Reading Reflections: The Crucifixion: Part One

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I’ve taken a break from reviewing new books I’ve received from publishers for a short while to immerse myself in what may be the most significant theological book published in the last ten years. It was Christianity Today’s Book of the Year in 2017. I thought it appropriate in this season of Lent to finally dig into Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion“Dig in” is not inappropriate for this 612 page (plus bibliography and indices) study on the central event of Christianity. The work is made lighter by Rutledge’s elegant and accessible prose–this is a work of meaty theology meant for those in the pew and not merely the academy. It is such a rich book that I thought I would write several reflections in addition to my usual review to capture, at least for myself, something of the richness of this work. This is on the first two hundred pages, most of Part One of the book.

Right at the start, Rutledge contends for the primacy of the cross, and the challenge Christianity has always faced from various forms of gnosticism, and its devaluation of material life, including the very physical act of a crucifixion in history. In place of an action of the Triune God entering human history to make things right by a gory death, human beings prefer systems of attaining to hidden spiritual knowledge through human achievements, and the devaluation of the body. She notes that Christians have even drawn back, sometimes accepting narratives of the cross as divine child abuse, which she will contend reflects neither the shared will and agreement of the Trinity in the act of the cross, nor the object of the cross, making things right for those under the power of Sin.

She made a statement stunning in its clarity in her chapter on “The Godlessness of the Cross.” She writes in response to those who would ban the cross as a religious object that “[t]he cross is by a very long way the most irreligious object to find its way into the heart of faith.” She then explores at length the horror of the cross as an instrument of torture, degradation, and execution for the dregs of criminal society. the significance of the idea of those who die on a cross being under the curse, and explores the question of why God would choose such a horrific form of death to accomplish God’s redemptive purposes in the world. I’ve often asked the question “why did Jesus die?” What this book is challenging me with is the question of why did Jesus die in this particularly gruesome and horrific fashion?

She begins to explore a response to this in discussing the idea of justice. She notes that “[g]ross injustice demonstrates a basic premise: in our world, something is terribly wrong and cries out to be put right.” She uses the example of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to show that “putting things right” involves something far different from the “forgive and forget” idea we sometimes think of in God’s work through Christ. It involves accountable truthfulness about atrocities, both confessing wrongs and hearing from one’s victims. Yet the object isn’t punishment, which can never be proportional to the offenses, but a new creation. She goes on to explore the biblical word group connected to dikaiosyne, variously translated as “justice,” “righteous,” “righteousness,” and “justification.” She contends that the underlying idea is one of God making things right and suggests that “rectify” in its various forms may be a better English word and uses this in the remainder of the book. She argues that the cross is an apocalyptic event–a divine intervention that makes right what could not be made right by human law-keeping.

One of the striking emphases here that I sense will run through the work is the gracious initiative of God. Later, in a chapter on “The Gravity of Sin” (a topic she admits we have a hard time talking about) she contends “[t]here is no way to help people to the knowledge of sin except to offer the news of God’s ‘prevenient’ purpose in overcoming sin through the cross.” Countering our tendency  to put repentance first, she argues for an order of “grace-sin-deliverance-repentance-grace.” It is in grasping the grace of God revealed in the cross that we understand the enormity of our sin. It is understanding the mighty work of the cross in delivering us from the power of sin that we are moved to repentance and realize the sheer pardon into new life we enjoy by grace.

This chapter also develops an idea she has hinted at, of capital S Sin. We often think of particular acts. She develops the idea of Sin as a Power, a principle of rebellion that holds people captive, that there is a power of darkness over the human heart in all of us that helps explain the horrors of what humans do to each other. And it begins to explain why the Triune God chose the instrumentality of the cross to deliver us from this horrid power. This is hard stuff. It strikes me that this helps explain our obsession with explaining why people commit mass shootings and other atrocities. We look for some “reason,” perhaps because we do not want to face the reality of the reason-defying logic of human evil, and the scary possibility that it is not so far from any of us. Yet there is also the wonder that in the Cross, God, in the innocent Son, becomes the object of human evil to set to rights what was terribly wrong in us that we could not self-rectify.

One other aspect of this work, in a “bridge” chapter on Anselm, is that she argues that Anselm has been misunderstood as a proponent of penal suffering. She argues that his idea of “satisfaction” is much closer to what she is proposing as “rectification.” It makes me want to go back and read Cur Deus Homo to see if her reading of Anselm can be supported. In the second part of the book she will go on to discuss eight “motifs” for understanding the crucifixion, including substitution. Given her comments on Anselm, and her sensitivities to the accusations against penal substitution, as well as her defense of the death of Christ as a work of love in which the Triune God acted as one, I am curious how she will weight these different “motifs” (she disdains the terminology of “theories of the atonement”) and what she will conclude. Already, it is clear that for her, this will all point to the idea of rectification, of God putting right what was wrong through Christ.

