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Summer Books



I asked college freshmen, in their midterm exam, to explain the preferential option for the poor.

“Well,” wrote one, “the poor would prefer to be rich.”

Perhaps they might. But perhaps all of us would prefer to read more books. Consider some of these:

In Calling God “Father”: Essays on the Bible, Fatherhood & Culture (Paulist, 195 pages, $16.95 paperback), John W. Miller asks if the biblical preoccupation with fathers and fathering is really as prejudicial against women as is now assumed. His collected essays, some previously published in scholarly journals, examine issues he deems relevant but neglected or overlooked in the discussion.

Millers points out in Chapter Five that, in biblical tradition, God is never spoken of as she or her, or regarded as genderless. Neither is God portrayed simply as male, but as a father whose tenderness and compassion are often mother-like. God has not become, however, a mother figure to worshipers. Miller sees the uniformity of the canonical representation of God as father as one of its most notable features.

Miller is sure to provoke continued dialogue with those who seek better to understand the sacred texts and to pose scholarly questions to those he thinks seem to regard the Bible as a collection of fundamentally flawed texts that require a virtual rewrite of its God-language.

Roots of Violence in the U.S. Culture: A Diagnosis Towards Healing, by Franciscan Fr. Alain J. Richard (Blue Dolphin Publishing, P.O. Box 8, Nevada City CA 95959, 156 pages, $14.95 paperback), seeks to bring some clarity both to the roots of violence and the principles of a nonviolent culture. Richard sees the market culture as “suffocating the center of our being.” Seeing the “immense potentialities of the North American people,” Richard writes as an outsider, one who came to this country as a worker-priest in 1973.

Current mission sensibility suggests proclaiming the gospel and inviting people to criticize their own culture. Perhaps Richard operates out of an older model, but those who see society in need of healing and who wish to pursue that goal may profit by reading and pondering this text.

I have a student who identifies himself as both Muslim and Catholic. I am not sure how this would be possible, but it caused me to pick up John H. Berthrong’s The Divine Deli: Religious Identity in the North American Cultural Mosaic (Orbis, Faith Meets Faith series, 163 pages, $16 paperback), which considers treating religion like a delicatessen menu, asking if one can be a Zen Catholic or Confucian Methodist.

Berthrong, associate dean of the Boston University School of Theology, faces these problems head on. Those contemplating interfaith marriages, for example, do well to read his chapter “Baking the Bread of Marriage.”

He concludes that the pluralistic world is sure to remain so, and that Christians must take joy in meeting others and hearing their stories. Those seeking a solution or a road map will get neither here, but, rather, a realistic appraisal of the current problems about identity in a pluralistic society, highlighting the problems and offering historical perspective, hope and freedom from fear.

The New York Times recently reported that almost half of the American population favors teaching creationism as well as the theory of evolution in public schools. How can this be? Perhaps everyone polled should be required to read John Polkinghorne’s Belief in God in an Age of Science (Yale University Press, 133 pages, $9.95 paperback). The author, an Anglican priest and fellow of Queen’s College, Cambridge, sees theology and science as intellectual cousins as both deal with experience and the quest for truth about the nature of reality. Those who wish better to understand the continuing debate about the compatibility of science and religion should begin here.

Fans of the late Benedictine Fr. John Main and his Christian Meditation Centre will want to read Benedictine Fr. Laurence Freeman’s Common Ground: Letters to a World Community of Meditators (Continuum, 159 pages, $12.95 paperback). Freeman, a disciple of Main’s, is the director of the World Community for Christian Meditation. This collection, his second, details the pilgrimage of 200 Christian meditators and their Buddhist friends to India where they shared three days with the Dalai Lama and his community.

Voices From Genesis: Guiding Us Through the Stages of Life, by Norman J. Cohen (Jewish Lights Publishing, 179 pages, $21.95 hardbound), speaks about the human journey from birth to death as reflected in the characters of the Book of Genesis. Cohen’s journey was shaped by his Jewish family, and in sharing this journey, he offers “a prism through which to view your own life.” His process invites interaction between reader and text and may be helpful to those who want another look at the Bible’s first book.

God Matters: Conversations in Theology, by Graeme Garrett (Liturgical Press, 218 pages, $19.95 paperback), suggests that God-talk belongs in the public domain. His belief in publishing his essays and continuing the conversation is that a Christian perspective does not imply that Christian truth is truth just for Christians, but ultimately truth for everyone.

The author is an Anglican priest and lecturer in Australia who discusses the classic themes of faith -- God, Christ, sin, salvation and hope -- in a scholarly, readable manner.

Stepping Stones: Meditations and Prayers for Spiritual Renewal, by Cecile Bauer (Paulist, 121 pages, $8.95, paperback), is unusual in looking both to the Old and New Testaments for references to stones, using them as symbols for basic truths in a life of faith. Jacob’s stone pillow, the tablets of the Ten Commandments, the stone over the entrance to the tomb all provide impetus for contemporary reflections.

With the prayers that follow each meditation, the book may provide a fresh and welcome approach to prayer.

The Power of Prayer, edited by Dale Salwak (New World Library, 14 Pamaron Way, Novato CA 94949, 218 pages, $14 paperback), includes responses from 29 people to whom the editor went with a request for words of wisdom and advice. They include Jimmy Carter, Billy Graham, Brooke Medicine Eagle, Henri J.M. Nouwen, Mother Teresa, Avery Dulles and Marianne Williamson.

Interesting collection. I’ve sent my copy off to Trappist Fr. James Stephen Behrens to add to the collection in the guest room at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Georgia awaiting my as-yet-unscheduled visit.

I gave two books to Charlene Holden, a recent Caldwell honors graduate who now teaches at St. Agnes School in Clark, N.J. She writes:

Enjoying God & Teaching Creatively, by Greg Dues (Twenty-Third Publications, 183 pages, $12.95 paperback) is written for catechists at any grade level. Dues offers uniquely relevant “stories, reflections, questions, and catechetical activities for the classroom to help catechists walk with their students as they learn not only to know God but to enjoy God, too.” He astutely points out to the reader that the “God we look for is not always the God we find because God tends to be a surprise.” He instructs the teacher of religion to “be open to a variety of human experiences [in order] to discover this mystery God.”

In an inviting style, Dues writes, “Who we are rubs off on whom we teach. It is important that [catechists] have a functioning religious identity that reflects [the] contemporary church.” Those who are called to teach the mystery of God must recognize that “change is a sign of life in a church that is never finished until the end of time.”

As a new teacher, I am always searching for creative ways in which to teach. I found Dues’ book to be an extremely useful tool in getting my message across.

Holden also writes that in God’s Library (Twenty-Third Publications, 128 pages, $9.95 paperback), Joe Paprocki offers biblical insights for catechists and pastoral ministers, and all nonspecialists who seek a better understanding of the Word of God. Paprocki points out that the Bible should not be considered as a single book but must be viewed as a library with a collection of 73 books. In God’s library, as in any library, it is important to learn how to properly navigate the “ ‘card catalog’ (contents and index), the various ‘halls’ (Old and New Testament) and ‘stock rooms’ (Torah, history, Wisdom, Prophets, Gospels, Acts, Letters and Revelation).”

God’s Library, she writes, is a useful navigating instrument to help Catholics overcome “bibliaphobia” (fear of the Bible). Paprocki also gives a step-by-step guide to developing a Bible study group within a parish and how to conduct a Bible workshop for middle school and teens.

Fr. William C. Graham is an associate professor at New Jersey’s Caldwell College where he directs the Caldwell Pastoral Ministry Institute. He receives e-mail at NCRBkshelf@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, May 5, 2000