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  • Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

  • By: Rachel Held Evans
  • Narrated by: Rachel Held Evans
  • Length: 6 hrs and 45 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 11
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 9
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 9

If the Bible isn’t a science book or an instruction manual, then what is it? What do people mean when they say the Bible is inspired? When Rachel Held Evans found herself asking these questions, she began a quest to better understand what the Bible is and how it is meant to be read. What she discovered changed her—and it will change you too.

Drawing on the best in recent scholarship and using her well-honed literary expertise, Evans examines some of our favorite Bible stories and possible interpretations, retelling them through memoir, original poetry, short stories, soliloquies, and even a short screenplay. Undaunted by the Bible’s most difficult passages, Evans wrestles through the process of doubting, imagining, and debating Scripture’s mysteries. The Bible, she discovers, is not a static work but is a living, breathing, captivating, and confounding book that is able to equip us to join God’s loving and redemptive work in the world.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Hermeneutics for people that don't use the word

  • By Adam Shields on 06-14-18

Hermeneutics for people that don't use the word

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-14-18

I very much value Rachel Held Evans. I do not have all of the same questions and issues that Evans has had. I grew up in a different context, I am male and therefore was not restricted in similar ways as she was. I grew up in an evangelical wing of a mainline denomination, so I did not have the fundamentalist tendencies that her church background did. The problem of evil, which I treat seriously, has never been threatening to my faith in the same way that it was to her faith. But I valued her voice as one that helps me with perspective.

Evans is getting older. The original memoir-y looks at young adult faith and coming of age cannot go on forever. And while I don’t think her books were always primarily deconstructing, Inspired is consciously an attempt at constructing. I do not want to presume motive or changes, but she is 35 now. She has a young son and a newborn daughter. She has chosen a church home. So I think that it is likely that the settled nature of young middle age has her thinking about how to construct faith of those around her not just ask questions and pose problems (not that there is anything wrong with asking questions and posing problems.)

Inspired is focused on how to read the bible, or at least how she has learned to read the bible, in a new way. She is primarily approaching the bible as story. Looking at what is there, but in a new way. Evans is primarily known as a memoirist. She is not a scholar, but a writer and writing with a writer’s sense of how stories are supposed to be read and understood. 

I went through my own period of trying to understand how to read scripture again eight or ten years ago. I had a seminary degree. I had grown up in the church. I had read the bible cover to cover multiple times. At one point I felt like I needed to step away and ‘forget’ the bible a bit to be able to approach it differently. But what really helped me see the bible again in a fresh way was a combination of seeing the bible through other people’s eyes (as Evans is attempting to do here) and liturgical approach through the book of common prayer. Evans as well has found help within the liturgical world and this is largely approached as a liturgical exercise. 

I also really appreciate Rachel’s skill as a writer. She can write, but she also has a real skill of taking dense theological ideas and making them readable and understandable for people without theology degrees. That is an important and needed pastoral skill. We need to move ideas (from Greg Boyd or NT Wright or Walter Bruggemann or many others) that primarily are writing to the academy or to clergy, to lay people. One of the continued problems of the church is that bad theology can get stuck in the imaginations of lay people and lead to a distortion of the lived life of the believer. So books like Inspired are helpful to both make scripture clear and bring serious academic concepts to lay people. 

Rachel Held Evans is also passionate about whatever she is doing or talking about or writing. Having read all of her books and being an occasional reader of her blog and twitter account, that passion carries through. I do not alway agree with what she is passionate about and I think she can occasional fall into traps that her common opponents use, but I love her passion.

As with any author, there are places I disagree. But for the most part some of my complaints about previous books are much less here. I think that either Evans has a new set of editors or she is doing a better job of listening to them. This is just a cleaner book with less extraneous content than some of her previous projects. And while there are some areas where I think she does misunderstand or misrepresent opinions that differ from hers, there is a lot less of that and I think there is more grace in the presentation of differing ideas. 

I have never been as fascinated by Midrash as many popular progressive Evangelical authors seem to be. Maybe I just have not studied it enough. But while I do think we can learn something from Jewish commentators as well as the basic concept of the way that the Midrash handles differing ideas, I tend to think it gets overused. 

The section on the parables, and the incarnation and the importance of the incarnation to our faith, is my favorite part of the book. There are many Evangelicals that are not fans of Rachel Held Evans, but this section should be read by people that are not fans of hers. Her theology may not be the exact theology of others, but the importance of faith shows through. Sections like this are a reminder to me, not just that progresses can be real Christians too, but that conservatives (who I tend to have less patience for) have human reactions to faith as well.

I am also glad that Rachel Held Evans reads her own books. Authors should pretty much always read their own books if they want to. Evans is not a professional narrator, but knows her words and communicates them well.

  • Murder on the Orient Express [Movie Tie-in]

  • A Hercule Poirot Mystery
  • By: Agatha Christie
  • Narrated by: Kenneth Branagh
  • Length: 6 hrs and 12 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 910
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 845
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 838

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. One of his fellow passengers must be the murderer.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Best Possible Version of the Classic Whodunit

  • By Brian Abel Ragen on 11-10-17

Branagh knows how to narrate

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-12-18

According to the book’s cover information, Murder on the Orient Express is the most widely read mystery of all time. I have read one or two Agatha Christie novels over the past decade or so, but probably 8 or 10 when I was a teen. Murder on the Orient Express was not one of those that I have previously read and I did not know the actual story when I picked it up.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Kenneth Branagh, and released in conjunction with Branagh’s movie in late 2017. I have not seen the movie, but I can see how it would work well as a movie.

