Brandywine Books
Sunday, April 30, 2006
Memes, Memes, Everywhere But Nary a Blog to Think
Here's a music meme for you.
  1. What's one of your favorite CDs or albums in your files? I'll choose Jars of Clay's Redemption Songs.
  2. Look up or remember the third line from one of the songs on that CD/album. From the first song: "Plenteous in compassion Thou, blot out my transgressions now."
  3. Rinse and repeat as needed.
I'll leave that one to take the blogosphere by storm.

Sherry of Semicolon (whose blog I'm pleased to say is the first hit I received in a Yahoo! Search for "semicolon") has a kiddy-lit meme for us.
3 Children's Books that I Would Like to Live in
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
I 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?

Oh, there was a Bible meme a few weeks ago which I unintentionally passed up. I had other things to blog or not blog, I guess, but here it is now.
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?
 
This Blog Stinks
Earlier this year, M.E. Strauss put together a list for failing in the blogosphere. I want to list all of her "Top 10 Ways to Become a Miserable Blogger," but that wouldn't be good blogging, so here's a teaser. "Keep your mind focused on all of the things you have to do and how little time there is to do them. Check the clock often to see how behind you are in getting them done." That's good advice, that is.

Here's another: "When you finally sit down to write, know you will have writerÂ?s block. Think about it. Talk about it. Then watch the clock."

Yeah, I hear ya. Now, I'm depressed. I think I'll blog a meme or maybe check the stats.
 
Saturday, April 29, 2006
I must have a male ego, because it's breaking.

My big project today was to change my oil.

One of my plans for having my own place was to change my own oil again. I used to do it all the time, both on my own and with my dad. Since I moved away from Dad (and he died), and I've been living in an apartment, I've paid the in-and-out-box on the corner an exorbitant price to recirculate the stuff, and I've generally fallen for their recommendations to have the garbonzos re-waxed and recalibrate the manifold.

So my motivation was more about saving money than the joy of working on my car. I'm not a gearhead. But changing oil is a relatively simple guy thing I know I can do. I looked forward to the feeling of accomplishment it would give me.

You know what's coming next, don't you? At least in principle.

I bought ramps and an oil pan, and a carton of oil. I'd saved milk jugs to have something to pour the waste oil into, until I take it to the recycling place.

I drove the car up onto the ramps, chocked the tires, climbed underneath on top of the oil-absorbing blanket I'd bought, and went to work with my box wrench to get the drain plug off.

Didn't fit. Apparently I needed a metric wrench.

I tried a monkey wrench. Didn't work.

I left the car on the ramp and walked to the auto parts store to get a set of metrics.

Guess what? They don't fit either. Maybe I stripped the plug head with the monkey wrench.

I'll conquer this someday. I'll get somebody to help me figure out what wrench to use.

But for now I'll have to pay the oil changing place again.

Where a girl's in charge.

Just shoot me now, somebody.

Lars Walker
 
Book Design Must Recommend the Book
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.

As for bad design, covers like Director's Cut and Dead of Night from Zondervan look cheap to me--remarkably cheap, as if the publisher has cut back the budget. Sometimes I think about designing covers for real or imagined books for posting here, but that would be putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak, and I look like an idiot enough as it is.

Also, I don't think cover design is a readily accessible topic. To give examples:
  1. This cover for Hoot is funny, good-looking and appropriate to me, but I'm sure designers could rip it up over the font selections.
  2. This cover on How Would a Patriot Act? looks good though uninspired. Could I do better?
  3. Does Ann Coulter insist on having her photo on the cover of her books? I think something radical, bold, edgy would be better for her latest book, Godless.
  4. I think gravitate toward covers like this for blink. Maybe that makes me a minimalist.
What ideas do you have on book design or book covers? Any examples jump out at you?

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More on That Later
This morning, Scott Simon read a terrific mock blog, as if he had been blogging in the few minutes he might get during the day. Paraphrasing from memory: "Interviewed the Iranian President today. We didn't get into any of that nuclear stuff. He wanted to know what was up with Tom and Katie." Many of blog entries mentioned speaking with someone very big or controversial like this, stating only "more on that later."
 
Coherent and Original Plagiarism
The Morning News has a contest for plagiarists, "Sloppy Seconds With Opal Mehta." Your work of fiction must be no longer than 750 completely taken with citations from other works. No imaginary works may be cited and at least five different works must be used. Deadline: May 12.

