Friday, November 30, 2018

The Point of It All, by Charles Krauthammer

If there was ever a time we needed someone like Charles Krauthammer, it is now.  Sadly, the conservative commentator passed away in June.  It was a huge loss for the world of political commentary.  There are few talking heads on the air or in print today who possess his grace, wisdom, insight, and overall perspective.  Before he passed away, he gathered some of his work in the newly published The Point of It All: A Lifetime of Great Loves and Endeavors.  

These columns and essays span decades.  Even the older ones, though, remain relevant in providing context and insight for today's political environment.  On the personal side, Krauthammer reveals his love of chess and baseball in a number of the essays.  He also gives some insight into his physical limitations.  Krauthammer readers are probably aware that, while a student at Harvard Medical School, he became paralyzed from the waist down.  He finished his medical degree and practice psychiatry for several years before shifting to his writing career.

Krauthammer was a great advocate for the disabled, but chose not be defined by his disability or to use it as an excuse not to live productively.  He writes, "Disability . . . neither ennobles nor degrades.  I frames experience.  It does not define it."  In a letter to a young man who had recently suffered a spinal cord injury similar to his own, he wrote that "a good and productive and deeply enjoyable life is there waiting for you. . . . Life is more difficult with a spinal cord injury.  But the obstacles are not insurmountable."

The essays in The Point of It All cover a wide array of political topics and reveal Krauthammer's consistent, principled conservatism.  On guns, "There's only one gun law that would make a difference: confiscation. . . . And in this country, confiscation is impossible."  On politically correct efforts to reject the Western canon at universities: "Affirmative action for great books is an embarrassment. . . . A pastiche of 'global culture' for a population utterly ungrounded in its own produces the most haphazard jumble of knowledge."

In discussing the press, Krauthammer takes Trump's side--sort of.  The press is "the opposition party" whose front pages are "festooned . . . with anti-Trump editorializing masquerading as news."  Nevertheless, this is better than "a press acquiescing on bended knee, where it spent most of the Obama years in a slavish Pravda-like thrall."  

One can only hope that Krauthammer's admirers and former colleagues will take up his mantle of steady reasonableness and conservative thought.  I have seen, on at least two occasions, Fox News using video of Krauthammer's commentary even after his passing.  Clearly he has left a void.  Until a worthy successor appears, we can revisit his thinking in his many writings.

Thanks to NetGalley for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Sex Myth, by Rachel Hills

Rachel Hills said she learned about sex as a teenager by reading Cosmopolitan.  Based on the headlines I see at the grocery checkout line, that's a shaky foundation.  In The Sex Myth: The Gap Between Our Fantasies and Reality, she explores the myths portrayed by Cosmo and other elements of pop culture and gives her assessment of sexual mores today.

In her efforts to be open and nonjudgmental, Hills tends to promote a no-holds-barred hedonism.  In her mind, sex used to be a secret, dirty thing that no one talked about and that was only supposed to happen for reproduction.  Now it is an open, public act that should be talked about, practiced, experimented with, and portrayed however, whenever, and with whomever one likes.  She tempers her position a bit by saying that there should be no shame in having no or very little sex, but her complete rejection of taboo and long-held cultural norms is disturbing.

Hills makes the error of caricaturing past views of sex, rolling in religious views with the past.  She needs to recognize the traditional Christian view: sex is for reproduction and pleasure, monogamy leads to greater sexual satisfaction in life, and the negative social, physical, and psychological costs of non-marital, non-monogamous sex are great.  (Granted, some Christians have taught a more repressive view of sex, but that no longer seems to be the norm, if it ever was.)

To Hill and her many interview subjects, there are no limits to the experimenting and coupling that one might pursue.  Alas, part of the "sex myth" is that one finds that most people are having a lot less sex than you think they are.  Also, it's not as big a deal as Cosmo and all those rom-coms make it out to be.  Hill tries to take the mystery and forbiddenness out of sex and describe it as just another bodily function that one may or may not participate in, and if one does, one may participate in any manner he or she pleases.

