For Christmas my sister sent me the book The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family. It didn’t take long for me to understand why she would choose such a gift for me. The book is all about the shared history we have with the author, Andrew Himes, grandson of John R. Rice, one of the founders or quite possibly considered the founder of fundamentalism. Her note inside promised I wouldn’t be able to put it down. I thumbed the many pages and sighed deeply with a mental “yea, right!” I read, yes, but mostly historic novels and the like. Still, in my thank-you note I promised to read it after I’d finished the books ahead of it in my queue.
You’re wondering what I mean about “shared history” with the author. Here’s a quick synopsis so I don’t lose you too quickly. My family lived in Dayton, Ohio, in 1945-6 when John R. Rice brought one of his revival crusades to town. This kind of event was right up my dad’s alley. He had a heart for evangelism and would surely be part of the committee that organized the event. Apparently John R. Rice recognized potential in my dad and recruited him to come work for his organization, headquartered at the time in Wheaton, Illinois.
This is the top of the publication that announces my dad’s new assignment.
Here’s the article. It says: “Who would take Mr. Cutchin’s place? Mr. Carl Nill, a member of the Christian Businessmen’s Committee in Dayton, Ohio, an insurance salesman, had much to do with the planning and organizing and promotion of the recent city-wide revival campaign held in Dayton. I have asked him to come to Wheaton as sales manager for Sword of the Lord books. Already he has sold his home in Dayton, bought a home in Wheaton, and will be on the field as soon as possible. He is a very successful insurance salesman, a very active and devoted Christian and we believe that he will do a fine work, with God’s blessings, as sales manager for Sword of the Lord books.”
Much grief was left behind with family in Dayton as our family of five moved two states over to follow God’s call.
Here’s where my dad went to work every day while my family adapted to its new life. I was a year old, so it didn’t have much impact on me.
Now you can understand why my sister thought I’d appreciate this author’s perspective on something that impacted our family so greatly. I remember my mother’s ongoing interest in the Rice family. Rice’s “six beautiful daughters” (he himself “always” referred to them with the descriptor) were notorious for not bobbing their hair or wearing pants. Thankfully our family was less legalistic about such things, though we didn’t darken the door of a theater or touch playing cards or heaven forbid dance. (My mother wrote a letter to excuse me from square dancing in gym class at my elementary school, Holmes School, also attended by the book’s author.)
To keep my promise to my sister I looked on Amazon and discovered The Sword of the Lord in Kindle for 99¢. I quickly made the transaction and I strongly recommend you go and do the same before someone realizes they’re practically giving away an amazing book! Hurry, I mean it. If you can’t get into it (there are parts that could bog you down) you’ve spent less than a dollar. I will gladly refund it if you don’t get that much out of it. So what I’m saying is my sister was right. The book was full of connectors to my Wheaton days. Andrew reported his obvious need of salvation at age five when he stole a Mars Bar from the popcorn store on Front Street. How many times did I walk the mile and a half from home to downtown Wheaton to buy popcorn or a strip of white paper with droplets of pastel candies stuck to it?
Don’t misunderstand. I don’t want you to read this book so you can relate to my childhood. I tell you these things only so you understand why I, about the furthest a person can get from considered intellectual, devoured this book. Perfect timing, to be recovering from back surgery with excess time on my hands. Picture me in wakeful nights, burrowed down in the blankets so my dimmed Kindle light didn’t disturb the man next to me. Or don’t.
I learned so much! The facts (all backed up with pages and pages of indexed resources) of how American history correlated with religious fervor and the misguided misdeeds of so many helped me figure out who I am and why I hold some, may I say, fundamental, beliefs so dear. Andrew Himes, grandson of John R. Rice, never once, not a single time, expressed disrespect for his granddad, though they held diametrically opposed viewpoints on nearly every aspect of fundamentalism. He gets high marks in my book for that!
Read this book! It is chock full of information (expect, like I said, to get bogged down from time to time) and is carried along with the personal experience and perspective you might expect from the author, filled with caring emotion and distraught disdain all at the same time.
Look here, all my Shane Claiborne following friends. If you don’t believe me, here’s what he says: “Part history, part memoir, part sociology. Himes has created a fascinating book that allows you to see American fundamentalism from within the belly of it. It is not pretentious or passive aggressive or cynical… but it is honest. Himes realizes that some of the most unhealthy voices in fundamentalist history are still humans. We have no right to demonize but every right to deconstruct. The Sword of the Lord is an invitation, not to judge those who judge, but to allow their contradictions and hypocrisies to allow us to see our own a little better.” ~ Shane Claiborne, author of Follow Me to Freedom, Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers, and Jesus for President
Ninety-nine cents! Read it and let me know what you think.
And just for fun, I’m including this songbook cover (and inside cover) that remains in my collection.
Both of my parents are pictured on the front. My dad is fourth from the left in the back row, my mother second from the right on the middle row. Mother of Andrew Himes is in the front row, third from the left.
We like to play the game “What if…..?” I’m thinking right now: “What if John R. Rice had not recruited my dad to work for him back in 1946?” It boggles my mind.
That’s Rice on the left. Bonus points for naming the dude on the right.
PS: Please, read this book!