"Better new friend than an old foe."

- Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene
Auster: "Writing is a Disease"

Paul Auster visited Yale at the end of March for the Schlesinger Visiting Writer Series. They asked him a few questions.

Q: Yale is teeming with aspiring writers. Is there any golden advice that you would like to give them?

A: Don’t do it. You are asking for a life of penury, solitude, and a kind of invisibility in the world. It’s almost like taking orders in a religious sect. Writing is a disease, it’s not anything more than that. If a young person says, “You are right, it would be a stupid thing to do,” then that person shouldn’t be a writer. If a young person says, “I don’t agree with you, I will do it anyway,” alright, good luck! But you’ll have to figure it out on your own, because everyone’s path is different.

For Want of Wonder

Ron Block explores unbelief in a George MacDonald novel, noting Chesterton's observation, “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”

People Don't Write Books

Author Jonathan Rogers was passed up by Senior Ms. America in last April's Music City Half-Marathon. It proved transformative.

Here in my forties I have gained wisdom from running that I never gained from books. To wit: I have learned never to ask, “Can I run 13.1 miles?” (the answer is probably no) but only to ask “Can I run to the next telephone pole” (the answer is probably yes). To apply this principle to my line of work, people don’t write books: they write sentences.

The Beatles Wanted to Do Lord of the Rings

I didn't hear this news when it hit years ago: "The Beatles had approached J.R.R. Tolkien about doing a film version of Lord of the Rings starring the Fab Four."

Lennon wanted to play Gollum; McCartney, Frodo; Ringo, Sam; and Harrison, Gandalf. Tolkien said, "Over my dead body," or something like that. Too bad Nimoy didn't have to ask him for permission to sing about Bilbo in the 70s.

'Hardrada's Hoard,' by Tony Nash and Richard Downing



An intriguing premise: On his way to conquer England by way of York in 1066, King Harald Hardrada of Norway secretly buried a great treasure in a ruined Saxon church. Some time later, the church was rebuilt without the treasure being discovered. Only now, in the post-Christian present when the church is falling down again, a priest accidentally finds the secret vault where the treasure lies. Once he informs the authorities, his church becomes the target, first of ordinary thieves, and then of right-wing, racist political extremists. So a Norwegian agent is assigned to infiltrate the conspiracy and sabotage it.

Hardrada’s Hoard could have been a pretty entertaining book. And I enjoyed it enough to finish it. But overall I found it unsatisfactory, for a couple reasons.

First of all, the numerous historical misrepresentations. The authors clearly did some research in preparing this book – their image of the Vikings is better, for instance, than that of the History Channel series – but they make a lot of pretty serious mistakes. They think Vikings used two-handed swords. They tell us with straight faces that King Harald’s queen and two daughters died in battle with him at Stamford Bridge (in fact the queen, a delicate Russian princess, stayed home in Norway with the girls). They tell us there was a spell of cold climate in Scandinavia during the Viking Age (the precise opposite of the truth). They seem to think Harald and his men were heathen (they were Christian). They think the 1950s Kirk Douglas movie popularized the idea of winged helmets for Vikings (the image goes back much further, and there are no winged helmets in that movie). They think Vikings sported Norman hair styles.

My second problem is that the sex scenes are far more explicit than called for.

And last but not least, the final resolution is both improbable and unsatisfactory.

Didn’t work for me.

Bonhoeffer 70th Anniversary

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was killed on this day in 1945.

A while back, Hunter Baker enthused over his exploration of the free-church idea in Germany. Baker observes, "A regenerate church is not a private church," and so must engage the state while remaining independent from it.

Here's a short piece on Bonhoeffer's last twelve hours.



Michael Hollerich reviews a biography of Bonhoeffer, getting into many of the ideas presented in Charles Marsh's Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, including this one:

Protestantism in particular could not surrender the claim to be a Volkskirche, a true national church and the spiritual custodian of the German people. This was the preoccupation, even among Confessing Christians, that ultimately disenchanted Bonhoeffer and led to his visionary anticipation of an outcast church on the margins of ­society. We can appreciate the measure of that disenchantment if we remember that he had taken membership in the Confessing Church so seriously that he once said that whoever knowingly separated himself from the Church separated himself from salvation—for which he was roundly denounced for “Catholic” thinking.
As with most things, the man had something there.

Happiness is Bland

Gary Saul Morson describes "The Moral Urgency of Anna Karenina," starting with this idea about drama and happiness.

