“Cremains”

This was one of those “Yes, exactly!” moments.ScreenShot164

For those not previously enlightened:

Cremains, pl. n., the ashes of a cremated body (either a portmanteau or shortened form of “cremated” and “remains”)

The “Yes, exactly!” moment came when a friend gave me Lydia Davis’ short piece “Letter to a Funeral Parlor”:

Dear Sir,

I am writing to you to object to the word cremains, which was used by your representative when he met with my mother and me two days after my father’s death.

*   *   *

Then we were sitting there in our chairs in the living room trying not to weep in front of your representative, who was opposite us on the sofa, and we were very tired first from sitting up with my father, and then from worrying about whether he was comfortable as he was dying, and then from worrying about where he might be now that he was dead, and your representative referred to him as “the cremains.”

At first we did not even know what he meant. Then, when we realized, we were frankly upset. Cremains sounds like something invented as a milk substitute in coffee, like Cremora, or Coffee-mate. Or it sounds like some kind of a chipped beef dish.

Lydia Davis, “Letter to a Funeral Parlor,” in The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (2009).

The full piece is reproduced on the NPR website [link].

Scoop!

ScreenShot164I knew that Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, but this was a part of the story I had not heard:

In late August 1939, [Clare] Hollingworth was a 27-years-old cub reporter for the Telegraph in Poland. After talking a British diplomat into allowing her to borrow his car, she drove across the border into Germany, where she observed large numbers of troops, tanks and field artillery lined up along a road.

As she wrote in her autobiography, when the wind blew open burlap screens “constructed to hide the military vehicles . . . I saw the battle deployment.” Her story appeared in the London newspaper on Aug. 29 under the headline “1,000 Tanks Massed on Polish Frontier.” Germany invaded Poland three days later.

Melanie Kirkpatrick, “The Woman Who Scooped Everyone on World War II,” Hudson Institute (Jan. 12, 2017) [link].  Interesting story, which also appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

J.R.R.T.

jrrt “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

     J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

J.R.R. Tolkien (January 3, 1892 – September 2, 1973) was born 125 years ago today.  He has been singing at the throne of God for 40 years.

The Nightingale

nightingaleKristen Hannah, The Nightingale (2016).

This month’s book club offering is a lively story of two sisters who live in France during the Nazi occupation.  Although it is longer on emotional than historical detail, it is definitely one of those novels that make you wonder how well you would hold up under the pressures of that situation.  The book was similar in tone and gravity to something like The Winds of War, thus not as serious as All the Light We Cannot See, or as literary as Brideshead Revisited, or as witty as Everyone Brave is Forgiven.

I like the cover design very much.

Recommended.

“A religion of losers.”

ScreenShot164Matthew Schmitz wrote this back in August, but I just read it today.  It is an interesting take on Donald Trump’s “faith,” and attempts to trace the influence of Norman Vincent Peale on Trump.  Apparently Trump once said that Peale “thought I was his greatest student of all time.”  Schmitz goes on to explain why that might actually be true.

But the best thing in the article is this description of Christianity:

“Christianity is a religion of losers. To the weak and humble, it offers a stripped and humiliated Lord. To those without reason for optimism, it holds up the cross as a sign of hope. To anyone who does not win at life, it promises that whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake shall find it. At its center stands a truth that we are prone to forget. There are people who cannot be made into winners, no matter how positive their thinking. They need something more paradoxical and cruciform.”

Matthew Schmitz, “Donald Trump, Man of Faith,” First Things (August 2016) [link].

That seems pretty thoughtful, though to my way of thinking it does not go far enough:  The penultimate line should probably read: “People cannot be made into winners, no matter how positive their thinking.”

There is none righteous, no, not one.

Born at the Right Time

What the Incarnation Means for Us All

December 18, 2016 | Galatians 4 (“In the fullness of time . . .”)

born-at-the-right-timeTaiwan, it seems, has one of the highest rates of Caesarian births in the world, which leads to two questions.

“What are you talking about, Al?” and “Why is that?”

A Caesarian section is an operation whereby a baby is born by surgically opening the womb of the pregnant woman, usually because of some medical emergency. It was done in ancient times, nearly always at the cost of the life of the mother. I would have guessed that it was called a Caesarian birth because Julius Caesar was born that way, but that is apparently a myth. In any case, it is relatively common these days, and not terribly dangerous.

It is apparently very common in Taiwan, even when it is not medically indicated.

A study followed 150 women in Taiwan who were pregnant with their first child, and found that 93 of them had caesarean deliveries before 39 weeks, though none of them had any complications.

