Category: Book Reviews

Holy Work, by Dom Rembert Sorg

October 3rd, 2013

Title:  Holy Work: Toward a Benedictine Theology of Manual Labor

Author:  Dom Rembert Sorg

Publisher:  Santa Ana, CA: Source Books, 2003

Reviewer:  Josh Sweeden, Ph.D. student in Practical Theology

Originally published in 1951, Dom Rembert Sorg’s theological engagement of the Benedictine understanding of manual labor remains a classic text today. The latest edition, published in 2003, contains a preface written by Brian Terrell, O.S.B., and member of the Strangers and Guests Catholic Worker Farm in Maloy, Iowa. This new edition, with a preface by Terrell, displays the profound influence Sorg’s text has had not only for Benedictine monasteries but also for contemporary movements like the Catholic Worker which draws heavily from the Benedictine tradition. Indeed, after examining the correlations between the Catholic Worker Movement and Sorg’s text, Brian Terrell exclaims, “I am anxious to get it [Sorg’s text] into the hands of Benedictine and Catholic Worker friends and look forward to the discussions it will spark” (xvi). Concurrent with Terrell, it should also be said that many today, particularly various expressions of intentional communities, will greatly benefit from Sorg’s text and discover a new (or possibly renewed) discussion partner in St. Benedict, the Benedictine Rule, and Sorg’s analysis.

According to Sorg, manual labor follows a monk’s “profession to follow the way of perfection in Christian poverty and charity” (4). The terms poverty and charity shape Sorg’s analysis of manual labor and the monastic tradition throughout the text. While Sorg argues for the centrality of manual labor in the contemplative life, which is, “only the life of faith, sincerely and honestly lived,” he also recognizes that manual labor is not embraced within all monastic tradition(s) and not even in the entirety of the Benedictine tradition. Sorg’s task, therefore, is to raise again the centrality of manual labor for the contemplative Christian life. His text addresses more than monastic communities—though he argues neither poverty nor charity are possible without some form of community—but also the “laity,” who Sorg hopes to show the applicability of his theology of manual labor toward the development of an “ideal social order” (75). It is important to note that Sorg’s “ideal social order” is neither an attempt at, nor an assumption of Christendom.   Sorg’s ideal is a form of “Christian Communism” found in “economically independent communities which renounce the system that is run by the spirit of the world” (81). Not suprisingly, Sorg’s two primary elements of “Christian Communism” are poverty and charity.

Other elements do help compose Sorg’s vision of the Christian community, but poverty and charity are distinctive in light of capitalism and modern constructions of work. Sorg states that Liberalism, which readily expresses itself economically in capitalism, “logically and inevitably makes a king of avarice because it excludes God and gives free play to human nature’s inherited concupiscence” (xviii). As follows, “labor, which is supposed to be a glorious expression of God’s own image and likeness and of love, has become a marketable commodity, valued in dollars and cents, and bought and sold like hogs and potatoes” (xix). Monks, writes Sorg, were pledged to a life of poverty and charity, and because of this “character of their profession…monks had to work” (12). So manual Labor is not only connected ontologically with humanity and our image and likeness of God, argues Sorg, but is instrumental for the embodiment of two fundamental characteristics of “Christ’s work”: poverty and charity.

Jesus’ poverty “repudiated any ownership” of things and thus, a pledge to voluntary poverty would mean that “labor is not to be done for money or any private ownership.” Sorg goes on to say that this “ideal can be realized only in the Christian community” (25). Community members must labor together to be self-supported. This was a central theme of the ancient monastic theology of manual labor prescribed by St. Antony based on his understandings of Paul (5).   Because poverty, expressed primarily in non-ownership, is a Benedictine pledge, manual labor is a necessity. In the history of Benedictine practice, manual labor has not always been prescribed as it had by St. Benedict. The “clericalising” of the monks, the overburdening of monasteries with “too much liturgy,” the “secularization” of monasteries, and “the Intellectual movement” all encouraged the detriment of manual labor in Benedictine monasteries. Clericalization and liturgy placed significant time demands on monks, replacing the central role of daily labor, while intellectualism “substituted” manual labor for study and education. But it was under secularization that “wealth abounded so that there was no economic necessity to work for a living” (55). The centrality of manual labor in Benedictine monasticism is directly tied to the voluntary poverty of monks seeking to live into the characteristics of Christ’s work.

Christ’s “whole spirit proclaims charity” (25).   As a central characteristic of the work of Christ it is a pledge of monks to live charitable lives.   Christian manual labor “finds its ideal and perfection when it is wrought entirely for Christ in the person of the hungry and naked, and not at all for self” (24). Like poverty, charity and almsgiving “necessarily requires community; in the individual members it excludes the motive of self-support. Thus, ideally, the community supports itself while the individual member works entirely for others and never for himself” (12). Manual labor allows for charitable living as the entirety of monastic life is lived for the sake of others. Monastic self-supporting communities ensure that through their manual labor their needs are met, freeing the community from dependence on others from and the burden of seeking support. Also, for the monks, all life was a form of almsgiving. Everything done was for the sake of another—never to build private wealth—which meant that hospitality became a natural outflow of the monastery (101).

Despite the instrumental function of manual labor in sustaining poverty and charity within the community, all work “belongs to the pristine condition of human nature and there is an ontological desire in man [sic] to do it” (17). Sorg understands manual labor to be a “fundamental trait of Christ’s revolution” and therefore dignified in the new creation. He states that the “whole dignifying of manual labor is distinctively Christian” by which he means that the humble are exalted, the proud are disposed, and the distinction between slave and free is erased (79). Manual labor is not, at least within the “ideal social order” to be the work of the marginalized and oppressed—there is no degradation in manual labor or stratification of labor at all.

Divine Economy: Theology and the Market, by D. Stephen Long

October 3rd, 2013

Title:   Divine Economy: Theology and the Market

Author:   D. Stephen Long

Publisher:   London: Routledge, 2000.

Reviewer:   Josh Sweeden, Ph.D. student in Practical Theology

Steve Long provides a compelling argument of how economics ordered by theo-logic has been replaced by a fact-value distinction apparent in modern traditions beginning with Weber.  Long develops his argument by comparing and contrasting three economic traditions: The dominant, the emergent, and the residual.

