Little Golden Books

scuffy-the-tugboatIn a discussion with other readers on the Bob on Books Facebook page, the first book many of us remembered reading was a Little Golden Book. These cardboard cover books with lavish illustrations and the distinctive gold binding have been treasured by generations of children. One of the things children loved was that inside the front cover was a place where a child could write his or her name.

The book I remember as my first read was Scuffy the Tugboat written by Gertrude Crampton and illustrated by Tibor Gergeley. But I had a whole collection. I remember the Disney movie tie-ins of Dumbo and Bambi, Christmas stories like Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Mickey Mouse Goes Shopping, and The Night Before Christmas, and a Marian Potter authored book, The Little Red Caboose.


The series started in 1942 as the vision of Georges Duplaix, and the idea was to publish very inexpensive children’s books with gorgeous illustrations, sold at half of the 50 cent price of most children’s books at the time, and far less than the $2 to $3 price of some. Simon & Schuster first published the books and figured out that if they did print runs of 50,000 books, they could sell them at 25 cents.  They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. In their first fifty years, ending in 1992, they sold 1.5 billion of these books!

Ownership of the Little Golden Books line has changed over the years, with the books currently being published by Random House. The amazing thing is that they are still being published and an edition of The Poky Little Puppy (the all-time bestselling Little Golden Book) being sold new today looks just the same as the one published in 1942. Tootle (another Gertrude Crampton story) that I loved reading our son in the late 1980’s was just the same as the one first published in 1945.


Little Golden Books featured children’s authors like Margaret Wise Brown, Janette Sebring Lowry (The Poky Little Puppy) and Kathryn Jackson, and illustrators like Richard Scarry and Garth Williams. Over the years the line expanded to include books about children’s concerns, like the first day at school, religious themes such as the Lord’s Prayer and tie-ins with Disney, Nickelodeon, and most recently Star Wars. Audio and video versions in record, tape, CD, and video have been created, and some toy lines. But the books remain the core product with Random House currently listing 590 titles.

Random House celebrated 75 years of Golden Books in 2017, creating a special website for the occasion. We’ve passed down my collection of Little Golden Books to my son. Some were falling apart from use. Whether the books are passed along or new ones purchased, there seems to be something quite wonderful when grandparents can share with grandchildren a book that looks just like the one they had as a child and cherish the bond of commonly remembered story and illustration.

Are Universities in the United States Losing Their Edge?


Princeton University, Public Domain via GoodFreePhotos

The lead story in this week’s University World News reported that universities in the United States received their worst rankings in the sixteen years the QS World University Rankings have been published. Ben Sowter, director of research at QS, says the United States is seeing an unprecedented rate of decline in these global rankings. While five of the top ten schools are from the United States, only 29 are in the top 100, and 72.6 percent of the schools saw a decline in their rankings.

Why is this happening? Sowter observes:

“This attrition of confidence has been compounded by worsening international student ratios, relative to global peers, and evidence that America’s previously unassailable status as the world’s research leader is under increasing threat.”

Declining federal funding

Courtesy of the National Science Foundation

In the US, federally funded research funding has declined from a peak in 2011 by 13 percent by 2016. Recently, the current US administration proposed another $7.1 billion cut to Department of Education funding. However, it should be noted that funding cuts go back to the previous administration. States have also been cutting research funding during this period. Any increases in funding have come from industry and from universities themselves. Meanwhile, the research output at China’s top ten universities now nearly equals that of the US although the “research impact” of US universities is still twice that of China. China has been making an aggressive investment in research funding during this period.

Concurrent with these funding declines are political attacks on science, striking the use of “evidence based research” in government reports, and publicly questioning finding concerning climate change and the safety and efficacy of vaccines. These factors also color global perceptions.

This is regrettable because an American Academy of Arts and Sciences study shows that the majority of Americans strongly support funding for scientific research (71-72 percent), and view research as beneficial (72 percent). It appears that in perceptions of science as in other matters a smaller but energized base skews perceptions held by a broader swath of the American public.

As an American who is a Christ-follower engaged in ministry in higher education, I have deeply mixed feelings about all this. On one hand, I am a witness to the huge advances in medicine, digital technology, transportation safety, development of renewable energy, and many other aspects of human life that comes out of research labs. Our research output has contributed to vast improvements in human flourishing in many areas. I’m also conscious of the double-edged character of so much of our research, that may both heal and kill, and sadly often is utilized for the latter.

