Archive for ‘Book Reviews’

July 10, 2011

A Web of One

by WIZ

I finished last week Eli Pariser’s book The Internet Bubble. His above TED talk is captioned as follows:

As web companies strive to tailor their services (including news and search results) to our personal tastes, there’s a dangerous unintended consequence: We get trapped in a “filter bubble” and don’t get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview. Eli Pariser argues powerfully that this will ultimately prove to be bad for us and bad for democracy.

His TED talk essentially captures the main points found in his 250 page book. What he doesn’t cover in those 9 minutes of talking is some background on the engineers and technological goliaths currently taking the internet by storm. He delves into their dreams for the internet (Google hopes to one day not even have a search bar but have an algorithm so good that it knows what we want to search for) and how this new era of internet and social networking is guissed as transparently democratic but is mostly shadowed by ever changing privacy settings and our data (info we share, links we click on, et al.) sold to creepy third party entities.

Pariser’s caveat regarding personalization as contrary to creative, serendipitous living (as well as democracy) is half truth and half inflated out of fear. While our Facebook newsfeeds are taylored by algorithisms that direct us towards things we “may” be interested in (based on what we click on or search for), personalization is personalized for each of us. What I mean is this: if you use Yahoo news as a daily source for news or even Facebook (which believe it or not is rising rather quickly as a place where plethora of people find out the news), you most likely will receive some skewed results. However, if you are similar to me in that I find my news via blogs (all set up through Google Reader), my personalization will be different from yours. Seventy percent (give or take) of the blogs or news sources I check can be classified as left of center. That itself lends towards a personalized experience that differs from a daily intake of The Blaze, The New York Post, and Fox News. With blogs, I choose which to read based on what I like and the quality. These blogs I check do not (yet) personalize what they present to me and the rest of their viewers. You have no choice in that matter, according to Pariser, when you look for the day’s news on Google or Facebook.

One other note: I experimented with another computer (both logged in to our Google accounts) in Google searching the following terms: BP, Barack Obama, dogs, and horses. Each of our results had the same front page results as well as total number of results. This doesn’t conclusively refute Pariser’s argument that everyone has a different Google search experience but goes to show that this whole Brave New World-type internet bubble is not as scary as he may crack it up to be.

June 22, 2011

Quote of the Day II

by WIZ

“There’s very little Christ, very little Jesus, in these people who are fighting Rob Bell.” -Eugene Peterson, explaining why he endorsed Bell’s new book, Love Wins.

June 12, 2011

Society Underneath the Hood

by WIZ

NYT columnist David Brooks gives a talk in England on his new book The Social Animal. It isn’t the same old same old on social networking but delves into our subconscious decision making and connections made with the world around us. If his book interests you, look for it in your local library. There are several circulating already in the York County library system.

May 31, 2011

Summer Reading

by WIZ

As they say, with the passing of Memorial Day weekend, we now enter summer. With that, here are some books mostly geared towards education and information. I have churned through a few fiction (Ordinary People) and nonfiction (Underboss, the History of God, which I am only 70 pages in) lately and am on the lookout for some others for the summer.

6. THE FILTER BUBBLE

We live in a culture that puts a premium on customization, but this ultra-personalization has its price when it comes to the information we’re being served. That’s exactly what Eli Pariser, founder of public policy advocacy group MoveOn.org, explores in his fascinating and, depending on where you fall on the privacy spectrum, potentially unsettling new book, The Filter Bubble — a compelling deep-dive into the invisible algorithmic editing on the web, a world where we’re being shown more of what algorithms think we want to see and less of what we should see. (Did you know that Google takes into account 57 individual data points before serving you the results you searched for?) Implicitly, the book raises some pivotal questions about the future of the information economy and the balance between algorithm and curator — something I feel particularly strongly about.

May 8, 2011

To Be Christian and American

by WIZ

I just finished Marcus Borg’s new book Speaking Christian. It is, as all of his books that I have read, very readable (not very wordy or heavy on technical/fluffy terminology) and relevant to not only Christians but those of other faith paths. I hope this post can be accessed by those readers of my blog that adhere to other religions beyond Christianity.

