Customer Reviews: All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice
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on May 27, 2009
Robert Jensen believes we in the United States are living in a dead culture, slowly decaying because our consumption of the world's resources is unsustainable and our policies are too often unjust. He also believes that capitalism is incompatible with democracy and leads to a system where the rich get richer and basically control the democratic process for their own selfish and greedy aims. Not a pleasant picture of the United States of America.

But Jensen has not just written another book about saving the environment or tempering capitalism with humanism. Jensen attempts to tie his secular views in to a philosophy that is, in his estimation, essentially Christian. Jensen does not come by Christianity in the usual way. He has not taken Jesus as his personal savior and he does not think Jesus rose from the dead. He comes to Christianity, not by way of theology, but by way of a point of view involving social activism. He joined a church because of its activities in support of a more sustainable and tolerant world, because he and the minister were friends who agreed on major social issues. His reasoning was reminiscent, for me, of President Barack Obama's reasons for joining a church, as related in his books. Obama too was attracted by the church's social activism for liberal causes. (Obama, of course, later got a lot of flack because of the radical views of his pastor and ended up resigning from the church).

Jensen takes his alternative views even further than Obama (who seems to have accepted Christian theology) in that he does not actually believe in God. At least not in the way most people do. While I found Jensen's desire to be a Christian a bit odd considering his actual beliefs, I also found his reasoning somewhat logical. He points out that we DO live in a mainly Christian society and those of us who grew up with Christianity have a right to claim some of its principles, even if we do not accept all the theology and doctrines promulgated by organized religion. We who doubt also have a right to find the message in Jesus' teachings.

At times, Jensen's book seems to be about too many things, with his wide-ranging interests in environmentalism, feminism and civil rights for minorities and gays. But he ties it together with the Christian philosophy, which in his case is far-left leaning (say, considerably left of Michael Moore and Al Sharpton). He claims his right to be a Christian and interpret its meaning in a whole different way from those fundamentalist Christians who take their religion to the far right, those who preach that God hates gays and that the righteous are those with the most material success. In Jensen's view, Christian living involves walking everywhere or riding a bicycle, eating a mainly vegetarian diet, using few power-eating gadgets and living in a small house. He argues that to live in a way that is sustainable for our planet means no one should consume more than would sustain us all if each one consumed that much.

He writes about being authentic as meaning that what we say and what we say we believe matches our actual behavior; when our thoughts, words and deeds are intimately related. This resonates with me because I have found the corporate world to be a place where you have to wear a mask each day and be what they want you to be. As Henry David Thoreau famously said, most people live lives of quiet desperation. I have seen that desperation in my working life in one person's willingness to betray another for even a small or only a perceived gain. We do not truly love one another. After years of conforming to a company standard and protecting self-interests, do people even know who they are? Shouldn't we be working toward a more loving and less fearful society?

Jensen asks a lot of people, and many will find his views offensive. He is so critical of American culture that some will think he is speaking treason. But I cannot find actual fault with what he says on these pages. The title of the book comes from a quote from the prophet Jeremiah, who was fearful of the consequences of his role as a prophet. For those who speak unpleasant truths, there will be opposition. "All My Bones Shake" thinking about the beating I will take when I speak in the prophetic voice or do what I think is right when others disagree. The Bible holds some universal principles and it's ok for all of us, regardless of how we interpret Christianity, to partake of its wisdom. And, YES, it's ok for someone like Robert Jensen to reclaim his heritage as a Christian.
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on July 3, 2009
Robert Jensen, one of my intellectual heroes, has done the near impossible: an atheist, has now commandeered Christianity to further promote his humanistic causes: And why not? Using Christian activism in the same way that President Obama reports in his second book that he did in joining Rev Wright's Chicago church (but without the required belief in God, of course), is nothing new. Jensen has hitched his progressive wagon to the humanist aspect of those Christian churches who "put their actions where their preacher's mouths are."

And as usual, Jensen is clear headed, committed and will not duck when the flack starts flying. In his usual inimical "take no prisoners" way, he knows where the dead bodies lie and who the real enemy is (in the subtext of American social order and the greedy vampire casino corporate capitalists). And he is relentless in making a case that even a moribund religion such as Christianity must be awaken to help slay this evil bloodsucking dragon. While this Atheist and Christianity shotgun wedding may seem to make for odd bedfellows, Jensen knows that in the end it is only results that really count. And it is the "activist churches" that can embarrass the more moribund ones (that is all the rest of them), enough to reinvigorate American religion to make it rise up on its hind legs again to meet its own ignored humanistic mandate.

Thus there is not just deadly logic in Jensen's approach, but as usual a calculated design to achieve the humanistic goals he has always been seeking, but now by entirely different means: And here he remains committed to a clean environment; equality for minorities, an end to racist chauvinism, and a death blow to the head of the bloodsucking casino corporate capitalists.

