Review: Women in God’s Mission

Women in Gods Mission

Women in God’s MissionMary T. Lederleitner. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: An account of research into the many ways women are leading in God’s mission around the world, the distinctive traits in their service and leadership, the challenges they experience around gender discrimination, and the conditions under which they do their best work.

No matter what you believe about women in leadership, women are serving and leading in ways that are advancing God’s global mission. Mary Lederleitner researched their stories, giving an account of their leadership, the distinctive traits that mark their work, the challenges they face because of their gender and how they cope engage these, and what conditions foster the opportunity for them to serve and lead with excellence. In introducing her study, Lederleitner writes:

“My desire is to share stories of faithful and trusted women, so other agendas or issues do not derail the conversation about women in God’s mission. Other people can write books that argue points of view. The purpose for my book is to bring the voices of respected women from approximately thirty nations to the dialogue about leadership in general, and to dialogue about service and leadership in God’s mission specifically.”

This story approach runs through the book, beginning with “Appreciating Their Stories” in Part One. She documents the incredible variety of ways women are leading in networks, new missions, health organizations, in executive roles and in their families, and much more, with a deep sense of the privilege of being able to advance God’s mission in all these ways. Yet they often have faced challenges because of their gender and creatively responded. Many had a deep sense early in life of their leadership calling and struggled between faithfulness to God’s calling and cultural expectations and limitations.

Lederleitner teased out seven distinctive traits in these women, which she summarizes as “The Faithful Connected Servant.”

  1. Leadership is not about them but God
  2. A deep commitment to prayer.
  3. A preference for collaborative leadership.
  4. A holistic view of mission.
  5. Perseverance despite difficulties and injustices.
  6. Intense care for mission impact.
  7. A commitment to excellence and continuing personal growth.

Part Two elaborates these seven qualities, illustrating them with a variety of leadership stories. As a man who has worked with women leaders, I’ve witnessed all of these traits, and found that they have stretched my own leadership. I appreciated seeing these named.

Part Three explores the reality of gender discrimination, from the abuses women endure in society to ways they are discriminated against in the workplace in terms of promotion compensation, invisibility, and having to prove themselves in ways not expected of men. She explores both the ways women sometimes accommodate established patterns of discrimination, and what women do when, out of a sense of call, they cannot accommodate.

Part Four is especially important for men to read, because we can play a vital role in unleashing the gifts of excellence women bring to the church. It begins with husbands who are not threatened by their wives but delight in their gifts and accomplishments and sacrifice so they have the opportunity to excel. It means changing our metaphor in the workplace from a fear of women as temptress (usually the man’s problem that he needs to take responsibility for) to one of seeing each other as “sacred siblings.” It means men opening opportunities for women to step forward. She concludes this section by identifying remaining issues ranging from health and family issues to equity in the workplace.

What I most appreciate with Lederleitner’s story-telling approach is that she is not perpetuating a theological polemic but rather describing present and possible realities for women, the admirable work they are doing in serving and leading, even when limited by structures or theological positions. She shows the barriers the church erects, apart from the theological discussion, in which we hurt those who seek to serve and advance God’s mission.

This is a book men need to read! We need to understand both the internal struggle, and external conditions that make it hard for women to say “yes” to God’s invitations to serve and lead, and how we often make it harder. Men in leadership of ministries and agencies need to understand the potential for the mission of our organizations to be more effectively advanced when the women among us are fully able to lead well. Empowering women doesn’t come at the expense of dis-empowering men, but rather multiplies the power of all of us to fulfill God’s mission. Given the challenges facing the Christian mission in the modern world, that seems a good thing.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Review: Leadership in Turbulent Times

Leadership

Leadership in Turbulent TimesDoris Kearns Goodwin. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.

Summary: A study of how four presidents led the nation during turbulent times, tracing their awakening leadership ambitions, the adversity that formed their character, and lessons from how they led.

What distinguishes great leadership from the ordinary or the mediocre? Are leaders born or made? Are leaders great because of, or in spite of, their times? For answers to these and other questions about leadership, many have studied different U.S. Presidents, individuals with, arguably, the most challenging leadership job in the world. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has made a career of studying presidents, publishing four landmark biographies on Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, (and his successor William Howard Taft). In this work, she returns to these four figures, and considers them side by side–four very different men, each who met great challenges and decisively led the nation through them.

The book is organized into three parts. The first traces the awakening ambition of each man. Lincoln leaves an abusive father, educates himself, establishes a law practice and makes his first run for office. Teddy Roosevelt grows up mentored by a respected and wealthy father, overcomes physical weakness, marries Alice, who he met while in college, and goes to the New York legislature “rising like a rocket.” Franklin Roosevelt, a distant relative of Theodore, enjoyed strong formative relationships with both parents, was sociable, learning more by listening than by reading, meeting the president as a young man, and charting a career trajectory that followed in Teddy’s path. Lyndon Johnson was described as a “steam engine in pants,” who learned early to find paths to power by getting near the powerful, beginning with work as an assistant to his college president.

