The Ordeal and Triumph of 2021

See the source image

Winston Churchill once said, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

And President John F. Kennedy once said, “We do these things, not because they’re easy, but because they’re hard.”

I have often quoted such sayings, seeking to inspire others, but have all too rarely imbibed and lived them myself. The year 2021 was my year, however, when, by the grace of God, I did not give in and when I did some things that are really hard.

Back story: In the fall of 2020, my school, Veritas Academy, had closed and my teaching career ended. Inspired by some military veterans who were seeking to call attention to the problems vets face, I began exercising with a few weights my son Nate left. Starting an exercise program is easy, but it is maintaining the discipline that is hard. So, I drafted the two young men who had originally inspired me. Father Steve Abbott, who is serving in Texas now, and Chaplain Zachary Jones, who was serving in Korea this past year, became my “Accountability Anglicans.”

Being conditioned to obey orders from the military and being graced to serve fellow Christians, both men willingly offered advice and lots of encouragement. What they didn’t know was that they were silently there every time I exercised and were silently rebuking me if I skipped out.

My first feat was in reaching 2 months of working out. I don’t think even my family knew yet that I was exercising. They were shocked and surprised. Then one day, I noticed a slightly defined bicep muscle in my arm as I was brushing my teeth. And I was surprised.

As the months continued, so did I. In late February, I decided that I would focus on March’s goal being “30 for 30,” meaning 30 pushups a day for 30 days. In April, it became “40 for 40,” which took me into mid-May. I was planning on increasing the number of pushups and trying to attain correct form by mid-summer.

Disclaimer: I was doing a variety of exercises, including using dumbells, an ab wheel, and a exercise band (a gift from my daughter TaraJane), but my pushups were from my knees. I simply lacked the upper body strength to do a real manly pushup. But my hope was always for seeing improvements.

THE OVERALL GOAL WAS 66 PUSHUPS ON MY DECEMBER 28, 2021 BIRTHDAY WHEN I WOULD BE 66 YEARS OLD.

May be an image of one or more people and text that says 'Could be worse!'

Then the unexpected happened. A benign polyp in my colon had to be removed. This was then calculated in as a minor setback. I would go in for surgery one day and back home a few days later. Except, complications arrived in battalions. A second surgery was needed to correct the first one. All manner of tubes, antibiotics, and treatments were applied. For a time I was on a ventilator, but I have no memory of it. For 23 days, I was in the hospital, mainly ICU. Far from exercising, I was not even able to walk or take care of myself.

Two wonderful physical therapists began helping me. One of them, a body builder named Jim Spain, would ask, “Can you stand up at the sink and brush your teeth?” Halfway through the brushing of my teeth, I usually felt exhausted.

May be an image of one or more people and hospital

After that they would help me, with a walker and an oxygen tank. The first day, it was a slow walk down the hall and back. Day after day, we three were able to get a little further along in the process. Finally, I got to come back home to my family, my dog, my chair, my books, and I cried–a lot.

My summer was spent slowly recovering, continually going to doctors, and avoiding foods with salt/sodium. After a few heart tests, due to my having been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, I went to cardio rehab for a few days a week for a couple of months. As my stomach healed and I regained strength, I resumed my exercises, although doing less.

No description available.

My battered up, underweight, and aged body didn’t inspire me to exercise. Still, I have continued. Inconsistent at times, discouraged constantly, and not sure if it was worth the effort, I pressed on.

No description available.

And with my son Nick present and recording the event, on December 28, my 66th birthday, I did 66 pushups. I had to take a couple of breaks. My form was poor. I was still doing pushups from my knees. But the mission was accomplished.

No description available.

Lessons:

1. The spiritual story is more important than the physical, even though I am telling that story here. One should not make too large a divide between the physical and spiritual aspects of life. My soul recovered alongside my body. My illness revealed many spiritual problems. My faith was weak, too weak to save me, but my salvation has always depended on Christ’s accomplished work, and not anything I contribute to it.

2. It is never too late to start a good habit or practice. I had long accepted being weak, out of shape, and satisfied with bad eating and exercise habits. Maybe I had already starting thinking it was too late back when I was in my 40s. Change as we grow older is much slower and much less impressive. My friends and son, Nate, who are gym and workout enthusiasts shame me with the mass and muscle they have. I won’t get there.

