James C. Howell is pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. This book is the first in a new series from Westminster John Knox Press for laity called "For Today" which aims to provide reliable and accessible resources for the study of important biblical texts, theological documents, and Christian practices. Questions for discussion are included at the end of each chapter.
Howell believes that the Beatitudes offer a central hub for those who walk the Christian path of action and contemplation. He states: "Jesus opens his teaching ministry with the Beatitudes not to douse cold water on our desires, but to whet our appetites, to heighten our desire, to stir in us a not-to-be-denied determination to be only the very best we can be (or rather, the very best we were made to be), to excite our imagination, to appeal to our longing for completion, to invite us to heaven."
One thing is perfectly clear: the Beatitudes are not in sync with contemporary culture where the strong are saluted for winning, the meek are ridiculed, those who hunger for more goods are considered patriots, and those who seek peace oftentimes end up in jail. Jesus' message has always connected with the poor, and it also has special relevance for anyone who is miserable, oppressed, and humiliated.
We were impressed with the richness and variety of quotations on the Beatitudes from writers such as Archbishop Oscar Romero, Richard Rohr, Frederick Buechner, and others. We agree with Howell that we need always to keep before our eyes exemplars of the faith who tried to shape their lives by the Beatitudes: Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Therese of Lisieux, Dorothy Day, and Clarence Jordan. Near the end of the book, the author shares a quotation discovered on the wall of a children's home in Calcutta run by Mother Teresa's order; it sums up the clout of the Beatitudes:
"People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
The good you do will not be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
People really need help but may attack you if you help them.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you've got anyway."