By Richard Holloway
Former Bishop of Edinburgh and a divinity professor in the City of London, Holloway offers deceptively simple reflections on the always compelling, ever-relevant subject of forgiveness. Refreshingly free from the extremes of rant and piety, the cosmopolitan cleric instead summons an eclectic and humanistic range of provocative thinkers, from Derrida to Nietzsche, and a generous sampling of contemporary British poetry. The prolific author of "Godless Morality" and 23 other books is fond of attention-grabbing Derridan paradox: Unforgivability is necessary in order to make forgiveness possible. We can practice religion what it signifies without the form of religion, yielding "religion without religion," which can also be seen in the phenomenon of people who are "spiritual but not religious." Although the book originated as lectures at Glasgow University, Holloway's point is hardly academic. He always applies his reasoning to real and historical examples: the Middle East, Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Holloway offers subtle guidance, the kind that is easiest to accept and therefore most effective. He is not imperative: forgiveness is a choice so hard that there is room for the unforgiving, and magnanimity and generosity may work as substitutes for forgiveness in the political arena. This slender book is a reminder that if enormous error is all too human, so too must be the capacity to forgive it and thereby transcend it and, as the author puts it, "reclaim the future." This is an estimable contribution to the growing current literature on forgiveness.
The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity
By Roger E. Olson
In this ambitious book, Olson delineates from an evangelical perspective what is and is not authentic Christian belief. Chapters feature such topics as the Bible, God, Jesus and the Church, beginning with an overview of orthodox belief about the topic, citing Scripture, the Church Fathers and noted Christian writers throughout history. Olson then devotes a section to heretical beliefs, and follows this with an examination of diverse non-heretical beliefs among orthodox Christians (including Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox believers, and most Protestants). He ends each chapter envisioning greater unity among Christians, despite honest disagreements. While marred by some redundancy and excess verbiage, Olson's writing renders many complex theological concepts surprisingly accessible. And in his attempts to separate heresy from right belief, he acknowledges that those who adhere to beliefs he labels erroneous are usually sincere Christians (he cites wrong belief among fundamentalists, charismatics, liberal Christians and various sects). Attempting to mediate among the myriad dogmas, doctrines and opinions of orthodox Christians is no easy task, and Olson's descriptions of certain right beliefs and heresies (such as the psychological analogy for the Trinity and modalism) are sometimes barely distinguishable. Despite these and other small logical problems, Olson's book contributes greatly to contemporary evangelicalism not only in its impressive survey of many theologies, but also in its use of "The Great Tradition" of Christian belief as an essential guide to orthodoxy.
by St. Francis of Assisi
Shambhala, which has been broadening its line to include classics of Western as well as Eastern spirituality, offers a beautiful new series merging spiritual poetry and the art of calligraphy. In Canticle of the Sun: The Spirit of Francis of Assisi, the saint's prayers and excerpts from writings about him are complemented by facing-page calligraphy in bold colors. Alongside Francis's prayers of gratitude for Sister Moon, Brother Wind and Sister Water, for example, are the corresponding Latin praises, beautifully rendered by calligrapher Frank Missant.
Among the other three volumes in Shambhala's series is "Perfect Harmony: Sufi Poetry of Ibn `Arabi," which pairs the poetry of the 13th-century Sufi mystic with contemporary calligraphy by Hassan Massoudy. In a moving afterword, Massoudy explains how he became involved in calligraphy as a child, and how his work is inspired by poetry.
Seeing Jesus in His Own Words
By Marianna Mayer
In another of her elegant-looking picture books, Mayer ("The Twelve Apostles") illuminates Jesus' character, personality and teachings. The text consists chiefly of an amalgam of quotes attributed to Jesus in the Gospels; a variety of Bible versions are the sources. The language is contemporary and accessible, if not always poetic ("Don't pass judgment, and you won't be judged"; "Notice how the wild lilies grow: They don't slave and they don't spin"). Focusing on Jesus as a spiritual teacher rather than savior, Mayer informally groups quotes according to such unstated themes as Jesus the champion of children and Jesus the shepherd. Paintings, mostly European and post-Renaissance, appear throughout the volume. Though the accumulation of similar quotes can be slightly overwhelming, young readers will certainly take away a clear impression of Jesus' emphasis on selfless love, compassion and forgiveness.