The Myth of Equality: a review


If you’ve been following the writing career of Ken Wytsma, you’ll note that he’s been tackling such lightweight subjects as the pursuit of Justice and the practical nature of paradox. All kidding aside, Wytsma brings a warmth and intelligence to his material that is both accessible and respectable at the same time. Falling down on either side is not good, so this is important. A book that errs on being too accessible often dumbs down research and salient points. A book that errs on respectability can become laborious and too narrow. And this is especially important in his newest book entitled The Myth of Equality.

Immediately, the word ‘equality’ needs to be set in context and in a world super charged with angry tweets and social media rants, a book that tackles subjects like white privilege, equality, racial tension, and power structures must be both accessible and respectable. After all, this is what we all want in adult conversations about serious subjects and let me say from the start that this is the best way to read this book. I don’t think books on justice or equality accomplish much in an era overloaded with blog posts and web based information. My initial comment on Wytsma’s new book is that this should be read with another person or in a small group. In fact, I think it’s hard to grow in this subject area without allowing someone else to ask questions of you in real time and over a period of time

And I am giving away the most impactful undercurrent in Wytsma’s book. He frames it this way in chapter eleven: “Listening isn’t just about content but also about whose voice carries it.” Listening, then, is more than information and involves context and involves language, tone, non-verbal communication, and culture. Later on, Wytsma talks about the “texture to truth that comes from experiencing something directly,” and there is about a three hour coffee shop conversation that could stem from those two ideas alone.

The beginning of the book is an effort to set “white privilege” in a historical context and it’s an overview that references Downton Abbey, aristocracy, and European influence quite a bit. While this is important and to be commended, I felt like this overview in the first few chapters fought against the experiential aspects described in later chapters. For this reason, I feel Wytsma, like his book Pursuing Justice is writing an introduction to a subject that deserves further treatment.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday last year, I read Bryan Stephenson’s powerful book Just Mercy and I was glad to see Wytsma also highly recommend it. Stephenson’s book also gets the point across, but in the experiential, direct, and textured way that seems more focused and fervent.

Let me be clear. I think The Myth of Equality is clear-headed, accessible, respectable, and an important contribution to a discussion that is textured and layered with historical context rich in individual and collective nuances. At twelve chapters, Wytsma’s book is approachable and readable. What happens, though, if Wytsma’s subject gets the narrative voice of Stephenson’s Just Mercy?

In the end, this is an introduction to not only a subject that carries weight and baggage, but also a posture that carries the burden of listening and learning. Shame is the enemy of authentic relationship, so Wytsma is right to tread carefully through this topic. If you’re willing to have an adult discussion, Ken Wytsma could be a helpful guide and the world could use a few more adult conversations about things that matter.

 

 

(Royalties from sales of this book will go to helping leaders of color get published through The VOICES Project. )

The Story of Star Wars Is Our Story

For those who grew up in the era of Star Wars, the 40th anniversary of the space opera franchise is something to celebrate. Even if you’re a latecomer to the series, enticed by all the hoopla and impressed with the last two Star Wars movies, you can appreciate the 40-year history and the accumulated achievement of nine films, dozens of books, countless games and apps, plus the endless array of licensed merchandise. One estimate puts the value of all Star Wars films and products at $41 billion, or just over a billion dollars for every year Star Wars has been around.

These are staggering numbers, but there’s another even more impressive number: One. Millions of people have experienced Star Wars, either by working on the creative side of production or paying for the consumer products, but the genius of Star Wars comes from just one source. And it isn’t George Lucas. In fact, it isn’t a person, but a story.

Yes, George Lucas wrote and directed Star Wars: A New Hope, the movie that started it all. And he also wrote outlines for nine stories. But the original story was not his idea. It came from a place long ago and far away.
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How Do You Explain the Trinity?

You have probably heard some illustrations that are supposed to help explain the Trinity. One of the most common examples is the egg. Everyone knows an egg has three elements: the yoke, the white, and the shell. Each element is distinct from the other, yet they all combine to make up an egg. Just like the Trinity, right? Well…not really.

Yes, all three elements of the egg make up the egg, but each element by itself isn’t an egg. You can’t isolate the shell and say, “This is an egg.” The next time you have guests for breakfast, try scrambling up a couple of eggshells for them. We guarantee they will think you’re one egg short of a full omelet.

