Some of my students wear bracelets bearing the legend "WWJD"—What Would Jesus Do? Sometimes in the midst of a discussion about some hard issue, I ask a student sporting such a bracelet to apply that question to the problem. The replies range from embarrassed silence and empty platitudes to wonderfully astute observations. The astute replies are usually based on the story or stories of Jesus, and exercise what William Spohn calls "the analogical imagination."
Vincent van Gogh, Still Life With French Novels and Rose, oil on canvas, 1887.
Barbara Brown Taylor's concise, pithy and challenging prose is evidence that she is practicing what she preaches: that Christian pastors take more care with the words they use and treat language with economy, courtesy and reverence.
Several years have passed since I last encountered a book by Annie Dillard, but her images remain as strong in the memory as Proust's madeleine. Her gaze concentrates on the ordinary until it is transformed into the transcendent: a tree so intensely colored that it gives off light; a sky's invisible clouds revealed only in reflected images on the surface of a glassy lake; a bowl of pond water where one-celled creatures are visible to the naked eye.
Are vegetarians trying to save animals or are they trying to save themselves? Is vegetarianism about changing the world or escaping from it? These are questions the acclaimed novelist and critic J. M. Coetzee raises in a wonderfully inventive and inconclusive book.
Beginning in the 17th century and extending through the 19th, establishing colleges was a primary Protestant strategy. Even groups like the Methodists and Baptists, which initially downplayed the importance of higher education, soon joined the founding frenzy.
"The Horror! The horror!" the last words of the infamous Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, call attention to one of the worst episodes of systematic exploitation and murder in recent history.
The literary critic John Bayley has written a deeply affecting lament for his late wife, the philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch, as she disappeared into the insidious fog of Alzheimer's. She died at roughly the same time the book was published, in January of this year. Yet Bayley's book is not only a threnody; it is also an epithalamium, a nuptial hymn offered in praise of their 40-some years of marriage.
Since most people today die of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, stroke or dementia, and many live with these diseases for years, this handbook will be enormously helpful for pastors, patients and families. The book gives compassionate and sensible guidance to those seeking to negotiate the difficult spiritual and medical terrain that surrounds the experience of dying.