Review: The Personal Heresy

the personal heresy

The Personal HeresyC. S. Lewis, E. M. W. Tillyard. New York: Harper One, 2017 (originally published 1939).

Summary: A discussion of whether the personality of the author should enter into the criticism of a work of poetry.

In 1934 C. S. Lewis published an article in Essays and Studies to defend this assertion:

In this paper I shall maintain that when we read poetry as poetry should be read, we have before us no representation which claims to be the poet, and frequently no representation of a man, character, or a personality at all.

The article was written for anyone to take up. E. M. W. Tillyard published a response in the following year that led to two more rounds of responses between Lewis and Tillyard, resulting in this book in its present form.

In a nutshell, the controversy between the two men concerned whether, in poetry, we have access to the personality or mind of the poet in some degree (Tillyard) or whether poetry is about something in the world (Lewis). Lewis contends that in poetry, the poet is saying “look at that” and not “look at me.”

Tillyard proposes that in a poet’s work, we encounter a certain “fixed state of mind.” What makes the reading of and reflection upon poetry worthwhile is contact with particularly perceptive minds, and that in literary criticism, to attempt to discern the character of the poet’s mind, as well as what that mind perceives is a valuable part of the critic’s contribution to understanding a work.

What both strenuously object to is “poetolatry,” and particularly using the biography of the poet as some kind of critical shortcut to understanding a work of poetry, without doing the hard work of study and reflection upon the poem itself. The subsequent discussion then is a back and forth between Lewis, who thinks personality does not enter in any important way in the understanding of a poem, and Tillyard, who tries to find various arguments and approaches and examples to persuade Lewis, and the reader, otherwise.

It is of a piece with works like The Abolition of Man, in Lewis’s defense of the objective against the incursions of relativism and subjectivism. While I find myself in agreement with Lewis, and particularly with the slipperiness of assertions about an author’s personality, I also recognize that the style and perception of different writers does reflect something of their unique personalities. The problem, it seems is saying just what this is, and in this case, I think we are wiser to stick with Lewis’s approach, because the work, and what the poet has said in it about something is really all we have. Anything else seems largely a speculative venture, at least in my own critically untrained opinion!

One of the delights in reading this is to see two scholars sharpening each other’s thoughts in dialogue, while respecting the person with whom they are in disagreement. It also strikes me as characteristic of many academic dialogues I have observed–while ideas are sharpened and clarified, positions rarely change, at least within the frame of such a discussion. The ground of disagreement may diminish, the areas of common agreement are more clearly articulated, but usually some fundamental disagreement remains. Even if you do not understand all the terms of the argument, this is a glimpse of the academic world at its best, as these closing words of E. M. W. Tillyard suggest:

…Mr. Lewis is an admirable person to disagree with; and I incline to admire his arguments as much when they seem wrong as when they seem right. He is, indeed, the best kind of opponent, good to agree with when one can, and for an enemy as courteous as he is honest and uncompromising; the kind of opponent with whom I should gladly exchange armour after a parley, even if I cannot move my tent to the ground where his own is pitched.

Would that the university world, and our public discourse were marked more by this kind of spirit!

Having it Both Ways

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Photo by kathryn “Eating cake” (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Perhaps it doesn’t puzzle me that we don’t like to talk about this. Remember when you were a kid and someone said, “you can’t eat your cake and have it too.” That almost seemed to be a dare to try to do both. Usually, this ended with you full of cake and wanting more and frustrated that your share is gone. Sometimes you end up filching someone else’s cake. And making yourself sick. And so the spiral goes.

So perhaps I don’t wonder why there isn’t more of a conversation about our highly sexualized and violent culture when we rail against sexual assault, threatening atmospheres, and gun violence. We really like our sex and our violence. Except when we don’t. Except when it hurts us or someone we love.

This is not an argument that those who are victims of these acts ever in the least deserve it. And I applaud those who have had the courage to say #MeToo, to testify against sexual offenders, to press for better work environments, and reasonable measures to keep guns out of the hands of those who would do harm.