The shell is part of the egg, but separated from the other two parts, it isn’t truly an egg. By comparison, if you isolate Jesus or the Holy Spirit or God the Father and say of each one, “This is God,” you would still be right. They are all God, but they are not each other. Jesus is equal to God, but He isn’t God the Father. The Holy Spirit is equal to Jesus, but the Holy Spirit isn’t Jesus.

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Books Are Cool Again

Once upon a time people bought books in bookstores. I should know. My family owned a Christian bookstore chain. It was an idyllic, almost magical time when independent stores like ours and large bookstore chains like B. Dalton Bookseller, Walden, Borders, and Family Christian Stores—plus thousands of independent bookstores—dotted the landscape. Almost every town of any size had at least one. 

Today all those bookstore chains are gone, and the number of independent stores, both general and Christian, has shrunk dramatically. I could list many reasons, but there are just two that matter: the rise of Amazon and the appearance of e-books. Physical bookstores, even those owned by big corporations, just can’t compete with the selection, prices, and convenience of Amazon. And what can possibly match the instant delivery of a book to a device you’re holding in your hand?

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Slavery in America: The Year of Jubilee

The following was originally posted March 29, 2010. It's being reposted here today as part of National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. In 2010, I wrote a series of blogs titled Slavery in America. This particular blog in the series is on worship and jubilee. 

On the way to church this morning, my mom and brother and I talked about how our world would be so different today if we still practiced Jubilee. We talked about how great it would feel to have our debt wiped away and the opportunities we’d be given if only it were still practiced today.

Directly after the service, I ran into a friend of mine who I traveled with to Malawi in the summer of 2008. It had been a few months since we’d run into each other. It was great to see him. He shared with us that he had been in our neck of the woods earlier in the week and had thought of me while nearby. He drew out the night and day differences between the area where I live and the area where we were attending church. He asked me, “Why aren’t we hanging out with the people who live in your neighborhood more?”

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Slavery in America: A Conversation with International Justice Mission

In honor of National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, this is a repost of an interview held with International Justice MIssion staff member Lauren Johnson in early 2010. IJM currently is one of the world leaders in combatting slavery today. 

 

Last month I visited the International Justice Mission headquarters, not far from the Pentagon and just outside our nation’s capitol.  It was a beautiful day. The air was crisp and cool and the ground layered with the remnants of the recent snow storm.

Inside IJM headquarters - aka HQ -, you’ll find a quant, but inspirational photo gallery. The walls are lined with telling photographs of beautiful people who are part of IJM’s work abroad. Each face on each photo tells a different story of survival, of redemption and of justice at work.

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Where Power Resides

Washington is broken.

Wait….What?

When that phrase is uttered, what is meant is that the people elected to office have done a poor job leading. The people “elected to office,” have not performed their duties like most people expect. Gridlock. Negative rhetoric. The same men and women in office for years making little progress on issues or policies or problems. That’s what is meant when someone says Washington is broken. Personally, visiting the city is fun and always a bit energizing. Lots going on, good food, and enough to see to stimulate most imaginative people.

The power of Washington, though, at least from how our current government is framed, resides with people from all over the country.

The Road to Justice Begins at a Stop Sign

Have you ever broken a bone? I have. When I was 11 or 12 years old I broke a finger playing in what was likely a fierce game of handball. You read that right. I was one of the cool kids who played handball in elementary school (green with envy? I thought so).

The thing with breaks is, in order for them to heal correctly, they need to be reset, realigned or readjusted to the way they were designed.

When I first learned of the realities of modern day slavery, it felt like a bad break. How could things be so off set, out of order, out of place and in desperate need of healing and resetting? I felt a burning rage boil up in my gut and an overwhelming desire to barge into a brothel or brick kiln to rescue the oppressed and give the oppressor a piece of my mind, or, let's be honest, my once broken middle finger gesture.

My New Year's Resolve

I’m not a fan of making New Year’s resolutions. This is likely because I know I could never keep them. You know the popular resolutions well.  Get-up-earlier, actually-exercise-for-the-love, go-to-bed-earlier, read-the-one-year-Bible-without-missing-a-day, cut-out-sweets, I mean, who am I kidding? I could never keep those up for an entire year. That’s 365 days! (I’m not good with math so hopefully I got that right). I don’t make resolutions because I can’t keep them. I end up feeling like a failure come March or April when I’ve lost all steam to uphold such resolutions and I go on a colossal binge of all things unhealthy and unorderly. Is anybody with me?

