Sunday, March 24, 2013

Spring Break Reading - Peacemaking, Nonviolence, End of War, Bonhoeffer & More

Spring Break proved busy with many things – too many things!

Great times in St. Louis at Regional Society of BiblicalLiterature Meeting – and the following books read.

All is Grace:  A Biography of Dorothy Day by Jim Forest.  I recently came across Jim Forest as a person and author, and picked up the book as much to discern something of who Jim is, as Dorothy Day.  Naturally, I learned more about Dorothy than Jim in this biography.   I will say definitively, there was much that I learned about Dorothy and The Catholic Worker, about which I previously had no idea.  In fact, while I’ve heard quotes from Dorothy Day for years, and while I’ve had an awareness of her commitments imbedded in the movement of Catholic Workers, I had much to learn.  A great read.  

The Different Drum:  Community and Making Peace by M. Scott Peck.  This book, as well as many other for the break, came referred by a friend I trust.  I found the insight of this book to be excellent, but I also found the frame of the extended stories to be too much. That is, the book could have been one-half the length (or even less) and have given the same content.  No doubt this is part and parcel to how books and content have changed in the past 20 years.  Books now are shorter, more “bullet-point” lists and clearer and tighter in expressing specific “points.”  I’m not sure I would recommend the book, especially since, after reading it, I found reviews that summarize the core content in just a short review.  

The Art of Forgivenss, Lovingkindness and Peace by Jack Kornfield.  Not a book to read, but a collection of quotes and short reflections on the themes present in the title.  Much of the wisdom from traditions is gleaned from Buddhist insight, since the author is a practitioner of Buddhism.  Good wisdom here.  The kind of book that would be good for a waiting room in a therapists office.

The End of War by John Horgan.  Given that I have presuppositions about that are hopeful abou peacemaking and the end of war, I wanted to like this book before starting to read it.  I did enjoy the book, though the positions of the author, as he makes clear, are less scientifically true than they are inspirationally true.  Horgan details how he has discerned that we can become people who no longer choose war.  He narrates stories of sharing this with learners and encourages us to believe that we are not conditioned for war and we have the free will to choose peace.

Leadership and Self-Deception:  Getting out of the Box by the Arbinger Institute.  I tend to like books that cut to the chase and accomplish their goals quickly.  In that regard, this book was hard to read (not complex !) because I had to get into the characters and story to discern the point the authors were making.  At several points in the book, the key ideas are summarized, but I had to read the particular nuance of the characterization of the ideas, imbedded in the stories, to “get it.”  Here is the essence of the book – discerned in the words of Martin Buber that I will use - which are not in the book.  We treat people as “it’s” and we need to view them as “you’s.”  If you can’t overcome this reality,  you’re the problem.   Buber is better than this book.   After reading it, I went to reviews – and found myself resonating with the 1 and 2 star reviews.  Alas.  I also read The Anatomy of Peace:  Resolving the Heart of Conflict by the Arbinger Institute, (actually, I read this book first over the Break – and didn’t get it – so I had to re-read it after reading Leadership and Self-Deception.)  I’m struck by the high praise for the books.  The truths these books espouse seem basic.  Treat people with kindness because we all tend to be narcissistically self-centered.  That’s the entire theme of both books.

I read two books by Marshall B. Rosenberg over the break – Nonviolent Communication:  A Language of Life and Living Nonviolent Communication:  Practical Tools  to connect and communicate skillfully in every situation.  Good stories, shared across many pages in both texts.  The heart of his method though, is quite simple.  We get upset when our expectations are not met.  Most people can not know what our expectations are, because neither we, nor they, know what the real need is.  When we understand our need – and we communicate that need effectively – in harmony with discerning the needs of others – we can come to the place where most of everyone’s needs can be met.  That’s it, in a nutshell.  In order to get there, therefore, we need to listen well, and discern needs in caring ways.  This link is the core idea found in both books.  I’m not sure I learned anything “new” in the books – though I heard key ideas about communication and relationality expressed in new ways from other contexts, books, seminars.   The second book is essentially transcripts of seminars where Marshall has taught the ideas of NVC.

I read most of Dan Roam’s Blah – Blah – Blah – and realized that, while I agree with him, the entire book is summarized in the video I first saw that encouraged me to read the book.  Therefore, the book is a bunch of “blah-blah-blah” itself, ironically.  Watch a few of these videos by Dan – and you won’t have to read the book.

Jim Forest wrote a new “version” for the modern world of C.S. Lewis classic Screwtape Letters – in Forest’s book The Wormwood File:  Email from Hell. While I don’t buy into the simple notion (or fictional idea) that demons actually write letters or send emails, the book has insight that was important to glean.  Reflecting on how we get caught up in pursuits that distract from the central call of Christian life is an important practice for any person.  And, the idea that we are tempted  - and distracted – and live our lives out of line with God’s purpose by powers and principalities that thwart us, is a good reminder.  I like the idea – though I hate it – that Wormwood is pleased when person get baptized as it effectively inoculates them to live out the message of Christianity.

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves.  This was another example, for me at least, of a book that is popular and “best-seller” with solid reviews from great authors, that I seemed to “not get.”  Mind you, I get it.  I read it.  I understand it.  I just found that the authors, in my opinion, were expressing ideas that – as far as I was concerned are obvious.  I’m with the 1 and 2 star reviews on Amazon and only wish I had read those reviews, before wasting my time in the book.

Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.  I did not have time to finish this over the break, so I will have to come back to it.  While I have known much about – and read much from – Dietrich Bonhoeffer since I was first gifted his Cost of Discipleship as a High-School Graduation gift, this biography is much more thorough than any previous works published.  I am struck by the frame of how a person’s life fits into a much larger context of family and social-geographic-cultural identity.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was not just an individual of merit, but a person framed by the contours of so many other factors outside his control, that allowed him to become a person of merit in a particular warp-and-woof.

I watched John Maxwell's  Learning the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership DVD series.  I listened to Maxwell nearly every day as I used to commute between Pastoral work and Ph.D. coursework in the late 1990s.  Much of what he says in this series is the distilled version of what he's been saying for years.  All still very good insight!  Very good.

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