Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Frank Sinkwich

Sinkwich_bulldogs

Frank Sinkwich, Unknown author / Public domain

I was the second generation to grow up on the West side of Youngstown. My parents grew up on the same street where I live and went to high school together at Chaney in the late 1930’s. I remember dad talking from time to time about the great Frank Sinkwich, who played under one of Chaney’s legendary coaches, Chet McPhee. Sinkwich won the Heisman Trophy in his senior year with the Georgia Bulldogs. He went on to a brief pro career.

Sinkwich was born in the town of Starjak in Croatia October 10, 1920 (the same year my parents were born). The family moved to Youngstown two years later, where his father Ignac operated a grocery store. When they first came to Youngstown, they spelled their name Sinkovic’. By 1940, the Sinkwich’s owned a family restaurant. The Wikipedia article on Sinkwich attributes his competitive drive to growing up playing football on the streets of the West side, “I learned early in neighborhood pickup games that I had the desire to compete. When people ask why I succeeded in athletics, I always tell them that I didn’t want to get beat”

Sinkwich was one of the great players to come out of Chaney but was nearly overlooked by the college scouts. Georgia Bulldog assistant coach Bill Hartman had visited Youngstown to recruit another top pick who committed instead to Ohio State. Hartman supposedly was refilling his car at a local service station when an attendant told him about a good player who lived down the street. He met Sinkwich’s dad on the front porch and persuaded Sinkwich to visit Georgia. The rest was history.

As a freshman, he led a team known as the “point-a-minute” Bullpups to an undefeated season. Sinkwich plead with Head Coach Wally Butts to be a fullback but Butts wanted him to play halfback, a position where he would both run and pass. Butts said of him, “He acquired, through hard work and endless practice, the ability to pick the open receiver better than anybody I ever saw.” In 1940, his first year on the varsity squad, UPI named him to the All-Southern First Team. In 1941, his junior year, he set an SEC record with 1103 rushing yards, in addition to 713 passing yards. From the third game of the season on, he did this with his jaw wired shut when it was broken in a previous game. He had a specially designed helmet. He led Georgia to a 40-26 victory over TCU in the Orange Bowl with 139 rushing yards and 243 passing yards and three touchdowns. He was a potent double threat.

The big year was the 1942. He had 795 rushing yards and 1392 passing yards (an SEC record at the time) for a total of 2187 yards. That year, he led the Bulldogs to a 9-0 victory over UCLA in the Rose Bowl, scoring the winning touchdown with two sprained ankles. He was a unanimous All-America choice and was awarded the Heisman Trophy. In three years, he rushed for 2,271 yards, passed for 2,331, and accounted for 60 touchdowns—30 rushing and 30 passing. He was the very first pick in the first round of the NFL draft, being picked by the Detroit Lions.

His first two years looked like the beginning of a stellar career. In both 1943 and 1944 he was named All-Pro, and MVP in 1944. Then he went into the service, and while playing for an Air Force service team, he suffered a serious knee injury that basically ended his career. He tried to return to the pros in 1946 and 1947, but was never the same and retired. He briefly tried coaching, with positions at Furman and at the University of Tampa, and a semi-professional team in Erie, PA in 1949.

After this, he returned to Athens, Georgia where he operated a successful beer and wine distributorship. Apparently, he never contemplated returning to Youngstown after his years in the South. He was reported to have said, “I’m from Ohio, but if I’d known when I was 2 what it was like down South, I would have crawled here on my hands and knees.” He died October 22, 1990 in Athens after an extended battle with cancer. Vince Dooley, then athletic director at Georgia said of him, “We’ve lost one of the great legends in football history. He was not only a great player but a wonderful person and citizen of Athens”

In addition to the Heisman, his greatness was acknowledged both in life and after his death. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954 and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1967. He was inducted into the University of Georgia Circle of Honor in 1996 and his jersey was retired, one of only four Bulldog players to receive th8s honor.

