Travels, Readings, and Reviews

author sailing on a Rhodes 19 out of Landings Harbor
Sailing out of Landings Harbor

I’ve been gone for the last nine days. Last week, I attended the Theology Matters Conference at Providence Presbyterian on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. This is their third conference and they’ve all had excellent presentations. This was no exception. Then I headed down to Skidaway Island, where I lived outside of Savannah. There I met up with some friends I used to gather with for late Friday afternoon board meetings. I also got in some sailing with other friends. Then I drove up to Wilmington, NC, to see my dad, along with one of my brothers, my sister, and some friends. While the wind kept us off the water, I did do some hiking around Carolina Beach State Park. I came home yesterday. Below, I review three books I read while away: 

Douglas W. Tallamy, The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees

Cover of "The Nature of Oaks"


(Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 2021), 197 pages including references, planting guides, and index. Many photos. 

The author moved to a new home in Pennsylvania in 2000. Shortly afterwards, he collected an acorn from a nearby white oak tree. Planting it in a container, it sprouted. After it grew some, he replanted on his property. After 18. years, the white oak is still young, but nearly forty feet tall. He author comes back to this tree, which serves as his laboratory for studies and his example for talking about the lives associated with oaks. This book is organized month by month as we gain insight into what’s happening to the oak as well as those whose lives depend on oaks. Such lives include not just insects and caterpillars living on the oaks, but also birds and other animals that feed such animals. 

This book is a delightful read. While I have known that trees often have bumper crops of acorns and other fruit, I never knew it had a name (masting). I always assumed this phenomenon helped overwhelm animals depending on certain seeds, knowing that they couldn’t eat all of a bumper crop and some seeds will help the plant reproduce. I learned this is only one of three possible answers to the question of “masting.” Nor did I know that blue jays will often bury acorns up to a mile from the oak that produced the seed.  Nor did I know that oaks provide a larger percentage of the insects needed by songbirds to survive than other trees. While I certainly knew that oaks and even more so, birch, hold their leaves sometimes through winter, I know why or that there was a name to describe this phenomenon (marcescent). Even more amazing is Dolbear’s Law, which accounts for how fast crickets chirp based on the temperature. These are just a few of the interesting facts presented by Tallamy in his book of wonder. 

Tallamy warns us of overusing insecticides, which have devastating impact on wildlife (especially birds). He shows how the oak is quiet resultant, often surviving attacks by insects and even plants like mistletoe that live in its limbs. Because of this book, I’m going to find some white oak acorns and plant them on my property! Of course, don’t expect this book to teach you how to tell the difference between a white, red, or black oak. This is not a guidebook, but a book that describes how a specific tree can benefit our world.

Thorpe Moeckel, Down by the Eno, Down by the Haw: A Wonder Almanac

Cover of "Down by the Eno, Down by the Haw"

 (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2019), 127 pages.

I picked up this book because when I was younger, I felt the call of the Haw River and wanted to spend as much time as possible running its rapids. I’d never paddled the Eno, but I knew of it. I was expecting to learn more about these two streams. Reading the book, I was shocked to learn that wasn’t what the book is about. Instead, the author who is also a poet, spent a year collecting these thoughts while living in the North Carolina piedmont. He’s drawn into the woods. While he mentions rivers, he doesn’t identify which one. Other times, he’s visiting a pond instead of a river or describes walking in the woods. His focus is to describe in detail what is going own around him. It must have been a year with many hurricanes striking the coast for Moeckel describes their aftermath after they pour out their water over the piedmont and mountains. 

Like The Nature of Oaks, Moeckel divides his thoughts by months. In each month, he makes multiple trips into the woods. He’s observant and his writing reads like a prose poem.  It took me a few months to really get into his writing. By the end, I was sad there were no more months.  To read about my first experience with the Haw and another book review of the river, click here.

Rick Bragg, A Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People

Cover of "The Speckled Beauty"

(2021, Audible), 6 hours and 22 minutes. 

The thing about dog stories which have haunted me since I watch Old Yeller as a kid is that in the end, the dog dies. And I have shed more than my share of tears over the death of dogs, both those I’ve known in life and those I’ve read about. The good thing about this book is that Speck doesn’t die. He lives on with us, still chasing cars and animals and rolling in stinky dead stuff. As Bragg claims, his dog isn’t a “good boy,” but he still uses that term. When Bragg is away from home, his mother, or his brother (who lives next door) are likely to throw Speck in jail (the outdoor pen). But Bragg has a soft heart from this stray dog that showed up one day at his house. The dog was missing an eye and beaten up, having obviously been in a few fights. Bragg cleans him up and as he recovers, takes him to the vet. It was just what a man, who had a host of health issue, needed. He nurses the dog back to health and in a mysterious way, the dog helps him overcome heart and kidney failure, cancer, and other ailments of a man beginning his sixth decade.

I listened to this book. The author reads the story. His slow voice tells the story in a way that I might have been out on the back porch listening. Of course, I wasn’t. I was in a car on a six-hour drive to a conference on Hilton Head Island. While this book might be classified as a memoir of him and his family, he doesn’t focus on himself. Furthermore, Bragg’s humor is often self-effacing. He says he’s living in his mother’s basement (but if I remember correctly, in one of his other books he admits to buying his mother a house and land). And once COVID hits, the dog becomes a cherished companion. 

Bragg will have you laughing and crying, sometimes in the same paragraph. This is how storytelling should be done. 

I highly recommend this and many other books by Rick Bragg. See my review of another of his books, The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s TableMy favorite book by Bragg is Ava’s Man.   

Long leaf pines at Carolina Beach State Park
Long Leaf Pines in Carolina Beach State Park

Bringing in Sheaves: The Western Revivals of the Reverend A. B. Earle, 1866-1867

A copy of the American Baptist Quarterly (Fall 2006) in which this article appeared

I am going to do something different and post an old article from a peer review journal. I became interested in A. B. Earle and his west coast revivals while I was writing my dissertation. Afterwards, I spent much time searching out sources of his travels to complete this narrative This involved spending lots of time looking at microfilm of old newspapers. The article was published in the American Baptist Quarterly, volume XXV, #3 (Fall 2006). I apologize for the length of the article. Save yourself some time and skip the footnotes!

Bringing in Sheaves: The Western Revivals of the Reverend A. B. Earle, 1866-1867 Charles Jeffrey Garrison

Photo with signature of A. B. Earle. Copied from his book, "Bringing in Sheaves"

            “Away with it!  Away with him!  Away with the evidence!”  Over and over, the Reverend A. B. Earle slightly changed the phrase to emphasize Jesus’ continual rejection by the Pharisees.  Each story recalled accentuated the danger of not accepting Christ, the implication being that those who rejected him had lost their chance at salvation.   Basing his sermon titled “The Unpardonable Sin” on Matthew 12:32, Earle described the sin as continually saying “‘no, no, no’ to the offers of mercy until you are a sinner let alone or given up by the Holy Spirit.”

            In setting out his argument, Earle asked and answered four questions:  

  1. What is the unpardonable sin?  
  2. Who commits the unpardonable sin?   
  3. How does this sin show itself after it has been committed?
  4. Why can this sin not be forgiven?

This sermon encouraged his listeners to act, not wait, for there is an eternal urgency for them to accept Christ as their Savior.  After making his case, Earle draws the sermon to close, telling a story from the Civil War the nation had recently experienced, emotionally tugging upon the hearts of his listeners.  

According to the story, a soldier had a wound that required a surgeon to amputate a limb near the joint where it attached to the torso.  It appeared the surgery had gone well, but then he began bleeding.  The surgeon was called over and he found the open vein and sewed it up stopping the bleeding.  This happens several times.  Earle, a good storyteller, provided detail to build suspense.  After having stopped the blood on several occasions, blood then began to flow even more freely.  A nurse, placing his thumb over a large artery, called again for the surgeon.  This time, the surgeon discovered he couldn’t sew up the vein without the nurse removing his thumb.  The artery was so large if the thumb was removed, the soldier would die immediately.  The soldier was given the news and arrangements made for him to prepare for death.  He dictated letters to loved ones and made arrangements for his death.  When he was done, he thanked the nurse and told him he could remove his thumb.  The nurse then faced a severe trial for he knew he could not go on holding the artery forever, but also knew that as soon as he removed his thumb, the man would quickly bleed to death.

“I think I feel very much as this nurse did,” Earle told those gathered, “fearing, as I do, that with many in this congregation the crisis has come when you are to decide where you will spend eternity.”  Then after a few more remarks, he asked those who intend to serve God to rise. Earle preached this sermon throughout his revivals on the West Coast during 1866 and 1867 and credited it with bringing “no less than five thousand souls… to embrace Christ.” [1]

For nine months during 1866 and 1867, the Pacific Coast of the United States buzzed with excitement about the Reverend A. B. Earle, a popular preacher from the East.  During this time, Earle traveled up and down the coast, from San Francisco to Portland and inland into the mining districts, leading revivals. Because many of those in the West had roots in New England and New York, they were familiar with revivalism and turned out in large numbers to hear this celebrated preacher.  This paper examines the work of the Reverend A. B. Earle in the American West in the years following the Civil War.  During this time he was one of the two most popular evangelists in the United States, the other being William Boardman.[2]  

In order to understand Earle’s revival methods, one must first have an understanding of the context with which he worked and from which he came.   First, this paper will review the role revivalism played in the Northeastern United States in the first half of the nineteenth century.  Then, it will review Earle’s life and ministry prior to accepting the invitation to preach throughout the West.  Next, it will discuss Earle’s work in the American West, looking at both where he labored as well as the style of his revivals.  Finally, the paper will examine impact of Earle’s revivals.

The Context of Revivalism in American 

Shortly after the turn of the nineteenth century, America entered a second period of intense revivalism.  Starting on the frontier, with a rural communion meeting in Bourbon County, Kentucky, these revivals spread throughout the young nation.[3]   On the frontier, these revivals helped bring a new generation, one that had moved away from the established churches in the East, back into the fold.  But the frontier genesis of the Second Great Awakening quickly shifted to the cities under the leadership of evangelists such as Charles Grandison Finney.  Instead of bringing religion to settlers who had moved away from organized churches, Finney brought religion to individuals living in the shadows of church steeples.  Finney and others like him adopted several new techniques to cultivate the revivals and ensure their success.  In advance of his revivals, Finney organized prayer meetings to prepare the hearts of those involved.  He also employed every available means to advertise the meetings.  The printed word excited the young nation and Finney printed handbills and posters as well as utilizing newspapers to his advantage.  Finney also arranged for special music which drew crowds, held special services for women who were allowed more freedom in his meetings, scheduled them when most people were free to attend, cultivated lay leadership and worked across denominational lines. Converts from Finney’s revivals provided leadership for Abolitionism and other reform movements, even though Finney himself did not support legislating morals.  Instead, he focused on evangelizing individuals in the hope conversions would lead to a change of heart and behavior that would eventually transform a nation.[4]

In the aftermath of the Second Great Awakening, America witnessed an explosion of lay-led, religious-based organizations focusing on single issues such as Abolition, temperance, labor reform and Sunday School promotion.  Even though the excitement of the Second Great Awakening ebbed during the mid-1830s, these groups flourished, bringing religion into the public sphere. [5]

The next major nationwide revival began in the September 1857 when Jeremiah Calvin Lanphier, a former businessman and lay leader in the New York City’s Fulton Street Dutch Reformed Church began holding prayer services at lunchtime for businessmen in the financial district of the city.[6]   The telegraph and newspapers spread the excitement throughout the nation. This “national Pentecost,” as Timothy Smith called the revival, led many to hope that an “America baptized in the Holy Spirit” could “destroy the evils of slavery, poverty and greed.”[7]  Although Smith may overstate the goals of the revival, it impacted the entire nation, with a number of its converts playing a major role in the nation’s religious history for the next half century.[8]

The revival that began in 1857 marks several shifts in American religious history.   While earlier revivals provided opportunities for women to participate, the mid-century revivals began during a resurgence of masculine Christianity. At his first businessmen prayer meeting, Lanphier asked a woman to leave because he felt her attendance would discourage men from attending. However, as with the earlier revivals, women soon played a role, and church membership statistics for the period indicate that more women than men made a formal commitment to join a congregation.[9] The mid-century revivals were known for their civility.  Order was a primary concern in these revivals and revivalists were proud of the business-like attitude of the services. Of course, this does not mean that feelings or emotions played no role in the revivals.  Prayer, testimony and hymns, which had gained popularity in churches during the first half of the nineteenth century, were all employed to set the stage for conversions. [10]

One major difference in the revivals of the late 1850s, when compared to earlier revivals, is the lack of a groundswell of ethical concerns following the revival.  Converts from earlier revivals provided volunteers for the “benevolent empire.”  The only volunteer association to come into national prominence following the 1857-58 revivals was the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), which had been imported from England in 1851. Kathryn Teresa Long’s in-depth study of the revival found no other social or ethical impact from the revival.  Instead, she discovered evidence to the contrary, that revival leaders sought to privatize religion and avoided topics such as slavery that might offend businessmen with interest in the South.[11]  Supporting Long’s thesis that the revival encouraged a conservative and privatized faith, Sandra Sizer’s study suggests that the conservative and businesslike pre-Civil War revivals were a forerunner to Moody’s revivals later in the century.  

Even though the revivals of 1857-58 were more businesslike than the Second Great Awakening, there were also more radical shifts taking place in American religion during this same era.  Perfectionism, or the second blessing as it was commonly called, played a limited role in these revivals.[12]  This radically Arminian concept maintained that one could, through prayer, overcome sinfulness and thereby obtain a perfect state while on Earth.  The doctrine was a precursor to the holiness movements that would occur toward the end of the century.   The Reverend A. B. Earle, during this period, began to seek a “second blessing” or, as he called it, “the rest of faith.”  He would experience this “rest,” according to his autobiography, at Cape Cod, on November 2, 1863 at 5 P.M.  Earle refused to call this a “sinless perfection,” preferring to describe it as a “rest of faith” in the “fullness of Christ’s love.”[13]  From available sermons, it appears he downplayed this experience in his evangelistic preaching.  Even though Earle considered this an important experience for himself, he never made it an issue in his preaching which allowed him to work with a variety of denominations, including those that eschewed such beliefs.[14]

Revivals in California

As historian Kevin Starr notes, during the first year of the Gold Rush, almost half of the ships anchoring in San Francisco Bay were from New England ports.  These ships contained men who had grown up with revivalism, some of whom shared New England’s messianic hope to be the “founding race” of California. Joseph Augustine Benton, a graduate of Yale and founder of First Church Sacramento, in his Thanksgiving sermon of 1850, visualized California in the same way his Puritan ancestors saw New England.  California, with all its abundance, was to be “America’s City on a Hill by whose example the Orient would be brought to Christ.”[15] A common assumption among early religious leaders was that gold in California had been hidden by God until the region was firmly in the hands of the United States so that the state’s wealth could bless America.[16]  However, even with such an optimistic outlook, the clergy who came to California during the state’s early years found themselves with an impossible task.  Although churches in cities like San Francisco and Sacramento flourished, there were still large sections of the population shunning organized religion.  But religious leaders continually tried to “civilize” California, which included bringing one of their own, the Reverend A. B. Earle, to lead the first concentrated set of revivals throughout the region. 

