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Science… for Her!

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Science… for Her!, Megan Amram (Scribner, 2014) $13.99

When I first received the advance copy of Science… for Her! by Megan Amram, I was excited and eagerly looked forward to reading it. Amram has been listed as one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30 in Hollywood & Entertainment,” Rolling Stone’s “25 Funniest People in Twitter” and has been a writer for NBC’s Parks & Recreation. With a strong resume like that, buzz had been building around the book since it was first announced. Science? And Feminism? From a rising star of a comedy writer? How could this ever go wrong?

Science… for Her! is one those rare events in publishing where a reader will periodically wonder whether they have had a stroke. Put another way, a reader who persists in reading this book will not only learn absolutely nothing valuable about science or even life, but will run a high risk of losing brain cells with consumption. Amram’s pedigree as a comedy writer falls shamefully flat – not only is it not funny but I found myself recoiling repeatedly in horror. This book is what you would get if you gave a tape recorder to a pot smoking 7th grade drop-out who got drunk at a party. Anyone who reads this book will likely feel a mixture of pity and concern for the mental health of Amram (and her immediate family) – especially when she advocates using meth for dieting or discusses gas as not just “the stuff that comes out of your fetid butthole. It’s also the stuff that is in your oven and you can kill yourself with it. It’s honestly a beautiful way to die.”

More, her supposed “biting gender commentary” does nothing for anyone involved in gender studies except frustrate them as she intentionally get things wrong and makes jokes that would get her booed off even the scummiest of nightclub stages. The book is supposed to be satire, but fails at this. It is supposed to make us as a society question how we are perpetuating a shameful misconception that girls “aren’t good at science” but fails at this also. Rather than say anything of substance, Amram intentionally(?) gets science, scholarship, and common sense shamefully wrong.

On Marie Curie – a world reknown chemist and the first woman to win a Nobel Prize: “Real butterface. Because of the radiation burns. Real butterradiationburnsonherface.”

On rape: “It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. Being beautiful is asking for it! If you truly didn’t want to be raped, you would gain forty pounds and/or come out as a lesbian.”

On space: “Space is mostly a vacuum. We sure know about those, ladies! But don’t be fooled, it’s not the type of vacuum that makes your life worth living and gives you the sense of purpose that you get from cleaning your family’s house that your man owns. It means there are very few particles floating around and it’s mostly just empty space… There’s no air in space, which is okay because humans can live without air for like, three years or something. Or wait, I’m thinking of changing your oil.”

I’m not sure where exactly Amram’s education went wrong here, who she bought off, or how much she had to smuggle across the border, but this book is both forgettable, disgusting, and terrible at the same moment. If anything – and I feel I am being more than fair in this assessment – this book is an excellent addition to the collection of aspiring writers because it will remind them that no matter how terrible they are with grammar or general knowledge, how lacking they are in humor, or how ignorant they are of basic 4th Grade science – someone out there will publish their terrible, terrible, just god-awful book.

Randall S. Frederick was previously a high-school science teacher. He now writes for The Huffington PostThe Good Men Project, and Sexuality & the City.

Fortress Press Commentary on New Testament

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The New Testament: Fortress Commentary on the Bible, ed. Margaret Aymer, Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, and David A. Sanchez (Fortress Press, 2014) $50.00

As a seminary student, I would regularly look for Fortress Press works to use in my papers and exegetical assignments. Their stable of scholarship – including N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington III, and rising star Tommy Givens – is exemplary and typically accessible.

This commentary truly shines where it examines and parallels the texts in ancient context, the interpretive tradition, and contemporary discussion. Students as much as religious leaders will appreciate that each book pauses to intersect these three lenses, keeping them continually relevant to the reader. Each lens distinguishes the book’s current, conventional reading and infuses it with new historical insights instead of presuming that current perspectives in scholarship are the “right” way to read the text or focusing on how to read the literature itself to the neglect of it’s import.

At times dense with substance, in-text references and data, interscriptural parallels and extrabiblical callbacks, this commentary is not for the general reader. More, because the commentary is published by Fortress Press, there is a heavy bend towards Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian thought from the contributors (not to mention the intercultural approaches of the authors). These are the appreciable and hallmark assets of Fortress’ commitment to academic and theological scholarship, but not as accessible to those who are not aware of the bends a particular author might take. Supplementary chapters like “Rootlessness and Community in Context of Diaspora” or “Situating the Apostle Paul in His Day and Engaging His Legacy in Our Own” may very well help the reader catch up, as they discuss the post-Exilic periods and the New Perspective, but there is still a strong presumption on the part of the authors that situates this commentary somewhere between “serious lover of scripture” and those who are fluent in the debates taking place today. Put another way, this compact volume is a joy for those wanting to be challenged to stretch and grow with the texts.