Frank Sinkwich was one of the great football players to come out of Youngstown, and out of Chaney High School. As he said, the streets of the West side gave him his competitive fire. But then Youngstown has always been a football town.

A Few of My Pre-Pandemic Favorite Things

Huntington Park

Huntington Park, one of my favorite things. © Robert C Trube

I suspect most of us have had wistful memories of all the things we didn’t give a second thought of doing pre-pandemic. Perhaps this helps explain the urgency with which some people have tried to resume life as if nothing happened, as if there is not still a risk of infection. Being at an age of being at increased risk, and some health history in our household that further enhances that risk, we’ve resigned ourselves to what looks like six to twelve more months much like the last three. We are utilizing warm weather for some visits with friends outdoors at social distances, plein air painting, walks, and visits with neighbors.

These are a few of the favorite pre-pandemic things I miss:

  • Hugging family who don’t live in our house.
  • The Asian buffet near our home.
  • Leisurely browsing in my local bookstore.
  • Going to the grocery store together.
  • Going to a grocery store at any time, not “senior hours.”
  • Singing with Capriccio in rehearsals and concerts. It is not only the music but the friends and the laughter.
  • Coffee with a friend in a crowded Starbucks.
  • An adult beverage with a work team.
  • Actually meeting with a work team without a computer screen between us.
  • Celebrating a special occasion with a dinner out.
  • Selling the books I’ve read at Half Price books (the stack is growing).
  • Going to a Columbus Clippers game at Huntington Park.
  • Singing with Paul, Jeff, Jayne, Diane, and Tracy in our small acapella ensemble at church.
  • Going to concerts or lectures or any event with a lot of other people.
  • Seeing another’s smile and being glad I do.

I’ve not missed travel–congested roads, airports, crowded planes. I don’t look forward to going back to these. A number of the things I’ve listed above we technically could do. But from what we know, we can’t afford to get sick if we can avoid it. So we won’t do these things until infection rates are very low or there is a vaccine that works. As much as I miss these favorite things, we still have a life we love. We still have fellowship with friends and family. I can brew a pretty good cup of coffee. I can walk in my neighborhood. We can go out painting together. We talk to more neighbors than ever. I think the teams I work with have done amazing things during this time. I’ve enjoyed many good books, listened to some great music on vinyl and CD. We’ve made some good meals together and enjoyed good take out. We treasure our church’s worship times, even if online.

I’m not willing to exchange our lives for a favorite thing. I realize there are no sure things. While I do not fear death, I won’t throw away life needlessly. But I still have favorite things I miss. What are yours?

Summer 2020 Book Preview–Faith and Life Edition

wp-1592436005457913129448171043576.jpgI look forward to some extra time for reading during the summer as schedules slow down, and I get to dip into an interesting book while I sip a cool beverage. I’ve received a number of books from Christian publishers in recent weeks, and here are some that really look interesting. If you are looking for a book to deepen your faith and enlarge your sense of how believing shapes all of life, the books here might be worth a look.

good man

Good ManNathan Clarkson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020. In a time when we wonder what it means to be a good man, Clarkson explores the qualities of character that define a man who finds his identity in Christ.

A week in the life of ephesus

A Week in the Life of EphesusDavid A. DeSilva. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. Ephesus played an important role in early Christianity, and this imaginative historical fiction rendering from a fine New Testament scholar promises an understanding of the context Christians facing the challenges of empire.

why science and faith

Why Science and Faith Need Each OtherElaine Howard Ecklund. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2020. Ecklund explores the virtues arising from the pursuit of science and the practice of faith and how they mutually enhance each other in the pursuit of truth.

daniel

How to Read Daniel, Tremper Longman III. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. The book of Daniel can be confusing. The book helps us understand the context and the genres, especially apocalyptic, of the book.

unto us a child is borh

Unto Us a Child is BornTyler D. Mayfield (Foreword by Walter Brueggemann). Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2020. Christians often read and hear passages in Isaiah through the lens of Advent. Mayfield considers those readings alongside how our contemporary Jewish neighbors read and hear the same passages.