As I have said before, I am a relatively recent convert to the mystery genre. Older Sherlock Holmes and similar novels that are about obscure clues and puzzles are not particularly interesting to me. I assume that an author can trick me as a reader into going off on the wrong track. Instead I am more interested in the people, the setting, the motivations and psychology.

Murder on the Orient Express is one of the Christie books that is more focused on the parts of the mystery that I like and is less focused on the parts of the mystery that I do not. Christie writes in a fairly simple style but Branagh is an excellent narrator and gave real voice to the characters.

I will not give away any of the details but this was worth reading. I am not sure I will pick up another Christie novel quickly. But this was a good change of pace that I was glad to have listened to.

  • Sisters in Law

  • How Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World
  • By: Linda Hirshman
  • Narrated by: Andrea Gallo
  • Length: 13 hrs and 29 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 347
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 317
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 314

The author of the celebrated Victory tells the fascinating story of the intertwined lives of Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first and second women to serve as Supreme Court justices.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Insightful and thought-provoking

  • By Jean on 09-08-15

Worth reading but some weaknesses

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-08-18

I have been long fascinated with the Supreme Court. I have read several books on the court, including O’Connor’s reflection on the court, The Majesty of the Law, and a light biography of Ginsberg, The Notorious RBG and a more technical book on the role of court by Stephen Breyer, The Court and the World.

Sisters In Law is a dual biography of the two first women as Supreme Court Justices. They were fairly close in age, but widely different in background, political perspective, and legal background.

Sandra O’Connor grew up in rural Arizona and went to college and law school in California. After following her husband in the military for three years, she was unable to find a law firm that would hire her as a lawyer. So she started her own. She then took five years off full time work to raise her children (but spent significant time working with the Republican party and volunteer organizations during that time.) And when she went back to work she initially volunteered to work for a local prosecutor to prove herself capable. She eventually worked her way up to became Assistant Attorney General of Arizona. Eventually, in part because of her work with the local Republican party in Arizona, she was appointed to a vacant state legislature seat and eventually rose to become first woman to be a State Senate Majority leader. After eight years as a legislator she ran for judge. She served as a county judge for four years and then nearly two years as a judge of the Arizona State Court of Appeals before being appointed to the Supreme Court.

O’Connor has a fascinating history, two different tracks of elections, and time as Assistant Attorney General, not to mention the work in political and other volunteer associations. Ginsberg has a much different history. She had a more traditional path to the Supreme Court. Ginsberg went to the traditional Ivy League law schools and became a professor and the the head of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, where she guided policy and argued six cases before the Supreme Court before being appointed to the US Court of Appeals by Jimmy Carter.

Both women are fascinating, but because Ginsberg’s history prior to the court includes so much work on women’s issues, it feels like O’Connor was short changed in Sisters in Law. Being the first woman to be a party leader of a state Senate, in her early 40s and then restarting her career again as an elected judge and being appointed to the Supreme Court at 51 should have had more time than it got.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg was the second woman to be appointed, and it was 12 years after O'Connor. It was another 13 years until the third woman, Sonia Sotomayor, was appointed. Ginsberg served for four years as the only woman after O’Connor retired. (Kagan was appointed less than a year after Sotomayor.)

On the whole I am glad I read the Sisters in Law because there was much about the recent history of the court, especially all of the case law around gender and women’s rights. The author, Linda Hirshman, is making an argument that it mattered greatly that O’Connor and Ginsberg were women. Their judicial philosophies and politics and personalities were different, but being women and having been discriminated against as women mattered to their decisions. Based on the evidence presented it would be hard to come to a different conclusion.

Much of Sisters in Law is about the philosophy and style of the two women. There is a lot of inside politics and frankly almost all of the men end up looking bad at some point. The behind the scenes was informed by the papers of the many retired justices. This is a book that worked hard at using primary sources, while being a popular level biography.

Bias does show through. One small example is the discussion about Bush v Gore. Hirshman should have dealt with the problems of the decision without placing primary responsibility for the decision on O’Connor. While O'Connor voted with the majority and was historically one of the swing votes, it does seem problematic to place more blame on her vote than on the other four members of the Supreme Court that also voted with her. After all, she was not the author of the opinion.

There are a couple of minor issues that even a lay reader like myself knows were wrong (describing the Reagan/Bush years as 16 years of uninterrupted Republican ability to nominate to the bench is one example.) I do not have the ability to analyze her descriptions of the law and Supreme Court cases, so I cannot evaluate the accuracy of those portions.

But even with a fairly feminist and liberal bias, it still very much matters that it has been less than 40 years since the first female Supreme Court justice was appointed and only 25 years since the second. The fact that three women have served together out of nine for less than 10 years continues to matter.

It is good to be reminded how recently that sex discrimination was legal and commonly accepted. Sexual harassment and rape on the job were issues that had to be fought in courts a generation ago. The book is clear that like racial discrimination, which women’s right court cases were consciously modeled after, the overt discrimination was easier to make illegal than the less clear cut bias that is difficult to separate from other factors.

