CONVERSION AS A FUNDAMENTAL
CATEGORY OF CHRISTIAN GROWTH
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
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
Paul Philibert, O.P.
Promoter for Permanent Formation
Southern Dominican Province, USA