Reading List 2014

books

I’m several months late but I thought I’d share with you what has been on my reading list this year. It’s an ambitious list and may spill over into 2015. For the books I have finished I’ll include a brief review. I’d love to hear about what’s on your reading list too!

1. The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley
I will write a whole post on this book soon. What an interesting read! I highly recommend reading this book no matter what form of education you have chosen for your children.

2. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
This is a quick and entertaining story about a boy, born with a severe facial birth defect, who is attending public school for the first time in his life…and at middle school no less! I picked this book up because I had heard such great things about it from teachers and parents alike. It’s a great story about good friends, facing challenges, and not allowing the difficulties we encounter define us but rather shape our character. This is will be a book my children read when they are a little bit older.

3. A Heart for Freedom by Chai Ling
An autobiography about one of the primary student leaders of the Tienanmen Square protests and the massacre that followed. She shares her whole story from childhood to present day. I found the section about the events at Tienanmen Square the most interesting mainly because I knew so little about the uprising and the politics involved. Ling flees China as a most wanted fugitive and eventually becomes a Christian and starts an exciting and legitimate foundation to fight female gendercide in China.

4. Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker
I’m almost finished with this book but the chapter I’m currently on is the most convicting and personally challenging so I’ve slowed down my reading a lot in order to process the conviction I’m feeling. Too often I read a good book and the information remains just that, information…head knowledge. Hatmaker’s writing is enjoyable, very funny, and approachable. She does not use guilt or flowery language to cajole her reader into making changes. She simply and honestly shares her experiences and thoughts and leaves the reader to make their own personal applications. That’s what I’m trying to do.

5. Just Moms Complied by Melanie Springer Mock & Rebekah D. Schneiter
I stumbled across this book accidentally at church and I’m SO glad I did. I thought it was going to be a “How To” book about conveying the ambiguous concepts of justice to our children. Instead it is a compilation of (mostly) blog posts from (mostly) Mennonite and Quaker authors who (mostly) live in the Pacific Northwest and are wrestling with how to teaching their children how to love, live, and think like Jesus, namely how to care for the least, our environment, and live a life of non-violence. They don’t give five steps to make your kids love justice, they just share their daily revelations and struggles. I found each chapter encouraging and refreshing and while I didn’t always agree with the authors I longed to discuss the ideas with someone. This would be a great book for a moms’ or parents’ group to read and discuss.

6. Pursuing Justice by Ken Wystma
After Kris’s great review of this book here how could I not add it to my reading list? 😉

7. Stiff by Mary Roach
Somewhere, I think on NPR, I heard a great review of this book and it’s a New York Times Bestseller. I hope it doesn’t disappoint.

8. The Beloved Disciple by Beth Moore
Okay, confession time, I have never done a Beth Moore bible study or read one of her books. Gasp! Since I’m still here typing and not burnt to a crisp from a lightening bolt I’m guessing that despite what our Christian culture might think that’s not a mortal sin. But seriously I don’t have anything against BM, I just have never had the opportunity to participate in one of her studies. I’ve heard great things and I found this book on my mother-in-law’s collection so I thought I’d see what all the fuss is about, plus I’ve always wanted to do a study on John.

9. The Educated Child by Bennett, Finn, Jr., Cribb, Jr.
I may not read this whole book. It’s thick…like 600+ pages! I intend to use it more like a reference book as my kids dive further into the public education system. I am SO thankful for the great school they go to and the unique education they are getting BUT just because they are going to school doesn’t mean that I don’t have a huge role to play in their education. I want to use this book to help guide me as I fill in the gaps and hopefully help my children be well educated children.

10. Overrated by Eugene Cho
Our community group voted to read this book together. We will discuss chapter one next week. I listened to his TEDx talk and am excited to work through this book as a group. I don’t think it’s going to be easy, he is pretty hard hitting from the beginning, but usually growth isn’t easy.

11. Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker
Our church is in the midst of a huge transition and this book feels like an appropriate read.

12. The Mary Russell Series by Laurie R. King
These books are my purely for pleasure books. I’m part of a little book club (very little, as in two people) and this is the current series we are reading and discussing. Sherlock Holmes has retired and taken to bee keeping and solving the occasional mystery for his brother. He crosses paths with an orphaned and outcast teenage girl (Mary) whose wit and insightfulness just might match his own. They form a partnership and eventually a friendship while they recover kidnapped children, evade murderers, and prevent political coups.
King is a smart writer who really does her homework. Even though I am reading for pleasure I feel like I am learning with these books. The series is long so we are just reading a few:
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, A Letter of Mary,O Jerusalem, The Game, Pirate King
I’m currently on The Game, which also happens to be my favorite so far.

13. The Maze Runner Series by James Dashner
These are fast reads, somewhere in the genre with The Hunger Games but not as well written or compelling. The first book is by far the best. I read all the books because I was hoping they would continue to improve with each book. Sadly they don’t. Again, entertaining but little more. The movie for the first book is comes out this month.

Advertisements

Biblical Principles for Politics, Part 2

Continuing our discussion from yesterday… 

Humility

Again, this is a theme with too many verses to count, but probably a great summary verse would be Proverbs 3:34: “He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.” Not only does the Bible give us direction about where to focus our advocacy, it also directs how to do it: with humility. As long as we pursue political gain by mocking, through arrogant insults, through derision, we are not walking in the way of Christ, who humbled himself to the point of death (Phil 2:8).

Much attention is given to the negativity and derisive nature of political campaigns. However, this is merely a reflection of the citizens that they are appealing to, and how they act and what they are drawn to. Unfortunately, those who identify themselves as Christians do not seem to be above the fray. Many church-goers are just as quick to mock and deride politicians and candidates, and lower themselves into the mire of political bickering.

Let me take this opportunity to try apply this principle myself. I certainly don’t suggest that these posts are an error-free exposition of the Bible. This is just my attempt at faithfully applying scriptures, and assuredly I’m probably wrong on many levels. Its my intention to be respectful towards all our leaders and candidates, and I offer my apologies to any I have disrespected. I merely hope that I can provide a small piece of perspective that can contribute to a respectful dialogue on important issues.

Holiness

Holiness, the concept of a way of living, set apart by its distinct approach from the world, is another major Biblical theme. However, we must recognize that this concept isn’t just an arbitrary idea God decided to implement, but is designed to glorify God by demonstrating the wisdom of God, as a set apart people live out his principles (Eph 3:10). God is glorified when people, voluntarily choose to follow his ways, and experience the harmony and goodness that results.

However, I believe many of us apply this concept to politics in a backwards fashion. Attempting to coerce or have government endorsement to push people towards the behavior of holiness undermines the central purpose of this Biblical concept since it blurs the distinction of the set apart people. Only when people freely choose to walk in God’s holiness, is the distinct contrast of holy living truly made visible.

Christ’s Kingship

Another key theme of the Bible is the centrality of Christ. The old testament looks forward to and foreshadows his coming reign, and the new testament delivers and applies his teaching. Specifically the old testament focuses its narrative on a chosen nation, Israel, to be the reflection and conduit of his God’s grace that would demonstrate His glory and invite the nations to enjoy it. Part of this narrative was the Davidic line of kings. The OT is laden with prophecies that point this story forward. God clearly intended his people, Israel, to be expanded to all who follow him, and include all ethnicities. And even more prophecies point to the line of kings to culminate with the Messiah. Jesus ultimately fulfilled this, becoming the true and final king of Israel. Today, Israel is those that would submit to his authority.

