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Jan 9, 2014

Best Books on Preaching?

I am currently taking advantage of the UUMA’s excellent coaching program to work with a coach on my preaching. We have decided to read a book on preaching together and I have been tasked with drawing up a short list of possibilities to select from. So... I am looking for suggestions on the good books on homiletics. In particular, I want a book that is written for experienced preachers, not for seminarians just learning how to preach. Three books that either friends have written or suggested that I haven’t read might make the short list: Matthew Johnson Doyle’s “Newborn Bards: A Theology of Preaching for Unitarian Universalists,” Kay Northcutt’s “Kindling Desire for God: Preaching as Spiritual Direction,” and Barbara Brown Taylor’s “The Preaching Life.” I would leave to know if readers of this blog have other suggestions.

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Jan 7, 2014

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

I have started to study for my general exams, which take place at the end of May. As part of my study process I am writing notes on all of the books on my reading lists. I plan to post the notes on a few books that I think people I am in regular dialogue with might be particularly interested. Here’s this morning’s notes on Karl Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:

Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, translated by Terrell Carver in Marx’s ‘Eighteenth Brumaire’: (post)modern interpretations, ed. Mark Cowling and James Martin (London: Pluto Press, 2002)

This is Marx’s analysis of the rise of Louis Bonaparte in the wake of the 1848 February revolution and abdication of King Louis-Philippe. It covers the period of 1848 to 1852, when Bonaparte assumed dictatorial powers. Marx divides the era into three periods:

1. The February period or the overthrow of Louis-Philippe, which ran from February 24 1848 to 4 May 1848;
2. The Constituent Assembly period, May 4, 1848 to May 28, 1851;
3. The Constitutional Republic, May 28, 1851 to December 2, 1851.

He identifies these periods largely with the classes who held power in the country during them. Only in the first period was the proletariat in charge. After that various bourgeois parties held power. Louis Bonaparte skillfully manipulated them until he was able to consolidate his own power at the end of 1851, beginning of 1852.

In the text Marx lays out a theory of revolution and political transformation. It is summarized in the first two sentences of text: “Hegel observes somewhere that all the great events and characters of world history occur twice, so to speak. He forgot to add: the first time as high tragedy, the second time as low farce” (19). By this he means that during times of revolutionary struggle revolutionaries always look to the past for inspiration. They begin by imitating the past but only succeed in creating revolutionary change when they move beyond imitation. The first example he gives of this is the way in which revolutionaries during the French Revolution looked back to the Roman Republic for inspiration. The second example he offers is the way that the revolutionaries of 1848 and Louis Bonaparte both looked to earlier struggles and figures, in the revolutionaries case it was the French Revolution and Louis Bonaparte is was that of his uncle.

Another important theme that Marx takes up is how during revolutionary times people, particularly, the bourgeoise, prioritize order above progress. People are not often aware of this tendency within themselves which leads Marx to observe, “Just as in private life one distinguishes between what a man thinks and says, and what he really is and does, so one must all the more in historical conflicts make the distinction between the fine words and aspirations of the parties from their real organization and their real interests, their image from their reality” (43). What’s really going on is always class struggle. That struggle may be veiled, from the participants themselves, by words.

Towards the end of the book Marx provides a description of class in relation to his discussion of the French peasantry. It is worth quoting in whole:

Thus the great bulk of the French nation is formed by simple accretion, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes. In so far as millions of families get a living under economic conditions of existence that divide their mode of life, their interests and their culture from those of other classes and counterpose them as enemies, they form a class. In so far as there is merely a local interconnection amongst peasant proprietors, the similarity of their interests produces no community, no national linkage and no political organization, they do not form a class. They are therefore incapable of asserting their class interests in their own name, whether through a parliament or constitutional convention. They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented. (100-101).

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Jan 2, 2014

Books Read in 2013

Every year I keep track of the books I read and post the list to my blog. This year my six year-old son started to get into graphic novels and so I read quite a few of those with him. I read a lot of great books over the year. A few that stand out for particular praise are: Debt; The First 5,000 Years, David Graeber; Speaking in Parables: A Study in Metaphor and Theology, Sallie McFague TeSelle; Orlando, Virginia Woolf; After Virtue, Third Edition, Alasdair MacIntyre; Local Histories/Global Designs, Walter Mignolo; and, of course, Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes. I have read Don Quixote before, in 2003 or so when I was staying in a Zapatista community in Chiapas, Mexico, and it remains one of my three favorite novels (the other two are The Brothers Karamazov and Moby Dick). This year I read Cervantes while walking the Camino de Santiago. Someplace in me is a long essay about Cervantes, pilgrimage, social justice work, colonialism and decolonial theory. Maybe someday I'll write it.

The two books I was probably least impressed with were: The Spanish Civil War, Stanley Payne and En La Lucha/In the Struggle; Elaborating a mujerista theology, Asa María Isasi-Díaz. I disliked Payne's history of the Spanish Civil War because I read it as having a right-wing bias. He claimed that the civil war and the right-wing uprising were reactions to social chaos brought on by the rise of the Popular Front government. Such an explanation is line with the story almost every right-wing coup leader tells about why he organized a coup against an elected government. As for Isasi-Diaz, I wanted to like her book. I was engaged by her methodology (enthnography), inspired by her commitment to remain in dialogue with and accountable to her community and liked her writing. Her theological argument, however, was completely disconnected with the work of latina theorists like Gloria Anzaldua, who were her contemporaries. This disconnection was unfortunate. I find Anzaldua's work, and that of those who respond to her, much richer than Isasi-Diaz's. If Isasi-Diaz had integrated some of the work latina theorists into her own work I think she would have written a powerful text. As it was, I was left feeling like her text was rather flat, not particularly useful and not part of the same dialogue of many of her contemporaries. 

