Men Wanted for Church Jobs

Building a Ministry of Spiritual Mentoring, Jim Grassi  Jim Grassi, in the book Building a Ministry of Spiritual Mentoring, writes,

“Growing and dynamic churches seem to have four things in common:

  • passionate pursuit of God,
  • compulsive care for people,
  • emphasis on home groups,
  • and a strong and vibrant ministry to men.

It is men who will lead the church to a new reformation.

It is men who are accountable to strengthening families by modeling God’s Word.

It is men who can support and connect with assisting widows (single moms) and orphans (41 percent of children with no biological father in the home) of our day.”

Mentoring for the Growth of the Kingdom

Building a Ministry of Spiritual Mentoring, Jim Grassi

I review lots and lots of books these days.  I review in a year about a tenth of the books that Tim Challies reviews in a week.  One of the things that a reviewer learns is that the book publishing world is massive.  I end up with whole stacks of books on all sorts of subjects.  I confess to not getting every review book read.  The very good ones are not read deeply enough.

But a reviewer is a scout.  He rides way out front and discovers what lies ahead.  Speed is essential.

A book reviewer or reader has to know what niche to place a book in.  Books fill a number of purposes, some greater or deeper than others.

One of my recent reads, in order to post a review, was Building a Ministry of Spiritual Mentoring by Jim Grassi. This is a good second or third book to read on mentoring.

I have been increasingly convinced for several years now that spiritual mentoring is vital to the health of individual Christians and the church.  I preach sermons.  I love preaching and the impact of sermons.  But sermons are not up close and personal enough.  Sermons speak to all, while mentoring addresses the individual.  Mentoring is an indispensible complement to sermons.  Paul mentored Timothy.  That mentoring took them to many lands and situations.  Paul continued mentoring Timothy via his letters after Timothy was assigned to the church in Ephesus.  Paul exhorts Timothy to preach the Word, but also to mentor a core group who will then mentor others.  “And the things that you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

No man is an island.  Every man will be mentored.  A mentor is a teacher, a personal trainer, a guide.  The culture around us, the values of the unbelieving world, the sinful human nature, and the devil are all out there offering mentoring at discount prices.  It is highly questionable whether someone can be saved, but not mentored, or discipled.

No doubt but that women and girls in the church need good and godly sisters-in-Christ to guide them along the way.  Paul tells Titus that the older women (and “older” is relative to the average age in a church) are to be teachers of good things to younger women.  Women’s ministries are vital, absolutely essential, to the life of the church.  In an effort to offset the feminist and egalitarian impulses in the church world, some Christians (alas, many of us Reformed folk) have overly limited the teaching role of women.  The motive was to prevent women from being pastors and exercising authority over men.  The excess was in stifling the needed role of women mentoring women.

But men are the biggest potential failures and losers in Christ’s kingdom.  Satan has many disguises that lure men toward passivity and feminization or to a warped masculinity and ungodly totalitarian style.  Men are posers and are masters of deceit.  Even though Jesus came into this world a male and gave us a model of true Masculinity, we men fail.

Hence the importance of mentoring.  This book, Building a Ministry of Spiritual Mentoring, contains lots of guidelines, suggestions, and methods for implementing successful mentoring programs in the church.  That is why it is a good second or third book.

Jim Grassi’s prior book is titled The Spiritual Mentor.  That book, along with many other current books, give more of the content and methods of spiritual mentoring.  One doesn’t have to get a book with the word “Mentor” in the title for instruction.  Any book or Bible study that faithfully lays out patterns for Bible study, doctrine, prayer, and practice will work.  

 

The Spiritual Mentor, Jim Grassi

After one has actually either started mentoring or found a mentor, then books on building these programs in the church can be used and implemented.

For several years now, I have been burdened with the topic of mentoring.  Part of what the Lord has shown me is that I may not be the one who will be doing the mentoring in a way that I want to see it done.  Pastors and preachers cannot always be the personal training mentors for every man and boy in the congregation.  We preach to equip the saints for works of service.

I have also been reminded that as a teacher in a Christian school, I am doing mentoring work.  I don’t teach books and information.  I teach children.  I teach boys and girls, young men and young women, who are growing in mind and spirit.  As a teacher, I experience strong connections with some students and not as much connection with others.  That is fine.  The student who comes alive in literature class will bond with me more than the mathematicly or scientificly inclined student.  (Saying that, I also realize that students don’t line up in such rigid categories.)

All in all, I recommend this book.  I received it free of charge as a review book and am not obligated to endorse it.  Mentoring or being mentored is more important than reading books about mentoring.  But thankfully, we are seeing more and more books to help us wherever we and our churches are in this matter.

 

The Failed Teacher Laments, Part 2

“Barn Burning” by William Faulkner.  I was going to assign it.  Somehow, the time just slipped away.

And it hurts down deep knowing that we haven’t walked through this story.  We were not there with a scared young Colonel Sartoris Snopes, called to the witness chair, interrogated by the men of the community at the country store with those shelves “close-packed with the solid, squat, dynamic shapes of tin cans whose labels his stomach read.”  Just a boy, knowing the guilt and ways of his father, carrying in his veins the blood and in his person the name.  Rather it was the names, both rooting him deep in the Southern soil, in the history, in the primeval fight that’s been goin’ on since the first man got something more, something better, and the second just watched, seething, longing, but not for whatever it was, a cow, a woman, a piece of bottom land, but surging with anger and wanting to destroy.  And it all was swirling around and around until it spilled out in a fire, or a killing, or fight started by the one who watched the other get what he didn’t and maybe couldn’t have.  That was there, lodged in the very center core of the boy.  Snopes, yes Snopes, that was his name.  But the other part of his name, Colonel Sartoris, bestowed after the colonel who got voted out of his own regiment, came back, raised another troop, fought Yankees, carpetbaggers, friends, neighbors, and life itself until Redmond kilt him.  Ab Snopes, the father, knew the colonel, worked for him or at least near him.  The boy carried the name.  Both names weighing on just a boy.

