What Brings a Reviewer Joy

Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com

I seem to be getting these more often. Requests from an aspiring author to review their book. I just responded to one. I also interact a good deal with authors, publicists, and publishers. There are some things that bring joy to this task.

  1. When the author does their homework and looks at what I review and helps me identify why their book fits my interests. One of the best books I’ve reviewed from an author contact reflected this. She figured out I liked local authors and regional works in the vein of Wendell Berry’s fiction. In most other cases, I turn the author down.
  2. I love to review books from real friends when the book is a work of quality–well-written about things that matter, fiction or non-fiction. It is fun to bring recognition to their work.
  3. It is a joy when a publicist follows what you’ve reviewed and suggests books from their publishing house in a similar vein.
  4. On some days, it is a joy just to get an answer to a request for a review book. Some larger publishers are very good about this. Some small publishers that need to be good at this just aren’t.
  5. What all this gets at is that one likes to be treated with respect. I’ve done this for seven years, built an audience, put thought into my requests, providing information about my platform and interests in the book. In my case I do it for the love of books, and getting the word out about good ones.
  6. I like getting physical books. If the cover is striking or I’ve been looking forward to getting it, I’ll snap a picture of it and post it on social media. I can’t do that with e-books. On social media, a picture of the actual book just looks better and allows me to promote it more than once. I find it easier to review physical books as well.
  7. I don’t expect to be thanked by the author. Reviewing ethically is a bit of an arms-length task. But I do take joy when an author writes to say I represented their book well and accurately. I try hard to do that because I respect the work of writing and re-writing and re-re-writing that goes into a book. I will say that when I have a pleasurable interaction with an author whose work I’ve liked, I’m more inclined to review their next book.
  8. It is a pleasure to come across a book that is well-written and has a degree of originality–it isn’t a rehash of things you’ve read before with a different cover. It is a joy to come across a new author who does that. It doesn’t happen very often.
  9. Above all, I always enjoy learning that someone who has read one of my reviews acquired, read, and enjoyed the book, and shares with me what it meant to them.

Reviewing does involve a certain amount of work, from scanning catalogues and publications to identify books, responding to queries, actually reading the book (I always read it through, sometimes more than once), writing and editing the review, posting it (I post in multiple places with a reach of over 12,000–without shares), and interacting with comments, sometimes providing more information about the book. Mostly, I do it for the intrinsic satisfaction. But authors, publicists, publishers, and readers can greatly add to the joy, as they often do. Mostly, it just comes down to a little respect. Aretha was right.

Review: A Fatal Grace

A Fatal Grace, Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur, 2006.

Summary: An unliked but aspiring author comes to Three Pines and is murdered in front of a crowd at a curling match yet no one sees how it happened.

CC de Poitiers has just published a book, Be Calm, a mishmash philosophy of enlightenment through the suppression of emotion, symbolized by the color white. She hopes to launch a whole line of fashions and accessories around this idea. Yet for one maintaining control of emotion, she manages to make herself hateful to everyone around her–her lover and photographer Saul, her husband Richard Lyon, her daughter, Crie, and the people of Three Pines, where the family has purchased the old Hadley home.

She manages to disrupt the holiday cheer of the village, first by brutally silencing her daughter’s beautiful singing in church on Christmas eve, and then by dying in front of everyone at a traditional curling match following a holiday breakfast. Only it wasn’t a natural death. It was murder by electrocution, when she stood up to straighten a lawn chair askew. Yet none of the witnesses saw anything, and an electrocution of this sort was difficult to achieve, requiring a number of improbable factors to coincide. Who did this, and how, and why? Several items become key pieces of evidence–an ornament of the three pines with the letter L inscribed, a discarded videotape with one section distorted from repeated pauses, and an old pendant of a screaming eagle.

Gamache is called in, his second case in Three Pines. He had been reading an unsolved case file of a homeless vagrant woman who had been strangled in Montreal. Seemingly unrelated, Gamache and his team will discover the two cases are connected. Gamache will also discover that an earlier effort, the Arnot affair, to deal with corruption in the Surete is not over, that there are maneuverings going on to bring him down. One sign of this was the assignment of Agent Yvette Nichol to his team unrequested after her disastrous performance the last time she was in Three Pines. One compensation is a young detective, Robert Lemieux, who seems a quick study and fits in well with the team.

