Review: Walking the Labyrinth

Walking the LabyrinthWalking the LabyrinthTravis Scholl. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014

Summary: The book consists of a series of reflections over the forty days of Lent intermingling thoughts on the gospel of Mark, life, and the daily walking of a labyrinth in the churchyard of a neighborhood church.

Travis Scholl discovers a labyrinth in a churchyard in his neighborhood and determines to walk it over the forty days of Lent. Each day, he reflects on a portion of the gospel of Mark, interweaving these reflections with thoughts about life, and the peculiar type of pilgrimage that is walking the labyrinth.

The book begins with a helpful explanation of the history of labyrinths from the myth of Ariadne’s thread to the appropriation of the idea of walking labyrinths as a Christian practice–a kind of pilgrimage both to the center of one’s life and the center of one’s relationship with God.

The use of Mark’s gospel seems especially appropriate. Jesus seems to be perpetually walking in this gospel–a labyrinthine journey around and around Galilee, into the Decapolis and the regions of Tyre and Sidon, and then on to Jerusalem and the cross, which perhaps not coincidentally we learn forms the center of the labyrinth.

Scholl attempts to walk the labyrinth every day, coming at various times in all kinds of weather from snow to the incipient heat of summer. His reflections concern such things as pilgrimage in the middle of things, the seeming labyrinthine and circular natures of life, the westward facing entrance of the labyrinth, symbolizing both death and the hope of the life to come, the cross at the center of the labyrinth and his own life, and much more.

Labyrinths are often inlaid in the floors of cathedrals. "Labyrinth" by Marlith - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Labyrinths are often inlaid in the floors of cathedrals.  This is Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. “Labyrinth” by MarlithOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

One of my favorite reflections was on the labyrinth being like the seed of the kingdom — growing day and night. The seed is itself a kind of labyrinth from which life emerges. Another is on the impossibility of keeping the kingdom secret, as secret as our practices might be. Jesus is in seclusion and sought out by the Syrophonecian women who answers his parable or riddle with a parable. She understands the secret of the kingdom that is found in Jesus, and receives her daughter whole.

Perhaps the final reflections tracing the way of the cross are among the best, as is the very last which captures the incredible excitement of the women’s report, “He is risen. He is going ahead of you into Galilee.” The labyrinthine journey of Jesus begins and ends in Galilee, just as one enters and emerges from the labyrinth in the same place.

The author concludes the book with recommendations and resources for those who want to walk the labyrinth and provides a day by day list of his readings in the gospel of Mark. In some ways, it was better that I read his book at a time other than Lent. While it could be helpful to use these reflections during Lent, there is a part of me that is inspired to find my own labyrinth and journal my own reflections, using Scholl’s book not as a devotional, but as a model. We shall see…

Review: At Bertram’s Hotel

At Bertram's HotelAt Bertram’s HotelAgatha Christie. New York: William Morrow Paperbacks, 2011 (reprint).

Summary: Bertram’s is a quietly elegant hotel from the Edwardian era that seems utterly respectable from the outside and yet is the center of a nefarious crime syndicate and a murder late in the story that Miss Marple and Chief Inspector (Scotland Yard) Davy attempt to unravel.

As I noted, this is an unusual Agatha Christie story. The murder occurs late and actually is not at the heart of the plot. This change of pace alone caught my attention, just to see what Christie was up to.

The center of the action is Bertram’s Hotel, a throwback to an Edwardian past. There one receives refined, understated service from the helpful attentions of the commissionaire, former military Michael Gorman, to the tea service with exquisite muffins, to Miss Gorringe’s front desk and Mr. Humfries’ efficient management, to the kitchen which serves a proper English breakfast. It has done so since Miss Marple’s childhood and to it she returns for a holiday. It is a place that the well-to-do visiting London come for good service out of the public spotlight.

