Brandywine Books
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Bad company

This troubling story from Touchstone Magazine Online made me just a tad more uncomfortable than it does most people. This is because Simon & Schuster, the publisher responsible for this insult, has a distribution agreement with my old publisher, Baen Books. That means that, although S&S did not publish me, they did distribute my novels (and pretty badly, I might add).

I seem to fall into these unfortunate relationships. My first short story, and several thereafter, were published by Amazing Stories Magazine back in the 80's. Amazing at that time was owned by TSR, then the manufacturers of the Dungeons and Dragons games. So I had to explain that connection to Christian friends now and then.

Maybe I should accept this as my fate. Perhaps the only publishers who will ever accept me will be ones I'm embarrassed to be associated with. Perhaps I should urge my agent to start submitting my books to gay/lesbian and leftist publishing houses.

I can always tell myself I'm being salt and light.

Lars Walker
 
Monday, May 30, 2005

The Saga of Lars Swelland

Finally a nice spring day in Minnesota. I made the pretty one-hour drive down to Kenyon, my home town, as I do every year around Memorial Day. There’s a cemetery there on a wooded hillside, overlooking the mattress factory, and I plant flowers beneath a stone that says “Walker”. My grandparents are there, and my aunt Jeanie, plus an uncle and aunt who died young, whom I never met.

And on the other side of the stone is a single grave, that of Martha Swelland, my grandmother’s mother. The plot originally belonged to her and her husband Lars, and she’s been waiting for him there since 1927.

Judging from the pictures I’ve seen, Lars Swelland was probably the handsomest of my great-grandparents. My dad told me that I resemble him when I’m thin, and that I always resemble him in temperament. He came to America, like all my great-grandparents, in the massive Scandinavian migrations of the 1880’s. He was a hard-working Norwegian farmer, and he did well for himself, coming in the end to own a fine farm next to the one I grew up on. “He had a new car every year”, one of my great-aunts told me once.

But he was a creative man too. He liked to carve wood and tinker with things. He built himself a camper and went on road trips out west in it. “It had the first mechanical turn signal I ever saw,” said my dad. “It was a carved wooden arm that swung out on a pivot to make the standard hand turn signals.”

Lars had beautiful handwriting, I’m told.

Around 1926, according to the family story, his wife Martha (who is remembered as the sweetest of women, and I can well believe it if she was anything like her daughter, my grandmother) came down with serious gall bladder trouble, and her doctor recommended surgery (I’m a little vague on this. It could have been kidney stones.) Martha, however, had a phobia about being operated on. She delayed and delayed, her pain increasing.

Finally along came a “doctor” with a patented new machine to remove gall bladder (or kidney) stones without surgery. It was based on the use of a vacuum tube.

Lars and Martha opted to allow this man do use his machine on her.

The machine ripped the stones out of the living flesh, and she died suffering terribly.

Lars had always been a melancholy sort of man. He became morose and lost interest in life. My dad remembered seeing him walking through the fields alone, his hands clasped behind his back.

Finally he retired from farming. He built a house in town and rented the farm to one of his sons.

Then came the Great Depression. One month Lars’ son missed the rent, and Lars didn’t have the money to make his payment to the insurance company that held the note on the farm.

He received a single dunning letter from that company.

The next day he got on a train for New York City. In New York he boarded a ship for Norway.

The insurance company tried to reach him by telegraph, to explain that it wasn’t the end of the world. They were willing to work with him on the payments.

If he got the telegram he paid no attention to it. He’d had enough of the America experiment. He wanted to go back to the places he remembered from his youth.

The farm was lost to the family. His children were bitter.

Lars ended up not in the place where he’d grown up, but on an island called Tysnes in the Hardangerfjord, a beautiful place even by the standards of that beautiful country, and a popular vacation spot today. He made a living by helping out in other men’s fishing boats. He wrote back to the children, asking if they could send some money to buy a boat of his own. But there was no money in those days, even if they’d been inclined to send it.

In 1940 the Germans occupied Norway. Lars used to climb the mountain to listen to a contraband radio, to get news of America.

He died of a stroke in 1942. His children did not know until the liberation in 1945.

In 1994 Dad and I traveled to Norway. We made the journey to Tysnes to see his grave. I’d written to the pastor there, and had gotten a map of the graveyard.

Half-way there I realized I’d left the map back in Bergen. We paid our respects in the right general area of the churchyard, but never found the exact stone.

I inherited the papers for the cemetery plot in Kenyon from Dad. Unless something like the Great Tribulation intervenes, I expect to be buried there, in Lars’ place.

I hope Martha doesn’t mind.

Lars Walker

 
Sunday, May 29, 2005

Arming our youth

My brother Moloch reports this from my youngest niece, just back from traveling in Europe with a group of fellow college students: “Thank goodness I’m home. Now I can use big words again.”

I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I have two brothers, Moloch and Baal (names slightly altered to protect their reputations). Moloch is a pastor in A Very Large Lutheran Denomination Which Shall Remain Nameless, and serves a country church in Iowa. Baal has a county job in northern Minnesota, within quick getaway distance of the Canadian border.

Yesterday we were together up at Baal’s place for the high school graduation of his eldest son. All went well, and other schools could learn from the graduation ceremony, which was trussed up and subdued in under an hour. The commencement speaker spoke less than fifteen minutes, I think.

I hope this is the wave of the future. So many great social impulses spring from St. Louis County, Minnesota (well, Bob Dylan springs from there anyway).

I believe I can safely say that my graduation gift was a hit. When my nephew opened the package, his eyes lit up and he said, “Wow! A sword!” He told a friend on the phone, “I just got the best graduation present ever!”

It’s a Viking sword, needless to say, the Paul Chen Hanwei Practical Viking Sword, which is inexpensive, not intended to be sharpened, and built like a crowbar for brutal use by actors and reenactors. (For every actor there is an equal and opposite reenactor.)

I also gave him a copy of John Eldredge’s Wild At Heart. (I can hear the intake of breath from here. Yes, I know Eldredge is weak theologically. I suspect he’d be the first to admit it. But I love his books for their vision of unreduced, un-Oprahfied, non-neutered Christian manhood. It’s a manhood I can probably never aspire to. But I salute it from afar).

Why did I give a sword and a book on manhood to my nephew? Was it an attempt to undo some imagined deficiency in the way his parents brought him up?

Not at all. My nephew, I’m pleased to say, is tall, good-looking and appears pretty self-confident. He’s an honor student, an athlete, and if the number of kids (including cute girls) who chose to stay late on graduation day at his house is any evidence, he’s popular. He has not missed out on the manly arts either, having been taken on camping trips several times a year ever since he was small, and having slain more than one deer.

No, I wasn’t responding to my nephew’s home life, but to our common life; the life of our culture. This promising young man is walking into a world that believes, as an article of faith, that there is nothing, nothing, nothing that men, as men, are necessary for. Not fatherhood. Not combat. Nothing.

I think a young man nowadays needs a sword and an Eldredge book.

Then again, this morning Brother Baal put his youngest son (also a likely fellow) on a bus at church. He was going to an event billed (according to the flyer) as a “Worship/Paint Ball event”.

Maybe there’s hope after all.

