(More comprehensive review forthcoming. Excellent, excellent book encouraging American parents, in particular, to step back and look at the range of p(More comprehensive review forthcoming. Excellent, excellent book encouraging American parents, in particular, to step back and look at the range of parenting practices across societies and over the course of history, rather than simply holding up the current American norm as best (or even normative for humans) simply because it is the American way. The American psyches that we esteem so highly (such as self-reliance, independence, and toughness; and that do indeed benefit us in other realms) play into how we treat our children and what we expect from them and ourselves far more than we realize. This is not a parenting book; but if you can read between the lines, this is a good book to cross-pollinate societal parenting observations into actual, practical parenting practices. This book combines so many of my passions, which earns it as place as a well-marked, heavily highlighted, paper copy resource for years to come.) ...more
In general, I find it difficult to write about fiction books I've read, primarily because IThis review originally posted here: http://wp.me/p26dwz-21F
In general, I find it difficult to write about fiction books I've read, primarily because I don't want to share too many spoilers.
While The Book Thiefis now a movie, I had not yet even seen the trailer or heard the synopsis before going into the book. As with other fiction I've read simply after seeing several recommendations for the title alone, I went into this book knowing very little about the plot, characters, or author.
The first moments into this story seemed like a rather caucaphonic introduction, but I quickly grasped the unique narration of this book and was quickly drawn in. Narrated by Death, this story takes place in World War II era, following the life of Liesel Meminger. At the story's start, the then illiterate Liesel begins her career as a book thief, her book thievery being the thread that laces together this story of hope and sorrow.
Good literature requires a good story. But to be great in this field, the writing must go beyond combining excellence of plot, characters, and historical accuracy. The Book Thief is a book that immerses us into a gritty, but beautiful portrayal of humanity, presenting us with a different portrayal of humanity through each character. To me, the greatest literary element was the unique narrator, which sets this book apart from others of a similar nature and theme.
I am certain this story has conveyed well into a film version, and I look forward to watching now that I've finished the book. Yet from this standpoint, I can't imagine that the same literary brilliance can be transmitted through a film version. But we shall see!
If you've read and seen the movie, I'd love to see how you felt the two compare! ...more
As the western world and Evangelical Christians (such as Haugen) alike have gradually become more aware of the far-reaching poverty and injustice around the world, a more concerted effort has started to take place to love not only in word, but also in deed. Yet even in the beginning phases of these attempts to help, many organizations and individual efforts have failed to see the underlying, complex problem of violence as they address the crises of poverty, hunger, and health.
Haugen states in the opening of the book:
"But, the world overwhelmingly does not know that endemic to being poor is a vulnerability to violence, or the way violence is, right now, catastrophically crushing the global poor. As a result, the world is not getting busy trying to stop it. And, in a perfect tragedy, the failure to address that violence is actually devastating much of the other things good people are seeking to do to assist them."
Breaking this down into specifics:
"When we think of global poverty we readily think of hunger, disease, homelessness, illiteracy, dirty water, and a lack of education, but very few of us immediately think of the global poor’s chronic vulnerability to violence—the massive epidemic of sexual violence, forced labor, illegal detention, land theft, assault, police abuse, and oppression that lies hidden underneath the more visible deprivations of the poor.
Indeed, I am not even speaking of the large-scale spasmodic events of violence like the Rwandan genocide, or wars and civil conflicts which occasionally engulf the poor and generate headlines. Rather, I am speaking of the reality my IJM colleagues introduced to me in the years that followed my time in Rwanda—the reality of common, criminal violence in otherwise stable developing countries that afflicts far more of the global poor on a much larger and more persistent scale—and consistently frustrates and blocks their climb out of poverty."
As the title suggests, Haugen paints a picture of the destructive nature violence using the analogy of a plague of locusts. In the case of the latter, one can focus on teaching people the best farming techniques, providing the highest quality seeds for planting, and coordinating the perfect planting times, etc... But the amount of effort, the productivity of the farmers, or the working with weather doesn't matter at all when a plague of locusts comes and devours the crops. The devastation is the same for both the lazy and hard-working farmer, though tragically, it is often those who have put in more effort who feel the crushing weight even more deeply.
And the destructive nature of violence is the same as it is with locusts: providing food, creating jobs, and teaching people business skills will not matter when violence devastates an individual or community.
Along the road to understanding some of the complexity of this violence, I read of many elements that have significant connections to our own lives and history, sometimes making this difficult information to process. From acknowledging that most of these broken justice systems in many third world countries are hangovers from the days of colonialism (police and protective force were designed to protect the elite from the masses, rather than to protect all people), to realizing that many times financial gain (often for many of our own foreign companies operating overseas) is prioritized ahead of confronting corrupt justice systems, to seeing parallels of how some Christian circles have also perpetuated the hurt of abuse as they misunderstand (at best) and mistreat (at worst) those who have been victims of abusers, and to seeing how easy it is to ignore cries for help, both here and abroad, it was challenging to understand how connected we really are to some of these issues.