That's hilarious. I may enter this myself.
 
The Lord Controls Publishing Too
The Lord is my publisher;
I shall not want.
He makes me rewrite my green manuscript;
He trims my angst-ridden verbiage.
He brews my coffee.
He awakens me with strong prose for His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through mounds of rejection,
I will fear no editor;
For You write with me;
Your pen and Your Word, they comfort me.

You publish my novel in the presence of my enemies;
My heart overflows onto its pages.
Surely fictitious characters will follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will record their stories for my Lord
As long as I live.

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Friday, April 28, 2006
Does Baby Like Da Libwa-wee? Yes?
Did you see this cute story of taking the baby to the library? Ella from Box of Books writes in part:
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.
 
Stupid and tasteless
Have you seen the news of the Harvard student whose first-time novel is accused of plagiarism? Her books are being pulled from the shelf. Terry Teachout adds this comment: "Little, Brown & Co., having been stupid and tasteless enough first to sign a seventeen-year-old author to a $500,000 contract, then to publish a novel by her called How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, is richly deserving of whatever bad things happen to it as a result."
 
To Conclude Poetry Month
I offer these timeless words composed in the white hot inspiration when tongue and technology meet:
I found that common denominator
And in Herod's wake there lacks a worthy crown
Gleam the wisdom of our ancestors...
good A hand from above reached down
Most of this memorable classic was composed by a program designed by Chris Seidel,
Heretical Rhyme Generator.
 
From the archivist's desk

Thoughts thought as I cataloged old books for the archives today:

I was working with a very old book, translated from German to Danish and published in Copenhagen in 1874. It's in poor condition. The edges of the pages crumbled under my fingers.

My first response was, "Wow. This is old. Wild Bill Hickok was still alive when this was published." (Wild Bill is one of my historical benchmarks. I'll doubtless blog about my relationship with him eventually.)

Secondly, when I saw that the author was a German pastor who'd been a hospital chaplain in Stuttgart, I thought, "Imagine if I could travel back in time and tell him what the future holds."

"Due in large part to the efforts of biblical scholars in your own country," I'd have to tell him, "Christian faith will steadily decrease in Germany and in Europe generally. In a couple generations, in the wake of a disastrous war, German politics will be dominated by the struggle between Communists and nationalists. The nationalists will win, and will begin a campaign of military aggression and racial extermination. These enormities will bring the wrath of the world down on your people, and Germany will be reduced to a smoldering ruin.

"Your country's response (and the response of Europe as a whole) will be to turn even farther from Christian faith and to concentrate on materialism. Your birth rate will fall to the extent that you will have to import masses of Muslim immigrants, so that it appears (from my vantage point in time) that all of Europe will be under Islam within a generation or two."

No, I don't think I could tell him that. I wouldn't have the heart to. Better to let him die in peace, in the safety of his own century.

Lars Walker
 
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Oh, Let's All Join In!
From the NYTimes:
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'll probably be sorry I even brought it up...

I opened a can of worms a while back by bringing up one of the most common objections to Christianity. Today I'll try to balance the equation by talking about what seems to me a major objection to somebody else's religion.

I was thinking about Buddhism today (in the sense of abstract contemplation, not in the sense of "kicking the tires to see if I'll buy it.").

I think I have a fair idea about the basics of Buddhism. I taught a Sunday School class on world religions a while back, and I acquired what I think is a small amount of fairly objective information.

So here's what I understand Buddhism to teach:

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.


If that's right (I'm willing to be corrected), then wouldn't it be correct to say, "In Buddhist thinking, love is the greatest sin of all."?

I can anticipate the response that it would only be sinful when considered as a desire. If it's a giving kind of love, it wouldn't be a sin.

But I don't think that flies. It would still involve concentration on another person (or persons, or thing) whose very existence is understood to be a delusion and a falsehood.

It seems to me that love being a sin would be a pretty strong argument against Buddhism, in a culture as love-obsessed as ours. But I don't recall ever hearing it mentioned as such before.

Explain to me where I'm wrong.

Lars Walker
 
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Are We All That Simple?
David Long has returned from Calvin College to talk about the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing. His first post is here. This afternoon, he wrote a little about the fear of that which seems elitist:
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.

