Books Received (03/31/2016)

I want to write a quick note here acknowledging the reception of a few books in the mail or via Kindle. First, Yoram Hazony's God and the Politics of Esther. While I haven't finished it yet, I've been a big fan of his The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture. In God and the Politics of Esther Hazony is reading the text with philosophical eyes to see what it says about politics and faith when God is not named as a central character. 

Second, Mark Roncace's God's Story: The Biblical Epic from Abraham to Exile. This book is marketed as "a reader-friendly version of the core Old Testament narrative that is faithful to the original and highly enjoyable and entertaining." Roncace refers to it as "The Message Bible squared". 

Third, A.J. Swoboda's The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith. In this book the author argues that "wandering" is not contrary to faith, but an essential part of it for "God's people". He writes for those who are "restless, doubtful, or questioning". 

While not sent to me, I did pick up the following books at the library and have begun browsing/reading them too: Nyasha Junior's An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretation; Thomas A. Lewis' Why Philosophy Matters for the Study of Religion—And Vice Versa; and Soundings in Cultural Criticism: Perspective and Methods in Culture, Power, and Identity in the New Testament edited by Francisco Lozada, Jr., and Greg Carey.   

Cone's The Cross and the Lynching Tree

I finished James H. Cone's The Cross and the Lynching Tree this morning. This is one of those books that you read and then several years down the line you refer to it as something that "saved" or "renewed" your faith in/commitment to Jesus Christ. Personally, I think "renewed" is a more apt word, but I won't deny that since the events in Ferguson, MO, last year it has been sometimes quite difficult to know what to make of the relevancy of the Christian Gospel. Christianity in the United States seems impotent in the face of such devastation, and the Church seems detached, but I confess that this has to do more so with which forms of "Christianity" I've embraced and which expressions of the Church I've considered to be "normative".

Prof. Cone's gut-wrenching examination of the parallels between the Roman Empire's State-sanction crucifixion of Jewish bodies—most specifically Jesus of Nazareth's—and the United States' State-sanction lynching of Black bodies, especially in the South, has changed the way I see the symbol of the crucifix. It has given me eyes to see the cross as the place where the Creator God enters into solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed. If Jesus "exegetes" Israel's God for us then the one who is Lord and Christ interprets God as one who is destroyed by the powers and authorities, yet who is alive. I can't say that these concepts didn't exist in my mind before reading The Cross and the Lynching Tree, but they we're as powerful.

I am not going to "review" or summarize the book here. I will say that Cone's description of the history of lynching in America is very difficult to read, but I'm glad I did. And I found his chapter on Reinhold Niebuhr pricked my soul. But, again, this is not a review or a summary; this is merely a testimony to the book's value. As others have recommended it to me, now I recommend it to others. If you've found yourself asking, "What is the point of the Gospel, and the Church, in times like this?" then I urge you to consider Cone's answer. 

John the Yogi?

Ernest Renan, in his small work Vie de Jésus made an interesting comment about John the Baptist:

From his infancy, John was Nazir—that is to say, subjected by vow to certain abstinences. The desert by which he was, so to speak, surrounded, early attracted him. He led there the life of a Yogi of India, clothed with skins or stuffs of camel’s hair, having for food only locusts and wild honey. A certain number of his disciples were grouped around him, sharing his life and studying his severe doctrine. We might imagine ourselves transported to the bans of the Ganges, if particular traits had not revealed in this recluse the last descendent of the great prophets of Israel.”
Life of Jesus translated by J.H. Holmes (New York: Random House, 1927), 136.
Portrait of Joseph Ernest Renan, by F. Mulnier. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Joseph Ernest Renan, by F. Mulnier. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

This Frenchman's depiction aimed at making John "exotic" (he wrote the book in 1863), a "Yogi of India" who we may imagine living by the Ganges. Also, he makes the claim that John was the last great prophet of Israel, contentious in itself. But these comments give us a fascinating window into some of the "life of Jesus" writers of that day.

The Cautious Tale of Reinhold Niebuhr

I won't say much here because what I want—really want—is to encourage others to read James Cone's The Cross and the Lynching Tree, especially in light of the one year mark since the murder of Mike Brown. But I do want to say that chapter 2 of this book, titled "'The Terrible Beauty of the Cross' and the Tragedy of the Lynching Tree: A Reflection on Reinhold Niebuhr", is one all "progressive" white American Christians ought to try to read. Niebuhr's failure to address racial inequality serves as a stern warning against "respectability politics" or "respectability theology", which is a great temptation for someone like myself, especially as I've tried to stay afloat in the world of academia. I presume that there are those like me who need Cone's message from that chapter.

That's all I want to say for the seven or eight of you who read this blog. 

Ferguson, a year later

I can't believe it's been a year since the murder of Mike Brown. I don't have anything insightful to say, but I do have a confession: This last year has shown me that my theology has failed. Many of the things I declared to be important to my Christianity seemed frail in light of all that has transpired since that fateful day in Ferguson, MO. I know I've been far slower to speak (which may surprise some, but its true), realizing I just don't know sometimes...make that most of the time. I feel like Job at the end of the book named after him: I sit stunned before a deity whose only answer to theodicy seems to be, "Sorry son, you couldn't comprehend the truth even if I told it to you." I've looked around at the theologians, scholars, and clergy who've I admired and seen that they're as low on solutions as I am. I've felt that the Churches and denominations into which I've put emotional and intellectual investment could merely offer me "insufficient funds" when I went back to these communities and traditions for ways to be a Christian in the United States at this point in time. I don't say this as a criticism, just a confession, one pointed inward more than outward. It says as much about me and how I've understood my Christianity as it does about anyone else or any institution or movement with which I've been affiliated.

I can't pretend like this has made me into a revolutionary. It hasn't. I see revolutionaries in news stories every week. I'm not one of them. I can merely hope to support them, to maybe follow their lead. I'd say I pray for them, but that seems empty at times. It's hard to ask the Creator to do something when many of us, myself included, barely act on what we know. I'm afraid to ask God to do something because God may turn that request right back toward me.

Anyways, enough about this narcissist. Thank you to my brothers and sisters, Christians and those of other faiths, or none at all, who've lived the type of theology I wish had been my own all along. I admire you and your work. I pray your vision for the world can become my own. I hope I can support you with my few resources. May the Creator Spirit be with you.

#RIPMikeBrown #BlackLivesMatter