Also, as one whose first allegiance is to the kingdom of God that knows no boundaries of national borders, I do not have a vested interest in the perpetuation of the greatness of American research universities, as much as I love my country. Advances in knowledge are to be celebrated whether they occur at Harvard, or Oxford, or at the National University of Singapore, Tsinghua University in China, the University of Melbourne, or Universidad National Autonama de Mexico (UNAM). I do regret that it appears we will have fewer opportunities to welcome students from other countries.

What troubles me is seeing good resources squandered. I wonder what is not being researched for lack of funding in American universities. I wonder about the quality and focus of research when more of it is tied to industrial or military clients. What questions of basic research are being ignored? What talent is fleeing our borders for countries more favorable to research? As in so many things, research universities may take decades to develop into greatness, but can decline within a few years. Right now, American universities are trying to keep up by increasing their own funding efforts as state and federal funding declines. It can be asked how long this is sustainable as well as what else suffers along the way. Will funding pressures and the loss of international students, who bring tuition dollars into the university, result in universities becoming more selective in admissions, enrolling the elite at the expense of those requiring scholarships and grants?

What is clear is that what we do in the next years will be decisive. If we start now, perhaps in five years the precipitous declines in these rankings, and the corresponding declines in our universities may be stabilized or reversed. If we don’t begin now, things likely will get worse, even as other universities in China, Singapore, Korea, Australia, and other parts of the world get better. The quality and output of our research universities, coupled with the protection of academic freedom in our universities have been one of the marks of American greatness. Both are in jeopardy and it seems the question we must ask is whether we are willing to accept this form of loss of American greatness.

Review: The Heart’s Necessities

the hearts necessities

The Heart’s Necessities: Life in PoetryJane Tyson Clement with Becca Stevens. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2019.

Summary. A collection of the poetry of Jane Tyson Clement, a member of the Bruderhof Community, interleaved with biography and comments by musician Becca Stevens, who has set several of Clement’s works to music.

Jane Tyson Clement grew up in the shadow of Columbia, began writing poetry in high school and went to Smith College. Like many, she lost and then recovered her faith. She married in the shadow of World War II, to Robert, a lawyer. Both pacifists, they eventually found their way to the Bruderhof communities where they lived the rest of their lives. Some of Jane’s poetry was published during her lifetime. More of it was found after her death from Alzheimer’s disease in 2000.

This newly published work offers a sampling of her poetry throughout her life combined with biography, and the comments of Becca Stevens. Becca is a musician who found in Clement’s Winter and February Thaw the words she was searching for to express grief for Kenya Tillery, a musical collaborator lost to breast cancer. Both of these works appear in this volume and one can listen to the song, Tillery, and four other settings of Clement’s poems at Songs for The Heart’s Necessities.

One of the marks of Clement’s poem is the keen observation of nature–the sea, birds, trees, the seasons–and the whispers of the transcendent that we overhear in her poems, speaking to or echoing the heart’s longings. The lines from which the book finds its title, in the poem Winter, are a good example:

The heart’s necessities
include the interlude
of frost restricted peace
on which the sun can brood.

Manasquan Inlet II is one of her last poems, and she is still connecting the ebb and flow of the tides and the “powers beyond our ken”:

No one can stem the tide; now watch it run
to meet the river pouring to the sea!
And in the meeting tumult what a play
of waves and twinkling water in the sun!

Ordained by powers beyond our ken
beyond all wisdom, all our trickery,
immutable it comes, it sweeps, it ebbs
and clears the filthiness and froth of men.

Some of the most moving poems in this collection are the “To R.A.C.” poems, written to Robert, her future husband. She traces the growth of their love from her first recognition of him, and she believes, he of her, to be followed by him walking out the door. We listen as they share their love of the world’s beauty while their own love is growing. We hear her struggling with whether her love is some constructed thing, as she writes, “I will remember you not as you are/but as I willed you were.”

Her later poems testify to her deepening faith, and are often piercing in insight. Lord, Show Me Thyself speaks to our longings for God, and yet how unprepared we are when God actually shows up and we are faced with the choice of whether we will “stand and open wide/the doors of being to thy light.” She describes many of us, the respectable sinners, in Resolve as she declares, “My sins are inward and refined, my friends the gentle friends of God; I must go seek the publicans, the wild companions of my Lord.”

