Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The Name of God is Mercy

Posted on: January 30th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews



A First Title by Pope Francis –

Words of the Pope, who was
interviewed by Andrea Tornielli

Random House Canada
Released January 12th, 2016
Hardcover, 151 pages. $20.50 CAD
ISBN #978-0-399-58863-1



Pope Francis Brief Backgrounder:

Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Buenos

Aires on December 17, 1936. On March 13th,
2013, he became the Bishop of Rome and the
266th Pope of the Catholic Church. On March
13th, 2015, he announced his Holy Year of
Mercy, which began on December 8, 2015,
and will end on November 20, 2016.

Andrea Tornielli is a veteran Vatican reporter,
correspondent for La Stampa, and director of
the Vatican Insiderwebsite. He also writes for
a variety of Italian and international magazines.
His publications include the first biography of the
Pope, Francis: Pope of a New World, which was
translated into sixteen languages, and This
Economy Kills: Pope Francis on Capitalism and
Social Justice, which was translated into nine

Interviewer’s Words:

… when Francis delivered his second homily as
pope (at the Church of St. Anna in the Vatican)
he spoke off the cuff “The message of Jesus is
mercy. For me, and I say this with humility, it
is the Lord’s strongest message…”

“f we think we are righteous, “we do not
know the Lord’s heart, and we will never have
the joy of feeling this mercy!” the new Bishop
of Rome said. Those who are in the habit of
judging people from above, who are sure of
their own righteousness, who are used to
considering themselves just, good, and in the
right, don’t feel the need to be embraced and
forgiven. And there are those who feel the
need but think they are irredeemable because
they have done too many bad things… The
Lord never tires of forgiving (both): never!…

From that first homily which particularly struck
me, there emerged the centrality of the message
of mercy, which would characterize these first
few years of Francis’ papacy. This is the face
of the Church that doesn’t reproach men for their
fragility and their wounds but treats them with
the medicine of mercy…

I thought how wonderful it would be to
(personally) ask the Pope a few questions that
focused on the theme of mercy and forgiveness,
to analyse what these words mean to him as a
man and a priest…

I liked the idea of an interview that would reveal
the heart of Francis and his vision.

The Pope accepted my suggestion. This book is
the fruit of the conversations in his lodgings…
you can read the contents of our conversations
on the pages that follow.

– From the Introduction ‘To the Reader’


By Dr. Wayne Holst

My Thoughts:

The association between Pope Francis and an
authentically lived theology of mercy is not hard
to demonstrate. It seems to be there for all to
see from daily secular news releases. Perhaps
no other theme of his papacy has been more in
evidence. It has endeared him to many within
and beyond the Catholic Church.

So why should you consider buying and reading
this book?

First, the interviewer does a fine job of helping
us to get to know Francis as a person. Francis
does not usually resort to the royal “we” in his
comments or opinions. What a most refreshing
gift this is! Using the third person may keep a
pope from the messiness of daily living but it
hardly helps people to believe he actually
understands and can identify with them. Many
seminarians today discover this primary lesson
when studying pastoral theology, and Francis
learned that lesson well (even though it may
not have been heard in his pre-Vatican II 
classroom when he was studying to be a priest)

Second, because he speaks on such a human
level, we do not tend to hear him first as a
Catholic, but as “one of us” – whatever our
spiritual orientation. To hear him speak and
act “with us” is how I believe Jesus did it when
he walked this earth. That does not mean
Francis always has nice things to say. As with
Jesus, there are a broad range of issues to be
addressed – like hypocrisy, selfishness, or the
dangers of riches. People do not agree with 
Francis because he is “the pope.” They embrace
his words and deeds because of the authentic 
way he comes across.

Third, while Francis addresses mercy on a
personal and human level, he is adept at
translating that approach to much broader
issues like religious peace and international
justice. What better modeling can he offer
us than by posing with the chief rabbi of the
city of Rome, or the president of Iran. Jewish-
Christian relations have always been important
to the pope. This week the Iranian head-of-state 
came for a Vatican visit to discuss the implications
of the new accords his country has just signed
with many other key nations of the world.

Francis helps us to understand that if we
live daily by following the basic values like
being merciful, that can quite readily translate 
helpfully to issues on a broader scale.

If you are thinking about a book for your
Lenten meditation this year, I think this is
one you might consider.

