Religion in the media: a look at recent magazines, books and Web sites
The Door Magazine (November/December). This journal of satire spotlights the mix of religion and consumer culture. Rodney Clapp, the author of several books on the subject, says our "extremely individualized" society has "affected _ I would say infected _ the church, too." In the process, he says, we have lost a communal understanding of Christianity. He laments the commercialism of the approaching holiday season. "Just let the pagans have Christmas," says Clapp, an Episcopalian. The primacy of Christmas over Easter in many Christians' lives "signifies the degree to which the church has gotten off track." There's also a story on the art of Dick Detzner, who uses corporate icons in place of the religious icons of his Catholic background. One of his artworks has the Snugglebear in the pose of St. Sebastian, pierced with arrows. In another, Barbie and Ken stand in for Adam and Eve: "Barbie and Ken are being used as prototypes for current times, as ridiculous as they are. Nobody looks like Barbie, it's just insane." _Robert Plocheck
Oxford American (fall). Barry Hannah, author of ``High Lonesome'' and 11 other books, talks about his violent stories and Christian beliefs. He recalls his rebellion in college against a Baptist upbringing, playing the bohemian and sneering at the "Christers." He had a change of heart in later years when he was a "doubting Christ-conscious fellow." That became true belief during a recent two-year struggle with lymphoma. In a dream, he experienced a "physical presence of Christ, who said nothing. (Now) I'm more attuned to him in my work." There is also a heartrending article on AIDS in the South, the "new epicenter." Social worker David deShazo got a job working with patients because he "knew how to navigate the socially conservative, religious, and racially fractured landscape of rural Alabama" and had a "sense of the spiritual convictions of the people." There is a feature on architect Samuel Mockbee, who says, "If you're not dealing with spiritual comfort, you are not dealing with architecture." _Robert Plocheck
What Is Enlightenment? (fall/winter). A hefty issue celebrating 10 years of "radical spiritual inquiry" includes lengthy interviews with 15 "gurus" _ everyone from the Trappist monk Thomas Keating to fitness expert Jack LaLanne. Yes, Jack LaLanne's gospel is exercise as obligation and penance. He criticizes religious people who overeat and overdrink and then, miserable with ailments, pray, "Dear God, please help me." He preaches: "Take responsibility for yourself and guide yourself in a good, positive way." Keating explains that celibacy involves giving up genital activity, not sexuality. Otherwise, he says, you become a "cold fish" unable to relate to others or offer spiritual guidance. Celibacy, even for a few years during early adulthood, can be transforming. Many saints recognized intuitively what we are discovering today, he says: Our energies are limited and connected. Through "channeling," the primal sexual energy is transmuted into energy for service to others and in search of God. But, he says, beware of pride. _Robert Plocheck
``The Best Christian Writing 2001,'' edited by John Wilson (HarperSanFrancisco, 339 pages, $15).
This collection of essays demonstrates the diversity and quality of Christian writing today. Readers may recognize names such as Stephen L. Carter and Philip Yancey. Topics range from religion in public schools to capital punishment to views on dying. The book offers no simple answers. It's not for Christians who want to "wall themselves off from the world," the editor writes. It's for "anyone who acknowledges the dilemma of being human." In one of the 22 selections, a college professor writes that her nonbelieving colleagues didn't know what to say when she converted to Christianity. "From their perspective, I had exiled myself from acceptable conversation of any kind," Elizabeth Fox-Genovese writes. Yancey urges Christians to become involved in social issues, such as homelessness and racism, to live out their faith. "I used to believe that Christianity solved problems and made life easier," Yancey writes. "Increasingly, I believe that my faith complicates life, in ways it should be complicated." _Ed Housewright
``God Underneath: Spiritual Memoirs of a Catholic Priest,'' by Edward L. Beck (Doubleday, 231 pages, $21.95).
He stood in an autograph line to meet Carly Simon, his musical hero, and they became fast friends. He took a vow of poverty when he became a Passionist priest, but drives an SUV, and pretty much wants for nothing. He embraced the church reforms of the Second Vatican Council only to be rebuked again and again by fellow priests living nostalgically in a time called The Way Things Were. I don't know if Edward Beck is a great priest. I do know that he's a heck of a writer, and this gem of a book is not to be missed. Each sentence is well-crafted, and each chapter a snapshot of his life, told almost in parable form, with a spiritual mini-lesson on the end. He provides poignant stories from his family, seminary and priestly life without being overly confessional or self-righteous. The first chapters move a little slowly, but from chapter seven to the end, you will not be able to put this book down. _Susan Hogan/Albach
``No Place for Abuse: Biblical and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence,'' by Catherine Clark Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark (InterVarsity Press, 200 pages, $10.99).
In this resource guide for helping the victims of domestic violence, Catherine Clark Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark force evangelical Christians to ask whether their churches are shelters for abused women or part of the problem.
The book reflects thorough research. Clark Kroeger, a biblical scholar, and Nason-Clark, a sociologist, compare international studies of abuse toward women with studies focusing on the evangelical world. They find the statistics dishearteningly similar.
Using the Bible as their basis, the authors gently but firmly chastise the Christian church, arguing that the church above all entities should be combating the global problem of domestic abuse. They address head-on the scriptural passages that they say have been twisted to endanger women and children. And they give the last-resort option of divorce an open look.
While offering help to women who feel trapped in a violent relationship, the authors don't forget the abusers. They suggest spiritual as well as practical ways for pastors and lay ministers to help them.
The authors contend that the church has helped perpetuate violence against women by turning its back to the problem, and they charge it to rectify the wrong by breaking the code of silence within its walls. They help the church to do so by including outlines for sermons, Bible studies, and youth group activities that address domestic violence. They also offer questions to ask a woman in crisis and suggestions for creating a church emergency response team. _Cristy Robinson
WEBSITE OF THE WEEK
Since Sept. 11, Americans have been talking about the importance of understanding various religions. Baha'is are dedicated to breaking down the prejudices and barriers that separate people. In fact, one of the faith's convictions is that humanity shares a common destiny.
So this week, why not learn about Baha'is? Even if you're not interested in changing religions, it can't hurt to stretch your mind.
This website will walk you through anything you might want to know. You'll learn about the history of Baha'is, their basic beliefs, and central figures. After just a bit of reading, you'll know the difference between the Bab and Baha'u'llah. Your friends will be mighty impressed.
One of the best features about this site is the tour of the Baha'i houses of worship around the world. Seeing the architecture alone is worth a visit to this site. Make sure to punch in Wilmette, Ill., the site of one of the more famous houses of worship. _Susan Hogan/Albach
(Write to the reviewers in care of: the Religion Section, Dallas Morning News, Communications Center, P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, Texas 75265.)
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