A Thank You To Librarians

Wikidata education for librarians group at WikiCite 2018 by LiAnna (Wiki Ed) licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Libraries in many places are just starting to open up. But librarians have been hard at work all along, even though they miss having patrons in their buildings. I asked people on the Bob on Books Facebook page what they would want to say to librarians.

A word that kept coming up was “lifeline.” Whether it was help getting e-books or gathering their book requests for the curbside pickups many of you provided, people were so grateful for the effort you invested in getting books to us safely.

People didn’t merely see librarians as helping them, but the whole community, just as they always do. But in a time of isolation and strain, your service sustained that sense of knitting together a community and serving that community.

Several mentioned some of your challenges, from the time it took to get book requests to your need to take our temperatures. We just wanted to say “we understand, and appreciate all the things you are doing to keep us safe. We want to keep you safe as well.” And we won’t microwave the books!

You are so creative. Some of you provided craft kits in your communities or special online programs.

We think of you as essential! We want you to be safe and we will wear our masks (over our noses!) when we can come back to the library. We don’t know what we would have done without you during the pandemic.

We appreciate all those library skills and research skills you taught us. We’ve had all kinds of professional and personal reasons to use those during the pandemic.

In some cases, infection rates are still too high to open up. We want you to know how much we miss you!

Your service moves some of us to song: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine; You make me happy when skies are grey.

One person wrote, “You are important, loved, necessary, and valued!” Some pray for you, others bless you, and what everyone wants to say is:

Review: The Long Night

The Long Night: Readings and Stories to Help You through Depression, Jessica Kantrowitz. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2020.

Summary: Short readings and personal narratives reflecting the author’s experience with depression, both honest and hopeful.

I’m an odd person to review a book on depression. This just has not been my experience. I tend toward an even temper, and although I’ve experienced real setbacks and discouragement, I can’t honestly say I’ve experienced the “long night” of which the author writes. A book on obsessive compulsive disorder would probably be more in my neighborhood.

But I’ve known people who have lived through depression. In more than one instance, I didn’t see it at the time. In some instances, they didn’t initially either. In the general population roughly 6.7 percent of all people experience symptoms of depression at any given time (about 16.2 million in the US). Globally, the WHO estimates that 300 million experience depression (from this article on Healthline). Inside Higher Ed indicates that among graduate students, a population I have worked with, the numbers may be higher. One study found up to 39 percent scored in the moderate to severe range of depression.

All of this is what makes this book so valuable, whether you are experiencing depression, know someone who is, or, like me, was pretty clueless when it came to recognizing symptoms of depression. Jessica Kantrowitz gives us an honest account of her own experience through depression. She doesn’t offer promises of healing or “six steps out of depression.” She offers herself as a companion to those walking in the pain and darkness of depression. She doesn’t offer answers, but shares her own questions and how she has struggled with them.

She describes her own experience with episodes of depression, sometimes so bad she could not get out of bed. She describes the migraines that accompanied her depression, quitting a ministry job because she just couldn’t turn around her work performance quickly enough. She described the companions who helped her, the friends who simply listened, said “That sucks,” and stayed. She tells us about trying as hard as she could, and of those who stuck with her through barely incremental progress punctuated with setbacks. She describes other companions, writers like Henri Nouwen and Frederick Buechner, whose writings helped.

She narrates learning new prayer practices that involved the body and practices of centering prayer, that instead of suppressing emotions or distractions allowed her to notice them and learn to let them go, like clouds passing overhead. She tells us about leaving an unhelpful community and finding a new one, as well as a number of fellow travelers online. She names some of the ways depression lies and distorts reality. She talks frankly about suicide and what it takes to love someone in the pain of depression.

There is so much of value for those who haven’t been through depression. Kantrowitz helps us understand how much it hurts. She invites us to see how those in the midst of depression are “doing their best” to get out and the long process of dealing with medications, food, exercise, sleep (which often is a problem), and so much more, what she calls learning healthy coping mechanisms. From her own experience we learn that the way to help is to listen, to pray, to empathize, but no advice. Our best present is simply to be present.

At the same time, this is a book of hope. Not quick fixes, but the growing awareness that God accepts us in weakness, and that we are not alone in the dark night. There is the hope of becoming more truly and fully human and oneself in the process. She offers hope that it will not always be this way against depression’s lie that it always will. A quote on the book’s cover says, “You are not alone, and this will not last forever.”

