On Supporting Christian Bookshops

On Supporting Christian Bookshops

I’ve come to believe that Christians ought to support their ‘local’ Christian Bookshop. At least more than they do already. I put local there in ‘quotation marks’ because ‘local’ doesn’t necessarily mean where you live anymore (see below).

Bookshops are Closing

Speaking to a rep recently I learnt first-hand that Christian Bookshops are closing all over the place. At least two not so far away have closed. The rep I spoke to used to supply them, but not anymore. When I’ve been serving in the shop, customers here on holiday are thankful we are open. Why? Because ‘the one near us has closed’ they say. It’s not uncommon to hear that. Local Christian bookshops are closing!

As a Christian book buyer, I have used Amazon, like many of you, quite extensively. I’ve bought a lot of books from them. Two things have changed my thinking on this.

The Amazon Factor

The first was when they (Amazon) banned Ryan T Andersons book (When Harry became Sally) from their website. In fact, it looks like just about everyone of the main booksellers (e.g. Smiths & Waterstones) in the UK have followed their lead. To my knowledge, you still can’t buy it anywhere over here. However, I ‘read’ it on Audio, but on principle I’d buy a copy if I could get hold of one – from a Christian bookstore. I admit, some books you just can’t find anywhere else but on Amazon so I’m not advocating a ban. They have huge buying power and independent bookstores find it difficult to compete. Actually, it’s virtually impossible to compete on price – though on rare occasions it can happen. Things have changed, or become clearer. Despite the convenience, and they are convenient, Amazon are not our (Christians) friends. It’s that simple.

The Community Factor

The second reason was an article I read some months ago about local bookshops. This was in the US, but the principle was the same. The principle being that as a local business they supported the local community. The article demonstrated how they slotted into the life of wherever it is they are situated. Like everything in the US, as my Dad used to say, is BIG. So I think a small bookshop over here cannot compare to small over there. Context is everything I guess. The principle holds though. Small over here does more often than not mean small.

Providential Bookshops

The Bookshop in Rugby

In addition to that, was my own experience that hadn’t quite registered until very recently. When I first became a Christian through the witness of a friend one of the things I realised was that we needed to get Bibles and find a church. As strange as it may seem, we thought we were the only Christians in the town (we can discuss that another time). Here’s the thing, somehow or other, I knew there was a Christian bookshop in the town. So with my raggy old jeans and unkempt beard I made my way to the Christian bookshop in Castle Street, Rugby. (As far as I know it’s still open.) I went in, held my hands up in the air and proclaimed, ‘I’m Saved!’ Wally then proceeded to tell me of a church where I would get good teaching. And he sold me a Bible. That’s why (and how) I went to Railway Terrace (Evangelical Free Church) where Peter Jeffery was the Pastor. Going there was absolutely foundational to my Christian life. I can’t stress that enough! Isn’t the providence of God amazing!

Then Sue, my first wife, through the witness of a friend, in great distress went into her local Christian bookshop in Leamington (now closed). There she met David Arnold, a lifelong friendship emerged through this – especially with their daughter Ruth. David was an elder in the church in Rugby. Funny that isn’t it. Sue started attending the church in Rugby with David & Fi and their family. We then met at the church and were married, and the rest as they say is history. Isn’t the providence of God a wonderful thing!

The Conclusion of the Matter

The point being, as I said to someone recently, is that bookshops are ‘more than the sum of their parts.’ Here in Aberystwyth, we get people come in that just want to talk. It isn’t always convenient, true, but they come in. If Christian bookshops aren’t there no one can come into them. We are just a tiny tiny part in the scheme of things. But in the providence of God, we are a part. Like most Christian bookshops, we aren’t just a shop – it’s a ministry.

Here’s my conclusion then, and something for us all to consider: If you, we, don’t buy our Christian books from local Christian bookshops they will close. It’s that simple.

‘When Harry became Sally’ & ‘Irreversible Damage’ – Recommended reading

I read these a while ago so I apologise for the delay in posting but here are two books that I’d like to recommend. Both are ‘Jaw-dropping’ to read. I didn’t take any notes. The first by Ryan Anderson I ‘read’ as an audio book. The second by Abigail Shrier, I also read without taking notes. I’d like to simply make a few observations about them both in this post.

I’ve now read these two books and Douglas Murrays book (Here’s my post on that) so I’m in a slightly better position now to continue reading Carl Trueman’s book (which I will eventually get round to reading and review).

When Harry became Sally by Ryan T. Anderson

I believe the author is a Christian (RC I think). I didn’t really know what to expect with it being banned by Amazon. But if you were expecting a book full of scriptural references, you’d be wrong. I can’t recall one reference. In fact, I’m not sure I remember any reference at all to the Christian faith.

