3 Children's Books that I Would Like to Live inI don't have answers to those questions. Um, The House at Pooh Corner? Um, Hogworts? I think I'm starting to forget everything. Where am I?
3 Schools from Children's Books that would have been Cool to Attend
3 Books that I Like, but would NOT Want to Live in
3 Schools from Children's Books that would NOT have been Cool to Attend
1. How many Bibles are in your home?
Four, I think. Two are in use. I'm not counting the children's story bibles.
2. What rooms are they in?
Currently, both are in the living room. I think one proppinging up the coffee table . . . just kidding. If you're asking what rooms to the Bibles stay in, I have no answer. They float around.
3. What translations do you have?
Both editions in use are New King James, though they read differently. I think my New Geneva is smoother than Sarah's old Scofield.
4. Do you have a preference?
I enjoy my NKJ. I've read from the English Standard Version often and enjoy it too. I plan to buy an ESV, possibly another New Geneva edition, sometime.
5. Nominate an interesting verse.
This reminds me of something Tim Keller of Redeemer PCA in New York said about verses he never saw on people's walls. One good selection is Galatians 2:3, "But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek." Heartwarming, isn't it?
In fact, I think everything about the book's design should contribute to this goal, not just the cover. Size, binding, paper, interior layout and typography. The quality of these factors serve as clues -- whether the reader realizes it or not -- to how much value should be placed on the book's contents. A book that's worth the effort and expense of good design is one a reader like me will take seriously, for the same reason that a novel will all the hallmarks of careless publication (or even self-publication) never will be.J. Mark Bertrand comments on a cover design lecture by Barry Moser at the Calvin Writing Conference recently. I agree with him. A book's design should sell it or recommend it to its intended audience. That's why self-published book almost always look wrong. They aren't designed so much as they are assembled. I think a good design on a self-published work would give it 1000% more of chance then other self-published books, but I don't have anything to back that up.
You are early to storytime. Settle the baby on your lap and wait while the other mothers trickle in to the story room, babies and toddlers in tow. They are dressed in business casual – wool skirts, linen blouses, silk scarves, embroidered flats - and belong to the book club that is reading “The Notebook”; that is what they’re talking about. They are all halfway through. Their children are dressed in coordinating striped clothing, which are either brand-new or freshly dry-cleaned. Realize for the first time you have an inch-wide streak of dried snot on your shoulder where the baby has wiped his runny nose. He is wearing one red sock and one walrus sock. Try to hide your snot stain and his walrus sock. Fail.
I found that common denominatorMost of this memorable classic was composed by a program designed by Chris Seidel,
And in Herod's wake there lacks a worthy crown
Gleam the wisdom of our ancestors...
good A hand from above reached down
Meanwhile, back in London, Daniel Tench, a partner at the law firm Olswang, was reading the ruling [from Justice Peter Smith on the Da Vinci Code lawsuit] and noticed something odd about the type. "At first I thought it was a mistake," he said on Wednesday. "It's not usual practice for a High Court judge to issue a ruling in which he has hidden an encrypted message."Not usual, but actual. Justice Smith included a coded message in the first several pages of his ruling. Apparently, everyone must to get in on the secret coding game. [by way of Faith in Fiction]
I don't exist and you don't exist. All that exists is a vast, undifferentiated universal Unity. Due to some cosmic glitch, a small portion of that Unity has gotten confused, and believes that it exists independently, as a group of individuals. Because of this error, these imaginary beings are condemned to a cycle of desire and pain, death and rebirth. Salvation consists in these imaginary beings coming to the realization that they don't exist; in giving up all desire and being subsumed into the Unity. Anyone who achieves this realization is freed from the cycle of death and rebirth and achieves the blessing of ceasing to exist.
Marilynne Robinson's plenary speech was a call to arms for artists. The world and much of our culture has decided the populace are idiots who need to be spoken down to. They are incapable of deft, elegant thought and so the issues of the day need to be boiled down into sound-bites. Her response is that this is nonsense. We are created for more and better. Her call is for artists to think of their audience as more intelligent than themselves. If anything, it is an anti-elitist message.Yes, readers grow all over, in rich and poor soil, and some of us long for beautiful language and deep thought in our fiction.
Just about any blog writer -- there are 36 million blogs out there, with 75,000 new online diaries added daily, according to search engine Technorati -- is a candidate. "We believe there's a market [for book-publishing services] for every single blogger out there," says Eileen Gittins, CEO of online publisher Blurb.com. "Charles Dickens originally serialized his novels in magazines. We are seeing much the same thing happening today, with blogs."[by way of Sand Storm]
The researchers found more than half the women and 30 percent of men who drank six or more cups of coffee a day were also more likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol and use aspirin, and were less likely to drink tea, exercise or take vitamin supplements.
