Review: The Storm on Our Shores

storm

The Storm on Our ShoresMark Obmascik. New York: Atria Books, 2019.

Summary: The story of a forgotten battle in 1943 on Attu in the Aleutians, and two soldiers, “enemies” to each other, one who died, one who survived, and the after story.

You are living quietly as a Japanese-American on the west coast, caring for an aging widow, whose husband died in the Japanese war effort. An elderly man visits your home who was in the battle in which your father died. As he leaves, he finally blurts out the reason the real reason for his visit: “I’m the one who killed your father.”

Mark Obmascik tells the story of the battle that the devoted pacifist Japanese husband and father, Dr. Paul Nobuo Tatsuguchi, died in, and the story of Dick Laird, the scrappy, courageous soldier at whose hand he died. He fleshes out the life story of each that brought them to this moment, the moments that followed, and the healing Laird finally found as he and Laura Tatsuguchi Davis eventually talked.

Paul Tatsuguchi had emigrated from Hiroshima to California in the 1920’s, was raised in a Seventh Day Adventist home, and eventually enrolled in medical school, where he excelled as a surgeon. While there he met, and married Taeko Miyake, who he had known from childhood in Japan. Family needs brought them back to Japan where Paul served as a doctor in an Adventist tuberculosis sanitarium. As the clouds of war gathered, their first daughter Joy was born. Then Paul, who was a pacifist, was drafted into the Japanese war effort. Fortunately the need for doctors meant he would not be called on to kill the enemy. But he could still encounter those who once had been his American friends.

Dick Laird grew up in a southeast Ohio coal town. Enlisting in the army seemed the one thing that promised a better life. He met Rose in Columbus while going through training. They had a tumultuous relationship until the army finally grew him up. Laird was the guy you wanted on your side in a fight and he became a leader among men, rising to sergeant. He could have risen further except for his doubts about his education, offered the opportunity to go to Officers Candidate School.

In June of 1942, Japan invaded a lonely island at the western end of the Aleutians named Attu, about as far west as the U.S. goes. They thought they were getting a stepping stone, but the storms, the spongy soil, the cold and the fogs made it more or less useless as a base. They eventually took Kiska to the east. None of this afforded them much strategic advantage but they did not relinquish it.

American pride could not let this invasion of even these insignificant islands go unchallenged and so in May of 1943, Dick Laird was part of an invasion force sent to retake Attu. Much of the book chronicles this effort and the horrors to which this led. There was the Japanese no-surrender policy of fighting to the death, either in battle or in bushido (ritual suicide). There was the fog in war, in this case the literal fog that led to Laird accidentally killing one of his own runners, mistaking him for the enemy, and nearly taking innocent lives at another point. There were the gruesome deaths all around him of friends and others he fought alongside.

Meanwhile, there was the diary kept by Paul Tatsuguchi chronicling the deteriorating conditions that led to the giving of grenades to his patients so they could take their lives rather than be captured. There is also his faith, and his love for his daughters, including Laura, born during the war. The end came when the remaining Japanese defenders mounted a banzai attack. Tatsuguchi was among a group of soldiers charging Laird and his men. Laird had no choice but to throw a hand grenade, followed by his and his men’s rifle fire that wiped out the group.

When they searched the dead, Laird found Tatsuguchi’s diary, later widely copied and circulated by others. Someone else found his Bible. Laird struggled after the war with what we now know as PTSD, the memories of gruesome deaths, the runner, the innocent he almost killed, and the death of Tatsuguchi, a pacifist doctor mixed up in a fatal charge. He had nightmares for years, even as he tried to leave the war behind in the daylight.

The most moving part of the book is the encounters he has with Laura, including the incredible letter she wrote him that finally enabled him to sleep at night. The book also raises the questions war so often raises about soldiers each doing their duties honorably, mixed up in what was a needless battle because of the decisions of others and bearing the consequences in their deaths, or their lives. Laird is the embodiment of the tension of doing what he must do, deeply regretting what he had done and yet seeing no way out of this tragic dilemma. All the decorations he received could not unravel this. Only the aggrieved mother and daughter could do so. The wonder of this book is how they did.

Review: Into His Presence

into his presence

Into His PresenceTim L. Anderson. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2019.

Summary: Offers a biblical study of the idea of intimacy with God, and engages with Catholic mystical, Pentecostal experiential, and Evangelical devotional approaches to intimacy with God.

Tim L. Anderson contends that scripture assures us that God both longs to draw near to us and for us to draw near to Him. He writes this book to uncover the wealth of material in scripture that both assures us of this truth and explains how this can be a reality in the life of the believer. He writes that he is also seeking “an intervention of sorts.” He believes there are three approaches to intimacy with God that suffer from theological imprecision and thus will fail to lead believers into the fullness of intimacy with God that is promised the believer. He describers these approaches as Catholic Mystical, Pentecostal Experiential, and Evangelical Devotional.

