Late Fall Book Preview 2019

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We’ve had our first snowfall already. The leaves are down, it is dark around 5 p.m., and the winds are chill. Christmas is only 37 days away and the formal beginning of winter a few days before that. It’s a good time to curl up with a good book in your favorite chair, perhaps by a warm fire if you have a fireplace. It’s not a bad time to think about books for gifts (or maybe your own wishlist!). Here’s some books that have arrived for review. I won’t get to some of them before Christmas so I thought I’d let you know early if you want to take a look. So, from the top of the pile…

Bowery Mission

Bowery MissionJason Storbakken. Walden, NY: Plough, 2019. The Bowery is notorious as the underside of New York. The Bowery Mission has provide food and shelter for 140 years, and this little book tells the story. Inspiring for anyone considering homeless ministry.

A week in the life of a greco roman woman

A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman WomanHolly Beers. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. I’ve loved this series. This volume creates a story around a fictional young wife and mother in Ephesus. All of the books I’ve read so far have shed helpful light on cultural backgrounds of the Bible in an enjoyable read.

conscienceen

The ConscienceEberhard Arnold. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2019. Arnold, a founder of the Bruderhof, a network of Christian communities, explores how in Christ the conscience may become a valued friend rather than a troublesome voice that we try to placate or suppress.

tending soul, mind, and body

Tending Soul, Mind, and Bodyedited by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. The book is a collection of papers from the 2018 Center for Pastor Theologians conference and “explores the relationship between three fields–theological anthropology, spiritual formation, and modern psychology” (back matter). I’ve been impressed with the high quality of papers from previous conferences.

40 Questions

40 Questions about Heaven and HellAlan W. Gomes. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019. In a format where each chapter focuses on one question, the book explores questions related to the afterlife about which many wonder.

unsettling truths

Unsettling TruthsMark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. These two authors dig into the pernicious effects the “Doctrine of Discovery” embodied in fifteenth century edicts had upon settlement of the Americas and the treatment of Native Peoples.

out of darkness

Out of Darkness, Shining LightPetina Gappah. New York: Scribners, 2019. A novel on the exploration of Africa, told by two attendants of Dr. David Livingtone, as they transport his remains 1500 miles for burial.

choosing community

Choosing CommunityChristine Colón. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. Dorothy Sayers both participated in and commented upon many communities and this is a study of her writing on this theme.

gospel allegiance

Gospel AllegianceMatthew W. Bates. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019. This is the second book by Bates developing the idea of faith as allegiance to Christ. I liked his Salvation by Allegiance Alone and look forward to seeing how he has developed his ideas.

revelation

The Heart of RevelationJ. Scott Duvall. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2019. A study of Revelation identifying ten themes outlining what we can know for certain in this often puzzling book.

warfield

Evolution, Scripture, and Science, B.B. Warfield, edited by Mark A. Noll and David N. Livingstone. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2019. This is a reprint of a work first published in 2000 showing nineteenth century Princeton theologian Benjamin Warfield’s approach to science and faith, one that did not see these as inherently in conflict.

spiritual warfare

Spiritual Warfare in the Storyline of ScriptureWilliam F. Cook III and Chuck Lawless. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2019. The authors outline a theology of spiritual warfare with practical applications.

last leonardo

The Last LeonardoBen Lewis. New York: Ballantine Books, 2019. The story of the last painting by da Vinci, a painting of Christ, searched for in vain, until Christie’s announced they had it, and sold it at auction for $450 million, the highest price ever paid for a painting.

seeking church

Seeking ChurchDarren T. Duerksen and William Dyrness. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A study of global Christian movements using emergent theory that posits that “the gospel is read and interpreted through existing cultural and religious norms” (from back matter).

narrative theology

Narrative ApologeticsAlister E. McGrath. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. McGrath takes an approach to giving a reason for faith from story rather than arguments and talking points.

opening the red door

Opening the Red DoorJohn A. Bernbaum. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. The story of the first Christian liberal arts university, the Russian-American Christian University, from its beginnings with the eclipse of communism in 1989, its rise and partnership with Russia, and the increasing pressures it has faced in the Putin era

I have my stack of books for a cold winter night. Have you stocked up yet, or perhaps gotten an idea for a stocking stuffer? Happy reading!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Strock Stone House

Strock Stone House

Strock Stone House, photo courtesy of the Austintown Historical Society.