the lost art of dying

The Lost Art of DyingL.S. Dugdale, MD. New York: Harper One, 2020. A Columbia physician who treats older patients who she has seen end their lives in over-medicalized procedures that prolong dying and strips them of their dignity. She draws on experience, faith, and a reading of Ars Moriendi (The Art of Dying) written at the height of the plague in the late Middle Ages to help us live and die well.

wait with me

Wait With MeJason Gaboury. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. Without offering easy answers, Gaboury explores the common human experience of loneliness, and the possibility that this may be an invitation into a deeper relationship with God.

uncommon ground

Uncommon GroundTimothy Keller and John Inazu. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020. In the midst of our highly divided culture, these two authors explore with ten others how we might find ground to engage others in the culture while remaining faithful to the gospel.

Working in the presence of God

Working in the Presence of GodDenise Daniels & Shannon Vandewarker. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2020. Spiritual practices are not just for monastics but also for Christians in the workplace. This book offers a number of such practices that help people experience God’s presence in their work.

leading lives that matter

Leading Lives That Matter, 2nd edition, Edited by Mark R. Schwehn and Dorothy C. Bass. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2020. A collection of texts from a wide array of writers on the theme of what is a life well-lived.

the Holy Spirit

The Holy SpiritGregg R. Allison & Andreas J. Kostenberger. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2020. An in-depth study of the biblical theology of the Holy Spirit.

The Jesus of the Gospels

The Jesus of the Gospels, An Introduction, Andreas J. Köstenberger. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2020. An introductory survey of the four gospels by a top flight New Testament Scholar.

Several of these are long, thought-provoking works. I’ve heard the author of The Lost Art of Dying speak on this subject on several occasions. In July I get to interview the author of Wait With Me, and in August, one of the authors of Uncommon Ground, John Inazu. David A. DeSilva is an old friend, a great teacher, and I look forward to see what he does in writing historical fiction. I’ve been impressed with other works from the Theology of Work project, and Working in the Presence of God promises to be yet another one of these. Elaine Howard Ecklund’s approach to science and faith issues as a sociologist looks like an unique approach, based on shared virtues.  I’m set with good reading for the summer!

Reading Withdrawal

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This is a cropped image of a painting by Pierre Auguste Cot (1837-1883) titled “Ophelia/Pause for Thought

Reading withdrawal. Is that a thing? If you talk to my reading friends you will discover it is.

What are the signs of reading withdrawal?

  • Irritability and crabbiness
  • Tiredness from staying up late to compensate for lost reading time
  • Extra or long trips to the bathroom which may be the frustrated reader’s last sanctuary.
  • Some people get depressed. Reading for them is a break from depressing realities. Take that away and what’s left?
  • Some have less energy to socialize. Reading is one place where introverts recharge to meet the world. Extroverts, who are in the majority, just don’t get it.
  • Others feel torn between the people and obligations calling them away from their books and the books that are calling to them.

Sometimes the withdrawal is self-inflicted. We really want to read that new novel, and yet we wile away our reading hours on our smartphone, or binge watching that great new series. Put the phone in another room. Step away from the screen.

Then there are the times the people we care about want our attention during our “reading time.” Maybe it is because the day at work was exasperating and they work things out by talking. Or the kids at school were really mean. Or the one we love wants to go for a walk in the rain or a drive in the country. Just because. If our priorities are right and our love of reading is in the healthy range, we give a longing look at our book, a promise to be back, and thank who or whatever we worship that we have someone to love and who loves us.

At the same time, those who live with and love readers, will probably do well to not fight their urge to retreat into a book sometime during the day or evening. It’s likely that when they put down their book, they’ll be an easier person to live with. They sleep better and are not cranky. And the bathroom is more available.

