Book Review: Sympathy for Jonah: Reflections on humiliation, terror and the politics of enemy-love

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Illustrator Benjamin Harris [1] 
David Benjamin Blower’s Sympathy for Jonah is a slim but by no means a light read. It is an elegant and succinct work of profound poeisis; the artistic creation of a powerful imaginative lens which dives deep into the narrative of the book of Jonah and emerges with some paradigm-shifting reflections on this very familiar but often under understood story.

Whilst not a read for the faint-hearted, by David’s own admission, “Only when we are shocked, horrified, and unmade by the story of Jonah can we begin to imagine that we have understood it” (Epilogue, p57), it is a book imbued with the hope-filled vision that Love’s creative resistance, insistence and interruptive power will manifest again and again “awkward pauses in time in which repentance becomes possible and another world imaginable” (p55).

The book opens with a real time explosion- the recent bombing by Islamic State Militants of Jonah’s alleged shrine in Mosul dramatically connects by way of a twist of explosive wire and a BBC camera this ancient story and the contemporary reader. As the “flameless puff of gray dust” (xvi) settles, the reader is plunged into a disorienting sea of shanties and dirges, monsters of the deep and humiliations. David invites the reader to consider “why is the image of a man on his knees in the belly of a whale so compelling to us?” (p4) His chapter exploring the ‘episode in the whale’ ends with the warning stage whisper: “God help the revolution that has not first known humiliation” (p.10)

In Sympathy for Jonah David has attempted a somewhat Ricoeurian[2] resuscitation of traditional narrative in order to help us imagine and reconnect with a way of being present in and to our world which moves us hopefully into the future. He resolutely goes about the task of pushing the mythic fish tale off the sandbar of unimaginative, modern speculation and back into the mysterious depths. David then proceeds to tackle three key areas: our judgements about why Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah (was he really racist?), our beliefs about why he ended up in the belly of a large fish (is God really unkindly punitive?) and lastly our understanding of what those 3 days ‘inside’ were really about? (was it really just alternative transport?).

Sympathy for Jonah is an impactful read and its theological location is firmly in the heartland of radical non-violent love of Other. Jonah is a story of subversion- a literal ‘turning from below’ and David has taken its timeless message and enlivened it with a teacher’s attention to truth and application, a counsellor’s reflection on the inward and outward journey of reconciliation and a prophet’s call to an extraordinary type of non-violent, restorative justice:

Only by following him into the whale’s belly, by earnestly undergoing the death-and-resurrection of his baptism, and by allowing ourselves also to be unmade and dismantled, dislodged from the structures and obligations of the current order, and empowered with a strength to love that goes beyond ourselves, only then can we begin to adopt the Jonaic practice, the way of the cross and the call of the gospel: to go to the terrible other in search of the image of God.” (David Benjamin Blower, 2016, Epilogue, 57)

As David reminds us, “The book of Jonah is short. It takes up less than two pages of the Bible” (p.2) and though Sympathy for Jonah is also a short book the images it conjures speak thousands of words. In his Forward, Ched Myers draws attention to the bigger picture which David Blower’s reading of Jonah paints; the calling to journey towards the reconciliation of all things: “Ultimately, if humanity is to survive, the murderous logic of empire must be turned around. And nothing less is God’s will for history.” (Ched Myers, Forword, xi). David’s reading of Jonah insists that at key moments we need to be interrupted, however inconvenient, to be stopped in our tracks to examine whether we are living the narrative of empire or of the upside-down kingdom of Heaven: “One day there will be an interruption, and imperial time will stop as it has done many times before, and everyone will wait for it to start up again, but it won’t. It finally won’t be able to fool itself into being anymore, and all its machinery will be hammered into something good and beautiful, or thrown into the fire. And then we will know that the world to come is finally here.” (Blower, 55)

I highly recommend this book. It is at times a disturbing read-empire, domination, cruelty and violence are disturbing themes after all, but it carries profound prophetic relevance for the times in which we live.

