Robinson Captures Iowa Psyche

Marilynne Robinson. 2004. Gilead: A Novel. New York: Picador.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

My clearest memory of November of 1974 when I returned to finish out the last two years of college at Iowa State University involved the need to learn the fine art of conversation. When offered a bar or cookie and a cup of coffee, one had to respond with a lengthy discourse on topics roughly summarized as small talk. This would not be gossip, nor items fit to appear in the Oskaloosa Herald, but mostly glimpses of life to acquaint those present with family matters missed due to the passage of time and travesty of distance. No one out East tutored me in coffee time etiquette 1.0 so for this class, required for graduation, I proved a slow learner.

Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead,takes the form of a lengthy letter from John Ames, a third-generation congregational pastor, to his son. Ames is dying of a heart condition at the age of sixty-seven while his son, the only child of a younger second wife, Lila, is still a preteen.

Gilead, Iowa

Gilead is an unincorporated town in southwest Iowa just south of Fontanelle along route 92 in Adair County. I last drove through this region in 1982 on a trip from Oskaloosa, Iowa to Omaha, Nebraska while I was researching beef packing plants for my dissertation. This area left two distinct impressions on me. First, between Indianola and Omaha along route 92 one could find no McDonald’s restaurants, my measure of an area’s poverty. Second, along the way, I had to stop to round up some pigs that got loose from a local farm—I never did see the farmer—and had wandered into the road.

For purposes of the novel, Gilead’s location put it close to the Missouri state line where Ames’ grandfather had participated in partisan fighting leading up to the Civil War. West of Gilead is Nebraska, but west of Missouri is Kansas Ames’ grandfather later absconded and died. Ames’ father also left Gilead to retire in the South. The fact that John Ames faithfully remained in Gilead and retired as one of its pastors speaks to his grit and the strength of his faith.

Poverty

My father’s hometown of Oskaloosa, population 10,000, has not grown in a generation and occasionally appears on television as a location kids grow up and leave. Oskaloosa, with its McDonalds, high school, hospital, and indoor mall, is a big city compared to Gilead. Abject poverty is a theme in the book and Gilead remains a metaphor for poverty.

Robinson makes many references to this poverty. One that sticks in my mind is: “I am old enough to remember when we used to go out in the brush, a lot of us, and spread out in a circle, and then close in, scaring the rabbits along in front of us, till they were trapped there in the center and then we would kill them with sticks and clubs. That was during the Depression and people were hungry.”(198)

Robinson’s gift as a writer arises in her ability to paint one word picture after another.

John Ames Boughton

Another important theme in Robinson’s writing is the relationship between John Ames and his best friend’s son, John Ames Boughton. The best friend, a local Presbyterian pastor who grew up with John Ames, is normally just referred to a Boughton, but the son is also called Jack. As suggested by his name, John Ames Boughton has a father-son relationship with John Ames and is estranged from his biological father.

He plays out the rebellious pastor’s kid (PK) role virtually his whole life. For example, we read:

“His transgressions were sly and lonely, and this became truer as he grew up. I believe I said earlier that he did not teal in any convectional sense, but by that I meant he stole things of no value except to the people he stole them from. There was no sense in what he, unless his purpose was to cause a maximum of embarrassment and risk a minimum of retribution.”(182)

As a teen, this kid impregnated a local girl and later in life he took a black woman as his wife. Perhaps his worst sin was not being available when his mother and father died.

Ironically, this rebellious PK is so polite that strangers, including his future wife, assume he is a pastor. John Ames refers to him as a son and the boy refers to Ames as Papa. This odd relationship seems like a counterpoint to Ames himself, who never played out the PK role and remained a faithful pastor in the face of much adversity.

Assessment

Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead,is an engaging read that won the Pulitzer Prize. I picked up the book as a summer read because I have spent a lot of time in Iowa and heard that Robinson taught at the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop.[2]The conversational style of Robinson’s writing reminds me of that of my own grandparents and their siblings in Iowa. Some may not catch all her biblical and theological allusions, but for me they added a depth seldom seen in Christian literature.

Foonotes

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilead_(novel) [2]https://writersworkshop.uiowa.edu.

Robinson Captures Iowa Psyche

Also See:

Meredith: Robots Gone Wild

RPC Sharpens Shorts; Gets Buy 

Other ways to engage online:

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Benchmarks in Public Sector ERM

Kenneth C. Fletcher and Thomas H. Stanton. 2019. Public Sector Enterprise Risk Management: Advancing Beyond the Basics.New York: Routledge.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra[1]

My interest in Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) dates back to late 1990s when I worked for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and reported on national bank risk taking. Frustrated with the focus on risk components and a slew of financial ratios, we started to examine indicators of “whole bank risk,”which we defined as the risk that a bank would fail. Later, I started using the term ERM (Hiemstra 2007). More recently government agencies have started employing ERM to assess threats to their missional objectives (e.g. Campbell 2006).

Introduction

In their 2019 book entitled, Public Sector Enterprise Risk Management, editors Kenneth C. Fletcher and Thomas H. Stanton define ERM as:

“the process of coordinated risk management that places a greater emphasis on cooperation among departments in order to understand and manage the organization’s full range of risks as a portfolio rather than trying to deal with individual concerns within organizational silos.”(4)

They see the audience for this book as “heads of risk functions, risk managers, and risk professional in the public sector”(5), which includes federal, state, and local governments. While public sector firms seldom fail the way that private sector firms do, their ability to succeed in pursuing their missional objectives is nevertheless of critical importance to their stakeholders.