“Withdrawal” can mean simply missing any healthy habit, from reading to working out. Mostly, it suggests the negotiation that goes on within every household of allowing each to pursue their distinctive interests, balanced with our shared affections and obligations. I’m not a trained counselor, but you might consider seeing one if your reading habit is resulting in a deteriorating relationship, or if it interferes with your work or other obligations, or results in neglecting good self-care.

Most of the time, the best thing is probably to realize that the readers we love need their time to read. If we are that reader, our challenge is to figure out how to get in reading time while showing those who love us we have time for them.

 

Review: Brown Church

brown church

Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and IdentityRobert Chao Romero. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: A study of the five hundred year of Latina/o Christianity and its resistance and response to colonialism, dictatorships, U.S. imperialism, and oppression toward farm workers and immigrants.

Imagine you had grown up in a vibrant church that translated faith into community development and advocated for those who were marginalized by majority culture. How would you respond if a respected university teacher, or a justice movement on your campus told you that your religious experience had been shaped by colonial imperialists who used religion as an opiate to suppress your people?

That is the challenge, in various forms, that the author states faces Latinas/os from Christian backgrounds. Robert Chao Romero argues that there is another side to that history, a church born of resistance, that views Latina/o culture as a gift of God, that is awake to the racism and injustice of its history, and has brought together love for Christ and commitments to justice for a marginalized people.

Romero does that by taking us on the five hundred year journey of the Brown Church, “Brown” reflecting the mixture of descent that makes up Latina/o people, that is neither Black nor White, but has a distinctive history and character and contribution to the body of Christ.

He begins by rooting this account in God’s Galilee strategy. Galileans were the marginalized of Israel when the real power was in Jerusalem and Judea. And Nazareth was on the margin of the margins. The people of Galilee were considered a “mixed” breed and inferior. This is the place Jesus called “home.” This is where he formed his movement and called his followers. He proposes that this plan was co-opted by a European, colonialist, white supremacist outlook that corrupted the church.

Yet a movement of resistance has existed from the beginnings of Spanish colonialism, beginning with Friar Montesino’s denunciation of colonial injustices on the island of Hispaniola in 1511. From here, he traces the growth of the Brown Church through the stories of Bartholomé de Las Casas and the visions of Juan Diego of La Virgen de Guadelupe, who witnessed that the oppression was not God’s intent. He introduces us to Guaman Poman whose faith led him to advocate for indigenous autonomy, and Sor Juana, a great Latina scholar of humane letters who dared to rebuke the heresies of the established church.

Romero looks at the treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo in 1845 between the U.S. and Mexico, ceding the lands of the American Southwest, creating a group of people in these lands with a liminal status, neither black nor white, but “brown.” Romero traces the Brown church in the US to an ex-communicate priest in New Mexico, Padre Antonio Jose Martinez and the lay orders he formed, los Penitentes and las Carmelitas, who provided spiritual and community leadership to Latinas/os in this liminal space, not quite yet American citizens.

He then jumps forward to the farm organizing work of César Chávez. He tells a story of the spiritual roots of Chávez’s life often not included in the history, from his “Abuelita theology” to the Catholic social teaching and community development training he received with Fr. Donald McDonnell. Chávez’s non-violent approached was sustained by faith, fasting and servant leadership, until after 1975, when under the influence of the teaching of Synanon, he became increasingly self-focused and authoritarian and lost most of his following.

The final chapters take us through the social justice theologies of Latin America from Liberation Theology to evangelicos like Rene Padilla and Samuel Escobar and the Misión  Integral that combined evangelism and social justice rooted in the authority of the Bible. He tells the story of Oscar Romero, his conversion and conscientization, as the once conservative priest who became the advocate for the poor against the powers of El Salvador, against the American backed military government, until executed during a mass. Finally, he chronicles contemporary Latina/o theological movements in the United States from Pentecostal theologians like Condé-Frazier, Maldonado-Peréz, Villafañe, and Garcia-Johnson to community organizers like Alexia Salvatierra, Noel Castellanos, and Ray Rivera.