The hope offered seems to be that one may live with and grow through depression. She suggests resources to help and offers in herself the hope of finding companions on the journey. Not sermons but stories. Not cures but companionship. Not happy thoughts but hope toward the dawning light.

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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.

Review: His Truth is Marching On

His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope, John Meacham (Afterword by John Lewis). New York: Random House, 2020.

Summary: An account of the life of Congressman John Lewis, focusing on the years of his leadership in the civil rights movement and the faith, hope, commitment to non-violence and the Beloved Community that sustained him.

We lost a hero this summer in the death of Congressman John Lewis. We may remember the last photos of him, days before his death on Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, DC, one more expression of the arc of a life spent in the hope that the nation would recognize the gift that his people are and that one day, his hope of Dr. King’s Beloved Community would be realized. We might also remember the image of him being clubbed to the ground on the approaches to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, a day he nearly lost his life. There is so much that came before, and between these images. In this new work, historian Jon Meacham offers a historical account coupled with Lewis’s recollections, that helps us understand not only the heroic work of this civil rights icon, but the wellsprings of motivation that spurred his long march.

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Meacham begins with his ancestry, great-grandchild of a slave, child of sharecroppers in Troy, Alabama, growing up deep in the Jim Crow South in segregated schools, where a look, an inappropriate word might cost one’s life if you were black. Lewis was a child of the black church who knew he wanted to be a preacher, and practiced on the chickens on his parents farm. His faith, and early uneasiness with the inequities that did not measure up to the American dream meant “that the Lord had to be concerned with the ways we lived our lives right here on earth, that everything we did, or didn’t do in our lives had to be more than just a means of making our way to heaven.” Then he heard the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio and heard someone who gave voice to his growing calling and conviction., leading to pursuing seminary studies at the American Baptist Seminary in Nashville.

Meacham accounts how this led to sit-ins at restaurants, the Freedom Rides, the Children’s Crusade and the March on Washington, where he gave one of the most impassioned speeches as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), refusing to back away from criticism of the Kennedy administration. Meacham describes the death of Kennedy, the civil rights leadership of Johnson, and Lewis’s growing exile from SNCC, from those like Stokely Carmichael who had tired of the slow progress of non-violent protest, that left him to go to Selma alone rather than with the SNCC. Again and again his principles led him to get into “good trouble.”

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Through it all, including the deaths of King and Bobby Kennedy, he persisted, through multiple beatings and arrests. Much of this work chronicles his years in the civil rights movement, leaving the final chapter to summarize his years in Congress and legacy. What Meacham focuses on throughout are the theological convictions, rooted in Lewis’s belief in the Spirit of History, his faith in a loving God, and his belief that America’s ideals would prevail over America’s failings. Second is a focus on Lewis’s bedrock conviction of pursuing non-violent resistance rooted in a belief of the dignity of all people in the image of God, even one’s enemies, developed from the Bible, Dr. King, James Lawson and the Highlander Workshops, and the principles of Gandhi. The narrative is one of how Lewis “walked the talk” bearing numerous beatings without retaliation, sacrificing his leadership for his principles. Finally, Lewis lived toward a vision of America as Dr. King’s “Beloved Community.” From marches and activism to his years in politics, Meacham shows how he strove for the peace with justice that would overcome divisions between black and white. Meacham gives John Lewis the last word in his afterword:

We won the battles of the 1960’s. But the war for justice, the war to make America both great and good, goes on. We the People are not a united people right now. We rarely are, but our divisions and our tribalism are especially acute. Many Americans have lost faith in the idea that what binds us together is more important than what separates us. Now as before, we have to choose, as Dr. King once put it, between community and chaos.

John Lewis never lost faith that what binds us together matters most and never stopped pursuing community rather than chaos. Meacham’s book leaves us the question of what will we believe and pursue in the days ahead. How we answer that may be decisive not only for our lives but also for our country.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Our Parents Worked

Steelmaking in Youngstown

With Labor Day coming up, it occurred to me that perhaps it was a fitting time to remember how hard our parents worked. Many were trying to get a foothold on the economic ladder, to buy a house, and to see us kids have opportunities they would never have. Pretty soon, at least for my generation, they all will be gone. Last week marked eight years since my father passed. My father and mother both would have been 100 this year. It seems especially fitting this Labor Day to honor them.