Endnotes

[1] Illustrator, Benjamin Harris’ website

[2] The Christian philosopher, Paul Ricoeur develops his ethical hermeneutic around the importance of reading and meaningfully connecting our past and its traditions with our present in order to bridge with integrity into the future: “The entire present is in crisis when expectancy takes refuge in utopia and tradition congeals into a dark residue” (Time and Narrative Vol. III, p. 235)

[3] Author David Benjamin Blower’s website 

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Book Review:Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World by the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama explores paths beyond religion to increase compassion in society.

 

[This review of Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World by the Dalai Lama was originally published in Bulletin No 38, March 2012 BIAMS Journal]

The core theme of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s latest book, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World is that humanity, as a whole, must become more internally ethically-motivated by undergoing a more rigorous ‘education of the heart’. His words ‘The longer I live, and the more I reflect on humanity’s problems and achievements, the more convinced I become that we have to find a way of thinking beyond religion altogether…’ suggest that this ‘education of the heart’ requires a universalist mindset where religion must open its own heart and cooperate in the task of global ethical conscientisation beyond the strictures of its own particular dogma (if necessary) if humanity is to flourish and indeed, survive.

Philosophically-grounded in the Dalai Lama’s own spiritual tradition of Mahayana Buddhism this book is nonetheless very accessible and readable. He describes our ‘inner spiritual core’ which predisposes us to compassion, kindness and altruism as being like water – essential to life. This, he believes, is distinct from ‘religion-based spirituality’ which is culturally-learned and, like tea, is not essential to life but does greatly enhance it, in the same way that tea enhances the enjoyment of water. Thus, the book takes as its starting point the concept of ‘natural spirituality’ as a logical basis for a shared secular ethical framework.

The book is divided into two parts; the first part presents the Dalai Lama’s vision and rationale for a global secular ethic. Set against the briefly-sketched backdrop of global war, poverty, environmental degradation and the challenges of unlimited capitalist growth in an increasingly interconnected world, he underscores the essential unity of both humanity’s common needs and experience of life (rooted in a briefly explored theory of the mind). His contention is that this biological unity should transcend any distinctions of culture, religion or politics in the quest for developing a globally-espoused set of secular ethics rooted, not in the European tradition of anti-theism and religious antagonism but rather in the Indian tradition of religious tolerance.

The second part of the book turns to address in more detail the practical task of ‘educating the heart through the training of the mind’ as a means to cultivating and maintaining a more ethical mind-set based on ‘principles of inner self-regulation [which] promote those aspects of our nature [which are] conducive to our own well-being and that of others.’ (p.18). The rationale and practice of cultivating mindfulness and other core values such as patience, contentment and generosity whilst at the same time dealing with destructive emotions such as anger, competitiveness and selfishness are simply described accompanied by anecdotal illustrations. The book closes with a chapter describing the art and discipline of meditation as a vital transformative tool which the reader is enjoined to practise little and often in order to ‘become[a] more compassionate human being.’ (p.183)

Beyond Religion speaks urgently and practically of the need to develop a more rigorous global ethical consciousness. The Dalai Lama invokes our ultimate unity as reasoning, biological beings as sufficient reason to mobilise for the common good and affirms the ‘water’ of our natural spirituality as the medium through which we may cultivate ethical flourishing. His writing is sincere and littered with scientific rationales, replete with homilies and proverbial wisdom and is unashamedly practical in his orientation. Yet, the book retains as its core, the serious academic thesis that humanity needs to move towards a future of ‘being’ which is both tolerant of the particular flavours of religion and culture and which affirms, uncompromisingly, the cultivation of mind-sets which are most likely to promote life and happiness for all. Of particular note is the Dalai Lama’s insistence that compassion must be the foundational element of ethical action to promote justice. In much the same vein of thought (though in considerably less depth and detail) as the Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff[1] (who maintains that love and justice in their truest forms are inseparable), the Dalai Lama insists that ‘the exercise of justice, far from being at odds with the principle of compassion, should be informed by a compassionate approach” (p.64).

Readers may be disappointed if they are looking for a deeper analysis of the unethical ‘corporate’ mind-sets which predispose to structural injustice or the imbalances of power inherent in institutionalised religion, politics and government which corrupt and pervert the course of justice; the Dalai Lama’s treatment of such issues is entirely secondary to his focus on the cultivation of individual ethics. As such, it is a book which is rooted in the conviction that justice flourishes slowly, but surely, in the disciplined path of education – of both mind and heart of each individual.

