Category Archives: cross-cultural

Quick Review: Shame Interrupted

Over the past few months I read Edward T. Welch’s Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness & RejectionIt was one of those books that lent itself to casual reading over time to maximize the experience of reading it. There are about 30 chapters that all take about 15 minutes to read and they are thematically organized so taking it in short doses while I read other things as well was a quite refreshing way to go through it.

Welch is a counselor so he tackles the issue of shame from that perspective, but he also offers some solid theology to ground his writing. What I appreciate was that in addition to the theological and psychological insights, Welch shows himself aware of many of the cultural and social dimensions to shame and identity. He draws on helpful insights from both the Ancient Near East as well as cultures today. He also addresses power and majority-minority dynamics intentionally at various places, which I appreciated.

There’s a poetic and lyrical nature to how this book is written so it is very easy to read in some ways, but it’s an easy read more so because the style targets the human heart and reality so authentically that there’s not much in the book that you don’t feel like you relate to.

In Asia, shame is a more recognized and understood dynamic. People just get it – and as such, this is a great resource here in Asia. In the west, shame is not something most know their way around. Many either are not aware of what it is and its impact on identity and relationships or they don’t know what to do with it or how to find freedom.  This book helps develop awareness of how shame may be at work in one’s life and it offers a grounded and hopeful perspective from Scripture to help one understand how to see their story re-written as they place their story within the God’s story.

It’s actually a really creative and insightful book that offers an immense depth of wisdom and insight. I would recommend it to just about everyone because I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t benefit from going through this book whether for personal growth or leadership development.

 

Quick Review: Pursuing Justice

One of the books with the most impact on me this year was Ken Wytsma’s Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger ThingsI read it in the summer, but I re-read it over the past couple of weeks. Wytsma founded Kilns college and started The Justice Conference. I’ve started going through the last couple conferences via what is on the internet and vimeo.

This book is a primer on God’s heart for justice and offers a corrective to both social gospel as well as gnostic, all that matters is the afterlife,  approaches to the gospel. There’s a strong Biblical foundation offered for what the Scriptures really say about justice and where many of us have gone off to one extreme or the other.

There’s a few chapters I loved.  There is a chapter focused on advent, the incarnation, that was exceptional regarding the call to incarnate into people’s lives and realities as fundamental to Christian life and ministry. Given that I re-read it prior to Christmas this year, my second reading of this chapter was even more meaningful. Maybe the chapter I appreciated the most though was the chapter entitled “Empathy” that connects are hard-wired human ability to feel what other people feel and experience as a key to God’s heart for justice. Without empathy, there is no justice.  There is a paradigm offered in this chapter regarding empathy and “the other” which may come in handy in my PhD research.

Wytsma covers a lot of ground. In addition to the above, he tackles briefly the gospel and politics, the history of the evangelical phobia of “social justice,” and the range of response to justice such as apathy. This book is a great introduction to thinking Biblically about justice and it’s a convicting one that all believers would benefit from.

One of my big takeaways, while not a new conviction, is a deeper commitment that Christian ministry along with its methodology reflects what the Scriptures really teach about the gospel and justice. That’s neither the social gospel or the spiritual escapism often present in evangelicalism today. When word and deed go together, it’s a powerful thing and I’m thankful for those who are helping lead the church towards a more integrated and restorative vision of what it means to be the Church.

I will come back to this book because it also cites really great sources and work from many historical and contemporary justice practitioners. While I’ve read a decent amount regarding justice, there was much that was new to me in terms of stories and anecdotes, but the resources referenced were just as much of a blessing.

 

Quick Review: 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness

Over the past year I have, as the opportunities have allowed, have worked my way through Eric Metaxas’ book 7 Men and The Secret of Their Greatness.  I took this book slow and when I was in the mood for a brief biography this was a great go to book, especially via the audiobook version.  Each biography is about 50-60 minutes on the audio book, basically the length of my commute to and from work.

The book includes 7 biographies of men of faith that have had a significant impact on others and society.  The list includes George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Chuck Colson.

Many of thus are well-known figures, some with movies documenting parts of their stories or journeys. Amazing Grace came out on William Wilberforce, Chariots of Fire on Eric Liddell, and most recently 42 on Jackie Robinson. I recommend all of them.

