Pastoral Prose Poetry

Urban Pastorals

Clive Wilmer
Worple Press, 2014

In this short, rich book of prose poems, Clive Wilmer renews the pastoral tradition by eschewing romantic idealizations and coming into contact with the living image of an Eden corrupted by natural processes. Those processes, which connect us to the mystery of life and spirit, include both the workings of memory and the mechanisms of civilization. Wilmer’s memories are of a midcentury South London childhood “injured by enemy bombs”; of wooded commons where trees were “the very image of freedom in community”; of discoveries of Shakespeare’s power and Louis Armstrong’s musical “good place, where the leopard lies down with the kid”; and of art as “the expression of man’s pleasure in labour.” These memories form a groundwork for his warmly drawn and enigmatic human portraits, which enliven a religious vision that is convincing for its glowing clarity and sense of scale. Also recommended: Wilmer’s New and Collected Poems (Carcanet, 2012).  

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Christianity for the Postmodern Mind

Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age

James Carroll
Viking, 2014

The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World

Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu
HarperOne, 2014

James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword unveiled to many Christians the sordid way that Christian institutions transformed Jesus’s message of liberation into a doctrine to support imperial domination and the persecution of Jews. In this newer book, Carroll attempts to reclaim the prophetic voice of Jesus that is rooted in Jewish messianism: “Recovering that sense of Christian Jewishness, like recovering the Jewishness of Jesus, defines the essential work that Christians must do in a post-Auschwitz world.” Throughout this powerful and insightful presentation of the ways a Christian can be “faithful to the classical tradition of Christian faith while simultaneously limiting assertion about (Jesus) to a modern—or postmodern—mind,” Carroll reads Christian texts from a contemporary perspective, in light of the distortions that led to the destructive misuse of these texts in the past. Contemporary Christians can take special pride in the work of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the outspoken Christian activist whose challenge to apartheid won him the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize. Tutu became the chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which sought to lead his country beyond the pain and anger that had festered under racist oppression. This beautiful and insightful book should be part of the school curriculum in every country of the world.

Where Do We Stand Now? Two LGBTQ Perspectives

Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus
by Rachelle Lee Smith, Graeme Taylor, and Candace Gingrich
PM Press, 2014

Against Equality: Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion
Edited by Ryan Conrad
AK Press, 2014

As state after state approves gay marriage, it can be tempting to jump to the conclusion that the most pressing issues for LGBTQ people have been “solved.” Taken together, these two books offer an illuminating reality check. Speaking OUT, a photo essay that pairs photographic portraits with handwritten reflections from youth who identify as queer, offers a glimpse of the wide range of experiences that comprise life for queer youth today. Some teens express a sense of deep joy about the loving support they received from their entire community upon coming out (“the response was 100 percent supportive—100 percent!” exclaims contributor Graeme Taylor), attesting to the meaningful shifts that have taken place culturally within the last half-century. But others describe experiences of physical assault, rejection, and discrimination, attesting to the continued lived realities of homophobia and transphobia in the current era. Ryan Conrad’s anthology, meanwhile, offers a hard-edged political analysis of the many forms of oppression that mainstream efforts such as the marriage equality campaign will never solve.

Patty Hearst and the Twinkie Murders

In 1975, I covered the trial of heiress Patty Hearst for the Berkeley Barb. She had been kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) and was forced at gunpoint by her abductors to participate in their robbing a bank.

The Disfigured Self: What Hannah Arendt Got Right

The great question that lurks at the heart of all Holocaust study, it seems to me, is the question of the self: What would I have done if I had been there? Arendt is unique in making that question present for us, and while Strangneth professes to be in dialogue with Arendt’s book, she does not wrestle with its argument in more than a superficial way.

Colonial Dynamics in the Middle East

Inside Syria

Reese Erlich
Prometheus Books, 2014

The Darker Side of Western Modernity

Walter D. Mignolo
Duke University Press, 2011


To many Westerners, the Middle East seems more confounding each day. How could the killings get any worse, the struggles more irrational? When the rebellion of Syria’s people against the oppressive Assad dictatorship suddenly turned into a civil war, thus giving strength to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the confusion only worsened. Reese Erlich, a prominent independent journalist, begins to unpack some of our questions. Setting the current struggles in the context of the world powers that created Syria, Erlich demonstrates how the histories and dynamics of international struggles are indispensible for understanding the current realities.

Romance in the Torah

The Books of Jonathan: Four Men, One God
Gary Levinson
Self-Published, 2014

If you are itching to get away from the contemporary world, here’s a fun and steamy route: a hot gay love story based in part on an imaginative reconstruction of the relationship between Jonathan (the eldest son of King Saul) and Saul’s antagonist, David, who eventually overthrows Saul and becomes the founder of the dynasty that by legend is destined ultimately to produce the Messiah. Author Gary Levinson explores questions of faith and nationhood in a historical novel that provides a fun escape from the frustrations of the present even as it smashes any romanticization of the past.