Kingdom Grace Judgment

Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of JesusKingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus by Robert Farrar Capon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wish I had read the book years ago. Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus deals with many of the “hard sayings” of Jesus – his most challenging parables. Capon’s interpretations are new to me; especially interesting is his assertion that Jesus’ parables increasingly focused on death as he nears Jerusalem.
Capon unrelentingly pushes one theme: Jesus’ concern with the “least, last, lost, littlest,” and dead. He is willing to push his thesis to its logical extremes. Somewhere in my recent reading I came across the hymn line “Lay your deadly doing down.” I’m not sure if it was this book or Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters, but it certainly fits in the spirit of KGJ. For Capon, the Pharisee and the publican epitomize the centrality of death in Jesus’ teachings. It is not, as it is usually interpreted, a lesson on the virtue of humility. It is the contrast between the dead man who knows he’s dead and the dead man who insists he’s alive. And the one telling the story knows that he soon will be as dead as both of them. For a few days.
Some of Capon’s statements are actually quite shocking – to the point of seeming blasphemous. As one Goodreads reviewer says, “Robert Farrar Capon is a cheery old semi-Marcionite, and an unvarnished antinomian.” To which, Capon would undoubtedly reply, “Guilty as charged” (at least to the antinomian part), and then quote Romans 8:1.
KGJ its flaws: for one thing, Capon paraphrases many of the parables in modern language, which gets tiresome after a while. But these are worth the revelations and surprises the book has to offer.

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Capon on resurrection and new creation

To be sure, the resurrection and the ascension are not simply miraculous events. They are not just divine irruptions into an otherwise unchanged order; rather they are manifestations – sacraments, real presences – of a mysterious new creation that was, equally mysteriously, present from the foundation of the world.

Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace Judgment, page 362

2015 in Review – Goodreads

Well, I felt I was being pretty productive with my reading this year. Apparently not. I read more in 2014 than 2015 (6,553 pages/ 18 books vs 9,086 pages/22 books).

On the positive side, I did meet one of my goals of reading some popular culture – I finished a Motown book and started Elvis Costello’s memoir.

Some of the same trends continued – more audio books than codex books, more non-fiction than fiction.

All my year-to-year stats are here (for Goodreads members).

The paradox of the past

William Coulter
My 2nd great grandfather, William Coulter

One of the unexpected findings in researching my family history is that the further back you go in time the more useful sites like wikitree, familysearch, and geni become. The reason, I suppose, is as the number of descendants multiply, the more likely it is that someone else has done some research.

The generation of my paternal grandfather and his siblings, for example, appears to have few survivors. And whatever ones there apparently haven’t bothered to create any online community. And his father has no online footprint other than my posting. However, my 3rd great grandfather, Samuel Coulter (1798?-1873), is listed on Geni and familysearch (in a genealogy open to authenticated users only).

Another benefit is more materials appear to be indexed as you move back in time.


It better be the Gospel

Yes, the pope is right in quoting St. Paul. “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel!” But it better be the gospel and not just another confusing mixture with law. The church has no right and no call to flex its authoritative muscle if it is not going to preach this gospel.

– A More Radical Gospel – Essays on Eschatology, Authority, Atonement, and Ecumenism, by Gerhard O. Forde

A More Radical Gospel

Mystery family album

On the family history side of the site, I have scanned a family album full of photos I cannot identify – by time, person, or location. The only picture I know for sure is one of the Rocky River, Ohio, bridge. By process of elimination, I assume the album is from my paternal grandmother, Blanche Whitlock Coulter, born in Warrensville Twp, Ohio, in 1889.

Unknown relatives
Do you recognize any of these people?


Please use the comments section below to provide input.

2014 in review – my Goodreads book list

Some observations on the books I read in 2014:

  • Not much fiction. Only 8 out of 26 were novels.
  • Not much in general. Two books a month? I need to push myself a little more.
  • Audio books comprised a quarter of what I consumed, despite the fact I have a relatively short commute.
  • No popular culture. Not even a quick read from the 33 ⅓ series. Will have to make up for that in 2015.

