It’s not true that I’m crazy about fishing. I enjoy it, but mostly I enjoy being outdoors and fishing is one way to fulfill such a desire. My father, however, is crazy about fishing. Most of what he taught me about life came through the lens of this sport.
We moved “Down East” when I was nine years old. “Down East” in North Carolina means on or near the coast. My parents had always wanted to live near the ocean and when my father got an opportunity to transfer to the area, he took it. Dad quickly learned the art of fishing for flounder and taught my brother and me. We spent hours on the rising tide, fishing for flounder at Masonboro Inlet. Although such fishing may not be as graceful as using a fly rod, it requires at least as much skill.
Dad taught us to tie our own rigging, using an 18 inch piece of light wire with a triple hook on one end and a one ounce torpedo sinker on the other. The rigging was attached to the line of a lightweight spinning rod. A live minnow, which we generally caught with throw nets (another acquired skill), was hooked through the lips. Walking in knee deep water armed with a light spinning rod we’d cast the line out into the depths, searching for holes where a flounder might be hidden. The line was slowly retrieved, the weight keeping the minnow near the bottom where flounders lay. You carefully felt for tell-tell bumps on your line, indicating a flounder taking the bait. When that happened, you’d loosen the drag and give the flounder about a minute to take the minnow into its mouth, before yanking the line in order to set the hook. If you prematurely yanked the line, you’d pull the minnow out of the mouth of the flounder. From such fishing, we learned patience. Hurrying only caused you to miss fish.
Shortly after we moved to the area, Dad brought a 14 foot johnboat with a six horsepower Evinrude outboard motor. For years, that was the only boat he had and it was perfect for navigating the creeks running behind Masonboro Island, a nine mile long barren strip of beach that stretched from Masonboro Inlet to Carolina Beach Inlet. He’d take us fishing on the beach for founder on the rising tide and for Bluefish during the fall run. The island became like a second home. Since the creeks only have water in them on high tide, a fishing trip that was more than an hour or two committed you for at least half a day. Often, we’d make a two day trip, camping overnight. In the fall, at low tide, we’d collected oysters and in the evening roast them over coals. At times, breakfast consisted of roasted bluefish.
On one of our overnight fishing expeditions, my dad hooked a huge fish on a heavy surf rod. For nearly an hour he fought the fish, as he’d get it almost up into the surf only to have it run back out into the ocean. Finally, he beached the largest Red Drum I’ve seen. The tide had already dropped and there was no way we could get the fish back to the mainline till the next morning. My dad knew the fish might be close to a record, but since he couldn’t get it to a weight station, and since our cooler wasn’t large enough to hold it, he gutted the fish, stuffed ice in its hollowed cavity, and buried it in the sand. The next morning, we dug the fish up and took it to be weighed. Even after being gutted and drying out a bit overnight, the fish still weighed 47 pounds, just a couple pounds shy of the season’s record. My father stoically accepted fate. If he had been able to get the fish to the marina the day before, he might have set the record. However, if it bothered him, he never let on to it. Another lesson taught by action, you don’t complain about things you have no control over. This, by the way, included mosquitoes and sand gnats and the weather. There was no need to complain about the obvious.
My father seldom spoke of the beauty of it all, but the times I spent on the beach with him instilled in me an awe of creation. I’ve seen more sunrises and moonrises on the ocean that I can count. I’ve watched many sunsets behind the marsh grass of the Myrtle Grove Sound. I taught myself early the names of the stars, especially the autumn sky, since fishing was best in the fall. There’s nothing more majestic than watching Orion’s belt rise above the ocean on a moonless night. Enjoying the outdoors was something he taught silently.
Over the past fifteen years, I’ve seen another new side of Dad as he cared for his wife, my mom, as her mind and mobility slowly disappeared due to Alzheimer’s. Mom and Dad were sweethearts in high school and have been together ever since. He goes down to the nursing home where my mother lives to feed her breakfast every morning. While they have restricted most guests because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they still let my father come in and feed my mom even though she no longer acknowledges him or anyone. In these latter years, my father, through his commitment, is silently displaying grace and love and is an example for all who are around him.
Steven Pressfield, Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermoplyae (New York: Bantan Books, 1998), 386 pages.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel that is based on ancient Greek historians’ writings, especially Herodotus. The story is told through the eyes of Xeones, who was from the city of Akarnania. He alone had been found barely alive after the Persians wiped out the small Greek contingent conducting a delaying tactic against the much larger Persian army at Thermoplyae. Thermoplyae (the hot gates) is a narrow pass that received its name from the hot springs in the mountains. Xerxes, the Persian king had his surgeons work hard to save Xeones so he could learn more about Greece and the bravery of the 300 Spartan soldiers had shown at the pass. Xeones insist that he was just an aide to a Spartan officer, but would tell what he knew. He begins the story from his youth, when his city of birth was destroyed by another Greek city. He and his older cousin, Diomache, were able to escape (even though Diomache is raped several times by enemy soldiers), but as they made their way to the hills they learned how to survive in a cruel world. Xerxes wants to go to Sparta with the hopes of becoming a warrior and defeating his enemies. Later, while they are living off the land with Bruxies, an old man from their city, Xeones is caught at a farm and his hand is nailed so that he no longer is able to hold a spear in the fashion of a Spartan warrior. He feels his life is over, but has a vision of Apollos who gives the vision of using the bow. His wounded hand can’t grasp a spear, but it can pull back the string and he becomes an excellent archer. Eventually, Bruxies dies and Xerxes and Diomache split up. Diomache heads to Athens and Xerxes to Sparta.
Once in Sparta, Xeones learns about the Sparta ways. While he will never be a part of the Sparta elite, he is chosen as partners to help young Sparta men in the rigorous training to become warriors. He becomes an aide to an officer, which places him at Thermoplyae. Pressfield does a wonderful job of providing a picture of Spartan society as Xeones tells his story to the Persians, as well as their preparations and the battles they fought as they kept the Persians from obtaining the pass for several days before failing after a group of Persians were led through the mountains and able to get behind the Greeks. The reader gains knowledge about Greek society, religion, and mythology roughly 500 years before the Common Era. However, the language of the warriors is often coarse and book describes a lot of violence (which was true of the time in which they lived).
