WWJR?

I teach a Christian Ethics course with the subtitle, Sex, Politics & Violence. The cool thing about it is (beyond the obvious), I can pretty much do whatever I want with it. Sometimes I stress one facet over another, focusing on certain ‘areas’ more so than others. Sometimes it stays in the realm of marriage, family, sexuality and the state, other times I include race, class and gender. And sometimes I just talk about how awesome it would have been had Michael Foucault and Mother Teresa secretly had fraternal twins that were raised by Kurt Vonnegut. But, only sometimes.

I’m interested in knowing what you think are ‘must-reads’. I’ve used some pretty awesome books thus far, but I know there’s always more I’ve missed, looked over or ignored. Here’s a list of books I’m thinking about using in the Fall (not all of them, of course, I’m just beginning the ‘narrowing down’ process) as well as a few others I’ve used in the past. Yeah, they’re a bit all over the place, but, since I get bored easily, I tend to mix this course up each time I teach it. Here you go:

Margaret Farley, Just Love

Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather (I know, I know . . . way too dense for my undergrads . . . still tempted by it)

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

Nick Hornby, How to be Good

David McCarthy, Sex and Love in the Home

Susan Okin, Justice, Gender and the Family

Jennifer Knust, Unprotected Texts

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (yeah, I know . . . too thick–it’s so helpful though)

Jenell Paris, The End of Sexual Identity

Stephanie Coontz, The Way We Never Were

Kathleen Sands, ed., God Forbid

Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror

Carol Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat

bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love (actually, I haven’t read this one yet, just ordered it)

Eugene Rogers, Theology and Sexuality

Thistlethwaite & Engels, ed.s, Lift Every Voice: Constructing Theology from the Underside

Erickson & Jones, ed.s, Surviving Terror: Hope and Justice in a World of Violence

Rob Bell, Sex God–aaaaaaaaaahahahaha, I’m just kidding. Just kidding. Oh man. I’m funny.

Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Community & Freedom

Wendell Berry, The Hidden Wound

Tripp York (hi), Living on Hope While Living in Babylon (of course, of course)

D. Stephen Long, Christian Ethics: A Very Short Introduction

Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking

Hauerwas and Vanier, Living Gently in a Violent World

Nancy Eiseland, The Disabled God

Mark Taylor, The Executed God

JHYoder, The Politics of Jesus

Urusla Le Guin, The Dispossessed

James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (just started reading it…intense!)

Michael Ignatieff, The Needs of Strangers

Okay, those are some front-runners. Oh, and I’ll definitely use the film Breaking the Waves (it’s a must) and, maybe, the film, Priest.

So, yeah, think: sex, sexuality, race, gender, violence, politics, what have you. Fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, plays, films, documentaries (anyone seen, It’s a Girl, yet?), etc. And remember: these are undergrads (2-300 level), hence, why a number of books that I would consider using at a seminary or divinity school, I will not be using here (I’d love to use Coakley’s Powers and Submissions or Irigaray’s Sexes and Genealogies, but, you know . . . that won’t work). So, please, make suggestions with that in mind. Accessibility is definitely NOT overrated.

Have at it!! (Because, um . . . my book list was due last week).

  • Craig

    I think the most important book I’ve ever read on the theology of sexuality is Jon Berquist’s *Controlling Corporeality*, a terrible title for any book, especially such a good book on the body in ancient Israel. There’s also Sarah Coakley’s *Powers and Submissions*, though it may be too dense. From reviews (I hope to read it this summer), Shawn Copeland’s *Enfleshing Freedom* may be a really good choice. Of novels, I think the best one I can think of is Milan Kundera’s *The Unbearable Lightness of Being*. It is very much a book concerned with the dynamics of sexuality, but even more with the dynamics of caring and sociality. It is the romantic artistic genius who finally evaporates. *Breaking the Waves* is probably the perfect film for the course. *Silent Light* may be, too. Perhaps *Leaving Las Vegas*, in which an act of sexual intimacy is a gift given to an otherwise utterly isolated, dying man. You could also do at least some of *Fiddler on the Roof* (at least, “Do you love me?”—is that the title?). Perhaps the film *Away From Her* or the more recent *Amore*, both of which deal with mental decline in a long marriage (Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia). The Rip Torn film, *Heartland* may work, too, but it’s been a really long time since I saw it. It’s about a mail order bride’s relationship with the man who marries her in the middle of nowhere (they live in a sod house).

    Well, that’s enough for now.

    It looks like a great course, no matter what.

    • Craig

      Oops! You’d already considered and rejected Coakley. Sorry that I missed that.

