Tulsi Who?

Tulsi_Gabbard_(48563636361)Super Tuesday did not go so well for Michael Bloomberg and today he, too, dropped out. The DNC plan to have Joe Biden win the nomination went quite well yesterday and though Bernie Sanders still won several states and is, for all intents and purposes, tied with Joe Biden in the delegate count right now, the race is not over. There are four candidates remaining, though you would be hard pressed to know that from the limitations one of them is facing. Tulsi Gabbard, congresswoman from Hawaii, has not given up her quest for the Democratic nomination—and frankly, I doubt she will anytime soon.

If you are thinking, “Who is Tulsi Gabbard?” you are not alone. In fact, according to a businessinsider.com article on February 28, only 44% of likely Democratic voters have heard of Gabbard. Until last night, when she was included in the reporting only because there were so few candidates remaining, she had received scant attention from the major news networks and opposition from her own party. But last night she was included. In fact, Donna Brazile was trying so hard to make the point that the DNC is not favoring any candidate that she insisted on FOX News that Karl Rove list Gabbard and her one delegate from American Samoa on his little dry erase board. That little exchange was dually noteworthy since Karl Rove had said, earlier in the day, that Elizabeth Warren was the only woman left in the race. But Gabbard is very much a woman and very much still running. In fact, she later took to Twitter to address the swipe, posting, “I’m not quite sure why you’re telling FOX viewers that Elizabeth Warren is the last female candidate in the Dem primary. Is it because you believe a fake indigenous woman of color is ‘real’ and the real indigenous woman of color in this race is fake?” (That was a dig at Rove and FOX but also at Warren, who famously, and erroneously, claimed to be Native American).

Earlier this week, in The New Yorker, Andy Borowitz wrote a satirical piece that began this way: “Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is under intense pressure to drop out of the 2020 race for the Democratic Presidential nomination, her nine supporters announced on Monday. The announcement from Gabbard’s nine followers surprised many Democrats, who had been unaware that the Hawaii congresswoman was still running.”

Of course satire only works when it has an element of truth, and it seems that even many of those who are aware that Gabbard is running are simply choosing to ignore her. Consider, for example, Andy Kroll’s March 2 piece for Rolling Stone, entitled “Operation Bernie Block Is in Full Effect.” It said:

The Democratic field is now down to five candidates: Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Mike Bloomberg, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. One way to organize the field is into two camps: the progressive flank (Sanders and Warren) and the moderate establishment flank (Biden and Bloomberg). Going into Super Tuesday, there is a leader and secondary figure in each flank — Sanders for the progressives and Biden for the moderates.

Did you notice that? Kroll acknowledged that Gabbard is still a candidate and then immediately discarded her. She was not included anywhere in the rest of the article.

I should point out here that I am not a Tulsi Gabbard supporter. I have admired a number of things about her over the past few months but I am not aware of a single political issue that we agree on, so I certainly would not vote for her. But a considerable part of my interest in Gabbard has been how completely and obviously she has been shut out by the Democratic party. On paper, Gabbard checks every box one would think the DNC would love to have in a candidate. Specifically:

  • She is a combat veteran. She deployed, voluntarily, twice—to Iraq and to Kuwait—becoming the first state official to voluntarily step down from public office to serve in a war zone. She currently holds the rank of Major in the Hawaii Army National Guard.
  • She is the first Hindu to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • She is the first-ever voting member of Congress who is Samoan-American.
  • She is young – only 38.
  • She is, obviously, female.

In addition to all of that, she holds views consistent with the Democratic party in just about every area. She is a combat veteran who opposes war. She favors increasing the federal minimum wage to $15/hour (and even a universal minimum income). She wants to abolish the death penalty and do away with private prisons. She thinks college should be free and existing debt-relief plans for student loans should be fixed and expanded. She supports universal background checks and banning assault weapons. She favors Medicare for All and opposes restrictions on abortion. She wants to legalize marijuana.

So, what’s not to like?

Well, Gabbard is a rebel. Just over four years ago she resigned her position as vice-chair of the DNC in order to endorse Bernie Sanders for president. She gave the nominating speech putting his nae forward at the Democratic National Convention. She openly criticized the DNC’s handling of the 2016 election and accused it of rigging the election so that Hillary Clinton would be the 2016 nominee. In November 2017 she said, “The DNC secretly chose their nominee over a year before the primary elections even occurred.” She said the DNC and federal campaign finance laws need to be overhauled.

Earlier in 2017 Gabbard faced considerable backlash after she revealed that she had met with Bashar al-Assad while she was on a fact-finding visit to Syria, though she said she had no intention of meeting with him when she originally planned the trip.

Last summer, in one of the debates she has actually been allowed to participate in, Gabbard harshly criticized Senator Kamala Harris, at that time considered one of the leading Democratic candidates, for her work as a prosecutor in California. Matt Taibbi then wrote in Rolling Stone, “Having wounded a presumptive frontrunner [Harris] backed by nearly $25 million in campaign funds, Gabbard instantly became the subject of a slew of negative leaks, tweets, and press reports.”

In December, Gabbard voted “present” on both articles of impeachment against President Trump. Gabbard said that she had reviewed the 658-page impeachment report and decided that she could not vote against impeachment because she thought that Trump was “guilty of wrongdoing” but that she also could not vote for impeachment “because removal of a sitting President must not be the culmination of a partisan process, fueled by tribal animosities that have so gravely divided our country.” In other words, Gabbard accused her own party of a politically-motivated impeachment.

In January 2020 Gabbard filed a lawsuit against Hillary Clinton for defamation. Clinton had referred to Gabbard as “a favorite of the Russians” and even a “Russian asset”—and Gabbard alleges that Clinton made that allegation as “retribution” for her backing of Sanders in 2016 and that Clinton “holds a special hatred and animosity” for Gabbard. Gabbard is suing for $50 million. She is not backing down from the suit, either; according to a February 12 interview with Maria Bartiromo, Gabbard says the first court date has been set.

Then, in February, after Trump had been acquitted on both counts of impeachment, Gabbard said that Trump was acting within his prerogative when he decided to fire Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who had testified against him during the impeachment hearings, from his position with the National Security Council. That, of course, rubbed many Democrats the wrong way. Joe Biden, for example, said that Vindman deserved to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I do not know that Tulsi Gabbard is likely to win many more delegates than the one she picked up last night from American Samoa. And her continuation in the race will continue to bring criticism from those that choose to acknowledge it at all. (Anderson Cooper and others have suggested that she is auditioning for a place on FOX News). She might find herself gaining considerably more support from those who dislike their choice between the 77-year-old Joe Biden and the 78-year-old Bernie Sanders. Gabbard is, after all, literally half their age. Even setting age aside, some might not like the choice between “socialism and senility” as Marc Thiessen put it last night. But the only way Gabbard has any chance of gaining much support is if the DNC actually lets her participate in debates. She has been excluded from the last five—and took considerable umbrage to the fact that the DNC changed its qualifying rules to allow Michael Bloomberg to participate in the last two—but she does, at the moment, qualify for the next debate, scheduled for Sunday, March 15. In order to be a part of the last Democratic debate, candidates had to have one or more of the following: at least 12 percent support in two DNC-approved South Carolina polls, at least 10 percent support in four DNC-approved national polls, or at least one delegate from any contest that had been held so far. With her delegate from American Samoa, Gabbard now qualifies. But remember, I said at the moment. That’s because Xochitl Hinojosa, the communications director for the Democratic National Committee, already tweeted that the qualifying threshold “will go up” before that debate. And if it does, Gabbard will be left out again.

