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Larry Clayton
Through My Christian Prism, or at the Port Rail
Larry Clayton brings a refreshing, Christian perspective to these essays that examine the human condition, sharing his thoughts on everything from the flighty and humorous to the serious and transcendent. His musings and insights--almost of all of which were published as op-ed columns in the Sunday edition of the Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and national newspapers like the LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, Washington Times, and Miami Herald—seek to make sense of life. In the tradition of a newspaper op-ed, the essays share profound lessons on everything from religion to history, politics, foreign affairs, education, sports, and other important topics. While many of the writings revolve around Christian themes and history, Clayton is not afraid to tackle problems that almost everyone has faced, such as the daunting, and humorous, experience of getting through an airport checkpoint these days. He laces his stories with wit and wisdom derived from his faith and his experiences as a teacher, writer, and even as chairman of the Department of History at the University of Alabama. He references the "port rail" that--when not on duty--he used to hold on to and dream and think a bit while serving on a ship in the Navy making its way through the waters and waves of the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Mediterranean ocean and seas.
This wide-ranging collection of essays, many originally published as op-ed columns in a host of newspapers, finds Clayton taking on topics as disparate as the degradation of the English language (“the sooner we get old-fashioned grammarians to the rescue, the sooner we begin the march back to sanity, not to speak of honesty and truth”), the legacy of American asceticism (“one of the foundation stones, perhaps the very cornerstone, of this phenomenon—capitalism—[created] so much wealth, for good and bad, in the world today”), and the remembrance of soldiers missing in action (“No one who knew him, in the marines or the South Vietnamese army, ever saw him again.”) Tying it all together is Clayton’s warmth, curiosity, and Christian faith.

A savvy sense of rhetoric also distinguishes this companionable volume, as Clayton proves adept at structuring column-length considerations of controversial or challenging topics—the nature of authority; the state of the U.S. armed forces—so that they read like searching, open-minded journeys of mind rather than received opinions or polemics. When making an argument, he seems to be teasing out and testing a personal truth. An essay on the tense relationship between religion and the state strikes a wise, reasonable tone unlike what readers have grown accustomed to from firebrands on either side of the issue. “Christianity is the guardian of our conscience,” he writes. “It can be exaggerated or twisted into theocracies that are cruel and pale distortions of the true principles of the faith. But choosing the alternative—destroying religion—leads to a far worse outcome.”

A polished prose stylist, Clayton holds to foundational truths but remains open to new ideas. And he’s funny, writing light yet serious pieces about what a believer learns from golf or on the horrors he encounters in his inbox. Christian readers will find much to enjoy and consider in this lively collection.

Takeaway: These wise, lively essays consider topics both light and challenging from a perspective of Christian faith.

Great for fans of: David Bentley Hart, Cindy La Ferle’s Writing Home, Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A