Review: Art + Faith

Art + Faith, Makoto Fujimura, foreword by N. T. Wright. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021.

Summary: A series of reflections connecting art and faith in the act of making.

Makoto Fujimura is a world-class painter and committed Christian. Many would not make this association in contemporary art but in this work, Fujimura offers a series of reflections on the seamless connection of these in his life, beginning with the act of making. Fujimura declares, “I have come to believe that unless we are making something, we cannot know the depth of God’s being and God’s grace permeating our lives and God’s creation.” The creator we come to understand through making is one who creates out of love and not necessity. God doesn’t need us but in love invites us to collaborate in God’s creation. We enter into this when we make.

We labor in a fallen world, but our work is not to “fix” broken plumbing but to be restored and participate in creation’s renewal empowered by the spirit restored through the sacrifice of Christ, and refreshed by God’s new wine. Fujimura illustrates this in his own creative process of Nihonga. It is not so much a technique but a kind of imitatio Christi of attending to the materials one works with, as part of a community of those who make the brushes, the paper, and powders with which he lays down wash after wash in creating, slowing down to work at the painstaking pace required of the materials.

It is a process that takes him into sacrifice and an understanding of brokenness, evoking another Japanese art practice, that of kintsugi. This practice works with broken cups and pottery, using lacquer covered with gold to mend the broken pieces, creating new beauty out of brokenness. This art points toward the New Creation of Resurrection that doesn’t obliterate brokenness but shines light and beauty through it.

Art helps renew our understanding of work. Fujimura observes that work wasn’t cursed but rather the ground and the serpent. Art points us toward work as gift, and toward the greatest Gift of the gospel. In the Eucharist, we make the very elements that reveal God’s gift of resurrection through sacrifice. We make not for it all to be burned up but toward New Creation.

Fujimura proposes that imagination and faith are closely linked. We often think of Christian theology and leadership in rational, propositional terms. Fujimura notes how much of scripture is in metaphor, in symbol, and description requiring imagination for understanding. As he has argued elsewhere, this imagination invites us into culture care, contra the culture war, battle of ideas that has framed much of our cultural engagement.

In another reflection, he likens the words “Jesus wept” to the “pinhole lens” that captures the whole story of God from loving creation to weeping over the broken creation to be restored through Christ’s suffering and resurrection. He offers a beautiful reflection on John 11 and 12, and the art form of wabi-sabi, the use of well-worn but well-loved objects like a well-worn wallet. He goes deeper into the tears of Christ in the art of Mark Rothko, the poetry of T. S. Eliot, and his own traumatic experience of 9/11, which displaced him from a studio in the shadow of the Twin Towers. He weds tears and fire in a discussion of artistic renewal out of the devastation. He concludes with a chapter on “Lazarus culture” reflecting on what it means to practice resurrection. To make in a fallen, broken world is to enter into Christ’s suffering and be enabled by the resurrection to point toward the New Creation.

The power of this book is in the contention that as we enter into the making of art as people of faith, we open ourselves to a way of knowing the story in which we live. His most trenchant words are those where he asserts the vital importance of imagination and making in the life of faith. His reflections remind me of what a vital role artists play in the life of the church, and perhaps the value of all of us finding ways to be makers and not just consumers, of culture.

The Month in Reviews: March 2017

Caring for Words

One theme I saw in this month’s readings concerned the question of how Christians ought engage a society, particularly American society. In the last month or so, two important books have been published with very different perspectives and approaches: Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option and Philip Gorski’s American Covenant. I reviewed both of these books in March and the “review” links below will take you to the reviews. John D. Wilsey’s American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion explored a similar theme, as does, on more of a note of praxis, David Gushee’s A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends. Two books I read took a different approach, both along the theme of “care” and were among the most personally moving books I read this month: Makoto Fujimura’s recently published Culture Care, and an older work by Marilyn McEntyre on Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies.

