Curling up with a book is a safe way to stay home during social distancing and still feel deeply connected.
Check out these faith-based titles by Houston authors. There are touching memoirs, fictional escapades and spiritual guides to better lives — all offering inspiration and messages of hope.
‘Love Big: The Power of Revolutionary Relationships to Heal the World’ by Rozella Haydée White
Rozella Haydée White is confident that a revolutionary kind of love can heal the brokenness, division and violence in today’s world. But cultivating that type of powerful love will take work. This public theologian, spiritual life coach, leadership consultant, inspirational speaker and writer maps the way forward in her new book, which is a a call to action for anyone seeking restoration, healing and wholeness — both in their community and within.
“Even as we profess to be a country where a majority of people say they believe in a higher power, we are experiencing profound disconnection, chaos and a lack of compassion — for ourselves and for each other,” White said. “I believe this is due to the fact that we don’t love ourselves and, therefore, struggle with loving others.”
‘A Place of Exodus: Home, Memory and Texas’ by David Biespiel
Writer David Biespiel resides in Oregon but explains that he is “something of an expatriate Texan right down to my boots.” He grew up in Meyerland and attended Beth Yeshurun. In his 12th book, Biespiel shares the story of his childhood — and tells of how he ended up leaving Houston and his religious upbringing behind. The book is both a meditation on faith and the meaning of home.
“Like all of my books so far, this book explores questions of meaning: where we find it and what it offers us,” Biespiel said. “In telling this story, I’ve tried to elevate the importance of the question for all of us: What do we mean when we speak of the beauty, mystery and community of home? I suppose that’s why I wrote this book.”
‘The Humanity of Muhammad: A Christian View’ by Craig Considine
Craig Considine, a lecturer of sociology at Rice University, provides an overview of Prophet Muhammad’s life and legacy, as well as a sociological analysis of his teachings and example in his new book, “The Humanity of Muhammad: A Christian View.” The author focuses on a side of Muhammad often forgotten in mainstream media. The book is divided into six chapters, based on themes of religious pluralism, civic nation building, anti-racism, seeking knowledge, women’s rights and the golden rule.
“Few scholars have examined Muhammad’s life and legacy as it pertains to sociological concepts as well as current events,” Considine explained. “This book sheds new and contemporary light on one of the most important human beings in world history. Personally, I am inspired by Muhammad’s encounters with Christians and humanity at large. His vision reminds me that Christians and Muslims are like branches from the same family.”
‘One Amazing Thing’ by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an author, poet, activist and professor in the University of Houston’s creative writing program. Her novel, “One Amazing Thing,” tells the story of nine people trapped together after an earthquake: a punk teenager; an upper-class white couple whose relationship is disintegrating; a young Muslim American man; a graduate student haunted by love; an African-American veteran searching for redemption; a Chinese grandmother with a secret past; and two visa-office workers on the verge of an adulterous affair. This story is ultimately about survival — and reasons to survive.
“A major theme in the novel is how individuals from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds can overcome their differences and come together to help each other through a major crisis,” Divakaruni said. “The book is inspired by my faith that as humans we share a common spiritual core that is more powerful than any differences between religions. If we are not careful, religions can pull us apart, but being in touch with our spirituality — oneness, which we could also call Universal Love — brings us together.”
‘Learning to Be: Finding Your Center After the Bottom Falls Out’ by Juanita Campbell Rasmus
Juanita Rasmus, who co-pastors at St. John’s Downtown Church with her husband, Rudy Rasmus, details her personal struggle with depression and exhaustion in her new book, “Learning to Be: Finding Your Center After the Bottom Falls Out.” To find solace, she almost starts all over again — discovering herself and delving into her relationship with God. The author offers both practical and spiritual insights, providing inspiration to readers who are struggling and will feel that Rasmus has been on a similar journey.
In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the book is particularly relevant. “COVID-19 is the mental health crisis in the making,” Rasmus said. “Mental health is still too often the taboo conversation in families and faith communities. I have written ‘Learning To Be’ as a means of tearing down the walls of alienation and breaking our silence and shining light on the ways that mental health can invite us into transformation and resurrection.”
‘The Boy Refugee: A Memoir From a Long-Forgotten War’ by Dr. Khawaja Azimuddin
Dr. Khawaja Azimuddin is a gastrointestinal surgeon in Houston, specializing in minimally invasive robotic surgery for colon cancer. Though he authored scientific research articles, chapters in medical works and a surgical book in the past, this marks his first nonscientific work. In his book, he describes his childhood and escape from a war-ravaged Bangladesh to a barbed-wired internment camp in the foothills of the Himalayas. The story chronicles his time as a civilian prisoner of war and his 1,000–mile, two-year journey back to Pakistan, during which his only source of hope was God.
