Thursday, June 23, 2011

More on General W. E. Brougher

In an earlier post I mentioned that I was intrigued by General W.E. Brougher who had written of his internment in a Japanese P.O.W. camp. He was described as someone whose “looks, personality, and ways made him one of the most attractive and interesting men at Fort McKinley. Handsome – indeed, dashing – in facial features, he was short but well-built. Since college days he had been interested in creative writing, and he published poems and stories in numerous periodicals during the years between world wars. He also possessed a wide knowledge of classical literature…. A polished orator and a conversationalist with a lively sense of humor, he became an active leader in civic and social affairs wherever he was stationed. He was accomplished in several sports and was also a devout Christian who displayed an unusual concern for his men’s welfare.”

In April of 1945 he wrote: Just think! Three years ago today [we were captured]! If we had known it was going to be three years, could we have faced it? Next to the ability to forget, perhaps the most beneficent provision of Providence for our protection is lack of foresight. If we could not forget it or if we could foresee too much, we would go crazy.

His poem, “A Rusting Sword”, is a prayer expressing his frustration at wasting away as a prisoner. Here is the last stanza:

How long, Oh Lord, how long? While ships delay
My precious years round out, my powers decay.
My birthright lost, by ruthless time’s decree,
To lads who learned their alphabet from me!
A rusting sword upon a garbage heap,
God give me grace to smile when I would weep.
Eternal Justice! Judge of right and wrong!
Does Thou still live? How long, Oh Lord, how long?

In addition to his courage and faith, I was fascinated by his persistence in reading and writing under dire circumstances. He read Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen, Thoreau, Charles Darwin, Hugh Walpole, Robert Louis Stevenson, Agatha Christie, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Aldous Huxley, among others. Books he enjoyed were Rob Roy, Horatio Hornblower, and Plutarch’s Lives, along with biographies and plays. His favorite novel was Hervey Allen’s The Forest and the Fort (New York Times Best Seller in 1943) which I've never heard of, but will look into. Brougher’s book of short stories, Baggy Pants, is next on my list of books to order.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Forgotten God by Francis Chan

I come from a denomination that emphasizes the power of the Holy Spirit to transform hearts. Yet I live in a South American country where many churches emphasize the Holy Spirit’s power to perform signs and wonders. It’s been a privilege to teach theology in this setting because it has forced me to take an honest look at both sides of the issue (inner or outer workings) and to come to a more balanced view. Frankly, I think most books underestimate the depth of the work God wants to do in a person’s life so I wasn’t sure what to expect with Francis Chan’s book. I was pleasantly surprised with some of his insights. His title, Forgotten God, refers to the third Person of the Trinity whose personhood is often ignored because His title makes Him seems vaporous and somehow “not-human”. Although I may not agree with Chan’s theology point for point I loved his emphasis on the absolute necessity of the Spirit-filled life.

In Chapter 7 he writes, I don’t believe God wants me or anyone to live in a way that makes sense from the world’s perspective, a way I know I can imagine. I believe He’s calling me and all of us to depend on Him for living in a way that cannot be mimicked or forged. He wants us to walk in step with His Spirit rather than depend solely on the raw talent and knowledge He’s given us.

He admits, I could pull off a fairly adequate church on my own…But who wants that? I don’t want my life to be explainable without the Holy Spirit. I want people to look at my life and know that I couldn’t be doing this by my own power. I want to live in such a way that I’m desperate for Him to come through, that if He doesn’t come through, I’m sunk.

From Chapter 6: You don’t need the Holy Spirit if you are merely asking to live a semi-normal life and attend church regularly. You only need the Holy Spirit’s guidance and help if you truly want to follow the way of Jesus Christ.

My favorite quote of all was from Chapter 4: - As a young man much of me craved God’s power in my life because I wanted the attention. Now I want God’s power because I DON’T want the attention.

Oh, to be so filled with God that only He gets noticed!

Friday, June 10, 2011

South to Bataan, North to Mukden by W. E. Brougher

In spite of its goofy title and lack of plotline, South to Bataan, North to Mukden will stand out as one of my favorites of the year. It is the story of General William Edward Brougher and his four years of captivity during WWII. Diaries were not allowed in the prison camps, but Brougher wrote on thin notebooks that he rolled up and hid inside bamboo poles. All but one notebook survived the war.