But accepting where I am, I can get to a better stage.

3. My exercises prior to surgery may very well have saved my life and hastened my recovery. Many thanks again to Steve Abbott, Zachary Jones, Tyler Gilliam, my family and others who encouraged me. My exercises had resulted in the loss of some 10 pounds or so that was excess weight. (I am blessed by being conditionally slim, but I was carrying a few extra pounds.) The cardiac benefits were helpful.

4. I am inspired by men whose physical fitness attainments are way beyond mine. I have to accept that I can never be like them, but I can be better than I am.

These guys are my heroes. The amazing thing about these men, and this group includes Dylan Ward, Michael Ulmer, Lex Hawthorne, Timothy Hawthorne, Paul Nix, Jim Spain, Nate House, and the funny and talented Andrew Smith, is that they are no condescending, muscular jerks. They write and speak to me like I really do matter, like my meager gains are real, and like strong Christian teachers to a weaker brother.

May be an image of 1 person, fire and text
Andrew Smith did 1000 pushups over the course of a few hours while being in quarantine. Andrew is a great guy, a top-notch swimmer, and a friend who will make you laugh.

5. Apart from being right with God, it would all be meaningless. After all, even the strong, fit young bucks I know and follow are someday going to be old, weak men. And we are all awaiting death. A life of good exercise is a way to supplement God’s grace, but it is not itself grace.

See the source image

My goals for 2022:

  1. Eat better. This is a hard one for me. I basically cut out soft drinks last year, but I will have to work to reduce both sodium and sugar.
  2. Learn to swim. I refer to Andrew Smith, shown above, as my swim coach. But he is far away. I can dog paddle, but I would really like to actually swim.
  3. Keep exercising with monthly goals.
  4. Do 1000 pushups in December of this year. I will do them over a period of 10 days. Like Andrew, I will do them in 10s, but at a rate of 100 per day. And I want them to be real pushups.
  5. Not neglect the things that matter even more, meaning faith and family.
No description available.

Operation Pedestal by Max Hastings

Operation Pedestal: The Fleet That Battled to Malta, 1942 by Max Hastings is published by Harper Collins Publishers. (https://www.harpercollins.com/products/operation-pedestal-max-hastings?variant=32306180489250)

A few years ago, I read two books by Max Hastings. The books were Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War, 1914 and Finest Years: Churchill as Warlord, 1940-1945. I loved both books so much that I became an unrestrained buyer of any history Hastings has written.

This past summer, I received and read Operation Pedestal. I was not disappointed.

This book covers a “small battle” over a less known place (the Mediterranean islands known as Malta) during World War II. In some ways, one might question whether the battle itself or the defense of Malta was crucial either to the ultimate Allied victory or the Axis defeat. (I always wonder the same thing about the operations that led to the United States recapturing the Aleutian Islands from the Japanese.)

The central point of understanding this episode is to look at the geography.

See the source image

To the north of Malta was Italy, which was allied to Germany. To the south was North Africa. Libya was an Italian colony, while Egypt was under a protectorate of the British. Tunisia, Algeria, and other parts of North Africa were part of Vichy France. To the far west of Malta was Gibraltar, which guarded the opening of the Mediterranean and was British. And Gibraltar was in proximity to Spain, a neutral “ally” to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

Malta was right in the middle of this global war. And Malta was a British possession.

The failure of Germany and Italy to plan for and capture Malta ranks among the greatest mistakes of the European Axis powers. (Thanks be to God!) For several years, the primary battleground between British and Commonwealth troops and the Axis powers was in North Africa. It would be in North Africa that the British won several major victories, including the tromping of the Italian army in 1940, the recapture of Ethiopia and other regions from the Italians, and ultimately, the defeat of the Africa Korps at El Alamein.

But those triumphs were separated by a back and forth, touch and go, series of desert skirmishes and battles between a series of British generals and the renowned German Desert Fox, Erwin Rommel. Supplying the British, German, and Italian forces in North Africa was a challenge. The British also had recourse to the long trip around the tip of Africa and up through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. Shortcutting the trip by going through the Mediterranean was fraught with risks.

The German and Italian supply route was shorter. All they had to do was hop off of the heel or toe of Italy and beeline for Libya. Except, there was Malta. Ships and planes from there could harry or sink the Axis supply sources. Hence, Malta was under heavy attack.