Paul J. Willis, Rosing from the Dead: Poems(Seattle, WA: WordFarm, 2009) 99 pages.
This is a wonderful collection of poems by a professor from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. There are three sections of poetry, each about a “chapbook” length. In “Faith of our Fathers,” we learn the meaning of the author’s name, his interest in baseball and football, as well a beloved Sunday School teacher who “fell from grace.” In “Higher Learning,” the author writes about becoming more aware about life. There are poems about other professors, the library, language, the downhill road to bifocals (and a few pages later trifocals) and even a poem about smart classrooms. The third section, “Signs and Wonders” is my favorite. Most of these poems are set in the outdoors, whether in a backyard or deep in the wilderness. Most of the poems are in the American West, but a few are set at other places around the country. Willis has a keen eye to spot something unique and then to write about it. At places, the outside world slips in such as the hearing of a freight train during the night. Many of the poems are set at places that I find special like Telescope Peak, which rises high above the western rim of Death Valley. Willis is the only poet I know who can tie together “ripening ticks in the fall” and Advent.
I first read this collection in 2012. I had come to know Paul through the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. As a board member of Pierce Cedar Creek, an ecological center about 50 miles away, I encouraged Paul to do a reading. That day, before the reading, Paul and I hiked six or miles within the property. It was early spring, the skunk cabbage had pretty much played out. It was too early for there to be trilliums in bloom, but the May apples were appearing. That evening, Paul presented a poem he’d written that afternoon, after we’d take that hike, about what was happening in the bottom lands. It was good to revisit these poems.
Dave Moyer, Life and Life Only (New York: IUniverse, 2009), 188 pages.
I have mixed feelings about this book. It’s a wonderful story of Dan learning what’s important after several failures (as a pitcher after a career debilitating injury and a failed marriage). But I was disappointed in the writing, much of which felt I was just being old the facts and not being brought into the story. The book could have been greatly strengthened by more dialogue and narrative and less of a statement of what happened. At times, it felt like I was being told the details, but not shown the action. The author does tries to link world events that happened during the years of the book, which can be a very good way to show the passing of time, but it felt a little over the top and often as we were given lists of the things that happened in a given year. The book would have been strengthened if such events could have been woven into the story. The same is true of Bob Dillion songs. Dan is a Dillion fan. While some of the songs are worth listing, especially when they could be written into the narrative, a list of every song played in a concert was a little too much for me. However, like Dan, I agree that “Blind Willie McTell” is one of Dylan’s best. I also thought Moyer did a good job describing Savannah (of which I live just outside of), which is where Dan had played with a traveling ball team and a city he’d later travel to with his first wife. She was a Georgia Peace from Swainsboro (I’ve even been to Swainsboro). While Dan seemed to make a mess of things with his first wife after his arm problems kept him from pitching in the majors, he does get things right with his daughter and with his second wife.
Nancy Koester, Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 371 pages, B&W photos, notes.
Harriet Beecher Stowe is best known for her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The novel’s popularity fueled the anti-slavery movement in the North and helped change the narrative of the American Civil War from an attempt to restore the Union to a crusade to rid the nation of slavery. The novel is often criticized for being overly sentimental. It has been ridiculed even in the African American community. The term, “Uncle Tom,” is used for members within the community who were unwilling to fight back against white supremacy. In the novel, Tom is a Christ-figure, who accepts his death after a severe whipping for not being willing to whip other slaves to force them to work harder. Malcom X called Martin Luther King an “Uncle Tom,” although that’s not surprising considering Malcom was not a Christian and would not understand the sacrificial position of Uncle Tom or Jesus Christ. Despite these criticisms, the book was a best seller in the 19th Century America and Great Britain. The book not only encouraged the American abolitionist movement, it’s popularity in the United Kingdom help keep Britain from coming into the war on the South’s side.
Stowe was more than just the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She was the daughter of Lyman Beecher, a well-known Calvinistic preacher whose large family produced many major public figures during the middle of the 19th Century including Henry Ward Beecher, who is often considered the greatest preacher of the century. Henry was close to his sister Harriet, and together they worked against slavery. Lyman’s other children were also accomplished in their fields.
Harriet Beecher married Calvin Stowe, a widower without children. Calvin was also a theology professor at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, where her father was President. It was a struggling school that was made even more challenging sitting across the river from Kentucky, a slave state. While in Cincinnati, Harriet began to publish articles in various papers. After the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she would be the primary breadwinner of the family. Later, Calvin moved his family east to take a position in Maine and then to Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. This had an added advantage of Harriet being closer to her publishers (she often would visit them in New York while staying with her brother Henry in Brooklyn).
With Harriet’s success, the Stowes made three long trips to Europe, building relationships with British abolitionists. Harriet, like many of her siblings, moved away from her father’s stricter Calvinistic views. She questioned eternal damnation and the idea of predestination. In her travels to Europe, she began to appreciate the Catholic Church and, after her husband’s retirement, became an Episcopalian. She also dabbled in spiritualism and seeking to connect to those who had died, especially after the death of her son. While this was more than just curiosity, she always maintained that a Medium could not offer the comfort of Jesus. She may have left behind much of her father’s theology (and she blamed Jonathan Edwards for what she was as problematic with New England Calvinism), she remained firm in her commitment to her Savior.
In the Civil War, her son would lead a company of freed blacks. Racial reconciliation remained important to Harriet, but she also worked on other social reforms of the day. Although she saw her primary role as a wife to her husband, she was also supportive of the women’s right movement and knew many of the early founders.
