“Moral theology with a fresh face”

Around this time last year, my wife and kids and I were on vacation back home in western Pennsylvania, visiting extended family. My vacation reading, which I sat with as we relaxed at my aunt’s backyard pool and took along on my early morning walks, was Maureen O’Connell’s If These Walls Could Talk: Community Muralism and the Beauty of Justice. I found it to be invigorating, challenging, highly engaging, and quite beautiful. (In fact, it later made my “Favorite Reads of 2012” list.) It also made for some interesting poolside and breakfast table conversations with family during that vacation, two of whom later followed up asking how they could get a copy and one of whom gave a copy to a friend who, I subsequently heard, thoroughly enjoyed it.

I and my family are not the only ones who appreciated If These Walls Could Talk. Since last summer, it has won first place in the theology category in the 2013 Catholic Press Association awards, and the College Theology Society named it Book of the Year.

Now Boston College theology professor Stephen Pope has joined in the chorus. In a fine review published in this week’s issue of America magazine, Pope writes:

Moral theology is sometimes thought to be boring—preoccupied with how to deal with old rules or refining virtues or dissecting magisterial pronouncements. People who have this impression ought to read O’Connell. She gives us moral theology with a fresh face—culturally engaged with the grass roots rather than just with the academy, concerned with the real challenges faced by ordinary people, not text-book hypotheticals imagined by someone trying to get tenure….

O’Connell has produced a masterpiece in aesthetics, spirituality and political theology. Reading this book will make you want to spend a week in Philadelphia with a camera in one hand and a journal in the other. It will help you to see beauty and dignity in unexpected ways. If you take O’Connell seriously she will also help you look in a new way at your own city, and your own neighborhood. If you are committed to “finding God in all things,” this book is a must read.

Professor Pope puts it well. Seeing beauty and dignity in unexpected ways was precisely my own experience of the book.

The entire review is here. More info on the book is here. If you have any interest in social justice, moral theology, urban poverty, or race relations in America, you will not regret the time or money you spend on If These Walls Could Talk.

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