Archive for Book Review

A review of Sr. Maria Riley’s paper: “Can We Talk about Social Protection?”

A review of a paper by Sr. Maria Riley, O.P. of the Global Women’s Project of the Center of Concern, Washington, D.C.

Once again Sr. Maria Riley, O.P., from the Center of Concern’s Global Women’s Project brings a thoughtful, forceful paper for our reflection and response.  In “Can We Talk about Social Protection?” she discusses how to improve our current social safety net system so that a true and viable social protection system exists for all citizens.  This paper is a follow-up to last month’s “Shredding the Social Safety Net.”

In this paper, Sr. Maria points out that these are difficult times in the United States.  Vulnerable people in our society are plagued by unemployment, growing poverty – extreme poverty in some 1.4 million households – as well as hunger and food insecurity.  The society is also witnessing a growing crisis of care-giving across the generations from child care to chronically ill and disabled care to elder care and the growing inequality both in levels of income and in access to services.

At the same time it seems public concern and political commitment to care for those most in need is diminishing. The will to ease the suffering of the most vulnerable through social welfare that was ushered in from the Great Depression through the 1970s has gone sour. Social welfare has changed from being considered a social good to being attacked as a negative burden supporting the “lazy and undeserving.” The concept of entitlement as a right or need has shifted to being seen as a privilege that many do not merit. And the responsibility of government “to promote the general
welfare” as stated in the Constitution has been degraded to accusations of intrusion by “big government.”

Changes in attitude have many roots in our culture, from an extreme sense of individualism, to the ascent of economics as the prime political and social concern, to politics and ideology and to lack of information or misinformation.

To read Sr. Maria Riley’s entire paper, go here.


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We’re all living downstream

There’s a fable about a village along a river. Villagers began to notice increasing numbers of drowning people caught in the swift current, and went to work inventing ever more elaborate ways to save them. So preoccupied were these heroic villagers with rescue and treatment that they never thought to look upstream to see who was pushing the people in.

How many people have you heard of (or know) who have been recently diagnosed with cancer?   How does this experience compare with your experience of 5-10-20 years ago? “We never heard of cancer when I was growing up,” is a comment I hear frequently.

On one of my frequent forays to Half Price Books, I picked up the book Living Downstream, by Sandra Steingraber, written 15 years ago and revised in 2010.  Sandra is both cancer survivor and ecologist. The book chronicles how the health of the land, air and water in the world we inhabit is inextricably tied to our own health. In the legacy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, she traces the high incidence of cancer and the terrifying concentrations of environmental toxins in her native rural Illinois. She chronicles similar correlations in communities throughout the United States, where cancer rates have risen alarmingly since mid-century.*

On alternate Mondays in the chemotherapy infusion center, I witness a procession of people coming for their treatment.  I am amazed and grateful beyond measure for the care we receive, and the way that care is given.  A few minutes at the pamphlet rack or in the resource center is cause for marvel at the patient-friendly information and holistic support systems that have been developed to assist people on this difficult journey.

But then I think, where is the outrage?  Where are the well-developed systems to oppose the ever-increasing disregard for human health and well- being as more and more cancer-causing toxins are poured into our environment?  Who has the courage to walk upstream and confront those who are throwing people into the river?

One current example is the move by oil and gas companies toward “fracking.”  Are you aware that toxic chemicals injected underground as part of fracking process will most likely eventually seep into our groundwater?  According to a recent story on National Public Radio, there are 10,000 fracking sites scheduled for development within the next few years .*

Sandra Steingraber, at the end of her documentary video, Living Downstream, speaks passionately about an emerging environmental human rights movement, which would inspire a groundswell of “carcinogen abolitionists.“  How might you, how might we begin walking upstream together?  Let me know at


*Sandra Steingraber, Living Downstream: an Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment.  Da Capo Press, 2010.

*For an insightful and balanced article on environmental toxins/carcinogens, go here

*Also check out the NPR story . For more information and action ideas go to 


An additional resource on the health implications of global climate change: Paul Epstein and Dan Ferber, Changing Planet, Changing Health: How the Climate Crisis Threatens Our Health and What We Can Do about It:  University of California Press, 2011.

RoseTherese Huelsman, IHM

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Book Review — The Emerging Catholic Church: A Community’s Search for Itself By Tom Roberts

Tom Roberts is editor-at-large of The National Catholic Reporter, where he has worked for the past sixteen years. Previously he worked for ten years at the Religious News Service. He lives in Rockville, Maryland.

Dennis Coday, editor of NCR, said in NCR Today on Oct. 07, 2011: This is how I remember it. In late 2008 or early 2009, Tom Roberts broached the idea of setting out on a trek across the United States to find Catholic communities that are alive and life giving, that aren’t bogged down in the mire of church politics and scandal.

From that idea came first a series of stories for our newspaper and website. Next came a book for Orbis, The Emerging Catholic Church: A Community’s Search for Itself, which has just been released and is reviewed below.

Note: This book review was published in Mercy Words: An E-Journal, February 2012.

In his long career as a religion writer and editor, Tom Roberts, author of The Emerging Catholic Church: A Community’s Search for Itself, has been engaged on a search to understand the emerging Catholic community – a search bracketed on one end by Vatican II (1962–1965) and on the other by the yet unknown.

In this work, Roberts presents the fruit of his decades of observation. It is a complex picture of a Church that is still grappling with the meaning of the Second Vatican Council; responding to dramatic demographic shifts affecting both the Church and society; absorbing the implications of the new cosmology, with its impact on traditional belief systems; accounting for the emerging leadership of women in the Church and the wider culture, and its impact on an evolving concept of God; and reeling over the sex abuse scandal and what it has revealed about the growing inadequacy of the hierarchical culture.

