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Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty

Dorothy Day; The World Will Be Saved By Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of Dorothy DayDorothy Day; The World Will Be Saved By Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of Dorothy Day by Kate Hennessy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A beautiful book, beautifully written, in which one of Dorothy Day's grand-daughters tries to save her from hagiography by giving an intimate account of the woman, particularly focused on her relationship with her daughter Tamar and her many grandchildren. The later chapters focus a great deal on mother-daughter relationships. You will not go away from this book with a deeper understanding of Day's thought, but with a richer understanding of how complex her life was, how she approached life as a writer, and how difficult the Catholic Worker was.

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I Know What Heaven Looks Like

I Know What Heaven Looks Like: A Modern Day Coming of Age StoryI Know What Heaven Looks Like: A Modern Day Coming of Age Story by Lawrence T. Richardson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I heard Lawrence speak at the annual meeting of the Iowa Conference of the United Church of Christ. His vulnerability, resilience, and humor blew me away. He's coming to preach for us at First Central on Feb. 17, so I wanted to read his book ahead of time.

It is, at times, a harrowing read, as he recounts his childhood experiences of poverty, neglect, and abuse. But it is also a story of finding faith and a calling to ministry and how those brought healing and hope. Then it is also the story of a gender transition and the violent reaction that initially generates from family and his faith tradition.

This is a powerful book. I recommend it.

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Pensees

Blaise Pascal: Thoughts, Letters and Minor Works: Part 48 Harvard ClassicsBlaise Pascal: Thoughts, Letters and Minor Works: Part 48 Harvard Classics by Blaise Pascal
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I had looked forward to the Pensees, though as I began to read it I was struck by how awful it is and my recurring thought was, "Why is this in the canon?"

Of course the answer is Pascal's wager, so I eventually quickly skimmed/skipped ahead to that portion and read it. But even it is only okay. I then skimmed/skipped through the rest of the book.

Pascal is a bad thinker, overwhelmed with a religious fundamentalism and what seems either an inability or a refusal to see the wide variety of possibilities.

He is also overwhelming pessimistic, such as this line, "Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness." I was surprised that he isn't more popular with the nihilists. There's this:

"When I see the blindness and the wretchedness of man, when I regard the whole silent universe, and man without light, left to himself, and as it were, lost in this corner of the universe, without knowing who has put him there, what he has come to do, what will become of him at death, and incapable of all knowledge, I become terrified, like a man who should be carried in his sleep to a dreadful desert island, and should awake without knowing where he is, and without means of escape. And thereupon I wonder how people in a condition so wretched do not fall into despair."

Egads.

I was surprised that this paragraph isn't famous:

"What a chimera then is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe! Who will unravel this tangle?"

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Judges: A Commentary

Judges (2008): A CommentaryJudges (2008): A Commentary by Susan Niditch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This autumn I've been teaching a Wednesday night Bible study on the Book of Judges. Judges is one of those texts I've done very little with in my ministry. Many of the stories are not suitable for Sunday morning preaching. But shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump, I decided that sometime I needed to teach on Judges, as its themes resonate with our moment--a search for effective and faithful leadership, a focus on the treatment of women, increasing violence. Often this semester the topics we have been discussing in the class have corresponded with items in the national news.

This commentary by Susan Niditch is quite good and was very helpful in teaching the class. I found her comments helped to make sense of the stories and gave insights that were applicable to my teaching needs.

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Ramadan

RamadanRamadan by Hannah Eliot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving in the car with our son when the folks on NPR were discussing Ramadan. Our son said from the backseat, "Ramadan! I have that book." I counted that as parenting success--our son loves his book, is listening to the radio, and is learning interfaith and multicultural appreciation.

We ordered this book after one it its series on Dia de los Muertos was given to our son as a gift. This series is about holidays from around the world. The pictures are pretty and engaging and the text is a helpful introduction for young children.

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Tell It on the Mountain

Tell It on the Mountain: The Daughter of Jephthah in Judges 11Tell It on the Mountain: The Daughter of Jephthah in Judges 11 by Barbara Miller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Browsing the local progressive Christian bookstore I saw this volume and was intrigued what an entire book on Jephthah's daughter would be like. Plus, I was about to teach that story in an adult Bible study this fall, so I grabbed the book.

This is really a textbook (though you could do an adult bible study with it) exploring various ways of reading and interpreting the Bible, using this story as the entry point. In particular Miller brings into conversation Medieval Jewish Midrash and contemporary feminist scholars, with the book introducing both methods and the variety of voices even within those traditions.

The book also introduces methods one can (and should according to the text) use when interpreting biblical narratives.

I was hoping for some more in-depth analysis, but some of my other commentaries and books asked more provocative questions of the text. That said, I still find it engaging and useful. In particular I would not have encountered the midrash in most of my sources. I'm most thankful for having here encountered a first century poem imagining the sung lament of Jephthah's daughter.

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The Three-Day Feast

The Three-Day Feast: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and EasterThe Three-Day Feast: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter by Gail Ramshaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Last spring a sudden, last minute change in our Holy Week plans resulted in some upset feelings on the part of a few congregants. Frankly, I have struggled with Holy Week here at First Central where (until the last couple of years) there was reluctance to experience Good Friday and the Maundy Thursday services never have quite gelled.

The resulting conversations made us realize how many different expectations there are (based upon a wide variety of previous experiences and theological, spiritual, and psychological needs) for what worship will entail that week. So, our Worship Ministry set out on a project of studying the issue in order to gain a better perspective and hopefully before next year arrive at a clearer since of what this church wants to do for Holy Week.

Note: in my conversations with other clergy I have learned that many of them also experience a lack alignment between what their training teaches them should happen and what their congregants actually want, expect, and will participate in.

This handy little book was recommended by a Lutheran minister friend. This gives a good explanation of the basic aims of liturgical renewal and some helpful comments on the various services one might hold. It lacked a little of what I am still hoping for on the practical question of how to reconcile what people want with with the tradition recommends.

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Jacob's Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel

Jacob's Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient IsraelJacob's Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel by Theodore W. Jennings Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this very well argued book Ted Jennings claims that "same-sex eroticism in Israel is inseparably connected to Israel's Yahwism. It is no extraneous import but something deeply and inextricably embedded in the religion of Israel."

Jennings begins in the obvious place--the sagas of David, Jonathan, and Saul--and from there considers stories of Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha, elements of the prophetic tradition (particularly Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel), and then the stories of Joseph, Moses, and Jacob, before wrapping up with Ruth. In other words, here is a systematic overview of much of the Hebrew scriptures demonstrating the role that same-sex eroticism plays in the development of the biblical tradition. Jennings credits same-sex eroticism as being the key element that moves YHWH from a violent warrior God to a God of steadfast love and compassion. In other words, the key essence of the biblical tradition arises from the experience of homoeroticism.

Along the way, Jennings' interpretation makes sense of a wide range of passages, including some of the strangest in scripture. He makes far more sense of them than other interpretations I've read.

Also along the way, Jennings deals with a longstanding false idea in Western culture that Greece was the culture most accepting of homoeroticism while Israel forbade it. Instead, homoeroticism is key the Israelite religion predating its significant emergence in Greek culture. Plus, it is a homoeroticism based upon the desire of bottom rather than the activity of the top, which is how he characterizes Greek culture.

He shows how the Holiness Code in Leviticus is very late to the tradition and doesn't fit a wide range of stories from the sagas (not just those dealing with homoeroticism). He argues that the Holiness Code is borrowed from Zoroastrianism and should not be understood as reflective of Hebrew culture prior to exile.

This is an excellent book; I highly recommend it.

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