Becca Stevens strikes me as one of many who are the “spiritual but not religious,” one of those sometimes called a “none.” Yet the poetry of Jane speaks deeply to her, and perhaps illustrates how more may be drawn to authentic beauty than persuasive attempts. She observes that “Jane has a rare ability to talk about God, spirituality, and faith in a way anyone can relate to–not in an alienating way….She looks to the movements of birds, the sea, and the seasons to answer her unresolved struggles with faith.”

For that reason, Stevens involvement in this book seems to work. She doesn’t impose interpretations upon us so much as let us hear her own musings on Clement’s work. Her contributions allow us catch our breath after drinking deeply as we read the poetry. Interspersed biography helps us understand the settings of poems from different periods. The photography combines some of the places Jane Tyson Clement would have frequented and the creative process of Becca Stevens. All in all, it is exquisitely done. This book makes a wonderful gift to a friend, or to oneself, inviting us all to ponder “the heart’s necessities.”


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Surprised by Paradox

surprised by paradox

Surprised by ParadoxJen Pollock Michel. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.

Summary: In a world where things are often defined in either-or terms and a quest for certainty, Michel proposes there are many things, beginning with basic biblical realities that are both-and, inviting our continuing curiosity.

Whether it is schism in the church, political divides, or just a good old marital conflict, the parties often have defined things sharply in either-or terms, one way or another. Jen Pollock Michel explains how she began to look for a third way, and to write this book. A family member had been lying to her, repeatedly. She described her dilemma to her counselor.

“…I needed light for groping my way out of this tunnel with two exits: should I suffer lying or sever the relationship?

‘What if there’s a third way?’ she asked gently. Her language sounded like a struck bell, especially because ‘third way’ language was something my spiritual director often used with me. It was as if here was yet another invitation to find a sure-footed way on some undiscovered path–to find and where I had previously imagined only either and or. Here was an invitation to ‘lean not on my own understanding’ and find wisdom in the way of paradox” (pp. 22-23).

She discovered that paradox ran through the pages of scripture, that Christian orthodoxy is full of and, beginning with the incarnation, this idea that the Son of God came to earth, fully God, and also fully human. If paradox is at the heart of the nature of the Lord we trust and follow, might we look for God in the and, rather than insisting on answers to either-or questions. This paradox also suggests that we find the spiritual in the material, the living God in the stuff of everyday life. It also suggests that to conform to God’s ideal for our lives, is to live fully the “one wild and precious life” that is ours, expressing in our own uniqueness, the image of God in our lives.

She goes on to explore three other paradoxes. There is the paradox of the kingdom, which is already here and not fully come, where the least are the greatest, where we both give lavishly and enjoy lavishly what we are given, and where strength takes the form of vulnerability whose crowning hour is the cross. Grace confronts us with other paradoxes. Treasured, yet not for any personal excellency. Finding favor when the wrath we deserved falls upon his favored Son. Michel writes, “We don’t get grace because we change our lives–but our lives are indelibly changed because we get grace. Finally there is lament, the raw, unvarnished plea to God of people in pain that God has not shielded them from, that is a paradoxical kind of faith. It takes God seriously enough to become angry, to speak with blunt honesty rather than pretty pieties when what has happened in one’s life doesn’t square with our understanding of who God is.

Michel is a compelling author, one who can relate the depths of theology to teaching her daughter to drive, and her need for grace. She weaves scripture, teaching of the theological “greats,” contemporary realities, images, and personal stories into a narrative that sings and helps us examine with fresh eyes what we thought we knew down pat, helping us by asking, “did you notice this and this?”

A friend once observed that when we try to get rid of the tensions in our faith, or our lives by getting rid of one side of the tension to focus on the other, we make life simpler, but also smaller and more confined. Jen Pollock Michel invites us to live with paradoxes, and to celebrate the ands of God. She proposes that this opens us up to mystery, to surprise, and to the depth of the riches of knowing our God and what it means to live in the and of his purposes, to experience how grace transforms our work, and how our laments in all their perplexity may be among the most robust acts of faith. What might this “third way” mean as Christians are present to a world mired in “either-or?”


