GOD'S POLITICS: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It, by Jim Wallis. HarperSanFrancisco. 374 pp. $24.95.
Reviewed by RICHARD ROHR, O.F.M., founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a frequent author for St. Anthony Messenger Press books, audiobooks and videos.
I MUST BEGIN by admitting that Jim and I have been close personal friends and colleagues for over 30 years. Maybe that does not make me objective, but maybe it also gives me a window that others might not have. Sometimes love blinds, but sometimes love allows one to see, as Father Frederick Faber said, “with the truest view.”
I think this is the book that Jim Wallis has been preparing to write all his life, after so many years as editor of Sojourners and after several other very well-received books. I was happy to see that it made it toward the top of The New York Times best-seller list, even at such a length and such a price.
Inside its 21 strong chapters, you will find Jim’s biblical and spiritual read on most of his major themes, which also happen to be the explosive social and political themes of our time.
With this book, Jim has clearly become the prophet to the political scene, and a prophet, in particular, to the religious Left. Like no one else, he lets more progressive thinkers know how they can be pro-life, pro-family, pro-feminist, pro-poor and pro-minority—all at the same time.
Although sometimes a bit repetitive, with some overlapping between chapters, Jim is still able to present very controversial issues in a very intelligent, nonbelabored, nonantagonistic and utterly faith-filled way. His analysis of how the religious Right has largely co-opted the conversation is very clarifying, but his expertise in bringing the teaching of Jesus and the Gospels back into the conversation is second to none.
His many years as an editor have made it absolutely necessary for Jim to check his sources and statistics; his many years as a speaker on contentious subjects have made him good at nuancing, balancing and not saying more than he can back up. His strength is that his backup, as a good Protestant evangelical, is very often the Scriptures themselves, but he also knows the political realities and the personalities involved, often on a personal basis.
He knows Catholic social doctrine, a lot of helpful Christian history, the political scene in Washington and how to maintain a dialogical and trustful mood, while still not pulling any punches. That is a rare plethora of gifts in the present social climate.
Let me tease you with four of his insights that reveal the studied quality of his thought:
“If nonviolence is to have any credibility, it must answer the questions that violence purports to answer, but in a better way.”
“History does teach us that the most effective social movements are also spiritual ones.”(He mentions the anti-slavery and civil-rights movements, and even the child labor and women’s suffrage movements.)
“The best response to bad religion is better religion, not secularism.”
“God is personal but never private.”
To pacifists, he recommends going toward the “promising ground of conflict resolution”; to the religious Right, he asks, “Since when did Jesus become pro-war?”
All in all, I think God’s Politics will serve most of us who are trapped in the middle of many of the current strident arguments, giving all of us Christian wisdom, historical perspective, the Catholic “consistent ethic of life” and some real biblical challenges to our American and middle-class complacency.
Many might think that this book will only encourage people on the political Left, but that is surely not true if you have left God, religion, Scripture, prayer or the teaching of Jesus out of your equation. In fact, the secular Left will be more threatened by this book than the sincere Right—who, I suspect, will flinch and then find themselves quoting it.
You can order GOD'S POLITICS: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It from St.
MARY'S MOTHER: Saint Anne in Late Medieval Europe, by Virginia Nixon. 216 pp. U.S.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, $35. Canada: University of Toronto Press, $48.
Reviewed by VICTORIA E. HÉBERT, lay associate editor for the past 15 years of the English magazine The ANNALS of St. Anne de Beaupré, based at the shrine of the same name in Québec, Canada.
GOOD ST. ANNE, unquestionably accepted and revered by Catholics worldwide as the mother of Mary, is not actually a “biblical” figure. She comes to us for the first time in a second-century apocryphal gospel as part of the story of the birth of Jesus.
In the following centuries, the “cultus” of St. Anne began to take hold in both the Eastern and Western Churches. In the late Middle Ages, according to author Virginia Nixon, devotion to St. Anne really grew.
In order to bring you as much information as possible in the space allotted, I have adopted my own personal version of the traditional reporter’s “5 W questions”:
Why did the author write this book? Nixon grew up “in a Catholic milieu in Ontario and Québec,” already familiar with the accepted “imagery of Mary’s mother.” But she found herself confronted with an “entire body of Anne imagery” about which she knew nothing. Studying the Germanic artistic renderings of the late 15th and early 16th centuries, the author encountered vastly differing statements about the role of St. Anne in what she calls the “redemptive drama that forms the heart of Christian beliefs.”
What is the basis for her assumptions? Artworks, scholarly writings and other texts of the time revealed to her how St. Anne was “used” and understood during that era.
