Running Heads

From the editors of Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications at Wipf and Stock Publishers

Stuck in My Craw

I don’t often take up hot button issues here on our editors’ blog. This is for a handful of reasons: 1) I rarely have the time to sit with the topics long enough to put together something thoughtful and coherent. I am not the sort of person who processes by writing. I usually need to let thoughts germinate for a while before trying to say anything in public about them, and I just don’t give them the time. Hot button topics typically come across my radar as I browse headlines or Facebook walls. They then go off my radar, or at least move to the periphery, once I turn my attention to editing books, raising kids, running, college basketball, or following various soccer leagues. 2) I have not developed the art of tactfulness when it comes to these things. My foot fits in my mouth very easily. 3) Because of the first two things, I am careful not to put knee-jerk posts on this blog (but you should see my Facebook wall!). In some ways I am representing Wipf and Stock Publishers on this forum; although, we have been given a good deal of leeway. Still, I proceed cautiously because I work with all sorts of authors, and I kind of like keeping good relationships with people across the ideological and theological spectrum.

This week I’ve been haunted by several online essays, public memes, and other cultural conversations. Given the reasons listed above, I don’t plan to say much about any of these topics, but I do want to get some of them off my chest, as it were. Some may these things and accuse me of suffering from white man’s guilt. If that is so, it is a justified guilt, I think. I come by suspicion and criticism easily. I’m especially good at poking at the cultures and institutions I myself am or have been a part of. For example, I could go on for a while about white, Southern evangelicals. I have in recent years become more critical of northwest liberalism’s influence on northwest Christianity. I think some of this criticism from within is a product of my own personal self-reflection/criticism. See all that has preceded as evidence of this! I’m working on it. All that to say, here are a couple of things that have stuck in my craw lately.

White Privilege, Quantified

In all, the experiment yielded data on more than 1,500 encounters between volunteers and drivers. Nearly two-thirds of the volunteers’ pleas were successful, but the rate at which they were granted differed greatly across ethnicities. White participants were given a lot more leeway than black ones: 72 percent of white subjects were allowed to stay onboard, while only 36 percent of black ones were. The rate for South Asian subjects was around 50 percent, and for East Asians it was 73 percent.

The Failure of Macho Christianity

The ego-inflation and aggressive tendencies that these hyper-masculine ministries encourage seem to be the very pathologies that undermine their churches, leaving their congregations vulnerable to upheaval and public spectacle.

and the backlash the author has received from the Pick-Up Artist movement she mentioned in the above article.

 

Everett Ferguson and Patristics

Everett Ferguson is one of the world’s leading historians of Christianity, with special emphasis on the patristic era. You might be acquainted with his work in well known volumes such as Backgrounds of Early Christianity (3rd ed., 2003), Church History (2 vols., 2005), and Early Christians Speak: Faith and Life in the First Three Centuries (3rd ed., 1999-2002).

I have edited two volumes of his collected essays and I am now working on the third. The three-volume collection is titled The Early Church at Work and Worship. Volume 1 is Ministry, Ordination, Covenant, and Canon (2013) and volume 2 is Catechesis, Baptism, Eschatology, and Martyrdom (2014). The volume 3 is Worship, Eucharist, Music, and Gregory of Nyssa and will be published later this year.

What is striking about Ferguson’s work is that it is both so broadly based (conversant with an enormously wide range of ancient literature) and deep (with penetrating analysis of the theological and historical issues). If you haven’t delved into Ferguson’s work before, you will be greatly rewarded if you explore these essays.

Rev. Thomas Allin—The Anglican Universalist

I am currently preparing a lovely new edition of Thomas Allin’s classic text, Universalism Asserted (1st ed., 1888).

Thomas Allin (1838–1909) was an Anglican clergyman from the west of Ireland. In 1877 he moved with his wife, Emily, to Weston-super-Mare on the Somerset coast—not too far from where I live. It was there that he wrote and published his impressive defense of universalism.

In preparing this new edition I have been struck again by how theologically astute Allin was. His work is a model of good Anglican theologizing, organized around the three theological sources of reason, tradition, and Scripture.  And he very carefully weaves the three together into an integrated and impressive case for universalism.

His first section offers some devastating philosophical critiques of the traditional notion of hell and of annihilationism. His second section is a very impressive survey of universalism in Christian history, showing just how prevalent it was among the orthodox of the early centuries. The final section opens with a consideration of how the whole of traditional Christian dogmatics fits together more coherently when set within a universalist framework. It then considers, albeit not with the exegetical rigor one may desire, a wide range of universalist texts, before showing how the so-called hell texts are not supports for the Augustinian tradition on hell at all.

Scholarship has moved forward in all of the areas Allin handles, but the advances, for the most part, are consistent with his basic instincts back in the nineteenth century.

I don’t know much about this guy—not even what he looked like—but I’d love to have met him. I think he ranks as one of the great nineteenth-century writers on eschatology.

(More on the new edition in due course—it is a lot of blooming work, so I am not yet sure of the actual schedule, but I am hoping it’ll be out this year. It’ll be with our Wipf and Stock imprint.)

The Heresy of American Exceptionalism

It’s been a few weeks since the National Prayer Breakfast, where President Obama made his remarks that various religions, Christianity included, are liable to extremist abuses. But the remarks still reverberate, particularly on the Right. From there, for instance, Rudy Giuliani recently challenged Obama’s patriotism and complained that Obama is not an American  exceptionalist. “With all our flaws,” Giuliana said, “we’re the most exceptional country in the world. . . . I’ve never felt that from him.”

Despite Giuliani’s insinuations, President Obama has labeled himself an American exceptionalist. He has said, “I believe in American exceptionalism,” though not one based on “our military prowess or our economic dominance.” Rather, “Our exceptionalism must be based on our Constitution, our principles, our values, and our ideals. We are at our best when we are speaking in a voice that captures the aspirations of people across the globe.”