I just don't see a lot of value in The Sex Myth.  Maybe it gives a journalistic perspective on current sexual practices among the millennial generation, but she gives no indication that her interviews are anything more than randomly selected, anecdotal accounts.  Her presentation is far from being a representative sampling.  So, not much insight, moral vacuity, and no great conclusions.  Pass.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Pop Kult Warlord, by Nick Cole

In Nick Cole's Soda Pop Soldier, we met PerfectQuestion, one of the world's leading online gamers.  Cole appropriately opens the sequel, Pop Kult Warlord, with PQ winning the Super Bowl of gaming.  PQ says, "There used to be another Super Bowl, someone told me, before the Meltdown.  But it got all Social Justice and no one watched it anymore."  He's a pro, with more earnings than he can spend, and millions watch from home and gathered in stadiums to watch him play.  He's not necessarily in it for the money, but for the hunt.  But when, before PQ's even had a chance to have a good night's sleep after the Super Bowl, his agent calls him with an offer of five million dollars in gold for a month's work, even PQ can't turn that down.

His new client is a prince in Calistan, a Muslim caliphate carved out of a portion of Southern California after the Meltdown.  Rashid has seemingly endless wealth, and puts PQ in charge of Calistan's presence in a civilization building game.  For reasons that PQ doesn't immediately grasp, Rashid wants him not to build up the civilization in the game, as one might expect, but to destroy others, without regard to wasting the resources of other powers.  This game is a sort of petri dish of international relations.  Other countries have a presence in the game, and Rashid wants to establish Calistan's dominance by attacking them.

PQ quickly becomes convinced that he's being used, and that he's trapped in Calistan until Rashid is satisfied that PQ has done his bidding.  The class divisions and downright evil that reveals itself sours PQ's taste for the job to the point that he's willing to give up the gold if he can just get out with his life.  On top of that, his "agent" turns out to the a CIA agent; PQ is an unwitting pawn in a larger geopolitical plot.

As in Soda Pop Soldier, Cole weaves the online action and the IRL (in real life) action together seamlessly.  Even a non-gamer like me can appreciate the action and the interactions.  Besides these two worlds, PQ has long, vivid, detailed dreams, in which he's on a video-game-like quest to defeat an evil villain.  To be honest, for much of the book I thought this part of the story was an uncharacteristic distraction.  I should have given Cole more credit!  It all comes together in the end.

(On a side note, Cole really loves writing about food.  On two or three occasions, I was ready to book a flight to LA to track down the restaurants from which the meals in the book came.  It's rude to make a guy so hungry while he's reading!  Next time I'm in LA, I'll treat Nick to some donuts or some Pizza Ravi.)

Cole doesn't write much about the Meltdown, but he give some hints.  PQ says the "world before the Meltdown" was "a madhouse of grievance action and social justice.  And all of it a scam for cheap power and wealth redistribution."  Sounds pretty accurate.  When PQ is trying to get out of Calistan, he reflects, "If I ever make it back to America. . . I won't leave for a really long time.  Freedom ain't free, and. . . it's pretty great."  Amen to that.  These insights into Cole's point of view provide some background but he doesn't let political points detract from the story. 

Pop Kult Warlord is a fun, fast-paced read with attitude.  It's a worthy follow-up to Soda Pop Soldier and, hopefully, a set-up for an even cooler sequel.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Cracking the Cube, by Ian Scheffler

Like many kids of the 80s, I was enamored with Rubik's Cube.  I stayed up late trying to figure it out, couldn't, so bought a book that showed me how.  I never got very fast, but could reliably solve it faster than most of my friends.  Ian Scheffler got pretty fast.  He writes about his adventures in cubing in Cracking the Cube: Going Slow to Go Fast and Other Unexpected Turns in the World of Competitive Rubik's Cube Solving.

Part travelogue, part journal, part history, Cracking the Cube is a nostalgia trip for many.  Scheffler writes about the invention of the cube, its unlikely entrance into the international toy market, and its proliferation throughout popular culture.  He even gets to meet Rubik himself!  The cube made Erno Rubik Hungary's most famous and wealthy citizen. 

