Review: Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers

Starship TroopersRobert A. Heinlein. New York: Ace, 2006 (originally published in 1959).

Summary: Juan “Johnny” Rico’s narrative of training and fighting in the Mobile Infantry during the Terran Wars with the Pseudo-Arachnids (“Bugs”) set 700 years in the future.

I read several of what would now be considered Robert A. Heinlein classics in my youth. Somehow, I missed this one, despite the fact that it won a 1960 Hugo Award. Coming across a copy, I finally decided to fill that gap.

I found myself wondering what this book is really about. The setting is a war between the Terran Federation and the Pseudo-Arachnids (“Bugs”) set seven centuries in the future, at a time when travel at faster than light speeds is possible through Cherenkov Drive. The book opens with the narrator, Juan “Johnnnie” Rico describing a “drop” onto a “Skinny” planet (the Skinnies at this period were allied with the “Bugs” and later with the Terrans.) We’re introduced to the Mobile Infantry and their special powered and armored suits, equipped with all sorts of lethal weaponry that renders each infantryman more powerful than a tank.

The book then traces Rico’s enlistment into the military, assignment to the apparently “lowly” Mobilized Infantry (M.I.), his basic training under Sergeant Zim (a good portion of the book), his deployment with Rasczaks Roughnecks, battles, acceptance into officer training, deployment, and further battles culminating in an attack on the Bugs home world of Klendathu, the outcome of which for Rico, or his forces, we do not learn.

What, then, is this book? According to Wikipedia, Heinlein wrote this in about two weeks as an angry response to President Eisenhower’s decision to cancel nuclear testing in 1959, at the height of the Cold War. It has the feel of a work that upholds the necessity of the military, especially the most basic element of it, its infantry. Its battle scenes reflect both strategic thinking and imaginative tactics based on the power suits the M.I. is equipped with. It touts values ranging from unit cohesion, never leaving a buddy behind, and the wisdom of sergeants It proposes a form of militarized society in which only those who have served (and survived, both men and women) have the right to vote and hold office. Others have basic rights of free speech and the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, but not full citizenship.

One wonders if Heinlein thought Eisenhower had gone soft against the Communist threat of his time, and maybe American society with him. Corporal and capital punishment are practiced in this military–floggings to executions. One also the sense of a military engaged in cosmic warfare for the future of the planet (occasionally attacked, one of which results in the death of Rico’s mother, and the subsequent enlistment of his father, who had opposed Johnny’s enlistment), while the rest of the planet goes to the shopping mall, or whatever its equivalent was.

Twice during the book, Rico undergoes courses on History and Moral Philosophy, the first with a high school teacher (former M.I we later learn) and later in Officer Candidate School. Each seems to provide Heinlein the opportunity to explore profound political questions that give one the sense that Heinlein had deep questions about the long term viability of democratic-republican forms of government.

Needless to say, this has been a book to stir up controversy on a number of fronts from  Heinlein’s portrayals of gender relationships, to his political ideas, to his militarism, to proper forms of discipline and punishment. Yet to create such a social imaginary is not necessarily to advocate for it. One wonders, rather, if in his time, this was his way of challenging a country he thought might be going soft with what is required to prevail in a global conflict. One is reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s comment following the Constitutional Convention when asked by a lady, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” Franklin’s reply was, reportedly,   “A Republic, if you can keep it.” One wonders what Heinlein might write in our day.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Leon A. Beeghly

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Beeghly Center, By Greenstrat – Own work, Public Domain, via Wikimedia

I spent a lot of time at Beeghly Center as a student at Youngstown State. I had a number of classes there including an utterly forgettable health class, a number of psych classes (my major), and a memorable philosophy class with Professor Thomas Shipka. Then there was the physical conditioning class! Of course we went to many basketball teams coached by Dom Roselli as well as concerts. I first heard James Taylor live in Beeghly Center. Amazing that he is still performing!

I never thought “who was Beeghly?” Beeghly was Leon A. Beeghly. He was not a Youngstown native, born in 1884 and raised in a small northwestern Ohio town named Bloomville in Seneca County. After college at Tri-State University in Indiana he began working with the France Company of Bloomville, that operated a number of stone quarries. Eventually the company moved to Toledo. It was here that Beeghly became interested in slag, a by-product of steel production used in concrete, road bases, railroad ballast, waterway construction, and even for soil amendments in agriculture.

