One of the Problems With Our Politics

Ohio_US_Congressional_District_12_(since_2013)

The Ohio 12th Congressional District as of 2013.

This is the congressional district, the Ohio 12th, in which I live. Do you see the problem? Why would you create a district like this?

I live in northwest Franklin County, in the city of Columbus, just below the dotted county line above which is the word “Powell.” Columbus is the focal point of most of our lives–where we work, the teams we root for, the politics we pay attention to, the parks we play in, the libraries and other public services we use. There is a highly populated sliver of this district in northern Franklin County outside I-270 with a tongue reaching down into Clintonville, significantly, all west of I-71, a significant ethnic demarcation line in that part of the city. Why would you carve up the Franklin County portions of the district like this?

Much of the rest of this weirdly shaped district is exurban or rural populations. Delaware County to the north has seen an explosion of affluent home construction by upper middle class individuals. Some contend that Delaware County carried George Bush in his slim election victories in Ohio. In national campaigns, Democrats come to Columbus, and Republicans to Delaware County. Morrow, Richland, Licking and southern Muskingum Counties are heavily rural counties. Why would you draw up a district like this?

The answer, very simply, is to make it a safe Republican seat. Only for eight years in the 1930’s, and two years in the 1980’s has the Ohio 12th been held by a Democrat. Why do I write about all this now?

As I write (a day ahead of posting), we are having a special election in this district. Pat Tiberi, the Republican representative vacated his seat in January. Troy Balderson, a Republican from Zanesville, and Danny O’Conner, a Democrat from the northern part of Columbus, are contesting the seat both now for the remainder of the unexpired term, and again in November for a new two year term. It is the one congressional election between now and November and HUGE amounts of advertising money on both sides have been poured into this race. Polling indicates the two candidates are separated by a mere point, statistically insignificant. Everyone is looking at this race as to whether there will be a “blue wave” in November.

Some of the craziness of this gerrymandered district is reflected in a remark made by the Republican candidate on his last campaign stop in his home town of Zanesville on Monday, August 6. He said:

“My opponent is from Franklin County, and Franklin County has been challenging. We don’t want someone from Franklin County representing us.”

It happens that one-third of the population of the district lives in that sliver of northern Franklin County and the remark seems to suggest that “us” somehow doesn’t include Franklin County, or that if the candidate from Franklin County were elected, he wouldn’t represent the “us” the Republican candidate was speaking to.

That’s the problem with gerrymandering. Political leaders of either party don’t have to think about representing everyone–only the base that gives them an election margin. Draw the district along the right demographic lines and you usually don’t have to worry. Both parties do this, which helps account for our highly polarized political conversation and gridlocked political process. A March 26, 2018 New York Times article states that at that time, only 48 of 435 House seats were considered “up for grabs.”

The sad thing is that representatives end up representing only some of us. If the Republican candidate wins, I wonder if he will represent me because I live in “Franklin County.” If the other wins, I’m sure some will wonder if their voices will be heard. Furthermore, this focuses on how we differ and not on what unites us, as Ohioans, and Americans. It seems to me that one could run focusing on what unites us even in our current gerrymandered district. But failing to hew to current party orthodoxy could be costly. If more districts were competitive, candidates would have to develop positions that reflect the concerns of all the district. And they would have to serve and listen to all the district during intervening years.

I think it a good thing that the race in my district is competitive. But I am concerned that this reflects more a political moment of resistance to a president unpopular in some quarters than the result of a consistently competitive district. Our political process needs to be built on something better than waves of political discontent or balkanized districts of safe seats. We have passed redistricting reforms in Ohio this spring that await the 2020 census. The process won’t be complete until 2023. We’ve yet to see what will result.

What can we do in the meanwhile? One thing as citizens is to identify and focus on the issues that affect all of us and not allow ourselves to be divided by the political parties. All but the super-rich face the issue of the cost of health care. No matter what we think about causes, all of us face the effects of climate change. We may not have it so bad in Ohio right now, but what happens when other parts of our country come seeking our water, or start moving here when other places become unlivable? How are we dealing with opioid use that are turning cities into war zones and rural areas into places of despair and grief.

The other thing is to pay attention and communicate about the things that matter to us–call, write, email, visit, and if we are not being heard, use our free speech rights to write in newspapers, on blogs, and to protest publicly.

We’ve let this happen to our country. We’ve allowed ourselves to be divided into demographic units and played up to on “hot button” issues instead of demanding responsible governance across the board and political leadership that values all of us and calls us together to pursue the best for our country. Today, and in November, we vote in my congressional district. It’s easy to collect my sticker and say I’ve done my duty. But as citizens, it has only begun.

[Written Tuesday, August 7, 2018] Update: Republican Troy Balderson narrowly defeated (a one percent margin) Democrat Danny O’Connor. A Green party candidate accounted for much of the difference in the other two candidates’ vote totals. They run against each other again in the November general election.

Review: Contemporary Art and the Church

Contemporary Art and the Church

Contemporary Art and the Church, Edited by W. David O. Taylor and Taylor Worley. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Academic, 2017.

Summary: Essays from artists, theologians, and church leaders participating in the 2015 Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) Conference exploring the conversation to be had between the church and contemporary artists.