I didn’t assign it.  And some will think “We don’t have to read it.  It won’t be on the test.”  But Faulkner is there on every test.  He is there reminding us of “the old verities,” and of “man not only enduring, but prevailing,” and of “grandaddy said,” and of “that fierce pull of blood” that is so deeply intwined in this story, and a thousand other little rocks jutting out on the cold embankment we climb, trying to get out of this.

Faulkner is layered, rambling, repetitive, wordy, obtuse, obscure.  Hemingway sneered, “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words.  I know them all right.  but there are older and simpler and better words, and those the ones I use.”  Ernest always lashed out when he was jealous.  His characters were without family, roots, land, faith, and real love.  Vermouth, even by the barrel, could not substitute for truth.  Hemingway wrote adventure stories mostly.  Faulkner wrote literature.

Faulkner is assigned.  “Barn Burning” and the rest of the stories, and the novels, and Oxford, Mississippi itself are all assigned.  I’ve been working on that same assignment since 1973, failing, but returning.

The young boy, Colonel Sartoris Snopes, disappears at the end of the story, and unlike so many Faulkner characters, he disappears from Yoknapatawpha County, and that whole postage stamp of a world forever.  Faulkner didn’t create characters.  They were already there, and he just tried to catch up with them and hear what they were saying.  But the boy escaped.  I wonder whatever became of him.

 

 

The Failed Teacher Laments, Part 1

Literary scholars, men of letters, poets, and true Southerners: Where would I be without the Agrarians?

The school year is basically over.  All that remains are the tests.  Yet there are so many, many great writers, stories, poems, and discussions that await us.  The Agrarians are defining of Southern literature.  Starting in the 1920s, a group of literary scholars began meeting on and off campus around Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.  On one occasion, John Crowe Ransom (fourth from the left above) gave a poem to his bright student Donald Davidson (fifth from the left).  Iron sharpens iron and so one friend began sharpening another.  Other young literary students joined the crowd, including poet and literary critic Allen Tate (first from the left) and Robert Penn Warren (third, in the dark suit, and standing), who wrote great novels, poems, and biographies.

For a time, they were known as the Fugitive Poets.  They were writing some of the best modern poetry around.  Then they became known as the Agrarians, after the publication of I’ll Take My Stand, which is one of the greatest books ever.  Some of them, including Cleanth Brooks, charted a new approach to literature called New Criticism.

The Agrarians poured out a host of literary studies, poetry, novels, and other writings.  Their ranks included such other writers as Andrew Nelson Lytle, Frank Owsley, and Arkansawyer John Gould Fletcher.

Those they influenced include such brilliant people as Jesse Stuart, Richard Weaver, M. E. Bradford, and Louise Cowan.  Way down on the list of those influenced by the Agrarians you will find the name of George Grant, and further down, my own name.

My poetic tribute to the Agrarians can be found here:  “The Agrarians–A Poem.”

Here is a powerful poem by John Crowe Ransom, one of the finer minor poets and brilliant literary scholars of the recent past.  Don’t be fooled by the humor and innocence of it all.  This poem ponders a mystery that none of us can fathom.

Janet Waking

Beautifully Janet slept
Till it was deeply morning. She woke then
And thought about her dainty-feathered hen,
To see how it had kept.

One kiss she gave her mother,
Only a small one gave she to her daddy
Who would have kissed each curl of his shining baby;
No kiss at all for her brother.

“Old Chucky, Old Chucky!” she cried,
Running on little pink feet upon the grass
To Chucky’s house, and listening. But alas,
Her Chucky had died.

It was a transmogrifying bee
Came droning down on Chucky’s old bald head
And sat and put the poison. It scarcely bled,
But how exceedingly

And purply did the knot
Swell with the venom and communicate
Its rigour! Now the poor comb stood up straight
But Chucky did not.

So there was Janet
Kneeling on the wet grass, crying her brown hen
(Translated far beyond the daughters of men)
To rise and walk upon it.

And weeping fast as she had breath
Janet implored us, “Wake her from her sleep!”
And would not be instructed in how deep
Was the forgetful kingdom of death.

Reading Robert Frost on the Last Days of School

A wonderful collection of many of the poems of Robert Frost.

The school year is winding down.  There are only three and half days to go, and most of the time will be spent taking semester tests.  My students are tired, yet busy.  With so much to do, I felt it necessary to only assign two books in the past weeks or so.  One is The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.  That is a quick read, but a powerful one.  A reader might argue that it is Hemingway’s best.

The other book is Robert Frost’s Poems (as seen above).  This edition is edited by one of the great men of letters of America past, Louis Untermeyer.  I ache when thinking of all the poets and poetry we did not cover, but Frost will have to suffice.  He stands tall across the pantheon of American writers.  He has been America’s most popular poet for decades.

Some of my students have asked, “How many of the poems should we read?”  There is always in the student mind that false assumption that the literature teacher is assigning a quantity of material to be read.  If I say “50,” they are relieved and dash away to start counting their readings.  I never give a number.  I say, “Immerse yourself in Frost’s poetry.”  Then I tell them that I have them all and have read many of them repeatedly.  I think a fair student could survive in life if they read all the poems in this book between 2 and 20 times (before they turn 25).

This photograph, which was on the cover of LIFE magazine, probably was taken in the early 1960s when Frost was in his mid-to-late 80s.

I read lots of Frost when I was in high school.  DeKalb, Texas was not quite New England, but walking through the pastures and woods around my home certainly heightened my understanding of some aspects of Frost’s writings.  Like many, I confusedly thought him to be a “nature poet.”  I did not immediately grasp the human conflicts, the mysteries, darker truths, or philosophical underpinnings of his verse.  A little over forty years after I started liking Frost, I find him deeper and better than the man of rhyming words I knew when I was in high school.

