A Blast Of Desert Heat

As I woke up after far too few hours of sleep this morning [1], I pondered about some of the matters I had not written about in my nocturnal rant about the heat.  There had been different prognostications about the weather today, with some claiming that it would be as hot as yesterday and the Weather Channel correctly noting that it would be about twenty degrees cooler today than yesterday, which was definitely a relief as far as I was concerned.  Although I was more than a bit tired this morning as I blearily went off to work, the fact that it was somewhat cool gave me a sense of renewed hope and encouragement and it is with a spring in my step that I walked to my car and began my drove for work.  After all, my satchel was full of books, I had my lunch and my snacks for the week, and it was not too late in the morning.  I knew I was not on top of my game because of my lack of sleep, but it was not a disastrous morning.

When I arrived at work, and waited for the elevator, one of my coworkers made a humorous comment about how hot it was upstairs.  He wasn’t joking.  When I got off the elevator and made it into the office, I was met with a blast of desert heat (a desert because the temperature was a good twenty or more degrees hotter than the outside, with correspondingly lower relative humidity) that was barely if at all helped by all of the open windows that allowed in the local wildlife, including at least one bird.  I reminded myself that Reese’s chocolates were probably not the best snack for a day like this, and our group soon scattered to cooler areas.  I went down to my old computer for the rest of the morning until lunch to do my reports where it was a bit cooler, and it was much nicer by the time I returned upstairs to eat lunch and do some reading, managing to finish an entire 250-page book during the course of a normal lunch break.  It was nice to know that if the air conditioning game was not very strong and I was not at my best that I was still able to read at my accustomed level of skill.

What had happened to make the office to hot?  To be sure, it was hot this weekend, but why wasn’t there at least some cooling by the time work began this morning?  As it happens, I found the answer to that question today, and that is that there is no automatic thermostat in the entire building.  All temperature controls are manual, and so when there is no one in the office, as was the case this weekend, no cooling is done at all.  Having lived in areas where mold is a serious problem, it became very clear why this is such a consistent problem.  If no one is on duty during the weekends to make sure that the air is on to at least some level, then the first people who know that there is a problem are going to be those who show up for work on Monday morning, when it takes ours for the air conditioning to fully kick in to bring the internal temperature to its normal acceptable limits.  To say that I and my fellow coworkers were deeply puzzled by this revelation is a deep understatement.

This brought to mind another question.  How is it that an office building was built and permitted in the first place without having any automatic thermostat?  Perhaps I am a bit biased because I grew up in Central Florida, but anyone who designs a building that does not keep the temperature to a certain level ought to face some sort of capital punishment.  In Europe, the lack of consistent cooling in older houses leads to the deaths of tens of thousands of people during particularly bad heat waves.  In an office building that is only a few years old, there are no excuses for not having the benefit of such temperature control devices.  Is it so expensive to keep a building within its proper temperature control that one can sensibly forego air conditioning that would at least keep the office building at eighty degrees, which would be pretty warm but at least not overwhelmingly so.  Is it worth the possible damage to computer equipment to allow a building to heat up without limit?  Did no one think of this when the building was being constructed?

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/06/26/beating-the-heat/

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Book Review: The Civil War And The Limits Of Destruction

The Civil War And The Limits Of Destruction, by Mark E. Neely, Jr.

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This book is revisionist history in the best way, and looks at some elements of the question of logistical warfare in the Civil War, an area of strong personal interest [1].  At its heart, this is a book that seeks to refute the charge that the North in particular engaged in the sort of total war against the Confederacy that one hears about from those who slander Sherman and Sheridan, among others, and that the Northern armies were rapine armies of vandals who sought to exterminate the South.  This overheated but not uncommon statement turns out to be fairly easy to refute, and the author then turns to the question of the assumptions by which American armies fought in the mid-19th century, which turns out to be immensely instructive and also useful as a commentary on contemporary morality.  To oversimplify the point slightly, American soldiers fought based on how closely they viewed their enemies in terms of “race” and culture, where the closer other nations were viewed, the kinder the treatment in war and the greater restraint shown to civilians.  Where enemies were viewed as savages by those who fancied themselves to be civilized, warfare was exceptionally barbaric in nature, as on the Plains and with the French in Mexico, and however heated the rhetoric behind Union leaders, there was a great deal of restraint on their part despite Southern atrocities against black Union soldiers and terrorist and guerrilla warfare.

This book, with a bit over 200 pages of text and a lengthy section of notes befitting a book that seeks to appeal to evidence to make a novel or controversial argument, consists of a series of related essays that deal to different aspects of logistical warfare within the context of the Civil War and its times.  The author looks first at the Mexican-American War to look at whether American republican ideals influenced American conduct there, and found that racism trumped political ideals in how Mexico was judged.  The second chapter looks at the limited and civilized warfare that accompanied Price’s raid in Missouri, showing that the ferocious guerrilla warfare there was not generalized in a more conventional campaign in the same territory.  Next the author examines the complicated American response to Maximilian’s black degree that ordered (and enforced) savage treatment against Mexican liberals opposed to his French-backed government.  The author then shows the striking delicacy and moderation of Sheridan’s behavior in the Shenendoah Valley of 1864 and showed how there were serious attempts to preserve the subsistence of farmers there even while ruining the surplus that supported rebel armies.  The author then turns to the brutality of the Sand Creek Massacre and how it marked a watershed in the slow process by which civilized conduct influenced the political discourse of warfare on the plains, which would become increasingly problematic up to Wounded Knee and beyond.  The last chapter looks at the rhetorical advocacy of retaliation concerning rebel treatment of Union prisoners at Belle Isle and Andersonville in contrast to the lack of retaliation that occurred.  The author then concludes with a harsh criticism of the glorification of largely nonexistence brutality in the Civil War that skews our own perception and that encourages a hardness and brutality within ourselves.  Overall, the book is exceptionally well done and argues its points persuasively.

Those wishing to write revisionist history on the Civil War would do well to examine this book and its approach closely.  For one, the author makes sure he has command of his sources–he cites everything from memoirs to obscure diplomatic writings to orders and congressional debates.  The author explores the gulf between rhetoric and practice, and the moral blind spots of Americans in the age of the Civil War, as well as the way in which historical writers worked against sentimentalism in treating the Civil War and may have gone too far in response.  What makes this a masterful work of revisionist history is that it forces readers to confront their own harsh and bloodthirsty principles concerning warfare and our own sense of brutality, which stands in marked contrast to the admirable and striking restraint that was shown during the Civil War.  In pointing out the flagrant and offensive racism of the time and how it influenced conduct in war, the author simultaneously manages to shine a light on how we are often more savage than those whom we criticize for their Civil War conduct.  Instead of turning every savage massacre into honorable conflict, we have become more savage ourselves in striking at the logistical and economic elements of societies with whom we are at war to a far greater extent than soldiers like Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan.  This is a striking and unpleasant realization to come to for many readers, I imagine.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/06/16/book-review-how-the-south-could-have-won-the-civil-war/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/05/10/a-stab-in-the-guts-a-logistics-story/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/12/04/a-tour-of-the-logistics/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/04/17/civil-war-fantasy-roster-josiah-gorgas/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/05/31/book-review-sherman-invades-georgia/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/03/non-book-review-rough-waters/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/03/14/book-review-how-the-north-won/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/12/12/so-that-crows-flying-over-it-for-the-balance-of-the-season-will-have-to-carry-their-provender-with-them/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/09/20/book-review-starving-the-south/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/01/12/non-book-review-a-more-civil-war/

Posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History, International Relations, Military History | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Civil War: Strange & Fascinating Facts

The Civil War:  Strange & Fascinating Facts, by Burke Davis

This book mostly lives up to its name.  The anecdotes and comments in this book are certainly strange and fascinating, although they are not necessarily facts.  The author passes along some old canards about the rebels looking for shoes in Gettysburg, for example [1], and the fact that the author gives false facts does not exactly inspire a great deal of confidence in his veracity, as does the fact that he declines to cite his sources.  This is an entertaining book on the Civil War, and it is certainly odd, and contains a great deal of interest.  However, it should be noted clearly that this book is not reliable and therefore must be considered as a lesser work.  The fact that the author operates from a clear pro-Southern bias, which he is at least honest enough to admit, suggests that there may be some general reliability concerns based on the slant that the writer has.  It is especially notable, for example, that the author praises both the gallantry of rebel soldiers as well as their inventive use of landmines, which would appear to be in tension with each other, and example of an a priori bias on the part of the author.

