Benzonia in 1916: “Requiem for the Homemade”

waiting-train-catton-1987For our Thursday history post today we return to Bruce Catton’s Waiting for the Morning Train (Wayne State University Press, 1987), the multifaceted story of his life growing up in northern Michigan, specifically, Benzonia and the Crystal Lake area.

Chapter 11 is our next chapter to reference, and in “Requiem for the Homemade” Catton indeed gives us a funeral message (dirge for the dead!) as he sadly reflects on the passing of one era in American history – the “homemade” life of its early settlers, of which his life in Benzonia and his education at its little Christian Academy were a small part and picture – and the entrance of a new era – the “industrial age” with its “applied technology,” ushered in by the lumber barons and WWI. Life was changing, and with keen perception Catton puts his finger on the change. Fundamentally, it was a spiritual one, as he notes in these paragraphs:

I had been growing up with the notion that life’s problems, although often difficult, were at bottom simple. To confront them took courage, ideals, high principles and unwavering faith. The heroes of the 1860s [he is referring to the Civil War men] had these qualities; the crisis of their day had been met and passed, and a permanent gain had been made – which proved that the world was becoming progressively better because the advance of man rested on a simple exercise of a few ancient virtues. This was one of life’s certainties, as revealed on a Michigan hilltop in the early years of this century. But if today’s crisis had to be met in an entirely different way than the earlier one, all certainty was gone.

And it seemed clear that it was being met differently.

War does one thing pitilessly: it holds up, before the eyes of the society that is waging it, the essential reality on which that society is based. It is a cruel mirror, apparently as distorted as the mirrors in an amusement park, actually (on the long cold glance) not distorted at all. And what it showed in 1916, for that and subsequent generations, was that the race had entrusted itself to a new belief. Its highest faith was now in the machine rather than in the spirit; in the mechanical devices man’s brain could invent rather than in the illimitable miracle that originally set that brain free to speculate, to plan, to dream and to hope. The only reality worth mentioning is the one that can be seen, touched, tinkered with, improved – or, at times, exploded. Get into the machine you have made and ride wherever it takes you. There is no other road to salvation; or to damnation either, if that makes any difference.

To which Catton adds these words about this “harsh gospel”:

So man can do anything if he tries hard enough, and to try hard enough is not simply to furrow the brow and flex the muscles but to make unlimited use of every resource at hand. Moderation becomes impossible,and if it were possible it would be regarded as sinful. The new theology had borrowed, without credit, one of the fundamental planks in the old religion: despite his disclaimers, man stands at the center of the universe. It was made for him to use, and the best and wisest men are those who use it most lavishly. They destroy pine forests, and dig copper from beneath the cold northern lakes, and run the open pits across the iron ranges, impoverishing themselves at the same time they are enriching themselves: creating wealth, in short, by the act of destroying it, which is one of the most baffling mysteries of the new gospel.

You don’t have to fully agree with Catton’s analysis to understand his main point. The old era had the religion of faith in God, embracing the supernatural and solid virtues, while the new era had the religion of faith in man, embracing what can be seen and pinning all its hopes on man’s abilities and technologies, while at the same time discarding the old virtues.

And we now know where this “new” religion has taken us. Indeed, we cnm well understand Catton’s “requiem for the homemade.” But, at the same time, we also know the true, abiding, trustworthy gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. He and His saving work are the source of all our hope and confidence as we face the future. Not man, not ourselves, not our technology, but Jesus is our hope.

Wednesday Night Regatta at the Lake

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We (my wife and I) finally took the opportunity to enjoy a summer night out at Lake Michigan in Holland (State Park). And we remembered to go on a Wednesday night – sailboat racing night. So we packed up our chairs, books, goodies, and parked ourselves along the channel to stick our feet in the cool sand, relax, read, and watch the boats.

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It was a great night for the weekly regatta, a long-time summer ritual in Holland on Wednesday nights. The winds were strong and steady, the racing sails shimmered in the sun, the jibs were billowing, and the boats cut through the waves on the big lake like butter.

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And when the boats are done competing and they head for the channel before sunset, the parade is a pleasure to watch.

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Yes, Deane, I do miss sailing. Maybe someday we can have one together again. Until then, I dream. 🙂

Ah, but the Captain Sundaes treat on the way home…. 🙂 🙂

Published in: on August 1, 2018 at 10:51 PM  Comments (4)  

A Glimpse of the History of Camping in Michigan | MLive.com

 


For our first Thursday history/archives post this month (and a little “Friday fun” too!) we start with a great summer activity – camping in Michigan. If you have lived in our Great Lakes state and camped, or perhaps visited and done some camping in our great outdoors, then you know the beauty of our state parks as well as of our national parks, whether perched at a lakeshore, by a riverside, or deep in the woods.

