Review: Spirituality According to John

Spirituality According to John, Rodney Reeves. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022.

Summary: Through an imaginative study of the gospel, letters, and Revelation of John, considers what it means to abide in Christ, coming to faith, living communally in Christ, and facing the tribulations of the end of the world.

In my observation, it seems that much of our instruction in Christian discipleship, if there is such instruction, centers around the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) and the letters of Paul and maybe James, if we are up for the challenge. Of the writings attributed to John, we sometimes commend (or at least used to) the Gospel of John as reading for those considering Christ. Revelation we either shy away from altogether or use it to springboard into end times speculations. And John’s letters? Mostly, it seems we use a few verses like 1 John 1:9 as memory verses but give them little attention.

In this work, Rodney Reeves reclaims the canonical writings attributed to John as valuable in the shaping of our spiritual life. For Reeves, it centers around the world “abide”–what it means to make our home in Christ both individually and communally, and in his Word, which abides in us, enabling us to incarnate the person and work of Christ in the world. For the Gospel, the Letters, and Revelation, Reeves follows a fourfold pattern as he considers how we abide in Christ and his Word abides in us involving hearing the Word, confessing the Word, incarnating the Word, and abiding in the Word.

The Gospel of John is the invitation to follow the Word home. We hear this in Jesus response to the disciples question, “where are you staying?” with his invitation to “come and see.” Come and see gives way to “See and believe” as Jesus invites Martha to confess the power of Jesus to raise Lazarus and as Jesus invites Thomas to see and believe and Thomas confesses him Lord and God and worships. “Believe and see” flips the previous words, inviting the nobleman to return home with only the word of Jesus that his son would be well and the blind man to wash the mud out of his eyes, believing that he would see. They incarnate the word of Jesus, taking it in and living it out and discover its truth. Two women, filled with the word of Jesus abide in it. The Samaritan woman tells her townspeople to see a man who told her everything she had ever done and come to him, becoming the first evangelist in the gospels. Mary at Bethany proclaims Jesus as the anointed king who will die, also saying “see and come.”

The Letters of John, written to communities, speak of how we may commune with the Word together. Hearing the Word together moves the community from self-justification to confession of sin, recognizing that we cannot hate and say we love Christ. In turn, we confess that Jesus alone is the Christ, the anointed one, denying the worldly competitors that vie for our allegiance, recognizing them for what they are “anti-Christ.” The Word is incarnated in our communities by our love for each other and our hospitality to strangers, in contrast with Diotrephes. We abide together in the Word by loving without fear and protecting ourselves from idols, the worship of heroes or anything that supplants our love for Jesus, the source of our love for each other.

John’s Revelation instructs us in how we might remain in the Word until the end of the world–especially when that world is a counterwitness to the Word. The Word we hear in Revelation is a call to worship the Lion who is the worthy Lamb who was slain. Our confession of the Word is a declaration of war. Worship is warfare against the systemic evil of the world, joining, if need be, the two prophets slain and raised, in refusing complicity in the worship of idols. Incarnating the Word, is following the Lamb, including being slain rather than seeking the power of the evil one that promises success and power. We abide in the Lamb by looking for the new heaven and the new earth rather than placing hope in Babylon, which in our day, the author argues, is hopes in American greatness.

There is a strong challenge in the latter part of this book to the political idolatries of both left and right with the invitation to “come out from her, my people.” I’ve been asked whether we are living in the time of the Apocalypse, something any perceptive person might wonder with a global pandemic, rapidly warming and less habitable planet, insurrections, war, discord, economic collapse, and rampant inflation. Reeves concludes with posing for us the question that is most vital, and in line with his theme:

“The Apocalypse is not only a revelation at the end of the world; it is a revelation of the church at the end of the world. God knew that, as we watched the world fall apart around us, we would need to see our place in a crumbling world. When the earth quakes at the weight of glory, when heaven shakes earth to its core, when idols are destroyed and the kingdoms of men fall, when pandemics threaten humanity, when all creation is purified of evil and all that is left is what God has made, where will the church abide?” (p. 257).

