Review: A Supreme Love

A Supreme Love: The Music of Jazz and the Hope of the Gospel, William Edgar. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022.

Summary: A study of the roots and contributing streams of jazz music, proposing that the reason jazz moves from miserable lament to inextinguishable joy is the Christian hope found in the gospel.

This book had me from the title. I recognized the allusion to one of the great jazz albums of all times, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. And I found myself intrigued by the idea of the connection between jazz and the Christian gospel. That connection did not seem readily apparent for many years, my associations being of performances in speakeasys and clubs. Then I had the chance to perform some of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Songs with a local choral group, learned about the spirituality of Coltrane in his later life, and listened to some of the sacred works of Dave Brubeck.

William Edgar’s book shows the connection going far deeper, and further back. Most know that jazz is one of the gifts that has come out of the Black community. Edgar, who is both a theologian and an accomplished jazz pianist, traces it all the way back to the Middle Passage experience and the centuries of slavery. He writes:

How could the music that grew out of the realities of the enslavement of Black people, forced migration, rape, husbands and wives being separated, and children being ripped from their families not reflect this suffering and pain? If, as I will argue, jazz is the story of deep misery that leads to inextinguishable joy, then we cannot ignore the sources of sorrow that are found at the root of this music, from spirituals to blues
to jazz.
(Edgar, p. 27)

As noted, a theme running through the book is the idea of deep misery and lament that leads to inextinguishable joy. Edgar traces that misery to the deplorable conditions of slavery, but also notes the strange and miraculous reception of the Christian gospel despite the iniquities of Christian slave owners. The biblical narratives of physical and spiritual bondage and emancipation resonated deeply as did the movements from lament to praise in the Psalms.

All of this found expression in distinctive forms of music and dance drawing upon both African culture and the musical forms found in various parts of the South. Edgar traces several different streams arising, beginning with spirituals, then gospel, and finally the blues, all of which contribute to jazz. Edgar connects the “lining out” used to teach words with the “call and response” character of the spirituals, the use of spirituals as code on the Underground Railroad and the popularizing of spirituals by the Fisk Jubilee singers. Gospel is more complicated with roots both in nineteenth century revivalism in the white Southern church and a parallel movement of Black gospel music beginning in the 1920’s, one of the most significant figures of which was Thomas Andrew Dorsey, known for the song “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” Meanwhile the blues arose around the work songs and “sorrow songs” of the plantation experience. While the connection with biblical faith may not be immediately evident, Edgar notes the connections with the laments of scripture, even noting the similar uses of parallelism.

The third part of the book focuses on jazz itself. Edgar traces its immediate origins to ragtime, stride piano and the music of New Orleans, introducing us to some of the greats of early jazz from Art Tatum, Buddy Bolden and James Reese, Louis Armstrong, “Jelly Roll” Morton, and Duke Ellington. He discusses their music and their spirituality. From “Jelly Roll” Morton, we get the dictum, “Rejoice at the death and cry at the birth: New Orleans sticks close to the scriptures,” another example of the sorrow to joy theme. He goes on to discuss the “midlife of jazz” in bebop and cool, focusing on “Dizzy” Gillespie, Charlie Parker and the great Miles Davis. The two following chapters then draw more specific connections of jazz and the gospel or spirituality in the life of jazz musicians offering examples from the work of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Duke Ellington, jazz pianist Billy Taylor, Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, and others. Not all would be considered orthodox Christians by any means, but evidence of the hope of the gospel may be found in their work, according to Edgar.

The book concludes with Edgar’s seven joys of jazz: its bluesy ambiance, its strength to climb, the element of invention, the concept of “swing,” the solidarity of jazz musicians in which performances are conversations in music, the great art that arises from earthy roots, and finally the joy out of deep pain that Edgar attributes to the influence of the Christian message. I suspect some will want to contend this last, but Edgar’s cumulative case of history, contributing streams, and examples from some of the signature jazz greats offer a good explanation for the element of joy that distinguishes this music. I also found it interesting that Edgar contrasts the joy of this music with the “happy” feel of much White evangelical music. Jazz is rooted in both a more profound experience of pain and a more profound hope.

Edgar makes this argument without being polemical. I felt like I was in a jazz appreciation course, being invited to understand and appreciate and truly love the music Edgar loves. And he helps us cultivate that love as well. He includes a nine-page appendix of links to YouTube videos of performances by various artists organized by sub-genres and time periods. What a great way to introduce oneself to jazz in its various expressions and to explore for oneself the “supreme love” that Edgar believes is the source of the great joy in jazz.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Chaney High School

Main entrance to Chaney High School. Photograph ©2019 by Robert C Trube, all rights reserved.

I’ve written about many of the people and personal experiences connected with Chaney High School, but realized after my story last week on East High School that I have never really written an article on the history of Chaney. It is a story that runs through my family. Both of my parents, my brother, sister, and I are all Chaney graduates. This year in particular seems an appropriate one to write that history as my graduating class of 1972 will hold its fifty year reunion.

