Archive for the ‘Class > Book Review’ Category

Transforming the visuals

June 27, 2007

Looking for a design muse, I was just flipping through the last Communicaiton Arts Design Annual. Wow – the reversed lamb within the lion’s shape developed for the cover of Transforming the Powers, appears as a featured logo. The Minnesota AIGA also features it in their 2007 Design Show. It came from Brad D. Noor Design based in Minnesota. It’s a beautiful, classic mark.

Transforming the Powers

This was a textbook from last fall that I had to review for class. I am still impressed by Walter Wink’s take on redeeming the powers and even more impresed after seeing a visual interpretation of his thesis spread to the pages of Communication Arts … very cool!


Book Review > Lasn, Culture Jam, 1999, Quill

October 30, 2006

Culture JamI’ve had my eye on this week’s book for years, Kalle Lasn’s Culture Jam. In addition to writing Culture Jam, Lasn’s founded Adbusters and the Media Foundation behind “culture jamming” evangelical efforts.

Culture Jam is a harsh poke and a rude whisper that something is very wrong in our society. Mass media and consumer driven lifestyle has unapologetically snatched our individual spark and creative nature, our very freedom. Instead, we are tricked to buying a collective conscious, sold at a high price no less, to obtain acceptance and approval from others around us who have fallen into the same trap.

Spoof ad

I was struck with creativity of the organization of the books contents, which fit into the four seasons of the year. Not only an interesting way to label four chapters, but a telling diagnosis about where each essay fits into the larger movement’s timeline:

Fall: taking stock of American “mental environment.
Winter: going deeper into the roots of the problem.
Spring: hope in launching revolution for a new America.
Summer: painting a picture of what could be.

The freshness of the message is disturbing and contagious. They point to something that’s really happening. We need to sit up and pay attention.

I’ve been following Adbusters since I first noticed its ominous and prophetic presence on newsstands. While in undergrad with a design sensitive eye, I eventually subscribed, intrigued by the creativity and Carson-esque design.

Get your own anti-label: Black Spot Shoes

I was amazed at the stories of people literally throwing their TV’s out their windows, and cutting labels off their clothes. I proudly promoted Buy Nothing Day and TV Turn Off Week, eagerly read the informative articles, showed off the pictures of the Nike swooshed carved into someone’s skin, and shook my head at the droves that headed to the mall instead of out for a day hike.

While Culture Jam and Adbusters are on the cutting edge of critiquing and satirizing our existence to show us the water we’re swimming in, that’s where they stop for me.

I eventually let the subscription drop because, well … I got tired. I didn’t want to be even more depressed about my world when I was done reading than when I started. I lost hope when my roommates ripped off the “TV turn off week” flier I’d taped over the TV, even after we’d talked about trying to not watch that week.

I felt these feelings come rushing back with Culture Jam. While we desperately need the mirror Lasn holds up to see ourselves for what we are, I put the book down defeated. Are there any other viable options besides defacing someone else’s property and reaching out and rudely poking those around me? I’d like to think more frustration for sake of agitation isn’t the answer – we’re already frustrated enough … right?

Book Review > Klien, Fences and Windows, 2002, Picador

October 23, 2006

Fences and Windows by Naomi Klien (an international journalist and media commentator, also author of No Logo) is a time capsule into an emerging activist revolution against corporate globalism from late 1999 to 2002.

The text is made up of several articles with a unifying theme of boundaries (fences) and opportunities (windows). Klien brings intelligent insight, factual numbers and blunt views about a very mis-understood and loosely organized group of activists who keep showing up at major trade summits and gatherings around the world.

The first of such gatherings was the December 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle. The media, or rest of the world, didn’t know how to identify or what to do with them, and even Klien doesn’t pin a single name, cause or leader to the masses. (Sound familiar? Something like the loose networks of Emerging Churches?).

What she does clarify is this group is NOT anti-globalization. “All the activists I know are fierce internationalists. Rather, we are challenging the internationalization of a single economic model: neo-liberalism(78).”

Her April 2000 article, The NAFTA Track Record , gives a good glimpse into this economic core of her globalisim debate through reporting on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Whilw former Canadian PM Brian Mulroney sing the praises of the agreement, she gives voice to the opposition: “…private wealth has soared without translating into anything that can be clearly identified as the public good (65).”

While free trade has done very well, Klien broadens the picture: promised outcomes of boosted trade, “trickle down” money flow, are absent in the rest of society, most severely in Mexico. Poverty is up to 75 percent (up from 49 percent in 1981), and pollution has doubled in Mexico since the start of NAFTA (p.65).

