Days Gone By

Yesterday night, a friend of mine posted on my Facebook page a photograph of a mildly embarrassing poem I had written as a teenager.  Despite the fact that I found the poem to be slightly cringy, I had to admit that the work was my own, and reading it gave me a deep feeling of melancholy that the sentiments expressed were so quintessentially Nathanish.  Although I would not phrase the poem the same way had I written it older in life, and it likely would have been far less direct and covered in far more layers of misdirection, the sentiments expressed in them could have been said at thirty-six as they were when I wrote them around the age of sixteen.  I wonder if, had I been able to communicate with my younger self [1], if I would have given in to despair if my younger self had known that two decades later I would be wrestling with the same fundamental ambivalence about love and relationships with no end in sight, creating some kind of temporal paradox that would threaten the stability of some small and insignificant part of the universe.

I suppose my feelings about this matter are not my own alone.  Sometimes the gap between our hopes and expectations and their reality can cross over the line from mere melodrama as my life has been into the realm of the genuinely tragic.  In 1960, for example, the nation of Somaliland, after only five days as an independent state [2], joined in a union with its larger neighbor Somalia with great hopes of a unified and free nation.  Those hopes would not only not be realized but Somaliland itself would suffer decades of misrule before an immensely destructive war of independence [3], only to be forgotten and ignored by the outside world for decades in a refusal to give them back the independence that they so foolishly gave away in a burst of naive idealism that they have repented of many times over in the succeeding decades.  I am sure that if they could go back and do it again, the Somaliland people would want nothing to do with a union with Somalia under any circumstances, and would take their places as a free nation determined to go it alone as best as they are able.  But one cannot go back and reverse the mistakes of the past, or know how badly one’s hopes and longings will be betrayed by the cruel world in which we live.

At times, history reminds us that we are our own worst enemies.  There are still many people in the United States who view the antebellum period with a sense of nostalgia, gloomily worried about what was lost in the aftermath of the Civil War, and longing again for power by unreconstructed Southerners against the liberalizing tendencies of d*****d Yankees.  Yet that world was destroyed by the behavior of fire-eating Southerners themselves.  After the election of Abraham Lincoln, before he could even take office, the seven states of the deep South were pushed into a preemptive rebellion against their impending political impotence.  In the social experiment as to whether somewhat exploitative free labor regimes and extremely exploitative plantation slavery was a bigger draw to internal migration and external immigration, the rules of apportionment had determined the North to be a winner similarly to the way that the difference between high levels of taxation and regulation in some states at present in the United States and low levels of both in others has made the latter the clear winners in contemporary apportionment with the invention of air conditioning and increased transportation infrastructure.  Yet instead of choosing a gradual and consensual loss of power nationally or adopting strategies to reverse that decline by making their region more appealing to upwardly mobile migrants seeking economic opportunity, they choose to rebel and were crushed.

As human beings, we are limited beings in terms of both what we can understand from the past as well as what we are able to discern about the future.  Our memory plays tricks on us, and our attempts to understand the past on its own terms is often sabotaged by the fact that we know how things turn out and the people making the decisions did not.  We can say, knowing what we know in the present, that the rebellion of the Confederate States of America against the United States was a horrible idea, that Somaliland had no business joining greater Somalia and that it would only lead to tragedy, and that the love life of even a young Nathan was too unsuccessfully and too publicly so to be ignored, but had to be dealt with in the face of unfriendly attention by others.  We make our decisions in ignorance of how things will turn out.  It may be somewhat mature of someone as a teenager to wish happiness even for a young woman who is not interested in him despite his interest in her, but it is tragic when the same thing is going on twenty years later with little improvement.  It may be idealistic for a nation to join in a union with a neighbor of similar ethnic origin but different colonial history but it is tragic when that idealism is crushed by dictators and viewed by the international community that one is unworthy of having one’s separate nationhood back.  It is all well and good for one to place one’s lives and sacred honor and one’s corrupt social institutions at risk in order to win a war for independence until the God of Battles decides to reject one’s appeal to heaven and leaves one’s homeland and evil civilization in ruins, with only one’s stubborn pride to keep going in the face of disaster.  Days gone by will not return again, and one cannot undo the mistakes of the past.  The melancholy course of human history makes fools out of most of us in time, if we have long enough to watch it happen.

[1] See, for example:



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Book Review: Jesus And The Jewish Roots Of The Eucharist

Jesus And The Jewish Roots Of The Eucharist:  Unlocking The Secrets Of The Last Supper, by Brant Pitre

I have some deeply mixed feelings about this book, but ultimately while I found that the author’s perspective as a Catholic made this a less than enjoyable book to read at parts (and a deeply but unintentionally humorous book to read at other parts), I feel on balance that this book does a good job at pointing to the continuity of scripture and the biblical nature of the NT Passover [1] even if the author fails to take some of the obvious implications of what he writes about here concerning the continued validity of the biblical festivals for Christians today.  Yet although the author does not follow the implications of his research concerning the Jewish roots of the NT Passover and adopts Catholic language that will be alienating to many readers, this book is a worthwhile one in support of the continued keeping of the biblical Holy Days, and especially of the vital importance of understanding the biblical as well as the Second Temple context when it comes to viewing the behavior of the early Church of God.

In about two hundred pages, the author shows a reasonable command of the relevant sources about the Jewish context of early Christianity, even if he gives far too much credence to Jewish myths in the Mishnah and Talmud.  The first chapter of the book looks at the mystery of the last supper, particularly relating to the Jewish prohibition on eating blood.  The second chapter looks at the kind of Messiah that Jews were waiting for, correcting some misconceptions about the Jews only looking for a political messiah.  The third chapter looks at the NT Passover in light of the practice of the Jews at the time of Jesus.  After this, the author looks at the manna of the Messiah, which is followed by a passage of the bread of presence which shows the author attempting to conflate all kinds of references to bread to the same observance.  The sixth chapter of the book looks at the likelihood that Jesus did not drink the fourth cup because He was giving his blood as an offering and thus had to inaugurate an incomplete festival in order to serve as the Passover Himself.  The eighth chapter provides a look at the Jewish roots of Christian faith and points out that the Pascha refers to the Passover, even attempting to score some points by labeling the symbolic interpretation of Protestants concerning the bread and wine as being tied to gnostic practices.

In reading this book I was struck by how insistent the author was concerning the “real” presence of the blood and body of Jesus Christ in the wine and bread that serve as two of the principal symbols of the New Testament Passover.  I would argue that the presence of Jesus Christ is real but it is spiritual and not physical.  I would also note that the Bible has specific commandments about the unleavened bread for the Passover that the Catholic Church totally fails to uphold in their counterfeit Eucharist.  Where this book breaks down is in the disconnect between the author’s knowledge of the Bible and the practices of Second Temple Judaism and the disconnect between the biblical practice of the Holy Days like the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread practiced by the early Church of God and the total failure of the Roman Catholic Church to practice in a biblical manner.  This book would have been a lot more consistent had it been written by someone who was not under the delusion that the Catholics practice biblical Christianity, but even with its inconsistencies there is a lot to appreciate here by those whose practice of the NT Passover allows them to avoid the author’s errors.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Case For Jesus

The Case For Jesus:  The Biblical And Historical Evidence For Christ, by Brant Pitre

As someone who is no stranger to reading apologetic works like this one [1], I found this book interesting and worthwhile for several reasons, although I must admit I am not as enthusiastic about some of his other books where his Catholic perspective is a bit stronger (like his book on the whore of Babylon, for example).  Even so, this was a book that hit a certain sweet spot that makes a book enjoyable to read, and that is a work that presents a thoughtful case for Christ based on the evidence that also takes seriously the Hebrew thought of the early Church of God.  Even if this author does not share that perspective, it is worthwhile at least to note that he celebrates and presents that understanding in a way that is appealing to read and which is quite excellent to contrast with the approaches taken by other contemporary Christian apologists, few of whom have a great interest in the perspective of the Hebrew scriptures on such matters as the Messiah and why it was that Jesus Christ was considered guilty of blasphemy.