In the final pages of Speaking Christian, Borg summarizes what the heart of Christianity should be centered on. In that summary, he delves into what imperial American has become. Think about the following:

We are the most Christian country in the world – and yet we are the world’s greatest military power. With 5 percent of the world’s population, we account for about half of the world’s spending. We have over 700 military bases in about 130 countries. Our navy is as powerful as the next thirteen navies of the world combined. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Air Force is the most powerful air force. More surprising is the second most powerful air force: the U.S. Navy. As a country, we are determined to be as militarily powerful as the rest of the world put together. Though our national motto is “In God We Trust”, clearly what we really trust in is power, especially military power.

Borg does not end there:

We are the most Christian nation in the world – and yet we have the greatest income inequality of any of the developed nations to whom we typically compare ourselves. Our income is – literally – almost off the charts. On the graphs portraying it in relation to that of other industrial nations, we are almost an outlier. Moreover, income inequality in America has been growing for about thirty years. The wealthy have become more wealthy and powerful, and the middle and lower economic classes have seen their well-being decline – in the most Christian country on the globe.

Borg finishes with a final question:

Are we as a nation to become more and more like the domination systems of the ancient and not so distant past, all of which have passed into history? Or might we, as the most Christian nation in the world, change our course and become committed to compassion, justice, and peace?

This short bit is what I try to get across – both explicitly and in less explicit terms – in each of my blog posts and in my outlook towards life and the world. The domination system is what Jesus stood up against. Jesus eating meals with outcasts broke the mold between the clean and unclean. He was killed by the rulers of the world, the powers that were. That comes first and before him dying for our sins (which Jesus never speaks of).

Caring for this world that we have is so much more important than looking to the rapture, the next life, heaven, or the second coming. If we focus on those four, this life will easily seem pointless, addressing the injustices will seem futile, and the gospels will be defanged, domesticated, and mostly muted.

April 17, 2011

What “Saves” a Christian?

by WIZ

I finished last night Rob Bell’s book Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived. I have mixed reviews about the book; I appreciated some of the questions Bell asks but I didn’t always agree with some of his conclusions. In the end, it is a somewhat choppy read (his writing style is as if he is giving a sermon) but lighter than what I’ve been reading lately.

Chapter 1 asks a lot of good questions. The general question asked is this: how is a Christian “saved”, meaning how do they get to heaven and have their sins forgiven? I grew up in the Protestant faith the past 6 years with the idea that you are forgiven as a Christian by believing Jesus is your Lord and Savior, that he was born a virgin birth, performed miracles, suffered on the cross, died, was buried, and rose on the third day. I also have been taught to believe that being “saved” requires you to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus.

I don’t see anything wrong with believing the above tenets. A problem that arises is that the second one – having a personal relationship – is written nowhere in The Bible.

If we are to go back to The Bible, most notably the Christian New Testament (and not simply the beliefs of The Bible that have arose over the past 100 or so years), we will find some “unorthodox” ways of being “saved”. An important note to add: it can be questioned whether some of these people listed are even Christians!

Luke 23: the man hanging next to Jesus on the cross is assured that he and Jesus will be together in paradise. Is it what we say that saves us?
Matthew 6: forgive others, you then are forgiven. Don’t forgive others, you won’t be forgiven. Do we have to forgive others to be saved?
Matthew 7: not everyone who says ‘LORD, LORD’ will enter the kingdom, but only those who do the will of the Father. Do we have to do the will of the Father to be saved?
Matthew 10: those who stand firm till the end will be saved. Do we have to stand firm to be saved?
Luke 7: a woman who has lived a “sinful life” washed Jesus feet with perfume. Jesus tells her that her sins have been forgiven. Will washing Jesus’ feet with your tears and perfume get you saved?
Luke 19: Zacchaeus tells Jesus that he gives half of his possessions to the poor and he pays back anyone he has cheated four times the amount due. Jesus responds: today salvation has come to this house. Does saying what we are going to do save us?
Mark 2: Jesus is teaching, some men cut a hole in a roof, lower their friend down to be healed, and Jesus sees their act (the friends of the paralyzed man in need of healing) of faith and responds ‘son, your sins are forgiven’. Are we saved because of who our friends are or what they do?
1 Timothy 2: women will be saved through childbearing. Are you saved as a woman through giving birth to a child?
Acts 22: Saul (soon to become Paul) has his conversion on the road to Damascus. The gist of the story is this: Paul is asked a question, he then responds with a question, and then he goes into a city to do something. Are we saved by the questions we are asked, by what questions we ask in return, or by going somewhere and doing what we are told?

