Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book Review: Through the River

The content of this book is presented in a way that is easy to understand.  With terms that aren't commonly thrown around in everyday conversation, the two authors do a great job of presenting the material.  They focus primarly on three different truth lenses.  There are more 'truth lenses' but most are just slight variations of the three major ones.

The context of each of the three different truth lenses (Positivism, Instrumentalism, and Critical Realism) is told through an analogy of a place called River Town.  It's not hard to make connections to real life.  Rock Dwellers, Island Dwellers, and Valley Dwellers (Positivism, Instrumentalism, and Critical Realism) are all portrayed very accurately to the kind of people we all know.  It even helps you to understand why you view certain things the way you do depending on which you relate to the most.

It takes no real shots at either 'group' of people as it's written in a way that is respectful of whoever the reader may be.  It outlines the positives of each one and calls us to move forward and engage one another with love to truly advance the Gospel.  However, I have the same conclusion that many reviewers have already expressed.  Those who need to read the book the most will not be the ones who read it.

Some reservations:  It may come off as a 'dry read'.  It seems like it might be one of those books that many people will give up on after a chapter or two.  I admit, it was a struggle at times but it did challenge me to rethink how I engage people who have different world views/truth lenses/etc.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Book Review: The Justice Project

There are many books that discuss the same subject matter (biblical & social justice, caring for the poor, etc.).  With this in mind, one might be deterred assuming it's nothing more than the same rhetoric.  However this book is unique in many ways and does a few things really well:

1. It captures a wide spectrum of voices in the Christian faith.  Names that you'll know and recognize and names that you won't.

2. It is both long and short at the same time.  You can spot read, as each chapter (for the most part) is not dependent on the preceding chapters.  There is no "fluff", it gets straight to the point.

3. It does a great job of moving from the purely theological discussions about biblical justice to the actual tangible examples of biblical justice being done.  It strikes a remarkable balance between the two.

5. It doesn't hold back at all.  It hits many of the hot button topics debated in many Christian circles.  Instead of picking a side and making a case, it challenges us to think about God's justice in certain situations.

6. It helps to answer many questions that disgruntled Christians might be asking themselves when frustrated by the perceived lack of action done by the Church.  For instance, whole chapters discussing: "What good can come from our frustration and anger at injustice?"  and "What are some good first steps in seeking justice - for both individuals and faith communities?"

Overall, I would recommend this book for those seeking to live out God's call for us to be a people who act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

"And what does the LORD require of you?
       To act justly and to love mercy
       and to walk humbly with your God." -Micah 6:8

Don't be fooled thinking it's another book with the same rhetoric.  The Justice Project is refreshing, comprehensive, and well written.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Embracing Diversity

I am continuing to learn what it means to be in cross-cultural relationships.  I think its imperative for white Christians to join into this conversation.  Instead of being on the sidelines and jumping into the game late I hope the Church will lead the way on embracing diversity.

Our neighborhoods are for the most part segregated.  Our schools would be segregated (because of the neighborhoods) but we enforce busing to help with that.  It's still fact, but almost sounds clique now, that Sunday mornings are the most segregated part of the week.  Various experiences, books, and speakers continue to challenge me when it comes to cross-cultural relationships.

At the CCDA conference last year, Dr. Soong-Chan Rah made the point that if white Christians have never had a non-white mentor then they are more colonialists than missionaries.

Meaning that though there intentions might be good, they are undoubtedly pushing their way of thinking as a white Christian (read: Meaning that though my intentions are good, I am undoubtedly pushing my way of thinking as a white Christian male).  With the tendency to be dominant and to take control, it magnifies my need to take a back seat to listen and learn.  And in a Christian world that is right now and increasingly multi-cultural/multi-ethnic and no longer a western white centered faith, it makes it all the more important to recognize this and celebrate this.

It takes a lot of hard work.  It isn't a romanticized notion or something that is an act that we should desire to seek praise from.  It requires us (read: white Christians) to give up what culture has instilled in us, that we have power, privilege, and status.  Good questions to ask ourselves, are:

How do I relinquish power and therefore empower someone?  Important because of our tendency to hold onto power in relationships.

How do I restore/maintain someone's dignity?  Important because though we may have great intentions, being in cross-cultural relationships will require us deal with some inner demons.  Like it or not, we've all be instilled with a bit of racism.  Maybe not the over the top kind that we're used to reading about in history class, but that covert kind of racism that simmers below the surface.

Jesus gives great examples throughout scripture.  In John 4 for example, Jesus doesn't come to the well, take the bucket for himself and get his own drink.  Instead, Jesus relinquishes power by communicating that he himself had a need and asking the Samaritan woman to give him a drink.  Jesus also didn't shun the woman and look down upon her for being a Samaritan, instead he restores the woman's dignity by interacting with her as a Jew and she a Samaritan.

In Philippians 2 Paul talks about how Jesus '..did not not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself.'  Made himself nothing?  Taking the very nature of a servant?  How about that for giving up power and status.  On top of that he humbled himself in the process.

God continually embodies a downward movement (Luke 9:25) and it shouldn't be any different for us.  For me, this is timely.  How to give up power and status in relationships (cross-cultural and otherwise) and therefore empower someone and restore/maintain their dignity is the ever present struggle I find myself in.

I recommend this book for all who want to read more about this:  The Next Evangelicalism.

I also would like to take the time to steal the some words from Jeff, my pastor at Visio Dei.  Though he was speaking on an entirely different subject matter, he challenged us with some questions that are still applicable to this:

Are we willing to let the Bible tell us something that we don't want to hear?  Are we willing to let the Bible steer us in a direction that we're not exactly comfortable with?

Meaning, are we willing to let God reveal to us things in scripture that we wouldn't normally see, that we choose to overlook, or have been culturally trained to not see?