Review: Killers of the Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann. New York: Doubleday, 2017.

Summary: The true crime account of a series of murders of Osage tribal people motivated by money and the FBI agent who arrested some of the major figures involved in the deaths.

In the 1920’s, members of the Osage Nation were among the richest people on earth. They held the rights to the oil beneath their land and each tribal member had “headrights” that resulted in growing payments and wealth. That wealth was the object of numerous unscrupulous actors from those who sold vehicles for far more than their worth to “guardians” who siphoned off proceeds for themselves. Then a number of Osage began dying, some mysteriously wasting away, others dying from “hits,” a bullet in the head.

The book centers around the deaths surrounding Mollie Burkhart. Her former husband, Roan, was murdered with a bullet through his head. Her mother and sister appeared to be poisoned. Another also died of a bullet into the head, never found by the doctor doing the autopsy. And one died in a spectacular house explosion. Then Mollie’s own health began deteriorating, even though she was under a doctor’s care for diabetes.

Local and state investigators failed to find the killers, and at points may have been in league with them. Finally, the case landed on the desk of a young J. Edgar Hoover, trying to build what would become the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Failure could deal a blow to his ambitions. He turned to Tom White, a former Texas Ranger, who didn’t fit the mold of the Bureau, but knew the territory. White, in turn, recruited a team of undercover agents who were crucial to the success of the investigation.

The book details White’s determined pursuit of those responsible, despite the death of witnesses and other intimidation tactics. He saved Mollie’s life, getting her different medical care, under which she immediately improved, raising questions about her own husband’s part. The book traces the trail to a powerful figure in Osage country, seemingly upstanding, but truly evil, who was lining his pockets with Osage wealth.

While White was able to see the killers of Mollie’s family to justice, David Grann also tells a darker story of many other deaths and other killers never convicted. He concludes the account with his meetings of descendants of the families who had suffered loss as he attempts to provide some account to satisfy the “blood that cried out.”

I found this an engaging, page turning account of a monumental injustice, one more of a litany injustice done to the First Nations of North America. Grann shows the ruthless and unscrupulous efforts to deprive the Osage of what was rightfully theirs. It is too bad that Tom White did not head up the FBI. The contrast between him and Hoover is striking. It would have been a very different agency. White and his family treated their work as a sacred calling worthy of their excellence and courage, defying a corrupt version of “the machine.”

Review: Season Ticket

Season Ticket, Roger Angell. New York: Open Road Media, 2013 (originally published in 1988).

Summary: A collection of essays covering the 1982 to 1987 seasons, from spring training to the drama of the championships, and all the skills of players and managers and owners required to compete at the major league level.

“Don’t you know how hard this all is?”

Ted Williams, on batting in particular and baseball in general

If there is a theme to this installment of Roger Angell’s articles on baseball, it is the conversations Angell has with different players and even an owner, all that illustrate what a challenge it is to do every aspect of Major League Baseball well. A number of the essays recount the answers of players and coaches to the question of “How do you do what you do?” What does it take to catch well for example. The biggest part is working with pitchers, yet the all stars are always the ones who hit. They may not be the best at their work with pitchers. We learn how a catcher must in a single motion catch, stand, and throw to have any hope of catching a base-stealing runner.

He takes us through the infield and the particular demands of each position. We learn what a mental game playing first base is. So much at every position is positioning for each batter, knowing your pitcher. He spends a good deal of his time with Dave Concepcion, a short stop star of the ’80s, learning about how he learned to make the long throw on a hop to first base on artificial turf because it was actually faster.

Included is an article on Dan Quisenberrry, a submarine ball relief pitcher for the Royals. We catch him at his peak in 1985 when he was nearly unhittable. We learn about everything from how he learned the motion, which is actually far easier on the pitching arm than throwing overhand to the aggressive mindset of relief pitchers. We learn about his repertoire of pitches and the attitude of flexibility of being prepared to pitch in any game that comes with relief pitching. In later articles, we also see Quisenberry’s decline, particularly after Dick Howser stepped down. The chemistry was never the same.

