Take Courage

Take Courage

Haggai 2:1-5

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

13 June 2021

            In her latest best-selling memoir Untamed, Glennon Doyle writes about “the cost of living a brave, openhearted life.”

            She writes,

            I am a human being, meant to be in perpetual becoming.  If I am living bravely, my entire life will become a million deaths and rebirths.  My goal is not to remain the same but to live in such a way that each day, year, moment, relationship, conversation, and crisis is the material I use to become a truer, more beautiful version of myself.  The goal is to surrender, constantly, who I just was in order to become who this next moment calls me to be.  I will not hold on to a single existing idea, opinion, identity, story, or relationship that keeps me from emerging new.  I cannot hold too tightly to any riverbank.  I must let go of the shore in order to travel deeper and see farther.  Again and again and then again.  Until the final death and rebirth.  Right up until then.

            Glennon Doyle rose to fame first as an evangelical mommy blogger and memoirist who developed a large following of readers, primarily other evangelical moms.  Over time she organized her audience into a massive philanthropy.  And she kept evolving.  Four years ago, I was surprised that she was one of the keynote speakers of our United Church of Christ General Synod.  At the time I’d never heard of her, not falling into the evangelical mommy demographic myself.

            But by then Glennon had radically altered her life.  She had divorced her husband, fallen in love with and married the soccer great Aby Wambaugh, left evangelicalism and joined Naples UCC (which is pastored by my friend Dawson Taylor), and awoken to social justice activism.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed her talk at General Synod and then heard her again at the Iowa Conference meeting in 2018. 

            This latest memoir recounts how she so radically transformed her life and the spiritual and emotional resources she drew upon to live a brave, openhearted, untamed life. 

            She claims that transformation is always on-going and that we must develop the ability to courageously let go of the past in order to move openly into the future.  This work is not easy either spiritually or emotionally.  But wholehearted living is the result of overcoming our fears and living courageously.

            The prophet Haggai proclaims in his oracle that the people are to take courage and not fear.  They are to be strong, but it is an emotional and not a physical strength that is called for.  What they need is spiritual courage to complete the task of rebuilding the Temple.  And the prophet is the one encouraging them with vision, hope, and inspiration.  [A note: my interpretation of this passage relies heavily upon the commentary by Carol and Eric Meyers.]

            Last week we read the proclamation of the Persian emperor Cyrus allowing the Jewish people to return to Judea and to rebuild Jerusalem.  But now a number of years have passed and the restoration has not yet been accomplished.  Now under a new Persian emperor, Darius, and a new Jewish governor, Zerubbabel, the work is renewed, largely at the instigation of Haggai and his oracles of encouragement.

            When the people returned to Jerusalem they faced many challenges—rebuilding a society, providing for themselves, acquiring resources, fending off opponents, and more.  The rebuilding of the Temple had started but not been completed.  And so Haggai, much like the old prophets before him, receives a word from God that he then proclaims to the people.  And this is a call to take up the work again, to rebuild the temple, and to see it to completion.

            And it seems that Haggai was successful.  Because of his preaching, the rebuilding began anew and it was completed in a short time and the new Temple was dedicated.  Some scholars believe that the written book of Haggai which we have today was prepared for the dedication ceremony and was read aloud as a reminder to the people of who and what had inspired them to do the work.

            Part of the task of the prophets was to help people comprehend their experiences, including the suffering and trauma they had encountered.  And then to help them to face the challenging tasks of restoration.  In order to do that, Haggai had to ease their uncertainty, help to clarify their world, and then provide hope.  From this the people would develop the emotional strength to carry on this work. 

            The passage I read a moment ago from the Book of Haggai most scholars believe came a few months into the work on the Temple, when people began to see what they were building and began to have doubts and to lose their energy and focus.  The purpose of this oracle was to inspire them to keep at the task, to renew their energy.

            And so Haggai raises a question.  It seems that as the people have watched the new Temple arise from the ruins of the old one that they’ve begun to question its glory.  Surely the new Temple does not match the glory of the old Temple built by Solomon.

