Jesus Before Christianity

Albert Nolan revised his 1976 version of Jesus Before Christianity in 1992. I read it originally in 1998 but was lured back into its pages now 20 years later for a review. This is a timeless book. For years I have felt our times where pre-Christian. Like many in Jesus’ day we are attracted to his words and example, and as soon as everyone is on board we will jump on too. But for now the ‘world’ isn’t like that yet and we are afraid to go the whole way. Nolan says on page 171 “Jesus can help us to understand the voice of Truth but, in the last analysis, it is we who must decide and act.” He goes on to say in page 151 that “Jesus did not make authority his truth, he made truth his authority.” Later on page 102 we find: People’s compassion for one another releases God power in the world, the only power than can bring about the miracle of the “kingdom”. And then on page 39 he gets to the core: “Faith is a good and true conviction. It is the conviction that something can and will happen because it is good and because it is true that goodness can and will triumph over evil.”
In these troubled time when humanity has tried all the alternatives to compassion to see if that would be enough to solve our problems, we might be getting ready to try Jesus’ way. I hope so. Now I ask everyone “where do you see the hope?” I invite you to find a copy of this timeless examination of the times before Christianity to appreciate what was going on then. I think you will find the parallels to this time uncanny and see why I think we are still pre-Christian.

The Universe Story Calendar

The Universe Story Calendar by Thomas R. Spiritbringer is a mind bending read that can expand your consciousness even as the universe itself is expanding.  In the attempt to tell the story AS OF TODAY this book with its companion calendar reaches to include all times, places, and peoples. Unlike previous stories whose focus on the recurring events, such as the seasons, phases of the moon and planets, this book and calendar highlights that there is never a recurring anything. All is ever new. Nothing stays the same. This is especially significant in the human who is the most recent event in the cosmic story. We reach to tell the story to our young that excites their imaginations while emphasizing how significant each of them are to the story. This is a reference book. One that you will want to have at hand as you try to explain to yourself and others how we came to what we know AS OF TODAY. All previous attempts to talk about time are explained and the reasons they were changed listed. We are now invited to once again change with what we know AS OF TODAY. In this graceful and humble acknowledgement that this is all we know we will reverence the creative process and our ability to know our place in that process.

Broken Lives

Konrad H. Jarausch has given us the fruit of his labors in his attempt to share how ordinary Germans experienced the 20th century in his book Broken Lives. It was described as “The gripping stories of ordinary Germans who lived through World War II, the Holocaust, and Cold War partition―but also recovery, reunification, and rehabilitation.” I went in search to see if he could help me deal with my sense that we are standing on the edge of a cliff these days in the choices we are either making or not making. My question is, how a culture could be drawn into a systemic series of death dealing choices? He used the diaries, documents and much more to weave a story of ordinary and extraordinary people reacting to the hardships and humiliations of WW1. He then composes an engrossing story of how men, women and children made sense of their experiences by quoting from those recovered texts.

On page 280“ I found this quote that seems to speak to my search and question: “Still in high school, Ursula Mahlendorf “shared with my classmates a fundamental distrust of all adults” who were responsible for the German catastrophe. ln heated exchanges with her favorite teacher, “I accused his whole generation I articulated my age groups feeling of having been shortchanged by our elders and of being berated for what they had failed to teach us.” Similarly, theology student Erich Helmer voiced his cohort’s “search for answers to the questions: What can still be believed? What is solid after the ground of reality has and is continuing to cave in everywhere?” I sense our youth in their marches, voter registration drives and much more are demanding to be heard now. We too now have to choose wisely so not to repeat the 20th century mistakes that brought so much suffering.

I invite you to read this book. It could help you to reflect on things in a deeper way. It must have taken the author many years to discover all these documents let alone construct the story in such a way to share the humanity of those whose worlds he shares with us. But somehow he seems to perceive that we need these insights NOW.

The Exodus

The Exodus: How it happened and why it matters by Richard Elliott Friedman gives the reader an in-depth exploration of the pivotal moment in creation history as told by the bible. Friedman locates this experience as the one that sets humanity on the course of loving the alien or the other. This unique moment in history now clamors for attention when all over the world the struggle to recognize the humanity of the “other” is in desperate straits.  Never before has the human race faced this choice in the way we do now. We ignore it at our peril.

A Brief History of Everything

A Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber will stretch and challenge anyone willing to persevere in following his path. I just finished it tonight and got online to find this wonderful example of his thesis on my Facebook page. It is called:  Join the Conversation https://youtu.be/HyiVhrPz2o8               Some people in Dubuque, IA are coming together to make tangible the wisdom of the emergent energy in all creation.

