November 28, 2016

Book review: “C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography” by George M. Marsden

Three years ago, during the annual NCAA basketball March Madness, there was a parallel online tournament in which participants voted for the best Christian book of all time. The brackets, overseen by the Emerging Scholars Network of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an interdenominational evangelical campus ministry, featured 68 works by such spiritual heavyweights as Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Aquinas, Rick Warren, J.R.R. Tolkien, John Calvin, Flannery O’Connor and Dante. The winner in the final showdown was Confessions by Augustine, not a great surprise since it has been one of the foundational texts of Christianity for more than 1,700 years. In second place, though, was a book that had been written just 61 years earlier by a self-described amateur theologian named Clive Staples “Jack” Lewis with the unprepossessing title Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis, a British university don and an expert in medieval and renaissance literature, is best known today as the writer of such novels as The Screwtape Letters and the seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia, three of which have been made into movies in the last decade. Mere Christianity is framed as an explanation of Christianity for those who aren’t believers or are nominal Christians. As […]
November 28, 2016

Book review: “Big Bosses: A Working Girl’s Memoir of Jazz Age America” by Althea McDowell Altemus, edited and annotated by Robin F. Bachin

In 1922, after working more than four years in Florida as an executive secretary, Althea McDowell Altemus took her eight-year-old son Robert and headed for home territory: Chicago. For a carefree two months, the 35-year-old widow and Tidbits, as she called her son, made Chicago their playground, as she explains in the newly published Big Bosses: A Working Girl’s Memoir of Jazz Age America (University of Chicago Press): We had given the once over to every toy in Field’s playroom – we could tell you about every animal in the Lincoln Park Zoo – we knew every kid at Clarendon Beach – we had sported joy rides on the top of every bus line approaching the Loop – we had even been out in the country and helped milk the cows and bring in the eggs… It was nearly a century ago, but the Chicago playground that Altemus describes in Big Bosses won’t be unfamiliar to many present-day residents of the city and suburbs. True, Marshall Field’s is now Macy’s, but the department store retains more than a bit of its aura as a fixture on the city’s business and cultural landscape. The Lincoln Park Zoo and the lake beaches […]
November 23, 2016

Chicago history: When the Tribune’s home was covered in “deep chocolate” soot

With great fanfare, the Chicago Tribune celebrated its new headquarters on the southeast corner of Dearborn and Madison Streets on July 23, 1902. It was the seventh location for the 55-year-old newspaper, and the third erected on that spot. The newspaper was proud as punch of its new home and wasn’t shy about tooting its own horn. (After all, this was a journalistic institution that, beginning in 1911, would refer to itself for decades as “The World’s Greatest Newspaper.”) In a 32-page special “historical supplement” on that July day, Tribune writers rhapsodized about the new building as “one of the handsomest and best-equipped newspaper offices in the world.” Headlines, over photographs and stories, proclaimed the new building’s virtues: • “Heating System Is Perfect” • “Tribune Walls Waterproof” • “Setting Boilers a Giant Task” • “No Life Lost in Building” • “Editorial Rooms Are Large” • “Beauty of Business Offices” • “Washed Air in New Building”   Soon to fall victim But perhaps the newspaper’s greatest boast was in another headline: “Building One of City’s Sights: New Home of ‘The Tribune’ Already One of Chicago’s Prominent Show Places.” Alas, as handsome as the building was and as certain as the newspaper […]
November 21, 2016

Poem: “Absent angel”

Absent angel   Mary on the hill, her dying son, her aching bones and flesh, her flock of his friends looking to her for what?   She endured. The next step is a step in any direction.   The thirteen of us swim in the suicide of our brother. We can’t help but drink in the gall.   A sister sends a text with David’s voice like Abraham’s blooded knife and no angel swooping to the rescue.   Patrick T. Reardon 11.21.16
November 21, 2016

Poem: “David Reardon (January 23, 1951-November 21, 2015)”

David Reardon (January 23, 1951-November 21, 2015)   You were there, David, with me. I was there with you.   We were drawn together and pushed apart by circumstances, our souls, our yearnings, ignorant luck and fatal choice.   Now you have left without me. I am left without you.   Patrick T. Reardon 11.21.16 This poem originally was published by Silver Birch Press on December 6, 2015.  It is also one of the poems in the collection Requiem for David to be published by Silver Birch Press in February.
November 17, 2016

Book review: “Pagan Babies” by Elmore Leonard

When is a priest a priest? And when is he not? Five years ago, Terry Dunn came to the small village in Rwanda to help his aged missionary uncle out and became the village priest when his uncle died. In Elmore Leonard’s 2000 novel Pagan Babies, Terry Dunn is a Detroit boy who, five years earlier, came to the small village in Rwanda to help his aged missionary uncle out. When the uncle died, Terry became the village priest. He is a Catholic boy whose mother had always wanted him to get ordained. He’d been an altar boy, and, like generations of Catholic school kids, he’d kicked in small change to the jar labeled “For Pagan Babies,” the collection for mission work in foreign lands. Terry had served his parishioners, living their life as one of them. As he explained to his well-to-do lawyer brother Fran in a letter home: “Listen to this, [Fran says to his wife Mary Pat]. He lists the different smells you become aware of in the village, like the essence of the place. Listen. He says, ‘The smell of mildew, the smell of raw meat, cooking oil, charcoal-burning fires, the smell of pit latrines, the […]
November 14, 2016