The relationship between the church and the art world has often been a tense one, particularly on the contemporary art scene. Often, believing people don’t know what to make of contemporary art, or they may find it repulsive or even insulting when images of their faith seem to be denigrated. Contemporary artists sometimes come from church communities but have experienced rejection, or the disjunct between professed beliefs and lived experience. Then there is the group working in both worlds, and living in the tension between those worlds. These are the people represented by the essays in this book, which came out of a Christians in the Visual Arts conference in 2015, gathered to explore how a conversation might be had between these two worlds–a conversation made up of artists, critics, theologians, and church leaders.

There are three groups of essays, and then two concluding symposia and two final essays. The first group of essays explores what is meant by a conversation between the church and contemporary art. Wayne Roosa’s essay seems to maximize the differences, that this is a conversation between strangers that will involve a posture of close listening and receptivity to even understand each other. Linda Stratford responds that there are overlapping qualities between the two, commending as an example the late work of Andy Warhol, who turns out to have been far more religious than many would have guessed. Jonathan Anderson draws on Paul Hiebert’s work around bounded and centered sets and suggests the latter offers a model for intersection between the two conversation partners around shared concerns of ultimate value. The final essay, by Bowden and Lettieri explore examples of what is being done at a practical level through exhibitions in church galleries and other settings.

The second set of essays focuses on theology–God and contemporary art. Ben Quash opens with the provocative question, “can contemporary art be devotional art?” He considers three oppositions in this relationship, which he describes as a “marriage in mediation,” Taylor Worley responds by exploring how faith, hope and love shape our engagement with contemporary art. Christina L. Carnes Ananias explores some of the different ways one might understand silence and nothingness in the work of Yves Klein. Finally, in one of the most interesting essays in the collection, Chelle Sterns explores a “haptic pneumatology” (the experience of the Spirit through touch, physical sensation) in the installations of Ann Hamilton. If her work is ever in my town, I want to see (and participate in) it after Stern’s description.

The third section concerns art and worship, Katie Kresser, an art historian, explores some of the theory of visual and spiritual perception around images and makes recommendations for art in the worship context that expresses shared apprehensions of truth of the worshipers rather than a mere personal expression of the artist. W. David O. Taylor affirms this but presses further in asking, “Which Art, What Worship?” Allen Craft argues for an art that gives a congregation a sense of its “place” in the world. Finally, David W. McNutt contends that churches in the Reformed tradition shaped by Barth’s emphasis on Word and negative view of images, may find support in Barth’s ecclesiology for art in the church. I have to admit that I wasn’t persuaded, but that McNutt is far more knowledgeable about Barth than I.

The final section consisted of two panels, one moderated by Nicholas Wolterstorff, the other by Kevin Hamilton. The first might be described as “the way it was and how far Christians in the arts have come.” The second was a much younger group of artists working in public settings, describing much more, “the way it is.” This is followed by an essay by Calvin Seerveld giving advice to recent grads–apprentice, do imaginative work rooted in one’s humanness, and create works that reflect one’s vision of “the city of God” in all of life. Finally, he argues that artists are jesters and ventriloquists. Cameron J. Anderson explores both the embrace of calling and beauty in the pursuit of one’s art and the knowledge that grace alone saves the world.

This is a pretty high level conversation, where we overhear serious thinkers and artists exploring the conceptual and imaginary worlds of the church and the contemporary art world. Apart from Bowden and Lettieri’s essay, and the two symposia, there was less on practical program and more on exploring the first principles of such conversations. More important, it seemed to me a kind of rehearsal of how CIVA artists and church sympathizers might extend these conversations, both in the direction of the wider church, and the wider art community. This path-breaking work seems vitally important if a real conversation is to occur, one that fosters new-found appreciation for the concerns of artists, and one that explores how a contemporary aesthetic might open up fresh ways of apprehending the God we worship and God’s ways in the world.

Review: Kingdom Collaborators

kingdom collaborators

Kingdom CollaboratorsReggie McNeal. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press (Praxis), 2018.

Summary: An affirmation of kingdom-centered rather than church-centered leadership and a description of eight signature practices that characterize such leaders.

Reggie McNeal coaches Christian leaders. One of his greatest concerns is that many have a vision that is church-centric rather than kingdom-centric. He describes the latter as “kingdom collaborators,” because they are engaged in what God wants to do so that his kingdom would come in the world beyond the church walls, in every sector of society. He argues that church-centric vision comes from a vision of church as institution that is siloed off from other institutions–business, government, arts and media, the social sector, education, and health care. He argues instead for a vision of “church as movement” that encourages people to collaborate with God as kingdom agents in all of these domains, and outside the church building walls.

The book then argues for eight key practices that he sees kingdom collaborators demonstrating in their work:

  1. They practice a robust prayer life that helps them listen to and look for God.
  2. They foment dissatisfaction with the status quo.
  3. They combine social and spiritual entrepreneurship.
  4. They marry vision with action.
  5. They shape a people development culture.
  6. They curry curiosity.
  7. They call the party in their city for collaborative initiatives.
  8. They maintain an optimism amid the awareness that the kingdom has not yet fully come.

