Review: Is Christianity the White Man’s Religion?

Is Christianity the White Man’s Religion?, Antipas L. Harris. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: Explores and answers the title question, showing the misreading of scripture and the affirmation of diverse cultures in scripture.

“Is Christianity the White Man’s Religion?” This question has been asked and the idea asserted by followers of the Nation of Islam, the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, and the Five Percent Nation, among others. It is a question facing not only Blacks, but also other peoples of color. Antipas L. Harris, the president and dean of the Jakes Divinity School affirms not only the rich heritage of the Black Church but also demonstrates that this assertion seriously misreads the Bible and its affirmation of diverse cultures.

First, though, he shows the seriousness of the challenge. He notes the departure from the church of social justice-minded millenials as they have witnessed evangelical embrace of conservative politics and pushback against peaceful protests, often opposing the affirmation that Black lives matter. He observes the rising interest in alternative religious groups. He pinpoints the need for the church to address the issue of identity. Does Jesus care about people of color? What does the call to share in the holiness of Jesus mean for one’s identity?

He observes how our reading of scripture has been dominated by a white, Eurocentric interpretation when the Bible arises in a very different culture and context and needs to be interpreted based on that context. He contends that the white Jesus of Hollywood is not the darker skinned Jesus of the Near East. Within the New Testament, Christianity spread to Ethiopia and North Africa. The gospel writer Mark was from Cyrene, in northeast Libya. From Genesis to the New Testament, there was a good deal of ethnic mixing, including in the lineage of Jesus with Rahab the Canaanite, Ruth, the Moabite, and Bathsheba whose husband was a Hittite. He also gives the lie to the curse of Ham being upon Blacks and justifying slavery.

He invites us to read the gospels through dark lenses, to consider how the both the jubilee message of Jesus and his sufferings resonated with former slaves and those who faced the lynching tree. He concludes with inviting us to see the colorful Bible, and to take this message to the streets, to partner with parachurch organizations (PCO’s) to reach disaffected youth, and that Christian leaders must focus on the humility of Jesus and “redeem the faith from perceptions that it’s no more than a mechanism of power in the hands of good ol’ boys.”

Each chapter concludes with a brief “Living it Out” reflection. A strength of this book is that it distills the best of good scholarship to answer the charge that Christianity is the white man’s religion.” It is a good book to read with someone asking the question. Yet this is far from a sterile argument. Harris invites each of us, black or white, to read the Bible with new glasses, to see how God extends his love across diverse peoples and cultures and that the message of the Bible is good news for people of every color. And he invites us to allow that reading to change us.

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

Review: The Beautiful Community

the beautiful community

The Beautiful Community, Irwyn L. Ince, Jr., Foreword by Timothy Keller. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: An argument that churches united amid their diversity are beautiful communities that reflect the beauty of the triune God they worship.

Most of us love beautiful things and are drawn to them. That is often not the picture we have of the church, fraught with conflict and division, including division across racial lines. Irwyn L. Ince Jr. believes that such community is necessary, possible under God, though not easy, to point the world to the beautiful God as reflections of God’s beauty. Ince has walked this talk as a pastor within the Presbyterian Church of America, part of a multi-ethnic pastoral team pastoring a multi-ethnic church in urban Washington, DC. He is the executive director the Grace DC Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission. In 2018, he was unanimously elected to serve as moderator for the PCA General Assembly, the first Black moderator in the denomination’s history.

Ince grounds his argument for the beautiful community is grounded in the relational beauty of the Triune God, and the first part of his work is devoted to this idea. In his introduction, he lists twenty-two attributes of the beautiful God. This is the source of our beauty as creatures in the image of God, the source of our dignity. And since the beauty of God is a beauty in community, no single individual can fully reflect that beauty but only the diverse community of humanity.

Ince writes, “We were made to image God as beautiful community but sin ruptured our communion and polarization has been our story ever since.” Ince argues that we moved from garden to ghetto, including the racial ghettos of the American landscape. He argues that while race is indeed a human construct, it is one that has had real effects on the lives of people. He would contend that those who want to do away with the term are unwilling to deal with the harmful consequences of this sinful construct, and how the history of race in this country shapes our present context. He notes the often-failed efforts to form multi-ethnic congregations and the exodus of people of color from many evangelical congregations following their overwhelming support of the current president. He notes how ethnic identity may feel central for all, including whites whose ethnic and cultural practices subtly dominate in many multi-ethnic churches and only the new garments of an identity established in Christ can transform us.