            Some religious leaders on the West Coast understood the challenges they faced in California.  An 1865 editorial in The Pacific, a religious newspaper published in San Francisco,[17] called for a new type of evangelism for California.  The editorial compared attempts to build permanent churches in mining camps to that of building a church for Mississippi raftmen along the banks of the river.  Neither were stable communities. The editorialist went on to encourage all denominations to work together for the common goal of evangelizing the Pacific Coast and to avoid competition which wasted resources.  Often, several denominations strove to build the first church in a town, a policy that often resulted in a surplus of churches once the initial mining boom was over. The Pacific, aware that the challenges they faced in the West were complicated by efforts of the Eastern denominations to rebuild churches destroyed in the South during the Civil War, called for unity in establishing a Western theological seminary to educate clergy for the West Coast.  Furthermore, the newspaper called for a unified revivalistic campaign, a “new Great Awakening,” that would strengthen California’s churches as earlier awakenings strengthened the church in the East.[18]   

            Revivals and revivalistic preaching were not unheard of in California.  During the early days of the Gold Rush, Methodist pastor and revivalist William Taylor conducted a street preaching campaign in San Francisco.  Taylor would return to the East where he played a role in the 1857-58 revivals. Like the circuit riders in the Eastern Frontier, Taylor traveled throughout the state preaching wherever he could find an audience, from saloons to wharves, and ministering to those in need.  Taylor was especially noted for his work in hospitals.  From 1848 to 1856, Taylor worked in California, impressing those who heard him.[19]  The Awakening of 1858-59, which rocked the rest of the nation and especially the Northeast, was felt to a lesser degree, in California.[20]  In 1859, the brother of Charles Finney moved to California. Although not a revivalist like Charles, George Finney spent his time organizing new Congregational Churches and promoting temperance.[21]  In the 1860s, Protestant Churches in many communities, heeding the call by the Evangelical Alliance, joined together for a week of evening prayer services each January.[22]  Many revivals were felt locally such as the one at the Methodist Church in Santa Clara in 1863 when more than a hundred joined the church.[23] The mining community of Columbia, California experienced a period of revival arising from the 1866 New Year’s prayer services.[24]

            California did not experience the horrors of the Civil War, but like the rest of the nation, they were relieved at the war’s conclusion.  Many saw the war as an “Apocalyptic contest.”  Those on the Northern side identified their cause with the establishment of the Kingdom of God.  At the end of the war, there was great hope the evangelical cause would continue to advance.[25]  Although there were Southern sympathizers in California, the state was strongly Union and mourned the death of President Abraham Lincoln.  In California, as with the rest of the country, memorial services were held in honor of the slain president who was revered for holding the union together and removing the stigma of slavery from the nation.[26]  The optimism at the war’s end and the recent religious interest demonstrated during the Lincoln memorial services set the stage for the revival.   

The first concentrated attempt at a unified revival in California by the Protestant Churches occurred shortly after the Civil War when, in July 1866, the San Francisco Ministerial Union invited the Reverend Absalom B. Earle to labor on the Pacific Coast. The Ministerial Union selected another nationally known evangelist, the Rev. E. P. Hammond, known as a children’s evangelist, as their second choice.[27]  In preparation for the expected arrival of a well-known revivalist, ministers were encouraged to preach repentance.  The Ministerial Union also instituted a daily inter-denominational prayer meeting held at Calvary Presbyterian Church during the noon hour, obviously borrowing on the success of such meetings during the 1857-58 revivals. On August 30, 1866, The Pacific reported that Reverend Earle had accepted the invitation and noted his plans to visit San Francisco.[28] Earle believed “that Christians of every name should work together” for the “Redeemer’s cause.”[29]  His emphasis on “union revivals” was what the ministerial society hoped to see on the West Coast.

A.    B. Earle

Absalom B. Earle was born in Charleston, New York.  On November 13, 1830, at the age of 18, he preached his first sermon in the small upstate town of Truxton.  His text was Matthew 28:20, “Lo, I am with you always.” Two yoked Baptist Churches soon called him as their pastor.  Later, Earle would develop an evangelistic talent and leave the pastorate for what became known as the sawdust trail.  Following Finney’s example, Earle devoted his work to “union revivals.” By his own admission, after 50 years of ministry, he had conducted over 800 series of revival meetings representing twenty-two denominations.[30]  In addition, Earle wrote an autobiography and a spiritual autobiography as well as a collection of devotions for individual and family worship and edited a revival hymnal.[31]

Earle’s preaching style was generally praised for his lack of sensationalism, but Earle had a stock of stories designed to tug at the hearts of his listeners.  In his autobiography, Earle devoted a chapter to two such “incidents.”  Both cases involved a young girl who died.  The first story is about a girl dying, but who hung on to life until her mother promised to accept Jesus as her Savior.  The girl then died in peace and was with her Lord while her mother worked on her father’s soul. In the second story, the daughter of a skeptic had died.  The broken father could only say as they closed the casket, “I’ll never hear her call me father again.”  After the service, Earle told the man that he wasn’t so sure that he wouldn’t hear her call him again, that she was now “walking those ‘golden streets,’ and perhaps is this moment saying, ‘I wish my dear father was up here—it is so beautiful.’”  After some thought, he proclaimed his intention to “seek Jesus.”  According to Earle, the man later set out “preaching the glorious gospel of the blessed God; and little Josephine, who is waiting ‘across the river,’ may again call him ‘father.’”[32]

Like other revivalists, Earle utilized music to set the stage for the revivals, urging anyone interested in promoting revivals to “have the best singing you can in all your meetings.” In a sermon titled “Faith,” Earle referred to 2 Chronicles 20:21-22 and reminded his hearers that “one of the greatest victories ever won by Jehoshaphat was won by singing.”  He further noted that “God blessed his people when they sung his praises.”[33] After a lull in the first two decades of the nineteenth century, hymn writing revived in the 1820s and continued to increase as the decades passed. With time, hymns became more passionate.  Like the later revivals of Moody and Sankey, Earle published his own collection of revival hymns in 1865 which he used to reinforce his revival efforts. [34]

Earle on the Pacific Slope

            Earle’s leadership of revivals in California, Oregon and Nevada are documented in his own autobiography, Bringing in Sheaves, as well through on-going reports in the religious newspaper The Pacific.  Although these sources are not a critical account of Earle’s revivals, and report on the activities of Earle only with glowing terms, they provide a framework for understanding the scope of his work.  Additional accounts of the revivals can be found in local newspapers, especially during the time of his revivals.   In recreating the following story, the author of this paper draws from all three sources.   

Earle and his wife left New York City on September 11, 1866.  The night before their departure, a prayer service for safe travels and success was held at Strong Place Church in Brooklyn. The Earle’s arrived in San Francisco in early October and he immediately began to preach in churches throughout the city.[35]  The first Sunday afternoon he preached at the Stone Church (Congregational).  On Monday afternoon and evening he preached at the Presbyterian Church on Howard Street and Tuesday afternoon and evening at First Baptist Church.  According to Earle, “the harvest had already commenced,” upon his arrival in the city.[36]  Mid-day prayer meetings had been on-going since July in anticipation of his arrival.

            Earle spent five weeks in San Francisco preaching twice a day and three times on Sunday. The luxury of preaching the same series of sermons over and over again allowed him to enter the pulpit nearly 20,000 occasions in fifty years of ministry.[37]  Such practice, without regular pastoral responsibilities, made it possible for Earle to maintain such a rigorous schedule.  While in San Francisco, Earle held most of his revival meetings in Pratt Hall, although a few services were held in Union Hall.  It was decided to rent these facilities, at a cost of $15,000, since they had a larger capacity than any church in the city.  Services were generally held at 3 and 7:30 P.M.[38]

            In addition to his regular preaching, Earle conducted special Saturday afternoon meetings for children.  These were held in various churches around the city in order to allow more children to attend. In one such service, held at First Congregational Church, 200 youth expressed their “desire to become children of God,” and a number of children from the Blind Asylum said they wanted to “see Jesus.”[39]

            One of the leading San Francisco newspapers, Alta California, reported, in the middle of Earle’s work in the city, a revival, “such as has never before been experienced on this coast, is now in process.” The detail in which Earle covers the revivals in San Francisco and others throughout the West in his autobiography indicates the success he felt while laboring in the region. [40]  Earle closed his work in San Francisco on November 11, 1866.   On that day, he preached at Pratt’s Hall at 3 P.M. and at Union Hall at 7:30 P.M. After his departure, the daily noon prayer meetings continued. Although the attendance was lower, the spirit of the meetings had greatly improved, according to reports. [41]

            After leaving San Francisco, Earle traveled to Columbia and Sonora, sister towns in the southern portion of the gold mining region.  For eight days Earle preached in these two towns, spending the afternoon in one community and the night at the other.  This was his first experience in the mining camps and Earle was favorably impressed.  He had feared miners would be apathetic to his message, but to his surprise discovered a religious hunger among the miners.[42]  Although the mining industry played an important role in these two towns, the boom had already past and a more stable society had emerged.  In the three years before Earle’s visit, the community of Columbia had enjoyed two periods of revival.  In 1864, the Reverend William Mulford Martin, pastor of the Presbyterian Church, led the first revival following the construction of a new church building.[43] The second revival began with all churches celebrating the Week of Prayer in early January 1866 and continued through late March. The Rev. David Henry Palmer, pastor of the Presbyterian Church, had been instrumental in leading this revival and had left Columbia for New York shortly before Earle’s arrival. [44]

            After Columbia and Sonora, Earle traveled back to the San Francisco Bay and spent ten days preaching in Oakland.  Services were held at the Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist and Congregational Churches.[45]   Earle later reported that the “windows of heaven were opened wide,” and the revival was especially successful among school students.  The Pacific’saccount of this revival supports Earle, noting most of the large numbers of people indicating their desire to become a Christian were young.[46]

            Next on Earle’s itinerary was Stockton, California, a city situated on the banks of the San Joaquin River.  A physician and a leading citizen of the community there who had, according to Earle, “long been an infidel,” was moved by the “love between the denominations” and converted.  He renounced his former beliefs and appealed to others who didn’t believe to embrace Christ.[47] Afterwards, Earle headed north to California’s capital, Sacramento, where he described “the spiritual rain” as “more abundant and powerful than the natural.” The winter rainy season had begun, discouraging travel from outlying areas.  Although the weather was an obstacle, the revival was successful enough for Earle to extend his stay in the capital city for an additional week.[48]  As in other communities, the four main established churches—Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational—worked in harmony.  In all, he labored twenty days in the city, closing the revival on the sixth of January.[49]

            After Sacramento, Earle traveled west to the town of Petaluma, where he preached to overflowing crowds at Hinshaw’s Hall, the largest facility in the city.[50]  During part of the revival, a traveling theater group had rented the hall and the revival services were moved into a local church.  However, after the first night, in which only eight people attended the play, the theater postponed the show.   According to Earle’s autobiography and the local newspaper, the revivals were successful with many prominent citizens converting and dedicating themselves to the Christian life.  Included in the list of converts were the Honorable J.B. Southard, Judge of the Seventh Judicial District, and two actors of the traveling theater companies whose performances had been postponed. Following the revival, 120 persons united with the three churches involved.[51]

            Late in his life, the Rev. William Pond, pastor of the Congregational Church in Petaluma, recalled Earle’s revivals and gave a contrasting opinion as to their success.  According to Pond, only a few of those who joined the three churches remained “staunch” in their faith.  The Methodist minister confessed to him, three months after the revival, that all his “converts” had fallen away.  During this same time, the Baptist congregation had dismissed their pastor and in its aftermath declined in strength.  Seeing no long term results, Pond said he “believed most heartily in evangelistic effort, but not of that sort in which hypnotism masquerades as the very Spirit of God.”[52]  Most reports of Earle’s ministry were positive; however, as we will later see, William Pond was not his only critic.  

            Following Petaluma, Earle traveled south, by steamboat and railroad, to San Jose.  During his travels, a fellow passenger discouraged him, saying that the smallest church in San Jose would be large enough for the all the people interested in attending a revival. Rejoicing afterwards, he noted that soon no church in the city could accommodate the crowds.[53]  The revival began on the 23rd of January in the Methodist Episcopal Church and after six days moved to the Presbyterian Church.  In the thirteen days Earle ministered in the city, he recorded the names of 250 who participated in “the joy of salvation, either new or restored, during the meetings.” All churches set aside Tuesday, January 29th as a day of fasting and prayer.  Even the public schools closed. [54]  In his autobiography, Earle relates many incidents of conversion, but also tells of one man who rejected the call of Christ in San Jose.  The man was an innkeeper and felt he couldn’t convert because he would have to close his bar and would, thereby, deprive his family of support.  However, Earle noted another innkeeper who answered the call and closed down his bar that same evening.  While in San Jose, Earle was reunited with old friends from New York who were also converted.  On another occasion, while working in San Jose, a teacher who denied the divinity of Christ came to his room and the two spoke about his beliefs.  The man left, unconvinced, but promising that he would not “grieve the Spirit by disobeying his voice.”  Earle noted that the man felt safe in making such a promise and, in three days, rose at a meeting and admitted his sinfulness and his need for an “Almighty Savior.”  A few days later, full of confidence in Christ, he spoke before a meeting.  One of the fruits of the San Jose revival came after Earle had returned to the East.  A Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) was established and Earle was made an honorary member. Following the revivals, the First Presbyterian Church in San Jose received sixty-eight new members.[55]

            Santa Clara, a city a few miles west of San Jose, was Earle’s next stop.  He preached seven days in the city.  As had become his custom, a day of fasting and prayer was observed.  All the meetings were held in the Methodist Church although at one meeting it was noted there were twenty-four ministers present from seven different denominations, some having traveled forty to sixty miles to hear the Reverend Earle. The Pacific noted that approximately 150 signed his “register” as “recipients of grace,” while Earle reported 200 unconverted men, women and children rose in this last meeting asking for prayers.[56]

            After Santa Clara, Earle moved inland to the Marysville, a city founded at the junction of the Feather and Yuba Rivers. The rainy season continued and the city, a hub for mining activity, probably had more miners present due to the difficulty of work “diggings.” Though the city was thought to have been hostile to religion, several churches started the revival before Earle’s arrival on Saturday, February 16. That evening Earle preached the first of his sermons at the Presbyterian Church where most of the union meetings in Maryville were held. Wednesday, February 20th, was set aside as a day of prayer and many businesses closed for the services. The meetings were often crowded, at times so much so that those wanting to go forward were unable to make their ways down the aisles. Earle planned to spend just a week in Marysville, and then move on to Carson City, Nevada, but was persuaded to stay longer.  He agreed to stay another week provided the people of Marysville would “devote the week to Christ.” In all, he labored in the city for 17 days.[57]   On Sunday evening, March 4th, he preached “The Unpardonable Sin” sermon, one that was becoming famous on the West Coast, at the Marysville Theater.  An estimated 1200 people crowded into the theater to hear him.  The gallery was packed.  Some left fearing it might collapse under such weight.[58]   It was reported that 350 people in Marysville were converted under Earle’s preaching and that a total of 240 had united with the Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and Episcopal Churches.[59]

            In a rather detailed article on the revival, in the Marysville Daily Appeal, the editor credited Earle’s success to the laying aside of political and sectarian differences and his ability to unite various churches and minister toward a common goal.  It was noted that ministers and laymen who had never met in religious worship had been united and, “if they allow the ‘old Adam’ to revive in their hearts, will never again meet for such purposes.”  A correspondent confessed he attended Earle’s revivals not because of his eloquence or captivating gifts, but because he was sincere, earnest, and is “happy and wishes others to be happy.”[60]

