Why Libraries are Worth Our Support

Rose Reading Room

Rose Reading Room, New York Public Library. Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia.

Right now, libraries in many parts of the U.S. are facing cuts to funding. The most visible case of this is the New York Public Library, which while not technically facing a cut is only receiving an increase from $387.7 million to $388.8 million, which given inflation and increased demand for services, amounts to a cut. High profile figures, including Sarah Jessica Parker have joined the fight to increase library funding in the different boroughs of New York City.

I think libraries are one of the best deals out there today for those who pay taxes. I only occasionally borrow books at the library, but even my occasional borrowing, if I consider the retail price of the book, more than offsets the portion of my taxes.

My basic argument for libraries is that they are one of the most powerful weapons we have for sustaining our democracy, particularly given the growing income disparities in our country.

  • They provide online access, computer terminals, and printing facilities for those who cannot afford these.
  • They offer books for children who cannot afford them, fostering literacy at the most critical time of life.
  • They provide resources for job searches, and often basic courses in job-seeking, and computer literacy that is fundamental for many workers.
  • Many offer homework assistance for students and language assistance for immigrants wanting to learn English.
  • Libraries make available expensive manuals and reference materials for those who by necessity are do-it-yourselfers.
  • Many offer help with college admissions tests, helping to offset the advantages that more affluent students have with test prep courses and other assistance, legal or illegal, in getting admitted to colleges.

In addition, libraries offer so much at no cost to patrons simply for personal growth and entertainment–books, recorded music, videos in both physical and e-formats. They offer a range of programs serving every age group from children to seniors for personal enrichment. The demand for all these services continues to rise, often meaning personnel in the libraries are trying to stretch funding to acquire materials, and often the same people are working harder and longer–many of whom hold at least masters degrees in library science.

Librarians also are increasingly have to cope with the social challenges of our age. Librarians may be the first to spot child abuse. In urban centers, librarians often serve patrons who are homeless, chemically dependent, or mentally ill. In some instances, librarians are the first to respond to a drug overdose and many are trained to administer Naloxone.

All this is to say that I am proud to support the library in my community and extremely impressed with all that they accomplish with our tax dollars. I would venture that this is true in most communities. Why not take time to thank a librarian this week? And if there is a tax issue on the ballot, the best way you can say thanks is to vote yes. It not only is a great bargain (often less than your Prime membership, and certainly your cable bill), but it is one of the best investments I can think of in sustaining our democracy.

 

Review: Robicheaux

Robicheaux

Robicheaux (Dave Robicheaux #21), James Lee Burke. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018.

Summary: Robicheaux tries to navigate his way through grief from the tragic death of his wife, his friend’s debt issues, a mobster wanting to make a movie, a demagogic politician and a serial murderer, while trying to clear himself of suspicion in the death of the man who killed his wife.

This has all the elements of a James Lee Burke mystery. A complicated plot, lush descriptions of Louisiana, Confederate soldiers in the mists, Robicheaux under a cloud of suspicion, a grown up Alafair, and a new raccoon to replace Tripod. What’s not to like?

Robicheaux finds himself caught between his loyalty to his old friend Clete Purcell, deep in debt with mobsters holding the markers. The mobster, Tony Nemo wants to make a Civil War movie with novelist Levon Broussard. Alafair, now a screenwriter, ends up writing the adaptation of Broussard’s novel, against Robicheaux’s advice. Demagogue politician Jimmy Nightingale with senatorial ambitions (or more) also wants to meet him and capture some of his lustre. Instead he ends up being charged with raping Broussard’s wife Rowena. But the evidence is shaky, and the only questionable relationship in his life is his relation with Emmeline Nightingale, somehow related to him, and deeply invested in his success.

All through this, Robicheaux struggles with the grief of losing his wife Molly, who died in a tragic car accident. In a downward spiral, he has a conversation that could be construed as threatening with the man whose truck killed her, Dartez. He goes off the wagon, gets drunk, blacks out, and learns that Dartez is dead under suspicious circumstances. Some of the clues, including fingerprints on the truck window glass, connect Robicheaux to the scene and a shady detective in his department, Spade LaBiche.

Sheriff Helen Soileau sticks with him, though she is tempted to desk him. He pursues these different investigation, and then a series of murders by an Elmer Fudd-like character, Smiley, who likes children, kills those who abuse them or cross him, as well as an index card list that someone has supplied to him, via a variety of means from expert marksmanship to up-close and gruesome murders. It all leads up to a political rally with Nightingale, who increasingly is associated with white supremacists where Robicheaux, Clete and Clete’s former girlfriend Detective Sherri Picard converge to stop Smiley before he can do more harm.