One of the striking chapters in this work was the critical importance of devotion to doctrine. He argues that the injustices people of color have faced are departures from the fundamental truth of the unity of a diverse church, and gospel integrity calls us to address these injustices. He follows this chapter with a call to costly holiness, a holiness that faces and confesses our failures, and relinquishes majority dominated power structures. After challenging words, he concludes with a joyous vision of a beautiful, beloved community enjoying the pleasures of the Lord, including the pleasure of table fellowship, the sharing of good food.

The power of this book is that Ince addresses a challenging reality with a beautiful God-centered vision. Sociologists he cites have analyzed as a near impossibility that churches can gather across racial differences. Yet his doctrinally formed vision of God, of humanity, of the work of Christ, and of the church come together in his beautiful vision, under God’s grace. His conviction is that it won’t be easy, that it will involve intentional hard work, and reliance upon the grace of God. The question for us is whether our vision of the beautiful God will fuel our vision of a beautiful community that reflects God’s beauty to the world.

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

Review: Holy Disunity

Holy Disunity

Holy Disunity: How What Separates Us Can Save UsLayton E. Williams. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019.

Summary: Proposes that difference ought be viewed as gift rather than problem, that difference, and even disunity, as messy as it is in the church, can be a source of growth.

Within the Christian community, the existence of difference, disunity, and division is viewed as problematic. These seem to betray the oneness, the unity of the body of Christ of which scripture speaks. Layton Williams makes the argument that difference, disagreement, and sometimes even division, is a gift. She roots her argument in the Trinity where three distinct persons exist as one being. She argues that we do not create unity but that we are one, and this is a unity that does not obliterate difference but treats it as a gift.

Williams observes that often our strategy is to suppress difference and the undesirable in the various forms it takes, which she unpacks chapter by chapter: doubt, argument, tension, separation, vulnerability, trouble, protest, hunger, limitations, failure, and uncertainty. Often, our posture is to try to act as if these things don’t exist, or address them with over-simplistic solutions, or to normalize a certain position to the exclusion of others. Worse yet, we often marginalize, demonize, and dispel those who persist in honestly differing. By the same token, sometimes we sacrifice deeply held convictions and perspectives to “keep the peace.”

Instead, she contends:

We don’t have to fear difference. Difference–our own and others’–is how we know who we are. It’s how we distinguish ourselves. Our own unique place in this universe and the experiences and qualities that define us allow us to interpret the world around us and make our own particular mark on it. The world is the way it is–different from how it might otherwise have been–because of us. It’s also different because of others. The ways that others are different from us, their unique experiences and qualifications, expose us to new ways to understand the world.

Each of her chapters explore how the various facets of difference save us. Each includes a reading of a biblical text that develops her position. In the chapter on tension, she contends for the hard work of wrestling with tension with a discussion of Jacob’s night of wrestling with God in human form, emerging both blessed with a new name, and limping. Difference often means walking into hard things that both leave their marks on our lives and lead to growth and greater self-understanding.

There is an important autobiographical element running through the narrative that makes Williams wrestling with and embrace of difference significant. Williams self-identifies as LGBTQ, and with other “out” LGBTQ Christians. Her own perspective of the gift and “holiness” of difference emerges from her own experience of growing up in a home, and a church in the South where she both experienced deep love, and yet also deep pain as neither could fully embrace her LGBTQ identification. In a chapter on “the gift of separation” she writes movingly about what this has meant for her and her mother:

It isn’t that I don’t wish, deeply, that my mother and I could be equally at peace in the same church. It’s that I know that it takes at least as much love and commitment to look in the face of one of the people you care most about in this world, and to know that at this time you cannot be theologically reconciled, and to let them go to pursue faith in a way that doesn’t prevent you from doing the same, hoping all the while that your paths might one day come together. For all the ways we disagree, my mother and I have both done that for each other.

