April 23, 2023

VSM is about neither value nor management

Some folks are still spreading misinformation about value stream management. For example, in a recent webinar, the so-called authority made up a definition of value stream management. Their logic went thusly: "What is value stream management? Well, let's look at the definition of each word: value, stream, management." After giving a definition of each, stated "Therefore, value management must be about managing value."

To the contrary, it's about neither managing nor value.

For the authoritative definition, I look to the early book on Value Street Management by Tapping, Luyster, and Shuker circa 2002 titled "Value Stream Management: Eight Steps to Planning, Mapping, and Sustaining Lean Improvements."

The authors clearly defined value stream management as an eight-step process of lean improvement. 

It's not about management.

It's about lean improvement. This original book on VSM says nothing at all about "managing" the flow, such as expediting work, or tracking work -- stuff commonly thought of as 'managing'. It's more about leadership than management. It's not about working in the system. It's about working on the system. 

It's not about value.

This authoritative book on VSM says nothing at all about what is sent through the system. 

It says nothing at all about how to measure the value of what you put into it. 

It's not about evaluating the value of what is flowing. 

It isn't about measuring the value you get out of it. 

Although those are good things to attend to, that's product management and strategy, not value stream management. 

In VSM, value is not computed, ensured, or measured. Value is assumed.

VSM is about improving the flow of whatever through the stream. VSM is about improving the stream. In true VSM, the theme is about reducing waste and improving the flow of whatever it is deemed by management to flow. In lean, improvement of flow is the theme. It's not about determining what should flow through the stream at all.

Okay, so, sure, value stream management is poorly named. But I still prefer that those who choose to have a voice about it do their homework first. That way they can stay true to the original definition rather than make up their own out of ignorance.

February 19, 2023

The Other Reason I Stopped Blogging

I blogged a fair amount (for me, and relative to many colleagues) before I went into consulting and continuing on into my time at Leading Agile -- right up until it became mandatory. The company had a desire to have more people write more content more often so it became expected that everyone be involved. The implementation was a well intentioned across the board writing calendar; a rotation for every consultant to write a blog post when his or her week came up.

That killed my writing motivation. 

I stopped writing. Corporate writing scheduler: "Write something!" Me: "Uh, well, no, and why don't you go pound sand." That's the lack-of-autonomy and lack-of-purpose (ref Pink's Drive) triggers for me. That was part of my writer's block.

Then I got over that (not wanting to comply) and began to think that I just couldn't write on schedule. I could write only when the inspiration hit me. Creativity can't be scheduled. There is some truth to that for me. Much of my writing was in response to either (a) a question someone asked me or (b) an answer someone gave me in response to a question I had. Even in the 1st case, the writing was a thinking tool. It helped me think though how to articulate a point or express a concept for the benefit of others.

It just now hit me that my writing also scratched the itch that Pink in Drive called mastery. As long as I was learning, I was writing. As long as I was learning how to better help others learn, I was writing. 

There came a time when my learning in some old areas slowed, and writing declined. And my learning shifted to a couple new spaces and before I figured out how to write about those things, I changed employers. 

I just discovered an important point about why I didn't start writing again in that new role. I discovered this while reading John Cutler's "TBM 9/52: Writing Culture Challenges". John wrote "A writing culture is a reading culture and a feedback-giving culture. A write-and-reading-and-feedback-giving culture requires time to think, process, and respond. Writing isn't the end goal: thinking and improving is the goal."

That's what happened when a writing schedule was put in place at Leading Agile -- writing was the goal; marketing was the goal. Well, the company's leadership might have known that writing was to develop thinking, but that's not how the expectation was expressed.

Then in the new role, the work-load set it. John says that you don't get a writing culture in "Conditions of high reactivity, cognitive load, and passivity. No one has time or energy to think, ask questions, and process. Too much energy goes into doing and reacting."

John goes on: "…you can't just 'switch' to writing culture. It has very little to do with the writing and everything to do with the preoccupation with busyness, optics, power, control, and tempo. ... Work-in-progess [sic], change-in-progress, and planning-in-progress is just too high to think." Yikes!

John gives some good suggestions, techniques in his article. Worth reading. But he doesn't tell you what to do with the high WIP, high change-in-progress problems in that article. I expect he has in some of his other articles that I haven't read. It's worth subscribing to his articles. 

February 7, 2023

"Value Stream Management is Human" Patterns

In spite of how others are redefining it to be something different, Tapping, Luyster and Shuker defined value stream management in 2002 as an 8-step lean process “for planning and linking lean initiatives though systematic data capture and analysis.” Basically, commit to lean, choose a value stream, map it, pick a future state, and create and implement kaizen plans. It’s improvement. And it’s a human endeavor. Too many people think VSM is about managing-the-work-in-the-system instead of improving-the-system.

Over my career I’ve noticed several approaches to value stream management:

“Unintentional” – Not done on purpose. In this pattern, no one is intentionally improving the value stream. Every org has a value stream whether they realize it or not, whether they think about it or not. This doesn’t mean that the organization is bad or that their value stream isn’t effective, efficient or optimized. Very talented managers could manage a value stream to great effect by pure skill and experience, not conscious of any improvement efforts. They don’t think about it. Others, however, don’t think about it and get “Value Stream Mismanagement”.