And then, of course, there is hitting and all the little things that go into hitting well, and as one of the best, Ted Williams says, how hard it is. We learn that basically batters want to hit a fastball. We get all the little nuances of bat weight, stance, grip on the bat, and swing, and how easy it is to get out of the groove.

Then there are the players. In this period he covers the last game of Carl Yastrzemski, the great Boston player, Jim Kaat, after a twenty year career as a pitcher, and Johnny Bench, all who played their last in 1983. We have the account of Pete Rose’s 4192nd hit, surpassing Ty Cobb, and the comparison showing how superior Cobb’s accomplishment was in far less games at a higher batting average. Rose just kept playing. Then there are the young pitchers of the era, Dwight Gooden and Bret Saberhagen in particularly.

As always, Angell seems at his best in recounting championships, in this case in particular, the 1986 Red Sox-Mets World Series and particularly the disappointing Red Sox loss that turned the tide in the fifth game. Then there is the amazing 1984 Tigers team with all their hitting, power, and speed, which finally buried the Padres.

Angell covers the rise of drug use among players, the advent of drug testing, and some of the great players who got ensnared in cocaine use. The sad thing was that apart from a few teams, the emphasis seemed less on rehabilitation and more on “gotcha.” He writes about all the pressures and temptations that came with the big money of this era.

The book ends at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown during a Hall of Fame induction. By the time Angell was done, I found myself mentally adding Cooperstown to my bucket list. He writes, “The artifacts and exhibits in the Hall remind us, vividly and with feeling, of our hopes for bygone seasons and players. Memories are jogged, even jolted; colors become brighter, and we laugh or sigh, remembering the good times gone by.”

Angell captures the fleeting wonder of the game and how amazing the players who perform at a high level for ten years or more. It is indeed hard to do so well, and hard on bodies, especially as they age. The arc from spring to autumn, both of seasons and careers in some way is a parable of the fleeting nature of our lives, as well as the glory of our existence.

Review: Divine Love Theory

Divine Love Theory, Adam Lloyd Johnson. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2023.

Summary: Proposes that the love within the Trinity serves as the objective basis and foundation for living moral lives and engages the competing atheist theory of Erik Weilenberg proposing an objective basis for morality apart from God.

In campus ministry, one of the questions we would sometimes pose to engage dialogue was “can we be good without God?” Actually, at least by the world’s account, atheists sometimes run moral circles around Christians, though I think none of us live up to whatever standards of goodness we set for ourselves. But then the question can be raised, on what does one base one’s morality if not on the character of God? For most, the response is one’s own subjective sense of right and wrong, a sense that we observed drew extensively on theist capital.

This book takes the conversation further in two ways. One is, that for me, it acquainted me with the work of atheist philosophers who argue (often against other atheists) for an objective basis for morality beyond ourselves. This work particularly focuses on that of Erik Weilenberg who has proposed the idea of godless moral realism, proposing that moral values and duties exist as abstract objective realities, apart from the existence of God. The other is the author’s proposal that moral reasoning and life has an objective basis in the loving character of the relationships within the Triune God. Most ideas of objective foundations for morality deal with God monotheistically. Johnson, by contrast considers the relational character of the Trinity and its defining quality of eternal love, that makes sense of the biblical claim that “God is love.”

One of the things I appreciated in this work is the careful, academic argument by which Johnson makes his case for Divine Love Theory. He begins with a historical survey of moral theories, the disagreement between objective and subjective theories, and the difference within objective theories between theistic and atheistic theories. He then elaborates the work of Erik Weilenberg, of godless moral realism. He notes three features of the theory: its reliance on brute ethical facts, his focus on making relationships in which natural, nonmoral properties instantiate moral properties, and that it is non-natural, that is not grounded in naturalism.

He then elaborates his Divine Love Theory, that objective morality is grounded in God’s Trinitarian nature. He notes how his work borrows from Robert Adams approach to divine command theory which first focuses on moral value modelled in God’s nature that is then expressed in commands creating our moral obligation. Johnson believes that the loving inner-trinitarian relationships are at the heart of our understanding of the goodness of God and the basis for both moral value and at the center of God’s commands, reflected in the commands to love God and neighbor.