I was impressed with the perspective that allowed for the possibility of disagreement and even separation, whether of individuals or church bodies, while also allowing for the possibility of continued love and charity toward one another. It is a perspective that refuses to diminish or disrespect the theological commitments of either, without minimizing the disagreement, or allowing the disagreement to degenerate into rejection of, vitriol toward, demonizing of, or hatred of the other. This note is exceedingly rare and welcome in what has often been a hurtful area of contention within the contemporary church.

The question I might pose would be how far would the author extend her argument about difference within the church? How would she have responded to the differences in the church in the United States around the issue of slavery? How would she respond to an embrace by the church of a nationalism that diminishes the value and worth of other human beings and obligations as Christians to them, as occurred in Nazi Germany? Is difference always a gift? And if not, by what criteria ought such difference be deemed unacceptable; not a gift but a matter for repentance and re-formation?

At the same time, I found much that resonated deeply. Allowing room for doubt and dispelling the false god of certainty has been a vital part of ministry among university researchers. Getting further on in life, I recognize the gifts of limitations and failure. When people can be more vulnerable in a bar than among the people of God, this challenges the church with the question of what we must become to be places where people can truly disclose themselves. As a cis-gender heterosexually oriented male who might identify more closely with the theological commitments of the author’s mother, it was illuminating and important for me to listen to and sit with this LGBTQ woman’s journey and to see the church through her eyes. I needed to read of her fears and hopes, and to be challenged with the call to love across our real differences, and to believe with the author that even in the mess of the moment, “[w]e can trust that God is at work.”

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Don’t Knock the Hustle

Don't knock the hustle

Don’t Knock the HustleS. Craig Watkins. Boston: Beacon Press, 2019.

Summary: An investigation of the ways young entrepreneurs are combining tech savvy, hard work, and social capital to create the careers, with a special focus on the inclusion of under-represented populations in tech fields including women and people of color.

S. Craig Watkins uses the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the House of Representatives, beating a supposedly unbeatable party insider in the primary election, to illustrate the basic premise of this book. Many younger millenials are using unconventional methods to build their own careers, often on a shoestring using readily available digital technologies, hard work (“hustle”), and social capital–one’s real and virtual network of friends and sympathizers, including the communities of fellow entrepreneurs who help each other

Watkins lead off case study of Ocasio-Cortez sets a pattern for the book, where a particular tech entrepreneur illustrates some aspect of this “hustle” economy. For example, he profiles Prince Harvey, a rapper, who records his first album in an Apple store turning retail space into a studio.

For many, from rappers to game developers, what happens is they seek out cheap warehouse spaces, or at their best, accelerators, that become coworking spaces where resources like printers, wi-fi, phones and furniture are shared, as are ideas in what Watkins calls a “perpetual hackathon.” Some become innovation hubs like Juegos Rancheros, a hub for indie game developers. Other young creatives learn everything they need to innovate in a just-in-time fashion on the internet.

At some point, start-ups, even “side hustles” supported by day jobs, need capital to ramp up. Accelerators can help with connections with investor “angels,” but just as often, these creatives use crowd-sourced funding methods to secure financial capital.

The music industry is a big place for young creatives who have developed alternative models of making and distributing music. Watkins profiles the development of SoundCloud and how it has been adopted by creative podcasters, hip-hop artists, and audio producers. What SoundCloud has been to music, YouTube has been to video, launching the career of Issa Rae, whose videos of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl provided an a young black woman who the traditional video media industry would not give a second look. Justin Simien used Twitter to launch Dear White People.

The latter part of the book focuses on the inclusion in this creative economy of the under-represented: women and people of color. He describes the idea of Debbie Sterling that girls needed opportunities to build things with construction toys, and came up with a side hustle called GoldieBlox. He introduces us to Kimberly Bryant who created a nonprofit called Black Girls Code. He narrates the work of Qeyno Group, a group formed to foster design thinking and hackathons among underserved populations in Oakland. He chronicles the street activism and civic engagement that arose among young creatives following the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson including Mapping Police Violence, the first comprehensive database of police-involved shootings, and the development of the Wiki-based Resistance Manual.

