Review: Leading Minds

Leading Minds

Leading MindsHoward E. Gardner with Emma Laskin. New York: Basic Books, 2011 (Review is of the 1996 edition).

Summary: Studies how leaders effectively communicate with the minds of those they lead using case studies of eleven direct and indirect leaders.

Howard E. Gardner is a cognitive psychologist who works in the field of education. One of his most significant works is The Unschooled Mind, the thesis of which is that outside of domains where an adult has great expertise, most adults theorize about the world with the mind of a five year old. In this work, Gardner focuses on effective leadership as an exercise of communication with the minds of others, seeking to influence them to action that follows one’s leadership. For Gardner, storytelling is central, and effective leaders are not only able to tell a story that communicates with those who share their expertise, but also with a wider public responding with the “unschooled mind” of a five year old. He identifies two types of leaders, indirect leaders, like Albert Einstein, and direct leaders, like Franklin D. Roosevelt. Some individuals exercise both kinds of leadership.

Gardner considers eleven individuals who exercised leadership in a variety of domains:

  • Margaret Mead: Anthropology
  • J. Robert Oppenheimer: Physics
  • Robert Maynard Hutchins: Higher education
  • Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., Business (General Motors)
  • George Marshall, Military and Statecraft
  • Pope John XXIII: Religion
  • Eleanor Roosevelt: American women
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.: Civil rights
  • Margaret Thatcher: Political
  • Jean Monnet: International leadership
  • Mahatma Gandhi: International leadership

After introductory chapters outlining his basic approach and methodology, Gardner devotes a chapter to each of these leaders, except for the last two, who he considers together. What is fascinating is that he looks at the development of these leaders, the story they told and how they adapted their stories when their leadership moved beyond those who shared their expertise, and how effective they were. He looks at indirect leaders like Jean Monnet, who essentially served other national leaders in forming the framework of the European Union, and direct leaders like Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. who communicated a compelling, missional story for General Motors. He also considers their areas of failure. For a leader like Robert Maynard Hutchins, his inability to embody his story with the faculty at the University of Chicago, and include a wide constituency in his vision were critical failures.

From these profiles, Gardner identified six constants of leadership:

  1. The Story: Leaders must have a central story or message that includes those necessary for accomplishing her vision. Often these are inclusive, but not always, as in political or military conflict.
  2. The Audience: A story cannot succeed without being heard and heeded, and the effective leader is able to communicate in a nuanced fashion that different audiences will understand.
  3. The Organization: The influence of a leader’s story depends on an organization for implementation–be it a business, a political party, a movement. Margaret Mead never created an organization and had no school of followers after she died.
  4. The Embodiment: Leaders, especially direct leaders, must embody their story. George Marshall not only spoke about a vision for service but embodied it in his integrity, hard work, and willingness to work behind the scenes for the success of the war effort.
  5. Direct and Indirect Leadership. Indirect leaders influence through symbolic products whereas direct leaders engage with their followers as they articulate a story.
  6. The Issue of Expertise. Those who move from leadership within a domain to wider leadership, like J. Robert Oppenheimer, do so because of proven expertise. The paradox is that the wider one’s leadership, the less their technical expertise alone is a factor.

Two appendices in the form of extended tables chart Gardner’s analysis, the first consider the eleven leaders in this study, the second ten world leaders during the World War II era.

I did have one reservation about this study. It seemed to me that Gardner’s approach presupposed his conclusions. This does not necessarily invalidate his conclusions, given that this work extends prior research. But I would be cautious in considering this as an all-encompassing account of leadership. For me, it suggested the importance of having, and effectively communicating to different audiences, one’s story of a preferred future.

Gardner’s eleven leaders, although they each have their failings, are generally positive figures. His account of story and the unschooled mind also recognizes that some leaders are able to communicate compelling stories and gather a following with very bad consequences, as in the case of Hitler or Mussolini. There are also instructive lessons for those who are so “wonky” about their stories, that they are unable to garner a following outside those who are already sufficiently wonky. There is also a quite wonderful lesson in the stories of those like Pope John XXIII, George Marshall, and Eleanor Roosevelt who embodied the stories they conveyed, and so were able to lead all the more effectively.

Most of us both lead and follow in our lives. Gardner’s book shows important qualities of story, inclusion, embodiment and expertise as critical in leading well. He also helps us when we follow, to listen to the stories leaders tell and the congruence between story and the life of the leader. It seems to me vital to consider whether the story is one that works for all who a potential leader would lead, or whether those stories will intensify the divides between those included and those excluded.

Review: The Common Rule

common rule

The Common RuleJustin Whitmel Earley. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.

Summary: Offers an alternative to the habits of our technological world that make us busy, distracted, anxious, and isolated by proposing a set of habits enabling us to live into loving God and neighbor, and into freedom and rest.

Justin Earley was a well-intentioned, missional Christian with ambitious goals who found himself having panic attacks and self-medicating with pills and alcohol and other destructive habits. A life of busyness shaped increasingly by technology was undermining his health and relationships. He recognized that he was being shaped by a set of cultural habits, ways of being that left him busy, distracted, anxious, and isolated. He saw that these habits were not only shaping his schedule; they were forming his heart. Along with some friends, he identified an alternate set of daily and weekly habits that they thought were consonant with their shared faith. He began sharing these with others, and eventually, in conversation with a pastor, realized that he and his friends had rediscovered an ancient practice going back to Augustine and Benedict of living under a rule of life, hence the name they adopted, The Common Rule.

