Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Last Man Standing

Reuters has this article on the last known living WWI Veteran. He is 107 years old. An interesting fact about this man is that he traveled to Europe on the Carpathia, the ship that rescued the survivors from the Titanic. He also just barely made it into the war at 15. He told the recruiting officer that Missouri didn't keep birth records and convinced him that he really was 18.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Brave Companions

While camping this weekend with my family, I finished reading a book by one of my favorite authors, David McCullough, called Brave Companions. This short book is a eclectic collection of contemporary character sketches, ranging from the likes of Harriet Beecher Stowe to David Plowden.

I read this book as the result of a tradition that my mother and I have enjoyed over the last two years. It has just so happened that she was in town both years near Mothers Day, so we carved out some time to peruse the local bookstore together, discussing our favorite hobby, books. Last year we (or I should say she) purchased three books: Manhunt (reviewed here), Team of Rivals, and A World Lit Only by Fire. Our plan was to read the three and share what we learned with one another. Mom made it through all three, but because of seminary constraints, I only read the last, which was an outstanding book by another one of my favorite authors, William Manchester. This year, after much deliberation, we settled on Brave Companions as one that we were both most likely to read in the coming months.

There are a number of things I enjoyed about this book, many which reflect almost any McCullough book I have read. He is a masterful writer, so much so that some have said he is ‘incapable of making a literary mistake.’ It was intriguing to see the way he linked certain topics, his writing about Remington following the chapter on Teddy Roosevelt because of their shared love for the dwindling ‘open range west.’

Some of the following obscure facts of interest and irony were worth in themselves worth the price of the book:

  • Charles Lindbergh, a man who became famous because of the airplane, would later fully renounce the idea of progress through technology.

  • McCullough debunks the myth that the Pacific ocean is higher than the Atlantic in his chapter on the Panama Canal. (Incidentally, McCullough has written an entire book on the building of the Canal, one of great interest, which helped retain my sanity in my next to last semester of seminary).

  • The tragic fact that Remington, the great American painter and sculptor, near the end of his career, became so disgusted with his earlier work that he burned over 75 of his paintings outside of his studio door.

  • Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a one time pacifist, supported the Civil War because it was “better, a thousand times better, open, manly, energetic war, than cowardly and treacherous peace.”

  • He tells Agassiz’s practice of introducing new students, one that has become immortalized in the Bible study world, by having them study a fish for hours on end.

  • A chapter on Henry Caudill and the plight of strip mining in Eastern Kentucky, which he tells in a way that should garner the sympathy of even the most established city-dwelling hillbilly hater.

  • The Vietnam war lasted seven years with total American casualties numbering 57,000. By comparison, during just one day of the Battle of Antietam, 23,000 were lost.

The climax of the book occurs with two chapters displaying McCullough’s abounding patriotism. In one of these he gives a brief history of America since 1936, emphasizing the astounding amount of progress and growth this nation has endured. The entire book is worth the chapter that follows these, one that appears to be a public address or commencement speech, inspiring his listeners to dedicate much energy to reading history.

The most inspiring part of this book for me was the way he painted the boundless energy of each of his portraits, people who seemed wholly dedicated to a task even against whatever impossible odds they faced.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ballantyne the Brave

One of the great responsibilities and privileges of parenting is the opportunity to help your children choose good books. I remember pouring over the illustrated classic editions of Tom Sawyer, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Call of the Wild, and Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, and The Golden Scarab. My parents helped instill in me a love of reading good books, one that I enjoy sharing with them to this day.

But so many books that are published for kids today are borderline worthless. Sponge Bob entertains, but will reading one of his books inspire a love of literature in your children?

Thus I present an antidote to the onslaught of dribble being thrown at your children today. The Vision Forum has dedicated a new website to the works of R.M. Ballantyne.

The site describes Ballantyne’s works as follows: “Here was an author who taught boys to be strong, vigorous, and courageous, but he did so in the context of a Christian world view and pure faith in Jesus Christ. Ballantyne takes boys to the four corners of the earth on amazing adventures, and the Gospel message is an important part of his stories.” The site was started by the 15 year old son of the founder of The Vision Forum, Joshua Phillips. On the site, Joshua maintains a blog, facilitates various contests, (including book give-aways), and offers articles and a downloadable brochure with a summary of each of Ballantyne’s 20 books. This is an excellent resource for young boys who are eager to read. You can buy the entire Ballantyne Library (20 books) right now for 25% off.

The site also gives a bio on another renowned author of boy’s adventure books, G.A. Henty. You can also purchase his books here through The Vision Forum.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


You’ve heard the common saying that it is dangerous to pray for humility. I rarely pray for such noble things, and have not done so any time recently, but I did experience a very humbling situation last week.

It happened when I was at Wayne Grudem’s house (yes THE Dr. Wayne Grudem) one evening with a group of friends. A couple of us followed him to the garage to help with some tables and chairs. In the midst of this mundane task a discussion on the interaction between politics and religion ensued and our time in the garage was greatly extended. During one of the fringe moments of this discussion I noticed he had a pull-up bar, something I’ve considered purchasing, mounted on the ceiling. When I asked him about it he said, “Why don’t you give it a try?”

I hesitated, not wanting to make anyone else in the room fell extremely un-athletic, but before I can respond he says “Here – I’ll go first.”

No he didn’t do it. He just issued a pull-up challenge, and then he had the guts to go first (a BIG no-no in any challenge – always go second).

My first thought as he jumped on the bar was “You’re in trouble old man.” A 60 year old research professor against a 34 year old who works out 4 days a week? Vegas would give up gambling for those odds.

But I watched in horror, as he picked up speed with each rep, and I began to wonder how this was going to turn out. He dropped off the bar after pounding out 12 reps (though he said he only did 10 – I didn’t argue). Then he remarks in passing “gosh, I haven’t done those in a while. Your turn”

Now – no problem – all I have to do is beat 10 right?
I can do that in my sleep.
I’m almost half his age.
No pressure.
I probably won’t even break a sweat.

So I stepped up and did all I could.

The results…..

Wayne Grudem –11 (I split the difference with him).
John Majors – 9.

Now, I could give a long list of reasons why my arms and back were tired going into it. I could explain the physics behind how the elevation change between the drive from my house to his affected my performance. I could speak of the Jedi mind tricks he was obviously playing on me. And I won’t even mention that I thought I saw him hold up one of my papers and feign a tearing motion (you think you can intimidate me? Bring it on!)

But would all those excuses help lessen the pain of my loss?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Big Day

Hard to believe it finally came - graduation day was Friday night.

The ceremony was awesome - much better than I imagined, but the highlight came tonight when my parents presented me with a gift from the whole family - A SWORD!!!

The sword is genuine issue U.S. Army.

My dad made the rack and had the following plate inscribed

You need to understand a little about our family and knives. I received my first knife - a boy scout knife - at 5 years old. Ever since I've been fascinated by knives. My brothers and my Dad are also fascinated by knives. None of the ladies understand. They ask, "Why would you need more than one knife?" Dad tries to help them relate to their philosophy of owning multiple purses. I think that has helped them some.

When it comes to knives, the bigger the better, so what could be better than a sword? I've always been enamored with swords and am excited to finally own one. But the greatest part of owning this sword is the meaning behind it. My parents could barely get their words out as they presented it because they were proud to see this day. Not primarily because this accomplishment, but because of the Lord's faithfulness and kindness to our family.

The sword represents so many great things - a call to valor, courage, strength in the midst of adversity, living by a code of honor, and most of all, being guided by the Sword of the Spirit.