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Grant Wacker: America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation

Posted on: December 19th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews


Grant Wacker: Billy Graham was a model for what Americans wanted to be

The author of “America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation” explains how the great evangelist reflected and changed 20th-century American culture.


The story of Billy Graham — the North Carolina dairy farmer’s son who grew up to preach to millions and hobnob with presidents — is well-known. So why write another book about him?

For historian Grant Wacker, the existing books still left some important territory unexplored.

Grant Wacker“I thought that the many biographies already written did not address one of the most interesting questions, which is the intersection between Graham and the American culture,” said Wacker, the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Christian History at Duke Divinity School.

In his new volume, “America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation,” Wacker explores these questions and also shares his experience visiting with Graham, who recently turned 96.

Graham’s appeal — particularly to white, middle-class Americans — and his sophisticated use of media helped make him one of the most powerful and revered men in the nation and the world.

Wacker spoke to Faith & Leadership about Graham and his impact on American culture. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: You say he had an uncanny ability to adopt trends and use them for his evangelical purposes. What are some examples?

He interacted with the Southernization trends. He was always proud of his Southern roots, and he made no attempt to hide them or to mask his Southern accent. He maintained a typically Southern style of self-presentation — more casual, down-home.

The second way is that he astutely understood the power of media in the post-World War II age. He understood the power of the sound bite, the crisp word, the crisp answer.

He grasped the power of electronic media, so he established the “Hour of Decision” radio and television programs. He also established Christianity Today, which is now the most widely read Christian periodical in the world.

He also was very good with reporters. He was extraordinarily handsome, and virtually all newspaper accounts in one way or another referred to his Hollywood face, his Hollywood looks — the blond hair, blue eyes and tall and athletic physique. He exercised rigorously, and he was aware of his appearance.

I think the third way he appropriated trends is that he was a great organizer. He organized the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and he knew how to find and deploy people who could do what he could not do.

And then I would say that he was very effective at understanding the desire for building bridges. He never used the word “ecumenism,” but he pioneered the practice among evangelicals. He went out of his way to reach out to the mainline, to reach out to Roman Catholics, to Pentecostals, Mormons, Jews.

He went as far as he could, without sacrificing his own message, to emphasize the commonalities.

So unlike, let’s say, the ’70s and ’80s, where we see a deep bifurcation, in the era that Graham rose, there was a desire for the commonality.

Q: How did he influence larger culture?

I would say that what was very important especially within the evangelical world is that his personal life modeled what he preached. And whether or not Americans maintained those standards in their personal lives, they admired Graham for doing so.

He maintained an impeccable record of marital fidelity. His finances were never questioned. He stressed honesty in reporting the figures.

He won a great deal of approval because he refused to criticize or even respond to criticism. He received vitriolic criticism all his life from the left and the right and from all corners, and he refused to respond.

So I think all of these traits, habits, commitments flow together, and Americans saw him as a model for the kind of lives that they would like to live.

Q: In what other ways did he change Christian life in America? Can you say, “Before Billy Graham it was like this, and after him it was like that?”

I do not know of a firm marker. I can infer from a lot of evidence that he was instrumental in changing things in a number of ways.

The first is civil rights. He was not in the vanguard on civil rights, but he was far ahead of his constituency. He made clear that one could not be a Christian and still hold racial prejudice in one’s heart. It’s hard to measure, but he insisted from the early to mid-1950s onward, with great vigor, that racism was sin. It wasn’t just a mistake; it was sin — and that sin could not be tolerated.

The second way that I think he helped change the landscape is that to become part of the public conversation, evangelicals needed to respect their conversation partners. They needed to come to the table and respect the views of people who did not agree with them theologically.

Q: Which was different from the tradition from which he came.

It was dramatically different. In his early years, he was a purebred fundamentalist. But very quickly in his ministry, he changed. He didn’t change his own ideas very much, but there was very little that he saw as cause for disfellowshipping others.

America's PastorQ: Your book has been praised for looking at Graham evenhandedly, although you are an admirer of his and you don’t hide that. What do you think were his weaknesses and his biggest mistakes?

I would break down the question into mistakes and unproductive character traits. There were two major mistakes. The first and the more prominent one was his entanglement with Richard Nixon. He followed Nixon in the Vietnam War long after most Americans had become deeply skeptical of the warrant for the war.

And then with Watergate, he defended Nixon far beyond the time that most Americans saw that something was terribly amiss. So the first and greater problem was this vulnerability to Nixon’s malign charisma.

And the second problem also related to Nixon. In 1972, Graham was having what he thought was a private conversation in Nixon’s office, and Nixon made scurrilous statements about Jews, and Graham contributed to this conversation by saying that Jews controlled the media, and then he made other odious comments about Jews.

He was drawn into this by Nixon. I know of no other place in his entire record — among the millions of words he uttered — I know of no other place where he uttered any anti-Semitic comments.

So those were definable mistakes, and he repeatedly apologized. In later years, he regretted his involvement with Nixon. He repeatedly apologized for what he had said about Jews when it was revealed in 2002.

The character issue is that I think he never fully grasped his legitimating power, how his presence legitimated other people, other causes, and so in that sense he was naive. Now, what also has to be said here is he was a deeply humble man. Everybody said it, and I saw it in my visits with him. He couldn’t imagine himself having this power. I think that’s the heart of it. Nonetheless, he allowed this to happen, and it limited his influence.

He also enjoyed the association with power. And maybe that would be another character limitation. He was enamored with power, with the glamour of power.

For 10 consecutive presidents, he was a constant presence in Washington, and with four of the presidents he was very close. He routinely overnighted in the White House.

Q: Was there a tension in his own life between the ego and the humility?

His vision was expansionist without limitation. He wanted to preach the gospel to everyone, everywhere. He preached to more than 200 million people face to face. And until John Paul II, this was undoubtedly more people than any other person had ever faced, evangelist or otherwise.

I think there is no question that he was extremely ambitious with reference to his work, his profession. He was a very humble man personally, but sometimes those realms overlap.

Q: Graham has been criticized for not doing enough in race relations, yet he’s also been held up as being progressive. What do you think?

He grew remarkably over the course of his career. He started as a son of the South. He grew up viewing African-Americans as people who should be treated politely, but the attitude was paternalistic, and he acknowledged that.

His early crusades in the 1940s were segregated. Sometimes it was self-segregation. Sometimes they were separated by a rope down the middle. That was the evangelical tradition in the South.

By the early ’50s, this began to gnaw at him, and he admonished his own Southern Baptist Convention for their policy of not accepting African-Americans into their schools. And then in 1953, in a crusade in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he saw the ropes out there and he personally went and pulled them down.

He wavered later in that same year. The ropes went back up. And he became more cautious in the 1960s in the face of the rise of black power, but these were peregrinations in an overall trajectory that was without question a progressive one.

