Review: Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures

Ministering in Honor-shame Cultures

Ministering in Honor-Shame CulturesJayson Georges and Mark D. Baker. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.

Summary: A text which explains the differences between guilt-innocence and honor-shame cultures, outlines a biblical basis for ministry in honor-shame cultures and discusses practical implications for ministry in these cultures.

Sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know. For those of us from guilt-innocence cultures (many from Euro-American backgrounds), our encounters with those from honor-shame cultures often leave us baffled as we fail to understand why we are unable to connect or why we have offended. Our globalized world makes this kind of cross-cultural understanding vital.

This is especially so with those engaged in mission in these cultures. Incarnational ministry means getting inside the skin of those with whom we are engaged in ministry. In this text Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker take us inside both honor-shame cultures and the scriptures and help us understand what ministry in honor-shame cultures might look like.

First of all they help us understand how honor-shame cultures are different from guilt-innocence cultures. Fundamentally, these cultures are about who we are in relation to others rather than what we have done in relation to a set of laws or principles. Honor-shame cultures manifest themselves in terms of patronage, indirect communication, event orientation, purity, hospitality, and social roles. Unfortunately, those of us from guilt-innocence cultures often see dependence and corruption, lying and deception, tardiness, rituralism, obligation and ostentation, and oppression. Can you see where things might go wrong?

Perhaps the highlight of the book for me was where the authors show how the Bible, written in an honor-shame context provides us a basis for understanding shame and for restoring and seeking honor. They trace these ideas through both the Old and New Testaments, culminating in the work of Christ in which he bears our shame, making it possible for us to be restored to honorable relationship before God.

The last half of the book works out the implications of an understanding of honor-shame cultures and a biblical framing of honor-shame for redemptive ministry in these cultures.

They begin with a spirituality of honor and shame, noting the great reversal of the gospel where pride equates with shame and humility with honor, and how this reshapes our ideas of honor and shame. A chapter on relationships follows with “Eight Commandments” for relationships in honor-shame contexts: 1) use a cover, 2) reconcile symbolically, 3) be a client, 4) guest well, 5) share gifts, 6) be a patron, 7) be pure, and 8) give face.

The chapter on evangelism begins with building bridges of honor in relationship and then shows how the gospel is a story of status reversal. Our problem of sin is unfaithfulness–disloyalty toward God that breaks relationship. Our dilemma is shame, a disgrace that merits banishment from God’s presence. God’s solution in Christ, is that his death is a bearing of shame that restores our relationship by repairing our honor. Our response is one of allegiance–loyalty to honoring God. The result of all this is that God makes outcasts his children and exalts us to eternal glory and honor. Conversion, then is often communal and involves the transference of allegiance, not only to Christ, but a new group.

Ethics is the pursuit of honor in a different key, which often involves humbling of self to serve. While to the watching world, this may be shameful, and difficult, it is motivated by the honor that comes in faithfully serving God. It is an honor shaped by pursuing glory, purity, and love. Finally this is pursued in a community that transforms shame by reintegrating the shamed into community, where forgiveness is practiced to restore relationship, and where leadership is practiced not from a position of privilege but rather service that seeks God’s honor.

The book concludes with appendices of key honor-shame passages in scripture, key honor shame stories, and a bibliography of resources for further study. Each chapter concludes with discussion questions that may be used for personal reflection, or classroom or group discussion. The book is written at a level suitable for an academic course on cross-cultural communication, but equally can be beneficial for churches and individuals engaged cross-culturally with those from honor-shame cultures.

The authors do not argue for one or the other frames being superior, and note that all cultures have a mix of these elements with guilt-innocence dominant in many Western contexts while shame-honor is dominant in most Majority cultures. While generalizing, they note that each culture expresses these differently and to understand honor-shame in one context is not to understand all. They liberally illustrate from experiences in a variety of cultural contexts, often at their own expense in sharing their failures as well as successes.

One of the big conclusions I drew was the priority of relationship. Rightness is not legal rightness, but being in right relationship in community, and with God. To build bridges of honor that communicate how important a person is to us, to give face, to restore the shamed all are biblical ideas but so different than doing the right things and having the right ideas. I also appreciated the thoughtfulness the writers showed in redeeming honor and shame, which sin may distort, providing paths of restoration, and better ways both to live for honor and honor others. In doing so, they move beyond cross-cultural understanding to cross-cultural mission with a gospel that is redemptive in every culture.

 

Review: Single, Gay, Christian

single gay christian

Single, Gay, ChristianGregory Coles. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017 (forthcoming August 22, 2017).

Summary: An autobiographical narrative of a young Christian who becomes aware of his attraction to other men, his struggles against this within a Christian context, his experiences of “coming out,” and how he has decided to follow Christ through all of this.

This book had me at the first page. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t quote so extensively, but I know nothing better to give you a sense of Gregory Cole’s story, and of his exquisite writing:

“Let’s make a deal, you and me. Let’s make promises to each other.

I promise to tell you my story. The whole story. I’ll tell you about a boy in love with Jesus who, at the fateful onset of puberty, realized his sexual attractions were persistently and exclusively for other guys. I’ll tell you how I lay on my bed in the middle of the night and whispered to myself the words I’ve whispered a thousand times since:

“I’m gay.”