McNeal devotes a chapter to each of these practices, giving practical, step by step pointers in implementing these practices mixed with stories that exemplify each practice. I find his ideas incredibly helpful. He roots kingdom collaboration in a prayerful life. He talks about agitating to foment dissatisfaction in constructive ways rather destructive ways that lead to dismissal. He describes a combination of social and spiritual entrepreneurship that sees opportunities, that is willing to risk and fail and practices abundance thinking. His chapter on marrying vision and action has powerful insights into work with volunteers. One could expand his chapter on people development into a book. He talks about the essential character of leaders as people with a lifelong sense of curiosity, and observes how many of them are avid readers. He argues for how effective kingdom collaborators convene and collaborate with others.

His eighth practice of maintaining pain-tinged optimism speaks to the challenge of sustaining leadership over the long haul. If prayer is the foundation of the life of a kingdom collaborator, then the practices he commends to address burnout and compassion fatigue are the capstone.

He concludes with some tips for accelerating impact, whether as church leaders wanting to have kingdom impact, or those working in other domains. For church leaders, he argues that three things are necessary:

  1. Change the storyline.
  2. Change the scorecard.
  3. Change the stewardship of your organization leaders.

For those serving in other domains, he suggests that while you might be tempted to address other pressing needs, leading where you are is the starting place, then networking with other kingdom leaders. Especially, he urges people to “become better at being you.”

I can think of many “marketplace Christians” I’ve known over the years that I would have loved to give this book. Many were excited about the opportunities for kingdom impact in their sphere of influence, but felt guilty that this meant they could not do more in the church. Most found little encouragement for a “kingdom-centric” lifestyle. At worst, they often felt their work was denigrated, except for the money they could donate to the church. This book comes as a breath of fresh air for such folks, speaking a language and affirming practices many have already intuited.

It is also a critical book for church leaders who tend to measure impact in terms of what is happening within the church walls, or through the church’s direct efforts. As important as these are (and the author does not dismiss them), McNeal casts a vision for what people might be engaged in for the sake of Christ and his kingdom in all the hours they devote in other domains. And the eight practices in this book suggest areas where the church might serve to equip young kingdom collaborators for maximum impact (this is where his chapter on a people development culture is so important, I think). Wouldn’t it be a great vision to think about equipping people to be viral kingdom agents in the 40-50 hours many spend in their work, rather than for just a few hours a week in church functions? Reggie McNeal thinks so.

____________________________

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.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — German Lanterman

Lanterman Bridge

Lanterman Bridge, spanning Mill Creek gorge, looking downstream, ©Robert C. Trube, 2018.

Lanterman’s Mill. Lanterman Falls. The Lanterman Bridge, replacing an earlier bridge in 1920 and over which US 62 passes, spans the Mill Creek gorge. These are some of the most visited and photographed sites in Youngstown. I spent hours during high school and college hiking the trails in the park and one of my favorite views was looking either upstream toward the falls, or downstream from the Mill, with the gorgeous Lanterman Bridge framing these vistas.

We have German Lanterman to thank for the name and the mill that is a centerpiece of this part of Mill Creek Metropark. His story is of one of the early families to settle the Youngstown area and prosper in the Mahoning Valley.

Lanterman’s parents, Peter and Elizabeth Lanterman moved from Washington County, Pennsylvania to Austintown township in 1802. German was one of six children, born February 6, 1814 in Austintown, where his father ran a successful coal mining operation, the Leadville mine.

German married Sally Ann Woods on July 12, 1842. A daughter, Florence was born in 1843, with a son, John, following in 1844. In 1869, Florence married Colonel L . T. Foster, who owned a nearby farm and mining operation, and after whom Fosterville is named. Florence died four years later.

German and Sally acquired a large tract of land surrounding the falls that would bear his name. Lanterman was already a success, farming and dealing horses. A logging mill had existed beside the falls dating back to 1799, operated by Isaac Powers and Phineas Hill. In 1823, Eli Baldwin replaced the mill with a grist mill, which he operated until it was washed away in a flood in 1843.

Lanterman Mill and Falls

Lanterman’s Mill and Falls, ©Robert C. Trube, 2018.

German Lanterman built a new, larger mill with three sets of grinding stones, powered by an overshot wheel, like that presently in use. The business was highly successful for many years, requiring the work of 80 men, a large workforce for this period. It ground corn, wheat, and buckwheat. It was later converted to turbines. Roller mills eventually replaced mills of this type, being more efficient and cheaper to operate. The mill closed in 1888, and was sold to the newly formed Mill Creek Park in 1892.

German Lanterman only outlived his mill by a year, dying of Bright’s Disease on January 12, 1889, just short of 75 years old. Sally survived him, living until 1913. Like many early Youngstown residents, they are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. But their name lives on at one of the most loved sites in Youngstown.

Robert Jordan, A Tolkien Successor?