Purchase this volume 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. XI, No. 23,  January 31st, 2016

Peter Craigie Memorial Lecture: Early Christianity – A Bookish Religion

Posted on: January 18th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews


By Dr. Wayne Holst

Peter Craigie Memorial Lecture,
University of Calgary

Tuesday, September 12th, 2016

Dr. Larry Hurtado,
The University of Edinburgh

“Early Christianity – A Bookish Religion”
  Reading, Writing and Disseminating Texts



About the Theme:

In its Roman-era setting of the first three
centuries, Christianity was a novelty in a
number of ways, an important distinguishing
feature being the constitutive place of texts,
in worship, teaching, and group-formation. 
Within the first 250 years or so, Christians
composed at least 200 writings of various
types.  The reading of certain texts quickly
became a regular feature of corporate
worship.  Christians devoted considerable
resources to copying and disseminating their
texts.  They even made what appears to have
been a deliberately counter-cultural preference
for a relatively new book form, the codex, and
seem to have been at the leading edge in
developing this book form for their own
ambitious purposes.

About the Speaker:

Larry Hurtado was most recently the
professorial chair in New Testament in the

University of Edinburgh, where he founded
the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins. 
He is perhaps most well known for his
numerous publications on the origins of
devotion to Jesus, particularly his book,
“Lord Jesus Christ:  Devotion to Jesus in
Earliest Christianity” (Eerdmans, 2003). 
He has also contributed to the study of
New Testament textual criticism and has
led in the study of earliest Christian
manuscripts, as in his book, “The Earliest

Christian Artifacts:  Manuscripts and
Christian Origins (Eerdmans, 2005).  His
forthcoming book emphasizes the distinctive

nature of early Christianity in its Roman-era
setting:  “Destroyer of the Gods: Christian
Distinctiveness in the Roman World” (Baylor
University Press, 2016).  He was elected a

Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in
2008, and was President of the British New
Testament Society, 2009-2012.

The lecture has two parts –

1. Reading texts – in corporate early church 
    worship: Old Testament (Hebrew Bible)
    scriptures, and Christian texts/Paul’s
    letters/Christian gospels

2. Writing texts – over 200 known to exist
    which were adapted for reading –
    Paul’s letters/Gospels/Revelation

I Reading Texts

Textual criticism reveals the significant impact
of Judaism on Jesus. Jewish and Christian texts
were used in church worship from the second
century CE onward. II Timothy 2:15 exhorts:
“Give attention to the public reading and
study of the scriptures.”

Texts appeared in a variety of forms, yet never
did they assume exclusivity. Readers were
originally often pagans and gentiles, without
much awareness of the Hebrew scriptures.
Hebrew Bible texts were used from the beginning
with the intention of showing that “Jesus was
the fulfilment of scripture.”

The manuscripts prepared and used for Christian
worship became a new genre and prescribed
lectionary readings were widespread. All this
emerged from a Jewish matrix. The Torah itself –
The Law and the Prophets – was read regularly
as was done in the Jewish synagogues of the
diaspora. Both Josephus and Philo comment on
this and the practice was replicated in the Christian
churches. Scripture reading at worship was unique
to Judaism and Christianity. This was in contrast
to Greek and Roman religious practice at the time.

Paul’s letters were written with the specific intent
of being read at services of worship. Some were
intended for those with Jewish, and others with
Gentile, backgrounds. Local churches were
encouraged to share these letters amongst
themselves, and these became the first
authoritative Christian scriptures. Such letters
were written surrogates for Paul’s actual presence.

II Peter refers to “other scriptures” with apostolic
status even though there was disagreement over
what texts were most “authentically apostolic”

Still, by the mid-second century, both the Gospels
and Paul’s letters as we know them from the New
Testament were in circulation. These were “waiting”
to become part of the Christian canon.

While not all hearers of these texts were literate,
one literate reader was required in each setting.
Roman culture was strongly focused on written
texts and this is why Christians moved early to
the use of written biblical texts.

In addition to public texts, other texts for more
private devotional usage were circulated too.
Apocryphal books tended to be of this type.

II Writing Texts

For the number of Christians (200,000 by the
second century) there were a remarkable number
of circulating texts and the volume of books
increased rapidly. Letters were common means
of communication at that time and letters by
the Romans Cicero and Seneca, were widely
circulated. Paul was only following customs
already familiar to many. Nevertheless, Paul’s
letters tended to be lengthier than most writers.

A variety of texts existed – e.g. homilies, treatises,
martyr stories and books on church order. It was
not long before both “heretical” and “serious”
texts emerged. We know of many texts of which
we have no copies but which were mentioned in
the texts we do have.

Paul used his letters (Romans 71,000 words;
Philippians 16,000) for serious teaching, as was
practiced by the Greek and Roman philosophers.

“Great men” biographies were popular and this
is why Christians took to hearing Jesus stories
read. These became the first gospels. Such
gospels were unique and not part of the Jewish
tradition (no existing gospels of Moses or Elijah,
for example.) In the eventual New Testament,
Jesus gets a lot of space. Four gospels-worth!

