Essayists miss the faces of the church

Why I am still a CatholicWhen I first saw the title of this book of essays, my heart sank. Was it going to be full of whining about that faceless entity, "The Church," meaning that other faceless entity, "The Magisterium"? And indeed, one clever contributor, BBC radio presenter Edward Stourton, points out the dark connotations of the word still: "…I detect a whiff of prejudicing the argument in the use of the word 'still'; it suggests a 'despite' in the sub-text, a conviction that we apologists must make our case in the face of overwhelming evidence of the general ghastliness of the church under the long reign of John Paul II."

    Where faith meets science

     The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, by Francis S. Collins (Free Press  304 pages, hardcover, $32.95).

    The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins (Houghton Mifflin, 288 pages, hardcover, $35.95).

    Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life, by Lee M. Silver (Ecco, 464 pages, hardcover, $34.95).

    The relationship between science and religion is the focus of a small swarm of new books. Almost all of these books are written by scientists, suggesting that the scientific community is feeling some pressure to articulate just how its work relates to religion.

      A donkey's-eye view on Christ's birth

      Ruben The Donkey booksBRANTFORD, Ont. - Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, meet Ruben the Donkey.

      This Christmas season some radio stations in Ontario will be adding a new Christmas jingle to their play list: "Ruben" sung by Belle River, Ont. country singer Gabe Gagnon.   

        Angels guide this poetic journey

        Accompanied by AngelsAccompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation, by Luci Shaw (Eerdmans Publishing, 110 pages, softcover, $18.99).

        Accompanied by Angels, subtitled Poems of the Incarnation, grew out of poet Luci Shaw's childhood collection of Advent poems. At the age of 11, and anticipating the great festivities of the season, Shaw determined to make her own Christmas cards. To go with the pictures and illustrations on the cards, she composed short greetings to evoke the message of this holy season.

          Germans pushed church ecumenical commitment

           "Because He Was a German!": Cardinal Bea and the Origin of Roman Catholic Engagement in the Ecumenical Movement, by Jerome-Michael Verab, C.P. (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 332 pages, hardcover, $29.03 at amazon.ca).

          This book tells part of the story of how Pope John XXIII came to create the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the church regarded the Orthodox Churches as schismatic and the Protestant Churches as heretical, and thought it was those churches' duty to return to the one true church and be obedient to the Pope. Through the new unity secretariat, the Catholic Church now committed itself to work with other churches for the unity willed by Christ. The person who persuaded John XXIII to take this bold step was a German Jesuit — Cardinal Augustine Bea.

            The rising up of nobodies

             Robert Fuller, in his new book All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies and the Politics of Dignity, says that our lever against rankism is the will to dignity. The sentence structure may be awkward, but readers know right away he is saying that will is the fulcrum and dignity the force which can eliminate abuse, discrimination or exploitation based on rank.

              Satisfying spiritual hunger

              Cooking with the BibleThe Bible is often looked on as the “good book” or the “holy book.” It is indeed fundamental to one’s spiritual growth. What a surprise it was to be able to connect this essential ingredient in a spiritual life to being physically fed. We often use the Bible for prayer and meditation. Only lately was I able to view it in a different light — a new perspective.

                Trudeau's winding faith journey

                 Citizen of the World: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Vol. 1, 1919-1968, by John English (Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 568 pages, $26.37 hardcover at amazon.ca).

                Pierre Elliott Trudeau is an iconic figure in Canadian life, a symbol of some of the nation’s greatest cultural divides. For his admirers — and they are legion — he is the father of the Charter of Rights and the Just Society, the totem of modern liberalism. For his detractors — and they, too, are legion — he was the man who destroyed Canada As We Knew It, and replaced our morally certain 1950s world with hippies, hedonism and socialists.

                  Gifts of grace

                   The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges, (NavPress, 253 pages, paperback, $13.30 at amazon.ca).

                  Rediscovering Daily Graces: Classic Voices on the Transforming Power of the Sacraments, by Robert Elmer (NavPress, 205 pages, paperback, $12.54 at amazon.ca).

                  Evangelicals, as many of their leading protagonists have defined themselves, are those who hold a triad of beliefs and practices that the wider Christian church has too often overlooked: personal conversion, biblical authority and evangelistic witness. I grew up a Protestant evangelical, and like many in my church community, books that encouraged spiritual growth, devotional piety and developed Christian character were a large part of my reading repertoire.

                    Insights into faith questions in a postmodern world

                     How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith: Questioning Truth in Language, Philosophy and Art, by  Crystal L. Downing (InterVarsity Press, 240 pages, softcover, $17.47 at amazon.ca). 

                    Postmodernism 101: A First Course for the Curious Christian, by Heath White (Brazos Press,  176 pages, softcover, $17.47 at amazon.ca).

                    In the midst of the controversy about Pope Benedict XVI’s University of Regensburg address, some interpreters lost sight of the Holy Father’s primary focus on faith, reason and culture — specifically, Christian faith, Greek reason and European culture. One person who was not misled was the Swiss muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan. In an incisive critique published widely, Ramadan deplored the violence that followed the Pope’s address. But he also questioned the Holy Father’s interpretation of faith, reason and especially culture. Muslim scholars, he suggested, could and should respond by offering an alternate account.

                      Africa’s dark beauty

                       Hope in the Dark, photography by Jeremy Cowart with reflections by Jena Lee (Relevant Books, 192 pages, softcover, $16.49 at amazon.ca).

                      The beauty of Africa is that nothing is hidden, what you see is what you get. There is less business of cologne, deodorant, tinted windows, gloves all aimed at covering reality — making it appear good and nice. In Africa, good, nice, beauty, messiness, ugliness, sadness, life and death are all joined in a wonderful marriage. It takes courage to walk that line in peace, hope and joy.