Sursum Corda
"an insightful Catholic Blog that eschews extremism in any direction."
--Commonweal Magazine
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Topical musings from a Catholic perspective

Saturday, October 04, 2003
THE SETTLEMENT: Commonweal magazine has an editorial on the Boston settlement. It reads, in part:

O’Malley was sent to Boston because he had a proven record of dealing with problems of abuse. The settlement in Boston is promising—and necessary. Justice requires that the archdiocese be held accountable. Without the threat of lawsuits the archdiocese would never have come clean about sexual abuse by priests. Still, Catholics cannot but be shaken by the amount of money involved, one-third or more of which will go to lawyers. The tort system is a crude instrument of justice at best. Placing a monetary value on suffering, while offering some compensation for the trauma, can also trivialize it. Nor is it clear that victims derive any lasting or restorative benefit from such payments. Real healing, if it is possible, will depend on more face-to-face forms of recognition and restitution, of the kind O’Malley has displayed. The archdiocese’s commitment to pay for the continued psychological counseling of victims is a very positive sign in this regard.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:27 AM
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Friday, October 03, 2003
SAINT FRANCIS: I know his feast day isn't until tomorrow, but I'll be a bit busy tomorrow and I'm not sure my Franciscan readers--of whom I seem to have several--would forgive me if I failed to mark the day.

Here is what Jaroslav Pelikan wrote about Francis in his book Jesus through the Centuries:

If a public opinion poll were to ask a representative group of informed and thoughtful people "Which historical figure of the last two thousand years has most fully embodied the life and teachings of Jesus Christ?" the person mentioned most often would certainly be Saint Francis of Assisi. That answer might, if anything, be more frequent if the people polled were not affiliated with any church. And it is probably the answer that many of his contemporaries would have given to such a question--or, at any rate, those who lived a century or so after him. For in Francis of Assisi the imitation of the life of Jesus and the obedience to his teachings (which were, at least in principle, binding on every believer) attained such a level of fidelity as to earn for him the designation, eventually made official by Pope Pius XI, of "the second Christ (alter Christus).
If you want to read a medieval history of the life of Francis, click

posted by Peter Nixon 8:28 PM
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PASSIONS AND INTERESTS: Tom Friedman argues that what Israel needs to do is alter the balance between the interests and the passions of the Palestinian people:

When you actually talk to people on both sides, though, you find that they still desperately want choices — even if their leaders tell them they have none. I interviewed young fighters from Yasir Arafat's Tanzim militia. What I remember most was when one of them, Anas Assaf, became emotional. Once was when I asked him what would happen if Israel threw out Mr. Arafat. Palestinians would turn the area into a "hell" for Israel, he shot back. The other was when he talked about his dream of going to the University of Memphis, where his uncle lived, "to study engineering."

That is the whole story: Anas is ready to die for Yasir Arafat but wants to live for the University of Memphis. He has interests and passions, and it is possible to alter the balance between them.
We can debate, of course, how much power Israel has to alter that balance. What is less debatable, I think is that actions like this are not going to help.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:11 AM
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PLEASE PRAY for my wife and I, who have agreed to rector a Cursillo-style retreat at our parish early next year. I may be calling on y'all for a little help closer to the date...

posted by Peter Nixon 10:03 AM
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ATHLETICS 2, BOSTON 0: Looking good, but we've been here before, haven't we. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog...

posted by Peter Nixon 9:56 AM
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A NEW DAY: The Tidings has an interesting article about how the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is planning to make more extensive use of laypeople as "pastoral associates" in parishes.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:50 AM
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THE WORD FROM ROME: John Allen is back in Rome and gives us a brief bio on most of the new cardinals. Allen counters the conventional wisdom that the new cardinals are a uniform set of doctrinal conservatives primarily interested in intra-Church debates. Only about seven of the cardinals eligible to be electors at the next conclave fall into this category. The largest group (10), he notes, are men whose primary interest seems to be in social justice questions outside the Church.