Robert_Jordan

Robert Jordan, by Jeanne Collins, [CC BY 3.0] via Wikipedia

I fell in love with the Lord of the Rings trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien as a college student and have read it several times since. I have always wondered, could this ever be matched? Recently, I’ve begun reading Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, the first of a fourteen part series known as The Wheel of Time. (The last three volumes of this series were completed posthumously from Jordan’s notes and his completed first and last scenes.) The series is on the Great American Reads list of 100 great books or series, which is how I learned of it. I’m only 120 pages into the first book so I cannot yet compare the two works, except to say that Jordan has also created a world, an epic conflict between good and evil with a Dark Lord, a boy-hero, a woman counterpart to Gandalf, Moiraine, and the equivalent of orcs, trollocs. I don’t know whether I will make it through–each book is over 600 pages, 3 million words in all.

All this made me curious about who Robert Jordan was. It turns out that “Robert Jordan” was the pen name of James Oliver Rigney, Jr. He used several pen names for different works, all playing off his initials (note J and R, and J.O.R. of Jordan). He was born in Charleston, South Carolina October 17, 1948. He served as a helicopter gunner in Vietnam, receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bronze Star. After serving, he completed a B.S. in physics and worked as a nuclear engineer. A blood clot from a fall that was nearly fatal turned him toward a career as a writer when he reportedly threw a book across the room he was reading in the hospital, shouting, “I can do better.”

Writing as Reagan O’Neal, he completed a series of historical fiction novels centered around the Fallon Family in the early 1980’s, at a time when similar novels by John Jakes were popular. He tried his hand at a western, Cheyenne Raiders, under the name Jackson O’Reilly. It was at this time that Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian was turned into an Arnold Schwarzenegger blockbuster. Writing for the first time as Robert Jordan, he wrote seven more Conan books beginning with Conan the Invincible.

Following this, he turned his hand to creating The Wheel of Time series, which he originally envisioned as six books. The first, which I am reading, he published in 1990. Ten more volumes were written by 2005. Michael Livingston, in a Tor.com article, compares Tolkien and Jordan, considering their war experiences, as well as the fantasy worlds the two men created and reaches this verdict:

“James Rigney was not the first heir to the Tolkien legacy—and by no means will he be the last to follow him—but he might just be the most complete interpreter of that legacy. Rooted in mythology and history, founded in philosophy and spirituality, forged of war and the American experience, his Wheel of Time has easily earned its place alongside the British master fantasist. Even more, given the academic status Tolkien’s work has managed to achieve, the work of Robert Jordan has earned its place on any list of turn-of-the-millennium literature, whether the majority of critics like it or not.”

All of his books were edited by his wife Harriet, an editor with Tor Books. In early 2006 he announced his illness, amyloidosis, on his blog. It is a rare blood disease that causes a thickening of the heart walls, weakening the heart. He was optimistic about beating it, undergoing a form of chemotherapy. He wrote:

“Don’t get too upset, guys. Worse comes to worst, I will finish A Memory of Light, so the main story arc, at least, will be completed. And frankly, as I said, I intend to beat this thing. Anything can be beaten with the right attitude, and my attitude is, I have too many books to write yet for me to just lie down. Don’t have time for it. Besides, I promised Harriet I’d be around for our 50th, and that means another 25 years from this month right there. Can’t break a promise to Harriet, now can I?”

He hoped to finish what he saw as his final volume. He was able to write the beginning and end and outline and compile notes for the book. A Tor video recounts the decision during his last weeks to entrust the completion of the series to fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson. As it turned out, the final volume turned into three more books, the last of which was completed in 2013.

James O. Rigney, Jr. died on September 16, 2007. The post on his blog site the next day reads:

“It is with great sadness that I tell you that the Dragon is gone. RJ left us today at 2:45 PM. He fought a valiant fight against this most horrid disease. In the end, he left peacefully and in no pain. In the years he had fought this, he taught me much about living and about facing death. He never waivered in his faith, nor questioned our God’s timing. I could not possibly be more proud of anyone. I am eternally grateful for the time that I had with him on this earth and look forward to our reunion, though as I told him this afternoon, not yet. I love you bubba.

Our beloved Harriet was at his side through the entire fight and to the end. The last words from his mouth were to tell her that he loved her.

Thank each and everyone of you for your prayers and support through this ordeal. He knew you were there. Harriet reminded him today that she was very proud of the many lives he had touched through his work. We’ve all felt the love that you’ve been sending my brother/cousin. Please keep it coming as our Harriet could use the support.”

Rigney described himself as a “high church Episcopalian” and his funeral service took place at St James Church in Goosecreek, South Carolina. He is buried in the churchyard. It is interesting that his work combines both Christian and eastern religious influences–a view of time that is cyclical and yet a universe of good and evil (Shai’tan=Satan).

Obviously, I’m not in a position to make the comparison with Tolkien yet. What is apparent is that Jordan created a powerful epic fantasy world. At very least, it is the best selling fantasy series since Lord of the Rings, selling over 80 million copies. Sony Pictures is adapting it for television. I have at least two friends who have completed the series, so there is hope. I’ll keep you posted. For now, I’m enjoying getting immersed in his world.

Review: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

loneliness of the long distance runner

The Loneliness of the Long Distance RunnerAlan Sillitoe. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (originally published in 1959).

Summary: A collection of nine short stories set in the pre-and post-World War II British working class, characterized by a strong sense of anger, alienation, and desolation.

