In the midst of summer and mid-way through 2011, we asked a half-dozen people to tell us about the books they are reading that touch on faith, service, justice and community. Maybe you will find something that sparks your interest. Post a comment to make a recommendation of your own!
Meli Barber just finished My Life with the Saints by Fr. Jim Martin, SJ. My Life with the Saints is a spiritual autobiography of Fr. Martin; he recalls saints who had particular importance to him at different points of his life, conveying the life of each saint in tandem with his own life experiences. This was an engaging introduction to the lives of the saints. I also enjoyed reading Fr Martin’s stories! (Meli is a pastoral and youth minister at Sts. Anthony and Barnabas Parishes in Indianapolis, Indiana).
Michael O’Connor is currently reading The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor (no relation). One story, in particular, struck me recently: The Life You Save May Be Your Own. O’Connor addresses judgment, deception and hope in this powerful short story. Her characters are marginalized and disabled, manifested in physical and internal challenges. Most characters acquiesce to these human deficiencies, leaving a young boy encountered at the end of the story as the only possible survivor from the corruption. O’Connor is realistically dark, focuses on the inclination of our humanity, but offers a glimpse of hope to which I imagine everyone clings in each of her stories. (Michael is the Assistant Director of Programs for the Alliance for Catholic Education at Saint Joseph’s University.)
Elizabeth O’Donnell recommends the book The Wounding and Healing of Desire: Weaving Heaven and Earth by Wendy Farley. This book changed my perspective on the relationship between personal and structural change in the pursuit of justice and peace. Farley plumbs the spiritual depths of the human psyche to explore the varied forms of “pain relief” that bind us to destructive and unjust patterns of behavior. Living out of fear, rather than love, the divine image in us is blocked. Contemplation is a route to inner liberation, which in turn will capacitate us for greater commitment to a faith that does justice. (Liz is a Ph.D. candidate in Theological Studies at Emory University.)
Dayna Pizzigoni recently started reading The Rise of Enlightened Sexism: How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild by Susan J. Douglas. It speaks to the false guise, fueled by media, that sexism no longer exists. With wit and stats, she portrays the reality of progress in society and the continued emphasis on feminine power through purchases and pursed lips. Fr. John Donahue, S.J. defines justice as fidelity to relationship. What is the relationship that our sisters and daughters are building with each other as they watch “My Super Sweet Sixteen” and “The Man Show”? How are we loyal to a holy, mutual, and just relationship between men and women in our social circles and society at large? (Dayna is a Pastoral Counseling M.S./Ph.D. student at Loyola University Maryland.)
Fr. Aidan Rooney, C.M. recommends It Happened on the Way to War (a 2011 TED Book Selection). It’s the story of three people: Rye Barcott, an American Marine, Tabitha Atieno Festo, a widowed nurse, and Salim Mohamed, a community organizer. Barcott later served in Iraq, while continuing his leadership in this new initiative. His service in Kenya provided an incredible window to view U.S. policy first-hand in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. The book chronicles the struggle to found and direct a non-profit organization in Kenya’s Kibera slum that promotes local leadership in the struggle against poverty and corruption. That organization, Carolina for Kibera, is now a pioneer of the movement called participatory development. (Fr. Rooney is a Vincentian priest living and working at the Congregation’s Mission in El Alto, Bolivia.)
Alex Varga just finished rereading The Power of One and is now on to the sequel Tandia. Both of these stories are set in South Africa around the height of apartheid and, based on the author’s own life and experiences, draw attention to the atrocious reality of the time and the consequences of a culture consumed by hate. Intertwined in these stories are themes of faith, hope and individual and collective power as the main characters struggle to make sense of the events around them and the aporia of how true justice and unity is achieved. (Alex works on species and ecosystem conservation at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.)
So that’s what we’re reading. What are you reading? You’re invited to share your thoughts in a comment.