Some of the finest writing comes in the conversations of Gamache with Emilie Longpre, one of the “Three Graces” painted by Clara Morrow, with evidence of a fourth, missing Grace. The three include her, “Mother” Bea Meyer and Kaye Thompson, friends through life. Emilie is not “L,” whose son died young and was remembered by her for a signature violin piece he’d learned. She had been moved by Crie’s singing, and when she heard CC’s attack on her, was troubled by her failure to come to the unusual girl’s defense.

It’s not all conversation. There are drives through blinding blizzards, the panic of being trapped in a burning house, and a dramatic rescue. There are flashbacks, as Gamache and Jean Guy visit the old Hadley house, which figured in the terrifying ending of the first novel.

Of course there is the wonderful cast of Three Pines, Gabri and Olivier, Peter and Clara Morrow, and the curmudgeonly poet, Ruth Zardo, whose “beer walks” each day are finally explained. For the uninitiated, there is also an introduction to curling, and the high drama of “clearing the house,” which came at the very moment CC was electrocuted.

This was the second of Penny’s Gamache novels, good enough to win an Agatha Award in 2007. One revels in reading a work with no one-dimensional characters but real people with histories, hopes and secret and not-so-secret wounds. What a joy to glimpse the comfortable, companionable relationship of Reine-Marie and Armand, so healthy and “adult.” And despite the fact that it is the site of so many murders, Penny’s description of Three Pines makes it one of the favorite places in fiction where people would love to live. I know I would.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Mineral Ridge

Main Street in Mineral Ridge c. 1915

It is not even a village with its own post office any more. Officially, it is a Census Designated Place. Located along Rt. 46 between Austintown and Niles, as part of Weathersfield Township, many people may not realize what a significant role Mineral Ridge played in the rise of the iron industry in the Mahoning Valley, paving the way in turn for the steel industry.

The name gives a clue. Farmers who settled in the area knew there was coal in the ground. Some had their own small mines for heating and to sell. The coal and iron industry really took off however in the 1850’s when John Lewis, superintendent of the Mineral Ridge Coal Mines, discovered seams of particularly valuable ore, black band iron ore, running through the area. Between 1856 and 1858 Mineral Ridge was transformed from a sleepy little farming community to a boom town with a number of coal and iron ore companies connected David Tod’s mills in Brier Hill and other mills in Niles. The presence of soft coal, block coal and black band iron ore made Mineral Ridge a critical raw resource center for the Valley’s industry. The resulting iron was known as “American Scotch Pig” and “Warner’s Scotch Pig.”

Mineral Ridge map while it was still a village

By the 1880s, many of the mines were closing, though some continued into the 1900’s and were even mined during the Depression for heating. Mineral Ridge ceased to be a village in 1917, becoming unincorporated in February of that year. Nancy Messier, a blogger growing up in Mineral Ridge provides interesting accounts of what it was like to grow up there in the mid-twentieth century, including a list of Mineral Ridge High School graduates from 1881 to 1954, with graduation programs listing local businesses.

The farming history of the community is remembered by the Moss Ancestral Home, a brick salt box structure that was the home of the Moss Family from 1859 to 1899. The mining history is mainly remembered whenever there is a mine collapse. Like much of Mahoning and Trumbull County, not all of the mines have been mapped and sometimes subsidence occurs in locations not previously known of.

The area has not seen the drastic population declines of some areas. The 2000 population of 3,900 has declined slightly to 3,783 in 2020. While Mineral Ridge no longer has a post office, as of the summer of 2020 it has a Post Office Pub. According to a Business Journal story, three local residents, all area business owners, recognized the lack of a family-oriented dining establishment in Mineral Ridge. They built a new restaurant on the site of the old post office, serving an “Americana menu–affordable family dinners with Italian, Irish and Greek influences.” The three owners hope that word will get out across the Valley.

Mineral Ridge played an important role in the Valley’s industrial history. The minerals from which the area gets its name and the workforce they attracted is worth remembering. The Mineral Ridge Historical Society is a local organization formed to preserve and promote the area’s history. Perhaps the next time you are driving on Rt. 46 between Austintown and Niles, you might take some time to notice the place that played such an important part in the Valley’s story.