Organization

This book is organized into four parts; an introduction, four case studies, three special topics, and a conclusion. The editors wrote the introduction together and each wrote their own chapter. The nine chapters are:

  1. Challenges in Implementing ERM in the Public Sector (Fletcher and Stanton)
  2. Change Management and Developing Organization Risk Culture: Transportation Security Administration Case Study (Fletcher)
  3. Using Data and Analysis to Add Value from ERM (Vetrano and Stayanovich)
  4. Laying the Groundwork for ERM: The Evolution of ERM at the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Phelan and Weber)
  5. ERM and Local Government: King County, Washington (Hills and Catanese)
  6. Enhancing Capabilities and Culture through Effective Coordination of Enterprise Risk Management and Internal Control (Vineyard and Kaizer)
  7. Working with the IG and GAO: Creating a Win-Win Relationship (Westbrooks)
  8. Cultivating and Measuring Risk Culture to Achieve Forward Momentum on ERM (Vitters, Oven and Gelles)
  9. Enterprise Risk Management: A Powerful Management Tool (Stanton) (vii-viii).

Having worked at six different federal agencies[2] during my career, I might have enjoyed case studies focused on other federal regulators and, from a strictly dollar perspective, at least one military agency.

Private and Public Sector ERM

ERM developed in the 1990s as an intensive management philosophy to aid in the development of interstate banks following the Riegle–Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act of 1994. Consolidation of regional banks into conglomerates with a national and international presence was a subject much debated in the Reagan Administration (e.g. Hiemstra 1990; Scott and Lodge 1985) because of fears that the U.S. could not compete with vertically integrated financial conglomerates in Germany and Japan.

Sophisticated financial modeling and ERM were believed to make these new U.S. financial conglomerates manageable and efficient. The chief risks identified as part of private sector ERM were credit, interest-rate, financial, and operations risk. Of these, operations risk proved to be the most enigmatic and theoretically difficult because markets typically would not price it into traded contracts and financial engineers did not know how to model it. A good actuary could estimate an expected value for operations risk, but few line officers would price their financial products in view of such estimates.

While this study does not try to estimate a value for operations risk, public sector ERM focuses almost exclusively on topics that fit into the category of operations risk, which makes it potentially interesting to ERM practitioners outside the public sector.

Culture Risk

One aspect of operations risk that challenges any assessment of ERM is evaluating the organization’s culture. In my own retrospective on the Great Recession, I wrote a series of articles entitled: “Can Bad Culture Kill a Firm?” (e.g. Hiemstra 2009) The main culprit in private sector ERM might be characterized as taking ERM as a compliance activity—a kind of symbolic action—that did not fundamentally affect the risks taken or how they are mitigated. One flag of a compliance attitude might, for example, be finding template language in annual reporting of risk events. Far from being a theoretical nicety, culture risk can make or break a firm during financial crises.

Authors Cynthia Vitters, Carey Oven, and Michael Gelles write in their chapter, “Cultivating and Measuring Risk Culture to Achieve Forward Momentum on ERM” defining culture risk as: “…the misalignments that can occur between the values and beliefs and what is actually happening within and around the organization…” (113) They advocate “closing the gap how people actually behave and what’s acknowledged on paper.” (117) Measures cited include noting patterns of at-risk behavior, keeping track of significant incidents and response to them, and numbers of cases received (121).

Interestingly, in my own research of public regulation in the early 1990s I noted a correlation between stakeholder complaints and poor management in other dimensions—gaps in one dimension of performance that is measurable suggest gaps in other dimensions not so easily observed. Keeping good records of risk events—information security, brand and reputation, reporting and performance incentives, and compliance—is an important first step in developing effective cultural oversight (116).

Assessment

Kenneth C. Fletcher and Thomas H. Stanton’s Public Sector Enterprise Risk Management provides an overview of the theory and application of ERM in government agencies. The case studies given cover a variety of subject areas in federal service and local government. Risk managers both inside and outside government may want to be familiar with this work.

References

Campbell, Alexander. 2006. The Real Rocket Scientists [in NASA]. Risk. June. Pp. 50-51.

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 1990. Prospective Rural Effects of Bank Deregulation. USDA, ERS, Rural Development Research Report No. 76. March.

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2007.An Enterprise Risk Management View of Financial Supervision. Enterprise Risk Management Institute. International Institute of Enterprise Risk Management. October.

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2009. Can Bad Culture Kill a Firm?Society of Actuaries. Pp. 51-54 of Risk Management. June.

Scott, Bruce R. and George C. Lodge [ed]. 1985. U.S. Competitiveness in the World Economy. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Footnotes

[1] I received a review copy of this book directly from the publisher.

[2] Economic Research Service, USDA, Farm Credit Administration, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, Federal Housing Finance Agency, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Benchmarks in Public Sector ERM

Also See:

Stanton: Creating Constructive Dialogue is the Key Management Skill 

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Beitler Takes Words Seriously, Part 2

James E. Beitler III.[1]2019. Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church. Downers Grove: IVP Academic. (goto Part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the most intimidating aspects of being a Christian for many people is talking about their faith and practicing evangelism. One of the joys of attending seminary came in learning the meaning of the many “churchy” words that I had heard all my life.[2] Learning new words helps express ideas that may previously have gone unexpressed. Rhetoric is even more helpful by making it possible to use words, even common words, more persuasively.

