Moses in Pharaoh's House

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John Markey, O.P., has recently published a challenging study of American culture and its impact on Christian moral experience entitled Moses in Pharaoh’s House: A Liberation Spirituality for North America (Winona, MN: Anselm Academic, 2014—ISBN 978-1-59982-326-3). The image in the title evokes the need that Moses had to get outside of Pharaoh’s house in order to realize that he was a Jew, not an Egyptian, and to discover that he had to liberate himself from privilege as he undertook to liberate his people. Moses serves as a good example of someone who moved from gradually being caught in structures that isolated him and distorted his vision to solidarity with and leadership for his people.

The first part of the book explores the "walls" of Pharoah’s house for us today—individualism, greed, and escapism—and the ways in which they function as a default perspective on life for most Americans. To be liberators of the poor who are the principal victims of these structures, we have to be liberated ourselves from considering this perspective as normal. As John says, "Americans appear to be enmeshed in a false value system that causes them to fundamentally misinterpret their lives." (74)

Chapter Five, "Liberation as Conversion," is a good example of what this book offers. It is central to understanding the author’s argument, since the liberation from false values and a new commitment to a truly good life will entail taking on new perspectives through processes of conversion. As you will see, Markey argues that conversion is an ongoing practice of openness to growth in multiple areas of life. In laying out and discussing the five areas of conversion proposed by theologian Donald Gelpi, John also clarifies the interdependence of these areas of personal growth. At the further end of the trajectory of conversions, things don’t look the same as they did before. The new person has new goals—and new responsibilities.

Later chapters explore inauthentic images of God, the crucial Christian option for the poor, and strategies for cultivating a liberating culture. John concludes with a meditation on the communal dimension of Christian spirituality and the importance of a Trinitarian model for understanding Christian life.

Each chapter has excellent reflection questions. This is a carefully researched and prophetic book. It is certainly a timely topic. I think that anyone who reads it will come away not only enriched, but challenged and stimulated to rethink the role of culture in Christian life and evangelization.

Paul Philibert, O.P.

Promoter for Permanent Formation

Southern Dominican Province, USA


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