Obama has made even more circumspect remarks about American exceptionalism. He has said, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Though that’s a letter perfect statement of a proper patriotism (each person honoring his or her country just as we honor our parents without assuming others don’t also consider their own parents superior), it would no doubt give critics like Giuliani the heebie-jeebies. They want America to be understood as uniquely superior.

Actually, something like Obama’s exceptionalism may be understood as theologically defensible. It claims no eschatological role for America. But the stronger (dare we say extremist?) view of American exceptionalism is decidedly objectionable. Abraham Lincoln, of blessed memory, took a misstep of this “stronger” sort when he declared that America is  “the last, best hope of mankind.” Lincoln’s view was echoed by Ronald Reagan, who declared, “In a world wracked by hatred, economic crisis, and political tension, America remains mankind’s best hope.”

On the contrary, Jesus Christ is humanity’s last and best hope. And the social, political locus of that hope is not any nation-state, but the church. Lincoln and Reagan, in that light, promulgated something of a heresy. As we move closer to the another presidential election and the culture wars again heat up, we may be hearing much more of this heresy. Beware.

An Excerpt from “Borderline: Reflections on War, Sex, and Church” by Stan Goff

It’s been a season of theologically informed memoirs in my work as an editor. Last week, I posted an excerpt from Charles H. Featherstone’s important new book, The Love That Matters: Meeting Jesus in the Midst of Terror and Death. This week, I offer two excerpts from the equally important new work of Stan Goff: Borderline: Reflections on War, Sex, and Church“Stan Goff is a remarkable human being,” enthuses Stanley Hauerwas, “so we should not be surprised at this equally remarkable book. Drawing on feminist theory, Goff helps us see war as an expression of a perverse masculinity. His philosophical and theological insights throughout this book are stunning. Borderline is a must-read for anyone concerned with war and its effect on our lives.”
Goff’s book is a big one, but don’t let that scare you away. We American Christians desperately need to make whatever time is necessary to grapple with every page of this searching work of theological and cultural criticism. The first passage is taken from chapter 30, “Bombs, Babies, and ‘Burbs,” pages 366–69; the second comes from chapter 31, “The Herd,” pages 376–77 and 383–85.

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30

Bombs, Babies, and ’Burbs

Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.

—Robert Oppenheimer,
upon witnessing the first atomic bomb test

Progress is our most important product.

—General Electric tag line, 1954,
delivered on television by Ronald Reagan

. . . .

After World War II, the leaders of the nation, civic and political, wanted to leave the war behind and begin the process of consolidating the power they had inherited in the wake of European destruction and the unraveling of European empires. American men themselves were keen to settle back down, get jobs, and raise families. Their collective masculinity had been proven abroad in combat, and their political masculinity was proven by the bomb. The nation required a new mythic narrative, now that “democracy had triumphed over dictatorship” and military action would become a sideline (in Korea?) while the nation’s efforts were directed toward the postwar surge in capital accumulation driven by technological innovation and consumer demand. Not only the nation, but the re-establishment of a hegemonic masculinity required a revised mythic narrative. One cultural manifestation of this shift was the renewed popularity of the Western. Richard Slotkin writes,

In the midst of this ideological turmoil, the Western and its informing mythology offered a language and a set of conceptual structures rich in devices for defining the differences between competing races, classes, cultures, social orders, and moral codes. It incorporated these definitions in pseudo-historical narratives which suggested that human [male] heroism could shape the course of future events. Moreover, the preoccupation with violence that characterizes the Western and the Myth of the Frontier made its formulations particularly useful during a period of continual conflict between the claims of democratic procedure and Cold War policies that required the use of armed force. [Richard Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth Century America (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998) 350].

As we will see, this contradiction between “democratic” and conformist Father Knows Best masculinity and the Western hero cum secret warrior masculinity was being resolved by making these two forms complementary, with the former supportive of the latter, but supportive in a passive and vicarious way. The good suburban husband and father would virtuously consume and work, and his participation in the bloodletting of the warrior would be as a spectator. The cowboy-hero became the symbol for political masculinity.

In the two elections in which George W. Bush ran for president, we saw this transfer of cowboy-hero symbolism to the individual candidate/officeholder; it was politically effective even though Bush himself was born in 1946 to a wealthy Eastern patrician family and was a frat boy and cheerleader at Yale University. Simulation and symbol trumped reality.

In 1947, Hollywood produced fourteen Westerns; the following year the number jumped to thirty-one. In 1952, it produced forty Westerns, and in 1956 a total of forty-six. After 1956, there was a dip in production caused by competition in the genre from television. From 1955 to 1970, Westerns were consistently among the highest-rated television series, pulling on average about a third of all viewers [ibid., 347–48].

The interplay between film, fiction, television, popular norms, and power is complex. Cultural productions do not generate a certain politics, nor does a certain political practice play a direct causative role in the production of cultural myths and archetypes. Politics and public discourse about it create clusters of public concern—these are the things that are “important.” Yet if those public concerns have no connection with the real, material concerns of most people’s lives, they are likely to be ignored. Pre-existing patterns within culture interact with these concerns, and there is a dialectical give-and-take between “art” and “reality.” Art itself, when it is a commodity, has to take into account its salability, its likelihood of being accepted. Does it connect to popular concerns or the way people live their lives in a particular period, even if that connection is controversial? Controversy can be salable! Symbols that are not recognizable, however, will not provoke a response; and there are already numerous mythic landscapes with which a particular “public” may be familiar.

Art has a special ability to create emotional resonance that is not the case with many forms of “rational” public discourse. That’s why art is always part of any social change movement; it can mobilize emotions as well as new conversations. In combination, art, power, and mass communication have established a form of power unthinkable to local despots and transient emperors of the past, a means for rendering the governed incapable of imagining anything except how they are governed. In a nation of hundreds of millions of people, a largely conformist population is a prerequisite to effective bureaucratic administration combined with autonomy of the state to exercise its military and security apparatuses.