Allen also has some thoughts on the Pope's health that are worth keeping in mind:

One of these times, of course, the alarmists will be right. Given the pope’s age, the burdens of office, and the cumulative toll of his Parkinson’s disease and other ailments, he could take a dramatic turn for the worse at any moment. I spoke to a member of the pope’s inner circle on Oct. 1, and for the first time in our conversations he allowed that John Paul’s overall fragility — his immobility, his breathing, his motor functions — has him worried. The pope’s heavy schedule in October, with at least one major public event almost every day, is also a source of concern.

Yet anyone who has followed John Paul knows that rumors of his demise have been around for 20 years. Even if we are in a new phase, in which the pope becomes increasingly more of a spectator to his own pontificate, that phase could endure for a long time. Between now and the inevitable, there will be a series of false alarms, and while it’s wise to be prepared, it’s also a good idea not to get terribly carried away with every rumor that floats along.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:41 AM
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Thursday, October 02, 2003
LUTHER: In the wake of the recent release of the film Luther, Bill Cork has a number of good posts about Luther, Catholic-Lutheran dialogue, etc. Bill is well placed to comment on this because he is a former Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism several years ago, but has clearly never forgotten where he came from or the debt he owes to the Lutheran tradition. There seem to be more than a few Catholic converts from Protestantism on the Internet who are eager to shed all vestiges of their past, despite the deep spiritual and theologican riches that can be found in the Protestant tradition. I am very glad that Bill is not among them.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:11 PM
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WALKING THE OLD, OLD TALK: Fascinating editorial from Christianity Today that suggests that the cultural success of evangelical Christianity may be its greatest weakness. The editorial focuses on a new book by Alan Wolfe The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith. Wolfe is partly writing for liberals, who Wolfe tells to relax because (as CT writes) "conservative Christians' rhetoric of biblical inerrancy and moral stringency is belied by their actual practice." Wolfe paints a picture of a privatized, individualized Christianity that may try to "baptize" the culture, but does not truly transform it.

Before we Catholics start patting ourselves on the back, we should be honest enough to realize that many of the same trends can be found our own Church. Which is why CT's closing words to evangelical Christians to embrace their "roubust heritage" should be something we ponder as well:

That heritage includes Bible study that moves beyond personal encouragement to learning about God and his demanding vision for both individuals and society. This means reading the whole Bible and reading it on its own terms—not through the lens of the psychology of self-esteem.

That heritage includes an ethic of self-denial at the core of the gospel: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself." None of our movement's heroes—from Martin Luther to William Wilberforce—achieved what they did without sacrifice.

That heritage includes keeping salvation simple (John 3:16, Romans 10:10), but also keeping sanctification graciously rigorous. Growth in holiness is not an elective, but very much part of the core curriculum of the faith.

Evangelicals have been celebrating their growth in American society. Wolfe notes the way many features of evangelical religion (extempore prayer, small group Bible study, religion of the heart) have become common in both mainline Protestant and Catholic circles. In a sense, Wolfe argues, American religion has become largely evangelical, even where the label doesn't apply.

But success reduces religion to the lowest common denominator. And the pursuit of success often involves a Faustian bargain. Reading friendly critics like Wolfe will raise our consciousness. As Wolfe points out, "At least Faust knew the consequences of the pact he signed."

posted by Peter Nixon 12:57 PM
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VIOLENCE SILENCE: Robert Weisberg and David Mills write in Slate about why no one really cares about prison rape.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:21 PM
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WELCOME BISHOP VIGNERON: I got a little behind and neglected to welcome our new Bishop in the Diocese of Oakland, Allen Vigneron. He's not really that new, having come in as a co-adjutor in March. Both he and Bishop Cummins, who is retiring, wanted some time for transition. Cummins turned 75 in March, but his resignation was not formally accepted until October 1st.

