27 December 2007

On Deck for 2008

I received a number of interesting books for Christmas as well as a couple from publishers to review. The two I’m most interested in getting to right away are, The River Where America Began: A Journey Along the James River by Bob Deans and George Washington’s Sacred Fire by Dr. Peter Lillback. The Washington biography is not light reading—its over 1100 pages—but its already received great reviews and shatters the popular pseudo-historiography myth which suggests that Washington was not an orthodox Christian. As Pulitzer prize-winning historian Walter A. McDougall has opined about the book:

“Secular historians ignore George Washington’s ward Nelly Custis, who wrote that doubting his Christian faith was as absurd as doubting his patriotism. But they cannot ignore this mountain of evidence suggesting Washington’s religion was not Deism, but just the sort of low-church Anglicanism one would expect in an 18th century Virginia Gentleman. His “sacred fire” lit America’s path toward civil and religious liberty.”

But I think I will tackle Deans’s book first. As I cracked it open to the acknowledgements page Christmas night and read the first paragraph, I knew I would be enjoying the company of a great wordsmith as I read this book. Dean writes:

“In the time-feathered edges of my earliest memory, I am standing by a creek with an Indian name, a tributary of the James River, anxiously clutching a fishing rod in both hands and listening to the voice of my father. He’s a broad-shouldered man in faded khakis, looming large among the saplings along the muddy bank. He things he’s teaching me how to fish. Really, he’s beginning to hand over to me his lifelong love for water and words, a gift I would continue to unwrap, one golden morning at a time, in the hallowed hours we would spend together during treasured years that followed, on mist-shrouded rivers, creeks, and ponds with names like Chickahominy, Tuckahoe, and Powhatan. That’s where, for me, this story began.”

Wow. The images Dean paints could have been pulled from the recesses of my own mind and experiences, substituting the names of the rivers and creeks with ones that flow through the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and western Virginia.

Also, a neighbor and friend who sits on the board of a Christian publisher gave me two other books which I look forward to reading: Stories of Faith & Courage from the Civil War by Terry Turley and Stories of Faith & Courage from the Revolutionary War by Jane Hampton Cook. Both books are from AMG Publisher’s imprint, Living Ink Books and their “Battlefields & Blessings” series. Both books are intended to be devotionals with corresponding stories of Christian faith for each day of the year.

Finally, on the list to review is the new release by Savas Beatie, LLC: The Elementary Common Sense of Thomas Paine. I’ve been asked to review this book for the Homeschooling market as it is intended to supplement students’ study of American history.

I've also accepted a few new writing assignments and will be completing one book as I continue the research for another. Its shaping up to be a busy 2008. I'm most grateful for the opportunities God is providing.



26 December 2007

History & Presuppositions

"Believing that spiritual realities do not matter, liberals often ignore Christian dimensions of history . . . As a consequence, he sees history, not in terms of a personal God, and personal man and his faith, but in terms of impersonal forces and drives. Spiritual questions are dismissed. Anti-religious presuppositions inevitably push history in a secular direction." ~ Roger Shultz, PhD., (Dr. Shultz is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Liberty University)

Exploring this issue will be one of the main themes of my blog for 2008.

25 December 2007

Christmas Triumphant

Dr. George Grant on the triumph of Christmas . . .

"And so joy replaced desperation. Celebration replaced propitiation. Christmas Feasts replaced new Moon sacrifices. Christ replaced Baal, Molech, Apollo, and Thor. In other words, it wasn’t that the new Christian calendar was an accommodation to the old Pagan calendar, it was that Christ had begun the process of converting the culture. Glad tidings of great joy, indeed."

Merry Christmas

"In our culture the individual counts. This permits an individual person to put his or her foot down, to take a stand on principle, to become a reformer and to take on injustice. This empowerment of the individual is unique to Western civilization. It has made the individual a citizen equal in rights to all other citizens, protected from tyrannical government by the rule of law and free speech. These achievements are the products of centuries of struggle, but they all flow from the teaching that God so values the individual’s soul that he sent his son to die so we might live. By so elevating the individual, Christianity gave him a voice." ~ Paul Craig Roberts

22 December 2007

The Conversion of Ebenezer Scrooge

"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, must lead, but if the courses be departed from, the ends will change." ~ Ebenezer Scrooge

"But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die." ~ Ezekiel 18:21




"And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins." ~ Matthew 1:21


Late on Christmas Eve this year, I will do as I have done consistently since my children were small. After our traditional Christmas Eve supper of fried oysters, ham, pumpkin pie, and apple cider, (Just a tad “hard”) I will sit down with whoever will join me (Usually one or two of my daughters) and watch one of the many screen adaptations of Charles Dickens’ (1812-1870) literary classic, A Christmas Carol. The version I most often watch, and probably one of the most popular and best done, is the 1951 film, A Christmas Carol, starring Alastair Sims as Ebenezer Scrooge and Mervyn Jones as Bob Cratchit.

