In 1831-32 two
young Frenchmen, Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont, traveled
through the United States, ostensibly to study the prison system on behalf of
the French government. But the prisons bored and often appalled them--Quaker-inspired
prisons in Philadelphia being the exception--so they spent very little time in
While on retreat recently, I picked up Patrick Leigh
Fermor's A Time to Keep Silence. I
was making my own transition from noisy life and noisy mind to four days of
retreat when I came upon Fermor's description of his retreat at a French
monastery in the '50s.
"In the ordinary course of human affairs countries churn slowly.
. . and then there are moments of special upheaval, when empires depart, when
ideologies rotate. . . . India was in the midst of such a moment. The meanings of
destiny, family, love, class--of what it means to be Indian--were being defined
anew by millions of people, all at once."
In the opening scene of this new novel, the protagonist,
Golden Richards, comes home from work to one of the three houses where his four
wives and 28 children live, and he literally cannot find a pot to piss in. The
bathrooms, of which there are never enough, are all occupied. The house is in
disarray and chaos.
In the Feb. 3 New Republic, Alan Wolfe, the magazine's
go-to reviewer on matters of religion, seems to buy into the account of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that Eric
Metaxas gives in his new biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.
Eugene Peterson's new memoir, The Pastor, will be out in February (Century subscribers can read the excerpt from the book
in the February 8 issue.) If any pastor has claimed the vocation, it's
Peterson, who has grounded and inspired pastors for many years with books that
include Under the Unpredictable Plant
and The Contemplative Pastor.
If your commentary budget has not yet run dry, check out
William Placher's new book on the Gospel of Mark, the first in a new series of
theological commentaries from Westminster John Knox. Placher, who died in 2008,
was to be the co-editor of this series with Amy Plantinga Pauw. This volume,
the last thing he wrote, is a fitting legacy.