But I wonder if we will make real progress as long as we celebrate a culture of “friends with benefits,” casual hookups, marketing that makes both women and men consciously obsessed with the appearance of their bodies? Will we make any progress until we understand how the use of pornography re-wires the brain, and undermines real relationships?

Will we make any progress as long as television and movies give us the vicarious thrill of the kill multiple times in an evening, even if most of us never go beyond that point? And how do violent video games rewire the brain? Nearly all the best selling video games, sold in large measure to young men, major in violence. I won’t make the argument that these videos cause violence, but I can’t help but believe that they are an ingredient in the toxic stew of our violent culture.

I suspect that steamy and casual sex is easier to write than a restrained relationship where love grows and deepens to real intimacy. I imagine that violence rivets the attention much more easily than non-violent means of seeking justice and resolving conflict. It’s faster, easier.

And I can’t help but wonder if it fosters the notion that it may be faster and easier in real life.

It also wouldn’t surprise me that some would label me hopelessly naive or prudish or an anachronism. Fair enough. But I would ask in reply, how do you explain why more young people have died of gun violence than in our overseas conflicts in recent years? How do you explain the pervasiveness of the revelations of sexual misconduct of all forms (yes, some may that more people feel empowered to speak out about it)? Why do universities wring their hands about campus sexual assault, much of it by acquaintances, and struggle to find ways to overcome “the walk of shame”?

There is an old saying that if you sow the wind, you will reap the whirlwind. I’d propose that when it comes to both sexuality and violence, two very potent forces, we cannot sow to the wind and reap a peaceful summer day at the beach. We want to, and often our media in its various forms prospers on our belief that we can have it both ways.

But I find myself wondering if we can…

 

New Studies in Biblical Theology

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Yesterday, I reviewed W. Ross Blackburn’s The God Who Makes Himself Known. This is one of forty-four volumes currently in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series (with more forthcoming) jointly published by the Apollos imprint of InterVarsity Press in the United Kingdom and InterVarsity Press in the United States. The series strives for readability, avoiding specialist jargon or untransliterated terms in the biblical languages. D. A. Carson is the series editor and has articulated the goals as follows:

New Studies in Biblical Theology volumes focus on three areas:

  • the nature and status of biblical theology, including its relationship to other disciplines
  • the articulation and exposition of the structure of thought from a particular biblical writer or text
  • the delineation of a biblical theme across the biblical corpus

I try to pick up new volumes as they are released because I have found them of high quality, combining scholarship and devotional insight. Here are the reviews that have appeared in posts at Bob on Books over the years, to give you a sampling of this series. You can count on more in the future.

The God Who Became Human (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Graham Cole. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013. A biblical theology of the incarnation. Review

Hear My Son (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Daniel J. Estes. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000. Studies on the first nine chapters of Proverbs. Review

Covenant and Commandment, Bradley G. Green. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. In light of the Reformation doctrine of justification by grace through faith, Green considers the place of works, obedience and faithfulness in the Christian life. Review

With the Clouds of Heaven (New Studies in Biblical Theology), James M. Hamilton, Jr. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. A study of the biblical theology of Daniel, including its structure, key themes, how the book influences both early Jewish literature and the New Testament, and how it connects to key themes throughout scripture. Review

Preaching in the New Testament (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Jonathan L. Griffiths. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. An exegetical and biblical theology of preaching from the texts of the New Testament. Review

The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Andrew T. Abernethy. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. A thematic approach to understanding Isaiah organized around the idea of ‘kingdom’ exploring the nature of the king, the agents of the king, and the realm and people of the king as elaborated throughout the book. Review

Unceasing Kindness (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Peter H. W. Lau and Gregory Goswell. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. A study of the theological themes that may be discerned in the various placements of Ruth in the canon, and the broader themes of unceasing kindness, famine, redemption, divine and human initiative, and the mission of God connecting Ruth with the rest of scripture. Review

