Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ap Bac: The Event and Significance of a "Miserable Damn Performance," January 2, 1963

In his recently-published Historical Dictionary of the War in Vietnam, Ronald Frankum includes the following in his entry for “Ap Bac”:

"On January 2, 1963, the 7th Division of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) engaged the 261st Main Force Battalion near the village of Ap Bac and the 415th Regional Battalion in Ap Tan Thoi. The American advisor to the 7th ARVN Division, Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann, had encouraged the move in order to achieve a quick and decisive victory against an enemy that had hurt the morale of the ARVN forces earlier in an October 1962 defeat of an ARVN ranger platoon.  . . . In previous encounters with helicopters, the troops of the National Liberation Front (NLF) had fled or exposed themselves to ground and air fire . . . In this instance, the NLF practiced strict fire discipline and stood its ground along a tree and canal line, maintaining a strong defensive position.  . . . It was not until early evening that the ARVN forces reinforced the troops fighting on the ground to such an extent that they forced the NLF to leave the battlefield.  . . . Ap Bac was a lesson for the South Vietnamese military and American advisers who were filled with frustration at opportunities lost. It also marked the beginning of more pronounced media criticism of the ARVN and the American military role in the war after Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, commander General Paul Harkins declared that the operation was a success, because the ARVN had secured Ap Bac" (54-55).

During the half century since that battle, American military advisors in Vietnam, journalists on the scene, and historians of the war have weighed in on a number of related questions. What exactly happened at Ap Bac? Why did the engagement unfold as it did? What were the keys to the Viet Cong victory? Why was the ARVN so soundly defeated in spite of its having what seemed to be every advantage? How did Gen. Harkins’ ridiculous, upbeat reports on the battle expose and perhaps reinforce inconsistencies within both the ARVN and American military? And how did those inconsistencies damage the relationship between American military leaders and the international press?

In what follows, my goal is to discern some answers to at least a few of those questions by exploring an array of important contributions to the historiography of the battle of Ap Bac, and to see how each source compares to and contrasts with the others. Is it possible to see a defined picture, one that fits with a coherent interpretation of the rest of the war?

A good place to begin is with the Pulitzer-prize winning book A Bright Shining Lie, by journalist Neil Sheehan. First published in 1988, Sheehan’s work is essentially two books which the author names in the subtitle: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. Basic to his widely-read account is Sheehan’s idea that the life of John Vann, an incredibly talented yet deeply flawed American military officer, is a powerful lens through which to view the much larger landscape of the war.

For my purposes here, the most significant aspect of Sheehan’s work is that he devotes all of Book III to “The Battle of Ap Bac.” Beyond that, the first several pages of Book IV, “Taking On the System,” recount the aftermath of the battle. In all, Sheehan provides 80 pages directly focused on Ap Bac (i.e., 203-83). Something else makes his narrative especially important: Sheehan was himself part of the press corps in Vietnam at the time, and actually traveled to the scene the morning after the battle. Years later, along with his interviews with several military leaders who were involved in the battle, the author consulted the finest of primary sources: “John Vann’s exhaustive after-action report” and “the equally thorough Viet Cong report that was later captured,” which, Sheehan notes, “tended to corroborate each other” (805-06).

Sheehan’s account establishes, or at least identifies and reinforces, several important particulars associated with the Battle of Ap Bac. First, regarding its relative significance, Sheehan not only devotes an entire section to Ap Bac, he calls it “the first great battle of the American war in Vietnam” (199), one “that would affect the course of the war” (205).

Second, the Viet Cong at Ap Bac had the advantage of excellent intelligence. They “knew that an attack was coming on the morning of January 2, 1963” (206). Consequently, according to Sheehan’s account, they had established the best possible positions. They were dug in so deeply and camouflaged so well that not even their muzzle fire revealed their positions. To top it all off, they also had a solid escape plan. By contrast, the American planner who served under Vann estimated that there would be no more than 120 Viet Cong regulars, if that many, protecting the target, a VC radio transmitter located at nearby Tan Thoi. In fact, there were approximately three times that many guerillas waiting (205).

Third, by the time of Ap Bac the Viet Cong were trained in tactics designed to neutralize the ARVN advantage of using American helicopters and M-113 armored personnel carriers. They had been training to lead and shoot moving aircraft (218-19), a technique at which they apparently had become well-practiced. From Sheenan’s description it also seems clear that the VC had some idea of how they might slay the “green dragons,” their name for the feared M-113s. Their tactic was to shoot at the exposed, unprotected machine gunners and drivers of the M-113s once they came within range. Then, after the machines had stopped, the guerillas would explode grenades thrown onto or just above the carriers, wounding and demoralizing the troops inside (255-57).

Fourth, a hesitancy that often appeared to stem from sheer cowardice undermined the ARVN “attack” throughout the day. Sheehan tells, for example, how ARVN lieutenants refused to allow American advisor Sgt. 1st Class Arnold Bowers to use their radios, sometimes feigning that they could not understand English. It became clear to Bowers that if he were allowed to use the radio, the lieutenants might be ordered to do something they didn’t want to do (224-25).

Fifth, in the aftermath of the Ap Bac catastrophe, the relationships between the American military, the press, and the American people began to change. Hours after the Viet Cong had been permitted to make a clean getaway, John Vann did not attempt to hide his rage, even in the presence of the international press. What made matters even worse was that Gen. Harkins seemed to believe the duplicitous reports of the ARVN’s General Huynh Van Cao. Too, Harkins did not appreciate Vann’s withering post-battle write up, and he resented the colonel’s angry conviction that what the ARVN turned in at Ap Bac was “a miserable damn performance” (277). It soon became clear to some observers that, although Harkins was not the only one, he was the most prominent example of an American military leader involved in Vietnam who saw only what he wanted to see. Sheehan, speaking for himself and other representatives of the American press in Vietnam, says that until that time, they “believed in what our government said it was trying to accomplish in Vietnam, and we wanted our country to win this war just as passionately as Vann and his captains did” (271). But by then, things had changed: “Ap Bac was putting Vietnam on the front pages and on the television evening news shows with a drama that no other event had yet achieved” (278).

On the question of relationships between the American people, the press, and the U.S. military in Vietnam, perhaps no other scholar has conducted more research than William M. Hammond. In two early books, Hammond provided exhaustive treatments of the military and media in Vietnam during the years 1962-68 and 1968-73. Later, he condensed all the material from those two previous volumes and produced a smaller, more manageable work designed for a broader audience: Reporting Vietnam: Media and Military at War, published in 1998. Hammond relates that in the aftermath of the battle of Ap Bac, editorials and commentaries that appeared in American newspapers “were biting.”

"The Washington Daily News, for example, termed Ap Bac a ‘humiliation.’ The Baltimore Sun described the enemy ‘slipping away . . . ahead of a half-hearted Vietnamese pursuit.’ The Detroit Free Press wondered how Diem’s harsh dictatorship could give peasant soldiers any motive to fight at all" (9).

