What W. H. Auden Can Do For You by Alexander McCall Smith
(Princeton University Press, 2013, 152 pages)
This is a wonderful little book. I’ve always enjoyed W. H. Auden’s poetry, and McCall Smith’s book provokes an excitement to revisit it with fresh eyes. The book’s tone is very personal as McCall Smith recounts the times and places in his life that he remembers reading Auden and the impact that those readings had on him. He traces themes like love, politics, freedom, and nature through Auden’s poetry, showing how these themes can help us to navigate the difficulties of life. Auden deals with the seeming futility of political action, the ability of love to transform the way we see the world, and the role of faith in making sense of our place in the universe. I found the treatment of the poems “September 1, 1939,” and “A Summer Night,” to be particularly good. This is a quick read, and it will be enjoyed by anyone who is interested in modern poetry or appreciates the novels of McCall Smith.
Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions by Anthony B. Bradley
(P&R Publishing, 2013, 256 pages)
North American evangelicalism remains predominantly white in terms of demographics. However, the numerical growth of evangelicalism has shifted to the Global South, transforming the global ethnic makeup of the movement. Anthony Bradley and the other contributors to this volume address the various ways that minority leadership in evangelical circles is underdeveloped, overlooked, or simply ignored. The chapters come from black, Hispanic, and Asian scholars who Bradley gathers to “describe their own experience as minorities and leaders in evangelical circles and to suggest ways to make real progress toward racial diversity” (14).
Each of the chapters combine a discussion of the contributor’s personal experience with a scholarly treatment of racial issues in areas like church planting, theological education, and theological publishing. Also included as an appendix is a statement on “Racism and the Church,” from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Bradley commends this as a good example of evangelicals dealing honestly with the racism of the tradition’s past. Bradley himself contributes a General Introduction and an Afterward. He talks with remarkable frankness about the racism that he has experienced in evangelical circles, and he lays out what he perceives to be the long-term consequences of ignoring such issues.
Bradley’s analysis and experience were the main attractions of this volume for me. However, I also found the chapters “Race and Racialization in a Post-Racialization in a Post-Racist Evangelicalism: A View from Asian America,” by Amos Yong and “Ethnic Scarcity in Evangelical Theology: Where Are the Authors?” by Vincent Bacote to be very helpful. This is an important book, as much for the conversations it could start as for the discussions within it. If North American evangelicals want to be part of the growth of evangelical churches and institutions in the rest of the world, the issues this book deals with must be more prominently addressed.
Scandal by Shusaku Endo
(Penguin Books, 1990, 240 pages)
Scandal is a novel by the Japanese writer Shusaku Endo. It tells the story of Suguro, an acclaimed and aging novelist whose books are characterized by their articulation of Catholic morality. He is disturbed to discover that he has a doppelganger who has been seen frequenting the city’s sex district. This initially presents Suguro with a problem of reputation. However, as he investigates into the identity of his imposter, Suguro begins to discover the depths of depravity that exist just beneath his own respectable exterior.
This novel is a spiritual thriller of sorts. It is uncomfortably autobiographical. Endo, who built his reputation on novels that wrestle with the compatibility of Catholicism and Japanese culture, wrote Scandal toward the end of his career (it was originally published in 1986). It is impossible to miss the parallels between the protagonist and the author. The more that Suguro wrestles with the baseness of his own thoughts, impulses, and desires, the more the novel seems like a self-indictment of Endo. In this respect, it is a brutally honest illustration of the doctrine of original sin and its consequences. It is fascinating to see this traditionally European concept expressed in the context of Japan’s honor culture.
Graham Greene, another important twentieth-century Catholic novelist, championed Endo and did much to promote him to an English-speaking audience. Endo’s novels, and Scandal in particular, are similar in many ways to Greene’s books. While Greene shows the scandalous nature of a Christian understanding of the supernatural in a largely secular society, Endo depicts the seeming incompatibility of Christian ideas with traditional Japanese culture. Scandal should be of interest to those who enjoy the novels of Graham Greene and to those who are interested in the relationship of Christianity to non-Western cultures.
The Chapel of the Thorn: A Verse Drama by Charles Williams
(Apocryphile Press, 2014, 152 pages)
The Chapel of the Thorn is a verse play – similar in form to the well-known verse play Murder in the Cathedral by T. S. Eliot – written by Charles Williams in 1912. Written over a century ago, it has remained unpublished until now. This edition is edited by Sørina Higgins who also writes a lengthy introduction. The two act play takes place in Britain, sometime in the early medieval period, and centers on a chapel that contains the crown of thorns worn by Christ. The action of the play involves a struggle for control of the relic between Church officials and the priest who tends to the chapel. Thematically, it deals with the relationship of paganism to Christianity and of the Church to secular powers.