Lars Walker

 
Friday, May 27, 2005

Read a Great Book This Summer

I was thinking about summer reading this evening when I came across this press release. "Experts Agree, The Difference Between Good Students and Great Students is What They Read." The Great Books Summer Reading Program at Amherst and Stanford report that reading challenging literature at a young age improves your mind and test scores. "Read more challenging books, more hours a week, starting when you're younger -- and you'll develop the kind of mental muscles that will help you rise to the top. That's the basis of real education and real success," said the president of the organization that developed the 2005 SAT. By reading and discussing well-written books which deal with the big questions--"What is the good life? What do I owe my neighbor?"--a teenager's mind and heart can gain the strength his circumstances may restricted.
Evan came to the Summer Reading Program as a 14-year old from Mississippi and from one of the lowest-rated schools in the nation. Evan's teacher, Annette, described him as a very curious child but discouraged from his disadvantaged circumstances and no one believing in him except his teacher. Evan speaks of his "life changing experience" at Great Books Summer Program. "Evan will never be the same again," gleams Annette.
What would you think if a publisher, say Penguin Classics, promoted classic literature as great summer reads? Maybe they would offer special editions with new or at least sound essays on the work in question. I would pass on Kafka for something like this, but I would be tempted by Hawthorne or Ralph Ellison, Thoreau or Langston Hughes. I suppose publishers think these works are promoted enough through schools and attention to literary awards. But what do you think? A good idea?
 
From National Review Online

A far superior review of Kingdom of Heaven. One that agrees with me.

And this guy even saw the film.

Lars Walker
 

Author Jim Wallis at the Heritage Foundation

On Monday, May 16, I watched the webcast from the Heritage Foundation called, "God and Party Politics: A Conversation." Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners, represented the Left, and Joseph Loconte, HeritageÂ?s William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society, represented the Right. Both said the other misconstrued their words a bit.

Wallis opened by saying "religion should not be ideologically predictable" or loyal to a political party. He called himself "a nineteenth century evangelical," praising Charles Finney for devising the altar call and using it as an opportunity to sign people up for an antislaveryy campaign. "The Right," he said, "needs to broaden its thinking on values." The most surprising of his statements was that Americans had the resources to end world poverty, if we only had the moral and political will to use those resources.

Loconte argued that Wallis was wrong to promote direct applications of Old Testament commands to the U.S. He said that Israel was a theocracy, and God made the rules for them; but the U.S. is a secular democracy, so some kind of translation must be made if a truth in the Old Testament is to be applied to our country. In this way, Loconte said, Wallis and the Religious Left were using a "literalist," even "fundamentalist," interpretation of the Bible, something the Right is often accused of.

I think Wallis made some good points, but I find that political liberals can make plenty of good or seemingly good points which don't pan out in the end. For instance, Wallis opposes the intervention in Iraq, but claims to support intervention "to save civil rights" in general when the time is right. I fear that the time is never right when real opportunities come. To this, Loconte said that it isn't the government's role "to turn my neighbor's cheek," giving no practical help to the one who suffers injustice. The government's role, as I understand it from Scripture, is to promote mercy and defend justice.

Wallis went on to say that most of the world's evangelicals agreed with him on the Iraq war.
 
Thursday, May 26, 2005

Long blog today

…because much has occurred, and I’ll be going out of town tomorrow.

I came home this evening to find a message on my answering machine. When I played it back I got a recording of music from (apparently) a classic rock station. It just went on and on until I stopped it.

Does anyone know why this would happen? Is it some esoteric method for hacking into my computer connection or something?

Well, I’m going on the Norway fjord cruise in August. For the last two years I thought the cruise lecture booking company I worked for back in ’03 must have gotten bad evaluations about me, because I was never invited to do it again. Yesterday, after I’d sent in another application, I got an e-mail and a phone message, and it appeared they were pretty eager to have me. I talked to someone there this morning, and before I knew it I was booked. Apparently they changed databases and I got misplaced, is all.

In a way I’m not sure why I’m doing this. Well, I’ll be seeing Norway again, of course, which is essentially all the excuse I need. But cruising isn’t really my favorite way to do that. I like to spend time in the country, with the people. On a cruise you spend most of your time out of sight of land, and your interaction is mainly with fellow Americans on board.

I guess brutal self-analysis (I don’t do any other kind) would indicate that I do it out of pride. There’s a certain prestige to cruising, and lecturing on a cruise ship has a cachet (“See the world! Have people with limited entertainment choices pay attention to you!”).

Anyway, I’m sailing August 13 on the Celebrity cruise ship Centennial. If you book through this blog, I’ll get no credit whatever, but at least I’ll know I’ll be traveling with the Best People.

James Lileks laments our pathetic Minnesota spring today. I hear you, James. But Arizona? Think long and hard.

OK, I’ve never actually been to Arizona, but I did live in Florida for eleven years.

I didn’t leave Minnesota voluntarily. It was a low point in my life. I’d taken a shot at a radio career and sunk with all hands. After that I lived in my aunt’s basement in St. Paul for three years, living on temporary jobs and my parents’ charity (you remember the early 80’s, don’t you? The Carter recession was still hanging on). Finally my folks said (in so many words) “If we’re going to be supporting you, we might as well have you on site.” I didn’t see any alternative, so I moved to the Sunshine State. The economic recovery took hold in Florida before Minnesota (lower taxes), and I had work again before long.

But I never felt at home in Florida. Understand me – I hate winter. Hate it with all my heart.

But I missed having it to hate.

Spring doesn’t mean a thing in Florida. As much as I hate winter, I love spring (not this particular spring, needless to say, but spring in general).

I felt like an alien in Florida. I knew that in the Upper Midwest my Scandinavian brothers and sisters were digging out of snowdrifts, sliding around on icy roads and rubbing Neutrogena hand cream into their cracked, scaling mitts. Who was I to shirk my ancestral obligations? Would my great-grandparents have approved of this sloth and easy living?

So when I got the chance to move back, I came like a shot.

“Salesman, I’d like a hairshirt in a size Extra Large, please. I’ll put it on here. Ah, that feels better.”

There’s something about living near your roots too. I can’t imagine living long anywhere but Minnesota or Norway, because that’s where my people come from. The very idea of dying and being buried somewhere else makes me uneasy.

I have an idea for a story about two brothers (Norwegians of course). One becomes a sailor and sails around the world, having adventures and seeing exotic places. He dies in a foreign port, on the far side of the globe. The other brother stays on the home farm and never travels twenty miles from it. He dies in the bed in which he was born.

In their final thoughts, each of them thinks how bitterly he envies the other.

Because you can’t go home again, as Lileks observes, even if you’ve never left. They keep changing it on you. The places where the most important moments of your life happened disappear, or get altered beyond recognition. The house where I grew up (for instance) burned to the ground on a bitter winter’s night back in ’87. The new owner’s son was running the wood stove too hot, and he and his wife ended up standing in an arctic wind in their night clothes as sheets of aluminum siding sailed into the air and flew away, to land in fields a half mile off.

(Oddly, I had recently finished writing Wolf Time. And in that book I burned down a house modeled after that very one. You think I don't write powerful prose?)

The older you get the fewer places you can point to and say, “I did this or that here.” They’re constantly erasing your past.

Until finally you die, of a lack of corroboration.

Lars Walker

 
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Important hat news

For those of you who still question whether it's important to wear a hat:

Man saved by hat

Lars Walker
 
Tuesday, May 24, 2005

I do expect the Spanish Inquisition!

I’ve noticed that in the comments section we tend to divide up along Protestant/Catholic lines. Even in the 21st century, the ancient animosities still simmer.

I think this is good.

Oh, I’ll grant that we’ve entered an era where we have to take the allies we can get. The fish-eaters (the ones who actually practice, anyway) are generally on the right side on issues like abortion, assisted suicide and homosexual marriage. They might be a little wobbly on the death penalty, but I’m pretty sure that’s a ruse orchestrated by the Jesuits, to lull us into a false sense of security and promote their campaign for world domination.