      • theamishjihadist

        Ah, I’d never reject Coakley! Well, except in the sense of using her book in my undergraduate class so, yeah, I guess I did. She’s so smart! That’s also why I didn’t include anything by Judith Butler. I want to use Butler, but I don’t think I can.

    • theamishjihadist

      Craig, you are the epitome of all things good, beautiful and true when it comes to book and film suggestions. These are great (I haven’t seen Silent Light; I hope to watch it this weekend). I’ll also check out Berquist’s book (and Copeland’s).

      I honestly struggled getting through ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’. No, wait a minute . . . or was that ‘Everything is Illuminated’? Why do I always confuse the two?

  • http://www.facebook.com/missional.ca Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    I’ll give it more thought, but what immediately comes to mind of many of these topics is “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell. I read it every year. Also, Hermann Hesse’s “Narcissus & Goldmund”.

    • theamishjihadist

      Ah, Jamie, I love ‘The Sparrow’. I would use that for a course on Christianity and Science (or Sci-Fi) or something of that nature. It’s so good. Did you read the sequel?

      • http://www.facebook.com/missional.ca Jamie Arpin-Ricci

        The sequel is good, but not nearly as good. Interesting that you would look at it through the science lens, as I am more prone to see the themes of community, sexuality & suffering.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=7727878 Josh Carpenter

    Enrique Dussel’s “Ethics and Community” is (apparently) a hard to find book, but it is very well articulated in the area of the relationship between the Christian individual, the Christian community, and political ethics. If not fit for the class, it is certainly a good read…

    • theamishjihadist

      Thanks, Josh! I’ll certainly check it out!

  • Kara

    Oops…I’d be remiss if I didn’t also recommend Chapter 3, “What would you do If someone were attacking a loved one?” in “A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions About Christian Nonviolence.” :-)

    • theamishjihadist

      You would be thoroughly ‘remissed’ if you did not mention that chapter. It’s the best chapter of the book! (Good thing the ‘conclusion’, which was longer than most chapters, was not, technically a ‘chapter’, or you two would be in trouble.)

      Actually, now that I think about it, yes, I definitely need to use that chapter!

  • Renea McKenzie

    Lauren Winner’s ‘Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity’ might be a slightly different angle. Laura Smit’s ‘Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love’ definitely would be, which provides more of a ‘theology of romance’ than Winner’s look into real (vs ‘fake’) sex.

    • theamishjihadist

      Hi Renea,

      I’d really like to hear what you enjoyed about Winner’s book. I see that a lot of folks love it, but (and please forgive me), I thought it was just . . . how do I say this? Hmm, um, I’m going for ‘nice’ here (it’s a ‘new me’), so, here you go: I thought it was . . . ‘not good.’ Haha, okay, that was the best I could manage. But, I like that you mentioned this book because, yes, it would be very accessible to my undergrads and that’s what I’m aiming for. And, to be totally fair, it’s been so long since I read through the book (and I did so rather quickly) that I may not have given it a fair reading. Therefore, please defend it!

      I haven’t read Smit’s book. I’ll check it out.

      Thanks, Renea!

      • Renea McKenzie

        I appreciate the way in which Winner pits cultural and sub-cultural myths about sex against the Gospel-Arc Narrative, which includes the notion of “communal sex”–the distinctions between private and personal, public and communal–and how, by (re)placing sexual purity within that larger context, we re-associate sexual virtue with all the other virtues and disciplines–sexual purity as a part of purity, part of a whole. This realignment readjusts the way we view ourselves: not only sexual selves or compartmentalized selves, whole selves (even women). All of this Winner, as you already hinted at, puts forth in a straight-forward, engaging style.

        Thanks for ‘hearing me out.’ :) Thoughts?

        • theamishjihadist

          Yeah, I just cringe anytime I hear the word ‘purity’. Cringe!!!

          In terms of how she deconstructs the distinctions between private and public, and the communal aspect of sex…sure. I guess I just found it to be something of a ‘cliff note’ to people who have explained such accounts (for instance, there is no such thing as ‘private sex’–all sex serves some ideology, in particular, here, the market) in far better detail (e.g., Elshtain, Long, Butler, with Foucault setting the precedent). At the same time, Winner is so much more accessible than these other folks (though I don’t think Elshtain and/or Long are too much), so, I think you’re wise to suggest her book due to her, as you call it, ‘straight-forward, engaging style.’ Good call. I’ll re-examine it.

          Many thanks, Renea!

  • theamishjihadist

    Grossman! Good call, Ms Kara! (I hope all is well.)

