Category Archives: Culture

Quick Review: The Myth of Equality

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been able to go through Ken Wytsma’s The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege and want to pass on highest recommendation if you are in the Northern American context.

Last year I read Wytsma’s book Pursuing Justice and it was a good complement to this book. But The Myth of Equality is a needed book that seeks to lay out theological, historical, sociological context for both historical racism as well as contemporary racism in its various forms. I won’t give a comprehensive summary but will hit the highlights.

First, he did good Biblical and theological work, building on some of his work in Pursuing Justice. It informs the reader, especially if there’s not much Biblical or theological background, on the spiritual backdrop of the discussion.  He’s working to give the average lay church member, especially white lay church member, a context for the discussion outside of attacks and emotions. Most important to this is the question of who God is and what does God care about.

Second, he does a great job unpacking a “history of racism” that is very insightful and informative in terms of political and social develops several hundred years ago.  However, the unpacking and analysis of racism in the U.S. including slavery and then through the various post-Civil War legislation and government efforts through the 20th century is downright piercing. Even for someone who has read or studied much of what was covered in other places, to go through this history is deeply disturbing and generates a flood of emotions. But the reader is brought into the sacred space of just how much suffering has been driven by the systematic oppression and marginalization of ethnic minority groups in the U.S.

My heart started pumping midway through in an excited way because Wytsma goes into Walter Brueggeman’s work in The Prophetic Imagination to discuss the dynamics of power, leadership, change, and theology.  This book was one of the fundamental influences on me in terms of how I view leadership overall and the church’s role in the world.  To get a chapter about the “royal consciousness” was a delight. However, to do a deep analysis today on themes of racism and privilege through that lens continues to be sobering.

One of my big takeaways related to the discussion on privilege was a section where he discussed “creation stories” as a metaphor for each person’s story. Many are “birthed” into stories where they only know possibilities and freedom. Others are birthed into stories that have origins in shame, invisibility, closed doors, and a host of other atrocities. While it’s true that God can redeem every story, this was a helpful new window into understanding how people come at these discussions from very different lenses and perspectives. It’s simply very hard to connect and form relationships of equality and dignity without an awareness into how these starting points in a society impact identity.

I personally liked Wytsma’s approach to the language.  I think there is more to write on terms like privilege and white supremacy and other core terms of the modern discussion. I think Wytsma handled them well without resorting to a single story approach.  My struggles with these words over the years have primarily involved a pragmatic struggle with how hard it is to explain them to people prior to being able to have a meaningful conversation when there are so many landmines of meaning and interpretation around them that escalate emotion in often unhelpful ways. But Wytsma I think does a really good job explaining how these terms fit in the contemporary discussion and why they are appropriate even though there are all sorts of semantic and meaning issues connected to them in the journey of common understanding.

This is an important book for the church because more and more in the church want to be a part of a different story, but so many do not know the history and the reality that is often hidden from them if they’ve not leaned into cross-cultural relationships and issues of social injustice.

This is a 2017 book so it might be new to you, but I’d encourage you to go through it with some people you do life with.

 

Quick Review: Getting Past No

Another negotiating book I read recently is William Ury’s Getting Past No: Negotiating in Difficult Situations. This is an extension of Getting to Yes, but it focuses on an arena that Getting to Yes does not attend to in as much detail – the biggest obstacles to negotiation from an emotional standpoint and in terms of resistance.

The book treats emotional and resistance barriers more through the lens of substantive negotiation as opposed to offering a deep dive on the true impact of emotions. Another book I’m reading now that does that is Beyond Reason by Fisher and Shapiro, which I’ll review soon.  However, this is a helpful book related to developing strategies to find common ground for agreement in high difficult situations or negotiations where maybe there is significant resistance from one source or another.