Review: Enhancing Christian Life

Enhancing Christian Life: How Extended Cognition Augments Religious Community, Brad D. Strawn and Warren S. Brown. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: The authors propose that as persons we are embodied and embedded in particular contexts, but also that extended cognition expands our capacities as we engage our physical and social worlds, with implications for the importance of Christian community.

The authors begin this work by reminded us of the African-American women who served as human computers during NASA’s space projects. Their calculations extended the cognitive capacities of the flight engineers and scientists. The authors argue that our cognitive capacities are not merely a function of our own intellectual achievements but also the social and physical context in which we are embedded as embodied creatures.

An important part of this argument that the authors discuss early in the book has to do with our assumptions about the mind-body relationship. They contend that the philosophical and Christian assumption of mind-body dualism has been problem in directing the focus of spirituality inwardly, ignoring the embodied social context in which we live in the Christian community. Extended cognition recognizes that our embodied relationships with people and the physical environment extend our minds beyond our bodies and enhance our Christian life beyond an inward and private focus.

They explore various ways extended cognition works to nurture “super-sized intelligence” from our families to meetings to psychotherapy and finally the church. They observe that even the seemingly personal spiritual disciplines connect us to the life of the community, our shared faith and commitments. Our praying for others may be understood as believing for them, enhancing one another’s lives as we pray, learn, and act with each other. The stories and traditions of the Christian faith are “mental wikis,” that enhance our abilities to respond to various situations in our lives.

What is compelling about this proposal is that it shifts the locus of our lives from inward private experience to our shared life in the embodied Christian community. What is controversial about this proposal is the non-dualistic assumptions behind it. The authors exchange the term, “Christian life,” for “spiritual life.” What we call “mind,” “spirit,” or “soul” are simply perceptions of neuro-physical processes. Rather than defend this proposal, the authors critique the spirituality that has developed from dualism. Both defense of these ideas, and consideration of their theological implications need to be considered. While not central to this work, one question that arises is that of the intermediate state, our fate between our deaths and the resurrection. If, when we die, all of who we are ceases to exist, then in what sense are we “with the Lord”?

More pertinent to this project is the question of how we engage with God. The discussion of extended cognition mentions a number of other physical beings and objects. While prayer is mentioned, it is spoken of as primarily for others. How does extended cognition work with a being who is defined as “spirit”?

Also, while there is a privatistic spirituality that may be justly critiqued, this seemed to me to be a bit of a straw man. One may think of many examples of dualists who combine deeply inward lives with communal engagement. Henri Nouwen, for one, comes to mind.

Still, whether one accepts the premises of non-dualism or not, the idea of extended cognition, and how our communal life enhances all of us as Christians is worth considering. It is a valuable corrective to a “solitary man” spirituality (my favorite type in my worst moments). It “extends” our biblical understanding of how our lives are interdependent, how deeply we need each other to become all Christ intends us to be.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Is Christianity the White Man’s Religion?

Is Christianity the White Man’s Religion?, Antipas L. Harris. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: Explores and answers the title question, showing the misreading of scripture and the affirmation of diverse cultures in scripture.

“Is Christianity the White Man’s Religion?” This question has been asked and the idea asserted by followers of the Nation of Islam, the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, and the Five Percent Nation, among others. It is a question facing not only Blacks, but also other peoples of color. Antipas L. Harris, the president and dean of the Jakes Divinity School affirms not only the rich heritage of the Black Church but also demonstrates that this assertion seriously misreads the Bible and its affirmation of diverse cultures.

First, though, he shows the seriousness of the challenge. He notes the departure from the church of social justice-minded millenials as they have witnessed evangelical embrace of conservative politics and pushback against peaceful protests, often opposing the affirmation that Black lives matter. He observes the rising interest in alternative religious groups. He pinpoints the need for the church to address the issue of identity. Does Jesus care about people of color? What does the call to share in the holiness of Jesus mean for one’s identity?

