Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”

BLOG #5, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #38
LEO TOLSTOY’S WAR AND PEACE
February 4, 2015

This is the 38th book selection in our Book of the Month series. Yet, as hard as I’ve tried to include the most significant books ever written, this is only the second that is certified by the literati to be one of the 10 Greatest Books Ever Written. The other is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (September 25, 2013). Because of its great length, I gave our readers two months in which to digest it. Since the unabridged versions of War and Peace are 1400 pages long, it seems both wise and humane for me to give Book Club members both February and March to read and fully digest the book. As always, I urge/beg our readers to be satisfied with nothing less than the unabridged text of a translation that has stood the test of time.

War and Peace so towers over the history of prose literature that it ought to be on every literate person on earth’s Bucket List, to read before they die. It is particularly timely right now because Russia has been, for some time, in every day’s news: What will Putin do next to try and get back every country Russia lost after the fall of the Berlin Wall? Once you fully digest Tolstoy’s epic, you’ll never again be able to look at Russia simplistically again.

Signet Classic 1968 Edition - Translated by Ann Dunnigan

Signet Classic 1968 Edition – Translated by Ann Dunnigan

But before we get into reasons why everyone should read the book, let’s check out some endorsements:

• “I think Tolstoy’s War and Peace is the greatest novel the world has ever known. No novel with such a wide sweep, dealing with so momentous a period of history and with such a vast array of characters was ever written before.” – W. Somerset Maugham

• “The greatest novel ever written. The characters are universal, for all time.” –John Galsworthy

• “Tolstoy stands at the head of novelists as Shakespeare among poets [and dramatists].” –V. Sackville-West

• “If one has read War and Peace for a page, great chords begin to sound; they come from the immense area of Russia, over which episodes and characters have been scattered, which accumulate grandeur and sonority after we have passed them.” –J. B. Priestley

• “Here is the greatest novel ever written. It has been called ‘life itself.’ Everything is in it. And it’s also as free as life. Its private joys and sorrows seem to continue when one has closed the pages.” –E. M. Forster

• “There is hardly any subject of human experience that is left out of War and Peace.” –Virginia Woolf

• “The greatest novel in all literature. This magnificent work has taught me more about life than any other novel in any language…. The vast canvas is covered by hundreds of figures, every one alive and distinct, and some of the leading characters, like Natasha and Prince André, are companions for one during the rest of one’s life.” –Hugh Walpole

• “War and Peace is generally considered the greatest novel of all novels…. Tolstoy couldn’t state the theme short of writing 1400 pages…. For Tolstoy… anything that human beings do has its glory. Humanity is equally glorious in its wars, its peace, its quarrels, its love affairs.” –Mark Van Doren

• “Reading War and Peace for the very first time is one of the greatest literary experiences; reading it again and again is to realize the immeasurable gulf that is fixed between a merely good book and a great one. It may be regarded as the greatest novel that has been written, the supreme fictional achievement in the literature of the world.” –J. Donald Adams

COUNT LEO TOLSTOY
(1828 – 1910)

One of his ancestors, Count Peter Tolstoy, had been a celebrated statesman during the reign of Peter the Great. Tolstoy’s father, Count Nicholas Tolstoy, had married Princess Marya Volkonski, an heiress with a great fortune. Leo was one of five children. Sadly, his mother died when he was only three, and his father six years later. So the boy was raised by his Aunt Tatyana, who he’d always adore. The children were all born on the Princess’s ancestral estate, Yasnaya Polyana (about 200 miles southwest of Moscow). Leo would study with tutors until he was old enough to attend university classes. Though he attended two, he never graduated from either. Thanks to his aristocratic connections, he was able to attend society’s balls, soirées and parties in Kazan, Moscow, and St. Petersburg.

Early on, he lost faith in Christianity because of the wide variance between belief and daily living. At that time, atheism appeared to be the only rational alternative to him. Without any spiritual keel, he became a heavy drinker, reckless gambler, and frequenter of brothels. He even lost his ancestral home, Yosnaya Polyana, for a time because of his out-of-control gambling. So it seemed wise to join the army in its wars in the Caucasus Mountains and Crimea (it was then that he contracted syphilis).

Eventually, he came to his senses, realizing that atheism provided no hope at all. Thus he once again turned to Orthodox Christianity. But he was disillusioned so often that he would spend the rest of his life formulating his own type of Christianity, based almost solely on Christ’s earthly ministry as chronicled in the Gospels. This evolution of his spiritual philosophy of life would take the rest of his life.