By 1982, he said when he was in a crusade in Moscow that he’d undergone three conversions in his life. The first was to Christ, the second was to racial justice, and the third was to nuclear disarmament.

Q: The fear of communism and Soviet power and nuclear weapons was powerful at that time.

The most dramatic change in his life was his attitude toward international affairs. In the late ’40s, the early ’50s, he was a strident anti-communist. Now, most Americans were, and most prominent Americans were, so that’s nothing unusual, but he was among the most strident, and he was unapologetic about it.

By the end of his public career, he became a strong proponent of nuclear disarmament. He felt that the human race was on the precipice of destroying itself, and the only solution was an immediate attempt to mutually disarm.

Q: Was he leading change in American culture, was he influenced by the changes around him, or was he riding the wave of change?

In most respects, he was riding the wave of change, but he was near the front end of the wave. As I said with reference to race, he was not in the vanguard. There were other evangelicals, like his brother-in-law Leighton Ford, who were on the vanguard. Graham himself was not there.

With reference to war, I think he was absolutely at the vanguard. I can’t think of any other evangelical that took a public stand as he did by the late ’70s and the ’80s.

Now, another area where he was progressive was with reference to building bridges with Roman Catholics. He was far ahead of virtually all evangelicals here. Today, that doesn’t seem so courageous. In the 1970s and the 1980s, that was courageous.

Q: How much depth did he have as a theologian and a thinker?

He was not a theologian and never pretended to be. He saw himself as an evangelist, and he defined that as a person who invited others to a Christian life.

He believed that the average person had a working vocabulary of 600 words or fewer, and so he tried to keep his vocabulary as simple as possible, his sentences short.

Now, what was the message? It was boilerplate evangelical theology: humans are broken, humans have sinned, and God has provided the means for redressing that sin through the death of Jesus Christ and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And all the people have to do is accept that gift that Christ has made possible and then to live an upright Christian life. So that was the core of it.

One of his associates said that if you’ve heard 10 of Billy’s sermons, you’ve heard them all. I would say if you’ve heard one of Billy’s sermons, you’ve heard them all, because the actual text of every sermon was John 3:16.

Q: What was the biggest discovery you made in your research for the book?

The most important part of Graham’s ministry for me in the research was the reading of a sampling of the millions of letters that people sent him.

And what one finds in reading these letters is how powerfully he changed the lives of ordinary people. They wrote to him about their problems, addictions, sexual infidelity, other kinds of lapses and failures. They wrote about their loneliness; he once said that the second-most frequent topic of the letters was loneliness. The first would be addictions.

But the majority of the letters spoke of how his preaching had helped them change their lives. It gave them a sense that they would have a second chance, with God’s help. And through Graham’s words, they found renewed courage for their lives.

This was really very gratifying for me. It was very inspiring to see how people viewed him — ordinary people, the grass roots.

For middle Americans, this is his central legacy, to provide on one hand the role of a priest confessor, someone to whom people could pour out their feelings of failure, but also, and more importantly, a person who helped people gain new orientation in their lives.

The envelopes are amazing, too. Many of the envelopes have no address. They’re addressed just as “Billy Graham,” and they get there. My favorite is the one that had a full address, but then down at the lower left it said, “In case of Rapture, never mind.”


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, Faith & Leadership Newsletter, December 16, 2014

Blessings in Disguise

Posted on: November 26th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews


The Unfashionable Genius of Marilynne Robinson

In her essay “When I Was a Child I Read Books,” the novelist Marilynne Robinson describes how, growing up in northern Idaho in the 1950s, she “preferred books that were old and thick and hard.” Reading was, for Robinson, a portal to a time and place before and beyond her own. Books introduced her to ancient splendors: “I knew a good deal about Constantinople and the Cromwell revolution and chivalry.” The old-fashioned nature of her reading, its discontinuity with her own experience, was part of the enchantment. As she writes, “Relevance was precisely not an issue for me. I looked to Galilee for meaning and to Spokane for orthodonture.”

This sense of willed anachronism should be familiar to readers of Robinson’s work. She has pointed to nineteenth-century American writers like Dickinson and Melville as her most cherished influences (“her old aunts and uncles,” she has called them), and Robinson’s writing can seem as if it emerged, Rip Van Winkle–like, from an earlier time.

Robinson told me in an e-mail exchange that “the modern period has succeeded much too well in putting aside metaphysics.” Her own work tries to correct this. Her novels—Housekeeping, Gilead, Home, and now Lila—are slow, meditative, and religious, more Ralph Waldo Emerson than Zadie Smith. The last three all take place in Eisenhower-era America, long before the Great Recession or subprime mortgages. In her writing as in her reading, relevance—that is, making her novels of their specific moment—is not a priority for Robinson.

To her fans—and there are many, from the New Yorker’s book critic James Wood to Barack Obama—Robinson shows that old-fashioned virtues like seriousness and simplicity are still, in fact, virtues. To her detractors—and there are some—Robinson’s work is stylistically accomplished but frustratingly backward-looking, ignoring much of what has happened, both fictionally and socially, over the past three decades. In a recent essay, the writer Jess Row described Robinson’s characters as “quirky, salt-of-the-earth, hardworking folks, nearly all of whom happen to be white.” They are, in short, characters from an earlier America, if not an imaginary one. On this view, Robinson is an accomplished novelist of nostalgia.

Such criticism makes sense only if you think that fiction lives or dies by its explicit engagement with contemporary life. Relevance isn’t the only aesthetic criterion, and social realism isn’t the only defensible literary style. As Henry James writes, “The house of fiction has…not one window, but a million.” Not every writer has to be Jonathan Franzen.

Robinson doesn’t write social realism, but that doesn’t mean she ignores social existence. Her new novel, Lila, is a sustained examination of what it means to live within and without community. Neglected as a child and raised by a wanderer, the main character, Lila, lives an itinerant life on the margins of mid-century America. Such freedom can be exhilarating. It can also be painful. Lila knows homelessness and despair, and this knowledge shapes how she reacts to future gentleness. When she marries a kind preacher and moves into the small community of Gilead, Iowa, she can’t help but pull back: “That was loneliness. When you’re scalded, touch hurts, it makes no difference if it’s kindly meant.” Few novelists write better about the attractions of solitude, but Robinson acknowledges that it comes at a cost.

What most distinguishes Robinson from her peers, however, isn’t her lack of interest in writing an “issues” novel. It’s her deeply felt, deeply reasoned, deeply committed Calvinism. In essays, lectures, interviews, and novels, Robinson has returned again and again to the beauty of Calvin’s thought. For her, Calvin’s much-maligned doctrine of total depravity actually shows how loving God is: Despite our weakness and sinfulness, God loves and sustains us at every moment. Total depravity, Robinson argues in an introduction to Calvin’s writings, is really about God’s unfathomable condescension: “It is as if we were to find a tender solicitude toward us in the fact that the great energy that rips galaxies apart also animates our slightest thoughts. It is as if we were to propose that that great energy only exists to make possible our miraculously delicate participation in it.”

