"If these stories are in fact the work of a young lady, they are indeed remarkable."

- Evelyn Waugh, speaking of stories written by Flannery O'Connor
Advent Ghost Stories 2014

"There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long. long ago."

Loren Eaton hosts another round of ghost stories centered on Christmastime. There are many here, and Loren has a couple himself. Note this on called "Elizabeth." Enjoy and post your comments.

He Can't Make a Christian

In her regular Thursday column, Bethany Jenkins gives us Martin Luther on the nonexistence of a sacred/secular divide . Here's part of it.

The pope or bishop anoints, shaves heads, ordains, consecrates, and prescribes garb different from that of the laity, but he can never make a man into a Christian or into a spiritual man by so doing. He might well make a man into a hypocrite or a humbug and blockhead, but never a Christian or a spiritual man. As far as that goes, we are all consecrated priests through baptism, as St. Peter says in 1 Peter 2:9, “You are a royal priesthood and a priestly realm.” The Apocalypse says, “Thou hast made us to be priests and kings by thy blood” (Rev. 5:9-10).

Today: Through the Eyes of Spurgeon

Watch a new documentary on C. H. Spurgeon today for free. It's called Through the Eyes of Spurgeon. Get the details here.

"Valkin' in my vinter undervear"

Back for a reprise: A ghost from my Christmas past. This guy is the late Roger Awsumb. In the '60s he used to play Casey Jones on the "Lunch With Casey" program on a Twin Cities TV station. This is probably the most popular thing he ever did.

Ayn Rand Didn't Understand Capitalism

Joe Carter breaks down the egoism of Ayn Rand.

"Reason, applied consistently, doesn’t lead us down a straight path to egoism, much less to capitalism. Examined closely, we would find that her entire Objectivist philosophy is founded on this simple question begging premise. . . .

"Ultimately, Rand’s egoism is irreconcilable with both Christianity and capitalism. In fact, since the system fails to have any true explanatory value, it’s difficult to find any reason to adopt Objectivism at all. Fortunately, we don’t have to buy into Rand’s philosophical errors in order to appreciate her fiction. We just have to keep in mind that instead of reading a “novel of ideas”, we are reading a work of fantasy."

Hunter Baker on the Ruin of Christian Higher Ed

Dr. Hunter Baker observes, "All universities, and certainly Christian ones, face a landscape in which students have been largely replaced by consumers." He says in his latest book, if Christian colleges try to be like their secular counterparts, they will fail on almost every level, particularly in their stated mission. On the other hand, if they integrate the worship of the Most High with every academic discipline, they will distinguish themselves and accomplish their mission. "Christian colleges can successfully argue that the best education connects with the mind, the body, and the soul."

This Is Abusive

"All abuse, whether laser-tipped irony or bare-knuckle fisticuffs, is best delivered coolly, without huffing and puffing. The best abuse looks effortless, the work of a ninja not a WWF wrestler." Patrick Kurp talks about An Anthology of Invective and Abuse from 1929.

Update: Still alive

I’m half way through.

I’ve finished the fall semester in my graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. I've completed 18 of the 36 credits I’ll need for graduation, and should have them all this time next year, the Lord willing. It’s all as time-consuming as I expected (no, more – I didn’t anticipate how intensive the work would be), but if I want to qualify for World Domination, sacrifices must be made.

I’ll try to post more often in the free time I’m about to have – the rest of December and most of January. But there are a lot of projects I’ve been putting off, and I find them clamoring for my evening time.

Anyway, thanks for your faithful readership.

Personally, I’m making physical progress. My new, android hip is working fine. The Original Manufacturer Equipment hip (the left one) still gives me some pain, but I’ve joined a health club and exercise it on a stationary bike three times a week. The improvement has been palpable, so I hope that with time I’ll be all better again.

And now, in keeping with the season, a Swedish Christmas song by Sissel:

Starbucks Opens the Coffee Temple

"These days, Starbucks stores function more like gas stations: They’re everywhere, and frequented for fuel," writes Margaret Rhodes for WIRED. But to compete with third wave coffee roasters for high-end coffee, Starbucks has restored a one-hundred-year-old building to host its Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room in Seattle. See the article for lots of pictures.

I'm thinking they keep the golden bulls in the back.

How (Not) to Be Secular by J.K.A. Smith Wins CT's 2015 Book Awards

Many titles are recommended in today's list of Christianity Today's 2015 Book Awards, among them is James K.A. Smith's work on Charles Taylor's How to Be Secular. Smith makes Taylor's work accessible to a broader audience and adds a good bit of commentary himself.

In the fiction category, CT picks Lila by Marilynne Robinson and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.

