McEvoy Outlines Tragedy

McEvoy_review_20210109

Sean McEvoy. 2017. Tragedy: The Basics. New York: Routledge.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Life in 2021 is full of tragedy. The classic image of postmodernity is a collage in which random objects are strung together, but individually have nothing to do with each other. The idea that one’s life should express unity and purpose is counter-cultural. More typically one sees students living hedonistic lifestyles and then wonder why job recruiters shun them when they wash out or graduate. Suicide. Drug overdoses. Pandemic parties. Gender confusion. Willfully out of touch with themselves, God, and others many eschew all sources of meaning in life focused only on the eternal now. And their lives are tragically short.

Introduction

When I found myself musing over a tragic character in a novella that I am working on, I wondered how best to develop this character more fully. I looked for a craft book focused on writing tragedy. Finding none, I turned to Sean McEvoy’s book, Tragedy: The Basics, who writes:

“This book will consider different theories of tragedy, but won’t offer one of its own … What tragic works of art have in common is that they deal with death, grief, and suffering, both physical and psychological … tragedy has a crucial role to play in how we cope with, and try to make sense of those things which cause us most distress and which are the sources of our deepest fears.” (1)

Based on this understanding of tragedy, the focus of my second book, Life in Tension, on the spiritual tension within us, with God, and with others could almost be considered a work on tragedy by another name. McEvoy[1] focuses on tragedy as a drama performed on the Western stage, consistent with his teaching at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge, UK.

Organization

McEvoy writes in six chapters:

  1. Greek and Romans: Classical Tragedy (5-42)
  2. When the bad bleed? Early modern English tragedy. (43-84)
  3. Neoclassicism, Restoration tragedy and sentimentality (85-97)
  4. From hero to victim: Romantic tragedy and after (98-112)
  5. Modernism and tragedy (113-141)
  6. The survival of tragedy (142-169)

These chapters are preceded by acknowledgments and an introduction, and followed by a conclusion, glossary, references, and an index. Judging by the number of pages devoted to each period, McEvoy’s focus is clearly on the classical period.

Greek Drama as a Religious Event

Perhaps one of McEvoy most startling revelations about tragedy is one of his first—Greek drama was a religious ritual. He writes:

“All the ancient Greek plays which have survived were performed in Athens at the great annual festival in honour of the god Dionysus, who was the god of wine and drunkenness, but also of the theatre.” (5)

He goes on to show the civic role played by Greek tragedies:

“The Theatre of Dionysus, located on the southern slope of Athens citadel, the Acropolis, had a similar layout to both the Assembly and the law courts, and at the end of threes days of tragic performances the audience would also vote.” (6)

The social location of the theatre was formerly to shape public opinion among the prominent citizens, all of them men, who ruled the city and attendance was required. Those who could not afford the entrance fee were granted a waiver (6). The theatre therefore functioned as a hybrid among a media outlet, a movie theatre, and diversity training.

Importance of Tragedy in Philosophy

Philosophy functioned as religion in pre-Christian Greece even as it functions as a secular interpreter of religion today. McEvoy writes:

 “Hegel believed that it was only in certain periods of historical transition hen new forms of consciousness arose that genuine tragedy can be written.” (26)

Calling tragedy an art form is almost to miss the point, from Hegel’s perspective. The observation that Karl Marx was the great student of Hegel in the modern period suggests how influential this perspective remains.

Assessment

 Sean McEvoy’s Tragedy: The Basics provides interesting insights into the role of dramatic tragedy as a shaper of and mirror of cultural change. The observation that notable philosophical commentators—Aristotle, Hegel, Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche—all took great interest in tragedy got my attention. McEvoy may also get yours.

References

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2020, Life in Tension: Reflections on the Beatitudes Revised. Centreville, Virginia: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC.

Footnotes

[1] https://www.murrayedwards.cam.ac.uk/fellows/dr-sean-mcevoy.

McEvoy Outlines Tragedy

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Plueddemann: Cross-Cultural Leadership

Plueddermann_review_20201126

James E. Plueddemann.  2009.  Leading Across Cultures:  Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church.  Downers Grove:  IVP Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

As you exit the parking lot in my home church, a sign reads: you are now entering the mission field.   Few years back on a Sunday morning Evangelist Hussain Andaryas (www.HeSavedMe.com) cited the Great Commission in Matthew 28 and said:  because you would not go across the seas to bring Christ to your brothers and sisters, God has given you a second chance.  Now, they live across the street from you.  Now, will you go?  Each of us, if we lead at all, must now lead across cultures.

Introduction

In his book, Leading Across Cultures, James Plueddemann cites Geert Hofstede and likens leadership like learning to play an instrument and likens leadership across cultures as like learning to play several instruments (11).  For Plueddemann:  A missionary is anyone, from any country, who leaves home in order to proclaim the gospel, usually in another culture (13).  For Plueddemann, a Christian leader focuses, harmonizes, and enhances the gifts of others for their own growth while cultivating the kingdom of God (15).

From Everywhere to Everywhere

Plueddemann summarizes the challenges of multicultural leadership with a slogan—from everywhere to everywhere (25).  Mission challenges include short-term missions, church-to-church partnerships, leadership development strategies, and working under leadership of another culture (25-27).  Short-term missions, for example, imply that missions are undertaken with little or no experience with either missions or the cultures involved.  Clashes in culture are often therefore immediate and unexpected.  For example, the American assumption of “equal partners” is foreign in most of the rest of the world where the usual assumption is a senior and a junior partner (26).

Cycle of World Missions

Plueddemann envisions a cycle of world missions composed of 5 steps:

  1. Pre-evangelism,
  2. Evangelism,
  3. Church planting and nurture,
  4. Leadership development, and
  5. Partnership (48).

