Posts By Adam Shields

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

On the Come Up by [Thomas, Angie]Summary: Bri, a 16-year-old high school sophomore, wins her first rap battle, but that does not solve any of the problems at school or home. 

On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’ second book, following the massive success of The Hate U Give. While it took me a little while to get into the book, I think On the Come Up is a better book. It works particularly well as an audiobook. The narration is well done, but the lyric sections of the songs and all of Bri’s internal rhyming makes the audiobook the more natural option for the book.

Bri is a 16-year-old. Her father was an up and coming rapper, who was killed when Bri was little. She remembers him more through the stories her family tells her than her personal memories. The tragedy of her father’s death was compounded by her mother’s depression that eventually led to a severe drug addiction. For years, Bri and her older brother lived with her grandparents, and her brother was her primary caregiver.

On the Come Up is a story of how hard work is not always enough. Bri’s mother kicked her drug habit, and after a long legal fight with her in-laws won custody of her children. She has worked hard as a preschool teacher while going to college part-time to be a social worker. Bri’s brother also did everything right. He graduated with honors from college, but the best job he can find in the area is at a pizza place. When Bri’s mother loses her job because of a lack of funding for the preschool, they move from struggling to desperate.

Compounding the problem, Bri is a student at an arts high school in Manhattan. The students from her neighborhood know they are there as diversity and they are also frequently harassed by school security and teachers. Near the start of the book, Bri is violently taken down and handcuffed by school security, which also cascades into several events throughout the book.

May They All Be One: Origins and Life of the Focolare Movement by Chiara Lubich

May They All Be One: Origins and Life of the Focolare Movement by [Lubich, Chiara]Summary: Short biography of the Focolare Movement by one of its founders.
A friend recommended this short audiobook/kindle book to me a couple of days ago. I am a part of a private facebook group for ‘The Initiative and friends with John Armstrong, who is the founder. The Initiative is a group that is seeking to draw together Christians of all streams together in Christian unity. Chiara Lubich and the Focolare Movement have signficantly influenced the Initiative. I have been broadly aware of the Focolare movement, but I have not explored previously.

May They All Be One is not a new book; it was initially published in 1977. But it was only last month that an audiobook version was only released last month. Both the Kindle and audiobook versions are under $5 and are short. The audiobook is just over 2 hours, and the kindle edition is the equivalent of under 100 pages.

This is a very brief overview. I appreciate the introduction and the idealism and devotion that was communicated here. The book is simple, the writing clear and unvarnished. Chiara Lubich has written several books, 30 different ones if Goodreads is accurate. So I probably need to read more.

The Focolare Movement was started by young women in Italy during World War II. They knew they could die at any time. Lubich convinced her friends that if they died, they would want their gravestone inscriptions to say, “And we have believed in love”. Their goal was to serve all around them by seeking unity. Focolare was a peace movement, but it was not only a peace movement. They advocated for human rights and the poor. They desired international institutions of peace as well as local institutions that worked for the common good.

Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by [Davis, Angela Y.]Summary: Controversial, but idealistic talks and essays.

I am way too young to have known of Angela Davis in her early days. And I was too ignorant of who she was to go to hear her when she spoke at my grad school in the late 1990s. I picked this on sale, and I wanted to get some context for her work since she was one of the people used as a framing device in Stamped From the Beginning. While the audiobook was frequently frustrating, there is an idealism that I appreciate.

I am tired of ‘cultural Marxist’ and ‘socialist’ epitaphs thrown at relatively moderate ideas or movements. It is refreshing to listen to someone that embraces her Marxist background and ran for Vice President on the communist ticket. But even Angela Davis is not 100 percent behind all aspects of marxism and communism. So the complaints about conservative Christians being Marxist for calling for social justice is just an affirmation that the speakers have not heard Angela Davis.

These are mostly talks, read later, with a few essays and interviews. None of the subjects are simple or easily solved problems. Mass incarceration is not going to be shut down by calling for an end to prisons and police. And she knows that. Her thought is not pure idealism, but it is attempting to call for a reimagining of what society could be if we actively worked to end oppression.

Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border by Mitali Perkins, Illustrated by Sara Palacios

Between Us and Abuela by Mitali PerkinsSummary: A young girl, her brother, and mother visit the San Diego border to celebrate Las Posadas and see their Grandmother through the border fence at Christmas. A great book to spark a conversation. 

I read this tonight for the first time with my 5-year-old. I am intentionally filling my kids’ library not just with books, but books that will lead to conversations. Between Us and Abuela is a book that is going to take several readings to get through the conversations that it should bring up.

The short version of Between Us and Abuela is that a girl, her brother, and mother go to the border to see their grandmother and celebrate Las Posadas (the commemoration of Mary and Joseph looking for a room in Jerusalem right before Christmas.) There is an annual commemoration on the US/Mexico border called La Posada Sin Frontera. The tradition is adapted, so family and friends gather along the border wall in San Diego/Tijuana, hear the Christmas story, sing songs and see family across the fence.

