The Congregationalist Church in New England

History Behind the Story #7: The Congregationalist Church in New England

Who were they? The Puritans. What was their creed? To make themselves The City Upon a Hill.

As a Southern girl, I was largely unacquainted with the Congregational/Congregationalist Church, for most of my life until learning about it in a Religious Studies class during college. And of course, once someone clued me in that the older name for the church was “Puritan,” the pieces fell into place. According to Sara Georgini, who authored Household Gods: The Religious Lives of the Adams Family, Puritans turned into Congregationalists by the 18th Century, and there was a bend toward Unitarianism among the more liberal wing by the 19th Century, although Congregationalism remained its own strain.

So I had two denominational[1] choices from which to choose (Unitarianism or Congregationalism) when carving out the background of my historical protagonist, John Thomas Haley. John and Abigail Adams, who are (fictional, of course!) ancestors of John Thomas, were Unitarians. Ultimately, I chose the Congregationalist wing because, having been raised in churches that believe in a Trinity, I didn’t want to misrepresent the Unitarians, who did not quite believe in a traditional Trinity.

This strain of Protestantism today is considered one of the more liberal churches in America, so, at first, the connection back to the Puritans was odd for me, until I really thought about it and realized that the Puritans have always been “progressive” during their eras throughout the generations. From breaking away from the Church of England to the abolition movement during the Civil War, it seems like you can always trace New England’s most famous voices back to a Puritan heritage.

So, how did they get their start in New England? Basically, the Puritans wanted to purify the practices of both the Catholic Church and The Church of England during the 16th and 17th Century. They were part of the Reformation movement that sought greater purity within the church. Their beliefs were “codified” in the Savoy Declaration in 1658, with the full title of: A Declaration of the Faith and Order owned and practiced in the Congregational Churches in England. For a more thorough look into the Reformation movement and the beliefs and ideas swirling around Europe during the Martin Luther era, see my post entitled History Behind the Story #1: French Huguenots in South Carolina.

The Puritans were dissenters from the Church of England and ended up having to worship on the down-low because dissenting was Not Allowed. Also, Puritans in Holland were being persecuted. Hence, the Mayflower. You’ve all heard of the Mayflower, I presume. English and Dutch Puritans made up a big chunk of the people who sailed for the colonies and eventually landed at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts after trying to land initially in Virginia. And it’s crazy to think of that moment, of the serendipity of events, and the impact they would have 250 years later during the American Civil War. But more on that next week!

The Mayflower Compact was signed before they disembarked, and if you read the text of it, it shows already these New Englanders’ commitment to order, peace, democracy, and religion. It feels like you could almost draw a straight line in history from the Mayflower Compact to the Massachusetts Colony’s extreme chafing under British dominion in the days leading up to the Revolutionary War.

Now, keep in mind that these “Pilgrims” were a particularly devout strain of Puritans called “Separatists,” who believed that they could not worship or find full expression for their beliefs by reforming any other church but needed to be a separate body from any existing church. Each local church in New England ruled itself and was not answerable to a higher denominational structure. However, Congregationalism became the “state church” in the colonies where Puritans predominated, in which taxpayers supported ministers and only church members could vote in elections.[2] This led to some pretty restrictive practices since authority can so easily be abused. And, of course, this kind of compulsory society was unsustainable just a generation or two out.

Luckily for the Congregationalists, though, was the emergence of the First Great Awakening. You all remember “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?” Yeah, I bet you do! (*Shudders*) Jonathan Edwards was a Congregational minister. While ensuring the continuance of the Congregationalists, the First Great Awakening did lead to a split between the “Old Lights” and “New Lights” of the Church, but the depths of that chasm are beyond the scope of this post.

Not surprisingly, most Congregationalists sided with the Patriots during the American Revolution. I’ve noticed a tendency to confuse the Congregationalists with the Quakers, who were pacifists. However, Congregationalists were not pacifists and fought in the Revolution. (This was why I could craft the storyline of John Thomas building a career in the Navy later on in the antebellum period, and have his family be very much behind that career.)