The God Who Makes Himself Known (New Studies in Biblical Theology), W. Ross Blackburn. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012. A study of the theology of the book of Exodus contending that it reflects God’s missionary purpose to make himself known to the nations through Israel. Review

The distinctive cover design looks good on your bookshelves. If you’ve acquired some of these and would like to fill out your set, InterVarsity Press offers a special discount as high as 50% off depending on the number of titles you are purchasing at their website. Of greater importance is that these works are great references at a reasonable price that complement the teacher’s personal study of biblical texts or theological themes in scripture.

Review: The God Who Makes Himself Known

The God Who Makes Himself Known

The God Who Makes Himself Known (New Studies in Biblical Theology), W. Ross Blackburn. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012.

Summary: A study of the theology of the book of Exodus contending that it reflects God’s missionary purpose to make himself known to the nations through Israel.

The God Who Makes Himself Known typifies the purpose of the New Studies in Biblical Theology of which it is a part. It both articulates the theological themes arising from the book of Exodus, and connects that to the theology of the Bible as a whole. In this case, Ross Blackburn explores how God’s concern to make himself known to the nations, which Blackburn describes as “missionary” is reflected in God’s dealings with Moses and the people of Israel in this book.

The organization of the book follows the biblical text of Exodus. I will highlight the key idea Blackburn elucidates in each portion:

Exodus 1:1-15:21. In the first part of Exodus, centering around 6:3, the focus is on the declaration, “I am the LORD” and what this means in the light of the deliverance from Egypt showing both the supremacy and redeeming character of God to the nations.

Exodus 15:22-18:27. This section focuses on the training of Israel in the wilderness, that they would “learn obedience” by which they reflect God’s supremacy in daily life, and their dependence upon the redeeming God to sustain them.

Exodus 19-24. These passages are concerned with the giving of the law. Blackburn reflects upon how Gospel precedes Law and how the Law is given to flesh out Israel’s calling to make known the name of the Lord to the nations in how they live, and what this reveals of the greatness and goodness of God.

Exodus 25-31. Blackburn looks at the instructions for the Tabernacle, showing the progression in the quality of the materials as one approaches the Holy of Holies, the parallel between Eden and Tabernacle that reveals God’s redemptive purpose, and God’s intention to dwell in the midst of his people.

Exodus 32-34. I found this section the highlight of Blackburn’s discussion as he explores the idolatry of the people, even while God is in the midst of giving instructions for his dwelling place in their midst. He highlights how Moses intercession is heard on the basis not of his attempt to substitute for the people’s sin but on the basis of God’s name and purpose, and how this will be jeopardized should God’s presence depart from them.

Exodus 35-40. Blackburn explores why we have this second description of the Tabernacle, downplayed by many commentators. He argues that the canonical order of this text after Israel’s sin shows how the Lord responds to sin, and how God restores a repentant people and so reveals his glory, greatness, and redeeming character to the nations as he indwells the Tabernacle.

The biggest question that may be raised is whether Blackburn is reading New Testament perspectives into Exodus. Certainly, he is reading Exodus in a New Testament light, but his argument of concerning the missionary heart of God revealed through Israel’s deliverance and wilderness encounters with God is one rooted in both the data of the text and a discussion of the canonical structure of Exodus. What Blackburn does is make an argument for the coherence of Exodus as a whole, as well as for its place within the canon.

This work strikes me as a helpful adjunct to exegetical study of Exodus, offering a larger framework useful for teaching or preaching the book as Christian scripture. While interacting with scholars discussing the meaning of texts like Exodus 34:6-7 and how God both forgives and punishes sin, Blackburn also offers insights into the lavish greatness and goodness of God that leads us into worship, and the life of faithful obedience against God’s gospel purposes for the nations. Like other monographs in this series, Blackburn exemplifies how scholarly rigor and devotional warmth may walk hand in hand.

