In 1966, the Catholic priest and poet Ernesto Cardenal traveled to the Solentiname archipelago in the south of Lake Nicaragua, and there founded an in...moreIn 1966, the Catholic priest and poet Ernesto Cardenal traveled to the Solentiname archipelago in the south of Lake Nicaragua, and there founded an intentional Catholic community. The islands became an outpost of liberation theology, which was then sweeping through Latin America, and the birthplace of a remarkable artistic flourishing. The local people developed a distinctive primitivist style of painting that remains highly influential in Nicaragua, and the songwriter Carlos Mejía Godoy journeyed there to compose his song-cycle La Misa Campesina (The Peasant's Mass). In the worship services, Cardenal replaced the traditional sermon with a participatory Bible study, which was tape-recorded and later published as the 4-volume The Gospel in Solentiname.
This very brief book pairs passages from the Bible studies with some of the luminous, primitivist paintings of the Bible passage under discussion. If you're (like me) not likely to dive into the full Gospel in Solentiname this book is a fine introduction to Solentiname's version of liberation theology. And the paintings are fantastic.(less)
With one exception. In this book, Boff gives himself more space than before to talk about cosmology and quantum mechanics, with disastrous results. For example:
"The fermions within us are our individual and bodily dimension, while bosons are our relationships and spiritual dimension." (p.54)
Gaaaah! Just. No.
And here it's not just a few paragraphs here and there. Basically all of Chapter 2 is devoted to mixing up a big salad of cosmology, quantum mechanics, ecology, biology with a dash of New Age seasoning. Boff's heart is in the right place--he's enthusiastically pro-science, whatever it is--but it's clear that he's read too many popular science books without speaking a word to an actual working scientist. His understanding of the science is superficial when not factually incorrect. This is a big flaw in an otherwise interesting book, and almost a disqualifying one.
The book recovers a bit after Chapter 2, especially in two of the more grounded chapters--one on the destruction of the Amazon, and another on St. Francis of Assisi (the patron saint of ecologists and, one assumes, hippies). The book remains interesting and even moving in places, but too often you have to dig through a lot of guff to find those pearls of wisdom.(less)
Did not like. This book is basically Oh the Places You'll Go minus the brevity, the charm and the rhyming couplets.
The whisper of a story found here...moreDid not like. This book is basically Oh the Places You'll Go minus the brevity, the charm and the rhyming couplets.
The whisper of a story found here actually has some promise. The author pulls together some graceful moments and the central idea (spoiler alert: you should follow your dreams!) is plenty good enough to build a book around. When the author confines himself to characterization and description, it's not a bad read.
But as the book goes on, those moments are buried under an avalanche of clumsy, didactic, self-help nonsense. Even worse, this self-help schema is oddly shoehorned into A Complicated Mythology centered around alchemy and stealing bits from various world religions and traditions. To top it off, the last half of the book is basically various characters blathering back and forth in a way that manages to be pompous and cryptic all at the same time.
Finally on page 145 the personified voice of the desert has had enough, crying out "I don't understand what you're talking about." Amen to that, personified voice of the desert! Amen to that.
The main problem here is that the vague philosophizing has completely swallowed and digested the actual story. A lighter touch would make it a much more effective book. A paragraph here, a paragraph there, perhaps a longer section at a dramatic moment. As it is, every page is like a jackhammer driving home the idea of finding your Personal Legend. Enough already. Show me, don't tell me. And the ending is fairly dumb; I really wasn't sure why I was supposed to be inspired by that part at all.
In the interest of finding something nice about the book, I will say that I appreciate the spirit of the endeavor. Serious Important Literature is so often bogged down in miserabilism and drama-mongering that it misses a good portion of the human experience. How many big name award-winning authors can you envision writing about living a happy, good life full of enthusiasm and emotional resiliency. Paulo Coelho hasn't figured out how to write compelling stories about that side of life either, but at least he's trying.(less)
A book about overseas missionary work that is actually an intricate analysis the possibilities and pitfalls of living in another culture and understan...moreA book about overseas missionary work that is actually an intricate analysis the possibilities and pitfalls of living in another culture and understanding how it works. The author grounds his analysis in numerous technical concepts taken from anthropology, sociology and linguistics, such as: the mechanics of socialization, the structure of cultures, the influence of language on culture and thought, translation, patterns of gift-exchange, oral vs. literate traditions and the relationship between guests/strangers and hosts. The subtext of the book is that understanding how other cultures work makes it easier to be "relevant" (or at least not actively destructive) as an outsider coming into that context.
I confess that if I had picked this up being having lived abroad, I probably would have found it intimidatingly abstract, repetitive and often unhelpful. Now, with two years under my belt living in a foreign culture, I found myself nodding along more often than not. Living in another culture (and confronting culture shock) means that you get a lot of practice trying to pick apart and analyze parts of your life that were previously obvious or unexamined or submerged.
