The Devil in the White City

History and fiction buffs unite! Though this book is purely historical, it is written like a novel. Who would have known that reading about the architecture of the extinct Chicago World Fair would be such a page-turner? Larson does a magnificent job at connecting many pieces of history to this one brief moment in time, when America awakened to its grandest potential.

There’s something about America’s past that makes me well up inside. When I see movies like The Majestic where all the townspeople are lined up outside the brightly-lit movie theater, or in The Music Man when the locals all gather at the center of town to dance the night away with their sweethearts, twirling, spinning, and twirling underneath multi-colored hanging lanterns, and fireworks exploding up above in the night sky, something in me cries out for the return of America’s glory days. The Devil in the White CIty does a marvelous job at recreating America’s prime, and the author never bores when describing the pure-white city as bright as Heaven itself, and so majestic that the Court of Honor alone brought grown men to tears upon seeing it.

True, part of this book is about a serial killer, but Larson, does not go into any gory detail, and handles the grim topic with care and tact. There are two murder scenes, but they are intended to convey fact rather than fear, and they pass by quickly enough. The murderer is not in contact with his victims, which may ease the tension for some readers. Aside from that, there is a brief mention of Jack the Ripper toward the beginning of the book that is a bit unsettling. I give these disclaimers because I know there are sensitive readers who may prefer to stay away from certain topics. I really wish books came with ratings and disclaimers like the movies.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

One of the delights of the fair was never knowing who might turn up beside you at the chocolate Venus de Milo or at the hearse exhibit or under the barrel of Krupp’s monster, or who might sit at the table next to yours at the Big Tree Restaurant or the Philadelphia Cafe or the Great White Horse Inn, a reproduction of the public house described by Dickens in The Pickwick Papers; or who might suddenly clutch your arm aboard the Ferris Wheel as your car began its ascent. Archduke Francis roamed the grounds incognito – but much preferred the vice districts of Chicago. Indians who had once used hatchets to bare the skulls of white men drifted over from Buffalo Bill’s compound, as did Annie Oakley and assorted Cossacks, Husars, Lancers, and the members of the U.S. Sixth Cavalry on temporary furlough to become actors in Colonel Cody’s [Buffalo Bill’s] show. Chief Standing Bear rode the Ferris Wheel in full ceremonial headdress, his two hundred feathers unruffled. Other Indians rode the enameled wooden horses of the Midway carousel. 

There were Paderewski, Houdini, Tesla, Edison, Joplin, Darrow, a Princeton professor named Woodrow Wilson, and a sweet old lady in black summer silk flowered with forget-me-not-blue named Susan B. Anthony. Burnham [the central architect] met Teddy Roosevelt for lunch. For years after the fair Burnham used the exclamation, “Bully!” Diamond Jim Brady dined with Lillian Russell and indulged his passion for sweet corn.

No one saw Twain. He came to Chicago to see the fair but got sick and spent eleven days in his hotel room, then left without ever seeing the White City. 

Of all people. 

Suspense seekers and history buffs, you all ought to check this book out. It’s a lot of fun and very fascinating. And you will walk away with a deeper appreciation of the roots of America’s greatness, and why we are still the greatest country in the world 120 years later.

Also, how has this not been made into a movie? I hope Peter Jackson or Ron Howard are just waiting for the screenplay.

When Reconciliation is Not Sought

You may be in a position where you hate someone right now. Whether it be a trivial feud that escalated, or a situation where someone stabbed you in the back and you can’t seem to find a way to forgive and move on. Let’s all learn what anger can lead to from the best teacher alive today: history.

This is taken from The American Patriot’s Almanac by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb

July 11, 1804, brought the most famous duel in American history and the fatal shooting of one of the nation’s founders.

The duel between Vice President Aaron Burr and former treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton was the result of a longstanding enmity. Politics and personal insults had driven the two men to detest each other. In 1804, when Burr ran for governor of New York, Hamilton attacked his character, denouncing him as an unprincipled adventurer. Burr lost the election and demanded satisfaction of Hamilton. In those times, that meant a duel.

