- What I'm currently, actually reading
* The Bible
* The Christian Century magazine
* The Stuff of Thought, Steven Pinker
* Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero
- What I've actually finished (I may cheat on this category a bit to include books read earlier that are still on my "highly recommended" list.)
* Evoking Change, Anna S. Christie
* The Road Home, Rose Tremain
* Exit Music, Ian Rankin
* The EQ Edge, Steven Stein and Howard Book
* Tomorrow, Graham Swift
* The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doige
* The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton
* Hurry Less, Worry Less at Christmastime, Judy Pace Christie
- What is partially read and/or waiting to be read and/or is gathering dust under my bed
* Deer Hunting with Jesus, Joe Bageant
* Emotional Intelligence; Primal Leadership; and Social Intelligence, (3 different books) Daniel Goleman
* Essence Prayer, Ruth Burrows
What I'm Currently Actually Reading
The Bible. I am a minister after all. This one has got to be on the list. I still find this amazing, complex and difficult book to be full of surprises and wonders. Highly recommended.
The Christian Century magazine, www.christiancentury.org. It's American and $100/year, but worth the value for staying current on US news and trends. From my perspective it is both politically liberal and theological conservative.
The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, Steven Pinker. A Christmas present from my kids. I'm not sure how I'll manage with reading a linguist, but the opening paragraph in the Preface has piqued my interest:
There is a theory of space and time embedded in the way we use words. There is a theory of matter and a theory of causality too. Our language has a model of sex in it (actually, two models), and conceptions of intimacy and power and fairness. Divinity, degradation, and danger are also ingrained in our mother tongue, together with a conception of well-being and a philosophy of free will. ... Though these ideas are woven into language, their roots are deeper than language itself. They lay out the ground rules for how we understand our surroundings, how we assign credit and blame to our fellows, and how we negotiate our relationships with them. A closer look at our speech ... can therefore give us insight into who we are.
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero. You gotta love a born again, evangelical, charismatic pastor who quotes John of the Cross. Peter is the founding pastor of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York City. New Life is "a multiracial, multiethnic community committed to bridging racial, cultural, economic and gender barriers, and to serving the poor and marginalized." You gotta love that too. Peter is linking together insights into "emotional intelligence" (in his case learned from PAIRS), and contemplative prayer practices.
Actually Finished Reading
Evoking Change, by Anna Christie. (Disclaimer: Anna Christie is a colleague and friend.) Anna's book is written with wit and style; filled with helpful asides, personal anecdotes and wisdom, and real life illustrations.
Anna describes in clear detail "how to be the change you want in the world." Her description makes plain why being that change is so darn difficult; why the inner emotional work that is needed is so scary, and why it is so difficult to think through and change personal behavioural patterns. This is a much needed correction to the too-frequent, "(pick a number between 3 and 10) Quick and Easy Steps to a Better Life," self-help titles that flood book store shelves. Anna does describe how to develop emotional maturity, but is realistic about the life-long nature of this process.
The book is an exploration of what Anna calls the "Leadership Trinity:"
- Emotional Maturity (a.k.a. Emotional Intelligence)
- Meaningful Connected
The section on Emotional Intelligence introduces up to date research on how the brain (and the rest of the body) experiences emotions, and in particular, how the emotions can and do impair the thinking, analyzing, logical processes of the brain.
The sections on Meaningfully Connected and Self-Defined are a helpful introduction and summary from the fields of leadership, communications, and emotive therapy.
However, Anna's unique and powerful contribution is her application of the Leadership Trinity to Systems Thinking. Anyone in a leadership position who wonders why things are constantly being sabotaged and they are personally attacked for leading needed and constructive change would be will advised to memorize this part of the book.
As I said at the outset, I know Anna personally and enjoyed the personal style she uses. I found it helpful to be monitoring my own personal emotional reactions as I read. The personal nature of her writing evokes the desire for imitation, and the responses of comparison and competition. It is clearly not Anna's intention that we should all imitate her to try and become little Anna's. Quite the opposite! But since imitation is a primary means of learning new behaviours, values, etc. the process of "Imitation Intelligence" also needs to be clearly developed: How can I learn from Anna to be a better leader myself without falling into the trap of comparing my leadership with hers? More examples of how other people have exercised good leadership would have helped strengthen an excellent book.