The oddities and curiosities of this book, which is between 200 and 250 pages and was published in 1960, are divided into various chapters according to the whim of the author.  The chapters deal with firsts, with divided families, with areas of special interest to the writer–Abraham Lincoln’s beard, the grammar of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the machine gun, riots, the Rains brothers, youth, the Albemarle, whether or not Stonewall Jackson was a hypochondriac, the widow Fritchie, submarines, sex and the Civil War, atrocities, the human side of Robert E. Lee, and so on.  As a book this volume is wildly inconsistent in tone, as it shifts from a high-minded discussion about documentary evidence concerning the health of generals to a salacious discussion about the ubiquity of prostitutes and women of low virtue in the armies to a praise of military technology and its development.  One does not really know where the author is going to go from one chapter to another, and whether the discussion will include often-forgotten sources of a high degree of historical value or whether they will include unsubstantiated rumors which are in fact inaccurate.  There simply is no way to tell.

It should go without saying that this book is not a scholarly reference about the Civil War or the sort of book that a professor or even high school teacher would consider worthwhile as a reference material.  If one is reading this book for entertainment and is not offended by the author’s pro-rebel boosterism, then this book can be read with at least some enjoyment, but one should temper one’s expectations and not demand too much from it.  The lack of citations means that the quality of the author’s sources is impossible to tell even when, as is sometimes the case, the author himself comments that he did a great deal of original research to find obscure and neglected areas of Civil War technology to recount.  Since the book isn’t too long and the bias is not nearly as offensive as is sometimes the case, I still found this book to be at least moderately amusing and slightly enjoyable, as I tend to be somewhat hostile to pro-Southern writings.  Even so, most readers will probably be a good deal less picky about such matters than I am, and probably more interested in the author’s fascination with prostitutes and dueling and people hiding out trying to escape capture.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/01/02/book-review-gettysburg-replies/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/06/16/book-review-how-the-south-could-have-won-the-civil-war/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/06/04/book-review-the-colors-of-courage/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/06/04/book-review-hallowed-ground/

Posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History | Tagged | Leave a comment

Beating The Heat

How do you beat the heat on a day like today?  Well, considering it is after midnight and I am writing this, the answer is that I probably did not do a very good job at it.  It is not as if I am entirely unfamiliar with this sort of day [1].  That said, these sorts of days disrupt all kinds of plans.  I tend to feel best in life when I am able to do things.  Action distracts me from much in the way of thinking, and burning calories through at least some motion tends to make me feel as if I am doing something productive, either through physical action or, more commonly, intellectual labor.  Days like this make it hard to do anything, especially when air conditioners and even fans are at a premium.  This is by no means a mere first world problem, as I have witnessed this problem from Florida to Ghana to Thailand, all of which offered their own solutions to the difficulty.

In Florida, for several months of the year, no sane person wants to be outside for months of the year during the daylight hours without going from one air-conditioned place to another.  At night one was a feast for mosquitoes, which discouraged a great deal of nighttime outdoors activity as well.  In Ghana, we had fans running constantly, although there were long hours during the day where the fans didn’t work, and so it was necessary to drink water to stay hydrated.  Although the power worked better in Thailand than it did in Ghana, we adopted much the same strategy in Thailand to keep the worst effects of the heat under control.  In all of those places, though, the high degree of heat tended to create a certain amount of repose for many of us, myself included, although there were occasions that drove us to engage in some activity, although it took a lot out of us.  So it was too today, in that I had expectations of what I wanted to do only to find myself without the energy to do very much of it not from a loss of blood as is sometimes the case but simply because it was too hot.

