Tag Archives: Eric Metaxas

If You Can Keep It by Eric Metaxas

If You Can Keep It | Eric Metaxas

Several of my students recently participated in a writing competition where they answered a version of the prompt, “Should patriotism be taught as part of a liberal arts curriculum?” It came as no surprise to me when they all answered, “Yes, but….”

(Actually, I guess that did surprise me some. I expected at least one of them to say no.)

Anyway, patriotism has been on my mind recently and I picked up If You Can Keep It as an interesting foil to the essays. The students all struggled the most with defining patriotism. “Love of country, but not nationalism or jingoism” came up a lot. One person described healthy patriotism as falling between “hot dogs and baseball” on the positive end and “Civil War Reenactment” on the negative. Other students referenced reciting the pledge of allegiance or gathering around the flag.

They all definitely sensed that some love of country must be passed down, but that historically the United States has veered too far into the love and not far enough into self-criticism.

Although he takes an opposite view of America’s current way of teaching patriotism (too much criticism, not enough love), Eric Metaxas’s definition of patriotism surprisingly resembled my students’. I think I’d loosely define his interpretation as “love of country and the values she stands for, but not to the point of nationalism or jingoism.

The addition of “values” is where he manages to hit on something my students missed and so struggled with in their definitions of patriotism. How do you love your country and not become a nationalist? What do you focus on? Baseball and hot dogs might represent “America” to some, but at the end of the day, a love of baseball and hot dogs really means a love of a specific sport and a specific food, not a country. And even if you could somehow prove the three things infallibly interlinked, what do you do when someone claims to love America and yet prefers soccer and kimchi? Do you write off their patriotism because they do not share your preferences? It should also strike us as absurd because things might be inextricably American and still not the sole summary of our culture. Such a box presents too narrow a definition of patriotism.

Even the most stereotypical of red, white, and blue hot dog lovers recognize that many cultures fed the American melting pot. America is as much kimchi and tacos at hot dogs. Or to be more specific, America strives to tolerate kimchi, tacos, and hot dogs equally. You might love hot dogs and despise kimchi, or vice versa, but the fact that you can express your preference and then act on it, that is what it means to be American. Because by toleration I do not mean the false sense that you must accept my preference without question. I mean toleration as a virtue that allows people to vehemently disagree about their preferences and yet still live together.

This interpretation of patriotism also answers the opposite side of the spectrum: the one that praises multiculturalism so insistently that it ceases to truly praise anything. I mean the view that hot dogs and kimchi and tacos and really all food everywhere define America. And also, just about every other country. If patriotism means embracing all cultures, peoples, and food groups equally without any defining lines or common virtues, then what boundaries exist? Why should I love the United States when it is no different from any other country? Perhaps it is even worse than other countries, because it allowed white slave-owners to design its system of government. It permitted slavery. It only gave women the vote 100 years ago. Should the fact that I was born here really make that much of a difference? America did horrendous things; America perhaps did a few good things. In this it is no better or worse than any other country. I can feel the same emotions towards the place of my birth that I do towards China, or Chad, or Chile. And I can easily love those countries more because I do not live there and so do not have to deal with any of their flaws.

So, patriotism becomes more subjective. Love what your country does well, but hem it in on all sides with critique and complaints so that you never love your country too well. But by taking patriotism outside of its box altogether, any common interpretation of “love of country” becomes groundless and probably pointless. It is a matter of personal preference whether you love it or not. And if I don’t love it, who are you to say that I should?

But if the focus of patriotism shifts to the values that created this country, a slightly different pictures emerges. We can love America not for hot dogs but for toleration. Apple pie has nothing on freedom of religion. Free speech means I can criticize baseball as much as I desire and not fear the government telling me otherwise, even a government inextricably linked to the sport.

Of course, you might the problem simply shifts to defining values. What does liberty or equality or freedom even mean? But those debates take depth and discourse. They begin to push us outside of the gut reaction of “that’s different and I do not like it.” It also pushes the debate outside of “does America always do the right thing?” Because the answer of course is no, and we need to acknowledge that America frequently messes up. But that shouldn’t prevent us from still loving America as a place that strives for toleration or equality or freedom because though it often fails, it also often succeeds.