I personally learned new and significant things about each man that I didn’t know before even though I have been quite familiar with many of these men.  I enjoyed all of the brief biographies, but I was particularly encouraged from my learning on the lives of Pope John Paul II and Chuck Colson, who I did not know as much about. These men are quite different in their personalities, gifts, and historical and social contexts. But the faith and integrity demonstrated that showed up tangibly in service to others is quite the powerful common thread to their impact.

I am not typically a “biography” guy, but this was a great way to expose myself further to the lives and examples of these men and leaders, each in contexts that carried such great challenges.  I recommend the audiobook, which is my preferred mode to do biographies. It was a great antidote for traffic and long commutes.

 

Quick Review – Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race

Over the last few days I had a chance to read Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race. Getting Free From the Fears and Frustrations That Divide Us.  This book was written by longtime NFL player Benjamin Watson and was released about a year ago, so while not current to the events of the past year and the impact of Trump and the election, it was written right in the middle of a fairly racially charged season in America’s history.

Part of why I wanted to read this book is because it was a recent reflection on the racial divide in the context of the events of Ferguson, Charleston, Trayvon Martin, and several other high-profile moments that have surfaced much hurt, injustice, and gaps in perspective across racial boundaries in general. Most of these events took place after I moved my family out of the country, so I wanted to read some reflection and insight from an African-American as I lacked real opportunities to engage in much conversation on these matters. Tragically I was left at the mercy of some of the chaos on Twitter to process some of these events and what they might signify to the African American community.

I found this book to be really good.  It’s not an academic book in its presentation, but I appreciated how informative it was on recent events and in chronicling key events and experiences in the struggle for civil rights and in African-American history as a whole. The book was strengthened by many helpful personal experiences and anecdotes from the author’s own life and from his father and grandfather.  These issues need this kind of place – both helpful analysis in historical context as well as personal stories.

I loved that each chapter begins with an emotion such as angry, sad, embarrassed, hopeless, encouraged, or hopeful. These are emotionally charged topics because they touch so deeply on our identity. I found it to be really effective and helpful in the structure of the book to walk the read through the range of emotions on this topic. Such a journey avoids pollyanna theology as well as nihilistic darkness.  Tensions abound and Watson helps navigate a reader through these tensions well in a way that should help people connect with their own feelings and personal journey in these matters.

The book is thoroughly evangelical and it offers a clear roadmap to a spiritual solution in Jesus Christ. The whole book echoes the Scriptures, but he unpacks the gospel and its significance for racism and society in the final chapters. Essentially – he affirms over and over that racial conflict and racial segregation are matters of the heart and only Christ can change hearts.

The books origins are blog-like, so there are times where it reads like a blogger’s reflection. That’s not all bad – because they are good reflections.  The focus on this book also is fairly targeted to the divide in black and white racial tensions.  In the context of recent events, that is helpful for a focused coversation. However, there is not much here that specifically tries to incorporate other journeys.  Neither of the above points are bad, they just speak to the genre of the book and chosen focus amidst a pretty huge conversation topic in general.

It was a really enjoyable and helpful read.  It may be something I use to introduce my kids to some of these issues as they get a little older to be able to think more critically about race and relationships. I recommend it especially if you haven’t done much reflection in the aftermath of the explosive and racially charged events of the past few years.

 

Quick Review: Strong and Weak

One of the richest and most practically helpful book I’ve read this year is Andy Crouch’s Strong and Weak.  It’s the third book I’ve read by Crouch this year and all three form together what I would describe to be a trilogy related to a theology and practice of image bearing. You can see some of my thoughts on the 1st of these books Culture Making here or the more recent Playing God here.

Strong and Weak is roughly an extension of Playing God.  Playing God  is a more in depth look at power and privilege. Strong and Weak continues that, but Crouch introduces a framework for understanding social ethics, relationships, and authority among other things.  This allows for a really clear conceptual understanding of much of what he unpacks in Playing God.

Crouch builds his book around a 2 x 2 chart. The X axis is represented by the concept of vulnerability, while the Y axis is represented by the concept of authority. Crouch draws from the first couple chapters of Genesis these two significant aspects of what it means to be an image bearer. Having the authority and ability to take meaningful action on one hand, and having the posture of vulnerability and risk on the other.

In the chart there are 4 quadrants, which Crouch describes as flourishing (high authority, high vulnerability), suffering or poverty (low authority, high vulnerability), withdrawal or apathy (low authority, low vulnerability) and exploitation (high authority, low vulnerability).  The book is organized around these quadrants and their implications for relationships, community, and even leadership as well.