The only remotely productive times of the day were early in the morning, when I wrote two blog entries, the several hours I spent drinking iced tea camped out at Panera after doing my grocery shopping, where I wrote two book reviews and read a book, and now, after midnight, where I type away at this entry and may read the book sitting beneath my right leg.  It is the sort of day I would have swam had I enjoyed company and an accessible pool, and no doubt many other people felt the same way from those I encountered during the course of my day.  Clearly, this was not the sort of day to wear layers, unless one had fabric that breathed particularly well and covered one from the harsh glare of the sunlight.

So, how does a day like this become more successful?  Well, more sleep would help. More writing or reading would have been nice too.  But one does not have the days that one would want–or else I would not have many of the days I do–but one has to make the best of the days that one has, behaving as honorably and decently as one can regardless of the circumstances, especially when they are less than ideal.  Hopefully at some point I will be able to cool myself down enough to be able to enjoy a peaceful sleep, for however few hours that is, but in the meantime, I try to rest as best as I can this night.  Perhaps it is the same for you also.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/07/07/on-lassitude-or-the-dog-days-of-summer/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/lazy-llamas/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/11/04/when-god-rested-in-the-garden/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/08/07/just-for-a-moment-lets-be-still/

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Book Review: Dealing With People You Can’t Stand

Dealing With People You Can’t Stand:  How To Bring Out The Best In People At Their Worst, by Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner

In reading this book I was struck by a very powerful set of mixed feelings.  On the one hand, I could read in these pages plenty of commentary and tactical advice on how to deal with people who drive me to distraction, and it was without question a useful book on communication [1].  On the other hand, reading this book was painful in a sense, because it brought forcefully and unpleasantly humorous to light the fact that I am almost certainly to many people the sort of person who they cannot stand, who frustrates them and drives them to distraction.  Not only is this the result of my own fairly typical prickly nature in this regard, but is an explicit aim of the book, which presents the reader with a jocular look at what to do when you are the difficult person, as I often am.  There is an implication here that those who read this book are likely far better off than ordinary humanity, not only because of the blessings that come from a life that allows one to read this sort of book for pleasure or self-development, but also because paying attention to what others tend to take for granted is the first step to growth, if not the last.

In terms of its contents and structure, this book is divided into a thematic and schematic format, and contains a great deal of humorous discussion as well as anthropomorphic discussions of people in various ways.  The first part of the book introduces the reader to the types of people they cannot stand:  the tank, sniper, grenade, know-it-all, think-they-know-it-all, yes person, maybe person, nothing person, no person, whiner, judge, meddler, and martyr, and looks at the situations that bring out these particular unpleasant sets of behavior and the threatened intents that trigger them.  The second part of the book gives targeted and focused tactics on survival through skillful communication–moving from conflict to cooperation, listening to understand, reaching a better understanding, speaking to be understood, getting what we project and expect, and changing our own attitudes.   The third part of the book looks at the thirteen problematic types of person and gives ways on dealing with these people successfully through advice and humorous mock case studies, and prods the reader into reflecting on how they are the problem people in the lives of others as well.  The fourth part of the book contains specific tips on how to use the book’s insights when dealing with phone and online communication.

There is no question that this is a book aimed at a professional audience, in that it deals with work and most of the examples are chosen from that sphere of life.  The book does discuss how we deal with friends and in families as well, though, so the authors are clearly aware of how the principles are more widely accessible even if there is a professional focus.  Although the book was painful to read, given my own longstanding and serious struggles with communication, the book is one I can recommend wholeheartedly, although I feel it necessary to note that those readers who are as sensitive as I am are likely to find a great deal in it that reminds us of our own failings as skillful and gracious communicators with others.  As I believe that at least some painful reflection is helpful in growth, though, I still recommend the book nonetheless despite my own melancholy when I reflect on the state of communication in my own personal life as well as in the professional world in which I inhabit.  Perhaps you will feel the same yourself after you read the book, with its strong medicine delivered with a high degree of humor and lightheartedness.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/06/book-review-how-to-read-a-person-like-a-book/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/06/book-review-hidden-communion/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/02/15/book-review-400-creative-ways-to-say-i-love-you/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/11/25/book-review-lonely-husbands-lonely-wives/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/09/04/book-review-with-all-due-respect/