The Common Rule Consists of four daily and four weekly habits. Two of each of these focus on loving God, and two on loving neighbor. Also two of each focus on embracing the good in God’s world, and two of each focus on resisting destructive cultural practices, even as we pursue a life of love. The eight are:

Daily:

  1. Kneeling Prayer morning, midday, and bedtime (Love God/embrace)
  2. One meal with others. (Love neighbor/embrace)
  3. One hour with phone off (Love neighbor/resist)
  4. Scripture before phone (Love God/resist)

Weekly:

  1. One hour of conversation with a friend (Love neighbor/embrace)
  2. Curate media to four hours (Love neighbor/resist)
  3. Fast from something for twenty-four hours (Love God/resist)
  4. Sabbath (Love God/embrace)

After introductory chapters explaining the rule, one chapter of the book is devoted to each habit, explaining the rationale for each habit and concluding with practical instructions for practicing the habit. He concludes the book with the observation of art critic Michael Kimmelman that the greatest work of art is the “curating of all of life as a single witness to something grand” (p. 162). Earley then applies this to the work of habits in our lives. He writes:

“I believe that paying attention to the work of habit is similar. It is best thought of as giving attention to the art of habit. It isn’t about trying to live right; it’s about curating a life. It is the art of living beautifully” (p. 163).

The book concludes with an extremely helpful set of resources for individuals or groups (Earley believes it is especially helpful to practice these disciplines with others who voluntarily enter in so that individuals can encourage each other). The resources include the habits in a nutshell, a guide to trying one habit a week, trying the whole Common Rule for a week or a month, ways congregations can use the Common Rule, prayers for those trying the Common Rule, and ways the Common Rule might be used in different walks of life for skeptics, parents, at work, for artists and creatives, entrepreneurs, addicts, and those with mental illnesses.

It may be a small thing, but I appreciated the typography of the book. The medium blue of the cover is used for titles, subtitles, diagrams, quote grabs, and headers, setting this book off from most mono-chromatic texts. More substantively, the practical application of James K. A. Smith’s ideas of cultural liturgies and the early fathers practice of rule of life makes for an inviting book grounded in rigorous thought and tested practice. Couple this with his own vulnerable example, and you have a winsome exposition of the practices that makes you want to start right away. The practices of scripture before phone, shutting off the phone for at least an hour, and curating media were both challenging and helpful for this reader whose life is too dominated by the smartphone. Whether you embrace the full rule, or substitute other practices, Earley’s Common Rule offers an important alternative for people of faith to the ways our technological culture may lure us into frantic busyness, distraction, anxiety, and isolation instead of helping us curate beautiful lives of love for God and neighbor.

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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: Under Pressure

under pressure

Under PressureLisa Damour, Ph.D. New York: Ballantine Books, 2019.

Summary: A book on responding constructively to stress and anxiety so that it stretches and builds resilience in girls, and empowers them to alleviate unhealthy stress and anxiety.

School age children are reporting more stress and anxiety than ever. This is especially true among girls. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of girls reporting stress and anxiety jumped by 55 percent. Lisa Damour, a psychologist who works both in private practice, and with the Laurel School for Girls in the Cleveland area, has had plenty of experience addressing the stress and anxiety girls face, and distills the insights from her practice in this highly readable book.

Damour begins by distinguishing between stress and anxiety, and between healthy and unhealthy stress and anxiety. This in itself is important because stress and anxiety often are necessary elements in stretching experiences that result in enhanced performance, the development of one’s capacities, and the building of resilience. Unhealthy levels of stress and anxiety, by the same token, impair one’s physical and emotional well-being, and can contribute to a decline in performance.

She explores stress and anxiety through the multiple relationships girls must negotiate: with parents, other girls, boys, their school, and the wider culture. Often with parents, the key is to show care and interest without over-reacting, which only intensifies the anxiety. She reminds parents that “snit happens” and talks about “glitter storms” (remember snow globes?) that need to settle. Beginning by offering a drink, a snack and time to settle can be vital. She suggests that the monitoring of girls digital lives can lead to knowing too much, and, while not discouraging the practice, says that this is at best an adjunct to a relationship where the communication lines are open.

In beginning to talk about girls with other girls, she observes that “anxious is the new shy,” and it may not be a bad thing for girls to have a few good friends, rather than many. In fact, sometimes the larger the friend network, the more the problems. Social media creates a number of these problems, from crafting an online identity to interfering with sleep, which only intensifies anxiety. It’s a good idea to agree on turning off social media in the pre-bedtime hours, and not having phones in the bedroom.

The issues with boys range from harassment to negotiating sexuality. Damour has some of her strongest words here about the double standards in sex ed, the problems with the language of consent, and the different ways one may need to say no in different social situations. Her aim is that girls become comfortable and able to take pleasure in their bodies and make decisions about sex on the basis of when they want this intimacy with men and can enjoy it. She observes that the coupling of much casual sex and alcohol indicates girls are denying something in themselves when they engage in sex on those terms.

As she turns to school, she emphasizes that school should be stressful, that the academic challenges build capacity, and that a critical piece is ensuring that students have good recovery strategies. Also, girls tend to take school more seriously. She argues that girls often study excessively and inefficiently and need to develop more effective study strategies, particularly using practice tests and working on gaps. At the same time, she concedes that for girls with ambitions to get into elite schools, demanding schedules are unavoidable because of high admission standards and low acceptance rates. Here, I might like to have seen her ask more questions about the college admissions racket which turns high school into nothing more than college prep. Perhaps the most critical issue is that the pursuit of admission to a college or set of colleges is rooted in healthy personal aspirations rather than reputational or parent and social pressure.

