Review: The Mirror & The Light

the mirror and the lightThe Mirror & the Light, Hilary Mantel. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2020.

Summary: The third and final installment of Mantel’s historical fiction account of the life of Thomas Cromwell from the pinnacle of his own career under Henry VIII following the execution of Anne Boleyn, to his own downfall.

It has been eleven years since Hilary Mantel introduced us to the character of Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall, and eight years since Bring Up the Bodies. The lasting impression this book leaves with me is the mix of knowing and unknowing that made up Cromwell, King Henry VIII’s “fixer” who both seems to grasp and be oddly oblivious to the danger of flying like a moth too close to Henry’s flame.

The book opens with Anne Boleyn’s death by the swordsman, after Cromwell had managed her trial and that of her adulterers to the conclusion Henry desired. He witnesses her death, and then goes to his breakfast and the pinnacle of his career. As Henry takes Jane Seymour to be his wife, he is elevated to Lord Privy Seal and Baron, and Vicegerent, along with retaining his role as Secretary.

The book traces Cromwell’s efforts to support an aging Henry VIII, suffering from an unhealed leg wound and growing waistline, as he desperately seeks to conceive a son with Jane. All the while, Cromwell is trying to fill the treasury through the dismantling of the monastic houses, implement reforms to decisively move the Church of England away from Rome, keep Henry’s European enemies at war with each other, and put down a rebellion in the north directed as much at his reforms as Henry, while also keeping Scotland at bay.

Cromwell the widower seems to have a soft spot for women. There is Bess, Jane Seymour’s sister, toward whom Cromwell is drawn, yet marries off to his son in a Freudian engagement process (to whom is she being engaged?). He protects the princess Mary, daughter of Katherine, persuading her to renounce the Church and declare loyalty to Henry. Again, Cromwell is suspect of wanting to marry her, interfering with her role as a pawn in diplomacy.

The unraveling begins with the death of Jane shortly after she gave birth to Edward. Once again Cromwell is tasked with finding a mate for the aging king hoping for additional heirs to ensure the succession. This is one of his greatest failure in the king’s eyes, due to the unattractive woman he found in Anne of Cleves, with whom he was unable to consummate the marriage. Increasingly as well, the reforms in the church brought growing resistance from traditionalists who gained Henry’s ear. The Bishop’s Book was countered by the Six Articles restoring traditional views of the mass, eucharist, and priesthood.

Mantel observes that Cromwell’s greatest danger was at his own table. Incautious statements are remembered. French ambassadors and trusted associates join with Bishop Gardiner and the Duke of Norfolk in his arrest and interrogation in the Tower where he had interrogated others, with the techniques he had himself used. Indicted under a list of charges on which he was never tried, his last act was to draft the annulment papers for the King to end his marriage to Anne of Cleves and marry Katherine Parr. The fixer to the end, expendable after have completed his final act of service.

Throughout, it seems he was aware of his vulnerability, remembering how his father had beaten him and the image of his fathers unlaced shoes as he lay on the ground. Yet his gifts brought him closer and closer to Henry, until perhaps he believed in his own indispensability. Yet there are flashbacks throughout to the “indispensable” Cardinal Wolsey, whose fall he had witnessed as a young man. Did he believe his own gifts would deliver him? Or was he caught in the bind of his powers and his loyalties from which he could not step away?

As in her other novels, all this unfolds through dialogue, the most challenging aspect of reading Mantel. Other than the “he” which always denotes Cromwell, one has to keep careful track of who is speaking as well as when Cromwell as speaking, or merely thinking. We see the deftness of Cromwell, an iron fist in a velvet glove, in all the maneuvering in the court of Henry, the tension of a devotion both to Henry and to England. If one is willing to work through the inner monologues and outer dialogues, what emerges is Mantel’s portrait of Cromwell as a complicated man: internally motivated to competence and yet loyal, tender and ruthless, pious and a pragmatist, ambitious yet at least partially aware of the dangers of ambition, powerful and yet conscious of the ephemeral nature of his standing, seemingly knowing that Anne Boleyn’s end could easily be his own.