Resolutions may not be my thing at the start of every New Year, but to resolve, that I can work with.

Resolve means to ‘decide firmly on a course of action.’ I can do that.

You may be familiar with a guy named Daniel from the Bible. He’s the guy who was thrown in a lion’s den and lived to tell about it. He was also a man who influenced culture and didn’t allow the cultural waves to carry him away from the path he was on. Daniel was an Israelite. He was one of God’s chosen people. He was living in Jerusalem when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar invaded and took what he wanted from the area, including Daniel.

Without warning, Daniel was kidnapped and under the King’s orders, he was to learn the Babylonian way, culture, language, literature, etc. He was also ordered to adopt the diet of the King’s men, a beefy diet of meats, carbs and wine (I’m doing a round of whole30 at the moment so all of that sounds delicious right about now. It’s only day 2; I’m in trouble.).  

In Daniel 1:8 it says, “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine…”.

Daniel was bold. Essentially, a slave, he told his new boss he didn’t want to spoil himself with what the earthly King Neb (we can call him Neb for short don’t you think?) considered fitting because Daniel lived for a better way serving God, the King of all Kings.

We are people of culture. We were born into a particular culture during a particular time period for a particular purpose ordained by Jesus long ago. Culture is not bad. But there are cultural trends that are not of God and are not pleasing to Him. As a Christian, I want to be like Daniel. I want to live my life according to what’s good and pleasing to God and not according to my wavering culture.

So here’s my resolve for 2017.

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My List of Best Reads of 2016

It’s the end of another year. Can you believe it? I’m sure I’ll be writing 2016 on everything for at least another month because I can’t believe 2017 is here already! Whether I like it or not, time is flying and it’s the time of year where I like to think back on what books I’ve read and compile a list to share. So let’s get to it!

In no particular order the following books made my 2016 best reads list.

Create vs. Copy by Ken Wytsma. This book is a gem. I learned a lot about theology of creation and how it informs, inspires and spurs on creation and innovation in my own life in community with others. I enjoyed this book so much I wrote more about it and the personal impact it had on me in a blog you can read here.

The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. After reading and loving Praying Circles Around the Lives of Your Children by Batterson a couple years ago (review of this one is also on the blog if you’d like to learn more), I was thrilled when I received The Circle Maker as a gift from my friend Monica. Batterson tells story after story of transformation taking place in so many lives because of prayer. While reading this one, I felt compelled to wake up a little earlier than I normally would (read: I only hit snooze once instead of 3 or 13 times), to spend a few minutes praying intentionally for people in my life. I have to tell you, I had some incredible conversations with the very same people I was intentionally in prayer during this time. Pausing, acknowledging God is at work for all people and He is good in and through all circumstances, changes everything.

Play with Fire by Bianca Olthoff. Rather than describe the book here, head on over to the blog to read through a fun conversation Bianca and I had about Play with Fire.

Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. “The Bible is a story about the reign and rule of God” make for wise words from Wilkin. This little book is packed with insightful truths and practical helps regarding reading and understanding the Bible. I wish this book had been around 20 years ago! Wilkin identifies for the reader, the main theme of the Bible is creation-fall-redemption-restoration. We see the same 4 big ideas told over and over throughout the smaller narratives found from Genesis to Revelation. She also offers 4 practical ways to engage with scripture which will help us remember the Bible is about God. Yes the Bible informs us and our lives, but only through the lens of who God is. Reading and learning as much as I did from Wilkin inspired me to write a 2 part series on Reading the Bible which you can find here and here.

Favor with Kings by Caleb Anderson. Nehemiah. What a story right? Favor with Kings is a look at the memoirs of Nehemiah as He was used by God to lead the charge to rebuild the city walls around Jerusalem with the Israelites who had recently returned home from exile. The overarching idea of the book is every person has a mission from God and the mission is always about people. Nehemiah led in the rebuilding of the wall, but more importantly, the rebuilding of morale and joy for God’s people.