Harriet had a strong sense of what was right and wrong. On her European travels, she had met Lady Bryon, the estranged wife of the poet Lord Byron. Harriet had been told of Lord Bryon’s affairs and even incidences of incest. After both of their deaths, Lord Bryon’s last mistress wrote a book about her life with Bryon and attacked his wife as cold and unloving. Harriet felt she needed to set the record straight and wrote an article (and later a book) pointing out the poet’s failures and comparing him to Satan, who used his charm for seduction instead of for God’s glory. For this, Stowe was criticized, but it was something she knew how to handle after the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. While the book was popular in the North, she was despised and criticized in some corners in the North and across the South. Stowe’s critique of Lord Bryon provided inside into the control of a patriarchal society and while the book was published a few years before the “Me Too” movement, it appears Stowe would have been sympathetic.
Harriet and Calvin’s life had many tragedies. One was the loss of a son by drowning a few years before the Civil War. Another son, Fred, was wounded in the ear during the war was in constant pain afterwards. His parents purchased him a farm in Florida with the hope he could start a farm that gave work to freed blacks. Fred eventually left the farm and took to the sea, and never again saw his parents. Fred Florida adventure did introduce the Stowes to the state and they began to spend their winters there. She would write two books that help popularize the Florida to those in the north. A half century before Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ writings help bring an end to the practice, Harriet attacked the widespread killing of birds for the use of their feathers in women’s hats. Her training in the Westminster Catechism could also be seen in her satirical writings about hunters in Florida who think the “chief end of man is to shoot something.” She wasn’t opposed to hunting, just killing for sport. In a way, Stowe was an early environmentalist. The only son of the Stowe’s who took up their father and grandfather’s position in the pulpit was Charles. But this, too, became a concern when he flirted with Unitarianism. However, he stayed within the Congregational Church. She was also bothered by the charge of adultery against her brother, Henry. He would be vindicated (even though he was probably guilty), but Harriet remained his defender.
This book provides insight into a complex woman along with her family who were major figures in 19th Century America. Koester’s writing is easy to read and comprehend. I recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about Harriet Beecher Stowe and the era.
The other day I was telling someone about going to Austin in early March. He told me of all the places he lived, that he liked Austin the best, that it was a blueberry in a bowl of tomato soup (that’s a political joke, you’ll have to figure it out).
Was it only two months ago that I was in Austin? This is a weird time we’re living. In early March, two days before I flew down for a seminar by the Foundation for Reformed Theology on the writings of John Leith, a Presbyterian theologian of the second half of the twentieth century, South by Southwest was cancelled. I didn’t realize just how large of a music event this was, which may have explained why there were so few rental cars available. But I flew down in flights that, once they called up standbys, were full. This was only two months ago.
My flight options into Austin from Savannah were not great. Since I had to be at Austin Theological Seminary on Monday at nine in the morning, I considered preaching on Sunday and then flying down. But by waiting until the afternoon, the earliest I could get to Austin was 10:30 PM, which would have put me exhausted. Instead, I decided to fly down early on Saturday. This would leave me a day and a half to explore the city, before engaging in discussions. It was a good choice. On March 7th, I took an early flight to Atlanta and then on to Austin, arriving in the city at 11 AM. I’d decided to forgo renting a car, so I took a bus (that seemed to be waiting on me) into town. I got off just north of University of Texas’ campus and two blocks south of the seminary. It was a few minutes after noon when I arrived.
The guy at the guest counter was accommodating for my early arrival. I dropped my bags in my room. While they normally don’t have food service during the weekend, this day there was a multi-cultural seminar going on and some of the faculty, who were talking behind me as I asked the person at the desk where to go for lunch, invited me to join them. I had wonderful homemade tamales and other Mexican and Native American food. It was made even better as I got to talk over lunch with a number of the students at the seminar.
Then I headed out. As I have been reading Robert Caro’s multi-volume biography of the first President I can really remember, Lyndon Johnson, I head over to his library and museum on the east side of UT’s campus. I was curious of the spin they’d put on this complex man. I thought the library looked like an oversized mausoleum. As I came into the museum, a docent greeted me. I was told that it was a free day, which surprised me, but I didn’t complain. We talked a few minutes and I had to tell him the first joke I can remember, which probably came from an old Boy’s Life magazine around 1965:
What do you get when you up your finger in the President’s ear? Johnson’s wax.
I was sure he had heard it, but it turns out he had not and had me tell it to a few others working in the museum. While the museum was honest about some of LBJ’s struggles and failures, it avoided dealing with some of his childhood and education issues and the extramarital affairs he had. Caro tells of LBJ’s affair with the wife of one of his big financial supporters. Forget morality, that took nerve (and a lot of risk)! One of the neat displays had a wax figure of Johnson telling jokes. LBJ was known for his jokes and stories (and getting into people’s faces).
It was around 4:30 when I left the library. I headed over to the Texas Memorial museum. By the time I got there, I only had 20 minutes, but since I was told the day was free, I decided to see what I could. I also asked why things were free and learned that this day, at the beginning of the South-by-Southwest festival, is the traditional day for upcoming freshmen to visit the University of Texas. So, they made things free. The orientation day had been canceled, but they kept the museums free. The Memorial Museum focuses on natural history and has a huge skeleton of a prehistoric bird that practically fills the main room on the first floor. Texas does like to show off how big things are there.
After my rush tour through the Natural History Museum, I walked over to Pho Thai Son, a Vietnamese restaurant I’d seen along Guadalupe Street, on the far side of the campus. I enjoyed an evening meal of Pork and Lemon Grass on a salad base. I then walked back to my room at the Seminary and went to bed early.
I’d decided to attend church at Central Presbyterian, which was about a mile and a half walk from the seminary. It was the day we changed to daylight saving time, but since I was an hour off from my usual time, I didn’t notice losing the hour. Since there was no meal service at the seminary on the weekends, I left early hoping that I could find something to eat along the way. Walking through the campus on the “Speedway,” I came upon a unique sculpture. I often wondered what happened to all those old aluminum canoes from the 70s. Now I know, they are welded into a canoe tree that stands to the side of the speedway (which is really a walkway). Getting to church early, without passing anyplace to eat, I find Bidemans Deli, a block to the west. I had breakfast and read till a few minutes before church was to begin at 10 AM. At church, they started with an announcement about the closing of South-by-Southwest. This church was a site for many of the musical venues, but without the event, they were out of a lot of money. I was impressed that the church included all types of people. There were homeless (which they feed afterwards) and those in suits. I was casually dressed as I planned to make the most of my day. Most of the congregation was on the younger side, but I learned that many of their regulars who were older were not there out of the fear of the virus. There was a guest preacher this day. He was articulate, and I enjoyed listening to him even if he spent a little too much time talking about himself and his family.