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Book Review: The Know-It-All

The Know-It-All:  One Man’s Humble Quest To Become The Smartest Person In The World, by A.J. Jacobs

As a lonely and socially maladjusted child, I would find frequent enjoyment in reading encyclopedias, and from time to time I still do even now [1].  My fondness for such books did not endear me to my peers, who thought me decidedly an odd bird, as if they did not have enough reason to think me so.  The author of this book embarked on a quest to read the printed version of the Encyclopedia Britannica and wrote about it, and my feelings about this book and its author are highly mixed.  Let’s get some obvious issues out of the way first–the author is an extremely neurotic and agnostic New York Jew and his writing demonstrates him to be almost a self-caricature of his background, something I found immensely irritating but that some readers may find endearing.  Though I am by no means deficient in the area of my own neuroses, I thought the author’s approach to his quixotic quest to be off-putting.  This is the sort of book which requires a certain sympathy for the author and his emotional and mental state that I simply struggled to maintain.  It was like reading the script to an overlong director’s cut of a lesser Woody Allen film, and that is not the most enjoyable way for me to spend my time.

The book is organized in a fashion that is both chronological and topically, as the author takes the Encyclopedia Britannica in alphabetical order by volume, organizes the book in chapters under each letter of the alphabet, and proceeds to mix his discussions about the materials he reads about with discussions about his personal life and family background.  In this more than 350 page book we read way too much information about the author’s efforts to get his wife pregnant, his ambivalent relationship with his emotionally distant father, and his efforts to engage with fellow Mensans and earn plenty of money on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, as well as talk about his love of the encyclopedia with others.  The best parts of this book are the author’s generally warm portrayals of the people he meets and the material he reads, and the worst parts of the book are when the author writes about himself in true naval-gazing oversharing fashion.  Fortunately, there is enough of the best parts of this book to make the worst parts tolerable.

I found this book on a list of books that were recommended to recent graduates, and although it makes sense why someone would associate this book with the acquisition of knowledge, it makes why people think that many others would like to read this book.  This is the sort of book that is only funny if you like laughing at the bumbling author/narrator, and he is far too close a target to me for me to respond with ridicule.  Given the generally superficial and selective nature of encyclopedias, the futile nature of the author’s attempts are fairly obvious–he reads more than he can remember or understand, and what he reads is only a tiny amount of the knowledge that exists.  His attempt is thus entirely worthless, for even if he has chosen an ambitious task in reading the entire printed version of the EB, there is still a great deal of knowledge that he cannot even conceive of, much less acquire and retain.  Is that sort of dispiriting view of knowledge and intelligence as the mere possession of facts without the ability to do anything useful with them the sort of encouragement we wish to give young people?  That does not seem like something the smartest person in any room would want to do.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/04/22/book-review-angry-birds-star-wars-character-encyclopedia/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/03/21/today-in-history-on-march-15-2012-the-encyclopedia-britannica-went-out-of-print/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/01/27/a-walking-encyclopedia/

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Are You, Are You, Coming To The Tree?

Yesterday before church services, some of the little ragamuffin population of our congregation decided it would be a pleasant thing to consider me a tree and to act accordingly.  Although from time to time I have joked about my partial resemblance to the doomed ents of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, although I am vastly smaller and talk vastly faster, I tend to find it somewhat surprising that people would think of me as rather tree-like, as that is not the sort of image I have for myself.  After all, trees tend to be solidly rooted in one place, and that has never been something I have said about my own life [1].  I could see myself as tumbleweed far easier than seeing myself as a tree.  Even so, these children rather persistently saw me as a tree and acted accordingly.  It was one of the more bizarre examples of objectification that I can remember, but it was one that I thought was worthy of puzzling over a bit.