            Now, at first glance this seems to be about a physical comparison.  That some in the crowd believe that this new building isn’t as grand and beautiful as the old one.  But we would misunderstand this proclamation if we understood the question this way. 

            The fact is, it is very unlikely that anyone physically present at this rebuilding of the Temple would have seen and remembered the old one.  It had been almost 70 years since the old Temple was burned.  And life expectancies in this era, especially of a traumatized, exiled people, were not that long.  Almost two full generations, according to the ancient reckoning, had passed.  So maybe the workers’ grandparents had seen the Temple?

            What’s more, almost none of those grandparents would have seen anything but the exterior.  Only the priests could enter the Temple building and only the High Priest into the Holy of Holies.  Even the old Temple of Solomon was rather plain on the outside.  The ornamentation and the gold, silver, and bronze embellishments were mostly on the inside.  So, any physical comparison is highly unlikely, except that maybe the people have read about the original Temple and what they see rising around them doesn’t fit the description?

            It’s also the case that by the time the Babylonians burned the Temple, much of its treasures were long gone, stolen by various other invading armies over the centuries.  So even before the conquest of Jerusalem, the Temple had long not been as glorious as what the ancient historians recorded at the time of Solomon.

            So, what might the people have in mind if they were grumbling about it not matching a former glory?  Carol and Eric Meyers, in their commentary, point out that the people would remember that the old Temple had been a part of the royal complex of Jerusalem.  It had been imagined by King David and built by his son Solomon.  Their royal descendants maintained the Temple.  And stories of kings are often connected with the Temple, like the restoration of the Temple in the reign of the boy king Josiah.

            What is different this time is that Judea has no king.  No king is building this Temple, the people are.  No king has conquered other territories and is bringing back their riches to adorn the Temple.  There aren’t the great trade alliances of the past, by which goods and artisans arrive in the city to help with construction.  The new Temple, then doesn’t reflect the royal and national glory that the people once had.  They are not independent, they are ruled by a vast empire headquartered far away, and they are but a small and lowly piece of a much larger puzzle. 

            And, so, the challenge for the prophet Haggai is to inspire the people to find glory in a new way.  Not in the old ways of the kingdom.  In fact, Haggai has already engaged in a bold act of people-making.  He has already inspired and organized the people to do something that they once relied upon a monarch to do.  They are building the Temple. 

            Haggai is forming a new national identity, centered not on a monarch or a political structure, but around religious faith and moral demands.  A new Jewish identity focused on God.  And as such, Haggai is vital to the develop of Judaism throughout the millennia, helping to turn it from only the faith of a small ethnic group, into a global faith focused on religious practice and moral living.

            Haggai had a universal vision.  He basically tells the people—“If you build it, they will come.”  He believes that once the Temple is built, God will use it as an instrument to bring the world together in peace and abundance.  The Temple will become the center not of a new, small nation, but of an international community of peace.

            And God will bring this about.  Because God is not only the sovereign of the Jewish people but is the divine ruler of all.  No matter how good, wise, and benevolent the Persian emperors Cyrus and Darius are, God’s rule is even better.  Here is how the Meyerses describe this idea in their commentary on the passage:

The well-being for which the [Jews] yearn will become available to them, but not only to them.  In the future time, when other nations recognize [God’s] universal rule, those nations too will achieve well-being.  The power of [God] as universal ruler will not be exploitative.  In contrast to human emperors, [God] will establish universal plenty.

            It is this vision that Haggai says the Temple represents, not a restoration of what had once been, but a transformation into something new, bold, and wonderful.  So, take courage,  people, for God is doing something new here and you get to be a part.

            To help us take courage against our fears, Glennon Doyle shares one of her mantras, that she finds particularly helpful in parenting her children.  She tells them, “This is a hard thing to do.  We can do hard things.” 

            Haggai is saying something similar to his people.  And I think it’s a powerful message for us.  In the midst of fear and uncertainty, when we too face the crises of life, we can keep our vision focused on restoration and transformation and take the courageous action necessary to rebuild and renew. 

            Because God is with us.  God’s Spirit fills us with divine power and divine glory.  This presence is the source of our courage.

            So, we too can do hard things.


