All posts by Phil W

O’Connor: Life Is Violence

Life is suffering and it is violent, so overwhelming is it that we cope by voluntarily consenting to spiritual deafness,” Michael Rennier observes. “The reality of sin must be forced home to us by an act of divine violence so that our pretensions can once and for all be torn away.”

This is what he draws from Flannery O’Connor’s life, which is being featured on PBS in a new documentary, Uncommon Grace. Director Bridget Kurt agrees. “She wasn’t using violence to glorify it; she was showing how extreme moments in our lives are spiritual wake-up calls.”

Like the time when an escaped convict points a gun at a grandmother’s head. In that moment, all of her religiosity melted out of her, leaving her nothing but Jesus. She could have been a good woman had someone been there to threaten her everyday. That would have been respectable. But she didn’t need to be a good woman. She needed Jesus.

Perhaps O’Connor is just too Christian for secular schools. Kurt , a transplant from Northern Wisconsin, found less help than she expected when looking for material on O’Connor’s life.

“Even at her alma mater, GSCU in Milledgeville, very few students that we ran into on campus knew who O’Connor was,” Kurt told Milwaukee Magazine. “In Wisconsin, most of us know that Frank Lloyd Wright was a Wisconsin native because we are taught about famous Wisconsinites and we name libraries and schools after them. I’m not sure how much Flannery O’Connor is taught in Georgia schools.” (Via Prufrock News)

A Fanciful Underground Railroad

Railroad tunnel“Imagine a runaway slave novel written with Joseph Heller’s deadpan voice leasing both Frederick Douglass’ grim realities and H.P. Lovecraft’s rococo fantasies…and that’s when you begin to understand how startlingly original this book is.”

This is how Kirkus summarizes Colson Whitehead’s novel, The Underground Railroad, a finalist for the 2016 Kirkus Prize. The novel is not historical fiction, because the central idea is existence of a slave-rescuing railway that runs through tunnels beneath the states.

Betsy Child Howard says it isn’t a fun book, but “sometimes we must look with open eyes at the evil humans can perpetrate themselves or countenance in others.”

In 21st-century America, we too often assume that those born into privilege are the deserving, without taking into account the generational effects of enslavement and Jim Crow on those we label “undeserving.” Whitehead is too good at his craft to spell out modern-day implications of our country’s dark history, but they reveal themselves.

Milton, Our Contemporary

Milton, as much as Shakespeare, remains our contemporary. As Wordsworth put it in a sonnet from 1802, ‘Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:/ England hath need of thee.’ One half of a nation almost as bitterly — if not as bloodily — divided as in his day needs to understand how the blind, scorned radical, ‘though fallen on evil days… In darkness, and with dangers compassed round’, channelled his dismay at the failure of England’s revolution and the restoration of monarchy into a masterpiece that finds salvation through despair. In 1660, Milton was arrested, imprisoned and might have gone to his death as an impenitent regicide without a few well-placed admirers. His epic, with its aim to ‘assert eternal providence/ And justify the ways of God to men’, climbs from his pit of disillusion to find meaning and hope in calamity. A hero for Remainers, then.

Boyd Tonkin urges us to read Milton today, because he will speak to us if we will listen. April is the 350th anniversary of Paradise Lost‘s publication. (via Prufrock News)

Longing of Two Kinds

I’ve let other things crowd out St. Patrick’s Day for me. My days have plodded steadily this year. I haven’t given much thought to future plans, but remained within the day.

Still, out of respect for the day, here are two poems with kinds of longing.

Patrick Pearse, “On the Strand of Howth” : (Entire poem)

Speaking in the night;
Of the voice of the birds
In Glenasmole

Happily, with melody,
Chanting music.

Seamus Heaney, “Mid-Term Break”

I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand
And tell me they were ‘sorry for my trouble’.
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest
Read more through the links.

