Emotional and powerful treatise on race in America

This book really challenged me. I know it’s been a bit since I posted, but as I look back on when I first started setting goals and tracking my reading closely in 2017, it was third one of the year. The author is now a prolific writer and thought leader, and this book is a letter he writes to his son about his experience of American society as a black man. I try to live my life sensitive to the plight of others, and I take seriously the dark moments in the history of the people of my faith and of my country. I’m sad that there are still deep racial tensions in my homeland. This book is very honest and a window into a world so close to me in proximity and yet so far away from my experience. I appreciated the raw emotion of the book and it helped me better understand the pain and prejudice many of my countrymen live with. I don’t agree with all of his outcomes, such as his belief in chaos, but in the end the author appears generous in his approach, and I recommend this book heartily.

As I continue to reflect both on this book and everything that has transpired in the USA and the world since I read it, I can’t help but feel ashamed at the masses who seem to lack the basic ability to empathise with people groups who have a well documented and continuing difficulty in life based purely on race. I know not every problem can trace a direct line to racism. I say this as a theological conservative and political moderate. I wonder how much of the steam would be released from those who radicalise their protest efforts around racial issues if the truth of their pain were simply acknowledged. Of course acknowledgement isn’t enough, not usually, but I say it because it seems that even this is hard to come by. I have grave concerns over secularisation. Living in the realm of China, I give a hearty laugh when I see western political movement leaders lean into Marxism as an ethical upgrade to societal structure. How blind that is. But I do not laugh at their pain, and I can at least understand that one of the outcomes of racism, personal and systemic racism, is nihilism by the victims. The burden I felt when reading Coates four years ago has only grown. And when I see excesses in protest movements, political parties, and religious groups, I don’t sense God calling me to laugh, demean, and look down on them. I feel called to understand their pain better, communicate the Gospel clearer, and hope in Christ, not chaos, all the more.

155 pages or 3 hours of amazing writing, pure emotion, and a sad story I can only hope gets better in this life, if not the next.

Good nerdy fun

The second book I read in 2017 was Armada by Ernest Cline. I read his first book Ready Player One the year before, and it was a lot of fun. Now popularized by Spielberg movie adaptation, it’s about a massive virtual reality game that starts a tournament once its creator dies, setting off a crazy turn of events. Armada is set to be adapted into a movie as well. In a similar gamer vibe, it is about video games being real, that many of them and many sci-fi movies were preparing the world for some crazy events. The best players of certain games are recruited to defend earth. This one isn’t as good as his first but it’s still a load of nerdy fun.

Revisiting these old reads, I just remembered that I listened to both this and Keller’s Preaching while traveling home to the USA from South Korea and back again on my winter break. It had been a year and half since my wife and I had moved to teach. At the time I think Cline had a cult following within the gaming and sci-fi subculture. I believe my only other exposure to him was in a documentary about video games. Soon he was propelled into the mainstream, and more power to him. So far his ideas and stories have been great. The sequel to Ready Player One is out now and on my list to read soon. It will likely get the film treatment too and I look forward to it.

12 hours or 370 pages of classic coming-of-age sci-fi. All links affiliate.

An excellent book for Christian communicators in cities

I am starting a little project I’ve been thinking about for awhile. I hesitate to say that it’s to get me into a better writing habit. Rather, and more specifically, it’s to get into a blogging habit because all my writing is happening elsewhere. One place my writing is happening is doing very brief book reviews on Instagram that I then copy to Goodreads. The space limit and the mobile medium of Instagram are limiting, but helpfully so in the sense that it gets me to just crank something out and ship it, which is something I find helpful. It also gives my students an extension to the classroom as they stalk me for gossip. That said, I’ve been wanting to edit those reviews, revisit those old reads, and add to them when time allows. Before 2016 ended, and after taking a Strengths Finder test and getting “Input” as my top strength, I read that something helpful for me would be to generate and not just collect information. So starting with my first read and review in January 2017, here we go.

Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller is not an average preaching book. I’ll go a bit beyond saying I enjoyed it and recommend it. What set this book apart in my mind was its emphasis on apologetics. At times it read much more like an apologetics textbook than a preaching guide, which I guess feels very Kelleresque if you are familiar with him and his style. It sets out to do what the subtitle suggests, which is communicate about Christian faith in an era of deepening skepticism, and in my opinion he achieves this. Even in my contexts at international Christian schools in Asia this is very helpful, as many of my students are very skeptical of Christianity for varieties of reasons. Many Asian societies are secularizing in general as well. This book was a helpful guide for various ways of communicating about faith in such a context.

When I first read Preaching I had not read, nor was familiar with, Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. That work along with others like it, that nuance the formation and impact of secularity in the West, are deeply influential in Keller’s thinking and his writing about Christian ministry. It’s always a bit shocking how resistant cultural Christianity is to seeing their own context as a mission field, which explains the often heavy resistance to Keller and others like him doing exactly that. Some are finding the best communication tools they can to speak the Gospel to the secular West with deconstructive nuance to unpack the culture’s lies, and constructive clarity to believe God’s truth, in ways that are so familiar to the culture that they seem foreign to Christian subculture. This is mistakenly taken as syncretistic instead of incarnational or contextual. I would offer it is also an indictment on how isolated much of the Christian West has become from the neighbors they are called to know, love, and serve. I’d recommend this book first and foremost to Christian communicators in urban settings, but any preacher will benefit from a careful read.

320 pages or 6 hours of preaching well in a secular age. All links are affiliate.