Go Up

Go Up

2 Chronicles 36:22-23

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

6 June 2021

Let’s back up.

A generation before this moment we just read about, the armies of the Babylonian Empire, under the infamous King Nebuchadnezzar, invaded the Kingdom of Judah, conquered it’s people, and took control of Jerusalem.  The Babylonians took the Jewish King Jeconiah hostage and along with a significant portion of the nation’s elite, carried them away into exile. into the Babylonian heartland of Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq. 

Nebuchadnezzar appointed a puppet government over Judea.  Eventually the puppet king Zedekiah rebelled and the Babylonian armies returned.  After a long siege of the city of Jerusalem, the Babylonians defeated the Jews.  Then they tore down the city walls, burned the Temple, executed the king’s family, blinded him and carried him off to prison where he died.  More people were taken to Babylon, and only a small, poor remnant of people remained in the land, which was reduced to a province of the great empire.

Meanwhile, in exile in Babylon, Jewish culture seized the moment of trauma and in a bold act of resilience their culture thrived.  Ezekiel had visions of the bones of the defeated Jews being brought back to life by God’s Spirit.  He imagined a new temple, restored and glorious.  The poet Second Isaiah dreamed of a day when all the nations of the world would stream to a new Jerusalem, a city of peace. 

Poets, songwriters, historians, religious scholars, prophets all began to dream and to tell stories and to write.  They looked back on the ancient stories of Abraham’s journeys, of the Exodus from Egypt, of David’s establishment of the kingdom.  And in those stories they found hope and tools to survive and ideas for the future. 

And they waited for the day when they might return again to the land and rebuild their society and worship God in freedom.

In rather shocking, quick order that day came.  Babylon, the once great empire that had commanded most of the near east, collapsed quickly before the armies of the Persian emperor Cyrus.  Nabonidus, the last of the Babylonian kings, was so disliked by his own people, that they did welcome the Persians.

And Cyrus was something of a messianic figure, honored as such even by the Book of Isaiah.  For Cyrus took a different approach than the empire builders before him.  The old Assyrian Empire had built itself through ethnic cleansing and genocide.  When they conquered a nation, they removed most of its people and spread them through the empire and moved new people into the homes and cities of the defeated nations.  In doing so they wiped from history many of the ancient peoples, including the northern kingdom of Israel and its lost ten tribes.  The Babylonians were not quite as fierce, but kept something of the same idea in their kidnapping of a country’s elites.

But Cyrus, he and the Persians took a different approach.  They respected the diversity of their empire’s peoples, their cultures and faiths.  They left people groups intact and allowed them to continue their religious practices and granted some autonomy in how they organized themselves.  And, so, one way Cyrus gained favor over his new subjects was to allow those who were in exile to return to their homelands and re-establish themselves.  And, thus, the Hebrew Scriptures honor Cyrus as an agent of God, creating the opportunity for the people to return home.

And so, after a generation, they were able to Go up to Jerusalem once again.  But the Jews of Babylon didn’t all rush to return.  In fact, they never all left.  The Jewish community of Babylon and eventually Baghdad was one of the centers of Jewish intellectual life well into the Middle Ages and a remnant of that community remained well into the modern age. 

The first group to return to Judea was led by Shesh-bazzar and probably included the bravest, the most daring, and those with little to lose.  It took many years and multiple waves of return under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah before the new Jerusalem and the new Judea began to take shape.  It is this story of restoration which we explore this summer in our worship.

A few years ago we followed the first part of this story—the conquests of Israel and Judah, the people being led into Exile, the formation of a new people through resilience after trauma.  At the time we always intended to tell the second part of the story, and this year seems fitting, as we too have gone through our own collective traumas with the global pandemic, the racial uprising and reckoning, the insurrection.  We are also in a time of restoration, taking our first stumbles out into a new normal, some of us with eager fascination and some with great anxiety and trepidation.  All of this while the dangers are still present, and we aren’t quite sure what the new normal will look like.  Or whether our society will muster the political and cultural will to heal and rebuild and restore, creating something better than what we’ve known before.  So, we turn to these ancient stories looking for tools and ideas and spiritual connection.

