"Kind is my love to-day, to-morrow kind, still constant in a wondrous excellence."

- William Shakespeare, Sonnet 105
Spend 2:30 in the French Alps

Filmmaker Franck gives us two and half minutes of beauty in this video of two boys in the French Alps. When you're ready to take a break from your work, stand up, breath deeply a couple times, and watch this.

breathe from FKY on Vimeo.

"Amazing Grace"

For your delectation and inspiration, here's Sissel Kyrkjebø, the pride of Bergen, doing a fine arrangement of "Amazing Grace" at the wedding of one of her band members. This is essentially the same arrangement, by Andrae Crouch, she did on her "Innerst i Sjelen" album. This recording lacks the quality of the studio version, but the live performance in a Norwegian church has charms of its own. Have a good weekend.

Lip Service Theology

"If we say we believe God is sovereign, but spend our days wringing our hands and fretting, we're just doing lip-service to theology.

If we say we believe God is love, but spend our days berating ourselves and others, we're just doing lip-service to theology."

Lore Ferguson has a brief devotional on this theme at a new website for gospel-oriented readers and leaders, ForTheChurch, at ftc.co.

SCIgen Programmers Strike Back at Spammy Journals

Three MIT students decided to punk a computer science conference that published less-than-thoroughly vetted articles by speaking from completely bogus research. They developed a program that allowed them to produce random, "nonsensical computer-science papers, complete with realistic-looking graphs, figures, and citations."

By drawing attention to "predatory publishers," the students accomplished their goal, but their program went on to do far more. Their website still gets many visitors and the team receives emails from researchers who have used SCIgen to successfully submit papers to different conferences.

"Our initial intention was simply to get back at these people who were spamming us and to maybe make people more cognizant of these practices," says [Jeremy] Stribling. "We accomplished our goal way better than we expected to."

This is one of the ways more content is not better. Perhaps the publishers in question here are so far out of their league to begin with, they wouldn't recognize legitimate research if they took the time to read it. On the other hand, maybe this is a sign that some scientific fields have advanced to the point of being indistinguishable from magic, and how do you analyze magic?

More here.

Txting Through Shakespeare

For the Bard's birthday, "ten plays, quickly resolved through texts."

DUDE DONT DO IT!

Forgetting What Makes Us Human

Should two chimpanzees have rights as "persons" under U.S. law? Rod Dreher doesn't think so, but he does recommend that should the chimps be freed from their human oppressors, they should apply to teach at an American university.

Making Bad Christian Art

The trailer for the new movie, Little Boy, worries me. I can't tell if it's setting up a story that cautions an audience willing to believe that faith can be measured in specific acts and feelings or panders to such an audience. This review doesn't exactly answer that question, but it does imply that the faith of the boy relates to the dropping of the bomb by the same name. Maybe if they had released the film on August 6 for the 75th anniversary of the leveling of Hiroshima, we would have all gotten the connection.

Heh.

I gather the movie is heavy-handed enough to need more explanation--still some people need things spelled out, you know.

Tony Woodlief, author of the concept "Dreadfully Wholesome," linked to an old article of his, in which he describes common sins of the Christian writer: neat resolutions, one-dimentional characters, sentamentality, and cleanness. On this last point, he says, "In short, if Christian novels and movies and blogs and speeches must be stripped of profanity and sensuality and critical questions, all for the sake of sparing us scandal, then we have to wonder what has happened that such a wide swath of Christendom has failed to graduate from milk to meat."

The point, of course, is not to mix a little filth into our current shallow stories. Little Boy is PG-13, I believe, because it shows some of the horrors of war and uses some contextual bigotry. It may even have smoking! That's a letter grade drop all on its own. The point, though, is to think honestly and depict reality appropriately.

A strong example of this is the recent movie, Something, Anything. I saw it on Netflix Instant a few weeks ago at a friend's recommendation. Justin Chang summaries it nicely as having a "dichotomy between materialism and spirituality, between the pleasures of a comfortably middle-class existence and the rewards of an introspective, examined one." This is not a heavy-handed movie at all. In fact, there's a touching scene in the middle that clearly shows the disconnect between two main characters. Viewers might overlook that scene because one says anything, but that appears to be the tension point between them. The husband picks up his wife's journal, exposing him to her struggling cry to God, but he just puts it back down and walks out of the room. He doesn't know how to talk about that.

If you watch Something, Anything, let's talk about it here. It's beautiful, quiet film without common sins listed above.

'Undercurrents' and 'The Body of David Hayes,' by Ridley Pearson



As you've probably discerned from my reviews, I continue to read for pleasure even as I toil for my master's degree. I don't think I'd keep my sanity if I couldn't take fiction breaks from the textbooks.

So, recently, casting about for something new to read, I decided to check out one of my consistently favorite authors, Ridley Pearson. I've always enjoyed his Lou Boldt police procedurals, but I discovered I'd never read the very first in the series, Undercurrents. And then I got the most recent novel in the series, The Body of David Hayes, which is closely related though separated in time.

At the beginning of Undercurrents, we find Detective Sergeant Lou Boldt of the Seattle Police Department, never a lighthearted guy in the best of times, in a particularly bad spot. He recently closed a serial killer case, and the accused murderer was himself murdered by a family member of a victim. But now he's called back from a conference in Los Angeles, summoned by the news that there's been another murder. They got the wrong guy.

Not only that, his marriage is falling apart. He has personally observed his wife meeting another man at a hotel. He's moved out, and is considering divorcing her.

The story is as much about Lou's struggle to keep his sanity as about his conflict with the serial killer, a smart and devious one who has singled Lou out as his police contact and personal foil. As Lou tries to function on too little sleep, too little food, and too much coffee, he tries to deal with his attraction to a beautiful police psychologist, and is brought face to face with his own culpability in the collapse of his marriage. When he truly achieves self-knowledge on that issue, it's in terms that will please almost every Christian reader.

The Body of David Hayes picks up on a thread from that first book. David Hayes, a banker, was a colleague of Boldt's wife and the man with whom she had the affair. He was later convicted of cyber-embezzlement and sentenced to prison. But now he's been released early, only to be kidnapped and beaten. There's more to his crime than anyone knew, and some very dangerous people are looking hard for the money David Hayes stole and hid in the bank's own records. Lou is forced to bring his wife into the investigation, and old wounds get opened.

Frankly, The Body of David Hayes was above my head in terms of plot. The schemes of criminals and police (not all of whom may be honest) are so convoluted that I just lost track at certain points. But, as you may have noticed, plot isn't my main concern in my reading. What I love is the characters Pearson creates -- believable, sympathetic (in most cases), and grounded in a moral universe.

Both books recommended. Adult themes and language are relatively mild.

The Evil Twin

Mark Bertrand writes about a new favorite author and the novel, Scandal, in which a Catholic novelist and public intellectual discovers he has an identical, evil double of himself. This other man is encouraging the community to believe the moral novelist is a flaming hypocrite. "The hunt for his doppelgänger," Bertrand explains, "draws him into an underworld — actually, that’s not quite right: the quest has more to do with realizing that this world is the underworld."

This appears to be the kind of thing The Shadow claimed to know: the evil that lurks in every man's heart.

Lacking Context for O'Connor

Alan Jacobs writes about Mark Greif's chapter on Flannery O'Connor's "Revelation," saying, "Greif has misunderstood this story about as badly as it is possible to misunderstand a story. And he misunderstands it because he simply doesn’t know the biblical and theological context."

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.

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