Three More Books to Read for Black History Month

Earlier this week at The Anxious Bench, I mentioned five books that I’m planning to read for Black History Month: biographies of Frederick Douglass and Jackie Robinson, plus a study of Catholic civil rights activism in Chicago, an analysis of the impact of the black church on the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Jemar Tisby’s widely-acclaimed history of Christian complicity in racism.

But I’m no expert, so I appreciate that Dr. Kooistra (here at AC 2nd) and Dr. Magnuson (at our Facebook page) have also shared resources related to African American history. And today, I’m happy to welcome back our colleague Ruben Rivera, Bethel’s chief diversity officer and the instructor of our Minorities in America class, who recommended three more books to read this month.

Audio book of Rankine, CitizenClaudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014)

There are numerous books about the African American experience in a racialized USA. What I like about Rankine’s is that, with the exception of a few pieces in it, the highly personal experiences are conveyed in the form of vivid short prose poems. I have often been asked what microaggressions are. Still others believe the term was invented by liberals. Read Rankin’s book and you’ll know what microaggressions are and that they are very real.

Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give (Balzer & Bray, 2017)

The Hate U Give is a young adult novel that has been adapted for a major motion picture by the same name. It deals with ripped-from-headlines issues: racial profiling; policing in communities of color; and most explosively, the killing of unarmed black men by white officers.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015)

This book comes in the form of a letter to his son Samori in the context of the need to make sense of recent killings of black men by police. Very well written, thoughtful, moving, and certain to stimulate questions about what it means to live in a black body in America.

– Dr. Ruben Rivera


Coming to Bethel: Former History Major David Brooks

Join us next Tuesday evening (Sept. 25, 7pm) when New York Times columnist, bestselling author, and radio/TV commentator David Brooks gives a public lecture in Benson Great Hall. (Tickets are free, but must be ordered ahead of time.)

Brooks, The Road to CharacterEntitled “The Road to Character,” Brooks’ talk builds on his 2015 book by that title,  which contrasts résumé virtues (“the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success”) with eulogy virtues (“the ones that exist at the core of your being”).

He’s one of the most prominent people to speak on campus in recent years, but I wonder how many people know that David Brooks was once a history major.

In an interview with the student newspaper at his alma mater, the University of Chicago, Brooks said that he ended up majoring in history because it somehow seemed more “practical” than his other choice: literature. But even as he moved into the worlds of politics and journalism, Brooks never lost his interest in history and literature.

In the midst of the Great Recession, Brooks dedicated one of his Times columns to warning against the decline of history, literature, and the other humanities as college students were increasingly tempted to think they had “to study something that will lead directly to a job.” He emphasized how history and similar fields train their students to read and write well, to understand emotion, and to make analogies.

But above all, he wrote that history and the other humanities would help students “befriend The Big Shaggy.” Here’s what he meant:

David Brooks…Over the past century or so, people have built various systems to help them understand human behavior: economics, political science, game theory and evolutionary psychology. These systems are useful in many circumstances. But none completely explain behavior because deep down people have passions and drives that don’t lend themselves to systemic modeling. They have yearnings and fears that reside in an inner beast you could call The Big Shaggy….

The observant person goes through life asking: Where did that come from? Why did he or she act that way? The answers are hard to come by because the behavior emanates from somewhere deep inside The Big Shaggy…

…over the centuries, there have been rare and strange people who possessed the skill of taking the upheavals of thought that emanate from The Big Shaggy and representing them in the form of story, music, myth, painting, liturgy, architecture, sculpture, landscape and speech. These men and women developed languages that help us understand these yearnings and also educate and mold them. They left rich veins of emotional knowledge that are the subjects of the humanities.

Learn more about David Brooks’ Bethel talk at His wife, Anne Snyder (a former philosophy major at Wheaton), will be the convocation speaker during Chapel time on Monday.

A Photographic Tour of Prof. Gehrz’s Office

I was on sabbatical the semester that Prof. Mulberry published a series here called “The Things They Carried,” in which different Bethel History and Political Science faculty shared some of the things they, well, carry in their work at Bethel. But in the spirit of using “physical objects to tell a person’s story and to profile who they are and the job they do,” I’ll share some photographs I took today of my office (AC 212).

I was responding to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that questioned the continuing value of the faculty office. You can read those reflections at my own blog, but I thought some of you might enjoy the pictures on their own. (And maybe I can convince a few more members of the department to do the same with their offices.)

