an outlet of encouragement, explanation, and exhortation

Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 2)

Recommending Two Books by Esau McCaulley

I just finished reading How Far to the Promised Land: One Black Family’s Story of Hope and Survival in the American South by Esau McCaulley. It is a deeply redemptive American story that our culture sorely needs. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is not only the narrative that we need today in our culture and church; it is superbly well-written. It is the best thing I’ve read this year. McCaulley writes in the form of a memoir provoked by his need to give the eulogy at his father’s funeral, and also by his desire to pass on a true family history to his children. Along the way, his commentary on American culture is compelling, with fine illustrative examples.

Some time ago, I also read McCaulley’s Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope. I also had an extremely positive reaction to this book. At the time, I wrote to a friend that Chapter 6 was the finest piece of Christian writing and thinking that I’ve read in a long, long time. It was profound, biblical, encouraging, and powerful – a really fine example of Christian thinking and communication for today. As a Quaker Christian, I found his perspectives resonating strongly – his title is apropos. It convinced me, at the time, that I’d want to read pretty much anything McCaulley writes! (I should have written this recommendation years ago. Better late than never.)

I am finding Esau McCaulley to be one of the most gifted writers of our time. His writing is a gift God gives particularly to the American church of our day, and to American culture more generally. Highest recommendation.

Tuchman’s Law

I (finally) read Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century”. I received it in hard cover decades ago as a gift from my Uncle Joseph Pike and it has been on my stack of books to read “soon” ever since! I obtained an unabridged spoken audio version and listened while gardening.

In the introduction, Tuchman amusingly names a phenomenon she observes as she studies “deplorable developments” in history. She terms it “Tuchman’s Law”, herein quoted:

Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts. The fact of being on the record makes it appear continuous and ubiquitous whereas it is more likely to have been sporadic both in time and place. Besides, persistence of the normal is usually greater than the effect of the disturbance, as we know from our own times. After absorbing the news of today, one expects to face a world consisting entirely of strikes, crimes, power failures, broken water mains, stalled trains, school shutdowns, muggers, drug addicts, neo-Nazis, and rapists. The fact is that one can come home in the evening—on a lucky day—without having encountered more than one or two of these phenomena. This has led me to formulate Tuchman’s Law, as follows: “The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold” (or any figure the reader would care to supply).

Tuchman, Barbara. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978; p. xviii.

It took me a moment to identify the spirit of the comment. Then I laughed out loud. The time it took me to identify her intentions with the comment one might consider a deplorable development in my history. I think this was the highlight of the entire book for me. One can extend her observation to social media and the 24-hour news cycle of our time. People have to talk about something. All the time. Amplifying the deplorable is par.

Overall, let’s just say that the 14th century was a time in which the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of Jesus were rarely, if ever, in spiritual alignment. But what’s unexpected about that? I did gain in my appreciation for how pre-modern folk used numbers as generic amplifying adjectives rather than precise mathematical quantities. I suppose that’s a valuable talent for reading ancient texts.

As for recommending the book? I appreciated it, but had expected somewhat more scholarly depth from a famous scholar. I suppose she wrote for a more popular audience. I found it somewhat repetitive; however, I suppose that is an observation of the human condition and the times more than her writing about it. It is a worthwhile investment of casual reading time.

A new podcast from The Atlantic

​I listened to a new podcast from The Atlantic recently called Holy Week. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, just before Holy Week of 1968 leading up to Easter on April 14 that year. The podcast is about the fallout from King’s assassination, reviewing some of the events and personalities of the times. It considers some of ​​what his assassination meant to those for whom Martin Luther King Jr. represented hope… or weakness! And more…

​I remember the week after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. In my mind I can picture the burning cities and clashes between protesters and police or soldiers that I saw on the evening TV news as a boy. Traumatic times, indeed.

To make it even more interesting, read Alan Jacob’s essay The Blues Idiom at Church in Comment for more insight and an interesting application.

​​I think perhaps this is all related to why I so appreciated Esau McCaulley’s Reading While Black! The perspective he presents has much in common with what I learned from the Quaker side of my family (particularly my grandfather, Albert Pike), who also taught me to appreciate Martin Luther King Jr. as a boy.

All of these are well worth your time.

Jesus and John Wayne by Kristen Kobes Du Mez

Jesus and John Wayne is the eye-catching title of a book by Kristen Kobes Du Mez. The subtitle is even more provocative: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. It’s a fine historical account written for a general audience detailing exactly what the subtitle says, with extensive documentation of sources. I lived through much of it what she is writing about. It is troubling, indeed, and helpfully contextualizes much that is troubling in the church today.

To learn more about the author, one can find a set of four interviews Skye Jethani did with Kristen Kobes Du Mez on The Holy Post podcast. These interviews summarize some of the points covered in the book:

  1. Cold Warriors: The 50s and 60s
  2. Culture Warriors: The 70s and 80s
  3. Tender Warriors: The 90s and 00s
  4. Fallen Warriors: The 10s and Today

Lastly, Jim Lyon did a really fine, more personal, interview with the author on the All That to Say podcast. He interviews Kristen Kobes Du Mez about her background and faith in a very wholesome and helpful manner. I found this interview quite helpful.

This is a book that many are talking about, and rightfully so. Kristen Kobes Du Mez will take some heat for this work – just like her Lord did, when He told the truth.