“Robinson slowly unfolds the story of Lila, a woman not quite defeated by a brutal, hardscrabble life, who discovers hope and security as the wife of an elderly pastor. Together, they wrestle with questions of the meaning of existence and the ultimate fate of humanity. Readers who loved Robinson’s earlier novel, Gilead, will discover the same breathtaking writing, beautifully painted scenes, and strong working knowledge of theology.” —Cindy Crosby, author of By Willoway Brook

And on The Invention of Wings:

“Based on the life of abolitionist Sarah Grimke and a fictional slave girl, Handful, the novel skillfully joins fiction and history, African American resilience and Southern white hypocrisy, Charlestonian exuberance and Quaker idealism. Kidd reminds us that the foundation of social injustice is ordinary human selfishness.” —Betty Smartt Carter, author of Home Is Always the Place You Just Left

'Manual of Mockery,' by Ori Pomerantz

Our friend Ori Pomerantz has published another little e-book (I got mine free, for the record). This one is called Manual of Mockery, and its ostensible purpose is to instruct people in how to create good Internet memes.

In fact, it's an accessible short course in basic logical argument.


VIDEO: "Our Stories of Faith and Film"

Here's a video of the panel discussion held October 24 during the 2014 Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture, Faith and Film. It was called "The Lives of (Three) Others: Our Stories of Faith and Film."

• John Wilson, Editor of Books and Culture and Editor-at-Large for Christianity Today
• William Romanowski, Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences, Calvin College
• Alissa Wilkinson, Assistant Professor of English and Humanities, The King’s College and Film Critic for Christianity Today Movies

Are We Witnessing a Writing Resurgence in Evangelicalism?

Owen Strachan thinks so. "Be of good cheer, evangelical-arts-aficionados. Good things are afoot."

"You'll have to find somewhere else to sleep"

Chicken coop, Coupeville, Island County, WA. Photo by Anne E. Kidd. Library of Congress

Today I was reminded of a man I wrote about here some years back. He’s gone now, and one of his relatives came to the library today to donate several cartons of books from his personal collection.

I think it’s all right to give his full name now. It was Marvin Rodvik, and he lived in Franklin, Minnesota. I met him a couple times in my life. The last time he gave us another gift of books. He also told me a story, which I passed along in this blog. I’ll tell it again now, because it is, in my opinion, one of the best stories I ever heard for the Christmas season.

Marvin was a pastor’s kid. The story happened when he was a teenager, probably (by my calculations) around the time of World War II.

An entertainment event of some kind (he didn’t say what) was planned in their small town. Marvin announced at supper that he was going.

“You’re not going,” said his father. They belonged to a strict church, a congregation of the forerunner to my own church body.

“Yes I am,” said Marvin. “You can’t stop me.”

His father paused a moment. Then he said, “You’re right. I can’t stop you. But know this. If you go to that event, you’ll be locked out of this house when you come home tonight. You’ll have to find somewhere else to sleep.”

Read the rest of this entry . . .

Remaking TNR in Their Own Image

Chris Hughes, the owner of The New Republic, and new CEO Guy Vidra apparently don't care nothing for the history and style of their magazine or the people who have worked for it most recently. Both men are relatively new to the organization. Last Friday, the two arrived at the Washington office, having previously announced its closure and moving to New York, and were greeted by the mice and a few orphans.

I'm joking only a little. Ten contributing editors resigned over the firing of leading editors Franklin Foer and Leon Wieseltier. Foer had been given repeated assurance that his job was secure until the day he read in Gawker.com that he had been replaced.

According to multiple sources, Hughes came to think of his writers and editors as “spoiled brats,” and especially disliked the flamboyant, feud-prone, white-maned Wieseltier, who was more than twice his age. Much of Hughes’s distaste was telegraphed in his body language; he strikes many TNR staffers as passive-aggressive and averse to confrontation.

The friction escalated with the arrival of Vidra, who is said to have complained to Foer that the magazine was boring and that he couldn’t bring himself to read past the first 500 words of an article. According to witnesses, Vidra did little to hide his disrespect for TNR’s tradition of long-form storytelling and rigorous, if occasionally dense, intellectual and political analysis—to say nothing of his lack of interest in the magazine’s distinguished history—at an all-hands meeting in early October.
Vidra said to someone in the room, “Your brain is as dry as the remainder biscuit after voyage.” To which that someone replied, “There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.” They saw the writing on the wall at that point but did not leave until last week.

Hughes has been described as “a most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality.” I didn't get any sources for these quotations. In fact, you could say I made them up, but let's keep it nice, thou cream-faced loon.

N.D. Wilson on Adapting 'The Hound of Heaven' for Film

Author N.D. Wilson has directed a short film of the Francis Thompson poem, "The Hound of Heaven." Shadowlocked.com has part of an interview with Wilson on how everything came together.

So what's it like adapting somebody else's work as opposed to your own?