Christian purists may scoff at such an activity on this holiest of Christian holidays but Dickens’ story of a hateful, selfish, old man’s transformation into a joyful, generous old man offers a wonderful opportunity to contemplate the transforming affect that the Incarnation has had upon society. It is interesting to note that while Dickens would not be considered a true follower of Christ by Biblical standards, it is undeniable that the miraculous story of Christ’s birth made a dramatic impact upon this prolific author.

Dickens’ classic Christmas story certainly espouses a Christian worldview. The beginning of the Victorian period in Britain had seen a decline in the celebration of Christmas. This was due to two factors. The lingering Puritan influence of Oliver Cromwell’s rule had discouraged the celebration of the holiday and the industrial revolution then gripping England permitted little time for holiday festivities. But Dickens’ story, published in 1843, rekindled both Britain’s—as well as America’s—desire to celebrate the holiday in grand fashion. And while much of the story is not explicitly Christian, the novel does focus on the Christian holiday and the biblical concepts of charity, repentance, and forgiveness.

Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire (England) on February 7, 1812. He moved to London in 1822 where he would reside most of his life. During Dickens’ formative years, Dickens’ father often brought the family to the brink of economic disaster by his extravagance and poor management of the family finances. For a time, young Dickens’ had to leave school and work in a factory due to his father’s confinement to debtor’s prison. This was an influential experience in Dickens’ life and one sees his sensitivity to the underclass and what he considered the oppressed all through his writings.

Another powerful influence on Dickens was the Christ-centered revival that took place in England during the 1830’s. The Christian activism that sprang from this revival took root in Dickens’ political philosophy. At the center of much of this reform movement was the Christian statesman William Wilberforce, whose faith, hard work, and evangelical zeal eventually led to the abolition of slavery in the British Isles (1833). Wilberforce also led the efforts for prison reform and relief for the poor. Much of Wilberforce’s work and thought would manifest itself through Dickens’ characters and stories. While there is plenty of room for critical analysis of Dickens’ works, as well as his theology (Dickens attended an Anglican Church, but most would consider some of his beliefs Unitarian), the classic story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his miraculous transformation is filled with allusions to biblical principles and Christian allegories. Though Dickens’ theology rejected the need for Christ alone for salvation, he could not escape the beautiful and unparalleled truths contained in the Incarnation. It is evident from the story line in A Christmas Carol that Dickens was well versed in the Biblical principles and need for redemption.

First we see the utter depravity and selfishness of mankind expressed in the character of Scrooge. Dickens’ description of Scrooge is vivid:

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind- stone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

In an opening scene in Dickens’ story, we see Scrooge’s nephew cheerily enter the old miser’s counting-house and greet him with, “A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!”

“Bah, Humbug!” is Scrooge’s gruff reply.

A few moments later two men enter Scrooge’s office soliciting funds for “the least of these my brethren” or in the words of Dickens, the “Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.” Scrooge denies their request of benevolence and suggests it would be better if the poor wretches die “and decrease the surplus population.” Scrooge aptly lives up to Dickens’ description. His comment also reminds us that modern American culture’s disdain for what it considers the weak and valueless or, what the founder of Planned Parenthood and the architect of modern birth control and abortion, Margaret Sanger, called “human waste,” is nothing new.

We also see the persecution of the righteous in the character of Bob Cratchit. A church going, hard working (If not very bright) father who labors faithfully for Scrooge and whose only joy comes in the love of his wife and children. Cratchit’s universally loved but crippled son, Tiny Tim, exemplifies Christian contentment and charity in his prayer request for Scrooge, “God bless us every one!” as his father proposes a toast to the man who has just “sacked” him on Christmas Eve.

Scrooge’s conscience is “awakened to righteousness” as he is visited on Christmas Eve by four apparitions. First, the “ghost” of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley and then, “the ghost of Christmas past, the ghost of Christmas present, and the ghost of Christmas yet to come.” One can see the workings of the Holy Spirit depicted by these visitors as one by one they bring Scrooge face to face with his sins of greed and selfishness.

