Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Selling of the President 1968

I read Joe McGinnis' 1969 book, The Selling of the President 1968.  The book is about the attempts of Nixon's campaign to create an image of Richard Nixon that they could sell to the public.  Incidentally, McGinnis is the same author who moved next door to Sarah Palin's house when he was writing a book about her.

I learned about The Selling of the President 1968 when reading David Greenberg's Nixon's Shadow.  See my post here.  Greenberg said that the book's thesis was that "since Nixon’s natural personality was so unappealing, his campaign aides concocted a new persona they projected through TV ads and tightly guarded performances" (Greenberg on page 141).  According to Greenberg, McGinnis observed this by simply hanging around the Nixon campaign: "McGinnis sneaked in under the radar screen, presenting himself to Nixon’s men as such an insignificant fly on the wall that they never thought to swat him away."

In one of the books by Nixon that I read----I think it was In the Arena----Nixon referred to a book about his campaign whose author purported to be an eyewitness, but Nixon was denying that this author had firsthand knowledge.  My hunch is that Nixon was talking there about McGinnis' The Selling of the President 1968.  From what Greenberg said, the book made quite a splash when it came out! 


The thing is, whether or not McGinnis was an actual eyewitness, Nixon's campaign was definitely trying to sell to the public a specific image of Richard Nixon, for McGinnis includes in his Appendix memoranda by such campaign advisers as Len Garment, William Gavin, Harry Treleaven, Ray Price, and Pat Buchanan.  At the same time, the narrative part of McGinnis' book contains some pretty scathing material, and this book was released in 1969, some years before the Watergate tapes revealed to the public glimpses of the behind-the-scenes Nixon.  McGinnis tells a story of people on Nixon's campaign who were cynical and even racist.  As far as Nixon's own presence in the book is concerned, he himself is not in the book that much, but McGinnis does present Nixon criticizing "the damn Negro-Puerto Rican groups out there" (page 24).

The reason that I decided to read this book is that I was curious about two things: (1.) What specifically made Nixon's personality so unappealing?  (2.) What image did Nixon's advisers want to present to the public, instead?  This is a personal issue for me, since, like Nixon, I'm socially awkward, rather stiff, and uncomfortable in my own skin.  I wonder how I can project an alternative image of myself, and what exactly I should be projecting.

What made Nixon unappealing was that he appeared to lack warmth, his discussion of issues could be rather dispassionate and lawyer-like, and he had to live down his reputation as a loser, since he lost the 1960 Presidential election, then the 1962 election for Governor of California.  Some of the things that plagued Nixon's reputation in the past, such as the widespread view that he was a brutal campaigner, were not as much of a problem in 1968, in the eyes of some of Nixon's aides.  In their minds, that was all a matter of the past, and many Americans in 1968 either did not know about, or did not care about, Nixon's campaigns against Voorhis and Douglas, or his hard-hitting speeches back when he was Dwight Eisenhower's running-mate and Vice-President.

In terms of the efforts to project an image for Nixon, it seems to me that Nixon's advisers were trying to project an image, without looking like they were projecting an image.  In a memorandum in the appendix, there was the statement that the campaign shouldn't be aiming to depict Nixon as a back-slapper, for Nixon was running for President, not participating in the Moose lodge (or some such group).  The public knew that Nixon wasn't a back-slapper, but many still respected him on account of his experience and knowledge.  Still, the memoranda were saying that Nixon had to appear as a warm human being.  It was good when the public could see, for example, that Nixon played the piano, or had daughters.  When Nixon was answering questions at one of his forums, he needed to add an element of give-and-take: not just lecturing, but expressing interest in the perspective of the person asking the question.  When he was campaigning at a place, he should show that he was interested in some of the place's sites.  He should demonstrate that he understands the human impact of issues rather than merely citing statistics.  Earlier in the book, McGinnis talks about how one can come across effectively on television, where intimacy is communicated more than it is on the movie screen: one should come across as a guest in someone's home, as one who suggests rather than commanding.

These are fine examples of social skills, and many of them overlap with Dale Carnegie's suggestions in How to Win Friends and Influence People.  According to McGinnis, Nixon's Democratic opponent, Hubert Humphrey, was not particularly effective on television, for Humphrey tended to shout on TV, which was not exactly the place for oratory.  When I read that, I wondered what McGinnis would say about Richard Nixon's 1952 Checkers' speech, where (in my opinion) Nixon did come across as a personable guest in people's homes and tried to express understanding of their financial situations, and yet near the end of his speech manifested a fighting, orating tone.

On Hubert Humphrey, McGinnis does praise one of Humphrey's television appearances, in which Humphrey was essentially showing people snippets from his life.  McGinnis also criticizes this appearance, but he states that, whereas Nixon's ads often caused people to reflect on the ads, Humphrey's appearance led them to think about Humphrey himself, as if they concluded that Humphrey was showing them himself as he truly was.  As McGinnis states on pages 137-138: "It showed Humphrey wearing a stupid fisherman's hat and getting his lines snarled on a lake near his home and it took shameless advantage of the fact he has a mentally retarded granddaughter.  It was contrived and tasteless.  But it was the most effective single piece of advertising of the campaign."

When should one be oneself, and when should one try to contrive an image?  In one part of the book, McGinnis tells a story about when Nixon was at one of his panels, and he and the moderator were getting confrontational with each other.  According to McGinnis, that was probably one of the most effective panels, even though Nixon was most likely upset that things did not go according to his predictable plan!  Let Nixon be Nixon?  Sometimes, that actually worked!  Many of us probably try to find a medium between being ourselves and projecting an image, for both are necessary, and yet both are inadequate by themselves.  Many of us realize that people will not like us if they were aware of all of our weaknesses, and so we pretend to be better than we are; yet, if we pretend too much, we don't appear real to others, and people don't particularly like that!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Julie Nixon Eisenhower's Pat Nixon: The Untold Story 9

I finished Julie Nixon Eisenhower's Pat Nixon: The Untold Story.

1.  Julie recounts that her mother as First Lady was devoted to reading and responding to her mail, and to helping people whenever she could.  On page 323, Julie tells about a time that her mother helped a first-time offender who was having difficulty finding work:

"An impoverished young girl wrote Mrs. Nixon and confided she had been caught shoplifting and had been unable since then to get a job.  An impersonal letter expressing 'concern' was attached to the girl's letter and then placed in one of the bulging brown folders of mail destined for the small wooden table for messages outside Mrs. Nixon's bedroom.  When my mother got to the letter, she wrote across the top, 'Gwen, this is fine but it doesn't really help her, does it?'  Rewritten, the letter referred the girl to a Civil Service rehabilitation program for first-time offenders, and eventually she was employed.  One more person had been helped."

I love this story for three reasons.  First, Mrs. Nixon helped someone whom not everyone would want to help.  Her attitude was not "She made her bed, now let her sleep in it."  Some may criticize Julie's book by saying that it portrays her mother as a saint.  Frankly, after reading a couple of books that portray Pat as a chain-smoking drunk or as an empty shell of a woman, seeing Pat's altruism highlighted is quite refreshing.  Second, it interests me that Mrs. Nixon referred the young lady to a government program.  That reinforces in my mind that we don't have to choose between the government helping people and people helping people, for both can work together as a team.  Mrs. Nixon apparently had that mindset in this case, even though it seems to me (from what Julie says) that Pat Nixon held a number of politically conservative positions.  Third, Pat used her power for good.  Why have power if it won't be used for good?  Pat's power, in this case, was that she had access to information that many people probably did not have: that there was a government program that could help first-time offenders get a job.

2.  On page 149, Julie summarizes Pat Nixon's views about the controversial Red-hunting Senator, Joseph McCarthy:

"My mother wanted to believe that Joe McCarthy had his facts straight and that those he charged as being Communists would soon be out of government.  The experience of the Hiss case had convinced her that the issue of Communist infiltration was a real one.  Moreover, during her 1953 world trip, she had been disturbed by the number of State Department officials, most of them long-term careerists, who seemed to be lukewarm advocates of our own government and apologists for local insurgencies and, occasionally, Communism.  Some had gone so far as to tell her outright that the people of the country where they served would be better off under Communism.  Even as growing numbers of Americans questioned McCarthy's sincerity, my mother resolved not to do so, but she soon recognized that with his reckless charges, sloppy research, and insatiable desire for headlines, he was his own worse enemy."

I like this passage because it gives insight into Pat's political views, and the basis for one of her positions.  Personally, I'm doubtful that the State Department people who expressed some sympathy towards Communism were themselves card-carrying Communists, but my guess is that they were well-meaning people who thought that Communism was better for the poor than the poverty that they were experiencing.  Was it still dangerous for the U.S. to have such people in the State Department, when the Cold War was going on?  Well, I don't condone Communism, for I recognize that it was (and, to some extent, still is) a tyrannical and brutal system.  Still, I do believe that there should have been people in the government who were compassionate towards the poor, who recognized the existence of systemic problems, and who tried to see Third World countries as something more than pawns in the Cold War.  I don't entirely know what the U.S. could have done in situations where peasants were mobilizing into Communist movements as a way to ameliorate their conditions: How could the U.S. have addressed humanitarian concerns, while still fighting Communism?  My impression is that this was easier said than done!  Not long ago, I watched a movie called Path to War, which was about America's growing involvement in the Vietnam War during the Lyndon Johnson Administration.  Johnson desired to help Vietnam in a humanitarian sense, but Ho Chi Minh did not want that help, according to Johnson in the movie.