The Road Home, by Rose Tremain. A wonderfully drawn character, Lev. The final sentence beautifully sums it up: "Something wild and beautiful and full of woe."
Exit Music, Ian Rankin. John Rebus is retiring! Say it isn't so. As usual a great tale with several threads that wind - and unwind - as the book unfolds.
However, given the sensitivity that Rankin has previously shown about racism, sexism, patriotism and class issues, I was a bit startled to see a ham fisted, clumsy use of a religious stereotype at the end of the book. (Pages 374-77)
If Rankin had actually done any serious research - hell, if he had even actually talked with one average Evangelical Christian - he would not have used:
But then there are different types of Christians ... and I'd say you tend towards the Old Testament variety -- eye for an eye and all that.
(John Rebus speaking to Todd Goodyear, pages 374f.)
Rankin has already developed enough motivations for Goodyear's actions. This is totally unnecessary to the plot and uses a slanderous stereotype.
If Rankin had bothered to check it out, I'm sure he would have found that 99.9% of all Christians - even, perhaps, especially - the more conservative and evangelical ones like Goodyear is represented as being would have said:
- Everything that happens in this life - even evil and injustice - is, in some mysterious way, all part of God's plan.
- Everything that happens in this life - especially evil and injustice - will be judged and punished by God in the life to come. And the innocent will be redeemed and rewarded by God.
- The duty of every Christian in this life is to practice forgiveness toward those who have committed wrong doing, and to witness to everyone about the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
In other words, a better ending - and in my humble opinion, one truer to the character - would have been:
You had me fooled Goodyear. I thought you were one of those of Christians who forgive their enemies and leave it to God to sort out bad debts. But you couldn't live that way.
Rankin mis-uses and mis-represents Christian faith in a way that is not worthy of his previous writing.
However, what is even more troubling is Rankin's reference to the Old Testament. Where has the man been since the Second World War? Has he been deaf, dumb, and blind to the painful recognition that it is precisely this type of false stereotyping of the Old Testament - i.e. Jews - that has legitimated centuries of Jewish persecution?
And just to add insult to injury is Rankin's use of "an eye for an eye" as motivation for murder. What the actual Bible verses say is:
(22) If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. (23) And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, (24) Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, (25) Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
(Exodus 21:22-25, King James Version)
This passage actually teaches AGAINST the type of revenge seeking that Rankin uses it for.
That is, it teaches that responses to wrong doing are to be tempered - the punishment is to fit the crime - and not simply be whatever the strong, or the underhanded, can exact on the weak and unsuspecting. This principle is one of the bed rocks of our justice system, and has been used in many situations to reform the justice system itself.
The Mosaic code (i.e., the legal codes given by Moses in the Old Testament) has been one of the most profoundly civilizing influences in our history. Instead of tyrannical rule by the strongest bully, we have the bullies being held to account to the eternal judgment of God as expressed through the law.
This moderating and civilizing influence of the Old Testament has been perversely stereotyped as being "legalistic" and "vengeful." And that stereotype has been used to legitimize the bitter and bloody history of Europe and the United Kingdom's persecution of Jews.
If Rankin had bothered to ask, I'm sure he would have found that 100% of Jews would have been appalled at his blithe repetition of this false stereotype.
It's a shame that such a great book ends with such a facile and false step.