He begins with defining intimacy, which he proposes is “the movement of God and Christians toward a place of true knowledge and close contact.” He believes this consists in four elements: movement toward intimacy, intimate knowledge, intimate place/location, and intimate contact/touch, elaborating each of these from scripture. Chapter 2 looks at the place of intimacy with God in theology and philosophy, beginning with the God who is source of our existence, consciousness, and delights, thus making knowledge of God both our gift and our responsibility, pursued through God’s self-revelation in scripture, showing us a God both immanent and transcendent, all-present and knowing, and yet condescending to us.

Chapter 3 considers the fall and the barriers to intimacy this raises. Chapter 4, then, explores the beautiful symbols of scripture that convey God’s communication of intimacy, especially the anthropomorphisms of face, ears, hands, voice and mouth, and how we are to understand these.

Chapter 5 then elaborates the particular image of God as Father and how a proper understanding of God as an intimate. loving Father heals unhealthy shame that hinders our approach to God. Chapter 6 looks at Christ through the lens of the marriage images in scripture. Here he focuses on the intimate care and faithfulness of Christ and the church, but sets bounds on some of the highly romanticized or even sexualized applications of this imagery. Chapter 7 turns to the Holy Spirit and how he discloses truth in illuminating scripture and intercedes for us in prayer.

Chapter 8 deals with suffering and the apparent hiddenness of God in times of suffering. He shows from scripture how God knows us in our suffering and provides in himself a place of security as we suffer. He underscores this with the stories of the suffering of Moses and Elijah, and ultimately of Christ.

Finally, chapter 9 applies all this material on intimacy to assessing our songs of intimacy, our worship music, past and present, particularly for how the four elements of intimacy are present in them. I loved his treatment of “Just as I Am,” a song deeply etched in my own life from Billy Graham Crusades and other contexts.

I greatly appreciated the emphasis of setting forth the rich biblical testimony for intimacy that grounds intimacy in the promises, works, and commands of God and not in our experience. His critique of the “Jesus is my boyfriend or lover” kind of spirituality is a much needed corrective. I felt that the approaches of Catholic Mystical, Pentecostal Experiential, and Evangelical Devotional were treated somewhat as straw men against which he took a few whacks while focusing more on elaborating a biblical theology of intimacy, and critiquing some examples of unhelpful teaching. I thought the book might have been stronger had he left the straw men out while focusing on his primary aim of a theology of intimacy, while offering helpful correctives to specific examples of inadequate or even false teaching, which I felt did not represent the best of the three approaches.

Because of the lack of good biblical/theological instruction in many of our Christian communities, many believers do not know what is theirs in Christ. As human beings, we long for intimacy. Anderson’s work assures us that God’s longing for intimacy with us more than matches our longing for Him, and in Christ the bridegroom, and the Spirit who discloses his bidding and intercedes for us, He has made that intimacy possible.

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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: September 2019

Working

Working in collegiate ministry, it seemed a good idea to read some books related to higher education, one on Christian colleges, and one on free speech and speech codes in the academic world. Also apropos were a couple of books on science and faith, one a review on theology after Darwin, contributed by guest reviewer Paul Bruggink. Two books outlined approaches to counseling and personal transformation. A pair of books were set in the Roman world, one from the point of view of slaves, and one from emperors. One was a memoir on the writing methods of biographer Robert Caro and one considers “place” and the arts. Place is always a theme of Wendell Berry’s books and a recent collection of his essays was part of this month’s readings as well as one considering how we lost an opportunity to address greenhouse gases that affect the place for all of us, the earth. Finally, a lifelong Inkling lover can’t go too wrong without reading something about one of them–in this case Tolkien, his methods, and his works. Here are the reviews!

fundamentalist u

Fundamentalist U: Keeping Faith in American Higher EducationAdam Laats. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. Traces the ways eight institutions that developed with the rise of fundamentalism in the 1920’s responded to the changing fundamentalist/evangelical movement and wider trends in higher education and American society up to the present time. Review

science and faith

Science & Faith: Student Questions ExploredHannah Eagleson, editor. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Academic, 2019. A collection of essays addressing various questions on the relationship of science and Christian faith, incorporating groups discussion questions for use with small discussion groups. Review

a liberated mind

A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What MattersSteven C. Hayes, Ph.D. New York: Avery Books, 2019. An introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a psychological counseling approach that develops psychological flexibility through learning acceptance rather than resistance or flight from painful thoughts and reality, and how we may pivot toward commitments rooted in what we value most deeply. Review

Findng Ourselves After Darwin

Finding Ourselves After DarwinStanley P. Rosenberg ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018. This book presents and discusses multiple approaches to thinking about the image of God, original sin, and the problem of evil in light of biological evolution. Review