Healing from trauma begins with the ability to tell our story and have it listened to by a compassionate person.  And so the stories of ancient Judea are their attempts at this process of healing and resilience. 

According to Serene Jones, healing from trauma involves three stages—first, establishing our safety; secondly, remembering and mourning; and finally, reconnecting with ordinary life.   We will encounter each of these in the ancient stories.  And all of us have been moving through those stages, and we are at different places along the journey.

One of the more popular writers and spiritual guides of our time is Brené Brown.  In her bestselling book Rising Strong she writes about how we go up again.  She says, “Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness in our lives; it’s the process that teaches us the most about who we are.”  She says that it is this process which tests our courage and forges our values.

In her research, Brown has identified a three stage process involved in rising strong from a fall.  It begins with a reckoning, particularly a reckoning with our emotions.  She writes, “Recognize emotion, and get curious about our feelings and how they connect with the way we think and behave.” 

This first step can be a difficult and tricky process, because we have so often been trained to suppress or ignore our emotions.  Which is why often this work requires professional help. 

This stage also involves listening to our bodies, which teach us so much about what we are feeling.  Even when we are trying to ignore an emotion, it will often manifest itself as an ache or a pain within our bodies.  Being aware of our physicality and the ways our bodies keep the score, is an important part of emotional maturity and wholehearted living.

As we read these stories this summer, listen for the ways they deal with emotions.  Today’s brief passage, for instance, exults with joy and celebration.  Let’s also be aware of our own emotions and pay attention to our bodies and what they are telling us, as we begin to move into this new normal.

According to Brown, the second stage of the rising strong process is to rumble with our stories.  Here’s what she says about that fun word “rumble”—“By rumble, I mean they get honest about the stories they’ve made up about their struggles and they are willing to revisit, challenge, and reality-check these narratives as they dig into topics such as boundaries, shame, blame, resentment, heartbreak, generosity, and forgiveness.”

So, step two isn’t easy either!  Learning to rumble well with topics like shame and resentment and forgiveness can take a lifetime of spiritual work.  In another of her books, she writes, “When we have the courage to walk into our story and own it, we get to write the ending.  And when we don’t own our stories of failure, setbacks, and hurts—they own us.”  So, yes, it’s not easy work, but it is vital work.

And remember: we are beloved children of God, with amazing minds and souls, empowered by the Holy Spirit, filled with amazing grace, and radiant with glory.  We are capable of growing into our best selves.

Our ancient forebears had to do the serious spiritual work of rumbling with their stories.  They didn’t always succeed at creating something better, as we will see.  Sometimes they failed and created more trauma.  Let’s learn from that as we rumble with our stories.

The final stage of the rising strong process, according to Brené Brown, is the revolution.  She describes it as writing “a new ending to our story based on the key learnings from our rumble.”  And that we then “use this new, braver story to change how we engage with the world and to ultimately transform the way we live, love, parent, and lead.”

And it is this ability to rise strong from failure that leads to wholehearted lives.

That’s our goal, isn’t it?  How to rise up from our pandemic experience better, whole, joyful, and glorious?

            In ancient Babylon a few, brave, intrepid souls heard the call of God in the proclamation of the emperor Cyrus to “Go up.”  They traveled to a place that required vision and hard work if it was to be transformed and restored. 

            In our own lives, may we too rise strong and hear God’s call to go up, to be restored, to become our best selves.


What Does This Mean?

What Does This Mean?

Acts 2:1-21

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

23 May 2021

            One Sunday in 1819 in the city of Philadelphia, at the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, guest preacher Reverend Richard Williams was struggling to preach the sermon he had prepared and found himself unable to go on.  In the silence that followed, suddenly a woman in the congregation stood up and began to preach.  Her name was Jarena Lee, and what she was doing was not allowed.

            Jarena Lee was born to a free black family in Cape May, New Jersey in 1783.  In 1807 she had a series of religious experiences in which she heard the voice of God calling her preach.  As she recorded it in her autobiography:

But to my utter surprise, there seemed to sound a voice which I thought I distinctly heard, and most certainly understood, which said to me, “Go preach the Gospel!” I immediately replied aloud, “No one will believe me.” Again I listened, and again the same voice seemed to say—“Preach the Gospel; I will put words in your mouth, and will turn your enemies to become your friends.”