[1] Wolterstorff, N., (2011) Justice in Love, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans

Book Review: Global Church: reshaping our conversations, renewing our mission, revitalising our churches

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In Global Church: reshaping our conversations, renewing our mission, revitalising our churches, Graham Hill nails his thesis firmly on the doors of the Western Church and Academy:

Those of us in the West need a new narrative. It’s time to abandon our flawed Eurocentric and Americentric worldviews. We need a new, global and missional narrative. We must turn to the churches of Majority World and indigenous cultures. They can help us explore what it means to be a global missional community. (Hill,16).

Scot McKnight observes in his introduction to Global Church that ‘there is no one more alert to the global and theological shape of missions today than Graham Hill’ (McKnight, Forward p 11). This book demonstrates that alertness resourced by twenty-seven years of personal enquiry, immersion and practise. Global Church threads the stories of personal encounter and observation with rigorous scholarship and presents the reader with a set of proposals to chew over which demand our engaged and considered response. I doubt that this book will be without its critics and this is a good feature of it- that it invites an ongoing conversation; the outcomes of that ongoing conversation depend on all of us.

In Global Church Graham Hill engages us with the reasons he believes that the Western Church needs to integrate a new narrative or worldview which explores what it might look like to be a ‘global missional community’. He set out clearly in what ways Majority World Christians are redefining Twenty First century Christianity and how he thinks the Western Church needs to take this into serious consideration. Numerically, 61% of the world’s Christians now live in the global south or Majority World and he cites Phillip Jenkin’s prediction that by 2025 two-thirds of Christians will live in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Graham Hill is emphatic that it is time to stop marginalizing and ignoring the voices of the Majority World Churches.

Global Church follows Graham Hill’s Salt, Light and a city: Introducing missional ecclesiology and develops his proposals of how to integrate and learn from non-Western missional reflections and practices using Mark’s three powerful images of the Church as salt, light and a city. It is a book of considerable scope which introduces, in Part 1, Reshaping our conversations, the need to move beyond the Western academy legacy to embrace ‘glocal conversations…dialogue, learning and partnership… [with] Majority World, indigenous and Western thinkers…activists, communities and ordinary believers.’ (p25) It moves on in Part 2, Renewing our Mission to develop interesting and important topics such hospitality, care for creation and ethical living alongside a review of liberation theologies, pneumatologies and contextual theologies of the Majority World. In Part 3, Revitalising our Churches, the book concludes with an expansive review of the resources which the Majority Church has to offer to scripture engagement, education, models for servant leadership, community building, spirituality and discipleship. The final chapter closes the book with a reassertion of its central emphasis:

Global missional theology challenges that historical and inherited way of doing theology. It challenges its dominance and myopia and cultural superiority. It challenges the assumption that our inherited Western so-called canons of theology are universal and true for all times and all places. That assumption is false. The voices of the global church-its communities and leaders and theologians-challenge these western theological canons and assumptions. They highlight their shortcomings. They emphasise the need for global theological conversations. (Hill, 422)

This book offers very good engagement and material for students, practitioners and educationalists alike. The breadth of its focus is supplemented by clear chapter end summaries, a study guide and an invitation to access the GlobalChurch project video series. It serves both as a mandate for reform and a helpful survey of Majority Church contributions to the glocal conversation.  The content is thorough in its breadth but not exhaustive in its analysis which keeps the considerable volume of material moving forwards at a reasonable pace but which inevitably means that some important conversations which emerge from Graham Hill’s proposals are not explored in more depth-maybe material for the next book! The style is passionate and assertive which for some readers may be somewhat exhausting whilst for others it will be an exhilarating and motivating read.

As someone who is also passionate about truly glocal conversations in mission I warmly recommend this excellent book.