Well, honestly I'm far more comfortable adapting other people's stuff than my own. And actually, in some ways, because I can be a stickler. I can be a stickler to try to stay true as I possibly can to their vision, when I'm adapting their stuff. But when I'm adapting my stuff, I don't feel any loyalty at all to it. I feel complete and total authority to change whatever I want, whenever I want.

And so when I'm adapting C.S. Lewis or even trying to serve Francis Thompson, I felt like I could write an intro, like I could write an opening monologue for Propaganda, but I couldn't bring myself to edit the poem. No matter how many people told me, “Well, surely you're not going to do the whole poem”, it was like, “No, I'm gonna do the whole poem. I'm doing all of it.” Because I really wanted it to come through.

If I'm doing my own things, like I'm doing 100 Cupboards, I'm thinking, like, “Oh, wow, I can throw this part away, and do this other thing that I was going to have in the novel, and I needed to cut it for space, but now I can put it in. I can take things that ended up on the cutting room floor of my novel, and put them into the film.” And I feel completely at liberty to do that. And that's dangerous.
Read more about the movie here.

"I fled him . . . in the mist of tears . . .
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’"

SALE: The System Has a Soul by Hunter Baker

"What relevance does Christianity have in our societal system? What place does the church have in a system that so often seems to be ordered only by the ultra-complex machinery of state power and corporate strategy?"

Hunter Baker answers these questions and more in his collection of essays, The System Has a Soul: Essays on Christianity, Liberty, and Political Life. Get it today for almost half-price.

Admiration for Islam (and Godwin's Law)

Godwin's Law of Usenet discussions states that the longer a discussion of anything goes, the more likely someone will compare someone else to the Nazis. In other words, if you talk about My Little Pony in a discussion forum long enough, someone will call you a disciple of Hitler. So lets start this history post with our best foot forward.

Hilter admired Islam. "Both Hitler and Himmler had a soft spot for Islam. Hitler several times fantasized that, if the Saracens had not been stopped at the Battle of Tours, Islam would have spread through the European continent—and that would have been a good thing, since 'Jewish Christianity' wouldn’t have gone on to poison Europe."

But Muslims did not return the admiration in full. "Few Muslims believed Nazi claims that Hitler was the protector of Islam, much less the Twelfth Imam, as one Reich pamphlet suggested. The Nazis’ anti-Jewish propaganda no doubt attracted many Muslims, as historian Jeffrey Herf has documented, but they balked at believing that Hitler would be their savior or liberator. . . . In the end, more Muslims wound up fighting for the Allies than for the Axis." (via Prufrock)

Send Global Study Bibles to India, Africa, and Asia

Crossway Books is preparing "to distribute 250,000 free copies of the ESV Global Study Bible, to strategic leaders in strategic places, where the need is greatest." They have large matching grants in place and ask for our help to get these Bibles printed and distributed. They are praying to receive the needed funds by December 31.

The ESV Global Study Bible has 12,000 study notes adapted from the popular ESV Study Bible, plus a global application of each book, fourteen articles written by global Christian leaders, introductions and timelines for each Bible book, nearly 900 highlighted Bible facts, and more.

Minder, by Duncan MacMaster

A while back, I reviewed Joe Average, a satiric superhero story written by Duncan MacMaster, of the Furious D Show blog. I liked the book quite a bit.

I liked his recent novella, Minder, even better.

This is a dark and gritty story, suitable for a movie starring Liam Neeson. A crime boss in an unnamed city learns that a contract has been put out on a local woman cop. He doesn't want a cop killing in his town. It's bad for business. So he hires "Fitz," a professional killer and IRA veteran, to protect her.

The story is well-written, the characters believable, the dialogue excellent. It's simply a workmanlike hard-boiled story, entirely satisfying to the fan of the genre. The sort of thing Jack Higgins would have written before he ran out of steam. I wished it longer.


It Isn't Writing, It's Coding the Computer to Write

With NaNoWriMo coming to a close, let's look at November again as National Novel Generation Month. It's the month in which you write code that will spew forth a 50,000 word composition when you're done and work out the bugs. "Reading an entire generated novel is more a feat of endurance than a testament to the quality of the story, which tends to be choppy, flat, or incoherent by the standards of human writing," remarks the guy who came up with NaNoGenMo last year. You might read a few pages here and there, but really, this isn't Raymond Chandler. It's not even on the same city block.

Recommending 'The New World'

Observant film critic Jeffrey Overstreet recommends Terrence Malick's The New World for our Thanksgiving viewing. He shares his insights into the extended cut version and a personal encounter with Malick's father.

The New World is an extravagant achievement in historical recreation. It’s also the most refined example of Malick’s visual poetry, which he developed through Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line. He has a meditative style all his own that will aggravate many viewers who prefer straightforward narrative and conventional Hollywood flourishes. He’s not an entertainer so much as he is a poet who uses pictures instead of words. Creation itself pours forth speech, as the psalmist says, and Malick invites those with eyes to see to look closer and listen carefully.

