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“I grew up completely insulated from the barbarous, self-congratulatory sloth of what journalists call Mainstream American Protestantism,” writes Elisabeth Sifton, “and it took me decades to realize this.” Sifton’s father, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, was one of a number of clergy who, in 1943, faced an America full of social and ethnic hostilities in which war-rattled folk “responded defensively on the home front, allowing their fellow citizens’ liberties to be constrained…in the interests of security and safety.” It was the setting in which Niebuhr penned a prayer that sought balance between will and acceptance, reverence and reason. Sifton’s The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War reveals the lives of Niebuhr and his fellow mid-20th-century progressives—many of them people of the cloth, who by rights should have become archetypes as strong as the greedy, God-dumbed charlatans we usually picture when we hear the word “preacher.” Have the wisdom to know the difference when Sifton reads at 7 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Pamela Murray Winters)