After church was over, I backtracked and attended the sermon part of the mass at the Catholic Cathedral. There, the priest must have been Vietnamese or from somewhere in Southeast Asia. His homily was packed with information, but he read the sermon and never made eye contact. I found myself wondering if he had even written the sermon, or if he was just reading someone else’s. However, unlike the Presbyterian Church where people were already staying away due to virus fears, the Catholic Church was packed. I listened to the homily and then left, heading to the capitol as my first stop as a tourist.
The Texas capitol looks a lot like the United States capitol, only dirty. It is also a few feet taller, something Texans are proud of and I have no idea how many people bragged about this to me. Not wanting to start a war, I did not tell them I thought their capitol looked dirty. I wanted to make it safely out of the state. The “dirty look” comes from the reddish colored marble. Originally, they were going to use limestone, but found that Texas limestone discolors. The contractor suggested importing white marble from Indiana, but that flew over about as well as a block of marble. Instead, they found a Texas quarry that could mine this reddish-brown marble and used it. Texas tried to build its capitol on the cheap (using convict labor). The miners in the quarry decided to strike instead of teaching the convicts how to do their job, which meant that the marble cost more than planned. But they saved on all other aspects of the building.
After touring the inside of the capitol, I walked around looking at the monuments dotting the grounds, then headed South. I had wanted to go see Ladybird Johnson’s wildflowers, but learned that was two miles beyond bus service. So instead, I headed to Zikler Botanical Garden. Walking south, I crossed the Colorado River on the Congress Avenue Bridge, known for its large colony of bats during the summer (they are not normally seen until April). Then I headed up Barton Springs Road, stopping for an ice cream cone to tide me over till dinner time. Along the way, I passed Terry Black’s Barbecue. They had five huge cookers going, using split hardwood. I talked with one of the pit workers and knew where I was going to go for dinner. I head on to the Botanical Gardens, which sit up on a hill overlooking Austin. I enjoy the view and the scenery, especially the Japanese garden. There were many lovely water features that started at the top of the hill and created cascading creeks flowing down the sides.
After a few hours of walking through the gardens and some time to write and read, I began my walk back along the river, watching several rowing crews practice on the water. Then I cut back over to Barton Springs Road, where I’m shocked at the line at Terry Black’s. I was told it was a 45-minute wait. If folks are waiting that long it must be good, I thought, and joined the line. It was. I had some of their pork and a brisket, both which were good. The banana pudding was passable.
The sun was setting by the time I was fed. I continued back toward the campus several miles away, crossing the river on the Lamar Street bridge. I walked fast through a mostly empty city, arriving back at the campus around 8:30 PM. Several of those in the seminar had arrived and we talked a bit. They had not eaten and decide to go out for dinner while I read a bit before turning in early. It had been a good day and I figured I’d walked at least 15 miles.
The rest of the week rushed by. We meet for three hours each morning and another three hours in the afternoon, followed by dinner. The first night was at La Mancha, a Tex-Mex establishment. On Tuesday night, we had barbecue at “The County Line,” which had a wonderful view of a stream that look so inviting for fishing. Wednesday, we ate “Hoovers,” a well known Southern cuisine establishment that’s been featured on “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.” All were excellent restaurants. While we were involved in talking and making presentations, we kept an eye on the stock market and on the news of the country shutting down due to COVID-19. The market was taking some huge drops, would regain a bit, then drop again. There was a weird feeling in the air. In the seminary’s lunchroom, they were wiping the tables and putting up safety signs.
On Wednesday evening, I worked on a letter to go out to the congregation. With staff, we sent drafts back and forth, ironing out safety procedures for worshipping during a pandemic. After several revisions and phone calls, they sent the letter (which I posted here) out on Thursday in an email blast.
Our last day was Thursday. John, another participant, and I had half a day, so we skipped the airport shuttle and walked over to the Harry Reason Center at UT’s campus. This building holds collections of interesting historical artifacts and papers. We both took pictures standing behind an original Gutenberg Bible. They had an exhibit of David Forster Wallace and Gabriel García Márquez, both of whom the Center holds many of their papers. Both exhibits were interesting. We then headed back to the seminary, picked up our bags and took the bus to the airport. It was March 12, and a completely different attitude could be felt. The place was not very crowded. We flew through security and after a final dinner, we were on our way home in half-filled airplanes. The world had changed.
When I went into the office on Friday, exhausted from the travels, things were seriously shutting down. While we decided not to shut-down worship on Sunday, we sent another email out to the congregation, encouraging them to stay home and to watch our service via live-stream. All but one other of the churches on the island had closed. We only had around 35 in worship on March 15. It was the last week of any kind of regular service. Ever since, a skeleton crew of 6 or 7 have put together a live-streamed worship service. Our draft pandemic procedures were quickly made obsolete.
It now seems as if it was two years ago that I was walking around Austin.
Eric Goodman, Cuppy and Stew: The Bombing of Flight 629, A Love Story (San Francisco: IF SF Publishing, 2020), 220 pages with a few photographs.