The book is a devastating critique of the Transgender moment (or movement) and its ideology. The book demonstrates how utterly illogical it is for a man to become a woman (and vice versa).

It’s important to say that it isn’t a nasty book, rather it is written in a respectful manner. I thought it was well written with detailed research. He neither approved or reproved but he does present the facts (which is probably why it is banned). The anatomical details of the changes and the surgery required are quite tragic (as well as quite detailed) and demonstrate the awful lengths to which people will go.

The key to whole movement, I think, is in Chapter 2. I’ll provide the actual quote because I think it’s really important to grasp this. It’s more than Harry becoming Sally. Harry is Sally. And so the body has to be brought in line with the brain and not the other way round. The body must conform to what is the (claimed) Ontological reality. So any criticisms of Transgender people (or the movement) is a direct assault on their being. This is why any criticism is taken as a direct assault on the person – from their perspective that’s what it is. This is in complete opposition to the real reality – if I can put it that way. That is, in reality this is opposition to God and his created order. It’s rebellion at the deepest level. And it isn’t cheap rebellion either. I’m not talking cost in pounds or dollars but deep, very deep, personal pain – mentally and physically. Utterly tragic. And so for many that are caught up in this it isn’t a conscious rebellion because young people especially are being manipulated to satisfy the ideology of the Activists. They are being used. That’s the bottom line. Here’s the quote then from Chapter 2 under the heading Transgender Ontology:

‘People say that we live in a postmodern age that has rejected metaphysics. That’s not quite true. We live in a postmodern age that promotes an alternative meta-physics. At the heart of the transgender moment are radical ideas about the human person – in particular, that people are what they claim to be, regardless of contrary evidence. A transgender boy is a boy, not merely a girl who identifies as a boy. It’s understandable why activists make these claims. An argument about transgender identities will be much more persuasive if it concerns who someone is, not merely how someone identifies. And so the rhetoric of the transgender moment drips with ontological assertions: people are the gender they prefer to be. That’s the claim.’

However, some have realised the mistake of going the route of surgery based on what is a false and extremely dangerous ontology – ideas have very powerful consequences, and not all good (That’s an understatement by the way). And so in Chapter 3 we are given a series of testimonies that would advocate caution – at the very least. The claim to being Transgender is still accepted.

I do have a view on this, but I can’t work out why politicians of mainly the left, but the right as well, are sanctioning something that is so obviously damaging. Just the onslaught of logic ought to be enough to convince anyone that there’s something not right here.

Irreversible Damage by Abigail Shrier

Again, this is a jaw dropping and tragic read. More tragic actually. Abigail concentrates on how this Craze is affecting young people and especially teenagers. NOTE: She is using the word ‘Craze’ in a sociological sense not as a pejorative. It does capture something though. Abigail is not a Christian, so in a few places she does use language some might find offensive – try not to let that put you off though.

Honestly, if you are the parent of a girl, especially a teenage girl, you should read this book. Your child might just breeze through her bodily changes and all will be well. But she might not. Writing as a woman with daughters herself is helpful. She isn’t a philosopher or theologian, but she is an investigative reporter (on this anyway). And she’s a good one as well. We need people like her.

To be forewarned, is to be forearmed!

There are some shortcomings with the book which I think we need to realise. This came through with an interview she did with the two guys on their Triggernometry YouTube channel – worth watching. The shortcoming is this: Her worldview (and theirs) is self defeating. This isn’t a huge problem (for now) but we do need to be aware of it. As I write it makes me wonder if this is why Ryan Andersons book has been banned and this one by Abigail hasn’t. (Although there were those that wanted to ban her book as well – see Abigails article here.) Ryan’s book is grounded in a Biblical Worldview – this one isn’t, or not deliberately so anyway. Truth comes from God. Truth has to come from somewhere, and if not from God (the bible) it has to come from somewhere else. I’m grateful that there are still people like Abigail that can write and research from within a Judeo-Christian worldview (I think she is Jewish) but it isn’t the same as being grounded in a Christian Worldview. Don’t get me wrong I’m very thankful for her. She is most definitely our friend, in this, as is anyone that supports Free Speech. But by supporting same-sex marriage, homosexuality, and transgenderism she just, for now, draws the line in a different place to others in the culture.

Someone said ‘Support Trans Kids.’ Frankly, giving in to this ideology is NOT supporting Trans kids, at all. What it does is damage kids. Often it is exactly that: Irreversible damage.