Often quoted but rarely understood, the first sentence of Anna Karenina—“All happy families resemble each other; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”—offers a paradoxical insight into what is truly important in human lives. What exactly does this sentence mean?

In War and Peace and in a variant of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy quotes a French proverb: “Happy people have no history.” Where there are dramatic events, where there is material for an interesting story, there is unhappiness. The old curse—“May you live in interesting times!”—suggests that the more narratable a life is, the worse it is.

With happy lives and happy families, there is no drama to relate. What are you going to say: They woke up, breakfasted, didn’t quarrel, went to work, dined pleasantly, and didn’t quarrel again?

Happy families resemble each other because there is no story to tell about them. But unhappy families all have stories, and each story is different.
I was writing about this idea yesterday. Patience and tolerance are demonstrated in undramatic ways. People don't make flamboyant displays of tolerance unless they are passive-aggressively attempting to communicate something else. Real tolerance comes in what isn't said, what isn't confronted. The person who listens to you, stays with you through the dull times, and makes you feel loved is the patient one.

A while back, a video guy told me about working on a TV project which was essentially Jon & Kate Plus 8 with an African-American family. They recorded several situations with this family, but the project never came together because the parents were loving and self-controlled and their kids were well-mannered and disciplined. Whenever a child started to get out of line, a parent would take him aside and correct him. Problem solved = no drama. Who wants to watch a loving family handle their problems respectfully?

Are Anchormen Worth Watching?

Take a look at this culture shock from 1954. It's Camel News Caravan, brought to you by the makers of Camel cigarettes--so mild and smooth.



This video came to my attention while reading Frank Rich's article on whether the TV news anchorman is a relevant job anymore. Though anchormen are popular, he cites "60 Minutes" as a successful news program without a steady anchor.

Alex Carp chips in. "What is going to come back, in my view, is the importance of sector expertise, on-scene reporting, and enterprise journalism. I saw a poster in Times Square the other day for the new season of HBO’s Vice magazine show. You know what the tagline is? 'We go there.' It’s a sad day when a newsmagazine can use 'we go there' as a distinctive selling point."

When non-persons are murdered

Gene Edward Veith writes on the horrific murders of Kenyan university students here. What impresses me most about the story, and the larger story of Christian persecution in the Islamic world, is how, despite all the coverage, nobody seems to have any plans to do anything about it. Expressions of outrage seem to be the limit.

I think I see a reason for this. Nobody really cares, because these Christians occupy no conceptual place in the mind of the world. Or at least in the mind of the world's opinion makers.

In contemporary thought, there are two religious alternatives for third world people. They can belong to indigenous religions, such as animism, or they can be Muslims.

In the eyes of the world, Christianity is a religion for white westerners only. Anyone not white or western, in this view, should not be a Christian. If they are Christian, they are somehow "inauthentic." Uncle Toms. Race traitors. In a sense they deserve anything that is done to them.

They are non-persons in the eyes of the world.

But "precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints" (Psalm 116:15).

He Is Risen!

Waiting for Gabriel's call

Christ Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

No Dawn for Men, by James LePore and Carlos Davis



This sounded like fun. A crossover of two very popular and very different fiction series.

It's well known that Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, was a genuine British intelligence agent during World War II.

It's probably less well known, but hardly a secret, that J. R. R. Tolkien, creator of The Lord of the Rings, was offered a book deal in Germany previous to World War II, on the condition that he sign a statement to the effect that he had no Jewish blood. He turned the offer down in a letter which is a masterpiece of elegant dismissiveness.

So what if Tolkien had not sent a letter? What if he had actually gone to Berlin on a secret espionage job, assigned to him by the agent Ian Fleming?

That's the premise of No Dawn for Men. Lots of possibilities here. How would Fleming and Tolkien have gotten along? What would they have said to each other, thought of each other?

Alas, this book does little to illuminate those questions. There is one scene where the two authors talk a bit about their basic values, but it doesn't really lead anywhere. Fleming and Tolkien follow essentially separate paths through the story, Fleming acting like Bond and Tolkien like... oh, Bilbo Baggins perhaps, though a bit wiser, in a narrative with supernatural elements. He's even given genuine underground-dwelling dwarves to travel with, which does not add to the credibility of the story.

The two plot threads occupy the page space like oil and water. The whole thing didn't work very well, in my opinion.

Not awful, but nothing to seek out.

Dark Days Ahead?