“Casual, ad hoc, decentralized and distributed” – This pattern is typified by teams doing their own retrospectives. There is little sharing of lessons learned across teams even though there may be attempts to catalog or share these. No one is driving improvement across the org.

“Intentional and distributed” – In this pattern, there is someone high up, often a CIO or VP, very much interested in process and improvement. This works well, particularly through lean, kaizen, the Toyota Kata, and the Coaching Kata. Multiple techniques/tools are often used such as A3 Problem Solving, systems thinking, and the theory of constraints. There are often measures and metrics, typically lean (flow) metrics. Kaizen moments and retrospectives are encouraged and expected throughout the organization.

“Agile Transformation / Agile Coach / Centralized” – In this pattern, there is an agile transformation initiative driving process improvement efforts. Such efforts are often time-bound, tied to the duration of the transformation initiative. Attention and efforts wane after a time.

“Biz Process Reengineering / Centralized” – This is another form of the “agile transformation” pattern but is more explicit around improving the value stream, and it’s likely much broader than just IT or software development in that it likely includes business operations as well. This might be led by a process reengineering group, expert or consultant and should involve business architects.

“Control” – I insist that value stream management absolutely, chiefly, and primarily includes the concept of improvement. However, some organizations are more concerned with control and reporting of work progress, percent completion, and due dates than with improvement. Not much improvement happens with this pattern. (I first labeled this pattern “PMO”, but decided that wasn’t fair. PMOs didn’t have the best reputation in the heyday of the agile movement. Perhaps that’s changed now, and I’ve seen many PMOs adopt agile and even drive agile transformations with some success.)

The best approach to take is “Intentional and Distributed”.

My purpose for writing this was twofold:

  • I want everyone to understand the true point of value stream management, which is continuous improvement. So many people (platform vendors especially) are making it out to be something else entirely.
  • I hope more people will be intentional about improvement efforts. Perhaps they’ll recognize their pattern and consider other alternatives.

January 7, 2023

Context is King: Why I stopped blogging

A lot of the articles I read about agile don't describe the context in which their advice applies. The authors don't take the time. Many authors aren't even aware of their context. They haven't seen enough different kinds of agile implementations to understand that their advice doesn't apply outside of their context.

Writing was easy for me when I worked for Leading Agile because we had a well documented and limited context. Grossly oversimplified, companies who wanted predictability in their software development efforts were attracted to our offering. We had one message, one services offering, and one target market.

Everything on our blog and everything on our website and every talk given at a conference adhered to this single context. That context was explained so much that it didn't have to be explained every time. Yet every blog post pointed back to that context in some way. It all dovetailed together.

Every aspect of agile, of teams, of org structure, of metrics, of forecasting, of planning, of funding, of portfolio management, of roadmapping, of prioritization, and on and on needed to be explained in terms of that context, so there was lots of fodder.

I stopped blogging when I left Leading Agile because of this need for the applicable context to be explained. When I left the firm I left the context. I've seen agile done many different (valid and effective) ways before my time at the firm and in many ways after. For which context should I write? How should I explain the applicability of my opinions? 

I don't run my agile programs now the way we did at Leading Agile. It's not because I didn't believe in that approach, didn't find value in it, or can't do it. In fact, I like that approach a great deal. But it doesn't apply to my context now. Predictability isn't my driver. 

This isn't anything new. People have been arguing over agile since the 90s, with much disagreement stemming from the unique and unstated context in the mind of each author and consultant.

What triggered me to write this was some things John Cutler wrote. "…the key to putting bets in motion is to tailor your working approach to the bet." How you develop the idea of the bet and how you implement the bet should vary based on the nature of the bet, the uncertainty of the opportunity, the uncertainty of the solution, urgency, size, allowance for failure, level of collaboration needed, and etc. There's no single agile prescription that's best for every kind of bet. John explains the anti-pattern of when companies "lack any sense that the things they are doing have different characteristics. They try to use a mono-process for everything." "Impact: picking less-than-optimal ways of working." And "Mono-process kills companies." 

Don't bother trying to do agile "right" and don't fret over other people's advice when it doesn't match your context.

May 12, 2021

What I got out of Woke Church

As Christians, we are to love other people in the same way that the Good Samaritan loved the injured stranger. We are to love other people like Christ loved us, to the point that he died for us. We are to minister to their needs and also share the Good News with them. This includes all peoples: Immigrants, Foreigners, Blacks, Aliens, the undocumented, and those who don't look or dress or talk like you. To be effective at this, we need to be aware. We need to be aware of what is going on in our city, in our country, and in our world. We need to have empathy. We need to show love. We need to be steadfast in our commitment to fulfill the Great Commandments. (p22.)

I believe all of those things are Fruit of the Spirit. That doesn't come naturally to a fallen human. The Spirit can bear such fruit in us if we allow it. And we should allow it. We should ask for it. Don't extinguish the Sprit, the Bible says.

