"Well might the sun in darkness hide / And shut his glories in, / When Christ, the mighty Maker died, / For man the creature’s sin."

- Isaac Watts, "Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed"
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.

Martin Lloyd-Jones as an Evangelist

Jeff Robinson says many people who praise Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones seem to forget his strengths as an evangelist who prayed earnestly for revival. Pastor Tim Keller says he was wonderful influenced by Lloyd-Jones style of preaching to unbelievers, such as what Robinson describes:

In an age where it sometimes seems that John 3:16 is the earliest verse in the canon that ought to be marshalled for winning lost souls, Lloyd-Jones’s approach to evangelism might seem curious. But [Iain] Murray lists three primary reasons why the Doctor chose to use the Old Testament so often in seeking the conversion of sinners:

1. It reveals sin in its true nature. Murray writes, “Lloyd-Jones believed that the true difference between moralizing preaching on the Old Testament and true evangelistic preaching is that moralizing deals only with sin in terms of symptoms and secondary features. The essence of sin, the true seriousness of sin, can only begin to be understood when it is seen in terms of a wrong relationship and attitude to God himself.”

How True Crime Tales Affect Their Subjects

True Crime stories don't live in isolation. They purport to tell the truth from recent history, and sometimes their authors become players in the story. Here are five True Crime accounts that have stirred up the cases they describe.

No single case has probably generated more quality standalone volumes in true crime than that of Jeffery MacDonald. MacDonald was an Army doctor whose pregnant wife and two daughters were murdered in their home in 1970. According to MacDonald, Manson-like hippies attacked him and his family. After a military court failed to make the charges stick, MacDonald returned to civilian life but was eventually indicted in 1974. Then, following a lengthy appeals process over the sixth amendment that went all the way to the Supreme Court, he was tried and convicted of the murders in 1979. Before the trial, MacDonald had granted nearly unrestricted access to writer Joe McGinniss in the hopes that McGinniss would write a sympathetic book that argued his innocence. The result was 1983's Fatal Vision, which squarely pointed the finger at MacDonald and was adapted into a TV movie. In 1987, MacDonald sued McGinniss for fraud and, after a mistrial, they settled out of court. The dispute between them was the subject of Janet Malcolm’s 1990 classic nonfiction media meditation, The Journalist and the Murderer. In 2012, [True Crime author] Errol Morris published his own investigation into the MacDonald case, A Wilderness of Error, and argued in favor of MacDonald’s innocence.

Ken Priebe on "Song of the Sea"

Jeffrey Overstreet talks about Tomm Moore's animation. "This time, I invited animator and author Ken Priebe — a man whose imagination seems to exist in a state of perpetual invention. Ken literally wrote the book (books, plural, actually) on stop animation, and we have found that we have very similar passions for the works of Jim Henson, Pixar, and, yes, Tomm Moore."

Moore's movies, Song of the Sea and Secret of Kells, are visually arresting, magical animations that stand apart from everything else out there. Priebe says, "The one difference is that in [Song of the Sea], the song itself is almost another character in the film, and a recurring motif that is woven through the story (even the title). In Kells, the song is a highlight of one particular surprising moment in the story."

Comparing it to another recent movie: "Big Hero 6 also dealt with loss of a family member as a theme, but not with the same level of resonance and beauty as this film does. I’m still trying to figure out why, but I think it may have something to do with the mystical elements, connection to nature, and mythological motifs vs. a story that is driven by lots of fast action and technology, which we are all too bombarded with these days."

The Inspector Skelgill mysteries, by Bruce Beckham

This is spring break week in my graduate courses, so I thought I'd be able to slow down a bit (since of course there's still class work to catch up on), and do a little blogging.

But lo, I have a translation job to do which is just large enough to maybe fit into the time I'll have.

But blast it, I've been meaning to write this short review, and I'll write it.