As Scheffler seeks to improve his own times, he gives historical and first-hand accounts of competitive cubing around the world.  I am very impressed that he got his average below 20 seconds.  However, that puts him a long way from winning most competitions.  The best cubers can solve it in five seconds.  If you're not solving it in ten seconds, you're not even close to the top 1000 in the world rankings.

Scheffler does a nice job of portraying the personal side of competitive cubing.  As he tells it, these aren't cut-throat competitions, but gatherings of passionate cubers who are always trying for a personal best.  Lasting friendships develop, and competitors openly share strategies.  People who are not into cubing at all might find some of his musings a bit tiresome, but I think even non-cubers can appreciate Scheffler's style and the passion he brings and describes in cube world.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

White Picket Fences, by Amy Julia Becker

Amy Julia Becker's book White Picket Fences: Turning Toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege has such a nice title. . . but I don't buy into her argument.  She is in the school of thought that takes the short step from white privilege to white guilt.  She grew up in a world of privilege that the vast majority of white people would recognize as rare privilege: generational wealth, boarding school, Ivy League education, and all the social and career opportunities those things bring.  Like a lot of wealthy white liberals, she retains a hearty sense of guilt for the unfairness of it all.

Her experiences have been tempered by some of her life's circumstances.  She is a Christian, and sees her background and position as a part of who she is as a Christian.  She undoubtedly has a deep faith which informs her life and perspectives.  As a mother of child living with Down syndrome, her views on privilege have certainly expanded.  Like any parent of a child living with a disability, she quickly recognized the ways which society's structures work against the child's success.

As much as I admire and respect Becker's desire to live faithfully and to use her position and, yes, privilege to serve others, her views on race and privilege don't relate to most of the rest of the world.  I am grateful and blessed by the time and place of my birth, by the love and stability of my family, by the experiences I have had in my education, career, community, and church.  I don't feel guilty that other people have not had the same experiences.  I don't think I have to apologize for any of it.  I do believe that the point of life is to live for Christ and live for others, no matter where you started from.  I recognize that life is hard and unfair for some people all the time and for some people all the time.

I don't know Becker at all.  I suspect I would like her a lot.  But I really didn't like the premise of her book.  I tired of the apologetic, self-condemning tone of it.  She writes, for example, "Our affluence . . . fences us off from other people.  We can afford to pay for the 'best' of everything . . . and in so doing, we don't interact much with people who can't afford those opportunities.  Unless we consciously choose for it not to, affluence cordons us into relationships with other people with wealth."  She writes about their idyllic little New England town, where her husband is headmaster at an elite boarding school.  I want to tell her, don't feel bad!  You don't have to purge yourself and apologize for the path your life has taken!

At one point, I thought she sounded rather ungrateful.  While she and her husband celebrated all the seemingly providential ways it worked out for him to get his current job, the exact sort of position he had hoped for, she began to doubt herself.  It wasn't providence, she thought, it was privilege.  His getting the job was just a matter of the privileged education he had, the privileged circles he ran in, and the privilege of his birth. 

I guess I'm simply not comfortable taking God out of the equation of my life's circumstances.  I don't need to feel guilty or ashamed of my background, things over which I have not control.  I can't choose my parents or the place of my birth.  I can't choose my race.  I can't choose my physical abilities.  All of that is directed and orchestrated by God in his providence.  I can choose how I live my life, how I serve others, and how I trust God every day.  That, ultimately, is where Becker gets, too.  I just didn't like the guilt-laden path she took to get there.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Rare, Medium, or Done Well, by Mike Huckabee

I like Mike Huckabee.  I'd support him if he were running for something again.  There are probably not many people in the political world with whom I would align more closely ideologically and politically.  So I was looking forward to reading Rare, Medium, or Done Well: Make the Most of Your Life. 

This book is full of the good sense and home-spun wisdom Huckabee is known for.  As a pastor, he has walked with and led people through life's challenges.  As governor of Arkansas and a candidate for president, he knows the bare knuckle, back-room reality of life in the political arena.  As a commentator and media figure, he can now comment on life and politics from a more detached perspective.

