Monthly Archives: July 2016

Summer Reading

One of the things that I’ve been able to do since the accident is read.  I have a stack of books that I’m making progress through.  Another stack is gathering dust.  Still, another stack is no longer a stack.  These books have made their way back to the shelves, but have not yet been properly shelved, giving faint hope that I will get to them.

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Currently Reading:

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.  This is the biography that inspired the Broadway musical.  It’s been on the list ever since I heard about the musical and showed clips to my US History class this past year.  Great Read!

Revival and Revivalism by Iain Murray.  A look at the development of revivals and evangelical Christianity in the United States and Great Britain before the American Civil War.

Homeric Moments by Eva Brann.  Reflections of teaching Homer for over fifty years at St. John’s College.  This is a good read but a challenging book, and worthwhile to build a stronger foundation in my thinking about and teaching of Homer.

Serving With Calvin by Terry L. Johnson.  A guide to the fundamental principles of public ministry and the calling of the pastor.  While much of this is material is content I’ve picked up and absorbed over the years, I sure do wish this book was around when I was a young minister!  It’s a judicious condensation of the work of the pastor that has spurred me on in prayer and preparing for the ministry of the Word.

Listening to on Audible:

Being Mortal:  Medicine and What Matters At The End by Atul Gawande.  Thought provoking book on aging and how the West cares for an aging population.  Gawande convincingly shows us how the medical model of caring for elderly people often ignores their desires and robs them of the agency that those of us who are able to live independently take for granted, and profiles residences where elderly people are able to exercise greater liberty and agency in their making, and how this adds years to their lives and life to their years.

On the shelf/nightstand:

The Didascalion of Hugo of St. Victor.  A medieval treatise reading, education, and the seven liberal arts.  It’s a little challenging to get through with the discomfort I’m feeling so I’ve put it aside for now.

Eisenhower by Stephen Ambrose.  I’ve always thought that Eisenhower is one of the most underrated and interesting Presidents.  I want to get into this one, but it will probably wait until after Hamilton.

How To Read A Sentence and How To Write One by Stanley Fish.  I try to keep a writing book going all the time.  Right now, the plot of this one fails to grip, but I really haven’t given it much of a chance.

The Power Broker:  Robert Caro and The Fall of New York by Robert Moses.  I’m about 8o percent through.  An interesting and must-read for anyone who is at all interested in the history of “the city that never sleeps.”  At 1200 pages, it’s too dang heavy to pick up now!

 

 

 

 

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Injury Update

Below, you can see the carnage of our recent auto accident.  We are blessed to have survived and to have the assurance that we should fully recover.  In the meantime, there are daily difficulties that arise from being limited because of injuries.  I don’t want to write this in an ungrateful spirit, because my wife and I are so thankful for the kindnesses, meals, rides, errands, and many other tangible expressions of love from the Providence Extension Program (PEP) community where we both serve.

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Perhaps I’m reading the wrong book for this time in our lives, but I’m listening to Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.  Broadly speaking, Gawande writes about the intersection between medicine and aging, and often finds that treating aging and its complications according to a medical model results in a tradeoff between safety and quality of life.  Gawande’s narrative is mostly comprised of the stories of people as they age, and are confronted with physical, medical, and lifestyle challenges that accompany growing older.

The experience I’m sharing with those in Gawande’s narrative is that because of the injuries sustained by my wife and me, everything takes longer and is much more complicated.  Even daily tasks such as laundry, finding clothes to wear, driving when I’m sufficiently between doses of pain medicine, making sure that Amy’s medications are within reach and organized, and having to take frequent breaks from working guarantee that productivity is a dirty word to me.   A couple of experiences have really surprised me about all of this.

I’m surprised by the amount of joy that caring for my wife gives me.  Amy and I took care of my sister for over a year.  Much of that time, Cathy was more dependent on others than Amy is.  Being in a position to help my wife has been the greatest joy of the accident, and an experience that makes me hopeful for the years ahead.