This “tender solicitude,” Robinson writes, is “continuous, unmediated,” and directed at “individual consciousness.” Robinson is firmly Protestant in taste: she told me she prefers Milton to Dante, Augustine to Aquinas. I suspect that this is because of Protestantism’s focus on the individual believer and his or her direct access to divine grace. God, Robinson writes, is “at the very center of individual experience and presence.” Robinson finds herself most moved by those thinkers who take individual experience most seriously.

Faith, Robinson argues, is a “great, continuous instruction in perception itself,” and to perceive correctly is to see “that the beauty that floods our senses has the meaning of vision and revelation.” Robinson is a realist, but she’s a visionary realist: a writer who senses that the real—the world we experience in our bodies and in our consciousness—is awash with divine meaning and intention.

ROBINSON WAS BORN IN 1943 in Sandpoint, Idaho, a world of mountains and lakes that continually reminded her of her own smallness: in such a landscape, she writes in “Psalm Eight,” she seemed “a mote of exception, improbable as a flaw in the sun.” In the early 1960s, she attended Pembroke College, then the women’s college at Brown, where she worked with John Hawkes—a writer whose postmodern fiction could hardly be more different from the novels Robinson would go on to write. She then studied for a PhD in English at the University of Washington. Unsurprisingly, she chose to write on an unfashionable text: Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part II.

While researching and writing, Robinson started jotting down metaphors on scraps of paper. “After I had finished my dissertation,” she told the Paris Review, “I read through the stack of metaphors and they cohered in a way that I hadn’t expected. I could see that I had created something that implied much more.” That much more was Housekeeping. Robinson began working in earnest on the novel and, in 1981, it was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It is one of the most astonishing debuts in recent literary history.

Housekeeping tells the story of Ruth, a fierce, lonesome girl raised by a series of female relatives in the town of Fingerbone, Idaho. From its first words—“My name is Ruth”—Robinson declared her epic ambitions: to write a female Moby-Dick of the American West, exploring the bonds of community and the lure of isolation, the visionary nature of perception and memory.

At first glance, Housekeeping doesn’t look much like a traditional religious novel. The work seems unconcerned with theology, and Ruthie doesn’t go to church. So it isn’t surprising that critics paid more attention to the work’s wild metaphoricity than to its metaphysical roots. Housekeeping is Christian like much of nineteenth-century American writing was Christian: in its Calvinist oscillation between despair and ecstasy, in its regular recourse to images of death and resurrection, in its sense that what we see is, in Ruth’s words, “a sheet dropped over the world’s true workings.”

Robinson’s second novel, Gilead, did not come out until 2004, twenty-three years after Housekeeping. Despite the gap, Robinson was hardly idle during this time. In 1991 she joined the faculty of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she still teaches today. It’s a rich irony that Robinson, who has said she doesn’t read much contemporary fiction besides the work of her students, has helped shape so many promising young writers, including Paul Harding (author of Tinkers), Chris Adrian (The Children’s Hospital), and Leslie Jamison (The Empathy Exams). Robinson told me that teaching has given her a renewed appreciation for writing’s many difficulties: “I have learned as much respect for the writers who, to all appearances, fail to master the art as for the ones who excel in it. It is simply so difficult to do, and they are all so exposed in making the attempt.” In between her first two novels, Robinson also wrote two exemplary works of nonfiction: a collection of essays, The Death of Adam, and a polemic against Britain’s disposal of nuclear waste, Mother Country. But she didn’t publish any fiction, and so Gilead was received with intense expectation.

Gilead puts the lie to those critics who say that contemporary fiction doesn’t engage seriously with religion. It shows how Christianity is both a lived practice and a system of belief, a deposit of artistic riches and an endless source of intellectual exploration. The novel’s language is soaked in voices from Christianity’s past: Augustine and Donne, Herbert and Hopkins, Bonhoeffer and Barth. Here is its opening sentence:

I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old.

We soon learn that the time is 1956, that the speaker is an elderly Congregationalist minister named John Ames, and that Ames is speaking to his seven-year-old son. More precisely, he’s writing to his son: Ames, seventy-six years old, knows that he will not see his son grow up and so decides to put his thoughts down on paper. The novel is, in the old sense of the word, a reckoning: an account of Ames’s life as a preacher in Gilead, Iowa, of his Christian faith, of his early widowhood and late rediscovery of love, and of the ways history has touched him and his family. (Ames’s grandfather was a radical abolitionist in the Civil War, his father a pacifist during World War I.)

Gilead is a startlingly beautiful novel. On almost every page, you find yourself marveling at how inevitable and right each sentence sounds, at Robinson’s exquisite control of cadence and imagery. Beyond its stylistic brilliance, Gilead makes a fundamentally good man seem interesting, and part of what makes Ames so interesting is his willingness to talk intelligently about matters of faith—in particular, his willingness to talk about the sacraments.

When I asked Robinson about the sacraments, she said that they were “a little hard to write about.” Despite this difficulty, Ames does it well. Here he remembers an incident from his childhood, when he and some friends baptized a litter of kittens:

I still remember how those warm little brows felt under the palm of my hand. Everyone has petted a cat, but to touch one like that, with the pure intention of blessing it, is a very different thing. It stays in the mind. For years we would wonder what, from a cosmic viewpoint, we had done to them. It still seems to me to be a real question. There is a reality in blessing, which I take baptism to be, primarily. It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is a power in that. I have felt it pass through me, so to speak. The sensation is of really knowing a creature, I mean really feeling its mysterious life and your own mysterious life at the same time.

In this passage, we have both a description of sacramentality and an enactment of it. If, for Ames, to bless is to acknowledge creation’s mysterious life, then Robinson here blesses her readers: we are left with a sense of wonder before the world’s splendor. Robinson wrote to me that the sacraments “are an utterance above language, the kindest deed ever done, the purest gesture of love ever made.” Robinson, through Ames, gets close to capturing in language the mystery and majesty of baptism.

GILEAD EMBODIES ROBINSON’S aesthetic of wonder—her sense that humility before the vastness of the world and our experience of it is the proper attitude for the artist to take. Robinson’s moral and imaginative vision could serve as a gloss on the opening of Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.”

For Robinson, if creation is wondrous, it is no less wondrous that we are able to appreciate it. I asked her about the relationship between beauty and pain in the Christian vision, and she responded:

The life and death of Christ are addressed precisely to the fact that beloved humankind are, in greater and lesser degrees, sad and erring creatures, often enough bitter and mean-spirited creatures. Yet here is brilliant Creation shining all around us, and here are our own brilliant gifts of thought and perception to let us enjoy it and celebrate it.

