Books

How To Reclaim A Rigged Economy

CHUCK COLLINS’ new book does exactly what an introduction to wealth inequality and all its faults needs to do: summarize without oversimplifying, and provoke dialogue and action about the urgent problem of what Collins memorably dubs the U.S.’s “inequality death spiral.”

Newcomers to the topic will find a concise overview of how wealth inequality has skyrocketed since 1980, how a small elite has changed the rules to enable still higher inequality, the many seen and unseen ways that’s a problem for us all, and the beginnings of a solution. Those more familiar with the subject can benefit from Collins’ overview, well-selected statistics, and well-honed, direct turns of phrase. Those who want deeper reading will find excellent footnotes at the end of the slim volume. Everyone will find her experience livened by the stark words Collins quotes from people identifying as part of the 99 percent—and those who are part of the 1 percent.

Collins’ many years as an advocate against inequality show in the book’s graceful balance: It emphasizes the usefulness of the 99 percent-vs.-1 percent idea, while also making clear that neither side is monolithic. He acknowledges very real economic, class, and racial divisions among the 99, but makes a compelling case against letting those differences be the basis of divide-and-conquer political strategies: “It is important that the 99 percent see that they have some important common ground, rather than be peeled into a hundred subgroupings.” And Collins, who himself grew up in the 1 percent, refuses to demonize it or to accept the demoralizing falsehood that it is unified against those below. Rather, he quotes multiple allies within the economic elite, while decrying how “a small segment of the 1 percent—with an organized base in Wall Street’s financial institutions—has worked over many decades to rig the rules of the economy” in the areas of “taxation, global trade, regulation, and public spending.”

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In the Stacks, July 31, 2012

Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com
Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. 

Here are my picks in this week’s books of interest.

Some Assembly Required: A Conversation About Faith and Family

(L-R) Sam and Anne Lamott, the cover of "Some Assembly Required," Michelle Van Loon, and Jennifer Grant and family.

Twenty years ago, author Anne Lamott was ambushed by her unexpected pregnancy. Her best selling 1993 memoir, Operating Instructions, describes her tumultuous first year as a single mother after her son Sam’s birth.

When Sam turned 19, he told his mom that he and girlfriend Amy were about to become parents, a life-altering event for the young couple. The news did some serious upending of Anne Lamott’s life as well. Anne and Sam together agreed to tell the story of the growing up that all three generations of Lamotts did during baby Jax’s first year.

As Anne Lamott notes in the book, Some Assembly Required: A Journal Of My Son’s First Son, “…I’d always looked forward with enthusiasm to becoming a grandmother someday, in, say, 10 years from now, perhaps after he had graduated from the art academy he attends in San Francisco and settled down into a career, and when I was old enough to be a grandmother.”

Not long ago, I had an opportunity to have a different sort of conversation about Some Assembly Required with God's Politics contributor Jennifer Grant, mother of four children between 10 and 16, and author of the new memoir Momumental: Adventures In The Messy Art of Raising A Family .

Who doesn’t love eavesdropping? Take a few moments to listen in as Grant and I chat about Some Assembly Required and a few of the lessons our own children and grandchildren are teaching us...

Nobody is Quite Ready for Tomorrow: The Advent of ‘The Hybrid Age’

Globalization & technology illustration, Anton Balazh / Shutterstock.com
Globalization & technology illustration, Anton Balazh / Shutterstock.com

It often seems that just as we begin to get our heads around how we might understand our world, everything changes. There have been tipping points at various moments in history; events or advances which move us from one epoch to another in such a way that we can never see the world with the same eyes again. It happened during the Industrial Revolution; it happened with the Communications Revolution; and it happened on September 11, 2001. 

And according to Ayesha and Parag Khanna, we are approaching (or indeed, have already reached) another of these defining moments—what they call “The Hybrid Age.” In their book, Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization, published as part of the TED Books series, they examine how we have reached this moment, and what that means for our futures, and for generations beyond our own.

