By James Alison
Reviewed by Susan W. Klein
Writing Workshop Participant ’08
Continuum, 292 pp., $24.95
This collection of essays, marked by adventurous scholarship and imaginative playfulness, teases out and extends the thought of Rene Girard. James Alison covers topics as diverse as Pentecost, grand opera, the McCarthy witch-hunts, the state of Israel, and life as an openly gay priest loyal to Rome and a cautious admirer of the current Pope.
Resurrection’s reversal of death is central to this book and to Alison’s experience of grace. Though critical of the church’s “category mistake” in identifying sexual depravity with gay persons, who are simply a “regularly occurring minority variant in the human condition,” Alison also is grateful to the church for the grace he has received through it. His life in the church has taught him that the essence of Christian ethics is to extend “mercy to the fearful,” including the fearful within the church.
Alison’s use of personal experience to illustrate his themes is never self-serving. The essay “Love your Enemy” analyses the connections between himself and Larry Craig, the former Republican Senator from Idaho caught soliciting sex in an airport bathroom. Both were aised in similar climates of fear towards gay persons. But Craig repressed his identity, while Alison (he says by the grace of God) was led into telling and living the truth. Alison uses this similarity and then dissimilarity to illustrate the message he feels is most basic to the Sermon on the Mount: “Loving the enemy restructures the self.”
Again and again in these essays, James Alison shares his gift of seeing how what is broken becomes a new creation. What he sees is dazzling.
Susan W. Klein is Rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Los Angeles. She attended the Collegeville Institute’s summer writing workshop Writing and the Pastoral Life in 2008.