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The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art

The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive ArtThe Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art by Luke Timothy Johnson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Johnson begins the book:

Two simple convictions animate this exercise in theology. The first is that the human body is the preeminent arena for God's revelation in the world, the medium through which God's Holy Spirit is most clearly expressed. God's self-disclosure in the world is thus continuous and constant. The second conviction is that the task of theology is the discernment of God's self-disclosure in the world through the medium of the body. Therefore, theology is necessarily an inductive art rather than a deductive science.

With that promising beginning and enticing first chapter the book fails to live up to expectations. It is a thoroughgoing phenomenology of bodily experience, but with little developed theological reflection, in my opinion. For instance, James McClendon places the body first in his theology to much richer effect.

I did appreciate Johnson, a Catholic theologian, entering into a robust discussion of sexuality and gender with a valuable discussion of intersex bodies and what their reality suggests for theology. Again, this is material I've encountered before in queer thinkers, but was refreshing to discover here in Roman Catholic theology.

One of the book's primary aims seems to be a criticism of John Paul II's writing on the body and sexuality. Had I known that the book had that more limited focus, I probably wouldn't have read it.

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Excerpt from Links

Here is a good paragraph from Links by Nuruddin Farah.

"Truth-telling" sits awkwardly on evil men, Jeebleh thought. Caloosha's distended belly was filled with sentiments of war and wickedness, which was why he looked so ugly, and so unhealthy. Attrition retarded his brain, evil dulled his imagination, did not sharpen it.


Links

LinksLinks by Nuruddin Farah
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fascinating read. This story is set in Somalia during the long civil war, after the American presence. The main character is a Somali exiled to the United States during the dictatorship who returns to honor his deceased mother and reconnect with the people he hasn't seen in decades. It is a mesmerizing account of how he falls into the violent chaos of the city.

***Spoiler Alert***

There was so much mystery and tension that I kept waiting for there to be some dramatic turn or revelation near the end, and there wasn't. So at the end I wondered if all the characters and tense episodes were necessary. Some parts became stranger by not apparently serving any final purpose. For example, I really have no idea what purpose Seamus served.

Also, the conversations had a way of becoming very didactic. That could, at times, be mesmerizing, but at others weren't.

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An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter

An Episode in the Life of a Landscape PainterAn Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by C├ęsar Aira
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With very precise language the author crafts a rich and even mysterious story about a painter's encounter with the Argentine frontier. I will now definitely read more of Aira's work.

An example:

Travel and painting were entwined like fibers in a rope. One by one, the dangers and difficulties of a route that was tortuous and terrifying at the best of times were transformed and left behind. And it was truly terrifying: it was hard to believe that this was a route used virtually throughout the year by travelers, mule drivers and merchants. Anyone in their right mind would have regarded it as a means of suicide. Near the watershed, at an altitude of two thousand meters, amid peaks disappearing into the clouds, rather than a way of getting from point A to point B, the path seemed to have become quite simply a way of departing from all points at once. Jagged lines, impossible angles, trees growing downwards from ceilings of rock, sheer slopes plunging into mantles of snow under a scorching sun. And shafts of rain thrust into little yellow clouds, agates enveloped in moss, pink hawthorn. The puma, the hare and the snake made up a mountain aristocracy. The horses panted, began to stumble, and it was time to stop for a rest; the mules were perpetually grumpy.

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The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

The Ministry of Utmost HappinessThe Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Often beautiful sentences and rich characters populate this mess of a novel. I believe it is supposed to be a mess, but that doesn't stop me from think it is messy.

I came away from reading it with a heavy sadness about the deplorable state of our world. The last novel I read that gave me insight into Kashmir was Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown. The Kashmir elements of Roy's novel are much more difficult to take. Horrible things have transpired in the last thirty years, largely unknown to this American.

In fact the overall theme of the novel seems to be how India has been fucked by its war in Kashmir and the rise of Hindu nationalism. Rushdie's novels always revealed the precarious state of India's democracy and pluralistic civil society, and Roy takes that theme to the extreme. Her main characters are almost exclusively outsiders. Even the great villain of the story is a Sikh and one is reminded of the massacre of Sikhs in 1984, so even he may have a history of trauma that explains his actions.

