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Posted January 10, 2010

Book: Building Wisdom’s House: A Book of Values for Our Times
Authors: Bonnie Menes Kahn, Rabbi Stephen S. Pearce, Father John P. Schlegel, Bishop William E. Swing
Addison-Wesley. Reading, Massachusetts. 2009. Pp. 215

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Americans have always been stalwart in their faith — however they choose to define it. But in recent years, particularly in the realm of politics, this spiritual resolve has been dangerously misused: A fundamental fringe is claiming the mantle of our Judeo-Christian tradition to promote a political agenda of hatred and intolerance. While the compassionate, human side of our religious heritage struggles to be heard, the rhetoric of a self-righteous minority grows ever louder.

Now, rising above the din of reactionary politics are four voices — strong, clear, and unified — to reclaim American values, to help us once again put religion in the service of our better impulses. In this beautifully written book, leaders of three establishment religions — Judaism, Roman Catholicism, and the Episcopal Church — along with a lay sociologist, offer a view of moral virtue that is distinct from the cold individualism put forth by conservatives and the religious right. Using the kind of storytelling that is common to their shared scriptural traditions, they explore values like caring for the needy, treasuring the gift of the earth, respecting differences within our communities, and using faith to help ourselves and others through adversity.

These leaders take us on a metaphorical journey — across rivers, over mountains, through forests. It is a uniquely American journey, touching upon issues that concern us all, from affirmative action to school prayer, from gun control to breast cancer. Cutting down the myth that Americans succeed alone, they remind us that our institutions — both religious and political — have always aided the impoverished and dislocated. They call for a partnership — a triangle of care, comprising religious charities, community, and, yest, the federal government — to continue these efforts. They insist that, in one way or another, we are all travelers — and warn us not to blame the immigrant for society’s ills. Each of us seeks renewal, a better life. Through memorable anecdotes, folk wisdom, and parables, we are reawakened to the common decency in each and every one of us.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The sociologist Daniel Bell was once asked to predict the American future, a request he did not relish since he distrusted “futurologists.” He responded, “I predict that there will be a presidential election in 1980, another in 1984, another in 88, again in 92 and then a presidential election in 1996 and all the way up to the year 2000. A trivial observations? On the contrary. The fact that I can predict that with certainty is one of the most fundamental facts about American democracy.” at this fundamental level the country works, and Americans have faith in the system.

In recent days, and in may ways, however, faith has been replaced by fear. Who now has faith in American law enforcement or justice after being shocked by one trial after another? Thirty years ago the beloved Harlem congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Said, “Keep the faith, baby.” Today many Americans live with fear daily. In some neighborhoods the fear of gunshots is part of their daily life. In most neighborhoods people live with doubt. What will happen to them if they become sick? Will there be jobs for them next year? In five years? For their children?

Table of Contents:

1. Setting out

2. Crossing paths: there is callousness where there should be caring

3. Crossing rivers: there is isolation where there should be community

4. Climbing mountains: there is fear where there should be faith

5. Through forests: there is exploitation where there should be awe

6. Tending fields: there is violence where there should be wisdom

7. Counting seasons: there is childishness where there should be wisdom

8. Building wisdom’s house: there is suspicion where there should be solidarity