The second part looks at the role adversity played in the lives of each man and how it deepened and focused their ambitions. Lincoln, who went to the legislature with a program of infrastructure improvements, left office after a term, in shame, unable to fulfill his pledge to marry Mary Todd, because of the failure of the economy and the collapse of the programs he helped start. He was depressed to the point that friends considered the threat of suicide. He determined that “he must die or be better.” Teddy Roosevelt lost his beloved wife and his mother within hours, and fled to a ranch in the west where work with tough and resilient men formed his health and healed his soul. He resolved to return, beginning a career as a progressive reformer that eventually took him to the presidency. Franklin Roosevelt was struck down in the prime of life with polio, and rebuilt his upper body strength, started a polio clinic at Sulphur Springs, and finally was convinced and convinced others that he could pursue the highest office. Lyndon Johnson, shortly after becoming Senate Majority Leader has a heart attack, a determines to return to the social programs, including civil rights, that had been at the heart of his early ambitions but had gotten lost in a quest for political power.

The final part looks at how each led during the turbulent time in which they were president–Lincoln in the Civil War and making the Emancipation Proclamation, Teddy Roosevelt in using his office to resolve a protracted national coal strike, Franklin Roosevelt in turning around the country and giving it hope in the depths of the Depression, and Johnson, in succeeding to the office after the Kennedy assassination, and passing a sweeping program of social legislation from civil and voting rights to Medicare.

In the third part, Goodwin draws lessons from the leadership of each president. Here, for example, are the lessons drawn from Lincoln’s presidency:

  • Acknowledge when failed policies demand a change in direction.
  • Gather firsthand information, ask questions.
  • Find time and space in which to think.
  • Exhaust all possibility of compromise before imposing unilateral executive power.
  • Anticipate contending viewpoints.
  • Assume full responsibility for a pivotal decision.
  • Understand the emotional needs of each member of the team.
  • Refuse to let past resentments fester, transcend personal vendetta.
  • Set a standard of mutual respect and dignity; control anger.
  • Shield colleagues from blame.
  • Maintain perspective in the face of both accolades and abuse.
  • Find ways to cope with pressure, maintain balance, replenish energy.
  • Keep your word.
  • Know when to hold back, when to move forward.
  • Combine transactional and transformational leadership.
  • Be accessible, easy to approach.
  • Put ambition for the collective interest above self-interest.

Each point is elaborated with specific examples. One gains both an appreciation of the personal greatness of each president, and the hard and soft skills of each president. Obviously, this is a great text for any who aspire to lead, if one has the drive, like Lincoln, to be better. It also sets a high bar in the qualities we look for in our presidents. She goes lightly on shortcomings, apart from a discussion of the failure of Johnson’s handling of Vietnam.

Having read three of the four presidential books by Doris Kearns Goodwin, I wondered if this would just be a re-hash of her prior works, re-treading old material. Certainly, she draws upon that and her narrative of working with Lyndon Johnson tracks closely with that in her Johnson book. What is fresh and distinct in this book is how she focuses in on leadership, as well as the setting of these four presidents side by side. Each of the succeeding presidents she studies was influenced by the former–Teddy Roosevelt by Abraham Lincoln, Franklin by Teddy, Johnson by Franklin Roosevelt. This book is a challenge, in what many of us would consider a turbulent time, to the kind of people we will be, and the kind of people we choose to serve in leading us.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950

father-in-law-during-big-youngstown-snow

My father-in-law after the Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950. 

The Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950 is one I don’t remember. I was not yet on the scene. The storm I remember was the Blizzard of 1978, probably because I was stranded in a dorm in Bowling Green for five days. I remember my parents talking about the 1950 storm and my wife shared this picture of her father in the aftermath of that snowfall.

The snowstorm was the biggest in Ohio history, and one of the most unusual weather events to ever occur in the United States. It snowed in the Youngstown area from late on Thanksgiving evening, November 23 through the 27th, dropping a total of 29 inches of snow on the Youngstown area. The 24 hour snowfall record in Youngstown of 20.7 inches was set over November 24-25 during that storm. Some areas got it worse. Steubenville received a total of 44 inches, the record snowfall for Ohio.

regional-snowfall-index-map-november-22-30-1950

Snowfall totals through the Ohio Valley, National Centers for Environmental Information

Two low pressure systems, one from the Great Lakes and one from the south concentrated just west of the Appalachians over western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, where the heaviest snowfalls occurred. For this reason it is also known as the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950. There were some weird occurrences. For example, at 2:30 pm on November 25, Pittsburgh had blizzard conditions and temperatures of 9º F while in Buffalo 150 miles north it was 54ºF with the hurricane force winds that prevailed over the east coast and New England. Perhaps weirdest was that this low pressure system slowly tracked west over the next several days before dissipating, blocked by an intense high pressure system over New England. That contributed to the massive accumulations.