The plot and all its subplots can be challenging to follow and one wonders if Burke makes it more bewildering than it need be. Also, the graphic descriptions of violence may not be to the taste of some. Yet the mounting suspense keeps one turning the pages. Robicheaux is deeply flawed and wounded, and yet gropes his way to doing the right thing, even if it means he is guilty of murder.

Burke’s character, Jimmy Nightingale, is an exploration of the particular form of charisma that sways even such a hard-bitten character as Robicheaux. One wonders at the seductive powers of various demagogues through history, and the dark underside of wealth and power that accompanies the personal magnetism. Burke doesn’t attempt to account for such people, but this character is a warning: Beware, they are out there.

This is only the second Robicheaux novel I’ve read, and the most recent. The multi-dimensional character of Robicheaux and the challenging plots have me ready to go back and begin reading the early ones.

Review: Transhumanism and the Image of God

transhumanism

Transhumanism and the Image of GodJacob Shatzer. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.

Summary: An exploration of how developing technologies raise questions of what it will mean to be human as we are formed by, or even integrated more closely into our technological devices, along lines some have envisioned as a transhumanist or even post-humanist future.

A basic axiom of this book is that we shape our technology, and then our technology shapes us. There is a constant tendency once we fashion a technology to optimize its use. In introducing this subject, Jacob Shatzer considers the ways we have kept time, with ever more precise devices. Shatzer argues that the shaping quality of our technological devices has implications for our moral formation. These shape how we relate to other people and to our physical environment. They shape our sense of control over our world, our perception of our capacities.

The rise of transhumanism takes this further as we think about using devices to enhance our intelligence, physical strength, and sensory inputs. Going further, transhumanism leads to posthumanism, where our technological developments hold out the hope of transcending the limitations of our physical bodies, including the ultimate limitation of death. He traces the steps in the unfolding of a transhumanist future. First there is the idea of morphological freedom–that we have a right to alter our physical form to enhance our ability to achieve our potential. On the face of it, this seems unobjectionable, except that it may be premised on faulty notions of freedom and what it means to be human. Second, there is the idea of becoming “hybronauts,” in which we utilize technology to augment our perception of reality, whether through wearable technology, or even some of the functions of our smartphones. Where all this is going is a fusion of human and artificial intelligence, with everything from a host of robots attending to different functions of our lives to the copying or uploading of our brains, predicated on the idea that our minds are simply a complex network of data, that may be stored biologically, or digitally. Are such assumptions reductive of what it means to be humans in the image of God? Yet we must face the fact that the directions in which we have shaped our technology are shaping us toward such a life, that we have technological liturgies, as it were, that condition us toward such a future in how we think or act.

Shatzer does not suggest a Luddite approach. He sees technology as double-edged, offering both aspects that enhance human flourishing, and aspects that dehumanize. He believes the Christian faith offers practices and images that enable to resist the dehumanizing aspects of our technology. He explores the question of “what is real?”, and contends that the incarnation, and our embodied existence must be robustly maintained, and that the storyteller may play a pivotal role in delivering us from the virtual reality world detaching us from the body. He explores the question of “where is real?” in a virtual world where one loses place. He describes placemaking practices from gardening, homemaking, and hospitality, and the importance of the love of real neighbors. He asks, “who is real?” and notes our increasing attachments to virtual and robotic technology (think Pokemon and Tamagotchis) and our virtual communities of “friends.” He stresses the importance of the practice of the Lord’s supper, and the figure of the real friend. Finally, he considers the question, “am I real” and the ways we construct, project, and manage our online selves. Shatzer contrasts our efforts at self-construction with the humility of entering the kingdom as children, entrusting our identity to Christ.

One of the important aspects of this book is that Shatzer seeks to help us identify the technological “liturgies” that are shaping us toward a transhuman future. These are liturgies that propose an expansion of our control, a transcendence of limits of knowledge and existence, and control over our identify. What is most troubling though, and also something our social media prepares us for, is the sharing of everything. What happens when networking extends to our thoughts, when nothing is private for us and nothing is concealed from us? Shatzer helps us recognize how our technological liturgies, far from leading to flourishing, threaten to change in dehumanizing ways, what it means to be human.

Any of us who has acquired a smartphone has experienced the formative power of this technology, which we may be tempted to check hundreds of times a day. Shatzer’s final chapters explore the questions we must ask, the small steps we can take, the practices we can embrace beginning with sharing meals together that remind us of our embodied nature, our relationships with neighbors and friends, and create places for remembering our story.