They worked since they were children, collecting scrap metal during the Depression to contribute to family income. Many Youngstown men in my neighborhood worked in the mills, some within walking distance. It was hard, grimy, and dangerous. A lapse of attention could cost a finger, a foot, or even a life. Others worked in railyards, or in factories making rail cars, office furniture, or automobiles. Often, they retired as soon as they could, before the strength of their bodies was totally broken down.

Our mothers worked. During the war, many filled the factory jobs vacated by the men gone to war. My mother was a telephone operator. My wife’s mom was an aircraft inspector. Some returned to home making when husbands came back from the war. That did not mean they did not work. Diapers were not disposable. Washers had wringers that could wring an arm as easily as your clothes. Washing, ironing, cleaning, cooking–every day. There were few takeout options or labor saving conveniences. To supplement groceries and stretch budgets, especially during strikes there was gardening, and canning and cooking from scratch.

Men came home and worked on cars and remodeled or added onto homes and pitched in to help relatives and buddies who were doing the same. And they taught us how to do a job well and finish it.

Some worked at the same place for many years. But even before Black Monday, people had to re-tool and find new work. I watched my father go through that, trying a succession of jobs before landing a decent job as a department store buyer and department manager. He always worked hard while treating his people with decency and fairness. He paid all his bills, provided for us, and left no debts. That’s the way he wanted it.

Many of us do enjoy better lives than our parents. They sent us to college or trade school. We may even have inherited from them, adding to our resources. More than that, they likely imparted their work ethic to us, whether we learned the lessons or not.

Our parents worked. Youngstown worked. We enjoyed a richness of life in our neighborhoods and the city that we love to remember. Perhaps as we celebrate this weekend, it’s a good time to remember our parents, how they worked and made Youngstown a good place–and how that hard work shaped our lives. Thank you mom and dad!

Review: Into the Unbounded Night

Into the Unbounded Night, Mitchell James Kaplan. Raleigh, NC: Regal House Publishing, 2020.

Summary: Historical fiction set in the mid-first century AD in the Roman Empire, spanning conquests from Albion (Britannia), Carthage, and Jerusalem, and the center of power in Rome.

Imagine a narrative that connects the characters of Vespasian, Roman general and future emperor, Saul of Tarsus, and Yohanan ben Zakkai, the rabbi who escaped rebellious Jerusalem and established a center that preserved Judaism after the fall of the temple and Jerusalem. Throw in cameos by Stephen the Martyr, Lucanus (Luke the physician), Caiaphas the high priest, and Josephus. Imagine a narrative that knits together the conquest of Britannia, the fires of Rome, Paul in prison, and the rebellion leading to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

This is that narrative.

What ties this together is a young woman of Albion, Aislin, mentored by the warrioress Muirgheal. When the Romans under Vespasian come, Aislin alone survives, raped and then discarded by Vespasian. Aislin vows revenge. With a soldier who chooses anonymous exile to death, she flees Britannia (Rome’s name for Albion) ending up in Rome. While in Rome, she survives on the streets, bears a mentally deficient but lovable son, and ends up in prison with the Apostle Paul for burning Rome. As the flames spread, she and Paul escape, she agrees to carry a special coin to the Christians in Jerusalem as Paul’s emissary, and meets up with Yohanan ben Zakkai, also traveling there. There she remains as Yohanan forms a rabbinic community while failing to temper the brewing rebellion that brings down the wrath of Rome

Somehow, Aislin survives it all.

The narrative offers a glimpse of how Roman, Jewish, and early Christian history interweave. And somehow, it works as the narrative moves back and forth between Aislin, Yohanan, Vespasian, and Paulus (as he is called in the narrative). The strangest part perhaps is the “Messenger” Azazel, rescuer of scapegoats and lost children. We gain a sense of the rival religions of the empire and the rival hopes and visions of the diverse peoples. We glimpse all these through Aislin as well, who never quite embraces anything besides the remnants of her own spirituality, yet is enriched and moves beyond revenge to love a strange child and a mystical rabbi. We also see the brutal exercise of Roman power in colonial conquest and political decadence. The account is bracketed by encounters between Aislin and Vespasian, who discovers that he can only conquer land, but not the human spirit.

I wasn’t sure this would all work, but strong and complex characters (even Vespasian), a first century world the author brings vividly alive and a plot that spans an empire all come together to spin a fascinating tale. Sometimes we find ourselves puzzling at cultures so different from our own. At others we forget that two millenia separate us from these all-too-human people.

