The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund MorrisSummary: First of a trilogy of biographies on Theodore Roosevelt; this one takes us up until the point where he is told of the death of President McKinley.

I picked up The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt a while ago when it was on sale. I knew it had one a Pulitzer Prize and that it was listed as one of the top 100 non-fiction books ever written by Modern Library.

Starting with his early life and continuing until McKinley’s death, which is what moved Roosevelt from Vice President to President, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt is indeed a very good biography. It wasn’t until I was nearly finished that I went back and realized that this was originally published in 1979.

The treatment of the first couple years of Teddy’s life felt a bit too light and almost hagiography. But that fell away as he became an adult. I saw in one of the reviews on Goodreads that someone said, ‘It would be hard to make Theodore Roosevelt into an uninteresting character.’ And that is very true. His life was fascinating.

He was a real reformer, albeit one that was still highly influenced by his culture. He supported women’s right to vote very early. He worked to see African Americans included in the Republican Party convention and supported other instances of what we could anachronistically call civil rights in the late 19th century. He worked strongly for government reform and against machine politics and patronage.

But he also was extremely jingoistic and casually racist against Native Americans and many others as was common of the day. But even at the time, many did not want him to be the Assistant Secretary of War because he was too fascinated by war and Manifest Destiny even at the time.

Part of what is fascinating to me is the role his insistence of proper behavior played in his life. He was very moral and proper and expected other to be as well. Not just about not cheating on his wife (or sleeping around before he was married) or drinking too much or selling votes or similar, but also about the proper ways to address your class or cultural betters. He hated to be referred to as Teddy and even just Roosevelt was not allowed by someone that worked for him or under him.

Fortress Press Sale

Fortress Press has their what has become a semi-annual sale going on. It is never advertised and seems to usually last about 2-3 weeks. Fortress Press is a mostly academic press focusing on theology, pastoral care, ethics and bible.

As a warning, some of the books that have been transformed into kindle editions are CRAP. One on Barth that I read had literally hundreds of errors in the first long chapter and I gave up. But the ones that were created originally as kindle versions (instead of scanner) are fine.

Below is a handful of what is on sale (complete list of sale books)

The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle (Crosswicks Journal #3)

The Irrational Season by Madeleine L'Engle (Crosswicks Journal #3)Summary: More wisdom, riffing off of the liturgical year or the Irrational Season.

The Crosswick Journals are hard to describe. Each of the three that I have read has been very different. But the central reason for reading them is the same, wisdom.

The first was mostly about writing and family and calling and art. But there was lots more to it than those ideas. The second was mostly about family history, especially Madeleine L’Engle’s Mother, who was dying during the period being written about. The third, Irrational Season is even more hodgepodge than the first two. But there is a theme of the liturgical year, while not strictly focused on, does bring some organization.

One feature that is new in The Irrational Season is a lot of L’Engle’s original poetry. I am not a particular fan of poetry. I understand the appeal. But I also do not want to put in the time. Poetry doesn’t work if you skim it. Poetry requires slow and repeated work. I don’t like giving books slow and repeated work. I like reading quickly and absorbing what I can and then maybe reading again a while later and absorbing some more.

Christianity and Race in America: A Brief History by Bobby Griffith

Christianity and Race in America: A Brief History by Bobby GriffithSummary: A short survey of the problems and history of race within the Christian church in America.

Christianity and Race in America is a modified lecture intended to be a brief introduction to why Race is an important issue to the Christian Church in the United States.

At this point, I find it a bit hard to think that anyone can think that race and discrimination and the history of slavery, segregation and separation in the United States isn’t a big issue. But just a few minutes of pursuing current polling shows that there is still wide ignorance of the history of race in the US, especially within the world of White Evangelicals.

Christianity and Race in America is a good brief pamphlet. Although I think if you are not really convinced, then reading either Mark Noll’s God and Race in American Politics: A Short History and/or Ken Wytsma’s recent The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege are probably better options. All three are calls from White Evangelical Christians to the White Evangelical church to pay attention the indictment against the church that continued racism makes to the message of the gospel.