It is interesting the things you learn on the way to researching something else, in this case, posts on the Austin Log Cabin and Jared Potter Kirtland. I discovered that the Strock Stone House, after the Austin Log Cabin, is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Austintown and both homes are historical sites maintained by the Austintown Historical Society. Like the Kirtland residence in Poland, the Strock Stone House (also known as the Judge William Shaw Anderson house) was probably a stop on the underground railroad. Records of such things were not kept because it was illegal (but moral) to shelter and aid fugitive slaves.

The house was built in 1831 by William McClure and occupied by William Strock and his family. Strock’s parents came to Austintown between 1813 and 1815, living in the Smiths Corners area. The home, located along the original road between Youngstown and Akron (a bit south of Mahoning Avenue, was built of huge blocks of sandstone quarried from a nearby quarry on South Turner Road). The road was originally a dirt road, later a plank road, and finally a brick road. Part of the driveway beside the house consists of the original brick.

In 1851 the Strocks sold the house and 108 acres to Francis Henry. If the house served as a stop on the underground railroad, it would have been under Francis Henry’s ownership. The house was somewhat isolated and fugitive slaves could approach without being seen by prying eyes.

In 1863, Francis Henry sold the house to David Anderson, who had met Jonathan Wick in Philadelphia. The two of them opened a general store in Jackson Township and at one time, Anderson was the wealthiest resident of Austintown, worth nearly $50,000, a tidy sum in 1870. After his wife Hannah died from an accidental fall in 1879, Anderson let the house fall into disrepair, then turned it over to his oldest son, William Shaw Anderson.

William Shaw Anderson was a prominent attorney and judge in Youngstown and lived in the house between 1890 and 1925. Between 1912 and 1918 he made improvements on the existing structure and built a frame addition (the white shingled portion) that included a sun room, dining room, and dinette downstairs, and three bedrooms and a full bath upstairs. President William McKinley was reportedly one of his guests.

In 1925, Anderson died and the house passed to his children. In 1929, they sold the house and land to the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District (MVSD), which was in the process of creating Meander Reservoir, modernizing and improving Youngstown’s water supply. At that time, the road was moved north to the present location of Mahoning Avenue.

Until 1985, the house was occupied by the Chief Engineer for MVSD. Since then the Austintown Historical Society, with help from MVSD has maintained the house, particularly the interior. The house features antiques, furnishings, period clothing, games, equipment, and utensils. One of the distinctive items on display is a slave quilt from South Carolina.

The Austintown Historical Society hosts a Holiday High Tea each November with the house decorated for the holidays. The most recent was on Sunday, November 10, 2019, and attended by 120 people. They have also hosted Spring Teas.

Anyone can visit the Strock Stone House on the first Sunday of each month from 1 to 4 pm. No appointment is needed and no admission is charged. Donations, however are welcomed and there is a place to leave donations. The house is located at 7171 Mahoning Avenue, just east of Meander Reservoir. More information about the Austintown Historical Society and events at the Strock Stone House may be found at their Facebook page.

We drove out Mahoning Avenue by Meander many times before I-76 was built, but I never noticed the house (although at that time it was still occupied by the Chief Engineer. It is one more place I’ve added to my “bucket list” of places to visit around Youngstown.

 

Review: Frederick Douglass

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Frederick Douglass: Prophet of FreedomDavid W. Blight. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018.

Summary: Perhaps the definitive biography of this escaped slave who became one of the most distinguished orators and writers in nineteenth century America as he for abolition and Reconstruction and civil rights for Blacks.

There is no simple way to summarize this magnificent biography of Frederick Douglass. Douglass lived an amazingly full life captured admirably in these 764 pages from his birth, likely conceived by a white plantation owner, to the attempts to break him on Covey’s plantation, his quest to learn to read, and discovery of the power of words, his escape, and rise as an orator and writer, advocating first for abolition using the narrative of his own slavery, and later for full rights of blacks, even after the failed promise of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow. He traveled relentlessly on speaking tours throughout his life, and was walking out the door of his home to speak when he collapsed and died of a heart attack. He wrote prodigiously, editing two newspapers and authoring his autobiography in three successive versions.