This book totals about 200 pages, a pretty standard length for an easy-to-read volume of this type, and contains a baker’s dozen of chapters that deal with various matters about the historical and biblical case for Jesus Christ.  The author begins with a discussion of the quest for the historical Jesus and for the author’s own personal quest for belief through the course of his education.  After that the author asks the question of whether the Gospels were anonymous, finding no anonymous copies of the Gospels whatsoever, but rather finding that the four Gospels of our scripture are uniformly given the titles that we have them (or abbreviations thereof).  The author then turns his attention to the writings of various ante-Nicene church fathers (showing his Catholic perspective in an appealing form here) while looking critically at the so-called Lost Gospels.  The author then looks at the genre of the Gospels as biographies, and discusses the dating of the Gospels as being before the destruction of the Temple.  It is at this point that the author shows his most interesting line of evidence by looking at Jesus’ messianic claims and their Hebrew context, which can be found in all of the Gospels and not only John.  After this the author looks at the crucifixion, resurrection, and transfiguration, presenting a solid book that is immensely enjoyable for a believer to read.

Where this book excels the most is in exposing the intellectual bankruptcy of so much of the critical impulse of self-professed scholars when it comes to examining the biblical record.  By looking at what the self-professed Christian writers of the early centuries of Christianity said about texts which we can read for ourselves in translation today, we can see that there was no widespread conspiracy against valid forms of Christianity, but rather a strong Christian hostility to pseudonymous works and a high degree of concern for eyewitness testimony as well as high standards of historicity, which one finds in the Gospels as a whole.  The author shows himself to be knowledgeable in matters of textual criticism to a high degree, and it is inspirational that he managed to survive as a faithful person in the sort of environment that tends to cause so many others to lose their faith because of corrupt instruction by those who should know better but do not when it comes to God’s word and its reliability.  For those who are at least somewhat sympathetic to an understanding of the Hebrew scriptures and their viewpoint as well as to a historical look at the church fathers of late antiquity, this book is definitely a worthwhile and enjoyable read.

[1] See, for example:

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A Long Chain Of Influence

From time to time I ponder the long and indirect way that influence spreads from one person to another.  This is especially worthwhile to trace in the world of thought, since people to read books are often influenced by those books and may act or write in such a way that they influence others in later generations, and so on and so forth [1].  I would like to begin with a discussion of one of the more unusual examples of this as a model for how this process works.  About 2500 years ago or so there lived a man named Mencius whose writings discussed the legitimacy of Chinese rulers using a construct known as the Mandate of Heaven.  The idea was that the virtue of rulers depended on the circumstances that took place during their rule, and that if a ruler or a ruling dynasty was beset by endless disasters, then someone else was justified to rule in their place.  When Chinese philosophy became important in Enlightenment Europe, this construct was modified and eventually came to justify the revolt of first the American colonists in 1776 and then French and Haitians and many others since then.

To be sure, Mencius had no conception of how his idea could be applied to other countries, and the American revolutionaries (to say nothing of those inspired by them) may not have been precisely aware of the Chinese context of their justification for revolt.  During the 18th century, the regimes of the European world (and in many other places) justified their behavior and their position based on a view of having divine right to rule.  Their reading of Romans 13, for example, was a bit defective in that they did not take God’s judgment seriously or their role as servants of God who had been appointed as his viceroys to act against criminal behavior, but the fact that they appealed to religious (and other) justifications for their rule is not particularly surprising.  Those who desire to rebel against government face some difficulty in that religious texts tend to be pro-authority, and other nations tend by nature to be pro-authority as well because supporting rebellion, even against an enemy or rival nation, can backfire (as it did with the French after the American Revolution) in encouraging one’s own oppressed people to rise up in revolt.  There is no shortage of people who either because of oppressive conditions or their own ungovernable natures seek to rise up against those who have been placed over them.  These people also tend to see themselves as having a claim to rule over others, even as they have cast off rule over themselves, and gaining legitimacy is such a vital task that few texts, regardless of their provenance, will be rejected if they can provide some help in providing legitimacy.

Influence does not need to proceed in such a fashion, though, where there is a conscious adaptation of the justifications of others to one’s own situation, and where that justification then is passed to others who can read it and adapt it to their own conditions.  At times, influence can even take place where someone is directly hostile to the source that is unbeknownst to them influencing them.  I have found this in my research as well and consider it a fascinating phenomenon and one that is worth exploring a bit.  Let us consider another example, one involving various laws of success.  Human beings from time immemorial have longed to uncover various “laws” that would guarantee them what they want.  They have wanted to know a code, or master a superstition or rhythm or pattern of life that would guarantee them success and happiness in their lives, and this magical thinking has carried on long after the original pagan religious justifications of this have been submerged deep into the sands of time.  Even to this day one has to play whack-a-mole with much myths as a supposed “secret” law of attraction or people peddling one version or another of some sort of laws of success that will guarantee well-being regardless of circumstances.

Of course, no such laws exist.  We may concede that there are ways that one can behave, individually as well as collectively, that tend to lead to greater success in life and greater happiness for a wide variety of people, but it is not entirely certain and there are plenty of second-order effects.  One can be honorable and conscientious in one’s duties and find that one lives in a corrupt regime and one’s honor becomes a negative rather than a positive.  Or one can find that, as was the case with Job, that one’s righteous and godly life made one the subject of a dare between God and Satan by which you were tested despite not being at fault.  We know, of course, that Job was blessed afterwards, but that was not understood until after the trial was done.  And, as Hebrews 11 reminds us, there are all kinds of people who have suffered of whom the world is not worthy.  We may be included among that number–this life is not just.  Indeed, it is only the presence of the world to come with both judgment and blessings that makes this life possible for many people to endure because of its injustices, both injustices that we suffer and those we inflict upon others.

And yet the influence of God on mankind is far more subtle even than the influence of mankind on others.  Divine providence is an immensely tricky matter, all the more so because if mankind is free to make decisions and responsible for the decisions made, then God’s workings must be done in a way that respects human choice.  Rain falls upon the just and the unjust, and their crops are watered side by side.  Towers do not fall only on wicked inhabitants of cities, but on relatively blameless ones as well.  It is not only the unrighteous Gallileans who are skewered by soldiers but ordinary ones who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  God promises that all things will work together for the good for those who love God but does not promise that all things that happen to the blessed will be good things.  How are we influenced to rise above the circumstances we face, even when those circumstances encourage some to rebel against all authority and others use physical circumstances as a way of trying to divine one’s spiritual health, both of which are wicked but widespread human tendencies?  To resist such tendencies we must have an influence working within us that can overcome the pull of our fallen and corrupt human nature, a godly leavening spreading through the lump unlike the leavening of wickedness that is all too widespread in our world wherever we turn our heads.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: A Brief Political And Geographic History Of The Middle East

A Brief Political And Geographic History Of The Middle East:  Where Are…Persia, Babylon, and the Ottoman Empire, by John Davenport

Part of a series devoted to teaching children historical geography [1], this book reminds us that among the most important part of a historical and geographical history is the geography.  Maps are rather important when one is trying to show how geographic conceptions change over time, and this book does a terrible job at such maps.  Examples abound.  On page 38 of this book for example, the author manages to drastically understate the expanse of the Chaldean Empire.  Page 15 shows a map of Alexander’s route that fails to include his route to Alexandria or through Central Asia after the battle of Guagamela.  Page 78 of this book shows a map of Muslim predominating countries that does not include Albania or Bangladesh, which is a pretty notable failing.  Examples could be multiplied, as nearly every map in this book has some kind of error, ranging from minor map errors to more serious ones that give a mistaken view of the history that the author is trying to present.  If you can’t get the maps right, you have no business writing a book that seeks to educate young people about the course of history in an important region of the world like the Middle East.

This book’s take on the history of the Middle East is remarkably selective.  Admittedly, one cannot cover thousands of years in history in an area as dynamic as the Middle East without some selectivity, but this book’s approach is baffling, beginning with the third battle between Alexander and the Persian armies, at Guagamela, and then moving to a look at ancient Mesopotamia, the Assyrian Empire, the Neo-Babylonian and Persian Empires, Alexander’s empire and the fight between the Romans and Parthians, then a look at the Byzantine and Sassanid Empires and a look at the rise of Islam and the Ottoman Turks.  The book inclines a timeline as well as some of the works consulted, which appear insufficient to write a book like this one.  Be that as it may, at least with this book the history is not as inaccurate as some of the other volumes in this series have been and the reader of this book should at least be interested in the history of the ancient Near East, which is generally a good thing to be interested in [2].  There are far worse books about the Middle East that one could read.

