- Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies Frederick J. Streng Award 20161
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The 2016 winner of the Frederick J. Streng Award is Charles R. Strain, The Prophet and the Bodhisattva: Daniel Berrigan, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Ethics of Peace and Justice (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014).
Charles R. Strain is a professor of religious studies at DePaul University and has published a variety of monographs and articles on practical theology and engaged spirituality. In this theoretically rich account of two approaches to peace and justice, Strain combines a very personal concern for how to effectively transform our institutions, and thereby our planet, with a thorough investigation into the profound nature of some of our most pressing problems with a nuanced evaluation of specific Christian and Buddhist resources available for the tasks. Much more than a story about two men and their powerful ideas, Strain's book is a moral cry for good work that employs modern exemplars of two (actually very) compatible traditions as templates for [End Page 265] forging new models for dynamic social change via the praxis of "just peacemaking." This phrase is Strain's solution, a sort of "middle way" approach, which he describes as follows: "[R]ather than pitting pacifism and just war theory over and against one another, [just peacemaking] seeks a common ground in actual practices of peace building" (pp. 188–189). His book is an impassioned plea for workable paradigms to address, in particular, the problems of empire (especially American) and of environmental crisis. Strain sees these two issues as grounded in what he calls an overarching matrix. He demonstrates how useful—indeed, how essential—the wisdom embodied in the life of these two men is for healing our planet and moving toward more just communities.
The book offers extensive and beautiful details of the lives of Daniel Berrigan (1921–2016) and Thich Nhat Hanh (b. 1926), two of the past century's greatest activists for peace and justice, one Christian and one Buddhist, both monks. They came to know one another during the Vietnam War. In Strain's words: "The crucible of war tempered the characters of both … and gave definitive shape to each man's life as a moral agent" (p. 2). They coauthored the 1975 book The Raft is Not the Shore: Conversations toward a Buddhist-Christian Awareness, and since have each authored dozens of influential volumes. Strain begins the with stories about Daniel Berrigan: from his childhood on a farm during the Depression, walking behind father and plow, thinking, "The whole world must be like this … pregnant with new life"; becoming a Jesuit priest in 1952; burning draft cards in 1968 and going to prison (one of the Catonsville Nine); cofounding the Plowshares Movement with his brother Philip in 1980 to protest nuclear weaponry; and much more. Similarly for Thich Nhat Hanh: becoming a young monk in Vietnam; leaving his country because his peace activism endangered his life; establishing the Order of Interbeing for both monastic and lay Buddhists in 1966; being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967 (no prize given that year); cofounding the Plum Village meditation community in France in 1980 (with branches in New York, California, and Mississippi); and much more. Both men have been prolific authors and speakers, proponents of interfaith dialog and action, peace activists par excellence, and wonderful poets.
A prodigious commitment to theory undergirds the book's presentations. Strain's beautiful citing of biblical theologian Walter Brueggeman's work on "prophetic imagination," with its emphasis on the subversive and transformative power of grieving one another's suffering, and an equal emphasis on the healing power of holding visions of hope for the future, is a steady and skillfully employed theme throughout. So also his attention to philosopher Paul Ricoeur's theories of metaphorical thinking, which serve as a forceful lens for focusing on the language of Christian scripture, the imagination of alternative futures, and the marvelous poems both of Berrigan and Nhat Hanh.
Philosopher Martha Nussbaum's "capability theory" of justice supports Strain's...