The narrator is Susan, the youngest daughter of Cuppy and Stew, who died in the crash of United 629 in 1955. She and her sister, Sherry, are orphaned and sent to Canada, where their parents are from, even though they were born in South Africa and were living in the United States. The book nicely divides in half, with the first part providing us the background of their parent’s steamy romance. This led their father accepting a position as a mining engineer in South Africa. Then came the Second World War. Stuck in South Africa, they had two kids. After the war, they move to the United States and are living near Chicago. With the father having been estranged from his family (I won’t give it away, you will have to read the book to learn why), the girls maternal grandmother stays with them while their parents travel by plane to the West Coast. They change planes in Denver, at which time their lives unknowingly intersect a disturbed young man who had stashed a dynamite bomb in his mother’s suitcase. The man then purchased insurance on his mother. The plane, which should have been high over the mountains when the dynamite exploded, had been delayed and was only ten minutes into the flight. Everyone died, but because the crash was over farmland, it was quickly discovered how the plane crashed and who had done the deed. The bomber’s pending execution hangs over the two girls.
After the crash, the girl’s adolescent years in Canada are horrible. They first live with the grandmother who has many problems of her own. Then there are other relatives and foster families and a boarding school. The girls face abuse-emotional, physical and sexual. Susan, the narrator, is able to escape (she goes to Northwestern for college), while Sherry is trapped and unable to escape the dysfunctional situation she and her sister found themselves in as younger girls. The book is both hopeful and sad. There are adults whom the reader will want to slap upside the head and ask why they have to be such a monster or so cruel. And there are others who do what they can to look out for the girls. Children should never be pawns. Sadly, however, too many are pawns in an impersonal world, as show in this story.
This is a very personal book for Goodman. While it is book of fiction, it is based on his wife’s and sister-in-law’s story. Their parents died on United 629. The book reads well and quickly. This is the second book I’ve read by Goodman. Two years ago, in preparation to taking a writing class from him at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, I read and reviewed his book, Days of Awe.
High tide last night was at 9 PM. I went out around 8 PM, catching the last of the sunset and then watching the moonrise, paddling around Pigeon Island (approximately 5 miles). The tide was very high and I could easily go through the marsh. Here’s a poor quality photo taken with a smart phone from a kayak that was slightly rocking from the gentle waves. The photo doesn’t do the view justice. It was an incredible sight and the paddle was delightful
Surprisingly, things have been pretty busy for the past six weeks. You’d think t hat wouldn’t be the case since many places are closed down to visitors so I’m not making hospital or nursing home visits. Our office is closed for public visitation, but since they’re all separated, some of us still come in. Learning how to keep a congregation somewhat connected during a time of pandemic has taken it’s toll. Nothing is as easy as you’d think. The main thing that has keep me sane is that I’ve been able to regularly bike to work–which is good for the 3.2 miles each way gives me some physical exercise since the fitness center is closed. Plus, if I’m not going to the hospital, I don’t need a car, and since people only see me via a zoom camera, I can wear a dress shirt and shorts! That’s me, riding to work one cool morning this week.
But by last week, things were clicking and I was able to get out on the water twice. Last Wednesday, I paddled over to Wassaw Island, took a nap and did some reading and writing while on the island, then paddled back. It’s about five miles each way. While I paddled with the tide, I had quite a wind against me heading out (thankfully the wind was to my back when I paddled home.
On the two trips I did, I decided to try to do a “devotion” from my kayak. I recorded these on Facebook live and had a lot of folks watching and commenting. Then I copied and posted in my newly created YouTube channel, so you can watch. I need to learn to do this a little smoother, but I’m curious as to what you think. The first (3 minutes) is a prayer by a favorite Scottish theologian of the early 20th Century, John Braille. The second includes two poems (one by Mary Karr and the other by me) along with a Puritan prayer. Clink on the links below:
What are you reading this days? Looking for a good book while you isolate yourself? Here are three books from books I recently read. It’s by sheer accident that two of them discuss Epictetus (but different parts of his philosophy):
P. M. Forni, The Civility Solution: What to Do When People are Rude (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008), 266 pages including notes.
The late P. M. Forni was the founder of the Civility Institute at John Hopkins University. In this short book, he deals with issues we face all the time, rude people. He encourages his readers to take the high and honest road when dealing with such folks. It’s the only way to build a more civil world.
In the first chapter, Forni defines rudeness as a disregard for others and an attempt to “control through invalidation”. He lists the costs rudeness has for individuals, the economy, and society: stress, loss of self-esteem, loss of productivity, and the potential of violence. He also discusses the cause of rudeness, which is simplifies as a bad “state of mind”.
In the second chapter, Forni presents and explains how to prevent rudeness by listing and explaining eight rules for a civil life:
Slow down and be present in your life
Listen to the voice of empathy
Keep a positive attitude
Respect others and grant them plenty of validation
Disagree graciously and refrain from arguing
Get to know the people around you
Pay attention to the small things
Ask, don’t tell
In the third chapter, Forni writes about how we can “accept real-life rudeness.” He quotes Epictetus, who encourages us to want things to happen as they happen for a life to go well. After all, we can’t control other people, and if we expect that there will be rudeness in life, we won’t be surprised. But once we accept the situation, then we can act upon it, which may be to remove ourselves or to refuse to be react. “Rudeness is someone else’s problem foisted on you,” Forni notes (62). Once we accept reality, we may choose to respond appropriately and even assertively to redirect the situation.
In the fourth chapter, Forni writes about how we respond to rudeness, but does so by beginning with a wonderful (and very rude example) from two 18th Century British politicians. Scolding his rival, John Montagu cried, “Upon my soul, Wilkes, I don’t know whether you’ll die upon the gallows or of syphilis.” Wilkes responded, “That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles, or your mistress” (67). Forni suggests that when we encounter rudeness, we cool off, calm ourselves, don’t take it personally (most often it’s not personal), and then decide what we need to do. While we do not need to respond to all situations, we don’t want to ignore all situations, either. When we do decide to confront, we need to state the problem, inform the offending party of its effect upon you, and request such behavior to cease. Forni then lists special situations such as bullying, rudeness at work, and rudeness with children.
The second half of the book consists of a series of case studies. Starting with those close to us, Forni offers examples of rudeness that we might face along with a solution to how we might confront the behavior. Other chapters deal with rudeness from neighbors, at the workplace, on the road, from service workers, and within digital communications. While these chapters contained many important ideas and examples, it essentially applied the principals laid out in the first half of the book. It’s too bad that Forni is no longer with us. He could have updated this issue with a section on political rudeness.