The Inspector Skelgill mysteries, set in England's Lake District, are another in the currently fashionable sub-genre of the Difficult Detective. The Difficult Detective is brilliant but hard to get along with. Sherlock Holmes was the prototypical Difficult Detective, but Inspector Morse and TV's "House" (who was indeed based on Holmes) are popular iterations.

Inspector Skelgill is a police detective who might be called "good in the field" -- quite literally, since he's an outdoorsman who resents any minute spent indoors. His favorite spare time activities are fishing on the lakes (he rows his own boat) and "fell running" -- that is, running in the mountains. As a result he's generally running a calorie deficit, which leads him to constantly steal other people's food -- "Are you going to finish those chips?" He also almost never picks up a check. He appear to be moderate on the autism spectrum, a little callous to the feelings of either crime victims, criminals, or his colleagues. He also generally ignores the orders of his superiors, but his success in solving cases secures his job for him -- a little past the point of credibility.

The best thing about this series (I've read the first three, Murder in Adland, Murder on the Edge, and Murder in School) is the descriptions of the Lake District scenery, lovingly portrayed.

The worst thing, all in all, is Skelgill himself. I got kind of tired of his act after a while, although in the third book he showed some signs of moderating his selfishness. Still, I'll probably give him a rest for a while.

The usual cautions for language, violence, and adult themes, though nothing excessive by contemporary standards.

Film: Where We Started

"Where We Started offers a reminder of how prosaic sin frequently is: it’s neither murderous villainy nor forbidden secret pleasures, but simply broken people breaking themselves a little further. . . . It’s also a picture of what Christian cinema could be, if only Christians had a bit more imagination." Luke Harrington reviews an indie film that doesn't try to topple the Golden Gate Bridge with CGI.

'Not Surprising,' the Insensitivity at Wheaton, Moody

Barnabas Piper, who studied at Wheaton and worked at Moody, says it's sad but not surprising to hear of racial insensitivity at both institutions. "The American church has never been ahead of society when it comes to race," he says. "The white church has remained silent on race, comfortable in our majority culture and the benefits of it. And what should we expect?"

'Heaven Hunts Round'

"Paradise on Black Ice" by Patrick Donnelly

What's It Feel Like to Be Irish?

The Irish Independent has gathered response from several Irish young people who love to talk about being Irish. The Irish on YouTube are flagging themselves with #WhatItMeansToBeIrish, both there and on Twitter.

James Mitchell says they have a great sense of humor. He "discusses how much everyone wants to be Irish - and how much the Irish hate it. 'I once had someone tell me they were Irish... (because) they loved the colour green... Seriously.'"

Writing is Hard

The author of Making Nice, Matt Sumell, talks about why writing is hard, how autobiographic his fiction is, and the fact he almost dropped out of his MFA program many times.

Every story is different, and every story comes with its own specific difficulties, so every story also comes with its own specific anxiety and panic until it’s done. Only—as they say—it’s never done, just abandoned. Cycle through that for a few years, a couple decades, and maybe you’ll develop a base level of frustration. Maybe you’ll get depressed. Maybe you’ll chuck a chair, or a candle, or punch a wall. If you’re like me, maybe you’ll punch a wall and then get mad at your pants when your swollen hand doesn’t slip into the pocket easily.

Mamet on Film

David Mamet offers strong advice in this pared down clip from movie commentaries, such as this:

It's hard to write a drama -- because it's hard to write a drama with a plot, because a plot means that you have to at the end of the drama resolve that problem which gave rise to the drama in such a way that it's both surprising and inevitable as per Aristotle. The thing is, can you turn the film around in the last 10 seconds -- one of the hardest things in the world to do.

Ireland's Favorite Poem

“When all the others were away at Mass” by Seamus Heaney has been named Ireland’s best-loved poem from the past century.

Find it in this collection of Heaney's poetry.

