Review: Kennedy Justice

Kennedy Justice

Kennedy JusticeVictor S. Navasky. New York: Open Road Media, 2013 (originally published in 1971).

Summary: A study of Robert F. Kennedy’s tenure as Attorney General and head of the Department of Justice during the John F. Kennedy and Johnson presidencies.

Several full length biographies of Robert F. Kennedy have been published including the classic by Arthur Schlesinger and more recent ones by Chris Matthews and Evan Thomas. This work looks at a four year period of Kennedy’s life, from 1961 to 1964 when he served as the Attorney General of the United States, heading up the Department of Justice. Victor S. Navasky, in a book originally published three years after Kennedy’s untimely assassination in 1968, explores the character of Kennedy’s leadership in this position, the focus of his efforts, and both his signal accomplishments, and shortcomings. Navasky uses phone transcripts, memos and correspondence, extensive interviews and research to give an indepth look at Kennedy’s years at the Department of Justice.

The first part, “The Code of the FBI” explores Kennedy’s relationship with the FBI, particularly in his efforts to fight organized crime and in the field of Civil Rights. This section explores the skill with which he was able to work with, and around J. Edgar Hoover’s self-protective agency. There was the delicate dance around bugging and wiretapping of crime families in which Kennedy believed only legal efforts were being pursued, and Hoover believed he had authority from the AG (and former AGs) to conduct these investigations. There was the refusal of the FBI to intervene in civil rights matters, but only to collect evidence, forcing Kennedy to mobilizing other DOJ attorneys and investigators to intervene, sometimes at great personal risk. The Department of Justice prosecuted record numbers of crime family members, protected Freedom Riders, defended voting rights, help pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964–and failed to change the way the FBI worked under Hoover.

Part Two, “The Code of the Ivy League Gentleman” looks at the incredibly talented group of people Kennedy surrounded himself with men like Burke Marshall, Nicholas Katzenbach, Louis Oberdorfer, John Doar, and Solicitor General Archibald Cox. It speaks highly of Kennedy, a University of Virginia law grad who gathers Harvard and Yale educated luminaries and inspires them to excellence. There was just one problem–the code of the Ivy League Gentleman. The belief was that calm, rational negotiation could resolve any problem, a belief shown to be flawed in Kennedy’s conversations with Governor Ross Barnett, when Kennedy was seeking to uphold legal rulings admitting James Meredith to the University of Mississippi. Ultimately it took the National Guard, because Kennedy and those around him misjudged their ability to move Barnett to action to protect Meredith. Similarly, the code that didn’t question ABA ratings in the appointment of southern judges led to the appointment of judges who perpetuated the structures of southern segregation. At the same time, Navasky chronicles the skilled way Kennedy works with the meticulous Harvard professor, Archibald Cox, who served as his Solicitor General.

The third part focuses on the “Code of the Kennedys” and how Robert Kennedy lived in the tension of family loyalty and integrity as the chief law enforcement officer of the country. Navasky illustrates this with the efforts Robert Kennedy engaged in to coordinate a humanitarian donation to Cuba in exchange for the release of the Bay of Pigs prisoners. There was family honor to be upheld in securing the prisoner’s release, laws and regulations to be negotiated, and logistics to coordinate. RFK’s skilled work with the “honorary” Kennedys to cut through red tape accomplished a seemingly impossible exchange. At the same time, family political ties did not prevent RFK’s Department of Justice from prosecuting political corruption. Finally, there was the family vendetta against teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa, done within the provisions of the law, yet devoting disproportionate resources to the effort that set questionable precedents for the department.

The book traces Kennedy’s growing commitment to civil rights and the eventual shift in focus from organized crime to civil rights during his tenure. It portrays an Attorney General skilled in the management of relationships and able to evoke excellence and energy in people who already came with high qualifications. Navasky portrays Kennedy as a man of high ideals who used his skills to tackle problems connected with the pursuit of those ideals, yet without a vision that looked beyond problems. Nowhere was this more apparent in his tolerance of Hoover’s entrenched leadership and non-cooperation.

So, why read a book on an Attorney General from more than fifty years ago? It reminds us of the vital role the Attorney General plays as the people’s attorney. It underscores the vital need that the AG, a presidential appointee, in this case, a presidential brother, is not the president’s lawyer but the people’s lawyer. It meant prosecuting political friends when those friends broke the law. It reminds us that justice is for all citizens, even when established party structures in the south are challenged by the series of voting rights cases filed by the Department of Justice. It also underscores the continuing tension of the relationship of the FBI to its parent department, the Department of Justice. How do you foster both the independence needed for impartial investigations, and the accountability and sharing of information that may be essential to national security? It seems this continues to be a challenge. Ultimately, however this is resolved, it must be in the service of “liberty and justice for all.”

On the Review Stack: February 2019


My current “review stack”!

I usually have several books going at once and I mention some of these in my “Month in Reviews” post. I thought it might be fun to preview some of the books waiting to be read that are in my “review queue.” All of these have been sent to me by publishers for review. You don’t have to wait until my review to check these out!

modern tech

Modern Technology and the Human FutureCraig M. Gay. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. This explores how our technology shapes us, and the theological implications of current trends in technology.


