February 9, 2009

So many American ventures into the Middle East go awry because policy makers know so little about the region. Robin Wright, who has been a correspondent in Middle Eastern and other countries for 35 years, attempts to address this ignorance. In Dreams and Shadows she profiles most Middle East countries—from Iran in the East to Morocco in the West. If it seems strange that she includes the Palestinians and not Israel, it is because she is trying to put her finger on the pulse of movements—both radical and reformist—in the Muslim world that for better or worse will shape realities there for years to come. The omission of Saudi Arabia, however, is more telling: the system there is set in place, and the country’s forces for change have not been “noisy enough.” Wright’s strength in the book is letting the reader hear actual voices of people from this region.

In the summer of 2007, blogger and soon-to-be Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz-Weber watched 24 hours of the Trinity Broadcast Network. It was an encounter between two different cultures of American Christianity, each perhaps equally hostile to the other. But despite her belief that the rapture, the prosperity gospel and Christian Zionism all rate among the “stinkiest ideas in Christian history,” Bolz-Weber set out to find some common ground between herself and what she called the “theological other.” And she raises good questions: So what if my theology is right and theirs is wrong? So what if I like my way of being Christian better than TBN’s? Can I admit, she asks tentatively, that God might work through Christian television?

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