He then identifies and responds to various objections to Divine Love Theory: concerns with loving relationships within the Trinity relating to the distinction of persons, concerns from Divine Will theorists, from Natural Law theorists, concerns about God’s will being arbitrary, and concerns with Platonism. Having answered objections by competing theorists, he outlines his contention that Divine Love Theory offers a stronger objective basis for morality than Weilenberg’s godless moral realism. He argues that his theory provides an exemplar for moral value, a human telos for moral obligation, a social context for moral obligation, and a personal authority at the head of a chain of moral obligation, features absent in Weilenberg’s theory.

He then considers problems with Weilenberg’s theory: a bloated ontology, a lack of evidence for brute ethical facts, and problems with his “making relationship,” particularly that cognitive properties can instantiate objective moral properties. Finally, he responds to a critique Weilenberg makes observing unexplained necessary connections (a problem with his own theory as well). In the case of theists, it is the connection between God’s nature and God’s commands. Johnson observes that with his own theory, there is direct connection between God’s loving nature and the necessary commands to love God and others.

The last section of the book discusses the “lucky coincidence” objection to Weilenberg’s theories and whether theistic approaches to objective morality are subject to similar criticism. The basic question is how our moral beliefs would ever line up with objective truths that are causally inert–it being a lucky coincidence that they would. It also discusses an unrelated issue, a discussion of whether the obligation of obedience to commands can be grounded in the obedience within the Trinity and whether this entails functional subordination. Since this is problematic, Johnson proposes two alternatives: the idea of the eternal generation of the Son and the idea of inner-trinitarian love, that our love that obeys resembles and imitates love within the Trinity.

I thought this a valuable work for several reasons. It extends a growing emphasis on Trinitarian theology into the realm of moral theology and philosophy. The tri-unity of God ought affect all reality including moral realities and Johnson draws this out well. Second, Johnson elaborates, defends, and shows the superior explanatory power of his theory with clarity and careful reason, offering an excellent resource to the Christian apologist dealing with arguments for objective morality apart from God. Finally, Johnson models scholarly charity in engaging Weilenberg, with whom he has a warm relationship (Weilenberg is one of the book’s endorsers!). He offers an outstanding example of rigorous disagreement about ideas that remains civil and gracious. We could use more works of this character!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Joe Flynn

Joe Flynn,” By ABC Network –, front of photo, back of photo, Public Domain.

For most of us, we remember actor Joe Flynn as the stuffed-shirt, bumbling Captain Wallace Burton Binghamton (or “Old Leadbottom”) whose characteristic response was “What is it, What, WHAT, WHAT!?” I grew up watching McHale’s Navy from 1962 to 1966 and I delighted in seeing how McHale (Ernest Borgnine) would find ways to work around or outfox Captain Binghamton in each episode.

Even though we laughed at Captain Binghamton, Joe Flynn was a source of pride for all of us who grew up in Youngstown. He was one of our own, and even though he had a successful career, often as the comic foil, he never forgot the place where he grew up. He was born in Youngstown, November 8, 1924, the son of Dr. Joseph A. and Gracie McGraw Flynn. He grew up on the North side and graduated from the Rayen School. He went on to spend a year at Notre Dame (according to The Vindicator obituary of July 20, 1974–Wikipedia says Northwestern) before three years in the Army Medical Corps during the war. He then went to the University of Southern California, majoring in political science.

His TV career goes back to the early days where he was in a sitcom, Yer Old Buddy, in 1948. He also appeared in a number of stage plays. He came back to Youngstown in 1950 and put his political science degree to work, making an unsuccessful run for the Ohio Senate, to represent Youngstown. In 1951, he was chosen to be the director of the Canfield Players, mounting successful productions of “Harvey,” “Antigone,” “Pursuit of Happiness,” and “Petticoat Fever.”

He starred in some horror productions, including The Indestructible Man with Lon Chaney, Jr. and some Alfred Hitchcock productions, but quickly realized that his best roles were comedic ones, often as the stuffy, bumbling figure. In all, he acted in over thirty Disney films including The Son of Flubber, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, and The Love Bug and many others.