Another of Forni’s books have been on reading list for some time. This book was brought to me by a colleague, who had found it at a book exchange and brought it for me, knowing of my interest in civility. I was glad to read it and would recommend it. I also look forward to reading more of Forni’s writings.
N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues (New York: HarperOne, 2014), 223 pages including a scripture index.
This is a collection of twelve lectures crafted into independent articles addressing many contemporary issues in the world: the debate over science and religion, the role of women within the church, the environmental crisis, evil, natural disasters, politics, and the future. For those who have some familiarity with Wright’s theology, you will see many of these topics addressed with his recognizable theology of the cross and resurrection ushering in a new era in which we now live. The resurrection is the eighth day of a new creation brought to us by God the Redeemer (paralleling the new creation in Genesis). For Wright, the purpose of salvation is to restore us to stewards of creation (36). Wright is also critical of the adoption of Epicureanism during the Enlightenment, which allowed us to do away with “God.” The result is that we’ve gone back to the old gods of Aphrodite, Mammon, and Mars. In other words, we’ve “got rid of God upstairs so that we can live our own lives the way we want…. And have fallen back into the clutches of forces and energies that are bigger than ourselves… forces we might as well recognize as god” (149-154). Wright also draws some interesting comparisons from his native home in the United Kingdom to the religious situation in American. He points out how the “right” is seen as the savior of religion in American, and how it’s the “left” in Britain that for the past forty years have tried to restore religion to the public life (164). The closing essays looks at the future. While debunking ideas such as the rapture and others end world scenarios popularized by the “Left Behind” series, he leaves his readers with a more hopeful vision of the future. I enjoyed these essays. They left me with a lot to ponder and I recommend the book to others interested in how the Christian faith might inform our lives and world today.
There is much about the South in these poems. Her grandfather’s grandfather walks back from Richmond in the spring of 1865, burying his burdens along the way. A girl becomes a woman in the industrial city of Birmingham, Alabama, with its mile-long coal trains snaking around closed steel mills. While the title poem, “Dear Vulcan,” is set in Birmingham, Davenport explores many places across the region. There are urban and rural settings, places inland and others by the ocean. Hell is seen in a basement pool hall. The August thunderstorm at night “washes summer metallic edge from the air.” There’s the city without women, which keeps reappearing, populated by a boy experiencing the world. Sexuality is explored in parked cars, church basements, and by a married couple drawn to each other in bed after painting the room. In each poem, the reader stumbles upon more pleasant surprises.
While I found much about the South in these poems that I related to, the one missing element was race. Birmingham was not just the Southern Pittsburgh; it was also the city of Bull O’Conner and the 16th Street Baptist Church where four young black girls waiting for their Sunday School class to begin, died in a racist firebombing. Perhaps, one could hope, this could be forgotten and buried or painted over, and we could have a South where race no longer mattered. But that’s my bias, instilled by growing up during the Civil Rights era. But maybe the absence of race (as in women in the poems in cities without women) is that the South often struggles to ignore that which it doesn’t want to face. In my own personal life, I am still amazed that I could live in a city in Virginia for three years, (this was before they segregated schools) and never realize that we (whites) made up only 20% of the population. For the South as a region to come of age, it’ll have to learn to face the unspeakable. In the meantime, children become adults and must experience the world around them which Davenport captures beautifully.
I met Davenport through a writer’s group that I’m in. I was hoping to catch her book release, but it was the day after I had flown back from Austin, Texas, just as the country was shutting down over the fear of COVID-19. As I had been around several hundred of my “best friends” inside two airplanes, I decided it was best if I self-quarantined. I missed the reading at the Book Lady Bookstore but was able to pick up a signed copy of the book thanks to the “Booklady” (who had an employee drop the book off at my office on his way home). How’s that for service!
The 2020 baseball season was scheduled to kickoff this past weekend. Unfortunately, it has been postponed due to the current pandemic. So here is a poem I wrote this weekend (you can even listen to it–how neat is that) along with a review of a book I recently read with my book club on the 1949 baseball season. Enjoy and wash your hands!.
I am not sure why there is not the arrow to start in the strip below, but if you click just to the left of the 00:00, you can start the recording. It’s a minute and 16 seconds long.
David Halberstam, Summer of ‘49, (1989, New York: HarperPerennial, 2002), 354 pages, with a bibliography, index, and some black and white photographs.
In the post wars years, as players returned from the war, baseball captured the imagination of Americans. It was America’s sport. Football and basketball prominence was still in the future. The ballpark was a place where the melting pot vision could be witnessed firsthand. Immigrant children like the DiMaggios (there were three brothers who played in the majors) were second generation Italians and stars. Then, staring in 1947 with Jackie Robinson, African-Americans were included in the roosters. Postwar ball reached a new height with the thrilling 1948 pennant race in the American League. In the days before playoff series, the top team in each league went to the World Series, and if there was a tie, there was a one game playoff. Three teams were in contention in ‘48: the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox’s and the New York Yankees. The Indians won, leaving the younger Red Sox’s and the older Yankees disappointed.
The 1949 season turned out to be just as exciting as the Yankees and Red Sox’s battled it out for the American League pennant. The season began with the Yankees great Joe DiMaggios (who’d bridged the team from the Ruth/Gehrig era to the Mantle/Maris era) being out with an injured foot. The other great hitter was the Red Sox’s Ted Williams. Also playing for the Red Sox’s was Joe’s brother, Dominic. It was an exciting season in which the Yankees won the pennant in the last inning of the last game as the two teams battled it out.
Halberstam, who was a teenager during this season, captures the excitement that came down to the final inning. Once again, the Red Sox’s are disappointed. The Yankees win. Halberstam tells the story of this season, providing insight into the financial workings of baseball as well the changes that were taking place. This was a time when players still mostly traveled in trains, but planes were making their debut. It was also a time that most games, which had previously not been broadcast locally, were being on the air and great names were emerging in the broadcast booth, many who would soon become the well-known reporters who overshadowed the previously honored sportswriters. Even television made an appearance during the World Series. And for the Yankees, new names were rising up such as their new manager, Casey Stengel, and their rookie catcher, Yogi Berra. Other players who would grow into greatness were also beginning to make themselves known such as Willie Mays (whom the Yankees took a pass on due to his race).