Hamilton felt he could not refuse Burr’s challenge without appearing cowardly. It could not have been an easy decision: Hamilton’s eldest son, Phillip, had been killed in a duel. Hamilton apparently made up his mind to throw away his first shot at Burr, even if it meant death. He was resolved to “live innocent” rather than “die guilty” of shedding another man’s blood.

Early on July 11, the two men faced each other on a dueling ground at Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton fired into the air, missing Burr on purpose. Burr leveled his pistol and shot Hamilton in the abdomen, the bullet passing through his enemy’s liver and diaphragm.

Hamilton knew the wound was mortal. His friends ferried him over the Hudson River to New York City, where he died after thirty hours of pain. His death was widely mourned, even by political opponents. He was the only one of the Founding Fathers to die a violent death.

Burr was indicted for murder but not arrested. He fled New York, eventually returning to Washington, D.C., where he finished his term as vice president. The duel brought an end to his political career, and the shooting is still regarded as one of the saddest episodes in American political history.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you, anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”

-Jesus, Matthew 5:21-22

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The Weight of Glory

C.S. Lewis has long been revered as one of the leading Christian thinkers of the 20th century. His simple ideas have caused us to ponder deeper truths, his bluntness over matters of the human heart have caused us to blush and sheepishly admit wrongs we wouldn’t have otherwise, and his analogies have given us just a clearer glimpse into the thoughts of God.

The power of the written word. One needs only to pick up a Lewis book to witness its strength. And The Weight of Glory is no exception. Allow me to run through the catalogue of chapters, in case you haven’t read this classic, and hopefully it will convince you to pick it up for your next read. Disclaimer: It is not a pleasure read – it’s a thinker and it will cause you to dig deep to discover some of its meaning.

Chapter 1 – The Weight of Glory

This sermon was preached when England was at war with Germany, on June 8, 1941. People were probably at that time struggling with issues like truth, and justice and relevance in a world that was falling apart. Lewis puts forward the idea that a desire for reward is a basically biblical idea. He goes on to state that the appeals in scripture are actually given with desire in mind, and that desire is built into the design of man. He also states that the reward fits the behavior and is not an inappropriate or mercenary reward but the culmination of the activity. “The proper rewards are not tacked onto the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.”

Chapter 2 – Learning in War Time

I really appreciate Lewis’ argument here. He states that we are never really secure in life. Human life is lived on a precipice of constant danger. He also states that if we waited until we were safe to pursue beauty we would never begin that pursuit. Lewis preached this sermon in 1939 while tensions over the war in Europe were raging. Lewis, as an former soldier and Christian was called in to set things in perspective. I am certain he was addressing the question, “Why should we continue with our studies when the world is hanging on the edge of disaster?” He divides the question into two categories, one is the need for the saving of souls, and secondly the need for exclusive nationalism.

Chapter 3 – Why I am Not a Pacifist

I appreciate how Lewis starts out this talk by defining his terms carefully. He is using logic to appeal to the audience and this is very effective as it considers all options. He is going to systematically take apart these options one by one and be left with his own position as the best option.

Chapter 4 – Transposition

Lewis tackles a tough issue here, the issue of tongues. He starts by explaining the difference between sensations and emotions. Emotions are a higher order than sensations and sometimes the same sensation can be used for different and even opposing emotions.

Chapter 5 – Is Theology Poetry? 

“Does Christian theology owe its attraction to its power of arousing and satisfying our imaginations?” That is the question Lewis attempts to answer in this essay. He made this speech at Oxford University at the Socratic Club on Nov. 6, 1944. He talks about his own experience to show the inadequacy of the Christian faith to be merely poetic in its appeal. He states that he prefers other mythologies to Christianity if it were merely mythical.