Now Available from Prof. Gehrz: The Pietist Option

Congratulations to Prof. Chris Gehrz, whose new book with Evangelical Covenant pastor Mark Pattie came out today!

Gehrz & Pattie, The Pietist OptionThe Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity (InterVarsity Press) is a 21st century version of a 1675 book that launched the German Pietist movement. While it borrows from the history of Pietism, it addresses present-day concerns. In his endorsement, Bethel president Jay Barnes says that Gehrz and Pattie “help us see how Christ-followers in past centuries faced challenging issues in ways that are relevant to current events… The Pietist Option has wisdom for the church, the academy, and the neighborhood. I’m thankful for this resource.” Messiah College history professor John Fea (author, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?) agrees: “In an age in which the church is badly divided by politics and culture wars, The Pietist Option offers a better way. Chris Gehrz and Mark Pattie invite us to embark on a spiritual pilgrimage defined by loving our neighbors, living in hope, and listening to God. It is indeed time to reconsider the Pietist roots of American evangelicalism.”

All are invited to a book launch party for The Pietist Option — Tuesday, October 10th, 7pm at Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, MN. The authors will read excerpts and sign copies of the book.

Prof. Gehrz previously edited The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education: Forming Whole and Holy Persons (also InterVarsity Press) and The Pietist Impulse in Christianity (Pickwick). His next project is a spiritual biography of Charles A. Lindbergh, under contract with Eerdmans Publishing.

Reflections on GW: Janel Curry

Since his death last Friday, e’ve heard from many of GW’s former students, including several comments on our initial announcement of his passing. If you’d like to share your favorite memories of GW, send them to Prof. Diana Magnuson. As a sample of how our friend affected one student, we’re happy to publish this recollection by Dr. Janel Curry ’77, provost of Gordon College.

Today I am mourning the loss of a mentor: my undergraduate advisor and professor at Bethel College, G. William Carlson. I arrived as a 19-year-old junior political science transfer student, seeking a deeper understanding of myself and what it meant to be a Christian in the world. He introduced me to my Christian intellectual tradition—everything from Ellul to Stringfellow to Erasmus and Yoder. He was always a bit suspicious of Calvinists… I also read Goldwater and Hatfield—across the political spectrum. But in addition, I became part of his family, spending Sundays with them at church and their house. I taught Sunday school with them. He also provided a safe place for me when it came to my struggles with being a woman within the evangelical church, being supportive of women in all roles. He and his wife modelled this for me. They were my home away from home. He modelled civic engagement through serving on the St. Paul school board.

I also took peace and conflict studies and history—all areas where he taught. And he was the hardest professor I ever had. The reading in his courses would encompass hundreds of pages of material. In his Soviet politics course we got great pleasure walking around with a huge 800-page book titled An Anatomy of a Communist Takeover. I could never get higher than a B+.

When I graduated and went off to volunteer service in Louisiana, he would send me books in the mail. I stayed with he and his family when I flew back for my aunt’s funeral.

When I moved back to Minnesota I worked for a season at the Minnesota Department of Revenue, answering tax questions on the phone. In between calls I would read books provided by his library, which I visited each Sunday. I read hundreds of books during that tax season: E. Stanley Jones, C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Clarence Jordan, Luther, Martin Luther King, Tolstoy, and Menno Simons. I read church history and books about South Africa and apartheid, the Chicago 10… I read theology on church-state relations. At one point, one of my co-workers asked for my reading list. I read far and wide. I was helping him move his library from his old house to his new house just across the street when we heard on the radio that John Paul had been chosen as the new pope.

When I started graduate school we had an informal competition on which of us would finish our Ph.D. first—I won. His wife Cathy was not surprised.

Janel Curry
Janel Curry – Gordon College

We stayed in contact over the years, and he and Cathy would meet me for dinner when I was in the Twin Cities. He was concerned when I moved to Calvin College: The historians there drank beer with their pizza… and they were Calvinists…

His wife once told me that I was one of his best students. When I said I would have not known that because I could only get a B+, she told me that he got the same grades in college.

I saw G. William just last April when I was doing interviews at Bethel on women and leadership. He was pleased at the leadership roles that women had moved into. He was still involved in local politics. He was still reading voraciously. He was retired but still teaching—this time for a colleague who was ill. And I think he was pleased that I was now at Gordon because they weren’t Calvinists…

William is probably now chatting with Clarence Jordan, and Menno Simons. And he may be surprised to find John Calvin…

Rest well, good and faithful servant.