Although I have never liked the Yankees, I was impressed with their teams discipline and how they instilled hard playing in each member of the team. Joe DiMaggio exemplifies this when asked why he plays so hard in games in which little was at stake and he responded that there might be someone in the crowd who’d never seen him play. For anyone who enjoys baseball, this is a good read.
If you have time on your hands as we wait out this pandemic, there are two good books that I recommend to anyone who enjoys history. In they cover three wars (Mexican, Civil, and World War II).
S. C. Gwynne, Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson (New York: Scribner, 2014), 672 pages including appendix, notes, bibliography, maps. There are eight pages of black and white photos.
Stonewall Jackson was an amazing man. Deeply religious, somewhat of a hypochondriac, who had led an honorable but not overly impressive life, he rises to the top during the Civil War. Gwynne portrays his life and death in a compelling manner that shows not only what he meant for the Confederacy but also to America. At the end of the book, he may have overreached when he suggests that Jackson’s death at the height of his career was the first major death in this country by someone at the height of their fame. While the nation had lost former presidents and war heroes, most had been out of office or their deaths came years after their military career. Jackson’s death, mistakenly shot by his own troops, occurred just after his army won a major victory over a much larger Union army at Chancellorsville. In two years, Lincoln’s death would be the next major American hero to die at the zenith of their life.
Jackson was a man who overcame many obstacles. He was orphaned at an early age and sent to live and work with relatives in Jackson Mill, Virginia (now West Virginia). However, Jackson was ambitious and while not a great student, he was able to work himself into West Point. There, he worked very hard as it was quickly evident that he was not prepared for the rigorous course of study. By the time of his graduation, he had come from the bottom of the class to graduate at number 17. His class of 1846 would produce more generals than any other class at the Academy: 22 in all, 12 for the Union and 10 for the South.
In the Mexican war, Jackson stood out as a brave officer, one whose artillery unit held its ground against a much larger Mexican force at the Battle or Contreras, just outside of Mexico City.
After the Mexican War, Jackson served at a military post in Florida before taking a teaching position at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. He was considered a poor teacher except for in the subject of artillery. He was known for his Puritanical habits, but also had a happy home life until his first wife died, along with her daughter, in childbirth. He would marry again. Anna, his second wife, would also lose a child. In 1862, staying with her parents in North Carolina (her father was a Presbyterian pastor and president of Davidson College), she gave birth to daughter whom Jackson would only see for a few days including the day he died of his wounds. Jackson, while very private in person, was much more social and warmer with his family. This biography liberally quotes from Jackson’s personal letters that show his warmth.
Jackson was also a very committed Christian and a member of the Presbyterian Church. He had considered the ministry, but never became a a public speaker. He was a Deacon and started a Sunday School for African Americans in Lexington, both slaves and free. Interestingly, while he owned six slaves, they were obtained in a unique manner. His second wife received three as a wedding present, but the other three had been purchased by Jackson. The first, Albert, had asked Jackson to buy him and to let him work off his bondage for freedom. Jackson did and leased him to VMI as a waiter. When he was ill, Jackson took care of him, and before the war, Albert had paid Jackson for his purchase. Amy, his second slave, was about to be sold to pay a debt of her master. She, too, asked Jackson to buy her. And the third slave he purchased was a young girl owned by an older woman in town. This girl had a learning disability and Jackson agreed to buy her, thinking she could be useful to his wife. The three slaves that came with Anna included her nurse from infancy and her two teenage sons. Anna would teach both boys to read.
Much of the book is about Jackson’s rise to one of the great military geniuses of the Civil War. Being from the Virginia mountains and lacking the “blue blood” of Virginia’s planter class, Jackson was initially looked down on by many within the Southern leadership. This had also been the case when he was a he had been a student at West Point and a few of those earlier feuds (from “Blue Blooded” Virginians) continued into the war years. Jackson became a hero at First Manassas (Bull Run). Then, given command of the mountainous area in Western Virginia, he crippled three much larger Union armies that had been sent against him with a plan to burn the breadbasket of the Shenandoah Valley. Jackson was known for the element of surprise, pushing his men harder to do what no one thought possible. He was not one to share much information with others, including his commanders. These had to learn to trust his commands. Jackson was also strict as a commanding officer, demanding obedience of his orders. Often, his strictness, especially his punishment of those under his command, were overruled by the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.
Jackson was involved in the Peninsula campaign. During this campaign, Jackson failed on several occasions to achieve the initiative but coming on the aftermath of his victories in the Shenandoah Valley, his failures may have resulted from exhaustion. He would later take a lead role in routing the Union Armies a second time at Manassas. Afterwards, at Harper’s Ferry, he captured the largest group of soldiers up to that time ever captured in America, even larger than the number of British who surrendered at Yorktown. A few days later, at Antietam, Jackson was responsible for the Union’s inability to break the Confederate lines and achieve a victory. He would later be responsible for the Union disasters at Fredericksburg. During the winter of 1862-1863, Jackson spent time encouraging religious revivals and establishing a chaplain corps for the Confederate Army. As the winter waned, Jackson’s brilliant strategy at Chancellorsville stopped the Union attempt to move behind the Confederate Army. It was there, where he was shot in the arm and hand. His arm was amputated. He would later die of his wounds. His was a glorious career, that was cut short by a mistaken identity.
This book reads like a novel. It is the second book I’ve read by Gwynne. A year or so ago, I read Empire of the Summer Moon. Both are excellent reads. Gwynne’s research is impressive, and his writing is engaging.
Andy Rooney, My War (1995, NY: Public Affairs, 2000), 333 pages including an index and a few black and white photographs.