Chapter 6 – The Inner Ring

This talk was given at Kings College, University of London during a commemoration Oration on Dec. 14, 1944. He talks about the idea of inner rings, or in other words, being a part of a specific group. This group can be for any purpose, the main point is the desire to belong.

Chapter 7 – Membership

Faith has been relegated to a position of solitude, this is both paradoxical, dangerous, and natural. He states it is paradoxical considering that every other activity in recent history has robbed us of solitude. Secondly he states that this is dangerous because solitude has been pushed out of our lives, this effectively can keep religion out of our lives if we accept that concept. He also states this idea is natural, by that I mean we fall into the mentality of collectivism and fail to understand the meaning of being a part of the “Body of Christ”. Collectivism reduces the value of the individual and only speaks of the value of the group to which the individual belongs, while the concept we should embrace states both the value of the group as a whole entity and yet keeps the importance of each individual member within that specific group. That is the essence of what Lewis is arguing for.

Chapter 8 – On Forgiveness

The question he is answering here is why do we recite in the creeds the phrase, “We believe in the forgiveness of sins”? He assumes this is just something we all understand, but after giving it some thought he sees the wisdom of the writers of the creeds. We by nature need to be reminded of our own sinfulness and our need for forgiveness.

Chapter 9 – A Slip of the Tongue

This was the last sermon Lewis ever preached. He gave this talk at Oxford in a small chapel in Evensong on Jan. 29, 1956. The question he seems to be addressing is the reluctance of the believer to fully commit himself to God. He became aware of this in his prayer life. The difficulty seems to be the real fear that God will require something more than we wish to give at that time. The illustration he uses of paying taxes, we all agree in the necessity of paying taxes, but at the same time we all want to know how little we can get away with paying. So is our thinking with our relationship with God, we desire a relationship with Him but we don’t want Him to demand too much of us. We desire to “keep things temporal” as Lewis puts it.

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Christ the Word

The following is taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions by Arthur Bennett.


My Father,

In a world of created changeable things,

Christ and his Word alone remain unshaken.

O to forsake all creatures,

to rest as a stone on him the foundation,

to abide in him, be borne up by him!

For all my mercies come through Christ,

who has designed, purchased, promised, effected them.

How sweet it is to be near him, the Lamb,

filled with holy affections!

When I sin against thee I cross thy will, love, life,

and have no comforter, no creature, to go to.

My sin is not so much this or that particular evil,

but my continual separation, disunion, distance from thee,

and having a loose spirit towards thee.

But thou hast given me a present, Jesus thy Son,

as mediator between thyself and my soul,

as middle-man who in a pit

holds both him below and him above,

for only he can span the chasm breached by sin,

and satisfy divine justice.

May I always lay hold upon this mediator,

as a realized object of faith,

and alone worthy by his love to bridge the gulf.

Let me know that he is dear to me by his Word;

I am one with him by the Word on his part,

and by faith on mine;

If I oppose the Word I oppose my Lord when he is most near;

If I receive the Word I receive my Lord wherein he is nigh.

O thou who hast the hearts of all men in thine hand,

form my heart according to the Word,

according to the image of thy Son,

So shall Christ the Word, and his Word, be my strength and comfort.

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God Honoured

The following is taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions by Arthur Bennett.

O God,

Praise waiteth for thee,

and to render it is my noblest exercise;

This is thy due from all thy creatures,

for all thy works display thy attributes and fulfil thy designs;

morning light, evening shade are full of thee,

and thou givest me them richly to enjoy.

Thou art king of kings and lord of lords;

At thy pleasure empires rise and fall;

All thy works praise thee and thy saints bless thee;

Let me be numbered with thy holy ones,

resemble them in character and condition,

sit with them at Jesus’ feet.

May my religion be always firmly rooted in they Word,

my understanding divinely informed,

my affections holy and heavenly,

my motives simple and pure,

and my heart never wrong with thee.