Modern Europe Journal: Collaboration and Resistance

Why did some Germans and other Europeans collaborate in the Holocaust, while others risked their lives to resist? Students in HIS354 Modern Europe asked this question last week, after having read Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men, watched the 2005 German movie Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (about the arrest and execution of the students in the White Rose, an anti-Nazi resistance movement) and visited an online exhibit from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum entitled “Some Were Neighbors.” One of the many excellent responses came from History major Elizabeth Hynes ’16, who was kind enough to share this revised version of her essay with us.

Browning, Ordinary MenStudying the events of the Holocaust truly pushes my limits of “imaginative understanding.” It is especially difficult for me to resonate personally with the millions of ordinary citizens in Germany and other occupied countries who seemingly stood by as Hitler and the Nazis carried out genocide on an alarming scale. The “final solution” was enacted with the precision of a well-oiled machine and required many civilians to tacitly aid in the disposal of thousands of Jews and other Nazi targets. Hitler’s success in implementing the final solution was contingent upon the fact that no one in Germany or other occupied territories would go to great lengths to stop him. In fact, scenes from Sophie Scholl: The Final Days almost seem to indicate that people may have been brainwashed into thinking that Hitler’s xenophobic vision wasn’t all that awful, or at the very least that his actions were a necessary evil: that Germany would never flourish without a bit of initial violence.  At any rate, a very large percentage of the population had to be complicit with Hitler’s actions in order for the Holocaust to happen.

It is almost impossible for me to put myself in these people’s shoes. I tend to look incredulously at people who seem to have so much hate in their hearts. I struggle to find common ground or empathize in any way with people who leaned out of a schoolhouse, cheering as hundreds of Jews marched by on the way to their deaths. As a Christian, I want to believe that people have the capacity to be good; I want to believe in the prospect of seeing “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13). But I’m finding it really hard to maintain hope in a world where people can be so complicit in the maltreatment of others, a world where hate often seems to prevail.

In light of this, I find that it is ever important to constantly recognize and remind myself of how my own biases could be coming into play. It is easy for me to say that if I lived in Europe during the reign of Hitler that I would have been like Sophie Scholl — I would have stood up and done something. With hindsight bias, it’s easy to point fingers at people and call them bystanders to murder and say that they should have done more. It is easier to pass judgment on others and point out the ways in which their actions are flawed than to admit the commonalities between their attitudes and my own. In an event as gruesome as the Holocaust, the line between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” often seems so clear. However, after looking at the Some Were Neighbors online exhibit and reading Ordinary Men, I think that it’s entirely reasonable to come to the conclusion that there was more going on than just blind hatred or laziness: factors other than some intrinsic heroism or superior moral scruples may have been at play and contributed to complicity in the Holocaust.

As we saw in Sophie Scholl, direct force was one of the main tactics used by Nazis to quell potential resistance. People who stood up to Nazism usually wound up dead. This fact alone probably provided enough deterrence to quell most dissent. Normal citizens could not reasonably go about their daily lives or maintain any semblance of peace of mind without conforming to Hitler’s vision for society. As we saw in Ordinary Men, people could also be forced to contribute more passively to Nazi violence through threats and coercion; people were probably more likely to submit to Nazi activities if they honestly believed that their jobs and livelihoods depended on it. No one wanted to return to the post-Versailles days of economic oppression or abandon their leadership in wartime. Additionally, Hitler may eventually have been able to rely on more insidious forms of power. By 1942, when Nazi violence began to escalate, Hitler had already been in power for nine years. By that time, people in Germany especially had grown accustomed to that way of life. In the face of extreme violence, the natural human response is often to go numb, especially if the violence has a certain air of inevitability. I think this certainly applies in this case. Although some German civilians and other Europeans openly expressed hatred toward Jews and others, many more may have passively accepted anti-Semitism as commonplace.

Picture of Martin Niemoeller
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
(Image: Dutch National Archives)

The troubling truth still remains that not everyone was passive or complicit. A not insignificant amount of people in Germany and other European countries did stand up to Hitler, even in small ways. I cannot possibly make any judgment about why those people found the strength to do so, while so many others did not. If anything, I think the lessons that I can draw from this entire situation focus on something akin to Martin Niemoller’s “First They Came…” poem (see right). It is really easy to look at this situation and say that I would never be blind to such obvious evil or to passively accept such oppression of an entire people group. But, people at the time likely did not see themselves as conspirators to murder, and it may be unfair of me to look at them in that light.