Review: A Worldview Approach to Science and Scripture

A worldview approach to science and scripture

A Worldview Approach to Science and ScriptureCarol Hill. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019.

Summary: This book proposes that a worldview approach offers the best prospect of reconciling scripture and science, taking both seriously.

I’ve reviewed a number of books on scripture and science on this blog. This stands apart in many respects, one of which is the size of the book, the quality of the paper, and the lavish artwork, photography, charts, and graphs with which it is illustrated in full color on fine paper. It may equally serve as a coffee table book, or a supplemental text in an apologetics, biology or geology course in a Christian college setting. The author, a geologist teaching at the University of New Mexico has both the scientific background and familiarity with biblical scholarship to assemble this text.

Hill’s approach is one that has a high commitment both to the biblical text and the findings of science. She describes this as a “worldview approach,” following John Walton and other biblical scholars. She contends that we must read Genesis through the eyes of the pre-scientific worldview that informed the text of Genesis. By doing so, we rightly handle the text, rather than importing modern scientific concerns into that text.

A good example is the cosmology of the Ancient Near East and how it informs both our reading of Genesis 1 and the flood accounts of Genesis 6-9, allowing what is described as a “global” flood to be just that–a flood that covered everything in the known world of the observers, but yet was local. Likewise the six day sequence of creation consisting of three days of forming, and three days of filling with its numerous repetitions reflects a literary structure, not uncommon in the Ancient Near East, and memorable for readers and hearers.

At the same time, the author takes the existence of a real Adam and Eve in a real Garden of Eden seriously and explores the possible geographic location of that Garden, which she proposes might be about 100 miles northwest of Basra in present day Iraq. Later in the book, in coming back to the real existence of Adam and Eve, she discusses the possibility of pre-Adamite homo sapiens, with whom the offspring of Adam and Eve mated after expulsion from the garden, evidence of which we find in Genesis. She explores the numbers in the chronologies, noting the numerological interpretation of these numbers and the gaps in genealogies that make these both significant theological accounts, and totally irrelevant to the date of Adam and Eve or the age of the earth. The author argues for the flood as a historical, but extensive local event, probably around 2900 BC in Mesopotamia, looking at other records, and using studies of weather patterns to show how such a flood may have been possible. She discusses how the ark could have flowed up-gradient to Ararat from, counter to the prevailing flow of water into the Persian Gulf. Using her geological training, and familiarity with the American southwest, she demonstrates how it is just not possible to explain the Grand Canyon by “flood geology” that would contend that it was carved out, with all its layers of rock, in a year.

The upshot is a book that acknowledges the historic and literary elements of Genesis 1-11, and yet does not rule out the scientific accounts of the origins of the earth 4.58 billion years ago, the formation of the earth’s surfaces through geologic process over long time spans, and the rise of life along an evolutionary creationist model that does not try to force fit science into the Genesis 1 narrative. Her argument is that the worldview of the biblical writers as it shapes the writing of these scriptures does not require of us the gymnastics of trying to fit our scientific knowledge into either young earth or day-age approaches, but upholds what scripture affirms, read through Ancient Near Eastern eyes, as well as what science has revealed, finding no inherent conflict between them.

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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.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Daniel L. Coit and Coitsville

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US Census, Ruhrfisch, Map of Mahoning County with Municipal and Township Labels, licensed under (CC BY-SA 3.0) The file has been converted to .jpg form. Coitsville is in the northeast corner of the county.