Consequently, in spite of Gen. Harkins’ defense of the ARVN and his upbeat assessment of the progress of the mission in Vietnam, Ap Bac “marked a divide in the history of the war.  . . . After it, [American reporters] decided their government was lying and withdrew” (9).

In an environment that became more and more poisonous over time, the U.S. government held at least a temporary advantage: the administration largely controlled the information on which the news media depended. Hammond observes that what eventually broke the ensuing stalemate between the government and the news media was the American public, which chose to go “its own way.” Americans, he says, followed “their own third course, exercising their own independence of mind, and displaying a substantial measure of contempt for all those in the press and government who had sought to manipulate them over the years.” The American people, weary of reading about the “many deaths and contradictions . . . moved to repudiate the earlier decision.” When they did, it was relatively easy for the American press to follow. By contrast, the U.S. military “lacked the ability to do the same.” Wanting to retain whatever honor they could, emotionally tied to the prospect of some sort of victory, leaders of the U.S. Armed Forces “fixed their anger on the press, the most visible element of the society that appeared to have rejected them” (296). A disappointing story, Hammond’s account basically confirms Sheehan’s view that the battle of Ap Bac marked a true turning point in America’s involvement in Vietnam.

When it comes to the question of how and why the Viet Cong could have been so well prepared at Ap Bac, very few other books would be able to match the penetrating insight provided by Larry Berman’s, Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An, Time Magazine Reporter & Vietnamese Communist Agent, published in 2007. Berman, a good researcher and a fine writer, tells the riveting story of Pham Xuan An, a bright young Vietnamese who officially became a Communist in 1953, and was sponsored and guided by the party to become a spy, likely the best to ever work for the North Vietnamese government. After he attended Orange Coast College in California during the late 1950s, An returned to Saigon and developed relationships with a large number of Americans as well as high-ranking officials in the Diem regime and the South Vietnamese army. Having gained the trust of so many important, well-connected people, An was able to learn the information that only they would know, and acquire copies of documents that he would, in turn, pass along to fellow spies who eventually delivered it to Hanoi. It was in this context that An was able to provide the Viet Cong with the information they needed in order to learn how they could fight against the helicopters and armored personnel carriers which the Americans were providing to the ARVN. “For weeks beforehand,” says Berman, “in order to calculate the most effective shooting range, [the People’s Liberated Armed Forces] had been practicing in the nearby Plain of Reeds by attaching to bamboo poles cardboard models of Shawnee and Huey helicopters that emulated their flight characteristics” (141). Three months after Ap Bac, the CIA observed that “the Viet Cong evidently have been able to maintain intelligence coverage of virtually every level in the South Vietnamese military and civil establishment” (143). An’s clandestine work in behalf of Hanoi was the essential substance behind that report.

Interestingly enough, however, An himself attributed the VC victory at Ap Bac to more than the preparations of the underdogs. He suggested that the Diem regime’s paranoid emphasis on loyalty to the virtual exclusion of professional competence was the undoing of the ARVN. “Diem had generals who should have never received their assignments,” said An, “but they were promoted because they kissed the hand of Nhu and Diem” (142). Here we see a corroboration of especially two parts of Sheehan’s extended narrative. First, the Viet Cong at Ap Bac were prepared far better than anyone among the ARVN or American military ever would have guessed. Berman’s account provides a large part of the explanation for how they could have achieved such a high level of preparedness. Second, Berman’s book also corroborates and helps to explain the obstinate, sluggish responses of ARVN commanders and troops, as well as the frustrations of American military advisors like Vann and Bowers.

Among the more-recent accounts of the Vietnam War, perhaps no project has been more controversial than the one initiated by Mark Moyar in Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1968. The author explains that this book, published in 2006, is the first in a proposed two-volume work covering the entire war. The division between the two comes at July 28, 1965, when President Johnson announced a massive American build up in Vietnam (xi). Moyar candidly explains that his work represents a particular, minority view of the war known as the revisionist school. Orthodox, conventional scholars, who make up the majority, see the war as “wrongheaded and unjust.” Moyar and his revisionist cohort, on the other hand, see it as “a noble but improperly executed enterprise” (xi).

Within this context, Moyar goes to great lengths to overturn the typical reading of Ap Bac. Still in the “Preface,” he asserts that John Paul Vann, the central figure in Sheehan’s Bright Shining Lie, “was more dishonest in dealing with the press than Sheehan ever acknowledged” (xvi). As part of his project to dismantle the reigning orthodox view of the war, Moyar insists that Ho Chi Minh was not a frustrated Vietnamese nationalist who hated the Chinese and adopted Communism only after he was rebuffed by the Americans. In fact, Ho became enamored with the dream of international Communism when he studied and worked in France and Russia while still a young man (1-31). Ngo Dinh Diem, by contrast, was a bright cultural conservative who welcomed advances in technology. Diem was a great man who bravely endured culturally-insensitive, dim-witted Americans (37-38), who turned out to be disloyal to him (115-16). Had it not been for their treacherous meddling, Diem likely could have led South Vietnam to victory. “Supporting the coup of November 1963” which resulted in the deaths of Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, “was by far the worst American mistake of the Vietnam War” (xvi). And, the much-maligned domino theory expressed by President Eisenhower and adopted by his successors was essentially sound (138-39).

Given his very different take on the main outline of the Vietnam War, it comes as no surprise that Moyar also reads the Battle of Ap Bac in a contrasting light. In his chapter devoted to the battle, Moyar offers an alternative view of at least four features in the story. First, John Paul Vann’s strategy for the battle was deeply flawed from the beginning. In the hours and days after the battle, Vann, a deceitful self-promoter, placed virtually all of the blame for the loss on the ARVN leadership and troops in order to cover his own responsibility. The Saigon troops were not guilty of complete cowardice and ineptitude. Second, when Vann bitterly complained about the ARVN, and also about his superior officers, young newsmen like David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan, none the wiser, took in his half-truths and reported the misrepresentation to the world. Moyar points out that journalist Richard Tregaskis, who had become famous for his World War II diaries, offered a different, much more positive and accurate view on what was happening in Vietnam. But tragically, the reports that came from the likes of Halberstam and Sheehan were read and believed by a large majority of Americans. This marked a significant difference between the foreign press that American military leaders dealt with during the Second World War and in Korea. While still a U.S. Army General, Dwight Eisenhower preferred to keep the news upbeat and optimistic, and the press, for the most part, cooperated. By contrast, the representatives of the press in Vietnam assumed that U.S. military leaders were either deluded or were cynically attempting to pull the wool over their eyes. Third, says Moyar, in spite of their victories at places like Ap Bac, the Viet Cong would never be strong in the Mekong Delta. Going up against superior fire power in rice paddies added up to an insurmountable problem for the VC. Moyar insists that the real theater of potential victory for the Communists was in the central highlands, much closer to North Vietnam (186-205).