Right from the beginning, Congregationalists were dedicated to education. They founded Harvard very quickly after landing in the colonies, and Yale was very much supported by the Congregational Church. Both seem to have placed an emphasis on training pastors and building a literate ministry in the early years. In order to give a nod to John Thomas’s Puritan roots, I had John Thomas’s brother-in-law, Jonathan, attend Harvard before entering the ministry.

In addition to higher education, there was an emphasis placed on the education of children. While reading David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, I was struck by the fact that one of John Adams’s first jobs while he was still a bachelor was teaching at a co-ed school. He noted that one of his sharpest pupils was a little girl. That admission alone would have been revolutionary in most places. And then, fast-forward a hundred years, and we see New Englanders pouring into the South after the Civil War to found schools for former slaves– men, women, and children. They had a strong commitment to the ideal that education was necessary both for advancement in the secular world and as Christians.

So, who were some famous New Englanders with Puritan roots? To name just a few:
-Louisa May Alcott (You may know that she was actually raised as a Transcendentalist, a movement which grew out of the Unitarian movement.)
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
-Emily Dickinson
-Harriet Beecher Stowe
-Henry Ward Beecher

Something that turned out to be really neat was that, while Shannon’s Huguenot roots which turned into Presbyterianism and John Thomas’s Puritan roots which turned into Congregationalism felt poles apart, they both arose out of Reformation Era movements.[3] Therefore, while their ancestors came from different countries and sects, both had a history of rebellion, of familial persecution, of commitment to faith, and of an unwavering confidence of beliefs. Likely the foundation for both attraction and turmoil!

Stop by next time for a look at how these roots and principles led to one of the strongest abolitionist movements in the world!

Image Credit: https://www.historicaltheology.org.

[1] I am using the term “denominational” in a way the Congregationalists probably wouldn’t have themselves. Rather, they saw each church as independent and autonomous from larger denominational ties.

[2] The Congregationalist Church wasn’t disestablished as the official church of Connecticut until 1818, of New Hampshire until 1819, and of Massachusetts until 1820! The Congregationalist Church in Massachusetts still received state funding until 1833, when, after the shift toward Unitarianism, the state constitution was amended to eliminate church taxes.

[3] There was even a Congregational-Presbyterian Union in the early 1800’s in which churches could hire pastors from either denomination, joint committees of Congregationalists and Presbyterians were formed, and there were even colleges born out of the union. This was largely due to the fact that in lesser-populated areas, it was difficult to get numbers or ministers for either denomination. Of course, the Union broke down due to theological and ideological divides, a major one being slavery.

Whoops!

Public Service Announcement: Error in Southern Rain!

A little while back, a reader brought it to my attention that there is an erroneous line in Southern Rain. The line reads, “Cervantes from the original Greek.” As many of you know, Cervantes wrote in Spanish, not in Greek. Some of you may have even read his novel, Don Quixote, which is one of the most translated books in the world.  We’re not sure how Cervantes weaseled his way into Southern Rain. We only know that he would be highly offended.   So we are tipping our (historically appropriate) hats to Miguel de Cervantes, and most humbly begging his pardon. The error has been corrected for future prints of Southern Rain.

Travel Tuesday: ROME!!

I would like to thank my sister, Hannah, for graciously agreeing to do this guest post following her study abroad trip.  Hannah, I cede the floor to you!

Ah, Rome. I can’t think of a city packed with more religious magnitude or culture. My study abroad trip consisted of deep historical research ranging from four hundred years pre-Christ to World War II. I am perfectly aware that this sounds impossible to accomplish in ten days, but, with a good pair of boots, my feet naturally led me to the ancient wonders all around. Shots of espresso didn’t hurt, either. The uneven cobblestones and massive hills presented me with layer after layer of the ancient world, and along with that, of course, followed much food exploration and failed attempts at navigation. There will always be too much to do and see in Rome, so hit the sites that are most poignant to you. You can do the other stuff the next time you go. Hopefully this blog post will help you on your own pilgrimage to Rome.