Coitsville Township is a small township in the northeast corner of Mahoning County. The township website includes photographs of cornfields, sheep, wildlife preserves and woodlands. In 2010, the population of the township was 1,392 people. It’s most famous resident was educator William Holmes McGuffey and was also the home of long time Vindicator political reporter Clingan Jackson. The existing township is only about half of the original township, parts of it going to Youngstown, Struthers, and Campbell. Amos Loveland was the first to settle in Coitsville in 1798. The History of Trumbull and Mahoning Counties lists these residents by 1801: James Bradford, David Cooper, Andrew Fitch, John Gwin, Amos Loveland, James Muns, William Martin, Samuel McBride, Alexander McGreffey, John Potter, Rodger Shehy, James Shields, James Smith, John Thornton, William Wicks, James White, Francis White.

No one by the name of Coit. Similar to Boardman, Coitsville is named after the land investor from the Connecticut Land Company, Daniel Lathrop Coit. Coit, along with Moses Cleaveland (after whom Cleveland is named–they dropped the first “a”) and Joseph Perkins were among the earliest involved in the company. As was the case with many members of the company, including Elijah Boardman, Daniel Coit purchased lots 1 through 28 in township 2 in the First Range, giving the township his name, but never moved there.

So who was Daniel Lathrop Coit? His family traces Glamorganshire, Wales, and John Coit came to Salem, Massachusetts in 1638. Daniel was born in 1754 to Joseph and Lydia (Lathrop) Coit in New London, Connecticut. He moved to Norwich with his family in 1775 and apprenticed with his uncles Doctors Daniel and Joshua Lathrop, apprenticing in their mercantile and pharmacy business. In 1782, when Daniel had passed he and Joshua became partners in Lathrop and Coit in a growing business. He represented the business in dealings in England and traveled throughout Europe. While in France, he dined with Benjamin Franklin. When Joshua retired, he entered a partnership with Thomas Lathrop, and met a girl in Lathrop’s house, Elizabeth Bill, who in 1785 moved into his new home as his wife.

With increasing trade difficuties with England, he eventually sold out his mercantile business and joined the Connecticut Land Company in 1796. In addition to purchasing the land that became Coitsville and selling its lots after they were surveyed, he had, through inheritance, interests in the “Firelands,” a large tract of land west of the Western Reserve given to indemnify Connecticut residents for losses from fires started by Benedict Arnold and British General Tryon during the Revolutionary War. While never residing in Ohio, he visited five times, including a trip on horseback through Pittsburgh up to Cleveland, no doubt stopping at Coitsville. While he pursued other ventures, his land ventures in Ohio were the most profitable. His son Henry married and moved to Ohio where he also was successful with land ventures. Daniel Coit died in Norwich in 1833 at the age of 79.

In addition to his involvement with the Connecticut Land Company’s critical work of surveying and settling the Western Reserve, Coit’s family produced at least one famous descendent. His daughter, Eliza Coit married William Charles Gilman. One of their sons was Daniel Coit Gilman, the first president of Johns Hopkins University, the first university in the United States to combine teaching and research at the graduate level along the lines of European universities. He also established the hospital at Johns Hopkins, one of the premier medical facilities in the country.

And that’s the story of Daniel Lathrop Coit and his family, and how Coitsville got its name.

Review: Materiality as Resistance

materiality as existence

Materiality as ResistanceWalter Brueggemann (Foreword by Jim Wallis). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020.

Summary: Explores how the material aspects of life informed by Christian spiritual commitments may be lived as a form of resistance to a materialistic culture.

Through much of Christian history, there has been a divorce of the spiritual and material aspects of life. Yet the material aspects of life–money, food, the body, time, and place–pervade our lives. Neglected as a necessary part of Christian teaching and formation, we are vulnerable to the allures of a materialistic culture, one in which all that matters is matter, and spirituality is marginalized or jettisoned. Walter Brueggemann proposes the alternative is materiality. The idea is that our spiritually formed values shape our engagement with each of these five material aspects of our lives.

He explores our relationship to money, using Wesley’s “earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” He raises questions about how our commitments to earning might be skewed by a limitless accumulation of wealth, how spending all we can undermines the saving that enables one to deploy our resources within our community, and how giving all we can calls for disciplined planning for sustained giving.