Travel: In Tandem with God’s HeartPeter Grier. London: IVP Books, 2018. This book looks like a lot of fun. The cover copy says: “Travel is fun – to state the very obvious. But what if it could be enriching, life-enhancing and lots, lots more?”

the common rule

The Common RuleJustin Whitmel Earley. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Earley explores the power of habit, and developing a rule of life to sustain us in modern life.


RelationomicsDr. Randy Ross. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. Ross focuses on how organizations can develop cultures that promote healthy relationships.

reciprocal church

Reciprocal ChurchSharon Galgay Ketcham. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Young adults are leaving churches in droves after high school. Ketcham explores values and practices that create communities “where faith flourishes beyond high school.”

for the life of the world

For the Life of the WorldMiroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun. Grand Rapids, Brazos Press, 2019. The authors argue that “the intellectual tools needed to rescue us from our present malaise and meet our new cultural challenge are the tools of theology.”

welcoming justice

Welcoming JusticeCharles Marsh and John M. Perkins. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. A historian and an activist reflect on the pursuit of Martin Luther King’s “beloved community.”

true you

True YouMichelle DeRusha. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. Using the gardening metaphor of pruning, DeRusha shows how we may need to subtract to flourish.

becoming a just church

Becoming a Just ChurchAdam L. Gustine. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Praxis, 2019. Looks at what it means to pursue justice in congregational life.


Basics for BelieversD. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. A re-packaging of a classic exposition of Philippians on essential disciplines for living the Christian life.


The 21Martin Mosebach. Walden, NY: Plough, 2019. We saw the images of the 21 Coptic Christians executed by ISIS. Mosebach tells their story and that of the Coptic community from which they came.

sinners and saints

Sinners and SaintsDerek Cooper. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2018. First of a four part series on church history, this portrays the highs and lows of early church history from the apostles to Augustine.New CreationNew CreationRodney Clapp. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018. Clapp explores how our eschatology, our beliefs about the end, ought shape our life in the present.


Democracy May Not Exist, But We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone, Astra Taylor. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2019. Explores why a real democracy has never existed and “offers a better understanding of what is possible, what we want, and why democracy is so hard to realize.”

under pressure

Under Pressure, Lisa Damour, Ph.D. New York: Ballantine Books, 2019. Why is there an epidemic rise in reports of stress and anxiety in girls? What are the steps parents and other adults can take to address this epidemic?

Well that’s the stack. There are a number of others (especially fiction and history) that I’ve purchased and will weave in, but you can expect to see reviews on these in the next month or so. I look forward to telling you more about them!



Image by Ron Mader, [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr

Remember when the internet was free? I still remember the incredible fascination of discovering the world at my fingertips the first time I got on the internet and found the first primitive Yahoo search engine (before the days of Google and Bing).

There is still an amazing amount of that out there. But increasingly, if you are like me, you’ve run into walls. Paywalls.

The problem? Many content providers from The New York Times to The New Yorker have put up paywalls. Paywalls mean you must be a subscriber to see the content, or any content beyond a limited number of articles per month. Some, at least, like The New York Times, have actually found this a successful strategy.

I understand. Print circulation of many of these content providers is dropping and hardly anyone has figured out how to create a good advertising revenue stream on digital media, particularly with ad blockers (more recently sites have taken to asking you to pause your ad blocker on their site as a partial remedy). Bottom line is that writers and others who make these content outlets possible have to be paid or they will be out of business. The Atlantic, one of the few media outlets without a paywall has a good article explaining how all this works. [In a counter-intuitive move, I decided to subscribe to them because they don’t have a paywall, and I really appreciate many of their writers and articles.]

I also decided to subscribe to one major news outlet with a paywall. I have print subscriptions to a couple of periodicals that allow me access through their online paywalls because I subscribe. But here’s my problem. I’m at my limit of subscriptions. And I probably encounter paywalls on a dozen or more sites that I access each week. Often, I’m referred there via a newsletter only to find either that I cannot access the content, or that I need to use up my allotment of free articles to do so. Often I am at these sites because I curate a Facebook page on books. Truth is, although I do it sometimes, I hate to post material with a paywall for those on my page.

NiemanLab ran an article about this problem and they have come up with a solution that I have wondered about for some time. Perhaps you can guess what it is if you subscribe to Netflix or Amazon Prime. Create an umbrella subscription that will give access to a number of periodicals and news outlets. By using cookies and some type of user ID, it would seem to be easy to track usage and allocate revenues accordingly.

For the big outlets that have been going it on their own successfully, this might not be attractive. But for smaller content providers that many might decide to pass up, I could see the benefit in enhancing their revenue stream.

In Christian circles, it was once common to use song lyrics at meetings and retreats, and knowingly or not, routinely violate copyright restrictions and rob artists of earnings on their artistic work. In 1988, Christian Copyright Licensing, Inc. was formed. Churches and ministries could purchase an annual license, the fee for which was based on group size, and gave access for noncommercial use to a wide range of music and lyrics. Now, over 250,000 subscribe, enough that their founder, Howard Rachinski, was inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 2016, a sign of the impact this has had for musicians and songwriters.