*

So in the end, Christian community, what saves us? It doesn’t seem so clear and unambiguous after all, does it?

P.S. – read Rob Bell’s book for yourself and don’t simply be told what the book says or stands for.

April 11, 2011

Love Wins (and here is a lot of reading)

by WIZ

Heard of the new Rob Bell book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived? I purchased it and am looking forward to reading more of it.

A local York bookstore owner wrote several reviews that are encompassing and intriguing.

December 11, 2010

Book Review: Walking with the Wind by John Lewis

by WIZ

John Lewis’s memoir Walking with the Wind was a delightful read. After finishing Shame of the Nation, I needed either a break from reading for a week or a lighter read. I heard about Lewis’s memoir within Shame of the Nation as Kozol interviewed him. Little did I know that Lewis’s book was the perfect book for me to grab a hold of.

Walking with the Wind is a long read (503 pages) but is simple and accessible in its wording and approach. The story starts with Lewis’s upbringing in the rural Alabama town of Troy. Lewis grew up and attended college in Nashville where he became active in nonviolent protests. His belief in nonviolence for the attainment of the Beloved (not hateful, not violent, not uncaring, not unkind) Community (not separated, not polarized, not adversarial) was central to him then as it is now as he serves as Congressman for the 5th U.S. Congressional district of Georgia. His stances have often brought on the labels of “anti-black” or “soft” because of his integrated and nonviolent approach to democracy.

Lewis documents his first hand participation in the Nashville sit-ins, strikes, marches in Selma and Montgomery, and his work thereafter. He didn’t watch this stuff on TV, read it in the paper, or hear it on the radio: he was there. As he and hundreds of others attempted their first march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama (a 56 mile walk, by the way), he was clubbed in the head and landed a fractured skull. He marched with Martin Luther King Jr, Baynard Rustin, Ralph Abernathy, A. Phillip Randolph, and tens of thousands of nameless men, women, and children all for the sake of equal voting rights, equal usage of facilities (Boynton v. Virginia), and for the ultimate end of racism in the South. He worked for Jimmy Carter’s administration, helped Bobby Kennedy campaign, was called to private and group meetings lead by John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and is the only House Rep today to of been arrested over 40 times.

What I enjoy about John Lewis’s character is that he holds no punches yet he isn’t judgmental. His book is not a polemic against likely enemies such as Newt Gingrich, George Wallace, plethora of racist southern elected officials, et al. He does call out those for being slow to act, for not upholding laws, and for what he sees as right and wrong. Ultimately, Lewis sees everyone through the eye of a key nonviolence movement tenet: everyone will have to deal with the decisions they make. Their conscience will bear that and he has no room to step in between anyone and their decisions. Much of his book comes off as him reporting the times, not opining every bit of it.

I felt that Lewis’s book dragged for the last 120 pages after the last of the marches ended and MLK / Bobby Kennedy’s assassinations. Walking with the Wind is well worth the read for anyone interested or intrigued by justice, compassion, nonviolence, and the piece they all hold in this puzzle known as America.

December 2, 2010

Opening Thoughts on Walking With The Wind

by WIZ

I had a super easy day of teaching today. With that, I was therefore able to finish off the new Atlantic issue and get about 62 pages in to John Lewis’s memoir. Lewis’s memoir is so refreshing. It may be a 500 page book, but it is much lighter than the Jonathan Kozol books I have been finishing off. I don’t need a dictionary by my side as I join him recounting his time raising chickens or growing uncomfortable with Southern ‘separate but equal’ school and society. The font is small but still, the pages go by and I enjoy slowing down and not having to think in a critical manner sentence by sentence. After saying that, I don’t mean that I am falling asleep to his work nor do I mean that his civil rights path is dull/lacking meaning. I mean that his book is accessible, enjoyable to read, and so far a breeze for me. I didn’t preview his book before I picked it up from the library so this all comes as a surprise (much needed) to me.