According to Howard C. Aley, in A Heritage to Share, Thanksgiving afternoon and evening was almost spring-like. Weather forecasts for Friday were for “snow flurries.” Snow began overnight but wasn’t overly heavy Friday morning. It snowed steadily all day and by Saturday morning the Valley was buried in blizzard conditions. A state of emergency was declared in the city. The National Guard was called in and it was a priority to rescue those whose homes were facing roof collapses, and pregnant women due to deliver. All businesses were closed and estimated losses from lost wages, production, and snow removal totaled over $20 million. Regionally, over one million people lost power, 22 states were affected, and 353 people lost their lives.

Not everything ground to a halt. In Columbus, the annual rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan was played at Ohio Stadium in what became known as the “Blizzard Bowl.” I found this video clip of game highlights. Michigan won 9-3, gaining only 27 yards and not getting a single first down. Temperatures Saturday morning were 5ºF with 40 mile per hour winds. I don’t know how they played that game!

Bulldozers were used to clear the roads. Ohio’s governor declared Monday a legal holiday. Schools remained closed on Tuesday and many remained closed on Wednesday. The Vindicator did not publish for three days, getting a paper out on Tuesday. By Tuesday the 28th some of the main streets of Youngstown were dug out. As you can see from the picture above of my father-in-law, in residential neighborhoods often all they could do was clear a narrow path, just enough to allow emergency services in, or to get key personnel like doctors out.

All over Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, there are people who remember that storm. Youngstown was just about in the epicenter where the two lows merged. It was a Category Five storm on the Regional Snowfall Index, the highest category (the Blizzard of ’78 was also a Category Five, the only one with a higher max RSI, though less snow). I kind of hope these two storms remain exceptional, having lived through the latter and from all I’ve read of the former.

If you remember the Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950, I would love it if you could share your memories!

 

The Month in Reviews: November 2018

The Cloud of Unknowing

Unusual for me, I read three works of fiction this month ranging the gamut from the magical realism of Cloud Atlas to a crime fiction classic, The Law and the Lady, and an espionage thriller from William F. Buckley, Jr. I explored two higher ed books, dealing with the problems of “safetyism” and racism on campus. Two of my reviews span the earliest and the latest century of Christian history. Books on cosmology and faith, and creation care and faith, were my readings in the science and faith category. Two books dealt with unhurrying our lives and finding wholeness (and holiness) in suburban life. There were some other jewels as well–a monograph on priesthood in scripture, a thematic anthology of Dorothy L. Sayers’ writings, and a pithy book on coaching in seven questions. I began the month reading a delightful collection of essays on reading, and ended with a spiritual classic in a fresh, modern translation.

I'd Rather Be Reading

I’d Rather Be Reading, Anne Bogel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. A collection of essays on the reading life with its unique joys and dilemmas, by a booklover, for booklovers. Review

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell. New York: Random House, 2004. Six stories told in a chiastic structure in different genres of writing, in different voices, from the past to a post-apocalyptic future, with characters whose lives and stories are connected. Review

Creation Care

Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural WorldDouglas J. Moo and Jonathan A. Moo. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018. A survey of the relevant scriptures concerning how we might think biblically and theologically about the creation and our role in it, and the relevance of this teaching to current environmental concerns. Review

The Coddling of the American Mind

The Coddling of the American MindGreg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. New York: Penguin Press, 2018. Discusses three bad ideas that result in a culture of “safetyism” in higher education, chronicles the consequences of these bad ideas, traces factors that led to the embrace of these ideas, and how we might choose a wiser way. Review

Cosmology in theological Perspective

Cosmology in Theological PerspectiveOlli-Pekka Vainio. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018. Explores the place and significance of human beings in the cosmos, how this has been thought of through history, and how Christian theology might address  contemporary questions raised about our place, the possibility of extra-terrestrial life, the size of the cosmos, drawing upon the approach of C.S. Lewis. Review

Finding Holy

Finding Holy in the SuburbsAshley Hales (Foreword by Emily P. Freeman). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Suburbs reflect our longings for the good, that we often fill with gods of consumerism, individualism, busyness, and safety. Only when we repent and find our longings met in belonging to God, can daily life in the suburbs become a holy endeavor. Review

God's Mediators

God’s Mediators: A Biblical Theology of the Priesthood (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Andrew S. Malone. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. A study of the biblical material on priesthood, considering both God’s individual priests, and the corporate priesthoods of Israel and the church, and some implications of this material for our contemporary understanding of priesthood. Review

race on campus

Race on CampusJulie J. Park. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2018. Addresses myths and misconceptions around issues of race on college campus using research data. Review