Beeghly first formed a slag company in Toledo, but quickly realized that the blast furnaces of Youngstown offered a far greater output of this material. He joined with two other men whose names are also well-known on the Youngstown State campus, William E. Bliss and William H. Kilcawley, in forming the Standard Slag Company of Youngstown. He served as company president. In 1918, he and his wife Mabel and four children (Charles, James, Thornton, and Lucille) moved to Youngstown.

Leon BeeghlyBeeghly continued to work with inventors to develop new processes and products including the cold forming of metal resulting in the Cold Metal Products Company where son Charles was involved before becoming president and chairman of Jones and Laughlin Steel, at that time the fourth largest steel company in the country. James and Thornton and later-born John all were involved in Standard Slag. Last-born son Thomas served as president of International Carbonic Company of Santa Ana, California.

In 1940, Leon Beeghly formed the L. A. Beeghly Fund, to which the family has continued to contribute. This fund has invested in a number of religious, charitable, scientific and literary causes, as well as ten college buildings (two at Youngstown State with the new education building) at nine college campuses. Beeghly was a director for Youngstown Sheet and Tube and headed the Youngstown Chamber of Commerce three times. He led initiatives as diverse as vocational training and mental health care.

Leon Beeghly died in 1967. He was recognized at the time not only as a successful industrialist, but as a supporter of inventors and entrepreneurs and technological development, as well as a community leader and philanthropist. His family has continued Beeghly’s philanthropic tradition, with Youngstown State being one of the most significant beneficiaries. Beeghly Physical Education Center opened December 2, 1972 (at the end of my first quarter on campus), built in part with donations from the Beeghly family. More recently, Beeghly Hall became the home of Youngstown State’s College of Education. In 2017, a $1.5 million gift was announced from Bruce and Nancy Beeghly toward a new endowment to the college as well as two graduate fellowships in Electrical and Computer Engineering and in Business Administration.

For over 100 years the Beeghly family has provided both industrial leadership and philanthropic investment in the Mahoning Valley. Their recent gifts suggest an investment in Youngstown’s future. Leon Beeghly always cared about encouraging technological development coupled with supporting the educational foundations needed for any technological advance. His grandchildren are carrying on that work, an important piece in the economic rebirth of Youngstown.

Review: Forgiving My Father, Forgiving Myself

forgiving my father

Forgiving My Father, Forgiving MyselfRuth Graham with Cindy Lambert. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019.

Summary: Through both personal narrative and biblical teaching, explores the power of forgiveness to bring freedom from bitterness, transforming our lives, and in at least some cases, our relationships.

Ruth Graham was leading a team into Angola Prison when she encountered Michael, on death row for murder, and yet at peace with God. Graham learns the amazing story of how the grandfather of the murderer’s victim had forgiven him and was praying for him. It led Ruth on a journey where forgiveness went from head knowledge to transformation in her life.

Ruth grew up in an extraordinary family. Her father was Billy Graham. Such a family carries its own stresses, that Ruth speaks about, never bitterly or cynically, but honestly. She made a series of bad choices in marriages, going through four divorces. Her mother’s advice was often less than helpful. She also began to see that she had a deep wound in her life from her father’s long absences. Despite her love for him, and his for her, she struggled with feelings of abandonment, and anger. Graham never excuses her own bad decisions, but weaves her journey of learning to forgive her father, forgive her self, and seek the forgiveness of others with biblical principles of how we forgive, and the tough issues of forgiving when forgiveness is not sought or rejected, when those we forgive are no longer around, and forgiving when the other person is not safe to be around.

She helps us see that forgiveness is neither fair nor easy, but that God has commanded it. She shows us that forgiveness is a process that does not depend on our feelings, but that God can help us to do something against which our feelings rebel. In forgiveness, bitter wounds become sacred wounds as we offer these to God and open our wounded places to Him. She teaches us how to ask forgiveness: “I did this. It was wrong. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me.”

Unlike Bryan Maier in Forgiveness and Justice (reviewed here) she believes that forgiveness can occur separately from repentance, reconciliation and restoration. Maier contends that forgiveness (which Graham might call reconciliation) can only occur when the offender confesses and repents from the wrong done. Maier contends that where there is no repentance, the proper response of the aggrieved is to take the grievance to God and trust God for justice

Graham would propose that forgiveness delivers us from bitterness, even in the absence of reconciliation, or when reconciliation is no longer safe or possible. Maier, I believe, would say that we take our anger to God as well as to pray, where it is possible, for the repentance of the offender, but not prematurely forgive.

