Archive for the ‘Summer Reading 2012’ Category

First World Problems

In her book, The Other Face of God, Mary Jo Leddy (who, by all appearances, is Canadian) offers this analysis of America:

We are the center of the world.

Because she attributes our centrality largely to our imperialistic tendencies, Greg viewed this section of the book as needlessly political.  For her purposes, however, I understood what she was saying.  I don’t think that she was so much trying to provide a political critique as she was trying to describe a spiritual phenomenon.  She does not question the fact that we are the “center of the world,” or accuse us of merely thinking it–she maintains that, for all intents and purposes, it is very true.  Then, she explores the effect that being in the center of the world has on our spirituality.  She does this in a bullet list, describing various characteristics of the “center-worlder” mindset:

  • To live in the center of the world is to see the self  as the source of much that is good and evil in the world.
  • To live in the center of the world is to assume that we can and should change the world.
  • To live in the center of the world is to be constantly disappointed when things don’t get better.
  • To live in the center of the world is to assume that our problems are the most important in the world.
  • To live in the center of the world is to assume that we must have our act together before we can help others.
  • To live in the center of the world is to assume that we have the capacity and resources to solve our problems.
  • To live in the church in North America is to assume that our critique of the church is most important, that our problems are the most significant problems in the universal church.
  • To live in the center of the world is to assume that we are responsible for what happens in other parts of the world.

Now, here’s how I know that what she says has a lot of truth to it:

I read that list and think, “And that’s…bad???”  (Sidenote:  What movie is that quote from?  It’s driving me crazy!  It might be a Pixar one.  I’m picturing Mike Wazowski.)

I mean, I get the part about thinking our problems, whether in our nation or in our church, are the most important part of the world, and I’m like, “Touche.”  However, part of feeling that Americans bear this huge burden of global responsibility is that everyone keeps telling us that we have this huge burden of global responsibility!  Perhaps this is not the most accurate view, but the sentiment I glean from foreign commentators on the news and the internet is that, whenever there is a crisis, everyone’s like, “Where is America???  Why don’t they DO something about this?”  

(Until we intervene, of course, and then it’s like, “America needs to keep its big nose out of other people’s business!!”)

I know, I know…Boo-hoo.  Poor us.

The fact is, though, whether my sentiment is accurate or not (and I’m holding out the possibility that it is not), I readily admit that I as an American DO feel a responsibility to the world.  Furthermore, I acknowledge that that feeling of responsibility shapes my spirituality.  It especially shapes my understanding of the Great Commission and of the concept of “Love Thy Neighbor.”  After all, in such a global world in which we have so much power, how can we deny that anyone is our neighbor?

I see all too well how this view is naive and that it has the potential to be damaging…but my “center of the world” self also questions the degree to which we should repudiate this outlook.  Are we to deny responsibility for everyone else?  That kind of seems willfully selfish.

What do you guys think?  I’m feeling very culturally limited on this one.

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Leddy, Mary Jo.  The Other Face of God.  Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2011.

Another View of Moses

Recently, I was listening to a speaker talk about Sonlight curriculum at a homeschool convention.  She was making the point that learning through “great books” is more effective than learning through text books, and so she asked the audience to think of their favorite book.  Most people had no trouble doing this.  Next, she asked the audience to think of their favorite textbook.  This request elicited laughter, and the point was made:  no one remembers textbooks.

Except for me, apparently.  Not only could I easily name my favorite textbook, I can even remember my second favorite.  Even though, I can’t remember it’s name, but I can remember which one it was:  my 6th grade Social Studies book.

It’s the one that talked about Moses.

Now, I went to a public school, so this wasn’t a religious textbook; it was just telling ancient history.  We also learned about the Code of Hammurabi and stuff like that.  But there was something so thrilling to me about seeing Moses in a new way, from a different perspective.  It was cool to see a biblical figure through historical eyes.

Maybe it is because I have read the Bible (or had it read to me) so. much. throughout my life that the characters therein are just so close to me, such a part of my identity.  Thus, seeing them through the lens of history has the same effect as reading about myself through the objective lens of a personality test.  It is at once disorienting and thrilling and even baffling.

That’s why I love Paul Johnson’s description of Moses in A History of the Jews:

This overwhelming event [the Exodus] was matched by the extraordinary man who made himself leader of the Israelite revolt.  Moses is the fulcrum-figure in Jewish history, the hinge around which it all turns.  If Abraham was the ancestor of the race, Moses was the essentially creative force, the moulder of the people; under him and through him, they became a distinctive people, with a future as a nation.  He was a Jewish archetype, like Joseph, but quite different and far more formidable.  He was a prophet and a leader; a man of decisive actions and electric presence, capable of huge wrath and ruthless resolve; but also a man of intense spirituality, loving solitary communion with himself and God in the remote countryside, seeing visions and epiphanies and apocalypses; and yet not a hermit or anchorite but an active spiritual force in the world, hating injustice, fervently seeking to create a Utopia, a man who not only acted as intermediary between God and man but sought to translate the most intense idealism into practical statesmanship, and noble concepts into details of everyday life.  Above all, he was a lawmaker and judge, the engineer of a mighty framework  to enclose in a structure of rectitude every aspect of public and private conduct–a totalitarian of the spirit.

(I put my favorite parts in bold.)

