Category: Book Reviews (Page 1 of 16)

Political Parties

It is the year of national elections (2020) and we have received our mail-in absentee ballots. There are five options for president on the document, each representing a particular party: Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green and Constitutional.

Political parties are, according to Wikipedia, “organized group[s] of people who have the same ideology or who otherwise have the same political positions.” Their candidates “thereby implement their agenda.”

But why name them parties? The main definition for “party” is “a social gathering of invited guests, typically involving eating, drinking, and entertainment.” A secondary meaning is “a formally constituted political group, typically operation on a national basis, that contests elections and attempts to form or take part in a government.”

Although our elections often seem to favor the primary meaning, “involving eating, drinking and entertainment,” we will assume that the secondary meaning is what is in mind for the ballots we just received. 

But what happens if there is no party that presents a candidate that we like? In this case there is a box we can check for a “write-in” vote, generally understood as one that is wasted. There is no record of anyone winning as a “voto escrito,” even if they spoke Spanish.

The problem, as we see it, is that the “parties” are not truly representative of our great American nation and cultures. We believe that we need another party, one that truly represents our once-great American nation, and that it should be the VEGETARIAN party. You will soon realize why once I outline our platform.

Every party has a platform, which is a “raised level surface on which people or things can stand.” In this case it will be “things,” although vegetables are alive and have feelings. Haven’t you ever been “rotten as a tomato,” or “bright as a peach”?

A plank is “a long, thin, flat piece of timber” that is the fundamental point of a political party. It is often used as the side-walls for raised gardens, which brings me to our first Vegetarian (get used to saying that word) promise:

  1. We promise that every home will have a vegetable garden. America was built on topsoil and it is the most underused and overpriced ingredient sold at stores like Walmart. We promise that gardens will become so common that future generations will have to be told the meaning of words like “cement” and “asphalt.” Two of our slogans will be “It takes a garden to raise a vegetable” and “no vegetable left behind.”
  2. We promise that every vegetable will be represented and that minority ones like kale, rutabaga and spinach will be given every opportunity to grow to their full potential and be sold. Of course, staples like potatoes and corn will always be a solid plank on the Vegetarian platform and symbolize the great vegetable farmers on our planet. The same goes for beans and cabbage—their explosive nature will be dramatized by scenes of cows eating them.
  3. We promise that our children will receive free copies of “Veggie Tales” and that they will be given free apples and turnips at school. But “why turnips?” you may ask. Turnips are one of the most neglected of all vegetables, except perhaps for beetroot, pole beans and sour cabbage. Children will learn to love turnips because we will put a small gummie in each one given out at school.
  4. We promise that we will allow vegetables to grow sideways. Our culture has learned to grow them upside down and right side up, but not sideways. However, it has been proven by psychologists that some vegetables prefer to grow differently than the prescribed, standard way, and that we should let them grow however they wish.
  5. We promise to abolish all greenhouses. These veritable prisons cook the skins and wilt the leaves of many vegetables. It is undemocratic and unconstitutional to imprison any vegetable in such hothouses. We also promise to recycle the glass from greenhouses.
  6. We promise universal care for any ailing vegetable, including free transportation in government owned wheelbarrows to bulb, stem, leaf and tuber hospitals that will be established within a mile of any garden. Infusions of broccoli juice, as well as soybean vitamins will be available. No vegetable with a preexisting condition—like that of mushrooms, okra or pumpkin—will be without affordable medical care.
  7. We promise to promote raw vegetable consumption and digestion. It has been proven by science and Reader’s Digest that cooking a vegetable changes its essence—the very core beliefs that are inherent in its structure.
  8. We promise that the very soul of our civilization—vegetable growth and care—will be re-established throughout our nation. Edible flowers will be optional, but available to plant along the border of any garden. All vegetables will be equal, although, as someone once said, “some will be more equal than others.” In addition, we promise that all vegetables will be allowed to carry vegetable peelers for protection.
  9. We promise that in the next 20 years we will grow vegetables on the moon and Mars. Our platform includes a new “Vegetables in Space” floorboard which will allow all future immigrants and aliens to eat aloft without needing Greencards or Visas. Immigrant vegetables, like Irish potatoes and Dutch stamppot are part of our tradition.
  10. Finally, Vegetarians promise to develop a vaccine that will make the sight of meat revolting. Animals will be safe to grow freely and roam anywhere, except in gardens. One exception may be cats, which seem to be natural predators of vegetables.