Then there was the eclectic mix of books that reflect my interests and “to be read” pile. Ed Larson’s Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory was my science read for the month–a surprisingly non-polemical work from a secular source. There was science fiction from Robert Silverberg, a novel by Canadian author Robertson Davies, and my re-reading (thanks to the Dead Theologians group) of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In presidential biographies, there is A. Scott Berg’s Wilson. On the theological side, I reviewed Kevin Van Hoozer’s important book on biblical authority, a very practical book on conflict resolution by Lou Priolo, a delightful discussion of “Jesus Behaving Badly” by Mark Strauss, and a wonderful set of sermons on the cross by Christopher J. H. Wright, just in time for Good Friday.

So here is the list of sixteen books reviewed in March with links in the titles to publisher’s web pages and a review link at the end of the summary if you want to read the whole review. evolution

Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific TheoryEdward J. Larson. New York: Modern Library Chronicles, 2004. A history of the development of evolutionary theory, including both the antecedents to Darwin and Russell and the extension of this theory, the controversies, both past and present that it provoked, and the genetic discoveries that have further revealed the theory’s mechanisms. (Review)


A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends, David P. Gushee. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Written as a series of letters, this is an exploration of what it means as a Christian to both love and be anxious for one’s country as people of faith committed to the global kingdom of God. (Review)


Culture CareMakoto Fujimura. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. A call for a different kind of engagement with culture, one of care, of becoming generative, rather than engaging in war or battle, to foster beauty in our common life. (Review)

Biblical Authority After Babel

Biblical Authority After BabelKevin J. Vanhoozer. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016. A proposal that the five Solas of “mere Protestant Christianity” provide a framework to check the interpretive anarchy for which Protestant Christianity is criticized. (Review)

Across a Billion Years

Across a Billion Years, Robert Silverberg. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2013 (originally published in 1969). A group of space archaeologists from different planets make a discovery that puts them on the trail of an ancient, highly advanced race that disappeared nearly a billion years ago. (Review)

American Exceptionalism

American Exceptionalism and Civil ReligionJohn D. Wilsey. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015. Explores the history of American exceptionalism, distinguishing two kinds of exceptionalism and considers them under five theological themes. (Review)


Wilson, A. Scott Berg. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013. A definitive biography of Woodrow Wilson, that traces the arc of his life from boyhood to professor to college president to U.S. president in biblical terms fitting for this deeply religious man. (Review)

Resolving Conflict

Resolving ConflictLou Priolo. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2016. A practical guidebook to the biblical prerequisites and principles of resolving conflicts between Christians both in home and church contexts. (Review)

Caring for Words

Caring for Words in a Culture of LiesMarilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009. Explores, in a culture of “spin” and poisoned discourse, practices for caring for our use of words, that they may be used well and true. (Review)

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe (with an introduction by James M. McPherson). New York: Vintage Books/Library of America: 1991 (originally published 1852). Stowe’s classic novel depicting the evils of slavery, the complicity of North and South, and the aspirations and faith of slaves themselves. (Review)

American Covenant

American Covenant, Philip Gorski. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017. Traces and argues for an American civil religious tradition combining prophetic religion and civic republicanism that avoids the extremes of religious nationalism and radical secularism. (Review)

Theology in the Flesh

Theology in the FleshJohn Sanders. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016. A survey of how the field of cognitive linguistics lends insight into how we understand theological matters ranging from morals to the nature of God to understanding the Bible. (Review)

Jesus Behaving Badly

Jesus Behaving BadlyMark L. Strauss. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. Explores some of the disturbing acts and statements of Jesus, that actually reveal his counter-cultural message and mission. (Review)

The Benedict Option

The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher. New York: Sentinel, 2017. A proposal that in the face of pervasive cultural decline that has led to political, theological, and moral compromise within the church, it is time for Christians to consider a kind of strategic withdrawal patterned on the monastic movement founded by St. Benedict. (Review)

To The Cross

To The Cross, Christopher J. H. Wright. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Transcripts of five expository messages on gospel passages pertaining to the passion and death of Christ. (Review)

