagues politics. As a Christian, Heie believes that “Jesus has called all his followers to love their neighbors. Providing someone who disagrees with you a safe and welcoming space to express that disagreement and then talking respectfully about your disagreement is a deep expression of love.”
In his book, Heie aims to model respectful conversations among Christians who have strong disagreements about:
- How Christians and others should talk to one another about political issues
- The meaning of politics and the appropriate scope of political activity
- Public policy proposals that are hotly debated.
In his research for this book, Heie worked with 23 diverse conversation partners for 10 months of online discussions. His electronic forum is an “eCircle” that attracts readers nationwide. Best-selling evangelical historian Mark Noll writes, “In an age of flaming rhetoric, fractious politics and fissiparous ideology, Harold Heie exemplifies a much better way. The discussions he moderates in this book treat red-hot issues like immigration, health care, economic inequality and money in politics, as well as more general considerations of Christian principles, Christian prudence and Christian practice. The marvel for readers will be to see believers airing their differences frankly, but doing so with Christian friendship preserved and Christian wisdom to the forefront. It is hard to imagine a better book for times like these.”
Recognizing Our Differences During Lent
A lot has happened in America since Lent 2020. The Black Lives Matter movement raged during the spring and summer in response to the disparate rates of death among our Black neighbors. Lent 2021 is an opportunity to educate ourselves on this disparity and our legacy of differences. “100 Questions and Answers About African Americans” is published by the Michigan State University School of Journalism through Front Edge Publishing.
What’s the book about? This simple, introductory guide answers 100 of the basic questions people ask about African Americans and Black people in everyday conversation. Readers will find answers about identity, language, religion, culture, customs, social norms, economics, politics, education, work, families and food. The book also covers contemporary issues of race, employment, criminal justice, heath, wealth and housing. This guide is for people in business, education, faith communities, government, medicine, law enforcement and human resources who need a starting point in learning or teaching more about African Americans.
Not Just Black And White: A White Mother’s Story of Raising a Black Son in Multiracial America is another excellent starting point for a Lenten journey about the complexities of racial inequities and the need for racial equality.
Dr. Anni K. Reinking is an education consultant located in Illinois. She specializes in early childhood and multicultural education. She currently provides training in topics focused on poverty, trauma, multicultural education and developmentally appropriate practices. These qualifications alone qualify Anni to write a book about racial inequities—but there’s more to this story: Anni is a caucasian Mom writing about raising her Black son, which gives her enormous personal insight to share with readers.
What’s the book about? Readers quickly find themselves caught up in Anni’s and her son Ahmad’s personal story. Elisa Di Benedetto, a co-founder of the International Association of Religion Journalists, writes in the book’s Foreword, “This is Anni’s emotionally and intellectually moving memoir of her life as a white mother raising a black son in multiracial America—but it is so much more than that. While her story is based in the U.S., this is a global story. This book is an extraordinary journey towards awareness and learning. That’s how the world changes for the better—one story at a time that touches us and makes us realize we share far more with our neighbors than might seem to separate us.”
Reading Not Just Black and White during Lent will help you to understand the mixed families you see around you, the challenges they face, and it may push you out of your own comfortable boundaries and foster a place for growth and reflection.
Reaching Out in Interfaith Friendship
For your Lenten observance you may want to reach out to those who practice their faith differently than you do, but, you have no idea how to take that first step. If so—the women of WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit) can show you the way through their book, Friendship and Faith: The Wisdom of Creating Alliances for Peace.
In the dedication of their book, the women of WISDOM speak directly to readers, dedicating their book “to all women, who hold the promise and power of relationship, and gift it to the world that still does not fully appreciate its potential. May these stories help to create space for peace, build bridges between individuals and communities, and create a more peaceful and just world—one relationship at a time.”