Earl Framklin, chairperson,

The Vegetarian National Committee
Waco (sometimes pronounced Wack-o), Texas
October, 2020

Note: no actual vegetable has been harmed in the writing of this essay.

14 Days

Our 14 days of self-quarantine are over and, for some reason, I started to wonder: “how far could I have walked in 14 days?” Suppose I started out from Fish Pond Village, where we live in Waco, Texas. First question: Do I want to go north, south, east, west, or some combination? I don’t have a compass handy, although there is one on the dashboard of our car. But I can’t take the car—I am committed to walking.

I think I’ll go north and head in the general direction of Shickshinny, Pennsylvania, where I “grew up.” Siri, my faithful friend to whom I have given an Irish accent, tells me that it is about 1,570 miles by car and about 1,339 miles as the crow flies. I have never heard of a crow flying from Waco to Shickshinny, although they are “large, intelligent, all-black birds with hoarse, cawing voices.” I also have heard that crows often are hit by trucks since they can’t warn fellow crows because they can’t call out “truck, truck.” Instead they call “caw, caw,” and are therefore less likely to be hit by one.

A crow is a bird of the genus Corvus, not to be confused with Covid, and they are constantly on the lookout for hawks, owls, coyotes, racoons and the occasional hunter. You will undoubtedly find crows between Waco and Shickshinny.

But back to my original question: how far could I have walked during our 14 days of isolation? Again, Siri was helpful: “A healthy person can walk 20 to 30 miles in 8 hours” and “even beginners easily survive a 6-mile walk in two hours.” I’ll classify myself as intermediate and healthy, so I should be able to do 25 miles a day. Dividing 1,570 by 25 tells me that it will take 60 days to get to Shickshinny. That is close to two months and then I would have to walk back.

I need a more realistic goal: 25 x 14, divided by 2 because I do want to come back. I could go 350 miles if I didn’t return. However, returning is crucial—my wife and dog are waiting—so I could only do about 175 miles before turning around.

Even with such a modest goal, I will need tactical support. I will ask my friend, Ken, who has a Ford 150, to be my assistant. We will load the truck with Gatorade, Ozark sparkling water, vitamins, chewing gum, Ritz crackers, disposable adult diapers and freeze-dry vegetables, as well as extra sneakers and sweatbands. I will keep walking, but periodically he will pull along side of me and hand me whatever I want or need.

However, when I looked 175 miles north on my i-phone, it headed me towards Wichita Falls. That doesn’t sound right, so I’ll try going west. Again, my phone doesn’t help—instead, it tells me it is 4,039.82 miles to the North Pole, which obviously is north.

I need more help and our church motto is “Sacred, Simple,” which fits my goal perfectly. What could be more sacred than walking and, of course, praying? And what could be more simple—place one foot ahead of the other—it doesn’t matter which—and keep moving.

This is where the Internet can help me: I read that GoFundMe is a “free and trusted” fund raising site, but there are many others. Mine will be called “step-a-thon,” whereby after every 1000 steps I take, people will contribute $1 to our church. After 10,000 steps, another $1 will automatically be deleted from their on-line account to supplement the pastor’s salary. This should raise money faster than playing bingo or selling baked goods.

It turns out now that it doesn’t matter that we have completed 14 days of isolation. There is now a “shelter in place” order, whereby we are to stay home: the president has invoked the Stafford Act, declaring a national emergency relief measure, first set up in 1974. I am hoping it will help us with our HEB curbside grocery service.

It wasn’t total isolation: one of our grandsons came to visit us this week. He stayed by his car and we were in the garage, but we had a good chat. We also skyped with family in Australia and we are going to try zooming in on members of our Life Together group.