Setting limits, setting tables, saying prayers, cultivating friendships, telling stores. I found myself asking, “Are these enough?” Perhaps the issue is, how many of us will just focus on what our technology will do, and how many of us will keep asking and prioritizing in our practice the question of “what kind of humans we are making.” Shatzer’s book helps us ask these important questions.

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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.

Guest Review: Laying Down Arms to Heal the Creation-Evolution Divide

Laying Dowh

Laying Down Arms to Heal the Creation Evolution DivideGary N. Fugle (foreword Darrell R. Falk).  Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015.

Summary:  Christians can be comfortable with the revelations of both Scripture and scientific study

This book is based on the author’s personal experiences as a Christian who taught biological evolution at the college level for 30 years. He writes with the authority of someone who has dealt with creation-evolution issues regularly throughout his career. Throughout the book he emphasizes and gives his reasons for his Christian faith. His goal is for Christians to be comfortable with the revelations of both Scripture and scientific study.

The author is an evolutionary creationist and points out numerous problems with young-earth creationism and the intelligent design movement. He is “enthusiastically interested in a dialogue among individuals who are softened to the possibility of reconciliation in which the powerful message of Christian faith and the fascinating scientific understanding of evolution are integrated together.” (p. 8)

In his introductory Part I, the author suggests that “the voices of six-day, young-earth creationists and intelligent design (ID) advocates have not been widely suppressed or ignored by mainstream scientists; rather, they have been evaluated and deemed incomparable and incompatible with the scientific validity and value of evolutionary theory.” (p. 14)

He also suggests that “one of the changes that will bring healing and an end to the creation-evolution wars is an understanding within the Christian church that most scientists are simply pursuing their professions and are not the enemy of biblical Christian faith.” (p. 14)

In Part II the author discusses real issues for Christians: how did God go about his creative activities, which comes first-the Bible or science, and presuppositions on both sides. It also includes the obligatory brief history of young-earth creationism. He suggests that as believers in a sovereign God of creation, Christians should fully expect that nature and the Bible will complement and inform one another, which does not elevate the former over the latter, but can, and should, be elevated above any person’s interpretation of the Bible if there are major conflicts between the two.

In Part III, he discusses the collision of ideas, in which he argues for the separation of science and religion in our public education system, and notes that Christians are as wrong as scientists in their attacks on each other. Along the way he briefly discusses miracles, divine action, and the problems that the intelligent design movement has caused. He discusses how ID has no explanatory power, as opposed to biological evolution, which has an abundance of it.

Part IV is a survey of a sample of the evidence for biological evolution and illustrations of its explanatory power. The author has two goals in this part: (1) to communicate an understanding of the biological foundation behind evolutionary theory, and (2) “to continue to express how someone may accept that the biological world is both the product of evolutionary processes and the intended creation of a sovereign God.”

He accomplishes this by presenting example of homologous structures, vestigial structures, embryology, the fossil record, biogeography, possible mechanisms of evolutionary modification, and various aspects of molecular genetics, within which he emphasizes that molecular data has been found to be consistent with evolutionary predictions and makes little sense if God specialty created various organisms.

In Part V the author discusses reading the Bible with evolution in mind. He begins with a brief discussion of biblical interpretation, emphasizing that the book of Genesis was written for the ancient Israelites. He discusses creation over six days, the framework interpretation, and John Walton’s cosmic temple interpretation. He also argues that the biblical flood was not a global flood.

He clearly agrees that suffering and death entered the world long before the actions of Adam and Eve, and admits that the “Fall” of humanity through the actions of Adam and Eve is the most critical challenge from evolutionary biology for many Christians. While acknowledging that some Christians understand the Fall as a metaphor for our inherent human condition, he focuses on the difficulties with reading the Fall as a metaphor.

In his final chapter, the author discusses how to move forward, including a rejection of unjustified propositions on both sides, particularly metaphysical naturalism and strict young-earth creationism. He suggests that scientists could show more respect for belief systems and Christians could “incorporate legitimate scientific discoveries into a reasoned God-centered worldview.”

The author recommends this book for Christians who wonder how biological evolution can be accepted along with a Christian worldview and for non-Christians who don’t understand how a personal Christian faith can be embraced along with evolutionary ideas. I would also highly recommend it for anyone who wants a refresher course in biological evolution and its theological implications. The author did not intend this book for staunch proponents of young-earth creationism who hold unswervingly to their position or for committed atheists.

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

Review: The Quiet American

the quiet american

The Quiet AmericanGraham Greene. New York: Open Road Media, 2018 (originally published in 1955).