Here’s another terrifying article (When the State Comes for Your Kids) by Abigail that shows the sort of things that are happening in some States in the US. Make no mistake, the ‘activists’ will take your kids if they can. Thankfully, the Government in the UK, for now, is opposing plans to make changing gender easier. I say for now because the ‘activists’ will not stop. See here for more on the UK situation.

Finally, I’ve shared this before but it’s such an important interview that I’m including it here as well. This is an interview with a transgender man, Scott Newgent (he admits to actually being a biological woman), who shares with us the reality of what changing is really like and what happened to him, and about the opposition he is encountering because he is speaking out. Go here for the interview with Dan Crenshaw.

It should go without saying that we are to be loving towards transgender people, whatever stage they are at. But that doesn’t mean we have to agree with it. But we need to lovingly and graciously disagree. That is almost impossible by the way if any disagreement is seen as an attack on their being, not their belief. We have to try though. I won’t bore you by saying more, but I do urge you to read these two books especially if you have teenage, or younger, girls.

JUDE: Content Yet Contending by Daniel R. Hyde – Recommendation

This an excellent little commentary on this one chapter New Testament letter by Jude. His letter is perhaps best known for the exhortation in v4 to ‘contend for the faith’ and the Doxology of vs 24-25. This was one of those ‘I must read this sometime’ books on my shelf. I finished a book on the Old Testament so wanted to read a NT commentary. What better than this little book.

It is a little book (A5 size) at only 137 pages, of which there are 126 pages of actual text including the preface. It’s easy to read in that it isn’t complicated and the type is clear with each chapter neatly laid with sub-headings for each chapter. It’s probably too short for an index but it would, I think, have been helpful. There are very helpful footnotes, which I personally much prefer to endnotes. For those wanting to delve a little deeper, there’s also a very good Bibliography. There are eight chapters in all. I paid £8.99 for the book. Although that sounds a bit pricey for such a short book, it’s actually good value because of how much is packed into such a short space. No verbiage here.

I bought it initially because I was struck by the ESV translation of v5. In v5 of Jude the ESV explicitly names Jesus as the destroyer. I wanted an explanation, which is briefly but adequately given and applied on pages 48-51. Jesus is both Saviour to some and Destroyer to others. As Psalm 2:12 ‘Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.’

As a slight aside, there’s a crucial point to be made here. We hear how the God of the Old Testament is an angry wrathful God but the God of the New Testament (Jesus) is friendly and loving. He’s nice. But we don’t like the God of the OT – he’s horrible. It says the same in any translation but it is made clearer in the ESV, and it’s this, it was Jesus in the OT that destroyed those that sinned. This gives the lie to those that try and make separate Gods for OT and NT. It’s complete nonsense. Jesus is the Destroyer and the Saviour. Make sure He is your Saviour and not your Destroyer!

This book by Daniel Hyde, like Jude’s letter, is a challenging read. There’s a lament in Chapter 1 how Jude has been neglected and in the same chapter he sets out the divisions of Jude thus:

‘Jude writes about this heavenly grace in this short yet highly organised and structured letter. Using the categories of classical Graeco-Roman rhetoric, we can see the following outline develop:

The introduction (exordium) seeks to gain the audience’s attention (vv. 1-2);
The narration (narratio) seeks to inform the audience of the main argument (vv. 3-4);
The proofs (probatio) seeks to develop the argument with evidence (vv. 5-16);
The conclusion (peroratio) seeks the reader’s emotional response (vv. 17-23);
The doxology (doxologia) is an added element in Christian literature that gives glory to God (vv. 23-25).’ p.17.

There’s so much packed into this short book. I could’ve given more but you’ll just have to read it for yourself. I heartily recommend it.

 

 

‘Beyond the Big C: Hope in the face of death’ by Jeremy Marshall

Beyond the Big C by Jeremy Marshall, 10 Publishing, 2019. £3.99 at 10 of Those (£1.75 each if you buy 10 copies).

Of course unbeknown to Jeremy there would be a new Big C in town, no longer is it Cancer but Coronavirus. Cancer has been (temporarily) usurped. I’ve always known Cancer as the Big C. (My Mum died of cancer, my sister-in-law died of cancer, and my wife died of cancer) Even with massive leaps forward in treatment and diagnosis I think most people would still see it like that. A cancer diagnosis is a solemn thing.

As for the book, I started reading it in bed one evening and finished it the next morning. It’s a very short book – 70 pages. No chapters but lots of helpful headings throughout. His honesty at the shock diagnosis and the fears he had, are, I think, really helpful. I thought his honesty was, and is refreshing. Non believers out there aren’t stupid and can detect insincerity at ten paces so it’s much better to be honest.