So, being the sort of person who likes to ask a lot of questions and investigate matters that puzzle me, I queried the children about the sorts of qualities I had as a tree.  The more verbally fluent one among them had a rather vivid imagination, pointing out rather obviously that I was not a very large tree (being a bit under six feet tall, for example), and when I asked about what sort of fruit I had as a tree she replied that I had sweet green cherry fruit that tasted like lollipops, which I found to be an amusingly odd answer.  Meanwhile, while all of this was going on the children were trying to climb up the tree trunk and hang off the branches and so on.  For the most part I found this enjoyable, except that I found it a bit distressing when they they tried to hang from me with their arms around my neck, which is not a sensation I particularly enjoy or appreciate, being someone who has had more than a few problems breathing on occasion and someone more prone to panic than most people do.

I suppose if one is compared to objects that a tree is one of the better objects that one can be compared to.  At least aside from slightly feral small children, most people do not go out to actively harm trees.  At times trees grow too close to houses and are cut back or cut down, but for the most part people tend to think highly of trees.  They serve as a home for squirrels and birds and other generally well-regarded animals, often bear fruit and provide a sense of shade and comfort, and have an image of solidity and permanence that tends to make people feel at home.  At times the presence of trees can serve as a windbreak that makes areas more enjoyable to live in and makes winters less harsh, and trees and other plants help keep the soil of an area in place, allowing for a more rich soil and less runoff into creeks and rivers.  All of these are, in general, good things.  All things considered, being called a tree is on balance a good thing, even if it can be done merely because children–and I was such a child myself–enjoy climbing trees and see trees essentially as places of enjoyment and pleasure and fun.

As might be expected, the Bible itself offers its two cents on how human beings can be like trees, most notably in Psalm 1:1-3:  “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”  Do I see myself as this kind of tree?  I certainly do a lot of meditation on God’s laws and how they apply in my life, but by no means do I feel fruitful and that whatever I do prospers.  There are aspects of my life, in fact, that I find impoverished to a degree that threatens my enjoyment of life as a whole.  If I may be often a blessing to other people, I do not find that my life gives me all that much joy, as much as I would wish it so.

Am I thought of as a tree by anyone other those those who would want to climb all over me?  Do others think of me primarily based on their own fears or wants or based on a reasonable understanding of what I am?  Is there a wide gulf between the way I see myself and the way that God sees me?  God may, in fact, see me as bearing far more fruit than I do, and may see me as being more deeply rooted than I have found, but if that is so that is because His perspective would be more charitable than mine is.  I suppose there are worse things than being considered as a tree, far worse things that I am considered to be in fact, but I wonder why it is that I feel so ambivalent about it.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/10/14/no-more-a-stranger-or-a-guest/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/09/06/a-vagabond-in-vagabond-land/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/07/25/medieval-management-by-wandering-around/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/03/14/a-walk-for-the-homeless/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/02/22/let-me-tell-you-a-story-about-a-boll-weevil/

Posted in Bible, Christianity, Church of God, Musings | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Absolute Surrender

Absolute Surrender:  The Blessedness Of Forsaking All And Following Christ, by Andrew Murray

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Aneko Press.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

I am at least somewhat familiar [1] with the writing of Andrew Murray, and this book falls along the same lines as the previous books I have read by him.  There are some aspects of the thought process of the writer that are a bit strange to me–his striking use of the word shunted, for example, is remarkable–but overall this is an author who tends to be very direct and straightforward.  In reading a book by this author, this book in particular, one is not going to get a lot of dancing around the point, but rather one is going to get a direct and fierce defense of the author’s beliefs, and one that is going to be tough-minded.  This book, it should be stated without any ambiguity, is certainly tough-minded, and the author makes plain over and over again how insufficient our own efforts are in reaching any standards of righteousness as well as any power.  Although the book was written before the contemporary mania for ragamuffin gospels [2], the book is a strong refutation of that concept through a fierce treatment of the carnality of many professed Christians.

