"If our water supply were as muddy as much of our pretentious prose, all flavors of Jell-O would look brown."

- Kathryn Lindskoog, Creative Writing: For People Who Can't Not Write
The Myth that Religion and Science Constantly Conflict

"The so-called 'war' between faith and learning, specifically between orthodox Christian theology and science, was manufactured during the second half of the nineteenth century. It is a construct that was created for polemical purposes."

Justin Taylor explains this quote from historian Timothy Larsen by pointing to the popular work of two men:

  • Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the founding president of Cornell University, and
  • John William Draper (1811-1882), professor of chemistry at the University of New York.
He says these myth lied about history in order to create the impression that orthodox Christians had always opposed scientific investigations and inventions. Two of the myth they popularized were that the church-dominated medieval world believed in a flat earth and that Christians opposed anesthetics in childbirth based on an interpretation of the Genesis curse.

Pound Eats a Peacock

Poet Ezra Pound, whose hair launched a thousand conversations, planned a luncheon with his employer, William Butler Yeats, to serve a distinguished older poet, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, a peacock at his manor. "The maneuverings of poets and literary people, jostling for fame behind the keyhole of glimpsed conviviality, is as old as Rome, older even; but Pound had a special gift for P.R."

Leonard Nimoy's Other Roles

The actor best known as Mr. Spock died today. Leonard Nimoy leaves behind many appearances in shows outside the Star Trek universe, such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E.


Mission Impossible, where he played Paris from 1969-1971

On Perry Mason (spoiler) Read the rest of this entry . . .

Engaging the Natural World

African-American poets write about nature from a perspective of working the land or engaging it personally. Poet Camille Dungy observes, "There is kind of this tradition to western nature poetry that is about objectification and idealization of the landscape. Kind of city boys writing about how lovely it would be to live in the country." This isn't how African-American poets think of the land as shown in 400 years of writing. (via Books, Inq.)

Which of Marvel's Avengers Is the Best?

Here's a good example of this blog's need for a politics category. Here's a post ranking all the Avengers according to their value to the team. For example, The Wasp comes in at #3. "If Captain America epitomizes the Avengers, Janet Van Dyne is still its heart and soul. She was a founding member, has led the team through some of its most difficult moments, and has the unequivocal respect of gods, robots, and the most powerful beings in the cosmos. Marvel actually put it best when it said if the Avengers were asked to rank themselves, The Wasp would likely be #1."

Are You Ready to Write a Book?

Stephen Altrogge, Barnabas Piper, and Ted Kluck have recorded 29 episodes of their Happy Rant Podcasts, talking about stuff, junk, and things, to be specific. Here they chat about when one is ready to write a book and buying your way onto the bestseller list. They introduce proven schemes to move your book forward and reach readers you wouldn't have reached with the subject or quality of your writing. If your book is mediocre, these guys are willing to take your money and move your book. Some may call this selling out. The Happy Rant crew calls it selling up. The bottomline is giving them your money. I'm sure it works. I haven't tried it, but I'm sure it works.

KFC To Offer Edible Coffee Cups

KFC in the UK is running the final tests on their new Scoff-ee Cup, an edible cup to be offered with Seattle's Best Coffee brand beverages. "The 100% edible cup is made from a special, wafer-like biscuit, then wrapped in sugar paper and lined with a layer of heat-resistant white chocolate."

Naturally, this is a fabulous idea, but they want to make sure it works well in many circumstances before releasing it to the public. No one wants their little dessert cup to melt in their hand while chatting up a cute girl they just met. No plans for US release yet.

Great Fun Being a Journalist

Mollie Z. Hemingway offers great advice on how to excel in journalism in today's world.

"Don’t Sweat the Details. Is there a difference between an Evangelical and an evangelist? Who cares?"

"Don't question authority. ... if a politician suggests that the reports of scandal surrounding his administration are overblown, leave him alone already. Would he lie?"