A strong and vibrant faith is not incompatible with being afraid. I’ve seen it. We don’t want to be afraid but it’s a powerful emotion. Here’s a successful man, a very capable man whose world is changed completely. What he finds is that Christ is right there with him in his suffering. I know what cancer treatment involves, having seen what my wife went through, and it isn’t pleasant!

Just a brief quote from page 45:

I long for my suffering friends to know that God has entered this sad, fallen, sinful world and he meets us right in the midst of our grief and sorrow.’

‘What we can offer – as well as compassion to those suffering from cancer or other terminal diseases – is the one thing that the world craves above all things: hope in the face of death. I love to tell people how the Lord has, by his death, defeated death.’

That does not mean having cancer for a Christian is a barrel of laughs – it isn’t. It’s tough. Really tough.

I like the way he challenges non-believers but without being aggressive or condescending. This is a great little book to give away or maybe leave (COVID regulations permitting) in a dentist or doctors waiting room. You probably wouldn’t be allowed to do that, but it’s a thought.

Is Jesus History? by John Dickson – Get a copy

Is Jesus History? By John Dickson. 2019. The Good Book Company. On 10 of Those for £6.79 (discounts for 5 or more copies)

It’s a standard paperback size of 150 pages. It’s not a big book then, and I enjoyed it from the very start. The text and style is easy to read and it isn’t overly technical. There are headings throughout each chapter with a summary (‘In a Nutshell’) and period readings at the end. The readings are mainly from the New Testament but not exclusively. The book has a few footnotes but these are kept to a bare minimum which in this case is a big help.

I loved the way he used his treasured coin (pp. 13ff) to teach us about how the past is (was) a real place and not a fictional world that has left a great deal of evidence that can be read, seen, and touched.

One objection I’ve heard is that if Jesus was so influential why are there not more records of him? These criticisms fail to understand how history works. So it was helpful when John tells us there is not ‘even one piece of personal correspondence from the emperor.’ P.16. There may be reasons God has not chosen to leave mountains of ‘evidence’ but whatever the reason it doesn’t violate any principles or historical method. Rather, it is totally in accord with the way the study of history, and especially ancient history works.

A great book for any Christian to read and an excellent book to give to your sceptical friends. It’s a good companion to Peter Williams book ‘Can we trust the Gospels.’ As Christians we often seem to be on the back-foot. At least it can feel like that. So this book is a great resource. I believe in evidence, but I’m not an evidentialist. But this book really will help, in a brief and easy to read way, I think, to give Christians confidence when talking to skeptics. Well worth reading and an excellent ‘Stocking filler.’ Buy a copy.

‘Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life & Thought’ by Stephen J. Nichols. A ‘Review’

‘Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Though’ by Stephen J. Nichols, P & R Publishing, 2002.

This is one book among many that are on the shelf and unread. We all have them. Not sure it’s been on my shelf for nearly 20 years but in any case I’ve wanted to read it for a while and as a change of reading matter was needed, here we are.

The ‘standard’ biography on Luther as I understand it is Bainton’s ‘Here I Stand (1987).’ I’ve dipped into an old edition of that but not read it, so apart from articles and the like this book by Nichols on Luther is really a first for me. Bainton’s book is mentioned at the end.

The book is 240 pages (it starts with the preface on page 11) about A5 size with easy to read print and headings throughout each chapter. It’s not complicated and suits me picking it up and putting it down. When I have sat and read it for a while it’s not been wearisome but actually very enjoyable. The book has several illustrations and is divided down into Preface (11 & 12), Introduction (13-20) followed by three main sections: Luther: His Life (21-66); Luther: The Reformer (67-146); and Luther: The Pastor (147-229). At the end of each chapter is a very helpful final section ‘A Note on the Sources.’ The last section (chapter?) of the book Nichols has included is Continuing the Journey: A Brief Guide to Books by and about Luther. At the end of the book there is a Bibliography, an Index of persons, an Index of Luther’s Works, and an Index of Scripture. A subject index would have been helpful. There are no footnotes or endnotes (my usual gripe) that can be a bit of a chore. I must admit the absence of notes helps the reading. The book is very accessible, reads well, and for me at least, was a good introduction to Luther.

