Sep 13, 2014

Back from the "Dead"/Book Reviews

Just getting back on my feet after eight weeks of very intense interactions with Czech kids in summer camp in the mountains. The experience was so intense I felt cut off from my own spirit from time to time, but worth every minute.  What great kids.

I'm getting ready to review two books, John Boyne's magnificent fictional treatment of the sex abuse scandal in the Irish Church, The History of Loneliness. Here are the endorsements from three of Ireland's finest contemporary writers:

"An urgently compelling story of power, corruption, lies and self-deceits, the damage that happens when we turn our eyes from wrong. Anyone who wants to know what happened in the Irish Catholic Church needs to read this brave, righteously angry and stunning book. Some of us have long wondered what it would be like if a master storyteller turned his powers to this theme. Now we know." (Joseph O'Connor)

"John Boyne has plunged into the dark and troubled history of the Catholic Church in our time and come up with a novel to treasure. Unflinching, moving and true" (John Banville)

"The complex architecture of this haunting novel is seamlessly constructed. The path to the priesthood that Odran Yates follows is both understandable and sympathetic. And Father Yates is a good man; he is innocent of the false accusations made against him (he's not a pedophile). But as this author accomplished, so masterfully, in The Absolutist, John Boyne has created a character who holds himself accountable -- in the case of Father Yates, for the sins of others. No writer today handles guilt with as much depth and sadness as John Boyne. As Father Yates takes himself to task for all he didn't do, no less than the sexual duplicity and cover-ups of the Catholic Church are indicted. This is John Boyne's most important novel, and of vital importance to Irish history; it is also a gripping story, one no reader can put down until its devastating ending." (John Irving)

The second book I've been asked to review by the publishers: Robert Blair Kaiser's Inside the Jesuits: How Pope Francis is Changing the Church and the World. Both RB Kaiser and myself spent sometime in the California Province of the Society of Jesus, so we share some of the same old friends and mentors.

As a brief preview of my reactions: Kaiser's book takes us up to January of 2014 when many of us were still in the full flush of Francis' honeymoon, without reality having a chance to intrude into our idealised conception of this pope (though Betty Clemont over at Open Tabernacle was as usual far ahead of the rest of us). So Kaiser's glowing optimism seems already terribly outdated.

More damning in an otherwise illuminating book on the endeavors of Jesuit ministries world wide - is Kaiser's chapter on former Jesuits who are still doing outstanding humanitarian and religious work in the world - whom he dubs 'still a Jesuit' Jesuits. Many outstanding former Jesuits are listed together with their inspiring ministries - with one glaring omission. Not a hint of the great gay theologian and former Jesuit, John McNeil. Not a whiff, not a suggestion. Once again, as with Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for the Living God,  we are presented with a sweeping survey of many significant movements  and individuals that does not include a single hint of LGBT people and their struggles, not to mention the outstanding activists and theologians working on their behalf. In a way, the failure to mention John McNeil in Kaiser's book is a greater lacunae than our absence in Johnson's book. It is as if we simply don't exist, not even a blimp on the radar screen, and certainly we are not invited to the conversation, as Bill Lindsey never tires of pointing out at Bilgrimage.  I suspect that these writers would both be quite surprised to have this omission pointed out to them: "Oh dear, I never thought of that," blinked the deer in the headlights. I don't think it's done with ill intent. I suspect it really doesn't occur to these thinkers that LGBT are of any importance in the theological conversation. LGBT who?

So anyway...after a glorious summer, it's back to reality and work and writing and dealing with the world. But life seems good, and the Holy and the Sacred are all around us leading us by the heart to new forms of spiritual community. I simply have no time for dealing with the manifold scandals of crumbling religious institutions which have outlived their time. My beloved students deserve more from life and from my own paltry efforts on their behalf. No time or energy to spend on fools in high places. The Crucified and Risen Lord calls to us on the byways of the world among the lost and marginalized, far from the purple carpeted hallways of religious elitism. I run to him where he is truly found and leave all else behind.