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown – The Parapet Bridge

Parapet Bridge

Parapet Bridge. Robert Trube, 2015, all rights reserved

From my childhood, I’ve loved the sight of the Parapet Bridge on the east side of Lake Glacier. I first saw it on walks with my dad. Later I sat on Lake Glacier’s banks enjoying the view of it with my girlfriend (now wife of 41 years). I ran past it on morning runs, cycled across it, and have revisited it many times over the years. It turns out that it is one of the most photographed features in Mill Creek Park.  Its massive stone construction with its dark “dragon’s teeth” parapets topping the stone work on each side of the road stands in stark contrast to the fairy-tale-like Silver Bridge. In fact, this accounts for one of its other names, “the Dragon Bridge.” It is also called “the Prehistoric Bridge.”

Apparently Volney and Bruce Rogers saw a similar bridge during a journey in Europe. Bruce’s sketches served as the basis of architect Julius Schweinfurth’s design. The bridge was built in 1913, spanning the Spring Brook Ravine, which empties into Lake Glacier. The combination of the graceful arch, the varicolored stonework, the darker upright parapet stones, and the viewing platforms on each side of each end of the bridge all draw one’s eye. The westward facing platforms look out over Lake Glacier, the eastward ones up Spring Book Ravine and the woods on either side of it.

The bridge is attractive in any season, framed by the surrounded forest. I remember it dark and foreboding on winter nights when I was skating on Lake Glacier, subdued and pristine in the winter covered in snow, newly alive with spring growth, and resplendent surrounded by fall colors. This last seems to be the favorite time to photograph it. Our photo albums have photographs spanning the years from 1973 to 2015.

Volney Rogers was known for his desire to create “fanciful park entrances.” The Silver Bridge is one kind of fanciful, delicate in its beauty. The Parapet Bridge is another kind of fanciful, evoking images of dragons, castle parapets, something old, almost organically grown out of the rock of the earth. Over 100 years later, the bridge stands (as do many other structures built in those early years) as a testimony to the vision of Volney and Bruce Rogers. I look forward to seeing it the next time I visit.

Review: Don’t Knock the Hustle

Don't knock the hustle

Don’t Knock the HustleS. Craig Watkins. Boston: Beacon Press, 2019.

Summary: An investigation of the ways young entrepreneurs are combining tech savvy, hard work, and social capital to create the careers, with a special focus on the inclusion of under-represented populations in tech fields including women and people of color.

S. Craig Watkins uses the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the House of Representatives, beating a supposedly unbeatable party insider in the primary election, to illustrate the basic premise of this book. Many younger millenials are using unconventional methods to build their own careers, often on a shoestring using readily available digital technologies, hard work (“hustle”), and social capital–one’s real and virtual network of friends and sympathizers, including the communities of fellow entrepreneurs who help each other

Watkins lead off case study of Ocasio-Cortez sets a pattern for the book, where a particular tech entrepreneur illustrates some aspect of this “hustle” economy. For example, he profiles Prince Harvey, a rapper, who records his first album in an Apple store turning retail space into a studio.

For many, from rappers to game developers, what happens is they seek out cheap warehouse spaces, or at their best, accelerators, that become coworking spaces where resources like printers, wi-fi, phones and furniture are shared, as are ideas in what Watkins calls a “perpetual hackathon.” Some become innovation hubs like Juegos Rancheros, a hub for indie game developers. Other young creatives learn everything they need to innovate in a just-in-time fashion on the internet.

At some point, start-ups, even “side hustles” supported by day jobs, need capital to ramp up. Accelerators can help with connections with investor “angels,” but just as often, these creatives use crowd-sourced funding methods to secure financial capital.

The music industry is a big place for young creatives who have developed alternative models of making and distributing music. Watkins profiles the development of SoundCloud and how it has been adopted by creative podcasters, hip-hop artists, and audio producers. What SoundCloud has been to music, YouTube has been to video, launching the career of Issa Rae, whose videos of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl provided an a young black woman who the traditional video media industry would not give a second look. Justin Simien used Twitter to launch Dear White People.