Although if you want read stronger calls directly from African-Americans, then Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson or, from a secular perspective, Between the World and Me by Ta’Nahasi Coates or a Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin are well worth reading.

It is hard to be too clear about this. African-Americans and other minorities are still widely discriminated against within the church. That discrimination has a long and incriminating history. The call of the gospel is that we are all sinners, but that we are all loved by God and created in the image of God. The idea that some may be more loved by God is contrary to the gospel.

I am still convinced that much discrimination within the church is more about ignorance than animus. But it is hard to continue to believe that in the face of mountains of evidence that many White Christians are continuing to ignore.

Another book, The Half that Has not Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, I finished last week. It is yet another strong case for why, even if you are a recent immigrant to the US or if your ancestors never held slaves, our the very act of living in the US and participating in our economy implicates all of us in the history of slavery.

Christianity and Race in America: A Brief History by Bobby Griffith Purchase Links: Kindle Edition

On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service by Rhys Bowen

On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service by Rhys BowenSummary: Georgie is again sent to check up on her cousin (who happens to be the Crown Prince.)

The series premise is that Georgie, now 35th in line to the throne, is too poor to really survive on her own without working. But it too royal to take a real job. So she pieces together things here and there, often staying with friends or family.

The ‘Royal Spyness’ from the series name has mostly been an accidental detective. Georgie is somewhere and someone is murdered and she figures out who it is. And while there has been several books with explicit directions from the Queen, it has not been spy or detective work as much as problem solving.

On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service is one of the clearest attempts to actually carry through with the premise. The Queen sends out Georgie to check up on the Crown Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson. The Queen is afraid that they are going to quietly get married.

Because this is a historical fiction cozy mystery, there really is some history that these are loosely based on. Prince Edward was having an affair with Mrs Simpson. There was concern about his getting married to her (she was twice divorced and could not legally get married to him if he was going to be King.)

At the end of the last book, it appeared that Georgie and Darcy are going to get married, if the marriage can be approved by the King and Parliament (because Darcy is Catholic, Georgie has to officially remove herself from the line of succession to marry Darcy.)

One of my common complaints about series fiction is that the broader story of the series often does not move much during each individual book. This is the 11th book and Georgie and Darcy have had a romance going on since the beginning. It has been slow, but I do think the series is making progress, not just in the relationship, but historically.

The History of Christianity: From the Disciples to the Dawn of the Reformation by Luke Timothy Johnson

The History of Christianity: From the Disciples to the Dawn of the Reformation by Luke Timothy JohnsonSummary: Catholic theologian/historian recounts the history of the early church.

Luke Timothy Johnson is a professor at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. He is a former Benedictine monk and priest before going back for his PhD. Since 1976 he has taught at several Catholic institutions as well as Indiana University, Yale and now Emory.

I have been interested in several of his books for a while, but I haven’t gotten around to reading them. So as is standard when I am interesting in an author I picked up books that go on sale, which often are books that are targeted toward a general audience.

The first book of Johnson’s I read was A Very Short Introduction to the New Testament. I thought it was a helpful introduction, primarily focusing on the content of the New Testament and not the scholarship around the New Testament as is common for the Oxford Press series.

I have read a number of History of Christianity surveys. Part of what is interesting in reading a number of survey’s of Christian history is the decisions that get made on what to include and what not to include. The big subjects will pretty much always get included (in this case, the councils, Constantine, the fall of Rome, the split between the East and West, etc.)

The Community of God: A Theology of the Church from a Reluctant Pastor by Douglas Bursch

The Community of God: A Theology of the Church from a Reluctant Pastor by Douglas BurschSummary: The church is essential, even if it is messy.

I am writing this way too long after I read it. When I finished it, I immediately purchased a copy for a friend that is a young pastor. I have been thinking about this book for several weeks now. For too many of us, myself included, the church as a local body or a universal body seems a bit unnecessary.

After all, what is important is my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, not anything that I do, like attend church. I have heard frequently (and I believe) that you are not a Christian because you attend church. It is not hard to get the understanding that the local church is a nice add-on, but not essential, especially if you don’t particularly enjoy the local body or don’t feel particularly close to anyone in the local body.