Giddy Up Eunice by Sophie Hudson. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover but I completely did on this one and I’m glad I did. The title alone captured my interest and I just had to read a book titled Giddy Up Eunice. This is a book for the ladies. And it’s not full of potpourri, butterflies and doilies.  Hudson uses hilarious and insightful storytelling to discuss three very different stories found in the Bible of the unique relationships between Elizabeth and Mary, Ruth and Naomi and Lois and Eunice. All stories are of very different circumstances, yet all with the underlying truth women need each other. We need women older than us who can mentor, encourage us and pass on their wisdom to us. And in return, we need to do the same for the generation of women rising up behind us. I may have genuinely cried laughing reading this one. Pick up two copies because you’ll want to gift to an important woman in your life too.

Hope Heals by Katherine and Jay Wolf. I may have cried a river reading this book but for a different reason than above. I first heard of Katherine and Jay’s story via a video clip of them at Catalyst West several years ago. And last February, I watched Katherine talk about her life streaming from The If:Gathering conference. In her mid-twenties and with a newborn and Jay in law school, Katherine suffered a massive stroke. Hope heals recounts the story from both Katherine and Jay’s unique perspectives. What I loved most about the book is while they wrote it to share their story of stroke and recovery; they did so in a way telling of the story of God. It’s about who He really is and the hope and healing only He can bring. Earlier this year I drove to a little Christian book store in Brea, CA to meet Katherine and Jay for a book signing. Katherine told me, “the story is God’s; we just told it.” It’s a beautiful read and I highly recommend you snag this up, along with a box or 30 of Kleenex.

One Thousand Wells by Jena Lee Nardella. Here again I judged a book by its cover. The tag line of the book reads, “How an Audacious Goal Taught me to Love the World Instead of Save it.” Intriguing, am I right? An early twenties Jena, in a unique partnership with the band Jars of Clay, set out for Africa determined to build 1000 wells and bring clean water to communities in need. Throughout the book she shares about struggles with working with the band, the struggle of bringing foreign aid to areas of desolation and maybe the most poignant of struggles, learning to live out the Christian faith like Jesus, despite status quo.

The Hatmakers were frequent flyers in my house this year. I read 3 of Jen’s and 1 of Brandon’s. Here we go:

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. This book is about grace. It’s about accepting and extending grace. I  enjoyed the random recipes she threw in here and there throughout and some quotes of some of her followers. It’s simple, full of grace - for the love - with a bit of typical Jen humor throughout (such as the rant about yoga pants. If you don’t know what I am talking about, stop reading and immediate look up Jen Hatmaker Yoga Pants on YouTube).

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker.  Jen takes minimalism to a new extreme with her 7 month long hiatus of excess. Jen leads her family on a major downsizing experiment to rid the excess and refocus their dependence upon God. Jen chooses 7 areas of her life where she lives in excess and for the duration of a month for each, she lives on only 7 of whatever the theme is for that month. For example, one month she purges her closets of clothes and literally wears the same 7 articles of clothing every day for a month. Another month it’s food. She eats a variation of the same 7 foods for a month.  Throughout the book Jen shares about the lessons learned throughout the experiment. I loved this book. It’s hilarious, honest and inspiring. I’ll read this one again. It certainly caused me to consider areas of my life where I live in excess and am missing out on living life closer to God because of it.

Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker. Interrupted tells the story of Jen and her husband Brandon as they go through a season when they began to question the Christian status quo and they began to wonder if Jesus really meant what he said and did. Because if he did intend for his followers to live lives reflective of what he said and did, this changes everything about everything. It means Jesus cares much more for how his followers treat the people around them, than carrying out the traditions of religion. Of the three Jen Hatmaker books I read this year, this was my favorite.  

Barefoot Church by Brandon Hatmaker. In Jen’s book 7, she tells a story about an Easter service she and Brandon went to one year with Shane Claiborne as the guest speaker. At the end of the service, Claiborne creates space for people to leave behind the shoes they walked in with because later that night, he was going to take them to the local homeless community. Both Brandon and Jen were so struck by this unconventional offering. It seems to me the idea for Barefoot Church was birthed from this experience. Brandon shares about the journey he and Jen took as they left their previous safe Christian world (much like Jen wrote about in Interrupted and embarked on a church plant dedicated to being both a gathering and a sending church community. This book is not a model for how to do church. Rather, it’s a story of their church planting experience. I took away some valuable insights and overall, enjoyed this book.

So that’s it! It’s been a good year of great reads!

Here’s a list of what I’m currently reading followed by what’s next on my list.

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