The latter part of the book focuses on the inclusion in this creative economy of the under-represented: women and people of color. He describes the idea of Debbie Sterling that girls needed opportunities to build things with construction toys, and came up with a side hustle called GoldieBlox. He introduces us to Kimberly Bryant who created a nonprofit called Black Girls Code. He narrates the work of Qeyno Group, a group formed to foster design thinking and hackathons among underserved populations in Oakland. He chronicles the street activism and civic engagement that arose among young creatives following the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson including Mapping Police Violence, the first comprehensive database of police-involved shootings, and the development of the Wiki-based Resistance Manual.

He concludes the book in Detroit, discussing how the new creative economy holds promise for the re-building of a rust-belt city. The challenge is moving the creative economy out of the downtown areas into the more ethnically diverse neighborhoods. One answer is Ponyride, combining a high commitment to diversity with a high commitment to education in bringing together young creatives.

This is an inspiring book. While it might be asked how many of these entrepreneurial efforts will be around in a decade, this could be applied to the efforts of previous generations. If anything, the “fail fast” and then build it better attitude suggests a far more resilient approach than the one that believed in jobs that would always be there, even passed along from parents to children. The narrative of innovation not dependent on large amounts of financial capital, but on social capital and ingenuity takes us back to an earlier time, as well as into a new era. I’m also struck by the leveraging of different forms of digital technology and online resources. Part of the “creative” is seeing how innovators combine and adapt technologies not built for what they are trying to do, ending up both changing the technology and creating new products.

I realize that at least part of the pushback against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is ideologically and politically motivated. But I can’t help but wonder if part is that secretly, people are scared by the way she combined social capital, tech savvy, and just plain hustle and changed the rules of a game that other politicians thought they knew how to play. This book suggests that the rules are being re-written by young creatives in a variety of fields. Perhaps it is time to stop knocking the hustle and realize that this may be a new way of getting things done.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this advanced review copy from the publisher via LibraryThing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


Books I’ll Be Reviewing This Summer


Recent weeks have brought a pile of new books for review that hold the promise for many hours of rich reading. That’s in addition to other books I am reading “just because.” I thought I’d give you a preview, just in case you see something you are interested in and don’t want to wait for the review. Let me take you on a quick tour down the pile.

religion in the university

Religion in the University, Nicholas Wolterstorff. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019. Wolterstorff, whose wonderful memoir I recently reviewed, argues that religion indeed does have a place in the modern university.

the reluctant witness

The Reluctant Witness, Don Everts. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. The promotional copy for this book proposes: “As society has changed, it seems we have become more uncomfortable talking with people about our faith. We are reluctant conversationalists. The reality is that many of our churches and communities are shrinking instead of growing. What can we do about this?” The book draws on research from Barna and The Lutheran Hour.


Priscilla, Ben Witherington III. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. This is a study of a fascinating minor but significant character in the book of Acts, Priscilla, often named before her husband, an instructor of Apollos, and a co-worker with Paul. What can we learn from this important New Testament woman?

boundaries for your soul

Boundaries for Your Soul, Allison Cook and Kimberly Miller. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2018. Often emotions of shame, guilt, anger, sadness, and fear end up overwhelming us. These two counselors share ways we can gain control and turn these emotions to good ends.

stones and stories

Stones and Stories, Judith E. Anderson. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2019. This slim volume explores the inescapable reality that we are interpreters of stories, whether in literature or scripture. The book, written for use in high schools, explores basic principles of how we exercise interpretive judgment.

jean vanier

Jean Vanier: Portrait of a Free Man, Anne-Sophie Constant. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2019. Constant describes the story of Vanier, recently deceased, and his life of living with the intellectually disabled, that not only changed how we look at the disabled but that changed Vanier, making him a “free man.”

A Liberated Mind

A Liberated Mind, Steven C. Hayes. New York: Avery, 2019. The promotional copy for this book states: “Life is not a problem to be solved. ACT [Acceptance and Commitment Therapy] shows how we can live full and meaningful lives by embracing our vulnerability and turning toward what hurts.”

the reformation and the irrepressible word of god

The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God, edited by Scott Manetsch. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. The Reformers believed in the “living and active” Word of God, powerful to transform lives, and able to provide norms of belief and behavior for the life of the church. This collection of essays explores that belief and how this is no less true 500 years later.

campus life

Campus Life: In Search of Community, edited by Drew Moser and Todd C. Ream. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. This is an expanded and updated edition of a 1990 study by Ernest Boyer for the Carnegie Foundation, particularly exploring the contribution of Christian higher education to the practice of community and offering recommendations for higher education leaders.