Moyar concludes that, as it was with the entire Vietnam War, so it was with Ap Bac: the problems did not relate to the legitimacy or the fundamental goals of the United States. Rather, the decisive problems related to the execution of the war and its portrayal in the popular media.

With his title, Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War 1945-1975, published in 2009, John Prados unmistakably identifies himself as an orthodox historian of the war. What’s more, Prados insists that the critical points in his three-decade span of time were the early years:

"As will become evident, the core argument advanced here is that, whatever the intentions and aims of American leaders, the United States acted within a context defined along political, military, foreign policy, social, and economic dimensions--in effect, an “envelope”--and that envelope narrowed over time due to developments in all those fields" (xi).

Prados also believes that the wide variety and large number of histories related to the Vietnam War are essentially "atomized." They do not report a "unified field theory." Instead, one discusses U.S. presidential politics, another deals with a certain important battle, another examines the Diem regime, and so on. (In his bibliographical essay at the end of his book, Prados seems to think that if one of his predecessors had done a good job of writing something that approximated a unified field theory, it was the late Stanley Karnow).

Because Prados is convinced that whichever way the war turned, it was largely doomed by the end of the Eisenhower years, he does not give nearly as much attention to Ap Bac as does Moyar. Prados situates Ap Bac in the context of Diem’s incompetent behavior and decline, which led to his being murdered as U.S. officials stepped away from him:

"In January 1963 a fight took place at a village called Ap Bac in the delta. This time, despite ARVN’s considerable numerical superiority, as well as mechanized troops and helicopters courtesy of the United States, the PLAF unit not only stood its ground but actually defeated the attackers, who suffered many casualties. . . . Diem replaced neither of the responsible commanders. Kennedy had to notice. If strategic hamlets were to work, they had to be shielded by the ARVN. As for the adversary, the Liberation Front wasted no time exploiting Ap Bac as a psychological success, with propaganda to emulate, or replicate, the victory.  . . . Had Diem spent as much effort prosecuting the war and making his government a dynamic alternative to the NLF as he did countering antipathy toward the Ngo family, the military would have been no problem. Instead, the palace openly played with officer assignments and posts made desirable by opportunities for corruption" (75).

In this way, then, Prados’s discussion both assumes and advances his unequivocal judgment about the war in general. Clearly speaking directly to Moyar, he writes: “Triumph was not forsaken in Vietnam, nor victory lost; there was no day that the war was won, except for Hanoi on April 29, 1975, when its troops marched into Saigon” (546).

Historians will continue to debate the event and significance of the Battle of Ap Bac. It is also certain that they will continue to see the battle as either a turning point in the war or, giving it less significance, at least a reflection of larger, even more important movements as a tragic story in twentieth century military history unfolded.
 
Works Cited

Berman, Larry. Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An, Time Magazine Reporter and Vietnamese Communist Agent. New York: HarperCollins/Smithsonian, 2007.

Frankum, Ronald B., Jr. Historical Dictionary of the War in Vietnam. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2011.

Hammond, William M. Reporting Vietnam: Media and Military at War. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Moyar, Mark. Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Prados, John. Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 2009.

Sheehan, Neil. A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and American in Vietnam. New York: Vintage, 1989.

 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Job 38: A Brief Annotated Bibliography

A few days ago, I told a friend that he really shouldn't bookmark "Frankly Speaking."

So why would a blogger like me tell a friend that he'd be better off to stay away? Because, I told him, these days I'm using the blog as sort of a digital filing cabinet. What I've tucked away in draft form for a long time, I'm now posting for whatever it might be worth to someone else. As you'll see, this post fits that category.

What follows here is an annotated list of resources on the Book of Job in general, and on chapter 38 in particular. This is a bit spade work I took on several years ago while a student at Yale Divinity School. My goal was to provide a summary of and categorize a number of articles, book chapters, and commentaries. With that, here's what I came up with . . .

A. Journal Articles/Book Chapters I Found Helpful

1. Fox, Michael V. "Job 38 and God's Rhetoric," Semeia 19. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1981.

The author begins by arguing, in general, for the exegetical goal of identifying a text's authorial intent (ala E. D. Hirsch). The second half of this article shows how, in Job 38, the rhetorical style of God's questions has the effect of drawing in the listener. The result is that Job is able to "accept the speaker's claims out of his own consciousness rather than having the information imposed on him from the outside" (58). For what it's worth, this article points to an important question regarding the rhetorical purpose of the divine speeches at the end of Job. Do the divine speeches have the effect of obliterating proud Job? Or do they function to reorient the mind of confused Job? This question often comes up in the secondary literature. Also, the remainder of Semeia number 19 is dedicated to the study of Job 38 in the light of Paul Ricour's hermeneutics. As it turns out, the other articles in this volume do not have much at all to do with the exegesis of Job 38. That's why they aren't listed in this bibliography.

2. Jamieson-Drake, David W. "Literary Structure, Genre and Interpretation in Job 38." In The Listening Heart, edited by Kenneth G. Hoglund. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987: 217-35.

A detailed, penetrating analysis of the literary structure of Job 38. Some fine points on how the form of this text complements its function in the larger context of the Book of Job. Provides a table that shows the close verbal parallels between Job 38 and Psalms 104 and 147.

3. Vall, Gregory. "'From Whose Womb Did the Ice Come Forth?' Procreation Images in Job 38:28-29." Catholic Biblical Quarterly 57 (1995): 504-13.

Vall convincingly argues that the correct answer to God's first question in Job 38:28 is, "No, the rain has no father" (512). Further, "the three questions in our text should be answered as follows: 'No one begat the dew drops. The ice came forth from no one's womb. No one gave birth to the rime.'" (p. 512). The point of the text is that God is "directly responsible for bringing about these forms of water (cf. the verses immediately preceding our passage, 38:25-27), but his mode of bringing them about has no true analogue in the realm of human (much less animal) procreation" (p. 513). A splendid piece of exegetical work!

4. Wilcox, Karl G. "Who Is This . . . ? A Reading of Job 38:2" Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 78 (1998): 85-95.

Alas, the YDS copy of JSOT 78 could not be found. But, according to Old Testament Abstracts, here's what this articles is about: "Takes the third-person construction of Job 38:2 into account in order to show that it is Elihu that God judges as darkening counsel at the beginning of Job 38 and not Job. This reading argues that Elihu is judged at 38:2, and that the narrative supports God's final assessment of Job as one who has spoken the thing that is right. Job's repentance is viewed as an acknowledgment that while Job has been correct in his attempt to justify himself, he has erred in his demand that God must justify himself to man. In condemning Job, Elihu assumes the divine prerogative; consequently Elihu's justification of God results in a divine condemnation and exclusion from the closing sacrifices made by Job for the three friends."