“We recited many prayers from the Quran and spent long hours praying for our release,” the surgeon said. “It was the firm belief that God will not let us down that kept us going months after months.”
Azimuddin was motivated to write the book because of the current global refugee crisis. He explained that there are more refugees globally than at any time in human history except World War II. “I believe the world needs to empathize with the plight of those who have been forced out of their homes due to racial, ethnic or religious reasons,” he said. “I hope that my personal story will be an inspiration.”
‘Exceptional You! 7 Ways to Live Encouraged, Empowered and Intentional’ by Victoria Osteen
Co-pastor of Lakewood Church Victoria Osteen shares seven ways to reach greater heights in her latest book, “Exceptional You!” She uses biblical teachings and uplifting stories to explain practices that can make a world of difference, such as keeping a memory box and living in gratitude.
“If you’re going to reach your highest potential in life, you’re going to have to develop the ability to see beyond where you are right now,” Osteen said.
She believes that God’s unconditional love makes each person exceptional — and paves the way to a more fulfilled and plentiful life, and that people should focus on successes rather than defeats. Ultimately, the book is about being encouraged and empowered in the journey to realize God’s designs.
‘A Place at the Table’ by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan
Local author Saadia Faruqi teamed up with Maryland poet and author Laura Shovan for this tale of friendship and faith. The story focuses on two middle school girls — Sara, a Pakistani-American Muslim, and Elizabeth, a Jewish American with a British mother. Both are first-generation students facing their own issues, including mental illness and a family’s financial problems.
“I’ve been an interfaith activist since 9/11, and in this role, have worked with thousands of people to develop interfaith and intercultural understanding,” Faruqi said. “One of the key ways we can learn to accept different points of view (is) to become friends with someone different. It may be difficult in the beginning, but we often find that we have more in common than we realize.”
‘From Dreaming to Becoming’ by Phinehas Kinuthia
No one wakes up wishing to be ordinary, said Phinehas Kinuthia, senior pastor at Houston’s Faith City Church. Still, he finds a number of people are stuck unhappily, moving through the usual tasks of life with no sense of meaning or significance. The pastor is confident that all individuals are created for greatness — and desire to improve in different areas, whether parenting, relationships, businesses, education or health. His book offers nine unique, practical principles to help people pursue their passions and transcend limitations.
“This book connects us with our God-given purpose and helps us to pursue our assignment, so we can be all we are called to be and achieve greatness,” Kinuthia said. “We all need to be reminded that we are God’s masterpiece, and we were meant to become the best — and not settle for a life of mediocrity.”
Kinuthia offers critical principles and tools to help. “Be inspired to develop a new way of thinking, so you can make a difference in the lives of others,” he said.
‘My Mother Called Me Unni: A Doctor’s Tale of Migration’ by Dr. Venugopal K. Menon
In his memoir, Pearland’s Dr. Venugopal K. Menon describes growing up in India, getting his first pair of shoes in the sixth grade and the moment his house connected to electricity. His childhood was shaped by both colonial British India and Hindu traditions. Menon witnesses World War II and India’s road to independence. Then, he left everything behind to come to the U.S., where he eventually became the head of a medical clinic.
“It should be the privilege and right of everyone to know about their precious roots and be proud of them,” Menon said.
‘Permission to Believe: Finding Faith in Troubled Times’ by Samuel E. Karff
Houston’s Congregation Beth Israel has been in mourning for Rabbi Samuel E. Karff, who died at age 88 on Aug. 15. For 24 years, Karff served as the synagogue’s senior rabbi. When he retired in 1999 after 40 years as a congregational rabbi, he joined the faculty of the University of Texas Medical School, where he created and taught courses on the nonbiomedical or spiritual dimension of being a healing physician. For 22 years, he taught in the religious studies department of Rice University and was a past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. He was also active in the pursuit of civil rights and criminal justice reform. Karff authored three books, including “Permission to Believe: Finding Faith in Troubled Times.” In this work, he describes his conversations with agnostics and atheists, realizing at some point that people wanted permission to hold onto faith.
“Granting ourselves permission to believe does not require that we turn away from the ‘ordinary world’ but that we heed these deep intuitions of our heart,” he wrote. “Life is not only a puzzle to solve but a mystery to embrace.”
Lindsay Peyton is a Houston-based freelance writer.