            Earle was not a hell-fired preacher.  In one of his published sermons, “Joy Restored,” based on Psalm 51:12, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation,” Earle tells about an incident early in his ministry in which he preached a series of five sermons to two congregations in New York State.  “The fifth was prepared with a scorpion in the lash; it was a severe one, and the last harsh sermon I have preached,” Earle noted. After the sermon, which he describes as powerless, Earle and one of the ministers united in prayer, admitting that their hearts were not filled with love.  Then, Earle returned to the pulpit and preached a sermon with “no lash, nothing harsh about it,” and witnessed the congregation break down and confess and commit themselves to the work of revival.[61]  Even though this sermon was about the duty of every Christians to enjoy Christ love, Earle’s message had revivalistic overtones.  “[W]hen a Christian carries about a sad, dejected countenance, he misrepresents religion,” Earle argued.  Further, he noted, when a church becomes cold, it will “never do her duty to her members, nor take care of young converts.”[62]

            Leaving Marysville behind, Earle changed his plans.  Instead of going to Nevada, he headed to Placerville where he began the revival in the Presbyterian Church.  It was said that the church was “filled with people more curious to see and hear him than from any immediate concern for their eternal welfare.”  When the invitation was issued at the end of one meeting, many wives came forward to request prayers for their husbands.[63]  A pastor from Placerville wrote Earle saying, “The people of our city will feel under a lasting obligation to you, and will, at least during the present generation, keep your memory green.”[64]

            Earle left Placerville for Oregon, accepting the invitation from ministers and businessmen of Oregon to come before Spring when the mining population would scatter throughout the countryside. In mid-March, Earle boarded the Steamer Ajax for Portland. Methodist Episcopal congregations in the upper Willamette Valley had recently experienced a revival although there is no indication these revivals were connected to Earle’s “Union Revivals,” that followed. On the trip to Oregon, the steamer stopped at Astoria, located at the mouth of the Columbia River, to pick up firewood and water.  A local man, who had been ministering in absence of an ordained minister, came aboard the ship and requested Earle to preach for there were no ministers within 100 miles.  Earle obliged and preached in a local hall while the ship was refueled.[65]

According to a letter from the Congregational, Methodist and Baptist pastors of Portland, which appeared in the Pacific Christian Advocate, Earle spent approximately three weeks in Oregon.  Most of his work was to be done in Salem and Portland with two days set aside for Oregon City.  These pastors called on all to attend his meetings.[66]  As elsewhere, Earle’s work in Portland stirred interest in religion.  The Oregonian, a Portland newspaper, reported: “It is remarkable that, go where you will, on the street, into business houses, down upon the wharf, among families, everywhere, the subject of ‘Rev. Mr. Earle’ and the revival meetings is sure to be broached and discussed.  The talk is not confined to church-going people.”[67]  Evening services were held in the Presbyterian Church and were so crowded that many in attendance had to stand.  At one service, the opportunity for individuals to give their testimony was presented and over 200 people spoke.  On Sunday, the meetings moved to the Courthouse. In Salem, the state capital, Governor Woods used his office to encourage the revivals and it was said that people traveled up to forty miles to hear the Rev. Earle. The meetings in Salem were held in the University Chapel.  It was the largest room in town, but insufficient to hold all who wanted to hear Earle.[68]

Leaving Oregon behind, Earle took a steamer south to San Francisco and then traveled inland, across the Sierra Nevada, to the Comstock, the great mining center in the young state of Nevada. The Rev. William Mulford Martin, formerly the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Columbia and now pastor in Virginia City, had invited Earle to Nevada.[69]   Earle was already known in the Silver State from reports of his preaching throughout the California mining camps.  A week before his arrival, the Territorial Enterprise, a leading newspaper in Virginia City, reported;

The author in front of First Presbyterian Church of Virginia City, Nevada, in 1988.
First Presbyterian Church of Virginia City and me, 122 years after Earle (1988)

Rev. Mr. Earle—This talented gentleman, of whose eloquence we have heard so much, is expected to arrive here this week from Oregon, in case the steamers make their trip in the usual time.  He will meet with a hearty welcome in the city.  On Monday afternoon the ministers of Virginia and Gold Hill will meet at the residence of Rev. Mr. Martin, #75 South B. Street, at 2 o’clock, for the purpose of making arrangements in regard to the time of holding services in the various churches.[70]

The revival began in the Presbyterian Church on Sunday morning, May 5, 1867.  Alf Doten, editor of the Gold Hill News, attended the meeting and made the following observations about Earle in his journal:

About 60, tall, good appearance—hair mostly gray—earnest and impressive manner—common & not flowery, but truthful language—familiar & common style of similes—Appeals to home feelings & proclivities of hearers—none of your ranting sensational revivalist—Calculated to lead all who are in darkness to truth and light.[71]

Earle’s revivals in Virginia City continued through May 23rd.  For the first week, he preached in the new Presbyterian Church on “C” Street.  The services were moved during the second week to the Methodist Episcopal Church at the corner of “D” and Taylor Street. The final week of services was held back in the Presbyterian Church.  The climax of the revival came during the second week at the Methodist Episcopal Church when Earle preached the “Unpardonable Sin” sermon to an overcrowded church.  Reporting on the meeting, The Trespass, a Virginia City newspaper wrote:

[N]o effort for excitement, no strange, startling statements; but the simple, conclusive setting forth of the subject brought the whole mass, almost without an exception, to their feet, a most solemn testimony of a fixed purpose to cherish the interest each felt in his personal salvation.[72]

Alf Doten, who had earlier expressed approval of Earle’s style of preaching, was critical of the “Unpardonable Sin” sermon.  In his journals, Doten wrote:

This [the unpardonable sin] he makes out to be people not coming forward & becoming converts to his, Earle’s, teaching and “accepting Christ”—All who “reject Christ” he says cannot be pardoned by God & will consequently go to hell—In view of the fact he has thus far made not two hundred converts in this City out of a population of  10,000, it would seem that an extremely small proportion have any chance of getting into heaven—His views on the subject are decidedly limited.[73]

Doten again attacked Earle in a letter, writing: 

The Rev. A. B. Earle’s revival conquest of the West [was] somewhat checked by the common sense of Virginia City, which finds it hard to believe that only Christians can enter Heaven and still harder to believe that the only way to Christ is through Earle.[74]

Four days later, Dote notes in his journal that the Presbyterian Church was “literally packed full,” crowded with more people than he’d seen before with aisles full, the entry full and people even sitting around the altar.  Doten called Earle’s sermon on Samuel meeting Rebecca at the well “pretty good.” [75]  However, a few days earlier, Doten attended a revival meeting at the Episcopal Church where he noted there was a good house but the sermon was “not much.”[76]

Even though Doten gave Earle mixed reviews, the churches in Virginia City considered themselves blessed with the three largest—the Presbyterian, Methodist and Episcopal—sharing equally in the fruits of the revival.[77]  The Presbyterian Church received 24 new members the Sunday after Earle’s departure and another 14 new members in June. Rev. Martin of the Presbyterian Church and Rev. Wickes of the Methodist Church continued nightly preaching for a period of time after Earle’s departure.[78]

            After three weeks in the mining metropolis of Virginia City, Earle moved to Carson City, the capital of Nevada.  As a guest of Governor Henry G. Blasdel, Earle remained in Carson City for 12 days.  After his first meeting on Thursday, May 23, preaching to a full house at the Presbyterian Church, Earle informed those gathered that he needed rest and would not preach again until Sunday.  He had been preaching several times daily, with never more than two days of rest, since the seventh of October.  On Sunday, May 26, Earle preached in the Methodist Church at 11 A.M. and 7:30 P.M.  The Presbyterian Church canceled services so their members could join in the revival.  Later in the week the meetings moved back to the Presbyterian Church, at 3 and 7:30 P.M., and then back to the Methodist for the final service on 4th of June.[79]  Two weeks later, the Reverend A. F. White of the Presbyterian Church received 30 new members.  A total of 48 new members were added to the roll of the Carson City Presbyterian Church in 1867.[80]  The effects of Earle’s ministry were certainly felt.

            In a sermon preached on the occasion of his 50th anniversary of ordination, Earle recalled an event from his ministry in Carson City.  A Welshman, who had heard of Earle’s preaching, traveled twenty-five miles to meet him.  Two decades earlier, in Wales, this man heard a sermon which had impressed him, but had not changed his life.  Upon meeting Earle, he “gave himself to Christ and went to work for others.”  Earle noted that he had only been “permitted to reap what the Welsh minister had sowed.”[81]

            After Carson City, Earle canceled plans for a trip to Austin, in central Nevada, due to fatigue.[82]  He decided to move toward the coast and quickly wrap up his revivals in order to sail back East as soon as possible.  He crossed the Sierras, into California, and commenced work in the twin towns of Nevada City and Grass Valley.  These two towns, only four miles apart, were mining centers.  In Earle’s biography, he placed his work in Nevada City first and then Grass Valley, but newspaper accounts reverse the chronology.[83]  Grass Valley was a hard rock mining district with gold ore imbedded in quartz.  It was said of the town that “everyone talked quartz, ate quartz and drank quarts.”[84]  The local newspaper welcomed Earle to a promising field of labor, one in which many “consider themselves fire-proof.”  The reporter hoped Earle could move “some of their flinty hearts.” In another article, the columnist compared Earle to Goldsmith’s description of a minister in Deserted Village, “fools who came to scoff remained to pray.” While in Grass Valley, Earle held afternoon meetings in the Congregational Church and evening meetings in the Methodist Church.   The crowds were so thick that many “anxious listeners” gathered around the church’s windows to hear and see Earle.[85]  After leaving the area, it was reported that the Congregational Church in Grass Valley had added 12 new members.  A month later they added another 16 new members.  In Nevada City, the Congregational Church had increased by 28 with 10 more considering making a commitment.  The Methodist Church added 44 members and “quite a number of converts joined the Baptist Church.”[86]  

            The final city on Earle’s Pacific Coast tour was Santa Cruz, a coastal resort town south of San Francisco known as “the Newport of the Pacific.”  Earle was only able to stay a few days in the city, working with the Congregational and Methodist Churches.[87]  Upon leaving Santa Cruz, Earle made quick preaching stops in San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland, before boarding a steamer for the East Coast.  According to a letter he wrote to The Pacific, Earle had preached five hundred sermons and worked with eleven different denominations in his nine-month journey through California, Oregon and Nevada.[88]

            On board the ship bound for Panama, the Reverend A. B. Earle and his wife were joined by the Rev. William M. Martin and wife, from Virginia City.  Martin had recently resigned as pastor of the church and left the Pacific Coast due to his wife’s health.[89]

The Impact of Earle’s Revivals

            The Protestant Church on the Pacific Coast never enjoyed the influence it had on the Northeast; nonetheless, the revivals of A. B. Earle were successful.  The Reverend William Martin of Virginia City may have overstated it a bit when he reported to the Presbyterian Home Mission Society that “the Pacific is blossoming like the rose.”[90]  Yet most if not all churches that participated in the revivals grew, if only for a short while.  At the end of 1867, the California Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church reported 1,200 new members, an increase of more than twenty-five percent.  “This must be largely attributed to the labors of the Rev. A. B. Earle,” the annual report noted.[91]  In an editorial late in the year, The Pacificreported an encouraging increase in moral and religious life in mining communities.[92]  Due to pressure upon the owners, mines in Nevada began closing on the Sabbath for a short while and four years later a Virginia City newspaper recalled Earle’s revivals as an important religious event in the life of the community.[93]

            A detailed study of those joining First Presbyterian Church in Virginia City provides a portrait of Earle’s work in the city.  In the six weeks following Earle’s revivals, the Presbyterian congregation received forty new members, a significant number for a small congregation.   Nine members joined by baptism indicating they had no previous church experience.  Twenty-two individuals joined by making a profession of faith.  These individuals would not have been active in a church with which they could have transferred their membership.  Only nine individuals joined the church by transferring their membership from another congregation and most of these were from one extended family. Interestingly, in an overwhelmingly male community, twenty of those joining the church, half of the total, were women.  Of those who joined the Presbyterian Church, half had moved out of state by the 1870 census, a statistic that demonstrates the transient nature of mining communities.  However, many of those who joined were active into the 1880s and two remained members well into the twentieth century.[94]

Church membership gains within a mining community were short-lived.  “Neither sinners nor the godly would remain in the towns to reap what they had sown, according to Ralph Mann’s history of Grass Valley and Nevada City.”[95] Mining communities were transient by nature.   Even larger communities with long producing mines, such as in Grass Valley and on the Comstock, experienced a frequent turnover in population.[96]  This mobilization created problems for churches depending on a stable population base. “Get in, get rich, and get out,” had been the mining philosophy since the beginning of the gold rush in 1849.[97] This mobility created problems for ministers used to a stable population with whom to labor.

Two other problems are often cited as hindrances to church work in the West during the mid-19th century.  One was the lack of women.  However, as the Virginia City congregation demonstrated, women were drawn to Earle’s revivals.  Even though there may not have been as many women, as a percentage of the population, as compared to the East, women were present and active in the churches.   A second hindrance cited has been the youthfulness of most residents of the West.  Certainly, the West was younger than the rest of the nation, and many of these single young men interested in adventure were either drawn into the saloons or willing to experiment with new forms of religion.[98]  However, it was the prevailing opinion in the nineteenth century that the ideal time for conversion was when a man or woman was young, still in their teens. [99]  If the population was youthful, by this belief, they should have been more receptive to Earle’s preaching.  But the truth is that, by the time Earle revivals began, the West was aging.  Miners who had headed to California in their late teens would have been in their thirties by the mid-1860s, far past the ideal age for conversion according to nineteenth century wisdom.   

Finances were another concern for western churches. Earle, however, didn’t experience this problem. Alf Doten, the newspaper editor from Gold Hill, Nevada recorded what he called “profits” from Earle’s revival.  According to Doten, Earle raised “$6,000 from Marysville, $6,500 from Placerville, a probable $3,000 from Virginia City and proportional amounts from other towns and cities.”[100]   From previous comments, we can see that Doten didn’t approve of Earle’s work and felt the “profits” were excessive.  Even if he exaggerated Earle’s income, the offerings at the revivals had to be considerable to pay the cost of some of the halls used for the revivals.  As has already been shown, the rent in San Francisco was fifteen thousand dollars, an enormous sum in 1866.   Although Earle didn’t record his “revival profits,” he did note that the citizens of Virginia City gave him a thirty-pound brick of silver upon his departure.  The Wells Fargo & Company shipped it back east for him, free of charge.[101]  Interestingly, Alf Doten noted in his journals that Earle received two “big bricks of bullion,” one from Virginia City and another from Gold Hill.[102]  Whether these were used to cover the cost of the revivals or considered by Earle as salary is unclear.  Near the end of his ministry, Earle calculated his average income at three dollars a sermon, a sum averaging $1,188 a year.[103]

              Throughout Earle’s West Coast travels, newspaper reporters continually remarked that Earle was not a raging sensationalist as they’d expected.  As one columnist in Sacramento put it, “his words were plain, homely Saxon—intelligible to children; his imagination, which some thought deficient, was powerful grasping subtle spiritual truths.”[104]  Another reporter in Petaluma wrote, “His language is plain, and his rhetoric far from perfect, but he rivets attention and seems to enforce conviction by his very earnestness.”[105]   The sermons Earle included in his autobiography, “The Unpardonable Sin” and “Joy Restored,” which have already been reviewed, show two approaches Earle used in the pulpit.  The first emphasized the urgency of the gospel while the second lifted up the benefits of Christian living.  Like the revivals of 1858, the revivals Earle conduct had none of the excesses of the Cane River revivals early in the Second Great Awakening that had raised the eyebrows of many Protestant ministers in the East.  Earle’s simple style endeared him to many of the ministers he worked with and his autobiography contains many letters of thanks from those with whom he’d labored.[106]

            It appears that Earle concentrated his efforts on reaching the Anglo-population.  Newspaper reports as well as his own accounts of the revivals do not mention any efforts to reach other ethnic and racial groups. Earle’s revivals mirror the 1857-58 revivals, strengthening the Anglo-Protestant majority, even though their majority status would be short-lived.[107]  By not taking this into account, the Protestant leaders in California set themselves up to fail for the West experienced religious and ethnic plurality before the rest of the nation.