B. Journal Articles/Book Chapters that were Interesting, but not as Helpful

1. Allison, Dale C. "What Was the Star that Guided the Magi?" Bible Review 9 (1993): 20-24, 63.

Takes Job 38:7 to be "synonymous parallelism" (i.e. morning stars = sons of God, or angels) which serves to advance the author's theory that the star that led the magi to the place where Jesus was born was an angel. The article is better and more convincing than you might imagine.

2. Cornelius, Izak. "The Sun Epiphany in Job 38:12-15 and the Iconography of the Gods in the Ancient Near East -- The Palestinian Connection." Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 16 (1990): 25-43.

Asserts that Palestinian iconography was the link between the iconographies of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Throws light on Job 38:12-15 by comparing its description of God with representations of the divine in art of that place and period.

3. Fox, Michael V. "Egyptian Onomastica and Biblical Wisdom." Vetus Testamentum 36 (1986): 302-10.

Argues, contra A. Alt and G. von Rad, that in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia there were no genuine onomastica (i.e., lists of nouns which would summarize a certain field of study like geography or zoology). The so-called Egyptian onomastica did not function as lexicons or encyclopedias, but as primers for those who were learning to write. At any rate, "There is no evidence for a 'science of lists' in ancient Israel" (308). Thus--and here's the exegetical point--such lists do not provide source material for passages like Job 38 or 1 Kings 5:10-14.

C. Four Big Modern Commentaries on the Book of Job

1. Gordis, Robert. The Book of Job. New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1978. xxxiii + 602 pp.

Wow! Contains the Hebrew text and an English translation of the entire Book of Job. Too, in the comments sections, quotations from the text are in Hebrew (i.e., not transliterated). The arrangement of the commentary is also very nice. For each section of Job, the Hebrew text and English translation are followed by notes, each note beginning with the chapter and verse numbers. Using this commentary, one could work through the text by translating one verse, comparing the translation by Gordis, reading his comment, and so on. Also, for quick reference, one can easily find the author’s comments on a particular verse. On Job 38, the Hebrew text, translation, and commentary amount to approximately sixteen pages. At the end of the book, there is a section (75 pp.) of 42 "Studies on the Language, Structure and Contents of Job." Here one will find such entries as "Special Note 33-The First Speech of The Lord (38:1-40:2)" (pp. 563-65). If price were no object, I would buy this one without thinking twice.

2. Habel, Norman C. The Book of Job. Old Testament Library. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985. 586 pp.

Sets out to provide "a literary and theological study of the text" (p. 9). Notwithstanding the alleged pre-history of the text, Habel treats the Book of Job as a literary unit. Offers a translation plus, I. Textual Notes, II. Design, and III. Message in Context. On Job 38, these four sections add up to about 25 pages. Does not offer a lot by way of comparative Semitics (like Pope), but will be much more helpful for those interested in literary and theological analysis.

3. Hartley, J. E. The Book of Job. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988. xiv + 591 pp.

This commentary stands in the tradition of evangelicalism. Though conservative, it acknowledges and explains other points of view. Very well researched. As with all the commentaries in this series, this work is heavily footnoted, which is bothersome to people like me who want to read everything the author has to say. Provides a ton of good bibliography.

4. Pope, Marvin H. Job. Anchor Bible. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1965. 409 pp.

A series of detailed notes which follow the author’s translation of the text. Translation and Notes on Job 38 take up sixteen pages of smaller print. The strength of this commentary is its philological analysis. On the other hand, if you’re looking to see something on the literary qualities, rhetoric, and theological import of the text, you’ll have to look elsewhere. For a good overview of the entire Book of Job, see the "Summary of the Content of Job," pp. xv-xxiii. As with the other sections of introduction, this is very helpful.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Meta Chestnutt and the Sunny South School

Sunny South School and Church, Minco, Indian Territory, early 1890s. Teacher Meta Chestnutt at left. At right is Kansas preacher D. T. Broadus (?) 

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Online Resources for the Study of Biblical Hebrew

The Internet contains a good number of sites designed to help students of Hebrew.  The following is a list of some of the better ones for beginners. Happy studying!

This is the homepage for Dr. Ralph Klein of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. Under his link to Biblical Studies, select Hebrew for some good links.

The entire Tanakh in Hebrew and English! Click on the book and then the chapter that you want to read. You can click on a tab to hear the passage read in Hebrew. So this site is great for practice.

This looks to be a great website. It includes a comic-book version of the Book of Jonah with Hebrew text that you can see and hear. Lots of other interesting links too.

This is the homepage of Dr. Ehud Ben Zvi of the University of Alberta in Canada. Click on the “Hebrew Bible” link. Then go to “Studying Biblical Hebrew” for a list of several links that should prove helpful.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Notes on "Divisions in North America: The Emergence of Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ," Chap. 5 in The Stone-Campbell Movement

"Divisions in North America: The Emergence of Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ," Chapter 5 in The Stone-Campbell Movement: A Global History (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2013): 76-93.

Overview of Contents

The chapter begins by noting that 1866 saw three important events:

(a) the death of Alexander Campbell
(b) the resumption of the Gospel Advocate
(c) the beginning of the Christian Standard.

For many years Campbell had worked to smooth over rifts in the Movement he presided over. But division, signaled by the content of the Advocate and the Standard, led to the recognition of two separate bodies: Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ, a division "documented by the 1906 U.S. Census of Religious Bodies" (76).

Tolbert Fanning imbibed the "apocalyptic" worldview of B. W. Stone, and the biblical primitivism of A. Campbell. Fanning, in turn, deeply influenced young David Lipscomb. Their outlook, combined with a strong sectional bias, generated among the Southern churches an opposition to

(a) missionary societies
(b) instrumental music in Christian worship
(c) the called, resident preacher system.

By contrast, Disciples, those in the North, misunderstood and rejected the Southern emphasis on what appeared to be doctrinal tests of fellowship based on identification of and adherence to scriptural positive law. Northerners emphasized a theme found in both The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery and Thomas Campbell's Declaration and Address: that "compulsory confessions of faith" are "a source of religious tyranny and division" (80).

"Two events symbolized the growing divergence of outlook in the Movement" (81). Those two events were

(a) the publication of the Sand Creek, Illinois, "Address and Declaration." Closely connected with the leadership of Daniel Sommer, this document wrote out those guilty of embracing and retaining "innovations." Significantly, both J. H. Garrison, editor of the Christian-Evangelist and Lipscomb, editor of the Advocate, condemned the document.
(b) the General Christian Missionary Convention held in Nashville in October 1892. Lipscomb attended and came away with much to criticize. As he put it, the event was "an open, defiant rejection of God and his holy word" (81).