Christianity in the Roman empire

Christianity in the Roman EmpireRobert E. Winn. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2018. A survey of Christian history in the post-apostolic era from 100 to 300 A.D., introducing the reader to key figures, events, controversies, and the development of various church practices and structures. Review

An Unhurried Leader

An Unhurried LeaderAlan Fadling. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Proposes that influential spiritual leadership that bears lasting fruit arises out of unhurried life in God’s presence that results in unhurried presence in the lives of those one leads. Review

The Story of Henri Tod

The Story of Henri Tod (Blackford Oakes #5), William F. Buckley, Jr. New York: Mysterious Press/Open Road Media, 2015 (originally published 1983). As East Germany takes steps to stem the emigration of its people to the west through East Berlin in 1961, Blackford Oakes is tasked to find out what their intentions are and how they and Moscow will respond if NATO and the US intervenes. Review

Sayers

The Gospel in Dorothy L. SayersDorothy L. Sayers with an Appreciation by C. S. Lewis, edited by Carole Vanderhoof. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018. An anthology of Sayers’ work organized by theological topics, drawing on her detective fiction, plays, and essays. Review

The Coaching Habit

The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier. Toronto: Box of Crayons Press, 2016. Kicking the advice habit, asking questions well, and using variations of seven key questions can lead to more effective leadership coaching. Review

The Law and the Lady

The Law and the LadyWilkie Collins (edited with an Introduction and Notes by Jenny Bourne Taylor). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.Valeria Woodville discovers her new husband has a past that is under the cloud of a “not proven” murder accusation, and pursues an investigation to fully vindicate his innocence. Review

Christianity in the Twentieth Century

Christianity in the Twentieth CenturyBrian Stanley. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018. A thematic account of the development of global Christianity during the twentieth century. Review

The Cloud of Unknowing

The Cloud of Unknowing, Anonymous (translated by Carmen Acevedo Butcher). Boulder: Shambala Publications, 2018. A classic on contemplative prayer in a new modern translation. Review

Best of the Month: Carmen Acevedo Butcher’s fresh modern translation of the spiritual classic The Cloud of Unknowing is my best of November. One has the sense as you read that you are sitting with a trusted spiritual counselor who has kept company with God.

Quote of the Month: I have always loved Dorothy L. Sayers ability to cut to the pith of the matter, clearing the clouds of rhetorical fog. In The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers, I came across this statement:

“Let us, in Heaven’s name, drag out the Divine Drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slip-shod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much the worse for the pious–others will pass into the Kingdom of Heaven before them.”

Current Reads:  Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times is a wonderful exploration of how four presidents led during turbulent times and what we might learn from them. Mary Lederleitner researched the experience of women in leadership in Christian ministries, the gifts they bring, the challenges they face, and the ways they respond, in her new book, Women in God’s Mission. I’m reading another “Lost Worlds” book by John Walton and his son, this on the Israelite conquest. As with other of his books, this is a close reading of the biblical text that offers a very different way of understanding the conquest and dealing with the issues that arise of God seeming to sanction genocide. Our reading group is wrapping up our reading of Things Fall Apart and the experience of missions and colonialism from an African perspective. I’ve just begun the second of Upton Sinclair’s “Lanny Budd” series, Between Two Worlds. I’ll be mixing in some books from the library on leadership coaching. Finally, I hope to get to a book that has made a number of “best of the year” lists–Educated by Tara Westover.

I hope in the midst of holiday preparations and parties and other gatherings, you are able to steal away for some reading time, and perhaps find a good book or two under the Christmas tree!

Great Works in Translation

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Some translated works I have read. Photo Robert C. Trube, 2018.

Yesterday, I wrote about a great new translation of The Cloud of Unknowing. The writing achieves a sense of intimacy as one might experience with a trusted spiritual counselor. Pictured above are some of the other works I’ve enjoyed in translation–both fiction and non-fiction. To capture and convey what a writer is saying in translation is to give two gifts–the great thinking of the writer, and a translation that is a clear window into those ideas–that doesn’t obstruct or distort the meaning.

Having said that, I must confess that I have not studied the works in the list that follows in their original languages. I can say that I have sometimes read other, more wooden translations of these works and I’m grateful for these. Most of the works are ones in the picture–a few others I either could not find or I read them in electronic versions. Where I’ve written reviews, I include a link to them.

Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian ReligionJohn Calvin (Translated by John T. McNeill). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. McNeill captures both the intellectual rigor and devotional warmth of Calvin.

Beowulfunknown, Seamus Heaney (translator). New York: W.W. Norton, 2000. Seamus Heaney makes one of the greatest stories in literature come to life in lyric poetry like this from the opening lines:

So, The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.