To be blunt, the Holy Spirit allows certain Christians to see things in our society that other Christians do not. The Spirit allows some Christians to have empathy, understanding, and love for others that some Christians still lack. The Spirit helps some Christians understand gospel truths that other Christians are still blind to. 

In my last post I asked "if there is any group of people that believes they are mistreated, disadvantaged, shouldn't we as Christians endeavor to heal their hearts, their fears, and at least understand their point of view, their problems? To listen?" Blacks are saying that they are suffering. Why don't we Christians care enough to hear and understand? In Woke Church, Eric Mason claimed that "God's intent is for us to hurt with one another, to care about the suffering of one another." (p24.) The Church should be the group that society turns to when hurting. The Church should be leading reconciliation. (A recurring theme in the book, but particularly addressed in p107-108.)

Why do we have to keep talking about race? "The question is evidence of a level of disconnectedness that is either willful or based on a lack of knowledge. This is what apathy looks and sounds like." (p150.)

Has the gospel given you a new heart? Does the Holy Spirit compel you to actively "seek what is good and right for [your] fellow man" (p40)? If not, then something isn't as it should be.

"He expects us to be active in good works for His glory as a response and proof that we have been transformed. As Jesus stated to His disciples in John 15:8: 'My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples.'" (p47.) 

Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35.)

And, we Christians are to be peacemakers. (p55.) Many of us need to consider whether our posts on social media make peace, or stir up strife and provoke. The underlying emotion behind so many posts seems to be not love but hate. (p134-135.)

Jesus said, "as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40)

The Review

I don't call what I wrote above a "summary" of Woke Church. Likewise, I didn't want to call this a book review. I don't think it is a fair or complete review. Now that I have read a few books on racism, I'm not noticing the stuff I already know. If I had read Woke Church a few books ago, I would have pointed out more great stuff. My notes here are just the things that stood out to me given where I am in my own personal journey. 

Nevertheless, I do have a few thoughts of a review nature. In Woke Church, the author makes great use of scripture, backing up his points in a Biblically sound way. I appreciate the amount of scripture used and the care with which it is used. 

I don't remember if the author gave any evidence about things like structures and systems that tend to disadvantage certain groups, or about things like privilege. If he did, he didn't give much. If you don't already believe that these things exist, I'm not sure that this book will open your eyes to that. Read one of the other books I've reviewed first. This book should convict you if you are lacking love, and should help you see the need to open your eyes.

Eric Mason addresses many other topics that a good Christian should be interested in, but I think his main point, or the main thing I got out of this book, is that we "must be clear on the issues of our day. We have to do our homework. In order to appropriately engage the issues, we must know them. There are many glaring issues that need a prophetic voice: classism, sexism, elitism, poverty, ignorance, wealth, greed, etc. … I'm not saying that we have to jump at every issue that comes up in the world. However, we should know when an issue reaches a boiling point. It is our job to be in the Word and to soberly assess the world around us." (p121 - 122.)  

The author dedicates a chapter to practical actions we can take. Many good suggestions.

I definitely recommend Woke Church to any Christian who has begun their journey of awakening, especially anyone who is any kind of leader.

May 5, 2021

what does the Lord require of you but to do justice

Today I'm thinking about the parable of the Good Samaritan, how Christians are to love their neighbor, help the oppressed, to love one another.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? ~ Micah 6:8 (ESV)

To do justice.

To be kind.

If a Christian brother or sister is hurting, we should minister to them.

This applies to people groups as well as to individuals. 

All of us Christians are ministers now. Romans 15:14. The priesthood of all believers. 

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. ~ 1 Peter 2:9

I'm thinking about Ezekiel 34. In the 1st half of the chapter the LORD is lambasting the priests, leadership, ministers and wealthy for not caring for the sheep, for abusing them. Stop and re-read that with the thought that you and I, us Christians, are ministers, priests. Ask how this passage might apply to us today.

We clothe ourselves, but do not help the weak or injured, or seek the lost, but treat others with force and harshness. I don't mean that we have not helped others at all. Many will counter this thought will all the good things they have done. All the good their church has done. But we, us WASPs, have we done all we should? Is there anyone neglected? Anyone mistreated? Any poor? Any that have trouble getting education? You may think not. Or you may think about you paying your fair share of taxes and about certain legalities, or illegalities. But if there is any group of people that believes they are mistreated, disadvantaged, shouldn't we as Christians endeavor to heal their hearts, their fears, and at least understand their point of view, their problems? To listen?

Around verse 10-11 the LORD says He will withhold blessings from those ministers (us Christians) and He will care for his sheep, all of his sheep, and in particular, those sheep who were neglected. 

17 “‘As for you, my sheep, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look, I am about to judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must trample the rest of your pastures with your feet? When you drink clean water, must you muddy the rest of the water by trampling it with your feet? 19 As for my sheep, they must eat what you trampled with your feet and drink what you have muddied with your feet!