Those in charge of the U.S. Religious Census perceived the rift and began to ask questions. When Lipscomb published an official query and his own responses in the Gospel Advocate, J. H. Garrison responded in disbelief in the pages of the Christian-Evangelist. To Garrison, Lipscomb's editorial was a power grab and a throwing down of the gauntlet. To Lipscomb, it was simply a matter of answering a direct question truthfully and offering clarity.

The authors note that "[t]he division reflected in the census data cut across racial lines" (82). They tell the stories of two black leaders, Alexander Campbell and S. W. Womack. Both parted from the society/instrument Christian churches in Nashville and eventually began the Jackson Street Church of Christ, "the 'mother church' of African American Churches of Christ" (83). Campbell and Womack recruited G. P. Bowser, an A.M.E. Church minister, who, beginning in 1897, left the Methodists for the Christian Church, and finally united with the Jackson Street Church. Bowser initiated the Christian Echo, and was involved in the establishment of the Silver Point Christian Institute at Silver Point, TN in 1907. From Jackson Street came one of the great evangelists of black Churches of Christ, S. W. Womack's son-in-law, Marshall Keeble.

The authors observe that the 1906 Census both defined the previously-existing division and prompted congregations to choose a side. "In the impoverished and defeated South, most members of the Stone-Campbell Movement identified faithfulness to Christ as obedience to the positive commands of the New Testament. In the prosperous and victorious North, most Stone-Campbell Christians identified faithfulness as trust in the person of Christ" (84).

Several intellectual and social currents (e.g., Darwinism) were felt most strongly in the prosperous, urbanizing North. Perhaps most significant among these was biblical higher criticism. In response to higher-critical theories, conservatism was personified by J. W. McGarvey. On the left were leaders like E. B. Cake, Alexander Procter, and most notably, Robert C. Cave. In December 1889, Cave preached a sermon, published in the St. Louis Republic under the title "Clerical Sensation," in which he denied the virginal conception and bodily resurrection of Jesus. J. H. Garrison, who had taken a moderate view on matters of higher criticism, believed that Cave has crossed a line. While condemning Cave's views, Garrison attempted to maintain both faithfulness to the core message and healthy spirit of inquiry. 

Another moderate like Garrison was Isaac Errett. He was willing to affirm Christ as "the foundation of faith," and believed that the Bible was "a reliable guide." But notably, Errett would not affirm that the Bible was free from error, and refused to apply the word "infallible" to the Scriptures.

Such struggles among the predominately-northern Disciples generated "conservatives, liberals, and moderates." Some, like B.B. Tyler, W. T. Moore, and Samuel H. Church, the grandson of Walter Scott, were much more liberal and ecumenical in outlook than were others, like J. A. Lord, editor of the Standard, and H. G. Allen, editor of the Old Path Guide.

Churches of Christ also exhibited three distinct groupings:

(a) "the Tennessee Tradition, led by David Lipscomb and James A. Harding"
(b) "the Indiana Tradition, led by Daniel Sommer"
(c) "the Texas Tradition, led by Austin McGary" (89).

These three--named for origin, but not necessarily designating territorial dominance--vied for influence among Churches of Christ as the twentieth century unfolded. Each held sets of values that sometimes overlapped with one or both of the others, but on other points stood opposed.

The Tennessee Tradition "represented a fusion of the apocalyptic and positive law traditions of the Stone-Campbell Movement" (89). Indiana "shared the Tennessee Tradition's antipathy toward sophistication, worldliness, and the power of industrialists" (90). But unlike both Tennessee or Texas, Indiana took an even stronger stand against institutionalism, while upholding what were called the "rights, privileges, and duties" of women in Christian assemblies. The Texas Tradition was best-known for its rejection of any baptism that was not known by the candidate to be "for the remission of sins."

The chapter closes with the note that some leaders, like T. B. Larimore and Frederick D. Kershner, maintained a commitment to ignoring what they regarded as divisive issues.

Comments and Questions

1. When it comes to the historiography I'm acquainted with and presentations I've heard, it's clear that this chapter picks up and applies the term "apocalyptic" as it was used by R. Hughes in Reviving the Ancient Faith (1996). Hughes employed the term to describe the worldview of the Stoneite Movement. Similarly, the chapter borrows the three-fold variety (Tennessee, Texas, and Indiana) within emerging Churches of Christ that has been noticed and so named by J. M. Hicks and B. Valentine.

2. For reasons I have a hard time articulating, I've never thought that "apocalyptic" was the best word for what Hughes was describing. Now nearly twenty years later, in the wake of cultural items such as the spoof film This is the End, I like "apocalyptic" even less. Has/can anyone suggest an alternative word or phrase that would be a better fit and supplant the old term that is now semantically beyond the point of popping?

3. Significantly I suppose, this chapter ignores Hughes' suggestion in Reviving the Ancient Faith that the two branches described are partially the result of a change in A. Campbell. In 1837, he debated the Roman Catholic Bishop Purcell and thus became a popular defender of Protestantism over against Catholicism. As I recall, Hughes sees Churches of Christ as the heirs of the pre-1837 "sectarian" Campbell, with Disciples being the heirs of the post-1837, "ecumenical" Campbell (my terms in scare quotes, not necessarily Hughes'). To what extent is that an accurate and useful interpretation of the division?

4. It's much safer to agree that the authors have rightly picked up and used the work of D. E. Harrell, Jr. regarding sectional aspects of the division.

5. If I could add a potential footnote to the final section of the chapter, it would be the cooperation in Indian Territory between Meta Chestnutt (a North Carolina Disciple who received assistance from the ACMS) and R. W. Officer (an evangelist from Tennessee who opposed the societies and who was published more in the Octographic Review than in any other journal). As I recently discovered, they both knew and had significant contact with T. B. Larimore, who traveled to I.T. in order to encourage them and their work.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Meta Chestnutt Sager, Notification of Selection for the Oklahoma Hall of Fame



The following is (1) a transcript of a letter sent from Scott P. Squyres, Secretary of the Oklahoma Memorial Association to Meta Chestnutt Sager. Dated Aug. 1, 1939, the letter notifies her that, later that year, she would be inducted in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. (2) Sager then responded with a hand-written letter dated Oct. 5, 1939.

If have transcribed these two letters "as is," with typographical errors, misspellings, etc. as they appear in the original. The photo above pictures Meta, at right, and a friend.  --Frank Bellizzi
___________________________________________

Aug. 1, 1939

Mrs. Minta Sager,
Chickasha, Okla.

My dear Mrs. Sager:

It is my happy privilege to inform you that the Oklahoma Memorial Association has chosen you as an Oklahoman whose outstanding service and achievements in helping to build Oklahoma and advance humanity entitles you to a place in Oklahomas' Hall of Fame.  The Oklahoma Memorial Association sponsors this selection to Oklahomas' Hall of Fame each year for Statehood Day on November 16.