Seasoned Speech

In his book, Seasoned Speech, James Beitler organizes his presentation and case studies around the liturgical calendar and worship because he sees rhetoric necessary for the ordinary practice of Christian witness. He writes:

“My use of Paul’s metaphor of seasoned speech should not be taken to mean that I think rhetoric’s scope ought to be limited to matters of presentation … Practicing rhetoric is not simply about flavoring the truth with a dash of eloquence; it involves discovery, invention, analysis, interpretation, construction, recollection, arrangement, and presentation of information, knowledge, and wisdom.” (19)

Worship and the liturgical calendar assist in focusing on the seasons of witness which we find ourselves in. It is hard, for example, not to think of resurrection in the spring as trees gain their foliage and flowers are blooming.

In part one of this review, I give an overview of Beitler’s book. In part two, I look at each of the five leaders that he focuses on. The five leaders chosen are: C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Desmond Tutu, and Marilynne Robinson.

C.S. Lewis

Although I have read a number of Lewis’ books, I never thought of him as focused on rhetoric even though he is widely thought of as deeply philosophical. Beitler’s observation therefore surprises me writing:

“I contend that a primary way that Lewis establish ethos is by demonstrating what Aristotle referred to as eunoia, goodwill towards one’s audience. Lewis’ rhetoric of goodwill—which involves addressing audiences on their own terms, adopting a forthright yet humble stance, and cultivating communities of goodwill, helps him achieve one of his chief aims as a writer: ‘preparing the way’ for the coming of the Lord into people’s lives.” (30-31)

Thus, Beitler sees Lewis embodying a spirit of advent. He does this by keeping ‘his own Christian persona off-stage”, by practicing “self-abnegation”, by peppering his comments about Christianity with “expressions of the delight”, and, in general, by adopting a humble spirit in writing (30-34). During advent, like Mary, we long for the coming Christ and, like John the Baptist, we engage in self-examination and repentance (49).

 Dorothy Sayers

Sayers is known as a Christian playwright with an interest in the energy of Christmas and a passion for teaching Christian dogma.

In response to the widely held view that the creeds are irrelevant, Sayers blamed the clergy who failed to share it with their congregations, explain it poorly, and neglect to translate them into the vernacular (60-61). In our day the idea that having a personal relationship with Jesus is a substitute for the creeds and biblical literacy seems ridiculous because it is hard to have a relationship with someone that you know little or nothing about. Sayers work to marry calling and creed through her dramatic presentations (64).

Beitler highlights Sayer’s focus on energy relating her work to that of Quintilian. She writes:

 “Enargeia involves depicting an event so vividly that the one who speaks and, thus, one’s audience feel as they would if they were really there, experiencing the moment. Such vivid depiction is clearly connected to the emotional appeals of pathos, but it also is related to ethos.” (66)

Quintilian wrote about the need for attorneys to seize the attention of the judge (67). In my own homiletics class, one of the most effective speakers was a prosecuting attorney. In the Christian narrative, no story grabs one’s attention quite like the birthing stories of the baby Jesus at Christmas.

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In part one of this review, I shared Beitler’s assessment of the rhetorical conflict between Bonhoeffer and Adolf Hitler. Beitler’s writes:

“Finkenwalde [Bonhoeffer’s underground seminary] is a fitting ecclesiastical manifestation of the message of Epiphany: there the gospel was preached not with the backing of worldly power [in this case the Third Reich] but in the humiliation and hiddenness of the crucified Christ—‘A stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’ (I Cor 1:23)”. (97)

In this context, the incognito of Christ arises because in his humiliation, the godhead is veiled only to be revealed in the resurrection. This is not the absence of Christ’s revelation or the unwillingness to share the gospel, but the willingness to let people come to God on their own terms, not through a prostration to obvious power.

Desmond Tutu

Beitler sees Desmond Tutu’s prophetic witness during Apartheid in South Africa as a call for sinners to repent, the theme of Lent Preaching during Lent in 1988,

Tutu says:

“Your cause is unjust. You are defending what is fundamentally indefensible because it is evil. It is evil without question. It is immoral. It is immoral without question. It is unchristian.” (129).

The congregation got up and started dancing. They danced out of the cathedral past the police and military forces waiting to arrest them. Can you image such a sight?

Rhetorically, Tutu preached a radical form of interdependence captured in the African word, ubuntu. I am who I am and my identity is wrapped up in relationship with you, with the community, and with God (139; 205). Apartheid hurts me and by tolerating it you also are hurt and diminished.

Marilynne Robinson

Beitler describes Marilynne Robinson’s writing as inviting “readers to dwell with characters for whom the Christian faith matters deeply.” (162). Citing Jennifer Holberg who describes Robinson’s writing as a “resurrection of the ordinary”, Beitler sees Robinson exemplifying the Easter season (163) where particular times and particular places have special beauty and theological significance. He describes her work as a liturgy of praise for creation (175).

Assessment

James E. Beitler III’s Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church is an unusual book on rhetoric because it does not focus on how to write a persuasive speech. Rather he focuses on speech as a righteous, political act in the Christian tradition through five case studies of Christians in the twentieth century who redefined what it means to live in community as Christians. A Pentecostal awakening where diverse voices speak the gospel together (212).

What is perhaps surprising is that Beitler is a postmodern evangelical writing to an evangelical audience about social ministry, a topic frequently reserved for progressive authors. While this statement may set you to head scratching, you may want to put this book on your reading list.

[1]https://www.Wheaton.edu/academics/faculty/James-Beitler.