3.  On pages 446-447, Julie criticizes the book The Final Days, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, which portrayed Pat Nixon as one who drank heavily and the marriage between Richard and Pat as cold.  Julie is skeptical about the authors' claim that they only included stories that were confirmed by at least two sources.  She quotes Ray Price, who said that this means that "if two people have heard the same rumor, [the writers] weave a story around it, wrap it in manufactured detail and sprinkle it with quotation marks, and present the story as fact" (Price's words).  Julie also quotes a public statement made by her husband David Eisenhower, who was interviewed by one of The Final Days' authors.  When David was asked about the interview by the Washington Post, the Post distorted David's response, Julie quotes David as saying.  David denied to the Post that the Nixons had an unhappy marriage, saying that such a notion was "a general characterization of that relationship which would require forty-five minutes to rebut, forty-five minutes the reporter and I did not have" (David's words).  The Post, however, just quoted David's statement that the notion was "a general characterization".  David went on in his public statement to say that "The Nixon family is a close family", and that "The love and respect of each for all is a beautiful thing."

I've read a couple of anti-Nixon books that use material from interviews.  A question that enters my mind after reading Julie's account on pages 446-447 is: Did they quote their sources accurately?  I don't know.  I don't dismiss everything that they said, for some quotes are hard to put into a positive or a neutral context: if a quote looks negative about Nixon, it looks negative about Nixon, and I can't envision a context for that quote that would make it positive!  At the same time, I am open to the possibility that there may be more to people's thoughts than what they expressed on one or more occasions to an interviewer.

Mark Driscoll on Unbelievable

I was recently listening to Justin Brierley's interview of Christian pastor Mark Driscoll.  I realize that this is old news, since the program Unbelievable featured the interview on January 14, 2012.  But I usually get to things long after they've made their splash!

To be honest with you, I didn't have much of a problem with what Driscoll was saying, until the end of the program.  Then, I couldn't stand what he was saying.  Up to that point, he sounded pretty reasonable to me, at least overall.  His statement that husbands and wives should both work on being attractive to one another struck me as common sense.  In response to Justin's question of whether or not his approach caters to certain kinds of men while excluding the artsy, intellectual types, Driscoll noted that his ministry was thriving in Seattle, which is an artsy, intellectual area.  Driscoll also seemed to be trying to dispel any notion that he continually gets behind the pulpit saying extreme things, for he said that his sermons mostly go through the Bible.  I can somewhat testify that this is the case (or might be the case), for I remember visiting Driscoll's web site to listen to his sermons.  I had just seen YouTube clips of him criticizing The Shack and Joel Osteen, and I was expecting to see more of that sort of thing.  Instead, I saw Mark Driscoll talking about the Gospel of Luke, and what he was saying wasn't particularly extreme.

Near the end of Justin's interview, however, Driscoll was getting confrontational, in response to what he believed was Justin's confrontational interview-style.  Driscoll grilled Justin on the church where Justin's wife is a pastor, asking how many single young men have come to Christ there.  Driscoll inquired if they were "strong" men.  Whereas earlier in the interview Driscoll seemed to be open to including the artsy, intellectual types, now he appeared to be implying that churches should cater to a specific type of male.  Driscoll asked Justin if Justin believed in conscious, eternal torment in hell.  Driscoll was saying that a no answer presents God as a mother-like figure, whereas a yes answer would portray God as a tough, protecting father.  When Justin responded that he believes in annihilationism, Driscoll accused Justin of being timid and weak in terms of standing up for the truth.

I was disgusted by what Driscoll was saying in those last few minutes of the interview.  For one, while I sympathize with Driscoll's burden to reach out to certain kinds of men----the tough, strong types----I question whether the church should cater specifically to them, and not to others.  Driscoll may deny that he wants to do that----I don't know----but he seemed in those last few minutes of the interview to be implying that the church should be presenting a tough Daddy-God, as opposed to a soft, accepting Mommy-God.
Second, why is Justin's belief in annihilationism a sign of timidity?  Timidity is being afraid to stand up for one's beliefs, not failure to stand up for beliefs that one does not even hold.  Maybe Justin is not standing up boldly for conscious eternal torment because he does not believe in it (and who can blame him, since it is a disgusting, revolting doctrine?), not because he is timid.

Third, how exactly does the notion of eternal torment in hell, depict God as a protecting, tough-but-fair father?  How many tough-but-fair fathers would torment people for all eternity, if they had a chance?  Eternal torment is neither tough in a disciplinary sense (since it is not disciplinary but retributive, and it leaves no possibility for the condemned to repent in the afterlife), nor does it strike me as particularly fair.

The contrast between the fair-minded, reasonable, more inclusive Mark Driscoll throughout much of the interview, and the guy who showed up near the interview's end, makes me wonder which is the real Mark Driscoll.  And is our real self when we are being reasonable, or when we're expressing our impressions?  Or is our real self a combination of the two?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Julie Nixon Eisenhower's Pat Nixon: The Untold Story 8

On page 442 of Pat Nixon: The Untold Story, Julie Nixon Eisenhower talks about the books that her mother, Pat Nixon, liked to read after Richard Nixon's departure from the Presidency:

"Her favorite books were the historical novels by the prolific writer Taylor Caldwell, who crammed her stories with rich details on the eras she wrote about, be they Biblical times, ancient Greece, or nineteenth-century America.  What my mother found intriguing was that Taylor Caldwell believed in international plots, and to this day my mother's perception of Watergate is that it was partly an international scheme, or, at the very least, that double agents were involved.  Like many others, she had questioned from the beginning the suspicious circumstances surrounding the apprehension of the burglars.  Was it a setup?  Was the CIA involved?  How deeply was Howard Hunt or his organization involved?"

I like this passage because it offers insights into Pat Nixon's views on Watergate.  Julie goes on to say that Pat and Richard "avoided reading any of the books on the Nixon years, favorable, or unfavorable", which is not an absolute statement, since Julie later tells the story of how Pat had a stroke after reading parts of The Final Days, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.  But I wonder what Pat thought of the controversial book Silent Coup, which (from what I have heard) has a somewhat conspiratorial tone when talking about Watergate, and which a number of Nixon defenders, and even Nixon himself, liked.  (I don't know if Nixon actually read it, but he told Monica Crowley that he wished its thesis got more attention than it did.)

It's also interesting what Julie says about author Taylor Caldwell.  Caldwell was linked with the John Bircher wing of conservatism (see here), the wing that gave Richard Nixon and even Tricia and Julie problems when Nixon was running for Governor of California in 1962.  It's ironic, in my opinion, that Pat Nixon enjoyed Taylor Caldwell's books.  That Caldwell talked about "international plots" in her book does not surprise me, since the John Birch Society believed in conspiracies----among international bankers, communists, socialists, leftists, etc.----to create a one world government.  I don't know for sure how Caldwell portrayed the "international plots", since I have not read any of her books.  (My Mom has one of them, however, and I have Caldwell's A Pillar of Iron, which is about Cicero.)  But the wikipedia article about her states that "Many of Caldwell's books centered on the idea that a small cabal of rich, powerful men secretly control the world."

Book Write-Up: The Historian and the Believer, by Van A. Harvey

Van Austin Harvey.  The Historian and the Believer: The Morality of Historical Knowledge and Christian Belief.  New York: The Macmillan Company, 1966.

I learned about this book back when I was at Harvard Divinity School.  A friend of mine told me the story of how he was one time browsing at a bookstore, and he was looking at The Historian and the Believer.  A man came up to him and asked, "Are you going to buy that?"  It turned out that the man asking this was Van Harvey, the author of the book!

I decided to buy the book years ago because it looked interesting, and I thought that it might tackle questions of significant concern to me, such as how one can be a historian and a believer in Christ at the same time, when historical scholarship seems to undercut the historical reliability of the Old and New Testaments, in a number of areas.  I didn't read it until now, however, because I did not have the time, and the book intimidated me a bit: I wondered if it might be too deep for me to read.

Well, I just finished it.  It was actually quite lucid, to be honest with you.  I'm not sure if I grasped everything that Van Harvey said, but I was amazed by how much I was following his discussion.

Let me say this: Throughout the years, I have been dissatisfied with how many people----in different places of the theological spectrum----have addressed the conflict between the Bible and history.  Allow me to give you some examples:

----There are conservatives, who either act as if the conflict does not even exist, or who believe that proving that something in the Bible happened amounts to demonstrating the truth of the entire Christian faith, as if the event somehow has encoded within it the meaning that they ascribe to it, when actually different people can probably interpret it differently.  Moreover, on more than one occasion, when I have listened to the British radio program Unbelievable, and a Christian apologist glibly remarks that (say) the resurrection of Jesus from the dead has as much evidence supporting it as have other events in history, a thought has been in my head: "Maybe, but I'm not being asked to make life-changing decisions based on Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon!"  I'm probably thinking along the lines of a particular point-of-view that Van Harvey discusses in his book, a view that questions whether one can root theological certainties in history, which largely rests on probabilities.