20 “‘Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: Look, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you push with your side and your shoulder, and thrust your horns at all the weak sheep until you scatter them abroad, 22 I will save my sheep; they will no longer be prey. I will judge between one sheep and another.

23 “‘I will set one shepherd over them, and he will feed them—namely, my servant David. He will feed them and will be their shepherd. 24 I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken!
    ~ Ezekiel 34 (NET)

Without being particular, in my lifetime, much damage has been done against certain people groups. I can't read that without thinking of groups that have been trampled in my lifetime. "We" muddied the waters. Those groups that some of us would like to scatter, don't want to deal with, don't want around here using our government benefits and consuming our tax dollars.

Here I quote from Matthew Henry's commentary on this passage:

Conviction spoken to those of the flock that were fat and strong, the rams and the he-goats (v. 17), those that, though they had not power, as shepherds and rulers, to oppress with, yet, being rich and wealthy, made use of the opportunity which this gave them to bear hard upon their poor neighbours. Those that have much would have more, and, if they set to it, will have more, so many ways have they of encroaching upon their poor neighbours, and forcing from them the one ewe-lamb, 2 Sa. 12:4. Do not the rich oppress the poor merely with the help of their riches, and draw them before the judgment-seats? Jam. 2:6. Poor servants and tenants are hardly used by their rich lords and masters. The rams and the he-goats not only kept all the good pasture to themselves, ate the fat and drank the sweet, but they would not let the poor of the flock have any comfortable enjoyment of the little that was left them; they trod down the residue of the pastures and fouled the residue of the waters, so that the flock was obliged to eat that which they had trodden into the dirt, and drink that which they had muddied, v. 18, 19. This intimates that the great men not only by extortion and oppression made and kept their neighbours poor, and scarcely left them enough to subsist on, but were so vexatious to them that what little coarse fare they had was embittered to them. And this seemed a small thing to them; they thought there was no harm in it, as if it were the privilege of their quality to be injurious to all their neighbours. Note, Many that live in pomp and at ease themselves care not what straits those about them are reduced to, so they may but have every thing to their mind. Those that are at ease, and the proud, grudge that any body should live by them with any comfort. But this as not all; they not only robbed the poor, to make them poorer, but were troublesome to the sick and weak of the flock (v. 21): ...

they did what they could to rid the country of, and so scattered them abroad, as if the poor, whom, Christ says, we must have always with us, were public nuisances, not to be relieved, but sent far away from us. Note, It is a barbarous thing to add affliction to the afflicted. Perhaps these rams and he-goats are designed to represent the scribes and Pharisees, for they are such troublers of the church as Christ himself must come to deliver it from, v. 23. 

I was once and even recently very callous to the plight of other groups. I was ignorant and cared not to listen. I repent of my old opinions.

April 6, 2021

Reading While Black -- a book review

"Are those who disdain the church correct that the Bible isn't up to the challenge of speaking to the issues of the day? Put simply, is the Bible a friend or foe in the Black quest for justice?" Esau McCaulley, p 73.

In Reading While Black, Esau McCaulley takes a look at well-known but overlooked, underinterpreted, and misinterpreted passages. This book opened my eyes to a wealth of scripture with depth of meaning that I had been missing. Esau explains how Blacks in America do and should interpret scripture. But Whites should interpret the same way, so this is an important book for pigment challenged people to read. 

I LOVE this book! It explains and stresses the importance of "naming and protesting evil, expressing anger, and pursuing freedom and justice, but also promoting reconciliation, practicing forgiveness, and living in hope -- all aspects of proclaiming the gospel of God revealed in Jesus", as it's put in one of the reviews in the front of the book. All things that I longed to understand, expressed in a very accessible way: It's written to the Black Christian in a way that I, a White Christian, never felt offended or attacked. 

Esau walks the reader through his own struggle with common (Caucasian-European-American) Biblical interpretation, especially in light of the injustices done to Black folk over the centuries by supposed Christians. Esau observes that there is a good connection between Evangelical belief and the Black church (p 9):

• Emphasis on Scripture and the Bible as the ultimate authority.

• The belief that all people need to be born-again, the Gospel of Christ. 

• The importance of Discipleship, the lifelong process of becoming more like Christ.

"God is fundamentally a liberator." (p 17.) Through and through you can see that He liberates His people, whoever His people are. Notice all the times God liberated the Jews. Notice how Jesus liberated believers from their sins. Notice the passages on setting captives free. Notice the apostles freed from prison. Notice those freed from illness, possession, and even death. We should emphasize "God as the liberator and humankind as one family united under the rule of Christ" (p 19). "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28 ESV)

Esau addresses the fact that White Americans, in their culture, hear different messages from scripture than do Black Americans, Asian Americans, and etc. He makes the point this isn't necessarily bad unless each group keeps that message to themselves. "but if we all read the biblical text assuming that God is able to speak a coherent word to us through it, then we can discuss the meanings our varied cultures have a gleaned from the Scriptures. What I have in mind then is a unified mission in which our varied cultures turn the text in dialogue with one another to discern the mind of Christ." (p 23.) I like that. We need each other to more clearly understand the truth, and enjoy the richness of the message. "The job of the scholar is to probe and press and challenge simplistic readings. It is also important to challenge simplistic readings using our own experiences that might provide insights that others who do not share those experiences might have missed." (p. 181)

An "ah-ha!" moment I had reading chapter 2 is that Romans 13 is about submission to the laws, to the state. It doesn't say what to do with corrupt or evil or mistaken or errant individual officers or officials. Submit to the office, not the wicked office holder. The authority is the governing institution, not the individual. In fact, implied in the passage is an expectation for the good behavior of the individuals in the government. I.E., don't be a terror to good works. See Luke 3 for examples pointed to tax collectors and police ("soldiers"). 