Will we abide in the Word of Jesus, in Jesus himself, alone? That is both the question and the invitation posed by this book.

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

Review: Death in a White Tie

Death in a White Tie (Alleyn #7), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2012.

Summary: At a premiere debutante ball, Lord Robert Gospell’s call to Alleyn about a blackmail conspiracy is interrupted. A few hours later, Gospell turns up at Scotland Yard in the back of a taxi–dead!

It is the season of the debutante ball in London. Chaperoned young women are introduced to eligible young men–a high fashion and high pressure time for daughters and their mothers. Lady Alleyn’s niece Sara is one of those coming out as is Bridget O’Brien, Lady Carrados daughter by her first marriage to Paddy O’Brien and Miss Rose Birnbaum, the retiring protégé of the abrasive and ambitious Mrs. Halcut-Hackett.

Mrs. Halcutt-Hackett comes to Roderick Alleyn to report a blackmailer threatening one of her society “friends” and possibly others. He asks Lord Robert Gospell (aka “Bunchy”), a lovable “Victorian relic” who moves easily among these fashionable circles because he is the epitome of grace and empathy, especially for the scared young girls and their mothers confronted by the intimidating experience of “coming out.” He quickly intuits that there are at least two objects of blackmail–Mrs. Halcutt-Hackett herself and Lady Carrados, whose weariness, attended by Sir Daniel Davidson, doctor to the London elite, seems to stem from more than just the arduous efforts of hosting a ball, which is being capably handled by her quiet and efficient secretary, Violet Harris, who turns out to have a connection to the family going back to the death of her first husband, Paddy O’Brien.

“Bunchy” is a keen observer, and he notes that the hands of the caterer to the rich, Colombo Dmitri, are the very ones that purloin a handbag of Mrs. Halcutt-Hackett, sitting beside him in a darkened concert hall. Later, he witnesses Dmitri return a much thinner handbag to Lady Carrados at the debutante ball. The question is, is he doing this alone or with an accomplice who has access to the material being used to perpetrate the blackmail?

“Bunchy” thinks he has figured it out and calls Alleyn from an upstairs sitting room, but is interrupted as he is about to reveal his hunch. He covers up, discussing a lost item, and arranges to stop by and see Alleyn later that night. A few hours later, Alleyn sees him at Scotland Yard–dead. A cabbie picked him up, but before they set off, he was joined by another passenger in male dress. They stop at Bunchy’s address, and someone feigning Bunchy’s voice gets out wearing Bunchy’s cape. When they get to the other address given, the cabby finds Bunchy dead, and drives on to Scotland Yard. He’d been knocked unconscious by a cigarette case and suffocated, most likely with his own cape.

The delight of this mystery is Alleyn’s concerted effort to find the murderer of his dear friend which involves connecting a number of different pieces and eliminating suspects. Was it Donald Potter, Bunchy’s nephew, who has just been cut off because he prefers his dangerous association with Captain Maurice Withers, who is running an illicit gambling house? Is it Withers? Or Dmitri? Why did Sir Herbert Carrados hide a letter brought him by Violet Harris as a young girl, that had been in the coat of Paddy O’Brien when he died? And what was General Halcutt-Hackett doing when he was out walking near the ball at 3:30 in the morning? There were several, including Donald, Captain Withers, and Sir Daniel Davidson, who knew Bunchy suffered from a heart condition that would have made it easier to suffocate him. And what happened to Bunchy’s voluminous cloak?

There was one odd aspect of the novel for me. It was the scenes of Alleyn and Troy together. I think some modern readers would object to Alleyn’s breaking through the awkwardness between them by forcing a kiss upon her, to which she softens. It’s a classic trope, the idea of the male who is a bit “rough,” asserting his attentions. It surprises me that a female writer would write it this way and I wonder whether this reflects a perception of what her readers would want.