First, I will help you out on all things food (the most important thing, right?) If you’re a big breakfast person, I would suggest finding a café that advertises “American Breakfast”. And don’t worry about finding a café that suits you. Tables and cute tablecloths are outside under awnings, catching your eye. If that doesn’t work, each restaurant and café has a host who invites you as you pass to join them for a meal, telling you what is on the menu. Ignoring them isn’t an option, and sometimes listening pays off. Most cafés are open for breakfast, but they really only serves espresso and lunch items. Each café will be packed around 9 a.m. with Romans ready to have their caffeine fix before work, and after quickly downing it while standing at the counters, they leave having had no food. My American friends were continually appalled by this. I’m not a big breakfast person either, but the food I did order was much different. The pancakes came with marzipan, scrambled eggs were flatter and fried, and the bacon was a big piece of the best ham you’ve ever eaten.

I found that as I reverted to the things I knew while ordering lunch or dinner, I kept looking for Olive Garden menu items. I did this because sometimes the language barrier was pretty intense, especially since I opted for the less touristy restaurants in search of more authentic Italian food. The pasta is much thicker, the options at each restaurant more limited, and changeable per day, and the quality of the food is so much better. With that being said, I found that sticking with the tomato-based stuff was the safer option for tourists, mostly because the names of the dishes were more familiar. Anything with an olive oil base was definitely the way to go, if you’re feeling riskier, especially with breads. All the ingredients are so fresh, and your taste buds will thank you. Don’t forget to order seafood, too, because the daily catches are usually cheaper and much tastier. Bruschetta drizzled with olive oil is a must, as is any pasta with mushrooms. House wines will be poured regardless of if you order any, and water is very expensive. Oh! and the gelato is a great pick-me-up when you get a little tired from touring. I found that three gelatos a day kept the doctor away.

On my first night in Rome, I ambled around the Forum and stumbled on a beautiful cathedral (this isn’t difficult to do; I literally stopped counting the basilicas midway through the week). I quickly realized I had entered a Mass service, and I decided to stay, even though I am not Catholic. Do yourself a favor when you go to Rome and sit through a service. Growing up, my home church was very simple, but pretty, so I wondered why so much money was put into architecture and objects. In the back of my mind, I knew such beauty made me feel the sacredness of the space and the importance of worship. The next day I was fortunate enough to have tours of St. John Lateran, Santa Maria Maggiore, and St. Paul’s (three of five of the major basilicas in Rome!) by a Dominican Nun. She explained that beauty and ornateness in Cathedrals are meant to reflect the beauty and complexities of our God. Teary-eyed, I viewed the grandeur all around me through different lenses. This made my experience at St. Peter’s much more meaningful. My professor secured a behind-the-scenes tour of what lies beneath, circa 200 CE. It took my breath away, both literally and figuratively. There was very little air underground, and through near-suffocation, the nerdy historian and religious scholar within won out and was able to see Peter’s tomb, along with the perfectly preserved Roman city of the first, second, and third centuries. Needless to say, I completely freaked out. There was a little moment at St. Peter’s when everyone in my group was convinced we saw the Pope. Hey, it was a man in white walking toward the altar, surrounding by Swiss Guards. I’m sure he was some significant figure in the Church, but what else was my sleep-deprived brain supposed to think? If anyone asks, I saw the Pope at St. Peter’s.