Marley bemoans the course he chose in life as he admonishes Scrooge: “Business’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

The allusion to Christian themes is obvious. In the end, Scrooge comes to himself, repents of his selfish ways and makes restitution to his fellow man. Dickens most certainly linked Scrooge’s transformation to the new birth:

He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk -- that anything -- could give him so much happiness.

While Ebenezer’s “conversion” was to human goodness rather than to Jesus Christ, Dickens had to resort to Christian principles and metaphors to make his point. Despite Dickens’ unorthodox beliefs, he could not escape the impact of Christ’s birth—and neither can anyone else. While ironic and sad, Dickens’ humanistic quest for redemption is an admission of his need and illustrates what we so often see in our family, friends, and acquaintances at this time of year—being drawn to the warmth and love of Christ, but ultimately grasping at the false and deceptive humanistic trappings of the Christmas season. Perhaps this Christmas God can use us to show them that redemption can only be found in that One born in the manger who ultimately died on the cross so that we could be saved from our sins. Mankind is Christ’s business. Mankind should be ours.


Merry Christmas from
Huckleberry Hollow, Virginia!

20 December 2007

Interview With Still Standing Director, Ken Carpenter

If you'd like to listen to an interesting radio interview with the director of Still Standing - The Stonewall Jackson Story, click here. This interview was recorded 27 November 2007 on the Moody Broadcasting Network and is about the making of the documentary and Carpenter's thoughts on Jackson. This was a live, call-in show.

(Ken is the one with the phone.)

In The Beginning, God

Time Magazine's Biggest Religion Stories of 2007

#9 The Creation Museum

"A few months after opening its doors, the Petersburg, Ky., multimillion-dollar monument to the Flintstone (Young Earth) principle doubles projected attendance. Of Americans, 77% think God at least guided our development."

So what's the Civil War relevance you ask? Hmmm . . . well, the vast majority of Civil War soldiers believed in Creation, how's that?

19 December 2007

Fight the Power (Academic Elitists)

Expelled - The Movie

"It's (EXPELLED) going to appeal strongly to the religious, the paranoid, the conspiracy theorists, and the ignorant –– which means they're going to draw in about 90% of the American market." ~ Atheist blogger and fabulist PZ Myers, on a film he has not yet seen. (Typical of elitists. My book has been "reviewed" by the same kind of "enlightened" critics.)

Watch the trailers here, especially the Super Trailer.

"A little rebellion now and then is a good thing." ~ Thomas Jefferson

"Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God." ~ Benjamin Franklin

Mr. Jefferson & Mr. Franklin would probably applaud this film--AFTER they'd seen it. (Even if they disagreed.)

"The freedom to follow the evidence wherever it leads." What a novel idea.


18 December 2007

New Book About John Heatwole

I was glad to learn recently that a book had been published about the life of the late Shenandoah Valley historian, John Heatwole. (Story here.) John was one of the first to encourage me to research and write the book about Stonewall Jackson's black Sunday school class, once telling me that "the complete story should have been told long ago." John also once interviewed me on his Civil War Roundtable radio program which originated from Harrisonburg's WSVA AM station.

The author of this new book,
Carol Maureen DeHart, is a "come-here" and it was so refreshing to read of her perspective on our area's history, culture, and heritage:

DeHart did not grow up in the Valley, but moved to the Bergton/Criders area in 1981. She was fascinated by area residents’ ties to the region.

“I was just so impressed and astounded by the history here,” she said. “I had never experienced this. I had never lived in a place where the families had lived since the 1700s.”
I was just so impressed and astounded by the history here,” she said. “I had never experienced this. I had never lived in a place where the families had lived since the 1700s.”

Unfortunately, some who move to our area seem to think its their mission to immediately set upon criticizing and demeaning everything that makes Virginia so rich and appealing. My own ancestors have been in Virginia since the 1600's and the deep roots do impact your outlook on things - as well they should. Oh that more folks would grasp that. Sadly, its not only those who move to our area who have little or no respect for its history, but many younger folks are losing the connection to their past. Too busy with video games and cell phones I suppose.