An analytics of government . . . views practices of government in their complex and variable relations to the different ways in which “truth” is produced in social, cultural, and political practices. On the one hand, we govern others and ourselves according to what we take to be true about who we are, what aspects of our existence should be worked upon, how, with what means, and to what ends. We thus govern others and ourselves according to various truths about our existence and nature as human beings. On the other hand, the ways in which we govern and conduct ourselves give rise to different ways of producing truth. [Mitchell Dean, Governmentality: Power and Rule in Modern Society (London: Sage, 2010) 27].

Just as Carol Cohn, after speaking technostrategic for a time, found that “the more conversations I participated in using this language, the less frightened I was of nuclear war,” the power of mass media, if it uses the same idiom as power, can establish the actuality of that power as given, as common sense.

The postwar Western movie had several archetypical storylines, which Slotkin has named and described: the town-tamer, the cavalry and the Indians, the revised outlaw, the gunfighter, the High Noon showdown, and the good man with a gun. The Western genre gave each of these narratives a wide “mythic space” in which to tell these differing stories [Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation, 351]. Cold War Westerns all had some defining borderline, whether it was a river, a fort’s palisade, a street, a fence, or the (fragile) boundary between civilization and wilderness, or savagery. A hero or protagonist had to cross those borderlines and by transgressing them “reveal the meaning of the frontier line” as he entered the dark side to protect the good side. Sometimes, after we were schooled in the psychoanalytic wolf-man, as the protagonist dealt with the “darkness” across the border, he also dealt with the darkness within himself. It is always a he. In the Western, the audience was to understand the boundary that separates their past from the viewing present, and therein they understood this to be a tale of progress. Last but certainly not least, there was a resolution, a “regeneration” accomplished by male violence [ibid., 352].

. . . .

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31

The Herd

Saul replied, “Say to David, ‘The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies.’”

—1 Samuel 18:25

We are the unwilling, sent by the unqualified, to do the unnecessary for the ungrateful.

—Helmet graffiti, Vietnam

“It don’t mean nuthin.”

I learned that phrase in Vietnam. We said it when someone was killed. We said it when the mail didn’t come out on the resupply bird. We said it when we got busted. We said it when we were shriveled up with four days of ceaseless rain. We said it when we watched the ARVNs beating the shit out of a prisoner. We said it when we got jungle rot. We said it while the house burned after we set the roof thatch on fire. We said it when we smoked opium in a whorehouse. We said it if we killed a child. We said it when we were just tired and it was a long way to our DEROS date.

“Fuck it. Don’t mean nuthin’.”

Postmodern philosophy in the boonies.

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I entered the army with a head full of Ayn Rand’s smug, circular logic and a flaccid, indolent, adolescent body. I had rationalized the army and internalized the culture’s masculine ideal . . . minus football. I never liked football. I enlisted intent on becoming a Green Beret.

In basic training, I was summarily reduced to a slobbering, faint-hearted fool by a plague of sadistic drill sergeants. How I recoiled from the reality of hard work when my skinny limbs and tar-speckled lungs encountered real, deep-down fatigue! Within one day, I wanted nothing more than to retreat to my hometown, where I could fritter away the hours bargaining with girls for sex, drinking beer, and trying to one-up my acquaintances in debates on topics about which none of us knew a damn thing. With time, however, my body hardened, my bluster returned, I became accustomed to being named Dickhead (we were all named Dickhead), and I came to recognize the ever clean, ever starched drill sergeants as the embodiment of power. Stockholm at Fort Leonard Wood.

We sang “Yellow Bird” when we marched:

A yellow bird

With a yellow bill

Was perched upon

My windowsill.

I lured him in

With bits of bread

And then I smashed

His fucking head.

. . . two, three, four, hut, two, three, four . . .

 

.  .  .  .

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With the progression of hours and days [in Vietnam], as is the case with young men, the discussions became more emboldened. Each retelling was another blow to my shattered innocence. A booby trap had killed JoJo last month. As repayment, it was okay to kill an old woman hoeing a vegetable patch. To “kill a dink for JoJo.” This was Vietnam, my truest and most tangible introduction to the possibilities of human action.

I was in the company of my peers. I needed their acceptance. They looked like me. They liked the same music. We got high together. We became misty-eyed with each other over letters from home. Many claimed that after the army they wanted to become hippies (for the drugs, music, and allegedly easy women). In the extremity of our circumstance, in my platoon, the lines between black and white were erased and replaced by the line between GIs and “gooks.” It was a brotherhood of youth, engaged voluntarily or not in a race war. I think that’s what Hawk was thinking—the one black man with the kill patrol—not long after the kill, when he gave me that long, sad look. He would become a heroin addict after that. I don’t know if he ever really came home. Sometimes, I’m not sure I did, or can . . . or should be allowed to.

The first time I tossed a burning heat tab onto the thatched roof of a barn, it was like pledging a fraternity. I was accepted more thoroughly than I ever had been in my life—accepted into a fraternity that was untouchable by anything but death. You don’t just set the building on fire. You giggle when the weeping, wailing family tries to put it out. Then you have become crazy enough to be safe. Mimesis.

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Months later, I was a relative old-timer. We’d left our “pacification” installations after Christmas and gone back “on swing,” patrolling through the mountains, bedding down in shallow scrapes or between rocks wherever we found ourselves at the end of the day, unprotected from the weather. I was accustomed now to the steep, slippery trails that we hacked out a yard at a time with machetes. My M60 machine gun was no more bother than carrying a briefcase. I had a human skull mounted on top of my rucksack, tied on with an embroidered headband through two bullet holes in the occipital area (a gunship had killed him, or her, from above). The mandible was secured to the cranium with medical adhesive tape that had turned gray. My ear was pierced. I’d done it with a pencil, a sewing needle and a bar of soap at a whorehouse in Lodu Beach. My boots were scuffed down to a tan, the second pair. I looked crazy, walked crazy, was high any time I had anything to get high with. I didn’t even use the tablets to treat my water anymore. Drank it straight from the streams. I could sleep in a mud hole. I could put one foot in front of the other indefinitely. I was angry all the time, even when I smiled and laughed, even when I lay in the frame of the rucksack, letting the wind blow the sweat off of me, smoking and talking about what I might want to do when I got back to “the world.” I fantasized about killing officers.

