"Books in this series focus on the work of informally trained or self-taught artists rooted in regional, occupational, ethnic, rfrom the front matter:
"Books in this series focus on the work of informally trained or self-taught artists rooted in regional, occupational, ethnic, racial, or gender-specific traditions. Authors explore the influence of artists' experiences and aesthetic values upon the art they create, the process of creation, and the cultural traditions that served as inspiration or personal resource. The wide range of art forms featured in this series reveals the importance of aesthetic expression in our daily lives and gives striking testimony to the richness and vitality of art and tradition in the modern world."
In this case, the informally trained artist was Father Mathias Wernerus, and his art form the grotto, a traditional Roman Catholic artificial cave made with concrete, colored glass, and donated odds and ends. The book situates Father Wernerus and his parish in the context when grotto-building was the fashion across the Midwestern US, and also relates the dual themes in the Dickeyville Grotto--Catholic spirituality and American patriotism--to the often tenuous character of American Catholicism and the questionable status of German-Americans during and after WWI....more
"I am under no illusion that religious faith is usually or even ever the result of intellectual argument alone. The roots oFrom the author's preface:
"I am under no illusion that religious faith is usually or even ever the result of intellectual argument alone. The roots of faith lie much deeper. Still, the sense that Christian faith is simply unacceptable to a person with an intellect who cares about the truth can be a powerful barrier to faith. This book is an attempt to remove that barrier. I believe it may be helpful for those who are truly concerned about what life means are are willing to examine or reexamine deeply held assumptions and attitudes." (p. x)
Indeed, the roots of faith lie much deeper than intellectual argument alone. In a recent unpacking of memorabilia from my childhood, I saw just how deeply run my own roots. My wife was shocked by how many things--books, art projects, colored-in forms--from my earliest childhood involved Jesus. That name, that person was central to my upbringing, and so it is not surprising that at least a part of me has been devoted to him, in one way or another, for my entire life. As an adolescent, though, I began to have problems with the intellectually bankrupt fundamentalism of my family and church; science in particular posed many problems. My questions and doubts were tantamount to heresy in contrast to a faith which (seemingly) involved checking one's brain at the church door. My life as a "seeker" commenced.
Now back to the book. Evans presents various arguments that point to God, particularly to the God of Christian revelation. The mystery of creation with its seemingly designed intricacies, the mystery of why human beings sense a moral "oughtness" in things, and the mystery of personhood, all provide tantalizing hints that there may be something to life beyond the absurdity of monkeys talking in a howling void. At no point are these suggestive mysteries taken to be incontrovertible proofs, which Evans argues is a strength and not a weakness, because these suggestive mysteries are in line with the Christian belief that God does not compel faith. Evans also briefly, and without illusions that his take is exhaustive, discusses the very difficult topic of theodicy--if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, then why does the world suck? I did not find his arguments for theism very compelling (I tend toward panentheism, my self, if I have to give it a name) but I do appreciate the nuance with which he approached these topics.
Evans then goes on to explain the evidence in support of Christian claims about miracles, about the divine inspiration of the Bible, about the status of Jesus as Son of God, and about the uniqueness of Christianity. As with his earlier arguments about the mysteries pointing to God, these arguments were also less than compelling in many cases; they were also clear illustrations of how many Christian doctrines, while not making sense in light of one set of assumptions (i.e., secular humanist), are entirely consistent with the whole edifice of Christian thinking. I did not come away from this book believing that the Bible is inerrant or that Christianity is "the only true way." I do see, thanks to Evans, that Christianity (even of the literalist variety) isn't as "irrational" as it might first appear.