I don’t believe Maier deals adequately with what one does when it is not possible to reconcile with an offender. At the same time, I think there is a point that Graham misses that was called to my attention in watching the documentary Emanuel on the deaths of nine people at the hands of Dylan Roof and participating on a panel with two black scholars who have studied the history and literature of violence against blacks. One of the remarkable things is how quickly a number of families forgive Roof, even though Roof never shows remorse (and other family and friends struggle to or refuse to forgive to this day). While we all recognized how these believers were shaped by biblical teaching, it was observed that it has often been the place of oppressed blacks to forgive, often accompanied by celebration that this has averted a more violent response. One scholar asked, “should not there be anger at the white supremacists and a system that produced Roof, at the history of violence in the forms of lynchings and church burnings against blacks?”

What I wonder is whether it is possible to forgive, as Christ forgave unrepentant enemies on the cross, and yet be angry, but not with bitterness, at the things which anger God, whether systemic racism, infidelity, sexual abuse, or morally corrupt leadership. There is an anger which is not hate, but which motivates advocacy, that does not relent in seeking justice. Sometimes, at least for some, forgiveness is a quick release from the hard feelings of grievance, or an escape from the hard work of seeking justice.

What I would say is that Graham does not minimize the challenge of forgiveness. She also offers a model of honestly facing her own need of forgiveness and what she hadn’t forgiven in others and herself. She helps us see the corrosive character of bitterness arising from an unforgiving heart and the grace God can give to forgive. Yet I think we also need teaching on forgiveness that teaches us how to know and live amazing grace while avoiding cheap grace, that does not heal personal or national wounds lightly.

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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: Participating in Christ

Participating in Christ

Participating in ChristMichael J. Gorman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019.

Summary: A discussion of what it means to be “in” Christ, or to participate in Christ, drawing from the Pauline letters, and particularly what this means for living a cross-shaped and resurrection-infused life by which one becomes increasingly like Christ and God.

This book is about a small word, “in,” that carries a vital and transformative idea for the Christian believer. Anyone who has read Paul’s letters will no doubt have encountered the phrase “in Christ” numerous times. But what should we understand the significance of this phrase to be, both with reference to Christ and for those who have believed in Christ.

Michael Gorman argues that this is the language of participation of union, of an intimate sharing with Christ, and much of his work has been to develop the implications of participation for Pauline theology. His argument begins with the cross, which is at the heart of the revelation of the person of Christ, even as risen Lord. Furthermore, the cross not only tells us what Christ is like, but what the Godhead is like, a God of self-emptying love. And finally the cross reveals what both human beings and the church are meant to be, that individually and collectively, to be in Christ is to take on the cross-shaped character of Christ and God. The cross is not only the source but the shape of our salvation as we live by faith and faithfulness, love, power, justice and hope. Because the cross of Christ reveals the character of God, our lives are God-like (Gorman develops the idea of theosis here, perhaps the most controversial aspect of his work). The cruciform or cross-shaped life is not merely imitative, but transformative through participating in the life of the risen Messiah through the Spirit.

Gorman argues for justification as a participatory event that is both forensic in our trust in Christ’s atoning death and resurrection, and that incorporates us into Christ’s body as we share in his covenant faithfulness in our death to sin with Christ and experience in his resurrection the power to live a cross-shaped life. Therefore what Gorman proposes is a theology that bridges the divide between the historic forensic view of justification, and the New Perspective on Paul that focuses on justification as covenant inclusion into the people of God through the faithfulness of Christ.

To participate in Christ is not merely to believe but to become the gospel, advancing it through our embodiment of the cruciform life in reconciliation, restorative justice, forgiveness, and non violence. The transformative work of justification is also one of justice-ification. As we are transformed individually and corporately through being reckoned righteous or just before God (the same word in Greek), we embody this work in pursuing cruciform justice in society

Gorman develops these ideas in nine chapters considering Pauline texts from the Corinthian, Roman, Galatian and Philippian letters, ones universally accepted as Pauline. His final two chapters apply these ideas to the church today, the first through an imaginary epistle of Paul to the church in North America, in which he challenges the pursuit of political power and alignments with a call to cruciformity and latter in which he explores the critical relevance of the resurrection for both Christian hope, and resurrectionally infused ethics in the present.

I like the focus on this simple but often overlooked aspect of Christian living–what it means to live in Christ and how this is evident in the believer’s life. The cruciform shape, resurrection power, and missional presence in the world all are vital for both the individual believer but the body as a whole. I did wonder about the connection between our participation in Christ (and his body) and the idea Paul also develops of our partnership (koinonia) with one another. Gorman doesn’t develop this, but it seems a natural corollary to participation, and speaks to how Christians exercise solidarity across national and ethnic and gender and class lines in the gospel.