And, granted, in times like these it makes sense to close ranks with our ancestral enemies, since new enemies have arisen who don’t even make interesting comic sidekicks. Much as we might like to shoot at our new Catholic allies, it makes more sense to shoot at our enemies.

But someday secular humanism will collapse onto the ash-heap of history with other outmoded philosophical fads like Phrenology, Freudianism, and reality television.

Then we can get back to unfinished business.

You think I’ve forgotten the battle of Lützen? Huh?

Actually I have. But you get the idea.

And I do remember that Diet of Worms you guys forced Luther to eat!

Lars Walker

 
Monday, May 23, 2005

I need to eat a little crow.


I stated in this space a while back that I was certain that nobody with any brains really thought the movie “Kingdom of Heaven” would be enjoyed by Christians. I was wrong. Christianity Today magazine reviewed it favorably (calling it better than “Gladiator”). Also the reviewer on the web site “Hollywood Jesus” liked it. So obviously the movie is not as anti-Christian as I anticipated. I still have no plans to see it though.

I’m vindictive when it comes to Hollywood. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up movies entirely. I liked the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The deviations from the books didn’t bother me all that much. I look forward to the “Narnia” movie, barring dire portents from New Zealand, which I haven’t noticed so far. But I need a lot more assurance about movies than I did when I was young.

I got to thinking about my favorite movies today. I used to latch on to certain movies in my youth, going back to see them over and over. I’d drag friends and family to them. I don’t do that any more. (It might have something to do with the fact that I have almost no friends anymore.)

Movies that fell into this category were:

The Three Musketeers” (1974). I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun in a movie. Nearly a perfect swashbuckler, firmly based on the Dumas novel and a script by George Macdonald Fraser, author of the Flashman books.

The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976). I saw this movie thirteen times, if I recall correctly, back in the days when you actually had to go to a theater and buy a ticket to see a movie. This was Clint Eastwood at his popular best, before he started trying to impress the Cannes Film Festival judges.

Popeye” (1980). Yeah, I know it was Altman at his most self-indulgent (but then he's always at his most self-indulgent). And Harry Nilsson’s songs gave evidence of a bad drug habit. But the script and characters were pretty faithful to the original E.C. Segar comic strips (you wouldn’t know this if you’re just familiar with the animated cartoons), and I idolize the character of Popeye, which Robin Williams had down cold. The climactic rendition of the old Popeye song delighted me.

Local Hero” (1983). It’s the only Bill Forsyth movie I like, but I like it a lot. It’s the story of an American oil company representative (Peter Riegert) who’s sent to buy an entire Scottish town so that his company can blow it up and build a refinery. I think what I love most is the setting, a remote Scottish fishing village. I’m the descendent of North Sea fishermen myself. I could watch the ceilidh scene again and again (and I do), highlighted as it is by a Russian fisherman’s rendition of a country-western song. I’d mention great supporting performances by Burt Lancaster, Fulton MacKay, and… well, it would cover the whole cast.

More recently I’d have to say that my favorite movie is “Joe vs. the Volcano” (1990). Here’s a movie that utterly confounded the hostility to Hollywood I expressed at the start of this post. When I read the reviews I thought, “A movie about a guy who’s diagnosed with a terminal disease, who accepts a billionaire’s offer of a free, first-class cruise to the South Seas in return for his promise to jump into a volcano to appease superstitious islanders? Obviously propaganda for assisted suicide.” But I caught it on TV one day and discovered that it wasn’t that at all. It’s a fantasy, meant to be taken as a parable about life and risk-taking. It’s also the first movie where Tom Hanks worked with Meg Ryan, and Meg has never been more fetching before or since.

Speaking of cruises, I got an e-mail recently from a company that arranges “edu-tainment” for cruise lines. I’ve worked for them before. Back in 2003 their representative contacted me by e-mail, having found my name on a list of resource people maintained by the Sons of Norway. Their scheduled lecturer for a cruise from Southampton, England to the North Cape of Norway had been forced to cancel, and they were desperate enough to take me on at a reduced daily fee (when you lecture on cruises they don’t pay you. You pay them, but it’s a cheap price for a cruise). I was forced to produce five PowerPoint presentations on the Vikings in about a week, which I accomplished by pretty much skipping my sleep cycle. But I got it done and the cruise was great. My lectures were well received so far as I could tell.

It seems that they have a similar emergency now, needing a couple speakers for two Iceland cruises in June. Unfortunately June doesn’t work for me, but I told them I might be available if they needed someone in July or August. It appears that I might have a shot at a Norwegian fjord cruise in August.

What’s odd is that they approached me just as they did the first time – by way of a search of the Sons of Norway list. Apparently the company has no record of my ever working with them.

On second thought, maybe that’s a good thing.

Lars Walker

 

Trollope: Writing Is a Craft

"I find Trollope's insistence that writing novels is a craft like making shoes, and his pride in the money he got by writing them, sympathetic. He was aware, of course, that craft and art are not the same: a craftsman knows in advance what the finished result will be, while the artist knows only what it will be when he has finished it. But it is unbecoming in an artist to talk about inspiration; that is the reader's business. Again, Trollope would never have denied that his primary reason for writing was that he loved the activity. He once said that as soon as he could no longer write books he would wish to die. He believed that he wrote best when he wrote fastest, and in his case this may well have been true: a good idea for a novel stimulated his pen. Though large sales are not necessarily a proof of aesthetic value, they are evidence that a book has given pleasure to many readers, and every author, however difficult, would like to give pleasure." -- W.H. Auden

This quote was shamefully stolen from terryteachout.com. I deeply regret it.
 
Sunday, May 22, 2005

Ambition

Again from Poet Donald Hall (1983): "I see no reason to spend your life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems. . . . If our goal in life is to remain content, no ambition is sensible. If our goal is to write poetry, the only way we are likely to be any good is to try to be as great as the best.

"But for some people it seems ambitious merely to set up as a poet, merely to write and to publish. Publication stands in for achievement?as everyone knows, universities and grant-givers take publication as achievement?but to accept such a substitution is modest indeed, for publication is cheap and easy. In this country we publish more poems (in books and magazines) and more poets read more poems aloud at more poetry readings than ever before; the increase in thirty years has been tenfold. So what? . . .

"If even to entertain such ambition reveals monstrous egotism, let me argue that the common alternative is petty egotism that spends itself in small competitiveness, that measures its success by quantity of publication, by blurbs on jackets, by small achievement: to be the best poet in the workshop, to be published by Knopf, to win the Pulitzer or the Nobel. . . . The grander goal is to be as good as Dante."

I quote Hall in light of the discussion on writing in previous posts. It seems to me that all writing advice should be taken under advisement. Certainly a writer should write his best and, in a sense, be content with writing the best works he can; but how hard should he push himself? To what height should he aspire? Is literary greatness a suitable ambition? I think it is, and the writer must define it for himself.

The Christian writer should aspire to glorify and enjoy God, which is his primary purpose; but he has no reason to define his literary quality by the standards of modern publishing. He can strive to be as good as Dante, Milton, Hopkins, or Longfellow, if that is his call. And shouldn't we, as literary bloggers or readers in the blogosphere, encourage new or experienced writers to reach for great heights like these?
 
Saturday, May 21, 2005
Amazons and dwarves

I was watching "Fox & Friends" this morning, as I often do, and they threw out one of their occasional questions for the viewers. "What do you think about women in combat?" they asked. "E-mail us and let us know."