 

Book Review: Just Mercy. A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson

Guest blog: with thanks to Marijke Hoek, Co-editor Carnival Kingdom and Micah’s Challenge

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When the apostle Paul addresses the variety of gifts within the Christian community, he specifies that the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7, italics for emphasis mine). The gift of providing a high quality legal defence for the poorest is most beautifully described in Bryan Stevenson’s recent book Just Mercy. A Story of Justice and Redemption.1

Drawing from thirty years of legal experience defending the most marginalised people in the USA, the author demonstrates the contemporary application of the biblical mandate to speak up, judge fairly and defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:9). As a young lawyer deeply troubled and concerned about the deep fractures and flaws caused by injustice, racial prejudice and inequality, Stevenson was compelled by an urgent sense of vocation to help people plant their feet on higher ground and stabilize their lives. Twenty five years ago he founded the Equality Justice Initiative (EJI) – a pro bono legal practice dedicated to providing high quality legal representation for those who cannot afford it. His commitment to people who are wrongly sentenced, in a criminal-justice system that still supports capital punishment, powerfully demonstrates how advocacy is literally a matter of life and death. Clearly, the legal complexity of Bryan Stevenson’s work requires tenacious commitment, but what emerges most powerfully from this book, is how his work ethic is characterised by a compassionate, respectful and pastoral posture towards each client.

Stevenson advocates, in particular, for a more merciful and restorative approach towards incarcerated children. In view of the harsh sentencing of youngsters and those facing long sentences for non-homicide crimes – in some cases, in the form of solitary confinement over decades – EJI not only advocates successfully for individual cases but also argues with good effect in the Supreme Court for systemic change. The court ruled in 2012 that the mandatory death-in-prison sentences that some states continued to impose on children were impermissible.

So, the ‘redemption’ referred to in the title refers not only to individuals but also to systems and indeed society at large. Stevenson’s audacious pursuit of justice not only aims to secure changes in the judicial process but also has the effect of reorienting individuals and indeed, whole marginalised communities, towards hope. His work reminds me of Jesus’ saying ‘Therefore, every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’ The treasures which Bryan Stevenson ‘brings out’  are a clearer, higher sense of justice and a deeper understanding of how people, profoundly shaped by the suffering caused by historical slavery, racist lynching, and the civil rights struggle, are in need of reconciliation. The deep wounds that remain call out for a spirited wisdom that is considerate, full of mercy, impartial and sincere; this wisdom makes way for shalom – individual, relational and communal well-being that constitutes this higher ground for human flourishing (James 3:17).

Stevenson’s roots in his faith are implied on every page of this book. Reflecting on his vocation in an earlier interview, he says

For me, faith had to be connected to works. Faith is connected to struggle; that is, while we are in this condition we are called to build the kingdom of God. We can’t celebrate it and talk about it and then protect our own comfort environment. I definitely wanted to be involved in something that felt redemptive. 2

Explaining his life-time commitment to the legal profession, he quotes Matthew 25:34-40, in which it is predicted that in Heaven, Jesus will say to the righteous:

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ The righteous, perplexed, will ask Jesus when they had fed Him, clothed Him, or visited Him in prison. And Jesus will reply: ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

Reading Just Mercy makes me ever more mindful of human vulnerability in a harsh world. It makes me deeply grateful for this practice of lawyers who advocate on behalf of ‘the least of these’ and in doing so live out their commitment to the vulnerable in exemplary ways. I am grateful for Bryan Stevenson, whose life is such an eloquent testimony of hope and compassionate presence in dark times. His writings and vocation are a challenge to everyone to use the gifts so liberally given to us for the common good.

May we be found similarly faithful.

1. Stevenson, B. (2015) Just Mercy. A Story of Justice and Redemption, London: Scribe publications

2. http://blogs.law.nyu.edu/magazine/2007/bryan-stevenson’s-death-defying-acts/

For those interested Fighting injustice in America’s jails is a BBC World Service interview with Bryan Stevenson about his work in February 2015. Bryan Stevenson video is also worth watching!