Fourteen days isn’t too long when you think about it. Jesus was led by the Spirit to the desert, where he spent 40 days, and his only visitors were Satan, wild animals and angels. Ponder that and you can put 14 days (and counting) in proper perspective and not feel worried because you had no visitors.

Not isolated but “sheltering”
Day 18 and counting (slowly)
Karl and Joice Franklin

Kidd on America’s religious history

Kidd, Thomas S. 2019. America’s religious history: Faith, politics, and the shaping of a nation. Zondervan Academic.

Thomas S. Kidd is a distinguished professor of history at Baylor University. In 14 chapters, he covers religion in America from early times until the present problems of immigration diversity and culture wars.

The coverage is brief for each topic and, as Kidd says, it “can’t give adequate coverage to all possible topics” (11). However, he adequately examines the diversity found in American religion, one that has “escalated since transformative changes in American immigration beginning in 1965” (11).

Religion in America began in Massachusetts. One of the most successful missionary with the Massachusetts Indians was John Eliot, who established “praying Indian villages” and translated the Bible into the Massachusetts Indian language. At the time of Columbus there were probably 500 different “tribes” (and hence languages). in what is now America. Kidd relates some of the difficult times for the Indians as the Spanish and English colonization took place.

The Puritans were “driven by theological conviction” (24) and had come to New England to find religious freedom for themselves. Roger Williams was a Puritan but later became an outspoken critic of government and Puritan practices and founded the first Baptist congregation in America in Providence in 1638 (25). Further to the south, particularly in South Carolina, there was a mix of Anglicans, Puritans, Quakers, Scottish Covenanters, Huguenots and some Jews, as well as Indian indigenous worshipers.

Of all the religious groups, the Quakers were the most radical and had a more equality-based view of all people and by the mid-1600s they were the most persecuted group in the colony. However, the religious diversity in early America “played a part in fueling the violence that marked much of colonial America’s history” (30).

In the early and mid-1700s, revivals were a part of American history with Philadelphia playing a prominent part as an organizational hub. Men like George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards left their mark, the former helped by his friendship with Benjamin Franklin. This was the period in American religious history known as “The Great Awakening” and it eventually led to the American Revolution.

Slavery was an engrained American institution at the time and one of the most powerful critics was Lemuel Haynes, an African American pastor and soldier from Massachusetts. Even Jefferson, who owned slaves, was convicted by such arguments. It was the Baptists who “were the most consistent advocates for religious liberty as the Revolution approached” (60). In 1776 the Virginia Declaration of Rights guaranteed religious liberty, “but it seemed not to touch the established Anglican Church” (61). Nevertheless, the Revolution was not directed towards religion, although it was inspired by it.

The second “Great Awakening” took place in the early 1800s and was dominated by church growth and revival. Charles Finney was influential and taught that “Christians could achieve a high level of holiness called ‘perfection’” (78). One outgrowth of Calvinism was deism, as articulated by Benjamin Franklin, and another was Unitarianism, with Walt Whitman an adherent. Another institution legacy, an offshoot of William Miller and led by Ellen White, was the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. (85). Mormonism followed with Joseph Smith claiming divine revelation from a visiting angel and the discovery of golden tablets which he translated into the Book of Mormon.

The early 19th century “saw a great flowering of Protestant missions and social reform movements” (92), but the Catholics had “articulate defenders in America” (96) as well. Missions had been fostered much earlier when Jonathan Edwards published a book in 1749 on the life of David Brainerd. A bit later, in 1806, the famous “Haystack Prayer Meeting” took place at Williams College in Massachusetts, leading to the formation of the Andover Mission Society. (99) and mission work among the Cherokees and Choctaws. Missionaries were soon found throughout the world: Adoniram Judson in Burma and William Carey in India are two prime examples. “By the mid-1880s, Americans had made significant advances in spreading the Christian gospel, and the Bible itself, throughout America and around the world” (109).

The slaves who arrived in America had, for the most part, little background in Christianity and were not given much education, so there were not many who had the ability to read. Their songs most often depicted their longing for freedom. However, such immigrants were sought be Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists and other denominations. Nate Turner’s rebellion was a part of the more militant abolitionist movement and raised moral questions about the slave trade (125). However, one of the “most compelling advocates of abolition was the former slave Frederick Douglass” (127). Slavery became a divisive issue in America.