At 34, he belatedly decided to settle down. He settled on a lovely eighteen-year-old, Sonya Behr. She had a graceful figure, great vitality, high spirits, and a beautiful speaking voice. On their engagement night, he almost lost her, when he lent her his diaries, in which he’d faithfully recorded not only his hopes and thoughts, prayers and self-reproaches, but also his perceived faults, including detailed descriptions of his many sexual escapades and liaisons. Sonya read and wept all night. By morning, her virginal attitude towards life was so seared, she never fully recovered. Almost, she broke the engagement, but finally forgave him–but she never forgot.

During the first eleven years of marriage, the Countess would bear eight children; during the next fifteen, five more–thirteen in all.

And so the Tolstoys settled down to rural life. He and Sonya were very much in love with each other, and they reveled in family and family education and activities. And he wrote; he had been doing so for a number of years, and his literary reputation continued to grow within the Russian Empire. And then—

Campaign of 1805

Campaign of 1805

And then . . . he was 36 years old, in the prime of life, when he began writing a book about Russia’s Decembrist Revolution. But he kept wondering more about the events of 1812 when Napoleon invaded Russia–and in so doing, changed the course of world history. He now moved the heart of the novel to 1812. Initially, the book was primarily about family, life among the gentry, the historical incidents merely a background. But the book grew . . . and kept growing. Sonya hand-copied the entire book. Eventually, apparently, seven times! before her husband was satisfied with it. It would be published during the six years it took to write it, in installments (1865-1869). First, he’d read segments aloud to his family. They quickly realized that there were real people they knew whose personalities were woven into the novel.

Though around 500 characters people the epic, four families are central: the Rostovs, the Bolkonskis, the Kuragins, and the Bezukhovs.
• It is said that the thriftless Count was inspired by Tolstoy’s grandfather.
• The pathetic yet charming Princess Mary, by his mother.
• The two “heroes,” Pierre Bezukhov and Prince André, it is generally concluded that they were modeled on Tolstoy’s own divided persona, and that he wrote the book in order to better understand himself. Alike in that, just as was true with himself, both characters seek mental peace, the answers to the mysteries of life and death, and neither finds it. Both are in love with Natasha, Count Rostav’s younger daughter. Maugham maintains that, in her, Tolstoy has created the most delightful girl in fiction. Natasha is undeveloped when the story begins: entirely natural, sweet, sensitive, sympathetic, willful, childish, already womanly, idealistic, quick-tempered, warm-hearted, headstrong, capricious, and in everything enchanting. Tolstoy would go on to create many memorable women, but never another who wins the affections of the reader like Natasha. Apparently, Natasha was modeled on Sonya and her sister, Tatiana.

Napoleon in Russia - 1812 - from the Inner Sanctum Edition of "War and Peace" (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1942)

Napoleon in Russia – 1812 – from the Inner Sanctum Edition of “War and Peace” (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1942)

But for Tolstoy, the real hero of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia was the Russian Commander-in-Chief, General Kutusov. Why? Because he did nothing, avoided battle, and merely waited for the French armies to destroy themselves. Just let Napoleon lead his armies so deep into Russia that his lines of communication can easily be severed. Result? The “Little Emperor” reaches the point where his once vast army is so thoroughly demoralized they’re nothing but sitting ducks for the Cossacks who sweep in and out, free the Russian prisoners, seize valuable supplies, and pick the French off, one bullet at a time.

Thus, the force dominating characters of the novel are Pierre, Prince André, Natasha, and Kutusov. Kutusov because, unlike vainglorious self-centered Napoleon, he remains humble, selfless, unmoved by personal glory.

Helen Muchnik maintains that, in the book, all the panoply of war, all its supposed military heroes, are secondary to events and forces beyond their control, secondary to what participants make of themselves.

John Bayley maintains that marriage is the novel’s ultimate theme, its climax, its apotheosis. The book ends with marriage, and features more happy marriages than in any other novel. Furthermore, that Tolstoy had planned and replanned the development of these destinies with such immense care, interweaving what actually occurred in history with his own invention of what must occur to complete and justify the fiction, until the reader can no longer see where truth ends and fiction begins: what happens appears inevitable. A prodigious one-of-a-kind tour de force—the world’s greatest novel.

LAST SUGGESTIONS

First of all, seek out a complete unabridged text. Then, over the next two months revel in a book unlike (and unequaled) any other.

CHIEF SOURCES

Vincent F. Hopper and Bernard D. N. Grebanier’s Essentials of World Literature, Vol. Two (Woodbury, New York: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., 1952).

