Taking off a few masks

With the Internet and our mobile screens providing an unending stream of religious and spiritual reading material, one learns to peruse and scan and quickly discern between what’s fluff and what’s stuff.  Not surprisingly, there’s more fluff than stuff around and so the discovery of the genuine article is always reason for rejoicing.

From a pastor’s point of view, one who preaches and writes on a regular basis, the good stuff is what's thick with substance, what grabs and holds your attention.  And having caught your interest, it does not disappoint but leads you to new places in your mind and soul - and it changes you.  That’s the litmus test of good spiritual writing: it can change who you are and your relationship with God.

So I’m rejoicing in having found some "very good stuff" in Elizabeth Scalia’s new book, Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life.  You may already know her as the blogging Anchoress or as the editor of the Catholic Portal at the Patheos website.  I recommend you to come to know her as an author in print and on Kindle and allow yourself to be changed by what she offers in this powerful little book.  Seems to me that 10 chapters in 160 pages is just the perfect size for a summer’s read.  But don’t miss the Introduction and the Conclusion:  much more than bookends, they make a valuable contribution to the whole.

From both a pastoral and personal perspective what I appreciate most about Strange Gods is Scalia’s ability to take topics as familiar as the Commandments and Beatitudes, along with well-known scripture passages and Catholic doctrine, and open them afresh for our contemporary understanding – all the while powerfully and skillfully lifting up the ancient truths they bear.  This the writer does with fully accessible language, imagery and stories.  Good preaching does the same.  Is anything less than this the goal of what we call the New Evangelization?

The chapter headings suggest what our idols might be: the idol of I, of ideas, prosperity, technology, coolness and sex, plans, and the super idols of ideology and its language.  No fluff here folks, but lots of serious, solid material presented in a style that will be at home on the beach, your deck or your front porch.

If you're looking at Scalia's title and thinking that idols are pagan and primitive, I challenge you to read her book – but with a warning.  As the title promises, Strange Gods will indeed unmask some idols in your everyday life, as it did in mine.

I recommend this book for pastoral ministers, preachers, catechists and any folks willing to have their own idols unmasked.  This is good stuff and it will change you.


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