Thursday, February 11, 2021

How Then Shall We Live? Mini Reviews of Books About Life and Faith

D. L. Mayfield is not writing to make anyone comfortable, even herself. As she got to know her neighbors, who were mostly refugees, she realized that her belief that God rewarded people who followed the rules was not true for these people who had been through so much. In The Myth of the American Dream, she calls Christians out for confusing the work of our faith with our striving for affluence, autonomy, safety, and power. 

When she taught English to students who had recently arrived to the United States, she realized that a bag of donated clothes or a grammar worksheet would not fix the trauma and oppression that these people had experienced. Mayfield challenges her readers to look beyond these momentary transactions and ponder what it looks like to be a good neighbor, to realize that we are not flourishing when our neighbors are suffering. Our good intentions are not enough in the face of policies like redlining, gentrification, and prejudice in hiring that keep people from owning a home or earning the kind of income that we do. "Love is a concrete way of living in the world that prioritizes others, and other's people's children, over our own." The Myth of the American Dream asks us to open our eyes to more; it is a book that will convict you to rethink what you ask from God and change how you live as a good neighbor to the people around you.

The Myth of the American Dream:
Reflections on Affluence, Autonomy, Safety, and Power
By D.L Mayfield
IVP May 2020
192 pages
Read via Netgalley

Sister Helen Prejean is perhaps best known as the "Death Penalty Abolitionist Nun," especially after her bestselling book Dead Man Walking. She fights for the dignity of those in prison, and works towards a day when the government will not execute any people, regardless of their crimes. But Sister Helen was not always on fire for justice. As a young woman, she was a nun at St. Joseph Parish, where she was surrounded by other white, middle-class people in the church and the school where she teaches. Her life is generally comfortable, until she has a moment of epiphany--what would it be like to so inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus that you were willing to be ridiculed, to go to prison, to lose everything? 

Dead Man Walking is Prejean's story of protesting the death penalty, but River of Fire reveals how she got there. It gives a unique perspective on the changes within the Catholic Church during the second half of the 20th century, as well as Sister Helen's own journey from someone who focused on the spiritual to someone who focused on people who are suffering on earth. This book is easy to read because, as it turns out, nuns aren't that different from you and me. They have doubts, make mistakes, and struggle in their relationships with God and with other people.

River of Fire:
My Spiritual Journey
By Sister Helen Prejean
Random House August 2019
294 pages
Read via Netgalley