This honor comes to but few.  Please acknowledge receipt of this message and your acceptance to be honored.  We are inviting you to be our guest at the Statehood Day Banquet on Thursday November 16, 7:30 P.M. at the Oklahoma Builtmore Hotel, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  During the evening through impressive and proper ceremony you will be inducted into the Oklahoma's Hall of Fame.

Your immediate reply will be very much appreciated, together with a Thumbnail Biography Sketch of your life activities together with a picture for publication in the press.  Also please advise us just how you desire your name to appear upon the certificate to be presented to you at this ceremony.

May we caution you not to give out for publication, or to anyone, any information that you have been chosen. We make this request for the reason that we want to give this information to all the papers throughout the State at once, then they will all publish it at one time, while if your local paper gives it out the other papers will likely not publish the story.

Please be sure to state if you can be present for this ceremony because we want to make proper plans.

May I congratulate you upon this honor.  We will expect an early reply.  With kind good wishes, I am

Most sincerely,

Scott P. Squyres,
Secretary.

SPS:am

___________________________________________

1528 South 7th St.
Chickasha, Okla.
Oct. 5, 1939

Scott P. Squyres,
Secretary,
1202 Ramsey Tower
Oklahoma City, Okla.

Dear Sir:

Yours of Aug. 1st is received. I assure you that its unexpected offer to bestow upon me such an honor fairly shocked me.

I have tried never to bring reproach upon my father's name, nor upon the name of my adopted state. I have sought no renown, but always considered the reward to be in the dowing.

Most assuredly I will gratefully accept such a royal honor from such an august body.

Most respectfully,
Mrs. M. C. Sager

P.S. I had to write longhand. I have been in bed ill since July 4th. Still in bed but sit up in bed and do some little things. Improving rapidly now.

I'll be 76 Sept. 8, 1939

Been waiting on the photographer to find a negative. If he cant find a recent negative can you make a reduced size to suit your purpose? I have the picture I would like you to use, it is 3 yrs. old, but a perfect likeness.
Mrs. Sager.

P.S  could send that right away

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Notes on Robert A. Orsi, Madonna of 115th Street

Orsi, Robert Anthony. The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.

The following are my notes on the title listed above. In a few minutes, you can get an overview of the contents of this book. The introduction and successive chapter titles appear in bold print.

Introduction: Popular Religion and Italian Harlem

Orsi begins by explaining, "This is a study of religion in the streets. It is the story of a religious celebration, the annual festa of the Madonna of Mount Carmel on East 115th Street in New York City, . . . " (xiii).

He states that there are two senses of the word religion: (1) rituals, practices, symbols, prayers, statements of faith, creeds, etc., and (2) what really matters to people: their cosmology, the collection of their ultimate values, what they deeply care about. Naturally, this raises the question: So how does a historian get at (2)? Orsi says that there are basically two ways: (a) you talk with and ask people and (b) you observe, you watch people.

"The main subject of this study, then, is the history of the devotion to and the festa in honor of the Madonna of 115th Street and its place in the religious life of the people who lived in the tenements, shopped in the stores, courted in the parks, and walked the streets around la casa della Madonna in Italian Harlem" (xxi).

Orsi says that when conducting his research, he had some secondary interests as well:

1. To analyze a modern, urban religious experience. How to do that?
2. To make a contribution to the understanding of Catholicism. Orsi notes that official spokesmen for Catholicism often speak of only a slice of what that religion actually does and is all about.
3. To offer a social history of a religious symbol.
4. To show how popular religion serves as the sacred theater of a community like Italian Harlem.

1. The Days and Nights of the Festa

An engaging description of the festa. Pilgrimage to the church took place on July 16th, but special events carried on for days. People came to Italian Harlem from all over the Northeast U.S., and even farther away. The devotional activities were extravagant: candles that weighed as much as a man, wax body-part replicas, expensive outfits, plenty of food and drink. Orsi says that he wants to get at what this meant, what it was all about.

2. Italian Harlem

Italian Harlem was upper east side Manhattan. Italians came there from the old country and also from lower Manhattan. Orsi provides a good section on the realities and hardships of immigration. Many of the first immigrants were single men, working enough to either return to their families in Italy with money, or to send remittances on which their relatives could survive and eventually buy passage to America.  The author emphasizes how vulnerable immigrants were and how hard they worked. Italian immigrants were often despised by other ethnic groups in New York because the Italians were used by labor to end strikes. Apparently, Italians were hired to take the place of striking workers. They were much more desperate for work, willing to labor under all sorts of conditions.

Orsi emphasizes the slum character of Italian Harlem. It was overcrowded and conditions were poor. A very high rate of infant mortality in that part of the city. As Italians began to do better for themselves, they would sometimes move out to the Bronx or to Astoria Queens.

3. The Origins of the Devotion to Mount Carmel in Italian Harlem

The author describes the beginnings of the festa in the early 1880s. He notes especially how the status of the Madonna matched the status of her devotees. Orsi states that origins go back to the earliest mutual aid societies in Italian Harlem. He describes how that feste were very important in Italian-American Catholicism. The feste, and the Italians who held and participated in them, were looked down on and condemned by Irish Catholics. It should be remembered that the feste were largely conducted by the laity. Italian American Catholic clergy were also no fans of the feste. But the Catholic Church depended on the Italians because of the large contributions they made to feste societies.

Orsi says that there were really three festas of the Madonna on 115th Street: the one that took place inside the church under the direction of the Catholic clergy, the one that took place in the streets and had next to nothing to do with official Catholic teaching or liturgy; and the one that was somewhere in between the first two, and which was expressed in both the church and in the streets (p. 59).

In 1903-04, the Madonna of 115th Street was elevated by authorities in Rome from the status of a shrine to that of a sanctuary. This has occurred in only three places in the New World: New Orleans, Mexico, and 115 Street in Harlem. Orsi explains the Vatican's motives for doing this: the move appealed to Italians in America and sent a signal to American Catholic leaders that, although they looked down on the popular practices and devotional activities of Italian Americans, they were not in charge of the American church.

At the end of the chapter, Orsi describes the decline of the festa in Harlem; how that on 115th St. it went from a situation where a festa had a church, to one where a church had a festa. Italian Americans were moving out of the old neighborhood, going to places like the Bronx, New Jersey, and Westchester.

4. The Domus-Centered Society

An interesting chapter on the family as a near or virtual religion in Italian culture: Sunday gathering of the group was expected; people could be "excommunicated" for certain infractions, etc. This was reinforced by a kind of anti clericalism among Italians. Good section on the significance of rispetto (esp. 92-93).

5. Conflicts in the Domus

Emphasizes inter-generational conflicts; those between immigrants who had been born and raised in Italy and their American-born children. Rules and norms of the older generation seemed quaint and suffocating to the much-more-American second generation.