Growing Up In Working Class Youngstown — The Hopeful Gardener

Seedlings under lights.

Seeds saved from the best plants.

Waiting, waiting,

For soil to dry,

For the season’s final frost.

Waiting, waiting,

Until the soil can be worked,

The rich, humousy smell.

Waiting, waiting,

For peas, spinach, and lettuce,

Then sweet and spicy peppers,

Beefsteak tomatoes for sandwiches,

And Romas for sauce,

Eggplant and zucchini coming out your ears.

Waiting, waiting,

For the color of annuals.

Morning glories climbing strings,

Petunias, marigolds, salvia, and zinnias.

All the colors of the rainbow,

The pungent smell of fresh mulch.

Waiting, waiting,

For the hopes of spring planting

To become the fruit of summer.

Review: Iron Valley

iron Valley

Iron Valley, Clayton J. Ruminski. Columbus: Trillium (an imprint of The Ohio State University Press), 2017.

Summary: A history of iron-making in the Mahoning Valley during the nineteenth century from the earliest blast furnace to the advances in furnaces and other technology, leading to the transition to steel-making.

Those of us who grew up in the Mahoning Valley during the middle of the twentieth century often referred to it as the Steel Valley, a name that still lingers. Clayton J. Ruminski’s book new history of iron-making in the Mahoning Valley during the nineteenth century reminds us that in the words of the title, it was the Iron Valley before it ever became the Steel Valley.

The work begins in 1802 and the Heaton family’s early efforts, beginning with the Hopewell furnace in Struthers, to do small scale charcoal fueled, iron-making. The problem was how rapidly, even when mixing in coal from nearby deposits, the fuel source of hardwood trees was depleted. Transportation, as well as fuel, limited growth in this period. The second phase, beginning in 1840 and running up to 1856 was marked by the discover of significant “block coal” deposits at Brier Hill (it was often called Brier Hill coal) and elsewhere in the area. The heating characteristics meant that it could be used directly as a fuel, dispensing with the need for charcoal. New furnaces were opened at Brier Hill by the Tod family, and elsewhere along the Valley. Alongside these, the first rolling mills and puddling mills grew up to process the pig iron into finished products (instead of the pig iron being sent to mills outside the Valley). The Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal helped develop commerce during this period with the transport of both raw materials and finished products.

Between 1856 and 1865, the growth of railroads and the Civil War brought about a further expansion of iron manufacturing. During this figure, well known figures like David Tod, Jonathan Warner, John Stambaugh, Henry Wick, William Butler, and James Ward emerged as key leaders. Furnaces grew larger and production expanded making Youngstown into a pig iron center. This was followed by a period of expansion and depression from 1865 to 1879. Westward railroad growth led to expanded facilities to meet demand, followed by bankruptcy of many smaller merchant iron firms during the Panic of 1873. Subsequently control of the iron industry was consolidated under a few major Youngstown area families.

The decision of Valley owners to focus on iron production while other nearby cities started making steel led to both a leading role in supplying high quality pig iron for finished iron and steel makers, and continuing pressure as steel replaced iron during the period between 1879 and 1894. Mills went obsolete, more Bessemer converters were erected and the first steel mill was opened. The last period covered by the book describes the transition, finally to steel, the end of the merchant iron plants and the consolidation of manufacturing under the familiar names of Republic Steel, United States Steel, and Youngstown Sheet and Tube, and a handful of others.

This book traces the opening of various furnaces, the rise of different companies, the advance of technology, the changing picture of the use and transport of both raw and finished products and the key individuals involved in the iron industry throughout this history. It describes the different areas within the Valley from Warren through Girard, Mineral Ridge, Brier Hill, Youngstown, Struthers, Lowellville, along Crab Creek and Mosquito Creek and up in Hubbard. Lesser attention is given to developments in the neighboring Shenango Valley, which had its own history.