The ceilings were my favorite thing in each basilica. Even though you feel like you’re in sensory overload, remember to look at your feet, too. Sometimes you find little treasures like the gold bricks in the Jewish ghetto pictured below. Placed outside of homes, each brick has the identification of the Jews who were pulled from their Roman houses and later killed during World War II. And though the city is filled with sad histories, the presence of God, and knowing the fight for Him through history, will give you chills. It was funny how randomly I would look up and find another breathtaking view, and I would become overwhelmed by the history of the city. And surprisingly, it is pretty easy to navigate. I tried to keep the Colosseum, the Forum, or the Capitoline Hill in mind to keep myself from getting too lost. The great thing is that you will get lost, if you tour by foot like me. I stumbled on the Via dei Coronari trying to find the villa my group stayed at, and, to my wonderful surprise, I found a Renaissance street lined with white lights, sweet cafés in the Roma style you see in Audrey Hepburn movies, artists painting the sites around them, acoustic musicians, and so much shopping. I’m talking handmaid ties, silk scarves, Italian leather, furs, vintage items, antique stores, and everything else your heart could desire but your luggage doesn’t have space for.

One last suggestion. When you go to Rome, don’t take too many pictures of the amazing architectural things around you. You can find better ones online, and you will want to experience Rome rather than seeing it through your camera. But do try to get pictures of you and the people with you in front of those amazing things. Castel Sant’Angelo is the best place to take photos with the city behind you! 😉

Ciao!

 

Review: Anne with an E

Review: Anne with an E

I should first confess that I am not a dedicated Anne of Green Gables groupie. I’ve never seen any of the adaptations before Netflix’s Anne with an E, and I haven’t read all of the books. I did read the first book when I was in Sixth Grade, but, unfortunately, its brilliance and subtleties were lost on me at that age. I am, however, quite familiar with the story, have a loose understanding of how the plot plays out, and have listened to The History Chicks Podcast episode on L.M. Montgomery (so that makes me an expert!). Okay, so that lets you know where I, a fairly neutral party, stand. (Note, I am going to give an honest critique, but keep reading, because I have lots of good things to say, too!)

I love any historical drama, so when Anne with an E popped up, I tried it, and I have since watched all three seasons. I know enough about the storyline to know that even the first season strayed from the books, but that didn’t bother me because it felt true to the spirit of them. I didn’t mind that the writers read between the lines and gave new dimensions to the story as long as they stayed grounded in the historical period and character of the books’ inspiration. For example, dealing with the trauma of being an orphan was great, and dealing with the prejudice Anne encountered as an orphan was really moving.

However, as we continued into the second season, we strayed from tackling the injustices of the historical era to using Anne with an E as a vehicle for the writer’s take on social/political issues of today. This is not a commentary on the issues that the writers chose, since this blog is strictly neutral on political matters. My concern, in any historical piece, whether it be film or literature, is accuracy, and accuracy becomes difficult to achieve when you place modern beliefs and mores on any historical era. You are playing with fire if you use a period drama for modern political purposes, especially if you are using someone else’s work. A writer wishing to forward his or her own causes (not an unworthy goal) should simply craft his or her own story, and not use the fame of a beloved classic as a vehicle for that goal. The parts where the writers strayed the most were, not surprisingly, the weakest segments because the stories didn’t resonate with historical truth. I have always found this to be the case in any historical book or film which paints with a modern brush. I should add that this wasn’t a mistake on the part of authors unacquainted with the historical era – they made this choice deliberately, as evidenced in the line of the opening song which says, “You’re ahead by a century!” So I am absolutely not accusing the writers of carelessness, just of using tactics which harmed the integrity of the show. Not only were current events tackled, but this was done in a heavy-handed way, which is a personal dislike of mine. I believe subtlety always wins the day.

There were so many times when I almost turned the T.V. off and said, “Done!” because historical accuracy is a make-or-break subject for me, and I tend to overlook a thousand good qualities if accuracy is not present. But I never could quite do that, because when the show shined, it really shined. Again, not surprisingly, this happened when it stayed true to the era and story. The absolute strength of the show was in the scenes with Anne and her friends, as they discover the wonders of becoming adults. Those parts rang so true and brought back so many happy memories. I absolutely loved watching those rites of passage into womanhood. It was beautifully nostalgic.