Two elements in her treatment of girls in the culture stood out to me. One was the issue of “speaking while female” and the different standards girls and women face from male peers when making the same communications. She is realistic about the “verbal tool kit” girls need, including the understanding when one can be transparent, and when you are on “front stage.” The other area was the culture’s obsession with the form of a woman’s body. She observes that compliments focused on physical attractiveness may reinforce the obsession with form, and that focusing on physical function, often cultivated in team sports, enables women to feel good about what their bodies can do.

In her conclusion she suggests two questions that may helpfully be asked:

  1. “What is the source of all this stress?”
  2. Why am I anxious?”

These questions presume that stress and anxiety are messengers, and understanding the message, including when something is a challenge, and when something is not right, gives girls greater agency in their lives.

I thought this was a highly practical book that takes a thoughtful and nuanced approach to stress and anxiety–recognizing that it is a sign of something, and that one can grow when stress is at a healthy level, and needs to be heeded and addressed when unhealthy. Damour’s book lives in the tension of what is, and what ought to be, particularly in talking about issues like social media, sexuality, college admissions, and the double standards that persist in our culture. Purists who live in an “ought to be” world might not appreciate all her counsel.

I could see that this might be a book a parent and daughter might even read and talk about together to open up conversation about stress and anxiety. School staff, and those who work with youth in religious organizations will find this beneficial, especially in responding to the emotional storms that are an inevitable part of this season of life. Meeting the “rising tide” of stress and anxiety calmly and constructively is vital for this rising generation of girls.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via LibraryThing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Wilford P. and Olive Freeman Arms

Greystones

“Greystones,” The Home of the Arms Family Museum of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, Photo courtesy of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society

When I was a student at Youngstown State, we regular walked by the Arms Museum, but I don’t think we ever visited. I did not realize that the name of the museum referred to the family who had at one time lived in the home. We thought it was a collection of “arms” or weapons, and in the anti-war times of the early 1970’s, that didn’t hold much appeal. If we had paid closer attention, we would have realized that it was the home of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society (MVHS)–a home with a history of its own.

Before the house at 648 Wick Avenue was taken over by MVHS, it was the residence of Wilford P. and Olive Freeman Arms, who were distant cousins. Wilford’s grandfather, Daniel Arms, was Olive’s great-grandfather, making them half first cousins, once removed. They also are related to various Youngstown “royalty”–the Wicks, Baldwins, Booths, and Bonnells among them.

The Arms family goes back to early American New England stock. William Arms settled in the colonies in 1677. Wilford Paddock Arms was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1861 to Mr. and Mrs. Lawson Arms, who after ten years returned to their native Sodus, New York. He went to the Sodus Academy, then worked on his parents farm until 1881, when he went to work for Powers, Brown, and Company, a Youngstown coal company that operated a mine in Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania. After a few years there, he worked with a company quarrying marble near Knoxville, Tennessee until moving to Youngstown in 1888. Apart from two years in Pittsburgh working with the Pittsburgh Coal Company, he lived in Youngstown the rest of his life.

Wilford P. Arms

Photo source: Find-A-Grave

He worked with several different Youngstown area firms: The Brier Hill Iron and Coal Co., The Falcon Iron and Nail Co. in Niles, The Warren Rolling Mill in Warren, and the Trumbull Iron Co. of Girard. During the latter part of his work he worked with the Realty Trust Company and was chairman of the board of Palace Realty Co. in Youngstown and McCaskey Register Co. in Alliance. He was also a director of the Central Store Co. in Youngstown.

He held a federal appointment, a position of trust, as central fuel administrator for Mahoning County during World War I. Joseph G. Butler paid this tribute in describing his work as “a position entailing a vast amount of work and responsibility, and [he] discharged his duties in a manner that earned him the commendation of all who knew of his work in that relation.”

Olive Freeman Arms

Olive Freeman Arms. Photo courtesy of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society

Wilford P. Arms married Olive Freeman Arms in 1899. Olive was born to Charles Dayton and Hannah Wick Arms in 1865. A biographical entry for her appears in Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900: A Biographical Dictionary and she is described as a watercolorist and designer. She had studied at the Bradford and Peebles schools in New York as well as spending time in art studies in Europe. In 1904, a building permit was issued to built a home at 648 Wick Avenue, next to Olive’s parent’s home. The construction was completed in 1905 and the home, which Olive helped design, was named “Greystones,” after the stone exterior of this Arts and Crafts style English residence.

Mr. Arms could regularly be seen walking to and from his office in the Realty Building on Central Square until the year before his death, when he suffered a fall in his home from which he never fully recovered. At the time of his death, he and Olive had begun to develop a property on Logan Avenue Extension, that later became a residential development.

Wilford P. Arms was described in a Vindicator article on April 28, 1947 as follows:

“Mr. Arms was a gentleman of the old school, the soul of courtesy and consideration for others. In this day of free and easy manners there was something refreshing and uplifting in his lifelong predilection for formality and the proprieties. It was good to have him remind us that careful attention to the graces and amenities of life adds much to one’s own and others’ enjoyment of it.”

Olive Arms continued to reside in Greystones the rest of her life. She was the source of a wealth of information about Youngstown’s early history and families, particularly given her connections to so many of them. She worked closely with then-president of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, James L. Wick, Jr. at a time that the Society had no home for its archives, many of which Wick stored at his own residence. On Mrs. Arms death in 1960 at 95, she left Greystones and its furnishings to the Society along with an endowment for its maintenance, augmented by Wick’s fundraising efforts. She specified that the facility be named after her parents, hence the name The Arms Museum (now The Arms Family Museum, a name change perhaps motivated by the confusion of many like me as to the nature of the museum!).

