Great Works in Translation

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Some translated works I have read. Photo Robert C. Trube, 2018.

Yesterday, I wrote about a great new translation of The Cloud of Unknowing. The writing achieves a sense of intimacy as one might experience with a trusted spiritual counselor. Pictured above are some of the other works I’ve enjoyed in translation–both fiction and non-fiction. To capture and convey what a writer is saying in translation is to give two gifts–the great thinking of the writer, and a translation that is a clear window into those ideas–that doesn’t obstruct or distort the meaning.

Having said that, I must confess that I have not studied the works in the list that follows in their original languages. I can say that I have sometimes read other, more wooden translations of these works and I’m grateful for these. Most of the works are ones in the picture–a few others I either could not find or I read them in electronic versions. Where I’ve written reviews, I include a link to them.

Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian ReligionJohn Calvin (Translated by John T. McNeill). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. McNeill captures both the intellectual rigor and devotional warmth of Calvin.

Beowulfunknown, Seamus Heaney (translator). New York: W.W. Norton, 2000. Seamus Heaney makes one of the greatest stories in literature come to life in lyric poetry like this from the opening lines:

So, The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.

Review

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky). New York: Penguin, 2000. Pevear and Volokhonsky offer us this tale of the forbidden love of Anna and Count Vronsky in flowing prose that takes us inside the characters of Tolstoy’s sprawling work. Review

SilenceShusaku Endo (translated by William Johnston). New York: Picador, 2017. Johnston’s translation is spare, meditative, and captures both the physical agony and inner struggles of indigenous believers and missionaries in seventeenth century Japan. Review

The DecameronGiovanni Boccaccio (translation by Wayne A. Rebhorn). New York: W. W. Norton, 2013 (originally published 1353). (Not pictured above). The Decameron is a set of 100 stories told over ten days by ten travelers fleeing the plague in the fourteenth century. Before reading this version, I looked at a stilted one of which I could barely read a page or two. Rebhorn brings out the style, the earthy humor, the human pretensions, and occasional nobility portrayed in these stories. Review

The Unbearable Lightness of BeingMilan Kundera (translated by Michael Henry Heim). New York: HarperCollins, 2004. It’s been some time since I read this but the plotline of the tension between love and lust for many women, and the consequences in the sense of the substance of one’s life is a thoughtful exploration of the human condition.

Work of LoveSoren Kierkegaard (translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong). Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998. The Hongs have translated all or nearly all of Kierkegaard’s work, and in this book, we encounter Kierkegaard’s challenging reflections on the nature of Christian love. Review (of a different edition)

PenseesBlaise Pascal (translated by A. J. Krailsheimer). New York: Penguin Random House, 2003. Pascal’s unfinished collection of notes and fragments on the Christian faith and the nature of belief. I have long mused on his statement that “that heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.”

On the IncarnationSt Athanasius (translated by John Behr, with an introduction by C. S. Lewis). Yonker, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2014. This translation brings to life Athanasius efforts to articulate with clarity in a time of controversy the doctrine of the Incarnation. A bonus is a wonderful essay by C.S. Lewis on the reading of old books!

Of course, for many, the Bible itself is a translated work, a translation of sixty-six canonical books (and others depending on your communion) from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Often, not only in English, but other languages, the translations have become a benchmark of fluent expression in that language.

Great translations extend to us the opportunity to read literature of other cultures and other times, liberating us from the insularity of our own time and place. The works listed here were originally written in French, Old and Middle English, Russian, Japanese, Italian, Czech, Danish, Coptic and Greek. They remind us that excellence in literature is not confined to the English language.

What works have you read in translation that you would recommend?

Review: The Cloud of Unknowing

The Cloud of Unknowing

The Cloud of Unknowing, Anonymous (translated by Carmen Acevedo Butcher). Boulder: Shambala Publications, 2018.

Summary: A classic on contemplative prayer in a new modern translation.

The Cloud of Unknowing is perhaps one of the greatest works on contemplative prayer. We don’t know the author but it was written in the 14th century in Middle English. This edition is a re-publication of a 2009 translation by Carmen Acevedo Butcher in an inexpensive paperback format.

It seems that many of the spiritual classics we read come to us in stuffy, Victorian English. Butcher’s translation strives for a simplicity and informality of conversation between a spiritual director and a directee, and this is one of the most winsome aspects of this work.