A journalist's job is to advance his ideological narrative. "CNBC’s John Harwood said recently, 'Those of us in political-media world should just shut up about "narratives" and focus on what’s true.' Spoken like a real nobody."

She's got a good piece. I recommend it too all non-fiction writers. Of course, all of it could be summarized by quoting Henry Kissinger, who said, "Allow me to be the first to say that what we have done here is not a good thing. It's definitely not a good thing. But it was, given the circumstances, the smart play."

No Plans to Publish 'Jefferson Lies'

Though Lifeway still sells The Jefferson Lies, Thomas Nelson does not and after an investigation will not publish it. The author, David Barton, has stated Simon & Schuster will pick it this year, but that claim has been denied by the publisher's spokesman.

The Desire to Say Something New

"One of the dangers of evangelical publishing is the desire to say something novel," Tom Schreiner observes. "Our evangelical publishing houses could end up like those in Athens so long ago: 'Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new' (Acts 17:21, NASB)."

He says this in relation to the many books producing in support of egalitarian relationships.

Hollywood Has Never Been Original

Scott Beggs looks at top-grossing films and says originality isn't something Hollywood recently lost. He says it's never been an original thinking place. It's been a money-making place.

He explains, "The most original box office year was 1984 with 8 originals (Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, Gremlins, Karate Kid, Police Academy, Footloose, The Terminator and Romancing the Stone). Note how many of those got sequels or were remade. The least original box office years were (of course) 2011 and 2012, although 1968, 1972, 2007, 2013 and 2014 all only had a single original movie make the top ten."

'Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra,' by J. M. N. Reynolds.

The college president pointed to Maximos as an example of the diversity of the college and Maximos would not-so-quietly note that the college had hired nobody else like him since the day his Berkeley degree had fooled them into a bad guess about his views.

A couple weeks ago I "met" Prof. John Mark N. Reynolds, provost of Houston Baptist University, when he and some others interviewed me for a podcast (which will be posted in early March; I'll let you know). I had such a good time that I decided to check out his books, and found that he'd published a fantasy novel. I bought it for my Kindle, though well aware that academic achievement does not necessarily a good novelist make.

I'm happy to report that Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra is extremely good.

The main character is Peter Alexis, a university instructor in Rochester, NY, plagued by recurring dreams about the deaths of Czar Nicholas II and his family. A seeming seizure pulls him back to that event so vividly that his friends fear he'll never regain consciousness in the present. But when he does return, he has begun to remember what happened in his 16th year, when he was king of Barterra, a world in another dimension.

What Reynolds does here (and generally very successfully) is to merge a Charles Williams story with a Narnia story. The events on our world, in the first section, are extremely Williamsian, and convey the same atmosphere. They center on Peter and his Inklingesque circle of friends, a fellowship of Christians. Then they travel to Barterra, faced with the task of undoing Peter's great failure from his last visit. The book ends with promises of at least one sequel, which I hope will be forthcoming. An odd feature is the considerable use of Eastern Orthodox elements.

I have some criticisms. There were some narrative bumps -- confusing scene jumps and occasions when interior monologue went on too long. But taken all in all it was a very good read in the tradition of Williams and Lewis, and I think both those authors would have approved.


Why Read This Book on Luther?

Dr. Martin Marty, who has written his own book on Martin Luther, praise a new book from Westminster Theological Seminary Professor Carl Trueman.

"What readers must by the end have found remarkable is the way Dr. Trueman has brought clarity and some sense of system to the often obscure, paradoxical, and anything-but-systematic writings of Luther on the Christian life. I would argue that Trueman has served well by keeping his feet on firm ground as he has stood on an approach to Christian life which he sometimes calls Presbyterian or Reformed or evangelical, often in differing combinations."

Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom, from the Theologians on the Christian Life series by Crossway, was released this month.

