What does a kind person say in a review for a book she can’t stand? Well, read on and let’s find out.
Stations of the Cosmic Christ, by Matthew Fox (website, institute, interview) and Marc Andrus, with art by M.C. Richards and Ullrrich Javier Lemus, (c) 2016, Unity Books, was provided to me by the Speakeasy Review Network. Full disclaimer here.
Overview: 1/5 Stars
Stations of the Cosmic Christ by Fox and Andrus is a glossy coffee table book full of abstract religious art. It masquerades as a spiritual guide book to a new sort of stations of the cross, but such guidance is difficult to find after a lengthy wade through Fox’s precious writing, the artist’s impressions of life, art, God, and suffering and extensive introductions that take up fully one quarter the text. Though the theology is one that this reviewer agrees with whole heartedly, it is not presented in the best light. Rather, it is argued petulantly in a way that would turn off one who agrees and lay unconvincing to one who doesn’t.
Further, anyone hoping to use the book to help guide a set of Stations of the Cosmic Christ at their church, or any other gathering will discover that they do not with the purchase of the book, get permission to reprint (with acknowledgements) the questions or meditations in whole or in part.
The reason the grade isn’t an F is because Fox’s and Lemus’ portions are averaged with Andrus’ portions of writing. (Richards had died before the writing of the book, and so she gets semi-random quotes and paraphrases that often have little to do with the subject matter.)
Fox’s portions of writing are very clearly in want of an editor. He is wandering and ranting. He name drops. He is precious in the extreme.
Lemus’ portions of writing are very clearly in want of an editor. His English is adequate but not even slightly at the level expected in a published manuscript and it does him no credit to be quoted directly at length… unless of course the publishers/editors/authors want credit for being wonderfully cross-cultural.
Richards’ portions are clearly written by Fox, as the style is exactly the same, and the same issues apply. Added to this, the context offered for the semi-random quotes selected is scant and not helpful.
Andrus’ portions are clear and coherent, stark in contrast to Fox’s writing. They lean slightly toward the academic, but are perfectly acceptable, and would rate a B+.
The first quarter of the book is introduction. It’s ranting and strange, and I say that as someone who actually agrees with the content matter. The Stations of the Cross is an extremely popular ancient meditation in liturgical churches in Lent and the concept that it might focus in on more than just the last week of Jesus’ life is a novel and welcome one. The additions of the seven most popular I Am Statements from the Gospel of John is a nifty idea. The theology that the Christ is bigger than one man’s historical life, but is a universal concept and expression of God that actually applies to all of us is a bandwagon on which I love playing the kazoo.
I wanted to like this book.
The book is mostly written by Fox, and it seems like a horrific ego-driven party celebrating him, with brief moments of sanity care of Andrus. Frankly, it reminds of me of the books Anne Rice published when she decided that she was awesome enough on her own and didn’t need editors harshing her mellow. They were bizarre and horrible, fyi.
The art is a large part of the substance of the book, as might be expected from a glossy coffee-table book of religious art. And art is subjective.
My subjective take is that 14 out of the 16 pieces were entirely unhelpful. Two out of the 16 were appealing, but I’m not sure that makes them helpful for what they are: pieces to encourage spiritual contemplation on a specific subject matter.
I am, however, no critic of art, and so we will move on.
For a glossy coffee table book of abstract religious art… there isn’t nearly enough art. To make up for this chapters and sections are ended (often but not always – only when the pagination allows) with full page, full color versions of the same image over and over again: a bright white light on a starry blue cosmos that, while appealing, doesn’t make up for the misleading book format. Thirteen other pieces of art are also included in the last section, which has little to nothing to do with the point of the book, but at least cushions out the lack of religious art in the otherwise glossy coffee table book of religious art.
Yes, I agree with the theology, yes I agree with the liturgical additions of the I Am Statements from John’s Gospel to the Stations of the Christ. And I also firmly believe that a badly argued position, even if the position itself is morally laudable, does damage to the persuasiveness of the argument which is fully half the relevance.
Fox’s ranting and self-aggrandizing posturing does nothing good for this book, or for the theology it represents. Andrus would have done better to have written it on his own, and it makes me a little sad to see such an excellent Bishop of the Episcopal Church (as Marc Andrus is) be associated with dreck.
The other half of the relevance could be summed up in the question: Is this a useful book to help someone lead a stations of the cross meditation, or to help guide someone’s personal stations of the cross meditation? The answer: Partially. There’s a lot to wade through and edit out to get to the good stuff. It’s like mining. But should you have to mine a book to get it’s primary purpose? To be clear, this book was presented to me as a spiritual guide through a revolutionary kind of stations of the cross. It’s not. It’s a glossy coffee table book of religious art.
So, the theology is good. The arguments are bad. There is useful stuff as a spiritual guide within, but you have to mine for it. A clear C. A passing grade as the essence was there, but the presentation needs so much work it’s almost unreadable.
If I hadn’t been provided the actual book for free in exchange for an honest and full review I would have just said, ‘Oh, that book? Skip it. It’s a bit precious, it’s not easy to find the good bits, and the art’s not all that.’ Full disclosure here.