The Common Good
November 2006

Good Reads

by The Editors | November 2006

New and Noteworthy books.

We know what globalization is, but often not how to respond to it—except with guilt. In Justice in a Global Economy: Strategies for Home, Community, and World, edited by Pamela Brubaker, Rebecca Todd Peters, and Laura Stivers, contributors offer readable assessments of globalization but also specific ways to navigate the ethical and spiritual questions it raises—at both the individual and corporate levels. How should I think about household labor? How can we revitalize our communities? Christ didn’t come to make us guilty, the authors write, but to teach us a new way to live. Westminster John Knox Press.

Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton, edited by Jonathan Montaldo and Robert Toth, is a series of eight booklets intended for small groups interested in delving deeper into contemplative living. Each booklet contains guidelines for eight sessions, with reading selections from Merton and other authors—including Karen Armstrong, Eckhart Tolle, and Rainer Maria Rilke—and questions for reflection. The first two booklets are available; the others will be finished next spring. Ave Maria Press.

Can true justice come from punishment? That’s the question Laura Magnani and Harmon Wray take up in Beyond Prisons: A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System. Written from a Quaker perspective, the authors look at the factors that produced the present prison-industrial complex and its failings, sentencing laws, the juvenile justice system, prison conditions, and more, ending with an alternative vision of justice. An important and compassionate book. Fortress Press.

It would be hard to find a better person to guide you through the topic of prayer than Philip Yancey. In his Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? Yancey addresses the questions all of us have (but often refuse to admit): Why should we pray? Does it work? Whose fault is it when prayers go unanswered? Is God really listening? Yancey writes gracefully and honestly, supporting his words with personal stories and research. Zondervan.

Donegal Suite, by John McNamee. The author of the acclaimed memoir Diary of a City Priest recently published this second collection of poetry. From the remove of a cottage on the Irish coast, McNamee’s poems open a space that reveals the human face at rest, at play, in anxiety, and at peace. “We are made to connect,” he writes in response to his retreat solitude. “The awareness that no one will be arriving/ makes even a mechanical sound a comfort.” Reading these poems aloud releases the rough quiet of the Irish coast that McNamee has trapped between the words. Dufour Editions.

Encountering Ecclesiastes, by James Limburg. It’s perhaps among the more gloomy books of the Bible—indeed, one writer Limburg cites says Ecclesiastes has “the smell of the tomb about it”—but its author is refreshingly direct and honest. Limburg, professor emeritus of Luther Seminary, traces the book’s influence through The Byrds and Bonhoeffer, opening its wisdom to those of us who find ourselves chasing the wind, wondering if all is really vanity after all. Eerdmans.

In The New Friars: The Emerging Movement Serving the World’s Poor, Scott Bessenecker looks at a group of men and women, many in their 20s and 30s, who have taken up residence with the world’s poor, not to serve over but to serve alongside them. Many have taken vows within particular communities; all have followed paths of “downward mobility” to live and work at the world’s fringes. Rather than present them as saints, Bessenecker writes about the real challenges and joys of living intentionally with these commitments. IVP Books.

Spirituality and social justice are often seen as separate components to a Christian life, set at odds by both churches and individuals. Contributors to Vital Christianity: Spirituality, Justice, and Christian Practice, edited by David L. Weaver-Zercher and William H. Willimon, do an excellent job connecting these concepts, first by challenging some of our current views and then by providing theological foundations for integrating spirituality and social justice. The last third of the book details specific practices to live this connection, including through prayer, iconography, food, singing, service, and more. Continuum.

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