We could explore his oratorical greatness. Blight liberally quotes excerpts of his most famous speeches giving us a sense of the power of his rhetoric. We could trace the growing fault line between William Lloyd Garrison and Douglass, who differed on whether abolition would come through moral suasion or violence. We could explore his efforts to launch his own newspaper, struggling along for many years until closure. Blight uncovered editions of previously lost copies that enabled him to render a fuller account of the paper than previous biographers.

His later career reflected the tensions of trying to support Republican efforts at Reconstruction, only to condemn the eventual compromises and erosion of protections under the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments that exposed Blacks to lynching, suppression of voting rights. It exposed him to criticism from younger activists. At one point late in his life, he serves as an honorary representative of Haiti, a country in which Africans had thrown off the yoke of their white French oppressors.

Blight also traces the familial struggles Douglass faced. Wanting a family when he had been stripped of one in childhood, he married Anna, a free woman, who did not share his love of words and the public limelight. She made a household in Rochester that sheltered fugitive slaves, radicals like John Brown, and eventually, her children’s families, as well as Frederick’s sophisticated white women friends Julia Griffiths Crofts, and later Ottilie Assing, who may have been something more to than that to Douglass. Assing even stayed for months at a time. Awkward? Perhaps, but we hear nothing of it from Anna, Awkward and distressing as well were the failures of their children, including his daughter’s husband. Part of the reason for Frederick Douglass’s unremitting lecture tours was the necessity to support this growing brood unable to be self supporting. This was an irony for one who prided himself on his self-sufficiency.

Frederick Douglass was a fighter, from the plantation to the Baltimore docks to the lecture and convention circuit. No one fought more passionately for Black civil rights. He fought until the day he died. The fact that the fight has had to be picked up by Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Dubois, Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Barack Obama, and still endures makes the case that it is not for lack of fighting and arduous effort that we still seek King’s dream. Rather we need to pay attention to a larger American story of a country that has continued to struggle and fail to live up to its ideal of “liberty and justice for all.” To read this biography of Douglass is both to marvel at the vision and drive and relentless fight for freedom of this man, and to grieve for the generations of compromises and lost opportunities that are the story of this country. It suggests that progress can only occur when Black prophets of freedom like Douglass are joined, generation after generation, by Whites who advocate for the nation’s ideals with the relentlessness of Douglass. Douglass never gave up on the possibility of liberty and justice for all, including his own people. And neither should we.

“What Will Peace Among the Whites Bring?”

Douglass

Frederick Douglass, Public Domain via Wikimedia

“If war among the whites brought peace and liberty to the blacks, what will peace among the whites bring?” Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1875.

I came across this statement by Frederick Douglass in David W. Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass. He was speaking at a July 5 picnic in the black section of Anacostia, called Hillsdale. Douglass, escaped slave and abolitionist had spent the ten years after the end of the Civil War working with Republicans, especially under Grant, in advocating for the full civil liberties of Blacks in the South under what is known as Reconstruction. One of the things that broke his heart was the tendency of Northern whites to reach accommodations with those in the South–accommodations that turned a blind eye to lynchings and the suppression of the vote and hindered black citizens in their efforts to get educated and make economic progress. These accommodations were the “peace” to which Douglass referred, and what Douglass foresaw were all the odious outcomes of Jim Crow.

I wonder if things have really changed. I would contend that whenever a white person points out evidence of the continued racialization of our country, and our unwillingness to truly face the original sin of racism that has passed from generation to generation in our country North and South, one can expect a smackdown. Whenever one speaks against abuses of civil rights of people of color, whether it is racially-profiled traffic stops, the shooting of unarmed “suspects,” or keeping refugee children in cages, one can expect pushback.

On social media, this often comes in the form of “trolling” and “gaslighting” comments that are broadsides interested neither in substantive discussion nor truth. I’ve had this happen when I’ve written on such things. The social pressure is to toe the line, and stick to posting cute pet videos.

One thing I notice when this happens. All of the people making these kinds of posts and applying this social pressure are whites as I am. Increasingly, this makes me wonder what they are afraid of losing or what injustices they are complicit in that they just do not want to face. I wonder why they are so bothered they feel the need to do this. Have I disturbed their peace?