Jensen's mantra is that truth is the best activist program known to man. And here he tells the truth in spades. Not much ground is left unturned here: personal, religious, intellectual, political, and social. This is not just another one of Jensen's hors d'ouevres: this is the main course.

Enjoy the feast as I have and five stars (as usual for him).
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on September 22, 2009
This book is a compelling summary of the present challenges we face, both as individuals and as a society. In spite of Jensen's vision being logically rooted in his experience as an American citizen, I think his critics and rationale can be easily extrtapolated to every established person living in the so called First World countries. Although not cited in the book, I see clear connections with the Latinamerican Catholic "Theology of Liberation".
I enjoyed reading it and have been particullarly moved towards a deeper personal and social/ecological commitment. Highly recommended for anyone with a minimum qualm for the type of world we live in.
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on August 17, 2010
ALL MY BONES SHAKE, Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice by Robert Jensen
I make this disclaimer right up front. I love the writing of Robert Jensen and I only write reviews on books that I have a passion for. Robert Jensen best epitomizes a journalist who understands the power of a civic press that is so essential to democratic governing.

In ALL MY BONES SHAKE, The "doubting Thomas" Robert Jenson is on to something. Jenson senses there is something about the powerful prophetic message and the potential of personal transformation and action in the Christian community.

So out of curiosity, Jenson joined a church for the first time since early adulthood. To me, Robert Jensen, as a writer and speaker is doing his part to bring a much needed maturity to Christianity. Robert Jensen is a severe critic of corporate capitalism and much of his book addresses the abuses of global corporate capitalism. I need not belabor the point but merely to say that Jenson concludes that capitalism is anti-democratic and unsustainable.

What I find most valuable are his thoughts on the prophetic imagination and the need for the coming together of loving communities or small groups of like minded people for self reflection and social action.

In reading Robert Jensen, it is very apparent that he has incredible social insight, compassion and much spiritual discernment for our human society. He is filled with the Holy Spirit although he does not believe in the divinity of Christ. I quote Jensen: "For me, Christianity--or any other religion--can be the basis for courage only if we understand God as being within us all, giving us a source of power with us, rather than outside of us". What we are experiencing in the world is a conflict between the power over us and the power within ourselves for human liberation.

Robert Jenson is very reflective of our troubling times and he states that we are at a moment when leaders cannot help us, because we need to go deeper than leadership can take us. We are heading into new territory for which old models of movements and politics are insufficient. Our political and religious leaders are struggling to understand the direction we should be moving, just like the rest of us.

Please allow me to quote the following important paragraphs: "When traditional political and/or theological leadership fails, it's tempting to want to turn to a prophet. But that too would be a mistake. This is a moment that cries not for a prophet but for prophets. It is time to recognize that we all must strive to be prophets now. It is time for each of us to take responsibility for speaking in the prophetic voice."

"We should understand the prophetic as calling out of injustice, the willingness not only to confront the abuses of the powerful but to acknowledge our own complicity, To speak prophetically requires us first to see honestly--both how our world is structured by illegitimate authority that causes suffering beyond the telling, and how we who live in the privileged part of the world are implicated in that suffering."

"To speak prophetically is to refuse to shrink from what we discover about the injustice of the world. It is to name the wars of empire as unjust; to name an economic system that leaves half the world in abject poverty as unjust; to name the dominance of men, of heterosexuals, of white people as unjust. And it is to name the human destruction of Creation as our most profound failure in our time on the planet. At the same time, to speak prophetically is to refuse to shrink from our own place in these systems. We must confront the powers that be as ourselves."

Jensen points out how the people who profit from war are quick to support it; how the politicians stand by in silence rather than confront pro-war constituents; how journalists ignore their skeptical instincts and beat the drums of war; how Americans can sit back and take no action; how the antiwar movement failed to find an effective strategy; and how we Americans live in an affluent society made possible by the power of American empire.

This all points to the magnitude of the struggle for radical change in the United States. To Jensen, the answer cannot come through religion alone or through individual action. It must be political and pursued through political organizing. We must come together and face the enormous obstacles in the way of deeply entrenched systems.

Jensen raises the point that American society worships too many false gods and this is the cause of broken communities. To quote Jensen, "these are the institutions created beyond the level of community, whose basic function is almost always to control those communities, aggrandizing the power of some group of elites. Beyond our communities are the bureaucratic institutions of church, corporation, and nation states. These are false gods, not because nothing good ever happens within them but because when we submit to the interests of these institutions--which means the interests of the small number of people who direct them--ordinary people within communities and the nonhuman world tend to suffer. These institutions of the false gods are not rooted in our evolutionary history, not do they embody universal principles. They are vehicles for power over, and hence are inherently untrustworthy".