Klien points out the irony in the dependence on this trade flow has not lead to streamlined lower costs (which were promised), but “hundreds of millions of new dollars to keep trade flowing (71).” Social needs like clean water, better schools, affordable housing, are still waiting for their trickle to come down the pipe.

It’s a bit eye opening to take a look at these statistics. This past weekend on an airplane flight, I sat next to a clean cut Electical Engineer from New Jersey who believed NAFTA was doing great things for Mexico. When I shared this argument, he said it must be because their government is corrupt.

It’s these stereotypes and excuses about the impact of free trade that Klien and her fellow protesters fight against in their own vision for globalization. They are not naïve to leave trade out in the equation or negate its value. Instead they advocate holding the powers that be accountable. “Globalization was supposed to be about global openness and integration…[and]… a new system of equality among nations(81).” She asks, “…why not build an international architecture founded on principles of transparency, accountability and self determination, one that frees people instead of liberating capital (79)?”

And I ask too, why not? Klien’s statement that “…human needs must take precedence over corporate profits from AIDS treatment to homelessness (243),” is one that the church should be asking ask well – if not leading the discussion.

Sidenote: I do have to admit, with a print date of 2002, I want to catch up on what Klien’s been writing recently – and what this movement has been up to the past few years.

Book Review > Linthicum, Tranforming Power, 2003, IVP

October 16, 2006

Robert Linthicum lives in the Los Angeles area, where he is President of Partners in Urban Transformation and a Parish associate at La Verne Heights Presbyterian Church.

In his book, Transforming Power, Linthicum acknowledges the presence of powers in society, and encourages Christians to engage them to face injustice and evil. He says, “Whereas prayer, presence, proclamation, and the practices of social services, advocacy and community development are essential and strategic elements of the church’s ministry in today’s society, they are not sufficient. There has to be another way, and that way is clearly biblical way that is to be ignored: the intentional use of power by God’s people (81).”

Theology of Power
Linthicum uses Deuteronomy to point to a society as God intended: sharing a common wealth of economics, politics, and religion to bring a “shalom” community. Yet this keeps failing through political oppression and economical exploitation, which society imitates due to greed, and starts a downward cycle.

Redemption is brought about by “… learn[ing] to use power (80).” He defines two types of power, unilateral and relational (81-82). It’s the later, relational power, he points to throughout the book to bring about social change – with some exceptions.

He presents an example of a local bank turning down home improvement loans in an entire community to lower property value for investors to eventually buy cheap, rebuild and make profit (86-89). When the community realized what was happening, they confronted the bank president with signatures from the community and threatened to pull their accounts at the bank if the loans don’t start to come through. This is not the relational power he encourages in most of the book, but unilateral. He speaks to this discrepancy: “[This tactic] was not to close down the bank, but to begin a relationship (89).”

Personally, I have to come to Linthicum’s work with an optimistic attitude. He’s encouraging Christians to engage and wield the very powers that oppress and dominate. Yet he does strongly advocate what he calls the “Iron Rule, … to never do for others what they can do for themselves (93),” and the idea of “jubilee” (60), a biblical reversal of fortune to rebalance wealth to level out society.

The practice of power
Ironically in the push for this level society, Linthicum’s ideas for application are more relevant to middle and upper class. They assume existing clout, either politically or economically, to engage with the powers (i.e. community members who had enough wealth to be a threat to the bank by leaving). He very lightly addresses those without access to power in his description of civic disobedience, which “… works best when those who are protesting are not politically powerful enough to successfully confront (167).”

Overall, I can’t help but scratch my head at the contradiction of fighting fire with fire (or power with power) that is central to Linthicum’s thesis. Perhaps these models to mobilize the middle and upper classes are exactly what are needed to help equip the lower class with tools and resources, but I’d like to see more options for those who have no power or clout to confront injustice and evil on their own.

Book Review > Gingerich/Grimsrud, Transforming the Powers, 2006, Fortress

October 9, 2006

I was jolted in the contrast of Claiborne’s story telling (last week’s book review of Irresistible Revolution) to the academic essays that make up this week’s book, Transforming the Powers, edited by Ray Gingerich and Ted Grumsrud.

Centered on the work of Walter Wink, a professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City, six different authors, as well as Wink himself, expound on the Powers (primarily based on Wink’s trilogy, Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers, and Engaging the Powers). These essays were originally presented at a conference in 2001 at Eastern Mennonite University (6). The purpose of the collection is as Grimsrud puts it, “to converse deeply with [Wink’s accomplishment], to challenge his insights, and to seek to continually test them and apply them in ever-broader spheres of life (6).”