He concludes the book in Detroit, discussing how the new creative economy holds promise for the re-building of a rust-belt city. The challenge is moving the creative economy out of the downtown areas into the more ethnically diverse neighborhoods. One answer is Ponyride, combining a high commitment to diversity with a high commitment to education in bringing together young creatives.

This is an inspiring book. While it might be asked how many of these entrepreneurial efforts will be around in a decade, this could be applied to the efforts of previous generations. If anything, the “fail fast” and then build it better attitude suggests a far more resilient approach than the one that believed in jobs that would always be there, even passed along from parents to children. The narrative of innovation not dependent on large amounts of financial capital, but on social capital and ingenuity takes us back to an earlier time, as well as into a new era. I’m also struck by the leveraging of different forms of digital technology and online resources. Part of the “creative” is seeing how innovators combine and adapt technologies not built for what they are trying to do, ending up both changing the technology and creating new products.

I realize that at least part of the pushback against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is ideologically and politically motivated. But I can’t help but wonder if part is that secretly, people are scared by the way she combined social capital, tech savvy, and just plain hustle and changed the rules of a game that other politicians thought they knew how to play. This book suggests that the rules are being re-written by young creatives in a variety of fields. Perhaps it is time to stop knocking the hustle and realize that this may be a new way of getting things done.

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

 

Review: The Minority Experience

The Minority Experience

The Minority ExperienceAdrian Pei. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: A book that explores the minority experience in organizations and how organizations can meet these challenges redemptively.

Being a minority is not a mere matter of numbers but an emotional experience that is about pain, about power, and who holds it, and about the past, a history and accumulation of experiences. Adrian Pei maintains that understanding these realities of pain, power, and the past are crucial to understanding and beginning to address the minority experience. He writes out of his experience as an Asian-American working within Epic, the Asian-American ministry of Cru, eventually serving as their national director of leadership development before moving into a consultant role in organizational development.

The first part of the book focuses on the emotional experience of being a minority in an organization. He describes the pain of self-doubt (“Am I the problem?”), the internalizing of pain and shame. Pei describes an experience with a leader during new staff training, and a conversation with that leader ten years later where he was able to both speak out and be listened to. He describes the inequities of power often unconsciously built into systems that attempt to domesticate minorities, to make them “fit in.” He also helps us understand how every minority has a past that colors current experience. Latinos, particularly in the southwest US saw the white United States take their country from Mexico and them reject them, wishing them south of the “new” border. Asian-Americans came as cheap and expendable labor on the Trans-Continental railroad. Blacks came against their will as slaves. Native peoples endured the seizure of their land, and then pejorative portrayals in media and even sports logos. To continue to try to step up when one is put down is wearying, another part of the history of the past that shapes the present.

Organizations often want to skip over issues of pain, power, and the past, but before doing anything else, it is crucial to sit with them, not rush to “solve” them. Understanding pain can lead to compassion, understanding power can lead to advocacy, and understanding the past can lead to wisdom. Part Two then begins to address the change process in organizations from this base. Pei outlines a seven step change process:

  • Step One: Why change or diversify?
  • Step Two: Who will lead our change process?
  • Step Three: Make an organizational assessment.
  • Step Four: What is the goal and the problem?
  • Step Five: Prepare for change.
  • Step Six: Execute Change.
  • Step Seven: Internalize Change.

Pei offers detailed principles, questions, and examples for each step. Then he goes back to pain, power, and the past and in detail discusses how we might see pain with eyes of compassion, steward power with the hands of advocacy, and reframe the past with a heart of wisdom. His conclusion draws hope from the narrative of Deuteronomy. God led Israel through pain for forty years so they could eat food in comfort in the land. God led them through power in the experience of deliverance from slavery so they would remember who gave them their freedom. God took them from a small and insignificant past to be great in number. This gives him hope as he works with organizations, even in our polarized society.

Perhaps the most powerful word for me as someone senior in age from a majority culture is the word to sit with those who experience pain, deficits in power, and a past history and just listen. It’s so tempting to jump in and try to relate comparable experiences, but this is just not helpful, or to “heal wounds lightly,” which usually only increases pain. When this begins to be uncomfortable, there is the choice to self-protect and defend, or to go deeper yet and ask, “tell me more.”