----Then there are more liberal Christians or Jews who act as if history is not important at all for theology, and thus it should not matter for the person of faith if the Exodus or the virgin birth did not happen.  On some level, I respect such a position, for I tend to be repulsed from fundamentalist notions that the entire Bible has to be internally consistent, without error, and historically accurate for one to have a legitimate appreciation of spiritual values.  At the same time, it seems to me as if common liberal positions are too hasty.  In short, I would have to read a more developed articulation of them for me to accept them, rather than people just blithely saying "History doesn't matter to theology" as if that should be self-evident to everyone.  How can history be irrelevant to Jewish and Christian theologies, when they traditionally purport to be based on God's activities in history, such as the Exodus or the incarnation of Jesus?  History seems to me to be very important to the writers within the Bible.  Within the Hebrew Bible, there is the notion that the Exodus was a concrete historical example of God's power and love for Israel, which is why Israel can have assurance: God has demonstrated God's power and concern for Israel in the past.  In I Corinthians 15, Paul affirms that, if Christ did not rise from the dead, the Christian faith is in vain.  Whether or not that event occurred was obviously important to Paul!

----There are people who try to base a theology on historical-criticism.  I remember reading a book by Hans Kung years ago, and it seemed to me as if he was trying to do this: he would sift through the Gospels and identify what he thought was historical, and his view about Christ would rest on that.  The problem is that historical-critics have so many different views about what Jesus said and did, and they disagree with one another.  Can I really build my life on what a scholarly book says about Jesus, when another scholarly book may offer reasons to believe something totally different?  Now, in my fundamentalist days. I would say that this shows that we cannot trust in historical-criticism, and thus we should simply accept the Bible in its inerrancy.  But this approach isn't exactly reliable either: Why should I assume that the way that I subjectively patch together the different stories and traditions about Jesus somehow gets at how Jesus really was?  I get sick of Christians who dogmatically proclaim that they know Christ, for it's hard enough for me to know what makes another human being in the here-and-now tick, let alone someone whom we know about from ancient documents.

----I'm somewhat leery at liberal scholars who dismiss conservative scholarship.  Granted, conservative scholarship may have an agenda, but it does present arguments.  Why not focus on analyzing conservatives' arguments, rather than simply dismissing conservative scholars as biased?

----Philosophical naturalism has long bothered me.  I'm referring to the idea that there can be no miracles.  How do we know that there can be no miracles?  And would the existence of miracles necessarily undermine the notion that there are natural laws that generally work?  I get the impression that Van Harvey believes that, if we accept the possibility of miracles, that means anything goes: we had might as well accept every absurd miracle story that has been put out there.  But I wonder if we have to be so rigid, not just in our evaluation of miracle stories in the Bible, but miracle stories in other religions and cultures as well.  Could there be ways for us to determine when a miracle-story is legendary and when it is reliable----not fool-proof ways, mind you, but ways that look at probability?

Well, these are the sorts of issues that Van Harvey tackles in his book.  After dismantling all sorts of attempts by Christian scholars to deal with the conflict between history and faith, making me wonder in the process if my only option is to say that I can't be a Christian because the Bible is unreliable, and we can't even access the historical Jesus, Van Harvey near the end of the book seeks to be constructive.  To be honest, I'm not sure where exactly he ends up landing.  He seems to say that we can live life based on things that we know about the historical Jesus----that Jesus preached a kingdom and reached out to sinners.  Van Harvey is not a total skeptic, for he appeals to the criterion of embarrassment (without calling it that) as a way to arrive at the impression that the historical Jesus made on people.  Yet, Van Harvey also appears to suggest that stories that are not historically-accurate----and elements of Christian theology----can help us to live spiritual lives of humility and appreciation of God and God's creation.  While Van Harvey seems to believe that people can live spiritual lives outside of a specifically Christian context, he apparently upholds Jesus in the New Testament (and perhaps even in Christianity) as an example to some people of what a genuine spiritual life can look like.  I can somewhat appreciate this, for I am a person who needs concrete examples.  I am also the sort of person who would feel a bit better if religion or spiritual "truths" could be grounded in some foundation or authority.  I'm not sure if we have that after Van Harvey is through, notwithstanding his attempts to be constructive.

Excellent book, though!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Julie Nixon Eisenhower's Pat Nixon: The Untold Story 7

I have three items for my blog post today about Julie Nixon Eisenhower's Pat Nixon: The Untold Story.

1.  I wrote in my post yesterday that "Julie throughout the book (at least in what I have read thus far) very rarely questions her father's presidential decisions..."  Well, as my reading of the book goes on, Julie questions more and more her father's judgment.  In my latest reading, for example, she appeared to be criticizing her father's heavy dependence on his aide, H.R. Haldeman.  Julie relates a few stories about how Haldeman would tell Nixon that someone wanted to resign, when actually that person was unaware that his resignation was even on the table!  Julie expresses understanding, however, for her father's desire to consolidate his staff.

Julie also seems to imply that her father was wrong to demand the resignations of every "noncareer government employee" in his Administration when he began his second term, which was Nixon's symbolic way of declaring a new beginning.  Although Nixon did not plan to accept most of the resignations, his move hurt morale, according to Julie.  Julie narrates that her mother, Pat Nixon, was "surprised and unhappy about the request for resignations" (page 361).  Nixon later would regret his move.

Later in the book, Julie implies that her father and John Mitchell, Nixon's Attorney General, were wrong to laugh off the eccentricities of Mitchell's wife, Martha, for those eccentricities turned out to be serious problems.

I'm not sure if Julie ever explicitly says that her father was "right" or "wrong", per se, but her usual manner seems to be to tell the story in such a way that the reader would arrive at a specific conclusion.

Overall, at least in my reading so far, Julie does not question her father's policies.  On once occasion, however, she mentions a slight difference of opinion between her father and mother: Pat Nixon supported the Equal Rights Amendment, whereas Richard Nixon had some reservations about it.

2.  I read in Anthony Summers' The Arrogance of Power that there were rumors in 1960 that Pat Nixon had been married prior to her marriage to Richard.  Summers says that the question of whether this is true "may now be unanswerable" because it's hard to hunt "down old marriage records in New York State" (page 29). Summers does not think it impossible that she had been married before, for Pat's "alleged first husband" denied the marriage to a Washington Post reporter in a manner that she considered ambiguous, and some of the documentation that "should have included Pat Ryan's marital status...seemed to have gone missing" (page 29).  Summers also points out that Betty Ford's previous marriage was unknown before "a Time magazine reporter dug into her background in 1974", and he wonders if Pat could have had "a similar secret".

In a note in the back, on page 488, Summers offers more nuances.  He notes that Pat referred to herself as unmarried in letters home "as late as February 1934."  He does not think that Pat was married to Dr. Francis Vincent Duke, for that was not mentioned in Duke's obituary, plus Pat's alleged first husband whom the Washington Post reporter interviewed lived in New Orleans, whereas Duke did not.

As far as Julie's book goes, Julie narrates that Dr. Duke asked Pat to marry him more than once, but Pat rejected his offers, since she wanted her independence, and she did not feel that she had truly lived yet, having been busy for much of her life up to that point.

3.  On page 117, Julie tells a story about someone she encountered during the 1952 election, back when Julie was a child:

"When Jacqueline Bouvier (later Kennedy), the 'Inquiring Photographer' for the Times-Herald, encountered me playing outside our house, she asked, 'Do you play with Democrats?'  My response was 'What's a Democrat?'"

When I was reading that, I was picturing Jackie as a paparazzi journalist!  Julie may not have been painting that picture, but that's what I was thinking!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sermon on Luther

I gave my sermon at church this morning!  Today is Reformation Sunday, so I preached about Martin Luther.  I was really nervous before the sermon.  Now that it's over and done with, I'm not sure how I feel.  Am I giddy about having done a good job?  Am I thinking that maybe I didn't do so good of a job?  Probably a mixture of the two.  One thing is clear: I'm glad it's over, at least for now (since I may preach in the future)!  Tomorrow, I'll probably come down to earth from out of my cloud and perform the deeds of my day-to-day life.

One lady told me that I did well, but I needed to speak more slowly.  She's probably correct about that.  I spoke as quickly as I did because I was nervous, and also because I wanted to get in as much as I could.  (In practicing my sermon, I went overtime a couple of times.)  But my sermon might have been better had I done it as I practiced it last night: being slow and methodical in my speaking. 

Someone else was thanking me because of what she got out of my sermon: about Luther's life, the politics involved in the Reformation on both the Catholic and Protestant sides, the fact that both Catholics and Protestants did good and bad things, and Luther's anti-Jewish writings.  As she remarked, we all have feet of clay.  Yet, as I was saying in my sermon, God is assuring us of God's love.  I appreciated her feedback because it showed me that I got my points across.  I was revising my sermon as late as last night, for I felt that some of my sermon was historical obscurantism that the congregation may not find particularly interesting, plus I thought that I should attach some of my points to a spiritual lesson rather than leaving them hanging as mere historical facts.  I'm glad that my work on this was fruitful, on some level.

Someone else, a seventh grader, was telling me that he was learning about Martin Luther in school.  I found that to be cool.  I remember when I learned about Luther in my ninth grade World History class.  The teacher was saying that Luther did not sign the Ninety-Five theses with "the Phantom," but he was putting his name to his complaints and challenges against the Catholic church!
 
Anyway, I'll be happy to listen to someone else give the sermon next week! 