The consequence of this view, so Eric Metaxas presents, is not nationalism, but a love of virtue. We praise the virtues that define our country. We can praise those same virtues in another country. But we at least have a foundation for our praise and a commonality that goes beyond personal preference.

It is a much more nuanced and affirming view of patriotism than we typically hear. Eric Metaxas spends a great deal of the book looking at how to nurture patriotism. He praises patriotic statutes, heroic stories, and sacred ceremonies. And I think to an extent he rightly does so. “How do you pass patriotism along” is a vital question.

But it jumps to the “how” a little too fast for my taste. I really didn’t grasp his definition of “patriotism” till the end, and so any discussion of how fell flat for me while I remained stuck on the what.

The what needs more fleshing out. It is fine to point to Judeo-Christian values as a foundation, particularly since he aims this book at Christians. And I guess I can even see the merits of not “listing” the exact values that unite Americans (toleration, equality, rule of law, etc). A detailed list arguably falls outside the scope of this work. But I was still left hanging with a big question about what values specifically defined America.

At the end of the day, this is a popular text and not a political treatise. Nor is Metaxas strictly a political philosopher. This book really shines at its best when it falls squarely in the author’s wheelhouse: namely, biographies of various figures in the American Revolution. It becomes merely okay, but still interesting, when describing Metaxas’s own experience with patriotism. And finally, it becomes the least tangible when analyzing patriotism. But the view still stands surprisingly strong and made this a book I definitely recommend picking up.


2016 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 3

The 5-star, best of the best, reads from 2016! 

The Iliad by Homer

It is always difficult to rate a classic, but this is a super-duper classic. THE classic. A lot annoyed me in this story and I was often bored or grossed out, but the humanity captured is truly amazing. Many of the struggles, desires, emotions, and even insults thrown back and forth are recognizable and relevant today. This is a messed up story, but it is a also a story of coming to terms with grief and life and honor. It is incredible. My favorite “character” was Diomedes. I can’t believe I had never heard of him before! He was awesome! There is a reason this story has remained such a favorite for so long.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas 

I had some pretty high expectations for Bonhoeffer and, remarkably, it lived up to them. Bonhoeffer is great, not only because it is the story of the pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but because it incorporates WW2 history, theology, and the story of Germany in the early twentieth century all at the same time. I especially enjoyed the quotes from Bonhoeffer. I am going to have to read more by him. This book may be thick but it is worth it. Highly recommended for lovers of history and anyone who wants to learn more about a fascinating, relatively unknown and unsung hero of WW2.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens 

Despite being ridiculously long and occasionally mindbogglingly boring, this book was wonderful and hard to put down. There were moments I loved it and moments I hated it. However, in the end, loving or hating, I really enjoyed David Copperfield and it might surpass Our Mutual Friend as my favorite Dickens novel. You can never tell what will happen next. There were a lot of characters but it was surprisingly easy to keep them straight. I like how everything was tied up and how everything comes around. The description on the audio book says, “tragedy and comedy in equal measure.” That is this book in a nutshell. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry. And in the end, it is totally worth the 34 hours, or 900 some pages, or whatever else it takes to get through it. Go Dickens!

Poems by C.S. Lewis 

Did you know Lewis was a poet? He was a really good one, too. In general, I don’t read poetry but this volume gave me a better sense of why people like it. Poetry can be bite size brilliance. These were utterly profound but applicable and memorable. My favorites were “Pan’s Purge”, “Reason”, and “The Country of the Blind.” Some of Lewis’s poems are silly. Some are profound. Quite a few confound me with allusions to things I know nothing about. He writes about angels and nature, love and Dwarfs. Well worth finding. 

The Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka 

I like this book because I could enjoy it just as it was, as a story, and yet also enjoy it as a classic literary work revealing human nature. I like Gregor and the love he has for his family, a love eventually worn down by self-absorption and then flipped again in his last moments. I actually liked his family as well with all their passivity, self-absorption, and laziness. Basically, they are horrible humans, but they ring true. The way they behave towards Gregor felt completely natural and realistic. Kafka makes a brilliant point about human dependency and how we let things control our whole lives. Fascinating stuff! 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 

Another Dickens novel! This timeless Christmas tale was even better than I expected. The book is simple and yet timeless. I don’t know what else to add because you probably already know about Scrooge and his nocturnal visitors, this story is part of our common culture. I thought I knew it. However, it has more depth than I realized. If you haven’t read it for yourself, I recommend doing so. 

Common Sense by Thomas Paine 

The historical significance of Common Sense alone argues for a 5 star rating. Highly readable, this pamphlet references natural law, legal theory, historical precedent, and Old Testament narrative. It made for an enjoyable read and provides insight into what fired up our Founding Fathers. I was pleasantly surprised by this one! 


2016 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 1

This year I read 168 new books – here are some of the best! See any favorites? 

Breaking Busy: How to Find Peace and Purpose in a World of Crazy by Alli Worthington 

Alli Worthington is a woman who knows about busy…something that becomes evidently clear as she tells her story as an entrepreneur and mother of 5 boys. However, she also knows about finding peace in God and the joy of doing what you are designed to do. In this quick but deep read, she talks about the importance of stepping away from cluttered schedules and maximizing your time doing what you were designed to do. Very inspiring and worth the time to read.

7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas 

In this companion book to 7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness,  Metaxas provides the biographies for seven, Godly women who impacted the world: Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa, and Rosa Parks. I found 7 Men somewhat dull, but I really liked these biographies. I especially appreciated what a diverse group they were. 

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

A sweet, wonderful book set in WW2 England. 9-year-old Ada has a club foot and is emotionally and physically abused by her mother, so when her brother is sent to the country for protection from the bombing, she decides to sneak along. They end up in the home of a depressed woman who needs them as much as they need her. I really enjoyed the realism and pace of this book. The character change was well done. Really good historical fiction. 

Overrated: Are We More In Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World? by Eugene Cho

This book was seriously convicting. Are we more in love with the idea changing the world than the reality? Cho is very open and vulnerable about his struggles in this area. He calls out his own motivation first and foremost. In doing so, he calls out me. He calls out Millennials. He calls out all of us who genuinely want to make a difference…but often by being in the spotlight instead of doing the work. I particularly appreciate how firm Cho is. He calls it how he sees it and seriously challenges the way we view what making a difference really means. I highly recommend this one. 

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

When their headmistress and her odious brother are suddenly poisoned, the students of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls have a decision to make. Do they alert the police and return to their respective homes, or carry on as if nothing happened? They opt to bury the bodies. Unfortunately, hiding murder is not easy, especially when the murderer is still at large! This is a fun, Victorian tale of murder, mayhem, and most inconvenient situations. A great part of the book’s charm comes from the 7 main characters who have very distinct personalities. Good for middle school on up! (And especially good for adults like me who just love a fun, farcical story.) 

Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan 

In this book, comedian Jim Gaffigan writes about being a Dad, raising 5 kids in a 2 bedroom apartment, and dealing with the stigma of having a “big” family. As the eldest of 5 kids, I found this book HILARIOUS. I was in public when I read it and people kept staring because I was laughing so hard. Gaffigan may come across panic stricken half the time, but he clearly loves his family. A very funny, clean, and enjoyable read. 

Valiant by Sarah McGuire 

A re-telling of the Brave Little Tailor, Valiant is the story of Saville, a girl who dresses as a boy and takes her Father’s place as tailor to the King. When she learns that an army of giants are about to attack the city, she goes out and manages to trick them into leaving. Suddenly everyone things she is a hero! But can the courageous tailor save the kingdom from an even greater threat, the Duke and his larger than life army? I loved Valiant! It had a developed heroine, satisfying relationships, and lovely writing. Definitely one I plan to re-read and recommend. 


