Amazing Grace, a Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris
In a refreshingly non-religious way, Norris dissects the words we commonly use as the language of Christianity, what she called her "scary vocabulary. From various directions- historical, theological, etc., combined with her personal stories and relationship with the church, Norris studies them to make their meanings personal, relevant, accurate.
I like books that stretch me, and though I didn't love the book, and I felt she left a lot of words seeming pretty vague, I did find myself stretched in many ways and examining for the first time some of the basic words that I have grown up with and never questioned.
Here are a few of my favorite lines from the book:
Idolatry: "Unfortunately it is scorn for others that often marks religion's public face in America, leading me to suspect that one of the most popular idols around today is still the Pharisee's prayer as recorded in the Gospel of Luke- when he prays, it's to thank God that he is not like other people, who don't go to church, or if they do, don't say right prayers."
Good and Evil: "Abba Poemen said, 'If a man has attained to that which the Apostle speaks of, 'to the pure everything is pure' (Titus 1:15), he sees himself as less than all creatures.' The brother said, 'How can I deem myself less than a murderer?' The old man said, 'When a man has really comprehended this saying, if he sees a man commit a murder he says, 'He has only committed this one sin, but I commit sins every day.'"
The Bible- Illiteracies and Ironies: Why do churches that interpret a portion of Timothy's first epistle ("permit no woman to teach, or to have authority over a man") . . ., ignore other sections of the same chapter ("women should dress themselves modestly . . . not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes," 1 Tim 2:9).
God-talk: When God-talk is speech that is not of this world, it is false language. In a religion that celebrates the Incarnation- the joining together of the human and the divine- a spiritualized jargon that does not ground itself in the five senses should be anathema.
Inquisition: . . . is an attitude of mind, a type of questioning that resists true conversation, which, like the word "conversion," at its root means to turn, or to turn around. The Inquisitor has the answers in hand and does not wish to change them. It is good to determine, when someone asks you a question, whether they are asking in a good spirit, or conducting Inquisition. . . . the inquisitorial imperitive always wants to separate "us" from "them," basing one's own security and sanctity on the fact that others may be adjudged to be deficient or impure.
"Organized" Religion: I have come to suspect that when people complain about "organized" religion what they are really saying is that they can't stand other people.