Thursday, November 29, 2018

Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring The Love Of God"

Immense tragedies, such as the Camp Fire, may for some call into question the traditional idea of God as both all good and all powerful. How is one to make sense of how a loving God acts in a world so full of suffering?

Recently, Thomas Jay Oord, who teaches theology and philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, has proposed a reformulation of the attributes of God, suggesting that "love comes logically first in God's nature" and that this love "cannot override, withdraw, or fail to provide the power of freedom, agency, or existence to creation. Consequently," says Oord in the introduction to a collection of short essays on his ideas, "God cannot control creatures or creation."

For Oord, "the God who must love and cannot control others is not morally responsible for failing to prevent evil. ... God doesn't even 'allow' suffering, because God can't stop it acting alone. Therefore, God is not culpable for the genuine evil in our lives."

Implications of Oord's theological position are presented in "Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring The Love Of God" ($16.95 in paperback from SacraSage Press; also for Amazon Kindle), edited by Chris Baker and others.

The dozens of accessible essays consider "who God is," "how God acts," and "how creatures respond." One of the contributions is from Butte College and Chico State University philosophy instructor Olav Bryant Smith. In "Contributing To God's Growing Perfection," Smith writes that when we say that certain special events in our lives are "perfect" (like "a first kiss") we also recognize they are fleeting, our circumstances ever-changing.

Could it be the same for God? Rather than ascribe total power and knowledge to God, Smith writes, perhaps God grows in "perfection" "in response to the expressions of a universe of creatures striving to participate in establishing their own myriad beautiful creations.... Much of the Bible suggests a God waiting to see what we'll decide and then responding accordingly."

Readers will have to decide whether Oord and Smith resolve the problem of evil satisfactorily. In emphasizing human free will that can't be overridden by God the book offers a sometimes startling rethinking of traditional theology.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

"The Year Of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism In An Age Of Crisis"

How do we rebuild a community after horrific devastation? How do we pursue the common good to mitigate future disasters? Do religious traditions have a part to play in teaching us how to bear our griefs and to express thanksgiving in the midst of suffering?

Such questions arise in a new book by Alan Jacobs. Jacobs is an academic (Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University) writing with clarity and verve for a wider audience. Former Paradise resident John Wilson, who edited the now-defunct Books and Culture literary journal, published numerous articles by his friend Jacobs.

In 1943 it was apparent that the Allies would triumph in World War II. A number of writers, working separately but united by a Christian worldview, agonized about rebuilding. What kind of education would be needed to avoid the temptation toward authoritarianism or, alternatively, acquiescence in the idea that all values are merely socially constructed with the highest good "getting along"?

Jacobs considers the responses of five important literary and philosophical figures in "The Year Of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism In An Age Of Crisis" ($29.95 in hardcover from Oxford University Press; also for Amazon Kindle). In weaving together the central themes of these Christian intellectuals--Jacques Maritain, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, and Simone Weil--Jacobs raises questions for our own times, and our own rebuilding.

For him, these writers "share the conviction that this restoration will not be accomplished only, or even primarily, through theology as such, but also and more effectively through philosophy, literature, and the arts. It is through these practices,which I believe are best called 'humanistic,' that the renewal--or if necessary the revolutionary upheaval--of Western civilization will be achieved. That was the project that these figures, in the various ways and with their sometimes fierce disagreements, shared."

The final chapter is devoted to French Reformed writer Jacques Ellul, whose seminal studies on the rise of technology and propaganda show there are no simplistic answers on the road ahead to rebuilding an enduring community. But we didn't expect there to be.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

"Reflections And Dark Truths"

"The rain falls silently in the middle of the night," writes Paradise resident J.R. Henson in his recently published book. "Old oak trees are like a canopy in my backyard. Some drops of rain read the wrinkles in the old oak trees as a blind person reads braille from a book. If the rain keeps up through the night and into the morning, it will mean a hearty breakfast for the trees." The piece is entitled "Paradise," and the rain takes the author back in memory to his days as a ten-year-old playing in the sprinklers on a hot summer's day.

Much has been lost in Paradise, and the book, featuring almost three dozen short essay-stories, explores personal loss in a way that resonates deeply just now.

The book is called "Reflections And Dark Truths" ($10 in paperback from Valley View Press, Paradise) and as the title suggests it's divided into two sections. The reflections hearken back to the narrator's childhood, his "emotional journey growing up." Then the "dark truths" consider aging grandparents, the "crumbling" of his own hopes and dreams, estrangement from loved ones, having to face the tremors of the real world, and almost yearning "to be cradled once again back in the mental hospital."