[2] If you don’t believe me, what does it mean to ‘raise my ebenezer?”Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, Till now the LORD has helped us.” (1 Sam 7:12 ESV)

Beitler Takes Words Seriously, Part 2

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RPC Sharpens Shorts; Gets Buy

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Beitler Takes Words Seriously, Part 1

James E. Beitler III.[1]2019. Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

While writing my recent book, Simple Faith, I discovered that an important distinctive of the Christian faith is that the Gospel is one of the best stories ever told. People do not come to faith through logical arguments alone; they come to faith when the heart and mind are both persuaded. Because rhetoric is the art of persuasion, the evangelist must learn to employ rhetoric in service of the Gospel in order to succeed.

Introduction

In his book, Seasoned Speech, James Beitler writes:

“The arc of the book’s argument is to move from a discussion of individual postures of Christian witness (ethos as an appeal to an individual’s character) to a discussion of communal ones (ethos as an appealing gathering place) … In brief, I want to encourage church members to reflect on various aspects of the rhetorical tradition, highlight important and practical ways of establishing ethos when witnessing, and bring rhetorical facets of Christian worship into relief.”(21-22)

In some sense, Beitler has turned deconstructionism on its head and set in service of the Gospel by providing five case studies of how Christian leaders have employed rhetoric in speaking Gospel to power! 

Postmodern Rhetoric

The five leaders chosen are: C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Sayers, Desimond Tutu, and Marilynne Robinson. In choosing two white authors, a black bishop, and two women authors, Beitler has deflated the criticism of Christianity as being a white man’s religion that oppresses women and people of color that has alternatively arisen from cultural Marxists, feminists, and Islamists.

Beitler never gives us a cultural context for his own application of Christian rhetoric, but he outlines a model in his discussion of Bonhoeffer’s interface with the rhetoric of Adolf Hitler. Beitler writes:

“Corrupting and parodying religious concepts, Hilter’s rhetorical strategy involved pitting the Rome-like capital of Munich [not Berlin!] against a diabolical portrayal of the Jew…Within this rhetorical geography, Hitler positioned himself at Munich’s center, presenting his ‘inner voice’ as the sole authority of the Aryan nation and demanding ‘the total identification between leader [der Fuhrer] and people [der Volk].”(99)

By contrast, Bonhoeffer spoke out about German Christians standing with Jewish converts (Messianic Jews), who were being excluded by the Nazis, he organized an underground seminary to teach traditional Christianity to church leaders, and wrote about the need for Christian community and Christian ethics. If our identity is in Christ, then we must identify as a community also with the people that Christ loves. (98-105)

Background and Organization

James E . Beitler III teaches writing at Wheaton College in Illinois. His doctorate is from the University of Michigan (2009) while his bachelors (2002) and masters (2004) are both from Wheaton College. He writes in six chapters:

  1. Preparing the Way: C.S. Lewis and the Goodwill of Advent
  2. Professing the Creeds: Dorothy L. Sayers and the Energy of Christmastide
  3. Preaching the Word: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Epiphanic Identification
  4. Calling for Repentence: Desmund Tutu and Lenten Constitutive Rhetorics
  5. Hosting the Guest: Marilynne Robinson and the Ethos of Eastertide
  6. Speaking in Tongues: The Church and the Heroglossia of Pentecost (vii)

These chapters are preceded by acknowledgments and an introduction, and followed by a bibliography and indices.

Assessment

In part one of this review, I give an overview of Beitler’s book. In part two, I look at each of the five leaders that he focuses on.

James E. Beitler III’s Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church is an unusual book on rhetoric because it does not focus on how to write a persuasive speech. Rather he focuses on speech as a righteous, political act in the Christian tradition through five case studies of Christians in the twentieth century who redefined what it means to live in community as Christians. What is perhaps surprising is that Beitler is a postmodern evangelical writing to an evangelical audience about social ministry, a topic frequently reserved for progressive authors. While this statement may set you to head scratching, you may want to put this book on your reading list.


[1]https://www.Wheaton.edu/academics/faculty/James-Beitler.

Beitler Takes Words Seriously, Part 1

Also See:

RPC Sharpens Shorts; Gets Buy

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Hahn Explains Catholic Practices

Scott Hahn.[1]2018. Signs of Life: 20 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots. New York: Image.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

As an author I have found that I learn more from my critics than from my friends. In my recent book, Simple Faith, my most influential reviews came from a retired, very-progressive professor who wanted nothing to do with endorsing the book, but his comments encouraged me to write about a half-a-dozen new essays. By contrast, I had trouble getting my evangelical friends to take time to read the book. In a similar fashion, Protestants have much to learn by reading books by Catholics. 

Introduction

In his book, Signs of Life, Scott Hahn writes:

“Jesus had greater praise for simple believers and children than he had the intellectuals of his day…it’s a mistake to treat intelligence and piety as if they’re mutual exclusive terms…One of my goals in writing this book is to show how Catholic customs and devotions fit into the larger scheme of Christian faith.”(8-9)

As an ancient church, the Roman Catholic church has weathered modern and postmodern life with relatively few concessions to the craziness of our culture and with a respect for Christian spiritual practices that most Protestant church have either ignored or only recent started to embrace. 

In my own pilgrimage, it is only the last three years that I have written about “Holy Saturday”, one of the days of Holy Week that Protestant usually have no clue about, which Catholics have long recognized and celebrated. Holy Saturday is a great day to reflect on grief, something not handled well by Americans and not officially recognized in the Protestant tradition. Hahn does not discuss it probably because he limited himself to the top 20 Catholic customs in need of clarity among Protestants.

Background and Organization

Scott Hahn is a well-known Catholic theologian and author who was raised as a Presbyterian. In my most recent book, for example, I cited Hahn’s (2009) work on covenants, which I read in seminary. Unfortunately, Hahn tells us relatively little about his conversion to Catholicism, but he does share that he is a Carmelite and a bit of what that means (140-142).

