Archive for May, 2009

Nelson’s Illustrated Guide to Religions, by J.A. Beverley

Posted in Book Review with tags , , on May 15, 2009 by seguewm

Beverley ReligionsThe introduction to this book ought to be read by every pastor and church administrator. It is a clearly articulated review of Christianity 101 – which is so easily forgotten as we get diverted by ‘doing’ church. The introduction also sets the stage, as it ought to, for the authors approach in reviewing each religion.

From a coherent foundation on what makes Christianity Christian, each religion is generously approached while carefully compared to Christian basics. Obviously, all religions are not the same, nor are all ‘good’.  But it would be wise to have a fair-minded understanding of the religions of this world.

This is designed to be an introduction to world religions – from the Baha’i to Witchcraft – rather than a detailed study. Yet, it is well organized, captures the essence of each religious group, & offers sufficient and useful references for further research.

One other aspect of this publication that makes it far more than a useful reference book of dates, beliefs, and historical events is that the reader is introduced to personalities associated with most of these religions. Though succinctly written, each religion is a story and not just a chart of facts.

This book is pleasant and a fascinating read, not merely another book to add to one’s dust-collecting shelf of reference-only texts.

Finding God in The Shack

Posted in Book Review on May 14, 2009 by seguewm

Rauser ShackRandal Rauser’s recent book, Finding God in the Shack, is an important addition to the emerging church ‘conversation’. Rauser addresses many of our long held assumptions about God and our traditional understanding of the nature of inspiration. The Shack confronts our comfortable theological conditioning by presenting God the ‘Father’ as a large African-American woman and the Spirit as and Asian woman. Moreover, the story line forces us to think through our notions about the trinity and why God allows suffering.

We accept the testimony of the scriptures that its authors were inspired by God. We therefore assume that the descriptions of God found in scripture are factual. But, what if they speak truths without being facts? In other words, could God have been speaking in a manner that fit the finiteness of human minds? When a mother speaks babble to an infant and the infant responds with joy, she isn’t factually speaking any known language but she is – in truth – speaking love. Could we have assumed more about the scriptures than is really helpful? Just because something is ‘inspired’ doesn’t necessitate that it is factual. It can be pointing us to truth without being fact. To assume otherwise is to suspect that the infinite eternal God speaks to us as equals – which, clearly, is not a fact. Rather, the infinite God accommodates us.

The curious question is, what happens when humans become aware of accommodation? Does such awareness insist that we re-examine the nature of inspiration and rethink many of our theological notions? Wasn’t the incarnation an accommodation?

Our human tendency to make concrete that which is metaphorical is immense. God is good, therefore God would never speak non-factually, said a preacher friend of mine recently. With such narrow thinking former Christians who are now atheistic used that same reasoning. If God truly was good he would never have allowed my innocent child to suffer abuse – the underlying story in The Shack. But, what if God is good and does allow suffering that he could have prevented? What if God is good and yet does meet us where we are as sinful human beings, speaking to us through ideas that are not factual, but were intended only to convey truths?

Read the book.

It Happened In Italy, by Elizabeth Bettina

Posted in Book Review on May 6, 2009 by seguewm

bettinaConcentration camps in Italy during the Second World War? I hadn’t read that in my High School History books – even in the Catholic parochial school I attended. What were these camps like? How many Jews were cruelly forced into incinerators, inhumanely experimented upon, and maliciously treated like animals? How much like Auschwitz were the camps in Italy?

Not only was I surprised to learn about Italian concentration camps, but equally surprised with the rest of the story. Italian Catholics protected and hid many Jews who had escaped the German atrocities. Sure, they were placed in ‘concentration camps’, but they were treated like fellow human beings – Italian style – with schools for the kids, marriages, parties, and the gift of dignity. In fact, many lasting friendships developed between Catholic Italians and Jewish refugees. Though Italy and Germany were allies, the Italian people proved that political covenants were never going to change their unique character and culture.

I am half Italian. My grandfather came to America after the war. In our many discussions – having lived with my grandparents during my first year of college – I never heard any stories such as these. Why have these stories not been told before? In the midst of unforgettable human insanity, there was also human compassion.

The world owes a debt of gratitude not only to Elizabeth Bettina for her tireless efforts in sleuthing out these details and helping us understand this wonderful truth, but also to the many Italians and the Catholic Church for their willingness to risk their own lives to save so many Jewish lives.

This book is written simply, outlining the unfolding drama of discovery – life after life – where Italian and Jewish families were brought together and forever connected through many acts of compassion.