All posts by Phil W

Voice, opportunity, and other Benefits of blogging

Tim Challies, the grandfather of godbloggers (or should that be godfather), who has been blogging for years (And Pharaoh said to him, “How many are the days of the years of your life?”  And he said to Pharaoh, “Can’t count that high, dude.”), has a good post on the benefits of blogging. He encourages his readers to write steadily on topics of their interest, doing their best while understanding every post can’t break the Internet.

He contrasts what a blog could be against what articles submitted to one of the big ministry websites usually are.

If you only ever submit articles for consideration at the ministry blogs, you’ll become obsessed with the quality of each article. To borrow a baseball analogy, you’ll only ever swing for the fences. So much of life, and ministry, and writing is hitting singles, and learning to be okay with hitting singles, and learning to appreciate how God so often uses those singles to incrementally advance his causes. . . . There’s also this: we vastly overestimate our ability to predict which of our articles will resonate with people and make a difference in their day or in their life. 

These are just two of seven good points he makes on the value of blogging. These apply in some ways to podcasters and vloggers, who could do all of this in another medium.

THE TURN THAT REVEALS

In this universe God made, streams run to the sea; salmon swim upstream; monarch butterflies, at winter’s coming, fly 5,000 miles in search of warmth; objects tossed into the air return to earth—and doings among men are subject to “the turn.” The yearning for justice is as engrained as yearning for the last note on a scale to be played, and godly souls feel ill at ease till it’s complete.


Andrée  Seu Peterson, “The Turn”

The Best Icelandic Saga

What’s the best Icelandic saga? You asked yourself that just the other day, didn’t you? Yoav Tirosh says it’s the Brennu-Njáls saga largely because that title could be taken two ways.

It’s the story of a couple fun-loving vikings who want to take over their district. Everything goes swimmingly until someone dies, there’s a power struggle, and then some zealots off the one guy everybody loves. Blood-relatives or not, those zealots are going to have to pay. Lars talked about it more in an earlier post.

Tirosh praises some of the saga’s virtues and suggests the duality in the title clues us into the story’s greatness, because Brennu-Njáls can mean either Burnt Njáll and Njáll the Burner. It’s the story of the burner and the burned, both embodied in one character.

Amazon TV is working on prequel series of LOTR

What would you say is the prequel to the Lord of the Rings? Yeah, that’s not this. With an estimated cost of over $1B, the new Amazon series will look into all of those details we get in the appendices about Aragorn’s life as the ranger and heir to the Gondorian throne. When Gandalf took Bilbo and the dwarves to Rivendell, the young heir was there, though perhaps not around them. A few years later, he was told who he was, that the sword of kings of Arnor was his, and that he needed to watch his back. That’s when he began to roam Middle Earth and later served under two kings for many years.

Lots of good material for them to, you know, ruin. I know they want a new Game of Thrones, which would be bad, but I hope they don’t give us a medieval Gotham, which would be like saying, “You know all of the hope and purity of Middle Earth that you’ve loved all your life? This ain’t that.”

Everything We Know About Amazon’s LORD OF THE RINGS Prequel Series So Far

Christian Movies are less art, more propaganda

Jared Wilson says Christian movies have gotten better in the last few years but still aren’t good stories.

Christian movies are more akin to propaganda than art, because they begin with wanting to communicate some Christian theme — the power of prayer, the power of believing, the power of something — and then the story is crafted around that message. This is true even when the story is something based on a real-life incident.

They also take place in a world of Christian sentimentalism, in which cliches sound compelling even to harsh critics. He make five points in all, bringing it down to this fundamental question: “What if there isn’t a way to make the gospel sound cool?”

Now I’m going to do what Jared says I can’t do, which is point to an exception, but considering how he’s defined the subject, Paul Harrill’s first film, Something, Anything, may not qualify as a Christian movie. It is a Christian story–quiet, poignant, and untidy. We saw it in 2016 and thought it was wonderful. Read more and view the trailer through the link.

Suit Refiled against Tyndale House over Supernatural Tourism Book

Alex Malarkey was publicized as The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven in a book written by his father with him as co-author. In 2015 Alex denounced the story, and the books were pulled from stores. Last April he sued Tyndale House for defamation and deceptive trade practices among other things for a total of seven complaints. A judge dismissed five of the complaints. Now Alex’s attorney has filed three more complaints: appropriation, publicity given to private life, and financial exploitation of a person with a disability.

