Elizabeth Cobbs in her The Tubman Command kept me reading nonstop for a day. I don’t often read outside nonfiction but my long attraction to Harriet Tubman lured me to explore this work of love. Tubman’s use of her vulnerabilities for the good of others has been like a flame to my moth instincts. Cobb shows signs of using whatever data on Tubman exists and carefully wraps her story around those facts in a way that makes the struggle for freedom intimate. In these days where people are being told to “go back to where you come from” this book is very timely. A quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says it all: “Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.” Harriet “Moses” Tubman lived this truth. Elizabeth Cobbs invites us to reflect on how each of us is called (and enabled) to do the same.
The Universal Christ
This is Richard Rohr’s latest and greatest book. I have found him a mentor for many years and it seems like he is offering us the fruits of his mature tree in this work. Few can reflect on their experiences with the insights and clarity that this dear Franciscan friar does. His subtitle: How a forgotten reality can change everything we see, hope for, and believe. On pages 212-3 you will find: “Authentic Christianity is not so much a belief system as a life-and-death system that shows you how to give away your life, how to give away your love, and eventually how to give away your death. Basically, how to give away-and in doing so, to connect with the world, with all other creatures, and with God.” I think this sums up how and why Richard wrote this book now. He is giving away all he has to us here. The paradox comes when we discover in giving away we create the space to receive. I have received much in this gift. So will you.
Domination and the Arts of Resistance
James C Scott in his penetrating examination of domination and it historic precedents in Domination and the Arts of Resistance published in 1990 has captured my attention for these past days. He carefully examines the ways that the abuse of power has been more or less successfully dealt with down through the ages. Even though his work seems to reflect a past era, it appears to me timeless. It also highlights how the overthrow of oppression often ushers in the new oppressor, who under the guise of liberator captures the good will of the newly freed only to erect the new form of oppression. It reminds me of a well-meaning friend who heroically attempts to solve a friend’s problem, only to discover that solving the problem was not really the issue. Staying the center of attention was really the issue of the “friend”. While diligently applying talent, time and treasure to solve the current problem, the person needing the attention was just as diligently creating new problems to be solved, sometime even at the expense of pain for themselves, because the real issue was their need for attention at any cost. Once that was seen, the well-meaning person/citizen withdraws from the futile attempts thereby freeing energy and resources to develop real problem solving responses. I feel that a close reading of this book might be a liberating experience today. In these times of cell phones, internet, texting and who knows what else will be available in the future, we, once freed from our illusions of domination might actually meet the real needs of our time. “Mother nature” will have the ultimate say. “She” isn’t influenced by the old “they who have the gold make the rules’ standard. No amount of gold will provide the necessary conditions for my great grandchildren to live humane lives if clean air and water are unavailable. So I now wear diaper pins to remind myself that every choice I make they will have to live (or not be able to live) with. I plan to have extras in my pocket to give to those who ask why the pin. At 82, it is my form of resistance so aptly outlined in this penetrating work of James C. Scott. Get your library to find it for you. It might provoke a lot of interesting reflections for you too.
A Disarming Spirit by Frank Fromherz is a very timely book. It is a study of one person and his ongoing struggle to live his truth and how it can make a difference. If you were to want a biography written about your life, you would hope it would be with the care and attention to detail that Frank gives to Bp. Hunthausen. He walks us through how one person accepts their truth with integrity and courage. Like any of us who starts out in life discovering our path step by step, often finding the way after many trials and errors, “Dutch” accepts each step with prayerful attention. We would hope that we too would be remembered for the quiet and sometimes heroic choices we make in the name of love. Love for the truth, a healthy self-love, resulting in love for others. “Dutch’s” details are unique to him, as are each of ours. Reading this book will give anyone encountering it a model of how to do it too. In these chaotic times it is becoming ever more important to give each other our best, even if we like “Dutch” won’t live to see our hopes materialize. But if someone writes our story someday, let us hope that someone cares enough to tell it as comprehensively at Frank, so we can add our truth to the world story.
Philip Freeman has given us “a modern retelling of Greek and Roman myths” in Oh My Gods. I have had a lifelong fascination with Greek and Roman history so this book was a natural for me to read. But I must admit I had in on my shelves for a long time before taking the time to pursue it. It was only after listening to the 48 lectures on Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World by Glenn S. Holland (https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/religion-in-the-ancient-mediterranean-world.html) coupled with a record cold calling off even the Post Office deliveries that I made it through the book. The ancients were a blood thirsty promiscuous teller of tales. I tried in vain the get beneath the surface of these various tales to find a theme, or a sense of purpose that these many stories were attempting to share, but most portrayed the gods and humans displaying the extreme range of emotions. Most were ugly ones, with only a passing glance to the heroic or honorable ones. If you chose to read this you will harvest some interesting tidbits on how places are named, gods and humans interbreed, and get a sense of how our for-bearers tried to make sense of their experiences.
Through the gift of C SPAN I was introduced to Michael Eric Dyson’s “What Truth Sounds Like. I confronted my unconscious racism as I read his examination of the reality of white privilege. Part of that privilege was the freedom to fall in love with a young black man and eventually be able to call him son. His biological parents welcomed us into their family with loving grace and considered our other sons theirs as well. This was possible because they were not afflicted with the inherited disease of racism. Eventually another son was privileged to adopt a foster child who is black who they fell in love with. I came to see that my white privilege gave our family the freedom to love in ways that not only didn’t ‘cost’ us anything, but enriched us beyond measure. Given all that it appears to me from our experience that only love is the answer. More details seem only to obstruct our meeting each other in our uniqueness’s. Convincing others with facts only seems to harden resistance. We watch others confront their unconscious resistance when they have to accept our choices to love. They too find themselves loving our children and grandchildren because they love us. Dyson finds this truth every now and then as he plumbs the depth of people who have decided to love someone who challenges the ugly reality of white privilege. Racism is a “genetic” disease of people who inherited a fatal flaw. The sooner we find a cure for it the better we will all be. In a sobering article on the origin of hate titled The Pathology of Prejudice I learned a lot of how this genetic disease is passed on. It is worth reading. My only suggestion for Dyson is a word change in the title. I would suggest What Truth FEELS Like. This is my take away from spending time with his valuable examination of what is holding us back.
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 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.
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: 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 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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.