The dominant tradition, which is most indebted to a Weberian strategy, is premised upon the analogia libertatis and therefore purports an economic structure (capitalism) which serves that end.  This tradition, seen clearly in the writings of Michael Novak, Dennis McCann, Max Stackhouse, and Philip Wogaman, employs the spirit of liberty seen in J.S. Mill and the human realism found in H.R. Niebuhr.  This combination creates a utilitarian ethic that justifies capitalism for two reasons: it provides the most sufficient system of individual liberty and responds most effectively to human sin.  As so named, Long presents the dominant tradition as the dominant economic system of modernity; determining still the understandings and approaches to economics today.

The emergent tradition arises in protest to the dominant tradition.  Often associated by a Marxist critique of capitalism, its presence is seen in many liberation theologies.  Long engages Rosemary Radford Ruether, Gustavo Gutierrez, Jon Sobrino, and James Cone as foundational writers of the emergent tradition.  While Long affirms the needed critique of the dominant tradition, as well as some of the correctives proposed by the writers of the emergent tradition, he concludes that the emergent tradition is indebted to the same Weberian strategy as the dominant tradition.  Based on protest, the emergent tradition, reflecting on social context and therefore starting with social science, recognizes the irreconcilability between capitalism and Christianity.  What it fails to do, however, is provide a substantive alternative.  Having its foundation is the analogia libertatis, scarcity, and human realism the emergent tradition is only an emergence within the dominant tradition—a different utilitarian option or consumer choice.

Over against the dominant and emergent traditions Long encourages the renewal of the residual tradition.  The residual tradition provides an economic order informed by theological categories of charity, justice, and virtue.   Important contributors to this tradition include Thomas Aquinas, Leo XIII, Bernard Dempsey, Alsadair MacIntyre, and John Milbank.  Under the guise of modernity theology has been subordinated to the social sciences, determining a fact-value distinction where economics becomes understood as what is (fact) and theology is relegated to a sphere of ought (value).  Long contends that this has been the assumed approach since Weber, though R.H. Tawney does show evidence of its beginnings coupled with the Protestant Reformation.  Unlike the dominant and emergent traditions the residual makes no distinction between the is and the ought.  This is what Long calls theological economics; the is does not maintain primacy over the ought, but is determined by the same telos.  This end is defined by the divine human drama to which Christology is central and beauty evidences God’s revelation.  From this end a substantive good can be determined.    It is this good that orders the economic relations of persons and communities.  Rather than being defined by scarcity, consumerism, and utility, theological economics are defined by abundance and gift.  As such, a theo-ordering of economics embodying true justice and charity must understand the economics of modernity as heresy and a threat to the church’s virtues.  The church must take an alternative posture to that of the modern economic world.  The church must resist the guise of modernity and the tantalizing (albeit false) notion of influence in the “public.”  As Long concludes, “Theologians must maintain the priority of their language over that of economists; just as the church must maintain its priority over the market” (270).

Summarizing the main argument(s) of this text does not do it justice.  Where my simple summary makes Long sound forthright and, one may argue, antagonistic, a careful reading of the text displays well articulated arguments that are both thorough and convincing.  There are shortcomings, of course, as well as sweeping generalizations at times; and while I don’t want to affirm the use of generalizations, I am not sure that Long uses them inappropriately; his generalizations may in fact be warranted.  I believe Long to be correct that theology has been debunked from having something to say materially, existing now only as a value.  Furthermore, economics, like many sciences, understands its role to be descriptive of what is, allowing the ever-ambiguous term liberty to determine somehow the relationship between fact and value. The church must embody an alternative economics to that of the modern traditions; it should maintain theological language as primary; and it must, if it to sustain itself, retain its traditioned understandings of charity, justice, and virtue.  Only this way can the church be faithful to its narrative which does, as Long clearly states, makes evident a particular notion of good.

The argument on which Long’s text stands names a tradition that is both substantive and residual.  Following Alasdair MacIntyre’s thesis in After Virtue, Long counters the residual tradition with traditions embedded in the “enlightenment project”—a failed project according to MacIntyre.  Naming a residual tradition ought to be freeing (assuming its articulated substantive good equates with its practices) and should provide general relief from fears of becoming out-narrated by rival traditions.  A constant fear of the subjugation of theology and the church can lead to another form of apologetics of which Long undoubtedly wants to steer clear.  So how does the church maintain a robust theo-logic without assuming a world (and traditions) bent on rivalry, competition, and extinction?   Is there any relief through its assertion that ultimately God reigns or that the church professes a narrative shaped by redemption and hope?  If rivalry of traditions is as fundamental and disconcerting as Long presumes, then it seems the task of theology is not so much to rival back (i.e. to play their game), but to faithfully live into the beauty and substantive good of its own (residual) tradition.

Craftsman, by Richard Sennett

October 3rd, 2013

Title:                     The Craftsman

Author:                 Richard Sennett

Publisher:           New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008

Reviewer:   Josh Sweeden, Ph.D. student in Practical Theology

Primarily through a historical lens—though never neglecting philosophy, theology, economics, and politics—Richard Sennett explores the implications of craftsmanship, “an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake” (9). Sennett finds this to be an Enlightenment belief, “that everyone possesses the ability to do good work of some kind” and “that there is an intelligent craftsman in most of us” (11). He states his two main theses in the prologue, both of which, I believe, are quite convincing by the end of the book. First, he argues that “all skills, even the most abstract, begin as bodily practices; second, that technical understanding develops through the powers of imagination” (10).

A major argument of Sennett’s is the role of social order in the development of craft.  Sennett states that an ancient ideal of craftsmanship is “joined skill in community” (51).  Medieval Workshops, in particular, provided a communal atmosphere and social structure that guided the development of skill through “authority in the flesh” as opposed to knowledge “set down on paper” (54).  There is an implicit authority in the workshop, a social order that values the “quality of skill” over “occupation of a place of honor” (61).  The workshop binds people together as if forms a community of masters and apprentices.  Quality and ethical codes of work are transmitted through such communities (and the guilds in which they participate) ensuring continuity while also allowing for creative developments through partnerships and communal participation.  The medieval workshop began its demise with the Renaissance separation of art and craft.  This separation emphasized the individual and her/his creation of “art” over communal development.  The workshop became an inferior social space reserved for a lower class of society.