So I got online and e-mailed them. This is a subject about which I have strong feelings. Here is what I wrote:

Women should absolutely be kept out of combat. Knowingly putting women in harm's way not only endangers them, but demoralizes men. Men are warriors at heart, and they need to protect women or they are emasculated.

My opinion. Yours may vary.

I watched the rest of the show with more than casual interest. One likes to imagine that one's deathless prose will be winnowed from the chaff and shared with the world.

My complaint is not that they didn't read my e-mail. My complaint is that the only e-mails they read while I was listening (I did take a short bathroom break, and so might have missed one) were in favor of women in combat. Later in the program one of the hosts said that most of the responses he'd seen were opposed. The female host then contradicted him, saying that most of the ones she saw were in favor. But they didn't read any of the opposed. It was as if a Directive had come down from above, telling them to bury any dissent.

On Fox? What gives?

I've been learning the art and science of recording .wav files the last couple days. Years ago I recorded The Hobbit on cassettes for my nieces and nephews, since at the time I lived a distance away and wasn't able to read to them personally. The other day my sister-in-law called and asked me if I could put the recordings on CD. My oldest niece is going away to teach in China, and she said she'd like to have the recordings with her, but her luggage space is limited.

So I bought some software and went through the usual Purgatory of trying to get everything connected right and working properly. I succeeded at last, and am working my way through the recordings.

I was reminded of something I did instinctively. I chose to record all Dwarf voices in a Scottish accent. Remember, this was years before Peter Jackson and John Rhys-Davies immortalized the same choice on celluloid.

Why would one assume that Dwarves have Scottish accents? Is there some association I'm unaware of between Scotland and mines and caves? You'd think a Cornish accent would be more appropriate.

Of course I can't do a Cornish accent. My Scotsman is a stretch.

Still, the movies validated me. I don't get validated all that often.

Certainly not by Fox News.

Lars Walker

 
Friday, May 20, 2005

In praise of pain

One reason I was out of sorts yesterday was that one of my big toes hurt. This happens from time to time, usually when I’ve been neglecting my exercise. I worked out on my Nordic Track last evening and took a walk this morning (late shift at the library today), and feel quite a lot better now.

Pain is like that, most of the time. It’s not a curse of Fate, or demons playing with us. It’s a message from our own bodies saying, “Something’s wrong here. You need to notice this thing and do something about it.” In my case my arthritic toe (or whatever the problem is) is a red light on the control panel of my consciousness, reminding me that I’ll really be much happier if I do what I ought to do.

I was chatting online with a hopeful writer the other day and he commented, “I need to make things harder for my characters”. A common problem, that. Perhaps it’s one reason why so many great authors have been jerks. Jerks know how to hurt people, and sometimes enjoy it. And hurting your characters is crucial to the process of creating fiction.

It’s a counterintuitive thing we ask of authors. We ask them to give us characters who are appealing. Characters we can care about. Then we want them to take those appealing, sympathetic characters and put them through hell on earth.

Many writers find that hard to do. I do myself. But when we succumb to the temptation to be kind and gentle with our characters, we lose any hope of writing an exciting story. And even our characters (to the extent that they exist in our and the reader’s imaginations) lose out, because they don’t learn much.

One of the weaknesses in the theatrical version of the movie “Shadowlands” (in my opinion) was that the screenwriters had Lewis repeating the formula, “God whispers in our joys but shouts through our pain” over and over. It seems to have been intended to demonstrate how negative Lewis’ religion was before he got Saved By Romantic Love.

This was wrong because a) Lewis didn’t repeat the formula all that often, and b) even if he did, he’d have been right.

I’m not sure I’ve ever learned anything – really learned, I mean, as opposed to acquiring mere data – without some kind of pain.

I’ve often thought that God’s curse on Eve in Genesis 3, frequently cited by feminists as proof of the essential sexism of the Judeo-Christian tradition, might be taken, in part, in a more general sense. “I will increase your pain in childbirth,” says the Lord. That’s true for all of us, men and women. Nothing in this fallen world (I think) is born without pain. These are the terms under which we live.

I enjoyed last night’s episode of “CSI”. The excellent script involved one of the investigators, Nick Stokes, getting kidnapped and buried in a box.

This was a bad situation. But the writers made it worse. They set up a mechanism in Nick’s box that cut off his air supply from time to time (I won’t go into details, in case you want to catch the re-run).

Nick figured out a way to fix that problem. Good for him.

Only his fix created a new problem he’d never considered. This new problem was really awful, one which doubtless gave millions of viewers the heeby-jeebies. It was so unbearable that Nick came close to using the pistol his captor had left with him to end his life.

But behold! The appearance of this new problem was actually the thing that allowed Grissom and the other CSI’s to figure out where to look for Nick.

Redemption in suffering. Salvation through pain. This is good storytelling. And as I’ve said before, I believe that good storytelling is not just an emotional thrill ride. It’s a reflection of the true nature of life, something that helps us to live better and more wisely, and to get a peek at the greatest Mysteries of all.

Lars Walker

 

Let Me Back Up

In writing on Christian retailing (first on Collected Misc., then here), I complained about the poor quality of most Christian fiction. This morning, I began to think that I wasn't thinking, if you follow me, and before Pilgrim called me to task on it in the comments, I thought I should blog on it again.

You know, it's easy to complain. It's easy to look at the bestseller list and say that the people of America, those great unwashed masses, are stupid or lack moral conviction because the listed titles are not the ones we want to see. It's easy to complain about the lack of subscribers to an excellent literary magazine and to accuse publishers of being greedy for promoting (or even simply printing) books that sell. What about great literature? we say. Better--Why isn't this book which we love promoted as much as we think it deserves?

But what does this accomplish? Far better to promote that which we love, to promote the love of language, and write well ourselves.

So am I saying that I really don't believe that most Christian fiction is written "for the people who don't like to read"? Well, no--only sort of (I should go into politics with statements like that). I'm saying that I don't have much respect for most of it; but I could say that for most books.

Who is writing good Christian fiction? As far as I understand the field (which isn't much), Bret Lott, Walter Wangerin, Larry Woiwode, perhaps Marilynne Robinson, Leif Enger . . . oh wait, I said good, not great, and perhaps that's the problem with my complaint. Despite some visible problems in Christian fiction, I may be in the habit of complaining about it because my plumbline for judgment is the undefined aura of the Next Great American Novel. Who can compare to that? Why should I complain about a book whose author didn't want to write the Next Great?
 

Growth and Attrition in Christian Retailing

The cover of next week's BusinessWeek is on the business of Christian ministry. "Earthly Empires: How evangelical churches are borrowing from the business playbook" delves into megachurches and high-profile ministries, both sound and unsound. If you have not heard the message of Joel Osteen, pastor of America's largest congregation Lakewood Church of Houston, TX, then let me offer my brief opinion: It isn't the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (see "Who is Joel Osteen?")

The magazine has several online parallels, one on the Christian media market. Left Behind, which was rejected by several publishers before Tyndale House accepted it, The Purpose-Driven Life and it's precursor The Purpose-Driven Church, The Prayer of Jabez, and a number of other strong sellers in religious non-fiction have convinced corporations to wade or jump into the Christian publishing pool. Left Behind alone "brought in more than $650 million and helped establish Christian fiction as a huge market." Now if only we could publish something truly worth reading.