            When she received this call, Jarena Lee approached the AME bishop and founder of the denomination Richard Allen.  Allen dissuaded her, because women weren’t allowed to preach.

            And so Jarena Lee went about her life, getting married and working.  Until that Sunday when the guest preacher couldn’t continue, and she decided to stand up and preach the sermon herself.

            What happened next?

            Well, Bishop Allen was in the congregation that day.  And to his great enduring credit, Bishop Allen realized in that moment that Jarena Lee was called of God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach.  Following that service, he authorized her to preach, making her the first black woman to receive such authorization.  Lee then became a popular preacher of the Second Great Awakening, traveling thousands of miles each year to preach hundreds of sermons in churches and revivals and camp meetings.  Then, in the 1830’s, she published two editions of her autobiography, leaving a written record of her spiritual experience and her ministry.

            In her autobiography we find these words from the Bible:

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;

your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

your old men shall dream dreams,

and your young men shall see visions.

On the male and female slaves,

in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Jarena Lee underlined that important word “all.” 

Anglican priest Caitlin Carmichael-Davis imagines how those words resonated with Jarena Lee.  Carmichael-Davis writes, “As she reads these words, Lee is transformed, and the world around her suddenly looks different. No longer defined by hierarchies and division, each person has the dignity as a child of God, and the responsibility to embody Christ in the world.”

            The contemporary theologian J. Kameron Carter, reflecting on the meaning of Jarena Lee, writes that “To enter Christ’s flesh through the Holy Spirit’s pentecostal overshadowing is to exit the gendered economy and protocols of modern racial reasoning.”

            Jarena Lee was a poor black woman living in a time and place when poor black women had almost no social standing and were the victims of many intersecting oppressions and injustices.  Yet, Jarena Lee had a spiritual experience from which she did not allow those oppressions to define her.  She would not be confined to her society’s expectations for women or for people of color.  She knew herself to be a beloved child of God, called of God, and filled with the power and authority of the Holy Spirit.  Her bold speaking was itself an act of breaking the demonic powers of patriarchy and white supremacy.

            Carter writes that “the Spirit of Christ is the architect of a new mode of life together” in the church.  And that new mode, “transfigures social reality” by inviting all people to join in fellowship in the body of Christ.  Thus, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost breaks down the barriers that divide and separate us, creating the opportunity for something new to be fashioned.

            Kameron Carter writes of Jarena Lee that what she “has literally done . . . is broaden the reach of Christ’s historical, bodily existence so as to understand her own existential and historical moment as an articulation of Christ’s own life and way of being in the world.  It is her understanding of Pentecost as part and parcel of the economy of Christ’s bodily existence that allows her to accomplish this.”

            She is a Holy Spirit-gifted minister, a part of the Body of Christ, and, thus, she is joined in fellowship with all other people.  And she too becomes a physical embodiment of the Spirit of Christ, meaning that her experience as a poor black woman in antebellum America is a part of the experience of Christ’s incarnation in the world.  Her bold act of preaching is itself one more moment in the history of the world where the Holy Spirit breaks forth, much like it did that day in Jerusalem when Peter and the disciples experienced wind and flame and speaking in strange languages.  The Holy Spirit continues to break down barriers and pour herself out onto all flesh, so that God’s dream of a new world, united in peace and love might come to fruition.

            That’s part of what this ancient story means.  The Pentecost story is about God’s invasion of our social world and our history in order to create something new.  The wind that blew that day is like the wind that blew at the Creation of the earth from the story in Genesis.  That wind is still blowing, that original Spirit is still hovering, God is still speaking new things into being. 

            And the Pentecost movement of the Spirit didn’t end that day in Jerusalem when Peter preached, it continues to move through human history, breaking forth in new and surprising ways as the Spirit gives voice to all flesh.  And so we humans keep playing catch up to realize that God is speaking from black voices and indigenous voices and female voices and disabled voices and gay and lesbian voices and transgender and genderqueer and non-binary voices and none of us know what voices God will start speaking in next that the church might spend time arguing over rather than absorbing fully the lesson of this ancient story that God’s Spirit is poured out on all flesh.