The Arms Family Museum is now one of two facilities operated by the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, the other being the Tyler History Center. Wilford P. Arms and Olive Freeman Arms not only contributed to the commerce and arts of Youngstown but to the preservation of our history. It only makes sense that their family name should adorn the home of the organization preserving that history!

Article Sources:

“The Arms Family History,” Mahoning Valley History.

“The Arms Family Museum — Celebrating 50 Years!” Mahoning Valley History

“Olive Freeman Arms Arms,” Find-A-Grave

“Wilford Paddock Arms,” Find-A-Grave

Howard C. Aley, A Heritage to Share: The Bicentennial History of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio.

Joseph Green Butler, History of  Youngstown and Mahoning Valley, “Wilford P. Arms,” p. 2. Accessed on Google Books.

Jeffrey Weidman, Artists in Ohio, 1797-1900: A Biographical Dictionary, “Arms, Olive Freeman,” pp. 23-24. Accessed on Google Books.

 

Review: The Crucifixion

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.indd

The CrucifixionFleming Rutledge. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017.

Summary: A study of the meaning of the crucifixion of Jesus including the biblical motifs that have been used to express that meaning.

It is striking to consider how relatively few books in recent Christian publishing deeply explore the meaning of the death of Christ by crucifixion, particularly considering that the death and the resurrection are central to Christian proclamation. Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion goes a long way to remedying this deficit.

This is a large book, but I would encourage the prospective reader not to be daunted by the size. While rich in insight, it is also a model of clarity, among the very best theological books I have read, both worthy of the academy, and written for the people of God.

The book consists of two parts. The first considers the crucifixion, particularly the godless character of this brutal execution, and the critical importance of this horrible execution as primary to the Christian faith. Rutledge also deals in this part with the biblical understanding of justice as the setting right, or rectifying, of something that is radically wrong, and that this something is the radical power of Sin over humanity. She makes a case that Anselm’s version of “satisfaction” is actually closer to her idea of rectification than he is credited for.

The second part of the book (about 400 pages) explores eight biblical motifs of the crucifixion that, together, help us understand the meaning of the crucifixion and what God accomplished in Christ on the cross. Rutledge prefers the language of motif to the more common language of theory because she believes all of these work together, rather than at odds with each other, to convey the glorious significance of the work of Christ. The motifs are:

  • The Passover and the Exodus
  • The Blood Sacrifice
  • Ransom and Redemption
  • The Great Assize
  • The Apocalyptic War: Christus Victor
  • The Descent into Hell
  • The Substitution
  • Recapitulation

She would contend that these show two basic things that happen in the cross:

  1. God’s definitive action in making vicarious atonement for sin.
  2. God’s decisive victory over the alien Powers of Sin and Death.

There are several things about her treatment of these motifs that are quite wonderful. One is that she reintroduces into theological conversation terms we are often averse to speak of: blood, ransom, judgment, hell, and substitution among others. Two is that she helps us see through these terms both the gravity of the human condition and how Christ truly has paid what we could not and triumphed over sin and evil, breaking their power and hold on humanity. These terms tell us essentially that we are worse off than we thought, and that is good news because God has done what we could not. Finally, she retrieves the language of substitution from the disparagement that it has become popular to pile upon it, while acknowledging the problems in some formulations. She beautifully unites the idea of Christ’s substitutionary death for us and Christ’s victory of the power of Sin, Evil, and Death (she capitalizes these terms reflecting the idea of these as powers). Instead of opposing these two ideas, she sees substitution as the basis of the victory of Jesus. I also found her treatment of Christus Victor as far more compelling than Aulen, in her linkage of this idea with the apocalyptic war.

The conclusion of the work returns to the beginning and amplifies these themes with the motifs she has developed. She emphasizes again the uniqueness of Christianity as the account of the Son of God who not only dies to redeem, but does so facing utter contempt and horrible suffering. And she emphasizes that this work makes right what was wrong. What she does in this conclusion is draw out the implications of these ideas. All the distinctions humans make are muted in the face of this work. All of us are in the same predicament, and this work of Christ addresses the wrongs in all of us, banal or horrid, and sets things right. This is not “God loves you just as you are” as we blithely love to say. The gruesomeness of the death of Christ reflected the cost to God necessary to set things to rights in breaking sin’s curse and power, and the horror reflects the power of this act to address the condition of even those who have done the most horrid.

What she is saying is that it is all of grace, all of God. In summary, she writes:

“Forgiveness is not enough. Belief in redemption is not enough. Wishful thinking about the intrinsic goodness of every human being is not enough. Inclusion is not a sufficiently inclusive message, nor does it deliver real justice. There are some things–many things–that must be condemned and set right if we are to proclaim a God of both justice and mercy. Only a Power independent of this world order can overcome the grip of the Enemy of God’s purposes for his creation” (p. 610).

This is what the crucifixion accomplished. Not only are individuals justified (or rectified) through this work, but all the injustices of the world are atoned for, and the process of setting these right has begun. Both the preaching of justification by grace, and the preaching of the restoration of justice find their warrant in the cross and are not at odds.

Rutledge does not come out and say this, but an implication of her “inclusiveness” is the possibility of the ultimate “rectification” even of those who have resisted the proclamation of rectification, as in her treatment of the Jews in Romans 9-11. Elsewhere she speaks of the final annihilation of Satan and those given over to him, but here she speaks of Christ’s death as an outcast as redeeming even those on the outside. She admits (p. 459, note) to struggling with Matthew 25:46 and Jesus’s own statement about eternal punishment. Perhaps this restrains her, as it does me, from asserting a final universal “rectification” of all people, but she comes very close. What is clear is that, for her, this arises from her expansive understanding both of the utter helplessness of all of us to save ourselves, without distinction, and the utter greatness of God to save through the cross of Christ. Perhaps in the end, this is a call to humility, of leaving these matters in God’s hand, and never presuming upon but utterly trusting in the grace of this God.