If you don’t remember this story, you can start reviewing it in “Boy Denies He Returned from Heaven.”

‘New Year comes but once a twelvemonth’

This is something of a commonplace post for the year ahead with quotations taken from my withdrawn library book of quotations, that wealth of knowledge and marginalia about which the impoverish youths of the world have not a clue. Happy New Year.

For the life to come, I sleep out the thought of it. – Autolycus in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale

Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale
Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man.
– Lewis in Shakespeare’s King John

When the tree is fallen, all go with their hatchets.

I have learned thy arts, and now
Can disdain as much as thou.
– Thomas Carew, “Disdain Returned”

On finding a wife:

  • Choose a wife rather by your ear than your eye.
  • Choose your wife as you wish your children to be.
  • Choose a good mother’s daughter, though her father were the devil. (The latter two come from Gaelic proverbs.)

Who riseth from a feast 
With that keen appetite that he sits down? 
Where is the horse that doth untread again 
His tedious measures with the unbated fire
That he did pace them first? All things that are, 
Are with more spirit chased than enjoy’d. 
– Gratiano in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice

Turn your tongue seven times before talking. (Originally French)

What is new is seldom true; what is true is seldom new. (Originally German)

Brief Review of Avengers: Infinity War

We watched Avengers: Infinity War today (it appeared on Netflix last week). I don’t want to recap the plot and offer a bunch of spoilers. What’s the point of that? Three quarters of those who want to see it have already seen it. I’d just like to take a moment for a few thoughts.

  1. I still like comic book movies, but nonstop fantasy fighting gets old. Watch the Ip Man movies about the founder of Wing Chun and something of a superhero in his own right for several good, made-for-movie fights. The second season of Iron Fist had good fights too.
  2. The more power you give someone, the more difficult it is to watch him fight.
    Frank: “I can stop any attack with a mere thought.”
    Bubba: “And I’m going to shoot you in the head!”
    Frank: “Ha ha! You’ll never get –” [BANG]
    Budda: “Didn’t see that coming, didya punk!”
    [Spoiler] Did we see Thanos beat up the Hulk at the beginning? How is he breaking a sweat with these other guys? I hear that answer from the back. Convenience is correct.
  3. [Spoiler] I’ve haven’t read many comic books, and I know there are some bad ones out there, even among the good heroes. Still I am glad to learn the plot of Avengers: Infinity War doesn’t come from the comics. The story of Thanos and his quest to save the universe from itself begins in the books at the place the movie ends, not after a massive failed attempt to stop him but after his success quest to obtain all six infinity stones without the Avengers knowing about it. That’s a lot better than the story we’re given in this movie because of one overused formula.
  4. At the very beginning we see a character say he has one of the great-and-powerful stones and he would give it up to save the life of someone else. That formula is used twice more and a third time in reverse. Did we focus group other rationales to advance the plot and them all unbelievable? That gets as old as the hour-long battles and is probably the weakest part of this movie.
  5. The parody How It Should Have Ended proved its genius again.
  6. The last thing I’ll say is long movies like this make me want to take a hike in the real world. I’m not sure my new shoes are the right thing for hiking though. Maybe I could find alternatives.

Pray for Early Rain Covenant Church IN CHENGDU, China

Our technology has allowed us to expand our awareness to the entire world, making requests for prayer seemingly boundless. I hesitate to say this is the biggest prayer request of the month, but the persecution of Early Rain Covenant in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in southwest China, is something important to pray and praise the Lord over. I copied their Christmas Eve update below. Here’s a letter from earlier this month for more context on the government’s unlawful routing of their congregation.

“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” (Matt. 2:13-15)

Like the “White Terror” during the first Christmas, brothers and sisters of Early Rain Covenant Church, as members of the Lord Jesus, are currently walking the path that the Church’s Head once walked. Authorities are continuing to suppress Early Rain Covenant Church through everything from criminal detention, administrative detention, enforced disappearances, stalking, and financial pressure to the seizing of church property. 