The Lyre of Orpheus

The Lyre of OrpheusRobertson Davies. New York: Penguin Books, 1988. The project of a gifted but difficult graduate student to realize an unfinished opera of  E. T. A. Hoffman uncovers darker and hidden aspects in a number of the central characters who join in undertaking the project. (Review)

Best Book of the Month: Without question, it is Marilyn’s McEntyre’s Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. I appreciate my friend Byron Borger at Hearts and Minds Books for recommending (and selling) this book to me! In turn, I haven’t stopped telling people about it from the moment I started reading it. The topic of our care for words and for truth is certainly a top priority in our time if we are to preserve a just, free, and open culture. McEntyre addresses this with cogency and grace, and practices the care for words in her writing for which she advocates.

Best Quote of the Month: While reading Makoto Fujimura’s Culture Care I came to this personal statement of faith and calling that left me saying, “Yes! Yes! YES!”:

“I am not a Christian artist. I am a Christian, yes, and an artist. I dare not treat the powerful presence of Christ in my life as an adjective. I want Christ to be my whole being. Vincent van Gogh was not a Christian artist either, but in Christ he painted the heavens declaring the glory of GodEmily Dickinson was not a Christian poet, and yet through her honest wrestling, given wings in words, her works, like Vincent’s, like Harper Lee’s, like Mahalia Jackson’s–speak to all the world as integrated visions of beauty against injustice.

    “It is time for followers of Christ to let Christ be the noun in our lives, to let our whole being ooze out like a painter’s colors with the splendor and the mystery of Christ, the inexhaustible beauty that draws people in. It is time to follow the Spirit into the margins and outside the doors of the church” (pp. 84-85).

Coming Soon: Tomorrow, I will be posting a review of Andrew Louth’s Modern Orthodox Thinkers, a collection of theological biographies of Orthodox thinkers over the last couple centuries. Recovering Classic Evangelicalism is a plea to return to the evangelicalism of Carl F. H. Henry. Not sure yet whether I buy the argument! I’m working my way through a long biography of Edward VII, the playboy son of Victoria as well as a fascinating account of the life of Hermann Rorschach, and the inkblot psychological test he developed. Because of our Dead Theologians group, I am re-reading C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain. A few others on the TBR pile include Sandra Van Opstal’s The Next Worship, James Emery White’s Meet Generation Z, Michelle DeRusha’s Katharina and Martin Luther (It is the 500th anniversary of the nailing of the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg castle door), and Michael Wear’s Reclaiming Hope on lessons learned from his experiences in the Obama White House.

Here’s to a good month of reading!




Review: Culture Care


Culture CareMakoto Fujimura. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017.

Summary: A call for a different kind of engagement with culture, one of care, of becoming generative, rather than engaging in war or battle, to foster beauty in our common life.

To read this book was a moving experience for me, one about which I wrote (“Culture Care Instead of Culture War“) while reading the book. I found a voice that resonated deeply with my longing for alternatives to the banal, rancorous and ugly expressions of culture around us. Fujimura invites us to care for our culture rather than engage in war over it, to give our selves to a common pursuit of beauty to sustain and renew our common life.

He invites all who are creative in some way to exercise their creativity generatively.  Often this involves “genesis moments” where failure and tragedy gives way to something new. It is generous in a world that often just thinks of survival. Becoming generative means thinking across generations, observing the work of those who have gone before us, working for a generation at our own creative work, and passing this along to future generations.

The rest of the book elaborates what a generative care of culture looks like. He begins by paralleling culture care with the creation care movement. He invites us to look at similar fragmentation in our communal life and the divide between technological efficiency and the love of beauty and art, or the divides between groups contending for their vision of culture, the culture wars. He proposes instead that, “Culture is not a territory to be won or lost but a resource we are called to steward with care.” Such care may begin with care for our own souls, as we face our own brokenness and understand we are wounded healers. We then begin caring for culture by our efforts to bring forth beauty out of brokenness.