On a topical note here’s a section in chapter 7 about Luther’s response to the plague. He wrote a pamphlet in 1527 on ‘Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.’ Given our Covid Virus situation it made me sit up and take special notice. I’ve linked to it so I can read it later. I thought he’d say we had to stay. But he didn’t. He tells us to do what we can. However, Luther stayed and did not flee. Rather, he opened his house as a hospital and cared for the sick with his wife at great personal risk. Almost dying in the process. The guy is unbelievable on every level! Like many Christians I’ve picked up aspects of Luther’s life and teaching, without, if I’m honest, reading much about him. To actually read about him is amazing. It really is.

The downside of the book, and this is no fault of the author, is that it missed the 500th anniversary of The Reformation. So there is probably a truck load of new stuff on Luther.

If you are new to Luther or want an overview then this book will, I think, do the job. You will read about a giant of a man. In the history of the church there are few his equal. What he accomplished is simply extraordinary. With someone like Luther it’s easy to see how we can be so in awe of the man. We so easily venerate such figures. And I can see why. And it’s easy to do. But we lose sight of what it is that’s driving him if we do. He’s driven by a love for Christ his Saviour and a love for truth, and love for his neighbour. So we copy Luther not worship him. Or anyone else.

I apologise if my ‘review’ lacks detail. So, read the book!

‘Happiness’ by J. C. Ryle

Happiness’ by J. C. Ryle. Evangelical Press.

As it says on the cover of this small booklet or ‘Tract’ it is ‘Lightly edited & updated by Mary Davis’ so it doesn’t read as a 19th Century text but it certainly addresses a 21st Century issue. It’s nicely laid out with easy to read text and isn’t very long at 51 pages.

Who doesn’t want to be happy? Ryle gives us the essentials of true happiness followed by common mistakes about what will make us happy. ‘To be truly happy, a person must have sources of gladness which do not depend on anything in this world’ (p. 15). He brings out several witnesses to show how wealth, fame, education and several other things will not make a person happy. Well then, how to be really happy? He tells us. Here’s just the first thing, ‘Be a real, thorough-going, true-hearted Christian.’

He doesn’t ignore the fact that Christians can go through much pain and sorrow. ‘Do I say that all true Christians are equally happy at all times? No, not for a moment!’ (p. 35) He goes through several objections before making a final plea. ‘Next, let me beg all readers of this book who are not yet happy to seek happiness in the only place it can be found’ (p. 48). ‘If you want to be happy, Come to Christ!’ (p.49)

As you would expect Ryle is plain in saying salvation is found only through the blood of Christ. The book challenges both believer and unbeliever. As a book it may not suit all but could be a good one to give away.

Ryles original tracts, along with this one can be found here: http://www.tracts.ukgo.com/john_charles_ryle.htm

‘When Christians Suffer’ by Thomas Case

I first came across Thomas Case in Voices from the Past Vol 1, a book of daily readings edited by Richard Rushing. This little volume, When Christians Suffer, is also edited by Richard Rushing and again published by The Banner of Truth. He has made, I think, another valuable contribution to the church of Christ.

Thomas Case (1598–30 May 1682) lived to the age of 84 and was, bar one, the longest surviving member of the Westminster Assembly (Westminster Confession of Faith and other documents). Case knew bereavement, persecution, the confiscation of his property and spent 5 months imprisoned in the Tower of London – though his wife (he remarried) was allowed to be with him. The book is written out of deep personal experience. It’s worth pointing out that Thomas Case doesn’t confine what the suffering is to any specific issue. Bereavement and illness are there of course, but suffering manifests (though sometimes it isn’t even seen at all) itself in many ways. The Corona Virus is with us, so many in the world are suffering right now. Mentally, financially, physically and spiritually. So for Christians especially, though it needn’t be confined to them, is a wonderful little book. Perhaps to give away. The book is an exposition of Psalm 94:12. ‘Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law.’

I shall take discipline here in the utmost latitude, for all kinds and degrees of suffering, whether from God, or man, or Satan. Whether sufferings for sin, or sufferings for righteousness sake. p.13.

This isn’t really a review, other than a few notes and a hearty recommendation. It’s a great little booklet. It’s 113 tiny pages (smaller than A6). My copy was a gift, but I’ve since bought another couple of copies to give away. I paid £3.25 at our local Christian Bookshop. The opening letter by Thomas Manton is worth reading on its own. You should know this is a very heavily edited edition of Case’s ‘A Treatise on Afflictions.’ That’s not a criticism as it’s extremely well done and makes the work of Thomas Case accessible to a much wider readership having updated the language making it more readable to a modern audience. Having read this edition I started to read the un-edited version which also contains a brief Biographical Preface, which I have to say isn’t that helpful.