Yet things are not as reputable as they seem as Miss Marple soon becomes aware. She runs into old friend Selina Hazy who speaks of all the people she sees who appear to be old acquaintances only to turn out to just look like them. She observes the reckless race car driver Ladislaus Malinowski in a public encounter with his love interest, the adventuress Lady Bess Sedgewick. Then there is the heiress Elvira Blake, in fact the estranged daughter of Lady Sedgewick, eluding her guardians to make an overnight trip to Ireland to make enquiries related to her estate and to make rendezvous with love interests including race car driver Malinowski. She becomes the object of Miss Marple’s grave concern.

While all this is occurring there have been a string of jewel heists, bank robberies and a daring robbery of the Irish Mail train that all seem to be the efforts of a mysterious crime syndicate. Chief Inspector Davy has been charged to discover who is behind this. When absent-minded Canon Pennyfather, a guest at Bertram’sm does not return from a trip to Lucerne for a conference, Davy becomes involved in the investigation, and, as he interviews Miss Marple, who witnessed Canon Pennyfather leaving the hotel the night he was supposed to be in Lucerne, he begins to share Miss Marple’s suspicion that things are not as they seem at Bertram’s and that there is a connection between the rash of crimes and this respectable hotel.

The one murder in this story occurs late as Elvira Blake, who has mentioned fears for her life, is apparently shot at and narrowly missed, only to have Michael Gorman come to her aid, and take a bullet in the chest protecting her. Yet all is not as it seems, neither in this instance nor with the cast of characters at Bertram’s and much of the enjoyment of this story comes from seeing how Miss Marple and Chief Inspector Davy team up to piece together this mystery.

Not all of the reviews I’ve seen of this have been favorable, suggesting a plot that is a bit far-fetched. Be that as it may, I enjoyed the change of pace of a story where a murder was not the center of the plot. Like all Christies, it is a page-turner with interesting characters, a memorable place (Bertram’s), and of course, the inimitable Miss Marple! Great for a summer vacation read.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Family Picnics

Picnic imageIt’s the 4th of July. In about six hours, we are having a picnic at our house. And thinking of this reminds me of all the family picnics at 4th of July gatherings growing up.

For many years, these took place at my grandparents home on Cohasset Drive on the South Side. They had a lovely old home with a second floor screened porch in back and a finished attic. It was a place I loved to explore as a kid.

My grandmother loved to cook, like many other Youngstowners. And it seemed she always pulled out the stops for family picnics. There was usually a couple varieties of homemade potato salad, three bean salads, baked beans, cole slaw, and corn on the cob if she could get it, and strawberry shortcake for dessert with whipped cream (and not the stuff out of a can or tub!).

Grilling was grandpa’s work and he’d always be gathered with the other men around the grill, knocking back some cold ones while the dogs, brauts, and burgers were grilling. It was here that I discovered what a hamburger should really look and taste like, sticking out of the edge of the bun, savoring of the charcoal, juicy and thick, topped with a slice of tomato, maybe an onion, some pickles. As a kid we weren’t choosy though. A hot dog with some relish and mustard was joy on a bun!

After dinner (and there were always chips and my grandmother’s Chex mix to munch on) the guys would set up horse shoe stakes in the back yard and pitch horseshoes. How I looked forward to being old enough to be able to join them! Some years, we would set up a croquet set in the back yard. I loved to “send” my dad or my brother’s ball under the bushes along the side of the yard. Sooner or later they would return the favor.

Meanwhile the women would all be gathered around the picnic table sipping tea or lemonade. I wasn’t a part of these gatherings so only the Lord (and other women) knows what they talked about!

As twilight came everyone gathered around to talk and enjoy the cooling air. Usually there were several citronella candles lit to keep the mosquitoes away. While the adults talked, us kids would get a jar and go catch “lightning bugs” (as we called fireflies). It was always fun to see who would catch most, but you had to remember to put holes in the jar lid so they could breathe. I had a cousin who forgot this and went to look at his lightning bugs the next morning only to find “they all woke up dead!” Sometimes, we’d make our own “lightning” with sparklers, especially to celebrate the 4th.