The early 1920’s were a boom period in Youngstown’s history, with rapid growth outward from the downtown in all directions. At that time, only The Rayen School and South High School served the whole city. The Board of Education reached the decision to build new high schools on the East and West sides of town, that would be named East and West High Schools, respectively. While West High School on N. Hazelwood Avenue was under construction (along with what was then Cleveland Elementary, later to be West Elementary), N. H. Chaney, the former superintendent of schools in Youngstown from 1902 to 1920, died in 1925. He had planned and oversaw the growth of Youngstown schools, and the decision was made to name the new high school in his honor. Chaney High School was born and opened in 1926.

C. W. Ricksecker was the first principal of the school, serving in this position the entire time Chaney was on N. Hazelwood. He was the principal of the Chaney my parents attended. They spoke of his discipline and high standards. In high school, my mother won a statewide chemistry award. One of the people he recruited was Chester McPhee, who taught physical education and coached football and basketball at the old Chaney throughout its history. He was the coach of Frank Sinkwich, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1942 and went on to a brief career in the NFL. George “Shotgun” Shuba, whose handshake with Jackie Robinson was recently commemorated with a statue in Wean Park in downtown Youngstown was also a Chaney graduate. Many others, including my father, went on from their education at Chaney to military service in World War 2, as reflected in this 1943 yearbook paying tribute to those who had already given their lives in service to the country. The yearbooks in this era were called the Rig Veda. Only later would they reflect the Cowboy theme and become The Lariat.

The late 1940’s and 1950’s were another time of growth, during which Youngstown reached its peak population of 170,000 people. Home construction continued on the West side, particularly in the Kirkmere area out to the western and southwestern city limits. Under the leadership of superintendent of schools Paul C. Bunn, plans were made for new schools to accommodate this growth, including a new Chaney High School, located at 731 S. Hazelwood, more central to the whole West side area it would serve. A school levy was passed and the school was built at a cost of $1.4 million and dedicated on February 20, 1955.

C. W. Ricksecker, principal throughout Chaney’s life up to that point was entrusted by Board chair Warren P. Williamson (of WKBN fame) with the “guardianship” of the building. Ricksecker expressed his appreciation for this new facility as he stated, “We are grateful for this palace of learning, for through its modern equipment we may the better teach and inspire youth in a time of increasing difficulty in educational work.” Over 1000 people attended the dedication including the daughter of N. H. Chaney and numerous city leaders.

My first visit to Chaney was in the fall of 1961 during the Sabin vaccine distribution to fight polio. My brother was in his senior year while I was in second grade at the ancient Washington Elementary and I was so impressed with how new and modern it was and thought, “one day this will be my high school.” During those years, Chaney continued its tradition of competitiveness in sports under Lou “Red” Angelo and, during my time at Chaney, Ed Matey, who coached for many years and eventually served as athletic director for Chaney and eventually, the Youngstown Schools. Matey led Chaney football teams to eight City Series championships, coaching future NFL players like Matt Cavanaugh and Jerry Olsavsky. In all, Chaney won more championships in football in the old City Series than any other Youngstown high school. After Ed Matey retired from coaching, Chaney football teams won fourteen more City Series championships before the end of the City Series in 2006.

My memory of Chaney was of several inspiring teachers. I hesitate to name more than one because others will tell me who I left out. One of my favorites was a math and computer science teacher, Mr. Erickson (I write more about him and other inspiring teachers here). He was friends with Harvey, the invisible (to us) rabbit who would visit and with whom Mr. Erickson would speak. He always made math interesting, and offered some of the first computer programming classes when programs were still written on IBM punch cards and run on mainframes that would fill a room and had less computing power than my cell phone. Our principal was Mr. John Maluso, who just recently passed away in his 90’s. Over the years, Chaney graduated not only great athletes but a number of people who excelled in a variety of fields. One of the most notable was Thomas Bopp, the astronomer who co-discovered the Hale-Bopp Comet.

Library and Media Center, Photograph ©2019 by Robert C Trube, all rights reserved.
Chaney Gymnasium entrance, Photograph ©2019 by Robert C Trube, all rights reserved.

Over the years, Chaney would receive some updates in terms of a new gymnasium and a modern library and media center while four other Youngstown high schools closed. Then in 2011, I heard the news that the “last” class of Chaney Cowboys would be graduating. Chaney would be converted to a school for STEM and arts education with East High School serving as the city’s only traditional high school. That meant the end of sports teams. Then in 2018, the school board reversed course, and converted Chaney back to a traditional high school and restored a number of athletic programs. COVID has disrupted some of the rebuilding process but I look forward to more great Chaney sports teams in the future. And in four more years, in 2026, Chaney will celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of its founding. One hopes that the students in coming years will continue Chaney’s tradition of both scholarship, athleticism, and service to community and country that has marked the school throughout its history.

A final note, this is a personal perspective on Chaney’s history, and a limited one at that. I know there is much that I’ve left out. I hope my fellow Cowboys will help tell that story.