The Empty Copper Sea, by John D. MacDonald
I decided to pick up a Travis McGee novel again the other day, and I’m happy to report that the old boat bum holds up pretty well.
In case you’re not familiar with the books, Travis McGee is John D. MacDonald’s series private detective. Each McGee novel has a color in the title—they begin with The Deep Blue Goodbye and end with The Lonely Silver Rain.
Many male fantasy-fulfillment characters have popped up over the years, but for my money McGee is the king of them all. He has a life almost any man would swap his Harley for. McGee lives in Fort Lauderdale on a big, plush houseboat called The Busted Flush, which he won in a poker game. He drives a Rolls Royce converted into a pickup He’s not a private eye. That would be too restrictive for him. He is (he tells the reader) taking his retirement in installments. Why save all his life for a time to relax, and then be too old to enjoy it? He works a bit, accumulates some cash, and then retires a while, sailing the Caribbean, fishing, or just loafing on board the Flush, drinking very dry martinis made with Plymouth Gin.
He calls himself a “salvage expert,” but that’s a euphemism. What he actually is, is hired muscle. Sometimes people lose valuable things, he explains. They come to him to help them get them back. When he recovers them, he keeps half. Half of something is better than 100% of nothing.
It sounds rather cynical, but in fact McGee is a romantic. He’s a sucker for a sad story or a damaged woman, and when he gets angry he can deal out terrible justice (in one book he assists a county sheriff in a private execution). He seems to run into more sociopaths than statistically probable, and when he gets the chance to stop one, he stops him cold. He's big and strong, and he knows how to hurt people. And generally feels bad about it afterwards.
His sidekick in most of the books is Meyer, a retired economist who looks like a Neanderthal, has a gift for meeting people, and knows nearly everything.
The Empty Copper Sea is interesting to the Christian reader in featuring that rarity in popular fiction, a sympathetic born-again character. That character is Van Harder, a boat captain who was an alcoholic before his conversion. One night while piloting the boat of his employer, Hub Lawless, he passes out. When he wakes up he learns that Lawless has gone overboard, and that he has been blamed. He loses his license. Knowing he hadn’t had more than his customary single drink, he’s convinced that he was drugged, and he goes to McGee to ask him to help him recover his good name, which he estimates to be worth $20,000. That’s $10,000 for McGee.
McGee and Myer agree to go over to the Gulf Coast town of Timber Bay to investigate. It quickly becomes clear that Van Harder’s disappearance looks extremely fishy. Harder converted all his assets into cash shortly before the “accident”, and there are rumors that he’s been seen alive in Mexico.
Going to meet Harder’s best friend and business associate, who has drunk himself into brain damage since the disappearance, McGee meets the man’s sister, Gretel Howard, who has come to look after him. And McGee falls quickly and deeply in love.
Like most private eyes of the old school, McGee has no regular woman in his life. There’s at least one affair in each book, though, and McGee’s personal code calls for him not to go to bed with a woman unless he has “some kind of feeling” for her. He doesn’t always live up to that (rather low) standard, though. A one-night stand with a lounge singer early in the story leaves him suitably depressed and leads to tragic results.
But of all the women McGee “knew” in the course of his adventures, I always think of Gretel Howard as his True Love. She’s tall, brown-haired and beautiful, athletic and smart enough to match him on almost every level. She does not last, alas, but how she goes out of his life is the subject of the next book.
This book has the distinction of being one of two McGee books that have been filmed. It was made into a TV movie starring Sam Elliot in 1983, as the pilot for a projected series. I remember being excited when I read that Elliot would be doing the movie, because I’m a big fan of his. But the movie, sadly, was wrong, wrong, wrong. First of all, in classic Hollywood style, they moved McGee from Florida to California (everybody knows nothing of interest ever happens outside California). And they appeased the environmental gods by turning the Busted Flush into a sailboat. And Elliot played it with a mustache. (Darker Than Amber , a theatrical movie starring Rod Taylor, is a little better, but MacDonald hated it. Of course he hated every film treatment of any of his books.)
If you like hard-boiled mysteries, you can’t do much better than McGee. As I’ve indicated, the moral level isn’t up to Christian standards, but McGee has the grace to suffer considerable guilt over his fornications. And his meditations on life, and his conversations with Meyer, leave one with a sad fondness, a sense of humane tragedy. MacDonald wrote great characters, and he treated them with sympathy. That’s the main thing I ask of an author.
What is… oh, never mind
Yesterday I came home from work, looked down in the basement, and discovered that my dry cellar in fact has a small leak. It happens to be located in the corner where I’ve situated my little office. The narrow rivulet did no important damage, but it depressed me. I’ll probably have to call a water control company. Yet another expense.
And that pretty much makes up my mind on the big decision I’ve been pondering for the last few months. I guess I won’t be going to Norway this year.