What’s the book about? This is a book about making friends, which may be the most important thing you can do to make the world a better place, and transform your own life in the process. Making a new friend often is tricky, as you’ll discover in these dozens of real-life stories by women from a wide variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds. But, crossing lines of religion, race and culture is worth the effort, often forming some of life’s deepest friendships, these women have found. In Friendship and Faith, you’ll discover how we really can change the world one friend at a time.
A Time For Personal Healing
Lent can be a time for personal growth and also for personal healing. Author Lucille Sider shares her story of reslience and hope as a survivor of sexual abuse and depression in Light Shines in the Darkness: My Healing Journey Through Sexual Abuse and Depression. This is Lucille’s story of resilience and hope as a survivor of sexual abuse. She explains the challenges of finding her way out of a fear-based spirituality into one that is full of grace, hope and forgiveness.
What’s the book about? The unique richness of her book is that she wrote it to spark healing discussion. As she describes her experiences in the pages, she also steps back and offers helpful analysis as both a psychologist and a clergywoman. At the end of the book, she includes a complete study guide with questions for reflection for individuals, small groups and classes.
In Light Shines in the Darkness, Lucille F. Sider shares her unique story of sexual abuse and severe mental illness, including depression and PTSD. She describes her legal battle in fighting for justice and her ongoing persistence in finding ways to remain stable. Among the mental-health and spiritual practices she describes in the book are: counseling, medication, meditation, healthy diet, exercise, daily prayer and church attendance. In sharing her story, Lucille now is helping others along their journeys from sexual abuse to stability—to find their own hope and their own light that shines through the darkness.
“The book is arranged to be a valuable tool in the hands of persons in the helping professions, such as clergy, social workers, psychologists,” writes the Rev. Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent Emerita and Ambassador of The Wesleyan Church. “This writing is so powerful, yet gentle, that people will be able to add their own words to combat the pain. Lucille’s credentials enhance the power of the story. Truly a book for these days!”
Lent On The Big (or not so Big) Screen
Perhaps you are one of the many people who have caused Netflix’s viewing numbers to soar during the pandemic. If so, Read the Spirit author and Visual Parables columnist, Edward McNulty has you covered with his faith-building study guide that focuses on movies about Jesus.
What’s the book about? Jesus Christ Movie Star is a book “meant to spur Christian and non-Christians alike to…think about the ways that Jesus stars in various films about his life, or his life transfigured into different times and cultures, or when a character takes on essential Christ-like qualities and actions in a way that is central to the movie’s plot.”
The Rev. Peter M. Wallace describes the book in the Preface this way, “As a person of faith, I have always enjoyed watching films that not only try to capture the grandeur and meaning of the stories of the Bible, but also those that say something about faith, or God, or how we live as human beings on this little planet in a more allegorical fashion. I’ve come to realize that sometimes you can discover very powerful truths in the most unexpected places—including films.”
The Rev. Ken Chitwood, a religious scholar, adds in the Foreword, “What we find is that all forms of media—from comic books to computer screens, from smartphones to cinemas—have been imbued with sacred images and representations. This means that instead of chasing religion out, media has presented a new conduit for visual piety. Media has become a new way to admire ‘the object of our [religious] admiration’ and … viewers can attest to the reality, the portability, and the visual-tangibility of ‘ourGod’ via the screen. That’s true whether we be Christian or Jewish, Hindu or Neo-pagan.”
Sharing Your Lenten Offerings
The books above are just a few of the many Front Edge Publishing and ReadTheSpirit books that will educate and enlighten you this Lenten season. You can read about all of our books at the Front Edge Bookstore, which provides a greater share of the sale to our authors than other online bookstores—if you do choose to order through this secure section of our website.
Of course, most of us prefer to order through Amazon—or the other major retailers where our books are listed. If you do order from Amazon.com, please take a further moment to support your favorite authors by leaving a rating and review of the book after you have read it.
If you are interested in talking to one of our authors, perhaps to inquire about a personal or virtual appearance with your group, community or conference—email us at [email protected].