2019 Reading, Compendium #4

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Goodness, I’ve let this go a while without providing a list. Here we go…

Anointed with Oil: How Christianity and Crude Made Modern America by Darren Dochuk
A fascinating look at how the oil industry worked hand in hand with evangelical Christianity to shape America in the 20th century. Read Heath W. Carter’s 5-star review over at Christianity Today.

The Rule of Law by John Lescroart
Meh. This series has gone on far too long at this point.

My Antonia by Willa Cather
Easily my favorite of Cather’s Prairie Trilogy.

The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt: The History of a Civilization from 3000 BC to Cleopatra by Toby Wilkinson
The book wasn’t quite as long as the empire. Still trying to get my head around a legitimate empire that spanned millennia. Astounding.

Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
I remember almost nothing about this book.

On The Neurobiology of Sin by Lazar Puhalo
A short treatise by an Orthodox bishop addressing, among other things, homosexuality and transgenderism. Reads like an undergraduate-level paper on genetics combined with a couple weak blog posts on theology. I was disappointed.

The Inner Kingdom by Kallistos Ware
A collection of essays from an Eastern Orthodox bishop.

God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America by Lyz Lenz
I have a complicated relationship with this book, but I think it has some good insights about the church in the Midwest.

Last Day by Domenica Ruta
An interesting concept for a novel that never really came together.

Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin
Now this one was well worth reading. A beautiful novel about a medieval Russian “holy fool”. Rod Dreher has a nice piece about it if you want to read more.

Normal People by Sally Rooney
Maybe normal people are boring. Or at least this book was.

Reading Romans Backwards: A Gospel of Peace in the Midst of Empire by Scot McKnight
Start at the end of Romans, Dr. McKnight says, understand the context and audience, and then work your way back to get a better perspective on what the doctrinal passages mean. Interesting.

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
Picked up at random off the library shelf. A fantasy novel from a Middle Eastern Muslim perspective. Enjoyed it, though didn’t feel like the last third held up to the promise of the first two-thirds.

The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie James Jennings
Oh man, this one was thick. A hard read but some good insight.

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
The other book I read by Wilson the past couple months. Sort of a cyberpunk fantasy novel set in the Arab Spring in Egypt. Dug it.

The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity by Kallistos Ware
A historical and doctrinal primer by one of the esteemed bishops of the Orthodox Church.

Stokely: A Life by Peniel E. Joseph
A biography of Stokely Carmichael, the founder of the Black Panther Party. Knew nothing about him before reading the book. Quite a charismatic guy.

What Is a Girl Worth?: My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics by Rachael Denhollander
I knew this woman was a hero for publicly coming forward with allegations of sexual abuse against Nasser. What I didn’t realize before reading the memoir was how integral she was in every part of building and executing the case against him. So much to love about this book and its heroes, Rachael and her faithful husband Jacob.

Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America by Chris Arnade
This one really merits its own post. Arnade traveled the country exploring “back row America” and its people. Gripping personal narratives and photography.

A justice not to be feared but to be longed for

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Here is my servant, whom I uphold
my chosen, in whom my soul delights
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Isaiah 42:1-4, NRSV

Often when I have read this passage or ones like it my first inclination is to think of this “justice” being established as a punishing sort of justice. God sends his servant, the Messiah, to justly deal with sin by punishing the bad guys. That’s largely how we’ve been taught, at least within my faith tradition, to think about God’s justice – as something punitive and to be feared.

But then we get to Matthew 12.

The Pharisees confront Jesus about his disciples picking grain on the sabbath. Jesus rebukes the Pharisees. “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” Jesus then goes into the synagogue and provokes them further by healing a man on the sabbath. Which drives the Pharisees to start conspiring how to destroy Jesus.

When Jesus became aware of this [that the Pharisees were conspiring to destroy him], he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them, and he ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not wrangle or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
He will not break a bruised reed
or quench a smoldering wick
until he brings justice to victory.
And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Matthew 12:15-21, NRSV

This brought me up short when I read it this morning. This is what it looked like for Jesus to bring forth and establish justice. He rebuked the abusive religious traditions and hypocritical religious teachers. He healed. He didn’t just heal a few of them – read the words! “He cured all of them”!

