Volume > Issue > Briefly: March 1992

March 1992

Power Trips and Other Journeys

By Jean Bethke Elshtain

Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press

Pages: 196

Price: $11.95

Review Author: Cornelia D'mils

“To take advantage of the current possibilities of the modern world, young women need what men have always had, namely, stories that help them to imagine specific ways of being a woman in the world — and the possibilities of laughter.” Elizabeth Fox-Genovese’s comment illustrates the focus of two recent collections of essays by Fox-Genovese and Jean Bethke Elshtain. Both provide images of the possible for women today, and both authors express new thinking on feminism and the future.

In doing so they surely provide possibilities of laughter. Authentically confident, these women can afford to laugh at the ridiculous situations the world serves up to those who choose to imagine how the world might be better.

Each book makes a unique contribution to contemporary social thought, and neither is narrowly feminist. Elshtain and Fox-Genovese, while seeing themselves as feminists, state the necessity of the inclusion of the masculine in their analyses. Both are women in love with the world, the entire world.

Each book pursues Hannah Arendt’s theme of amor mundi. While Fox-Genovese does not refer to Arendt, her discussions carry the leitmotif of a “love of the world,” and Elshtain cites Arendt throughout. The two writers represent a new generation echoing Arendt’s work, especially what she called the “potentiality of natality,” a counter to the inevitability of mortality. Arendt emphasized, too, education as the “point where we love the world enough to accept responsibility for it.” Both Elshtain and Fox-Genovese express their love of the world by extending their discourse to the ramifications of responsibility — the responsibility to think, understand, and act. They see this responsibility in the context of the world community. In any case, though they sometimes differ, this pair of authors has advanced feminist criticism to a new level.

The musical metaphor of the oratorio is one way to capture the voices of Fox-Genovese and Elshtain. Their essays are movements within a composition of shared themes of individual vs. community, rights vs. responsibility, and power vs. morality. Reading their books concurrently gives a better mix of voices.

Fox-Genovese and Elshtain concern themselves with how people think and judge, particularly how women do so. In her The Life of the Mind, Arendt asks, “Where are we when we think?” She opens her discussion with Paul Valery’s answer. “When I think, I am in the nowhere.” Yet Elshtain and Fox-Genovese think “in the everywhere.” At the same time, their thinking is sharply topical. Together, they examine the themes of power and powerlessness, pornography, and politics. Separately, Fox-Genovese offers a feminist critique of individualism and Elshtain explores the crises of the family.

Elshtain has a special interest in narrative. In her own narrative, she defines herself as a political theorist: “It is not the task of the political theorist to tell people ‘what is to be done,’ rather, our vocation, as Hannah Arendt articulated it, is to think what we are doing.”

In our oratorio metaphor, we might consider Elshtain’s emphasis on narrative as the etude of this shared com-position. Citing Vaclav Havel, Adam Michnik, and Las Madres of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires in her stories of power and powerlessness, Elshtain reaches concert pitch in her treatment of children. Here she steps out of the role of theorist and speaks a call to action, citing Camus’s “One must never avert one’s eyes from the suffering of children, and seeing that suffering, one is required to act.”

St. Paul says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” Elshtain and Fox-Genovese speak as women whose love of the world resonates with the clarity of the flute and the depth of the cello.

Feminism Without Illusions

By Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

Publisher: University of North Carolina Press

Pages: 347

Price: $24.95

Review Author: Carroll C. Kearley

In recent years I had read a few poems by Czeslaw Milosz, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. I had even clipped two or three of them from The New Yorker and put them in a folder. And I had read a short article in Threepenny Review in which Robert Haas elaborated an example of how he works with Milosz to translate his poetry. These occasional readings had only brought me to the frontiers of Milosz’s poetic world. I was still on the other side, looking across the border.

Now I am reading Milosz’s poems with a desire to inhabit their world. I want to partake of their creator’s sensibility. It is almost a sacramental matter, dealing with the outward signs — words — of a particularly sensitive consciousness.

Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn have guided me into Milosz’s poetic world, and I intend to take up residence there. To do so, I do not have to abandon the poetic worlds of Akhmatova, Seferis, Mistral, and other cherished poets, for in the reading of poetry dual citizenship is permissible, even indispensable. I tend to stay with certain poets for years, and now I know that I am destined to read Milosz seriously. Nathan and Quinn unfold the narrative of Milosz’s poetic speaking. (Quinn sketched some of the themes in this book in his article in the June 1991 NOR). The authors show that his poems are interpretations in which he recalls, appraises, prizes, and praises prominent elements from his lived world, one that has always been significantly Christian.

In the 1930s his sense of things was more pantheistic. In “Hymn” he writes, “I, a faithful son of the black earth, shall return to the black earth.” When he says, “There is no one between you and me/ and to me strength is given,” there is an expression of pantheistic communion. Nevertheless, this communion did not keep him from seeing chaos and evil on all sides. When he considered them, his pantheistic vision did not give him the means to understand them.

He was oppressed by the presence of evil. He read Simone Weil, and in the 1950s translated her work into Polish. He began to think in her manner that even though the world is ruled by necessity and evil, Transcendent Divinity deposits something sacred within the soul of every human per-son. Milosz had now added Manichaeism to his pantheism and Christianity.

In the 1960s Milosz became a professor of Slavic languages and literature at the University of California at Berkeley. He taught a course on the novels of Dostoevsky, and found himself explaining Dostoevsky’s Christianity to students who were radically skeptical. He shared some of their skepticism — and he feared it.

But Milosz saw that Dostoevsky had a polyphonic consciousness in which there was tension between humanist skepticism and religious faith. He saw Dostoevsky’s polyphony as a reflection of modern man. He also saw that it was an image of his own polyphonic consciousness, in which pantheism, skepticism, Manichaeism, and orthodox Catholicism vied with and spoke to one another.

Acknowledging that his voice has “always lacked fullness,” Milosz now wrote in a polyphonic voice. We can easily hear it in his poem “Father Ch., Many Years Later.” Milosz begins with a voice that talks about Fr. Chomski, who died at the age of 97, worrying till the end about his parishioners. Then he speaks as if he were Fr. Chomski, who will not bow to the “Great Spirit of Non-Being.” Then he speaks in the voice of a “flesh-enraptured” man, who might have been Fr. Chomski’s parishioner. This man speaks to his accomplice in sin, “Eve under the apple tree,” and tells her that he has loved her breasts, belly, and lips.

In his poetry of the last 20 years, Milosz’s strongest voice seems to be the one that speaks for a pious Catholic believer. In a poem written about his mother in 1985, he remembers her poor arthritically swollen knees, and thinks about them on his own 74th birthday as he attends Mass at St. Mary Magdalen in Berkeley. Yet his voice of skepticism still seems present.

When I listen to Milosz’s poetic polyphony, I have to admit that I too speak in many voices, monitored, I hope, by a Catholic self.

The Poet's Work: An Introduction to Czeslaw Milosz

By Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn

Publisher: Harvard University Press

Pages: 178

Price: $29.95

Review Author: Juli Loesch Wiley

A recent perusal of feminist literature shows a certain incoherence. One magazine passionately promotes legal strategies to curb obscenity, while another runs ads for feminist pornography. NOW aims to legalize “woman-controlled sexual services,” while Ms. Magazine wants the United Nations to suppress prostitution. Most feminist groups support massive legal abortion, while Feminists for Life, of course, doesn’t. And Germaine Greer, who lustily promoted the contraceptive-fueled sexual revolution in the 1970s, mordantly opposed it in the 1980s — and where she’s headed in the 1990s is anybody’s guess.

This is the difficulty encountered by June O’Connor, who, in this slim volume, aims to “ask” Dorothy Day “the questions recently raised by feminist religious ethics.” O’Connor seems to want Day to “pass the test,” to be found sharing the same hopes, methods, and goals as feminists.

But how can a person pass (or faibpa multiple choice test in a movement that can’t say — who’s to say? — which choice is the right one? Or a movement that says that any choice is right, if chosen by a woman? Come to think it, what is feminism, anyway?

O’Connor views Day, first of all, as a writer. She notes that Day’s types of writing — autobiography, diary, reporting, editorializing — are not sharply demarcated, but tend to flow into one another. Day’s writing was often fragmentary. And yet, while it was not built on great blocks of sustained argumentation or structured narrative, it has a remarkable coherence. It is not so much a unity of style as a unity of person: Year after year, decade after decade, there was simply no difference between what Dorothy believed, what she wrote, and the way she lived.