            Willie James Jennings writes:

The same Spirit that was there from the beginning, hovering, brooding in the joy of creation of the universe and of each one of us, who knows us together and separately in our most intimate places, has announced the divine intention through the Son, to reach into our lives, and make each life a site of speaking glory.

            Imagine that!  Our lives a “site of speaking glory!”  Hallelujah!

            But how does that happen?  Jennings explains, “But this will require bodies that reach across massive and real boundaries, cultural, religious, and ethnic.  It will require a . . . devotion to peoples unknown and undesired.”  To love oor neighbor, as Jesus taught us.  Yet now we realize that the love of neighbor isn’t just about kindness and hospitality, but about the Holy Spirit empowered formation of a new humanity.

            Jennings explains that the Holy Spirit is living inside of us, sharing with us God’s own desire.  And, he writes, “that desire has the power to press through centuries of animosity and hatred and beckon people to want one another and envision lives woven together.”  What the church needs, he writes, is “people of faith who will yield to the Spirit in this present moment.”  People who will allow God’s desire for union and peace to fill us with love and hope so that we enter into each other’s lives and break down the barriers that segregate us from one another.

            Let’s be those Pentecostal people.  Filled with God’s desire for a new humanity and empowered by the Spirit to create a new world of peace and love.

            And, so, what does this Pentecost story mean?  I’ll let Willie James Jennings answer for us:

The Holy Spirit has come.  Joining has begun.  This is the real meaning.


Jesus in Asia

Jesus in AsiaJesus in Asia by R.S. Sugirtharajah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The Asian quest for Jesus did not see him as a unique person, but perceived him as one who was engaged in work similar to that of the Asian seers, and welcomed him and such teachers 'as God's revelation in history.'"

Sugirtharajah writes about a number of Asian Jesus scholars whose contributions have been overlooked by the Western theological academy. Some of these Asian scholars were Christians, but some of them were Hindo, Jain, or Buddhist and were writing about Jesus from those religious perspectives.

Much of the material was completely new to me. I was very fascinated by the chapter on Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan's work on Jesus from a Hindu perspective. Sugirtharajah writes that for Radhakrishnan "what was attractive about Jesus . . . was his ability to awaken an awareness of the divine in oneself." Radhakrishnan saw Jesus in the tradition of the Upanishads.

I learned the most from the chapter on the Korean theologian Ahn Byung Mu. Ahn argued that to understand Jesus you had to understand who he kept company with and the status of those people in their society. Here's an example of Ahn's ideas as discussed by Sugirtharajah:

"What counted most were the lifestyle choices Jesus had made, such as forgoing all material possessions and securities of life, cutting himself off from family attachments, and more crucially, overturning the value system so that those who exalted themselves were humbled, and the humble were exalted."

One common theme among all these Asian scholars is emphasizing that Jesus was Asian and should be interpreted in the broader context of Asian religious culture rather than the Hellenistic and Roman interpretations because Jesus rejected and seemed to have so little in common with those cultures.

In the conclusion Sugirtharajah uses these scholars as a means of criticizing the search for an historical Jesus and identifying how even Western academic approaches are emotional, imaginative constructs--"The so-called historical Jesus is invariably an idealized picture drawn from the interpreter's fancy and from fads."

But what we learn from these Asian scholars is that maybe we shouldn't center our faith on the history of one individual person. Rather, shouldn't we focus on the values Jesus taught and the kind of life he modeled as a way of awakening spirituality within humanity?

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Freedom in the Making of Western Culture

Freedom: Freedom In The Making Of Western CultureFreedom: Freedom In The Making Of Western Culture by Orlando Patterson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a remarkable achievement.

One is impressed by the sheer breadth of this work. The number of disciplines in which Patterson is well read, evidences understanding, and is able to synthesize--sociology, history, philosophy, classics, literature, theology, biblical studies. His chapters on Saint Paul demonstrate that he had read some of what at the time were the leading scholars on Paul and scholarship that was then new and paradigm shifting, but before the paradigm had fully shifted. One would expect someone not an expert in a field to only know the conventional understanding not the latest groundbreaking ideas.

