Tag Archives: religion

God is Red: A History of Christianity in Communist China

God is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China, Liao Yiwu. (Harper One 2011) $14.99

God Is RedIn God is Red, historian Liao Yiwu tells the story of Christian missionary workers and the house church movement throughout the twentieth century in China under totalitarian government. For his previous writings, Liao has been imprisoned and his books banned. “But what if we, as a nation, collectively lose our memory of the past?” Liao asks.

This question haunts the entire book, a fear that is reminiscent of Orwell’s perennial classic. Liao delves “into the past and present experiences of a particular group of people in search of clues about China’s future,” interweaving and linking several interviews conducted in the Yunnan province of southwest China between 2002 and 2010. Albeit a particular story about Christianity in China, God is Red takes on the political dragon to record the country’s moment of faith crisis in the wake of a push for modernization.

Readers will find this an easy book to get lost in: Liao recounts the interviews cleanly without losing the humor, as well capturing the Chinese way of telling a story poetically,

I followed Brother Yang, clutching both hands in front of my chest, tears streaming down like raindrops. I tell you, I wasn’t overcome with grief. I felt grateful. For the first time in my life, I didn’t think about myself or about human beings. I was thinking about God, who is above us, above all living things, above the highest mountain, above Erhai Lake. My parents gave birth to me, but God gave me life. I didn’t know that before. Cancer helped enlighten me, giving winder to my heart, which had been downtrodden in the mud, and made it fly and feel the bliss of heaven. Continue reading

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Sex, Shame and Healing: A Memoir of a Sex Surrogate

An Intimate Life: Sex, Love, and My Journey as a Surrogate Partner, Cheryl T. Cohen Green with Lorna Garano (Soft Skull Press, 2012)  $15.95

an-intimate-life-sex-love-and-my-journey-as-a-surrogate-partnerFollowing Helen Hunt’s portrayal of her in last year’s The Sessions, Cheryl Cohen Green decided to write a book to better explain her profession as a sex surrogate. Based in San Francisco and a student of the Masters and Johnsons model of sex therapy, Cohen Greene offers a series of vignettes interspersed with her memoirs of a good Catholic girl who grew up to disappoint and frustrate her parents. A familiar and cliché trope perhaps, but given the nature of her work a curiously unique one. What does one do as a sex surrogate? And how is that different from prostitution?

Unfortunately, Cohen Greene’s memoir doesn’t answer either of those questions. I’ve read several articles, books, and essays on sex surrogacy and while this is certainly one of the more human treatments of the profession, the book suffers from the author’s inability to expressly name how her work differs from prostitution – a fact that she readily admits neither The Sessions nor, in her final paragraph, she herself has been able to resolve. Continue reading

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Seeing God in Surprising Places

When “Spiritual but Not Religious” is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church, Lillian Daniel (Jericho Books, 2013) $19.99

spiritualnotreligiousIf nothing else, Lillian Daniel has a breadth of experience in her years of ministry! In her book, When “Spiritual but Not Religious” is Not Enough, Lillian takes us along for the ride as she chats with random strangers on the bus, visits prisons and monasteries, philosophizes with her dog about late-night TV evangelists, and deals with family crises as she takes on the task of “Seeing God in surprising places, even the church.” Her quirky anecdotes draw the reader into her inner thought circle, giving the book the feel of a rambling campfire rant among friends. With each section divided into bite-sized chapters, the author challenges many commonly-held beliefs, both in and outside the church, and shows us through her stories that we need to look deeper into the every day fabric of life than we are accustomed to, in order to find the answers to the big questions.

You won’t find quick and easy theological answers to the questions she poses. You won’t find loosely superimposed object lessons, and you won’t find hum-drum do-it-yourself suggestions for cultivating a lifestyle of prayer or confession or communion. The author resists giving you the answers to the test at all costs. Instead, she tells you about her experience with these aspects of spiritual life, and lets you fill in the blanks. In her discussion of communion, for example, one moment, you’re sitting in her financial planner’s office discussing tithing, and the next minute, you’re whisked off to O’Hare airport to discover the joys of impromptu road trips with strangers in snowy weather—and then you’re in her mother’s dining room, waiting to be served roast duck! And, while there is a conclusion to be drawn from her sharing each of these stories in short succession, the author leaves us to draw that conclusion on our own.

The abruptness of her transitions, interjected with the odd chapter where she can’t resist jumping up onto her soapbox, can be disconcerting. Even the conclusion of the book is abrupt. Yet, there is an endearing quality to the way the author tells her stories. A keen mind and gentle heart shine out of every chapter. It is obvious that Lillian Daniel is actively engaged in wrestling with the deep, unsettling questions of spirituality, and even more impressive—she’s comfortable with the patchwork gaps in her knowledge of God, assured that her faith and her experience will continue to fill the gaps. Indeed, it would seem that from her perspective, the only way to allow the gaps to be filled is to continue to experience life through the lens of faith.