The Maltese people, along with the British forces there, paid a huge price in suffering through the years. There were limits and shortages of almost everything people needed. Fuel, food, medical supplies, weapons, and everyday essentials were increasingly in short supply. Bombings were frequent, while supply chains were nonexistent.

Operation Pedestal was a plan that would involve a large number of British naval vessels that would guard a large number of supply ships and would provide relief to the islands. In some senses, the relief effort would be for the psychological encouragement of the besieged islanders, but beyond the bounce it would give to morale, food is food. The people there were in hard straits.

Step by step, mile by mile, the British relief fleet was under attack and danger from the moment it assembled, but particularly after it passed through Gibraltar.

After years of reading accounts of World War II, I find myself more and more not able to believe what I read. I don’t doubt that the descriptions are things that actually happened. But I am astounded that people endured such things.

This book is, if one likes to think of it this way, one adventure after another. Or one terror after another. There were heroes and there were men who panicked, and some did both. There were leaders who didn’t flinch and those who failed under pressure.

One thing that corrected my limited knowledge was the discussion of the Italian navy and air force. Quite often, my readings have led me to think of the Italian armed forces as being a joke. No doubt, they had plenty of pitiful performances in the war. No doubt, Mussolini’s decision to ally with Hitler and to enter into the fray was profoundly stupid. No doubt, Italian weaponry proved inferior to that of the other belligerents. But both Italian submarines and airplanes proved themselves in these skirmishes.

Not knowing the specifics of Operation Pedestal before reading this book and without turning to the last pages to find out the ending, I thought on several occasions that this whole operation was turning into an unmitigated disaster for the British. Ships were sunk, supplies went to the bottom of the Mediterranean, and the attacks were unrelenting. Keep in mind, the British were giving it a hearty go. The pluck, bravery, and resilience of the Brits on the sea, in the sea (often covered with oil), and in the air was heroic.

Those who love reading about World War II will certainly love this book. Beware: It will turn you into a Max Hastings fan and you will have to pick up quite a few more books. I hope that happens.

See the source image

December’s Reading Marathon

No description available.

2021 was one of the most difficult years of my life. I will not rehash my near death experiences in the hospital, nor the other myriad of setbacks and troubles. But God blessed me in many ways, one of which was being able to read lots of books. 101 in their entirety, and being able to get a few book reviews completed.

This is a brief summary of the books finished in December of this year. I finished more books in December than in any of the other 12 months, plus the readings were, in many cases, quite substantial. Part of this was because several of the books had been started in prior months.

Reformed Systematic Theology, Volume 1, by Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley. This was the longest book I read in 2022, topping out at over 1100 pages. I already have volume 2 and hope to acquire volume 3 in the future.

This is a very basic, obviously detailed, Scriptural, Reformed, and readable theological tome. The authors have laden the book with an abundance of fine quote and references to the key theological thinkers of all ages. Read it, use it, teach it. And weight lift with it.

See the source image

Cross of Snow: A Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow by Nicholas A. Basbanes was one of the most satisfying books I read this past year. Longfellow has been way too often disregarded and dismissed as a poet and literary figure. His demise in stature says more about and against the modern age and tastes than it does about his considerable talents.

And he was a genuinely good, decent, and honorable man. His life suffered several terrible tragedies, yet he never turned to despair or cynicism.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781101946213_p0_v3_s1200x630.jpg

Robert E. Lee: A Life by Allen Guelzo is published by Knopf.

Guelzo, one of America’s leading historians, has written a book on a profound, sometime puzzling, but great man. The story of Lee’s life and travails is always inspiring. There is much, as in MUCH, that I disagree with Guelzo in regard to his attempts to understand the man and the cause. But the writing style and the subject’s story are well worth reading about.

I am reckoning that I have read at least a half dozen biographies of General Lee prior to this one.

Progressivism

Progressivism: The Strange History of a Radical Idea by Bradley C. S. Watson is published by Notre Dame University Press.

This book will not have a wide popular appeal. But for students of American history and political thought, this is a very important study. It deals with history and how history has been taught and interpreted. If you grew up anywhere close to the time I did (born in the mid-1950s), your exposure to American history was generally through the lenses of the Progressives.