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

Review: How to Read Daniel

How to Read Daniel (How to Read series), Tremper Longman III. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: A helpful introduction to the Old Testament book of Daniel, dealing with its original setting and context, the theme of the book, basic commentary on each story and vision, and contemporary applications.

Most of us who have read the Old Testament book of Daniel the prophet find we can make pretty good sense out of the first six chapters, which are narratives. It is the last six which are more problematic, consisting of visions with all sorts of strange beasts, divine figures coming on the clouds, and future kings.

Tremper Longman III does for Daniel what he has done in other books in his How to Read series. Without getting engaged in highly technical commentary with extensive introduction, he introduces the reader to the original setting of Daniel, and then offers a concise commentary of the book, offering the thoughtful lay reader enough to study Daniel for oneself, or with a group.

He introduces the context of Babylonian oppression of Israel including Daniel and his companions and the structure of the book, noting the chiasm of chapters 2-7, the six stories and four visions of which the book consists, and the shifts between Hebrew and Aramaic in the book. He reviews the story of Israel, exile and the succession from Babylonian to Persian, and eventually Greek empires significant to understanding the book. The author takes a more traditional position of Daniel as a sixth century BCE rather than second century BCE work, and for the real possibility of predictive prophecy.

He then works through the book chapter by chapter. He does alter the order slightly, looking first at stories of court contest in Daniel 1 and 2, and 4 and 5, and then stories of court conflict in Daniel 3 and 6. Then he moves on to the four visions in Daniel 7, 8, 9, and 10-12. Longman sees all this material held together by a primary theme “that in spite of present difficulties, God is in control, and he will have the final victory.” In each section, he shows how the material develops that theme. He also notes a secondary theme, that “God’s people can survive and even thrive in the midst of a toxic culture.” We witness this repeatedly throughout the book as people live faithfully and experience God’s provident care, whether in superior abilities to interpret dreams or deliverance from fiery furnaces and lions’ dens.

He concludes the book with discussion of what it means to live in a toxic culture where we cannot force the government to act like the church, providing a basis for a far more nuanced political theology than we customarily encounter. He also explores what it means to find comfort in God’s ultimate victory that begins with the recognition of the real existence of a battle between good and evil operating behind many of the conflicts we face in the world today. There may be real instances where we need to stand against evil, and this may even cost our lives. Likewise we need to be attentive to the war within, finding courage to stand against both external and internal evils, the systemic and the personal, in view of the victory of God portrayed in the visions.

This is a great resource for an adult ed class studying Daniel, as well as a personal devotional study. Each chapter includes a few reflection questions helping connect specific content to the larger themes of Daniel. Commentary recommendations will help the person know where to look who wants to dig deeper. This is a sound work of introduction and interpretation that I would recommend as a great first book on Daniel.

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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.

Review: Be Kind to Yourself

Be Kind to Yourself, Cindy Bunch (Foreword by Ruth Haley Barton). Downers Grove: IVP Formatio, 2020.

Summary: A little handbook of ideas and practices to help us exercise kindness toward ourselves by releasing what bugs us and embracing joy.

How often have you heard, “I’m my own worst critic.” Life is challenging. Sometimes we make it worse as we berate ourselves (and others) and rob ourselves of joy. Cindy Bunch, an editor who has worked on many spiritual formation books has written one that gets very real about the hard stuff (like a divorce) and proposes that we might do well to learn to exercise kindness toward ourselves, even as God has.

The book is organized around three ten-day examen guides, and within each ten days, four ways of showing kindness. The examen is one of the simplest and most straightforward I’ve seen. It consists of two questions:

  1. What’s bugging you?
  2. What’s bringing you joy?

Acknowledging and letting go of the things that bug us positions us to embrace the moments of joy in our lives and enlarge them.

Each of the chapters on ways to be kind to ourselves start with the author’s own answers to the examen questions and then offers some personal reflections and two or three sidebars with practical suggestions. For example the chapter on “I saw it on Twitter,” subtitled “Knowing What to Let Go” reflects on social media and email, and how we may redemptively use these tools. She begins by commending the use of the serenity prayer (“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”), and then offers sidebars on email management and a social media fast and reset.

There are chapters on paying attention to beautiful things, speaking kindly to ourselves, creating new mental playlists, self-care practices, and even a chapter on the Enneagram. As a bibliophile, I loved the material on reading, but was also challenged by the practice of slow reading, as one who tends to read fast. I was also intrigued by the idea of reading retreats. I even posted a “question of the day” about reading retreats on my Facebook page, and I think I had a bunch of people ready to sign up–particularly if the retreats included wine!

