“ Infidels: A History of the Conflict Between Christendom and Islam” by Andrew Wheatcroft (Random House, 420 pages, $28.95)
A gigantic pennant of blue silk portraying the Crucifixion is paraded through the crowded streets of Naples. In Constantinople, the sultan bestows an emerald flag embroidered in gold with the names of God on the admiral of the Ottoman fleet. These banners fluttering from galley masts as Christendom sails into battle against the Islamic empire become symbol and source of violent antipathy between two of the world’s great civilizations.
The stunning opening scene of the 1571 Battle of Lepanto off the Greek shores is just one of Wheatcroft’s vivid narratives chronicling historic struggles along Muslim-Christian fault lines in Spain, the Levant and the Balkans.
From the conquest of Jerusalem in 636 to the war in Iraq of 2003, Wheatcroft reveals the power of history and myth to demonize holy warrior and infidel, Muslim and Christian. He resurrects these ghosts, these maledicta, hoping to exorcise the wellspring of “thirteen centuries of fear and hatred” that distort our perceptions and relations.
His commentary on mass communication and social psychology and a conclusion parsing the Bush administration’s rhetoric about the “War on Terror” are not always sufficiently integrated into the historical account of jihad and Crusade. But words and images are revealed as uncontrollable weapons throughout this fascinating read.
“ Keep the Faith, Change the Church” by James Muller and Charles Kenney (Rodale, 310 pages, $24.95)
Two years ago in Boston, which was the epicenter of the Catholic clergy sexual-abuse scandals, laypeople emerged to form Voice of the Faithful, a group that soon swelled to more than 20,000 members nationwide. They described themselves as faithful Catholics who stood by the abuse victims and priests of integrity. They wanted to work within the church system to bring about healing and prevent the abuse from happening again.
Initially, they reached out to the Boston hierarchy in hopes of working with church leaders. But in meetings with Bishop Walter Edyvean of the Archdiocese of Boston, it was clear the hierarchy didn’t want advice or help from laypeople. “You have an image problem,” the bishop told leaders of Voice of the Faithful, who told him, “The hierarchy has the image problem.”
Conservatives panned this group as liberal dissenters. But leaders of Voice of the Faithful insisted they were middle-of-the-road Catholics who sincerely cared about the church. This book is their story, told in their own words by writer Charles Kenney and James Muller, the founding president of Voice of the Faithful. It is told with conviction and serves as a rallying cry for Catholics everywhere that the hierarchy needs laypeople to bear witness to a better way of being the church.
“ Stories & Songs” by Mark Schultz (Word, 44 min.)
Like Michael W. Smith, Schultz may lack an extensive vocal range, but his honest songwriting and engaging style more than make up for it. His stories, based on real-life people, alternately will tug at your heart and make you smile.
Musically, the album is richly diverse, from the tight and compelling rock guitar on “Everywhere” to the rolling keyboards of ballads such as “Closer to You.” Veteran producer Brown Banister has tweaked and polished the album ’til it shines.
Two singles already have soared on the charts: the bouncy “You are a Child of Mine” and the tear-jerker “Letters from War.” The latter is based on letters his great-grandmother received from her son serving overseas during World War II, but its pleading refrain, “You’re good, you’re brave, what a father you’ll make someday, make it home, make it safe” will resonate with families of soldiers in Iraq.
Other standouts include the poignant “Do You Even Know Me Anymore,” where Schultz captures the emotional ache of a man who realizes too late that he’s neglected his wife and son for decades.
Schultz does a Weird Al turn on “Running Just to Catch Myself,” a funny stream-of-consciousness ditty about not having time even to deal with life’s annoyances. The pace is propelled by a staccato piano and operetta chorus reminiscent of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
“ Time That is Left” distills the album’s theme, Schultz says. And the soaring “hallelujahs” on that song are indeed like a psalmist’s selah, encouraging the listener to think hard.
Granted, this site is Christian kitsch. But it’s fascinating kitsch powered by homegrown yet fairly sophisticated computer power. Offering “innovative entertainment for the Christian family,” the site includes pages for kids, parents, teens and grandparents along with games and holiday pages.
Start with “Visitor’s Favorites” for some of the most interesting links. There’s The Crucifixion (see how Jesus died for you!), a short Shockwave Flash movie, and Jesus in a tornado, a 1999 photograph of a Midwest tornado. Turned on its side, the pattern of the twister vaguely resembles a standing figure of Christ. You decide.
There also are several poems and essays — like The Legend of the Dogwood and Interview with Jesus accompanied by sentimental music and stock photos of majestic landscapes.
You’ll need a fairly powerful computer for some of the links, which require soundcards and a Java-enabled Shockwave plug-in.