            Toward the end of the 1857-58 revival, an editorial in the New York Observer asked “what fruits the revival should yield?”   The newspaper reported the revival had converted thousands in the city and tens of thousands across the country, but noted that was small when compared to the “vast multitude” who are unchanged.  Therefore, the editorialist suggested that things would not change much.  A few criminal converts wouldn’t make a dent in crime, nor would there be less fraud on Wall Street, he assumed.[108]   The same could be said for Earle’s West Coast revivals.  He emphasized the necessity for individual reforms without challenging the social evils of the West such as prostitution, slavery among Chinese, gambling, as well as widespread business fraud, especially in mining stocks.  Instead, Earle focused his ministry on preaching to individuals with hopes that those changed by the gospel would, in turn, change society.  High expectations and naiveté concerning reality are hallmarks of Western history, according to Patricia Nelson Limerick.[109]  Protestant leadership in the West demonstrated both.  The Pacific Coast never became the bastion of Protestantism as those who had invited Earle had hoped.  The revivals by the Reverend A. B. Earle strengthened the Anglo-Protestant Churches in the short term, but the seeds for a changing religious landscape had already been sown.  By the end of the nineteenth century the Golden State had the feel of a “new burned over district” as various new religious groups flooded the American West and reaped their harvests.[110] 

[1] The Reverend A. B. Earle, Bringing in Sheaves (Boston: James H. Earle, 1872), 128-144..  Earle preached this sermon throughout his revivals on the West Coast.  In his autobiography, Earle indicated the sermon was preached at October 14, 1866 at the Union Hall in San Francisco.  Interestingly, a transcription of that sermon in The Pacific (San Francisco: 1 November 1866) does not have the Civil War story at the end.  Instead, Earle ended by drawing upon the story of Moses’ response in the wilderness when serpents attacked the people of Israel.  The two different published versions of the same sermon probably illustrate Earle’s continual reworking of sermons that he preached over and over again.

[2]Timothy L. Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Abingdon, 1957; repr., Baltimore, John Hopkins Press University, 1980), 141.

[3] Paul K. Conkin, Cane Ridge: America’s Pentecost (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990).

[4] William G. McLoughlin, Revivals, Awakening, and Reform (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 128-120.  Also see Keith J. Hardman, Charles Grandison Finney: Revivalist and Reformer (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1987).

[5] Sandra S. Sizer, Gospel Hymns and Social Religion: The Rhetoric of Nineteenth Century Revivalism (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978), 85. The years 1830-1860 were known as the “Sentimental Years” due to the organization of benevolence societies that, according to William Warren Sweet, were the “legitimate children of revivalism.”  See William Warren Sweet, Revivalism in America: It’s Origin, Growth, and Influence  (New York: Abingdon, 1944), 159

[6] Kathryn Teresa Long, The Revival of 1857-58: Interpreting an American Religious Awakening (New York: Oxford, 1998), 13.  For additional description of this awakening, see Hardman, Charles Grandison Finney, 430-433.

[7] Smith, Revivalism,, 62.  It should be noted that the revival was popular in the South and although many hoped for an end to slavery, the revivals themselves tended to be conservative and its leaders discouraged the discussion of divisive issues.  See Richard J. Carwardine, Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 294 and Long, The Revival of 1857-58, 125.

[8] Those converted or influenced by the revivals include D. L. Moody; Lottie Moon (later to be a Baptist missionary to China), Charles Briggs (later to be a renounced “liberal” professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City); and Charles Crittenton (a wealthy owner of a drug company who became a revivalist later in his life and funded rescue homes for wayward women).  See Long, Revival of 1857-58, 127-132.  Others having their careers boosted by in the revival included Methodist John S. Inskip (later to be a leader in the holiness movement), Alfred Cookman, Reuben A. Torry and J. Wilbur Chapman.  See Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform, 74.  Another lesser-known convert of the revival was David Henry Palmer, a college student converted in Rochester, New York.  After college, Palmer attended Auburn Theological Seminary and became the first Presbyterian pastor in Virginia City, Nevada.  See Charles Jeffrey Garrison, “David Henry Palmer: A Pastoral Baptism in Western Mining Camps, American Presbyterians: Journal of Presbyterian History, Vol. 72, No. 3 (Fall 1994), 181-2 

[9] Long, Revivals of 1857-58, 44-45, 105, 71.

[10] Sizer, Gospel Hymns and Social Religion, 112-113.

[11] Long, Revival of 1857-58, 61, 87, 104, 111, 118 & 125.

[12] Timothy Smith, in his 1957 study of the mid-century revivals, suggests that perfectionism, as well as the holiness and ethical concerns played a more significant role.  Smith uses Earle as an example the role perfectionism played in the mid-century revival.  See Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform, 139.  Later studies have challenged Smith’s conclusions.  See Long, The Revival of 1857-58, 4.

[13] Rev. A. B. Earle, The Rest of Faith (Boston: James H. Earle, 1881), 62, 76-81.  Other historians have dated Earle’s sanctification during the 1858-9 revivals.  See Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform, 139.

[14] Presbyterian and Reformed Churches, in particular, had a difficult time accepting this doctrine.  The two warring Presbyterian factions, the Old and New School, were united in opposition to perfectionism.  See George Mardsen, The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), 80-81.

[15] Kevin Starr, Americans and the California Dream, 1850-1915 (New York, Oxford University Press, 1973; rptr, Santa Barbara: Peregrine Smith, 1981), 71-72, 85-86.

[16] The idea that California’s gold was hidden until the state was securely in American hands was taught not only by mainline Protestants.  The famous Unitarian preacher, Thomas Starr King also preached God’s providence in bringing California into the Union. See Edward Arthur Wicher, The Presbyterian Church in California, 1849-1927 (New York: Frederick H. Hitchcock, 1927), 28 and Starr, Americans and the California Dream, 103-104.

[17] The Pacific began publishing on 1 August 1851 as a joint effort of Congregational and New School Presbyterians. The goal of the newspaper was to encourage the work of Protestant Churches on the West Coast.  See P. Mark Fackler and Charles H. Lippy, editors, Popular Religious Magazines of the United States (Westport, Connecticut: Gleenwood Press, 1975), 373-380. 

[18]”Evangelization on the Pacific Coast: Mistaken Policy,” The Pacific, San Francisco: 17 August 1865; The Pacific, 7 September 1865; ”The Possible Results of Revivals in California,” Ibid, 23 March 1865.

[19]Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform, 74, 118-119. For a description of Taylor’s activities in California, see Starr, 78-82.

[20] Starr, 73, Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, Religion and Society in Frontier California (New Haven: Yale, 1994), 94-95.

[21] “Welcome Home, A Sermon preached in Memory of Rev. Geo. W. Finney at the 1st Congregational Church, Oakland, 18 April 1865,” The Pacific 27 April 1865.

[22]Smith, 142. “The Week of Prayer at the New Year,” The Pacific, 13 December 1866. See also Charles Jeffrey Garrison, “How the Devil Temps Us to Go Aside from Christ:’ The History of First Presbyterian Church of Virginia City, 1862-1867.”  Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Spring 1993), 22; and “David Henry Palmer: A Pastoral Baptism in Western Mining Camps, American Presbyterians: Journal of Presbyterian History, Vol. 72, No. 3 (Fall 1994), 181-2.

[23] “Revival in Santa Clara,” The Pacific, 20 November 1863.

[24] For a summary of this revival, See Garrison, “David Henry Palmer”, 182.

[25] See George M. Mardsen, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 11-13, and James H. Moorhead, American Apocalypse: Yankee Protestants and the Civil War, 1860-1869 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), 56.

[26]For a study of Lincoln memorial sermons, including two from California, see David B. Cheesebrough, “‘God Has Made No Mistake:’ The Response of Presbyterian Preachers in the North to the Assassination of Lincoln” American Presbyterian: Journal of Presbyterian History 71:4(Winter 1993), 223-232.  Many of the Lincoln memorial sermons were published.  West Coast examples include the Reverend J. D. Strong, “Discourse on the Death of Abraham Lincoln” published by the Larkin Street Presbyterian Church of San Francisco and the Reverend C. C. Wallace, “Funeral Address, On the Occasion of the Funeral Obsequies in Memory of Abraham Lincoln by the Placerville Tri-Weekly News.  Copies of the above sermons from a box titled “Presbyterian Church in California” Box 3, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, California. 

[27]”Meeting of the S. F. Ministerial Union,” The Pacific, 12 July 1866.  The Rev. E. P. Hammond, the “children’s evangelist’s” would later spend eight weeks in San Francisco in 1875, drawing large crowds.  See Douglas Firth Anderson, “San Francisco Evangelicalism: Regional Religious Identity, and the Revivalism of D. L. Moody,” Fides et Historia: Official Publication of the Conference on Faith and History, vol. 15 (Spring/Summer 1983), 47-8.

[28]”Meeting of the S. F. Ministerial Union,” The Pacific, 12 July 1866; “Religious Intelligence,” The Pacific, San Francisco, CA, 30 August 1866.

[29]Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 239.

[30]Rev. A. B. Earle, D.D., Work of an Evangelist: Review of Fifty Years, (Boston: James H. Earle, Publisher, 1881), 9, 12 & 14.

[31] Earle’s autobiography, Bringing in Sheaves, spiritual autobiography The Rest of Faith, and hymnal titled Revival Hymns  are quoted elsewhere in this paper. The book of devotions was titled The Morning Hour (Boston: James H. Earle, nd).

[32] Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 81-88.

[33] Ibid, 28. The Reverend A. B. Earle, D.D., “Faith” The Evangelistic Cyclopedia: A New Century Handbook of Evangelism.  (New York: George H. Doran, 1922, 306.

[34] Sizer, Gospel Hymns, 23, 39 & 20; A. B. Earle, collector, Revival Hymns (1865; Boston: James H. Earle, 1870), title page.  At the 1870 edition, 30,000 copies of this little hymnal had been published.  The hymnal measured only 3 inches by 5 inches and contained 109 hymns.

[35] Ibid, 285. Most likely, Earle traveled to California through Panama, taking a steamer from New York to Panama, crossing the isthmus, and then taking a steamer up the Pacific Coast to San Francisco.

[36] Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 289.

[37] Ibid, 293; Earle, Work of an Evangelist, 23, 19.

[38] Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 289.

[39] Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 293.  See also Alta California (San Francisco), 20 October 1866 and 10 November 1866;  “Union Meeting for Children,” The Pacific, 25 October 1866.

[40] “Religious Revival,” Alta California, 19 October 1866. Earle’s autobiography, Bringing in Sheaves, published in 1872, contains over 90 pages dedicated to his nine month experience in the American West.

[41] Alta California, 11 November 1866.  See also The Pacific, 15 November 1866. “The Daily Prayer Meeting,” The Pacific, 22 November 1866.

[42] Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 295-297.

[43] A brief description of the revival is found in a letter from Henry Kendall in the Sheldon Jackson’s Scrapbook (35a), Manuscript Collections, Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia.  A quote on this clip can be found in Garrison, “How the Devil Tempts Us to Go Aside from Christ, 19.  See also the Toulumne Courier (Columbia, CA) 20 February and 5 March 1864.

[44] For a detail examination of this revival, see Garrison, “David Henry Palmer,” 182. The Pacific, 18 October 1866.

[45]Sandra Sizer Frankiel suggests Laurentine Hamilton, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Oakland, was thumbing his nose at revivalism during Earle’s tenure on the West Coast.  The Presbytery of San Jose defrocked Hamilton in 1869, after he challenged orthodox views on immortality and eternal punishment.  However, since Presbyterians were supportive of Earle’s work, it seems more likely he either kept his views to himself or developed his unorthodox thoughts after these revivals.  See Sandra Sizer Frankiel, California Spiritual Frontiers: Religious Alternatives in Anglo-Protestantism, 1850-1910 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 32-37. 

[46] Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 297-299; The Pacific, 20 December 1866.

[47] Ibid, 299.

[48] Ibid,, 302-303.

[49] The Pacific, 17 January 1867.  It is interesting that Earle’s preaching in Sacramento was over Christmas and New Years. No mention of these holidays are in Earle’s or The Pacific’s  accounts of the revival.  

[50] Petaluma Journal and Argus (Petaluma, California), 17 January 1867.

[51] Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 305; “Thinking and Acting,” Petaluma Journal and Argus 24 January 1867.  William C. Pond, Gospel Pioneering: Reminiscences of Early Congregationalism in California, 1833-1920 (Oberlin, Ohio: The News Printing Company, 1921), 96-97.  According to The Pacific, 7 February 1867, 36 persons joined the Congregational Church in Petaluma.

[52] Pond, Gospel Pioneering, 97.

[53] Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 307.

[54] “The Revival in San Jose” The Pacific 21 February 1867: Ibid, 7 February 1867.

[55] Earle, Bringing in Sheaves 307-310; The Pacific, 28 February 1867.

[56] Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 311-312; “Revival in Santa Clara,” The Pacific, 7 March 1867.  

[57] Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 312; Marysville Daily Appeal (Marysville, California), 17 February 1867.  Earle refers to the city’s hostility to religion in Bringing in Sheaves, 312.  The beginning of the revival was reported in the Marysville Daily Appeal 3 February 1867.  It was later suggested that 100 persons were converted before Earle’s arrival.  Ibid, 6 March 1867.  Ibid, 19 February 1867; 24 February 1867.   The Reverend William Wallace Brier organized the Presbyterian Church in Marysville in 1850.  See Earl Ramey, “The Beginning of Marysville, Part III,” California Historical Society Quarterly, 15:1 (1936), 47.  Marysville Daily Appeal, 21 February 1867, 24 February 1867.  Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 315.

[58] “A Large Meeting,” The Pacific, 14 March 1867; Marysville Daily Appeal, 5 March 1867.

[59] “Marysville Religious Items,” The Pacific 11 April 1867.  This same article indicated 84 had sought admission with the Presbyterian Church and 70 had been accepted into membership with 23 baptisms.   20 individuals were baptized at the Baptist Church a week after Earle departed.  Marysville Daily Appeal, 10 March 1867.  Before Earle’s arrival, the Methodist Church had already received 38 new members.  Ibid, 12 February 1867.

[60] “The Revival,” Ibid, 26 February 1867.

[61] Earle, Bringing In Sheaves, 74, 75-76.

[62] Ibid, 63 and 65, 74.

[63] “Revival in Placerville,” The Pacific 21 March 1867.

[64] Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 317.

[65] The Pacific, 21 March 1867; “Notes from the Pacific Coast,” The Christian Advocate, (New York) 7 February 1867. Interestingly, The Christian Advocate, which was a newspaper of the northern Methodist Episcopal Church, did not report on Earle’s revivals in the American West from August 1866 through July 1867;  Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 319.

[66] “Rev. Mr. Earle,” The Pacific, 18 April 1867.

[67] As quoted in Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 320-321.

[68] Ibid, 322, 327; Territorial Enterprise (Virginia City, Nevada) 28 April 1867.

[69] Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 331; First Presbyterian Church of Virginia City, “Minutes of Session” 22 April 1867.  Manuscript Collections, Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia.

[70] Territorial Enterprise, 28 April 1867.

[71] Walter Van Tilburg Clark ed., The Journals of Alf Doten, 1849-1903 (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1973), 925.  (Hereafter cited as Doten).