For the past five years or so, I’ve been telling the relatives in Norway that I’m going to try to come and visit in June, at the time of the annual Karmøy Viking Festival and the Hafrsfjord Celebration in Stavanger. And every year I’ve had to tell them I can’t do it. In the past I’ve had the money, but the date has always conflicted with something I couldn’t get out of. This year the date is free, but the exigencies of housekeeping make the expense impossible (or at least imprudent).
I shouldn’t be as depressed about it as I am. Clearly it’s God’s will that I not travel internationally this year, and there are numberless reasons why that might be a good thing. Perhaps my plane would be hijacked by terrorists. Perhaps I’d catch the Bird Flu. Perhaps I’d get into a political argument with some cousin that would forever destroy the rapport I’ve built up with them so far.
But I’m essentially a selfish man (most bachelors are), devoted to getting my own way, and I’m bummed.
Dennis Prager’s program sparked more bloggable thoughts in me today (at least I consider them bloggable). He was talking about the students in Riverton, Kansas who nearly went on a Columbine-style shooting spree the other day. Prager’s contention (as I understood it) was that today’s kids are so jaded with sex and violent entertainment that they feel driven to killing in order to feel any excitement at all.
This reminded me of something I’ve thought for a long time about sex (an area in which I’m an acknowledged expert in the Non-Participant/Busybody League).
Victoria’s Secret used to run ads (I notice their ads for some unaccountable reason) that asked, “What is sexy?”
In spite of the source, I think that’s a question worth asking.
We tend to consider people sexy if they have a lot of sex, in a lot of variations, with a lot of different partners.
But I wonder, are such people really sexy? Do they have more sexual pleasure than the rest of us (well, not me. The rest of you)?
Compare and contrast:
There’s a couple in their twenties. They have (shall we call it) “rich” sexual histories, and have gotten together after being with many previous partners. He can’t feel sexual excitement unless he’s wearing latex clothing and his partner is dressed as Little Red Riding Hood. She can’t feel excitement unless she receives twenty minutes of oral attention while someone tugs on her nose ring and Eminem plays at top volume.
There’s another couple in their twenties. It’s their wedding night. Both are virgins, having saved themselves for this occasion.
Which couple is likely to have a more pleasurable sexual experience?So what is sexy?
On the CGI used in The Polar Express: "It's the same stuff they used in that 4th Lord Of The Rings Movie. Or was it the 19th Lord Of The Rings Movie? You know, the one where Boldo and Jingy travel across the bridge? I don't know, I don't know their names. When I watch Lord Of The Rings I just think 'someone got their finger stuck on the word processor for too long.'"From Cranky Critic:
When I first started reading I read all the books of Leon Uris, because they were kind of like these non fiction, full of turgid melodrama at the same time. Chaim Potok, the man who wrote "My Name is Asher Lev," I've read almost everything that he wrote. But growing up there was the "Catcher in the Rye" thing. That's a big thing to go through. I take credit for never having read that Tolkien trilogy. I read "The Hobbit" in 5th grade, but got 20 pages into the Trilogy and went "Yeah. Right. Frodo, Bilbo, Middle Earth. Yeah, thank you." And I was done. So I never bothered with the rest of it. I'm actually taking claim for not having read something, which I'm very proud of. I never read the trilogy.In other news, do you think it's good to joke about major plot twists in a popular novel months after it's been released? I ask because while searching for a little more on the what Tom Hanks likes to read or maybe his favorite books, I found a little animation that made a joke of the big secret in the most recent Harry Potter book. Now, I knew part of this secret already because I was on the fringe of a brief conversation about the book which went something like: "Have you read the new Harry Potter? Yeah, it was great, but [major spoiler revealed]." How long has it been since the release, almost a year? Is that long enough to assume everyone who cares will know what happens?
Living in the first draft
Dennis Prager is my favorite radio talk show host. That’s not to say I agree with him all the time. The fact that he’s a practicing Jew, for instance, means that there are certain basic differences in our views about God. But he knows what’s important and what isn’t, and he’s an educator, walking the modern person, who’s never been required to actually think before in his life, patiently through the unfamiliar steps of reasoned argument.
Prager said something this morning that especially interested me. He said that the commandment against taking the Lord’s name in vain is commonly misunderstood. We tend to think it’s just about cursing and sacrilegious speech, and that’s certainly part of it. But, Prager noted, God’s name is used in vain every time a person takes it upon himself to say, “This (or that) is (or is contrary to) God’s will,” when in fact Scripture has little or nothing to say on the subject.
I think Prager’s right. Fundamentalists like me love to quote Revelation 22:18-19: “…If anyone adds anything to [the prophecies in this Book], God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city….”