Whatcha Reading…? 8/9/16 Book Update

It has been a LONG time since I posted one of these! With work picking up, my reading has been pretty sporadic. However, I’ve finally found myself reading enough books at once to make this post feasible. I’m currently reading 6 books, 3 in print and 3 by audio. The print ones are: The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers, Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman, and Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran. The audio books are Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas, Seven Men: and the Secret of Their Greatness also by Eric Metaxas, and The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. 

I have really been enjoying The Mind of the Maker. Coming off Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton, it seems almost easy to follow! I love Dorothy L. Sayers as a writer of detective fiction and it is quite fun to discover this other side of her work. In The Mind of the Maker she examines God in His role as Creator. She makes some really interesting points and has a beautiful style that makes this theological work fresh and readable. 

Grace for the Good Girl is a look at how “good” Christian girls often use masks to hide their struggle. It is particularly applicable for those of us who have grown up in the church. I first heard about it from my sister Anna, but one of my good friends recently lent me her copy so I could read the whole thing. This book is very solid…but, like The Mind of the Maker, seems somehow less because it is following Orthodoxy in my reading. (Have I mentioned that I loved Orthodoxy?!) 

Cleopatra’s Daughter is…interesting. It is good historical fiction but I think I need to sit down and read it straight through. It is a welcome ‘light’ read but at the same time can’t compete with the other books I’m reading right now. 

I’ve really been enjoying Bonhoeffer. Eric Metaxas does a great job introducing this fascinating and influential man. The book has a bit of everything: history, politics, theology. However, I’m not loving Seven Men. Elijah and I are listening to it right now and we find it extraordinarily repetitive and slow. Hopefully it will pick up. 

As for The Sun Also Rises…having finished The Beautiful and Damned, I figured I might as well tackle another dreary yet beautiful classic. Unfortunately, I am not connecting to this one at all. It is super slow and random. I care so little for the characters I’m not sure ‘ambivalent’ even begins to hit it. 


Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

Elijah and I have been listening to Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. So far, we have been unimpressed. We don’t really like the guy reading and the bio about George Washington kind of annoyed us. 

Because of this, I was hesitant to pick up Seven Women. In fact, I was kind of regretting my spur-of-the-moment decision to buy it a few weeks ago. What if I hated it? What if it started out as bad as Seven Men

I was packing up my books this morning and decided to give the first chapter or so a try. If I really disliked it, I could banish it to the basement with all the others. However, I was pleasantly surprised! Not only did I enjoy Seven Women, I read it all basically in one go. 

The seven women covered in the book are Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa. While all the biographies were interesting, I particularly enjoyed learning about Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, and Maria Skobtsova. I like how different each woman was, yet at the same time how “great” they all were. Susanna was a stay at home mom, Hannah More and Rosa Parks were political activists, and Maria Skobtsova and Mother Teresa were nuns. 

I recommend this book as a great compilation of faithful, Christian women. It was truly encouraging and inspiring. I hope Seven Men turns out to be just as good!


New Books

It is hard not to write about politics tonight. I’m tired and frustrated and disappointed with how things have turned out.
However, I also realize I’m tired and frustrated and disappointed. I’m not seeing the world clearly tonight. It is easy to despair when you are overtired. There is enough despair on Facebook to last a lifetime. So tonight I am going to write about something happy.

My new books arrived in the mail. I recently discovered Christian Book Distributors; it has been a wonderful and horrible discovery. They have some really excellent deals but it ruins my budget. Yet how can I say no when I see such good books under $12? 

Today I got: Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers, Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, and the one I have been drooling over for months, 7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. I also got an ESV Study Bible for $30. Fantastic deal. 

I’m excited to read these books. I’ve been counting the hours till they arrived. These are the books I’ve wanted forever. I have read deeply of C.S. Lewis over the past few months and now I look forward to enjoying his contemporaries. I can’t wait to read all of them, but I am also hesitant. It is like something too good to be true that all 4 of them are in front of me. 

The books surrounding me remind me that some things don’t change. Hope never changes; dreams stay true. I find joy in my books, in these authors, in the opportunity to learn more. I’m grateful they arrived today. I needed this little reminder of joy.