Once a Cowboy, always a Cowboy.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Review: A Short History of Christian Zionism

A Short History of Christian Zionism, Donald M. Lewis. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: An account of the understanding of the Jewish people’s claim to their ancient homeland throughout history, and particularly since the Reformation, focusing on Great Britain and the United States.

The idea of the claim of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland has not always been held (at least prior to return of the Messiah), either among the Jews or among Christians. This work traces the history of this idea and the various movements, both Jewish and Christian, and both theological and political that have given rise to Christian Zionism in its modern expressions.

Donald M. Lewis begins with offering his definition of the contentious term, “Christian Zionism”:

[A] Christian movement which holds to the belief that the Jewish people have a biblically mandated claim to their ancient homeland in the Middle East.

He notes that for many in history, this has implied a Jewish return but not necessarily a Jewish state.

With that he traces that history, beginning briefly with the period of the early church to the Reformation. For much of this period, the church was characterized by anti-Jewish attitudes, even blaming the loss of the land on the crucifixion of Jesus. While Jerusalem and the Holy Land was an object of the Crusades, it was not for the purpose of restoring the Jewish people to this land.

The change began with the Reformation and the bulk of this book treats the history from the Reformation to the present, particularly beginning with Calvin’s Geneva. It was here that the idea of the Restoration began among the theologians that followed Calvin, distinguishing the Protestants from Catholics, first with the idea of spiritual restoration of the Jews, a mass conversion at some future point, and second of a return to their homeland, seeing in this the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. As the Calvinist movement spread to England, so did these ideas, particularly in the form of seeing England as a chosen nation tasked with protecting and restoring the Jewish people. Meanwhile, German pietism under Philip Spener emphasized Jewish evangelism. These movements would shape the future of Christian Zionism in both Great Britain and America. In America, here as in so many things Jonathan Edwards played a major role, not only in anticipating a great future conversion of the Jews but in the restoration of the people to the land, aided by American political agency.

Subsequent chapters trace the turns these efforts to convert, protect and restore the Jews took in both England and the US, culminating in the Balfour Declaration, British control of Palestine following World War 1 and the migration of Jews to the land and parallel movements in the U.S. and the shifts that occurred from postmillenial to premillenial to charismatic theological support over the years. Lewis describes the various organizations supporting the return of Jews to the land, and later on, support of the Jewish state. He traces these organizations and movements down to the present day and the growth of these into a global movement.

There were several things I appreciated about this work, beginning with the fact that it was highly readable, even as Lewis negotiates the various theological positions, Christian Zionist efforts, and figures on both sides of the Atlantic. Second, I appreciated the fact that this was a descriptive work and not a piece of advocacy. No matter where one stands on the question of Jews and the land, this is a work that may be read with profit.

In addition, Lewis gives the lie to the exclusive association of Christian Zionism with premillenial dispensationalism. In fact, J.N. Darby rejected the idea of the return of the Jews to the land prior to Christ’s coming. He shows how Christian Zionism was adapted to postmillenialism, historic premillenialism, and eventually with pre-millenial dispensationalism theological persuasions, and even to pentecostalism.

He also chronicles the realization of secular leaders of the state of Israel of how important Christian Zionist support was to the Jewish state and Lewis traces how they made the most of Christian tourism to strengthen that support. Lewis draws the arc from Christian ministry efforts to political advocacy.

The book ends on an important question being faced at the present time of the place of conversionist efforts as part of seeking the blessing of the Jews. He notes the growth of a dual covenant theology that turns away from evangelistic efforts and Paul’s efforts to offer the gospel “to the Jews first.” Instead, it advocates love, esteem, and blessing that respects Jews distinctive covenant relationship with God. The dilemma for some is one of cultural insensitivity and offensiveness versus biblical faithfulness. True to the intent of the book, Lewis does not offer an answer but notes the trends that raise the question.

This history is valuable in understanding how we’ve gotten to where we are with Christian Zionism, from the justice issues relating to displaced Palestinians, to ways theology contributes to Christian Zionism as well as how historical events have shaped theology, and how religious and political efforts have intermingled, particularly in both Great Britain and the United States.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: God Dwells Among Us (Revisited)

God Dwells Among Us (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology), G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021 (Originally published in 2014).

Summary:A study of the theme of the temple from God’s garden temple in Eden to the New Jerusalem of Revelation, and the role of the people of God, his living temple, in extending the reach of God’s kingdom.

I discovered in logging this book in Goodreads and setting up this post that I read a different edition of this book in 2016 and posted a review of it previously on this blog. I’ve enjoyed the new Essential Studies in Biblical Theology series and have tried to review works in that series and had not realized that this work had been re-issued as part of this series. But it totally fits the series purpose to address broad themes in “the grand story line of the Bible.” The temple is clearly one of these, and building on the work of G. K. Beale, Beale and Mitchell Kim offer a survey of this theme and its practical implications. The book actually grows out of a preaching series by Kim drawing the arc between the Biblical development of this idea and the life of the church.