It is a text that combines readability and academic rigor and precision. We have both thumbnail biographies of key figures and lots of technical explanation, history of various companies, and production statistics. Woven throughout are photographs of different furnaces and mills, individuals and groups of workers, many from local archives. Maps in the text and after matter trace the locations and developments of iron furnaces and mills. The text also provides a table of iron and steel sites, their years of production, and the changing ownership during their life. This is valuable as a reference as one reads about different sites and companies operating, keeping track of which can be difficult.

Much has been written about the steel industry in Youngstown. This work helps us understand how the preceding iron industry shaped the contours of the subsequent industry in the Mahoning Valley as well creating the rail, manufacturing, and workforce infrastructure that made that industry possible. It is an indispensable work for anyone who wants to understand the local history of the Mahoning Valley, and as a vignette of the nineteenth century iron industry in a growing country.

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

Review: Teach Us To Pray

teach us to pray

Teach Us To PrayGordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: A concise guide to prayer based on the Lord’s prayer, with a central focus on the coming of the kingdom and a dependence upon the Spirit expressed in thanksgiving, confession, and discernment.

Perhaps one of the most common struggles for many Christians is the practice of prayer. Little wonder that the disciples, observing Jesus at prayer, ask him, “teach us to pray.” In this small but rich book, Gordon T. Smith considers the practice of prayer through the lens of the model prayer Jesus gave his disciples in response to their request.

Smith begins with the observation that the whole prayer turns on the central request, “thy kingdom come.” He writes:

When we pray “thy kingdom come,” should not our prayer be an act of recalibration? Could our praying be an act of intentional alignment and realignment? That is, in our prayer our vision of the kingdom purposes of God will be deepened and broadened; we will be drawn into the reality of Christ risen and now on the throne of the universe. And thus through our prayers we not only pray for the kingdom but come to increasingly live within the kingdom, under the reign of Christ. (p.11)

From our longing for the kingdom come flow three movements in prayer, each of which Smith takes a chapter to cover:

  • Thanksgiving: We align ourselves with God’s kingdom by recognizing how the kingdom has already come and is at work both in our lives and in the world. We celebrate the goodness of God, dwell in the love of God, and in suffering both lament (an acknowledgement and cry to the God we even yet believe is good) and trusting thanksgiving for that goodness and what is formed in us through suffering.
  • Confession: We align ourselves with God’s kingdom by acknowledging where we are out of line with God’s intentions, accept responsibility, seek God’s mercy, and both receive and grant forgiveness, as we embrace the way of truth and light.
  • Discernment: We align ourselves with God’s kingdom by asking and listening for God’s direction for how we may participate in his kingdom purposes. We learn to hear the voice of the Spirit through the noise of our lives as we pay attention to whether this direction is congruent with scripture, whether we have reached a place of holy indifference, and find affirmation within the community to whom we are accountable.

If these three movements arise from the centrality of the kingdom of God, they crucially depend upon the Spirit of God. The Spirit helps us see the good works of God, reveals our sin and humbles our hearts, and guides us in consolation.

Smith also emphasizes throughout the book how each of the three movements are realized in the Eucharist, as we give thanks for the work of Christ, come in repentance acknowledging the reconciliation won through the body and the blood, and strengthens us to say what we need to say and do what we need to do.

A concluding chapter then considers both corporate and personal prayer. Here, as elsewhere throughout the book, Smith commends the Psalms as both Israel’s and our prayer book. An afterword deals succinctly and helpfully with petition.

This is one of those books one can give a person just beginning in the practice of prayer, while enriching and deepening the practice of those who have prayed for some time. Smith shows us how prayer connects to a whole life lived around “thy kingdom come.” He weaves the importance of our dependence upon the Spirit, the richness of the scriptures and especially the Psalms, and our gatherings around the Lord’s table. And so we are taught to pray.

I’m in the PhishTank

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I learned yesterday that Bob on Books is considered a “suspicious” or “malicious” site by Twitter. I can no longer post links to the site there, although I can make other posts.