Romero does what I find a rare thing in Christian scholarship. He offers a well-documented scholarly work that flows. He brings people and movements to life, and creates a narrative thread in developing the idea of the Brown Church that holds the whole together. Here is a scholar who can tell a story!

Romero concludes with nine statements that define the Brown Church. The strength of this work, summed up in these statements is that he gives identity and character to a people who have existed on the borderlands. He shows how this marginalized people have recaptured distinctives of the Galilean Gospel that shapes their lives, but is also a gift to the rest of the church, held captive to imperialism, the empty power of the colonizer, and to racist ideologies that divide the body of Christ rather than form the beloved community. Reading this for me opened my eyes to the riches of devotion, of action, and of theology within the “Brown Church”–a theology shaped by life on the margins reclaiming the world-changing witness of the “marginal Jew,” Jesus Christ.

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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: Cromwell: The Lord Protector

Crowmwell the Lord Protector

Cromwell: The Lord ProtectorAntonia Fraser. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1973.

Summary: A biography of Oliver Cromwell, a military and parliamentary leader during the English Civil Wars, rising after the death of Charles I to Lord Protector.

Oliver Cromwell, not unlike his ancestor Thomas Cromwell is a tragic figure. Both men had great strengths, and great flaws. Antonia Fraser’s classic biography of Oliver Cromwell draws a highly detailed portrait of the man in all his actions that reveals both his greatness and his flaws, and the tragedies, both in and beyond his lifetime to which these led.

Fraser traces this life from its beginning as a child of landed gentry from Huntingdon, elected to Parliament in 1628. During this time period he underwent a religious conversion to Puritanism that shaped his thought and life profoundly. After Parliament’s recess for eleven years, he became the member for Cambridge in 1640, sitting in the Short and Long Parliaments, and during this period became the outstanding military leader that led the Parliamentarians to victory over the king in the first English Civil War.

Fraser characterizes the greatness of his military ability as a combination of battlefield discipline instilled through training, and the ability to “seize the moment” when enemy weakness gave the opportunity for victory. The victories at Marston Moor and Naseby hinged on his decisive actions leading to the end of the first Civil War. This was followed by inconclusive efforts to establish a constitutional monarchy.

It was only when the Second Civil War was concluded with the fall of Pembroke castle and the Royalist Scottish Army’s defeat at Preston at the hands of Cromwell, that things turned decisively against Charles I. His stubbornness was met by Cromwell’s beliefs in providence, justified by his military victories and justifying the death of Charles, by whom so much blood had been shed. Charles I went to his death January 30, 1649.

Fraser follows all the deliberations of how to compose a government, beginning with the Commonwealth in 1649, of which Cromwell was one of the Parliamentary leaders. This was interrupted for Cromwell by a military expedition to Ireland, where he presided angrily over the slaughters at the Catholic strongholds of Drogheda and Wexford, a taint on his career. His victories there opened the door to a Protestant land grab. In the following year, Charles II, crowned king in Scotland, threatened the Commonwealth. Again, suffering in precarious health, Cromwell meets the threat at Dunbar and Worcester (further acts of God’s providence) resulting in Charles II’s flight to France.

His return to what was known as the “Rump” Parliament ended with another angry speech, resulting in dissolution of the Parliament and Cromwell becoming Lord Protector–royalty in plain clothes. We see his struggle over five years to form a government shaped by religious principle, and respected among the powers. His own failing health and the government’s financial struggles doomed his efforts. Dying, he loses a beloved daughter and bequeaths the Protectorate to his son Richard, who had none of his strengths. This last less than a year until Richard fled England as the King was recalled. He lived abroad and under an assumed name most of his life.

There was good reason for his flight. Although not widespread, the King did avenge his father’s death, executing the lead figures, and exhuming Cromwell’s corpse, first hanging it, and then beheading it, the head remaining on a stake for decades. Fraser devotes significant attention the the exhumation and eventual disposition of the body and the head.