The children and their mother have not seen their grandmother in five years. My five year old asked how long that was, I reminded her that she is five years old.

The family is allowed 30 minutes to go inside an outer fence so that there is only an inner fence that separates the family. My daughter, of course, asks why they are separated. I will approach this in several different ways as we re-read the book. But it matters that the story naturally leads to the right types of questions.

Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by M Robert Mulholland Jr

Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation (Transforming Resources) by [Mulholland, M. Robert ]Summary: “Spiritual formation is a process of being formed in the image of Christ for the sake of others.”

I am now halfway through my ‘Intro to Spiritual Direction’ class, the first class in my two-year program to become a spiritual director. I am intentionally participating in a Catholic (Ignatian) program because I want to learn in a different tradition so that I can be pushed to understand a different perspective, different language, and different emphasis. I want my blind spots exposed as I grapple with the translation process. As I read books on Spiritual Direction that are written by Catholic authors, I have to continually evaluate whether what I am understanding is accurate to the intent of the author. Are the words carrying different connotations as I interpret them in my Evangelical lens?

What has been helpful, because I am only taking one class at a time, is to read a couple of books that are thematically similar, but from an Evangelical perspective. That allows me to process related content in different Christian streams at approximately the same time, which creates a conversation.

I have had Invitation to a Journey for a couple of years, but had not read it yet. Mulholland is not directly writing about Spiritual Direction, but spiritual formation, a more general concept. I like both his definition of spiritual formation and how that definition develops throughout the book. For Mulholland, “Spiritual formation is a process of being formed in the image of Christ for the sake of others.”

Mulholland is directly taking on the individualism of much writing on spiritual formation. Spiritual formation is not for our own sake alone, although there is individual value. Spiritual formation is not particular methods or structures, but the developing of a relationship with Christ by becoming like Christ. And in the process of becoming like Christ, we are doing that not for ourselves, but for others.

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram Kendi

Summary: An extensive walk through the history of racism in America. 

Stamped From the Beginning is another one of those books that I have waited too long to write about. I finished it nearly a month ago and almost immediately started How to be an Antiracist. They are such different styles of books that they are hard to compare. But they complement one another well. Stamped from the Beginning is more academic, much longer, and a history book. How to be An Antiracist is shorter, more personal, with Kendi using his personal development as a lens to understand racism and antiracism. The fact that he had already written Stamped from the Beginning I think gave more credibility and meaning to the more personal How to Be an Antiracist.

Stamped from the Beginning is one of those books I purchased years ago on several recommendations. I read enough about it to know the rough focus, and then I did not start reading. It was finally a very negative review that I assumed was largely a misreading of the book, that propelled me to start reading.

Stamped from the Beginning, despite its length and subtitle, as the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, uses five people as a framing technique. Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, WEB DuBois, and Angela Davis are the voices that give focus to different eras of racism.

There are a couple of veins of though on the development of the social construct of racial identity construction in the academy. Some identify racism and White supremacy as a development of colonial expansion starting in the 14th to 16th centuries. And some suggested that racism and White supremacy expanded during that era, but are older (Willie James Jennings is in this group and roots racism in antisemitism that was developed out of Christian supersessionism.). Kendi appears to mostly be in the first group.

The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation by Stephen Haynes

Summary: A broad overview of the church desegregation protests, and then a deep dive into one particular church with extensive interviews and history.

I think that many people do have historically accurate views on how the church has traditionally related to racism, segregation, and the Civil Rights Era. An excellent introductory book for the subject is Jemar Tisby’s Color of Compromise. But no introduction can adequately address every issue in a long history.

The Last Segregated Hour works through the kneel-in campaigns that started in the mid 195s, alongside the lunch counter protests, the freedom rides, and other similar desegregation campaigns. The initial section that details the national perspective of the Kneel-ins feels repetitive because the history was repetitive. Teams of mixed race worshipers would visit a church, usually coordinated with a larger group so that several churches were visited at the same time. Some churches would welcome the groups, or at least not prevent them from being seated. Some churches would allow them in the sanctuaries but segregate them into a particular area. Some churches would ban them from entering, occasionally resulting in violence or police presence.

These Kneel-in campaigns happened over and over throughout the country for years. Churches that banned the mixed-race worshipers usually were visited over and over again, until they were allowed in. Some individual churches had groups of mixed race worshipers attempt to enter the congregation weekly for over a year before they were allowed to be seated.

According to Haynes, there was not a consistent denominational or church tradition that across geography was either more welcoming or more segregated, although in general Baptist churches were a bit more likely to be segregated, and Catholic was the most unlikely. But there were examples of almost every type of church being both segregated and welcoming.