Working

Working: Researching, Interviewing, WritingRobert A. Caro. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. Less a full biographical memoir than a description of the author’s methods of researching material for his books, writing them, and the question that has driven his work. Review

placemaking

Placemaking and the ArtsJennifer Allen Craft. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. Considers the “place” of the arts in placemaking, particularly in the settings of the home, the church, and the wider society. Review

a week in the life of a slave

A Week in the Life of a Slave (A Week in the Life Series), John Byron. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A creative re-telling of the story of runaway slave Onesimus that casts light on the institution of slavery in Greco-Roman society and the church’s response. Review

The Soul of an American President

The Soul of an American President, Alan Sears and Craig Osten with Ryan Cole. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. Traces the spiritual heritage and growing religious faith of Dwight D. Eisenhower, especially through the years of his presidency and later life. Review

Losing Earth

Losing Earth: A Recent HistoryNathaniel Rich. MCD/Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019. An account of the lost opportunity of the 1980’s to address climate change and the birth of the polarized dialogue that exists to this day. Review

The Road to Middle Earth

The Road to Middle-EarthTom Shippey. New York: Houghton Mifflin, rev. ed. 2003. A study of Tolkien’s methods in creating the narratives of Middle-Earth, including words, names, maps, poetry, and mythology. Review

The Winding Path of Transformation

The Winding Path of TransformationJeffrey Tacklind, Foreword by Cathleen Falsani. Downers Grove: IVP/Formatio, 2019. The author proposes that spiritual growth means walking in paradoxical tensions of glory and humility lived out in a winding journey toward the transformation of our character and spiritual freedom. Review

I Claudius

I, ClaudiusRobert Graves. New York: Vintage International, 1989 (first published 1934). A fictional autobiography of Claudius, of how a physical handicap and speech impairment enabled him to escape death by intrigue until he rose to emperor. Review

boundaries

Boundaries for Your SoulAlison Cook and Kimberly Miller. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019. A therapeutic approach to dealing with overwhelming emotions through a process of understanding them as parts of oneself, allowing one’s Spirit-led self to befriend and care for these parts, and integrating the parts as a “team of rivals” within one’s life. Review

What you take with you

What You Take With YouTherese Greenwood. Edmonton, University of Alberta Press, 2019. Therese Greenwood had minutes to evacuate her home as the Fort McMurray fire approached. The book recounts both her escape, and reflects on what she took, and what this revealed about her life.Review

Tyranny of Virtue

The Tyranny of VirtueRobert Boyers. New York: Scribners, 2019. A distinguished liberal scholar critiques the new academic orthodoxy, one that defines virtue through the excoriating of privilege, identity, safety, microaggression, ableism, and appropriation, creating an academic tyranny in which people fear to speak their minds under threat of denunciation. Review

Our Only World

Our Only World, Wendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2015. Eleven essays on various subjects related to our care for our world and its people emphasizing the local and the sustainable. Review

Best Book of the Month: Perhaps it is because I am working on a book, but I especially enjoyed Robert Caro’s Working. I could never see myself spending the time in archives or re-writing as Caro does, but neither will I write the definitive five-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson. His doggedness in tracking down the facts, his passion for understanding the ways of power, and commitment to excellence was inspiring. Most of all, there is the diligence of showing up and writing every day.

Quote(s) of the Month: One of the more sobering books I read this month was Losing Earth. Nathaniel Rich spoke to why the discussion of climate change is so loaded. The truth is that none of us likes to think of a catastrophic die-off of many of the species on earth, including possibly our own. He writes:

We do not like to think about loss, or death; Americans in particular, do not like to think about death. No matter how obsessively one follows the politics of climate change, it is difficult to contemplate soberly an existential threat to the species. Our queasiness even infects the language we use to describe it: the banalities of “global warming” and “climate change” perform the linguistic equivalent of rolling on sanitary gloves to palpate a hemorrhaging wound.

Even his language of “existential threat” feels a bit sanitary to me, but he puts his finger on the problem: no one wants to admit that we may have signed the death warrant of our children or grand-children’s generation. It is almost too terrible to contemplate or even to admit for most of us. Hence we mock or cast aspersions upon a young, autistic woman who has the temerity to ask the world’s leaders, “How dare you?” Yet I do not wish to end here, because we still must consider how we will live the days given us. Wendell Berry helped me in writing:

In this essay and elsewhere, I have advocated for the 50-Year Farm Bill, another big solution I am doing my best to promote, but not because it will be good in or for the future. I am for it because it is good now, according to present understanding of present needs. I know that it is good now because its principles are now satisfactorily practiced by many (though not nearly enough) farmers. Only the present good is good. It is the presence of good–good work, good thoughts, good acts, good places–by which we know that the present does not have to be a nightmare of the future.

