Footnote 39 – Safed the Sage

Footnote 39 — William E. Barton, The Parables of Safed the Sage (Chicago: Advance Publishing Company, 1917).

THE UNOPENED WINDOW

I LOVE the work of William Eleazer Barton (father of Bruce Barton of Jesus-as-salesman genre of books). WE Barton was an Illinois native (and Lincoln scholar, particularly of Lincoln’s religion) who preached in the Chicago area before affiliating with Oberlin and then migrating to Vanderbilt when Oberlin’s School of Theology merged with Vandy’s Divinity School. Late in life he became a mentor to a young Vanderbilt grad student, Henry Lee Saint, who late in his life became my major professor at Vanderbilt. Barton was also Editor of Bib Sac for several years. His Safed & Keturah sagas are a hoot (but often with a serious kick). I especially like the Parable of the Potato Bug, among others. Here’s another good one:

THE UNOPENED WINDOW

“Now there came to me a man with a Sad Countenance, and he said, O Safed, thy words of wisdom are known to all men, and thy virtue exceedeth even thy wisdom; may thy days be long among men.

And I heard him, and I answered not; for the man who cometh unto me with a Little Too Much Taffy and Then Some hath an Axe to Grind. And I said, If thou hast Business, say on; for Time Passeth.

And he said, O Safed, I have a neighbor, and he is an Undesirable Citizen. His house joineth hard unto mine upon the North, and he annoyeth me continually. He and his Kids keep up a continual Rough House, which greatly annoyeth us. And he hath Daughters, and there come to see them Young Men, who sit with them on the Porch till Any Old Time at Night, and they Laugh and Raise Ned so that sleep is driven from our eyes, and slumber from our eyelids. Yea, and when we look that way we see things that Vex our Righteous Souls.

And I said, Are they Immoral? If so thou mayest call the Police.

And he said, They are not what you might call Immoral, for my wife hath watched them much through the Window; she hath a place where she sitteth and watcheth while she Darneth Stockings; yet are they noisy; yea, they are the Limit.

And I said unto him, How many windows hath thy house?

And he said, My house standeth Foursquare, and it hath windows toward the North, the South, the East and the West.

And I said unto him, Move thou over to the South side of thy House; thou shalt have more Sleep and Sunshine. Yea, moreover, speak thou unto thy wife that she Darn her Stockings where she hath less to see.

And he went away angry. But I counted it among my Good Deeds.

And I meditated thereon, and I considered that there are many people who live on the North Side of their own Souls; yea, they curse God that they hear the racket and are sad; and behold, their South Windows are unopened.”

-from The Parables of Safed the Sage, by Wm. E. Barton, Advance Publishing, Chicago, 1917.

My List of 20 Authors and Significant Books – What’s Yours?

SW Lib S-CGiving in to a fad which I strongly resisted for awhile, here’s a list of 20 books which have shaped my personal intellectual development. It was frustrating but enlightening to do the introspection necessary to accumulate and then pare down to 20. All such stand-alone lists are probably sterile, unless (as they were with me) they are integrated into broader reading in conversation with an extensive web of other classical and “Great Books” authors. But these were “first introductions” to a protracted corpus of similar works, or provided multiple significant “aha moments” in their own right. Many of the specific titles are representative of a “train” of comparable works by the same author and/or others who interacted with them in an intellectual engagement. In more or less chronological order as I encountered them, this list omits MUCH (and, yes, it has notes at the end!)

1 – Jack Finegan, Light From the Ancient Past
2 – Earl West, Search for the Ancient Order (multi-volume)
3 – E.L. Jorgenson, Great Songs of the Church
4 – Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird
5 – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
6 – The Diary of Anne Frank
7 – William F. Buckley, God and Man at Yale, Blackford Oakes novels
8 – Homer Hailey, The Minor Prophets, John, Isaiah and other commentaries
9 – Ed Harrell, Social History of the Disciples of Christ, 2 volumes
10 – Bernard Ramm, The Pattern of Authority
11 – John RW Stott, Christ the Controversialist
12 – John Warwick Montgomery, Where is History Going? and The Suicide of Christian Theology
13 – Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
14 – G.A. Kerkut, Implications of Evolution
15 – Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II
16 – Kenneth A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament
17 – Bernard Bailyn, Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, and Voyagers to the West
18 – C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, and so much more
19 – Gordon Fee & Stuart, How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth
20 – Ronald Numbers, The Creationists

Other “honorable mention” influences would certainly include G.K. Chesterton, Richard Hofstadter, N.B. Hardeman, James McPherson, George Marsden, Everett Ferguson, Stephen Ambrose, D.A. Carson, Mark Noll, George Will, N.T Wright, Fred Craddock, Rick Atkinson, and Fleming Rutledge, among others. This list of 20 could easily become 50 or even 100, especially if older classics were included. Three other works are significant, though in somewhat different ways.