Summary: A novel set in French-occupied Vietnam paralleling the entangled lives of a British journalist and American agent with the entanglement of war in Vietnam.

Thomas Fowler, a British correspondent in French occupied Vietnam in the early 1950’s, arrives at home one night to find Phuong waiting outside. She reports that American  Alden Pyle has not returned home. She has been living with Pyle, supposedly with an American Economic Mission. Before living with Pyle, she had lived with Fowler. She stays the night, and they learn the next morning that Pyle is dead when they are summoned for questioning by the French Sureté.

Graham Greene then narrates the strange conflicted relationship of these two men who love one woman, and the equally entangled and conflicted relationships of all those who get involved in Vietnam. Fowler wants to believe that he is the uninvolved British journalist, whose country is not a party to the conflict. He has a wife at home from whom he is separated but who will not divorce him. Phuong meets his needs and prepares his opium pipes and she benefits materially from his attention but he can offer nothing more, although holding out the hope of a divorce. Pyle, who loves her at first sight, is unattached and due to come into money becomes a rival, candidly telling Fowler his intentions, and yet strangely taking to Fowler as his best friend, He saves Fowler’s life at one point when they are stranded in enemy territory, and steals Phuong.

Fowler gradually learns that Pyle isn’t all that he seems. He discovers that Pyle is doing something with plastics, that turn out to be plastic explosives, being used to undermine the regime in Saigon. He is actually a CIA agent. Fowler is curious, but remains detached until a bombing of a square intended to break up a parade that is cancelled kills and maims scores of innocents, an act with the fingerprints of Pyle all over it. He faces hard choices of what to do with his knowledge of this “quiet American,” his rival in love, yet one in some ways to whom he is beholden.

Fowler has tried to avoid entangling involvements. A conversation with a French pilot who napalmed villages describes the folly of such an attempt, in both love, and in the Vietnam conflict. When Fowler protests, “That’s why I won’t be involved.” the French pilot replies:

” ‘It’s not a matter of reason or justice. We all get involved in a moment of emotion and then we cannot get out. War and Love–they have always been compared.’ He looked sadly across the dormitory to where the métisse sprawled in her great temporary peace. He said, ‘I would not have it otherwise. There is a girl who was involved by her parents–what is her future when this port falls. France is only half her home…’ “

Greene’s tale was prescient, published in 1955, of the troubling future that would face, first the French, and then the Americans, already present, in Vietnam. Fowler discovered that he, too, was involved with Phuong, with Pyle, and that Vietnam was a far more complicated mistress than any understood. He evades his editors requests to return to London. Love and War has claimed him, as it would many others.

Sadly, this was an instance of prophecy ignored, and it could be argued that there have been others since. We are still in Iraq, and Afghanistan, unable to extricate ourselves from commitments made in “moments of emotion.”  The Quiet American is a cautionary tale as relevant in our times as it was in the mid-1950’s. Hopefully, we will not proceed as heedlessly now as we did then.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — East Federal Street

East Federal Street

East Federal Street, probably some time in the 1940’s or early 50’s. Stambaugh Building and Realty Building are in the foreground. Photo source unknown.

One of the things that I’ve discovered is that there is a real gap in my memories of Youngstown east of Central Square. For a short time in the 1960’s my father worked at Haber’s Furniture at 200 East Federal and as a kid, I went to the YMCA on North Champion every Saturday for a couple years. I honestly have a hard time remembering much else. I remember the Stambaugh and Realty Buildings opposite each other just east of the square. Most of my memories of downtown, particularly because I worked at McKelvey’s during high school and college, were west of the square. I went to an orthodontist in Central Tower and remember stores like Strouss,’ Lustig’s, Reicharts, Fanny Farmers, Stambaugh-Thompson’s, Record Rendezvous, and of course, the Home Savings Building.

89.119 B1aF325 N. View from Walnut and Federal Streets looking W

East Federal Street in the 1960’s. Photo from Mahoning Valley Historical Society archives.

Looking at old photographs of East Federal Street, I am amazed at the sheer number of stores and businesses, many with awning fronts, that lined East Federal from the 1940’s to the 1960’s. In one photo, I can make out Rocky’s Tavern, Castle Jewelers, East Federal Furniture Company, Factory Shoe Store, Lewis Apparel on Credit, Volunteers of America Opportunity Store, Fishers Dry Goods, and a partially obscured sign for Modern…. Another has signs for the Bargain Store, Marlane, The Atlas Grille, and Downtown Tile Center. Others have signs for Nick’s Shoe Repair, a camera and jewelry store, Leonard’s Clothes Shop, Best Cleaners, Philco/Royal TV Service, the Regent Theater, LeCar Furniture Store, an Army-Navy store, and a Sherwin-Williams paint and wallpaper store. All of these can be seen in a Homeplate TV/MetroMonthly video of East Federal Street in the 1960’s. At one time Rulli Brothers had two stores on East Federal, at 345 and at 21. Eventually the consolidated to the 21 E. Federal location.