Today MLive.com (a Michigan news source) featured the history of camping in Michigan by taking us back to the old days of camping – the days of tenting but also of hard-shell campers. You will be impressed by the interesting article Emily Bingham wrote and by the fascinating pictures of campers on various parts of our state.

Here is the beginning of her article and a few pictures to get you started. Read the rest and browse the other pictures at the link below. And if you are scheduled for a camping trip in Michigan this summer yet (as my wife is at Lake Michigan in August), then “happy camping.”

Source: These old photos capture the history of camping in Michigan | MLive.com

Revival Meetings in Benzonia

waiting-train-catton-1987For our Thursday history post today we return to Bruce Catton’s Waiting for the Morning Train (Wayne State University Press, 1987), the multifaceted story of his life growing up in northern Michigan, specifically, Benzonia and the Crystal Lake area.

Chapter 10 is our next chapter to reference, and in “At Halfway House” he describes his final year at the Benzonia Academy and his family’s life in the halfway house there (You may remember that his father was the headmaster).

There is a lot going on in this chapter (as is true in all of Catton’s essays) – from his strenuous education to the fun he had with family and friends. But the chapter also includes his portrayal of a deep spiritual struggle going on in his soul. As a sixteen year old he wrestled with the fundamentalism of his strict Protestant upbringing while his world and worldview were also expanding through his education and exposure to significant histories and works of literature. He was trying to find his “faith,” holding on to the core doctrines of the Christian faith (he mentions specifically the Incarnation and resurrection of Jesus) while also starting to question and even doubt many of the Bible’s teachings and history. It is in many ways a revealing chapter, a glimpse into the soul of this man who was raised in such a strong Christian environment.

One of the more interesting (and revealing!) parts of this chapter to me had to do with his description and evaluation of a week of revival meetings that came to town one year. He saw right through the Arminian and charlatan tactics of the evangelist. Here’s a part of that story:

…I had an especially hard time when I was sixteen and our church put on a solid week of revival services, complete with an imported evangelist, magic lantern, colorful slides to illustrate the more imposing parables, and passionate appeals to sinners to repent and come to the mercy seat. Why our town had such services I have never been able to understand, because there cannot have been a village in all the middle west that needed them less than we did. I know Father did not altogether approve, and the word was passed that academy students were not expected to attend.

…However, I went to all the services, (I think this worried my parents a little, because they did not care much for the way this evangelist whipped up youthful emotions, but they they did not say anything to me about it.) I had been worrying about my soul just then, and this seemed a good time to expose myself to the eternal verities. The result was not good. The speaker had the evangelist’s trick of frightening people so that they would give up their sins, and inasmuch as he was an eloquent man he frightened me and made me eager to repent. Unfortunately, I had no impressive sins to repent. Benzonia just was not the place to lay in a stock of them and I had never enlarged on the few opportunities that seemed open. However, I had had doubts – still had them, and nursed them along with some pride, and to have doubts was to sin. The evangelist said so, unmistakably.

At this point Catton relates the powerful story the evangelist told at one of the meetings –  “part of the standard equipment carried by any proper evangelist” – about a young girl who was told by the minister that she ought not risk delaying for one day a profession of faith. But she chose to “take the chance,” and that very night she was killed on a sleigh ride with some friends. “The evangelist did not need to add that she had certainly gone to hell.” To this, he adds this scathing critique:

Tough, beyond question; and, equally beyond question, contrived and phony. I was just bright enough to see that, and it made me furious with this glib, shallow man who demanded that I accept something monstrous. I had never felt that the faith in which I grew up was oppressive and crippling, but suddenly he made it seem so. For the moment I wanted no more of it.

Rather telling, is it not? Catton is quite perceptive about the false methods of such evangelists and how they preyed on people’s emotions, including his own. He felt betrayed by his own faith, and well he should have when it is represented in this way.

 

“Our school and our town existed in response to a moral imperative.” – B. Catton

waiting-train-catton-1987For our Thursday history post today we take you back to Bruce Catton’s Waiting for the Morning Train (Wayne State University Press, 1987), the multifaceted story of his life growing up in northern Michigan, specifically, Benzonia.

