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Posted December 4, 2012

Book: The Heart of Religion: Spiritual Empowerment, Benevolence, and the Experience of God's Love
Authors: Matthew T. Lee, Margaret M. Poloma and Stephen G. Post
Oxford University Press. New York, 2013. pp. 282

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Beneath our culture's obsession with wealth and power, status and celebrity, millions of Americans are quietly engaged in a deeply religious struggle to wake up from petty selfishness and to embrace a life of benevolence and compassion.

Drawing on an extensive random survey of 1,200 men and women across the United States, Matthew Lee, Margaret Poloma, and Stephen Post shed new light on how Americans wake up to the reality of divine love and how that transformative experience expresses itself in concrete acts of benevolence. The authors find that the vast majority of Americans report that they have felt God's love increasing their compassion for others, one of the many important revelations uncovered by the survey. In order to more fully flesh out the meaning of the survey's results, the authors also concluded 120 in-depth interviews with Christian women and men from all walks of life and from across the country who are engaged in benevolent service. Their stories offer compelling examples of how receiving God's love, loving God, and expressing this love to others has made a difference in the world and given their lives deeper significance. As a result, some provide community service, others strive for social justice, still others seek to redefine religion and the meaning of "church" in America. Interviewees who may have grown up with judgmental images of God tended to trade them in for a loving and accepting God more consistent with their own emotionally powerful personal experiences.

An Excerpt from the Book:

"And I pick up on St. Francis of Assisi, where he sees the poor and the oppressed as sacramental, that they become means of grace. That is where we encounter Jesus --- in the poor and the oppressed. And Mother Teresa picks up this same theme. Whenever I look into the eyes of a man dying of AIDS, I have this eerie sensation that Jesus is staring back at me. The poor and the oppressed become sacramental. They become the agents of grace. It's in them that I find the living Christ. That Jesus does not come to us, zapping from above, as much as he comes to us through persons. And so that becomes very crucial."

Table of Contents:

Why should we care about Godly love?

Diversities in the experience and expression of Godly love

Introducing the exemplars of Godly love

Partnering with the Divine: spiritual transformation and Godly love

The breath of prayer: energizing Godly love

The cup of suffering and joy: divine love and healing

Human partners and Godly love: relationships forming fluid networks

Benevolence in the eyes of the beholder: effects of social filters

Conclusion: cultural grids and biblical holes