This aside, I think this is one of the most artfully plotted and tightly written of the Alleyn books I’ve read with a great classic climax scene with all the suspects present at Scotland Yard. We also get a glimpse into the frenetic character of the London “season” of the day and what seems an implicit criticism of its often fatuous character.

Review: The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution

The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, Bernard Bailyn. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967 (publisher’s link is to 2017 Fiftieth Anniversary Edition).

Summary: A study of the ideas conveyed through pamphlets that led to the revolution of the colonies against England.

The original edition of this work, published in 1967, won both Pulitzer and Bancroft Prizes for Harvard historian Bernard Bailyn. What Bailyn does is to study the literature that preceded the revolution, much of it in pamphlets ranging from the more religiously based ones of Jonathan Mayhew to the more radical Thomas Paine. He identifies key themes that led to conflict and the Declaration of Independence.

Much of this was rooted in British pamphleteers including John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, who protested what they saw as corruption in which royal ministers usurped the power of parliament. It was framed as a conflict of power versus liberty. The colonists began to seem themselves caught up in this conspiracy of power versus liberty, exemplified when the British quartered troops in Boston. Indeed, this conspiracy thinking, mirrored by the British acquired a kind of inevitability that led ineluctably to conflict. In one of his most sobering passages for our present moment, Bailyn writes:

“But the eighteenth century was an age of ideology; the beliefs and fears expressed on one side of the Revolutionary controversy were as sincere as those expressed on the other. The result, anticipated by Burke as early as 1769, was an ‘escalation’ of distrust toward a disastrous deadlock: ‘The Americans,’ Burke said, ‘have made a discovery, or think they have made one, that we mean to oppress them: we have made a discovery, or think we have made one, that they intend to rise in rebellion against us. . . we know not how to advance; they know not how to retreat. . . Some party must give way.’ “

The colonists took this basic opposition of liberty to power and transformed it to fit their context. Their cry of “taxation without representation” was a protest against the purported virtual representation they received in Parliament, in which measures could be decided in which they had no voice. Likewise, they challenged the abstract constitution of sovereign and Parliament, contending for a written constitution that clearly set the boundaries of government. Finally, in a colonial situation far removed from Parliament, they challenged its absolute authority, especially in matters of “internal” versus “external” taxes.

Bailyn then concludes with showing how this “contagion of liberty” spread to concerns about slavery, religious liberty, and the shape of their government, the idea of a democratic republic–one with no sovereign. Bailyn discusses the early deliberations including the fears that democracy could easily degenerate into anarchy, the developments of the ideas of bicameral legislatures, an executive, and of independent courts–designed to protect against both autocrats and anarchy.

Bailyn helps us understand not only the ideas that led to revolution but that led to how we constituted the United States, and the concern to uphold liberty against both absolute power and absolute disorder. It seems to me that what the early thinkers failed to anticipate was the partisan abyss that has developed that exacerbates the inefficiencies of a democratic republic resulting in a descent into disorder matched by the appeal of an authoritarian government that works. Ben Franklin, at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention was asked, “What kind of government have you given us?” Franklin replied, “A democracy, if you can keep it.” The question of our day seems to be “will we keep it?” Bailyn’s book can’t answer that for us, but it does trace the ideological heritage that led to the inception of our democratic republic.

Review: The Year of Our Lord 1943

The Year of Our Lord 1943, Alan Jacobs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Summary: Drawing upon the work of five Christian intellectuals who were contemporaries, explores the common case they made for a Christian humanistic influence in education in the post-war world.

By 1943, it was becoming apparent that the Allies would eventually win the war. For the five Christian intellectuals in this book, the crisis had shifted from resistance to authoritarian regimes, living in the shadow of death, and how one persevered in intellectual work in war-time, to what ideas would shape the post-war world. The five intellectuals featured in this book, along with a cameo by Jacques Ellul in the Afterword, were known to one another but tended to operate in separate circles. They were: Jacques Maritain, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, and Simone Weil.