Slavery led to the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln used “religious rhetoric” in his speeches to arouse the conscience of at least part of the nation. In 1844 the Methodists “became the first denomination to break apart over slavery” (134). Other denominations were not so quick to follow, and as late as in 1995 the Southern Baptists apologized for their role in slavery.

Writers, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) played a prominent role in opposing slavery and even Lincoln believed that God was judging both the North and the South because of slavery (144).

It was the immigration of millions into America that affected religious diversity, with Catholics from Europe prevailing, but also Hispanics and Jews in large numbers. Other religious groups, such as the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh, also formed religious settlements. Less involved were American Indians, who had been evangelized for years but also suffered terribly at the hands of government and settlers. However, the waves of immigrants, “paired with concern about secularizing intellectual trends” began a backlash among many Protestants (167).

Reactions to evolutionary teachings led to the formation of many assertive (one could say, in some cases, hard-liners) Protestant evangelical churches and colleges. Evolutionary-minded scholars began to seriously question the veracity of the Bible, culminating to some extent in the Scopes Trial in 1925 (178). At the same time, the women’s rights movement became stronger under the leadership of women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Aimee Semple McPherson. Mixed in with the various movements was a wave of conservative theology and mainline denominational leaders.

During the World Wars, religious (and other) leaders “kept employing religious rhetoric to explain America’s involvement in its extraordinarily demanding wars” (189). Many members of some churches and denominations, such as the Seventh-Day Adventist, the Quakers and the Jehovah Witnesses, opposed war and practiced “conscientious objection.”

It was during the war periods and immediately after them that Americans began sending missionaries around the world—part of the “manifest destiny” belief and mentality. The most compelling and expanding part of this movement was from the Pentecostals, but it also included agencies like Wycliffe Bible Translators and World Vision (196).

The Great Depression gave rise to the YMCA and Salvation Army, as well as Catholic, Jewish and other welfare societies. The Holocaust “resulted in a loss of spiritual innocence” for many Christians and Jews (204). This was later followed by the fear of Communism and the “Cold War.” Some preachers and evangelists encouraged “positive thinking” and a spirit of ecumenical cooperation. By the 1950s “65 percent of Americans said they were members of a religious congregation” (214). In the decades that followed, Billy Graham was the most famous evangelist in America, with access to numerous U.S. presidents (227).

The civil rights movement, coupled with the ministry and non-violent movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. were effective in overcoming—to some extent—the bigotry and segregationalism that predominated in much of America, especially in the South. Some African Americans, such as Malcolm X, adopted an extreme anti-government position.

More recently, there has been a strong anti-God and anti-church denominational movement, led in part by the New Atheists. To counter this, strong new denominations, such as Vineyard and Pentecostal Charismatic churches have occupied a prominent position in American religious viewpoints.

Current issues facing the church include abortion rights, same sex marriages, the Equal Rights political movement, women’s rightful roles in church hierarchies (especially as ministers,) creationism, and educational perspectives (such as home schooling). Most of these continue to be major concerns.

Kidd concludes his book by noting that, “many Christian traditionalists [are] wondering whether they should seek to reclaim the nation or retreat from a secular American Babylon” (266).

American Religious History is a fascinating coverage of the major religious and secular issues in America, as well as the people that have helped to formulate and regulate current ideas and attitudes. Professor Kidd is well acquainted with all aspects of America’s historical problems and progress, the people who helped create them, as well as current and past proposed solutions.

Waco, Texas
March 2020

Symbol or Substance

Kreeft, Peter. 2019. Symbol or substance? A dialogue on the Eucharist with C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham and J.R.R. Tolkien. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Kreeft, who is a professor of philosophy at Boston College, has written many books that attempt to bridge some of the disagreements between Roman Catholics (which he always refers to simply as Catholics) and Protestants. From his one-time membership as a Reformed Church of America Protestant (p. 13), Kreeft believes he is objectively qualified to examine differences between Catholics and Protestants, in particular the Eucharist, which also allows him to touch on baptism, grace, faith and other key denominational issues.