Introductory Letter (slightly edited) by Thomas Manson to Thomas Case

I thank you for your thoughts concerning afflictions. I was pleased to drink from this fountain, and the half was not told me. To treat of afflictions when we ourselves flourish and abound in ease and plenty is more like the orator than the preacher, and the brain than the heart. It seems that when you went into prison, the Spirit of God went into prison with you. When you were shut up to others, you were open to the visits and free breathings of his grace. A prison cannot restrain the freedom of his operations. It would be a prison for sure to be shut up also from fellowship with the Holy Spirit. I begin to see the truth in Tertullian’s discourse to the martyrs:

‘You went out of prison when you went into it, and we’re but sequestered from the world that you might converse with God; the greatest prisoners and the most guilty are those at large, darkened with ignorance, chained with lusts, committed not by the proconsul, but God.’

Sir, I could even envy your prison comforts, and the sweet opportunities of a religious privacy. We that are abroad are harassed and worn out with constant public labours, and can seldom retire from the distraction of business for such free converse with God and our own souls. But we are not to choose our own portion; crosses will come soon enough without wishing for them, and if we were wise we might take an advantage of every condition.

Good sir, be persuaded to publish these discourses: the subject is useful, and your manner of handling it warm and affectionate. Do not deprive the world of the comfort of your experiences. Certainly my heart is not one of the tenderest, yet if heart answers to heart, I can easily foresee much success and that you will not repent of the publication. The Lord bless your endeavours in the gospel of his dear Son. I am, sir, yours in all Christian observance,

Thomas Manton.

The first section is ‘Twenty-One Lessons Which God Usually Teaches His People in a Suffering Condition.’

‘(1.) The first lesson God teaches us by affliction is to have compassion for those who are in a suffering condition.
We are prone to be insensitive, writes Case, when we are at ease in Zion! Partly out of the delicacy of self-love which makes us unwilling to sour our own sweet blessings with the bitter taste of a strangers affliction. Upon this very account God brings a variety of afflictions and sorrows upon his own children.’ p. 14.

‘(5.) God also uses affliction to reveal unknown corruption in the hearts of his people.
He reveals in the heart what pride, what impatience, what unbelief, what idolatry, what distrust of God, what murmuring, and what unthankfulness abides there that you never took notice of!’ p. 21.

One final quote from section 3. ‘How the Instrument of Affliction Promotes the Teaching of God in the Soul’
(1.) Through affliction God tears down the pride of man’s heart.
There is no greater obstruction to saving knowledge than pride and self-opinion. Pride raise objections against the word (The Bible), and disputes the commands when they should obey them. The heart of man stands as a mountain before the word, and cannot be moved until God comes with his instruments of affliction and knocks down those mountains, and then stands on level ground to talk with man. This pride of heart speaks loud in the wicked, and whispers audibly even in the godly. It is folly bound up even in the hearts of God’s children until correction drives it out, and the pride is broken and cries, ‘Lord, what will you have me to do?’ p. 82, 83.

As Manton writes, ‘crosses will come soon enough without wishing for them, and if we were wise we might take an advantage of every condition.’

 

JACO Biography – A Kind Of Review

If like me you love Jaco’s bass playing but know little about the man then this book could be the book for you. The strapline to the book is ‘The extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius.’ Do realise his life was extraordinary, but it was also very tragic. Just a little bit about the book itself. This is the Anniversary Edition of JACO by Bill Milkowski. The text is really dense. It’s a small font for the size of book and sometimes the pages are just a mass of text. But, it is very well written and very readable with several pictures, plus lots of anecdotes and quotes from those that knew him and played with him. Throughout there are a lot of memories of other musicians that first heard him with Sixty Three reflections (Not all good) on his life and music at the end. To use a colloquialism – they were usually ‘gobsmacked’ by his ability and creativity. There’s a fair bit of fruity language – the F-word and S-word are frequently used. However, I found it to be a page turner. There’s also a fairly decent index (in a very tiny font) and a full discography – most of which I was completely unaware of although I knew he played with Joni Mitchell.

Here’s the first paragraph or so in the acknowledgments (p. vii):

‘It’s a rare privilege to be able to revisit an old work and refine, update, expand, and otherwise sculpt it into a better, more satisfying shape. With a fresh perspective afforded by the passing of ten years since the original printing of The Extraordinary And Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius — along with new information gathered, new insights provided by key figures missed the first time around, and the wisdom and empathy that comes with fatherhood — I was able to “do this thing correct,” as Jaco would say.’

Part of his mission, says Milkowski, was ‘to paint a richer, more detailed portrait of Jaco’s early, pre-Weather Report years in Fort Lauderdale, where he was at his happiest and healthiest — a straight-arrow Family man and dedicated musician at the peak of his powers.’