Huckabee's view is to keep the end in mind and build a lasting legacy.  Some people end up rare, putting their hope in short-term, earthly priorities, unprepared for eternity.  Others are medium, mediocre, living without conviction or impact.  We should aim to be "done well," living for the next lifetime. 

There's plenty of wisdom here, and I don't want to diminish that, but I had a hard time getting past Huckabee's style.  He reminded me of a pastor I once had whose sermons were less scriptural exposition and more strung together sermon illustrations.  This book sometimes felt like that.  Huckabee may still use his Sermon Illustrations Omnibus--Pulpit Edition book from his pastoring days.  As much as I appreciated Huckabee's viewpoints and hard-won wisdom, it was diminished by the corny illustrations and anecdotes that only marginally added to his points.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Ship of Fools, by Tucker Carlson

I really enjoy Tucker Carlson's show on Fox News.  He's entertaining, thoughtful, and unafraid to confront liberals and call out liberal stupidity.  If you, too, are a Tucker Carlson fan, you must read his new book, Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution.  It has all the attitude of his show (Sometimes I could hear him in my head.  It's uncanny how the printed page can capture his style of speaking so well.) applied to a wide range of timely, important topics.

Like many commentators, Carlson recognizes Donald Trump's ascension to the presidency as a populist rejection of elitism, "a throbbing middle finger in the face of America's ruling class."  Part of the problem is that the anti-establishment liberalism that shaped Democratic leaders from the Clinton generation is now the establishment.  The American people were ready for someone who wasn't cut from the liberal establishment mold.

On a few points, Carlson took stances that surprised me a bit.  His populism comes through.  He's concerned about wage inequality and bloated CEO salaries.  He's also concerned about the environment.  The problem with today's environmentalist movement, he writes, is that they are more concerned with government control and the religion of global warming than they are about the actual condition of our river and lakes and forests.  He has a point.

On some issue, like free speech on campus, in the workplace, and on social media, he's as righteously indignant and bombastic as you would expect.  How dare liberal politicians and academics say they are in favor of free speech, and then act to stifle speech with which they disagree.  Carlson himself has become a target, with Antifa demonstrating as his home and terrorizing his family, attempting to shut Carlson up. 

Ship of Fools is like a collection of Carlson's nightly monologues, only extended with more examples and context.  Disagree with him if you like, but you won't find loosely held or poorly thought out opinions here.  Carlson speaks and writes from conviction and evidence, with a willingness to hear from the other side. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Atheism on Trial, by Louis Markos

Louis Markos, who teaches at Houston Baptist University, has reflected on atheism and found it wanting.  In Atheism on Trial: Refuting the Modern Arguments Against God, he examines atheists' arguments against the existence of God.  Drawing from ancient writers, he shows that modern-day atheists have nothing new under the sun to add to the debate.

Readers of Christian apologetics will be on familiar ground with Markos.  He covers the naturalistic and moral arguments for God, the problem of pain, the question of the watchmaker.  In succinct chapters and lucid, laypersons' language, he challenges his readers to think more deeply about religious and deistic claims.  His approach is not dogmatic at all, but well-reasoned and reflective.

As an evangelical Christian myself, I was nodding along with him.  His discussions took me back to my days as a philosophy major at a Christian university.  Markos's treatments are understandably brief, but offer enough food for thought and references for readers who want to pursue other sources.  Interested Christians will feel justifiably affirmed in their beliefs.  Even the most hardened secular thinker will have to admit that Christian faith and theism are, at the very least, not delusional, fantastic beliefs.  But whether an atheist would read this and be swayed, only time--and a great deal of prayer--will tell.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Rewrite, by Gregory Benford

In his award-winning 1980 novel Timescape, Gregory Benford introduced a plausible means by which we might send signals to the past using faster-than-light particles.  In his new novel, Rewrite: Loops in the Timescape, he jettisons any semblance to hard science and spins a time-travel/reincarnation fantasy story.