Rather than recapitulate the material covered in my previous review, since, as far as I can tell, this is basically the same book with a new cover and as part of a series. I will just touch on a few things that stood out to me in this reading of the work. One is that I’ve often thought of the discontinuity between Eden and the rest of history resulting from the fall. This work underscored the purpose of God to dwell among human beings, first materialized in the garden temple of Eden and intended to expand through the rest of creation. The wonder is that the fall, with its very profound impacts, did not thwart God’s intent to dwell deeply with his creatures, as he calls out Abraham, and works through this family to bless all the families of the earth.

I was also impressed with the work done on the pattern of the temple from the outer courts, the holy place, and the holy of holies and how this plays out in tabernacle, temple, and the church. One grasps the deep offense of Jesus when the outer court is turned into a marketplace when this was the place of approach, and as far as the Gentiles could come to pray. Also striking was the idea that for the church, the outer courts, the place of sacrifice is the place of our witness, our μάρτυρα (marturas) the word from which we get martyr. Through the suffering of the church in faithful witness, the nations come to God. Finally, one of the marvels of the new Jerusalem, the new garden-temple is that the outer courts and holy place are no longer. Holy God is amid his people without separations.

Witness is fueled by worship, our prayers, like incense rising, and God’s word like the bread of presence pointing to the one who is our living Bread. All of this flows out of being able to approach the living God through Christ, our great high priest. All of this occurs, no longer in a physical building, but amid a people, and we who are in Christ, are that people, we are that living temple, and in mission, we see that temple expand to encompass the whole creation and all the nations, fulfilling both the mandates of creation and the great commission. The two are really one.

It strikes me that reflecting on this theme of God’s presence among us is great comfort at a time when the American church, particularly white evangelicalism, has been rocked by scandal and apostasy, and many are deserting her. God’s purpose to dwell among his people and to expand that dwelling was not thwarted by the fall, by Israel’s unfaithfulness and exile, nor by the repeated failings of the church. We have failed but God will not fail. One of the encouragements I gain from this work is to face our failures but not wallow them, but rather to look up to the unfailing God who continues to be present and will not fail to build his world-encompassing temple.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: The Anxiety Field Guide

The Anxiety Field Guide, Jason Cusick. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022.

Summary: A practical guide with daily exercises to help face anxieties and reduce feelings of anxiety integrating clinical practices and biblical insights.

We all know what it is to be anxious and we live in anxious times. The question is, how will we respond? Will we make healthy choices that face and normalize our anxiety? Or will we avoid situations that make us anxious or escape into unhealthy coping behaviors when we feel anxious? Will we step into anxiety-producing opportunities for growth and advancement, or will we choose the safe route?

Jason Cusick is an anxious person from an anxious family. Stepping into larger responsibilities, he experienced panic attacks. And it led to a season of therapy in which he learned about anxiety and about himself. He realized that anxiety is a gift of God for our safety, but can be awakened at the wrong time. He learned that healthy responses to anxiety are rooted in four principles;

  1. Normalization. Learning that anxiety is natural but can become unhealthy.
  2. Exposure. Learning to understand and face our fears rather than avoiding them.
  3. Habituation. Learning new skills that desensitize us to our fears.
  4. Care. Learning healthy ways to experience God’s love for us and others.

With this introduction, the remainder of the book consists of thirty short chapters. The idea is to read one a day and to practice the exercises at the end of the chapter which focus on the four principles above. Here’s one example from the early part of the book. It is to “Practice Pit Stops.” Noticing how good pit stops in a race occur in 10 seconds or less, Cusick advises 10 second pit stops when we are experiencing anxious thoughts. It begins with recognizing our need for help–that we are having an anxious moment, pausing what we are doing, allowing ourselves ten seconds, calling it what it is, noticing how it is affecting us, and using one of the other skills in the book to make a healthy response (e.g. put our anxiety in our “worry box”). He concludes with these three action steps: 1) When anxious, give yourself ten seconds; 2) Give yourself more than ten seconds if needed; and 3) Create a mood log to track our anxious moments.

Cusick’s practical helps include not only psychologically sound practices but also spiritual insights involving God’s care for us, practical prayer practices including lament prayers, practice resting with God, and choosing joy. He helps us learn to receive anxiety as God’s gift rather than something to be suppressed. Throughout, he shares instances where he struggled with anxiety, how he has practiced these ideas, and how he has been less than perfect. Perfection is anxiety-producing, and Cusick helps us see that progress can even be found in attempting and failing rather than avoiding what we fear.

We might be thinking of a particularly anxious friend to share this book with. It might not be a bad thing to get two and do it together. I suspect we all need an anxiety tune-up, or at least an anxiety pit stop!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning

A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning  (ISI Guides to the Major Disciplines), James V. Schall, S.J. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2019. (Link is to free e-book download from publisher).

Summary: A pithy little guide on pursuing the liberty that comes in the pursuit of truth and how one might devote oneself to liberal learning.