On swing, we stayed in the “free fire” zones for the most part—areas where we were cleared to kill any human being that wasn’t wearing our OG-107 fatigue uniforms. We’d stay out for forty-five to sixty days in between three- to five-day stand-downs, rest periods inside fixed installations. We walked up. We walked down. Days in, days out. Sun or rain. During the monsoon season, it was rain or harder rain. We would see no one but ourselves, unless it was to shoot them, or call in Napalm or Phugas or artillery to kill them from afar. Walking, left toe then right toe, chipping mindlessly forward into the crushed vegetation. “Humping the boonies.”

Only rarely did we venture near a road or a ville, and this was when we’d stop some enterprising Vietnamese to secure more drugs. We bought pot by the sandbag full; pure heroin the size of a sugar cube for five bucks. And Obisetol, an over-the-counter speed to help us stay awake. They recognized us, the guys who had drugs for sale, and we recognized them. The rest, they were just more dinks.

One day, we were beside a road. A young Vietnamese man pedaled past me with a bicycle that had two saddle baskets full of sugarcane. He smiled at me as he approached.

“Keep movin’, you fuckin’ gook.” That was me. I said that.

He stopped. I leapt to my feet at his impertinence.

He seemed utterly unafraid, just sad. He spoke English.

“This my home,” he told me. “I am Vietnamese. You and me, why can’t we be friend?”

He was very direct. My intimidation did not work at all, and I was paralyzed. I couldn’t shoot him right there on the road . . . and honestly I didn’t want to. His question was simple, and I had no answer. He snapped off a length of sugarcane and handed it to me. Reluctantly, I took it. I was trying to maintain my hateful look, but it was hard. I’d spent months cultivating it. Now I felt foolish because he was not afraid. Then he rode away. I’d never eaten sugarcane before, never known that explosion of liquid, melonlike sweetness. A guy from Puerto Rico showed me how to peel it using a bayonet.

For the rest of the day, I fought hard to stop the hole the man on the bike had driven into my dam with his simple act of courage and hospitality. That night the dam ruptured in the darkness. I cried quietly through a whole guard shift, wanting more than anything just to go home.

I was suddenly stunned at how effortless my transformation had become.

I know plenty about racism.

Looking back—I can’t be sure—but one day, in the spring of 1971, I may have met Jesus on a bicycle.

A Womanist Biblical Hermeneutics Reader

Last week I shared a flurry of Pickwick titles I’ve worked on in this new publishing year. Today I’d like to call attention to a recently published Cascade book:

I Found God in Me is the first womanist biblical hermeneutics reader. In it readers have access, in one volume, to articles on womanist interpretative theories and theology as well as cutting-edge womanist readings of biblical texts by womanist biblical scholars. This book is an excellent resource for women of color, pastors, and seminarians interested in relevant readings of the biblical text, as well as scholars and teachers teaching courses in womanist biblical hermeneutics, feminist interpretation, African American hermeneutics, and biblical courses that value diversity and dialogue as crucial to excellent pedagogy.

 

I first worked with Mitzi J. Smith in 2011 to publish a revision of her dissertation, The Literary Construction of the Other in the Acts of the Apostles: Charismatics, the Jews, and WomenIn the first part of this new book, she and other womanist interpreters pull back from the text a bit to take a look at womanist interpretative theory more broadly, using Alice Walker’s short essay, “Womanist,” as a springboard. Beginning with Walker’s essay, the chapters in the first half of the book then include:

  1. Womanist Interpretations of the New Testament: The Quest for Holistic and Inclusive Translation and Interpretation by Clarice J. Martin
  2. Re-Reading for Liberation: African American Women and the Bible by Renita J. Weems
  3. Womanist Interpretation and Preaching in the Black Church by Katie Geneva Cannon
  4. An African Methodology for South African Biblical Sciences: Revisiting the Bosadi (Womanhood) Approach by Madipoane J. Masenya
  5. Marginalized People, Liberating Perspectives: A Womanist Approach to Biblical Interpretation by Kelly Brown Douglas
  6. Our Mothers’ Gardens: Discrete Sources of Reflection on the Cross in Womanist Christology by JoAnne Marie Terrell
  7. “This Little Light of Mine”: The Womanist Biblical Scholar as Prophetess, Iconoclast, and Activist by Mitzi J. Smith

In the second half of the book, Smith and others look more closely at biblical passages, characters, and books.

  1. A Womanist Midrash on Zipporah by Wil Gafney
  2. Fashioning Our Own Souls: A Womanist Reading of the Virgin-Whore Binary in Matthew and Revelation by Mitzi J. Smith
  3. A Womanist-Postcolonial Reading of the Samaritan Woman at the Well and Mary Magdalene at the Tomb by Lynne St. Clair Darden
  4. Minjung, the Black Masses, and the Global Imperative: A Womanist Reading of Luke’s Soteriological Hermeneutical Circle by Mitzi J. Smith
  5. Wisdom in the Garden: The Woman of Genesis 3 and Alice Walker’s Sophia by Kimberly Dawn Russaw
  6. “Knowing More than is Good for One”: A Womanist Interrogation of the Matthean Great Commission by Mitzi J. Smith
  7. Silenced Struggles for Survival: Finding Life in Death in the Book of Ruth by Yolanda Norton
  8. “Give Them What You Have”: A Womanist Reading of the Matthean Feeding Miracle (Matt 14:13–21) by Mitzi J. Smith
  9. Acts 9:36–43: The Many Faces of Tabitha, a Womanist Reading by Febbie C. Dickerson

The result of this structure is a fascinating collection that introduces readers to both theory and practice of womanist biblical interpretation. Thomas B. Slater of the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University, Macon, GA says,

It is good reading for pastor and academician alike: for pastors to see the many implications of a growing movement for fellowship in the black church; for academicians to engage in a continuing activity that is not dissipating but growing, a movement which has significant implications for the interpretation of Scripture and the development of Christian theology and ethics in the future. The church and the academy are indebted to Smith for this significant, stimulating study.

Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See”

Anthony Doerr’s novel, All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner), has been atop the best-seller chart for several months. I finished reading it last week. Though it’s set in the turmoil of World War II, it’s really a novel about childhood—its wonders and insecurities. Most of the novel bounces back and forth between the perspective of two characters: Marie-Laure, a blind French girl whose beloved father is a locksmith; and Werner, a German boy with an extraordinary aptitude for gadgets, and especially for radios.

To accommodate and overcome Marie-Laure’s blindness, her father carves scale models of the Paris neighborhood in which they live. He also takes her on walks during which they count the drainpipes they’re passing. By such means, the girl learns to navigate her neighborhood and achieve a measure of independence. Meanwhile, she reads Jules Verne in braille and marvels at the wonders of creatures that her scientist-grandfather discusses on a radio program. Later, she’ll be especially fascinated with snails—and Doerr’s description of this fascination is shimmering and engrossing.

Werner grows up adoring his younger sister, Jutta, who shares his obsession with radios. The boy adeptly disassembles and reassembles radios. He and Jutta listen to broadcasts through long, enchanted evenings. (One of the broadcasts they most prize, we will later learn, is the same broadcast beamed out by Marie-Laure’s grandfather.) Eventually Werner is drafted into a Hitler youth program, where the brutal training forces him to grow up fast, and where his facility with radios serves him well.

The war overtakes both of our characters. Marie-Laure and her father are forced out of Paris to the countryside. Werner is sucked into the maw of the war in East Germany and Russia. Finally, in some of the novel’s sweetest passages, Marie-Laure and Werner meet offer one another succor and aid. By now they are in their late teens, but they are still so much children. And still they are seeking wonder.

 

 

 

An Excerpt from “The Love that Matters: Meeting Jesus in the Midst of Terror and Death,” by Charles H. Featherstone

It’s only a couple of months into the new publishing year, but I’ve already had the privilege of working on a number fascinating new Cascade titles. Today, with permission of the author, Charles H. Featherstone, I’m sharing an excerpt from Chapter 13 of Featherstone’s extraordinary memoir, The Love that Matters: Meeting Jesus in the Midst of Terror and Fear.

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I blogged about how I discovered Charles’s journey through childhood abuse to becoming Muslim to Christian conversion here, and about Rod Dreher’s reaction to the book that he was instrumental in bringing to us here. Dreher describes the work as “an American spiritual classic and offers this thought about the contemporary relevance of Charles’s journey: “It strikes me that a true story about how religion channeled anger, and how it delivered someone from that anger, has special meaning in this moment.” For more on Charles’s life and work, check out his active website

13

That Beautiful Tuesday

The morning of September 11, 2001, began as most mornings did: the radio went off at 6 a.m., and I lounged in bed, somewhere between consciousness and sleep, until about 6:30.

I love lying in bed in the mornings listening to the radio in that in-between state. Because I love that in-between state, not quite asleep but not quite awake. My wife hates it. She hates getting up in the mornings, and she always grumbles when the radio goes off and she’s forced to wake up. What typically woke me in the morning was the BBC World Service on the shortwave. But that summer, the BBC had finally abandoned its last English-language service to North America, and the Caribbean signal I could occasionally leech off of was only really good for about fifteen minutes.

Especially this close to the World Trade Center. The twin towers were murder on shortwave reception, scrambling frequencies and showering much of the shortwave spectrum with noise.

So, I’d learned to settle with National Public Radio. I wasn’t happy about that—I missed World Service—but it’s what there was.

I showered, made coffee and had breakfast. I thought about getting Jennifer out of bed. After all, a group of us from BridgeNews were planning an outing to A Salt & Battery Fish and Chips in Greenwich Village for lunch. But she looked so sweet sleeping there, and she always got so cranky when I woke her up.

So I let her sleep. It would have been nice to have coffee and breakfast together at American Express, or at one of the many cafes in the World Financial Center, but it wasn’t necessary.

I put on a pair of khaki shorts, a striped blue T-shirt, and my sandals, and grabbed my backpack. I had a few books in there, as well as my shortwave radio. Since I’d been at San Francisco State, I almost always took a shortwave radio with me everywhere I went.

“Little one,” I said, using my favorite nickname for Jennifer. “Remember we have a lunch outing today. So, go ahead and come over whenever you want. Just lie in bed for now.”

“Okay,” she mumbled drowsily.

I took the elevator down from our 26th floor apartment—we were still in the Bridge corporate flat in Jersey City—and walked out the front door. It was beautiful that morning, and the sun was just beginning to inch above the skyline of lower Manhattan. The sky was clear blue, a blue I remembered from winter mornings in Southern California.

PATH train or ferry this morning? Oh, it was too beautiful to take the train under the Hudson. This morning was clearly a ferry morning. I walked the short walk, about five minutes, from our apartment to the ferry slip, handed in my ticket, and got on the next boat across the Hudson.

The blue of the sky, the brightness of the sun, all struck me intensely. I stood on the bow of the ferry, pressed myself up against the railing, and felt the spray of the river on my toes and ankles. And the warm breeze in my hair. Trying to take it all in.

“The world is so beautiful today,” I thought. “What an amazing, strange and wonderful life I’ve had.”

I looked at the Manhattan skyline. The rising sun had come up behind the South Tower. The World Trade Center did something that morning I’d only ever seen mountains do before—the shadow it cast was visible in the air. I looked up and saw that shadow cut through sky above me. Like that shadow was actually a thing you could touch, something you could grasp and hold in your hands.