Chapter 9 is titled “Under the Lilacs,” and in this section Catton begins by talking about the changes that came to the town and its area when the lumber camps had devoured the forests and left a desert behind. Writing with a bit of cynicism, Catton describes how his town’s idealism rose above the dark times this “progress” had brought.

You will notice once again the biblical references in this spiritual commentary on his times and the challenges the villagers faced. But you will also detect in the last paragraph quoted below thoughts about our modern society that are strikingly insightful and even prophetic.

The light that had been lit on our hilltop could not be allowed to go out just because the surrounding darkness was gone. It would still be needed to light a path for the feet of men not yet taught to lift their eyes to the sky. We never bothered to formulate this faith. We just had it.

We had been brought up to believe in progress, and we did not think of progress in material terms. Material progress was of course being made, and it was welcome; in 1913, for instance, some utility company built a power dame in the Betsie River and our town got electricity, even including a few street lights, whose dim glow (if you happened to be abroad on some lawful errand after other folks had gone to bed) simply intensified the immensity of the night. Some day, we believed, there would be a public water supply, and it was even possible to suppose that eventually the main street might be paved, although that was obviously  a long way off. But these things were not especially important. Our school and our town existed in response to a moral imperative. It was up to us to produce better men, and nothing else mattered very much. We were extremely unsophisticated, and in a way we were aware of it, but it was natural enough because in the time that had brought us into being there was so much less to be sophisticated about.

Now the trouble with the outside world that controlled our fate was not that it had cut down all of its trees but that it was developing an entirely new attitude. It had created a desert and called it progress, and it was beginning to suspect that man’s salvation might be in his ability to adjust himself to the results of his own advanced technology. To produce better men was all very well, if you had time for it, but the road to blessedness would probably be found in the conquest of his own inner nature. What he could do rather than what he could be was the important thing. That this approach might finally lead to the production of a barbarian who happens to be a skilled technician meant little; improve his technology enough and perhaps he is no longer a barbarian. [pp.172-73]

Now, having read this, ask yourself this question: As man has pinned his hopes (salvation) on his own abilities and technological advances in our time (on “what he can do rather than what he can be”), has he produced a “better man” or a “barbarian”?

 

A Rare Book on the Synod of Dordt, 1621

Last month we began to highlight the 400th anniversary of the “great” Synod of Dordt (1618-1619), which begins this year and will extend into next year. In our initial post we simply called attention to some general things.

In this post I want to begin to call attention to some of the special books we have in the PRC Seminary library on the Synod and its work, including, of course, books on the Canons of Dordt, which set forth the distinctive doctrines of the Reformed faith over against the Arminianism that the Synod was called to contend against (This latter type books we will feature at a later time.).

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One of those special books is found in our rare book case and is a 1621 edition of the Acts of the Synod of Dordt (cf. outside binding above and title page with familiar drawing of the delegates below).

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Yes, you read that correctly – a 1621 edition – printed only two years after the Synod had ended. As you may guess, this work is in Dutch and in old script, which can make it difficult to read.

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But, you can certainly make out some of the words, especially on those pages where the various delegates are mentioned from the states and provinces in the Netherlands (cf. pages above and below). Those of us in West Michigan will recognize these provinces because they also are towns found nearby – Drenthe, Overisel, Zeeland, Holland (north and south), Graafschap, Zutphen.

You may notice that the names and the descriptions of the men are Latinized (that is, stated in Latin), which was the language of the church at that time yet.

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The page below shows some familiar names at the end of a section of addressing the articles of the Remonstrants (Arminians).

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That’s it for now – although I might add that a “new” article on the Synod of Dordt has been added to the PRC website“Our Debt to Dordt” – by one of our current professors, Ronald L. Cammenga. Be sure to read that for more information and inspiration on how Dordt impacts us today.

Friday Fun, Catton Style: Playing the Benzonia Orchestra with a Bad Pompadour

For our Friday fun post today we take you back to Bruce Catton’s Waiting for the Morning Train (Wayne State University Press, 1987), the multifaceted story of his life growing up in northern Michigan, specifically, Benzonia.

retro-mens-1950s-hairstyles-short-pompadourThe chapter I just finished last night, “Interlude with Music” (chapter 8), includes a humorous section in which Catton describes how, as a mediocre violin player in the local orchestra, he sorely wanted to at least look like a dashing, debonair young man – complete with a pompadour. If you look that up in the dictionary, you will learn that a “pompadour” is a hairstyle “in which the hair is brushed up high from the forehead.”