He also wanted to ‘more closely examine the final 24 hours leading up to the savage beating that put Jaco in a coma for nine days and resulted in his ultimate demise on September 21, 1987.’

I was listening to Jaco Pastorius back in the 1970’s when I started listening to fusion styles of jazz (Chick Corea – Return to Forever; Mahavishnu Orchestra) which at the time led me to buy albums by Miroslav Vitous (Bass), Tomasz Stańko (Trumpet) which was just an extension of the other weird stuff (Henry Cow, Gong, Soft Machine) most people thought I was listening to. I was playing the guitar a bit but it never went anywhere but I did at least have the ear (I think) to know when I was listening to something special. Like lots of people then, it seems, listening to Jaco made me sit up and realise this was definitely someone special.

I actually managed to see Weather Report at The Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, London, but we couldn’t stay to the end as I recall else we’d have missed our train. What a shame. When I only recently saw there was a biography of Jaco it was a no-brainer to get it.

Jaco was blessed with an abundance of ‘natural’ ability. He had perfect pitch, perfect time, a photographic memory and was even physically suited to playing the electric Bass. As if that wasn’t enough he was also an innovator. He had all the attributes of a genius. He also had an obsessive personality that made him want to be the best at whatever he did – and seemed to excel at whatever it was. That didn’t mean he just sat around wallowing in his gifts – he obsessively practiced and practiced and practiced. Even for a genius, there isn’t a short cut. But it seems with genius there’s more often than not a corresponding defect in the personality.

I knew nothing about his early life and was quite surprised at how long he held out with a no-drinking and no-drugs policy. But all the time I’m reading I know things are going to take a tragic turn. The first couple of chapters are upfront and tell of the tragedy. The next few chapters tell of his rise to fame – if I can put it like that – as he reaches the peak of his playing ability and the recognition that went with it. All the while there’s this awful expectation that Jaco’s life is going to turn really bad. There’s a sense of foreboding. As I reach this stage of the book I’m wondering what it was that sent him on a downward spiral.

[This little section I had some quotes to insert here but I’ve misplaced the book so this is from memory: There was mention of him getting drunk but it didn’t seem to be a habitual thing. But, we are told that Joe Zawinul and Jaco would ‘get competitively wasted on a regular basis.’ But Zawinul apparently treated him like a son. You would have thought he would have tried to protect him – but he doesn’t. Not really. Other friends notice a real change at this point.]

Anyway, as far as I can tell, it’s at this time in Jaco’s life where things begin to take a bad turn. On top of the drugs and booze his marriage to Tracy was starting to fall apart. He had a relationship with another woman (perhaps many women) and a relationship with Joni Mitchell born out of their musical / spiritual collaboration.

Ingrid (one of the women) knew it was wrong and she felt Jaco’s Catholic upbringing caused him to feel guilty about what he was doing – and rightly so.

So whether there was already a personality defect and the marriage breaking up coupled with fame, booze, drugs and the pressure of being at the top conspired to form a deadly cocktail that drove him on a downward tragic spiral, I don’t know. But there’s more:

Peter Erskine (Drummer with Weather Report & friend) told his father (As it happens, a Psychologist) about Jaco’s mood swings and without even seeing him diagnosed Jaco to be suffering from Manic Depression – what we now call Bipolar Disorder. It wasn’t until years later Jaco was hospitalised, diagnosed and then treated (with Lithium). In the book ‘Tackling Mental Illness Together: A biblical and practical approach’ by Alan Thomas there’s a section on Bipolar disorder (pp, 168 – 172) in chapter 9 ‘Severe Mental Illnesses.’ In this chapter, Professor Thomas describes what we read about in this biography of Jaco – manic episodes and depression. Lithium is still used with the side-effect of trembling that Jaco experienced – especially in his hands.

Part of the tragedy, maybe the main part, is that instead of hospitalising him, he is idolised and treated as a Cash Cow. He was ill. I recently watched a program on Channel 5 called ‘The Death of Amy Winehouse: 13 Reasons Why.’ There were many sad parallels, especially with drink and drugs. The author brings out quite a few times how life was much simpler, and happier, for Jaco in the early days. Before he became famous, when he wasn’t drinking or taking drugs, when he was happy with his first wife Tracy (‘Portrait of Tracy’).

After reading this I now listen to Jaco’s playing slightly differently. It’s certainly a celebration of masterful playing (a new appreciation for sure)  but it’s tinged with sadness.  

