Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ghetto Nation

I picked this up from the new books shelf at the library. I have long been intrigued, in a bad way, by the proliferation of hip-hop culture in the mainstream. When white, middle-class people dress like rappers; when serious journalistic publications use hip-hop slang; when "bling" and "hos" are a part of the "nice kids" thinking, I get a bit frustrated.

Ms. Daniels doesn't really share my frustration. She notices these things, too, and writes about them with the trained eye of a journalist and as a self-described ghetto product. The book isn't particularly organized. Nor does she have any particular thing to say. But there are some entertaining and insightful essays here discussing the spread of ghetto values into the larger culture, as well as the African-American experience. The value of the book really lies in the latter.

Her conclusion is that we are all ghetto. I don't accept it. She comes really close to saying to ghetto culture, "This is wrong!" but she doesn't. She talks extensively about "babymamas" and the guys on the corner, and implies the need for education, work ethic, and responsible parenting, but I wish she would put her weight fully behind Bill Cosby, who she grudgingly, partially endorses.

As a white man, I guess I can't say much about black culture. But as the parent of a black son (and teacher to a bunch of under-achieving black boys), I want to say to black men, "It's time for a culture shift! Don't let ghetto and bling and hip-hop define you!" Ms. Daniels gets part-way there, but not quite.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Star Wars: Dark Empire II and Empire's End

Here's the conclusion to the third trilogy in graphic novel form. Again, it's too bad this will never be a movie. They were fun to read, but lacked the freshness of the original trilogy.

The biggest problem here is Emporer Palpatine's self-perpetuation through his clone farm. It's just absurd. Yes, it's sci-fi, but I don't like it. Plus, this sort of story has to rely on lots of coincidences, but the accidental discovery of descendants of a lost band of Jedi knights, who still retain use of the force, albeit in a different way, is pretty far-fetched as well. The worst was the discovery of a "pocket of space where an entire race of people live cut off from the rest of the galaxy." And it happens to be ruled by a Jedi king!

But I still like seeing the continuing adventures of a domesticated yet still roguish Han Solo, the brave and principled Leia, the fussy C-3PO, and the intrepid R2-D2. There are hundreds of expanded universe novels and stories out there, but if you like the movies and just want to see that story line continued, this is the place to look.

Changing the Face of Hunger

I am not a Democrat. No way. Sometimes I think I am a Republican. More frequently, I claim to be a Libertarian. Most of the time I am disgusted with the whole thing, constantly dismayed to see the extent to which both major parties part with their own principles and the third party is ineffective in applying theirs.

Tony Hall is a Democrat most Evangelical voters could embrace. He's pro-life, and highly principled in his service to our country and to the poor. He served in Congress, representing the Dayton, Ohio area, for over 2 decades. Early in his career in Congress, he became convicted that his task was not just to serve his district or his country, but to use his position to serve the poor and oppressed around the world. With Mother Theresa as his model, who said, "You do the thing that's in front of you," he has worked around the world to address hunger. Most of us don't have the kind of opportunities in front of us as he has had as a congressman and ambassador, but we can certainly do what's in front of us.

It is refreshing to read of a congressman who does so much out of conviction, and he acknowledges that he has received some criticism for not paying as much attention to his home district constituents. However, he was reelected several times; they must have appreciated and approved of what he was doing. I do tend to be a little cynical, though. Hall spends a lot of time tooting his own horn. I wish I knew more about his policies and votes during his time in Congress. My problem with guys like this are their reliance on government as the solution to every problem. He pays lip service to individual action and private initiatives, but most he's a fan of government programs and intervention. That's the correct perspective for a Dem, but that's why I am not one!

He has lots of fascinating anecdotes here, and the reader will certainly be convicted to "do the thing that's in front of you." But please don't look here for a blueprint for foreign or domestic policy.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The New Friars

This is not an easy book to read, not because of vocabulary or dense philosophical arguments, but because it forces you to wonder what in the world you are doing with your life. The author focuses on that certain breed of missionary who lives and works among the poorest of the poor. These are not just people who maintain a middle class existence and serve in agencies that assist the poor; these are people who relocate to the dirtiest, most dangerous, disease-ridden slums in the world and live there for extended periods, in some cases raising their kids there. I don't know about you, but I have never taken such a radical step in following God.

While there's plenty to be convicted about, the author never goes so far as to say that the call to slum life is for everyone. He compares "The New Friars" to the old friars, St. Patrick, St. Francis, St. Clare, whose lives of poverty and simplicity among the poor not only witnessed the gospel to the poor, but preached "wordless sermons" to everyone else.

Although he puts in a few anti-Western, anti-evil-America jabs, Bessenecker's writing is accessible to even a conservative (politically and theologically) believer. It's hard to argue with a call to follow the incarnational example of Christ. And the fruit of the ministry of Francis, Mother Teresa, and some of the modern examples herein speaks for itself. I'm not ready to pack up my wife and three kids and move them to the slums of wherever, but I pray God will make me ready to go to wherever I am supposed to go.

I just started teaching at a school that is about 90% "economically disadvantaged," which does not mean they live in slums, but they certainly are needy. I am forced to wonder what my role is beyond just teacher. The school is just a few miles from my home; is there some way I can be involved in my students' lives beyond attempting to teach them math? Obviously. Again, I pray God will open doors and help me be effective in my teaching and ministry.