Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tatoos on the Heart, The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle

This very recent book, published in 2010, is written by a Jesuit priest who has worked for many years  in an area with the highest concentration of murderous  gangs in the city of Los Angeles, sometimes called the gang capital of the world.    As of the year this book was published, he had buried a young  person  killed  in gang violence 167 times.   To encourage gang members to leave their lives of violence and death and to learn the mutual respect that comes from working together, Fr Boyle created an organization to provide job training, jobs and other incentives for wholesome living and respect for themselves and others.  He occasionally took some of them along on his frequent speaking tours. “G”, as they called him, lived with, suffered with, and counseled  these young people and got to know  their incredibly sad stories of broken homes, irresponsible parents, multiple conflicts with the law and some  even having had more than one jail sentence.   He saw that the tattoos that covered their bodies and even their faces were symbols of the tattoos on their hearts from all they had suffered.  Most of them were young men, teen-agers to their later twenties, but girls were also involved.

“G” opened his heart and offered unconditional  love to his “homies,”  spoke their language, and was loved and respected by them.  He suffered  keenly, even cried with them,  when one would wander into another gang’s turf and be shot , or when rival gangs would  battle it out.  He consoled their mothers as they sobbed uncontrollably at the sad news that yet another child had been killed.

The book is filled with fascinating stories, told in “gang language”, with a sprinkling of both humor and pathos, with successes and failures.  Fr. Boyle often quotes from Scripture and also from a great variety of authors, showing himself to be an extremely well-read and highly educated man, engaged not in some university but in the coarse amphitheater of the gang world.  You will find it hard to stop reading once you begin.

Simplicity, The Art of Living, by Richard Rohr

Rohr is a Franciscan priest, an internationally known spiritual leader, retreat master, speaker and the author of countless books, essays and articles on the spiritual life.  He has also written several books on the Sufi  Enneagram.  In 1971 he founded he New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati, and later the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, of which he is presently the director.

This book is Rohr at his best.  It consists of talks and sermons he gave in 1990, in several cities in Germany.  The titles of the nine chapters reveal not only the scope of his subject matter but also the originality and “freshness” of thought and expression that permeates his writing and speaking.  The titles are:  God the Father—God the Mother?;  Community Life as a Challenge;  Getting Rid of the Church;  Christians and Political Commitment;  Contemplation –the Spiritual Challenge;  The Freedom of the Sons and Daughters of God;  What Is This “Women’s Stuff”?;  The Social and Political Vocation of Christians;  and Less Is More.   Each chapter ends with questions that his audience asks of him after each of his talks.

Each answer shows the depth of spirituality, wisdom, common sense  and knowledge of Church, Society, Scripture,  Humanity and any other topic  -- that is expressed  in whatever Richard Rohr writes or says.   You will find this book both enlightening and delightful.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Meeting Place, by Janette Oke and T. Davis Bunne (book one of a 5-volume series: Songs of Acadia)

The story begins in 1753, in the disputed lands of New France, north of the New England colonies, where French settlers had lived for 150 years in their “beloved home” of Acadia.  With the arrival of the British, tensions arose, as France and Britain had battled as enemies for over 600 years in Europe.  Although there were no open conflicts, both groups lived in constant fear and suspicion, avoiding contact with their “enemies.”

One summer day, in a secluded flowery meadow, two young women met by chance, one British and the other French.  In time they became close friends, but secretly, for fear of retaliation by their families and compatriots.  When their secret was discovered, and at the same time the French refused the British demand to swear allegiance to the King,  tempers flared.  Without warning, British troops were ordered to force the peaceable  French villagers to leave everything except whatever they could carry, and to board ships in the harbor that would take them to unknown lands in separate destinations.  To prevent them from returning, their goods were confiscated and their homes were burned.  We can  imagine the fear and pain and heartbreak they suffered as they ran for their lives, not only losing home and possessions, but also being separated from neighbors and friends, and even from family members,  brutally forced into a totally unknowable future.

The subsequent volumes in the series continues the incredibly sad and at times heroic saga of these banished French Acadians and their eventually settling in hostile lands. Look for the Songs of Acadia in your library. They are a fast and enjoyable read.

The Humility of God, A Franciscan Perspective, by Ilia Delio, O.S.F.

In this book the author, a Franciscan Sister/Theologian, presents a cosmic Christology, relating Christ to the cosmos and its history in the light of contemporary science in a world of evolution and diversity.  She also presents the internal relation of the mystery of the Incarnation to that of the Divine Trinity.  She builds her thesis largely around the scholarship of Bonaventure and other Franciscan theologians, as well as the writings of Theilard de Chardin and other noted theologians of the past and the present, and on the spiritual experiences and words of Francis of Assisi.

To all these sources she unites her personal knowledge of theology and contemporary scientific understanding of the cosmos.  She also offers insights on issues concerning the history and present practice of Christianity, and discusses the problem that well-educated Christians have today in reconciling their faith in a creative God with a world full of pain and suffering.  At the end of each chapter she offers practical questions relating to everyday life, plus a copious list of references.  She posits that the humble God is always with us because we, and all creation, have always been with God.  This is what the Incarnation is all about –Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us.  God , as Omnipotent Creator, chose from all eternity to come down to earth and take on human form, and continues to humbly relate to us in our suffering and in all aspects of our life.

In the final chapter Ilia speaks of divinization, the call of every Christian to not only become “like God”, because we are made in God’s image, but also to divinize the world around us.  This is our Christic vocation, to participate in the completion of the Body of Christ.  She writes in a style that is unique, clear and understandable.  I highly recommend  The Humility of God,  as well as the several other books she has written.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Uncommom Gratitude, Alleluia for All That Is, by Joan Chittister, OSB and Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

Dr. Williams deals with scenes from everyday life, and Sister Joan reflects on each if these, and many more, uncovering the spiritual value, the “alleluia view,” of every present moment in our lives.  She begins with the attack on the New York’s Trade Center of Sept.11, 2001, and its world-wide impact on Faith of all who believe in God. She shows that despite the horror of that day, the heroism displayed in rescuing survivors and in caring for those who lost their lives and for those who were mourning brought a glimmer of light into a disastrous moment. 

She continues with a broad array of life’s realities, including Doubt, Wealth and Poverty, Conflicts and Unity,  Past and Future,  Death and Life.  She suggests that in all of them there are “alleluia moments,” even in those we consider to be negative.   “Alleluia for all that is,” we say with grateful hearts.

In the final chapter, entitled simply “God”, we ponder together the disturbing dilemma of how a good God could allow gigantic tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters dealing death and misery to endless numbers of innocent people that God has created and loves.  With the author we consider questions such as these:  “If God could prevent such “evils”, but does nothing, how can we call God good?”   “How could anyone possibly find anything worthy of an “alleluia” in such cataclysmic events?” Joan assures us that just as in the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, so in natural disasters of great magnitude, and in everything that happens, there are redeeming factors, something to evoke gratitude to God, to proclaim that God is indeed good.  

I believe you would find this book both thought-provoking and challenging.