Thursday, October 15, 2015


O'Reilly has provided a very readable and fast-paced account of the final months of World War II and the eventual demise and death of history's most famous man of evil, Adolf Hitler.  With larger type face and an abundance of photographs and maps, this book was a relatively quick and easy read.  For one interested in the history of WWII I found O'Reilly's book quite interesting, learning new details of people, places and events I had not known before.  The style of writing offers a vivid picture of the events chronicled and keeps the reader's interest.  By the end of the book you have that sobering feeling one gets after delving into the blackness of that time and the dark wickedness that inspired so much of the bloodshed, suffering and destruction at Hitler's orders.  Besides Hitler O'Reilly provides many other portraits of key individuals in the story as well as numerous appendix-like articles detailing events and people mentioned elsewhere in the narrative.

Now I will return to Luther: Man Between God and the Devil by Heiko A. Oberman, my reading project in honor of the Reformation this month.....[review to follow shortly - I hope!]

Monday, October 5, 2015

FIREHOUSE by David Halberstam

When I first saw this book at my local Good Will store it was not yet the anniversary date of 9-11.  Originally my goal was to read it before 9-11 as a way of honoring this momentous date and my brother fire fighters who died that day.  Nevertheless, it would be nearly a month later that the book was finished.

I especially like the picture of the book seen here, opened so that both front and back are visible.  For the book is largely about the 12 men pictured there who died in the collapse of Trade Center towers.  The author weaves a story of life at the firehouse, the personal backgrounds of the deceased firefighters complete with accounts of family and friends and various individual stories, and ends with the memorials and recovery efforts to reclaim their physical remains.  As a firefighter I appreciated this book on a level I might not have without the past 12 years experience on my department.  Although these men were career firefighters there is a commonality to which I could relate: pride in ones work, the reality of danger and death, a sense of loyalty to the department, fulfillment of engaging in a service to ones community.  Rarely do fire fighters perish so suddenly and so completely. Only one man in the original crew survived, and he was so badly injured that it was almost surprising that he did live. 

This book is a wonderful tribute to true heroes who saw themselves merely as public servants doing their job.  We will never know what went through their minds in those fateful moments leading to their deaths, but if there was fear it never kept them from doing the unthinkable: rushing in to a place doomed to destruction.  I highly recommend reading this book as a reminder of the sacrifice of this day, a sacrifice we dare never forget.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


I have long had an interest in the spiritual realm.  In high school I began reading books on the presence and activity of the demonic.  Years later after I arrived at my first call in 1987 I found a book in the local library by Malachi Martin entitled HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL: THE POSSESSION AND EXORCISM OF FIVE LIVING AMERICANS (1976).  Although I attempted to read the book I was unable.  It was simply too much.  In 1996 I ran into this book again at a used book store and purchased it.  I think it wasn't until I arrived at my fourth call in 2000 that I may have finally finished it.  Possession and exorcism are powerful topics and sometimes difficult to study.

Recently at a local library book sale I ran across a copy of POSSESSED: THE TRUE STORY OF AN EXORCISM by Thomas B. Allen.  It is endorsed on the back cover by Malachi Martin with no little praise.  In short it is the account of the 1949 case of possession and subsequent exorcism that inspired the well-known move THE EXORCIST, shown in 1973 which itself was based on the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty.  The movie, however, changed the gender of the possessed and other details to protect identities, and also took some liberty with the actual facts.  This book, on the other hand, is a journalist's attempt to reconstruct the events with solid facts and to present it as dispassionately as possible.

At the end the author quotes various academics who cast doubt on the truth of whether "Robbie" was actually demonically possessed.  Even one of the participating priests shares this skepticism.  Nevertheless, after reading Allen's account I find it difficult to dismiss Robbie's case too easily.  In the end he is "cured" through the intervention of the exorcist and the repeated use of the rite; he is not cured by therapy or psychoanalysis.  Robbie was also exposed to spiritualism through his aunt, culminating in the use of the Owiji Board, which continues to be sold as a popular board game.  As a youth my parents also gave me one, which I also used.  When my pastor suggested in confirmation its potential evil potential and that it should be destroyed, I made sure it was destroyed in the back of our garage.

The book is well worth the read for anyone interested in a well documented account of an actual exorcism, along with the book mentioned earlier by Martin.  Personally, as a practicing pastor I believe in the reality of personal evil and in the possibility of possession, both of spaces and people.  That said, I do not want to ever have to perform an exorcism.  From all that I have read it is a draining experience. 