Walton Street: Where Wodehouse Lived

"Once home to the humorist P.G. Wodehouse, Walton Street still emanates an old-school English charm," writes Amiee Farrell. "Though flanked by Harrods and The Conran Shop, it’s an enclave of independent, if occasionally chichi, antiques and interiors shops, and art galleries and boutiques that has — so far — bucked the trend for high-end homogenization."

I thought you'd want to know this. No need to thank me.

And on a loosely related note, Gene Veith talks about Sacramone's list of funniest books, saying Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy should be on the list.

Black Market for Textbooks

In Mauritania, where 60 percent of the country is under age 25, school books are hard to find. Added to what distribution issues publishers may have, thieves are taking books to sell on the black market. Where a book should cost under $1 at a legal bookseller, on the black market it will be sell for $10.

Aldada Weld El-Salem, who is in his thirties, said he was lucky to find six schoolbooks for his daughter for a total of 20,000 Ouguiya ($68.81) on the black market.

“I did not want to risk the future of my daughter so I recently gave in to the prices of the dealers and I paid whatever they asked for,” he said. “I did not want my daughter to be a victim of the indifference of the official authorities toward a current crisis afflicting all of Mauritania’s schools.”
(via The Literary Saloon)

Why 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Won't Die

Sam Tanenhaus answers the question of To Kill a Mockingbird's endurance.

"For all the merits of the latest criticism of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” its appeal never rested on its realistic picture of Southern life. It was anachronistic even in its day (one reason, perhaps, that Lee set the action much earlier). There were sit-ins in Nashville and in Greensboro, N.C., in February 1960, five months before “To Kill a Mockingbird” was published. Within a year the Freedom Rides had challenged Lee’s sorting of humanity into simple categories -- the high-minded Finches and the humble, hard-working African-Americans who look to them for protection, both groups united against the 'ignorant, trashy people' who represent the true danger to the community." (via Books, Inq.)

The Rain-Soaked Poet, Philip Levine

A U.S. Poet Laureate died last weekend. Philip Levine, a Detroit native, was the 18th U.S. Poet Laureate. He was caught in the rain one day when his neighbor noticed him.

Michael Bourne tells the story and a bit more. "The anger that filled him in his early years was of no use to him as a writer, he told me. 'It was a huge hindrance because it meant I couldn’t write anything worth a damn about that work life,' he said. 'I couldn’t get that disinterestedness that’s often required. I couldn’t get Wordsworth’s tranquility. It took me until I was about 35 before I really wrote a poem that was about work.'”

Read some of Levine's poems here.

Bookstores Finding Small Spaces to Survive

Borders and other large bookstores have closed over the past several years, leaving some towns without a local bookseller. Some business owners are trying out smaller spaces as a sustainable business model for their brick-and-mortar stores.

Judith Rosen reports,

This 1,200 sq. ft. store in Beverly, Cabot Street Books & Cards, which opens in May, will also be paired with an Atomic Cafe. “We’re trying to get the model right,” said Hugo. “I’m hoping we can do more of these. The stock is managed better because booksellers touch it and feel it within 10 ft. of their desk. The trick is traffic.”

The Rifleman on DVD

The Rifleman (five seasons from 1958-1963) is now out on DVD. Marvin Olasky writes that it isn't only a great western, but has a unique leading man. "Lucas McCain was also a compassionate conservative, supporting a recovering alcoholic who became a marshal, giving an ex-con a job on his ranch, and helping a man from China open a laundry. In one episode McCain could not believe that an old enemy had changed and become a doctor, but he admitted his mistake after the former adversary helped him in a gunfight."

The D. C. Smith novels, by Peter Grainger

It's been a week or two since I finished reading the D. C. Smith mystery novels, and I'd better review them before I forget them completely. Not that they're forgettable -- they were quite impressive.

D. C. Smith is an interesting continuing detective character, and has been compared to another English police detective, Inspector Morse, by reviewers. But after reading An Accidental Death, But For the Grace, and Luck and Judgement, I would say that a closer parallel would be the American TV cop, Columbo. Smith is the kind of man who tends to be underestimated by suspects, witnesses, and even other cops. He's small, shabby, and unprepossessing. He knows this and uses it to his advantage. In fact he's generally the smartest person in the room, and has commando fighting skills. He also plays a mean rock guitar, though not often since the loss of his beloved wife to cancer.