  • What Truth Sounds Like

  • Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America
  • By: Michael Eric Dyson
  • Narrated by: Michael Eric Dyson
  • Length: 6 hrs and 32 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 62
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 57
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 56

This audiobook exists at the tense intersection of the conflict between politics and prophecy - of whether we embrace political resolution or moral redemption to fix our fractured racial landscape.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Wakanda!

  • By Anthony on 06-09-18

Riffing on a meeting with RFK and James Baldwin

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-08-18

This is the fourth book I have read by Michael Eric Dyson in just over a year. Dyson is a cultural critic, essayist, theologian, and professor. What Truth Sounds Like is a follow up from his earlier Tears We Cannot Stop. That earlier book was a direct theological argument toward White Christians about the importance of racial justice.

What Truth Sounds Like is a different approach roughly based on an actual meeting with Robert Kennedy in 1963 that was arranged by James Baldwin. James Baldwin was asked to pull together a group of African Americans, not political leaders, but others that would truthfully talk to Kennedy about the Black experience. Kennedy wanted to share his urban political program, but Kennedy was unprepared for the truth telling that went on in that room. He initially left frustrated but later understood, at least in part, that the frustration shared that day was honest and necessary for Kennedy to hear.

Dyson uses the meeting as a jumping off point to express how politicians, artists, intellectuals, celebrities, and activists have historically, and today, shared the truths of the world. Dyson is not making an explicitly Christian claim here as he does in some of his other books. But the claim is no less honest or important.

One note that is important to the reading of What Truth Sounds Like. Dyson, as is common among many minorities that write and speak about race, uses the word Whiteness or White in two broad ways. Occasionally Dyson is merely being descriptive about the skin color of a person. But more often Dyson is using the words White or Whiteness as a descriptor of the cultural understanding of Whites as superior to people of other racial groups, not completely unlike the concept of White Supremacy. White readers often hear minority writers and speakers complaining about Whiteness and understand them to be complaining about White people as individuals or a group. But what people that use White or Whiteness in this way are actually decrying, is a cultural understanding that physically or psychologically or socially harms non-White people because they are valued as either less than or ‘other’.

There are lots of places that both White and Black readers (and others) will want to argue with Dyson. Dyson makes a clear tie between racial discrimination and discrimination around gender and sexual orientation. The Black community is relatively conservative around sexual orientation and Dyson has been clear in his call toward change in that area. (Christians as a whole are also conservative on that point and in other places he has made a more explicitly religious argument around sexual orientation. But here he make the argument culturally.)

Dyson is never really writing about just one thing or to just one audience. Part of what he is trying to get across to the liberal White reader like myself, if how liberal whites miss their own acceptance of the basic ideas of white supremacy even as they want to apply a liberal political policy that may or may not actually empower the people it is meant to help.

In What Truth Sounds Like, Dyson is also narrating a discussion about the different ways that different parts of the Black cultural, political, or intellectual elite are attempting to empower the race. There is a fairly long section about Cornell West and the way that he has attacked Ta’Nehisi Coates and Obama and a number of other Black leaders throughout the years. That type of discussion was part of Dyson’s earlier book The Black Presidency. I am less interested in the particulars of who is attacking whom and why, than I am in Dyson’s explication of the concept of prophet within both the Christian tradition and the Black church tradition. Dyson in some ways seems to be defending himself through this defense of Coates. But part of what Dyson is defending is the black author against the black speaker. I have heard Dyson speak and he isn’t a bad speaker, but like Coates, he is a very good writer and takes the craft of writing seriously.

The epilogue of the What Truth Sounds Like is about Robert Kennedy and how this 1963 meeting impacted Kennedy’s 1968 run for the presidency. Kennedy eventually came around to an understanding of the racial issues of the US that was much closer to those in his 1963 meeting. One that saw racial division as one of the essential problems of the country and one that must be given much higher priority than what Kennedy had previously understood. Dyson, while mostly talking about how Black artists or entertainers or sports figures or intellectuals can use their voice to be prophetic and/or empowering, is also focused on the ability of Whites to actually come to understand the message, repentant and change.

I frequently get frustrated with mostly White readers of Ta’Nehisi Coates that complain about his hopelessness. Coates keeps saying that he is not hopeless he is realistic, in a somewhat similar way to the way that Reinhold Niebuhr use the term realist. But Coates is also an atheist, so it seems unfair to me to require a Christian theology that is rooted in eschatology. Dyson, as a pastor before he was a professor, is part of the Christian tradition, even if it is a somewhat liberal strain of Christianity, that see the possibility of repentance and change as part of the Christian message. The end result for White readers of Dyson is that Dyson believes that White Christians can repent and work toward anti-racism.

5 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Anatomy of the Soul

  • Surprising Connections Between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices That Can Transform Your Life and Relationships
  • By: Curt Thompson MD
  • Narrated by: Sean Pratt
  • Length: 12 hrs and 16 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 104
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 89
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 93

Do you want to improve your relationships and experience lasting personal change? Join Curt Thompson, MD, on an amazing journey to discover the surprising pathways for transformation hidden inside your own mind. Integrating new findings in neuroscience and attachment with Christian spirituality, Dr. Thompson reveals how it is possible to rewire your mind, altering your brain patterns and literally making you more like the person God intended you to be.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Excellent comprehensive overview

  • By Elan Sun Star on 05-10-16

Neuroscience and psychology and the spiritual life

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-30-18

After having read The Body Keeps Score on the science and psychology of Trauma, I wanted to read something similar from an explicitly Christian perspective and Anatomy of the Soul was recommended to me. (I also picked up This is Your Brain on Joy to read later.)