We're going to miss Bishop Cummins, of course. I think when the historians ply their trade, they will write that Bishop Cummins was one of the more far-sighted bishops with regard to clerical sexual-abuse, having instituted good policies for dealing with abuse complaints in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as well as doing outreach to victims. Cummins has never been a man terribly concerned about getting his face in the paper and he is often overshadowed by the well-known bishops of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento. But he is widely respected here as a "good shepherd" and we are going to miss him.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:14 PM
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Wednesday, October 01, 2003
NOT THE ONLY SCANDAL: The Los Angeles Timesreports that genocide prosecutions of Catholic clergy and laity in Rwanda have marred the Rwandan church's reputation and plunged the country into a deep spiritual crisis.

I was familiar with some aspects of this story, but it is still gravely disturbing to see the facts pulled together like this. I can only feel a deep sense of shame about the Church's failure to effectively confront the genocide in Rwanda. As was the case in WWII, there are, of course, many others whose actions and inactions make them more culpable than the Church. But as a Catholic, I expect more from my own community than I expect from Bill Clinton and Kofi Annan.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:49 PM
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THIS IS VERY FRIGHTENING: Came across this interview with Stanley Hauerwas. Here's a quote on liturgy that I liked:

The Catholics had asked me to speak about liturgy as moral formation, but I thought that very way of putting the matter was a mistake. Liturgy is not something done to provide moral motivation. The liturgy is how the church worships God and how from such worship we become a people capable of being an alternative to the world. That is why the language of the liturgy is so important. Nothing betrays the love of God more than the inelegance of the language Christians use in their worship. Some Christians seem to think we can attract people back to Christianity if we try to compete with TV, but when you do that you have already lost. The only result is that Christian worship becomes as banal and ugly as the rest of our lives.

I think it would be terrific if on entering a church people would think, "This is very frightening." God, after all, is frightening. Recently, I had a debate about the interpretation of the Bible at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest. One of my graduate students, a Roman Catholic, went with me. When we entered the church where the debate was to be held, she said, "Wow, is this someone's living room?" So "fundamentalists" want to make people feel at home--a home, moreover, that looks more like the living rooms of the 1950s. It is no wonder you are tempted to put an American flag in such "sanctuaries," because at least the flag adds some color. Unfortunately, the colors, at least when they are part of the same piece of cloth, are not liturgically appropriate.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:03 AM
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Tuesday, September 30, 2003
THE GOSPEL OF INCLUSION: Amy Welborn comments today on some recent remarks made by Governor Jennifer Granholm touting what might be termed “the Gospel of Inclusion.” Granholm, a Catholic, was responding to a question from a diocesan newspaper about whether her position on abortion puts her outside her community of faith:

I don't want to leave this faith and I don't think Jesus would want me to leave the faith," she said in response to suggestions that her position puts her outside the church. The words of Jesus, in fact, are part of the "best advice" the governor said she has received since taking office. "Someone told me to read the words of the New Testament," she said. "He (Christ) was a revolutionary, somebody who was very open to all people and to embracing other ideas," she said. "The church is at its best when it follows the words of Christ and embraces the wretched and those who are not always line.

"Jesus is all-inclusive and the church is about love, not exclusivity." Granholm has also found answers in prayer. "On critical issues I ask God specifically to help me remember what I'm here for and that God's will be manifest in my decisions," she said. "If I'm struck, in the course of the day, I'm ready to pray and pray quickly for guidance to think through what I am doing." Ever-conscious that separation of church and state must be maintained, the governor believes there are mutual concerns that government and the faith community can address.
Amy asks why the gospel of inclusion is usually defined in ways that exclude the unborn, and I think that is an excellent question. But I want to focus on her second question, which is whether “love” and “inclusion” are really the core messages of the New Testament. There seems to be a very widespread belief among both Christians and non-Christians that these are, in fact, the core messages of Jesus’ preaching, but I simply don’t see how that conclusion can survive a close reading of the text.

There is a tendency, for example, to read Jesus’ healing ministry as primarily motivated by compassion for the sick and disabled. While I have no doubt that Jesus was, in fact, compassionate to the thousands who came before him, that aspect of his ministry had a clear eschatological dimension. As becomes clear in his discussion with the disciples of John the Baptist (Mt 11:2-6), it was a sign that the end times were at hand.