I’ll show you the world through my eyes. I’ll tell you what it’s like to belong nowhere. To know that much of my Christian family will forever consider me unnatural, dangerous, because of something that feels as involuntary as my eye color. And to know that much of the LGBTQ community that shares my experience as a sexual minority will disagree with the way I’ve chosen to interpret the call of Jesus, believing I’ve bought into a tragic, archaic ritual of self-hatred.

But I promise my story won’t all be sadness and loneliness and struggle. I’ll tell you good things too, hopeful things, funny things, like the time I accidentally came out to my best friend during his bachelor party. I’ll tell you what it felt like the first time someone looked me in the eyes and said, “You are not a mistake.” I’ll tell you that joy and sorrow are not opposites, that my life has never been more beautiful than when it was most brokenhearted.

If you’ll listen, I promise I’ll tell you everything, and you can decide for yourself what you want to believe about me.”

In succeeding chapters, Coles unfolds, often in a self-deprecating yet not self-hating fashion, his growing awareness that he was gay, his silence and attempts to cover this up by dating girls and even of trying to awaken heterosexual desires through them. He describes the scary and wonderful moment he comes out to his pastor, who listens, and loves, and keeps on loving.

We trace with him his journey to reconcile his faith, his orientation, his understanding of biblical teaching, weighing but rejecting “affirming” interpretations, which precludes for him acting on his gay attractions by pursuing intimacy with another man, and what it means for him to believe that God has nevertheless made him good.

He helps us hear what is often said in churches that affirm a “traditional” view from the perspective of a gay person. I cringed here as I read things I’ve said. He also leads us into a broader conversation about sexuality and how the fall has affected it for all of us, gay or straight.

He speaks about his choice to live single, both the heartache, and the joy. He raises the question of views of discipleship that never involve suffering or self-denial. He casts a vision for a life that is full, and has a unique capacity for relationships because of who he is as a gay man. Where the church often sees LGBTQ persons as a threat, Greg helps us see persons like himself as a tremendous gift.

Coles speaks with a voice of conviction without dogmatism. He speaks for himself and his own journey, allowing that others might conclude differently. As he writes in his introduction, he tells us the truth about himself, and lets us decide.  He doesn’t see himself as any kind of role model but simply as a “half-written story.”

I deeply resonated with his comments about encountering the “are you side A or side B?” question. He writes, “I didn’t want to be reduced to a simple yes or no. I wanted a new side.” I find myself deeply in sympathy with him. And perhaps this book might take us a step closer to that new side.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Death of Adam

the death of adam

The Death of Adam, Marilynne Robinson. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

Summary: A collection of eleven essays taking modern intellectual life to task for its cynicism toward its intellectual antecedents.

Anyone who has read Marilynne Robinson’s fiction discovers a view of life framed in older, theological modes of thought that trace back to the Reformation and beyond. Her appreciation for that framework is evident in this collection of essays that takes modern intellectual life to task for its cynicism toward, and often uninformed rejection of these older modes of thought. Much of this is grounded in one of the fundamental premises of Robinson’s thought–go back to the primary sources!

She demonstrates this in an introductory essay where she takes Lord Acton and others to task for misrepresenting John Calvin (or Jean Cauvin, as his name appears in French), often failing to actually read Calvin himself. She returns later in the collection in two essays on Marguerite of Navarre to defend Calvin against charges of religious bigotry and to recover the contribution Calvin has made to democratic ideals. In particular, she addresses the case for which Calvin is most excoriated, that of Michael Servetus, noting that Calvin was not among the civil authorities who sentenced him and that his execution for heresy was the only such to occur in Calvin’s Geneva, mostly because of the troublesome character he had been. She doesn’t excuse the execution or Calvin’s role but tries to set it in a context of a restrained policy, considering the times.

This “contrarian approach” is taken up in her initial essay on Darwinism as she explores the much more brutal human ethic of survival, selfishness, and progress, contrasted with the older one of human dignity as creatures in God’s image, as well as an understanding of human fallenness that does not excuse human evil with socio-biological explanations.

She notes the struggle of modern thought to face reality when confronted by the crises of life that raise profound questions about our existence. She writes of an older way of understanding such things:

“The truth to which all this fiction refers, from which it takes its authority, is the very oldest truth, right out of Genesis. We are not at ease in the world, and sooner or later it kills us. Oddly, people in this culture have been relatively exempt from toil and pangs and death, to, if length of life may be regarded as a kind of exemption. So why do these things seem to terrify us more than they do others? One reason might be that, as human populations go, we are old. A few decades ago the median age was in late adolescence, and now it is deep into adulthood. Midlife has overtaken the great postwar generation. So the very fact that we have, in general, enjoyed unexampled health has brought us in vast numbers into the years when even the best luck begins to run out. This is true of the whole Western world (pp. 81-82).

Two of her essays concern Dietrich Bonhoeffer and William Holmes McGuffey. In the case of Bonhoeffer, we see a contrarian who withstands Nazi ideology drawing on wellsprings of an older faith. In McGuffey, whose famous readers are taken to task for bourgeois values, she observes his associations with abolitionists from Charles Finney to Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Lane radicals of Cincinnati. His readers shaped a consciousness in the American Middle West that had no place for slavery in human society.