Without question, this was perhaps the most profound theological work I’ve read in at least the last five years. It made me look again at the uniqueness of Christ and his work on the cross. It made me think deeply not only of why Jesus died, but why he did so in such a horrid way. It made me think, and question, the ways I’ve formulated my understanding of the work of the cross and particularly challenged me to think more about the victory of Christ on the cross over the power of Sin, as well as his atonement for the guilt of sin. This was a marvelous work to read in this season of Lent.

In addition to this review, I’ve written three reflections on portions of this work that may be accessed at:

https://bobonbooks.com/2019/03/22/reading-reflections-the-crucifixion-part-one/

https://bobonbooks.com/2019/03/27/reading-reflections-the-crucifixion-part-two-a/

https://bobonbooks.com/2019/04/04/reading-reflections-the-crucifixion-part-two-b/

 

Reading Reflections: The Crucifixion: Part Two-B

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWell, I’ve finished The Crucifixion by Fleming Rutledge. I will be doing a full review of the book tomorrow, but for today, want to capture and share some of my reflections on the last third of the book, leaving discussion of the Conclusion to my review tomorrow.

The last third of the book is a continuation of Rutledge’s discussion of motifs of the crucifixion and focuses on just three of these: the descent into hell, substitution, and recapitulation, with discussions of the first two lengthy enough that she provided an outline at the beginning of each chapter. I will share a few reflections from each.

The descent into hell. It was fascinating that she would embark on such a lengthy discussion of a motif found in but a handful of verses. For Rutledge this serves as the pretext to explore not only the idea of “hell” in scripture and the development of the doctrine throughout church history. Her aim is to take a hard look at the reality of and problem of evil, and how Christ’s death and resurrection have cosmic implications that prefigure the final destruction of the power of Sin, Evil, Death, and Satan and his domain, where the nothingness of these will finally be confirmed in their utter annihilation. Perhaps most striking for me is her assertion that we cannot speak of meaning when it comes to evil, that it is the negation of meaning. Her discussion of the radical nature of evil, that runs through every life sets up her discussion of what she might call Christ’s substitutionary victory (she so closely links these). It gives the lie to any human distinctions of righteous and wicked, and the folly of human pretensions to innocence. She writes: “The unalloyed proclamation of Scripture is that the death and resurrection of Christ is the hinge of history. It is the unique old-world-overturning and new-world-constituting event that calls every human project into question–including especially our religious projects” (p. 461).

The Substitution. This is a marvelous chapter that everyone who derides the idea of substitution should read. Rutledge traces this history of the motif, not going to classic proof texts like 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 but to Romans, to Galatians 3:10-14, and Isaiah 53 and its use in the New Testament. She explores how Christ’s death is both for us and in our place. She surveys the development of the motif in history and the objections that are raised, which often reflect formulations that are problematic, but are not ultimately the underlying reason for rejection of substitution, which she argues reflects our aversion to substitution’s “recognition of the rule of Sin and God’s judgement on it” (p. 506). She turns to Barth and the idea of “The Judge Judged in Our Place” and the idea that the Godhead is the acting subject of substitution, the agent accomplishing this in God’s self to undo the curse of Sin. What is striking in Rutledge is how she develops in all of this an understanding of substitution, not in opposition to the idea of Christus Victor, but as the means of the victory of Jesus, uniting these two motifs in a splendid display of the glory of God.

Recapitulation. This follows from substitution, in tracing the idea that Christ is the second Adam; that his incarnation, baptism, obedience of faith in the power of the Spirit, death, and victory over death recapitulate in a transformative way, the life of Adam, as Christ represents all of humanity as Adam did, but for our redemption. I love her conclusion here:

“This is what Jesus did. He rewrote the book of love. We are the ‘ugly people’ who put Jesus on the cross, but he is going to give us all his riches nevertheless….Because he has rewritten the story, we are no longer prisoners of our worst selves, nor of the evil powers that would destroy us. At any moment of our lives, God may break through with yet another miracle of rewriting. And laughter will resound from the farthest reaches of the created universe: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice’ (Phil. 4:4)” (p. 570).

What all three of these chapters underscore is that, as G. K. Chesterton has put it, we are what is wrong with the world, and utterly incapable of ourselves in setting things to rights, and that God, in Christ rectifies, or sets to right by sheer grace what we could never deserve or accomplish.

Review: The Givenness of Things

The givenness of things

The Givenness of ThingsMarilynne Robinson. New York: Picador, 2016.

Summary: A collection of essays drawn from various lectures questioning our prevailing ideas through the lens of John Calvin, and others in the Reformed and Humanist tradition.

If you have read Marilynne Robinson’s fiction, you have the sense that there is a world of theological thought undergirding her narratives, particularly reflected in her lead character, Reverend John Ames. To read her essays is to enter into that rich theological world, and the extent to which this woman reads.

It is also to experience a voice that seems from another time, questioning our prevailing ways of thought. Like C. S. Lewis, Robinson is a reader of old books, particularly old theologians like John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards, and she allows these voices of another time to question our accepted ways of looking at things.

