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Quick Reads for August 2017

August 28, 2017 by

Here are our recommendations for August:

book covers

E. Amy Buller, Darkness over Germany
(reviewed by Bernard Hibbs)

The sight of young men carrying Nazi symbols in Charlottesville several weeks ago was sickening. But this old book, just reprinted, sheds a new and more worrying light on what some people have dismissed as mere identity politics.

Amy Buller was an English academic (1891–1974) and must have been a remarkable woman. Her book, published in 1943, is a series of notes and reflections on conversations held with Germans as she travelled the country during the 1930s. It is amazing how she captures the underlying causes of the rise of National Socialism and eventually identifies it as a false and extremist religion. For example, she tells of parents who opposed the Nazi policies yet were still glad that their sons had work and a purpose in life. But as we now know, and as Buller realized at the time, the young were persuaded to unite around a purpose that soon unleashed one of the greatest horrors Europe had ever known.

So when we see a demonstration called “Unite the Right” with upset young white men who feel the real America has been destroyed, marching and wearing Nazi insignia, we should be worried. The book in its new edition is subtitled “A Warning from History.” We had best heed that warning.

Belden C. Lane, Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice
(reviewed by Red Zimmerman)

If you’re looking for insight into wilderness survival or for actual backpacking tips, look elsewhere. But if you need a splendid compendium of wisdom on nature, solitude, and self, Lane (a retired professor of theology, religion, and spirituality) is your man. He mixes in enough of his own experiences on the trail to make it enjoyable as a travelogue, but the heart of it is in the numerous quotations, which range from Columba of Iona and John of the Cross through Luther and Kierkegaard to Gandhi and Merton. And it is full of meat, not pabulum: early on, Lane reminds us that he wants to avoid the illusion that “entering into wilderness is, in itself, a guarantee of spiritual growth. Virtue is never an automatic result of backcountry experience.” One could say the same about his book. It takes effort to navigate the dense wilderness – not one but two epigraphs for each chapter, and numerous longer excerpts scattered throughout – and one can easily become lost in these thickets. But with a little perseverance, the reader will attain the summit. The result of Lane’s guidance is a volume that yields depth every time I crack it open to a random chapter, which I’ve now done several times this summer. (And a hat-tip to Clint Baldwin and his Instagram account for alerting me to the existence of this book.)

David Williams, When the English Fall
(reviewed by Arno Wright)

I don’t usually read books described as “post-apocalyptic”; if I want material for worry and anxiety the New York Times is bad enough. However, when I saw that this one was also about the Amish, my curiosity was piqued. I just had to crack it open and see how bad the mash-up was.

I was surprised to find a well-written novel – thought-provoking and fundamentally Christian. It’s the diary entries of an Amish man named Jacob, and is set in the near future when the effects of climate change are getting worse. Life is still more or less as it is now, but excessive heat and strong storms are putting more stress on both the Amish and the English. (English is the Amish term for everyone who is not Amish.)

Jacob’s biggest worry is his epileptic daughter, who at times says strange and mysterious things. Then one night a massive solar storm wipes out the electrical grid and destroys all computers. Life changes, immediately and drastically, for the English, while the Amish at first are hardly affected. Not for long though, as hunger, panic, and violence quickly spread.

It’s not a book about climate change, or about the rapture. What’s important to Williams is not exactly what causes the collapse, but Jacob’s soul-searching as he grapples with how to respond as a Christian to the catastrophe around him. What is his responsibility to his family, his community, his neighbors, and the stranger at the door? How can he stay committed to peace and nonviolence? And how can he, his family, and his community, be a witness to Jesus in a time of crisis? Williams points out that the root of the word “martyr” is simply “witness.” As Jacob says, “Sometimes being a witness is easy, the world will nod and smile and say what nice person you are, but sometimes it’s really hard, and being a witness can mean terrible things.”

As a member of a pacifist Christian community, and as a husband and father, the scenes in this book are downright chilling. What would I do if my faith was put to such a test? But When the English Fall is ultimately a hopeful book because it affirms that God is always with us. Incredible sacrifices may be required of us. Terrible things may happen, and we won’t understand why. But in life and death and suffering, God, through his son Jesus, accompanies us. We can put our trust in him.

Cathy Greenblat, Love, Loss, and Laughter
(reviewed by Arnold Maendel)

This is a bit of an incongruity: a coffee table book about Alzheimer’s and dementia. As difficult as it may be to accompany someone you love on her journey with Alzheimer’s (and as a home care nurse, I’ve done my share of that), there are bright spots along the way. Greenblat encourages us to focus on positive ways of celebrating the life and personality of a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Why should the disease be known as the long goodbye? Why not the long hello? Strongly recommended for anyone who has a loved one in this situation.

Cameron Bloom & Bradley Trevor Greive, Penguin the Magpie
(reviewed by Arnold Maendel)

We picked up this beautiful book in Australia last May. With stunning images and narrative, it tells how an Australian magpie* saved a family from despair and disintegration. Just when the Bloom family was on the point of ruin following a tragic accident in which their mother was paralyzed, their two young sons rescued a magpie chick which had fallen from its nest. Thus began their journey to healing. This affectionate and intelligent bird repaid their kindness many times over, by calling the paralyzed woman out of deep despair and helping her to reconnect to her family. Uplifting and inspiring.

*The Australian magpie is completely unrelated to the American and European birds of the same name, sharing only the characteristic of having black and white plumage. And a beak.

 

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