Thought and perception are gifts because they allow us to appreciate the giftedness of all creation.

For Ames, there is a connection between the work of the mind and the work of the soul. “For me writing has always felt like praying.” Memory becomes a religious faculty, too: “Sometimes the visionary aspect of any particular day comes to you in the memory of it, or it opens to you over time.” Nowadays we are often reminded that memory is a flawed instrument, prone to errors of omission and distortion. Gilead makes a subtler argument: yes, memory is imperfect, but it’s nevertheless the best instrument we have for exploring the richness of our experience. The mind is continually re-examining the past, looking for new aspects of old events, finding significance in neglected details. Robinson told me that “among the twentieth-century poets Wallace Stevens is the one I return to” most often. Gilead shows that, as Stevens puts it, “It can never be satisfied, the mind, never,” and this endless curiosity is, to use one of Ames’s favorite words, remarkable.

If writing/remembering is a kind of intellectual prayer, then gracefully moving through the world is a kind of bodily prayer. We see this everywhere in Gilead, from Robinson’s loving descriptions of a young boy’s game of catch to Ames’s delight in preparing grilled-cheese sandwiches. Because of his own weakening body, Ames is better able to appreciate the pleasures of effortless physical exertion, and better able to recognize in physical grace a suggestion of divine grace.

THIS ANALOGY BETWEEN physical and divine grace is even more important in Home, Robinson’s 2008 follow-up to Gilead. Home centers on the same town at the same time, but it takes as its main character Glory Boughton, the daughter of Ames’s best friend and fellow preacher, the Rev. Robert Boughton. Glory makes a brief, inconspicuous appearance in Gilead; in Home Robinson shifts her to the center, and this decision makes an aesthetic and theological point. Every character, Robinson suggests, is both a potential fictional protagonist and a being that has been created in the image of God. (This argument receives further support in Lila, which once again approaches the same story from a different angle—this time from the perspective of Ames’s young wife.)

Home is a sadder, more restrained book than Gilead. It’s less brilliant, but it’s after something other than brilliance. Glory hasn’t led a particularly happy life. After a failed relationship, she’s thirty-eight and living again in her childhood home. Though intelligent, she is not as brilliant or well read as Ames. Besides, she has other concerns: throughout the novel, she’s dealing both with her father’s failing health and with the many frustrations associated with her mischievous, occasionally mean brother Jack, who has just come back to Gilead after years spent elsewhere. The central question of Gilead is: How can we make our love felt when we are no longer around to express it? The central question of Home is: How can we make our love felt when we are there to express it, but those we love do their best to escape or frustrate us?

For Glory, the way to grace is through hospitality, through caring even for those who resist her care. Especially for those. Glory tends to her father’s dying body and to her brother’s broken spirit. The most seemingly banal activities—cooking dinner, bathing her father—become ways of acknowledging the sacredness of this world and of her difficult family.

In Gilead, the physical world is shown to be a sign of God’s grace in scenes that could come from a Terrence Malick movie: light shines through a window onto an old church floor; water falls from a tree after a brief rain shower. But in Home, Robinson sees the domestic sphere, the world of cooking and cleaning and eating and mending, as a way into the imaginative and religious sublime. In one remarkable scene, Glory cuts her father’s hair:

So she clipped and trimmed, making more work of it than it was in order to satisfy him that some change had been accomplished, combing it down a little with water so he would feel sleek and trim. The nape of his neck, the backs of his ears. The visible strain of holding the great human head upright for decades and decades…. At the end of so much effort, the neck seemed frail, but the head was still lifted up, and the ears stood there, still shaped for attention, soft as they were. She’d have left all the lovely hair, which looked like gentle bewilderment, just as the lifted head and the ears looked like waiting grown old, like trust grown old.

In Gilead, Ames writes that grace is “a sort of ecstatic fire that takes things down to essentials.” Home shows that grace works not just in the ecstatic but in the ordinary—in the daily tasks of living for and loving one another. Or, as Robinson wrote to me, “If hospitality is an essential Christian value, then the smaller hospitalities we give to our families are only more essential. I do think that the means we are given to please and nourish and comfort bear a more than accidental resemblance to the means of grace.”

Robinson’s novels seldom end where we think they will, or even where we hope they might. In Housekeeping, Ruth burns down her house and her old life with it, leaving whatever minimal comforts of domestic life she may have experienced and joining her aunt Sylvie in a tramp’s life. On the final, stunning page of Gilead, Ames writes, “I’ll pray, and then I’ll sleep,” followed by silence. We don’t know if he has died or just become too weak to write, and we don’t know what will happen to his young wife and son. In Home, Jack leaves Gilead, just missing his father’s death and a longed-for reunion with his beloved, and Glory is left alone.

ROBINSON TOLD ME THAT “it seems excessively fictional to really ‘end’ a story,” adding that she feels that her “novels end themselves—that after a certain point they begin to close themselves against me, so that any invention that might prolong them would be an imposition.” And yet the story Robinson first told in Gilead has reopened itself twice, first in Home and now in Lila. The new novel is, once again, piercing and beautiful, but in a very different way. Lila’s life before Ames was rough from the very beginning, as we learn in the book’s first sentences: “The child was just there on the stoop in the dark, hugging herself against the cold, all cried out and nearly sleeping. She couldn’t holler anymore and they didn’t hear her anyway, or they might and that would make things worse.” Soon Lila will be rescued—kidnapped, technically—by a loving drifter named Doll.

Over the years, Doll and Lila move throughout the country, hunting after day labor and moving on when money and work dry up. They find solace in physical work and in the makeshift community that arises among the downtrodden: “She liked to hear people tell stories. The saddest ones were best.” It’s almost as if Robinson has shown us what the future of Ruth and Sylvie from Housekeeping might actually look like.

Lila’s settings are harsh (a St. Louis brothel, an abandoned house on the outside of town), as are the narrated events (abandonment, murder). The novel is written in the third person, but it’s an extremely close third person, with Lila’s mode of speaking and thinking continually inflecting the narrative voice. Unlike Glory and certainly unlike Ames, Lila is uneducated, and she alternatively laments and celebrates the fact that she doesn’t have the words to describe the world as it appears to her. Here is an example of the kind of simple language that Lila presents:

It was still early enough that Lila had to pound on the shop door. She was so desperate to get out of the dress she was wearing, it didn’t matter what she found there if she just had the money to pay for it. And then the woman said to her, when she had taken a look at her, tried to get a look at her face, So what happened? You had a baby? Lila said, No, I didn’t, and the woman studied her sidelong, the blood on her skirt where it showed below the hem of her coat, on her shoes, thinking she knew better, and said, Never mind. None of my business.

