The First FeatherBook of the Christmas Season

I’ve written (a bit) about my upcoming memoir, The Love That Matters, some here. It should be available for purchase in the next few weeks. And once that book is available, I will have a great deal more to say about it.

Until then, the Kindle edition of this book, Bible Stories: Reading Between the Lines, is available for purchase now. This is anthology of short stories based (or inspired) by Bible passages and stories in scripture, edited by Pastor Megan Rohrer of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco (out in the avenues, a place I remember quite well from oh so long ago…). A friend of mine, Angela Nelson (an ELCA pastor in upstate New York) told me about this project earlier this year and suggested I send them a story or two.

I sent them three. The first, “Brothers,” tells the story of Isaac and Ishmael’s meeting to bury their father Abraham (Genesis 25:9-10). The second, “The Undead,” tells the story of Korah — the leader of a failed rebellion against Moses in Numbers 16 — who was swallowed up by the earth and taken down to Sheol (Hades, the land of the dead) alive. The final story is “A Street Called Straight,” which recounts the difficult conversation Ananias and his companions have over what to do with the blind and helpless Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:17-19).

The goal of the project, as I remember from the original solicitation for stories, was for:

… fictional stories that flesh out little known characters or tell stories with an eye toward contemporary issues. This is not meant to be a translation or another version of the bible like The Message, rather authors will create a fictional story inspired by the ideas, characters or well known stories and reimagine them in a contemporary setting. This may include writing about a character we don’t know much about, or telling the before or after story that doesn’t appear in the gospels.

I tried to do that. So go get yourself a copy. The Kindle edition is available now, and I understand that the physical book should be in stock in a couple of weeks.


Most Interesting Reads for the Week (December 12, 2014)

Here’s a list of things I’ve come across while pursuing the Internet this last week…

  • The value of disagreeing, and disagreement. “But beyond those general axioms, the really remarkable feature of the Jewish tradition of machloket is that it is itself a basis for community. The community of contention, the contentious community, is not as paradoxical as it may seem. The parties to a disagreement are members of the disagreement; they belong to the group that wrestles together with the same perplexity, and they wrestle together for the sake of the larger community to which they all belong, the community that needs to know how Jews should behave and live. A quarrel is evidence of coexistence.”
  • Speaking of which, I very rarely agree with Jeffrey Goldberg, but I do here. “The lesson is obvious: The next time a group of Islamist terrorists succeeds in killing large numbers of Americans—and such an attack should be expected—it is important for those who are in positions of power (very much including the writers and commentators who shape popular thinking) to keep in mind that the goal of the United States is to neutralize the threat, and not to seek retribution for the sake of retribution.”
  • Me, writing about torture, about a decade ago. “But that’s not why governments torture. They don’t torture because of need. Governments torture to humiliate and destroy. They torture to strip a person of his humanity, to make him or her face unrestrained state power alone, unaided and helpless. States torture and kill because they can, because even if the state isn’t really God, it can play God by taking life when it pleases and how it chooses. Because it is a way to annihilate a human being, slowly, one atom at a time.”
  • On being moral in a media age. “The answer comes from looking at your life as a whole, and asking yourself what it means to live well, to live meaningfully. Does it really mean raging impotently about far away matters you are utterly powerless to impact? What kind of life are you striving for, exactly? No one arrives at the exact same answer, but posing the question is a big step for most people. And for most people, the general formula is in the same ballpark — making a living, being surrounded by loved ones who treat you well, being the kind of person worthy of admiration. Devoting the time and resources to pursuing projects and aspirations that are meaningful and that you would be proud to speak of on your deathbed.”
  • State violence and the fear of black men. “We allow governments to have this power because we fear what would happen if they did not have it.  The problem here is that governments are the ones who collect (or do not collect) information on what we fear. They are the experts on what we fear. They are the ones who are or are not compiling information on threats (both real and imagined). They are, in a sense, the suppliers of the problem. They are fear mongers, as it were, creating and sustaining the myth of AFROzilla.”
  • The value of Marx in a post-Marxist world. “Increasingly the divides in American life are not between those who defend equality of opportunity versus those who demand equality of result, as Nisbet argued. Rather they are between whether freedom and voluntary association on a more local level can win out over coercion and bureaucracy at an ever more distant national level. Kunkel’s desire for sustainable production by worker-owned businesses and grassroots democratic decision-making seems to envision a new kind of politics, more local and left-libertarian in nature, that transcends easy categorization.”
  • Britain lost its war in Afghanistan before it even began. “How bad was it? In a way it was worse than a defeat, because to be defeated, an army and its masters must understand the nature of the conflict they are fighting. Britain never did understand, and now we would rather not think about it.
  • While I’m not sure I agree with this author’s enthusiastic affirmative, his critique of modernity is spot on. “A good and intelligent priest who writes on public affairs told me, for example, that comprehensive public healthcare was a matter of ‘how people ought to treat each other.’ That view seemed to me overly optimistic, since comprehensive bureaucracy does not seem the ideal for how people should treat each other, but he had a point. Comprehensive organization looks like a good way to deliver the services of technicians, and that is what medicine mostly is today, so it seems believable that such programs reduce human suffering. That is a goal we should certainly favor. Nonetheless, he was, I believe, wrong.”
  • Building the next Rosetta Stone. When constructing an archive for a stranger, it’s imperative to keep in mind the terms of discovery. How much information does the recipient need in hand to make sense of the archive, or to know that it is an archive in the first place? Bostrom told me it would be easy to communicate with a sufficiently developed species. ‘I think practically any record that we could create that we could also read,’ he said, ‘would be intelligible to an advanced future civilisation, provided only that we preserve a sufficient amount of text.’ Sandberg sounded a similar positive note: ‘We humans have figured out both honeybee dances and ant pheromone trails.’