Klavan, Provocateur

"But Klavan is not only a provocateur—he's also, Stephen King says, 'the most original American novelist of crime and suspense since Cornell Woolrich.' And Werewolf Cop (so I say) is his best book yet, one that starts with a rush and never lets up, dark and funny, with the bittersweet taste of the knowledge of good and evil." John Wilson of Books and Culture praises Andrew Klavan and his latest novel--naturally.

See Lars' review of Werewolf Cop, if you haven't already.

Terry Pratchett, 66, Leaves the Office


Many people are talking about fantasy author Terry Pratchett, who passed away this week of a chest infection (He also had Alzheimers). Though he supported allowing people to give their doctors permission to kill them, he died of natural causes.

Fans continue to honor him with quotations and memories. "After losing the ability to touch type in 2012," reports the Telegraph, "he used voice-recognition technology to complete his much-loved new works. He went on to become one of the most prominent and influential voices in the campaign for research into the disease, and was a patron of Alzheimers Research UK.

"When asked about his career in May 2014, he said: 'It is possible to live well with dementia and write best-sellers 'like wot I do.'"

Pratchett said many good, witty things, such as, "The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head." The Guardian has fifteen of the best.

Over 2,500 fans, so far, have petitioned Death to reinstate the author.

'Christianity Is Not a Metanarrative'

"[Michael] Horton shows how the Christian meganarrative is a 'counterdrama' to all of the meganarratives and metanarratives of this passing age," blogs Justin Taylor.

Publishers Sue Family Christian Stories Over Inventory

Family Christian Stores (FCS) is filing bankruptcy with the desire to claim several million dollars worth of inventory that they haven't purchased. Publishers, who consigned that inventory to FCS, is suing to have their merchandise returned or purchased.

"As the nation's largest retailer of Christian books and gift items with 266 stores in 36 states, Family Christian said it needed to restructure its debt in the face of sales that had fallen from $305 million in 2008 to $230 million in 2014," reports Jim Harger.

Do Christians Have to Be Radical, Missional?

Anthony Bradley has written many articles on the labels that are popular among many in the church today, saying they can be problematic. Communities that push themselves to be "radical," "missional," or "organic" may set themselves up for an alternative legalism that measures other believers by their activity instead of looking to our hope in Christ.

"To be fair," he writes, "the impulse that formed these tribes comes from a good place. They are all seeking to be faithful to what the Scriptures teach and are reacting to real problems that exist in the life of God’s people. The problem is that tribalism can cultivate a debilitating sense of shame and feelings of unworthiness that discourages God’s people from enjoying simple norms expressed in the dynamism of the ordinary."

He goes on to give seven points of garden-variety Christianity that will change the world. "The good life, then, the one that God has always used in his redemptive mission, is the one that brings glory to God by loving him and loving neighbor."

The Kellys by Mick Moloney

Here's a fun song about how there are too many Irishmen in the world. I first heard this on a cassette many years ago. For our younger readers, a cassette was like a hard drive made from black tape, which was held in a tape deck that would play non-digital audio that sounded way better than anything we have today. It was as if you were in the room with the musicians.

Anne Overstreet on Not Becoming a Writer

Poet Anne M. Doe Overstreet describes thinking about when she became a writer.

I come from a family that read hungrily and constantly; there was music—banjo to clarinet to piano—and hikes beside copper-colored ponds, beneath the huff and shrug of spruce at places like Peaks of Otter, reciting the names of deciduous trees. In between, stillness, time to reflect. And within that, Walter Farley’s novels and Webster’s Dictionary, the 1970 edition, I Capture the Castle and World Book Encyclopedia, which opened up the universe and made me hungry to understand why a Tennessee Walking Horse was what it was. But I cannot tease it apart, say, here I begin, here I turn my face toward a different tree line, moving from reader and listener to writer. It doesn’t begin. It doesn’t end.
I attended a reading of her poetry many months ago. I loved the sound of her words. You can read them for free through Noisetrade now, though leaving a tip would be kind. She's a poet who rewards her audience with beautiful mystery and perhaps inspiration.

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