Pursuing an Earthy Spirituality

Pursuing an Earthy Spirituality, Gary S. Selby. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A work that explores the earthy spirituality of C.S. Lewis–that our spiritual life is found not in withdrawal from the physicality of life but a transforming engagement with it.

the dearly beloved

The Dearly Beloved, Cara Wall, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019. A story tracing the love and friendship and challenges of two couples over several decades, brought together by their care for a church in Greenwich Village.

balm in gilead

Balm in Gilead: A Theological Dialogue with Marilynne Robinson, edited by Timothy Robinson and Keith L. Johnson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. In 2018, a group of theologians convened to dialogue about the work of novelist and essayist, Marilynne Robinson, known for the rich theological content of her work. Robinson was present and is a contributor of one of the chapters in this book.

the soul of an american president

The Soul of an American President, Alan Sears and Craig Osten with Ryan Cole. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2019. A study of the faith of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the only president actually baptized in office.

the church of us vs them

The Church of Us vs. Them, David E. Fitch. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019. An investigation of why so many of our churches have become embroiled in the vitriol of our culture and the patterns and practices needed to be the presence of Christ in the world.

Well, that’s the pile top to bottom. Just skimming the descriptions and summarizing them whets my appetite to read them all. How about you? Anything here that you might want to pick up this summer? If you do, let’s compare notes.

The Trial and Joy of Lending Books


Books for Lending Library. Photo by Ivan Ives. State Library of New South Wales, 29.10.1943, Pix Magazine. No known copyright restrictions via Flickr

It seems that the old adage, “neither a borrower nor a lender be” applies in the realm of books, as in other matters. The basic issue is that often borrowed books are never returned, and it seems that what makes the difference is whether the lender actually expected the book to be returned. This, for me was the takeaway, from a recent discussion at the Bob on Books Facebook Page.

For a number of participants, lending books and not getting them back was so painful that they have decided to no longer lend their books. One of the hardest experiences was a person who lent a valued first edition they hadn’t finished reading only to have the person who borrowed it deny having received it. One person had a roommate move away and take their books. In an article on the same subject, one person found a book they lent in a book sale–with their name inside–and they re-bought it.

For some, it seems that their personal libraries are very precious and, as one person put it, they “can’t bear to part with books.” Another wrote: “My name is _____and I am an official book hoarder 😉 I don’t lend them out anymore.” Perhaps we need to start chapters of Bookhoarders Anonymous!

Some seem to have worked out ways to get back most or all of the books they lend. Some only lend to family and find they get those books back, or only lend to trustworthy friends. One friend finds a post-it note inside the front cover helps people remember from whom they borrowed the book (which may be the problem for some!). Then there are the fearless ones who don’t mind going after people to retrieve their borrowed books. Most of us are just too polite to ask or don’t want to engender ill will with their friends. One particularly intrepid person wrote: “I’ve been known to go get books back even when it was dangerous to approach the people I loaned them to!” Another observed a difference in return rates when someone asked to borrow a book versus when the book owner offered it to another to borrow.

One difficulty mentioned by some is that books do not come back in the same condition they were given out. Dog ears and folded or frayed pages, crumbs of food or stains, worn or torn covers and more are some of the condition issues people have had with their borrowed books.

Some lend very selectively, having certain books they will not lend. A response I found out of the ordinary but thought provoking because it elevated the act of sharing a book was this:

“I seldom lend out a book. For these reasons. Giving someone a book is a special thing it is like casting bread out upon the water, feeding the imagination, and giving wisdom. Another reason is that it’s intellectual property. That author worked so hard to write us a story and should be rewarded for their efforts. The gift of reading is eternal. I love buying books for friends n family.”

One approach that some take is simply to lend a duplicate copy of the book. One individual, when asked if one of their books can be borrowed, simply orders a copy of the book online and has it sent to the person. Either buying a copy for one’s friend or replacing the book quietly seems to be an approach many take to neither lose a book that means something, nor a valued friend. A professor combs used book stores for copies of books she likes to give to her students.

