Discerning Strange Voices: A review of James Conner, David Scott, and Bonnie Thurston, The Voice of the Stranger

Vaughan, Matthew

This is a book review of James Conner, David Scott, and Bonnie Thurston, "The Voice of the Stranger." "The Voice of the Stranger is a compilation of three essays and a Eucharistic homily from the Seventh General Meeting and Conference of the Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland, which took place on April 4-6, 2008 at Oakham School, the boarding school that Merton attended in his adolescence. The Voice of the Stranger is only 58 pages and saddle-stitched, making it feel more like an issue of a journal than a book. I will, therefore, use the term "booklet" to describe it. As the title suggests, its central theme is that of "the stranger." Each of the three authors addresses that general theme in a radically different way. There are, however, unifying threads. Each author challenges stereotypical ideas about who is and is not a "stranger," in ways that allow Merton to speak to situations that deeply haunt the world today.
James Conner, OCSO, is the author of the first essay, entitled "The Voice of the Stranger: A Manifesto for the 21st Century." The goal of this manifesto, in Conner's mind, is unity.
In the second essay, entitled "Brothers in Prayer and Worship: The Merton/Aziz Correspondence, An Islamic-Christian Dialogue," Bonnie Thurston changes the course of the volume to address interreligious dialogue. Thurston generally introduces the history and content of the fraternal correspondence between Merton and Abdul Aziz (34 letters, ranging from November 1960 until April 1968).
The third essay, "The Poet as Stranger," is David Scott's treatment of a theme that neither of the other authors developed in detail: Merton as stranger. To illustrate Merton's "strangeness," Scott discusses the influences on and content of Merton's poetry (as well as its role in the formation of Merton's faith).


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Union Theological Seminary
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June 12, 2013