The simple 2 x 2 chart provides a really helpful framework to understand some really complex dynamics as well as the powerful and countercultural implications of gospel action through people in different quadrants.  It provides a helpful way of understanding servant leadership, empowerment, social responsibility, and community development all in one.

This book is about 150 pages or so, very readable. I highly recommend you read this – it has something for everyone and it serves as an incredible teaching tool to help people understand how to look at the importance of both authority and vulnerability – which cover a surprising amount of the issues leaders have in negotiating the social realities of their contexts.

This is an important and helpful resource that should help people think more theologically and responsibly about the dynamic relationship between authority and human relationships.  I really encourage you to find time to read it.

 

Quick Review: Playing God

This month I worked my way through Andy Crouch’s Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power.  Really this year I’ve worked through what is a trilogy essentially from Andy Crouch with three books that all revolve around the central theme of what it means to be human as God intended, as God’s image bearer. The first book in this thematic series is Culture Making, which I reviewed a few months back and I’ll review the third book Strong and Weak, which was released this year, sometime next week.

All three of these books are highly worth reading and I recommend reading them sequentially and together because of the continuity of ideas, language, and frameworks offered.

While Culture Making focused on the themes of creating and cultivating as image bearers, Playing God focuses more specifically on the theme of power and authority – related to its original design and intentions and to its abuse.

In a refreshing statement, Crouch begins the book with a clear thesis that power is a gift. It has purposes for people and communities that glorify God and that are meant to serve and honor other people.  But we all know the world is full of people who use power for their own gains, so the gift of power gets corrupted into something much worse. Actually we all use power for our own gain – that’s the power of sin in our lives. We all need to learn how God wants to redeem power for his purposes.

Crouch makes mention in several books of the importance of developing a theology of image bearing around the whole of Scripture – with special attention to Gen 1-2 and Rev 21-22. He argues that these 4 chapters guard against the dualistic theology prevalent for so many generations – where the only concern is trying to save souls from sin (Gen 3 – Rev).  I think it’s a helpful reminder to really think deeply about the whole Biblical narrative and its implications for all of life.  That’s the power of developing a theology of image bearing, whether it involves creativity or power. A solid theology of image bearing should inform all of life – relationships, power and authority, calling, and community.  This is what I appreciate about what Crouch attempts to do in his books.

Some of the sections that I think Crouch really did a great job with are his treatment of the themes of idolatry related to power. The chapters on idolatry and icons are really helpful and I’ve already gone back to a couple of those chapters.  There are some very helpful sections that help someone evaluate their hearts as the source of their behavior and what they worship in practice.

Another strength of the book is a framing and his effort to articulate the dynamics and even provide some measure of a theology of privilege. Privilege is often used pejoratively as a label. I’ve seen it misused more often than not, which is why Crouch’s efforts are really valuable.  While there are problems and limitations with the word “privilege,” no one can deny that this points to a reality which is very much true. It’s not an American thing either. Privilege exists as a social reality across the world that impacts identity and communities. Crouch offers one of the more balanced efforts to explain the blessings (opportunities) and

Crouch offers one of the more balanced efforts to explain the blessings (opportunities) and the dark side of privilege in its impact on relationships and society. These are realities we must help people understand through a more complete theological lens – not just through the lenses of social activism and social justice. These issues point us back to a more comprehensive vision of shalom, of what human life and community is meant to be.   For much of the last century and beyond, t

For much of the last century and beyond, there has been a theological gap in bias and practice between social justice and evangelistic mission.  There continues to be a divide today, albeit with different influences and forces driving some of those divides and reactions. Crouch attempts to bridge some of this gap through a theology of image bearing and power.  It is not the focus of the book to provide a comprehensive theology of the church as it relates to social action, but nonetheless there are very helpful sections to help inform how we think about the church’s role in society as part of a Great Commission vision.

Much of his work in Playing God gets elaborated on in Strong and Weak, in which he provides a helpful conceptual framework to illustrate how image bearing and power in community goes wrong….and right sometimes.

This book has very wide relevance and application so if you have not read it, I recommend getting all three of these books onto your reading list soon.

 

 

 

Butt Friction

Matako ghawi ghaleka cha ku kwenthana

(Two buttocks cannot avoid friction)

—Malawian Proverb

Niyi Gbade and John Becker start off their article “Buttocks, Bridges, and Kola Nuts”with this Malawian proverb in the most recent Missio Nexus Anthology (Vol 4 No 2 October 2016) on Conflict.

It is now my favorite African proverb.

My first take on this was that the proverb is prophetically or tongue in cheek using the metaphor of butt cheeks to connote how people in conflict can be, pardon my language, asses. But that is not the emphasis of this saying. Gbade and Becker reinforce that this speaks to the dynamics that proximity leads to inevitable conflict. Closeness leads to tension, to friction.

I’ve never thought about this reality through the metaphor of friction producing buttocks, but it’s hard for me to imagine a more memorable metaphor that normalizes conflict in relationships.

The article also includes the following Nigerian proverb as well:

In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges
and the foolish build dams.

In my PhD cohort I have the privilege to study with a couple others from Nigeria and there’s an abundance of storytelling and these types of sayings that provide such a grounded way of thinking about social wisdom.

If you have access to Missio Nexus I recommend checking out the latest Anthology on Conflict as there are great cross-cultural and north-south intercultural insights for conflict resolution and partnership.

But what’s most important now is that as you go about your day taking stride after stride, you now can reflect deeply about conflict through the gentle reminder of your own butt friction.

Quick Review: Blink

In the last week, my quality time in the car battling jeepneys and tricycles on the streets of Manila allowed me to listen to the entirety of Malcom Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Because of the popularity of Gladwell’s books, detailed summaries can be googled and found easily, but here’s a few of my thoughts on the book.

First, again I immensely enjoyed the book because Gladwell’s books are as easily consumed as audiobooks as anything because it is so story driven and there are so many things that are utterly fascinating.  Second, the book popularizes some of the things in Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow which I’ll post on at some point because I read it a few months ago.

Gladwell is  unpacking the positives and negatives of rapid cognition, the way the brain “thin slices” decisions in situations.  Thin slicing is when our minds make decisions or draw conclusions based on a small sample of knowledge available. He cites the example of how experts, who get so familiar with their areas of expertise that they can make accurate decisions instinctively even when tons of data or analysis goes the other direction.  It may not always hold true – but it surfaces the limits of objective analysis sometimes.

There’s a great section that he calls the “Warren Harding error” in which he details how one of the worst Presidents ever came to power because other people thin sliced who would make a good President – tall, good looking, and other appealing qualities. There’s a lot that translates to leadership in general – people get thin sliced all the time with negative consequences because they don’t look good enough, aren’t tall enough, or lack certain outward personality characteristics. In fact – Gladwell illustrates how short people get discriminated against for executive positions in the business world just as much as ethnic minorities and women. That’s the Warren Harding error and illustrates how we have some hardwired assumptions that impact our unconscious processing of situations and our feelings about different people or decisions. Thin slicing can help us in some

Thin slicing can help us in some situations but can hurt us in others when we have socialized or subconscious prejudices that affect decisions – even that conflict with our conscious values and beliefs! That’s a big realization – that while we can have clear values and beliefs, we are still impacted by socialization and society at a subconscious level.

Of most interest to me was the content that impacted subconscious racism or prejudice – either in the business world or in other contexts. Looking at the way the brain works is helpful and should inform how we approach training and development in these areas.  Too often when people respond a certain way or make a decision that betrays that there is a bias towards the majority culture, it’s low hanging fruit for many to cry out (or lash out more appropriately) that those people are racists or misogynists. Sometimes they are – but it’s not a generous response when all people are influenced by society in these ways, some of which in key moments that require fast processing and quick decisions that surface conflicts between your clearly held values and beliefs and subtle and subconscious biases. Gladwell is hoping to surface these dimensions to provide hope for training and development so that we do not have to be

Too often when people respond a certain way or make a decision that betrays that there is a bias towards the majority culture, it’s low hanging fruit for many to cry out (or lash out more appropriately) that those people are racists or misogynists. Sometimes they are – but it’s not a generous response when all people are influenced by society in these ways, some of which in key moments that require fast processing and quick decisions that surface conflicts between your clearly held values and beliefs and subtle and subconscious biases. Gladwell is hoping to surface these dimensions to provide hope for training and development so that we do not have to be ruled or dominated by our subconscious biases informed by history and society (even though that will always be the case to some degree).