We like to repeat the part about taking away from the book (and by extension all of Scripture), but we often overlook the part about adding to it. We add to it whenever we promote mere cultural traditions to the level of scriptural commands. There have been many such rules over the years—drinking, smoking, going to movies, mixed bathing (a major issue in the early 20th Century, hardly remembered today), playing cards. All these things may be ill-advised. I abstain from most of them myself. But they’re not scriptural sins, and when we pretend they are we’re adding to the word of Scripture, presuming to speak in God’s place. Taking His name in vain.
I came up with a deathless statement this morning, which I shall now share with you. I grant you gracious permission to use it as you like, so long as you give me credit.
Life is a first draft.
One of the most important things I’ve learned in writing is that it’s helpful to understand from the outset that your first draft is going to be a pile of dreck. Many hopeful writers note that their first drafts are dreck, that they stink like Montresor’s cellar (there are exceptions, but I suspect they’re secretly space aliens dwelling among us) and they are tempted to give up. In fact, your appalling first draft is the raw material from which your glorious final work will derive, like the ugly warthog from which you concoct a savory warthog stir-fry (assuming, utterly without evidence, that there is such a thing).
Life itself is like a first draft. One of the sources of the global sense of inadequacy that’s bedeviled me all my life is my belief that I should be able to do everything right the first time. None of us is James Bond, sauntering through our adventures in the best clothes, never putting a foot wrong and always knowing what wine to order. In fact, even the guys who play James Bond aren’t James Bond. They sometimes stumble when they step off the curb (especially after ordering that wine), and they sometimes spill salad dressing on their shirt fronts, and they sometimes say things they didn’t mean to say and wish to heaven they could take back. James Bond doesn’t do those things, because if he does the director just yells “Cut!” and they re-shoot the scene. But you and I don’t have directors or re-shoots. We’re Reality TV, and our mistakes go on our permanent records.
But we’re all in the same boat. Much as I might believe it, there are no James Bonds out there having their lives simultaneously edited for them. The doctrine of salvation by grace, not works, is grounded in the fact that God Himself recognizes, and has pity for, this fact.
It’s OK to extend a little grace to ourselves, especially when the sin in view is just looking like an idiot.
Come to think of it, when I treat looking like an idiot as if it were a sin, I'm taking God's name in vain, based on the Prager Principle noted above.
Cleanliness, godliness, you know the drill
I’d picked up the idea somewhere that it was John Wesley who coined the phrase, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” A web search informs me that I was mistaken. The saying seems to be quite old, going back to the second-century rabbi Phinehas ben-Yahir. Francis Bacon wrote something like it in 1605, and Wesley quoted the proverb in a sermon in 1791, but made no claim that it was original to him.
However, the proverb fits in well with Wesley and his times, because of a social revolution that was going on at that point in history (I owe this insight to Paul Johnson’s masterful history, Modern Times).
What was going on around the turn of the 19th Century was the popularization of cotton cloth. Americans learn about Eli Whitney and his cotton gin in school (or we used to; he may have been purged by now). We are told of the invention’s influence on American history through the revitalization of the cotton industry, creating a new demand for slave labor.
But there was another effect too. That effect was a sudden world-wide drop in the cost of cotton, making this wonderful fabric available to ordinary people for the first time in history.
Throughout the ages, at least in Europe (and probably in other areas I know less about) wool has been the cloth of the people. Wool was the cheapest cloth available, and the average Joe wore it.
Therefore, the average Joe stank and had fleas.
The problem with wool (a fabric with many admitted virtues) is that you can’t get it really, thoroughly clean. You have to wash it in cold water, and then dry it carefully. If bugs are living in it, they’re likely to survive. When wool is all you’ve got to wear, you wear that. And the nobility sniffs at you and says, “Those peasants. Zounds, how they stink!”
But cotton can be washed in hot water. Cotton can be boiled and sterilized. With the wide distribution of cotton, it suddenly became possible for a poor man to be as clean as the king (sometimes cleaner). This was a time of widespread religious revival in Europe, and the new Evangelicals latched onto cleanliness as an outward manifestation of the spiritual cleansing in their hearts.
I well remember my mother talking about growing up in the Great Depression. “Our clothes were patched,” she said proudly, “but they were always clean.”
Mom’s pride in cleanliness was directly descended from the new self-respect that the Evangelical converts of the early 1800’s derived from wearing boiled cotton underwear.
Once those people learned to read too, there was no stopping them.
Another life-enhancing day in Minnesota. For the last couple weeks we’ve had weather to match Hawaii, or San Diego, or Dubuque, or any other mythical Isle of the Blessed. I said in a previous post that chartreuse is my least favorite color. But there’s an exception to that. The delicate, iridescent chartreuse of the first leaves of spring is a visual vitamin. Looking at it actually increases your life expectancy, I’m convinced. Which is why I always wear amber sunglasses, to up the dosage.