Next, Sennett explores the implications of machines (replicants and robots) for craftwork.  He ultimately shows how machines quickly were created for large-scale production, “gradually threatening the standing of the most skilled laborers and increased the number of semi- or unskilled workers.”  Sennett affirms machinery for the sake of eliminating “unskilled, noisome tasks,” but claims that it is problematic when it “replace[s] high-cost skilled labor” (106).  Instead of workshops, the new working community was steel mills and factories, and as such a new social structure was adopted, carrying different assumptions of appropriate work conditions as well as knowledge and authority.  Sennett does find hope in new developments of high technology.  He cites the Linux Corporation which developed a sense of cooperation and collaboration among workers addressing problems.  Instead of a framework of competition which establishes “clear standards of competition and closure…needed to measure performance and to dole out rewards,” Linux succeeded through “technological craftsmanship, the intimate, fluid join between problem solving and problem finding” (33).  Linux revives a social space for craft similar to that of medieval workshops.  It is attractive for people who aspire to be good craftsmen, who are “depressed, ignored, or misunderstood by [other] social institutions” (145).

In the second part of the text Sennett establishes the importance of “the physical” as he joins the long standing debate “about whether touch furnishes the brain a differed kind of sensate information than the eye” (152).  For Sennett, the hand, which participates in habituated forms of coordination and develops heightened sensitivity through craft, is closely connected to the eye.  Together there is an “extended rhythm” between the two that allows the craftsman to develop specific skills and rituals—duties preformed again and again.   Sennett makes clear, however, that these repetitious performances are not boring, instead, “we are alert rather than bored because we have developed the skill of anticipation.”  Like a ritual, the repetitions of craftwork are “persuasive,” not “stale;” the craftsman, like the celebrant, “anticipates each time that something important is about to happen” (177).

Sennett further notes the inadequacies of written language to “depict physical action” (179).  Laboratories and workshops become the exemplar, places where “the spoken word seems more effective than written instructions” (179).    Sennett also illustrates this point by examining the how-to instructions of various chefs.  Ultimately, the instructions that show, rather than tell, provide the best experience and results for the novice cooks.  In these cases, however, showing was not done by physical presence per se, but through narratives and metaphors which “give each physical action [of the recipe] heavy symbolic weight” (193).

Countering machinery, Sennett discusses the role of tools and repair for craftwork.  A tool, unlike a machine, is unable to produce any ‘thing’ without the willful and deliberate act of the craftsman.  Often used for repairs, tools developed over time and took on increasingly specialized functions.  Their functions, however, are not ‘ends’ in themselves, instead they participate in the process of creating and exploration.  Repair serves a similar function.  Sennett finds repair to be a “neglected, poorly understood, but all important aspect of technical craftsmanship” (199).  Lost in the modern world is the knowledge that comes by fixing things.  Like using tools, repairs (taking things apart and understanding how they work) helps people rethink how to do things, providing new insight and discovering “an unknown reality latent with possibility” (213).  Concluding the second part of his text, Sennett emphasizes that the progress of craft is not linear.  “Skill builds by moving irregularly, and sometimes by taking detours.”  This is the role of resistance and ambiguity for Sennett.  Whether it is the knowledge built by the sensitivities of the hand, or the exploration of a repair, progress—“a word that needs no apology” because “in craftwork people can and do improve”—comes through a matrix of ‘physical’ experiences.

In the final section of the text, Sennett returns again to the social conditions that shape craftsmanship as the desire to do ‘good work.’  Exploring “obsessional energy,” Sennett notes the importance of obsession—when harnessed appropriately—for doing good work.   Dangerous, however, is when “obsessing about quality is a way of subjecting the work itself to relentless generic pressure” (245).  Sennett uses Wittgenstein’s perfectionism to illustrate this point.  The young philosopher designed and constructed a house for his sister, a building which was to be, “the foundation of all possible buildings” (255).  As astounding as Wittgenstein’s completed project was, he was never satisfied.  “In his own judgment, Wittgenstein’s striving for an ideal perfection rendered the object lifeless…he became his own severest critic.”  Sennett’s point, through this illustration, is that work itself is valuable.  The good of work is not a ‘finished end,’ but the participation in craft itself.  When work is subjected to generic pressures, false ends are instituted removing the joy and ability for a particular structure to evolve.  In craftwork, “some issues are left unresolved” (263).  This keeps the work alive.  Stories and narratives become the best channels for socialization into ‘good work.’  Unclosed and ecstatic, stories are able to evolve as craftsmen improve.  Sennett employs the word vocation appropriately here.  Vocation notes the unending, unfinished nature of work as calling; vocation is a form of “work story” (263).

A final feature of note in Sennett’s text is his development of work and play.  Sennett talks about two kinds of play.  The first being competitive games “where rules are set before the player begins to act,” and a “more open space of play” by which he means playing around with something, “like when a child fingers a piece of felt cloth.”  In latter case, a dialogue happens with the material object; the child is experimenting, stimulating senses and testing its strength and limits (269).  While both types of play are important, Sennett shows the importance of this second type of play (often present in boredom).  “Craftsmanship draws on what children learn in play’s dialogue with physical materials.”  As such, craftsmanship is possible for all people—“play is universal.” Modernity wants to section off craft, making it specialized and possible only for a few (273).  Sennett argues, however, that there are only three basic abilities that are fundamental to craftsmanship: the ability to localize, to question, and to open up (277).  Sennett’s craftsman, therefore, is far more inclusive than its modern connotation.  Craftwork is essentially the ability to do good work, something we all possess, and something that is innate to humans and commonly practiced so long as relationship, community, and working together remains possible.

