Book Reviews - Non-fiction Short Takes
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She Who Changes: Re-imagining the Divine in the World by Dr. Carol P. Christ
Dr. Carol P. Christ's book She Who Changes: Re-imagining the Divine in the World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) was a big surprise for me. Arguing that the time is now ripe for "sustained and shared philosophical reflection by feminists in religion," Christ provides a cogent feminist analysis of Charles Hartshorne's process theology. I was joyously surprised by the strength of Christ's personal faith in "love divine, all loves excelling" and also by her (and Hartshorne's) theory of "dual transcendence," according to which "Goddess/God" (Christ's terminology throughout) is unchangeable in loving relationship with the world but changing in that Goddess/God rejoices with our joy and suffers with our suffering. Christ is wonderful on the topic of divine/human co-creatorship, although I perceive what may be a logical inconsistency: she insists that God is "omnipresent, always here" but denies divine omnipotence. (My question: if divine power extends above, in, and through all things, as Christ's panentheism asserts, then the "real Self" of all creatures is empowered by Goddess/God. In that case, doesn't our united power constitute something that could be called panentheistic omnipotence?) But Christ is surely correct to oppose the impersonal autocratic concept of absolute divine control that many Christians mean when they say omnipotent. And for the most part, Christ's description of process theology is persuasive and vitally important.
A Feminist Companion to the Deutero-Pauline Epistles by Amy-Jill Levine
The biblical scholarship I have recently enjoyed is A Feminist Companion to the Deutero-Pauline Epistles, edited by Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt University (The Pilgrim Press, 2003). (Editor's note: Levine is E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt and director of the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender and Sexuality. The Carpenter Foundation has been a generous donor to CLOUT as well as establishing this professorship and doing many other terrific charitable things.) As we know the later Pauline texts contain "the New Testament's most problematic treatment of women's roles and household systems," so it is fascinating to watch scholars wrestling with the liberating as well as the constraining elements of those texts. Margaret MacDonald describes the difficult situation of early Christian women who were married to believers in other gods. Mary Ann Beavis illustrates the stringent economic and psychological pressures upon women (especially singles) who dedicated their lives to serving the church. Using Ephesians 5:21-33 as the test case, my own essay calls upon biblical commentators to remember (in Levine's words) that they must "do more than arid, objectivist history when (they) approach canonical materials," because contemporary women not only interpret but "are interpreted by the text." Elna Mouton approaches Ephesians from the context of South Africa's social divisions, emphasizing the book's transformative potential. Angela Standhartinger investigates various Roman legal codes in order to demonstrate the subversive function and liberative elements in the Colossians epistle. Essays by David Scholer, Jouette Bassler, Lilian Portefaix, and Bonnie Thurston complete the collection. The overall effect is to cause readers to recognize what has previously gone unnoticed and to give voice to those who were previously silenced.
Subversive Devotions: A Journey into Divine Pleasure and Power by Rev. Dr. Pat Youngdahl
Finally I recommend a dynamite little book called Subversive Devotions: A Journey into Divine Pleasure and Power, written by the Rev. Dr. Pat Youngdahl (Bean Pole Press, 2003). If Youngdahl is not currently a member of CLOUT, we ought to declare her an honorary member. This former Presbyterian minister who now teaches English at the University of Arizona, is an out and proud lesbian Christian. She writes beautifully and she is truly and profoundly subversive, passionately embodied in her love for God, for Jesus-Sophia, for nature, for her beloved partner Michal, and for justice for every creature. Asserting that Jesus was murdered, Youngdahl tells us she annually observes fifty-one Holy Weeks and one Execution Week. She calls her readers toward liberation from doing violence or diminishment to any body.
Bean Pole Press promises a Subversive Devotions Daily Reader in 2004. If it approaches the lyric elegance, honesty, and passion of this brave little volume, CLOUT members will want copies of that reader as well as Youngdahl's currently available journey into lesbian feminist spirituality referred to above.
The Erotic Word: Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Bible by David M. Carr
David M. Carr, The Erotic Word: Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Bible (Oxford, 2003). Arguing that "real change requires an engagement with the cultural resources we already have," the Professor of Old Testament at Union Theological Seminary demonstrates that the Bible is far more affirming of eros than most folks imagine. Leading us on a tour through Eden, Isaiah's vineyard, the prophets, and the Song of Solomon as seen against the background of other ancient love poetry, Carr is both convincing and enlightening.
Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong
Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History. (Phoenix, 2002). This book delivers what its title promises: the essential facts about Muslim insights and struggles from 610 C.E. until today, including a commentary on the meaning of September 11, 2001. In her always-engaging style, Armstrong answers all my most urgent questions about Islam.
Fundamentalism: The Search for Meaning by Malise Ruthven
Malise Ruthven, Fundamentalism: The Search for Meaning (Oxford, 2004). Ruthven, who has written several books on Islam and is a former scriptwriter for the B.B.C., provides a perceptive analysis of the differences and similarities in fundamentalism as it functions within various religious traditions: Protestantism (drawing upon the ideas of J.N. Darby, 1800-1882), Roman Catholicism (known as integralism, with papal infallibility corresponding to biblical inerrancy), Judaism, and Islam. Even Buddhism and Hinduism have a form of fundamentalism with its closely-linked violence, though their fundamentalism is better described as the nationalization or secularization of religion. In the United States today, where elections have been won and wars are being rationalized by the utilization of religious catch-phrases, Ruthven's discussion of the relationship between fundamentalism and nationalism is vitally important.
Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the Truth with Transgender Teenagers by Chris Beam
Chris Beam, Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the Truth with Transgender Teenagers. (Harcourt, 2007). It matters to me that almost half of the kids who "age out" of foster care become homeless and on the streets within six weeks of their emancipation. And it matters to me that almost 40% of male-to-female transsexuals suffer abuse every year, while almost 60% have a history of being raped. And there are far more murders of transpeople than are investigated or even reported. Journalist Chris Beam focuses on the stories of four transgender youth she befriended in Los Angeles, and through their stories tells us a great deal about young transpeople and their entire subculture.