Book review: “Rodin: The Gates of Hell” by Antoinette Le Normand-Romain

I’m fascinated by the Falling Man near the top of Auguste Rodin’s masterwork The Gates of Hell, just to the left of The Thinker. It’s featured in a full-page photograph in Antoinette Le Normand-Romain’s 1999 book Rodin: The Gates of Hell. Holding on with his left arm, the nude figure is contorted, his muscles taut, straining, as he is just moments away from losing his grip and tumbling off into the abyss.   Never finished Rodin’s Gates of Hell is a monumental work — roughly 20 feet tall, 13 feet wide and three feet deep — that was never finished. He tinkered with it for decades. Actually, “tinkered” is the wrong word. Rodin interacted with this huge work of his imagination, adding and subtracting, and borrowing from its forms to create separate works, such as The Thinker. What is viewed as the definitive version of the work was completed in 1889 or 1890, but wasn’t cast in bronze until after the sculptor’s death in 1917. It is made up of 227 figures that stretch, strain, touch, bend, twist, writhe and reach out in the chaos of movement up and down the two (never-to-be-opened) doors, from top to bottom and from […]
November 11, 2016

Poem: “The empty cave”

Let me be clear: In the face of hate and fear, I choose hope and love.   But what about the Ku Klux Klan? What about the yahoos in the gas station: “Watch out. We’re in charge again”? What about the man to the woman, “Bow down”? What about the weeping eight-year-old Mexican boy?   I will not demonize. I will not stew in cozy bile.   I will live with the complex pain of living — yeah, that slash and gash and throb and nerve-ending scream.   I will act not on shadows and phantoms.   I will offer cheek, coat, open wound.   Yes, I want to curl up and close my eyes and suck at some convenient breast, but I choose to look into the face of each soul and — hard as it is — to show my true face, the face I am trying to find.   I have seen fear kill — over the centuries and in a backyard in Oak Lawn.   I know the nails were hammered into innocent wrists. He could have gotten up the night before and walked out of that fetid garden. Afraid, he chose.   He died. And, […]
November 9, 2016

Poem: “Render”

Caesar will do what Caesar will do. Do the lilies worry? Do the lilies give orders to the sun? The rain? The soil food?   The rain does what the rain does. The lily stretches to the sun. The lily turns its face to the sun. The lily reaches out roots. The roots reach and reach and suck in the soil food. The rain comes. The soil drinks. The lily drinks.   The soul of the soil is silent. The soil’s soul is as deep as the pain of breathing, as deep as the delight of the lily in the bright-white sun.   Amen. Alleluia. The Lord gives. The Lord takes away. Caesar will do what Caesar will do.   I am a lily among lilies on the mountainside, a field of lilies with roots that reach out, stretch, wrap and intertwine, sharing soil-food, the rain, the hug of the sun. And the danger of a hoof and the nibble of a rabbit and a passing stroller who takes a fancy to the bloom.   It is autumn now. The snow of winter will come. Each flower will die and, in the spring, be reborn. Is this consolation?   The […]
November 3, 2016

Book review: “The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther” by Jeffrey Haas

The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther is much more readable than I would have expected it to be. This 2010 book by Jeffrey Haas tells the story of a 1969 Chicago police raid on the home of local Black Panther leader Jeff Fort in which Fort and another Panther, Mark Clark, were fatally shot, and it asserts that Fort’s death was murder — an assassination which was planned by Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan and arranged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The raid was part of a national FBI campaign to ensure that a black “messiah” did not arise and threaten the status quo. Haas, one of a tiny group of idealistic white attorneys who worked on behalf of the Panthers (and other Anti-Establishment African-Americans), was deeply involved in legal effort to bring this story to light. It was an effort that, after a 13-year battle, was so successful that the city of Chicago, Cook County and the federal government ponied up $1.85 million for the survivors of the raid and the families of Fort and Clark rather than face a trial on civil rights violations.   True-believer […]
November 1, 2016

Essay: Job 1 is voting

Voting is my job. Voting is your job. It’s Job One for us as Americans. When we go to the polling place, enter the voting booth and cast our ballot, we are doing Important work.  Essential work. As electors, we are directly involved in determining who will serve us — all of us — in public office and indirectly in determining the policies that will guide the actions of government and the decisions on who will be helped and how. As citizens and as human beings, you and I have a responsibility to work to make the world a better place, and voting is the way we do that by carrying our part of the burden of government. If we fail to vote, we fall down on the job. If we vote carelessly and thoughtlessly, we pervert our sacred task.   Our vocation as citizens Our vocation as citizens is to study the candidates and their policies, to weigh their characters and past actions and to evaluate them in the context of the needs and aspirations of the people.  And then — only then — to enter the booth and mark our ballot. We live in the real world, and […]