December 2, 2010

Book Review: Shame of the Nation

by WIZ

I finished reading this book last week before Thanksgiving and had a brief conversation one night with a friend about some of the material. I had chugged through four of Kozol’s books in a short period of time. The Shame of the Nation was the hardest for me to get through. It was about 380 pages and quite

dense at points. I promised him I would do my best to retain some of my questions and share them somewhere.

I saw a review for SOTN on Amazon before I finished the book and it made me think a bit more about the content. Here is a segment of the review:

“Kozol’s solution to all the problems facing urban schools is simply to fund them at the same level as the wealthiest suburbs. There is no examination of whether that funding target is appropriate, which is a very important question. Perhaps the ritzy suburbs are spending too much and wasting money on frills such as lavish sports facilities and so on. It’s one thing if the residents in that community are willing to pay for those frills but quite another to ask the overburdened taxpayer to provide the same to all schools.”

Kozol does confront the issue of money spent in comparing districts. Those he sees at the finer white schools sometimes say that money doesn’t matter. If it doesn’t matter (these more affluent schools spend almost double on each student) then why don’t these schools bring their spending down to Harlem or inner city Philadelphia levels?

This book, along with the cultimation of all in his previous books material whizzing through my head, has me thinking about school standards plastered on classroom walls. I was teaching today and in one class where I had three boys completing reading remediation I was discussing the differences between inferences and conclusions. I explained each through examples drawn from the vast museum of posters on the wall (this seems to be the trend in many classrooms). I found, of course, a school standard poster on the wall. It was above the white board and almost level with the clock. These posters are quite detailed so their font was very small. I asked the students if they ever read the posters in their room. They simply responded “no”. I wondered out loud if these standards posters were on the wall just to look good for higher ups coming in because I didn’t expect a student (or the teacher) to serendipitously read them as they were in the middle of class.

While I am on state standards, Kozol points out in SOTN the educrat language in these documents.

The teacher cannot simply say, “I read an early lyrical poem of William Butler Yeats with my third graders and discovered that they loved it.” Instead, she must position what she did within a recognized compartment: “I used a poem of William Butler Yeats in order to deliver Elementary Standard 37-A,” or something of that sort, which she must then identify by naming the intended outcome for the reading of the poem, which might be something as specific as “the recognition of analogies” or, depending on grade level, “understanding meter in an unrhymed poem.”

I reflect back now and remember having almost fit into that mold. My lesson and unit plans were full of educational jib jab laced with standards that I had to dig up and include for proper format. I never felt that these standards were caging but they were a bit much at times.

To top it off, how often are these standards written in educational jargon so at distance from reality? Now for SOTN, I had to have a dictionary most of the time near by so to look up words. His words, however, did not consist of educational jargon that went over my head but were simply words a normal literature grad from Harvard College would be expected to have in their repertoire. I believe Kozol goes deeper into this interesting subject in his book Letters to a Young Teacher but this can be attributed in part to those in power wishing to turn teaching from an art into a science. The “art” of naming every single solitary cognitive event within a school is disheartening, pompous, and a waste of sophistication. These “instructional lists” include such terming as “authentic writing”, “active listening”, “accountable talk” et al. How often these words are actually used in a real manner is beyond me.

Kozol brings up a great closing point when thinking about standards and outcomes:

By giving every particle of learning an official name, we strip it of uniqueness. By forcing it to fit into the right compartment of significance or meaning, we control its power to establish its own meanings or to stir the children to pursue a small exhilaration in directions that may lead them to a place the experts haven’t yet had time to name. Fascination and delight, no matter what lip-service we may pay to them, become irrelevant distractions. Finding “where it goes” and what it “demonstrates” and how it can be “utilized” become the teacher’s desolate obsessions.

Much of this educrat/formal talk is present in suburban public schools but also very real and obtrusive in urban school settings. Much of this, in short, is meant as the most direct and sure-shot way for educating those who need clear direction. To unpack my somewhat vague previous sentence, I will use an example from a day of mine teaching. I had a sub-academic class beginning Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Much of the teaching was without emotion. That isn’t fully the fault of the curriculum; the teacher himself admitted to lacking in emotion. The kids were treated like juvenile criminals that needed to be corralled, kept under control, and on a clear path. Mind you, there were no behavioral problems, instances of calling out, or even a clear sense that they weren’t getting the material. Never mind that because, well, most people disregard that, and look to the general direction this is pushing the students. In many urban districts Kozol visited, college was never mentioned as an option. Many of the classes and academic paths were pointed towards business (low end jobs) and the working world. Many of the classes Kozol visited were hyper obsessed with being a manager. The “pencil manager”, “line manager”, “book manager” were jobs enlisted to all aged students, elementary and up.