A chat session with WordPress support (who I’ve always found helpful) indicated that I’ve been listed as a “phishing” site on PhishTank.com. Here is the link to the actual listing. WordPress itself found nothing on the site that is malicious or violates its terms of service and asserts that third parties can’t embed code or links on sites they host. No one who has visited my site has reported an actual problem. Phishing involves attempts to deceive you into providing sensitive information like passwords or credit cards under false pretexts in order to defraud. There is nothing like that on my site.

Apparently, on April 10, someone going by the username “prodigyabuse” listed Bob on Books as a phishing site. This individual has submitted over 11,000 sites. I found out that others “verified” that my site is a “phishing” site even though WordPress has examined the site and found nothing wrong, and it shows up trusted on Microsoft and Chrome browsers. I subsequently learned someone on a university computer couldn’t access my site, which I suspect is not an isolated incident. It’s likely that Twitter has based its “block” of content from Bob on Books on this site.

I’ve submitted “tickets” to both Twitter and PhishTank to rectify the situation. No response so far.

I find this deeply disturbing, because the effect of this is to suppress free speech. Apparently:

  • This can be done by a few individuals, working together or in sympathy.
  • There appears to be no actual verification by PhishTank or those who use their listings of the website. They rely entirely on user reports.
  • Site owners receive no direct notice of this action.
  • I could find no way to talk, even via chat to an actual person either on Twitter or PhishTank.
  • There appears to be no protection against this.

No doubt there are actual phishing sites, but as it stands now, the burden of proof is on site owners that they are not phishing, when they learn this is going on.

If your register as a user at PhishTank and go to my link and click, “something wrong with this submission” and follow the instructions you can submit a report they say they will take “very seriously.” We’ll see, but I’d be glad for the support.

I’m wondering why this happened. There seem to be a few possibilities:

  • One is that some people just don’t like what I’m posting, which is particularly troubling.
  • A second is some spammer I’ve blocked is having his/her revenge. There is a lot of spam commenting, some of which contain links to “phish-y” sites.
  • That leads to something more sinister. It does appear that it is fairly common for hackers to hide files deep inside the WordPress software and files. I found a number of articles like this one describing the problem. Both the software in my version of WordPress’s JetPack and my own virus and malware software do not show anything, and I don’t use plug-ins that are most vulnerable to this. There are expensive services that will clean your site, and more robust security options are available with more expensive WordPress plans. WordPress.com asserts that it is not possible for malicious entities to embed phishing code or links on blogs hosted on their site (which is the case with my blog), but leave it to their end users to deal with false reports. Seems like they would have more clout than I do.
  • Maybe this has to do with the cover photo (see above) I recently posted on my Facebook page, taken at our local aquarium. Maybe my fish tank picture got me in the PhishTank! Probably not but one must maintain some humor with these things.

Needless to say, this is unsettling. I love looking at fish in a tank or aquarium, but am not particularly crazy about being in one.

Review: Love Thy Body

love thy body

Love Thy Body, Nancy R. Pearcey. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018.

Summary: Traces how a two story view of reality has led to a dualistic way of viewing human beings, splitting body and person, and traces the working out of this around our understanding of human life, sexuality, orientation, gender, and marriage.

Often Christianity has been accused of prudish attitudes with regard to the body and its functions in contrast with the wider culture’s celebration of the body. What if the truth were just the opposite and Christians, in fact, had a truly high view of our embodied life, and the secular world in fact denigrated and reinforced a fallen alienation from our bodies? This is part of what Nancy R. Pearcey means in the title to her new book, Love Thy Body.