He proposes the idea of artists as mearcstapas or “border stalkers.” Artists are often those at the boundaries of society, the liminal spaces between groups, an often uncomfortable place to be. They are like Aragorn, “Strider,” in The Lord of the Rings, and capable of great leadership in reconciliation across the divides between groups. He shares the example of Mahalia Jackson, an artist sitting behind Dr. King at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 as he gave a somewhat “set” speech until she called out to him, “Tell ’em about the dream!” Artists can call forth the “dreams” toward which we long and live, and which we sometimes suppress. He writes of Emily Dickinson and Vincent van Gogh, both at the margins of the church, who in their art challenged the rigidities that drove them to the margins where they struggled with faith.

This leads to a striking declaration of Fujimura’s own calling that left me both breathless and saying “Yes! Yes!” He writes,

    “I am not a Christian artist. I am a Christian, yes, and an artist. I dare not treat the powerful presence of Christ in my life as an adjective. I want Christ to be my whole being. Vincent van Gogh was not a Christian artist either, but in Christ he painted the heavens declaring the glory of GodEmily Dickinson was not a Christian poet, and yet through her honest wrestling, given wings in words, her works, like Vincent’s, like Harper Lee’s, like Mahalia Jackson’s–speak to all the world as integrated visions of beauty against injustice.

    “It is time for followers of Christ to let Christ be the noun in our lives, to let our whole being ooze out like a painter’s colors with the splendor and the mystery of Christ, the inexhaustible beauty that draws people in. It is time to follow the Spirit into the margins and outside the doors of the church” (pp. 84-85).

The last chapters of the book suggest some helpful images and practical considerations of culture care that seemed to me a generative gift to young artists. Fujimura speaks of soil care, that art is nourished in the rich soil of the whole, expansive gospel of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. He writes of estuaries, transitional habitats for apprentice artists. He commends business practices and gives practical advice for young artists, including his own example of “raising support” even while in art training. He then concludes with a vision that transcends the fear that drives culture war and asks “what if” a paradigm of culture care were to replace this.

At least part of why I resonate so deeply with what Fujimura writes is that I feel I’ve become increasingly uneasy hiding behind the evangelical culture war walls and have been drawn more to the boundaries as a “border-stalker” or mearcstapa. Like Fujimura, I haven’t abandoned evangelical faith, but I find myself increasingly drawn to care for the culture (as well as the creation) rather than war on either. Perhaps it has been the discovery that I live with two artists.

A number of years ago, I woke up to the reality that one of my wife’s deepest longings was to give herself to painting, and began to ask what it means to “husband” such a longing. The greater surprise was to discover that the other artist with whom I was living was myself as I found culture caring joy as a choral singer and a writer. I even joined my wife’s artist friends in picking up sketchpad and paint brushes and entered into their world. Instead of polemical conflict I find myself increasingly exploring the common ground of beauty which seems one of the most conducive atmospheres to conversations about the “beautiful Savior.”

My apologies for the biographical digression. What I hope this conveys is that Fujimura gave language and a clearer vision to my inchoate thoughts and images about a different engagement with culture. If that is where you find yourself, you might find this book as helpful as I did. At very least, you will know what is a mearcstapa!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Culture Care Instead of Culture War

culture-careRecently I went with a group of friends to see Martin Scorsese’s film rendition of Shusaku Endo’s Silence.  It is not an easy movie to watch but one with gorgeous cinematography and one that raises profound questions about suffering. What was also a point of reflection for me was the violent, dark, special effects heavy, and loud trailers of coming attractions that preceded the film. The feature was a work of beauty, an enrich work of art. The trailers, and perhaps the movies they represented were a war on the senses and perhaps the spirit.

The trailers seem to reflect the dominant metaphor of our society–war or battle. We hear of culture war. There are those who believe precious values and cultural goods have been threatened or lost and the ground needs to be recovered. Others dig in, believing progress and liberty are under threat.

