Introducing Feminist Cultural Hermeneutics: An African Perspective

Introducing Feminist Cultural Hermeneutics: An African PerspectiveIntroducing Feminist Cultural Hermeneutics: An African Perspective by Misimbi R.A. Kanyoro
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting exploration of how culture affects religion, particularly approaches to the Bible, among African women. In this book Kanyoro reads the Book of Ruth with women from her home region and they provide interestingly different questions and comments based upon their cultural situations. I'll be teaching Ruth in Bible study and it will be interesting to use these questions and comments to discuss different perspectives.

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Boom Town

Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-class MetropolisBoom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-class Metropolis by Sam Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yes, Oklahoma City is a weird city, and here is an outsider affectionately chronicling some of that weirdness.

OKC was also an adopted city for me. I grew up in the NE corner of the state with Tulsa as more of my metropolis and in the 80's it was the far superior city to OKC. But I went to college 45 minutes from downtown OKC and ended up living 14 years in the metro area, 5 in OKC proper. And most of those other years of my life visiting regularly for the family and friends that live there.

The contemporary parts of the book are largely set in a time when we didn't live there and focus on the city's boosterism around the Thunder. But the chapters about the 80's and 90's are very familiar and the parts about the bombing and the May 3, 1999 tornadoes made me emotional.

I was surprised when I first saw a book about OKC being reviewed and reviewed glowingly in the national press. The work is as good as the reviews say.


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President Bush

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More than one congregant has asked me this week about President Bush, "Didn't you say once that he was your favorite President?"

Yes, I did.  And he is.  My favorite from my lifetime.  I deeply respected and admired him and this week have mourned his passing.  When on Saturday morning my husband informed me of the death, I began to weep and our preschool-aged son consoled me "That's sad."  Over the last few days I've shared stories with our son about George Herbert Walker Bush.

I grew up in a small town in northeastern Oklahoma where most local races were settled in the Democratic primary.  My family were New Deal Democrats like most of the people around us.  The only Republicans we knew were liberal Episcopalians.  

I had always had a fascination with politics.  Mom tells the story of my backing Jimmy Carter in the 1976 race as a toddler--I think it was because he was a peanut farmer and I loved peanut butter.  But it was finally as the 1988 primaries loomed that I became focused on presidential politics.  I followed that race very closely, at the beginning liking such candidates as Gary Hart, Paul Simon, Jack Kemp, and Al Gore.  

That was a great race to follow, especially as I was just beginning to form my political opinions.  There were 6 major candidates on both sides, and particularly in the GOP they each represented a wing of the party.  Bush, of course, emerged as the nominee.  I watched almost gavel-to-gavel coverage of both conventions that summer and weighed considerations between Governor Dukakis and Vice President Bush before deciding to support Bush.  

This was almost anathema to my Democrat family.  My Mom told me I couldn't be a Republican because we weren't rich.  

That autumn in our speech class Mrs. Webster assigned as a project that we create a scrapbook to follow the election.  I poured myself into that project and produced a final result that shocked Mrs. Webster in its detail and thoroughness, far exceeding the scope of the assignment.  Every day I poured through multiple papers and grabbed the major weekly magazines all to clip for the scrapbook which kept growing in size.

Also that autumn our speech class put on a mock presidential debate for a junior high assembly followed by a mock election among the students.  I was chosen to represent Vice President Bush, Ronnie Maple was Governor Dukakis, and Lance Reece was the moderator.  I remember that my main point was that Bush was the most qualified person to ever run for the office.  Bush won our mock election.

And, so, at 14, I became a Republican.  But a Bush Republican.  A moderate, New England, liberal Episcopalian sort of Republican.  And just at a point when the culture was shifting and that sort of Republican was about to decline and the place I had grown up would, in short order, become a bastion of Right Wing, Christian fundamentalist politics.  I assume most of the liberal Episcopalians in Miami, Oklahoma these days are not Republicans.  And I left the party in 2004 for its repeated hypocrisies.  

Bush's served as President during my high school years.  And I watched in admiration as all the accomplishments were achieved, particularly in foreign policy.  Many of my friends were still old school Democrats while others were these new Evangelical Republicans, so I found myself often defending Bush from attacks from the right and the left.  I loathed Newt Gingrich and the despicable ways he attacked Bush.

But I also noticed the weaknesses and failures, and have appreciated this week reading those criticisms as well as the honors.

In 1992 I could finally vote, and I voted for George H. W. Bush, despite the fact that many friends my age were supporting Bill Clinton.  Clinton repulsed me.  My roommate Matt Cox and I hung our American flag upside down as a sign of the nation in distress when the networks called the election for Clinton.  A few days later the university president sent the president of the College Republicans to ask us to turn it back rightside up.

I simply couldn't believe that a President who had accomplished what Bush had done and once enjoyed a 91% approval rating was losing to this inexperienced person of bad character, even if the economy was in a mild recession.  But I had also watched Bush squirm through the debates, clearly a figure from a different era, as politics and the media were changing (not for the better, of course).

