The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War, by Stephen Kinzer. Kinzer has written several books about foreign interventions by the United States, including All the Shah’s Men, about the 1953 CIA-engineered toppling of the elected government in Iran. In this dual biography he provides a portrait of two of the men behind that coup.
Stations of the Heart
Parting with a Son
By Richard Lischer
Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense
When writer Philip Caputo was almost 69, he took a road trip across the country—diagonally, from Florida to Alaska. The United States seems to be fracturing politically and socially, and Caputo wanted to ask people along the way what holds us together—what makes the pluribus unum? He wondered at first whether such a trip was madness.
Driving in northern Indiana one recent evening, I came to the conclusion that religious broadcasters pretty much own the FM band in this part of the country. One station was playing contemporary Christian music, another gospel music. And three different stations were airing James Dobson’s radio program. Dobson, formerly of Focus on the Family, was touting a new novel he has coauthored, which fictionalizes all the bad things supposedly resulting from a decline in the American birthrate.
In an era when homeless people can be seen sleeping on city sidewalks and park benches, Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz wanted to convey the idea that Jesus too was homeless. It was said of him: “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Schmalz didn’t anticipate that his sculpture would be controversial. St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York expressed interest in displaying the work but were overruled by diocesan officials. Schmalz said he was told that the image was not “appropriate.” Schmalz is negotiating with another church in New York City for a permanent home.
Hanna Varghese is a Malaysian artist who often works in batik, as she does with this image of the ascension. Varghese was born to Christian parents, and she remembers her mother taking her to a different worship service every week: “My parents encouraged me to attend different churches so that my siblings and I would appreciate the liturgy and traditions of the Christian believers of different denominations. Christians are a minority in Malaysia so we continue to struggle for our identity in a Muslim society.” The ascension reminds Christians everywhere of the coming of God’s Spirit and that the reign of God is a universal one not bounded by nation states.
I don't like un-vetted books, aka self-published books or books printed by so-called vanity presses. I’m aware that this is where much of the publishing world is headed in this digital age. There is a growth industry of firms that will be glad to publish your book, in print or in digital format. Amazon even has such a service.
I laud many aspects of the digital world. But this is one development I see as a big negative.
After two years of civil war, the Syrian refugee crisis is reaching a boiling point. The United Nations estimates that 2.3 million Syrians are displaced within Syria and that another million have fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt according to Daryl Byler, a Middle Eastern representative of the Mennonite Central Committee.
Many people are still inspired by the figure of St. Francis (d. 1226), who gave up a life of relative ease to become a simple follower of Jesus and a friend of all God’s creatures. Millions of tourists and pilgrims flock to Assisi, St. Francis’s hometown in central Italy. The garden at St. Anthony’s Guest House in Assisi, run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement, has two modern sculptures. The Dancing Francis, by American artist Paul T. Granlund, is based on Francis’s canticle “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.” It portrays him dancing with God and holding up a sunlike disc containing a cutout of Jesus. Light passes through it and onto Francis. St. Francis and the Birds, by Dutch-American artist Frederick Franck, is based on legends about Francis befriending and even preaching to birds and other animals.
Twice in the past two years I've taken a hard fall on ice: once at night walking on a dimly-lit sidewalk and another time on black ice in broad daylight. The first time no one was around. The second time I was in a public parking lot. My first act after the fall—before getting up—was to look around to see if anyone had observed my embarrassing fall.
I have friends who always count the days till spring training begins. Now that it’s underway, their thoughts are moving on to their teams’ post-season chances. I’m not a big baseball fan myself, but I appreciate the game’s storied place in American culture.
Recently I did something for the first time: I attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC. Held annually since 1953, the breakfast is sponsored by the Fellowship (sometimes called “the Family”), a shadowy organization with connections especially to conservative members of Congress.
Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was, by Gerhard Lohfink. The attempt to distinguish the authentic words of Jesus from the inauthentic ones has the whiff of silliness, says Lohfink. The Gospel writers, drawing from numerous traditions about Jesus, put together a narrative interpretation of his life and ministry.
Do you remember what the world was like before Walmart? Can you imagine a world without the retailer (again)?
My wife and I seldom shop at the Walmart in our town. (Occasionally one of our grandchildren will put something from there on a gift wish list.) However, when we’re at our family’s lake cottage, we shop regularly at Walmart—it’s one of the only options in that area. Every time we walk into the place, one of us utters some misgivings about the experience.
David Barton is what I call a “faux historian.” With only a B.A. in religious education from Oral Roberts University, Barton has written widely on American history, remaking it into his own image. He’s been called upon as an “expert” by the Texas Board of Education, the Republican Party and the likes of right-wing talking head Glenn Beck.
Many conservatives love Barton’s historical revisionism, particularly his arguments that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and that the founders did not share our notions about the separation between church and state. Mike Huckabee said he wished every American had to listen to a simultaneous telecast of David Barton lecturing—even if at gunpoint.
Barton’s latest book, The Jefferson Lies, has drawn criticism from a wider group than the usual liberals and professional historians.
The Chick-fil-A hullaballoo is a sad commentary on our society. It is a proxy war for the civil discourse we’re unable or unwilling to have over the issues that deeply divide us.
I'm not opposed to peaceful demonstrations; I've participated in some myself over the years. But remember Newton's third law of motion: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. That’s what we've seen here.