A blanket periodical subscription could be offered as a tier of plans based on usage. I think a marketing/usage study might be needed to determine these but I suspect offering multiple price points based on usage patterns would be attractive to many who value the content, recognize the need to these outlets to have revenue, but can’t afford a dozen subscriptions (or don’t want to keep track of that many usernames and passwords). People pay $120 a year for Prime, around $170 a year for Netflix, depending on the plan, $180 a year for the basic Audible plan, and often $400 a year or more for premium cable or other plans, when at one time they got their TV for free, and audiobooks at the library. Might this be a good way to pay for digital print media that we care about?

What do you think of such an idea? How much per month or per year would you pay for a subscription?

Review: How Neighborhoods Make Us Sick

How Our Neighborhoods Make Us Sick

How Neighborhoods Make Us SickVeronica Squires and Breanna Lathrop. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.

Summary: A case study showing how social determinants impacting health outcomes work in different zip codes and how these manifest in an urban neighborhood in southwest Atlanta.

Perhaps the single most sobering insight to arise from How Neighborhoods Make Us Sick is that life expectancy within different zip codes in the same city and metro area can widely vary–by a decade or more in some cases. There are a complex of factors in which these areas vary–social determinants–that profoundly affect the wellness and longevity of the residents in those neighborhoods.

The co-authors of this book, Veronica Squires and Breanna Lathrop, take academic discussion in the public health community and narrate how they personally experienced the realities of the factors that shape health outcomes. Their argument is that these social determinants go far beyond personal choices and “bootstrap” solutions. Much of this came through their personal realization that the presence and community involvement advocated in community development circles just weren’t enough. The first half of this book describes the journey of each of them in coming to this realization. Each chapter contains a sections describing the journey of each author around the impacts on health of poverty, employment (mostly in low wage jobs), food insecurity and nutrition, education and child development, housing availability, environmental issues (mold, lead), and homelessness, and health care access.

Breanna, a health care provider at the Good Samaritan Health Center in urban southwest Atlanta, came face to face with the reality that all her efforts at appropriate health interventions and care plans were being undone by these social determinants. Her patients were not getting better. Veronica and her husband moved into the neighborhood, lived out the commitments they had learned in community development, but little changed and both saw their own health deteriorate, despite having good educations and jobs. After nine years, they had to move out. Veronica writes:

“I left with severe anxiety, major depression, and recurrent panic attack episodes. Eric left with panic attacks too, along with high blood pressure and heart palpitations. We both left with psoriasis. Yet, even though I knew we were doing the right thing for the health of our family, I was grieving the loss of a vision and hope that community development alone could repair communities in a holistic, lasting, and scalable manner. As we pulled onto the highway, I turned around to look at the exit I had taken thousands of times to get home and thought, There has to be a better way to restore our communities.” (p. 89)

Part Two of the book begins with the co-authors writing about how they leaned into their faith in addressing these challenges. Their study of Jesus opened their eyes to his commitment to healing and overturning oppressive systems and structures that undermined the health and lives of the poor. They saw that to pursue this work was kingdom work.

Both describe the transformative practices they’ve had a part in implementing at the Good Samaritan Health Center, a donor-funded effort. Veronica is the chief administrative officer, and Breanna, the chief operating officer. They make some challenging statements about some of the mantras surrounding charitable giving in church circles, including volunteering as a substitute for giving, and “diversifying.” The health center itself offers a “full circle” of health care including medical and dental care, behavioral health care, health education, and healthy living practices.

Most strategic though are the partnerships they have developed to address housing issues, employment, health care for the homeless, nutrition (through neighborhood food initiatives and gardens), and a focus on early child development and education. They stress the importance of partnering with the community, listening to the community for its advice about what will be most helpful. They also address the issue of health access and insurance in the U.S. and the current decisions that exclude many from access to good health care, particularly preventive care. They argue that many of the interventions they have pursued save money, or even return money to communities, compared to the current alternatives that often result in repeat incarceration, emergency room usage, and hospitalizations.

It struck me that these women, and those they work with did not stop with the many reasons why things weren’t changing in southwest Atlanta, but looked for smart and biblical ways to pursue health equity, addressing the other factors that often undermined their patients’ health. They hit bottom, were honest about what that looked like for them, and then persisted.

The book also raises questions about whether we will recognize that equality is not enough when the playing field is not level. They advocate for health equity, recognizing that those at the bottom of the hill face a much harder task than those at the top to achieve the same outcome. Will a nation graced with so many resources rise to this kind of greatness? And to come back to the sobering insight with which I began, how will we respond to the fact that some of our near neighbors in the same city have a shorter life expectancy than we do? How is this not a pro-life issue? These were the questions I’m pondering after reading this book.


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.

The Month in Reviews: January 2019

perfectly humanNineteen reviews for free. That’s what you received in January if you’ve been following Bob on Books. And if not, they are all summed up here with links to the full reviews. They include three memoirs ranging from Tara Westover’s best-selling Educated to Sarah C. Williams exquisite and poignant Perfectly Human.  Part of my sabbatical reading (that’s how I read so many books!) included three books on coaching. In fiction, I reviewed a novel by Ann Patchett, and an old and re-published one by Upton Sinclair. One that kind of defied categories is Malcolm Guite’s Mariner, an exploration of both the life of Coleridge, and his most famous poem, which Guite says parallel each other. There is the usual mix of theology: art and theology, the theology of sexuality, and the application of intersectionality to theology, and a couple on science and faith, including my first guest review. I won’t go into all the others, but one other standout was a biography of Fred Rogers, who was the “good neighbor” in life as well as on screen.


