Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

What the Mystics Know

Posted on: May 14th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

Seven Pathways to
Your Deeper Self,

By Richard Rohr

The Crossroad Publishing Company
New York. Released May, 2015
155 pages. $17.25 CAD.
ISBN #978-0824520397


Review By Wayne A. Holst


My Thoughts:

If you are looking for a book that will help you
understand many essentials of the mystical
religious experience – to say nothing of a
summary of much of what Richard Rohr has
written over a long career – I would like to
suggest you get a copy of this book and spend
time with it. “What the Mystics Know” can
introduce and support you in the wisdom
traditions of humanity’s great faiths.

This book is grounded in the Christian
tradition, but – and because of this – it can
reach considerably beyond it to enhance
and expand that faith. Too many spiritual
leaders dabble in mysticism, cafeteria-style.
The result is a potpourri of “this and that.”
It may sound good, but it lacks grounding –
as well as perspective and true breadth.
Because this book is written by an
experienced mystic, you will avoid a lot
of the pitfalls of so much “junk spirituality”
floating around out there.

This is not to say that Rohr is committed
to “follow the Christian party line.” His
reputation as a challenge to official church
teachings should prepare us to read a
man who has had his confrontations with
authority. But that in itself can be viewed
as evidence of his considerable experience.
A true spiritual prophet for our time will
carry the requisite battle scars, and Rohr
carries them well. Like the true Franciscan
he is, Rohr offers us an “alternative orthodoxy”
or “orthopraxy” that can help us grow within,
and extend beyond our various faith traditions.

Here is a list of the seven “pathways” to
which he devotes a chapter in the book:

1. The enlightenment you see already
dwells within you

2. God is found in imperfection

3. From profound suffering come great
wisdom and joy

4. The mystical path is a celebration of

5. Contemplation means practicing
heaven now

6. To discover the truth you must
become the truth

7. When you are transformed, others
will be transformed through you


There are few spiritual guides alive and
available to us today with the substance
of Richard Rohr. That is why it is good he
keeps on writing, expanding, consolidating
and growing in his faith – and he is eager
to have us accompany him on the journey.

A most helpful book, worth securing.



Buy the book from


Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. X, No. 39,  May 10th, 2015

Very Good Lives – The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination

Posted on: May 14th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

The Fringe Benefits of Failure
and the Importance of Imagination


By J.K. Rowling

Little, Brown: New York
Released April 14th 2015. Hardcover.
75 pages. $10. CAD.
ISBN #978-0-3126-36915-2.



Review By Wayne A. Holst


My Thoughts:

I am drawn to this book because it is one that
should appeal to a wide range of humanity –
from all cultures and faith traditions.

At the same time, it speaks to people who
may not enjoy the benefits of a democratic
society – like her British one – that offers
a social-safety network not enjoyed, still
today, by too many people on this planet.

Think, for example, of the millions of disaster
victims and refugees who struggle for life
across the face of the earth.

Similar wisdom could probably be offered by
quite a few who have not experienced her
success in life – and the commensurate income
– that she now commands as an author. Still, in
our world, voices like her voice are respected
and convey considerable heft.

(For me, the fact that Rowling found herself
in a tough place, and one that she may not
have ever considered possible for herself,
speaks clearly to my own life experience.)

(When things were lowest for me, I still
realized I enjoyed certain benefits not
experienced by everyone.)

Her difficulties have taught her character,
perseverance and humility which have
attracted her to many – and not just the
privileged hearers who first attended this
public address at Harvard.

There is a sweet irony to a speech like this.
Our world honours success and public acclaim.
Rowling is certainly a worthy recipient of both.
But the fact is – success might never have come
to her had she not decided to follow a certain
path when things were at their worst for her.

Learning from that path is what earns Rowling
the ability to speak to us in her current book.

For personal growth, inspiration, and as a
thoughtful gift to others, this volume deserves
to be read. It also deserves to be returned
to, and re-thought, at various life stages.


Buy the book from

Rowling’s 2008 Commencement address at
Harvard is the most-viewed item on the
Harvard website.



Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. X, No. 38,  May 3rd, 2015

The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade

Posted on: April 28th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

How World War I Became
a Religious Crusade
by Philip Jenkins

HarperOne, Toronto.
Paperback Edition, April 28/15
438 pages. $20.00 CAD.
ISBN #978-0-06-210514-1


Author’s Words:

The First World War was a thoroughly religious
event, in the sense that overwhelmingly Christian
nations fought each other in what many viewed as
a holy war, a spiritual conflict. Religion is essential
to understanding the war…

However thoroughly Eurocentric the conflict might
appear, in the long term, it transformed not just
the Christianity of the main combatant nations,
but also other great faiths, especially Judaism and
Islam… The Great War redrew the world’s religious
map as we know it today…

Advancing the nation’s cause and interests is
indistinguishable from promoting God’s cause…
the holy war framework defines attitudes to the
role of the armed forces and the conduct of combat
operations. That nation should broadly accept the
idea that military action has a sanctified character,
equal or superior to any of the other works approved
by that religion… we can confidently speak of a
powerful and consistent strain of holy war ideology
during the Great War years… all the main participant
nations placed Christ himself on the battle lines…
The war began as a clash of messianic visions…
(involving Muslims and Jews as well as Christians.)
For both sides, the Great War was a day and night
conflict against cosmic evil…

The German approach to the war still stands out
for its widespread willingness to identify the
nation’s cause with God’s will… However tempted
we may be to consider such militaristic pastors
to the demagogic fringe, we find near-identical
sentiments from some of Germany’s greatest
thinkers and theologians, and this at a time when
the country could plausibly claim cultural and
spiritual leadership in the Christian world… holy
war views were advocated by some of the most
respected mainline clergy…

In modern times, radical Muslim clergy and
activists have often sighted religious justifications
for violence, to the extent that many Jews and
Christians even doubt that Islam is a religion,
rather than a militaristic doomsday cult. Yet,
Christian leaders in 1914 to 1918 likewise gave
an absolute religious underpinning to warfare
conducted by the states that were seen as
executing the will of God and they used well-known
religious terms to contextualize acts of violence…
both (Christians and Islamists) have shared a
common symbolism of sword and shield… such
ideas gave an overwhelming spiritual dimension
to worldly conflict and aroused expectations of
gigantic cosmic changes lying on the horizon…

(Apocalyptic ideas exercised a special power and
the common people were profoundly influenced
by these end times images. Images of Armageddon
messianic and millenarian developments underlay
the great revolutions that swept the world in the
immediate aftermath of the war to the extent that
often bypassed the mainline churches… for
example, totalitarianisms such as Nazism and
Communism, and this forced the Catholic and
Protestant churches to come to terms with a
new political world as the ancient church-state
alliance was widely replaced by new forms of
separation and independence.)

(This had a widespread impact as European religion
became a global phenomenon. Christianity, Judaism
and Islam had to adapt to a changing world brought
about by developments that emerged in the wake
of the Great War.)

Without appreciating its religious and spiritual
aspects, we cannot understand the First World
War. More important though, modern religious
history makes no sense except in the context of
that terrible conflict.

The war created our reality.

– from the Introduction


Author’s Bio:

Philip Jenkins is in 2013 the Distinguished
Professor of History at Baylor University and
Co-Director for Baylor’s Program on Historical
Studies of Religion in the Institute for Studies
of Religion. He is also the Edwin Erle Sparks
Professor of Humanities Emeritus at
Pennsylvania State University. He was
Professor and a Distinguished Professor
of History and Religious studies at the same
institution; and also assistant, associate and
then full professor of Criminal Justice and
American Studies at PSU, 1980–93.

Wikipedia Bio:


Review By Wayne A. Holst

My Thoughts:

During the years 2014-18 many videos, books
and articles are appearing on the First World War
(WWI). These presentations take various themes,
but not many of them deal with the profound
subject of faith associated with that great conflict.

Jenkins’ book “The Great and Holy War” elucidates
the religious and spiritual dimension of WWI in a
special way and is uniquely worthy of our attention
amid all the other available material.

Of considerable import is the way common Christian
and holy war themes were utilized by both sides
in the conflict. Because of significant questions
arising from that development in the early twentieth
century, a growing religious and secular peace
movement began to emerge. This movement
countered religious and secular justification for
war and violence to an extent that has grown,
not abated, into our own times.