The other lesson of this book is that change is a process, and one not undertaken lightly or accomplished quickly. At one point, Pei writes about an Asian-American leader in a predominantly white InterVarsity, who patiently worked over 30 years and pioneered a program to develop Asian-American and other minority leaders. One of those leaders, Tom Lin, is now InterVarsity’s president in a much more diverse organization. A clear vision of why an organization wants to foster diversity, and resolved leadership who persist, are critical in change processes.

Most of all, Pei’s personal vulnerability in sharing his own experiences of pain, power, and the past strengthens the work immeasurably. He offers hope without dodging the hard realities he has had to negotiate, even in a well-meaning Christian organization. The stories of organizations who have worked through such processes offer hope for others contemplating leaning into these challenges.

Multicultural Reading Groups

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Another multicultural discussion group. Photo by Robert Trube, 2012 (all rights reserved)

I am in the midst of a multicultural reading experience. Our book group, The Dead Theologians Society is reading Shusako Endo’s Silence. We’ve had four new participants join us this fall: a student from Japan, another from China, a third from Ghana, and a woman from Venezuela, who joined in for the first time today.

The Japanese student has been a special gift in explaining some of the cultural references of this novel, set in Japan. But today, the Chinese student gave us an interesting take on a hymn a Japanese martyr was singing, and the similarities to a Buddhist outlook. We just were reading it in Christian terms but it made us wonder how much Buddhist beliefs had been mixed with these. Our Ghanaian student has added interesting observations and questions about relationships in the book that others of us have missed.

Our group meets in a university context, which often is a global crossroads. Yet I’m struck with how rarely, even when we have the opportunity do we enjoy this wonderful mix of perspectives, to see a work with different eyes. I’m also appreciative of how helpful this is with a work that originates in a different culture. A bunch of white people reading a book from another culture will still miss many cultural nuances.

I think this is equally important in discussions of books from Western sources. We don’t see our own cultural blind spots very well, the things we assume because that’s just the way it’s always been. I’ve found this in Bible reading groups as well. The truth is, the Bible originated in a Middle Eastern context, and sometimes people from Africa, the Middle East, and southern Europe, or even Asian cultures may understand this better, or certainly differently than I.

One important challenge in such groups is making sure we welcome and encourage the contributions of everyone. Those from other cultures may defer to the Westerners or “dominant culture” folk in the group. Asking for the ideas of someone who has not spoken yet can be helpful, both in creating space for those from other cultural backgrounds and reminding the more gregarious to listen.

A group like this won’t just happen. It probably means thinking about who you’d like to invite to the table beyond your own cultural group, and being intentional about that, and inviting them to invite their friends as well. It means listening to their book recommendations in deciding on new readings. And it means being open to having your thinking changed.

I’m still on a learning curve here. I’d love to hear what others who have tried this have learned works well!

Do We Need Diversity in Reviewers?

diversity-in-business-backgrounds-wallpapersThere has been a growing movement calling for the reading of diverse books. One question is whether these books will get much attention if there is not a greater diversity of reviewers. This has long been a preserve of white males in the major review publications (a quick survey of the recent reviews in the NY Times Book Review had about two-thirds of the reviews written by men and a small number by those with recognizably non-Western names).

This was an issue discussed by a panel this week at Book Expo America and covered in a Publisher’s Weekly article. On one hand, major publications are cutting back on book sections. On the other hand, there is the wide open world of blogging and Amazon reviews. But the major publications still serve as gatekeepers. One option is to assign some reviews to outside reviewers who are women or ethnic minorities. Such reviewers may see a work with different eyes.

As a white male reviewer, I get this and would heartily agree with this sentiment. In the area I most review, Christian non-fiction with an academic bent, I am struck by how many of the reviews (and blurbs for books) are by white men. How interesting it would be if more of the books by white authors were reviewed by persons of color, and persons outside the writer’s theological perspective.