I’m surprised at how easily little things can upset me.  People have cooked for us and brought us dinner almost every night.  Most of the meals have been delicious, and even people who live far away (45 minutes or more!) have gone out of their way to help us.  But last night, I almost broke down because I wanted to have the foods that we used to cook before the accident.  Since the accident was right in the aftermath of our trip to Peru, we haven’t eaten a meal that we have cooked in five weeks.  Again, the sheer generosity of people is overwhelming!  Most of us would love to be in this position!  But the combination of missing the foods that we have made in the past and my inability to prepare them almost caused me to have a meltdown!

Unfortunately, I’ve been difficult to live with.  The last thing Amy needs is a cantankerous husband!  I need to pause and take a deep breath more often.  Amy and I are well cared for.   Our children couldn’t be more sympathetic or helpful.  But pain and loss of function are difficult realities.  I’m hoping that this isn’t a foreshadowing of what old age will look like for me.  God is showing me how much I need to grow in grace for us to have a gracious, happy, and peaceful home, which is something that with His help, we can achieve no matter what our limitations are.

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Recent Reading

A Secular Age by Charles Taylor.  Yes, it’s taken me about a year and a half to get through this massive tome.  I still have a little bit to go but I should finish it this week.  Philosophically, I feel like it’s the story of my generation.  There’s so much in this book that I could write about, and at least as much that is over my head, and that’s not even mentioning the untranslated French paragraphs!  Taylor’s case is fairly complicated.  While the title implies growth in secularity over time in the West (which Taylor affirms), the two most useful concepts for me were the concepts of “disenchantment” and the reasonableness of the secular paradigm even for the religious.

The idea of disenchantment is that for persons living in the West in the Modern Age, it’s difficult to believe in the supernatural and ascribe explanations of phenomena to the supernatural, even for religious people.  For example, Medievals would likely ascribe pathological evil to supernatural activity such as demon possession, while Moderns would look to explanations rooted in nurture and environment.  The “secular age” is one that is denuded of the supernatural.

This is one of the reasons why I found it so hard to teach Medieval literature such as Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur.  For Malory, everything is supernatural.  The idea of not believing in the supernatural or ascribing cause and effect to the ineffable is as unthinkable is not breathing.  Characters that readers consider both good and evil possess this worldview.  In contrast, the modern reader, even if religious, sees the secular paradigm as a conceivable option, and may often see the rationalistic option as more viable than that which is rooted in the Divine.

In this respect, A Secular Age helped me to understand my own story and my own perception of the world.  It’s a valuable work in this respect, and one I’m glad that I plowed through.

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Recent Reading

While I’ve been convalescing and taking care of my wife after our recent car accident, I’ve set off on a torrid pace in reading.  The following are some snippets from some of the texts that I’ve engaged with over the past week.  Below is my account of Sunday’s readings.

 The Epistle to the Hebrews (ESV Translation).  I wasn’t able to go to church so I decided to attempt to read large portions of Bible books during my time on the disabled list.  I do have regular Bible reading plan, but Hebrews is my favorite book. I derived much encouragement from this letter to a church of Jewish background that was tempted to return to Judaism while suffering severe persecution.  The writer is sympathetic to the plight of this church.  His love for this church and his pastoral encouragement comes through loud and clear, and doesn’t keep him from giving his readers a “talking-to” where needed.

Revival and Revivalism by Iain Murray.  This book has stared at me for several years from my seat in the family room for several years.  I expected a hagiographic treatment of the leaders of the First Great Awakening in America.  Luminaries such as George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and Samuel Davies were men of God whose preaching was blessed by the Holy Spirit in the conversion of those outside of Christ and the strengthening of the Church from within.  After reading the first hundred pages, I’m encouraged to see that while Murray believes that the Great Awakening was a giant boon to American Christianity, there were unsalutary developments as well, and his view of the Revival is more nuanced than I expected.