Brougher was stationed in the Philippines when it fell to the Japanese in April of 1942. He and hundreds of other officers were herded into camps in what he called, “the largest gathering of brass in the history of the war in the Pacific.” (p. 47) For years they suffered from harsh treatment, near starvation, and illness, but the diaries recount their will to endure. Brougher loved to read and to write and used his hobbies as a means of survival. I was touched by the poignancy of many of his diary entries.

July 11, 1943: Issue of one banana each! I was overcome with emotion at the magnanimity of our hosts. Bones in the soup for supper. Potato vines also. They get the potatoes we get the vines. They get the meat, we get the bones! I was “filled” with emotion, but “empty” otherwise.

July 15, 1943: Almost always I find myself under the urge to write – to express in verse or at least in some form to get down on paper some of the sensations and reactions to experiences here in prison camp. A year ago I was well in stride, keeping at it constantly and making some headway… But the time came when I was so reduced in strength and energy through want of nourishing food, our time was taken up with morning and afternoon work on the “farm”, and my feelings were adversely affected by constant abuse of the guards that my feeble sources of inspiration dried up….Also, as time went on, I found it more important to make a good patch on my meager clothing than to make a poem. My patches on my threadbare pants and my little garden patch from which I materially supplemented my pathetically inadequate food issue were my poems of this period.

Oct 15, 1943: Music outside this evening – very nice. Thought a lot of my sweet little wife and how we are going to enjoy life when this misery is over. It shall be one of my principal concerns to discover ways to enjoy the remainder of our lives to the maximum.

I loved how Brougher’s optimism shines through many a hardship: Arrived at this camp one year ago today. Well, I didn’t know that I would still be here on June 8, 1944 – but here I am. And I am better off in many ways than a year ago. In the first place, I have the year behind me instead of ahead of me. And I am in much better physical and mental condition. Have news and pictures of my family and very favorable war news…

I have more thoughts on General Brougher, but will reserve them for a future post. I highly recommend this to WWII history buffs and to those who love a good human interest story.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Quote by Anthony Trollope on Writing Books

If indeed a man writes his books badly, or paints his pictures badly, because he can make his money faster in that fashion than by doing them well, and at the same time proclaims them to be the best he can do, - if in fact, he sells shoddy for broadcloth, - he is dishonest, as is any other fraudulent dealer.

- Anthony Trollope from his Autobiography (1883)

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Children of Men by P.D. James

When The Children of Men (the movie) came out a few years ago, I was intrigued by its premise. Sometime in the near future human beings will no longer be able to have children. As hope dies out, one woman becomes pregnant and holds the key to the future of mankind. My son saw the film and told me I would hate it for its violence and profanity. So that was that.

Then I saw the book on a friend’s bookshelf and purposed to read it while skimming over the less savory parts. I’m glad I gave it a chance. Although P.D. James is a bit gritty for me, she’s an outstanding writer and I was immediately enthralled with the story.

Yes, profanity and violence occur, but they are nothing compared to the movie (according to the review I read here.) It’s too bad the film played up the books negatives and completely missed the positives. Although not a Christian novel, biblical themes run throughout the narrative. The most obvious is the hope of the world resting on a baby, but there are many instances of people struggling to find faith in a bleak world.

I was fascinated by James portrayal of sexuality (always discreetly done) in this “brave new world”. You would think the public would welcome sex without the danger of pregnancy, but James proposes the opposite to be true: Without the possibility of procreation, sex has no ultimate meaning and the people lose interest in it.

The Children of Men is a well-written page-turner that offers much food for thought.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Quote on Renewing Your Mind by Michael O'Brien

Saint Paul writes in Romans 12:2, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." But how can the mind be renewed if it is continually reeling under a bombardment of false words and images? The mind is not renewed simply by packing more and more into it; rather it is renewed by grace and by habits of discernment and by a sincere search for what is good and beautiful and true.

(p. 165 of A Landscape With Dragons by Michael O'Brien)