Gone are Ruthie’s ecstatic visions, Ames’s gentle melodies, Glory’s biblical cadences. Instead, we have Lila’s wounded and enduring voice.

If Gilead was about sacrament and Home about hospitality, then Lila is about the meaning of affliction. It harrows rather than enraptures, and because of this Lila makes for less pleasurable reading than either Gilead or Home. Reading Lila’s account of her courtship with Ames—how she deliberately met his kindness with Jack-like meanness, how she considered running away even when pregnant—makes you realize how much Ames edited out of his own account. This forced recalibration can be disturbing, like the moment when you realize that your parents are imperfect, that they have baggage and weaknesses all their own.

Yet even amid the pain, Lila provides scenes in which grace shines through. The final pages, where Lila gives birth during an Iowa snowstorm, are as strange and powerful as anything Robinson has ever written. That scene and the novel as a whole recall a passage from Gilead:

Augustine says the Lord loves each of us as an only child, and that has to be true: “He will wipe the tears from all faces.” It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required.

The Lord’s comfort, Ames suggests, doesn’t erase the sorrow we’ve felt. Rather, it acknowledges it and makes it bearable. At some mysterious level, it even makes it beautiful. Lila dramatizes this truth.

For some time now, Robinson has been our most singular writer, defying contemporary trends and carving out her own distinctive place within American literature. Reading Lila alongside Housekeeping shows just how varied Robinson’s achievement has been: she’s written about the plainness of Iowa and the wildness of Idaho, created one voice that echoes Herbert in its plain grandeur and another that rivals Dickinson in its imaginative extravagance. But there is a unity to all of Robinson’s work, and this is part of what makes her so great. Her writing expresses a consistent and compelling vision of the world—a vision that sees the real as revelatory, the everyday as wondrous, Spokane as leading to Galilee.


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, November 04, 2014

An emerging new sense of Canadian identity

Posted on: November 20th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews


By Wayne Holst


This country’s First Nations people provide all of us with a foundation to help define what it means to be Canadian today. I have only gradually come to appreciate this, and invite you to join me in my discovery.

During the autumn season, members of our congregation have been reading Richard Wagamese’s recent book, Medicine Walk. In addition, we have been working through John Ralston Saul’s A Fair Country, and especially his section on “A Métis Nation.”

The first is a novel, a story in Wagamese’s Oji-Cree tradition, with some profound spiritual insights for the rest of us. The second is by one of Canada’s most fertile thinkers. It proposes that, “we are a people of Aboriginal inspiration, organized around a concept of peace, fairness and good government.”

Wagamese writes of a spiritual journey or “medicine walk” taken by a young native man who is in a quest to understand his ancestry. It is replete with redemptive characters and a strong message about the power of forgiveness.

In an indigenous manner, the author demonstrates his grasp of both native and non-native, Traditional and Christian spiritual ways.

Saul argues the need to replace the commonly understood term “order,” a word commonly associated with Canada, with what he believes are more apt and natural—peace, “fairness” and good government. This description grounds us in our aboriginal roots and distinguishes us from Europeans and Americans. He hastens to say that this does not necessarily make us better, only different and true to ourselves.

Many of us, I believe, are aboriginal wannabes—but what does that mean? We beat on drums, wear decorative native jewelry, decorate our living and working spaces with dream-catchers and medicine wheels. We adorn our museums, airports and embassies with magnificent coastal sculptures.

Some of these attractions smack of kitsch. But beneath the superficiality, for some of us at least, there is a genuine spiritual quest. We struggle as Canadians to define something from our common, formative heritage that has never been well understood. Indeed, it has been ignored or resisted. Yet it is very much there, incubating in the womb of our self-understanding.

I believe that a moment of new awareness is beginning to confront us. This perception has had to move through earlier stages of bicultural and multicultural definitions to a contemporary and more realistic “nation of minorities.” This identity with a fairness underpinning is offered us from our First Nations. Other countries like Australia and New Zealand have their indigenous groundings as well, but each nation is unique and that is what makes this whole endeavour so intriguing.

Both Wagamese and Saul are opening new windows of self-understanding and integrative imagery for us to consider. We are confronted with another way of seeing ourselves as Canadians. Each author is currently releasing new books that will hopefully expand on these ideas.  I, for one, sense a new paradigm opening to me, and want to journey with them.

Wayne A. Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and helps to co-ordinate adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church in Calgary.


Anglican Journal News, November 18, 2014

The Emerging Church

Posted on: October 21st, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

A Model for Change and Renewal
Revised and Expanded

by Bruce Sanguin

2014. 238 pages.
$21.95 CAD Paper $13.50 CAD Kindle
ISBN #978-1-77064-679-7.

(originally published in 2008 and
  introduced on Colleagues List
  April 24th, 2010)

My Thoughts:

I have introduced here the original edition
of “The Emerging Church” more than four
years ago.

Now, I am re-introducing it to build on
the background already begun. I do
this because I am committed to renewal
in the old Canadian mainline churches.

In my first notice of this book I stated that
there were two things I liked about it.

First, the richness of the spiritual
resources inherent within the mainline
churches. This, in spite of the fact that
the ways we have come to reflect that
heritage has lost touch with many people
today. We need to mine our traditions
for richness but find better paradigms
or models, and creative new ways of
presenting them. 

Second, the ability of the author to be
conversant in the thought and paradigm
understandings of modern science. We
need new ways of integrating our
spirituality with modern science in order
to speak the language of many today.

Sanguin uses an evolutionary paradigm,
borrowed from modern science, to help
the church rediscover a meaningful message.

A third ingredient is added in this new
edition. Sanguin inserts a chapter (#11)
through which he adds principles of
practical operation in a congregation
to help bring about the renewal he

He advises that we listen for signs of
emergence and pay attention to our language
so that we share honestly the Word through
the words we use.

He suggests we work on exemplifying or
embodying the meaning we want to share,
build up various spaces – both internal and
external – that are there to be filled, be
willing to fail bravely and to learn from our
mistakes, to see crises as opportunities,
to take responsibility for our efforts and
to surrender to the grace we will be offered
as we venture forth.

Sangin writes well, if not always with
simplicity. But the subject matter is
meaty and worth the struggle.

Amazon Web Comment:

The author is a mainline United Church of
Canada minister with progressive views.
The book is about the change or ‘progress’
that has occurred and is occurring in
religious values over time. He also tells
how he became a coach for leaders at his
church. He understands the environmental
problem, which many do not.

Emerging Church – is a term used elsewhere

for changes in fundamentalist churches or
small group Christianity outside a main
building, hence the misleading title.

If you are interested in a new approach

and are coming from a mainline religious
tradition this is a recommended book for you.