Finally some just seem to hold their books more loosely. They basically conclude that the book they lend is really a gift and neither ask for or expect it to be returned. For some, they think that if they’ve loved a book, the best thing they can do is share it, and some even encourage the person not to give it back, but pass it along to someone else who will like it. I also got the idea that there are some who are like me and are happy not to get books back because they already have more books than they have room for.

I will leave the last word to C. S. Lewis, whose counsel gives me great comfort:

My friend said, “I don’t see why there shouldn’t be books in Heaven. But you will find that your library in Heaven contains only some of the books you had on earth.” “Which?” I asked. “The ones you gave away or lent.” “I hope the lent ones won’t still have all the borrowers’ dirty thumb marks,” said I. “Oh yes they will,” said he. “But just as the wounds of the martyrs will have turned into beauties, so you will find that the thumb-marks have turned into beautiful illuminated capitals or exquisite marginal woodcuts.*

*C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 216.

Review: The Power of Christian Contentment

the power of Christian contentment

The Power of Christian ContentmentAndrew M. Davis. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019.

Summary:  A biblical study of Christian contentment, exploring in what it consists, how it may be found and learned, the great value of contentment, and how contentment is sustained in one’s life.

It seems that a characteristic of the modern condition is restlessness–a relentless dissatisfaction with one’s circumstances. More is better, or in the words of a cell phone carrier’s ad a few years ago, bigger is better. We never have “enough.”

Contentment seems like a strange idea and yet for generations of Christians, one of the marks of the depth of one’s relationship with Christ was contentment. In 1643, a Puritan pastor, Jeremiah Burroughs penned what became a Puritan classic, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. In this book, Andrew M. Davis draws upon both scripture and this classic in a contemporary exploration of this classic Christian quality.

After reflecting on our contemporary discontents and the profound contentment that the apostle found in Christ, a contentment that brought him strength in weakness, Davis reminds us that contentment is commanded (Hebrews 13:5) and draws upon Burroughs for a definition of contentment:

“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”

He parses out this definition word by word, noting the mindset, and our submission to God’s decisions. He then proceeds to show how contentment is rooted in a trust in the providence of God. He describes the “mysterious mindset” of contentment that is both completely satisfied in the world while completely dissatisfied with it, a paradoxical mindset that can embrace suffering with joy. In our quest to find and learn contentment, he directs us to the teaching of Jesus: his example, God-centeredness, atonement, resurrection, the access he has won for us, his presence, his demands,, the worth of the kingdom, and the defeat of our fear and anxiety.

Contentment is of great value. It fits us to worship more excellently, is central to all the fruit of the Spirit, prepares us to receive grace, prepares us to serve, enables us to resist temptation and comforts us with our unseen hope. By contrast (and this was a challenging chapter), Davis explores the evil and excuses of a complaining heart. The excuses are particularly convicting: “I’m just venting”; “God has abandoned me”; “You don’t know…”; “I never expected this”; “You’ve never experienced what I’m going through”; “I don’t deserve this”; and “I admit I’m complaining…but I can’t help myself.”

He explores the contours of contentment in suffering and how we find contentment in suffering by asking for wisdom, resting in God’s goodness, expecting suffering, acknowledging our limited perspective, accepting that suffering can sanctify, anticipating our eternal glory, and sharing hope. He then shares a Puritan example, Sarah Edwards, and two contemporary ones. In the following chapter, he discusses what may be even more difficult, to be content in seasons of prosperity. He challenges our lack of generosity without calling us to asceticism, but rather commending the enjoyment of goods and knowing when to say “enough” and to realize the fleeting nature of wealth.

His final section is devoted to staying content. He draws an important distinction between contentment and complacency. Contentment can be zealous for God’s kingdom and is not complacent about hell. The last chapter talks about very practical practices to protect our contentment.

What is striking to me in all this is that contentment is not attained by a passive “chilling out” but by the active pursuit of Christ and the active forsaking of things that undermine our contentment. Contentment is not about having all the conditions of our lives just right. Paul is content in any and all circumstances because he “can do all things through Christ.” Contentment is far from settling for less. It is realizing that in Christ, we already have everything that matters, something that makes us bold and passionate for the things of God, because we have nothing either to fear or lose.

