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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Rising Strong

Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and LeadRising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing my Season of Grieving, Healing, and Growth I decided to finally read this book. I had planned to for a long time mostly as an academic exercise in order to understand why it was so popular and what people were finding in it. Now in my own period of relationship breakdown, I read it as part of my grappling with what has happened and what I need to do going forward. In that it was quite helpful in compelling reflection and giving some tools I need.

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The International LGBT Rights Movement

The International LGBT Rights Movement: A HistoryThe International LGBT Rights Movement: A History by Laura A. Belmonte
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I met Laura Belmonte when we were both LGBT rights activists on the front lines in Oklahoma in the Aughts. She was a professor at Oklahoma State University who helped organize advocacy organizations in Tulsa and statewide, while I was a pastor and activist in Oklahoma City. She's now the Dean of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech.

This book is the first international history of the LGBT rights movement. And Laura does a marvelous job of covering all the major movements, turning points, and trends. I can imagine she had material for a much larger book than the editors and publishers provided, and that would have been engaging as well.

I've always been very focused on local activism wherever I've lived, rarely engaging much in larger national efforts. So it was insightful to see how the work I've done has participated in and been influenced by these global efforts.

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