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Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power - And How They Can Be Restored
Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power - And How They Can Be Restored
by Marcus J. Borg
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.43
99 used & new from $0.12

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction to Borg's work., July 13, 2011
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The use of Christian language "is in a state of crisis," writes Marcus Borg in the first chapter of his latest work, 'Speaking Christian.' Familiar words have taken on different meanings over time, but most of us are unaware of the change. The problem afflicts both Christian and non-Christian alike.

This book seeks to redeem some of the most important words Christians use, words like "salvation," "redemption," "mercy," "sin," and many others. The book has twenty five chapters, some quite short, and all but three of them devoted to just one or two Christian terms or concepts.

The primary culprits in this "state of crisis" are "the literalization of language in the modern period," and the interpretation of this language within what Borg calls the framework of "heaven and hell" Christianity. Another is the widespread religious illiteracy of our increasingly secular age. (The reality is rather more complicated than that, but basically I agree with Borg on this point.)

Christians, particularly in the U.S., are deeply divided between two different ways of using Christian language. On one side are those who "believe that biblical language is to be understood literally within a heaven-and-hell framework that emphasizes the afterlife, sin and forgiveness, Jesus dying for our sins, and believing." On the other side are the rest of us, some unsure how to understand Christian language, and others who have moved on to some other understanding. "The differences are so sharp," he says, "that they virtually produce two different religions, both using the same Bible and the same language."

Borg's critique of the "heaven and hell" framework, by which he means the "understanding of Christianity that most Protestants and Catholics shared in common and thus took for granted not very long ago," elaborates a point he's made in some of his previous books (indeed, much of this book will be quite familiar to those who have read his previous work, which comes as no surprise--Borg has always been somewhat repetitious).

The widespread assumption, shared by both Christians and non-Christians alike, is that the Christian message is primarily concerned with the afterlife. Heaven is, according to this view, "the reason for being Christian":

"Life after death was so important in the form of Christianity that I absorbed growing up that if somebody had convinced me when I was twelve or so that there was no afterlife, I would have had no idea what Christianity was about or why I should be Christian."

Connected with this is "sin," which is understood as "the central issue in our life with God." What we need above all is forgiveness, which is where Jesus comes in. For many Christians, "what matters about Jesus is that he died for our sins, so that we can be forgiven and go to heaven." And what makes this possible is "having faith," which is generally identified with "believing, understood as affirming a core set of statements to be true."

These four elements, all of which are quite problematic, combine to create a framework through which Christian language is commonly interpreted. So, for instance, "salvation becomes synonymous with "going to heaven," despite the fact that it rarely if ever has that meaning in the Bible. To be "redeemed" has come to mean being "saved from sin," even though in the Bible it refers to being "set free from slavery," sometimes metaphorically, and sometimes not.

Borg considers whether traditional language should be replaced rather than redeemed. One proponent of replacement, he says, is Gretta Vosper, a pastor in the United Church of Canada. In her book With or Without God: Why the Way We Live Is More Important Than What We Believe, Vosper argued that Christian language is a serious obstacle to the growth of the church. Outsiders visiting a church are likely to be turned off by language that, even if not meant literally, will inevitably be heard that way, at least at first.

Borg, though, prefers redeeming the language, and I agree with him. I read Vosper's book when it first came out a few years ago, and found it quite unsatisfying. It includes an appendix featuring some examples of the prayers she uses at her church, which are quite radically un-traditional. Language is such an integral part of a religious tradition that it cannot be replaced to any great extent without becoming another religion. There is much to be gained by reclaiming traditional language and much to be lost by replacing it.

Christians of a more progressive bent will find much to like about this book, particularly if they are new to Borg. Like all of his work, it is well organized and written with great clarity. Readers familiar with his earlier works will find few surprises, but will probably find it worth reading, as I did.


Deeper Than Words: Living the Apostles' Creed
Deeper Than Words: Living the Apostles' Creed
by David Steindl-Rast
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.19
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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very special book, July 30, 2010
There is something a bit jarring about seeing the words "Apostles' Creed" and "Foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama" printed on the cover of a book, but the name of the author reassures us that somehow it will end up making a great deal of sense.

That's because the author is Brother David Steindl-Rast, an Austrian-born Benedictine monk, who is one of the great teachers in our Church. He has been a leading figure in the Church's dialog with Buddhism, a tradition for which he has developed considerable sympathies. He explains in the introduction how he came to write this book at the urging of the Dalai Lama, and why he chose the Apostles' Creed, of all things.

The Creed basically provides Brother David with his Table of Contents: there are twenty four chapters, each devoted to one line (or in a couple of cases, part of a line) of the Creed.

Each chapter is divided into four sections. Referring to the line in the Creed that serves as the title of the chapter, he asks, "What does this really mean?" and he offers an interpretation of the line. Then he asks, "How do we know this is so?" and explains his answer to the first question. He then asks, "Why make such a point of this?" which he answers by explaining why this matters to us today. Finally, he ends each chapter with his personal reflections.