Perhaps war is sometimes a sad and necessary corollary of the human condition–cultural or military. But perhaps, at least in the dimension of culture, if not international relations, there is an alternative. In a recent book (Culture Carereview forthcoming), artist Makoto Fujimura proposes an alternative to culture war, and that is culture care.

Rather than contesting Fujimura wants to focus on creating, fostering a movement that results in fresh works of goodness, truth and beauty in the arts that inspire the soul and feed our common life.  His assumption is that culture is something to be cultivated and nourished, not captured and conquered. It is not enough to make a living if we do not also have that which is worth living for.

It does strike me that culture warriors rarely create works of beauty. It is perhaps instructive that the acceptance of gay marriage was not accomplished simply by a court decision but also prepared by expression in visual media, music, literature, and fashion that swayed the mind of a nation. Meanwhile a culture-warring church was undermined by divorce, sex scandals and abuse, power struggles between men and women, and often ugly rhetoric.

Perhaps it is too late to know but one wonders what it would have meant to cultivate a culture absorbed not in banal Christian romance fiction, sentimental art, and “Jesus is my boyfriend” pop music, but works of depth and realism and beauty with power to capture the imagination not simply of an insular Christian sub-culture, but a wider culture hungering for an alternative to “the wasteland” of modern mass culture.

I look forward to seeing more of Fujimura’s vision of culture care. It seems that it is never too late to create and preserve cultural goods. Augustine’s City of God cast a vision that buoyed a church facing a crumbling Roman empire. Bach’s chorales and cantatas did as much to nourish the Reformation of the church as did the writings of Luther and Calvin. Rembrandt’s portrayal of the Return of the Prodigal deeply embeds the truth of this parable in our mental vision.

I’ve wondered about the wisdom of the trillions spent in the American wars of the last decade. Did we squander opportunities to rebuild our national infrastructure and equip our people for the new economy? I equally wonder about the squandering of energies in the culture wars of the last thirty years. Might it be time and past time to pursue an ethic of culture care?



Review: Silence


SilenceShusaku Endo. New York: Taplinger, 1999 (Link is to an in-print edition from a different publisher).

Summary: Endo’s classic novel set in seventeenth century Japan during the persecution of Christian missionaries and converts.

This summer, I reviewed Makoto Fujimura’s Silence and Beautya reflection on Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo’s Silence, the history of Christian mission in Japan, and the challenge in the present day of bringing brokenness and beauty together in a message of hope. Reading Fujimura, and learning of Martin Scorsese’s upcoming release over the Christmas holidays of a film version of Silence, I decided to re-read this work, which I first encountered about fifteen years ago.

The novel is set in seventeenth century Japan. After a period of successful expansion under Francis Xavier, the church and Christian missions came under a period of severe persecution that nearly eradicated Christianity in Japan. The novel begins with reports that one of the Portuguese leaders of the mission for over 20 years, Father Ferreira, has apostatized, renouncing his faith. Two priests of his order, Rodrigues and Garrpe determine to try to enter Japan through Macao, and attempt to discover the truth about Ferreira as well as continue the missionary work. They work with a man, Kichijiro, who seems to have inside knowledge of Christian communities, even though he claims not to be (any longer) a Christian. Both priests are eventually betrayed as are the communities within which they work, bringing Rodrigues face to face both with Inoue, the feared governor of Nagasaki, and the apostate Ferreira. While Rodrigues alternates between isolation and interviews with these two men, indigenous Christians (and Garrpe) are persecuted and martyred, some before Rodrigues eyes. He learns that to save them, he must apostatize, stepping on a fumi-e, an image of Christ.

The novel explores the question of denying or renouncing Christ. We see two missionaries, at great sacrifice and personal risk, make the perilous sea journey from Portugal to Japan, then living underground on the island, finally taking flight, and being captured. There is a period where they think they will avoid capture and experience great satisfaction in their work. Then we have their encounters with Kichijiro, who continues to turn up throughout the book, repeatedly apostatizing, and then coming to confess and seek absolution. He comments that at another time, he would have made an exemplary Christian. It poses the question for many of us as well, are we ‘good Christians’ simply because of the time in which we live? And for Rodrigues, the question comes whether to deny Christ to save the lives of others, or to remain faithful, and let them die martyrs.