This is a long book and I found that Fraser’s accounts of the military leadership seemed to have far more energy than the political accounts, that seemed rather tedious at times, albeit exhaustively complete. What she gives us is a complex and complete account of Cromwell, from the warmth of his family relations and those with many friends, the brilliance of his military leadership, punctuated with episodes of anger and precarious health, and the religious certitude, that was both a comfort to his soul, and a contributing factor in the execution of a king, and an attempt at a radical government. One wonders if he would have been better to leave political leadership to others, nearly always a good idea for military figures. To me, Cromwell came off as one you might admire but never like, and maybe not trust, for fear of coming up on the wrong side of providence.

[Note on editions: My review is of an out of print edition published by Knopf. The link to this title is an ABE Books link to used editions. In the U.K., the book is still in publication as Cromwell: Our Chief of Men published by Orion Publishing]

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — White House Fruit Farm

It’s strawberry picking time! Remember going out as a kid to pick strawberries? If you were from Youngstown and surrounding areas, there is a good chance you went to White House Fruit Farm near Canfield to pick. Remember the old wooden strawberry containers? Remember eating as much as you picked? Then you got home and made strawberry shortcake.

This is the one crop you can pick at the farm. Their farm market features a number of fruits and vegetables grown on the farm and purchased from other area growers. They sell sour cherries in mid-summer, apples as they ripen, and cider. There is nothing like fresh picked apples for eating and pies! Up until 1968, you could buy your Thanksgiving turkey at White House farm.

Beside the fruit, one of the things they are most famous for are donuts, particularly blueberry iced donuts, which are far and away the consensus favorite. They make over 40 varieties of donuts, accepting orders large and small. The also sell other baked goods, deli meats and cheeses, fudge, specialty foods, as well as farm produce. There are also seasonal events including their Fall Festival and Winter Gift Barn.

During the spring and fall, they offer tours for school children that include an apple, cider, and a donut. Currently they are priced at $4 a child, $1 for adult chaperones, and free for teachers! They also welcome bus tours.

The 100 acre farm was purchased by Jerome Hull in 1924 from his uncle, Ensign Baird. At the time, Hull was superintendent of Mahoning County Schools. Jerome and his newly wed wife Doris started growing apples and peaches on the farm immediately (at one time Mahoning County was one of the leading apple producers in Ohio. Beginning in the Depression, they started raising and selling turkeys, up to 5,000 a year to area groceries and at the farm.

Jerome and Doris also grew children, nine in all. Son David and his wife took over the farm. They gave up the turkey business in 1968 to focus on fruit growing. In 1978 they cleaned out the bank barn built in 1881 to create a farm market. Now they are joined by a third generation with son Dave, daughters Debbie Pifer and Wendy Lynn operating the farm. They have built two lakes and a whole farm irrigation system, enhancing both the beauty and growing capabilities of the farm.

With COVID-19 and a cold spring, 2020 has been a challenging year for White House Fruit Farm. For a time they were closed to all but curbside pick up orders. Like other businesses they are open with special precautions and more limited hours. Strawberries are ripening later. If you are visiting (and you should!) you should check their website for when strawberries are in season, current hours and precautions, and the many other services and events they offer (including fruit baskets). It’s a good time to plan a visit to your childhood memories!

Other contact information:

9249 State Rt 62, Canfield, OH 44406

330-533-4161

Google Maps

Review: Good* White Racist

good white racist

Good* White Racist, Kerry Connelly (Foreword by Michael W. Waters). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020.

Summary: Explores how whites may be complicit with a system of racism while being well-intentioned and how white efforts to sustain a sense of “goodness” help perpetuate racial divides.