Back to the class I saw reading A Christmas Carol. A few classes after that, I taught that remediation class and had a fully scripted lesson. It was all found in a book, with every cue written in for me. Sure, I followed most of them but I sure deviated when the time fit. Many of these scripted lessons are meant for a reason. The high turnover for teachers in inner cities brings in many quick unqualified teachers. If they are not fully qualified and if teaching must be done (which is meant for the kids sake but is such a sorry approach I can’t help but sarcastically laugh) there is a program all mapped out for the “substitute”.

Kozol goes at No Child Left Behind. He notes that this law brings testing and standards and “accountability” out the ying yang but it does nothing to address inequalities in funding between urban and suburban schools (for infrastructure, per pupil spending) or the racial isolation blooming apartheid. Authors such as Tim Wise are critical of Barack Obama for letting race and apartheid go unspoken of. Race is such a hot topic that it burns when left untouched and when dug up.

One incredibly neat (and important) educational benchmark is the 1973 Supreme Court decision that holds to this day our education as not a fundamental right. How many citizens, students, and teachers do not know this? I don’t know, but it is sure shocking. Education sure is a fundamental right for it is essential for one to live out their first amendment rights. However, the majority in the case didn’t think so because education is not explicitly spelled out in the Constitution. Justice Thurgood Marshall mentions that “the right to procreate, vote, and criminal appeal are not guarenteed in the Constitution, yet they have been afforded special judicial consideration because they are to some extent interrelated with constitutional guarantees.”

Kozol continues on the path of educational funding: “the top 25% of school districts in terms of child poverty receive less funding than the bottom 25%. In 31 states, districts with the highest percentage of minority children also receive less funding per pupil than do districts with the fewest minority children.” Kozol has charts in the books appendix detailing this in several cities. It just doesn’t make any fair sense. One final note: “when children are shortchanged financially, of course, the individual per-pupil penalty that they incur is greatly magnified because a child is not educated individually but in a class of 20, 25, or 30 or more children.”

This book provided me great thinking material that coincided with my varying teaching districts. It was, as I said, tough at points to get through. I felt that it ran on at points but I appreciate that aspect now because it really hammered home the points of inequality in race, funding, and the true state of shame many schools are in today. I appreciate Kozol’s points on charter schools; they were initiated by fundamentalist racists bent on segregating schools and many of these “new age / tech” type schools today are applied to in advance predominantly by white denizens (they are the ones who know about them early on and aren’t discriminated against by the enrollment tests) and thus advance a segregated agenda.

I will be taking a break from Jonathan Kozol books for a bit but I hope to pick up his other works in the coming year.

November 16, 2010

Book Reviews: 3 Books by Jonathan Kozol

by WIZ

I just finished reading a third straight book by Jonathan Kozol. I went in this order: Amazing Grace, Death at an Early Age, and Letters to a Young

Teacher.

I heard about Kozol from a friend of mine about two years ago. He is a numbers theorist at my alma matter who had first hand experience working with students in poverty stricken Appalachia. His students were white and contrast in skin color to Kozol’s students of color in the inner city. Regardless, I still see poverty as poverty. I will come back to this point in a bit.

I only started to read these books by Kozol because I had them around our room and I was meaning to read them. These books have turned out to be great gifts and have been excellent to have in this season of teaching.

First up, Amazing Grace. I had a hard time chugging through this book at times. I thought that out of the three I read, this one was the most depressing. A large chunk of the book relies on his first hand interviews with students, teachers, clergy, older community members, and families within the South Bronx. Seeing the gripping effects waste plants located in this community have on the respiratory systems of those who live near by is sickening. His stories and first hand encounters shows the dark side of de facto segregation in NYC.