A – The Geneva Bible – I omitted the most continuously-formative work (”the Bible”) but I’ll single out the Geneva, a 1599 copy of which (as well as several more recent replicas) has been in my family for generations. Purchased from a Chicago bookdealer by my great-uncle, who lived here following his discharge from the US Navy in WWI, it then passed to my grandfather, James Otto Wolfgang, and upon his death in 1975 to my father, James Harold Wolfgang, and thence to James Stephen Wolfgang. Not only the text, but the marginal notations, the typography, the woodcut illustrations, and even the paper contain lessons in their own right.

B&C – Two works for which I served as a “knowledge contributor” rather than simply a “knowledge consumer” are the Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement (Eerdmans, 2004), and the new hymnal Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs (Sumphonia Productions, 2012). Working on the “other side of the page” provided new insights, and these works continue to teach me afresh.

NOTES:

1 – A part of my early teenage intellectual awakening, Finegan’s LFAP was on my grandfather’s bookshelves, and I spent many fascinating Sunday afternoons trying to wrap my developing brain around its contents. In this text, and several to follow, Finegan introduced me to the worlds of Biblical archaeology and chronology, and the world of Ancient Near Eastern texts and Biblical manuscripts.

2 – Earl West was a multi-generational family friend (performed my parents’ wedding ceremony), whose multi-volume history of the “Restoration Movement” (also on my grandparents’ and parents’ bookshelves) taught me at an early age the basic plotline and biographical storyline of the movement and its controversies – and ignited a passion to learn more.

3 – Jorgenson was one of several hymnals I sang from as a child, including L.O. Sanderson’s Christian Hymns #2, which often contained simple melodies and harmonies which sounded good when everyone sang their part. But Jorgenson took things to a new level. I was singing from his hymnal during the same time I was playing in high school and regional music groups under a very good conductor (a graduate of the world-class School of Music at Indiana University – as were several of the song leaders at church, who in turn instructed other song leaders, including my father, in the basics of leading a congregation in the worship of God in song, skillfully and with insight). Great Songs helped integrate what I was learning at school in music and English composition, including poetry, with what was happening “in church.”

4 – Began to help me confront the reality of evil, both as an act and as a power – as well as the power of story.

5 – C. S. Lewis’ classic (and others, read later) opened up new and different ways of “explaining” Christianity, as well as modeling excellent writing as the Brits do it.

6 – Ditto # 4 – Began to help me confront the reality of evil, both as an act and as a power – in other contexts outside the USA.

7 – Buckley introduced me to the world of the “public intellectual,” the confusing maze of academic discourse and pretensions, the wonders of arcane vocabulary, the importance of intellectual rigor in political discourse, and the power of fiction to expound truth with an impact sometimes lacking in non-fiction. I have read most of his books.

8 – As with other authors on this list, Homer Hailey’s influence on my life was not limited to his books, or even as a preacher, professor, and counselor, but also as mediated through other influential figures in my intellectual development, including but not limited to Ferrell Jenkins, Melvin Curry, and Phil Roberts. As with Buckley and Harrell and Montgomery below, I have consumed nearly everything he wrote.

9 – Probably the closest thing to a formal “intellectual mentor” in my life (I once called him “the surrogate older brother I never had”), Ed introduced me to the stubborn fact that theological issues are not merely theological. There are “layers of the onion” which must be peeled back to reveal how social forces, including class, race (and gender), and many other factors influence theological ideology and religious behavior, and the necessity to integrate the study of religion into the broader descriptions of political, economic, social, intellectual, military, and other aspects of the human endeavor. Ed once said that I was perhaps the only person who had read everything he’d ever written (adding, “but Steve even reads cereal boxes and the phone directories” – too true!)

10 – Ramm, whose book on authority came to me by way of Harry Pickup, Jr., (another profound influence in my life as a young preacher), was one of the bright stars in the early evangelical constellation; this foundational work led me to a string of others.

