Heritage Handles

What if someone filled up the holes in the bowling balls and greased up the floors at your local bowling ally? That would be a game-changer! That’s what is happening today in our culture—figuratively speaking. Our ability to handle our heritage and function effectively in American society is being undermined by a self-centered belief-system that removes all handles with which to grasp reality and wipes out all footholds as a culture. It’s called relativism.

Let’s define our terms:

Heritage: A set of values, virtues, memories and traditions that can be inherited or carried from one generation to the next.

Relativism: A disbelief that there are absolute values, virtues or truths and a belief that all points of view are equally valid (or invalid) and all values, virtues, cultures and religions are fungible. Relativism is a hard line denial that there are hard lines. Reality is just a personal perception.

Reading Bible stories to children regularly is a heritage handle. Visiting a historical site or museum is too. Celebrations of Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas are excellent heritage handles. That goes for the Fourth of July, Memorial Day and more. A day at the ball park is a small heritage handle. Worshipping God regularly is a huge one. Sunday School may be the best handle of all, if we would just get a grip on it. Family devotions and traditions are heritage handles. Home-schooling (whether you send you children to a school or not) is too. Educational vacations can improve your grip on our heritage. Weddings and funerals, performed faithfully, can too. Whatever helps you build a legacy and carry your heritage to others is a heritage handle.

Sadly, America’s heritage handles are being dismantled much the same way that the noses of many ancient sculptures were knocked off by ancient iconoclasts who were too easily offended. We have empowered teachers, pundits and leaders who turn up their own proud noses to the past as a resource for anything that could help us find a better future. This is foolish. Need examples?

We have replaced Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays with some vague tribute to all presidents. We are re-defining marriage and family to include whatever any powerful political lobby group wants it to be (relativists love the word “whatever”). We ban the reasonable use of valid identification when voting (relativists eschew clarity). We prohibit the phrase “Merry Christmas” from the mouths of teachers at public schools. We ban public expressions of Christian faith but we legislate that school textbooks must promote alternative sexual agendas. It is ironic that relativists often lead like totalitarians. We boil everything down to race-gender-class orientations and ignore history, tradition, principle and faith. Thus, we are slipping and sliding all over the national landscape and getting nowhere fast.

A healthy heritage is more like a torch than luggage. The younger generation should not be asked to carry all the baggage that their parents lugged around. However, the torches of faith, freedom and family can brighten our path into the future and our children need them desperately. A torch needs a handle so we can carry the flame without touching it. Likewise, a healthy heritage needs handles so we can carry it safely across treacherous generational gaps. If one generation lets it go, it is gone.

For lack of handles, we are passing precious heritages by rather than passing them on. Our Christian heritage is sliding into irrelevance. The church is losing her grip on the gospel. Our culture is losing its handle on family formation. America is losing her grasp on her identity. We passively rely on television, movies, popular music, celebrities and the media to construct (actually, deconstruct) our children’s worldview and values. It’s time to get a grip on our beloved heritage and carry it forward faithfully.


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.

The Renaissance: A Short History Book Review

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Johnson, Paul. The Renaissance: A Short History. USA: Modern Library, 2002.


If you are interested in the dynamics of cultural rebirth, read Paul Johnson’s short history of The Renaissance, a period from the 14th to the 17th century A.D. that moved Western culture toward a greater love of knowledge, beauty and faith. It started in Italy and branched out into Europe from there, fostering a flowering of architecture, sculpture, painting, science and literature not seen since the days of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Below are a few principles I gleaned that stood behind this cultural rebirth, as illustrated in more detail in Johnson’s book.

Principles and Characteristics of Cultural Rebirth:


1. Challenging circumstances can have creative consequences. A scarcity of labor during the Middle Ages (as slavery diminished and the Black Plague took its toll) incentivized technological innovation to create more ways to use machines, horses and other means to get work done.

2. Work and commerce can create more work and commerce. Infrastructure improvements and increased trade during the Middle Ages brought new wealth which opened up more avenues of cultural expression and progress.

3. Creative literary expression provided early impetus for cultural renewal. Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321) used the vernacular brilliantly to bring higher culture to the people.

4. Looking back to history (antiquity) propelled the Medieval culture forward. Petrarch (1304 – 1374), sometimes called the father of the Renaissance, loved to hunt down old manuscripts and anything he could use to promote the study of ancient history and literature. He traveled far and wide to bring light to what he saw as an age of darkness. Throughout the Renaissance, a growing respect for the ancients was surpassed only by a passion in many to surpass them.

5. Pursuing truth and exposing fraud opens doors to aesthetic and cultural advancement. Around 800 AD, a document known as The Donation of Constantine was fabricated to channel more power to the papacy. It claimed that Constantine transferred authority over Rome and much of the Western Empire to the pope. Lorenzo Valla (c. 1407 – 1457), a textual critic and scholar, proved it was a forgery. The power of lies to keep a culture sick and the power of truth to heal it both cannot be over-estimated. After Valla, it became harder for religious rackets to thrive. The legitimacy of relics was questioned. Medieval credulity was increasingly challenged with Renaissance scrutiny. The work of scholars like Valla earned them hostility from the powerful, but the Renaissance may never have reached its heights without them.