Buy the book:

From the publisher:



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. 11,  October 12th, 2014

Missing Church, Not Religion: Why I Read Marilynne Robinson

Posted on: October 19th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews


Returning to the incredible sensory memories of church — and the feel of religion without evangelism.



BuzzFeed Staff



Of apes and man (Film Review)

Posted on: October 16th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews


By John Arkelian


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes imagines a war between humans and intelligent apes in the future and  gives us a parable about the dangers of tribalism in the present. Photo: Contributed


Andy Serkis, who plays the leader of intelligent apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, says that “the heart of the story is about…family, empathy, prejudice and tribalism.” And, he’s right. Those elements of the film—before it inevitably segues into the pyrotechnics that dominate all big-budget commercial movies nowadays—are what make it worth seeing.

Action films and computer-generated effects are a dime a dozen; but what really makes an impression are stories about the human condition. In effect, the 46-year-old Apes franchise divides the human condition into two (armed) camps: human beings and anthropomorphized apes. Here, apes have gained intelligence and a rudimentary grasp of human speech, as a byproduct of drug tests that aimed to find a treatment for Alzheimer’s and that instead spawned a lethal epidemic that has devastated human civilization.

Serkis’s character, named “Caesar” by the human who raised him, leads a society of apes in a redwood forest near San Francisco. Their overriding commandment is: “Apes not kill apes”; and their guiding philosophy is expressed in just three words: “Home, Family, Future”—words, surely, that encapsulate what’s most important in our lives, too. But fear, hatred, aggression, betrayal and violation of the injunction not to kill all follow hard on the return of humans (who want to reactivate a hydroelectric dam situated in the apes’ territory). Past contact between the species has been difficult, to say the least, so their reunion is fraught with everything from wariness to outright hostility. The result is a parable about tribalism, that ubiquitous human habit of dividing “us” from “them.” Once such dividing lines are drawn—on the basis of race, religion or nationality—those on the more powerful side of that insidious boundary have all the excuse they need to exploit, oppress or attack those deemed to be “other.”

In the movie, species is the line that divides the tribes; but it might just as easily be any other perceived difference. Once we postulate a “difference,” we legitimize a dichotomy—between how we want to be treated and how we treat others. So it has always been throughout human history, alas. But there are also differences between individuals in each camp. Caesar can get past his suspicion of outsiders and his instinctive protectiveness toward his own people; he can feel empathy for the struggling remnant of the human race.

But his decision to co-operate and try to live in peace with the human tribe is an anathema to his closest friend: as the past victim of human experimentation on animals, Koba is too full of rage, bitterness and the drive to return hurt for hurt to accept living in peace. Sound familiar? It’s the age-old human story of sectarian conflict—in places like Israel and the Occupied Territories. Few things are harder for us (man or apes) to overcome than our deeply ingrained prejudices. But unless we do, unless we prevail over the deep-seated habit of dividing “us” from “them,” we will never outgrow the brutal, cruel side of our nature in favour of a world in which the lamb can lie down next to the lion.


Anglican Journal News, October 16, 2014

“Living Reconciliation can transform our world” – Abp Welby in new book

Posted on: September 30th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews


Not a churchy report, rather a lively and inspiring work on a crucial subject
Photo Credit: ACNS

From the Anglican Communion Office

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has said he believes the subject of a new book called Living Reconciliation can help “transform our world”.

The book, written by two Anglican Communion Office staff, is designed to inspire ordinary people to live in a way that transforms their churches and their society. It is intended as a platform to enable people to engage with and live out the Archbishop of Canterbury’s thinking on ‘living reconciliation'; a subject he hopes will be the hallmark of Anglicanism.

Emerging from the life of the Anglican Communion and featuring stories from around the world, the book ustilises the theology and experience of Continuing Indaba – a project of the Anglican Consultative Council in response to the 2009 Primates’ Meeting.

It is not a report, rather a lively and inspiring work that challenges the reader to reflect deeply on Scripture and to apply it in their own context.

It is described by the Dean of Coventry John Witcombe as “a book [that] sets out vital principles, tells compelling stories, and inspires and challenges readers to live and make new stories of their own…An invitation not just to a way of thinking, but to a way of life.”

The Bible is central

Co-author the Revd Canon Dr Phil Groves said, “The Archbishop of Canterbury begins his foreword with the words ‘Reconciliation is God’s mission to the world in Christ; therefore it is our mission.’

“The book reflects the breadth of the Anglican Communion and is inspired by Anglicans working in their parishes and dioceses across the world. Underpinning every chapter is a belief that Christ came into the world to reconcile us to God and to one another.

“The Bible is central to the book, but the reader is often confronted with new ways of reading familiar texts. For example, they read the story of Sarah and Hagar through the eyes of a Kenyan woman theologian familiar with the conflicts inherent in polygamy.”

A book for all Anglicans

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says the book is a tool and encouragement for all to live a life of reconciliation. Many others with experience of working for reconciliation between Christian-Muslim communities and Roman Catholic-Protestant communities in Northern Ireland have echoed his commendation.

However, Canon Groves stressed this is not a book for “some rare breed of conflict negotiators”.

“It has been written in dialogue with a group of ordinary Christians with no formal theological training,” he said. “Some of the greatest enthusiasm for this book has come from those involved in assisting parishes in conflict.”

Coventry Cathedrals Canon for Reconciliation Sarah Hills describes it as “the resource they have been looking for” and Sandra Cobbin Sandra Cobbin who runs courses addressing church conflict says it is “an essential read”.

Canon Groves added, “The Archbishop of Canterbury has called us to be reconciled with one another to be reconcilers in the world. The book is not inward-looking; it challenges the reader to bring reconciliation to our world.

“This is emphasised in videos on the associated website that feature the Bishop Moses of Mbeere in Kenya and Canon Jesus of El Camino Real in California who speak of how reconciliation in the church has gone hand-in-hand with peacebuilding between warring clans, and with challenging gang culture where they live.

Living Reconciliation is both realistic about the challenges and positive about the hope we have in Christ. Those churches that live reconciliation are faithful in prayer and growing in disciples. This is a book aimed at transforming both church and world.”

Living Reconciliation is written by Phil Groves and Angharad Parry Jones, and is published by SPCK in the UK and Forward Movement in North America. The Living Reconciliation website can be found at


Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS), September 30, 2014

Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines

Posted on: September 29th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews



by Patricia Monaghan

New World Library, 2014
$23.50  CAD. Kindle $16.71 CAD
432 pages. Paperback edition
ISBN #978-1-60868-217-1


Author Info:

Patricia Monaghan, PhD (1946–2012), was a
leader in the contemporary women’s spirituality
movement as well as an award-winning poet,
scholar, activist, and mentor. In 1979, she
published the first encyclopedia of female
divinities, a book that has remained in print
since then in various formats and that she
later expanded into the current volume.