His name is kind of a joke. "D.C." in English police slang means "Detective Constable." This is what everyone calls him, but he's actually a Detective Sergeant. He used to be a Detective Inspector, but voluntarily took a demotion to be closer to street-level puzzle solving.

As is my wont, I was more interested in the character than in the mysteries as such. I found the D. C. Smith books very enjoyable. No great moral lessons here -- Smith the character is an open skeptic about religion, and But For the Grace deals with the question of assisted suicide in a pretty ambiguous manner.

One odd thing is that I found the books very slow in places. Sometimes I wanted to tell the author to just move things along. Nevertheless, I liked the books and stayed with them to see what Smith would do next. I recommend them with the usual cautions.

Two Books at a Time

Seen in Philadelphia, a reader of two good books.

Most Provocative Book in Ten Years

"If a more provocative book has been written in the last 10 years, I haven’t read it," states Collin Hansen. "But that’s not because David Platt rejects biblical teaching, as we’ve seen with some other young pastors. And that’s not because Counter Culture advances any particular sectarian theological agenda that would repel other evangelicals. Counter Culture is the most controversial book I’ve seen in at least the last decade mostly because he restates the teaching of Jesus and his Word without any qualifications, with little attempt to cast such demanding beliefs in a way that would appeal to modern readers."

Hansen marvels at Platt's boldness, quoting him on our resistance to God's direction: "If there were 1,000 ways to God, we would want 1,001."

Balance of Imperfection

"The structure of routine comforts us, and the specialness of ritual vitalizes us," explains Maria Popova. "A full life calls for both — too much control, and we become mummified; too little excitement and pleasurable discombobulation, and we become numb. After all, to be overly bobulated is to be dead inside — to doom oneself to a life devoid of the glorious and ennobling messiness of the human experience."

She rejoices over a book by Anne Lamott on organizing our chaos with hope.

Lincoln Pored Over Shakespeare

Patrick Kurp remarks on the careful prose of Abraham Lincoln, whom he calls one of the greatest prose writers among U.S. presidents. And occasionally quite funny.

"In a letter he wrote from Springfield, Ill., to Mrs. Orville H. Browning on Jan. 27, 1838, Abraham Lincoln, then a member of the Illinois General Assembly, tells a tall-tale, purportedly true, worthy of Mark Twain. It involves the matchmaking efforts of another friend on behalf of her sister." Read on.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Happy President's DayEveryone loves a good presidential birthday, don't they? Your social media feeds are loaded with them. Birthday music has been playing non-stop for the whole week. We can get top appliances for 30% off this weekend #stopthemadness!

But let's not limit our focus to Lincoln, once a licensed bartender, whose birthday is today, or to Washington, who had to borrow money to make it to his inauguration and whose birthday is February 22. Let's celebrate presidential birthdays all year long. Come on, ring those bells, citizens. Most of the truthful information in this post comes from randomhistory.com.

February holds two more presidential birthdays. William Henry Harrison was born on February 9, 1773. His inaugural address was 100 minutes long, which roughly 0.25% of his entire term in office. He died of pneumonia on his 32nd day as president.

Ronald Reagan was born February 6, 1911. He took up eating jelly beans as a way to stop pipe smoking, and he developed partial hearing loss in one ear one a movie set when a gun was fired next to his ear. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Engage Your Reading

Dorothy Sayers encourages readers to engage the work in their laps, not just kill time with it.

"Pray get rid of the idea that books are each a separate thing, divided from one another and from life. Read each in the light of all the others, especially in the light of books of another kind," she says.