Thomas Nelson has styled New Testaments as fashion magazines, spinning the timeless Scriptures as modern advice, and found the market they wanted. Now they have several versions of "Bible zines." I shouldn't complain when things like this are published for willing buyers. I probably should hope they do someone some good. But I'm not encouraged by a Christian retail industry which seems to pursue trinkets over gold, elementary Sunday School over seminary, local bluff view over Grand Canyon. I want to hope for the best, but this paragraph captures my impression of the majority of the industry.

"I write for the people who don't like to read," says inspirational author Max Lucado, who also pastors a megachurch [and] has sold more than 40 million books.
Oh, for the day when we publish strong sellers written for those who not only enjoy reading, but love English as well. And I think that day is coming.

BusinessWeek reports that Christian books and music are now a good percentage of media sales in large discount stores, like Walmart and Target. That's good for the publishers, but has led to the closing of almost 1000 Christian bookstores over the past few years.
 
Thursday, May 19, 2005

Pass me over some of that aggressive, will you?

Today was not a bad day. But things didn’t go quite the way I’d planned, so I find I’m out of sorts. I’d be surly if there were anyone to surl at.

I was supposed to get a new (used) desk in my office at work today. I was told, “Give us a call when you’re ready for it, and we’ll have somebody bring it up.”

So I cleared my old desk, unplugged the computers, called down to say I was ready, and waited.

The desk never appeared.

I’m very certain there were good logistical reasons why the desk job didn’t get done. And I didn’t complain. I was calm. I busied myself with non-desk work.

I have a reputation as a patient man.

It’s a total lie.

I am not patient. I am passive-aggressive.

My strategy in life (one that’s done me no good whatever) is to pretend I don’t notice when I’m overlooked. Then, if I’m lucky, somebody will eventually pick up on the omission and feel terrible that such a thing has been done to someone who handles it so well. Very often nobody does notice. But when they do, I get my pitiful rewards.

Now, of course, I’m trying to impress you with my honesty in being so open and self-aware.

(Sigh) The heart. Deceitful.

Lars Walker

 
Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Reformed Book Suggestions

The Baylies are looking for book suggestions that make a "winsome introduction to Reformed/Puritan thinking" for a friend from a Catholic background. If you have a title to recommend, drop them a note. Some books already suggested are The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs (I want to read this one too), and Pilgrim's Progress.
 

The Need for Popular History

Kevin of Collected Misc. responds to the rant of a bitter writer at Slate.com (please forgive my redundant description):
Writers who make history more interesting and more accessible are valuable. They disabuse the public of the notion that history is boring and dry; only about dates and cold facts. Greenberg seems caught up in the progressive intellectuals trap that holds that only that which challenges the conventional wisdom or that requires "critical thinking" is somehow worthy. What he forgets is that the kind of engagement he is looking for is beyond the capability or interest of many readers. They don't have the time to dig into the issues and debates of academic specialists and many aren't interested in dense arguments. They are too busy and too tired after work to choose historical scholarship as a hobby.
 

New Criterion Poetry Prize

The New Criterion announced their sixth annual poetry contest for "a book-length manuscript of poems that pay close attention to form." The winner will receive $3000 and have the manuscript published by Ivan R. Dee. Submissions are due by September 30. More details here. Past winners are Geoffrey Brock, Deborah Warren, Charles Tomlinson, Adam Kirsch, and Donald Petersen. (Now, I am facing the temptation to buy one or more of the winning volumes from these poets. Skywriting looks appealing. (I failed to mention that The New Criterion's April issue was dedicated to poetry.))
 
Starship Inertia

In response to the universal question, "Are you going to see 'The Revenge of the Sith?'" my answer is, "I don't think so."

Put out two lackluster prequels in a row, movies with nothing to commend them but special effects, and follow that up with insulting political comments, and you've pretty much set my inertia engines to Full Power.

Others feel differently. That's perfectly fine. I've got no need to argue with other people's feelings. Enjoy the movie.

Lars Walker
 
Stop me before I Norwegian-blog again!

This from Iowahawk. Courtesy of Right Wing News.

That is all.

Lars Walker
 
Tuesday, May 17, 2005

I swear I don’t mean to post about Norway on a semiweekly basis, but…

I made a sudden and radical (for me) decision today.

I’m going to Høstfest in Minot, North Dakota this October.

Because Sissel Kyrkjebø will be singing the first night.

You may not know Sissel’s (admittedly challenging) name, but you very likely have heard her voice. She did the background vocals for the movie “Titanic”. No, it wasn’t Celine Dionne.

Sissel is, in my opinion, the greatest living singer in the world. If you’re gullible enough to order an album on the basis of recommendations from a total stranger, her best albums are “Soria Moria,” “Innerst i Sjelen” and “Sissel i Symphoni”. Oh yes, and her “Glade Jul” album is the best Christmas album you’ll ever hear.

The Viking Age Club goes to Høstfest every year. Høstfest is the largest Norwegian-American celebration in America. I’ve been meaning to go ever since I joined the club, but something always interfered.

This year I shall be there. If it turns out to be a bad time for the librarian to be gone, they’ll just have to limp along without me. If I’m scheduled for surgery I’ll postpone it. If one of my brothers dies… yeah, OK. I’ll go to the funeral.

But I’ll never let him forget it.

My ticket is purchased. I am so there.

I don’t imagine I’ll get a chance to meet her. She’ll probably fly away the next morning (she never spends time in the American Midwest. The east coast, the west coast, yeah. But never Scandihoovian Country. Sissel, trust me! You belong in the red states! [And Minnesota, blue as it is]).

Today is Syttende Mai, the 17th of May. Norway’s National Day. This is an especially festive one, because 2005 is the 100th year of Norway’s independence.

That does not, however, mean that today was the centennial day.

This is because Norway’s National Day is not its independence day. Its National Day is the anniversary of the adoption of its constitution in 1814.

And yes, I’m going to tell you why, whether you want me to or not.

Norway was a province of Denmark for about 400 years. This means that, although Norway is an old country, its history is fairly easy to study, since it didn’t have a history of its own for half a millennium. At the end of the four centuries, the king of Denmark, a man never renowned for his shrewdness, backed the wrong horse in the Napoleonic Wars and got Norway carved off his empire to teach him a lesson. The victorious allies awarded Norway to Sweden (whose king, for peculiar reasons, was actually a former marshal of Napoleon’s. But that’s another story. It’s called Desiree).

At that point (1814, you remember), the Norwegians decided this was the perfect time to write their own constitution and declare independence.

The king of Sweden was not amused, and put down this insolence with a certain amount of violence. But he was nice enough to allow the Norwegians to keep their constitution.

For the next 90 years, the Norwegians celebrated May 17 every year, waving red-white-and-blue flags, telling Swede jokes, and making speeches about how they deserved to be independent.

In 1905 the reigning king of Sweden got sick of the whole thing and let the Norwegians go. But by then the habit of celebrating on May 17 was a hallowed tradition, and so it remains.

Tomorrow, the roots of the Balkan conflict, and a celebration of my favorite Croatian situation comedy.

Lars Walker

 
Monday, May 16, 2005

My favorite point of theology

Last week I wrote about the Hardest Question of All in theology. I was thinking in terms of evangelism – talking to people about God. I still think the question, “What happens to those who never heard the gospel?” is the hardest to deal with and to explain to outsiders. “Your grandmother’s in Hell. Get used to it,” may be a theologically impeccable formula, but it doesn’t win friends.

Today I want to talk about what is (in my view) the neatest apologetic argument I know. Your mileage may vary, of course. I didn’t think of it myself, needless to say. I got it from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I suppose Lewis got it from somebody else too. He would have been suspicious of an argument that was original to himself (and rightly so).

