Rules are Revolting: a book review

Becky Bond and Zack Exley worked together on Bernie Sander’s presidential campaign. While Bernie’s bid for the Democratic nomination was ultimately unsuccessful, they did mobilize an impressive amount of grass roots support. Rules for Revolutionaries gives a glimpse of the power of ‘big organizing’ and what it takes to ignite a movement. While the anecdotes in this book are drawn also exclusively from the Bernie campaign, Bond and Exley argue that the ‘rules’ reveal what leaders do in movements to mobilize millions of people.

19650The title, Rules for Revolutionaries alludes to the earlier work of Saul Alinsky, the influential Rules for Radicals. Alinksy was a Chicago-based labor organizer (whose work was influential for Obama). His work became a standard for organizers and activists. However Bond and Exley observe that Alinsky’s model was ‘premised on the paternalistic concept that an enlightened core of outside organizers was necessary to show the poor that there was a better way and then to represent them in a battle with elites” (8-9). Alinsky believed in building power so to compel negotiation (rather than revolutionize the entire power structure). Bond and Exley also criticize Alinsky for creating incrementalist Black and Latino groups designed to mitigate anger instead of effecting real change. In contrast, Bond and Exley believe their model provides a more revolutionary way forward:

The big organizing model that can fuel revolutions believes that communities are filled with talented and intelligent people who understand what was broken and, when given material and strategic resources, can wrest power from elites and make lasting change. A political revolution is different from community organizing as we know it today. (9)

The rules aren’t so much ‘rules’ as pithy chapter titles which describe aspects of their strategic vision. Some of these are practical: “Get on the Phone!” The Work Is Distributed. The Plan Centralized,” “Learn the Basics of Good Management,””The Revolution is Not Just Bottom Up; It’s Peer to Peer,” “Put Consumer Software at the Center,” “Get Ready for the Counterrevolution.” Other rules are about the right orientation toward the work of organizing: “You Won’t Get a Revolution if You Don’t Ask for One,” “The Revolution Will not be Handed toYou on a Silver Platter.” A couple of rules describe the issues worth organizing for: “Fighting Racism Must Be the Core Message to Everyone,” “There is No Such Thing as a Single Issue Revolution.”

If organizing is your thing, Bond and Exley have practical advice and hard-earned wisdom to share.  As I said, these really aren’t rules, they are practical description the approach that Exley and Bond took as part of the campaign. Whether or not the new rules overturn the old playbook remains to be seen. This is mostly just an insider’s look atBernie’s historic campaign.

I am not really sure that there is much revolutionary here. There is some good leadership advice such standing for something, giving people a big way to get involved, how to mobilize and empower leaders, and what it means to lead in a more cooperative less elitist way.  All of this is helpful. Revolutionary? Not so much. Will these rules ignite a revolution? That remains to be seen.  The rules begin to feel tedious by the end.  I give this book 3.5 stars.

Notice of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

From Fishing For Zen to Fishing for Men: a book review.

I am artistically reclined. I have enough talent and creativity that people sometimes notice (good genes!), but I don’t have much to show as far as artistic output. The reason is only partly talent and vision. It is also about execution (inspiration and perspiration!). One the best things I can say about Douglas Mann’s book The Art of Helping Others: How Artists Can Serve God and Love the World is that it makes me want to get off my butt and make something beautiful and compelling. Mann is a visual artist and activist but he isn’t urging us towards propagandist art or art for art’s sake, whatever that means. He has a generous vision of how great art reflects reality and a peculiar sense on how a Christian artist’s reality shapes their creative process. Mann calls fellow Christians, creatives, artists and activists to a lifestyle of creative incitement.

Before Mann was a visual artist, he was a  published songwriter and music business and publishing executive (for Integrity and Navpress).  He was good and successful at his job, but he felt God’s call towards full time mission work. Now he splits time between Colorado and the Ukraine. He describes his road out of life as a music executive as a Damascus road experience where God met him and set him on a new path. Stepping away from a lucrative career was risky, but it was also spiritually enlivening. In the process he learned to trust God more, and recaptured some of his God-given creative vision.

Mann looks at art and activism (and the Spiritual life ) in three movements. Part one, aptly titled ‘Awareness,’ describes the call to the arts–something worth losing everything for.  Mann exhorts us to join in the call to creative incitement by contrasting what it means to be ‘fishers of Zen’–introspective artists seeking places of contentment and comfort, with Christs call for us to be ‘fishers of men’–looking for the in-breaking Kingdom of God and inviting others to the feast. While a certain amount of ‘fishing for Zen’ isn’t bad (who doesn’t want comfort and contentment), ultimately it is antithetical to the gospel call of self denial and discipleship.  Part two delves deeper into what it means to make ‘Art. Mann advises us about the creative lifestyle (a life of intentional tension). He talks about how art transcends propaganda and narrow schismatic boxes. and speaks winsomely about the freedom to ‘create dangerously’ as Christian–entering into the heart of culture creating rather than messing around at the margins. Part Three explores activism. Artists enter into the brokenness of humanity describing reality through art. God also enters into covenant with ordinary human beings (a shady lot) and calls us to emulate the way of Jesus in entering into the creative process in order to serve the world. That is, the telos of great art takes us beyond the realm of personal aggrandizement and invites us all to something far richer.