Many are following in the footsteps of others who are responding to the ‘within’ (e.g. Teilhard) of reality after having plunged into the (e.g. Teilhard) ‘without’ dimension and found it necessary but incomplete.  Examples like John Haught’s “A New Cosmic Story” and Fr. Robert Beck’s “Jesus and his Enemies” are plowing this some of same ground.  I encourage those attracted to this emergent energy in all creation to take the pilgrimage with Wilber. You won’t be disappointed.

The Shepherd’s Life

The Shepherd’s Life is a book given to me for Christmas this year. The author, James Rebanks, took me along as he journaled his way through the four seasons of the year. I found his attempt to hold together the tension of the old and the new way of being in the world a creative endeavor. I suspect that many ways of being in the world today are wrestling with this same tension. How does one live with the wisdom of the ages and yet be open to what is revealing itself in this rapidly changing environment? I suspect the advent of the alphabet, the printing press, the industrial expansion were but a few examples of this same struggle. Yet, maybe we face an existential crisis radically new to any that have been faced before. This time, either by our own devices, or by the cumulative effect of ignorant/uncaring choices a do-over might not be possible. It behooves all of us to reflect deeply about what we must do to live within this dynamic. The future depends that we care as deeply ans Rebanks does.

The New Cosmic Story

John F. Haught has written The New Cosmic Story: Inside Our Awakening Universe which is the most important book this bookaholic has read this year. His prophetic work will come to be seen as the opening to the future that we need.  We stand on the threshold of what is becoming known by all who strive toward “rightness”. A rightness that is indestructible which is the universal search for meaning in all the world religions. Our sciences have brought us the awareness of the process, and our subjectivity demands an appropriate outcome in order for us to give ourselves to the unfolding of the not yet. Teilhard de Chardin and others began the process, Dr. Haught has built on their insights and takes us the next step.

The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching

I have worked my way through Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. This centuries old form of wisdom brought me the concept of Interdependent Co-Arising that is another way of approaching right mindfulness that frees one from the notion of anything or anyone being separate from everything else.  It was a challenge to work through all the various systems that Buddhism entails in coming to this basic truth but I received nuggets of insights that enlarged my understanding of this noble path.

The Wisdom Jesus

The Wisdom Jesus by Cynthia Bourgeault is another treasure trove worth mining. She helps us explore more deeply the impact of recently discovered documents found by archaeologists and others, who then with the aid of many specialists open up new insights on the early believers. It will take many years to unpack the implications that this new source reveals. As many find the current “package” of belief too small, The Wisdom Jesus will help to enlarge the possibilities Cynthia and others are bring forth.

No is Not Enough

Klein, Naomi. No is not Enough. Harper Books. Chicago, IL. 2017.  Resisting Trump’s shock  politics and winning the world we need.

As I read this book I was flashing back to those days at the U of IA Hospital and Clinics and our Monday morning interdisciplinary rounds. Each week all the disciplines involved in diagnosing and treating our patients came together to gather all the facts we knew and discern what we still needed to know to figure out what our patient needed and wanted. After all the tests results came in we started our care planning. One would offer this option and another said that if we chose that course of treatment they would need to do this. Another would offer if that was chosen then maybe this should happen first. Still others suggested another option that no one had thought of. Alone, if each progressed without this information, we could end up with something no one wanted let alone the patient and their family.

Each week we regathered to evaluate our progress and revise our plans. As the chaplain I often stood between the vast system and the patient and family, bringing questions and insights that kept those two realities on the same page. This way we could harness the best of all the options we had available.

Naomi Klein has done the chaplain’s role for our present moment’s challenges. She has listened, witnessed, and brought all her skills together to help us diagnose our collective dis-ease. She has written a guide for how each of us can bring our skills to bear on healing what needs caring for and send us off with a renewed hope that we can Leap forward to a more humane-human future.

The Optimistic Leftist

At 80 years of age and surrounded by the woes of the world, I must tell the author Ruy Teixeira I NEEDED THIS BOOK. He carefully outlines the last 100 years and brings together the information I needed to see the sweep of  the global struggles and successes. He painted the big picture and reveals that the arc of history is bending toward a more evolved world. I keep a record of all the books I read and they are listed by the author last name. Today when I added this book to that list it came right after Teilhard de Chardin. I see this as an affirmation of Teilhard’s vision. If you need an antidote to the daily news this book is for you.

The Undiscovered Self

This classic by C.G. Jung is so timely for today. As I reflected on its message I was reminded of Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of union differentiates. This idea teaches that the more we come together, the more we discover our self. In biblical times the individual counted only as a member of a group. Outside the group survival was all but impossible unless you could find another group that would include you. Then centuries later, we rebelled and swung to the opposite pole of individualism.  For a time we reveled in this new found sense of the importance of each life. It seems now that we are faced with another important paradigm shift that it isn’t an either/or dilemma, but a both/and reality. Jung invites us to reflect on the good/evil that is inherent in each of us. When we accept and respond in ways that our faith traditions offer, maybe we can evolve from just being attracted to the eternal truths offered by the worlds faith traditions and actually try to live them. It seems like our present worldwide anxiety offers us this invitation. You can go online and download a pdf version of this valuable little book.