Julie Nixon Eisenhower's Pat Nixon: The Untold Story 6

For my blog post today about Julie Nixon Eisenhower's Pat Nixon: The Untold Story, I'll use as my starting-point something that Julie says on page 312:

"For months, Tricia had been denying----with my mother, father, David, and I faithfully following the family line----rumors of an engagement to Ed Cox, but the rumors were put to rest that night with an official announcement of her engagement.  She and Ed had been in and out of, but mostly in, love for a long time.  They had first met at Tricia's senior-year school dance in 1964.  Both were romantic and idealistic, and both were intelligent, opinionated, and strong-willed.  At times they disagreed over politics.  After graduating from Princeton University, Ed spent the summer of 1968 working for consumer activist Ralph Nader, while Tricia campaigned for my father."

I have three items.

1.  Something that stood out to me in this passage is that Julie seems to be acknowledging that her family was lying to the public about Tricia Nixon's engagement.  I may be completely off base here, since maybe the Nixons were denying her engagement in a time when she was not engaged----after all, Julie said that Tricia and Ed Cox fell in and out of love for quite some time.

But there are other places where Julie seems to admit that her family was not completely transparent to the public.  On page 325, she refers to a column that Jack Anderson wrote revealing the contents of a meeting that Henry Kissinger had with the Washington Special Actions Group, which consisted of people from the State and Defense Departments, the CIA, and the National Security Council.  Julie states that "The minutes revealed that Kissinger clearly had indicated a presidential 'tilt' toward Pakistan, which was at variance with the neutral position of the Administration on the [India-Pakistan] war."  On pages 323, Julie tells a funny anecdote about a letter that Pat received from an eighth grader, lamenting the life of a First Lady, while attempting to look at things from the First Lady's perspective (thus speaking in the first-person).  The fifth grader's letter said that being a First Lady means getting a sore throat after giving a speech, hurting one's feet after standing for hours, getting back-aches from sleeping in lots of hotels, and hearing bodyguards outside when one is trying to sleep.  The fifth-grader then went on to say, "I wish I could be an ordinary housewife and wear sneakers and blue jeans."  Pat wrote back to the fifth-grader that being the First Lady is a "special joy and privilege", but Pat saved the fifth-grader's letter, saying "She hits the spot!"

And, while Julie throughout the book (at least in what I have read thus far) very rarely questions her father's presidential decisions, she does admit that it was a mistake for her father to install the taping system in the White House, since (in her mind) his method of discussion and decision-making gave people the wrong impression when it was made public.

I suppose that many people are not completely transparent to people, and they may tell "white lies."  Some of those lies may be excusable.  Others, however, are not necessarily.

2.  Julie says that her sister Tricia was "strong-willed".  On that note, I'd like to share something that Anthony Summers says about Tricia in The Arrogance of Power, on page 326.  Essentially, Summers depicts Tricia as somewhat of a diva:

"Tricia did not endear herself to Nixon's staff.  Ehrlichman thought her a 'tough and troubled cookie.'  She once reported an Air Force steward for allegedly staring at her legs.  An usher who had been told to bring pillows to Tricia and a friend was then expected to lift the friend's outstretched legs to create a hassock.  Secret Service agents, who dubbed Tricia Goody Two-shoes, objected to being instructed to water her plants while she was away on a trip.  They carried out the mission, one agent claimed, by urinating on them."
In the endnotes, Summers cites Ehrlichman's book, some secondary sources, and a couple of former agents.
Julie probably wouldn't agree with Summers' characterization of Tricia, while also highlighting the positive things that Tricia did.

3.  In my post here, I talked about Tricia's staunch conservative political views, and how my impression was that Julie was more open to different perspectives.  Overall, I'd say that Julie echoes her father's political views in this book, as she largely defends her father's policies as President.  But, on page 327 of Julie's book, we read:

"The subject that night was the role of women.  David and I had just read Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, a thoughtful analysis of women's place in society prior to and at the onset of the feminist movement.  My father was intrigued and asked for a copy as a belated Christmas gift.  Tricia had commented that unless it was absolutely necessary, she felt children five years and younger should not be sent to day-care centers."

Here, Julie seems to be somewhat open to Friedan's argument, at least enough to call Friedan's book a "thoughtful analysis".  But Tricia in the discussion expresses a rather conservative position.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Julie Nixon Eisenhower's Pat Nixon: The Untold Story 5

I have two items to share for my post today about Julie Nixon Eisenhower's Pat Nixon: The Untold Story.

1.  One thought that occurred to me while reading Julie's book was "What exactly will it take to please some people?"  Julie talks about her mother Pat's promotion of volunteerism as First Lady----community service, in essence.  But, according to Julie, there were people who criticized that, arguing that volunteerism did not really solve social ills, and that it was mostly done by rich women with time on their hands.  (Julie retorts that there are many volunteers who also work full time.)  Volunteerism should be considered a good thing, I think: taking one's time to reach out and to help the poor, the elderly, and the disabled.  I wouldn't say that volunteerism should be used as an excuse for the government to do nothing, for large-scale national ills may require attempted solutions by the national government.  But I agree with Pat Nixon that volunteerism adds a personal touch, plus I believe that many people appreciate others showing them that they care.  Why are there people who have to be so cynical and eager to express their pontifications and bloviations that they criticize volunteerism, of all things?  Julie does note an Associated Press writer who praised her mother for visiting Peru and helping out there after Peru had been hit with an earthquake.  At least some people will praise a praiseworthy act, an attempt to do good.

2.  One topic that comes up throughout Julie's book is the schools that she and her sister, Tricia, attended.  Both of them attended a public school in Washington, D.C., and Julie says this was because the school was racially-integrated: Richard Nixon did not want to give the impression that he was shunning racially-integrated schools.  Apparently, there were other politicians who had the same idea, for Julie states that Adlai Stevenson's running mate in 1956, Democrat Estes Kefauver, sent his kids to the same public school that Julie and Tricia attended, and Julie narrates that she and the Kefauver kids were friendly with each other.  Julie does not think that the public school was that good, however, for it was not sufficiently funded, and, when Richard and Pat moved their daughters to a racially-integrated Quaker school, Julie and Tricia struggled a bit to catch up to their classmates.

When Richard Nixon was running for Governor of California in 1962, Julie and Tricia attended a school where a lot of the children were wealthy.  The Nixon daughters felt out of place there, and the reason was that many of the kids' parents were supporting the right-wing John Bircher against whom Nixon was running for the Republican nomination.  Later, Julie would attend Smith College, and she felt rather out of place there because many of the students and professors were supporters of the anti-war Democratic candidate for President, Eugene McCarthy.

Julie found out about Smith College when her family was taking a drive through Massachusetts.  Richard noted that Smith College was nearby, and they decided to check the campus out.  I was hoping that Richard and Pat would really like Smith College in the story, since that would remind me of my Mom encouraging me to go to DePauw University, a small, liberal arts university, back when I was in high school.  But it turned out that Julie liked Smith, whereas Richard and Pat wanted her to go to Stanford or Northwestern, which were larger and coeducational.  (On a side note, check here to see all the famous people who went to Smith College!)

Tricia attended Finch College, which was an all-women's college.  Her major was Modern European History.  Julie narrated earlier in the book that Tricia was becoming interested in history, especially William Shirer's landmark tome, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.  I was not aware that Tricia had intellectual pursuits (not that I know her), but it turns out that she did!

Psalm 131

For my blog post today on my study in the Psalms, I will post Psalm 131 in the King James Version (which is in the public domain), and I will comment on each verse.

1 A Song of degrees of David. LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.

The part about not exercising oneself in "things too high for me" rubs me the wrong way, since it sounds so limiting.  For one, it can be taken in an anti-intellectual direction: You should just accept my fundamentalist spiel rather than questioning it on the basis of things that you're not qualified to study, let alone understand.  Just accept what I'm saying: My version of God knows more than you, so why ask questions?  I tend to shy away from that sort of attitude.  Second, this statement in v 1 can be taken in the direction of discouraging people's dreams: don't aim for that, for it's too high for you!  I'm sure some of you were told that when you were growing up!  My belief is that we should not be afraid to learn, to study, and to reach for the stars.  Even if I'm unqualified to study, say, science, and even if you should probably take whatever I say about science with a grain of salt, I should not be discouraged from at least trying to learn and to understand.  I believe that all knowledge is God's knowledge, even if that knowledge disrupts our neat picture of God and the world.

Notwithstanding my reservations about the directions in which v 1 can be taken, I still find some value in the interpretations that I read, at least for me.  There may be times for me to rest in God's love rather than allowing my mind to race about what I do not know or understand.  There's also a place for humility: for being content where I am rather than being jealous of others who may have more or be more talented than me.  If Psalm 131 is somehow about David, could it concern David's humility: that David was not aiming to advance himself politically but was humble before the LORD?  Of course, David did advance, but the biblical stories don't depict him as one who had a great deal of personal ambition; rather, David went about his life trying to honor God, and God exalted him in God's own time.  Isn't that the type of leader we'd want: one who regards himself as under a higher authority (whether that be God, or simply a moral code) and who cares for the people, rather than his own advancement?  Well, some argue that a degree of personal ambition is actually important for good leadership (see here), and that may be true.  But I believe that, ultimately, a good leader prioritizes the well-being of the people he or she leads.

2 Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.

