Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Vacations, Reading, the Civil War & Memorization

Well, we are back from a much needed vacation. As much as I enjoyed the time away, it is good to be "back in the saddle" with Lost Cause Ministries, Informed Evangelist and the book business.

Last week we went on vacation to San Angelo, TX. We were blessed with some good family time and some time to enjoy the great outdoors of West Texas. The end of July is not usually the best time to go on vacation, but it was the only time I could get away for a solid week. At the State Park, where we camped in an air conditioned cabin, we saw roadrunners, prairie dogs, the State herd of bison and longhorn steer, hummingbirds, deer, snakes, black tailed jackrabbits, and a skunk. We managed to do a couple of hikes through the interesting terrain in the mornings, before it got too hot. In the evenings, we went to an isolated ridge and watched the sunset behind a picturesque plateau. While we were in the area we visited Fort Concho (Indian wars), the Indian paintings at Paint Rock, and had some incredible Mexican home-made ice cream.

I had a chance to do a little booking while we were in town. San Angelo has a few used bookstores. Two of them are the garden variety paperback exchange type shops, but I still managed to scrounge up an Advance Reading Copy of Richard Bradford’s first book, “Red Sky at Morning” as well as a limited edition of a book on Texas history, printed in San Angelo. But the best find was in the reputable “Cactus Book Shop”. This shop specializes in the Southwest and in Texas in particular, both fiction and non-fiction. The owner is friends with the prolific Western\Texas author, Elmer Kelton (whom I once met in Fort Worth) who lives in the San Angelo area and who drops by the shop to chat with the owner and sign books. It is a wonderful shop to visit and the owner is very knowledgeable. In my never-ending search for the titles printed by the Modern Library, I scoured his Modern Library section and was surprised to find a small collection of Modern Library reprints which were once owned by Fred and Tommie Gipson, with their inscriptions and address labels on the endpapers. Fred Gipson is the author of the classic book into film and classic TX juvenile, “Old Yeller.” Gipson wrote a couple of other juvenile dog stories set in Texas, but he was also a serious author of Texas non-fiction. The prices were reasonable, so I bought them all. The owner had a framed invitation to the Gipson’s wedding hanging on the wall, so the provenance is very good on these titles. I’m going to take my time with these and sell some of them since one of my specialties is Texas fiction and literature, but I’m going to keep a few as well, for my own modern library collection.

During the trip I caught up on some reading as well. I've been reading through J. William Jones' "Christ in the Camp", the fascinating story of the revival which took place in the Confederate Army (specifically, the Army of Northern VA) during the Civil War. I dabble a little bit in Civil War history, but as a born and bred Yankee, I was taught that the South was pretty much evil in their cause. Certainly, slavery WAS a horrible evil in America. As an antiquarian bookseller, I've had some pretty scarce abolitonist material, including Frederick Douglass' autobiography and a book signed by the guy who bankrolled John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. A guy named "Joshua Speed" was Abraham Lincoln's best friend and I've always been an admirer of Lincoln, and not just because I share Joshua's last name.

However, it's pretty clear that men like Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee were devout Christians and not the garden variety false converts that we have in evangelical American Christianity today. They not only supported, but encouraged the revival and spiritual growth of their men. They were good friends of the chaplains, supporters of the colporters (evangelists) who came through the camps, and both had deep walks with the Lord. Jackson's walk with Christ is most impressive. Some of his men thought him crazy because of his constant attitude of prayer. One of his main concerns was the evangelization of his men.

Compare this with the leaders of the Union armies: Grant was an alcoholic, Sherman was downright brutal, and Grant's predecessors in his position were egomaniacs. I've been blessed reading "Christ in the Camp", but especially by the early chapter on Stonewall Jackson. I love the movie "Gods and Generals" which focuses on Jackson, and which is very accurate historically, in spite of Ted Turner's atheism. Jackson's life is one that I want to emulate. He was a bold leader of men, but only because of what his humble walk before God.

He fought on the wrong side regarding the slavery issue, but seeing what's become of our federal government one can't help but wonder if the South had the right idea about the issue of states rights. Considering the financial prosperity of the South these days compared to the relatively depressed North (e.g. Detroit, New York State) it's easy to see how less governmental interference has brought a more stable economy here. The War may have been a judgment of God on our nation for ALL of the evils of our nation's birth (slavery, the extermination of the Native Americans, etc.); we lost more men in the Civil War than in all of our other wars COMBINED. More than 625,000. But this does not diminish the wisdom of stronger state's rights that the South fought for.

I also read a great little book on the importance of Scripture memorization by N.A. Woychuk. This is a discipline that I have neglected. I've memorized Scriptures over the past few years, but not purposefully. I have a good memory and can memorize single verses that I use without being very systematic about it. But the Lord has given me this memory for a reason and I need to develop it even further. So, I've begun memorizing chapters as well as verses on evangelism from the School of Biblical Evangelism. I'm using a software program to help which has been fun and very, very helpful. You can check it out here.

Well, those are my thoughts for today. Time to get back to work. Thanks for reading.


Trevor said...

Beyond question, there was evil in the slave trade. Personally, I would add that although slavery was allowed in the Bible, 1) it was not necessarily the best way to do things, and 2) it was a rather different institution from what we saw in the American colonies and early states, at least as laid out in the Torah.

That said, to boil down the War Between the States to the one issue of abolitionism is to oversimplify things. From what I can tell, there were sincere abolitionists, and then there were those with another agenda, who used slavery as an excuse to claim the moral high ground. It seems to me that the usual way of things is that the latter sort--the opportunists--are usually those with the real power. The best moral causes can hope for is that they will be considered expedient within someone else's agenda, at least long enough to get something done about it.

But then you have to take the bad with the good. Slavery was abolished (nominally), but at what cost? The Southern states may enjoy a bit more freedom from Federal control these days than their Northern counterparts, but it doesn't seem like much. The balance of power between the Fed and the states was decidedly tipped in favor of central government, and it's grown with time.

It also meant the slow death of the Southern agrarian lifestyle, and with it the erosion of conservative and Christian values. And today we have something we call "diversity," which is mostly imposed on us from above and brings with it a host of new problems, while we've lost the natural diversity of a nation where input to the political process came from sections with decidedly different character and emphasis.

I can't say what I would have done if I'd lived back then, but it's hard for me to judge those who fought for the South. Whatever their personal views on slavery--whatever their personal relationship with slaves--it seems to me like they were fighting for something a whole lot bigger and more complicated, and something about which I can't help but feel just a little bit nostalgic.

Jon Speed said...

Thanks for your comments, Trevor. Very insightful. Clearly, it was not solely a war over slavery; that was made a bigger issue when Lincoln released the Emancipation Proclamation.