I don’t know whether I will agree with all that Rutledge writes, but this work forces me to look with fresh eyes at what easily becomes too familiar. She helps us to face the skandalon of the cross lost in our back-lit crosses and eye-catching PowerPoints. She confronts us both with things about human nature that are uncomfortable, and the relentless determination of God to address what is terribly wrong with the world and put it right, which is quite wonderful.

On the TBR Pile: March 2019

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Yesterday, I featured the books I’ve received recently for review. The books I feature today came from bookstores, sometimes at very good prices from a variety of genres: essays, mysteries, science, history and autobiography. They are not the only books waiting to be read around my house, but some of the next ones. But don’t hold me to this! Something more interesting may come up along the way. Like yesterday’s post, I’ve included a link in the title to the publisher’s webpage for the book. I’ll let you decide if and where you will buy them!

The givenness of things

The Givenness of Things, Marilynne Robinson. I love Robinson’s fiction and have appreciated the wide-ranging character of her essays. This is a collection from 2016 and includes a two-part conversation with President Barack Obama. The book was listed on Time’s Top 10 of 2016.

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The Bookshop on the Corner, Jenny Colgan. I enjoy books with plots that center around bookshops. This one is about a former librarian who moves to a small town, buys a van and turns it into a mobile bookshop, and changes life after life as a literary matchmaker.

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Robicheaux, James Lee Burke. A bookseller put me on to James Lee Burke and his detective character, Robicheaux. This is one of his more recent works, in which Robicheaux becomes a suspect in a murder he is investigating.

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The Second Kind of Impossible, Paul J. Steinhardt. This is a kind of scientific quest for a new form of matter by a theoretical physicist. I’m curious to see if he succeeded!

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Indianapolis, Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic. This book has received a lot of attention, making the New York Times bestseller list. It recounts the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in the last month of World War II, the struggle for those who did not immediately die to survive (only 316 out of 1200 do), and the fight to exonerate Captain Charles McVay, who was wrongly court-martialed after the sinking.

i am mulala

I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai. This has been out a while, but I came by it recently. Violence against women is an issue I care deeply about, and I’m also interested in learning more about Pakistan. And I’m drawn by the story of this courageous woman.

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Presidents of War, Michael Beschloss. The author traces the leadership of American presidents throughout the nation’s history, in leading the nation into war and in coping with the pressures of war, successfully or not. The power entrusted to the American presidency to lead a nation into war is significant, particular in a nuclear era as we face choices about who will fill this office.

No doubt, there may be some here you’ve heard about, or even read. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books and look forward to sharing mine over the next month or so. There are so many good things out there to read, aren’t there?

On the Review Stack: March 2019

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The current “review stack”

It has been about a month since I wrote about books on my review stack. Since them, I reviewed most of the previous stack with a few “in process.” Meanwhile, a number of new books have come in, and I wanted to offer you a preview of them. I have not read any of them yet, but wanted to let you know about them in case something here speaks to an interest of yours. I also am excited about all these works and happy to give them an early, and extra shout out.  I am just listing the title and author with a link in the title to the publisher’s web page for the book. So here is the stack from top to bottom!

contentment

The Power of Christian Contentment, Andrew M. Davis. This book reacquaints us with a Puritan work from 1643, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs, and draws insights to speak to our contemporary restlessness.

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None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of GodMatthew Barrett. The author argues that we have tried to domesticate God, something impossible to do when we consider the perfections of God. We may not be able to tame God, but the author contends that we may find him worthy of our worship.

lost world torah

The Lost World of the Torah, John H. Walton & J. Harvey Walton. Another “Lost World” a book from John Walton and his son, J. Harvey Walton. According to the book description, “The objective of torah was to teach the Israelites to be wise about the kind of order needed to receive the blessings of God’s favor and presence within the context of the covenant.”

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Saved by Grace Alone: Sermons on Ezekiel 36:16-36D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I have always loved the expositions of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, former pastor of Westminster Chapel in London. He was renowned for taking a year or more to exposit a book. In this case we have fourteen messages on 21 verses in Ezekiel 36 on what seems a New Testament theme–saved by grace. Intriguing!

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The Great AwakeningJoseph Tracy. A reprint of an 1842 book on the Great Awakening of the 1740’s during the ministries of Whitefield and Edwards. I have found the history of American revivals fascinating, perhaps in my longing that God would favor us with another such season.