The author, in thirteen chapters, manages to cover about 150 pages or so of text.  Included in that are many discussions of the Holy Spirit and its role for believers, of our need to be filled and changed by it and separated to it.  The author makes it plain that a genuine believer needs to make a transition and a journey through divine assistance from carnal to spiritual and that requires a great deal of conviction and confession of our sins.  The author makes use of Peter’s repentance as a way of demonstrating how this process works, and gives quite a few stories about his own life and background and the institutions of his time.  Over and over again the author makes it plain that our attempts at making efforts are without efficacy in terms of developing godly love and character in our lives.  This is done without any sort of ambiguity whatsoever–whether a reader appreciates the author’s direct approach or not, the author is not the sort of man to mince words or disguise his beliefs, but rather is one to lay out his beliefs openly before the reader, come what may.

One of the notable insights this book brings to the table, and it is not a new insight but is certainly a very relevant one, is that a large part of the reason for the failure of Christians to make a more positive influence on the world is because of a lack of maturity and growth.  All too often people profess Christianity and there is little recognition of the full extent of our self-will and departure from God, nor any recognition of the seriousness of the commitment that we have made and the total lack of ability we have of following God’s commandments without His power in us.  This book is a salutary reminder of the fallen and frail nature of mankind and our need for greater devotion and surrender to God.  Whether or not this message is appealing to our generation, it is certainly a message that is relevant to our issues as believers in the present time, and so this book remains worthy even if–or because–it cuts against the culture of our day and time.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/10/23/book-review-lord-teach-us-to-pray/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/12/13/book-review-how-to-raise-children-for-christ/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/07/26/no-ragamuffins-allowed/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/08/07/book-review-the-ragamuffin-gospel/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/05/14/book-review-loveable/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/01/27/book-review-people-of-the-second-chance/

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Book Review: What Do The Amish Believe?

What Do The Amish Believe?:  The Doctrine Of The Plain People Compared With Scripture, compiled by Aneko Press and MAP Ministry

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Aneko Press.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Admittedly, I do not consider myself particularly knowledgeable about the plain people, although I have a few friends who have that as a family background and have done a bit of reading on the subject [1].  If this book can be believed, though, many of the Amish do not appear to be all that knowledgeable about what they believe.  In reading this book, I was struck by the question of whether the approach of the authors/compilers of this book was a fair one.  If many Amish appear to be unclear in their understanding of doctrine and unaware of what doctrines their churches truly hold to, are they so different than the vast majority of professed believers?  If I walked in to a neighborhood nondenominational church and queried the believers there about their beliefs, I would expect to find a great deal of confusion about law and grace, about the nature of God–it is likely that even those who professed a belief in the Trinity would hold to some sort of modalism, for example–as well as about the relationship between the Old and New Testaments and the corpus of biblical law.  In light of the widespread biblical ignorance among professed believers and the frequent holding to the traditions of man rather than the commandments of God, is it just to hold the Amish to a higher standard than the ordinary Christian would be held to, simply because they have a much more rigorous lifestyle?

This book shows the example of some heroic research into the doctrines of the Amish, which is not a very straightforward process, and looks at what the Amish believe on the following subjects:  God, Jesus Christ, The Holy Spirit, The Bible, The Church, Angels, Demons, and Satan, Humanity, Sin and Salvation, and The End Times.  There is some useful supplementary information included at the back of the book as well.  Throughout the book there are frequent comments to the effect that there was little problem that the authors had with the doctrines of the Amish but that the doctrines were not clear or well understood.  The authors note that the loss of leadership early in the history of the Anabaptists due to the hostility of neighbors had a dramatic and negative effect on certain aspects of understanding, and the authors spend a great deal of time using unbiblical theological language that the plain people would likely find alien.  Each of the chapters, moreover, ends with a prayer.  One wonders what audience this book is aimed at–Amish themselves would likely find the theological language more than a little bit off-putting, and would-be Amish missionaries might consider themselves better equipped for evangelism than may actually be the case.

