Book – Jay Winik – April 1865

My latest nonfiction was April 1865: The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik. An excellent book! Good history writing must strike a balance between fact and narrative, and Winik achieves that balance.

The book focuses on the title month, April 1865, tracing the remarkable events that ultimately – but not inevitably – concluded the Civil War. From Lee’s surrender to Lincoln’s assassination, from Johnston’s insubordination to Booth’s capture; Winik faithfully reconstructs the tension and uncertainty that surrounded those upon whom the fate of the nation rested.

Book – Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games

Another book down, and this one was for fun and fluff. The Hunger Games is the first in a trilogy by Suzanne Collins that was recently featured at the Dayton Metro Library website. The themes are more serious than I was expecting. The setting is a future America controlled by a brutal state. Annually, teens from the nation’s twelve regions are pitted against one another in a vicious, gladiatorial style event, the Hunger Games. We follow one of the contestants as she wrestles with the brutality of the games and her own need to survive.

Despite the gravity of the book, it fit the bill for a quick easy read. Being juvenile fiction helped, too. I’ve got the second book, Catching Fire, on the shelf, and the final book, Mockingjay, is due out this August.

Book – Gregg Easterbrook – Sonic Boom

I Just finished Sonic Boomby the tastefully named Gregg Easterbrook, whom I first encountered through his ESPN.com football column, Tuesday Morning Quarterback. Sonic Boom is Easterbrook’s take on globalization, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

The basic premise: The world is getting better… it just won’t feel like it. Continue reading

Beyond Civilization – The Resurrection of Tribalism

Ages ago, Rantz loaned me his collection of Daniel Quinn. He’d been listening to me talk about Christian community, and he thought I might find Quinn interesting. Unfortunately the books have languished on my shelf these many months.

Sorry, Rantz. :(

Now, however, I’ve finally picked up one of the volumes and have finished it. I started with Beyond Civilization because, well, it was the shortest of the books. The Book of the Damned is really more of a booklet. (Alternative title – Booklet of the Slightly Naughty?) It’s arranged as a series of brief one page essays each flowing more or less into the next, almost as a conversation. Quinn makes a point or begs a question, then he goes on to develop the point or answer the question. While the essays didn’t always flows smoothly from one to the next – there were occasional leaps that seemed a stretch far – I have to say I’m glad I read it.

Quinn’s primary thesis is to advocate an abandonment of the civilization vision (my term, so far as I can remember). He might define civilization as the hierarchical social structure in which in which those in power seek to exert economic control over others. This contracts with tribalism, in which every member of the society exists in economic cooperation for the society’s mutual success. The civilization vision, then, are those memes – those undergirding values and myths – that set a particular culture on the path of upholding and supporting civilization.

Quinn argues that civilization is broken. It necessarily pits person against person, and ultimately we will find out that it is untenable in the long term. Today, there is some resonance with such statements. Economic inequality in the United States is approaching historic levels. I suppose it’s no coincidence that Quinn’s criticisms echo those levied by the socialists of earlier industrial eras or the democrats and liberals (go way back here, folks) of the American and French revolutionary periods. When a few have a lot and most have very little, people are bound to complain. Quinn distinguishes himself from these predecessors by calling for abandonment instead of revolution. Replacing those at the top of civilization don’t fix a broken system; it only gives you a new target at which you can direct your vitriol. Rather, Quinn says it’s time to lay down the memes of civilization altogether and move on to something better… or rather move back to something better.

The solution, Quinn says, is a return to tribalism. Or perhaps better said it is the resurrection of tribalism. Tribalism is rooted in a cooperative economic existence, where all members must contribute to the success of the society. I say resurrection rather than return, because Quinn’s new tribalism doesn’t necessarily imply abandonment of technology and related advancements. He isn’t calling us back to pre-Columbian living. But he is calling us away from civilization and its inherent ruling class who must be supported by the labor of others.

An altogether interesting book. At times, Quinn comes across a bit haphazard for me. He occasionally leaps a step too far, and strikes me as unnecessarily cheeky, but those are minor points. To me he doesn’t offer a complete picture. He doesn’t adequately explain why people would be content to remain “beyond civilization.” Whether it is ultimately sustainable or not, there is nothing in human history to suggest that humans won’t continue trying to “civilize” one another. Quinn points to a number of American civilizations, such as the Hohokam and the Anasazi, who developed advanced civilizations and appear to have abruptly abandoned them. But we don’t know how the stories of these people end, so we can only conjecture.