I like this book a lot. There are books which give a more detailed theology of the arts. There are also books that describe in greater detail the creative process. What makes Mann’s approach great is how inspiring it is. He is careful to give a peculiarly Christian understanding of the arts (and activism) throughout the book. However this isn’t a ‘narrow’ book. It is an inviting book. Mann will make you want to create better art and live a more compelling life. I felt inspired by Mann’s prose and recommend this to artists and activism including us artisitically reclined slacktivist varieties. I give this book five stars: ★★★★★

Notice of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author or publisher via SpeakEasy and agreed to write an honest review.

Drawing On Creation, Getting Drawn In: a book review

I confess that I am a better buyer of books on creativity than I am a reader of them. My shelf is loaded with books on the creative process, on writing, on drawing and painting, on making beautiful things. I tend to see these books and dream. I rescue interesting books from bargain tables and bring them home with best intentions. Often I puruse the introduction and the first several pages. Invariably, these books collect dust on my shelf. Often I wish to get back to a book, but time and busyness keep me from my goals.

Drawn In: A Creative Process For Artists, Activists and Jesus Followers by Troy Bronsink

Drawn In: A Creative Process for Artists, Activists and Jesus Followers was a book that I read cover to cover. I found more here than interesting exercises to explore (though yes, there are some). Troy Bronsink lays out a theological foundation for the creative process which can be applied to whatever medium we work in. Hence the insights of this book are applicable to both artists and activists. Bronsink seeks to ‘sketch out the correlations between “the creative life and the life of faith by tracing how God creatively draws all things into one vision of a new creation (2)” Artists and activists in their own way participate in ‘new creation.’ So does every follower of Jesus.  Bronsink has plenty of personal examples of each. He is an artist (and musician), an activist, and of all things a Presbyterian pastor.

While Bronsink writes as a Christian and with an explicitly Christian, theological vision of the arts, his method is broad enough to accomodate artists and creatives from other faith perspectives. This book is evangelistic in the best sense–it gives a Christian vision of creativity and the arts without manipulating and demeaning the creative vision of those outside the fold. Anyone interested in Creativity or art will find much in this book which is instructive and helpful.

Bronsink develops his vision of creativity in two parts. Part one looks at God’s relationship with creation while part two examines our relationship with creation.  There is a self conscious patterning here. Bronsink believes that as artists (and activists) create, they are ‘imaging God’ and participating in God’s New-Creation. God’s creation of the world recorded in Genesis provides the basis  for his vision of the creative process.  Bronsink proposes a cycle of six waves (which reflect God’s role in the creation account):

  • Dreaming– God dreamed our future into existence, likewise our creative projects all begin with dreaming, meditating and brainstorming.
  • Hovering– The Spirit of God hovered over the chaos before the creation.  Our own creative process includes a period of incubation where we wait patiently for our dreams to bear fruit.
  • Risking–God created the heavens and the earth and we must risk creating if our artistic vision is to become reality.
  • Listening–God listened to his creation and heard its voice. We too must listen and hear from the stuff and material we are creating. This step is dialogical. Creator and creation listen to one another through the creative process.
  • Reintegration–God (re)integrated everything with the rest of creation.  Our own creating as ‘God’s comissioned artists’ involves are sharing generously our ‘art’ with the world: no strings attached.
  • Resting– As God rested at the end of His creation so we too must end creating and surrender our creation to its fate.

These six waves are repeated twice in the book. The opening chapter in section one presents God’s creation and the “Lost Arts” of creativity. The final chapter, “Make Your Life a Monastery,” presents our human appropriation of the process. Between these two  poles, Bronsik reflects on the medium of God’s work, materiality, space, time, working with others, our senses, how work relates to our vision and how we are ‘drawn in’  to participating in God’s creation.

I appreciate the richness of the theological reflection that went into this book as Bronsink reflects on the creative process.  He was a student of Anna Carter Florence (preaching), Darrell Guder (Missiology) and Walter Brueggemann (Old Testament). The stamp of each is evident in his theological vision, but he is unique in the manner that he appropriated their insights.

Bronsink is a good companion in the creative process. I liked this book a lot. I have yet to complete the thirty two creative exercises included in the book but they offer a chance to cement the lessons in these pages. I give this book five stars: ★★★★★

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review