Book Review: An Antidote to Poisonous Politics

I’ve long been intrigued by the work of William Lynch, SJ (especially Images of Hope), but a convergence of circumstances has led me to him again. The election year coincides with the publication of Building the Human City by John Kane (Pickwick Publications, Full disclosure: John and I have been friends and colleagues for many years. I wrote an endorsement for the back cover, but had a diabolically brief word count and an imminent deadline for that. Now, I’m re-reading with more delight, at a more leisurely, reflective pace. This web posting will be the first; several others may follow.

The book opens with the wonderful quote of Pope Francis to the US Congress 9/24/15 about the temptation to see “only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners.” How often this year we hear one group inveigh against another, demonizing the Other, canonizing the Self. Because Lynch warned repeatedly against the human tendency to leap to simplistic, magical, comforting polarizations, we need his voice especially today.

Since he grew up near the East River in New York City, it became a symbol for human passage through this world. The river is muddy and full of trash, but it moves steadily into a wider world: a port and then an ocean. Through the complexity and messiness of the human city, Lynch moved into an appreciation of the rich diversity which cannot be walled nor confined. “Everything I have ever written asks for the concrete movement of faith and the imagination through experience, through time, through the definite, through the human, through the actual life of Christ.” For him, the church isn’t a bastion of correctness condemning the world. Instead, it offers images of life and death to feed the spiritual hunger for a more authentic sense of self and a deeper sense of the divine.

This is just the beginning; complex material is best digested in small chunks.

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