A law professor talked privately to Rod Dreher about his fears for the future in the context of religious freedom bullying.

“In California right now, judges can’t belong to the Boy Scouts now. Who knows if in the future, lawyers won’t be able to belong to churches that are considered hate groups?” he said. “It’s certainly true that a lot of law firms will not now hire people who worked on cases defending those on the traditional marriage side. It’s going to close some professional doors. I certainly wouldn’t write about this stuff in my work, not if I wanted to have a chance at tenure. There’s a question among Christian law professors right now: do you write about these issues and risk tenure? This really does distort your scholarship. Christianity could make a distinct contribution to legal discussions, but it’s simply too risky to say what you really think.”

The emerging climate on campus of microaggressions, trigger warnings, and the construal of discourse as a form of violence is driving Christian professors further into the closet, the professor said.

“If I said something that was construed as attacking a gay student, I could have my life made miserable with a year or two of litigation — and if I didn’t have tenure, there could be a chance that my career would be ruined,” he said. “Even if you have tenure, a few people who make allegations of someone being hateful can make a tenured professor’s life miserable.”

“What happened to Brendan Eich” — the tech giant who was driven out of Mozilla for having made a small donation years earlier to the Prop 8 campaign — “is going to start happening to a lot of people, and Christians had better be ready for it. The question I keep thinking about is, why would we want to do that to people? But that’s where we are now.”
These teachers, students--Christians of all professions--will have to ask themselves whether they believe Christ Jesus, whose kingdom will never end, was joking when he told us to seek his kingdom first and look to God to provide what we need.

How Easter Shows Britain's Value Shift

"In the confused mishmash which constitutes religious education in our schools, it is considered fine to concentrate on what cakes different faith groups eat and what flags they wave. But to suggest Jesus was a unique figure in history would be seen as dangerous brainwashing, and to say ours was a basically Christian culture would be elitist."

The Frustrating Significance of Reading Pynchon

Nick Ripatrazone observes, "In a 1978 debate with William Gass at the University of Cincinnati, John Gardner said the fiction of Anthony Trollope is rarely taught 'because it’s all clear.' In contrast, 'every line of Thomas Pynchon you can explain because nothing is clear.' The result: 'the academy ends up accidentally selecting books the student may need help with. They may be a couple of the greatest books in all history and 20 of the worst, but there’s something to say about them.' Gardner warned that 'The sophisticated reader may not remember how to read: he may not understand why it’s nice that Jack in the Beanstalk steals those things from the giant.'"

Gardner also called Pynchon “a brilliant man, but his theory of what fiction ought to do is diametrically opposed to mine, and while I think he’s wonderful and ought to be read — besides which it’s a pleasure — I don’t want anybody confusing him with the great artists of our time. He’s a great stunt-man.”

Ripatrazone goes on to talk about the difficulties and importance of teaching Pynchon : "I end with Pynchon because his fiction is difficult, dated, and frustrating: exactly what my students need to read before they go to college."

Song for Maundy Thursday

#ThingsJesusNeverSaid

Love is what you make it. Whatever you call love, it's all good.

Love your neighbors, like the Samaritans, except the hateful ones.

RT @rcsprouljr: #thingsJesusneversaid When the culture despises you/when perversion is protected & celebrated/when your political clout is gone all is lost.

I don't know when this Twitter hashtag was started, but it's been revived for the clash with Indiana Armies of Intolerance, who say they want to defend religious freedom, but we all know what they really want, right? It's obvious. Let's rally to drive them all out of business in the name of freedom and respect.

Last year, people were talking #ThingsJesusNeverSaid with images like these. I just shared #11.

Clearly a tag like this cuts both ways. Jesus didn't say many things, and everyone has put words into his mouth, but those who disrespect him may have done this more than anyone.

Jesus never said, "Put my name on something fun. Draw people to the Christian brand, and I will be honored."

He didn't say, "Watch yourself. If you get out of line, the Father will hammer you."

Or this, "Stop thinking about my teaching. Just believe what I say."

Feel free to add to the list.

The Fruit of Evolution

How Hegel's concept of a universal mind, a spiritual evolutionary process, gave us postmodernism, deconstructionism, and political correctness.

Over time, Hegel's pantheism was secularized and his Absolute Spirit was reduced to a metaphor -- the spirit of the age, the Zeitgeist. (In German, Zeit means time or age; Geist means spirit.) What remained, however, was the idea that individuals are "unconscious tools" of the Zeitgeist. They are not producers of culture so much as products of a particular culture. Individuals are shaped by the communities they belong to, each with its own shared perspective, values, habits, language, and forms of life.