Anne (Amybeth McNulty) was a phenomenal actress. In fact, everyone was phenomenal. Some real standouts, though, were Marilla (Geraldine James), Matthew (R.H. Thomson), and Diana (Dalila Bela), who has my vote for Melanie if there is ever a remake of Gone with the Wind. But I could honestly go on and on about the cast. I loved the portrayal of Gilbert by Lucas Jade Zumann. Corinne Koslo’s portrayal of the snarky Rachel Lynde went a long way towards keeping the show grounded in the era. And Kyla Matthews, who plays Ruby Gillis, is also one to watch. You felt safe in the actors’ hands.

Not to be overlooked, also, were the costumes, which were beautiful (I was especially impressed with the men’s shirts this season, oddly enough!), and the scenery, which makes you kind of feel you are on vacation. The filming and production level were top notch.

And my thoughts on Season 3? More of the same: the straying from the spirit of Anne of Green Gables and the realities of the time period was overwhelming at first. Also, Anne became increasingly, screechingly militant, and I almost fell out with her when she screamed at Matthew (The Sweetest Person Ever) simply because he didn’t agree with her, which is what she did to anyone who didn’t immediately jump on board with her 21st Century beliefs. But then I reached Episode 5, which returned to the heart of the show: Anne and her friends as they come of age, and I loved it. And finally, as I watched Episode 10 (the final episode), and it reached its climax at the end, my heart soared, and I haven’t seen such good television since Matthew’s proposal to Mary in Downton Abbey (cue Downton music). It was absolutely fantastic! On the whole, I’m sorry to say goodbye to Anne with an E!

P.S. I really liked that the writers were interested in the historical fact that a lot of Indians/Native Americans/First Nations (Canada) experienced the unspeakable grief of having their children taken from them and put in Western schools, without their consent, in an attempt by the governments, to put it bluntly, to commit cultural genocide. I do not think this was actually covered in the original books, and I would submit that the story would have been more powerful in a different show (as it seemed to be a tack-on here), but I won’t complain because I think this is a part of history of which not many people are aware.

Until next time, Kindred Spirits and Bosom Friends!

-Tara

Northern Fire – First Details Revealed!

Book 2 of the Torn Asunder Series: Northern Fire – First Details Revealed!

Since Southern Rain was published in September 2019, the No. 1 question we have gotten is: “When will the next book be out?” I’m happy to say that Northern Fire will be available in the Late Spring of 2020!

Northern Fire was intended to be a sequel in a two-book series. However, ever since I conceptualized the story arc for this series, I knew there would be some difficulties determining the number of books in the series. So I just decided to write the story in its entirety as if it were going to be only one book and see how it worked out.

A few technical difficulties arose: the historical storyline took such a different path halfway through that it felt like it should be two books, while simultaneously the modern storyline was skipping along happily as one succinct-feeling book (the trouble with dual storylines!). But the biggest problem was the word count. The No. 1 complaint I have gotten about Southern Rain is that it is so big, which has me continually smiling since I’m a nerd who loves big books. But even trimmed down significantly, Northern Fire was finishing out at about 30,000 words more than Southern Rain.

So, with a wince of apology, I gave the behemoth to my sister, who is always my first reader, and told her to fix it. You can find ways to trim it down, right? – Okay, bye!

So she put on her harshest critic’s hat and set about finding scenes to shear. Her response was that we didn’t need to change a single thing. Nothing could go. Everything was necessary to tell the story in its full capacity. And we’re agreed that it has to be divided into two books, right? – Okay bye!

My sister, who has been my first reader and first editor for nearly ten years, has absolutely never led me astray in literary matters, and I knew I should trust her instincts. So there you have it! You will be getting two books, both roughly consisting of 70,000 words, rather than one book consisting of roughly 140,000 words. This will make Books 2 and 3 a little smaller than Southern Rain, but I’m guessing that won’t be a negative for most!