I got my copy of this Frost collection in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  My parents and I were vacationing there.  We didn’t know much about what to look for or see in Kentucky, but we did stop by a bookstore somewhere.  (That was not a usual event in my life.)  I bought and read and reread my copy of this book.  It looked like the one below”

There are quotes and analyses, agreements and disagreements, questions and answers one could explore regarding Robert Lee Frost.  But I prefer to list what I think are a few of the essential poems to read repeatedly and, in some cases, to memorize.  The only pattern to the order is my remembering the titles:

1.  “Birches”

2.  “The Pasture”

3.  “Mending Wall”

4.  “The Road Not Taken”  (Absolutely!)

5.  “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”

6.  “Death of a Hired Man”

7.  “Two Tramps in Mud Time”

8.  “The Figure in the Doorway”

9.  “The Wood-Pile”

10.  “Tree at My Window”

11.  “After Apple-Picking”

12.  “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things”

13.  “The Runaway”

14.  “Design”

15.  “Departmental”

16 “A Minor Bird”

17.  “Never Again Would the Birds’ Song Be the Same”

18.  “For Once, Then, Something”

19.  “Dust of Snow”

20.  “My November Guest”

21.  “Fire and Ice”

22.  “Acquainted With the Night”

23.   “The Tuft of Flowers”

24.  “Provide, Provide”

25.  “Two Look at Two”

Homer Noble Farm, Summer home of Robert Frost

The Homer Noble Farm, Summer home of Robert Frost

 

 

 

Devotional Reading in Christian Education

We have been doing some devotional reading in my Humanities class during the last few weeks.  We are, after all, a Christian school.  Our mission is to grow our students in their walk with Christ.  So, we want to read books that reinforce our Christian values and worldview.  It also happens that this year’s Humanities class is “The American Story.”  So, the writers are Americans.

Two of our recent devotionals are The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.  If these two books don’t shake the minds and souls of my students, I don’t know what will.  If these two books don’t cause them to feel an inner ache for beautiful literature, I don’t know what will.  If these two books don’t bring the Christian worldview into clearer focus, I don’t know what will.

Of course, if you know anything about Fitzgerald and Hemingway, you know that neither was a Christian.  Neither was religious.  Faith issues are far from the texts of their writings.  Personally, they were both ungodly and immoral men.  (See my essay Drunken Writers.) Both were bad husbands; both fell short as fathers; both struggled with alcohol problems; both strayed far from any religious roots they may have had; both were bitter; both were cynical; both had false values; and both came to sad and tragic ends in their lives.

They were friends for a season.  The friendship began at a point when Fitzgerald was on the rise as a writer and Hemingway was looking for a break.  When it was to his advantage, Hemingway sought Fitzgerald’s friendship.  But Hemingway was jealous, vindictive, and unappreciative of friends.  Fitzgerald paid a price for having befriended Hemingway.

Two young brilliant writers who emerged out of the 1920s: Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

And yet, both these men were incredibly brilliant.  Both honed the writing craft.  Both changed American fiction.  Both hit the world of literature with freshness and power.  And, both are still read and readable, still relevant and compelling, still speaking and tugging at the heart of their readers.

And both men point us to Jesus Christ and the Christian life.

“How?” you may be asking.  And, “Why are kids in a Christian school reading this kind of literature?”

Fitzgerald and Hemingway show us what life is like apart from a Christian foundation.  Both show the emptiness, the futility, the ugliness, and hopelessness of the life, thinking, and worldview of the unbeliever.  As Dostoevsky pointed out just prior to the time of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, if there is no God, everything is permissable.

The Great Gatsby came out in 1925.  It showcases the “Roaring 20s” in all their glory.  The glitz, glamour, wealth, and pursuit of fun are all part of the novel.  It is the story of what money can do.  It is the story of money as god, of romantic love as god, of life in the present order as divine.  Jay Gatsby stares each night at the green light across the bay.  That green light is where Daisy Buchanan lives.  Gatsby’s life quest has been to achieve the love of Daisy.  In the past, he almost had her, but now he doesn’t.  He uses money, parties, friends, deceit, and any and every means to reach Daisy and win her over.  The fact that Daisy is married is irrelevant.  Daisy’s marriage and life are pretty sordid also, but its the sordid life of the rich and immoral.

This novel is a vital picture of the history of certain segments of American life in the 1920s.  It was the age of great wealth and speculation, of gangsters, of speak-easies, of parties, of loose morals, and wild living.  In his premier novel, Fitzgerald wrote that after World War I, people returned to find “all gods dead, all wars fought, and all faiths shaken.”  So if that is the case, how should we then live?  Like Tom and Daisy Buchanan.  If you don’t have the money and venues for decadence they have, then you do whatever it takes to get their money or at least the appearance of money.  There was a spiritual vacuum and emptiness of the 1920s and Fitzgerald captured it perfectly.  (A book that gives a vital picture of another aspect of the 1920s is J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism.)

The Great Gatsby is also a picture of the American tendency toward obsessions, particularly material obsessions.  Almost every character is trying to get ahead, or they are already there and are bored and wicked.  “Money will win Daisy to you,” thinks Gatsby.  Money will buy you happiness, but it will take lots of it.  Morals are passe, even in regard to such matters as golf scores.

The Great Gatsby teaches that sin destroys.  Sin damaged every character in the book and killed two of them.  Gatsby, who was handsome, talented, and filled with possibilities, was far from great.  Tom and Daisy, in the powerful judgment of Nick Carraway, were “careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”  Nick Carraway was a largely passive observer who did little or nothing to avert the multiple tragedies in the story.

The story is powerfully told.  The prose is beautifully crafted.  The characters live.  Any Christian reading this book should be on his knees (at least figuratively) at the end, giving thanks to God for saving grace.  Idolatry is an ever present danger.  Years ago, I read Herbert Schlossberg’s brilliant book Idols for Destruction.  The idols he warned of are destined for destruction, but they threaten to destroy us in the mean time.