Most Interesting Reads for the Week (December 7, 2014)

Here are a few of the more interesting things I found on the Internet last week. Sorry this is late.

  • Race and power in the American understanding. “And so this conflict between two seemingly incompatible racial visions brings to the surface a fundamental congruence: The Ferguson event reveals the fact that both sides cannot imagine race apart from systems of domination. We have two very different race narratives that are nevertheless both bound up with the same system of ultimate authority. As inheritors of the nation-state complex, we in modern America simply have no memory of race being defined and negotiated in any other way.”
  • How journalism gets bent and broken in Israel and Palestine. “In these circles, in my experience, a distaste for Israel has come to be something between an acceptable prejudice and a prerequisite for entry. I don’t mean a critical approach to Israeli policies or to the ham-fisted government currently in charge in this country, but a belief that to some extent the Jews of Israel are a symbol of the world’s ills, particularly those connected to nationalism, militarism, colonialism, and racism—an idea quickly becoming one of the central elements of the ‘progressive’ Western zeitgeist, spreading from the European left to American college campuses and intellectuals, including journalists. In this social group, this sentiment is translated into editorial decisions made by individual reporters and editors covering Israel, and this, in turn, gives such thinking the means of mass self-replication.”
  • Considering the feelings of bees. “But could insects feel emotional angst? Sainath and I leant forward into our quiet voices and the small circle of intimacy created by our shared knowledge that many would find blasphemous. ‘I didn’t prove it, scientifically,’ he said, ‘but I could feel it. Of course they suffer. Their long antennae caressing each other – their feet and tongues touching. Yes, they do. They suffer.’”
  • Why young western Muslims go to war in Syria. “The underdogs are particularly important for terrorist organizations like Islamic State, because their stories are meant to show that even a loser can be someone — not in Dinslaken or Berlin, but with the jihadists in Iraq and Syria — even if most of those mentioned in the media eventually die a so-called martyr’s death.”
  • Beating the Islamic State on the ground of ideas — something I’m not entirely sure the West can do on purpose. “I am a firm believer that the US cannot eliminate IS through coercive force and confrontation across borderless states. Statelessness is IS’s comfort-zone. Engaging it on its own turf of lawlessness means providing it with lifeblood of survival. Obama might have been right that IS ‘is neither Islamic nor a state,’ but IS has to be defeated by both—Islam and the State. Its brand of Islam has to be replaced by a sheer Islamic scholarship that is genuinely deconstructive of the polemical roots of sectarian praxis.”
  • What we make impossible when we seek to eliminate risk. “Risk played its part, too, in the massive postwar shift in social attitudes. People, often the young, were prepared to take huge, physical risks to right the wrongs of the pre-war world. The early civil rights and anti-war protestors faced tear gas or worse. In the 1960s, feminists faced social ridicule, media approbation and violent hostility. Now, mirroring the incremental changes seen in technology, social progress all too often finds itself down the blind alleyways of political correctness. Student bodies used to be hotbeds of dissent, even revolution; today’s hyper-conformist youth is more interested in the policing of language and stifling debate when it counters the prevailing wisdom. Forty years ago a burgeoning media allowed dissent to flower. Today’s very different social media seems, despite democratic appearances, to be enforcing a climate of timidity and encouraging groupthink.”
  • How institutions (not just the military) ruin good ideas. “Of course I’m not the first to complain about the proliferation of buzzwords at the cost of genuine understanding; in fact what might be dubbed ‘the buzzword problem’ has grown to the extent that complaining about it has become something of a cliché. Even such world-renowned strategists as Colin Grey have observed that ‘Americans in the 2000s went to war and by and large have remained conceptually wounded’.But the wittiest summary of the buzzword problem has to be that of Justin Kelly and Ben Fitzgerald, who penned a short paper entitled ‘when a cup of coffee becomes a soy decaf mint mocha chip frappuccino’. Bingo!”
  • The failure of The New Republic. “One reason he’s dispensable is that American liberalism is shifting in the direction of a long tradition in American conservatism, one that is supremely confident in the wisdom of markets. For liberal idealists, the new technological utopianism married to the dynamism of capitalism has replaced the old utopian socialism of the bygone era. It’s commonly said in Silicon Valley that if you want to change the world you need to start a company. Gone is the high theory of Marxism, which—however wrongheaded it was—still trained the left to think. In its place we now have painfully simplistic (and self-serving) slogans. The Facebook era! The Twitter revolution!”
  • The problem of human rights. “The truth is that human rights law has failed to accomplish its objectives. There is little evidence that human rights treaties, on the whole, have improved the wellbeing of people. The reason is that human rights were never as universal as people hoped, and the belief that they could be forced upon countries as a matter of international law was shot through with misguided assumptions from the very beginning. The human rights movement shares something in common with the hubris of development economics, which in previous decades tried (and failed) to alleviate poverty by imposing top-down solutions on developing countries. But where development economists have reformed their approach, the human rights movement has yet to acknowledge its failures. It is time for a reckoning.”