Part of the message of The Body Keeps Score is that our mental, spiritual, and emotional states impact our body and vice versa. The wholeness of our physical, emotional, and spiritual states matters. As Christians, especially as a Christian that is interested in the spiritual development of others, we need to think about how we can incorporate the knowledge of the physical into the practice of spiritual direction without attempting to be a psychologist or neurologist.

Anatomy of the Soul is broadly divided into two parts. The science and background about neurology, trauma, attachment, emotions, the prefrontal cortex, etc. and the shorter spiritual implications to our understanding of sin, repentance and forgiveness, and community.

Because I have more of a background in the later, the former was more engaging. I had just read an extended book on trauma which touched on each of the parts of the first section, but as an introduction, Anatomy of the Soul explains the science well to a non-scientist. It is part of the inevitable result of combining different fields, the field you are more informed about, you are going to be more critical of the presentation. There is not anything that I thought was bad about the spiritual implication sections. Thompson is clearly a gifted counselor and has more experience in counseling. But he is writing as a scientist in a field that is mostly dominated by mystics. I think there is great value in his writing as a scientist in a field dominated by mystics, but mystics tend to write differently then scientists do.

Broadly I think there is lots that is helpful in the early sections of Anatomy of the Soul. But I also think there are some broad statements that need more nuance to avoid being harmful (or hyperbole). One of the sections is trying to point out that God can be speaking to us through our bodies and the needs of our bodies. The accumulation of stress or physical pain or other body needs or messages can be part of what God uses to communicate to us. But the problem with this as a concept is that people that are not attuned with their bodies are also often not particularly attuned to God spiritually. So paying attention to their body can be interpreted as paying attention to their body’s desires without enough attention to limits of hearing from God through out body.

For instance, listening to our body does not mean fulfilling every bodily desire. Sex is a bodily desire, but one that has appropriate designs for expression. Eating is a bodily good, but gluttony is not. Fasting can be good, but that good is contrary to the basic desire of our body for food. I also fear that part of why people don’t listen to their bodies is that they have a hard time distinguishing healthy and unhealthy desires because they do not have a full understanding of what it means to flourish within God’s design. Which is part of why the book is being written.

Most of the early broad brushes are given more nuance before the end of the book, but I am always concerned that the introduction of an idea broadly sets the tone and people will dismiss the nuance that is introduced later.

I am now about half way through Beth Moore’s When Godly People do Ungodly Things, and her discussion of sin and spiritual attack I think would benefit from some of the neuroscience that is contained here. But I also think that the science here supports a lot of the spiritual wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers and others within the historic church.

I think Christianity has a tendency to spiritualize physical issues. The message of these books is that there is a relationship between spiritual, physical and emotional issues, it is not just a one way relationship but a complex relationship that moves in multiple directions. Historic Christianity has maintained the wholeness of the individual and the physical resurrection of the body. I think the recent science is reaffirming that in ways that was not possible before now.

I do think that Christians interested in spiritual development and discipleship need to pay attention to the science, but also not become consumed by a pop understanding of the science. We need scientists to be scientists, even if they are interested in the spiritual issues and we need spiritual directors and psychologists and counselors to not attempt to be neuroscientists. All should attempt to be informed and allow the fields that are not their own to speak to the fields that are their own.

If you have not read much about neuroscience or trauma, I think this is a good introduction and I think the spiritual implications sections gives a good introduction to where counselors or pastors or spiritual directors should seek to incorporate the science.

  • Children of God

  • By: Mary Doria Russell
  • Narrated by: Anna Fields
  • Length: 17 hrs and 56 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 595
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 513
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 515

The only member of the original mission to the planet Rakhat to return to Earth, Father Emilio Sandoz has barely begun to recover from his ordeal when the Society of Jesus calls upon him for help in preparing for another mission to Alpha Centauri. Despite his objections and fear, he cannot escape his past or the future.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • A weaker, but worthwhile sequel

  • By Ryan on 05-08-13

A meditation on the book of Job

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-30-18

There is no way to fully discussion Children of God without spoilers. So this review is not really going to discuss the plot. The first book in the series, The Sparrow, was a devastating book. The Sparrow started at the end, knowing that Emilio Sandoz was the only survivor of the first mission to Rakhat. But it takes that whole book to really understand Sandoz’s role in the trip and why he is so devastated.

Children of God starts soon after the end and the two books really need to be thought of as a whole. I spent nearly two years between the two books because I was so impacted by the first that I was not sure I was ready to read the second. I should have read them closer together because, apart from length, they probably should have been published together. (And there are a ton of characters and reading them together would have helped in keeping the characters in order in my head.)

It was not until the end of the book that I realized that in many ways this is a meditation on the book of Job. Mary Doria Russell is Jewish. Although most of the characters of the books are Jesuit priests, there is one Jewish woman in the original mission to Rakhat, but regardless, both faiths include the book of Job and theologically grapple with the problems of evil.