To give you both a sense of the work and the significance of the title, here is a brief passage in which the author describes the experience of beginning to contemplate:

The first time you practice contemplation, you’ll only experience a darkness, like a cloud of unknowing. You won’t know what this is. You’ll only know that in your will you feel a simple reaching out to God. You must also know that this darkness and this cloud will always be between you and your God, whatever you do. They will always keep you from seeing him clearly by the light of understanding in your intellect and will block you from feeling him fully in the sweetness of love in your emotions. So be sure to make your home in the darkness.”

One of the critical themes running through the work, true to the apophatic tradition out of which it comes, is that God cannot be known with our minds but only in our love–“we can’t think our way to God.” Contemplation is best pursued according to this author by simple reflection on a single word–“sin” and “God” are the two commended to us. He discourages trying to attain an experience of God through the senses, and encourages dismissing both our thoughts and feelings into a “cloud of forgetting.”

What I found attractive in this work is its wisdom and sense. We are assured that longing for God is enough, as this will open us to a deeper understanding of God. He discourages strenuous physical exertions that enervate and weaken us. He stresses the value of pursuing our contemplation accompanied by a spiritual director. He identifies four stages of spiritual maturity, with no sense that one is “better” than another, but only reflect a progress in love for God:

  • The ordinary which is our active life in the world
  • The special, where one continues to live an active life but also longs for God and begins to contemplate.
  • The singular is where contemplation becomes the focus of one’s life, praying without ceasing in love toward God.
  • The perfect, where we are with God, as we pass from this life into God’s presence.

The work itself consists of 75 brief “chapters” often connected to one another, that seems especially fitted for devotional reading of one or a few chapters a day.

Butcher’s translation includes an introductory essay and recommendations for further reading, including renderings in the Middle English, works on English mysticism and Christian mysticism more broadly, as well as reference resources. Her notes also offer explanations for her translation and other helpful background.

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

 

Review: Christianity in the Twentieth Century

Christianity in the Twentieth Century

Christianity in the Twentieth CenturyBrian Stanley. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018.

Summary: A thematic account of the development of global Christianity during the twentieth century.

It is no small challenge to write a one volume history of Christianity in the twentieth century. The Christian faith has truly become a global faith, represented with indigenous churches on every continent, expressed and experienced in as many or more ways than there are countries in the world, and facing varied internal and external pressures leading to adaptation and change.

Brian Stanley has approached this task not by trying to write a series of chapters on regional histories, or denominational histories, or theological history, but by identifying fifteen themes running through Christian experience over the last hundred years. Each chapter develops a particular theme, sketching some of the global developments, and then offers two case studies, usually specific to two different countries or regions. In the course of this study, Stanley not only touches on fifteen critical themes or trends but also shows the development of Christian faith in every part of the world in its multiplex variety.

In brief, here are the themes covered:

  • Responses to World War I
  • Christianity and Nationalism
  • Prophetic movements
  • The Persecuted Church
  • Belonging and believing
  • Ecumenism
  • Christianity, Ethnic Hatred, and Genocide
  • Christianity in Islamic contexts
  • Christian mission in the modern world
  • Theologies of liberation
  • The church addresses human rights, racism, and indigenous peoples
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Pentecostalism
  • Eastern Orthodoxy
  • Migrant Churches

As mentioned above, each theme chapter is illustrated by two case studies. For example, in looking at Christian faith and nationalism, Stanley takes the contrasting cases of Protestant nationalism in Korea, and Catholic nationalism in Poland, developing the role of the church in the movements for national autonomy in each country, as well as the uneasy alliance of Christianity and nationalism more broadly. However, in the chapter on Christian mission, he considers first the Second Vatican Council of 1962 to 1965, and two contrasting gatherings of Protestants at Uppsala in 1968, focused more on the social dimensions of Christian faith, and Lausanne in 1974, focused more on the conversionist aspects of the faith, albeit with a strong witness for justice concerns by Christians from the majority world. I was somewhat surprised that little was said about the subsequent Lausanne movement or the efforts to identify and reach unreached people groups, a missiological development from this movement.