Haugen also insightfully provides hope for regions with corrupt justice systems by demonstrating that in many western countries, the same levels of corruption have been drastically improved just within the last century.
"With all this in mind, the long view of history seems to offer a powerful lesson: namely, that reasonably functioning justice systems are possible even in circumstances in which they do not currently exist or seem unlikely to emerge. Historically, criminal justice systems that protected the poor and the weak did not exist anywhere and, to contemporaries, always seemed highly unlikely. Now they do exist, in lots of places, for billions of people. But in each case, a pitched battle was fought to rescue the public justice system from abuse for private gain, from misuse for political power, from the dysfunction of neglect, and from slavish bondage to outdated, unprofessional, and ineffectual practices.
The vantage point of history allows us to see that the dysfunctions in the criminal justice systems of the developing world today are normal. That is to say, they are to be expected—not only because utterly dysfunctional criminal justice systems were imposed on most of these countries by occupying colonial powers, but also because it seems that every society must very intentionally and vigorously rescue its criminal justice system from dysfunction and abuse."
He turns to specific examples of once-corrupt justice systems that are now considered to be excellent examples of justice systems that are in place to work for the good of all citizens. It was, of course, interesting to read this excerpt on the transformation that began to take place in the American justice system:
"For Americans, the earliest forms of formal policing seem to have emerged in the mid-nineteenth century, when cities got fed up with the way every dispute seemed to produce a rioting mob in the streets. In every country, the story of how policing emerged and why is organically connected to the distinctive story of the society at large—and for many historians, the distinctive story of U.S. policing emerges from the fact that American society was “more violent” than other western countries.
To be more precise, by the middle of the nineteenth century, it was becoming clear that Americans habitually rioted about almost everything: from political rivalries to street gangs’ territorial skirmishes; from racial tensions to labor disputes; from reform movements to denominational theological disagreements—there was almost no source of conflict in American society that did not bubble over into street violence. In the 1830s, thoughtful Americans like Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln began wondering aloud if the young republic could survive “the spirit of mob law,” and the “disregard for law which pervades the country.”"
And yet the author also admits that while a criminal justice system will not totally eliminate systemic violence, poverty, and corruption, this is nonetheless a necessary catalyst for change. How each community will address violence and poverty will look different every time, and we are just now beginning to skim the surface of such issues; yet, we cannot wait to act until we have all the answers, or we will never be able to act.
This book is most definitely a difficult read at times; but it is nonetheless highly important read for anyone living in the western world, particularly those who are concerned about putting hands and feet to the desire to alleviate global suffering, both spiritually and tangibly. And while it is a heart-wrenching read for many of us, this is the heart-wrenching, dailylife for many, many people around the world. Please, read this book. If you read only one more book this year, make it this one! Video Trailer for The Locust Effect https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZRMX... Table of Contents
Twelve Years a Slaveis the autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free-born African American husband and father who was kidnapped, drugged and beaten, a
Twelve Years a Slaveis the autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free-born African American husband and father who was kidnapped, drugged and beaten, and sold into slavery in Louisiana. There, he bore the hardships of slavery for twelve years before he was able to be freed.
I am thankful for the recent interest in this book (not to mention, it's about to be released as a major motion picture). Because we are still historically close to the era of slavery and segregation (which extended far beyond official Emancipation), Americans often react defensively upon hearing indictments on our cruel history. And yet, it is our history, and this is not merely a random anomaly that occurred within an otherwise "good system."
(As Douglas Blackmon wrote in Slavery by Another Name, "When white Americans frankly peel back the layers of our commingled pasts, we are all marked by it. Whether a company or an individual, we are marred either by our connections to the specific crimes and injuries of our fathers and their fathers. Or we are tainted by the failures of our fathers to fulfill our national credos when their courage was most needed. We are formed in molds twisted by the gifts we received at the expense of others. It is not our “fault.” But it is undeniably our inheritance.")
Gradually, as we distance ourselves from history, it does become easier to accept the past and even strive to make amends. Thanks to the life-long work of Dr. Sue Eakin, we now have this once bestselling, subsequently overlooked book available.
In recounting her own discovery of the book, I found Dr. Eakin's story rather telling:
"I searched for years for a copy of the old book for my own, but one was nowhere to be found. Then, when I entered Louisiana State University in 1936, I searched at Otto Claitor's Bookstore, with its storehouse of old books spilling out of his gallery. Suddenly I spied Twelve Years a Slave and asked the price with trepidation. "What do you want that for?" asked Mr. Claitor, known as an authority on rare old books. "There ain't nothing to that old book. Pure fiction. You can have it for 25 cents." And that began my life with Solomon Northup."