My admiration has continued.  I read Bush and Scowcroft's book on the history of the administration, and Jon Meacham's good biography.  

Bush ran one of the most ethical administrations, firing people at even the hint of scandal.  He hired experts who were themselves admirable people, highly skilled.  My respect for folks like Scowcroft and Baker is as high as that for Bush.

But he was also highly ambitious and that led to a vicious 1988 campaign.  I didn't fully grasp how nasty it was at the time, but did upon later reflection.  He could at times be cynical and self-interested.  He and the members of the old elite he surrounded himself with were tone-deaf to many things, most notoriously racial issues, HIV/AIDS, and the LGBT community.  

Yet he also oversaw the largest expansion of civil rights in our history with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  He acted to eliminate acid rain, our greatest environmental achievement (remember he ran in 88 as "the Environmental President").  His budget compromise laid the groundwork for the economic successes of the 1990's.  Sadly his very good education bill languished in Congress.  And these are just among his domestic accomplishments.

But what matters most is that he was a person of character.  His character was rich and complex, including significant flaws and weaknesses, but also great strengths.  So watching yesterday's funeral, I thought of Hannah Arendt, who reveals that goodness has depth and dimension.  Evil is shallow and little.  

What we saw yesterday was a celebration of character, with depth and complexity.  George Herbert Walker Bush was a good man.


Judges: A Commentary

Judges (2008): A CommentaryJudges (2008): A Commentary by Susan Niditch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This autumn I've been teaching a Wednesday night Bible study on the Book of Judges. Judges is one of those texts I've done very little with in my ministry. Many of the stories are not suitable for Sunday morning preaching. But shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump, I decided that sometime I needed to teach on Judges, as its themes resonate with our moment--a search for effective and faithful leadership, a focus on the treatment of women, increasing violence. Often this semester the topics we have been discussing in the class have corresponded with items in the national news.

This commentary by Susan Niditch is quite good and was very helpful in teaching the class. I found her comments helped to make sense of the stories and gave insights that were applicable to my teaching needs.

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All Quite on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western FrontAll Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read this novel in 1994 as part of Western Civ in my sophomore year in college. With the centennial of Armistice Day last month, I decided to read it again. And more slowly this time, as it was assigned to read in three days back then.

At first I wasn't quite as engaged by it as I remembered, but then I was. It's even better than I remembered. And I openly wept at the close, though I knew full well how it would end.

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Wickedness

Wickedness (Routledge Classics)Wickedness by Mary Midgley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have not read Midgley before, but will definitely read more of her work. I appreciate the way she writes, including her wit, but mostly for the clear way it reveals a good, analytical mind at work.

This particular book has many keen and useful insights on human motivations and the way we get ourselves into trouble.

I did think the final chapters failed to drawn to any sort of grand conclusion, but her basic thesis--that we can explain (and therefore address) human wickedness by studying natural human motives--is one I agree with.

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Eluding Responsibility

I was drawn to some of philosopher Mary Midgley's comments on how we neglect our responsibilities in her book Wickedness.

The general recipe for inexcusable acts is neither madness nor a bizarre morality, but a steady refusal to attend both to the consequences of one's actions and to the principles involved.

And this

It seems clear that a great many of the worst acts actually done in the world are committed in the same sort of way in which the battlefields of the First World War were produced--by people who have simply failed to criticize the paths of action lying immediately before them.  Exploiters and oppressors, war-makers, executioners and destroyers of forests do not usually wear distinctive black hats, nor horns and hooves.  The positive motives which move them may not be bad at all; they are often quite decent ones like prudence, loyalty, self-fulfillment and professional conscientiousness.  The appalling element lies in the lack of the other motives which ought to balance these--in particular, of a proper regard for other people and of a proper priority system which would enforce it.  That kind of lack cannot be treated as a mere matter of chance.

Reading that chapter of the book left me musing on Trump as an example of what she was writing about.  Then that was clearer in a later chapter on "Selves and Shadows."

Influential psychopaths and related types, in fact, get their power not from originality, but from a perception of just what unacknowledged motives lie waiting to be exploited, and just what aspects of the world currently provide a suitable patch of darkness on to which they can be projected.

And this

To gain great political power, you must either be a genuinely creative genius, able to communicate new ideas very widely, or you must manage to give a great multitude permission for things which it already wants, but for which nobody else is currently prepared to give that permission.

 


Aggression in Children

An interesting discussion of the role of aggression in children in Mary Midgley's Wickedness.  

We have to consider realistically the part which mild, controlled aggression actually plays in human social life.  As with fear, it is probably best to start here by looking at the beahaviour of small children.  At this simple, primitive end of the spectrum, stimulated attack is a marked and essential part of play.  This is not because children are full of hatred and destruction.  It is because the sense of otherness, the contact with genuinely distinct personalities around them, fascinates them, and it is best conveyed by mild collision.  Laughter and other distancing devices safeguard the proceedings--but the wish to collide, to invade another's world, is a real one.  Without that contact, each child would be isolated.  Each needs the direct physical clash, the practical conviction that others as well as himself are capable both of feeling pain and of returning it.  Surprising though it may be, that interaction lies at the root of sympathy.  The young of other social animals play in the same mildly aggressive way, and derive the same sort of bond-forming effects from it.