One of the observations I made while reading is that some themes felt like well-known territory, with names, issues and movements I was well familiar with. Other chapters, like the one on Orthodoxy, for example, surprised me as I learned of Orthodox movements in Africa, and how significant diasporas have been for the development of Orthodoxy in western Europe and the United States. I’ve recently become more aware of Ghanaian Pentecostalism in my own city and this book filled in context of the development of Ghanaian Christianity as well as Pentecostalism in other parts of the world. Numerous leaders of significant movements in twentieth century Christianity were mentioned that I had not heard of, conveying what a far-flung, diverse, and global movement Christianity has become.

The author opens and closes the book discussing the renaming of The Christian Oracle as The Christian Century. Was the twentieth century a “Christian century.” A simple answer to that question is not possible in the author’s estimate. In absolute numbers, no century has witness greater growth, and yet the world’s population has grown faster. In Europe, North America, and Australasia, the church has been in retreat, except for the immigrant churches that have come from South and Central America, Asia, and Africa. Secularism and persecution have attempted to undermine the church, have made significant inroads, and yet not succeeded, and sometimes resulted in a resilient and more robust faith. Christians have both played pivotal roles in justice movements, and been inextricably involved in ethnic hatred and genocide. Great progress has occurred in some sectors toward Christian unity, even while indigenous and immigrant churches assert their own autonomy and major bodies are riven over questions about human sexuality.

Rather than offering a triumphalistic account, Stanley offers a cautionary tale inviting the reader to reflection, summarized in his closing question of “whether Christianity has converted indigenous religionists or whether indigenous religious and cultural perspectives–whether these be African, Asian, Latin American, or even white North American–have succeeded in converting Christianity.” In raising this question, I think he has identified one of the critical issues facing Christians in the early twenty first centuries, questions that ought send us to our knees, turn us to our Bibles, and challenge us to listen to the prophetic voices that speak the uncomfortable truths we need to hear.

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

Review: The Law and the Lady

The Law and the Lady

The Law and the LadyWilkie Collins (edited with an Introduction and Notes by Jenny Bourne Taylor). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Summary: Valeria Woodville discovers her new husband has a past that is under the cloud of a “not proven” murder accusation, and pursues an investigation to fully vindicate his innocence.

Wilkie Collins is one of the early writers of detective fiction, most famous for his The Woman in White and The Moonstone, two works that established his reputation among the reading public of his time who eagerly awaited the serialized releases of each of his stories. The Law and the Lady is a later work (1875) with probably the first female sleuth in the genre.

Valeria Woodville’s marriage to Eustace Woodville begins with an ill omen when she signs the wedding register with her married rather than maiden name. On her honeymoon she discovers the Eustace’s real surname was Macallan after a chance encounter with her mother-in-law, who had disapproved of the marriage. Valeria recognized her from a photograph she had found among her husband’s effects. She is discouraged by her husband from inquiring further into the circumstances that led to their marriage under an assumed name.

Instead she persists, returns to London, and tracks down Major Fitz-David, a ladies’ man who, while refusing to divulge her husband’s secret, permits her to discover it in his study. She finds a picture of her husband with another woman, Sarah Macallan, and after further searching finds a book with a narrative of the trial of Eustace Macallan for the murder of Sarah by arsenic poisoning. The trial ended with neither a “guilty” nor a “not guilty” verdict but a third allowed in Scottish law, “not proven.” Such a verdict left Eustace under a cloud of suspicion, a permanent blot upon his reputation.

Valeria determines to remove that blot, even though Eustace, and her old family friend, Benjamin, urge her to leave it alone. When she refuses, Eustace leaves her to fight in a distant war in Spain, where he is later seriously wounded. Assisted by Benjamin, and Eustace’s attorney, Mr. Playmore, who is eventually won over to her cause, she pursues an investigation to uncover the real murderer. Much of the inquiry centers around Misserimus Dexter, a friend of Eustace born without legs, an eccentric bordering on madness, whose testimony on behalf of Eustace may have saved him from a guilty verdict, and suggested suspicion of a female guest. In the course of the novel, Dexter descends into insanity, but one of his last, raving statements, taken down by Benjamin, leads Mr. Playmore to the discovery of the truth.

One of the distinctive features of the novel is that it is written as the first person narrative of Valeria. Combined with the fact that she is one of the first female detectives, the novel gives us one of the more memorable character portrayals in detective fiction that paved the way for other women detectives. Valeria’s determination to read the trial accounts, to familiarize herself with the law, and to mount an investigation (helped by the fact that she was a woman of independent means), in defiance of all the urgings that she content herself in her husband’s love, makes her a strong female character pushing the boundaries of Victorian role expectations.