Apocalyptic literature (last times themes) like
Revelation which was sent to “Seven Churches
of Asia) by the apostle John (or written in his
name) formed another new genre of books, even
though the Old Testament book of Daniel emerged
as a similar type of “textually self-conscious”
literature. They were written with a greeting,
a body, and a closing benediction and as a single,
unified composition.

First written as prophetic, not apocalyptic, literature
Revelation represents the urgency of the Christian
late/first, early/second century period from which
it emerged. While Paul probably used a scribe to
take down his words, John (or his namesake) may
well have written his book himself.

Copying and dissemination of early texts took much
time and effort. These circulated through the early
Christian networks and interactions. Texts were
usually hand-delivered to the designated recipient
and these deliveries were costly, and given high

While the original Christian texts were written
in scroll-form, a preference for codices developed 
(stitched pages into a book-format as we know it
today.) This was likely a counter-cultural move
on the part of Christians because scrolls were
still commonly accepted in general society.

Noma Sacra or “Sacred Name” texts were a Christian
invention of the time. These writings focused on
key words like Jesus/Christ/God /Lord and was a
Christian scribal innovation to “set off” certain terms
believed to be significant about the faith. This was a
take-off from the Hebrew term “Yahweh” but only for
Christians the terms were direct references, not
substitutes for divine names.

A vivid textual culture is key to understanding
Christian “bookishness” from the very beginning.
This development was distinct. Texts became
central for Christians – even as Jews and later,
Muslims became known as “People of the Book”
in their own distinct ways. This set apart the
three faiths of Jerusalem from the other great 
faith traditions.


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. XI, No. 21,  January 17th, 2016

Preparing for Christmas

Posted on: December 23rd, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

Daily Meditations for Advent
by Richard Rohr (2012)

Franciscan Media. Paperback
93 pages. $12.00 CAD.
ISBN #978-1616364785


Review By Wayne A. Holst

My Thoughts:

In typical meditational style, this short
booklet provides reflections for all four
weeks and thirty days prior to Christmas.

Each reading of about three short pages
contains scripture passages, a meditation,
and a question for reflection.

Many people appreciate this kind of
preparatory reading in anticipation of
Christmas (Advent) and Easter (Lent )
the major festivals of the church year.

Richard Rohr is one of those special
writers who is able to bridge the
spiritual traditions, and even the
divide between secular and sacred.

Rohr has thought through this material
over many years, and the result is a
refined and mature presentation of
what it means to be spiritual.

For a good preparatory reflection
in anticipation of Christmas, this
93 page booklet is a treasure.


See more from Franciscan Media:

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. XI, No. 15,  November 29th, 2015

Christian Unity: How You Can Make a Difference

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


How You Can Make a Difference
by Thomas Ryan

Paulist Press (Oct. 2015)
$25.00 CAD. 212 pages.
ISBN #978-0-8091-4950-5



Review By Wayne A. Holst

My Thoughts:

Over the years, I have watched intra-church and
inter-faith ecumenism emerge, evolve, and in
some cases, fizzle. Some of you who read these
words must understand what I am saying.

We watched with youthful enthusiasm the
breakthroughs of the Second Vatican Council
and these were an encouragement to all
Christians because it involved a major player,
the Roman Catholic Church. Some of us even
specialized in mission and ecumenism, like
the author once more suggests we need to do.

But disappointments during a stretch of half
a century have taken their toll. New inter-faith
ventures captured our imaginations. In some
respects, this focus was safer, because we
tended to put other “faiths” in a separate
category from different “churches.” 

The vision of a more “visible” Christian unity
has been strongly influenced by post-modern
thinking about the “value” of diversity in our
contemporary global cultures. Accepting
diversity, however, may be an excuse for
not struggling toward a greater unity.

Tom Ryan, a friend for more than 30 years,
is not satisfied with allowing differences to
remain between Christians.  He believes, like
Jesus – and idealistically – that we should be
doing more to “walk the talk” of Christian

At this stage of my life, I am encouraged
by the appearance of a book like this. Ryan
does believe that all of us can make a
difference. And for those who might view
that as fantasy, need I only ask – “Who would
have imagined the emergence of Pope Francis?”

Even the pope cannot bring about Christian
unity as much as he might like to make it
happen. Ultimately, that depends on the
Holy Spirit working in many and diverse ways.
Perhaps serendipity may also play a part.

The first two chapters of this book focus on
the theological foundations of ecumenism –
the “why?” and the “what?” – that are required
for staying the course in Ryan’s estimation. He
then looks closely in the ensuing chapters at
a broad range of grassroots possibilities for
the engagement of laity and clergy alike at
local levels. These are “action chapters” after
the foundational theory has been stated.