Book review: Against a tide of Evil by Mukesh Kapila

Whistleblowers can play an essential role in detecting fraud, mismanagement and corruption. Their actions help to save lives, protect downloadhuman rights and safeguard the rule of law. To protect the public good, whistleblowers frequently take on high personal risks. They may face victimisation or dismissal from the workplace, their employer may sue (or threaten to sue) them for breach of confidentiality or libel, and they may be subject to criminal sanctions. In extreme cases, they face physical danger. (Transparency International)

In March 2004 the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, went ‘…direct to the world’s peoples… above and beyond the heads of those who should have acted’ and gave a live interview with the Radio 4 Today programme. In his own mind, the culpability for the horrors being unleashed on the people of Darfur lay with both the ‘Khartoum genocidaires and those ‘good men’ who had chosen to do nothing.’ (Kapila, 2013, 222&223). His concerns about what was being unleashed in the Darfur region of Sudan escalated soon after his arrival in 2003 and his conclusion was that it was  ‘…more than just a conflict…an organised attempt to do away with a group of people… ethnic cleansing.’ (Kapila, BBC News online, 19th March 2004).

The day I finished reading Against a tide of Evil, Mukesh Kapila’s  account of the Darfurian genocide in 2003-2004, Human Rights Watch published their latest report titled: Mass rape in Darfur, Sudanese Army Attacks against Civilians in Tabi, cataloguing evidence of continued government- backed attacks against civilians in Tabit, North Darfur.  Mass rape of women and girls, arbitrary detention, beating and ill-treatment of scores of people continues to blight the peoples of a region ten years on from similar and worse events described in this book.

‘How one man became the whistleblower to the first mass murder of the twenty-first century’ is the official subtitle of Mukesh Kapila’s revelatory and disarmingly personal account of the role he played in exposing the horrors of what has come to be known by many as the ‘Darfur genocide’.  His conviction, which drives his own engagement in Sudan, springs from the words of British philosopher and politician Edmund Burke, ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ Biographical detail of his childhood in India during the conflict of the Partition and the impact of racial bullying at a private UK College helps the reader to understand the motivation and passion which stirs him to action. His refreshingly honest self-appraisal is very human and moving:

As I contemplated all of this, I was consumed by an unbearable sense of failure. I had failed in my duty. All the rhetoric about acting early and the responsibility to protect had proven empty ….It had happened on my watch.’(Kapila, 2013, 200).

Against this reflective and personal backdrop, the book unfolds, drilled through with detailed accounts of the horrors which were being perpetrated against Darfurian villagers and a catalogue of his attempts to strategically outmanoeuvre intransigent blocks to humanitarian assistance and intervention.  His mounting frustration is palpable; the restrictions of his official remit and the reluctance of the UN to call for Security Council action further compound the challenges and disappointments he faced on the ground in a protracted and complex gridlock of political and ethnic violence.

Convinced as he was, that government- backed violence in Darfur was ethnically targeted, it comes as a surprise to learn that the UN’s own Commission of Inquiry at the end of 2004 concluded that the Government of Sudan had not pursued a policy of genocide. It did, however, conclude that both crimes against humanity and war crimes had been committed which were just as serious as genocide. It was not to be until 2010 that the International Security Council would issue a second warrant for arrest against Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir for criminal responsibility on three counts of genocide committed against the people of Darfur (ICC, 2010).

Against a tide of Evil is a book which traces the enormous complexity which hampers humanitarian intervention and assistance. In Darfur, the ongoing political, economic and cultural marginalization, exacerbated by the regions’ colonial history, has been compounded by drought and competition for water resources and the escalation of ‘Arab’ and ‘African’ identities being invoked and used to incite violence (Hottinger, 2006).  Mukesh Kapila and those like him, who seek to ensure humanitarian assistance to those who are caught up in the cross-fire of historically-seeded conflict truly find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

This is not a book which resolves for the reader every question which inevitably arises but its strength lies in raising awareness and deepening understanding. It invites us to consider whether, in prioritising our own security and success, we ourselves might come to compromise truth and justice and compassion and become ‘good men and women who do nothing’? With power and position comes responsibility; Mukesh Kapila’s book is testimony to both the considerable challenge and opportunity that that brings. It is well worth reading.