He observes how our reading of scripture has been dominated by a white, Eurocentric interpretation when the Bible arises in a very different culture and context and needs to be interpreted based on that context. He contends that the white Jesus of Hollywood is not the darker skinned Jesus of the Near East. Within the New Testament, Christianity spread to Ethiopia and North Africa. The gospel writer Mark was from Cyrene, in northeast Libya. From Genesis to the New Testament, there was a good deal of ethnic mixing, including in the lineage of Jesus with Rahab the Canaanite, Ruth, the Moabite, and Bathsheba whose husband was a Hittite. He also gives the lie to the curse of Ham being upon Blacks and justifying slavery.

He invites us to read the gospels through dark lenses, to consider how the both the jubilee message of Jesus and his sufferings resonated with former slaves and those who faced the lynching tree. He concludes with inviting us to see the colorful Bible, and to take this message to the streets, to partner with parachurch organizations (PCO’s) to reach disaffected youth, and that Christian leaders must focus on the humility of Jesus and “redeem the faith from perceptions that it’s no more than a mechanism of power in the hands of good ol’ boys.”

Each chapter concludes with a brief “Living it Out” reflection. A strength of this book is that it distills the best of good scholarship to answer the charge that Christianity is the white man’s religion.” It is a good book to read with someone asking the question. Yet this is far from a sterile argument. Harris invites each of us, black or white, to read the Bible with new glasses, to see how God extends his love across diverse peoples and cultures and that the message of the Bible is good news for people of every color. And he invites us to allow that reading to change us.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Rostnikov’s Vacation

Rostnikov’s Vacation (Porfiry Rostnikov #7), Stuart M. Kaminsky. New York: Mysterious Press/Open Road Media, 2012.

Summary: Rostnikov, on vacation in Yalta, learns that the death of a fellow investigator on vacation was murder, and that top investigators throughout Moscow are being sent on vacation at the time of a major political rally.

Porfiry Rostnikov is on vacation in Yalta. Rather, he was sent on vacation. He accepts it because it is a chance for recuperation of his wife, Sarah, from brain surgery. He meets another investigator, Georgi Vasilievich, has pleasant conversations with him in the evenings, until Vasilievich turns up dead from an apparent heart attack, only it turns out to be murder. The signs show that his killers inflicted painful interrogation first, and searched his room.

Meanwhile, his assistant Emil Karpo is investigating the murder of an East German, until he is also ordered on vacation. He stretches his departure to finish his investigation while the others on the team pursue a band of computer thieves preying on Jewish computer specialists, resulting in Sasha Tkach discovering he is all too human, failing his partner Zelach, who winds up in the hospital. He ends up joining Karpo.

What is it Vasilievich had discovered? What connection did this have with all the top investigators around Moscow being sent on vacation? Who was doing this and why, in a Moscow caught in a power struggle between Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin? And why does all this coincide with a major political rally?

You probably have a sense of where this is going. That’s what made this diverting rather than riveting. You want to see how Rostnikov and his team figure out what’s going on. There are predictable instances of things being not as they seem. Perhaps one of the reasons Kaminsky sends Rostnikov on vacation is it offers a chance to develop other characters on the team–Tkach, Karpo, and even Zelach.

This was not the most outstanding in the series. Kaminsky develops Rostnikov’s team, explores the labyrinthine maneuverings of the Kremlin with an engaging enough plot to hold your interest. Sometimes, that’s all a book needs to do.

Review: Caste

Caste: The Origins of our Discontent, Isabel Wilkerson. New York: Random House, 2020.

Summary: Proposes that American society throughout our history has been structured around a caste hierarchy, showing the character, costs, and hope for a different future.

“Caste” is a social reality in countries like India, right? True, but Isabel Wilkerson argues and shows in this new book that a caste system is embedded in American society. She defines caste as “a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it.”

She traces the development of caste from the subjugation of the first Africans brought to Virginia in 1619, the institution of slavery and the legal structures that sustained it, the institution of Jim Crow, resistance to de-segregation and civil rights that, and the contemporary backlash against minorities and immigrants and voter suppression efforts. Bluntly put, all of these efforts, even in the face of growing populations of people of color, are designed, Wilkerson maintains to maintain the supremacy of whites, even lower class whites, within the caste system.