One of his early credits was in an episode of The Life of Riley in 1953. He was on a number of episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and 34 episodes of the Joey Bishop Show. He worked every year between 1953 and 1974 according to TMDB. Over his lifetime he played over 500 roles. None, however, was as recognized as his role as the self-important and incompetent Captain Binghamton. He played this role in 138 episodes (all but one) and in two McHale movies. Later, he co-starred with Tim Conway on the Tim Conway Show, playing the boss of a small airline

He returned often to Youngstown, visiting his family’s home on Elm Street. He helped with United Appeal community fund-raising efforts. His work in broadcasting earned him an Ohio Association of Broadcasting award. He was a regular at the Kenley Players in the early 1970’s. He was scheduled to perform there the week after he died.

Joe Flynn died on July 19, 1974. He went for an early morning swim in the pool at his home and was found dead, submerged in the water. He died of a heart attack at age 49. Yet his work outlasted him. He appeared in 1975 as Dean Higgins in The Strongest Man in the World and in voiceovers for the Disney animated film The Rescuers in 1977, as the voice of Mr. Snoops. I remember this being one of my son’s favorite videos.

He was not a sex symbol. He was a character actor who figured out what he could do well. He could make people laugh, often at him. Contrary to his often stuck-up characters, it seems that he was anything but in real life–humble enough to know what he was good at and never forgetting where he came from. He was married to the same woman, Shirley, at the time of his death, who he married in 1955.

We may have laughed at the characters Joe Flynn played but we were always proud of him. And he gave us the chance to enjoy his talents at the Kenley Players, where we could enjoy and applaud him in person. He understood the special bond between actor and audience. He never forgot us and perhaps this is a small way of doing the same for him, We remember, Joe Flynn.

*I’d like to thank Boardman native David Rickert for the suggestion of this post.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Banning Books When Children Aren’t Reading

Photo by Mau00ebl BALLAND on

The rise in book challenges and bans is disturbing for a number of reasons. In 2019, 566 books were challenged. That number has jumped to over 2500 in 2022, according to NPR. I don’t want to add to the spate of articles about this phenomenon except to say that the mark of a free society is that we mutually agree to protect the freedom of those who are saying things we don’t like. The arguments that those who are on the religious and cultural right use to challenge certain books can be used by others to challenge or ban the Bible and religious texts.

Instead, I want to address another aspect of the reading lives of our children that I do not hear mentioned–children are reading less, especially just for the fun of it. Fewer are cultivating the lifelong love of reading that carries so many benefits from being lifelong learners to greater empathy and expanded horizons. For example, in both 1984 and 2012, 53 percent of nine year olds read for fun every day. That number has dropped to 42 percent in 2020, according to a Pew Research Center article. Meanwhile the number of children who never read for fun has risen from 9 percent in 1984 to 16 percent in 2020.

This seems to me what we should be talking about.

Instead we are sending the message that books (at least some of them) are dangerous. We are de-funding libraries, where generations have learned to love reading, especially among those of low and moderate incomes. Instead of books having warm associations of bringing people together around the love of story, we are fighting about books. I suspect the kids have noticed.

While these are good reasons to re-consider our culture wars on books, it is also important that we pay attention to the ubiquitous presence of screens in children’s lives. Tweens and teens are spending seven to ten hours a day using online media. While part of this is educational, a good amount comes in various forms of social media or video gaming. Now isn’t some of this actually a good thing? We are reading when we are on the internet in at least some instances. Yet there are real questions as to whether this is changing the way we think, and particularly our ability to focus and concentrate for extended periods, important for solving complex problems, learning intricate processes, and following an extended argument. This article at Online College offers a balanced perspective on this question.