A case in point applies to one of Gladwell’s case studies, a police shooting of an unarmed black male in New York by 4 white police officers.  Gladwell takes us through the situation. In the wake of Trayvon Martin and recent history, these are volatile and charged situations that are tragic all the way around. There is no doubt that the shooting covered in the book was wrong and unjustified – but today we as a society immediately go the racist label. Gladwell illustrates that it’s not so simple – and again, we need to be more generous before labeling people with such labels. Were the cops racist?

Despite the evidence, maybe they are not. On another level, Gladwell shows that they were influenced by subconscious influences that in the heat of the moment and stress of the situation betrayed them in a critical moment. This is how much of life goes. There are plenty of racists out there intentionally doing harm. But there’s also a lot of people who are not racist, but the stress of a fight or flight situation may surface influences that impact decision making that have racist or discriminatory impact.

Gladwell argues that these thinking patterns can be intentionally developed and trained. In a world where we so quickly want to label people as either bad or good, these are some things that may provide hope for new ways of thinking and new ways of training and development that nurture ethical and just assessments of one another – even under stress. It’s a reminder that when we jump as a society to want to scapegoat, punish, or shame someone that has done wrong doing – we may be missing key parts of the equation and forgetting that different sets of circumstances could expose different areas of subconscious bias in us as well. It’s a reminder we need to cultivate safe spaces for learning and awareness instead of environments of graceless

In a world where we so quickly want to label people as either bad or good, these are some things that may provide hope for new ways of thinking and new ways of training and development that nurture ethical and just assessments of one another – even under stress. It’s a reminder that when we jump as a society to want to scapegoat, punish, or shame someone that has done wrong doing – we may be missing key parts of the equation and forgetting that different sets of circumstances could expose different areas of subconscious bias in us as well. It’s a reminder we need to cultivate safe spaces for learning and awareness instead of environments of graceless judgement and accusation.

So there’s a lot of helpful thinks to think about here. There are sections on marketing involving the soda wars I remember early on and why people freaked out when Coke introduced “new coke” and then had to bring back classic coke. it was fascinating how packaging impacts the perception of experience and preference – all things equal. There’s a lot of different ways in which the dynamics of rapid cognition impacts behavior and decision making, but the applications with the greatest social significance to me is that which applies to the dynamics of racism and discrimination as well as who makes for a good leader.

 

Quick Review: Community – The Structure of Belonging

I finished Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging last week and want to share some of his thoughts if it interests you. This book essentially is about community development and transformation. Block’s style is often theoretical and heady in its content and tone, yet there is a real commitment to organizing work and life around the dignity of human beings and the impact of relationships and organizing efforts on that dignity. This is one of the things I like about Block in his books.

What is helpful about this book is that it steers conversations in the process of community building away from victimization and learned helplessness and paternalism.  His focus is on building what he calls the social fabric – the quality of relating within a community.  He unpacks the ideas and patterns of modern society that are undermining true empowerment in society at large and argues for methods and community processes that both lead to the goal while also being the goal themselves.

Many want to build communities and build the social fabric, but they focus on the end result and meanwhile their methods and processes undermine the very relating and social fabric they want to achieve.  Block proposes a set of commitments and processes to help communities begin relating in empowering and accountable ways that increase the consistency and quality of the social fabric. He argues that the small group is the unit of transformation.

There’s a lot here – and it’s a big that needs a lot of reflection to make connections for the sake of integration and application. But Block does a great job building a process around question asking and safe spaces.  He argues that community transformation is driven by well-crafted questions that create the kind of anxiety and tension that drives people to get involved and commit.  He offers sets of questions for key conversations around ownership, dissent, gifts, and other key areas.  What is unique about Block is the methodology that seeks to bring the goal into the process.  This is some of how I’ve tried to teach strategic planning – that leaders don’t lead towards a goal or vision, but they must live out that vision through the whole process from day one. That affects actions and relationships.

He offers sets of questions for key conversations around ownership, dissent, gifts, and other key areas.  What is unique about Block is the methodology that seeks to bring the goal into the process.  This is some of how I’ve tried to teach strategic planning – that leaders don’t lead towards a goal or vision, but they must live out that vision through the whole process from day one. That affects actions and relationships.

In today’s society, you have many groups in many places blaming other groups for their situation and looking externally for solutions.  Block offers a methodology and community building approach that challenges all of us to take ownership of our communities and commit to something new together instead of engaging in the toxic cycles of blame and dependence.  It’s easier said than done, but there’s a lot here to inform how we try to bridge differences today in a culture that is often very divided.