Monday, February 13, 2012

on "The Sword of the Lord..." a book by Andrew Himes

First, if you have any interest in American history, politics or religion, I urge you to purchase and read, “The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of American Fundamentalism in and American Family” by Andrew Himes. You can find it here:

I also urge you to read reviews and blogs that are a lot more objective and detailed than what you will find below, and you can do that here:

I wanted to put that up there in case you don’t make it to the end of this. I also have to put in a disclaimer that, if it isn’t evident by now, this is a rather personal ramble and not any sort of official or professional review. I guess this paragraph isn’t really necessary for a literate to recognize that fact, but I am still compelled to say it.

I first became aware of Andrew Himes back in 2007 through a blog called the Voices Education Project, “which uses art and education to support the healing process for soldiers and civilians who have experienced the trauma of war, and to help young people understand the nature of conflict and solutions to conflict.” Through that e-mail list I received an announcement about his new book with an offer for a review copy. I had to jump in. From the description I sensed that in my own way, I had lived portions of that book.

So about a year ago I committed to read and to write about “The Sword of the Lord…” This review was due in May of 2011. I don’t know why it has taken me nearly nine months to birth a blog on a book that has greatly helped to heal a horrible gash in my own spiritual growth. I have my suspect reasons, mostly moot, but I tend to think about heavy duty spiritual matters and death during the lifting heft of winter, right before the resurrection of spring, and that time hasn’t happened until now.

Before I finished reading the book I bought a few more and gave them to friends and family. Most read theirs before I finished my own copy. Some enjoyed the historical background, but many related somehow to Andy’s personal story. That’s how it was for me anyway.

I say “Andy” even though he and I have never met. Somehow I don’t think he would mind that I think of him like a brother. Christians call each other “Brother” all the time. I don’t think of myself as having a Christian tag, but I do like to think we are somehow brethren.

I am a bit younger than Andy, but I share a lot of his memories. I grew up in Northern Alabama and Middle Tennessee, and was raised in similar religious rigmarole and social upheaval. We attended fundamentalist independent Baptist churches, and my dad sometimes preached. In the early 70’s we were attending Franklin Road Baptist Church, just down the road from the very Sword of the Lord building, when I jumped from the Fundamentalist Ship into an Ocean of Uncertainty. Even after 40 years I was still hungry to hear from someone who seemed to have had a similar experience. I was excited to see an entire book written about that strange period. My response to the book would be much longer if I had not dealt with this personal issue some time ago, when for my own catharsis I created a performance piece called Open Mind. But, I eagerly ate the manna of Andy’s book.

How do you reject the fundamental ideals of your upbringing and still remain emotionally intact? That is what I sensed was a quest of the book. Along with the historical perspective, it is in itself a kind of Gospel Story: Questioning, Disobedience, Rejection, Repentance, Grace, Acceptance; a very, very personal story of Salvation.

I dog-eared my copy as I read selections that moved me. Most of my folds are found from Chapter 25 on, when the personal struggle of Dr. John R. Rice is revealed. I think Andy portrayed his Granddad, as well as his other relatives, with reverence and respect, even in places where he disagrees with them.

How do we get along in the midst of extreme disagreement? I think Andy answers this: through practicing the real Fundamentals, which he states quite plainly in the beginning, throughout, and in the end of his book: from “profound love for others, high moral standards, a deep commitment to justice”, to “Honor Truth. Love well. Live your faith.”

I have some fundamental disagreements with my own father, but we get along in love. Here is his review of the book, as written to me, verbatim:

“I did finish the book, and found it to be somewhat of an individual’s effort to try to rectify some of the errors of life choices which we all face from time to time. Andy's struggle with what really matters in life was not a lot different from what I believe many, many, people in his generation faced as you all grew up. Admittedly, there was a significant amount of self righteousness and hypocrisy, along with injustice to peoples of different color and culture sadly expressed by some groups in the "fundamentalist" circles during the 60's and 70's. We are reaping some of the fruits of that period of "seed spreading" of rebellion to "those ignorant, bible thumping, Bible believing hypocrites " to this day in the form of increased abortion, shacking up with whoever you choose (marriage is for the old fashioned), "don't you dare mention the name of God to me!" mentality, homosexuality is not a sin, it's just a different life style, get all you can any way you can because today is all that matters and who cares who gets hurt, we are just higher forms of animals with no souls and no accountability to any one, thing or power except those who could kill you. That may appear extreme, but it is really a mild reflection of what our society is and is becoming. Who is to blame? No one individual, class or group could possibly bring about such a change in our nation as has happened over the last sixty years. Mankind has by choice become a fallen creature, not the instrument of fellowship and mutual love of and for God which He originally intended when we were created, and by individual choice only, can we become what He intended. Self pride is the chief constrainer to real peace of mind, redeeming faith and a hope of better things to come. I know, because I used to wear it proudly. Overall, I enjoyed the book, please finish it because the last few pages are the most revealing, but I was disappointed to see where Bro. John Rice's heir to the publisher's chair was still so steeped in so called "separation" that he denied Bro. Rice's last chance to be inclusive to all who put their genuine faith in Christ.

Thanks for clueing me in on the book, and feel free to do as you feel led to with this response. Love you even more, Pop”

You might be able to tell that my dad is a bit more conservative in his views, in that old time fundamentalist way, than I. If you can’t then I’ll just state it. But, we love each other. We respect each other. We work, sometimes hard, to find those places where we get along, in love, and let the disagreements work out in sometimes long, sometimes arduous, but mostly an intelligent and compassionate manner. Still, we disagree, and at times it sinks my heart.

I was lifted a bit when reading the metaphor of Andy’s friend, that “we are the fish in the ocean [of God]…living and dancing in and below the waves, drinking and breathing God. The currents in the ocean are the Holy Spirit, moving us here and there throughout watery universe…waking us up to love for each other, living within God and discovering God within ourselves.”

I really like this metaphor, but I do wish the water wasn’t so damn muddy.

It’s strange how Truth can be so individualized that we cannot see past the murk of our own experience. I hope we can somehow carve away the thorns of discord from the Tree of Knowledge to find a trunk of purity that we can agree upon, grab hold, and float together in that God Ocean.

But, I still find myself floating away from that grasp and back into my Ocean of Uncertainty. I just hope I don’t get too seasick.

No comments: