Books

New & Noteworthy

The Spirit’s Work
Just Jesus: My Struggle to Become Human, by Walter Wink with Steven Berry, is the final book by the late, influential Christian thinker. It blends brief autobiographical vignettes with essays on key themes in Wink’s work, offering insights into how his life story shaped his faith, thought, and witness. Image

Border Truths
On “Strangers No Longer”: Perspectives on the Historic U.S.-Mexican Catholic Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Migration is a collection of essays by scholars and policy experts that uses the 2003 pastoral letter on immigration “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope” as its starting point. Paulist Press

Joy and Power
The latest album by Beninese Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Angélique Kidjo, Eve, celebrates the strength and beauty of women. It is inspired by a women’s choir Kidjo heard while visiting Kenya as a UNICEF ambassador; several choirs from Benin and Kenya are featured on the album. 429 Records

Divine Feast
Spiritually hungry? O Taste and See: A Biblical Reflection on Experiencing God is an extended meditation on Psalm 34:8 by theologian and poet Bonnie Thurston that explores the rich nourishment and layers of meaning to be found in the words “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Paraclete Press

 

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Coloring the Story

THE GRAPHIC NOVEL Radical Jesus, edited by Paul Buhle, has three distinct sections offering different expressions of Jesus’ life and social message. The brevity of the graphic novel medium allows the writers to construct a clear and distinct message in a moving art form.

Part one, “Radical Gospel,” illustrated by Sabrina Jones, uses biblical quotes to construct a visual story that connects the words of Jesus to modern situations. The black and white ink styling is simple yet profound.

While Jesus and his disciples are portrayed as first century Jews, the people Jesus interacts with and tells parables about are all in modern dress. This puts Jesus in an accessible conversation not only with his disciples, but also with the reader. In a collection of Jesus’ sayings from the Sermon on the Mount, the art drives home the emotional impact of his words.

Jones does not shy away from the radical implications of Jesus’ message. My favorite of her modern interpretations is an image of the destruction wreaked by the 9/11 attacks, contrasted with Jesus’ reference to the temple in Jerusalem, where he exclaims, “The day will come when there isn’t one stone left on top of another that is not thrown down.”

The second section, “Radical History,” moves from the words of Jesus into the history of the Radical Reformation, continuing the narrative of people living into God’s dream for the world. The illustrations by Gary Dumm (with coloring by Laura Dumm) imitate the style of medieval art, with full-bodied pastel colors and static but emotional characters.

Presented as an anthology of stories by several authors, the assortment is anchored by an interpretation of the beginnings of the Anabaptists, a people who rejected infant baptism, seeing baptism as properly a sign of adult conversion and faith.

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Bringing the Word to Life

ONE YEAR MY small group decided to have each member choose a person named or alluded to in the gospels to “follow” during Lent. We researched our people and the customs of that time and reflected individually and collectively on their encounters with Jesus. Then we hosted a community meal for family and friends on the night before Easter. Each member of our group came in character as the person we’dstudied and tried to recreate the mood of that frightening, confusing, grief-filled night for followers of Jesus after his death and before his resurrection. After the meal, each of us presented a monologue that tried to project what our person might have been thinking and experiencing at that time.

The attempt to immerse mind, soul, and body into scriptures that I had listened to for much of my life (but perhaps hadn’t really heard) was a transformative experience: It burned away long-held assumptions and revealed new facets of chapter and verse.

The book Creating a Scene in Corinth: A Simulation, by Sojourners contributing editor Reta Halteman Finger and George D. McClain, provides a useful and fun toolbox for small groups, Sunday schools, religion classes, and even imaginative individuals who want their own full-immersion experience of scripture and biblical scholarship. It invites readers to a deeper understanding of the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth by using role play to “become” members of the different factions of that community as they hear Paul’s words read for the first time. The authors assert that “as we more clearly experience what Paul meant in the first century, we can better understand what his writings mean in our 21st century context.”

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The Harvest of Fidelity

THE STILL, ATTENTIVE, affectionate, at times lamenting, always sagacious, well-defined, occasional poems in This Day, Wendell Berry’s most recent collection, are a magnificent gift to American letters.

For nearly 35 years Berry has kept the Sabbath holy. His practice is either unorthodox or so deeply orthodox that professional religionists may not recognize it. On Sundays Berry walks his Kentucky “home place,” the roughly 125 acres of bottom land in the region his family has farmed for more than 200 years. From the seventh-day silence, solitude, and natural world, Berry has crafted his Sabbath poems.

“Occasional poems” commemorate public events, but here Berry lays quiet markers to remember personal days in the life of one man. He writes in the preface: “though I am happy to think that poetry may be reclaiming its public life, I am equally happy to insist that poetry also has a private life that is more important to it and more necessary to us.”

Berry’s first collection of Sabbath poems appeared in A Timbered Choir, uniting work from 1979 (“I go among trees and sit still”) to 1997 (“There is a day / when the road neither / comes nor goes ...”). This Day includes this previous material plus dozens more written through 2013. It opens with “Preface: From Sabbaths 2013” and places Berry in his human landscape:

This is a poet of the river lands
a lowdown man of the deepest
depths of the valley, where gravity gathers
the waters, the poisons, the trash,
where light comes late and leaves early.

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Literary LEO 2014

Flash Fiction/Short Fiction — Jason Howard Jason Howard is the author of “A Few Honest Words: The Kentucky Roots of Popular Music.” His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Nation, Paste, Sojourners and on NPR.

Wilson's Bookmarks

This very helpful book grew out of a nine-month conversation among six politically diverse Christians at Respectful Conversation.net. The convener, Heie, summarizes it here, taking up in turn a series of contentious issues ranging from immigration, gun control, and abortion to a variety of foreign policy questions, noting where there is common ground and where there are sharp differences. The six participants—Amy E. Black, Paul Brink, David P. Gushee, Lisa Sharon Harper, Stephen V. Monsma, and Eric Teetsel—model the overarching commitment to "respectful conversation" even as they disagree.

A Spirituality of Solitude

Miles of yellow wheat bend; their leaves / rustle away and wait for the sun and wind.
—From “A Farewell, Age Ten”

We wondered what our walk should mean, / taking that un-march quietly; / the sun stared at our signs—"Thou shalt not kill.”
—From “Peace Walk”

WILLIAM STAFFORD was a poet of the land and a conscience that fanned out over the land. Born in Hutchinson, Kan., 100 years ago—on Jan. 17, 1914—it was perhaps his early intimacy with space and sky that opened him to the mystery of human frailty.

At age 6, he saw two black students at his school being taunted by whites. He stood with them.

Another mystery: He who personifies the term national poet is largely unknown in his nation. Four new books (in his 79 years, Stafford published more than 50 books) published to coincide with his centennial might help redress this situation. Ask Me (Graywolf Press), from which the above excerpts are taken, brings to readers 100 “essential” Stafford poems dealing with his pacifism, his family, Native Americans, and the landscapes of his native Kansas and his adopted Oregon, where many centenary events are scheduled to take place.

Sound of the Ax: Aphorisms and Poems by William Stafford, edited by Vincent Wixon and Paul Merchant (Pitt Poetry Series, University of Pittsburgh Press), reveals the Gandhian quality of the poet’s thinking: “Even if you are blind, there is still light ... The grace we need to find will not be found by the graceful only.”

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