Biblical evidence does show that we are to resist evil and immorality. (Good examples are given in chapters 2 and 3.) We Christians are indeed to work for positive change. We are to strive for peace, even if to achieve it requires some unrest. But it's a fallen world and we will suffer the consequences of challenging the systems or the individuals. That doesn't mean don't challenge. We have an inability to discern God's timing and God's means of righting wrongs. The author picks up this point again in chapter 3: "this does not mean that a Christian cannot protest injustice, it means that we cannot claim God's justification for violent revolution. Submission and acquiescence are two different things."

Pointedly, "Paul says that the government should not be a source of fear for the innocent. This problem of innocent fearfulness continues to plague encounters between Black persons and law enforcement." (p 35.) As Christians, white or black, we should work towards a country where Black citizens do not fear interactions with our police. They should not have to live in fear, though they still do. Nevertheless, "the Roman Christian's interaction with the power of the state bears some striking similarities to the potential encounters African Americans might have with the police in our day." (p 38.)

A lasting problem is that the laws we have today were written over more than just decades, but over centuries during a time in which Black disenfranchisement was a common and accepted practice. Many of those laws are still on the books and many of them still tend to disenfranchise Blacks. Esau calls this institutional corporate sin. (p 39.) Christians should endeavor to ensure that the laws reflect Christian values. We should shape public opinion and hold elected officials accountable for the just treatment of all. As stated above, we need insight from multiple Christian cultures to identify bad laws and proper solutions -- we Whites can't discern that on our own.

Chapter 3 reminds us of numerous passages in which Israel is criticized for its injustice and oppression of the poor. All the prophets and Jesus and the apostles spoke truth to power.

There are 2 interpretations of scripture made in this book that I disagree with, but I don't disagree with the author's ultimate point, so my disagreements are perhaps immaterial. First, on page 61, the author suggests that Galatians 3 is about more than spiritual enslavement. I don't see it. (But again, I refer to the point above about needing each other to understand the truth.) Galatians 1 thru 3 is about the Law and the circumcision party, Jews vs Greeks. I don't think Paul was calling for the equal political or social treatment of women, slaves, Greeks, and non-citizens. But I concur with Esau's point, which he goes on to back up with passages from Colossians. 

Secondly, on pages 65-66, Esau changes the word 'righteousness' in Matthew 5 to 'justice'. He acknowledges that he is giving his own translation, but of all the translations I use, only the NLT uses the word Justice. Look at the rest of Matthew 5 -- righteousness is meant throughout that passage, not justice. 

"Justice is making things right that are unfair in society; righteousness is doing right by people, especially the vulnerable. Justice is more about legal and systemic problems; righteousness is more about good deeds, acts of generosity toward those in need." https://www.blockislandtimes.com/affiliate-post/let-justice-and-righteousness-flow-making-things-right-and-doing-right/45390

Sure, the terms are close. Amos 5:24 and Psalm 103:6 and over three dozen other places use both of those terms together, and synonyms and parallelism are often used in Hebrew poetry to reinforce a single point. (Right?) But changing one term to the other in a chapter that only uses one of those terms consistently, and that is not Hebrew poetry, seems wrong. Nevertheless, I agree with Esau's ultimate conclusion, which he backs up with other Scripture. 

Chapter 5 is a fun read. In it, Esau destroys the lie that the Europeans and slavery brought the Gospel to the Africans. Christianity was known by black and brown people at the very beginning of Christianity. It also persisted there through history. In fact, Joseph's sons born in Egypt, Ephraim and Manasseh, were multi-ethnic, namely, African and Hebrew. There are no biologically "pure" Hebrews. They too were a mixed "race". And in Exodus 12:38, a "mixed crowd" went up with them, meaning non-Israelites. Esau shows us over and over how God intends to bless all nations; all people groups. There are many many examples in this chapter that I had NEVER noticed before. Esau goes on to explain that the promotion of "colorblindness" is sub-biblical. Colors and ethnicities will exist in eternity! What a fantastic book!