The argument goes like this: You ask someone, “What’s the most important thing in the universe?”

99 out of 100 Westerners (I don’t know about other cultures) will answer, “Love.”

It’s a cliché. You hear it everywhere, especially in songs. “All You Need Is Love.” “What the World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love.” “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round.” (If you think I don’t know any songs written after 1980, you’re pretty much right.)

So then you ask, “Why do you think that is? Why is love the greatest thing in the universe? Why are we all so sure that a human emotion is the solution to all our problems, the greatest good of all?”

Most people won’t have much of an answer. The primacy of love isn’t something they think about. It’s part of the atmosphere they’ve lived with all their lives, their cultural wallpaper; the great orthodoxy of our civilization which it is heresy to question.

Then you spring the Christian answer: “Love is the greatest thing in the universe because it's the very nature of God. The Bible says, ‘God is love.’”

Now here’s the neat part. You go on to talk about the doctrine of the Trinity, the very doctrine that most people find incomprehensible and pointless.

Ever hear this question? “What did God do for all those millions of years before He created the earth?”

The doctrine of the Trinity answers that question. “God was having a good time. He was in a wonderful, joyous, creative relationship among the three Persons of the Godhead. He didn’t create the world because He was lonesome. He had the best kind of company. He created the world because He wanted to spread the joy. You might say He wanted to throw a party.

“The doctrine of the Trinity teaches (at least we say this in the West; the Eastern Orthodox can’t use the argument quite so well) that the love between the Father and the Son is so intense and personal that it actually constitutes a third Person – we call that Person the Holy Spirit. This love relationship is central to what the Trinity is.

“And that’s why ‘Love is the answer’. Because it’s God’s very nature. Love brings us near to God because it’s what He is.”

To me, that’s a pretty neat argument.

Lars Walker

 

Writing Quote:


"If you want to accomplish anything, you have to act like a paid professional and hold yourself accountable for getting your work done and getting it out there." -- Quinn Dalton, in a 2003 Writer's Digest. Dalton's collection of short stories, Bulletproof Girl, was released in paperback last month from Washington Square Press.
 

When Will It Go Too Far?

Newsweek's May 9 issue reported that U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay desecrated the Koran by places in on a toilet one time and flushing it another. Now the news magazine says their unnamed sources may be inaccurate. The error met with rage and the retraction disbelief. "The death toll in a week of rioting in Afghanistan rose to at least 15 and several hundred clerics issued a statement Sunday saying they would call for a jihad against the U.S. if those responsible for the alleged desecration were not handed over to an Islamic country for punishment within three days," reports CNSNews.com.

Frank Salvato, writing for CNSNews.com, says, "It is unconscionable for 'reporters' to unleash such inflammatory accusations based on anonymous sources. Those in the mainstream media have abused the privilege of the 'anonymous source' for far too long."

Newsweek claims other reports of desecration have circulated before, but their report came at "a particularly delicate moment in Afghan politics" and was exploited by Muslim radicals. "That does not quite explain, however, why the protest and rioting over Qur'an desecration spread throughout the Islamic region," Newsweek reasons. "After so many gruesome reports of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, the vehemence of feeling around this case came as something of a surprise."

World Editor Marvin Olasky states, "The 'surprise' is one more example of the theological illiteracy of many major journalists, since no one familiar with Islam would be surprised by the reaction. Ardent Muslims treat copies of the Quran reverently and never place it on the floor; Christian missionaries to Muslim countries are taught never to put their Bibles on the floor, because that would make Muslims feel that Christians held their own religion in contempt."

Is there a new generation of journalists coming who will understand the value of their words and the influence the living in the Digital Information Age? Errors like this are not acceptable. I think this is proper response to Newsweek, though probably for reasons contrary to the protestor.
 

The LitBlog Co-op's Read This

The first "Read This!" from the new Litblog Co-op has been announced. It's Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. A reviewer at Powells.com writes of the book, "What makes Atkinson's award-winning debut and her subsequent writing so beguiling is her ability to delicately measure humor and pathos — always a tricky balance." The co-op recommends Atkinson's prose, saying, "Each paragraph, each page, each chapter unfolds with perfect precision, the prose and pacing fully shaped. There's nothing flowery about the words, but no stripped-down drama either. Atkinson's a pro - a juicy pro."

It's a literary murder mystery. Have you noticed it before? Do you plan to look into it?

The co-op plans to publish interviews with the author and editor as well as other nominees for this season's Read This!
 
Sunday, May 15, 2005
Sunday fable

In 1946, a year after the liberation of Norway from the Nazis, Norwegian author Johan Borgen wrote a fable about the Norwegian war experience, so that his countrymen would never forget the lessons they had learned.

Needless to say, the Norwegians have already forgotten completely. But I think the fable is worth repeating. It goes like this, in a somewhat condensed version:

A lion and a lamb were grazing side by side in a meadow. The lamb looked up at the lion and said, "Lion, what age is this?"

"What do you mean, 'What age is this?'" the lion replied.

"Well, I've always heard that there are three ages. There is a Past Age, which was beautiful but cruel. Then a Present Age, which is merely cruel. Last of all, there will be a Future Age, which will be merely beautiful, and the lion will graze side by side with the lamb. Since you and I are here, grazing side by side, I thought this must be the Future Age."

The lion thought a moment, then leaned over and bit the lamb's head off.

"Now that you mention it, I guess it's still the Past Age," he said.

(Discuss amongst yourselves.)

Lars Walker
 
Saturday, May 14, 2005
The horror we were spared

I've been doing some computer maintenance today, with the appendices to The Two Towers extended edition running on TV as "company". I've never watched them before.

One thing that surprised me was the explanation for the surprising segment in the film where Aragorn falls off a cliff and floats down a river, eventually being rescued through a "psychic" connection with Arwen.

The reason they did this, I learned, was because they had made a decision to take Arwen out of the Helm's Deep fight (!). They had determined originally to play up Arwen's role, resulting in the segment of The Fellowship of the Ring where she rescues Frodo, an innovation that troubled many of us.

They had intended to follow that up by making her one of the elves who relieve Helm's Deep, and giving her a blood-and-thunder part in the battle.

Instead they decided (in part in response to fan concerns) to play up the romance element through flashbacks and this "psychic connnection". Thus the non-canonical falling off the cliff scene is the price we paid for not having "Arwen, Warrior Princess" in the second movie.

Personally, I think the tradeoff was worth it.

Lars Walker
 

Winnie the Pooh Chess Set from England

Of all the ornamental chess sets I've seen, I think this one tops my wish list. "This delightful chess . . . [is] based the pieces on the original illustrations by E.H.Shepard. Meet your favourite character Pooh as the King, Kanga as the Queen, Owl as the Bishop, Eeyore as the Knight, Tigger as the Rook and sweet little Piglet as the Pawns."

Now, the Isle of Lewis set is cool in a different way.
"Well," said Pooh . . . "The fact is," said Pooh . . . "Well, the fact is," said Pooh . . . "You see," said Pooh. . . . "It's like this," said Pooh, and something seemed to tell him that he wasn't explaining very well, and he nudged Piglet again.

"It's like this," said Piglet quickly. . . . "Only warmer," he added after deep thought.
 

Highschoolers Filibuster Prom King Nomination

I enjoy satire done well, and news satire jars my funny bone like the desks in elementary school would at least once a year. I hated that, but I like this from Eric Seymour at In the Agora.
 