The problem of evil, simply is the discussion of how there can be evil in the world if God is good and omnipotent. The problem of evil can be formulated in a number of ways, but it is a problem that cannot be solved finally because, as in the book of Job, we are not God. We are finite and we can only see ‘darkly’ as Paul hints at in the New Testament.

I am someone that has a good life. I have my struggles and sin, but I cannot point to great tragedy personally. I have come to my own equilibrium with the problem of evil. It cannot be solved neatly. But knowing I do not have great tragedy in my life, I have not had to grapple with it in the way that others have and I anticipate that my current equilibrium will be challenged in the future.

Part of what I love about reading, and blogging about books, is that I have come to ‘know’ authors. These are all virtual relationships, I have some interaction with a number of authors. In the past week, three authors that I know have all faced tragedies of one sort or another. One was literally hit by a bus and suffered multiple broken bones, including her pelvis, and a collapsed lung. She has a lot of healing to do yet, but will be heading home from the hospital today. Another was diagnosed with cancer last August and was scheduled for exploratory surgery yesterday to develop the next stage of the treatment plan, but the surgery was postponed because of someone else’s cancer surgery was more pressing. A third author, in a freak accident with a water balloon and a whiffle ball bat is going into surgery this morning after having lost a tooth and broken four bones in her face and jaw. And for all three of these authors, these most recent tragedies are probably not the great tragedies of their lives.

I think we as Christians, especially for those of us that have not directly faced a lot of tragedy, need to read fiction books directly grappling with the problem of evil in order to abstractly think through pain and suffering. Because at some point, we likely will have our own pain and suffering.

I am not going to discuss the ending of Children of God. But broadly there are two types of discussions of the problem of evil in fiction. One ends badly and one types ends neatly. Books like Silence or The Power and the Glory end with death or tragedy. The evil was not redeemed or made nice. Other books like Absolute Truths trace the evil and even if you cannot see why God allowed the evil, you can see the good that came of the evil.

The redeemed problem of evil books are the ones that we tend to like to read. And I think we should read those books. We can trace how God works and we can see that God does work. But the first type are just as important. Even though the book of Job does give resolution to Job’s suffering, God would have still been God even if Job had died in the middle of his torments. We cannot expect to see God’s hand in every movement. So while I am for the redeemed problem of evil books, I think the unredeemed problem of evil books are more essential to grapple with.

I am nearly finished with Alan Jacobs’ Looking Before and After: Testimony and the Christian Life. Part of the discussion of the book is about how we naturally as humans seek patterns in our lives. We want to see God working. There is a tendency to follow communal patterns in our testimonies, regardless of the variances that are in our lives. But it is still an essential part of Christian faith to see God working, even if some of that understanding of the working is tentative. Jacobs is pushing back a bit against Narrative Theology that tends to focus on communal stories of God. Jacobs is not diminishing the need to see how God works communally, but is suggesting that we cannot forget the individual aspects within the communal story.

All of this is part of Children of God. There are communal and individual stories of God. There is tragedy and unmitigated, and mitigated, pain. And there is loss, loss that cannot be made up for regardless of whether God is working there or not. And we should be asking why God allows that type of pain. It is essential, not to find a pat answer, but to grapple with the reality that people around us are in pain. If our Christian faith cannot speak to and hear about actual pain, then it is not much of a faith.

One note on format. I originally picked this up on sale as an audiobook. There is some real content warnings, discussions of sex and rape, violence, war and a fair amount of bad language. Because I often have audiobooks running in the background while I work, and while my kids are nearby, I wanted to move to print. I checked the kindle version out of the library and predominately read the rest of the book, although I did listen to parts of it. The audio is fine. There is nothing wrong with it. But both because the structure of the story moves back and forth in time and because it includes a number of alien names and a lot of characters overall, I think print makes the book easier to read and follow.

  • I'm Still Here

  • Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
  • By: Austin Channing Brown
  • Narrated by: Austin Channing Brown
  • Length: 3 hrs and 54 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 204
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 190
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 187

Austin Channing Brown's first encounter with a racialized America came at age seven, when she discovered her parents named her Austin to deceive future employers into thinking she was a white man. Growing up in majority-white schools, organizations, and churches, Austin writes, "I had to learn what it means to love blackness", a journey that led to a lifetime spent navigating America's racial divide as a writer, speaker, and expert who helps organizations practice genuine inclusion.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A Black woman in a middle class White America

  • By Adam Shields on 05-16-18

A Black woman in a middle class White America

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-16-18

A little over a week ago I sat down with a list of the books I had read since the start of 2017 and analyzed the authors. I looked at how many were White, how many were women, how many were fiction versus non-fiction. What I discovered when I completed this quick exercise was that I read just over 60% non-fiction. Although the authors of the fiction I read was was roughly evenly split between men and women authors, my non-fiction was five times more likely to be male authors as female. And my non-fiction was three times more likely to be White than non-White authors. Because of my bias toward non-fiction, I read mostly White males.

This exercise was not about meeting a quota, but about exploring what as a reader I am consuming. How much do I, when not paying attention, default to reading the voices of White males (a lot). What do I need to do to make sure I am not internalizing the bias of my reading choices? With that information, I know that I need to make sure I am intentionally picking up more books written by minorities, especially women.