Current reads and upcoming reviews. I’ve just completed Tim L. Anderson’s Into His Presence which explores a theology of intimacy with God. Many of us start with experience or a romanticized idea of relating to God (“Jesus is my boyfriend”). Anderson starts with scripture and the wealth and wonder of intimacy with God on God’s terms. Shundrawn Thomas, a CEO of a financial services company, reflects on what makes work joyful, which has as much to do with our approach to work as the work itself. His book, appropriately is named Discover Joy in Work. I am thoroughly enjoying The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God. The importance of scripture has come under attack for bibliolotry and other shortcomings, but these authors explore the Reformers belief in scripture as the Word of God, and the power of preaching and use of scripture faithful with this conviction to transform lives. The Storm on Our Shores describes a forgotten battle on Attu, an island at the end of the Aleutians briefly occupied by the Japanese during World War II, centered around a Japanese surgeon who had trained in America, and the American soldier who killed him. Finally, I’ve flown to or through O’Hare Airport countless times. With A History of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, I’m learning about this place where I’ve spent so much time, including who O’Hare was.

Review: Our Only World

Our Only World

Our Only World, Wendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2015.

Summary: Eleven essays on various subjects related to our care for our world and its people emphasizing the local and the sustainable.

In reading this collection of essays by Wendell Berry, some transcriptions of addresses, written between 2010 and 2014, I felt like I had read much of this material before. In some sense, I have. Berry continues to ring the changes of themes that recur in his works: local membership, sustainable land practices, the character of good work, our violent relationship with our world.

There was the sense of someone who has been saying these things for a long time, and perhaps coming toward the end of his work. As I write this, Berry has recently celebrated his eighty-fifth birthday. Both his earlier essay collections and earlier novels are longer. For all that, it seems to me that we have both a summing up and a carrying forward into our current context of the things Wendell Berry has been saying to us for fifty years.

The essays range widely covering everything from our tendency to dissect life into parts rather than see wholes (his “Paragraphs from a Notebook”), our violent treatment both of the creation and our fellow human beings (“The Commerce of Violence” and “On Receiving One of the Dayton Literary Peace Prizes”), and sustainable practices centered around right-sized land management and appropriate technology (“A Forest Conversation,” “Local Economies to Save the Land and the People,” “Less Energy, More Life,” “Our Deserted Country,” and “For the 50-Year Farm Bill”). Two address wider concerns in our society (“Caught in the Middle” in which Berry sets forth his views on abortion and gay marriage and “On Being Asked for a ‘Narrative for the Future”).

There were several that stood out for me. One was “A Forest Conversation.” Much of this essay describes the practices of forest owner Troy Firth, who owns a maple sugar operation and also logs his forest with sustainable practices in his choices of trees to cut, and in how he removes them to minimize damage to the forest floor (horses!). “Our Deserted Country” chronicles the movement of people from country to city and the use of industrial technology as a substitute for an appropriate ratio of “eyes to acres” that human-scaled land care involved. He ranges widely in this essay, discussing impacts on the land, the disappearance of a country culture of fishing, hunting, and foraging, and the decline of local streams, including the loss of his favorite willows that no one can explain or had noticed.

In “Caught in the Middle,” Berry voices what many of us feel, that neither of the major political parties represent his views. He ventures into the contentious space of abortion and gay marriage. He opposes abortion as the taking of life, and yet concedes there are circumstances he would help someone obtain an abortion. He acknowledges the conflict in these statements but also contends there should be no laws for or against abortion. He argues this is a personal matter that should not be subject to law, and argues similarly with regard to gay marriage. He questions whether “rights” are bestowed by government, including the “right” to marry. He would go further in saying that neither does the church, but that a “marriage” is made by two individuals who vow and live those vows until death. I suspect this is one of those essays that has subjected him to fire from all sides, the danger of being “caught in the middle.” But Wendell Berry has never shrunk from controversy!

His concluding essay speaks a good word to all our prognostications about the future. He writes:

In this essay and elsewhere, I have advocated for the 50-Year Farm Bill, another big solution I am doing my best to promote, but not because it will be good in or for the future. I am for it because it is good now, according to present understanding of present needs. I know that it is good now because its principles are now satisfactorily practiced by many (though not nearly enough) farmers. Only the present good is good. It is the presence of good–good work, good thoughts, good acts, good places–by which we know that the present does not have to be a nightmare of the future.

It may well be that this is the theme that under-girds all these essays. His urging that we turn away from our energy-intensive economy is not first for the environment, but because it is not a good way to live. His arguments limiting the power of big government and reliance on national politics is centered in the goodness of the local community, and the ability of local people to best care for their land. Good work, rather than jobs, is what people were made for, but is also good for the world.

Agree with Berry or not (and probably no one will on all he writes), his contrarian voice comes from a different place from much of our public discourse. It comes from a place that is close to land from a life of tending a farm and the surrounding land, and to local people, a “membership.” He offers us the chance to examine the way of living and the way of governing a society that we have assumed. In the end, his concern is not to change the world, or Washington, but to invite each of us to consider what it means to pursue the good in the place we are. Perhaps at the end of the day, that is the best we can do in “our only world.”