In this pithy booklet, James V. Schall, S.J. makes the case for the classic ideal of liberal learning that he believes lost in the post-modern setting of contemporary higher education. Liberal education believed that the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty freed one (liberated one) to pursue the well-lived life. He writes this booklet to the student who has the sense that there is something more that might be pursued in her education that what is on offer. He also observes, with Augustine and Aristotle, that our actions more than our words reveal what is true, and that our moral failings may prevent us from seeing truth, something rarely, if ever, heard in the classroom.

Where then does one begin. For Schall, he urges two things. One is self-discipline, that is self-control of our passions, fears, dreams, and thoughts, and honesty about our failings in these areas. He writes: “The person who was most free was the one who had the most control over himself.” It is this that allows us to focus on the things of greatest importance.

The second thing is to build a good personal library. Schall doesn’t believe this requires many books–early pioneers often had only Shakespeare and the Bible, and much of what was important in life could be found here. I loved Schall’s commitment to not assigning books that he did not think worth keeping. And this leads to a guiding standard–our libraries should consist of the books we would read again (a standard I use more and more as I cull books from my shelves).

Schall also advocates that we need good guides, holding up Samuel Johnson as an example. A good guide is one who helps the student test ideas by reality. One of the most beautiful lines about teaching is this:

We begin our intellectual lives not with need, nor less with desire, but with wonder and enchantment. A student and teacher read together many books they otherwise might have missed. Both need to make efforts to know the truth of things, the ordinary things and the highest things, that the one and the other might have overlooked had they not had time, serious time, together.

And so Schall concludes by discussing the matter of time, invoking the unusual authority of Louis L’Amour whose The Education of a Wandering Man makes the case for finding the time to read in a busy life. Schall urges students to take time beyond their classes to read, to find great works that aren’t taught in the used bookstores. What books, you may ask? One of the delights of this book are Schall’s recommendations interspersed in the text as well as an Appendix of “Schall’s Unlikely List of Books to Keep Sane By,” a list of twenty titles–only half of which I’ve read. While some are found on “Great Books” lists, many are not.

My only objection is that they are all by white Euro-Americans. I think we may also grow in liberal learning by reading W.E,B. DuBois, Frederick Douglass, and Langston Hughes as well as African, South American, and Asian writers. One of the most profound works I’ve read is Shusaku Endo’s Silence.

That said, this is a delightful little work. For many students, the idea of “liberal learning” has no room in the curriculum. Schall proposes that, sad as this is, the perceptive student will find the room on his or her own and find good guides and books along the way. And this “Guide” is a good beginning.

The Month in Reviews: July 2022

Summertime, and the reading is easy. Well, not all of it. I tackled a long compendium of articles from an egalitarian stance on gender roles and a Paul Tillich classic. Other thought-provoking books this month were on the loneliness epidemic, the spirituality in John’s writings, a book that wrestled with how we do Christian history and a book on academic freedom. I actually read two Ngaio Marsh books this month as well as a lesser known (to me) train mystery by Agatha Christie. Then there were a couple books by “proto-Inklings”–a children’s fantasy by George MacDonald and a reflection on the life of St. Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton. I finally pulled Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft off the TBR–a work that challenges our notions of knowledge work. And I delighted in the full-length biography of Salmon P. Chase, a fellow Ohioan who fought slavery and was an exemplar of public service.

Death in a White Tie (Alleyn #7), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2012. At a premiere debutante ball, Lord Robert Gospell’s call to Alleyn about a blackmail conspiracy is interrupted. A few hours later, Gospell turns up at Scotland Yard in the back of a taxi–dead! Review

Spirituality According to JohnRodney Reeves. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. Through an imaginative study of the gospel, letters, and Revelation of John, considers what it means to abide in Christ, coming to faith, living communally in Christ, and facing the tribulations of the end of the world. Review

A Moveable Feast: The Restored EditionErnest Hemingway. New York: Scribner, 2010 (Original edition published in 1964). Based on the manuscript submitted by Hemingway for publication rather than the posthumously edited version originally published, a memoir of his time in the 1920’s in Paris, his beginnings as a writer, his first marriage, and the circle of writers he worked among, including the previously unpublished “Paris Sketches.“ Review

The Courage to BePaul Tillich. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952 (Link is to the third edition, published in 2014). A philosophical discussion of being or ontology, the crisis of anxiety, and the nature of the courage to be, the affirmation of our being in the face of nonbeing, accepting our acceptance by the God above God despite our unacceptability. Review

At the Back of the North Wind, George MacDonald. New York: Open Road Media, 2022. Summary: Diamond becomes friend with the North Wind, who takes him on many adventures, even while he is a help to everyone he meets and known for his rhymes. Review

Discovering Biblical Equality: Biblical, Theological, Cultural & Practical Perspectives (Third Edition), Editors: Ronald W. Pierce and Cynthia Long Westfall, Associate editor: Christa L. McKirland. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A compendium of scholarly essays addressing gender differences in marriage and the church supporting an egalitarian perspective. Review

Saint Francis of Assisi (Paraclete Heritage Edition), G. K. Chesterton. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2013 (Originally published in 1923). Less a biography than a reflection on the meaning of the life of St. Francis. Review