I should probably also mention that I had a real love hate relationship with David Hall's A Reforming People: Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New England. On the one hand, it is one of the best intellectual histories of 17th and 18th century New England Puritanism. On the other, it made almost no mention of said Puritans relationships with the indigenous peoples of New England. I would like to say that I found this to be inexcuseable. But truthfully, I find it more perplexing than anything. Hall is a great scholar and I simply don't understand how he could make such an obvious omission. I imagine that most people would just chalk it all up to some form of unconscious white supremacy but I have a nagging suspicion that explanation is deeper than that.

Here's the full list of my 2013 books:

The Signal and the Noise; Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don’t, Nate Silver
Debt; The First 5,000 Years, David Graeber
From Here to There; the Staughton Lynd Reader, Staughton Lynd
The Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism, Staughton Lynd
Accompanying: Pathways to Social Change, Staughton Lynd
Stepping Stones; Memoir of a Life Together, Alice and Staughton Lynd
Speaking in Parables: A Study in Metaphor and Theology, Sallie McFague TeSelle
Rumpole a la Carte, John Mortimer
Transmetropolitan: Year of the Bastard, Warren Ellis
Transmetropolitan: back on the street, Warren Ellis
Transmetropolitan: lust for life, Warren Ellis
A Machiavellian View of the Ministry, Brandoch Lovely
A Theology for the Social Gospel, Walter Rauschenbusch
Parish Parables, Clinton Lee Scott
Transmetropolitan: the new scum, Warren Ellis
Rumpole and the Angel of Death, John Mortimer
The Cosmic Race, Jose Vasconcelos
Elfquest Vol. 1, Richard and Wendy Pini
Elfquest Vol. 2, Richard and Wendy Pini
Elfquest Vol. 3, Richard and Wendy Pini
Elfquest Vol. 4, Richard and Wendy Pini
Elfquest Siege at Blue Mountain, Richard and Wendy Pini
Elfquest Kings of the Broken Wheel, Richard and Wendy Pini
The Spanish Civil War, Stanley Payne
Transmetropolitan: one more time, Warren Ellis
Transmetropolitan: the cure, Warren Ellis
Transmetropolitan: dirge, Warren Ellis
Transmetropolitan: gouge away, Warren Ellis
At the Same Time, Susan Sontag
Local Histories/Global Designs, Walter Mignolo
En La Lucha/In the Struggle; Elaborating a mujerista theology, Asa María Isasi-Díaz
Red Rackham’s Treasure (Tintin), Herge
The Seven Crystal Balls (Tintin), Herge
Contentious Politics, Charles Tilly and Sidney Tarrow
Tintin and the Picaros, Herge
Ethics for a Small Planet, Daniel Maguire and Larry Rasmussen
Under the Net, Iris Murdoch
Los Borgia Intergral, Alejandro Jodorowsky (Spanish)
Don Quixote Vol. 1, Miguel de Cervantes
El Señor Cocodrilo Está Muerto De Hambre, Joan Sfar (Spanish)
El suspiro, Marjane Satrapi (Spanish)
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Century: 1910, Alan Moore
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Century: 1969, Alan Moore
Nemo: Heart of Ice, Alan Moore
Don Quixote Vol. 2, Miguel de Cervantes
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Century: 2009, Alan Moore
Orlando, Virginia Woolf
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J. K. Rowling
When You Are Engulfed in Flames, David Sedaris (audio book)
Thank You Jeeves, P.D. Wodehouse, fiction (audio book)
Private Lives, Noel Coward, drama, (audio book)
MacBeth, William Shakesphere, drama (audio book)
When Jesus Came To Harvard, Harvey Cox
Rumpole Misbehaves, John Mortimer (audio book)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling
The Names of the Lost, Philip Levine
The Time of the Doves, Merce Rodoreda
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka
Take the Cannoli; Stories from the New World, Sarah Vowell
The Star Thrower, Loren Eiseley
Good Omens, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
The Ocean at the End of the Land, Neil Gaiman
Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill
Utilitarianism: For and Against, J. J. C. Smart and Bernard Williams
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J. K. Rowling
A Reforming People: Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New England, David Hall
Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Immanuel Kant, translated by H. J. Paton
Living for Change: An Autobiography, Grace Lee Boggs
The Sources of Normativity, Christine Korsgaard
The Next American Revolution; Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, Grace Lee Boggs with Scott Kurashige
The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, Gordon Wood
Chico & Rita, Javier Mariscal and Fernando Trueba (Spanish)
The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, Eric Foner
Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
After Virtue, Third Edition, Alasdair MacIntyre
Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, Bernard Williams
Attack of the Deranged Killer Monster Snow Goons, Bill Watterson
They Feed The Lion, Philip Levine
Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century, James and Grace Lee Boggs
Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers, Alexander McCall Smith
Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, Kiran Desai
The Days are Just Packed, Bill Watterson
Nervous Conditions, Tsitsi Dangarembga
Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat, Bill Watterson

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