6-Second Classics, Litbait, and Commas

If you’re familiar with the classic novels featured in these six second videos, you’ll get the joke. Ad agencies have produced several of these quick takes by YouTube’s request in pursuit of a new, flash ad format to be displayed before other videos. At six seconds each, the ads can’t be skipped past.

In a similar vein, The Wild Detectives bookstore in Dallas is trying to “troll people into reading classic books through clickbait.” They call them “litbaits.” Headlines read, “British guy dies after selfie gone wrong” for The Picture of Dorian Grey. The links led to blog posts with the all of the book’s content included. That wouldn’t turn anyone away, would it?

And chalk another one up for the Oxford comma under reasons it is saving the world. A group of Maine dairy drivers took their company to court to win overtime pay. The law defining exactly what was excluded from overtime lists many things, but it lacks one thing: an Oxford comma.

The law states, “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.”

The drivers argued that while they do distribute food, they don’t pack it, so the exemption applies to “packing for shipment or distribution” and not to the distribution. The Circuit Court judge began his decision, writing, “For want of a comma, we have this case.”

Cling to Jesus As If Your Life Depends on It

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option is being released tomorrow. Collin Hansen reviews it here.

My main fear with Dreher’s book is that the people who need it most won’t read it. How do you convince Americans that replacing fast food and cable news with fasting and hard labor will be good for their souls?

Overwhelming evangelical support for Trump suggests not many conservative Christians would agree with Dreher that “losing political power might just be the thing that saves the church’s soul.” Rather, they seem to believe the American Empire needs our partisan politics in service of God’s kingdom.

Dreher will have many interviews this week. This one with Russell Moore is bound to be one of the better ones.

When God Passes By

And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but… (Mark 6:47-49)

Here’s a somewhat academic analysis of the last clause from the quotation above from Derek Rishmawy. Jesus walked out to this disciples while they floated in the sea, and “he meant to pass by them.” Does this aside refer to something in the Old Testament as so many Gospel references do? How about Job 9:4-13 and Exodus 33:17-23?

It’s subtle but beautiful.

 

Don’t Believe In Yourself: Dying to Self-love

Today seems a good day to remember this post on dying to ourselves.

There’s much talk of self-love in Christian circles right now, the kind of self-love that promotes a perceived circumstantial happiness. When I hear of Christian bloggers or authors or even just professing Christians in my own private life diverging from orthodox Christian faith or values because it’s “too hard,” I feel a depressing weight on my shoulders. Their quest for happiness outside of orthodoxy demoralizes me in a way a combative atheist never could. They demoralize me in a way even my own particular burdens of suffering do not.

Believe in yourself

Does God ever call us to accept ourselves, believe in ourselves, or understand that we’re are okay just as we are? No, I think he calls his people saints who are hidden in Christ and completely righteous. He urges us to believe in him, because he has all power and authority. He is the loving father of both the tiger and the kitten. The kitten shouldn’t tell himself he is a tiger. The tiger shouldn’t tell himself he is the greatest. Both are subjects of the Kings of kings, meant to give him glory in their own way.

A pastor friend talks about this is much better ways this year for the Lenten season. He’s putting together three-minute sermons for every day in Lent. Each one has been a stirring meditation on a life that carries the cross. Even if you don’t remember Lent in any personal way, I recommend these brief messages for this month and next.

The Ethereal Artist Hercules Segers

Even in his most representational works, like a wonderfully detailed View Through the Window of his spacious house in Amsterdam, Segers introduced fanciful elements—a line of trees in the distance, for example, when the actual view consisted of houses and other buildings. He let accidents dictate content. Cutting up a printing-plate he had used for a large ship, he turned the fragments into landscapes instead, with the rigging and mast morphing into tree branches. In a fascinating related development, the steps of which are documented in the exhibition, Rembrandt took a plate that Segers had etched of the biblical subject of Tobias dragging a big fish, made some adjustments, and transformed it into Joseph leading a donkey, with Mary aboard, on the Flight to Egypt. But whether Rembrandt was inspired by Segers’s own experiments with recycled images or thought he could improve on Segers’s figures, is unknown.