Perhaps a more profound question is the silence of God through this persecution. Why does God neither save the Japanese people nor rescue Rodrigues? Silence recurs throughout the book and poses the question of what it means to believe and act in faith in the times of God’s silence.

Finally, the question is raised in the debates between Rodrigues and both Inoue and Ferreira as to the legitimacy of cross-cultural mission. Which is more powerful, the transcendent truth Rodrigues brings, or the “swamp” which Ferreira says is Japan, where Christian teaching is syncretistically compromised in the minds of even professing believers?

Rodrigues faces all of these challenges. What we are given in the novel are not “answers” to the challenges but an exploration of whether one can continue in faith, and what that might look like, in the face of these daunting challenges. Reading Endo leaves us, especially those of us who claim belief in Christ, with searching questions of what that means when we are stripped of the supports we often enjoy that buttress our faith.

From what I understand, Scorsese’s film has been over two decades in the making, and perhaps one he considers his most important. I can venture that it won’t be light fare, not one to go to if you are looking for light holiday entertainment. Reading Silence, perhaps with a group of friends, as I did, may prepare you to enter more deeply into the questions I am sure the film will raise. They are not easy questions, but then, do we want an “easy” faith?

The Month in Reviews: August 2016

Silence and Beauty

I often take advantage of a lighter schedule in summer to read quite a bit. This month was an illustration of that rhythm. I read a couple of books surveying the Bible for what it says about money (quite a bit), and one on what can happen in our lives spiritually when we don’t have it. I read about Jefferson’s explorers whose coming signaled a threat to the way of life of Native Americans, and some fiction by Sherman Alexie on the realities of reservation life. I began the month with Makoto Fujimura’s reading of Shusaku Endo’s Silence, and ended with Richard Mouw’s reflections on the scholarly life with a fictional exploration of the inner life of Dmitri Shostakovich and a history of the innovatively prolific Bell Labs and much more in between.

Silence and Beauty

Silence and Beauty, Makoto Fujimura (foreward by Philip Yancey). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.  A “layered” reflection on Shusaku Endo’s Silence by a Japanese-American artist that explores the Christian experience of persecution in Japan, and the connections between silence, suffering, and beauty, that may draw contemporary Japanese to faith. (Review)

Covenant Economics

Covenant Economics: A Biblical Vision of Justice for All, Richard A. Horsley. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. A biblical study of how God’s covenant with Israel, including the New Testament appropriation of that covenant was intended to shape economic life and justice for Israel and “assemblies” in the New Testament era, with application to modern economic life and the “covenant” our government has with its people. (Review)

Jeffeerson's America

Jefferson’s AmericaJulie M. Fenster. New York: Crown, 2016. An account of how Jefferson used the efforts of four teams of men comprising less than a hundred total to establish America’s hold on the lands west of the Mississippi River. (Review)


Unparalleled, Jared C. Wilson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016. A book that makes the case for Christianity by proposing that the unique elements in Christian faith’s account of God, humanity, Jesus, salvation, history, and the end make it  both worthy and credible. (Review)

Bad Religion - No Religion

The Answer to Bad Religion is Not No Religion, Martin Thielen. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014. Discusses the characteristics of “bad religion”, contending that the answer is not to reject religion altogether but to embrace “good religion”, the marks of which are discussed. (Review)

the lost world of genesis one

The Lost World of Genesis OneJohn H. Walton. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009. Walton argues from our knowledge of the ancient cultures in Israel’s context that Genesis 1 is a functional account of how the cosmos is being set up as God’s temple rather than an account of material origins. (Review)

The noise of time

The Noise of TimeJulian Barnes. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. A work of fiction, exploring the inner world of composer Dmitri Shostakovich, as he seeks both to survive and maintain artistic integrity in the totalitarian milieu of Soviet Russia under Stalin and Khrushchev. (Review)