What if, when we think about God’s justice, this is what comes to mind? Not a fearsome, punishing justice against sinners, but a loving restoration? A rebuke of abusive tradition? Jesus taking broken lives and bodies and making them whole? A justice that says ‘this is not how things were intended to be, and so I am making things right again’?

This is a justice not to be feared but to be longed for.

Family Movie Night: Chain Reaction (1996)

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With a kid under the weather after some dental work, it was a good night for a family movie. The library provided the convenient loan of a nostalgia pick for Becky and me: Chain Reaction, the 1996 film starring Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman, and Rachel Weisz.

If you’d asked me before I looked it up, I would’ve guessed this came out when I was still in high school, since I remember watching it a handful of times back in what feels like that timeframe. But, since it came out in ‘96, I probably watched it for the first time at the dollar theater in Longview, TX while I was in college, probably with Becky along on a cheap date.

My first thought when starting the movie was “wow, this reminds me in a lot of ways of The Fugitive”. All the Chicago scenery, a bunch of the same guys playing Chicago cops, familiar shots of midwestern woods and small waterways… then I looked it up on IMDB and quite belatedly realized that Andrew Davis directed both movies. No surprise then, that they look the same.

The plot is about as spare as I remember it – Reeves’ team makes some scientific breakthrough to generate cheap electricity from hydrogen, and his lab is blown up before they can publicize. Morgan Freeman is the shifty leader of the foundation providing Reeves’ funding, who may or may not be bankrolled by the CIA. That’s about as much plot as you need, as the middle of the movie ends up being a series of chases across a drawbridge in downtown Chicago, a frozen lake (with a fan-powered airboat!) in Wisconsin, and through the Natural History museum in Washington DC.

Chain Reaction is innocuous enough, drawing just enough charisma from Morgan Freeman and enough action through the Chicago landscape to keep the family at least mildly interested for 100 minutes. I was surprised at how much of it I remembered, having not watched it for more than a decade.

Mostly, though, now it just makes me want to watch The Fugitive. Same Chicago chase scenes, but Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford as the cat and mouse… if only they’d had a role for Morgan Freeman in it, they might’ve really had something.

Bullet Points for a Monday Morning

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Because it’s been a while…

  • Lots of topics have rattled around in my head… none have congealed enough for a real post. Oh well.
  • We did an Alaska vacation in July. It was amazing. It’s really kind of sad that I haven’t posted anything about it so far.
  • It’s September, which means my summer cheering for the first-place Chicago Cubs has faded into a fall where the Cubs fade and likely just miss the playoffs. Fortunately football season has started. Now if only the Huskers could win a little more consistently…
  • I listened to some old school Caedmon’s Call last week and was reminded why I loved that group. So tight.
  • In the spirit of supporting local journalism, last week I subscribed to our local newspaper. My kids think it just means I’m old.
  • My goal for book buying and reading was to keep the book pile shorter than my bedside table. Then I split the pile into two piles and now the goal is to keep each of them shorter than the bedside table. I really just need to find room for another bookshelf somewhere.
  • Oh, and my kids are probably right – I am just getting old.
  • Without mentioning titles, I can tell you off the top of my head that I have books in my to-read stack by Chris Arnade, David Bentley Hart, Fleming Rutledge, Bradley Jersak, Craig Allert, Justin Earley, and tomorrow will add one by Rachael Denhollander. And that doesn’t even acknowledge the pile-up of ebooks in my Kindle app.

Probability of my next post being anything than another Finished Reading Compendium? Pretty slim.

2019 Reading, Compendium #3

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A few added to my list…

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Somehow I’d not read this before, and with all the buzz on the Amazon TV series, figured it was worth giving it a try. I find Pratchett an acquired taste… one which I’m not totally on board with yet. Still, a fun read.

Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ by Cynthia Long Westfall
Dr. Westfall brings her incredible expertise in Greek to bear on the Pauline texts about gender and gender roles within the church. Thorough and scholarly yet readable, she makes a strong case for an egalitarian position. Worth a read if you’re interested in this area of debate.

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
Continuing my read of Cather’s Great Plains Trilogy… a nice change of pace.