Literature Comics

Two comics from Reparrish (via Loren Eaton):

Russian Literature Summarized

Writer Fights: Tolkien vs. Lewis

The Lizards of Storytelling

Author Jeff Vandermeer, a three-time Fantasy World Award-winning novelist who co-directs the Shared Worlds teen writing camp, says, "The way we're taught to analyze fiction is to break down and do a kind of autopsy. But I think writers need to be more like naturalists or zoologists when they study story because then you're looking at how all the elements fit together."

See infographics illustrating this idea and more from Wonderbook: The Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction.

P. D. James Dies, 94

Crime novelist Phyllis Dorothy James, also Baroness James of Holland Park, died today in her home. She was 94.

Her publisher states, "This is a very sad day for us at Faber. It is difficult to express our profound sadness at losing P. D. James, one of the world’s great writers and a Faber author since her first publication in 1962. She was so very remarkable in every aspect of her life, an inspiration and great friend to us all. It is a privilege to publish her extraordinary books. Working with her was always the best of times, full of joy. We will miss her hugely."

In this interview last year, Lady James talked about growing old with this, "All things rather close down eventually. I was waiting for the old brain to shut down, but I do hope that is the last thing to go."


"Some years ago," writes John Wilson, "I described the novelist and poet Marly Youmans as "the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers." That's still true today (so I think), and if you haven't tried Youmans yet, her new novel, Glimmerglass, is a very good place to start." (via Prufrock)

Faber's Book of Loss and Strange New Things

Michel Faber has a fascinating story behind his novel, The Book of Strange New Things, as well as a curious story in the novel itself. The novel tells the story of an intergalactic missionary to works to translate the Bible to aliens who are not just a little different. They aren't beautiful Martian queens. They are completely foreign to human beings, and they want to know about Jesus and "the book of strange new things."

Steve Paulson of TTBOOK interviews Faber here as part of a show on science fiction.

'Joy Cometh with the Mourning,' by Dave Freer

Dave Freer is best known as a science fiction writer. I don’t know him personally, but we have several mutual friends. One of those friends sent me a free copy of Joy Cometh with the Mourning for review.

Reviewing this book is problematical for me, because of fundamental presuppositions. The main character is a female pastor, and most of you know I consider that unscriptural. Still, I read the book and found it appealing on its own terms.

Rev. Joy Norton, the protagonist, is a young pastor newly installed in a remote parish in Australia. She’s insecure about the call, as she’s never served in a rural church before, or on her own. The situation is complicated by the fact that her much-loved predecessor’s cause of death is unknown. What makes it worse is that she begins to suspect that there were improprieties in his conduct, which might have given one of her parishioners a motive to murder him.

Unlike the mysteries I usually review, Joy Cometh with the Mourning is a “cozy” mystery. Instead of turning over spiritual rocks and discovering evil, Rev. Joy looks into human hearts and finds goodness there. Even that particularly maligned species of humanity, the Church Lady, is treated with respect and affection in this story.

I enjoyed reading Joy Cometh with the Mourning. If you’re more tolerant than I am of egalitarianism in the church, you’ll probably enjoy it very much.

The Reason Lecrae Changed His Tune

Musician Lacrae has taken some heat for switching from writing explicitly Christian songs to writing songs on themes with broader appeal. He has appeared with artists and on shows that have drawn criticism from those who think the right thing to do is stick with people who claim to follow Christ.

But Lacrae says another believer, Andy Crouch, changed his mind a few years ago. Jemar Tisby explains, "Crouch says in his book, Culture Making, 'If culture is to change, it will be because of some new tangible (or audible or visible or olfactory) thing is presented to a wide enough public that it begins to reshape their world.' He proposes that instead of condemning, critiquing, copying, or uncritically consuming culture, something new has to displace the old. It appears Lecrae has been making new music in an attempt to do just that."

The tension point for this idea will be at the place where those who want to change people apply their cultural creations. I'm sure many will continue to create things that won't get anywhere near the people they want to influence, and they will say they are making new culture, but it isn't changing anyone. They're making Halloween candy in hopes of changing Christmas.

Le Guin: 'Resistance and Change Often Begin in the Art of Words'

Author Ursula Le Guin received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at this week's National Book Awards and inspired the crowd by holding up freedom as an author's best prize. "We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality."

She said many things needed to change, and that change often begins in art, specifically the art of words. Writing books according to marketing formulas for corporate profit is a rotten idea, she said. We need artists.

Her speech was short, so you can easily watch the whole thing here.

In an interview, Le Guin said, “If you’re going to create a world out of whole cloth, that is to say, out of words, then you better get the words right.” You can read about her and her many books in The Guardian.

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