The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success, by Steven Stein and Howard Book, provides clear writing by researchers with practical advice. Describes 15 aspects of EQ - which I think should properly be called SSQ - Social Smarts Quotient. That is, this material is not about how to be more emotional. It is about how to THINK about emotions and social relationships, and be smarter and more mature in dealing with this crucial aspect of living. I highly recommend this over Goleman's, Emotional Intelligence, because it has more social science research behind it. (And to be fair, it was written 5 years later and picks up where his work had to leave off.) EQ Edge refers to actual research and gives helpful and clear definitions of EQ components. And, as with all things these days, there are numerous on-line resources provided included a site to do an EQ-i(c) survey to test your own areas of strength and challenge. Here are the areas tested:
The Intrapersonal Realm
- Emotional Self-Awareness
The Interpersonal Realm
- Social Responsibility
- Interpersonal Relationships
The Adaptability Realm
- Problem Solving
- Reality Testing
The Stress Management Realm
- Stress Tolerance
- Impulse Control
The General Mood Realm
An interesting Appendix lists the top five areas associated with work success for many occupations. For clergy, the top five are: Self-Actualization, Happiness, Optimism, Self-Regard, and Emotional Self-Awareness. Interesting that none of the Stress Management or Adaptability components are there.
Tomorrow, Graham Swift. 255 pages of one woman's interior self-talk as she lies awake before her husband will share a "secret" with their 16 year old twins that day is a tough challenge for an author. I found it to be a tough slog at times - the monotony of the single voice. But on the whole beautifully written. An unshared secret with the vet struck me as implausible and untrue to the characters and unnecessary to the story line. But maybe that's just me.
The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doige. Highly recommended. A very readable exploration of cutting edge discoveries about how flexible and plastic brain functioning is. I particularly appreciated the chapters on various learning issues that re-focus the discussion away from personal motivation / character / commitment / time management / etc. to practical exercises that actually help the brain re-pattern itself for better learning.
The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton. This self-published book is the author's personal journey of discovery into the new field of epigenetics. I'm not sure how trustworthy this particular book is, but I was intrigued by the discussion about the importance of a cell's outer membrane - the "epi" of epigenetics. Depending on what current research discovers, it may be that vaunted DNA is a relatively passive memory bank and not the controlling / determining engine of all things biological. That role may belong to the cell's membrane and its dynamic interaction with the environment. And if that is the case, then biological determinism and hard-core Darwinism will have to be replaced with a new understanding of how evolution works.
Hurry Less, Worry Less at Christmastime, Judy Pace Christie. This book has ten short, easy and quick to read (just in case you are in a hurry) chapters with practical tips and a Christian perspective to do what the title suggests: Hurry Less, Worry Less. Best tip? Buy the book early and plan ahead.
What Is Partially Read Or Waiting To Be Read Or Gathering Dust Under The Bed
Deer Hunting with Jesus, Joe Bageant. Loved the title. Loved the sub-title even more: Dispatches from America's Class War. When was the last time you saw a book with any reference American socio-economic class in its title? Probably never. America has no class structure is the claim, and anyone who says otherwise is a communist. A scary read. If true, America is one sick puppy whose collapse is only a matter of time. Corruption and greed by the elites combined with an ideology of illusion means this great nation will act for immediate profits at the expense of its long term best interests. (For example: the "war" on terrorism which has increased the threat of terrorism against America. The defense of gun ownership by the NRA and the epidemic of gun crimes and gun killings all in the name of "liberty." The "war" against drugs that fills for-profit prisons and creates a huge underground drug economy.) And if/when the US economy finally collapses, the fall of that elephant will cause a very unpleasant tsunami for the rest of us.
Emotional Intelligence (finished - see EQ Edge), Primal Leadership, and Social Intelligence, (3 different books) by Daniel Goleman. When Emotional Intelligence was first published in 1995, I was too stressed, depressed and emotionally wrecked to have the capacity to become "intelligent" about my emotions - just give me those little pink pills. However, I'm told these three books speak eloquently and practically to a key concern of mine: creating healthy communities that welcome the soul - to use Parker Palmer's phrase.
Essence Prayer, Ruth Burrows, OCD. I read most of Burrow's Guidelines for Mystical Prayer, at a summer prayer retreat and greatly enjoyed her plain style of writing about mystical prayer. Her observations about feelings and personal experiences NOT being the focus for prayer, and about "light on" and "light off" knowing of God's presence were most illuminating.