God in the Rainforest: A Tale of Martyrdom and Redemption in Amazonian Ecuador by Kathryn T. Long

Say the names Jim and Elisabeth Elliot to anybody who grew up in the evangelical church and you’ll almost certainly get quick recognition of the story of missionaries trying to reach a remote Ecuadorian tribe, and of the five men who were killed by that tribe after initiating contact. Elisabeth Elliot’s account of their efforts in Through Gates of Splendor became a bestseller the year after their deaths.

In God in the Rainforest, Dr. Long (Professor Emerita of History at Wheaton College) gives a historian’s critical eye to the long story of missionary contact and involvement with the Huaorani people in Ecuador. She manages to be incredibly evenhanded, avoiding the hagiography of Through Gates of Splendor and its follow-ups and examining the effects (both positive and negative) of the introduction of Western culture and Christianity to a previously unreached people group.

This one got particularly interesting for me because my wife’s parents served for decades with one of the missions organizations involved there and know those people, to the point that at least one of the people named in the book attended our wedding.

Separating missions work from our Western impulse to colonialize is an ongoing struggle. God in the Rainforest gives a fair view of how that struggle played out in the jungles of Ecuador in the second half of the 20th century.

How to Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir by Kate Mulgrew
I don’t remember who recommended this one. Turns out it was a short but not easy read. Mulgrew (probably best known as an actress for playing Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager) didn’t have a very happy childhood or very good relationship with her parents. Mulgrew uses uses the story of her parents’ final years to frame her reflections on her childhood and younger life, and grapples with how to deal with the realities of her youth as she looks back.

Richard Beck: Love in Post-Progressive Christianity

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Richard Beck has a series going on an approach he calls “post-progressive Christianity”. I’ve appreciated it a lot as he works to identify the good things progressive strains of Christianity have to offer but also where they fall short. I found his recent post on Love to particularly hit the mark:

All that to say, progressive Christians, because they preach inclusion and tolerance, tend to see themselves as lovers in contrast to their more judgmental evangelical counterparts. And in the eyes of the world, yes, progressive Christians are more tolerant and inclusive, more likely to welcome the “sinners” who are shunned by evangelical churches.

And yet, when it comes to cruciform love, loving our enemies, progressive Christians are no more loving than evangelical Christians. That’s a hard thing to say, but are progressive Christians doing a better job at loving the people they consider wicked? As we are all well aware, there is an intolerance associated with tolerance, and this intolerance has left its mark upon how love is expressed with progressive Christianity, although many try valiantly to resist this influence. The sad irony is that an ideal of tolerance simply creates a new definition of “evil.” And once that “evil” group is identified, it becomes really hard to love them. In fact, it’s downright immoral to love them…

Brian Zahnd made a very similar point at the Water to Wine Gathering last month: when you hate the haters, hate wins. The challenge is to remain lovers, for the love of many will grow cold.

Whether we claim the label “progressive” or “conservative” or no label at all beside “Christian”, the distinguishing mark of cruciform (cross-shaped) Christianity is that of love, even (especially?) love for enemy.

Time to weed out some candidates

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I’ve spent a few hours now sitting down with my 13-year-old daughter to watch the two nights of Democratic debates. (Yay for a kid who is interested in politics!) And while it was interesting to see 20 people on stage, it’s definitely time to weed some candidates out.

Can we continue the race with just Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, and Julian Castro?

The other folks are mostly nice and all, but clearly don’t have what it’s going to take to lead a national campaign that can win. Sure, Biden and Bernie are polling well, but they’re so obviously old. It’s time for some younger candidates. (And yes, Elizabeth Warren is 70, and somehow I’m calling her a “younger” candidate.)

In the end of it all, at this moment my heart is with a Harris/Buttigieg ticket, with them finding some special policy czar spot for Elizabeth Warren. But it’s still a long way until the Iowa Caucuses.

(For the record, my daughter declares her preferred candidates are Warren, Harris, Booker, Biden, and Buttigieg, and that she’s disappointed she isn’t old enough to vote in this election. )

Why *wouldn’t* you want to be an egalitarian?