I’m a middle child, and so peacemaking comes natural. But Douglass alerts me to a kind of peace we cannot make. We cannot make peace when it allows the exploitation or subjugation or unjust treatment of other human beings. Making this kind of peace, “toeing the line,” as it were means turning my back on the suffering of fellow human beings whose difference from me is something as superficial as skin pigment.

I’m not one of those who is constantly writing on issues. I prefer writing about books I’ve enjoyed or my beloved home town of Youngstown. But there are times when I realize that refusing to write to keep the peace (as well as engaging in other forms of advocacy and engagement) is to buy my peace at the expense of others.

Someone has said, “may the peace of Christ disturb you.” I think that is right. We should be disturbed when we see people Christ loves being excluded from the wholeness, the flourishing, that biblical peace involves.

So don’t be surprised if I don’t pay attention to your attempts to get me to keep the peace and toe the line. It’s not that I don’t like peace. I just like it for all human beings and not just “my kind.”

Review: Faith and Science at Notre Dame

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Faith and Science at Notre DameJohn P. Slattery. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 2019..

Summary: A study of the life of Catholic priest and science professor at Notre Dame, and his clash with the Vatican over his writing on evolution.

Many of us are far more familiar with the clashes between fundamentalists and scientists over evolution beginning with the Scopes trial and continuing to the present day. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, even as this conflict was developing in fundamentalist circles, there was a parallel conflict within the Roman Catholic Church.

One of those on whom the conflict centered was Fr. John Zahm, a Catholic priest from Ohio, educated at Notre Dame, ordained to the priesthood and recruited to teach chemistry and physics at Notre Dame. Highly esteemed, he was named a vice president of the university, speaking widely representing the university, and publishing works ranging from Sound and Music to Evolution and Dogma, an outgrowth of popular lectures on “Science and Revealed Religion.” He was granted a pontifical doctorate, a recognition of his distinguished accomplishments.

His contention throughout was that an embrace of evolutionary theory, if not joined to metaphysical naturalism, need not be seen in conflict with either the biblical account of origins or of God as creator. Zahm went so far as conceding the descent of human beings from the apes, while affirming the divinely bestowed soul that made humans distinct.

And then came the notice from the Congregation of the Index that he was to submit and retract his work and that his publication would be publicly censured. Even as this is unfolding he was appointed provincial of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, vigorously advocating for Notre Dame and for a grand vision for the university.

Friends advocated for the reversal of these efforts but were only partially successful. Zahm agreed to retract French and Italian translations of his work and no longer teach on evolution. Sadly, this spelled the end to a promising career in Caholic higher education. He lost re-election as provincial, and never taught or occupied an administrative post again at Notre Dame. He continued to research, write, and travel, including accompanying Teddy Roosevelt on one of his expeditions.

John P. Slattery’s new book recounts Zahm’s biography and explores the dynamics that set up the clash between Zahm and the Church. He attributes to the very different intellectual cultures that formed Zahm and those in the Congregation of the Index, and particularly Fr. Otto Zardetti. For Zahm, the influences, while reflecting traditional theological formation, centered in his training as a scientist in the empirical tradition spanning the tradition from Francis Bacon to Charles Darwin. He drew on a tradition in reading the Church Fathers from Augustine through Aquinas that did not set faith against observational study of the physical world.

Father Otto Zardetti and key figures like the Jesuit Kleutgen, in the Congregation of the Index, were shaped by a Neo-Scholasticism that arose as a response to modernism that advocated for a return to an Aristotelian approach to science that reached conclusions about the world from first principles rather than empirical observation. The Congregation promulgated the Syllabus of Errors and laid the basis for the doctrine of papal infallibilty.

Slattery draws upon archives of both Fr. Zahm’s work and the Vatican to analyze the clash in which Fr. Zahm found himself caught up. He also includes translations of the Syllabus of Errors and Zardetti’s correspondence. In doing so, he helps us understand how such a distinguished scholar and university leader ended up sidelined as the Church wrestled with its response to modernism and scientific advances. Much like the fundamentalists, they engaged in a form of intellectual retreat rather than the intellectual engagement advocated by Zahm. Unlike the fundamentalists, they used ecclesiastical power to suppress a line of scientific inquiry, and sadly, the career of Fr. John Zahm.