Wolterstorff

In This World of WondersNicholas Wolterstorff.  This is a memoir by the Yale philosopher, Nicholas Wolterstorff, someone who has thought deeply about the intersection of philosophy, the Christian faith, and the world of higher education. He is on my list of “contemporary academic heroes” and so I look forward to this memoir!

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A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faithedited by Craig A. Evans and David Mishkin. Following the “roots” theme, the book is organized in soil, roots, trunk, and branches parts, the book explores “Old Testament background, Second Temple Judaism, the life of Jesus, the New Testament, the early Jewish followers of Jesus, the historical interaction between Judaism and Christianity, and the contemporary period.”

Embracing the other

Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love, Grace Ji-Sun Kim. Followers of this blog will recognize that I have reviewed a couple of Grace Ji-Sun Kim books. As an Asian-American woman, Kim explores a theology of gender and racial justice through the work of the Spirit who restores shalom to the world.

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Spiritual Rhythms for the EnneagramAdele and Doug Calhoun, Clare and Scott Loughridge. Written by four certified Enneagram instructors, this book offers a number of exercises for each of the nine Enneagram types to lead to greater self-awareness and transformation in our relationships with God and others. I have friends who have worked with one or the other of these couples and greatly appreciate their wisdom.

All of these are theologically-related books. I do read other things as well, and tomorrow, I’ll preview some of the non-theological books I’m looking forward to reading next — works in history, science, essays, and fiction. Nearly all of these are books I’ve purchased. I haven’t cultivated the same reviewing connections with these publishers, and not all the books are current releases.

Happy reading!

 

Review: Sculptor Spirit

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Sculptor SpiritLeopoldo A. Sanchez M. (Foreword by Oscar Garcia-Johnson). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.

Summary: Starting from a “Spirit Christology,” explores five models by which the Spirit shapes our lives in the likeness of Christ.

For many of us, this work will break ground in two ways. The first is that it will introduce us to the idea of “Spirit Christology.” In the author’s words:

“A Spirit Christology focuses on the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in the life and the mission of Jesus. It asks what the identity of Jesus as the receiver, bearer, and giver of God’s Spirit contributes to our theological reflection and Christian living.”

For Sanchez, this does not replace, but rather complement a “logos Christology,” which focuses on the meaning and nature of the Incarnation, of God become man, the Word become flesh, fully human and fully divine. Rather, to observe what it means for Jesus to live, die, and be raised in the fullness of the Spirit sheds valuable light on how we might be formed in Christ.

This brings us to the second way this book breaks ground. Sanchez proposes five models for the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctifying us, or “sculpting” us in Christ’s image. Each complements the others and is an aspect of this sculpting work. The five models are:

  1. Renewal: The recurring dying and being raised to new life as we return to the cross in daily repentance toward God, reconciliation toward others, and embrace of our new identity in Christ.
  2. Dramatic: This is the model of standing firm when faced with spiritual attacks through dependence upon the Spirit who intercedes for us in prayer and empowers the ministry of the Word and the affirmation of our baptism as a “little exorcism.”
  3. Sacrificial: Attention here is focused on the life of serving with excellence in our callings and sharing through “happy exchanges” of mutual care where we each give what we have and receive what we need in partnerships.
  4. Hospitality: Following the example of Jesus’ hospitality, the practice of welcoming strangers and the marginalized, participating in the Spirit’s work of calling people from the margins.
  5. Devotional: The worship of God through Spirit-given rhythms of work, play, and rest.

In elaborating these models, Sanchez considers pictures of the Spirit’s work in the life of Jesus and elsewhere in scripture, catechetical models drawing upon the early fathers who wrote about the Holy Spirit (Irenaeus of Lyon, Cyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius of Alexandria, Didymus the Blind,  Ambrose of Milan, and St. John Chrysostom). As a Lutheran theologian, he also draws on the theology of Martin Luther, making a case that Luther had a theology of sanctification, as well as one of justification. In his treatment of these theologians, he identifies catechetical images for each model from their writings.

One of the highlights of this work was to view this discussion through the eyes of a Hispanic theologian and church leader. This was most evident for me in the chapter on hospitality, or welcoming the stranger. For example, he writes of the bittersweet and painful experience of mestizaje, the forced coming together of races in the Spanish conquest and colonization of the New World. Despite the violence and even death, under the cross, a new people was created–mestizo people, yes–but also revealing the church catholic–not monocultural or monolinguistic–accepted without shame at the foot of the cross.

Sanchez concludes this work by sketching how these five models help us tell the story of Jesus in the world–how Jesus came filled with and bearing the Spirit, and how the Spirit meets us and forms us in Christ. An appendix offers a chart that summarizes the five models and his elaboration of them and an extensive bibliography is provided.