Postscript: There is an article debunking much of what Allen wrote.  You may read it here and judge for yourself.  It seems credible enough, but I do not have the time at this point to scrutinize the sources or author. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

FIRESTORM AT PESHTIGO by Denise Gess and William Lutz

I had known about this fire event before, as well as the fact that the "Great Fire of Chicago" often received far more of publicity, regardless of the fact that the Peshtigo Fire was far larger (300 people vs. 2,200 dead, and the destruction of multiple towns).  However, until I read this book I couldn't possibly imagine the extent of the loss and damage left in its wake.  The book by Gess and Lutz helps the reader appreciate the genesis of this incredible blaze by carefully documenting the circumstances leading up to a truly 'perfect storm.'  Some may desire a more technical account, and there are other volumes that address this.  However, Gess and Lutz have researched their topic well and the notes at the end provide many references for further reading.  All told the story is well told and captures best the horrid tragedy that still defies description.  While the numbers of those who perished remains fluid depending on the one telling the story, there is no doubt that the loss of life was extensive far beyond what many imagine, easily reaching the thousands.  Their description of the day of the firestorm is vivid and disturbing in a way that leaves the reader with images that continue to haunt even after the book is finished.  In a way their book serves as a kind of memorial to the many nameless people who perished.  We will probably never know the bulk of the human loss.  For many reasons, including the lack of evidence of remains (many were burned to ash that was subsequently burned away), we can never hope to completely reconstruct this event.  Still, as the book cover testifies, this will easily remain "the deadlines fire in American history."  The book is highly recommended. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Update on Thesis

As of August 26 I finally finished the reviewed stage of my rough draft:  106 pages of research, 3/8 of an inch thick, clearly the longest paper I have ever written.  It now awaits being proofread by my wife, then submitted to the assigned readers at Nashotah House.  After their review with predicted suggestions for revision, I will revise and then schedule the defense.  I hope this all can be accomplished well before the first of the new year. 

According to past posts I finished up my course work back in the summer of 2011, a long 4 years ago.  About that time and stretching over the next couple of years I wrestled with the proposal phase, eventually completing a total of two different thesis proposals, totaling over 40 additional pages of work. My final proposal was submitted in the Spring of 2013, over two years ago.  It appears that I was finally able to start writing around August of 2013, once I received the green light from my adviser.  I probably could have finished sooner, but last summer unexpectedly delayed my progress because of other presentations and writing commitments.  However, I am now on the home stretch.  For any who have followed this and forgot the rather fascinating and captivating nature of my research (o.k. more than a bit of hyperbole there...), here is the title: "A Study of the Influence of the Church's Liturgical Forms on the Literary Structure and Content of the Apocalypse of St. John."   I wonder how many people will find it on the shelves of Nashotah's library in the years to come....

SUN DANCING by Geoffrey Moorhouse

Some books keep you tied to the page unwilling to take a break, waiting eagerly to discover the next point.  This, unfortunately, was not one of those. This reviewer took far too long to finish the book. While the format was interesting at times, the latter part felt slow and encumbered with a bit too much detail seemingly unrelated to the immediate point at hand.  The first section attempted to tell the story of life in a Medieval Irish monastery through historical fiction.  It traced the early beginnings of Skellig Michael, a small outcropping of rock off the coast of Ireland where a limited group of monks led a rather austere existence, to the ending of its active existence and the eventual migration of the order to the mainline in the matter Medieval era (588 AD - 1222 AD).  Enlightening to students of Christian monastic existence was the revelation of the harsh and demanding nature of the early Celtic practice.  The Irish not only withdrew from the world, they attempted in this isolation to create a superior form of spirituality and closer proximity to the divine.  The Celts also betray a certain mixture in their life and practice of their pagan preexistence. 

The second part of the book served as a kind of extended series of footnotes on various details in the first section.  The book's interest and appeal, in the opinion of this reviewer, would have been enhanced by relegating some of the more detailed information to a real footnote and keeping the articles a bit more general in content.  One struggle the reader encounters is that after working through the first part you begin to forget some of the details of the first story by the time you get to the latter articles.  Again, an interesting format, but not quite effective in keeping the book moving. 

As an aside, the title seemed like an odd choice for the content.  One article at page 245 is devoted to the "Dancing Sun."  It simply did not seem central enough to the narrative to warrant its use as a title. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Dr. Matthew Becker to be Removed from the Synod

Numerous posts have been written on this blog over the years reflecting on and reacting to the teachings of Dr. Matthew Becker.  One post even ruminated on why he remained within the LCMS.  As of July 15 he will no longer be on the clergy roster of the Missouri Synod.  If interested you may read about this turn of events here on Dr. Becker's own blog.  He will be joining an ELCA parish, something many of us felt would be a much more appropriate 'fit' for his theological views and beliefs.  In all honesty I was frustrated over these last few years as I read the many papers and posts he authored and wondered how this could be tolerated in the Synod.  Perhaps what confused me even more was realizing that he was trained and educated as a pastor in the same system as I was, albeit at different seminaries. 

There should never be rejoicing over such events as if someone won and another lost.  It was the prayer of many that Dr. Becker would change his views and repent of those teachings felt to be at variance with the official doctrine of the LCMS.  That said, his departure officially closes the chapter on this blog that addressed his teachings.  My interest lay in the fact that we were both rostered in the same synod.  Now that he his leaving for the ELCA my need to post any further with regard to his views ends.