In reading this book, I feel like I am giving it faint praise, but my feelings on this book are deeply mixed.  On the one hand, I think the author does a good job at presenting the history of the Middle East in such a way that an interested reader would find much of interest to spur on further reading and research in the subject, which I wholeheartedly recommend.  I like the fact that the Middle East is counted as its own region instead of split apart among continents where its coherence would be minimized.  That said, it’s hard to get beyond how consistently bad this book’s maps are, both from an aesthetic perspective as well as from a factual one.  The book fails in an essential aspect of historical geography, namely the geographical part, even as it is a modestly successful work as a history for young readers.  With more attention paid to accurate maps, this is a book that I might be able to support, but as it stands I feel it necessary to give this book a negative review, and instead recommend that someone trying to encourage geographic literacy about the Middle East pick up one of the better biblical historical encylopedias and explain the maps for oneself.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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Book Review: A Brief Political And Geographic History Of Latin America

A Brief Political And Geographic History Of Latin America:  Where Are…Gran Colombia, La Plata, and Dutch Guiana, by Earle Rice Jr.

This book is part of a series [1] of books that seeks to instruct late elementary school to middle school readers on the political and geographic history of various regions of the world.  For many readers, it is likely to be their first or one of their first introductions to these three disciplines (political history, geographic history, and regional geography), and one could wish that these were better books.  Admittedly, I am not the target audience for this book, but perhaps historically literate adults should read books like this to realize the extent to which the historical education of children does not receive a high enough priority from writers.  If genuinely knowledgeable people will not deign to do such work, it will be left to hacks like the author of this book who do a terrible job at providing factual information or maps that are worthy visualizations of history.  When nearly every map in this book is flawed or erroneous in some way and when the author makes basic errors about the history of the region, there is a lot about this book that screams for the need for quality control.

The contents of this book are pretty basic, but the same time pretty haphazard as well, starting with Columbus’ explorations in the Caribbean and then moving to Mexico, Brazil, the Guianas, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, and Argentina.  The book contains a timeline, as well as some frequently ambiguously or terribly drawn maps, of which nearly all of them are at least problematic.  The author, perhaps unsurprisingly, focuses attention on a few moments of history, like the age of conquest/exploration, the period when the region fought for its independence, and then the more troubled period of the 20th century.  It is not so much that a lot of history is left out–it is not difficult to think of information that this book does not include that it could easily include, although a short list could include the horrible conditions at Potosi, for example, or just about anything relating to Guyana, Paraguay, Belize, and so on.  This is an interesting part of the world and the author barely scratches the surface of what makes the area such a compelling and interesting one to read about and visit.

But more than what this book leaves out, it is the book’s inaccuracies and bias that are even more irritating.  The author repeats the cliche about Christopher Columbus coming from Genoa, which is likely not even true given his linguistic limitations in the Italian language.  He was quite possibly a converso, which is all the more interesting [2].  Even more ominously, the author appears to have a love affair with communist revolutionaries like Che Guevara, which gives this book an unsettling historical angle that makes it all the more inappropriate to teach to children.  This is the sort of book that should remind adults of the importance of checking out books for kids and ensuring that such books teach a proper historical perspective.  All too often charlatans and hacks write to kids because factual accuracy is considered less of a concern and indoctrinating children to a mistaken view of history is such an important matter for people with certain political views.  This book does capture the change in geography over time based on historical matters, but it is unfortunately not the sort of book that makes for edifying and educational reading for the young based on its factual inaccuracies as well as its ideological bias.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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Shall I Compare Thee To A Winter’s Night?

I am often deeply amused by what I see around me, and a great deal of that relates to what we are used to.  Shakespeare, for example, in one of his sonnets, compared someone to a summer’s day in the following language:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee [1].

