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The Church of Mercy: A Vision for the Church

Pope Francis. Loyola Press, $22.95 (200p) ISBN 978-0-8294-4168-0

Former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio recently celebrated his one-year anniversary as Pope Francis. This collection of homilies and public addresses serves as a mission statement for this papacy. Francis preaches the gospel of mercy and invites anyone who will hear him to have a personal relationship with Jesus. He writes about Jesus as a close friend, an intimate companion. Another major theme in Francis’ theology is equating the Catholic Church with the Church of the Poor. This pope is a son of liberation theology, and he believes wholeheartedly that the poor of the world have much to teach Catholicism. He is quick to declare that there is one Catholic Church for all, not multiple churches for multiple constituencies. All are sinners, all require salvation, and all have a place in an open and inviting church. Francis implores the faithful to view one another as brothers and sisters, and to reach out in mercy to one another to alleviate pain, suffering, loneliness, and dread. This collection offers fascinating insight into the mind and heart of someone who has rapidly become one of the world’s most beloved public figures. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community

Sister Simone Campbell with David Gibson. HarperOne, $25.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-227354-3

Campbell—activist, attorney, and nun—mixes autobiography with a strong call for justice in this brisk-paced, crisp, inspiring account. Having grown up in a Catholic family in California in the 1960s, college-aged Campbell joined the Sisters of Social Service, an especially "modern" order, whose sisters were very much involved in the world. ("Aren't those the quasi nuns?" asked her mother.) Campbell earned a law degree, first practicing low-income family law, and then taking the helm of NETWORK, a Washington, D.C.-based organization of sisters promoting economic justice. Under Campbell's leadership, NETWORK advocated health care reform, work that garnered censure from the Vatican, which claimed that NETWORK was devoting too much time and energy to social justice. "Well, yes, social justice is what Catholic sisters do," Campbell tartly writes. In order to advance the organization's mission in the wake of this Vatican censure, Campbell and other nuns took a nine-state bus tour, highlighting the struggles of low- and middle-income people. Throughout this account, Campbell writes with wisdom, charity, and backbone. She offers a nuanced position on abortion, and issues a rousing call for Americans become involved in the public square. The volume is marred only by a self-indulgent appendix of rather pedestrian poems. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Playing with Religion in Digital Games

Heidi A. Campbell and Gregory P. Grieve. Indiana Univ., (302p) $85 ISBN 978-0-253-01244-9 $30 trade paper ISBN 978-0-253-01253-1

Scholars have recently begun giving serious attention to digital games instead of seeing them as pop entertainment for young enthusiasts. Campbell and Grieve, media and religious studies professors respectively, show academics studying games as a way of understanding cultures and cultural identities. Many essays begin with the premise that any artistic medium is participating in a culture and its assumptions - so that, for example, a digital game in which a player portrays an American soldier fighting in Iraq is making biased assumptions about a foreign "other." Putting aside the persistent question of whether games are art, the essayists analyze digital games' depictions of religious imagery and theology and consider the implications of how different cultural groups receive and project these ideas. Many of the essayists examine the relationship between the historical and symbolic importance of sacred games/spaces and play as a meaning-making activity. Though some essays are less rigorous and overreach in their observations, this is overall an ambitious and impressive compendium offering intriguing possibilities for further research and theory for the burgeoning field of cultural studies. (May)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Public Zen, Personal Zen: A Buddhist Introduction

Peter D. Hershock. Rowman & Littlefield, $35 (298p) ISBN 978-1-4422-1612-9

The history of Zen Buddhism is intricate, involving transmissions and exchanges of political, economic, and religious institutions among countries of South and East Asia. Hershock presents a succinct but immensely illuminating overview of Zen from two different viewpoints: its "public" or institutional history and its "personal" or practiced history. Through its public aspect, Hershock carefully traces the development of Zen as a religious institution entangled in the political and social history of Japan, revealing its rise and fall to the modern day through the Rinzai, Soto, and Obaku sects. Through its personal side, he analyzes how Zen has been practiced by laypeople, clergy, and the ruling classes throughout its history, emphasizing the transformative and emancipatory disciplines that morally determine how its adherents engage and change the world. He does not shy from the darker elements of Zen's history, such as how some Zen masters defended Japan's participation in WWII. By doing so, he exposes the unavoidable deep connections between religion and the political, social, and economic institutions with which it coexists. Hershock has written a powerful portrait of Zen Buddhism that has much to offer not only to the uninitiated but also to those familiar with the history and practice of this religion. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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