Maugham, W. Somerset’s W. Somerset Maugham Selects the World’s Ten Greatest Novels (Greenwich, Connecticut: Faucett Publications, Inc, 1958).

Muchnic, Helen, An Introduction to Russian Literature (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1947, 1964).

* * *

Aylmer Maude’s Introduction to War and Peace (New York: The Heritage Press, 1938).

John Bayley’s Introduction to War and Peace (New York: New American Library, 1968, 1980).

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Harold Bell Wright’s “That Printer of Udell’s”

BLOG #2, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #37
HAROLD BELL WRIGHT’S THAT PRINTER OF UDELL’S
January 14, 2015

Many of you responded to last week’s blog overwhelmingly urging me to hold the course and extend the life of our book club for another year. Everyone appeared pleased that last week’s blog had a convenient listing of authors and their books; this way, if you’d missed certain books you could secure them, read them, and add them to your library. And new book club members could begin with whatever titles they wished.

Several of you specifically mentioned your love of Harold Bell Wright’s books, and how, ever since we featured Wright’s The Calling of Dan Matthews, you’d been acquiring other titles bearing his name. This tied in perfectly with my growing conviction (over the last month) that it was time to revisit Wright, this time featuring what I felt to be his greatest book.

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“First Edition cover with tipped-in illustration”

Back in the early 1970s, when, choosing a doctoral dissertation topic at Vanderbilt University, my first choice was Wright. Unfortunately, I discovered several other doctoral dissertations had already been written about Wright’s significance, so I reluctantly moved on to Fyodor Dostoevsky, then eventually to Zane Grey.

To History of Ideas (my doctoral emphasis) scholars, Wright fascinates because he is central to the Social Gospel movement that began in America during the 1890s. Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist clergyman and theological professor, articulated the philosophical base for the movement in books such as Christianity and the Social Crises (1907), Christianizing the Social Order (1912), and A Theology of the Social Gospel (1917). But far more influential (in terms of impact on the popular culture) than he was Charles Sheldon (a Topeka pastor who penned In His Steps, first published in 1896). It has sold several million copies and remains in print today. But it would be Wright who would take the movement to its zenith in his extremely popular romances: That Printer of Udell’s (1903), The Calling of Dan Matthews (1909), Helen of the Old House (1921), and the increasingly rare God and the Groceryman (1929).

The premise of the movement, born as it was during America’s greedy Gilded Age, was that the Jesus of the Gospels was not the least bit interested in doctrine or church politics, but rather His entire earthly ministry was dedicated to humble selfless service to others, mainly the common people, those most in need. His ministry was all-inclusive—no one, not even lepers, criminals, prostitutes, Romans, outcasts, or gentiles, were excluded. Yet, thoughtful people, especially Protestant pastors such as Charles Sheldon, Harold Bell Wright, and Henry Van Dyke, couldn’t help but notice the glaring disconnect bedtween Jesus’ caring ministry and the pompous, self-righteous, smug, arrogant church leaders and members of the time, who apparently had not the least interest in following in Christ’s footsteps service-wise. These ministers early on, discovered that abstractions didn’t work with their congregations; only as they sugar-coated them in Story would their listeners take them seriously and internalize them. Only recently have scholars realized that the first four centuries after Christ (during which time over a quarter of the Roman Empire turned Christian), Post-Apostolic church leaders and members’ entire theology was the Didache, based on Christ’s answer to the oft-posed question, “What do I have to do to be saved?”

‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.’
–Matthew 22:37-40

In my second book on the life and ministry of St. Nicholas, I noted that contemporaries labeled this spiritual emphasis as “The Way of Life,” or the Didache, and I quote D. L. Cann, in this respect:

The imperial and provincial governments offered no regular social service programs—people simply had to take care of themselves or starve. Into that abyss of human need, ignored by provincial and imperial authorities, stepped the Christian communities. Led by bishops, priests, deaconesses, and deacons, the faithful carried out their ministry to the urban poor. The Christian churches of the first four centuries provided hospice care for the sick, as well as support for widows, orphans and the unfortunate. . . . From the teachings in the Gospels, the Christians, and young Nicholas with them, cultivated a strong sense of responsibility to care for the souls and bodies of those in need.

No wonder Christianity was turning the world upside down!
–Saint Nicholas, by Joe Wheeler (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2010, pp. 5-7).

