Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sgt. Peppers, Ozzy, Gospels, Discipleship, Freakonomics and more.

My high school English teacher made us study the Beatles “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” album as a form of literature. I do not remember precisely how he justified it. I remember thinking he was a “hippie.” But, in truth, it is one of the fewer very specific things I remember learning bout and studying in high school. Perhaps a lesson for me as an educator for the experiential aspects of multi-disciplinary and diverse forms of educating others. Because, I do remember much of what we learned about the album and the time period and the lyrics (what was and what was not “behind” their meaning.) I remember in particular our teacher noting how funny it was that there were all kinds of things read into and fabricated from this first “concept” album to emerge in the world of music.

With that being said, it was a delight to read With a Little Help from My Friends: The Making of Sgt. Pepper by George Martin. Since George signed the Beatles and stuck with them through their rise in popularity, he certainly has the first hand experience to describe what the album was like – how and why songs were shaped and created as they were. I truly enjoyed this read. Among minor facts that I learned about the Beatles along the way - I also had to reconsider things about the music industry itself that I had, I suppose, just taken for granted. Like for example, the fact that these were genuinely made on “albums” and they had a limited number of working sound tracks that could simultaneously be incorporated into the album itself – unlike newer technologies that allow for many more layers of tracks. And, one minor thing about the book that was interesting. “Penny Lane.” I have heard this song so many times in my life – and until I read the book, I always thought of Penny Lane as a person who was being addressed in the song. So that the descriptions of the area were given “to” Penny Lane. I am almost embarrassed to admit that I realized while reading that, naturally, Penny Lane is an actual Lane – a street that was and is a real street (I believe in Liverpool.). I point this out because I learned this – but also because it notes the simple way by which we carry erroneous assumptions about small items around. Certainly not a major issue for life’s development – but an example in my own life of having mis-heard and misunderstood something – that I can now better understand as a result of having better information and an informed perspective.

I read as well, and I’m not sure I’m proud to announce this, but, nonetheless – I picked it up and read it. . . . I Am Ozzy. While I am not a fan of heavy metal music precisely, I did have a stint of being into “Christian Heavy Metal” as a teenager. And, while I think the average review of the average “rock star” is the same – (just watch VH1’s Behind the Music - the same scenario plays out. Nobody becomes somebody, uses too much of some addictive substance and makes reckless decisions along the way and either (a) tanks out completely or (b) somehow rises above.) --- there is something about Ozzy that is intriguing. The book is rife with curse words – but it resonates with how he himself tells his story. Raised in a home where his only options were to become a factory worker like his father – at an early age, Ozzy turns to petty (or large) theft. I’m not going to lie when I say the descriptions of his own decisions, as narrated, made me laugh out loud. But, overall, the book and his story represents the characteristic rise and fall of any star . . . but, for Ozzy, with a redemption of sorts (not in soteriological terms) brought about due to family influences and a kind of longevity that just worked for him. The guy has sold over 100 million records. Think about the cash he’s accumulated – and he’s dyslexic and, what is more, primarily sought to pursue a good time for himself – and in so doing he’s made an incredible cash living for his family. It’s an interesting world we live in when a person can so uniquely speak and interpret their voice of many in their generation as to be affirmed in the ways Ozzy has been affirmed.

Bart Ehrman was an evangelical who came to read and study the Bible who is now an agnostic and perhaps atheist. But, in truth, he reads and presents the Bible reasonably and without, in my opinion, what I would consider a negative bias against believers who read the Bible as believers. In Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them) Ehrman reviews, in truth, what is taught at most seminaries and schools in the U.S. (at least based on my experience with professors from the Society of Biblical Literature, colleagues and professors who taught me.) Ehrman’s work is non confessional in its orientation – and not the way I understand the Bible within the frame of the confessions of faith I make about God and God’s work in the world. But, he’s not wrong and his book is honest and, in my opinion, he writes well. All of his books have a conversational presentation to them that I think reads easily and communicates clearly. I hope to write as clearly. Ehrman takes the work of scholarship and truly makes it accessible – and does so in a way that opens perspectives without being bombastic or arrogant.

In past years I’ve read Mitch Alboms’ Tuesday’s with Morrie and The Five People you Meet in Heaven so I picked up Have a Little Faith: A True Story. The book connects two primary persons in Albom’s life – the Rabbi (Reb) of his childhood (and entire life) and the life of Henry, a former addict and drug dealer who runs an inner city church in Detroit. In the story, Albom has been asked to write the eulogy for his Reb and he takes eight years of his life to get to know the Reb for this purpose – though he has known the Reb his entire life. Along the way he decides to be more generous and works to help others, including the pastor he helps in Detroit. It’s a nice story of faith and growth and loving one another.

In many ways, I could narrate stories about peoples lives that I have encountered - because I have similar stories in my life as Albom has had – with the downtrodden and the affluent. But, the fact is – to this point in my life, I have not figured out how to capture a story and weave the parts of it together like Albom has done. I do not ever *expect* that I will be able to do it as he has done – but I want to get better at it. I’m not sure if I’m naturally gifted to tell a story like some people are – (my wife is better at narrating stories than I am – I tend to cut to the punch line and want to move on) – but I need to learn how to tell stories better. I really do. There have been so many unique circumstances and life events I have encountered and I would love to share those stories with others. Perhaps I need to start another blog or personal writing project where I begin practicing the “art” of learning to tell (and write) a good story. But, alas, there are so many things to be done!