It has been encouraging in recent years to see the growth in Trinitarian theology. This book is an important contribution in exploring the intimate relationship of Jesus, the Spirit, and the believer. It moves away from inordinate focus on the Spirit or the silence of a binatarian theology. It offers a well-rounded vision of the work of the Spirit in forming us to be like Christ.

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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.

Review: Travel

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Travel: In Tandem with God’s HeartPeter Grier. London: Inter-Varsity Press (UK), 2018.

Summary: A travelogue with a difference, exploring travel from a Christian perspective and how God may work in and through our lives as we travel.

Never has travel to anywhere in the globe been so readily available. In conversations with graduate students, it is not uncommon to hear of people traveling to southeast Asia, central Africa, central or South America, the South Pacific, you name it. Nor is it at all unusual to encounter travelers from all these countries in one’s own. Students and young adults, often unencumbered with jobs and families and able to travel cheaply without concerns for amenities often make the most of these years. What nearly all will tell you is that travel changes you–exposes you to incredible beauties, diverse cultures, and underneath, our common humanity.

What Peter Grier has done in this book is share something of his own travelogue, and how he has reflected as a Christian on his travels, and indeed the role of travel in the Christian narrative. He explores the goodness of travel and the goodness of God’s world while recounting travels to the Arctic Circle.  Alongside travels to China, he reflects on life “east of Eden”–our finite and broken humanity, how we also are “beautiful ruins.” Negotiations in a Middle East market lead to discussions of the difference between honor/shame and innocence/guilt cultures and help us see how the biblical story speaks to people from both. A pair of chapters look at travels in the Old Testament, where people experienced the faithfulness of God, and the New Testament, where travel was connected to the mission of God. A risky journey to Columbia prompts reflections on dying into the Jesus life. The final chapter thinks about the better destination for which we are destined, the identity as one of God’s beloved that this implies, and the freedom to enjoy travel, or not, without wanderlust or a drivenness for experience.

The mix of travel stories, reflections, and biblical reflections help the reader connect to their own travel experiences and musings about life. Each chapter ends with some reflection questions and a prayer that is worth the price of admission. The book lives well in a tension between the goodness of travel and our desire for home and community and nurtures a contentment whether we may travel or not. It helps us listen for God’s invitations in our travel.

The book includes two helpful appendices with travel tips. The first deals with ethical questions like money, photography, environmental sustainability and culture. The second is simply a list of top ten travel tips with everything from a packing list to the encouragements to find out and join in on what God is doing locally at your destination. He also provides a helpful bibliography of recommended reading.

Are you a travel lover? Thinking of some summer or gap year travel? Get this along with whatever travel guides you are buying. Sometimes we leave our faith journey behind when we travel. Peter’s book suggests how both our faith and our travel may be immeasurably enriched when one puts the two together. 

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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.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Irish in Youngstown

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Flag of Ireland

Did you know that an Irishman was among the earliest settlers in Youngstown, and has good credentials to be designated the first permanent resident? Daniel Shehy was born in Tipperary, Ireland in 1756, fled to America during the Revolution, and was part of the team with John Young that surveyed Youngstown in 1796. Young only lived in the town that bears his name temporarily. Shehy acquired land and stayed. The first Catholic services in Youngstown took place in his home, celebrated by Reverend Thomas Martin in 1826. And so began the Irish involvement in Catholic affairs in Youngstown.

Many Irish immigrants came to the Youngstown area with the construction of the Pennsylvania-Ohio Canal in 1839. More came with the construction of railroads in the 1850’s, many fleeing the Potato Famine in Ireland in the late 1840’s. They settled in clusters around the city in Vinegar Hill (around Shehy Street) Bottle Hill (off Albert Street) and in Smoky Hollow and North Walnut Streets, and in the Kilkenny area along Poland Avenue, south of the Mahoning. Further immigrations after 1860 swelled the Irish population in Youngstown to over 5400 by the 1900 census.

The Irish rapidly established a presence in business and safety services, including a number of police and firemen. E. M. McGillen’s department store was the first with electric lighting (later purchased by G. M. McKelvey). James O’Neil opened a dry goods store on the south side of Federal between Hazel and Phelps. James, John, and Patrick Kennedy arrived in Youngstown in 1855 from Tipperary, Ireland and started a prosperous construction business. Patrick M. Kennedy, from this family played an instrumental part in the founding of what became Home Savings and Loan.  John V. McNicholas II came to Youngstown around 1860. His son, J.V. McNicholas III started a moving and transfer company in 1905 that became J.V. McNicholas Transfer Company. When I delivered the Vindicator, J. V. McNicholas had the contract to deliver our papers. The company continues to serve the Mahoning Valley and beyond as Carney-McNicholas.