The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible

Kevin of Collected Misc. draws attention to a new study Bible which has been five years in the making. The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible is edited by Richard J. Foster and Dallas Willard among others. It intends to "capture the reality of living with the Trinitarian community in the ever-present kingdom of God" and to present the Bible "as the primary written resource for informing our minds and transforming our spirits in Christlikeness." If that latter part is news to anyone who considers himself a Christian, then he may not only need to spend a lot of time in this Bible but also find himself a church that respects the authority of Scripture.

You can view the list of contributors on the Renovare website and sign up for excerpts by email. This Bible uses the New Revised Standard Version, and I have to ask if they publishers understood that the cover, while attractive in itself, is very similiar to the hardcover edition of the English Standard Version. I can't tell from the images if the fonts are the same, but they are very close to each other.
 

Ambition and the Unwritten Art

Poet Donald Hall wrote in 1988 that a poet must strive to excel, if he's to do anything.
I see no reason to spend your life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems.

An ambitious project--but sensible, I think. And it seems to me that contemporary American poetry is afflicted by modesty of ambition--a modesty, alas, genuine ... if sometimes accompanied by vast pretense. Of course the great majority of contemporary poems, in any era, will always be bad or mediocre. (Our time may well be characterized by more mediocrity and less badness.) But if failure is constant the types of failure vary, and the qualities and habits of our society specify the manners and the methods of our failure. I think that we fail in part because we lack serious ambition.

This fascinating article is available on poets.org, which will undergo a nice redesign soon. Also on poets.org, John Brehm writes of the poems he has yet to write:
I'm so wildly unprolific, the poems
I have not written would reach
from here to the California coast
if you laid them end to end.

And if you stacked them up,
the poems I have not written
would sway like a silent
Tower of Babel, saying nothing

and everything in a thousand
different tongues.
 
Friday, May 13, 2005

Just making it worse

Yesterday’s post raised a lot of comment, as I guess I expected. I want to dig myself deeper into the hole today.

There is a talk-show host in America whom I all but revere. I won’t give you his name (many of you will guess), for reasons which ought to become clear. His is not a screaming, insulting show. It’s a quiet, reasoned show. He examines arguments systematically, step by step, giving his listeners a Socratic education. I consider his show more than an entertainment or even a public service. It is, in its way, a kind of ministry.

This broadcaster is Jewish. In a recent program he explained why, although he respects Christians, he cannot accept Christian doctrine.

“If I were to believe the message of Christianity,” he said, “I’d have to believe that a Nazi prison guard, who murdered thousands of Jews, would have the opportunity to go to Heaven if he repented on his deathbed. At the same time I’d have to believe that his Jewish victims all went to Hell. I can’t accept such a doctrine.”

This is the tension caused by our doctrine of Hell, even among people who are well disposed toward us. You may think I’m about to suggest dropping the doctrine so that good people like this broadcaster can be included within “our circle”. But I’m not.

What we see here, I think, is precisely what the apostle Paul (who certainly should have known) meant by “the offense of the cross” (Galatians 5:11).

The offense of the cross is that it doesn’t offend drug addicts. It doesn’t offend prostitutes or death-row inmates.

The cross is an offense to the best of us. The more virtuous a person is, the more the cross offends them. Miserable, suffering sinners aren’t generally offended. Nice, virtuous people who’ve worked hard on their character are.

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Matthew 9:13, NIV)

Lars Walker

 
Thursday, May 12, 2005

Fish and a can of worms

Just so you can sleep tonight, I’ll let you know that my friend Aitchmark has informed me that my mystery “colostomy-fish” is called a “plecostomus”. He tells me that it can be kept small by giving it a small place to live, one of those aquarium decorations that’s hollow inside. Plecostomi, he says, are nocturnal and like to have a hidey-hole during daylight. We have three hidey-holes in the tank already, and so far our specimen has shown no interest in them. A day-owl, I guess. A party fish.

Today I’ve been thinking about The Hardest Question Of All. And no, it’s not (in my opinion) the usual question: “How can a good God permit suffering?” That’s the Hardest Question if you’re just dealing with theism; contemplating whether to believe in a personal God or not.

But once you become a Christian, or start considering the claims of Christ, the Hardest Question changes (though it’s related). In a Christian context, the Hardest Question is, “If salvation is through the Blood of Christ alone, what about the people who never heard the gospel and never got a chance to believe?”

The traditional Protestant view on what happens to the “virtuous pagan” has been (correct me if I’m wrong): “There are no second chances after death. The tree lies where it falls. Since everybody deserves to go to Hell, God is being merciful in saving anybody at all. He should be thanked for saving the few who will be saved, not criticized for giving the rest what they deserve.”

Catholics have had the doctrine of limbo for some time, believing (if I understand them correctly) that the virtuous pagan (and unbaptized infants) will spend eternity in a sort of shadow region, bereft of the joys of Heaven but suffering no more than general melancholy in a gloomy place (kind of like my average day).

I’d like to open myself to a hailstorm of criticism by suggesting that the traditional Protestant view is scripturally inadequate. No, I’m not going to argue for universalism. But I am going to argue for a prudent agnosticism in this particular matter.

I’ve read the Bible more than a dozen times, and I can’t recall (I’m open to correction here) any passage that explicitly states that all people who die without hearing the gospel will go to Hell. What I find is almost complete silence on the subject. It’s not a question that seems to have exercised the minds of biblical writers at all.

The only hints about the fate of the unevangelized that I can recall come from a couple passages that suggest, but do not define.

In Luke 12:47-49, Jesus says in a parable, “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” That suggests to me that the final judgment will involve some kind of consideration of the opportunities a person has enjoyed in life.

Or am I reading it wrong?

In Acts 17, where Paul is preaching to the Athenians, he says “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent” (verse 30). This can be taken in several ways, but it seems to me to say at the very least that God acknowledges the problem of ignorance.

Now here’s the other side of the conundrum. To suggest that there could be any way to be saved outside of the Blood of Christ absolutely cuts the bottom out of the Christian religion. Take it away, and there is no Christianity. Take it away and Christ was a fool.

Because the Christian religion teaches that Jesus went to the Cross to pay for our sins. If there was an alternative way to be saved – if one could be saved, for instance, by being an observant Jew – then Jesus could have saved Himself a whole lot of trouble and pain by just telling people to do that. If there’s an alternate method, easier than the Cross, then Jesus was not even a great moral teacher. He was a bloody idiot.

How do I think my way around this? My answer (your mileage may vary) is agnosticism on the subject. I don’t see a clear scriptural prescription, so I don’t feel justified in making definitive statements. I don’t know what happens to the virtuous pagan, or to the virtuous Jew. I’m willing to live with that. I know that God is good and just. I have to leave it to Him to solve the problem in a good and just way, a way which He is not obligated to explain to me beforehand.

And here’s something I think important to notice – anybody who’s in a position to think about this question no longer has a personal stake in it. If you can ask the question, you’ve heard the Gospel. Therefore the issue is academic for you.

Am I being wishy-washy here? Trimming a bit?

Lars Walker

 
Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Music in Earthen Vessels

I love the music on Jars of Clay's latest album, Redemption Songs. It resonates with me so well; my spirit must be tuned to it.
 

If one of you loses an eye, don’t come running to me!

I had good news last week. The Viking Age Club has scheduled another live steel combat practice session. We had our first about a year ago, and haven’t been able to find another date until now. But on a Saturday in early June we’ll gather again to practice our deadly art.

I’m a member of the Viking Age Club of the Sons of Norway, a Viking living history group that does exhibits at various ethnic festivals (mostly) around the Upper Midwest. I consider it research for my writing, and it’s also a chance for me to sell books.