Kerry Connelly opens this book with admitting that she is a racist. A good white racist. She’s not a white supremacist. She thinks racism is evil. She is a Christian who loves Jesus. Yet the very desire to think ourselves good, she would argue, prevents us from seeing the ways we are complicit with the history and systems of racism in the United States. Often, she acknowledges, that, paradoxically, it is our attempts to defend our goodness, that keep us from leaning into the hard work of understanding our complicity, and the even harder work of discerning what it means to “pursue justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” Her appeal in this book is that we would be the good people we want to be and lean into that hard work rather than keep defending our goodness.

She begins by walking us through our national self-perception of goodness, at least among whites. We don’t even notice that it is “white.” She looks at the construction of “whiteness” that we are often not conscious of, and how, over time, many ethnic minorities assimilated into whiteness, or otherwise were set apart as inferior. She unpacks the tactics of gaslighting: denial and detraction, distraction, disclaiming, and disappearing. She discusses the power of language, and how whites may not use the “N-word,” regardless of the use of it by others. She looks at the assumptions built into our education system, from the “discovery” of America onward. She looks at common justifications (often a form of distraction) such as “I don’t see race–I’m colorblind.” She explores our tendency to call the police when we see blacks in “white” spaces when all they are doing is living their lives while black (I had a colleague who found herself staring down the barrel of a policeman’s gun because she was watering a neighbor’s lawn while the neighbor was out of town, and had the police called on her). She explores how this plays out in white churches, including the large white evangelical church she left after the 2016 election. She concludes with the work we must do, beginning with the five stages of grief, and the personal, interpersonal, and collective work that must be done to oppose racism.

This is a challenging book to read. The content is challenging as is the writing style. Connelly may be “good” but she is not “nice.” She can be blunt, and what one reviewer calls “snarky.” She is liberal with her use of profanity, but contends that if we are offended more by the profanity than the profane injustices about which she is writing, we’ve just offered exhibit one of what is the problem. Here is one sample:

I also know this isn’t easy. God knows it’s not easy for me every time I discover another racist thought floating around my head or realize another way I’m complicit in the system. I know that I’ve probably already made you a little uncomfortable, if not outright pissed off. That’s okay. Let’s just sit with that a hot second. Because honestly, our discomfort is not the problem. It’s our absolute refusal to roll around in that discomfort that’s the problem. It’s the fact that we’d rather run from the room screaming “I’m good! I’m good! I swear to God I’m good!” than actually sit and practice a little bit of honest self-reflection (p. 6).

If you want to remain comfortable, don’t read this book. “Doing the work” is just not comfortable. Period. It just doesn’t feel good to realize that you are not as good as you thought, or are complicit with injustices that have deprived many of our citizens of equal protection under our laws or an equally enjoyed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But if we do not begin here, we will not begin at all.

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

Review: In the Hands of the People

In the Hands of the people

In the Hands of the PeopleJon Meacham. New York: Penguin Random House, 2020.

Summary: A collection of the sayings of Thomas Jefferson, reflecting his belief in the critical responsibility of the people to the health and growth of the new Republic, with commentary by the author.

Thomas Jefferson was the optimist to the pessimism of a John Adams. He once remarked in their correspondence: “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” A significant reason for that was his belief in the citizens of the new nation, and in the government that they had formed.  It can be readily granted that Jefferson was a flawed individual. His university was a gentleman’s university. He owned slaves who had to be sold off after his death.  It was not his example, but the ideals of equality, of the consent of the governed, of an educated citizenry, of the important of religion and keeping the state out of it, of patriotism above partisanship, the value of immigration, and of compromise.

Historian Jon Meacham has collected the statements of Jefferson on all of these topics and more around the central idea of citizenship, how it may both be trusted, and how important the practice of good citizenship would be to the future of the Republic. He groups these under eleven topics, devoting a chapter to each. Meacham provides brief introductions in each chapter, followed by quotes from Jefferson, and others talking about Jefferson’s ideas.   The last two chapters are statements by an assorted group of others about Jefferson, and by other presidents on Jefferson.

Here are a few of those quotes:

On the right and responsibility to vote:

It has been thought that corruption is restrained by confining the right of suffrage to a few of the wealthier of the people: but it would be more effectually restrained by an extension of that right to such numbers as would bid defiance to the means of corruption.