Similarly, Jesus willingness to have table fellowship with sinners and his relaxed attitude toward certain aspects of the Mosaic law (although he was also stricter in some cases, such as divorce) is clearly linked to his broader mission of gathering in the lost sheep of Israel in anticipation of the last days. Even there, his message is still a call for transformation and turning away from sin. While Jesus did rescue the woman caught in adultery from a brutal death, he nevertheless counseled her to “go and sin no more.” For every pericope that can be employed to support the “inclusive” thesis, one can be found to support the thesis that “many are called, but few are chosen.”

For all the talk about how “inclusive” Jesus was, it seems pretty clear that his mission was limited to “the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” The general consensus of scripture scholars is that the stories of Jesus ministering to non-Jews are, with perhaps one or two exceptions, most likely retrojections into the text that reflect the experience of the early Christian communities. Even there, the stories are not meant to illustrate the thesis that Jesus was “inclusive.” The point is that the historic covenant between the Lord and Israel has now been expanded to include all nations, as suggested in the prophecies of the last days (Is 2:2-5).

For Granholm to suggest that the Church is about “love, not exclusivity,” is also a highly selective reading of the scriptures and the history of the Church. The Church has always struggled to define the boundaries of its community and has, on numerous occasions, defined certain beliefs and practices as incompatible with the Christian faith. A faith community that cannot do this ceases to be a community in any meaningful sense of the term. It becomes a collection of individuals, devoid of common purpose. There may a role for communities like this, but they are certainly not the kind of communities envisioned in either the Jewish or Christian scriptures.

None of this is to suggest that Jesus does not transcend the time, place or culture of 1st century Palestine or that the words he spoke in one context cannot apply in another. If that were the case we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Nor am I arguing in favor of a purge of Catholics alleged to be insufficiently “orthodox.” I’d probably fail the test too. But sloppy exegesis is sloppy exegesis no matter how you cut it and it needs to be confronted as such.

I’m also not trying to say that you have to be a scripture scholar to interpret the scriptures correctly. But when a major public figure like Granholm presumes to speak authoritatively on the scriptures, she has an obligation to try to get her facts at least moderately straight.

posted by Peter Nixon 3:57 PM
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IT'S A BIG CHURCH: Sean Roberts at Swimming the Tiber, who was received into the Church six months ago had some thoughts that a number of more "seasoned" Catholics would do well to read:

It's been said that one of the hardest things about being Catholic is other Catholics. The truth of that statement hits home more and more these days. For the first few months, it was problem I avoided all together... the only Catholics I had to deal with were those in my parish, and we were all in great sympathy with one another. The siege mentality that can develop in Tridentine and Eastern Rite parishes makes it easy to ignore the rest of the Church and our co-religionists in favor of forming a mutual admiration society.

After the mass migration from Holy Protection Byzantine Catholic Church to St. Elizabeth of Hungary, this insular attitude is no longer possible. The Byzantine and Roman communities couldn't be more different. St. Elizabeth of Hungary is a liberal parish, socially and liturgically, while the Byzantine community is very conservative. When we first made the move to the new Church, I was under the impression that we Byzantines were liturgical storm troopers, sent in to whip this bunch of quasi-Catholics into line.

I was convinced that I was at least twice as Catholic as the whole lot of them put together. The fact that they liked all those awful Marty Haugen 'hymns', held hands during the Our Father, and were into all sorts of goofy social justice causes proved that. I would walk around feeling smug, pitying all these poor souls who had no idea what true religion was, not realizing what a pharisee I was becoming.

Only one thing troubled me... if they were only barely Catholic, why was their love for God so palpable?

