Book Review: A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now

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Wood, Peter. A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now. Encounter Books: New York, NY, 2006.


“Sophrosyne” was the word that David Tidmarsh spelled correctly to win the National Spelling Bee Championship of 2004. It’s an old-fashioned word meaning: “Temperance, self-control and prudence.” If you think it is hard to spell, try practicing it.

Your grandparents may not have used the word “sophrosyne,” but they lived in a culture that valued its qualities. In his book about anger in America, Peter Wood claims that such qualities have given way to a rising “New Anger.”

A Bee in the Mouth, is not about spelling bees or honey bees. It’s about anger and American culture. The author knows that anger is not new, but he sees a self-approval in today’s expressions of anger that is new. Peter Wood, provost and academic vice-president at King’s College, identifies two categories of anger: Old Anger and New Anger. The differences between them can be subtle.


Old Anger

Previous generations had more inhibitions to break through before anger could find full expression. Permission to be outraged was not so easily granted to our forebears. They expected hardship and valued restraint.

Homer, the ancient Greek poet, wrote of Achilles’ sulking anger, but emphasized how costly it was to himself and others. Homer was building a stoic resistance to anger in his readers, not celebrating it.

George Washington’s biographers claim he had a temper, but was famous for holding it down. He did not see anger as a leadership quality. He believed in self-government, personally and nationally.

Jackie Robinson achieved greatness by holding anger back. He broke the color line to play major league baseball under strict orders to let all the racist nonsense that came his way (and it did) roll off his strong back. It was not easy, but his self-control paved the way for profound progress without triggering a race war.


New Anger

New Anger, Wood generalizes, is anger that congratulates itself. With old inhibitions fading, today we tend to glorify unrestrained expressions of our grievances. We wear our anger as a “badge of authenticity” in today’s culture, or we celebrate it as raw entertainment.

Contemporary action movies tend to feature rage or violence early and often, and in vivid detail and color. Old and new anger can both be portrayed as heroic and just. However, in recent times, the screen hero or heroine tends to lose all reservations against violence early in the plot.

The working presumption in movies, music and the visual arts today is that if you avoid vulgarity, violence and anger, you are not being “real.” For too many modern rappers, “keeping it real” means that the angry lifestyle celebrated in their songs gets fleshed out in the real life (and often, death) of the rapper.


Angry Music

angry music from bob dylan, eminem, and pete seegerThe old protest songs of Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan were angry, but their style covered it up enough to make their tunes popular around many a campfire. That’s Old Anger. When rock stars randomly threw fits and burned their guitars on stage, that was New Anger. The Sex Pistols celebrated “Anarchy in the UK” using lyrics like “Get pissed, destroy!” If you listened, you knew what the old folk singers were angry about, but what on earth was bugging those furious rock stars?

Stanley Kurtz (quoted from National Review, Oct. 14, 2002) observed that many rock stars were not so angry when you would expect them to be (like, after 9/11). Kurtz noted that in the year after 9/11, there were very few songs on M-TV that dealt with the terrorist attack on the USA. But on Country Music Television (CMT), “the war was omnipresent”:

“Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” by Alan Jackson.
“Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly,” by Aaron Tippen.
“Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” by Toby Keith.

Music sometimes provides the soundtrack for the culture wars. Kurtz noticed that M-TV had plenty of “primal screams of anger, lust and alienation.” The anger in country music, however, tended to flow out of a real-life story or event. Kurtz heard the whole age-range of life from childhood to old-age featured in the lyrics of country songs. However, the themes on M-TV dwelled exclusively on adolescence and the early twenties. When country songs got angry (righteous or not), you knew why. And the emotional range was wide enough to also embrace a profoundly calm gratitude for family life, personal faith, patriotic pride and daily routines.

Johnny Paycheck sang, “Take This Job and Shove It” and CMT even canceled a Charlie Daniels’ appearance because his song, “This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag” was too much for a Salvation Army benefit. But nothing in country can compare with the random mayhem in rapper Eminem’s tantrums. I will spare you the lyrics with severe profanity and vitriol in the rap music world except to say that too much of it appears to be about adolescent ego, bitter resentment, angry insults, demeaning women, celebrating criminality, doing drugs and intimidating rivals. In any case, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby are long gone.

Hip-hop is now America’s premier anger music, having displaced grunge, punk, heavy metal and alternative rock. Gone also are Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Elvis, and Jerry Lee Lewis (“Whole lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”). In the fifties, the shakin’ seemed new. We still shake today, but often out of some sort of primal anger, not just out of love or lust. Hip-hop music says, “Look at me; I’m angry!”



Let’s face it, in the 21st century, our lives are probably less crossed by adversity and struggle than in previous generations. Yet, in contrast with our forebears, we seem more likely to rail against life‘s annoyances and injustices.