But such things don’t last in these parts. I got about three minutes of warmth as I set out on my evening constitutional, and then the clouds began to roll in. Temperatures dropped noticeably. Forecasts for tonight call for rain, and the rest of the week will be cool.
Still, memory is green. Chartreuse, in fact.
I think I left my comments on The Desdemona Principle incomplete. When I identified the existence of a Liar as a cause for uncertainty in our thinking, I might have given the impression that I think the doctrine of Hell might be a lie. I think no such thing.
Lies are not the only reasons for uncertainty. God has chosen to leave a lot of stuff unexplained. You’ve heard people complaining about them: “How can a good God allow suffering?” “Are there people on other planets, and if so do they need to be saved?” “Do animals have any kind of soul at all?” And, of course, “What happens to those people who never heard the gospel?”
It seems to me, from my own Bible reading, that the question of people who never heard the gospel is one that simply didn’t exercise the minds of the first Christians much. I see hints in Scripture, but no clear statement. (It’s interesting to me, by the way, that no one can ask the question except in a condition where the issue has already become academic. If you can ask about it, it doesn’t apply to you.)
So that’s another source (in my view) of uncertainty in theology. I think God wants us to be uncertain about some things. Nothing is more irritating than the person (Christian or not) who thinks he has the answer to everything. Living with areas of uncertainty is, I think, a part of our exercise in humility.
Or maybe I’m just going all mushy in my old age.
The Desdemona Principle
Easter Sunday was cloudy, but still not bad. Today is another glorious spring day, and the final day of my Easter break from work. I spent the morning running around buying things, and this afternoon I did a little more painting on the extension on my garage. The garage is essentially a stucco box, but some previous owner (who must have owned a Cadillac or a Lincoln in their glory days) added a couple feet in wood to the front at some time in the dim, distant past. That extension, as well as the door, was badly in need of scraping and painting. I’ve been doing it in littles, as is my wont. It doesn’t actually involve a lot of square feet, but it seems to have a relativistic, Doctor Who quality. The more I paint the more I realize still needs painting. I have the sides to do yet, and I noticed that the window casings need working over too…
Last night I was surfing blogs, and I came across a “Norwegian Jesus Blog”. That sounded good, so I checked it out. It wasn’t what I expected. From what I could tell, it was actually an anti-Jesus blog. It’s possible the author may be pro-Jesus in his own view, and is just trying to defend Him from what he sees as institutional corruption. I didn’t stay around long enough to figure it out.
But I noticed the quotation he had at the top of his page. I quote from memory, but it was something like, “Hitler killed six million Jews and burned them in ovens, and people call him evil. We are told that God will burn Ann Frank in Hell forever, and theists call Him good.”
This is the kind of statement that I can’t let alone. I have to think about it and comment. (This is one reason I avoid theological arguments. It’s so hard for me to just let things go.)
My first comment is that it’s a strong argument. If I had rejected Christianity, that would probably be one of the chief points on my list of reasons.
The second comment is that I don’t have a crushing, conclusive response. Some of you will probably be satisfied with the (very true) doctrinal statement that we all deserve Hell, and that it's very merciful of God to let anybody escape it.
I believe that's true. But I find it satisfying only in a logical, almost mathematical sense. It doesn’t satisfy my heart, and (more important) I can’t shake the (purely subjective) feeling that it’s not the answer Jesus Himself would give. I don’t know what His answer would be, but I have trouble thinking that would be it (I could easily be wrong).
This is a scripture passage that’s central in my understanding of theology: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6, NIV)
The center of my personal apologetic (such as it is) is that Christ is the perfect and complete expression of the nature of God. Jesus doesn’t contradict the God of the Old Testament, but He completes and perfects a picture that had been seen only in part before.
So the question remains, “What would Jesus say about Ann Frank?”
My answer is, “I don’t know.” (Your mileage, not doubt, will vary.)
And I have to live with that ignorance.
Here’s how I deal with the uncertainty. I came up with a principle long ago, while I was in college. I think it’s a good one, and whatever your opinion of what I’ve written so far, I think this may be useful to you.
I call it the Desdemona Principle.
You probably remember the story from Othello. Othello has a wife named Desdemona, whom he loves and who loves him. She is a faithful and virtuous wife in every way.
What Othello doesn’t know is that he has an enemy. Iago, a man he trusts, is secretly plotting to destroy him through Desdemona.
So Iago fabricates evidence that Desdemona has been unfaithful. Othello, overcome by what seems to be incontrovertible evidence, strangles Desdemona. Then, learning he has misjudged her, he kills himself.
The Desdemona Principle says, “Don’t kill Desdemona. On the one hand you have what looks like solid evidence. On the other you have your gut conviction, based on a subjective but profound love relationship, that she would not do what she’s accused of.”