However, though many were not intentionally taking part in the Holocaust, their thoughts and attitudes resulted in the necessary complicity for the Holocaust to happen. Sometimes society subtly tells us to think a certain way about a group of people and we absorb stereotypes and prejudices without even realizing it. People use all kinds of beliefs and social constructs to justify their judgments of other people and I think that the dangers of such thinking were just as prevalent in the 1940s as they are now. If society seems to be telling us to look skeptically at an entire people group, we should probably question why we are being pulled toward such thinking, even if there seems to be no immediate consequences for us in the quiet marginalization of others.

Lately on social media, there have been posts circulating that compare the refusal of many governors to welcome Syrian refugees to the refusal of the U.S. to welcome Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.

This easy correlation is perhaps not entirely valid, but it is certainly something to think about. Too many people learned about the Holocaust in school and came away with the lesson that “Hitler was a bad man” but not much else. I think that we cannot lose sight of the fact the Holocaust shows us just how awful circumstances become when (for whatever reason) people lose sight of their common humanity with others. This timeless lesson is relevant both in the study of the past and in making sense of the present.

–  Elizabeth Hynes

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc

If you’ve been paying any attention to my posts to this blog this semester, you’ll know that mystery novels, even those of a historical nature, are a bit of a departure from my usual reading.  A couple of years ago, however, a budding novelist contacted me after reading my dissertation.  It turns out she was writing a book featuring a female socialite who does a little sleuthing in Los Angeles.  The amateur sleuth, Anna Blanc, ends up encountering some bad eggs in the novel, including a madam, and the author wanted to verify some details about prostitution in Los Angeles in the early twentieth century.


Well, research–particularly research on prostitution in Los Angeles–is kind of my thing.  So, we had several email exchanges, and I did my best to answer any questions.  Now, that budding novelist is the published author Jennifer Kincheloe, and the book, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, is available for purchase.

The book is an enjoyable one.  Anna Blanc, the title character, is a fun and spunky young woman that I, at least, was rooting for through the entire book.  (I’m not the only reader who finds comparisons between Anna Blanc and Phryne Fisher.)   Kincheloe is clearly a fan of early twentieth-century fashion, and so she paints a vivid picture not only of Anna Blanc, but also the clothes everyone else is wearing too.  Historical Los Angeles is also a fun place to visit.

So, check out the book.  I had the privilege of reading an early draft of it, and I’m looking forward to reading the finished product.  I got my signed copy in the mail today, and so I’ll be taking a little break from the hiking memoirs–at least until I zip through The Secret Life of Anna Blanc.




Two Talks This Week on the Nuremberg Trials

If you live in the Twin Cities area and are interested in the war crimes trials held at Nuremberg seventy years ago, this is your lucky week!

Tomorrow night (Wednesday, Nov. 11) at 7pm, World Without Genocide and several local co-sponsors will present a talk by law professor Michael Bayzler, co-author of Forgotten Trials of the Holocaust. The talk will be at William Mitchell Law School in St. Paul. Tickets cost $10 for the general public, $5 for students and seniors; it’s free for law students at Hamline and William Mitchell. (It also carries continuing ed credit if you’re a lawyer or teacher.) No reservations are needed.

Bayzler & Tuerkheimer, Forgotten Trials of the HolocaustIf you can’t make it on Wednesday night, you get a second crack at the same speaker on Thursday night (Nov. 12, also 7pm) when Prof. Bayzler speaks at Historic Fort Snelling, as part of the Dr. Harold C. Deutsch World War II History Round Table. This time he’ll focus on lesser known trials, as the round table newsletter explains:

Over the next seventy years there were trials for the lesser known perpetrators of the Holocaust in many different countries and under widely varying legal systems. The most famous trial was that of SS-Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann in Israel in 1961-1962. There would be trials for the camp commandants like Amon Göth (made famous in the movie Schindler’s List) in Poland, and camp personnel at Dachau by the United States Forces Europe, Germans trying German personnel from Auschwitz, collaborators like Pierre Laval in France, female Nazi camp personnel of Ravensbruck under British jurisdiction, and Jewish kapos (Concentration Camp Jews who worked for the Nazis) in the newly formed state of Israel. Each country had to wrestle not only with how to mete out a paltry justice for the victims but its with own conscience.

The Round Table suggest a $5 donations, with no cost for students and veterans.

Modern Europe Journal: Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace

Last week in HIS354 Modern Europe, Prof. Gehrz’s students read and discussed Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace, by popular historian Kate Summerscale. Set in Victorian England, the book tells the story of Isabella Robinson, an upper class woman who was sued for divorce by her husband Henry. While the book explores everything from gender roles to the history of science, students wrote their response papers on methodological and philosophical questions: Was Summerscale right to rely so heavily on Isabella Robinson’s diary? What are the problems and possibilities inherent in such a primary source? Among many other excellent essays, this one from History major and department teaching assistant Julia Muckenhirn ’17 stood out.