One example is the essay from which the title of this collection is drawn, “Givenness.” The essay focuses around the ideas of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections and the intrinsic character of the affections of love, joy, hope, desire, and others in our experience of faith. Here, and in other essays, she argues against the scientific reductionism that reduces the affections to the firing of neurons. Similarly, the opening essay on “Humanism” describes the glories of the works of the mind that came out of the Renaissance, and challenges the reductionism that would explain all of this through evolutionary mechanisms and physical processes. It is not that she is anti-science. It is obvious that her reading includes and delights in a great deal of science writing. It is the scientism that asserts hegemony over all domains of human experience to which she objects.

The book consists of seventeen essays, most with one word titles like “Reformation,” Servanthood,” or “Limitation.” Perhaps the most striking for me was her essay on  “Fear.” These statements were particularly arresting:

“First, contemporary America is full of fear. And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind….As Christians we are to believe that we are to fear not the death of our bodies but the loss of our souls” (p. 125).

She explores how this drives the fearful nationalism evident even when she was writing these essays, and the stress on preserving and extending the Second Amendment in the acquisition and proposed “right” to concealed carry. She also wonders about the financial interests exploiting this culture of fear.

Her essay on “Theology” explores not only theologians like Jonathan Edwards, but the theological content of the plays of William Shakespeare (whetting my appetite to read some Shakespeare). She explores particularly the ways Shakespeare handles reconciliation and matters of mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

These are simply tastes of what you will find in this rich collection representing Robinson’s thought. Prepare to read rigorously, and to explore the intellectual by-paths Robinson will take in exploring an idea. One must pay close attention to follow the thread of her arguments. Again, like Lewis, one has the sense that she brings everything she has read to anything that she says.

Finally, the book concludes with a two-part conversation with Barack Obama while he was president. As much as anything, he is interviewing her and what a delight to listen in on this wide-ranging conversation between two literate persons. One of the moments that reflected one of the president’s deep regrets was his struggle to close the gap between Washington and Main Street, the ways we engage with each other in everyday life, and the distance between that and our political discourse–our compassion toward the needy near us and our fears of “them” — a comment evoked by Robinson’s essay on fear.

One might critique her essays as reflecting a very Euro-American focus and a lack of engagement with writers outside the Western theological, philosophical and literary canon. There may well be some validity in that critique, but perhaps she is doing something very similar to those calling for other voices, in drawing on voices no longer a part of our cultural discourse, and who speak to our contemporary ideas from another perspective, and from another time.

 

Review: Chesapeake Requiem

chesapeake requiem

Chesapeake RequiemEarl Swift. New York: Del Rey Books, 2018.

Summary: A journalist’s account of nearly two years on Tangier island, the tight knit community organized around watermen harvesting blue crabs, and the likelihood that it may disappear within the next century.

I first learned about Tangier Island nearly twenty years ago when I heard one of the people mentioned in this book, Susan Drake Emmerich, speak about the Watermen’s Covenant she helped facilitate, rooted in the strong Bible-based beliefs of the island’s watermen, that helped ease tensions over state and federal laws and fostered care for the island environment as well as the crabs and the Chesapeake Bay that provided their livelihood.

Earl Swift chronicles a different threat to the very existence of the island. Throughout the Chesapeake, there are shoals that were once inhabited islands. Over the last two centuries, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its land. The northern part of the island, called Uppards, once was inhabited. Now its graves are washing into the sea and most of it is a patchwork of marsh and open water. The west end of the island’s shipping channel has widened to over 75 feet. A seawall protects the landing strip on the south end of the island. Residents are hoping for a jetty off of the shipping channel, and a sea wall around the island. The cost is over $30 million, and most consider that it would be cheaper to relocate this community of under 500 to the mainland. The most obvious cause is coastal erosion, evident after every major storm when more coast is lost and parts of the island are inundated. However, geologically, Tangier is slowly sinking, and the Chesapeake is slowly rising. It’s possible that all or most of it could be submerged within 50 years.

Swift, who first visited a much bigger island in 2000, returned in 2015 and spent the best part of two years researching his account of the island. It is not only an account of what is happening to the island, but an account of the community that traces its origins back to 1608 when John Smith mapped it and the Revolutionary War, when it was settled. Many of the current residents trace their lineage back to these early settlers and most are related.

Swift joins in every part of the island’s life from sessions of the island’s elders at “The Situation Room” to attending both of the island’s churches. He eats at the restaurants, endures the insects, and attends the funerals. He describes town services from the sewage plant to the local grocery, the school, and the visitor center (a place representing a painful memory). Most of all, he spends time with the watermen on their boats, especially James “Ooker” Eskridge, mayor of Tangier and the town’s spokesperson when the media come calling. Up before dawn, we get a sense of how hard the work of crabbing is, and how precarious this existence always has been, even before declining catches.

Perhaps the most riveting part of the account is that of Ed “Eddie Jacks” Charnock and his son Jason, who are stranded on a sinking boat during a blinding, gale force storm on the bay, and the urgent rescue efforts mounted by the other islanders who hear the one distress message they were able to send out. It is a story that represents the tightly knit character of this community as well as the deep biblical faith that undergirds their life.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Swift is his ability to portray the islanders on their own terms. There is no deprecation of their religious faith or their avid support of President Trump and denial of climate change (islanders attribute all the loss of land to erosion and dismiss evidence of island subsidence and water level rise.) He even affirms that Ooker Eskridge bests Al Gore in a discussion with his straightforward assertions that he has seen no water level changes at his crab shack.

At the same time, he describes an island that is slowly dying, no matter what the islanders believe. Youth are moving to the mainland, and the elders are dying and the population continues to decline. Properties are abandoned, and despite the religious rectitude, there is evidence of drug use among a portion of the population. There are tipping points approaching for sustaining everything from the local school to the grocery.