But mainly it’s an opportunity to play Viking with much better toys than I ever could have gotten when I was a kid.

I cannot tell you what a lift that first combat practice gave me. I have no illusions of having any hidden talent as a great swordsman, but the opportunity to use a sword in some kind of systematic way – to do something with a sword – buoyed my spirits incredibly. I suppose the second time won’t be quite as good. But I’m still looking forward to it.

Any Freudian innuendoes about what a sword might mean to a middle-aged celibate are probably correct.

If you go to the Viking Age Club’s website, you can see photos of me at a couple club events. Click on Club Photos and Movies and select “Syttende Mai 2004” and “Viking Feast 2005” (parts 2 and 3). I’m also in the Viking Feast Movie, which you can click on over to the right. I’m the guy in the red shirt at the very end who looks like he’s checking his watch. What I’m actually doing (Vikings don’t wear watches) is making sure my silver bracelet isn’t about to fall off.

One of the best things about being a Viking is the opportunity to accessorize.

Lars Walker

 
Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Fish story

I bought a fish for the library today.

(There’s a sentence I don’t believe I’ve ever used before.)

The library where I work has (for reasons I won’t go into) a 20-gallon fresh water aquarium. When I came to work in March, an algae eater was resident there. I can’t remember the thing’s proper name. Something like “colostomy”. An ugly, long, big-headed fish about the size of a Studebaker. I think the student assistants were afraid of it. Shortly thereafter they persuaded one of the other students to take it for his own. I have an idea he meant to batter fry it and invite all his friends over.

However, since the creature’s departure, algae has flourished in the tank, and we’ve had to clean it more often (or rather the assistants have had to. I’m happy to let them carry on such duties as long as they remain under my dominion). They’d been asking me to get a replacement, and today I did.

The new fish is much smaller than his predecessor, but I have the pet store guy’s assurance that he’ll grow to be as horrendous as Algae Eater Part I. It was a pleasure to see him exploring his new surroundings, partaking of the fuzzy green smorgasbord we had laid out for him. I wanted nothing from him but to eat algae. He wanted nothing but to eat it. One of those wonderful win/win situations that are far too rare in life.

The way I read 1 Corinthians chapter 12, it seems to me the church is meant to be like that. God did not create us primarily to have careers, or even to be spouses and parents. Before anything else, God intends us to be members of His Church – working organs in a living Body. Each of us was designed to do a specific job in that Body. We will never be happy until we find out what that job is and begin to do it, like a jolly colostomy-fish in an aquarium.

For years I’ve dreamed of being in a church situation where people exercised their gifts in this way. I believe that a church like that would turn the world around, ease highway congestion and find the place where all the lost socks go.

But of course to have a church like that, you’d need to be in deep, intimate fellowship with other believers.

There’s always a catch.

Maybe I should learn to eat algae.

Lars Walker

 
Monday, May 09, 2005

Learning to love rejection

I’m almost embarrassed to say it. It’s such a truism. A writer needs to develop a thick skin. Among the many disciplines the writer must learn – pruning and polishing prose, learning to extrude so many words per day, studying the markets – you’d better include dealing with rejection.

Oh yes, I’ve been angry at editors in my time. I remember taking a particular story through a score of drafts, cutting and burnishing and weighing each word. I sent that story off, personally satisfied that it was as good a story as I could write. And, since I’d been published by this magazine before, I took it for granted that this story would make the cut.

But the editor sent it back. Not quite up to standards. I remember going for my daily jog (I was jogging in those days), fuming. “If this story isn’t good enough,” I thought, “then I might as well give up. Because I can’t write better than this.”

But I got over the anger. I sent the same editor other stories, and I did get published again. I was learning all the time, refining my craft. Just as children aren’t aware of their physical growth, I wasn’t aware of my progress as a writer. But the progress was happening, and dealing with the rejection was part of that progress.

A short memoir appeared in Writers Digest magazine years back. I didn’t keep a copy and don’t know who wrote it. But the gist of the thing was this:

The author had taken a writing course in college. The final assignment was to write a story. When the author got his story back, the instructor had written on it something like, “I’d give it up if I were you. You’ll never be a writer.”

Naturally he was crushed and demoralized. But he kept writing. Eventually he became a professional journalist.

One day, years later, he ran into that college instructor. He asked him, “Do you remember that story you criticized? What was it about it that was so awful that you wrote such a thing?”

And the instructor replied, “Oh, I wrote that on all the stories. I figured, if a student had what it takes to be a writer, he wouldn’t let a criticism like that stop him. And if he couldn’t take a criticism like that, he’d never make it as a writer anyway.”

Now that’s brutal pedagogy. I hope the guy’s contract wasn’t renewed.

And yet… he had a point. He was giving each student a forestaste of something that certainly awaited them in the writing business if they persisted.

They had a saying during pioneer days – “The cowards never started, and the weak died on the way.”

If you want to be a writer, make up your mind to be a pioneer.

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13b-14, NIV)

Lars Walker

 
Sunday, May 08, 2005

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day as an observance is no longer important in my life, but growing up it was the holiday I hated most, bar none.

I had to put up with humiliation most all the time, but at least I didn’t usually have to lie about it. It was enough, ordinarily, just to say nothing.

But on Mother’s Day, my teachers would always assign the class to make a Mother’s Day card or to write a Mother’s Day poem. And since I was known to be one of the best writers and artists in the class, my card and/or poem was expected to be especially nice.

That meant not only lying, but lying with style.

Hated it.

If you have a good mother, hug her tight today. She’s made sacrifices you’ve never imagined, and given you things you don’t even know about.

Here’s a thought about parenting, while I’m at it. I know the last thing you parents want or need is advice from middle-aged single guys, but let me lay it out here and you can pick it up or leave it lying as you please.

You know how you sometimes want to yell at machines -- a copier, say, or a computer? You tell the thing very clearly what you want it to do, and it will not do it. You keep trying and it keeps giving you results you don’t want, or no results at all.

It is very clear to you at that moment that the machine is defying you. It is purposely trying to drive you crazy. You want to scream at it and punch it. Sometimes you even do.

But you know, really, that the machine isn’t trying to get your goat. It’s just a machine, a device without motives or intentions, operating on the rules by which it was programmed. It’s obeying those rules precisely. The problem, in the end, almost always turns out to be that you don’t know how to ask it in a way it understands.

I’d like to suggest that sometimes (not always, certainly) it’s the same way with your kids. Granted, there are times when they’re testing the boundaries and defying you. But sometimes they’re honestly obeying you as best they understand you.

Just something to bear in mind the next time your kids are driving you nuts. Probably of no use. But I thought I’d mention it.

I was just informed by a reader that a family friend of his, a young man on whom my novel Blood and Judgment "made a big impression", recently received Christ as his Savior.

This humbles me. It’s earthen vessel time. I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ comment in a letter that he hoped, if he was fortunate, to be given a small stall in Heaven near the great mansion reserved for Balaam’s ass.

Lars Walker

 
Home
Brandywine Books is an old litblog which is now being updated at www.brandywinebooks.net.

The RSS Feed

ARCHIVES
May 2003 / June 2003 / July 2003 / August 2003 / September 2003 / October 2003 / November 2003 / December 2003 / January 2004 / February 2004 / March 2004 / April 2004 / May 2004 / June 2004 / July 2004 / August 2004 / September 2004 / October 2004 / November 2004 / December 2004 / January 2005 / February 2005 / March 2005 / April 2005 / May 2005 / June 2005 / July 2005 / August 2005 / September 2005 / October 2005 / November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 /

Powered by Blogger