As much as I have experienced much ecumenical
disappointment over the years, I, like Tom Ryan,
have not lost hope for a more visible, unified 
expression of the body of Christ. I need some
new ideas and possibilities on my faith journey.

Who knows but that the hiatus too many of us
have endured may have been a good thing. We
have done some “wandering in the wilderness”
but hopefully we are entering a time to live more
fully into the Promised Land! We have been
refined, and continued to prepare ourselves.

Thanks, Tom, for reviving my spirit.

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. XI, No. 16,  December 6th, 2015

Theologian documents global scale of gender-based violence against women

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

Students of a midwifery school in El Fasher, North Darfur, participate in a march in December 2013 as part of a campaign against Gender Violence.
Photo Credit: UN Photo / Albert González Farran

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] A new book by the Anglican theologian Dr Elaine Storkey, Scars Across Humanity, documents her extensive research on gender-based violence against women and the role that the church plays – for good or ill – in the struggle against the global problem. It is being launched today in the Speaker’s rooms at the House of Commons in London.

Dr Elaine Storkey, a former member of the General Synod, served as president for the Christian relief agency Tearfund for 16 years and in that role travelled the world to see for herself how rape and other forms of sexual violence is often used as a weapon in war and conflict.

“War embodies a gender paradox,” she writes. “It is traditionally fought by male military combatants, yet from every international or non-international war zone we hear reports of brutal violence against women. In our contemporary world, according to Amnesty International, 90 per cent of casualties in modern warfare are civilian and of these 75 per cent are women and children.

“The number of women involved in coercive violence is staggering. In the 100 days of genocide that ravaged the small African nation of Rwanda, an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 women and girls were raped. In Sierra Leone, between 1991 and 2000, about 64,000 internally displaced women endured sexual assault.

“In the Balkans tensions of the 1990s, thousands of women in Bosnia- Herzegovina and Kosovo experienced terrible violations involving mass rape: 20,000 to 50,000 women were violated in the Bosnian conflict over three years. During the Liberian civil war, from 1999 to 2003, about 49 per cent of women aged 15 to 70 experienced sexual violence from soldiers or armed militia. . .

“As recently as 2014, chronic instability and lawlessness in the Central African Republic opened up another wave of violence against women, and the brutal barbarity of Islamic State fighters continues the vicious process. Yet none of this awful scenario is new. Sexual violence was prevalent in Europe as far back as the 1914–18 War; it was in Asia during the Asia–Pacific Wars, and across more than one continent in the Second World War.

“One hundred years after the outbreak of the First World War, the National Catholic Reporter called for us to properly recognize gender-based violence in war for what it surely is: ‘Beheadings and bombings are seen as terrorist acts, but the systematic rape, abduction, and trafficking of women as a war tactic is still viewed only as a women’s or humanitarian issue. Until we recognize these acts of sexual violence as acts of terrorism and not simply as a humanitarian concern it will be difficult to combat these ongoing, catastrophic attacks on women.’”

Dr Storey’s research doesn’t focus exclusively on the use of rape as a weapon of war. Her research addresses a full spectrum of gender-based-violence including rape, trafficking and prostitution, intimate-partner violence, so-called honour killings, child marriage, child abuse, and female genital mutilation.

Bookcover _scars _against _humanityIt also addresses what Dr Storey refers to as violence before birth – selective abortion and infanticide based on the sex of the foetus. She points out that in India, where female infanticide has existed for centuries, female foeticide has now joined the fray.

“Dr Sabu George, a Delhi-based researcher, has spent the past quarter-century exposing what he calls ‘the worst kind of violence’ in Indian history – the elimination of millions of unborn girls,” she writes. “He regards it as nothing less than ‘genocide’, and describes the first few months in the womb as ‘the riskiest part of a woman’s life cycle in India’.

On child marriage, which she refers to as “child abuse by another name,” Dr Storkey says that “Every three seconds a girl under the age of 18 is married somewhere across the world – usually without her consent and sometimes to a much older man.

“The United Nations Population Fund suggests that, every day, 39,000 girls marry too young. It is predicted that more than 140 million child brides will have entered marriage in the decade up to 2020, 18.5 million of them under the age of 15; if nothing changes, the annual figure will grow from 14.2 million in 2010 to 15.1 million in 2030. As the General Secretary of the World Young Women’s Christian Association observes, the number of children married under age is now higher than the total population of Zimbabwe!

“Figures like these do indicate the massive numerical scale of the problem and the difficulties in eliminating it. But they do not unpack the human misery enfolded inside them. A moving exhibition mounted in 2014 by the United Nations in Geneva opened that up. Through very sober photographs and short, poignant narratives we came face to face with the wrecked hopes and tragic lives of survivors of child marriage.