For Plueddemann, pre-evangelism involves both caring for people’s physical needs and their eternal needs through medical help, humanitarian relief, schools and development programs (51). Evangelism Is bringing people to Jesus and sharing the gospel:  that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV; 52).  In discussing the need to plant churches, he writes:  Evangelism without discipleship is like giving birth and then leaving the baby in a dumpster.  Newborns can’t live more than a few hours without the help of a family (53).

Role of Leadership Training

On leadership, Plueddemann observes that:  Jesus taught and healed the sick, but his lasting ministry came from the training of the 12 disciples.  Leadership development was also at the core of Paul’s evangelism (55).  Leadership development naturally leads to partnership because Plueddemann observes:  mature churches are characterized as self-propagating, self-supporting, and self-governing (56).  It is indeed ironic (and a bit embarrassing) to see former mission partners now sending missionaries to North America.

Dr. James E. Plueddemann  is Professor of Mission and Intercultural Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School [1] in Deerfield, Illinois just outside Chicago. Leading Across Cultures is written in 12 chapters divided into 4 parts, including:

  1. Multicultural Leadership in the Worldwide Church,
  2. Leadership and Culture,
  3. Contextualizing Leadership, and
  4. Global Leadership in Practice.

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by an epilogue (7-8).

Clearly, there is not time to summarize all that Plueddemann has written.  However, I will never forget his comments specifically about culture.  He defines two concepts—context and power distance—which bear summarizing.

High and Low Context Cultures

Citing Edward Hall’s book, Beyond Culture (New York: Anchor Books,1976), Plueddeman high-context and low-context cultures.  In a high-context culture, information is passed informally with very little being communicated through formal speech.  What is important are the atmosphere of the room, the sounds, smells, facial expressions, and body language.  This is the norm in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East.  In low-context cultures the opposite is true.  People pay attention to what is explicitly said.  For example, people remember ideas, but forget who said them.  Highly expressive forms of speech are valued in high-context cultures and viewed with skepticism in low-context cultures (78-79).  In low-context cultures, speaking the truth face-to-face is valued; in high-context cultures, relationships are more important and difficult conversations take place through intermediaries (81).

Power Distance

Leadership always involves use of power so attitudes about power are culturally important.   Plueddemann cites a study by Robert House (and others) called Culture, Leadership, and Organizations:  The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies (London: SAGE Publications, 2004) which defines power distance as: the degree to which members of an organization expect and agree that power should be shared unequally (94).  In a high-power distance culture, everyone agrees that leaders should have more authority, respect, and status symbols (fancy cars, expensive clothes, and so on).  In low-power distance cultures, leadership is more participatory and leaders are expected to act like a peer and have a minimum number of perks (95).

Attitudes about the role of context and power distance can be dramatically different not only internationally, but between ethnic and age groups within a society.  This is, in part, why pastors are sensitive to the style of dress and musical preferences when speaking at new churches.

Assessment

Plueddemann’s writing on leadership in a cross-cultural setting is insightful.  His writing is filled with personal accounts, particularly focused on his time as a missionary in Nigeria.  However, keep in mind that he writes primarily for the seminary student and professional missionary.  The growth of North America as a mission field, however, widens the number of professionals who need to take his counsel.

[1] http://divinity.tiu.edu/academics/faculty/james-e-plueddemann-phd.

Plueddemann: Cross-Cultural Leadership

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Bonhoeffer: Follow After Christ

Dietrick Bonhoeffer, The Cost of DiscipleshipDietrich Bonhoeffer. 1995. The Cost of Discipleship (Orig Pub 1937).  Translated by R. H. Fuller and Irmgard Booth.  New York: Simon & Schuster—A Touchstone Book [1].

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Who do you follow after?

Belief follows obedience (57).  Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship was the first book of theology (other than the Bible) that I remember reading as a young person [2].  It was a tough read in eleventh grade, but I remember one thing:  grace is not cheap.

Introduction

Bonhoeffer wrote:

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living, and incarnate (44-45).

The Apostle Paul put it this way:  we were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The title in German is Nachfolge which means follow after.  It is often translated simply as disciple.

Historical Context

Americans are mostly unaware that Adolf Hitler became the democratically elected chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933 (Metaxas 2012, 138).  It was later that he seized the title of Führer, which means leader in German.  Bonhoeffer distinguished himself as an early opponent to National Socialism and spoke in a radio broadcast about the limits of leadership only two days after Hitler’s election.  Bonhoeffer said:  A good leader serves others and leads others to maturity (Metaxas 2012, 142).

Nachfolge was written in the years that followed (1933-1937) as a rebuttal to the false leadership embodied in the idea of führer.  The disciple stands under God’s authority which the Führer denies.  Still, Bonhoeffer was a leader in the Confessing Church.  Nachfolge is quietly addressed to the Confessing Church (e.g. 53), which stood apart from Hitler’s Reichkirche (official German Church) [3], and is not addressed to society more generally.  In standing in opposition to the führer principle, Bonhoeffer needed to define Christian leadership.  He wrote:  Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer (91).  Bonhoeffer was very aware that Jesus also lived during trying times and was also persecuted by corrupt religious leaders.

Organization

Although Nachfolge is often interpreted through the lens of cheap grace and discipleship, these topics consume less than a third of the book (5 of 32 chapters).  Nachfolge reads like a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.  It divides into 4 parts:

  1. Grace and Discipleship;
  2. The Sermon on the Mount;
  3. The Messengers; and
  4. The Church of Jesus Christ and the Life of Discipleship (9-10).

The Touchstone edition includes a forward by Bishop G.K.A. Bell who knew Bonhoeffer personally and worked with him (in England) to coordinate the opposition to Adolf Hitler during the Second World War.  It also includes a memoir by Gerhard Leibholz, a Jewish attorney who was also Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law.  Let me turn to summarize these 4 parts briefly.