I fear my summary does little justice to Sennett’s profound development of the role of work, community, formation, and story.  Sennett’s exploration of craft reminds me of John Inge’s similar work on place theory in A Christian Theology of Place.  Like Inge, Sennett avoids nostalgia of a time past and develops a multi-faceted description of the subject using philosophy, theology, economics, sociology, and history.  Sennett’s thesis remains subtle, though its implications spur the imagination and cause discernment with regard to everything from small personal practices to institutional structures.  Sennett has much to offer theology in this text, and many questions worth considering.  How is the task of theology itself ‘good work?’  What if the church and the academy understood themselves as workshops?  With regard to theology of work, does a theological rendering of work properly allow for ambiguity, imagination, and play?  Do Christians determine the ‘ends’ of work prematurely?  Can Christian vocation be appropriately open-ended and if we fail to see our story as in ‘progress’ and evolving?  Ultimately, I find The Craftsman to be a compelling argument for the dynamic matrix-like development of knowledge, character, and community.  All three of these, Sennett argues and I agree, are severely damaged when work is not understood as craft.

Church, World, and the Christian Life: Practical-Prophetic Ecclesiology, by Nicholas Healy

October 3rd, 2013

Title:      Church, World, and the Christian Life: Practical-Prophetic Ecclesiology

Author:    Nicholas Healy

Publisher:  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Reviewer:   Nell Becker Sweeden, Ph.D. student in Practical Theology

In Church, World, and the Christian Life, Nicholas Healey offers a practical-prophetic ecclesiology that engages a theodramatic approach in actively addressing the concrete, everyday reality of the church within the world. Healey specifically challenges a modern blueprint or epic ecclesiological approach because it offers a reductively abstract and theoretical view of the church (38). Acknowledging the work of Avery Dulles, Karl Barth, Karl Rahner, John Zizioulas, Jean-Marie Tillard etc. in understanding the church as Body of Christ, people of God, sacrament, communion, etc., Healy finds blueprint ecclesiologies develop normative descriptions of the church in combining a systematic principle and the two-fold construal of understanding the church as constituted by God while also visible as human sinful realization (30). In turn, Healy describes his work as hoping to engage the concrete church in its practical, prophetic performance of witness and discipleship in ever-shifting contexts (39). He finds that critical theological analysis of the contexts in which ecclesial communities find themselves is one of the central tasks of ecclesiology. In order to engage these contexts, Healy draws upon von Balthasar’s theodrama, MacIntyre’s theory of traditional inquiry, postmodern critiques of humanism, and postmodern ethnography.

Healy establishes the primary theodramatic response of the church within Paul’s rule: “One part is proscriptive: that apart from Christ crucified, we should not glory or boast in anything. The other part is prescriptive: that we should boast in Jesus Christ crucified” (7). Seeking after Christ first, the church commits itself to good discipleship and faithful witness to this truth. The church is not a repository of truth or even systematic coherence, but rather “the communal embodiment of the search for truthful witness and discipleship within the theodrama” (108). In this sense, ecclesiology is understood dynamically as the ecclesial community wrestles with the tension between understanding the church as Christ’s, oriented toward its ultimate truth, together with its ‘placedness’ in a specific context within the reality of sinful ecclesial responses. Healy prefers to hold in tension the performative dynamic of the church always in via, that is a pilgrim church, and the church triumphant, the heavenly church (10).

Healy finds that this focus on ecclesial performance of faithfulness as well as the shaping of a distinctive way of life together in media res oriented toward the Lord Jesus Christ and our triune God allows the church the freedom to engage in non-Christian contexts. Important within this central ecclesiological task is recognizing non-Christian influences upon the church, while maintaining the distinctiveness of the Christian community and not allowing theological judgments to be subsumed within other narratives. This particular work engages the contexts of pluralism and inclusivism within contemporary ecclesial contexts, engaging pluralist figures such as John Hick, Peter Hodgson, and Gordon Kaufman as well as inclusivist figures such as Karl Rahner, Tillard, and Leonardo Boff. Healy finds that both pluralist and inclusivist approaches relativize the concrete church toward a universal goal, while radically undermining the church’s task of witness to the Good News of Christ (101). Such ecclesial foci, thus, compromise the church’s distinct identity. In turn, the church loses its ability to engage and learn from other religious bodies who also may see themselves as distinct from Christianity and distinct from the world, and the church loses its distinctive position from which to debate the concrete shape of society (101). Healy’s theodramatic approach, in contrast, intends to offer flexible and fluid ecclesial engagement with various ways of understanding the relations between God, the church and the world” (77).

Healy employs MacIntyre’s work to establish a theodramatic response to pluralism: first, a tradition can be judged according to criterion that are internally coherent, and second it can be judged by its explanatory power and its contextual adaptability in the face of challenges (124). Both the pluralist and the inclusivist ecclesiological horizons compromise the first of these judgments. The inclusivist, like the pluralist, ecclesiological theory assumes a single form of salvation for all humanity, and reduces the distinctive goal and means of each religious tradition. In this sense, these approaches fail to take differences seriously without perspectival reduction. Instead, Healy’s theodramatic theological horizon continues in the vein of MacIntyre to understand the church in light of its own tradition:

“The life of discipleship is the life spent in seeking for what constitutes good discipleship, and the virtues and graces necessary for the seeking are those which will enable us to understand what more and what else the life of discipleship is. One central task of the church is to be the locus and product of that search. So we can define it in terms of its vocation as that religious body whose concrete identity is structured by its quest to discern how its response to its Lord should structure its concrete identity (102).”

The challenge remains for Healy’s practical-prophetic ecclesiology as to how the concrete church will engage non-Christian approaches without loss or occlusion of difference (153). This challenge cannot be met with the concrete church recognizing and critically reflecting upon its own sinfulness and short comings. Healy walks a fine, but necessary tension within ecclesiology coupling contemporary ecclesiological figures such as Hauerwas’ and Lindbeck’s understanding of ecclesiology as a social practice and Kathryn Tanner’s challenge toward more ad hoc bricolage that recognizes a messier and conflictual ecclesiological reality. Healy concludes in engaging his practical-prophetic ecclesiology with those disciplines that bear upon the concrete identity of the church: history, sociology, and cultural analysis or ethnography (155). These and non-theological approaches, may help the church live more truthfully as it acknowledges and reforms sinfulness, engages in ever-shifting ecclesiological contexts by drawing critical theological attention back to the struggles and complexities of life within the pilgrim church seeking to glorify Jesus Christ in everything (185).