There are some key implications to Christ’s sole, authoritative, and eternal kingship over the kingdom that had grown out of the seeds of Israel. First, we must understand that the theocracy of the old testament- the rules, regulations, commandments, ordinances, and even principles- are backed by the authority of God’s kingdom alone (and contextualized to a certain people). To hand the enforcement of these rules over to an earthly kingdom simply because “the Bible says so” is to misunderstand the line of authority, and risks the subversive act of give authority that is rightly God’s to an earthly kingdom that has not inherited such a constitution. It contradicts Biblical teaching on the line of authority to assert that biblical commandments must be enforced by an earthly government. No national law is good or bad because it matches or doesn’t match or reiterate a commandment in the Bible.

Not only did Christ inherit and define his kingdom as distinct from earthly kingdoms, he sought to govern in a way that is dramatically different than the standard governmental approach. Normal governments must ultimately rely on some type of threat of harm to deter it’s citizens from ignoring laws in order to protect each other. Governments act in power-over role to provide its services of protecting it’s citizens. Jesus on the other hand demonstrated a rule characterized by submissive servanthood. He taught and demonstrated service to those that were following him and acted in humility, ultimately allowing himself to be crucified. This is a kingdom intentionally built on principles of leadership dramatically different than the world’s. Engaging this in public policy is naturally tricky without falling into the politics and practices of coercion.

These principles provide some constraints of both the extent to which we influence government and the role of government itself. However, the Bible doesn’t condemn government.

Role of Government

The Bible says very little about explicitly what governments should do. To be certain, governments are not an end themselves, in the Bible. They are simply a tool, and their purpose is defined by our greater vision that God has given us. However, Romans 13 does provide some small insights into the role God has ordained appropriate for governments, as it is the most direct teaching in the new testament on the role of the government. This passage doesn’t say a lot about the exactly what the government is supposed to do, but it does indicate that we are to submit to governments as legitimate, ruling authorities. As a legitimate authority, there are two activities ordained: punishing crime, and gathering taxes (and thus implicitly distributing them appropriately).

What Romans 13 doesn’t say about the government is also important. It doesn’t indicate that it must enforce every moral standard of the Bible, it doesn’t suggest building large militaries, and it doesn’t even suggest protecting religious freedom. That doesn’t mean the government can’t or shouldn’t pursue these things, but the ordained activities should certainly advise what we hope to accomplish and focus on through the government.

Like other things in our life that the Bible doesn’t give us definite directions for, a proper view of the government is to view it as an instrument or tool. Like a screwdriver that can be used to construct a dwelling or stab someone, the screwdriver itself isn’t good or bad, it is the result of how it is used that is good or bad. We must not force the Bible to say more than what it really says about the government, the government’s role must be treated pragmatically. A law isn’t good because it matches an Biblical command (again using this is a basis subverts Christ’s authority), it is good if produces a beneficial outcome for society based on God’s vision, His mission. This might sound like minor semantics, but there’s a major difference in the real world of public policy. With God’s mission being central, we must consider the potential outcome or fruit of different possible policies and priorities. Many political endeavors have seemed very moral, but have little to no chance of actually bearing any real fruit.

Loving People Over Ideology

The central theme of Jesus’s ethic was loving God and your neighbor. This care for others trumps everything else, including political parties and affiliations. In the Kingdom of God, people are more important than ideologies. This is was vividly demonstrated when Jesus challenged the Pharisees about their understanding of the Sabbath on multiple occasions. Quite simply, the pharisees had come to understand that observing the Sabbath was an ideology of God that they must not deviate from. Jesus shattered this notion, asking them “is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm”? The Sabbath existed for the purpose of benefiting people, not as an end in itself. What Christ demonstrated here was again that ideologies are only tools, and we must be ultimately concerned with whether a policy will benefit the welfare of others, rather than whether it matches the ideology of our culture.

We must also remember that we are people of with limited time and money. There are only so many battles that we can effectively fight. If we really care about achieving meaningful goals, it requires that we prioritize. When politics is not serving such purposes, it quickly devolves into ideological battles that accomplish nothing. Consequently I would suggest that even more important than being “right” on every issue, is prioritization, understanding where we can really make a difference. If you care more about winning arguments than prioritizing it isn’t important. But if you care about really benefiting people, we need to know on what issues we can make a difference and focus on them.