O’Connor finds Day’s blended personal/political style to be “feminist.” She also finds Day’s passionate way of expressing herself to be “feminist.” The same goes for Day’s content, inasmuch as she often evinced a commitment to women’s well-being, which O’Connor cites as a definition of feminism.

But is this meaningful? The Psalms invariably blended the personal and the political: Does that make King David a feminist? Cultural gadfly Camille Paglia’s feelings rise above room temperature: Is she a feminist? Phyllis Schlafly and Mary Pride write from a commitment to women’s well-being: Does that make conservative Christianity/” new traditionalism” feminist?

It only gets fuzzier as O’Connor goes on. She does note that Day simply did not speculate about gender identity in her private life and did not establish the Catholic Worker as a community exhorting identical social roles for men and women. When Day urged the Church toward change, it was not toward “progress” but toward restoration: She would cite “the prophets of Israel and the Fathers of the Church” as her authorities against usury and war and the oppression of the poor.

Moreover, Day’s vision was based on the traditions and dogmas of the Catholic Church: She was at the opposite pole from the “hermeneutic of suspicion” recommended by the self-proclaimed feminists in the churches.

Well, no matter. June O’Connor likes Dorothy Day — this of course reflects well on O’Connor’s heart — so she seemingly must induct her into the feminist sisterhood.

As for me: Let those who can’t deal with Dorothy Day on her own terms at least leave her intact. Fitting Day into modern feminism is like trying to stir-fry a layer cake.

The Moral Vision of Dorothy Day: A Feminist Perspective

By June O'Connor

Publisher: Crossroad

Pages: 123

Price: $16.95

Review Author: Brett Webb-Mitchell

In Naming The Silences Stanley Hauerwas reaffirms the foundational themes of his theology and uses illness to explore basic questions about human nature, Christian community, and God. Stories enable Hauerwas to explore core issues of suffering — stories that serve as windows to shed light on what appears to be dark and dangerous.

Among the salient themes Hauerwas maps out are the unifying function of narratives, primarily God’s Story and our stories; the role of the Christian community in the face of illness; the poverty of key assumptions of the Enlightenment; and the presence of God in the ordinary world. Hauerwas’s first preoccupation is the importance of the Christian community’s understanding of God’s Story and our life story. He finds that illness may help us understand what it means to be in and part of God’s Story, for even in illness we can see that God has not abandoned us. The Christian believes that God’s Story reveals Christ as the One who suffers with us, making it possible for us to cry and rage against the hardness of the world, particularly in the face of sickness we cannot cure. Our suffering becomes a forum for dialogue with God.

Our own life stories also play a critical role here. In order for members of a Christian community to know how best to be with another member who is in pain, we need a biographical vantage point that links one’s birth and death together. A person is not a disabling condition or an illness; we do not live and die as unconnected tidbits in a value-neutral sphere. Instead, each person lives and dies, and can be best understood by a personal narrative which is nurtured and shaped by a larger, communal story.

Hauerwas’s second theme is the role of the Christian community. He believes that good and evil can’t be known outside of the community of Christ. But with this knowledge of good and evil, we also realize that there is no solution to the problem of evil: There will always be evil in the world. What the Christian community is able to do is absorb the powerful, destructive forces that emerge from evil. Then the community, worshiping the Christ who suffers with us, is able to care for and be with the valued other who is ill.

His third theme, the counterpoint to his theological position, is a set of Enlightenment distortions. The very project of “theodicy,” the notion that we must resolve the question, “If God is powerful and good, then how can there be evil in the world?” is a metaphysical burden that became an obsession under Enlightenment rationalism. Such rationalism still flourishes in the medical community, what Hauerwas calls the last bastion of the Enlightenment, tying together reason, science, and the myth of unlimited human possibilities. The philosophers of the Enlightenment believed that nature, particularly human nature, is manipulable, and thus “evil” could be “managed.” There is, for such, no “tolerable death” or “natural life span.” Thus, death is the enemy to be conquered — by the medical establishment. Cure, not care, is medicine’s grand goal; care, not cure, is the primary Christian goal.