I noticed two things from the pictures. One was that this was usually a busy place, cars lining the streets and a number of people on the sidewalks. The other was that the names suggested that these stores may have served a more economically-challenged part of Youngstown than the stores on the other side of Central Square. Bargain stores, stores offering apparel on credit, repair shops for shoes and appliances probably served those who lived paycheck to paycheck.

All these old storefronts are gone. The Realty and Stambaugh Buildings remain (the latter now a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel) as does the Haber Building now owned by Ohio One with an additional story. East Gateway Community College now occupies the block between South Champion and South Walnut. The YMCA is still on North Champion. But the cityscape has totally changed.

The gap in my own memories of East Federal seems to be matched with a lack of information in books I have or online articles apart from a few videos. I’d love to hear from others who have memories of downtown east of Central Square. It’s plain to me that downtown wasn’t just on West Federal back then. I’d like to know more about what I missed.

 

 

Review: In This World of Wonders

NW

In This World of WondersNicholas Wolterstorff. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2019.

Summary: A memoir tracing vignettes of the different periods of the author’s life from childhood in rural Minnesota to a career in higher education in which he was instrumental in leading a movement of Christians in philosophy.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, along with Alvin Plantinga, is a leader of a movement of Christians who have thoughtfully engaged the academic discipline of philosophy, including forming the Society of Christian Philosophers. His teaching career included permanent academic positions at Calvin College and Yale University as well as visiting professorships at a number of universities including Harvard, Princeton, Oxford, Notre Dame, the Free University of Amsterdam, and the University of Virginia. His academic works have included publications on aesthetics, Reformed epistemology, justice and political philosophy, metaphysics, and the philosophy of education.

His memoir is composed of “vignettes,” from the different periods of his life. He begins with his roots in rural Minnesota, the loss of his mother, the family dinner table that anticipated philosophical discussions, and the opening vistas provided by his education in a Christian high school. He traces his educational journey through Calvin College, and the influence of Harry Jellema and Henry Stob, his marriage to Claire Kingma, and his graduate education in philosophy at Harvard. He chronicles his early teaching experiences at Yale, including an embarrassing class he offered at a nearby prison. Much of his career was spent at Calvin College, and he recounts his friendship with Alvin Plantinga, and the turbulent times of the sixties and the seventies. He also recounts a fascinating consulting assignment with Herman Miller, manufacturer of the famous Eames chair, and the questions about aesthetics Max DePree and others asked, rooted both in Christian conviction and a concerned for excellent craft.

He recounts his “awakenings,” including his rejection of foundationalism for a Reformed epistemology that contends that there are certain beliefs, for example concerning the existence of God, that are properly basic. In Reason Within the Bounds of Religion, Wolterstorff elaborated these ideas. He traces his exploration of aesthetics, a growing concern for justice in his encounters with South Africans, Palestinians, and Hondurans, and his developing ideas of a philosophy of education, all subjects on which he wrote.

The most poignant part of the book is his narrative of the loss of his eldest son, Eric, in a mountain-climbing accident. He describes the writing of Lament for a Son, and admits both that he cannot make sense of what God was up to in such a loss, and yet that he cannot give up on a God who he believes performs the cosmos. Personally, I found this one of the most compelling discussions of the nature of grief and the profound questions it raises in anything I have read.

His narrative of Amsterdam brings out his love of architecture and well made objects, including chairs. It was clear throughout that Wolterstorff not merely writes about aesthetics–he loves beauty in both the creations of God including flowering gardens and in the creations of good craft on the part of human beings.

The final parts of the book include his later years at Yale, his retirement and visiting appointments, his life in Grand Rapids, and his family. A thread here that comes up throughout is that he is a lifelong churchman of the Christian Reformed denomination. Not only has the legacy of Calvin and Kuyper shaped his philosophy, but also the liturgy of the church shaped and formed his life, another subject on which he later wrote in a book on liturgical theology, in which he explored the understanding of God implicit in our liturgy.