Kreeft has four disclaimers at the start of the book: 1) it is not a scholarly treatise; 2) he allows himself considerable poetic license and therefore does not always “speak” like his participants might; 3) he tries to be fair to the non-Catholic position, but writes as a Catholic; 4) he does not claim to have settled anything—although he does claim, at the end of the book, to have shared the “ecumenical passion” of Christians (p. 232).

In addition to Lewis, Graham and Tolkien, Guy, a Baptist “friend and admirer of Billy’s,” ( p. 17) and the vehicle driver for Lewis and Graham, occasionally contributes to the dialogue. The meeting takes place in Tolkien’s home.

The title of the books reveals the essence of the dialogue: Graham believes the Eucharist is primarily a memory feast, Tolkien believes the “Real Presence” of the Lord is in the physical bread and wine, and Lewis is somewhere between the two in his comments. In practice and personality, Tolkien can be characterized as the theologian, Lewis as the philosopher and Graham as the literalist (sola Scriptura and sola fide).

Tolkien is assured of his historical position: that the Catholic Church represents the direct apostolic succession from Peter and the Apostles, and that Luther fractured the Church. Quite simply for Tolkien, everything would have been OK if Luther had not started the reformation. Until then, in Tolkien’s view, everyone understood the Eucharist as the “real” body and blood of Christ. In other words, the early Church “always” thought Christ to be present both in body and soul—and not simply in a spiritual sense. According to Tolkien, Catholics are saved by the Eucharist and fed again and again by his presence and grace. This, of course, is not the view of Graham, who sees the Catholic view as bordering on magic. The Anglo-Catholic view, represented strongly by Lewis, believes that it is not just a symbol but “it really is His blood” (p.67).

The argument goes back and forth along these lines: take the words of Christ literally, i.e., “This is my blood,” or take them symbolically, “this wine represents my blood.”

For Tolkien, and hence for Catholics, “baptism saves you,” just as the Eucharist does. For most Protestants, this is a reliance upon the counter-reformation position of the Church, which was resolved at the Council of Trent and upon other occasions. It does not have the authority of the Bible alone but, for Catholics, it is just as authoritative.

Tolkien outlines how important tradition is to the Catholic position: it is part of the Church dogma and was articulated and represented by the church fathers (not mothers). It therefore has equal weight with the written word of God.

Tolkien returns repeatedly to the sacrament of the Eucharist (and Baptism) to declare that “He instituted the sacraments as normal ways by which He saves you and puts His own eternal life into you” (p. 77). Graham compares that to a dependency on good works and not faith alone. There follows a long debate on faith and works.

At one point (p.85) Lewis deciares “I do not agree that Christ is present in the sacraments only if we have faith. I believe He is really present, objectively present, independent of us.” Graham takes this to mean that the sacraments are independent of faith because Lewis says that “our faith can’t cause the Real Presence.”

An argument and explanation of efficient cause and final cause follows, where efficient cause does not make the sacraments happen, but the final cause is “to test our faith and to elicit our faith and to strength our faith.” (86). There follows a discussion on feelings and faith with Lewis claiming that “the thing that looks like a wafer of bread really is the Body of Christ.” (91). In this view and expressed by both Lewis and Tolkien, Christ is “hiding” in the wafer. This physical manifestation of Christ in the Eucharist is the bone of contention that separates Protestants from Catholics. It follows that “if the communion wafer is not eaten, or if the wine is not drunk” we do not get grace (110).

Although Lewis claims to believe in the “Real Presence” of Christ, he has points “where I do not go as far as the Catholics go: the necessity of the formula of Transubstantiation and the authority of the Church that supports it.” (124)

Is there a possibility of compromise on the issue? Tolkien claims not: you either believe in the Catholic position as truth or you are in error, although Protestants (and others) might come in the “back doors into Heaven.” (193) He insists that the body and blood of the Eucharist is described by the Church as “the extension of the Incarnation.” (156) The authority of the Church also rests on the claim of the “chain of succession, by the sacrament of ordination.” (162)

he (Catholic) Church, according to Tolkien, gave us the Bible, but it gave us its authority (tradition) even before we had the Bible. Tolkien makes some other outlandish (to Protestants) claims, such as the validity of prayers to saints, the veneration of Mary, the use of relics by the Church and its view of Purgatory, which according to him,  go back to the history of the Church and “were never denied.” (181).