The Great Gatsby deals with having money and sexual desire as false gods.  Marriage is wrongly desired by Gatsby and despised by Tom.  The missing element in the book is grace and redemption.  Fitzgerald saw so much so accurately, but he didn’t know or desire grace.  The Christian can find it by it very absence in this book.

Apart from Christ, The Great Gatsby would be all the Gospel we could have.  The green light, blinking across the harbor, would be beckoning us to a false hope and certain destruction.

Ernest Hemingway changed American writing with his first novel, The Sun Also Rises.  The action is limited, the characters are twisted, and the plot is uneventful, but the style and the philosophy captured a generation, and then another, and then another.  Hemingway wrote prose that was crisp.  And it was clean.  And it was good.  Then he filled his cup with wine, and wrote another sparse sentence.  The next one was shorter. He then gulped the last of the wine in the cup.  He took the bottle and emptied it.  He swished the cup around.  The red wine buoyed up in a circle, and then it calmed again like the sea at midnight.  It was good.

You get the point, I hope.  That is good.

As easy as it is to parody Hemingway, and as safe as it is since he is dead, he was a powerful writer.  He took pains over his craft. Add to that, Hemingway lived out adventures, edged out to the extremes of life, took chances, and nearly got killed many times.   Hemingway personified everything identified with testosterone driven, gutsy, reckless, unflappable, unflinching, tough masculinity.  Almost any man would feel a bit inferior if compared to Hemingway.  He was in World War I and was wounded.  He was a reporter in the Spanish Civil War and World War II.  He killed at least one of about every animal that has existed, including lions and great antelopes.

Hemingway and his 3 sons with their catch after fishing.

He fished.  He could trout fish in the fast moving streams of the northern United States or deep sea fish off the coasts of Cuba.  He lived in Cuba and Paris and Key West Florida and Idaho.  He survived two plane crashes.  He boxed.  He enjoyed living wild.  He enjoyed women and married four of them.  He also liked cats and is still known for the six clawed cats that can found at his Key West home.

A Farewell to Arms is set in Italy during World War I.  It is a powerful war novel and anti-war novel.  Next to All Quiet on the Western Front, it is one of the best fiction works on World War I.  It is the story of a American who was an ambulance driver in the Italian army.  (Like Hemingway during the war.)  His name is Frederic Henry, and he is wounded.  (Like Hemingway.)  While recovering from his wounds, he meets a nurse named Catherine Barkley.  Many bandage changes and many more drinks later, Frederick and Catherine fall in love.  Love in the midst of war is a powerful theme, but you should know it is not going to go well or end with the lovers living happily ever after.

Besides, Hemingway rejected the idea of there being a happily ever after.  If there is any happiness, it has to be now, for the moment, with maybe just the two of “us,” and a bottle of vermouth.  (Make that 3 bottles, for this is Hemingway.)

The war goes badly for Italy.  On the historical side, one wonders why Italy got into World War I.  Basically, Italy lost the war, but was on the side that won.  World War I was brutal and ugly.  Most of what we know is tied to the Western Front between France and Germany, but that was only part of the conflict.  World War I was insane.  The origins are a study in political insanity.  (Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August is unsurpassed, although I really want the new book Catastrophe 1914 by Max Hastings.)  After the political insanity, the military insanity followed and continued for four years.

The world is crazy and chaotic and deadly.  The answer is to abandon the world, to escape from society and the war.  Frederic and Catherine leave the war zone and go to Switzerland.  For a time, the life there is of love and beauty.  The young amorous couple live a life of bed, bath, and beyond, with vermouth.  But romantic love and happiness can’t last and it doesn’t.

I will refrain from detailing the end of the story, but be warned.  Hemingway’s philosophy was centered on living in the face of meaningless, cruel death.  “They will kill you in the end.  We all die sooner or later,” Hemingway would have thought and often did say.  It has been called “grace under pressure.”

If there is no God, no Gospel, no saving work of Jesus Christ, then you better pick up your new Bible, the works of Ernest Hemingway, and start living and applying (and drinking).  But there is no hereafter, only death.  Until then, live.

Frederic Henry is Hemingway’s voice telling us what the alternative is to the Gospel.

As Joshua said long ago, “Choose this day whom you will serve.”

(If you have not read it, you might be interested in my essay comparing Fitzgerald and Hemingway to C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Click here.)

I hope to get this edition of A Farewell to Arms. It contains all the many alternate endings of the novel.

Mission Drift Versus Mission True

“Mission Drift” could very well be the title of a study of American history.  It is the apt description, and often the epitaph, of many Christian organizations.  It is hard to find a church, a Christian mission movement, or a Christian foundation that has both been around for a long time and that has not drifted away from its roots.

Mission drift can be a minor deviation, but going off the road even a little can be disastrous.  Sadly, many cases are not minor deviations from the original intent of organizations.  Instead, organizations often totally abandon the principles and goals of the founders.

We should never be surprised when weeds grow in a garden.  It takes no special act, no careful planning, no deliberate intervention for this to happen.  Years ago when we had a garden, we would take a vacation during the summer.  When we returned, the garden was often gone. The same happens in institutions.

Mission Drift:  The Unspoken Crises Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches by Peter Greer and Chris Horst is an outstanding study on the topic.  This book is published by Bethany House Publishers.  The authors give quite a few stories about organizations that got lured from their roots. Some drifters are prominent like Harvard College, which had as its mission statement for its students the following:  “To be plainly instructed and consider well that the main end of your life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ.”  Accurately, at the 350th anniversary of the founding of Harvard, one academic leader said, “The bad news is the university has become godless.”

Another case study was the Christian Children’s Fund.  Started as a Christian organization to help orphans, it continued to be focused on orphans, but totally abandoned its Christian roots.  At least this organization honestly faced the way their mission had changed.  In 2009, they changed their name to ChildFund International.