First thing first, what are the powers?
Its important to grasp what Walter Wink was getting at before reading additional voices and their offshoots. Wink’s thesis is based on even earlier work by John Howard Yoder, that named “powers” as social forces of religious, intellectual, moral, and political structures (40). Walter Wink builds on this to elaborate, “The Powers are good. The Powers are fallen. The Powers must be redeemed (2).”

What a balanced view! It mimics our own humanity so closely: we have goodness along with evil and must be redeemed by God in our own lives. It’s natural to apply this pattern in social powers as well.

The essays are grouped in three parts, “Worldviews and the Powers”, “Understanding the Powers” and “Engaging the powers”.

All the work is fascinating and presents, as Dan Liechty puts it, “a much more intellectually rigorous Christianity (39)”. This is exciting to read these conversations in the midst of culture wars where Evangelicals are typically stereotyped as anti-intellectual (as perhaps some are). But here Christian thought carries faith into what Wink calls an Integral worldview (21). This view does not dismiss the onset of science as the Traditional view (18), or even create a Dualistic view (19) that values both, but keeps them separate. Instead he and the others engage the powers and argue for pacifistic social action to bring about redemption of the powers (This group demonstrates this in the format of their book, exploring one topic through several thinkers and academic spheres).

Ironically the academic rigor of the book is also my critique (I wonder, did I just cancel out my review?) This content is not accessible to the layperson, and I had a hard time accessing a lot if it. From my viewpoint as a designer (trained to make things as clear as possible), this heavy reading will not stir church attendees to carry out the redeeming work if they don’t understand it. Of course I realize the focus of this book is to capture dialogue of a past conference and not mobilization, yet I fear these new and relevant applications for faith will stay in the academic world and not be brought into general Christian dialogue.

Book Review > Claiborne, Irresistable Revolution, 2006, Zondervan

October 2, 2006

CoverShane Claiborne is an American Christian activist and founding member of alternative community, the Simple Way in Philadelphia. Widely traveled and an experienced speaker, he advocates an alternative approach to the Christian lifestyle.

In a lose biography of stories and experiences, “The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical”, Shane Claiborne outlines a shift in thinking and action from simply believing in Jesus to following Jesus. This new approach to life as an ‘ordinary radical’ of Christian faith advocates all people, especially the poor and marginalized of society, and in doing so, bring the joy and healing of Christ to the world.

American Christianity
Claiborne shares the realization from his early Christian experience that, “preachers were telling me to lay my life at the foot of the cross and we’re giving me anything to pick up.” (38) Searching several denominations and clubs at Christian College to “meet God” (47), he befriends homeless in Philadelphia and, “… found that I was just as likely to meet God in the sewers of the ghetto as in the halls of academia.”(51)

Ordinary Radicals
Claiborne’s experiences and reflections bring to light a blatant disconnect between Western Christians and the actions of Jesus Christ. “…It looked like sometime back we had stopped living Christianity and just started studying it.” (71). He travels to Calcutta to visit Mother Teresa and returns greatly impacted by the work there and her words, “Find your Calcutta.” (89)

Even more convinced, “… Jesus came not just to prepare us to die but to teach us how to live,” (117), he joins 30 others to found a intentional Christian community called Simple Way in a poor neighborhood of Philadelphia. With a growing reputation of being a radical, he reflects, “Once we are actually friends with folks in struggle, we start to ask why people are poor, which is never as popular as giving to charity. … People do not get crucified for charity.” (129)

Economics, Politics, Safety, and Cool

Claiborne states an allegiance to God before country is vital. He does not see this in the West, saying, “It’s difficult to know where Christianity ends and America begins.”(193). Over-arching concerns with safety, capitalistic greed, the culture of ‘cool’ and the war on terror tied to well being of the elite in the West come at the expense of the poor.

Extremists and faces
Claiborne desires “new eyes” (265) to not just see these issues in our world, but the people behind them. With the simple act of love, we’re naturally moved to advocate for those we love. This transformation starts with ordinary people. Instead of “detach[ing] from the church in a self-righteous cynicism.” (354) Claiborne suggests building bridges and being the church we desire to see.

Personal reflection
I had a positive reaction to Claiborne’s thesis and development, agreeing that a bottom-up approach to love the marginalized will best embody Christ today. Yet, this book was uncomfortable to read with implications for a lifestyle change to combat Christian apathy, consumerism and hypocrisy. Also, this content will polarize those who prioritize a non-believer’s salvation before their emotional, physical and even spiritual needs. Yet I hope these unconventional approaches to engaging culture will be considered both in class and ministry. They make a relevant and timely study for a dialogue in transforming culture.