The Mystery of the Blue Train (Hercule Poirot #6), Agatha Christie. New York: William Morrow, 2005 (originally published in 1928). A rich heiress carrying a rare ruby is murdered on the fashionable overnight train to the French Riviera on which retired detective Hercule Poirot happens to be riding. Review

The Shape of Christian HistoryScott W. Sunquist. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. An exploration of how Christian history is written and read in an era of “Christianities” proposing three framing concepts that give coherence to the whole arc of Christian history while respecting the diversity of its expressions. Review

The Loneliness EpidemicSusan Mettes (Foreword by David Kinnaman). Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2021. A study of the prevalence of loneliness in America, misconceptions about loneliness, and steps leaders and individuals in the church can take to address loneliness. Review

Versions of Academic FreedomStanley Fish. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014. Summary: An analysis of the idea of academic freedom, identifying five schools of thought, arguing for limiting this to the core professional duties of an academic in one’s institution and disciplinary field. Review

With or Without MeEsther Marie Magnis (Translated by Alta L. Price). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2022. A memoir of losing a father to cancer and the loss of faith that came when earnest, believing prayers went unanswered, and the slow journey back. Review

Now and Not Yet (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Dean R. Ulrich. Downers Grove: IVP Academic/London: Apollos, 2021 (Apollos-UK publisher webpage). Summary: A study of the biblical theology of Ezra-Nehemiah that situates the books within an account of redemptive history, emphasizing both what already had been fulfilled and what yet remained. Review

Shop Class as SoulcraftMatthew B. Crawford. New York: Penguin Books, 2010. A philosopher turned motorcycle mechanic explores the nature of satisfying work and the intellectual dignity of the manual trades. Review

Salmon P. Chase: Lincoln’s Vital RivalWalter Stahr. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021. A biography tracing the life of this public figure who was a contender along with Lincoln for the presidency and who played a vital role in his cabinet, and then as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Review

Tied Up in Tinsel (Roderick Alleyn #27), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2015 (Originally published in 1972). Hilary Bill-Talsman is the subject of a Troy portrait and host of a Christmas house party that includes a Druid Pageant, marred when the chief Druid disappears. Alleyn arrives from overseas just in time to solve the mystery. Review

O Pioneers!Willa Cather. New York: Penguin Classics, 1994 (Originally published in 1913). The first of the Great Plains Trilogy, the story of Alexandra Bergson’s love of the Nebraska hills, the costly choices she made, and the ill-fated love of her brother Emil. Review

Indigenous Theology and the Western WorldviewRandy S. Woodley. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2022. A discussion of an indigenous approach to theology that proposes it is closer to both the indigenous traditions and the teaching of Jesus. Review

Book of the Month: It was a toss-up for me between the Chase biography and Esther Marie Magnis’s With or Without Me. I chose the latter because it is a powerful, unvarnished memoir of suffering loss, not only of a loved one, but of one’s faith and her slow journey back as she discovered the inconsistencies and emptiness for her of the alternatives on offer.

Quote of the Month: This month, you get two! I’m just discovering the writing of American plains writer, Willa Cather. I’m not sure how I overlooked her for so long. Here is a passage I really liked from O Pioneers!:

For the first time, perhaps, since that land emerged from the waters of geologic ages, a human face was set toward it with love and yearning. It seemed beautiful to her, rich and strong and glorious. Her eyes drank in the breadth of it, until her tears blinded her. Then the Genius of the Divide, the great, free spirit which breathes across it, must have bent lower than it ever bent to a human will before. The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman (Cather, p. 44).

Rodney Reeves in Spirituality According to John concluded with a question worthy of consideration of a church seemingly infatuated with almost anything but Jesus:

“The Apocalypse is not only a revelation at the end of the world; it is a revelation of the church at the end of the world. God knew that, as we watched the world fall apart around us, we would need to see our place in a crumbling world. When the earth quakes at the weight of glory, when heaven shakes earth to its core, when idols are destroyed and the kingdoms of men fall, when pandemics threaten humanity, when all creation is purified of evil and all that is left is what God has made, where will the church abide?” (p. 257).

What I’m Reading: I’ve finished three books that I’ll be reviewing this week. One is James V. Schall’s A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning, a delightful little book making the classic argument for a liberal education as well as building one’s own library of significant works, including his own recommendations. Beale and Kim’s God Dwells Among Us is on the theme of the temple, a theme the authors trace through scripture, offering practical application throughout. Jason Cusack’s The Anxiety Field Guide consists of thirty short chapters intended to be practiced over a month, based on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and illustrated liberally by Cusack’s personal experiences of anxiety. A Short History of Christian Zionism is a descriptive history rather than a work of advocacy, tracing the development of Christian Zionism both in Great Britain and in the U.S., the key figures, and they way it has adapted to different theological streams. Bird by Bird is Anne Lamott’s classic on writing, full of her earthy wit that makes you laugh even as it encourages the heart of any writer. I’ve come across various recommendations of the work of Vaclav Smil. His latest, How the World Really Works, explores the reality of energy use and how hard it will be to get to a carbon-zero energy economy. This is not a piece of advocacy but rather a realistic look at present day realities and the alternatives open to us. I’m just starting in on The Power of Us, on the role others play in the shaping of identity. The Psychology of Christian Nationalism is also one I’m just starting and focuses on the roots of Christian Nationalism and how we address both our divides as a nation and our pursuit of justice for all.