Ultimately, what this book demonstrated to me as a writer who is at some distance from both the plain people and from the perspective of the compilers of this work is that there is a substantial amount of appeal to fear in the worship practices of the Amish, and that there are many cases where traditions followed for many generations are simply not well understood but are followed blindly, without being clarified by authorities.  The authors also note an unwillingness to follow the biblical model in ordaining deaconesses among the plain people, showing that like most other people there are aspects of prejudice that believers of all kinds must overcome through the process of living a godly life with the indwelling of God’s Spirit.  This book is instructive concerning the Amish faith, some key doctrines, and where it is that the Amish belief system is written down.  Yet while reading this book I got the feeling that the compilers were pointing fingers at the Amish only to have three fingers pointing back at themselves and at like-minded Protestants whose belief systems are no more biblical than those this book criticizes, however gently.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/06/02/book-review-my-people-the-amish/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/08/09/book-review-an-amish-boy-and-a-mothers-prayer/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/12/08/book-review-a-love-made-new/

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Book Review: How To Study The Bible

How To Study The Bible, by Dwight L. Moody

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Aneko Press.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

One should not think that a bluntly titled book like this one, part of the Aneko Press Christian Classic series [1], would offer the reader any ambiguity about what its title meant.  When I saw the title of this book, my first thought is that the author, a noted theologian, would provide some sort of practical insight on Bible study, and there was some of that.  What there was a great deal more of, though, was discussion of the mindset that people should have towards the Bible when it comes to study.  If not precisely as practical in the narrow sense, this discussion was immensely useful in setting a context for a lifetime of Bible study to which the practical elements included later on would fit.  In stark contrast to many contemporary books on Bible Study, the author does not assume a great deal of knowledge concerning the Bible on the part of the student of the Bible.  First he seeks to convince the reader of the worthwhile nature of bible study and then he gives advice on how it can profitably be done, making this a book of enduring worth.

Eighteen chapters fill the approximately 150 pages about this book.  Included in the book are strong defenses of the necessity of Bible Study for a true life as well as the truth of the Bible.  The author encourages attention to the often-neglected Old Testament and defends the accuracy of scripture against critics, encouraging the reader to take the time necessary to know the whole Bible well.  Among the more practical aspects of Bible study the author discusses are the telescope and microscope approaches, one of them looking at the larger structure of the books and chapters of the Bible, a top-down approach, and the other a bottom-up approach of looking in depth at different biblical verses and passages and how they connect with others.  The author spends some time talking about the importance of biblical typology and developing trust in God’s word.  This is followed by some discussion of the worth of marking a Bible in order to place a context around verses that serve as a memory aid to larger discussions.  Towards the end of the book the author encourages believers to engage in personal work for God and summarizes his suggestions on Bible study for the reader.

A great deal of this book can be better understood when one realizes that the original title of the book was Pleasure & Profit In Bible Study.  That title makes a great deal of sense given the book’s contents.  The author encourages the reader to cultivate the time to read and study the Bible enough to develop a love for it.  In our age of busy lives and easily distracted people, this book is a useful reminder that there has long been a struggle to devote the proper amount of time to prayer and Bible study and that this is by no means a new problem as we might otherwise be led to believe by our own chronological snobbery.  It is admirable that the writer maintains his zeal for the Bible and a justice to its contents while also showing a great deal of thoughtful concern for the reader.  This book shows no pandering to the reader and to his (or her) prejudices, but neither is this book a harsh and unkind one.  On the contrary, the book shows a balance between a high degree of honor towards God as well as a high degree of respect for the reader, a habit many contemporary readers would do well to imitate.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/06/02/book-review-a-life-for-christ/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/04/16/book-review-jesus-came-to-save-sinners/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/02/book-review-divine-emblems/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/02/book-review-the-holy-war/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/12/13/book-review-how-to-raise-children-for-christ/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/12/02/book-review-the-soul-winner/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/12/02/book-review-the-overcoming-life/

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