I attend a mega-church. Many things about the idea of a megachurch make me uncomfortable. Particularly when I read books like this about the importance of the local church. I have a real bias, in no small part because I feel like I have been called to this particular megachurch (or at least do not feel like I should leave it right now.)

But Doug Bursch and many others (particularly Eugene Peterson) have reminded me that the individualism of our world that emphasizes me and God against the world is foreign to the worldview of the New Testament. The church is far from perfect, and every local church is far from perfect. But there is something about the local church that is essential to our spiritual growth. We do not grow spiritually in the abstract. We grow because we are encouraged by (and struggle with) actual people.

Doug Bursch is a pastor who does not always like people in the church. (If I were ever to become a pastor, I am sure that I would be even more extreme version of that.) But he is a pastor that believes in the church; just one that have been convinced about his own inadequacy to lead (or change) the local body apart from Christ.

American Religious History by Patrick Alitt (Great Courses)

American Religious History by Patrick Alitt (Great Courses)Summary: Primarily focusing on post Civil War eras, the religious history of the United States is fascinating.

I am a fan of Christian history. Even though I have read a number of books and taken multiple classes on Christian history, there is so much to learn. The Great Course’s lecture on American Religious History is from professor Patrick Alitt. He is a British (Anglican) immigrant to the US. So he brings a unique perspective as an outsider to American Religious history.

I certainly would not have organized the class in the way that he did, but I did learn a number of things. Most of the focus was on post-Civil War history, which is good with me. I have read more about early American Religious history anyway.

Some Christians may be surprised by the inclusion of non-Christian religious history here, but the lecture on Native American religious history, the inclusion of information on Mormons, Muslims, Jewish and other religious history is necessary to the whole story of religious history in the US. In many ways I think some of these minor subjects should have been covered in more depth. But there is so much that can be theoretically covered, that it is hard to complain too much about the balance of choices.

While I did enjoy it, I did not think it was as good as The History of Christian Theology, but it was worth listening to.

America’s Religious History by Patrick Alitt (Great Courses) Purchase Links: Audible.com Audiobook

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John le Carré

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John le CarréTakeaway: Being a spy, influencing the other side is difficult to do and prone to morally questionable decisions.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is the book that first made John le Carré’s name (or made John le Carré, a pseudonym famous.) John le Carré was a spy, who became a writer. He came to prominence at about the same time Ian Fleming was becoming famous with James Bond. In many ways he was the anti-Bond.

Bond is known for action and individualism. George Smiley is over weight and a bit dumpy. He is an intellectual and an analyst. Carré’s books are slow and have complex plots. Fleming’s books are much shorter, are much more action based and idealize the work of a spy.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is the first of le Carré’s books that I have re-read. And it reminds much how soul deadening that le Carré makes intelligence work. There is some action and some understanding of the west being on the right side of the cold war. But that doesn’t mean that the west is always right in their actions. John le Carré is an author that if he had not read Niebuhr, he at least understood the basic concepts that Niebuhr wrote about in the Irony of American History.

An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story by Jeremy Sabella

An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story by Jeremy SabellaSummary: A companion book to the PBS documentary on Reinhold Niebuhr.

The past couple of months I keep running across Reinhold Niebuhr. While I read him in seminary, I have not directly read anything by him for several years. But Niebuhr has come back to the world again with modern politics.

The two strong points that Niebuhr makes to our current political and theological world is that systems are always broken. No matter how good the goals or purposes of any institution or organization is, that institution or organization is still made up of sinful humans and will eventually disappoint or harm.

The second related point, that primarily comes out in his Irony of American History, is that in addition to institutions be broken, organizations with good goals will often adopt bad means to accomplish those good goals and in some ways be more dangerous than the institutions that are openly negative. With good intentions, comes the thought that people working within good institutions to cut corners or harm people because of the greater good that accomplishing those good goals will bring.

Those two points keep coming up. So I picked up An American Conscience and then watched the documentary after I finished the book. This is a brief book, not even 200 pages. But it does a good job introducing Niebuhr to readers that were likely not even born when he passed away.