Illustration from P. 191 of First Edition

Illustration from P. 191 of First Edition

Thus writers such as Wright wove the essence of the Didache into novels such as That Printer of Udell’s, a book I consider one of the most significant seminal books of the last century and a half.

Historians of Ideas note that Wright published the book in 1903, before automobiles, airplanes, electricity, indoor plumbing, radio, and electronics revolutionized society. Horses and buggies, privies, candle-or lantern-lit homes, children forced to work as adults, terrible pollution, abysmal medical conditions, education more often than not limited to only a couple of years—in short: the world Wright captures in this riveting novel. In it, Wright’s protagonists attempt to live by the question, “What would Jesus do if He were in my place?” And juxtaposed, the “Christians” who ridiculed those who would dared to live by Christ’s Didache.

If you want to dig deeper into Wright, I suggest you track down Lawrence V. Tagg’s Harold Bell Wright: Storyteller to America (Tucson, Arizona: Westernlore Press, 1985). In it, you will discover that Wright himself endured all that was worst in society during his early life, but miraculously rose above it.

There are many editions of That Printer of Udell’s, but for all you bibliophiles who cherist first editions, I urge you to track down at least a VG copy of the book: That Printer of Udell’s A Story of the Middle West (Chicago: The Book Supply Company, 1902). It will incorporate 9 splendid illustrations by John Clitheroe Gilbert and a tipped-in cover illustration (hand-glued on).

Will be most interested in your reactions to the book. If you’re like me, you’ll return to it again and again.

SO WHERE DID THE OTHER NINE GO?

BLOG #49, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
SO WHERE DID THE OTHER NINE GO?
December 3, 2014

In times gone by to be diagnosed as a leper was a curse almost worse than death, for you were immediately expelled from the human race. And nobody—but nobody—was ever cured from it.

That’s why it was such a monumental event when Christ cured—not one—but ten lepers at once! St. Luke, the physician, noted such miracles in his Gospel. In the 17th book, he notes not just the ten-fold miracle, but also noted something else: Only one came back to thank his Lord. That Christ was not above noticing such things as gratitude or the lack of it is born out by his sadly asking the rhetorical question: “Where are the other nine?”

With all his multitudinous faults, David was an exception to the rule. Jeremy Taylor put it this way: “From David learn to give thanks for everything—every furrow in the Book of Psalms is sown with the seeds of Thanksgiving.”

I wish I could say I’ve personally experienced a considerably higher ratio in terms of my own giving, but I can’t: At best, one out of ten will thank me. And I’m lucky if I get that many. I’m convinced, however, that, generally speaking, gratitude has to be taught at home. Rarely does it flower spontaneously.

For most of twenty years now, I’ve gifted a significant number of Christmas in My Heart® books to the leadership of large Christian organizations. As certain as night follows day, I can be absolutely certain that the same people will thank me every last time; and the same people will not.

* * * * *

We have all once again celebrated the sacred holiday of Thanksgiving. How many of us, I wonder, really took time to thank God for our many blessings—the gifts of life, health, family, friendship, and so much more?

But what about this week, now that Thanksgiving is over for another year? Does our thankfulness end Thanksgiving night?

For many years now—but not nearly enough—, I have made the expression of gratitude into a great adventure. Are these unexpected expressions of gratitude received in ho hum fashion? Not on your life! It’s more like cold water to travelers dying of thirst.

About a month ago, at Lauderdale by the Sea in Florida, I couldn’t help but notice how extra delicious the vegetarian omelet was. I asked our waiter to relay my appreciation to the chef. He turned me down, saying: “Sir, I think it would mean more if you took time to thank him personally.” I followed his suggestion and finally found the chef in a hot windowless room; dark, cheerless, and dank. You should have seen the sunrise of joy on his face as he effusively thanked me again and again for taking the trouble to track him down and thank him personally!

I’ve made it a habit, whenever I discover someone who is going the proverbial “second mile” in any aspect of service to others, to take time to say “thank you”—not just generally but specifically, which means much more to the recipient.

Oh there are ever so many opportunities, each day of our lives, to say thank you. Often we completely forget to regularly thank those who are nearest and dearest to us.

Emerson maintained that “the gift without the giver is bare,” which reminds me of expensive Christmas cards some people mail us, that arrive with their names printed on it. And nothing else. Am I impressed? Not on your life! They could have said something! Or what about tipping in hotels and motels. It’s all too easy to just drop some dollar bills on a table, and leave it at that. But ah the day-brightening-difference to hospitality workers when I also write “Many thanks!” or “You keep our room beautiful!”