So what will the books cover? I don’t want to give anything away, since we haven’t developed the official blurbs yet, but here is the time frame:

Southern Rain covered:

Historical: October 1859 – November 1861
Modern: A few months

Northern Fire will cover:

Historical: December 1861 – April 1865 (roughly the end of the war)
Modern: The next few months

Book 3 (Title to be released at a later date) will cover:

Historical: April 1865 – November 1867 (well into Reconstruction)
Modern: The next few months

We’ll be releasing the blurb for Northern Fire soon and revealing more information over the coming weeks and months. In addition, we’ll be doing an FAQ interview for Northern Fire to follow up on our FAQ interview for Southern Rain. In the meantime, stay tuned! We’ll be giving a release date for Northern Fire soon!

-Tara

Civil War Rhetoric

History Behind the Story #6: A Break-Down in Civilities: Rhetoric Before the Civil War

I have recently been reading Ron Chernow’s very famous biography, Alexander Hamilton. The more I learn about the founding generation, the more I see that the Civil War first began brewing while the ink was still wet on the Constitution. Tensions between the North and South and a possible Civil War were alluded to several times in Hamilton. The regions’ economic interests were simply so different that suspicions began to develop in the Cabinet of George Washington, finding their expression in the very real and yet often-hilarious hatred between Thomas Jefferson (Virginia) and Alexander Hamilton (New York). When viewed in this light, the Civil War can be likened to friction between two brothers which has been building for years and then finally explodes, leading to a slugfest until one or both are nearly wiped out.

But there was more to the Civil War than a feud which was a long time coming. Hostilities spilled from the floors of Congress to the battlefield when they did for a reason. There was a reason idle threats of war from the last eighty years mobilized into armies and navies, into two separate countries with two separate presidents, when they did. Shear Davis Bowman says that “not until the winter of 1860-61 did a critical mass of citizens in the states of the…South become willing to quit the Union.”[1]

The reasons were linked to the occurrence of several events in history, a disastrous stew that made the situation ripe for drama: the growing debate over the economic interests between the North and South (linked overwhelmingly to slavery and its spread into the West), the South’s fear that it would lose a voice in the government to an economically superior North, the rise of abolitionism, the North’s loss of patience in appeasements to the South that often took the form of protecting slavery, and of course, the ultimate, hysteria-inducing fact that Lincoln was elected without a single Southern vote. But facts alone rarely make a war. There has to be drama and hype and legal justification. There has to be precisely the right rhetoric to tip people over the brink. And I have found in my research that such rhetoric almost always begins, like a children’s squabble, with name-calling.

Here are just a few names the South called the North or certain groups of Northerners:

  • Black Republicans (because of their determination to end slavery and Southern power in the Union and promote racial equality)
  • Aggressive
  • Cruel
  • Unjust
  • Wanton
  • Tyrannical
  • Fanatics
  • Radicals
  • Power-hungry

And here are a few of the North’s loving epitaphs to the South or Southerners:

  • Slave Power Conspirators
  • Slavocracy
  • Doughfaced toadies (Presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan were called this for pandering to the South.)
  • Treasonous
  • Despotic
  • Dictatorial
  • Aristocratic
  • Privileged
  • Arrogant
  • Entitled
  • Rebels

The constitutionality of Secession was also put through the rhetoric grinder, with the South having to justify the legality of breaking away from the Union and the North having to justify making war on states which had seceded. While the arguments on both sides always seemed pretty even (except for the fact the North always had the moral upper hand in arguments pertaining to the slavery aspect of the War), I always had trouble understanding how the North sold its populace on taking war to the South and executing it over the course of four years and at a death toll eventually rising to the hundreds of thousands. We might understand a moral argument, but, unfortunately, the moral cause to end slavery did not, at least in the early years, form enough of a justification for the Northern populace to mobilize for war because the immediate abolition argument was just not taking hold. Obviously, the government had economic and territorial reasons to keep the South in the union, but how did they convince the populace of the legality of making war? Rhetoric. Not that it took too much convincing to fight in the early years. Both sides were positively chest-thumping for military battles (see brothers’ slugfest above). But it wasn’t until I really studied the North’s justification rhetoric for war that I finally understood.