 

The Dovekeepers

Alice Hoffman has written a spell binding novel called The Dovekeepers which is built upon the terrible times around 70 CE. The temple has been destroyed, and the people have scattered. Some take refuge in the fortress  that King Harold had built and were trying to survive the genocidal advances of the Roman army that wanted to totally destroy any holdouts that might cause them trouble. Narrated by some women and their experience of the life and times we get a glimpse from the female perspective that is lacking in our historical documents. Hoffnam has done her homework and is able to put flesh on the bones of this pivotal time in history. I listened to it on the CD version. It is very well done.

The Cities that built the Bible

Getting the context of an author is especially important when studying the bible. Archaeologist Robert Cargill of the Univ. of Iowa has given his life to studying and teaching this context for those of us who come to the bible for inspiration.  I will be coming back often to ponder this work as I also teach and write. Learning more about the struggles and customs of the people who composed and then saved these works can help us move more profitably into these timeless works of love. Written in 2016 and published by Harper/Collins.

The Many Faces of Christ

Jenkins, Philip. The Many Faces of Christ.  Basic Books. NY. 2015. What a read! As one who has a life long interest in the Bible and how it came to be; this book really opens up wide vistas on how the different peoples, in different times and places, made sense out of their experiences of God-ness. The sub-title “The thousand-year story of the survival and influence of the lost gsospels”  is a very good summary of its contents. This scholarly, well referenced work will cause me to ponder in new and deeper ways.

The Righteous Mind

In an attempt to better understand the struggle that every election involves I chose to read Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind”. I admit that this exhaustive treatment of why and how people sort themselves out has helped me in my effort to make sense of what appears most of the time to be nonsense. He helped me see the value of each orientation such as  liberal/conservative and how they each have strengths and weaknesses.  We need each other to become whole, but have fallen into the either/or trap that the gospels warns us  to avoid.  Watching the “news” will become a more instructive exercise since reading this book. A current article that expands on this subject. For an interview with the author click on this link

The Cistercian World

Matarasso, Pauline Ed. The Cistercian World.  Penguin Books. London. 1993. Monastic writings of the   twelfth century. The abbot of New Melleray Abbey asked each of us associates to read this in order to become more familiar with the foundation of the order. I found the chapter on spiritual friendship by Alfred of Rievaulx the most timely for anyone of any age. The lyrical description of Clairvaux was a treat by an unknown author towards the end of the book.

A Still and Quiet Conscience

In his new book- A Still and Quiet Conscience, John A. McCoy tells the story of Bp. Raymond Hunthausen. The sub title “The Archbishop who challenged a pope, a president, and a church” tells the story of what happens to someone who takes on the status quo. Hopefully with Pope Francis this kind of abuse won’t be happening again soon. I have met this humble servant of God and people, and can testify to his unconditional love for even those who wish him harm. Read this and see what being a shepherd really is.

The Burglary

Medsger, Beverly. The Burglary. NY. Alfred A. Knopf. 2014. This book outlines the discovery of J.E Hoover’s  secret FBI. This book comes close to home for me as our oldest son was one of those Hoover targeted back in those pre Watergate days. After reading this book my faith in the basic decency of humanity was strengthened. People, many with young children, put their lives and futures in danger to unmask the evil that eating away at our basic freedoms. They did it when it was their turn, now it is our turn.

From Big Bang to Big Mystery

From Big Bang to Big Mystery: One reviewer states: “In a fascinating, accessible and thorough study, renowned priest Brendan Purcell explores the question of human origins. Covering a phenomenal range of material, Purcell moves easily between analysis of the various scientific perspectives on how humans are unique (emerging from a perhaps seven million year hominid sequence) and his suggestion that what is really needed is a look at why humans are unique. This pushes the zoological/paleontological discussion into the realm of philosophy and theology and gives new life to considerations of human emergence suggesting, even, that humans are better understood as an unprecedented cultural and spiritual event.”

The World is Flat

Over 9 years ago Tom Friedman wrote his book The World is Flat. It aroused a lot of attention then and much was written about his thesis. Now all these years later, I have read his work and mused on how these 9 years have confirmed/challenged this thesis. This is a good book for a discussion group. I found myself in dialogue with him as I turned the pages of this important study of how our interconnected world has developed.

And Man Created God

Selina O’Grady has written a fascinating book called And Man Created God. It is a review of the world religions at the time of Jesus. Although Selina comes at the subject as a non believer, she is another voice that adds to the many who try to situate Jesus, Paul and the early church in their context. I came away from this book bewildered by the chaotic milieu of religions that the people of Jesus’ day must have found oppressive. When given the chance to hear about God from Jesus, the disciples and Paul I can easily see why their words were indeed “good news”.