Posted by: Dan | December 4, 2007

November Books

Here are last month’s books:

1. Francis of Assisi: Early Documents Vol. 1, The Saint edited by Regis J. Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., J. A. Wayne Hellman, O.F.M. Conv., and William J. SHort, O.F.M.

This book contains all of the documents written by Saint Francis and the early writings that deal with Francis (early biographies, liturgical texts, etc.), and the Franciscans (early Franciscan documents, Papal documents, and references in other writings and chronicles). It spans the years 1205-1239 CE.

I found it intriguing to read Francis himself, as well as other ancient texts and I have found myself regularly reflecting back on what I read in this collection. It seems to me that Francis, and the early Franciscans, are perhaps the model for how we should live Christianly in our contemporary context. This is so for a few reasons: (1) Francis and the Franciscans were the first united ‘popular’ Christian response to the monetary economy that had recently come to dominate Western Europe. As such, I think they continue to show us the way in which we should respond to a monetary economy that has achieved global dominance. The challenge is for us to embrace greater expressions of sharing, giving, and poverty-in-community; (2) Francis realised that the proclamation of the gospel was something that was embodied — that encapsulated word, deed, and lifestyle — and it is this intimate union of word, deed, and lifestyle that we must continue to pursue today; (3) Francis engaged in harsh physical forms of penance, not because he despised the material and longed to escape into the spiritual, but because he realised that we had physically been disciplined by the powers around us, and our liberation from those powers required a redisciplined body. The same applies to us today to an even greater degree; (4) Francis’ central proclamation of the gospel as “peace with penance” is crucial for our recovery of a gospel proclamation that is both liberating and costly.

So, all that to say, I enjoyed this book quite a lot.

2. The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation by Jurgen Moltmann.

Moltmann was the first ‘real’ theologian I read in my undergrad and, in many ways, he continues to be my first love. Certainly, my own thinking, writing, and living has been deeply influenced by what he has written. However, when I was working my way through the 8(?) volumes that he considers “contributions” to systematic theology, I skipped this volume, so I finally got back to read it this month.

As always, he is provocative, affirming, and inspiring. Although the Spirit was the particular focus of this book, Moltmann always writes from a Trinitarian perspective, with a mind to the early creeds, the various forms of Christian communion (Anabaptist, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox), and the contemporary situation. Chapter Six on “The Justification of Life” was especially good. Moltmann is always recommended reading.

3. Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, one of the Christian philosophers responsible for what has become known as a ‘reformed epistemology’ came to my school to give a series of lectures on the topic of ‘love and justice.’ Having only read one of his books previously (Reason Within the Bounds of Religion), I thought I would read this much more personal work, taken from the journal that he kept during the year after one of his sons died in a climbing accident.

I imagine that any who have struggled with a great hurt, or a great loss, or the death of a loved one, would find this book helpful, as I think Wolterstorff gives a voice to many things that others find difficult to articulate.

As I was reading the book I couldn’t help thinking that true wisdom, for as long as we live in a broken world, comes from experiencing both overwhelming joy, and overwhelming sorrow.

4. God in the Slums: A Book of Miracles by Hugh Redwood.

I stumbled onto this little gem in a used book store. It was published in 1930, and documents the conditions of some of England’s worst slums, as well as the work that a special corps of the Salvation Army was doing in those neighbourhoods. This Salvation Army group — all women, by the way — was known as “The Slums” and committed to both working and living in the slums, for they believed that effective change did not come from without but from within (here the example of yeast is used, for yeast must operate from within the dough if it is to act). Increasingly I am discovering that there have always been movements within the Church — little remarked by others, or even by the rest of the Church — that have taken to living in this sort of communal solidarity with the poor. Such movements are proof to me of an unbroken Church that spans back to Acts (despite the ongoing corruption and compromise of much of the mainstream, better known, Church). This book was a real delight to read, and is actually available to read on line (cf. http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=6595280).

5. On Belief by Slavoj Zizek.

I always find it next to impossible to provide a brief synopsis of Zizek’s books because his thoughts fly so swiftly from topic to topic and often only hold together by the smallest thread (if at all). However, n this work, I especially appreciated the distinction Zizek makes between ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ while demonstrating that all of us exhibit a lived faith in capitalism, regardless of whether or not we believe in it (a point I mention in the paper posted previously) and on the gnostic proclivities of cybernetics and computer technology (also mentioned in that paper). I’m still on the fence with Zizek. When he nails something, he really nails it, but often I think he is lazy in his thinking, researching, and writing (however, because he can be so brilliant, he gets away with this more than others).

6. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

This is a classic novel that documents the plight of the workers, immigrants, and criminals in Chicago’s stockyards at the start of the twentieth century CE. Sinclair had first hand experiences of these people, places, and things, and he builds a damning case against unchecked capitalism, and concludes by having his protagonist (after moving from being an immigrant worker supporting his family, to being a hobo, to being a petty criminal, to being a part of the corrupt mainstream political structure) embrace socialism. It is a good story, and it is worth remembering that workers around the world are still not that far removed from the sort of experiences described by Sinclair. We haven’t really increased the lot of the proletariat, we have simply outsourced and now abuse a proletariat that it out of sight and, therefore, out of mind.

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