Book Reviews

SUMMER – 2008

Dear friends, Summer is often a time for reading and reflection for some of us. As Peace Advocate for the West Michigan Conference, I am often attending peace related meetings during the program year. Summer is a time when I spend more time with the stack of books available on the many facets of the ministry of peace. I urge you to spend some precious time reading, praying and thinking of the ways that God calls us to become peacemakers. Below is a brief review of two books that I have both read and used in peace programs during the year. Each offers suggestions, practical steps that can enhance the continued creation of communities of peace with justice.   The first book is, A PEACE READER, edited by E. Morris Sider and Luke Keefer Jr. The contents are a collection of essays by writers who deal with faith perspectives on peace in several categories: Part I deals with, The Biblical and Theological themes of Peace. There are essays discussing the concept of peace in both Testaments, the question of the sanction of war in both, and an article titled, “The Sermon on the Mount and the Doctrine of nonresistance.”   Part II moves on to discuss church history and issues of peace. Here there is discussion of the concepts of peace through the centuries and the just war theory which is often misunderstood. As the volume comes from the Brethren tradition, there are articles on militarism and the military chaplaincy.   Part III moves into the practical application of Christian peacemaking. Here are essays on peacemaking in the family, teaching peace to children, economics, criminal justice, immigrants and transforming conflict in the congregation.   Part IV tells stories of peacemaking in various parts of the world, including Northern Ireland and in the Middle East. I discovered in this section a brilliant piece by Mark Twain called, “The War Prayer.” The notes on the prayer tell the reader that Twain wrote the piece to express his outrage when he found out that the US was about to attack the Philippines in 1905 as an aftermath of the Spanish-American war. The prayer is satire as only Twain could write satire. For a writer often portrayed as a non-believer, one should read this prayer and meditate on what it says. I believe Mark Twain knew how Christ would have us live as peacemakers in an often violent and unforgiving world.   Part V offers several reflections on Sept. 11, 2001 The final article examines how one can embrace patriotism without militarism. It is essential to note that the book does reflect the Brethren tradition of encouraging pacifism and discouraging military solutions to conflict. The reader is free to both agree and disagree with concepts discussed in the essays. I still would encourage us to read, reflect and discuss the contents. The section on application of Christian peacemaking is wonderful with suggestions for honoring peace in the way we live in families, teach our children, learn how to transform conflict in church and society and welcome all God’s people as our neighbors – the way of Jesus the Christ.   A PEACE READER is published by Evangel Publishing House, Nappanee, Indiana, (2002)     THE JOURNEY TOWARD RECONCILIATION, John Paul Lederach, Herald Press, Scottdale, Pa. (1999) It was my privilege to hear John Paul Lederach in a seminar offered by our General Board of Discipleship. He is first of all a champion of conflict transformation and second of all, a great, great storyteller. The two meet in his peacemaking in many and varied settings all over the globe. Part I of the book contains some of the stories of John Paul’s invitations to become part of conflict transformation. John Paul speaks of Jacob and Esau in his preface as a Biblical story of terrible conflict and the struggle toward reconciliation between the brothers. He then goes on to tell of his own peacebuilding activity during the struggle of the Sandinistas and Miskitos in Nicaragua years ago. His family was living in Costa Rica. One night John Paul was reading to his three year old daughter when the phone rang. The message warned him that there were people who were planning to take Angie, his daughter, the next day. This kidnapping would be an attempt to force Lederach to give up his presence as a leader in the negotiations. He describes a terror any parent would feel. He had been working with a team of church leaders to hopefully end eight years of conflict. Would his family have to pay the price for his peacebuilding?   While the tragedy was averted, John Paul goes on to tell of the struggle for peace in many other parts of the world. He uses the term peacebuilding to indicate that with God’s help, we build peace in what may be many steps. He also speaks of conflict transformation as an indication that often conflicts may still be present, but can be transformed as we learn how to talk to each other, negotiate differences and continue to stay in dialogue.   John Paul goes on in Part 2 of the volume to discuss the journey through conflict. He addresses conflict in the church as well as in the world at large. There is a wonderful list of, “The Unspoken Ten Commandments of Conflict in the Mennonite Church.” These are what we call tongue in cheek suggestions that in essence describe church conflict quite well, even for United Methodists. Take a look at them.   Part 3 of the book is, “The Call to Reconciliation.” He invites the reader to explore Ephesians 2:11-22 through the lenses of reconciliation. Paul refers to the dividing wall of hostility and the reality that Christ has broken down that wall in order to bring enemies together into a new humanity. The old hostility is put to death through Christ who gave his life for the victory of love over hatred and enmity. John Paul uses this passage to encourage us in our ministries of conflict transformation and peacebuilding in our church and our world. When we do this we are working with God to bring all things together in ways that heal and make new relationships that reflect the desire of God for all creation.   I very much appreciated the honesty of John Paul Lederach in describing his own struggles as a peacebuilder. There have been times in his leadership when he has been ambivalent about decisions he has made. He gives himself and the reader permission to question a decision or even to be wrong from time to time. He also helped me to understand that conflict transformation and peacebuilding takes infinite patience and the willingness to invest a lifetime of effort. I heartily recommend this book, THE JOURNEY TOWARD RECONCILIATION, and, A PEACE READER for your further reflection on your ministry as a builder of peace in the world that God loves and calls us to love also.                         I pray that this summer season has been for you a blessed and peaceful time. May we continue to pray, work and build with God a world of peace with justice.