 

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

My Year in Books – 2019

After missing the mark in 2018, I once again met my goal of fifty books for the year, finishing with 54 books read in 2019. Here’s the rundown…

As it always does, last year’s reading included a regular helping of fiction, including titles from authors I enjoy and read a lot of as well as new authors I decided to try. In that first category would be Mark Pryor’s The Crypt Thief, The Sorbonne Affair, The Reluctant Matador and The Book Artist. They are all part of his Hugo Marston series and I have now read all eight of that series. James Patterson’s Target Alex Cross, Ambush, The Inn and Mary, Mary provided a range of Patterson, with the first and last both being from the Alex Cross series (the first being the most recent and the last being from 2005 but one I had not read); Ambush being from the Detective Michael Bennett series and The Inn being (at least so far) a stand-alone novel. I have never read a Patterson book and considered it great literature, but they make for quick reads that give the brain a rest…and the good guys always win.  I read John Grisham’s latest, The Guardians, and, because I read all of Grisham’s books, Theodore Boone: The Accomplice, the latest in his series for young readers. The Guardians is a typical Grishamesque novel, but I am sure that it gives a fairly accurate picture of what some attorneys committed to ensuring that those on death row received fair trials and were justly convicted do indeed go through in their pursuit of justice. The New Girl is the latest in Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series; it is as enjoyable as all of Silva’s books, and it provides a unique story loosely based on the current Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but it makes some highly unlikely moves that strain credulity, even for a work of fiction. And, having completed his Clifton Chronicles, Jeffrey Archer launched the Detective William Warwick series with Nothing Ventured. If you have read Pryor, Patterson, Grisham, Allon or Archer then you know what to expect from their writing, and these books all follow suit.

Other fiction this year included two books about quiet heroism in WWII Paris. Charles Belfoure’s The Paris Architect is an intriguing novel about (surprise!) an architect in Paris during who winds up—first reluctantly and then devotedly—designing architecturally-brilliant hiding places for Jews seeking to avoid capture by the Nazis, and Kristin Harmel’s The Room on Rue Amélie tells of an American woman who married a Frenchman who, unbeknownst to her, was part of the French resistance. When he died and she discovered his role, she commits to continuing his work. This story interweaves the incredible risk and sacrifice of so many “everyday people” during war with a love story. Transcription, by Kate Atkinson, is another WWII-era story, though one set in England. It focuses on a young woman who winds up working for MI5, transcribing the recorded conversations of Fascist sympathizers, and interweaves that story with one that took place ten years later when the main character was working at the BBC. All three of these were interesting reads and I would recommend them all, probably in the order they are listed here for anyone wanting them in rank-order.

The Other Side of Silence is the second Philip Kerr novel I have read, and both have featured Bernie Gunther, a former homicide detective in Nazi Germany. This story takes place a decade after WWII and finds Gunther working as a concierge along the French Riviera. The tale also features Somerset Maugham and his work for the British Secret Service during WWII, though the details of the plot rely heavily on Maugham’s homosexuality.

Graham Moore’s The Last Days of Night is a delightful work of historical fiction that features young lawyer Paul Cravath and his work on a lawsuit filed by Thomas Edison against George Westinghouse over a lightbulb patent dispute. The story also features J.P. Morgan and Nikola Tesla, as well as an opera singer whose story is not what she presents. A fun and fascinating read that would also prompt interest in the real historical facts among many readers, I am sure.

The classic work of fiction I read in 2019 was James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer. It is a slow read, and there is a legitimate reason why Mark Twain said that Cooper “persistently violated” the rule to “eschew surplusage” with this tale, but all in all it was not as bad as Twain made it out to be.

Moving on… I read a number of biographies in 2019, starting with Maxwell King’s The Good Neighbor. I would call this a must-read for fans and admirers of America’s favorite neighbor, Fred Rogers. King provides an insightful look at the life of the man who committed his adult life to communicating kindly and truthfully with children. Randy Peterson’s The Printer and the Preacher is a dual biography of Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield that also tells the story of their mutually-beneficial friendship, and Jason Lane’s General and Madame de Lafayette is a dual biography of the Marquis de Lafayette, whom every good schoolboy and schoolgirl learned about from an early age while studying American history, his wife, and the interesting way in which Lafayette’s commitment to liberty and equality made him both a hero and a scoundrel, depending on the year and the one giving the verdict. Tim Hornbaker’s Fall From Grace is an engaging biography of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, one of the famous Chicago “Black Sox.” Susan Page provides a detailed, but not cumbersome, look at the life of Barbara Bush in The Matriarch and Scott Lamb gives an excellent biography of Mike Huckabee, and keen political insight, in Huckabee. Lamb gives readers a glaring reminder that the American evangelical community all but ignored Mike Huckabee in 2008 despite the fact that he was the most evangelical presidential candidate ever. If the fictional works about WWII mentioned above are of interest to you, then I strongly recommend Tilar Mazzeo’s Irena’s Children, the true story of the incredible work done by Irena Sendler and her colleagues in the Warsaw ghetto.

Nancy Koehn’s Forged in Crisis is a blending of biography and leadership study. Koehn looks at the lives of Ernest Shackleton, Abraham Lincoln, Fredrick Douglass, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Rachel Carson and offers insights from the way each handled “turbulent times” (part of the book’s subtitle) in their lives.

There were two autobiographies on my 2019 list, an old one and a new one. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs is the true story of a woman born in slavery, the abuse she endured from her owner, her escape—and subsequent seven years spent living in her grandmother’s attic—and the difficult decisions Jacobs made in her pursuit to be near, and do what was best for, her children. The new one was Gary Sinise’s Grateful American. It tells Sinise’s personal story, which is interesting, but also tells the story of how the part of Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump led him to start the Gary Sinise Foundation. The work that that organization has done on behalf of American veterans is absolutely incredible and incredibly admirable. How TIME has never selected Sinise as its Person of the Year is beyond me.

There is always a good bit of American history on my reading list, too, and 2019 was no different. Ben Macintyre’s The Spy and the Traitor is an intriguing story of Cold War espionage and a captivating spy thriller—and it is a true story! Ellen Wayland-Smith’s Oneida is a detailed look at the attempted utopian community by that name, including all of its strange ideas and living arrangements. Allen Guelzo’s Gettysburg is the best and most thorough single-volume look at that Civil War battle that I have encountered, despite the fact that Guelzo sometimes inserts opinion and commentary that is not really befitting the book’s overall approach. I always enjoy David McCullough’s writing, and he brought his usual style to the history of the settlement of the Northwest Territory in The Pioneers.  Bruce Chadwick’s I Am Murdered tells the story of the murder of George Wythe and the subsequent trial.

Due largely to taking a couple of graduate courses on the subject, I read a great deal about slavery during the past year, including these books in their entirety: Daina Ramey Berry’s The Price for Their Pound of Flesh, Heather Andrea Williams’s American Slavery: A Very Short Introduction, Calvin Schermerhorn’s Unrequired Toil and Educated in Tyranny, edited by Maurie McInnis and Louis Nelson. I would recommend all four. Berry introduces the concept of “soul value” in her work, a valuable approach to considering the lives of the enslaved; Williams’s work is indeed short but it is comprehensive too, making it a very effective overview and a great starting point; Schermerhorn’s book contains a chapter entitled “Geopolitics” that is the most insightful look at the causes of the Civil War I have probably ever seen; and Educated in Tyranny provides a fascinating examination of the role of slaves in the construction and early operation of the University of Virginia.

Some books do not really fit into any other category. For 2019 that would include Millard Seaman’s Gumbo, Gumption and God, a combination history of the founding of Sunshine Bible Academy, where I have served since 2011, and thoughts on the philosophy of Christian education. In Allow the Children Susan Cook explains how the ministry of that name was started and has grown to include the support of orphaned, abandoned and disadvantaged children in several countries around the world, as well as children’s homes and pastoral training. Another in that category would be Lauren Winner’s Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity was honest and thought provoking, and consistent with the assertion Winner made in a 2000 column for Christianity Today that many evangelicals did not take chastity seriously. The book certainly loses some of its value when considering that Winner is now divorced and an ordained Episcopal priest, and it is worth noting as well that Real Sex is not listed among her works on her faculty profile page for Duke Divinity School, where she is an Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality. Cal Ripken, Jr.’s Just Show Up applies Ripken’s approach to baseball to other areas of life and Hans Rosling’s Factfulness stressed the importance of accurately understanding the “facts” that we are confronted with on a regular basis throughout our lives.