Hahn writes in twenty chapters, introduced with an introduction and followed by an epilogue:

  1. Holy Water
  2. The Sign of the Cross
  3. Baptism
  4. The Mass
  5. Guardian Angels
  6. Advent and Christmas
  7. Confirmation
  8. Marriage
  9. Priesthood
  10. Anointing of the Sick
  11. Incense
  12. Candles
  13. Sacred Images
  14. Relics
  15. Fasting and Mortification
  16. Confession
  17. Indulgences
  18. Intercession of the Saints
  19. The Rosary
  20. Scapulars and Metals(iii-iv).

This book is apparently an abridged version of an earlier book by the same name covering forty Catholic Customs (Hahn 2009). Seminary students will tell you that brevity is next to Godliness!

Sacraments and Sacramentals

Hahn distinguishes between a sacrament, something instituted by Christ, and a sacramental, instituted by the church. He writes:

“[A sacramental] is any object set apart and blessed by the Church to lead us to good thoughts and increase our devotion.”(12)

This is analogous to the role of a pastor, whose chief occupation is to point people to God, only a sacramental is a physical object. Thus, those nice little rocks that have a Bible verse painted on them that the ushers gave you on leaving church could be considered a sacramental, provided that they are properly blessed. This is similar to the story of Holy water (23) or maybe the practice of conducting prayer walks to bless an office or a home.

Biblical Interpretation

One of the weaknesses of the modern church is that the Bible has—among those paying attention—become too familiar. We read some passages more frequently than others and we focus on some words and skip quickly over others. Hahn’s willingness to point out the Biblical justification for the many Catholic spiritual practices therefore proved absolutely fascinating to me.

I have, for example, never really taken the idea of guardian angels very seriously. Hahn highlights the role of angels in various passages in the Book of Acts. For example, angels free the apostles from prison (Acts 5:19 and 13:7). He likens our guardians to being in charge of protecting God’s temple (1 Cor 3:16 and 6:19), much like the cherubim protect the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:24). If our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, then this analogy makes perfect sense, but I never really thought about it even though these passages are very familiar.

Assessment

Scott Hahn’s book, Signs of Life, is a fascinating and accessible read. I received this book as a gift from a Catholic friend and will likely use it as a reference when questions come up.

References

Hahn, Scott W. 2009. Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Hahn, Scott W. 2009. Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots. New York: Image.

[1]http://www.ScottHahn.com.

Hahn Explains Catholic Practices

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Pope and Contraception Get Second Look

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Gaughran Tests BookBub Ads

David Gaughran.[1]2019. BookBub Ads Expert: A Marketing Guide to Author Discovery. DavidGaughran.com

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Composing and managing online ads challenges the best minds publishing today. A good ad must have an attractive graphic, communicate the book’s theme, and motive the purchase. The ad must contribute to an effective sales strategy, reach an inspired audience, and generate enough sales, directly or indirectly to cover the ad expense. With so many moving parts to preparing good ads, the moment I heard about David Gaughan’s BookBub Ads Expert, I ordered a copy.

Gaughran writes: 

“Many authors try the [BookBub] platform half-heartedly, and invariably fail—so if you take the time to master it, you’ll have a serious competitive advantage. We’ll cover everything you need to know in this one book.”(xiv)

In my case, I began writing BookBub ads in December 2017 after taking an online class on book advertising and have run campaigns periodically since then to support my efforts to publish worldwide and diversify away from dependence on Amazon. While I have not been half-hearted in my efforts, I write nonfiction books that are harder to market than fiction books and up to this point I have had more success advertising with Amazon Advertising, which has frustrated my efforts to publish wide.

What is a BookBub Ad?

Gaughran emphasizes the need to understand the BookBub platform in order to succeed in running ads. BookBub ads are displayed on the BookBub website, but the primary forum for these ads are daily emails that are sent to avid reads worldwide, but primarily in English.[2]These readers self-select the genre that they are most often read so these ads are being served daily to people who read a lot of books, unlike Facebook or Google ads that reach a more general audience. The ads allow you to target individual genres, readers who like particular authors, and retailers who already stock your book.

BookBub subscribers get a daily email that lists a series of Featured Deals that are nearly impossible for new authors to qualify for.[3]At the bottom of the email is a single slot for paid advertising—this is BookBub ad that we are talking about. The ad itself is a 300 by 250-pixel[4]graphic—think two-thirds the size of a business card—that presumably displays your book cover, the deal being offered/description of the book, and a call-to-action—normally a big, bright button.

How Do You Use BookBub Ads?

Gaughran writes:

“I use them [BookBub Ads] to strategically boost launches and promote backlist, and I’ve also run huge BookBub campaigns for some bestselling authors.”(13)

More generally, he talks about these uses for BookBub ads:

  1. Supporting Launches
  2. Backlist Price Promotions
  3. Creating an International Audience
  4. Going Wide
  5. Pushing a Permafree [book]
  6. Opting for Exclusivity
  7. Solidifying Also Boughts [from the bottom of Amazon sales pages] (14-18)

For those new to book advertising, fiction authors will often discount the first book in a series (or make the EBook permanently free) to get readers hooked hoping that repeat sales (Also Boughts) will pay for their ads. Because nonfiction books are less addictive than many fiction books (I offer a prayer book for 99 cents), this marketing strategy is less effective but crossover sales are still important—if you advertise one book and see a spike in sales of another, then this is a crossover sale.

Key Takeaway Points

Gaughran rightly emphasizes that BookBub patrons expect EBook discounts. I typically do not offer discounts and my ad performance has suffered. 