Even with all the signs of stress and strain, stupidity, and insensitivity exhibited in the behavior of laity and clergy alike, including the hierarchy, Roberts gives equal attention to signs of renewal in the Church, showing how the faith, hope, and love that have guided the Church in the past will continue to shape the American Catholic community’s search for itself in the future.

Along the way, Roberts traces the gutsy history of National Catholic Reporter (NCR), the independent Catholic newspaper that frustrates some and encourages others. Begun in 1963, NCR has stayed true to its founders’ vision – to report the life of the Church in the world; to press for as much information as can be had about events and their meaning while remaining committed to the Church.

No surprise, of course, given Tom Roberts’ long association with NCR, that The Emerging Catholic Church: A Community’s Search for Itself is written in the same spirit as that newspaper for which he has worked for many years. Roberts’ book is frank, forthright, faith-filled, and full of hope. I encourage you to read it, discuss it with others, and pass it along to friends – both your copy of the book and your own insights. Let’s keep searching for that “emerging Catholic Church.” This could be a good book to read during Lent!

Tom Roberts. The Emerging Catholic Church: A Community’s Search for Itself. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011.


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Book Review: “Dream of a Nation: Inspiring Ideas for a Better America”

By Tyson Miller (editor) and Kelly Spitzner (designer), Foreword by Paul Hawken, Closing by Alice Walker

Across the nation countless individuals and organizations are dreaming a new future. Dream of a Nation sheds lights on some of the groundbreaking leaders, projects and ideas that have the potential to solve society’s toughest problems.

Through a collection of essays and short commentaries, the solutions and projects presented celebrate unique contributions from the country’s diverse population and span the nation’s most prevalent concerns. The content is applicable to readers of varying political persuasions and the material comes alive through four-color authentic images, and accessible graphics and illustrations. Over 60 interconnected issues are explored and organized across 12 chapters including: Building an Equitable and Green Economy, Waging Peace, Citizen Leadership, Strengthening Community, Environmental Stewardship, Ending Poverty, Deepening Democracy, Improving Health, Media Reform, Key Education Innovations, Re-Imagining Business, and Creating a Nation that Shines.
Dream of a Nation restores faith that humanity can solve our current looming environmental, economic and societal challenges. This is a comprehensive resource for any reader interested in gaining critical information and deepening their role as an empowered citizen.

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Recommended reading: Strength in What Remains

A Book Review by Katherine Feely, SND

Education for Justice of the Center of Concern and


The reader will travel to: Burundi, Rwanda, New York and will also reflect on the values of the  sanctity of human life, hope in the midst of war, and being fully human in community.

Book Description:

Deo arrives in America from Burundi in search of a new life. Having survived a civil war and genocide, plagued by horrific dreams, he lands at JFK airport with two hundred dollars, no English, and no contacts. He ekes out a precarious existence delivering groceries, living in Central Park, and learning English by reading dictionaries in bookstores. Then Deo begins to meet the strangers who will change his life, pointing him eventually in the direction of a life devoted to healing.  Kidder breaks new ground in telling this unforgettable story as he travels with Deo back over a turbulent life in search of meaning and forgiveness.  Tracy Kidder shows the reader what it means to be fully human by telling a story about the heroism inherent in ordinary people, a story about a life based on hope.


Strength in What Remains, a biography by Tracy Kidder

Random House, 2009


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Recommended reading: ‘Made for Goodness and Why This Makes All the Difference’ by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu

Review by Carol Rittner, RSM, Editor of Mercywords, an E-Journal that is an interdisciplinary forum for religious and laity that explores ideas and questions in theology, religious studies, scripture, spirituality, and social activism. Essays and reviews are intended to raise questions, explore ideas, and encourage those who serve the people of God in our fractured and fragmented world. Its aim is to stimulate fresh thinking, educate inquiring minds, and inspire searching hearts.

“‘Why are you so joyful?’ ‘How do you keep your faith in people when you see so much injustice, oppression, and cruelty?’ ‘What makes you so certain that the world is going to get better?’”

These are the questions that begin this wonderful book written by the father-daughter team of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Mpho Tutu, mother, wife, and Episcopal priest. To say that it is a “hopeful” book is an understatement, but it is the only word I can think of to describe a book filled with stories and examples of goodness and beauty.

With all the hardship in the world, it is easy to look around and wonder if there is any goodness in this fragile and fragmented world of ours, which is precisely why Archbishop Tutu and his daughter, Rev. Tutu, wrote Made for Goodness. In their view, joy and goodness can be found anywhere, if we would only look for it.

“Each kindness enhances the quality of life,” they write. “Each cruelty diminishes it.”

It is easy to imagine that someone like Archbishop Tutu would lose hope in the face of the many atrocities he has witnessed, the poverty, racism, and homophobia he has experienced, and that his daughter, Mpho, who serves as the Chair of the board of the Global AIDS Alliance, would despair in the presence of all the suffering and death she has encountered in her work around the world, dealing with the scourge of HIV and AIDS. But what one discovers reading Made for Goodness is what Bono, lead singer of U2, calls a “fundamental truth” that shows “us that at the end of even the worst day, it’s in our DNA to look out for our brothers and sisters.”

Now more than ever, we need to believe and accept what this father-daughter priestly team writes, that “anyone can choose to cultivate compassion,” even in a world rife with cruelty, suffering, war, and atrocity, if only we can see that everyone – everyone – is “made in God’s own image… And all of us are good. No, not just good, but very good.”

Made for Goodness is a book not to be missed. Read it. You will be inspired and challenged.

Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu. Made for Goodness and Why This Makes All the Difference. New York: HarperOne, 2010.

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