The commentary is complemented by the Fortress Commentary on the Old Testament and Apocrypha. Together they are surely an invaluable asset to anyone working with scripture on a regular basis – student or pastoral leader and, candidly, this will be my next acquisition as I am thoroughly impressed with the current volume and eager to begin comparing the notes between the volumes.

Additional Contents

  • Reading the Christian New Testament in the Contemporary World, by Kwok Pui-lan
  • Negotiating the Jewish Heritage of Early Christianity, by Lawrence M. Wills
  • Rootlessness and Community in Contests of Diaspora, by Margaret Aymer
  • The Apocalyptic Legacy of Early Christianity, by David A. Sanchez
  • Jesus and the Christian Gospels, by Raymond Pickett
  • Acts as a History of the Early Church, by Demetrius K. Williams
  • Situating the Apostle Paul in His Day and Engaging His Legacy in Our Own, by Neil Elliot

Randall S. Frederick is a recent graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary. He writes for The Huffington Post, The Good Men ProjectState of Formation, and Theology & the City.

Reading Theologically

Reading Theologically: Foundations for Learning, ed. Eric D. Barreto (Fortress Press, 2014) $14.00

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How we read scripture is potentially one of the most divisive issues in theological studies. The essays that Eric Barreto, assoc. prof. of New Testament at Luther Seminary, collects here are by no means a replacement for graduate study of hermeneutics at seminary, but he certainly offers an excellent introduction to those seeking to determine whether seminary is for them.

Each chapter engages topically with how we read scripture (basically, meaningfully, biblically, generously, critically, differently, digitally, and spiritually) and what the interaction of the lenses have to do with one another. As Barreto says in his introduction, theological reading “is about the formation and cultivation of a particular posture towards texts, whether sacred or profane. Reading theologically is not just about building your academic skills, but about your formation as a ministerial leader who can engage scholarship critically, interpret scripture and tradition faithfully, welcome different perspectives, and help lead others to do the same. That is your call as a student of theology.” (11)

With these words, Barreto locates the primary (though not exclusive) audience of his book – new seminarians and those discerning a call to ministry. As a recent graduate of religious studies, I wish I had read something like this to make the transition into my program easier!

But the “average reader” won’t feel left out. Any member of a church – laity, Sunday school teacher, or interested pew-sitter – will find here a collection of approachable. All of the chapters are directed to and for those in “community” with people of faith, how to understand fellow parishioners, how to articulate what you see in scripture in an informed way, and how to encourage fellow believers toward something more than passivity. At under 150 pages, Reading Theologically offers an excellent opportunity for students new to theological discussion.

Randall S. Frederick is a recent graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary. He writes for The Huffington Post, State of Formation, and Theology & the City.

Raised Voices

Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, (eds.) Erin S. Lane and Enuma C. Okoro (White Cloud Press, 2013) $16.95

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Lane and Okoro’s intent with this collection of essays was to show the diversity of Christian women’s voices around the perennial issues of sex, embodiment, and faith. While the novitiate reader will be enthused to see their (likely) represented in the diversity of 41 essayists, there is little here that has not already been addressed more directly elsewhere.

Patience Perry in the essay, “Crafting Bonds of Blood” for instance focuses on how menstruation unifies women but is also a social concern. “In the case of tampons, we directly expose the vaginal tissue to these toxic chemicals, fragrances, and synthetic fibers where… [then] upon removal, feminine products linger indefinitely in a landfill or oceanic gyre (floating pollution which has accumulated in each of the five oceans) along with their plastic wrappers, strings, and applicators, since they are not biodegradable.” An important issues, to be sure, but in an essay asking for transparency and forthright language in religious and cultural communities so as to celebrate the feminine presence, it is curiously ironic that Perry goes on to describe her menstruation “as my Moon Time. That way, I acknowledge the cycles of life and death.” As an educated white male, I’m sure whether to celebrate her call to social responsibility while also shaming women for using feminine products, or note how she prioritizes of the “natural” female spirit which “operates in accordance with nature. AWESOME” as women “intuitively and hormonally respond to each other. It’s like we’re wolves. COOL” or whether I should become part of the patriarchal system that reminds these idealists that there are alternatives to completely charting a new course for women- be they Christian or otherwise (59).