If it was the 4th of July, we’d often leave in time to drive over to Rocky Ridge on the West Side to give us a good view of the fireworks display at Idora Park. You could look across Mill Creek Park and get a great view of all but the ground level fireworks.

We weren’t a big family and so we could gather in a backyard. Others had their picnics in Mill Creek Park or even reserved one of the shelters in the park for their gatherings. What all these had in common was a day away from work and the routines of life. It was a time to remember that life is good, that even for all our contentions, family is family, and that America was a great place to live.

Happy 4th of July to all my Youngstown friends! Hope it is a day of fun gatherings and good eating!

Doubt. . . And Belief

"C.s.lewis3". Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

C.s.lewis3“. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

One of the most troubling experiences for those of us who are people of faith comes when we face serious questions and doubts about that faith. Most often, these come unbidden. It may simply be that life happens and we wonder, “how can this be true and yet there be a good God?” It may be that we are pursuing a line of intellectual inquiry related to our calling and suddenly come smack up against something that poses questions about what we believed to be true–whether this concern the origins of life, or the nature of human freedom, or the rightness of certain convictions and the ways in which we have lived these out.

I think there are at least two aspects to what troubles us in these situations. One is that something, or even Someone, we have cherished as true and real is called into question–perhaps even the very existence of what we have loved is questioned. We do not want to lose what we have so loved, and has so made sense of our lives. The other troubling aspect for many of us, I think, is that we suspect that it is wrong, or there is something wrong in us, to have these questions and doubts.

In a book on C. S. Lewis, I came across some statements I find very helpful on this topic of doubt and belief. Lewis held that, “If it’s not true, God does not want you to believe it.” Clearly belief to him was not “believing in that which you know is not true.” Lewis rather believed in the thoughtful but not frantic effort to resolve the questions and doubts we face. He wrote, in a letter to Rhona Bodle:

don’t mean by this that you should cease to study and make enquiries: but that you should make them not with frantic desire but with cheerful curiosity and a humble readiness to accept whatever conclusions God may lead you to, (But always, all depends on the steady attempt to obey God all the time. ‘He who does the will of the Father shall know the doctrine.’)”

At another point he also writes her:

“No one can make himself believe anything, and the effort does harm. Nor make himself feel anything, and that effort also does harm. What is under our control is action and intellectual inquiry. Stick to that.”

From this I draw several insights that I have found helpful:

1. Implicit in all this is that doubt for Lewis is part of the life of faith, not antithetical to it. The antithesis of faith is unbelief, a refusal to act upon what one is convinced is true.

2. We cannot make ourselves not doubt and the frantic effort to do so only makes things worse, not better.

3. Nor should we go to the other extreme and make doubt a fashionable way station, something to be celebrated. Sometimes I fear that it is more preferable these days to talk about what we doubt and question, than what we believe and embrace, as if the latter person must always be a bit narrow-minded lacking in intellectual acuity or sensitivity.

4. Intellectual honesty is important. This means an openness to the truth, whatever that turns out to be, whether it confirms, re-shapes, or overturns what we have believed. Lewis never wanted people to believe if the evidence against their faith was stronger than that for it. At the same time, Lewis thought we should continue in our beliefs unless we were presented with cogent reasons to change them, even when we have questions and doubts.

5. For Lewis, part of the answer is disciplined intellectual work–meeting the doubts head on. Rarely do we come upon a question that others have not wrestled with, often deeply. No where is this more true than in the Bible itself. Philip Yancey makes the observation in a very thoughtful post on this subject that none of the famous atheists of the past or present raise questions that have not been raised and wrestled with in the pages of scripture. Beyond this, there are thoughtful people who have written on most of the questions that we face. To search prayerfully looking for God to give illumination about the things we struggle with is not to force a resolution but rather to express faith that God may meet us in our search.