The Irish, as the earliest group of Catholic immigrants, played a key role in the rise of the Catholic community in Youngstown. Irish Catholics formed the St. Columba’s congregation in 1847, building what would eventually be the cathedral for the Diocese of Youngstown. The Ursuline Sisters led parochial education in the city. The first bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown, James McFadden, was an Irish-American, as were James Malone and Thomas Tobin. Many sons of Irish families served as priests.

Many Irish worked in the coal, iron, and steel industries of Youngstown. One of the most interesting stories I came across was one written by Todd Franko, Vindicator editor on Michael McGovern, known as the “Puddler Poet” (puddlers turned pig iron into wrought iron). Franko dubs him the “Bruce Springsteen of his era” for the labor poetry that he wrote. There is an effort underfoot in Williamstown, Ireland to research his life and work, led by Jim Fahy (there is a .pdf on McGovern’s life written by Fahy available in the Vindicator article). McGovern’s last poetic words are inscribed on the monument where he is buried at Calvary Cemetary:

“Just place a rock right over me,

And chisel there that all may know it.

‘Here lies the bones of M. McG.,

Whom people called the Puddler Poet.’”

I can only scratch the surface of the Irish contribution to Youngstown history. The Mahoning Valley Gaelic Society and The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) and Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians are organized to keep Irish heritage alive. The AOH group in Youngstown may be the first formed in Ohio, in 1865 by John Gallagher, according to this national history. Tom Welsh has written a collection of biographies of the Hogan family and collected a series of oral histories of a number of Irish-Americans from Youngstown at the Steel Valley Archive. There is a valuable published history titled Irish in Youngstown and the Greater Mahoning Valley authored by The Irish American Archival Society and published by Arcadia Press.

As we celebrate another St. Patrick’s Day, it seems fit to celebrate the contribution of Irish-Americans to Youngstown’s history. They are a significant part of the rich ethnic heritage of Youngstown.  Éirinn go Brách!

Sources for this article:

Irish in Youngstown and the Greater Mahoning ValleyThe Irish American Archival Society.

A Heritage to Share, Howard C. Aley, p. 44.

Seeking Youngstown’s Special IrishmanTodd Franko. Vindicator, March 11, 2018.

 

Review: Madison’s Gift

Madison's gift

Madison’s Gift, David O. Stewart. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.

Summary: A biography of our fourth president, through the lens of five key partnerships he formed that helped establish a new nation.

Of the Founders of the United States, James Madison seems always to be somewhat in the shadows of the more brilliant lights of Ben Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and even Alexander Hamilton. He played pivotal roles in the Continental Congress, the drafting and ratification of the Constitution, the establishment of a government under that Constitution, the formation of the first real political party, and helping the country survive a war with a Great Britain that was vastly more powerful. Yet he was soft-spoken, lacking in the skills to be a battle field leader, or the charisma that naturally commanded followings.

David O. Stewart helps us to see that Madison’s gift was his ability to collaborate substantively with personalities often stronger and different than his, bringing his own gifts of political astuteness to those partnerships. Stewart renders the story of Madison’s life through five of these partnerships:

  1. Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton was far more flamboyant but the collaboration of these two in the Continental Congress, staving off soldier uprisings by coming up with financing means, and later, working together to draft the Constitution. They teamed up to write the Federalist Papers, providing a formidable intellectual defense and explication of the Constitution, that resulted in ratification of the Constitution. These Papers continue to be a primary resource for Constitutional scholars. His understanding of human failings and the systems of checks and balances between branches of government, houses of Congress, and federal and state government was perhaps his most profound contribution.
  2. George Washington. As a fellow Virginian, he worked with Washington on everything from Potomac navigation to serving as his adviser while giving leadership in Congress in how to turn the Constitution into a functioning government.  He played a pivotal role in the ratification of the Bill of Rights, without which the Constitution may not have survived.
  3. Thomas Jefferson. Both men were lovers of books, land- and slave-owners troubled with slavery and making ends meet, and Virginians. As they observed the centralizing tendencies inherent in the policies of Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, they came together to form the Democrat Republican party as a check against these tendancies, and effectively collaborated to elect Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe to presidencies spanning 24 years.
  4. James Monroe. This was perhaps one of the most interesting of partnerships because at the start, the two were political rivals. Later, when Madison failed to support a treaty with Great Britain that Monroe negotiated, the two fell out for a couple of years. But when tension with Great Britain were leading up to war, Madison, not nearly as accomplished in diplomatic or military matters, asked Monroe to join as his Secretary of State and Secretary of War. Despite the sacking of Washington, they were able to work together to lead resistance that basically led to a stalemate, and a settlement that unleashed American prosperity.
  5. Dolly Madison. She was a beautiful complement to the reserved Madison and presided over a social scene far more congenial than the stiff and formal receptions of previous presidents. She was fun, she dressed colorfully, and marked by her self-command. When the British were coming to sack the White House, she rescued the silver, and Peale’s painting of Washington, barely escaping herself. In retirement, Stewart describes them as the “Adam and Eve of Montpelier.” They ran footraces on the front porch of Montpelier, hosted numerous guests, and regaled them with stories. They set the pace for presidential retirements. Madison contributed significant defenses of the Constitution against the growing threat of nullification. He succeeded Jefferson as rector of the University of Virginia and participated in the 1829 Virginia constitutional convention. Dolly accompanied him on most of this, and nursed him when his health turned increasingly frail.