[72] As quoted in Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 335.

[73] Doten, 926.

[74] Doten, 927.

[75] Doten, 928-929. Doten must have confused Samuel for Abraham’s servant who met Rebekah at the well.  See Genesis 24:15.

[76] Doten, 927.

[77] Editorial Visits” The Pacific, 11 July 1867.  This article stated that Virginia City also had a Baptist congregation meeting in the Courthouse and two colored [sic] churches meeting in their own buildings.  No mention was made of these three churches benefiting from Earle’s labor.

[78] “First Presbyterian Church of Virginia City,  “Minutes of Session.” 27 May 1867, 9 June 1867; Departure of Rev. Mr. Earle,” Territorial Enterprise, 23 May 1867.

[79] The Daily Appeal (Carson City, Nevada) 22 May 1867; 24 May 1867; 26 May, 28 May 1867; 7 June 1867.

[80] “First Presbyterian Church of Carson City, Nevada—75th Anniversary Celebration Program,” 7 June 1936.  A copy of this program is in the Manuscript Collection of the Presbyterian Historical Society in Montreat, North Carolina.

[81] Earle, “Revival Like A Harvest,” Work of an Evangelist, 41-42.

[82] William M. Martin, “Nevada” Presbyterian Monthly October 1867.

[83] Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 341-344.  Grass Valley Union (Grass Valley, California) 2 June 1867, 25 June 1867; The Pacific 4 July 1867, 11 July 1867.

[84] Ralph Mann, After the Gold Rush: Society in Grass Valley and Nevada City, California, 1849-1870. (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1982), 131.

[85] “Rev. Mr. Earle,” Grass Valley Union, 25, 29, and 22 June 1867.

[86] “Religious Intelligence,” The Pacific 11 July 1867, 25 July 1867.

[87] Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 344; “Revival of Religion,” The Pacific 18 July 1867.

[88] Ibid, 245-246; “To the San Francisco Ministerial Union,” The Pacific 1 August 1867.

[89] Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 349; Minutes of Session, First Presbyterian Church of Virginia City, 9 August 1867.  According to this entry, Martin had informed the Session of his resignation on 14 July 1867.

[90] William M. Martin, Presbyterian Monthly (October 1867).

[91] C. V. Anthony, A.M., D.D., Fifty Years of Methodism: A History of the Methodist Episcopal Church Within the Bounds of the California Annual Conference from 1847 to 1897 (San Francisco: Methodist Book Concern, 1901), 282.

[92] “Editorial Visits,” The Pacific 24 October 1867.

[93] “The Observance of the Sabbath in Nevada,” Ibid, 15 August 1867.  The closing of mines did not continue for very long.  During most of its history, mines on the Comstock ran seven days a week. Even when they were closed, the miners had to do their shopping and laundry on Sunday: Territorial Enterprise, 18 April 1871.

[94] Data for those joining the Presbyterian Church in Virginia City obtained from Session Minutes and the 1870 census.  For a complete breakdown of those joining the church in the aftermath of Earle’s revivals, see Charles Jeffrey Garrison, “Presbyterians and Miners: The Church’s Response to the Comstock Lode,” Doctor of Ministry Dissertation, San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Anselmo, CA (2002), 219-220.

[95] Mann, After the Gold Rush, 38.

[96] For a summary of population trends, see Marion S. Goldman, Gold Diggers and Silver Miners: Prostitution and Social Life on the Comstock Lode (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan, 1981), 15-16.

[97] Patricia Nelson Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West (New York: W. W. Norton, 1987), 100.

[98]See Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, Religion and Society in Frontier California (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994).

[99] Thomas R. Cole, The Journey of Life: A Cultural History of Aging in America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 80-82.

[100] Doten, 927.  On financial concerns of churches see Maffly-Kipp, Religion and Society in Frontier California 98.

[101] Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 335-336.  

[102] Doten, 929

[103] Earle, Work of an Evangelist, 20.  Earle’s salary was above most ministers of the era.  One report which sought information from 1,000 ministers found that three fourths of all ministers made less than $1,000 a year, most making $350-$750.  See “Ministers’ Salaries,” The Pacific 5 September 1867.

[104] “The Revival in Sacramento,” The Pacific 17 January 1867.

[105] “Revival,” Petaluma Journal and Argus 17 January 1867.

[106] See Earle, Bringing in Sheaves, 156-165, 178-183.

[107] Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest, 290.  In one incident during the 1857-58 revivals, a freed African-American man was excluded from a New York revival. See Long, The Revival of 1857-58, 106.  Although it may have occurred in isolated instances, the reports of Earle’s revivals never mention any work among Orientals or African Americans.  Both groups lived and had churches in California and Nevada.

[108] “What Fruits the Revival Should Yield? New York Observer, (April 12, 1858), as quoted by Long, The Revival of 1857-58, 102.

[109] Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest, 29. 

[110] Maffy-Kipp, Religion and Society in Frontier California, 183.  

Virginia City, Nevada, looking toward "the Divide" with the old Combination Shaft works in the foreground
Combination Shaft, Virginia City, NV

A Review of Two Works of Fiction

Last year, I noted in my reading summary that I didn’t read enough women authors or fiction. So here are two reviews of books I’ve read that meet both categories. I have read several of McKenzies books including Not Guilty which I reviewed in this blog. I have also read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, which I have also reviewed here.  Both books appealed to me. Shattered because I enjoy skiing and have a daughter that skied in high school and was a coxswain on a college crewing team. Demon Copperhead is set just west of where I live in Virginia.

C. Lee McKenzie, Shattered 

Cover photo of "Shattered"

(Evernight Teen, 2021), 295 pages. 

This story begins with Libby Brown heading out to get a few runs on the ski hill early in the day as she prepares for the Olympic tryouts. We’re taken along with the 19-year-old as she makes her way to the lift and rides to the top. McKenzie captures all the details, from her friendliness with the lift operator to how one sits back as the lift chair swings into position. Then, as she makes the run, an out-of-bound snowboarder runs her down. Libby wakes up in the hospital to a nightmare. She can’t move her legs. From here, the story continues as Libby struggles to rebuild her life. At first, she’s bitter. She lost her chance at the Olympics. But slowly, especially with the help of another young patient who was swimming star who lost a leg in an accident, she begins her comeback. 

Once Libby is out of rehab, she must move downstairs as she can no longer navigate the stairs. Her parents try to make the best of things, but they have another surprise, her mother is pregnant. But she meets and dates guys, wondering how she can have a relationship while confined to a wheelchair. When the suggestion is made that she learn to ski sitting down, she’s reluctant. But in time, she gives it a try. Without her legs, she gains upper body strength and joins a girls crewing team made up of those with disabilities. In time, she gets her life back together. She finds love and makes the Para-Olympic team and finds independence on her own. 

Photo by Jeff Garrison of his daughter skiing at Bittersweet Ski Resort in Michigan
My daughter learning to ski

As the story unfolds, she learns that her accident wasn’t accidental. She had been set-up to take her out of the Olympics. I read it thinking that the other woman whom she was in competition for the place was the culprit, but at the end there is a surprise.  

This is a quick read designed for young adults. This is the third book of McKenzie’s that I have read. The author often tackles with issues faced by young adults and show them learning and thriving despite limitations. As a skier who have generally seen snowboarders as someone unwanted on the hillside (they tend to cut up the snow into ruts and are often rude), I tried not to smirk too much as I read this book. 

Barbara Kingsolver, Demon Copperhead

Cover photo of "Demon Copperhead"

 (2022, Audible Books, 2022), 21 hours and 3 minutes or 546 pages. 

This is an incredible novel. Kingsolver deals with rural poverty, drug abuse, race relationships, sexual identity, and hopelessness. Yet, as I listened to this book, I found myself cheering on the protagonist, Damon Fields (known as Demon Copperhead for his red hair). The novel begins at his unique birth to his teenage mother and follows him throughout his childhood and teenage years. Demon faces challenges after challenges and while he makes many bad decisions, he always seems to land on his feet as he hopes on day to see the ocean.

The setting for the story is Lee County, Virginia, in the far western part of the state. It’s coal country, but the mining has mostly moved on, leaving behind impoverished towns where people unite around the high school football team. Demon’s father died before his birth (he later learns the details). Then his mother dies of an overdose on his 11th birthday. He becomes a ward of the state. 

He is sent to Mr. Crickson’s farm. The old farmer takes in troubled boys no one wants to work them in his fields and to tend his cattle. Here, Kingsolver shows the hard work that goes raising into Burley tobacco. At the farm, Demon meets several other boys who will remain with him for good (Tommy) or bad (Fast Forward) for the rest of the novel. 

After Crickson, Social Services moves him to the McCobb family who provides him a bed to sleep in the room where the washer and dryer were located. This had been where they kept the dogs when they had tried breeding them for income. We’re shown how many of those in the foster care system only looking to the money they receive to care for the kids. Mr. McCobb forces to take a job recycling hazardous material. But he also gets to know an Indian who runs a store, who tells him about the underclass in India. Now in America, he helps Demon by giving him plenty of food, something he’s not receiving from his foster family.  Demon saves his money and runs away. A truck stop whore steals his money.

Penniless, he finds his paternal grandmother, Betsy Woodall. He’d never seen her before, but she recognizes him because he looks just like the dad who’d died before his birth. She arranges for him to stay with a football coach (Coach Winfield), the husband of her late daughter. He has a daughter, Angus, who becomes another positive force in Demon’s life. The coach appears to care for Demon, but he has his owns “demons” with alcohol. But things begin to look up for Demon as he becomes a star tight end, until he messes up his knee. While he had often used drugs (smoking pot or popping pills at a party with the other foster boys at Crickson’s farm), with his injury, he slides deep into drug use.

Then we think he’s saved when he meets Dori, a girl he describes as an angel. But she is also deep into drugs as she cares for her father whose lungs were destroyed in the mines. After her father’s death, they move in together. Later, Demon realizes that if he wants to get clean, he’ll have to leave her. Then she dies of an overdose. 

When he hits bottom, Demon finally agrees to leave the region for treatment, afterwards, he says in a half-way house… The book ends with him visiting Lee County and reuniting with Angus. Kingsolver leaves the reader with hope for Demon, but also with the knowledge he has a lifelong struggle ahead of him. 

Along his journey, there are many who try to help Demon. At the forefront is the Peggot family. Demon’s mother had rented a trailer from them. The Peggot’s look out for him. They are elderly, but with a daughter in the state prison for killing her husband, they raise her son, Maggot (most everyone in this book has nicknames). He is a weird child, but a good friend. As they grow older, he’s gay and, like many others, has a drug problem. One of their daughters, June, who had been a nurse in Knoxville. She becomes a nurse practitioner and moves back to Lee County. Through her efforts, Kingsolver provides insight into how so many people have become addicted to opioids.  She also helps Demon get help.

Other helpful individuals include an art teacher who encourages Demon’s drawings. Her husband, an African American counselor and teacher from Chicago, strives to help the kids see how the area has been devasted by outside forces. One of the social workers (Miss Banks) is helpful but realizes she’s in a dead-end job and returns to school and becomes a teacher. She sees being a teacher to provide economic security in an area where there are few opportunities. 

Those who pull Demon in the wrong direction include Fast Forward. At the farm, he was a high school student and given special privileges because he is the school’s quarterback. Fast Forward introduces Demon and others to pill popping. Later, he gets more involved with drugs and their distribution, leaving a wake of broken people behind him. 

This should be an eye-opening novel for many people. Kingsolver used Charles Dicken’s David Copperfield, as a model for this story. While I haven’t read David Copperfield, they both deal with how the poor become trapped, but also provide a glimmer of hope. This is a long novel but provides the reader with insight into the rural poor in America and the challenges they face. I like the voice of Demon, who tells this story that helps educate the rest of us about the hopelessness that many people face as well as the lure and the entrapment of the drug culture.

A quote: to end with: “Certain pitiful souls around here see their whiteness as their last asset that hasn’t been totaled or repossessed.”  

Photo of Foster Falls, along the New River. Photo by Jeff Garrison
Foster Falls along the New River in Western Virginia

Roy, Utah, & Aimee Semple McPherson

View of Cedar City, Utah from Cedar Mountain, looking northwest. Photo by Jeff Garrison
Cedar City, Utah from Cedar Mountain, 2010 (Lund is in the distance, before the far mountains)

“My mother always told me that if she had enough money, she would have stayed on that train and headed back to Minnesota,” Roy confided to me. This was in the late 19th Century. His mother, who had met his father when he was on a trip back east, had come west to begin her married life. The train stopped in Lund, a small town along the line that would later become the Salt Lake and San Pedro Railroad. After that, it would be part of the Union Pacific line, but all that was in the future. Lund is in the middle of a garden of sagebrush. The country is barren and flat, but in the distance, mountains rise. In 1898, it was the closest rail hub to Cedar City. It’d be another couple of decades before a spur line was established, linking the city and its iron mines to the larger world. On

Roy’s father was there by the small station, with a buckboard, waiting. He loaded her luggage in the wagon. The train continued westward toward Modena and Pioche. Roy’s parents began their life together with a bumpy and dusty thirty-four mile ride to Cedar City. She would live there for the next eight decades. A couple years later, she gave birth to Roy.

View of Community Presbyterian Church of Cedar City, Built in 1926 and used as a church until 1997. Currently, it is used as an office.
Presbyterian Church 1926-1997

Roy’s father was one of three Swedes to come to Cedar City to herd sheep. In time, each began to save money and acquire their own herds and land. They stood out as Gentiles, non-Mormons, in a community dominated by Latter-day Saints. These three families would later form the nucleus of a Presbyterian Church. While they had been Lutheran, the Presbyterians had missionaries in the region. Roy’s mom agreed to help establish the church if the missionary pastor would teach Luther’s catechism. She would continue teaching Sunday School in that church until she was nearly a 100. She died at 104, a decade before my arrival. However, many of the members at that time still had fond memories of her. 

Ranching operations the desert near Cedar City, Utah. Photo by Jeff Garrison
Ranching operations near Cedar City

I spent my first Christmas in Cedar City with Roy and Velma and their son’s family, having a large dinner around their dining room table. I had moved to Cedar in October 1993. My wife had stayed behind to finish up her degree at Buffalo State. The day after Christmas, I flew east to meet her. We would visit to our families in North Carolina and Georgia before driving her car across the country. Around their table, I sat as an “adopted orphan” at Christmas,” hearing their story for the first time. 

Roy’s first wife was Vera, who’d died in the 40s. Roy had a large sheep operation by then and two young children. He then married Velma, Vera’s identical twin sister. Velma loved telling of the first time the mailman stopped after she had moved to Cedar City. The poor man almost had a heart attack, thinking Vera had come back from the grave. Velma laughed at my suggestion that she should have let the rumor run wild that God was known to raise the Presbyterian dead.

Roy was ninety-two and still active. But he didn’t get out a lot during the winter, with his son running the sheep operation. The exception was to attend church in January, close to his birthday. For the next three years, he stood up during joys and concerns and brag about his age. That first January he bragged that he was going to be 93 and could still ride a horse. The next January, he stood and bragged that he’d be 94 that week, and still his own boss. His wife leaned over to Edith Kirtly, both of whom were in their 80s and hard of hearing. She thought she was whispering, but everyone heard as she said to her friend, “That’s what he thinks.” The congregation erupted in laughter as Roy sat down, his face red with embarrassment. 

Over the next few years, I got to know Roy better and we had many discussions on faith. While he supported the church and believed in Jesus, he struggled with doubts that reached back to his youth. He was a high school student when his father, who was at a sheep camp, had a lantern explode in his face. Glass shivers flew into both eyes. From that point on, Roy and his brother alternated between school and running the sheep. In the summer, they were up on the mountain. During winter, the camped in the sagebrush at lower elevations. 