Brueggemann contrasts a material world’s focus on the scarcity of food with the trust in God’s abundance that runs through the pages of scripture. He explores what this means in terms of our commercial/industrial food production, the inequities of food distribution, and how we might think of ourselves as citizens and creatures of God in how we consume food.

We often abuse or indulge our bodies. Brueggemann invites us to consider what it means of offer our bodies as spiritual sacrifices in both our self-care and covenantal expression of our sexuality. One question I had in this chapter was the de-emphasis on genital sexuality to focus on the more spiritual and covenantal aspects of human love. On one hand, our culture focuses almost exclusively on the genital expression of human sexuality. Yet this is a book about materiality. It seems necessary to address the meaning of the aspects of pleasure, the unitive character of sexuality, and the reproductive potential that is inherent in our reproductive anatomy.

We live within time, hours, days, weeks, months, and years, that reflect our physical existence on earth. Materialism only knows production and consumption. The scriptures teach us rhythms of work and sabbath, and particular seasons to tear down and build up, to weep and laugh, to silence and speech, to go slow and speed up and to be born and die.

In our virtual world, we become homeless and placeless. We are invited to think what it means to be attentive and loyal to place. He contrasts inhabiting a place as user, consumer, possessor, exploiter, and predator versus living as heirs, neighbors, partners, and citizens.

Brueggeman concludes by commending five biblical disciplines, captured in five words that defines a materiality that resists materialism. They are justice, righteousness, steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness toward our neighbors in our materiality. What he does is bring together spiritual formation and material life.

This concisely written book is a distillation of Brueggemann’s thought. The study questions that conclude each chapter suggest it was written for an adult education class or other adult formation meeting. It combine’s the author’s biblical insights with practical insights for how we might live truth in our material existence–and resistance to a materialist culture.

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

How Reading Affects Us

focused teen boy reading book on couch

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I came across a Ted Talk yesterday that asked the question, “What’s the Use of Reading?” The speaker, Beth Ann Fennelly, proposed that research demonstrates that reading fosters empathy in the reader, and some fascinating MRI research showing how most of our brains light up whe we read–perhaps a good argument for staying mentally sharp.

I didn’t think this was the only benefit to reading. So I asked my friends at Bob on Books “What effect do you think reading has on the kind of person you are?” Now this is not scientific and is self-reporting but I was impressed with the variety of ways reading affects the dedicated readers on this page.

There is a quote among the bookish that “I read so I know things.” Knowledge, understanding, perspective, discernment, and wisdom came up quite a bit. Often we read because we are curious, and aware of our ignorance in some area we would like to better understand.

Reading offers the chance to be an independent thinker. This requires that we don’t passively absorb what we read but engage and even argue with it. It means we read different points of view, and use it to test our own way of thinking.

Reading can widen our worlds. It takes us to places, introduces us to different peoples, and even other parts of the universe, from the microscopic to the ultra-distant. It helps us see that there is more than one way to see the world or solve a problem.

Reading fosters imagination. We hear the voices of people speaking, envision the scenes, taste the tastes, and smell the smells according to the brain research. We imagine ourselves in situations and how we would act. Sometimes this leads us to imagine how we will act in real life. Sometimes, that imagination leads to out of the box solutions to real life problems.

Reading relaxes us and even helps us sleep (unless what we are reading is so riveting that it keeps us awake!). Reading allows us a respite from the thoughts and concerns of daily life, a chance to set them aside. I think of that not as escape, but rather hitting “pause.” Sometimes those pauses allow us to return with greater freshness to the challenges of daily life.

One reader made the observation that you could turn this around and consider how the kind of person we are shapes our reading life. Is it because we are curious, independent minded, empathetic, and imaginative, that we read? My hunch is that it goes both ways. I also suspect that many of us began reading because someone we admired was a reader and imparted their love of books to us.