Chasing the Wild Goose: The Story of the Iona Community, by Ronald Ferguson

October 3rd, 2013

Title:   Chasing the Wild Goose: The Story of the Iona Community

Author:  Ronald Ferguson

Publisher:   Glasgow, UK: Wild Goose Publications, 1998.

Reviewer:   Josh Sweeden, Ph.D. student in Practical Theology

Ronald Ferguson, leader of the Iona Community from 1982 to 1989, presents the Iona Community’s story through the image of the wild goose (the Celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit).  The Iona Community has a long history, beginning with Columba who left Ireland for Scotland and was content to come ashore at Iona where “Ireland could not be seen.” Columba established the first community on the island and its Celtic spirituality was only invigorated over the next two centuries.  These early Celtic monks were eventually dispersed, due primarily to a Viking raid which killed many and left buildings in shambles.  These early Celts moved inland and it wasn’t until 1156 that “The Wild Goose was sighted again.”  This time it was Benedictine monks, sent by Reginald, Lord of the Isles, to establish a Benedictine community on the “Columban foundation.”  The Benedictine monks made substantial repairs and constructed additional buildings in order to erect a full functioning Abbey.  This community, however, was short lived as well.  Ferguson notes that, “at the Reformation the Iona Monks were dispersed” (42).  The Abbey eventually was turned over to the official Church of Scotland which only made occasional use of it.  It became a place to visit, drawing both “the famous and the curious” even though it was basically a place of desolation (45).  In 1828, however, it became an official parish of the Church of Scotland.  It received a resident pastor, holding services again, and soon attracting tourists and pilgrims.  In 1899, both the Duke and the Church of Scotland decided that “the Abbey should be restored and that all branches of the Christian Church should be able to worship there” (45).  What was needed, according to Ferguson, “was a complete rebuilding.” (45)

This marks the beginning of the current Iona Community.  George Macleod, who would become the longtime leader of the Iona Community, brought men from Glasgow “for a new experiment in Christian Community” (49).  Macleod was an energetic and enthusiastic young minister “appalled by the social deprivation in Govan (his previous parish) and the Church’s lack of response” (50).  Macleod’s new experiment proposed two things.  First, that unemployed craftsman would be invited to restore the ancient Abbey buildings, and second, that future ministers in the Church of Scotland could come and be prepared, working side by side with craftsmen while living in community.

Ferguson’s story of Iona becomes more detailed as he deals with the community as it exists today.  Macleod’s leadership, along with the (at that time) endless task of restoring the Abbey, defined the purpose of the Iona Community.  Macleod helped Iona establish avenues of ministry on the mainland (primarily urban, like the Community House) and forms of support and revenue through The Friends of Iona and various speaking engagements.  Macleod’s leadership, Ferguson writes, was “autocratic and impatient,” nevertheless; he was an attractive character who rightly understood Iona to be providing important renewal for the Church (63).  Macleod was eventually elected to leadership within the Church of Scotland, and in 1957, changes in leadership as well as community life began to take place at Iona.  What Ferguson presents is the story of a discerning community.  Macleod and the restoration projects seemed to give Iona an obvious purpose for its first twenty years.  The leadership that followed Macleod (Ralph Morton, Ian Reid, Graeme Brown) initiated more democratic styles of leadership where decisions were made by the community through discussion and discernment.  Iona continued to grow and attract new members.  Both its island and mainland programs sought creative ways to engage the church and poverty.  With new members came a more ecumenical focus.   This affected the worship, spirituality, and ministry of Iona.  Iona has, since its origins, maintained a concern for justice and peace, but now it began to see its role in the broader world.  New members brought insights about injustice and oppression happening worldwide for the community to respond to.  In addition to third world concerns, the “male bastion” was breached in 1969 when Dr. Nancy Brash became the first woman to join Iona; she opened the doors for many women who would become leading members in the community (112).

George Macleod continued to live and be involved at Iona even though he had no official capacity.  His presence was positive for Iona, though it took him time “to learn to let go.”  He died in 1991, and like when he stepped down from leadership in 1957, the Iona community still was discerning what their purpose is for both the church and the world.  This is Ferguson’s theme, that Iona is a community led by the Wild Goose.  It is a continual experiment that must be both radical and in service to the church.  While Iona appears to have a firm foundation, the truth is, Ferguson writes, that “the mortality rate among religious communities is notoriously high…when the need is met, or the agenda shifts, or the leadership changes, or the community fails to adapt, disintegration sets in” (160).  Ferguson goes on to write that, “simply to exist for half a century is an achievement” (160).  This is the perspective of Iona, to serve a purpose so long as the Spirit leads.

Even though this text was primarily a historical read of the Iona Community, it is both inspiring and theologically engaging.  Stories such as this need to continue to be told; they evoke the passion and creativity that allow the church to more fully embody its call in the world.  For ministers with an entrepreneurial spirit, this book may even be dangerous, but in a healthy way, calling forth innovation and creativity to be part of the renewal and revitalization necessary in the church.  Theological themes are present within the text.  In addition to the obvious guiding language of the Spirit, theology of place, community embodiment of Christian ethics, Christian pacifism, and ecumenical openness all receive significant attention.  Particularly helpful are the implications for theological economics.  Iona provides a unique example of a community initiated by a desire to alleviate unemployment and stratification.  By acknowledging the “divine vocation” of craftsman and the need for ministerial trainees to work side by side with them, Iona followed a Benedictine model of work as prayer and participation in the economy of God.