Educated, Tara Westover. New York: Random House, 2018. A memoir a young women raised by survivalists in rural Idaho, physically abused by an older brother, self-taught until entering Brigham Young, beginning a journey taking her to Cambridge, Harvard, ultimately at the cost of severing family ties. Review

Evolving Certainties

Evolving Certainties: Resolving Conflict at the Intersection of Faith and ScienceTerry Defoe. Self-published, 2018. A well-written, comprehensive survey of virtually all of the current popular literature on the creation-evolution dialogue. Review

leadership coaching

Leadership Coaching: Working with Leaders to Develop Elite PerformanceJonathan Passmore (ed.). London: Kogan Page, 2015 (second edition, review is of first edition). A compendium of articles by experts in the field of leadership coaching describing and assessing different models. Review

jesus revolution

Jesus RevolutionGreg Laurie, Ellen Vaughn. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. An account of the Jesus Movement centered around Calvary Chapel and Chuck Smith, who mentored Greg Laurie into ministry, and how such a revival might come once more. Review

a peculiar orthodoxy

A Peculiar OrthodoxyJeremy S. Begbie. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018. A collection of essays exploring the intersection of theology and the arts. Review

between two worlds

Between Two Worlds (Lanny Budd #2), Upton Sinclair. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (first published in 1941). Traces Lanny Budd’s life through two love affairs and his marriage to a rich heiress, during the 1920’s war weariness, good times, the rise of fascism, and the crash of the stock market. Review


Commonwealth, Ann Patchett. New York: HarperCollins, 2016. Traces the lives of six children and the parents from two families over five decades from the beginnings of an affair at a christening that broke up two marriages and threw the children together. Review

the power of the 72

The Power of the 72John Teter. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. A description of the theology and practice of equipping ordinary people to join in the mission of calling people to follow Jesus. Review

co-active coaching

Co-Active CoachingHenry Kimsey-House, Karen Kimsey-House, Philip Sandahl, and Laura Whitworth. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2011 (3rd edition–link is to 4th edition published in 2018). A model of coaching in which coach and client actively collaborate to accomplish the clients needs, and the cornerstones, contexts, and core principles to realize those outcomes. Review


Mariner (Studies in Theology and the Arts), Malcolm Guite. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. A biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, with an analysis showing how his most famous poem foretold and paralleled the course of his own life–a journey of fall, a need for grace, and redemption. Review

perfectly human

Perfectly HumanSarah C. Williams. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018. A personal narrative of a couple facing a pre-natal diagnosis of fatal birth defects, their decision to carry their daughter to term, their process with family and friends, and the larger issues their own decision raised for them. Review

is there purpose in biology

Is There Purpose in Biology?Denis Alexander. Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2018. An exploration of the idea purpose in biology, the association of purposelessness with the randomness and chance of evolution and whether this is warranted, and how a Christian perspective may both be consistent with what may be observed, and how Christian theology may deal with questions of pain and suffering in evolutionary processes. Review

the good neighbor

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred RogersMaxwell King. New York: Abrams Press, 2018. The biography of this pioneer in children’s television, the good neighbor in life as well as on screen. Review

religion and american culture

Religion and American Culture (3rd edition), George M. Marsden. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018. A survey of the interaction of religion and American civil culture from the nation’s beginnings up to 2016. Review

mindful silence

Mindful SilencePhileena Heuertz (Foreword by Richard Rohr, OFM; afterword by Kirsten Powers). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2018. Part narrative, part instruction, this work traces the author’s experience of “deconstruction” and how Christian contemplative practice enabled a deeper relationship with God and knowledge of herself. Review

how to read literature

How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster. New York: Harper Perennial, 2014. An introduction to the basics of understanding literature–symbols, themes, and contexts–that enrich our reading of literary fiction. Review

beauty, order, and mystery

Beauty, Order, and MysteryGerald Hiestand & Todd Wilson, editors. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. A collection of papers given at the 2016 Center for Pastor Theologians conference exploring various aspects and contemporary issues concerning human sexuality from the perspective of the church’s historic consensus. Review

intersectional theology

Intersectional Theology: An Introductory GuideGrace Ji-Sun Kim and Susan M. Shaw. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2018. An introduction to the application of intersectional analysis to theology, understanding how identities and social locations within systems of power might both challenge and shape our theological understanding and praxis. Review

business coaching and mentoring

Business Coaching & Mentoring for Dummies, 2nd edition, Marie Taylor and Steve Crabb. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2017. A detailed overview of the nature of business coaching and mentoring offering resources for assessing potential client opportunities, working with mind-sets, vision and planning processes, and marketing oneself as a coach. Review

Best of the Month. I had a number of good books to choose from this month but the standout for me was Sarah C. Williams beautifully written Perfectly Human. her narrative of learning that she was carrying a child with serious birth defects, who at best would die shortly after birth. She narrates the decision to carry the child, how they coped as a family, and loved their daughter. Here is a taste:

“During the nine months I carried Cerian, [Welsh for “loved”] God had come close to me again unexpectedly, wild and beautiful, good and gracious. I touched his presence as I carried Cerian, and as a result I realized that underneath all my other longings lay an aching desire for God himself and for his love. Cerian shamed my strength and in her weakness she showed me a way of intimacy.”

