Category Archives: Reviews

BOOK REVIEW By Donna Runge, Final Year MDiv

Book Review of When God Was a Little Girl by David R.Weiss, WTS 1986 and illustrated by Joan Lindeman:

This is a children’s book published by Beaver’s Pond Press     7108 Ohms Lane     Edina, MN  55439-2129     www.BeaversPondPress.com

What a delightful book!  As I started reading, I was immediately drawn into the conversation between the father and the daughter.  So much so, that I found myself reading it aloud.  The story of how God, who is a little girl, creates the world progresses as the father begins the story and builds on the questions and comments of his daughter.

It is an old story with a new twist!  The book engages the reader’s own imagination in anticipation as the questions are answered.  And as I read it I could also imagine myself reading the book to my own grandchildren and answering their questions.  It is a book that engages young and old.  Its message is simple yet profound in its creativity.

BOOK REVIEW: THE NEW JIM CROW Reviewed by Alan Berndt-Dreyer

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, (New York: The New Press, 2010 and 2012). Xvii and 312.

Reviewed by Alan Berndt-Dreyer, M.Div. Senior

It has been a long journey for me from the rural, yet diverse community of Western Nebraska to the streets of the Harambee neighborhood in Milwaukee and back to seminary. Along the way I have had the opportunity to encounter races other than my own and more importantly, my own aversion to defining race that has led to colorblindness. This colorblindness has not been helpful for me or for others.  Through the course of living a year in a predominately African American neighborhood I have seen the effects of my and the nation’s colorblindness in helping to create and maintain, as the author rightly calls it, a racial caste system.

Through her book, Michelle Alexander lays out argument after argument, fact after fact, to support her thesis: “We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Alexander points to the very same constitutional amendment that abolished slavery as the one that allows the one who is a criminal to be a slave to the state. As we know; one must pay their debt to society.  Just 110 years after the emancipation proclamation and a decade after a successful civil rights movement, the start of the War on Drugs and mass incarceration moved in to redefine racial minorities, particularly African Americans, in terms of being a criminal. Being labeled a criminal puts every obstacle in the way  of reintegration into society. Who wants to argue on behalf of one labeled a criminal?

Michelle Alexander successfully argues that this “New Jim Crow” has been created through the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs was started by President Ronald Reagan on the verge of seeing penal prisons on their way out.  The War on Drugs systemically has given police in our country the legal right to racially profile along with the financial incentives to do so. Moreover, prosecutors have incentive to pick all-white juries, as well as try to bring as many charges as possible against people of color. Though drug use and sales are equal across the races in America, blacks and browns are targeted unfairly, but legally, through many cases judged by the Supreme Court to be constitutional. Furthermore, drugs that are common to those who are white carry a much lighter sentence than those more common to those who are black. These are just a few of the hundreds of cases and examples that she brings forward to support her case.

Though Alexander’s book is devastating in example after example of racial discrimination and the effects of that discrimination, she remains hopeful and determined that this new racial caste system should and will fall. The core of the book comes not in the first five chapters where she builds the case that a new racial caste has been created, but in the final chapter where she addresses colorblindness. Colorblindness to an issue doesn’t mean that the issue isn’t there. As we are made aware of the issues of race that still pervade our society and will continue to as sinful human institutions it becomes clear that colorblindness to racial disparities equals endorsement. It becomes increasingly important to focus on race, not because we want to endorse racism, but because race is a factor in how a person is treated. It is a responsibility that a person act on behalf of brothers and sisters who are put most at odds with society. By naming the evil in our society, even if that means giving up our illusion of a colorblind society that has moved past racism, we are able to continuously be concerned with those who are often positioned as the least. By becoming aware of our false colorblindness we are able to discuss frankly the welfare of not only our neighbors, but ourselves as well. We are all affected when one is affected. This is the crux of the book and the hope that this new Jim Crow will be the last.

BOOK REVIEW: ALL GODS LEAD TO ROME reviewed by Rev. Burton Everist, Dubuque, Iowa

This review is of the book: All Gods Lead to Rome, by Elizabeth A. LeeperPublished in 2012 by Black Rose Writing – http://www.blackrosewriting.com.  (345 pages)
When I read the Narnia Chronicles to my youngest son he did not want to hear the final book.  He did not want the story to end.  That’s what I felt about All Gods Lead to Rome.   Unfortunately this book had to come to an end.
    No cookie-cutter characters inhabit this chronicle of Christians and others in the hostile world of second century Rome.  Justin, a Christian philosopher, and Atlus, a Christian slave in the household of Claudius narrate the story.  Their relationships with each other and with others are complex and filled with both inner tensions and external threats that gripped me and compelled me to keep reading and reading and reading.
    Justin journeys to Rome to establish a Christian school of philosophy.  On the boat he meets and becomes friends with urbane Crispan who considers Christians abnormal and the God of the Jews impotent.  Throughout, the two engage in friendly disagreement.  Victor, a member of the Christian community advocates the views of Valentinus which appeals to Crispan, much to Justin’s display.
   Claudius, a conflicted Christian, hosts the community alongside his faithful wife, Vestia.  Within the household conflict abounds among the slaves and within the congregation vital struggles surface as the church seeks to find its way. 
   Readers will be surprised that the Christians, with some ambivalence, attend the games of the Ludi Romani, in honor of Jupiter.  Atlus takes us behind the scene and describes in some detail the inner workings of Nero’s Colloseum as well as the bloody spectacle of slaughter.  Later we are not spared the agony as Atlus and others watch the deaths of members of the congregation who had declared their faith publicly.
    Framing the story is dialog among the gods of Rome (and other foreign gods as well).
    All Gods Lead to Rome is too rich and complex to fairly describe in this short review.  You will have to read it for yourself.  I am waiting for Elizabeth Leeper’s next book!