The basic thread of this book was the common advocacy Alan Jacobs sees among these authors for a kind of Christian humanism that would shape education over and against the rising pragmatism and technocracy that prevailed in wartime. Jacob’s method is to follow these thinkers more or less chronologically, leading off with a particular thinker, and then turning to what others were saying, sometimes in response, but often independently.

Negatively, Maritain, Lewis and Weil particularly warned against technocracy. Maritain characterized it as demonic, and Lewis created the memorable N.I.C.E. in That Hideous Strength. Without the moral framework of Christian humanism, you had the “flat-chested” men of The Abolition of Man. Weil called for a society that began with the notion of obligations rather than rights. Eliot and Auden, the older and younger, contributed to a Christian poetics, a vision of vocation, and a vision of Christian culture.

These were formidable thinkers yet one wonders why in the end technocracy and pragmatism prevailed. Jacobs describes a wider circle that several of these participated in called Oldham’s Moot. A more extensive study of this group would be fascinating. Most of those involved were Christian and were concerned with rebuilding the Christian underpinnings of European culture. They met regularly, debated various schemes, but eventually lost energy, especially after the death of German sociologist Karl Mannheim, a Hungarian Jew who was both odd man out and set the intellectual tone.

They illustrate a challenge that faced the five principals of this book as well–translating these ideas into the warp and woof of society–its political, educational, industrial, and civic institutions. Perhaps that is always beyond the capacity of such thinkers, except that they need to capture the attention and imagination of those working in these other realms who have some influence and the creativity to translate these ideas into policy and practice. One wonders if it was a lack of people outside their circles who shared their vision and worked entrepreneurially to foster it that consigned the vision of these thinkers to their books and publications.

Many think we are at another time of crisis, one that calls us first to prayer, and then to the communal work of thinking and refining and implementing anew. Jacobs shows us what these five were able to accomplish and educates a new generation to their work. Who will be the thinkers who engage in the retrieval and refinement of their work for our time? Who will be the actors who combine thought and action in creative ways? And will it be enough to check our slide into decadence and disorder in the year of our Lord 2022? These are the questions posed to me in this work.

Review: The Summer Game

The Summer Game, Roger Angell. New York: Open Road Media, 2013 (originally published in 1972).

Summary: A collection of Angell’s essays covering the ten seasons of Major League Baseball from 1962 to 1971.

This year we lost Roger Angell, the long time writer for The New Yorker, at the ripe old age of 101. He was a shaping force at the magazine as well as being considered by some, “The Poet Laureate of baseball.” I knew of Angell’s writing, but it was not until now that I discovered why he was so esteemed. Quite simply, he gave words to what any of us who love the game feel about its attraction. The final essay of this book, “The Interior Stadium” gets as close as anything I’ve read to describing the game’s mystique:

“Form is the imposition of a regular pattern upon varying and unpredictable circumstances, but the patterns of baseball, for all the game’s tautness and neatness, are never regular. Who can predict the winner and shape of today’s game? Will it be a brisk, neat two-hour shutout? A languid, error-filled 13-2 laugher, A riveting three hour, fourteen-inning deadlock? What other sport produces these manic swings?”

The Summer Game collects articles Angell wrote for The New Yorker from 1962 to 1971, which is quite wonderful because this was the time when I most avidly followed the name, reading The Sporting News and watching every World Series game I could (when I was not in school). He begins with spring training at the camp of the New York Mets, who were destined to become New York’s lovable losers until late in the decade, when they became champions. He describes games at the old Polo Grounds before Shea Stadium was built and the “Go” shouters.