Within the interpretations that I read, there was a difference of opinion about whether the child was still nursing or had been weaned.  If the former is the case, then v 2 is about the child's dependence on his mother for food.  If the latter is the case, then the child is no longer nursing and continually crying for his mother's milk, hoping for that temporary satisfaction, and the image is about the person who is at peace in his relationship with God: he's not crying for this or that but is relaxed, appreciating the relationship.  The Hebrew word so often appears to concern weaning (Genesis 21:8; I Samuel 1:23f.; Isaiah 11:8), and even Jastrow's dictionary on the use of the Hebrew word in rabbinic literature listed the definition of wean.  But, for some reason, Rashi argues that the child in v 2 is still nursing!  I read one scholar who said that the Hebrew verb g-m-l concerns dealing bountifully, and he somehow gets nursing out of that; but I could not find anywhere that the verb had that exact meaning.  Holladay lists examples in which it can mean rendering good or evil, but I have a hard time going from that to saying that g-m-l in Psalm 131:2 means nursing.  Perhaps Rashi thought differently, however!

I looked at another article that was going into different translations of Psalm 131:2, and one translation said "like a weaned child in me is my soul."  V 2 is about the Psalmist quieting himself.  Could he in that case be like a mother to his own soul, quieting it?  Many of us would like inner peace, but could one path to inner peace be us taking the initiative of quieting our own souls, our own selves?  (Some may need medication to do this!)  And possible ways to do this may be to cease envying, to be humble before God's greatness, and to rest in God's love rather than stressing out about what one may not know.

I liked what the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary had to say: "The righteous person is not arrogant because of his achievements or jealous of those who are greater than he.  For he knows that all success is bestowed by God, each person according to his needs and mission."

Why desire someone else's mission, when I have my own?  Psalm 131 does not explicitly say that, but perhaps one can take the lessons of Psalm 131 further by embracing such a concept.

3 Let Israel hope in the LORD from henceforth and for ever.

What the Psalmist deems to be relevant to his own peace of mind and attitude, he believes also to be relevant to the people of Israel, who may be experiencing situations that don't make sense to them or that they don't fully understand; still, they can hopefully rest in God.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Julie Nixon Eisenhower's Pat Nixon: The Untold Story 4

On page 227 of Pat Nixon: The Untold Story, Julie Nixon Eisenhower (the youngest daughter of Richard and Pat Nixon) talks about Pat Buchanan working for her father starting in 1966, which was a time in between Richard Nixon's service as Vice-President and President.  Pat Buchanan worked in the same room as Rose Mary Woods (Nixon's long-time secretary), Shelley Scarney (who would become Pat Buchanan's wife), and Pat Nixon.  Julie tells some amusing anecdotes about Pat Buchanan.  She states that he "cursed and mumbled" (Pat Buchanan's words) while he was typing, and that, while the people in that work-space didn't have much time for small talk, Pat Buchanan "bummed cigarettes from my mother" in the afternoons, even though he "was trying to quit smoking."

This passage stood out to me for two reasons.  First of all, it was interesting to me to read about Pat Buchanan's human side.  Pat Buchanan was the first person I voted for in a presidential election.  I voted for him in the 1996 Republican primary, and also in the 2000 Presidential election.  (I lived in Massachusetts, which was going for Gore anyway, so I figured I could vote for the candidate I liked best.)  Although I am more to the left nowadays than I was then, and even though I can understand and sympathize with my friends' criticisms of and reservations about Pat Buchanan, I still like the guy!  I don't know him personally, but I like watching him on TV and reading his writings.

Second, the passage brought to my mind Pat Nixon's smoking.  Earlier in the book, on page 89, Julie acknowledged that Pat Nixon smoked,  but she states that Pat didn't smoke publicly when Richard was running for Congress in 1946.  Julie quotes Pat as saying: "It just wasn't acceptable in Whittier for women to smoke then.  I was a very light smoker and felt why let something that's not that important to me become an issue."

Anthony Summers, in The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon, portrays Pat Nixon as a chain-smoker.  He states on page 38:

"Pat Nixon claimed she used neither cigarettes nor alcohol.  In fact, she smoked almost all her adult life and was to die of lung cancer.  By the time her husband was president, she was chain-smoking the moment she stepped out of the public eye.  'She smoked incessantly aboard Air Force One,' said chief pilot Ralph Albertazzie.  'That was one of the little secrets she shared with the crew.  Sometimes, after a flight, the stewards counted the butts....'"

When I was growing up, I was taught that smoking was wrong.  If I'm not mistaken, my church said a couple of times that smoking was a sin because our bodies are the temple of God.  The thing is, when I was a child, I saw adults smoking!  I was confused.  Adults were telling me that smoking was wrong, yet I saw adults smoking.

I would occasionally tell strangers who were smoking that what they were doing was wrong, to the embarrassment of my parents!  The smokers would usually acknowledge that smoking wasn't good for them, but they would say that they couldn't quit.

One time, when I was in elementary school, my class was on a field trip in the woods.  From a distance, I saw my very own teacher smoking in the main cabin!  I brought my friend over so that he could see the event, and he shook his head in shame.  This teacher had taught us a whole curriculum about why smoking was wrong, and she admitted in class that she used to smoke, but no longer did so.  But there she was...smoking!

When I told my Mom after coming home that I saw my teacher smoking, my Mom was sympathetic to the teacher.  "Well, I'd smoke, too, if I had to be around a bunch of kids for four days!", my Mom said.  My Mom herself did not smoke, but she knew why my teacher was smoking: it was a way for the teacher to relax.

I think it's sad when people die from lung cancer due to smoking.  But I'd probably put smoking in the same category as eating fatty foods or lots of cholesterol----something with which I've struggled: I wouldn't consider a person immoral for doing that, but it's not particularly healthy for the person.

Still, I have to be honest: there is a stigma that I attach in my mind to smokers.  Part of it is that I don't like the smell of cigarettes, but it's also because people are doing something that I was taught was wrong back in my childhood days.  This is one of the many ways in which I need to get past my prejudices so that I can respect and appreciate people.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Julie Nixon Eisenhower's Pat Nixon: The Untold Story 3

In today's post about Julie Nixon Eisenhower's Pat Nixon: The Untold Story, I will use two passages from Julie's book as a starting-point.  The main theme of this post will be resentment and forgiveness.

Throughout my reading thus far of Julie's book, Julie refers to wisdom, insights, or advice that her mother, Pat, gave about interpersonal relations.  Pat would give this advice to some of her students back when she was a teacher, and Pat as the Vice-President's wife sometimes talked about how she was able to connect with people in other countries, even though she did not know them and they were from a different culture.  She said that the smile is the universal language!  On page 189, Julie quotes a letter from Pat, which contained advice that Julie said "reflected [Pat's] philosophy of life".  Julie and Tricia were at a camp, and Julie had complained that some of the girls in her cabin were not particularly nice.  Pat wrote:

"In regard to the girls in your cabin: Just remember that some people are not as friendly and sweet as others.  The main thing is to treat them in a friendly fashion and stay your own sweet self rather than becoming like them.  When you think kind thoughts about them they will change for the better.  That is true all through life.  I love you very, very much!"

On pages 193-194, Julie talks about some of the shenanigans of the Kennedy campaign during the 1960 Presidential election:

"Once during the course of the campaign, Loretta Stuart came to our house to do Mother's hair before a trip.  She asked my mother why the Nixon campaign was not exposing some of the shady tactics of the powerfully financed Kennedy camp.  An example was the anti-Catholic mailers sent out during the Wisconsin primary to heavily Catholic precincts----all postmarked Minnesota, to look as if they were from Hubert H. Humphrey, Kennedy's main opponent in Wisconsin----but in truth they were the work of a friend of Robert Kennedy's.  The demolition of Humphrey in West Virginia also had included the innuendo that he was a draft dodger.  Humphrey was so angered by the Kennedy tactics that he publicly accused the candidate and his brother of 'cheap, low-down, gutter politics.'  In a 1976 autobiography, Humphrey would express his unhappiness with the Kennedy organization in this way: 'Underneath the beautiful exterior there was an element of ruthlessness and toughness that I had trouble either accepting or forgetting.'"

So end the readings.

What is ironic, of course, is that Nixon himself----or at least some of his underlings----was accused of engaging in ruthless campaigning and dirty tricks.  Nixon may have resented what Kennedy did to him, but there are many who would argue that Nixon became like Kennedy in that respect, if he was not like Kennedy already (though some would go further and say that Nixon was much worse).  Pat said that Julie should stay her own sweet self rather than becoming like her unfriendly cabin-mates.  Could Richard Nixon have benefited from such advice?  Or would he have concluded that it was unrealistic in the rough-and-tumble world of politics?

I don't know yet if Julie will address her father's campaign strategies, or the dirty tricks of some of his underlings.  So far in my reading, she has discussed Richard Nixon's races in 1946 and 1950.  Overall, she defends her father's controversial campaigns, saying that he was merely pointing out the records of his Democratic opponents, Jerry Voorhis in 1946 and Helen Gahagan Douglas in 1950.  She also portrays the campaigns as grass-roots, stating that her family in 1946 invested a significant amount of its own nest-egg in the campaign, and that ladies in 1950 sewed dresses for Pat.  That kind of gives the campaign a down-home feel, doesn't it?  Of course, Roger Morris and certain other biographers would portray Nixon's campaigns as heavily-financed by rich special interests.  I should note, however, that Julie does depict the 1950 campaign as rough, on both sides.  She seems to acknowledge that her father attacked Douglas, but she also notes that Douglas attacked Nixon.  What surprised me is that, at least thus far, Julie is not particularly critical of Murray Chotiner, Nixon's controversial, take-no-prisoners campaign adviser, even though I have read in a couple of places that Nixon's family did not really care for Chotiner.  Julie narrates that Nixon came to rely more on the advice of his aides rather than that of his wife, but Julie also quotes Chotiner's praise for Pat's toughness!