“A married woman in England has no legal existence…” (Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace, p. 105)

Summerscale, Mrs. Robinson's DisgraceOften, when consulting the past on a particular subject, it is truly startling to hear the reply. During much of Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace this is exactly the case. If we’re a bit desensitized towards the strangeness of historical events, personal accounts such as a diary can re-kindle forgotten empathy and stir a sense of connection often left dormant. Private, personal, and un-monitored, diaries and other such personal documents provide a wonderful look into otherwise unreachable pieces of history. Emotions and thoughts, fears and intelligence are not easily extracted from the recesses of the past. While other literary sources such as legal documents or newspaper columns can construct rude, standardized skeletons, it is those of personal information that give color to the cheeks and voice to the throat. Additionally, primary sources such as this possess the unique advantage of allowing the less recognized side of humanity, such as women, children and slaves, a method of communication to later generations.

However, for all their value, utilizing a diary for historical analysis is burdened with its own set of difficulties: “…checked by no other perspective, the diary could conjure up a wished-for world, in which memories were colored with desire” (p. 42). In other words, because it is private and often emotionally saturated, diaries can easily manipulate actual circumstances to best suit the writer, and, as a consequence, the reader. As with all contemplation of historical information there is some element of “reading between the lines.” Seen throughout Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace, the lack of specific details can cause assumptions and guesses to become the only option. Debate over the legitimacy of the diary as relevant and factual evidence against Isabella in the book (albeit for a variety of reasons) raises the same question today. Can personal stories become incriminating or liberating evidence of past lives, both individually and societally? Clearly Isabella Robinson’s loneliness, discouragement, guilt, sexual frustration, and under-appreciated mental capacity all led her to seek an outlet in her diary. The emotions conveyed in a private diary can certainly portray reality, however, this could also shed exaggerated light on particular subjects. She also may have hoped to have her frustrations read… if not in actual intent than subconscious yearning. She may have hoped that the perceived rebellion, sins, or intelligence she held within would find a way to the minds of society.

It is useful to maintain a certain perspective when dealing with primary source evidence such as a diary. First, temper the content of the diary with comparative studies of both personal and public status. Finding trends, patterns, and consistencies (or the reverse) can highlight norms of the era. Contextual analysis is also helpful in identifying reasons behind conceived emotions.  Realizing the status of women during Isabella’s day can anchor her writings with factual understanding. As an example, knowing the importance of “…law, religion and morality” (p. 33) can help the modern-day reader understand the pressures she felt as a woman, wife, mother, and even convicted adulteress. Lastly, the context of the source today is useful to consider. Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace, while valuable in and of itself, must be considered within the bounds of Kate Summerscale’s bookends. This second author certainly is attempting to convey a particular story and one that possibly lacks in scholarly or “academic” perspective.

Wonderfully informative and empathetically useful, diaries as a primary source are a fantastic addition to historical studies. However, there is little doubt that even literary treasures such as these are only a shadow of the past. We must realize that the present, as Isabella so poetically put it, is:  “…unable to gaze openly upon the man himself….[and must] dwell instead on a miniature portrait of him…” (p. 19).

– Julia Muckenhirn

Recognition for The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education

Gehrz (ed.), The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher EducationWe’re happy to announce that The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education: Forming Whole and Holy Persons, edited by our own Prof. Chris Gehrz, was last night named a finalist for the 2015 Lilly Fellows Program Book Award.

Published late last year by IVP Academic and featuring essays by current and former Bethel faculty, The Pietist Vision finished just behind a book on Catholic higher education in the prestigious competition, for which over forty books were nominated.

Bethel is one of ninety-seven church-related colleges and universities in the diverse Lilly Network, whose Book Award

honors an original and imaginative work from any academic discipline that best exemplifies the central ideas and principles animating the Lilly Fellows Program.  These include faith and learning in the Christian intellectual tradition, the vocation of teaching and scholarship, and the history, theory or practice of the university as the site of religious inquiry and culture.

Works considered for this year’s award address the historical or contemporary relation of Christian intellectual life and scholarship to the practice of teaching as a Christian vocation or to the past, present, and future of higher education.

For more on this award, the Lilly program, and The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education, head over to Prof. Gehrz’s blog, The Pietist Schoolman.