Quote of the Month. I was tempted to make it the one above, but I also loved this one from The Good Neighbor, showing how it was not only children who loved Fred Rogers:

“One of Fred Rogers’s most loyal fans was Koko, a famously communicative gorilla who appeared on the Neighborhood in 1998. Since Koko had been a faithful viewer of Rogers’s program for years, Fred visited her at the Gorilla Foundation in Redwood City, California, in his sweater and sneakers. When she saw him, Koko immediately folded him in her long, black arms, as though he were a child, and took off his shoes. Then they conversed in American Sign Language, shared a hug, and took pictures of each other.”

Current Reads. I’m about 400 pages into Ron Chernow’s Washington. This is one of the books on my “Ten Books I Want to Read Before I Die” list (it will be the second I’ve read since I wrote the post). All I can say is it is just as good as Grant, which I read at this time last year. Tomorrow, I will be reviewing How our Neighborhoods Make Us Sick, exploring how you can have significant differences in life expectancy between two zip code areas in the same city. Michael Card’s Inexpressible is a rich extended meditation on the Hebrew word hesed in scripture, which he defines as “When the person from which I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.” Kennedy Justice explores Robert F. Kennedy’s years as Attorney General–fighting political corruption, organized crime, and advocating for civil rights. Herman Bavinck’s Philosophy of Revelation is a new, annotated edition of his Stone Lectures from one hundred years ago, meaty material, and surprisingly relevant.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Snow Forts


Provincial Archives of Alberta [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Staring at the snow piles around my driveway after shoveling snow yesterday, I was reminded of the snow forts we used to build as kids in Youngstown during those winters when we would get all those snows off of Lake Erie.

The best snows for snow forts were the heavier ones because the snow would pack easier. Sometimes we would just mound up and pack the snow into walls. Or we would get a sturdy box–a wooden box was best–and make snow bricks by packing the snow in the box, then turning it over and adding it to our wall. This allowed us to make curves, or even igloos. Sometimes we would create tunnels to crawl through. If it didn’t snow more than a few inches, you’d end up using all the snow in your yard for your snow fort!

Of course, the reason for a snow fort was to have epic snow ball fights. When you had a snow fort, you didn’t have to make your snow balls one at a time during the fight. You could stockpile them, even let them get hard overnight. Then the unsuspecting neighbor kid who walked by would get clobbered.

Or you could do staged battles–a capture the fort sort of thing. I suspect forts got captured fairly often, unless you had more defenders than attackers. Snow balls really aren’t that good at stopping people!

The strangest thing is that we would often be out there for hours at a time. I don’t remember all the warnings about wind chill. I’m convinced that our nerve endings didn’t fully mature until we were adults. We’d be digging and building and battling in the snow and think nothing of the cold. Sure mom bundled us up in snow pants and coat, scarves, hats, gloves and boots (remember the boots you would pull on over your shoes?). Now, I’m out there snow shoveling for a half-hour, and I’m ready to come in for a hot shower and some coffee.

In my neighborhood, there weren’t many of us who went to ski resorts in the winter. But we found plenty of things to keep us busy–ice skating, sledding, or building snow forts and having snow battles. For a good snow fort, all you needed was snow, a shovel, a sturdy box, and your hands. What could be simpler or more fun?

Review: The Peacemaking Church


The Peacemaking ChurchCurtis Heffelfinger, (Foreword by Ken Sande). Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018.

Summary: Outlines a pro-active approach to peacemaking in the church consisting of eight principles that enable us to do our very best to pursue the peace and unity that is ours in Christ.

Church conflicts can be truly painful and leave deep scars on those who get caught up in them, especially pastors. Curtis Heffelfinger is one of them, and writes out of his own experiences of conflict, and lessons learned in working with Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, who contributes a foreword to this volume. After a near fatal church conflict, Heffelfinger developed a pro-active approach to peacemaking that is “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). He contends that “the best fight your congregation ever experiences is the one you never get into in the first place”. Critical to that is the “eager” in Ephesians 4:3. Over fifteen years, Heffelfinger developed a culture and practices that set a priority on eagerly doing one’s best to maintain Spirit-given unity.

In the next eight chapters, Heffelfingers lays out eight biblical keys to his proactive approach, organized into three parts. In Part One, he focuses on three priorities that preserve unity in Jesus’s church, drawing upon Ephesians 4:1-6. First, he focuses on how we see ourselves as peacemakers–walking worthily, as the Lord’s prisoners, as one called by the Lord. Second, he focuses on the virtues of Ephesians 4:2-3–humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and eagerness–that ought shape our approach to peacemaking. Third, he considers the “right doctrine” on which our thinking ought be based–all the “ones” of Ephesians 4:4-6.