But back to the topic of resentment and forgiveness!  It's hard for many people to move past resentment and to embrace forgiveness.  Pat, Richard, and maybe even Julie had a difficult time getting past the hurt that others had done to Richard in the political arena.  Maybe Pat still felt that she was following her own philosophy of life in that she was still nice to those people, whenever she came into contact with them.  (I don't know for sure if she was, and Julie in my reading thus far does not explicitly say that she was, but many of us maintain some friendly veneer when we're interacting with people we don't like.)  But I doubt that it was easy for her to think kind thoughts about them!

I think that Pat's philosophy of life is easier when it comes to the everyday snubs that one can regularly or occasionally experience.  If I were to obsess over the people who are not nice, I would not be functional, so I do need to follow Pat's philosophy of life, on some level.  But there are times when following her philosophy of life can be extremely difficult: when one has been attacked in the political arena, for example.  In that case, how would one forgive or at least forget, and move on?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Crucified God: Moltmann, the Psychologists, and Me

In my post about Jurgen Moltmann's The Crucified God, I did not talk about Moltmann's discussion of psychology in that particular book.  I just felt like ending the post where I did!  In this post, however, I will talk about it, since it has caused me to think since I finished my post on The Crucified God.

What I got out of Moltmann's discussion was that a genuine Christianity can heal the problems that psychologists like Freud have claimed to identify.  We're beset with feelings of guilt?  Christ's death brings us forgiveness of sins!  Freud said human males have an innate hatred of their father?  Christ brings together fathers and sons! 

Moltmann addresses the charge of some psychologists that Christianity promotes immaturity by encouraging people to take refuge in a nice story rather than dealing with their pain.  For one, Moltmann seems to wonder why people shouldn't have hope, and what good negativity will do for them.  Second, according to Moltmann, the notion of the crucified God does not allow for one to ignore pain and suffering, for the God of Christianity himself suffered.

On page 292, Moltmann makes a very provocative statement: "Theologians who go over to psychology and give up theology...often corrupt psychology with their repressed and unconscious theological expectations of the substitute."  What's that mean?  That the theologians-turned-psychologists are treating psychology as a sort of savior, or are looking to it to bring the change to human beings that God allegedly brings, or see themselves in the role of God, in relation to their patients?  I don't know.

I think that Moltmann makes good points, especially when he takes on the charge that Christianity is a crutch that keeps people immature.  I have doubts accepting, however, that belief in Christianity is the end-all, be-all, cure-all for everyone.  I don't think that belief in it automatically heals people of their guilt, or that it automatically reconciles people.  If one can truly internalize it and make it his or her worldview, perhaps it could work.  It depends on what kind of Christianity it is: if it is the type that believes in God's love and grace, or the type that does not.  (I should note that Moltmann may be a Christian universalist: see here and here.)  But, even if it professes grace, that doesn't necessarily mean that one who tries to believe in it will be reconciled with others, for there are plenty of people who believe in God's love and grace who aren't reconciled with everyone. 

There are a variety of reasons that Christianity doesn't work its magic on me.  I have doubts about its truth-value.  I question whether the God of love and grace whom many evangelicals like to profess is really the God of Scripture, or is rather the product of them believing in some biblical texts, while ignoring or downplaying others.  I'm not even sure if I want to believe it!  I'd like to believe in a higher power who loves me and has a redemptive plan for myself and the rest of the world.  But I have problems believing in a God who conditions his forgiveness of me on my forgiveness of others (which is how I understand what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount), who makes me fear that I will go to hell if I can't push my grudge out of my system or love everyone on the face of the earth.

There was a time when I was looking to therapy for answers.  Was I looking to it as a savior?  Well, I didn't see it the same way that I saw religion----at least not exactly.  I saw religion as a belief system that barked out inflexible commands that I could not follow, whereas I looked to therapy as a forum in which I could talk with someone, get feedback, and receive suggestions (as opposed to commands).  But I think that I was also looking for an authoritative voice to tell me that I was all right, and I looked to therapy for that, as I searched for it in religion before.  My problem with therapy is that, well, I didn't always like the feedback that I received!  What can I say?  I suppose that I would like a middle-ground between the inflexibility of Christianity (as I understand it), and my tendency to take the easier (yet not particularly pleasant) path, because I'm afraid to take the harder, possibly fruitful path, or I don't think that I have what it takes to travel it.

But there were times when I got helpful advice from therapy, or constructive ways to look at situations. 
I'm leaving the comments on, but I won't publish snarky or negative comments.

Julie Nixon Eisenhower's Pat Nixon: The Untold Story 2

One feature that I noticed in my latest reading of Julie Nixon Eisenhower's Pat Nixon: The Untold Story, which I haven't really seen in other books about Richard Nixon that I have read, is that Julie quotes extensively from the love letters between Richard and Pat, both from the time when they were courting, and also after they had married and Richard was in the navy.  Other books I have read quote some of those letters, or they refer to bits of information in the letters in an attempt to make a specific argument (in Fawn Brodie's case, that Nixon's later stories about his war record were exaggerations).  But Julie quotes from them more extensively.

When I have read pieces of Nixon's love letters in other books about Nixon, they come across to me as cheesy and over-the-top.  But I actually liked some of the letters between Richard and Pat when I was reading passages from them in Julie's book, and the reason is that each was saying what he or she liked about the other.  Richard commended Pat's energy, and Pat praised Richard for the consideration that he showed at a party.  I'd actually like to quote from the latter letter.  Nixon in the navy had a hamburger stand, where he gave out coffee, juice, and food.  More than once in my reading of books about Nixon, I have seen the navy Nixon compared with Henry Fonda's character in Mister Roberts, a movie that I now want to see!  In any case, after Richard wrote Pat about a get-together at his hamburger stand, Pat wrote back:

"I always like to hear of your get togethers too----you always make people have a good time.  Our parties have always been your successes.  Remember the time you even made the chop suey!!  When I think of all the wonderfulnesses for me----didn't I take advantage?----but, dearest, it was appreciated then and now.  I never shall forget how sweet you were the night Margaret and I had the teachers for a wiener roast----You carted, helped with the salad, bought the pies, went to LA for Mary's gift."

Okay, I'll admit that "wonderfulnesses" is a little over the top, but I still like this letter, for a variety of reasons.  For one, it exemplifies Julie's portrayal of her father, at least in what I have read thus far.  Julie acknowledges that her father was a shy introvert, and yet he comes across as a bit more fun and sociable in her book, as compared with other books about Nixon that I have read.  Second, I like how Pat highlights what she specifically likes about Richard.  Anthony Summers, in The Arrogance of Power, argues that Richard did not really know Pat when he married her, and some people I have read argue that Nixon tended to idealize Pat in his love letters to her, or perhaps even treated her as a project when he was courting her.  I'm not sure what to say about this, but their letters to one another convince me that they genuinely admired qualities in each other.

And, third, what Pat said Nixon did at her party reminds me of what I, as a shy and socially-awkward introvert, would most likely do at a party.   I one time read a post by a lady with Asperger's, and she suggested that what people with Asperger's should do at parties is help out: set out the food, help in the kitchen.  That way, they're at the party, meaning that they're not offending the host by not showing up, but they're not exactly interacting with people and making small talk, for they're busy helping out!  That seems to be what Richard was doing at the wiener roast for teachers that he and Pat attended.

Book Write-Up: The Crucified God, by Jurgen Moltmann

Jurgen Moltmann.  The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ As the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology.  Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993.

I found a couple of books by Moltmann when I was shopping at the Fortress Press book sale about five years ago.  They looked good to me, so I bought them.  One of them is The Crucified God, and the other is Theology of Hope.  Moltmann has also written a number of other books.  I probably should have read Theology of Hope before reading The Crucified God, since Moltmann in The Crucified God refers to Theology of Hope.  But I read what I read!

Several years ago, a librarian at a school that I was attending told me that she did not like to read theology.  She said that some theologians are overly cryptic, whereas other theologians spend pages repeating the obvious.  I was reading Karl Barth at the time, and I was trying to figure out which category he fell into!
Years before this conversation, when I was an undergraduate, a friend of mine was telling me about his struggles to prepare for a presentation that he had to give with another student.  The topic was a book by Rudolph Bultmann, and my friend thought that his partner should get on the ball and start reading the relevant parts of the book.  When his partner replied that it was only thirty pages, my friend replied, "And it will take you thirty hours to read it!"

I may link back to this post in the future when I write about theological books, just for these two anecdotes, for I'll probably be thinking about these incidents whenever I read theology.  Is the theological book deep, too cryptic, or repeating the same obvious message over and over?  Does it take me an hour to read each page?  Or, if I didn't have an hour to spend on each page, could I spend an hour on each page if I truly wanted to take the time to understand the book fully?