6. The other part is disciplined obedience in what we know. The great command to love God and love our neighbor is not suspended by our doubts. Continuing in our own reading and prayer, our worship, our community with others and service are all ways we walk in the way of God who ultimately is the one to address our doubts.

What Lewis’s counsel emphasizes is that faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive. By “action and intellectual inquiry” we are expressing a trust that God rewards those who seek and who come to God with their questions. What I also appreciate is the recognition that belief is not merely a matter of intellectual assent but rather a deepening relational trust–a movement from believing “in” God to believing God, as we would a spouse or friend we trust deeply because of all we’ve shared together. What Lewis commends is an approach to doubt meant to take us into the knowing and being known that is the deepest longing of human beings, something never easily won, but worth the effort.

Thank You, Gladys Hunt!

Keith and Gladys Hunt in the dining room at Cedar Campus

Keith and Gladys Hunt (c) InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, used with permission.

Yesterday, I came across a video on Youtube about the importance of reading, even ten minutes a day, to children. Unfortunately, it felt to me that the message of the video was fairly negative: read to your children or this is what will happen! We had a very different experience of reading aloud in our family when our son was growing up and this was, at least in part, thanks to Gladys Hunt.

Gladys Hunt passed away five years ago this Saturday, July 4, 2010. I first came to know her as part of the husband and wife team of Keith and Gladys Hunt who helped develop from its very beginnings, a conference center  known as Cedar Campus, located at the eastern end of the Les Cheneaux islands chain in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, owned by the organization for which I work.

Many of us knew her as “Rusty” for her auburn hair. She was not only involved in developing this facility and actively engaged in Christian ministry among university students, she was a writer who authored over twenty books during her lifetime. She was also a person who shared her love of reading first with her family, and then with students and staff who visited Cedar Campus as well as many others who came to know her through her books. Her husband became a co-conspirator in this enterprise, often reading aloud to groups of us by a fireplace the Winnie the Pooh stories of A.A. Milne. I had never discovered these stories as a child and delighted as much as the children in the adventures of Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet and Christopher Robin. We learned that these readings began in their own family circle, and eventually came to include the rest of us!

Honey for a Child's HeartWe learned more of the story of the Hunt family’s experiences of reading aloud through her book Honey for a Child’s Heart. The book describes their experiences as a family reading through The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, The Little House books, and many others. We learned of the joy of the memories of good books shared with one another. We learned of the most important criteria for a children’s book: that it not only be suitable for the age of the child but also one that adults would enjoy reading. And the book offered us a wonderful list of book recommendations by age group that we used to find books to read aloud in our own home. All of this contributed to the cherished memories of reading aloud at night before bed, snuggled on the sofa in our guest room.

On visits to Cedar Campus when our son was young “Rusty” would talk with our son about what he was reading, really just two friends talking about the books they loved. When he was older, Gladys was working with good friend Barbara Hampton on revising a book that was subsequently titled Honey for a Teen’s HeartThey asked him to contribute his own ideas of good books and his name even appears in the acknowledgements!

On this fifth anniversary of Gladys Hunt’s passing, it seemed a good time to express my profound appreciation for the love of reading aloud as a family that she imparted to so many of us. We still read aloud at times to each other on trips. Just last night my son dropped by and part of the conversation was on books we were reading. Reading aloud when our son was growing up didn’t simply save him from illiteracy. It provided a rich wealth of shared memories of family closeness and good books enjoyed together.

Thank you, Gladys Hunt!

The Month in Reviews: June 2015

Hands down, I think I read some of the best books I’ve read in 2015 during June. From a Pulitzer Prize winner that lived up to its reputation to a David McCullough biography of two heroes from my own state to a classic of environmental writing to a significant book on spiritual friendship, I read some great books! In addition, I just finished a book on leisure and spirituality and an older book on the academic vocation that is still quite relevant in upholding the worth of teaching. So with that preview, here’s the list (all links are to the full reviews on this blog):

Preaching with AccuracyLet Creation Rejoice1. Preaching with AccuracyRandal E. Pelton. This book contends that to preach with accuracy, one needs to find the big idea in the text, but not only that, to understand that idea in the context of the book, and ultimately all of scripture, which means connecting it to the person and work of Christ.