References

BBC News report 19th March, 2004, Mass rape atrocity in west Sudan, accessed 13/2/15 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/3549325.stm

Human Rights Watch Report (2015) Mass rape in Darfur, 11th February, accessed 12/2/15 http://www.hrw.org/reports/2015/02/11/mass-rape-north-darfur

Human Rights Watch Sudan (2010) ICC issue warrant for al-Bashir on genocide, 13th July, accessed 13/2/15 at http://www.hrw.org/news/2010/07/13/sudan-icc-warrant-al-bashir-genocide

International Criminal Court (2010) Arrest warrant against President Omar al-Bashir, accessed 13/2/15 at http://www.icc-cpi.int/en_menus/icc/situations%20and%20cases/situations/situation%20icc%200205/Pages/situation%20icc-0205.aspx

Julian Thomas Hottinger (2006) The Darfur Peace Agreement Expectations unfulfilled, accessed 3/2/15 at  http://www.c-r.org/sites/default/files/Accord18_14TheDarfurpeaceagreement_2006_ENG_0.pdf

The United Nations and Darfur Fact Sheet  accessed 13/2/15 at http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/sudan/fact_sheet.pdf

UN Inquiry (2004) Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the United Nations Secretary-General accessed 13/2/15 at http://www.un.org/news/dh/sudan/com_inq_darfur.pdf

Book review – Economics of good and evil by Tomas Sedlacek

This book marks a fadownloadscinating departure from mainstream economic thought and provides the reader with a captivating smorgasbord of interactions across many diverse fields such as mathematics, psychology, theology, sociology and physics. Its essence is deeply philosophical and it seeks to synthesise a combination of narratives in a holistic manner that many contemporary postmodern readers should find deeply attractive.

Taking the earliest recorded writing, The Epic of Gilgamesh, as its starting point, and traversing a huge array of literature and thought, Sedlacek argues that at its core, economics is about wisdom and morality (i.e. emotional and spiritual intelligence); not the rather limited rational scientific game played out in spreadsheets and abstract mathematical calculations which has evolved from neo-liberal ‘principles’ characteristic of the last 40 years of global economic ‘development’. Not only has this latter approach been deeply problematic as the debt crisis of the last few years clearly demonstrates but our recent ‘take’ on economic life has marked a disturbing reductionist departure from human wisdom. This is the case where biblical truths about humanity, and its ills, have been wrongly divorced from daily economic activity. From a theological perspective then, this book is a welcome bridge in bringing ancient wisdoms and contemporary thought back into the key moral debates of our time.

Chapters 2 and 4 include a comprehensive analysis of biblical perspectives, sandwiching a revisit of Ancient Greek philosophical thought. Treatment of the content in the latter chapter reminds us that many modern conceptions of the market and exchange of goods find their genesis in the classical writings of Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle; it isn’t simply about Adam Smith and Enlightenment thinking only! The real nuggets are unearthed in Sedlacek’s discussion of the ills of our time in which he questions our insatiable ‘need’ for economic growth and our obsession with work which come at the exclusion of almost everything else.

Behaviour economics has welcome consideration in the discussion on animal spirits and the moral vacuum that contemporary economics appears to prefer and operate within. In essence, as the title suggests, Sedlacek’s book seeks to bring humanity back into economics. This won’t go down well with Wall Street, but it is a welcome re-engagement with those of us who are deeply concerned about the idols of our time; money as the bottom line by which everything else is defined and has its meaning, being chief of all (the concept of ‘financialisation’). This book is a tour de force of human development. Its trajectory clearly suggests that our ‘progress’ is not as enlightened as we often think. It is a rewarding if somewhat demanding read as it does jump around and is challenging for those not used to reading across so many fields with such diversity.

I was, however, a little disappointed with the lack of engagement with the ‘green agenda’ and contemporary environmental ethics. Dealing with today’s global ecological crises needs to be at the heart of any contemporary economic engagement. To conclude, the book doesn’t promise solutions but masterfully brings economics back within the human realm where it belongs…oikonomia truly regained! It is a highly recommended work.

Book Review – A Very Short Introduction to Globalization (3rd edition – 2013) by Manfred B. Steger (Kindle edition)

Below is a book review by a current MA Global Leadership student at Redcliffe College, Michael Greed, which is posted in its entirety as a guest blog.

I thought it would be helpful to publish this, firstly, as this book is a stimulating introductory text to the concept of globalisation which deserves wide readership, and which is set as a key text in Redcliffe’s MA programme (module titled The mission of the church in the context of postcolonialism and globalisation), and secondly, as Michael’s excellent summary provides useful brief commentary on related issues around leadership and a Christian engagement with globalisation.