One of the overwhelming concerns about Christian organizations is money.  I know, because I am pastoring a church and serving as headmaster of a Christian school.  A million dollar donation (even a tenth of that) would be incredibly helpful to either organization.  There is more to life and organization than money, as we know, but one person aptly said, “Money isn’t everything, but it ranks right up there with air.”

The temptation for Christian organizations is to quietly ease Christian distinctives off the mission and methods.  In my school, for example, we could still teach great classics, logic, rhetoric, Latin, and other topics and tell them them well if we backed off our Christian foundations.  The temptation would be to accept the financial gifts while consoling ourselves in still being able to weave in a Christian word or two here or there.  The temptation to sideline the faith is not strong to me at the moment, but no one is sitting across the table writing out that check for one million dollars.

G. K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”  Often, however, it has been tried, found difficult, and finally toned and watered down.  The danger of muting the faith can be individual, for we might be a little more popular and a little more accepted if we just didn’t talk about Jesus.  The danger can be professional, for faith commitments can dead-end a job application. It can be political, and there have been those politicians who would say, “Personally I believe that abortion is wrong, but I can’t let my personal convictions interfere with policy.” (I don’t think too many still say they believe abortion is wrong.)  It can be organizational.  

This book warns repeatedly and anecdotally of the danger of mission drift.  It happens all too often.  No organzation is safe from the danger.  The Book of Revelation begins with warnings and exhortations being given to seven churches in Asia Minor.  Some of those churches were in bad shape.  Some were doing really well.  Most were a mix of good elements in their doctrines and practice with some leaven threatening the whole lump.  But none of those particular churches are still around.  The groups from the Reformation who penned great documents like the Westminster Standards or the Heidelberg Catechism drifted.  Harvard sold out to Unitarianism early on.  But Yale, which was started to offset Harvard’s drift, and Princeton both abandoned Biblical Christianity.

Mission Drift is a cultural commentary on the Book of Hebrews.  The warnings are frightening, but this is not a call to abandon hope.  It is a book about vigilance, about being forewarned and, therefore, forearmed.

I received this book as a review book.  Upon getting it, I was less than enthusiastic about reading it.  I opened it with a sense of obligation, but found the book incredibly interesting.  I found myself repenting, giving thanks, being concerned, and being reminded.

If you are on the board of or a part of any Christian organization, you need to read this book and heed its lessons.

2016 is Out for Hillary

I haven’t written a political article in a while.  There are several reasons for this.  First, I am currently in a political depression which I expect will last until the current administration is removed or defanged.  Second, my last political writing was a short book titled Massachusetts Political History: From Puritans to Presidents.  It was largely focused on why so many recent Presidential candidates heralded from Massachusetts.  It was written under the assumption that it would be published during the Presidency of Mitt Romney.  That short book, sad to say, was stillborn.

The Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises once said that he set out to be a reformer, but became a historian of the decline.  I feel the same about politics.  My main attention is given to ministry and teaching in a Christian school.  My interest in politics is more past minded than present oriented.

But I must speak about current, or rather, upcoming political events.  This message is particularly directed toward Hillary Clinton.  I am certain that she reads my blog and has followed my past political writings with great care.  The topic at hand is the speculation about, and near coronation of, Mrs. Clinton as the 2016 Democratic Presidential nominee.

First, praise.  I am not, never have been, and never will be a fan or supporter or even admirer of Hillary Clinton.  That being said, I recognize that if she had been nominated and elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, she would be doing a better job running the country than her primary opponent in 2008.  Also, she is obviously a person of extreme talents and drive.  She is one politically astute operator, and she obviously possesses great strength and determination in whatever task she undertakes.  I would hate to be in a confrontation with her.

All that being said, here is the message:  I am sorry, Hillary, but you are not going to be nominated for President in 2016.  I am not saying you could not win the general election or that you could not govern effectively.  I am not saying that your views, which almost totally contradict my own views, would not prevail among the majority of American voters.

What I am saying is that you will not be the Democratic candidate.

The reason:  It is obvious.  You are in the Democratic and not the Republican Party.  Republicans nominate older, aged, and “deserving” candidates.  Republicans favor a candidate who has run before, who almost got the nomination, who supported the winner, and paid his dues.  Republicans look past electability, past verbal and political missteps from the past, and past potential hurdles, and they grant the nomination as a reward for longevity.  Republicans rally around the establishment, stick with the tried and true, and honor the party war horses.

Democrats shoot their old war horses.  It is not meant to be mean, but quick.  Democrats nominate the fresh face, the new ideal, the wave of the future.  Democrats rally around the surging new comer.  Democrats want a fresh agenda, a new deal, and the cutting edge in political trends.

None of this is law.  None of it is absolute.  But let’s look at some history.  By the way, if you (Hillary) will recall what Dick Morris said that your husband said prior to his run against Bob Dole, you will see that the former President and I are on the same page.

The modern Democratic Party was defined by Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Then New York Governor Roosevelt won the Democratic nomination in 1932 over a host of more qualified, better experienced older party regulars.  Roosevelt was simply amazing as a politician.  We had a country paralyzed by the Great Depression.  Then we had a man who had overcome paralysis who personified hope and energy.  Roosevelt’s economic plans were lacking.  His understanding of economics was even more lacking.  But he was a new fresh face.  He captured and captivated the hopes of the common man (and he himself was far from common) through the radio.

The Roosevelt phenomena lasted for 5 elections.  FDR won four of them, then his successor, Harry Truman, surprisingly pulled out a fifth win.  Truman won because the Roosevelt Coalition of union workers, farmers, Southerners, and liberals held together.

Adlai Stevenson: Twice he opposed Eisenhower for the Presidency and twice he lost. He was so fond of books, quipped William F. Buckley, that he threatened to one day actually read one.

In 1952, the Democrats drafted Adlai Stevenson to run.  The older insider candidates offered little energy, so the fresh face from the Illinois statehouse was chosen.  !952 and 1956 were pretty much lost causes with war hero and five star general Dwight D. Eisenhower heading up the Republican ticket.