The essential framework for this book is simplified into these key approaches when there is significant resistance to negotiation:

  1.  Reflect instead of react.  Exercise self-awareness and self-regulation so that emotions do not drive the negotiation.
  2. Agree instead of argue.  Don’t give in, but instead of arguing or increasing positional tension try agreeing with everything you can possibly agree with to help keep positive engagement with the real interests involved.
  3. Reframe instead of Reject. Don’t just throw out the other person’s position but try to explore the interests by reframing the issues in ways that allow for mutual problem-solving.
  4. Collaborate instead of Sell.  Don’t push your own agenda, but really work for mutual satisfaction and that interests are met on all sides.
  5. Create, don’t Escalate.  If things start breaking down, don’t escalate conflict but seek to find creative solutions to keep things focused on interests and generating possible solutions.

So the book is really an extension of Getting to Yes, but there are great stories about these things being implemented in real negotiations. But it’s helpful to think about these things BEFORE negotiation or conversations go bad.  It’s helpful to be prepared for how to handle negative resistance as we often don’t expect it and as a result, our response to it ends up being poor or reactive.

Of the above – they all have merit, but I think #3 is perhaps most crucial because I think it helps shape a mindset that allows you do to #4 and #5 better.  I think this book and other books don’t always include tons of cross-cultural reflection or insights, so that is an intriguing arena for further reflection. In some ways, I think Ury’s principles work well in Honor Shame and other contexts. Emotional self-regulation is key and having a more relational and community perspective is crucial.

I suggest googling some summaries as you can get the gist of this book in a few places on the web and you can even find some pdf’s of some older versions of the book for download.

 

Quick Review: 1 Peter Honor Shame Paraphrase

I’ve spent some time the last couple of weeks going through Jayson Georges’ paraphrase of 1 Peter, which includes some context and basic commentary. It’s primarily a paraphrase, translated to highlight in the language of the letter the honor-shame context and dynamics embedded in and around the letter.  This is what seems to be the beginning of a series as he has recently released a paraphrase of Esther as well.

Some might struggle if they don’t have the imagination or the creativity to utilize paraphrases in context. But this is a helpful exercise to draw near to the original context of the letter and the issues that people cared about and were most affected by.  1 Peter was a great letter to start with because the issues of suffering and persecution addressed.  These themes start to become a bit richer and clear through some of the honor-shame language.

I personally enjoyed some of the leadership/overseer sections of the letter as portrayed in the paraphrase, but the strength is really it’s clarity of the honored identity of Christ for those that see community and social relationships through this lens. It illustrates the contrast between what is honored in God’s Kingdom compared to what is honored in the world.

So – definitely worth checking it out if you want to challenge yourself with thinking about many in the ancient world viewed the issues of identity and persecution….and many people today as well.

 

Quick Review: Getting to Yes

I’m doing a lot of reading and research related to negotiation right now for a class and one of the key books that started the contemporary discussion related to negotiation is Fisher and Ury’s Getting To YES: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.

For a long time I hated the idea of negotiation because I equated it with positional bargaining, which often is just a prelude to conflict. While I like engaging in ideas and discussion, I’ve always hated debate and hated positional confrontations because of how much stress it generates for me. I hate both sports and political shows where people just yell and debate. And in general – I hate bargaining too and I’m the type of person that if I tried to bargain at a store I’ll end up paying more than my starting price. Anyway – that’s what I’ve equated with the discussion of negotiation.

But – it was a game changer to begin seeing negotiation’s role in the bigger picture discussion of conflict and it’s one of the best insights I’ve gained from the PhD program I’m in right now – that a lot of conflicts never happen if people learn to negotiate well both relationally and in terms of the substantive issues that may be involved. This book is one of the first that tries to get outside of the positional bargaining box and into what we often know now as “win-win” negotiation. So the book covers positional bargaining, “win-win” or integrative bargaining, and aspects of negotiation related to dealing with difficult people and some of the nuts and bolts of a general negotiation discussion.