There is a lot, for example, in this sonnet that is not said.  It is telling that in the interpretations of this sonnet that much depends on who one assumes the sonnet is being directed to.  As Shakespeare did not organize his sonnets together nor, so far as we know, provide an explanation for them, we are left to our own devices when it comes to interpreting the sonnet, and what we interpret about the sonnet tells us much about ourselves.  Some, for example, speculate to great lengths about supposed homoerotic tendencies within the sonnet, while others claim that the sonnet was directed to a lady.  The poem itself is ambiguous; it does not specify to whom it was directed, and indeed in the cultured milieu of his time and place it may have been a particularly negative thing for the subject of the poem to have been too obvious or too well known.  Shakespeare, of course, was a married man during the time the sonnets were written, in a world of writers who were notoriously immoral, as many writers have been throughout time–though not all of us, thankfully.  Whoever the author was writing to, there would have been reason for someone to criticize him or worse.  Ambiguity is the defense of someone who does not want to be understood, and in this case we may assume that Shakespeare only wanted at least part of his poem to be understood by the subject of the poem, about whom we have few details except an impression of youth and beauty.

As might be expected, this poem has been parodied.  One poem I particularly appreciate is the following:

Shall I compare thee to a winter’s night?
Like icy snow, the blistering winds doth blow,
Thou art just as cruel, and filled with spite.
Those cold, cruel seeds reaped, in thy soul hath sowed.
Snowflakes fall in attempt to disguise it;
To conceal the menace with pretty lies.
You too, have done likewise, yet won’t admit
The storm that drips snowflakes, from its black skies,
Icy blue eyes, hair like night, and pale skin
Conceived by a blizzard, shaped by the ice.
Thou hath no goal, but for vengeance to win.
Words sting like ice shards, stare seeks to entice.
So long as the earth turns, and man can read
So lives this cruel ode, this cruel ode indeed [2].

While I am certainly no stranger to writing poetry myself [3], I have not generally seen Shakespeare’s poetry as something to parody.  I have written my own sonnets (and other types of poems) in my own voice for my own purposes about my own reflections and observations on the passage of time and death and gloominess and loneliness and other subjects that I can relate to particularly well.  And yet not everyone waxes poetic when it comes to reflecting on the winter and on the icy, chilly blasts we get either from winter storms or from particularly chilly and frigid people whom it is our misfortune to wish to warm up with the flames of love.  And yet people do share the qualities that days have.  A day like this one is full of awkwardness, in trying to make our way along the crunchy ice and fallen snow without slipping and injuring ourselves.  We walk uncertainly, drive uncertainly, and many will try to strenuously avoid doing either of those two things for fear of injuring themselves and others and destroying their property and that of others.  And yet most of us find our way through such circumstances well enough and do not manage to cause trouble for ourselves and others except for the concern and anxiety while we are out and about.

If we sought to compare someone to a winter’s night, what part of that night would we compare it to?  Would we compare it to streets bereft of drivers and only the rare, timid pedestrian who is trying to travel someone with as little fuss as possible?  Would we compare it to the beauty of snow falling outside a window like it falls from a snow globe?  Would we compare it to the cuteness of snowmen with carrots for noses and snazzily dressed in nice hats with scrawny sticks for arms?  Would we compare it to the icy blast of a cold wind chilling us to the bone if we are unfortunate enough to be caught outside on the way from house to car or car to work or some other place?  What comparisons we make, what aspects of a winter’s evening we think of and reflect upon, tell others about ourselves and about what we notice and what details we consider the most salient when reflecting upon ourselves or someone else or life in general.  Just as what we see in what others have written tells others about us by virtue of how we interpret a given ambiguous text–and, to let you in on a trade secret among writers, any worthwhile text is going to be ambiguous in at least some fashion–what we write down in texts does tell others a lot about ourselves, but not always what others see.  Sometimes, the truth meaning of what we write and how we live is a mystery to ourselves and to everyone we encounter, and is only known to God above.  Most of us, though, leave clues like the footsteps in the snow that show the path of someone who walked in the snow and left a mark that will melt away only with the heat of day.