Sunrise over Lower Manhattan was almost always spectacular, especially on cloudless mornings like this one. And sunset, especially as the setting sun was reflected in pinks, oranges, yellows and reds in all the steel, glass, polished granite, and burnished aluminum of Lower Manhattan, was very nearly always a thing to behold.

I inhaled. And exhaled. I thought of the fact that Jennifer and I would soon have to leave.

“Remember this sight always,” I thought. “It will not be with you much longer.”

The ferry docked. I walked past the New York Mercantile Exchange, into the Winter Garden, up an escalator, swiped my ID badge, and took an elevator to the 28th floor of Three World Financial Center. The last week of Bridge. I went to work early, out of habit. Because my one and only story was an early morning story. And, well, just because.

I walked through the maze of cubicles, saying hello as I went. Deborah Kinirons was there. Deb was young, only a couple of years out of college, a graduate of one of the SUNY schools, and she’d been hired as our frozen concentrated orange juice (FCOJ) correspondent. I’d worked with her on a Brazil orange production story once when I was in Washington. FCOJ is where Bridge tended to start commodity reporters who were brand new, and it’s where the New York Board of Trade also tended to start traders. It’s a fairly simple and stable market, not prone to wild fluctuations.

Lehman Bros 3WFC Building Key

The key to Three World Financial Center. Note that I’m not wearing a T-shirt in this photo.

My heart would often skip a beat when I looked at Deb. She’d smile and, for a brief moment, I’d see Lauren. When she spoke, though, it was all Long Island.

And Scott Reeves was there too. Scott was a hard-bitten old-timer, a reporter from the days of Underwood typewriters and ever-present Scotch bottles. He’d started his career with the Associated Press in Mississippi, then graduated to covering California government for The Sacramento Bee in the 1970s and 1980s. He’d become somewhat notorious after showing up drunk to a press conference—and asking questions—of then-Governor Jerry Brown. He gave up drinking completely not long after.

Scott was opinionated, irascible, and absolutely wonderful to be around. He covered initial public offerings for BridgeNews and had a stuffed cloth doll of Hillary Clinton he kept at his desk. So he could stick pins in her.

He was that kind of conservative.

I sat down at my cubicle and turned on my computer. I made a note of the things I needed to do this week before Bridge was done. Mostly, I needed to grab copies of all my stories off my computer before I left so that I’d have samples of my work. I’d kept some, but I didn’t have a full archive. And I wanted one.

I browsed my e-mail. Nothing new there. I went to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s website and opened the template for the power plant story, preparing to do my one and only thing for the day.

That’s when we heard it.

It’s a hard noise to describe, a kind of muffled, oscillating whoosh. It went in and out, going from silent to loud, like very slow helicopter blades or something. And it got louder. Whooosh! Whoosh! WHOOSH!

Then there was a very loud grinding sound.

Heads popped up from behind cubicle barriers.

“What the hell was that?” somebody asked.

I turned around to the side of the building that faced the World Trade Center, where the noise had clearly come from. Suddenly, burning debris fell just outside our office windows: giant chunks of steel, huge twisted pieces of metal. They weren’t identifiable as anything.

Between the noise and the shape of some of the debris, I thought at first a helicopter had hit the North Tower. Several reporters who sat at window desks and had seen the whole thing happen were at a loss for words to describe it.

The best view was in our corner conference room, which overlooked the intersection of West and Vesey streets and had a full view of the World Trade Center. I wandered over to the conference room and saw a giant hole on the north face of One World Trade Center. Whatever had hit the building, it had gone clear though.

I looked down. On the ground, thirty floors below us, shards of glass and bits of metal sparkled in the early morning sun. The city began to fill with the sound of sirens.

What about Jennifer? She might have gotten out of bed, might be on a PATH train or somewhere under the World Trade Center. I grabbed my cell phone and punched her speed dial number.

Nothing. The phone was dead.

Then I remembered: that antenna on the top of the north tower. That’s not just TV and radio for much of New York. It’s also cell phone service. My phone didn’t work.

Which meant Jennifer’s likely wouldn’t either. And I didn’t remember the land line number at the corporate apartment.

So, I had no way of getting ahold of Jennifer. For some reason, though, I wasn’t worried. I don’t know why.

It was not even six in the morning in California, but I called my mother.

“Hello?” she said sleepily. I had woken her up.

“Mom, you probably haven’t seen this yet, but something has happened here in New York. We think an airplane has crashed into the one of the World Trade Center towers. I just wanted to let you know I’m okay.”

“Mmmph, okay,” she said, still not entirely awake.

Scott and Deborah joined me in the conference room. We stared up at the giant hole in the building, sixty floors above us. It belched fire, smoke, and great billows of paper.

“Well, they finally did it,” Scott said. As much as I liked and admired Scott, he had a dismal opinion of Islam and Muslims. We would spar on this subject occasionally, and while I was never entirely sure how far I could take the sparring, he always seemed to enjoy it.

It didn’t seem to lower his opinion of me.

“I hope not,” I said. And I did hope that.

In fact, for those twenty minutes we gawked at that hole, I hoped and prayed fervently that this was just an accident.

“Attention!” The rarely used PA system crackled to life. “This is American Express management. A plane appears to have crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. There is no cause for alarm, and there is no need to evacuate the building. We ask all employees to remain calm, and we will keep everyone updated on the situation. Thank you.”

Ambulances and fire trucks gathered on the ground below. They were everywhere, red lights flashing in the cool shadows of Lower Manhattan’s deep canyons.

We gawked. We stared. We talked. We tried to make sense of it all. And then we heard it: a roar that came out of nowhere, the roar of a second plane. There it was, a United Airlines jetliner in blue and gray, not far above us. The plane banked, and I could see the sunlight stream through its windows and glint off its shiny metal skin.

The roar got fiercer, as if in that very last moment the pilot was gunning the engines. And then the plane simply disappeared, vanished in fire and smoke as it crashed into and through the southwest corner of the South Tower. Tongues of fire blew through the building.

And that sound. I will never forget that sound—that horrific snap of metal, that shattering of glass. I felt it as much as I heard it.