Despite these holes, I generally like what he says. I appreciate his take on the economic reality of cooperative living. The need to eat and be clothed are what tie most of us to the prevailing social structures, so any transformation must address these fundamental needs. Seems these are topics I’ve seen covered somewhere else.

I Heart My New Plugin

When I discovered that I was going to have to upgrade WordPress, I thought I’d have a look around for new themes and plugins. The new theme I’m still working on, but I’ve already landed on a new plug-in that is proving to be dynamite!

Meet the “Now Reading” plugin. It powers the reading list you see in the sidebar, as well my library. I’ve only just begun using it, and I can already tell I’m gonna love it.

Food That Lasts

So here is The Prayer Appointed for the Week from The Divine Hours:

Grant that I, Lord, may not be anxious about earthly things, but love things heavenly; and even now, while I am placed among things that are passing away, hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives nd reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [emphasis mine]

I’ve been reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, and I can’t help but draw a connection between this prayer, no doubt inspired by Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John to at least some degree, and the food chains Pollan describes in the first two parts of his book. He contrasts the industrial food chain, which in his words is largely floating on an ocean of oil, with alternative food chains that take their inspiration from the inherent rhythms and interdependence of nature. I’ve not finished the book, but I have a sense of where he is going.

Reading and praying… a dangerous combination, for they inevitably lead me to thinking and change. And change is hard; “ignorance is bliss” in some very real ways.

Yet I continue to read and pray. Passing more than a dozen chain restaraunts on my way to the local super-sized supermarket, I hear the echoes of the prayer reformulated as a question in my head: “Placed among things that are passing away, will I take hold of things that will endure?

++ Lord, give me ears to hear. ++

2007 Reading List

Not sure why I haven’t thought to do this before. Anyway, here goes in descending order of completion…

Praying with the Church by Scot McKnight

A good introduction to fixed-hour prayer for the non-liturgical. I’ve been using The Divine Hours, compiled by Phyllis Tickle, sporadically for a couple years now; so I read the book having already been persuaded by the value of this prayer tradition that had largely been forgotten in the church circles I was born in. McKnight explores the historical roots of fixed hour prayer before surveying prayer books from four Christian traditions: the Eastern Orthodox, Catholicism, the Anglican Communion, and finally Tickle’s own more recent ecumenical contribution. These days I live in the tension of being pulled by both the liturgical and the organic. Wonder if I’m the only one?

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

We have a new running joke in the house: Everything is made of corn. Read the book and you’ll discover just how disturbingly true that statement is, as least as it regards the majority of what we eat from supermarkets and chain restaurants. The book’s subtitle, “A Natural History of Four Meals,” lends a bit more information; Pollan follows the food chain of four meals back, back, back to their very disparate originals. This is one of those books I almost wish I hadn’t read, because having read it I now feel obligated to live differently.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I finally got around to reading it after having it on my wish list for a year or two. I enjoyed Vonnegut’s prose and the quirky way he meandered through the events. I was struck by what seems to be a powerful statement against war, though he doesn’t really come out and say much against war directly… just something about the dry presentation of events I think.

Marriage Fitness by Mort Fertel

I picked this one up for the marriage blog I write on recommendation from one of the readers there. While I don’t like the sales pitch hype Fertel employs in the introduction, I like both his overall thesis as well as many of the action steps he recommends. I’ll be blogging about this one more in the coming weeks over at Marriage Actually.

Jesus Christ and Kurt Vonnegut walk into a bar…

tock tick

Because I absolutely love “Tock Tick,” I have had Slaughterhouse Five on my reading list for some time.

Because I finally remembered to pick up Slaughterhouse Five from the library, I am now reminded of this link at the God’s Politics blog culled from Mike Todd back in the early spring. So it goes.

The Real Mary Sunday School Class 3

Mary & Jesus 3OK, so I promised I’d answer the question, How do we pray and live out this story of physical liberation when we are not physically oppressed? This is something that’s been on my mind lately. During the Class, we wrestled with this. A few days earlier our home group/church (I’ll start talking about this soon… once I get back into a rhythm here.) went through a few passages of Scripture where the cry for liberation was also expressed, and we, too, struggled to identify with the cry. After all, we are by any sensible standard wealthy and free living in the USA. We suffer no great oppression; truth be told, we don’t suffer much of anything. So, how do we appropriate (Pardon the verb.) these passages and work them into our faith and Jesus-following? Continue reading