The new atheist critique of religious involvement
in war and violence has prompted a serious
re-thinking of how religion engaged politics,
economics, etc. since WWI. Karen Armstrong’s
book “Fields of Blood: Religion and the History
of Violence” – is one response. The current book
by Jenkins is another. From the reading of both
studies, it is not difficult to see how closely religion
and warfare have been integrated and implicated
into our modern experience.

Three of the world’s great religions – Judaism,
Christianity and Islam – were drawn into serious
conflict as a result of that war. That led to larger
abuses in World War Two and the era following.
When Christians are quick to judge the Israelis
in the Palestinian conflict and so-called Muslim
terrorism today, we need not look back that far
into history to see very scary skeletons in our
own closet.

Another important discovery for me has been the
way the great religions have been forced to
rethink their role in the world as a result of what
WWI prompted. Finding a common, constructive
religious response to the past evils we supported, 
is a redemptive way to engage the future.

Lessons learned from WWI and its interpreters
like Philip Jenkins can set faith-based people
from many traditions and around the world
on a new and constructive course in the service
of humanity.


Buy the book from


Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. X, No. 37,  April 26th, 2015

How to read the Bible: An interview with legendary theologian Harvey Cox

Posted on: April 20th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews


How to read the Bible: An interview with legendary theologian Harvey Cox (link is external)


Religion News Service: While there is no single right way to read the Scripture, some ways are better than others, says the iconic theologian in an interview about his new book, “How to Read the Bible.” _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, April 15, 2015

Islam’s Jesus

Posted on: April 19th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

by Zeki Saritoprak

University Press of Florida
Paperback edition, April 2015
222 pages. $28.95 CAD
ISBN #978-0-8130-6178-8



Author’s Bio:

Zeki Saritoprak is associate professor in the
Department of Theology and Religious Studies
and the Beddiüzaman Said Nursi Chair in Islamic
Studies at John Carroll University, Cleveland OH.

He is the author of numerous works on Islamic
theology in English, Turkish, and Arabic.


Review By Wayne A. Holst

My Thoughts:

There is nothing like hearing the author of a
book like this introduce his arguments in
person, and engaging in debate with his
audience. Several months ago I had the
opportunity to do this when Zeki Saritoprak
spoke to a group of about 60 people (many
of whom were Muslim) in the church I serve
and attend in Calgary.

The author attempts to approach Jesus
theologically, and from a Muslim perspective,
but with the primary intent of encouraging
dialogue with Christians.

In that regard, it does not require a
three-way discussion which would include
Jews, but Jews would certainly be welcome
to participate.

The book is written so that both Christians
and Muslims can understand it. It is not
so much a comparative scripture study,
or a religious studies presentation as it
is an attempt to simplify the process of
gleaning key theological insights about
Jesus, found in the Qur’anic tradition,
so that at least Muslims and Christians
understand Jesus better.

This exchange would differ from a dialogue
between Jews and Christians. We share a
similar biblical canon in the Hebrew Bible,
even though Jews do not accept the New
Testament as their sacred scripture.

When engaging Muslims, Christians will
encounter sacred texts with which they
are not familiar – the Qur’an and Hadith
(Muhammad’s commentary on the Qur’an.)
Muslims, on the other hand, accept both
Hebrew and New Testaments as sacred;
only they believe their own scriptures
supersede them, just as Muhammad
supersedes Jesus as a prophet.

Of course, both Jews and Muslims do
not accept, as Christians do, that
Jesus is God. That would require quite
a different dialogue.

But after some of these ground rules
are laid out, there continues to be
much room for discussion and mutual
enlightenment on the subject of Jesus.

We will discover that, after centuries
of mutual isolation – indeed antagonism –
we are entering an new era of mutual

This approach is truly a pathfinder effort
in the potentially rich engagement of Muslims
and Christians. It should contribute greatly to
a rapprochement.

I encourage you to locate, read, and
share a copy of this important work.


Buy the book from


Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. X, No. 36,  April 19th, 2015


The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere

Posted on: April 11th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

 The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere
By Pico Iyer

Simon & Schuster, a TED Original, 2014
ISBN: 978174678472-4
74 pages


TED talk is available at


Nowhere, Pico Iyer claims, is the most interesting destination.

