University of Minnesota, Morris
Dennis Covington, a National Book Award finalist for his work Salvation on Sand Mountain, has recently released Revelation: A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World. In this most recent work, Covington sets out to visit people who “were subject to extremity” (p. 8). The book, while not a traditional one for the shelf of a student affairs professional, does offer some important themes: determination, mental illness, grit, vulnerability, and a willingness to take risks.
Covington’s memoir brings his readers along as he visits numerus places around the world where violence and faith intersect. Covington intersperses these events with his childhood experiences growing up in the segregated south. Sites include Juarez, Mexico, where we are introduced to an interesting cast of characters at a ministry led by Pastor that is housed in a former asylum; El Salvador, where we are introduced to children in a town recently overrun by guerilla fighters; Birmingham, Alabama, where we meet Covington’s family, including his brother who is struggling with mental illness; and the Turkish/Syrian border, where we meet an assortment of folks, some of which may have questionable motives. These stories are sandwiched between the stories of Kayla Mueller, an aid worker who was kidnapped by ISIS in Aleppo, Syria. At each stop, Covington meets with people who assist him in some way: serving as translators, drivers, or offer, potentially, some of what Covington is seeking, those who provide assistance or help in challenging times.
There are many challenges the reader must overcome with this book. First of all, the title and thesis are misleading. Covington does not explore in any depth the intersection of faith and violence. Also frustrating is Covington’s lack of flushing things out fully as well as his lack of discernment. For example, Covington does not explore the dramatic difference between faith and religion. Rather, he focuses on a few examples of where people are pushed to the margins. Finally, also detracting from the book is trying to discern how the flashbacks regarding his brother, who is suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness, are also related to the events going on around the world. The reader is left to tie all of these events together. This is not always an easy task.
Despite these challenges, the book, while not a traditional tome for student affairs professionals, does offer some important themes. Determination, grit, vulnerability, and a willingness to take risks are themes that emerge in this text and are important traits to instill in our students. In addition, mental illness, an increasingly critical topic for college campuses, is also addressed. Covington’s interactions with his brother, and in dealing with his own mental health, serve as a reminder that many of the students we work with daily may be dealing with other issues than simply their academics.
Revelation: A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World. (2016). Dennis Covington. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 224 pp. $28.00. ISBN #978-0-316-36861-2, http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/dennis-covington/revelation/9780316368605/