I wonder about this in other areas as well. What if male-oriented action fiction was reviewed by women or majority world reviewers? What if heterosexually oriented romantic fiction was reviewed by men or by LGBTQ reviewers? Suppose some military history were to be reviewed by scholars of pacifism?

Of course it is always helpful to have those conversant with the literature they are reviewing writing reviews.  But it does occur to me that mixing up review assignments might help give a more diverse perspective on a book, and perhaps expose a book to new audiences of readers.

It also strikes me that it does publishing a service when review publishers diversify their reviewers. The panel obseved:  “the masters of the universe are not book reviewers, but publishers.” Yet I would contend that non-white, non-male reviewers are also aware of different authors than the white males. Those who review in the self-published world might especially have an important role in calling attention to writers who might be overlooked by the mainstream publishers. Review publications as well as publishers might also note book bloggers with significant followings from ethnic minority backgrounds, and those who have received recognition like WordPress’s “Freshly Pressed.”

It does seem that a crucial issue is how intentional publishers will be in seeking to broaden the diversity of their published authors. This never just happens but is the result of intentional action. Publishers have to believe that publishing a greater diversity of authors makes good business sense. The book blogging world can be a source of identifying new authors with growing followings. One thing publishers are beginning to figure out through vehicles like Netgalley and their own blogger programs is that bloggers and their social networks have a great value in book promotion. If these efforts can be used to recruit a greater diversity of reviewers, then it also stands to reason that this could be a powerful resource for diversifying a publisher’s author portfolio.

I say we need diversity in reviewers.

What Would Bring Them Together?

The Crucifixion, As Seen From the Cross, James Tissot

The Crucifixion, As Seen From the Cross, James Tissot

What would bring together a Libyan, at least two criminals, urban natives, provincial dwellers, and diaspora people, women, children, the religious and cultural elite, and forces of an occupying army? On the first Good Friday it was the execution by crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. If you don’t believe me, read the narrative of Luke 23:26-56:

  • Soldiers lead him away (v. 26) and mock him (v. 36).
  • Simon of Cyrene (a town on the coast of Libya) is impressed to carry the cross (v. 26).
  • A crowd of people including women follow (v. 27). Likely this included both residents of Jerusalem and diaspora Jews in town for the feast of the Passover. From Jesus’ words in v. 28, living and children yet unborn might have been there as well.
  • Two criminals were executed, one on each side of Jesus (v. 32).
  • Rulers of the people join in mocking Jesus (v. 35).
  • A Roman centurion (the officer leading the group of 100 troops garrisoned there and probably participating in the crucifixion) praises God and says “surely this was a righteous man” (v. 47)
  • Joseph, a Judean member of the religious elite, secures Jesus’ body and lays it in a grave (vv. 50-51).
  • Women from Galilee, a provincial region from which Jesus came, followed Joseph and noted the location of the tomb so they could return with spices and perfumes (which would mask the smell of the decaying body).

Only recently did I reflect on the wide array of humanity that the crucifixion brought together–people who otherwise would not associate. Different social classes, urban and rural dwellers, Jews and Gentiles, people from Palestine, Africa, and Eurasia, men and women, oppressed and oppressors, criminals and those who sentenced them all were at the cross.

This was not a “kumbayah moment” by any means. And yet this gathering in a strange way pre-figured the new humanity, the “beloved community” that would arise from the death of Jesus on a Roman gibbet. It didn’t happen all at once, but within fifteen years or so there was a community like this in Syrian Antioch consisting of both Jews and Gentiles that reflected this kind of diversity–so much so that outsiders coined a neologism to describe them–“Christians”–and it stuck.

Diversity and inclusion is a big thing in the university context in which I work. And yet I’m struck by the stark contrasts that I’ve witnessed this week in the realization of this vision. On one hand, I listened to the newly invested first African-American president of the university where I am engaged in ministry speak of “inclusion with excellence.” It was a moment not unlike the inauguration in 2008 of President Obama. In the same week, I listened to the news reports of a university campus in Kenya with students with aspirations much like those with whom I work that was turned into a killing field.

It is hard to be flung back and forth between such high aspirations and such virulent hatred. Yet Good Friday reminds me that the followers of the crucified One, when most faithful to their calling become a community drawing together all the polar opposites and scattered peoples found at the foot of the cross and more. The apostle Paul wrote about this saying, “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2:15b-16, NIV).