Chapter six covers the rage of the Black American and rage in the Bible. Cry out to God about injustice. Cry out for vengeance. "Sometimes we need to lament injustice and call for God to right wrongs." (p 127.) Yet, there is also forgiveness, but "excepting abuse is inappropriate for Christians. … it is appropriate for those suffering unjustly to forgive their enemies from a distance if necessary. We do not have to stay. …  the New Testament also calls on believers to help those who are suffering. … James does not say, 'Tell the orphans and the widows to put up with suffering.' He says to the Christian, 'Help them!'" (p 133.) Christians should not allow suffering to continue when we have the resources to do something about it. I got a lot out of this chapter.

I got a lot out of this book. What I appreciated the most is that the author dug into numerous passages. It wasn't a light treatment of Scripture. When logic was called for, he used it with a sound theological underpinning and correct Biblical exegesis. The Bonus Track at the end of the book puts forward his thoughts on correct Biblical interpretation. 

Skipping ahead to the conclusion of the book, the author states that he didn't set out to exhaustively and conclusively answer questions of import today to Black Christians. Rather, his aim was to answer whether the Bible is reliable and useful to Black Christians. Returning to the question presented at the top: "Are those who disdain the church correct that the Bible isn't up to the challenge of speaking to the issues of the day? Put simply, is the Bible a friend or foe in the black quest for justice?"  He answers "that the very process of engaging these Scriptures and expecting an answer is an exercise in hope. It is an act of faith that has carried Black people through unimaginable despair toward a brighter future. The Bible has been a source of comfort, but it has also been more. It has inspired action to transform circumstances. It has liberated Black bodies and souls." (p 166.) In his book, Esau McCaulley answers through an examination of the Scriptures that Black Christians definitely have reason to hope! The One True God is the God of Liberation. He is the God of Justice.

February 7, 2021

White Awake - a book review

Subtitled "an honest look at what it means to be white", White Awake by Daniel Hill is indeed a pretty good look at what it feels like to be a white Christian in America going through a cultural or racial awakening. It's written to that white Christian to help them understand and process these new feelings.

This is not a hard-hitting book. I found it much more gentle than the other books on this topic that I've reviewed previously

White Awake has a similar approach as White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo. They both instruct the white person who is just beginning a racial awakening about the feelings they are about to experience, and how to navigate those. Indeed, White Awake often quotes White Fragility.  

Whites who haven't had some initial shock, revelation, eye-opening, or disorienting experience just might not get much out of White Awake. I don't think you need to read White Fragility first, but reading that or How to be An Antiracist or Dispossession or something more hard-hitting first would be helpful for many whites. 

Would this make a good Bible study? In the back of the book are a set of discussion questions for each chapter. Those certainly would be helpful for conversation starters, but there's really not a lot of scripture in this book. It's written to discuss what white Christians will be going through as they have their awakening, and it will help them as a guide through that journey. The book includes examples from scripture to illustrate many points. The author takes a culturally-aware biblical worldview throughout. I suppose you could say that the author uses scripture as the foundation for everything he has to say. But it's just not a Bible study, and that's okay. Maybe you don't need a lot of scripture to back up a very simple truth. We all need to read the Bible, but we need to read lots of other stuff as well.

There are good, sound theological points made in the book, and a significant one is in chapter 6. That one goes like this: Scripture is full of good advice, but if whites are blind to the plight of the black American, they'll probably also miss the point made in much of scripture, or at least underemphasize actions they should be taking, and overemphasize other stuff. 

Don't let this ho-hum overview turn you off. I did get value out of reading this book. For example, I spotted my own behavior as "the annoying, self-righteous white guy [who had] finally seen the light,  and [was] determined to make everyone around me see it." (pg 11.) Daniel explains that this is bound to happen, but that we should strive to avoid it by being self-aware. Something I've heard in some of the books I've read, including this one, is a warning about coming across as a paternalistic rich white guy, coming to save the poor brown people (pg 15). I need to hear that over and over.

One point in this book not in any of the others is this: given the racial history in most of America, very few black people will attend a church with a white pastor, so there is no point in making integration the #1 goal or 1st step (p16). We enlightened whites immediately want to go into action, but that action is almost always misguided (p19, 105-106). Rather, our vision is likely still blurry. Let's just focus on making sure we can see (p21, 153-155, 162-165). Keep doing that. Never stop. Not only are do we whites not have the right answers, but we also don't even know how to ask the right questions yet, generally speaking of course (p23). 

There are some really great stories in White Awake. There were at least two that really woke me up. They were about how whites respond to blacks when their racial hackles are raised, and I could see myself giving the wrong kind of response.

Chapter 3 gives a great explanation of why trying to be "color-blind", or color neutral, seeing everyone in the same way, is a very bad strategy, and un-biblical. 

The author's recommendation for us whites is to engage in self-reflection and expose ourselves to perspectives outside our comfort level (p45). Among other recommendations is to get close to suffering (p165-172) and put yourself under the leadership of people of color (p172-173).

There were a couple things in this book I didn't agree with, but they are of no consequence. The author pretty much goes on to say that even if you disagree with that point, it's just one example of many and you can't deny the preponderance of the evidence.