It seems to me that there are some good places where we can begin

  1. Agreeing on screen free-times in households. You can do anything you want that doesn’t involve a screen.
  2. Read aloud together. So much of the love of reading comes in shared time reading stories everyone loves.
  3. We need to find ways to stop opposing reading for comprehension and reading for fun. It seems that the fun of reading ought only be enhanced by understanding what we are reading. Too often, I hear that the focus of reading comprehension is for the passing of standardized tests. I don’t think it was always like this. I loved reading, and I did just fine on standardized tests.
  4. It also seems that reading education is often focusing on parts of texts rather than whole stories. A recent Atlantic article asks if this is part of the problem. Children love whole stories.
  5. It seems that we need to help children find the kinds of books they like to read and at the level where they are able to read, or perhaps stretching that just a bit with something they are really interested in. Librarians are great at this and ought to have all the resources they need to do this.
  6. Perhaps we also need to consider our own reading habits. Children are great imitators. My mom loved to read and often we’d either read or talk about what we were reading at lunch times.
  7. Do we have books around the home and do children have books of their own? I remember Scholastic Book Clubs and being able to choose a couple books that I could order and have for my own. This is also the genius, it seems, of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in which children can be signed up to receive a free book in the mail each month. C.S. Lewis grew up in a home filled with books and loved reading from an early age.

Rather than talking about what books shouldn’t be available to our children, a matter over which various constituencies disagree, why can’t we focus on something I suspect most thoughtful individuals do agree upon–that cultivating the love of reading in our children, not just a proficiency measured by standardized tests, is a worthy goal of our educational efforts? We cannot leave this just to lawmakers, librarians, and teachers, however. We ought to give this attention in our homes and places of worship and in the various extra-curricular activities in which children participate. We could introduce children who love sports to great sports writing. For those who love the arts, there is a wealth of books on the arts. Budding scientists may find math puzzle books and science texts and biographies to be great fun.

Will we allow ourselves to be distracted by the purveyors of outrage into crusades against books or will we pay attention to the fundamentally important work of cultivating in our children a love of reading? If we do not, I fear those who would ban will be far more successful than they dreamed. It is not that children will not read books considered “inappropriate” or “woke.” It won’t be a problem. Children just will not read. Period.

Review: On Getting Out of Bed

On Getting Out of Bed, Alan Noble. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2023.

Summary: Written for those whose experience of life or mental state make even getting out of bed a challenge, offering encouragement that even this is courageous and testifies to the goodness of God, and of life.

What’s the bravest thing you ever did?…

Getting up this morning

Cormac McCarthy, The Road

This epigraph opens this personal essay from Alan Noble. He writes for those for whom life is hard. It may be the circumstances they face: grieving a loss, dealing with chronic illness and suffering, abuses and injustices, addictions, and experiences of failure. It may be that one is overwhelmed with the brokenness of the world. It may manifest as a mental affliction, either accompanying such difficulties or apart from them, including depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, or panic attacks. Sometimes you just feel blue, or exhausted, or lethargic. And in these circumstances, even getting out of bed is hard.

Noble doesn’t deny the benefit that may come from mental health care. He also acknowledges that it doesn’t always readily change things, as important and as valuable as he believes it to be. For him it still comes down to a choice that we are able to make: to get out of bed. The question sometimes is having good enough reasons to do so.

He contends that as human beings, we image the invisible God. Our very existence is good, as is the God who brought us into existence. Our actions, in consequence, bear witness to another. The choice is to get out of bed today. Even though we do not know what the day holds, getting out of bed is a decision to live and to attest that life is worth the risk. It is an act both of worship to God and witness to others.

To get out of bed is to do the next thing, not to just to keep existing, but to be faithful to God as we do “whatever good work He has put before us.” It also means recognizing that how we are feeling doesn’t excuse our responsibilities to one another, which includes the support of others who struggle to get out of bed. We help each other.

He honestly faces the reality of suicidal ideation, and without condemning the decisions of those who have chosen not to live, he contends that while we may not be able to “snap out of it,” “it does mean that for Christians who understand that the preservation of our life is an essential act of God’s love for us. suicide is not an option we can entertain” (p. 52). With the apostle Peter, he proposes that it will not always be so bad and that God will “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” Meanwhile, we get out of bed.

And what about the times when we still can’t? The call is not to keep our struggle private, but to share it with those who love us. Sometimes, when our minds are not working right, we need others who see things better than we. And we need to trust them.

Noble, while not disclosing his own psychological history, plainly shares out of his own struggles to get out of bed at times. His own vulnerability both de-stigmatizes the struggle, and lends credibility to his call to take the next step of getting out of bed. His honesty about both his own and others struggles let us know that if we’re in this space, we are not there alone. And his account, as powerfully as any, attests to an underlying goodness of God, and the goodness of what God has made. His use of key passages in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, effectively underscores the conviction of life’s goodness that keeps us getting out of bed.

