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“There’s an unfinished revolution waiting to be won.”

~ Michelle Alexander

A democratic republic such as ours, is always a work in progress. It is always striving to reach an ideal, but also continually falling short of our noblest truths. The secret we refuse to acknowledge is that ours is an unfinished revolution.

When Thomas Jefferson penned these words in The Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”, the reality is that our founding fathers didn’t really believe in the truth of those words. However, the truth of the ideal is in those words, and a democratic republic, if it is to succeed, must always strive for the truth of the ideal. We need prophetic voices, courageous people, and committed movements to make that happen. We need people willing to finish the revolution.

Yes, our Republic is a “Great Experiment,” but that means its history is littered with “Great Disappointment.” It is an unfinished revolution. Racism is evident in the foundational document of our nation, as it vilifies entire people groups by calling them, “… the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

As Jefferson penned these words, he obviously didn’t view Native Americans as created equal. Yet the ideal remains. Let the voices raise, calling the United States to strive for its founding ideals, but to abandon its founding and systemic racism. Let us truly be a nation where all people, all genders, all races, all ethnicities, etc….. are created equal. Let’s continue to strive to see our revolution completed! Let this be the generation that finishes the task!

Recommended Reading:

Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow (Paperback - Revised Ed.); 2012 Edition

 

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Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American CityEvicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Evicted, Matthew Desmond takes a look at the Affordable Housing Crisis using Milwaukee, Wisconsin during 2008-2009 as a social laboratory to help describe the American experience of poverty during the Great Recession. Through the eyes of eight families in crisis, and the two landlords who rent to them, Desmond unfolds a piece of Americana that many would rather ignore. In the Prologue, Desmond describes this experience succinctly when he says:

“Low-income families have grown used to the rumble of moving trucks, the early morning knocks at the door, the belongings line the curb” (4).

Later, Desmond rightly identifies this as a justice issue when he notes:

“All this suffering is shameful and unnecessary. Because it is unnecessary, there is hope. These problems are neither intractable nor eternal” (299).

He challenges the status quo, and our decades long view that poverty is self-inflicted, by confronting directly our exploitation of the poor:

“If the poor pay more for their housing, food, durable goods, and credit, and if they get smaller returns on their educations and mortgages (if they get returns at all), then their incomes are even smaller than they appear. This is fundamentally unfair” (306).

Yet, though Desmond challenges our assumptions, he doesn’t put all the blame for this exploitation at the feet of the landlords. This is a systemic issue that must be corrected, allowing opportunity for the poor to live without systemic exploitation, while also allowing the landlords the opportunity to rightly pursue profit. Both have the inalienable rights of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” but Desmond rightly recognizes that these rights require “a stable home” (300).

And Desmond offers one solution that he thinks will satisfy the needs of both landlords and tenants. Expand our current Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) programs into a Universal Housing Choice Voucher program.

Although he recognizes the possibility of other solutions, and has a healthy respect for the complexities of poverty and housing issues, Desmond’s housing-focused solution appears to me to be a bit naive. As someone who has worked for years with both the homeless and those at risk of homelessness, I know that a house, with the goal of ensuring it costs no more than 30% of an individual’s income, will not reduce the issues associated with poverty. There are multiple systemic and personal issues that are the cause.

However, a housing-first, asset-based solution, focused on expansive supportive services, almost always works. It provides housing stability, enables individuals to get the level of support they need to address the other issues that are contributing factors, while empowering them to overcome these challenges using their own skills and resources.

These challenges are also much more complex than the stereotypical families in crisis that Desmond portrays. There is often an assumption in America that the poor get what they deserve, because of the poor choices they have made. While Desmond vocally expresses disdain for this view, the families he chose to present us with almost reinforce this assumption.

I wish Mr. Desmond would have taken the time to find an individual or family who didn’t fit the stereotype, and tell their story as well. Some of the people I find on the street are experiencing severe homelessness for the first time in their lives. They are the aged, the sick, the handicapped, who have no remaining family and no support system to help them. Individuals who have suddenly found themselves on the streets due to circumstances beyond their control, who have fallen through the cracks, because there are no systemic supports in place to assist them.

They are being evicted at an alarming rate, because they have spent most of their lives on the edge of poverty, and as housing costs have continued to increase, their financial resources haven’t. The sad thing about reading this book, as one who works in the field, is recognizing that the Housing Crisis has only grown worse since Desmond did his research. His book is timely and relevant, and his considerations must be taken seriously. Otherwise, we will have failed as a nation if we refuse to address this issue. Ultimately, our great experiment in Democracy will have failed as well. Desmond rightly notes:

“Working on behalf of the common good is the engine of democracy, vital to our communities, cities, states–and, ultimately, the nation” (294).

This is a book that every thoughtful American should read (including many of our current political candidates). Desmond is to be commended for undertaking this work, and offering a solution to address these issues.

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Original Thinking: A Radical Revisioning of Time, Humanity, and NatureOriginal Thinking: A Radical Revisioning of Time, Humanity, and Nature by Glenn Aparicio Parry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Original Thinking: A Radical Revisioning of Time, Humanity and Nature by Glen Parry, seeks to address the disconnectedness in Western-dominated thinking by reconnecting with earlier indigenous and Eastern conceptions of interdependence with the world around us, while emphasizing new discoveries, especially in the field of Quantum Mechanics, that give credence to many of the ancient ways of thinking.