Thank you Michael for granting permission to publish this book review here.

By Michael Greed, May 2014

Then came the churches then came the schools
Then came the lawyers then came the rules
Then came the trains and the trucks with their loads
And the dirty old track was the telegraph road
(Knopfler, 1982)

Thus came the relentless advance of globalization. As peoples have spread across the globe and interacted with one another, the law of the jungle has prevailed: eat or be eaten. Discover, control, exploit – as illustrated by Knopfler’s lyric above.

Steger begins his Very Short Introduction by investigating what globalization is and defining it: “Globalization refers to the expansion and intensification of social relations and consciousness across world-time and world-space.” (18%) He then shows that globalization is not a new phenomenon: it began with pre-historic early human migration. Rather, what has been happening from 1980 onwards is the expansion of globalization to a point of “convergence” (28%). Steger introduces its four dimensions:

Economic: “neoliberal capitalism” is the dominant ideology, in which western-based transnational corporations run the globe to their own advantage.

Political: nation-states have lost their dominant role to transnational corporations, but use immigration controls to counter an increasingly borderless world.

Cultural: “McDonaldization” is on the increase, though “cultural hybridity” may be gaining momentum.

Ecological: the two major issues are “uncontrolled population growth and lavish consumption patterns in the global North” (58%).

Steger then identifies three “globalisms”, ideologies that claim global scope: market globalism, justice globalism and religious globalisms. I was startled to find “justice” and “religious” at opposite ends of Steger’s spectrum. The Bible places them hand in hand: “Pure and genuine religion … means caring for orphans and widows in their distress.” (James 1.27, NLT) Using the term “religious” in this way may be confusing. In his longer volume (2008) Steger writes of “Jihadist Globalism” rather than “Religious Globalisms”.

As a further critique, I offer a fourth globalism: spiritual globalism, something to do with the biblical prophecy that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2.14, NIV). The Bible states that this is God’s world (Psalm 24.1), and he has good and great global plans for it (Romans 8.19-21). The global Christian missionary movement, which embraces both justice issues and fundamentalist proselytization, is in response to this. The focal point is generally local Christian congregations, in partnership with the global Church. Combs’ article (2014) is an excellent example of this.

Steger places market globalism in the centre with justice and religious globalisms on the left and right. Jesus states that we cannot serve God and “Mammon” (Matthew 6.24). I suggest that market globalism is the lavish and unconstrained worship of Mammon. We have put it centre stage, in God’s rightful place, where “spiritual globalism” should be.

Steger concludes his book with some strong exhortations: because of the “uneven” way in which the world is integrated, “we must link the future course of globalization to a profoundly reformist agenda” with “a moral compass” and “an ethical polestar” to guide us (83%).

Who is the leader who can guide us in this reformist agenda? Robert House and his team discovered that all cultures value inspirational leadership (2004, p. 61). But inspiration is not a moral compass. Additionally, House’s data was drawn from middle management (Grove, 2005, p. 2), whilst most of the world’s population are not middle managers.

Does the world need strong leaders who can enforce a reformist agenda? Kaplan (2013) argues that where there is a clear “top dog” with sufficient “coercive power” stability and order are maintained. But do “stability and order” bring about a “reformist agenda”?

Or are strong leaders themselves the problem? Mahatma Gandhi argued that the ideal is “government of the people by the people and for the people” (1982a, p. 28). Is the result of that anarchy? Tim Harle (2011), entitling his book, “Embracing Chaos” maybe says Yes.  But what Gandhi and Harle understand is that people do not need to be controlled. Rather, they need to be recognized and valued.

Che Guevara makes the same point with his emphasis on us, the people: leaders have a role, he writes, “insofar as they embody the highest virtues and aspirations of the people and do not wander from the path” (1965). Those leadership approaches that emphasise “followership” and the servant-facilitator role of the leader have a similar focus. “Let the poor man stand up tall, give him back his pride,” sang Garth Hewitt (1982) after experiencing the poverty of Calcutta (Kolkata).

This, I believe, is the moral compass of Steger’s reformist agenda. Global leaders who will “integrate” the people of the globe “evenly” are those who recognize the value and dignity of each individual and each community, identify with them and make their hopes their own.

References

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