He traces the championship teams of the sixties and especially the World Series matchups between them: the Yankees and the Dodgers, the Giants, the Cardinals, the Red Sox, the Twins, the Mets, the Reds, the Orioles, and the Pirates. There are all the stars I grew up with–Mays, Maris, and Mantle, Koufax and Gibson and the generation that followed, Yastrzemski, Rose and Perez, Clemente and Stargell.

As the players changed, so did the stadiums. Angell describes the demise of the old box-like stadiums with seats close to the game for the bigger stadiums in the round, used for multiple sports in many cases but with fans much more distant. It is ironic that most of these stadiums that were “new” when Angell wrote have since been demolished in favor of parks much more like the old fields with modern amenities. Even the shiny new Astrodome, although still preserved, no longer serves as a baseball venue.

The heart of the book is Angell’s accounts of the World Series games of each year. He brings back memories of the dominating performances of Koufax and Drysdale, and of Bob Gibson, who broke the hearts of Boston fans in his showdown with Jim Lonborg. Gibson, pitching his third game of the series was dead tired but hung on to win 7-2. Likewise, he reminds me of the hopes fulfilled when the Pirates in nearby Pittsburgh overcame the dominating Orioles of Earl Weaver to win the 1971 World Series. Some have criticized his inning by inning, sometimes play-by-play approach, but for me, it was a walk back in time, a reminder of great baseball of the past. He fills in the detail and drama of those games long tucked away in the recesses of memory.

He describes a game in transition as leagues expanded, playoffs were introduced and old stars faded as new names like Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter, and Reggie Jackson came on the scene, as TV revenues grew and with them, salaries, and new stadiums. And yet, it is the same summer game, played on a diamond, between baselines, nine players in the lineup on each side, fans in the seats behind first or third, filling out scorecards, rooting for the home team, vicariously sharing in the glory of the game.

Thank you Roger Angell! One can only hope there will be baseball in heaven so that Roger Angell can write about it.

Review: Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit

Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit, Esau McCaulley, Illustrated by LaTonya Jackson. Downers Grove: IVP Kids, 2022.

Summary: Pentecost Sunday means a trip with dad to Monique’s salon to get Josey’s hair braided, a new red dress, and questions about why her hair is so different from other children’s.

Josey Johnson is a beautiful black girl whose “hair has a mind of its own,” different from the straight hair other girls at school and in cartoons and videos have. It’s the Saturday before Pentecost Sunday and her dad is taking her to Monique’s salon to get her hair braided and then shopping for a red dress.

Being the exuberant girl she is, she is full of questions. “Why is her hair different?”, “Why is she different?”, “What is Pentecost?” and, when the tongues of fire came down “Were they burned?” What follows is a wonderful conversation between Josey and her father as Monique makes beautiful braids in Josey’s hair, celebrating the beautiful differences of all God’s creatures and of all human beings including Josey. And the different languages of Pentecost proclaim that the work of Jesus is for people of all languages, skin colors, and types of hair.

A look inside (from the publisher’s website)

There are so many delights in this children’s story. Theologian Esau McCaulley weaves into the narrative rich theology of humans as God’s image bearers and the wonder of Pentecost in the proclamation of Christ for the nations. Then there is the sheer delight of a father taking his daughter to get her hair styled, joining Monique, who has “the best voice in the city,” in song at one point, and going dress shopping with his daughter. LaTonya Jackson’s vibrant illustrations are a feast for the eyes. And the concluding Pentecost celebrations struck me as the way Pentecost ought to be celebrated!

Most of all, this is a story for every child who feels “different,” affirming the “unique work of art” each one is. And every Black child will find great joy in hearing that “your black hair, Black lips, and Black skin are God’s work of art!” I found myself smiling and feeling warm inside as I read this book–and I’m a sixty-something, gray, balding white guy. I need the message of this book as well–God loves difference and Pentecost is a sign of how much he loves that difference!