Grace and Discipleship (35-101)

The problem posed by cheap grace arises because God offers grace to the sinner, not the sin.  Cheap grace whitewashes sin and insults God’s mercy.  Bonhoeffer wrote:  Costly grace was turned in cheap grace without discipleship (50).  This is to confess Christ as savior, but not as Lord.  Worse, it inoculates the aspiring Christian against true faith (54).  By contrast, the disciple is called by Christ (63) and adheres to Christ (59).

Bonhoeffer wrote that only those who obey can believe (70).  In other words, for Bonhoeffer there is no such thing as a seeker Christian—we are called or not—and suffering is the badge of a true disciple (91).  Suffering and rejection mark Christ as the true Messiah; the disciple shares in his master’s fate (87).  Bonhoeffer famously wrote:  When Christ calls a man, bids him come and die (89).  We gain our identity as individuals through Christ’s call (94).

The Sermon on the Mount (103-197) [4]

If Bonhoeffer had been an individual opposed to Adolf Hitler, then he could have ended his book with Part 1–Grace and Discipleship and escaped from Hitler’s Germany to spend the war working as a professor in the United States. In fact, in 1939 his escape was arranged for him in the United States where he spent 26 days mulling this alternative over.  But Bonhoeffer was not an individualist; he could not cut and run.  Instead, he returned to Germany to face his true calling (Metaxas 2012, 321-346).  The remainder of the Nachfolge addresses the role of the disciple at work and in the community [5].

Bonhoeffer begins his analysis of the Beatitudes by laying out the participants:  Jesus, the multitudes, and the disciples.  Bonhoeffer wrote:

Yet there will be enmity between them right to the bitter end.  All the wrath of God’s people against him [Jesus] and his Word will fall on his disciples; his rejection will be theirs (106).

Therefore, Jesus blesses his disciples (106) calling them salt and light.  The problem of the church, our church, is the failure to be salt and light (118).  The touchstone of the church, in Bonhoeffer’s words:  simple surrender and obedience, not interpreting it or applying it, but doing and obeying it (197).

The Messengers (199-221) [6]

Jesus’ disciples function as under-shepherds to Jesus, in part, because bad shepherds lord generally over the flock (202).  In Matthew 9:36, Jesus cites:

So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. (Ezekiel 34:5 ESV)

The remainder of this chapter in Ezekiel focuses on the attributes of bad shepherds.  In this context, the disciples function as evangelists who are charged to proclaim the kingdom of heaven and confirm their message by performing signs—miracles, exorcisms, and raising the dead (Matthew 10:7-8; 207).  They are to depend on hospitality being accredited as disciples by their poverty (209) and by their suffering (215).  As under-shepherds, they are also to expect opposition from the bad shepherds.

The Church of Jesus Christ and the Life of Discipleship (223-304).

As the called out ones of Christ (271), how do we understand our call?  Bonhoeffer writes:  There was no other way for them [the disciples] to know Christ, but by his plain word (226).  Consequently, Bonhoeffer sees child baptism as an abuse of the sacrament because baptism cannot be repeated and no faith is present (235).  More generally, the church becomes visible through the preaching of the Word, baptism, and communion (251).  Radical transformation of the church takes place as we all stand equally before the radical call of Christ (256-258).  Restoration of the divine image is impossible for us but becomes possible when God becomes like the image of man as He does in Jesus Christ (299).

Assessment

Bonhoeffer’s Nachfolge poses a challenging question to the church.  How does the church be the church in the midst of obvious persecution?  Before the Gestapo began hauling dissenting pastors off to concentration camps and drafted others into the Machtwehr (army), the Nazi worked to co-opt the church into a vision of the church cast by Nazi dogma and political needs. The Theological Declaration of Barmen 1934 (Die Barmer Theologische Erklärung) helped articulate the framework of the Confessing Church and met the most egregious Nazi efforts in forming the Reichskirche, but more was needed.  In some sense, Nachfolge was Bonhoeffer’s efforts to explain to himself what God required of him.

Who do we follow after?  We are to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1; 304).

Footnotes

[1] http://imprints.simonandschuster.biz/touchstone.

[2] When I entered seminary, I read it again; now having graduated from seminary this is my third reading.  This is the only book, other than the Bible, that I have ever read three times.

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestant_Reich_Church.

[4] The Sermon the Mount is found in both the Gospel of Luke (Luke 6:20-49) and the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 5-7).

[5] The remainder of Nachfolge is in some sense the beginning of a journey on the road to another book, Life Together, which chronicles Bonhoeffer’s work with an underground seminary in Hitler’s Germany. Life Together was completed in Göttingen, Germany (a university town where I also studied) in 1938 (Metaxas 2012, 312).

[6] This chapter focuses on Matthew 9:35-10:42 (199).

References

Metaxas, Eric. 2010.  Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy—A Righteous Gentile versus the Third Reich.  Nashville:  Thomas Nelson.

Bonhoeffer: Follow After Christ

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VanDuivendyk: Understanding Grief

Gift_of_Grief_review_07242014Tim P. VanDuivendyk [1]. 2006. The Unwanted Gift of Grief:  A Ministry Approach.  New York:  Haworth Press Inc.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Do you give grieving people permission to grieve?  Or do you try to sweep grief under the rug?

Introduction

In his book, The Unwanted Gift of Grief, chaplain Tim P. VanDuivendyk advises us to walk with people in their grief and help them complete the process of grief work (12).  He observes:

So many well-meaning friends and loved ones may try to cheer us up rather than just be with us in our sadness. Rather than help us grieve through and talk out our pain, they may attempt to talk us out of pain.  Rather than be sojourners with us in the wilderness, they may attempt to find us a shortcut…This book is not designed to take you out of your pain but to invite you into and through your pain to transformation and new life (3).