Robert Jensen challenges the reader in that more is demanded of us who are living the "good life" as a direct result of a violent imperial history. "If we are serious about our stated principles and the faith we claim to hold, we are obligated to correct those past injustices and work against the ongoing evils perpetrated by our nation-state and our corporations, which deepen the injustice. That is no small task but we have the obligation to undermine the very same systems that produce the affluence that leads to so many people to
turn away from this caLL."

"Because our community exists in a world among others, love can survive and we can flourish only when we can empathize with those whom we don't love, with a moral understanding that those in the other communities are just like us. For all--no matter where or how they live--making good on our humanity must mean taking care of our own and reaching out beyond our community to others when we can."
Then Jenson makes these very powerful statements. "The task is to seek the mystery through engagement with our local communities, remembering that our foundational sense of connection to the world comes through local connections---it is those local connections that remind us those other communities exist around us."

Robert Jensen theory is that we need a new sense community to overcome the false gods of our culture that so shape our lives and outlooks. "One of the sources of that communal spirit can be Christianity, but that will require a New Communion of spirit that far exceeds church ritual. Christianity must step away from the systems that produce the destruction and imagine a just and sustainable life in meaningful community. The only hope is to recognize there are no solutions within these power-over systems and to begin the painful work of imagining a new way with no guarantee of success."

Robert Jensen warns us that "Global realities no longer allow us to pretend. We live amidst cascading crises that demand not further attempts at industrial heroism to solve problems, but a recognition that the problem is in systems and structures we have created, The problem is rooted in the kinds of human beings we have become in a power-over world."

To Jensen, "Technological fundamentalists dream of illusionary high-technology and high energy solutions that they imagine will allow us to continue to consume, while economic and national fundamentalists tell us we owe nothing to the third world other than to encourage them to dream one day becoming consumers, too.. This is our ironic state of existence; though drastic action is more necessary than ever, the fundamentalists digging in to try and ignore reality and abandon moral obligations. Those powers are doomed to fail."

My only disappointment with "ALL MY BONES SHAKE" is that Jensen never specifically refers to the spiritual dynamics of democracy that has been suppressed by a materialistic culture. It is a subject rarely written about which I addressed in my recently published book: CAPITALISM, DEMOCRACY AND EMERGING CHRISTIANITY. To me, democracy is as much a practice of the human spirit as in the practice of religion, but without the threat of theocracy. It is my conviction that Christian Americans need to join forces with honest participatory democracy in order to bring about much needed social change.. This by no means should be considered an encroachment of theocracy but a synthesis for a higher social consciousness that can lead to radical social change
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on June 22, 2012
This is a thought provoking book that shows how an environmentalist who doesn't want to acknowledge a traditional God can recruit the Christian masses to his cause. It is a difficult read at times but generally it keeps you thinking. There are many challenges to human beings and most of them we are ignoring. This book tries to open our eyes to the threats to humans and non-humans that follow our current thinking and doing models.
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on January 30, 2010
Robert Jensen has written an excellent narrative of his struggle, in middle age, to find a place in his life for religious faith.
Jensen was raised in the Presbyterian church, but seems to have hated every minute of it, and was alienated from organized religion for at least 20 years. But he is drawn back to religion when the pastor of a Presbyterian church in Austin, TX (where he lives) invites him to attend a service and deliver a sermon. Jensen finds himself transformed by the experience, and realizes that being a member of a religious congregation brings a sense of transcendence to his life that had been missing.
I would recommend this book highly to two audiences: those for whom religion has not been part of their life, but might be thinking about establishing some connection to a faith community; and members of faith communities who are looking to recruit new members, and want to understand the ways that a "seeker" wants to understand (and may be intimidated by) aspects of their religion's established dogma.
One other possible "caveat" to readers: Jensen is a writer with decidedly left-of-center political views (which was no surprise to me, as I've been reading his other books and essays for years). His politics -- which he discusses at some length -- may not be yours, but I think that even if you disagree with some of his views, you will still find "All My Bones Shake" an illuminating narrative of how one thoughtful, committed person works to find a place for religious faith in his life.
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on March 4, 2010
I'm already in the choir to which Jensen may or may not be preaching, but that makes no difference. His view and voice provided me with new insight and alternate ways to think about issues of spirituality, religion, and responsibility. I left organized religion in my early 20s and now that I'm in my late 30s I've been wondering whether there's a path to organized spirituality. And, if so, what does it look like?

Jensen has given me some possible answers and definitely generated a vibrant internal conversation. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in discovering a path to rational, balanced, humanistic spirituality.
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on December 27, 2012
Jensen is one of the best prophetic voices currently writing and this book lays a theological foundation for a progressive view of the world.
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on June 8, 2014
Robert Jensen's clear voice is badly needed. In this one, he provides welcome clarity to the tangle of religion. I highly recommend it.
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on April 10, 2015
A good but not great commentary on conservative versus liberal ttheology.
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