SUMMER – 2007

THE MORAL IMAGINATION, John Paul Lederach, Oxford University Press, 2005
reviewed by Ellen Brubaker

It was my privilege to be a part of a workshop at the JustPeace Conference in Nashville last April. John Paul Lederach was a presenter there. He is engaged in the ministry of conciliation and mediation and is internationally recognized for his work in peacebuilding around the world. In THE MORAL IMAGINATION John Paul begins with several stories of peace building in the midst of conflict in Ghana, the Wazir area (northeastern Kenya), Columbia, and Tajikistan. He attributes the success in these areas not to titled leaders nor to professional techniques used by mediators, but to the will and imagination of people who desire peace more than anything else. The book goes on to invite all of us to become peacemakers and peacebuilders through the very desire that we have that this world may be a place where children can live and grow in safety, fulfilling the lives that God intends for them. He speaks of the Biblical image of yeast and how each of us, even with small contributions to the building of justice with peace, can make a difference. The author urges that we not be afraid to use our imaginations, visualize what can be, and work to see the visions through to reality. I heartily recommend this book as it explores new ground in the ministry of peacebuilding. The book also makes it clear that peace will never come through the efforts or arms or national leaders; it comes rather through people who know in their very souls that God’s desire for this world is that we create with God the peaceable planet of God’s design. Please look into, THE MORAL IMAGINATION, by John Paul Lederach. It will make a difference to your ministry as a Christian and a person called to justice with peace.

CHOOSING PEACE THROUGH DAILY PRACTICES, Ellen Ott Marshall, Editor, The Pilgrim Press, Cleveland, 2005

Ellen Ott Marshall tells us that this book grew out of a collaborative process at Claremont School of Theology. In October of 2002, Claremont hosted a gathering of faculty from theological schools to address questions of violence and peacebuilding. Another conference was held for church people to engage in a similar process. Theological students were invited into the discussion. The result is a collection of essays offered by persons associated with Claremont at the time of publication. Each author contributes an essay on an aspect of the formation of peacebuilding, intended to form the character of Christian persons of peace with justice. Ellen Ott Marshall says in the preface, “Our best hope is that this book is helpful to those who feel called to and daunted by the task of peacebuilding in a “We do our best to abide by the teaching of Christ not because we have to, but because we see this life as a striving toward Christ-like behavior.”  Topics of essays include: prayer practices, loving our enemies, the vocation of peacebuilding, advocacy and dialogue, nonviolence and cultural differences and a spiritual journey toward peaceful living. There are ideas and practices here to fit a diversity of spiritual ways of being. The essays included may well be the urging we need to open ourselves to more of God’s leading for each of us, the church and the larger community in ways that do indeed reflect Christ-like behavior.

THE TENT OF ABRAHAM, STORIES OF HOPE AND PEACE FOR JEWS, CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS, Joan Chittister, OSB, Murshid Saadi Shakur Chishti, Rabbi Arthur Waskow; Beacon Press, Boston, 2006

Foreword by Karen Armstrong

reviewed by Ellen Brubaker

From the front cover: “THE TENT OF ABRAHAM provides readers with stories that can bring all the faiths together. Written by three religious leaders, from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths, the book explores in accessible language the mythic quality and teachings of reconciliation that are embedded in the Torah, the Quran, and the Bible. It employs the story of Abraham from all three of these sacred texts to weave together the wisdoms of these religious traditions into a deeper, more unified whole.”

The Midrash in the Jewish tradition involves going ever deeper into the text to plumb the words and stories for deeper meanings. To interpret scripture becomes a sacred discipline. Thus there are several tellings of the journey of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar in response to God’s call to leave Ur and follow where God leads. Each of the authors shares from her or his tradition, finding common threads in the ancient texts. We who are Christian perhaps know the least about the story in the Quran. Mushid Saadi Shakur Chisti tells the story from the point of view of a Muslim of the mystical Sufi tradition. The authors also include helps for persons of faith in ministries of peacebuilding. At the end of the book are reinterpretations of the ancient stories from contemporary persons of faith. One is a fasinating interpretation of the relationship of Hagar and Sarah, “WHY HAGAR LEFT,” by Rabbi Phyllis Berman. The story claims that women, often without voices in the community of men, perpetuated their own truth in the oral tradition, passed down from mother to daughter through the generations.  It is imperative in this violent time that Christians, holding fast to the incarnation of God in Christ, also come to understand the faith journeys of sisters and brothers of other traditions. We will often be surprised at the themes of love and justice that persist in many sacred traditions. This book is worth reading.