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Paisley House

Paisley House

The Paisley House, photo courtesy of The Paisley House

I walked past here a hundred times or more. In high school and college, I worked at McKelvey’s while going to Youngstown State. In good weather, I often walked to work to save bus fare. On Mahoning Avenue, just before the Mahoning Avenue bridge was this stately old brick home on the left or north side of the street, just across from the McKinley Avenue entrance to Fellows Gardens. I often wondered, “who lives there?” It was a time when there were still “homes for unwed mothers” and I wondered if it was something like that.

In a conversation with Jill Cox, the Executive Director of Paisley House, she shared that this apparently was a common question. Now Paisley House includes with its name the description “Assisted Living.” The other question people may wonder about is “what is it like in there?” The facility has all the comforts of home including a kitchen where meals are prepared, a dining room with hardwood floors, a grand carpeted staircase, library, sunroom, and comfortable resident bedrooms or suites.

Paisley House traces its history back to 1909. In 1908 a board was formed, consisting of Mary Paisley (chair), Louise Anderson, and C. H. Ruhlman, to establish a facility for “aged” women. On March 1, 1909 The Home for Aged Women of Mahoning County was established. According to Howard C. Aley, the board acquired the old homestead of Jacob Powers and came up with a unique fund-raiser with a goal of raising $15,000. Two men rolled a giant inflatable rubber ball on downtown streets with a woman on each side collecting donations. Appropriately, the campaign theme was “Keep the Ball Rolling.” Subsequently, Sallie Tod left a bequest of $110,000 for the home which over the years has been supplemented by charities, and other donations, making it possible to charge residents less than the full cost of their care. To this day, Paisley House functions as a non-profit organization with a volunteer Board of Directors.

I always knew the house as Paisley House. Ms. Cox could not tell me when the name change occurred from “The Home for Aged Women” to Paisley House, named after founding board chair, Mary Paisley. On October 12, 2002, the name was formally changed to Paisley House, Home for the Aged, recognizing the opening up of their care to both men and women. Today, because the term “aged” is no longer acceptable, they highlight their purpose as a facility providing assisted living services.

The tagline that has been used to describe Paisley House was “no extra for the extras.” Ms. Cox mentioned some of the services that exemplify this tagline. They have a beauty shop in which all the women residents have their hair washed and set weekly by a registered beautician. The laundress provides “impeccable” service in washing, removing stains, ironing and repairing clothes. Meals are home-cooked onsite in the kitchen. The home has a staff of nurses and aides, a house physician, and podiatrist. Regular outings for shopping, movies, and live performances are offered.

Paisley House has room for 24 residents and there are usually a few openings. The website indicates: “At Paisley House, meals, and virtually all of life’s other necessities, are included in a single, affordable monthly fee. There is no up-front investment or long-term commitment.” Because charges change, interested families or individuals should contact the Executive Director to discuss current fees.

For 110 years, Paisley House has been serving the needs of the elderly in the Youngstown area. It was assuring on a recent visit to the West side where so much has changed to see the Paisley House, looking just as I remembered it in the early 1970’s. In my conversation with Jill Cox, the Executive Director, I received the impression of a dedicated team who love what they do and take great pride in continuing the tradition of compassionate care for seniors that was vision of Mary Paisley and that first board that “got the ball rolling.”

You may contact the Paisley House at:

Paisley House
1408 Mahoning Avenue
Youngstown, Ohio 44509

Phone: 330 799-9431
E-mail: living@paisleyhouse.com

Learn more about the Paisley House at:

Website: http://www.paisleyhouse.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/paisleyhouseyoungstown/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/thepaisleyhouse
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/paisleyhouse8041/

Sources:

Howard C. Aley, A Heritage to Share. Youngstown: The Bicentennial Commission of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio, 1975, pp. 183-184.

Interview with Jill Cox, Executive Director, Paisley House, 9/27/2019.

Review: The Tyranny of Virtue

Tyranny of Virtue

The Tyranny of Virtue, Robert Boyers. New York: Scribners, 2019.

Summary: A distinguished liberal scholar critiques the new academic orthodoxy, one that defines virtue through the excoriating of privilege, identity, safety, microaggression, ableism, and appropriation, creating an academic tyranny in which people fear to speak their minds under threat of denunciation.

BOYERS_2

Robert Boyers

Perhaps the most stunning thing about this book is who wrote it. This is not one more conservative diatribe against political correctness and speech codes in the university. Robert Boyers is a liberal arts professor teaching English at Skidmore as well as editing the literary quarterly, Salmagundi, which he has done for fifty years. He directs the New York State Summer Writers Institute. He does not have kind words to say about religious and political conservatives.

He also writes trenchantly against a new liberal academic orthodoxy of enforced virtue. He shows how constructs like privilege, microaggression, ableism, safety, identity, and appropriation, that may have a legitimate place in social critique, have become part of a surveillance culture on campuses where fellow scholars of good will can find themselves facing universal denunciation for the smallest, often inadvertent speech infractions, while the denouncers assert their own political virtues. It creates a culture in which faculty fear to say what they think, and students are taught all the things against which they should take offense.