At the same time, most critics do not consider this among Collins’ best, and I would have to agree. Given Valeria’s strength of character, at least this reader thought that Eustace wasn’t worthy of her, and I wondered what she saw in him. But, the heart has its reasons! I wondered why Eustace, if innocent, did not himself pursue the efforts Valeria pursued to find his former wife’s murderer but acquiesced in the “not proven” verdict.  He chose instead to marry under an assumed name, and false pretenses. Even his mother, also a strong character, considers this unworthy of him. Also, there is a studied avoidance of the one possibility that turned out to be the truth, one that occurred to me early in the narrative. I can even think of some red herrings Collins might have used to put the reader off the track.

What redeemed it for me was the strong character of Valeria, who is the good wife in the best sense, and yet refuses to be “the good wife.” Her persistence despite setbacks and apparent dead ends, and the bizarre character of Dexter and his household, her ability both to take counsel and make up and assert her own mind (even while expressing her inner misgivings in the narrative) offers us not merely a female detective but a woman of refreshing and unusual strength who must have appealed to Collins’ female readers. Her strength combined with her loyalty suggests possibilities for a richer, yet unconventional, marriage with Eustace, possibilities it appears he only begins to grasp in his convalescence from his wounds. How interesting it would have been if Collins had made Valeria into a recurring character!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Delivering Holiday Newspapers

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Newspapers B & W (4), by Jon S. [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

The other day I spotted a bag of advertising circulars for Black Friday laying on the apron of my driveway. It brought back memories of delivering The Vindicator on Thanksgiving morning, as well as all the Sunday papers leading up to Christmas. Generally the Thanksgiving Vindicator was the biggest paper of the year with all the sales ads for Friday (it wasn’t called Black Friday back then). There were maybe twenty or thirty pages of news content, and the rest was advertising, either in the newspaper of the advertising inserts–in all there were often several hundred pages.

Stories that I found online said that these papers could weigh between three and five pounds apiece. I had seventy customers on my paper route, and so that adds up to 210 to 350 pounds of newspapers that I had to deliver. The newspapers were delivered in one bundle, the ads in another. For seventy papers, this often turned out to be four to six bundles for my route.

I picked up my papers at a drop on Steel Street and haul them four blocks uphill on Oakwood Avenue to my route. Most days, I could put all my papers in one canvas paper sack, or two on Wednesdays and on Sundays I used a wagon.  For this haul, I used a wagon one year and it about killed me. I enlisted dad after that, and he would stuff the ads into the papers for one side of the street while I loaded up my paper sack and delivered the other, and then he would meet up with me to deliver the other side, or go up to the other block that I delivered.

Newspapers obviously made a good deal of extra money on all this advertising, but paper carriers didn’t get any more money. But in a way we did in the form of Christmas tips. For a route my size, I could get a hundred dollars in tips at Christmas time. Some were Scrooges, some were generous, and most remembered. It made hauling those papers worth it. One lady made homemade hard candy and would always give me a bag. If you were thinking of quitting your route, you usually waited until after Christmas, despite all those heavy papers.

In most communities, kids don’t deliver newspapers any more. When I delivered papers, most every person on my route, which covered two city blocks, took the paper. These days, you are lucky if about one out of five homes take the paper, and the routes are much larger, and usually delivered by adults in a car. But there are generations of paper carriers with memories of hauling hundreds of pounds of ad-laden Vindicators on Thanksgiving morning. Maybe some of you will share your stories…

Review: The Coaching Habit

The Coaching Habit

The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier. Toronto: Box of Crayons Press, 2016.

Summary: Kicking the advice habit, asking questions well, and using variations of seven key questions can lead to more effective leadership coaching.

Over the next few weeks, I will be mixing in reviews of books on coaching, part of some reading I am doing for my own development. I’ll take the risk of reviewing these because all of us influence others in some way, and it is never a loss to learn how we might do that with greater effectiveness that helps others flourish.

