How Catholics should view the poor Think and Act Anew: How Poverty in America Affects Us All and What We Can Do About It by Father Larry Snyder. Orbis Books (Maryknoll, N.Y., 2010). 144 pp., $16.Rethinking Poverty: Income, Assets and the Catholic Social Justice Tradition by James P. Bailey. University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, Ind., 2010). 176 pp., $30.What I Keep: Photographs of the New Face of Homelessness and Poverty by Susan Mullally. Baylor University Press (Waco, Texas, 2010). 93 pp., $34.95.Public policy is shaped for the worse by the customary way society envisions the poor. Furthermore, we have grown accustomed to a definition of "the poor" that fails to meet the test of church social teaching, according to two new books from Catholic publishers.The poor in America tend to be defined "in terms of their deficits, disabilities and disorders, often without identifying, celebrating and building on their strengths of character and will, as well as their assets of experience, family and friends," says Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA.In "Think and Act Anew," he suggests that society does not lean toward viewing someone who is poor "as a person — as a human who deserves to be heard, treated with dignity and respect, and offered help, but also as a person with the ability to decide how to live his or her own life successfully."It is necessary to re-envision the poor, to move beyond approaches that treat "a person in pieces, as someone who is hungry, or needs housing," toward the more comprehensive understanding "that these are individual human beings, each with hopes and dreams," Father Snyder proposes.James P. Bailey also believes American society suffers from a deficient understanding of the poor. His book's title, "Rethinking Poverty," states his conviction that to serve the goals of social justice, society must rethink who the poor are."Poverty as insufficient income is the only way most of us have been trained to conceptualize and to remedy the problem," Bailey writes. As a result, he explains, policies "are not formulated with any particular vision of the poor as active and contributing members of society. Defining the poor primarily according to their need limits the types of policies that might be envisioned."Some readers might wonder initially if Bailey is an economist. In fact, though, he teaches theology at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and has a particular interest in social ethics.The goal of re-envisioning the poor is advanced in a most clear way in yet another new book, Susan Mullally's "What I Keep," 60 photographs of "the new face of homelessness and poverty."These are portraits of people who participate in the Church Under the Bridge in Waco, Texas.Mullally's compelling images render it impossible to imagine the poor as partial persons with nothing worth sharing. Her subjects were asked what they keep and treasure. Their responses leave no doubt that this is a book about people who possess memories, love for others, true capabilities and goals.Father Snyder wants his readers to realize that "the face of the poor is not the same today as it was in generations past." Like Mullally, he indicates that "recognizing who the poor are today" is essential.The inspiration for Father Snyder's book is "Caritas in Veritate" ("Charity in Truth"), a 2009 encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI that Father Snyder fears is not receiving due attention. He considers it a "social and practical blueprint that is specific in its demands and strategies to flesh out the virtue of justice."Who are the poor? How capable might they be? How deserving of respect? Those are some questions to take away from the books of Bailey, Mullally and Father Snyder. For them, the time has arrived to rethink poverty.If Father Snyder's book is highly readable, Bailey's is somewhat more academic and hard-going. Both are genuinely worthwhile, though, and it is noteworthy how often the authors' underlying concerns coincide.For example, I am confident Father Snyder would agree when Bailey insists that the church's understanding of human dignity "requires ... that persons thrive, not merely survive." Bailey encourages an assets-building approach to poverty to augment current approaches, which principally provide income to allow the poor to survive.For Bailey, "adequate income flow and the consumption of goods and services necessary for daily living" is essential to the economic well-being of the poor. But that is not enough. Addressing their economic well-being also means addressing the need to save and accumulate assets, as well as to continue growing as people.I should note, not entirely as an aside, that Bailey offers a devastating analysis of how social institutions in America have kept the poor from accumulating assets."The real purpose of assets in the 21st century is precisely to enable and empower people to develop and deploy their human as well as financial capital," Bailey explains. "A just asset-building policy," he says, "would ensure that the poor are enabled to develop the skills necessary to participate in the modern economy."—David GibsonOpen, alert minds needed Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God's Beloved by Trevor Hudson. InterVarsity Press (Downers Grove, Ill., 2010). 180 pp., $18.New Self, New World: Recovering Our Senses in the Twenty-first Century by Philip Shepherd. North Atlantic Books (Berkeley, Calif., 2010). 489 pp., $19.95.An open mind and an alert mind are needed for two recent books."Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God's Beloved" is a spiritual guide for individuals or small groups. It offers 16 sessions of readings, reflections and actions.It covers such topics as hearing and speaking with God, growing in spiritual friendship, practicing stewardship of our work and play, learning discernment, approaching our death and the world beyond and living now in the kingdom."One might say, tongue-in-cheek, is that all?However, the author, Trevor Hudson, does a beautiful job of approaching heady topics with real-life examples and clear language.Hudson is a pastor in South Africa and a teaching fellow with the Renovare Spiritual Formation Institute. He brings an international flavor to this book.It also is hard not to get caught up in the enthusiasm and genuine faith of this book. Hudson quotes St. Ireneaus in his introduction, that "the glory of God is a human being fully alive."This book tries to wake up the reader or participant to truly embrace one's faith. It calls for actions and thoughts and time.Hudson writes that it is "about waking up to the always available presence of the crucified and risen Christ, alive and at large throughout the world, who invites us to be his followers wherever we are.""New Self, New World" is definitely not a book for a lazy day at the beach. It requires concentration and openness to the 434 pages of text (and 55 pages of endnotes and appendix).Philip Shepherd's book asks the reader to look at things differently. He writes: "Simply put, as long as we remain in our head, we will remain married to the values of the head." He said his book attempts to "write about the lens by which we bring the world around us into focus — our head-centered consciousness; and ... to explore the appealing alternative: deepening our experiences of the world by deepening our experience of the body."This book contains lots of research to support Shepherd's theory. It also reflects the diverse and interesting life of the author. As a teenager, he cycled alone through Europe, the Middle East, Iran and India. He was heading to Japan to study classical Noh theatre. An actor and dancer, he is now a faculty member of the Institute for Sacred Activism in Chicago.He creates a very well-documented argument about how, "by opening the consciousness of our bodies we can awaken our full intelligence and come home to our wholeness, bit by bit."The book contains exercises that will help people achieve this goal, with some great examples and witty parts. But reading it requires time and determination. —Peggy Weber     Forgeries, facts and authorship in ScriptureForged: Writing in the Name of God — Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are by Bart D. Ehrman. HarperOne (San Francisco, 2011). 320 pp., $25.99.Bart Ehrman talks a lot about deception in "Forged," his book discussing authorship in biblical literature. But he also engages in some of his own. The book talks about forgeries in the New Testament, the sole focus of his work, but most of the writings he calls forgeries never even made it into sacred Scripture. The subtitle mentions "Writing in the Name of God," but at best Ehrman shows that his forgers wrote in the name of another person, not a divine being.So what is the purpose of the book? Apparently, it is to shock evangelical, born-again Christians remaining stuck in the fundamentalist theology Ehrman evolved from.As such, the book is more provocative than insightful.For mainline Christians with a basic understanding of biblical scholarship's development over the past 150 years, what Ehrman says is old knowledge. Since the second half of the 19th century experts have been using archeology, anthropology, linguistics and other social sciences to shed more light on the meaning of holy writ. These disciplines have given scholars a better grasp of the social, cultural and historical context which produced biblical books. In the process, evidence has been turned up that some New Testament books probably were not written by the people traditionally assigned as authors.Ehrman claims that some of these works, including several letters of Paul and Peter, are forgeries because the authors claim in the letters that they are the apostles when there is evidence that they were not. He barely mentions the concept of oral tradition, let alone develop this concept by which the stories about Christ and his teachings were passed on orally and then written down decades later as a way of preserving them in the light of false stories and theologies being developed. So even if a specific letter was not done by Peter or Paul, it could well have been written by someone drawing from the oral tradition passed down by one or the other. Oral tradition is also open to criticism; but as its roots are long and strong penetrating deep into the Old Testament, it deserves a hearing.Ehrman is a genuine biblical expert. He teaches religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has authored several scholarly and popular works. His vast knowledge shows through in several sections.Without breaking new ground, he gives a good summary of how the seeds of Christian anti-Semitism crept into some New Testament writings and found fertile ground among Christians over the centuries producing persecutions, pogroms and the Holocaust.He does the same regarding how battles over rival Christian theologies in the early centuries of the new religion helped shape it and form a lot of modern Christian thought. He even shows how history influenced theological patterns. The acceptance of Christianity by the Roman Empire, for instance, spurred anti-Semitism as many Christian thinkers heaped the blame for Christ's death on the Jews, deflecting it away from the Romans, the new defenders of the faith. Ehrman says this book was written for a popular audience and he promises a parallel book aimed at scholars. Hopefully, that book will be less provocative and more nuanced and insightful.—Agostino BonoThe Reviewers:—David Gibson was the founding editor of Origins, Catholic News Service's documentary service. He retired in 2007 after holding that post for 36 years.—Peggy Weber is a columnist and reporter with Catholic Communications in the Diocese of Springfield, Mass.—Agostino Bono, retired CNS staff writer, is on the planning committee of the Holy Land Review, Franciscan-published quarterly magazine on the faith, culture and archaeology of the Holy Land.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/0520/books/{/gallery}