This is a book that honestly faces despair without wallowing in it. It points us to the best thing we can do in such times, which is to simply get up, put on the coffee, get dressed, and step into our days, believing we will be met there by God and his people.

For anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide or who is concerned for someone or needs emotional support, the 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is open 24/7The call is free and confidential.

Or, text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the United States, anytime. Crisis Text Line is here for any crisis. A live, trained Crisis Counselor receives the text and responds, all from a secure online platform.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: Things That Matter Most

Things That Matter Most, Christopher de Vinck. Brewster: MA: Paraclete Press, 2022.

Summary: A collection of essays that remind us that the things that matter most are as close as the beauty of things around us from fireflies, to Fred Rogers, to friends and family, and to the tip of our fingers.

A few years ago, we were staying at an inn with a patio that looked out over fields in a rural setting. We were sitting as the evening was coming on and we began to see the meadow before us lit up with a light show of fireflies. We sat in wonder, recalling our memories of catching fireflies as children and the unfading wonder of these insects that can generate their own light beckoning, “Here I am.”

Christopher de Vinck’s collection of essays brought these memories to mind and how such simple and wondrous things point us to what matters most in our lives. His essays take us from the sea shore to the woods and to the wondrous “blue birds” seen by his mother, emigrating from Belgium, our common blue jay.

More than the wonders of our world, he explores the wonder of friendships. One of the earliest essays in the collection describes his “spiritual neighbor,” Fred Rogers who often ended conversations saying, “Well, Chris, you know who’s in charge.” He writes of the compassion of a policeman who caught up to his son on the highway to return a wallet the son had left on the car roof.

He moves from personal friends to those in literature from Hamlet to Jay Gatsby to Atticus Finch and Emily Dickinson and May Sarton, all people who give him some insight into the question of what matters most. He gives thanks to Wendell Berry and Toni Morrison. He reminds us of what J.D. Salinger, Paul Revere, and Alfred Stieglitz have in common–a shared birthday. He writes of helping the students he taught to find themselves in the literature they read:

“When we know who we are we can build a life upon wisdom, love, and compassion, and set the footprint of our lives firmly onto the earth for others to find who need the evidence and the inheritance of goodness as a guide for the future. When we know what matters most, we know where we are going” (p. 18).

His memories run back to his own childhood, to the Kennedy assassination, and down to the present, the closure of a neighborhood hardware store, and the death of loved ones. An essay of hearing a dripping of melting water outside turns into a reflection of the passage of time, and this is something that runs through his essays. He makes us aware of the fleeting wonder that is our lives, how full and rich and precious our shared moments are, precisely because they pass.

He concludes with recounting the death of his mother at 99, as “time ran out.” Not long before she died, she observed, “You don’t think of it, Christopher, but far ahead, yet closer than a heartbeat, something immense, wild, holy grabs you and won’t let go.” Her final words to Christopher? “I love you.”

We live in a broken and yet beautiful world with eternity in our hearts and mortality as our future. Christopher de Vinck offers us wonderful reflections on the seemingly ordinary, that point us to the truly precious in life.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Translated by Lucia Graves). New York: Penguin Books, 2005.

Summary: Daniel Sempere’s life is changed when he finds a mysterious book in the Cemetery of Lost Books, and embarks on a quest to learn the true story of its mysterious author, one that places him in great peril.

Daniel Sempere is the son of a widowed bookseller, struggling to retain the memory of his mother’s face. Then his father takes him through the labyrinthine streets of Barcelona to the Cemetery of Lost Books where he is directed to find one book that would become his. The book he chooses will be one he is to make sure never disappears. The book he chooses is one titled The Shadow of the Wind by a Julian Carax. He is enthralled and would know more about its author.

His father sends him to a fellow bookseller, from whom he learns that he possesses the only copy, all the others having been burned. He falls for the man’s blind daughter, several years older than he, and even gives her the book at one point, only to catch her in flagrante with her piano teacher. He retrieves the book.