This book comes out during a stressful season which makes it all the more timely. I know of organizations providing distress days and making accommodations for the extra stresses on their workers. We may be tempted to beat up on ourselves because we don’t feel nearly as productive, or sharp, or as composed as we feel we ought to be. I think Cindy Bunch would want us to see that that’s OK. It’s a good time to rediscover what it means to be kind to ourselves. And it’s a good time to buy this book!

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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.

The Month in Reviews: August 2020

A vacation week and some extra time on hot days just to read afforded the time to read sixteen books during August. Jeffrey Sachs and Anne Applebaum’s books offered different snapshots on global affairs. From very different perspectives, both Elaine Howard Ecklund and Gavin Ortlund’s books contribute to a better science and faith conversations. I had a chance to review a couple of new fiction authors, Bonnie Proudfoot and Joe English. Uncommon Ground and The Beautiful Community addressed divisions, the first in the culture, the second in the church. One of my most fun reads focused on amusing anecdotes about books, the other about the making of lists. And my baseball book for the summer was a fascinating account of the women’s professional baseball league that was the basis for the movie, A League of Their Own.

The Ages of GlobalizationJeffrey D. Sachs. New York: Columbia University Press, 2020. A study of seven ages of globalization, in which geography, technology, and institutions result in scale-enlarging transformations with global impacts. Review

Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Differenceedited Timothy Keller & John Inazu. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020. Twelve individuals from different walks of life discuss what Christian faithfulness and the pursuit of the common good looks like in a deeply divided culture. Review

Why Science and Faith Need Each OtherElaine Howard Ecklund. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2020. A sociologist who has researched the relationship between science and faith proposes that there are eight shared values that make it possible to move beyond a relationship of fear or conflict between religious and scientific communities. Review

Goshen RoadBonnie Proudfoot. Athens, Ohio: Swallow Press, 2020. A story told across two generations of two sisters, their husbands and children, and their dignity and struggle to exist in working-class, rural West Virginia. Review

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of AuthoritarianismAnne Applebaum. New York: Doubleday, 2020. An extended essay considering the shift to authoritarian leaders in Europe and the United States, analyzing both why such leaders are attractive, and the strategies they used to gain power. Review

Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of CreationGavin Ortlund. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of Augustine’s writing about creation and what that might contribute to the contemporary controversy. Review

The Beautiful CommunityIrwyn L. Ince, Jr., Foreword by Timothy Keller. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. An argument that churches united amid their diversity are beautiful communities that reflect the beauty of the triune God they worship. Review

For the Love of Books: Stories of Literary Lives, Banned Books, Author Feuds, Extraordinary Characters, and MoreGraham Tarrant. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019. A fun read about everything books, from the beginning of the book, stories of authors and their loves and their fights, different genres, and the world of publishing. Review

Unto Us a Child is Born, Tyler D. Mayfield. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2020. Proposes that, as we read Isaiah during Advent, we need to read “with bifocals,” considering both the Advent liturgical significance of the texts and their meaning for our Jewish neighbors. Review

Somebody Else’s TroublesJ.A. English. Union Lake, MI: Zimbell House Publishing, 2020. Several troubled individuals find their way to Mabuhay, a tiny Caribbean Island, and find in the troubles of others the possibility of the redemption of their own. Review

The Gospel in DickensCharles Dickens (edited by Gina Dalfonzo, foreword by Karen Swallow Prior). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2020. A collection of excerpts from the works of Charles Dickens showing the Christian gospel themes evident throughout these works. Review

Befriending Your MonstersLuke Norsworthy. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020. Discusses the fears (monsters) we often run from or that shape our lives, advocating befriending them by facing our fears, allowing us to move into healthier lives. Review

Seeing by the Light: Illumination in Augustine’s and Barth’s Readings of John, (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture), Ike Miller. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study on the doctrine of illumination examining how both Augustine and Barth exposited this doctrine in the gospel and letters of John. Review

The Breadth of Salvation, Tom Greggs. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020. An exploration of the extravagant breadth of God’s saving work in all of its dimensions. Review

When Women Played HardballSusan E. Johnson. Seattle: Seal Press, 1994. The story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a professional league of women playing hardball from 1943 to 1954 told through a game-by-game summary of the 1950 championship, stories about the league, and player narratives. Review

Make A ListMarilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018. An exploration of the human phenomenon of why we make and like lists, how we can turn lists into a life-giving practice, and a plethora of ideas for lists wee might create. Review

Best Book of the Month: I really liked first-time author Bonnie Proudfoot’s Goshen Road. I loved the lean prose, character development, and believable dialogue in this work portraying the struggles and aspirations of working class people in rural West Virginia.