Murray has challenged the view that I’ve about the Great Awakening for many years.  Protestant church historians are largely divided into two camps on whether the Great Awakening was a positive development for American Christianity.  On one end are historians such as D. G. Hart and Nathan Hatch, who believe that the Great Awakening was harmful to the development of the development of the American church because the revival preachers operated largely outside of the individual church.  Because the church and its catechetical role tended to be bypassed by the revival preachers, the effect was a Christianity in America that was fundamentally individualistic rather than churchly, and harmful to the growth and development of the Church.  The tother camp, championed by Iain Murray, believes that the First Great Awakening was beneficial to the American Church, while the confluence of events known as the Second Great Awakening fostered deviance from orthodox Christianity.

For the last fifteen years or so, I’ve largely held to the second view.  However, Murray presents a more nuanced view than I expected.  He makes a persuasive case that the reason that the preachers of the Great Awakening often bypassed the institutional Church was not because they held a low estimate of the Church, but that often the Church as an institution (organized gatherings under the rule of elders, pastors, buildings, etc.) was still in an organizational and developmental phase, and thus lacked the capacity for the churchly Christianity that is the norm of the Reformed churches.

I’ve only reached pate 100, but I’m glad that I took this book off the shelf and I’m really profiting from it.

Serving With Calvin by Terry L. Johnson.  Much of this book is a rehash of other writings of Johnson that has been expanded and put into a more polished form.  However, Dr. Johnson has been one of the most influential men in the way that I view the ministry of the gospel.  I’ve really profited from his theological vision and his encouragement to combine such vision with the daily and weekly tasks of gospel ministry.

 

 

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Journals of Bygone Days

I’ve never been disciplined about revising and rewriting.  Ever. Not in any genre or for any audience.  Almost all the papers that I submitted in college, graduate school, and seminary were first drafts.  Even when I write my sermons today, two drafts seems like a luxury.

While I’ve been blessed with the ability to exceed the standards of others in the first draft, I don’t see this as a virtue anymore.  I’m almost 55 years old, and as an outgrowth of editing and helping my students revise their papers, I’m learning how important revision is and beginning to discipline myself to engage in this labor.  In my garage sits a container full of old journals.  Today, I began to reread them, wondering if there is material that could be rewritten or revised to share with others.  So far, I have not discovered the great American novel, or much that would interest even my family members.

Today, I skimmed through about half of my journals from 2010.  These journals consist chiefly of thinking through daily living.  Dilemmas at work, in the church, within our family, and my own heart, mind, and soul pervade these pages.  Efforts to think through blessings, questions, problems, and uncertainties fill these pages.  The most striking quality is the sameness of my mental deliberations today, almost seven years later.  Surprisingly, there hasn’t been much movement of my interior furniture.  Children have graduated, gone to college, and found employment.  Throughout the rest of our lives however, we’ve experienced great stability and continuity.  My wife and I will soon celebrate our 29th anniversary.  We’re going on eight years of serving together in the same place of employment, and nine years of living in the same home.

While continuity may not make for the most interesting reading,  it does give great reward and satisfaction.  I’m grateful to God that He has allowed us to experience this degree of stability.  May He grant us wisdom in how to profit from it.

On Crankiness

Crankiness.   Most people find this posture rather annoying or just plain boring.  Yes, there is the occasional H. L. Mencken, whose curmudgeonly writing is entertaining partially because of its cranky tone.  But Mencken has a rare capacity for the mot juste, which makes one willing to suffer through page after page of cantankerousness to find the inexpressible one-liner that will knock one’s socks off.

However, crankiness ought to be rare rather than routine.  Yet, it seems that in the writings of the two vocational groups to which I serve, crankiness is routine.  I am a minister in a small, somewhat strict Presbyterian setting, and a classical Christian school teacher.  I’ve read somewhere that there are something like 107 different classifiable feelings.  But in the writings of some in these settings, all of these feelings are easily reduced to one:  crankiness.