Roy’s mom took his father to doctors in the east and San Francisco, searching for someone who could restore his sight. But the damage was too extensive and there was nothing to be done.

Then she heard of Aimee Semple McPherson, a Pentecostal preacher whose worship services from Angelus Temple in Los Angeles was broadcasted across much of the country in the 1920s and 1930s. Known for her healing, she packed her husband up and they headed to Los Angeles, renting a small cabin not far from Angelus Temple. For several weeks they attended worship services and was visited by Sister Aimee. When she thought he was ready, she had him come up on the stage to have his sight restored. She laid her hands on him, prayed over him, and proclaimed him healed. Of course, his father’s eyes were too far gone. He never regained his sight and confided in his son that he never believed Sister Aimee could healed him but attended to satisfy his wife. 

The red hills of Navajo sandstone west of Cedar City, UT. Photo by Jeff Garrison
Cedar Canyon, west of the city

It amazed Roy that I knew about Sister Aimee. A new biography of her had been published a few years earlier and, as one interested in American evangelicalism, I had read it shortly before moving to Utah. In our conversations, I shared much of her intriguing and scandalous story with him. 

Roy died in 1997, the year after Utah celebrated its centennial, and two months before the Presbyterian Church moved into its new home. He lived all 96 of his years in Utah. He’d become a successful sheep herder. Although a Gentile in a community dominated by Mormons, he was an important business leader within the community. He even helped the Mormons by contributing to the construction of the second Mormon Stake House, which was just down the street from his house in the 1940s.

Roy was excited that the Presbyterian Church was building a new worship center. As the old church was too small and the new church not yet ready, his service in the funeral home. The room was packed with old ranchers and farmers as well as members of the Presbyterian Church. I preached on the 23rd Psalm, which seemed appropriate for a man who spent his life running 100s of thousands of sheep up the mountains and out across the valleys that surrounded Cedar City.

Another story from my Cedar City days: Doug and Elvira

On Cedar Mountain in the fall with the aspen in yellow. Photo by Jeff Garrison
Up on Cedar Mountain in the fall

Two theological books

Book cover of "Rediscovering Humility"

Christopher A. Hutchinson, Rediscovering Humility: Why the Way Up is Down 

(Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2018), 250 pages including endnotes and scriptural references. 

It is the gospel itself that demands humility. 
Therefore, Christian discipleship cannot be supplemented with a dash of humility for flavor, 
but must have humility as the main ingredient. (page 31)

Hutchinson thesis is that humility is the center of the gospel. It’s not just something for which we’re to give lip service or to try harder to achieve. It is certainly not a contest to see how we can be humbler than someone else (that would be a self-defeating effort if there ever was one). Instead, humility comes from our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, who humbled himself by coming to us in the flesh.

However, humility is not a virtue with much value in society, which makes this book even more valuable. We recognize and reward those who are strong, not the meek. The economics systems upon which our society is based awards strength and in this manner is antithetical to Scripture and the Kingdom. Jesus speaks of the last being first, storing our treasurers in heaven, and blessings showered upon the meek. 

Drawing heavily up the Puritans, Hutchinson clarifies what humility is and isn’t. He uses examples from his time as an officer in the U. S. Army during Desert Storm and from his ministry. A promising student graduating at the top of his class, Hutchison headed into ministry only to be voted out of his first call after only a year in ministry. Such an experience provides Hutchinson with a valuable tool. Leadership is about service and focusing on others. He writes about presenting the Elders in his church, upon their ordination, a toilet plunger to remind them of their role of service in the life of the church. 

From the individual to leaders within the church, Hutchinson examines humility from many points of view, not just from the view of the individual. He explores its meaning in relation to the Sabbath, Church doctrine, Church unity, relations with unbelievers, and nationalism. The sanctuary in which he worships doesn’t have an American flag because the church is for all people, not just Americans. Likewise, he has refused to hold services that honor the Scottish heritage of Presbyterianism. I found this to be honest and refreshing (but I’m not sure what I’d do with my kilt if there were no such Sundays). 

As a pastor in the conservative Presbyterian Church of America, which does not allow women in governance, Hutchinson refers mostly, but not exclusively, to male leadership. However, Hutchinson avoids falling into the macho Christian image for men and, as he did with certain strains of nationalism, repudiates such views. 

This is a book that should be read and studied by Christian leaders. In a world where power and might rules, the church needs to model humility.

Book cover of After Baptism

John P. Burgess, After Baptism: Shaping the Christian Life

(Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2005), 155 pages including index and notes. 

The sacraments and commandments remind us that being Christian is not only a question of what we believe but also and foremost a question of how we live.  Christians are a people who live out their faith. (page xiii)

We can of course continue to ignore our need to confess sin.
We can continue to pretend that we have no hunger, no thirst.
But then we refuse to admit our dependency on God and others,
and deny the fundamental fact that we cannot give ourselves life but, rather,
have to receive whatever good we have from a source of life beyond ourselves. (page 137)

How are we to live as followers of Jesus? John Burgess, a professor of Systematic Theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary provides a theological framework for such a life. This is a theological work, not a how-to book. Burgess doesn’t provide tricks to help us grow in our faith. Instead, drawing heavily on John Calvin and Martin Luther, along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, he focuses on how we are to shape our lives. He bookends his thesis with the two Protestant sacraments (Baptist and Eucharist) and in-between explores the meaning of the 10 Commandments. 

Early in the book, Burgess introduces the three interpretative moves from the Reformation which help us understand the commandments. These moves broaden each commandment (murder can be more than physically killing someone). Then they internalize the commandments (wrong desires underlies every violation of the commandments). And finally, they reverse the commandments. Every negative commandment also has a positive side (see the Westminster Larger Catechism with each one having a list of what the commandment requires and well as prohibits). While Burgess has something to say about all ten, he devotes most of his writing to the center commandments (keeping the Sabbath, honoring parents, and not killing). 

By bookending his thesis with the sacraments, Burgess makes the case that the Christian life is not shaped by the individual but by God through the Christian community. Christianity isn’t an individual quest, but one lived out together (as Bonhoeffer makes clear in Life Together). He also provides a theological and biblical foundation for infant baptism. 

Burgess draws from many personal stories, including writing about his own children’s baptism, his family history that includes German Jews, the impact of 911, hiking in Colorado, and his ecumenical work in Eastern Europe.

If one is looking for a book of ideas of how to grow as a Christian (such as how to pray, or to study scripture, etc.), this book probably won’t be of much help. But if one is serious about living a Christ-like life in a complicated world, After Baptism book provides much to consider.  This book should be used in seminaries. I found myself wishing that Burgess had taught at Pittsburgh when I was a student there. Realizing he’s been at Pittsburgh 25 years made me feel even older as I graduated almost a decade before he started. 

A Parting Shot

Take on February 7, during a late evening walk

A Return Visit to Honduras

I wrote this article about 20 years ago and it appeared in the Presbyterian Outlook in 2007. I’ve added some color photos, but sadly this was in my “pre-digital” era, so there are not as many photos as I’d take today. In total, I have been on six mission trips to Central America (Honduras, Costa Rica, the Yucatan, and Guatemala. In my first trip to Honduras, from which many of the photos were taken, I was part of a construction team that build a pole barn to serve as a wheelchair storage and repair facility for the country.

Down the highway, dodging potholes, we pass yet another bicycle struggling up a hill, firewood strapped to the back. The biker cut and split the wood with the machete strapped to the top.  Life’s hard here. Turning into the village, the road becomes dirt. Chickens scoot to the side, letting us pass. The roosters puff out their chest, fluffing feathers. It isn’t just a self-assured prestige. They’re important to the economy; their nightly dalliance with the hens produce eggs, a staple in the diet of the people, and along with beans the main source of protein. At the corner, a few men lean against the wall of a pulperia (small store), cowboy hats tipped back, watching the day pass. I wave. “Hola,” they mumble as they nod.  A malnourished dog darts across the street, stopping to lick the salt off a discarded wrapper of chips.Time slows down here; moving even more slowly than the bus negotiating puddles and driving around an oxen-pulled cart hauling adobe blocks.

Traditional Honduran kitchen

Dark clouds and light drizzle slow life even more. It’s cool in the mountains, but never cold. Smoke rises from the stovepipes, only to lie low, forming a blanket over the town. I imagine women inside, patting out tortillas while tending the stove. The long-split pieces of wood are gradually fed into the adobe firebox. A pot of beans boils while tortillas bake on the hot metal above the coals. Their evening meal of beans and tortillas will be supplemented with a few eggs, some crumbled cheese, fresh bananas, and strong coffee.

We pass the park. Schoolboys play soccer, and a few kids shoot basketball, paying little attention to the dampness. We turn off the main road and pull up to the Hotel Central Otoreno where we get out. We’re back. The first thing I notice is that there is now a metal railing around the balcony. Last year, a couple of us got some rope and made a railing to reduce the risk of falling off the top floor. We’re assigned rooms and I haul my backpack up to the second floor, dropping it into my room. I look around. There are two beds and a chair in the main room. The TV on the wall is another surprise. It wasn’t there last year. The bathroom consists of a toilet, trash can, a sink with only cold water and a shower. I’m surprised to see they’ve attached an electric heater showerhead. Upon closer examination, I notice the ground wire has been snipped off and the hot wires are just twisted together and taped, dangling above the shower. Obviously, there are no electrical inspectors in these parts.

I head outside. Walking through the town, I visit familiar sites. The old church by the square is open. A machete, secured in a fancy sheath, lies next to the doorsill as a reminder that this is a sanctuary. I peek in and see the back of a lone man kneeling in prayer under the gaze of a rather dark-skinned Jesus who hangs on the cross. Nothing has changed. I stop in the hardware store and surprise Ricardo. He tells me he’s been practicing and challenges me to a game of chess. A customer comes in and he must return to work. We’ll meet later. I head down to the park and shoot a few hoops with the kids. I teach them useful techniques with corresponding English words, like “break” “drive,” and “pick.” Their laugher is contagious. Despite the mud and trash and poverty, I’m still at home.

 I am here on a mission trip. It’s my second visit and our congregation’s sixth to this city in the central mountains of Honduras. There are approximately 20,000 people in Jesus de Otoro. Our medical team will see nearly a thousand of them over the next few days.  

That’s me, working on a wheelchair storage center

For the past six years, members from several Presbyterians congregations in Michigan and Indiana and a Christian Reformed Church in Iowa, partnering through Central Christian Development of Honduras (CCD), have worked to improve life in the small Honduran Mountain town while sharing the love of Jesus Christ with its residents.  Under the leadership of Dr. Jim Spindler, a retired physician from Hastings, Michigan, yearly medical and dental teams have traveled to Jesus de Otoro and the surrounding villages. In 2003, Jim asked one of the Honduran physicians what would make the biggest difference to them in their practice. He was told of their need for wheelchairs.  Asking how many they could use; Jim was shocked to be told that they could use a hundred.  Coming back to the states, Jim set in motion a wheelchair collection program that gathered over 125 wheel chairs. First Presbyterian Church of Hastings partnered with Wheels for the World, a ministry founded by Jodi Eareckson Tada and dedicated to providing wheelchairs to impoverished areas around the world. Wheels for the World arranged for the shipment of wheelchairs and other needed medical supplies to Honduras.    

 In additional to medical work, the churches have provided Vacation Bible School opportunities for children of the community and have supported the work of the Georgetown School, a small Christian bilingual elementary school in Jesus de Otoro.  Esperanza Vasquez, the school’s principal, received a scholarship to study in the United States.  Upon returning to Honduras, she founded the school to prepare Honduran children for leadership within their community and country. During our week there, the older students at the Georgetown School, those proficient in English, serve as translators for the doctors, nurses, and dentists in the clinic. In doing so, they learn the importance of service to their neighbors while providing our medical teams a valuable skill in communicating between the doctors and patients. 

Our trip to Honduras in the Fall of 2005 had a rough beginning. Shortly after landing in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ largest city, we realized we were in the sights of Hurricane Beta, the last of the season’s Class Five Hurricanes. We decided to spend the night in the city and see what the storm would do. Our hosts from CCD were nervous about us going into the countryside due to the possibilities of floods and mudslides, which could trap us for weeks. They still have strong memories of the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in 1998.  

That morning things looked ominous. The front page of the newspaper had a map of the projected path of the storm, showing it moving over central Honduras, right where we were traveling. We stayed in San Pedro Sula, preparing to ride out the storm if it came our way. We purchased food and batteries and plenty of five-gallon jugs of water. A few team members grabbed what seats were available and flew back to the United States.  Throughout the day we checked the weather on the internet at the hotel. By evening things were looking good for us, but not so good for those who lived along Honduran/Nicaraguan border and in the Nicaraguan Mountains. We held a worship service that evening in the hotel lobby, praying for the victims of the storm. The next morning, we moved inland where we began our work, having already lost two days.  

View from hotel balcony

Once in Jesus de Otoro, our day begins with the crowing of roosters. Starting about 3 A.M., hundreds of roosters throughout the valley try to outdo the others, ensuring that the last couple hours of night will be restless. By the third night, we’re used to it. In the predawn hours, the town slowly comes alive. Before getting out of bed, trucks can be heard banging along the pot-holed streets, loading workers in the back for a day in the fields or in factories in Siguatepeque. Smoke from cooking fires, held down by the heavy humidity, fill the air as we get up and prepare for the day. Our hosts from CCD have breakfast, supplemented by rich Honduran coffee, ready by 7 AM. Afterwards, we head over to the clinic where a crowd of people have already gathered. We work steadily until lunch and then return in the afternoon and continued till dinner. Hundreds of people are seen each day.  

My duties as a pastor include handing out copies of the New Testament and tracts and praying for and with those waiting for a doctor. In broken Spanish, I welcome them in the name of Jesus, and then an interpreter takes over. I play with the children who understand the universal language of laughter. At the end of each tiring day, we have supper before gathering for worship in a small local church where we share our stories and testimonies with one another. We put in three full days, our work cut short by the hurricane, before we leave the community. Not everyone was cured or even seen, but seeds of hope have been sown as the residents of the region have come to know that someone cares.   

That’s me on top of a finished building for the wheelchair program

Doug and Elvira: A Pastoral Tale

Community Presbyterian Church, Cedar City, UT, where this conversation occurred. The congregation moved into a new and much larger facility in 1997.

A slender woman in a business suit stood at my office door. I guessed her age to be in her early fifties, fifteen or so years older than me. She was attractive and well-dressed. I wondered what she was selling. I stood and invited her in. 

“I’m Jeff.  What can I do for you?”  

As I offered my hand, I realized she was shaking. Her rather limp hand clasped mind and, looking down, she asked quietly, “Can we talk?” 

I gestured for her to take a seat as I stepped back behind my desk, sat down, smiled and nodded. I didn’t know it at the time, but we were both destined to be shocked by what would be revealed.

“I’m Elvira’s daughter,” she said.

“Yes, Elvira, she’s a special woman,” I said with a smile.  

In a few months, I had become very acquainted with Elvira. An elderly woman, she shown up at worship one Sunday morning in late 1993 or early 1994. I don’t remember if it was the first Sunday, but she soon starting requesting each week that we pray for her son, Carl.  I included him in our prayers during worship and he remained on the congregation’s prayer list. Over time I learned he lived in Elko, Nevada and was experiencing a relapse of cancer. Elvira was from Nebraska. She now lived in an adult foster home in Cedar City, Utah where I had visited her. The couple who ran the home were happy to see to it that Elvira got to church every Sunday morning and someone from our congregation would give her a ride home. While I was unsure about her living arrangements and her story, she had in a few months become a part of the church’s family.

