Books to Read Before the Inauguration

The inauguration looms before us, so there’s not much time to read. But there may be no more responsible action that Americans could take than to pick up some politically relevant books that might guide us in the coming four years.

Here’s my list of required resistance reading:

No Rusty Swords: Letters, Lectures and Notes, 1928-1936, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, edited by Edwin H. Robertson. Anything written by Bonhoeffer might be instructive for our political situation, but this volume of writings from the pre-WWII era is particularly insightful, especially his musings on the state of the American church, which he terms “Protestantism without Reformation.” We also see him struggling to come to terms with the rise of the Nazi party and its takeover of the German church.

I especially enjoyed reading his attempt at a “new catechism” for young men in his confirmation class, and this particular clause: “What should be the political attitude of the Christian? However much he would like to keep his distance from the political struggle, the commandment of love forces him to identify himself with his neighbor here as well. His faith and his love must know whether the command of the state may lead him against his conscience. In any decision he feels the irreconcilable cleavage between the peace of Christ and the hate of the world.”

“What Now, America?” originally a Facebook post by Timothy Snyder, found here on the Dallas Morning News site. 20 short, important lessons from totalitarian crises of the 20th century. Number one is particularly astute: “Do not obey in advance.” And I’m sticking to #7: “Stand out.” Snyder writes, “Someone has to. It is easy to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.”

The Politics of Jesus, by John Howard Yoder. This groundbreaking book first appeared in 1972 claimed that Jesus “is a model of radical political action,” a finding that many Biblical scholars since have affirmed and upheld. At the very least, Yoder dismantles the old notion that Jesus was not a political figure, and makes a credible case that our ethics must be based on Jesus’ own life and teachings.  

 

Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution, assembled by Andrew Boyd with Dave Oswald Mitchell. This is an absolutely joyous read, written as a resource guide to all the different types and forms of resistance which have been used over the years by political and social activists. The book is divided up into different sections, including tactics, principles, theories, case studies and practitioners; everything is cross-referenced as well, so you can link different tactics to specific case studies and activists. The website keeps the conversation alive, too.

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, by Naomi Klein. If, as Klein argues, there’s a conflict between capitalism vs. the climate, there is no confusion about which side the new president is on. And that’s terrible news for the rest of us. In her typical readable style, buttressed by impressive reporting and fact-finding, Klein lays out what’s at stake. For background, it wouldn’t hurt to read her book, The Shock Doctrine.

 

The Book of Amos. The leader of a nation-state proclaims that God is on his side, and lives luxuriously while the people suffer. A prophet appears, strides into the nearest place of worship, and proclaims that God’s judgment is near, and that the nation’s dear leader is doomed to die shortly. This is the setting of one of the Hebrew Scriptures’ most startling books; like all prophetic books, the words don’t simply apply to the author’s immediate context. This is a call to justice which we need to hear just as sharply.

For Amos quotes God as saying,

“I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Amos 5:21-24