Also, conflicts within the domus that impacted particularly women. Wives and mothers were granted a large measure of authority within the home, although they were submissive in public. Seems like what Orsi is getting at is that men insisted on public authority, but that they did not accept an equal measure of responsibility at home. That burden fell to the wife and mother, who typically worked night and day, and who appealed to and empowered the eldest son to carry out her orders in public. (Was this because she resented her husband for this abdication?) Single women had virtually no autonomy.

6. Toward an Inner History of Immigration

Orsi describes the anxieties and paradoxes of the immigrant experience. They wanted to be free from desperate poverty. They came to America and met with back-breaking work, unscrupulous bosses, etc. There was the tug and pull of leaving Italy, and then wondering if it was the right decision. They had grandiose visions of what New York would be like, and were bitterly disappointed. They had not anticipated that they could not simply come to America and make money without America changing them and their families. After immigration, impoverished village or farm life in Italy seemed wholesome and preferable to the dark and hard, unhealthy life in the huge city.

7. The Meanings of the Devotion to the Madonna of 115th Street

A. The Madonna was seen as the person, the power who brought people together from across great distances, and who cared for and protected people who were distant.

B. The Madonna "was a visible link between Italy and East Harlem" (168).

C. The experience of the festa put Italians in touch with their "preverbal environment" (171). Orsi focuses on the combined power of sights, sounds, and smells. He also mentions the significance of scapulars.

D. "Participation in the celebration of the feste and worship of the summarizing symbol of the Madonna  became the nexus between the individual domus and the neighborhood in Italian Harlem" (178). Orsi mentions, among other things, the assertion of Italian presence and pride during the processions which marked off the boundaries of the Italian community in East Harlem.

E. "The community reveals itself to itself" says Orsi. One example he gives: Through volunteer projects for the purpose of enhancing, beautifying the church on 115th Street, the community became aware of what it could do. Also, the festa was a community expression of the solidarity of that group, a time of heightened awareness of and commitment to their interconnection.

F. Orsi says that devotion to the Madonna of 115th Street was partially the result of American Catholicism's rejection of the culture of Italian immigrants. Thus, the Italian community turned to the Madonna as a sort of alternative to a church that did not accept them.

G. Orsi says that the "sense world" of the festa was the context in which healing in the Italian community was effectual.

H. "The festa of the Madonna of Mount Carmel announced that the entire texture of Italian humanity was good, that these people's needs and styles of organizing their inner and outer lives were good" (196).

8. The Theology of the Streets

A wordy condensation and summary of the book. It makes sense, but it's still hard to get a handle on this book, whose points are sometimes slippery and amorphous.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Wills Family Come to Amarillo

We were encouraged and inspired this evening. The Wills Family visited the Church of Christ at the Colonies here in Amarillo. This family has been blessed with incredible talent. And they sing their hearts out, in that great tradition called Southern Gospel, so that God will be honored, and His people blessed. Special thanks to Darrell Bledsoe, music minister at the Colonies, for arranging this time of praise.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Faith, Fear, and Recent Immigrants to the U.S.

In important ways, Bruce B. Lawrence's book New Faiths, Old Fears: Muslims and Other Asian Immigrants in American Religious Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), updates the conversation that began in previous chapters of American religious history and historiography. What does Lawrence mean by "new faiths"? He means religions that in significant numbers are new to the United States as a result of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. All of them are identified with Asia. Specifically, they are Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Sikhism.

In what sense does the obvious presence of recent immigrants from Asia provoke "old fears"? Basic to Lawrence's argument is the idea that "out-groups in the United States have been marginalized by both race and class" and that "both markers continue to elide in subtle but insidious new forms of prejudice" (15). In other words, in relation to the dominant Anglo group in the United States, the experiences of Asian and Hispanic immigrants mirror the experiences of nonimmigrant minority groups, namely Native and African Americans (8). Lawrence's observation is the basis for a key phrase that comes up repeatedly in this book: "racialized class prejudice." The meaning of this phrase begins with the racial group that occupies the bottom of "an unspoken U.S. hierarchical social order," namely, African Americans. Lawrence asserts that because of a "persistent biracial patterning of norms and values" in the U.S., Asians, Hispanics, and American Indians are thereby implicated because they are not white (10).

Basic to Lawrence's prescription for this new and partly-unique scenario are two key terms. The first is "polyvalence," which, he insists, is different from diversity. While diversity refers to "a myriad of changing forms," polyvalence involves "the plumbing of depths within each form" (9). In essence, Lawrence advocates the abandonment of an outdated, two-dimensional model and the adoption of something more like a three-dimensional model that is more equal to the tasks of understanding the present American reality and charting a course for the American future.

Lawrence's second key term is "kaleidoculture" which he intends, above all, to serve as "the alternative to multiculturalism" (9). Here, the significant difference is that while "multiculturalism" presupposes that the simple fact of many cultures is an inherent good, "kaleidoculture" intends to evoke "a changing spectrum of cultural values and experiences, each set of which is bright and scintillating, worthy of attention, examination, and appreciation as well as debate, critique, and transformation" (9). Again, the contrast between two- versus three-dimensional comes to mind.

In order to frame and illustrate his main point, in Chapter 1, Lawrence begins with what he calls "A Tale of Two Professors." They were Diana Eck and Samuel P. Huntington, both of Harvard. According to the vision cast by Eck, religious differences should represent a cross-cultural dialogue, one that people should join and encourage. The very different vision cast by Huntington was that religion was at the root of a mounting war not between nation-states, but between civilizations. Lawrence critiques both visions as being far too simplistic to account for and provide any sort of feasible prescription for the future. He sees and hopes for a mid-twenty-first century United States where "neither the alarmist predictions of Huntington nor the dialogic preferences of Eck will prevail" (44). Instead, there will be, or at least could be, in America a "polyvalent kaleidoculture" which will contain "fungible subgroups of Americans, all polyvalent, neither minority or majority, just American" (45).

In subsequent chapters, Lawrence makes a number of telling observations, all of them designed to either highlight the need for an alternative vision or to commend the vision he offers. Along the way, he notes that non-governmental organizations, which stand at the center of a civil society, need not be thoroughly-secular. He says that religiously-oriented NGOs can and do, in fact, work quite well in civil societies in nations such as Turkey, Indonesia, and Senegal (Chapter 2). Lawrence also notes that racialized class prejudice has the effect of creating pariahs out of new immigrants (Chapter 3). Such is partially responsible for the ironically-low number of religious options for new immigrants to the United States. Many of them, such as recent immigrants from Iran, choose not to practice Islam in America (Chapter 4).