Gaughran recommends a strenuous testing process focusing on both the author’s targeted and the ad presentation. He suggests a 10-15-dollar test focused on the U.S. Amazon market, where if you can succeed there, then you can succeed in his experience in other markets. He recommends testing ads until their click-through rate (CTR) is over 2 percent for a 99-cent book ad. 

I was surprised to hear Gaughran recommend opting to bid on cost per mil (CPM) rather than cost per click (CPC). A mil is a thousand impressions. His reason for this recommendation is that your ads will serve more quickly and in higher volumes. When targeted properly with well-tested ads yield CTRs over 2 percent, the CPC will decline in his experience.

Assessment

David Gaughran’s book, BookBub Ads Expert, is a helpful book that will likely be a big hit among publishes. He writes in an approachable, breezy style, but don’t let it fool you into thinking he is a marketing lightweight. Although I have used BookBub ads since December 2017, his marketing tips proved insightful and I found myself constantly checking into BookBub as I read the book.

[1]DavidGaughran.com.

[2]I publish also in Spanish so the focus on English came as a disappointment.

[3]BookBub wants well-known authors whose books have a lot of reviews and even best-selling authors have trouble qualifying for these deals.

[4]For people new to BookBub ads, keep in mind that BookBub insists that graphics be exactly 300 by 250 pixels, which was in my case a painful lesson.

Also see:

Penn Attracts Readers to Books

Bly Writes to Sell, Part 1

Teague Gives MailChimp a Spin

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Simple_Faith_Out



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Brooks Introduces the Bobos

David Brooks.[1]2000. Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I have time off to read, I often read popular titles that appear interesting. What are other authors talking about? What currently interests young people? These literary excursions often prove fruitful because they reveal blind spots in my own thinking. This line of thought led me to pick up a copy of David Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise.

Introduction

What is a Bobo? What looks like child’s mistake (booboo) is actually pronounced bow-bow and it is short for bourgeois bohemian. Brooks observes: 

“Defying expectations and maybe logic, people seemed to have combined the countercultural sixties and the achieving eighties into one social ethos…people who thrive in this period are the ones who can turn ideas and emotions into products”(10).

Brooks goes on to write: “This book is a description of the ideology, manners, and morals of this elite. I start with the superficial things and work my way to the more profound.” (11) The new upper-class professionals blend the artistic aesthetic of a hippy with the business acumen of a yuppy. What makes Brooks observations so intriguing is that almost twenty years later we see Bobo characteristics showing up among mere mortals, such as myself.

Background and Organization

David Brooks is a Washington-based political columnist who has written for the New York Times, Washington Times, Wall Street Journal, and other venues. He is also a Jew married to an evangelical both of whom attend church. This brief description validates his self-identification as a Bobo, someone highly talented and inclined to seek reconciliation in all aspects of life.

Brooks writes in seven chapters:

  1. The Rise of the Educated Class
  2. Consumption
  3. Business Life
  4. Intellectual Life
  5. Pleasure
  6. Spiritual Life
  7. Politics and Beyond (v)

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and are followed by acknowledgments and an index. 

Perhaps missing from these chapters is a detailed treatment of the role of technology in empowering young professions to become fantastically wealthy in such a short period of time. Prior to the 1990s, young professionals were forced to apprentice themselves in career paths that were less glamorous and more impervious to upward mobility, except among those coming from wealthy families.

What is a Bobo?

It is interesting that Brooks begins his taxonomy of a Bobo with a chapter on consumption. Bobo consumption is driven by new-found wealth that is a windfall to the highly educated few in the information age. Brooks observes:

“[in 1980] college graduates earned roughly 35 percent more than high school graduates. Buy by the mid-1990s, college graduates were earning 70 percent more than high school graduates, and those with graduate degrees were earning 90 percent more. The wage value of a college degree had doubled in 15 years.”(36)

This sudden accumulation of wealth by highly educated professionals affords them the opportunity to engage in consumption patterns unavailable to the bohemians of prior generations.

In my own information-crunching career, I spent roughly the first 20 years automating manual processes and exploring existing databases in the offices that I worked for. In my first major automation project I more than quadrupled the output of my manager within a year and improved the quality of the work done. This led to my promotion and eventual reassignment. This theme was repeated several more times before I left research and went into finance, but those behind me did not see the same boost to their career that I got because the low hanging fruit [of automation] had been exhausted and they entered finance after the field settle down. Timing matters, which suggests that the Bobos may not beget future Bobos.

Brooks writes about the aspect of Bobo culture that he knows—political consulting—where technology is not necessarily a big factor in success.

The Spiritual Deficit in Bobo Land

Brook takes an unexpected trip to Montana to explore Bobo spirituality. A surprising number of movies have been made in Montana in recent years, like A River Runs Through Itand the Horse Whisperer (218-219). Writing about the Montana “Soul Rush” Brooks observes:

“Everybody lives somewhere, of course, but not all places have that spiritual aura that we call ‘a sense of place.’ Only places that are inhospitable to ambition have that.”(221)

Having made their fortune, Bobos start to miss aspects of life that they have neglected that drives their interest in antiques, old houses, and places like Montana that seem more real than a computer screen. 

Brooks asks: “Can you have freedom as well as roots?” (227) He goes further to ask: “Can you still worship God even if you take it upon yourself to decide that many of the Bible’s teaching are wrong?”(228) It is out of this Bobo mentality (you can always split the difference and have choices) that people say that they are spiritual, just not religious. This is spirituality without obligation( 237), a meaningless idea because our spirituality defines our priorities. If our priorities are defined elsewhere, then our spirituality is likewise defined elsewhere.