On Christmas Eve, the 23rd-floor sanctuary of Early Rain Covenant Church was taken over by the Chengdu Qingyang District Shuangyanjing Community Police and converted to a community police office space. Linxishu Church, a church plant of Early Rain Covenant Church, was seized by the Pidu District authorities and community police. The church property at Enyue Church, another church plant of Early Rain, was cleared out by New Tianfu District authorities. The current church spaces were privately purchased or rented. As long as the civil contract has not expired, no one is allowed to alter or cancel it without the permission of both parties. Officials and local governments have violated both the law and morality. They have stolen nearly 1000-square-feet of real estate without paying one penny. 

And yet, Lord, we still praise you. Lord’s Day worship at Early Rain Covenant Church was observed in the homes of families and small groups called and set apart by the Lord, as well as other locations. Some brothers and sisters were confined to their own homes. One small-group’s worship was interrupted by police. A total of 20 people (including 8 children) were all taken to the police station. They returned peacefully to their homes the same day. Another small group was forced to change locations. Yet another was spoken to by police after the meeting ended. In these difficult circumstances, the Spirit of the Lord has been feeding, strengthening, and challenging everyone through Chapter 2 of Matthew’s Gospel and through His servants who are in the middle of these trials and tribulations. 

Continue reading Pray for Early Rain Covenant Church IN CHENGDU, China

New Works For Public Domain

At the start of the new year copyrighted works from 1923 will become public domain after a twenty year hiatus. That’s because Congress listened to corporate arguments for extending copyright restrictions and put a hold on anything entering public domain. The
Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 attempted to say, “I’ve got you, babe,” to American artists by making 1922 the cutoff for public domain for the last twenty years.

The Smithsonian calls that cutoff remarkable.

The novelist Willa Cather called 1922 the year “the world broke in two,” the start of a great literary, artistic and cultural upheaval. In 1922, Ulysses by James Joyce and T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” were published, and the Harlem Renaissance blossomed with the arrival of Claude McKay’s poetry in Harlem Shadows. For two decades those works have been in the public domain, enabling artists, critics and others to burnish that notable year to a high gloss in our historical memory. In comparison, 1923 can feel dull.

Starting next year we’ll see more works on Google Books and other digital libraries for use in rebuilding western civilization, reviving our sagging economy, colonizing Mars, and making shepherding great again, and other worthy goals long held by the readers of BwB.

Big Men’s Boots, by Emily Barroso

Prayer is like that fire causing the pot to boil. God does nothing unless we pray. He has chosen us to be his co-workers on the earth. Prayer moves His divine hand. You need to remember to listen to what God is saying when you pray–he gets bored with lists. If you listen He will talk back.

What drew me to start reading Big Men’s Boots was the setting of the Welsh revival in 1904-05. What could be more exciting on its face than a historic outpour of the Holy Spirit?

According to Barroso, Wales was primed for change. English landowners clashed with common Welshmen on every front. Labor unions were taking up arms. Welsh Nonconformists chafed against Anglicans, who spoke another language and seemed to have all of the power. Would rising up against the English businessmen bring equality and justice to the Welsh, or would it drive all jobs out of the country?

The story begins with three men praying over the body of a young man who had passed away three days prior. They hold nothing back in urging God to act, even calling the boy to rise in Christ’s name, believing their earnest faith will produce the miracle they require. Outside the window, the boy’s friend Owen Evans, 13, also prays. The whole community must reckon with their grief and what they believe as social trouble begins to brew. Owen’s growing faith and what appears to be a prophetic gift frame up the rest of the story.

I want to praise this book and recommend it without reservation. That’s what I want to do with every book. But I have to be honest and say I didn’t finish reading it. Because I didn’t finish it, I delayed reviewing it until now. It feels overly long. Historical novels have their own pace as do readers. Perhaps you would enjoy it more than I did.

How Americans Got Christmas

Christianity Today has a series of posts pulling back the curtain on Christmas concepts and traditions. W. David O. Taylor describes the debauchery of 17th century Christmas celebrations, how Puritan leaders outlawed Christmas all together, and the influences that brought it shaped what we celebrate today.

One of those influences was Queen Victoria, who shared her family traditions with the world just as Christmas was beginning to be accepted again in America. (Alabama was the first state to make it legal in 1836.)