Catholic Worker after Dorothy, by Dan McKanan

October 3rd, 2013

Title:             The Catholic Worker after Dorothy: Practicing the Works of Mercy in a New Generation

Author:       Dan McKanan

Publisher:  Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2008

Reviewed by:   Josh Sweeden, Ph.D. Student in Practical Theology

This text serves as the culmination of Dan McKanan’s eight years of research on The Catholic Worker Movement and its communities. In the Acknowledgments McKanan states that the basis for this text was to make use of material previously developed for Touching the World, his book published in 2007 on Christian communities and transformation (225). Readers might expect this text, therefore, to seem contrived and dispassionate, as if what is being offered are McKanan’s leftovers from his previous text. This is certainly not the case. Readers will quickly notice McKanan’s depth of research, precision of writing, and willingness to grapple with key issues of the Catholic Worker Movement. Though the text is not a thorough treatise on the Catholic Worker Movement or an attempt to deal entirely with its theology and history, it does accomplish what it sets out to do: establishing the Catholic Worker as “a movement built around the practice of what they call the ‘works of mercy’” (2).

Maintaining his focus on works of mercy, McKanan declares the books purpose as twofold. First, he wants “to offer a general account of the Catholic Worker movement that takes the past few decades as seriously as the founding generation and takes the houses and farms spread across the nation as seriously as the New York houses of hospitality” (3). Second, McKanan wants “to identify the key factors that have allowed the movement to survive, relatively unscathed, for such an extraordinary span of time” (4). Immediately, he cites Dorothy Day as a key factor, who more so than Peter Maurin, “sustained the movement for the first half century” (4).    It is through the stories of numerous Catholic Worker communities and individuals that McKanan accomplishes his purposes. His analysis is excellent. His research extends beyond various insightful interviews and into a plethora of mediums—everything from official documents to community flyers—which were developed either by or about a Catholic Worker communities.

McKanan hopes to put to rest the assumption that the Catholic is in decline. By the conclusion of the text he admits the movement is “precarious” and that “‘precarity’ is as much a mark of the Worker as poverty, hospitality, and nonviolence” (214).   Nevertheless, McKanan finds this “precarity” to be part of the movement’s strength. For example, in chapter seven, “Wrestling with the Church,” McKanan shows extensively the diversity of opinion, commitment, and interaction with the Roman Catholic Church and its official positions and forms of hierarchy. Such diversity within the Worker communities may appear to be a sign of disintegration. McKanan argues, however, that “Catholic Workers are reluctant to resolve that tension through polarization or division” (207). This is a mark of the movement for McKanan; ultimately a strength that has sustained the movement over time. McKanan even writes that the “Worker movement may actually be less vulnerable to schism than the American Catholic Church as a whole” precisely because of their willingness to put up with “precarity” (207).

McKanan goes to great length to illuminate Dorothy Day’s leadership style as a significant reason for the Catholic Worker Movement’s continued vigor.   He notes that “it is a rare thing for a movement of this sort to last three-quarters of a century. One influential study of communal groups in the nineteenth century classified communities as ‘successful’ if they endured for a single twenty-five year generation” (2). He goes on to say that “the Catholic Worker’s endurance is a token of the relevance Dorothy Day’s vision has had for generations other than her own” (2). But it is more than Day’s relevant vision that has sustained the Catholic Worker. McKanan time and again notes that Day “deserves much of the credit for the endurance of the Catholic Worker Movement not because she was a powerful, charismatic leader—though she was that—but because she modeled a practice of friendship beyond the boundaries of her movement…everywhere she traveled she befriended people who were practicing the works of mercy” (23). A distinct identity of the Catholic Worker, something that sets it apart from many other movements, is its ability to incorporate diversity and difference. McKanan argues that it was Dorothy Day who “nurtured the full diversity” of the movement by taking more interest “in the people who were drawn to the movement than in the preservation of the movement itself” (127, 4). There is no “rule” for the movement, and though certain ideals are central, there is a plurality of embodiment and practice of those ideals. Indeed, various Catholic Worker communities are free, and “do not hesitate to write their own rules,” but there is no institutional structure acting hierarchically (144). McKanan even notes how such an ethos is evidenced by the remarkable fact that “no individual and no community presumed to step into the leadership vacuum that had been left by Dorothy Day.” In the final years of Day’s life the Catholic Worker Movement had become, McKanan notes, “what Dorothy Day had always said it was: an organism rather than an organization” (28).

Ultimately, McKanan’s text focuses on the centrality of the works of mercy for establishing, defining, and sustaining the Catholic Worker Movement. McKanan identifies works of mercy to function both as practice and hermeneutic for the Catholic Worker. He states that “one cannot claim to be a Catholic Worker unless one is practicing the works of mercy, and for most Workers the works of mercy are not merely a practice but also a way of seeing the world” (4). McKanan’s point is that in addition to the everyday ‘works’ of the Catholic Worker—feeding the hungry and clothing the naked—the works of mercy inform the way the Catholic worker interacts with the individuals, other communities, the church, and the world. The diversity within the movement is unsurprising in light of this claim. McKanan states that “virtually all [Catholic Worker communities] underscore the movement’s centered commitment to the works of mercy” (143). Though communities differ drastically with regard to civil engagement, forms of protest, views on specific issues, and actual forms of hospitality rendered to the poor, all have been uniquely formed through their commitment to the works of mercy. In essence, it is the capacity of the works of mercy to envelop a variety of practices and inform one’s worldview that gives each Worker community its unique flavor. Furthermore, since the core commitment of the movement is to the works of mercy, this plurality of practices and worldviews is embraced because ultimately, the works of mercy “announce” an alternative way of life.

On a point of strengthening for the text, I offer one critique. McKanan never identifies specifically what might be considered the Catholic Worker’s ‘works of mercy.’ He does offer a general definition as “attending directly to the physical and spiritual needs of the strangers and guests in who they [the Catholic Worker] glimpse the face of Christ” and also, “acts of care for the ‘least of these’” (2, 4). The absence of a specific identification of works of mercy may be the result of an assumption that readers are familiar with the Catholic Worker Movement and its practices, or simply a desire to uphold the plurality of practice evident in the movement by avoiding a narrow definition of works of mercy. Nevertheless, McKanan’s failure to more fully articulate what constitutes a work of mercy offers few concrete practices for readers to emanate.   I agree that works of mercy generally “announce” an alternative to the world and its structures, and that “announcing” and not “denouncing” is more in line with the vision of Day and Maurin. Nevertheless, I still think a substantive engagement with key Catholic Worker practices is needed. No doubt, the specific embodiment of practices change as culture shifts, generations alter, and needs are re-evaluated. It seems, therefore, that the tough work of acknowledging practices that are and aren’t faithful to the gospel and the original Catholic Worker vision of works of mercy is still desperately needed.