A mysterious, and seemingly sinister figure approaches him to buy the book. He calls himself Lain Coubert, the name of a character in the book. He smells of smoke and his face darkened, shriveled. Daniel refuses, keeps his commitment to the book, and to learning the truth of Carax. He is aided by a beggar, Fermin, who he and his father take in. Fermin turns out to be a fascinating figure, and his and Daniel’s investigations take them on escapades throughout the city, one of the funniest in an asylum where they make a promise to a horny old man, He becomes Daniel’s mentor in the art of love as Daniel falls in love with his friend Tomas’ sister Beatriz.

Their investigations bring upon them an old enemy of Fermin in the form of police detective Fumero, an ambitious figure who pushed a mentor to his death, and has a vendetta against Carax. Their investigations also lead to a woman with a connection to Carax’s publisher, Nuria Monfort. They learn that Carax had been in love with Penelope. the daughter of the powerful Aldaya family, coveted by Fumero. In the end, he flees to Paris, where Nuria came in contact with him. He was supposed to have returned to Barcelona for Penelope, only to have supposedly died in a duel–Julian’s father seems to indicate that it was not his son whose body was found. It turns out that Nuria knows much more, revealed in a letter she writes for Daniel when she realizes her own life is in danger. It occupies the last third of the novel, revealing the truth about Carax, as well as truths of which Carax was unaware.

The reader notices the parallels between Julian Carax and Daniel. Both worked for fathers, with mothers dead or estranged. Lain Coubert, a character of Carax, haunts Daniel. Then there are the loves of Julian and Daniel, including Daniel’s trysts with Beatriz in the abandoned Aldaya mansion. Above all, there is the book, and Daniel’s quest to know its author.

It’s a plot that drew me in, along with the delightful and sometimes riotous relationship between Daniel and Fermin. One almost can visualize their Barcelona (and the book includes a walking tour of the real places). Zafón has been compared to the likes of Eco and Marquez. I actually preferred Zafón, whose writing involved more realism and less magic, One delights in the affection of Daniel’s father for his son, and the loyalty between Daniel and Fermin, who supplants his friendship with Tomas. The one plot element I wonder about was using Nuria Monfort’s letter to unravel the mystery of Carax. So much of the story is in that letter, which is a engrossing read, but one wonders if Zafón could not find another way to unravel the story through the investigations of Daniel and Fermin.

The novel doesn’t end with the letter bur I will refrain from saying much more except to say, what an ending, well worth the 450 pages that precede it!

Review: Why the Gospel?

Why the Gospel?, Matthew W. Bates (Foreword by Scot McKnight). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2023.

Summary: Instead of asking what the gospel is, explores why has God made this proclamation of good news, centering on the kingship of Jesus and what this means for those who place allegiance in him.

Matthew W. Bates has written several books contending that our idea of what it means to place faith in Christ are inadequate to the biblical meaning of faith, which he contends is allegiance, an unqualified allegiance to Jesus as King [I have reviewed Salvation by Allegiance Alone and Gospel Allegiance]. In this work Bates further elaborates on this idea.

He begins with an intriguing question. Why the gospel? He observes that there are many discussions of what the gospel is, indeed that this is what his previous books have addressed. What he believes we rarely consider is why the gospel and that when we do, our answers focus on things like forgiveness, getting us to heaven, freeing us from rules, improving society, reuniting us with God, and so on. He contends that these are not wrong, but not first. What is first is that we need a king and Jesus is the king we need and the king has come! We are lousy kings of our own lives and anything else to which we give our allegiance is no better. Jesus is the only worthy king, most notably in fulfilling prophecy, in the life he lived and the victory of the cross and resurrection, rescuing us from our bondage to sin and death.

Bates then proceeds to elaborate the purposes of God in sending Jesus to be our King. God wants to make us famous! The salvation that comes through Jesus the King comes with eternal glory (2 Timothy 2:10). It is not merely that God seeks his own glory through Jesus the King; He intends that we share in that glory, that we enjoy everlasting honor and fame. Over two chapters he describes a “glory cycle” beginning with God’s glory, humans given glory to rule over creation, our failure to carry that glory in the fall and human sinfulness, Jesus as the perfect image of intended human glory launches glory’s recovery, as we gaze on the glory of Christ, we are transformed, recovering our lost glory, and finally, we reign gloriously with King Jesus in the new creation.

