I have lately been reading stories of the desert monastics, collected by the monk John Moschos in the seventh century. I don’t think I get it.
My pattern has been to feel slightly offended—sometimes even disgusted—by a story, and then walk away from it, wander around for awhile and finally realize that the story was probably a joke. In its own context, the main thing it elicited was probably laughter. But for me the humor is so strange, so wry, so unexpected that I don’t perceive it for hours.
Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Richard Posner mocks the British father-son pair Robert and Edward Skidelsky for wondering about the balance between work and leisure in contemporary society.
It has been a rough year for the state of Wisconsin. A painful and divisive recall election of governor Scott Walker tore the state apart in the spring. Then last week a lone gunman killed seven people, including himself, and wounded three others at a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee.
"I hope the shootings in Oak Creek will lead to interfaith education around the state," says Scott Anderson, director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches. "There is a hunger for this kind of engagement."
In a recent interview with the Century, historian David Hollinger talks about his preference for the phrase “ecumenical Protestants” to describe non-evangelical mid-20th-century American Protestants, instead of the more frequently used terms “liberal” and “mainline.”
“Ecumenical” refers to a specific, vital and largely defining impulse within the groups I am describing. It also provides a more specific and appropriate contrast to evangelical. The term evangelical comes into currency in the mid-century to refer to a combination of fundamentalists and Holiness, Pentecostals and others; ecumenical refers to the consolidation of the ecumenical point of view in the big conferences of 1942 and 1945.
I appreciated this shift in vocabulary because I have long disliked both the terms “liberal” and “mainline” to refer to whatever-kind-of-Protestant it is that I am.
Ten years ago, I studied readers of the then popular Left Behind series of Christian apocalyptic novels. If I conducted that study today, I would potentially have access to far more objective data about readers than I did. How quickly do they read? Where do they stop reading? What passages do they mark? Do they write notes in the margins?
E-books are providing companies with the opportunity for all of this information and more about people who use e-readers like the Nook and Kindle.
Margaret Farley’s Just Love: A Framework for a Christian Sexual Ethics is at #16 on the current Amazon sales list. When is the last time a sane, scholarly, carefully argued and theologically rich book of sexual ethics ranked that high?
I don’t know, but I can’t imagine it was recent. (Four out of the top five on the Amazon list are versions of Fifty Shades of Gray. If only those readers would open up Farley!) To make matters even stranger, the book is six years old and used mostly in seminaries and at religious institutions.
The flurry of interest was provoked by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In a recent interview with the Century, Michelle Alexander, the civil rights lawyer and author of The New Jim Crow, wonders about the stigma in many churches attached to people who have been recently released from prisons. “The deep irony,” she says,” is that the very folks who ought to be the most sensitive to the demonization of the ‘despised,’ the prisoners, have been complicit and silent.”
But the kinds of conversations that Alexander’s book seems to demand are very difficult to have--in churches and outside them.
It is difficult to know what to say in response to Mona Eltahawy’s explosive article on the experience of women in Middle Eastern countries. She writes about a level of institutionalized brutality that demands that readers pay attention.
At the same time, she doesn’t say anything new, nothing that wasn’t already made too vividly clear during the Arab Spring.