For me, though, the most important aspect of this book was its final chapter on making a commitment. The essence of Christianity isn't philosophical argumentation, intellectual rigor, or solitary contemplation. Christianity is a practice, and a communal one at that. According to Evans, instead of allowing doubts and questions to keep one out of this community of practice, parties (i.e., ME) who are drawn to the Christian message--and more importantly, to the person of Jesus--should begin to "try it out" and commit themselves to a deeper exploration of the lived message that is Christianity. That is what this book helped me to do. It helped me to take the plunge, to make a commitment to the local Mennonite Church, and to Jesus. I may never end up "believing" in many of the things that Evans thinks are essential to being a Christian, but thanks to his book (in part), I can test them out in a loving community. ...more
If you want the barest outline of Dante's Divine Comedy presented in a visual style only slightly more advanced than that of my eight year old, then tIf you want the barest outline of Dante's Divine Comedy presented in a visual style only slightly more advanced than that of my eight year old, then this is your book. I'm honestly at a loss to see why this artist is so acclaimed and influential. ...more
"This, in brief, is the history of the man whom as high as 5,000 in a single day have crowded to see and be touched by in Denver, and other cities thr
"This, in brief, is the history of the man whom as high as 5,000 in a single day have crowded to see and be touched by in Denver, and other cities throughout this country. How miserable and contemptible a history it will seem to thousands who think on the history of John the Baptist, living on locusts and wild honey, with but a mean girdgle about his loins, glorious.
Let us remember that it is we who think Saint John's life of self-surrender glorious. The greater part of his contemporaries--all the prosperous and proud who were interested in preserving the status quo, thought him a contemptible and vicious lunatic and they cut his head off to stop the wagging of his trenchant tongue.
I consider the candor, the interest and the sympathy with which this poor, simple Alsatian has been received in Denver, where his history is known as one of the most remarkable and thought compelling events I have ever witnessed. The Rev. Myron Reed, the most noted pulpit orator of the west, preached a strong and sympathetic sermon on man's characters and mission recently in which he said: 'We have in our midst today a man whose credentials are as good as those possessed by Jesus of Nazareth before, and when he marched to the Jordan to be baptized by John.'" -- Senator T.C. Snyder (pp.108-9)
A man whose credential are as good as those possessed by Jesus Christ, and one hundred years later, almost no one has even heard of him? Wow. Apparently, Francis Schlatter was something of a national celebrity one hundred years ago, as he tramped his way across the country offering up his healing and preaching services. Some folks thought has was a charlatan, others believed him to be nothing less than a modern-day messiah. This little book provides his simple account of his life and wanderings, and it also afford fascinating glimpses of the religious, medical, social, and racial attitudes of the time. Reading this, I can more easily imagine the American milieu that gave birth to Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, and chiropractic, among others. ...more
I really wish I liked this book more than I did, especially since I ordered a copy for my dad as a father's day gift based on my enjoyment of the firsI really wish I liked this book more than I did, especially since I ordered a copy for my dad as a father's day gift based on my enjoyment of the first 20 or so pages. Unfortunately, this book has too many problems that kept me appreciating it more fully. For one thing, Wolverton jettisoned almost everything interesting about his visual style when he created his illustrations for the Bible. Evidently, he, like so many other Christians, felt that silliness and reverence don't mix at all, and so he inserted the proverbial corncob up his butt whenever he sat down to sketch Holy Writ. His "grown-up" visual style isn't bad at first (and near the end, in the Apocalypse illustrations), but it wears thin quickly, especially when the reader gets to the middle of the book. At this point in his Bible illustration trajectory, Wolverton's budget dried up, and he was forced to replace full-page artwork with little visual "quotes" that just don't work. Because he really didn't do such a great job in selecting either the stories to illustrate or the images with which to illustrate them, the reader gets treated to lots of landscapes with shadowy figures in the distance, people with surprised looks on their faces, and drawings of piles of rocks. Why he chose to spend more effort illustrating the minor prophets than he did the classic stories of Jonah, Job, etc. left me scratching my head. If you need a comics adaptation of the Bible, check out R. Crumb's masterful look at Genesis and leave this one on the shelf. ...more
I first heard of Vachel (pronounced like Rachel) Lindsay quite recently, in an interview with Julian Cope. Lindsay was the Johnny Appleseed of AmericaI first heard of Vachel (pronounced like Rachel) Lindsay quite recently, in an interview with Julian Cope. Lindsay was the Johnny Appleseed of American letters, a mystic beggar-poet, walking his way through a sublime, early 20th century American countryside and sharing his gospel of beauty with all those he met along the way. He was colleague and friend to both Carl Sandburg and Edgar Lee Masters, but while they are relatively famous, I had never heard of Vachel before. (This is a particularly glaring omission in my education, considering that Lindsay was a Central Illinoisan like myself, having been born and dying in the same house in Springfield.)
