Running Heads

From the editors of Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications at Wipf and Stock Publishers

Author: K. C. (page 2 of 14)

The Overnighters

PBS has a regular show of documentaries called POV (read: point of view). This past Monday night they showed The Overnighters. The film by Jesse Moss takes a look at Williston, North Dakota, and the influx of workers from around the country arriving to work in the oil fields; this influx is due to the increase in fracking and the booming oil economy. The focus is on Pastor Jay Reinke at Concordia Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) and his work in attempting to help folks who have not yet found jobs and who need a place to stay and other help.

This excellent film highlights the difficulties of ministering to a large group of people, many of whom arrive with addictions, criminal histories, and other serious problems. The pastor is seen trying to cope with not only helping these new arrivals, but a city council, newspaper, neighbors, and some parishoners who are antagonistic to people they see as outsiders, not their problem, or even a threat. The pastor’s personal life comes into play at the end of the film (I won’t reveal the ending), but what was gripping to me about the film was the pastor’s desire to minister and to reach out to people in need, especially opening a dialog in his congregation and community about the meaning of “neighbor.” Also effective was his truly listening to those who disagreed with him and not cutting them off or dismissing them. He also made a good-faith effort to reach out to local neighbors.

The film leaves many unanswered questions on multiple fronts, but it is a provocative, insightful, and sometimes disturbing exploration. One person on the web remarked that an unexplored issue in the film is the oil corporations and other major companies that are making huge profits, and their taking a role (or failing to take a role) in helping the community deal with the massive social problems that their work is creating.

Capital Punishment, Yet Again

Last week I blogged about Nebraska abolishing capital punishment. Following that, our local newspaper printed an opinion piece by Josh Marquis, district attorney of Clatsop County in the northwest corner of Oregon. He argues that capital punishment should be instituted or maintained throughout the country. His writings on the subject are said to be quoted by Justice Antonin Scalia.

The arguments he puts forward are: a) opponents are wealthy elites, while victims tend to be from the poorer classes; b) it constitutes retribution, not revenge (using a general quotation on punishment from Pope John Paul II); and c) the people on death row are heinous individuals. I would say that “a” is simplistic and misleading. The opposition is broadly based; the fact that some spokespeople may fit this reductionist description is irrelevant. Point “b” is also misleading, since the Pope was not speaking about capital punishment—which many members and leaders of the Catholic Church has been outspoken against—but about penal systems. And no one disputes point “c”—death rows house many violent criminals who have committed unspeakable crimes.

Marquis fails to deal with numerous key issues. 1) Several prisoners over the years have been wrongfully executed—in the UK, the hanging of the innocent Timothy Evans in 1950 played a role in abandoning capital punishment there; 2) countless numbers of individuals on death rows around the country have been either exonerated fully or had their convictions thrown out because their trials were significantly skewed—the Innocence Project has exonerated 329 inmates on DNA evidence; 3) capital cases cost states millions of extra dollars in repeated appeals—some have estimated that California could save $1 billion over five years if they abolished the capital punishment; and 4) the use of capital punishment puts the U.S. in the category of major executors with China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen (a total of only 18% of countries in the world). See also “Ten Reasons to Oppose the Death Penalty” at Death Penalty Focus website.

If DA Marquis is so convinced of his viewpoint, one wonders why he couldn’t refute the major arguments against it.

Nebraska & Capital Punishment

The state of Nebraska is unusual in a number of ways. One of them is that it is has a unicameral legislature. Another is that, while it is quite conservative in many ways, mostly it has a “just leave us alone” attitude rather than a purely ideological conservatism.

On May 20 of this year, the legislature voted 32 to 15 to abolish capital punishment. Six days later, the governor vetoed it. And the next day the legislature voted 32 to 19 to successfully override the governor. This makes Nebraska the nineteenth state to abolish capital punishment.

Given the number of people on death row around the country who have been exonerated through DNA evidence or other means, this sends a powerful message to the rest of the country. Good on you, Cornhuskers.

Mark S. Smith

I have recently revisited a volume by Mark S. Smith I edited while still at Fortress Press: The Memoirs of God: History, Memory, and the Experience of the Divine in Ancient Israel (2004). I want to highly recommend this as a sweeping take on the Hebrew Bible, the problematic of history, and the study of “collective memory” in the study of history. If these are topics that interest you, take a look.

Walter Brueggemann

Walter Brueggemann is one of the most prolific—and insightful—biblical scholars of the past hundred years. I have had the privilege to work on numerous of his books, going back to 1998. I have just finished editing the first of three volumes of his essays that were all originally published in Festschriften. This volume is called The Role of Old Testament Theology in Old Testament Interpretation and Other Essays. Each essay in this volume is a demonstration of Brueggemann’s breadth and depth. This should be off press in within the next week or so.