Sitting in my office, Elvira’s daughter began telling me the story of moving her mother from Nebraska to Utah. At first, Elvira had lived with her daughter and son-in-law at their home in St. George, a town fifty miles south of Cedar City.

“It was a mistake,” she confessed. 

At their age, without children of their own, Elvira was like a child. And she had become a wedge between her and her husband. I sensed Elvira’s daughter experienced guilt for having placed her mother in the home but didn’t know what else she could do.  

“Are there other siblings who could help?” I asked. 

“No,” she said trembling.  

“I know you have a brother who has cancer. Is he Elvira’s only other child?”

“Yes. But my brother has been a problem all along. He was married and had a son, but then left his wife for a man. That’s a sin, but my mother just accepts it.”  

“Well, he’s her son,” I said.  

“Don’t you think that’s a sin?” she asked.

“I didn’t say that,” I responded. “But that’s not the issue. We’re all sinners and to her, he’s also her child, her flesh and blood.”

“He’s always asking my mother for money, and never pays it back.” I could sense she had nothing but disgust for her brother. There was a pause and I waited for her to continue.

“My mother doesn’t have that much, but she he gave him enough for a down payment for that house he and his opera singing lover built in Virginia City.”  

Doug, 1988

My brain exploded. “It couldn’t be,” I thought. Maybe she sensed my reaction for she stopped and, for a moment, we sat quietly.

“Did your brother also go by the name, Doug?”  I finally asked.

She turned white. Her eyes widened. After a moment, she nodded and bowed her head. Finally, she continued. “His name is Carl Douglas. We always called him Carl, but his friends know him as Doug.”

“I know him,” I said, confessing what was now obvious. “I haven’t seen him in three or four years and didn’t know he’d moved to Elko.” 

Memories of Doug flooded my mind. It seemed so ironic I’d been praying for a couple of months for someone I once knew well.

I’d met Doug and Rudi in 1988, right after moving to Virginia City. I was thirty-one years old and a student pastor at a small congregation there for a year. The first week, Doug and Rudi invited me to dinner at their home in the Highlands.  Although they were already living there, the house was still under construction. Doug had done most of the work. Before dinner, they showed me around their home in which the kitchen cabinets still lacked doors and there was much trim to be finished. I had the sense they might be gay, which was confirmed when they showed me their master bedroom. I was nervous, looking in, as I’d never been in a bedroom of someone gay. But I almost laughed. I was amazed at how messy it was, which went against my stereotypical images that I had of how gay men lived.  

First Presbyterian, Christmas 1988. The nativity scene is to the right.

Over the next few months, I got to know them better. Rudi sang at church functions and Doug was our go-to handy man. He built a manger for a nativity display we posted beside the church at Christmas. He had helped me winterize the house I was living in. Later, he’d help design a retaining wall that kept the hill behind the church from encroaching on the sanctuary. By then, though, he was too sick to do the work.

Perhaps my best memory of Doug was from New Year’s Eve, which was a Saturday in 1988. As I practiced my sermon for Sunday that afternoon in the sanctuary, I heard water run under the organ. Upon investigating, I found a crack in the pipe supplying our hot water heating system. I called Doug and he came down immediately with his tools. Together, we spent an hour on our bellies, under the organ, cutting out the damaged pipe with a hacksaw and then soldering in a new piece. We took turns holding the pipe and torch, as we each talked about our plans for the evening. Thanks to our efforts, heat was restored, even though we were both late for our respective parties.

Doug also helped me with my first computer. He ordered the parts and built the computer, showing me how it fit together. This was in January 1989. The computer had 640 kilobytes of RAM, a 30 meg hard drive, and a 5 1/4 floppy disk. He only charged me for the parts. It was still expensive, but about half of what a computer cost in those days (which is more than they cost today). With the coming of a computer, I would never write another sermon by hand.

Me, backcountry skiing outside Virginia City, late December 1988

A few months into the new year, Doug became sick. He had tests and asked me to go with him to the doctor to hear the report. It was cancer, lymphoma. The prognosis wasn’t good. The doctor had tears in his eyes as he talked about the prognosis. 

Doug soon started chemotherapy. On at least one occasion, I drove him to Reno for his treatments. We’d had a pleasant talk heading down the mountain on Geiger Grade. On the way back, Doug was sick and spend much of the trip with his head in a bag. By late summer, when I was leaving to return to seminary, Doug had lost most of his hair, but he was doing better. In the summer of 1992, when I visited Virginia City, I stayed with him and Rudi. Doug had been in remission for over a year. 

Later that year, I’d heard through mutual friends that they had split up. I lost contact with them. 

C Street, Virginia City, December 1988

I’m sure the room was spinning for Doug’s sister as I told her about my time as a student pastor in Virginia City and how Doug had been very involved in that church. We talked for some time that afternoon, as I tried to encourage her to reconcile with her brother.   

I am sure many people would consider this meeting as a coincidence, but I saw God’s hand-written all over it. I had to reconnect with Doug. The phone number Elvira, his mother, had for Doug in Elko no longer worked. I made some calls to friends in Virginia City. No one had heard from Doug in a while, but I was given a phone number for Rudi, who was now living in Las Vegas. Calling him, I was shocked to learn he and his new lover had moved Doug down for Elko. Doug was living with them. He had become so weak that he could no longer care of himself and there was fear he would be homeless. 

A few weeks later, as I was coming back from a trip to California, I stopped in Vegas and visited Doug. He was resting on the couch and remained prone the entire time. I was afraid it would be the last time we’d see each other. I could tell that he was pleased I had stopped and that his mother was in the church I served. I stayed only for an hour as Doug appeared exhausted.  

It turned out that wasn’t the last time that I saw Doug. A few weeks later, in early September, Rudi called and said that Doug had rallied and wanted to come up and to see his mother and me. The day of the reunion of Doug and his mother was hot with not a cloud in the sky. We toured Cedar City and ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant. By the time lunch was over, Doug was tired. Rudi suggested they head back to Vegas. But before they left, as we stood talking in the parking lot, Doug pulled me aside and asked if I would be willing to officiate at his funeral. He knew it wouldn’t be long. I assured him it would be an honor.

It was just a week or two later when I received the call that Doug had died. He was 48 years old. I went over to Elvira’s to give her the news. She expected it. She wanted to attend the funeral and hoped her daughter would take her. However, her daughter refused, so I offered to drive Elvira down to Vegas. 

The day we left, her daughter asked us to stop along the way for dinner. She lived only a mile or so off Interstate 15, so it really wasn’t out of the way. I agreed, secretly hoping I could encourage her to attend the funeral, but she remained adamant. After dinner of hash made from a left-over brisket, that was quite good, we left her home in St. George and continued to Vegas. 

As the interstate came out of the Virgin River Gorge, a violent thunderstorm moved through with high winds and blinding lightning that cooled the air from the day’s heat. I slowed down in the driving rain, but it felt as if the storm was cleansing the earth. Elvira and I both marveled at the lightning. That night, we stayed overnight at Rudy’s. Elvira slept in Doug’s old bedroom while I camped out on the couch where Doug had laid when I visited him earlier in the summer.

The next morning, September 30th, I escorted Elvira inside the chapel at the cemetery for one last look at her son. Then they closed the casket. Slowly others gathered. By the time all were present, about a dozen of us, we filled only two rows in the oversized room. Rudi, Doug’s former lover, was there with his new lover. His son had made it.  Hilda, who had also been a student pastor in Virginia City a few years before me and was organizing a new church in Green Valley, a Vegas suburb, was there, as was her husband whom she met in Virginia City. A few women who had been friends with Doug and Rudi rounded out the group. On schedule, the chapel’s organist played music. Hilda and I read scriptures and offered prayers. Then Hilda sang a solo and I preached the homily. 

Afterwards, we made our way out of the cool chapel into the late-summer heat of a Las Vegas morning, stopping at the gravesite. A few words were spoken, and the party broke up.  Elvira and I stopped for lunch and then drove back to Cedar City that afternoon.

Before the end of the year, Elvira moved back to Nebraska, into an assisted living facility. We kept up with each other for a couple of years through Christmas cards, but then her cards stopped coming. I sure she is no longer with us.  However, I am glad to have had the privilege to minister to her and to her son. I just wished her daughter could have found a way to reconnect to her brother before it was too late.  But I learned that I can’t change people and it’s not my job. Instead, I had to care for all three in what limited ways I could.

About the photos:

Several of these pictures was from a photo album given to me by the church when I finished my year. I know I have other pictures of Doug and some with his mother when they made the trip to Cedar City. I am sure I also have others of Rudi. They were probably taken on slides and stored in one of several large tubs in storage. The photo of the old Community Presbyterian Church of Cedar City was taken from the church’s website.

Other Virginia City Stories:

Matt in Virginia City, 1988

Riding the Virginia and Truckee

Christmas Eve on the Comstock, 1988

I have often used stories about my time in Virginia City in sermons. In this recent sermon, I spoke of my uneasiness during my move to Virginia City.

Virginia City (with St. Mary’s in the Mountains in the middle). Photo taken from the Flowery Cemetery, southeast of the town.

Lopez and Volf: How might we foster a better world?

These are two other books which I read while down with COVID. While they may seem totally different, I did find some common ground between these two deep thinkers. Both are interested in how we can help others achieve their potential and sustain society. 

Barry Lopez, Horizon (2019, New York: Vintage Books, 2020), 572 pages including maps, index, and bibliography. 

In six extended essays, the late Lopez takes us along on his travels to isolated spots around the globe. As his fellow travelers, we are privy to his thoughts. Not only does he beautifully describe this location and what’s happening there, but each setting also allows him to converse with authors, artists, explorers, natives, and scientists. While each essay stands independently, there are several people from the past who appear in more than one of the essays. These include the British explorer, “James Cook,” the British scientist Charles Darwin, and a little known half-native Canadian, Randall McDonald (who taught English to the Japanese court years before Commander Perry opened the Japanese mainland to western shipping).  

The book opens with a 47-page introduction titled, “Looking for a Ship” in which Lopez provides some background into his life and explorations. Much of this material was also covered in more detail his memoir,About This LifeHowever, the introduction does provide the reader with a context to understand Lopez’s journeys that take him to the polar caps and places in between. Lopez’s first essay centers around Cape Foulweather in Oregon, where Lopez lived when not traveling. Cape Foulweather is also the site of James Cooks first sighting of land along America’s West Coast in 1778. He tells about his many visits to this point, as he reads James Cooks travels and strives to understand how the landscape has changed over the years.  His next stop is Skraeling Island in the arctic waters of northern Canada. Then he moves on to Puerto Ayora in the Galapagos, and then to the site of an archeological dig in Kenya (titled Jackal Camp). Next, he goes to an old British prison in Tasmania, before concluding his journey in the Antarctic.  Some of these sites, Lopez visits for only a season. Others, he has returned many times.

Except for the Antarctic essay, which is the only place on earth without any human ancestry, Lopez seeks out to understand the lives of those who lived before the region was “discovered.” This includes Native Americans in Oregon, Paleoeskimos in the Arctic, South Sea islanders in the Galapagos, early humans in Africa, and Aboriginals in Australia.  With his extensive knowledge in botany and biology, he discusses the changes to the landscape from human migration. As an example, I knew red foxes were not native to North America but learned the British also imported them to Australia for hunting. 

These extended essays provide Lopez time to reflect on the colonial world, the role class plays in a society (which he even found in the scientific communities in the Antarctic), how animals and landscape evolve, and the concerns of the speed of such evolution in recent centuries. Lopez also looks to the future and ponders creating new ways of bringing more people to the table to discuss and help the world from the crisis that we are experiencing from industrialization. Lopez often comes back to the role elders play in traditional communities and suggests that we need to listen to them.

This is a book to be savored. Lopez encourages us to look around and to understand our place in the world. 

QUOTE ON WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN: “to live in fear in a whole in which one’s destiny is never entirely of one’s own choosing.” (page 508). 

Miroslav Volk, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2011), 174 pages including notes and index. 

There are many who blame religion for many of the world’s problems. Monotheistic religions seem especially vulnerable to such changes. While Volf is writing to Christians, he does make many references to Islam. Of course, all religions have examples of failing to live up to their potential (Volf labels this “malfunctions of faith”), Volf believes religion and especially the Christian faith has the potential to contribute much to the common good. Furthermore, as Volf notes, much of the terrible violence of the 20thCentury, the most violent century in human history, wasn’t because of religion. Genocide was most often conducted by secular regimes. 

Volf begins his study by looking at how and why religious groups have failed to contribute to the common good.  For Christians, this “malfunction of faith” is mostly due to our failure to “love God and love our neighbor.” The Christian faith, for Volf, is certainly not waiting for “pie in the sky.” Instead, our faith should be a source of human flourishing, and not just flourishing for believers, but all people.  Religion is about the good life and requires religious people to engage in their communities for the good of all. However, he criticizes the extremes. The followers of Jesus should neither withdraw from society nor should they try to dominate society. Instead, with creativity, they should seek to engage positively in a religiously pluralistic world.

One of the problems in the West is that we tend to understand the good life as “experimental satisfaction,” which can never sustain our deepest desires. The source of the good life is not found within us, but outside, from God and from others. Only by living up to Jesus’ great commandment, can we experience such goodness. 

Volf does not envision a world in which there is only one faith. In fact, as I pointed out above, he’s critical of such ideas. We will never be able to bring God’s kingdom to earth. Only God can do that.  For us to attempt to bring about heaven to earth by silencing other beliefs will only lead to further malfunctions of our faith. Instead, he envisions a pluralistic world where those of all faith need to be in conversation with one another and learn from others. While Christians believe in the truth in Jesus Christ, that doesn’t mean there are not things we can learn from others. While he doesn’t use the term, the Calvinist view of “common grace” (as opposed to saving grace) seems to apply here. All good comes from God, including that which is good in those who may have a different view of faith from us. 

Volf is a professor at Yale Divinity School and the director Center for Faith and Culture. There is a lot packed into this thin book on how we our faith can help a troubled world. 

For those interested, Volf will be the keynote speaker at this year’s “HopeWords Writer’s Conference in Bluefield, West Virginia on March 24-25. This is a reasonably priced conference that I highly recommend. Check it out by clicking here.

HopeWorld 2023 Speakers

Three Books about the Appalachian Trail

As I’ve been treated with back to back bouts with COVID, I spent much of my time reading about the Appalachian Trail. I don’t think I’ve read a book about the trail since I read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, back in the 1990s. It was great to visit the trail once more as I read these three books that brought back lots of memories and made me a little homesick. I’m including a few pictures from my own journey. The photo to the left is of me on Mt. Katahdin in 1987, after having hiked from Virginia to Maine to complete the trail.

By the way, I finally received a negative COVID test on January 9th!

Ben Montgomery, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail

 (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2014), 277 pages including the index and sources. Maps and some photos. 

I have been meaning to read this book for the past three years, ever since my ministry colleague on Skidaway gave me a copy. Of course, I have known of Grandma Gatewood’s walk since at least the early 80s, when I first started hiking the Appalachian Trail. Having completed the trail and having read many books about it (the last probably being Bill Bryson’s book in the mid-1990s), I had kind of put the trail out of my mind. But as I began reading about Grandma Gatewood, I was drawn back into the lure of the trail. This book is well written and is easy to read.

Part of the danger of having completed the Appalachian Trail is that I read this book through my own lens. Even without going back into my journals, the names of the towns, shelters, rivers, waterfalls, ponds, and mountains, all began to come back. 