However, Tolkien does not deny that the Church needed reformation, although he claims it was all taken care of at the Council of Trent, (although that was a counter-reformation movement after Luther).

There is no real compromise or conclusion to the book that completely satisfies the participants. Although they remain friends and have understood the positions of each other better, that is about all. Perhaps it was enough for Kreeft, the author, and it will have to do for me as well.


Brooks on the Second Mt

Brooks, David. 2019. The second mountain: The quest for a moral life. New York: Random House.

Part I: The Two Mountains.

The first mountain is the normal one: the person performs in order to be successful and, when this happens, he or she begins to wonder, “Is this all there is to life? The second mountain involves a rebellion, however slight, against mainstream culture and considering others who are in need. It involves a vocation, a spouse and family, a philosophy or faith and a community. Brooks takes up each of these in the book. He notes the joy and satisfaction on starting on his quest for a moral life.

1) Moral ecologies: These are a “collective response to the big problem of a specific moment” (4). They are built on a series of assumptions: the people’s right to live as they please; the God within; privatization; total freedom; the centrality of accomplishment. A tension between the self and society.

2) The Instagram life: “the big swim to nowhere”; the aesthetic life; and the notion that complete personal freedom “sucks”.

3) The insecure overachiever: leading to personal identity and your job title alone, constantly comparing yourself to others.

4) The valley: The “social” valley has led to loneliness, a crisis of meaning, distrust, tribalism and suffering. “suffering shatters the illusion of self-sufficiency” (17).

5) The wilderness: leading to confusion of purpose and a need to shed the old self and let the new self emerge—discovering your heart and soul (43).

6) Heart and soul: “The soul is the piece of your consciousness that has moral worth and bears moral responsibility” (46). We come to see the shallowness of life, when we are not fulfilled, leading to hardship, which is necessary to begin the “second journey” (51).

7) The committed life: commitment begins with the love of something, a contract with it. It gives us our identity, a sense of purpose and builds our moral character.

8) The second mountain. There becomes a motivational shift (67) that involves our desires being transformed. States include: material pleasure, ego pleasure, intellectual pleasure, generativity, fulfilled love and transcendence (“The feeling we get when living in accordance with some ideal” (67).

The four commitments. Part II: Vocation.

9) What vocation looks like: “The think everybody knows about finding a vocation is that it’s quite different from finding a career” (89). Brooks notes that “The summons to vocation is a very holy thing. It feels mystical, like a call from deep to deep” (93).

10) The annunciation moment: realizing the moment or time when you have the awareness of a vocation and finding your purpose in life.

11) What mentors do: learning how to deal with success and error. [See my article on “Mentoring a mother tongue speaker.”]

12) Vampire problems: Choices that determine the kind of person you are and become. Shoiuld the decision be rational, which Brooks sees as a “fable” (109) or should the “daemons” (unresolvable tensions) take over and determine the journey? No one can consciously “anesthetize the daemon” but people can be strangers to their own desires and settle for a false life (115). It is not about a career path but about what “gives me my deepest satisfaction” (121) and is therefore the right “fit” for me.

13) Mastery: “A job is a way of making a living, but work is a particular way of being needed, of fulfilling the responsibility that life has placed before you” (123). A vocation makes the man.

Part III: Marriage.

14) The Maximum Marriage: “Passion peaks among the young, but marriage is the thing that peaks in old age” (139). Brooks notes that “marriage is the ultimate moral education” (144)—it demands nearly everything and gives nearly everything (146).

15) The stages of intimacy I: the glance, curiosity and the dialogue precede opening the gates to each other.

16) The stages of intimacy II: the leap, crisis and forgiveness precede fusion.