When reading books like this I’m always interested in looking to see what their religious convictions are. And for good reason, there’s a lot hanging on it. But I don’t read to judge. Leastways I try not to anyway. I read with hope. As a Christian, I’ve read biographies with lives that are just about as tragic as it gets in this life but by God’s Grace they have come to know Christ. And so their lives become a testimony to the triumph of grace. Reading these biographies there’s a turn from whatever the darkness might be to the light of Christ and an eternal heritage. There’s redemption. Not so with the life of Jaco. There is no redemption, there is no point at which his life turns around. There is no hope. It does not end well. I do not know if somehow God reached into Jaco’s life at the last moment and we’ll see him in heaven. Maybe. I hope it is so. The night when he was beaten that led to his death, he had talked with Carlos Santana. Santana says ‘…. we talked a little bit about Jesus. That was the last time I saw him. (p. 261).   I have absolutely no idea what ‘talking a little bit about Jesus’ means. Jesus gets a mention a few other times through the book and his ‘spirituality’ is mentioned several times. Again, what that actually means, I have no idea. Jaco was brought up a Catholic and sang in the choir so there was some input. Whether he was saved or not then, I don’t know. I know God is Gracious though, and that it’s He that does the saving, not us.

In summary then, if you’re a fan of Jaco you should read it. But it’s not a fun read. It’s not a fun read because we get to follow, through Bill Milkowski’s excellent book the rise of such an amazing talent as Jaco and then his subsequent destruction and fall, ending in his tragic death.

Can we trust the gospels? by Peter J. Williams – A Recommendation

Can we trust the gospels? by Peter J. Williams.

From the preface;

‘I have long felt the need for a short book explaining to a general audience some of the vast amount of evidence for the trustworthiness of the four Gospels. There are various great treatments of this topic, and each book has its own focus. This one seeks to present a case for the reliability of the Gospels to those who are thinking about the subject for the first time. …. for the sake of brevity I have cut out everything unnecessary.’ p.13.

‘It is common today to speak of world faiths or to describe some people as having faith, as if others do not. Faith is seen as a non-rational belief — something not based on evidence. However, that is not what faith originally meant for Christians. Coming from the Latin word fides, the word faith used to mean something closer to our word trust. Trust, of course, can be based on evidence.’

‘The book’s title, Can We Trust the Gospels?, is therefore carefully chosen. It addresses the question by looking at evidence of the Gospel’s trustworthiness. The great thing about trust is that it is something we all understand to a degree because we all exercise it.’

From The Introduction. P.15.

This is a book for anyone, and I would include non-Christians in that. The writing is easy to read, the text is easy to read and none of it is difficult to understand. There are eight chapters, a general index and a Scriptural index. There are also helpful footnotes throughout where the reader will find references to sources and recommendations for further reading.

The first chapter focuses on ancient non-Christian hostile sources to make a historical case for the authenticity of the Gospels. He makes several helpful observations that serve to support his (and the Christian) case.

Chapter 5 is the longest chapter where the author shows how the Gospels, are highly unlikely to have been made up, as some claim. There are some nice charts that support Gospel accuracy from local knowledge about place names.

Dr Williams presents in a very straightforward way ample evidence that the Gospels can be trusted. He is an expert in his field: the field of textual criticism. He inhabits, intellectually speaking, the world of manuscripts, with other experts (not necessarily Christians) in that discipline. Most of us do not.

There are other good reasons to trust the Gospels, but this book should help a) Christians that are perhaps struggling with doubt about whether the Bible can be trusted and b) Non-Christians that need to understand that trusting their souls to The Lord Jesus Christ is NOT a leap in the dark. Committing intellectual suicide is not required. In fact, the Bible itself speaks against doing so.

The last chapter deals with objections, especially from committed materialists – atheists. What is really amusing is that atheists committed to freethinking or a search for truth can’t do either of those things. Why? How can you search for truth if you don’t believe, objectively, that it exists. And so a commitment to freethinking is also impossible. Dr Williams presents a small, but significant, amount of evidence which the atheist will dismiss with a wave of the hand when any crackpot produces something that has previously been proved false, thus demonstrating a denial of that which he claims: freethinking and a search for truth. This book probably won’t satisfy the determined atheist – and I doubt anything will.

Ultimately then, all of us, come to trust in Christ through the intervention of God the Holy Spirit through whom we surrender to the God of The Bible. Thank God it is so. Although we need to be ‘born again’ by the supernatural actions of God in order that we might trust in Christ, God doesn’t ask us to believe in fairy stories (despite the protest of Atheists) but in things that happened in time, real historical events that are faithfully recorded in the Gospels. So as for the question, this book asks: Can we trust the Gospels? Yes we can.