Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

Aggravations and Consolations, feat. Todd Jones


Yesterday was full of aggravations and concerns. The Lenten roses – in their humility, peacefulness, and acceptance of their particular geography – seemed to understand something I didn’t.

The pansies, on the other hand? We were on the same page.

(Feeling Frazzled…

With a Side Dish of Despair.)

I was reminded – as if one needs reminding – that almost every single thing is out of my control. Including each person I love the most.

I was reminded that we cannot – for the most part – protect those we love.


I had planned to save this interview for Sunday, but I need its wisdom myself right now. And so here it is, Bacon friends – the most encouraging of interviews with the former senior minister of First Presbyterian Church, Nashville, Todd Jones…

Thank you so much for spending some time in the Bacon Neighborhood today, Todd!

What is your state of mind? Do you mind the months of winter?

For whatever reason, I have always loved each season, and while there are days when I would wish for more sunshine, the starkness of winter’s trees and landscapes more than makes up for any downside that the winter months might hold. When living in Edinburgh, Scotland while in graduate school, winter daylight was usually barely eight hours a day. So any time I am tempted to allow darker and colder days to make me less than grateful, I remember those days and give thanks for the mild winters of Nashville.

Yes – yes – you are right about winter. I take pictures of the trees in my yard almost every day.

How will your life change when you get the vaccine?

I will feel a whole lot more peace over not being a potential threat to the health of others, and am sure that we will work at rescheduling the trips that were cancelled by Covid-19. It will be nice to be able to socialize more freely once again, and to be able to visit people whose company we have missed.

How will it not change?

I want to keep washing my hands often, and hope that all the time we have spent outdoors hiking and playing golf will continue. I will wear a mask as long as it is deemed important to public health, but I won’t miss them one bit when and if they are no longer required!

When do you think will things get back to “normal”?

We just had this conversation with good friends, and in reflecting on what everyone said, I have moved that date in my own mind to 2022. I tend to be more hopeful than reasonable at times, and I kept thinking that by spring or summer the virus would be under control and the population in our own country would be vaccinated. Now I am pushing that date further out into the future. Of course, maybe “normal” will never be something that looks quite the same, as so much in our world has been changed by the pandemic.

What have you learned about yourself during the pandemic?

Mostly I have learned how privileged we are, because the pandemic has not really impacted us in the brutal ways that so many have experienced it. This is a blessing that I do not take for granted, and it pains me that it has been difficult and tragic for so many others. I have also learned how important what John Calvin called “the life of the mind” is to overall health and wellness. Loving to read and enjoying the company of the people God has given me to love have made the pandemic a time and a season of joy and contentment. A wise person said that the first secret to life is to “Want what you have.” The pandemic has reminded me over and again how very much I have been given!

What are your most successful coping strategies? 

Every day I do something to nourish the intellect, something to exercise my body, and something to feed the soul. Being retired, I have time to get outside every day and experience the renewing power of creation’s grandeur and beauty. I have also continued to recite Psalms that I have memorized over the years, always in the King James Version. I love to do this while I am hiking, either quietly to myself, or when I am with Connie, out loud. There is a majesty to the language that carries the soul to places that more pedestrian words never will.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished Frederik Backman’s A Man Called Ove, which made me laugh out loud more than any book I have ever read, and yet was quite poignant.

I also am reading a biography of James A. Baker, George H W Bush’s Secretary of State, called The Man Who Ran Washington.

On my Kindle right now is A Most Beautiful Thing, by Ashray Cooper, which is his story of being a part of the first rowing crew from a black public school in West Chicago.

I have also been in and out of The Lion and the Fox, which is James McGregor Burns’ classic biography of FDR from 1882 to 1940. Burns, who taught history at Williams College, and authored this book in 1956, writes exquisitely.

I also just finished Ruta Sepetys’ Out of the Easy, her novel of a young woman from New Orleans whose mother is a prostitute, who finds an unusual family that enables her to build a better life.

My son just gave me Barack Obama’s The Promised Land for my birthday, so we are going to try to read it at the same time. I love novels and history, and try to read across party lines!

What were some of your favorite reads of 2020?

The most substantial book I read in 2020 was Jonathan Sacks’ Morality. Sacks was Chief Rabbi in England, and one of the most profound moral thinkers of our day.

I loved William Kent Kreuger’s novel, This Tender Land, set during the Depression and told from the perspective of a thirteen year old boy.