Last, but not least, would be those books that fall into the categories of Christian living and the practice of Christianity. Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Worship explains how the gospel message should shape corporate worship. Daniel Henderson’s Old Paths, New Power focuses on the importance of praying and preaching the Word of God. It had some good reminders and interesting personal accounts but also seemed to stray at times from what I would personally be comfortable with. In It’s Time to Pray, Carter Conlon emphasizes the importance of prayer, as well, personally and corporately, and he also tells personal stories of seeing the power of prayer at work in incredible ways. Eugene Peterson’s The Jesus Way describes the way Old Testament figures prepared the way for the coming of Christ but also shows how often we, in contemporary America, emphasize things that have very little to do with the “Jesus way.” Jeremy Walker’s Life in Christ is a short book on discipleship, and Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission addresses both being a disciple and making disciples. Balanced Christianity by John Stott emphasizes not veering too far one way or the other in various areas of tension in the Christian life. Your Victory in Christ is the only book by John Bunyan that I have ever read other than Pilgrim’s Progress, and there is a reason that the former is not anywhere near as well known as the latter. It uses the same style as Pilgrim’s Progress and the message is worthwhile, of course, but it is not nearly as effective. In The Secret Battle of Ideas About God Jeff Myers provides an update to the various worldview ideas presented in Summit Ministries’ Understanding the Times materials while interlacing accounts of his personal struggles. Stop Loving the World, by Puritan William Greenhill, addresses the problem of worldliness—and even greater problem now than when Greenhill wrote in the seventeenth century—and the biblical antidote to that sin. Joseph Stowell’s Radical Reliance is adequately summed up in the book’s subtitle, “Living 24/7 with Christ at the Center,” and his Simply Jesus is a concise book with much the same theme.

So, there’s another annual recap. When I ended last year’s Books in Review post I said that when it came time to write the next one I would hopefully have once again exceeded my goal of fifty books—which I did—and would maybe even have posted more than three times during the year—which I did not. Well, .500 is not bad, is it? And there’s always next year…

My Year in Books – 2018

Well, I suppose it was bound to happen eventually, and it did in 2018. I did not read fifty books during the year. It is the first time since 2007, when I started keeping track, that I did not make it. I finished the year with forty-five. As you can probably tell by the fact that I only blogged four times during 2018, and not at all since March 8, I have been a little busy.

But, as always, my reading for 2018 was mostly in the categories of theology and Christian living, history, politics/current events, autobiography/biography and fiction. My summary thoughts here will be classified by category and not by the order in which the books were read.

The first book I finished in 2018 is one I had started in 2017 and even mentioned in my 2017 book review post, Phoebe Maltz Bovy’s The Perils of “Privilege”. I certainly do not agree with everything that Bovy said in the book but it is an enlightening look at the utter ridiculousness that is the ways in which we have endeavored to sanitize our own language and interactions (even our lives) in order to avoid possibly offending anyone. Everett Piper’s Not a Daycare and Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult also offer glimpses of the direction America has taken in recent years. Piper writes from the perspective of a college president and focuses on the trigger warnings and other such stupidity on college campuses. Sasse writes as a homeschooling parent who is also a U.S. senator and who wants his children to become responsible, capable adults. Some of his ideas are almost radical and will likely make parents with even a hint of cautiousness say, “No way!” but he has a lot worth considering.

Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family presents some interesting ways families can minimize the infiltration of technology into every aspect of their lives. Some people would likely find many of Crouch’s ideas akin to torture given the nearly inseparable way in which so many cling to their phones. Worth a read, for sure, if you sense that you and/or your children are finding it harder and harder to look each other in the eye and have an actual conversation. In The Flipside of Feminism Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly provide a conservative counter to feminism, arguing that women have actually become less happy despite all of changes that have come about through the feminist movement.

The first history book I read in 2018 was The Golden Age of Piracy. In it, Benerson Little seeks to debunk many of the most familiar images of piracy (walking the plank, flying the Jolly Roger, etc.) that we see in film and fiction and tell, instead, the true stories of some of the world’s most effective pirates. A recommended read for anyone interested in knowing more about pirates that Johnny Depp and friends will ever tell you. Liberty’s Torch by Elizabeth Mitchell is a fascinating look at the process which culminated in the installation of what we now know as the Statue of Liberty. Jack Kelly, in Heaven’s Ditch, weaves together accounts of the building of the Erie Canal, the founding or Mormonism and the devoted secrecy of the Masons in an engrossing read. Presidential Courage by Michael Beschloss looks at courageous acts and stands by two hundred years of American presidents, while David McCullough puts together decades of his speeches in one volume entitled The American Spirit. As someone who has enjoyed everything I have ever read by McCullough, I enjoyed this thoroughly.

In Defiant Brides Nancy Rubin Stuart simultaneously tells the life stories of Peggy Shippen, who went on to become Mrs. Benedict Arnold, and Lucy Flucker, who married Henry Knox, an important figure in the Revolutionary War and the Secretary of War under President George Washington. In A Kingdom Strange James Horn offers his take on Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke Colony, more commonly known now as the Lost Colony, including his thoughts on what happened to the colonists who disappeared before Governor White could return.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo sat on my shelf for years before I finally read it. There is a reason why it was a National Book Award winner. It is a compelling look at life in a slum (what Boo calls an “undercity”) of Mumbai, just steps from an international airport and luxury hotels.

Susan Orlean, in The Library Book, simultaneously provides a look at the inner workings of a massive library system and tells the story of the 1986 fire in the Los Angeles Public Library that damaged or destroyed more than one million books. This was a captivating read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

In biography, I first read Jon Kukla’s Patrick Henry. Kukla and I used to be neighbors, while he was the director of Patrick Henry’s Red Hill, and I had been anticipating this book for some time. I had actually forgotten about it, though, until I saw it while browsing through a bookstore in Corolla, NC. It is well researched, well written, and a solid contribution to the expanding scholarship on one of America’s lesser-known founding fathers. I have fascinated by the story of Alvin York ever since I saw the Gary Cooper film as a child; thus, John Perry’s Sgt. York: His Life, Legend & Legacy was a delightful read. It tells the story of York’s heroism in World War I, but goes far beyond that, telling the story of York’s work after he returned home and the legacy he left for the people of the Tennessee hills.

After a visit to Hershey, PA, last summer I found myself wanting to know more about Milton Hershey. Michael D’Antonio provided that for me in his book Hershey. It is an intriguing read about an intriguing life. Meeting Sue Thomas last spring, and then visiting her last summer, caused me to want to know more about her story, as well, and her autobiography, Silent Night, provides an unvarnished look into her life. If all you know of Sue Thomas is the television series Sue Thomas: FBEye, you don’t know Sue Thomas!

Having watched the series Castle, I decided to finally try one of the books supposedly written by Richard Castle, Driving Heat. The book reads like the show. Somehow, that worked for me as a television show but not as a book. Breaking Point is part of Dana Haynes’ series on airplane crash investigators, though it is the first one I have read. It was interesting overall, though parts of the conclusion were like the ending of so many movies—taken too far. The Promise by Robert Crais is a typical Crais novel, but it has the irritating feature of including a number of chapters told from the perspective of a police dog. In Under a Silent Moon Elizabeth Haynes (no relation to Dana, that I know of) introduces Louisa Smith, a Detective Chief Inspector tasked with solving two seemingly unrelated murders. Nadine Gordimer’s The House Gun is another book that sat on my shelf for years. Set in South Africa, it shows how a single act, in a moment of passion, impacts so many people. Jhumpa Lahiri, in The Namesake, tells the story of immigrants from India making successful lives for themselves in the U.S., and how the definition of success for their children looks different than that for their parents.

The People vs. Alex Cross by James Patterson is exactly what you would expect from a James Patterson Alex Cross novel. Likewise, The Blood Promise and The Paris Librarian are just what you would expect from Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston novels.  The Reckoning by John Grisham was one of his better books, I thought. It is very different from most of what he has written before, though it takes place in a familiar setting. Like The House Gun it clearly shows the impact a single decision can have on so many lives. Jeffrey Archer’s Heads You Win was another good read in typical Archer-style. It could easily become a series; I guess we’ll see. Daniel Silva continues to impress me in the second of  his books I’ve read, The Other Woman. And of course, The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux, is a story many people think they know. Suffice it to say that if you have only seen the musical and/or the recent film adaptation, you do not really know the story.