Perhaps one of the most chilling chapters in this work is where she documents how Nazi Germany studied the American subjugation of blacks under Jim Crow to develop their own models to subjugate and eliminate the Jewish population through “legal” means. She cites the common and public use of lynching to “keep blacks in their place.” She tells stories, including personal narratives, to illustrate her contentions. She compares the prevalence of chronic diseases among African Americans and Africans who have far lower incidences.

One story that I found gripping took place in my hometown of Youngstown. Al Bright, a black child who later founded Youngstown State’s Black Studies program and was a gifted artist, played on a championship winning Little League team, the only black on the team. When his team was treated to a picnic and pool outing, Bright was banned from the pool. Eventually when parents and coaches protested, Bright was allowed to float on a raft, not touching the water, towed around the pool by the manager after all the other white children vacated the pool. Scenes like this were not uncommon in the North in the 1950’s. It was thought Blacks would contaminate the pool.

In the central section of the book, she delineates “Eight Pillars of Caste,” showing how these manifest in the U.S.:

  1. Divine Will and the Laws of Nature
  2. Heritability
  3. Endogamy and the Control of Marriage and Mating
  4. Purity versus Pollution
  5. Occupational Hierarchy: The Jatis and the Mudsill
  6. Dehumanization and Stigma
  7. Terror as Enforcement, Cruelty as a Means of Control
  8. Inherent Superiority versus Inherent Inferiority

She concludes the work by discussing the backlash to the Obama election, the election of Donald J. Trump, and how these reflect the continued need to maintain the caste structure. She traces the great costs of this structure and ends on a note of hope for a post-caste America.

I found the argument persuasive. What is striking is how excluded eastern and southern Europe ethnic groups could be included under the white umbrella, joining northern Europeans, but Blacks, who have been here far longer continue to face efforts to subordinate and subjugate them. I would like to embrace Wilkerson’s hope, and think we can never give up such hope and keep fighting for that hope. But watching America in 2020, I find myself troubled that we could descend into widespread civil disorder, even civil war, but across the fault lines of caste rather than geographic lines. I suspect many never thought civil war could happen in 1861. It did, and it can. I think the sun is setting on our opportunities to heal the long-standing divisions of caste. We can’t heal what we don’t acknowledge. Wilkerson offers us a clear diagnosis. We must decide whether we’ll act.

Review: The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit (Theology for the People of God), Gregg R. Allison & Andreas J. Kostenberger. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2020.

Summary: First in a new series, a biblical and systematic theology of the Holy Spirit, evangelical and continuationist, but not pentecostal.

If the inaugural volume of this new series, “Theology for the People of God,” is any indication, this should be an outstanding set. Each volume pairs two theologians, one in biblical theology, and one in systematic theology to provide an integrated approach deeply rooted in the biblical text.

This approach forms the organization of this book in which the first half is devoted to biblical theology, carefully considering each relevant text on the Holy Spirit in each book and major portion of scripture, followed by synthesizing the teaching of all of scripture on various theological aspects of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It is an approach that is thorough, covering the ground, while providing notes and references for those who wish to dig deeper.

A few highlights for each part. In the biblical theology section, each chapter, or sometimes, subsection, provides a chart with all the references to the Holy Spirit and a phrase summarizing the content. One old Testament highlight was the discussion of the Holy Spirit in Isaiah, anointing the Messiah, and empowering the servant of the Servant Songs to bring good news to the poor, and the Spirit’s role in the new exodus and the new creation.

The New Testament portion was lengthier, with treatment of the gospels, Acts, the Pauline works, the general epistles, and Revelation. Kostenberger summarizes the Spirit’s work in Acts with seven points that will preach!

  1. The Spirit is a person and clearly divine.
  2. The Spirit establishes the eschatological messianic community of the exalted Jesus.
  3. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of mission.
  4. The Spirit fills all believers.
  5. The Spirit is the Spirit of prophecy.
  6. The Spirit convicts people and holds them to moral standards.
  7. The Holy Spirit directs the affairs of the church.