Deliver me from the natural darkness of my own mind,

from the corruptions of my heart,

from the temptations to which I am exposed,

from the daily snares that attend me.

I am in constant danger while I am in this life;

Let thy watchful eye ever be upon me for my defense,

Save me from the power of my worldly and spiritual enemies

and from all painful evils to which I have exposed myself.

Until the day of life dawns above

let there be unrestrained fellowship with Jesus;

Until fruition comes, may I enjoy the earnest of my inheritance,

and the firstfruits of the Spirit;

Until I finish my course with joy may I pursue it with diligence,

in every part display the resources of the Christian,

and adorn the doctrine of thee my God in all things.

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Islam: Allah is One and Christ was Just a Prophet

Here is a heavy topic for our conversation concerning world religions. Any viewing of the news is pregnant with the fact that Islam is a very controversial topic. So what is Islam? What are their beliefs? Can Christians and Muslims peacefully coexist? Hopefully we can answer some of these questions here.

Islam has gained thousands of converts in North America, especially among many professional athletes. It is the youngest among major world religions but it is still one of the largest. It is so missionary-minded that it is seeking to convert western countries, not just African and Asian countries, and it claims 1 billion followers in countries around the world. Islam originated in what is now Saudi Arabia. The country which boasts of the most Muslims – 120 million – is Indonesia. There are millions more in parts of Eastern and Western Europe and in the Americas. To put it differently, 1 out of 6 people on earth subscribes to Islam.

A brief history: Mohammed, born in Arabia, city of Mecca, A.D. 570. His parents died when he was young. His uncle, Abu Talid took him in at age nine. He held a strong belief in monotheism (one God), and it is believed he absorbed much of his teaching from the Talmud. Although, it is unlikely he learned about “the one true God” from anyone who understood the Bible. Mohammed developed the Qur’an (Koran) – holy book of Islam. Mohammed was married to a woman 15 years older than himself. She bore him several children. He spent much of his marriage in solitary meditation.

According to Islamic legend, the archangel Gabriel came to Mohammed, 40, in a cave on Mount Hira near Mecca. “Read in the name of thy Lord,” he said, and instructed Mohammed to to teach by the pen as the Lord did.

Because Mohammed couldn’t read or write, the Qur’an is his reciting of revelations given to him. Mohammed preached in the market places in Mecca. He never claimed to be divine but insisted that Allah had called him to be a prophet. He hated the idolatry and immorality of Arabs who lorded their riches over the poor.

On July 16, 622, Mohammed fled to Yathrib, a friendlier city to the north where he became the religious and political leader of the city. Soon Meccans organized an army to destroy Mohammed and his followers. The fight ended in 630, with Islamic forces triumphant. Mohammed destroyed every idol in Mecca’s main temple or, Kaaba, except the Black Stone (a sacred meteorite enshrined there). Mohammed declared Kaaba to be the most holy shrine in Islam. That is where Muslims direct their prayers. During the next 2 years Mohammed strengthened his position as the leading prophet and ruler of Arabia. He united tribes into a vast army to conquer the world for Allah. He died in 632.

The Qur’an is 4/5ths the length of the New Testament. It includes 114 Surahs (chapters). In it, the ideas are credited to God, but dictated by Mohammed from his disciples who heard his oral teachings. Muslims claim that it is copied from an original in Arabic, which is in Heaven.

Here are the six doctrines of Islam which every Muslim is required to believe:

God – There is only one true God, Allah. He is all-seeing, all-knowing, all powerful.

Angels – The chief angel is Gabriel. There are two fallen angels named Shaitan and Jinns, whom are demons.

Scripture – The are four God-inspired books: The Torah, the Zabur ( the Psalms of David), the Injil (Gospel of Jesus), and the Qur’an. But Muslims believe that Jews and Christians corrupted their scriptures. So the Qur’an is Allah’s final word to mankind. It overrules previous writings.

Mohammed – The Qur’an lists 28 prophets. Last and greatest is Mohammed.