When Charlie, middle-aged and burned out on life, is killed in a car accident, he wakes up on his sixteenth birthday in his 16-year-old body, but with all the memories of his middle-aged life.  It's a new start, and a chance to correct all the mistakes of the first time around.  It's a chance many of us, including, perhaps, septagenarian sci-fi writers.  "This is a chance to rewrite a previous draft of Opus Charlie.  And who in humanity wouldn't want that?"

Besides making changes in his personal and family life, Charlie decides that he is going to take advantage of his movie knowledge to establish himself in his new life.  He gets the rights to a new novel called The Godfather and recreates the movie.  He recruits an up-and-coming film maker named Spielberg.  He "anticipates" trends and makes a name for himself--and a good deal of money--as a very young man.  After he discovers that there are others like him, who have reincarnated into their younger selves, he produces the movie Back to the Future in hopes of drawing out other reincarnates.

Benford clearly had fun writing this book.  Charlie meets up with Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, and Albert Einstein, as well as the famous Casanova, all of whom are reincarnates.  On this point, I enjoyed some of the clever turns.  These visionaries of the future had actually been there!  As Albert Einstein said, "Those who ignore the mistakes of the future are bound to make them."  Now that's a good line! 

I was troubled by the lack of sense.  The whole reincarnation, life-cycling, multiple universe thing was played with but not scientifically explored, as I would have expected from Benford (and as he did in Timescapes).  Charlie gets into it and does his part to change some history, but Rewrite is ultimately unsatisfying.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, November 9, 2018

Timescape, by Gregory Benford

Sometimes a great scientific idea and realistic scientific explanations of fanciful subjects make for a great story.  Sometimes dull stories are made better by cool ideas.  Gregory Benford's 1980 novel Timescape takes a fascinating idea, includes lots of plausible scientific discussion of that idea, and attempts to make a story out of it.  Unfortunately, I found the story to be a bit of a yawner.

The idea is cool: scientists in 1998 are concerned about a growing bloom in the ocean that threatens the future of all living things.  The causes are known to be man-made chemicals.  They have discovered tachyon beams and theorize that the beams can be used to send messages back in time.  Another group of scientists in 1962 pick up signals that seem too patterned to be natural.  They figure out that it's Morse code, but much of the message is unintelligible, chemical names they don't recognize.  It's a race to convince the rest of the world that these messages from the future are legit and provide information that can be used to change the course of history.

That sounds a lot more interesting than it is.  The story is bogged down in academic politics, scientist's egos, and scientific speculation.  Like a good writer of hard sci-fi, Benford blends enough real science with the fantastic elements to make it all seem plausible.  But the plot and drama are too understated and, well, dull.  I know I'm in the minority.  Timescape won the 1981 Nebula award, among other awards.  But it just didn't do much for me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

For Us Humans, by Steve Rzasa

Steve Rzasa has written some really enjoyable sci-fi.  His newest, For Us Humans: A Tale of Human Occupation, is no exception.  On a near-future Earth an alien race has made a protectorate of Earth.  Our planet happened to be in a convenient place for a new warp tunnel (interstellar bypass? A little nod to Douglas Adams?  Maybe so.)  It's been 15 years, and life goes on.  The aliens mostly leave humans alone, except for the conscription of soldiers to go to other planets to fight other aliens.

When the FBI recruits Caz Fortel to assist in the recovery of a stolen piece of priceless alien art, he's not too excited about his new partner, a Ghiqasu Hounder.  This alien has a remarkable sense of smell, which is useful for tracking thieves, but he's a despised alien, which is a pain.  Nevertheless, the promise of a big paycheck is enough for Caz to team up with the Ghiqasu. 

As the investigation deepens, the two become friends and grow to appreciate each other's culture.  The Ghiqasu is especially interested in Christianity.  Churches have dwindled drastically since the appearance of the aliens but, as Caz learns, Christians might have more in common with the aliens than many people thought.  Although it's a relatively minor subplot, Rzasa seems to have fun with the exploration of these religious ideas.

The major plot get more interesting and engaging as the story moves along.  It starts out as a relatively simple investigation into a theft from a museum, but accelerates exponentially into a plot to save the Earth and galactic civilization from evil and destruction.  All the while, Caz keeps his sense of humor and snarky attitude.