In our area, it looks like we might have some hot weather coming–a great excuse to find a cool place, a comfortable chair, a cold drink, and a good book. As always, I’d love to hear what you are reading!

The Month in Reviews is my monthly review summary going back to 2014! It’s a great way to browse what I’ve reviewed. The search box on this blog also works well if you are looking for a review of a particular book.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — East High School

East High School by Daysleeper47, Public Domain via Wikipedia.

I went to Chaney High School. At that time, there were six public high schools in Youngstown (Chaney, The Rayen School, North, South, Wilson, and East). East was our cross town rival in the City Series. Apart from that, I did not know much about East.

It turns out that the two schools, which are now the two remaining public high schools in Youngstown, have parallel histories. In the early 1920’s, Youngstown was experiencing explosive growth and the existing schools were becoming overcrowded. In 1921, plans were announced to build new schools on the East and West sides. Both opened in 1925, the West side school being renamed Chaney High School after the recently deceased former superintendent of the Youngstown School District.

When it opened, East was designed to accommodate 1600 to 1800 students. It was a three story brick building of colonial design with a frontage of 284 feet and depth of 165. The interior was trimmed in oak with maple floors in the classrooms and terrazzo hallways. It had 21 classrooms, 10 shops, 12 special rooms, 2 study halls, 2 gyms, an auditorium, lunchroom, kitchen, and two locker rooms (Aley, p. 263).

The old East High School

John W. Smith was the first principal and served in this position until his retirement in 1947. Throughout his tenure, sports teams were known as the Sunrisers. In 1950, they changed the mascot to the Golden Bears, which they remained until the 1998 closing of the school. East underwent renovations in 1955, the same year the new Chaney High School was dedicated. The renovations involved additions to all three floors. Further renovations were completed in 1981 when restrooms were renovated and new doors and windows were installed in the old section of the building. A fence was built around the school grounds in 1987 and the parking lot expanded.

After the mill closures, North High School was closed in 1980 and South High School in 1993. Some of the students from each school were assigned to East. In 1997, when the school district was in debt, a state commission took over operation of the schools and decided to close East as a high school, transferring the students to The Rayen School. In the next years, East became a middle school. It was closed after winter quarter of 2006.

But that was not the end of the history of East High School. In 2007 a new East High School opened at its current location on 474 Bennington. With its opening, The Rayen School and Wilson High School closed and their students assigned to East. When the school opened in 2007, students decided that the Panther would be their mascot, in silver and blue. Ten years later, though, they once again decided to become the blue and gold Golden Panthers.

Once again, Chaney and East were on parallel paths and sports rivalries. Then in 2011, Chaney became a STEM school without sports programs. For a time, East was the only traditional public high school in Youngstown. In 2017, the decision was announced that Chaney would once again become a traditional high school and in 2018, the Cowboys once again fielded sports teams. The Golden Bears and the Cowboys were rivals once more.

Debra Campbell is the current principal of East High School. East High School emphasizes the Three R’s: ”Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships.” It must be working. In 2022, East High School won the Gene Bottoms Pacesetter Award for School Improvement, measured by attendance, on-time graduation rates, and graduation requirements. From 2021 to 2022, attendance jumped from 71.1% to 88.4% and graduation rates from 2017 to 2021 jumped from 68.6% to 84.7%. That seems impressive during a pandemic.

East High School is coming up on 100 years since its founding. It looks like the school is on a good trajectory. And even though they are a sports rival of my alma mater, I wish them well. After all, how else can we have a rivalry!

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Review: Indigenous Theology and the Western Worldview

Indigenous Theology and the Western Worldview, Randy S. Woodley. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2022.

Summary: A discussion of an indigenous approach to theology that proposes it is closer to both the indigenous traditions and the teaching of Jesus.

Until recent times, not only the history of our relations with indigenous peoples, but also our theology has been written by Euro-Americans. Randy Woodley, as he introduces himself in the beginning of this work is a mixed blood Cherokee who grew up in a Detroit suburb where his father worked in the auto industry. He came to faith in a revival meeting in a Baptist church, delivered of a drug habit. Educated from a Western perspective, he engaged in missions and pastoral work among indigenous peoples, learning their history and spiritual outlook in his efforts to communicate Christ, and became convinced in many respects, that the indigenous worldview, in many respects was closer to the way of Christ than the Western worldview.

In this work, he engages in three conversations, in indigenous fashion, telling stories and answering questions that contrast indigenous theology and the Western worldview. The first discusses the Western, progressive narrative of history versus the high civilizations of indigenous peoples that existed for centuries before they were “discovered,” likening the encounter to the story of the wolves (indigenous peoples) and the terrapin (the discoverers). They failed to understand the covenant Jesus had with all peoples and the strong indigenous sense of relationship between creator, people, and land.