Every chance I get, I remind people in my writing that the idea of multiple paths (think Bobo choices) up the mountain is a Hindu concept, not a Christian one. When God created the universe, he stood apart from it which implies that there are no paths up the mountain to God because God exists outside the universe and we exist within it. God must come down the mountain to us and as Christians we believe that he came in the person of Jesus.

Assessment

In his book, Bobos in Paradise, David Brooks writes like a sociologist observing some remote ethic group out in the jungles of New York and other metro areas in the United States. Still, he admits to being a card-carrying Bobo himself. Needless to say, Brooks has a keen eye for detail and has written an entertaining and readable description of the educated rich in our generation. 

[1]https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2019/04/29/is-david-brooks-christian-or-jew-his-latest-book-traces-his-faith-his-second-marriage. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Brooks_(commentator).

Brooks Introduces the Bobos

Also see:

Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Simple_Faith_Out

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Heintzelman Simplifies Vellum Publishing

Chuck Heintzelman.[1]2017. The Author’s Guide to Vellum: Creating Beautiful Books with Vellum 2.0. Mead, WA: Kydala Publishing Inc.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In 2018, I became the proud owner of a MacBook Pro laptop to aid me in my writing and publishing. A number of computer programs focusing on creative activities like writing are available primarily in the Apple world. One of the first that I purchased was Vellum, which has a small cult following among fiction writers. On the back-cover of his book, The Author’s Guide to Vellum, Chuck Heintzelman writes: “Whether you’re new to Vellum or an advanced user, you’ll learn  something with this [How-To] book.”In my case, I published my first compendium of three books (a box set) in early 2018, which makes me a user, but certainly not an advanced user—I was tickled pink to find this book and found the author’s claim credible.

Author’s Background

Chuck Heintzelman describes himself as a software developer and an EBook bundler, having his own company—BundleRabbit.com. Having created more than 900 EBooks and more than 80 box sets in Vellum, he is certainly an advanced user with the experience necessary to offer advice on using Vellum.

Vellum Basics

For those new to Vellum, start by downloading and installing Vellum on your Mac. Vellum is not available for Windows or Linux, which was initially a sore point in my case. It is possible to rent a mac online, but that is expensive ($1 per hour).[2]The trial version of Vellum does everything but create your EBook file, which you can do on a pay-as-you-go basis, or you can simply buy the program.

Your starting point in EBook creation is to create a Word document (*.docx file) with your book. For those who compose their books in other programs, such as Scrivener,[3] this requires a conversion to the Word format taking care to follow the guidelines to make sure Vellum properly converts the Word document into a Vellum file. 

Heintzelman recommends that authors download a template from the Vellum website[4]that allows 17 Vellum styles to be applied directly to your Word file before making the conversion (16). These styles assure a clean conversion. The availability of this template and style book is a great tip that does not seem to appear in the Vellum documentation.

Why Vellum?

The Vellum selling points arise because most EBooks are fairly bland electronic books and it is not obvious how to assemble a compendium or box set of electronic books. Vellum is popular because it permits the creation of customized EBooks in multiple formats (*.mobi, *.ePub, and *.rtf) sporting features like drop-case letters, graphics, and wing-dings not available elsewhere. What I did not know until reading Heintzelman is that Vellum can also be used to publish print books.

Why Not Vellum?

Heintzelman wrote a short, but important chapter on what Vellum cannot do. Vellum cannot:

  • Insert a table
  • Footnotes
  • Internal hyperlinks
  • Fine tuning (128-129)

Vellum support says that since this book was published an endnotes option has been added. In general, Vellum makes publishing easy, provided that you like the default settings.

Assessment

Chuck Heintzelman’s The Author’s Guide to Vellum is a short, helpful guide to publishing with Vellum. Because the Vellum help system is very brief, this guide fills an important niche.

[1]https://kydala.com.

[2]Heintzelman(136-139) mentioned a service called MacInCloud (www.MacInCloud.com).

[3]Scrivener is a popular writing program for authors available for download at:https://www.LiteratureAndLatte.com. Scrivener is optimized for writing and is cheaper than Word, but can create a Word (*.docx) document.

[4]https://get.180g.co/download/VellumAdvancedImportDocuments.zip.

Heintzelman Simplifies Vellum Publishing

Also see:

Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Simple_Faith_Out

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Moots: Disciple like Barnabas

Paul Moots. 2014. Becoming Barnabas: The Ministry of Encouragement. Herndon: Alban Institute.

Review by Stephen W. HiemstraOne of the most important ministries in the New Testament is largely unknown and, yet, provides a significant example to many churches. Barnabas was an early benefactor to the Jerusalem church and, because of his social standing, played a key role in reconciling Paul to the Apostles. He also mentored Paul in Antioch. Without Barnabas, Christianity might still be a dissident faction in Judaism rather than a world religion. Yet, only the most astute of Bible students know about Barnabas.

Introduction

In his book, Becoming Barnabas: The Ministry of Encouragement, Paul Moots writes:

“The ministry of encouragement is the art of leading and supporting others in the discovery of their own spiritual gifts and call to discipleship…We can become a Barnabas…encouragement allows the congregation to shape its ministry around its strengths rather than to base its work on some model derived from another congregation’s story, another pastor’s experience.”(2-3) 

Notice the role of story in this description. Each of us and each congregation has its own story of its Christian walk that deserves to be honored and built on. Herein lies our spiritual gifts and our strengths in ministry. 