For Us Humans is for sci-fi readers who like stories with great action and plotting, imaginative aliens, and a lot of fun.  It's fun and funny to read.

Monday, November 5, 2018

dc Talk's Jesus Freak, by Will Stockton and D. Gilson

Will Stockton and D. Gilson may be overstating the impact of dc Talk by saying that to "evangelicals in the 1990s . . . dc Talk was nothing less than the Beatles of Christian music."  dc Talk was popular, and they remain an important piece of contemporary Christian music (CCM), but the Beatles?  I'm not so sure.  In dc Talk's Jesus Freak, a book in the 33 1/3 series of music criticism and cultural reflection, Stockton and Gilson write about their own love for dc Talk and their eventual disillusionment with all that musical trio represented. 

Stockton and Gilson, now both university English professors, grew up as active members of their evangelical youth groups.  But, they write, "today, neither of us is an evangelical Christian.  We have traded those identities: we are atheists and gay men."  While they, at times, speak about their love of dc Talk and their involvement in evangelical youth ministry with fondness and nostalgia, their tone toward the band and the church is mostly dismissive and arrogant.  "Trying to sound hip, dc Talk sounds derivative and cheesy."  The racial unity message of dc Talk's song "Colored People" is "some neoliberal bullshit."  Layering on an interpretation of some of the love language in songs directed toward God, Stockton and Gilson speculate, "Do [dc Talk band members] McKeehan, Tait, and Max want to have sex with each other?  Maybe, but probably not."  In blanket condemnation they call 1990s CCM an "easily scorned, even shameful, phenomenon."

Stockton and Gilson make some effort to place dc Talk in the larger cultural and musical trends, examining their impact on and reactions to both Christian and secular music.  It's helpful to see that they embraced culture and music in a similar way that, a couple decades before, the Jesus movement embraced folk and rock music to reach a new generation of Christians.  dc Talk's embrace of rap and grunge music places them in a continuing tradition. 

Stockton and Gilson seem to be more driven by their own rejection of Christianity than by any serious desire to examine Christian music and youth culture.  In a way, their examination of music and culture is only incidental to their own stories.  I get that they need to justify their chosen lifestyle, but it seems that such justification can be done in way that respects and does not demean the culture from which they sprang. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Yes, I Can! A Girl and Her Wheelchair, by Kendra J. Barrett, Jacqueline B. Toner, and Claire A. B. Freeland, illustrated by Violet Lemay

My daughter is a girl in a wheelchair, so a book touting the abilities of a girl and her wheelchair certainly caught my eye!  Yes I Can! A Girl and Her Wheelchair follows Carolyn through her day.  She uses a wheelchair, but she can participate in everything.  At home, at school, on the playground, at her friend's party, Carolyn gets around and interacts with her world .  Written by a physical therapist and two clinical psychologists, Yes I Can! promotes awareness, inclusion, and kindness.

Of these themes, inclusion comes across most strongly.  The story demonstrates how Carolyn can fully participate in classroom activities and social events.  The nature of her participation may be different--for instance, she can't run in the footrace, but she can referee--but she is present and engaged.  As she participates, the other children become accustomed to seeing her around class and are not surprised by her, for instance, scooting across the floor for story time.

Yes I Can! is perfect for both typical children and for those who live with disabilities.  The authors reinforce the message that different is not better or worse--it's just different.  I know that in my daughter's case, her being included in mainstream classes has been an enrichment for both her and her typical peers.  Like Carolyn, her friends don't see her wheelchair as something weird or scary, but as normal.  Yes I Can! teaches and reinforces that message.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Reconstructing the Gospel, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

It's not often that I'll say I hate a book.  But Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion comes close.

Let me back up.  One of the great miracles of the Christian faith is that through 2000 years of human interpretations, cultural layering, power plays, and prideful squabbles, Christianity has survived.  Each new generation in each new geographical location has the opportunity to experience the transforming power of the gospel through a personal relationship with the living God.  Time after time imperfect humans have introduced the gospel, by loving example, cultural diffusion, or by force, into a new culture.  And time after time new, vibrant expressions of Christianity arise.