This thinking is not new, but rather thinking that connects us with our point of origin, challenges us to see the world beyond the social constructs we experience, by seeking a fresh encounter with four essential questions that help us understand meaning:

Is it possible to come up with an original thought?
What does it mean to be human?
Has our thinking created the world today and what is now emerging?
Can education promote the renewal of original thinking?

These are good questions, worthy of thought, and differing perspectives are welcome. Seeing things with new eyes is an overarching purpose of education, growth, religion, and ultimately redefinition. And challenges to an increasingly globalized, dissonant way of thinking is appreciated. So I enjoyed Parry’s work on a superficial level, and his commitment to challenge current ways of thinking and experiencing reality have caused me to consider my own approach to life.

However, I believe that Parry makes the same mistake many do, when seeking to rebuild human frameworks from “point of origin.” He’s reading, writing, and understanding this point of origin seeking to separate from today’s Zeitgeist (spirit of the age, spirit of this time) without first recognizing that many of his assumptions about revisioning time, humanity, and nature are in fact a product of the spirit of this time. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but in my opinion, one’s failure to comprehend their “place of origin” or “time of origin,” while seeking to return to the thinking of humanity’s “point of origin” ultimately leads to neither original (as in origin) thinking or original (as in unique, fresh, innovative) thinking.

Each of us must first recognize that we are a product of our age, before we seek to understand the wisdom of a previous age. Failure to do this results in a lack of deep thought, a failure to synthesize the wisdom of the previous age. Instead, we simply paste that wisdom onto the framework of our own preselected suppositions. That’s precisely how Parry’s thinking comes across to the reader. He’s not challenging our thinking with origin or innovation. He’s simply creating a curious amalgam of thought that is neither twenty-first century philosophy or science, nor original thinking from the ancients.

Instead, Parry has left us with a twenty-first century mysticism all too prevalent in our current age, that refuses to adequately address the deeper questions of today’s world. It is simply a panacea that soothes our conscience without challenging us to work toward the needed change that will ultimately improve our world.

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The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is a great literary dessert, wonderfully baked with ingredients that are put together just right.

A tale about the power of stories, it’s built with literary allusions from mixed genres. Add a few love stories, throw in a dash of poetry, a love of the writing process, and a little literary criticism and you have the sweet tale of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry.

It’s a simple story (or really a collection of shorts), hiding a deeper tale about the love of community, and the impact that literature has in bringing people together, while ultimately shaping their lives.

Zevin sometimes appears to bring things together too perfectly, occasionally tugging at our emotions a bit too predictably, when suddenly she lets the reader know that she thinks they’re intelligent enough to recognize this and still enjoy reading for the sake of the story. (I suspect that this technique will prevent some individuals from seeing the deeper story, much like Maya’s story was overlooked for it’s depth).

Zevin skillfully and openly foreshadows much of the story from the very beginning, yet manages to add a twist of mystery, and surprise the reader several times along the way. Without conveying the snobbery often apparent in much of contemporary and classic fiction, she manages to weave a deep tale of everyday people discovering the power of fiction, while enabling the reader to see that fiction is often more truthful than it first appears.

This is a book that everyone should read at least once, and one that I intend to read again. I’m rating it five stars not because it’s a perfect literary masterpiece, but because it precisely achieves its intended aim. I read a lot of books, but this is the first book I’ve read in a long time that I didn’t want to put down simply because of the joy of reading it! Zevin has reminded me why I love books and why I long to read them. She has rekindled my romance with reading, made me crave the re-reading of some literary masterpieces I love, while giving me a hunger to read the ones I’ve yet to devour.

A tasty, fattening literary dish served with much delight!

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The New World: A Novel
by Chris Adrian & Eli Horowitz

2 Stars **

The New World: A Novel

The New World intends to tell the story of a marriage from the perspectives of future and past; present realities that separate pediatric surgeon, Jane Cotton, from her deceased chaplain husband Jim whose head has been preserved for the future by the Polaris Corporation.

Throughout the story, they each find that love, and life shared, in all its messiness is far more eternal than deferred hope in life somewhere in the far distant future. Eternity is far less tangible than the eternal now–a moment when we are fully present with one another (such as during the experience of a tender passionate wedding kiss embracing all of our past and future history).

The premise is an interesting one, but an underdeveloped plot, flat characters, intangible realities, and poorly executed back story left me disappointed.

This tale could have been so much more. Instead, it took a shallow dive into the deep mystery of love, and offered a meaningless reflection of life that leads me to recommend this as one tale you should avoid reading.

 

You can also find this review on Goodreads here
Connect with me on Goodreads: john-taylor

 

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I stand on the mountain.
Searching for a voice, but
There is nothing.
Only the chattering sounds of religion.

Thundering, crushing, empty.

I seek the voice of God!
The voice and the presence,
Word and Spirit,
Knit together in harmony.