In this context, a sojourner is:  one who is willing to support, listen, and compassionately walk with another through their wilderness of grief (5).  VanDuivendyk further observes:

[This] wilderness is not just a physical place but also a spiritual and emotional place.  In the wilderness of grief we may not know which direction to take.  Feelings of fear may paralyze us.  We may not be able to see through the thick forest to tomorrow (9).

Healing with Scabs

VanDuivendyk characterizes grief almost like a scab on a wound.  He writes:

Grief fills up the vacuum of empty space left by our deceased loved one until we can adjust to and accept the reality that the person is no longer with us (12).

Grief is a gift because it helps us transform towards differentiating ourselves from our loved one (16).  Because they have passed, we must learn to live in their absence (the process of differentiation).  A scab protects us while the skin underneath grows to close up the wound.

VanDuivendyk sees 3 passageways through grief, depending on whether we prefer thinking, feeling, or acting (24-26).  Think people follow a cognitive pathway; feel people track emotions but may not be able to reason through what is going on; act people stay busy doing tasks during grief. Each pathway offers strengths and weaknesses. An act person, for example, may develop into a workaholic in response to grief (29) while a think person may worry obsessively and a feel person may slip into depression (28-29). VanDuivendyk suggests that we should learn to employ and work with each approach as a way to balance out (27).

Organization

VanDuivendyk’s The Unwanted Gift of Grief is written in 17 chapters preceded by a forward, acknowledgments, and an introduction and followed by notes, suggested readings, and an index.  These chapters are:

  1. Grief as Gratitude, Grief as a Gift;
  2. Everyone Grieves Differently;
  3. Factors that affect the Wilderness of Grief;
  4. Unbelievable Darkness;
  5. Frustration and Anger Amid “Why?”
  6. Praying for a Miracle;
  7. Wrestling with Sadness and Depression;
  8. Healing: Experiencing the Light Again;
  9. And Yet…We Never Forget!
  10. Being a Sojourner;
  11. Sojourning with Those in Unbelievable Darkness;
  12. Sojourning with Those Frustrated and Angry Amid “Why?”
  13. Sojourning with Those Praying for a Miracle;
  14. Sojourning with Those Wrestling with Sadness and Depression;
  15. Sojourning with Those in Healing and Light;
  16. Marriage : Tough Enough without Grief;
  17. Ways of Making it Through the Wilderness of Grief (vii-ix).

Clearly, VanDuivendyk writes using a topical approach.

In my own work as a chaplain intern, I found that the majority of patients that I visited with suffered from grief at some level.  For some it was active and obvious; for others it was repressed and a source of physical complication.  Helping people become more aware of their grief was one of the ways to facilitate their journey with it.

Assessment

More than anything, VanDuivendyk convinced me of the need to give people permission to grieve, particularly at funerals.  That one insight was worth the ticket of admission.  After all, ours is a religion that began in a graveyard, not a church. We grieve and can give permission to grieve because with the resurrection of Jesus Christ we know the graveyard is not the end of the story.  The end of the story is not sadness, but joy—in Christ.

Footnotes

[1] http://Tim.VanDuivendyk.com; www.MemorialHermann.org/services-specialties/clinical-pastoral-education-staff

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Goleman: Emotional Intelligence Brings Light

Coleman_review_2020111

Daniel Goleman.  2006.  Emotional Intelligence:  Why It Can Matter More than IQ.  New York:  Bantam Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

At one point in internship as a chaplain, I met a young woman in her thirties who suffered a stroke.  Her speech was slurred and her left arm was limp. An aunt paced the room unimpressed as the woman gave passionate testimony on how God had called her into ministry. Soon, her mother arrived and I gave up a chair on the patient’s right side to take one on her left. From my new vantage point, I noticed needle marks up and down her left arm. As we moved to prayer, each prayer request was followed by a 15-minute sermon from the mother.  At this point, clues as to her drug addiction and stroke became clear, albeit never verbally articulated.

The importance of non-verbal communication, active listening, and empathy in chaplaincy is clear; yet, these skills are also needed to succeed in everyday life and business.  It seems counter-intuitive that such “soft” skills would be so critical in the era of social media and electronic communication, but perhaps their value is enhanced by increasing scarcity in the population.  Interest in these soft skills mushroomed after the publication of Daniel Goleman’s book:  Emotional Intelligence. Citing work by psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer, Goleman defines emotional intelligence (EI) as abilities focused in 5 domains:

  1. Knowing one’s emotions;
  2. Managing emotions;
  3. Motivating oneself;
  4. Recognizing emotions in others; and
  5. Handling relationships (43).

Having offered a definition, however, Goleman speculated that EI may never be empirically measured the way that intelligence quotients (IQ) have popularly been (44).  This may be true, in part, because patterns of successful EI utilization vary by gender and personality type (45).

Goleman (born 1946) received his doctoral degree from Harvard University and reported on brain and behavioral sciences for the New York Times for Twelve years (359). His book is written in 16 chapters which are divided into 5 parts, including:

  1. The emotional brain;
  2. The Nature of Emotional Intelligence;
  3. Emotional Intelligence Applied;
  4. Windows of Opportunities; and
  5. Emotional Literacy (vii-viii).

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and preface (Aristotle’s Challenge) and followed by a lengthy set of 6 appendices and other resources. The word, encyclopedic, seems apt.