Stewart, like many other scholars of this period, writes about the struggle with the question of slavery. For Madison, the issue was personal as well as Constitutional. He recognized that the contradiction between enunciated rights and aspirations, and the compromises of slavery carried the risk of tearing the country apart. Yet he incarnated the difficulty of what he wanted to do on principle, and the economic realities of his situation. He never emancipated his slaves.

Stewart helps us to see that leadership, and presidential, greatness may take different forms. In Madison’s case, a combination of intellectual gifts and capacity for collaboration was crucial for the work of crafting a government from scratch. To collaborate with markedly different personalities suggests a great sense of personal security and sense of self. His willingness to contribute his own astute wisdom while letting others claim the limelight resulted in enduring good for the nation. Stewart’s focus on Madison’s collaborations brings to light his distinctive form of greatness.

 

Review: Rush

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Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding FatherStephen Fried. New York: Crown, 2018.

Summary: A full-length biography of this doctor-founder of the American republic covering his personal life and beliefs, advocacy, war service, and friendships with the Founders, and estrangement from Washington.

He turns up in almost every biography of an American founder or account of the American War of Independence. He played a pivotal role in battle field hygiene, the training of American doctors, and in the field of mental illness. His profile adorns the logo of the American Psychiatric Association. But one has to look hard for accounts of the life of Dr. Benjamin Rush until recently. Even John Adams expressed displeasure that Ben Franklin received far more notice although he believed Benjamin Rush the better man. In the past year, this balance has begun to be redressed. Harlow Giles Unger, who has written on most of the Founders has published a biography on Rush.

A fellow Philadelphian, journalist Stephen Fried, has completed what may be the definitive account of Rush’s life, using a growing archive of Rush’s correspondence and other documents, to give us a many-faceted portrait of one of America’s most distinctive Founders.

He begins with a spirited young boy who lost his father before turning six, lived with an aunt and uncle while attending Reverend Samuel Finley’s school. He graduated from Princeton at fourteen, apprenticed under Dr. John Redman for the next five years, and then went to Edinburgh for medical studies.

On his return, he is offered a chair in Chemistry at the College of Philadelphia, while alienating two of his mentors, John Morgan and William Shippen over credits on publications. With Shippen, this is just the beginning.

He is friends with nearly all the Founders, particularly as their paths crossed in Philadelphia. His welcome and advice to John Adams was critical in winning the support of the other colonies to the resistance that began in Massachusetts. He was highly esteemed by Franklin and succeeded Franklin as chair of the Philosophical Society of which they were both a part. He was a sounding board to Thomas Paine as he composed Common Sense. He is one of the youngest signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Like others, he sets aside personal interests to head a surgical department for the war effort, and confronts horrible battlefield conditions and Dr. Shippen’s mishandling of funds and resources as Surgeon General. His efforts to protest this ultimately fail, but here, as elsewhere, his pen achieves what he otherwise could not in his manual for battle field hygiene, implemented over the next hundred years and saving many lives. The other, and more profound controversy of the war concerned an unsigned letter he sent to Patrick Henry expressing reservations about Washington’s leadership. Henry passed the letter along to Washington, who recognized Rush’s handwriting. Relations were never warm, thereafter. In later years, he expressed both regret for the letter, and admiration for Washington.

The same passion that got him into trouble also made him an effective advocate with many causes. He was a devout believer, but participated in both Presbyterian and Anglican congregations and was an early proponent of religious tolerance. He loved conversation with skeptics like Jefferson while remaining orthodox in his own beliefs (even reciting an Anglican prayer book prayer on his deathbed). He advocated for the rights of blacks and the abolition of slavery (although he owned a slave that he only eventually and quietly emancipated) and helped start the first African church in Philadelphia. He was a proponent of education, founding Dickinson College, and advocated for the education of women. Perhaps most significant, with his appointment to the Philadelphia Hospital, he noticed the poor conditions of those suffering from mental illness, campaigning for separate and more humane treatment facilities. One of the most poignant aspects of this focus was that his eldest son John was one of his patients. He pioneered occupational therapies and treatments for addiction.

