Book News

The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel ChristThe Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ, by Philip Pullman (Knopf, 256 pages, hardcover, $27.)

Well-known authors have tried to retell the Jesus story in fictional form over the last few decades. Some, like C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, used a highly imaginative and metaphorical setting. Nikos Kazantzakis with his very earthy Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ and Anne Rice with her recent and much more prosaic rendering in the Christ The Lord series both chose a literal retelling of the Gospel.

Finding grace in the meal

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Paula ButturiniTORONTO - For Paula Butturini, 15 years of continuous tragedies were countered by moments of unexpected grace and solace found in the rituals of preparing and sharing food around the dinner table.

In her book Keeping the Feast: One Couple’s Story of Love, Food and Healing in Italy, published this year by Riverhead Books, Butturini bounces the reader between a series of brutal, gut-wrenching events and peaceful, heartwarming stories that centre around food and fellowship — a gripping story of perseverance and hope.

Plain and simple, killing is wrong

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{mosimage}Autobiography of an Execution, by David R. Dow (Twelve, 320 pages, hard cover, $29.99.)

David Dow may not believe in God, but he does believe in justice, love and compassion — and he certainly has a conscience. A death penalty lawyer, he works in Texas for a non-profit organization that attempts to save inmates from capital punishment.

Dow does not try to save the prisoners because he feels for them personally. In fact, he dislikes most of his clients. But, as he makes very clear, they do not deserve to die, and certainly not through a biased, racist and classist criminal justice system.

A poor man's biblical view of economics

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{mosimage}Jesus and Money: A guide for Times of Financial Crisis by Ben Witherington III (Brazos Press, soft cover, 192 pages, $21.99)

Ben Witherington knows Scripture and he might know money, but when he brings the two together he falls short of talking sense.

Witherington brings biblical teaching on money to bear on the current economic crisis in Jesus and Money. Witherington is a well-published Evangelical biblical scholar whose works cover a wide range of scholarly debates, presenting them in accessible ways for lay Christian audiences. In this book, however, Witherington presents an incomplete view of biblical texts on wealth and oversteps the bounds of his expertise as he applies these texts to today’s economy.

This incompleteness is ironic, as Witherington explicitly stakes out his position as a “canonical” approach to the Scriptures. That is, he insists Christians may not pick and choose parts of Scripture that appeal to them while ignoring others. This is precisely the problem with his primary target throughout the book: advocates of the “health and wealth” or “prosperity” Gospel who focus on texts which seem to suggest that material wealth is a sign of God’s blessing.

Fr. Stan tells teens '2' love

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{mosimage}U Got 2 Love by Fr. Stan Fortuna, C.F.R. (Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 254 pages, $13.95.)

In the latest instalment of the U Got 2 series from renowned rapping priest Fr. Stan Fortuna, Catholics are not only urged, but called “2” love.

This follow-up to U Got 2 Believe and U Got 2 Pray dedicates itself to the dominant force in our faith and provides Catholics with a desperately needed and refreshing approach to a world stuck chasing impoverished and superficial love.

The evolution of Robin Hood

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{mosimage}Hodd by Adam Thorpe (Random House UK, 320 pages, $34).

The Robin Hood most of us grew up with was a perfect hero for bookish kids. He was cheerful, generous and just. He surrounded himself with merry men, had a loyal, clever, cute girlfriend and together they robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.

If we thought about it later, we might have regarded the Robin Hood of childhood books, movies and cartoons as a gentleman who had taken sides in the class struggle.

The 'Oprahfication' of forgiveness

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{mosimage}Forgiveness: One Step at a Time by Joseph F. Sica (Novalis, softcover, 142 pages, $15.95).

Alas, by the end of chapter one, I was trying hard not to be cynical about this book. This goes beyond my own ongoing struggles with forgiveness. I had read Sr. Helen Prejean’s endorsement on the back cover, in which she says this book will change lives. But the book starts with a clichéd story about a woman named Betsy whose husband has left her for another woman. Betsy, naturally enough, wants revenge and plenty of it: “I want to get even!” she screams at the author, a priest and her spiritual mentor. “I want him to hurt like I hurt!” The scenario and the tired dialogue in particular sounded made up.

Chronicle of Marian devotion doesn't go far enough

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{mosimage}Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary by Miri Rubin (Yale University Press, 533 pages, hardcover $35).

Despite its title, this excellent new book is not a history of the Virgin Mary — it is a history of devotion to the mother of Jesus in medieval Catholic Europe. It presents the creative ways that Christians — and even some Jews and Muslims — thought about Mary and expressed themselves in writing, music, liturgy, art and popular devotions. It also looks back to the origins of the Marian devotion among Eastern Christians, follows the controversies about Mary during the Reformation and traces the spread of her cult to European colonies.

To write such a history is a daunting task. Nevertheless, a history of Mary must include the last, eventful four centuries.

Do I have to go to Mass?

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{mosimage}Do I Have to Go? by Matthew Pinto and Chris Stefanick (Ascension Press, 156 pages, $12.99).

Many Catholics have asked themselves the question at least once — Do I have to go? — but rarely has the question received such a clear answer as the one provided in this book by authors Matthew Pinto and Chris Stefanick.

Do I Have to Go? explores “the Mass, the Eucharist, and your spiritual life” in easy to read question/answer format. Pinto and Stefanick eloquently cover almost every question imaginable regarding the Mass and the Eucharist.

Much can be learned of Holocaust sensibilities

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{mosimage}No Going Back: Letters to Pope Benedict XVI on the Holocaust , Jewish-Christian Relations and Israel, Edited by Carol Rittner and Stephen D. Smith (Quill Press, softcover, 180 pages, $20).

When Pope John Paul II visited Jerusalem and Palestine in 2000 he made a powerful and lasting impression. Prior to his visit and throughout his pontificate, the Catholic Church had done much to nurture and follow the spirit of Vatican II. Many Jews thought they had a friend in John Paul II and relations between the two faiths were warming.

Lessons learned from Christianity's medieval past

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{mosimage}Medieval Christianity in Practice , edited by Miri Rubin (Princeton University Press, 360 pages, $85).

In this new book, old voices offer lessons to modern Christians about the diversity and flexibility of their faith. Medieval Christianity in Practice gives short excerpts from medieval writings describing how medieval Christians lived their religion and provides commentary by leading scholars. The Middle Ages ended 500 years ago, but the period still inspires — and haunts — the 21st-century church. So it’s worth a visit.

The title evokes one of two opposite responses. For some, medieval Christianity represents the “good old days” when the Catholic Church presided over an undivided Christendom that seamlessly fused secular and religious spheres of life. Medieval conjures up soaring cathedrals, Latin chant, studious monks and nuns, wonder-working saints, heroic crusaders and a pious laity. Self-styled Catholic traditionalists see themselves as the preservers of an authentic and timeless faith passed down from the Middle Ages.