Part Two focuses on three pitfalls to avoid that threaten unity. The first, is anger–murder in the mind. He speaks of the festering rage that can be so destructive in conflicts. Second, he bluntly points out the scriptures that prohibit Christians litigating conflicts in civil courts. I’m glad for the inclusion of this chapter, having observed denominational leaders in conflict with a church (in the peace church tradition, no less) ready to go to court, and being surprised when 1 Corinthians 6 was called to their attention. Third, he turns from going before judges to being judges in the church in the area of disputable matters. He writes:

If you want to do the best you can to preserve unity in your church, you have to learn to think this way: Mine is not to change my brother’s mind; mine is to embrace my brother. We must do that whether he is strong or weak, eating or not, drinking or not, smoking or not, movie- and theater-going or not, and a host of other so-called gray areas, doubtful things, or principles of conscience the Scripture does not color in black-and-white. So the gist of welcoming as a gospel-shaped community is an ongoing determination to embrace others in spite of differences over morally neutral matters.” (p. 102)

Part Three focuses on two practices that foster unity. The first is intercepting relational disasters before they ever occur. He looks at the example of Abram in Genesis 13 as he deals with potential tensions with his nephew Lot, observing the pro-active, relationally centered, humble, and generous approach of Abram. Second, he focuses on the importance of honoring spiritual leaders, though imperfect, who work with excellence to serve. The complement to servant leadership is respectful followership.

The book concludes with a reflection on Psalm 133 and the images of the fragrant oil and the refreshing and life-giving dew that describe the goodness and pleasantness of dwelling in unity.

I’m not convinced that these practices will avoid all conflict but rather lay the groundwork for constructive differences that resolve into even more durable unity and deeper love. The work is one worth a read by every church leadership board, or even as part of preparation for church membership. It could be used well in an all-church seminar on peacemaking. Curtis Heffelfinger works from passage to passage, undergirding principles with biblical precepts, as well as personal examples that illustrate those principles. Heffelfinger models a vulnerability, a lack of self-protection that seems essential to peacemaking. This book is a good complement to Ken Sande’s work, which focuses on healing and restoring peace. Heffelfinger’s book is about preventive care for the church, preserving the healthy and delightful peace that is God’s gift to his people.


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: Business Coaching & Mentoring for Dummies

business coaching and mentoring

Business Coaching & Mentoring for Dummies, 2nd edition, Marie Taylor and Steve Crabb. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2017.

Summary: A detailed overview of the nature of business coaching and mentoring offering resources for assessing potential client opportunities, working with mind-sets, vision and planning processes, and marketing oneself as a coach.

For those who follow this blog, you may have noted I’ve been reviewing books on coaching periodically, an area I am reading up on. As part of the “Dummies” series, you might think this would be the first I would read, and that it would be fairly elementary. Rather, I found it a fairly comprehensive resource on business coaching. I highlight “business” here because there are different kinds of coaching–life coaching, performance coaching, etc. and this book focuses with working with those in executive positions in the business world, in start-ups, small companies, and larger corporations.

The book is divided into five parts, each consisting of several chapters:

  • Part 1: Getting Started with Business Coaching and Mentoring
  • Part 2: Developing the Business Leader’s Mind-Set
  • Part 3: Coaching and Mentoring to Get a Business on the Right Track
  • Part 4: Creating a Successful Business Identity with the Support of a Coach
  • Part 5: The Part of Tens

I found the material in Part One the most helpful. Particularly key is the distinction drawn between coaching (“the art of co-creation”) and mentoring (“the art of imparting wise counsel”). Both can be valuable but need to be distinguished and often may be confused in the mind of a client. Throughout the book, the authors make a point to maintain the distinction while offering material for both situations. This part also dealt with professional training of coaches, making the case for coaching, assessing the potential needs of clients and contracting (including what goes into a contract). One of the most valuable pieces of advice is to know your limitations and don’t be desperate. Several models of coaching are also introduced including the CLEAR model (Contracting-Listening-Exploring-Action-Review).

Part Two focuses on the business leader’s mind-set. We are introduced here to Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a coaching approach one of the authors is trained in. Various exercises are introduced in this and the next two parts that seem to be versions of mindfulness training. One of my friends who has worked in business mentioned the relevance of the Enneagram, a tool used extensively in spiritual formation circles, to the business coaching world. Low and behold, a whole section of one chapter in this part was devoted to the Enneagram, particularly in dealing with the “I did it my way” leader.

Part Three focuses extensively on the vision, mission, values, and planning of a business, beginning with the stories businesses tell of themselves. There are extensive grids, sets of questions and guides for a variety of different clients one works with here.

Part Four was all about branding, both for the client and for the coach. For businesses, the grid offered on managing stakeholder relationships was helpful. For coaches, much of the advice might be summed up in the six-step model they offered:

  1. Identify the desperate needs of your potential clients.
  2. Identify your needs.
  3. Create a coaching solution to the desperate needs of your clients that satisfies both your needs and theirs.
  4. Position yourself as a niche specialist in providing the solution.
  5. Market and sell your services.
  6. Charge appropriately for your services.