Specifically, one of the recurring issues with this book is the way that the essayists, like Perry, seek to “take back” male-dominated language, and with it theological and social space. As someone who works in cultural dialogue, I find these conversations at times rewarding, exciting, inventive, and parochial if not frequently confusing. Both men and women forget, at times, the sociological function of language. Words have meaning and though languages can be shaped and reformed over time, a sudden decisive break (even a shift to or borrowing from a competing social narrative) is more problematic than the cunning linguist might allow. Put another way, the language games of these authors who seek to “speak for ourselves” are, in many ways, a problem for patriarchal religion as much as their intended audience. We might envisage a feminine Jesus, but two millennia of tradition – including the four commonly accepted primary gospels – specify that Jesus was born and died a male. But as “Joiner essayist Alena Amato Ruggerio writes, “Joining makes you an equal” (131). Simply speaking or writing validates your work with scholars. In many ways, the collective conscious of these essays says that tradition, heritage, and scholarship do not matter. Indeed, none of the essays with their generous headshots and blank pages exceeds 8 pages of work. Though they intend to subvert scholars and overhaul an entire global faith system with diverse cultures, they do not commit themselves to any kind of scholarship or sensitivity. By “joining” they exhibit that signature trait of postmodern America – the belief that to have an opinion warrants accolade. In the shadow of Betty Friedan, N.T. Wright, Maryann Meye-Thompson, Harold Blount, or Gustavo Gutierrez, these essays seem like nothing more than random blog posts.

Still, the essays here find traction with the neophyte to Christian Feminism and raise many important concerns for American Christian women. If you have a high-schooler who is considering a more serious role in religious life, this would be an excellent gift or book to suggest for them to read. K.D. Byers writes that “the church fails to teach her daughters how to ask good questions” and that women can only become “the disciples and prophets God seeks to raise up when we move beyond the answers of our youth and embrace the questions” that these essays raise (103). What is most appreciable about Talking Taboo is that it is raises awareness on many of the concerns American women have each time they approach their local church – Will they be allowed to share the details of their lives in an honest way? Will their sexuality be valued? Are they alone, or are there similar-minded women? Will the leadership of the church welcome their contributions and honor their time? It will surely provide new concepts and new language to help those involved in religious dialogue to better understand one another’s perspective.

Randall Frederick is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He has just finished his second M.A. at Fuller Theological Seminary, writes for The Huffington Post, and does religious consulting.

The Poetry Drone: Prophecy for Our Time

The Poetry Drone (known lovingly as the “Po Dro”) is a creation of LA-based poet, David Shook. In a modern-day effort to “beat swords into plowshares” Shook is seeking to arm a drone with—not bombs—but anti-war poems printed on flower paper. The project’s received considerable media attention with write ups in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, Vice, Huffington Post, and even a mention in The New Yorker. It is what Dave Harrity of Antler calls “a contemporary act of prophecy, though it professes no religious affiliation.” In his brief interview with Shook, Pedrito Ortiz finds out where Shook got the inspirationally “ludicrous” idea for this project, as well as his take on poetry and politics. To learn more, visit the Kickstarter page here.

—The Editors

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How did you come up with the idea for the poetry drone?

David Shook I had just translated an interview that Nathalie Handal did with the Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, who I admire a lot. In it he discusses his work with the Colectiva de Acciones de Arte, a collective he was a part of under Pinochet, which eventually led to two of his most inspiring projects: writing a poem with a plane in the sky over Queens, and bulldozing another into the Atacama desert in Northern Chile. The next day, I was meeting with a visual artist, my friend Laura Peters, to discuss an installation I had commissioned her to build for a festival, an enormous nose made of foam, about 2’ by 3’, to promote Mario Bellatin’s Shiki Nagaoka. We were discussing the nose, brainstorming other unconventional methods of promoting literature, when our waiter, another friend of mine, approached. He listened in for a second before offering his own seemingly ludicrous suggestion: a poetry drone. He might have been stoned. I left the meeting and immediately went home to google drones, to see if the idea was even possible, affordable, legal. A couple days later I launched my fundraising campaign.