“Ghulam had wanted to be a teacher, but was pulled out of school at 11 to marry a 40-year-old man; 14-year-old Afisha, in Ghana, was unable to be educated because of her father’s poverty, and instead was sold as a bride for cola nuts and 60 Cedis [about £10 GBP]; Asia was ill and bleeding from childbirth at 14, as she cared for her two-year-old child and new- born baby.”

Ian _Britton _Elaine _Storkey

Elaine Storkey pictured here as she addressed the 2008 Baptist Assembly in Blackpool, England. Photo: Ian Britton.


The accounts within Scars Across Humanity are blunt and harrowing. But they need to be. The issue of gender based violence is not a soft, fluffy, comfortable issue. The book brings this home without hiding the brutality involved.

Jackie Harris, the editor of Woman Alive magazine, described the book as “Powerful and absorbing” and says it “painstakingly documents the gross injustices facing women around the world.

“Some of the stories made headlines, many passed unnoticed and too many occurred much closer to home than we might realize,” she says. “This is not an easy book to read, but it is a necessary book. I hope the stories she shares and facts she brings before us will encourage us all to pray – and to join in the work of bringing healing and an end to gender-based violence.”

The founder of the Santa María Education Fund in Sante Fe, Paraguay, writer and theologian Margaret Hebblethwaite, said that “We all know that acts of violence against women are a problem, but never have we realized the scale of the problem is so huge.

“Where others would be cautious to speak out for fear of offending the sensibilities of other cultures, Elaine Storkey is clear and fearless, inspired by true compassion. Scrupulously researched and documented, illustrated with both statistics and personal stories, this is a book that changes perceptions and could play a substantive role in achieving change.”

And the Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons in the UK, said that Dr Storkey “captures most vividly for her readers the way in which patriarchy, religious and cultural traditions, complications in the law, lack of education (not always) and isolation can combine and lead to women being abused, being permanently disfigured or their untimely death.

“This violation of the human rights of girls and women is indeed a ‘deep scar’ across humanity. The collusion that perpetuates the deepening of this scar will only cease when there is true respect given to girls and women in societies throughout our world.”

Scars Across Humanity is being launched at a private reception in the Speaker’s rooms in the House of Commons today. It will receive its public launch at the Christian Resources Exhibition in Eastbourne and the Church House Bookshop in Westminster next Wednesday, 25 November, to coincide with the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

It is published by SPCK.


Anglican Communion News Service, ACNS Today’s news, November 19, 2015


Posted on: November 17th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

Reading The Bible Amid the

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,
by Walter Brueggemann

Westminster John Knox Press
Louisville, KY. Aug. 2015.
Paper. 88 pages. $18.00 CAD
ISBN #13-978-0-664-26154-2.



Review By Wayne A. Holst

My Thoughts:

It is foolish to continue applying biblical precepts
to modern situations when historical, social and
cultural circumstances have changed.

The Bible’s understanding of the role of women, for
example, is now considered needing re-interpretation
by almost all Christians today except the most
fundamentalist. That holds for Judaism as well, where
many enlightened Hebrew thinkers have been voicing
considerable disagreement with those Jews who hold
to traditional biblical gender role understandings.

The same holds true for people of both faiths who seek
to engage the seemingly insurmountable problems
facing modern Israel and its internal and external

When our travel group from Western Canada visited
the Holy Land recently, we wanted to go with “an
open mind” and sought to hear representatives of
Jewish, Christian and Muslims there – seeking truth
and justice for all. This was no small desire, and a
guarenteed road to frustration I might add.

Still, as Brueggemann says above, the challenge
remains to continue our deep concern for the Holy
Land and all its people, simply because the meaning
of the place and the situation demand it.

The book consists of four main chapters that deal
succinctly with the Bible and the conflict; the issue
of what it means to be “God’s chosen people” –
both claim and problem; what the term “Holy Land”
means today; and concerning matters that relate
to Zionism and Israel.

This is followed by a “Q and A” with Breuggemann;
a helpful glossary of terms and a guide to studying
this book with local groups.

If study groups are done locally in your case, I
would suggest that members might include
liberal and conservative Christians, as well as
constructive members of the Jewish and Muslim
communities known to you.

I have discovered, as a result of our travels in
the Holy Land, that it is not realistic to deal only
with people or groups with whom you agree.
What is needed, is mutual respect and a willingness
to listen to what members differing from you are
saying authentically from their hearts.

We owe visionaries like Jimmy Carter, Bill
Clinton and other political figures much gratitude
for their tangible investment in Holy Land
affairs. We owe religious visionaries who have
worked with people of all backgrounds to apply
peace and justice to inter-faith as well as
political matters.