Pearcey, who was strongly influenced by the work of Francis Schaeffer, believes one of his most valid insights was the two storied view of truth and reality that prevails in the modern world which might be portrayed as follows:

THEOLOGY, MORALITY, VALUES

Private, Subjective, Relativistic

————————————————————–

SCIENCE, FACTS

Public, Objective, Valid for Everyone

Pearcey contends that this bifurcated view of reality has extended to our concept of the body, where instead of a Christian view of embodied persons, we separate the idea of the person and the body, whereby our understanding of what it means to be human is separated from our biological existence. For example, life is defined not when an ovum is fertilized by sperm but by when the fetus becomes a person. The trouble with this is it is not clear when this happens, either before or after birth, or what level of genetic fitness qualifies one to be a person and thus worthy of life. The issue arises at the other end of life as well, where personhood, rather than embodied life define when life should be ended.

Then in successive chapters Pearcey shows how this divided view of reality works out in our understanding of sexuality, orientation, and gender. A hookup culture divorces physical pleasure from mental and emotional bonding (often resulting in great pain when we cannot carry this off). Strangely, at the same time, sex becomes divorced from the body in its obviously procreative function. Sexual orientation becomes an instance where a psychological, autonomous self imposes its own interpretation upon the body, denying the telos of one’s biology. Likewise gender is a fluid product of social forces rather than the physical constitution of the body. Furthermore, marriage is reduced to a contract rather than a covenantal relationship where the union of our bodies expresses the union of our lives and the formation of new families.

In the course of her discussion, Pearcey chronicles leading thinkers from Freud to Foucault, and various educational and governmental policies that have supported the divorce of persons and bodies. At the same time, she writes as a professor who has counselled students and her own children as they wrestle with these realities. So she writes with both conviction and compassion. In her chapter on transgenderism, she writes of Brandon, who still considers himself a girl on the inside, and yet recognizes that surgery will not change who he is, and that much of the problem has to do with how gender is defined.

The breadth spanned by this book to underscore its central thesis means that there is much left to be worked out, and many particular situations that only are cursorily addressed. Yet the common origin of all these issues in a bifurcated view of truth is worth noting for understanding where the real difference lies.

Pearcey’s argument for the unity of the human being and the value of the body will not satisfy those for whom the social construction of personhood, gender, and orientation are defining. What Pearcey does is articulate a theology of the body as good and that our biology must not be denied in our understanding of the person, but truly celebrated. She articulates compassion and conviction held in tension, something rare in today’s discussions. She also suggests a vision of truth as a seamless garment and a life where what we do as embodied beings shapes the persons we are becoming. In a climate where Christians often are accused of hatefulness, she poses a most challenging question in asking, “who really loves the body?”

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

Review: On the Road

On the Road

On the RoadJack Kerouac. New York: Penguin, 2016 (originally published 1957).

Summary: Kerouac’s classic account of Sal and Dean’s travels across America, laced with jazz, elicit drugs, sexual encounters, and jazz clubs, and the searching for “IT” that defined the “Beat Generation.”

September 5, 2017 marked the 60th anniversary of the publication of On the Road. Penguin Classics has reissued it as part of its Penguin Orange Collection of twelve influential American classics. This was one of those books I grew up with. I was a child during the Beat Generation and came of age in the Hippie Generation that followed it. But I never read the book. Recently, perhaps drawn by Penguin’s cool re-packaging of this book, I finally picked it up and read it. I came to the end of the book thinking that I really hadn’t missed anything by not having read it sooner. Perhaps I might have had a different take back in my teens, or twenties–but then we’ll never know, will we?

The plot is basically a narrative of several road trips back and forth across America, and into Mexico. The two main characters are Sal Paradise (the narrator) and Dean Moriarty, thinly disguised representations of Kerouac, and his friend Neal Cassady, who took similar, real-life journeys. Other characters are inspired by “Beat Generation” friends such as Allen Ginsberg (“Carlo Marx”). The story consists of journeys across the country, often at high speeds if Dean is driving, punctuated by stops in various cities, most notably Denver, for some reason, filled with heavy drinking, illicit drugs, sex with whomever is willing, children by several women, and brushes with the law. Visits to jazz clubs in New Orleans and elsewhere seems to be the ultimate expression of their quest for “IT” which is never defined but perhaps approached during a jazz set. One of the noteworthy passages is this description of listening to George Shearing:

“The drummer, Denzil Best, sat motionless except for his wrists snapping the brushes. And Shearing began to rock; a smile broke over his ecstatic face; he began to rock in the piano seat, back and forth, slowly at first, then the beat went up, and he began rocking fast, his left foot jumped up with every beat, his neck began to rock crookedly, he brought his face down to the keys, he pushed his hair back, his combed hair dissolved, he began to sweat. The music picked up. The bass player hunched over and socked it in, faster and faster, it seemed faster and faster, that’s all. Shearing began to play his chords; they rolled out of the piano in great rich showers, you’d think the man wouldn’t have time to line them up. They rolled and rolled like the sea. Folks yelled for him to ‘Go!’ Dean was sweating; the sweat poured down his collar. ‘There he is! That’s him! Old God! Old God Shearing! Yes! Yes! Yes!” And Shearing was conscious of the madman behind him, he could hear every one of Dean’s gasps and imprecations, he could sense it though he couldn’t see. ‘That’s right!’ Dean said. ‘Yes!’ Shearing smiled; he rocked. Shearing rose from the piano, dripping with sweat; these were his great 1949 days before he became cool and commercial. When he was gone Dean pointed to the empty piano seat. ‘God’s empty chair, he said.”

This gives you a sense of the writing style one finds throughout the book. It feels breathless and frenetic. Kerouac supposedly was trying to use an improvisational style of writing that was not unlike jazz improvisation. The work was typed on a scroll consisting of tracing paper sheets cut to size and taped together into a 120 foot scroll. The book was typed out single space without paragraph breaks, and later edited to its present form. That, perhaps, helps explain the feel of the book.

The work is clearly an important artifact of cultural history, chronicling the Beat Generation rebellion against standard values and material aspirations, it’s embrace of transgressive sexuality, and the quest for the transcendent through music and mind-altering drugs. It also captures something of the American love affair with the road–a fast car, an open road, a cross-country journey. Coming on the heels of World War II, it describes one response to the horrors of that war, and perhaps all our wars that have followed. In some way, the book seems to me to articulate the alternate American Dream to the one of affluence in suburbia, a playing out of the Dionysian versus Appolonian dichotomy.

I’m struck by the fact that the principle characters are men, who seem like boys living an extended adolescence–living off others, refusing responsibility for their sexuality, for the damage they leave, and depending upon women to fill the gaps they leave while indulging in their relentless pursuit of IT on the road (which mostly seems to be drunkenness and sex). It took us until the 1990’s and Thelma and Louise to see two women pursuing the same kind of journey, with a glorious, or very bad end, depending on how you look at it.

Besides the fact that there is so little of the actual grandeur of the country they crisscrossed, what most troubles me is “the road not taken” by Sal and Dean. So often, their path is portrayed as the courageous protest against conventional, materialistic values. But I watched my parents, and others of their generation, Kerouac’s generation, choose a life shaped by their religious commitments, one shaped by faith in God that faced life’s tragedies and mysteries and one shaped by love of the “until death do us part” kind that translated into the hard and rewarding work of really learning to live with another fractious human being and to raise children to responsible adulthood. They enjoyed the good things of life as gift and not quest, and as meant to be shared with others rather than to be indulged in to excess. Their presence helped neighborhoods, workplaces, and civic organizations flourish.

Perhaps for some, going “on the road” ends up being a kind of pilgrimage that leads to insight and forms character. Far too often, though, it seems to me that those who emulated Sal and Dean simply ended up as alcoholics, or potheads no longer able to put two thoughts together. Often they have left a trail of wrecked lives behind them, and exist on the charity of others. Other than the portrayals of a golden age of jazz, and understanding a “cultural moment,” I found little to inspire me, or provoke thought, and certainly not a life I could commend.