Review

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky). New York: Penguin, 2000. Pevear and Volokhonsky offer us this tale of the forbidden love of Anna and Count Vronsky in flowing prose that takes us inside the characters of Tolstoy’s sprawling work. Review

SilenceShusaku Endo (translated by William Johnston). New York: Picador, 2017. Johnston’s translation is spare, meditative, and captures both the physical agony and inner struggles of indigenous believers and missionaries in seventeenth century Japan. Review

The DecameronGiovanni Boccaccio (translation by Wayne A. Rebhorn). New York: W. W. Norton, 2013 (originally published 1353). (Not pictured above). The Decameron is a set of 100 stories told over ten days by ten travelers fleeing the plague in the fourteenth century. Before reading this version, I looked at a stilted one of which I could barely read a page or two. Rebhorn brings out the style, the earthy humor, the human pretensions, and occasional nobility portrayed in these stories. Review

The Unbearable Lightness of BeingMilan Kundera (translated by Michael Henry Heim). New York: HarperCollins, 2004. It’s been some time since I read this but the plotline of the tension between love and lust for many women, and the consequences in the sense of the substance of one’s life is a thoughtful exploration of the human condition.

Work of LoveSoren Kierkegaard (translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong). Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998. The Hongs have translated all or nearly all of Kierkegaard’s work, and in this book, we encounter Kierkegaard’s challenging reflections on the nature of Christian love. Review (of a different edition)

PenseesBlaise Pascal (translated by A. J. Krailsheimer). New York: Penguin Random House, 2003. Pascal’s unfinished collection of notes and fragments on the Christian faith and the nature of belief. I have long mused on his statement that “that heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.”

On the IncarnationSt Athanasius (translated by John Behr, with an introduction by C. S. Lewis). Yonker, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2014. This translation brings to life Athanasius efforts to articulate with clarity in a time of controversy the doctrine of the Incarnation. A bonus is a wonderful essay by C.S. Lewis on the reading of old books!

Of course, for many, the Bible itself is a translated work, a translation of sixty-six canonical books (and others depending on your communion) from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Often, not only in English, but other languages, the translations have become a benchmark of fluent expression in that language.

Great translations extend to us the opportunity to read literature of other cultures and other times, liberating us from the insularity of our own time and place. The works listed here were originally written in French, Old and Middle English, Russian, Japanese, Italian, Czech, Danish, Coptic and Greek. They remind us that excellence in literature is not confined to the English language.

What works have you read in translation that you would recommend?

Review: The Cloud of Unknowing

The Cloud of Unknowing

The Cloud of Unknowing, Anonymous (translated by Carmen Acevedo Butcher). Boulder: Shambala Publications, 2018.

Summary: A classic on contemplative prayer in a new modern translation.

The Cloud of Unknowing is perhaps one of the greatest works on contemplative prayer. We don’t know the author but it was written in the 14th century in Middle English. This edition is a re-publication of a 2009 translation by Carmen Acevedo Butcher in an inexpensive paperback format.

It seems that many of the spiritual classics we read come to us in stuffy, Victorian English. Butcher’s translation strives for a simplicity and informality of conversation between a spiritual director and a directee, and this is one of the most winsome aspects of this work.

To give you both a sense of the work and the significance of the title, here is a brief passage in which the author describes the experience of beginning to contemplate:

The first time you practice contemplation, you’ll only experience a darkness, like a cloud of unknowing. You won’t know what this is. You’ll only know that in your will you feel a simple reaching out to God. You must also know that this darkness and this cloud will always be between you and your God, whatever you do. They will always keep you from seeing him clearly by the light of understanding in your intellect and will block you from feeling him fully in the sweetness of love in your emotions. So be sure to make your home in the darkness.”

One of the critical themes running through the work, true to the apophatic tradition out of which it comes, is that God cannot be known with our minds but only in our love–“we can’t think our way to God.” Contemplation is best pursued according to this author by simple reflection on a single word–“sin” and “God” are the two commended to us. He discourages trying to attain an experience of God through the senses, and encourages dismissing both our thoughts and feelings into a “cloud of forgetting.”

What I found attractive in this work is its wisdom and sense. We are assured that longing for God is enough, as this will open us to a deeper understanding of God. He discourages strenuous physical exertions that enervate and weaken us. He stresses the value of pursuing our contemplation accompanied by a spiritual director. He identifies four stages of spiritual maturity, with no sense that one is “better” than another, but only reflect a progress in love for God:

  • The ordinary which is our active life in the world
  • The special, where one continues to live an active life but also longs for God and begins to contemplate.
  • The singular is where contemplation becomes the focus of one’s life, praying without ceasing in love toward God.
  • The perfect, where we are with God, as we pass from this life into God’s presence.

