Tag Archives: Peace

Quick Review: Unoffendable

On our family drive to Colorado recently I read Brant Hansen’s Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better.  

I was drawn to read it because the summary fits the general realm of self-differentiation that I enjoy looking at, but also because it had potential relevance to some of the shame and conflict research I’ve been working on this past year.

This turned out to be a more “popular Christian” book than I expected, but it wasn’t all bad in that regard as there were some unexpected nuggets in parts of the book that did not fit my expectations. The book is written by a guy who works in Christian radio. That fact might have scared me off before I read the book, but turned out to add some fascinating insights.

The premise is clear – giving up the right to be angry makes all the difference in relationships, leadership, ministry, and all of life. The author unpacks how a lot of people spiritualize anger, especially toxic anger under the vernacular as “righteous anger.” This was the most important part of the book – a prophetic word to angry Christians about how their anger is not righteous, but self-serving.

I expected most of the book to relate to conflict, but there was helpful exploration of how anger and “offendability” impacts evangelism and many other things, including a good discussion about dying to anger as it relates to forgiveness.

An interesting discussion is to compare/contrast this book with Bill Hybel’s Holy Discontent, which speaks to some measure of righteous anger as a fuel for passion.  Hanson argues pretty clearly that anger has no place in motivation for justice because our motivation is love.  Jeff VanVonderan in Families Where Grace is in Place (which I am reading now) has a really helpful chapter where he unpacks a discussion on anger which echoes some of Hanson’s arguments but frames a more robust argument around the original Greek language used for “anger.” There are different words and concepts.  VanVonderan offers the most satisfying explanation of the verse “Be angry, but do not sin….”  Hanson though includes great insight that justice work need not be driven by anger and how research shows the most outraged and offended are often those who do least to be part of the solution.

I had not thought much of what it would be like to work in Christian radio because I don’t listen to Christian radio. But what a sad and sobering picture to hear what kind of stuff Christian radio folk personnel have to deal with. It’s not shocking actually, but what a mirror to the heart conditions of many Christians – the legalistic, the spiritualizers, and especially the Christian watchdogs that feel like it’s their responsibility to correct or judge every person or action they disapprove of or disagree with (including matters of doctrine).

I’ve found many popular Christian books cover the same ground – not judging, forgiving, building relationships, grace, general gospel overview, and more.  They also just tend to use a different lens to share a vision of what life with Christ can or should be.  The particular lens in this issue is the idea of “unoffendability” and dying to anger in all its forms.

To summarize – I like the concept of “unoffendability” and appreciated some of the more prophetic challenges this book includes even though I may quibble with some of the arguments or statements at points.  But – I like the lens of unoffendability because it’s true that offendability, outrage, and anger are to be the exact opposite of what the church is known for, yet it’s another area where the church seems to often look exactly like the world.

 

 

Quick Review: How to Have That Difficult Conversation

Over the last few days I had a chance to read Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s How to Have That Difficult Conversation: Gaining the Skills for Honest and Meaningful Communication.  This book formerly used to be called Boundaries: Face to Face but adjusted some things for a more practical application and marketing effort. And it’s a good move because this book is really about how to plan and prepare and execute plans in difficult conversations.

I have had this book for a while and wish I’d gone through it a long time ago. I found it very helpful.  The focus on it isn’t as much conflict resolution and reconciliation, but more on how to be an adult and have grown up conversations.

There’s immense practical value in this book and I’m thinking about adding it to the interpersonal relationships class I teach as a supplement to the other resources and books I use that deal with the heart and theology of relationships.

The book has some great sections related to dealing with your own self first, making a plan to have a conversation, helpful ways to talk through difficult issues, and how to be prepared for immature or other difficult responses to speaking the truth in love. It provides a lot of “how to’s” that are needed because most people are paralyzed in these situations – part because of heart issues and part because of being overwhelmed by the lack of knowledge and ability.  This book addresses the former in part but does a good job on the latter.

The examples are sometimes very clinical in nature or extreme, but they illustrate the principles well. One of the issues that is not addressed very clearly is the role of culture and context as most of the examples and contexts are Western and “white” for lack of a better word.  But it doesn’t mean the principles don’t apply, but they may be harder for people of a non-white, western context to take in and envision for their lives.  But I believe much of what is in the book is just as needed for the majority world and non-white communities and cultures.

The audio book is also good and pretty affordable, but it’s somewhat abridged.  The e-book has additional examples and Scripture foundations throughout the book while the audio book is more focused on the core content.  The e-book includes several appendix chapters that focus on specific relationships:  marriage, dating, kids, parents, and work.  These sections are like abridged versions of some of their other books like boundaries in marriage, boundaries in dating, boundaries, and others. But it’s a great compilation of insight and wisdom in these different relationships.

This is a needed resource for many, if not all of us and I recommend it.  I’m reading through books in the similar genre related to conflict management and this has offered some of the best practical advice on all the emotional/developmental/adulthood dynamics that make or break whether a good conversation can take place where reconciliation is experienced and healthy relationships are built.

 

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.

 

 

 

Quick Review – Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas

I recently read David Cortright’s Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas  as part of the Peace Studies PhD program I am currently in.  I had not heard of the book prior, but it blends some of the themes of my current area of study with my enjoyment of history as a history major.

The book is a history of the approaches people and groups have taken to take a stand against violence over the course of the past few centuries, especially the past 150 years or so.  There is a helpful overview of the origins of peace movements, nonviolent strategies, as well as the great barriers that have traditionally undermined peace efforts in the course of history which is perhaps the most insightful and interesting portion of the book.