In the next post, I will try to look at what how we might prioritize our advocacy and involvement when we are driven by God’s vision.

Biblical Principles for Politics, Part 1

With the election approaching, I wanted to write a few posts on a Biblical perspective on politics. Christianity in America has and does heavily influence politics, but sometimes with misguided and just plain wrong interpretations of the Bible. This post is focused on applying the major Biblical themes. I believe that the major themes and motifs of the Bible paint a compelling picture of an active pursuit of justice and compassion that is radically different what we often see portrayed in mainstream politics today.

While this is focused on how the Bible informs politics, I write this to people of any faith (or lack of). To non-Christians I write to give a perspective on what I believe the Bible really teaches and how radically different it is from what is suggested by much of Christian culture. I also write so you may hold us, as Christians, accountable to the reality of Biblical teaching.

To Christians, this is a call to truly and fully follow the Bible, the way of Christ, rather than a piecemeal distorted version of the Bible. We need to commit to humbly accepting the central teachings of the Bible as central in the forming of our views. Rather than falling into the common trap of picking a verse or two to justify your position, it is critical that we understand what the Bible really aims to teach, letting the Bible speak to it’s priorities rather than letting the our priorities determine what we want to hear from the Bible. The major principles conveyed in the Bible that are critical for a proper approach to politics, not just for choosing sides, but for altering the way we even approach the political arena. In looking at these principles, I believe it is critical that we choose to make the Bible the starting point for defining our priorities in advocacy, rather than simply taking the hot topic of the day, and then consulting our Bible to see if it gives any advice on the subject. The Bible is not a political aide. It is a narrative that draws us into a focused pursuit of God’s vision, from which compels advocacy, and not vice versa.

The Bible repeatedly emphasizes the important of justice and and defines ethics in ways that are critical to shaping our perspective on public policy. In order to understand how to faithfully pursue Biblical justice through politics, we must understand the critical principles that are the major themes in the Bible, that shape not only what we pursue in politics, but how we pursue it.

Do Unto Others…

First, the most essential Biblical ethic that I’ll start with is the golden rule, which Jesus clearly articulates as the summation of the old testament:  

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.  Matthew 7:12

While being a relatively simple principle, this concept provides vast insight in the political realm. We should be guided by what is best for others. Jesus teaches this in no uncertain terms and he teaches this principle in the affirmative, rather than the negative (as some other ethicists and religions have done), clearly indicating that this a proactive, it is not merely a restraint from harming others (see James 4:17). If we are to do for others and as we would have them do for us, we must actively look to understand and help them in their plight. This is a simple idea, but applying this can be rather complicated, as we may have different ideas of what others really wish for.

This principle may not explicitly indicate which positions we take in politics, but it does fundamentally alter our motivation. Unfortunately far too many of us engage in politics and voting for our own sake. We would personally like to have lower taxes, more favorable religious policies, greater safety, or any other number of benefits. This is not the way of Christ. The way of Christ is to put the interests of others first. If we are to engage in politics at all, it should be driven by injustice that we see being done to others, not for our own advantage, comfort, or well-being. The vast majority of Americans’ involvement in politics and voting is based on one simple question: what or who will benefit me? Christians often do the same. I hope this post is an invitation take up our cross and follow Christ, even when that means going against the flow of nominal Christianity.

Grace

Another central tenant of the Bible is that we are undeserving people, and the mercy that God shows us is truly amazing grace. This is not just a spiritual principle. As soon as we approach the government with an attitude of how we deserve something, whether it be our paycheck, some liberty, or religious protection, we have fundamentally fallen from grace.

This also forms the foundation for the next principle. As Tim Keller said, “When Christians realize they did not save themselves but were rescued from spiritual poverty, it naturally changes their attitudes toward people who are in economic and physical poverty.”