One is also impressed by his analytical abilities, the way he structures an argument, and the eloquence he musters.

And there is the power and originality of his theses, the core one of which is that freedom, the central value of the Western world, is intimately tied to the history of slavery. And that the dark side of freedom has been carried into contemporary debates.

Other of this theses are also original and compelling, such as that it was women who first prioritized freedom and women who elevated personal freedom again at the close of the Middle Ages and the dawning of modernity.

A truly remarkable book.

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The Ornament of the World

The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval SpainThe Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by María Rosa Menocal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An enjoyable read about Medieval Spain and the ways in which the three monotheistic faiths interacted with one another and created one of the world's great and most influential cultures. The approach may be a bit romanticized, but who cares. We need to highlight those positive moments in world history that give us glimpses of what is possible.

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The World Come of Age

The World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation TheologyThe World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation Theology by Lilian Calles Barger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A very thorough intellectual history that situates the first generation of liberation theologians within their context, demonstrating the various streams of thought that gave rise to this hemisphere-wide movement and how it responded to the immediate concerns facing oppressed peoples. The end of the book evaluates the movement, show how it did not achieve its stated aims of a revolution of the political order, but that it has had broad influence throughout the Americas and far beyond theology.

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The Body Keeps the Score

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of TraumaThe Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In one week back in January three different people in three different settings referenced this book. So I decided I needed to read it as part of my Season of Grieving, Healing, and Growth. It did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded expectations.

There is much wisdom and much to learn in the book. Enough that I'll need to use it as a resource to return to. I can see it being helpful both personally and professionally for me. And I know I will recommend it to many people.

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Inland

InlandInland by Téa Obreht
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two narratives of the American west, one a little more traditional though still unique and the other quite original. The more traditional story is of a mother in Arizona enduring a drought and trying to defend and provide for her family and homestead. This narrative occurs over the course of one day, but with many backstories to explain the myriad characters of this small town going through change. There are ghosts, visions, and fears of a wild beast, so this story has its features unique to a Western.

The other story is about a Middle Eastern immigrant who becomes involved in the Camel Corps of the US Army. This story draws upon a historical reality, but an unfamiliar one. While a Middle easterner on a camel riding the West is unique, there are traditional elements in this story--the lawman spending his life hunting a criminal, the woman who provides comfort and refuge for a time, journeys across the varied landscapes. At least one violent section of this story resonates with something out of Cormac McCarthy.

I found the novel enjoyable and marvelous. A fascinating perspective on a traditional American genre written by an immigrant from Yugoslavia.

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Conscious Uncoupling

Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even AfterConscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even After by Katherine Woodward Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Life has broken you open and it is violently, mercilessly forcing you to evolve, to develop, and to grow."

I saw this book linked in an article last week, ordered it, and then read it in one afternoon and evening. I only wish I'd read it two months ago.

When we first decided to divorce I was intent on making it a good and healing process. I felt alone in that idea. It was so refreshing to realize that there is a body of work trying to help make that more of a common reality.

There is much that I identified with in this book. Much that I found helpful. And some stuff that is really challenging. Now I'll have to go back through and work with the questions and exercises it offers.

If your relationship is having serious difficulties, if your relationship is ending or has recently ended, or if you are still grieving a painful ending, I recommend this.

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Music: A Subversive History

Music: A Subversive HistoryMusic: A Subversive History by Ted Gioia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A really fun read. Gioia advances a few key theses in this history of music--that music is deeply connected to magic, that music is deeply connected to violence, that musical innovations are created by outsiders and eventually mainstreamed by the power structure. The latter means that he doesn't accept some of the standard histories that claim some prominent political or church leader introduced some innovation and he goes looking for where the ideas really came from. He's got a thesis as to why drums were not prominent in early country music, and it ties back to the prehistoric move from hunting to herding cultures. He defends universal aspects of music (arguing with ethnomusicologists) and often the common thread that connects geographically diverse cultures with similar music is the animals they kept. This is full of fun, provocative ideas and stories.

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