Swift calls his book a requiem. While Tangier has not yet died and its residents have not given up, the book helps us to appreciate on a small scale what it would mean to this beautiful place and its tight knit, beautiful, and productive community, to be lost. He helps us care for these people and their place.

I find myself also thinking that this might be the first of many requiems, or perhaps a more hopeful image is that Tangier is the canary in the coal mine, a warning of how much more we might lose if we fail to act. The factors that endanger Tangier are the same ones that put our naval station at Norfolk at risk, and even our nation’s capitol, as well as the coastal cities of the world. Perhaps the irony that the islanders themselves dismiss climate change and its effects is also salutary. It is one thing to have to relocate under 500 climate refugees. Potentially this could be multiplied by millions in the years ahead. Will we close our ears to this requiem until catastrophe is upon us, or take prudent steps now? If the trends at Tangier are any indication, we may know the answer within a generation.

[PBS News Hour profiled Tangier including interviews with Ooker Eskridge and Earl Swift.]

The Month in Reviews: March 2019

for the life of the world

Leadership was a theme of many of the books I read this month. Several considered factors making leaders effective, ranging from their grit, whether they are givers or takers, their originality, and their relationships. One book offered an unvarnished overview of the earliest leaders in the church. Two others considered key figures in the early history of the United States. Several, as usual, were on theological themes: the church, the work of the Holy Spirit in both Christ and us, and one (a guest review from Paul Bruggink) making the case that creation did not fall when the first couple did. One argued more generally that the theological enterprise, in its quest to be a respectable academic discipline, has lost a critical focus on theology for the church and the world. A devotional book used the analogy of pruning to explore why God wants to “cut back” the false self that we might grow “true.” There are a couple fun reads in here, some classic and contemporary crime fiction, and a unique book on travel. So here are summaries along with links to the full reviews.

sinners and saints

Sinners and Saints, Derek Cooper. Grand Rapids, Kregel Academic, 2018. An unvarnished summary of the first five hundred years of church history, looking unflinchingly at the flaws, as well as the favorable qualities of early Christians. Review

Grit

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth. Scribner: New York, 2016. Contends that those who achieve outstanding success combine purposeful passion with perseverance–in other words, they have grit. Review

Basil

Basil (Oxford World Classics), Wilkie Collins. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000 (originally published in 1852). The account of a secret marriage between an aristocrat’s son and the daughter of a shopkeeper and all the ways things went terribly wrong. Review

reciprocal church

Reciprocal Church, Sharon Galgay Ketcham. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Addressing the loss of young people from the church, makes an argument for a theology of the church as vital in our Christian life, and for mutuality and reciprocal engagement between youth and other generations in a flourishing community where all contribute. Review

Give and take

Give and Take, Adam Grant. New York: Viking, 2013. Proposes that many of the most successful people are givers who have learned how to give without being doormats and without expectation of return and explores why such giving is so powerful. Review

true you

True You, Michelle DeRusha. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. Using the analogy of pruning, explores how our true selves, our true callings can emerge when we remove the clutter of business, of false selves, and idolatries that obscure the true shape of our lives. Review

for the life of the world

For the Life of the World, Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019. Contends that for theology to make a difference it must address what it means for human beings to flourish in the world “in light of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ.” Review

originals

Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World, Adam Grant (foreword by Sheryl Sandberg). New York: Viking, 2016. A study of the characteristics and practices of those who make original contributions in personal and professional life. Review

God's Good Earth

God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, Jon Garvey. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2019. A biblical, theological, and scientific case for no fall of nature. Review

rush

Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father. Stephen Fried. New York: Crown, 2018. A full-length biography of this doctor-founder of the American republic covering his personal life and beliefs, advocacy, war service, and friendships with the Founders, and estrangement from Washington. Review

Madison's gift

Madison’s Gift, David O. Stewart. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015. A biography of our fourth president, through the lens of five key partnerships he formed that helped establish a new nation. Review

Travel

Travel: In Tandem with God’s Heart, Peter Grier. London: Inter-Varsity Press (UK), 2018. A travelogue with a difference, exploring travel from a Christian perspective and how God may work in and through our lives as we travel. Review

42111605

Sculptor Spirit, Leopoldo A. Sanchez M. (Foreword by Oscar Garcia-Johnson). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. Starting from a “Spirit Christology,” explores five models by which the Spirit shapes our lives in the likeness of Christ. Review

electric mist

In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead, James Lee Burke. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011 (my Avon edition, 1994). Investigation of multiple rapes and murders, and a murder from 1957 confront Robicheaux with dark figures from his past, and pose a threat to all he holds dear. Review

relationomics

Relationomics, Randy Ross. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. The health of relationships within organizations and with customers is directly connected to productive and profitable economic activity. Review

Best of the Month. I think Volf and Croasmun’s For the Life of the World is a ringing challenge to the theological establishment to consider their calling, who their audience ought be, and what might be the focus of their work: on questions of human flourishing in relationship to Christ. I would hope it might provoke a vigorous conversation among theologians, pastors, and other thoughtful Christians who are concerned for a renewal of public theology that engages the church and the world.

Quote of the Month. Derek Cooper’s Sinners and Saints does a great job of rescuing the early leaders of the church from the musty and reverential mists of time. This quote offers a sense of his approach:

“Unlike countless other church history books that dance around the distasteful details of our Christian past, let’s humanize our history. Counterintuitively, perhaps, let’s emphasize as much grit as glory, let’s feature as much flesh as faith, and let’s showcase as many sinners as saints. It’s important for you to know at the onset, however, that we are not going to do this because we think mudslinging is a spiritual discipline, but only because we believe truth-telling is. I, personally, have no desire to sully the reputation of saints, nor do I find any pleasure in wallowing in the faults of our most faithful. When I air the dirty laundry of our most hallowed heroes and heroines, I am fully aware of all the clean clothes they have neatly pressed and attractively arrayed in their dresser drawers. Because of the nature of this book, I will not usually refer to that clean laundry; but make no mistake: I know it is there” (p. 11).