2. Let Creation RejoiceJonathan Moo and Robert S. White. A scientist and a theologian get together to assess both environmental trends and biblical teaching and contend that there are reasons for serious concern, concerted action, and because of the gospel, for hope.

Spiritual FriendshipAll the Light We Cannot See3. All the Light We Cannot SeeAnthony Doerr. Two teenagers, a blind French girl, Marie-Laure, and a German orphan, Werner Pfennig, with a gift for radio electronics, are brought together at the end of World War 2 through underground radio broadcasts by her great-uncle of recordings by her grandfather while a dying German Sergeant Major seeks a treasure in the girl’s possession. This won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

4. Spiritual FriendshipWesley Hill. This is an exploration of the place of friendship in the life of the Christian, particularly its importance for those who chose, either because of sexual orientation, or other reasons to live celibate, chaste lives.

Silent SpringGrassroots5. Silent SpringRachel Carson. This classic of environmental writing made the case that pesticides were rendering harm to just about everything in the American landscape, including human beings, except for the pests targeted by these chemical poisons.

6. Grassroots Asian Theology, Simon Chan. In contrast to the growing list of “contextual” Asian theologies out of academic “elitist” settings, Chan explores the Asian theologies implicit in the popular church movements and writers in the Asian context, and particularly the significance of Pentecostal theology.

Words of LifeThe Wright Brothers7. The Wright Brothers, David McCullough. The author traces the Wright brothers successful efforts to develop the first powered aircraft to successfully, fly from their home town bicycle shop in Dayton, to their trials at Kitty Hawk, to their global success. The book also highlights the importance of their sister Katherine throughout their efforts.

8. Words of LifeTimothy Ward. A Reformed treatment of the doctrine of scripture that begins from a study of scripture’s teaching about itself, moves to a Trinitarian theology of scripture and finally explores the classical affirmations about scripture. Another significant aspect of this book is its incorporation of “speech-act” theory which Ward uses to delineate the relationship of God and the Bible.

ExilesPrivate Doubt, Public Dilemma9. Exiles From Eden, Mark R. Schwehn. Chronicles a shift in the academic vocation from one of formation of the mind and character of students to one of making knowledge, reflecting a change from religiously shaped values to a valuing of formal and procedural rationality, and from an integral sense of self to a multiplicity of “selves.”

10. Private Doubt, Public DilemmaKeith Thomson. This book, drawn from Thomson’s 2012 Terry Lectures, explores the conflict between religion and science through a look at two men who struggled with this conflict, Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Darwin, considering how they handled scientific findings that conflicted with their beliefs and the public aftermath and expresses hope for a different engagement in the future.

Leisure and Spirituality11. Leisure and SpiritualityPaul Heintzman. An exploration of the connection between leisure and spirituality from a Christian perspective, considering contemporary and classical concepts of leisure, the perspective on leisure we may gain from the Bible, and the author’s own synthesis and critique of leisure concepts, biblical material and contemporary research.

Best of the Month: I had several choices but will say Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Can See. In my review I wrote, “Doerr is a master painter with words, with all the strokes falling just as they should.”

Quote of the Month:  The Buckeye in me can’t resist this one from The Wright Brothers by David McCullough:

“If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.” –Wilbur Wright

Right now, I am reading an Agatha Christie mystery, some historical fiction by Sharon Kay Penman, a book on C.S. Lewis’s writing on the spiritual life, and one on walking the labyrinth. A reading group I’m in is going through a collection of Spurgeon sermons that I will finish in late July-early August. Also look for a review of Rachel Held Evans Searching for Sunday in July.

Summer is a time to relax and replenish the well. Books are just one of the things that help with that, but what fun it can be to lose oneself in a good one! I’ve been fortunate to find several.