The first major section of the novel is the too quickly told story of one hijra when it abruptly shifts to a complicated story of Kashmir and many characters. Only near the end do these stories draw together, and it is never clear to me that they all relate well to one another. There seem to be two novels here.

Roy's political points are always on the surface, which is informative but at times burden the story too much.

Despite my criticisms, I still recommend it. But be prepared for the messy, heavy load.

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A New Gospel for Women

A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian FeminismA New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism by Kristin Kolbes Dumez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A revelation that Katharine Bushnell, an evangelical feminist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century developed a complete theological reconstruction and new interpretation of the Bible that anticipated developments of the 1970's sometimes as often as 80 years before. Dumez is trying to recover this forgotten figure and use her as a resource to help 21st century Christian women in the global church to draw simultaneously upon Christian faith from an evangelical hermeneutic and the feminist reconstruction of the faith.

This is a clearly written, well researched book, about a fascinating figure and an entire movement in American political and religious life of which I knew very little.

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Reno on On the Road

The conservative writer R. R. Reno has an excellent essay on Jack Kerouac's On the Road, which is kinda surprising. An excerpt:

So it was for me the first time I read On the Road more than twenty-five years ago. A bohemian fellow traveler of sorts, I had already been on my own road, hitchhiking many times across America. The book had a paradoxically sobering effect as I read it one day on the front porch of a hostel in France, outside of Chamonix, overlooking a meadow in late spring bloom. When I finished I felt a judgment on my Emersonian fantasies of originality. My small efforts to escape from the safe streets and calm kitchens of middle-class America were, I learned, part of an old story. I was going down an often-walked road with my emblematic backpack and blue jeans and torn T-shirt. I felt like a suburban explorer who suddenly realizes that the nearby forest is not the Amazonian jungle.


Adonis: Selected Poems

Adonis: Selected PoemsAdonis: Selected Poems by Adonis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a volume of brilliant, beautiful poetry. And I don't usually like modernist poetry all that much.
As you want any poet to do, he creates provocative images and metaphors by artfully using a word or idea in a way that is both familiar and alien. Plus, his poetry is affected by the complex and often violent history of his Syrian homeland. I understand why Adonis is often listed as a potential Nobel prize winner. In fact, I'm surprised he hasn't already won.

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More from Conscience of a Conservative

A few notable excerpts from Conscience of a Conservative.

We are only as good as our information, and if we lose our sense of objective truth, we lose everything. We must protect and preserve our healthy public sphere--that civic space in which we vigorously debate and negotiate, agree and disagree--or else.

***

Giving away one's agency and becoming captive to such outlandish and vile alternative facts would be bad enough were one an average person, quietly living his or her life. But giving away one's agency to such a confusion of fact and fantasy when one has power--well, that is truly dangerous.  And it is something else, too: highly influential.  Bad information propagated by powerful people spreads like a contagion, infecting vulnerable people in its path.

I really appreciated the concept of giving away one's agency related to dishonesty.

From a very young age in ranch country, you also get to know immigrants intimately and honestly.  You learn through experience how indispensable they are to making things work in America. It seems that once every generation or so, we have these spasms of immigrant resentment and scapegoating, if not outright hatred. We are at our worst when we give in to these impulses and resort to a device that can be emotionally satisfying, perhaps, and politically expedient but very self-destructive--the impulse to look for somebody else to blame for our problems.  If only these people weren't here, we would be much better off. The nativist impulse is always destructive, always comes with a cost, and never ends well.

***

Seemingly overnight, we became defined not by the limitless aspirations of a free people but by our grievances and resentments and our lowest common denominators. . . .  The quick answer: We did it because it was cheap and easy and the real world is hard and defending a principled position to voters is harder still.

***

Far from conservative, the president's comportment was rather a study in the importance of conflict in reality television--that once you introduce conflict, you cannot de-escalate conflict.  You must continually escalate.  

Reading this comment during the weekend of white supremacist violence and the President's sociopathic, racist response to it made me even more frightened for the future.

What is best for the country is for neither base to fully get what it wants but rather for the factions that make up our parties to be compelled to talk until we find policy solutions to our problems.

As I said in my review earlier this week, a worthy book.