Boyers is concerned with how this shuts down real inquiry and discourse, and often does little, if anything, to advance real efforts toward justice and equity with persons of color, or of other identities that these enforced virtues are meant to protect. He also is concerned with the lack of real intellectual underpinnings to the slogans used in the denunciation of transgressions, using Susan Jacoby’s phrase “junk thought.” One example comes in his discussion of cultural appropriation. As with other matters in the book, he recognizes legitimate instances of appropriation but then shows how all writers, including writers of color appropriate. He challenges the idea that those who are not of a particular culture have no right to write about it and cites examples of those who do so with real sympathy, with the intent to honor and honestly present that culture and who get it right in the eyes of persons from that culture.

Boyers in his epilogue soberly assesses the scene:

In many quarters we are now haunted by the specter of a liberalism increasingly drawn to denial and overt repression. Academic liberals who would have laughed thirty or forty years ago at the prospect of speech codes and draconian punishments for verbal indecorum or “presumption” are now not only compliant but enthusiastic about efforts to enforce standards many of them know to be intellectually indefensible. Those of us who are determined to call what is happening by its rightful name are astonished again and again, by the virulence of efforts to deny what is now unmistakable.

Boyers is describing the shift from the liberal value of honest, fearless exploration of ideas that allowed for difference and debate and discomfort. He decries the loss of a generosity of spirit that assumed good will of one’s intellectual adversaries, replaced by a climate of suspicion, an “us versus them” mentality whose resting state is one of hostility and grievance.

What it seems to me Boyers is calling for is perspective and rigorous mental reflection. Privilege does exist. Microaggressions do occur. Sexual violence on campuses and #MeToo make it clear that campuses are often not safe places for women. “Black face” episodes remind us that cultural appropriation is all too real. It seems, though, that to find instances of this everywhere, even among those with the most impeccable liberal credentials, begs the question of whether we diminish the seriousness of flagrant instances by lumping inadvertent or even non-existent slights with these. To put all the onus of offense on the act also seems to take away the agency of being able to choose to be offended, or to choose other, perhaps more conciliatory responses that mend rather than rend the social fabric.

What Boyers doesn’t address, perhaps in a desire to preserve the work he loves, is the connection between such toxic discourse and the eclipse of the humanities within the university. Yet might it not be contended that instances of the kind of speech codes and public shaming Boyers writes about occur most often with the context of the disciplines that fall within the humanities and social sciences? Might it be that the apparent dying of the humanities at many institutions is assisted by those within these disciplines digging each other’s graves? What I think Boyers gets right is that these things are “not to be done” but rather vigorously resisted. Hopefully his fellow scholars will wake to this realization in time.

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

Review: What You Take With You

What you take with you

What You Take With YouTherese Greenwood. Edmonton, University of Alberta Press, 2019.

Summary: Therese Greenwood had minutes to evacuate her home as the Fort McMurray fire approached. The book recounts both her escape, and reflects on what she took, and what this revealed about her life.

A wildfire is rapidly approaching. Floodwaters are rising around you and you have minutes to escape. Thousands of people face this every year. Sometimes we idly think of what we would take if we only had minutes to flee our home. Therese Greenwood, who always feared she would die in a fire had such thoughts as well. She even worked in with an emergency preparedness organization for a time. And then she found out what she would really take when the order came to evacuate her neighborhood as the Fort McMurray fire bore down on her subdivision.

This book is both an account of her flight and a reflection on the articles she rescued and what her spur-of-the-moment choices told her about her life. Of course she had her “go bag” prepared that contained insurance policies and other important papers. These would prove necessary in the days ahead. It is what else she took that was revealing.

Her description of the drive to pick up her husband captures the rising fear many must have felt, sitting in traffic jams, smoke all around, windows rolled up (and air conditioning failing), watching the gas gauge creep toward empty. She reaches Steve in an empty downtown office building as flames appear in the distant hills. Eventually they end up in Edmonton, staying in a hotel with many other evacuees, hitting the Walmart for the necessities they left behind, waiting anxiously to find out whether they would have a home to return to. Steve later watches a video of someone driving through the neighborhood. Houses on one side of the street are still standing. Those on the others are gone, a crater where a house once was. Their home was on that side of the street. Greenwood’s narrative captures what is like for evacuees who have lost everything, and the challenge a community faces when thousands have lost their homes.

There are many such stories. What distinguishes Greenwood’s is its reflection on what she had saved from the fire–a rolling pin, a plaster saint, sleigh bells, a Bible and a bee book, a special needlepoint, her father’s musical instruments, an unusual mirror that was a wedding gift, a quilt and an award. Each reflects a chapter of her life and reflected something that endured that was ineluctably hers amid all the loss.