Hauerwas’s fourth theme is the very nature of God, uniquely revealed in the faces of those who are sick and dying. Hauerwas writes that in suffering, our faith in God is revealed when we believe that God hears the prayer of the one who suffers; that in hearing this prayer, God in some way suffers with us, for in Christ He knows our pain and sorrow.

For all its wisdom, there is something missing in Naming The Silences: heaven. In an African-American spiritual, there is the refrain that gave hope to a people in slavery: “Soon I will be done with the troubles of the world…going home to live with God.” The response that Hauer was advocates, learning to live with suffering in the midst of a caring Christian community, knowing that Christ is suffering with us, is not the full story. The Christian community has always relied on the vision of heaven, the reign of God, in order to bear the burden of suffering. Then standing beside our Jesus, all will be well.

Hauerwas writes that in the face of suffering, human-kind has always asked, “Why, God?” Hauerwas’s own response is one more voice in the chorus that seeks some way of knowing what is behind that which appears to be chaos.

Naming The Silences: God, Medicine, and the Problem of Suffering

By Stanley Hauerwas

Publisher: Eerdmans

Pages: 151

Price: $9.95

Review Author: Lori Fudem

Why would a modern woman turn to Orthodox Judaism? The central question of this book brought to mind a colleague in graduate school, “Ellen,” who became engaged to an Orthodox man just before we received our M.B.A.s. While the rest of us were preparing to go out into the business world, Ellen was preparing to be a homemaker. I suspected that her fiance was trying to cut her off from her friends “on the outside” — or was I just imagining it? I last saw her dancing at her Orthodox wedding.

It was curious to me that Ellen chose this way of life; I knew several people brought up in Orthodox homes who felt so suffocated by the tradition that they had abandoned Judaism altogether. This saddened me; I felt they had been deprived of understanding Judaism as a living faith.

As a Reform Jew, I was brought up in a relaxed, less ritualistic tradition, one that facilely meshes with modern society. Although my upbringing and feminist values certainly affect my perspective on Orthodoxy, I approached this book hoping for illumination as to the appeal of fundamentalist Judaism.

The author examines two groups, Bais Chana, a residential women’s study institute in Minnesota for Lubavitch Hasidic Jews, and Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan.

As part of her research, the author lived among the women at Bais Chana. This institute generally attracted young women, many of whom had troubled pasts. They were “searchers.” Lubavitch Hasidim are an insular sect, with the distinction of reaching out to assimilated Jews to bring them back into the fold. Some may be familiar with them as Chabad House, an outreach center often located near college campuses.

In Lubavitch Hasidism, an authoritative structure frames people’s lives, with the movement’s head rebbe (rabbi) cast in a messianic role, joins the community and one is instantly part of a warm family-at-large. Structure, community, and religious observance are woven into the fabric of life. Women are honored in their roles as wives and mothers.

The women in the second group, the beginners group at Lincoln Square Synagogue, enjoyed the warmth and hospitality of a community amidst the cold of New York City. They were accomplished, successful women, and older than the Lubavitchers. These women did not necessarily view themselves as career women; they simply had never married and had continued to advance in their professional lives. In fact, a strong initial motivation in coming to the synagogue was often to find a husband.

At Lincoln Square there were no physical boundaries to encapsulate converts; thus many were involved with this community for years without making a full commitment. It is curious that many of the women did not have a firm belief in God. To quote the rabbi, “It’s really a very meaningful religion irrespective of whether you believe in God or not. The mitzvahs [commandments] make sense even if you could prove black and white there is no God.”

All the freedoms in our society are bewildering. With the breakdown of structure in contemporary society, many experience a frightening freedom from meaning and belonging. The drive toward orthodoxy in Judaism can be seen as a drive to put those values back into our lives.

In attempting to present a fair-minded ethnography which maintains the objectivity of dispassionate research, this book has a certain academic distance. However, quotes from interviews and the first chapter, “A Day In The Life of Two Jewish Women,” make these women come alive. This book offers valuable insights, especially to those who are disconcerted by friends and family who are Orthodox converts. For my part, I am in the process of contacting my friend Ellen. Perhaps now we will be able to build a bridge of understanding.

