Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 in Review

This review is personal and in no way exhaustive.  It simply seemed like an interesting thing to do as the old year winds to a close. Looking back at the first post on this blog back in January, I noticed that after years of concerns and tensions surrounding the teaching of Dr. Matthew Becker (part of which is documented in this blog), we went from an exoneration of his theology (and the frustration that it would never be dealt with properly), to his final departure from the LCMS.  All this within a span of six months.  Amazing.

As one of my more recent posts indicates, I am finally in the last stages of my degree, begun way back in 2010.  I had hoped, originally, to have finished it before now.  However, the life of a pastor, husband, father, chaplain, firefighter and circuit visitor is full, and the thesis received attention as I was able.  I made a final push this summer and by summer's end the last page of the last chapter was reached. A post in February indicates that I had reached page 60 and was done with the first part, debating whether I should make a major push to finish.  But it did not seem like a good idea, and I am glad I took the time necessary to do a quality job. Many revisions later, with many more awaiting, the thesis is largely done.  I hope to wrap up revisions early in the new year and schedule a defense before Lent.  This might be tricky since Lent comes early this year.

Throughout the year, even as I worked through the thesis, I have tried to read more.  As a way of documenting that effort this blog has also become a running review of the books I read.

This Spring my youngest child, Rebekah, graduated from the 8th grade and was confirmed.  Now 15 she is a freshman at the local high school and involved in a combination of band (she plays the flute and piccolo), piano, and dance.  David, my middle child, finally secured a full-time job at Gordy's County Market in Chippewa Falls.  Rachel, my eldest, is working on her master's degree at the University of Minnesota in educational policy and started working for Vets Plus, Inc.  My wife, Carol, began working in August as an independent consultant for Thirty-One, a direct marketing firm specializing in bags of all sorts (totes, purses, etc.) All-in-all, it was quite a year for beginnings and conclusions.  It will be interesting to see what 2016 holds in store!

I end the year in this blog with a total of 19 posts, up from my lowest of only 3 last year! It's hard to believe that I am still blogging after just over 9 years.  It appears that I started the Northwoods Seelsorger on November 25, 2006.  Wow! The blog posts no longer receive comments, and I am sure few probably read this anymore.  Blogging has been eclipsed, in part, by social media, and that's o.k.  I keep this site open, in part, because it is a much safer way to write about subjects that will only engender negative attacks. It also gives me the chance to write about subjects that would have little interest to those on FB. 


In the conviction of adding to my knowledge of Luther and the Reformation, I embarked on a reading of Heiko Oberman's book Luther - Man Between God and the Devil (1982).  As I had intended in previous years, the book was started around the Reformation this past Fall (I often wanted to read something about Luther and the Reformation each Fall around the time of the Festival of the Reformation.)  With 330 pages to work through, it took me longer than expected to finish (Which was complicated by the lure of other books read and reviewed while I worked on this one.)  That is not to say that it was heavy or overly technical.  The truth is, this book was a joy to read.  It provided a wealth of insights into Martin Luther, and having now completed the book I realize I'll need to reread it again to truly absorb many of the author's points.  Given that this was a translation from the original German, I was impressed that the text did not read in a wooden way, but felt fresh from beginning to end.  Oberman tells the story of Luther, as the subtitle indicates, from the theme of conflict with the devil.  This does not become as evident in the early part of the book, but once in, the theme is brought to the fore again and again.  Aside from this, Oberman also notes that the sense that Luther lived in the last days also dominated this thinking.  Oberman, while trying to bring Luther alive to a modern audience, was also careful to describe him in the context of his own time.  From my vantage point he succeeded.  Some books you read and leave.  Some you return to in the hope of gleaning material passed on the first time. This book fits the latter case.
Postscript: I have actually owned this book for many years.  Only now does it seem that I am making some effort to find lost treasures in the mass of books I have accumulated.  I am glad that I was able to finally finish this book just as the year is ending. Now on to another book!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Full and Complete Draft Sent to Readers

A full and complete draft of my thesis has now been sent to my readers for review and suggested revisions as of December 21.  Within a day my first reader had completed his review and responded by email.  I await anything from the second.  Hopefully by the end of January I can make the necessary revisions and schedule a defense.  The final word count as of December 21 was 38,618, totaling 120 pages with 385 footnotes.  Without footnotes it is 30,167. 


