Review: The Reckless Way of Love

the reckless way of love

The Reckless Way of LoveDorothy Day, edited by Carolyn Kurtz, Introduction by D. L. Mayfield. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2017.

Summary: A collection of Dorothy Day’s writings on following Jesus in the ways of faith, love, prayer, life, and community.

One thinks of Dorothy Day as an activist writer and advocate for the poor, running homes of hospitality, communes, and getting arrested even in her seventies. What is less apparent is the deep spirituality that sustained her activism. This book, one of Plough’s Spiritual Guides, distills writings from her different books that cumulatively describe the ordinary life of following Jesus among the poor.

The excerpts are organized around five “ways” or themes: of faith, of love, of prayer, of life, and of community.

In the chapters on faith, we encounter both her implicit belief in the mysteries of the faith and the sacraments, and yet her struggle to trust and depend in the welter of daily interactions and work. She writes,

“I suppose it is a grace not to be able to have time to take or derive satisfaction in the work we are doing. In what time I have, my impulse is to self-criticism and examination of conscience, and I am constantly humiliated at my own imperfections and at my halting progress. Perhaps I deceive myself here, too, and excuse my lack of recollection. But I do know how small I am and how little I can do and I beg you, Lord, to help me, for I cannot help myself” (pp. 14-15).

Often, Day’s reflections come with pithy challenges. We see the intensity of her love for God and the wonder that God sets his love on the likes of us and then observes, “It is a terrible thought–‘we love God as much as the one we love the least’ ” (p.36). Or she surprises us with her breaks with convention such as when she writes on prayer: “I do not have to retire to my room to pray. It is enough to get out and walk in the wilderness of the streets” (p. 44).

“The way of life” reminds us “never to get discouraged at the slowness of people or results” (p. 63). She writes of deepening perceptions of unworldly justice that does not seek its own, that for a Christian social order, “we must first have Christians” (p.66), and how, apart from the light of Christ, we often do not know ourselves or our secret sins. She writes at length on the indispensable role of suffering in our lives.

The final portion focuses on life in community. Day writes of efforts in community with grittiness and realism. Disappointments. Betrayals. Plain hard work and long hours. Yet even so, she longs for bigger houses, more room for discussions, a library, “a Christ room.” She recognizes desperately her need for the presence of God in all the ordinary places. In the end, it is community that addresses our desolation. She concludes, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community” (p. 120).

This is the second book in the Spiritual Guides series I’ve reviewed, the earlier being The Scandal of Redemption by Oscar Romero. These are small books only in size. Each is well-edited by Carolyn Kurtz. This, in particular, required culling passages from a number of Day’s works along each of the themes into coherent chapters. Eye-catching cover art, end papers, and typography make these delightful books to hold and read.

I found myself often mulling over a single line, such as this one: “We have the greatest weapons in the world, greater than any hydrogen or atom bomb, and they are the weapons of poverty and prayer, fasting and alms, the reckless spending of ourselves in God’s service and for his poor” (p.69). I mused again and again what a different face Christians would present to the world if we lived as Day did rather than jockeying for positions and influence and concealing our flawed character rather than exposing it to the grace of God. Reading Day gives me hope that ordinary Christians with all our flaws and struggles may yet walk the ways of faith, hope, and love, offering something beautiful for God and to the world.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The World Is Not Ours to Save: Moving from Activist Causes to a Lifelong Calling

The World Is Not Ours to Save: Moving from Activist Causes to a Lifelong Calling
The World Is Not Ours to Save: Moving from Activist Causes to a Lifelong Calling by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We can’t save the world, and that is because in Christ, God already has, and will one day complete the job that we cannot. That sums up the main idea of this life-long activist’s book.

Wigg-Stevenson’s book is broken into two parts. The first explores the limitations of activism, which begins with his own anti-nuclear bomb activism, increasing despair and conversion both to faith and a different way of thinking about his activism. He chronicles our pretensions to heroism (‘everyone wants to be a David’), the reality that the world is broken beyond repair and that the beginning of a durable activism is the fear of the Lord and a grasp of what it meant for God to save the world (‘take these snakes’, referring to John 3).

The second part of the book explores ‘our deeper calling’, which is a call to peace, not anxious toil–peace with God, peace among the nations, and peace in community. He concludes with what it means to live out our callings which includes a personal and moving tribute to John R W Stott, whose study assistant he was in 2005-6. Stott was a model of a life of passionate commitment to Christ, to the pastoring of God’s people, and to pursuing a global ministry of peace while living as a placed person in London, a single and simple life. In these chapters he also gives us moving accounts of the Tent of the Nations farm on threatened Palestinian land and of a visit to South Africa to learn the story of his wife’s grandfather, a Colored school principle, Perceval George Rhoda, an example of peacemaking in community.

Wigg-Stevenson has not stopped being an anti-nuclear activist. He writes movingly both of his encounters with the children of those who died in Hiroshima and describes in vivid detail the devastation that would be wrought by a single nuclear bomb detonated in Washington, DC during a state of the union address. But he contends that our activism is a stewardship of gifts and call that heralds the coming kingdom of peace, sometimes succeeding in bringing a measure of that future into the present. He also has a telling word coming at the end of an era of evangelical political activism which he describes as asking How can public goods be obtained using Christianity? He advocates, instead, a “kingdom-oriented activism” that asks, What unique and authentic contribution can the Christian church make to the public square?

I hope to see more from this moving and eloquent writer!

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