Tradition in a Rootless World: Women Turn to Orthodox Judaism

By Lynn Davidman

Publisher: University of California Press

Pages: 254

Price: $24.95

Review Author: Achad HaSh'erit

Stephen Krason considers three U.S. ideologies in detail: “old liberalism” (really New Deal liberalism), “new liberalism” (essentially the Democratic Party as influenced by certain currents of the 1960s), and conservatism. He examines their positions on a wide variety of issues. Krason attempts a methodical examination of these ideologies and an objective comparison of each to Catholic social teaching. He finds each ideology wanting in one way or another, with conservatism slightly closer to Catholic social teaching than the old liberalism, while the new liberalism trails far behind.

Krason considers what practical alternatives U.S. Catholics have in the political arena. Recalling that the old liberal coalition included Catholics and secularists because the latter were willing to downplay their secularistic mindset in order to make common cause with Catholics and other Christians, he notes that conservatism is unlikely to do likewise because the area where it is perhaps furthest from the Church — economics — is at the core of conservative ideology. But he does not think a revival of the old liberalism is really possible, and sees little basis for a coalition with the new liberals and their proabortionism. If he is pessimistic in regard to immediate practical steps, it is because he has no prior agenda of urging Catholics to blend in with liberals or conservatives. A refreshing outlook.

Anyone with a serious interest in the relation of Catholic social teaching to the U.S. political scene will find value in this book. Still, I must point out two weaknesses.

First, Krason uses the 1948 Democratic Party platform when examining the old liberalism. While this is not the only source he consults, it looms large. He justifies his choice by saying that this platform represents a consolidation of old liberalism and includes “changes and reevaluations” brought on by the war and the rise of the U.S.S.R. But others, I among them, would note that by that time the most vital and creative aspects of the New Deal (principally the National Recovery Act) were dead in the water because of conservative resistance and preoccupation with the war. Indeed, the NRA, doubtless the most radical proposal for economic restructuring ever made by a major U.S. political party, is not discussed at all. Thus Krason’s contention that the old liberals viewed competition as the proper governing force of economic life (in this not essentially different from conservatism, but very different from Church teachings) only makes sense by ignoring the NRA.

Secondly, the author often finds both the old and new liberalism, when proposing action by the federal government, deficient vis-a-vis conservatism in regard to subsidiarity. But subsidiarity is violated not only when a lower level of government is deprived of its role when it can handle it well, but also when a lower level of government is given a task which only a higher level can handle adequately. Thus, it seems to me Krason would have to examine carefully each area and proposal to see if a call for federal intervention was or was not a violation of subsidiarity. One understands that the author is trying to minimize personal judgments in order to make his study as objective as possible, but in this very important area of subsidiarity there simply cannot be a priori judgments. Krason may be correct in his charges against liberals, but he has not substantiated them.

The first deficiency causes the author to not fully understand the old liberalism and the second causes him to criticize, perhaps excessively, certainly without sufficient evidence, the old and new liberals.

Liberalism, Conservatism, and Catholicism: An Evaluation of Contemporary American Political Ideologies in Light of Catholic Social Teaching

By Stephen M. Krason

Publisher: Catholics United for the Faith

Pages: 339

Price: $14.95

Review Author: Charles A. Coulombe

This short book tries to perform a task, apparently impossible on the face of it: to reconcile Christianity and anarchism. If one sees Christianity in terms of a Church divinely founded and held together by sacramental and doctrinal bonds, and anarchism as a rejection of all structure and authority, including God, then this reconciliation is indeed impossible. But the Huguenot Jacques Ellul is able to pull off the trick by redefining both terms.

He states quite boldly that “the struggle for an anarchist society is essential, but…the realizing of such a society is impossible.” This impossibility he declares to be the result of man’s fallen nature. Rather, he believes in a “new social model” of small groups at the fringes of society. He contends further that Christ and the apostolic era Christians disdained authority.

It may be argued that while these ideas are all very well, they are far from what an authentic card-carrying anarchist (did such exist) would hold. Indeed, Ellul’s Christian anarchism is hardly anarchy.

But then, it is hardly Christian either. For the point of Christianity is the salvation of fallen humanity, its being rescued individually from Hell. But not for Ellul: “My own belief is that the Bible proclaims a universal salvation which God in grace grants to all of us. But what about conversion and faith? That is another matter. It does not relate to salvation, despite the common view. It is a taking of responsibility. After conversion we are committed to a certain lifestyle…. We are not, then, to engage in proselytizing.”