The section on systematic theology left me at times worshiping God the Spirit and our wondrous Triune God. After an introduction laying out methodology and themes, Allison begins with the deity, the intratrinitarian relations and trinitarian processions. Careful discussion delineates both the inseparability of the works of Father, Son, and Spirit, and yet what may be said to be specific to each. Then, in successive chapters, the author discusses the Spirit in creation and providence, in relation to the inspiration and illumination of scripture, a fascinating chapter distinguishing the Spirit and angelic beings, the Spirit’s relation to human beings and sin, the Spirit’s work Christ, salvation, the church, and the future. The author addresses contemporary issues in pneumatology (the three ages, Spirit-emphasizing movements, and the Spirit and theology of religions). The concluding chapter is applicative, addressing our worship of the Spirit, our reliance on the Spirit’s illuminating work, our thanksgiving for the Spirit’s application of Christ’s work in our life, and keeping in step with and being guided by the Spirit.

The book is marked by a clarity of language and explanation and summary throughout, making this a great text for a course in theology or for the lay person wishing to understand more deeply the person and work of the Spirit. One possible criticism of the work is little engagement with theologians in the developing world. Inclusion of theological discussions and issues outside the white European and North American contexts will make this a more broadly useful text. The authors do engage pentecostal and charismatic theology, appreciative of the emphasis on the ministry of the Spirit, affirming, against some Reformed understanding, the continuation of the gifts and empowering work of the Spirit for mission. However they would associate the baptism of the Holy Spirit with conversion and not as a second and subsequent act. The response is gracious, and they denounce the vitriol that has often existed. The concluding pastoral applications are worth the price of the book.

In sum, this book sets a high bar for this series, marked as it is by an approach in which systematic theology is built on biblical theology. It models this work well for young pastors and theologians and offers the clarity of teaching that both preserves doctrinal integrity, and warmth of devotion.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Liberty Township

By P. J. Browne, surveyor [2] – Map of Trumbull County, Ohio (Philadelphia: Gillette Matthews & Co., 1856) [1] hosted at Newton Falls Information Network, Public Domain,

I don’t think I realized until I was older that Liberty Township wasn’t part of Youngstown. As a kid, we used to go to church picnics at Churchill Park. In high school, a girl I dated for a bit lived in Liberty. I remember walking from her home to the Liberty Plaza to watch Let it Be. That was probably bad luck. We broke up shortly after watching the movie about the break up of the Beatles. In later years my wife and I got meals at the Bob Evans and at Kravitz’s Deli (one of my dad’s favorites), and at Station Square with friends. All those places are in Liberty Township.

Liberty Township isn’t a part of Youngstown. It isn’t even part of Mahoning County, but rather Trumbull County. But I’m not the only one to connect them. Local historian Howard C. Aley writes,

No other community on Mahoning County’s perimeter has quite the same unique relationship that exists between Liberty Township and its neighboring political subdivision to the south. Contrary to Robert Frost’s neighbor who contended that “Good fences make good neighbors,” there are no fences between Liberty Township and the Youngstown boundary lines, and the communities are, indeed, good neighbors.

Aley wrote this in 1976. Much has changed and I wonder whether the two communities would still think this way, but it does illustrate the close connection. At one time, some of the elite Youngstown families had estates in Liberty Township–the McKelveys, the Logans, the Andrew, the Wicks, and the Stambaughs.

Liberty Township Map from 1918

Did you know that Liberty Township is one of 25 Liberty Townships in Ohio? We live just south of one near Columbus, also in a neighboring county. It was one of the five by five mile townships laid out in the survey of the Western Reserve, west of Hubbard and east of Weathersfield Township. And if you remember, Youngstown, just to the south was at one time part of Trumbull County until Mahoning County was created in 1846. Liberty Township was established in 1806, though settled as early as 1798.

Present day Liberty Township consists of the Village of Girard and unincorporated township lands. At one time there were also villages of Churchill, Sodom, and Seceders Corners. Churchill is a Census Designated Place to this day. The others have disappeared.

Peter Kline

Much of the land outside of Girard was farmland. In 1860 coal was discovered on Alexander McCleery’s farm. Peter Kline, son of one of the leading families in the area amassed the largest farm in Liberty Township, bordering on Churchill, with 700 acres, much of which was devoted to livestock. He also had the good fortune of having coal discovered on his land, mined by Tod, Stambaugh, & Co. At one time 17 mines were operating in the township. Samuel Goist’s farm was a stopping point on the Underground Railroad.