BOOK REVIEW: HALF THE SKY by Carina Schiltz, MDiv student

Book Review: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

This book is critical for all people to read, especially those in church leadership. The least of these, whose voices are so often ignored, have a chance to be heard through the pages of this book.

This book had such a strong impact on me that I had to read it in small sections. Husband-and-wife, Pulitzer-prize-winning authors confront readers with inspirational, incredible, and terrible stories about women’s realities around the world.

Imagine yourself as a young girl from a developing country growing up in an impoverished family.

Your cousin promises you will have a job as a fruit seller in a neighboring country.

Leaping at the change to support your family, you go with your cousin, but instead of selling fruit, you are sold to a brothel, drugged when you refuse “paying customers” and eventually become so addicted to methamphetamines that even if you are freed, you go back because you need the high.

This is only one gut-wrenching story that Kristof and WuDunn report. How do we continue reading something that is so full of despair? It seems easier to put the book on the shelf, but we cannot.

Out of horrible, unimaginable situations, women and men around the world have risen to combat injustices that women experience in developing countries. The dangers resulting from being sold into prostitution: rape, childbirth, lack of medical care, and neglect, are all explained in a straightforward but humane way. The book not only offers a look at individual lives, but what individuals, countries and the world have done and should do in the face of injustice toward girls and women.

What can be done? The authors touch on everything from microfinance to iodization of salt to education, including “Four Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes.”

This book is not about finger-pointing and blaming, but facing issues head-on, realistically yet hopefully. Authors call for bi-partisan cooperation to advocate for the care, health and well-being of women around the world, so that, as the Chinese proverb says, women will hold up half the sky.

Chock-full of information, I no doubt will be reading this book again.

BOOK REVIEW: DOROTHEE SOELLE: MYSTIC AND REBEL by Renate Wind

BOOK REVIEW: DOROTHEE SOELLE: MYSTIC AND REBEL by Renate Wind. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012, 203 pages. Cloth $ 25.00

Reviewed by Norma Cook Everist, WTS Professor of Church and Ministry

Through Renate Wind’s compassionate, truthful telling of the life of Dorothee Soelle we truly begin to know the woman who at twelve in 1941 had not yet felt the terrors of the War in the affluent suburbs of Cologne. This woman at seventy was celebrated ecumenically and globally as theologian, poet, and activist for peace and justice. Soelle sought the truth, so she studied theology and believed it must be lived and experienced in relationship. Wind writes, “She was such a living witness of an exciting love for God and the world that many of her friends remember her as if she were still with them.”

Wind’s book is compelling drama. Soelle in post-war Germany searched for a way to move from German humanist culture, without bypassing repentance, toward a radical Christianity. She became student, writer, wife, mother, instructor in a girls’ high school, all acceptable roles for a woman in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. And then catastrophe for that time: separation, divorce, a woman on her own; but also new communities, new challenges and “Political Evensong.” Soelle’s deep theological inquiry, prolific writing, speaking and activism led her to become world-renowned and controversial. She was invited to discussions, conferences, organized actions and teaching assignments, including a professorship at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Dorothee Soelle became one of the most highly regarded theologians of her time, yet never received a teaching appointment in Germany.

She believed the only way one can really grow into Christ was to grow into the movement for resistance. Wind writes of Soelle, “She was a path-breaker and a torch carrier, a symbol and a role model with whom many identified…She placed signs of hope along the way for all who wanted to set out for the promised land of freedom, equality and brother-and-sisterhood.”

Renate Wind, professor of biblical theology and church history at the Evangelische Hochschule in Nürnberg, is author and peace activist. English-readers will not be able to put down this edition, translated from the German by Nancy Lukens and Martin Rumscheidt.

Renate Wind describes herself as a younger contemporary of Dorothee Soelle, entrusted with this biography by Dorothee’s second husband, Fulbert Steffensky, and friend, Luise Schottroff. Each of us will connect with this book in our own way and find our own questions. Mine: How does one deal with the contractions of wanting to believe in the superiority of one’s country, living a relatively privileged, calm life and the realities of violence, injustice, and death? How am I inspired to do theology sensually, poetically, and politically?

