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Nashville Area Libraries

June 9, 2023

Recently, I grabbed a handful of books from each of three Nashville area libraries—Vanderbilt, Edmondson Pike, and Brentwood. Five of those show up here. Two I bought in a used-book store. One came in the mail.


Foundations of the Frankfurt School of Social Research, edited by Judith Marcus and Zoltan Tar (Transaction, 1984)


Since moving back to Nashville in 2011 (to direct the SBTS extension here), I’ve used the Vanderbilt University library frequently, checking out books and doing research on site. They issued me an alumni card with generous privileges . . . until COVID hit. But they are and I am back up to speed now, and I ran a test the other day. After they gave me the green light (with a few updates on my old card), I headed up into the stacks to grab some books for a trial checkout, and, sure enough, it worked.


In recent years (nationwide and in the SBC), we’ve heard a lot about critical race theory, critical theory in general, and the Frankfurt School. So, this one grabbed my attention. Reading through the list of essays, I saw a lot of familiar names and fetching topics, and it hit me that I’d need to give this book more than a browse down the line, especially since it featured not only warm explanations but also tough critiques of CT. 


I jumped to a couple of pieces by Karl Popper, whose “falsifiability” criterion and “open-society’s enemies” argument grabbed my attention and appreciation in grad school back in the 70s. Raymond Aron called the writings of the Frankfurt School “the opium of the intellectuals,” offering this judgment:


Horkheimer rejects, without argument and in defiance of historical facts, the possibility of reforming our so-called system. This amounts to saying: Let the present generation suffer and perish; for all we can do is expose the ugliness of the world we live in and heap insults on our oppressors, the “bourgeoise.” This is the total content of the so-called Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School.


Readings in Sociology: A Biographical Approach, edited by Brigitte Berger (Basic, 1974)


Here’s another of the VU library test run, this one with around 75 pieces. First, I read “To Be a Negro” by James Weldon Johnson. His name was familiar to me from my childhood days since our family bookshelf included his God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (1927). Also, his “Lift Every Voice and Sing” has been called “The Black National Anthem.” In this book, we read a bit of his early pain from racial labeling.


Then there were two with Chicago connections. (I lived in metro Chicago for 17 years.) The first, “The Gold Coast and the Slum,” reminded me of how the area around Moody Bible Institute has changed through the years. When I was in high school, a Newsweek piece spoke of Moody Bible Institute’s tough neighborhood, which has since gone upscale. (Back in the day, one student, confronted with a mugger’s weapon, asked, “What? Are you threatening me with heaven?) 


The second was by Chicago-area priest/professor, Andrew Greeley. His contribution, “There’s a New-Time Religion on Campus” (1969) chronicled some decidedly non-Christian, “religious” groups on campus, from I Ching enthusiasts to WITCH (Women’s International Terrorists Corps from Hell).  


The Architecture Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained (DK, 2023)


It was fun turning through the exemplars—and humbling to see how fortunate I’ve been to have seen a number of them in passing (e.g., Sydney Opera House, Flatiron Building in NYC; Robie House in Chicago; Palace of Westminster in London; Mont Saint-Michel off the northern coast of France). And to have been inside a bunch of them (e.g., Great Pyramid near Cairo; Karnak Temple in Luxor; Parthenon in Athens; subway stations in Moscow; Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona; The Treasury Building in Petra; Chartres Cathedral in France; National Museum of African-American History and Culture in DC; Royal Shakespeare Theater in Stratford-upon-Avon; Saint Peters in the Vatican; Taj Mahal in Agra). Some, I wish I’d visited (e.g., Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria; Hagia Sophia in Istanbul).


The descriptive and contextual writing was useful, and the glossary reminded me of some notions I’d grasped earlier but had forgotten (e.g., ‘pilaster’—“An embedded rectangular column”; ‘coffering’—“A series of recessed square or octagonal panels used for ceiling decoration.”) 


