What Are We Reading? Reviews by Dr. Williams and Kelsea Smith ’14

Dr. Brian Williams

Anytime you can read a writer on writing, you should. Think Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird or Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. This is probably true for any type of practitioner. I recently finished Peter Korn’s Why We Make Things and Why It Matters, which interweaves reflections on craft with Korn’s journey as a furniture-maker. I found the same to be true for Mo Farah’s Twin Ambitions and Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run, engaging books by world-class runners about, well, running. For theologians, there is Karl Barth’s Evangelical Theology, and for budding scholars, A. G. Sertillanges’ The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, and Methods. However, the best I have read for anyone engaged in learning and knowing (that is, anyone ever associated with the Templeton Honors College) is Paul J. Griffiths’ Intellectual Appetite: A Theological Grammar (CUA, 2009), a book the entire THC faculty is reading this semester.

It captures the ruminations of a senior Christian scholar on the basic human desire to know, “what it is, and how it should be catechized, disciplined, and configured.” Like any appetite or desire, this one is susceptible to both virtuous and vicious ways of being, the former called studiositas and the latter curiositas. Griffiths deftly weaves into his meditations two millennia of wise Christian counsel regarding the intellectual life and does so without footnotes or scholarly apparatus. Each of the thirteen chapters begins with a short meditation on Augustine before musing its way into one aspect of this topic, indicated by single-word titles like “World,” “Damage,” “Gift,” “Participation,” “Wonder,” “Kidnapping,” “Loquacity,” and “Gratitude.”

It’s a profound book, and one that could enrich the way both past and present Templeton Scholars, and the Honors College as a whole, virtuously embodies the human vocation to know.

 

Kelsea Smith ’14

I’ve been reading a book by Margaret Randall called Christians in the Nicaraguan Revolution. It’s about two different groups of Catholics in the 1970s who participated in the Revolution, and ultimately decided to take up arms and join the Sandinista Front.

Unlike revolutions in other parts of the world where Christianity was often considered ‘counter-revolutionary,’ Christian faith in Nicaragua—specifically that of the Catholic communities there—was a pivotal force in the movement, and in fact played a key role in toppling the Somoza regime. An open alliance between the Catholic communities—both lay and clergy—and the Marxist-communist revolutionaries flourished. (A little trivia I learned from my reading: the book focuses on a semi-monastic community of peasants founded by a former student of Thomas Merton’s (!), who had come to Nicaragua from the Abbey of Gethsemani. The establishment of the peasant community was in part a collaborative effort with Merton.)

The book has been a very enjoyable read for the theoretical questions it poses about Christian faith and its unique relationship to Marxism in a Latin American context. It’s also a real action-packed page-turner! It’s peppered with stories of poor Catholic peasants in rural villages in Nicaragua learning how to fight, engaging in battles and strategic planning, losing their homes and church buildings to the Somoza regime, being tortured and murdered at the hands of the National Guard, and, for some, making their narrow escapes.

Randall is straightforward about her own atheism, and presents herself as a curious (and admiring) outsider. She spent time in Nicaragua interviewing many of the Christians who participated, learning more about their faith and their deep convictions, and allowed them to share their own accounts of their actions and their lives. She comments on how even those who had previously identified as pacifists came to see their participation in the armed struggle as the logical conclusion of their Christian commitments. As someone who has been very curious lately about the incredibly varied ways that Christians make meaning of their faith, I have found the book to be a very rewarding read!

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