To the North, simply losing an election or disagreeing with the new President was not cause enough to warrant the severance of ties to the union (a valid argument!). However, they still had to contend with the fact that the South had some pretty good legal arguments, such as the ability to revoke the states’ ratification of the Constitution and the principles enumerated of the Declaration of Independence. But the North itself could find nothing in the Constitution to justify secession and argued that secession had happened before the South’s interests had even been attacked. The South was sacrificing “a noble experiment in liberty” simply because they wanted to “perpetuate a distinct, distasteful, and anachronistic regional interest, black chattel slavery.”[2] That was a really good argument, and I imagine it was the one that convinced the North to mobilize for war and sustained them through its rigors. A simple argument of, “You just can’t do that,” is sometimes very powerful.

Both sides remained very “American,” tying their causes back to the American ideals which were fought for in the Revolution. Both sides talked of fighting for freedom. It was surprising for me to realize that “Americans in both North and South believed themselves custodians of the legacy of 1776.”[3] And there was also Christian rhetoric flying, with both sides preaching the justness of their cause, evoking God’s favor for their side, and using language of trusting that God would uphold them in their righteous endeavors.

The South (and I am generalizing here) believed that states had a sovereign right to secede and used the rhetoric of liberty (“the natural right of revolution against tyranny and despotism”) to back that up.[4] The North (generalizing again) simply didn’t believe that the Constitution created state sovereignty to the extent of powers to withdraw from the Union and offend the sovereignty of the real power, the United States. Therefore, any state which seceded, was technically in a state of treason.

While President Buchanan (the little-known President who was in office before Lincoln) didn’t think the Executive branch could coerce a seceded state back into the Union, Lincoln “did not rule out the propriety or necessity of ‘presidential and military coercion’ in response to palpable aggression against U.S. government sovereignty.”[5] You can see how semantics are everything: if the South acted aggressively, it provided the justification for military coercion back into the union. Similarly, the South would use military force if confronted with an unacceptable challenge from the U.S. government to their new government’s sovereignty. Hence, Fort Sumter. The bombardment was begun by the South because of the affront from the U.S. government in refusing to surrender the fort, which was in South Carolina’s waters. Likewise, the bombardment provided Lincoln with what he needed to constitute the South’s actions as an “unconstitutional insurrection ‘too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings.’”[6] And here we have the perfect stew for war. In the words of Bowman, “A rage militaire swept across slave states and free states alike…the war fever ‘cut across social classes, creating a heady sense of solidarity.’”[7] The North had been OFFENDED. The South had been OFFENDED. And it just proved to both that all of the rhetoric, all of the stewing hatred, had been correct, and both sides were swept up in a consensus. That’s the stuff wars are made of.

And so civilities began to break down and while, from our 21st Century seats, war seemed avoidable, with the provocative and sometimes hysterical language prevailing, it must have seemed inevitable at the time. It’s sometimes hard to imagine that in 1860, America was a united country, with an integrated economy and citizens who travelled back and forth freely across the Mason Dixon line and engaged in debate and attended the same universities. And then within a year they were killing each other. But that shows the power of words, doesn’t it? If you’re feeling depressed, we can console ourselves with two things: I don’t believe either side thought the war would be so long, or exact even a tenth of the toll it did. That seems to have been an entirely unintended consequence. And, of course, the institution of slavery did come to an end, even if the struggle for equality was just beginning– oh, no, I’m depressing you again! History can be like that: compelling and horrible all at once.

Stop by next time for a look into the Congregational Church in New England, in which my historical male lead, John Thomas, was raised. Adieu for now!