This seemed decidedly odd, since of course pre-term Caesarean births require more medical and surgical intervention, require longer hospital stays, cost more money and are somewhat more dangerous for mother and baby. To be clear, these were not emergency Caesareans, these were elective Caesareans by women who had never been through childbirth before. Continue reading Born at the Right Time

Losing track of Jesus

finding-godI seldom write “bad” reviews, feeling that (1) writing a book would be a hard feat to pull off and (2) I don’t want to encourage people to spend money on a book simply by making the cover pop up on their feed.  This is not exactly a counterexample to those feelings, just a warning that this is not the book I thought it was when I started it,* and I am not recommending it.

Mike McHargue, Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost my Faith and Found It Again through Science (2016) describes the author’s path from fundamentalist Christianity to atheism to . . . well, it’s hard to say exactly.  Notwithstanding the subtitle, McHargue does not claim to have found the same faith again, but something quite different.  He ends up with a faith which is uncertain about the Bible, uncertain about the resurrection, uncertain about hell, uncertain about whether a personal creator God actually exists.  His faith at the end is not in any way orthodox.

“What I’ve learned to do is be certain that I am uncertain. To revel in the fuzziness of my understanding of the world. And to look with great anticipation toward the next moment I’ll figure out that I’m wrong about something. And that lets you get on this trajectory where you just become more and more and more open.”

I think that to his credit, he would agree with what I wrote in the paragraph before the quotation.  He seems to be trying very hard to be honest about his life, and that is the best part of the book.  He describes the anger that church Christians expressed when he decided (based on The God Delusion and other books) that he (a deacon and a Sunday School teacher) had become an atheist.  He eventually describes the similar anger he felt from his online atheist/anti-theist community when he began to travel to his new faith.  The turning point is a mystical experience which he has on a beach – as troubling to him as it is overwhelming.  He describes this openly, though it does not fit with his self image (“science Mike”), and it does nothing to persuade the skeptical reader.

The problem, quite frankly, is that by the end of the book McHargue has created a God that is smaller than he is.

He seems to feel (and who hasn’t felt this way?) that when he reads something shocking in the Bible (the commands in Joshua to utterly destroy the Canaanites, for example), that he is qualified to decide that that, at least, cannot be part of God’s character.  Part of what Christianity would have traditionally called God’s holiness is trimmed away because it does not fit well with what we (McHargue and I, as 21st century educated Americans) think is “acceptable.”

But the God of historical, orthodox Christianity is first and foremost a God who requires obedience to a standard we do not find entirely agreeable.

McHargue hasn’t yet found his way back to that.  Then again, maybe the God of all grace is not done with him.

*I thought it would be more like Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic (2013) [link], which I do recommend.

Brave & Forgiven

ebif A delightful book, full of clever dialogue (“Sorry I’m late.  There were Germans.”) and heartaches, about the beginning of World War II in London and Malta.  Cleave does a marvelous job of conveying a sense of oppression which must have been felt by the British before 1942:

“[Mary] loathed the way the newspapers printed maps with the stark Nazi symbol on a field of plain white, as if Hitler had sent armies of erasers.  Better to crowd the swastikas in, to have them jostle for space.  [For her class, she] drew them deliberately crooked.  Her swastikas were degenerates that leaned at sickly angles and resembled one another vaguely, the offspring of first cousins who had married against the family’s advice.

Finally, she drew Britain, being generous with the width of the English Channel and giving the British Isles three times the area on the blackboard that they merited.  She thought it unfair to expect children to understand that it was possible to resist, from an island the size of her hand, a tyranny that stretched the whole width of the blackboard from Brest to Bialystok.”

It is not really a book about the war, but about friendships, family relations and love affairs in the shadow of great uncertainty and disruption.

Highly recommended.

AEB 1931-2016

Alban Emerson Brooke
July 1, 1931 — November 4, 2016

Alban Emerson Brooke, 85, of Jacksonville, FL, passed away suddenly on November 4, 2016 from a head injury suffered after an accidental fall.

He was best known to the public as an attorney and judge in Duval, Clay and Nassau County from 1960 to 2002. Born in Louisville, KY, he was raised in Sandy Spring, Maryland. He attended The Citadel (The Military College of South Carolina), graduating in 1953 and served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War. After his discharge, he attended the George Washington University Law School. Upon relocating to Jacksonville in the late 1950s, he became the 9,027th member of The Florida Bar, and was in private practice until 1980. He then served in the Fourth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office under T. Edward Austin from May 19, 1980 to December 31, 1988, before he was appointed as a trial judge in Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit in 1988, serving for 13 years, until his retirement at the end of 2002.

He is survived by his wife of more than 61 years, Mary Grace Brooke; his children — local attorney Allan F. Brooke II (Katherine), Grace Brooke Huffman, M.D. (Steve) of Winchester, Virginia, and Peter Emerson Brooke; his grandchildren — Alban Emerson Brooke II (Marie), Philip Davis Brooke, Ph.D. (Cecilia), Priscilla Mary Brooke, Sarah Katherine Brooke, Thomas Tarlton Brooke, and Thomas Brooke Huffman; and his great-granddaughter Emerson Rose Brooke. He was blessed to have most of his family living close by.