How is this information presented? St. Anne and her cultus had an important impact on the society of that day. This book zooms in on four main areas:
First, the cultus was used as a means to “control the laity, especially female piety....A newly created image of St. Anne depicted a Saint who not only had power to intercede like other Saints, but one who actually assisted her devotees in getting to Heaven...” In the liturgical offices, “they used St. Anne to simultaneously arouse and assuage salvation anxiety.”
Second, it was used to raise money. In an “increasingly competitive ecclesiastical landscape,” these beautiful pieces of art, relics and associated devotional groups (confraternities, etc.) encouraged people to come to the churches, make donations and bequests, and support religious art.
Third, it was used to suppress sexuality. Then-current religious writings preach the basic “incompatibility of sexual activity and holiness.”
Fourth, it was used at the highest levels of society. Devotion to St. Anne did not arise, as previously thought, as a product of pagan or popular practices. To the contrary, this devotion was “produced and encouraged” by the elite and educated.
Who would be interested in reading this book? Unfortunately, this is where this tome falls short of its mark. I am sure that this scholarly text qualifies to be on the curriculum of a university/college-level art history or religious art course. Its target audience would probably be second- or third-year university students.
Where can the information in this book be used? Its contents, I am certain, are remarkable in their completeness, but also in their complexity. This is not a book to pick up for casual reading on a seaside holiday to celebrate her feast day, July 26. One would need supporting texts in order to decipher some of the long, tedious references that, rather than help, weigh it down for the reader. It reads much like a well-researched thesis.
It is certainly regrettable that at least some of the magnificent masterpieces pictured are not presented in color. The only color photo is on the book jacket. Having black-and-white photos inside the book just does not transmit their beauty; they simply come across as flat.
The sheer amount of data presented in this book proves that this certainly is a subject that begs to be discussed. But this academic presentation hasn’t accomplished its goal (stated on the cover jacket of being “wonderfully clear, engagingly written...”). Rather than being “a pleasure to read,” I found it slow-going and like doing my “required reading” to study for a final exam.
Judging by the vast amount of detailed, well-researched information provided in this book, it would appear that this subject simply begs to be discussed further.
You can order MARY'S MOTHER: Saint Anne in Late Medieval Europe from St.
MEMORY AND IDENTITY: Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium, by Pope John Paul II. Rizzoli. 172 pp. $19.95.
Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication.
IN 1993 at Castel Gandolfo, Pope John Paul II spoke at length with Jozef Tischner and Krzysztof Michalski, his friends, fellow philosophers and founders of the Vienna-based Institute for Human Sciences. Father Tischner died before this book was published.
The late pope analyzed major 20th-century events, especially Poland, the fall of Communism and the defeat of Nazism. These conversations were recorded and transcribed. After 2000, the pope resumed this work, reflecting on the wider world and adding more recent examples, such as the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
This volume was written in Polish and immediately translated into nine languages. It was published in Italian last February. The U.S. edition appeared two months later.
The first 25 chapters are grouped under five headings: The Limit Imposed on Evil, Freedom and Responsibility, Thinking “My Country” (Native Land-Nation-State), Thinking “Europe” (Poland-Europe-Church) and Democracy: Possibilities and Risks. In the Epilogue, John Paul II and his private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, talk about May 13, 1981, the day that Mehmet Ali Agca tried to assassinate the pope. Four pages of notes explain some of the pope’s references throughout the book.
Early in this volume, the pope described evil as “always the absence of some good which ought to be present in a given being; it is a privation. It is never a total absence of good....The history of mankind is the ‘theater’ of the coexistence of good and evil. So even if evil exists alongside good, good perseveres beside evil and grows, so to speak, from the same soil, namely human nature.”
The pope comments several times on the 18th-century Enlightenment in France and other countries as being very influential for the 20th century, both positively and negatively. Many societies have moved closer to its ideal of fraternity, liberty and equality. The Enlightenment’s distrust of God and religion, however, undermined the idea of objective truth and thereby favored subjectivism, which can easily become totalitarianism. Communism and Nazism grew from such roots, but capitalism also can be destructive if it fails to recognize the fundamental rights of all people.
Some papal quotes illustrate the depth of this remarkable book:
“What does it mean to forgive, if not to appeal to a good that is greater than any evil?”
“A certain concept of freedom, which has widespread support in public opinion at present, diverts attention from ethical responsibilities....It is often said: What matters is to be free, released from all constraint or limitation, so as to operate according to private judgment, which in reality is often pure caprice. This much is clear: Such liberalism can only be described as primitive. Its influence, however, is potentially devastating.”
“To live as if God did not exist [the ideal for some Enlightenment thinkers] means to live outside the parameters of good and evil, outside the context of values derived from God.”