If you don’t share my Christian convictions and have read this far, I thank you for extending such grace to my words. Truthfully, I’m writing more to speak to myself and perhaps to those who share my convictions. Against all the polarities we are tempted to create, God’s story is one of surprising us again and again by turning the “other” into a brother or sister, the despised “enemy” into my neighbor, and the criminal or oppressor I consider beyond hope to one with whom I’ll share paradise.

And it all began one Friday afternoon at a crucifixion…

Bob on Books Top Ten Posts of 2014!

What a difference a year makes! Last December, I had been at this blogging thing only a few months and had a handful of followers and a little under 3300 views on the blog. I’ve had some surprises over the last year. This month, the blog has had more views (over 5,000) than all of last year. A question about growing up in working class Youngstown turned into a series of posts and its own category on the blog and the most viewed post of the year. In fact, due to interest from a couple Youngstown Facebook groups, strictly speaking all ten top posts for the year were in this category. What I decided to do with my top ten list was to post the top Youngstown post, which had over 10,000 views and then the next nine non-Youngstown posts. So here is the countdown!

#10: Dear Son, We’re Sorry to Inform You… This post was a parable. I’ll leave you to discover the point of the parable!

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#9: Privileged, Persecuted, or Participating?  In response to an online symposium, I reflect on three possible postures Christians working in higher education might take toward the university world.

#8 Teddy’s RulesBookriot had an article listing these rules. I include these and reflect on the unpretentiousness of Roosevelt, something present day literati might learn from.

#7 So Whose America Is It Anyway? My response to Coke’s Superbowl commercial with a diverse ethnic mosaic of people singing “America the Beautiful” and the firestorm of criticism it elicited.

#6 What’s Missing in the Diversity Discussion? This is the post that led to the “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown” series as I discussed how class is often (not always) overlooked in diversity discussions.

#5 On the Passing of Robin WilliamsMy own reflections on the news that this gifted comedian had taken his life.

#4 Sexual ImperialismA response to highly-rated Gordon College’s possible loss of accreditation because of its statement of sexual ethics.

#3 Freedom of Worship = Freedom of Religion –Not! This post has had an interesting life, attracting little interest at first but eventually becoming one of my “most viewed” posts of the year, despite its awkward title!

#2 Let’s Retire This “Christmas” Song! Just posted a week ago, this post became the second most viewed post of the year. Seems a number of people agreed with my argument that “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a song about date rape, has nothing to do with Christmas, and should be dropped from play lists.

Recipes of Youngstown

Recipes of Youngstown

#1 Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — FoodThis is the post that received over 10,000 views. Obviously, we Youngstowners love food, and this post is full of memories of quintessential Youngstown foods.

The irony is that, apart from the “Teddy’s Rules” post, none of these were on reading or books!  A post on Higher Education Books just missed the Top Ten and as more people learn about the blog, the reviews are getting more attention. But it is interesting to me that the more “issue-oriented” posts were your favorites. Oddly, those for the most part are the most serendipitous–they just happen!

At any rate, there’s the list. I need to give a few shout-out’s at this point. One is to the admins on “I Used to Live in Youngstown” and “I Grew Up in Youngstown” for letting me post on these pages. I also appreciate the hundreds of people who have commented and added your memories and insights to mine. I also want to thank my son, Ben, and his blog [BTW] Ben Trube, Writer and Tom Grosh who administers the Emerging Scholars Blog for all the people you’ve sent my way!

Most of all, I want to thank all of you who have stopped by, read, commented, and followed. It would be a whole lot less fun without you!

Look for a special New Year’s post where I preview some plans for Bob on Books in 2015!

Higher Education Books

Higher education is in a season of change. Rising tuitions, cuts in government subsidies, the impact of new technologies on what is taught and how it is taught, campus social ethics, and more. I read regularly in this area because I work in collegiate ministry. This past year, I have been reading more in this area in preparation for a conference I am directing on “The ‘End’ of Higher Education” for faculty and colleagues in our organization. So I thought I would share the list. The links in the titles are to my full reviews of the books. They are listed in the reverse order of when I read them, most recent first.