PO Do you consider yourself a political poet? Continue reading

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Talking About God

What We Talk About When We Talk About God, Rob Bell (HarperOne, 2013) $25.99

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Rob Bell is in a new place with a new book. What We Talk about When We Talk about God is his first publication since leaving Mars Hill, the off-beat mega church near Grand Rapids, MI, that he founded in 1999. Bell is now writing, teaching, surfing and working on media projects in Southern California.

Despite these changes, people who are aware of Bell’s earlier material—books, speaking tours and Nooma DVDs—will find themselves in familiar surroundings within these newly printed pages. His signature cadence, humor and minimalism remain. Beyond these stylistic cues, major themes from previous works find new traction—the scientific wildness of Everything is Spiritual[i], the moral trajectory of The Gods Aren’t Angry[ii], the assumption from Velvet Elvis[iii] that all truth is God’s truth.

Readers of theology and philosophy will also find continuity with Bell’s established method of interacting with heady theology in subtle ways. Bell avoids the jargon of academia, and he rarely quotes the theologians he is wrestling with, but these thinkers are quite present just below the surface. From a communication perspective, this is one of Rob Bell’s greatest gifts. He guides readers over the difficult terrain of theodicy, epistemology and moral philosophy—all covered in this latest book—in ways that focus us on the important issues without the distraction of opening a theological dictionary. Bell demonstrates that wrestling with life’s most important questions does not require esoteric terminology. Only a certain type of reader can appreciate Peter Rollins’ style of writing in How (Not) To Speak of God, but anyone can understand Bell’s reference to Rollins as “my friend Pete” (95).

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Creating a Missional Culture

Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World, JR Woodward (InterVarsity Press) $ 16.00

Churches that are serious about carrying forward God mission,expressed definitively in the life, and teaching of Jesus, have a serious challenge in this post-Christian age. Are churches really shaping people who live in concrete ways that are distinct from the wider culture or are they merely providing a kind of Christian veneer to an otherwise unchallenged consumer capitalist culture? JR Woodward, in his new book, Creating a Missional Culture, says that the practice of church leadership has a important but often neglected role to play in the way a missional culture either is or isn’t developed in local churches. Hillhurst Review Editor, Ryan Bell, spoke with JR about his new book in this first ever Hillhurst Review Podcast.

Click here to listen now

Woodward has been planting churches for over 20 years, most recently the Kairos Los Angeles communities. He is a speaker, consultant and activist who is deeply immersed in the challenges of Christian mission in the 21st century. You can learn more about this book and JR’s other work at www.jrwoodward.net.

Jesus, Paul, and the People of God

Jesus, Paul, and the People of God: a Theological Dialogue with N. T. Wright, Perrin, Nicholas, Richard B. Hays, and N. T. Wright (IVP Academic) $24

At the 2010 Wheaton Theology Conference, nine prominent biblical scholars and theologians converged to interact with the scholarship of N.T. Wright. The subsequent book, Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N.T. Wright from Intervarsity Press, is the result of their combined work.

While their interaction with Wright’s work is critical in nature, editor Nicholas Perrin describes the book as type of festlich, saying, “the highest honor that can be paid any scholar is not undiluted applause, which in the end amounts to empty flattery, but a sympathetic and critical assessment.”

Jesus, Paul and the People of God, is divided into two parts, the first dealing with Wright’s scholarship on the historical Jesus, the second, his scholarship on Paul, often referred to as the new perspective. Each chapter is followed by a brief response by Wright, followed by his own essays on Jesus and Paul. Continue reading

Prophetic Stringency

By Patrick Jordan, Managing Editor, Commonweal Magazine.

Anarchy and Apocalypse: Essays on Faith, Violence and Theodicy, Ronald E. Osborne (Cascade Books) $20

Whatever one’s take on the later rise of capitalism in the Christian West, entrepreneurial genius was at work in describing the Gospels as “good news.” In contrast, the title of Ronald E. Osborn’s wide-ranging collection of essays seems dour and forbidding. That’s a shame, because the book is rich in subject matter and argument, and evangelical in spirit.

Commonweal readers will be familiar with Osborn’s clear-eyed, well-honed analysis (most recently in “Still Counting: How Many Iraqis Have Died?” February 11). This book reveals the foundation of his analysis of headline events. While neither anarchistic (in the colloquial sense of advocating violence or extreme libertarianism) nor apocalyptic (in tenor or proclamation), there is a stringency in Osborn’s thinking that is prophetic and liberating. Continue reading