While I certainly came to Goleman’s book hoping to improve my ability to improve my empathy as a pastor, other uses of EI became immediately obvious.  Three that stood out were:

  1. Assisting with relational awareness (129-147).  One pastor I know despaired that premarital counseling was a waste of time.  Teaching EI is an area where time might be productivity spent.
  2. Managing emotional trauma in preventing disease and raising success rates in medical procedures (164-185).  As an intern assigned to chaplain in an emergency department, I observed at least half the patients admitted came in for preventable problems, such as bad lifestyle choices and other bad decisions.  The potential for spiritual healing to accompany physical healing is certainly higher than I would have imagined.
  3. Teaching emotional and relational ABCs may prevent violence among children and young adults and help mitigate other social ills, such as teenage pregnancy and drug addiction (266-272).  Bible stories and Jesus’ parables frequently target today’s social challenges which points to a need for more and smarter biblical teaching and preaching.  In general, stories teach better than other forms of instruction.

Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence is a fascinating book to read.  It discusses numerous psychological studies touching on all aspects of life. While EI is not an area of research easily summarized, Goleman articulates the importance of continued research and of applying the findings to treating serious social ills.  This is a book worth reading, studying, and applying.

Goleman: Emotional Intelligence Brings Light

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Grams: Outpouring of the Spirit

Grams_review_20200804

Rollin G. Grams. 2010. Stewards of Grace: A Reflective, Missions Biography of Eugene and Phyllis Grams in South Africa, 1951-1962. Eugene: Wipf & Stock.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the truly remarkable events of 20th century Christianity has been the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through the Pentecostal movement. It is also relatively undocumented. Rollin Grams’ book, Stewards of Grace, works to fill this gap. Rollin is the son of Pentecostal (Assembly of God) missionaries, Eugene and Phyllis Grams, who labored most of their careers in South Africa. He writes their story in their own words. The book is, however, more than an oral history or a travel diary. Rollin writes from the perspective of a biblical scholar who can interpret their experiences in terms of the biblical tradition.

Why might we, as Christians, read be interested in the lives of these quiet missionaries? Grams writes:

The Story of Eugene and Phyllis Grams is a story of one way to live justly amidst the social injustices of apartheid—the policy and practice of racial separation and inequality of South Africa. It is one way to live missionally before the needs of the world (x).

The words—live justly—and—live missionally—stand out here. Our lives in Christ are in tension with the world—how exactly do we deal with that and remain faithful to our calling as Christians?

Salted throughout the book are asides (he calls them capsules) to explain to a non-Pentecostal audience what is going on. For example, in an early capsule, Grams provides historical insight into the Pentecostal movement. Pentecostalism is often dated to begin with the Azusa Street Revival in 1906 (www.AzusaStreet.org) in Los Angeles, California. However, the Azusa Street Revival was one of many offshoots of the Welch Revival of 1904 and 1905 (19). Pentecostalism builds also on the much earlier holiness and faith healing movements (18). The multi-ethnic, multi-racial context of the Azusa Street Revival is a Pentecostal distinctive and an important contributor to its rapid growth worldwide.

Not all his capsules focus on Pentecostalism.  For example, Grams’ first capsule deals with Apartheid. What was Apartheid? Apartheid started in the Afrikaans Dutch Reformed Church whose General Synod ruled in 1857 that blacks should worship separately from whites. This doctrine pointed to God’s separation of the races at the time of the Tower of Babelthe whites viewed themselves as Israelites entering the promised land (3). This religious separation became law after the Nationalist Party gained control of the government in 1949. A series of laws were passed. The Mixed Marriage Act of 1949 made interracial marriage illegal. The Illegal Squatters Act of 1951 authorized the government to relocate into “homelands”. The Abolition of Passes Act required blacks to carry identity books at all times (4). It was in 1950 that Nelson Mandela was elected to the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress (ANC). After the abolition of Apartheid, Mandela was elected president of South Africa in 1994 (5).

Other than the capsules, Grams primarily writes a series of short stories. The book consists of 21 chapters that frame these stories. These chapters are preceded with a forward and followed by short postscript. Far from dry, Rollin poses a sense of humor that makes the stories come alive.

Apartheid is now history.  Historians will likely want someday to understand the events and people that led up to the quiet revolution in South Africa. The church likely played a leading role in this effort, even if historians gloss it over. I can tell you as someone who worked in international affairs that few people envisioned the changes that took place in South Africa. The role of Christians, such as the Grams, in providing hope to persecuted and reviled people cannot be underestimated. Rollin’s book provides source material for that evaluation.

A good screen writer could place this biography against a backdrop of the times and create a classic in Christian cinema.

Grams: Outpouring of the Spirit

Also see:

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

 

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Bell Introduces Writing as a Business

Bell_Review_20201024

James Scott Bell. 2009. The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises. Cinninnati: Writers Digest Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Even if you write for an audience of one, writing does not become ministry until someone reads your book. And they cannot read your book until they buy one. Thus, even Christian authors need to attend to the business side of writing.

Introduction

James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers begins with this purpose statement:

“What I want to do with this collection is offer you some helpful observations based on more than twenty years in the fiction writing game. This is not a comprehensive ‘how to’ on fiction. I’ve written two other books in that form. Rather, I seek to fill in some ‘cracks’ in what is normally taught in writing books and classes.” (1)

Probably the largest crack is that most authors, like most technology entrepreneurs, fall in love with the craft (or insert your favorite technology) and forget that they are in business.

In the early years of Microsoft, Bill Gates easily qualified as the most hated man in the tech world because his vision was to turn the personal-computer hobby into a business and bought out most of his competitors for cheap. Developers used to whine that Gates made his fortune with MS DOS operating system, which he bought for peanuts, and he didn’t even program it himself. Taking a page from Gate’s book, Bell reminds authors: “You are a business, and your books are the product.” (186)

Part of any successful business is having a quality product—the craft matters (5)—but it is not all that matters. Gates may not have programmed MS DOS himself, but Gates was perfectly capable of standing up and answering technical questions from an auditorium filled with system administrators, programmers, and computer technicians—this was an amazing feat to witness, as I did in the early 1990s.

