Posted by: Dan | July 30, 2005

July Books

As sand through the hour glass…

1. Theopolitical Imagination: Discovering the Liturgy as a Political Act in an Age of Global Consumerism by William T. Cavanaugh
This book is brilliant (I wouldn’t expect anything less from Cavanaugh. A recent student of Hauerwas he’s definitely a rising star). This book argues that all politics are esentially premised on theological categories and require particular ways of imagining space and time. Thus Cavanaugh explores three myths that are a part of the way that nation-states shape space and time: the myth of the state as saviour (particularly as saviour from religious violence), the myth of civil society as free space, and the myth of globalisation as catholicity. All three of these myths claim to bring peace to a fractured humanity — yet fail to do so. Cavanaugh shows how the Christian liturgy, especially the Eucharist, is the true road to peace.

2. The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age by George A. Lindbeck.
This book was the highlight of my month. This isn’t light reading but Lindbeck is careful enough to define his terms so that the attentive reader is able to follow his argument — and it’s well worth following. Lindbeck argues the the most common approach to religion sees it as an expression of a universal experience. All people somehow experience the divine and this common experience is expressed via various forms of religious systems. This is the view that has come to dominate the discussion where the notion of religions as propositions stating absolute truths (or falsehoods, since all religions cannot be true) has fallen into disfavour. Over against these two views (which Lindbeck calls the experiential-expressivist and cognitivist views) Linkbeck prefers to understand religions as languages which dictate the way in which the people who speak the language understand the world (this view is called the cultural-linguistic view). Thus religions are not various ways of expressing a universal experience but are languages that create their own unique experiences. With this understanding of religion doctrine functions as grammar. Doctrine lays out the rules of the language. The authorities are therefore not necessarily those who are well versed in the grammar (I, for example, now a hell of a lot about Ancient Greek grammar but am far from fluent in the language) but those who are immersed in the language itself and naturally see the world through the lens it provides (to continue to use myself as the example, I know far less about technical English grammar rules, but I am far more fluent in the language — and therefore more of an authority). Now if all of this sounds somewhat irrelevant or abstract it’s because I’m not doing Lindbeck justice. This book deserves to be read by anybody who seriously thinks about the cultural “relevance” of Christianity.

3. Good News in Exile: Three Pastors Offer a Hopeful Vision for the Church by Martin B. Copenhaver, Anthony B. Robinson, and William H. Willimon.
I’m very glad I read this book. These pastors pull primarily from the writings of Brueggemann, Lindbeck, and Hauerwas and present the material in a way that is both challenging and easily accessible. I can be something of an academic snob when it comes to pastoral material and it was quite a joyful humbling experience to read this.

4. Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, CollegeInc, & Museumworld by James B. Twitchell.
This book looks at the ways in which brands create narratives around overabundant goods and therefore differentiate products based upon the stories that they tell. Because the branding explosion is so related to an overabundance of very similar products Twitchell argues that it is only natural that branding has slipped into high culture — religion, education, and the fine arts. All of these things are forced to market themselves through branding if they hope to succeed — and Twitchell is quick to assure the reader that everything in life comes down to marketing. Everybody is looking to selling as much of their product as they can. In the end Twitchell asserts that branding is good for high culture and he fully embraces this process hoping that it will create a more peaceable society, and a more peaceable world. Needless to say there are a lot of places where I disagree with this book but I’m working on a longer article contrasting this work with Cavanaugh’s writing so I’ll save all that for later.

5 On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent by Gustavo Gutierrez.
This is Gutierrez’ study of the book of Job. His intriguing thesis is that the book is not trying to answer the question of why innocent people suffer but rather, how one is to talk rightly about God in the midst of such suffering. It is Job — with all his protests, cries, and accusations — that God says speaks properly, while his friends — with all their theologising in favour of God — are condemned for speaking improperly and even blasphemously. As can be expected from a liberation theologian Gutierrez also does a fine job of showing how Job learns to move beyond exploring his own suffering and instead identifies himself with the suffering poor.

6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
I continue to enjoy Austen although I find her books a little… fluffy. Granted she is a little more subtle than some authors and this novel does raise some interesting questions about the relation of love to material success and physical status (the reader is bound to question even the noble and discerning protagonist) but I’ll continue to read Austen because she writes well, not because she’s particularly inspiring.

7. The Roald Dahl Omnibus by (surprise, surprise) Roald Dahl.
This was my first time reading anything by this author and I loved it. I think I speed through 900 pages of short stories in three or four days. I’ve never been particularly attracted to short-stories but Dahl is doing a good job of making me rethink that. I’ve always been guilty of favouring novels where I’ve been able to strongly identify with at least one of the characters, and although I don’t find that in Dahl’s stories (who would dare identify with his characters?) his writing is too strong to ignore.

8. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling.
I have a bad habit of being unable to stop reading a series once I start it. So now I’m doomed to read Harry Potter for the next 20 years or however long Rowling wants to milk the series. Now don’t get me wrong the books aren’t bad… but they’re not that great either. Rowling seems to have found a formula that works and simply repeats it over and over (sort of like R. Jordan is doing with his fantasy series… is that still going?). All that aside these are still fun kids books (yes, its a sad state affairs when the novels that are sweeping our nation(s) are children’s literature).

9. Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi.
The second in Satrapi’s autobiographical series is equal in caliber to the first. The art is fairly simple but the story is well told and quite personal — the perfect sort of story for an illustrated novel. Having been sent away from Iran at the end of the first book this novel tells of her years in Europe and her return to her homeland.

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