There’s a lot more that goes into navigating workplace negotiation and there’s perhaps even more that is required for interpersonal or social negotiation amidst polarizing diversity and social conflicts.  This is what I’m exploring in the negotiation realm. This book covers a lot of ground and is a classic in the field if you’re looking to dip your foot in the waters of negotiation.

 

Quick Review: The Skin You Live In

 

A book that I wanted to offer a brief review of that I’ve read recently is Dr. David D. Ireland’s The Skin You Live In: Building Friendship Across Cultural Lines.

The author hides his own ethnicity until the end of the book to avoid any potential reader bias, which I found interesting. I did not know the author’s background until the end and at many points I found myself wondering.  But that choice does allow one to engage the content of the book without any potential bias against the content and where it’s coming from.

Diversity efforts are occurring everywhere. This is a helpful and somewhat brief treatment on how to take steps from cultural isolation towards cross-race relationships.  There’s a lot of helpful insights throughout the book – particularly related to ethnicity and identity. There are prophetic challenges to both majority culture folks as well as ethnic minority folks who can find their identity in their ethnicity or their political-social situation. From a Christian perspective – both sides of this divide are challenged related to fundamental identity and to live out a God-given identity to reconcile and bridge difference through meaningful relationships.

A part of the purpose of this book is trying to help provide a roadmap to what he calls being “racially attractive.” By that term, he means someone who can form meaningful relationships across racial or ethnic difference.  From the author’s own doctoral research he asked people who were consistently living life with these types of relationships about what makes them “racially attractive.” Here are the responses:

  1. Offer hospitality.
  2. Be free to laugh and joke.
  3. Go on social outings.
  4. Engage in vulnerable conversations.
  5. Have cross-race friends.
  6. Seek mutually rewarding outcomes.
  7. Demonstrate comfort in the friendship.
  8. Practice honesty in the relationship.     (pg. 71)

This list was interesting to me and links to several other models, but noticeably Andy Crouch’s matrix in Strong and Weak.  I’m currently reading and researching a lot related to multi-ethnic negotiation and there are some connection points here as well.

This book is written primarily with the U.S. ethnic context in mind, but it was interesting to read this through the international lens as well as much of the suggestions about building relationships are just as relevant here in Asia as elsewhere, maybe they are even more crucial here because of the weight of relationship and community in collectivist cultures.

Many people today, despite increased political polarization, do want to experience diversity and cross-cultural relationships even if there is systemic racism and hidden personal racism that prevents those desires to be realized. It always starts with identity and relationships and this is a helpful resource for people on the journey. There’s other helpful sections related to cross-cultural forgiveness, advocacy and other aspects of diverse community so it’s definitely worth reading if this is an area of development for you.

Quick Review: The Cubs Way

So as the 2017 MLB playoffs are just underway, what better way for a brief review on one of my favorite reading experiences of 2017 – The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci.

This book was like a drug for me. Re-living the 2016 Cubs championship season and World Series run was plain awesome. Doing that while getting a healthy dose of organizational change philosophy and culture shaping nuggets add up to a combination that was like a drug.  I loved this book – but I’m a Cub fan so I’m biased. But seriously – this was like a book version of one of those “snuggie” blankets from TV back in the day.

I would have liked more coverage of the NLDS series against the Giants and of the NLCS against the Dodgers, but the coverage of the World Series, as well as the accounts and storytelling of how the culture was shaped by new leadership and how each significant piece of the team was acquired, were excellent.  I loved the chapters on Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, and Kyle Hendricks among others. So much good stuff!

There are tremendous accounts of how the organizational leadership worked to change the culture – one of the most significant components involved a detailed manual about what the Cubs were going to be about called “The Cubs Way” and the implementation of personal development plans and face to face development conversations about those plans before the season.  Loved so much also the commitment of the organization to recruit and identify talent that has the character to take responsibility for weaknesses and areas of growth.  The other component from a leadership standpoint relates to Joe Maddon’s approach to leading the team as the manager. A lot of good stuff and nuggets.