In Death at an Early Age, this was Kozol’s first book, published in 1967. This

book originally was written out as notes on envelopes. He later wrote it all out and eventually made it into a book. This book documents his first year teaching in Roxbury, Massachusetts. His experience working in the de facto segregated Boston school system is eye opening. He was well aware of the corporal punishment used against students and much against it. Kozol brings to light the well guised racist feelings by some of his colleagues. Much of this guise is ultimately rooted in a separate but equal ideology. Kozol was ultimately fired for reading to his students a poem not on the approved curriculum list. This poem, however, was by a Negro who spoke in a “slang” very similar to those of the children in the city, which the school district wanted to “break”. The superintendent plainly told Kozol that he couldn’t read any literature by Negro authors who talked about suffering. Ironically, there was no issue when Kozol read to his students a poem by Robert Frost, who was not on the approved list and was even praised for presenting his students with such “cultural material”.

Finally, Letters to a Young Teacher was Kozol’s correspondence to a young teacher named Francesca. Kozol frequently stopped in to her class and observed. He then would follow up with lengthy letters. This book was neat for it is rather contemporary compared to the two previous. Letters deals with the issues of vouchers, high stakes testing, the lack of space for creativity in such classrooms, and the many differences in style and spending per student between urban and suburban/private white schools.

Across these books, Kozol approaches education as a universal good that is meant to be shared, provided for others, and valued both individually and collectively. He is Jewish and has a large respect for churches. He goes at Washington and corporate “experts” who overuse and abuse educational lingo laced with excessive syllables.

I found his books extra accessible for me because of my recent time subbing in the inner city. These books, the stories, their insights, and the general loving approach to teaching have all driven me to a new sense of feeling alive in the classroom. One issue I had with these books is that the notes in the far back are not cited in the chapters. I would of liked to of seen symbols to check a citation in the rear of the book.

“Visitors from outside these neighborhoods who witness confrontations often make the unkind observations that “these students act like animals.” But if you treat them like animals, herding them along for squalid feedings like so many cattle rather than providing them even minimal civility, its not surprising to me that they act accordingly.”

In the above quote, Kozol describes a mega-school in L.A. that houses 3,600 students but is meant only for 1,800. The school goes in shifts for lunch, starting at 9:30am until 2pm. He mentions that many of the students are not hungry yet at 9:30am and get rather rowdy come noon time. Some are known to even leave school to get food and not return.

“Many of these kids cannot constructively participate in class discussions because they have never learned in elementary school to ask dissecting questions or to analyze or criticize complex ideas.”

Kozol attacks here the standardized test craze that is so common in urban schools. Sure, suburban schools prep for these tests but so much of this craze gets embedded in urban schools to the point of wondering if this all would fly and be acceptable for suburban parents of students.

I am on now to Shame of a Nation by Kozol. These books remind me that as a teacher who cares for kids, and by kids I mean kids of all colors, even sometimes more so for kids of color (because racism twists poverty differently for blacks than whites, in my opinion), I am not alone in my passions. I care for hearing students stories, hearing about their families, asking how they came to America, their views on their school, their neighborhood, and life. Generally speaking, I am the white guy who grew up in the suburbs who really doesn’t know anything about inner city living or school. I am mostly there to listen.

The kicker is that I can level with these kids. Kozol mentions this, either explicitily or implicitly in these three books, that the majority of urban students are not “animals”. I have taught dozens of students who are great kids and well behaved. Sure, there are poorly behaved kids and even those who are disrespectful, but that is surely there in the white suburban schools I have been at.

October 22, 2010

Dual Book Review: Marcus Borg’s Jesus and Tim Wise’s White Like Me

by WIZ

I never got around to doing a book review for Borg’s book. It is a book worth sharing. Both Borg’s book and Wise’s were incredible reads and definitely challenged me. They both greatly challenge the status quo. I will explain how.

I like to explain why I picked a book to read. I don’t just pick random books to read and I especially look for books that may speak to or help me in that current season of life. I remember a few months back MJ and I were having a somewhat heated discussion with a friend about Marcus Borg. I wasn’t really part of the discussion at all because I knew nothing about Marcus Borg. MJ has read a handful of his books and the person we were talking to had a strong opinion about him but had not read any of his work. Once we moved and I was about to finish my last book, I was still intrigued by this Marcus Borg character. Since we currently live in one room, many of our books are packed away. That made it difficult for me to snag a Borg book from MJ’s collection. Once we moved to the area, we made it a routine to go to the local, and beautiful, library, I found his book Jesus on the shelves in the Religion section.