Now listen to Catton describe his sorry experience as the Benzonia violinist with an uncooperative head of hair:

Probably I ought to have taken heart from something John the barber had said to me a few years before this obsession took hold of me. John was a dedicated socialist, and while he trimmed my hair he used to give long lectures on socialism. …Anyhow, one day John was working on my hair when he discovered that I had a double crown, which he said was a great rarity and something to be proud of, because it meant that I could part my hair on either the right side or the left side, at my choice.

‘I tell you,’ he said, gesturing with his scissors, ‘Rockefeller with all his millions couldn’t buy that.’

What Rockefeller with all his millions actually did was buy a wig, but I did not know that at the time and could not speak of it. But John had given fair warning: I could part my hair on either side, and if I left it alone it would part itself down the middle, but some sort of part it was going to have no matter what my intent might be. The smooth, sleek, sophisticated pompadour I could not have.

I came to my senses, at last, after one of our orchestra concerts. We had gone to Frankfort to play, and my problem was at its worst. Frankfort was more like a city than Benzonia was – not much more, actually, because it was also a small town, but compared to Benzonia it was a metropolis – and here if anywhere I ought to look like a debonair youth who had risen far above his country-bumpkin origins. But circumstance was against me. As an earnest violinist of moderate capacity I was something of a head-jerker, and when I  fiddled my way through my assignments I used much body English; and the constant head-wagging, of course, destroyed any chance that my sleek, slicked-down hair-do would stay in place. Things were especially bad that night. Luckily, as it then seemed, there were quite a few brief rests indicated in my score, and whenever one of these came, I would lay my bow down and run my hand desperately over that triply accursed crop of hair. All in all, I had a busy evening.

When the concert ended I started out of the building, violin case under my arm, and I came up behind a couple of local people who were exchanging greetings. One of them asked the other how he had enjoyed the concert, and the man replied that he had hardly noticed it – ‘I was so fascinated watching that young violinist trying to get his hair straightened out that I didn’t pay much attention to the music.’

I was crushed, of course, and for the first time I realized that I was in a fix. There I was, the young musician who was on public display every time the orchestra performed, building up my ego by the fact that I was undoubtedly the center of admiring glances; and it had not entered my monkey’s head that those same glances took in every detail of my frantic attempts to keep my hair in order. I gave up, with a regular Fort Donelson surrender, and next morning I combed my hair with a nice part on the left side and forgot about being a young man about town. It was a relief to me and unquestionably to many other people [pp.161-62].

waiting-train-catton-1987This was another section of the book that had me laughing out loud several times. I continue to enjoy this “good read” very much. Perhaps this little story will bring a chuckle to your soul and mouth too. 🙂

Published in: on March 2, 2018 at 10:11 PM  Leave a Comment  

The Death of the Michigan Wilderness

…originally the lumberman was highly selective. He wanted nothing but pines, and they had to be fully grown; he took only the larger ones, and only those that grew near running water. Now [That is, after the development of better tree-cutting instruments and the construction of narrow-gauge railroads deep into the Michigan forest.] he realized that he wanted everything, and so he took everything. He could use small pines as well as big ones; more important, he could use hardwoods as well, because the railroad could move hardwood logs as readily as logs of pine.

All of the old limitations were gone. The lumberman could go into every corner of the forest and cut down all the trees, and that is exactly what he did. He still preferred pine, but by the 1890s the end of the pine supply was in sight, and so while a number of operators dismantled their mills and tracks and moved out of the state in search of virgin timber farther west, a good many remained and went after the hardwoods. Grand Rapids took walnut, oak, maple and black cherry and before long was boasting that it was the furniture capital of the United States, or possibly of the entire world. Traverse City suddenly discovered that it[s] largest single employer of labor was a mill that made hardwood chopping bowls, salad bowls, butter bowls and so on. Out of the dwindling forest came railroad ties, telephone poles, fence posts, shipyard timber, and blocks cut from pine stumps to be used for matchsticks. Even the supposedly worthless aspen, that came up in matted profusion when a stand of pine was removed, became an article of commerce; men could use it to make boxwood, or feed it into the pulp mills to make paper, and boats and trains that once carried saw logs went off to market loaded down with the slim logs of aspen.

So over most of the state of Michigan the forest was destroyed, with single-minded dedication and efficiency. Sometimes it seemed as if men of that time actually hated trees….

waiting-train-catton-1987Taken from chapter 6, “Death of a Wilderness,” in Bruce Catton’s Waiting for the Morning Train (Wayne State University Press, 1987), pp.117-118.