For months now I have been working, on and off, to finish a book by Luther as an attempt to include something about the great Reformer as part of the Reformation season.  Once again, however, I was distracted by another fascinating book.  As many are aware, Bill O'Reilly, with Marin Dugard, has authored a whole series of books in the "Killing..." series.  I now own and possess a few of these.  This book, Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault that Changed a Presidency (2015) is a brief but informative treatment not only of Reagan's earlier past, but especially of his presidency, and then of his eventual physical and mental decline leading to his death in 2004.  It was interesting to read about a history of events that took place mainly while I was in college and seminary, but in which I apparently took only passing interest. Many names sounded familiar, as did numerous events, but I never looked deeply into them.  Only now, well into my middle years, am I catching up and taking a closer look at events that were no pivotal to world history in my formative educational years.  I am aware that there is some controversy surrounding this book.  Any book, especially by a media personality with such a high profile as Bill O'Reilly, will be placed under an exceptional amount of scrutiny and careful critique.  I am certainly not enough of an historian or an expert to evaluate these criticisms.  All in all, however, it was interesting and informative.  It was also humbling to think that such great men as Regan were also very human, suffering the same struggles and setbacks as others of lesser popularity. O'Reilly seems to spare nothing, without entering into a biased attack familiar to the bitter enemies one makes in life.
Details on the controversy are summarized in a brief Wikipedia article here.  After reading it, I think that I should probably read a bit more from other established biographies.

Friday, December 11, 2015


This past winter and spring I read Tim Townsend's book Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chplain and the Trial of the Nazis. My review is here.  It was good to see that this exceptional book was recognized by the Concordia Historical Institute at its annual banquet in November.  Also up for commendation was Carl F. Schalk: A Life in Song, by Nancy Raabe, a book I have read in part, but worthy of recommendation for those interested in the history of liturgy and song in the LCMS.  The story of the banquet and awards can be found here. The picture to the right is of  author Tim Townsend, right, poseing alongside Col. (Ret.) “Hank” Gerecke, son of Chaplain Rev. Henry Gerecke — the subject of Townsend’s award-winning book.


Sometimes a book both moves and humbles you.  This was that kind of book.  Considered the definitive biography of Pastor Bob Childress (1890-1956), a man who grew up in abject poverty to become a well known minister in the backwoods regions of Virginia.  He was an unlikely success story with his initial struggles to complete the formal education necessary to be a minister in the Presbyterian church.  Nevertheless he demonstrated both great potential and intelligence, as well as a tremendous love for people.  Throughout his career he preached to several churches on a regular rotating basis traveling thousands of miles a year on nearly impassable roads, but also spent a lot of energy and time assisting people with other basic needs.  The world in which he ministered was rife with alcohol abuse and violence, held back by isolation and ignorance.  Childress worked tirelessly to bring not only the Gospel to the area, but also education, roads, bridges and business.  Even during the depth of the depression the area fared better than many areas, partly due to his energetic efforts to keep the Buffalo Mountain area busy and occupied.  This book by Richard Davids, however, does not paint a picture of a paper saint, but presents us with a man full of energy and passion, but also one who struggled with his own weaknesses.  As a working pastor I was humbled by his story, especially as I witnessed his incredible generosity to those in need. He worked tirelessly making my own efforts feel like a vacation by comparison.  Although his ministry was much different from that of the Lutheran church, I would nevertheless still recommend this book to aspiring pastors to learn the importance and centrality of basic pastoral care. The picture above is one of the five "rock churches" he founded and helped to build. Pictures of the other churches can be found here.This site also provides pictures of the manse where the Childress family lived, as well as other pictures of related historic sites associated with this pastor.