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

Review: Little Prayers for Ordinary Days

Little Prayers for Ordinary Days, Katy Bowser Hutson, Flo Paris Oakes, and Tish Harrison Warren, illustrated by Liita Forsyth. Downers Grove: IVP Kids, 2022.

Summary: Twenty-eight prayers, with illustrations, written for children covering the events of the day from getting up to going to bed and all the ordinary and not-so-ordinary things that can happen in a day.

A few years ago, Tish Harrison Warren introduced us, in The Liturgy of the Ordinary to the idea of encountering God and being aware of God’s presence throughout the ordinary events of our days, from getting up, to making our beds, searching for our keys, brushing our teeth, and ending the day. In this children’s book, Warren is joined by Katy Bowser Hutson and Flo Paris Oakes and illustrator Liita Forsyth in a very different looking book that helps children (and parents) develop the same awareness that our days are filled with moments where we may connect with God.

At the beginning, they assure us that:

"God always listens. God always loves you.
You can tell God anything."

This is followed by twenty eight “little prayers” of five to thirteen lines, most of which may be read aloud in twenty seconds or less. They cover these topics:

  • For waking up
  • For looking in a mirror
  • For the start of/for the end of a school day
  • For reading a book/for listening to music
  • For making something/trying something new
  • For rest time
  • For waiting
  • For when I break something/when I have lost something
  • For seeing a friend/leaving a friend
  • For doing chores
  • For when I do what I shouldn’t
  • For being outside
  • For play time
  • For petting an animal/for when I see a bird
  • For meal time/for when I have to eat something I don’t like
  • For taking a bath/for brushing my teeth
  • For an everyday day/a hard day/a really great day
  • For when I look at the stars
  • For bedtime

Some things I really liked include thanking God for our bodies when we look in the mirror and take baths, for all the things that are wondrous about books, and asking God for help when it is hard to wait, or we do things we know we shouldn’t or have to eat food we don’t like. I need the prayers about losing things and breaking things. Then there are the wonders of a pet’s soft fur and the wonderful variety of birds outside our windows. In brushing our teeth, there is a reminder of all the things we do with our mouths. In the prayer about hard days I love the line “Thank you that I don’t have to pretend that things are okay.” And in our days of school shootings and lockdown drills there is the prayer “And please keep everyone safe all day long.”

Here are sample pages showing the delightful prayers and illustrations from bath time:

From publisher’s webpage

What a wonderful way to teach children that God is not just present at church, but in all the ordinary things of our days, even when we are not at our best, or the day has not been. These prayers convey that there is no time or place or occurrence in our days where God is not present. They are prayers that spoke powerfully to me. I am not too old to delight in books or music or stars or the fur of an animal. Even with the effects of age, I still marvel at the gift of my body, especially when I luxuriate in a shower. I still have good and bad day.

What a wonderful gift this is for any young parents! You might want to buy one for them and one for you, particularly if you are a grandparent! There is so much rich theology packed into these little prayers. While you read them in twenty seconds, you will ponder them far longer.

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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 Last Mapmaker

The Last Mapmaker, Christina Soontornvat. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2022.

Summary: Sai, a girl from the Fens, daughter of a conman, manages to find a place with the last mapmaker of Mangkon just as he is enlisted on a voyage of discovery with great possible rewards, risks, and Slakes!

Sai was a twelve year old growing up in the Fens, a slumlike area of Mangkon. Her father, Mud, is a no-account conman in and out of prison. She longs for better things than working in a market. Yet she has no hope of receiving lineals on her thirteenth birthday, the mark of status. One day, she happens by the shop of Paiyoon, the foremost and last mapmaker in the land, just as he is lamenting his need of an assistant. She volunteers and he accepts and she does whatever he says, coming in earlier than he does.