All “The Month in Reviews” posts may be accessed from “The Month in Reviews” link on the menu bar of my blog. And if you don’t want to wait a month to see my reviews, consider following the blog for reviews as well as thoughts on reading, the world of books, and life.

Review: Leisure and Spirituality

Leisure and SpiritualityLeisure and Spirituality by Paul Heintzman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015.

Summary: This book explores the connection between leisure and spirituality from a Christian perspective, considering contemporary and classical concepts of leisure, the perspective on leisure we may gain from the Bible, and the author’s own synthesis and critique of leisure concepts, biblical material and contemporary research.

Leisure and spirituality. For some, the only relation between these two words is that of an oxymoron. And that may be our problem. Gordon Dahl, one of the early writers on leisure and play noted that most people, “tend to worship their work, to work at their play, and to play at their worship.” Paul Heintzman, a leisure studies professor at the University of Ottawa, has given us a measured, clear and thoughtful assessment of the contemporary, classical, and biblical material related to these ideas along with findings from contemporary research in this field.

The book begins by exploring concepts of leisure and their contemporary expressions, outlining seven conceptions: leisure as a state of being, leisure as non-work activity, leisure as free time, leisure as a symbol of social class, leisure as a state of mind (flow experiences for example), feminist conceptions of leisure, and holistic leisure. He explores the history of the leisure concept which he sees expressed both in Greek and monastic Christian circles as contemplation, a state of being; and leisure as activity, the primary conception of leisure in the Reformation and Renaissance, conceiving of work as primary and leisure as restorative.

Heintzman turns to the biblical material beginning with the commands around sabbath and its support of an egalitarian view of life, a rhythm of work and rest, and qualitative renewal and celebration. He explores the use of “rest” in the Bible and finds again a qualitative emphasis on the enjoyment of peace, abundance, and freedom, centered around a secure relationship with God in Christ. He then considers other related words, most notably the use of schole’ in the Septuagint translation of Psalm 46:10, rendering it, as Josef Pieper did, “have leisure and know that I am God.” which certainly supports a contemplative notion of leisure. He also notes in Israel’s festivals a more active expression of leisure. He follows this with an exploration of work in the Bible and its relation to leisure.

In the concluding chapters of the book, he applies the biblical material to a critique of the different concepts of leisure, arguing for a holistic view that combines contemplative and active conceptions of leisure. He contends for an identity view with regard to a work-leisure ethic in which work and leisure are not fragmented into separate aspects of a life but experienced simultaneously by whole persons, where we “rest in our work”. He then turns to eight processes that have been found in research to enhance spirituality, considers how these help in coping with stress, and concludes with arguing for the mean found in the book of Ecclesiastes between hedonistic pleasure seeking and compulsive workaholism–the enjoyment of the goodness of our lives in rhythms of work and rest.

This is an important work in several ways. I did quite a bit of reading on the theology of work in the 1980s, covering the ground Heintzman covers. What I discovered, and Heintzman confirms in his literature review, is that little has been written in this area since then and so this book explores work, rest and leisure for a new generation. In addition, Heintzman gives us a thorough and clear overview of conceptions of leisure including those of Veblen on the leisure class, and feminist perspectives, that might not be as commonly considered. What I found most valuable, however, was the latter part of the book where Heintzman gives his own critique and synthesis of all this material. The eight practices he advocates out of his research may be helpful for those who engage in spiritual direction or retreat planning as well as those leading recreation programs, particularly in Christian settings. Many of us still struggle with reconciling the ideas of leisure and spirituality. After reading Heintzman’s book, these are a bit less of an oxymoron for me.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Review: Private Doubt, Public Dilemma

Private Doubt, Public DilemmaPrivate Doubt, Public Dilemma by Keith Thomson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.

Summary: This book, drawn from Thomson’s 2012 Terry Lectures, explores the conflict between religion and science through a look at two men who struggled with this conflict, Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Darwin, considering how they handled scientific findings that conflicted with their beliefs and the public aftermath and expresses hope for a different engagement in the future.