(via Prufrock News)

The Window Says Welcome, but the Door Says Closed

Family Christian Stores are closing. The company president said they could not compete in today’s market.

B&N sales are slumping. They report having success with educational toys and games, but still need to grow sales in general. The CEO says they are testing many ideas and some newly designed stores are working well. “He said B&N is ‘on the eve’ of developing a new prototype store ‘that we think will carry us well into the future,'” reports Publishers Weekly.

What do you think about the physical bookstores? Are they yesterday’s shopping venue? Will they go the way of Woolworth? What would you like to see in a local bookstore that would attract your business?

My only thought is that if a company like B&N could gain the reputation (reality aside) of having the book you want when you want it, readers would run to that. That may be too much. Perhaps making the shopping process as easy as walking through the store with your smart phone, but complications will always abound there.

But those are big store ideas. Blue Bunny Books in Dedham, Massachusetts, hopes its unique personal touch will sustain it in the shadow of a brick-and-mortar Amazon store. Its customers seem to think so.

Would Southerners Have Killed Spurgeon?

On March 22, a “Vigilance Committee” in Montgomery . . . burned Spurgeon’s sermons in the public square. A week later Mr. B. B. Davis, a bookstore owner, prepared “a good ore of pine sticks” before reducing about 60 volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons “to smoke and ashes.” . . .

Anti-Spurgeon bonfires illuminated jail yards, plantations, bookstores, and courthouses throughout the Southern states. In Virginia, Mr. Humphrey H. Kuber, a Baptist preacher and “highly respectable citizen” of Matthews County, burned seven calf-skinned volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons “on the head of a flour barrel.”

British newspapers quipped that America had given Spurgeon a warm welcome, “a literally brilliant reception.”

Christian George, head of the C. H. Spurgeon Library, has produced the first volume of lost sermons by the great London preacher. The dark history above comes from the preface of this volume.

Silence: A Difficult, Important Film

John Murdock talks about beautiful, but problematic the movie Silence is. It isn’t a success story. The power of believing doesn’t end the war. It ends on a note that will need explanation for many viewers.

In an age of ISIS brutality, its themes are sadly relevant today, and it opens a window on a period in church history of which too few are aware. It is not a perfect picture, but those who proclaim it a masterpiece have reason to do so.

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Become Mall of America’s Writer-in-Residence

In celebration of its 25th birthday, Mall of America is holding a contest to choose that wonderfully creative soul who will spend five days “deeply immersed in the Mall atmosphere while writing on-the-fly impressions in their own words.”

Dude, is this not a call for a writers riot? Several writers should immerse themselves in this mall, if not one of the many malls across America, to write “impressions” of what they see. Nothing could possibly go wrong with that. Don’t let a good challenge go ignored. Post your short impressions here.

Micah Mattax says, “For some reason, my on-the-fly impressions of malls always come out Ecclesiastes, so I won’t be applying. Still, that $400 food court gift card is pretty tempting.”

You bet it is. What are your impressions of a food court feast? What snatches of conversation do you hear as you walk? Is there a spiritual dimension to riding an escalator? America needs to know.

St. Petersburg Has a Luxury Library

In St. Petersburg, Russia, publisher Alfaret has opened a Gothic-style library that is more a book-themed experience than a place to read or check out books. In fact, I don’t think you can check out anything from Book Cappela‘s over 5,000 edition collection.

What you can do is pay about £100 for a four-hour visit to study the collection or buy an annual card, making you a “Book Apostle,” for £3,209. Life-long members are also available.

For these prices, you can review Alfaret’s collection of Russian and international masterpieces in leather chairs under the kind gaze of the apostles.

“Book Capella is not a library in the traditional sense, and it is not a museum, although elements of the museum are presented. It’s also not the bookstore, although you can buy our books here. [It] is a new way for people to communicate with rare books,” Irina Khoteshova, the project director, told the Guardian.