Besides play, however, children also need at times more serious clashes.  Real disputes, properly expressed and resolved, seem essential for their emotional unfolding.  In this way they being to get a fuller sense of the independent reality of others.  They find that there is somebody at the other end.  They learn to control their own anger, to understand it and to reason themselves out of it.  A quarrel which is worked through and made up can be profoundly bond-forming.  But they need to feel anger before they can control it and to learn that it can sometimes be justified.  They learn the difference between justified and unjustified anger, and come to accept that justified anger in others can be the consequence of one's own bad conduct.  What they learn is thus not to eliminate anger and attack from their lives, but to use these things rightly.  And in adults, right up to the level of saints and heroes, this is an essential skill.  Mild, occasional anger is a necessary part of all social relations, and serious anger gives us, as I have suggested, a necessary range of responses to evil.  Our linked capacities for fear and anger--for fight and flight--form a positive organ to be used, not a malfunction.  This no more commits us to misusing it than our having feet commits us to kicking people.


Reading Midgley

 "To deny one's shadow is to lose solidity, to become something of a phantom. Self-deception about it may increase our confidence, but it surely threatens our wholeness."

A great quote from Mary Midgley,'s Wickedness.  I've never read Midgley before, but I am enjoying this book.  She has a very acute way of analyzing a topic and a sly but affectionate sense of humor in how she criticizes ideas.

Here is another passage I appreciated:

The keener we are to prevent evil, the more we need to be realistic about the difficulties.  Many cultures have expressed their sense of these difficulties by myths, painting our world as having something radically wrong with it.  In our own culture, this work has been done by the myth of the Fall.  Indignant rejection of this myth in recent times has been due to real misuses of it.  But the consequences of trying to do without any such notion may not have been fully understood.  There really is a deep, pervasive discrepancy between human ideals and human conduct.  In order to deal with this, we need to recognize it, not to deny it.


Muhammed Iqbal Day

Today, November 9, is Iqbal Day in Pakistan.  On a Facebook philosophy group I encountered this post about Iqbal and his philosophy, which delighted and interested me.

A few choice excerpts:

Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) would be the first to remind us that in the 21st century we have a very high calling: to exercise our inescapable freedom, in constructive ways, for the well-being of all, in a spirit of world loyalty.  By freedom Iqbal means decision-making: choosing among diverse possibilities in the immediacy of the moment, in the context of the wider web of life.  As creatures among creatures on a small but beautiful planet, decision-making is part of our very essence. From the day we are born, we carry within our bodies potentials for empathy and hatred, creativity and blind reproduction, cooperation and cruelty, respect and callousness, good and evil. We feel these potentials within our very being as promptings and urges, as affective lures. But it is we ourselves, not the urges, who actualize the urges – some of them so destructive and others so life-enhancing. Indeed, we actualize these potentials, again and again, individually and collectively.  

For Iqbal, the future does not come to us already settled, as a pre-existing order. We help create the future, moment by moment, by the decisions we make within our own context. Sometimes we make terrible decisions at great cost to others, ourselves, and the earth. And sometimes we make wonderful decisions, adding a beauty that did not exist beforehand. We can be agents of terror or wonder. Either way we are free.  Our noble calling is, for Iqbal, not simply to be free. It is to create futures that are good for people, other creatures, and the earth: to become, as the Qur’an puts it, vicegerents on a small but beautiful planet. This is what it means to be a human being and to be a Muslim. It is to accept and live from the calling to add goodness and beauty to the world.  

***

so must we, in the name of an all-embracing principle of creational dignity persuade our fellows to transcend narrow and parochial interests in the quest for spiritual democracies in which people live with care and respect for each other and other creatures. 

I think our most important current project at Americans is restoring community by building relationships through institutions of civic engagement.  So, for example, this week I attended a meeting of mostly LGBTQ people getting an update on an assessment of the needs of our local LGBTQ community that we might better targeting our funding.  Later I attended a meeting organized by mostly moderate clergy, new to activism and advocacy, looking to unite Christian clergy in response to racial and religious hostility.  I also taught, in our local Catholic university, about how we respond to a world of uncertainty--through fear or with a sense of adventure.  And I attended a variety of events related to my service on the Salvation Army Advisory Board, where a number of the folk, including the Salvationists, are significantly more conservative than I am.  But I'm enjoying my time on that board.  Reading this blog post about Iqbal helped me more fully understand the fun I had this week.


Novum Organon

The Novum Organon, Or A True Guide To The Interpretation Of NatureThe Novum Organon, Or A True Guide To The Interpretation Of Nature by Francis Bacon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book I on Bacon's Novum Organon is an enjoyable and insightful discussion of induction and the new science that he proposed to replace Aristotle and Medieval approaches to knowledge. I particularly liked his discussion of the "idols of the mind."

Book II was an application of the new method to the scientific ideas of his time, thus not very engaging and something to skim through.

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