Sing! By Keith and Kristyn Getty is a short book, easy to read, but does a wonderful job explaining the importance of singing in giving praise to God. I would recommend this book for every pastor and worship leader. Jonathan Leeman’s Word Centered Church is a good reminder about the singular importance of Scripture in churches. Donald Whitney’s Family Worship is also a short, easy to read book with good tips for developing family worship times. The Imperfect Disciple by Jared Wilson has some good parts and some good reminders for those who may struggle with frustration when they just cannot seem to get the Christian life “right” consistently, but I am not a fan of the smug, smart-alecky, and even sometimes snarky asides that Wilson felt it necessary to include throughout the book. I find this to be an unwelcome trend among too many contemporary, “next-generation” Christian authors.

But there is nothing smug or snarky in R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. There is a reason this is considered a classic work and perhaps Sproul’s best out of the scores of books he wrote. It is recommended reading for every believer. In The Great Omission Dallas Willard addresses the importance of making disciples of all nations, the last command Jesus gave before His ascension. John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to God is a magnificent exposition of Isaiah 53. Discovering God’s Will by Sinclair Ferguson provides some helpful guidance for those seeking to know God’s leading in their lives. Barnabas Piper’s The Curious Christian is a wonderful reminder of the importance of wonder in our lives. If you have read anything by Ken Ham before then not much in Gospel Reset will be new to you, but there are good reminders in the book about the importance of foundations. In Expository Exultation John Piper clearly explains that preaching is worship and he provides terrific guidance for preachers on sermon preparation and delivery. Highly recommended for any pastor.

That’s it for my 2018 recap. I hope you enjoyed my quick overview of my year in books. If you have book recommendations I would love to hear them; please write a comment or send me a message. Hopefully, when the time comes to write next year’s post, I will once again have surpassed my annual goal of fifty books. And just maybe I will have posted more than three times in the interim!

My Year in Books – 2017

Somehow in a year that has perhaps found me busier than ever, I managed to read more books that I have since 2012, finishing the year with 59. Apparently, books are still both my inspiration and my relaxation, my motivation and my escape, the best means of broadening my mind and giving it a break.

As always, my reading for 2017 was primarily in these categories: theology and Christian living, history, politics/current events, autobiography/biography and fiction. My summary thoughts here will be classified by category and not by the order in which the books were read.

Having said that, I do usually indicate which book was the first one I finished in a year, and last year that honor goes to Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, by Chester Nez and Judith Schiess Avila. I have seen the movie Windtalkers and I mention the code talkers every year in my U.S. History course, so I found this book very interesting. The way of life for many of the Navajo boys growing up is hard to imagine—and then for those same boys to willingly serve in the armed forces of a country that had not treated their people well historically or personally is something difficult to wrap one’s mind around. Imagine being told that you cannot speak your native tongue in school—to the point of being physically punished for doing so—and then being asked by the government to use that same prohibited tongue to develop a code that the enemy could not crack. I cannot help but think that my natural inclination would be something along the lines of “no thanks,” although probably not quite that polite. The way in which the code was developed, the speed with which it enabled messages to be communicated and the accuracy the code demonstrated over the course of the war is incredible.

This post will be about 13,000 words long if I devote that much time to each of the books I read last year, so I better transition to shorter summaries and opinions—for my sake and yours.

I will start with history. I read Alexander Rose’s Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring, which I would recommend as reading for anyone interested in espionage during the Revolutionary War and particularly for anyone who has also watched the AMC series Turn: Washington’s Spies. (Another excellent book for anyone in either of those categories would be Tim McNeese’s Revolutionary Spies: Intelligence and Espionage in America’s First War).

Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse by Eric Jay Dolin was a fascinating look at what it was like to be a lighthouse keeper but also at what it took to build a lighthouse. I have long been interested in both lighthouses and keepers but I had never given all that much thought to what it took to build the lights. Dolin’s book served only to confirm my notion that other than those individuals with a particular interest in lighthouses, the importance of the lights and the keepers is an often-ignored aspect of American history that really should be more well-known. Tyler Anbinder’s City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York is a compelling narrative about the island purchased from the Native Americans by Peter Minuit in the early seventeenth century became the largest city in the U.S. and a magnet for immigrants from around the world.

Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women is another gripping read. This one tells the stories of women in early twentieth century America who worked in factories applying radium paint to watch dials—only no one grasps the dangers of ingesting radium, which these women do through the process of pointing their brushes. Indeed, they find themselves covered with radium dust, literally glowing when they go home each evening. This is another often-ignored part of American history, one I had never even heard of until seeing a one-act play based on the story last winter and then acting in a full-length version of the same play. Moore’s book has more than five hundred five-star ratings on Amazon, which should serve as proof positive that it is not a dry historical narrative.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown is far more than a sports story. It is a look into the realities of life during the Great Depression, the rivalries and attention given to collegiate rowing—a sport a distinct minority of people likely pay any attention to—and the politics of the Olympics in Hitler’s Germany. I highly recommend this book.

John Eisenberg’s The Streak: Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken Jr., and Baseball’s Most Historic Record is a great read for baseball fans in general and Gehrig or Ripken fans in particular.

I read Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower in February. I had not read it since my sophomore year of high school, though I have thought of it and referenced it often in the interim. Anyone interested in thought provoking contemplation of forgiveness should read this book.

Condoleezza Rice’s Democracy is a unique look at attempts—some successful, others not—for democracy around the world, including some front row perspective from this former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State. Rice offers a look at America, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Kenya, Colombia and the Middle East, as well as chapters on authoritarians and on what democracy must offer in order to take root.  The New York Times said, “Both supporters and skeptics of democracy promotion will come away from this book wiser and better informed,” and I agree.

Mindy Belz, editor and Middle East reporter for WORLD, wrote They Say We Are Infidels, and it provides a glimpse into everyday life in the Middle East among those persecuted by ISIS. It is riveting, saddening, aggravating and infuriating, and a book I strongly recommend for anyone who wants a deeper perspective on this conflict than that offered by the nightly news.

In the autobiography/biography genre last year I read some contemporary first offerings by names very-well-known and some not-quite-so-well-known, second go-rounds by entertainers now in their nineties, an insightful look at a couple of classic American entertainers now both deceased, and a looks at two influential men in Christian history, who died nearly 500 years ago and another who died 280 years ago.

Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show is an insightful look at the lives of both Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, before that classic American TV show, during their time together working on it, and after. A word of caution: if you are not prepared to see Griffith and Knotts as they were in real life, preferring instead to think of them always as their affable Mayberry characters, don’t read this book.

Tony Bennett’s Just Getting Started and Dick Van Dyke’s Keep Moving are the two second go-rounds I referred to above. In reality it is Bennett’s third go-round, as he wrote The Good Life in 1998, but I have not read that one. I did read 2012’s Life Is a Gift, and the 2017 offering mostly recounts the people who influenced Bennett and taught him the lessons he described in 2012. Having turned 91 in August it is certainly unlikely that Bennett really is “just getting started,” but his output does not seem to be slowing down any. In 2011 Van Dyke wrote My Luck Life In and Out of Show Business. In 2017 he followed up with Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths About Aging. It is an engaging and humorous book that does offer insights into growing old, though Van Dyke still seems to have the energy and enthusiasm of a kid. Some of his insights on life are very insightful indeed. Some of his thoughts on politics are misguided but not surprising for someone who has spent most of his life among the Hollywood entertainment crowd. His thoughts on faith and what happens after death are confused at best, and saddening for those who have read the 2011 book and know that racism within it is what drove Van Dyke out of the church in the 1960s. But anyone who loves ice cream has to love Van Dyke’s recommended daily helping (with chocolate sauce). Van Dyke, who just turned 92 last month, is married to his second wife (though he had a long relationship that never culminated in marriage with a third woman) and she is 45 years his junior. Bennett is married to his third wife and she is 40 years younger than he. Thankfully there are other seasoned celebrities with long-lasting marriages (92 year old Angela Lansbury was married for 54 years before her husband died in 2003, for example; 87 year old Sean Connery has been married for 42 years and Kirk Douglas, who turned 101 last year, has been married for 63 years, just to name a few) to counter anyone supposing that the secret to Bennett and Van Dyke’s longevity is young spouses!