There wasn't a single chapter in this book that I didn't find deeply thought provoking. Brother David takes the familiar words of the Creed--words that for many people have become stale and lifeless, if the droning recitation one hears in Church is any indication--and reveals unfamiliar depths of meaning, reading the Creed as a faith proclamation in poetry, rather than a prosaic checklist of beliefs.

His non-literal interpretation of the Creed will probably not endear him to the mythic membership crowd. Anyone looking for a reflection on a literal virgin birth or ascension into heaven will be disappointed. But even the events Brother David acknowledges as historical--suffering under Pontius Pilate, crucifixion, death and burial, etc.--are here interpreted as having a deep and enduring significance, well beyond their historical facticity.

Readers of Brother David's previous works will not be surprised to find frequent quotations of poetry. He quotes from Gerard Manley Hopkins, Theodore Roethke, Jessica Powers, Mary Oliver, Kabir, and Patricia Campbell Carlson, among others. I often get a little impatient when writers quote poetry, but in Brother David's work poetry is never used as mere ornamentation or for showing off.

After reading the introduction (and the foreword by the Dalai Lama) I expected there would be more frequent references to Buddhism than there actually were. But this is quite thoroughly a Christian book, in a very catholic, which is to say "all-embracing," way. Indeed, his rather generous interpretations of the Creed's "Holy Catholic Church" and "Communion of Saints" will leave exclusivists shaking their heads in indignation. (This is not a criticism, just an observation.)

So how, then, does Brother David further the cause of interreligious understanding? He does not do this by suggesting that the Christian beliefs expressed in the Apostles' Creed are the same as those expressed by Buddhists or Hindus. Rather, he shows that the essential Christian message is a universal message of faith and love, of belonging and sharing, that transcends the boundary lines we draw around ourselves in the name of religion.

The great scholar of religion Huston Smith wrote of this book:

"I have always felt that in endorsing a book I was honoring the book and its author. Brother David's Deeper Than Words, however, brought a new and startling sensation: I found myself sensing that the book was honoring me by allowing me to endorse it. Never before have I felt this way about a book."

I feel much the same way. This is truly a very special book.


Praying Naked: The Spirituality of Anthony de Mello
Praying Naked: The Spirituality of Anthony de Mello
by J. Francis Stroud
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.39
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What was the point of this?, July 28, 2009
I'm a great admirer of Fr. De Mello's work, and picked this up without giving it much of a look. I don't often regret buying books, but this was an exception.

Fr. Stroud, who has otherwise done a good job of editing and promoting Fr. De Mello's work, here simply rehashes some of De Mello's ideas and stories, often without attribution, and provides some rather unhelpful commentary.

Almost half the book is nearly blank, with brief (and frequently rather inane) quotations on the left pages, quotations that often have little or nothing to do with the material on the facing pages. It's very bizarre. It's hard to shake the suspicion that he didn't have enough material for a book, and had to use the quotations to take up some of the space.

I don't know what this book is for. It might introduce De Mello to new readers, but it might actually turn them off, which would be a shame.

If you've read De Mello's work, you will find nothing of value here that you're not already familiar with. If you haven't, do yourself a favour and read his words directly. I recommend starting with Awareness, which was a life-changer for me.


Switch
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Price: $6.95
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars They chose the right guy., December 27, 2005
This review is from: Switch (Audio CD)
I am one of the few long-time INXS fans who wasn't angered by their decision to find a new frontman on a TV show. Actually I thought it was a great idea, and it made for some very entertaining television.

On the other hand, I was not overly impressed with J.D. Fortune. I was pulling for Suzie McNeil, personally. A few weeks ago, though, Fortune and some of the others performed at MuchMusic in Toronto, and I realised I was quite mistaken. He really fits this band like a glove. He can sing the classic INXS tunes as if they were his own, but I don't think he is quite the Michael Hutchence clone a lot of people say he is.

At any rate, he sounds terrific on this new disc. My least favourite song is "Hot Girls," not because I think the lyrics are creepy coming from a band of mostly middle-aged men, but because it simply isn't a great song. But the rest of the songs range from good to incredible. "Devil's Party" ranks up there with INXS's greatest hits. "Pretty Vegas," "Afterglow," "Never Let You Go," and "Us" are also stand-outs. And Suzie sounds great on "God's Top Ten."


Catholicism: New Study Edition--Completely Revised and Updated
Catholicism: New Study Edition--Completely Revised and Updated
by Richard P. McBrien
Edition: Paperback
Price: $25.68
56 used & new from $7.81

34 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Overview of Catholic Theology, July 12, 2005
Fr. McBrien takes a lot of flak from conservatives. I guess they don't want people to read his book. Ironically, it was precisely their loud complaining that initially brought this book to my attention. It's funny how things work that way.

If you are a very conservative Catholic, you should probably skip this one. When McBrien discusses the teaching against contraception, for example, he doesn't only provide the arguments in favour of the teaching -- he provides arguments against the teaching as well. And even worse, you might even get the impression that McBrien disagrees with the official teaching himself!

