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    Editors’ Picks Issue 8

    By Sam Hine

    February 19, 2016

    Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help

    Larissa MacFarquhar
    (Penguin Press)

    Who would refuse to help a drowning stranger? Yet in a global­ized world where ­starving children are always within reach (at least of our donations), that’s essentially what most of us do, reasoning that we can’t save everyone. MacFarquhar gravitates to the exceptions: the people who spare nothing to help others. After Hector and Sue Badeau adopt two children, social services ask them to take another; they end up with twenty-two. Baba Amte finds a leper dying at the roadside, and winds up founding a community for hundreds. For some of those profiled, doing good becomes compulsive; others burn out. MacFarquhar tells their stories sympathetically, probing why our society has given do-gooders such a bad rap. True, the danger of hubris is real: untethered from faith in God, attempts at world-saving ultimately lead to despair. Yet – as we learn from Francis of Assisi, Damien of Molokai, or Teresa of Calcutta – extremism in compassion is no vice. And so: what about us?

    Book Cover of Strangers Drowning by Larissa MacFarquhar Strangers Drowning

    Portraits: John Berger on Artists 

    John Berger, edited by Tom Overton

    “I have always hated being called an art critic,” writes John Berger, whose Ways of Seeing (1972) helped redefine art criticism. To Berger, art is never divorced from life, especially the life of those living at the margins. Here, in chronological order, he profiles seventy-four artists, from the Chauvet cave painters to a Palestinian artist born in 1983. His political commitments are reflected even in the book’s format: the illustrations are black-and-white, “because glossy color reproductions in the consumerist world of today tend to reduce what they show to items in a luxury brochure for millionaires.” The vivid, down-to-earth profiles, written in the form of essays, interviews, travelogues, and letters, make lavish illustrations beside the point. Berger is a storyteller who cuts through fine art’s privileged trappings to the human reality beneath. A Marxist, he is certainly no religious believer, and his views are a mixed bag. Even so, his observations, for instance on Piero della Francesco’s Resurrection, are often revelatory. At his best, he helps us to see, truly and with love, our fellow human beings.

    Book Cover of Portraits: John Berger on Artists Portraits

    God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith with Nicolas Diat 

    Robert Cardinal Sarah

    Born to an animist family in a mud hut in West Africa, Robert Sarah hardly seemed a likely future leader in the Catholic Church. In this wide-ranging interview with a French journalist, he tells his surprising story, reflecting on the seven popes he has served under and offering thoughts on evangelism, prayer, marriage and sexuality, and the future of the church. He defends Catholic teaching with blunt forthrightness – “a woman cardinal is as ridiculous as the idea of a priest who wanted to become a nun” – but he combines this with self-criticism: “Both the clergy and the laity today are in urgent need of conversion.” Nor can the cardinal be pigeon-holed as liberal or conservative in his witness to the gospel: “There is never any more authentic relation with God than in an encounter with the poor. For this is the source of life in God: poverty. Our Father is poor. This is perhaps an image of God that eludes us and repels us, because we have not really met ‘the Son of man [who] has nowhere to lay his head’ (Matt. 8:20).” While the book addresses many issues particular to Catholics, here is rich spiritual fare for all Christians.




    Book Cover of God or Nothing:  A Conversation on Faith  with Nicolas Diat God or Nothing
    Contributed By SamHine Sam Hine

    Sam Hine is an editor at Plough. He lives with his wife and five children in upstate New York.

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