Iyer, a travel writer by trade, makes this pronouncement in a new work, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere. The book accompanies a 15-minute TED talk, and runs only 74 pages—compact enough to finish in one sitting.

He describes having, as a young man, a dream job as a global affairs writer at Time magazine in New York City. The lifestyle was frenetic and, oddly, gave him pause: “Something inside me felt that I was racing around so much that I never had a chance to see where I was going, or to check whether I was truly happy.”

He quit, and went to Kyoto, Japan. In his single room on a back alley in the ancient city, the thrill of open time stretched out before him “like a meadow.” He was hooked.

Kyoto set him on a life path with recurring trips to “nowhere,” even as he made his living by going places.

What drew him back?

“I felt the liberation of not needing to take my thoughts, my ambitions, myself—so seriously,” he writes. He returned from these sojourns refreshed, whether “nowhere” meant practising stillness at home, visiting a monastery or claiming the hours of a long flight for no agenda at all. Stillness brought new acuity to his art, and cultivated a happiness that motivates the book.

“I don’t claim to have any answers,” Iyer offers, with unconvincing modesty. It’s unconvincing because the work has the marks of a manifesto. Without claiming any religious faith—though clearly influenced by Buddhism—he defends stillness for both its intangible pleasures and practical benefits.

“In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention.”

Most wanderers in harried modern life feel the intuitive truth and pull of his thesis, but actually doing it seems elusive. Many apparently need a more compelling “why” before embarking en masse to nowhere.

The Art of Stillness offers health and happiness as the main rewards of stillness. In contrast, many Christian practitioners of stillness identify a deeper “why” behind their regular pouring out of the mad rush. Emptying, for them, is neither an end in itself nor simply a means to personal happiness. For the disciple of Christ, it promises a refilling with his mind and heart, in order to be his hands and feet to the world. Augustine writes early in Confessions, “Thou has created us for thyself, and our heart knows no rest, until it find repose in thee.” Solitude and stillness, however enjoyable, cannot on their own redeem our restlessness.

Iyer’s conclusion could perhaps be stronger if he highlighted the “why” of stillness beyond personal development. But it remains convincing. His writing is winsome and clear. His credentials as a travel writer give him special authority, and he successfully sells the importance of going nowhere.

“In an age of constant movement,” he writes, “nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”

Wise words.


Michael Wightman is a journalist based in Saint John’s, N.B.


Anglican Journal News, April 10, 2015

Henry David Thoreau: Spiritual and Prophetic Writings

Posted on: April 8th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews


Spiritual and Prophetic Writings
Edited with Intro by Tim Flinders

Modern Spiritual Masters Series
Orbis Books, Maryknoll NY
February, 2015. 196 pages.
Paper $34.50 CAD. Kindle $9.99 CAD.
ISBN #978-1-62698-110-2.



Editor’s Comments:

In 1848, Henry Thoreau mentioned the idea
of retreating into the wilderness, anticipating
a two-year sojourn at Walden Pond (just south
of Concord MA) where he lived.

In an letter exchange with a friend he talked of
“sundering himself from society for this time,
from the spell of institutions, customs, and
conventionalities, that I might lead a fresh,
simple life with God, without and within.” (and)

“I do believe that the outward and inward life
correspond. I do believe in simplicity.”

Thoreau had been educated at Harvard, in Boston,
just east of Concord. He encountered the work of
New England transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo
Emerson, also of Concord. and was smitten by his
call for personal freedom and living in accord with
nature and the inner voice of conscience – radical
views for a culture of the time that was saturated
with an authoritarian Calvinist ideology.

After graduation, Thoreau wrote: “Let men, true
to their natures, cultivate the moral affections,
lead manly and independent lives… Let them make
riches the means, not the end, of existence.”

Thoreau met and cultivated a friendship with
Emerson, who introduced the young man to
many leading writers and intellectuals of the

It was most likely that Emerson suggested
Thoreau keep a journal, a decision that would
contribute significantly to his ultimate reputation
as a writer, social critic and naturalist. Over the
years that journal would serve multiple functions
as a record of his thoughts and impressions,
especially of the natural world. He included there
a rich detail of his empirical observations of plants,
animals and other aspects of nature he encountered
in his daily walks and at the pond.