McBrien has been criticised for presenting official church teachings mixed together with alternative perspectives in a way that might "confuse" people. I think there is little danger of that, since he clearly distinguishes between them. Anyone intellectually deficient enough to be confused is not likely to pick up the book in the first place. It is difficult to shake the suspicion that people making this criticism are resentful of the fact that McBrien even acknowledges dissenting views at all.

As a religion teacher, I find myself consulting this book almost constantly. If you just want the teachings of the magisterium, buy a Catechism. If you are looking for a comprehensive overview of Catholic thought, this is the book.


What is Lonergan Up to in "Insight"?: A Primer (Zacchaeus Studies: Theology)
What is Lonergan Up to in "Insight"?: A Primer (Zacchaeus Studies: Theology)
by Terry J. Tekippe
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.83
51 used & new from $6.47

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Introduction, June 14, 2005
As a religion teacher in a Catholic high school I often find myself trying to present complicated theological or philosophical ideas to my students in a way they can understand. I strongly believe that Lonergan's 'Insight' provides the most adequate understanding of human understanding. Communicating this to my students is always a priority, because an inadequate epistemology and metaphysics can seriously impair our judgment when evaluating truth claims (religious or otherwise).

But it's not always easy to determine how much has to be explained to people without a background in philosophy. So I got this book, hoping it might help me out. Not only did it help me understand how to explain Lonergan to high school students, it helped me understand Lonergan better myself. I wasn't expecting that!

This book is very easy to understand, but I have found that even someone who already has a strong grasp of Lonergan can benefit from it.


Educating for Life: A Spiritual Vision for Every Teacher and Parent
Educating for Life: A Spiritual Vision for Every Teacher and Parent
by Thomas H. Groome
Edition: Paperback
Price: $35.96
57 used & new from $0.01

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring, but longer than it needs to be., April 23, 2005
I have a love-hate relationship with this book. On the one hand, it inspired a great deal of thought and has really changed the way I look at religious education, and my own job as a religious educator. On the other hand, Groome can be *very* long-winded. This book could have been half as long without sacrificing very much at all.

But I have to recommend it -- it is one of the best books about religious education I've ever read.


The Red String Book: The Power of Protection (Technology for the Soul)
The Red String Book: The Power of Protection (Technology for the Soul)
by Yehuda Berg
Edition: Hardcover
88 used & new from $0.01

27 of 42 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I can't believe people are buying this., February 28, 2005
So the Bergs, those modern day snake oil salesmen, have really topped themselves with this. Not only do people buy the book, but I bet a lot of people have bought the $26 Red String from their website, too. That's the website that advertises the Zohar as being over 2000 years old. Of course, it was written in the 13th century, but you have to know something about Kabbalah to know that -- the Bergs are counting on their customers being completely ignorant of authentic Kabbalah (as opposed to their fast-food variety), and clearly they've duped a lot of people. Shameful.


Putting Away Childish Things: The Virgin Birth, the Empty Tomb, and Other Fairy Tales You Dont't Need to Believe to Have a Living Faith
Putting Away Childish Things: The Virgin Birth, the Empty Tomb, and Other Fairy Tales You Dont't Need to Believe to Have a Living Faith
by Uta Ranke-Heinemann
Edition: Hardcover
101 used & new from $0.01

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening, February 21, 2005
There are people who will wonder, after reading this book, if one can remove all of what Ranke-Heinemann calls "fairy tales" from Christianity and still have a practiceable religion left when you're finished. I would answer that yes, you can. And if you can't, you have a highly impoverished understanding about what the gospel is all about (which is true of most Christians, unfortunately).

Ranke-Heinemann, an eccentric but brilliant theologian, focuses her efforts on deconstructing the "fairy tales" of the Christian tradition, and does so with a good sense of humour. At first she comes across as very anti-faith, but this proves to be a false impression. It is only the false beliefs that need to be put away.

She makes no effort to "reconstruct" Christianity after she's finished "deconstructing" it, but this is not the point of her book. If you want to find a fresh approach to Jesus, I highly recommend Marcus Borg's "Jesus: A New Vision" and "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time."

An earlier reviewer suggested that someone who likes the writings of Jack Spong will enjoy this book as well. This is probably true, but the comparison is far more flattering for Spong than it is for Ranke-Heinemann. Spong's books are never as well-written or well-argued as this. Spong is a lightweight compared to Ranke-Heinemann.


The New Jerome Biblical Commentary
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary
by Raymond Edward Brown
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $63.00
79 used & new from $27.42

22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth every penny., February 3, 2005
This is an expensive book, but it's worth it. At first, as an undergraduate in a secular university, I ignored it, assuming that "approved" Catholic scholarship would inevitably be conservative and not to my taste. It wasn't until my last year that I finally gave it a shot, and I regretted not doing that sooner. Now as a Catholic educator I find it invaluable, and use it more than any other commentary.

As for those who would disparage the scholarship of the late Raymond Brown, or call into question his "Catholicity," I ask this question: given that his work never failed to gain official ecclesiastical approval, and that he was appointed to the Pontifical Biblical Commission by TWO conservative popes (Paul VI and JPII), do you think just maybe you're being a bit narrow-minded? (That's a rhetorical question: the answer is, "yes, you are.")


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