The end times – On the last day the dead will be resurrected. Allah will be judge and everyone sent to Heaven (sensual pleasure) or Hell (for those who oppose Allah and his prophet Mohammed).

Predestination (aka kismet) – The doctrine of fate. “If it is Allah’s will.” God has determined what he pleases and no one can change what he has decreed.

How the Qur’an contradicts the Bible:

  • God is one, period. Anyone who subscribes partners is committing the sin of Shirk. This is directed against the Trinity and that Jesus is God.
  • Allah is transcendent (all powerful) and relatively impersonal. The name “Father” is omitted to avoid the idea of Father and Son, and a personal Father, as the Bible boasts so proudly of.
  • The Qur’an denies that Jesus is the Son of God. He is ranked far bellow Mohammed.
  • The Qur’an says that Christ never died on the cross. Muslims say Judas died on the cross. Everyone was fooled! (Or it was Simon of Cyrene.) Or Jesus was taken down in a comma and He later revived and traveled elsewhere where He died.
  • Surah declares that each person must take care of his or her own sins. Earn salvation by following the 5 Pillars. If he doesn’t make it, that’s his own fault. “Whoever goes astray, he himself bears the whole responsibility of wandering” (Surrah 10:109). Like Judaism, Islam places on each person a terrible burden of responsibility. This is directly contradictory to what God the Father says about our sins. We can’t deal with the punishment of our sin without relying on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus’ Gospel is less burdensome than Mohammed’s, and praise the Lord for that!
  • In regards to sin, humans are born with hearts that are clean slates. Sins can be overcome by acts of the will. The Bible teaches that we are all born with evil hearts and that only the power of Christ’s death and resurrection can empower us to overcome sin.
  • Regarding salvation, Allah doesn’t love those who do wrong, and each person must earn his or her own salvation. The Bible teaches clearly that God loves the world and everyone in it, and that no one can earn their own salvation. Instead, each person must put their trust in His Son Jesus Christ if he or she wants salvation from their sins.

Loving in the West, Oppressive in the East

It is easy for us in America to accept Islam as a peaceful religion. Islam in the west is often identified with love, tolerance and justice. But in the east, Islam is political. Everyone in Islamic societies, including non-Muslims, must conform to Islamic laws, economics, politics and customs or suffer heavy consequences.

Historically, in countries where Islam is strong in political power, people of all rival religions are either wiped out or, in the interest of “tolerance” and “open-mindedness,” permitted to exist as second-class citizens. Christians are persecuted in Muslim countries, though not all. This is part of an effort to force people to submit to Allah. For instance, right now in Sudan, thousands of black Christians are enslaved to Muslim Arabs. The Qur’an gives them the right to make slaves out of “infidels.” The Islamic law is most strict in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. It is more lenient in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Muslims in the West enjoy freedom and democracy. They are protected by legal status as the minority.

In 1,500 years of Islamic history, it has yet to be proven that democratic values and Islam can comfortably coexist. Islam is a religion of self-reliance and self-effort.

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Toy Story 3: The Wilderness of the Playroom

Being an emotional guy (it comes with the territory of being a writer), it’s rare that I don’t cry in movies. I seek out unity and beauty in storytelling, and when all the pieces flow together like a great symphony, I’m a goner.

Now, it’s fine to let the floodgates open in the privacy of your own home, but poor Sarabeth and I had no idea what sort of emotional toll was waiting for me at the theaters when we went to see the latest Toy Story installment.

Those who have seen it know what I’m talking about. During the closing scene, when Andy is giving all of his beloved toys away, Sarabeth, being more of a rock than I am, turns to me and can practically see the entire movie screen in my wet eyes and drenched cheeks.

“Are you okay?” she asked. I could only nod my head, not fully convincing her that I was. She rolled her eyes and shook her head, probably thinking, “I married such a sissy.” Needless to say, we had to wait until the lights came back on in the theater to make a safe and somewhat dignified departure. (Recently I asked her when she had seen me cry the hardest and she said it was during Toy Story 3. I personally thought it was when we watched My Dog Skip.)