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In reply to a tweet thread the other day, I posed a question that’s been on my mind lately:

The responses to my tweet asked and presumed that this was a rhetorical question. And while it could sound that way, I didn’t really intend it that way, and I’d like to toss the question around a little bit more. Because I know and love and worship with a bunch of complementarians, and it would be uncharitable and unrealistic to presume that those who hold complementarian views do so for bad reasons.

Now, I’ve given away my own position with the question. I think there’s more than just room for the egalitarian position – I have come to see it as the position that most fully magnifies Christ’s work of reconciliation and restoration.  In addition, fully embracing women serving in any role to which God has gifted them, including leadership roles, brings many practical benefits to the church. So if scripturally we could go either way, and the result is beneficial, why wouldn’t we go that route?

I suspect most of my evangelical complementarian friends would start from a different premise. While I would favor a Wesleyan interpretative framework that incorporates reason and experience along with Scripture and tradition, they would lean exclusively on Scripture. Then they would say that the clear position from Scripture is complementarian. And that would basically be that. And while some of the hard line complementarians would elevate it to a gospel-level issue – Denny Burk saying that the “egalitarian hermeneutic has the potential to undermine… the gospel itself” – most of the complementarians I personally know would acknowledge it as a secondary issue. 

I’ve seen enough bad behavior online the past days (weeks, months, years) to believe that there is some subset of complementarians who are by their actions revealing that they are motivated by power and control more than by a particular Scripture hermeneutic. But I think it’s worth saying plainly that I don’t believe that’s common to all complementarians. 

I have recently really benefitted from Bruxy Cavey’s teaching on egalitarianism from an Anabaptist perspective. But even further than that I appreciate and want to adopt his attitude that those who disagree with my egalitarian views are still my dearly beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. I just believe they’re wrong on this issue!

2019 Reading, Compendium #2

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Trying to not get my book lists get so backed up this time. Here’s what I’ve been reading recently:

Golden State by Ben H. Winters
This one underwhelmed me a bit – interesting concept of a society where everything is logged and speaking falsehood is against the law, but execution wasn’t so interesting.

Mission Critical by Mark Greaney
Sometimes you just need a spy thriller. But maybe not this spy thriller.

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
I’ve never read Cather’s novels before, and felt some midwestern hankering for Nebraska-based writing. Now I need to get through the other two in the trilogy.

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien
Richards and O’Brien are trying to help us understand that some of the texts that we so easily read and interpret through a 21st century American framework can have some significantly different meanings when seen through the cultural framework of the original audience. Worth a read, though not quite as earth-shattering as some of the reviews had led me to believe.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman whose cells were taken as a medical sample when she was in the hospital for cancer treatment. Those cells proved remarkably resilient and have become the base cell samples for medical experiments around the world to this day. Henrietta’s story itself is a rather slim part of the book; it revolves far more around race and poverty and its impact on the family she left behind.

Talent by Juliet Lapidos
This was a random selection from the library shelf that didn’t live up to its blurbs. Claimed to be a “deliciously funny” novel grappling with the source of creative inspiration and talent. Meh.

This Life or the Next by Demian Vitanza
A novel written as a first-person account of a Pakistani Muslim immigrant to Norway who went to fight with ISIS in Syria. Fiction, but based on accounts given to the author by a man currently serving time in a Norwegian prison for terrorism. Challenging to see an “enemy” through his own eyes.

A Song for Nagasaki: The Story of Takashi Nagai: Scientist, Convert, and Survivor of the Atomic Bomb by Paul Glynn
Biography, faith story, and harrowing account of surviving the Nagasaki atomic bombing all rolled into one. Really enjoyed this book. Planning to pass it along to my high school daughter to read.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore
An account of an early workplace safety issue and court case where young women worked painting radium onto watches to make the faces luminescent. It’s an unsurprising story in most ways: a workplace hazard that, once understood by the corporation, was denied and covered up in order to maintain profits. The continual and vivid descriptions of the horrible effects of radium poisoning on these women’s bodies may have felt necessary to the author to raise the stakes of the story, but they were so vivid and plentiful that I just about put the book down because I could take any more talk of rotting jawbones and gushing pus.

And just so the last words in my blog post aren’t “gushing pus”, let me note that I’m still working on Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. It’s just gonna take me a while.