He had been a member of the Session of Riverside Presbyterian Church and was later a deacon at First Baptist Church. He was a man of deep personal integrity, broad intellectual interests and was known for his compassion and concern. He had a great sense of humor and a nearly endless supply of stories. He read widely, enjoyed contract bridge, and was devoted to his Lord.

His devotion was characterized by his service as husband and father, as he and Mary Grace dedicated their retirement years to the care of their youngest son, Peter. He will be much missed by his family, friends and community, as he adds his voice to the chorus of praise around the throne of God.

Soli Deo Gloria.

A Memorial Service and reception will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, November 22, 2016 at Westside Chapel, 4541 Shirley Ave., Ste 8, Jacksonville, FL 32210.

In lieu of flowers, donations to The Arc Jacksonville (www.arcjacksonville.org) or Westside Chapel (www.westsidechapeljax.com) would be appreciated.

Arrangements by Naugle Funeral Home & Cremation Services, 1203 Hendricks Avenue, Jacksonville, FL (904) 396-1611.

PHD 1925-2016

G R A V E S I D E     S E R V I C E

Philip Herman Davis
October 13, 1925 — October 14, 2016
2:00 pm, October 22, 2016
Pine Bush Cemetery, Kerhonkson, New York


I think Grandpa would like it if we started with Scripture, and here the Scripture states the problem we face, from the difficult and troubling book of Ecclesiastes.

The writer of Ecclesiastes is called Qoheleth, “The Preacher.” The Preacher says:

A good name is better than a good ointment,
And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.

It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.

Ecclesiastes 7:1-2.  It is better to go to a funeral than a wedding reception!

We stand here with the body of a man with a good name, who was held in good repute in his community, yet who lived in deep humility.  To have a good name when you die is a wonderful blessing — it leads to this group standing and considering Philip Herman Davis’s life and legacy, and speaking about him in the memorial service at 4:00.

And Grandpa would have wanted us to take to heart the reality of his death.

But this is not the last word.  

Grandpa would want us to take to heart the reality of our own deaths.

Someday some will stand at a grave for you, and consider your name and your life.  Perhaps it will be a large family like this one.  Maybe it will just be one or two acquaintances.  But your body will probably be in a container to be placed in the ground, with a word from a son-in-law or someone who knew you.

But that will not be the last word.

The end of Ecclesiastes states:

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.  And that is frightening, or should be, for each of us have done countless things for which we would prefer not to be judged.  We would far rather have some of the choices we have made and things we have done and words we have said be dropped from consideration, or treated as mere rehearsal or simply overlooked.  We want to cry out, “Please, measure us by our best choices.”

But Ecclesiastes says “God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”

And yet still, that is not the last word.

Jesus, when he had come to show us what God is truly like, showed both compassion and judgment, and taught and acted out a life of righteousness in joy and sorrow,
pleasure and pain, triumph and tragedy, but at the end of his short life he prayed this prayer:

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Luke 23:34.  And by this he did not mean that his executioners did not understand what they were doing, but that they were ignorant, and misled and deceived and Jesus asked his Father to let the punishment fall on him instead of them.

Paul said it like this:

For while we were still weak, at the right time [Jesus] died for [] ungodly [people like us].  For [hardly anyone would] die for a righteous person . . .  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, [Jesus] died for us. . . . [We] have now been justified by [Jesus’] blood, [and certainly] saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Romans 5:6-10.  “Weak,” “ungodly,” “enemies.”  That’s who we are, and honestly, that’s who Philip Herman Davis was.

He would not have denied it.

But 36 years ago, in June 1980, he was reconciled to God by what Jesus did when Jesus died.  Jesus saved Grandpa from God’s judgment on his life.  Thereafter, God would judge Grandpa’s life on the basis of Jesus’ righteousness, not on the basis of Grandpa’s own righteousness.

At the end of his life — but just (mercifully) in the last couple of months of his life — Grandpa felt his body failing him.  He might have felt like Paul did, knowing he was near the end, when he wrote his protégé, Timothy:

I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6-8.

And from where I stand, I completely believe that Grandpa

fought the good fight, . . .

finished the course, . . .

kept the faith . . . .

And so I believe that when Grandpa stepped across the threshold from this life, and
as he slipped out of this body that we are burying today, and when he left this earth on (as we reckon it) October 14, 2016, he heard these words:

Well done, good and faithful servant.
You have been faithful over a little;
I will set you over much.
Enter into the joy of your master.

Matthew 25:21.

And that is the last word.

May we each consider these things and live so as to hear those very words when we ourselves meet the Judge of every man and woman.