Once the book moves to the particular example of the city of Memphis Kneel-ins starting in 1964 and then the specific campaign at Second Presbyterian Church, the book becomes more engaging. It is not that the national history and context is not essential; it is. But the particular does give a close understanding that I think makes this book worth reading. Part of the importance of the book is the interviews. Four chapters focus on memories of members at Second Presbyterian, the protestors themselves (separate sections looking at the different experiences of both White and Black protestors), and then a chapter on the perception of the member children and youth.

A Pilgrim’s Journey: The Autobiography of St.Ignatius of Loyola

A Pilgrims Journey: The Autobiography of St.Ignatius of Loyola by [Tylenda, Fr. Joseph N.]Summary: The ‘autobiography’ of Ignatius of Loyola with helpful commentary by Joseph Tylenda. 

As mentioned several times lately, I have started a graduate certificate program in Spiritual Direction. The program is an Ignatian focused program, and so we are starting with the autobiography of Ignatius and the spiritual exercises. The Spiritual Exercises is not a book you read straight through, so I am not going to post about it. But the autobiography is compelling. Loyola dictated it. And he used two different people, so the original is in two different languages. The version I read has numbered sections. And then a commentary about that section to give context and background. I have not read a book formatted quite like this before, and I think the formatting in the kindle edition could have been more clear, but the actual content of the commentary was beneficial.

As helpful as the commentary was, I still wanted a full modern biography. If anyone has a suggestion of one, I would appreciate the recommendation. This autobiography has very little after the Society of Jesus was formed. And very little contextually about the era. The colonization of the Western Hemisphere was just getting started. The Reformation was also just getting started. Ignatius was caught up in the Inquisition multiple times. There were still implications from the crusades. The slave trade was getting seriously started. All of those and more are relevant to Ignatius’ story.

Open to the Spirit: God in Us, God with Us, God Transforming Us by Scot McKnight

Open to the Spirit: God in Us, God with Us, God Transforming Us by [McKnight, Scot]Takeaway: As much as the use of the phrase, ‘it is a relationship, not a religion’ bugs me (because of how it is usually used), Christianity that pursues theology or behavior modification and not Christ, gets distorted.

Reading about spiritual growth prompts me to read more about spiritual growth. As I have started my introduction to Spiritual Direction class, the required texts lead me to want to pick up other books that are related. Which also makes me want to re-read as well. I know I need to re-read many books, but books on spiritual formation are probably the books I most need to re-read because they are often very subtle critiques of our understanding of Christianity.

As part of this renewed interest, I have been listening to the Revovaré podcast, which has been playing some old talks from early conferences. In the episode with Emilie Griffin at the end of a Q and A period, Dallas Willard says that we are not in charge of our own spiritual formation. We simply need to remain present and engaged while God works on us.

Open to the Spirit very much feels like a book that has been inspired by Dallas Willard. Scot McKnight is trying to biblically point the reader to the importance of the Holy Spirit. McKnight is a New Testament scholar and mostly is oriented toward a biblical theology of the Holy Spirit. Open to the Spirit also reminds me of Amos Yong’s Who Is the Holy Spirit: A Walk With the Apostles. In Yong’s commentary on Acts, he is drawing parallels between the work of Jesus in Luke with the work of the Holy Spirit through the early Christians in Acts.

In Open to the Spirit, McKnight is showing how Jesus in his earthly life was guided by the Holy Spirit similarly to how Yong shows the early Christians being guided by the Spirit.

Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible by Willie James Jennings

Takeaway: Commentaries are under-appreciated forms of devotional literature.

In general, I do not read the Bible straight through in a reading plan. I generally read the bible either with the Book of Common Prayer or with a Liturgy of the Hours (this is the one I use right now mostly). I prefer dated versions where I read that day and that day only. If I get behind, I get behind.

But almost two months ago now I went on a silent five-day retreat. And I brought Willie James Jennings’ commentary on Acts, along with the Liturgy of the Hours and Reggie Williams’ Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus as my reading content. I had wanted to read Jennings’ commentary on Acts, and I had just finished (really the first day I finished) Jennings’ Christian Imagination. So I wanted more from Jennings.

Reading his commentary on Acts alongside his constructive theology in The Christian Imagination was exactly what I needed for that retreat. Being able to read slowly, and have lots of time to stop and pray through the commentary was perfect. Jennings is upending many White Evangelical readings of Acts. This was not my first book that approached Acts in a similar way, Amos Yong prepared me to read Jennings.

We often read Acts as a hero tale. We have hero Peter and then hero Paul that follow God and bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the gentiles. And that is undoubtedly part of the story. But Acts was not oriented toward individual hero stories. Acts was primarily about a community, one that was grappling with a God that had upended their concept of what it meant to be a follower of God.