The work itself consists of 75 brief “chapters” often connected to one another, that seems especially fitted for devotional reading of one or a few chapters a day.

Butcher’s translation includes an introductory essay and recommendations for further reading, including renderings in the Middle English, works on English mysticism and Christian mysticism more broadly, as well as reference resources. Her notes also offer explanations for her translation and other helpful background.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Review: Christianity in the Twentieth Century

Christianity in the Twentieth Century

Christianity in the Twentieth CenturyBrian Stanley. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018.

Summary: A thematic account of the development of global Christianity during the twentieth century.

It is no small challenge to write a one volume history of Christianity in the twentieth century. The Christian faith has truly become a global faith, represented with indigenous churches on every continent, expressed and experienced in as many or more ways than there are countries in the world, and facing varied internal and external pressures leading to adaptation and change.

Brian Stanley has approached this task not by trying to write a series of chapters on regional histories, or denominational histories, or theological history, but by identifying fifteen themes running through Christian experience over the last hundred years. Each chapter develops a particular theme, sketching some of the global developments, and then offers two case studies, usually specific to two different countries or regions. In the course of this study, Stanley not only touches on fifteen critical themes or trends but also shows the development of Christian faith in every part of the world in its multiplex variety.

In brief, here are the themes covered:

  • Responses to World War I
  • Christianity and Nationalism
  • Prophetic movements
  • The Persecuted Church
  • Belonging and believing
  • Ecumenism
  • Christianity, Ethnic Hatred, and Genocide
  • Christianity in Islamic contexts
  • Christian mission in the modern world
  • Theologies of liberation
  • The church addresses human rights, racism, and indigenous peoples
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Pentecostalism
  • Eastern Orthodoxy
  • Migrant Churches

As mentioned above, each theme chapter is illustrated by two case studies. For example, in looking at Christian faith and nationalism, Stanley takes the contrasting cases of Protestant nationalism in Korea, and Catholic nationalism in Poland, developing the role of the church in the movements for national autonomy in each country, as well as the uneasy alliance of Christianity and nationalism more broadly. However, in the chapter on Christian mission, he considers first the Second Vatican Council of 1962 to 1965, and two contrasting gatherings of Protestants at Uppsala in 1968, focused more on the social dimensions of Christian faith, and Lausanne in 1974, focused more on the conversionist aspects of the faith, albeit with a strong witness for justice concerns by Christians from the majority world. I was somewhat surprised that little was said about the subsequent Lausanne movement or the efforts to identify and reach unreached people groups, a missiological development from this movement.

One of the observations I made while reading is that some themes felt like well-known territory, with names, issues and movements I was well familiar with. Other chapters, like the one on Orthodoxy, for example, surprised me as I learned of Orthodox movements in Africa, and how significant diasporas have been for the development of Orthodoxy in western Europe and the United States. I’ve recently become more aware of Ghanaian Pentecostalism in my own city and this book filled in context of the development of Ghanaian Christianity as well as Pentecostalism in other parts of the world. Numerous leaders of significant movements in twentieth century Christianity were mentioned that I had not heard of, conveying what a far-flung, diverse, and global movement Christianity has become.

The author opens and closes the book discussing the renaming of The Christian Oracle as The Christian Century. Was the twentieth century a “Christian century.” A simple answer to that question is not possible in the author’s estimate. In absolute numbers, no century has witness greater growth, and yet the world’s population has grown faster. In Europe, North America, and Australasia, the church has been in retreat, except for the immigrant churches that have come from South and Central America, Asia, and Africa. Secularism and persecution have attempted to undermine the church, have made significant inroads, and yet not succeeded, and sometimes resulted in a resilient and more robust faith. Christians have both played pivotal roles in justice movements, and been inextricably involved in ethnic hatred and genocide. Great progress has occurred in some sectors toward Christian unity, even while indigenous and immigrant churches assert their own autonomy and major bodies are riven over questions about human sexuality.

Rather than offering a triumphalistic account, Stanley offers a cautionary tale inviting the reader to reflection, summarized in his closing question of “whether Christianity has converted indigenous religionists or whether indigenous religious and cultural perspectives–whether these be African, Asian, Latin American, or even white North American–have succeeded in converting Christianity.” In raising this question, I think he has identified one of the critical issues facing Christians in the early twenty first centuries, questions that ought send us to our knees, turn us to our Bibles, and challenge us to listen to the prophetic voices that speak the uncomfortable truths we need to hear.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Law and the Lady

The Law and the Lady

The Law and the LadyWilkie Collins (edited with an Introduction and Notes by Jenny Bourne Taylor). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Summary: Valeria Woodville discovers her new husband has a past that is under the cloud of a “not proven” murder accusation, and pursues an investigation to fully vindicate his innocence.

