by Ed Bacon
One of the 5 most transformative non-fiction books I ever read was Constantine’s Sword, written by our guest this first weekend in Lent, James Carroll. (The others in my top 5 list are: Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation, Richard Rohr’s Eager to Love, The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Healing and the Mind, edited by Bill Moyers.)
Not only is James Carroll’s writings a helpful history of how conventional Christianity went off the rails, departing from the message of Jesus, including even some anti-Semitic gospel passages in the Christian Testament, Jim expertly interweaves healthy Christianity with critical political analysis. This book literally blew my mind — if that metaphor means destroying old toxic conventions and replacing them with life-giving vistas for both self and for understanding how loving God is for everyone.
Here is the passage that illustrates my point and which oxygenated my soul and mind. It is from Carroll’s important chapter on Abelard and Heloise: According to Abelard,
“God’s people are defined not … by membership in the Church but by existence on the earth. All of God’s people are already saved, which is to say infinitely loved, just by virtue of God’s having created them. … It remains for the human only to accept that love, which, in our fallen — self-rejecting — state, may not be easy, but it is never impossible. And the outcome by which that acceptance is measured is not only self-acceptance but acceptance of the neighbor, too.” p. 294
Other soul-nourishing treats include Carroll’s investigation of Christianity’s “inner logic of the crusading impulse,” which has led Christians to execute unbelievably heinous violence in the name of God and of Jesus. He notes that Jesus’s first communities of followers were referred to as “circles of healing,” which is a far cry from the bigoted violence often passing for Christianity. He also wonders if the Church has the soul of Jesus or the soul of Empire.
All is far from bleak with James Carroll. He is certain that there is an unkillable reforming energy in the Church. He foresees a life-giving message of genuine good news in the section he calls, “Agenda for Vatican III,” which has some of the most stirring passages about the restatement of what we teach about Jesus I have ever read. He notes that the Latin reform are means “to shape something according to its own essential being.” (Carroll, James, Constantine’s Sword, p. 555).
He has an uncanny eye for detecting what is authentically Jesus-like in Christian evolution and I am eager to hear his current report.
I can’t wait to hear James Carroll both preach (at 9:00 and 11:15 am) and be our guest in the Rector’s Forum on Sunday, February 14. And I have Constantine’s Sword on the top of my stack of books for a 3rd or 4th reading.
“What We’re Reading” is an ongoing series of reflections on transformative books by All Saints staff and parish leaders.