Monaghan was a lifelong member of the
Society of Friends (Quakers) and also a
companion of the Fourth Order of Francis
and Clare, an interfaith religious organization.

Author’s Words:

In many cave paintings from around the world,
female figures appear with male figures. We do
not know if the female figures were considered
divinities but we do know that every culture since
the dawn of time has honored goddesses as well
as gods.

Then somewhere around 2,500 years ago,
monotheism emerged in the eastern
Mediterranean, first as a Hebrew tribal
religion, then as Christianity, and finally as
Islam. These related religions center their
worship on a single male divinity. In doing
so, they eliminate age-old reverence for
the divine female… No monotheistic goddess
religion has ever been found. It can also
be proven that patriarchy and monotheism
are not identical. One can exist without the

There is no question monotheism limits
women in religious situations. Only recently
have some Christian denominations permitted
women to serve as priests… There is little
question that boys are taught that ‘god’ looks
like them, but not like their mothers and
sisters. They grow up differently than girls
who are taught the opposite.

It is probably not surprizing that those
raised with such an orientation find it
difficult to believe that our forebears may
have honored divinity in female form…

There is no doubt that once written history
begins, we find goddesses sharing the
religious stage with gods, and they take
on many forms and kinds of behavior.

This volume shows the breadth of possibilities
associated with the female through many
ages and cultures. Some will be familiar,
others obscure. Not all will be called ‘goddeses’
since between such figures and mortal women
exists a category this work calls ‘heroines.’
These too exist in many forms.

No encyclopedia can list all the goddesses the
world has known. Many stories have been lost.
But an impressive amount of information still
remains… This encyclopedia attempts to bring
together many sources to offer an entry point
for further research.

Sources are not only scholarly but exist for
children. Some literary sources do not yet
appear in English. Folklore as well as literature
provides a source of information about ancient
goddess figures.


Review By Wayne A. Holst


My Thoughts:

Early this year I introduced a posthumous
publication by the late Joseph Campbell entitled:

“Goddesses – Mysteries of the Feminine Divine.”

It provided a collection of his essays on goddess
figures in the mythological traditions he had
studied and – at the time of his writing these
essays –  between 20-40 years ago – it was a
very unique and a rather novel subject for
public consideration (check out that issue of
Colleagues List on the Campbell book) -

Now, a work of even broader, more factual 
sweep appears at a time when the general
public seems much more open to consider
its feminine themes.

“The Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines,”
provides extensive documentation of female
characters and feminine imagery from the
primal traditions,  all world religions, and all
corners of the globe.’

We learn that ‘from the beginning of recorded
history, goddesses reigned alongside their male
counterparts as figures of inspiration and awe.
Drawing on anthropology, folklore, literature,
and psychology, the author’s encyclopedia
‘covers female deities from Africa, the eastern
Mediterranean, Asia and Oceania, Europe, and
the Americas, as well as every major religious

Campbell’s book is an interpretive resource
while Monaghan’s is a research tool to help with
the investigation of goddesses and heroines from
a vast array of human sources.

Monaghan has made access to the information
very easy in the way she organizes the material
by various regional ‘pantheons.’ Each entry is
precise and well written. The bibliography and
index is exhaustive and this makes the book a
good first stop for further, more extensive
investigation of specific characters.

For those interested in goddess/heroine themes
that are carefully and clearly presented, this book
is a real gem.


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. 9,  September 28th, 2014

Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of St. Francis of Assisi

Posted on: September 29th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

The Alternative Way
of St. Francis of Assisi

by Richard Rohr, 2014


Franciscan Media, 294 pp.
Hardcover $24.00 CAD.
Kindle $9.99 CAD
ISBN #978-1-61636-701-5

Author’s Bio:

Richard Rohr is a globally recognised Catholic
and Christian teacher focusing on mystical and
transformational traditions and is the founder
and director of the Center for Action and
Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico,
home of the Rohr Institute.

He is the author of more than twenty books,
including Yes, And… Daily Meditations;
Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self;
Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves
of Life; and Breathing Under Water: Spirituality
and the Twelve Steps.

Author’s Words:

Francis of Assisi was master of making room for
the new and letting go of the tired or empty. Much
of Francis’ genius was that he was ready for absolute
“newness” from God and could also trust fresh and
new attitudes in himself…(The visible world provides
a doorway to the invisible world.)

In this book, I want to share with you one of the
most attractive, appealing and accessible of all
frames and doorways to the divine. It is called the
Franciscan way after the man who first exemplified
it – Francis, who lived in Assisi, Italy, from 1182 to
1226 CE. Francis and Clare, (his female religious 
associate) – when overly romanticised – can be
“dismissed too easily” (as Francis was not what
he has been too lightly made out to be by would-be
followers, even in our own time.)

Church and world. He was totally at home in both.
He and Clare were both very eager to love both,
and they knew that dying to the old and unneeded
was an essential part of living this love at any depth.

You too can let Francis and Clare show you how to
die into your one and only life, the life you must
learn to love… (I try to help them do this in my

The Franciscan way is to view the Gospel not as
a fire insurance policy for the next world but a life
insurance policy for this world…

My hope and desire in writing this book is that
you can know heaven on your own too, and now!

- from the Preface (with editorial licence)



Review By Wayne A. Holst


My Thoughts:

(In the June 8th issue of Colleagues List
 I introduced the 90 page study guide -
“Embracing an Alternative Orthodoxy:
 Richard Rohr on the Legacy of St. Francis”

In a way, the current book under consideration
and the “how to” guide just noted have appeared in
reverse order for whatever reason. At least now,
with the appearance of both volumes, we have 
from Rohr a spirituality that is both theoretical
and practical).


For those unfamiliar with Rohr’s writing what
we have in this book is an introduction to
mysticism – one of his specialties. The mystical
way of living the faith is common to all the
great religious traditions and is also one of the
key linkages between them.

Read what Rohr writes about this.

We used to say – in Christian ecumenical
circles – “doctrine divides, service unites”
and this helped us to work together for
social justice causes with many different
Christians as well as non-believers.

Now, we might say the same about the
phenomenon of mysticism, it seems to me.
“Doctrine divides, mysticism unites,”  – and
this helps us to find common spiritual cause
with people of many faiths or no faith.

What Rohr is able to share with us is really
nothing new. It is almost a thousand years
old, since the time of St. Francis.  And yet,
because of its nature, it can reflect a very
contemporary way of living.

Rohr describes the meaning of mysticism.
He suggests contemplation is reasonable
but not rational – a different way of knowing.
It is an integrative, rather than an exclusivist
way of understanding reality. It does not
focus on right vs. wrong, positive vs. negative
or male vs. female like so much of our inherited

Franciscan spirituality as interpreted by Rohr,
engages some important contemporary themes -
like atonement theory, eco-spirituality, the
Christ who existed before Christianity and the
Christ who will live beyond it, an approach to
Islam, and living like Jesus lived.