At first, in reading The Crucified God, I thought that Moltmann was saying stuff that I already knew, either from church or Bible study groups, or from reading evangelical books and tracts.  Then, Moltmann got really deep, and I wasn't entirely understanding his argument, particularly when he was addressing the issue of self-consciousness and interacting with the thoughts of Fichte and Kant.  When he was interacting with New Testament scholarship----such as Bultmann and the question of whether or not Jesus was a Zealot----I felt that I found more secure territory, in terms of my ability to follow what he was saying.  Still, I had a hunch that I might be missing something.  My reading of the rest of the book vacillated between being on fairly secure territory and feeling that Moltmann was repeating the obvious, yet, every now and then, Moltmann would say something that I didn't understand at all.

What this book is about is the significance of Jesus' crucifixion.  Moltmann discusses a variety of ways that Jesus' crucifixion was significant: that it expiated sins, and that it was an example of political oppression and thus teaches us about the importance of social justice.  For Moltmann, Jesus' resurrection indicated the dawn of a new era, the early stages of the eschatological defeat of evil, and that is what sets Jesus apart from other figures who have died for a cause.  Yet, Moltmann seems to believe that Christians should not rush through the crucifixion to get to the resurrection, for the crucifixion is indeed important.

What seems to be of particular importance to Moltmann is that God suffered when Jesus was suffering and dying on the cross.  For Moltmann, God the Father was in anguish during this event, and maybe Jesus' divine nature was suffering as well.  Believe it or not, this is actually a controversial position within Christian theology.  I talk in my posts here and here about the heresy of patripassionism, and the widespread view within ancient Christian theology that God cannot suffer.  Learning about this before I wrote those two posts was quite new to me, not to mention surprising, for I had often heard within my Christian sub-culture that God suffered, that God had emotions, that we could get through our pain in life remembering that there is a God who understands because he himself suffered.  Moltmann is defending what I had long taken for granted, before encountering positions to the contrary.  (I should also note that, while Moltmann at least on one occasion in the book seems to criticize Judaism as legalistic, he does affirm that Judaism at least has a concept of a God who suffers, which, he laments, is lacking within certain Christian beliefs.)

For a long time, the Greek notions of deity that early Christianity would absorb did not make much sense to me.  I heard or read theologians who said that God could not change his mind or suddenly start having a feeling that he did not have before because God is perfect, and, if God changed his mind or had a new feeling, that would imply that he previously was not perfect.  The implication seems to be that God has to be the same perfect way all of the time.  But that didn't make much sense to me, and it still doesn't.  Why can't there be different ways to be perfect?  Why does perfection have to be static?  If God is happy one moment and angry the next, that doesn't mean that God is ever imperfect, for God's happiness is rooted in righteousness, as is his anger.  In my opinion, God can feel different things at different times, and still be perfect (or at least righteous).

On one occasion in the book, Moltmann actually explains why there were ancient Christians who believed that God could not feel.  They thought that God's love had to be based on God being dispassionate, on God not having the neediness and desires that human beings have.  I have to admit that I think that there is something to this, and I wish that Moltmann had addressed it in more detail.  I don't think that we should have to toss out completely the notion that God has emotions, however, to believe in a God of disinterested love, a God who is not clingy and needy but who truly values our enhancement and well-being.  (God in the Bible often appears to me to be needy, insecure, and touchy, but I don't want to get too deeply into that in this post.)

I'll stop here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Julie Nixon Eisenhower's Pat Nixon: The Untold Story 1

I started Julie Nixon Eisenhower's Pat Nixon: The Untold Story.  Julie was the youngest daughter of Richard and Pat Nixon.

What I'll do in this post is quote a passage of the book that stood out to me, and then comment.  This will probably end up being a rambling post!

Will Ryan was Pat Nixon's father.  When he was slowly dying, his sister, Annie, came to help out his family, and she was trying to persuade Will to re-embrace Catholicism.  Will refused, until one day he expressed interest in spending his days in a Catholic sanitorium.  Will's son Tom was surprised, so Will explained his preference to his son: "It's all right to live without religion, but it's not all right to die without it."

That's actually a pretty provocative statement!  And it reminds me of things that some of my own relatives have said.  "My brother became religious and is going to church because he knows he's going to die soon, and he wants to enter the pearly gates," one of my relatives (not my own brother!) said.  "Christianity should be a way of life!"  This one relative was actually making the opposite point to what Will Ryan said, for my relative was saying that Christianity should be about how we live our life, not a last-minute decision before we die.  And this relative's father was one who developed a sudden interest in religion near the tail end of his life.  This relative's father wanted to be baptized in a river, not a bathtub, because the water of the river runs and flows, and he thought that would take away his sins!

Will Ryan may have wanted to enter the pearly gates.  Or perhaps he felt that religion could provide him with comfort in the insecure time of his death.  Maybe it was a combination of the two.  I don't judge people for having that sentiment.  At the same time, I do believe that Christianity should be a way of life, not simply something that one embraces shortly before one dies.

Is religion necessary for one to have good character?  Well, I believe that it can provide some people with a sense of moral responsibility and aspiration.  What kind of man was Will Ryan, according to Julie?  Julie, perhaps relying on her mother Pat's testimony, depicts him as one who loved to read and to learn, and yet he could get quite drunk.  Could religion have made him a better person by setting him on the straight and narrow?  Maybe, but there were probably reasons that he did not accept religion: he may not have wanted to be constricted by pressures to be perfect, or there were other things on his mind.

I've been reading the Book of Job lately, and a theme that comes up, in both the speeches of Job and his friends, is the person who chooses not to think about God.  This person is not interested in learning about God's ways, and he only calls on God in times of extreme peril.  He does not listen to God, but instead goes out and commits adultery or oppresses others for personal gain.  I know that most atheists are not that bad, and that many who don't believe in the Jewish and Christian God try to live moral lives.  At the same time, I can somewhat sympathize with this theme of Job: that it can be valuable for a person to seek to learn God's ways and to be in relationship with God, for that can endow a person with a sense of moral responsibility and aspiration.

I should mention another time when religion came up in my latest reading of Julie's book.  Pat's mother, Kate, died when Pat was a teenager.  Kate was friends with a nice Christian Science lady, and Kate was occasionally attending a Christian Scientist church.  Kate did not consult a medical doctor about her illness, and she soon died.  Julie says that Kate may not have chosen to see a doctor on account of her Christian Scientist friend's influence, or simply out of "her own determination not to give in to her illness" (page 25).  Whether seeing a doctor would have helped Kate, I don't know, for "cancer of the liver" was what was put on Kate's death certificate.  In any case, Kate's Christian Scientist friend was helpful to Kate's family after Kate had died, as she gathered clothes to dress Kate up for her funeral, which was held at the Christian Scientist church.  The Christian Scientist religion may have given this friend a generosity of spirit, and yet it may not have helped Kate.

These were some of the times when religion intersected with Pat's early life.  I've read in more than one place (not in Julie's book, but elsewhere) that Pat was an agnostic.  It will be interesting to see if Julie addresses religion later in this book.

UPDATE: On page 267, Julie says: "Since their marriage, my mother and father had not attached themselves to a particular denomination, choosing in each place they lived a church which provided a happy medium between my father's Quaker upbringing and the Methodist services Mother had attended as a child."  And, on page 402, Julie tells the story of when her mother told a group of women to pray for the press.  When a reporter then asked Pat if the press needs prayers, Pat replied, "We all do.  Who doesn't?"

Where Is the Missing Dollar?

I was recently watching the Highway to Heaven episode "It's a Dog's Life."  Near the beginning of that episode, Jonathan gives Mark a mathematical riddle.  The riddle has shown up in other places than that Highway to Heaven episode.  As a matter of fact, my sixth grade teacher have it to me class years ago.  I'll quote wikipedia's rendition of it:

"Three guests check into a hotel room. The clerk says the bill is $30, so each guest pays $10. Later the clerk realizes the bill should only be $25. To rectify this, he gives the bellhop $5 to return to the guests. On the way to the room, the bellhop realizes that he cannot divide the money equally. As the guests didn't know the total of the revised bill, the bellhop decides to just give each guest $1 and keep $2 for himself. Each guest got $1 back: so now each guest only paid $9; bringing the total paid to $27. The bellhop has $2. And $27 + $2 = $29 so, if the guests originally handed over $30, what happened to the remaining $1?"

I had to lay out thirty pennies to solve the riddle.  I wanted to make sure that the remaining one penny would not get lost!  What I found is that the riddle makes false assumptions.

For one, we're trying to account for all of the $30, right?  Why, then, does the riddle only consider the $27 that the guests paid to the hotel, plus the $2 that the bellhop kept for himself, while totally ignoring the $3 that the guests got as a refund (with $1 for each of the three guests)?  In short, why add the $27 and the $2, while ignoring the $3 that the bellhop let the guests have?  Actually, if we consider the $3, the riddle would not be what happened to the remaining $1, but rather where the two additional dollars came from, since $27+$2+$3=$32. 