Encouragement is at the heart of the multiplication of gifts and church growth (6). It stands in contrast to the usual concept of discipling that implicitly (or explicitly) defines discipling almost exclusively in a teacher-student role and seeks more to replicate than to strengthen. At the heart of encouragement is respect, much like Barnabas clearly respected Paul. Imagine what might have happened had Barnabas attempted to fashion Paul into a mini-me version of himself?

The Lessons of Barnabas

Moots sees five components of Barnabas’ ministry that together compose the ministry of encouragement: partnership, hospitality, courage, second chances, and character (xvi). He writes in seven chapters:

  1. The Ministry of Encouragement
  2. Standing With and Standing Aside: The Ministry of Partnership
  3. Standing with Outsiders and Outcasts: The Ministry of Hospitality
  4. Standing Against Fear: The Ministry of Courage
  5. Standing Against Failure: The Ministry of Reconciliation
  6. Authenticity in Ministry: Character and Call(v)

These chapters are preceded by a foreword and preface, and followed by notes and readings.

Standing Against Fear

One of the most unexpected insights that Moots brings to the Barnabas accounts in the Book of Acts is his recognition of the need for courage in offering encouragement. Moots writes:

“One difficulty I may have in approaching the problem of fear in ministry is my reluctance to admit that the fear exists.”(61)

He notes that fear is an important component of stress in ministry. We experience the fears of change, of consequences, of losing control, of admitting weakness, and of failing God (62-68). Moots suggests meeting regularly with colleagues in ministry to care for each other in the midst of spiritual warfare (74). He reminds us that fear is about condemnation which is why love drives it out (76-77).

Sons of Encouragement

Barnabas is mentioned in twenty-eight verses in the New Testament. All but five verses are found in the Book of Acts. He is also mentioned in First Corinthians, Galatians, and Colossians. 

Acts 4:36 explains that Barnabas means son of encouragement, which is described as his nickname because his given name is Joseph and he is said to be a Levite which implies that he is a priest. This reference is curious because bar-nabas literally means son of the prophet in Hebrew. Prophets are known for offering encouragement, which suggests the alternative inference.

Assessment

Paul Moots’s book Becoming Barnabas: The Ministry of Encouragement is an accessible book filled with scriptural and ministry insights. While clearly pitched to pastors, lay leaders may also benefit.

Also see:

Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Simple_Faith_Out

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Pope and Contraception Get Second Look

Pope Paul VI. 2014. On Human Life(Humanae Vitae). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The failure of many churches, especially protestant churches, to teach moral discipline since the 1960s is beyond dispute. The consequences have been stunning both in terms of cultural change and public health. For example, a recent report by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states:

Half of STDs are among young people ages 15 to 24 years. These infections can lead to long-term health consequences, such as infertility; they can facilitate HIV transmission; and they have stigmatized entire subgroups of Americans.

Cases reported for Syphilis, Chlamydia, and Gonorrhea rose 31 percent over the period from 2012 to 2017 showing infection among 2.3 million Americans in 2017 after declining since the 1940s.[1]This statistic does not include hepatitis or AIDS, both of which are also sexually transmitted and especially prevalent among homosexuals.

Introduction

Unlike the protestants that began loosening restrictions on contraception in the 1930 Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church (87), Pope Paul VI ignored advice consistent with the protestant position to issue a papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae, on July 25, 1968. The encyclical affirmed the traditional church teaching on the issue of contraception. The encyclical states:

In considering the problem of birth regulation, as is the case for every other problem regarding human life, one must look beyond partial perspectives—whether biological or psychological, demographic or sociological—and make one’s consideration in the light of an integral vision of man and his vocation, not only of his natural and earthly vocation, but also of his supernatural and eternal one….Marriage, therefore, is not the effect of chance or the product of the evolution of blind natural forces, it is a wise institution of the Creator for realizing in mankind His design of love.(52-53)

This encyclical was not popular among Catholics, especially American Catholics, and it was widely ridiculed by practically everyone else.[2]Now, after all the negative consequences of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, Christians are taking another look at this encyclical.

A Second Look

The foreword to this publication by Mary Eberstadt cites four prophecies made in the encyclical that appear to have taken place:

“a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.”(11)

The absence of a consensus on morality promoted uniformly by American churches has led to the perception that the church itself is irrelevant. The decrease in marriage, increase in illegitimacy, and increase in abortion have largely been ignored by the church. Secondary effects of the demise of the family like suicide, drug abuse, incarceration, and abuse of women get talked about without linking them back to the root causes (13). Safe irrelevance, not hard morality, tends to the be watchword in churches hemorrhaging members and young people.

In this context, Pope Paul VI encyclical is getting a second look by Christian leaders wondering what went wrong in our generation (35).

Assessment

Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, On Human Life, raises the important issue of contraception. It is worthy of discussion, especially as fertility rates decline in America below the population sustaining level of 2.1 children per adult woman. As an economist, I have long linked declining fertility rates to the need for immigration. If for no other reasons than to keep our Social Security and Medicare programs viable.[3]Support for families and basic morality is a prerequisite for a viable economy and for preventing social diseases that are devastating for the individuals affected and for the economic viability of our health care system.


[1]https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats17/2017-STD-Surveillance-Report_CDC-clearance-9.10.18.pdf.

[2]I still remember John Carson’s comment—if you don’t play the game, you don’t get to make the rules.

[3]Both Medicare and Social Security are pay-as-you-go programs. This means that employed young people pay for the benefits of retired old people. If you have fewer young people than emerging old people, either rates have to increase or benefits have to decrease.

Pope and Contraception Get Second Look

Also see:

Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2019b

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