Bell especially does the same thing—focusing on the details of the writing craft—in the first two-thirds of his book.[1] This is his way of earning “street cred” to enlarge the conversation to include the business side of writing and to differentiate himself from the hordes of writing instructors who are themselves wannabees, not published authors.

Background

On his website, we read:

Jim has taught writing at Pepperdine University and at numerous writers conferences in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. He attended the University of California, Santa Barbara where he studied writing with Raymond Carver, and graduated with honors from the University of Southern California Law Center.[2] 

In addition to his writing books, he is known for writing thrillers, television appearances, and legal work.

Student of Sun Tzu

Bell writes in a style that might aptly be described as explained proverbs or aphorisms, many of which are based on the writings of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (400-329 BC). The Art of War is must reading for military strategists, but many of his proverbs have general applicably. Bell’s application to writing accordingly stands within a long tradition of such analogies. Bell writes with 77 proverbs organized into three parts: reconnaissance, tactics, and strategy.

The first proverb under reconnaissance is: “The writer who observes the battlefield before entering the fray will be better equipped to plan strategy and tactics.” (8) In my own career as an economist, I have been a writer from my days as an intern, fully understanding the publish or perish mentality of the field.

The first proverb under tactics is: “The writer of potential greatness settles not for ‘mere’ fiction.” (68)  In my first career, my title was economist, not author, and the salary went with the title even if I spent most of my time researching to write. I was not “merely” a writer any more than Hemingway was “merely” a journalist.

The first proverb under strategy was cited in my introduction. The second one is: “A goal is just a dream unless it has legs.” (192) Although I seldom bring it up, my business card states my goal of “writing nonfiction Christian books in English and Spanish.” This fall I have widened this goal to include a novella (fiction) and to translate my first book into German, but my goals have been pretty firm since September 2013 when drafted that first book in English.

Assessment

James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises is helpful reminder of the many moving parts to a writer’s career. Because author clubs typically have two or three wannabees for every published author, many could benefit from a better understanding the business of writing that Bell provides. If anything, this is advice is more valuable today that it was when this book was published in 2009. I find such advice most helpful during transitional periods in the publication process when writing, editing, or publicity screams the loudest for my attention.

[1]Actually, a bit more than two-thirds of the book: 183 out of 259 pages or 71 percent.

[2] https://www.jamesscottbell.com.

Bell Introduces Writing as a Business

Also See:

Bell, James Scott.  2004.  Plot and Structure:  Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish.  Cincinnati:  Writer’s Digest Books. (review)

Bell, James Scott. 2008. Revision & Self-Editing: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Finished Novel. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books. (Review)

Bell, James Scott. 2014. How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript. Woodland Hills, CA: Compendium Press. (review)

Bell, James Scott. 2019. The Last Fifty Pages: The Art and Craft of Unforgettable Endings. Woodland Hills, CA: Compendium Press. (review)

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

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Bell Revises with Care

Bell_review_20201008

James Scott Bell. 2008. Revision & Self-Editing: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Finished Novel. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

It is often asserted that writing is a right-brain (creative) activity and editing is a left-brain (analytical) activity. While I doubt that any writers have been observed under CAT scanning device, the observation has an intuitive appeal and is repeated ad nauseum in books on writing. In my case, I generally find myself plumbing the depths of books on writing mostly as I contemplate another round of editing, both to garner new insights and to gather motivation to jump into editing one more time. James Scott Bell writing books (see references) provide reliable fodder for both needs.

Introduction

In his book, Revision & Self-Editing: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Finished Novel, James Scott Bell describes how to use his book in two parts

“In Part 1: Self-Editing, we will be covering a broad range of fiction technique, with exercises—a sort of writing boot camp … [Part 2] offers a systematic approach to revising a novel.” (5)

Dedicated James Scott Bell fans will recognize Part 1 as an overview of different writing books that he has written previously and he covers much the same topics. The rubber hits the road with a splash in chapter 16, the Ultimate Revision Checklist, where he revisits each topic in Part 1 with specific advice on editing and revising manuscripts focusing on specific problems in those topic areas. If we read in Part 1 that “fiction is the record of how a character faces a threat or challenge” (18), then in Part 2 he advises us to “track the inner change in your character through the three acts” with a “character arc template” (219) that demonstrates how the character grows in response to the threat or challenge. There is method to the madness here.

Background and Organization

On his website, we read:

Jim has taught writing at Pepperdine University and at numerous writers conferences in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. He attended the University of California, Santa Barbara where he studied writing with Raymond Carver, and graduated with honors from the University of Southern California Law Center.[1] 

In addition to his writing books, he is known for writing thrillers, television appearances, and legal work.

Bell writes in sixteen chapters, divided into two parts:

Part One: Self Editing

  1. A Philosophy of Self-Editing
  2. Characters
  3. Plot & Structure
  4. Point of View
  5. Scenes
  6. Dialogue
  7. Beginnings, Middles, and Ends
  8. Show versus Tell
  9. Voice & Style
  10. Setting & Description
  11. Exposition
  12. Theme

Part Two: Revision

  1. A Philosophy of Revision
  2. Before You Revise
  3. The First Read-Through
  4. The Ultimate Revision Checklist (vi-vii)

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by an epilogue, appendix, and Index. This book is part of the Write Great Fiction series published by Writer’s Digest Books.