  • The news media has become an anger industry with its blood-splattered highlights and constant cynicism over injustice. If it bleeds, it leads. Grievance politics dominate. Every story has some angle pertaining to race, gender, class or violence (or it isn’t a story). The media played a huge role in fomenting the 1992 Rodney King riots, showing the video of his beating constantly for a year in Los Angeles and featuring only the segment that put the police in the worst light. Do the media hate the police? Perhaps not, but they do know how anger sells.
  • Fund-raisers, left and right, apply advanced techniques to keep their donors mad enough at the other side for perceived injustices to keep writing checks.
  • Major political candidates are now known to use Nazi references to discredit their opponents (remember Al Gore’s reference to Republican “rapid response digital Brown Shirts”).
  • A survey of self-help books targeting women found that they are often encouraged to revel in anger; claim it, flaunt it, and dream with it! Women’s magazines once exalted patience and self-sacrifice as virtues. After the 70s, the prevailing presumption was that anger empowers women!

The author also dealt with road rage, street riots after sports championships, talk radio and grrrl power. Today, a self-righteous and theatrical sort of anger is often presumed to empower the one who expresses it. To show your anger is supposed to be somehow liberating.

Wood concluded; “We have moved from a society that generally disapproved of anger to a society in which anger is freely displayed and socially rewarded.” We often justify our anger by presuming (sometimes correctly) we are victims of injustice and we have a right to carry grudges and grievances wherever we go. But they get heavy. Anger and injustice are as old as the hills, but what Wood sees as new is our culture learning to fall in love with its own outrage.

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The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

Book Review: On My Honor

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Perry, Rick. On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For. Macon, GA: Stroud & Hall Publishers, 2008.


Would the USA be a greater nation if more people lived by the following ideals:

[list_item]The Scout Motto (“Be Prepared”)?[/list_item]
[list_item]The Scout Law (“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent”)?[/list_item]
[list_item]The Scout Oath (“On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”)?[/list_item]

Undoubtedly, YES!

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) are a proven character factory. They set boys on a course to achievement by cultivating life skills and competency. They prepare boys for a life of honorable service by creating and rewarding merit, and it is merit–in the end–that creates honor.

Yet, some want the BSA destroyed. Legal assaults on the Scouts span 30 years now, especially from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Governor Rick Perry’s book, “On My Honor” chronicles these assaults while celebrating the enduring legacy of the BSA. He wants us to understand the positive impact scouting has on our culture and to know why the Scouts are worth defending.

The Author

Governor Rick PerryRick Perry, an Eagle Scout, is the governor of Texas (his candidacy for the Republican nomination for President is beyond the scope of this review). He believes his path to achievement began with scouting. It helped him to define himself and set healthy life goals. Perry defined scouting’s mission not as entertainment for boys but as mind and character development through a program of work and learning.


Content Summary

After some personal reflections, Perry outlined the origins of scouting in America, which rose out of a simple “good turn” done by a boy in London in 1909 who refused a reward because he was “a scout.” The American, millionaire William Boyce, was impressed enough to bring scouting to the states.

Next, Perry laid out the battles the Scouts have been forced into by organized leftist culture-warriors like the ACLU–battles about God, the First Amendment, public access rights, and teaching boys to be “morally straight.”

In 1976, an Oregon girl charged the Scouts with discrimination because she was denied membership in a Cub Scout pack. Countless lawsuits have followed over the reference to God in the Scout Oath, and over the right of Scouts to set their own terms for Scoutmaster leadership roles. The Scouts have won most of these cases, but at great cost.

In 1991, Bradford W. Seabourn, an assistant scoutmaster and atheist, wrote a letter to his council defining God as “nothing.” He wrote: “When I say the Pledge of Allegiance, I pledge my oath to ‘One Nation Under Nothing.’ When I say the Scout Oath, I promise to ‘do my duty, to nothing’ and my country… When I say the Scout Law, I say a Scout is reverent to ‘nothing.’”

To stay consistent with their principles and retain integrity in the oath, they denied Seabourn’s registration as an adult leader. Seabourn sued. The BSA side was upheld since they are a private organization. The Scouts were not forced to change their “duty to God” requirements.

Another series of cases against the Scouts involving homosexuality culminated in the famous Dale case (involving an openly active homosexual who could no longer be in Scouting) which was ultimately settled by the Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 decision in 2000 favoring the free association rights of the Scouts.

Since losing in the Supreme Court, homosexual agenda advocates have formed a coalition of groups to escalate attacks against the Boy Scouts at the state and local levels. They have pressured companies to withdraw support for the Scouts, demanded that United Way organizations drop the Scouts from their fundraising drives and filed countless law suits against local governments to try to force them to prohibit the Scouts from using parks and public buildings. A bill in Congress to remove the Boy Scout’s “national charter” was even attempted. The ACLU has also managed to deprive the Scouts from recruiting resources and public fund-raising avenues (excluding Scouts from community charity campaigns) that are freely used by other groups, including radical homosexual activist and atheist groups.

Turning to more positive themes, Perry offered a litany of heroic stories involving scouts. Each story illustrated the life-saving benefits of practical training and preparation for emergencies as well as the brave unselfish spirit to act fast while others often would not. For example:

Matthew Mills was born with a skeletal impairment confining him to a wheelchair. Nevertheless, at age eleven in 2004, he jumped into a pool to save a 20-month old baby while other adults were oblivious to the danger. Later, Matthew averred, “All I was thinking about was saving him, getting his head above water… I wasn’t thinking about me.”