Now, not being familiar with Johnson’s book, you might be reading all this thinking, “but, but, but…”  Clearly, in taking a modern, historical view, Johnson leaves out the part of the Bible’s version of events which claims that God directly led and determined Moses’ life, and that God wrote the Law.  To me, though, it is fascinating to see an “outside” perspective on this man.  Even someone who does not believe in God (though it should be noted that Johnson is a Christian) cannot help but acknowledge that this man made an incredible difference in this world.  And when I see him from this essentially godless angle, I marvel at the way that God uses even deeply flawed people like Moses.  As a deeply flawed person myself, I find encouragement and hope through that awareness.

What do you think of this picture of Moses?

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Quote taken from:

Johnson, Paul.  A History of the Jews.  New York:  Harper and Row, 1987. 27.

Mercy vs. Justice

Greg is having the summer interns read The Other Face of God, by Mary Jo Leddy.  Leddy has lived with refugees in Toronto, Canada, for about twenty years.  Her book is a reflection of the spiritual effect that “the stranger” has on a person and the way such encounters help us to better understand ourselves and our place in God’s kingdom.  So far, it has been really fascinating…especially because she includes a lot of stories!

In the first chapter, Leddy speaks of “the summons,” that thing that calls us past ourselves and into service for God’s kingdom.  Her “summons” came from specific refugees she encountered while living in a group home for refugees, called Romero House.  In speaking of such “summonses,” she says,

It is in these moments that issues of ‘justice’ or ‘the environment’ dissolve and become refocused so sharply that they are heartfelt.  There is no walking away; there is no going back.  The way ahead is not clear, but the road has closed behind you.  Justice is no longer a sometime thing, but a lifelong task.

I have participated in many earnest discussions in church groups about the difference between charity and justice, the works of mercy and the works of justice.  The works of mercy are often described as hands-on, one-on-one, direct service of those in need.  In contrast, the work for justice involves struggling  for systematic change so that there will be less need for charitable activities.

As I have reflected on my twenty years at Romero House, I have come to understand that mercy is a dynamic response that begins when one’s heart and mind are touched by the need and suffering of another person.  We are summoned by mercy.  If one begins to act mercifully, as one’s compassion deepens and expands, then one is inevitably led to an awareness of the systematic causes of such suffering.  At the reach of mercy, one is moved to act with justice…

Without mercy, the categories of concern can also be oppressive, those categories that are only the mirror image of the categories of contempt that are so easily used:  the poor, the victims, the abused, the oppressed, the refugees, the marginalized.  Even when we use these categories in describing our concern and care, it ends up reducing real people to a category of concern.”

It’s funny that Greg and I are in Nashville now, working in close conjunction with Y.E.S., because I definitely felt my first true “summons” through the children I met in that ministry.  A couple of years ago, as Greg and I were reflecting on the purpose and direction of our lives, I even remarked to him, “The time of my life that I felt most alive was at Y.E.S.”  And I think that was because for once, “the less fortunate” were not simply a category of concern to be analyzed from a distance.  They were people with names and unique personal circumstances that I came to know well.  They were people with whom I played and ate, people whom I tutored and took on trips.  And working with them didn’t feel like “doing a good work”; it just felt like life.

My interaction with Y.E.S. started with acts of mercy, and yes, they did escalate to concerns about justice.  My feelings on immigration laws and the public education, for example, have been forever changed by the names and faces that made those issues concrete and immediate, not philosophical and abstract.

Regarding Leddy’s last paragraph, I must confess that sometimes I do feel uncomfortable when I sit around with a group of middle-class Christians–even Christians from my church–and philosophize on how to best help “the neighborhood” or “the poor.”  There does seem to be something slightly dehumanizing in lumping people into a generalized “category of concern,” even though, practically speaking, it seems hard to avoid.

What about you? Have you ever felt a “summons”?  And do you agree with Leddy’s sentiments about “categories of concern” and “categories of contempt”?

Quote is from:

Leddy, Mary Jo.  The Other Face of God.  Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2011.  28-29.

Summer Reading 2012

Already, this summer has posed a conundrum for my blog:  as much as I love this space and as much as I love writing, I am finding that summer does not provide me with the time to think “full-blog-post-thoughts.”  I know that’s crazy, since a blog post is not exactly the paragon of complex thinking…and yet, I can’t seem to muster more than half a blog post worth of thought at a time.  Our family has been traveling, we are totally out of our routine, and we are currently in the middle of a three week marathon of camps!  Thus, the blog has been sadly neglected.

Also, I am feeling a strong need to unplug from the internet a bit.  Nothing like a full-on fast or anything, but I just want to try and limit my online activity much more than I do during my full blogging schedule.  Part of this urge to unplug stems from the growing guilt I am feeling over my unread book collection.  I have several books, for which I have actually paid money, that are currently languishing in my reading basket.  I really believe in reading the books I buy, and as a result, my current state of cognitive dissonance is reaching the breaking point.

SO.

My current plan for this summer is to unplug, read my books, and use this space to process them as I read.  I will share quotes and thoughts I have about the ideas in the books, and I would love to hear your thoughts, as well.

I hope that doesn’t sound too horrible for you, dear Reader.  I know that in my mind, nothing sounds quite so boring as discussing an idea from a book that I am not reading.

However, the content of these books is very much in line with the content of this site, and I will try to pick out interesting ideas that would appeal to anyone, whether they read the book or not.  In a way, you could consider these entries a Cliff Notes version of the books, so that you don’t actually have to read them yourself (oooh, and along those lines, would someone please do something similar for Augustine’s City of God??  Because I really want to “have read” that book!).

Okay, I think that’s all.  Why don’t we try to start this little project…um…

tomorrow!

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What’s on YOUR summer reading list?

 

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