There are too many intransigent people on
all sides of these complex issues, but honest
dialogue and progress remain possible, it
seems to me.

In spite of weariness and disappointment, we,
along with teachers like Breuggemann, must not
disengage from so great a cause.

And we owe it to ourselves to “not grow weary
in well-doing” as we seek to be open and involved.

I find this book most helpful and am grateful to 
the author for writing it from the wisdom of his

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. XI, No. 13,  November  15th, 2015


Not in God’s Name

Posted on: November 17th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

Confronting Religious Violence

by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Random House Canada, 2015.
Hardcover. 305 pp. $23.79 CAD
ISBN # 978-0-8052-4334-5.



Review By Wayne A. Holst

My Thoughts:

Many have recently read Karen Armstrong’s
scholarly volume “Fields of Blood – Religion
and Violence” an extensive, enlightened study
of the association between two powerful forces
in our world. The connection between the two
has existed from time immemorial.

Still, Armstrong believes that true religion is
compassionate and seeks peace in spite of
what many have done in its name.

Armstrong writes from a British Christian
background, with a strong global and interfaith

The Sacks book under consideration here
is by a British author who is Jewish. Like
Armstrong, he has strong academic credentials
but addresses the issue of religion and violence
from a Hebrew Bible perspective.

That is the first important point that stands
out for me. Christians take the Hebrew Bible
as authoritative, but they also view things
from the perspective of Christ and the missionary
impetus of the early church. Christianity was
based in Judaism but evolved into a faith that
has appealed primarily to Gentiles.

The similarities and differences between
Judaism and Christianity are important to
keep in mind as we move from a Christian
to an interfaith discussion on a pivotal theme. 

“Abraham himself,” writes Rabbi Sacks, “sought
to be a blessing to others regardless of their faith.”
That idea, ignored for many of the intervening
centuries, remains the simplest definition of
Abrahamic faith. “To be a blessing to others
regardless of their faith” is not classically the way
we might describe the missionizing and conversion-
seeking focus of Christianity (or Islam for that matter.)

There is much we can learn from a faith tradition
that is, at its heart, not a missionary one but a

The second important point that stands out for
me is that the three religions of Jerusalem are
being addressed by a representative of Judaism,
the founding tradition of the three. In addition,
the author is concerned about religion and violence
in all the great religious traditions – both east and
west. Thus, he is concerned about global missionary
as well as non-missionary faiths.

We are fortunate to read from a scholar firmly
grounded in the Abrahamic tradition but open to
all traditions.

Finally, I would suggest that what we learn from
Armstrong and Sacks opens the door to a similar
contribution from the Islamic perspective. The
commitment to justice, peace  and reconciliation 
is also very real in Islam. We need to hear that.

Sacks brings to the attention of Christians
and others a view of faith and reality that we
should respect “from an older brother.”

As you, like me, continue to seek guidance and
pursue truth from an ever-expanding array of
religious insights, I highly recommend this book
to you.

The author shares many of my own perspectives
on the subject and helps to refine and enhance

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. XI, No. 12,  November  8th, 2015

An inside look at Canada’s first Anglican sisterhood

Posted on: November 13th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews



The Story of an Anglican Sisterhood
by The Sisterhood of St. John the Divine

Edited by Jane Christmas and Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD
Dundurn Press, 2015
272 pages, 130 colour illustrations, paperback
ISBN 978-1-45972-369-6

These sisters are doin’ it for themselves—and helping everyone else along the way.

A Journey Just Begun: The Story of an Anglican Sisterhood, published by Toronto-based publisher Dundurn Press Ltd., is a milestone of the 130th anniversary of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine (SSJD).

The sisterhood was the first of its kind to be set up in Canada, and while there were countless personalities that dominated the order over the years, it is still very much a collective of souls working for the greater good.

This humble, collaborative spirit becomes apparent from the title page onward—there is no author listed. It is only when one delves into the acknowledgments on the back page that it becomes clear that Toronto writer Jane Christmas is listed as having helped Canon Sr. Constance Joanna Gefvert, vocations co-ordinator, in writing and editing the text.

While more popularly known as a travel memoir writer, Christmas got to know the SSJD nuns after spending some time there as she contemplated taking vows, before publishing the book And Then There Were Nuns (2013). As such, Christmas brings both the outsider’s perspective to the book married with the respectful tone of someone who has, albeit briefly, lived the life of the sisters.

It would have been so easy to turn this book into an insular scrapbook, filling it with unexplained theological phrases, terminology and insider anecdotes, of little interest to the outside world and akin to attending your spouse’s company awards dinner. One could easily see such a thing happening in the cloistered world of nuns.