Strategic Deception in the Second World War: British Intelligence Operations Against the German High Command, by Michael Howard (Norton, 1995)


I was talking with an intelligence officer about deception in war, and I sent him a piece I did on perfidy—treachery in violation of the canons of integrity, the sort of thing you see when a foe approaches with a white flag, only to drop it at the last moment and open fire. In return, he sent me a copy of this book, one that described in detail the range of “trickeration” the Brits employed to misdirect Germans to the wrong defensive positions. For instance, they led the Nazis to position troops pointlessly in the South of France, thereby lessening opposition to the Normandy landings. I was familiar with Operation Mincemeat, wherein a deceased indigent was dressed up like a British officer and cast ashore in Spain. The fake documents he carried strengthened German resolve to post units on Crete in preparation for an invasion that was never to be. But I learned of a host of other operations the Brits effected to enhance Allied advantage in the war.


A couple of quotes jumped out at me: General Dudley Clarke observed: 


It is important to appreciate from the start that the only purpose of any Deception is to make one’s opponent ACT in a manner calculated to assist one’s own plans and to prejudice the success of his. In other words, to make him do something. Too often in the past we had set out to make him THINK something, without realizing that this was no more than a means to an end.


Then, Winston Church, while meeting with Stalin in Tehran, uttered this famous maxim: “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” (It strikes me that this explains the readiness of leftists in America to resort to bogus, fake utterances in the political realm: They count us conservative “deplorables” as little better than Nazis, enemies in war and not fellow citizens to be treated honorably in the political realm.)


Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey from Slavery to Freedom, by Ilyon Woo (Simon & Schuster, 2023)


Quite a story. The title is odd since Ellen and William Craft played the same relational roles at the same time. Ellen was Georgia slave, the illegitimate daughter of her white master. Because of her genetically-mixed background, she could pass for white. So, dressed as man, she posed as a slave owner with a large, black man (her husband) in her custody. Under this guise, they escaped from Macon, Georgia, and made their way up to Boston, and then to Scotland. Once outside the South, they connected with abolitionists and freed slaves and joined the speaking circuit.


As I read through the book, I marked a few items that struck me in particular, e.g., (1) they cherished the Apostle Paul’s “God made of one blood all nations of men”; (2) The largest slave market to date was held in Savannah’s Johnson Square and the event became known as “The Weeping Time”; (3) When the Crafts made it to Philadelphia, they indeed enjoyed freedom, but it was a rough town, with gangs going by the name of Stingers, Skinners, Blood-Tubs, and Rats; (4) The abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison used the slogan, “No Union With Slaveholders.” So there had to be a war. And this forced the formation of the SBC in 1845, since the northern Baptists would no longer fund missionaries from slaveholding families; (5) The Anti-Slavery Harp was a hymnbook that included “Lament of the Fugitive Slave” about an enslaved mother left behind in the South; (6) Unitarians and Quakers distinguished themselves in opposing the Fugitive Slave Law; (7) One Unitarian preacher, Theodore Parker, coined “government of the people, by the people, for the people” (used by Lincoln) and “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” (used by MLK); (8) In Edinburgh, the Crafts were astonished to see a white man walking arm in arm with two white women; (9) Ellen would be heard to sing “Fugitive’s Triumph,” one verse of which ran, 


Tyrant! Thou hast bereft me

Home, friends, pleasures so sweet;

Now, forever I’ve left thee.

Thou and I never shall meet.


Love & Justice: A Journey of Empowerment, Activism, and Embracing Black Beauty, by Laetitia Ky (Princeton Architectural Press, 2022)


There are shiploads of black grievance literature, with many of these books on display on local libraries during Black History Month (and beyond, with some on upfront racks in my local one on through May). I’ve checked out several, doing my best to stay abreast of the offerings. This one’s cover grabbed my attention, with a braided rendition of a female-power symbol. Laetitia declares that the braided concoctions are real and not photoshopped (though likely enabled by extensions), but I’m still having trouble imagining real ones worked out into a full-sized guitar with frets and tuning keys; a computer with a detailed keyboard and a hand with an upraised middle finger on the screen; and a woman in a wheelchair.  A few of the hairdos are obscene, with, for instance, white strands (for sperm) and elsewhere red strands (for menstrual blood) issuing from “braided” female genitalia; and then, also, male genitalia incorporated in a pistol pointed at a woman’s mouth. 