In 1960, the Democrats picked their fresh new candidate, John F. Kennedy.  Many Democrats thought that the more experienced Washington leader Lyndon Johnson would be the candidate.  Others wanted to give Stevenson a third chance.  A few opted for the liberal battler Hubert Humphrey.  Kennedy was a political lightweight with a thin record and lots of concealed baggage.  But he won the nomination and energized Democrats for over a generation.

The Kennedy Brothers: All new fresh faces in the Democratic Party.

The 1964 Democratic nomination was uncontested after Johnson inherited the Presidency from the slain Kennedy.  Johnson had feared President Kennedy’s brother Robert contesting the race however.  That fear materialized in 1968.  Johnson was in trouble politically.  Vietnam and civil unrest at home had destroyed Johnson’s political clout.  He wisely opted out of the race after a newcomer named Eugene McCarthy won 42 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire primary.  Robert Kennedy, now a Senator from New York, entered the race and would have been a major force at the convention in Chicago had he not been assassinated.

As 1972 approached, the Democrats had a frontrunner.  It was Maine Senator Edmund Muskie.  Muskie had been the Vice Presidential candidate in 1968.  He looked Presidential and carefully worked to maintain his front-runner status.  In other words, he was earning the nomination.  He was very quickly bested in the early primaries by the upstart candidate—Senator George McGovern of South Dakota.  The 1972 Democratic fight was a free-for-all, but McGovern, whose aides had worked to change the party rules for delegates, won the nomination.  The general election, however, was a devastating route for McGovern.

In 1976, the frontrunner was Senator Henry Jackson.  Jackson was a Cold Warrior and an advocate of a strong military.  He was also a battler for social issues and the New Deal.  He stood in the shoes of Truman and Kennedy and Johnson.  He lacked flash and charisma, but was strong on competence and credibility.  But an upstart beat him.  One term Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter smiled his way through the primaries and won the nomination and the Presidency.

1980 was in internal Democratic fight among Carter and the next Kennedy, Senator Edward Kennedy.  Senator Kennedy’s outsider status and Kennedy name almost netted him the nomination, but Carter’s incumbency saved him.  Carter lost the Presidency to Ronald Reagan in the fall.

The Democratic battle for the nomination in 1984 should give Mrs. Clinton a glimmer of hope.  The Democrats did nominate as standard bearer the man who had been on the ticket during the previous two elections—former Vice President Walter Mondale.  The newcomer, Senator Gary Hart, made a valiant try for the nomination, but Mondale won.

In 1988, the Democrats nominated a new face.  It was Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.  For a time during that election cycle, he had a really good chance of winning the election.

Many Democrats held back from running for the Presidency in 1992.  President George H. W. Bush looked unbeatable.  He was defeated in the general election by a newcomer named Clinton from Arkansas.  Clinton ran as a new kind of Democrat, and it worked.

 

The year 2004 was a year for outsiders and new faces in the Democrat Party.  The deeply intellectual political philosopher John Edwards…oops, I confused him with that other Edwards…Jonathan.  I will start again:  Pretty Boy and philanderer, shyster lawyer and pseudo-man-of-the-people John Edwards was a new face.  John F. Kerry was a new face (although it was pasted onto an old face).  General Wesley Clark was a new face.  Topping them all was Howard “Yaaaahhhh” Dean of Vermont.  Dean burst onto the scene and became a media wonder and front runner.  That was before the scream, and the scream was before his campaign melted down.   JFK, Kerry in this case, was the new face nominee.

The glass ceiling was broken, we were told in 2008.  Hillary Clinton became the heir apparent to the Democratic nomination.  She had, after all, earned it.  She not only served as First Lady for eight years:  She fended off attacks on her character.  She dodged scandals.  She remembered dodging bullets on a trip to Europe.  She exposed the vast rightwing conspiracy that stalked the Clintons. And she stood by her man, Bill.  She had no idea that he had cheated on her.  On learning of his infidelity, she stood by him and became a martyr for truth, justice, fidelity, goodness, strength, motherhood, forgiveness, and stoicism.  She should have received a Nobel Prize.

Instead, she carpetbagged a Senate seat in New York

The Democratic nomination in 2008 was hers for the asking.  A few token non-descripts, old political hacks, and windbags entered the primaries to open the doors to Hillary on her way to victory.  But then the vastly experienced community service organizer, legal professor, and father-seeking Senator Barak Obama entered the race.  That was a nice gesture on Sen. Obama’s part.  In the future, the Clintonites reasoned, he might be a Presidential hopeful.  But for now, she would graciously defeat the Illinois Senator and others on her road to the White House where she would answer 3 a.m. phone calls.

But Democrats like new faces.  There was nothing newer or imaginably newer in 2008 than the articulate African-American Senator from Illinois.  In short, Hillary lost.  Crying didn’t help…much.  Fits didn’t help…much.  The former President’s campaigning assists didn’t help…any.  Hillary lost.

With 2016 approaching, add eight years to Hillary’s age.  She will be in her late 60s.  Like former Republican candidate John McCain, she holds her age well.  McCain was 72 when he ran and he didn’t look a day over 80.  Add the many miles Ms. Clinton trekked over the world bringing peace and resolution to world conflicts.  Add the looming guilt over Benghazi.  Add health problems for herself and the former President.  Add the abiding, though slightly faded presence, of the years of Clinton scandals and sleaze.  Add the grueling nature of a Presidential run.  Add the fact that Democrats aren’t nice.  Other Dems want the nomination.

But above all, note this:  Democrats don’t recycle.  They will, though sometimes reluctantly, grant the nomination to a Vice President.  Humphrey, Mondale, and Gore all got nominated that way.  (Don’t get your hopes up, Joe Biden.  The Veeps all lost, and the Vice President will be even older than Ms. Clinton, and he also is a retread from past Presidential runs.  And he loses debates.)