This memoir is a wonderful example someone who has lived the life of a scholar Christian, one whose faith serves to draw together all the threads of his life, including a rich marriage and family life, enabling him to see and rejoice in worlds of wonder, and whose faith shapes his engagement with his chosen discipline of study, philosophy. Anyone who has read the resulting scholarship, and particularly his books, will find this memoir a fascinating journey describing how he came to write these works. Most of all, he captures so much of what is best in scholarly work, endangered by the corporatization of higher education. He writes:

“What do I love about thinking philosophically? I love both the understanding that results from it and the process of achieving the understanding. Sometimes the understanding comes easily, as when I read some philosophical text that I find convincing and illuminating. But often it comes after struggle and frustration. My attention has been drawn to something I do not understand, which makes me baffled and perplexed. Questions come to mind that I cannot answer. I love both the struggle to understand and the understanding itself–if it comes. The love of understanding and the love of achieving that understanding are what motivate and energize my practice of philosophy. For me, practicing philosophy is love in action” (p. 105).

I think this describes what motivates many scholars. This is a great book to read for anyone who aspires to such a life, or for anyone who wants to understand those who engage in scholarly work.

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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: Clingan’s Chronicles

Clingan's Chronicles

Clingan’s Chronicles, Clingan Jackson. Youngstown: Youngstown Publishing Co., 1991.

Summary: A memoir of Youngstown political writer and office holder, Clingan Jackson.

Clingan Jackson was a newswriter, and later political editor of The Vindicator, Youngstown’s newspaper from 1929 until 1983. His life spanned most of the twentieth century (1907 to 1997), and this memoir, published six years before his death chronicles not only his life, but nearly a century of local and political history in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. As you can imagine, covering political life in the Mahoning Valley makes for an interesting narrative!

Jackson actually begins his account with family history of both the Clingans and the Jacksons that make up his lineage and how they came to Coitsville Township, what eventually became part of the East side of Youngstown. We learn about the family homestead on Jacobs Road (still standing) and how they were among the early settlers of the area. During part of his youth, his immediate family moved to Carbon, Pennsylvania, just across the state line, while he attended Lowellville High School in Ohio, holding his first political office as class president of his class of fifteen.

He spent his college years at the University of Colorado in Boulder, majoring in English and History, good preparation for a political writer. He describes the typical experiences both of learning and social fraternities, and the highlight of hearing Will Rogers speak. Reading this narrative, one senses he sought in his own writing to be a commentator on politics in the vein of Rogers.

After graduation, he returned to Youngstown in 1929, and almost immediately hired on with The Vindicator. At the end of 1929, he received notice that his job was ending, but when he went to turn in his key, the publisher let him stay on until he found another job. He ended up staying fifty-four years.  His account of covering The Little Steel Strike of 1937 was one of the most riveting parts of the book. Here is a portion:

“Ed Salt, a Vindicator photographer, and I were dispatched to Poland Avenue to cover the tense situation. It was growing dark by that time, lights were being shot out and hundreds of men were milling along the street. We parked near the fire station and started walking down the sidewalk. As we passed by a bush, we saw its leaves completely eliminated as a shotgun blast rang out. Being a brave man, I went back to the fire station; needing to take pictures, Salt pushed onward.

When I arrived at the station someone exclaimed, ‘Salt has been shot.’ Mustering my courage, I went to his rescue, and found him with his white shirt completely bloodied. I got him into the car, and we headed up Poland Avenue. Although the street was barricaded, I persuaded the pickets to let the car through by explaining I had a passenger who needed to go to the hospital.”

His tenure as political editor spanned the presidencies from Franklin Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan. Perhaps one of the little known facts about Jackson that came out in the book was that he was a pioneer in political polling and his polls more often than not were right on the money. The Gallup organization consulted with him on his methods. His book narrates his coverage of a number of the national political conventions during these years as well as the local politics of Youngstown, and particularly its shift over time to a Democrat Party-dominated town. We meet both office-holders and party leaders, including John Vitullo who helped lead the Democrats to their ascendancy.

One of the unique aspects of Jackson’s career is that he both covered politics and held office at the same time, and satisfied his publisher with his ability to impartially cover politics. He held office as a city council person in Lowellville, and state representative and senator. Later, he was appointed to a number of state commissions. His career was distinguished by introducing the first strip-mining act, helping create the state Department of Natural Resources, and participating in commissions that laid out the state’s interstate highways and later, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. As he writes about his various association with both Democrat and Republican governors and other leaders, one has the sense that he, like Hubert Humphrey, was a “happy warrior,” far removed from the partisan vitriol of the present day.

His final chapters reflect back over his career, his retired life (although he continued contributing articles for the Youngstown-Warren Business Journal into the 1990), and his three marriages. Though aware of his own failings, what makes this part of the book quite wonderful is the deep joy and gratitude evident as he thinks of his times, his acceptance of his own mortality, and his thankfulness for each of his wives, two of whom pre-deceased him. He wrote of his three wives, “Good fortune is a necessary element of most any man’s success, and mine was having three farm girls for wives.”