This is so different from all the positive thinking, best-life-now books on the market. These feed on discontentment rather than lead us to true contentment. My biggest beef with them is that their vision is too small. Davis offers us the expansive vision of a provident God who meets us in both plenty and want, offering us the sufficiency of the work of Christ, and our ultimate hope of glory. As Burroughs says, this is the jewel, worth exchanging everything else to obtain.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Living Gently in a Violent World

Living Gently

Living Gently in a Violent WorldStanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: Essays by the two authors reflecting on the practice of gentleness in the L’Arche communities where assistants and the disabled live in community, and the theological and political significance of this witness in a violent world.

Stanley Hauerwas has been named “America’s best theologian” by Time magazine, known for his advocacy that the church embody its social ethic, that it be itself, in its communal life, and for his critique of liberal democracy, capitalism, and militarism, and the church’s often unthinking endorsement and adoption of these ideologies. Jean Vanier, deceased in 2019, was the founder of L’Arche, a network of communities where helpers and the disabled live and share life together in “houses” or communities. Until 2006, they had never met, although Hauerwas had commended the work of L’Arche. They were invited to a conference by the Center for Spirituality, Health, and Disability at the University of Aberdeen, where they spent two days conversing and speaking. This book, recently reissued in an expanded edition with study guide, reflects those conversations.

Other than introductory and concluding essays by John Swinton, this book consists of  four alternating essays by Vanier and Hauerwas. The first, by Vanier is a narrative of the beginnings and development of L’Arche. Drawn by the work of Father Thomas Philippe with the disabled in France, he moved there, began to live with two disabled men who had been institutionalized, and soon found himself leading the community. He describes L’Arche as fragile, subject to government regulations and the question of whether people will always choose to live with them. He also describes L’Arche as a place of transformation, both for assistants and the disabled, transformations that reflect the mystery of the Spirit’s work. He describes three crucial activities in their community, all requiring gentleness and patience: meals together, prayer and communion, and celebration of everything from birthdays and holidays to deaths of members. The message in all of this is, “You are a gift. You’re a gift to the community.”

Hauerwas responds by discussing how L’Arche is a “modest proposal” in a violent world that is a witness to the church of its call to gentleness and non-violence. It is a witness of care for those who cannot be cured, of patience in a particular place. For this reason, Hauerwas also believes that L’Arche needs the church as a reminder that they need to worship with the larger body that is not L’Arche. It is not only as a witness to the church, amplified through the church, but also support and sustenance from the church that makes its life possible.

Vanier then writes of L’Arche as a place that in a small way addresses the woundedness of the world by recognizing in weakness and wounds a way to God. He speaks of the connection of fear and violence, and the power of surrendering our fears to love–the love of God and the present love of the community, both the abled and the disabled. Grieving the sentiment that would abort all those with Down syndrome and the message that leaves the disabled feeling, “I am no good” Vanier writes:

“The heart of L’Arche is to say to people, ‘I am glad you exist.’ And the proof that we are glad that they exist is that we stay with them for a long time. We are together, we can have fun together. ‘I am glad you exist’ is translated into physical presence” (p. 69).

Hauerwas’s concluding essay explores the politics of gentleness in an extended engagement with the thought of John Rawls and Martha Nussbaum, both who labored to articulate a rationale for the rights of the disabled to help. He summarizes how L’Arche went beyond this:

“Nussbaum wants to give Jean justifications for helping the disabled. What she can’t do is give him a reason to live with them. But that is exactly what Jean says he needed. He had to be taught how to be gentle. It is not easy to learn to be gentle with the mentally disabled. As Jean has already said, they also suffer from the wound of loneliness. They can ask for too much. Which means gentleness requires the slow and patient work necessary to create trust. Crucial for the development of trust is that assistants in L’Arche discover the darkness, brokenness, and selfishness shaped by their own loneliness…. According to Jean, through the struggle to discover we are wounded like the mentally disabled, we discover how much ‘we need Jesus and his Paraclete…” (p. 90).

There is a gentleness that flows out of this awareness before God of our mutual weakness, exemplified in the practice of mutually washing one another’s feet, transformative to assistants and disabled alike, that is a witness in a violent world.

This slim volume is an extraordinary testament, a witness as it were, to the power of gentleness that flows from weakness, both in its description of the quiet wonder taking place within L’Arche, and the record of the conversation between Vanier and Hauerwas, as they opened minds and hearts to each other to explore the significance of the “modest proposal” that is L’Arche in an impatient and violent world.