One of the key ideas of this delightfully straightforward and easy to read book is that many leaders tend to give directions, answers, and advice far more than ask questions. This thwarts effectiveness by promoting dependency rather than autonomy in those we lead. It leads to more time being absorbed in this unproductive activity, and at worst, leaders become bottlenecks in their organizations.

Another critical insight is that deciding to ask more and better questions is not enough if the leader doesn’t recognize what triggers the advice-giving habit. With each of the seven questions that follow, the author asks us to identify the triggers that activate habits that derail us from good coaching and to identify a new practice that will be come a new habit.

The core of the book is seven great coaching questions:

  1. The Kickstart Question: “What’s on your mind?” Ask this early, with a minimum of chit-chat and this gets to the reason for the conversation. Often this will be about one of the 3Ps: Projects, People, and Patterns, all linked to each other.
  2. The AWE Question: “And what else?” This question draws out more information, often identifies more options, buys time, and keeps the “Advice Monster” at bay.
  3. The Focus Question: What’s the real challenge here for you? Often what is on one’s mind is nebulous, or there are many challenges mentioned. This question gets concrete and personal and prevents “coaching the ghost” of discussing someone not in the room rather than what is facing the person in front of you.
  4. The Foundation Question: “What do you want?” Often the coachee is not clear on this and it is not clear in the situation. Once clear, it is possible to have an adult conversation where it is possible to answer “yes,” “no,” “give me time to think about that,” or perhaps, “not this, but that.” Also, it is critical to recognize the difference between wants and needs, the latter often being the reasons behind the wants. The question can also be a mutual one, particularly in a management situation where two people can get clear on what each wants in a situation and then get on with figuring out how to respond to that.
  5. The Lazy Question: “How can I help?” It question calls upon the person to make a direct request, and it delivers you from being the perpetual rescuer. A blunter way to ask this question is “What do you want from me?” Instead of deciding for a person how one can be helpful, it allows them to say what really would be helpful, and it allows you to decide whether you can offer that help. It is lazy because it saves us from providing all sorts of unwanted and counterproductive help.
  6. The Strategic Question: “If you are saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?” This chapter offers some great help in figuring out how to say “no” when it is very hard to do. It also helps us figure out what we will be saying “no” to if we choose a strategic direction, and what else we may need to say “no” to in order to fully embrace the “yes” rather than over-commit.
  7. The Learning Question: “What was most useful to you?” This recognizes that debriefing is where learning really takes place, and clarifies the most important outcomes to your discussion. It also has the side benefit of increasing the perception that the coach as useful!

Stanier includes psychological research at the end of each chapter explaining why the questions are effective. He also sandwiches a “Question Masterclass” between each question that explores how one asks questions as well as what questions we ask–things like cutting the intro and asking the question, sticking to “what” questions, getting comfortable with silence, listening to answers, and acknowledging them.

The questions ring true with my own leadership and coaching experience–these are good questions. The insight on the “advice monster” is one most leaders need to heed. There is a refreshing contempt for truisms like “work smarter, not harder.” I do wonder about the author’s claim that “Coaching is simple” and that this book will “give you most of what you need.” Is this hype, or simply an author with a lot of chutzpah? What I can say is that this was a quick read, offered good questions and reasons for using them, and didn’t bury its message in a ton of verbiage. That’s worth something.

A Book Bloggers Thanksgiving

happy-thanksgiving-3767426_1280Around many American tables today, people will share things for which they are thankful. Sometimes it seems a bit cheesy, but often it serves as a reminder that, while there is a good deal of bad news and sadness, there is an underlying goodness to life that is worth celebrating around a table with family and friends.

In that spirit, I’ve been reflecting on all the things as a book blogger (and chronicler of Youngstown life), for which I am thankful. Like so many other endeavors in life, blogging is not a solitary activity, nor is success a solitary achievement. So, as you and I gather around the screen (but not at your Thanksgiving table–put that phone down!), I want to share some of the people in this book blogger’s life for which I’m grateful:

  • Authors. I’ve read works that took years to research and write in some cases and went through numerous drafts and revisions. Then you engage with your readers, including the critical ones. I’ve had the chance to interact with some of them, many who are gracious with their time. I’m also struck what a perilous enterprise this is, wondering if anyone will be interested in what you write, particularly if you are just starting out.
  • Publishers. You take the financial risks to publish, especially in an era of tighter margins. It is incredible how many books get published every year and you make that magic happen.
  • Publicists. You are the people I interact with as I seek copies of the books I want to review. In nearly all cases, you have been friendly, quick to respond, and eager to help, and I have to admit to still being amazed that you send me your books. I hope at least a few people buy them from reading my reviews.
  • Bookstores. I’m amazed how hard some of my friends who are booksellers work to make ends meet and get good books into hands of the people who want them. Byron Borger at Hearts and Minds Books in Dallastown, Pennsylvania runs one of the most well-curated stores of thoughtful Christian and other fine literature in the country. I’ve never been to the store (on my bucket list) but they always have what I’m looking for, carefully packaged and quickly shipped. There are no indie bookstores near our home, but we’ve spent many happy hours at our local Barnes and Noble and Half Price Books.
  • Librarians. You curate these incredible spaces where I can get the books I cannot afford or find, along with all the research resources that I cannot find easily on my own.
  • Facebook group administrators. A good reason many people find their way to my blog is that you allow me to post on your pages. Hopefully I help start some good conversations on your pages as well and make them richer places to visit.
  • The Bob on Books Facebook page. This is a new venture this year with over 700 now following, about half personal friends, and about half people who I don’t know who love books. You remind me of all the interesting genres of literature and authors I don’t know very well, as well as what an interesting and quirky tribe all of us who love books can be.
  • All the others at Literary Hub, Publishers Weekly, The Atlantic, Shelf AwarenessBookriot, and other people who are writing about books. You clue me into so much of what is going on in the publishing and literary worlds, and provide great material to repost, ideas for books to review, and grist for blog posts, usually in reaction to something I’ve read.
  • WordPress.  You provide the software and the hosting that makes this page possible. I’ve found your online support great. I contact you, things get fixed, and the magic keeps happening!
  • You. Yes, you. I’m still amazed that people read my stuff, like and comment, share and re-blog. You help me reach a bigger audience than I could alone. Your comments make me think, and sometimes show me where I’m wrong. A special shoutout for all my Youngstown friends. I probably learn as much from you as I do in researching my posts.

There is a good deal of criticism of the online world these days. I’ve seen some of the reasons for that criticism from trolls to echo chambers. But overwhelmingly, the world I’ve engaged through Bob on Books is one inhabited by funny, creative, fascinating, and unique human beings who love and care, work and play, think and learn and share a common desire for a flourishing and civil world. Book people are like that. I count myself so blessed for the ways we’ve connected, both virtually, and face to face. Thank you. And Happy Thanksgiving, or whatever day it is for you if you are one who follows me in another country–I’m so grateful for all of you!

Review: The Gospel in Dorothy Sayers

Sayers

The Gospel in Dorothy L. SayersDorothy L. Sayers with an Appreciation by C. S. Lewis, edited by Carole Vanderhoof. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018.

Summary: An anthology of Sayers’ work organized by theological topics, drawing on her detective fiction, plays, and essays.

This work is the latest installment in Plough Publishing’s The Gospel in Great Writers series, and it is a gem. Dorothy L. Sayers was one of the first women to receive a degree from Oxford. Her experience in an ad agency became a resource for a series of Lord Peter Wimsey (and Harriet Vane) detective mysteries. As a committed Christian, and friend of the Inklings, she was called upon by the BBC to speak and write about the Christian faith. She published several plays that brought the gospel accounts to life. She was an essayist, and her extended essay on The Mind of the Maker, simultaneously served as a work of Christian aesthetics, and a reflection on the Trinity. Many consider her translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy (Paradiso completed posthumously by Barbara Reynolds) to be one of the best.

In this anthology, we have material from many of her works, that introduces the reader both to the different facets of her writing and the deep theological insight to be found. The material is organized into twenty chapters, each on a particular them, and combining either her fiction or plays with essay material on the same themes. Themes range from Conscience to Covetousness to Despair and Hope to Work and finally Time and Eternity.

What struck me afresh in reading this collection was how delightfully frank and able to cut through pretense Dorothy could be–the counterpart of Harriet Vane in her detective stories.

In writing about Judgement, she notes:

“It is the inevitable consequence of man’s attempt to regulate life and society on a system that runs counter to the facts of his own nature.”

In her essay, The Dogma is the Drama, she concludes:

“Let us, in Heaven’s name, drag out the Divine Drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slip-shod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much the worse for the pious–others will pass into the Kingdom of Heaven before them.”