As promised in my last post on this book, we have to face what the greedy lumber industry did to the Michigan wilderness. Catton doesn’t hide the sad history of what man did to the beautiful forests of Michigan’s north country. While there are still glimpses of what once was, it is hard to imagine the trees that formerly covered the area of Benzonia County and beyond. And with that destruction of the wilderness, as Catton notes, went the killing of bird (passenger pigeon) and fish (the grayling in the Au Sable River, for example), and even people, for the industry also produced massive forest fires.

Such is another manifestation of the sinfulness of man. Created a steward of the land and its resources, in his fallen state he recklessly rapes the land and ruins its resources, leaving a trail of barren wilderness, vacated towns, dilapidated buildings, and ruined lives. Such was “progress” in the industrial age, just as it is still man’s “progress” in this information age. Just the resources and tools have changed.

Will we learn from this history?

A Day in a Michigan Lumber Camp – B. Catton

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The big day was the day Father took us out to a lumber camp.

We rode out in the caboose of a freight train, which by itself was enough  to make this a great occasion; past Boyne Falls, and off on some temporary branch line that led to the lumber camp, where our engine was to drop its empty flatcars and collect loaded cars for the return trip. While the train crew did this, Father took us up to the cook shack for a midday meal. …I got my first look at an old-time Michigan lumber camp. I did not actually see a great deal, and anyway a scene remembered from early childhood is glimpsed as through a glass darkly, with the real and unreal looking much alike. Looking back now I can recall little more than a set of log-and-tarpaper buildings in a clearing on rising ground, a wilderness of stumps and unwanted saplings all around, and somewhere in the distance a swampy plain where spiky trees without leaves or needles stood bleak and lonely against the snow – tamaracks, undoubtedly, although I could not have identified them at the time.

The camp was singularly quiet, and hardly any men were in sight. The men, of course, were off in the woods, hard at work; from first to last, the lumberjack never saw his camp in daylight except on Sundays – he went off into the forest before sunrise and he came back after dusk, and he knew his home place only as a warm spot in the cold darkness, where he ate and slept and on Sunday boiled his socks and long johns and waged ineffective war on the bedbugs that infested the bunkhouse.

Taken from chapter 5, “The Ax, the Log and the River,” in Bruce Catton’s Waiting for the Morning Train (Wayne State University Press, 1987). Though I can only quote a small portion of Catton’s history of the logging industry in Michigan, it is fascinating and sad. Next time I will give you some statistics he provides on how quickly the beautiful northern forests were stripped and how the promise of an inexhaustible supply of lumber was quickly shown to be utterly foolish.

If you want to read a little more about the logging industry, visit this Michigan history page. And if you want to see some more pictures of the logging camps, check out this Detroit News gallery.

Published in: on January 18, 2018 at 10:51 PM  Leave a Comment  

Winter Has Arrived in West Michigan! (Updated with Lake Michigan Pictures)

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No doubt those outside of Michigan have heard about the fast, furious, and frigid winter that has descended on us here in West Michigan. After a beautiful, mild, drawn-out Fall, winter came with a flourish in mid-December and has not let up yet – although the hope of a “January thaw” is in the forecast for next week.

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These are pictures taken back and front of our home last weekend when we received over a foot of lake-effect snow in two days. And this week on top of 8-10 inches of fresh snow, it has been bitter cold – -3 (F) this morning and wind-chills below 0 (F) all day yesterday and today – and colder yet tonight!

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But, as you can see, there is a marvelous beauty that is revealed in God’s winter work. Truly, He makes a wonderland of white that covers all the death and decay underneath and around us. What a gospel picture!

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And His creatures all look to Him for food – the deer and wild turkeys have been coming close at Seminary, poking around in the landscape for food (where are those luscious hostas?!) – or visiting Prof .Cammenga’s bird feeders for free seed.

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How do we snow-stricken, frozen-chosen Michiganders cope? Why, we get out and enjoy the snow, of course! Monday, a few brave souls in our family – including some grandkids for the first time – went cross-country skiing at Pigeon Creek Park west of us. It was cold but was it ever beautiful in the woods and along the creek!

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And if one really wants to have fun, do some backyard ice bowling! [This video appeared on MLive this week.] See what you are missing!

Late this (Saturday) afternoon my wife and I went out to Holland State Park to see Lake Michigan. Word was that the ice formations were amazing, so we decided to check things out, partly because the time-frame for seeing ice caves, etc. can be so short. Though we have seen icier conditions, it was still good. Here are a few pictures I took with my phone.

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