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

What to Do If You Are Behind on Your Reading Challenge

reading challenge goalReading challenges like Goodreads Reading Challenge have encouraged many people to set aside more time for something they love–reading. It’s fun to see the numbers add up, especially if you are on, or ahead of pace to meet your reading goal.

But what if you are not? You wanted to read a book a week, 52 in total and here it is, November, and you have read 20. What do you do? Here are some thoughts, facetious and otherwise.

  1. Read and count lots of children’s books. Many for younger readers are very short, and each counts as a book. You could probably binge over a weekend and reach your goal.
  2. Go on an extended reading binge for the rest of the year. Still choose relatively short, page-turners to read. At this point (November 12) you have just over six weeks. Five books a week will do get you there.
  3. Count audiobooks and listen to them while driving, working out, whenever you can.
  4. Re-define “read.” You could just skim these books, read the first sentence of each paragraph and get a sense of this.

I’ll be honest, none of this sounds like any fun, except for maybe the children’s books. Mostly, it feels pretty driven and kind of defeats the purpose of reading, which is enjoyment that grows our minds and view of the world.

I suspect that a better tack might be to look at what has hampered your reading. It might be that life has happened in a big way–an illness, a new job, a break up, or even a marriage, or a new baby. It’s probably best to forget the goals, and live in the change you are in, and be the person you hope to become amid it, which may take work. Start reading when the bandwidth and desire are there. If your are a reader, let me assure you, it’s lurking in there, just waiting for a chance to come out.

A few thoughts for the rest of us who just need to recalibrate our reading goals:

  1. Unless you are close, ditch the goal for the year. You made the goal. You are allowed to change it or set it aside.
  2. Goodreads actually allows you to change the goal. If reaching a goal means something to you, set a goal that is reasonable to reach at this point–perhaps your current total plus two. That will get you started. You might even exceed your goal. Won’t that feel good.
  3. Figure out when you will read. Fifteen minutes a day allows you to read 15 books of average size a year. That should allow you to read at least two books before the year ends. The minute a day of reading per books you want to read each year is a good rule of thumb for setting goals. If you are able to read an hour a day, then you have a chance of making that 52 book goal next year.
  4. Make reading a reward for something, and reward yourself in your favorite chair accompanied by your favorite drink. This isn’t study hall!
  5. Start with books in a genre or on a subject you enjoy, if you are getting back into the groove. That may not be War and Peace, as much as you think you should read it! Pick that up during a year when you are ahead of the pace needed to reach your goal, or after your reach your goal.

Unless you are a student or are doing work related reading, you probably just read for your own personal amusement and enrichment. If reading goals help you be more intentional in pursuing what amuses and enriches you–great! But if the goal is making you miserable, then you either need to get a better goal or just be someone who enjoys reading without goals. Maybe just keeping a tally of the books you’ve read is all you need.

Happy reading, goals or not!

 

Review: The Gospel According to Eve

the gospel according to eve

The Gospel According to Eve, Amanda W. Benckhuysen. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.

Summary: A history of women who have written on Genesis 1-3 since the fourth century, treating their worth, education, their roles as wives and mothers, whether they may teach and preach, and as advocates of social reforms.

One more book on women and issues of biblical interpretation? Yes, but the reason you want to add this book to your library is that Amanda Benckhuysen has done something I’ve not previously seen. She has dug through history and found over sixty women spanning the time from the fourth to the twentieth century who have written on Genesis 1 to 3, either in works focused on interpretation of these passages, or works that reference the passages. [The work also includes one paragraph biographies of the women mentioned in this work in the back matter.]

Why is this important? When it has come to the interpretation of Genesis 1 to 3 with regard to women, most of the work through history has been done by men. For many, the focus has been on the deception of Eve, and the authority or dominance of men over women. While some of these women have taken similar approaches to Genesis, Benckhuysen shows that long before the contemporary discussion, women have been looking at Genesis 1 to 3 and many have reached very different conclusions that anticipate contemporary findings.