It isn’t all fear and thoughtful reflection. One of the striking parts of the book was her relationship with Hudson, A.K.A. “Big Stinky Dog,” a high maintenance, smelly old dog owned by her husband’s parents, who they stayed with for a time, a time that coincided with Steve’s mother’s death. Steve’s  dad Ray had to leave for a time, and Therese ended up caring for Big Stinky Dog, and found herself refusing a suggestion to put the dog down.

Many of us live in homes made comfortable with the accumulations of years, perhaps carried on one move to the next. This book asks the question of what would we choose when our choices are stripped bare and we act on instincts that reflect our subconscious sense of what may matter most deeply. It explores the lives we forge, the places where we define identity, the people who are dearest in life and memory, reflected in what we take, and in what is left of us when we’ve had to leave most of our “stuff” behind.

One of the greatest treasures in life may be to understand both where we have come from and who we have come to be. It seems that Therese’s reflections gave her some of those insights. Perhaps reading and reflecting with her might do the same for us.

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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: Boundaries for Your Soul

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Boundaries for Your SoulAlison Cook and Kimberly Miller. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019.

Summary: A therapeutic approach to dealing with overwhelming emotions through a process of understanding them as parts of oneself, allowing one’s Spirit-led self to befriend and care for these parts, and integrating the parts as a “team of rivals” within one’s life.

Some feelings are so powerful that they overwhelm us–anger, fear and anxiety, sadness, envy, shame, and guilt. These unruly emotions break the boundaries that enable us to function in a healthy and productive way. How do we control these emotions?

Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller propose an approach drawing on the Internal Family Systems Model of Therapy that sees our inner selves, or souls as consisting of a family of parts that works to free unruly parts from controlling roles and our various parts working together harmoniously under our Spirit-led self.

This model works off a map of the soul centered around the Spirit-led self who leads with creativity, clarity, curiosity, compassion, and confidence. Around this Spirit-led self are two types of protectors and one vulnerable part. One of the protectors is the manager that manifests in worry, people-pleasing, striving, self-criticizing, controlling, and perfecting. This part tries to protect by keeping us emotionally safe and free of pain. The other protector is the firefighter, that jumps in after painful events to extinguish pain through actions like overeating, addictions, overspending, self-harm, daydreaming, and lashing out. The third vulnerable part represents the exile: shame, fear, insecurity, hurt, loneliness, sadness. Often, a person seems to be struggling with one of the two protectors in action, and a key is quieting them to hear what the exile is saying and needs.

The key to beginning to bring these emotions under the control of the Spirit-led self is taking what the authors call a “You-Turn.” Instead of fighting or suppressing emotions, this approach assumes we can differentiate our self, particularly our Spirit-led self, from our unruly emotions. They commend five steps:

  1. Focus: Noting where we sense the feeling, thoughts or images that come to mind when we focus, early memories of feeling this way.
  2. Befriend: Are we able to feel curiosity and compassion toward this part of our soul. If there is some other emotion, that may be a different part, perhaps self-criticism, that needs to be asked to step back. Then as we return to our emotion, we ask, is there more it wants us to know?
  3. Invite: Would this part like to invite Jesus to be near? If not, what are its fears and concerns? Can it tell Jesus? Then ask Jesus if he wants to say or do anything, or give a specific gift.
  4. Unburden: what has this part been carrying? What does it fear about giving up the burden? Does the part want to release the burden and is it asking anything in exchange?
  5. Integrate: This involves checking in with other parts that might not have liked how a part was expressing itself. How can these parts work together as a harmonious family?

After outlining these steps, they apply the steps to specific emotions: anger, fear and anxiety, sadness, envy and desire, guilt and shame, and the challenging parts of others. Throughout the book, each step, each situation is illustrated with client stories (with details and identities changed to protect privacy.

What is attractive about this book is the clarity and simplicity with which it is written. In addition, for those who share the authors Christian assumptions, it addresses in one of the most tangible ways I’ve ever seen, how one lives a Spirit-led life, particularly as this applies to disabling emotions and defeating habits. Finally, this book is a refreshing alternative to the “try harder approaches” that seem to rely on human resolve in either suppressing or overcoming unruly emotions or habits. Instead, it builds on the idea that all of these might be focused on, befriended and listened to. These emotions point to places where we need the Spirit’s care and healing. The authors hold out the hope that, in the words of the subtitle we may “turn…overwhelming thoughts and feelings into [our] greatest allies.”

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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: I, Claudius

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I, ClaudiusRobert Graves. New York: Vintage International, 1989 (first published 1934).

Summary: A fictional autobiography of Claudius, of how a physical handicap and speech impairment enabled him to escape death by intrigue until he rose to emperor.

Claudius was a survivor. To be Roman emperor, or close to the emperor, was to live with the threat of assassination, whether by the knife, or by poison. You only became emperor by surviving intrigues. Before Claudius, there was Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula. None died of old age.