In our own day, this has led to the extreme conclusion that everyone's ideas are merely social constructions stitched together by cultural forces. Individuals are little more than mouthpieces for communities based on race, class, gender, ethnicity, and sexual identity.
This comes from Nancy Pearcey's Finding Truth: Five Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes.

'Contemporary scholarly methods do not always lead one to truth'

Seven essential lessons from Thomas Oden, an evangelical scholar in a secular academy:

  1. Contemporary scholarly methods do not always lead one to truth.
  2. Many of the questions raised by modern scholars have been addressed (long) before in the history of Christianity.
  3. The quest for originality and newness can be a dangerous one.
  4. Scholarly views can have serious social consequences.
  5. The modern scholarly community is not tolerant like people think.
  6. A faithful voice can have a significant impact.
  7. Modern Ideologies will eventually collapse under their own weight.

Non-review: The Shadow and Night, by Chris Walley

One of our readers asked for my reaction to The Shadow and Night, the beginning of a science fiction series by Chris Walley. I gave it a try. Perhaps I didn't give it enough time.

The story is set in the distant future, in a universe where (as far as I understand it) the Lord has established His millennial Kingdom. The story starts on a distant planet, which has been terraformed and colonized by humans. A demonic rebellion is coming, but I didn't read that far.

I'm sure I should have given the book more of a chance than I did, but I found nothing in what I read that engaged me. The writing seemed to me entirely lacking in any spark, the characters dull, the dialogue lackluster. This was supposed to be a more or less sinless universe, as I understood it, and sinlessness here seemed boring. Stereotypical soft-serve Christian storytelling in a bland setting.

Judging by other people's reviews on Amazon, it may well be that the book improves as it goes along. But looking ahead at the number of pages yet to read, and judging by the small amount of fun I was having at the beginning, I gave up on it.

Don't judge the book by my experience.

Difficult to Speak Out

Jackie Robinson said, "Virtually every time the black stands up like a man to make a protest or tell a truth as he sees it..." Read the full quote through the link. I share this because I believe it, and as a white man, I don't feel entirely free to share thoughts like this. The politics on this issue are too ugly and complicated to hold my confidence. I suppose this is fertile ground for humility.

MORE: Piper writes from his own experience on reasons white people don't like to talk about race. One reason is some people's habit of hamstringing the conversation by trying to kill honest words.

'U-Turn' Paints Conflicted Picture of America

Throckmorton describes an odd conflict of research in a recent book by George Barna and David Barton, U-Turn: Restoring America to the Strength of its Roots. "U-Turn examines current cultural trends and historical patterns," the publisher states, "to reveal that America cannot sustain its strength if it remains on its current path. Combining current research with the authors’ trademark insight and analysis, the book gives readers a unique view of the moral and spiritual condition of Americans and provides specific insights into how we can turn our nation around."

Apparently the research isn't current enough, because the group that still bears Barna's name refutes some of it. "Barna in 2011 rebuts the Barna of 2014 (which is really an amplification of Barna of 2006)," Throckmorton explains. "The 2014 Barna says '61 percent of Christian youth who attend college abandon their faith as a result.' The 2011 Barna said that statement contains two myths." Read on to learn about those myths.

We'll Learn Ya

“Whiplash” — teaching success the old fashioned way, through humiliation, with hurling cymbals.

How to remember everything with or without a mind palace.

Yeats steered Ireland away from science, beginning in 1889: “There are two boats going to sea. In which shall we sail? There is the little boat of science. Every century a new little boat of science starts and is shipwrecked; and yet again another puts forth, gaily laughing at its predecessors. Then there is the great galleon of tradition, and on board it travel the great poets and dreamers of the past.”

Lifeway Pulls Heaven Tourism Books

Last year, the Southern Baptist Convention resolved that the Bible tells us enough about the afterlife and that experiential claims can't trump it. In light of recent bestsellers and movies, their influence on even biblically literate believers, and Scripture refusal to tell us personal experiences with the afterlife, SBC messengers "reaffirm the sufficiency of biblical revelation over subjective experiential explanations to guide one’s understanding of the truth about heaven and hell."

Yesterday, Lifeway softly announced it would follow suit, saying it is taking a new direction. A spokesman said, "We decided these experiential testimonies about heaven would not be a part of our new direction, so we stopped re-ordering them for our stores last summer."