Nearing the end of his book, Lawrence laments that although Roman Catholics and Jews have been more or less successfully grafted onto the tree of what Henry May called "Progressive Patriotic Protestantism," Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs are still excluded. His sermonic final paragraph brings together and advocates his prescription:

[T]he challenge for American courts and schools and government agencies . . . is to affirm polyvalence, to admit that difference is not just possible but healthy, and at the same time to work for a kaleidoculture, to have every building block in the future of American society given its worth and its place in the land of the free and the home of brave. Who are the free? Who will dare to be brave? Every American, not just those with the privilege and power and history to claim America as their, not others' homeland, but also Asians and Latinos who share, with African Americans and Amerindians, a dream that America's future is greater than its past. Progressive Protestant Patriots will have to move over and share the dream with other Americans who are not less patriotic or progressive because they happen not to be Protestant or Anglo. Polyvalence will succeed because it must (144).

Going forward, it will be interesting to see if something like the program described here will be implemented and will succeed.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Some Time with Bill Humble


Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to share lunch and to spend some time with Dr. Bill Humble, well-known among Churches of Christ as a historian, teacher, author, and international tour guide. For many years, he taught and served as an administrator at Abilene Christian University.

So what is he up to these days? At nearly 87 years old, he still walks about a mile and a half every morning, six days a week. When the weather is bad, he uses the treadmill.

He has given away almost all of his personal library. Only a few dozen volumes remain. He says that his days of deep study are over. He doesn't actively research anything anymore. That sort of thing "no longer holds the same attraction" for him. Of course, he reads a little, mostly in books or magazines that are available in large print. It helps that the head of the nearby branch of the public library just happens to be one of his former students. She is able to get him a large-print copy of most any book he wants to read.

He told me that he spends some time almost every day working on his memoirs. His daughter insisted that he write up at least some of his remarkable experiences. But he emphasized that these would be only for his immediate family. With that, he read to me a beautiful passage about how he, a first-year college student from the hills of Missouri, sat and listened as 70-year-old N. B. Hardeman spoke about his time in the Holy Land. That, said Bill, was the beginning of many trips that he would eventually make to Israel and to other parts of the world.

His wife, Geraldine "Jerry" Humble, died in March of this year. Their son, Eric, passed away about three years ago. It can't be easy for Bill anymore. Yet he remains cheerful and his mind is still sharp. I sat and talked with him, feeling lucky, thankful for the opportunity to be in the presence of this great man.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"El Meta Bond College"

Meta Chestnutt Sager (1863-1948)

In the following poem by Meta Chestnutt, the pioneer educator makes clear her theology and conviction regarding co-education:

We stand on the open prairie,
Our grounds ten acres broad;
Minco to southward and eastward,
Along the Rock Island Railroad.

The site in the Chickasaw Nation,
Three miles from O.T. line;
Looks out over boundless prairies,
Where browse the lowing kine.

The work which our school proposes
Invites the girl and boy,
God gave them both in one family,
Shall man that union destroy?

Away the fad of temptation,
That co-education defiles;
Is the rose less pure and fragrant
Because of the thorn by its side.

Then welcome the youth of both sexes,
Change not heaven's eternal decree;
But side by side in life's conflict,
Till ended, their mission be.

El Meta Bond College in Minco, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, c. 1895

Thursday, July 11, 2013

R. W. Officer's Obituary for N. B. Wallace: Text and Comments

Immediately after his conversion to Christ, during the early to mid 1870s, R. W. Officer cast his lot with the Baptists of southern Middle Tennessee, and northern Alabama and Mississippi. In that region, he served as a preacher and missionary for the Liberty Baptist Association. The Association was affiliated with a highly-sectarian group of Baptists who looked to preachers who had the blessing of J[ames] R[obinson] Graves, and who subscribed to his journal, The Baptist.

In time, Officer would publicly be rejected by some in that group, including their impressive leader, Graves. While still with the Baptists, Officer was sometimes derided as a "Campbellite." Eventually, he would be adopted by the Churches of Christ.

Historians have puzzled over Officer's religious views and identity. Besides the Bible itself, what were the influences in his life? It appears that during the time of his transition, Officer was taught and mentored by a handful of leaders among the Churches of Christ. These included Jesse Turner Wood, Murrell Askew, and perhaps also T. B. Larimore. But above all, the man who led and encouraged young Officer was Dr. N. B. Wallace, Sr. of Limestone County, Alabama. A quarter century after he first met Wallace, R. W. Officer wrote the following obituary for the Gospel Advocate.

* * * * * * * * * *

My father in the gospel, Dr. N. B. Wallace, heard the call, Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord, and accepted the invitation on the evening of December 27 last. He first saw the light of day near Decatur, Ala., on February 28, 1828. He obeyed the gospel at the tender age of seventeen years, graduated at the age of twenty-one years in Cincinnati, and spent his time for the good of others in the practice of medicine and preaching the gospel. Death can never mar the beauty of the life he lived. Its terror was at a distance; when unmasked, it showed to him a smiling face. The dome of thought, the palace of the soul, sleeps quietly at Athens, Ala. Dr. A. C. Henry and Brother Miller were with Sister Wallace, the dear children, relatives, and friends to comfort them with the blessed promises of our Redeemer. The fact that the spirit has returned to God, who gave it, and that the light of an eternal day is his, and joy and gladness for evermore, is a gentle reproof to pale sorrow that sits weeping at the home of our noble dead. We are glad that the shadow that death has cast over the souls of the living cannot dim the light of hope or frustrate that faith that overcomes the world. Like the flower that goes to sleep with the setting sun, he closed his eyes, and death was done; for to him it had no sting, and by faith in Christ the grave had lost its victory. Death waits on all, but waits for none. Let us be ready, as he was, to accept the invitation to come up higher. The day he was taken sick he turned to his faithful wife and said: Ada, the parting will be sad. The parting is over now; in gladness, hope for the meeting over there. He was called to the mansion prepared at eight o'clock in the evening. Think not of the dead, but of the living; for he lives with God and the angels. Let the thoughts of sadness sleep with him, and rejoice evermore in the light of the hope of the redemption of our bodies.

There is never a day so dreary
     But God can make it bright;
And unto the should that trust him,
     He giveth songs in the night.
There is never a path so hidden
     But God will show the way,
If we seek for the Spirit's guidance,
     And patiently watch and pray.
There is never a cross so heavy
     But the loving hands are there,
Outstretched in tender compassion
     The burden to help us bear.
There is never a heart that is broken
     But the loving Christ can heal,
For the heart that was pierced on Calvary
     Doth still for his people feel.
There is never a life so burdened,
     So hopeless, and so unblessed,
But may be filled with the light of God,
     And enter his promised rest.
There is never a sin or a sorrow,
     There is never a care or a loss,
But we may carry to Jesus,
     And leave at the foot of the cross.
What more can we ask than he's promised?
     And we know that his word cannot fail--
Our refuge when storms are impending,
     Our help when temptations assail;
Our Savior, our Friend, and Redeemer;
     Our portion on earth and in heaven;
For he who withheld not his own dear Son
     Hath with him all things freely given.

R. Wallace Officer, Atoka, I.T.
Gospel Advocate, January 26, 1899, p. 63.