There was a season in my life where I was into running–anywhere from 5K races to half marathons. This book kept coming up but I never had a chance to read it. It’s probably just as well, because even the title story had far less to do with running than loneliness. It is a book that could have been the inspiration for the Beatles “Eleanor Rigby.” All the lonely people.

The title story is about an adolescent boy from working class origins caught up in petty crime and sentenced to “borstal,” a kind of reform school. He is permitted to train outside the fences for a long distance competition, and much of the story is his private thoughts on those runs, culminating in the struggle between being awarded a light work load if he wins versus not wanting to comply with the borstal administration.

Other stories describe:

  • An upholsterer “Uncle Ernest” abandoned by his wife, exploited by some young girls for food and money in a cafe, yet who become the one bright spot in his life until the police warn him against ever seeing them again, leading him to turn to drink.
  • A religious education teacher who combats the tedium of dealing with unruly boys through fantasizing about the shop girls across the street from his classroom winter, until faced down by one particularly defiant boy.
  • A postman abandoned by his wife after six years of marriage, taking up with a housepainter. Later she begins to visit again, often in need of money, saying the housepainter had died, musing about “The Fishing Boat Picture” until he gives it to her, then finds it in a pawn shop and buys it back. Neither the picture nor the former wife fare well.
  • “Noah’s Ark” is a carnival ride that culminates a day of cadging money by two poor boys whose big thrill is getting on the ride without paying, chased by the ride operator.
  • A man who tries (and fails) to hang himself, persuading a young neighbor boy to help him in “On Saturday Afternoon.”
  • “The Match” is not just about a losing soccer match but how two men return to their wives, one engaging in domestic violence, while his friend overhears the fight in the bliss of being newly-wed.
  • In “The Disgrace of Jim Scarfedale” a young neighbor narrates the sad story of mama’s boy Jim, who to prove he is not, marries and divorces in haste, returns to mama, while secretly pursuing a disgraceful life across town.
  • “The Decline and Fall of Frankie Buller” is an actual account of Sillitoe’s youth, where he was led in street gang activities by Frankie, a warrior who loved to do battle with a rival gang. Separated by war, their lives take very different courses, Frankie’s downward, Alan’s upward, as he discovers in an encounter years later.

These are not uplifting or “feel good” stories, as you can well see. What they do describe are young men who feel trapped in a banal existence, lashing out in anger, whether through criminal activity, violence against others, or turning that anger inward in self-destructive behavior. It is not unlike the accounts of the rust belt working class in J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. Like that book, these stories narrate the reservoir of free floating anger as well as hopelessness or even deep loneliness of people who feel there is no way out of their situation. Sadly, stories like these could be written from characters in most of our cities. “All the lonely people/Where do they all come from?”

The Month in Reviews: July 2018

white fragility

The fifteen books I reviewed this month are not easy to sum up.

  • Four of the titles are on contemporary issues of race, immigration, and sexual assault and consent education on campus.
  • There is some classic fiction by Upton Sinclair and Chaim Potok.
  • I’ve included three devotional works including a wonderful collection of Oscar Romero’s sermons and diary entries, and a new Advent book by Russ Ramsey and a collection on the wisdom of Haddon Robinson, an instructor for many preachers.
  • There is some good biblical scholarship on the Psalms, the Exodus theme in scripture, and on the Apocrypha.
  • Finally, I read some good nature and science writing extending from our own backyards, to the future of humanity, all the way to the multiverse!

As always what appears below is publication information with a link to the publisher’s website, a summary, and a link to my full review

The Lord is Good

The Lord is Good: Seeking the God of the Psalter (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture), Christopher R. J. Holmes. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. Explores what we mean when we say God is good, contending that God is essentially good, that this is why the Psalms focus so much on the goodness of God, and how Thomas Aquinas may prove quite helpful in our reading of Psalms and understanding of God. (Review)

white fragility

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About RacismRobin DiAngelo. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018. Explains white fragility, its sources, expressions, the challenge it poses to conversations about race, and a different way to engage. (Review)

serving god in a migrant crisis

Serving God in a Migrant CrisisPatrick Johnstone with Dean Merrill (foreword by Stephen Bauman). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Concisely sets forth the scope of our present-day global refugee crisis, how as Christians we might think about all this, and several levels of action steps we may take. (Review)

a field guide to your own backyard

A Field Guide to Your Own Back YardJohn Hanson Mitchell. Woodstock, VT: Countryman Press, 2014. An exploration, season by season of the animals, plants, insects, bird, amphibians and reptiles, and weather conditions we might encounter in our own back yard, even as city dwellers. (Review)

A Mentor's Wisdom

A Mentor’s Wisdom: Lessons I Learned From Haddon Robinson R. Larry Moyer. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2018. Forty-five sayings of Haddon Robinson with reflections by one of the men he mentored. (Review)

introducing the apocrypha

Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance, Second Edition, David A. deSilva (Foreword by James H. Charlesworth). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018. An introduction to the books of the Apocrypha, covering matters of content, authorship, date, setting, textual transmission, and theological themes and influence in both second temple and post-second temple Judaism and early Christianity. (Review)

