From Publishers Weekly
Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr's famous prayer ("God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other") has, Sifton notes, the distinction of being the world's most misattributed text. In a sometimes frustrating, sometimes illuminating and sometimes tedious memoir, Niebuhr's daughter-an eminent book editor and currently senior vice-president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux- sets the prayer in the context of her father's life and work. She traces the prayer's birth to its origins during summer services in a New England village church in 1943. The prayer clearly reveals Niebuhr's Christian realism, which asserts that every human effort is tainted with sin or the inevitable human failure to be perfect. Drawing on her memories of her father and her readings of his books, letters, sermons and prayers, Sifton chronicles her father's development as a theologian who courageously challenged the facile liberalism of American churches, the complicity of German churches with the Nazis and the simplistic solutions of Marxism and socialism. Sifton reminisces about many of the major political, theological, and intellectual figures who were a part of her upbringing (Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, W.H. Auden, Felix Frankfurter, R.H. Tawney, Isaiah Berlin) and with whom her father moved shoulder to shoulder in the world. Despite some unfocused writing as she moves from personal recollection to theological reflection, Sifton offers an intimate portrait of growing up with one of America's most important theologians and demonstrates the timelessness of Niebuhr's struggle for justice and mercy in the world. Photos.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The Christian writer and activist Reinhold Niebuhr has influenced millions with his Serenity Prayer, which was composed in the depths of the Second World War, circulated to the troops, and, in edited form, adopted as the mantra for Alcoholics Anonymous. Sifton, Niebuhr's daughter, sets out to correct misreadings of "Pa's" prayer and to bring to life the extraordinary intellectual community of friends (such as Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Felix Frankfurter) who surrounded Niebuhr at Union Theological Seminary and at his summer home in Massachusetts. Sifton's account is not free of a certain Episcopalian hauteur (she itemizes the shortcomings of more uncouth Protestant denominations), but she gives her portrait of the time a resonance appropriate to our own. After Eisenhower's election in 1952, Niebuhr warns his daughter, "You've never lived under a Republican administration. You don't know how terrible this is going to be."
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