Tramping Across America collects two earlier books within its covers---Adventures While Preaching the Gospel of Beauty and A Handy Guide for Beggars Especially Those of the Poetic Fraternity, which is itself a collection of previously published pieces. The preface to the second book dedicates it to, among others, "those budding philosophers who realize that every creature is a beggar in the presence of the beneficent sun, to those righteous ones who know that all righteousness is as filthy rags." (p. 108). It also lays out eight simple guidelines for the discipline of begging that reveal its quasi-religious nature, a stance on "tramping across America" that is reflected throughout Lindsay's writings in references to the Buddha and St. Francis of Assisi. "[W:]herever in our land there is a railway, there is a little path clinging to the embankment holding the United States in a network as real as that of the rolled steel, --- a path wrought by the foot of the unsubdued" (p. 126).
Lindsay's writings regularly juxtapose wit and profundity. After hitching a ride in a car (we're probably talking a Model T or the like!) Lindsay remarks: "I still maintain that the auto is a carnal institution, to be shunned by the truly spiritual, but there are times when I, for one, get tired of being spiritual" (p. 46). On hitching a ride in a caboose after begging the conductor as one gentleman to another: "Yea, my wanderers, the cure for the broken heart is gratitude to the gentleman you would hate, if you had your collar on or your purse in your pocket when you met him" (p. 133).
Lindsay's son, left to be "man of the house" due to Vachel's suicide by drinking Lysol when his son was only four, provides an interesting perspective in his introduction to this book. At the end of this essay, in which he compares his father's visionary genius to that of Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross, Lindsay the younger praises those working men and women who stay with their broods and who work hard to provide for their families. The poetic fraternity of which Lindsay considers himself of Brother is also the fraternity of deadbeat dads everywhere. An important reminder for those of us who struggle to be both mystics and family men that the life of the tramp is not the only path.
One last note, about fun synchronicities. As noted above, I was introduced to Vachel Lindsay through Julian Cope, and it is the latter who wrote the introduction to the 13th Floor Elevators book I'm currently reading. Both Lindsay and the 13th Floor Elevators stand within the underground American transformative spiritual tradition that Eugene Taylor calls the "shadow culture." Lindsay references Don Quixote a great deal (which is not too surprising I guess given the influence of Cervantes on world literature), another book I am currently reading. One of Lindsay's poems talks about Brunhilde; I'm also currently exploring the works of Wagner, so there's another connection. And then of course there's the aforementioned bit about Lindsay's suicide---it occurred in the wake of the Great Crash of 1929. ...more
I've always found Huston Smith insightful, lucid, and fun to read, and so I chose this as one of my course textbooks (when the previous textbook cameI've always found Huston Smith insightful, lucid, and fun to read, and so I chose this as one of my course textbooks (when the previous textbook came out in a new edition---for $110!). In spite of its lack of much primary source material (which Philip Novak's collection of scriptures supplements), this is an excellent introduction to the major religions of the world, "our wisdom traditions." Smith's concise chapters describe the big religions--Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity--as well as discussing the role of religion in the 21st century and providing tips on how to approach religions and religious diversity. The illustrations are the weakest part of the book. Some are excellent, others (like the image of Mahavira in the chapter on Buddhism) are out of place, and the heavy reliance on the paintings of Marc Chagall didn't make much sense when the religions of the world afford so much imagery. ...more
**spoiler alert** This trilogy was recommended to me by one of the students enrolled in my World Religion class in fall 2009.
A couple of interesting i**spoiler alert** This trilogy was recommended to me by one of the students enrolled in my World Religion class in fall 2009.