The Future of Humanity

The Future of HumanityMichio Kaku. New York: Doubleday, 2018. An exploration of the possibility and necessity of humanity becoming a multi-planetary species, and the revolutions of technology necessary to realize that future (Review)

World's End

World’s End (Lanny Budd #1), Upton Sinclair. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (originally published 1940). First in a series of eleven novels, introducing the character of Lanny Budd, a precocious youth on the eve of World War 1, his German and English friends and their respective fates during the war while Lanny divides his time between his glamorous mother and artist step-father on the Riviera, and in New England with his father’s Puritan munitions-making family, ending up as a secretary to a geographer at the Paris Peace Conference. (Review)

the advent of the lamb of God

The Advent of the Lamb of God (Retelling the Story Series), Russ Ramsey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. A retelling of the story of the coming of Jesus, who would be God’s ultimate lamb, tracing from the Fall through Israel’s history to Christ’s advent, God’s relentless yet loving pursuit of his people. (Review)

echoes of exodus

Echoes of ExodusBryan D. Estelle. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. Traces the exodus motif from creation, through the paradigmatic event, to its later usage, culminating in the pilgrimage of the church as the people of God and the realization of the exodus promises in the new Jerusalem. (Review)

consent on campus

Consent on Campus: A Manifesto, Donna Freitas. New York: Oxford University Press, (forthcoming, August 1) 2018. An argument that current approaches to consent education as an approach to combating sexual assault on campus are inadequate both in the time devoted to deal with the complexities of sexuality, and the absence of campus leadership, faculty, presidents, and other university leaders, from the discussions. (Review)

the gift of asher lev

The Gift of Asher Lev, Chaim Potok. New York: Ballantine Books, 1990. Asher Lev, exiled from a Brooklyn Hasidic community over a scandalous artwork portraying crucifixion, returns after twenty years with his family for the funeral of his uncle, only to find that he is being called upon to make a far greater sacrifice than the pain of exile. (Review)

the scandal of redemption

The Scandal of RedemptionOscar Romero (edited by Carolyn Kurtz, Foreword by Michael Lapsley). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018. Diary entries and radio broadcast homilies by the martyred Archbishop of El Salvador, capturing both the injustices that moved him and the gospel message of hope he proclaimed to the oppressed people that eventuated in his death. (Review)

faith across the multiverse

Faith Across the Multiverse: Parables from Modern Science, Andy Walsh. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2018. Explores how science, particularly math, physics, biology, and computer science, might illuminate one’s understanding of the Bible and the God of the Bible. (Review)

the heritage

The Heritage: Black Athletes, A Divided America, and the Politics of PatriotismHoward Bryant. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018. An account of black athletes in professional sports, from the path-breakers whose very presence was political, to the athletes of the ’70’s onward whose success tempted them to just play the game, to the recent clash of patriotism and protest that has led to a new generation of athlete-activists. (Review)

Best Book of the Month: I’m going to give the nod to Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It Is So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. DiAngelo is a white woman who coined the term “white fragility.” I hope a number of my white friends read this book, which helped me understand some of the ways as a white man, I contribute to breakdowns in conversation about race. The temptation with such a book is to say, “but what about…?” which illustrates the problem. She describes how vital it is to get to a place where we can say, “How where, and when you give me feedback is irrelevant–it is the feedback I want and need. Understanding that it is hard to give, I will take it any way I can get it. From my position of social, cultural, and institutional white power and privilege, I am perfectly safe and I can handle it. If I cannot handle it, it’s on me to build my racial stamina.” Her book helped me want to get there.

Best Quote(s) of the Month: Oscar Romero’s sermons were full of statements that caught my attention. Here were a few:

For Christ does not suffer for his own faults; Christ made himself responsible for the sins of all of us. If you want to measure the gravity of your sins, simply look at Christ crucified…

Conversion means asking at every moment: what does God want of my life? If God wants the opposite of what I might fancy, then doing what God wants is conversion, and following my own desire is perversion.

By his resurrection Christ offers all the liberators of the earth this challenge: ‘You will not free people! The only liberation that endures is that which breaks the chains on the human heart, the chains of sin and selfishness.’ 

The Church is not on earth to gain privileges, to seek support in power and wealth, or to ingratiate herself with the mighty of the world.

Current reads: I just finished Alan Sillitoe’s short story collection, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. This collection has far more to do with loneliness than running. I’m enjoying a pithy book called Kingdom Collaborators on leadership by veteran leader, Reggie McNeal. Contemporary Art and the Church explores what a conversation between the two might look like and how this may benefit both artists and the church. Tigerland by Wil Haygood is an account of the championship sports teams of the 1968 East High School Tigers of Columbus, Ohio, my home town. This was a segregated, black high school at the time when both Columbus and the nation were torn apart by issues of race. Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World is fantasy in the vein of The Lord of the Rings, the first of fourteen in his “Wheel of Time” series. I’ve just begun it, inspired by the Great American Reads list of 100 books on which it is listed. We’ll see if it hold a candle to Tolkien. It does have hand drawn maps!

So, that’s what I’m reading. So what is the best book you’ve read this summer?