The model of mission found here is deliberately opposed to the "bad, old, arrogant, colonial" model of centuries past, although I found the focus on conversion and evangelization a little out of step (or maybe just more theologically conservative than I). Still, that doesn't blunt the usefulness of the material should you find yourself a stranger in a strange land.(less)
Philip Pullman's re-imagining of the Gospels is an intriguing idea badly hamstrung by a disastrous stylistic choice.
In Pullman's retelling, Jesus Chri...morePhilip Pullman's re-imagining of the Gospels is an intriguing idea badly hamstrung by a disastrous stylistic choice.
In Pullman's retelling, Jesus Christ was born as twin boys, Jesus and Christ, and the familiar Gospel stories are retold as an interaction between the two men. Pullman is drawing (at least) two separate distinctions here. His "Jesus" is bearer of the traditionally "human" elements of Jesus Christ -- he is a carpenter, a preacher of the coming Kingdom of God, a lover of justice, a companion of the down-trodden, scornful of power and the powerful. Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount and the parable of the Good Samaritan and Pullman hardly changes a word. Ironically, this human Jesus is almost too perfect, too divine.
In contrast, "Christ" is the bearer of the "divine" or "supernatural" elements of the stories. Christ is the one who is transfigured and, (view spoiler)[after his brother is crucified, it is Christ who reappears--resurrected--to his brother's followers (hide spoiler)]. In keeping with the dualism, the divine Christ is all too human: flawed, ambitious, willing to compromise and rationalize his decisions.
Christ is also the one who tempts Jesus in the desert with the promise of power, in particular with a vision of an institutional church who will carry his word into the world and do good works. Christ makes himself the un-official historian and scribe for his brother, writing down and occasionally "improving" the traditional Gospel stories. This is Pullman's second distinction, contrasting Jesus with the organized religion that followed him.
I'm not entirely sure that it makes sense to embody this second distinction by an internal division within the figure of Jesus Christ himself. Perhaps a better contrast would be with Peter, Paul and the early church fathers? But of course, criticism of the institutional church (the Magisterium) is what animated Pullman's fantastic His Dark Materials trilogy and here provides Pullman with his most passionate moments, for better and for worse.
Unfortunately, Pullman decided to write the book in the terse style of the original Gospels and the entire middle section is a forced march through the most famous passages of the Bible with Pullman changing parts of the stories or offering commentary. This decision reduces his interesting ideas to a kind of trite one-up-manship. When Christ tempts Jesus in the desert with the vision of churchly power, it's a clever moment and a clever twist on the story, but it also comes off as shallow and juvenile. (You know who the *real* devil is, man?)
When Pullman steps away from this stylistic choice the book shows real passion and promise, most especially in two paired monologues given by Jesus and Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. Those chapters point to the book I wish Pullman had written, a longer, more literary work where the ideas arise out of the characters and the plot, rather than vice versa.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I first encountered this book a few years ago at a church retreat for young adults, but just now got around to reading it. Borg offers up a conversati...moreI first encountered this book a few years ago at a church retreat for young adults, but just now got around to reading it. Borg offers up a conversational, passionate and well-organized case for what might be called liberal (he uses the phrase emerging) Christianity. For me the most compelling parts were the initial chapters dealing with the Bible, God and Jesus, and the final one (addressing religious pluralism). The middle section was a little muddled, but he was strong where it counts.
Not surprisingly, Borg argues against a literal-factual reading of the Bible, instead suggesting that we should read it "historically, metaphorically and sacramentally." There is often a sense in the general culture that a literal-factual reading is somehow more "pure" or more "faithful" than a more metaphorical reading. Borg points out, pretty reasonably, that the Bible is a natural fit for a metaphorical reading, and that an over-emphasis on the factual is missing the forest for the trees. To give one funny example, he muses about a literal reading of the Bible passage where "Jesus sits at the right hand of God" and wonders if that implies that God literally has hands.
He also argues strongly against Christian exclusivism (the idea that Christianity is the only true faith) and the idea that God intervenes supernaturally in the world. This makes his perspective very easy to reconcile with a multi-cultural society and a scientific worldview (provided we scratch out one cringe-worthy paragraph about "post-modern science").
He does occasionally try to engage with the more traditional Christian view, although I wonder how well he manages it. Like more people, I suspect, he finds it easier to engage with a distorted version of the other side's arguments. Although the vast majority of his ideas resonated strongly with me, it would still be interesting to hear some back-and-forth with a traditional perspective. For me, the book's great contribution was the assertion that liberal Christianity is just as authentic, deeply felt and faithful as the more traditional variants, and that liberal Christians shouldn't apologize for their viewpoint.(less)
Leonardo Boff is a Brazilian theologian and former priest who was one of the early proponents of liberation theology within the Catholic Church. After...moreLeonardo Boff is a Brazilian theologian and former priest who was one of the early proponents of liberation theology within the Catholic Church. After several high-profile feuds with the hierarchy, Boff left the church in 1992. Since then he has written extensively on the connections between environmental destruction, poverty and injustice. He remains fairly influential in Latin America and has close ties with a lot of social movements in the region. His goal for this book is to articulate (or resuscitate?) an ecumenical, post-Berlin Wall version of liberation theology and base it in the critical need to conserve the environment.