Mark Bertrand also posts on the festival, and Jared Wilson, who is still avoiding regular blogging, comments on it. Mark says, "Most everyone suggested a desire to see both literary fiction and the kind of 'high genre' stuff you see in the general market, where art and genre meld. And everyone -- editors, writers, readers -- wanted to be able to point to more examples of serious fiction with faith elements. But frankly, it doesn't seem to be happening, or rather, everyone is hoping it will without anyone having to do something about it."

Does that define a market for a new small press? If only I had the business sense to pursue it. Not that I would make any money from it, but if it printed several good books, it may be worth taking on the purgatory of debt.
 
Portrait of a Blog as a Book
Do good blogs make good books? Some publishers think so.
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 Walker Code

The other day I got an e-mail from an extremely distant relative in Norway, who says that he has uncovered the possibility, in his genealogical studies, that his family is descended from the Merovingian kings of France.

I don't believe I belong to that branch of the family. And it's just as well. I don't think I could handle Dan Brown thinking I'm a descendent of Jesus.

Lars Walker
 
Back to normal, if that means anything

My problem last night was that my computer profile had somehow gotten corrupted. All my computer could do was log me on as a temporary visitor every time I restarted. Then when I rebooted, everything I did was immediately forgotten and I had to repeat it all over again.

So I spent a fair amount of time chatting online with a technical person, and he walked me through the process of creating a new profile and copying all my settings into it. Now I'm pretty much back in business, except that I lost all my old e-mails. And my computer seems to like to display a screen telling me it's going into standby mode, and then lock itself up there like an elderly relative with Alzheimer's in the bathroom.

That's my report. I can't think of anything else to say, except that the whole experience fills me with a sense of waking dread and looming mortality.

Lars Walker
 
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Nothing much today

Had computer trouble today. Partly solved now.

Dennis at the Recliner Commentaries is still ripping a hole in the "Gospel" of Judas. Definitely worth checking out.

Lars Walker
 
Book Banning
Gideon Strauss asks, "If you could ban the books of one author because of their pernicious influence on the young, whose books would you ban?"

He also recommends some fundamental reading for the summer.
 
Prince Caspian May Be Delayed
According to Scott Weinberg on Rottentomatoes.com, the next Narnia movie is a bit difficult to pull together. He quotes producer Mark Johnson saying the adaptation "is proving tougher than 'Wardrobe.'"

I almost blogged on this a few months ago. The first half of Prince Caspian is told in retrospect. The four Pevensie children appear in Narnia at the beginning of the book and hear about the current battle and backstory from a dwarf. If you take out the retrospect and begin the movie with the backstory, then you have main characters, with whom the audience is most familiar, arriving in the middle of the movie. In addition to that, Lewis has the four children appear in the wild and take a long time walking to the battleground, and though interesting things occur, it isn't the way movies generally run.

So what can a screenwriter do? Ideas I have are to tell the children's story and Caspian's story from the beginning, starting with Caspian. Give him enough time, perhaps twenty minutes, to establish the Narnian context, the Telmarine conflict, and the danger Caspian faces. Then show the children drawn to Narnia, wondering where they are and why they were called. Switch back to Caspian for a while, and then back to the children until you bring the two together. You could drop Susan's horn or show it used and try to demonstrate in a few seconds that it was the reason the children returned to Narnia. Another possibility is to have Susan's horn blown early in Caspian's story so that the children can begin their part eariler.

But these may not be the reason for the movie's delay. Working out the visuals for giants, talking mice, centaurs, and werewolves may take more time to work out than the problems I addressed.
 
Lots of Coffee Won't Hurt You
A joint USA-Spain medical study has shown no relationship between drinking several cups of filtered coffee daily and heart disease; but frequent coffee drinkers showed a tendancy to do other things which are believed to be unhealthy. From Reuters:
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.
 
Does the Big Apple Still Have It?
Lenore Skenazy asks if Manhattan is still as cool as it used to be. Maybe not, because the cost of living is driving out all the artists, poets, and young people. Of course, Terry Teachout is still there, so I suppose it's cool enough. [by way of ArtsJournal.com]
 
Monday, April 24, 2006

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 [1970], 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.

Lars Walker

 
All Shakespeare, All Year
Yesterday being Shakespeare's birthday in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, his home town has launched a year-long festival during which all of Shakespeare's works will be performed. Deborah Shaw, the director of the Royal Shakespeare Company's festival, has coordinated 17 foreign theater teams to cover all the plays on her schedule.
 