Wilkie Collins is one of the early writers of detective fiction, most famous for his The Woman in White and The Moonstone, two works that established his reputation among the reading public of his time who eagerly awaited the serialized releases of each of his stories. The Law and the Lady is a later work (1875) with probably the first female sleuth in the genre.

Valeria Woodville’s marriage to Eustace Woodville begins with an ill omen when she signs the wedding register with her married rather than maiden name. On her honeymoon she discovers the Eustace’s real surname was Macallan after a chance encounter with her mother-in-law, who had disapproved of the marriage. Valeria recognized her from a photograph she had found among her husband’s effects. She is discouraged by her husband from inquiring further into the circumstances that led to their marriage under an assumed name.

Instead she persists, returns to London, and tracks down Major Fitz-David, a ladies’ man who, while refusing to divulge her husband’s secret, permits her to discover it in his study. She finds a picture of her husband with another woman, Sarah Macallan, and after further searching finds a book with a narrative of the trial of Eustace Macallan for the murder of Sarah by arsenic poisoning. The trial ended with neither a “guilty” nor a “not guilty” verdict but a third allowed in Scottish law, “not proven.” Such a verdict left Eustace under a cloud of suspicion, a permanent blot upon his reputation.

Valeria determines to remove that blot, even though Eustace, and her old family friend, Benjamin, urge her to leave it alone. When she refuses, Eustace leaves her to fight in a distant war in Spain, where he is later seriously wounded. Assisted by Benjamin, and Eustace’s attorney, Mr. Playmore, who is eventually won over to her cause, she pursues an investigation to uncover the real murderer. Much of the inquiry centers around Misserimus Dexter, a friend of Eustace born without legs, an eccentric bordering on madness, whose testimony on behalf of Eustace may have saved him from a guilty verdict, and suggested suspicion of a female guest. In the course of the novel, Dexter descends into insanity, but one of his last, raving statements, taken down by Benjamin, leads Mr. Playmore to the discovery of the truth.

One of the distinctive features of the novel is that it is written as the first person narrative of Valeria. Combined with the fact that she is one of the first female detectives, the novel gives us one of the more memorable character portrayals in detective fiction that paved the way for other women detectives. Valeria’s determination to read the trial accounts, to familiarize herself with the law, and to mount an investigation (helped by the fact that she was a woman of independent means), in defiance of all the urgings that she content herself in her husband’s love, makes her a strong female character pushing the boundaries of Victorian role expectations.

At the same time, most critics do not consider this among Collins’ best, and I would have to agree. Given Valeria’s strength of character, at least this reader thought that Eustace wasn’t worthy of her, and I wondered what she saw in him. But, the heart has its reasons! I wondered why Eustace, if innocent, did not himself pursue the efforts Valeria pursued to find his former wife’s murderer but acquiesced in the “not proven” verdict.  He chose instead to marry under an assumed name, and false pretenses. Even his mother, also a strong character, considers this unworthy of him. Also, there is a studied avoidance of the one possibility that turned out to be the truth, one that occurred to me early in the narrative. I can even think of some red herrings Collins might have used to put the reader off the track.

What redeemed it for me was the strong character of Valeria, who is the good wife in the best sense, and yet refuses to be “the good wife.” Her persistence despite setbacks and apparent dead ends, and the bizarre character of Dexter and his household, her ability both to take counsel and make up and assert her own mind (even while expressing her inner misgivings in the narrative) offers us not merely a female detective but a woman of refreshing and unusual strength who must have appealed to Collins’ female readers. Her strength combined with her loyalty suggests possibilities for a richer, yet unconventional, marriage with Eustace, possibilities it appears he only begins to grasp in his convalescence from his wounds. How interesting it would have been if Collins had made Valeria into a recurring character!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Delivering Holiday Newspapers

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Newspapers B & W (4), by Jon S. [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

The other day I spotted a bag of advertising circulars for Black Friday laying on the apron of my driveway. It brought back memories of delivering The Vindicator on Thanksgiving morning, as well as all the Sunday papers leading up to Christmas. Generally the Thanksgiving Vindicator was the biggest paper of the year with all the sales ads for Friday (it wasn’t called Black Friday back then). There were maybe twenty or thirty pages of news content, and the rest was advertising, either in the newspaper of the advertising inserts–in all there were often several hundred pages.

Stories that I found online said that these papers could weigh between three and five pounds apiece. I had seventy customers on my paper route, and so that adds up to 210 to 350 pounds of newspapers that I had to deliver. The newspapers were delivered in one bundle, the ads in another. For seventy papers, this often turned out to be four to six bundles for my route.

I picked up my papers at a drop on Steel Street and haul them four blocks uphill on Oakwood Avenue to my route. Most days, I could put all my papers in one canvas paper sack, or two on Wednesdays and on Sundays I used a wagon.  For this haul, I used a wagon one year and it about killed me. I enlisted dad after that, and he would stuff the ads into the papers for one side of the street while I loaded up my paper sack and delivered the other, and then he would meet up with me to deliver the other side, or go up to the other block that I delivered.