 Self-Editing

Bell asserts that 99.9 percent of self-published authors need to learn how to self-edit better. He defines self-editing as: “the ability to know what makes fiction work, so when you actually write (as in a first-draft) you’re crafting salable fiction.” (8) Because more than a million books are published annually and readership appears to be declining, writing is a highly competitive activity. Self-publishing has contributed to this outcome, which makes it unlikely that most authors will not be offered an editor to work with and bookshelf space on which to sell their books. Thus, good self-editing skills are a must for most writers.

Outside of the environment in which we labor, editing becomes necessary once a first draft is produced. If writing is a right-brain activity, then most first drafts will resemble a brainstorming with some structure. This implies that editing is required to develop characters, fill in descriptive details, and generally make things hold together. In my own novella project in September, on first read I found conflicting details about a minor character in my first draft, a product of my own poor memory—an obvious incentive to edit even my edits.

Revision

Bell observes: “Submitting a novel without rewriting is like playing ice hockey naked.” (192) In a nutshell, you can play hockey naked, but you probably don’t want to!

Bell sees professional authors as the one taking the long view: “Ultimate success involves a long curve of learning, working, failure, trying again, patience, and perseverance.” (194) Personally, I have found professional are the ones who are constantly learning new techniques and looking for mentors to ease the process. It is the difference between those seeking a job and those desiring a career—only the latter effectively learn the craft.

 Assessment

James Scott Bell’s Revision & Self-Editing: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Finished Novel stands out as a good summary of his collective wisdom as a writer and a must-read for fiction authors. I especially enjoyed his advice to write a “pet the dog” beat to deeper the identity of you lead character. For Bell, writers are the ones who ceaselessly learn more about writing. What dog can’t you not pet?

Footnotes

[1] https://www.jamesscottbell.com.

References

Bell, James Scott.  2004.  Plot and Structure:  Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish.  Cincinnati:  Writer’s Digest Books. (review)

Bell, James Scott. 2014. How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript. Woodland Hills, CA: Compendium Press. (review)

Bell, James Scott. 2019. The Last Fifty Pages: The Art and Craft of Unforgettable Endings. Woodland Hills, CA: Compendium Press. (review.

Bell Revises with Care

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

 

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Friedman: Families Matter

Friedman_review_20200713

Edwin H. Friedman.  1985.  Generation to Generation:  Family Process in Church and Synagogue.  New York:  Gilford Press [1].

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Families matter more than normal (individualistic) intuition suggests.  A death in the family may leave one person with chronic migraine headaches; another may develop back pain or experience a heart attack; a third may exhibit psychiatric dysfunction.  A medical doctor or counselor treating only an individual’s symptoms may not have a high degree of success because the cause of the symptoms lies in the family system, not the individual.  While pastors and chaplains may not be surprised by this observation, standard medical and counseling training and practices focuses almost exclusively on the individual.

Introduction

A relatively new field of counseling, family systems counseling, looks at the family as an emotional system.  What matters in family systems is not so much individual behavior, but how individuals in the family interact with one another.  Because any emotionally connected group—an office, business, or church—behaves in much the same way, family systems analysis has wide applicability.  Edwin Friedman’s book, Generation to Generation:  Family Process in Church and Synagogue, is probably the best known book in this field.

Five Concepts

Friedman outlines 5 basic concepts in family systems theory, including:

  1. The identified patient;
  2. The concept of balance (homeostasis);
  3. Differentiation of self;
  4. The extended family field; and
  5. Emotional triangles (19).

Each of these concepts deserves discussion.

The Identified Patient

Symptoms arise in a family system first in the weakest members of the system.  This unconscious scapegoating effect arises, in part, because they are least able to cope with problems elsewhere in the system like plumbing subject to excessive water pressure (21).  For example, a child may act out (nail biting, bed-wetting, fighting in school, teenage troubles, etc) because the parents have marital difficulties.  Focusing on the child may simply make the problem worse, while counseling the parents may not only resolve the marital difficulties, but the child’s issue as well.

Balance

The family emotional system strives to maintain equilibrium (resist change) having an effect not unlike a thermostat.  When problems surface, questions according arise like:  what is out of equilibrium?  Why now? (24)  Ironically, familiar dysfunction may be preferred to therapeutic change (25).  Dynamic stability may accordingly be attained, in part, by how loosely or tightly individuals respond to changes.  Friedman classifies families as acting more like a serial (tightly integrated) or parallel (loosely integrated) electrical system (25-26).  Families that are loosely integrated exhibit a greater capacity to absorb stress simply because they are less reactive to the stress.

Differentiation of Self

According to Friedman:  Differentiation means the capacity to be an “I” while remaining connected.  Differentiation increases the shock-absorbing capacity of the system by loosening the integration.  The ideal here is to remain engaged in the system but in an non-reactive manner—a nonanxious presence (27).  Great self-differentiation offers the opportunity for the entire system to change by reducing the automatic resistance to change posed by homeostasis (29).  Family leaders (including pastors in church families) who develop greater self-differentiation can accordingly bring healing in the face of challenges (30-31).  This is a principle that can aid leaders in many a dysfunctional organization [2].

Extended Family Field

Understanding one’s extended family and family history can identify unresolved issues and repeating patterns.  The principle is that one cannot solve a family system’s problem by withdrawing temporally or geographically—in such events we simply take our issues with us.  Such problems have a nasty habit of reappearing kind of like genetic diseases transmitted by DNA.  Friedman (32) observes that:  family trees are always trees of knowledge and often they are also trees of life.  This re-emergence of family systems problems across time and distance extends the principle of homeostasis.