As a doctor, Fried’s portrait is of a dedicated, even heroic figure, tragically wedded to the dubious or even harmful methods of his day, notably the bleeding and purging of patients, which may have hastened mortality in a number of cases. His medical treatises often are extended defenses of these measures. Still, he remained in Philadelphia through a horrendous yellow fever epidemic, contracting (and surviving) the disease himself. He was considered one of the leading medical figures of the day, consulting with Lewis and Clark, provisioning them with medicines, including what they reported to be a very effective laxative! His greatest medical contribution may have been the hygiene and sanitation measures he recommended for the military that no doubt reduced the number of deaths from conditions in military camps.

While Rush’s correspondence got him in trouble in the early part of his life, at another point, he was responsible for a reconciliation that led to a most amazing exchange of letters. For a dozen years, Adams and Jefferson had been estranged from each other since the election of 1800. Rush was friends with both. He began by sharing a “dream” with Adams (a common device in their letters) about Adams and Jefferson resuming their friendship. Slowly, he helped the two of them resume correspondence, which eventually swelled to over 280 letters before both died July 4, 1826, fifty years after signing the Declaration of Independence with Rush. Both would outlive Rush, who died either of typhus or tuberculosis in 1813.

Altogether Rush and his wife Julia had thirteen children, a number dying in infancy or youth (not uncommon at this time). Richard, the second born served in both the Madison and Monroe administrations in cabinet positions while James followed in his steps as a physician and became a prominent figure, marrying into wealth.

Fried’s portrayal drew me in by exploring this distinctive man in his greatness and flaws. His youthful ambition and sense of rectitude overpowers his judgment of what is both appropriate and possible. He could be quite prickly in defending his own reputation, especially during the yellow fever epidemic, where his methods, if not his dedication, could be questioned. He shines in his friendships, his advocacy, and his love for his wife. He also seems something of a tragic figure as he watches the dissolution of his eldest son’s sanity, and the hopes that he would follow in his steps. I suspect he wasn’t an easy man to have as a father.

Fried has done us a great service. He has chronicled in full the life of one of the Founders who obviously deserves far more attention than he has received. Instead of being a bit player in the stories of others, we are introduced to Rush on his own terms, and begin to understand why he was in all the other stories. Were it not for him, we would not have the sparkling correspondence between Adams and Jefferson and the humane treatment of the mentally ill. You might say, he was the doctor who assisted at the birth of a nation.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this an advanced review e-galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own

Guest Review: God’s Good Earth

God's Good Earth

God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, Jon Garvey. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books,

Summary: A biblical, theological, and scientific case for no fall of nature.

In this book, Jon Garvey, a retired medical doctor, challenges “some of the underlying assumptions now made in the discussion of natural evil, particularly within the evangelical Christian tradition, about what Christianity itself has taught on it, both from within its biblical foundation, and in its theological history.” (p. xvii) He presents “the true position of biblical and historic church teaching as clearly as possible.” (p. xviii) “It has to be a worthwhile goal to take an authentic view both of what science and Christian doctrine actually reveal about the world.” (p xix) “[T]he aim of this study is to point out that what happened to humankind in the garden did not spread to the rest of the world”. (p. 4)

In section one, Garvey surveys the relevant biblical material and showed that the Bible’s position is that the natural creation remains God’s servant, and has not become corrupted or evil because of human sin. This section included some interesting and new (at least to me) observations from Scripture supporting the case for an unfallen world by pointing out how good God’s creation actually is. Garvey concludes that neither the sin of humanity nor the corruption of the angelic powers is associated in Scripture with any major changes in nature.

The second section documents the history of “the doctrine of nature, with reference to the fall, through the past 2,000 years, to show how the balance shifted from a strongly positive view of the goodness of creation to a seriously negative one” (p. xix), including possible reasons why the traditional view rose to prominence around the sixteenth century. He includes a little more than I wanted to know about that history, but obviously believed it was important in order to make his point. Chapter 7, aptly titled “Creation Fell in 1517,” describes a profound reversal in the writings of the reformers. Garvey attributes at least some of this to the Greek Prometheus cycle, particular Pandora’s jar (aka Box), suggesting that natural evil flew out of a jar in a Greek myth, and not primarily from Christian Scripture at all. (p. 112) This section was well worth getting through for what came next.