Does reading make us better people? It may, or may not. Some might be shaped by what we read and whether this sustains “the better angels of our nature” or encourages us to embrace the darkness. We might devote ourselves to the best that is thought and written, or to tawdry page-turners that no one will want in ten years. Our reading choices no doubt reflect the bent of our character, but also will tend to reinforce our tendencies for good or ill.

One last remark on the effects of reading. Most of us tend not to take kindly to being interrupted in our reading. It makes us cranky!

Review: The ServiceMaster Story

the servicemaster story

The ServiceMaster Story, Albert M. Erisman. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2020.

Summary: A history of ServiceMaster, attributing its success to its ability to hold four ethical principles in tension and to the five leaders, who like overlapping shingles, led the company for over 70 years, including 29 consecutive years of revenue growth.

This book is fundamentally about four principles and five men, and the company that became known as ServiceMaster.

Four principles:

  1. To Honor God in All We Do
  2. To Help People Develop
  3. To Pursue Excellence
  4. To Grow Profitably

At one point, the last three principles were portrayed as arms balanced on the fulcrum of the first, to honor God in all we do. Erisman traces the development of the principles from early versions by founder Marion Wade, to this version, which existed for most of the company’s history and is still referenced by some franchisees. The first two were perceived as the ends, served by the other two, and this, in the author’s mind, was significant to the success of the company. Honoring God by acting with integrity, and valuing developing people as an end, rather than the means to profit led to highly motivated service employees, and management who valued them. It also led to the development of disciplined, highly ethical, and competent leadership.

This was done within a creative tension that valued excellence in products and services that made them an industry leader, and steady, profitable growth up until about the year 2000. The tension was not easy to maintain, and Erisman traces the questioning of investors of the religious commitment at the heart of the company, particularly as the company went public, and as it acquired diverse service lines.

The five men who led the company between its beginnings in 1929 and 2003 served as “overlapping shingles” to each other, developed by and succeeding each earlier leaders who remained in the mix bringing wisdom, continuity, and complementary strengths. The five were:

  1. Marion Wade, the founder who started out in 1929 with a moth-proofing business that expanded into carpet-cleaning and disaster recovery. Wade not only was an innovator who found better products and processes but he laid down the ethical foundations that became the four principles.
  2. Ken Hansen was hired in 1946 after a stint in Christian ministry. He had strengths in finance, sales, and organization that brought discipline to the company while adhering to and refining the ethical foundations. The company incorporated shortly after he came, first adopted the ServiceMaster name under his leadership, moved into hospital services. He oversaw revenue growth from $1 million in his first year as CEO to $100 million the year after Ken Wessner succeeded him and Hansen became Chairman. He played a critical role in developing the “overlapping shingles” ideal of succession, serving under Wade and mentoring and collaborating with Wessner,
  3. Ken Wessner came to ServiceMaster in 1954, worked his way up through the company, leading ServiceMaster Industries, and its hospital services division. Wessner was responsible for finalizing the Four Principles, led the company into international expansion and research. His strength was processes and systems.
  4. Bill Pollard joined the company as an Executive Vice President, leaving a legal career, in 1977. Pollard became CEO in 1983 and led the company into the acquisition of other complementary service companies, beginning with Terminix and Merry Maids. A real focus of Pollard’s work was to ensure the training of service workers in these businesses in the company’s principles and their implementation, particularly the intrinsic value of the person.
  5. Carlos Cantu came into the company with the Terminix acquisition and became CEO in 1994. He continued the pattern of acquisitions developed by Pollard, but stomach cancer forced him to step out of the CEO position in 1999, at which time Pollard re-assumed the reins, as both Chairman and CEO

This began a transition as the company dealt with debt load from acquisitions, a changing marketplace, integrating acquisitions into the company’s culture, and dealing with pressures testing the company’s commitment to the four principles. Erisman deals more briefly with the post-2000 company that began to move away from the four principles under a revolving door of CEOs, spinoffs of parts of the company, including the powerhouse industrial services, acquisition by a private equity firm, and a move from the Chicago area to Memphis. It is a story of fluctuating revenues, transitions in personnel, and more importantly, the Four Principles, in which the first two were downgraded, with a greater focus on profitability.