The history of peace efforts in the face of great international challenges such as World War I, World War II, and other wars was incredibly insightful. There is an abundance of histories written on just about all other aspects of these conflicts, but I had not yet come across an analysis of these events through the eyes of peace advocates.  It was fascinating to read about the various groups, philosophies, different methodologies, and key figures like Einstein among others.

Where the book is really strong is in illuminating the forces that undermine the work of peace when it really matters.  One of the key themes that consistently shows up is nationalism functioning as a barrier to peace efforts.  I’ve known the distinction between patriotism and nationalism, but I came away wanting to distinguish these concepts even more clearly. Nationalism is a key theme that exposed the limits of the peace movements from the World Wars all the way to more recent conflicts.  I was amazed at how much was in place prior to the World Wars to support the peace processes and how quickly much of it dissolved in the waves of nationalism that swept over the countries.

There is a great introduction to the historical movements of nonviolence as well general treatments of the dynamics of violence in society and the difference between pacifism and nonviolence. One of the things that struck me is how leaders of nations time and time again have routinely sacrificed hundreds of thousands of lives because of certain patterns of thinking that history has shown to be inadequate to the moment they faced. It’s a tragedy and a reminder to advocate for Biblically based reconciliation in society and between nations as the path of hope for peace.

 

 

Quick Review: Forgiving As We’ve Been Forgiven

This summer I had a chance to read Forgiving as We’ve Been Forgiven: Community Practices for Making Peace by L. Gregory Jones and Celestin Musekura.  The book is written where each author trades off chapters and complement each other’s perspective.  Musekura is from Rwanda and had countless friends and relatives murdered in the Rwandan genocide. Jones has been part of the Duke Divinity School faculty and the school of reconciliation they have developed there.

The stories that both Jones and Musekura bring in addition to their theological and Biblical reflection are powerful together as a collective narrative. There is a helpful section on how reconciliation involves needing new hearts, renewed minds, and healing from unjust actions.

There is also an excellent chapter on forgiveness and memory – how the fallacy of forgiveness as “forgetting” needs to be replaced by a more Biblical and Christ-focused paradigm of forgiveness in community. This echoed some of the work of Miroslav Volf on memory, but it is captured in a pretty succinct form.

This is a book that can be read in about 3 hours so it’s manageable and well worth the investment to be challenged to think about forgiveness through the communal lens as opposed to the therapeutic models of today or the purely individualistic models of forgiveness that people function out of.  The authors offer a vision of how practices of forgiveness are crucial to community building and creating healthy and strong futures – not just dealing with past wrongs.

Here is their rough outline for an approach to community reconciliation.  They include Scripture references and connections to Christ’s work, but I’m just giving you the headlines of the categories they offer.

TRUTH TELLING

Step 1: We become willing to speak truthfully and patiently about the conflicts that have arisen.

Step 2: We acknowledge both the existence of anger and bitterness, and a desire to overcome them.

Step 3: We summon up a concern for the well-being of the other as a child of God.

Step 4: We recognize our own complicity in conflict, remember that we have been forgiven in the past and take the step of repentance.

Step 5: We make a commitment to struggle to change whatever caused and continues to perpetuate our conflicts. Forgiveness does not merely refer backwards to the absolution of guilt; it also looks forward to the restoration of community.

Step 6: We confess our yearning for the possibility of reconciliation.

If you’ve read a lot of Volf or other writings on reconciliation and community oriented forgiveness this may not give you much new content outside of the narratives from Rwanda and other contexts the authors draw from in their writing, but the stories are really are what makes the theology and methodology come alive in powerful ways.  This was of great personal value to me so I recommend it, especially if you are wrestling with unforgiveness or difficult relationships.

 

Quick Review: A Farewell to Mars

I’m excited to share this quick review as A Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd was one of the best and most compelling and challenging books I’ve read in some time.  The book in general is a treatment of how the gospel gets coopted by culture to serve national interests – usually through the rationalization or justification of violence as the means to achieve “peace.”

There’s much I can relate to in the journey of the author as generationally I’ve experienced some of the key events that he describes as being critical to his journey at a similar life stage to him.  The challenge of this book is to explore deeply all the ways in which we have actively or passively endorse a path of violence while believing the lie that such violence is “righteous” and that God is on our side.  This can be reflected in our attitudes towards war, politics, international policy, and even action movies!

This is one of the books that I anticipate will be one of the most recommended books to others.  But let me share a couple of the highlights for me in the book.  First, the book has 2 chapters that rank among my favorite of any book I’ve read.  The first was entitled, “Jesus Versus the Crowd” and goes into some of the best treatment of the scapegoating dynamic that fuels violence in community.  This area is an area of great passion for me as a result of my exploration into family and congregational systems theory, but Zahnd gives a phenomenal treatment of it as it relates to violence and society with a great treatment of the Biblical text in the book of John.

The other chapter that really stood out centered on the nature of freedom, which is a critical issue for us to understand since violence and freedom are often presented as hand in hand when we celebrate our national histories.  This was an excellent treatment of freedom, again with the theme of peace versus violence as the greater context.

I think the majority of Christians, especially evangelicals, would find this greatly convicting and it’s why all should read it.  Christians are often portrayed as a violent people in western society today – not always because they are perpetuating physical violence, but because the way Christians engage society or deal with difficult or sensitive issues often tends to reflect language and attitudes that are violent in nature.  Christians need to reclaim the identity as peacemakers that we are called to be and I am grateful for the challenge that A Farewell to Mars brought me.  Can’t recommend it enough to you.