Much as I love reason and try to defend it, there are times when you have to put your faith in love over reason. That wouldn't be true in a rational world, but this world isn’t wholly rational. We have an enemy who tells lies. The existence of lies creates an uncertainty. That uncertainty is reason enough—if you truly know Desdemona, and if your love is true—to let her live.
My faith in Christ is my Desdemona.
Forgive me, Shade of Francis Schaeffer, but that’s where I stand.
Freedom of speech is of no use to a man who has nothing to say and freedom of worship is of no use to a man who has lost his God. - Franklin D. RooseveltFunny, having nothing to say hasn't hindered the blogosphere much. We could argue about whether a man ever does lose God. Certainly he may lose a god worthy losing, but I doubt the one true God can ever, truly be lost.
Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.In short, we act out of who we are. Imagination is not vain, even if we do not act on our fantasies; but those who do act will be acting on them. Don’t we all understand this?
Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats: For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.
Inappropriately Good Friday
What a day. Such a day I’ve rarely ever enjoyed.
The temperature—ideal. I opened most of the windows, including three in the basement. I feel as if my house is an extended body, and that body is basking in spring comfort, stretching cramped limbs and scratching its itches. I’ve always loved spring, but I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a spring day like this one. Do all homeowners feel this way? Have I been missing this all these years?
I put a final coat of paint on the four protruding posts that decorate the front of my house for no apparent reason (they look like they might be meant to support a flower box, but I see no sign that any such box was ever there). Then I installed a flagpole bracket on one of them and put out the American flag I bought last week. I’ve been anxious to do that, because my neighbor to the south, who I am informed is very conservative, flies his American flag every day. I’ve been afraid that he may have thought my Norway flag windsock was meant as some kind of internationalist counterpoint. My American flag is my semiotic declaration that I’m a Republican too.
Speaking of Republicans, I don’t know how often it happens that Good Friday falls on April 14, but it was on Good Friday, April 14, 1865 that President Abraham Lincoln was murdered by John Wilkes Booth.
I’ve been to Ford’s Theatre (enjoyed it immensely—beautiful restoration plus a first-class museum in the basement), and then I went across the street to the Petersen House and the room where Lincoln died. Historians like to call it the “rubber room” because so many men claim to have been inside it when Lincoln died, although it’s very tiny—there’s just a little space to walk around on two sides of the narrow bed (if you were to step over the velvet rope, which of course I did not).
The awkward thing about Lincoln’s dying on Good Friday was that he wasn’t in church; he was at the theater. What I’ve read about Lincoln’s religious beliefs suggests that he became an atheist in his youth, largely due to bad company, along with his struggles with depression. But it also seems that during the course of the Civil War he found himself driven to putting faith in God in some sense, merely in order to keep his sanity under the pressure. But he was never a great churchgoer. He did tell his wife on their last carriage ride together that he wanted to visit the Holy Land, and that’s usually a religious impulse. And I’m pretty sure he’d have been in church on Easter Sunday. (I should hardly judge, by the way. I didn’t go to church today. That’s largely because my church doesn’t schedule Good Friday worship. And that’s largely because we don’t have our own church building, and we have to set up chairs for services,)
Christian Americans forgave Lincoln for missing church that night. In fact they could hardly avoid (and didn’t much try to avoid) seeing something messianic in his Good Friday death. As Washington had been the Abraham (or the Moses) of the American civil religion, Lincoln became its Christ.
But most of them understood that Lincoln was not Christ. His death was not like Jesus’, he didn’t rise from the dead, and the effects of his martyrdom were limited to one nation.
The death and resurrection of Christ have to do with us all. They are the center of history, the question everyone must answer for him/herself whether they want to or not. How do you account for the story the apostles told, and if you don’t believe it how do you explain their certainty, even to the point of martyrdom?
In our own time we hear the complaint again and again, “I can’t believe in your God. I can’t believe in a God who allows the kind of evil we see in the world.”
The best answer I’ve ever found is to point to the cross. “God never allowed any evil to befall anyone that He did not share Himself.” Mark Twain once complained that God didn’t have the decency to take responsibility for making an unsatisfactory world. He was wrong.
God took all the responsibility.
Have a good Bad Saturday (that’s what I call it).
The Popish Plot (thank goodness)
I’m just back from Maundy Thursday worship at church. A nice end to a beautiful day, except that we had the service in a west-facing room, and the sun shone straight into our eyes through the huge window. But I guess, since most of us don’t generally do fasting in Lent, it’s probably only fair we should suffer a little one evening.
It’s felt like May all week, and today felt like June. The weekend’s supposed to be nice, but Easter itself will be cloudy and cool. You can’t have everything.
I’m still thinking about conspiracies. Dan Brown (or so I understand) has got people believing that the Roman Catholic Church is running this massive, world-wide conspiracy to dominate governments and force its evil will on everybody.
Wouldn’t it be great if it were true?