On the vitality of a free press:

But the only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to.

On education:

It is safer to have a whole people respectably enlightened than a few in a high state of science and the many in ignorance. This last is the most dangerous state in which a nation can be.

On threats to the Republic:

I am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom. And, to preserve their independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt.

One more, from the collection of presidential quotes on Jefferson, this one from Jimmy Carter:

Thomas Jefferson conceived our United States of America as no other nation had ever tried to be–dedicated to human fulfillment, where individual liberty was guaranteed. But Thomas Jefferson also founded a university, collected a national library, planned beautiful cities, mapped the wilderness, and being a farmer, he invented a better plow!

This book comes out at a time riven with controversy where we may be greatly tempted to fear for the future of the republic. Yet it strikes me that so many of our protests concern the disparity between our ideals of unalienable rights and the equality of all, and realities that fall short for some. Jefferson would challenge us all to patriotism above partisanship, and to the hard work of responsible citizenship that seeks the common good above our personal profit.

I could wish that all of us would buy a copy, and read it as we prepare to celebrate another July 4 and look ahead to national and local elections in November, as we consider what obligations we have to one another in time of pandemic. If ever there was a time for the renewal of an understanding of responsible citizenship and civic engagement, this is time. Jefferson offers guidance both about what we must value, and why we might hope.

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

Review: The Basic Bible Atlas

The Basic Bible Atlas

The Basic Bible AtlasJohn A. Beck. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020.

Summary: An introductory Bible atlas that combines an overview of the biblical narrative and colorful and detailed maps, with an emphasis on the significance of the geography to the unfolding plan of God.

Has this happened to you? You are reading a biblical narrative and come across a place name. You think you’ve heard of it before and that that might be significant. Or you wonder about the different places where Jesus and the disciples ministered, or where were the places where Paul traveled.

This book is a great companion to reading the Bible. After a satellite view of the Bible lands observing the major features of the Fertile Crescent, the land bridge of international travel from Babylon and Assyria running through the Promised Land and south to Egypt, and the land of Israel with the Jordan River valley between Galilee and the Dead Sea, the spiny ridgeline running through the center of the country, and the fertile shorelands, often occupied by Israel’s enemies.

Beck then offers a narrative of the biblical story with an emphasis on the places where events occur and the movements of people. We discover that Shechem is the place where God shows Abram that Canaan is the land of promise, where Israel renewed its covenant with God, and that served as gathering place for the ten breakaway tribes of the northern kingdom. Under the name Sychar, it was the place where Jesus disclosed to an outcast Samaritan woman that, in him, the promises of God, and the longings of a thirsty heart, were filled.

Full color maps are interspersed with text, showing locations, routes traveled, and topography. From Jacob’s flight to Egypt, wilderness wandering, conquest of Canaan, the losses and battle of Judges, the expansion and division of the kingdom under David, Solomon and successors, and the exilic journeys. As the narrative progresses, we have maps of the development of Jerusalem, from David’s fortress capital, to the temple city of Solomon, to the religious, political and occupation center of the time of Jesus. Beck helps us trace the early forays of Philip and Peter out of Jerusalem, Paul’s Damascus journey, and each of Paul’s mission journeys and final journey to Rome. We conclude with the Seven Churches of John’s Revelation, and the hope of the new Eden, the garden city with the tree of life.

The book also offers name and scripture indexes that help in finding pertinent maps. If I could make two suggestions, some maps identified locations of events, but no indication of chronology–numbers might help here. Also maps were overleaf, or occasionally separated by several pages from the narrative references to places.

Aside from these minor considerations, this is a great companion for one’s Bible study with far more and larger maps than most study Bibles. The color renderings accompanied by the text that illuminates the significance of places transforms the reading of biblical texts from bewildering references to obscure place names to enhanced understanding of how places were important in the outworking of God’s plans.

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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.