Patriotism is “a love for one’s native land that accords rights to all other nations equal to those claimed for one’s own.”
God “has assigned us a particular mission: To accomplish the truth about ourselves and about the world.”
John Paul II wrote that only humans can reflect on their history. For Catholics, the Eucharist is part of that reflection. “The deepest meaning of history goes beyond history and finds its full explanation in Christ, the God-man.”
Our redemption in Christ means that evil—in whatever century—is limited.
You can order MEMORY AND IDENTITY: Conversations at the Dawn of a MIllennium from St. Francis Bookshop.
GIFTS IN THE RUINS: Rediscovering What Matters Most, by Rosemary Luling Haughton. Orbis Books. 160 pp. $15.
Reviewed by JULIE DONATI, teacher of theology at St. Agnes Academy in Houston, Texas.
ROSEMARY LULING HAUGHTON has an impressive résumé: mother of 10 natural children and four foster children, writer, lecturer, social-justice advocate and founder of Wellspring, a center providing services to homeless women and children. A prolific writer, she has published over 200 articles, 28 children’s books and more than 30 spiritual and religious books.
Much of her work focuses on the philosophical questions facing contemporary Christians since the Second Vatican Council as she struggles to articulate the meaning of a mature Christian faith today.
In Haughton’s characteristically unpretentious and earthy style, she has at last produced a new book, her first since 1997. Gifts in the Ruins is a poignantly personal book, describing the author’s spiritual journey in the last decade, a journey of questions and dissonance with the institutional Catholic Church.
Haughton experiences a dark night of the soul, which she calls “an erosion of faith.” She writes, “...although the work began as a means to discover a way through for myself, it soon unfolded into a desire to share what I was discovering with others who have shared the experience of disillusion, betrayal, sadness and longing.”
In an age where many people are questioning the Church and organized religion in general, this book helps to assuage the pain of a wounded soul and give cause for hope and even gratitude.
Haughton has divided the book into two sections. The first is a reflection on the process of diminishing faith that she, as well as many others, has experienced. She asks those who find themselves unable to claim the religion they once held to evaluate what is left, what fragile memories remain. Haughton has taken the truths that remain for her and explores the meaning of these fragile flowers, as gifts and treasures, the essence of love and life.
The bulk of the work, the second part, explores some of the gifts that Haughton has reflected upon, such as compassion, gardens, ritual and music. She subsequently weaves them into a metaphorical spiritual “wreath of chosen flowers” that forms a foundation for her faith—truths that are not simply intertwined but actually multiply and reach out to the world. The gifts are ones that “enrich and enliven and discipline and uphold,” yet are so simple and ordinary that anyone might overlook them.
Gifts in the Ruins is a perfect bedside companion, one to savor slowly and meditatively, one gift at a time. It would also be a great gift for any friends who have struggled with their faith in recent years. This little gem could provide the stimulus that reintroduces someone to the “gifts” that our faith holds for us and to recapture the longing for God again. As Haughton puts it, “maybe something is shining in the ruins....”
You can order GIFTS IN THE RUINS: Rediscovering What Matters Most from St.
A CHILD'S MISSAL: The Eucharist: A Visual Prayerbook of the Paschal Mystery, Artwork by Sister Anna Marie McCormick and Adam Repka. Patmos, Inc. 32 pp. $17.95.
Reviewed by SUSAN HINES-BRIGGER, an assistant editor of this publication, and her six-year-old daughter, Madison.
TRYING TO EXPLAIN to my daughter the many elements of the Mass and what they represent has not been easy. So I was happy to check out this book in hopes that it might help.
The book suggests it can be used to pray at Mass or for instruction at home or in catechism class.
The book divides the Mass into 13 parts, with each part treated with a two-page spread. Each spread contains an icon depicting an event in Christ’s life, a photo of that event as it is celebrated during the Mass, and explanations and advice about the specific part of the Mass being addressed. The explanations are provided by a guardian angel, who guides a boy named Adam throughout the pages of the book.
While this book certainly contains a lot of interesting information about the Mass, at times it’s just too much. Maddie tuned out by about the third page.
I tried to find a specific age that this book is geared toward but, despite the title and given Maddie’s reaction, I would have to say that it’s not the six-year-old crowd.
In fact, even I found some of the text to be a bit heady, such as “Incense needs fire to rise up in a cloud of sweet perfume. Your prayers also need a heart on fire. The fire of your heart is your love of God and neighbor.” A simple informative blurb on what incense is and why we use it would have done the trick.
Overall, this is a nice-looking book with good information. Unfortunately, I don’t think it lives up to its goal.
You can order A CHILD'S MISSAL: The Eucharist: A Visual Prayerbook of the Paschal Mystery from St. Francis Bookshop.