I hope the business tactics used to obtain the Malarkey family book will not be part of this new direction as well.

Talking Hymns with Kevin Twit

Kevin Twit of Indelible Grace, at Cathedral Church of the Advent, Birmingham, Alabama, with Matt Schneider.

Still Arguing Over Saul Bellow

Lee Seigel describes the influence Saul Bellow had on him and a new biography of this important 20th century author who has been somewhat forgotten.

This spring, on the centennial of his birth and the tenth anniversary of his death, Bellow will burst from posthumous detention. A volume of his collected nonfiction is being published, as well as the fourth and last installment of the Library of America edition of his work. But the main event will be Zachary Leader’s biography The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, coming out in May, which portrays Bellow up to 1964. Orchestrated by Bellow’s literary executor, literary superagent Andrew Wylie (who replaced Wasserman), this massive life by Leader, also Wylie’s client, is transparently meant as a corrective to the authorized biography published by Atlas in 2000, which presented Bellow as a racist and a woman-hater, among other things, and accelerated Bellow’s fall from literary grace.

You can feel the lines being drawn and the gloves going up as you read Leader’s book. Leader very deliberately presents Bellow’s life in a way meant to rebut charges of Bellow’s racism and misogyny one by one. And where Atlas meanly dwells on Bellow’s minor failures — a short-lived literary magazine, several unsuccessful plays — Leader rightly celebrates his triumphs. Where Atlas resentfully interprets Bellow’s characters as reflections of their author’s narcissism, Leader gratifyingly shows how Bellow transformed his personal limitations into liberating art.

The Importance of Being Bernstein

"One of the keys to interpreting Bernstein’s career thus seems to involve the importance of music education—not just playing band in high school, or hearing a few minutes of Bach on the radio as you drive home from school, but actually studying the mechanics of music and appreciating its fruitful historical unveiling."

Bernstein drew many people into his music and helped them appreciate higher arts in general.

Spurgeon on Reading

More from Spurgeon on 2 Timothy 4:13, in which Paul asks for someone to bring him his books.

Even an apostle must read. Some of our very ultra Calvinistic brethren think that a minister who reads books and studies his sermon must be a very deplorable specimen of a preacher. A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot, and talks any quantity of nonsense, is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men's brains—oh! that is the preacher.

How rebuked are they by the apostle! He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a men to utter, yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!

The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, "Give thyself unto reading." The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men's brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master's service.

The Magnificent Creation of the Almighty

Are there not things which our short-sightedness would call trifles in the volume of creation around us? What is the peculiar value of the daisy upon the lawn, or the buttercup in the meadow? Compared with the rolling sea, or the eternal hills, how inconsiderable they seem! Why has the humming bird a plumage so wondrously bejewelled, and why is so much marvellous skill expended upon the wing of a butterfly? Why such curious machinery in the foot of a fly, or such a matchless optical arrangement in the eye of a spider? Because to most men these are trifles, are they to be left out of nature's plans? No; because greatness of divine skill is as apparent in the minute as in the magnificent.
(from C.H. Spurgeon)

Personal update

Good afternoon, and thank you for your patience.

As you've noticed if you're a regular reader, my blog posting has been light for more than a year now. You may also be aware that I've been keeping dog's hours (is that a real saying? Sounds right, but most dogs I know generally sleep when they like and work very little) studying online for my Master's in Library and Information Science.

This, of course, explains my frequent absences. I'm stuffing my head full of high-falutin' book-larnin' notions, and now figure I'm too good for simple folk like you.

No, no, no, of course not. The sooner I can get away from academics, the happier I'll be. I'm a pin-headed Middle American yahoo, and the stress of trying to blend in with my classmates (even online) may kill me before I get through to graduation.

But I'm doing OK. Generally good grades, especially on my papers.

This week was spring break. I didn't actually relax much because the Norwegian publisher I've been translating for, with exquisite timing, dropped some more work on me. I'll get the translation back to them later today, so that worked out. The book, by the way, is supposed to be titled The Viking Legacy now, and seems to be coming late spring or in the summer. I'll keep you posted.

In other news, my bad hip continues to improve under a regimen of stationary bike riding and mobility exercises.

So life could be worse. Thanks for your interest.

Fakes Quotes, Real Quotes

8 Walt Disney Quotes That Are Actually Fake

Remembering Mister Rogers: 10 Heartwarming Quotes (Photos). Happy Birthday, Fred.

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