Current reads and Upcoming Reviews. I just finished a chronicle of a year or so on Tangier Island, in the Chesapeake Bay. Subsidence, rising water levels and erosion endanger the way of life of this small community, the character of which is captured well in Tangier Requiem. I also just finished a collection of Marilynne Robinson essays that include an interview between her and former president Barack Obama. I have been reveling in the rich theological writing of Fleming Rutledge in The Crucifixion, a big book that accounts for a few less reviews than normal in the latter part of March. It is worth it! Justin Whitmel Early’s The Common Rule offers eight practices for a rule of life in our tech-oriented, device driven age. David Wallace-Wells new book, The Uninhabitable Earth, is a bleak account of the drastic changes that could come with a warming planet. Finally, I just moved Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls onto my reading pile. The title squares with reports I’ve been hearing in recent years from those working in university counselling services so I’m interested in what this will say about causes and possible remedies for this trend.

I hope you will follow Bob on Books to catch all these reviews, and others that will appear later next month. And thanks to all of you who do follow, read, and comment!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dr. Timothy Woodbridge

old log cabin

Old Log Cabin, Photo by James D’Angelo, [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

I walked, biked, and drove by here many times. In college, we had picnics and planning retreats here for a student group I was part of. Little did I realize that the Old Log Cabin served as the home and office of Dr. Timothy Woodbridge, the first doctor born in Youngstown, who was recognized for his distinction as a physician by local peers, Governor David Tod, and even President Rutherford B. Hayes.

His father, John E. Woodbridge, a native of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, settled in Youngstown in 1807, just eleven years after John Young surveyed the town. One of John’s grandfathers was the great American preacher and theologian, Jonathan Edwards. John established a tannery on the west end of the small town, near the Mahoning River. Timothy, one of ten children, was born in Youngstown in 1810. When he and his brother John were young, they were swimming in the Mahoning River and got into deep water. Timothy barely survived; John drowned. No one knows but perhaps that was part of what informed his decision to study and practice medicine. As in many professions, he began his training with a local doctor, Dr. Henry Manning, one of the first doctors in Youngstown. Subsequently, he continued his medical training at the Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia, probably the center of medical training in the U.S. at the time, graduating with his M.D. in 1833.

Woodbridge returned to the area, living briefly in North Lima before settling in Youngstown. In 1847, when fellow Youngstown resident David Tod (later governor) was appointed by President James K. Polk as minister to Brazil, Woodbridge was asked to come along as the family’s physician. He returned to his Youngstown practice in 1848. In 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, he was appointed as a surgeon with the Army and was stationed at Johnson’s Island on Lake Erie, where he served until the end of the war. Johnson Island eventually served as a prisoner of war camp for Confederate soldiers.

He had a second stint with the Army, being appointed in 1879 by fellow Ohioan, President Rutherford B. Hayes, as surgeon at Fort Peck, Montana, where he served for three years. He returned to Youngstown and continued to practice until he suffered a stroke in 1892, dying in the city hospital in 1893, the first area doctor to die in the hospital. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

It was during the Civil War, in 1862 that Dr. Woodbridge purchased what we call the Old Log Cabin and moved it to its current location beside Mill Creek near present day Lake Glacier (the lake had not yet been dammed and created). The cabin had been built in 1816 in the Bears Den area and was disassembled and move to its current location by Dr. Woodbridge.

Howard C. Aley, citing John C. Melnick, M.D.’s A History of Medicine in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley notes that Woodbridge had his own eccentricities when it came to business practices. In his day books, he would often list patients as “the fat woman in Brier Hill,” the “man on Coitsville Road,” or “the old man at Crab Creek.” When patients came to settle fees, he often told them that 75% or even 50% would settle their accounts (in a day when an office visit cost 25 cents and a house call 50 cents). He preferred a mule to a horse, and a rig to a buggy, often binding loose tires to the rims with strands of wire.

He and a group of Mahoning County physicians organized the Mahoning County Medical Society in 1872 and he served as its first president for seven years. Governor David Tod, and other physicians around the state had high regard for his skills. Tod recognized his efforts with a gift of beautiful surgical instruments which soon showed the signs of extensive use. In the 1880’s, he tested the water of the sulphur spring and recommended it to his patients for rheumatism as “spa water.”

He was know for his study of medicine throughout his life and tireless efforts, going on four to six hours of sleep most nights. The History of Trumbull and Mahoning Counties, published during his life in 1882, paid this tribute to him:

“He is eminent, both as a physician and a surgeon. He is noted not only for his professional skill but for his kindness and benevolence, never refusing to attend a professional call on account of the poverty of the patient, and many a poor sufferer on a bed of sickness has had occasion to be grateful to him for other than professional aid.”

He represented what is noblest in the medical profession and set high standards for his peers in the area. The Old Log Cabin is an enduring tribute to his contribution to the health of Youngstown area residents during the early years of the city’s history.

Sources:

Howard C. Aley, A Heritage to Share. Youngstown: The Bicentennial Commission of Youngstown and Mahoning County, pp. 39-40.

Online Sources:

Medicine in a Log Cabin,” Blog of the Melnick Medical (History) Museum.

Old Log Cabin,” Ohio Memory Collection, Ohio History Connection.

History of Trumbull and Mahoning Counties, pp. 406-407, via Google Digital Archives.