I am a somewhat slow reader so I had to renew this book twice just to finish it. It isn’t that long of a book, 300 pages, but it is overflowing with descriptive footnotes and theological thoughts to chew on. Wikipedia provides a solid description of Borg’s religious philosophy:

Borg advocates entering into relationship with God as more important than belief about God. He has a panentheist understanding of God, which sees God as both indwelling in everything and transcendent. He teaches that a historical-metaphorical approach to the Bible is more meaningful for today’s world than is the historical-grammatical approach or that of biblical literalism. He also distinguishes between the pre-Easter Jesus, who was a Jewish mystic and the founder of Christianity, and the post-Easter Jesus who is a divine reality that Christians can still experience personally.

Borg came back multiple times to the point that we can debate back and forth whether a story in the Bible actually happened or not or we can dive into what the story actually means. He notes that dwelling on the former question can stop you from exploring the latter question.

Much of Borg’s book sees Jesus’s ministry on earth as focused on justice, meaning against the oppressive system of the day lead by the Romans and leading religious figures. He explores the mystical experience Jesus had to of had to of embarked on a life fully aware and focused on God.

Borg, from beginning to end, digs into many of the contemporary views on Christianity while not coming off as a polemic author. My favorite characteristic of Marcus Borg is his accessibility. He is a college professor and has been a historical Jesus scholar for 30+ years yet I can still read his work without feeling academically overwhelmed and washed over by archaic terminology. In the end, I see Borg’s book as inviting, not divisive. But I can understand many Christians seeing his work as heretical. He is worth checking out, if you are ready for a theological challenge.

Next is Tim Wise’s book White Like Me. I decided to read his book after reading his short piece on the Tea Party. It was marvelous and I wanted to look out for his books. I looked him up at the local library and found WLM.

Wise’s book was very short, 150 pages, and I will remember it as a book where almost every sentence is worth quoting.

WLM serves as Wise’s memoir, even if it was written when he was 36. Wise reflects on his life, the privileged life that since birth elevated himself above those of minority status. he sees his birth as his first experience with race. Thus, there is a difference between an experience with race and an experience with a person of race.

His family, being his parents and fathers parents, were staunch anti-racists and placed him in living situations that did not segregate him from those of color.

Tim looks back on his life as he questions the automatic privledge his skin color provided him. One of his most memorable points is that he as a white man was able to go almost anywhere without having to worry about his race. Those of color, on the other hand, couldn’t necessarily pull over in Idaho and ask for directions without worrying about how “their people” would be received. Also, whenever he did anything or even screwed up, his own being, intellect, and genetic make up was not placed under a microscope. More so, the weight of his ethnic group was not placed on his shoulders should he make a mistake, nor is there much of a chance for someone to say that the whole white race is “just like that” if he should, say, blow up a building in Oklahoma City (hmm….think about that).

Not all of his stories may fly or make for the best “See, I told you how racism is tied into that” scenario. Regardless, Wise calls whites to think about their race and the unfair privilege that comes with it, maybe, for some, for the first time.

September 10, 2010

Book Review: Love is an Orientation

by WIZ

I just finished this book tonight. What a neat read!
Andrew Marin had three friends “come out” to him in three consecutive months. As an evangelical bible thumper, he wondered what to do. He at first struggled with his thoughts but then made the choice to fully immerse himself in the GLBT (gay lesbian bisexual transgender) community and live within Boystown (a GLBT community in Chicago). He established the Marin Foundation at the age of 24, which stands to bridge the divide between the GLBT annd Church community all the while elevating the discussions surrounding it from both sides.

If you are planning on picking up this book with hopes of it saying homosexuality is a sin or answering any other close-ended question of yours, you won’t be fully satisfied. Marin models after Jesus’ ministry: just as Jesus elevated the conversation when he was asked polarizing, close-ended questions (the most being by his disciples), Marin elevates the GLBT conversation by not looking to pack punches and preconceived prejudices with each conversation or interaction. He takes the humble road of listening, trusting in God’s lifelong plan for everyone, and listening some more. I blurted out to MJ today that I wish Marin would just answer some close-ended questions. I felt like my insides thrived on them being answered!