I picked up I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness yesterday, when it came out, in part because of my exercise not hearing minority, especially female minority authors. I’m Still Here is brief, just over 3 hours in audiobook. It is mostly memoir. Austin Channing Brown opens with a story about how her name (one that is associated mostly with White Males) was chosen intentionally to get her in the door for interviews. She grew up in mostly White neighborhoods and going to mostly White schools. It wasn’t until college that she had her first Black teacher. But the saturation in White culture did not change her skin color or how she was perceived by those that were going to judge her because of her gender or skin.

It appears to me that I’m Still Here is written primarily for Black women, but with the intention to be overheard by others. She celebrates her blackness because that is how God created her. And she celebrates the comfort of the Black church in the reality of the difficulties of the world. It tells about the emotional baggage that has been heaped upon her as a professional woman working mostly in Christian non-profits to do the work of making Whites feel good about how much progress has been made in racial issues or to spoon feed them history about racism in the US.

Part of her work has been directly around diversity and racial awareness. So she has both informal and formal background in what it means to be a Black Woman in a White Christian world. She has led diversity trainings and facilitated White youth groups coming into urban neighborhoods for awareness building. She has been asked to understand plenty without most Whites being willing to understand even a portion.

I am very glad that the end of the book spoke directly about racial reconciliation. She diagnoses the problem well,

“...reconciliation is not about white feelings. It’s about diverting power and attention to the oppressed, toward the powerless. It’s not enough to dabble at diversity and inclusion while leaving the existing authority structure in place. Reconciliation demands more."

When I criticized John Perkins’ recent book One Blood, it wasn’t that I didn’t agree with his basic point, that we as Christians are in fact one blood and that racial reconciliation is very important. I disagreed with the tone and focus of the book because it was not hard enough on Whites. And Perkins seem to place, if not equal, at least significant, responsibility on minority Christians for their part in making racial reconciliation work within the church. Austin Channing Brown is not playing around with that type of equivocation. Racism is the result of White’s prejudice and power, and while many minorities want to work to end racism, the reality is that they have mostly been doing the work unassisted. Racism is ultimately a White problem as James Baldwin has said. But one where the largest payment for the problem is borne by those that are not White.

I’m Still Here is one of the best examples of why, even though I think that White authors need to step up and talk about race and prejudice and racism and history, we cannot stop listening to people of color, especially women, as they tell us their reality.

(I also appreciate that the publisher let her read her own book. Books should be, whenever possible, narrated by their own author.)

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • City of Illusions

  • By: Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Narrated by: Stefan Rudnicki
  • Length: 7 hrs and 22 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 322
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 197
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 203

He is a full-grown man, alone in dense forest, with no trail to show where he has come from and no memory to tell who or what he is. His eyes are not the eyes of a human. The forest people take him in and raise him almost as a child, teaching him to speak, training him in forest lore, giving him all the knowledge they have. But they could not solve the riddle of his past, and at last he has to set out on a perilous quest to find his true self - and a universe of danger.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • A Quest For Falk, A Discovery For Me

  • By Cathy on 09-22-09

Most story focused of Hainish series I have read

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-02-18

I have been very slowly working through Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle. These are a series of science fiction books that are only very loosely related. Most within the series have almost no connection to any other book in the series. But they all are set in a future where hundreds of worlds have been settled by humanity. But due to genetic manipulation and isolation due to war or other reasons there have been evolutionary shifts that have altered humanity to be a number of different species. This has allowed Le Guin to explore a number of features of what it means to be human or in society. Although they are considered a series, Le Guin says they are not intended to have internal cohesion and form a single story or even have a suggested reading order. 
The Disposessed explored how societies organize politically and socially as a scientist moved from an anarchist utopia (described as non-authoritarian communism’ to a repressive capitalist system that permits a type of slavery. The Left Hand of Darkness is a more physical exploration of what gender means. An outsider comes to a isolated world to attempt to bring them into an intergalactic United Nations style system. But this isolated world does not have fixed gender. Everyone is genderless except once a month when they create gender to mate, each person sometimes becoming male and sometimes becoming female. Most people will be both fathers and mothers at different times and in general mating is temporary and not a permanent marriage arrangement. Children after infancy are raised communally. 

The City of Illusions was the third published book in 1967. The Earth has been reduced to a small fraction of its population, most of whom live in small villages or in nomadic tribal system. There is very little trust of outsiders, but a man is found without memory and with the bodily control of an newborn. He is nursed to health and taught so that after about 5 years he has developed the skills and understanding of an adult, but without any knowledge of where he came from or how he came to be in the woods near the community that found him. 

Eventually he decides to leave the community, and the woman that he has loved and was living with, to search the world for his identity. The story then has a mix of travel elements, both good and bad sort of like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But also science fiction elements with mind control and telepathy and aliens and lasers. Because of the ending I wonder if Robert Heinlein stole the idea of the ending for his book I Will Fear No Evil which was published just a couple years after this. 

The Hainish Cycle is mostly a series of ideas and exploration of what it means to be human. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have some good stories, but the ideas can overwhelm the thread of the stories. Of the three I have read so far, I think this does the best job of balancing the stories and the ideas so that there is a coherent and interesting narrative as well as a conceptual framework. 