It is an industry axiom that for every person who sends us an unsolicited note of thanks, there are at least a hundred people who feel the same way but will never take the time to express that gratitude. That’s why I consider unsolicited thank you notes as pure gold!

* * * * *

So how about you? How many of our readers would like to join me in this great Gratitude Adventure?

Henry Van Dyke’s “The Other Wise Man”

BLOG #49, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #25
HENRY VAN DYKE’S THE OTHER WISE MAN
December 4, 2013

It is December once again – time for another Christmas selection. For some time now I have been convicted that, for the third Christmas in our series, I ought to choose Henry Van Dyke’s greatest book. Of all Christmas books ever written, only Dickens’ Christmas Carol is the equal to The Other Wise Man. But it has something Dickens’ great book lacks: an unforgettable spiritual dimension that moves the reader deeply. It is one well worth re-reading every Christmas of one’s life.

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One can count on the fingers of one hand the great Christmas stories. The Other Wise Man is one of them.

It was born on the eve of the social-gospel movement in America; born of the realization that the Jesus of the Gospels did not spend much time talking about what we call “doctrines,” but He was very concerned with how we treat one another. His entire earthly ministry could be summed up in two words: “loving service.”

Stories that change the world–how do they come to be? Half a century earlier, Charles Dickens had created the genre of Christmas story with his timeless A Christmas Carol. Nothing of comparable power had been written since.

For the 40-year-old scholar-cleric Henry Van Dyke, 1892 had been a dark and tragic year, during which his beloved father had died. The world saw merely the facade: Van Dyke at his peak–a graduate of Princeton, Princeton Theological School, and the University of Berlin; pastor of the New York’s prestigious Brick Presbyterian Church; author of such scholarly work as The Poetry of Tennyson. Yet inside, he was anything but confident.

The year had been full of sickness and sorrow. Every day brought trouble. Every night was tormented with pain. They are very long–those nights when one lies awake, and hears the laboring heart pumping wearily at its task, and watches for the morning, not knowing whether it will ever dawn . . .

And the heaviest burden?

You must face the thought that your work in the world may be almost ended, but you know that it is not nearly finished. You have not solved the problems that perplexed you. You have not reached the goal that you aimed at. You have not accomplished the great task that you set for yourself. You are still on the way; and perhaps your journey must end now–nowhere–in the dark.

Well, it was in one of these long, lonely nights that this story came to me. I have studied and loved the curious tales of the Three Wise Men of the East as they are told in the GOLDEN LEGEND of Jacobus de Voragine and other medieval books. But of the Fourth Wise Man I had never heard until that night. Then I saw him distinctly, moving through the shadows in a little circle of light. His countenance was so clear as the memory of my father’s face as I saw it for the last time a few months before. The narrative of his journeyings and trials and disappointments ran without a break. Even certain sentences came to me complete and unforgettable, clear-cut like a cameo. All that I had to do was to follow Artaban, step by step, as the tale went on, from the beginning to the end of his pilgrimage.

Responding to the oft-asked question: why he made the Fourth Wise Man tell a lie, to save the life of a little child, he countered,

Is a lie ever justifiable? Perhaps not. But may it not sometimes seem inevitable? And if it were a sin, might a man not confess it, and be pardoned for it more easily than for the greater sin of spiritual selfishness, or indifference, or the betrayal of innocent blood? That is what I saw Artaban do. That is what I heard him say. All through his life he was trying to do the best that he could. It was not perfect. But there are some kinds of failure that are better than success.

It is probable that more research went into this than any other Christmas story ever written. All his previous research, it appears in retrospect, had been setting the stage for this work. And now, it was not enough merely to tell the story he felt a Higher Power wished him to chronicle: it must have historical authenticity as well. So he scoured the great libraries of the world seeking information about every aspect of ancient life and travel. Not until he was satisfied that he knew his ground as well as an attorney presenting his first case before the Supreme Court did he finally begin writing.

What Van Dyke created was a story so simply and beautifully told that the reader is unaware that this re-creation of the world our Lord knew is undergirded by prodigious research. It is an awesome tour de force.

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On Christmas Day, 1892, he spread out his manuscript on his pulpit, looked out at the vast hushed and expectant audience, and wondered how the Fourth Wise Man’s story would be received. He needn’t have worried: the little story spread like wildfire. Three years later, Harpers, the most prestigious publishing house in the world, launched it out across all the seas of the world, both in English and in many translations.