Like many Americans, I always enjoyed listening to Andy Rooney. He was the best part of the CBS news show 60 minutes and even if I missed the show, I tried to catch Rooney’s monologue at the end. Reading this book about his war years, I could hear his voice and imagine him reading the words to me. The book is filled with insight and humor, as only Rooney was able to pull off.
Rooney was in college before the war. The draft had begun, and he had been called up for the Army. He trained to be in the artillery. Even back then, Rooney was something of a troublemaker. He told about one officer whom he disliked and who was bucking for a promotion. Rooney’s job was to put the right amount of powder bags into the gun behind the projectile. They would call out the coordinates and the bags of powder needed, and Rooney would either put too many or two few and the projectile would either fall short or overshoot the target. The officer didn’t get the promotion. After the war started, Rooney’s unit headed to England, where he received a lucky break. He transferred into the correspondence pool, become a writer from the Army’s Stars and Stripes newspaper. With a million Americans in Europe, the newspaper was a major production. It was also a training ground for those who would step up and take starring roles in American media for the rest of the century.
While in England, Rooney was assigned to a wing of the 8th Army Air Force. He would write stories about the mission and the men whose daring raids over German was attempting to crush the German industrial might. But it was a costly business as planes were often lost behind enemy lines. As a correspondent, Rooney even had an opportunity to go on such missions, including one horrific event that he describes. In this book, he also writes honestly about what he didn’t write for the newspaper. He’d heard and witnessed many horrors that he wouldn’t report on because it would not have been good for morale
As D-Day approached, Rooney was assigned to go ashore with the Army. He spent most of the rest of the war driving his own jeep around Europe in search of stories. At times, he was dangerously close to the enemy and at other times he was enjoying the good life of food and wine. He did miss out on the Battle of the Bulge when he was temporarily reassigned to New York (each of the correspondents took turns of working a few weeks in the New York offices). But he was back toward the end of the war. When other reporters told him of the horrors of Buchenwald (one of the German concentration camps), he wouldn’t write about it as he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He set out to see for himself, an event that continued to haunt Rooney for the rest of his life.
As the war in Europe came to an end, Rooney had a chance to travel to American bases in India, Burma and China, before traveling home.
I appreciated Rooney’s insight on heroes, which he suggests that it’s best that we don’t meet our heroes. Hemingway had been a hero of his, until he met him in Europe. He was never much of a fan of General Patton, which he remarked in one of his 60 minutes monologues. He recalled how Patton’s daughter wrote to inform him that her father wouldn’t have been impressed with him, either.
My biggest complaint about the book was Rooney’s take on my home state of North Carolina. He didn’t like the state and even questioned why his friend and North Carolina native Charles Kuralt liked it so. Sadly, Rooney had the misfortune of spending 6 months in barracks at Fort Bragg, which is one of the less nice parts of the state.
A couple of quotes:
“Patriotism and war go together. Anytime anyone gets to thinking patriotism is one of the supreme virtues, it would be a good idea to remember that there was never any group of people more patriotic than the Nazi Germans. It’s strange that a love for country brings out the vicious character in so many people. In that respect, it’s a lot like religion. Here are two things that almost everyone believe are good, patriotism and religion, but between them they account for almost all the people who ever died in a war.”
“The whole business of reporting makes me suspicious of history.”
How are you handling this pandemic and avoiding crowds? Read any good books lately?
I spent the last week at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in a Foundation for Reformed Theology seminar discussing the writings of John Leith. The seminary’s campus is just north of the University of Texas’ campus, which allowed us to do some exploring during free time. This photo is of me checking out one of the surviving Gutenberg Bibles that’s on display at the Harry Ransom Center. It was an interesting time to be away as we kept hearing about how the COVID-19 virus is spreading around the world. Working with Deanie and the rest of the staff at SIPC, we sent out this communication to our church family yesterday, which I am posting below. We need to be diligent and to remember that the virus isn’t just about us, but those we may be contact with, many of whom may have underlying health issues that could make this virus really bad:
SIPC Responds to Health Concerns
As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads across the globe, we are reminded that the world we live in can be a scary place. But as followers of Jesus Christ, who trust in a benevolent God through life and death, let us hold fast to our faith and do what we can to mitigate risks to ourselves and others.
The staff and leaders on our Property and Worship committees have been in touch and are implementing the following suggestions in preparation for Sunday’s worship service:
Increasing the cleaning of hard surfaces in the church, including the backs and armrests of sanctuary pews and door knobs
Refraining from the Passing of the Peace and encouraging ushers and all present to greet one another with a smile and their favorite “non-contact” gesture
Encouraging worshippers to be seated throughout the sanctuary, possibly on alternate rows, to give adequate social distancing
Placing offering plates at doors and on vestibule and communion tables rather than passing them
Asking anyone handling food for communion or at coffee hour to sanitize hands and use gloves located in the kitchen
Asking members and visitors to wash their hands regularly and to use the hand sanitizer dispensers mounted upon entry into the flower room by the Sanctuary, Liston Hall, and the Office Workroom (Note: Other sanitizer pumps are being placed throughout the church but members are also invited to bring their own sanitizer with them!)
Promoting our Live Stream option to those who are not feeling well or who have health conditions that make them vulnerable. To Live Stream the Sunday worship service, go to sipres.org and scroll down to the red “Watch Live” box on the Homepage just before 10 AM. Please share this link with friends and family members.
As uncertain as these times are in matters of health and finance, let us place our trust in the eternal God who holds us in the palm of His hands and remember, “God is good all the time…And all the time, God is good.” The church is at its best when we minister to those around us and so we encourage you to reach out to someone in need, go to the store for a friend, help sanitize public places, and be considerate of those who may be more vulnerable than you. Let us look to the example Jesus set for us in relieving the suffering of others.
If you have concerns, please reach out to your church. Please contact us if you or someone you know is sick or self-quarantined. If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, communicate with us immediately.
We will continue to look to the state and local public health departments and the CDC for guidance about best practices and procedures. If that results in a change in what we are doing or what we ask you to help us with, we will let you know.
We are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ. –Hebrew 3:6