This is followed by a delightful essay on “Puritans and Prigs” in which she contends the Puritans were a far more joyful and liberal band that stands in contrast with modern liberal, fish-eating “priggishness’ and that the Puritans understanding of human fallenness makes room for forgiveness and the restoration of people, rather than their outright removal from society. She also challenges, in her essay on Psalm 8 the idea of the “transcendent” that has been such a part of American religious and philosophical thought. She writes”

“So I have spent my life watching, not to see beyond the world, merely to see, great mystery, what is plainly before my eyes. I think the concept of transcendence is based on a misreading of creation. With all respect to heaven, the scene of miracle is here, among us. The eternal as an idea is much less preposterous than time, and this very fact should seize our attention. In certain contexts the improbable is called the miraculous” (p. 243).

Whether writing about family or wilderness and ecology, as she does in other essays in this collection, or Calvin, Bonhoeffer, and McGuffey, Marilynne Robinson challenges modern ways of thinking about these issues and persons. Some will no doubt be angered by this, hearing in Robinson a call to return to some former repressiveness. That, I think, is to misread her. I think rather her argument may at times be one of, “are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and substituting the polluted waters and questionable heroes of modernity?” What her essays do is question our intellectual conventions, and suggest that we may not want to believe everything we’ve been told in school.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Chevy Vega

1971_Chevrolet_Vega_Coupe

1971 Vega Hatchback Coupe, Public Domain via Wikipedia

Youngstown and the Chevy Vega were inextricably connected. Over 2 million Vegas were manufactured between 1971 and 1977, most of them at the Lordstown Assembly plant. It was one of the early subcompacts and a more stylish rival to the Ford Pinto, which had its own problems with gas tank fires and explosions during rear end collisions.

The Vega was named 1971 “Car of the Year” by Motor Trend and “best economy sedan” in 1971, 1972, and 1973 by Car and Driver magazine. By the standards of the day, it handled nimbly, got great gas mileage, and was more comfortable than imports and inexpensive, selling for a base price of $2090 in 1971.

Very quickly though, problems emerged. The biggest had to do with its aluminum engine block, which combined with a poor cooling system and leaking valve seals, tended to self-destruct unless meticulously cared for. The other major problem was a body that suffered from rust proofing and body design deficiencies. The road salt of northeast Ohio winters ate Vegas up. If you had a Vega for more than a few years, you had a rusty Vega.

I really only had one encounter with a Chevy Vega. It was a lime-olive green “kammback” (they made hatchbacks, notchbacks, and panel express wagons as well). A friend who was flying to Fort Lauderdale lent it to four of us to drive down and back to Lauderdale during spring break. It was cramped, particularly with all our luggage. It was really hard to get comfortable enough to sleep on the way, unless you were driving through rural Georgia in the middle of the night. That’s when I started drinking my coffee black and strong. We did have to stop frequently to check the coolant and oil and add some–which meant waiting for the radiator to cool because there wasn’t an overflow tank in the early models. But it was fun to drive and it got us there in back without breakdowns and in one piece.

The assembly line processes introduced at Lordstown to manufacture the Vega contributed greatly to the plant’s reputation for labor problems. Using automation and teams with an extra man (allowing for rest) the plan was to manufacture 100 Vegas an hour. Workers needed to complete tasks that once took a minute in 36 seconds. Then management transferred from Chevrolet and Fisher Body to General Motors Assembly Division, which cut the fourth man and laid off workers. The result was a wildcat strike lasting a month in 1972, and frequent grievances.

Studs Terkel, in his book Working, interviewed Gary Bryner, President of Local 1112 of the United Auto Workers. Recently, NPR featured his recordings in a story, ” ‘Working’ Then and Now: ‘I Didn’t Plan to Be a Union Guy’ ” Bryner talks about the “Unimate,” the preying mantis-like robots used on the line that never got tired or sweat or had a bad day. Here is what he said it was like for the guys who worked under this regime:

“That’s right. You know, they use the stopwatches, and they say, look; we know from experience that it takes so many seconds to walk from here to there. We know that it takes so many seconds to shoot that screw. We know the gun turns so fast and screw’s so long and the hole’s so deep. We know how long it takes, and that’s what that guy’s going to do.

And our argument has always been, you know, that’s mechanical. That’s not human. Look; we tire. We sweat. We have hangovers. We have upset stomachs. We have feelings, emotions, and we’re not about to be placed in a category of a machine.”

Popular Mechanics ran a story in 2010 about “How the Vega Nearly Destroyed GM” which points to problems in how the car was designed and the hostile divisions within GM’s corporate headquarters as the real issue behind the car’s problems. I think that makes good sense. I’ve had several friends who worked at Lordstown, and all of them cared about what they did and simply wanted to do good work, make good money, and provide for their families. The fact that they built nearly 2 million Vegas, and a number of other good vehicles since (and all they could do is build what the designers and engineers came up with) speaks to the accomplishments and capabilities of the working class in the Mahoning Valley, whatever may be the future of manufacturing.

Review: The Last Boy

The Last Boy

The Last BoyJane Leavy. New York: HarperCollins, 2010.