Don’t step into a classroom to teach American history without a serious reading of this book.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9780802878052.jpg

Discovering Isaiah: Content, Interpretation, Reception by Andrew T. Abernethy is published by Eerdmans.

The book of Isaiah is full of rich and often quoted passages. As the Advent and Christmas seasons have ended, we have all heard some of them quoted, and during the Easter season, we will hear more of them. But the book, due to its length and some of the complexities, is often not read enough.

This is not a commentary or a guide to help your devotional reading of Isaiah, but a big picture of some of the themes and issues in the book. After reading this one, I began another of Abernethy’s studies on Isaiah, titled The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom, which is published by Inter Varsity Press.

Dr. Abernethy is currently teaching Isaiah to a blessed group at Wheaton College. I am longing for the day when he publishes a commentary on this great prophet.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 81RQjVPPJxL.jpg

Liberated: A Novel of Germany, 1945 by Steve Anderson is, I think, the first of several novels the author wrote about the Kaspar Brothers.

The novel deals with graft and crime that was being perpetrated by the occupying American army after Germany was defeated. While I was not overly attracted to the novel per se, I was made aware of a problem that really existed after the war. One would wish that Americans were always virtuous, and one is thankful that America defeated the Nazis, but the evil in the heart takes many forms.

See the source image

I fear I probably tire some people out with my almost yearly praises and comments about The Good Shepherd by Gunnar Gunnarson. Reading yet again this year, I was once again deeply moved by the sheer beauty of the story. I wish I could get this book reprinted and write an introduction to it.

See the source image

Politics of Guilt and Pity by R, J. Rushdoony covers a wide range of topics with a political and theological blend,. Published in 1970, much of Rushdoony’s research and concerns date back to the late 1950s and early 1960s. So parts of this book and some of the issues it covers are dated.

And yet, this book contains some of the best political thought I have ever read. This may have been the last major Rushdoony book that was published before his monumental Institutes of Biblical Law. But somewhere in the 1970s, Rushdoony’s ideas were swept away under a barrage of attacks against theonomy and Christian Reconstruction. The labeling, sequestering, and isolating of Rushdoony’s thought became the practice in all too many Reformed circles.

This book still speaks to our times. Read Rushdoony.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 91w6+4027cL.jpg

My efforts to teach Augustine’s Confessions failed. My group was too young in some cases to understand the book. And the students had at least 4 or 5 different versions and translations of the book. Augustine’s quest for God, his conversion, doesn’t translate well into the modern evangelical experience. I really think the book should not read by junior high students. Or maybe I just need another run at it.

When you teach a classic and it flops, blame yourself. I do.

cover image of Grace and Glory by Geerhardus Vos

Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached at Princeton Seminary by Geerhardus Vos is published by Banner of Truth.

This is an incredibly rich collection of sermons. I wonder how anyone could have listened to just one of these messages and absorbed even a tenth of what Vos had to say.

Vos is highly ranked among theologians and often acclaimed as the Father of Biblical Theology. Being Dutch, he was able to write in English, but he was not always an easy read. Occasionally, he has a sentence in one of these sermons that is a bit awkward. But these are not snappy little devotional reads. This is theology in all its beauty and a vision of God in all of the grandeur man is capable of packing into a message.

Well, worth reading. Well worth reading several times.

No description available.

December’s Yuge Race to the Finish Line

No description available.

2022 was one of the most difficult years of my life. I will not rehash my near death experiences in the hospital, nor the other myriad of setbacks and troubles. But God blessed me in many ways, one of which was being able to read lots of books. 101 in their entirety, and being able to get a few book reviews completed.

This is a brief summary of the books finished in December of this year. I finished more books in December than in any of the other 12 months, plus the readings were, in many cases, quite substantial. Part of this was because several of the books had been started in prior months.

Reformed Systematic Theology, Volume 1, by Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley. This was the longest book I read in 2022, topping out at over 1100 pages. I already have volume 2 and hope to acquire volume 3 in the future.

This is a very basic, obviously detailed, Scriptural, Reformed, and readable theological tome. The authors have laden the book with an abundance of fine quote and references to the key theological thinkers of all ages. Read it, use it, teach it. And weight lift with it.