But that is not the case here.

The book begins with the sisterhood’s history, even before their 1884 founding, but the rest is an eclectic mix of poetry, art work, music and even recipes that is not overly familiar, but does allow the reader to enjoy some of the personality and the inner spiritual workings of the sisters. A good portion of the book includes a section devoted to their convent and guest house in Toronto. Each room gets its own chapter, preceded by a relevant Bible verse.

While the book highlights the steady stream of outside interests asking for the nuns’ help in running everything from orphanages to homes for unwed mothers to schools to, most famously, the hospital now known as St. John’s Rehab at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, it does not shy away from also chronicling that not all of their endeavours were successful, or, had simply run their course.

Over the years, the sisters have adapted their prayer schedules, but insist that prayer remain first and foremost in their daily lives—though the book does acknowledge the creeping demands of, say, tending to the ill.

Like the subject matter, the book is spiritually sensitive, but up for the intellectual rigour and ardour of the world we live in.

Desmond Devoy is a newspaper reporter and broadcaster based in Smiths Falls, Ont.


Anglican Journal News, November 13, 2015

Henri Nouwen’s unpublished works to release 20 years after death

Posted on: November 12th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

The Catholic writer’s books have sold more than 7 million copies worldwide. Here's what fans can expect when his unpublished letters and partial manuscripts are released starting next year? (Image of Henri Nouwen at his New Haven apartment circa 1981 courtesy of Jim Forest -

(New York) Henri Nouwen, the late Catholic priest who published nearly 40 books during his lifetime, left behind thousands of pieces of unpublished material when he died in 1996. Beginning next year—the 20th anniversary of Nouwen’s death—new collections of this material will be released to the world.Convergent Books, a division of Penguin Random House, has signed a multi-book contract with the Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust. The first book is scheduled to hit bookstores in September of 2016 and will be a collection of unpublished letters under the working title “Love, Henri.” The specific content of the projects is being kept secret, but those involved with the project hinted that the books might offer fresh revelations about Nouwen’s life and thinking, including details about the priest’s personal struggles.

Karen Pascal, executive director of the Henri Nouwen Society and Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust, says she was aware that her organization had “a treasure of wonderful unpublished materials” for years. This includes partially completed manuscripts and more than 5,000 letters, which have been sitting in an archive at the Kelly Library at the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, Canada.

Gabrielle Earnshaw, curator of the Henri J.M. Nouwen Archives, is responsible for selecting which letters will appear in the book. She has chosen correspondences written between 1973 and 1996 that are primarily pastoral in nature.

“I’ve chosen letters where Henri is responding to people who are in some form of crisis and are looking for direction,” Earnshaw says. “I’ve also chosen letters in which he is struggling with similar issues to the ones that he is responding too.”

Nouwen’s struggles included attraction to other men, which has been a source of much curiosity among his admirers. He never publicly acknowledged his identity as a gay man during his life, and by all accounts, he remained true to his priestly vow of celibacy until his death.

“[Nouwen] had a very intense emotional life, a need to be held, and a desire for love. And, in his letters, he addressed questions of how he lives his sexuality and how he lives his celibacy,” Earnshaw says. “But I’m hoping that the issue of his sexuality doesn’t overshadow his genuine search for love, intimacy, and friendship.”

“Love, Henri” will include nearly 200 letters from the archives. According to Gary Jansen, senior editor at Convergent who is overseeing the Nouwen projects, added the “letters will probe all the topics that Nouwen is known for—brokenness, solitude, what its like to be a bit of an outsider and outcast, and how we can find hope in all of that.”

In addition publishing the letters, Convergent intends to release a gift edition of Nouwen’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son” around Christmas 2016 and a devotional of previously unpublished content sometime the following year.

The third book’s focus and subject is yet to be determined, but Earnshaw says it may focus on a unique idea Nouwen was developing since 1992. That year, he observed that trapeze artists in the circus are able to fly, take risks and be courageous because they know they have a catcher. Nouwen had an insight that humans can do the same, spiritually speaking, because they have God as a catcher.

“Henri intended to write a book based on this metaphor but he did not complete it by the time he died,” Earnshaw says. “We’re trying to find someone who can take that idea and share it in some way.”

Regardless of their subject matter, these books are significant because of their author. Nouwen was one of the first Christian writers to combine clinical psychology with spirituality. Almost all of his 40 books, including “The Life of the Beloved” and “The Wounded Healer,” are still in print today and have sold an estimated 7 million copies in 30 different languages. He pioneered an ‘intimate journal’ style of spiritual writing, and modern writers like Anne Lamott, Ronald Rolheiser, and Richard Rohr say claim their writing was inspired by Henri.