In one place (p61) the author states that "assigning value to human beings… is a sin of the highest order." I don't know what he means by "highest order". Aren't all sins (except denying Christ) the same in God's eyes? The sin of the highest order is denying Christ. Perhaps this was a slip. The author, apparently protestant with a Pentecostal upbringing (p134), seems to have quite a bit of Catholic influence, so that remark gave me pause. I didn't notice any other issues with his theology, and even that one isn't a big deal. 

1. Does the author handle scripture accurately? Yes

2. Does their teaching lead to a greater understanding of reconciliation, unity, and witness in the church? Yes

3. Does it spark greater love for Christ and others in me? Yes

4. Is it consistent with the gospel by pointing to Christ? Yes

5. Does a study or discussion guide accompany the book? Yes

In conclusion, I recommend White Awake to white Christians everywhere but note that White Awake would make a better book study than Bible study.

December 27, 2020

Red Dirt, Blue Blood -- Book Review

Red Dirt, Blue Blood, The Story of the Nances of Lower Alabama (Rahkia Nance, 2020) is exactly that, a human-interest story of a family, descended from slaves, who at one time settled in the area that is now Fort Rucker, and surrounding counties. In this book are many interesting stories of young mayors, philanthropists, teachers, farmers, soldiers, and mill and factory workers. 

This book isn't about racism, and there are very few mentions of racism in the book. This book was interesting to me since my family came from a near-by part of the state, and because some of the Nance's have stuff named after them in my hometown of Union Springs.

Red Dirt is a quick read, only containing about 60 pages of text and another 50 pages of interesting photos. Unfortunately, some of the photos aren't clear.

In many ways, Red Dirt, Blue Blood is much like Poppa Didn't Play That, by Mildred Burrell (2020).

Poppa Didn't Play That is a quick and delightful read. There are only a few mentions of racism and discrimination in this book. The book isn't about that. This book is about one particular family. It's about their family life. It's a human-interest story. I was glad to read this after reading Dispossession; I needed something lighter.

December 24, 2020

White Guilt - book synopsis

White Guilt, by Shelby Steel, puts forth quite a Conservative point of view on racism, moral relativism, welfare, civil rights, affirmative action, individual responsibility, the new white liberal, and what we should do about those. These messages resonated with me. I suspect they would not resonate at all with a Liberal. I didn't fact check anything in White Guilt, and I can't say how much of the text is opinion versus factual. In fact, there aren't a lot of facts, at all, in this book. This isn't to say that it is nonfactual, just that it's subjective, opinionated. It uses logical arguments. It isn't backed up by facts and figures and science, but it is about social issues and psychology, so there is no science or numbers to back up this nor a contrary point of view. But to be fair, the same can be said by all the other books in my prior post, with the exception of Dispossession.

The Vacuum of Moral Authority

Shelby does not defend or excuse white supremacy. In fact, he says that it has undermined the moral authority (legitimacy) of America and its institutions. "Segregation was... an institutionalized infidelity to democratic principles." 

White guilt, then, come out of "...the vacuum of moral authority that comes from simply knowing that one's race is associated with racism. Whites (and American institutions) must acknowledge historical racism to show themselves redeemed of it, but once they acknowledge it, they lose moral authority over everything having to do with race, equality, social justice, poverty, and so on. ...  The authority they lose transfers to the 'victims' of historical racism and becomes their great power in society. This is why white guilt is quite literally the same thing as black power." 

To take that a bit further, "[w]hites know on some level that they are stigmatized by their skin color alone, that the black people they meet may suspect them of being racist simply because they are white." Whites have this fear of being called a racist, and so take actions so as to be seen as not racist. "...racism was also evidence of white wrongdoing and, therefore, evidence of white obligation to blacks. King had argued that whites were obligated to morality and democratic principles. But white guilt meant they were obligated to black people because they needed the moral authority only black people could bestow."

Riots Out of Proportion

Thankfully, this shift in attitudes away from racism brought on beneficial civil rights advancements, and some helpful policies and programs. But it also drove most remaining overt racism underground and made it harder to sustain black power and civil rights momentum. Therefore, the focus shifted to "systemic", "structural", and "institutional" racism. 

Such makes "every racist event the tip of an iceberg so that redress will be to the measure of the iceberg rather than to the measure of its tip." "...the smallest racial incident proved the 'global truth' of systemic racism. This is why one black man being beaten by police in Los Angeles could trigger a massive riot in which some 60 people were killed. ... A riot to the scale of systemic racism rather than to the scale of the [single] racist event." [According to Wikipedia, "63 deaths, 2,383 injuries, more than 7,000 fires, damage to 3,100 businesses, and nearly $1 billion in financial losses", and that's just in LA.] We now have a "riot paradigm in which the scale of the violence was always far out of proportion to the triggering event, usually [an] ... instance of police brutality." Some part of white America now sees them "as authentic expressions of black rage and would respond to them with understanding rather than disregard and withering suppression."

Shelby says these riots are a manipulation of white guilt, evidenced by the fact that whites are rarely the targets. The damage was always to fellow blacks and within black neighborhoods. 