There is yearning, too, for redemption. In "Can You Hear What I Hear?", the narrator senses a connection with something joyful, something divine. "I pray for my brokenness. I pray for forgiveness. Moreover, I ask God to enter my heart." But that doesn't make the reality of loss go away. There are losses of the natural environment, losses of love.

The biggest loss is of Smokey. "The smooth curly dark-haired dog that slept in my arms and rested his head in my right hand just yesterday is now gone. Gone from this world, and my heart aches for his return."

Henson writes in an email that he and his family members escaped the Camp Fire just before a planned book release party that had been set for Paradise Library. Signings are still scheduled at the Chico Library for Sunday, November 18 from 4:30-5:30 p.m. and at the Oroville Library on Saturday, December 1 from 4:00-5:00 p.m.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

"The Doolittle Raiders: What Heroes Do After The War"

"As a grammar school kid in Willows … in the late 1940s," George Nolta writes, he met a man named Jimmy who was on a hunting trip with a group that included Nolta's uncles Floyd and Dale. "Jimmy" turned out to be Jimmy Doolittle, the man who commanded "sixteen B-25s that took off from the deck of the USS Hornet on April 18, 1942. Each carried a crew of five: pilot, copilot, navigator, bombardier, and flight engineer/gunner."

The mission, America's response to Pearl Harbor, was "the first bombing raid on Japan during World War II." Ted Lawson, pilot of the seventh crew, told the story in "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," written with newspaper columnist Robert "Bob" Considine. It was turned into a movie starring Spencer Tracy as Doolittle, Van Johnson as Lawson, and Phyllis Thaxter as Ellen, Ted's wife.

The Lawsons eventually settled in Chico. Ted died in 1992 "and is buried in the Chico Cemetery." After Nolta, who now lives in Citrus Heights, published a piece on Ellen for the Colusi County Historical Society, the two became friends. Ellen asked Nolta if he would use her research on the crewmembers to create a book documenting their lives, not only pre-raid but post-raid.

The book is called "The Doolittle Raiders: What Heroes Do After The War" ($16.99 in paperback from Schiffer Publishing); its vivid and clearly written narratives trace the accomplishments, and the heartbreak, of the eighty Raiders. Sixty-four survived; the remaining were lost in a crash landing, drowned, or tortured and executed by the Japanese.

In an email Nolta notes that "some of the Raiders flew up to the Willows Airport to do some last-minute short takeoff practice after their planes had been serviced at McClellan Field in Sacramento. …" 

Doolittle received the Medal of Honor and late in his life told a writer that "I believe every person has been put on this earth for just one purpose: to serve his fellow man. … If he does, his life will have been worthwhile." He was ninety-six when he died in 1993. Richard Cole, his copilot, the only surviving Raider, celebrated his 103rd birthday in September 2018.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

"Murder At The Columbarium"

The novels of Chico writer Emily Gallo ( trace the interconnected lives of some unlikely friends. Her new tale focuses on San Francisco's famous Columbarium, a real place on Lorraine Court "with the walls containing thousands of niches holding urns of every variety."

Jed Gibbons, "a tall, sinewy African-American in his early sixties," and a survivor of the Jonestown massacre in Guyana, has become the caretaker. His wife, Monica, is a social worker at Glide Church and HIV positive. One morning, as Jed opens the gate in front of the columbarium, he finds the body of a woman strangled to death with her own hijab. And more: A baby, alive, lying next to her.

"Murder At The Columbarium" ($13.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle) is by turns an engaging mystery (Jed plays detective and comes under suspicion himself) and a family drama (Jed wants to adopt the child but Monica is not so sure given their age and her condition). At least they can provide foster care for little Aja (the name they choose), but it's clear Jed is smitten, even as he tries to find the child's relatives and (perhaps) relinquish Aja.

San Francisco police and the FBI get involved, and some strange doings go down at the columbarium, from vandalism to a neo-Nazi, tattooed with "1488," who buys a niche and installs an urn in the shape of a KKK hood. A couple of mobster-types visit the columbarium as well, and other unsavory characters seem to come and go. The solution to the case has international implications.

Eventually Jed is led to Garberville and a pot farm run by an old musician named Dutch Bogart. Jed's friends help care for Aja, including Tony, who takes over as caretaker for a while, and Malcolm and Savali (a "third-gender" Samoan).

The novel's inclusivity is never preachy but rather a kind of gentle force against those who would take another's life.

Gallo will be signing copies of her books during "Mystery At Monca" (the Museum of Northern California Art at 900 Esplanade in Chico) on Thursday, November 8 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. There will be mystery games, refreshments, and admission is free.