I’m writing this because this is a temptation that I’ve often succumbed to.  I’m repulsed by it.  Most of us find complainers insufferable, but we often notice that one is rejected from certain affinity groups without the proper undertone of complaint.

I understand the reason for crankiness.  Pure and simple, the reason is a misappropriation  of conservatism.  Not 21st century American political conservatism, which is ill-defined and cranky in it’s own way, but classic conservatism.  Classic conservatism at its root entails a sense of loss, a mournfulness that the tried and true heritage of the past is being rejected in favor of the new and novel.  Classic conservatism sees an arrogance in this rejection of the past, a lack of humility and teachability, and a dishonor for one’s fathers and mothers by those in the present age.

However, this crankiness quickly turns into a requiem for the past and a scorn for the opportunities of the present.  Yes, true conservatives do and should long for a celebration of the best of the past.  However, what is required is not the proverbial turning back of the clock but the joie de vivre of seeing the opportunities of the present day and a creative imagining of a preferable future and the faith-filled steps and processes to bring this preferable future into place.  A robust theological and philosophical vision must be brought to bear to face the “fallen condition focus” of the environments in which people serve.

Crankiness is not a fruit of the Spirit.  It’s not enough to grieve the virtues of bygone eras. Biblically, the only “good ole’ days” were the ones before the Fall.  While many “white-bread” American Protestants look back with longing at the fifties, one does not need to think too hard in questioning if our African-American brethren experience a similar longing.  Crankiness is an unfortunate lapse into the flesh and a blessing of what is more properly called the lack of joy in our lives. Crankiness is the work of the flesh that the Christian must put off.  Joy is the fruit of the Spirit that we must “put on.”

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again, I will say, rejoice.”  While this is easier said than done for a habitual pessimist like myself, this is the imperative of the gospel.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is what allows us to rejoice, even when temporal circumstances may not bring happiness or optimism.  As long as God is present, all things are possible.  This is what is cause for rejoicing, rather than bygone virtues or present optimism.

 

 

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Update

I vaguely remember receiving an email telling me that my domain was about to expire.  Thinking that I had already broken numerous agreements with myself to work on writing, revision, and publishing, I agreed to renew the domain.  Of course, those unfulfilled commitments continued to haunt me.  However, a few things have changed over the last couple of months that have spurred me on to at least publish a couple of entries.

The first was that my sister passed away.  On May 16, my sister, Cathy Walker, entered her heavenly reward.  My family and I cared for her for the last year-and-a-half of her life while she suffered from end stage cancer.  Much of this time she was in our home.  She was positive, upbeat, encouraging, and faithful to her Lord right up until the end, and was an inspiration to all of us who knew her.  Even with all of these gifts that she provided, it’s still physically, mentally, and emotionally draining to care for a terminally ill patient, and this labor of love took its toll on all of us.

The second was that I was carrying an enormous teaching load, even by my standards.  Four tenth grade humanities sections, two eleventh grade composition and literature sections, two Latin I sections, two Latin II sections, one Latin III sections, and one night grade US History section.  This coming school year, I’ll have a similar number of sections, but only four preps.

The third was that my wife and I, along with my mother-in-law, were in a devastating car accident on June 26.  Seeing the photos, it would be difficult to believe that all of us came away with no permanent impairments.  However, I have some broken ribs and am generally pretty sore.

The sheer boredom of sitting around rekindled my desire to write more.  I’m faced with looking around my house and my innumerable books on writing.  Paraphrasing the words of Roxanne Gay, author of Bad Feminist, it’s like being “beyond Lane Bryant fat” and having a closet full of size 2 clothes; a monument to ambition and shame.  While I realize that such feelings don’t generally produce motivation to persevere in any long-term behavior, I must acknowledge them, even it it’s to rechannel them into both a realization that I get paid for teaching rather than writing, and that there is no shame in using my verbal capacity on my feet instead of on the page.

 

 

 

 

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