In her play The Man Who Would Be King, she uses informal language to describe the crucifixion of Jesus. The Bishop of Winchester protested this. Here is Dorothy’s reply:

“I’ve made all the alterations required so far, but now I’m entering a formal protest, which I have tried to make a mild one, without threatenings and slaughters. But if the contemporary world is not much moved by the execution of God it is partly because pious phrases and reverent language have made it a more dignified crime than it was. It was a dirty piece of work, tell the Bishop.”

In her essay Why Work?, she makes this trenchant observation:

“How can anyone remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life?”

This work is rich in such observations and often the essay excerpts are a good reflection of the key ideas in those essays. If there is any flaw, the excerpts from the detective fiction do not sufficiently reflect these works as a whole, even if they are connected thematically to the other pieces in the chapter. Hopefully, something of the character of Lord Peter Wimsey shows through, which develops over the course of Sayers fiction. The only remedy for this is that you need to read the works in their entirety, often available in inexpensive print or electronic editions.

A bonus to this volume comes in the form of “A Panegyric for Dorothy L. Sayers” by C.S. Lewis, written following her death. I think she would have most appreciated this comment:

“There is in reality no cleavage between the detective stories and her other works. In them, as in it, she is first and foremost the craftsman, the professional. She always saw herself as one who had learned a trade, and respects it, and demands respect for it from others.”

For those who only have heard of Dorothy L. Sayers, this volume is a wonderful introduction to her broad range of writings, and her acute thinking about theology and art. For those who have read her works, it is a wonderful review that serves to connect the dots between her different genres of work. For all of us, this work gives us a chance to think along with one of the great theological minds of the twentieth century.

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

 

Review: The Story of Henri Tod

The Story of Henri Tod

The Story of Henri Tod (Blackford Oakes #5), William F. Buckley, Jr. New York: Mysterious Press/Open Road Media, 2015 (originally published 1983).

Summary: As East Germany takes steps to stem the emigration of its people to the west through East Berlin in 1961, Blackford Oakes is tasked to find out what their intentions are and how they and Moscow will respond if NATO and the US intervenes.

After appearing weak and inexperienced in an initial meeting with Nikita Khrushchev President Kennedy learns that East Germany is taking steps to partition East and West Berlin to stem the tide of people emigrating from East to West Berlin and West Germany. This would violate agreements made at the end of World War II, and could trigger a new war, perhaps even a nuclear conflict between the US and the Soviet Union. CIA agent Blackford Oakes is tasked with getting critical intelligence to determine whether Berlin will be completely isolated from the West, and what the East will do if NATO responds.

Oakes key contact with East Berlin and the East Germans is Henri Tod. Tod leads a resistance organization from West Berlin against the Communists. They call themselves The Bruderschaft and are not above violent efforts to subvert the Communists. He has become enemy Number One but has eluded capture. But the Communists have discovered an Achilles heel. Tod, whose real name was Toddweiss, was a German Jew, who along with his beloved sister Clementa, was shielded by the Wurmbrand family, when Jews were being sent to the death camps. They spirit him out of the country when he becomes draft-eligible. They pay with their lives and Clementa is sent to a camp to die. But she is liberated by Soviet troops, only to become their captive. Thought dead, she lives, and becomes the means to lure Tod and capture him, with Oakes being involved as an intermediary.

Meanwhile, East German leader Walter Ulbricht also has his own Achilles, a nephew Caspar, who he has taken under his wing as a personal assistant, perhaps to atone for killing his father. Caspar has discovered the rail car used by Hitler, abandoned in a rail yard, and turns it into a love nest for him and his girlfriend Claudia. Their paths cross with Tod when Tod is wounded after an assassination of an East German official and the rescue him from his pursuers, nursing him back to health in the rail car, and becoming converts to his cause and a source of critical information.

Blackford Oakes has all this to deal with, as he tries to get the needed intelligence to the President. How will he respond to the likely trap using Tod’s sister? How will he work with the independent Tod and his rogue organization? How will they react to the intelligence they are passing along to Oakes? And what will the U.S. government do?