This is a fascinating case study of whether religious principles could serve as an effective framework for a company, particularly work done to honor God and value the worker. The evidence of the narrative, summarized in a chart of revenue growth from 1957 to 2000 on page 203, argues for a strong “yes.”

This leaves a question. What happened after 2000? Erisman’s account made me wonder about earlier decisions. Until Bill Pollard, people were developed within the company with a vision of succession, the overlapping shingles. By the end of Pollard’s second term as CEO, there were no overlapping shingles, and the company went outside for its next CEO. One wonders if there needed to be an expansion of principle two to the personal development of top leadership. It also seemed that the company became less disciplined in its growth. After early acquisitions that were carefully integrated, the subsequent ones seemed less so, and the flurry of acquisitions incurred significant debt loads, along with the challenge of meshing competing organizational cultures.

All this suggests to me that both principle and people (as well as sound business practice) are crucial to developing and sustaining great companies–whether ServiceMaster or Starbucks. Erisman shows the dangers when profit becomes an end to itself divorced from God-shaped integrity and the intrinsic dignity and value of an organization’s people. Great businesses, such as ServiceMaster from 1957 to 2003, hold these in a creative tension. For those asking whether business may be done Christianly, Erisman offers an extensively researched case study of how this was done in one company at a high level for decades, and the challenges to be faced in sustaining that commitment over the life cycle of a company, and beyond one’s own leadership tenure.

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I received a copy of this book from the author. The views expressed in this review are my own.

Theology I Would Re-read

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Theology books I would re-read. Photo © Bob Trube, 2020. 

I read quite a few theology books, which may be odd for some. All I can say is that if one believes, according to the Westminster Confession that “the chief end of human beings (“man” in the generic form) is to worship God and enjoy Him forever,” then it seems a worthy form of reading to explore the excellency of God, and how we might joyfully relate to this God. No offense if you see things differently, though the question of “chief end” is one we all must answer. Here is some of the theology, I would re-read. In fact, some of these I have re-read.

Garwood Anderson, Paul’s New Perspective. There has been much discussion of the “new perspective” on Paul. This careful study of Paul’s writings explores the possibility of development in Paul’s understanding, offering warrant for both “traditional” and “new” perspectives.

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion.  One of the best summers I ever spent including working through these two volumes, marveling at one who loved God so deeply and reasoned so carefully.

Daniel L. Hawk, The Violence of the Biblical God. This is the best book I’ve read on the troubling Old Testament passages that connect Israel’s violence with God. Hawk allows for the disturbing complexity of the biblical witness that explores the messiness of God who is both in but not of the ancient Near Eastern world of Israel.

Matthew Levering, Dying and the Virtues. A probing exploration of the biblical virtues by which we live–and die. He revives the ancient pastoral conversation on what it means to make a good end to our lives.

J. I. Packer, Knowing God. No single book played a greater role in opening my eyes to the greatness of God and the joy of knowing Him. This was one to be read a few pages at a time. I’ve done so several times.

Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity. The shortest book in the collection, but no less rich in its insights into the mystery of the Triune nature of God.

Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion. I spent Lent last year reading this work, leaving me in wonder at the death of the Son of God.

James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom. Smith challenges the notion that all we need to do is get people to believe the right things. His theology of what it means to be human is to be desiring creatures, and that we believe what we practice, that “thick” practices shape our spiritual affections.

John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ. For many years, I was part of a reading group called the Dead Theologians Society. After reading this work together, one of our participants remarked that this was the best book we had read (in a group that had read Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Barth, and many others). Stott, with his typical clarity of expression and insight, sets forth the work of the cross, and his defense of substitution, not so popular nowadays, with depth and concision.