A few that stood out to me:

  1. Many women interpreters focus on Genesis 1 that presents men and women equally as made in the image of God. The only stated dominion is over the other creatures.
  2. In the Genesis 2 account, interpreters noted the creation of woman from Adam’s side, an image of partnership. God forms her separate from Adam so that she has a relationship with God before being brought to Adam, who recognizes her as a helper (ezer), the same language used of God’s help of his people. Nothing in the text indicates any inferiority of Eve to Adam, who celebrates Eve as like him in flesh and bone.
  3. While many interpreters read Eve as the one leading Adam astray in the fall, these interpreters suggest other motives to Eve, including Adam’s benefit in growth in knowledge. Instead of putting all the blame on Eve, they note Adam’s culpability, particularly if Adam was present, as the text suggests. What these interpreters emphasize is that each bears responsibility equally in this tragic episode.
  4. In Genesis 3:14-19, these interpreters noted that only the serpent was cursed. Many observe that the statements about men and women are descriptive of the consequences of the fall, not prescriptive of role relationships as God meant them to be.

Benckhuysen organizes the book around the way women interpreters who had insights like those above applied these to concerns of women of their day. She begins with tracing the interpretations of the early fathers of the church and subsequent interpreters. She then considers how women used the material on Eve to advocate for the worth and dignity of women when they were treated as chattel, how they advocated for greater educational opportunities for women, befitting their equal status with men and how they wrestled with Eve’s story as they considered the role of being a wife and mother.

Benckhuysen considers women as teachers and preachers of the gospel. One of the things that mark interpreters here, and elsewhere, is their canonical approach to scripture, interpreting scripture by scripture, noting not simply prohibitions, but the many examples of women in both Old and New Testament of women preaching and leading God’s people, all with the apparent approbation of God. We are introduced to Margaret Fell, a seventeenth century interpreter, along with other seventeenth century millenarian writers: Antoinette Bourignon, M. Marsin, and Rebecca Jackson. She considers the contribution of Deborah Peirce and Harriet Livermore, who speak of the gospel being entrusted to women, and Catherine Booth and Francis Willard, whose careful exegetical work defended the role of women in preaching. This is an example of the pattern followed in each chapter.

Concluding chapters focus on the representation of women in children’s Bibles and literature and the contribution of women to this literature, and the use of Genesis 1 to 3 in advocacy for social reforms in working conditions and opportunities, suffrage, and advocacy against the exploitation and abuse of women. The last two chapters consider the history of patriarchy in the church and the value of listening to these interpreters from other times. These women both questioned the foundations for patriarchy that male interpreters established in Genesis, and offered cogent alternatives. They used this to advocate for the flourishing of women in the home, the church, and the wider society, and against the ways they saw their sisters being abused in these different spheres.

Someone might argue against this gendered reading of Eve. But isn’t that what men have been doing for two millenia, often to the great harm of women and to the church? Benckhuysen doesn’t argue that women’s reading is superior to men. The truth is, her women vary in their interpretations and disagree, just as do men. Rather, what was striking to me was to listen to their collective voices through history as a man and to realize that they see things we have missed. We need their voices if we are truly to hear the whole counsel of God in this very important area of how men and women live together, upholding each other’s dignity, worth, and gifts as image bearers of God, and experiencing the redemptive work of Christ in relationships marred by the Fall, but intended for better.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Playing in the Street

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Saw this meme on Facebook the other day and it brought back a flood of memories of growing up on North Portland on the West Side. We played sports on the street in front of our houses, at least until it snowed. Then we sledded.

In spring and summer, it was baseball. Usually there were eight or ten of us, sometimes more. We would choose up sides, often share gloves, an old bat, and a ball usually taped up with black electrical tape because we had long worn the cover off of it. Often, you had a pitcher, two infielders, maybe one in the “outfield.” Often, there was no catcher. It was an incentive to hit the ball, otherwise you had to retrieve it. Basically the street was the field with the curbs as foul lines. The danger of baseball on the street was breaking a window or leaving a dent on a parked car. I’m sure we did both.

From late summer on, we switched over to football. Football really makes sense on streets. The curbs made natural sidelines, although you could get pretty banged up going out for a pass and tripping over a curb. Because it was the street, it was strictly “touch.” Usually we used driveways for goal lines. I was never the great athlete and was glad to get chosen rather than sit on the curb watching. Usually though, that meant my job was to rush the passer, or alternately, to block the rusher. But I was playing.