The book includes a number of photographs of his life, surroundings, and of the people and places of Youngstown. Between each chapter are columns he wrote between the 1950’s and the 1990’s.

The voice in this memoir is warm and personal and has the feeling of a transcription of oral history. It strikes me that his book is a memoir of what might be looked back upon as a golden age of journalism, politics, and perhaps, the Mahoning Valley. People interested in any of these subjects will enjoy his account.

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Although published in 1991, I learned that new copies of the book may be purchased by contacting The Business Journal (the last publication Jackson wrote for) at 330-744-5023 Ext. 1008, asking for Eileen Lovell. Cost is $20 plus sales tax.

Review: None Greater

none greater

None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God, Matthew Barrett (Foreword by Fred Sanders). Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019.

Summary: Drawing on classical and reformed theology, discusses the perfections of God, that set God apart from all else.

It seems a common tendency in Christian preaching, and even in our informal conversations, to try to “bring God down to our level.”  Christian Smith, in a study of the religious beliefs of American teens, coined a term to describe the God of many: “moral therapeutic deism.” In this system, there is a belief in a God who made the world, who wants us to be nice and fair, the purpose of life being to feel happy and good about oneself, God only gets involved in our lives when we need God, and that good people will go to heaven when they die. Such a God is nice, domesticated, and mostly irrelevant to our lives. God is like us, only a bit better and maybe more powerful.

The classical theologians like Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas, and those in the Reformed tradition of the author thought quite differently. For them, God, as Anselm put it, is “someone than whom none greater can be perceived,” hence the title of this work. While God may have certain communicable attributes like love, that are evident in part in human beings, God’s incommunicable attributes are utterly unlike any other creature and set God apart as incomparably greater than human beings.

It was this God that Matthew Barrett discovered in college when he read Calvin’s Institutes, and the other theologians mentioned above, opening his eyes to the glory and majesty of God. His hope in this book is that through a study of God’s attributes, particularly those dealing with the incommunicable perfections of God, to sow the same sense of wonder in his readers, inviting them to give up their domesticated versions of God for the incomparably greater undomesticated God of scripture.

The first three chapters of the book lay groundwork. First he explores the incomprehensibility of God, that we may speak of attributes, but none of us may see or know God in God’s very essence. It is not that God in unknowable, because God makes God’s self known through God’s works. He discusses how we may speak of God in analogical language as revealed by God to us, and sometimes in anthropomorphic language of hands, eyes, even wings, none of which are true of God’s essence. Most of all, we must recognize that God is infinite in God’s perfections, and without limits–a staggering realization for finite and imperfect creatures.

The remainder of the book discusses the perfections of God:

  • God’s aseity or self-existence independent of all of creation.
  • God’s simplicity, that even when we speak of various attributes, these are not “parts” of God but compose a seamless whole.
  • God’s immutability, that God does not change, grow, improve, or diminish, which is a tremendous comfort.
  • God’s impassibility, that God does not experience emotional changes, both settled in his promise-keeping love, and holy wrath toward evil.
  • God’s eternity, that he is timeless and not exists in the eternal present.
  • God is omnipresent: not bounded by a body, infinitely present.
  • God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnisapient: all-powerful, all knowing and all-wise.
  • God is both holy and loving: the high and lifted up God Isaiah sees, who cleanses his mouth and takes his guilt away and lovingly commissions him.
  • A God who is jealous for his own glory, inviting us into a similar jealousy for the glory and reputation of God above all in our world.

I found this discussion far from the “sterility” often found in such treatments of the attributes of God. Barrett helps us understand how each attributes both feeds our worship of God and is of great consolation to the believer. For example, the aseity of God means that the gospel depends on a God who does not depend on us. He deals with questions that may arise, such as how we can speak of simplicity and yet believe in a triune God. He differentiates an immutable God from one who is rigidly immobile. He deals with the classic conundrum of God creating a rock so big he cannot lift.

His discussion of impassibility is particularly intriguing in taking on Jurgen Moltmann’s “suffering God.” Yes Christ in his humanity suffers, but God does not suffer, God redeems. God is not like the family suffering over a family member trapped in a fire, but rather the fireman who has the capability and compassion to enter the burning building, enduring the flames and the smoke, to rescue the loved one. I’m not sure I buy this, and it seems these ideas are framed in either/or terms, not admitting the possibility of both/and, or the possibility of a quality of suffering in the God of eternal love who from eternity both purposed creation and the redemptive work of Christ.