* * *

There are many editions out there on the world-wide web, but I recommend that you seek out one of the splendid editions with color art work. One of the most beautiful is the Harper Brothers 25th anniversary Memorial Edition of 1920, as well as the 30th in 1925. Believe me, you will treasure it forever. Try to secure a dust-jacketed edition.

Calvary Chapel – Memories I made There – Part 3

BLOG #44, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
CALVARY CHAPEL OF PHILADELPHIA
MEMORIES I MADE THERE
Part Three
October 30, 2013

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Gettysburg Weekend
Program Cover

My mind is still in a whirl after that memorable weekend. I still don’t really know what I expected to see and experience there–I only know that I was deeply moved by my being there.

Late one evening, I had a long chat with Calvary Chapel’s chief shepherd, Pastor Joe Focht. I told him I’d been deeply impressed by what I’d seen, comparing it to what I’d learned about the Post-Apostolic churches during my researching the life and times of St. Nicholas. The early Christian Church had no doctrine or creed, instead living by the Didache, a document as old as the Gospels themselves, based on Christ’s answer to the question, “What do I have to do to be saved?” His answer, according to Matthew, was “to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, thy soul, and thy mind–and thy neighbor as thyself.” I noticed that just as Jethro advised his son-in-law, Moses, to stop micro-managing and instead select wise Spirit-led leaders, here in this church are leaders coordinating Medical Fellowship, Special Events, Single Moms, Women’s Prayer, Home Fellowship Missions, Divorce Care, Marriage and Family, Pre-marital Ministry, Men’s Repair Ministry, Hospitality, Bereavement, Worship Bible Study, Outreach, Missions, Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Military Support, Russian Fellowship, Prison Ministries, Christian Alternatives to Addiction, Calvary Christian Academy, Over 50’s Ministry, Men’s Accountability, Men’s Breakfast, Hospital Visitation, Children’s Ministry, Bookstore Ministry, New Believers, Transformed College and Career, Radio Ministry, Volunteer Security, Funeral/Memorial Services, Special Needs, Sports, Puppets, Street Evangelism, Crosswalk Jr. High, Greeter and Usher Ministries, Law Enforcement Fellowship, Men’s Prayer, Combat Veterans Support Fellowship, etc.

As a result, instead of feeling I was in the midst of a church dominated by a single-personality, here it was very much like individualized ownership of the church. Each member I spoke with considered the church to be a home/safe haven, a well-organized beehive of activity and involvement. Everybody belongs. I’m not surprised that this one church has spawned twenty more Calvary Chapels in Pennsylvania. Pastor Joe told me his sermons follow the Bible clear through each year; and the following year, he does it again, continuing to study deeply as he prayerfully write new sermons each week. There appears to be no cult clustering around one
person at Calvary Chapel, but rather Pastor Joe prefers to be known as merely a fellow-seeker of spiritual knowledge and service for others. He and I discussed favorite authors and books, and before I left he gifted me with three of his favorite books by an author I’d never heard of before–I’m finding them extremely insightful; I’m planning on returning the favor. In short, with him I feel I shall enjoy many years of friendship with a kindred spirit.

It appears that Calvary Chapel pastors, rather than coming to their pulpits via divinity schools, tend to come from the rough and tumble world itself, just as was true of Christ’s apostles. It was certainly clear to me that Pastor Joe feels called.

As for Pastor Trevor Steenbakkers, my contact, guide, and chauffeur, he too I came to deeply appreciate. He is very good at what he does: shepherding the men of the church. Most certainly the women of the church are led by equally effective leadership.

I am so thankful they invited me to spend a weekend with them. I feel deeply blessed.

DOES ANYONE GO THE SECOND MILE ANY MORE?

BLOG #37, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DOES ANYONE GO THE SECOND MILE ANY MORE?
September 11, 2013

No law was hated more during the long sway of the Roman Empire than the one that forced all citizens to shoulder the burdens of any Roman soldier for an entire mile. Back in those days of iron armor and weaponry, carrying such a burden in the hot Mediterranean sun would have been a real ordeal. Whoever lived in the empire, citizen or not, had no option: if asked to carry such a load, they had to comply! Or else. And it was an “else” that no one in his right mind would want to face.

Then Christ, according to Matthew (in Chapter 5, verse 41), added insult to injury by declaring that if you are forced to carry such burdens for a mile, carry them for two miles. That had to be about as welcome as two foxes in a henhouse.

But that was His point: We ought to go far beyond the letter of the law: Only as we give more than the law demands of us, can there really be a gift at all.