His spiritual questing led him to mystics of many
ages and he was drawn to medieval Catholic writers
previously unknown to  him because of Protestant
sectarianism and narrow thinking. He was particularly
fond of Augustine, Teresa of Avila and Meister Eckhart.

He was also a pioneer in the study of spiritualities
in non-Christian faith traditions.

Thoreau rejected the Christian redemptive
theology in which he was raised and said:

“God prefers that you approach him as thoughtful,
not penitent… though you are the chief of sinners.”

We may regard Thoreau as a literary stylist of
the first rank, a penetrating social critic, a skilled
and intuitive naturalist, a philosopher. At heart,
however, he was a spiritual seeker.

“My profession,” he would say, “is always to
find God in nature.” Thoreau’s most famous book
and core of his lasting legacy is “Walden” (1854)

– edited from the Introduction


Read his Wikipedia bio:



Review By Wayne A. Holst

My Thoughts:

I first encountered the writings of Thoreau during
the 1960’s in a revealing course on American literature
taught by Dr. Flora Roy, professor of English and the
first woman dean of an Ontario college department.
Today the school is known as Wilfrid Laurier University.

Roy really helped Thoreau speak to me. But at the time
I was not readily able to understand what the man was
talking about. Transcendentalism seemed so distant
to the Christianity I knew, and Thoreau’s nature
reflections seemed a bit strange to a youth brought
up and still living in small town, rural Ontario close
to nature.

But Thoreau has remained an enticing voice for
me. Three years ago, Marlene and I spent a whole
day in Concord MA. We visited the Alcott house,
the Unitarian Church, and indeed, Walden Pond.
So much of my life almost fifty years earlier
came back to me, as with much more experience
I could associate these sights with a world that
was much different for me now.

(Concord is also famous for Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
and as a birthplace of American democracy, but those
stories are for another time.)

As with many books in the Orbis Modern Spiritual
Masters Series, “Henry David Thoreau – Spiritual
and Prophetic Writings” is a worthy introduction
to his story and his work as an eco-spiritualist
and social justice advocate.

It took a hundred years for many people to come
to understand him better and to see him as a
prophet for our time, not just an historical figure.

The book includes selections from many of his
key writings under the categories of – journal
and letters, essentials, spiritual life, sacred nature,
God, religion and the times, essays, and of course,

I know of no better or convenient introduction
to this early American genius than this book.

Thanks again to Orbis and friends like colleague
Robert Ellsberg for bringing it to us in 2015.


Buy the book from


From Orbis Publications:



Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Colleagues List, Vol. X, No. 33,  March  29th, 2015

Essential Shakespeare Handbook

Posted on: April 8th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews





DK Reprint Edition (Jan. 2013)
Paperback. 480 pages. $9.50  CAD.
ISBN #10: 1465402268




From Hamlet and The Tempest to Henry V and
Romeo and Juliet, the Essential Shakespeare
Handbook is a user-friendly, and a beautifully
illustrated guide to every play in the entire
Shakespearean canon, as well as a compelling
portrait of the Bard’s life.

Organized according to the categories of
plays and including a section on his non-
dramatic poetry, this is an excellent basic
tool for gaining insight into the Bard’s poetic

Each of the categories – histories, comedies,
tragedies, and romances – commences with
a well-written essay that explains the nature
of the genre (and the place of Shakespeare’s
works within it) and discusses the themes
and ideas that lay behind the poet’s words.

A more in-depth analysis of each play follows: a
look at the sources that inspired it, an act-by-act
plot outline (with relevant quotes), an annotated
list of the dramatis personae, ideas to ponder
when reading/seeing the play, and, finally, a
discussion of issues associated with the play
and/or its productions. Each treatment is liberally
peppered with informative sidebars, as well as
with clear, color photos of relevant people and

For the poems, similarly organized information
is offered. A number of useful discussions help
put the pieces into their full literary context.

A biography of the playwright, an essay on
Elizabethan society and the theater it spawned,
a discussion of the overall canon, and an
explanation of Shakespeare’s language and
poetic meters round out the text.