11 – John RW Stott, first encountered through his book on Christ as a controversialist, was introduced to me by John Clark, a self-educated intellectual and formative influence on my early spiritual development. In many ways, it replicates themes in Stott’s other works, expounding “Basic Christianity,” the gigantic paradox of the cross of Christ and the scandal of worshiping a crucified man, murdered by state sanction as a common criminal or worse.

12 – Montgomery, like Stott, served as both an introduction and a bridge into the worldview of evangelicalism, at once alike (not least in its rejection of both modernist and post-modernist ideologies) and different from the “restorationism” I have written about myself. As with many other works on this list, what I found most attractive was JWM’s broad, interdisciplinary background in classics, philosophy, library science, Biblical studies, history, and modern theology.

13 – Kuhn is often at the head of “Most Influential Books,” especially of the 20th century – and deservedly so as one of very few works which has had widespread cross-disciplinary impact. Read with fascination as I began a doctoral program in the History of Science at Emory University (along with his Copernican Revolution), Kuhn was, as for many, one of the most formative influences on my thinking, surpassing even many on this list and opening up a long list of related works.

14 – Kerkut’s compact but tightly argued monograph taught me not only important distinctions between “general” and “special” evolution (“macro-“ and “micro-“) but also to challenge prevailing assumptions and “received wisdom” – and that doing so is not always received well by others. To actually meet and interview him (and be “served tea”) in his laboratory at the University of Southampton while I was working on my own dissertation, was a special treat, putting a human face to a respected scientific name.

15 – Braudel demonstrated with staggering breadth how much of the human enterprise can and should fall under the historian’s gaze and pen, describing it in a single (and yes, again, multi-volume) work. Despite its title, this work surveys everything from demography to warfare to numismatics to zoology and nearly everything in between, from the Bronze Age to modernity, as well as confronting concepts of stasis and change over time with which every historian must grapple.

16 – From AO&OT to his “magnum opus” On the Reliability of the Old Testament, the breadth of Kitchen’s output is stunning, ranging from the scholarly translation of ancient texts to academic works on Egyptology and “popular” books on Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical history. I first encountered his work (in the library but not on the reading lists) at the seminary where I earned my MDiv. There, his “conservatism” was ridiculed and snickered at by small-minded faculty and grad students – none of whom could carry water for Kitchen, intellectually. Legends in their own minds, they seemed intent on demonstrating their own snobbish “superiority” – which attracted me to his work, first out of curiosity and then with respect.

17 – Bailyn is one of the the most influential American historians of the 20th century, not only for his own Pulitzer- and other prize-winning works, but also as the advisor of a long train of Harvard PhDs who became influential (on me and many others) in their own right, including other Pulitzer Prize winners like Gordon S. Wood (my favorite and, yeah, the guy Matt Damon cites in Good Will Hunting), Mary Beth Norton, Richard Bushman, Jack N. Rakove, Pauline Maier, Philip Greven, Michael Kammen, and MANY others.

18 – Woodward, the dean of a whole corps of Southern historians, introduced me to the thicket of questions of how race, slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the civil rights movement, and a host of other related issues have played out in American history – at a time when this Midwesterner, recently married to a lovely Southern lass, engaged in graduate studies at Emory University in Atlanta, was preaching for a church in a racially “transitioning” neighborhood in the midst of racial tensions only three years following the King assassination. An intriguing and challenging read, it was not only formative in its own right, but lead down numerous other worthwhile rabbit trails.

19 – It is difficult to single out one book in a whole cluster of important works on crucially important questions of hermeneutics and interpretation of texts, but this one stands out and has become a classic.

20 – A path-breaking, even-handed, award-winning monograph on an important subject previously ignored by historians and other segments of academia (and an area I’ve worked in, and published a bit myself), this is a model of following the evidence where it leads. If there is “a book I wish I’d written,” this might be it.

Which Hymnal or Song Collection Should We Choose?

Thanks, Tim! Very carefully considered and logical explanation!

Get them singing

hymnals
Selecting a hymnal or collection of songs for a congregation is not an easy task. Oh, it’s easy to grab a book with songs that I like, but choosing a hymnal for a congregation carries the daunting responsibility of providing a primary source of the spiritual language of the congregation, and a couple of generations to come. The average congregation changes hymnals far less often than its ministry staff, about once every 20-30 years. That’s a long time to be singing from a collection. All the more reason to choose wisely.
Our theology is shaped by the hymns we sing–for good or bad–and it should be as we “teach and admonish one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3.16). How often we hear the cross referenced in prayers and meditations as “that old rugged cross”, or someone refers to our “blessèd assurance” in Christ. In a well-edited collection…

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Footnote 32 – Bob Greene, Duty: A Father, His Son, And The Man Who Won The War. HarperCollins, 2000, 2009. Kindle Edition, pp. 13-15.