As the historian Stephen Nissenbaum summarizes things in The Battle for Christmas, what was once marked by liturgical celebrations at church and festivities in the village, revolving around public rituals and civic activities, eventually turned into a domestic affair, revolving around a children-centric holiday, marked by extravagant gift-giving and, in time, commercial-oriented activities.

Tom Flynn in The Trouble with Christmas adds this remarkable fact: “[It is] surprising how small a role the churches played in the Victorian revival. From its inception, contemporary Christmas was primarily a secular and commercial holiday. The parsons were as surprised as anyone else when after a century-long hiatus, the pews started filling up again on Christmas morning.”

Add to this Dickens giving us the Spirit of Christmas instead of the Spirit of Christ and various artists portraying St. Nicholas as a secular toymaker.

Photo by Jessica Lewis/Pexels

Unable to refuse Babette’s Feast

Luminously realistic and profoundly intricate, Dinesen’s stories all celebrate physicality as something deeply spiritual. “Babette’s Feast” does so in excelsis. In style it is stark but shining; in plot it is unpretentious—indeed nothing more than one long anecdote—but also a complex interweaving of characters and years. A simple story about a dinner, it is also an expansive story about the interplay of art, time, destiny, failure, and gratitude. What is more, it is a tiny masterpiece of grace.

Leta Sundet writes of the powerful grace in Isak Dinesen’s short story “Babette’s Feast.” 

A Rising Shame Culture

Perhaps the most poisonous aspect of current media culture is how it facilitates our impulses to condemn and shame others. Whether by open letter or twitter storm, some of us wake up primed to take a stand against some unthinkable person somewhere. Any accusation is credible without need of investigation. Any social post is up for scrutiny, no matter the age of the poster at the time. Consider our virtue signaled.

Helen Andrews reviews a shameful public incident that has followed her for years in this essay in First Things. Her story is grueling, but there are many more, allowing us to see a pattern.

At the risk of insulting the reader: No one actually believed Williamson was a threat to his female colleagues. It was only a pretext for what was really an exercise in raw power. People made the same kind of excuses when it was my turn in the dunk tank. Again and again, I read commenters insisting that what might at first glance appear to be prurient gossip was, in fact, fair political commentary, because I was a family-values scold and thus open to charges of hypocrisy, or because I was a hard-core Randian who needed a lesson in the dog-eat-dog heartlessness advocated by my idol. As far as I can tell, these characterizations were extrapolated from the fact that I worked at National Review. Certainly, they had no basis in anything I’d written (an Objectivist, really?).

The truth does not matter in the shame storm–only what can beat down the victim.

What solution is there? Look at what Jared Wilson posted today: “Christian, the Lord knows you are not an asset to the organization. He knows what a tangled-up knot of anxiety, incompetence, and faithlessness you are. He knows exactly what a big fat sinner you are. He knew exactly what he was getting into.”

Photo by Victor Rodriguez on Unsplash

A Blessing on Mother

In one of our old books, which was handed down from four generations ago, I found several newspaper clippings–a couple obituaries, an announcement of new officers to a Presbyterian organization, an ad for hearing aids, and a curious poetic blessing on mothers. The only credit is to Harper’s Magazine.

It looks like the kind of folklore people would pass around and think nothing of preserving, because that would be a kin to preserving grass. We assume such things will be around forever. A generation goes by, and maybe someone asks, “Do you remember that thing we used to say? It was so good.” But no one remembers. And maybe it wasn’t actually good.

They were words of their time, spoken like all words with dissipating breath.

I found it on a page scanned from a March 1877 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine with a bit of explanation not included in my paper clipping.

The following was recently written and sent by a distinguished clergyman to his mother. It was sent on a postal card:

    Dear Mother —
    From sweet Isaiah’s sacred song, chapter 9 and verse 6
    First 13 words please take and then the following affix;
    From Genesis the 35th, verse 17, no more.
    Then add verse 26 of Kings, book 2nd, chapter 4.
    The last two verses, chapter 1, 1st book of Samuel
    And you will learn what on this day your loving son befell.

Deciphering this from the King James, we read this.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given”

“And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also.”

“Run now, I pray thee, to meet her, and say unto her, Is it well with thee? is it well with thy husband? is it well with the child? And she answered, It is well:”

“For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him:  Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there.”