Part Five consisted of several chapters of “tens”–online resources, tips for leaders who coach or mentor, tips for hiring a business coach, and ten questions for keeping a business on track.

Like any “Dummies” book, there are icons throughout highlighting particular types of information: Business owners, tip, remember, example, warning (very useful!), and technical stuff. Here’s one good warning:

“Coaches who are new to the profession often go looking for problems to fix. Don’t go looking for what’s not there — that’s making coaching about your own personal needs and not the needs of the client.” (p. 94).

I’ve highlighted some of the resources in each section I found helpful. I found the book chock-full of tools and resources and insights that probably make this a good basic reference for those engaged in business coaching or mentoring. You won’t be able to keep it all in your head. The writers emphasize how good coaches keep growing themselves, keep developing new skills, and access new tools. This book is a good place to start and worth having on the shelf.



Young Readers in Love


Children reading, by perfertdaysphotography via Pixabay

The other day, I asked the Bob on Books Facebook Page membership “when did you discover you loved reading?” As of this writing, thirty-six people responded and it was unanimous that they fell in love with reading in elementary school or before. The oldest was in sixth grade. Some always loved reading, enjoying being read to and even learning to read before they went to school. One woman claimed she read at a twelfth grade level in first grade!

There were several things I learned from my informal survey:

  1. Time spent with parents or another adult reading stories contributed to a love for reading for some.
  2. Learning how to read opened up the wonderful world of reading for some.
  3. One reader shared how she didn’t learn to read until sixth grade due to issues related to Aspergers, and how dedicated Special Ed teachers persisted when she started falling behind and resented reading. Now she loves reading and commented, “I enjoy reading so much now and will continue on for more years to come.”
  4. For many, it was a particular book that opened the wonderful world of reading. People mentioned Huckleberry Finn, Charlotte’s Web, the Little House books, A Wrinkle in Time, Nancy Drew mysteries and monster books.
  5. Trips to the library and bookmobile were important for a number of individuals, and getting a library card of one’s own was empowering.

The funniest reply I received was, “When I realized I wasn’t getting siblings, ever.”

Just yesterday, I came across this in How Neighborhoods Make Us Sick:

“Learning to read in first grade is the start of future academic attainment that has significant implications on adult health status. By third grade, students transition from learning to read to reading to learn, meaning that an inability to read hinders learning across all subjects. A study in the Chicago Public School system found that 80 percent of children with above-average reading scores in third grade graduated high school compared to 45 percent of those with below-average reading levels.” (p. 65)

Elsewhere in this book it was noted that life expectancies in the U.S. can differ by as much as 14 years between those who fail to graduate from high school and those with sixteen or more years of education. Often, these differences are associated with zip codes and a complex of challenges.

Years ago, two friends co-wrote a book titled Read for Your Life. I wonder if they realized how literally true their words were. It seems that fostering the skill of reading, and hopefully with it, the love of reading, ought to be a national priority. How I wish a president would be willing to shut down the government for adequate funding to ensure  every child learned to read. God bless the Special Ed teachers of my one respondent who persisted until she learned not only to read but to love reading!

So what do we say for the adults who did not develop a love of reading as children? Actually, I don’t think we are so different than children. We don’t like being lectured that we should read. Far better to read a book on something they find interesting and love that makes them want to read more. Far better to discover that talking about books can be enjoyable (do we need book groups for reading neophytes?). Sometimes there may even be a learning or visual difficulty that has made reading a chore all one’s life. Wouldn’t it be great if employee health plans included help in these areas. I suspect it would more than pay off in productivity.

I do suspect we who have always loved reading need to be careful with adults just learning to love books. We should not intimidate them with an avalanche of book recommendations or be book snobs looking down on choices that we might think are “mind candy.” After all, who doesn’t enjoy candy at times? And as we watch the child-like birth of a love for reading, we may recall our own first love.


Review: Intersectional Theology

intersectional theology

Intersectional Theology: An Introductory GuideGrace Ji-Sun Kim and Susan M. Shaw. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2018.

Summary: An introduction to the application of intersectional analysis to theology, understanding how identities and social locations within systems of power might both challenge and shape our theological understanding and praxis.

I would like to begin by thanking one of the authors (Grace Ji-Sun Kim) for affording me the opportunity to review this book. Typically, white, cisgendered heterosexual males, who are aging boomers, who self-identify as evangelical tend not to embrace conversations about intersectionality. I appreciate the trust extended to be included in that conversation!

Actually, my self-description illustrates the basic idea of intersectionality. There are multiple axes that make up who I am–age, race, gender and sexual identity, physical abilities or disabilities, religious identifications, family background, marital status, education, income and social class. In my case, these axes have afforded “an invisible package of unearned assets” that some would call “privilege.” I’ve only ever been stopped by a police officer for violating speed laws, and invariably treated with courtesy. I’ve never had difficulty securing credit or a loan. I’ve never been mocked or excluded because of my sexual orientation or marital status. In one church, I had to accept a male co-teacher even though my first choice was a woman who was better qualified. I’ve worked in an organization whose funding model works best for white men, less so for women and persons of color. Especially so for those who may be women and persons of color. It has shaped how I read the Bible. For example, it has not been until relatively recently that I fully grasped that both the people of Israel and the early Christians were subject peoples to imperial powers for much of their history and that much of scripture is God’s word to enslaved or subject peoples, including prophecies against the unjust use of power by those who do not fear God.