I turned around. There was a look of stunned horror on Deb’s face. There was no mistaking what we’d just seen.

No one waited for American Express to give the evacuation order. Everyone who, just a moment before, had been gawking at the great big hole in the North Tower moved en masse to the center of the building. To leave as fast as we could. I went to my desk, grabbed my backpack, and made my way to the elevators.

“Don’t take the elevators!” yelled the same Bridge editor who’d told me not to be envious of the new hires at American Express. “We’re in the next tallest building, and if there’s another plane coming, we’re the most likely target! Take the stairs! Everyone take the stairs!”

Another plane. That possibility had to be taken seriously.

The stairway was crammed with people but everyone was moving quickly. I want to say that people helped those who couldn’t move fast, and I think there was some of that. But it was really everyone for themselves
that morning.

And so I ran down twenty-eight flights of stairs. As fast as I possibly could. It was surprisingly easy, and I don’t remember having to stop or even getting winded.

On the third floor, I knew an alternate way to get to the entrance, one far less crowded that went through American Express’s cafeteria. So I took it.

Once I’d left the building, I found myself on the corner of Vesey and West streets. It was chaos. A panicked FDNY captain was directing everyone to go west, to the retaining wall along the Hudson River, and then walk north. I had to get to a ferry, to get to New Jersey, to Jennifer.

As I walked quickly toward the ferry slip, I noticed that the FDNY had set up an ad-hoc triage and treatment station in the space between Three and Four World Financial Center. I saw a man sitting, propped up against the granite wall, covered in blood and holding a bandage or towel or something to his head. He was dressed in what looked like a white chef’s shirt and black slacks or jeans. There wasn’t much blood on the cloth he was holding, and I looked at the way the blood covered his shirt.

The blood covering him was not his own.

I walked past the New York Mercantile Exchange. There was a huge crowd there at the ferry slip, and New York Waterway, the company that runs the ferry service, hadn’t quite figured out how to respond to the situation and was still taking tickets from anyone wanting out of Manhattan.

I looked up. Both towers belched fire and smoke. And heaved billows of paper into the wind, paper that fluttered off to Wall Street and across the East River to Brooklyn. The sun, which earlier had shone so brightly in that clear blue sky, turned a sickly gray-orange behind the smoke.

The fire in both buildings was steady.

The gathered crowd murmured and gasped. And then someone would either slip and fall or throw themselves out of one of the buildings. And the crowd would cry out in unison, “No! Don’t! Stop!” A pathetic and powerless plea made as bodies tumbled end over end to the ground.

I watched six people die that way.

At some point, I remembered I had a radio with me. I got it out and fiddled with the dial. The New York CBS affiliate had its broadcasting tower on the Empire State Building, so it was one of the few radio stations still transmitting that morning.

People gathered around me.

“What’s happening?” someone asked.

The Pentagon had just been hit by a jetliner, and another plane, believed to be headed either for the White House or the Capitol, was somewhere over Pennsylvania. The FAA had just grounded all air traffic, but two more jetliners were unaccounted for.

And there were reports a bomb had gone off in front of the State Department building in Washington.

“This is the end of the world,” someone said.

It felt like that.

I knew I had to get out of southern Manhattan. Because those towers were going to come down, and when they did, they would respect neither power nor position. By this time, New York Waterway had given up on taking tickets and had started moving its entire ferry fleet to the little slip in front of the New York Mercantile Exchange.

But it took a bit. So I stood there, looking up at the burning buildings, the drifting paper, the falling bodies.

And then, as had happened twice before in my life, there were words in my head. Words I knew were not mine. My love is all that matters.

But this time there was no electric shock. Nothing turned blue. No breathlessness, no halted prayers. Just these words, gently inhabiting me, words given to me—spoken but not spoken—in the midst of death, terror, and destruction. In the midst of the worst thing that I and everyone else standing there beneath the fire and smoke had ever experienced. My love is all that matters.

There was no time to think about this, to contemplate what this might mean. Not that morning, not in that moment. I finally got on a ferry, stood on the stern as it pulled out, watching a couple of NYMEX floor traders, one standing next to me and the other still on the ferry slip—each wore the same company’s coat—give each other hand signals as the ferry pulled out.

I stood on the stern of that ferry and wept.

The terrible thing was that the burning buildings in front of me, the hijacked airliners, all made sense to me. I understood this act, the anger behind it. There was a time in my life when I myself could have done it, been part of it, eagerly supported it. I could have learned how to fly a plane only to crash it. I never cared about virgins in the afterlife, but I was angry enough once to believe that this kind of act was a perfectly valid, legitimate way to make a political or even moral point.

To be honest, though, I suppose I would have found myself, at the very last moment, as the building loomed in front of me—when it was too late—saying, “Well, this was probably not the best idea I’ve ever had.”

It was as if God had grasped me by the scruff of the neck and made me look. “Behold what you could have done. See what you once wanted. See what it means.”

I was living through someone else’s violent vengeance fantasy. I’d had so many of my own. And now I was being shown what that kind of vengeance led to. What it really meant to want to get even with the world. The pain, suffering, destruction and death that could bring.

Because whatever ideological and religious reasons Muhammad Atta, or Khaled Sheikh Muhammad, or even Osama bin Laden himself would give for this day, at bottom it was all about vengeance. About inflicting pain. About getting even.

When the ferry got to New Jersey, we all hurried off. The police were ordering everyone to move on. I walked home to the corporate apartment, took the elevator up, and found Jennifer watching a fuzzy television signal, a look of sorrow and fear on her face.

I held her. And wept. For how long I don’t remember.

“I don’t know why, but I didn’t worry about you. I just knew you were okay,” she told me.

There was a knock on the door. It was Frank, our next-door neighbor. Frank had been an engineer for Grumman in the 1960s, where he helped design the lunar lander. Currently, he worked for a venture capital firm. Frank had been working out in the gym in Six World Trade Center when everyone had been ordered to leave, and his wallet—with all his credit cards—was still there. Now it was under several stories of rubble.