Megyn Kelly’s Settle for More is well-written. It tells her story as a successful attorney deciding she wanted to do something else—namely, the news business—and how she has persevered and found success in both careers. If for absolutely no other reason, the book’s section on the conflict that emerged between Kelly and Donald Trump after Kelly’s questioning of Trump during the presidential debate provides an inside look at how difficult life can be for someone who appears to have it made when our perspective is limited to their daily time on television. I have met Olympic champion Shannon Miller, so my interest in her book It’s Not About Perfect was a combination of sports fan and personal interest. The book does, of course, tell about Miller’s growing up, training and Olympic success, but it also describes struggles in her personal life and her successful fight against ovarian cancer. Missy Franklin’s Relentless Spirit was written before the Rio Olympics, which certainly did not go the way she would have liked, but it is not written as simply the story of an impressive athlete. While it does include some of that, this book is Missy and her parents talking about sports, childrearing, family and faith.

Lauren Green is the Religion Correspondent for Fox News though, to my knowledge, I have never seen her on television. She is also an accomplished pianist. But her book Lighthouse Faith Green frequently references her pastor Tim Keller and seeks to answer the question of how to have a personal relationship with God in a world, as she describes it, “immersed in fog.” Some of Green’s insights are spot-on. Others tend to ecumenism. Rebekah Gregory was a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing and eventually lost her left leg below the knee after scores of medical procedures and surgeries. Her five-year-old son was sitting just in front of the standing Gregory at the finish line when the bomb went off behind her; fortunately, she took the brunt of the blast and her son suffered only minor injuries. She tells this story, along with the lessons she learned through the experience as well as the rest of her life, and how she has come to realize that God is ultimately in control, in her book Taking My Life Back.

Since 2017 marked the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation I thought it appropriate to read a biography of Martin Luther. I chose Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand, originally published in 1950, which TIME called “easily the most readable Luther biography in English” and R.C. Sproul called “an inspiring summary of the life of the great reformer.” George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life is a comprehensive biography (more than 600 pages with small print) that provides insight into Edwards as well as his time and place. I also read J.W. Hanson’s The Life and Works of the World’s Greatest Evangelist: Dwight L. Moody. This book was republished in 2015 but it was originally published in 1900, and the copy I read was printed not too long after that. A friend came across it and loaned it to me to read.

For theology and Christian living my 2017 reading included several books. Carolyn McCulley’s Radical Womanhood examines the three waves of feminism and how each has attacked God’s design for womanhood, giving readers a clear presentation of the complementarian position. Courtney Reissig’s The Accidental Feminist is another excellent book along the same lines, identifying how the feminist movement has influenced the entire culture whether we readily recognize it or not, and seeking to restore a correct, and joyful, understanding of God’s design.

I read two books by Carter Conlon, lead pastor of Times Square Church, The 180° Christian and Fear Not. The subtitle of the first book is “Serving Jesus in a Culture of Excess” and that gives you an idea of what the book is about. Conlon examines the church in Corinth and the self-centeredness that infected that body. He then suggests that twenty-first century America is not much different, calling on the church to do a 180 and live lives instead focused on serving others. Pastoring in Times Square, Conlon has a perspective on this that few others will have. Fear Not addresses the many ways that Satan tries to put fear and doubt into the hearts and minds of believers, reminding readers that perfect love casts out fear.

Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? Is subtitled Making Sense of the Old Testament God, and that is what Copan attempts to do here. I do not agree with all of Copan’s conclusions but the book does offer unique insight into what often seems like a God of wrath and even hatred in the Old Testament, seemingly conflicting with the New Testament God. Richard Phillips argues that the five points of Calvinism are comforting in his short book, What’s So Great About the Doctrines of Grace? But unless you are a committed five-point Calvinist you will likely come away from the book thinking something along the lines of “not much.” In None Other John MacArthur shows how to study Scripture to discover who God really is. This, too, is a short book and not theologically complex.

In You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith shows how easily we may be led astray from worshipping God and God alone. The book’s subtitle is The Spiritual Power of Habit, and initially I did not see the book in that light, but Smith ultimately is asking readers to evaluate whether they really love what they think—and say—they love, which is often revealed in habits, so the subtitle fits.

Jacquelle Crow is in the last of her teen years, so her book This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years has an extra level of authenticity for teenager readers. It is a book along the lines of Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris or Totally Infatuated by Jacqueline Pierre. It is short but full of rich truth and I would recommend it for any teenager.

In Why Jesus? Ravi Zacharias calls for an abandonment of relativism and tolerance and a return to biblical truth. R. Albert Mohler, in We Cannot Be Silent, takes that a step further and calls on Christians to embrace biblical truth and to engage the culture with that truth.

Parenting by the Book by John Rosemond is about exactly that and provides valuable insight for parents. Charles Swindoll’s A Life Well Lived is a short book drawing lessons from the book of Micah. J.I. Packer’s Concise Theology is exactly that, proving short (usually two to three page) chapters on almost one hundred questions about theology. There are a handful of those questions on which Packer and I do not agree, but it is a user-friendly and easy to read introduction or overview to theology. The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges is a book I have read before and will likely read again. There is a reason this book has sold more than 1.5 million copies. It is a succinct look at what holiness look like in everyday life. Max Lucado’s Because of Bethlehem provides a Lucado-esque look at the promises of Christmas. Lucado reminds readers that Christ was born to die—the Christmas is only the beginning of what culminates with Easter. I read this book a week or so after I preached a message on the humble birth and life of Christ, focusing in large part on Philippians 2, a passage I had never heard anyone use in a Christmas sermon, and found that Lucado too thinks it is a beautiful encapsulation of the Christmas message.

John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals is addressed at pastors and is specifically a caution to them to avoid seeking to be culturally relevant and “professional” at the expense of being biblically relevant and God-centered. Mark Dever’s Discipling is a short book and easy read and it is relevant for any pastor or lay leader but also anyone interested in what discipleship means. There is a reason why John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin is considered a classic. In it, this seventeenth century Puritan addresses how to deal with the sin nature, focusing primarily on Romans 8.

Andrew Telford’s Subjects of Sovereignty is a book I found among those I received from my grandfather’s collection after he passed away. It is short and I could not find a publication date in it, though Amazon tells me it was published in 1971. Apparently Telford pastored in Pennsylvania, and I am guessing my grandfather must have met him, as the book is signed. I appreciated much of what Telford had to say about adoption, predestination, election and foreknowledge. In seeking to learn more about Telford I found an excerpt of this book published on the site of the Society of Evangelical Arminians, and I definitely do not consider myself an Arminian. Further reason why I am not a fan of labels in general of Calvinism and Arminianism in particular.

Last, and perhaps least, are the works of fiction I read in 2017. I always seem to read James Patterson, David Baldacci, John Grisham and Jeffrey Archer, and 2017 was no exception. In Cross the Line Patterson continues the Alex Cross saga, this time putting his wife Bree into leadership position and creating some strain in their relationship as they seek to solve the latest crime spree in D.C. The Black Book, written by Patterson and David Ellis, is a stand-alone novel that centers around a cop who loses his memory after being shot but finds himself charged with a double murder. It is an interesting read with plenty of plot twists and an ending that I did not see coming. Haunted was written by Patterson and James Born and is the tenth book in the Detective Michael Bennett series. This one finds the Bennett clan vacationing in Maine in a small town that is, of course, caught up in serious drug crime and a local law enforcement officer/former Bennett partner needing Bennett’s assistance.

