Book Review: Revelation
A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World
by Dennis Covington
Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, during the heart of the American civil rights movement, writer Dennis Covington is alert to the lasting sensory impressions that violence makes on people.
Early in Revelation: A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World, his latest book, Covington recalls leaning over the casket at a funeral and touching noses with a neighborhood boy who had shot himself in the head while playing Russian roulette with his father’s revolver. “I’d been told he was in heaven with God and the Angels,” he writes. “But the physical sensation of my nose against the dead boy’s never went away.” Shortly after this, he recounts a night of racial violence in September of 1963 when a classmate stuck her arm out of a school bus window and her arm was slashed by a young black kid. “I still remember the vivid contrast of blood against the sleeve of her white button-down,” he writes.
Much of Revelation is filled with these kinds of personal stories from Covington’s life. He tells readers of his childhood, his failed marriages, and his brother’s history with mental illness, as well as his own. Covington interweaves these stories into his accounts of travels to violent places—in Mexico, Syria, and the American South, among others—where he searches for signs of faith and hope. What he mostly finds, and describes vividly, is religious strife and brutality. Small moments of grace occur—when the author observes the innocence of children, say, or tells of people convinced that life has meaning despite the terror around them—yet they seem incommensurate with the violence that Covington encounters. —SM