“You need to see this. The South Tower has just collapsed.”

We looked at his television. He had cable, so his picture was clear.

Frank placed a call to his bank; we left him as he was wrangling with a representative. We went out to a little park that jutted into the Hudson River and sat together. The sight we beheld was strange. One lonely World Trade Tower stood there in the late morning sun, framed by haze, still belching fire, smoke and paper.

“It’s going to come down,” I told Jennifer. “Watch.”

We sat for a few minutes. And then the top five floors of the North Tower wobbled from side to side for a bit as weakened steel began to give way. And the top just came straight down, the antenna flopping about and falling as the collapse began, leaving a cluster of columns in the center—as if the building were being peeled—that themselves collapsed just after the rest of the building.

A man in a NYMEX trading jacket stood on the shore in front of us, shouting and waving his fist.

We sat there, Jennifer and I, watching the dust rise over southern Manhattan. The World Trade Center, which had loomed so large and seemed so permanent, like a pair of mountains, just hours before, now was gone. Flattened.

All that remained was smoldering rubble.

Flurry of Academic Titles

While many northeastern sections of the US have been hit with a flurry of snow storms, the Pacific Northwest has been relatively mild. On my desk, however, there has been a flurry of academic titles coming off the printers. (That’s a weak intro, I realize. But it’s early and I’m needing to move on.)

You may not know that Wipf and Stock Publishers is the publishing center for six different imprints, each of which have their own distinctive traits. We editors who blog here at Running Heads work primarily with two of those imprints: Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications. We try to make this clear in the tagline of our blog, “From the Editors of Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications at Wipf and Stock Publishers.” Still, I often see signs that people do not realize we have several imprints, let alone do they understand the differences between them. For instance, I will frequently see Wipf and Stock listed as the publisher in bibliography entries when Cascade or Pickwick should be named instead. Or, I will see a confused look on the face of a potential author when I tell her that the book proposal from her revised dissertation will be considered for Pickwick.

In short, under the Cascade imprint “we publish new books that combine academic rigor with broad appeal and readability.” The Pickwick imprint is more “focused on discussions within the scholarly community.” That is not to say Pickwick titles will not find an audience outside the guild. The guild is the focus, though. In Pickwick you will find monographs, festschriften, revised dissertations, conference proceedings, edited volumes of academic essays, etc. There is an exception or two now and then, but on the whole a Pickwick title will typically have a narrower focus, denser style, and more substantial bibliographic apparatus. Thus, Pickwick titles tend to have a smaller market.

And yet, I think, Pickwick titles are some of the most creative and important books we (or any others!) publish. Since the end of November, when our publishing year ends, I’ve had a good handful of Pickwick titles in my editing queue published. I’d like to highlight some of them below:

“The Christian church must respond to the overwhelming challenges of worldwide migration. Fundamental to these efforts should be a fresh and creative engagement with the Bible that can speak into these new global realities. God’s People on the Move is a wonderful resource for our time: experienced missiologists from various traditions, steeped in the Scriptures and committed to their particular contexts, demonstrate the relevance of the word of the God who loves the immigrant.” –M. Daniel Carroll Rodas, Distinguished Professor of Old Testament, Denver Seminary, Littleton, CO

“To understand what it means to enact the reconciling justice of Jesus Christ in the world today, Geoff Broughton brings the text of Scripture, the insights of prominent theological thinkers, and lessons learned from years of practical ministry on city streets into a rich and intriguing mix. This is a welcome contribution to elucidating the theological foundations of the restorative justice vision, the need of which has never been more urgent.” –Christopher Marshall, Professor of Restorative Justice, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand

 

“Bradley has gathered a community of scholars adept in the analysis of and the timely reflection on the lack of African American presence, females in particular, even in the Christian academy. An impressive array of topics are pursued to demonstrate diverse and pervasive challenges. The authors attempt to show that though the challenges are formidable, they are not insurmountable.” –Bruce Fields, Associate Professor, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL

 

“With so much attention paid to the explosive revival of Chinese Christianity today, G. Wright Doyle masterfully contributes a historical piece to the discussion, namely the ‘Great Century of Missions’ in that nation. This edited collection highlights both indigenous and expatriate Christians, and both official and underground churches. It is a 1 Cor 3:6 type of book, showing that while many people have contributed various parts to the Christian enterprise, it was God who made it grow.” –Allen Yeh, Associate Professor of Intercultural Studies and Missiology, Cook School of Intercultural Studies, Biola University, La Mirada, CA

“Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts brings up to date a long-existing debate about those other gospels and early Christianity. Covering issues tied to the Apostolic Fathers, Irenaeus, Gnosticism, and the rule of faith, here is a solid compendium of essays that issues a significant challenge to the thesis of Walter Bauer–that orthodoxy emerged late from a largely sociological battle over the origin of the Jesus movement. It shows how orthodoxy’s roots are far older than claims of other options from the second century and beyond. This is simply profitable reading.” –Darrell L. Bock, Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, TX

“Since Theophilus’s Ad Autolycum has received less attention than other second- and third-century writers, Stuart Parsons not only fills a lacuna in scholarship but also provides us with an important lens for reading Theophilus’s exegetically based, apologetic argument by situating the work in its second-century rhetorical context. This book presents a helpful balance between establishing Theophilus’s rhetorical purpose, providing close readings of texts, and demonstrating an overall structure for reading these letters.” –Ben C. Blackwell, Assistant Professor of Christianity, Houston Baptist University Houston, TX

Bumperstickers

Bumperstickers are an interesting medium of communication. They range from the utterly stupid to the banal to the pithy and insightful. Some of the best ones I have seen lately include the following:

End Corporate Personhood
(picturing an American flag with corporate logos instead of stars)

There Is No Way to Peace—Peace Is the Way

God Recycles—God Made You From Dust

We are not only defined by what we build
but by what we refuse to destroy.

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