Catherine Rampell

Catherine Rampell, an opinion writer for the Washington Post, is not someone I have read a great deal. But two of her recent pieces have grabbed my attention for their clarity and a sense of the tragic.

The first was about Charles Gladden, a janitor and dishwasher in the cafeteria of the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington DC (read here). Gladden is 63 years old—my age—and homeless. But when the Senate privatized its food service in 2008 (because it was losing up to $2 million a year), his job became a lot tougher. The new company shrunk the workforce and worsened hours. The government does not require the contracting companies to pay a living wage, so his take-home pay is about $360 a week. He has remained homeless because he gives much of his salary to his children and grandchildren; furthermore, he has had several physical maladies (including diabetes) so that he has missed work, and he has to panhandle on weekends in order to pay for insulin.

The second column is about the tax cuts in Kansas by the Republican legislature and Republican governor (read here). These drastic cuts, mostly for the wealthy, have had a disasterous effect on the state, roads, welfare, and especially on the school districts. These cuts that began in 2012 have brought in hundreds of millions of dollars less that projections. For the fiscal year beginning in July 1, the estimates are a $422 million shortfall. “The most recent reductions, announced in March, required [school] districts to absorb an additional $51 million in cuts by the time this fscal year ends June 30.” This has resulted in schools announcing early closures for the school year, as well as cuts to personnel and programs. This also means that teachers have to readjust their curricula in order to cover the same amount of work in less time.

I wanted to raise up these two stories, but also to point to Rampell as an important columnist to watch for.

Song Nai Rhee

I first met Prof. Song Nai Rhee in the mid-seventies when I was a beginning grad student in Old Testament studies at Claremont Graduate School and he was Prof. of Old Testament and academic dean at Northwest Christian University. He gave me some sage advice about continuing to the end of my doctoral program before starting to teach. In addition to the biblical studies, Prof. Rhee has been an avid scholar of Korean history and politics. He has written a biography of Nashimoto Masako, the Japanese princess who was married off to a Korean prince, titled Beautiful as a Rainbow: Nashimoto Masako, a Japanese Princess against All Odds for Love, Life, and Happiness.

He is currently Professor emeritus at NCU as well as Visiting Scholar at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Oregon. His project there is “Ancient Korea and Its Demographic, Cultural, and Technological Contributions to Early Japan.”

My interest in writing about him today is that he has written numerous commentary pieces on Asian politics, economics, and trade for the Register-Guard, our newspaper in Eugene. I read a lot of commentary and opinion pieces, and most have a real ax to grind and often project more heat than light. What is so distinctive about Prof. Rhee’s pieces is that they always incorporate a sense of history, a feel for the nuances of Asian politics, a real moral center, and information that you will find nowhere else.

Prof. Rhee’s most recent commentary piece discusses the Japanese president’s (Abe Shinzo) visit to the U.S. and speech to the joint houses of Congress. Read this piece here.

Comma Queen

In the editing world there aren’t any “superstars.” But a new memoir just appeared by Mary Norris, a copy editor and researcher at The New Yorker magazine, titled Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. She tells great anecdotes about working with such luminaries as John Updike, Pauline Kael, and Philip Roth. I have only had a taste of it, but I am anxious to get into to learn from her.

Tim Farrington

I want to bring to your attention a really unique narrative voice: Tim Farrington. I’m just now finishing his novel The Monk Downstairs, and I’m blown away. He writes with wit, insight, and deep sense of faith. I am really looking forward to reading his other books:

He also has a nonfiction work I am anxious to find:

A Hell of Mercy: A Meditation on Depression and the Dark Night of of the Soul (2009).

Schreiber on the Holocaust

There are any number of interesting books on the Holocaust/Shoah—memoirs and diaries, detailed histories, biographies, etc. But Mordechai Schreiber’s volume, Explaining the Holocaust: How and Why It Happened, is a substantive examination of what led up to it, who was involved, and how we can reflect on the enormity of this evil. It is written with both style and grace.

What he offers is a well written, thoughtful, and important analysis of the Holocaust. He tells compelling stories—of the Nazi leaders, Jewish leaders, Righteous Gentiles, resistance movements, rescue missions, and failed leadership. One of the most jarring elements of his narrative is the complacency of foreign governments (the US, the UK, Canada, etc.) concerning the plight of European Jews.

He recounts some amazing stories about low-level foreign diplomats who made huge impacts in rescuing Jews from danger, including Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese vice-consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, who issued visa for several thousand Jews. Aristides de Sousa Mendes was the Portugese consul general in Bordeaux, France, who issued more than 1,500 visas to Jews and personally helped refugees escape from France to Spain.

While being raised in Israel as a secular Jew, Schreiber eventually went to seminary and became a rabbi. He lost many family members in the death camps. His cousin, Mordechai Paldiel, who wrote  the foreword, was is the former director of the Righteous Gentiles section of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem.

This important work will be available in just a couple of weeks. I heartily recommend it.

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