The township is led by elected township trustees and a financial officer. Outside of Girard, the education is provided by the Liberty Township School District including E. J. Blott Elementary School, William S. Guy Middle School, and Liberty High School. Former director of the Ohio Department of Health Amy Acton, who led the state’s early response to COVID-19, is a Liberty High School graduate.

Liberty Plaza, probably in the 1960’s. Photo by Hank Perkins, used with permission of the Mahoning Valley History Society Business and Media Archives collection (http://mahoninghistory.org).

The complexion of the southern part of Liberty Township along Belmont Avenue has changed. Liberty Plaza was one of the premiere shopping centers in the area at one time. Now the area is a Walmart and a small strip of stores. At the same time, a complex of restaurants and lodgings have sprung up around the I-80 interchange with Belmont. Further south, Jack Kravitz continues to serve up some of the best deli food in the area. And to the north, the township retains its rural character.

Liberty Township. Youngstown’s near neighbor. Stop off place for interstate travelers. Gateway to rural northeast Ohio.

Redeeming Social Media During an Election Year

Source unknown

Redeeming social media. Many would consider that a quixotic endeavor, especially in an election year. The meme above, which has been circulating on Facebook is an example. I posted it yesterday on Facebook and indicated it reflects my own social media philosophy.

Post wisely over the next months. Someone who commented suggested pausing before speaking, especially when in doubt. I’ve reminded people on my Bob on Books Facebook page that we don’t have to say everything we think. Herbert J. Taylor formulated a 4 Way Test for communications in his company, Club Aluminum back in the 1950’s which was eventually adopted by the Rotary.

  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Imagine using this test on everything you post on social media.

Contribute to discourse, not division. We have to seriously consider the implications of all our “us versus them” rhetoric, and often how we pigeonhole and caricature “them.” Are we really interested in dialogue? Do we just exchange slogans and gaslighting tropes? Or do we ask questions, explore reasons, and find out if there are common ground concerns? For example, I think both left and right are concerned about where the country is going. What if we accepted that we all love the country and then listened to each other’s concerns?

Check your facts. So many news stories being circulated on social media are based on dubious information. You might check several fact-checking sites, and if there is evidence that they are false, even if they conform to your political ideas, posting is passing along lies. Realize that much of this material may be generated by foreign entities trying to shape the election. I use reputable news media from different perspectives from the Wall Street Journal to the Washington Post. When they agree, there is a pretty good basis for them being accurate. If you see blatant falsehoods, report them to social media admins.

Resist memes and cheap digs. Other than the one above, I rarely post memes, and never cheap ad hominem attacks. I don’t comment on them unless it seems beneath the dignity of a friend posting it because that just draws attention to the meme. Stuff doesn’t stay in a newsfeed if no one likes or comments on it.

Create beautiful content. This is a challenging time to think about beauty with fires, disease, and political discord. On my book page, we just stay away from all that and are reminded of the good, true, and beautiful in literature. I post prayers to give words to spiritual longings, and humor because I think it helps to have a good laugh. Sometimes I post music, looking forward to the day I will be able to join others in song. Remembering beauty is an act of faith expressing the hope that beauty will prevail.

We can transcend the bitterness and be better, even when we disagree. Some would have us believe that those who disagree with us are nasty or deplorable. Our current political climate thrives on creating tribes that believe they are the only real human beings around and the others subhuman at best. If we believe all are created equal, that all are created in the image of God, that every human being, imperfectly to be sure and to various degrees, reflects something of God, then we already have something in common. Indeed, we have the most important of what makes us human in common. We all have dreams, hopes, and struggles, no matter our politics. In truth, our disagreements are often just about politics, which, despite the rhetoric, is only a small part of daily life. Could it be that we give it too much space in our lives, in our heads?

There will be people who use social media to foment discord and spread deceptive stories and malign those who differ. We don’t have to join them. I would suggest we “socially distance” them when they engage in this kind of behavior, and look for ways to build bridges with those who are our friends, when there are chances–an illness, a new baby, a beautiful family picture. Discord and division spread through those who misuse social media to pass toxic material along, in the same way viral infections spread. We can’t eliminate the infection of political discord in social media, but we may “flatten the curve” by consistently pursuing the social hygiene practices in this post.