The book is a page turner, moving quickly between Kennedy, Khruschev and Ulbricht, Oakes and Tod, Caspar and Claudia. Perhaps the most fascinating element is the challenge of divining an enemy’s intent and character, what action one should take, and how one’s adversary will respond. Anyone who has studied this era realizes how easily things could have turned out otherwise than they did, a salutary lesson for our own day.

 

Review: An Unhurried Leader

An Unhurried Leader

An Unhurried LeaderAlan Fadling. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017/

Summary: Proposes that influential spiritual leadership that bears lasting fruit arises out of unhurried life in God’s presence that results in unhurried presence in the lives of those one leads.

Leadership can be demanding. People come from many directions with needs, agendas, and sometimes, criticism. To-do lists are longer than there are hours in the day. One may feel they have to run faster and faster, even as energy seems to be draining away. In more reflective moments, we might ask, are the people we lead maturing as Christ-followers, more effectively able to use their gifts and engage their world? That is, if we get a chance to ask the question in the midst of a hurried life.

Alan Fadling doesn’t think we will ever evade these demands. Rather, his thesis is that leadership that bears lasting fruit comes out of unhurried time in the presence of God that both fills us, and overflows into our leadership life. Most of all, he contends that when we cultivate this unhurried life with God, it allows us to come along people as an unhurried presence, able to wait and listen for what God is doing in their lives and through our encounter with them.

A key verse for Fadling is Isaiah 30:15:  “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” Fadling writes:

“…Isaiah said that we’ll find salvation—help, wholeness, or rescue—in repentance and rest. He said that we’ll find strength—power, influence, and energy—in quietness and trust. Unhurried leaders are different.

  • Rather than fill their lives with noise, unhurried leaders make time for silence in which to listen (quietness).
  • Rather than allow anxiety to drive them, unhurried leaders learn to depend on a reliable God who invites them to join a good kingdom work already well underway (trust).
  • Rather than tackle self-initiated projects under the guise of doing them for God, unhurried leaders humbly orient themselves to the Leader of all, learning to take their cues from him (repentance).
  • Unhurried leaders also learn to rest as hard as they work.
  • Rather than measuring the productivity of their lives only in terms of what they do, unhurried leaders understand the importance of certain things they don’t do.”

Fadling walks us through what he has learned about leading out of abundance, allowing God’s living water to flow through us. He invites us to “come, listen, buy, and eat” in God’s presence, and to cultivate practices of contemplating God’s greatness where we open ourselves to a vision of God from which we lead. “Questions that Unhurry Leaders” was a delightful chapter that was not what I expected but rather a reflection on the wonderful questions Paul asks in Romans 8.

He turns to how our unhurried life with God flows into unhurried influence in leadership. He explores how developing fruitful leaders takes time–not trying to pursue quick, but not abiding fruit. He talks about how grace empowers us, as God meets and works through us in our weakness. Grace doesn’t make us strong, but rather we are strong in God’s grace in our weakness.

One of the most challenging aspects of leadership is the relentless stream of thoughts that hurry through our heads. Fadling offers a practice of noticing, discerning, and responding, allowing God into our thoughts–both those unworthy of us, and those that are, in fact, his promptings. This takes us into a life of prayer, in which our primary influence comes through prayer, and in which we do our work “with God,” which has the power to transform our “to do” lists–not necessarily by shortening them, but by allowing us to rest in God rather than anxiously work. He ties all this up by proposing a cycle of contemplation, discernment, engagement, and reflection that may become a rhythm of unhurried leadership.

Fadling helps us “try out” this unhurried leadership life through practices in each chapter as well as reflective questions that help us examine our own leadership. I took this book with me on a recent retreat and found the content, the practices, and the questions all helpful in reflecting on my own leadership journey. Most of all, he reminded me of the foundational truth that I learned as a student leader, and am still learning that he succinctly sums up:

“The secret of my spiritual leadership is God.”

Fadling helps us to examine our own leadership and ask if God is really enough for us. He helps us consider whether our leadership is simply a function of technique and skill, done in our own strength, often leading to hurried drivenness, or whether it is the unhurried leadership that is the overflow of abundant life with God. This is a great book to read for personal renewal, and even better with a team of leaders who can think together how they might encourage each other in the “unhurry” practices Fadling commends. The rest and refreshment both leaders and those they lead experience will more than amply repay the cost and time spent on this book.

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Visit my review of Alan Fadling’s earlier book, An Unhurried Life.