His final two chapters work out the implications of these ideas, first for “nones” and then for our proclamation of the good news. He believes this “King first” gospel addresses the hypocrisy so repellant to “nones.” Allegiance to a king isn’t simply a matter of “trust” but allegiance involves both mind and body, not permitting us to profess one thing and living another in our bodies. For those objecting to politicized Christianity, this is not an apolitical message but rather one that is more political, asserting the rule of Jesus over all, yet one that is non-coercive, that suffers with and for the suffering, and seeks restoration. The King Jesus gospel calls people into authentic relationships of mutual discipleship and to a holistic vocation that sees Jesus’s calling in every human endeavor.

The implication for our proclamation is to “flip” the message. Instead of, for example:

Because he offers forgiveness, Jesus is your Savior. Accept his salvation. Next he wants to be King of your life.

Bates advocates:

Jesus is the King. Accept his kingship, because through it, Jesus is offering you saving rescue, including the forgiveness of your sins.

He offers a number of examples of invitations focusing on different aspects of the gospel, each with a “typical” and a “King first” focus.

I have not seen Bates address this, but the “king” language is triggering for some. In some minds, it represents an imperial, colonial age that is past. For others, it seems averse to democratic ideals. The male-gendered character of “king” also evokes patriarchy. Very clearly, the kingship of Jesus is different and the idea of a good king runs through so much literature, for example, The Lord of the Rings. Addressing the cultural resonances of the term would be helpful.

That said, I appreciate the focus on Jesus as King as the center, the why of our gospel, rather than simply the results of his kingly rule. Beyond that, Bates focuses on something far beyond our needs, that is our destiny to share in the glory of the King and to rule with Him. I suspect few Christians think about the idea that this is what they have been both made and redeemed for, nor for how this ought to infuse our vision of our daily lives on this good earth.

Lastly, I’ve long objected to the way we have often presented a “two stage” salvation, first Jesus as Savior and then Jesus as Lord or King. Bates frames this so well in observing that all the things we associate with salvation are the gifts of the King for those who turn from other allegiances to follow him alone.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Japanese Footbridge by Lake Glacier

Japanese Footbridge across Calvary Run by Lake Glacier, Photo by Robert C. Trube, 2019. All rights reserved.

The Mill Creek MetroParks have numerous footbridges across creeks, ponds, and marshy areas, many constructed during the WPA years of the Depression, as well as a number more recently. One of my favorites is the little footbridge by the Lake Glacier Boat House spanning Calvary Run just short of where it flows into Lake Glacier. It is called “Japanese” in John Melnick’s The Green Cathedral (p. 105) and it is in the style of Japanese footbridges such as this one:

Photo by Ryutaro Tsukata on

I seem to recall that the Japanese footbridge by Lake Glacier was built when I was a small boy but I’ve not been able to track down the construction date. Growing up on the West side, my dad and I would often go for walks down to Lake Glacier, sometimes to go for a boat ride, or we would just stop and get some pop to drink. We would then cross the boat ramp walk across the bridge and up to West Glacier Drive.

I don’t know whether it is still the case but it was a popular place to take photos of wedding parties. At least it was in the late 1960’s when my brother got married (I’m in those pictures!). By the time we got married ten years later, Fellows Gardens, especially at the Glacier Overlook, was the popular place for wedding photos. In later years, we were at a wedding there and it seemed wedding parties were lined up for photos there, at the Gazebo, and other locations.

As I recall, the blue sky was reflecting on the lake on that late April day with all the greenery of spring just bursting forth. I can imagine what a gorgeous scene it would be in the fall when the trees across the lake are in full color. I also love this photo by Reva Evans Foy capturing the bridge and the Lake Glacier Boat House in winter:

Lake Glacier and Boat House in Winter, photo courtesy of Reva Evans Foy, used with permission.

This is just one of the many footbridges in the park. I love this one for its memories, and the exquisite simplicity of its construction that so fits in with and complements the natural beauty of the park. I think Volney Rogers would have liked it…

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!