Here are the years in recent history where the Republicans picked a candidate who had been a Presidential contender or Vice Presidential candidate in previous years:  1960, 1968, 1980, 1992, 1996, 2008, and 2012  (seven races).  In 1972, 1976, 1984, 1988, and 2004, they were running incumbent Presidents (four races).  Only in 1964 and 2000, did they run a new face.  (You can argue that George W. Bush was not a new face in 2000 but a continuation of his father’s political legacy.  If he had been named George W. Smith, his road to the White House would have been much harder.)

Democrats ran a new face in 1960, 1972, 1976, 1988, 1992, 2004, and 2008 (seven races).  In 1964, 1980, 1996, and 2012, they were running incumbents four races).  In the other 3 elections (1968, 1984, and 2000), they were running men who had served as Vice Presidents.  They have not granted a former Presidential candidate the nomination since 1956.

It is simple:  Democrats don’t recycle.  They go for new.  Ms. Clinton will not break that glass ceiling.  Hillary, enjoy your grandchild and retirement.

Those were the days, my friend….

 

“Hie to the Hunters Day” at Veritas Academy

“Hie to the Hunters Day” at Veritas Academy

“It turned my life around.”  That idea is so prevalent in our life experiences.  It is a religious theme; it is a practical everyday experience.  Sometimes it refers to things that happen once, while at other times, it refers to processes or series of events.  In the Christian community, we speak of someone being saved, of someone getting religion, of someone finding God.  There are also those experiences that open up worlds to us that we did not know existed.  Maybe it was the discovery of a talent we did not realize we have.  Maybe it was a career choice, a marriage partner, or a friendship.

Quite often it is a book.

We go through life thinking a particular way, and then we read a book that (usually unexpectedly) changes our whole way of seeing and living life. There are many stories of someone’s life being turn around.  In many of those stories, it is another person who changes the character’s life.  It is the experiences of the story, no doubt, but there almost has to be a mentor, a guide, and an interpreter.  For Dante the character in Dante the poet’s Divine Comedy, it was Virgil the ancient Roman who first guided the wayward pilgrim through the underworld and then up the slopes of Purgatory.  At a later point, it is Beatrice who guides Dante.  Huck Finn was a troubled young man with a bad father, with oppressive female guardians, and with a buddy named Tom Sawyer who had no understanding of reality.  It was the slave  Jim who shows Huck what love and friendship are.

A less known literary character is Didway Hargis of Greenup, Kentucky.  Didway, when we first meet him, was being beat up by some town bullies.  Basically, Didway is being beat up by life.  He is fourteen and born to relative wealth and privilege.  He is a good student who learns nothing.  He is taught everything pertinent to having an irrelevant life.  He is weak, spineless, and ignorant of God’s world and manliness.  In spiritual terms, he needs a savior and a conversion. Saviors in literature are unexpectedly different, just as the Savior in the Bible was unexpectedly different.  Didway’s salvation comes when a hill-billy older kid rescues him from bullies.  The older kid, named Jud Sparks, goes by the name “Sparkie.”  He offers Did a whole new way of life.  He offers to take him to a world that is beyond his imagination and beyond his experiences.  Actually, that world is only ten miles away, but it is up in the hills and far off from town.

This is the story of the amazing transformation of Didway Hargis as found in Jesse Stuart’s novel Hie to the Hunters.  It is the story of a boy going down the road to manhood.  But he had to have a mentor, and that was Sparkie.  And he had to have a quest, and that was life with the Sparks in Plum Grove Hills.  Did was spoiled, effeminate, pampered, weak, and pasty white.  He was not even aware of the world of God’s creation around him.  Leaving the town and living with Sparkie and his family unfolded a whole universe of power, beauty, and meaning in Did. Living with the Sparks family meant sleeping in the hay in the barn loft.  If the weather was cold, it meant taking a hound dog up to the loft for warmth.  It meant using an axe and a crosscut saw cutting up trees into firewood.  It meant plowing in the fields all day, and maybe hunting all night.  It was a world of the music of fox hounds, of the scenery of God’s changing seasons, of the smells of the earth, of firewood, and good food.  There were corn shuckings and barn dances.  There was hard physical work and great delight in music and love.  There was danger and community. Jesse Stuart wrote a kid’s story in Hie to the Hunters.  But it is the kind of story that we don’t outgrow.

I first read this book back around 1971.  I was in ninth grade.  I envied Did for getting to enter into the world of the Sparks family.  When I recently reread the book for about the fifth time, I envied Did again.  Part of what is so amazing about this adventure story is the extent to which Did simply starts seeing.  He was so limited and confined in his world that he could not see, touch, or enjoy the world around him.  He could not grow and develop.  He was a loser who was being undone by life. By the end of this story, Did can hunt, plow, dance, fire guns, and even help apprehend a local arsonist.  Seeing the world of the Sparks family and the intense love they have, Did is even able to better appreciate his own world. I have recently enjoyed guiding another group of junior high students beyond the town and the highway to the trail that leads to the world of Hie to the Hunter.  The book is a favorite of my students.

In order to enjoy it even more, we had “Hie to the Hunters Day” on April 29 at Veritas Academy.  My students dressed like the people in the story.  Even better, we brought food and ate like the people in the story.  I remember that from my first reading, Jesse Stuart gave me an appetite for good country cooking.

Soup beans, ham, collard greens, biscuits and sausage gravy, and cornbread gave us all big Southern appetites. It was almost like eating with the Sparks family.

 

When Didway Hargis eats his first meal at the Sparks, here is what they had: “There was a dish of steaming hot soup beans, a dish of fried potatoes, pork ribs, kraut, pumpkin, a dish of apples, two small dishes of jelly, and coffee and milk. There was a flat plate of brown cornpone with steam oozing from the places where the brown crust was broken. “ We had a similar big meal today.  There were lots of beans, rice, and cornbread.  We also had sausage gravy and biscuits, and one of my wife’s specialties, Hoppin’ John, a soup made up of ham and chicken with blackeyed peas, carrots, and collard greens.  We had side dishes of potatoes and greens, along with ham steaks.  Dessert was a table full of pies:  apple, blackberry, peach, and cheery.  Needless to say, all afternoon I have felt stuffed.  A feller really needs to be out physically working after a big meal of this sort.