* * *

With this historical preamble, let’s turn to today’s world. The norm, at least in America, is not only to avoid if at all possible the demands of the law but to hire lawyers to help you find legal loopholes so that you don’t have to pay any of it.

Who among us has not ruefully discovered (usually after the fact) that something we thought we had (protection, coverage, product, amenity, etc.), the legalese in the contract—which we didn’t read because we couldn’t fully understand the murky legal gobbledygook anyway—took away all or most of what we thought we had.

No matter what, rare is the case when weasely legalese doesn’t take away the very protection and coverage (think insurance) we conscientiously paid for so that we and our loved ones would be safe in cases of loss or disaster. Our howls of outrage get us nowhere: “if you were naive enough to believe our contract, you deserve to be taken to the cleaners.”

ENTER MORSE EVERGREEN AUTOBODY

I’ll have to admit I was more than a bit suspicious of Tony Perry when he guaranteed his body shop really stood behind its word. Especially was I gun-shy after a recent experience my brother-in-law had with a well-known new car Denver automobile agency, for after he purchased a used car from them, and paid for extra guarantee protection, the agency fiercely fought him when he later discovered problem areas that were clearly defined—he thought—in the extra guarantee protection he paid for. And that is but the most recent case of disillusion where today’s business world is concerned.

Another has to do with insurance: you may faithfully pay insurance premiums to a certain company for ten, twenty, thirty, forty years without a claim; then dare to submit two claims within a three-year period, and they threaten to cancel your insurance! It does make you a cynic about current American business, doesn’t it!

So, when one of our vehicles spun out in black ice and turned over on its side, near Evergreen, last winter, I checked around among our friends to see what people had to say about area body shops before I accepted Tony Perry’s bid at Morse Evergreen Autobody. Since we loved our 2002 Oldsmobile Bravada (the company now sadly extinct), we decided to pay whatever it cost to restore it to original condition rather than merely total it. We gulped at the price-tag, but paid for it.

It took some time to repair it; since Oldsmobile no longer exists, body parts were hard to come by. But finally, it was done. All cleaned and shined up too. So much so that people said on seeing it, ‘Oh, you bought a new car!”

There were a couple of minor problems afterwards. Morse fixed them, and charged us nothing.

But there developed a peskier problem: an original piece of Oldsmobile molding on the driver’s door insisted on warping over time. I brought Cosette (my name for the SUV) in and showed them the problem. They fixed it, no questions asked.

Almost half a year later, the perverse piece of molding warped again. This time I was embarrassed to bring Cosette in, for Morse had been so faithful to their word. Surely, there had to be an expiration point to a guarantee, verbal or paper. So when I brought it in this time, I pointed out how much time had passed, and said I’d gladly pay for whatever it cost to fix the problem.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I was told to come pick it up. They’d really beaten that piece of molding half to death hammering it into shape. It was beautiful once again. Same for the paint job. It was even detailed, washed, and looked brand new!

“No charge! It was the original problem, not something new—so it’s on us.”

Thus, we are faced with a graphic refutation of what has become all but standard in America today: Not standing by one’s word.

I’m having a hard time getting over it.

All we can say is this:

BLESS YOU, TONY . . . AND YOUR CREW!

THE PARALYSIS OF THE AMERICAN MIND – Part Three

BLOG #18, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE PARALYSIS OF THE AMERICAN MIND
Part Three
May 1, 2013

So what do these three blogs mean? Is there a solution?

Before dealing with those two questions, let’s look at what we’ve discussed in the earlier two blogs:

We’ve learned that Internet social networks such as Facebook, are seeking to take control of every aspect of our lives and by constantly intruding, rip apart the fabric of our lives. For starters, let’s look at the issue of productivity, beginning with the current issue of Success:

SHUT THE FRONT DOOR!

          There’s a good reason to hang a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your door when you need to concentrate. Researchers for Michigan State University and the Navy have determined that people make double, sometimes even triple, the errors immediately after they are interrupted, even when the diversions last only a few seconds. It doesn’t take much to get off track, which occurs whenever people have to shift attention. Three-second distractions doubled errors in the study; 4.5 – second interruptions tripled errors.

          Scientists call the delay in finding your place in the original task ‘resumption lag.’ . . . .It’s agreed that multitasking—essentially a cycle of interruption and resumption of work—acts like a brake to momentum. The takeaways: Turn off the phone, shut down email and close the door to avoid mistakes and work efficiently.
Success, May 2013

In the same vein, it has been aptly stated that today Americans tend to “Major in minors and minor in majors.” Most of what we read, see, discuss, and internalize is meaningless trivia. Contestants on Jeopardy who know all the actors and roles even in third-rate movies routinely miss the simplest questions from the Bible. Across America, there is an abysmal ignorance of even our own history. We have seemingly lost the importance of differentiating between significant and the meaningless and trite.