Hybrid Reality, in a similar fashion to many of the e-books that have developed out of the popular series of talks, reads like a manifesto – and in this case, it is a manifesto for navigating the unknown, exciting, and at times, downright terrifying potential futures which we are opening ourselves up to as technology becomes more and more sophisticated and more and more a part of us.

Pastoral Resources for Preaching on Social Change

In a world desperate for change, pastor and homiletics professor Brad Braxton, in his Sojourners article "Leave No Change Behind" (August 2012), offers advice on how to preach for social transformation with passion, courage, and artistry. Here are some resources he recommends—good for preachers and lay people who want to go deeper in speaking about faith-based social change.

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‘The American Bible’ Collects Texts That We the People Argue About

'The American Bible' by Stephen Prothero. Credit: RNS photo courtesy Stephen Pro
'The American Bible' by Stephen Prothero. Credit: RNS photo courtesy Stephen Prothero

Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” radically reinterpreted the Declaration of Independence.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech riffed on Lincoln’s lofty language.

And Ronald Reagan drafted King’s dream of a country where character outweighs color into an argument against affirmative action. 

There are certain speeches, songs, books, letters, laws, and axioms that Americans appreciate enough to argue about, says religion scholar Stephen Prothero.

Like the Declaration of Independence, this almost consecrated canon inspires endless commentary about what it means to be American — and what “America” means.

In the Stacks

Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com
Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. 

Here are my picks in this week’s books of interest.

The Party of Ayn Rand's Discontent

SEEMINGLY OUT of nowhere, the newly founded conservative tea party delivered a stunning blow to Democrats in the November 2010 election, causing them to lose control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Just two years earlier, the 2008 election had severely weakened Republican forces with the election of the country’s first African-American president, Barack Obama, who won by promising change after eight years of the Bush administration.

Two recently published, fascinating books, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, by Harvard social policy experts Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson, and Ayn Rand Nation, by award-winning financial journalist Gary Weiss, provide a treasure trove of careful research, new material, and balanced reporting that throws much-needed light on how the tea party was born and how it became a lightning rod for many frustrated Americans.

Who are the tea party members? They are, for the most part, middle-class white people over the age of 45, as the general media have already reported. But as one tea partier told the Harvard researchers, “We are not a bunch of uneducated, racist rednecks.” Her view is, in part, corroborated in the book. Skocpol and Williamson found through hundreds of interviews that the movement is indeed made up of many college-educated people (some graduates, some not) who live throughout the U.S. They are engineers, IT managers, small businesspeople, home contractors, and teachers. Although as a group they lost jobs, businesses, and retirement money in the recent recession, they were not hit nearly as hard, report the Harvard researchers, as those with lower incomes.

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On a Firm Foundation

Resources to help you raise happy and engaged kids.

Shaped by God: Twelve Essentials for Nurturing Faith in Children, Youth, and Adults, edited by Robert J. Keeley. A dozen authors tell how to foster faith formation at different ages, spanning topics including story, worship, intergenerational community, and developmental disabilities. Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2010

Formational Children’s Ministry: Shaping Children Using Story, Ritual, and Relationship, by Ivy Beckwith. This slim volume, written from an emerging church perspective, offers strategies for parents and ministers to enlist children’s imaginations for the “hope and magnificent love of God’s kingdom.” Baker Books, 2010

Parenting for Peace and Justice: Ten Years Later, by James and Kathleen McGinnis. This classic volume argues that nonviolent, nonmaterialistic kids don’t just happen; they are nurtured by hands-on family participation in helping others. Out of print, but available used. Orbis Books, 1990

MennoMedia, publisher for the U.S. and Canadian Mennonite churches, produces materials including picture books, young adult fiction, and biographies infused with Mennonite themes such as peacemaking, God’s presence in trouble, and creation care. www.mpn.net

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