Bob Greene’s book about his father’s death reports conversations he had with Paul Tibbetts, who lived in retirement not far from the Green family home in Columbus, OH. For those who might not know, Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr. (February 23, 1915 – November 1, 2007), was a brigadier general in the United States Air Force, best known as the pilot of the Enola Gay – named for his mother – the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb in the history of warfare. That bomb, code named “Little Boy,” was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in August 1945.

Any child of “Greatest Generation” parents, especially those of us who are losing or have lost them, can surely relate to Greene’s reflection on this Memorial Day. Today I am remembering James H. Wolfgang (August 13, 1922 – March 20, 2015), whose one and only “European trip” was via Omaha Beach in 1944, and for whom Memorial Day was always very meaningful.

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“Do people know my name?” Tibbets asked. He was repeating the question I had just asked him. A soft, private look crossed his face.

“They don’t need to know my name,” he said. The deed he had carried out was one of the most famous the world has ever known; it will be talked about in terms of fear and awe forever. He, though, even here in the town where he lived, was not as famous as the local television weatherman.

“People knowing my name isn’t important at all,” he said. “It’s more important—it was more important then, and it’s more important now—that they know the name of my airplane. And that they understand the history of what happened. “Although sometimes I think that no one really understands the history.”

And so we started to talk. Neither of us knew it that day, but it would be the first of many conversations—about the war, about the men and women who lived through it, about their lives, and the lives of their sons and daughters: the lives of those of us who came after them, who inherited the world that they saved for us.

As I sat with Tibbets that first day—thinking of my father in his bed just a few miles away—it occurred to me that Eisenhower was dead, Patton was dead, Marshall was dead, MacArthur was dead. And here was Tibbets, telling me in the first person the story of how the great and terrible war came to an end.

… gradually the stories would expand in context, would begin to explain to me certain things not just about this man, but about the generation of men and women who are leaving us now every day.

It is a wrenching thing, to watch them go. As the men and women of the World War II generation die, it is for their children the most intensely personal experience imaginable—and at the same time a sweeping and historic one, being witnessed by tens of millions of sons and daughters, sons and daughters who feel helpless to stop the inevitable.

For me, as my father, day by day, slipped away, the over-whelming feeling was that a safety net was being removed—a safety net that had been there since the day I was born, a safety net I was often blithely unaware of. That’s what the best safety nets do—they allow you to forget they’re there. No generation has ever given its children a sturdier and more reliable safety net than the one our parents’ generation gave to us.

The common experience that wove the net was their war. And as I began to listen to Tibbets—to hear his stories, later to question him about the America that preceded and followed the war from which his stories came—I realized anew that so many of us only now, only at the very end, are beginning to truly know our fathers and mothers. It was as if constructing that safety net for their children was their full-time job, and that finally, as they leave us, we are beginning to understand the forces that made them the way they were.

Tibbets began to speak, and as I listened I thought I could hear a rustle of something behind the words—I thought I could hear the whisper of a generation saying goodbye to its children.

Parable of Immortality

Parable of Immortality

I am standing upon the seashore.

A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch until at last she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says, “There she goes!”

Gone where? Gone from my sight . . . that is all.

She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There she goes!” there are other eyes watching her coming . . . and other voices ready to take up the glad shout . . . “Here she comes!”

This poem, variously attributed to Henry Van Dyke and Luther Beecher (cousin of Henry Ward Beecher), has been oft-quoted and by some considered overused. But it has been meaningful to me, even before my days as board chair of our local Hospice – with which it is sometimes associated – in  Kentucky, before we moved to Chicago. It is even more so now, on the occasion of my father’s passing. Whoever wrote it, it seems an apt, though imperfect analogy of how we experience the departure of a loved one.

There are, course, many other hymns and other poetic expressions, describing the experience – to say nothing of Scripture. In the words of hymnist Tillit S. Teddlie: “Loved ones are waiting and watching my coming” (Heaven Holds All To Me, 1932).