A couple of interesting ideas couldn't make up for the poor writing and graphics. Alan Moore has said that film and comics are diametrically opposed art forms, and this graphic novel supports that assertion; Ted Dekker writes like Dan Brown, translating all the cliches of American blockbuster cinema into print, and the artwork mimics the conventions of film rather than using the power of the image to supplement and subvert the accompanying prose.
The story is about a young man on the run from mobsters (an irrelevant detail that only seems to start the story off in media res) who discovers that he exists in two worlds at once--the contemporary world and a fantastic far future world where talking bats have cleanly divided the Earth into a good half and an evil half. He unbelievably manages to convince a famous biochemist (after kidnapping her, no less) that he has insight into the future and knows that her company has developed a new vaccine that will instead mutate into an apocalyptic plague. (No wonder so many folks are now afraid of being vaccinated against swine flu.) Unfortunately his good intentions are used by the agencies of evil to prepare the ground for unleashing the plague, and, in the other world, forbidden fruit is consumed, unleashing the forces of evil onto the good half of the planet.
I began the second installment in the graphic novel trilogy after I finished volume one, but I just couldn't go on after the first couple of pages. I've got a lot of other things I'd much rather read than a poorly written re-hashing of the Bible-as-rewritten-by-C.S.Lewis....more
"The promoters of the systemic evil involved in killing President Kennedy counted our our repression and denial of its reality. They knew that no one"The promoters of the systemic evil involved in killing President Kennedy counted our our repression and denial of its reality. They knew that no one would want to deal with the elephant in the living room. The Dallas and Bethesda doctors who saw the truth staring up at them from the president's dead body, and who then backed away from it, were not unique. They are symbolic of us all." p. 315
"The extent to which our national security state was systematically marshaled for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy remains incomprehensible to us. When we live in a system, we absorb a system and think in a system. We lack the independence needed to judge the system around us. Yet the evidence we have seen points to our national security state, the systemic bubble in which we all live, as the source of Kennedy's murder and immediate cover-up." - p. 370...more
[T]his book is part of a series on cultural impact. And the great question about Jesus must always be: Did he make a difference? Is our world--in the
[T]his book is part of a series on cultural impact. And the great question about Jesus must always be: Did he make a difference? Is our world--in the century that began with the Turkish genocide against the Armenians, reached its nadir with the "scientific" holocaust of six million Jews (and five million others), not to speak of the slaughter by their own governments of Russians and Chinese in the scores of millions, and now comes to its end with genocides in central Africa and "ethnic cleansings" in the Balkans that are still, horribly enough "in progress"--is our world any better than the one inhabited by the Celts and Romans of twenty-four centuries ago? Did the values preached by Jesus influence the Anglican Queen Elizabeth or her opponent the Catholic Earl O'Neill? Did she ever shudder at the carnage of her battlefields? Did he, even once, as he surveyed the hacked limbs, the gouged eyes, the grisly dying, ever wonder if there was another way? Do Christian values have any influence on the actions of Christians who on both sides of the English/Irish divide have continued to "fight the old fight again"? Did the life and death of Jesus make any difference to the denizens of first-century TransTiberim? Does he make any difference to the residents of today's Trastevere?
These are hard questions; some will no doubt label them unfair. But they must be posed at the outset. For if this Jesus, this figure professedly central to our whole culture, has had no effect, he has no place in a history of cultural effects. (8-9)
As we now stand at the entrance to the third millennium since Jesus, we can look back over the horrors of Christian history, never doubting for an instant that if Christians had put kindness ahead of devotion to good order, theological correctness, and our own justifications--if we had followed in the humble footsteps of a heretical Samaritan who was willing to wash someone else's wounds, rather than in the self-regarding steps of the priest and the immaculate steps of the levite--the world we inhabit would be a very different one. (185)
After all, it is the Bible, which carries a LOT of baggage. As the sacred scripture of over 1 billion people,The Bible is a difficult book to review.