Photo Credit: New York Historical Society/Getty Images

[1] Bowman, Shearer Davis, At the Precipice: Americans North and South during the Secession Crisis. (The University of North Carolina Press, 2010), pp. 10.

[2] Ibid, 17.

[3] Ibid, 11.

[4] Ibid, 18.

[5] Ibid, 7.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

Review: Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow

I was sitting in a law school classroom when it first hit me. It was my third year, and I was taking a class titled Law and Literature. We would read a piece of literature and then come to class and discuss the great questions of life and humanity that the readings provoked, much like a college English class (which was bliss to me!). I was surprised when I saw multiple Old Testament readings on the list.

We were a class made up of believers and skeptics, atheists and agnostics, the dormant and the devout. And when I opened my Bible to read the passages, that fact was all I could think about. For the first time in my life, I was having a Bible study with people who hadn’t been taught to think the “right” way. They were from all over the country, from deeply varying backgrounds, and a lot of them were reading those passages for the first time. And suddenly, that was how I was reading the scripture, too. I was stripping away everything, all of my own preconceived notions, every sermon I had heard preached on the passage, and every point I had ever felt compelled to prove, and I was just…reading. Because I knew when I got to class the next day, absolutely no one in that room would carry the same lenses to the table. And that was when it finally struck me: this was what I should have been doing all along.

What does this have to do with Amanda Hope Haley’s latest book, Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow: How to Trust the Bible When Truth and Tradition Collide? Everything. God’s revelation to me that I was reading scripture with “lenses” set me on a course of laying aside everything and simply searching for His character in scripture. What I didn’t know was that my cousin (yes, cousin!) was writing a book on that very topic!

Amanda delves deep into the very structure of the Bible, exploring how the holy manuscripts were written, compiled, and translated and teaching us to cherish each passage for its unique literary structure and voice. That contribution alone would have been enough, because she lays out that complicated history in such an easy-to-understand format that the reader leaves enlightened rather than overwhelmed.

But she goes deeper, teaching us how to view science’s relationship with the Bible in a healthy manner (the passages on creation literally made me tear up!), how to look at scripture in context rather than “cherry-picking,” how to read slowly and carefully, and ultimately, how to strip everything away, everything you have ever heard, everything you are “supposed” to read into scripture, and just listen.

Particularly helpful, I thought, was the chapter entitled “Too Many Cookbooks in the Christian Kitchen,” which talks about the problem, not new to our generation, of preferring to follow a doctrine, or a denomination, or legalism, or a man, which is so easy for us to do, isn’t it? I think a lot of times these problems start as we try to boil our beliefs down into a teachable message to take out into the world. But we forget to fluff the stew back up again to learn God in the fullness of His glory. Amanda does a wonderful job reminding us of just how important it is to do that.

Her tone is conversational and easy-to-read. I found that the scripture she used as examples throughout was particularly well-chosen. You feel like you’re in a really fun classroom and she’s the teacher at the front with a blackboard breaking it all down into understandable language. And finally, I will add that what Amanda does is more than just teach hermeneutics (a word we learn in the last chapter!). She presents the beautiful, awe-inspiring picture of God’s plan. It seeps in when you least expect it, moving you to emotion and prodding you to reflect on what an awesome God we serve.

Highly recommended! Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow: How to Trust the Bible When Truth and Tradition Collide is now available! See below for a link to your favorite retailer.

Amazon link:

Barnes & Noble link:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mary-magdalene-never-wore-blue-eye-shadow-amanda-hope-haley/1130410625#/

Books-A-Million link:
https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Mary-Magdalene-Never-Wore-Blue/Amanda-Hope-Haley/9780736975124?id=7747825568139

Target link:
https://www.target.com/p/mary-magdalene-never-wore-blue-eye-shadow-by-amanda-hope-haley-paperback/-/A-78288182

Wal-Mart link:
https://www.walmart.com/ip/Mary-Magdalene-Never-Wore-Blue-Eye-Shadow/229907139