Best Quote of the Month: I loved this statement by Elaine Howard Ecklund expressing her own sense of the integration of science and faith in her life:

I am devoting my life to sociology, and to the sociological study of religion, because of gratitude. I am grateful for my Christian faith and the role it plays in my life. I am grateful for my church community. I am also grateful for the advances that science and social science have made in helping us better understand and navigate our world. I am grateful for the scientific tools and concepts that allow us to better get along and work together. Indeed my gratitude for both faith and science has compelled me to study faith communities and scientific communities and to endeavor to give back to both of those communities. And because of this gratitude I can say that my work is part of my worship.

What I’m Reading: I’ve just finished Cindy Bunch’s Be Kind to Yourself, a book that commends that we afford more grace than criticism to ourselves and suggests practices to help with that. Also just completed, Tremper Longman III’s How to Read Daniel is a clearly written guide to help readers of this often puzzling book. I’m greatly enjoying Jon Meacham’s new His Truth is Marching On, his account of civil right’s pioneer and congressman John Lewis. What a life well-lived. Into the Unbounded Night is historical fiction set in the first century spanning the Roman Empire from Britannia to Rome to Carthage to Jerusalem. Jessica Kantrowitz’s The Long Night explores the realities of depression, both the author’s experience and those of others, offering hope. Finally, I just began The Holy Spirit by Gregg Allison and Andreas J. Kostenberger, which looks to be a highly readable study of the biblical and systematic theology of the Holy Spirit.

Read on, my friends!

Review: Make a List

Make A List, Marilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018.

Summary: An exploration of the human phenomenon of why we make and like lists, how we can turn lists into a life-giving practice, and a plethora of ideas for lists wee might create.

Have you noticed how we like to make lists? From to-do lists to grocery lists to brainstorm lists to lists of favorites to guest lists–these are just some of the everyday lists we create. I know from blogging that we enjoy reading others’ lists. These posts always draw greater numbers of viewers. Perhaps it is the curiosity of how my list might compare to theirs.

Marilyn McEntyre, whose book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, would be on my top ten list of non-fiction works, is the author of this book that should be a delight to any list-maker. For one thing, each of her reflections on lists and their role in our lives includes a list of list ideas. Her first section, on Why Make a List? is a list of reasons for making lists. A few of these: to discover subtle layers of feeling, to name what we want, to clarify your concerns, to decide what to let go of, to get at the questions behind the questions, and to play with possibilities (there are more).

You may be getting the idea that McEntyre sees far more in lists than a practical function of getting things done. She writes:

When you make a list, if you stay with it and take it slowly, take it seriously but playfully, give yourself plenty of permission to put down whatever comes up, you begin to clarify your values, your concerns, the direction your life is taking, your relationship to your inner voice, your humor, your secrets. You discover the larger things that lists can reveal.

She believes lists are mirrors into our interior lives, ways we may learn, ways to listen, perhaps even to the Spirit, ways of loving, letting go, and even praying (after all, as she later observes, what is a litany but a list, usually a long one!). Lists can be a reflective and formative practice leading to greater self-understanding, and when we gift them to others, as she will talk about, a way of expressing love.

The second part of her work is on The Way of the List-maker. She explores how we might refine the kinds of lists we make, particularly along the lines of greater specificity and depth, from the basic to do list, to lists that clarify our values, to lists of words and phrases that have evocative power in our life, to a list of laments. She observes that some of our lists may even turn into a kind of poem. She talks about love lists where we enumerate what we love about another.

The third part is titled “Play Lists” which might be a play on words. She begins with a master list of lists that very well could be a playlist for list-makers. But I also think the aim of this section, as she has mentioned elsewhere is to make list-making playful, a kind of mental play that might take us into undiscovered country. She suggests “why” lists beginning with one of my favorites, why read. An interesting one, autobiographical in character is “What tennis teaches.” Another one is “What’s fun after fifty.” To give you an idea of lists she suggests after each reflection, here are some that follow “What’s fun after fifty”:

  • Fun I never thought I’d have
  • Slightly guilty pleasures
  • Why it’s fun to spend time alone
  • “Fun” I don’t have to pretend to have anymore
  • Deepening pleasures.