Sai is talented at copying and her father wants her to forge an official letter. She is caught copying one of Paiyoon’s letters and he marvels at her skill. He discovers she can do this with maps as well. Soon after, Paiyoon learns he will be the mapmaker and navigator on an expedition ordered by the Queen to discover the Sunderlands, a continent that exists in myths, surrounded by the stormy and perilous Harbinger Sea, and guarded by the mythical Slake, a kind of sea dragon. He invites Sai along, and she jumps at the chance, giving up her hard-earned savings to be free of Mud.

But the rewards for the crew that discover the continent are good, along with lineals. And Sai gets to work with Paiyoon, further learning his craft, critical because his hands have begun to shake. The ship, the Prosperity, is the flagship of the Navy, captained by an illustrious war hero, Anchalee Sangra. There are two problems on board. One is Grebe, a sailor who had followed her one early morning in the Fens, until she eluded him. She fears she will be recognized, and her lowly origins in this status-conscious society betrayed. The other is Bo, a young orphan boy who had tried to pick her pocket on a port visit but was caught by her, but escaped arrest. He has stowed away and she discovers him and ends up trying to shield him. The two will ultimately team up. She also makes a friend with a striking young woman, Rian, popular among the sailors and ambitious to make the discover. She turns out to be half-sister to the captain.

It turns out the crew is divided, the Captain and Paiyoon and a few others on one side and Rian and most of the crew who want to take the risks to find the Sunderlands. The difference is not fear, as it turns out, but a recognition of the harms of Mangkon’s imperial ambitions. Sai and Bo will be caught up in this division, resulting in a conspiracy and a tumultuous finish. Sai and Paiyoon will be parted with Sai becoming mapmaker and navigator. Along the way are storms, shipwrecks, and the Slake!

This is a great adventure story that also raises thought-provoking questions about loyalties as well as the imperial ambitions of great nations. Is “discovery” really such a good thing for the “discovered”? It is written for an 8 to 12 year old audience, but this adult loved it. Christina Soontornvat first caught my attention when I had the chance to review her All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team. That was non-fiction but introduced me to her story-telling capabilities. She published two Newbery Honor Books in 2021. Her characters are “real,” her plotting makes this a page-turner, and there is an evident “moral compass” in these works in the real choices characters make amid pressures of personal and imperial ambition. I loved it.

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

Review: Land of Women

Land of Women, Maria Sánchez (Translated by Curtis Bauer). San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2022.

Summary: A rural field veterinarian in Spain gives voice to the lives of rural women and the places they inhabit.

Maria Sánchez is a field veterinarian who works in rural areas of Spain. Her father and grandfather were both veterinarians. She is the first women to be a veterinarian in her family. She recognizes the ways she has broken out of the patriarchal pattern, one followed by her mother and grandmother. One that has silenced the voices and muted the contributions of many women. This memoir seeks to give voice to their stories and their contributions, their hard work, the injustices done them, and their resilience.

The memoir begins with Maria going through the pictures of three grandparents that died, particularly her grandmother Theresa, once a sassy young woman. She realizes the women existed as ghosts, fulfilling the duties of sisters, wives, and mothers, often working hard around home and garden, the keepers of remedies whose stories are untold. Even in her own professions, all the pictures are of men with animals. Where are the women? They are under-represented in the statistics of agriculturalists. They are unheard, unseen. Only with the rise of feminism are they beginning to be celebrated.

Equally unknown is the rural environment where many of them have labored. The towns have been devalued by the greater cities, their stories untold. They become places to flee, even as the life of the land depends upon them. The stories of women and the rural towns are intertwined. For women, it is vital that it be understood that they are not “the daughter of, the sister of, the wife of” who “help.” They are persons with their own work. They help preserve a rural culture in danger of being lost.

Sánchez pays attention to words, collecting them like seeds. The names of the different trees, the plants gathered and stepped upon, the names of the animals, the birds. She believes we cannot love, and will not seek to preserve, what we do not know. To learn the stories, the words is to hear a people saying:

“We are alive and we are here.”