I’m also drawn to the way Gorman reconceptualizes the discussion between the New Perspective and forensic camps around justification, particularly in his emphasis on the transformative aspects of justification or being “righteoused.” While we sometimes separate justification and sanctification, and there are dangers of confusing them, to emphasize that justification does not just address our status but also the beginnings of new creation in the regenerate believer seems vital. This is a very different take than in Garwood Anderson’s Paul’s New Perspective (reviewed here) which takes more of a chronological approach to explaining passages that support more of a forensic view and others that support more of a covenant inclusion view as reflective of development in Paul. I’d love to hear the dialogue between these two scholars!

In any event, I found the book a rich exploration of the significance of being “in Christ,” a short phrase we often gloss over. I won’t be able to look at it in quite the same way again, thanks to Michael Gorman’s work.

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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: Grace Will Lead Us Home

grace will lead us home

Grace Will Lead Us Home, Jennifer Berry Hawes. New York: St. Martins Press, 2019.

Summary: An account of the massacre of nine people at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston by Dylann Roof, and the responses of survivors and surviving families, notably the forgiveness offered, and the impact on the families, the church, and the Charleston community.

Jennifer Berry Hawes is a Pulitzer Prize investigative journalist for the Post and Courier, based in Charleston, South Carolina. She not only was one of those who covered the fateful events of June 17, 2015, when Dylann Roof was welcomed into a Bible study at Emanuel A.M.E. church by Pastor Clementa Pinckney (also a state senator) and eleven others. He had planned the killing for six months, sat with the group for an hour as Myra Thompson led a study of the Parable of the Soils, and when they bowed to pray, he executed nine of them, firing a total of 77 rounds. His hope was to move from all the talk on white supremacist websites to ignite a race war.

Three survived from that circle. Polly Sanders was “allowed” to live by the killer to tell the story. Felicia Sanders covered her granddaughter, smearing herself with her son Tywanza’s blood, playing dead, while she watches him crawl toward “Aunt Susie” and as he takes his last breath, speaking his love for Felicia . Nearby, Clementa Pinckney’s wife Jennifer and her daughter Malana sheltered in an office, after hearing the first gunshot, followed by an “Ugh.” What they heard was husband and father Clementa dying.

Roof escaped. Hawes takes us through the aftermath, as officers swarm the scene, the most horrific most had ever seen. She traces the mounting fears of the families of those in the church as they awaited news, and then heard the worst. We see a city on edge, particularly in light of the recent police involved shooting by Officer Michael Slager of unarmed Walter Scott following a traffic stop. Then comes the tip to Roof’s location, and his apprehension–no shots fired despite his slaughter of nine.

Hawes recounts the electric moment at Roof’s bond hearing as he stands expressionless while first Nadine Collier, daughter of Ethel Lance, and Anthony Thompson, a pastor and husband of Myra, forgive Roof and urge him to repent. Not all were ready to do that but many were, to the wonder of the police chief and others. This began a chain of events including a unity rally of blacks and whites in Charleston, the taking down of the Confederate flag at the initiative of Governor Nikki Haley on the capitol grounds, and the memorable address of President Barack Obama, delivering the eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, speaking of the amazing grace shown by survivors and family, the undeserved grace granted a racist nation, concluding with Obama leading the assembled congregation in singing “Amazing Grace.”

Hawes describes not only the inspiring but the darker aspects of the aftermath of these killings: family conflicts, handling of donations intended for victim families, lapses of pastoral care, and lives like that of Cynthia Hurd’s husband Stephen that would never be the same, and the struggle of others to forgive. Roof’s trial and death sentence helped bring closure, although many, as Christians, opposed the death sentence, to give Roof every opportunity to repent and believe.

The granting of forgiveness, particularly to Roof, who refused it was controversial within victim families and more widely, and yet is a theme running through the book. The “amazing grace” many showed in the face of such evil brought wonder to many and seemed to have inspired at least some of the subsequent acts.

Yet I found myself wondering if this was yet one more incident of healing lightly the wounds of America’s original sin of racism. I do not question the decision of those who forgave. They acted out of deep conviction of lives shaped by a Christ who forgave his enemies as his blood was poured out on a cross. I don’t think any of us are worthy to question what these families did. What I do question is the response of a nation turning this into an inspiring, “feel good” moment, quickly banished from the mind and letting us off the hook from more substantive repentance and reformation.