Baldacci’s No Man’s Land continues his John Puller series and in this book Puller and his brother seek to find out the truth of what happened to their mother. Grisham’s Camino Island was an intentionally different style for Grisham and I found it enjoyable, in no small part because it includes a look into the world of rare books and independent book shops. It does include casual sex but not as explicitly as Gray Mountain. The Rooster Bar, also by Grisham, returns to the classic Grisham model—simultaneously spotlighting the evils of for-profit law schools and the lost-in-the-shuffle madness that poor individuals find themselves facing when they are charged with a crime while also creating an outrageous but just-maybe-possible story of a few law students who profit from that madness and rake in lots of cash—temporarily. Jeffrey Archer’s Tell Tale is a collection of short stories that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The Button Man by Mark Pryor is a Hugo Marston novel and a prequel to The Bookseller, which I enjoyed. The Heist is the first of Daniel Silva’s books I have read and it is part of his Gabriel Allon series. It combines espionage and art, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more by Silva. Fatal Enquiry by Will Thomas is set in Victorian England. This book read like a blend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Alex Grecian. Opening Moves by Steven James is part of his Bowers Files series, but it is the first James novel I have read. This one is set around 1997 Milwaukee with a series of copycat crimes going on, including copying Jeffrey Dahmer. The story is well told and even, I suppose, riveting, but it is not for the faint of heart.

Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings tells the dual story of Sarah Grimké (and her sister Angelina) and Sarah’s slave “Handful.” The story is fictional, but Grimké was real—and she became a passionate abolitionist and member of the woman’s suffrage movement, despite coming from a prominent slave-holding family in Charleston. Kidd is a great story teller, and the book is engaging. It also provides a description of a (real) method of slave punishment I was not previously familiar with, something called a treadmill. Marilynne Robinson’s Lila is a return to the town of Gilead, though I have not read Robinson’s novel by that title, and it tells the story of a homeless girl named Lila who marries the local minister. It is an interesting read and provides unique insights into small town life, a Christian worldview and marriage. Amanda Hodgkinson’s 22 Brittania Road tells the story of Polish refugees in England after World War II, including the challenges of rekindling a marriage separated for years by war and of the impacts of war on not just soldiers but women and children—impacts felt long after the war is over.

I think that just about wraps it up. As usual, there are two or three other books I read that did not make it into the review because I did not have much to say about them or they did not fit neatly into these categories. I do want to mention briefly, though, a couple of books that I cannot include in the formal review above because I haven’t read them in their entirety so they are not included in my 59 books for 2017. First is Michael Burlingame’s two-volume Abraham Lincoln: A Life. I read most of these two volumes last summer while I was taking a course on Lincoln and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Lincoln. Burlingame has done extensive research and the provides great insight into Abraham Lincoln the man, as well as into Lincoln’s marriage to Mary Todd and his time as president.

Second is Phoebe Maltz Bovy’s The Perils of “Privilege”, which I am actually in the middle of reading right now, so it will likely be included more fully in next year’s annual review. The book is subtitled Why Injustice Can’t Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage and is addressed at the silliness of using the word “privilege” to shut down debate, and is among The Washington Post’s 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction in 2017. As I said, I am halfway through it (almost exactly), but I cannot help pointing out my fondness for a line on page 84 of the book. After quoting an article in which the authors write “students should also be taught how to live in a world full of potential offenses. Why not teach incoming students how to practice cognitive behavioral therapy?” Bovy writes, “Or: Why not teach incoming students? (Period. The end.)” I love it….

I hope 2017 found you with ample time to read as well. Perhaps something above will prompt you to pick up one of these books to read it for yourself. Until next year’s annual review, I leave you with this thought from Henry Ward Beecher, one I find to be painfully true for myself: “Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?”

Let’s Keep “Parents” Around

Last August Joanna Schimizzi, a National Board Certified Teacher, wrote a blog for the “The Standard – The Official Blog of the National Board.” The blog post’s title was “Ban the word ‘Parents’.” Here’s how she started:

This school year, I want to challenge you to ban certain words from your vernacular. We each have our own set of words and phrases that are taboo in our classroom, like “stupid” or “I can’t”, but this year I want to challenge you to stop using the word “parents”.

What was the reason for this peculiar notion? Schimizzi wanted to challenge teachers “to realize that many of our students live in settings where ‘parents’ are not the only figures who are important to their success.”

That’s true of course. Dictionary.come defines “parent” as a father or mother or a protector or guardian. We usually have the former in mind when we think or say “parent” I am sure, and for years it has been common practice for many forms and communications to utilize “parent or guardian” due to the fact that so many children do not receive their primary care from a biological parent. The reality, however, is that there are more children living with two biological parents than most of us would guess. Last November 17 the U.S. Census Bureau, in Release Number: CB16-192, reported, “The majority of America’s 73.7 million children under age 18 live in families with two parents (69 percent), according to new statistics released today from the U.S. Census Bureau. This is compared to other types of living arrangements, such as living with grandparents or having a single parent.” According to that same report only 4% of U.S. children do not live with any parent.

Schimizzi said her position toward the word “parent” came when she was talking to a guidance counselor at her school about the low number of responses she received on a Parent Survey she sent home with students at the beginning of the year. “Her support helped me realize that many of my questions had implicit bias that placed value on certain experiences not applicable to all families,” Schimizzi wrote. “And one of her best suggestions was to change ‘Parent Survey’ to ‘Family Survey.'”

Of course family used to mean parents and the children they cared for. In fact, the leading portion of Dictionary.com’s definition of the word still says, “a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not.” It becomes immediately clear therefore that if Schmizzi and her guidance counselor colleague felt that “Family” would be more appropriate to the realities of students than “Parent” that they must both have agreed, whether consciously or not, that “family” no longer means what it used to mean. Therein lies a huge part of why this recommendation to abolish “parents” is so dangerous–but I will get back to that.

Continuing in her blog, Schimizzi mentioned Al Trautwig’s statement during the Olympics that gymnast Simone Biles “was raised by her grandfather and his wife and she calls them mom and dad.” Biles was, in fact, adopted by her grandparents when she was just a toddler. But when Trautwig was challenged on Twitter about his statement he retorted, “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents.” After being ordered by NBC to apologize, according to The Associated Press, Trautwig issues a statement that said, in part, “To set the record straight, Ron and Nellie are Simone’s parents.”

That situation, however, is a great example of why the word “parent” is so important–not grounds for banning the word. I think many people have long understood that there is an incredible difference between procreating and parenting. Whether by conscious choice to give up or abandon a child, by some kind of incapacitation or even by death, not everyone who contributes to the biological act of childbirth can or will fulfill the role of parent. The willingness of other people to step in and fill that role is to be celebrated and commended–and there is absolutely no need to differentiate their role by calling them anything other than parents. This is true when those voluntary parents are related to the child by blood, such as Biles’ grandparents, as well as when there is no genetic connection whatsoever.

Schimizzi wrote that when she distributes her now-revised survey she will “encourage… students to deliver it to whoever plays the biggest role in supporting them. It’s an interesting experience to watch students think about who in their lives offers them the most academic support.” That is a valid point and it is entirely possible (and sadly, in some instances, probable) that a child will receive greater support from someone other than their parent. That needs to be recognized as well but it is not grounds for abolishing the term “parent”–not by a long shot. Schimizzi ended her post by sharing examples from three classroom teachers for improving family engagement. All three of the ideas have merit but not one of them has anything to do with the definition or role of “parent.” Instead, they focus on language barriers, a parent’s own experience as a student and the failure of parents to do anything with information they receive from the school. Effective educators will look for ways to overcome each of those obstacles. Doing so, however, does not require banning a word.

Banning words is a big deal because words have meanings. We like to pretend they do not sometimes–especially when the word gets in the way of what we want to do–but that does not change the reality that they do have actual meanings. Homosexual activists did not like the idea that “marriage” was not permitted for homosexuals because it was restricted to a man and a woman. So what did they do? Get the courts to extra-legally change the definition. (Somehow extra-legal sounds less offensive than illegal, doesn’t it? The reality is they are the same thing. This is an example of how we also choose words carefully to make something sound other-than what it really is–but this does not change reality either). Once marriage was redefined to include homosexual unions the law began further redefinition. Just a few months ago, in March, a New York court granted three-way custody to what many have called a “throuple.” Slate‘s story on the ruling was headlined, “New York Court Affirms Poly Parenthood with Three-Way Custody Ruling.” Just that headline illustrates the point I am making; whoever heard of “poly parenthood”?