Are science and religious belief in conflict? Certainly much of the history of the last couple centuries would suggest this is the case. What Keith Thomson does is examine this conflict, not as two blocks of people opposed to one another, but in terms of what happens when scientific findings conflict with one’s established beliefs, creating both personal doubts and a public dilemma when one publishes these findings, knowing they will conflict with the beliefs of others.

Thomson uses two figures to portray this conflict: Thomas Jefferson and Charles Darwin. For Jefferson, as he was compiling his Notes on the State of Virginia, the issue was geology and the apparent great age of rock formations he was studying. Privately, Jefferson had moved from Christian faith to a vague deism, even as these findings challenged prevailing interpretations. In his case, however, he recognized that this gave his political rivals an issue and he decided to leave the matter unresolved and publicly espoused more conventional beliefs.

A similar issue faced Darwin, who at one time considered training to be a clergyman. As he came to write On the Origin of the Species, he also struggled with the implications of the theory he was proposing which denied the special creation of different kinds of species but argued that processes of natural selection could account for the rise of different species. Darwin was so troubled by all this that he relied on others to publicly defend his ideas, Aldous Huxley against Bishop Wilberforce in England, and Asa Gray against Louis Agassiz in the United States.

Thomson argues that the public debates and dilemmas are a public manifestation of the clash between old and new knowledge and between differing sources of authority rooted in the new (scientific) and old (religious) knowledge. His hope seems to be that in time, the influence of the old authority will lessen and that religious people and scientists will co-operate on a broad range of issues from climate change to biotechnology.

What troubled me was not so much the places where science and religion conflict about understanding of the physical world. Even in Darwin’s time, theologians like B.B. Warfield were responding cogently and with an openness to the “new” scientific knowledge. Rather, it is the assumption that religion should step aside with its ethical reservations when science asserts that something both can and ought to be done. His treatment of contraception is a case in point. While I think there could be a place for dialogue with the Roman church about its categorical refusal to permit contraception by other than natural means, I found Thomson’s dismissiveness of the church’s concerns about how contraception results in the “banalization of sexuality” singularly condescending. If religious reservations on other ethical questions raised by new technology and new scientific findings are thus simply brushed aside, there is little hope for a real engagement between thoughtful scientists and religious believers. (I would acknowledge that there are certainly reactionary religious ideologues who resist any advances in science and that these often garner far more media attention than thoughtful religious believers who engage in a far more constructive fashion–Francis Collins and his BioLogos Foundation is a good example of the latter.)

What I think is part of Thomson’s problem in these lectures and this book is that he assumes only two kinds of people: either those who mute their religious beliefs because of their science, and those “fundamentalist” believers who resist the advance of science. What I wish he would have done is highlight those in Darwin’s time and ours who do the far more difficult thing–holding firm religious beliefs and rigorous science in a creative tension, taking a both/and rather than either/or approach. I think such individuals in fact represent the best “way forward” in bridging the divide, perceived or real, between religion and science in a way that allows us to address the greatest hindrances to the flourishing of human beings and the rest of, dare I say it, creation.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher as an ebook via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Swimming Pools

Most of us who grew up in working class Youngstown didn’t have air conditioning back in the Fifties and Sixties. Nor did we have in-ground pools at home. We didn’t belong to swim clubs. Rather a summer afternoon would find many of us from all over the city cooling off at one of the city’s swimming pools:

  • Borts Pool on the west side (pictured above)
  • North Side pool
  • South Side pool
  • Shady Run (Pemberton) also on the south side
  • Lincoln Park on the east side
  • John Chase, near the Westlake Terrace
  • Bailey pool in the McGuffey Heights area

Trust me, I didn’t remember all these pools after all these years but found them on a forum.