Am I alone in the wind and the storm?

The covenant is broken,
The altars thrown down,
The prophets impaled,
And I am under a death sentence!

Yet nothing!
Even as the earth shakes,
And fire explodes,
I am left empty by the noise of living!

I return to the shadow of the cave,
broken and desperate,
afraid and alone,
I lay in the sudden silence!

Only then,
Silent weight falling upon me,
Do I hear the gentle whisper,
That draws me forward,
In shame, I cover my face!

Standing at the cave’s entrance,
Afraid to move into the presence on the mountaintop,
Hearing the gentle words,
Why are you here?

I’m tired, Lord!
Discouraged,
Angry,
Afraid!

What am I to do?

In soft reply,
The clear message.
Return to the wilderness. Go! Return!
Complete your assignment!

Do all I have spoken!
I am with you in silence.
Always!
Even to the end of the age!

It is enough…

© John A. Taylor, 2015

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Just a short walk from my home is the Hackley Public Library. A gem in the heart of Muskegon that I try to visit weekly, and one of the best small libraries in the state of Michigan. I always find interesting reading on Hackley’s shelves. Here are five books I’ve picked off the shelves during the month of August:

Backpacking with the Saints by Belden C. Lane

Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice 1st edition by Lane, Belden C. (2014) Hardcover

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances

Following the Path by Joan Chittiste

City of God by Augustine

The City of God [The Modern Library] by Saint Augustine [Hardcover(1994/2/1)]

Galileo’s Middle Finger by Alice Dreger

Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science

2012-06-18 21.53.35-2
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I live in parallel worlds, which is why I make my home in the city. I am revisiting this earlier post in order to lay the foundations and expand on my thinking regarding the city. Join me as we explore God’s plans and purposes within the city.


The city is a place of trouble, transformation, and triumph. It is the battleground between the purposes of God and the pride of humanity. Within the city, we can discover the story of redemption, and gain insight into God’s purposes as His glory radiates throughout the earth.

The city is a Holy Place, where the work of God is active and His presence known. If we are called to the city, and want to have a heart for the city, then we must come led by the Holy Spirit, and with the following demonstrations of His activity in our lives.

Humility

We have nothing to give to the city, and we have much to learn from the city. When we recognize this, we become fellow citizens, sharing in the life of the city. We value our neighbors, those who have already been living within the city, and seek their wisdom.

However, humility also requires us to speak when God tells us to speak. We must be committed servants, willing to boldly proclaim His message, as His ambassadors, under His direction. This requires us to humbles ourselves, seeking His face, so that we are able to distinguish the whispers of God’s voice from the screaming of our own self-righteousness.

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another,

for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. ~ 1 Peter 5:5b, ESV

Holiness

Holiness isn’t defined by a set of legalistic guidelines that tell us how to act, or that we impose on others. Holiness belongs to God, and it is something that we receive from Him. To be holy means that we are set apart for God’s purposes in the city, that we are acting according to His purposes, and that we are trusting God to enact His purposes in and through the lives of others. None of us are worthy to be used by God, and none of us are so righteous that we can determine the worthiness of others.

To be set apart doesn’t mean that we refuse to share in the life of the community, it simply means that we acknowledge that God has a purpose for our lives within the community, and we are called to live according to that purpose. It is this sense of purpose that compels us to act differently within the community, even as we humbly acknowledge that God also has a purpose for others in our community. Our task is to simply help them connect with God as He leads them to discover their purpose.

In addition, holiness means that we take advantage of the grace of God in our own lives, a precious gift freely given to us. We will not allow anything to enslave us that will take away from our service on behalf of God. We will choose to grow in an understanding of His expectations on our lives, even as we extend God’s grace towards those that fail to meet our expectations.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore,

and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. ~ Galatians 5:1, ESV

Honor

To bring honor into the city means to seek the best for others; to give others credit for the things accomplished; to show enough respect for others to overlook their frailties, and to give all the honor to God for the work accomplished through your efforts. He is the One who called you, empowered you, and equipped you to do your work within the community.

Honor worships God, respects the dignity of others, and seeks the best for the life of the city. A life lived by honor does not seek to highlight its own accomplishments, as much as it seeks to recognize the accomplishments of others, and acknowledge their commitment to the life of the city (many times a steadfast commitment that existed before you even arrived in the city).

Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God.

Honor the emperor.  ~ 2 Peter 2:17, ESV

A Heart for the City

A heart for the city doesn’t seek its own ends, but seeks security, wholeness, and hope for all citizens. Such a heart wants opportunities for others to increase. It wants to see families prosper, dreams fulfilled, and opportunities abound. It is a heart that prays for the peace (shalom) of the city. A heart for the city longs and prays for a community that is complete, whole, healthy, tranquil, prosperous and safe. It believes that these desires are promised by God, and will come to pass, as we work together in community.

A heart for the city believes in the impact of individual lives, and in the power of corporate commitment. It trusts and values the dreams of others, and seeks a way to fulfill a vision of prosperity through community. A heart for the city answers the call, because it believes strongly in the love for the city of the One who has called.

Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.

Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. 

~ Jeremiah 29:7, NIV