“Henri Nouwen is one of the most important spiritual writers of the 20th century, and there is still a tremendous appetite to hear from him,” Pascal says. “People will be glad to know that his compassionate heart and authenticity comes through in his previously unpublished material.”


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, November 06, 2015

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: Confronting the roots of violence

Posted on: November 2nd, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews


 By Lauren Markoe

Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks. Photo courtesy of Blake-Ezra Photography

(RNS) Religious zealots fill newspapers and screens with bloody images of bombings and beheadings. They kidnap children and make them into soldiers. They pray before they rape women.

But “not in God’s name,” says Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Great Britain, who just published a book by that title.

“The greatest threat to freedom in the post-modern world is radical, politicized religion,” Sacks writes. Religion News Service asked Sacks how people can kill in the name of God, and how religion can counter religious extremists. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You write that the world is moving into a more religious age, and that this is not necessarily a good thing. Why?

A: Ours is an age of unprecedented radical change, and people search for something that doesn’t change, that is eternal. And of all such things, God is the ultimate. And there is a specific factor in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and that is the perceived failure of Western regimes. That is leading to a whole series of religious counterrevolutions. That’s what’s happening in Iraq and Syria. It’s what happened in Iran. To some extent it is happening in India with Hindu nationalism.

And throughout the world, the more religious you are, the more children you have. Simply on an actuarial basis you can predict that the world will be more religious a generation from now. I am not giving thanks here for a more religious age. The truth is that not all the great religions and not all the great leaders of religions are fully adapted to living in a world of complexity and diversity. And the face religion is showing the world today is not a smiling one.

"Not In God's Name" by Jonathan Sacks. Photo courtesy of Schocken Books

Q: “Not in God’s Name” examines Torah stories to show how even violent biblical episodes teach love toward the stranger. You want this exercise repeated with other sacred texts, but not by you. Why?

A: Because a Jew cannot do it for a Christian. Only a Christian can do it for a Christian. Only a Muslim can do it for a Muslim. I just thought it helpful for people in other religions to be able to see how we do it in Judaism.

Q: You note in your book that those committing the worst atrocities in the name of religion often know little about their own faith and care less about the faith of others. They’re not reading your book, so who did you write it for?

A: This book is meant to encourage a recruitment and inspiration of a new generation of religious leaders — Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, you name it — who will lead the great faiths a generation from now in such a way that they make space for one another, in coexistence and mutual respect. This book is a long-term call to all the faiths, to make space for the religious “other.” It’s not a quick fix. There is no quick fix.

Q: Speaking of the “religious other,” you tackle the concept within the book in terms of sibling rivalry, in particular with the story of Jacob and Esau. Why focus so much onsibling rivalry and how it playsout on the world stage?

A: I was looking at the very roots of human violence. The two people who have had the most profound insight in the 20th century were Sigmund Freud and Rene Girard. Girard’s book “Violence and the Sacred” was a very prophetic work. It appeared in the 1970s, and he predicted that religion and violence would both continue into the future. Both Freud and Girard point to sibling rivalry as a real driver of human violence. Freud thought that the No. 1 driver was the hostility of sons toward their fathers. But if you look through world literature, you’ll see that sibling rivalry is much more significant — in Egyptian myth, Greek myth, the Roman story of Romulus and Remus, or the Hebrew Bible itself. If you were to rid the world overnight of religion, there would still be violence.

Q: This week marked the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican document that decried anti-Semitism and promulgated a more brotherly relationship between Catholics and Jews. How has Pope Francis modeled engagement with other faiths?

A: Francis has acknowledged the spiritual contribution of Judaism to the world more affirmatively than any previous pope. And Nostra Aetate has shown how centuries of estrangement and hostility can be reversed, by one single, generous gesture within a faith. That for me is a great signal of hope. If it can happen between Catholics and Jews, then it can happen between Christians and Muslims, and between Jews and Muslims. But it will take really open leadership that understands that what God is calling us to in the 21st century is something very challenging and very new.

Q: Does Judaism need its own Pope Francis, somebody who can model this faith? Does Islam?

A: We need that in every faith and we need it very seriously. In 1942, one of the darkest periods of human history, in Britain Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple and Chief Rabbi of Great Britain Joseph Hertz formed the Council of Christians and Jews. That was a signature gesture at a very crucial period. I  think the Dalai Lama today has shown likewise. It is a matter of personal humility and the generosity of your embrace.


Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe covered government and features as a daily newspaper reporter for 15 years before joining the Religion News Service staff as a national correspondent in 2011. She previously was Washington correspondent for The State (Columbia, S.C.)
Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, October 30, 2015