Chris Blattman

Living Fully, Loving Dangerously

That is the subtitle of my brother Kent’s book on his first years living in rural Haiti, just released. In my (biased) opinion, it’s among the most thoughtful memoirs on the struggle to live a life of service to others while still seeing to yourself. And your marriage.

Kent and patient wife Shelley lived a life unlike the usual NGO worker. In their organization, you live nine months with a family doing nothing but live and work like a rural Haitian before they let you anywhere near a development project. Like most Haitians, Kent barely speaks a word of French. But he can soliloquize in Creole.

Events in Haiti seem much closer now having read the book again in the past two weeks. If you are touched by recent events, consider reading it.

The title of the book? Following Jesus Through the Eye of A Needle. Kent’s a theologian by training, a liberation theologist (of sorts) by inclination. I, meanwhile, am the agnostic social scientist. (The philosophical discussions that grace holiday dinners are interesting.)

By its title, this is not a book many of my readers would normally buy. That is too bad. Kent wrestles with questions that confront any rich do-gooder in a poor nation, regardless of creed. It changed the way I think about my place in a foreign land.

Actually, I say not many readers might normally buy the book, but one of my greatest prides is that (judging by who links to me) my blog is read as much by evangelicals and conservatives as it is by leftists and atheists. The do gooders of the world have united, at least under one RSS feed.

Academia is a bubble. I am surrounded by (philosophically) like-minded folks. Heck, during the Presidential primaries, I barely knew any Hillary supporters, let alone Republicans. Marrying into a family of theologians (of diverse creeds) has been one of the unexpected intellectual joys and challenges of my life. Especially when, like me, they are a family dedicated in whole to public service. Kent’s book is a piece of that experience.

I hope you’ll check it out. His development NGO, mentioned earlier this week, is here.

8 Responses

  1. I finished it in 5 hours, and have never read a more honest and sincere book. Thank you, Chris, for the post. I’m an international corporate lawyer by trade, but religious and eager to serve by heart. Not sure if that fits into any categories of your regular readers.

  2. I have read the first chapter or so, and this is exactly my experience. Unlike Paul Farmer (Mountains Beyond Mountains) or Greg Mortenson (3 Cups of Tea), Kent actually seems like a relatively normal guy and so his struggles to deal with some of the same issues that many of us faith-oriented development people do feel very relevant. I’ve already recommended that my sister, who teaches at a small Christian university in Kansas, consider introducing the book as the freshman seminar book. I look forward to reading the rest.

  3. I would suggest that a society of “maternalism,” rather than paternalism, would provide better results for any culture: Less selfishness. Less violence. Less domestic abuse. More caring for each other and the planet we live on. Worth considering, though I don’t foresee it ever happening.

  4. I’m another one of those readers of your blog who would be very interested in reading this book. Thanks for the heads-up about it.

  5. Thank you for your blog and thanks for this post. Your posts are often discussed and one reason is, though you are an academic, you like your brother see through the eye of the needle. David Brooks yestereday in his column, on NPR and PBS Newshour proclaimed: “the programs that really work involve intrusive paternalism.” When I heard that I thought back to your recent link to an interview with Binyavanga Wainaina and how “good” intentions too often lead to horrible wrongs. No matter what our religious beliefs or non-belief we cannot escape engaging ethical problems. Your posting are wonderful for their not too serious tone. It takes deft flexibility to get through the eye of a needle.

  6. I guess I’m the reader of your blog that would like to read that kind of book. I’ll put it on the list :)

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