When I was growing up, I would walk about a half mile to Borts Swimming Pool practically every summer afternoon and would swim from when they opened until it was time to deliver papers. You could get into Borts Pool back then for a dime! You paid your money and then got a basket and a tag you’d keep. There was a locker room to change in and shower and you turned in the basket with your clothes to the locker boy or girl in charge. Occasionally people had things stolen but I just brought clothes and never had a problem.

Writing from a boy’s perspective, there were three things we’d do at the pool: spend time in the water actually swimming, diving and playing games like water football; tanning (it’s a wonder all of us don’t have skin cancer!); and looking at, talking to (if we had the courage), or even flirting with the girls (something I wasn’t all that good at!). There were always the lifeguards who would blow their whistles or even make us sit out of the water if we got too rowdy in our horseplay. And every half hour or hour (I’m not sure which) a siren would blow and we all had to get out of the water so the lifeguards could make sure no one was in trouble. I can’t remember there being a problem during the years I was there.

These pools always had a lot of chlorine in them and you smelled of chlorine afterwards until you showered. I had brown hair as a kid but it was always blonde by the end of the summer because of the chorine and sun.

Occasionally we went to pools and local lakes outside of Youngstown. Some of the favorites were places like Farmer Jim’s, Firestone Park, Rose Lake and Smelko’s. Sometimes, our families went to lakes further away or places on Lake Erie like Geneva on the Lake, but during the hot summer weekdays, our local pools were the place to cool off.

If you read the list of the pools in Youngstown during the years I was growing up you realize that these reflected the racial segregation in our city at that time. Borts was a “white” pool, as were some of the others on the list, while others served racial minorities. At some level, I have to say I was aware of that and it is one of the darker sides of growing up in working class Youngstown, one I’m not proud of. We still struggle with these issues as a nation and I long for the day when “we shall overcome.”

Nevertheless, children in the various areas of our city had pools within a reasonable distance that they could swim in for a summer for less than $10. Most of these pools were associated with parks and recreation centers that offered all sorts of summer programs for children. While these facilities may not have been the “posh” facilities the well-heeled enjoyed, they made for a rich childhood of experiences for many of us growing up in Youngstown in the Forties, Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies.

One of sad things is that nearly all of these pools have closed. From what I can tell, only North Side Pool is still open. Borts Pool closed in 2010. It makes me curious about where kids go to swim these days, or whether they even have places that are easy and affordable to reach, as we did when we were growing up.

Did you go swimming at one of Youngstown’s pools growing up? Which one(s) and what are some of your memories?

A Vocational Blind Spot

Blind spot test

Blind spot test

At the conference I am attending on the academic vocation, we talked today about a blind spot that occurs in many faith communities. In many of these we look at vocation only in terms of religious vocations or applying to those involved in spiritual ministries.

What is striking is that many of the academics I know see their work as a spiritual calling but often fail to hear any affirmation of this either in their institutions or in their faith communities. And it is not just academics. I’ve know people in the world of business, law, medicine and other fields who see their work as integral to being faithful to a spiritual calling. Sometimes they have been highly successful and impactful in this work. Sadly, in many cases the only affirmation they receive in faith communities is for how much money they contribute, but not for the work they do.

It’s not limited to academics and professionals. I’ve know plumbers and carpenters and electricians and many others who view their work as being “for God.” They seek to do quality work, deal honestly, and serve their customers.

One of our speakers asked the question of what it would mean if we wouldn’t simply feature the people in ministries or religious vocations or trumpet the big donors, but also celebrate the engineers and plumbers, lawyers and electricians, and all the others who are conscientiously offering the gifts of their work to God.

The apostle Paul wrote an early group of Christians saying, “And whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). My sense is that “whatever” encompasses anything not specifically prohibited by the scriptures.

What would it mean if we broadened our sense of calling to encompass “whatever”? What if we honored the intrinsic value of the work people do, and not just what it is “good for”? What if we started affirming the 40 or more hours a week people spent in their workplaces as mattering to God, and not just the few hours they gave to church activity?

What if?