Interestingly, the same Slate article–which was very supportive of the decision, recognized that the ruling was simply a logical outgrowth of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

The victory of Dawn Marano and her child could set solid legal precedent for future custody claims of parents in queer or polyamorous families, a necessary next step in a vision of parenthood and child-rearing that extends beyond the boundaries of monogamous marriage. Funnily enough, this is the exact future predicted by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in his dissent on the 2015 equal-marriage ruling Obergefell v. Hodges. While arguing that the slippery slope of same-sex marriage could lead to the total breakdown of social norms and family structures, he cited the important legal-theory volume “Married Lesbian Throuple Expecting First Child,” a New York Post article from 2014.

We cannot play fast and loose with our words. Words matter precisely because they mean something. Banning the word will not change that reality. The Supreme Court has demonstrated that it can effectively change the definition of a word, and the New York court has proven that it can follow that example by changing the legal basis of custody, but that is why we must be so diligent to protect the words and definitions that we have in place. When we carelessly cast them aside we are opening the door for something else to take their place–and we may have no idea what that something else will be.

Of course we will find out eventually. Or our children will. I am reminded of this quote from Ravi Zacharias: “Our society is walking through a maze of cultural land mines and the heaviest price is exacted as we send our children on ahead.”

Church Convictions

This Friday will be the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. As always, inauguration day will include a number of festivities and many “big names” will be involve din various ways. One of those who will not be involved, however, is Charlotte Church.

Church is a Welsh singer who became well known at the young age for her incredible voice. Her first album was released the year Church turned 12. The album sold millions and made Church the youngest person to ever have a number one album on the British crossover charts. She released a “best of” album at the ripe old age of 16. I would think it would be fair to call Church the Jackie Evancho of the early 2000s. (That comparison is appropriate in another way too, as will be seen shortly). About a dozen years Church made it known that was transitioning to pop music and, to be honest, I do not remember the last time I head anything about her until last week. I own all of her early CDs and enjoy them. I was shocked to discover that she is now 30 years old! Apparently she has still been performing and recording since I lost track of her but, also apparently, not in a manner or style I would much care for.

So what brought Church into the news last week? She was invited to perform for the Trump inauguration–and she very publicly declined. On January 10 Church tweeted to Trump, “Your staff have asked me to sing at your inauguration, a simple Internet search would show I think you’re a tyrant. Bye.” The Huffington Post took Church’s suggestion and did a simple internet search. They found a December 2015 tweet saying calling Trump, “A Sith death eater…….and an amoeba. I really, really detest him.” On a British talk show in 2016 she said, “I don’t hate anybody, but I hate that man.”

Those remarks would actually make it seem rather odd that Church would even be invited by the Trump team.

Church, of course, is not the only performer to have said no to performing for the inauguration. According to a January 15 article in Business Insider these artists have also reportedly declined invitations: Elton John, Céline Dion, Garth Brooks, Kiss, Moby, Andrea Bocelli, David Foster and Rebecca Ferguson. Half of these names, by the way, beg the question of why someone who campaigned on the motto “Make American Great Again” would even invite them. Does the United States really not enough of its own musical talent that British, Canadian, Italian and Welsh performers need to be imported? Not that I have any objection to international talent, mind you, it just seems odd to invite them to sing at the inauguration of the U.S. president. I guess I have never thought about it before, but I do not picture U.S. artists being invited to perform for the inauguration or coronation of other nations’ leaders. (This is not unique to Trump, of course. Barack Obama’s inauguration included Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and Gabriela Montero–a Chinese-American born in Paris, an Israeli-American and a Venezuelan now residing in Spain).

None of this is the point of the post anyway. The point is that Church and the others have exercised their right not to provide services on behalf or in celebration of a person they do not like and/or disagree with–strongly, it would appear. If I were Charlotte Church and I believed that Donald Trump was a tyrant then I would decline too. In fact, if nothing else, I respect Church and friends for standing by their convictions and not accepting an invitation to perform at a very visible and, I imagine, very well compensated event because of their stance regarding the individual being inaugurated. After all, performing at the inauguration would imply approval of Trump, or at least an acceptance. Her voice is Charlotte Church’s business, it is how she makes her living, it is, in a manner of speaking, the service she provides. Still, though, it is hers and she should have the right to decide when, where and for whom to sing, should she not? Besides, it is not like there are not other performers who can provide songs for the inauguration. Garth Brooks said no but Toby Keith said yes. Charlotte Church said no but Jackie Evancho said yes. And so it goes.

Here is the question though, and the real reason for this post: why is it okay for a musical artist to say no to a request from (or on behalf of) the president-elect of the United States, to perform at one of the most unique and meaningful events in our republic, but it is not okay for a baker to decline to make a cake or a hotel to decline to host an event or a printer to decline to print t-shirts?  We have all heard the accounts of individuals who did these things, and others, because their convictions are that homosexual marriage is wrong. Accordingly, they did not want to participate in or appear to approve of homosexual marriage ceremonies (or other events that violated their conscience and/or religious belief). It is not like there are not other bakers who can make cakes, florists who can provide flowers, hotels that can host events and printers that can print t-shirts or flyers or whatever, so why cannot those individuals who would have to violate their conscience in order to comply with the request act in accordance with their beliefs? Does someone have to rise to the level of celebrity to have these rights? Does there need to be a track record in the Twitter-sphere of one’s objections to a lifestyle or belief? Sadly, the truth is more along the lines of someone has to be opposing what is seen as acceptable and right by the liberal left, the collective of people who celebrate tolerance and inclusion but fail to practice the same when it comes to them being tolerant of those who not agree with them.

Aaron and Melissa Klein were bakers in Oregon who chose not to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding. The resulting publicity, fines and court cases cost them $135,000 and their business. What will their choice cost Charlotte Church, Elton John or Garth Brooks? I think it is safe to say it will cost them nothing. In fact, the media publicity for them has been positive, praising them for refusing to perform for Trump. (On the other hand, there has been media attention toward Evancho that is questionable and even negative in light of the fact that she has chosen to perform despite having a transgender “sister”).

An article in the December 31, 2016 issue of WORLD entitled “Fair of foul?” examines legislation targeted at including sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in non-discrimination policies and laws. According to the article there is a split among some evangelical leaders over whether such legislation should always be opposed or whether it should be supported so long as there is religious exemptions in the law. I come down on the side of it being always opposed. Religious exemptions, after all, usually only apply to businesses, not individuals, and even then usually only to businesses of a certain size. In a statement issued December 14, 2016 more than six dozen religious leaders expressed their opposition to SOGI laws of any kind. Why? “They argue that SOGI laws violate privacy rights and freedoms of religion, conscience, speech, and association….” Quite right.

So again, if the convictions of a Church (namely, Charlotte) can allow her to decline a invitation to sing for a presidential inauguration, why cannot the convictions someone learned at church (namely, Bible-believing and teaching churches) not also be respected? What do we gain from making something do something against their will after all? Nothing of value. Nothing we should really want to gain in the first place. If Charlotte, Andrea, Elton and Garth can act according to their convictions, Aaron and Melissa should be able to do the same thing. Anything else is simply intolerant.

My Year in Books — 2016

Well, I did it—I read fifty or more books for the tenth consecutive year. It was a close call this year though, as I ended with only fifty-one. So, here it is, the annual review of my year in books (grouped by genre, not by the order in which they were read).

The first book in read in 2016 was Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carré. Despite my fondness for thrillers and spy novels, this was the first le Carré novel I have ever read. It was enjoyable and captivating and I suspect I will read additional le Carré works in the future.