At times, this book was a very difficult read. Over the past three years, I have read a good number of books on slavery and the horrible treatment of slaves and African Americans at large, and so the fact that this occurred is not necessarily shocking revelation for me. But it was nonetheless heartbreaking to read, and a few portions left me feeling nauseous. I can only imagine the feelings hidden within the souls for whom this was their life.
Remarkably, Northup saw several of the slave owners as products of a system, who, with different upbringing and religious exposure may have seen through the evils of slavery, rather than simply accepting what had been handed down to them and what they had been desensitized to. Northup's biography is more than a recounting of facts; rather, he lends great wisdom and insight into the philosophy, beliefs, and practices of his time. He was clearly a very gifted man, both physically and intellectually.
Michael J. Sandel's Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? offers a comprehensive exploration of essential questions that we face in today's world: from affirmative action to moral limits on markets, from same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, and how we promote enrollment into military service.
As to the title, it could just as easily be called Ethics; this is not necessarily a treatise on merely social justice or law. Nor does Sandel give his readers a final statement on what is the right thing to do in each of these issues. (Although in several cases he does make clear what direction he favors.) Justice explores a variety of perspectives (e.g., Utilitarianism, Libertarianism, Communitarianism) from which to view these situations, and a reasonable explanation of each is given. Sandel also examines these issue through the philosophies of Kant, Rawls, and Aristotle. In a sense, the book is a primer on the development and articulation of secular morality.
This is not a theological treatment of these issues, but a philosophical one. Nor is it done from a Christian perspective. Yet, whatever one's faith, this book asks important questions that cannot be ignored forever. Religion, and particularly the morality of Judeo-Christianity, is impossible to leave out of the picture entirely when considering justice and ethics, as Sandel emphasizes in the book.
This book was referenced by Timothy Keller in Generous Justicewhen discussing the common tendency among secularists to push for religion to be excluded from any politics or promotion of justice. Sandel is out of the ordinary in this instance, as is Keller, to a degree, in his promoting working alongside non-believers as we try to promote justice--an earthly picture of eventual, eternal shalom.
Timothy Keller's Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Roadis a valuable expansion on both the why's and how's of loving our neighbors, particularly doing so through mercy ministries. After taking a closer look at both Jesus' command to love our neighbors and the Parable of the Good Samaritan (in the Prologue and Introduction, respectively), Keller divides his book into two parts, each with seven chapters: Principles and Practice. The first portion, Principles, is an in-depth study of the Biblical teaching on loving our neighbors through social justice and mercy ministry, while the second portion, Practice, focuses on the practical and technical aspects of practicing mercy ministry.
The basic layout of the book is as follows:
Prologue: The One Who Showed Mercy Introduction: Who Is My Neighbor?
Part 1: Principles 1. The Call to Mercy 2. The Character of Mercy 3. The Motivation for Mercy 4. Giving and Keeping: A Balanced Lifestyle 5. Church and World: A Balanced Focus 6. Conditional and Unconditional: A Balanced Judgment 7. Word and Deed: A Balanced Testimony
Part 2: Practice 8. Getting Started 9. Preparing the Church 10. Mobilizing the Church 11. Expanding Your Vision 12. Managing Your Ministry 13. Mercy Ministry and Church Growth 14. Meeting Needs Suggested Reading
The practical half of this book deals primarily with betterment of mercy ministry rather than development in mercy ministry, though the final portion of the book does touch on the latter. For an expansion on the importance of development versus betterment in long-term mercy ministry, I highly recommend Robert Lupton's Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life.
My husband, Daniel, read Ministries of Mercy about 4 years ago, and it greatly impacted his (and subsequently, my) thinking on mercy ministry at that time — a time when we were going through many paradigm shifts, particularly in relation to ministry and the living out of our faith. While the book does deal with church-orchestrated ministry, it also addresses individual and family mercy ministry. I found these sections in particular to be very helpful (and convicting) to me personally.
For those who are interested in reading and learning more about mercy ministry and/or social justice and their place in the Christian's life, I recommend three books in particular, perhaps to be read in this order:
This book, while written by Tim Keller prior to Ministries of Mercy, is probably best read as an introduction on the subject. It lays the theological foundation for justice.
I included a brief review of the book in this post.
This post includes excerpts from Keller's book on "4 Types of People Who Would Benefit from Generous Justice."
This book explores the problems at just leaving mercy ministry at betterment, and shows why true, long-term compassion and justice pursues development. It also explains what betterment and development are and how they differ.
The book primarily deals with the fleshing out of this concept within urban and inner-city ministry, but has much broader application. For me, it was eye-opening and slightly paradigm-shifting. The book emphasizes Jesus' teaching that the whole law hangs on the two commandments to love God and neighbor. Often, the simplicity of these commands is hidden beneath a lot of spiritual clutter.
I have not yet written a review for this book, but plan to sometime this month, hopefully.