  • http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com/ Kristen Howerton

    Books on race: Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude M. Steele, Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity by Tim Wise, How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston Honky (a play) by Greg Kalleres, The Tortilla Curtain (fiction) by TC Boyle.

    Movies about cross-cultural relationships/immigrant experience: Mi Familia, Crash, Joy Luck Club, The Visitor, The Namesake, The Lost Boys of Sudan, In America, Eat Drink Man Woman

    Documentaries about race: The Color of Fear, CNN’s Black in America, The Eye of the Storm, A Girl Like Me, Black Is… Black Ain’t.

    Gender Documentaries: Miss Representation, Sexy Baby, Half the Sky

    • theamishjihadist

      Excellent! Thanks, Kristen.

      Have you read The Racial State by Goldberg? It’s stellar, but I couldn’t use it at this level. It’s too dense. Same thing with Becoming Black by Wrightman and Jay Carter’s book on racism (I was his TA while he was writing that book…it’s incredible, but, again, too dense). All great books, if you’re interested. Ah, that reminds me: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. That could be perfect, right?

      Again, many thanks! This is a great list. I’m off to check some of these out right now (especially the gender documentaries, I haven’t seen any of those).

  • Dusty

    I realize I’m late to this party, but a friend of mine just published through Cascade his journal chronicling his time as a CPT intern in Palestine: Michael McRay, “Letters from ‘Apartheid Street.’”John Paul Lederach endorsed it, so it’s obviously legit.

    And Lee Camp’s “Who Is My Enemy?” (Brazos, 2011) is extremely good and accessible.

    And, yeah, that “Living on Hope…” book is quite good for the undergraduates, too.

    • theamishjihadist

      Dusty, no worries about being late, this party is going all night!

      I’ll check out that book by McRay. Camp’s books is a great book and ‘Living on Hope’ is a contemporary classic hack job if I’ve ever seen one.

  • Dave P

    Do you use Yoder’s ‘Politics’ in undergraduate courses? I know it’s a classic but I think if you’re going for accessible I’d be surprised that’s included.
    Thanks for providing me with a summer reading list!

    • theamishjihadist

      Hey Dave,

      I haven’t used a Yoder text while at VWC. (I have used a few brief articles by him on capital punishment and Christian nonviolence). If I were to use The Politics of Jesus, I would probably only require about 8 of the chapters to be read and then I would have to really work through them with the class. Eh, seems like a lot work doesn’t, it? Thanks!

  • Jeff

    I
    saw THE BLUEST EYE suggested. You might take a look maybe at the novel (please
    *not* the movie adaptation of) BELOVED. Morrison does her best job there,
    I think, exploring race, sexuality, religion, and violence. For novels, I
    really like Atwood on the list. Maybe check out Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN,
    too, for a pretty strong choice for undergrads to look at race, politics, and
    sociality. For movies, you might also think about BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN
    WILD (community and race) and LOST IN TRANSLATION (sexuality and caring). The rest of what I see on here, from others,
    and particularly “Craig’s list” looks good.
    For plays, maybe Vogel’s HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE (sexuality, family, and politics), TW’s STREETCAR (family,
    sexuality, and caring), and CLYBOURNE PARK (race, family, caring) which brilliantly
    sandwiches Hansberry’s RAISIN IN THE SUN (they might need to read this first)
    between its first and second acts.

    • theamishjihadist

      Hey Jeff,

      Good stuff. You prefer Beloved over The Bluest Eye in this context? I’ve read part of Beloved, though I failed to finish it (not any fault of her writing, I just got behind on other work–and yes, I made the mistake of watching the film…oh, it’s atrocious).

      I remember reading Raisin in the Sun in our set design class. Oh, that was only, about, 16 years ago (that doesn’t seem possible).

      I’m going to watch Beasts of The Southern Wild tonight!

      Thanks!

      • Jeff

        I think if you’re going strictly for a look at “racism,” Bluest Eye may fit the bill. On the other hand, if you’re looking for something that twists race, family, sexuality, and religion inextricably around each other into a violent knot (although from a much earlier time in history), Beloved might work well within the context of the course. Man, you really should finish the book, not just because it won the Pulitzer, but because it is very good to the end. Yep, the movie is an appalling mistake. Oprah did an incredible disservice to Morrison with that adaptation. There’s nothing about the movie that preserves anything that is truly beautiful or horrific from the novel, either narratively or thematically. I think the novel is rather in keeping with some of the ethical (feminist, racial) aspects of Handmaid’s Tale even though the worlds of the two stories are widely disparate in culture, genre, and timeline.