Love is an Orientation explains this topic from many angles: it includes a pro-gay hermeneutics approach, about 20 lifestyle directions to practically reflect on pertaining to this issue, and much more. Basically every question or thought you could just about think of related to the GLBT community, homosexuality, the Bible, and the church can be found or directed to in this book. That sounds like a bold statement but I feel this book, along with its references to other books and biblical verses, passages, and books, provides a solid and elevated approach to this heated topic.

I leave you with this quote from the end of the last chapter:

Generally speaking, I don’t know any believer – gay or straight – who doesn’t want to be like Jesus. And here is our chance to be just a little more like him: stop asking and answering close-ended questions in an attempt to determine if someone is on “our team” or “their team”. Jesus modeled a life about kingdom ways and thinking, not pinning down – or getting pinned down by – circularly legalistic debates of politically charged matters. As such we have the ability to follow his model and elevate our questions and answers past the same means that have tragically only haunted the GLBT-Christian relationship. (p.185)

August 26, 2010

Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography (Book Review)

by WIZ

I finished reading Rabbi Jesus by Bruce Chilton last week on vacation in Maine. The book is 350 pages but reads easily in a novel-like form.

I found this book to be a very emotional read, especially as it travels to the end of Jesus’ life and his crucifixion.

Chilton’s novel approach follows Jesus from his childhood beginnings with his family to his decision to leave his family at the Temple.

Rabbi Jesus is not too heavily ladened with citations but emphasizes a few aspects that stood out to me. Chilton connects Jesus’ Jewish traditions through his upbringing in Galilee and his time under John the Baptist to the forming of his rabbinical lifestyle, including both his beliefs and actions that either estranged some of his followers or became rooted in his disciples. The actions included different types of meals depending on his location: larger and more open meals in welcoming towns to more private and small meals in hostile areas. This differed from John the Baptist’s method of salvation through immersion in water and labeled Jesus as a glutton not only by the religious ruling class but separated him from his family (John 7:1-5). Chilton continues to emphasize Jesus’ spiritual meditation on the coming of the Zecharian prophesy (Zechariah 14) and the Chariot noted in Ezekiel (chapter 1). Jesus’ emphasis on Zechariah 14 is seen when he cleanses the temple (compare Zechariah 14:21 to Luke 19:45-48, Matthew 21:12-16, Mark 11:15-18, and John 2:14-16). At this point, Jesus knew what was meant to be “on earth as in heaven” and had little patience with anything less than that.

That leads me to note the benefit of cross referencing in Rabbi Jesus. Chilton delves into numerous situations involving Jesus and his miracles, meals, or enlightening conversations. For each of them, he listed where it was written in the different Gospels. This took time but I read all of the different Gospel tellings and it helped me see the nitty gritty differences in the details or wordings. I feel that practice is helpful in seeing the differences in the recordings.

In the end, Rabbi Jesus had me flipping through my Bible left and right to cross reference, read, and think into the personal and spiritual life of Jesus. One quote wraps up the book quite well: “Chilton writes that Jesus’ enduring legacy, as witnessed in his long-suffering life and agonizing death, is precisely that which “pain teaches”: that a shattered sense of self can blossom into a mystical, visionary awareness of the image of God within.” Even MJ notes beautifully that in some cases, the heart of God’s love may have to be revealed through change, heartache, and or frustration.

July 12, 2010

The Apostate: A Memoir

by WIZ

A Sunday Book Review:

Yet Lax does not seem interested in cultivating a spiritual life shot through with doubt. He doesn’t want an ambivalent (or, one might say, mature) faith; rather, he writes, recalling the aftermath of his parents’ deaths, “what I wanted to have was what I’d always had, but the faith I had accepted without question and could articulate with catechismal rote could not be recaptured.” Of course, many of us come to a place where such faith is neither possible nor even desirable; I suspect my own small Episcopal church would be largely empty on Sundays if anyone who ever questioned the Creed, anyone whose faith life included seasons of aridity, stayed home.

Memoirs that succeed do so in part because the writer’s question is also, somehow, the reader’s. I am a reader who has — amid many doubts — clung with tenacity to faith, and I found that my questions hovered around this sympathetic and engrossing book, too. The explicit question is, How did one man drift away from faith? But for me the book provoked another question as well: What kind of faith might be possible even after the verities of childhood have passed away?