I've come to realize that making the move to St. Elizabethan was the exact thing I needed, though not for the reasons I originally thought. I'm a better Catholic for coming because I've learned just how big the Church is. I'm on the opposite side of just about every imaginable spectrum from most of the Roman Catholic parishioners of St. Elizabeths, but, by golly, these guys are Catholic and to be in Communion with the Pope means that I am in Communion with them as well.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:47 PM
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Monday, September 29, 2003
AGAINST THE GRAIN: Christianity Today has a review of a recent address by Eugene Peterson, the author of a number of books including The Message, a translation of the Bible in contemporary English. Given my wariness of that translation, I was rather surprised to hear Peterson say this:

The second principle of the Christian life that runs against the grain of American culture, Peterson said, is that the ways and means must be appropriate to the ends. "We can't participate in God's work if we insist on doing it our own way." He cited two examples of "doing the right thing the wrong way": congregation and Scripture. We consider both to be our matters, not God's. Instead of forming communities that embody self-denial, sacrifice, and patience for God to become present in them, we form "consumer churches," using commercial methods to attract people and cater to their wants. And rather than reading Scripture as a way of "listening to God revealing God," we treat it as information for us to process to become more successful and enlightened people. In both cases, the ways and means—bowing to the gods of salesmanship and efficiency—are out of sync with the ends—forming a community of believers submitting to God's work within them.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:54 PM
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ALL POLITICS ARE LOCO: I usually don’t spend a lot of time on politics on this blog, but since I live in California it’s hard not to have some thoughts about the recall. Michael Lewis is a great writer and he really captures the loco nature of this whole process in a wonderful piece in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. It’s a long piece, but worth reading. Here’s an excerpt:

So long as the state was rolling in dough from the Internet boom, no one paid too much attention to who Gray Davis was or how he led his political life. Then came the bust, and suddenly he was evil. His many troubling acts -- spending $10 million to drive Dick Riordan from the 2002 Republican primary, his sensational ability to get people to pay him to do business with the state -- were newly exposed. The excuse for exposing them was the budget deficit -- which no governor could have avoided. When Cisco and Intel employees cashed out, the entire Legislature was happy to use the state's cut of their capital gains to hike spending and cut taxes. Davis's crime was the crime of the entire society: an inability to foresee that the Internet boom was a bubble. He's the political equivalent of the Wall Street Internet analyst, one of those characters who must be blamed even if he didn't exactly cause the problem.
I’ve only lived in California for five years now, but what has struck me is the incredible sense of entitlement that is woven into the state’s culture. To be a Californian is to be obsessed about holding on to your own half acre of paradise and defending it at all costs. The writer Jack London sort of personifies the place. In his 20s he was a socialist, but he ended up moving to Sonoma and building his dream house, only to watch it burn to the ground. Large numbers of Californians live with a vague Jungian fear that what happened to Jack will happen to them.

Californians generally don’t want to be bothered with what politics usually involves: political parties, candidates, door-knocking, horse-trading, precinct-walking, house-parties, etc. It takes too much time. We’re too busy installing 5000 BTU barbecues on our pressure-treated redwood decks. But every few years, a wave of panic sweeps through the citizenry about some threat to our self-created Eden--property taxes, violent crime, low-performing schools, skyrocking power rates, long-serving politicians—and we rush to the polls to vote on a series of poorly written ballot initiatives that may or may not be compatible with the ones we voted on last year.

Getting rid of Gray isn’t going to solve the problem because the problem is us. The current budget crisis in Sacramento is the result of a bad recession mixing with a series of bad policies that we, the voters, have voted for over the last three decades. Everything we know about Gray Davis we’ve known for years. We were happy to ignore his flaws as long as the boom kept booming. But now that we’ve bottomed out and the barbarians are once again at the gates of paradise, someone has to pay. Personally, I’m not going to weep much for Gray. But the idea that any of the jokers vying to replace him are going to solve our long-term problems is nonsense. But hey, we’ll all feel a lot better and we can get back to the important work of installing that new sprinkler system so we can maintain an East-Coast style lawn in a climate where it doesn’t rain from May to November.