Summary: A biography of the life of Mickey Mantle, covering his family roots, baseball career, and post-career life, including his injuries, alcoholism, affairs, and something of a redemption at the end of his life.

Every summer, I read at least one baseball book, and so when I received this book as a gift earlier this year, I knew what my book would be this year, not that I would need much persuading. Mickey Mantle was one of my childhood heroes, even though, as an Indians fan, he played for the hated Yankees. We all followed the rivalry between him and Roger Maris to see if either could break Ruth’s record of 60 home runs. We all tried to switch hit when we played baseball, something most of us did very badly. We debated, as this book explores, whether Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays was the better player.

I was also pleased to see this was written by Jane Leavy. I had thoroughly enjoyed her biography of another childhood hero, Sandy Koufax. Mantle, it turns out was a far more complicated person, a mix of the great and the tragic and the tawdry wrapped into a single individual.

She tells Mantle’s story around twenty key dates in his life, which sometimes involves some back and forth between the key date and events prior and following. She begins with his family, and the powerful influence of his father, Mutt, who did not want his son to spend his life in the mines, taught him to bat from both sides, and guided him just long enough for him to get a contract with the Yankees before he died at an early age from the cancer that seemed to run through the family. Long enough to push him to the edge of greatness, but not long enough to help him deal with that greatness.

We learn of Mantle the athlete and his incredible speed and power and the tantalizing “what ifs” of just how great he could have been. In his first season with the Yankees, in 1951, running for a fly ball in the World Series, he caught a cleat in a drain in the outfield left uncovered, and blew out his right knee before there was such a thing as ACL surgery. He was never the same, and part of the story was how he could play at such a high level despite the physical problems that multiplied over the years. Leavy chronicles in detail the home run out of Griffith stadium in 1953 and enlists physicists and witnesses to figure out how far it actually traveled. She even includes analyses of his swings from both sides of the plate, and the near perfect form Mantle had at his best. She recounts his last at bat.

One of the great “what ifs” has to do with how Mantle lived off the field, something sportswriters in the Fifties and Sixties kept hush-hush, at least until a Yankee brawl at the Copacabana. Mantle was a high-functioning alcoholic in these years, at some points even hitting home runs when he wasn’t completely sober. Only in the Sixties, did this begin to tell on his body, combined with his injuries. She also doesn’t shy away from his womanizing and the complicated relationship he and Merlyn Mantle had throughout his life,

After baseball, he was unable to find something to do with his life. He was troubled by thoughts of an early death, which ran in his family. The drinking and affairs continue. He doesn’t listen to the few who try to warn him. “Sudden” Sam McDowell, former Indians fastballer and a reformed alcoholic tried to organize an intervention, only to have it aborted after a “friend” tips off Mantle. He tried and failed at a number of ventures, went into the memorabilia business with one of his lovers, and even was banned from baseball for a period because of an association with an Atlantic City casino, where he was paid simply to appear so guests could say they met Mantle.

It is in this context that Leavy met Mantle in 1983 for an interview that shattered her own image of Mantle. She unfolds this weekend encounter through the course of the book, from his gentlemanly effort to get her a sweater to keep her warm on the golf course, to his drunken efforts to pick her up that end with him slumping over asleep in her lap.

The book ends with Mantle experiencing a sort of redemption. Late in life, he began the work of facing his inner demons, including childhood incidents of sexual abuse that might have influenced his sexual proclivities. With serious liver problems looming, he checks into the Betty Ford Clinic and manages to stay sober for the rest of his life. He makes efforts to reconcile with his sons and make amends with others. He experiences what seems like a genuine death bed conversion as former teammate Bobby Richardson ministers to him.

I’m not sure Mantle really was the last boy. The image in part is one of America losing its illusions in the late Sixties. But the truth is that athletes continue to reach the peak of their physical powers long before they mature as people, and while they can perform on the field, they are unprepared for the hangers-on, the fast lifestyle, and the sudden affluence that comes their way. Like others with power, they often have no one to hold up a mirror to help them see their true selves, no one who will tell them what they do not want to hear. Certainly Mantle bore responsibility for this, and more and more toward the end of his life he acknowledged it. What the “last boy” title fails to capture is that our culture of adulation towards sports heroes still celebrates the physical gifts of youth while failing to affirm the character qualities of maturity that distinguish men and women from boys and girls. Perhaps the most tragic figure in this story is neither Mickey nor his boys, but Mutt, who pushed his boy to succeed, and only realized when he was dying that no one had prepared him to handle success.

 

Review: Ethics at Work

ethics at work

Ethics at WorkTheology of Work Project. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2017.

Summary: A discussion guide outlining a Christian approach to ethical decision-making in the workplace based on three principles: commands, consequences, and character.

What does Sunday morning have to do with 8 to 5 Monday through Friday (or whatever our working hours may be)? For many Christians that lack of connection between our worship and our work eventually leads to questions either about the truth and reality of our faith, or the possibility of living Christianly in the workplace.

The Theology of Work Project, the developers of this discussion guide and numerous other related resources, are thoroughly committed to the idea that our faith and our work life may be seamlessly connected. On their “about” page, they describe the vision of the Project in these terms:

“The vision of the Theology of Work Project is that every Christian be equipped and committed for work as God intends. A Christian approach makes work more meaningful and productive, benefits society and the people we work with and for, gets us through the challenges we face on the job, draws people to Jesus, and brings glory to God.”