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Looking for Feedback
Got any comments on the status quo at Brandywine Books or ideas on how to make this blog better? Please let us know. We want to hear from you. Feel free to praise and complain about anything here. Feel free to praise or bad mouth other blogs as well, examples of great blogging, examples of horrid blogging. Give us your thoughts. Thank you.
 
Short, superficial and self-congratulatory Saturday post

My Saturdays have fallen into a pattern. In the morning I go out and buy stuff I need for the house. In the afternoon I do maintenance work of various kinds, and vacuum inside after my fashion.

The first thing I did today was to meet my friend Chip to pick up a lawnmower. He has a friend who just bought a house and acquired two with the purchase, and was eager to be rid of his old one. It's a little beat-up, and lacks the rod for the bagger, but will do for my small yard.

I mowed this afternoon, the first time on my own land. I'm not a yard guy. I don't think I'll ever be a showplace landscaper. But it does feel different when the ground is your own.

Three cheers for capitalism!

Yesterday I came up with a wonderful image to use in a story. Not a plot point, just a dream that a character will have, which will illuminate human life in a lyrical and heartbreaking manner.

I won't tell you what it is, because there are spies on the Internet, and some unscrupulous rival author might steal it.

(Not you, of course. You know I trust you, Gentle Reader.)

It'll go into my work in progress.

Which is likely never to be published.

And that's why I'm telling you, so you'll know that I'm an unappreciated genius.

Because I say so.

Lars Walker
 
Help! Mom! Hollywood's in My Hamper! By Katharine DeBrecht
In the second of her Help! Mom! Series, author Katharine DeBrecht tells the story of two little girls who want to earn money for bicycles but pay attention to advice out of Hollywood instead. They hope to earn the money through baby-sitting, but the more they follow the lifestyle directives of Daisy Smears, Rayonna, and Barbara Buttersand, the fewer baby-sitting opportunities they have.

It’s funny stuff, written for preteens and teenagers who know something about pop culture. Though the caricatures are accurate and humorous, I wonder if two of the performers chosen were a little old for young readers. Do teenagers readily identify with Barbara Streisand? Perhaps one of The Dixie Chicks would have been better. But her age is part of the joke. One of her first lines is “Do you mean you don’t know who I am?!” They guess she’s from a toilet cleaner commercial.

I suspect if you or your kids have gotten hold of some leftist propaganda in story form, you’ll get a kick out of the Help! Mom! books. Even if you haven’t, you may enjoy them for the artwork and satire. I reviewed the first book here, and several more reviews are available on the Active Christian Media website.
 
Who Can You Trust? By Howard E. Butt, Jr.
Here’s a good potential for a small group discussion. Who Can You Trust? addresses the essence of living and why we have trouble trusting people. Author Howard E. Butt, Jr. claims betrayal is the root of our relationship problems. In fact, betrayal was the sin Eve committed against God in the Eden which cursed the world.

“Betraying and being betrayed by abuse, desertion, neglect, or rejection lie deep within our personal and collective being,” Butt writes. “We betray others because of our personal experience of feeling betrayed. And we do this whether such betrayal actually took place or not.”

Real and imagined betrayal breaks down our trust of individuals or people in general, making specific relationships and common business difficult. Couple this with self-deception, that we believe ourselves to be far more pure than we are, and we grow a judgmental perspective, unwilling to forgive and willing to condemn others. Butt believes many Christians have “a too-shallow sense of our sinfulness.” He says there are sins we have personally listed as egregious, and if we avoid those, we believe we’re in the clear, free to condemn those whom we see as more sinful than we are. If we had an honest view of ourselves, we would have compassion on those who have disgraced themselves in society’s eyes. How to address our feelings of betrayal and gain a good understanding of ourselves makes up the counseling portion of the book.

The writing style varies (like my own), but plenty of quotes from C.S. Lewis and other strong authors add interest to the reading.

Howard Butt has years of experience working with people on and off the job. He helped his father build the H.E.B. grocery store chain and is a leader in applying the Christian faith to workplace decisions.
 
Friday, April 21, 2006

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?

Lars Walker

 
Lord, Help Me But Not Just Yet
I knew Andree Seu's latest column would be good when I first saw it, but I only just read it and now must link to it. Blogging's in my blood, I guess. Read "Next Tuesday" for a beautiful meditation of joylessness.
 
A New Bible Code
Joe Carter, editor of World Magazine's blog, points to a story on a mafia leader's use of the Bible as a code for crime. Has anyone written a novel with this idea yet?
 
