Friday, August 19, 2011

REVIEW: "Peace Be With You" by David Carlson

These days, I don't make a habit of reading books that I think I will end up arguing with as I read. Keeping your eyes and ears open is a good idea, and it's never to your advantage to close your mind. That being said, sometimes you've had the same argument enough times that you don't need to have it yet again. I suspected such would be the case with Peace Be With You by Dr. David Carlson (PhD); that being said, I chose the book against my better judgment. I struggle with the role our military has played in world affairs since 9/11, and I thought that there might be some wisdom to be found on the subject in this book.

Dr. Carlson interviewed monks, nuns, and others who sought refuge either temporarily or permanently in monasteries and retreat centers, trying to find what he calls a "word of life" in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the response of the leaders and citizens of the United States. Carlson is a disciple of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk who died in 1968. Merton espoused what Carlson calls a "radical unity" in humanity, one in which we see Christ in all our neighbors in light of the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 25. With that as the foundation of his research, Carlson asked his subjects what he thought were the lessons of 9/11 and what America did or didn't learn from what happened.

My major beef with the book is that Carlson repeatedly asserts the superiority of the monastic vocation. Citing the lives steeped in prayer and contemplation, the innate spirituality of monastic life, the ability to view the world without materialistic eyes, throughout the book he asserts that those who live the contemplative monastic life are able to escape the worldliness that fuels the fires of war and vengeance. Because they spend their days praying the daily office (the monastic prayer cycle), they do for the world what the world cannot do for itself: they hold the world together (p.118).

Maybe I'm too Lutheran to appreciate Carlson's approach. The Lutheran Church in its major permutations is one of the few bodies that does not have what Carlson calls a "contemplative" branch. At the same time, many within Lutheranism (and other bodies) seek to live lives of contemplation within their chosen vocations, pastors and laypeople who, though not withdrawn from the world, pray part or all of the daily office, people who pray the psalter each week or month.

I do appreciate Carlson's disdain for American civil religion. The invocation of Jesus by leaders and citizens in support of the war on terror is an abomination. I'm not saying that the war is just or unjust. But naming Jesus as an ally in attempt to prove the rightness of the cause makes Jesus into a man who loves one brother better than another. Whether or not someone believes in Him (and make no mistake, Muslims do not believe in Jesus as God), he is God's creation, and the Father does not rejoice to see His children fighting each other.

Perhaps I've allowed my patriotism and my own theological background to darken my view of this book. I was disappointed with the methodology, but there's certainly something to be said for taking a more contemplative look at how we respond to Islam, to foreign policy, to our individual relationships with each other. If for no other reason than that reminder, I cannot regret reading this book . . . no matter how much I argue with it!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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