Dr. Michael Osterholm’s Covid-19 Podcast

Dr. Michael Osterholm runs CIDRAP, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, at the University of Minnesota. He has a Covid-19 podcast that is full of good information and… surprise… even encouragement!

I listened to his latest episode today as I walked this morning. It was entitled COVID in the Capital. Dr. Osterholm starts out with a sentimental story about a cat (!) and then starts talking about the best science and medical information regarding the Covid-19 outbreak in the Whitehouse without getting political. He is very kind and encouraging, but straightforwardly tells the truth from his perspective as an expert in epidemiology who strictly follows where the data leads.

So, in this episode, expect a sentimental encouraging story, a clear-headed non-partisan outlook on Covid-19 with practical advice, and kindness. You can find the podcast at CIDRAP’s website. Or you can find it on your favorite source for podcasts. I used Pocket Casts on Android.

Lectio 365 – An App Recommendation

A number of us at Long Beach Friends Church have been using the Lectio 365 app for a few months. We really appreciate how it leads us through a 10 minute prayer and scripture devotional each day. I found today that they have a promotional video on Youtube.

Check out the video and get it from the Google play store or the iPhone app store. (That is, it’s available on both Android and Apple phones and tablets.)

It’s free. No ads. God’s people did something very good for the wider church here!

The Lost Letters of Pergamum

On my day off this week I read The Lost Letters of Pergamum by Bruce W. Longenecker as an audiobook. I appreciated it quite a lot. It’s one of those books I’ve had on my list to read for at least a decade but never got around to until now.

The Lost Letters of Pergamum is historical fiction set in the first century, presented as a set of letters between a fictional character named Antipas and others, including Luke, as Antipas reads Luke’s first volume and learns about Christianity. It’s a great way to learn what life was like in the early church and Roman empire of Domitian. It functions almost as a broad contextual commentary for the Gospel of Luke, and serves as a good introduction to the first century Roman context of Acts, Paul’s letters, and Revelation.

I think it would be appropriate for anyone wanting a good introduction to the context of the New Testament Roman world. Highly recommended!

Episode 100 of The History of World War II Podcast

I like to listen to history podcasts. One long-running podcast that I use to fill in gaps while awaiting new episodes in others is the History of World War II by Ray Harris Jr. I just heard the 100th episode, in which I received the special treat of hearing an “interview” in which a man who grew up in Hitler’s Germany tells stories about what that was like. Then he tells stories about coming to the United States. It’s about 90 minutes of fascinating storytelling by Henry Niemann, who grew up a Seventh Day Adventist in Germany. He needs little prompting from Ray! It’s one of the best podcast listens ever for me.

You need not listen to the 99 episodes preceding or the 175 or so (to date) since #100. Just listen to #100 and run past Ray’s intro reflections on doing 100 podcasts. (It’s not that the reflections weren’t interesting; it is that they’re likely not interesting to people who haven’t heard episodes #1 through #99.) Then there’s about 90 minutes of Henry Niemann telling Ray stories that are pure gold.

And if you are interested in the history of World War II and into podcast audio, go back and listen from the beginning. Ray Harris Jr starts out new to podcasting and the beginning episodes are a bit rough. Over time, though, he hits is stride and he does a great interesting and meandering-with-a-purpose walk through the people and events surrounding the war. He finds the topics fascinating and conveys that fascination to the listener. In the first 100 episodes, you get a bit of background on the start of the war, the rise of Hitler, the fall of France, the Battle of Britain, a mini sub-podcast on Winston Churchill and even World War I, and a smattering of other episodes around the early years of the war. Then episode 100 is a jewel! He’s at episode 275 about now, which is about the fall of Singapore in 1942! Then there are the members-only episodes that I haven’t even started yet.

Resources on Origins and Christian Faith

Do you know a student who is trying to work out how to reconcile the latest science on human origins with their Christian faith and biblical teaching? Allow me to recommend that you refer them to works by John Walton, Iain Provan, or Tremper Longman. (I’m sure there are others; but these three I have found particularly helpful.)

For example, John Walton’s book The Lost World of Adam and Eve is very helpful in clarifying how the accounts of human origins in Genesis should be received in their historical and literary context and then what that means for us today. It’s available in paper, on Kindle, and as an audiobook. Walton also has many lectures available online via youtube and other sources.

For a wider scope, try Iain Provan book Seriously Dangerous Religion, which is quite a seriously good book for Jesus-followers who want to understand how to think of Christian faith in relation to the wider world.

I highly recommend both.

“That person must be a Christian”

David Lyle Jeffrey writes about Sino-Christian Studies in China in a review entitled A Critique of All Religions in the July/August 2011 issue of Books and Culture

The essays in this volume are indispensable reading for anyone who wishes to understand what is happening in Chinese Christian intellectual life today. There is no hint in them either of triumphalism or of condescension. Rather, as Guo Shining puts it, all of us who seek to follow Christ live under one marker for authentic delegation: “When people use the phrase, ‘that person must be a Christian,’ it highlights … behavior [that] conflicts with the main trend of profitable,worldly, self-centered, materialistic value-systems.” To be a sign of contradiction, says Guo, is both natural and necessary to a Christian in any walk of life. Addressing the wider church of which he is a part, he notes the corollary: this requires all believers to “strengthen their faith,” since “it is much harder to be a Christian in China.” Well—yes. And perhaps that particular reality works to the advantage of our Chinese brothers and sisters.

That person must be a Christian… I wish it meant what it means in China when people said that here! What does it mean when you hear people say that?

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