While I enjoyed the book, my critical eye questioned a few of the authors observations. I don’t think Gatewood saw any chestnuts on the trail. Certainly, even thirty years later when I was hiking the trail, there were shoots coming up from old stumps, but the chestnuts in the Appalachian Mountains had died in the 1920s. She didn’t have to fear water moccasins along the trail as they are not found in the mountainous areas of the south (and even Gatewood only acknowledging seeing rattlesnakes and copperheads). And the rugged rock in Pennsylvania was not created by glaciers (they tend to smooth out rock), but by upturned limestone that leaves a jagged edge to the rock that creates a challenge in what would be an easy part of the trail to hike. Finally, the author twice referred to Boy Scout “Packs.” It’s a Boy Scout Troop, Cub Scouts have packs. Again, these are just minor points. Overall, the books drew me in quickly and I read it in a 24-hour period while quarantined for COVID. 

For the bulk of the book in which he tells of her first (of three) completions of the Appalachian Trail, the author creatively tells two stories. At one point, he’ll be telling of Gatewood’s hike as if he was with her as she made her way in her tennis shoes along the trail. Then, he’ll go back to share vignettes of her life before she set out in her mid-60s to hike the trail. We learn about her hard life and her abusive marriage. Gatewood had a wanderlust streak in her and had once before left home We also learn how she’d left her husband once before and traveled out to California in the 1930s. But she had children to tend. It was after they’d left home that she began hiking. 

A 1987 photo of me that appeared in the Union News of Springfield, MA

As Gatewood began hiking, she became famous with newspapers and Sports Illustrated running articles on her. After she completed the trail, she was on the Today’s Show and game shows. She continued hiking, doing two more trips on the AT, along with walking the Oregon Trail. She promoted the Buckeye Trail in her home state of Ohio. She died in 1973. 

There were a lot of her stories to which I could relate and share similar experiences. She hiked through two hurricanes. I had a similar experience going over Standing Indian Mountain. That hike was miserable. The trail became a stream with the water over my boots. The next day, it was clear. I met a couple from Franklin, a town in the valley, who said the town had received 10 inches of rain that day I was climbing Standing Indian. 

On her hike in 1955, coming off Mt. Cube in New Hampshire, Gatewood met the wife of Meldrim Thomson, whose family had a farm and a maple syrup operation off the side of the mountain. The author notes the Thomson would later become governor of the state. They became friends. 

Jane and Happy at the Thomson’s Maple Syrup house

In 1987, when I came through this section, I stopped that morning for breakfast at a well-known pancake house that Mrs. Thomson ran. As she was cooking pancakes, I read framed news clippings about her husband that was posted on the wall of the diner. When she brought the cakes and a bottle of maple syrup, I said it appeared her husband had been governor wondered if he was still involved (he’d been governor in the 1970s). She said yes that he was out campaigning with Paul Laxalt who was running for President. As I was hosting my pack to head back to the trail, a pickup truck pulled up and two men in suits got out and ran over to me. It was the former governor with Paul Laxalt, who shook my hand even though I was not a New Hampshire voter. Laxalt pulled out of the primary long before the vote that February. 

Even if you have not hiked the AT, Emma Gatewood’s story is one of courage and fortitude. I think you’ll enjoy taking a walk with her. I recommend this book. 

Earl V. Shaffer, Walking with Spring

 (1983, Harper’s Ferry, WVA: Appalachian Trail Conference 2004), 152 pages, no index or bibliography.

I first read this book in the mid-80s. I was living in Hickory, NC, dreaming of the trail. I lent my copy to a friend and never got it back and moved shortly afterwards. A few months ago, I was in a store along the Blue Ridge Parkway and spotted another copy and thought I should read this book again. When I first read the book, I had hiked most of the Appalachian Trail south of Bastian, VA (where I-77 crosses). A few years later I finished the trail after doing a long hike from the Shenandoah’s to Katahdin in Maine. 

This book took me back to a time when the trail was young and not well known. Shaffer was the first person to hike the entire length of the trail which in one season. At the time, the trail ran from Mt. Oglethorpe, Georgia to Katahdin. A few years later, the southern terminus of the trail would be moved to Springer Mountain.  While much of the trail and even some of the shelters were familiar with me, there have been many changes. Going through Southern Virginia, the trail Shaffer hiked headed east from Damarcus, where it picked up and paralleled the Blue Ridge Parkway. This section had a lot of road walking and plans had been made much earlier to move to trail to northward, toward Pearisburg, VA, before swinging it eastward and paralleling the parkway starting north of Roanoke. The plans, which were made before the war, didn’t materialize until around 1950. Interestingly, Shaffer would have hiked past Bluemont Presbyterian Church, one of the two Rock Churches I serve. While he doesn’t mention Bluemont, he does comment on Puckett’s Cabin which is two miles north. (See my book review of Orlean Puckett: 1844-1938.) He hiked this section at the right time because the flame azaleas were in bloom. He missed Mayberry Church for at the time the trail left the parkway and crossed over the crest of the Pinnacles of Dan before returning to the parkway just south of Mabry Mill. 

In one of his poems at the beginning of an earlier section titled “Mountain Medley,” he wrote:

A medley of summit pastures,
Spring flowers and whip-poor-wills,
Stone Churches and upland rivers,
And steep farm-sided hills.

This section of his book deals with his travels that crossed the Big Pigeon, Nolichucky, and Watauga Rivers, which are along the North Carolina and Tennessee border. I wonder if he mistakenly posted the poem there.

Me, 1985, hiking in NC

Shaffer also hiked before the availability of lightweight gear. He often ate canned food. He didn’t take a stove; instead, he built fires to cook his meals. He traveled light, with just a poncho which doubled as a shelter (with him putting his rain hat over the hole in the middle of the poncho). In 1948, much of the trail had been neglected because of the war.  Another big difference in Shaffer’s hike and mine was getting into town to resupply. While we both often hitchhiked, he was often able to catch a bus. I only did this once, in Garrison, NY, where I caught a bus into Peekskill to get my boots repaired. 

Shaffer, himself, had been a soldier in the South Pacific. While he often comments on his status as a veteran, he never writes about the war itself. But the war is mentioned. When a New England ranger invites him into his home in the woods and immediately sets on a pot for tea, he’s reminded of the kindness of New Zealand soldiers offering tea. On occasions, he meets other veterans from the Pacific, and they discuss their experiences which are not shared in the book. Shaffer, having lost his pre-war hiking friend in the war, had a good reason to “walk it off.” (Doug Peacock, who was a green Beret in Vietnam and the model for Edward Abbey’s Hayduke in The Monkey Wrench Gang, titled his memoir Walking It Off). In doing some research after finishing this book, I learn that he did write about his Pacific experiences in a book of poetry titled Before I Walked with Spring: A Dough Boy’s Odyssey and Other Poems of World War II.

Essentially, this book is about his walk on the Appalachian Trail. It’s a day-by-day journal that give us a taste of what Shaffer experienced on his “long cruise.” It is apparent that Shaffer is well-read as he often refers to literary works. He is also a poet and includes many of his own poems. The book wasn’t published until the 1980s which probably explains why he used a metaphor of “programing a computer.” Except for a few scientists, that term doesn’t seem to fit in the world of 1948.

Shaffer’s prose provides an understanding of the landscape. I didn’t realize that the New River in Virginia was the last of the rivers to flow west (and via the Mississippi, south to the Gulf of Mexico). Nor did I really put it together that Sunfish Pond, in New Jersey, was the southern most natural pond/lake on the trail. I do remember commenting in my own journals about how the water sources changed. South of New Jersey, there are many springs from which you get water. As you head north, they become fewer and fewer. 

If you want to learn about the Appalachian Trail, this book is a good place to begin. 

Sherry Blackman, Tales from the Trail: Stories from the Oldest Hiker Hostel on the Appalachian Trail

 (North Hampton, NH: Mindstir Media, 2021), 231 pages including six pages of photos. 

The Reverend Sherry Blackman, a former journalist, serves as pastor of Church of the Mountain, a Presbyterian Church in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania. The church’s basement has served as a hostel for those hiking on the Appalachian Trail (AT) since 1976. In 1987, I spent two nights there while hiking from the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine, which finished my goal of hiking the trail. 

In this collection of essays, Blackman recalls many of the hikers she’s met along the AT since she began her ministry there in 2014. These stories explore a host of themes common to the human condition. Some hikers try to find something they feel they’ve lost. Others try to forget or to figure things out. The walking wounded often stop. Some wounds are physical. They try to push through the pain and limitations as they make it along the trail. Others carry mental and spiritual wounds. Can they find forgiveness, acceptance, or hope?  And then there’s the ugly side, those who must be removed from the hostel for the safety of the other hikers. One essay recounts the number of murders that have occurred along the trail over the past 50 years. Mental illness is another battle many faces and which often leads to challenges for those running the hostel. Through all this, we also see how Blackman and those who run the hostel strive to be graceful. They listen and don’t try to force advice on those who come their way, as they offer hikers a shower, a bunk for a night or two, and once a week, a potluck dinner. 

Presbyterian Church of the Mountain at Delaware Water Gap

In all these essays, we see Blackman listening and accepting the hiker wherever they are on their journey (not just on the trail, but in their lives). Often, her conversations turn to spiritual issues. She asks gentle questions as she helps the hiker along their way. She provides compassionate and insightful counsel, along with learning herself from the stories of others. She also acknowledges the limitations we all have and how hard it is when we can’t help some people. 

Delaware Water Gap is just a little beyond the halfway point for those who are hiking north from Georgia (the actual halfway point is around Caledonia State Park just north of the Maryland border. Those who have started in Georgia (northbound hikers) have been on the trail for roughly 1200 miles. The last hundred miles, while not having difficult climbs, are tough because of the upturned limestone rock grinds the feet down. Blackburn has an essay on the rocks, too. Being in the middle of the trail means Blackman only gets to encounter a hiker at point in their journey. Reading these stories, I recalled work as a night on-call chaplain where I often visited with those going into transplant surgeries and never knew what happened afterwards. That’s the way much of life plays out. Blackman does her part, then the hikers head down the trail.

I found a lot of insight into one hiker who, after hiking the trail, visited after he finished pointed out: “At the top of Katahdin, there are no blazes to tell you where to go now.” As the stories remind us, lots of people set out to hike hoping to find something, but ultimately, there are few Damarcus experiences along the trail. Most hikers gain insight about themselves without having a revelation. 

I recommend this book to those interested in the trail as well as those in ministry who need to consider how we relate to others whom we interact through our lives. 

Hikers at the Church of the Mountains hostel hold a watermelon spitting contest

2022 Reading Update


The Statistics

Poetry (and about poetry)65
Theology and ministry[1]  2216
Essays/Short Stories38
Writing (how to)22
Titles by women714
Read via Audible (I only read unabridged)2020
Books reviewed (I may review 2-3 more in 2023)3530


Reading on Cape Lookout, May 2022

Many of the books appear in more than one category, so they don’t add up to the total.

Last year I said I needed to read more fiction and humor and I read even less this year. Maybe that says something about 2022. There wasn’t a lot of humor to the year. I certainly need to laugh more!

I’ve questioned myself as to why I am not reading more fiction.  I think the answer is that I am curious about so much and most of my reading is for knowledge. 

I started tracking the number of books written by women authors this year. Interestingly, I read more last year, but this year I chose Anne Applebaum’s Red Famine as the most important book I’ve read. We all need to better understand the situation in Ukraine and her book on the Ukrainian famine in the 1930s helps us understand the present situation.

Books read by the Month

Below is my list by month. The highlighted books are ones I reviewed. Click on the link to go to the blog post where you can find the review. Like last year, I have picked my favorite of each month by posting a photo of the book. This I found hard. In March, Applebaum was up against Candice Millard, both incredible historians. In April, Updike’s novel, In the Beauty of the Lilies was up against the writings of the Anglican poet Malcom Guite. Then in May, I had to choose between a wonderful biography of Fredrick Laws Omstead and Trish Warren’s lovely commentary on the compline prayer. In August, the choice between Carver’s poetry, Herman’s philosophy, and Doig’s wonderful storytelling also created a challenge as did my November decision between Meacham and Doyle.  What all this shows is that I read a lot of good books in 2022!


Helen MacDonald, H is for Hawk

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (2nd reading, first in 1978)  

Gregory Orr, The Blessing: A Memoir

Daniel Allen Butler, The Other Side of the Night: The Carpathian, the Californian, and the Night the Titanic was Lost


Sibley Towner, Daniel: Interpretation 

Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers

Erik Larson, Thunderstruck

Temper Longman III, Daniel: The NIV Application Bible Commentary 

Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

Jackson Crawford, translator, The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes


Candice Millard, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President 

Lawrence Berkove, Heretical Fiction: Religion in the Literature of Mark Twain

Peter Yang, The Art of Writing

Robert Creamer, Baseball in ’41: A Celebration of the Best Baseball Season Ever

Anne Applebaum, Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine

Jason Young, The Comeback Effect: How Hospitality Can Compel Your Church’s Guests to Return 


Rick Bragg, Where I Come From: Stories from the Deep South 

Malcolm Guite, In Every Corner Sing:  

John Updyke, In the Beauty of the Lilies

Mark Jarman, Dailiness: Essays on Poetry


Hannah Anderson, Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul

Billy Beasley, Home  

Justin Martin, Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted

Tish Harrison Warren, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep


Shawn D. Wright, Theodore Beza: The Man and the Myth

Anne Applebaum, Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism  

Jonathan White, Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean


Andy Stanley, Not In It To Win It: Why Choosing Sides Sidelines the Church

Rick Bass, Why I Came West: A Memoir

James R. Edwards, From Christ to Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the Church in Less than a Century


Raymond Carver, All of Us: The Collective Poems

Arthur Herman, The Cave and the Light: Plato verses Aristotle and the Struggle for Soul of Western Civilization

Ivan Doig, The Bartender’s Tale

Peter Enns, The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More than Our “Correct” Beliefs

Aaron McAlexander, This Old Store


Bob Lantz, Lean Downstream! The Whole History from the Beginning to the End of the Blue Hole Canoe Company

John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress 

John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez

Robert Maguire, Commentary on John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress 

Winn Collier, A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene Peterson

N. T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer


David Halberstan, October 1964

Paul Willis, Say this Prayer into the Past: Poems

Charles Leerhser, Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty

Harry Middleton, The Earth is Enough: Growing Up in a World of Flyfishing, Trout, and Old Men


Jon Meacham, And There was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle 

Willimon & Hauerwas, Lord, Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer & the Christian Life

John Oller, The Swamp Fox: How Frances Marion Saved the American Revolution

Brian Doyle, One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder for the Spiritual and Nonspiritual Alike

Carrot Quinn, The Sunset Route: Freight Trains, Forgiveness, and Freedom on the Rails in the American West


Lenny Wells, Pecan: America’s Native Nut Tree

Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ

Ben Montgomery, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk

Best Book over all: 

Anne Applebaum, , Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine

Runner Ups: 

Candice Millard, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President 

Arthur Herman, The Cave and the Light: Plato verses Aristotle and the Struggle for Soul of Western Civilization

Jon Meacham, And There was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle 

Harry Middleton, The Earth is Enough: Growing Up in a World of Flyfishing, Trout, and Old Men

Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ

Blog Friends Yearly Reading List

AJ’s (favorites)








A bunch of year end reading lists

I’ll add more as I see them. Let me know if you have a 2022 reading summary and I’ll post it here.

Click here for my reading list from 2021 and from 2020

Did you have a favorite book that you read last year? What’s the title and why did you like it?

[1] This section includes devotional books and commentaries that were completely read as opposed to those just used for reference.