This is a highly readable contemporary rendering of classical theology. It has become popular to bash classical statements of theology. Often, what is being bashed are caricatures. Here is the real stuff, articulated clearly and winsomely. I didn’t agree at every point, but found myself again and again marveling at the greatness of God and challenged to consider the ways I’m tempted to domesticate God. That, I think, is what makes for good theological reading and may be found here.

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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.

Why Are Prisons Banning Used Book Donations?

Prison_library_at_Alcatraz_Federal_Penitentiary_(TK)

Prison Library at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, Tobias Kleinlercher / Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0]

BookRiot reported the other day that my home state of Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) is in the process of finalizing a policy that would no longer permit the donations of used books directly to prisoners from non-profit organizations. In advance of this policy implementation, non-profits report that a number of correctional facilities have already returned donations, even though these organizations have been approved in the past and there have been no problems with donated books.

Ohio is joining a growing number of states implementing similar policies. In most cases, the policy permits prisoners to receive new books from a limited number of approved venders including an e-book vendor (with compatible reader), JPay. According to the BookRiot article, the newly appointed director of ODRC, Annette M. Chambers-Smith, previously was a general manager with JPay. In New York state, according to a WNYC article, the selection at one point was limited to five vendors offering 77 books, 24 of which were coloring books! And the books are expensive, compared to the donated books, placing a burden on inmate families.

The ostensible reason being given by states for such ban is security–specifically preventing the smuggling of contraband hidden within books–drugs and weapons. This was the rationale given by the State of Washington when they implemented a similar policy. The Seattle Times requested information about specific instances after the Department of Corrections cited seventeen instances of contraband in books. It turns out that twelve had nothing to do with books and only three directly involved books with contraband, and none of the contraband originated outside the prison.

Books to Prisoners, an award-winning Seattle-based non-profit begun in 1973 contends that the same safety rationale arises in every instance, and yet in their entire history, none of their books have been found with contraband. Books to Prisoners led a massive effort that resulted in rescinding the Washington ban (and similar bans in other states like New York) and is pursuing similar efforts in Ohio.

So why are prisons doing this? It may be that with budget cuts, those tasked with screening books are overburdened, and hence the move to a few “trusted” vendors. Yet we are not talking about individuals mailing books but rather trusted non-profits who have been approved and have clean records going back for years. It is hard not to wonder if there are financial interests involved. Some would go further and argue that with the steep increase in incarceration making the United States the world leader in jailing its citizens, that there is what amounts to a “prison-industrial complex” that depends on a population of inmate labor.

Books are a potent weapon in fighting recidivism, the re-arrest and incarceration of previously incarcerated persons. One program, Changing Lives Through Literature saw a recidivism rate of 19% of people in its programs compared to a control group with a 45% recidivism rate. A Rand Corporation study showed at least a 13% drop of recidivism rates with education programs, 13% higher employment, and that for every $1 spent reduced post-incarceration costs $4 to $5.

Death row exoneree Anthony Graves writes in Infinite Hope about how critical books from his prison’s library were in sustaining hope and fostering personal growth, and he even includes a reading list of books that were formative for him. This is a story many prisoners will tell. Yet funding cuts limit prison library hours, sometimes making them inaccessible to inmates. This is why non-profit books to prisoner programs can play such a crucial role, especially when books become prisoner property rather than prison property.

Some would argue that prisons have an interest in controlling what prisoners read. Many states do ban what prisoner’s can read, examples of which can be found at this page on the Books to Prisoner’s site. I was talking with a friend about this and commented that making Mein Kampf available to prisoners might not be helpful. And then I came across this in the American Libraries Magazine:

“In November 2017, The Dallas Morning News exposed such a list in Texas that included more than 10,000 titles. Books like The Color Purple, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Freakonomics are on the list, but others, such as Hitler’s Mein Kampf and two titles by white supremacist David Duke, are allowed, the newspaper reported. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice reviewed the policy following media coverage of those lists.”

Go figure!

Those who have been most concerted in their criticism of prisons have seen them as an effort to maintain a permanent American underclass that sustains the “prison-industrial complex.” The cynic in me sees these baseless bans of books donated by award-winning organizations as confirmatory of such patterns. I’d like to believe we are better than that. If you follow this blog, you probably believe books enrich and transform our lives. Thinking about restrictions on donations of used books to inmates makes me ask whether I want the same for them. I do not think books alone will solve the issues of incarceration rates and recidivism. I do think they can help. Perhaps they may even help enough that some day we will not lead the world in prison population rates.