That brings me to my second point: the riddle adds the $27 and the $2 together.  Actually, what one needs to do is subtract the $2 from the $27, not add them together.  When I was laying out the pennies, I set them out in three groups, representing the money that each guest gave to the hotel.  Each guest initially paid $10, then, after the refund, what each ended up paying to the hotel was $9, amounting to $27.  But I noticed a problem.  The guests were keeping $3, and the bellhop kept $2.  For the bellhop to get that $2, I needed to take $2 away from the $27.  There was no other way.  And remember that, in the riddle, the clerk gives the bellhop $5, which would leave the money that the hotel has at $25.  The hotel has $25, the guests have $3, and the bellhop has $2.  That's $30.  There is no missing dollar! 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Fawn Brodie's Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character 11

I finished Fawn Brodie's Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character.  On pages 513-514, Brodie states:

"Pat Nixon told Jessamyn West that in the early years Julie and Tricia could make their father laugh, and 'he could make them laugh.'  The fun, the laughter, what Pat described as 'the good times,' had long since disappeared in the relationship between Nixon and his wife.  But he did write her notes.  Dianne Sawyer, secretary in the White House, who accompanied the Nixons to San Clemente in their retirement and remained there until the memoirs were finished, has said that Nixon wrote many notes to Pat, which she was privileged to read, although she would not indicate the number or divulge the nature of the contents.  (She has taken 'a private oath' not to write or give interviews about her experience, at least while the Nixons are alive.)  Publication of these notes to Pat, or even a description of their feeling and content, may reveal a tenderness to Nixon which he has otherwise resolutely kept hidden.  In any case the very recourse to notewriting tells us more of the warping of Nixon's capacity for love."

One thing that this passage tells me is that nobody can write a fully-orbed biography of another human being.  Fawn Brodie, with all of her speculations about the psychology of Richard Nixon, cannot capture the full man.  Nixon, after all, wrote many letters to Pat.  Brodie may call that "the warping of Nixon's capacity for love", but the fact that he wrote letters to his wife may indicate that he did care about her, even though Brodie tells story after story about how that may not have been the case.

Now that Richard and Pat Nixon are dead, I wonder how much Diane Sawyer has chosen to talk about her time working for Nixon.  You can read here her responses to the Broadway play, Frost/Nixon, which later was made into a movie.  Someone played her in that.  Also, if I'm not mistaken, ABC News not long ago did a story on Nixon's love letters to Pat when they were courting.  As far as I can remember, though, Diane Sawyer did not give any indication that she knew much about the topic of Nixon's letters to Pat.  Perhaps she didn't think that was the time or the place for that!

Now for my overall impressions of Brodie's book: it was all right.  I didn't read anything earth-shakingly surprising.  I'm not sure if any anti-Nixon book can surpass Anthony Summers' The Arrogance of Power!  Summers drew from Brodie's work and even recommended it, but he had a lot more stories than she did.  Brodie's book has had a mixed reputation: it has been lauded for its interviews, but it has been criticized for its psychological speculations, and also for some of the negative things that it says about Nixon.  One criticism that I have read is that Brodie implies that Nixon had a homosexual relationship with his friend, Bebe Rebozo.  But she did not say that explicitly.  She simply said that they were friends, and that Nixon did not want people to think that he had a homosexual relationship with Rebozo.  She also mentions some of the homophobic things that Nixon had said.  I guess one can draw his or her own conclusions from that, but Brodie did not go as far as, say, Don Fulsom, who told about a lady who saw Nixon and Rebozo holding hands under the table.

Overall, I did find Brodie to be a good writer, and sometime in the future I may read her biography of Thaddeus Stevens, the radical Republican who was played by Tommy Lee Jones in the movie Lincoln.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Scattered Ramblings on Humility

The theme at church this morning was humility.

I had a variety of thoughts about humility both when I was walking to church, and also when I was walking back.  On the way to church, I was thinking about what I read every day, in terms of blogs and messages in my in-box.  As of late, I have realized that I cannot read every single blog post or message that is in my in-box, and so I tend to make choices.  What that amounts to is that I do not read my Joel Osteen daily devotionals, but I do read Derek Leman's Daily D'Var, one reason being that I respect how Derek refers to the insights of biblical scholarship as he discusses biblical passages.  Am I an academic snob, one who feels that a person needs to be familiar with biblical scholarship in order for me to read his or her blog?  Well, I'm sure that I can learn from a variety of people, since we all go through life and have undoubtedly learned lessons along the way!  But, at this point in my life, I'm drawn more to writings about the Bible that bring academic insights into the discussion (as long as they're not too tedious for me to read), than I am to devotionals.  I'm not saying that a person has to have a degree in religion for me to read him or her, but rather that I am inclined to read people who (regardless of their level of education) at least try to interact with biblical scholarship.

I don't want to be a snob, however, one who feels that a person needs to be familiar with Q or the Documentary Hypothesis for me to learn from him or her.  I go to my church's Bible study, and I doubt that the people there are familiar with Q or the Documentary Hypothesis.  (I could be wrong on this, but I'm just saying what my hunch is.)  But I still learn from them.  They ask good questions about the text.  They are willing to consult commentaries when they do not understand something.  I get enough from the Bible study group that I can blog about it the next day!  But, when it comes to my personal reading, I prefer to read things that interact with academic material, rather than stuff that is purely devotional.  There are some exceptions to this, but I'm just stating my general rule.  I can't read everything, so I have to pick and choose!  But I hope that this doesn't correspond with a smug attitude on my part.

While I was walking home from church, I was juxtaposing my pastor's sermon with something that I watched on YouTube yesterday.  You will probably laugh at this, in light of what I just said about how I prefer to read things that interact with biblical scholarship, but I was watching actress Candace Cameron Bure's testimony, which she gave at Liberty University!  (Candace is the sister of actor and popular evangelical Kirk Cameron, and she played D.J. Tanner on the TV series Full House.)  I like celebrities.  I especially like celebrities who are serious about their faith, even if I may not agree with them.  Thus, I decided to listen to Candace's talk about her faith journey.  Candace was talking about how she at one point in her life thought that she was better than a lot of the Christians whom she knew, but she came to learn that all of us fall short of God's purity, and so we're all really in the same boat.  While I had issues with how she was trying to justify hell, what she said about all of us falling short really made me think.  There have been plenty of times when I have felt superior to evangelicals I know: "These self-righteous jerks think they're so much better than me?", I've thought.  "Well, I tried to help someone whom most of them were ignoring when she needed help."  I still have this sort of resentment, but I hope that I can also realize that we're all in the same boat: that I am not better or more righteous than other people, and that I should not be hyper-critical of others while I pat myself on my back, for we all fall short of the standards of a perfect God.

The pastor's sermon appeared deeper to me as I was walking home.  The pastor was saying that things like status, money, fame, etc., do not satisfy, and that, when we truly grasp God's love, we will not use people for our own advantage.  It's odd to see this in a sermon about humility, isn't it, a sermon about how we are to have a down-to-earth opinion of ourselves?  Not really, if one thinks about it some more.  Why can I be a snob?  Because, deep down, I believe that there are things that make one person better than another, and these are things that the world often seeks in its search for satisfaction.  If I truly grasped the depth of God's love for all of us, would I be humbler?

Anyway, those are my scattered ramblings for today!

Fawn Brodie's Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character 10

My latest reading of Fawn Brodie's Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character was a summary of Brodie's psychological analysis of Richard Nixon.  Brodie essentially argues that Nixon was unloved as a child, and she states that Nixon's father was for winning at all costs, whereas his mother tended to stretch the truth when it suited her.  As a result, Nixon had a hunger for adulation, and he sought that through political success.  In the process of this, he stretched the truth, and he tried to win at all costs.  Earlier in the book, Brodie states that Nixon's environment enabled him to have the confidence to pursue his political dreams.  Had Nixon been at Harvard, the competition would have made it much harder for him to do so, but Nixon was at Whittier, where his ambitions were more attainable.

Elsewhere in the book, Brodie raises other considerations.  She speculates that Nixon's lying may go back to when he had to lie or adroitly manipulate the truth in order to avoid the discipline at the hands of his harsh father.  In the endnotes, she cites Bruce Mazlish's claim that Nixon did not rebel as a youth, and, "as a result," he did not bow "so totally before authority" (Mazlish's words, quoted on page 524).  The idea here may be that Nixon was rebelling against his parents' authoritarianism when he did ethically-compromising things as an adult.  Brodie also states that Nixon may have lied to make himself feel better: when someone prominent criticized him, Nixon went on to tell the story that this person had actually praised him.  Lying made it easier for him to cope, in short.

Another point that Brodie makes is that Nixon felt rather strangled by Quaker Whittier, which was one of the places where he grew up.  Brodie states that Nixon liked the "erosion of even the stoutest Quaker virtues" (Brodie's words) that occurred when oil was discovered in the 1920's, and she believes that this sentiment underlies Nixon's frequent statements as President that America was "the richest and strongest nation on earth" (Nixon's words), with "richest" coming first.  Brodie states that many in Whittier felt threatened by "the fantasy world of Hollywood" and the "surrounding Chicano society, with its taverns and dancehalls, its well-attended Catholic churches, with its more spontaneous gaiety" (page 501), and she seems to present Nixon rebelling against this protective Whittier mentality.  Nixon was drawn to acting and celebrities, he thought of practicing law in Havana, Cuba, and he enjoyed vacationing in the Caribbean.

Is there anything to Brodie's analysis?  I don't rule it out.  Nixon biographer Stephen Ambrose did not seem to find that kind of argumentation overly convincing, for, as he notes, many people feel insufficiently loved by their parents, and not all of them turn out as Richard Nixon did.  The thing is, though, people are different, and thus they respond to situations in different ways.

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