Claudius mother was Antonia, a niece of Caesar Augustus and sister-in-law of Tiberius, who succeeded Caesar. By all rights, he should not have escaped the various purges, especially under insane Caligula, with whom he share the consulship. Robert Graves fictional biography describes how it happened. In his youth, he suffered from infantile paralysis (in Graves rendering, others have questioned this), and only hobbled rather than walked. In addition, he had a considerable stutter. Augustus wife Livia banished him from her table because of his “uncouthness.” Given Livia’s propensity for poisoning, he was lucky.

His infirmities rendered him “harmless” in the eyes of rivals and the powerful. Graves showed how he complemented these infirmities with a retiring and deferential demeanor. Aside from being censored by Livia, he was able to devote himself to his love of history, and the responsibilities that came with his high birth. With Caligula,  retiring and deferential became a combination of flattery and fawning–not particularly becoming, but he survived.

Livia, perhaps is the most fascinating character. She is the only one I can think of among the powerful who died a natural death. We speak of Machiavellianism, but before Machiavelli, there was Livia. She was both hard headed and clear thinking about the needs of the empire, and absolutely ruthless in pursuing the interests first of Augustus, and then Tiberius, until she died. She, too, did not see Claudius as a threat, though she blocked several histories written by Claudius that got too close to truths she wanted kept hidden.

Caligula is a study in what happens when a country is ruled by an insane and arbitrary tyrant. The four years of his reign were too long, and mercifully ended by assassins. In the aftermath, Claudius is elevated to emperor, a position he occupied for thirteen years, from 41 to 54 AD, one of the longer reigns of a Roman emperor. The book ends with his accession to power. Like the others, he also was murdered, by poison, probably from his wife, Agrippina, who we meet at the end of this volume.

Graves helps us understand the character of the times that combined efficient administration (partly thanks to Livia–it unraveled following her death), and military conquest, and a never-ending struggle to keep the German tribes subdued. He also tells the story of one who might be the “most unlikely emperor,” who succeeds merely by avoiding death. The book also makes the case that to be born close to power might be the worst possible fate one could suffer. It certainly came with a shortened life expectancy.

Thirty-five-some years ago, PBS based a series on this book, which may still be purchased. As I recall, it was relatively popular at the time. From reading the book, I think I understand. We seem to love stories of powerful people at their worst.

Review: The Winding Path of Transformation

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The Winding Path of TransformationJeffrey Tacklind, Foreword by Cathleen Falsani. Downers Grove: IVP/Formatio, 2019.

Summary: The author proposes that spiritual growth means walking in paradoxical tensions of glory and humility lived out in a winding journey toward the transformation of our character and spiritual freedom.

Jeffrey Tacklind proposes that the path to spiritual transformation is lived in a middle place between glory and humility, and similar tensions or paradoxes. In truth, we often find ourselves in that tension, at once longing for greatness, while conscious that we are finite and fallen creatures. We are “glorious ruins” in the words of Francis Schaeffer.

Tacklind traces this journey for us, using incidents in his own journey to illustrate this journey, one that is not arrow straight but winding. He describes an encounter with an alder tree in a dry stream bed, with roots that grow deep to draw any bit of water and branches flexible to bend with wind and flood. To be rooted without being rigid is indeed to live in a middle place. He describes vocational tensions of ambition and rejection and hearing God just say “do this” as he engages a visitor to his congregation in a coffee shop, one who was spiritually seeking and asking questions.

He walks us through the winding trail of life’s different seasons of birth, death and resurrection. He urges us to face desolation to find joy, to wait in a pressured, distracted world, to face our longings to belong and the pain of choosing to stand between opposing sides without belonging to either (naming a pain I have often felt).  He invites us into a path of living in the questions rather than grasping for certitude.

The path to transformation is a slow path as it wanders toward wholeness. There is the struggle to discover who “me” is, drawn as we are by “shoulds” and comparisons. Sometimes, it is small prayers and consequent obedient faith that discovers God in the small things like finding a son’s lost report card award card. It is learning that it is in our brokenness that the work of the cross manifests in our lives.

A fly-fishing episode illustrates another part of the path. God has his own ways in our joy grief, our glory and humility. Pulling fish out of the river is more than just a good cast and setting the hook. It is yielding to the wisdom of the river, the wisdom river guides learn in studying the river for where the fish are. It is a wisdom that ceases striving and yields. God leads us out and leads us back, again and again in life.

One has the sense of listening to someone whose life is very much a “work in progress” and his refreshing candor helps us relax into the possibility that life and spiritual progress are like that for all of us, and that’s OK. This is not a book of prescriptions for a fulfilling spiritual life, but an account from one pilgrim to others of what the journey is like and insights into the way God meets us in the tensions and contradictions and perplexities of our lives. You may have reached the point in your journey where all the “answers” of how the Christian life works don’t seem to quite fit your own winding path.  This work might better help you understand the true nature of the journey on which you’ve embarked, while encouraging you with a hope that may be even richer than you thought.

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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.