BOOK REVIEW: ASH WEDNESDAY by Roberta Pierce, WTS, 2012

ASH WEDNESDAY
by Harold Eppley
Waverly, Tennessee: Oconee Spirit Press, 2012, 260 pages

Harold Eppley, a 1988 graduate of Wartburg Seminary has published seven non-fiction books, but this is his first novel. “Ash Wednesday” is the story of two pastors whose lives intersect in some very interesting ways. Both are struggling, but for very different reasons. Pastor Gerald Schwartz struggles with losing his wife to another woman, while trying to pacify a small church full of bickering people and still maintain his sense of liturgical correctness. Pastor Allan Weiss seems to have it all: a mega-church that affords him a luxurious lifestyle, a wife, children, and parishioners who adore him. Unfortunately, Pastor Weiss takes the adornment by some of his parishioners a bit too far, especially those who are young and attractive. In other words, he has no boundaries and, as long as his wife doesn’t find out, he is willing to have as many affairs as he can fit in to his busy schedule.

Although Schwartz and Weiss do not agree on many things, they are colleagues and when you live in a rural area, colleagues are not in great supply. They meet on a regular basis because the bishop mandated that each pastor in the district partner for a weekly meeting with a pastor whose approach to theology and ministry was different than theirs. This was a perfect match for those reasons.

At first, I was not sure I liked the portrayal of a pastor who jumped into bed with any attractive female who was willing or could be persuaded to have a sexual relationship with him. It was not the image of a pastor I want people to read about. That being said, I found Eppley’s writing sharp and page-turning. It was hard to put down. The book is full of satire and pathos. There are many sexual references in the book. It is definitely a book for adults only. What I found I enjoyed most about the book was Eppley’s way of intertwining the many colorful characters. He artfully captures the essence of each person and makes them come alive. I liked the ending. It was not what I expected, but it brought the book to a fitting conclusion for me.

“WOMEN, WAR, AND PEACE,” A REVIEW by Jenn Collins, M.Div. Senior

Women, War & Peace” is a bold new five-part PBS television series challenging the conventional wisdom that war and peace are men’s domain.”

Eight women gathered at Wartburg Seminary for a four-week module led by Professor Norma Cook Everist called, Gender, Power, and Leadership.  None of us knew what a profound impact it would have on us.  We reflected on our womanhood and our call to ministry as women.

We also spent time listening to the stories of women from around the globe whose courageous voices were raised toward justice in the midst of war and strife.  These voices came to us through the five-part PBS series, Women, War, and Peace. (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/women-war-and-peace).

From Bosnia to Liberia, Afro-Columbia to Afghanistan, women speak of harsh injustices inflicted not only on other women, but also on all people as a consequence of war.  While we face brokenness in our own ways, we who are not at war do not face these atrocities.  The women of Bosnia and Liberia have been raped as a strategy for war.  The women of Columbia have been taken advantage of and silenced as their families’ homes have been taken away at the expense of greed.  The women of Afghanistan have endured death after death as their loved ones are thrown into the fight.

The documentary series, while naming harsh realities faced by women, also testifies to the heroic acts of women like Nobel Peace Prize winner, Leymah Gbowee, Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, women who were judges at the war court that tried the men who organized strategic rape, and the list continues…

This captivating series, produced by Gini Reticker is beautifully filmed and edited.  The full five episodes can be found on-line and could be used by congregations as a five-part study on women and war, or could be watched independently. 

 This 5-part video series is available in the Wartburg Seminary Library collection.

Book Review: MEETING GOD ON THE CROSS: Christ, the Cross, and the Feminist Critique

MEETING GOD ON THE CROSS: Christ, the Cross, and the Feminist Critique
By Arnfridur Gudmundsdottir
New York: Oxford, 2010, 175 pages
Reviewed by Norma Cook Everist, WTS Professor of Church and Ministry

There is a broad spectrum of views on the possibilities of retrieving and reconstructing nonpatriarchal Christologies. “Is the cross of Christ a symbol of hope or a sign of oppression?” asks Gudmundsdottir, Lutheran pastor and Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Iceland. In Meeting God on the Cross, she presents a clear, straightforward historic overview of Christology and feminist approaches.

She begins with Lutheran laywoman Rachel Conrad Wahlberg’s books, Jesus According to a Woman and Jesus and the Freed Woman. She gives overviews of the work of Daphne Hampson, Carter Heyward, and Mary Daly that encourage readers to seek out their original works. Gudmundsdottir identifies with Elizabeth Johnson whose feminist Christology serves to redeem the name of Christ from domineering oppressive uses for the healing of humankind. (Eastertide 2011, over 75 Lutheran women in religious studies, theology and pastoral ministry, including Gudmundsdottir, wrote an open letter of support to Dr. Johnson whose recent book has been criticized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.)

Gudnumdsottir goes on to give substantive and succinct perspectives of the cross as a hermeneutical tool, from Paul to Origen to Luther to Moltmann. She draws a distinction between use and abuse of a theology of the cross, believing a feminist retrieval of this doctrine must unveil the distortion of patriarchal Christology, which still exists, and avoid making suffering, particularly women’s suffering, a virtue. God participates in the world’s suffering, bringing hope into hopeless situations.

Gudmundsdottir, who so clearly presents many voices, has found her own. I look forward to her future work showing that the cross and resurrection liberate and empower women and men to share power for the transformation of theology, ministry and the church itself.  This book would be very useful in a colleague study group or college or seminary classroom.