What Are You Reading and Why?

We regularly ask our readers to submit annotated reviews of the good books they’re reading—on any topic whatsoever, and whether the books are newly-published or golden oldies.


Beyond Occupation: American Jewish, Christian and Palestinian Voices for Peace

Rosemary Reuther and Marc Ellis, Beacon Press, 1990

reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

The Israeli occupation of the territories won in the Six day War of 1967 entered a new phase in 1987 with the beginnings of the Palestinian uprising (intifada).  Beyond Occupation explores frameworks for peace in the Middle East in this development.  The American Jewish contributors look at the meanings that the intifada holds for the theology of Judaism; Christian contributors articulate an ethical framework for a peace settlement, seeking to distinguish between anti-semitism and a critique of Jewish policies; Palestinian contributors offer a perspective on the long history of events leading up to the intifada, arguing for an awareness of the Palestinian experience as the necessary basis for reconciliation in the Middle East.

Beyond Occupation is arranged in four sections.  The first contains Jewish responses to the uprising, showing the diversity of opinions and perspectives within that community; common themes by the six essayists are the role of ethics and the shocking policy of lethal force ad bone breaking beatings.  The second section has four Christian contributors seeking a just balance between concern for national security and for Israeli and Palestinian rights, seeking to distinguish between anti-Semitism and a critique of Israeli policies.  The third section consists of five essays dealing with the Palestinian story from the perspective of the British mandate and the Balfour Declaration.  The final three essays attempt to identify common ground for discussion among the three groups.

A helpful book for understanding the nature of the Middle East situation. Read more ›

The Ministry of Listening

Donald Peel, Anglican Book Centre, 1980

reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

It is an old book, but still relevant in the attempt to equip lay people minister to others.  Peel not only helps lay people to minister to others, but stimulates us to identify the areas where the congregation can be strengthened and helped.

While hospital visitation is probably the readers’ first identification of an area of visitation, Peel identifies a basic technique of creative listening to help the congregation strengthen its membership: Hospital visitation, visiting the elderly, housebound young mothers, stressed workplace individuals, neighbours across the back fence, parents of Sunday School students, newcomers to the congregation.  Peel sketches the shape of creative listening to include not only hospital patients but also their relatives and friends.  And the hospital staff!  What he attempts is to see the shape of caring from a pastoral orientation that sees the need for better training of congregational membership to the sustained exercise of pastoral care by an articulate membership.

Peel calls for the development at the congregational level of training and identification of frequently encountered needs.  Active listening is the use of feeling, helping the participant to articulate for herself/himself authentic responses to G-d’s healing grace.  Peel sketches the use of prayer and scripture, and visiting the dying, those who mourn, the elderly, and pastoral care on the psychiatric ward. Read more ›

The music of Mary Lou Williams

A review

Reviewed by Dale Roberts

When Mary Lou Williams converted to Catholicism in the 1950s she turned away from her career as a jazz musician, thinking that music played in bars had no place in the realm of the spirit. She came to realize that, as her friend Duke Ellington said, “Every man prays in his own language, and there is no language God does not understand.” Williams and Ellington were among the first jazz artists to write sacred music in the jazz idiom and perform jazz in churches.

Mary Lou Williams (born Mary Elfrieda Scruggs, 1910 – May 1981) was an African-American jazz pianist, composer, and arranger whose career spanned the history of jazz from early swing through the big band era, bebop, and beyond. She stood in the first rank of jazz pianists. She wrote and arranged music for Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and other bandleaders.

After two priests and her friend Dizzy Gillespie persuaded her to return to playing jazz she performed with Gillespie’s band at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival. Read more ›

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Jonathan Haidt, Vintage, 2013

Reviewed by Dale Roberts

All Democrats are insane, but not one of them knows it; none but the Republicans and Mugwumps know it. All the Republicans are insane, but only the Democrats and Mugwumps can perceive it. The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane. —Mark Twain

Why bother talking with people at the other end of the political or theological spectrum? We already know what they think. They’re wrong. They won’t listen to reason. They view the world askew. They march mindlessly in lockstep behind partisan ideologues and extremists.

Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist, challenges us to think about our thinking on political and moral questions, to seek to understand how and why others see things differently. Read more ›

Weaving the Sermon: Preaching in a Feminist Perspective

Christine Smith, Westminster/John Knox, 1989

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

Smith’s book is an intriguing extended metaphor, using weaving as a central lens of understanding.  Weaving is an art, an expression of our time, and Smith uses the components of weaving as illustration, as an organizing image in women’s lives:  weaving, loom, warp, weft.  Weaving:  interlocking threads to create joyful instances of textures and colours.  Loom: keep threads in order and under tension.  Warp: binding together differing threads.  Weft:  the most prominent threads.  This is Smith’s extended metaphor for preaching.

Smith believes there is some ‘qualitative distinctiveness surrounding the preaching of feminist women (p 9); there is a distinctive quality to women’s preaching (p11).  Women use more images and more stories than men do.  ‘The texts women choose are less abstract and more related to everyday life/ (p 12); they are more creative and imaginative in dealing with the text.

Smith has a good section on authority.  Religious authority has usually referred to ordination, giving them the ‘right’ to speak. ‘criteria for effective preaching held by many male homileticians appear to be persuasion and the ability to influence the listener.  The criteria for many women preachers appear to be creating the quality of faith connection….  Authority has to do with a quality of content, a mode of communication and an authenticity of message (p 46).  Smith looks at issues of gender.  She looks at issues of gender.  Eg how ‘can a male Jesus of Nazareth be considered a normative model for all humanity/ (p 80).  She suggests key areas for this definition that entail much broader understandings of incarnational theology’s ‘power’ in relations, radical activity of love, Jesus as parable of G-d, concepts of salvation, hermeneutics. Read more ›