This guide is designed for Christians in the workplace interested in developing a Christian framework of ethical decision-making. It consists of 21 half-hour lessons grouped into seven sections. Each lesson provides short readings (one page or less) with a few biblical texts, interspersed with “Food for Thought” sections, and a concluding prayer. One thing I like is the “less is more” approach that seems to me realistic to accomplish in a half hour discussion over a lunch break or before work.

After exploring some different popular proposals on ethical decision-making, the guide develops a “three-legged” stool approach around the following:

  1. Commands: is there a relevant biblical command to obey or something to avoid.
  2. Consequences: how will the various parties involved be affected by the possible choices?
  3. Character: What kind of person do I want to be or become?

Under this last “leg”, the writers adopt three key aspects of the character of God which scripture calls us to live by, first proposed in Alexander Hill’s Just Business: Christian Ethics for the Marketplace (Hill was the former president of InterVarsity/USA). These are holiness, justice, and love, and need to balance each other.

The guide also introduces a case study developed through the different lessons. A Christian auto dealer (“Wayne”) sells a used car that is in good operating condition with no know defects. Just over a year and over 13,000 miles later, the owner contacts him about transmission problems and asks what he will do to fix it. Subsequent lessons apply the different principles and trace out “Wayne’s” process in reaching a decision about how he will deal with this customer.

While written specifically for use with workplace groups (there is even a section on “Wisdom for Using this Study in the Workplace”), I also think this could be highly useful in adult education courses in churches and with Christian groups in business schools, particularly for those who have already had work experience. I would also highly recommend supplementing the material in this book with resources from the Theology of Work Project website, which includes commentaries related to a theology of work from every book of scripture and a number of other articles on related topics.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Have His Carcase

sayers

Have His CarcaseDorothy L. Sayers. New York: Harper, 2012 (originally published 1932).

Summary: While on a walking tour of the seacoast around Devon, Harriet Vane finds a man whose throat has been slit recently on some rocks. Lord Peter Wimsey eventually joins her and they find clues aplenty and possible suspects, yet none appears to have done it.

After being found innocent of poisoning a former love interest, with the help of Lord Peter Wimsey, Harriet Vane embarks on a walking tour of the Devon seacoast. This particular day finds her on the road from Lesston Hoe to Wilvercombe, a seaside resort favored by elderly women. She detours to the beach for a snatch of reading and some lunch and dozes off. She wakens to a cry shortly after 2 pm. On waking she explores the beach further and spots something that looks like a man sleeping on a flat rock by the shore. As she approaches, she finds that it is a man, but he is not sleeping, but dead, of a slit throat with a razor lying at the base of the rock. The tide is rising, she is several miles distant from the nearest town, and the rock and body will soon be submerged. She carefully examines the body, finding the blood liquid and not clotted, pointing to a recent murder. Perhaps the cry she thought was a bird was this man’s last cry. She takes a number of pictures and collects the razor and sets off to find help and report the murder.

After numerous detours, she makes it to Wilvercombe, reports the dead body, and as a shrewd writer building a reputation, leaks the story to the press. Because of this, Lord Peter Wimsey learns of her whereabouts, and comes to help explore what the authorities believe a suicide of a Russian emigre’, Paul Alexis.  Both Vane and Wimsey think otherwise and come across a number of clues that raise questions. Why did he take his life when he was engaged to a rich widow? Why did he by a two way ticket to the town nearest the rock where he was found, and why did he go there? Who was the mysterious Mr. Martin camping near the beach? What about Mr. Bright, the barber who had “provided” the razor that slit Alexis throat? Who was he really? Why was there a ring recently placed in the rock where Alexis died? Why did Alexis convert his savings to gold sovereigns, found in a waist belt on his dead body? How did the horse in the meadow near where Martin camped lose its shoe? Who was the mysterious woman, ‘Feodora,’ in the photo found on Alexis body? What was the role of the rich widow’s son, a struggling landholder, in all of this, despite his alibi? What was the content and significance of the letter in cipher found in Alexis’ pocket?

Each chapter adds new evidence yet seems to bring Wimsey, Vane, and the authorities no closer to a solution. Suicide, if not the best explanation seems the most convenient. Or perhaps Mrs. Weldon’s explanation that he was knocked off by some “mysterious Bolsheviks” is not so incredible after all. None of the other suspects could possibly have been at the rock at the time of the murder.

Nor does all their sleuthing bring them any closer together, despite Wimsey’s repeated “proposals”, which seemed an annoying distraction not only to Vane, but also this reader. Nevertheless, it is great good fun to see these two amateur detectives piecing together the puzzle of this mystery. And one can always hope for the future.

Along the way, we perhaps get a bit of social commentary as well. The women entertained by gigolos at the resorts make us reckon with the sadness of wealth without people to share it or a purpose to live for other than self-indulgence. One readily understands the eagerness of both Vane and Wimsey to clear out when it is all over.

Take this one to the beach or into a comfy hammock and enjoy!