Several are directed against genuine offenses in her native of Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire): child marriage, female genital mutilation, rape culture, and double-standard for sexual infidelity. But more are enlisted in the service of stupid stuff, the thing I’ve come to expect with the sort of book that declares itself “a journey of empowerment and activism” in the service of “love and justice.” Good words in themselves, but tediously misapplied to often-godless misconstrual of or obliviousness toward divine revelation and the created order. And so we’re witness to her case for abortion (“Our uteruses, our choice”); her words of respect for “traditional African religions” to the disparagement of “religions that came with colonization”; and her breezy approach to sex outside of marriage.


It makes for a gaseous mix, to include, “Nothing on your body is too big or too small. Everything is just the perfect size.” (Does this include the hydrocephalic or those with the hormonal disorder of the pituitary gland, acromegaly? Or what about the morbidly obese, 500-pound man or woman, unable to get out of bed without mechanical assistance?) 


And she assures us, “It is important that women be free to love who they want to love (men or women), free to enjoy their sexuality the way they want, free to have zero or one or multiple sexual partners, free to speak about it, and even free to monetize it if they wish.” (Ah, the honorable prostitution option.)


“Howl with all your strength what is inside your heart. The world needs to hear your voice.” (What if stupid darkness is inside your heart? Do we really need to hear that?) Then there’s 


Every day, speak loving words to yourself, such as: “I am beautiful,” “I am able to accomplish everything I want to,” “I am worthy,” “I am strong,” and “I trust that my life is moving in the right direction.” The trick is that even if you don’t believe what you’re saying, keep saying it! Over time, through repetition, the unconscious mind comes to assimilate these new ideas and beliefs and to treat them as reality. Implant positive and gentle thoughts—the kind you would speak to a loved one or a small child—in your own mind. You will eventually wholeheartedly believe these words. Your mind will always accept what you tell it, so learn to tell it good things. (It’s hard to get needful repentance out of this formula.)


It's harder to get a John Piper, G. K. Chesterton, Carl F. H. Henry, or a C. S. Lewis book into the public library than the sort of dreck you find in this one. That’s where we are.


Speaking of braids, this week I asked a black staffer at Vanderbilt hospital how long it took and how much money it cost to achieve her magnificent set of braids. (I’ve asked this of others before, admiringly, and I always get a congenial answer.) In this case, it took the braider five hours, she charged $200, and they’re good for three months or so.


Lost Boy: My Story, by Greg Laurie (Regal, 2008)


In recent days, I’ve seen Greg Laurie standing on the Pacific shore in TV ads offering the plan of salvation. And a few weeks back, I bought and watched the Jesus Revolution, which generously featured both a portrayed and a real Laurie. Some California expats urged me to see the film at our local, Franklin, Tennessee, multiplex, but by the time I was free to see it, its run there had ended. So, I was pleased to find the DVD on sale at my go-to, Nashville Christian book store, Logos in Green Hills. 


I’m just underway in Laurie’s account, having first read forewords by Franklin Graham and Chuck Smith (the latter played by Kelsey Grammer in the movie). And right off I’m seeing why they chose the title, Lost Boy. He had a tough beginning, including a season of drug use in the 1970s. Of an LSD incident, he writes, “I’m looking in the mirror, and all I see is melting flesh, drooping eyes, burning bones.” And tellingly, he dedicates the book to “Stella McDaniel, my grandmother, who took me to church for the first time”—his grandmother, not his mother.


50 Strategies that Changed History: From Battle Tactics to Business Blueprints, Learn from the Masters, by Daniel Smith (Quantum/Sweetwater, 2017)


This “bathroom reader” supplies us with four heavily illustrated and sidebarred articles for each of the 50 strategies. I was glad to see William Wilberforce nested in the group that included Odysseus (“Infiltrate the Enemy,” as with the Trojan Horse); Pope Paul III (“Take on Your Critics,” as with the Counter-Reformation at the Council of Trent); Napoleon (“Divide and Conquer”); Gandhi (“Non-Violence”); Henry Ford (“Assembly Line”); Ray Kroc (“Franchising,” as with McDonalds); and Jeff Bezos (“Online Shopping,” as through Amazon). The book casts Wilberforce as one willing to “Persevere, Persevere, Persevere.” He saw his eleventh anti-slavery bill fail before the trade was abolished in the British Empire.