Other fiction I read in 2016 included the following: Behind Closed Doors by Elizabeth Haynes, an interesting book that keeps you wondering at times about who is telling the truth while also providing an accurate and uncomfortable look at life for those who are victims of sex trafficking; An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin, which was a fascinating look into the world of fine art as well as pleasing tale (though it does contain some unnecessary an explicit sex scenes); The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl, a story about a bookaneer—individuals who stole manuscripts of books by famous others to have them published abroad without the permission of the author, thus making vast sums for publishers and the bookaneers who sold them—trying to get Robert Louis Stevenson’s final novel; Conversion by Katherine Howe, a creative novel that provides astute insight into the circumstances that created the Salem Witch Trials by interweaving stories of that event with a modern re-telling of similar events taking place at a girls’ school located on land where the original events occurred; Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, which provides a keen look into World War II from the perspective of women in occupied France, including the difficulties they faced, the choices they had to make and the incredible ways in which they worked to defeat the Nazis; Mark Pryor’s Hollow Man was a well-written story that also causes the reader to give serious thought to things he might do for personal gain, that he would never ordinarily imagine doing, when given the right set of circumstances, while also providing an insightful look at the consequences of choices; The Black Country by Alex Grecian uniquely combines Civil War America with coal country England and a Scotland Yard murder investigation in late 19th-century Britain and it, too, provides insightful consideration of the consequences of choices; Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Truth Be Told is part of a series of novels written by Agatha Anthony, Mary Higgins Clark and Ryan, and it includes a unique twist on home foreclosures and fixing bank books while also interweaving a cold case; The Whistler is probably John Grisham’s best effort in recent memory, far better than last year’s Rogue Lawyer and better than Gray Mountain, though he decided, for the second novel in a row, to make one of the main characters a lesbian—despite that adding nothing to the story; I do still enjoy Grisham’s teen series, and 2016 included Theodore Boone: The Scandal; and Natchez Burning by Greg Iles was a gripping and angering look at atrocities committed by white supremacists in the Deep South in the 1950s and ‘60s, combined with a taken-from-the-headlines storyline about bringing the perpetrators to justice some fifty years later—but the book starts to assume credulity from its readers near the end and when Iles proved either unable or unwilling to wrap up the story in nearly 800 pages I had little interest in reading the other two books in what I learned is actually a trilogy.

Jeffrey Archer released both the sixth and seventh (and final) installments of The Clifton Chronicles in 2016, Cometh the Hour and This Was a Man, and I read them both. I continue to enjoy Archer’s writing and any of these books could be read enjoyable as stand-alone novels, though it was a pleasure to read all seven. As always, I read a number of James Patterson books in 2016 and I continue to find them to be delightful mental vacations where the good guys always win in the end. Last year’s selections included Private Vegas, Private Paris, Private India and The Games, all part of the Private series (and all written with co-authors), NYPD Red 4 continued that series, and Alert and Bullseye continued the Detective Michael Bennett series (and those were also all written with co-authors).

One work of fiction I read in 2016 was a book I probably never would have picked up on my own but found to be a fascinating read after it was loaned to me by a friend who thought I should read it: The Time It Never Rained by Elmer Kelton. The story was based on true events during the extreme drought in 1950s Texas and gave me not only a greater appreciation for what those ranchers went through but for ranchers and ranching in general.

I found myself in the rather unusual position of enjoying all of the “classics” that I read in 2016, something which has been a rarity, and they spanned a range of “classic” categories. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is particularly haunting precisely because it is a true story. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper deserves to be a classic in my opinion and while it may not be entirely accurate, it does offer a glimpse into the changes that European settlement brought to Native American life in America. As I read Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon I felt like I was watching an old black and white cops-and-robbers movie with classic film noir vibes. It is really the first book of that genre I have ever read and I suspect there will be more in my future. Tess of the d’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy, was somewhat different than I expected and it offers an abundance of opportunity for thought and discussion about marriage, the long-lasting implications of hasty decisions made in the pursuit of lust, the hypocrisy so many of us are guilty of when it comes to expecting to be forgiven for grave wrongs but are so reluctant to forgive similar failures in others and the despair that can result when it seems there is no hope left. And finally, C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters is indeed an easy-to-read but deeply insightful look at the failures of fallen humans and the methods employed to tempt us.

As always, there were a number of biographies and autobiographies that made my list in 2016. The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther and The Daring Mission of William Tyndale are both by Steven Lawson and a part of the Long Line of Godly Men series. The serve as good introductory overviews of these men but the writing lacks polish and precision at times. Jonathan Horn’s The Man Who Would Not Be Washington was a very readable, thorough and honest look at the life of Robert E. Lee. Nina Burleigh’s The Stranger and the Statesman is mostly a biography of James Smithson, though it necessarily interweaves some biography of John Quincy Adams and tells the story of the Smithsonian Institute’s founding. Jon Meacham’s Destiny and Power is a superb biography of George H.W. Bush and George Vecsey’s Stan Musial is a terrific telling of the life of that baseball great (whom I was also privileged to meet more than twenty years ago). Margery Heffrom’s Louisa Catherine provided a fascinating look into the life and character of Mrs. John Quincy Adams, a first lady whom I knew very little about. Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick irritated me for the first half of the book, as it seemed that he was either assuming facts not in evidence or ignoring the facts that were in evidence when making assertions about Benedict Arnold. However, he then shifts course and writes one of the more probing observations of human character I have ever come across in a single paragraph. And Richard Zacks’ The Pirate Hunter was a fascinating tale of Captain Kidd, the famed “pirate.” If Zacks’ account is correct, Kidd may be one of the most unfortunate men in history.

In her autobiography In Order to Live, Yeonmi Park provides both valuable insight into what it is like to grow up in North Korea and a gripping account of what she and her family went through to escape the Hermit Kingdom. And as one of the original Little Rock Nine, Carlotta Walls LaNier offers an understanding of what it was like, and the commitment it took, to integrate the all-white schools of Alabama in A Mighty Long Way. David Ring, John Driver and David Wideman combined to write a moving account of David Ring’s life told from the perspective of David Wideman, who became (and remains) a close friend, in The Boy Born Dead. If you have heard of Ring and think you know his story, I would suggest that you do indeed only think you know his story until you have read this book. Elizabeth Vargas showed tremendous personal strength and courage in writing Between Breaths, an autobiography that focuses primarily on her fierce struggle with anxiety and alcoholism—all while appearing in front of millions of people every day on Good Morning, America, 20/20 and ABC World News Tonight. If you think alcoholism is purely the result of weakness and lack of effort this book will surely disabuse you of such a notion.

In the areas of spiritual growth, theology and Bible study I read a lot on the Sermon on the Mount in 2016, including all of John MacArthur’s The Beatitudes: The Only Way to Happiness and James Montgomery Boice’s The Sermon on the Mount. (I also read much of Thomas Watson’s The Beatitudes and volume one of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, but since I did not read all of the first and my copy of the latter includes both volumes in a single book, I did not count either). Eric Ludy’s God’s Gift to Women is written for a target audience of teenage males, but it provides worthwhile instruction on how God intended men and women to relate to one another and men to treat women in particular. John Piper and Wayne Grudem edited Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which is particularly relevant amidst the feminism and redefining of gender roles and identities that is so prevalent in our world today. Along those same lines, Elyse Fitzpatrick’s Helper By Design is a book about God’s design for married women that would likely set any NOW member into fits of histrionics.

A couple of books that did not really fit in any other categories: Letters to Lisa by John Van Dyk provides helpful ideas for Christian teachers in an easy-to-read style, since it is written as correspondence between Van Dyk, a professor at Dordt College, and his daughter during the beginning of her teaching career; Patrick Lencioni’s The Ideal Team Player continues Lencioni’s series of helpful parable-style books on business and management but for some reason includes profanity in the tale that adds nothing to the book and will likely offend some of his readers; and Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fujimura is a book I do not know how to categorize, as it is equal parts Japanese history and accounts of Christian persecution, literary and art criticism and spiritual meditation. I have not read Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence, which is the basis of this book, and I suspect Fujimura’s work will be more meaningful to those who have read it.

So, that was my year in books. I think I may have left a few books out of this summary, but then I always do. Perhaps something here will catch your attention or pique your interest and you will explore new books in the upcoming year as a result. Happy reading!