Hie Hunters Day 1

Using a crosscut saw, just like Sparkie and Did.

I read a lot of Jesse Stuart in high school, but somewhere along the way, I took about a 25 year break from reading his books.  The good part is that there are still books I have yet to read.  In the last year or so, I have read two previously unread ones.  They were his early poems in Man With a Bull Tongue Plow and his autobiographical To Teach, To Love.  I cannot imagine, however, any Stuart book that can surpass the life-changing and fun adventures found in Hie to the Hunters.

Book Reviewing Blitz: Good Mr. Baxter

Confession:  I am hopelessly behind on reading assignments and book reports.  The stack of new books to be read, reviewed, surveyed, and digested continues to grow.  Yet, there are only so many hours of the day and only so much caffeine in the coffee.  There are books to read for Humanities, including 3 more in the month of May.  There are readings in my other classes.  There is American history in the 20th Century.  There are studies in Matthew for Sunday sermons.  So, in an act of desparation, I am blitzing some book reviews.  I have read the books, or am reading them.  You need them or I wouldn’t be promoting them.

The book is Good Mr. Baxter: Sketches of Effective, Caring Leadership for the Church from the Life of Richard Baxter by Vance Salisbury.  This book is published by Piety Hill Press and is distributed by Lewis and Roth.   Anyone interested in getting a easily readible exerpt from Good Mr. Baxter can read it here.

Some people are fascinated by the mythical Lost World of Atlantis.  The whole idea of a lost world or civilization makes for great adventure stories.  But in history, there are lost worlds.  The rediscovery of such worlds is adventurous.  Those who enter such worlds come back to this world with tales of delight.

There really are lost worlds.  One such lost world was the World of Puritanism.  We knew it existed.  We were told that they wore funny hats, burned witches, oppressed free thought, and threw everything off in England and America for a season.  That whole sentence represents a myth.

The rediscovery of the Puritans in the middle to late 20th centuries is a fascinating story.  I am sure it is more complicated than this, but I usually associate with 2 men, neither of whom had much in common.  One was the American historian Perry Miller of Harvard College.  He began his quest of studying the American Puritans and encouraging his graduate students to do so also.  Other historians thought Miller was trekking off on an empty quest.  Miller wrote a whole series of scholarly works on the Puritans.  Miller was not a Christian and had no spiritual motivation for studying Puritanism.  He was a historian studying ideas.  But his labors spurred others, both believers and secular historians, to continue Puritan studies.

The other person was the British preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  Along with such men as Iain Murray, J. I. Packer, and S M. Houghton, Lloyd-Jones envisioned revival in Britain and the English speaking world as a real need.  Basic to the vision was an emphasis on preaching the Bible in an expository manner and proclaiming sound doctrine.  Alongside those components, they all longed to see good solid books in the hands of pastors and Christian laymen.  They longed to see old Christian classics reprinted.  Such a quest led them quickly to the reprinting of great Puritan works.

Puritan tomes and scholarly works on Puritans began being republished or printed.  Very quickly, the impulse from the Christian community exceeded that of the university scholars.  There was some, by the way, who wore both hats.  By the 1970s, the Puritan book revival was becoming a flood.  Many of the Puritan books were not being retyped and reset, but were being photocopied and published in fonts and sizes as were the originals.  Banner of Truth in Edinburgh, Scotland was the flagship for Puritan studies.  But there were and are plenty of other publishers who were finding and printing the same kinds of books.

The Puritan Revival was a corollary to the broader revival of Reformed theology.  For English speaking and reading audiences, many of the best exemplars of Reformed theology were the Puritans and their direct heirs.

The Puritan Revival continues.  A whole lost world has been rediscovered.  But, as many of you know, it is a vast, as well as rich world.  The Puritans were extensive in their publishing and exhaustive in their treatment of Scripture and doctrine.  Their books were not trimmed and edited with the goal of making them light and breezy.  They mined the Word of God.  By that, I mean that they dug deep into the doctrine and text.  And they applied the doctrines in myriad details.  Grace was a great gift.  Understanding God’s grace was a life-long quest.  There were no cute slogans or snappy choruses; rather, there was theological meat.

The bulky size of many Puritans reprints, the theological assumptions of the authors, and the small print of the reprints all contributed to making new and beautiful reprinted volumes somewhat less useful and very daunting to many readers.  Add to those problems, there were lots of Puritan writers (most of whom were pastors) and lots of Puritans books.

What Puritans should I read?  And, which of the Puritan books are most important?  And where do I start?

I will answer the last question posed above.  Good Mr. Baxter is a great place to start on Puritan studies.  Even if you have been reading the Puritans for a time, this short book is a great review or overview of one of the prime preachers and writers of the Puritan world.

Baxter’s best know book is titled The Reformed Pastor.    Baxter was not writing theory, but explaining his practices.  He was the epitome of the good village parson who visited and watched over his flock.  His other best known works were The Christian Directory, a nearly 1000 page compendium of Christian living, and The Saints Everlasting Rest.  

The advantage of Good Mr. Baxter is its brevity.  The book consists of 13 chapters replete with quotes from Baxter.  The book could be read through rather quickly; however, I think it is better suited for a daily devotional study.  The book is especially useful for prompting pastors to read Baxter’s classic Reformed Pastor, but any Christian could benefit from reading the book.

After reading this book, many will be motivated to read more from Baxter.  I read portions of Reformed Pastor years ago and really would benefit from a careful reading and hopeful implementation of the book.

Anyone seriously ready to do readings from the Puritans might consider A Puritan Theology:  Doctrine for Life.  This book, edited by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, consists of essays about different theological topics with lengthy extracts from the Puritans.