See the source image

Cross of Snow: A Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow by Nicholas A. Basbanes was one of the most satisfying books I read this past year. Longfellow has been way too often disregarded and dismissed as a poet and literary figure. His demise in stature says more about and against the modern age and tastes than it does about his considerable talents.

And he was a genuinely good, decent, and honorable man. His life suffered several terrible tragedies, yet he never turned to despair or cynicism.

Robert E. Lee: A Life by Allen Guelzo is published by Knopf.

Guelzo, one of America’s leading historians, has written a book on a profound, sometime puzzling, but great man. The story of Lee’s life and travails is always inspiring. There is much, as in MUCH, that I disagree with Guelzo in regard to his attempts to understand the man and the cause. But the writing style and the subject’s story are well worth reading about.

I am reckoning that I have read at least a half dozen biographies of General Lee prior to this one.

Progressivism

Progressivism: The Strange History of a Radical Idea by Bradley C. S. Watson is published by Notre Dame University Press.

This book will not have a wide popular appeal. But for students of American history and political thought, this is a very important study. It deals with history and how history has been taught and interpreted. If you grew up anywhere close to the time I did (born in the mid-1950s), your exposure to American history was generally through the lenses of the Progressives.

Don’t step into a classroom to teach American history without a serious reading of this book.

Discovering Isaiah: Content, Interpretation, Reception by Andrew T. Abernethy is published by Eerdmans.

The book of Isaiah is full of rich and often quoted passages. As the Advent and Christmas seasons have ended, we have all heard some of them quoted, and during the Easter season, we will hear more of them. But the book, due to its length and some of the complexities, is often not read enough.

This is not a commentary or a guide to help your devotional reading of Isaiah, but a big picture of some of the themes and issues in the book. After reading this one, I began another of Abernethy’s studies on Isaiah, titled The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom, which is published by Inter Varsity Press.

Dr. Abernethy is currently teaching Isaiah to a blessed group at Wheaton College. I am longing for the day when he publishes a commentary on this great prophet.

Liberated: A Novel of Germany, 1945 by Steve Anderson is, I think, the first of several novels the author wrote about the Kaspar Brothers.

The novel deals with graft and crime that was being perpetrated by the occupying American army after Germany was defeated. While I was not overly attracted to the novel per se, I was made aware of a problem that really existed after the war. One would wish that Americans were always virtuous, and one is thankful that America defeated the Nazis, but the evil in the heart takes many forms.

See the source image

I fear I probably tire some people out with my almost yearly praises and comments about The Good Shepherd by Gunnar Gunnarson. Reading yet again this year, I was once again deeply moved by the sheer beauty of the story. I wish I could get this book reprinted and write an introduction to it.

See the source image

Politics of Guilt and Pity by R, J. Rushdoony covers a wide range of topics with a political and theological blend,. Published in 1970, much of Rushdoony’s research and concerns date back to the late 1950s and early 1960s. So parts of this book and some of the issues it covers are dated.

And yet, this book contains some of the best political thought I have ever read. This may have been the last major Rushdoony book that was published before his monumental Institutes of Biblical Law. But somewhere in the 1970s, Rushdoony’s ideas were swept away under a barrage of attacks against theonomy and Christian Reconstruction. The labeling, sequestering, and isolating of Rushdoony’s thought became the practice in all too many Reformed circles.

This book still speaks to our times. Read Rushdoony.

My efforts to teach Augustine’s Confessions failed. My group was too young in some cases to understand the book. And the students had at least 4 or 5 different versions and translations of the book. Augustine’s quest for God, his conversion, doesn’t translate well into the modern evangelical experience. I really think the book should not read by junior high students. Or maybe I just need another run at it.

When you teach a classic and it flops, blame yourself. I do.

cover image of Grace and Glory by Geerhardus Vos

Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached at Princeton Seminary by Geerhardus Vos is published by Banner of Truth.

This is an incredibly rich collection of sermons. I wonder how anyone could have listened to just one of these messages and absorbed even a tenth of what Vos had to say.

Vos is highly ranked among theologians and often acclaimed as the Father of Biblical Theology. Being Dutch, he was able to write in English, but he was not always an easy read. Occasionally, he has a sentence in one of these sermons that is a bit awkward. But these are not snappy little devotional reads. This is theology in all its beauty and a vision of God in all of the grandeur man is capable of packing into a message.

Well, worth reading. Well worth reading several times.