If you don't like what you're reading, think through your reasons. "Does the subject displease you? — and if so, is it by any chance one of those disquieting things that you 'would rather not know about', though you really ought not to shirk it? Does the author’s opinion conflict with some cherished opinion of your own? — If so, can you give reasons for your own opinion? (Do try and avoid the criticism that begins: 'We do not like to think' this, that or the other; it is often so painfully true that we do not like to think.)"

She also thinks marking up your book is foolish, perhaps because you won't remember where to find your notes afterwards.

In response to this, Alan Jacobs observes the different occasions for reading and how they aren't all the same. We read for fun and we read for specific purposes, and not necessarily at the same time.

What many of these people really want, it seems to me — and I base this on decades of talking with folks who are anxious about their reading — is not to read Henry James but to be the kind of person who, when left at loose ends, positively wants to read Henry James, wants to read Henry James so much that he or she will toss aside Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Fifty Shades of Grey without even noticing what they are in order to get to that precious copy of The Ambassadors that someone has inexplicably left at the bottom of a stack.

I think it’s okay not to be that person.

'The unique grace and influence of a word become flesh.'

James K. A. Smith spoke to a collection of writers and editors for small journals on his love of magazines and principles for their development.

I believe in magazines. You could even say my devotion to Stoke ‘zine was a kind of “common grace” expression of believing in the sacramental power of the Word. It’s like I had a inchoate sense of the unique grace and influence of a word become flesh.

All of that to say: I believe in what you are doing, and it’s an honor to think with you about this calling to publish our little journals. To be committed to such endeavors is to believe, as Raymond Carver put it, in “small good things.”

. . .

My colleague Fr. Raymond de Souza, editor of Convivium magazine, recalls a conversation he once had with Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, the founder of First Things: “‘Raymond,” he said, “if you want to advance an idea, write a book. But if you want to change a culture, you need a magazine. Because magazines are literally periodical, they create an ongoing community—readers, writers, editors, benefactors. And only communities can change cultures.”
He offers a few high altitude principles and some practical tips on getting the work done. (via Justin Taylor)

How the Apocalypse United Fundamentalists

I remember my high school history teacher explaining that though "fundamentalist" was a term of disapproval, all believers held to the fundamentals of the Bible, so we could all be called fundamentalists. That may have been one of the many encouragements I've received over the years that has made me comfortable with political and theological labels. I think I'm stepping away from that now.

Dr. Matthew Hall reviews Matthew Sutton's new history of twentieth century evangelicalism, American Apocalypse. He says evangelicals tried to distinguish themselves from fundamentalists in different ways, but in fact they were more similar than they wanted to admit. "The entire tradition shares a premillennial expectation of an imminent and traumatic second coming of Christ," Hall writes. Sutton believes that primary context shaped many theological doctrines.

American Apocalypse will make a great many evangelical readers uncomfortable. Because of his extensive work in primary sources, Sutton has—better than anyone else—documented the ways in which some of the most prominent, and beloved, white evangelical and fundamentalist figures were enmeshed within their own cultural context. This enculturation manifested itself routinely in anti-Semitism, white supremacy, and nativism. Whether it’s reading Harold Ockenga’s anti-Semitic assessment of Jews in Hollywood, or the myriad of voices justifying white supremacy and indicting racial intermarriage, Sutton shows how these attitudes weren’t on the fringe of the movement. Rather, they often inhabited its center.

Shameless quid pro quo

Yesterday I linked to Anthony Sacramone's announcement of a new edition of the Intercollegiate Review, over at Strange Herring.

Today, entirely by coincidence, he links to my interview at Issues, Etc.

Oh, who am I kidding? He goes into the Norman history of his Sicilian ancestors, and we Sicilians are all about scratching each other's backs.

That's a nice photo of me at the top of the blog post, too.

R.R. Reno on Critically Thinking about Critical Thinking

"When it comes to the intellectual life in our day, the fear of error—believing things as true when they are in fact false—far outweighs a desire for truth."

Watch this lecture from First Things editor R.R. Reno on how critical thinking has become more like criticism as an end to itself.

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