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Books

  • Sing, Unburied, Sing

    Sing, Unburied, Sing is the story of a young black family who travels across Mississippi to pick up the father from prison. Along the way, the author weaves the stories of several generations into the narrative as they encounter ghosts -- literally -- of the past who entwine themselves into unfolding events. The book, written by Jesmyn Ward, was recommended to me as a Black History Month read, so I found myself reading it alongside the works of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Uzodinma Iweala. Because of that, I assumed Sing, Unburied, Sing would center on similar themes of the black fight for equality and the complexities of being black in the United States. While this book does address our nation's history of slavery and, to some extent, comment on the racial inequality of our social systems, Jesmyn Ward seems to be much more interested in asking black Americans to rediscover the stories of their ancestors. The narrative that develops through these pages made me uncomfortable because it blended the lens of a black, Southern world with a culture of Voodoo spirituality that is well-known throughout the Mississippi Valley, and particularly in New Orleans. I have been unfamiliar with Voodoo religious practices, so it wasn't until more than halfway through the book that I recognized it as the underpinnings of the story; this realization transformed my discomfort into fascination. Rather than trying to fit the ghosts of the story into my Western, Christian framework, the book gave me space to encounter this unique African-American spirituality on its own terms and discover the beauty of its convictions. The story told in Sing, Unburied, Sing is not an easy one. It is filled with things I don't understand, and it makes no apologies for experiences and decisions made out of desperation. Its characters are not heroes; neither are they anti-heroes or villains. They are authentically human, simultaneously bound and set free by their pasts, and it is by listening to the stories of their past that they are able to be in the present.
  • Networked Theology: Negotiating Faith in Digital Culture

    One of the core propositions of this book is that the word "network" characteristically sums up the nature of the internet and the structure by which it's affecting society. It's an interesting proposition, and not one I'd thought about in exactly those terms before. Of course, the internet is literally a network of devices (and of the people who use those devices), so it technically makes sense, but for most folks, I think that technical infrastructure of the internet operates two or three layers deeper than they function within. Since it is not a part of their daily experience of being online, it seems to me like a strange choice to make such a strong focus at the core of your book. It creates an unnecessary hurdle to overcome because, in addition to developing that model of network theology, you now have to help your readers understand why the network even makes sense in the context of their own lived experience. This is one of the biggest shortcomings of Networked Theology, in my opinion. The authors clearly know the many angles of their subject matter well -- which is especially notable because their work occupies the unique intersection of online connection and theology -- but their message is muddled in a failure to understand their audience. On the one hand, they spend a lot of time detailing the history and terms of media studies as if they are writing to a general audience; on the other hand, they continue to use jargon and an academic style that was often difficult for me to wade through, and I have two degrees in this exact subject matter! The first half of the book lays a groundwork understanding of media theory, how the internet works, and how theological praxis is being impacted by the increasing use of networked tools. The second half builds on that framework by exploring questions like "Who is my neighbor in an online context?" and "How can Christians use technology responsibly?" Unfortunately, while their responses to those questions are well-formed, they are not particularly novel, and they seem to me to be so abstract as to be mostly unhelpful. It would have been more useful for them to narrow their focus into a particular area of new media and examine that area's application to the Church -- for example, if they would have considered how Christian communities could use video streaming to enrich their sense of community connectedness. Instead, the broad approach in this book only gives us practical ideas that feel incohesive and difficult to apply.