As a fan of Williams, it is exciting to see this play made available. It is an early work, and it definitely suffers from comparison to his later plays. However, it is extremely valuable in charting Williams’ development as a writer, and the poetry itself is beautiful and theologically profound. I’m not sure how well it would work as a play (it has never been performed) but it is a gripping poem. Williams gives poetic expression to the struggle to reconcile the natural religion of pagan peoples with the Church’s claim to exclusive revelation. In so doing, he illuminates an important part of the development of European cultural.
The supplemental material adds immense value to this book. Higgins’ introductory essay charts the manuscript history of the play, including her own discovery of Williams’ original manuscript in the holdings of the Wade Center at Wheaton College. It also shows how the themes of Williams’ later work, including his cycles of Arthurian poetry, are found in seed form in The Chapel of the Thorn. Grevel Lindop – who is currently working on the definitive biography on Williams – offers a preface that discusses the history of the play, and an essay by David Llewellyn Dodds is included as an afterward. For those interested in Charles Williams or twentieth-century verse drama, this is definitely a valuable book.
Here by Richard McGuire
(Pantheon, 2014, 304 pages)
Here by Richard McGuire is a full-color graphic novel that shows one room and the events that have happened there over hundreds of thousands of years. Many things change in the room over time, including wallpaper and décor, fashion, and electronics (old time radio to flat screen tv). The pages are not in chronological order, and each page shows several time periods represented by boxes of different colors. One page shows how Halloween costumes have changed over time. Another page shows a time before the room existed (10,000 B.C.) with a giant bison lying on the ground where the house would eventually be built. There is very little dialogue, but one of my favorite pages shows the names people have called each other over the years, including “nerd” (1950), “square” (1957), “dirtbag” (1967), “wacko” (1977), and “geek” (1984). This is a very interesting book that anyone would find fascinating. I highly recommend it.
On the Run by Lorena McCourtney
(Revell, 2006, 320 pages)
On the Run by Lorena McCourtney is the third novel in the Ivy Malone Mystery series. In On the Run, little old lady, Ivy Malone, is travelling in a motor home trying to stay ahead of the Braxtons, a family who has vowed to find and kill her for ruining the life of their brother. In this book, Ivy meets Abilene, an abused, runaway wife. Ivy and Abilene decide to try to make a little money before moving on. They head out to a nearby ranch to see if there are any caretaker jobs available. When they arrive at the ranch, they find thirsty emus, paintball guns, and two dead bodies sitting on the couch in their lodge home.
The two dead bodies turn out to be the homeowners. They are a former Hollywood power couple who have converted to survivalists. The deaths are made to look like a murder-suicide, but Ivy and Abilene have their doubts. They think it might be murder and set out to prove it.
I enjoy reading about the adventures of Ivy Malone. She is not your typical sleuth. Ivy is a spunky, little old lady with a sense humor and adventure, Christian values, and a “can do” attitude. On the Run was a good book to read on a rainy, Sunday afternoon.
Lone Wolf: by Jodi Picoult
(Emily Bestler Books, 2012, 448 pages)
Cara’s family spilt apart and went their separate ways years ago. Her parents divorced after her older brother, Edward, ran away in the middle of the night years ago. Since then her mom has remarried and has twins to take care of and her father is still devoted to his wolves. So when Cara and her father get into a serious car accident, it’s strange to see her family together again and trying to work through their differences. While Cara escaped the car accident with a shoulder injury but their father has a serious head injury and unable to make his own medical decisions. With a looming decision ahead, Cara and Edward both believe they know what their father’s wishes would be and both are willing to do anything to fulfill them.
I always enjoy Jodi Picoult’s books. If I’m ever looking for something that I know will be easy to read but will quickly grab my attention, then I find one of Picoult’s books that I haven’t read before. I’ve recently enjoyed her style change up of moving away from court cases that usually center the last half of her novels so it was strange to move back to her old styling. I could tell she wasn’t fully invested in the court case though as she was focusing more on the emotion and relationships between the characters and glazed over the proceedings of the case. As always, the research she does to make the content authentic is impeccable as this book she covered the behavior of wolves.