1. Peter Brooks (ed.) The Humanities and Public LifeThis is a transcript of the proceedings from a symposium exploring the contribution of the humanities to public life. It features a keynote by Judith Butler.

2. Suzanne Mettler, Degrees of InequalityMettler exposes how the failure to maintain our higher ed funding policies and other change dynamics are putting the dream of a college education out of the reach of many Americans.

degrees

3. Sharon Daloz Parks, Big Questions, Worthy DreamsParks explores how higher education professionals can address the spiritual longings and aspirations of college students.

4. Paul Socken (ed.), The Edge of the PrecipiceSocken and the other essayists explore why read in a digital age and how digital media changes for good or ill the act of reading and how those who teach in the humanities ought pursue their work.

5. Andres T. Tapia, The Inclusion ParadoxTapia argues that “diversity is the mix, and inclusion is making the mix work.” He contends that places that “make the mix work” are not only better for the people but more productive as well.

6. Julie J. Park, When Diversity DropsPark’s book is a case study of a collegiate ministry group in California, the practices they pursued to become more diverse, and how Proposition 209’s “color blind” admissions policies and the subsequent drop in racial diversity affected this group.

diversity

7. John Henry Newman, The Idea of a UniversityNewman’s classic work on what a university is for, from a Catholic Christian perspective.

8. Ellen Schrecker, The Lost Soul of Higher Education.  Schrecker traces the history of the idea of academic freedom and decries the erosion of that freedom in what she calls the “corporatization” of the university.

9. Stanley Fish, Save the World on Your Own TimeFish argues that it is not the job of the university professor to save the world or mobilize students to do the same, but rather to teach course content with excellence.

10. Donna Freitas, The End of SexThis is a follow-up to her book, Sex and the SoulIn The End of Sex she chronicles the hook-up culture prevalent on most campuses, how this undermines real intimacy, and even calls for a recovery of the lost art of dating.

11. Anthony T. Kronman. Education’s End. His subtitle captures the essence of what he explores in the book: “why colleges and universities have given up on the meaning of life.” The book is a well-argued and passionate plea for the importance of discussing the “big questions” in university courses and other university venues.

12. Philip E. Dow. Virtuous MindsThis is not a “higher ed” book per se’ but it explores from a Christian perspective how one develops “intellectual virtues”, actually relevant to Anthony Kronman’s concerns.

13. Jose A. Bowen, Teaching NakedThis provocatively titled book is part of a trend advocating “flipping” the classroom, where technology is moved out of the classroom to students outside personal and group work, while the professor focuses on what can best happen inside the classroom, the interaction of professor and student engaging the course content.

College

14. Mark Edmundson, Why Read? Edmundson pursues a similar question to that in Edge of the Precipice but argues far more hopefully for the power of great works to engage the great questions and to exercise a transformative influence in the lives of students through the power of words.

15. Andrew Delbanco, College: What it Was, Is, and Should BeThe book follows the plan of its title, surveying the history of the university, particularly in America, which unavoidably includes its Christian roots, the current state of higher education, including the challenges mentioned at the beginning of this post, and his call for universities to continue to pursue “color blind” and ‘class blind” admissions and to be centers where the great questions are explored.

16. Lawrence W. Levine, The Opening of the American MindThis is an older book that serves as a spirited argument in reply to Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind. He defends ethnic, gender, and cultural studies as a corrective endeavors to the biased majority culture’s marginalization of the non-white and those not in power.

17. P. Felton, H.D.L. Bauman, A. Kheriaty, and E. Taylor, Transformative ConversationsThe book explores how one might go about developing formational mentoring communities among colleagues in the higher education setting. These are communities that honestly and without judgment pursue the large questions of vocation and purpose that continue to be important throughout life, and that rarely can be explored in a work setting.

18. Joe R. Feagin, The Agony of Education. This work, from 1996, explores the unique challenges faced by black students in the higher education setting.

These are by no means the only or even the best books on various aspects of higher education. They are those for which I have reviews online, going back to 2012.

What books have been helpful to you in understanding higher education? What books would you add to this list?