Intersectionality as an idea arose out black feminism as black women understood that it was not enough to understand the differentials of power and the effects of oppression that came from being a black, or being a woman. These identities come together to shape people and institutions and the power relations between them. Also, as an analysis that arises on the receiving end of unjust uses of power, it is constantly connecting theory and praxis–reflection and action to pursue justice.

In this work, subtitled “An Introductory Guide,” the authors apply this approach to doing theology. They contend that much of the church’s theological scholarship has been done by white, male, Euro-Americans (people like me!) and reflects our social location. Furthermore, some of the theological work that has been done in resistance to this culturally dominant group, like liberation theology, or feminist theology, often is along a single axis of ethnicity, or gender, and is not cognizant of the multiple ways different aspects of identity are shaped by power relations.

The authors introduce us to this approach first by giving some of the history that I touched on above of the development of intersectional analysis. They then illustrate intersectionality as it relates to theological ideas with their own narratives. Grace Ji-Sun Kim describes her experiences as a Korean-American immigrant, a woman, heterosexual, being raised in both a Korean Presybterian context and American schools. Susan M. Shaw describes growing up in a Southern Baptist tradition, wanting to engage in ministry but being barred, first because she is a woman, and then even more, as she comes to terms with her lesbian orientation, leading her to become a member of the United Church of Christ.

The third chapter then describes what it means to do intersectional theology. One of the key proposals here is that intersectional theology is a “theology of indeterminacy” rather than one that articulates absolute truth claims. Practicing intersectional theology involves “bracketing” our own understanding to enter into the logic of others’ frameworks. It recognizes that theological work is done in a context and asks how our own interpretive community has influenced our interpretations. It forces one to examine whether one is using a single axis of one’s identity and muting others. Oriented toward justice, intersectional theology looks at how a theology either supports or challenges inequities.

Chapter four explores reading the Bible intersectionally, and this I found quite helpful. They use the example of the book of Ruth, looking at the different identities of Ruth, the widowed Moabite woman immigrant, Naomi, the bereft Jewish mother unable of her own to assert her inheritance rights with no male offspring, and Boaz, the male, Jewish landowner. They note for example, that we think of Galatians 3:28 as separate, rather than intersecting identities (e.g.. male, Gentile, and slave).

Chapter five turns to the practice of intersectionality, both in terms of the pursuit of justice, and fostering the intersectional church. They advocate for a church that is fully intersectional and inclusive along all the axes of identity discussed including age, race, sexual identity and orientation, economic status and more.

There is much here that I appreciate. First is the recognition that we do not do our theological work in a vacuum but that it may well reflect one’s various axes of identity. Listening to those who are reading scripture who are not white, not male, not Western has opened my eyes to things in the biblical text to which I’ve been oblivious because of my own social location. Recognizing the complexity of the intersections of race, gender, orientation, and other aspects of our identity and how the mix reflects our experience of power and how we hear scripture, challenges the assumptions I make and my awareness of who “we” are together as the global body of Christ. Learning to “bracket” and incarnationally enter into the lived experience and theological frameworks of others seems crucial to developing the capacity to move beyond our identities to reflect what it means truly to be the body of Christ. The questions for reflection at the end of each chapter are among the most probing and thought-provoking I’ve seen, going far beyond the obligatory “reflection questions” I find in many books.

At the same time, I do find myself with some questions as I consider this proposal. One has to do with the authors’ comments about Karl Barth (p. 14). They are critical of Barth’s focus on the Bible alone and de-valuing context and social location. Yet it seems that it is precisely Barth’s understanding of the Bible that enables him to forcefully challenge and resist the social location of the Third Reich and the Christian nationalism of the German church in the formulation of the Declaration of Barmen, even though this was the context and social location out of which he theologized. Do we not read, and keep reading the Bible, and do so with the whole church, so that the Word of God might challenge the idolatries and injustices in all our social locations and contexts, be they places of power, or places of the oppressed?

I also wrestle with the language of a “theology of indeterminacy” which sounds like another way of speaking of the “pervasive interpretive pluralism” that Christian Smith has observed in his critique of “biblicist” Protestant Christianity. At times, intersectionality seems to hold out hope for different communities recognizing more truly the manifold revelation of God in Christ, and reflecting that in the mosaic of identities reconciled in Christ. Yet, the question arises of what we do when we have opposing interpretations, even when interpreters from different communities have bracketed, carefully listened, and still at the end of the day differ. What if we have examined our context and social location and believe our interpretations are not simply a function of our interpretive community?  Still, it does seem that the sensitivity of intersectionality to justice means that it eschews moves that assimilate others into one’s own theological constructions or moving from the oppressed to the oppressor.

You can see from the length of this review that I found this a thought-provoking work. While I cannot embrace every conclusion or praxis advanced in this work, it does make me both more reflective about how my own context and various aspects of my identity shape how I read scripture and do theology. It made me want to listen more to voices outside my own social context. This is no small thing!


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.