17 December 2007

The Confederate Chaplaincy

In looking at the new Civil War Chaplains Museum website (not yet "live"), I came across some interesting statistics regarding the impact of Confederate chaplains on the South as a whole; both during and after the WBTS:

  • 150,000 Confederate soldiers rededicated their lives to Christ or were baptized during the war.
  • Eighty percent of college students in the South after the war found their religious faith while in the Confederate Army.
  • Thirteen former Confederate chaplains were consecrated as bishops by 1892.
  • Twelve former Confederate chaplains became presidents of major colleges.
  • By 1890 church membership and the value of church property were double that of 1860. New growth included 10,000 new Baptist churches in Texas.
  • Former Union Army chaplains also helped with the rebuilding of the South.
  • Bishop Atticus Haygood emphasized the rise of “The New South.” But the Southern Churches conserved traditions. No major Protestant denomination except for the Protestant Episcopal Church reunited in the 19th century.
(Painting "Sunrise Service" by Mort K√ľnstler)

13 December 2007

Long Overdue

After months of research and working with Virginia's Department of Historical Resource highway marker program, I am pleased to announce that an application for a new marker has been approved by DHR for installation in Lexington. Though the submitted text was edited slightly, I'm very happy with the final version:

Near this spot is the original African American cemetery of Lexington. Dating to the days of slavery, this cemetery was abandoned in 1880 and the persons buried here were purportedly moved to Evergreen Cemetery. Jim Lewis, an African American who served as Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson’s body servant and cook during the Civil War, was buried here. Soldiers knew a march was imminent when Lewis started packing the secretive general’s baggage. Lewis’s and other graves were unmarked and never identified. In 1946, the City of Lexington sold the old cemetery, and houses were built over the original burial ground.


This issue has been somewhat of a controversy and sore spot in Lexington for decades. There have been several local editorials published and numerous conversations about what, if anything, should be done. When I came across the story during my research on the Stonewall Jackson book, I determined that, at the very least, there should be some public acknowledgement of this cemetery and the sad story behind it. Many thanks go to Dorsey surveying of Lexington for their assistance in verifying the location of the old cemetery and to Washington & Lee history professor Taylor Sanders for his extensive research about the city's involvement dating back to 1880. Also, Mr. Jerry Roane, a long-time Lexington resident, was of great help in locating an old tombstone somehow overlooked and forgotten over the last 130 years. It was the only one remaining in the old cemetery, but no one knows why. That mystery still has not been solved. Mr. Roane has family connections to the old cemetery, as well as to Evergreen cemetery in Lexington.

The highway marker will be located somewhere on Route 60 (Nelson Street) near the original cemetery and we are planning an official unveiling of the new marker some time in the spring. DHR will issue a press release at some point in the near future which will be posted here as well.

(The first image shows part of the old cemetery where the tombstone was located. The stone has since been moved to the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery offices by the city for safekeeping and additional research.)


11 December 2007

Off to Lexington

I'm taking some vacation time and going to Lexington this afternoon for a meeting later tonight and for some research involving my next book. I've also been invited to assist with another historical project which ties in with this book. More on that to come. In addition, I hope to have a significant announcement by week's end on something I've been working on for several months now.This, too, involves Lexington (and the mystery) and my next book - at least indirectly.

While in Lexington I'll also be delivering several boxes of The Maxims of Robert E. Lee for Young Gentlemen to the fine folks at Kappa Alpha . . . great Christmas gifts! :)

On Criticism & Praise

Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs ~ John Osborne

Criticism is an indirect form of self-boasting” ~ Emmett Fox


"You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one."
~ John Wooden

The artist doesn't have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, the ones who want to write don't have the time to read reviews.” ~ William Faulkner

Pay no attention to what the critics say. A statue has never been erected in honor of a critic. ~ Jean Sibelius

10 December 2007

An Inconvenient Season

"Mentioned more than seventy-five times in the Bible--more than Baptism, the Lord's Supper, witnessing, or even tithing--fasting is one of the most basic and essential of the disciplines of the Christian life." ~ George Grant

06 December 2007

Francis H. Smith Gets His Due

During my research for the Stonewall Jackson book, I exchanged several emails with Brad Wineman. Mr. Wineman was teaching in the history department at VMI at the time and I was trying to run down some references that Francis H. Smith had made to the two religious revivals that took place at VMI in 1856 and 1869. Smith served as VMI's first superintendent for 50 years from 1839 until 1889. He was a devout Christian and Episcopalian and the founder of the Episcopal Church in Lexington that would eventually come to be named after Robert E. Lee. Smith noted in his history of VMI (Page 257) that he had "written out a full account of the revivals of 1856 and 1869, I forbear to dwell here on this interesting subject..." These revivals had a profound and lasting impact upon Lexington, including, I believe, a great influence upon Jackson and his black Sunday school class. Smith, along with several others, made references to the scores of conversions and life-changing impression brought about by these two revivals.