This may become an annual read for me as I continue to live in the glow of the Cubs winning the World Series. I don’t know what 2017 or beyond holds – but 2016 was a dream and I cannot get enough of it.

 

Quick Review: Families Where Grace is in Place

One of the most timely books I’ve read in a while is Families Where Grace Is In Place by Jeff VanVonderen.  I enjoy VanVonderen. Quite a while ago I was deeply ministered to by his book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse in a season where I was observing a lot of spiritually abusive dynamics and tactics in some of my environments. This book on grace in the family was just as refreshing and significant.

I’ve read a few books in the last few years related to marriage and family and this has vaulted to the top for me I think so far. Some of it may be timeliness in that we are under a year from having teens in our household, but it’s more that VanVonderen grounds an approach to marriage and parenting…and really all developmental relationships in the foundational truths of the gospel and the need for grace for true change to take place.

Today there are so many ways Christians especially rationalize their legalism, shaming, and performance approach to parenting, leadership, and any exercise of authority roles. This book shines a spotlight on what does not pass the grace test and what truly reflects leadership under the Lordship of Christ. It’s convicting and even painful at points as the book fosters self-evaluation according to shame or grace-based approaches in relationships. But it offers hope and life that is grounded not in methods or control, but in love and the life of Christ as the source of all life and all authentic change.

The author uses a couple acronyms that are helpful – C.U.R.S.E. and T.I.R.E.D. to capture the reality of parenting and exercise of authority in relationships that reflect the core patterns of sin in Genesis 3. You can read the book to do a deeper dive on those – but it’s well worth it 🙂

As I’ve been researching more and more stuff related to shame, the more I’m convinced we need to ground everything we do in authentic, grace-based relationships in which the truth is allowed to do its work to heal and restore rather than harm, hurt, put down, or belittle. But sadly that is not the case for many marriages, families, and churches. This is what we are trying to prioritize in our development right now as parents and it’s been life and hope giving as well as healing in some regards as well.

 

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: The Five Temptations of a CEO

Thanks to Audible, Patrick Lencioni’s book The FIVE Temptations of a CEO was on sale last week for 50% so I think I got it for around $4 or so. It’s one of his shortest books and also the first of his well-known leadership fable books to my knowledge. The audio version was about an hour and a half. I listened to just about the whole thing while supervising my kids in the swimming pool on vacation one afternoon. Water was WAAAY too cold for me so I opted for some Lencioni instead.

This was maybe the most simple of all the books I’ve read from Lencioni. Simple story and five simple principles that have a significant and disproportionate impact on leadership and team success. It was a brief book, but it came at a good time for me as I’ve been stretched lately through having to lead at a higher level. It’s not just for CEO’s, but for anyone really leading a team and who is in a position to steward organizational mission, vision, and values.

The five temptations are essentially these:

  1. Status (protecting self over focusing on results)
  2. Popularity (wanting people to like you instead of holding them accountable and making the needed decisions)
  3. Certainty (wanting to avoid risk and failure)
  4. Harmony (wanting to avoid tension and uncomfortability in the team)
  5. Invulnerability  (Maintaining distance and avoiding authenticity)

Here’s his model in simple form as it’s covered on his website. You can download the model here in pdf form.

Much of these principles are unpacked in more detail in later books, especially The Five Dysfunctions and Getting Naked. So I don’t know if paying full price for this book is what you need to do. I would think a lot of it can be gleaned from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. But for the price, it was a great and simple overview of some key things. Of all the ones here, the temptation of certainty was the one that was most helpful for me right now. It’s the one least covered in other books I’ve read so maybe that’s where I found a lot of value here. But overall – it provided a great opportunity for self-assessment and to explore possible development and change moving forward.

It was a great hour and fifteen minutes – I listened at 1.25x speed 🙂

The website for the book is here.