No indeed? But why then are we to bother at all with Christianity? Rather than being either salvific or a “responsibility,” it comes across as uncommon hogwash, so valueless that we are not even to spread it. While this view is present in certain Catholic catechetical circles today (an argument much like this graces my old high school textbook Christ Among Us), it reflects the dichotomy arising from the Calvinist denial of free will: Either mankind is incapable of preventing the damnation predestined to overwhelm all but a tiny elect, or else no one is capable of escaping Heaven.

The Calvinist heritage of Ellul’s Huguenotism is apparent elsewhere: his rejection of the Church Fathers (indeed he ought to reject them, as they for the most part refute his thesis) and of organization in the Church (Catholicism receives its usual share of attacks for being organized, but he magnanimously assaults Protestants also). The sacraments play no part at all in his religiosity; indeed, it is hard to know what does.

But nowhere is his Protestantism more apparent than in his sola scriptura approach. For Ellul, if it is not in the Bible, it is not true. Yet, if it is in the Bible, it is not necessarily true either. For our author does not believe in miracles, Hell, or Satan; neither do the texts giving Peter primacy or requiring Baptism and the Eucharist receive any sort of hearing. He does not really believe in the veracity of Scripture, unless it agrees with him. Here we see private judgment run wild.

In a word, he preaches a this-worldly religion. There is no real faith here: only United Wayism.

As a nod to Catholic readers, an appendix, “Testimony: Priest and Anarchist,” gives the assent of a French Catholic priest, Adrien Duchosal, to Ellul’s teaching. Among Duchosal’s salient declarations are: “I reject all human hierarchy” and “I reject hierarchy between us and God.” Out goes Scripture, out goes tradition, but out equally goes the good father’s right to stand in the pulpit, pretending to teach. It is ever thus with those who deny divinely constituted authority; they replace it with themselves. It is as the pioneer of private judgment put it: “If they ask why, tell them it is because I, Dr. Martin Luther, would have it so.”

Anarchy and Christianity

By Jacques Ellul

Publisher: Eerdmans

Pages: 109

Price: $9.95

Review Author: Ronda Chervin

Subtitled Rediscovering the Rosary as a Way of Prayer, this book by the Trappist Basil Pennington, famous for his Centering Prayer Movement, is not so much a book for devotees of the rosary as for those now attracted to contemplative prayer who in the past may have discounted the rosary.

A chapter on the uses of beads in the religious practice of non-Christians helps the reader to understand the universal appeal of tactile rhythmic prayer. It might, in addition, help the “sophisticated Catholic” avoid ridiculing so-called “rosary Catholics” for habits such as holding a rosary during Mass.

Pennington’s historical sections on the specific prayers of the rosary are instructive. A chapter giving the actual scriptural sources for the 15 rosary mysteries will be important for those who think of devotional prayer as in opposition to scriptural spirituality. Recalling his own experience in the Holy Land, Pennington offers us, too, his reflections on his visits to the sites of several of the events commemorated by the rosary mysteries. These thoughts help the mysteries come alive for us. Pennington also includes a chapter on other Gospel events that we might add to the traditional rosary.

Readers pleased with a respectful inclusion of notes on Marian apparitions past and present will be surprised and perhaps turned away from this otherwise welcome book by its use of “she” for the Holy Spirit and sometimes for the Godhead. Since such usage is contrary to the recent U.S. Bishops’ liturgical guidelines, I wonder why Pennington finds it necessary to include a formula likely to offend orthodox Catholics and suggest mere trendiness.

Praying by Hand

By M. Basil Pennington

Publisher: HarperSanFrancisco

Pages: 129

Price: $14.95

Review Author: Mary L. Hanley

Our ten-year-old son, Joe, tackled a runaway sheep, twice his size, on his Catholic school playground. His principal and fellow students cheered for him. I joined them to honor him as a hero. Joe saved the sheep from running into the road or causing more trouble on the country school grounds, next to our 120-year-old farm house.

Letters to Jess by John L. Moore reminded me of that day when our son took a step toward manhood. Moore, a Montana rancher, writes letters to his young son, Jess, about the life he’s known since boyhood. He begins the book with a letter about the day 10-year-old Jess’s horse ran away with him.