 

The Month in Reviews: July 2017

becoming curious

I opened the month with a bookImpossible People, which explores the calling of Christians in our modern culture. Subsequently, I read a couple of books about the challenges millenials are facing in engaging both their faith and their culture. A couple of books dealt with death–exploring suicide from the perspective of survivors, and what the Bible says happens to us upon death. Then there were a couple books concerning the Middle East–one concerning reading the Qu’ran, the other a fresh approach to “Christian Zionism.” The rest were hardly “miscellaneous.” There was a wonderful book on curiosity and questioning as transformational practices, a far-reaching collection of essays responding to various facet’s of N.T. Wright’s work on Paul, a delightful collection of Marilynne Robinson essays, a book on nuclear energy as key to buying time in our energy transition, and a prescient book on White House chiefs of staff and their critical role in the success (or failure) of a presidency. Here’s the tally:

impossible people

Impossible People, Os Guinness. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Delineating the advance of modernity and its negative consequences, Guinness calls upon Christians to be the “impossible people” who both resist and positively engage the culture to “serve God’s purposes in this generation.” (Review)

becoming curious

Becoming Curious, Casey Tygrett (Foreward by James Bryan Smith). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Commends curiosity as essential to transformation and helps us cultivate the practice of asking questions as a spiritual practice. (Review)

vanishing american adult

The Vanishing American Adult, Ben Sasse. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017. Concerned about the passivity he observes among many emerging adults, the author proposes five character building habits to foster resilient, responsible adults and wisely engaged citizens. (Review)

abandoned faith

Abandoned FaithAlex McFarland and Jason Jimenez. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017. Explores the reasons unprecedented numbers of millenials are leaving the church or are religiously unaffiliated, and what parents and other thoughtful adults can do to address this challenge. (Review)

when I was a child

When I Was a Child I Read BooksMarilynne Robinson. New York: Picador, 2013. A collection of essays reflecting on the state of the nation and our culture, the values of literacy, liberality, and Christian generosity that have shaped us, and what the loss of these values to austerity, utility, and secularist atheism might mean for us. (Review)

buying time

Buying Time: Environmental Collapse and the Future of Energy, Kaz Makabe. Lebanon, NH: ForeEdge, 2017. A study that looks at the world’s increasing energy demands and the environmental challenges these pose, and makes the argument that nuclear power, even with its risks, needs to be considered in the energy mix. (Review)

The Qu'ran in Context

The Qu’ran in Context, Mark Robert Anderson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. A study by a Christian theologian of the Qu’ran in its seventh century AD context exploring its teachings in relation to Christian teaching, noting both similarities and points of divergence in the hope of encouraging open and honest dialogue between adherents of these two faiths. (Review)

god and faithfulness of paul

God and the Faithfulness of PaulChristoph Heilig, J. Thomas Hewitt, and Michael F. Bird, eds. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017. A collection of papers assessing N. T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of Godby scholars from a number of fields of theological study, with a concluding response from N. T. Wright. (Review)

the gatekeepers

The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, Chris Whipple. New York: Crown, 2017. A study of the White House Chiefs of Staff, from the Nixon through Obama administrations, and how critical the effective execution of this role is to an effective presidency. (Review)

What Happens After You Die

What Happens After You Die Randy Frazee. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017. An exploration of the Bible’s teaching on what happens to us after death, if we know Christ or if we don’t, both before he returns, and after. (Review)

Grieving a Suicide

Grieving a Suicide (Second Edition), Albert Y. Hsu. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. A narrative of how the author learned to deal with the trauma of his father’s suicide, the questions it raised, and the movement through grief toward healing. (Review)

New Christian Zionism

The New Christian Zionism, Gerald R. McDermott ed. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. Argues that the Old Testament promises of restoration for Israel, including restoration to the land, can be supported in the New Testament, and that Christian Zionism enjoys a long history of theological support not rooted in premillenial dispensationalism. (Review)

Best book: I really liked Casey Tygrett’s Becoming Curious. I work with people who spend their lives being curious and asking questions and found this book such a welcome encouragement that our curiosity and our questions are essential to our growth and transformation. There was a freshness about this book that seemed, to me, to arise from the author’s own willingness to question the familiar, enabling him to see with new eyes.

Best quote: I could equally have given my “best book” nod to Albert Y. Hsu’s Grieving a Suicide, a deeply thoughtful, yet gentle exploration of what it is like to survive a suicide rooted in the author’s personal experience. He writes:

“In most literature on the topic, “suicide survivor” refers to a loved one left behind by a
suicide—husband, wife, parent, child, roommate, coworker, another family member, friend—not a person who has survived a suicide attempt. It is no coincidence that the term survivor is commonly applied to those who have experienced a horrible catastrophe of earth-shattering proportions. We speak of Holocaust survivors or of survivors of genocide, terrorism, or war. So it is with those of us who survive a suicide. According to the American Psychiatric Association, ‘the level of stress resulting from the suicide of a loved one is ranked as catastrophic—equivalent to that of a concentration camp experience.’

. . .