[3] See, for example:

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Book Review: That Incredible Christian

That Incredible Christian, by A.W. Tozer

I feel, after having read this short but very worthwhile book, that this book somehow has the wrong title.  Although the author has a lot of very pointed things to say about what makes someone an incredible Christian, that does not appear to be the main focus of this book.  Rather, this book consists of a thoughtful and sustained critique of the sort of Christianity that was contemporary in the time of the author (the early 1960’s) and that is still extant today, if not even worse.  The book reads like a classic and not like a dated work, which reflects the way that the author looks at his time through eternal truths rather than writing in a way that sought to make his book wholly relevant to his own times, which would have made them largely irrelevant to our own.  As someone who enjoys reading rather critical works [1], this book was certainly an appealing one, taken from the author’s editorials for The Alliance Witness from 1960-1963, along with one longer piece taken from Moody Monthly, a periodical it sounds like it would have been enjoyable to read if one had the chance to do so.  Readers expecting a lengthy and sustained argument will likely be a bit disappointed, but those who enjoy short and punchy editorials of a high order will find much to appreciate here.

In terms of its contents, most of the book consists of short essays of about three pages apiece.  One gets the feeling that the author had some strict word counts for his editorials, as the works are all nearly identical in length, totaling to just about 140 pages of powerful material.  The book takes its title from its opening essay, but many of the essays involved deal with subjects of lasting relevance like the challenge of holiness and godliness for the unregenerate and rebellious heart and mind, the need for balance in the life of a believer, the importance of faith, putting our beliefs into practice through obedience, the struggles and difficulties of the godly life, the importance of taking theology seriously, spiritual warfare, the importance of knowledge of God and relationship with God, as well as the need to overcome partial understanding that leads to doctrines of half-truths.  As is fairly common in Tozer’s work, this is a book that challenges the reader, and can be taken as somewhat bracing for those who do not come to books to be confronted with the flabbier parts of their nature.

When one deals with a book like this, it is worthwhile to ponder whether one gets more out of wrestling with those who, like the author, are rather tough-minded, or whether one is in need of tenderheartedness.  I think, ultimately, that we need both approaches at different times or sometimes even the same time.  While the author himself discusses the need for balance often here as a writer, one can see that he clearly has an approach that wishes to challenge others where they are weak, and that it is the sort of attitude that could trouble and offend.  Yet precisely because of that it is important to read books like this, not only because we live in an age where to offend others through challenging them is to be viewed as the worst kind of sinner.  We need to be challenged, as those who flatter us about the way we are ultimately do not have our best interests at heart, and if one might doubt about the author being a particularly sympathetic person, there is no doubt in reading this that the author does want a great deal out of the reader as a person of faith as well as sound intellect and obedience, at least as the author understands it.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Prodigals And Those Who Love Them

Prodigals And Those Who Love Them, by Ruth Bell Graham

It is perhaps a bit unfair that when I was reading this book I was thinking about another book on the subject of the parable of the prodigal son that I like a lot better [1].  Perhaps it is a bit unfair, though, to hold this book to the standard of Henri Nouwen’s classic combination of personal discussion, sound scriptural exegesis about the parable of the prodigal son, and excellent art history about the life and art of Rembrandt.  This book is nowhere near that great, but it is still a poignant read about those who were thought lost that returned to a faith in Christ Jesus, and it has at least the raw materials of a really good work, if not a great deal of the elaboration on the thoughtful array of materials included.  This book is not a very demanding read and it does not contain a great deal of writing by the author herself, but it is at least an admirable collection of materials mostly written by others and about others that will certainly prompt the reader to think about the working of God’s grace in the lives of the people discussed in this book.

In a bit more than 150 pages, the author provides a short biography of different “prodigals” of interest to the author and possibly also the reader, including:  Augustine of Hippo (here called Aurelius Augustine), John Newton (best known as the author of “Amazing Grace”), Flora Campbell, Fyodor Dostoyevski, and one of the author’s own children.  Most of the book consists of poetry, quotes, scriptural references, or hymns that the author appreciates and that may (or may not) relate to the material of the book at hand.  This book is basically scaffolding, consisting of a large amount of empty space where only a few lines fill up an entire page.  One gets the feeling that the author wanted to write a book and did not really know how to manage the actual writing portion of it.  The biographical essays of the various prodigals are well done, and the author is moving in writing about a son of hers who came back to faith with his girlfriend who became his wife, but the book feels incomplete, and this thought tended to nag at me while I was reading the book.  It was not that the book was saying anything wrong, exactly, but I did not feel as if the book was saying enough.