Boff's general focus and conclusions are good stuff, and there is a lot to like and think about in this book, but for the most part I found his method of writing frustrating and a little bit baffling. Boff is an exuberant writer, but not a precise one. He doesn't build up his arguments piece-by-piece with an eye towards convincing you that they make sense, instead he plucks declarative sentences from the sky and arranges them in front of you. You get stuff like "mysticism is life itself apprehended in its radicalism and extreme density" (p.161). If you're already on his same wavelength then maybe that's really deep and moving, but if you're not, well, Boff never offers much to help you figure what the heck he's talking about.
(Two caveats: one, the translation seems poor and perhaps it's more compelling in the original language, and two, from the little I've read of Cry of the Earth Cry of the Poor, that book seems tighter and more analytical. Also: I've not read much of this type of theological writing before, so maybe it gets easier with practice.)
I was most interested by the incorporation of science into this paradigm. He occasionally prompts eye-rolls when he cites the "weirdness" of quantum mechanics or relativity as direct support for his mystical worldview (Deepak Chopra would be proud). Other times he pushes a maximalist interpretation of legitimate scientific conclusions that is at odds with the cautious, evidence-based perspective of working scientists. To give one example, he claims "the basic concept of nature seen from an ecological standpoint is that everything is related to everything else in all respects" (p.10). Really? In all respects? This sentence takes a mundane insight of ecology (that life webs are rich and complex) and amps it up to the level of mystical revelation.
In Boff's defense, he is emphatically pro-science and is not one of those who is pushing for skepticism of scientific findings in the name of preserving religion. Indeed, the Big Idea in this work is that theology should learn from the insights of ecology, and that a truly ecological perspective brings us closer to the Divine. In addition, his advocacy of "mysticism" turns in part on a redefinition of "spirit" to avoid the long-standing problems of dualism. In other words, his mysticism is at least somewhat reconciled to science. He does finger "rationalism" and "scientific messianism" as the main culprits in environmental contamination, but is clear that this criticism does not extend to "science" writ large.
In the end, perhaps it is best to approach this book like you would a book of poetry, or a sermon, and on that front, Boff can be fascinating, beautiful and moving in places. YMMV.(less)
According to goodreads it took me over 3 years, but I did it! I read the whole Bible, even the boring bits. I am currently feeling mildly accomplished...moreAccording to goodreads it took me over 3 years, but I did it! I read the whole Bible, even the boring bits. I am currently feeling mildly accomplished and eager to read something shorter and more mindless.
I'm not really going to review the content of the Bible itself, as there is no shortage of opinion on this topic. But I would like to recommend the version. The focus here is on Biblical views on the environment and the religious importance of caring for the Creation. The version contains several interesting introductory essays from a range of writers, as well as an excellent bible study guide that teases out some of the key themes for deeper study. And of course, relevant passages in the text are printed in green, much like the famous red-letter bibles that highlight the sayings of the historical Jesus. Highly recommended for anyone interested in Creation Care.(less)
A nice, readable, thought-provoking series of essays arguing that caring for the environment (or, the capital-C Creation) is a key religious calling....moreA nice, readable, thought-provoking series of essays arguing that caring for the environment (or, the capital-C Creation) is a key religious calling. There is an admirable breadth of perspectives here, with contributions from the many varieties of Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian faiths (although for all that, very American in its outlook).
As is usual with these types of books the style and quality vary greatly, but I imagine that there are enough fresh perspectives, insights and sharp personal stories to keep most people turning pages.(less)
We just read this for a church retreat, and I thought the 3 essays (about 'biblical authority') were generally well thought-out and interesting. The a...moreWe just read this for a church retreat, and I thought the 3 essays (about 'biblical authority') were generally well thought-out and interesting. The authors (from different perspectives) argue against the simple fundamentalist reading of the bible and for the necessity of 'interpreting' the bible and the inevitability of disagreement.(less)
A lovely and inspiring memoir by the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. The book is a timely reminder that radical social justice can indeed...moreA lovely and inspiring memoir by the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. The book is a timely reminder that radical social justice can indeed be lived in our society and that justice arises out of simple acts of kindness and love.
I especially enjoyed Day's account of her conversion and the intellectual questions she posed to herself. I wish the book included more details of day-to-day life at a Catholic worker house.