This volume is not meant to take the place
of more comprehensive reference works,
such as Michael Dobson and Stanley
Wells’s Oxford Companion to Shakespeare
(Oxford, 2001), but it is an informative,
visually enticing introduction to the world’s
most famous dramatist.

–Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, LaSalle Academy,
  Providence, RI  


Review By Wayne A. Holst

My Thoughts
What prompted me to share this book with
you is the current mounting of “King Lear”
at Theatre Calgary – which Marlene and I
hope to attend this weekend as part of our
season’s subscription.
Here is a Calgary Herald review:


I am happy to learn that the Stratford
Festival plans to film all of Shakespeare’s
plays over the next decade. I may, in
fact, get to see them all in my lifetime –
on stage or at the movies!

This book helps me to prep for any
Shakespeare play Marlene and I get
to see – whether by professional or
amateur companies.

There is no substitute for Harold Bloom’s book
or The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, but
sometimes the preferred preparation time is
just not available. This book arms me with at
least some basic information and I am sure
you would find it to be true for you as well.


Buy the book from
Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. X, No. 31,  March 15th, 2015

Short stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi by Amy-Jill Levine

Posted on: March 16th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

Sure, Jesus Was Son of God. But How Was His Fiction?

Amy-Jill Levine Makes Contribution to Jewish New Testament Lit


By Jerome A. Chanes

Published March 13, 2015, issue of The Jewish Daily Forward,  March 13, 2015.

● Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi
By Amy-Jill Levine
HarperOne, 320 pages, $25.99

When we were children, many of us (especially those of us in yeshivot) were taught to abominate the Christian Scriptures; they were precursors to 2,000 years of Jew hatred. At the very least, it was suggested by our teachers that we could learn nothing from the New Testamant about Jews and Judaism, and that the Christian Bible was the quintessential expression of avodah zara, or idolatry.

To Amy-Jill Levine, who enjoys regnancy among Jewish New Testament scholars, this view is nonsense. Levine, a professor at the Vanderbilt University Divinity School, conceived of and co-edited “The Jewish Annotated New Testament.” An important volume whatever its flaws and holes, it is based on twin premises: First, Jews can learn much about Judaism — especially Judaism in Second Temple Judea — from the Christian Bible; and secondly and more important, illiteracy in Christian Scripture precludes ecumenical dialogue.

It would seem easy to dismiss Levine’s latest work, “Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi,” as a slight book. Big mistake. That Jesus was the consummate storyteller is commonplace. But Levine cogently makes the case that the parables are not mere mayselech, tales and yarns, but that each parable had an “original provocation” or challenge for its original first-century listeners. Levine notes that the authors of the Gospels were among the first interpreters of the parables, and in the process “domesticated” them — a practice that, to the dismay of many, is continued by all too many preachers from the pulpit — diminishing the “original provocation” of the stories.

Levine chooses a dozen or so “short stories,” some of which are well-known parables — “The Good Samaritan” (Who is the “Samaritan” of “The Good Samaritan”?), “The Pearl of Great Price,” “The Rich Man and Lazarus” — and some not in common discourse. She begins each “story” with a literal translation of the tale — this reader discovered that he was able to hear the parable anew, outside the tried and true reading — and then locates the story in its historical and literary context, sweeping away interpretations that distort the original context. Levine is then able to offer the reader (listener, really) fresh readings of what the parable might have suggested to its earliest listeners.

Thus, a parable may not necessarily be about divine grace — a constant trope in the commentaries, often parroted from the pulpit — but about labor practices or economics in first-century Judea. (In many congregations it’s much safer to talk about divine grace than to suggest that society may be saved through corporate aid to the poor!) Or, the parable in its context may not be the story as commonly understood. For example, “The Rich Man and Lazarus” was traditionally understood by many generations of misinformed interpreters as confronting the Jewish view that the rich are righteous by virtue of the fact that they are rich, and the poor are necessarily sinners. Forgotten is the very Jewish view that God is particularly concerned about the poor, widows, orphans and strangers.

Levine’s exploration of first-century Judea is splendid; tax collectors, judges, merchants, widows and mustard trees provide the interstitial tissue for the historical context of the parables. But Levine goes well beyond context. She thoroughly — and wittily — rips the parables from the hands of the “domesticated” interpreters and re-reads them to us in the form that Jesus may very well have intended. In the process, we learn what Judaism could well have been about in Temple times.