N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God. This is an absolutely magnificent study of the idea of the resurrection in “second temple” Judaism and the surrounding culture, and the evidences for the physical resurrection of Jesus.

One of the things all these works have in common is that they are works of conviction, that pulse with the passion for God of the authors, that elevates them from our image of theology as a dry and dusty discipline. There are many others that I could have added and I’d love to hear of those you would re-read. It’s just possible that I might choose to read them for the first time. I always love a book recommendation that says, “I would read it again.” In the area of theology, that tells me that the author has moved beyond the commonplace nostrums to a personal knowledge of the God of whom they write.

 

Review: Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse

Maigret

Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse(Inspector Maigret #58), Georges Simenon, translated by Ros Schwartz. New York: Penguin Classics, 2019 (originally published 1962).

Summary: Maigret investigates a murder of a loved and respected retired businessman, with no hint of motive from family, neighbors or associates–all good people.

René Josselin has been found dead in his apartment, seated in his favorite chair, two bullets to the heart, fired from his own pistol, missing from his apartment. His wife and daughter had been out at the theatre, witnessed by the people who sat behind them. His son-in-law, a devoted physician, had stopped by earlier in the evening for their favorite pastime, a game of chess. There had been no disaffection and the son had left on a call that ended up being a false call.

The men Josselin had sold his business to were faithfully meeting the terms, thriving, and appreciative of Josselin. Neighbors, if they knew the Josselins, spoke of them as good people, and from what Maigret can discover, they were good people themselves. As far as he can tell, everyone around René Josselin were good people, and yet Josselin had been murdered.

Then puzzling, stubborn facts emerge. Madame Josselin and her daughter Veronique do not seem entirely forthcoming. The motive obviously was not robbery but there was one other thing missing–a key to a room in the servant quarters, a room that had been empty but occupied the night of the murder. Another dead end. The fingerprints did not match any known criminal. Then there is the restaurateur who witnessed the same individual meeting both Monsieur or Madame Josselin right before the murder.

Maigret knows there is a killer out there. He struggles with caring for grieving people and the need to discover what they are hiding. Who could possibly had a motive to kill Monsieur Josselin?

I had watched several adaptations of Simenon’s novels on Mystery. I found that like many of the detectives I enjoyed the most, Inspector Maigret was both a gentleman and a thinker, careful not to jump to conclusions but willing to pursue his intuitions. Simenon unfolds a story of step by step investigation, deliberate without being plodding, that moves steadily toward a conclusion, one that we didn’t see coming until it arrived. A good story about good people–and a killer. Kudos to Penguin Classics for reissuing this series!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown – Student Safety Patrols

AAA stamp

USPS AAA Commemorative stamp, Charles R. Chickering, USPS Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Public Domain.

Were you a patrol boy or patrol girl when you went to elementary school in Youngstown. At Washington Elementary, where I went to school, you could be on the safety patrol if you were in fifth or sixth grade. When I was in school, the safety patrol was limited to boys. This was from 1964 to 1966. Girls were already participating elsewhere.

The safety patrol were basically crossing guards at the crossings by our school. We had an assigned patrol schedule made out by the student captain. At our school, this covered morning, mid-day for kindergarten, and end of the day. Safety patrols had to wear a distinctive belt of an off-white webbing with a belt, shoulder strap, and badge that would be pinned to the shoulder strap on your chest. (Now the belts are electric green). Some call these Sam Browne belts. The old webbed belts would get dirty, and once every week or two, I would have to scrub my belt at the laundry tub with soap and a scrub brush.

When students were ready to cross, guards would look to see that no cars were rapidly approaching the intersection or in the crosswalk, then either hold flags saying “stop” on long poles, or they would walk out into the crosswalk, holding their arms out, as is pictured in the stamp image above. When it was not safe to cross, you stood on the curb and held your flag across the intersection to block students from crossing.