Embracing the Body

Embracing the BodyTara M. Owens. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. An invitation to move beyond guilt and shame around our embodied selves to discover the goodness of our bodies and how God made us, meets us, and works through our bodied lives. (Review)

Lone Ranger and Tonto

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie. New York: Grove Press, 2013 (20th Anniversary edition, first published 1993).  A collection of short stories all relating to growing up on a Spokane Indian reservation. (Review)


Broke, Caryn Rivadeneira. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. The author reflects on the experience of losing nearly all financially, and what she learned by being broke and broken about the provision and abundance of God. (Review)

Called to community

Called to CommunityCharles E. Moore (ed.). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2016. A collection of readings on Christian community centered around the Bruderhof Community but also including theologians and writers from throughout church history. (Review)

The Idea Factory

The Idea Factory, Jon Gertner. New York: The Penguin Press, 2012. An account of the history of Bell Labs, the inventions and innovations they produced, and the confluence of people, resources, and the growth of the telecommunications revolution that drove it all. (Review)


Money and Possessions (Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church), Walter Brueggemann. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. A survey of the teaching of canonical scripture on the subject of money and possessions focusing on these as gift of God, meant for the mutual benefit of neighbors, and marred by extractive economics creating disparities of rich and poor, privileged and oppressed. (Review)

Called to the life of the Mind

Called to the Life of the Mind, Richard J. Mouw. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2014. A collection of reflective essays by one of the deans of evangelical scholarship on the calling and importance of the Christian scholarly task. (Review)

Best of the Month: As is often the case this is a tough one. Julian Barnes The Noise of Time was an intriguing exploration of the inner tensions Shostakovich may have wrestled with holding artistic integrity and survival in tension. But I have to give the nod to Makoto Fujimura’s Beauty and Silence for its thoughtful exploration of Japanese culture, Endo’s novel Silence, and the troubled history of Christianity in Japan.

Quote of the Month: This eloquently articulated statement summed up for me the central message of Caryn Rivendeira’s Broke and suggested to me that this is a Christian writer we may want to watch:

“We survived. I kept breathing. I kept stepping. And somewhere in the cracks, along the ragged edges of my marriage, in the desperate gasps of sudden poverty and all the questions that came with it, there was God. Big and glittering, soft and warm, smiling and beckoning. Somehow in the shimmers of all that, I began to taste and see, and feel and know, and hear and smell that God is good, and he was there in the broke bits. That he was using our time near the poverty line, treading in debt, to draw me near, to make me over, to answer a prayer bigger than my material needs. In this season of spiritual and financial brokenness, in this time of longing to know what God was up to and to experience his goodness and presence, God worked me over by showing me where and how I could find him. Which is all over the place. In every last thing, He satisfied my wonderlust–my unquenchable desire to feel his presence and to experience his glory. And I found him. And I found him good.”

Coming Soon: I just finished reading a book that will be my “go to” resource with graduating students, After College by Erica Young Reitz. Look for a review of it in the next day or so. I’ve also picked up a compendium of articles titled Eschatology, on this endlessly fascinating question of our future hope and how this may unfold. I’m nearly finished with Muhammad Yunus’ Banker to the Poor, his engaging account of the beginnings of Grameen Bank, a pioneering effort in micro-lending. I’ve just begun Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us, one of her earliest publications about the oceans that occupy so much of our planet’s surface. And I will be reviewing a book soon I’ve already mentioned in a recent post, No Place for Abuse, on the epidemic of physical and sexual violence and what at least churches can do to address the instances of this scourge in our midst. I also have two fun books I hope to read soon from my son and his wife: a baseball book by Michael Shapiro, Bottom of the Ninth and an intriguingly titled book by Jon Ronson, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed on how social media has taken public shaming to a new level.

Oh, and I could add so many more. But I think I will end here and wish you at least a few hours happy reading over the upcoming Labor Day holiday (for those living in the U. S.).