As far as I can tell there is not a print edition where City of Illusions is published in print or ebook by itself. This audiobook version was published in 2007. 

  • Paul

  • A Biography
  • By: N. T. Wright
  • Narrated by: James Langton
  • Length: 15 hrs and 22 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 218
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 187
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 187

In this definitive biography, renowned Bible scholar, Anglican bishop, and best-selling author N. T. Wright offers a radical look at the apostle Paul, illuminating the humanity and remarkable achievements of this intellectual who invented Christian theology - transforming a faith and changing the world. For centuries, Paul, the apostle who "saw the light on the Road to Damascus" and made a miraculous conversion from zealous Pharisee persecutor to devoted follower of Christ, has been one of the church's most widely cited saints.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Different type of writing for Wright is helpful

  • By Adam Shields on 04-25-18

Different type of writing for Wright is helpful

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-25-18

I have read a lot of NT Wright; none of the really big Paul books, but much of his books that are targeted outside of the academy. Because of how Wright thinks and writes, the same themes come up over and over again in slight variations. I find most of Wright’s books really helpful, but I was surprised how much I found this biography, in part because it was a biography and not straight theology, really helpful to understanding Wright’s project with Paul.

Our ability to know ancient figures is limited. But we probably know about as much about Paul as we do about almost any other ancient figure. First we have relatively large amount of his own writing. But we also have the book of Acts, which was written either toward the end of Paul’s life or soon after he died.

There is a clear limit to what we can and cannot know about who Paul was. Wright has to speculate about a number of things in ways that would not have to be done in a biography of a modern figure. But Wright is clear in the text when he is speculating and with what data he is speculating. And he is clear about what is fairly firm historical ground.

Much of the early discussion is about how Paul was at the center of the construction of Christian theology. Wright suggests that until the rough time when Paul started to come to leadership the church was mostly Jewish culturally, theologically and ethnically. But as the church expanded, lines started being crossed.

The church, as envisioned by Paul, was a group that would meet in a single city across class lines (which was like the Jewish synagogues). It was also across ethnic lines, which was similar to how Roman legions were able to work across ethnic lines. But it was also transnational; the church in Antioch supported the Christians in Jerusalem because they saw themselves as part of the same body. And the crossing of all three lines at the same time was something unique to the Christian church in that culture.

Much of Paul’s writing and life seems devoted to focusing on how to become such a body. It is in the practical working out of the issues that Wright suggests that Christian theology was developed, as a way to theologically understand what it means to be a Christian outside of the solely Jewish theological roots and culture of the early church.

The most helpful part of the book after the discussion of the make up of the church as a transnational, trans-ethnic and trans-class, was the historical relationship of Paul’s epistles to his life. That does require an attempt at dating them and placing them in context of Acts’ history. That work of history and then the theological work of processing the content of those books in light of the assumed history was very helpful in giving an overview to who Paul was.

Wright’s biggest irritating tic as an author is his hyperbole about what new thing he is bringing to the table. That was largely under control in this book. Maybe because Wright is outside of his standard writing style and field, or maybe he is trying to cut back. But regardless of the reason, it helps.

This biography makes me want to read something by John Barclay, probably Paul: A Brief History. Those that I know that are more knowledgable about the academic research into the New Testament have frequently cited his work as someone else that is worth reading on Paul.

As normal for me, I listened to this as an audiobook and then I will reading it in print later for a second take. I have found that I can get bogged down on Wright if I start with print. I need to get the overview of the argument to see how the pieces work together and then I can read the pieces again to catch any details I may have missed in the first take.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • The Color of Law

  • A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
  • By: Richard Rothstein
  • Narrated by: Adam Grupper
  • Length: 9 hrs and 32 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 493
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 438
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 434

In this groundbreaking history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein explodes the myth that America's cities came to be racially divided through de facto segregation - that is, through individual prejudices, income differences, or the actions of private institutions like banks and real estate agencies. Rather, he incontrovertibly makes clear that it was de jure segregation - the laws and policy decisions passed by local, state, and federal governments - that actually promoted the discriminatory patterns that continue to this day.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • These truths are hard on the soul, but are a must.

  • By Donivan Brown on 08-08-17

Think of it as a court brief on segregation

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-25-18

In the United States homeownership is one of the most significant methods of wealth creation and generational wealth transfer. Because of that, differences in rates of home ownership plays a significant role in the difference in personal wealth between racial groups and the transfer of that wealth from one generation to the next.

Discussion of race in the US often will eventually come to a question similar to, ‘slavery ended over 150 years ago and the Civil Rights era was 50 years ago, how can the aggregate differences between economic and social realities continue to be persistent.’ The Color of Law attempts to tell part of the story about how persistence of economic and social realities is at least partially dependent upon historic (and sometimes recent) role of government.

Color of Law is not an anti or pro-government book, but an attempt at an honest accounting of the role of government. Throughout the book there is a continual question of whether particular actions were the responsibility of individual actors that happened to have government positions or if the actions were part of an intentional or unintentional action of a branch or level of government as a whole.

Richard Rothstein is writing to persuade, first of his reading of the 14th amendment, and then to make a legal case for governmental responsibility. Rothstein is a legal scholar and was a senior fellow at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. His prior books were mostly about educational equity, but educational and housing segregation have significant overlap in history and law.