It would be a comfort to me, as I look at the upheaval going on in Europe, to believe that the Catholic Church had it all under control, and would cool everybody down through subliminal manipulation or something, and that soon everybody would be genuflecting and going to mass twice a day.
Yeah, I’d miss Protestant England and Protestant Scandinavia, but compared to the Islamic Europe that looks to be around the corner, it wouldn’t be so bad.
My anniversary on this blog must be sometime around now, because I seem to recall that one of the first things I did was list some websites from last year’s Writer’s Digest 101 Best list. And now it’s here again. Here are a few that caught my eye:
www.writingfix.com features an interactive Instant Plot Creator “for setting, character and plot ideas.”
www.internet-resources.com/writers “Lists within lists within lists of links”.
www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/index.html is a resource explaining common errors in English. There’s an alphabetical list of misused words.
www.fictionfactor.com posts warnings about publishing scams.
www.mediabistro.com Publishing news and networking.
www.bookcrossing.com allows you to register a book you’ve read. You put a label on the cover, then leave it somewhere for someone else to pick up. You can track its travels on the site.
www.armchairinterviews.com is a site for online author interviews.
www.agentquery.com has a free, searchable database of agents.
www.sfwa.org/beware This is a service of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, of which I’m a humble member. You can read up on writing scams there.
Have a Good Friday.
(Public service note: Check out Dennis Ingolfsland’s presentation of Gnostic verses about women today. Print a copy out to show to the next Dan Brown fan who tells you the Gnostics venerated women and sex.)
Another great walking day. The temperature was 72°. The sun was bright. I used to walk by the lake near where I work. I brought a change of trousers and athletic shoes to work with me every day. The walking surface there is probably better, but I prefer to walk here. Partly because I don’t have to bring walking clothes in with me, but mostly because it’s a later walk and I can listen to Hugh Hewitt instead of Michael Medved.
Not that I don’t like and admire Michael Medved. Michael Medved lives on a pedestal (and a high one), as far as I’m concerned. But as much as I appreciate him personally, I don’t care for the format of his show—invite the orcs to call in and tell you you’re a Nazi, and then argue with them. I respect Medved for his courage, but I can’t handle much of that sort of thing. Confrontation scares me. It all goes back to my childhood, and I’ve already bored you sufficiently with stories about that.
There’s an exception though. Medved does one show a month that I do get a kick out of. He did it today—“Conspiracy Day”, scheduled under every full moon. I take some comfort, I guess, in knowing that there are still theories, even in our day, that are too weird to be generally believed.
Is conspiracy thinking more prevalent today than it used to be? I’m tempted to say it is, though I suspect it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison. In the past, everybody believed in conspiracies. The great-granddaddy of all conspiracy theories is the Great International Jewish Conspiracy, and that goes way back to the Dark Ages. Everybody knew that those vile Jews who ran the moneylending operations sacrificed Christian children in order mix their blood with the Passover bread. Then there was the Witch Conspiracy, a continental crisis calling for a huge (and profitable) prosecutorial bureaucracy.
These theories were contemptible, but they were different from today’s theories in that they were almost universal. People who ignorantly believed them were agreeing with the ignorant majority of their neighbors. Today’s conspiracists tend to be loners, screaming their revelations to a disbelieving crowd.
But there are so many loners! Michael Medved never runs out of callers on Conspiracy Day. George Bush orchestrated 9/11.
This seems to me another demonstration of the basic fallacy of modern thought—that education will wipe out human frailty. I suspect education has in fact made us more susceptible to conspiracy paranoia. The incessant lesson one learns in the modern school is, “The world is not what it seems! The earth seems flat but it isn’t. Matter seems solid but it isn’t. Time seems constant but it isn’t. America seems like a good place to live, but it isn't. Humans seem superior to animals but they’re not.”
The ignorant (and bigoted) medieval peasant believed many false things, but he at least knew how to recognize what was in front of his face. If Muslims attacked his country and murdered his fellow citizens, he couldn’t be duped into thinking it was his own fault. If foreigners overran his country and shouted slogans in their own language while flying their home country’s flag, he wouldn’t draw the conclusion that they just wanted to fit in.
“Things are frequently what they seem,” wrote Ogden Nash in one of his poems. They aren’t in every case, but I, personally, like to keep that thought in mind.
Novelist falls off bandwagon yet again
Two of my favorite bloggers, James Lileks and Mitch Berg of Shot In the Dark, are both blogging about discovering the TV series “24”. Uncharacteristically for me, I was ahead of the curve on this (at least compared to them), but characteristically for me, I lost my grip and fell by the wayside, to be trodden underfoot by men.
I “discovered” “24” last season. A couple people at work used to discuss it at lunch break, and I’d heard good things about it from the conservative grapevine, so I thought I’d check it out.