After all, it is the Bible, which carries a LOT of baggage. As the sacred scripture of over 1 billion people, its impact on the lives and minds of those who view it as The Book is difficult for a secular reader to appreciate fully. Moreover its influence on two thousand years of human history and culture cannot be overstated. That said, it is not really a book for general reading, nor was it ever intended to be. It is hard to consider it a book at all; it is instead a particular edition of a library of texts, first transmitted orally and then written, spanning a time frame of a millennium and a half, dealing with the evolution of one religion and the formation of another. So instead of providing a flowing story-line with an overarching plot and character development, the Bible presents a tangle of poems, myths, hymns, aphoristic wisdom literature, cultural and historical narratives, prophetic exhortations for social justice, and theological fragments. Part of the challenge of reading the Bible as a whole is figuring out just what all these different parts can possibly mean: one their own, in relationship to one another, in their original contexts, and within my own 21st century USAmerican experience. Some of texts speak directly to "the Human Condition" and are as radical to the contemporary reader as they were to the powers and principalities of the times in which they were composed. Other texts seem relevant only to archaeologists and students of ancient history, and still other texts seem downright perverse and un-sacred; I honestly have some problems with my nine-year old reading the Bible because of the questions it raises (almost none of which have to do with God or theology).
I didn't really like the One Year format. Breaking the various texts into sections and then alternating the daily excerpts (in the order of Old Testament, New Testament, Psalm, Proverbs) made it difficult to maintain continuity in the readings. From what I have gathered online, there are resources to assist the reader in dividing the Bible into daily portions, and so I recommend trying that out with the Bible you already have or can obtain at any motel, second-hand store, or Campus Crusade give-away. I am also not so keen on the New Living Translation. While I am not a Bible scholar or an expert in translation, I have certain preferences and look to the NRSV as my "favorite" translation of the Bible, having used that while at university. The biases of the translating committee of the New Living Translation were pretty obvious in points (e.g., repeatedly translating "disciples" as "believers," and translating "the saints" as "other believers," etc.), and at other times the language lacked any sense of gravitas, sort of like the King James version in reverse.
I finally settled on two stars for the rating. The Bible deserves a couple of stars simply for being one of the main wellsprings of Western civilization, religion, and literature. I find many verses in the Bible to be amazing (5 stars) because of their beauty or insight or provocative quality, but others (too many) are difficult to understand or downright meaningless (2 stars, tops). Unfortunately way too much of the Bible was devoted to war, warriors, and war-making for my taste (not surprising, seeing that God is regularly referred to as the "LORD of Hosts" or "LORD of Heaven's Armies"), and many of God's proclamations reminded me too much of an abusive spouse, raging and forgiving, raging and forgiving. As with many other challenging books, this is another that I want to re-read and re-engage with, but I am going to read the Jewish Study Bible next time, maybe for 2012 or 2013....more
I remember buying this book in 1991 or 1992 at the Old Book Barn in Forsyth and feeling like I had theological nitroglycerin in my hands. I had recentI remember buying this book in 1991 or 1992 at the Old Book Barn in Forsyth and feeling like I had theological nitroglycerin in my hands. I had recently been introduced to the Documentary Hypothesis of Biblical origins, and I thought that this "retranslation" of one of the component texts/writers this theory invokes, "J," would be earth-shattering. Excitedly I placed it on mt bookself and there it sat for almost a quarter-century before I picked it up on impulse.
I honestly wish I had left it on the shelf as a totem, because now that I have read it, I don't need to keep it around. While the book does indeed present the titular "Book of J," the translation doesn't seem all that radical (though I did not read it side-by-side with the NRSV or other Bible translation to see the explicit differences). It was also hard to suspend 41 years of my own religious conditioning in reading these over-familiar stories, in order to see what Bloom sees, namely a secular, urbane, ironic writer of the stature of Shakespeare. I was expecting a book about the Documentary Hypothesis, and instead I got 100-plus pages of Bloom's assertions about a hypothetical writer about which no one knows anything; some folks might say I got what I came for. ...more