Such is the case for survivors of suicide. We have experienced a trauma on par psychologically with the experience of soldiers in combat. In the aftermath, we simply don’t know if we can endure the pain and anguish. Because death has struck so close to home, life itself seems uncertain. We don’t know if we can go on from day to day. We wonder if we will be consumed by the same despair that claimed our loved one. At the very least, we know that our life will never be the same. If we go on living, we will do so as people who see the world very differently” (p. 10).

What I’m reading:  Currently I am delighting in a Dorothy L. Sayers mystery, Have His Carcase, as puzzled as Wimsey and Vane as to the identity of the murderer. I’m in the middle of my baseball book for this summer, written by Jane Leavy, one of my favorite baseball writers. It is The Last Boy and chronicles both the greatness and tragedy of Mickey Mantle, one of my boyhood heroes. I enjoyed When I Was a Child I Read Books so much that I’m reading another Marilynne Robinson essay collection, The Death of Adam which has a great essay on Ohioan William Holmes McGuffey as well as one on Puritans and prigs! Ethics at Work is a study guide for groups exploring three pillars of ethics: commands, consequences and character. I also have several “on deck” books I am looking forward to dipping into: Stratford Caldecott’s Beauty for Truth’s Sake, a book on ministering in honor-shame cultures, and The Loyal Son on Ben Franklin’s difficult relationship with his own son.

I hope these last weeks of summer afford you the opportunity to put your feet up with a cold drink at your side and a good read in your hands.

Review: The New Christian Zionism

New Christian Zionism

The New Christian Zionism, Gerald R. McDermott ed. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.

Summary: Argues that the Old Testament promises of restoration for Israel, including restoration to the land, can be supported in the New Testament, and that Christian Zionism enjoys a long history of theological support not rooted in premillenial dispensationalism.

A book arguing for a fresh perspective on Christian Zionism strikes me as a brave project. Zionism, once representing the hopes of an oppressed people, now is often cast at the source of oppression of other peoples, particularly Palestinians. Likewise, “Christian” Zionism, often associated with premillenial dispensationalism, has fallen in disrepute in both liberal circles for whom any form of Zionism is reprehensible, and among a significant portion of the evangelical community who reject the two “dispensations” or covenants of dispensationalism, and see the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy through a new people of God comprised of both Jew and Gentile which heralds a trans-national kingdom of God. This view, with which I will admit to being sympathetic, is often referred to as supersessionism. It is for example, reflected in these summary comments on Romans 11 by John R. W. Stott in his exposition of Romans:

“It is clear . . . that the ‘salvation’ of Israel for which Paul has prayed (10:1), to which he will lead his own people by arousing their envy (11:14), which has also come to the Gentiles (11:11; cf. 1:16), and which one day ‘all Israel’ will experience (11:26), is salvation from sin through faith in Christ. It is not a national salvation, for nothing is said about either a political entity or a return to the land. Nor is their any hint of a special way of salvation for the Jews which dispenses with faith in Christ” (p. 304).

Gerald R. McDermott and his other contributors have mounted a formidable rebuttal to this contention. In the introductory section, McDermott contributes two chapters arguing that Christian Zionism has enjoyed a long history in the theology of the church, from the earliest centuries to Barth and Niebuhr in more recent times and that this has by no means been confined to premillenial dispensationalism.

The next section makes, beginning with Craig Blaising’s chapter on hermeneutics, the argument that the advent of Christ does not nullify the promises and hope of Israel, which may be found in the New Testament as well as the Torah. Joel Willets then shows how this is the case in Matthew noting the early Jewish context, the geographical perspective, Davidic messianism, the “turfed” kingdom, and the focus on Jerusalem, the temple, and the atonement. Mark Kinzer makes a similar argument for Luke-Acts, particularly noting the repeated returns to Jerusalem in Acts. David Rudolph tackles Romans giving a memorable summary of his argument in the acronym “GUCCI”:

  • G The Gifts of Israel
  • U The Uniqueness of Israel
  • C The Calling of Israel
  • C The Confirmation of Israel’s promises
  • I The Irrevocability of Israel’s election

Part Three concerns “Theology and its Implications.” Mark Tooley traces the mainline embrace, and eventual disenchantment with Zionism, more recently followed by some evangelicals. Robert Benne contributes one of the most fascinating chapters, exploring Reinhold Niebuhr’s Zionism that flows from his theo-political realism as well as his sense of the unique place the Jews have occupied in human history. Robert Nicholson then makes a case that present day Israel has neither violated international law, nor, to any significant degree, the Torah in its occupation of land and treatment of ethnic minorities. Shadi Khalloul, an Aramean Christian makes a similar case, while acknowledging ways Israel has failed in areas of human rights. He contends that as the one democracy in the region, they have done far more to uphold religious and civil rights than the surrounding nations. The book concludes with recommendations for continued scholarship and implications for the church.

One of the subtexts of this discussion is the existence of the present day State of Israel, and how it is to be understood in light of prophecies concerning restoration of Israel to the land and how it is to be regarded as a moral actor on the world stage. Concerning the former, they resist the temptation of dispensationalists to fit this into a “last days” scheme while conceding that the survival of the Jews through history and near-miraculous victories against surround foes may argue for some form of “pre-consummate,” or proleptic fulfillment, anticipating the final fulfillment of all things in Christ’s return. Several authors even argue for a restoration of the nation to the land prior to any form of spiritual transformation. While arguing that support for Israel never warrants support for unjust policies, the authors are fairly muted in their discussion of Jewish settlements of occupied territories and the “fence” that has made life so difficult for many Palestinians.