Blacks as Victims

Shelby gives multiple chapters to make a point that this all makes blacks perpetually victims, doesn't encourage personal responsibility, and encourages support of black identity (group identity) as being more important than individual identity. Black leaders say they can't uplift themselves, that they have no power, thus feeding white guilt. Making others responsible for its advancement ultimately harms blacks, keeping "black America underdeveloped".

This is where Shelby turns on white liberals and "corrupt black leadership". "Thus we got remedies pitched at injustices rather than at black academic excellence -- school busing, black role models as teachers, black history courses, "diverse" reading lists, "Ebonics," multiculturalism, culturally "inclusive" classes, standard tests corrected for racial bias, and so on. All this but no demand for parental responsibility, for hard to work on reading, writing, and arithmetic." Asking a black child to study harder is interpreted as racism.

Liberal Grasp for Moral Authority

Then, "poverty came to be seen as a condition unrelated to the dysfunctions of those who suffer it, and always treatable by the 'interventions' of government and other institutions." This gives the liberal party the moral authority and legitimacy it seeks. This "brings real power to whites to embrace it. ... This has been the essential power of the political left in America since the 60s -- this promise to restore legitimacy by taking responsibility for inequality and poverty..."   Their "social morality is nothing more than dissociation." 

Throughout his book, Shelby gives a few logical arguments to the absurdity of some policies and programs that have come from this situation. For example, in chapter 19 Shelby gives an argument to how Justice O'Connor in the Michigan affirmative action case, because of white guilt, "applies a remedy to something that is not a problem -- diversity. ... So O'Connor is saying that it is perfectly constitutional to have a remedy that remediates nothing, a race-based remedy that does not remediate racial discrimination; and that this is so even when that remedy is literally executed through programmatic racial discrimination."  "Worse, implied in her decision is a view of blacks as inferiors who simply cannot compete without 25 more years of white paternalism." Chapter 22 gives an interesting treatment about Justice Clarence Thomas' dissenting opinion on the case.

It is as if it doesn't matter what policies or programs are put in place, as long as they are seen as an effort to make amends for past wrongs, and to not hold "victims" of historical racism accountable for their own uplifting. 

"Institutions are not interested in the reasons for minority non-competitiveness; they are interested only in the fact that this persistent weakness means they must use preferences ..." Institutions only have to appear to dissociate from America's racist past, not actually do anything meaningful about it. Minority recruitment and lower standards for minorities don't solve the real problem.

It's theatre. "... hoping that money thrown at blameless poverty would win moral authority."

Liberal White Supremacy

"This points to the sad irony at the core of black-white relations in America. The price blacks pay for the mere illusion of recompense for past injustice always requires them ... to be merchandised to whites as inferiors in victims."

"...the great internal contradiction of white liberalism: that its paternalism, its focus on whites rather than on blacks as the agents of change, allows white supremacy to slip in the back door and once again to find a fundamental relationship between whites and blacks. So the very structure of the liberal faith – that whites and "society" must facilitate black uplift – locks white liberals into an unexamined white supremacy."

This Liberalism is all about dissociation and is inherently elitist. Such a person asserts they are better than any Conservative "because he is conspicuously dissociated from the litany of American sins." Worthy of moral authority. 

Black Responsibility

Throughout the book, Shelby repeats his point of view that blacks need to take more "responsibility for themselves and their children." "A 70% illegitimacy rate among all blacks ... pretty much makes the point that there is a responsibility problem. To know this, as all blacks do, and to have to pretend that it is not strictly true or that certain "systemic" forces are more responsible than blacks themselves is knowingly to lie to oneself."


I don't claim that this synopsis is free from bias. On the contrary, there is surely bias in how I arranged the points, in what text I selected to include, and in what I chose to exclude. Nevertheless, I tried to be fair to Shelby's thesis, to not misrepresent.

In a December 2020 discussion on Facebook, Curtis Stuehrenberg said "Shelby Steele has made himself famous and wealthy being one of the Black men who tell White people they aren’t racist." Shelby does indeed state that "Unreconstructed whites in America are not so unreconstructed anymore. Racism and imperial ambition no longer characterize the attitudes of most Americans." 

However, Shelby's book isn't written to tell white people they aren't racist. In fact, Shelby does indeed give examples of ongoing white racism. He acknowledges that it still exists. He also lambasts the white liberal as the new racist. But, it seems to me, his point isn't to let whites off the hook. His point is to get blacks to accept responsibility.

As I stated in my prior post, I have been intentionally seeking out voices I previously wouldn't have listened to, and reading stuff I normally wouldn't have read. This isn't something I normally would have read, but I'm glad that I did. I don't see the core message of White Guilt at being at odds with the core messages of those other books. It's "yes and". Yes there is systemic racism and whites should take responsibility for eliminating racists policies. Yes individual responsibility is important. Every family and individual should take responsibility for their own education, health, morality, civic duty, and contribution to society. Yes, everyone has some racist thoughts or actions, in various ways, at various times. We are all brought up in this system that none of us created. Whites do not have a monopoly on racism. Let's learn how to not be defensive, but to have positive conversations on how to move forward.