This father of two children returned to Sunday Creek Ranch, Miles City, Montana, in 1979, the year after his own father’s death. Jess was only two years old, and his sister Andrea wasn’t yet born. With family ranches and farms going bankrupt across the country, Moore was determined to share ranch life with Jess through letters in the event his son wouldn’t have the opportunity to rear a family in the country.

Moore is an excellent writer with vivid descriptions of the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious moments in ranching. He sees his ranch as a place where his children “learn God’s lessons in the schoolyard of nature.”

I appreciated Moore’s portrayal of rearing his son to manhood on the ranch, as I have seen our son grow stronger on our farm. But I was most impressed by the way the Moore family worked together to maintain the Sunday Creek Ranch.

Moore, his wife, Deborah, Jess, and their daughter, Andrea, give mutual service, each according to his or her own ability, for the good of the ranch.

The family provides an example of the “domestic church,” which Pope John Paul II described in his 1981 apostolic exhortation On the Family (Familiaris Consortio): “All members of the family, each according to his or her own gift, have the grace and responsibility of building day by day, the communion of persons making a family a ‘deeper school of humanity.’ This happens where there is care and love for the little ones, the sick, the aged; where there is mutual service every day; where there is a sharing of goods, of joys, of sorrows.”

As head of his family, Moore strives to listen to God’s will. He is totally aware of his dependence on God as he waits for rain in the arid badlands of eastern Montana. Moore is aware of his weaknesses. In one letter, he said he was overwhelmed with pride as he watched Jess successfully load bulls — “the pride of life, of fatherhood, of ranching.” He also stated that pride can be a dangerous thing unchecked.

Moore has a strong sense of community. He recalls the big cattle branding days when “the code of neighboring was dominant,” and he still attempts to maintain that way of living. Moore receives help on his ranch and returns the favor with his own labor.

The author never mentions his own religious denomination. His criticism of the Christian church as “urban and electronic” and as “abdicating the battle for the environment” is harsh. Moore might have a stronger impact if he organized a network of Christian family farms and ranches.

Some Christians may have abdicated the fight for the environment — but not all. I can understand Moore’s pain, be-cause it is terrible to watch one’s livestock die or to watch land go to ruin. We need his viewpoint on the environment, but lambasting members of the Mystical Body of Christ is not the way to get their attention.

It is also terrible to watch families go to ruin (in city or country). Moore’s fight to maintain his ranch, while others sell, reminds me of the fight some Christian families face in the city. They struggle to maintain a Christian family, among others who don’t share their values. All Christians will benefit if Moore wins his battle. His Sunday Creek Ranch harbors family, allowing it to be a “domestic church.”

Letters to Jess

By John L. Moore

Publisher: Richelieu Court

Pages: 197

Price: $14.95

Review Author: Richard J. Mouw

Only the most inattentive of Christians could have gotten through 1990 without knowing that it was the centennial year of John Henry Newman’s death. The fact of this commemoration meant that it was a very good year for all Christians who care about good theological discussion, with many conferences, symposia, and ecumenical dialogues devoted to the thought of the great church-man-theologian.

The Newman celebration was the occasion for the appearance of some excellent published writings as well. Much credit in this regard goes to Oxford chaplain Ian Ker’s centennial year study, The Achievement of John Henry Newman, plus his other recent volumes devoted to Newman. Here is yet another helpful contribution by Chaplain Ker: a carefully selected sampling of Newman’s theological writings. The themes range primarily over ecclesiological topics: ecclesial authority, doctrinal development, the Magisterium, papal authority, and the like. Ker provides a helpful perspective on the selections with a pair of essays devoted to “Newman’s Anglican Theology” and “Newman’s Catholic Theology.” Ker’s anthology can serve as a crash course for beginners and as a quick review for the experts.

If this collection has a defect, it is the absence of homilectical material. As a part of my own commemoration of the Newman year, I read some sermons by Newman. (In a spirit of ecumenical openness, I, a Protestant, even concentrated on his Catholic period.) Reading Newman the preacher is not only an inspiring devotional exercise; it is also a stimulating theological endeavor. I only wish Ker had given us some samples of this aspect of Newman’s theological contribution here.

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