The second part of this work returns to three women in her genealogy, her great grandmother likened to the cork oak, her grandmother Carmen, likened to the garden, and her mother, the olive tree. She gives voice to their stories, the connections between them, connections that began before birth.

This is a beautiful book, weaving the stories of the women, rural lands, and the web of life they all inhabit. Sánchez remarks of how during her veterinary studies she would often be surrounded with works of literature while others would insist they were just into the science. This memoir reminds us that science just helps us understand and care well for what we love, for what has captured our imagination.

While she tells the story of rural women in Spain, one has the sense that this is a story that is transcultural. In so many of these countries, the stories have remained untold, the voices silenced, captured in the image of a woman who left a box of notebooks, all blank. In the mass migration to cities around the world, we are in danger of losing the stories of rural ways, the names of things. Maria Sánchez helps us hear them saying “we are alive and we are here.”

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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: Reprobation and God’s Sovereignty

Reprobation and God’s Sovereignty, Peter Sammons. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2022.

Summary: A carefully and biblically argued defense of the doctrine of reprobation, dealing with a number of misunderstandings of this doctrine.

Reformed theology takes the sovereignty of God as a starting place–God’s authority and power that accomplishes all things in accord with his will, for God’s pleasure. This includes election, the eternal, unconditional choice of all those who will be saved. Many struggle with this, even though most who affirm this also inform the importance of human choice. Far more difficult, and far less discussed in modern circles is the doctrine of reprobation. By this is meant, in the words of the author of this work “the eternal, unconditional decree of God for the non-elect. In this decree, he chooses to exclude the non-elect from his electing purposes of mercy and to hold them to the strict standards of justice to display the glory of his righteous wrath” (p. 47).

Stern stuff indeed. Because of this, it is not believed by many, or taught even by those who believe it. Peter Sammons believes and teaches reprobation as a integral part of Calvinism and mounts a defense of this doctrine in this volume. For Sammons, reprobation properly understood is not hyper-Calvinism but simply Calvinism.

Key to his argument is a careful study of Romans 9, which spans four chapters of this book. He sees it as explaining why not all believe, although humans know who is elect or reprobate, that reprobation is pretemporal and unconditional, it is not based on foreknowledge of actions, God hardens and shows mercy to whom God wishes, yet God’s decrees do not nullify human responsibility.

He goes on to define a number of key terms, parts of election, perhaps the most importance of which is ultimacy. Double ultimacy contends that God directly intervenes in the hearts of both the elect and the non-elect, a position Sammons associates with hyper-Calvinism and argues makes God the author of sin. He argues for single ultimacy, the direct work of God in the elect and the indirect work through secondary causes in the non-elect. He distinguishes predestination from fatalism and Islamic predestination and argues the impossibility of single predestination (election only) as inconsistent with the character of God. He addresses the arguments against reprobation of its unfairness and that it makes God the author of evil.

As noted earlier, Sammons argument for both the justice of God’s decrees of reprobation and the significance of human choices hinges on a careful discussion of causality–of God as primary and ultimate causality but of secondary proximate and efficient causes. As a particular case, he considers the causality of hardening. He concludes the work with a plea to teach this doctrine as one aspect of revealing the “grandeur of our great God.”

I found the logic of the theological argument more persuasive than the discussion of Romans 9. I am not convinced that you can base the election or reprobation of individuals on the basis of Jacob and Esau and God’s choice of the progenitor of the chosen people in a physical sense. The destiny of people groups, Israel and the Gentiles are the concern of Romans 9-11. That said, I will not be the one who will say what God can and cannot do. Nor do I feel the need to be God’s press agent, putting God’s best foot forward, as it were.

I have seen this doctrine caricatured and treated dismissively. It has been poorly articulated. If you care about such things, Sammons offers a careful, detailed argument that deals with objections and other views. This is a substantive work and not a caricature and those who would deny reprobation need to respond to works like this, or those of the great Reformers.

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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.