Hawes helps us explore the darker underside of racism that we struggle as a nation to face, or whose existence we deny. She reminds us of Charleston’s history as the greatest port of entry for slaves, and the place where the Civil War began, and the continued embrace of the Confederate flag. She raises questions about how many young men are raised to hate, how a young man like Dylann Roof searching “black on white crime” was directed by search engines to white supremacist hate groups rather than FBI statistics.

One of the most moving stories was the response of police lieutenant Jennie Antonio, when she heard that Felicia Sanders was pleading to have her bullet pierced, blood stained Bible returned. Antonio sifted through biohazard materials in FBI facilities and found the Bible, sent it to a Texas company that salvaged such materials. Two months later, that Bible was delivered to Sanders, a barely visible tear where the bullet had penetrated, a faint pinkish tinge that tinted the pages, but still God’s words. When Roof was sentenced, she carried that Bible as she spoke:

My Bible, abused–abused, torn, shot up. When I look at the Bible, I see blood Jesus shed for me. And for you, Dylann Roof.”

I’m reminded of a Bible that was once my grandmother’s, probably looks much like Sanders Bible. She, like Felicia, loved the Bible, underlined many verses and wrote notes in the margins. She lived the Bible. I wonder how many in our churches are truly shaped by its message like the people in that Bible study, or like my grandmother. Instead of the disturbing messages that prey on fear, do they hear the Master’s “be not afraid.” Do they build walls or welcome the stranger and the alien? Instead of profiting from inequities, defining the world in terms of allies and enemies, and measuring one’s worth by what power one has, do they “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8)?

Hawes rendering of this story sensitively uncovers not only the sequence of events in Charleston but the deeper spiritual values of Mother Emanuel’s people, and the challenge of that spirituality for the rest of us. Will we listen to this deeper wisdom or continue to be drawn into the divisive rhetoric? Hawes’ narrative leaves me with that question.

A Facebook Conundrum

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I ran into a conundrum yesterday in posting the above meme, of all places, on my Bob on Books Facebook page. It is a page that gather readers to talk about books and share their common love, and offers everything from humor to serious articles about book-related topics.

The conundrum, as some who are on the page noted, is the act of posting something like this does the very thing it discourages, taking us away from the book we were intending to read. It could probably be argued as well that hosting the page, and blogging about books,  takes me away from reading.

It may be observed that there are other things beside books, including the communal act of talking about books and ideas, hopefully civilly and substantively, rare things in our society, and even rarer on social media. I also post humor, because I think it is a healthy thing to laugh at ourselves as the quirky creatures who love books and reading and all things related, like libraries and bookstores.

But I also realize that it is possible to help dig reading’s grave with digital distractions. Apps like Facebook are exquisitely designed to do just that. Of course, we can say we are “reading,” and sometimes we really are. I find a number of great and interesting articles, that in the reading, enhance my understanding of authors, bookselling, and you name it connected with books.

Perhaps this is another aspect of the double-edged nature of many technologies, maybe all technology. Atomic energy can kill cancer, or kill people. Opioids can provide a merciful release for those in intense pain, or addict and kill.  Likewise, social media can point us to worthy books, and distract us from reading them.

So what is one to do? Perhaps the best I’ve come up with is to have social media time, and book time. It may mean having the phone in another room while one reads, or to turn off all notifications. Of course this is a problem for those who read on their phone or tablet computer with non-reading apps. Probably most of us need to set some boundaries on social media. Increasingly apps can even be set to allow us only a certain amount of viewing time per session.

I think managing digital distractions, which is really self-management, is just a reality of our modern lives, at least for most of us. Such self-management is what allows us to appropriately and not inordinately use such technology.

At least that’s what I tell myself as I curate my page. I assume we’re all adults and have learned, or are learning to set our own boundaries of social media use. It does seem that this is so from the titles and numbers of books people report having read. Maybe the meme above is nothing more than a “gotcha” moment we all laugh about.

But I’ve not stopped thinking about the conundrum, and trying to discern the line between ordinate and inordinate. I’d love to hear from others who host social media or blog sites as to what they think about this.

Late Fall Book Preview 2019

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

Bowery Mission

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

A week in the life of a greco roman woman

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

conscienceen

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

tending soul, mind, and body

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

40 Questions

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

unsettling truths

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

out of darkness

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

choosing community

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

gospel allegiance

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

revelation

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

warfield

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

spiritual warfare

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

last leonardo

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

seeking church

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

narrative theology

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

opening the red door

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

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Strock Stone House

Strock Stone House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Review: Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What Will Peace Among the Whites Bring?”

Douglass

Frederick Douglass, Public Domain via Wikimedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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