And it was fascinating. Breathtakingly fast-paced. Crazy with suspense and dramatic tension, and every episode had a cliff-hanger. It was addictive.
Until it wasn’t anymore.
There came an evening when I almost turned to it, and then I thought, “Nah. I really don’t care anymore.”
I’m just speaking for me, but when you ratchet the tension up too far, and keep it up too long, I kind of deflate and say, “Yeah, whatever.” This probably goes back to childhood sports experiences, where I would care about a game just long enough to realize that I was going to lose, and lose badly, and that I was a drag on my team (if it was a team sport), and I just wanted to go inside and read a book.
But there’s also the question of credibility. All fiction, as Tolkien famously observed, depends on the willing suspension of disbelief. And I can do that, within limits. I can enjoy a good fantasy (I even write them—good or not isn’t for me to say), but I suspect I have higher demands on stories than many people. This is why most fantasy leaves me cold. And it’s why “24” leaves me cold. When you pile the improbabilities highly enough, there comes a point where short guys like me can’t see over them. People can’t function at a fever pitch for 24 hours straight. People who’ve been tortured or seriously wounded can’t just go back to work and be operating as usual an hour later. My author’s computer is always humming, and when its plotting utility overloads with improbabilities it locks up.
So I lost interest.
This is not to say that I’m better than you, or that my scruples are superior to your enjoyment. It’s a good show, and all the right people get a kick out of it. Enjoy yourselves.
I’ll be inside, with a book.
My education in the craft of fiction certainly shows up in my poetry, and my knowledge of poetry definitely affects my fiction in ways I couldn't predict," she said. "I'm less of a realist than I was, less interested in the mimesis [trying to re-create reality] and more on metaphor.
Beautiful day. Delicious. Today was that great milestone in the year’s slow round, the day I first open the windows in the house (or in the apartment, up till now). The temperature soared into the low 70’s. This is remarkable, when I think of it. As I walked past the lake I remembered that only a couple weeks ago there was still ice on that water. Seagulls gathered on the shore today and hovered on the wind. I’ve always thought seagulls don’t really belong in
Tomorrow will be cooler and less sunny, but it won’t be cold.
Everybody’s talking about the Gospel of Judas these days. Our adversaries, who never tire of claiming that the canonical gospels are bad history and logically contradictory, are rushing to celebrate a document written long after the gospels we accept, one which is fragmentary and apparently pretty incoherent in the fragments we do have.
I just discovered a blogger, Dennis Ingolfsland of The Recliner Commentaries. He’s the librarian at
I keep seeing the Gospel of Thomas, a Gnostic text that’s been available for quite a few years now, mentioned in connection with The DaVinci Code, although I also read that Dan Brown doesn’t actually mention the Thomas document in his book. Nevertheless the Gospel of Thomas is a product of those Gnostics he admires so much, so I’ve read the book and figured I’d review it here.
The first thing you need to know is that the apostle Thomas didn’t write it. I don’t think anybody believes he wrote it. It’s well accepted that the Gospel of Thomas is a Gnostic text first written around the Fourth or Fifth Centuries AD.
The second thing to know (and I’ve mentioned this before on this blog) is that there is no sign of all that feminism and sexual “openness” that Dan Brown would have you believe characterized early Christianity. It’s actually pretty hard to figure out what the book is about, but it’s hard to make it say any of those things. The only references to women as a subject are in two places: 85:24-34, where Jesus says, “When you make the two one, and when you make the inner as the outer and the outer as the inner and the above as the below, and when you make the male and the female into a single one, so that the male will not be male and the female (not) be female, when you make eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in the place of a hand, and a foot in the place of a foot, (and) an image in the place of an image, then shall you enter [the Kingdom].”
(If that seems kind of opaque to you, you’re not having a slow day. The whole book is like this. Gnosticism is a mystery religion, remember. It’s not meant to be understood by the common herd like you and me.)
The other charming comment on women is at the very end (99:20-26), where Jesus says of Mary Magdalene (because Peter has said women are not worthy of “the Life”), “See, I shall lead her, so that I will make her male, that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter the
You’ll note that the second excerpt appears to contradict the first. This doesn’t surprise anyone who's read the book. Coherence is not an attribute much in evidence here.
It’s actually not a gospel in the sense that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are. There’s nothing about Jesus’ birth. There’s nothing about His ministry or His miracles. There’s no mention of His Passion or Resurrection or Ascension.
It’s simply a list of sayings, in no apparent order. Some of those sayings are responses to questions from the disciples. Others are just laid down, one after the other. Some of the sayings are essentially identical to sayings found in the canonical gospels. Some are similar but slightly altered. Some are without corroboration elsewhere. Many of those are incomprehensible.
I recommend reading this book. It doesn’t take long. I read it in a couple hours. It will forever cure you of any fear you may be harboring of the intellectual threat posed by Gnosticism.