As in the meme, games were interrupted when cars drove down the street. Sometimes the drivers honked if we weren’t fast enough in getting off the street. No one even got close to getting hit by a car, despite all the worries and warnings of our mothers.

The greater hazard was usually the grouchy neighbor who would yell, “stay off my grass!” Invariably that’s where the hit ball or errant pass would go. It must be a law of physics.

The other hazard with our games was the street itself. It was one of the old brick streets. It was kind of uneven and you could turn an ankle if you weren’t careful. Ground balls could be exciting, taking weird bounces. I’m kind of glad hockey and soccer weren’t big back then. They definitely wouldn’t have worked that well on that old brick street–but I’m sure that hasn’t stopped kids from playing those games.

I can’t say we played in the streets because there was no where else to play. There was a playground at the school down the street. There were sports fields a few blocks away. I think sometimes, it was just one of those things that happened when a bunch of us were hanging around on a summer evening or after school.

These days, I mainly see kids playing on suburban cul de sacs, something we never had growing up. My son grew up just down the street from a cul de sac and that’s where the pick up games happened. Often neighbors would set up basketball hoops on opposite sides of the cul de sac, or hockey or soccer nets, and all of a sudden you had full court or rink or field games. And it was pretty rare that someone yelled, “car.”

Overall, youth sports are far more organized, better equipped, and usually played at facilities designed for the particular game. In a working class neighborhood, we didn’t have most of those things. When someone yelled “car,” we had to stop the game. But I still think we had a pretty awesome childhood.

Review: Fearfully and Wonderfully

Yancey

Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image (Updated and combined edition), Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.

Summary: A new edition combining two classic works exploring both the wonders of the human anatomy, the value and dignity of every human being, and parallels with the functioning of the body of Christ.

Thirty years ago Dr. Paul Brand and writer Philip Yancey teamed up on two books exploring the wonders of the human body, Brand’s medical practice and its affirmation of the human dignity of even some of the most physically unapproachable and parallels to the body of Christ. I never had a chance to read these works but every person I met who hand raved at the beauty of these works. Now, thirty years later, and having read a new edition combining these two works, I am ready to join the chorus of those who praise the fruit of this collaboration. This writing about how fearfully and wonderfully made is indeed wonderful.

Brand’s distinctive work up until his death in 2003 was his work among those with leprosy, and his critical insight that began with his first encounter with a leper that the insidious part of the disease was its destruction of nerve endings that transmit pressure and pain. Deformities, particularly in hands and feet result from repeated injuries that occur because people don’t feel the pain of fire, or wounds from tools or knives or implements, or even the turning of an ankle. Much of Brand’s work as an orthopedic surgeon was operating on misshapen hands and feet, eyelids, noses, and restoring function and form.

One of the beauties of this work was the power of treating those who suffered from these deformities as persons of great dignity. At one point the book describes an incident where Brand was assuring a leprosy patient that they could arrest the disease with medication and restore some movement. As he did so, he made what he thought a joke as he put his arm around the young man’s shoulder, and the young man began to sob. Brand discovered that the man was crying because no one had touched him for many years.

Another part of the beauty of this book lies in the descriptions of the wonders of the human body. He describes the incredible diversity of cells that make our bodies, and how they all share the same set of instructions on their chromosomes. He describes how normally functioning bodies distribute stress and adjust when tissues are expose to repeated stress. Lepers, who cannot feel, do not. He explores various bodily systems: skin, blood, respiration, bone, and muscle, sensory nerves and brain. So much that we are unaware of reflects incredibly complex and efficient systems to sustain, protect, and heal our bodies.

The third beauty of this book is the insights drawn from our physical anatomy to a parallel Body–the Body of Christ.Brand describes the primitive but effective techniques of vaccinating people using the lymph of previously vaccinated persons to vaccinate others, protecting them from and overcoming deadly illnesses like smallpox. Then follows a spiritual insight into what it means to overcome by the blood of the Lamb, blood that overcomes the infection, and effects of sin.