We have also discussed the alarming trend towards spending more and more of one’s life energy dwelling in a vicarious world rather than dealing with the day-to-day realities of the real world.

And even when we do dwell in the real world we often choose to accept a distorted view of it. In that same May issue of Success, its publisher, Darren Hardy, postulates that “News media has become a competitive blood sport for our attention. Their focus is finding the half-dozen most violent, tragic, scandalous and ugly things that happened in a day and parade them morning and night. Their goal is to trigger our fear, worry, threat and distress responses so we keep tuning in.”

Hardy wraps up his column with these sobering words:

          This barrage of negative input devastates our productive potential and creative capacity. What we see and hear is what we think about. Our thoughts become our expectations. Expectation leads to manifestations. It’s a dangerous and damaging downward spiral.

We’ve also discussed the significance of who each of us is, in terms of whether we are other-directed or inner-directed. If we are other-directed, inescapably we are bundled into the paralysis of the American mind.

And we’ve tackled, at least superficially, the issue of pleasure: Are we permitting the pleasure-principle to dominate our own life journeys? Furthermore, if sexuality becomes more significant than its God-given reason for being: cementing the life-long relationship of a man and a woman (the bastion of family life and security with our children), then of what value are our lives?

We’ve discussed too the increasing separation between us and our fellow-travelers-to-the-grave in this journey we label “life.” Are we willing to permit technology to replace day-to-day human relationships?

Nor should we forget that reading is at the very core of our creativity. If we are settling for the simplistic and narcissistic media world rather than studying books, magazines, and newspapers, then we are ourselves to blame for the myopic blinders we create for ourselves.

Ever since Gutenberg, reading has anchored civilization and made possible the Renaissance and the subsequent explosion of knowledge. If we desert reading in favor of sound-bytes, we thereby contribute to the decline of America. For if we forget God, forget our Founding Fathers, forget the principles our nation stood for during our first two centuries, our end can only be categorized as tragic.

* * * * *

But let me conclude with this sobering thought: In His earthly ministry, Christ hammered home no injunction more than time-management. In parable after parable, He reinforces His expectations that each of us would prioritize life thus: Each day should result in growth/achievement and in selfless service to God’s sheep. Everything else is secondary.

With this in mind, how can so many millions of us dare to fritter away the bullion of the universe—our time—on things that neither contribute to our daily growth and achievement nor make a positive difference in the lives of others less fortunate than us? Every moment of His earthly life, Christ considered precious.

So should we re-prioritize each remaining day left to us.

IS HUMILITY COMING BACK?

BLOG #12, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
IS HUMILITY COMING BACK?
March 20, 2013

During the last week, the world has been shocked by the sight of an unroyal pope, Francis the First, abandoning regality, both with the cardinals and curia as well as the people; taking the bus back to his modest room, carrying his own luggage, asking the massed crowd in St. Peter’s Square to pray for him, and walking into the crowds without security to interact with young and old, greeting each one individually. Nowhere to be seen: the imperial pope the world has come to expect down through the centuries. A servant pope! A throwback to the humility of our Lord while on earth over two thousand years ago.

Just so, this coming June, when Howard/Simon & Schuster releases our Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories, readers will see revealed, in story after story after story, America’s only servant president. Sadly, even the new Lincoln film fails to adequately portray that aspect of our 16th president. When you compare the Lincoln coming to life (like old-time photo negatives in a developing tray, in each of the 32 stories) to the imperial U.S. presidents of recent memory, it will shock you just as much as Pope Francis is shocking the world during the last week. Strength tied to selfless-humility. This synthesis of two ostensible opposites is all too rare in our arrogant I-did-it-my-way society. Lincoln’s humility, as revealed in my upcoming anthology, is spiritual, a reflection emanating from his moment-by-moment dependance on God.

Just as is true with the Post-Apostolic Bishop Nicholas, a subject I have attempted to capture in two recent biographies (2010 and 2005) published by Thomas Nelson.

Is it possible, in our narcissistic self-centered age, that selfless, spiritually-based humility may be returning as an ideal? Is it possible that arrogance’s long reign over society may be nearing its own sede vacante?

We can only watch. And hope.