I was most interested in the arguments from the New Testament but in the end personally found them wanting. They seemed to be readings between the lines that extend promises for the people of Israel to the land that are not explicit in the biblical text. Darrell Bock acknowledges this problem (p. 312), but did not, to my mind give an adequate response. The review of historical theology was helpful, because I, like many would have equated Christian Zionism with premillenial dispensationalism. In terms of making the case for the State of Israel from Christian principle, I thought the four essays in Part Three were the strongest part of this work. In particular, the last two, by Nicholson and Khalloul, provide a counter to the media treatment of Israel, which has been increasingly hostile, and often one-sided in their view, in recent years.

The work challenged me to look harder at the texts around Israel’s hope and how we understand these. In particular, when we speak of a “new heaven and new earth,” and a “new Jerusalem” as the focus of a physical existence in the resurrection, what place is there for Jews, whether as a corporate entity, or at least for Jews, as John Stott speaks of, who trust in Christ? Is there a landed hope for them? Is there any significance in the present day State of Israel?

I do think these scholars have more work to do to make their case. They, along with the publisher, should be commended for engaging this discussion afresh. At the same time, while the term is convenient shorthand and connects to historic realities, I would hope that a better phrase than “Christian Zionism” might be found, for I fear some will never get past a title with this phrase, which would be unfortunate.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Joseph G. Butler, Jr.

Jgbutler

Joseph G. Butler, Jr., Author Unknown. Source: The Youngstown Telegram. Public Domain-US, via Wikipedia

I visited the Columbus Museum of Art on Friday. One of the reasons was to see the actual painting of “Morning Drive” by Christopher Leeper, about which I wrote in an earlier post, “The View From Home.” Leeper’s painting is the view of downtown and the Valley from the corner of Mahoning Avenue and North Portland, where I lived. It is in an exhibit of the Ohio Watercolor Society until September 10, and captures the view that is in my mind’s eye when I think of looking down Mahoning Avenue toward town on a cold and clear winter morning.

The visit to this museum, which has been expanded in recent years, reminded me what a treasure Youngstown has at the Butler Institute of American Art, which easily goes toe to toe with the Columbus, in a far bigger city. For one thing, from its establishment, admission to the Butler has always been free, in comparison to what we paid for admission (even with AAA discount) plus the add-on fee for a special show plus parking. It reminded me of the gift Joseph G. Butler, Jr. gave to the city, and the wider art world in establishing this museum and generously funding it upon his death. And so it made me wonder a bit more about the man behind the museum.

I discovered he was a multi-faceted individual:

He was a pioneer steel-maker. Butler’s father and grandfather were iron manufacturers and blast furnace experts and Butler brought this to Youngstown and facilitated the transition to steel manufacturing. He joined Henry Wick in organizing the Ohio Steel Company, building two Bessemer plants along the Mahoning River, which later became the Ohio Works of Carnegie Steel, later U.S. Steel. His industrial leadership formed the core of his wealth and led to directorships on numerous boards including that of Youngstown Sheet and Tube and the Youngstown and Suburban Railway Company.

He was a dedicated civic leader. He led the fund-raising drive that established St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and worked with the Niles Board of Trade to establish the McKinley Memorial for William McKinley, a classmate of his during his youth in Niles and friend. He also donated monies for libraries and a number of other community institutions.

He was a collector of American art. Butler realized that the works of American artists were overshadowed by those from Europe. He assembled a significant collection in his Wick Avenue home, much of which was lost in a 1917 fire. Plans had already been laid for the Butler, a museum to house his collection, which opened in 1919. When he died in 1927, most of his $1.5 million estate was bequeathed to the Butler.

I found two other interesting aspects to Butler as well.

He was a political insider. His prominence and wealth as a national leader in industry gave him access to most of the presidents of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He was a staunch Republican, and his support was considered indispensable in any national campaign.

He was a historian. Amazingly, this busy man had the time to write a biography of McKinley, a memoir titled Presidents I Have Seen and Known, a history of steel-making, and a three volume History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, which has been digitized and may be downloaded here. His other works are also in digital form and came up on this search result.

Thriving cities do so, I’m convinced, because they enjoy dedicated, competent, and honest leadership from three sectors: civic, political, and business. Butler represented all three and a number of the bright spots in the city from its hospitals to its libraries to the Butler are a consequence of his influence. His foresight in recognizing the dearth of talented American artists works being represented in museums led to establishing what is arguably the foremost museum of American art in the country. His careful historical writing provides a bedrock of historical information about his times, and our hometown. The impact of his philanthropy continues to make its mark in the Mahoning Valley nearly 100 years later.

While times have changed, communities will continue to need men and women who use the benefits of wealth, access, education, and leadership skills for the benefit of their communities. People like Joseph G. Butler, Jr. and Volney Rogers are worth the study of contemporary community leaders in Youngstown. Both invested nearly 50 years of their lives in Youngstown, around the same time. One gave us a world class museum. The other, a jewel along Mill Creek. Whose investment in the Valley will make a difference in the next century?