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Hanks Read the Other Stuff
Since the blogosphere will continue to buzz about Tom Hanks for a while (shhh, have you heard that he will star in a film adaptation of a novel by Richard Russo called The Risk Pool? Everyone's talking about it. Huh? What other movie?), let him blog this little bit of info I learned about Hanks from my sister.

From his profile on IMDB:
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?
 
I Can Turn to No One Else
Yesterday was unusual for me. I went downtown to sit for a couple hours in the city courthouse and then deliver a few minutes of testimony in a criminal trial. A heavy storm washed over us during that time. The courthouse’s rooftop windows gave us a nice view of it. I didn’t hear any hail, which was forecast, but the rainfall was enough to call out a flood barrier before the door at Greyfriar’s, where I went after testifying. I picked up some Panama Boquette beans, my third choice after seeing that Tanzanian Peaberry and Papua New Guinea tribal beans were out of stock that morning. I prefer a heavy body in my coffee, so I usually get the Indonesian varieties and periodically try to understand the subtlies of the lighter kinds, which is what the Panama will be. I don’t have a cultivated palette for coffee yet.

Long before I was called, two women came out of the courtroom to cry in the hallway. Two women in Sunday dress bawling a few meters from my bench. I wish I could have comforted them; but I’m naturally reluctant, even with acquaintances. Of course in this case, I had no role in their lives.

My testimony was simple enough, a tiny fraction of the prosecutor’s argument. I just happened to be the one to find the body on the roadside on the way to church. I saw in the news the defense attorney’s statement that the body was put there in order to be found. Perhaps, he plans to accuse someone, known or unknown, of framing his client. I don’t know anything really. I just hope justice is served.

In the Bible, Paul says the Lord doesn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind; yet I am often afraid. It’s irrational, I know, but I feel it still. By spending time in court and listening to cops and detectives talk shop while waiting to be called, I have picked up details for worry (not to mention Iranian saber rattling). I should move from this house soon, I say, but where is a safe home? Is anywhere safe, when you think of it? But I can’t rest in locks and locations for safety. The Governor of the Universe is my protector, and if he take me or my family through horrible times, I am safe only under his wing. I have no one else to turn to.
 
Fresh from Baton Rouge
Our Girl in Chicago praises Stephanie Soileau's "The Boucherie" and Soileau herself in light the story's inclusion in an anthology of the past decade, Best of the South. She quotes from the story too. Do you buy or borrow short story anthologies like this? I do.
 

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.

Lars Walker

 
Photo by Jack McRitchie
Photographer Jack McRitchie says of his photo, Suntory Museum, on Photo.net, "Secretly snapped at (fittingly enough) the Cartier-Bresson Exhibition." Maybe it's the designer in me, but I like the bold sections and blankness of photos like this.
 
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
A Good Romantic Comedy
Will Duquette reviews Wodehouse's Jill the Reckless, a romantic comedy set in the world of New York's musical comedies, which as Lars recently pointed out, Wodehouse had a large part in provoking to life. This part of the Wodehouse works was bound in hardcover last year by the good people at Overlook Press.
 

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.

Lars Walker

 
On This Day
On this day in 1775, the American Revolution began. The "shot heard around the world" was fired in the Battle of Lexington on April 19, near 5:00 a.m. And the greatest country in the modern world began to fight for independence.

Also on this day in 1928, the last volume of the first Oxford English Dictionary was published. Writer Steve King states, "the general public is encouraged to submit quotations to the OED in support of their effort to find the earliest and best usages." And the world breathed easier.
 
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
What Do Guys Want to Read?
I learned of this site for encouraging readership among "guys," which appears to be school-aged males. The author, Jon Scieszka, says boys often are required to read stories they don't like and they are told that what they like to read isn't real reading. To compensate, Mr. Scieszka recommends books by Richard Scarry and William Steig for little guys, Roald Dahl and Eoin Colfer for the older but pretty young set, and Brian Jacques and Ray Bradbury for the oldest set as well as many more authors.
 
All Too Common Grounds
So I was talking to Judy the other day about how I just don't blog anymore, and she said I really need to tell people when I don't blog because they could happen on the site, you know, just "surfing the online web" as they say nowadays, and people could come to the site and wonder when the next post is coming and waste a lot of time refreshing the page hoping another post will come because as everyone knows . . . Okay, I'll stop the joke here. Thank you for your attention.