To make myself feel better, I googled the question, “How many men in their 20’s cried during Toy Story 3?” The vast number of confessors helped restore my masculinity. But why such an emotional response? I’m sure there are many answers to this question: Nostalgia; saying goodbye to childhood; leaving Andy; we’re all just a bunch of saps… I would like to propose another answer. I think somewhere deep down we envy Woody’s loyalty. He’s not perfect by any means, and he could be faulted for a lot of things, but his biggest fault could be his steadfast devotion to others. And it’s not even his loyalty to Andy that we envy, it’s his loyalty to fulfill what he was meant to do – to be played with. But the passage of time had stripped him and his friends of that opportunity.

We have all been caught in the wilderness. With an abundance of motivation and a large supply of talents, we’ve been stopped in our tracks and refused permission to proceed with our goals. Maybe you’re waiting for your adoption papers. Or you don’t have the funds to invest in your talents. Maybe the economy turned your dream job into a nightmare. Or you’ve got plenty of love to give, but no one to give it to. These are all situations where we should feel most at home with many characters from the Bible, particularly the Israelites who were forced to wander the wilderness for forty years for their sins. Many of us are in the wilderness because of our sins – laziness, lack of faith, fill in the blank. And others of us are just suffering the consequences of a fallen world, or you just haven’t reached Gods timing yet. We can list off a hundred different reasons why we’re in the wilderness, but the fact is the wilderness is chillingly real and we are very much in it.

But the point is, what will you do while you’re in the wilderness? Will you follow my lead and pout, stomp your foot and complain to God while feeling sorry for yourself in the corner of a room? Or will you follow Paul’s lead and find joy in the darkness of a damp prison? Or Jesus’, spurring the temptations of the Devil? Or Joshua and Caleb, holding steadfast to the God they love even while everyone they know and love is falling dead around them and their day-to-day lives are more mundane than our own 9-5’s?

I think it’s appropriate that Disney/Pixar’s most evil villain is not a dragon or a witch or even a puppy-snatcher. In fact, Lotso, Toy Story 3’s antagonist, is probably one of the most evil villains in most movies combined. Satan comes to us in the form of a loveable, pink teddy bear who smells like strawberries. God might put us in the wilderness, but Satan is there to meet us head-on. He’ll convince you that a) the wilderness isn’t so bad, that life isn’t meant to be enjoyed so you might as well accept the status quo, or b) you deserve better than this, how dare God leave you in such a wretched state; curse Him, spit on Him, leave Him!

Brothers and sisters, no matter who you are or where you’re at in life, you’re in the wilderness right now. Life is a wilderness of wandering and finding truth, waiting out the storms and fighting the good fight. Those who trust in Jesus Christ know that there will be an end to this wilderness and we will live in Paradise in the end. But to those of you who do not put your hope and trust in God, this is the greatest paradise you will ever know and your wilderness will be waiting for you on the other side and it will never ever end, and once you’re there, trusting in God will do no good.

But while we’re here, trust n God that this meaningless wandering will come to an end, and that when you’re in Jesus, there is actually nothing meaningless at all about your wilderness stay. Joseph trusted God in prison. David praised God in hiding. And Joshua and Caleb? They were the only ones who had enough faith in God to see the promised land at the end of the 40 years, and their efforts were greatly rewarded.

Woody held out until the very end to do what he was meant to do. Even in the face of adversary from his friends, apparent abandonment from his owner, hostile adversaries, betrayal and even death, Woody never once lost sight of who he was supposed to be and what he was made for. And we shouldn’t either. We are here to praise God and worship Him. That’s our purpose for being here. I wonder, if they made a movie about Joshua and Caleb, if I would cry in the end of that one too, because I certainly envy and long for their loyalty. And you should, too.

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