The non-fiction

  • I mostly met my goal of reading several Civil War books in honor of the sesquicentennial.
  • The centennial of the outbreak of World War I led me to re-read (part of) Guns of August and discover Europe’s Last Summer, which was an excellent introduction
  • Several very good books in the faith and religion category. It was the May 23 edition of the Books and Culture podcast that tipped me off to Skye Jethani. The library didn’t have Futureville in stock, but I found Divine Commodity very thought-provoking and plan to read more of his work.

The fiction

  • Made it through Vineland, in honor of my first trip to California this year. Also re-read a little of Inherent Vice in honor of the upcoming movie. I don’t expect to read any Pynchon in 2015, but maybe the Pynchon in Public podcast will convince me otherwise.
  • My summer reading included finally getting around to Elmore Leonard. Leonard has great style, but his casual descriptions of violence were unsettling. I suspect all his years as a crime reporter played a role in this.
  • The highlight of the year was Charles Portis. True Grit, particularly as narrated by Donna Tartt in the audiobook version, was a delight. Also loved The Dog of the South. Will assuredly read more of him in 2015. Thanks to Overlook Press for putting his work back in print. Even though the covers look like they were designed by someone with two weeks’ experience with Corel Draw 4, his books are an American treasure.

Goals for 2015

  • Something by Philip Roth
  • Dylan biography (no idea which one)
  • Easy Riders, Raging Bulls
  • More of Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy
  • More Skye Jethani

Book Review: The Dog of the South

The Dog of the SouthThe Dog of the South by Charles Portis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Charles Portis’ The Dog of the South has something in common with Don Quixote. Several of its main characters are driven to some extent mad by reading. The narrator, Ray Midge, has read too many (“four hundred volumes”) military history books. The con man Midge meets in Mexico, Dr. Reo Symes, has himself been conned by a writer of what we would now call self-help books, John Selmer Dix. Even the minor figure bail bondsman changes dramatically after a few days in prison:

“This didn’t sound like the Jack Wilkie I knew in Little Rock who had a prism-shaped thing on his desk that said, ‘Money Talks and Bullshit Walks.’ It was my guess that he had been reading something in his cell. Two or three days in jail and he was a big thinker!”

Curiously, Jack’s spoutings – “There was altogether too much meanness in the world, he said, and the source of it all was negative thinking.” – sound similar to the summaries of Dix we get from Symes and Midge.
And while Symes has his Dix obsession, Midge is devoted to a cassette recording of a Civil War lecture by Dr. Buddy Casey, which he finally recovers.
Midge realizes too late that in his devotion to his studies he has neglected his wife (“I had to get on with my reading!”), and the book opens with the discovery that she has left Midge for a former coworker named Dupree. The book, like Portis’ second novel True Grit (1968), purports to be a first-person account of the narrator’s adventure written after the fact, Also like True Grit, the narrator is meticulous with details and always insists on being in the right, yet is ultimately a flawed and very naive narrator. With his intellectual pretensions, Ray Midge has more in common with A Confederacy of Dunces’ Ignatius J. Reilly than Grit’s Mattie Ross.
But the similarities between Portis’ two novels are uncanny: in both novels the narrators arrive at a key location in their respective quests and then dally for two days. Both protagonists await money from home. Both are annoyed by nosy and overbearing innkeepers.
And both books are extremely funny. But The Dog of the South, written 11 years after True Grit, has an edge that the earlier novel lacks. Like the movies of Wes Anderson, darkness lurks just beneath the glittering surface of The Dog of the South. Midge’s quest for Dupree (and his car and his wife) is more profound than Mattie Ross’ quest for her father’s killer. Both novels end poignantly, with the inglorious end of Rooster Cogburn appropriately symbolizing the lost American West that he represents, and Norma leaving Midge after a brief reconciliation. While both novels are very much American, The Dog of the South belongs to the world. Like Don Quixote.

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