Review: Silence and Beauty

Silence and Beauty

Silence and Beauty, Makoto Fujimura (foreward by Philip Yancey). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.

Summary: A “layered” reflection on Shusaku Endo’s Silence by a Japanese-American artist that explores the Christian experience of persecution in Japan, and the connections between silence, suffering, and beauty, that may draw contemporary Japanese to faith.

It is said that you cannot judge a book by its cover. Yet my very first encounter with this book suggested I was in for something special as I looked at a cover with a pure white background, a couple of Japanese characters, and a translucent dust jacket with the the words “Silence and Beauty” superimposed on those characters. I opened the book to find inside papers that I believe are a work of the artist/author. And what I found between the covers was a profound reflection upon Shusaku Endo’s Silence.

Makoto Fujimura is an internationally renown artist who paints in the ancient Japanese technique of nihonga, which involves the pulverizing of various minerals mixed into a binder and applied in as many as one hundred layers onto art papers. He begins his work by describing his encounter with Endo’s work having a similar “pulverizing” effect in his life as he encountered the suffering of Christian martyrs and the attempt to shame apostatizers by having them walk on fumi-e (bronze images of the crucified Christ, or the Virgin Mary). The novel revolves around Father Rodrigues, who struggles between martyrdom, and saving others from suffering by walking on fumi-e, and the interior struggle with the “silence” of God in the face of such suffering.

From here, Fujimura explores layers of meaning as he interweaves his own artistic journey, and the struggle to be faithful to Christ in an art world often hostile to faith. He also explores Japanese culture and the connections between “the chrysanthemum and the sword”, between kindness and cruelty, beauty and suffering, and how this has shaped Japanese consciousness, art, and literature. Along the way, he reflects on the paradox of the fumi-e, at once a symbol of shame, and yet by the very act of those who step on Christ, a proclamation of the cross. And with this, he uncovers a reality with which we often struggle but do not find easy to admit, living between faithfulness and denial. The fumi-e, a symbol of shame, becomes a symbol of hope, for Father Rodrigues, and for us.

I struggled at first in understanding what Fujimura was doing until I grasped that rather than a linear exposition of Endo’s work, this was a layered reflection, returning to the canvas again and again adding new insights and reflections to what he’d already written. Fujimura layers history, story, and biography together. Nagasaki was “Ground Zero” for the first martyrdoms of Christians in the Japanese persecution, the location of persecution in Silence, and the site of the second atomic bombing on August 9, 1945. Ground Zero was a church where many were worshiping. Fujimura interweaves his own “Ground Zero” experience of having a studio and a loft apartment in the shadow of the World Trade Center on 9/11 and the struggle with suffering, darkness and lament, and the paradox of beauty that may arise from these.

The book includes a summary of Endo’s book for those who have not read it. Fujimura suggests, and I would agree, reading Endo’s book first. I read Silence a number of years ago and want to re-read it, and perhaps re-read Fujimura’s book as well. He also discusses Endo’s relationship in two appendices to two other Japanese authors of note, Yasunari Kawabata and Kenzaburo Oe. There is a glossary of Japanese terms which is quite helpful, and which you want to have your thumb in as you read.

The book concludes with some thoughtful observations about Christian mission in Japan (which I think are also applicable in the West) that brings brokenness and beauty together, in place of a church that has often seem more focused on legalism. He speaks of the hunger for beauty in Japanese culture, the longing for liberation from fumi-e, and the power of the Christian message to bring this. These are his concluding words:

     “Endo shows that God speaks through silence. ‘Even if he had been silent, my life until this day would have spoken of him.’ In the mystery of silence and beauty God speaks through our broken lives facing our Ground Zero. In the layers revealed through the worn-smooth surface of a fumi-e is a true portrait of Christ; Japan’s unique hidden culture offers it as a gift to the world.”

In Silence and Beauty, what Fujimura has done is explore those layers and revealed this gift.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.