Okay, rant mode off…

posted by Peter Nixon 10:36 AM
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FISHING: Another good analysis piece from CNS looks at the recent dust-up over a leaked draft of proposed liturgical norms. The article notes that documents drafted by Vatican dicasteries often take years to finish, and often end up looking very different than the original drafts. The article looks at some other documents that have spent a long time in the pipeline, including a new instruction on annulment cases that was considered to be in an "advanced" stage of development 18 months ago. Sounds like the organization I work for....

posted by Peter Nixon 9:33 AM
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RED HATS: Catholic News Service has a good analysis piece on the new cardinals. The new cardinals are a pretty diverse group. Cardinal-designate Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi, a relatively small archdiocese in India, seems like an interesting fellow. And no, I don't have any theories about why O'Malley was passed over for the red hat this time. I suspect it will come eventually.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:27 AM
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WHAT WOULD JESUS SMOKE? A friend sent me this link for Christians For Cannabis. You really can't make this stuff up...

posted by Peter Nixon 9:20 AM
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Sunday, September 28, 2003
BOOK NOOK: I’ve been trying to keep the “Bookshelf” list on the right updated, and doing a fairly lousy job of it. So here’s a quick list of what I read over the summer that I thought was interesting enough to share with y’all:

Josef Jungman, The Early Liturgy: Jungman is the author of a magisterial history of the Latin-rite liturgy entitled Missarum Sollemnia (The Mass of the Roman Rite) and one of the towering figures in 20th century liturgical studies. I picked up an abridged version of MS in a used book store last year, but still haven’t gotten around to reading it. Well I was browsing in the same book store in the spring and came across this work, designed as a more introductory work, which focuses on the history of the liturgy until Gregory the Great. Well worth your time.

John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol. 3: Companions and Competitors. Meier’s exhaustive research and careful approach shows that work on the historical Jesus can, despite all the dreck out there, be done well. Vol. 3 covers what we can know (and what we can’t) about the Twelve, the broader group of “disciples,” and the crowds who followed Jesus. Meier also places Jesus in the context of other Jewish movements of the period. I am a big fan of the series and am looking forward to Volume 4, where Meier plans to address Jesus’ relationship to the Jewish law.

George Lindbeck, The Church in a Postliberal Age As a young theologian, Lindbeck was a Lutheran observer at the Second Vatican Council and has been deeply involved in ecumenical dialogues ever since. This book is a collection of his essays, which the editor groups under three headings that he thinks are descriptive of Lindbeck: Evangelical, Catholic and Postliberal. A committed Lutheran, Lindbeck describes Lutheranism as a reform movement within the universal church and the essays address a number of issues in Lutheran-Catholic dialogue. Several of the essays also touch on Lindbeck’s “cultural-linguistic” theory of doctrine, which he developed in his book The Nature of Doctrine.

Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony First published in 1989 and written by two Methodist theologians, the book is something of a jeremiad aimed at American Protestant Christianity in both its mainline and evangelical variants. Catholics would do well to pay attention as well, though, because much of what Hauerwas and Willimon argue against could be said of us as well. Drawing heavily on the thought of Karl Barth, they argue that Christianity has gotten far too cozy with American culture. The Church needs to see itself as a colony in an alien culture that, like the Jews in exile in Babylon, needs to pay particular attention to building institutions that will sustain its members in their counter-cultural religious commitments.

John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus: And while we’re on the subject of Barth, I was lucky to come across this work from the Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, who was once a student of Barth’s. Yoder wants to recover a sense of the radicalism of the early Christian communities and the idea of Christianity as a distinctive way of being in the world. He is sharply critical of both Protestant and Catholic thinkers who find ways around the radicalism of Jesus’ commands to love enemies, eschew violence, give to all who beg from you, etc. The Neibuhr brothers come in for some particularly withering criticism.

These five works were my favorites. Other works read this summer include: Scott Hahn, The Lamb’s Supper; Elizabeth Johnson, Consider Jesus, Thomas Rausch, S.J., Reconciling Faith and Reason and Priesthood Today, Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus through the Centuries, Ignazio Silone, The Bread the Wine, Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisted, Kenan Osborne, Sacramental Theology: An Introduction. In general, I think these were all quality works and I'd probably recommend them to a friend interested in the particular subject area. If you want to drop me a line to ask about any of them, feel free.

Okay, I think I’m now caught up. I’ll try to keep the Bookshelf links updated more frequently from now on.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:27 PM
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