In the third section, Garvey looks at natural evil as evidenced within the world itself and why nature is now so widely perceived as cruel and malevolent, when once it wasn’t. Garvey makes good use of his medical training and practice to frequently provide a fresh perspective on the usual arguments for “nature red in tooth and claw,” suggesting that they have been somewhat exaggerated. For instance, he completely discredits the claim that most animals suffer an agonizing death. Garvey proposes that “since evolution and the living world generally are found on close examination not to be steeped in selfishness at all, but overwhelmingly founded on cooperation and interdependence, human sin and selfishness may be seen for what they truly are—an aberration within God’s good creation.” (p. 146)

In the final section, he sketches out the differences it makes to Christian life and hope to accept either the traditional view that creation is tainted by the fall, or the view that it is not fallen. For instance, “one is much more likely to wish to preserve what one loves because it is God’s good handiwork, than if one views it as irretrievably corrupted by evil” (p. 199) There is also “the Christian hope engendered by the resurrection of Christ [in] the renewal of all things in heaven and earth, not their complete replacement . . .” (p. 199)

Finally, “This understanding will demand, for many of us, some fundamental readjustments of beliefs and attitudes, but we may take comfort in the fact that we are not, by making those changes, moving away from the faith of the Bible and the church of Christ, but closed back towards both.” (p. 202)

This book was written by a Christian layman, and it is suited for Christian laymen as well as anyone else interested in a fresh perspective on the fall of nature. I highly recommend it.

This guest review was contributed by Paul Bruggink, a retired technical specialist whose review interest is in the area of science and faith.

Review: Originals

originals

Originals: How Non-conformists Move the WorldAdam Grant (foreword by Sheryl Sandberg). New York: Viking, 2016.

Summary: A study of the characteristics and practices of those who make original contributions in personal and professional life.

Why did Seinfeld barely escape the cutting room floor to become the most successful comedy ever? Why might enemies make better coalition partners than friends? If you have a truly innovative idea, you should drop everything and risk it all–right? Are there times when procrastinating pays off?

Adam Grant explores all these questions and more in Originals. The subtitle of the work gives away a key thread that runs through the book. Those who come up with powerful new ideas and innovations are marked by a basic non-conformity. You might even by able to determine that by what browser they use on their computer. Those who use browsers like Chrome or Firefox might well be “originals” because they do not choose the default browser. They are people who are not content to choose defaults, and often may be either at the bottom or top of an organization, not in the comfortable middle. They are also savvy in managing their “risk portfolio.” They may start a new company (like Google) while keeping their day jobs.

Grant suggests that often, the “originals” succeed in what seem to be counter-intuitive ways. People may innovate in an area where they do not have much previous experience because of taking a fresh look at the problems. People who pursue hobbies in the arts often bring unique perspectives to how they look at a problem. The guy who saved Seinfeld didn’t work in comedy. Sometimes the best way to sell an idea is to show people what is wrong with it, turning them into defenders. Originals learn that you either need to speak up or leave to succeed. Hanging in there or becoming indifferent will never cut it. Sometimes the early bird doesn’t get the worm. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “dream speech” is a classic example, written the night before in the mood of the moment, and improvised when Mahalia Jackson urged King to tell them about the dream.

Grant also explores why ideas fail. Everyone from Jeff Bezos to Steve Jobs thought Dean Kamen had a great idea with his Segway. Kamen was a technical wiz who had developed innovative medical devices from a portable dialysis machine to a drug infusion pump. Yet his Segway was a flop and illustrates some important lessons. One is that creators are not always good at judging their own ideas, and in Kamen’s case, he listened to people who didn’t know any more about transportation than he did. He also illustrates the “kissing frogs” principle. You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find Prince Charming! Not all risks succeed, in fact most don’t.

Finally, Grant explores how families and organizations might cultivate the non-conformity that leads to original contributions. An interesting statistic is that one thing most of the great base-stealers have in common is that they are laterborns. Often laterborns compete by finding a different niche in which to succeed than the firstborn. Parents tend to be less strict with laterborns, and emphasizes the importance of parents giving children freedom to be originals–focusing less on rules than moral values–praising them for good behavior more than disciplining bad behavior. Also, focusing on the significance of actions for others, rather than just for oneself enhanced things like hand-washing in patient care. Likewise, good organizations to entrance, rather than exit interviews, getting the fresh perspective of new hires. They foster atmosphere where saying hard things needed to improve performance to bosses is rewarded rather than punished. They learn how to foster a sense of urgency.

Grant illustrates his ideas from a variety of domains from sports to politics to engineering and entertainment. The book is valuable to anyone who wants to be entrepreneurial, and all those who want to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit–parents, teachers, company leaders, coaches and mentors. Grant sums it all up in an “Actions for Impact” section with actions we can all take, how we can learn to champion our ideas, how we can spark original ideas in organizations, foster cultures of originality and what parents can do. Grant’s book suggests that we are all “originals.” and that it is not beyond any of us to be people who make original contributions in our part of the world.