The second conversation contrasts Western dualism and the much more integral understanding where all of life is both physical and spiritual, where the life of a people is integral with the land they inhabit, and one seeks to live in harmony (shalom) with creation. Western thought “othered” indigenous people, marginalizing and killing them. Healing this begins with acknowledgement, recognizing we are latecomers and usurpers, and working together to repair the damage.

The last conversation gestures toward a decolonized, indigenous theology rooted in what he calls the “harmony way”–ten indigenous values held in common by a wide representation of indigenous groups;

  1. Tangible spirituality/our spirituality must be practiced. Respect everyone. Everything is sacred.
  2. Our lives are governed by harmony. Seek harmony.
  3. Community is essential. Increase your friends and family.
  4. Humor is sacred and necessary. Laugh at yourself.
  5. Feeling of cooperation/communality. Everyone gets a say.
  6. Oral communications and traditions. Speak from your heart.
  7. Present and past time orientation. Look forward by looking back.
  8. Open work ethic. Work hard but rest well.
  9. Great hospitality/generosity. Share what you have.
  10. Natural connectedness to all creation. We are all related.

What connects all this to Christianity is the idea of shalom, and the healing of creation in the vulnerable shalom of the cross. Woodley contrasts this with Western ideas of conquest, control and power.

Is this orthodoxy or syncretism? Woodley would contend that this is for indigenous believers to work out among themselves. Others are interlopers who might better listen to the stories and reflect where they are being invited to walk more closely in the way of Jesus rather than in the distortions of the Western worldview. Does that mean Western Christians have nothing to offer? Woodley would affirm that they do, owing his faith at least in part to Western Christians. But he would resist any efforts to control from the outside as opposed to engaging in the way of harmony, where growth comes in community, as we engage from the heart in sharing our stories and listening to those of others.

Other indigenous writers like Robin Wall Kimmerer invite us to listen to indigenous wisdom in books like Braiding Sweetgrass. What Randy Woodley adds to this is the opportunity in listening to indigenous believers, we might not only gain insight in living wisely on the land that was once theirs alone as a gift of the Creator, but may also walk more wisely with the Creator of the land and with one another.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: O Pioneers!

O Pioneers!, Willa Cather. New York: Penguin Classics, 1994 (Originally published in 1913).

Summary: The first of the Great Plains Trilogy, the story of Alexandra Bergson’s love of the Nebraska hills, the costly choices she made, and the ill-fated love of her brother Emil.

I’ve only recently discovered Willa Cather, and realized that I have missed reading one of America’s great writers. This work, the first volume in the Great Plains Trilogy centers around Alexandra Bergstrom, a strong, red-haired woman. As she helped her dying father, it became clear that she and not her two older brothers, truly understood how to make the farm succeed that he had labored so hard to establish in the hills of Nebraska. When he died, she took over its management. When her brothers wanted to sell the farm during the drought, she went to see the river land they wanted to move to, and returned to propose that they mortgage the farm to add to the lands, her faith being so strong. In one of the pivotal passages of the book, Cather writes of her:

For the first time, perhaps, since that land emerged from the waters of geologic ages, a human face was set toward it with love and yearning. It seemed beautiful to her, rich and strong and glorious. Her eyes drank in the breadth of it, until her tears blinded her. Then the Genius of the Divide, the great, free spirit which breathes across it, must have bent lower than it ever bent to a human will before. The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman (Cather, p. 44).

Under her love, the expanded farm prospers, she buys out her brothers who acquire their own land. With old Ivar, who the brothers want to commit, and farmworkers and young girls to help, the fields, orchards, and stock flourish. But she is growing older, alone. Her one male friend from childhood, Carl Linstrum, his parents having sold the farm to Alexandra, has gone off to seek his fortune, and yet never finds it, secretly struggling to live up to Alexandra’s accomplishments, little realizing that this was not what she wanted.

Sadly, Alexandra also fails to recognize the yearnings drawing together her friend Marie, trapped in an unhappy marriage and her beloved youngest brother Emil, for whom she hoped so much. She sends Emil to help Marie in her troubles, little suspecting the attraction she is helping to fuel. One wonders if she fails to see the desires in others that she had suppressed in herself for so long.

One of the other things Cather captures is the ethnic diversity, each with their own settlements-the Norwegians, the French, the Bohemians, and the intersections between them at festivals, churches and daily life. Each has stereotypes of the others but also friendships, like that between Emil and Amedee, or Alexandra and Marie. Slowly, these different migrants are brought together but the challenges of Nebraska’s upland prairies.

I was also taken by the many descriptions of the land–the paths they walked, the pond where Emil shot the ducks with Marie by his side (a scene pregnant with foreshadowing), the rainstorm that clarified Alexandra’s grief and resolve, and the white mulberry tree. Amid all this, and dominating the whole is the strong character of Alexandra whose love of the land, shrewdness of character, generosity of friendship, and ultimately, a forgiveness that transcends grief makes her one of the great characters of American literature.