If you’re looking for a book that will encourage introspection, challenge complacency, and make you laugh all at the same time, pick up a copy of When “Spiritual but Not Religious” is Not Enough. You never know where you’ll find God.

Holly Messenger Aamot studied philosophy and botany at the University of Alberta, and now work as the Business Manager for the Chokka Center for Integrative Health in Edmonton, Alberta. When she is not working or reading she enjoys writing, crocheting, and making music. She lives in Edmonton with her husband and daughter.

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The Cross and the Lynching Tree

The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James H. Cone (Orbis) $28

As soon as I read the title of this book it was instantly obvious to me. Human beings have an uncanny ability to miss what is right in front of their eyes. Particular narratives frame reality and admit or reject certain truths based on those narratives which run, like software, in the background, unexamined. But when our imaginations are opened to a truth, it is impossible to go back; impossible to not see it.

Such is the case with The Cross and the Lynching Tree, the latest volume from renown black liberation theologian and Union Theological Seminary professor, James H. Cone.

In this brief and engaging read, Cone highlights the problem of an anemic theological and social imagination on the part of some of our best thinkers. Cone begins, in the introduction, with these words,

The cross and the lynching tree are separated by nearly 2,000 years. One is universal symbol of Christian faith; the other is the quintessential symbol of black oppression in America. Though both are symbols of death, one represents a message of hope and salvation, while the other signifies the negation of that message by white supremacy (xiii).

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Our Enemy is Our Ignorance: An Interview with Dr Abuelaish

A Palestinian born in the Jabalia refugee camp of the Gaza Strip, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish overcame tremendous odds to earn his MD. As an OBGYN he practiced in both Palestine and Israel, frequently commuting between the two countries. In January 2009, during a three-week long war, an Israeli tank fired two shells into the doctor’s home, killing three of his daughters and his niece. Dr. Abuelaish was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because of his commitment to Israeli/Palestinian reconciliation. He is the founder of Daughters for Peace an organization that provides university scholarships as well as leadership programs on health and education to young women in the Middle East. On January 12 we sat down with Dr. Abuelaish after his public lecture about his new bestselling book, I Shall Not Hate, at the Los Angeles Public Library – a part of their ALOUD series. For further coverage of this conversation and Abuelaish’s bestselling book, you can access Ryan Bell’s piece in the Huffington Post.

—The Editors

Your book came out in Canada in the Spring. Has it been selling well? How has the reception been so far?

I didn’t expect the positive response of the book. It was released April 27th. It’s a best seller and was among the influential books in 2010 in Canada. The people who read the book—it made a difference in their life, in their attitude, in a positive way. And the people, as you see in today’s event, they said it’s full of hope. It inspired them. And when they read the book it finds a receptive ground. The people are thirsty. And I think there is hope in that. And also, it has been translated into about 15 languages: English (worldwide, by Bloomsbury United States and UK), French (worldwide), German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Turkish, Portuguese, Finnish, Arabic, Hebrew, and Indonesian.

I am satisfied that the message can reach the hands and the minds and hearts of people and that through that we can make a difference and create a momentum we can build on.

You tell this amazing story in the book about a Jewish lawyer named Stephen Flatow and how he tried to have you removed from a panel. Since then you’ve eaten in his home. Are you still in touch with him?

Yes. And this is the message: he judged me without knowing me, just on perception and stereotype. This strengthens my belief that our enemy is our ignorance. We don’t know each other. So we need to communicate in order to know each other. And not to know just the name or the faces, we need to know the deep elements of what we call the other—to engage.

It’s the personal stories, it seems, that break through.

Yes, to engage with your heart. In our lives when I say to you, I know this person, be careful. This means I know him deeply. Don’t tell me about him, I know him well. I know the way he thinks, the way he eats, the way he behaves. So that’s what we need to know each other.

You must have many experiences like the one you had with Stephen Flatow. Does that happen fairly often?

I can say to you, in Palestinian-Israeli relationships, there are many good stories. You can see Israelis who met with Palestinians and Palestinians who met with Israelis. I know a friend of mine who never met a Palestinian. He had stereotypes about Palestinians, but once he met a Palestinian he realized that this guy is similar to him.

What is it about you or about what you believe that makes you the kind of person that leaves the safety of what you know to go out and know someone else who is different from you? Because I know a lot of people who don’t want to leave their area, they don’t want to leave the people they know already?

I’m not preoccupied with this feeling. This morning when someone said to me, Izzeldin, you must be careful of Ryan. Why? I meet with you with open heart. I am confident in what I believe. I am honest with myself. I am coming to meet with you from goodwill, for the good cause. And it’s important for both of us to do that.

So there was a trust that was somehow planted in your heart early on—to trust someone who is different from you?

Always. Because if I want to be trusted I must trust others.

Your father was this way? Your mother?

This is the human feeling. If I started to meet with you and I was suspicious of you, how can you trust me? I want to meet with others and place my trust in them because if you want to be trusted you must trust others.

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