Emotional Triangles

Friedman (35) writes:  An emotional triangle is formed by any three persons or issues…when any two parts of a system become uncomfortable with one another, they will “triangle in” or focus on a third person, or issue, as a way of stabilizing their own relationship with one another. This has the effect of putting stress on that third person to balance the system.  An unsuspecting pastor could, of course, end up participating in many such triangles and simply burn out.  This leads Friedman to observe that: stress is less the result of quantitative notion such as “overwork” and more the effect of our position in the triangle of our families (1).

The importance of the pastor’s stance in a church family is immediately obvious in this framework.  The pastor functions as a parent in the church family system.  Problems in the pastor’s family of origin have the potential to transmit immediately into the church family because of the pastor’s key role in the system.  Likewise, the pastor can also be easily triangled into families within the church family if the pastor is not a nonanxious presence within the system.  Homeostasis can leave a new pastor vulnerable to dysfunction in a church years after the apparent source of the problem, perhaps a prior pastor, has left.

What is fascinating about this line of thought is that, unlike in theories of culture, much of this activity is subconscious—a kind of emotional twin to the thought processes involved in discussions of culture.

Family Therapy

Friedman wrote having worked as family therapist and ordained Jewish Rabbi for more than 30 years in the Washington DC metro area.  He writes in 12 chapters divided into 4 sections preceded by an introduction and followed by a bibliographic and index.  The chapter titles are:

  1. The Idea of a Family;
  2. Understanding Family Process;
  3. The Marital Bond;
  4. Child-focused Families;
  5. Body and Soul in the Family Process;
  6. When the Parent Becomes a Child;
  7. A Family Approach to Life-Cycle Ceremonies;
  8. Family Process and Organizational Life;
  9. Leadership and Self in a Congregational Family;
  10. Leaving and Entering a Congregational Family;
  11. The Immediate Family:  Conflict and Traps; and
  12. The Extended Family:  Its Potential for Salvation (ix-x).

Although Generation to Generation is a textbook, it is a fascinating read—Friedman is famous for his story-telling and he wrote another book, Friedman’s Fables (New York:  Gilford Press, 2014), which focuses more explicitly on the stories.

Assessment

Applying Friedman’s principles in my own family life has brought enormous healing.  My seminary training, for example, worked to increase my level of self-differentiation within my family which is very close (fused in Friedman’s terminology).  This book is well worth the time and effort to read and study.  The life you save may be your own.

[1] www.Guilford.com.

[2] An entire book has been focused on this same principle:  Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky. 2002.  Leadership on the Ling:  Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading.  Boston:  Harvard Business School Press.

Friedman: Families Matter

Also see:

Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

 

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Benner Points to God

Benner_review_20200805b

David G. Benner. 2003.  Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction.  Downers Grove:  IVP Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The term, soul mate, is often bantered about in the popular media without a clear definition.  Usually, a soul mate is simply a photogenic member of the opposite sex who understands you. In seminary a friend spoke intriguingly about spiritual friends who: nurture the development of each other’s soul (16). This definition sounded remarkably like the relationship I shared with my best friend in high school who went on to become a pastor. When I learned that my friend took his comments from David Benner’s book,Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction, I immediately ordered a copy.

Introduction

Some books are good for information; others offer solace in life’s journey. Benner’s work clearly falls in both camps. He writes: The essence of Christian spirituality is following Christ on a journey of personal transformation…Spiritual friends accompany each other on that journey (26). Reading along I discovered things about myself that had never previously been expressed in words.

Spiritual Direction

One such point was Benner’s comment about spiritual direction.  The objective in offering direction is not to provide counsel or even react to things said, but rather to point friends to God’s work in their personal lives.  Benner writes: spiritual direction is not primarily about theology. It is about personal, experiential encounter with God (155).  Soul care consists, not of advice or disciplining, but of compass reading.  Disciplining focuses on first steps while spiritual direction focuses on later stages in the journey (28).

Jesus modeled this focus saying: I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3 NIV). Only someone well along in the journey of life needs to reflect back on childhood experiences.  Paul likewise appeared to position himself primarily as a spiritual traveler rather than teacher.  For example, Paul writes: Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8 ESV).  As a fellow traveler, Paul’s work as an evangelist placed him in the position of a guide pointing the way to Christ.  A guide travels; a teacher waits for students to appear.

This “compass reading” objective of spiritual direction and spiritual friendship is critical in offsetting the idolatry of individualism.  Normally, a preoccupation with holiness is critiqued by our society as “navel gazing” or becoming all churchy.  While is certainly possible to become obsessed with the programs and trappings of the church, becoming sensitive to God’s work in our lives normally has the opposite effect.  God is unseen and speaks through people and things seen.  When we become sensitive to God’s work, we become more fully aware of everyone and everything else in our lives.  This sensitivity accordingly strips away the pretense of individualism.  Compass reading has the effect of providing us a better set of priorities because God moves closer to the center of lives.  Jesus focused on children, in part, because they are more sensitive, not less sensitive, to what is happening around them than most adults.

Background and Organization

At the time of this book’s publication, David Benner was a Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Spirituality at eh Psychological Studies institute in Atlanta, Georgia.  His book is written in 9 chapters:

  1. The Transformational Journey;
  2. Hospitality, Presence, and Dialogue;
  3. The Ideals of Spiritual Friendship;
  4. Demystifying Spiritual Directions;
  5. Soul Attunement;
  6. A Portrait of the Process;
  7. Becoming a Spiritual Director;
  8. Spiritual Accompaniment in Small Groups; and
  9. Spiritual Accompaniment in Marriage.

The first 3 chapters focus on spiritual friends; the next 4 focus on spiritual direction; and the last 2 focus on combining the two.  These chapters are introduced with a lengthy preface and followed by an epilogue.

Assessment

If our faith in Jesus Christ is more caught than taught, spiritual friends play a critical role in our walk with the Lord. Reading Benner’s book was a key point in my journey.

Benner Points to God

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

 

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