Caminemos con Jesus, by Roberto S. Goizueta

October 3rd, 2013

Title:   Caminemos con Jesus: Toward a Hispanic/Latino Theology of Accompaniment

Author:  Roberto S. Goizueta

Publisher:   Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2003

Reviewer:   Nell Becker Sweeden, Ph.D. student in Practical Theology

In Caminemos con Jesús, Roberto Goizueta offers the U.S. Hispanic popular Catholicism as a lens through which to engage theological aesthetics, anthropology, and rationality. Goizueta works toward a theological and cultural pluralism founded in a preferential option for the faith of the poor through the process of acompañamiento. Central to his exploration is U.S. Hispanic popular Catholicism as a particular socio-historical context through which Catholic Latinos and Latinas do their theology. This theology is set within the context of everyday sayings, symbols, practices, and narratives of the people. Goizueta draws upon popular Catholicism’s expression of faith in the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe (La Morenita), Jesus and Mary defined relationally to each other and to us, the person as sacrament, a theology of collaboration, community as the birthplace of self, and the ‘in-between’ (mestizaje) existence of migration. Through such enactment, practices, and narratives of the people, Goizueta hopes to offer a methodological model for doing theology from a particular socio-historical context.

Through the Guadalupe story, Goizueta develops a relational anthropology and seeks to center both anthropology and theology in praxis, or human action (77). Drawing from Latin American Liberation Theology, Goizueta accentuates orthopraxis through the following two statements, “To know God is to do justice. To love God is to love one’s neighbor.” Influenced by Karl Marx’s notion of human action or praxis as transformative, Goizueta believes, with Gutierrez and other Latin American liberation theologians, that the “praxis which grounds theological reflection is variously defined as historical praxis, Christian praxis, and liberating (or liberation) praxis” (87).

Goizueta’s main contribution to the discussion is how he integrates aesthetic experience as a lens for interpreting human action (89). He finds that, particularly, in contrast with rational, logical thinking, aesthetics provides an important lens for interpreting empathetic love (91). Borrowing from Vasconcelos, Goizueta stresses how aesthetics express a unity between persons (96). Ultimately, Goizueta seeks to develop a correlation between aesthetics and ethics (or justice). The two must be held in tension to preserve the integrity of each. The aesthetic character of human action must be mediated by justice to prevent the physical objects of the Eucharist, for example, from merely becoming religious symbols; the eucharistic elements must also be understood as economic products—as they are grown and produced by persons and socio-economic structures. In this sense, one must hold together the political and economic dimensions of aesthetic action (125). The celebration of every human life, for Goizueta, must be coupled with the ethical-political option for the poor. In this sense, the church’s witness to God’s glory and beauty has everything to do with its witness to God’s love and justice (125).

Goizueta’s places his proposal before a postmodern challenge, in which truth and knowledge are always radically particular, contextual, and in flux (135). He seeks to develop a theological aesthetics that reaches beyond both modern and postmodern reason through popular Catholicism’s foundation in relationship and lived human experience (relational, embodied, and affective) (140). The universal truth of U.S. Hispanic popular Catholicism, Goizueta claims, is mediated by U.S. Hispanic praxis, and is, therefore, a ‘situated universal’ (156). At the same time, U.S. Hispanic popular Catholicism is rooted in the relational anthropology of the praxis of other particular persons and communities, so that the truth emerges from this relationship between ‘others.’ In sum, he argues that truth (and the foundation for theological pluralism) is grounded in praxis in the interrelationship with others (157).

In turn, this relational anthropology is the basis for Goizueta’s theology of accompaniment arising out of U.S. Hispanic popular Catholicism and specific commitment to the preferential option for the poor (173). According to Goizueta, the lives of U.S. Hispanics and the lives of the poor are identified with the home and with the city. Theology must, therefore, be located in homes and cities. To walk with the poor, one must locate oneself in the geographical places of the poor; this is the place for an experiential form of knowledge. This accompaniment must transcend the socio-political barriers, boundaries, and borders to find “God who is at home at the crossroads” (210). This act of accompaniment is rooted in the act of walking with Jesus and the accompaniment of his body and blood in the Eucharist. Jesus’ eucharistic presence is identified with everyday life; it is a sacramental act, an experiential from of knowledge.

Though rooted in everyday faith practices, Goizueta’s methodology and theological analysis can be thick with technical language. What I take from Goizueta’s analysis is the rootedness of faith in both aesthetical and ethical praxis. For Goizueta, relational anthropology is understood in an aesthetical experience of unity and love that must be mediated through ethical interaction in which the justice of another is appreciated and upheld. This mutual interaction between persons reflects beauty and justice, and, as Goizueta claims, points toward experiential truth. The expression of faith is an act rooted in the intersection of the beauty and justice of God in Jesus Christ. This intersection is nurtured at the crossroads in the ‘in-between’, mestizo/a existence of U.S. Hispanic theology. This hybrid existence is an important point of integration for the people of God toward not only right knowledge, but right relationship with one another and with God.

For Goizueta, this intersection with a relational anthropology is the foundation for theological and cultural pluralism. From my own perspective, the integration of aesthetics and justice is necessary in a Christian community of faith because of the commitment to love one another as a reflection of God’s love toward humanity. Love of God and love of neighbor should always be held together, rooted in both aesthetics and justice, and thus should naturally give rise to a theology of accompaniment within the body of Christ. I draw upon Goizueta’s relational anthropology within ecclesiology as an impulse toward further faithfulness in witness to God’s peaceable reign understood through a living tradition and community of faith.