Obviously, you had to be on duty in all kinds of weather. Slushy snow was probably the worst because you would have soaked feet when it was all over. The best were those glorious days of fall or spring, especially when you got to leave class early for your duty. We also had periodic training meetings led by the captain or lieutenant, under the oversight of our advisor, a teacher.

One of the ways the safety patrol was recognized every year was that they had a Junior School Patrol Day at a Saturday afternoon game at Cleveland Stadium. We all congregated at the Erie-Lackawanna Terminal downtown to take the train to Cleveland. We’d watch the game, root for the Indians, fill our stomachs with hot dogs, walk back to the train station and arrive back home in the early evening. We’d also get a certificate from the American Automobile Association (AAA) at the end of the year recognizing our service at the school awards assembly. The AAA provided our belts, badges, and crossing flags as well.

The AAA started the School Safety Patrol program in the 1920’s (the 1902 date on the stamp is when the itself started). By that time, cars had become common and posed a danger to students walking to school. They developed safety manuals for training patrols. They even created a pledge:

“I pledge to report for duty on time, perform my duties faithfully, strive to prevent accidents, always setting a good example myself, obey my teachers and officers of the patrol, report dangerous student practices, strive to earn the respect of followers.”

Now, there is even online video training for safety patrols. Today there are more than 600,000 safety patrollers in 32,000 schools. Many places, however, have now replaced them with adult crossing guards. Youngstown no longer has student safety patrols.

There are some very famous safety patrollers. They include presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, Justices Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas,  former Chrysler exec Lee Iacocca, and baseball personality Joe Garagiola. There were many others of us, not famous, who learned responsibility and leadership, and learned how to look out for others on the safety patrol.

 

 

Review: The Sacred Chase

the sacred change

The Sacred ChaseHeath Adamson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020.

Summary: Using Jesus’ encounter with the demoniac who ran toward him, the author encourages us that as we pursue God, we may have the intimate relationship with God we desire.

There are many things we chase after in our lives. All these may distract us from the pursuit it is most worthy to chase after–the pursuit of God. Heath Adamson contends that the sacred chase is unlike any other we may pursue:

There is a mind-blowing, never-ending connection with God available to everyone right now. I am not necessarily talking about meeting God so you can go to heaven after you die. That is of primary importance, don’t get me wrong, for eternity is long, and your eternal salvation cost God all: his Son.

What I am referring to is the audacious pursuit of God and God’s reckless love for you–what I call the sacred chase. Perhaps you think of salvation in Christ like a door. Once you walk through that door, you will discover how unsearchable the love and promises of God are for you….Pursuing this is worth all your efforts. When deep connection and friendship with God is someone’s desire, I have never seen that someone walk away disappointed (pp. 12-13).

The author contends that we might know an intimacy with God that surpasses comprehension, but that we must choose to pursue it without hindrance or distraction. He challenges us to give up pursuing Christianity to pursue Christ–to move beyond institutions and agendas to pursue a person. He encourages us that God will welcome us from wherever we are coming.

In the remaining chapters of the book, Adamson centers his focus on the demoniac whose name was Legion. One of the critical observations is that the many, with all his wounds and torments, runs toward Jesus. He hears Jesus say, “what is your name?” Jesus gives him total liberation, sending the demons into pigs rather than letting them wander, and possibly return. He leaves a man clothed and in his right man, one who encourages the people in his town to also engage in the sacred chase, which they do the next time Jesus visits Gadara.

In between discussions of the narrative of Legion, Adamson illustrates principles with life stories and other narratives in scripture.  He holds forth the question of will we pursue the intimacy with God that we long for and encourages us that we will be more than met in our chase.

Adamson writes well and compellingly. The only thing I found missing was the idea that as we pursue God, we will find that God has been pursuing us. Perhaps Adamson didn’t want to spoil the surprise, and he does encourage us that God will meet us. But the truth at least that I found was that the Lord was the “hound of heaven” pursuing me before I ever pursued him. I found myself thinking as I read this book, “who is chasing whom?”

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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.