How many coffee houses/bars/shops/shoppes in this country are named Common Grounds? My Yahoo! search for "common grounds coffee" tonight yeilds 11,900 results, pointing to places in Burlington, WI; Lexington, KY; Gainsville, FL; Altoona, PA; and Matton, IL among others. Not nearly as creative a name as my favorite local coffee house, Greyfriar's on Broad Street, but names are everything. Is there a Common Grounds coffee shop near you?
 
Art Grows Back
"To introduce a new play only six weeks after another has been banned is also a way to speak one’s piece to the government. It proves that art and liberty can grow back in one night under the clumsy foot which crushes them." - Victor Hugo, 1833, regarding his play, Lucréce Borgia, which he wrote quickly after his play, Le roi s'amuse, was banned on suspicion of ridiculing the French nobility.
 

More Desdemona

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.

Lars Walker

 
Monday, April 17, 2006
French TV
This quarter's Read This selection from the Litblog Co-op is a French novel called, Television. They say it's about a writer who turns off his TV to do better things, but the thing keeps popping up. They've posted an excerpt here in which he soaks a TV screen with glass cleaner "until the entire surface was covered by a coating of mobile, foaming liquid, slowly slipping earthward, intermingled with grime and dust, in sluggish, oleaginous flows, that seemed to ooze from the machine like the residue of programs past . . ."

It could be pretty funny in the absurd vein, and the recommendation comes just before Turn Off Your TV Week.
 

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.

Lars Walker

 
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Narnians are Pro-Literacy
Disney is using its Narnian imagery to promote literacy in connection with the DVD release of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and Literacy Awareness Week this month. - phil
 
FDR on Freedom o' speech
Speaking of Bartleby.com, today's home page quote is on freedom of speech.
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. Roosevelt
Funny, 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.
 
Easter Wings
"LORD, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Most poore . . . "

Do you remember George Herbert's beautiful little poem, "Easter Wings," formatted like the wings of two larks? You can read it on that praiseworthy literature resource, Bartleby.com.
 
Tolstoy's Resurrection
Sherry, while trying to post once an hour this weekend, recommends Leo Tolstoy's Resurrection as a type of holiday reading. This is one of the books I bought a long time ago out of an affection for Tolstoy and never read.
 
Saturday, April 15, 2006
Should Perverted Blogs Go Unchallenged?
What are the limits on free speech? We all know there are common sense limits, such as not yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, but beyond that, what moral limits, if any, restrain us from speaking? I ask because I think our modern culture is working me over to believe there aren’t limits. Free speech or free expression reigns supreme, or so I’m told.

I have three examples, the third being my chief reason for blogging on it.

1. This week, I heard that the British press was outraged that most of the American press gave golfer Tiger Woods a pass when after The Masters he reportedly complained, “once I got on the green I was a spas.” I haven’t used the words spaz or spastic in years or heard them used, but I never knew anyone would take offense to them for being derogatory references to someone with cerebral palsy. Apparently, some do. Mr. Woods has since apologized.

2. Earlier this month, executives for Borders bookstores, including Waldenbooks, decided against stocking the current issue of a magazine which reprints four of the cartoons that inflamed certain willing Muslims a while back. I don’t understand why they believe these cartoons, which are available through many outlets (not that they are worth seeking out), are too dangerous to distribute, but they aren’t taking up the cause of free speech, are they.

3. Stacy Harp, who leads Active Christian Media (formerly Mind & Media Publicity) for whom I do some book reviews, is urging Google to drop a Blog*spot site dedicated to pedophilia or what we could call “child predators.” She’s gotten a few interviews over it too. See links on her blog, starting with this interview with Adam McManus. Google has been unresponsive to the complaints, but as Jared Keller points out, they may be contradicting themselves a bit if they take up a freedom of speech defense for keeping the blog active. (Of course, the site could lurch to life again as another blog with Google or another free host or a paid host. Now if Google did not index the site for searching, that would be a ban.)

Are all of these essentially the same or is the third example different because it involves a crime? I think I’ve always thought of America’s freedom of speech as our ability to advocate or discussion any idea under the sun, but if we act on certain ideas, we could run afoul the law, which must be grounded in a logic based on certain accepted moral judgments. We appear to live in a day when fewer people accept those judgments; that’s the battleground for the culture war. Is it acceptable to discuss and advocate perverted ideas like pedophilia? Is that within the bounds of free speech?