My main complaint about Color of Law is that it feels repetitive, but that is part of the legal method of making the argument. To prove that government has been at least partially responsible for creating and maintaining segregation, Rothstein has to show that there was intentionality in a number of different types of segregation in different geographies and over different time periods.

But I think what is most persuasive about Color of Law is the sheer number of areas that government encouraged segregation. Many people have heard the story of redlining before, I am not going to detail that here. And many know that FHA loans were for the most part not available for minority families. But what I did not realize is that FHA was not only a lender to the consumer, but the most significant lender to producers of suburban housing. And one of the federally required components of receiving low-interest production loans was inserting racially restrictive covenants into the initial design of both the communities and individual homes. This means that not only were African-Americans prevented from getting low-cost loans through the FHA and GI Bill, but the homes that they could purchase without those low-cost government backed loans were more expensive to produce because the builders were unable to access low-cost production loans. Even segregated communities designed for minorities were rarely given low cost production loans, which created housing shortages for minorities, driving up rents or home costs for minorities because of shortages.

When restrictive covenants were ruled illegal, HUD and other government actors started suggesting or requiring alternative methods of segregation like exclusionary zoning, and home owners associations, until one by one many of these methods were also ruled illegal as a means of perpetuating segregation.

Part of the argument Rothstein is making (and by the time I finished I realized Rothstein was writing this as an extended Court Brief) is that the 14th amendment, apart from the Fair Housing Act or others modern laws required all levels of government to desegregated housing and to prevent many of the rules and regulations that created, perpetuated and entrenched housing segregation. (The relevant section of the 14th says, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”) What is particularly galling about reading Color of Law is that there were areas of the country where desegregated housing was more common and some of these rules created segregation where it did not previously occur. Which by definition was a violation of the 14th amendment.

Rothstein goes beyond specific housing law to the areas around housing that make things worse. The expansion of the suburban job market is a somewhat distant but interesting example. If you can’t get housing close to your work, you have higher costs for transportation and a higher likelihood of losing your job because of absences or lateness created by the distance. And if there is no where that you can rent or buy a home near your suburban factory job based on government imposed segregation requirements then those requirements not only impact your home choices, but your income. Unions were often segregated as well and it was not until the late 1960s that the federal government through contracting rules effectively banned segregated unions.

The IRS, tax law, and compliance regulations also either overtly encouraged segregation or did not adequately address issues that enforced segregation. Security and Exchange Commission, banking, and insurance regulation and similar government agencies that were legally obligated to regulate the financial markets have not adequately addressed, even in the most recent housing bubble, the targeting of minorities for discriminatory lending and insurance by regulated institutions. There is more than adequate research to show that minorities that have equal financial assets and income are disproportionately given higher rate loans or only shown segregated housing, etc. In a similar way, Color of Law walks through tax law and government programs like Section 8 that while either written to reduce segregation, or not directly concerning housing segregation, actually make segregation worse.

All of Rothstein’s previous books have been about education policy. So the section on the relationship of housing segregation to education segregation is particularly good. Many educational decisions, from placement of school buildings to attendance boundaries continue today to encourage segregation. My wife’s school is about 2 miles from another elementary school in the same district. My wife’s elementary school has 87 apartment complexes and hotels and almost no single family houses. Her school is approximately 90% minority and mostly low-income. The next closes school to the east, less than 2 miles away, is predominately white, with few low-income students and mostly single family houses. Issues like school boundaries are persistent and the research shows that segregated schools harm not only minority students, but also white students that have less access to a diverse student body.

Local government also has played a significant role in housing segregation. One method is for local police to refuse to protect minority residents and enforce housing laws. In a number of cases, mob violence has pushed out minority families attempting to desegregate housing. In far too many cases, local police (and in one case cited in the book a local postal carrier) were the ones that organized the opposition to the new residents. Also mentioned earlier, national encouragement of the use of zoning to particularly manage housing segregation is a persistent problem. My current county has a law on the books that makes it illegal for more than two unrelated people to live in the same housing unit (regardless of size or number of bedrooms in the home). Rules similar to that, place undue restrictions on low-income housing and they are frequently unequally enforced.

Rothstein is trying to persuade that not only were 20th century government actions illegal, but that as a society we owe a debt to minority citizens that were harmed by these actions. For instance one of the early, and famous, suburban developments was Levittown. Those homes were sold initially for about $75,000 in today’s dollars. But today are worth about $350,000. This has created about $275,000 in wealth in three generations since they were initially built. But local African-American segregated neighborhood that was mentioned in the book only had about a $15,000 increase in value in a similar time. This doesn’t include the higher costs to own because of the higher cost loans to the African-American families.

I could go on and on giving examples of the ways that government at all levels have encouraged segregated housing and discouraged movements toward integration, but that is what the book is for. There is one last note that I want to mention. At the end when Rothstein is discussing potential remedies, he notes that when surveyed, almost every one wants to live in a desegregated neighborhood. The problem is that the concept of what desegregated means is radically different between Whites and many minorities. Minorities in general classify a neighborhood as integrated when there are at least 30 to 50 percent minorities, preferably with no one group more than 50 percent. Whites classify a neighborhood as integrated at about 10 percent minority.

(originally posted on my blog)