17) The marriage decision: Are you ready? Do you really like the person? Does the person fill your need? How high is the bar? Quoting Lewis Torman, there are things to look for in a relationship: happiness of parents; childhood happiness; lack of conflict with mother; home discipline (firm, not harsh); strong attachment to both mother and father; lack of conflict with father; frankness from parents about sex; degree of childhood punishment; neither disgust or aversion of premarital attitude about sex (168).

18) Marriage: The school you build together: building intimacy with autonomy; the crises of life; a rich sexual life; keep alive the idealized images of each other; empathetic wisdom; communication the art of recommitment. The first love is champagne (183), the second love is the second mountain. It is love that endures until death.

Part IV: Philosophy and Faith.

19) Intellectual commitments: The evolution of American education, including the humanistic ideal (192) and the intellectual virtues. Brooks notes that “The educated life is a journey toward higher and higher love” (201).

20) Religious commitment: stories about how some people, including a nod to himself (Brooks) have found faith.

21) A most unexpected turn of events: further examples of faith in the author’s life. His was a “pilgrimage” from the Jewish tradition into an understanding of grace. The Jews of NY put “peoplehood before faith” (210) but “the Jesus story was not about worldly accomplishment” (219). He reviews his interaction and subsequent attachment to Anne Snyder, researcher and colleague. Brooks describes his “own moment of decision (245ff) and it involved reading many authors and experiencing faith as change.

22) Ramps and walls: Brooks describes several walls: 1) the siege mentality, dividing those “who are unimpeachably good and those who are irredeemably bad” (256); 2) the wall of bad listening where people “unfurl the maxims regardless of circumstances” (256); 3) the wall of invasive care; 4) the wall of intellectual mediocracy—those who are brutal in the “march for excellence” (257). He also found ramps: 1) ritual—moral order and sacred story; 2) unabashed faith; 3) prayer; 4) spiritual consciousness; 5) the language of good and evil, now “largely abandoned in the public world,” (259), especially the word “sin.” “I am a wandering Jew and a very confused Christian, but how quick is my pace, how open are my possibilities, and how vast are my hopes” (262).

Part V: Community.

23) The stages of community building I: unveiling yourself and confronting our weaknesses in conjunction with others.

24) The stages of community building II: village over self; initiating connections; radical hospitality; community as expert; the least are the most (286). “Thick institutions have a physical location, often cramped, where members meet fact to face on a regular basis, such as a dinner table or a packed gym or an assembly hall” (294).

25) Conclusion: The rationalist manifesto: an examination of hyper-individualism vs. relationalism in the process of becoming a person. Brooks is interested in “the good life,” not in terms of things, but rather in terms of commitments and relationships. This, he notes, will lead to “the good society” (308). He concludes with a declaration of interdependence in which joy is recognized as a moral outlook.

Acknowledgments: there are many, but he concludes with Anne: “This book has been, and the rest of my life will be, warmed and guided by Anne’s light” (315).

Notes 11 pages that are cross-referenced to each chapter of the book.

Index: key terms are agency, beauty, Christianity, commitment, community, culture, ego/self, emotion, faith, first mountain, God, happiness, heart/desiring heart, individualism, Jewish people and Judaism, joy, loneliness, love, marriage, moral ecology, morality, purpose, relationships, second mountain, society, spirituality, suffering, the valley, vocation and wilderness.

Brooks is extremely well read and quotes many authors. Those who seem most quoted are: William F. Buckley Jr., Frederick Buechner, Edmund Burke, Dorothy Day, Alai de Botton, Fyodor Dostoyefsky, Victor Fankl, Sarah Hemminger, Abraham Joshua Heschel, James Hollis, William James, Jesus, Soren Kierkegaard, Martin Luther King Jr., C.S. Lewis, Abraham Lincoln, Friedrich Nietszche, Henri Nouwen, Anne Snyder, Joseph Soloveitchik, Davy and Sheldon Vanauken, David Foster Wallace, Judith Wallerstein and William Wordsworth.

The book is easy reading, aside from looking into the notes and index for the many quotes and references. I found the chapters on vocation and marriage especially well written, with practical ideas and comments.

Karl Franklin
October 2019

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