Michael McAnelly, 12-year-old Scout, acted quickly and calmly to save his brother’s life at the beach. A newspaper reported that he just did “what he had been taught.”

Anthony Marzocca, age 14, showed quick thinking courage on two occasions and was awarded the Honor Medal from the Boy Scouts of America Court of Honor. Anthony explained, “There was no way I could sit there and not do anything.”


The final three chapters survey the legacy of Scouting and it’s hopeful place in our future. Sad to say, in today’s culture, teaching boys to be “morally straight” is almost forbidden. Here’s how the Scout Handbook describes what “morally straight” means:

“…to be a person of strong character… your relationships with others should be honest and open. You should respect and defend the rights of all people. Be clean in your speech and actions, and remain faithful in your religious beliefs. The values you practice as a Scout will help you shape a life of virtue and self-reliance.”

In addition to the inner virtues that Scouting promotes, external virtues are often center-stage (tying knots, building fires, pitching tents, leading community projects, overcoming obstacles and finishing what you start). Perry exclaimed, “Scouting is about raising young men whose actions live up to their words.” (p. 145).

Scouting does not reward failure with badges, but it also doesn’t condemn failure. It teaches perseverance as well as respect for authority in the form of parents, teachers, clergy, and duly elected officials. Scouting does not always succeed but their aim is to help young boys begin the relentless pursuit of good.

The ongoing assaults on the Scouts are just one small front in a larger culture war, and the aggressors are coming mostly from the cultural left. Many of them are pushing us ever closer to a “One Nation Under Nothing” mentality. Let’s not go there.

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The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

Happy Reformation Day! October 31st

If Halloween is a celebration, then what are we celebrating? Judging by the cute skeletons, goblins, ghosts and grave-yard symbols on our doors, windows and walls, it’s death. Maybe it’s our attempt to taunt death. I have a better idea!

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther changed human history. He nailed a list of 95 propositions to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He was a university professor giving notice for public disputations on the matter of indulgences (the church’s remission of punishment due for sins which have already been forgiven) and other matters. Luther was prepared to challenge some teachings of the Roman Catholic Church—even one that made it a lot of money. Luther loved the church enough seek constructive reform.

Luther’s posting caught fire and transformed the world. On that 31st of October, he began a process that did more to influence history (in my opinion) than any other deed or event since Jesus’ resurrection. The Protestant Reformation triggered a rise in independent thinking by common people in matters of faith which eventually led also to the Enlightenment, to the rise of science and technology and to other ideologies of freedom. I dare say there might not be an America today had there been no Protestant Reformation.

The road to reform was bumpy, but the big picture gives us much for which to joyfully celebrate every October 31st! So, don’t let all those witches, spooks and cavities distract you from a celebration of the life-enhancing rise of intellectual and spiritual freedom, launched in large part by Luther in 1517. What a difference can be made when a man of moral courage cares about the truth and calls his culture back to its biblical roots.

Please teach your children to remember what happened on October 31, 1517, and someday they may give our culture a similar courageous call.


The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

For Goodness’ Sake!

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“It is better to will the good than to know the truth.”

Petrarch (1304 –1374), Italian poet, calligrapher and scholar


I came up with a new life-motto a few years ago while mentoring a young boy. Every Saturday for over two years, we got together to tour museums, hike or bike trails, visit libraries, slide down slopes, skate on ice, watch maple syrup drip from trees, or just discuss life. On Sundays, we went to church.

What a blast!

This kid was smart (still is). We often quizzed each other on our knowledge while driving. I shared my life-motto with him: “If you love to learn, you’ll learn to love.” I was more impressed with my wit than he was, but the mutual learning continued.

One day, it occurred to me that I was glorifying his smartness a bit too much. I heard myself say, “It’s good to be smart, but it’s better to be good.” Smartly, he revised it to “It’s good to be smart and it’s smart to be good.”

The point reached home. Such treasures as truth, knowledge and smartness are not good in and of themselves or for their own sake. In the end, they must foster goodness, for goodness sake! Untethered to morality, truth is benign at best and quite dangerous at worst.

I am not the first to think such thoughts. Back in the infamous 14th century, a poet named Petrarch came up with this notion. He is known as the father of humanism (or the “humanities” as a discipline of study). Some see him as the father of the Renaissance. If that’s not impressive enough, he has even been called the world’s “first tourist”! He loved to travel for the pleasure of it.

Truth be told, it wasn’t just traveling that gave him joy. His passion was to hunt down old manuscripts and anything he could use to promote the study of ancient history and literature. He refused to tolerate the prevailing ignorance of history and the classics that he saw in his day. He traveled far and wide to bring light to the so-called “Dark Ages.”

If seeking truth and recovering knowledge was his passion, how could he have penned the maxim above? Maybe he understood that seeking truth and knowledge was a means to a higher end: namely, being good!


The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.