I continue to marvel at the way Rohr helps
us to see that there are within the Christian
tradition many untapped resources that
we did not know existed.

I recommend this book. Whether you are
new to Richard Rohr or a veteran of others
he has written, this title continues the
spiritual journey of a modern pilgrim – 
grounded in good tradition – who is not
afraid to confront challenges to Christianity
today, and very open to new ways the Spirit
is guiding us.


A Review Summary:

Rohr’s attempt is to deepen contemporary
spirituality by linking it to Christian mysticism
and the contemplative tradition.

In “Eager to Love” he reclaims the mysticism
inherent in the Franciscan legacy and offers
it as an alternative to the hierarchical,
patriarchal and authoritarian Christianity
that he suggests has primary responsibility
for so much contemporary agnosticism in the
West… He is building a bridge between the
Christian mystical tradition and estranged
seekers of every ilk.

The book contains Rohr’s reflections on the
best aspects of the Franciscan heritage as
lived out by its founder and its early worthies -
Clare, Bonaventure and Dun Scotus.

The message of Francis offers an alternative
way of life, a different way of knowing
and a pedagogy that teaches through living
rather than through creedal affirmation.

According to Rohr, the starting point for Francis
was not the reality of human sinfulness but
rather human suffering. The Franciscan way
is prophetic rather than priestly.

Rohr admits that he is not a scholar but a
popularizer who is laying out a different
approach to the inherited Christian tradition.
His treatment, he acknowledges, is not

Rohr both values the institutional church
and suggests ways to survive within it. He
admonishes Christians give priority to Jesus
and his message which we inherit through
Scripture and theological tools offered
through the church.

Francis was not a theologian, but a living
illumination of one open to the love of
God and eager to love God and all God’s
creation, especially the most lowly.

The church of the future will be mystical,
the author believes, and Rohr is attempting
to drive that message home.

- Dana Greene, National Catholic Reporter
  July 23rd, 2014


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. 8,  September 21st, 2014

Joan Chittister: Essential Writings Selected

Posted on: September 29th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews



Essential Writings Selected
by Mary Lou Kownacki
and Mary Hembrow Snyder

Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY
2014. 239 pp. $16.60 CAD.
ISBN #978-1-62698-091-4



Author and Editor Bios:

Mary Lou Kownacki is a Benedictine nun in
Erie, Pennsylvania. She is the author of
“A Monk in the Inner City: The ABCs of a
Spiritual Journey.”

Mary H. Snyder is professor at Mercyhurst College
in Erie, Penn. She was the editor of “Spiritual
Questions for the Twenty-First Century”


Author’s Quotes:

The theme of this book is passion. To anyone who
has met, read, or heard Joan Chittister that choice
is obvious… For over forty years, she has tirelessly
crisscrossed the country and the globe driven by
God’s fiery word.

She has written “We talk religion in a world that
worships the bread but does not distribute it,
that practices ritual but not righteousness, that
confesses but does not repent.”

And yet Joan is not a doomsday prophet that leaves
audiences and readers depressed and impotent.
The words that burn also ignite the listener’s soul
and melt way layers of fear, apathy, and
helplessness. And she’s funny too…

Her words poke holes in the darkness, enabling
others to find their way.

For over thirty years she has been a columnist
for the National Catholic Reporter – and here
is a way of locating at least some columns:

“From Where I Stand”  -

She covered the Fourth World Conference on
Women in Beijing, the funeral of Pope John
Paul II and other major events in Rome.

Impressive as Joan’s vita is, perhaps her
greatest passion is reserved for people and
for life itself. She plays as intensely as she
preaches and can always be counted on to
party. The bulk of her writing is devoted to
helping ordinary people develop into their
better selves. She sets a standard for mature
spirituality, and the power and passion of her
vision compel people to reach beyond the

For spirituality, she has been called a
“passionate contemplative.” She views
herself primarily as a writer “writing is
all I wanted to do in life.” She has a great
passion for justice and a talent “for seeing
what she was looking at, and for saying
what she saw.” She has a passion for the
religious life. As often as she might have
considered leaving her order when things
got difficult, she has remained constant in
her commitment to it.

She is a woman of the church. Though she
has been a consistent challenge to it because
of it’s continuing stance toward women,
she remains profoundly a part of it.

In a poll by US Catholic magazine in 2008,
readers voted her “by far the most
inspirational woman currently alive.”
She has a unique ability to stand apart
from her church as a woman critic, but
at the same time demonstrate authentic
loyalty. This is a rare gift indeed.

Joan is a people-person. She loves them,
and they respond in kind. Many will attest
that their lives have been changed by
Joan’s writings, speeches, and personal

Prior to the election of Pope Francis,
theologian Matthew Fox wrote a column
listing two nominees for the papacy. The
first was the Dalai Lama and the second
was Joan Chittister… and as a woman
of largesse, outrageous and extravagant
vision and heart, she is indeed one who
has loved the church enough to challenge
its unjust structures and has loved people
enough to beatitude living, because she
loves God enough to bring a brilliant
new spiritual vision to the times.

- quotes and interpretations from the
  Introduction by Mary Lou Kownacki




Review By Wayne A. Holst


My Thoughts:

I am neither a woman, nor am I a celibate
person in ministry, but if I had my druthers,
I would certainly desire the vocational gifts
of Joan Chittister.

Not only is she an intelligent writer, Gospel 
preacher and social justice advocate, but she
has the rare ability to speak truth to power
in a way that gets respectful attention.

I have to admit that I envy her.

Joan loves the church and her ministry so
much and so authentically that people who
might otherwise be threatened by her are
nonetheless attracted to what she has to say.

That is not to say that she has come by her
vocation easily. She has fought many battles
and received her share of wounds. But after
decades in her work she continues to be
admired, if not always appreciated – in
many quarters.

For those who have known some things
about Joan, but would like to know more
(and there are many research leads to
follow in this book as well) I would very
much like to recommend this volume.

It comes as one of more than 50 in the
Orbis series “Modern Spiritual Masters”.
I am pleased to be in possession of them
all, but would rate this one near of the
top of a list of many top notch entries.

The women who write the background
to the many great selections from her
writings are people who have lived with
her for many years. That means they
have an unusually good sense of who
Joan Chittister really is. They see her
at breakfast, and not just at the podium.
They know her small-talk and biases
as well as her quality writing.

Reading the Introduction to this book
is an inspiration in itself because it
was written by a colleague in the

But in addition, there are many great
gleanings here, from her voluminous
writings over many years.

Joan Chittister may be slowing down
a bit, but she has not lost the gifts
she has always reflected. Here is
a good summary of what she has
to share with us – so far.


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. 7,  September 14th, 2014