It should be noted that this book is written basically to the parents or loved ones of prodigals and not to the prodigals themselves.  The book does not really explore what makes people prodigals, but it goes out of its way not to blame parents for the prodigality of their offspring.  Also of note, especially in light of the superior Nouwen book on the same subject, the author does not examine those who are relationally distant but physically present, the other type of lost children in the parable.  Although parents may suffer because their children have obviously abandoned the faith and traveled far away, a child is just as lost if they obey merely out of duty and do not feel loved or accepted, even if they never physically leave, yet that is something this book does not explore at all.  It is, perhaps, a bit uncharitable to wish for a book to be more than it is, but this book is certainly a comforting one and there are no doubt many readers who will find a great deal to reflect upon and perhaps even enjoy in this volume.

[1] See, for example:

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They Know Better

I often ponder my obstinance when it comes to performing tasks I set out to do.  As it happens, when I woke up this morning and went off to work there was some snow falling from the sky, but it was not sticking to the roads, something which shows up from time to time as an issue in my life [1].  When my coworkers and I were beginning our work this morning, we thought that the snow was pretty but at least not in the way of anything.  It felt like being in a snow globe, at least one that was not being shaken by someone, and that is not an unpleasant feeling.  When there is snow falling but the roads are not icy and treacherous, that is not something that this person will complain about at least.  And yet I figured it was less than ideal that I had a trip to visit my CASA kiddo, which would require driving around the streets at night in some of the foothills not too far away from US-26, something which would be less than ideal.

As I am someone who tends to be cautious when driving in such circumstances, I made a point of looking at the traffic throughout the day on the roads close to where I was going, and surprisingly to me, during rush hour when traffic is normally horrible, the traffic on the roads was instead remarkably clear, not only on the maps but also on the traffic cams that I was viewing.  This is an unusual circumstance, and it suggests that most people were leaving work very early or never made it into work at all.  This would not be too much of a surprise, since about half of our department ended up working from home today and more would have if we had been given laptops so that we could work from home.  While there have been winter storm conditions listed since this morning that are going to tomorrow morning at least, if not tomorrow afternoon, it appears as if traffic conditions are not that bad, but this may be more to the fact that no one is on the road than to any sort of ease or pleasure in the driving conditions.  Having looked to see that snow is now sticking to the ground, it could be quite a challenging day, as this driver at least does not greatly enjoy driving in the snow.

But those are the conditions, and they must be braved sometimes, especially in the winter, if one is to see one’s CASA kiddos.  This is not the only time this has happened to me in such circumstances.  One Sunday at the beginning of last year, there was snow on the roads still when I had to drive two to three hours to make my first visit to the parents of the previous CASA kiddo I had.  These parents, as a result of being geographically remote, had not been in the loop as far as how things were going with the case, and my bravery (or foolhardiness) in making the drive in such conditions with such a little pokey car as I have seems to have been an inspiration, as from that point forward things progressed smoothly with the case and the difficulties of communication were able to be overcome.  Whether or not this brave or foolhardy trip will have such positive results is not something I am qualified to say at this point.  I may be a particularly foolhardy driver but usually there is some method to my madness, if not my sheer stubbornness in doing what I have set out to do regardless of the circumstances.

When I see situations where conditions are dubious and where traffic is somehow not very bad at all, I am left to the conclusion that other people know something I do not.  They know better, that the roads are not very good, and that they would rather not be on them and that they will leave the roads to those such as me who drive where Oregonian angels fear to tread.  Such is the life, I suppose.  I have always thought it somewhat odd that someone like myself who comes from fairly warm areas and has a strong aversion to driving on the snow will still do it under circumstances that most people around here seem to blanch at, but I suppose I simply have a higher drive to get certain tasks done, no matter how unpleasant they are.  And so long as things manage to work out in my cautious and timid but stubborn way, I suppose I will continue to do what I set out to do, come what may, even if it is a bit more foolhardy than most people are comfortable being.  Far be it from me to be courageous or brave except in the least glamorous of ways.

[1] See, for example:

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