This is no less the case for what Wilson-Hartgrove calls "slaveholder religion."  Slaves in the United States were often forced to worship like their masters, were fed distorted interpretations of scripture, and were severely restricted in their pursuit of knowledge about Christianity and the Bible.  Nevertheless a distinct, vibrant, enduring, deep faith grew in the hearts of many slaves and continues through their descendants.  Yet Wilson-Hartgrove seems stuck in the "slave religion" mode.  He thinks white people especially are stuck in a form of Christianity that justifies chattel slavery and teaches white supremacy.

Wilson-Hartgrove is not an old guy.  Based on the biographical info he alluded to, he's probably in his early 40s or so.  So it's not as if he grew up in the midst of share cropping and Jim Crow.  But he writes as if race relations are stuck in the first half of the 20th century.  He did grow up in North Carolina; maybe that part of the country really is stuck.  But that's not the impression I get from friends who live there.

Besides his writing from this position of racial division that seems distant from my everyday experience, when he writes about white Christianity, it feels like a straw man argument.  He talks about white people needing to repent of their white religion and embrace true Christianity, and he has no trouble accusing prominent Christians like Franklin Graham of white supremacist tendencies.  But I wonder if he actually came to my house, worshipped at my mostly white church with me, and spent a day in my neighborhood, if he'd still be as critical.  I mean, it's easy to construct an image of this holdover religion of white supremacy that still believes Christians can hold slaves as long as they treat them well, but I just don't think this religion he speaks of is reality, except in tiny pockets that are shunned by reasonable people.

I've got news for Wilson-Hartgrove.  Outside of the myopic, artificial world you imagine, there are lots of white and black Christians who get along just fine.  There are lots of white Christians who go to mostly white churches and live in white neighborhoods and who love their black brothers and sisters without an ounce of animosity.  And by the way, it's a human tendency to be with people like yourself.  Black, white, hispanic, Asian, no matter what, people are often drawn to people with similar cultural backgrounds.  If I go to a white church or marry a white woman, that doesn't mean I'm racist or a white supremacist.  Also, in white churches I have attended, people of any race, ethnicity, or economic status have been warmly welcomed.  And when I have visited black churches, I have been warmly welcomed.  I have heard from friends on more that one occasion who were made to feel most unwelcome in black churches.  Of course some blacks could say the same of churches they have visited.

So why did I hate this book? It's a constant drumbeat of accusation and condemnation of what Wilson-Hartgrove interprets as white privilege and racism.  It's a 200 page apology for his being born white.  The thing is, I would probably really like the guy.  He's done some cool things in ministry.  We have a lot in common in terms of religious background and family structure.  I know he's trying to be prophetic, and I do admit there are some good things to reflect on here, whether you're black or white, but the judgmentalism and accusations were too much for me.

Oh, and I haven't even said anything about his political statements.  Suffice it to say that if you voted for Trump, you are a white supremacist and probably beholden to slaveholder Christianity, blind to your own racism.  Wilson-Hartgrove can't imagine a scenario in which a Christian would be justified in making a choice to vote against Hilary Clinton because of any moral, political, or economic differences one might have with her.  He thinks it's terrible that 81% of white evangelicals (or whatever the figure is) voted for Trump.  Maybe I find it offensive that 19% of white evangelicals would vote for someone who thinks Planned Parenthood, the killer of more African-Americans than any other cause, is just peachy and should get lots of tax money to fund their work.  Or maybe, just maybe, I believe genuine Christians can have a variety of views on a range of issues, and can have a home in either political party or none.  And maybe it's OK to disagree with someone's voting preferences without disparaging whole swaths of one's fellow Christians.

If you're a white Christian into self-flagellation and apology, you'll love this book.  It will make you feel superior to your less-enlightened, white supremacist neighbors.  But if you believe that all people of all races are sinful and in need of the grace of the unchanging, eternal savior, don't bother with Reconstructing the Gospel.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!