I delighted in The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, which is set in London during the Second World War.

I also read Evan Thomas’ biography of Sandra Day O’Connor, fittingly entitled First, and Jane Leavy’s biography of Babe Ruth, Big Fella. Connie and I both read All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, and loved sharing in this beautiful story set in war torn Europe. We both also read Jojo Moyes, The Giver of Stars, a novel about the Packhorse Librarians in Appalachia during the Depression. In speaking of the power of creation to heal and inspire, Alice, one of the packhorse librarians, says, “Up there you can breathe… No eyes on you, ‘cept God’s. It’s just you and the trees and the birds and the river and the sky and freedom…Out there, it’s good for the soul.” So is good reading!

How do you choose what to read next?

I trust friends first, and then listen and read certain journals and blogs for clues. But I honestly don’t have a program for what I should or should not read like I used to, when I read with an eye to Sunday morning sermons. There is a freedom and a joy in my reading these days.

What are you watching or listening to? TV shows, podcasts, music…

We have enjoyed The Crown, though it probably suffered from changing Queen Elizabeth after season two. We are also sports fans.

Do reading and watching TV meet different needs, or do you see them both as entertainment and distraction?

Reading is more satisfying to me, but I do enjoy good movies, and the quality of television series makes many of them wonderful sources of entertainment.

Favorite guilty pleasure in the time of corona?

Enjoying our new Espresso frother with morning coffee.

What aggravates you most right now?

This is more amusing than aggravating , but – seeing someone driving their car alone while wearing a mask.

What gives you hope?

I turn increasingly to tried and true sources of hope. Psalm 130 comes readily to mind: ‘Oh Israel, hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is plenteous redemption, and He will redeem Israel from all its iniquity.’

*      *      *

Thank you, Todd!

And thank you for sharing these photos…

In Aspen

At wedding in SC

Sunset over the Mississippi River


  1. Oh Jennifer, I’m so glad you gave us Todd in mid-week! Todd, your list of books is prodigious! I comfort myself that I’ve read a handful —with look forward to many more from your list.
    Certainly do miss seeing these beautiful, kind and inquisitive friends!

  2. Lovely! Thank you, Jennifer!

  3. Cheers to freedom and joy in reading….and the irrepressible optimism and gratitude of Todd Jones!

  4. Thank you, Jennifer and Todd! This interview was like a Sunday morning sermon and hug (and I needed it today too!). I especially liked three goals for each day. Your article fed my soul and mind today – all I need is to move. Oh, and check out some of these recommendations.

  5. A most welcome serving of Bacon this morning. Todd’s voice has always seemed to me a true voice, and I am certainly with him on the majesty of the KIng James. The story of how it came to be is a miracle in itself. A shipboard Navy chaplain, two-thirds of a century ago, said to our small prayer group, “It is amazing how much light the Bible sheds on these commentaries.”

  6. Thank you Todd and Jennifer! Love hearing from you this morning!

  7. Love me some Todd Jones!!!

  8. Jennifer! A blessing of the Pandemic for me is the reminder from the Beasleys to connect with you. It is a JOY for me to see Todd and Connie again! Also reminds me of his blessed friendship with Homer!!!

  9. Todd is what we all needed!! Thank you both.

  10. Jennifer and Todd, thank you both for sharing this wonderful interview! Your hope and optimism are infectious. Great book recommendations, too, and I heartily concur with you on the restorative and renewing power of nature. It is essential!

  11. Great words from a great man! Todd you are missed!

  12. Please communicate with Senator Hagerty and ask him to do the right thing. I know you have his ear.

  13. So gratifying! Thank you!

  14. Loved this interview as well as the wonderful book list. If 2022 is the ” new 2021″… I still have. a lot of time to read! Hugs to Todd and Connie and see you on the trails.

  15. Thank you, Jennifer and Todd! This is a wonderful compilation of perspective, encouragement, challenge (many books to read!) and friendships shared.

  16. Always like to know what others are reading…and Todd’s recommendation to LlewAnn and myself of The Dearly Beloved has made me add that book to one of my all time favorites.
    Thankful for this way to share books and reading and life Jennifer….

  17. Todd, You have been a blessing always to me. Sue and I will take the recommendations about the books you and Connie have read.

    Andy Spickard

  18. What an amazing interview!!! Thank you, Jennifer, for such wonderful posts! I always save these until I have time to really absorb your writings. We miss you, Todd Jones!

  19. Thank you, Todd.

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