Newspapers obviously made a good deal of extra money on all this advertising, but paper carriers didn’t get any more money. But in a way we did in the form of Christmas tips. For a route my size, I could get a hundred dollars in tips at Christmas time. Some were Scrooges, some were generous, and most remembered. It made hauling those papers worth it. One lady made homemade hard candy and would always give me a bag. If you were thinking of quitting your route, you usually waited until after Christmas, despite all those heavy papers.

In most communities, kids don’t deliver newspapers any more. When I delivered papers, most every person on my route, which covered two city blocks, took the paper. These days, you are lucky if about one out of five homes take the paper, and the routes are much larger, and usually delivered by adults in a car. But there are generations of paper carriers with memories of hauling hundreds of pounds of ad-laden Vindicators on Thanksgiving morning. Maybe some of you will share your stories…

Review: The Coaching Habit

The Coaching Habit

The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier. Toronto: Box of Crayons Press, 2016.

Summary: Kicking the advice habit, asking questions well, and using variations of seven key questions can lead to more effective leadership coaching.

Over the next few weeks, I will be mixing in reviews of books on coaching, part of some reading I am doing for my own development. I’ll take the risk of reviewing these because all of us influence others in some way, and it is never a loss to learn how we might do that with greater effectiveness that helps others flourish.

One of the key ideas of this delightfully straightforward and easy to read book is that many leaders tend to give directions, answers, and advice far more than ask questions. This thwarts effectiveness by promoting dependency rather than autonomy in those we lead. It leads to more time being absorbed in this unproductive activity, and at worst, leaders become bottlenecks in their organizations.

Another critical insight is that deciding to ask more and better questions is not enough if the leader doesn’t recognize what triggers the advice-giving habit. With each of the seven questions that follow, the author asks us to identify the triggers that activate habits that derail us from good coaching and to identify a new practice that will be come a new habit.

The core of the book is seven great coaching questions:

  1. The Kickstart Question: “What’s on your mind?” Ask this early, with a minimum of chit-chat and this gets to the reason for the conversation. Often this will be about one of the 3Ps: Projects, People, and Patterns, all linked to each other.
  2. The AWE Question: “And what else?” This question draws out more information, often identifies more options, buys time, and keeps the “Advice Monster” at bay.
  3. The Focus Question: What’s the real challenge here for you? Often what is on one’s mind is nebulous, or there are many challenges mentioned. This question gets concrete and personal and prevents “coaching the ghost” of discussing someone not in the room rather than what is facing the person in front of you.
  4. The Foundation Question: “What do you want?” Often the coachee is not clear on this and it is not clear in the situation. Once clear, it is possible to have an adult conversation where it is possible to answer “yes,” “no,” “give me time to think about that,” or perhaps, “not this, but that.” Also, it is critical to recognize the difference between wants and needs, the latter often being the reasons behind the wants. The question can also be a mutual one, particularly in a management situation where two people can get clear on what each wants in a situation and then get on with figuring out how to respond to that.
  5. The Lazy Question: “How can I help?” It question calls upon the person to make a direct request, and it delivers you from being the perpetual rescuer. A blunter way to ask this question is “What do you want from me?” Instead of deciding for a person how one can be helpful, it allows them to say what really would be helpful, and it allows you to decide whether you can offer that help. It is lazy because it saves us from providing all sorts of unwanted and counterproductive help.
  6. The Strategic Question: “If you are saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?” This chapter offers some great help in figuring out how to say “no” when it is very hard to do. It also helps us figure out what we will be saying “no” to if we choose a strategic direction, and what else we may need to say “no” to in order to fully embrace the “yes” rather than over-commit.
  7. The Learning Question: “What was most useful to you?” This recognizes that debriefing is where learning really takes place, and clarifies the most important outcomes to your discussion. It also has the side benefit of increasing the perception that the coach as useful!

Stanier includes psychological research at the end of each chapter explaining why the questions are effective. He also sandwiches a “Question Masterclass” between each question that explores how one asks questions as well as what questions we ask–things like cutting the intro and asking the question, sticking to “what” questions, getting comfortable with silence, listening to answers, and acknowledging them.

The questions ring true with my own leadership and coaching experience–these are good questions. The insight on the “advice monster” is one most leaders need to heed. There is a refreshing contempt for truisms like “work smarter, not harder.” I do wonder about the author’s claim that “Coaching is simple” and that this book will “give you most of what you need.” Is this hype, or simply an author with a lot of chutzpah? What I can say is that this was a quick read, offered good questions and reasons for using them, and didn’t bury its message in a ton of verbiage. That’s worth something.