During the 1869 revival, cadets would meet in Section Room no. 10 and listen as Commandant Smith led them in prayer and Bible study. Smith’s wife wrote inspirational poetry, and this was distributed among the cadets. Mary Lee was also involved in encouraging the conversion of the student body at VMI. On April 20, 1869, she sent the following correspondence to her friend Mrs. Eleanor Burwell, who was staying with the Smiths at the time:

“It gives me great pleasure, my dear friend, to send you these little tracts. If they pour comfort into one anxious heart, or enlighten one dark soul, they will have fulfilled their mission. I have put my name to some I had time to examine, as it might save you the trouble of doing so. They are all good, I believe. Those of Doddridge I know are, as his work was so useful to me when first my young heart was led to seek my God. I pray that many hearts may be touched now, as well officers as cadets, and that the impression now received, and the interest now felt may be enduring, and bring forth the fruit of righteousness.”

The 1856 revival at VMI spilled over into the Lexington community at large. “The town, the [Washington] College, and the Military Institute shared about equally in this blessed work.” Jackson commented on the impact of the revival in a letter to Mrs. Alfred Neale in May 1856:

“We have had a great revival of religion here. . . . [W]e have had such an outpouring of the Spirit of God in our churches here as I never remember of having seen elsewhere. . . . The Episcopal church about a week since took in nearly twenty-five, and from present appearances I suppose that about fifty will join the Presbyterian church in a few days when we are to have our communion. The Baptist church is also being blest, and I think that we may reasonably expect more than one hundred from this revival.”

Despite checking numerous sources, I have yet to be able to find Smith's "full account of the revivals." It is something that I would desperately love to see. But, alas, no one has a clue. I would consider finding these accounts the discovery of a lifetime.

Nonetheless, I was pleased to receive an email from Brad recently that his dissertation on Smith has been accepted for publication. I have always wondered why no biography has ever been published about this most amazing Christian gentleman and loyal Virginian. It’s long overdue and I congratulate Brad on the great news. I've read through much of the dissertation and am looking forward to reading the completed book. I've been promised an advance copy and plan to write a review in the future.

05 December 2007

Strange & Shameful Conduct at Oakwood

For those of you who have been following the developments at Oakwood Cemetery (See here & here), the issue still has not been resolved. I can't comprehend what the problem is with the Richmond Mayor's office and why the Commonwealth is allowing Richmond to ignore law passed by the General Assembly. Could you or I get by with simply thumbing our noses at state law? I just found out that a man from South Carolina installed a new upright marker at his ancestor's grave and Richmond officials had it removed and won't reveal its whereabouts! Where I come from, that's known as larceny. What in the world is going on? This is a win-win for everyone. Descendants will lovingly take care of the cemetery and save Richmond taxpayers over $30,000 a year. What's the issue here? My own June email inquiry to Mayor Wilder's office has been ignored. No response whatsoever. Here's what I emailed to the Mayor's office:

Dear Mayor Wilder:

I have a great-great grandfather buried at Oakwood Cemetery (John Meredith Crutchfield) and I am writing to respectfully request that the City of Richmond allow the Sons of Confederate Veterans to take over maintenance of Oakwood Cemetery. As you know, the General Assembly has authorized this and the SCV possesses both the funds and willingness to maintain Oakwood and honor the dead that rest there.

Thank you in advance for your consideration. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Richard G. Williams, Jr.

As noted, my own great-great grandfather is buried at Oakwood. Earlier this year, my 89 year-old great-aunt made a very difficult, special trip to Oakwood thinking her grandfather's grave was properly marked. To her dismay, she found only a crude stone marker with a number on it. Why won't Richmond officials allow these veterans have the honor they deserve? We will soon find out.

04 December 2007

The Passing of Stonewall Jackson's Mother

It was on December 4th, 1831 that Thomas J. Jackson's mother died from the ravages of tuberculosis. Upon informing the family, Julia Jackson Woodson's husband, Blake Woodson said:

"No Christian on earth, no matter what evidence he might have had of a happy hereafter, could have died with more fortitude. Perfectly in her senses, calm and deliberate, she met her fate without a murmur or a struggle . . . I have known few women of equal, none of superior merit."

(From James Robertson's biography of Jackson, page 10.)

More Praise for Still Standing

Rick,

Just got through viewing Still Standing. What a terrific documentary! The men of our church (New Life Presbyterian, Virginia Beach) get together once a month socially. I plan to show it to them at our next function.

Blessings,

Lee Webb



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