6. The love of knowledge led to the rise of beauty. The Renaissance revealed that hard study promotes creative freedom which in turn releases beauty. Raising the learning curve for artists especially in math and science raises the quality of art. Sculptors like Ghiberti and Brunelleschi saw themselves as artists and scientists. Leonardo spoke of studying the science of art and the art of science.

7. Competition fosters creativity. As wealth grew, competition for art contracts rose and so did a passion for aesthetic excellence. More people had the resources to pursue inspiration and gratification through literature and the arts.

8. Art is at its best when on a mission beyond itself. It’s mission during the Renaissance was to enhance piety, pursue beauty, glorify God, inspire excellence and teach truth.

9. Spiritual values lie at the root of cultural rebirth that lasts. From Dante’s Divine Comedy, to Ghiberti’s baptistery doors, to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, to Leonardo’s Last Supper, to the building of St. Peter’s Basilica, Christian inspiration animated the Renaissance. Human flaws abounded and subject matter diversified, but nevertheless, most of what was reborn during the Renaissance came from the womb of Christianity.

10. Disempowering the elites can positively impact a culture. The Reformation, beginning in 1517, challenged power structures and brought changes not just in the church but to the culture, fostering new artistic aims and styles. The taste of common people began to matter more. Protestant painters were less likely to portray Bible characters in opulent modern dress. Historical accuracy in art became a priority.

Greatness should be celebrated. But it does not rise to the surface in individuals or in a culture without many of the principles listed above falling into place. Human culture does not flourish in a test tube or in theory. Greatness has both roots and fruits. It must be lived out to be truly great.

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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.

The Sunflower: A Book Review

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The Sunflower. Author: Simon Wiesenthal, Schoken Books, New York, 1976, 2007.


Simon Wiesenthal, a Nazi concentration camp survivor, devoted his life to documenting the crimes of the Holocaust and bringing Nazi war criminals to justice.  He was also an author and his book, The Sunflower, is one of the most riveting reads you‘ll ever enjoy.

Actually, enjoy is not the right word.  The Sunflower will force you to ask some deeply troubling questions about the nature of repentance and forgiveness.  This book is a  spiritual wrestling match.

Wiesenthal, a young architect in Poland in 1941, was captured when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union.  In four years, he was held in twelve different concentration camps.  He survived near executions and a couple suicide attempts.  In the end, eighty-nine of his relatives died in the Holocaust.

In a concentration camp, one longs for outside work details.  During one such excursion, Wiesenthal marched near a German military cemetery.  On each grave was planted a sunflower and butterflies danced around them.  Wiesenthal gravely doubted that a sunflower would ever attract butterflies to his resting place.  Thus, he envied the dead German soldiers.

The prisoners arrived at reserve hospital where they were assigned their duties.  It was dirty work.  A nurse singled Wiesenthal out and led him to the room of a German soldier wrapped in bandages and lying motionless on a bed.  He was a severe burn victim who was desperate to speak with a Jew.

His name was Karl, a member of the SS.  He said to Wiesenthal, “I have not much longer to live.”  He then spoke of an experience that was “torturing” him, something “dreadful” and “inhuman.”  He had participated in an atrocity that left about 200 Jewish men, women and children, locked in a three-story house burning to death.  He also told of a murder of a family with a small child.  Now, he was begging a Jew to forgive him so he could die in peace.

Wiesenthal was fully convinced that the man’s confession and repentance was real.  It was unforced and it came without any excuses.

What would you do?  That is the moral and spiritual dilemma of The Sunflower.  Do any of us even have the right to forgive sins committed against others?  What do we owe the victims?  Is the crime too heinous to forgive?  Can you forgive the person but not the deeds?  Can you excuse the young soldier but not the evil organizers?

After telling the story, Wiesenthal assembled a symposium of responses by leading intellectuals to the question of what they would have done in his place.  Their responses compose the second half of the book.

Rene Cassin counseled the refusal to forgive, saying, “The zealous repression of crimes against humanity is a duty unlimited by time.” Henry Marcues concluded, “I believe that the easy forgiving of such crimes perpetuates the very evil it wants to alleviate.”

David Daiches wrote, “I don’t see how in any genuinely meaningful sense one individual can offer forgiveness for crimes that were not committed against him.” Constantine FitzGibbon vented, saying, “I think I would strangle him in his bed.”

Edward H. Flannery, a Catholic, averred, “It is clear that forgiveness of repented sin is one of the basic concepts underlying the Judeo-Christian morality as well as universal natural ethics.”

Hans Habe added, “One of the worst crimes of the Nazi regime was that it made it so hard for us to forgive.”

Abraham J. Heschel said, “No one can forgive crimes committed by other people.” Christopher Holis advocated for a word of compassion to the dying German. His reason: “The law of God is the law of love.” Holis noted that the man’s confession revealed his willingness to make restitution if he only could.

John M. Oesterreicher reminded us that only humans are granted the capacity to forgive. He added, “To repent and to forgive are not arrogant struggles to change the course of events, vain attempts to undo what has been done; rather they are daring, loving ventures to offer new meaning to the ’dead’ and deadly past.” In the end, the question still stands.

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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.