I liked Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World. In fact, I liked it so much that I have proposed and plan to present on it for pastors in a few months. The book offers compelling ways to think about the way the future is being formed and what we can do as persons to “make the future.” I did not think the book was “perfect” but compelling – and I do not think it is the role of the church to hijack popular teaching on leadership and “retrovert it” to fit the church. But, I did think there were key observations about the world outlined in this text, that have reality and consequence for how any leader in any institution thinks about leading.

Johansen explains that in a world of increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), leaders must learn new skills in order to make a better future including:
1) Maker instinct (leaders approach their leadership with commitment of a
job and energy of a passionate hobby)
2) Clarity (leaders being clear about what they are making but flexible about
how it gets made)
3) Dilemma Flipping (turning problems that can't be solved into opportunities)
4) Immersive Learning (learning by doing)
5) Bio-empathy (understand, respect and learn from nature)
6) Constructive depolarization (calming tense situations and bringing people
from divergent cultures towards constructive engagement)
7) Quiet transparency (ability to be open and authentic about what matters
to you without self-promotion)
8) Rapid Prototyping (ability to create early versions of innovations)
9) Smart mob organizing (creating, engaging and nurturing social networks)
10)Commons creating
I’ll glean more from it later – as I teach and “translate” it to pastors later. I hope, in my own life of leadership, to better discern the keen insight of Bob Johansen for my own work as a person, professional, professor, pastor, and leader in advancing the Eupan Global Initiative.

I enjoyed SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I enjoyed their former book, Freakonomics so I picked up this for an evening read. While there are certainly facts to be gleaned from their research and data, what makes their book enjoyable and worth a review is the unique means by which they make interesting and odd connections in life. The book is filled with data – and the data can be the stuff of life that we learn – but it is not the data itself that makes the book interesting – it is the anecdotal and curious means by which Levitt and Dubner co-relate their data. Sometimes trivial – and not a sociological textbook – as a series of studies in various sociological experiences, the book challenges us to rethink what we know (or think we know) and how and why we know it. Several chapters were more trivial than others – but I still found the entire text to be an enjoyable connection and co-relation cross-pollination of “facts” and figures.

Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson

Honestly, I couldn’t finish reading it. It was not that it was bad – it just read like many stories that I have read of hope and compassion that overcome trouble and pain in many places in the world. I think, in that sense, what turned me off to the book after starting was the fact that I know many other person show hve been working to effect positive change in our world – who have not received the benefit and extensive resources and thereby the “success” that Mortenson has experienced. It seems as though his first book was such a “hit” that it landed him not only the capital but the social capital to do what he is now doing. While I did finish skimming through the book – and do value what he has done and what he is doing – I guess I walk away from the book more frustrated with our world than with Mortenson or this text. Mortenson is doing great things – effecting significant change that is for the benefit of many! Super! Really. Super! But, why is it that people only respond to one area or one section of the world’s needs when they are “told about them” in a book or movie? Certainly I have my own answers and knowledge to answer this question myself – but in many ways I genuinely do not understand why it is that we as a culture (at least American, though likely in the world) still embrace the myths of redemptive violence and scarcity. We do not have to chose retaliation and there is enough to resource our world – if only we would stop fighting over what we don’t have, mimetically desiring our rivals.

Politics of Discipleship, The: Becoming Postmaterial Citizens (The Church and Postmodern Culture) by Graham Ward

It was my privilege to have Graham Ward as an advisor and editor on my doctoral dissertation while I completed my work at the University of Manchester. I did not have enough personal time with Dr. Ward as I would have liked. I doubt he remembers me (personally) in any significant way though he would (I hope) remember my dissertation since he provided ample insight and clarification to the work I completed with respect to the use of Rene Girard and Girardian Theory. Graham, for me, fit the image of at least one stereotype of British men, and perhaps a stereotype of British academics – rather straight-forward and “emotionless” in our conversation and work together – very business and matter of fact about the areas I needed to address and clarify in my work. He provided ample advice (his editorial notes on my paper documents prove that point!!)

That being the case, reading his Politics of Discipleship demonstrates that while he may not have had much personal time for me – he clearly has time to think about and clarify perspectives in written texts! Compared to some of the leisure reading I’ve done of late, this book was not a page burner – perhaps in part because it is dense – but in part because what he articulates seems so fundamentally correct. Discipleship is not just about personal and independent choices, but is rooted in a fundamental understanding of what it means to be a “polis.”

I will come back to Graham – both here and in my own life. I don’t have the text in front of me as I write today – and it is too dense to describe apart from solid citation. But, I would note that the one thing I do have difficulty with in Graham’s work is the lack of clear practices and lifestyle choices or habits that effect the kind of ideological concern that he so thoughtfully addresses.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is not a comment about the books you've read specifically but about the teacher who taught the Beatles as literature. The text we use for Comp II at OCCC includes Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" as a piece of poetry making an argument about power and responsibility. For that day's lecture, I played the song for the class, along with songs from Pink Floyd, Wyclef Jean, and M.I.A.. It was one of the most fun classes and the students had one of their more spirited discussions of the semester. I will definitely use that as a teaching resource again next semester!