 

Review: The Heritage

the heritage

The Heritage: Black Athletes, A Divided America, and the Politics of PatriotismHoward Bryant. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018.

Summary: An account of black athletes in professional sports, from the path-breakers whose very presence was political, to the athletes of the ’70’s onward whose success tempted them to just play the game, to the recent clash of patriotism and protest that has led to a new generation of athlete-activists.

When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest of the numbers of blacks dying in police-involved shooting, his act was the latest of a long line of black athletes whose presence, and whose advocacy asserted that they were far more than mere bodies, employed for the pleasure of largely white audiences and the profit of white team owners. When Kaepernick could not get another position when his contract expired, he joined “the Heritage”–a long line of black athlete activists who could not settle for simply “playing the game” in the face of the injustices faced by his people, and often suffered the consequences from acting as people with voices and minds, and not merely bodies to be employed for sport.

Howard Bryant, a senior writer for ESPN, chronicles this history in The Heritage. He traces the beginnings of the Heritage in the lives of Paul Robeson, Jesse Owens (who went from US Olympic glory in Hitler’s Germany to poverty and bankruptcy), Jackie Robinson who broke the color barrier in baseball, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali who lost three years in the ring for his refusal to be drafted on religious principle, the 1968 raised fist protests of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and Curt Flood, whose refusal to accept a trade led to free agency, but also resulted in his being blackballed from baseball.

Things changed in the 1970’s in what Bryant calls the “greenwashing” of professional athletes. Beginning with stars like O.J. Simpson, who received huge contracts and endorsement deals, a new generation of black athlete came on the scene who “just played the game” and took the money. Perhaps they invested it quietly in causes that uplifted the communities in which they played, or grew up. Bryant focuses on three as representative of this period: Simpson, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods, who in an interview described himself as “Cablinasian.”

In sports as so much of American life, everything changed on 9/11. The citizenship rite of the national anthem was replaced by elaborate patriotic displays: singing police officers, fly-overs and veterans salutes, huge flags on the fifty yard lines. First responders and those in the armed services became heroes who were recognized in some form at every game. A kind of undifferentiated hero worship failed to grapple with a more nuanced reality of some real heroes, many decent, hard-working people, and some bad apples–just like in most of society. Bryant also cites evidence that this was staged by the military, rather than being simply an honest, spontaneous gesture of sports team. Teams profited by tax money spent for these displays, which were seen as good recruiting tools. An American public indulged these displays, perhaps guilty over treatment of returning Vietnam vets and the fact that most of us were at the mall while a small percent were fighting our wars in far off places.

Bryant argues that this set up the clash between black athletes protesting injustices in policing, and a wider American public. What began as an effort to call attention to ways a country wasn’t living up to the values represented by the flag clashed with the patriotism displays that had become commonplace in the nearly twenty years since 9/11. Some efforts were effectual. When players at the University of Missouri threatened to refuse to play because of issues of systemic racism, a university president was ousted. LeBron James could wear “I can’t breathe” jerseys with impunity, being at the top of his game and flush with endorsement deals. But a quarterback at the end of his contract was blackballed because he took a knee, a respectful symbol of praying usually reserved for locker rooms or end zones and his action was characterized as unpatriotic and an insult to soldiers. People who wanted Kaepernick to just play the game failed to observe that the game itself had been co-opted for political purposes in an unqualified endorsement of both police and military (and unspoken in all this were the ongoing wars in which the military was engaged).

This is an uncomfortable book perhaps most of all because it raises the issue that black athletes’ value continues to be their bodies, and that while they may be rewarded well when they excel in physical feats, the powers that be will continue the attempt to silence them when they use their voices and minds to speak for those who do not share their fame and expose the ways as a nation we fail to live up to our principles.

It also raises the issue of the ways we’ve changed as a country since 9/11. A simple citizenship rite at the beginning of a game has become wrapped in a celebration of both safety and military forces, and the use of their power to keep a fearful nation safe. Instead of celebrating the shared liberties of an empowered people, we’ve come to celebrate the power of the state. We’ve traded “peanuts and cracker jacks” for “shock and awe.”

I suspect I’ve probably made some people mad simply because I reviewed this book and haven’t done the white thing of pushing back with all that is wrong with it. I guess I’ve come to a place where I want to understand why a talented quarterback chooses to throw it all away by a simple gesture (actually unnoticed for several games) that for the life of me looks like prayer. I find myself wondering why such a humble gesture is so threatening that despite the fact that no law was broken, a combination of media, public opinion and even presidential power was brought to bear to suppress it. I find myself wondering what this gesture threatens. I wonder…

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

Review: Faith Across the Multiverse

faith across the multiverse

Faith Across the Multiverse: Parables from Modern Science, Andy Walsh. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2018.

Summary: Explores how science, particularly math, physics, biology, and computer science, might illuminate one’s understanding of the Bible and the God of the Bible.