I know. The voices arguing for unlimited freedom of expression have shown themselves to be rank hypocrites. For example, teachers and students at Yale were too outraged to listen to a message delivered by an alum, because years ago he typed a racial slur (unintentionally and later apologized); but they appear to have no problems with a former and unrepentant member of the Taliban studying with them today. Outrage over racism or tyranny knows its bounds, I suppose.

But pedophilia is a horrible crime, and the internet has become the perpetrators' tool for encouraging each other and finding victims. Should we stand by when men who would violate the minds or bodies of children through the internet converse online? I don’t think so.

Though blogs and websites are public, we can believe we are in our private room while interacting of others or posting our thoughts for the world. And in our privacy, we can feel unaccountable, just as I’m sure players of a certain twisted online game feel when they role-play. It’s just interactive pornography, isn’t it? No harm done?

Do you remember that old story from the proverbs about what a man thinks in his heart?
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.

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.
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?

Anther illustration: One time, some temple leaders asked Jesus why he and his men didn’t follow the ceremonial cleanliness laws. He replied by calling them hypocrites, because they strove for external cleanliness but neglected cleaning their hearts. They were, he said, like whitewashed sepulchers, dead within, clean without.

Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks and the body acts. We can’t pretend that discussing or play-acting the abominable will keep the base urges in some men at bay. The more we tolerate this and other pornifacations, the more blame we must share for future victims.

I believe Google is taking feedback through this contact form.

Update: The blog no more.
 
Bad Saturday

As I mentioned yesterday, I like to call today "Bad Saturday," the day between Good Friday and Easter.

I think of the eleven surviving apostles, scattered and terrified, the day after the crucifixion. I can imagine them reevaluating their last three years in the cold light of consequences. "My father told me I was crazy to light out after a traveling preacher. Guess he was right. I wonder if I can get my old job back."

We live most of our lives, I think, in a Bad Saturday situation. At some point, after we consciously embrace Christ, there always comes a moment when we feel disappointed, when God doesn't perform as we'd assumed He must.

That's where we lose a lot of converts. It's sometimes the fault of prosperity proselytizers who make false promises, and sometimes it's the fault of the baby Christian himself, because he's made unreasonable assumptions.

But for those who hold out (Revelation 3:11), Easter comes at last.

Have a blessed one.

Lars Walker
 
Learning Publicity
Warren Kelly has a review of How to Be Your Own Publicist by Jessica Hatchigan, which he says is a useful book, not too basic, not too technically advanced, teaching the reader about press kits, press releases, and to beware of publicity stunts which overshadow the object of the publicity. I wonder if it addresses the grammar and prudence of long sentences, which as I'm sure you know and have no need for me to remind you though I will since I'm typing this post or as it were have the floor at present, I occasionally have need to craft--shall we say--long sentences, usually when I have nothing to say.
 
Friday, April 14, 2006

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).

Lars Walker

 
Later Today on BwB
I plan to write several posts today, by which I mean I hope perhaps in vain to blog today, but now I am going out to pick up a Friday edition of the Wall Street Journal, in part b/c of this article teaser by Mr. Teachout on the uselessness of art. Check back today for more of the insight posts you are accustomed to read on Brandywine Books.
 
Thursday, April 13, 2006

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.

Lars Walker

 
Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Anti-spiracy

(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. America invented AIDS to kill off Africans. Space Aliens killed JFK. And, of course, that old standby—the Jewish Bankers are pulling all the strings!

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.

Lars Walker

 
Tuesday, April 11, 2006

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.

Lars walker

 
Monday, April 10, 2006
Poet Laura McCullough
The Hub, a New Jersey newspaper, has a feature on Poet Laura McCullough with a few interesting thoughts on poetry and writing. She says:
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.
 
Nobody Wants to be a Librarian
According to this article, The Bureau of Labor Statistics has identified librarians as one of five jobs which will lack qualified applicants in the near future. "In addition to the librarians expected to retire within the next decade, interest in the profession is waning among younger workers."
 

Dia-Gnostic tests

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 Minnesota, but we have lots of lakes and they like it here. Perhaps they came with the Norwegians.

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 Crown College here in Minnesota. He has scholarly credentials and has put up a couple useful posts on the Judas thing already, here and here. Bookmark his blog for future updates and other good stuff.

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 Kingdom of Heaven.”

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.

Lars Walker

 
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