Additionally, Goizueta’s particular attention to popular expression of faith and how this embodies both aesthetics and justice offers important insight into understanding ecclesial formation in light of migration. Additionally, his attention to a theology of accompaniment speaks to the role of the church in traveling with migrants on their journey. In light of these insights, some further questions for exploration are: how might the integral relationships between aesthetics and justice be expressed and lived out ecclesially for and with migrants? That is to say, How is this manifested in their ecclesial contexts? What are the practices and ways of life that embody a theology of accompaniment? Goizueta locates accompaniment within the city and in particular neighborhoods, but what does a theology of accompaniment look like for a particular community of faith in a neighborhood? Naturally, each of these questions remains to be explored within a particular community of faith.

Goizueta opens his book with an important analogy for how a community of faith accompanies migrants. Reciting the poem taught to him by his father, a Cuban exile, Goizueta describes the migrant’s existence through the words of Antonio Machado: “‘Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.’ (Traveler, there is no path, the path is forged as one walks.)” (1). This reality for migrants is paralleled with the ecclesiological invitation, “‘Caminemos con Jesús.’ (Let us walk with Jesus.)” (1). Goizueta borrows these words from a Holy Thursday liturgical procession offered by the Mexican-American parishioners of San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, Texas. He describes his own life as living between these two statements: “No hay camino”… “caminemos con Jesús” (1).

These are the cries of the exile who resides in the “solitude and loneliness of an alien country” (1). Yet, as Goizueta notes, the inviting words, “Caminemos con Jesús,” arise from the same person who has discovered a new home in the midst of exile. This home is different from a stable and secure, physical place. Rather, here, these words are shaped into an ecclesiological invitation, now a home as “a community of persons, who as exiles themselves, are together ‘Walking with Jesus’” (1).

Within these images lies the tension between theology of place and theology of pilgrimage embodied within a faith community living in the midst of global migration. The language of the liturgy and the bodily movement of the procession integrate being in exile with Jesus walking amongst the Body of Christ. Attention to language, liturgies, narratives, and practices speak to how a faith community lives together with and walks with migrants. It challenges a community of faith to continually self-reflect—How are we accompanying and journeying with our neighbor, a migrant, and our savior, Jesus?

After Virtue, by Alasdair MacIntyre

October 3rd, 2013

Title:      After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theology, 2nd Edition

Author:    Alasdair MacIntyre

Publisher:  Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984

Reviewer:   Nell Becker Sweeden, Ph.D. student in Practical Theology

In After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre takes to the task of exposing modern liberal societies, born out of Enlightenment individualism, as morally vacuous. Their moral lack arises as a result of a society’s denial or neglect of its own narrative history and the impetus to fragment persons from their historical narrative and community for the perpetuation of the individualist modern myth. MacIntyre looks to the Aristotelian virtue tradition as one in which virtue remains encompassed within the narrative unity of a human life evidenced in practices learned together with a community unified by a shared vision of the good (258). Thus, MacIntyre suggests that the teleological unity of an Aristotelian tradition provides the necessary alternative to liberal individualism. Additional salient points emerge as MacIntyre unfolds this task further. MacIntyre asserts that all reason emerges from a living tradition; in fact human self-knowledge also emerges from somewhere. He writes, “What I am therefore, is in key part what I inherit, a specific past that is present to some degree in my present” (221). In this sense, the notion of a modern “individual” as a rational, independent agent is a myth. Rather, each person is housed within a particular narrative or history. Narrative history is the basic genre for all characterization of human actions (208).

In building his argument, MacIntyre carries out the effects of modern individualism into modern societies and attributes the lack of substantive moral unity to the fact that society has become “a collection of strangers, each pursuing his or her own interests under minimal constraints” (251). Such societies are governed by “a set of institutional arrangements for imposing a bureaucratized unity” in the absence of possible moral consensus (254). There is no common substantive goal for which society works, rather it operates toward the preservation of each citizen’s pursuit of his or her own interests. In turn, without a unified goal, any notion of justice within society remains muddled and unclear. Additionally, any notion of virtue within this ‘collection of strangers’ is unclear—choices become criterionless and there are no grounds for settling discussion between rival notions of good because any tradition bearing virtues is veiled, subdued, or rejected (202).

Of note in MacIntyre’s historical analysis is how he brings to light the notion of “practice” in reference to teleological virtue. Practices, for MacIntyre, embody goods internal to the practice agreed upon according to the telos of the social community. Virtue requires embodiment in practice. In fact, MacIntyre defines a virtue as, “an acquired human quality the possession and exercise of which tends to enable us to achieve those goods which are internal to practices and the lack of which effectively prevents us from achieving any such goods” (191). As such, practice is carried out in reference to one’s relationship with other practitioners according to shared common standards. In this sense, living out shared virtues in relationship with a community is a dynamic process which is never completed.

Additionally, MacIntyre nuances how the Aristotelian concept of telos is understood not as something achieved at any point in time, but as the way human life is constructed (175). In other words, human life is oriented toward something in relationship with its present community and historical narrative. MacIntyre’s development of historical narrative, practices embodying shared communal good, and telos offer insightful reflection into a Christian life and faith community. MacIntyre’s notion of telos as ‘a certain kind of life’ parallels the Christian life in which the people of God are journeying toward God’s heavenly reign (telos) in the sense that they embody the way of this reign learned as they journey together. They are a particular people—God’s people—embodying a particular way of life. The virtues of the Christian tradition, in this sense, are visible and embodied in the community’s practices. Such practices will not always look the same because they are carried out in relationship with the Christian community in different times and places. Interestingly, one can witness within history the ecclesial body’s discernment in both institutional forms and informal shapes, both of which shape practices over time and interpret the shared historical narrative. Within this, one can also witness communities working out rival concepts of virtue.  In this way, communal discernment and formation are central to how practices are shared, reshaped, and carried out over time and within contexts. For example, the practice of hospitality—or the welcome of the stranger based on the virtues of love of God and neighbor— translates to various forms and embodiments as this Christian practice is continually communally discerned within a given time and place. Additionally, such practice is discerned not only within a present context, but, at the same time, from within the narrative history of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, the lived histories of Jesus and the early church community, and the lives of the saints. In this way, discernment, formation, and embodying of virtues happen within the living tradition of a community.