In his parables, Jesus spoke of various natural phenomenon to help us understand the kingdom of God–seeds, birds of the air, lilies of the fields, yeast, sheep, and more. God invites Abraham to count the stars and questions Job about the creation. In Faith Across the Multiverse, Andy Walsh asks the question of how various observable phenomenon and theories in science might illuminate our understanding of God, the Bible and spiritual realities. He focuses his inquiry in the fields of math, physics, biology, and computer science, reflecting his background in several of these fields. His day job is Chief Science Officer at Health Monitoring Systems where he develops statistical methods for public health surveillance. His doctoral and post-doctoral work was in fields of molecular biology and immunology and computational biology. He writes a weekly science column for InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network blog.  It is also important to know that Andy is a fan of super-hero comics, particularly X-Men and he mixes these characters and stories, along with popular science fiction into his discussion of science and faith.

In the realm of mathematics, he explores faith as a choice of axioms, sin in terms of mathematical optimization and choosing an objective function to maximize. Most fascinating for me was his use of chaos dynamics as a possible way to understand sovereign grace in which various paths might lead to the same outcome, as is the case with “strange attractors.”

In the realm of physics, he follows John Polkinghorne in discussions of how the dual wave/particle character of light might give us insight into the incarnation of Jesus. He also explores how entropy might help us understand sin and death, and the transformative work of dying to oneself in Christ.

The biology of the genome, our immune systems, and even the constitution of ant colonies may shed light on the relational dynamics and nature of the church. The world of computer science, in which simple rules, procedures, and inputs may result in complex outcomes suggest how a single book, the Bible might be able to address the complexities of human existence throughout our history.

The book has the feel of being written for “science nerds,” kind of like the characters one encounters on The Big Bang Theory, who geek out on in-depth discussions of scientific theory, punctuated by excursions to the comic book store and debates over Star Trek versus Star Wars. Walsh writes, “One feature of the world that pains me and I believe pains God is the fact that so many feel they need to choose between science and belief in the God of the Bible.” I’ve worked with “science nerds” in graduate student ministry, and I can vouch that there many who think science and faith are mutually exclusive. Walsh’s careful explanation of scientific theories and phenomenon, which may be off-putting for some, establishes for the scientifically literate grounds for drawing the connections or “parables” of science and Christian belief. The effect of his discussion is both to suggest a consonance between science and Christian beliefs for the skeptic, and to shed fresh light from science on Christian belief for those who do believe. The frequent references to comic superheroes makes this all the more fun.

I suspect this book was not written for a social science-liberal arts-theology nerd like me. I’ll confess that I haven’t solved a math equation since college, and while I enjoy general science writing, the depth of explanations was a stretch for me, that made me flex some under-used mental muscles. I suspect my math geek, computer scientist son would love this book, particularly the portions on fractals and chaos mathematics. There are significant numbers like him out there, and many question whether there is even room for Christian belief in a world shaped by science and technology. Andy Walsh writes as one of them who hopes to remove the barriers between science and belief by sharing the ways his own research and other science reading has enriched his understanding of and love for God.

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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.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Council Rock

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[Note: I found this image online. See note below from pepost. This is an altered image of a George Catlin painting]

Growing up on the West side of Youngstown, I never visited Council Rock on the East Side in Lincoln Park, above Dry Run Creek. The rock, which has a crack dividing it roughly one-quarter/three-quarters, is the site of one of the most interesting Youngstown legends, one that may or may not be true.

The story, as recounted in Joseph G. Butler’s History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, Volume 1, was written down by William G. Conner, a pioneer resident of Dry Run Creek. On a hunting trip in Illinois in 1865, Conner met an aged trapper, Cyrus Dunlap, who knew the Dry Run area, having been part of the survey party, headed by Alfred Wolcott, who surveyed the area of Dry Run (township two, range two) in 1796. They encountered two French-Canadian trappers living in a cabin in what is now Lincoln Park.

From these trappers, Dunlap learned that Council Rock was a favorite gathering place of Indians living throughout the area as well as those farming the nearby Haselton fields. They would gather three times a year for feasts and celebrations. They called the rock that was the central gathering place, Nea-To-Ka, translated as “Council Rock.”

The most significant, and last, gathering occurred in 1755. On July 9, 1755, a coalition of French and Indian tribes defeated General Edward Braddock, who was assisted by George Washington at Fort Duquesne (later Fort Pitt). Nearly 3500 Indians from Seneca, Shawnee, Mingo, and Delaware tribe gathered to celebrate at an autumn feast on or around September 20. The harvest and game was plentiful. In the middle of the feast, high winds (possibly a tornado, from Butler’s description) swept through and a bolt of lightning struck Council Rock, splitting the Rock. Four chiefs and 300 Indians were killed. One piece of evidence that might corroborate the trappers account is that when the Haselton Furnace was built nearby, excavations uncovered an Indian burial ground.

This was the last gathering at Council Rock. Indians, who lived around Mill Creek and throughout the area apparently moved away about twenty years before Youngstown was settled. Apart from a dispirited band of Blacksnake Indians, the immediate area was abandoned when surveyors arrived, along with John Young, in 1796.

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Arrowheads found by my father-in-law in his yard, photo © Bob Trube, 2018

Many Youngstown residents have arrowheads, often found in their own backyard. These, along with Council Rock, and the name Mahoning, remind us of the native peoples that lived in or migrated through our area before the first settlement on the banks of the Mahoning. Their presence gave us one of the most unusual stories in Valley history.