Care for the Weak, Poor

The Bible goes further than just simply wishing good will towards all others. There is a strong and consistent emphasis on helping the weak, the poor, the needy, and the sick. The Bible admonitions us to care for the weak so many times, I won’t even begin to try to include all the references, there are hundreds, but some compelling passages are Matthew 25:31-46, Isaiah 58, Psalms 72, Proverbs 14:31, Jeremiah 22:16, and James 2. I’ve written more about the implications of these scriptures and what this means for domestic policy here. Briefly, the Bible directs to give consideration for helping the poor, and this must translate into our policies, ensuring that we have strong protections for the poor, weak, and sick. Maximizing the breadth of health care availability, ensuring adequate welfare/safety nets are available, and giving voice to the voiceless weak and minorities admist a political climate where money buys influence, are key parts of obedience to these scriptures.a

Global God

Our God is a global God. The New Testament repeatedly expresses the intent of reaching all nations of the earth with God’s glory. The Bible says he shows no ethnic partiality (Rom 2:11), and from the beginning Abraham was to be a blessing to the nations of the earth (Gen 12:3). One of the most natural inclinations of man is towards ethnocentricism, virtually everyone, at least subconsciously tends towards preferring those who are like us, or near us. This is natural. But it is sin. We must be driven by God’s global vision. While there is a natural tendency for our policies to favor Americans over others, and we must act against this, to stand up for justice for all, even those outside our borders.

This principle plays an extremely illuminating role in combination with the other principles. Not only are we to consider the plight of others, but we must equally respond to the plight of those of different ethnicity, religion, and beyond our borders. This has a very concrete application in policy. Whereas with narrow focus on America, we may focus solely on our economy, our safety, or even the welfare of the poor in America in our budget priorities, with a global focus, we are called to respond to the tremendous amount of absolute poverty and injustice outside of America, and also consider the amazing impact we can have on reducing such poverty. We must recognize the tiny portion of the federal budget (less than %1) that is actually allocated to international aid and fighting third world poverty. With the global perspective of God in mind, our budget priorities are even more tragic when contrasted with the huge spending for our military, which basically serves to keep us a little safer, while millions die each year in poverty. This should also critically shape our perspective on immigration. Do we view immigration solely on how it will affect or inconvenience current Americans, or do we consider the incredible opportunity that affords immigrant, or the potentially life-saving impact of the remittances that they will provide to their family back home?

The familiar refrain that “we need to get our own house in order before helping others” may sounds appealing, but it simply is not aligned with scriptures, where God continually uses and calls broken, lacking, needy people to help others. The more we come to embrace the global God, the more we must change our course towards prioritizing budget and policies measures that reflect the world’s needs including protecting international aid, global human rights, and immigrants over a narrow focus on our own interests.

Allegiance To God

The first two commandments of the ten commandments point us to an allegiance to one and only one God. The singularity of our object of our worship is expressed with the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one”. Christians must be committed to take up an unassailable allegiance to the pursuit of Christ’s way, above party or country allegiance. Here I discuss the importance of our allegiance to God over country here. This allegiance should further solidify our commitment to God’s global purposes above narrow national pursuits.

Not only can our allegiances to God be subverted by our country, but by a political party as well. Unfortunately it is extremely easy and subtle to be lured into allegiance to political parties. We tend to want to categorize people into good and bad guys. We find the good guys and then side with them. Then we can stop really thinking about issues and just follow whatever the good guys say. This has become highly evident with the conservative evangelical Christians. Even when conservative politics take stances that are blatantly contradictory to the Bible, Christians often follow right along, assuming that their side must be right. The same problem can certainly plague liberal Christians as well, and the warning applies to them too. However, it is undeniable that the vast majority of evangelical Christians are conservative, and so the threat of putting party alignment over Christian values is much greater on the right.

Thanks for reading and your careful consideration. More thoughts to come tomorrow…