Descriptions of the wonder of human anatomy, the dignity of every human being and the healthy functioning of Christ’s body weave through this work. These lessons all have one end–to help us understand what it means both individually and collectively to be image bearers, the embodied representations of God and Christ to the world. I came away from reading this work with a profound sense of wonder and thankfulness for the function of my body in all its parts and its whole. The very act of typing these words is a wonder, involving thought, brain centers dedicated to each of my fingers, visual impulses from my eyes, all woven together. How wonderful it is when one works with a team of believers, using our various gifts and skills toward common goals, accomplishing far more together than any of us could individually. Brand and Yancey not only open my eyes with the wonders they describe and their spiritual parallels, they encourage me to look for these wonders in my own life and the world around me, fostering what an embryologist friend describes as doxological fascination, a rather fancy way of describing “fearfully and wonderfully.” That seems to me to be a rather wonderful way to live.

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

 

Getting Impeachment Right

Andrew_Johnson_impeachment_trial

The Impeachment Trial in the Senate of Andrew Johnson, Theodore Davis, Public Domain, via Wikimedia

In 2016, I mentioned to some friends that I feared with either candidate, that there was a good chance we might see an impeachment process. It appears that my fears were warranted. Having lived through the preparations for impeachment after Watergate that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon and the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, I was saddened, because I realized that no matter the outcome, in our present climate, it was going to get messy, and perhaps ugly.

I have no interest in discussing whether impeachment proceedings are warranted or not with this president. What concerns me at this point is that our elected officials in both houses of Congress need to cease to see themselves as members of political parties and understand their roles in upholding the Constitution, the rule of law, and separation of powers, and the public good. The more that both House and Senate members (and Justice Roberts, who will preside in the Senate if the House passes articles of impeachment) can see the president as neither of their own party or the opposition party but as a citizen holding high office who, at the time of writing, may be accused of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the better.

I realize that in our present climate, that seems practically impossible. Yet given that climate, it is all the more urgent that leaders of both parties determine how to go forward where they act as a separate branch of government, and not as partisans for or against the president. Right now, the role of the house is akin to a Grand Jury, examining evidence to determine if charges that must be tried are warranted. When it comes to a trial in the Senate, the Senators become jurors. I’ve been a juror on two trials, one a murder trial. I had to approach this as “innocent until proven guilty” (and if I could not, to disclose this), and to be willing to find a defendant guilty, if the charge was proven beyond reasonable (not all) doubt.

What our system asks of ordinary citizens is to serve the interests of justice with as much impartiality as humanly possible. Now we need to ask our elected officials to do the same. Many of those in the Senate are lawyers. They understand well these responsibilities. What seems to me crucial is that those of the Democrat party should ask themselves if they, on hearing all the evidence, would vote any differently were the President of their own party. For the Republicans, they should ask themselves if they would vote any differently were the President not a Republican. I’ve written asking such of my own elected representatives.

I think at this point the American people do not believe party members of either House capable of acting in this fashion. [I will acknowledge that eventually the House will designate “managers” who will prosecute the charges or articles of impeachment, and that the President will designate those who will present his defense. Those individuals obviously have to be zealous advocates in an impeachment trial.] Most expect this to play out along partisan lines in both houses, merely reinforcing and deepening the existing political divides.

What concerns me in all this is the weakening of Congress as a separate branch of government, acting for the public good while seeking to uphold the constitution. Leadership in both houses need to think about the long game of our republic’s future and not the upcoming election. If majority and minority leadership in each house fail to come together, the result will only be the diminishment of their own power and the expansion of presidential power. While little may be legislated, the trend of the last several presidencies of the use of executive orders will increase.

We feared an imperial presidency in the time of Richard Nixon. Increasingly there are those who clamor for one now, seeing the weakness and perpetual conflict within our legislative branch. We have had a system where the president is answerable to the legislature and the courts. How the leadership of both parties act in the coming months, regardless the outcome, will determine whether this balance will hold and whether they will enjoy the increased or diminished confidence of the American people.

It seems to me a perilous time. Those who are people of prayer ought devote themselves to this. And one hopes that those who represent us also recognize the time we are in, and rise to greatness rather than retreat to “politics as usual.” While we have survived past crises, that does not mean we will this one. All I can do is hope. And pray.

[I know it is very tempting to argue one side or the other of these issues online. I believe these are matters for our elected officials. Any partisan comments on this post, either on this blog or on social media, will be taken down without comment. Use the time you would spend writing engaging your elected representatives.]