For more on the poem – sometimes titled “What Is Dying?” – see http://dallaslibrary2.org/blogs/bookedSolid/2014/04/i-recently-heard-the-poem-the-parable-of-immortality-in-searching-the-internet-i-found-it-attributed-to-henry-van-dyke-bishop-charles-henry-brent-and-even-victor-hugo-i/

“You shall not steal…You shall not covet”

Ferrell's Travel Blog

“You shall not steal. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:15-17 ESV; cf. Romans 13:9)

The Ten Commandments, given to the nation of Israel, were clear about the attitude one should take toward the property belonging to others. Coveting causes one to desire the wife, or the property, of another man.

The reason the donkey and ox of another was not to be coveted or stolen was because these were the man’s means of income. How could he work without his donkey or ox?

A loaded donkey at Seleucia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins. A loaded donkey at Seleucia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

It may be that none of my readers own a donkey or an ox, but the principle is clear. You shall not…

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How To Sell A Lie

This blog – as well as the Facebook Page to which it is connected – is generally A Politics-Free Zone. But since this is an Election Year in the Virtuous Wonderland that is Illinois politics (only three of four recent governors – bipartisan – have served time in prison) and in other places where corruption is Officially Unknown, it is increasingly difficult to ignore – especially in the Political Paradise known as Chicago.

So please forgive the irresistible urge to record a few Obvious Observations on how it is so easy to foist off on an Unsuspecting Population any Demonstrable Untruth deemed Necessary. And since this is normally a space devoted to Matters Religious and Historical, I should note that, Historically, these tactics have worked just about as well in the Religious Realm.

So, How does one Sell A Lie?

First, Give The Lie a Make-Over. Shave off a corner or three. File off some rough edges. Shampoo it. Apply a bit of polish. The Base (the core of True Believers in The Lie) will still recognize The Lie and support it – even in a Slightly Modified form. They will understand the need for Perfumers and Costumers in order to make it more palatable to the Great Unwashed Masses who are not yet Wise Enough to accept The Lie as the Truth.

Create Plausible Deniability. Cleaning It Up and Watering It Down also creates numerous opportunities to negate criticism of The Lie and its Guardians. To obfuscate, even. No, we didn’t really mean to say that. Someone mis-spoke. Mistakes were made. You MisUnderstood (read: Opponents of the Lie are really not Smart Enough to understand it – poor souls).

Cry Foul and Claim Misinterpretation. Cover your own fabrications with allegations of the same. Tu Quoque to you too, buddy. Misquote. Omit significant details. Launch a few ad hominem arguments.

Construct Emotional Cover. A sick child. A disabled husband. A crippling disease. A dead pet, even. Anything will do, really, if it generates enough Emotional Resonance for many in The Audience to give the perpetrator A Pass Due To Overwhelming Grief – justification for even the most outrageous statements in support of The Lie. Or crafting the demolition of any who dare challenge it.

Demonize the Opposition. They’re not Really interested in enforcing the law, or seeing that rules are applied fairly. They’re just Nasty, Shrewd, and Brutish. Interested only with the Wanton Destruction of Innocent Bystanders. Devilish. Klutzes in Satan’s Service.

Proclaim Yourself Under Attack. Then declare yourself Exhausted from the Herculean Effort and Unable To Continue. Take yourself off the air (and/or Social Media) for at least a day and a half. It’s sure to generate sympathy and support – maybe even more financial contributions.

Form a Committee of the Committed to Run Interference. The Lie will go so much farther with an Army of Enablers who are much more concerned with correcting anyone with the audacity to criticize, than with worrying about whether The Lie might in fact be, well, Untrue. Counterfactual, even. Maybe downright False. If you can’t produce an angry Mama Bear type, protecting her poor li’l cubbies, maybe just an Outraged Friend or 2nd cousin, preferably with all the personality of a wounded rhinoceros, may do in a pinch. If all else fails, a pack of hyenas should suffice.

Utilize Overheated Rhetoric. Dark Forces are working to silence The Truth of The Lie. Opponents are perpetrating the most Critical and Devious Assault on Motherhood and Apple Pie since, ummm, at least last quarter. Invoke the wrath of the Almighty. We Stand At Armageddon, And We Do Battle For The Lord.

Stage It Professionally. Good video is absolutely essential — steady pans, tight shots on the featured heroes — and don’t neglect the music, building to a conclusive climax. If funding is an issue, borrow the semi-professional Praise Team (and their backing band) from the local megachurch — call it “grassroots” to make it sound chic.

But perhaps this overstates matters. Maybe I should retract what I said about such tactics working in the Religious Realm as well as for Politicos. We all know Christians would never do such things – right?