As you can see, this is both fun and serious, in the sense that these lists take us into what matters in our lives.

Finally, an appendix offers a grab-bag of additional lists. One that I think very appropriate for those who speak of “adulting” is a list of “What every adult should be able to do.” “What’s worth waiting for” is worth reading and meditating upon. Some are amusing, especially for those of us who have been there. One of the items on “Times to practice trust” is “When the DMV licenses your daughter.”

What makes this book so good is not only the great list ideas, perfect for a retreat day or other reflection time, but also the insights from McEntyre’s own life of making and reflecting upon lists. She often gives words to realities in our own lives we haven’t yet named. Yet she also gives plenty of space in her list suggestions to name our own realities, to listen for the unique ways we may hear both our own inner voice, our true self, and the invitations of the Spirit. Here’s a book to put at the top of your “to be read” list!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Buechner Family

Buechner Hall. Photo from Facebook Page

When my wife and I were students at Youngstown State. We had friends who lived in Buechner Hall at 620 Bryson Street. On one hand, the lobby featured beautiful wood paneling and comfortable furniture, a bit like one would find in your grandmother’s parlor. That’s as far as guests could go, especially gentlemen guests. This was, and is, a privately operated residence hall for women, and it was a place where women on an urban campus could feel secure. The residence hall had its own food and a curfew. Yet the women who lived here generally seemed to accept the restrictions and overall were happy to live there.

Photo source: August 3, 1940 Vindicator

Buechner Hall was built in 1940-1941 to provide affordable lodging for both working women and female students at Youngstown College. Construction was funded by a $2 million bequest from Lucy R. Buechner, given in memory of her mother, Elvira Buechner. A non-profit corporation, the Lucy R. Buechner Corporation was established and continues to use funds from the bequest for building operations, keeping housing costs at an affordable price.

Lucy R. Buechner was the daughter of an early physician and part of a family that invested significantly in Youngstown philanthropy. Her father, William L. Buechner, was born in Reinheim, Hesse, Darmstadt, Germany on December 3, 1830. He received his medical training at the University of Giessen, graduating in 1853. He emigrated to the United States that same year, living briefly in Pittsburgh before moving to Youngstown in 1854. In 1858, he married Elvira Heiner, daughter of Squire Heiner, an early resident of Youngstown. Two children followed, William H., who became a celebrated local surgeon in his own right, and Lucy.

He was recognized for his medical excellence by honorary degrees from Western Reserve University, and later the Rush Medical College of Chicago. He was one of the leaders in the efforts to establish the City Hospital (later North Side Hospital) in Youngstown and served on its staff until his death. He served both on the Board of Heath and the Board of Education. He was also a shrewd investor with investments in stocks of several of the major iron and steel companies of his day, and this established the family’s fortune. Tragically, he died on September 10, 1904, during a driving accident with an unmanageable horse in Mill Creek Park. When he died, at the request of the Mayor, businesses and the Common Pleas Court closed.

His son, William H. Buechner followed in his father’s footsteps in pursuing a medical career. Born in 1864, he graduated from The Rayen High School in 1882, and Western Reserve University in 1885 with his M.D. He pursued additional studies at the University of Pennsylvania in 1886. He went on to work as an assistant of a famous German surgeon, Professor Von Volkman in Halle, Germany, returning to Youngstown in 1890. He was on staff as a surgeon at the City Hospital of Youngstown, performing the first prostatectomy in the city, a delicate operation, according to Dr. John Melnick. He died on December 14, 1920 following a long battle with pneumonia in an age before antibiotics.

The family had all lived at a stately home at the corner of Champion and East Federal Street. After her brother’s death, it was said that Lucy was rarely seen, and then only on her porch in a black dress until complications from an illness ended her life on September 10, 1926. Following her death it was learned that she had given the bulk of her fortune to establish a home for “student girls” and “those who are self-supporting and are engaged in gainful occupation.”

According to a story in The Jambar, some Buechner residents believe Lucy’s ghost haunts the residence. My wife and I don’t recall any such stories. Whatever is the case, Buechner Hall continues to serve Youngstown State’s students, with the restrictions on men visiting rooms that existed when we were there. Typically, there have been wait lists for rooms. Lucy’s gift, and the investments of the Buechner family have left a lasting memorial to Elvira. One can’t help but think she was an extraordinary wife and mother!