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And Along Came Alex: A Review of “Claiming the Beatitudes”

A Review of Claiming the Beatitudes: Nine Stories from a New Generation, by Anne Sutherland Howard

“We learn and live our theology through our individual and collective narrative,” the Rev. Anne Sutherland Howard writes in the introduction to her book on the Beatitudes. She finds new meaning for the familiar verses of Matthew 5 by reading through the eyes of today’s seminary students.

Scanning the table of contents, I noticed that Chapter 3 on the verse “Blessed are the meek” was subtitled, “Alex’s story.” “Alex is an intellectual,” were the first words on the page. “His eyes sparkle behind his thick urban-hip glasses when he talks about the life of the mind and the beloved professors that opened up for him the world of ideas.”

Page two, “‘I’m a fifth generation Adventist’ — that’s how Alex begins a conversation about his faith. ‘It’s what has formed me. Religion gives identity. You need to know who you are before you can change the world.'”

Yes, that would be our Alex, of Spectrum blog fame, holding forth on identity and changing the world, as well as maleness, believing, behaving, and belonging, and all in the chapter on meekness.

The book is a great read, and not just because of Alex. Sutherland Howard uses well the thoughts and ideas of the seminary students to put forward new ways of looking at Christianity. In addition, she closes each chapter with her personal reflections and analysis, as well as significant readings of other theologians. Then she posits questions for further reflection. The combination is compelling and would make for excellent discussion in a Sabbath School class.

In fact, the Sabbath School lesson on Life came to mind as I was reading the chapter on meekness. Sutherland turns to Sallie McFague for a twenty-first century discussion of the Christian good life, that, McFague says, “is marked by sustainability, self-limitation and inclusion of all, ‘especially the weak and vulnerable.’ It is a theology that expresses ‘Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth’ as it demands that we make a connection between our lives and the lives of everyone else on the planet, that we know our place in right relationship to God and the creation.”

Wrapping up each chapter, the author identifies ways to practice the blessing of each specific beatitude.

In the past, our community spent much time discussing and telling the world our beliefs as we closely monitored our personal behaviors. More recently we have come to an understanding of the importance of belonging. Now is the time to move on, with the rest of the Christian world, to examine our practices. How do we go about practicing the Christian life, living out the Beatitudes for all to see. Sutherland Howard gives us much to consider as we ponder our collective narrative.

Bonnie Dwyer, editor of Spectrum, writes from Roseville, California.

You can buy Claiming the Beatitudes through our Amazon affiliate account and support Spectrum with your purchase.

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