All this said, Levine does make a few missteps, some minor, but together they suggest that the author might have taken greater care with the details concerning history and tradition. It’s not clear to me that the Sadducees were just another “group of Jews” — in effect, a sect — as Levine has it. The Sadducees, or Tz’dukim, who were part of the priestly class that controlled the Temple, the power-center in Judea, represented a parallel tradition to the Pharisaic rabbinic leadership. They were not just another sect, but also represented an entirely legitimate tradition in Judea. That the Sadducees were marginalized, indeed demonized, by the rabbinic leadership after the destruction of the Temple is just another example of history being written by the winners. Further, the resurrection of the dead, or t’chi’at ha-meitim, in Jewish tradition is not the same as Olam Ha-Ba — the talmudic “World to Come” — as Levine says it is.

And did Jesus refer to the five books of the Pentateuch by their modern Hebrew names — Bereshit, Sh’mot, Vayikra, Bamidbar and Devarim? Not a chance! These appellations, taken from the first words of each book, are universally used by Jews today, but they date only from the Geonic period, many hundreds of years after Jesus. The titles contemporary to Jesus (as recorded in the Talmud) and used by him were Sefer Y’tzira, M’chilta D’nafkuta, Torat Kohanim, Chumash P’kudim, and Mishne Torah — or, as the Church Fathers correctly had them in translation, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers (or Arithmoi) and Deuteronomy. These questions take nothing away from Amy Levine’s book, which is marvelous, and a serious contribution to the Jewish New Testament literature.

But most important is the lesson of the lessons of the “short stories” of Jesus. In her peroration to the reader, Levine moves past the “domestication” of the parables, and still shows how the parables were — and are — intended to disturb. Ministers, priests, imams and rabbis: take note.

Jerome Chanes, a Forward contributing editor, is the author of four books on Jewish public affairs and history.


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, March 13, 2015

Between the Dark and the Daylight

Posted on: March 11th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

Embracing the Contradictions of Life

By Joan Chittister



Hardcover, 176 pages $17.33 CAD

ISBN – 10:0804140944

ISBN – 13:978 – 0804140942



Review By Wayne A. Holst

My Thoughts:

It was a freeing time in my life when I learned that
people were not good or bad, but good and bad. The
same was true for me.

One of the most meaningful learning experiences
for me has been the study of heroic biography. I
continue to be mentored by great lives. My choice
of biographies has changed, however. In the past
I tried to learn from heroes and heroines that
were flawless and super-human. Now, I seek out
those who are presented “warts and all” with
very human characteristics.

Some of the most valuable spiritual writers today
are those who understand this. I think that is why
Joan Chittister is so much appreciated. It is good
to know that in her mature years, she is still
writing new and creative material.

“Between the Dark and the Daylight” is such a
book and her latest was just published this week.
The time between dark and dawn can be very
threatening to those of us who tend to partially
waken before morning. It is at that time that
we are confronted with some pretty scary things.

One of my recurring dreams at that time is a
situation where I am supposed to be ready for
something and I’m not. Perhaps it’s to catch a
plane, to teach a class, or to have some work
completed by deadline. Invariably, I am unable
to do what I am supposed to do = have my
tickets in hand, have my notes ready to present,
have that task completed before it will be
inspected, etc.

I’m sure that says something about my
personality, but I will leave that to you
psychological analysts out there.

What I think writers like Chittister are trying
to tell us in a book like this is that rather than
dreading the fact “I am falling short” or “missing
that boat” – I need to be opening myself to
what seems bad or a weakness about me. It
is in that awakening and what I do with it that
I can change and become a better person. It’s
not because I become so good, but because I
really know myself better.

The same holds true for those I am inclined to
judge for their inadequacies.

Be alert to the learnings that can be your’s
‘between the darkness and the daylight hours’
and embrace, rather than recoil from the
contradictions that present themselves.

Another fine piece of work by the author.


Buy the book from
Release February 24th, 2015


Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Colleagues List, Vol. X, No. 29,  March  1st, 2015