All posts by Phil W

Can Christians Write Good Satire?

A popular fact-checking, myth-busting website has been in something of a stare-down with a popular Christian satire site over everyone’s favorite topic since 2016–fake news. Worries flare over the possibility that readers will take headlines like this, “Portland Police: ‘We Wish There Were Some Kind Of Organized, Armed Force That Could Fight Back Against Antifa’,” as actual reporting.

Christianity Today’s “Quick to Listen” podcast interviewed an editor of the biggest Christian satire and humor magazine in our lifetime on that topic and what Christians should expect from satire.

The Wittenberg Door and other Christian satire at its best would be like the little boy in the old fable who was the only one who would say the king is buck naked. Everybody else was just nodding about how well-dressed the king was. Well, good satire is sometimes that little boy who points out what we’re all either afraid to say or just overlooking.

Alcorn Giving Away His Royalties

Years ago, author Randy Alcorn was a pastor, participating with his church in some resistance work at the local abortion clinic. For that work the courts penalized him and other members of the team thousands of dollars to be paid to the clinics. They would not pay. More court hearings came with more penalties, eventually landing the group in a jury trial before an angry judge.

“On February 11, 1991, nine of the twelve jurors agreed to award the abortion clinic $8.2 million dollars, averaging about $250,000 per defendant. It was the largest judgment ever against a group of peaceful protestors. “

But Alcorn has not paid the clinics anything; instead, he has given away over $8.2 million in book royalties to various charities. He wrote about all of this on his blog last month.

When the Majority Become Cultural Snobs

I’ve been thinking to write a thoughtful something about the third season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones. When I started watching it a few weeks ago, I noticed I had forgotten the big storyline from season two, but I remembered that I did not blog about it. Something wasn’t there. Maybe I wasn’t provoked enough (or maybe the sexual aspects of it held me back).

The third season continued to lean into that part of the story. Though Hogarth’s struggle was compelling, it was also awful and fairly ugly. The first season felt like Jessica’s gritty origin story, but now that season three is over, the whole series feels like her protracted story of coming into hero work. She needs Edna Mode to smack her around to help her find her destiny.

But I was talking about something else.

I have watched Stranger Things 3 more recently and may write something about the Upside Down, but Brooke Clark says pretending a TV series is a mature work of thoughtful deliberation does not redeem our interest in it.

Although we are trained to believe in books, we find ourselves watching shows about dragons, criminals, and covens. This leads to cultural status anxiety—a feeling that we aren’t really as sophisticated as we think, because when given the choice, we’d rather flip on HBO than pick up Middlemarch.

There are two ways out of this cognitive dissonance: we can admit our tastes aren’t really as elevated as we like to believe, or we can convince ourselves that television is actually an example of high culture.

We may not have gotten away from what W. H. Auden said decades ago in “The Poet & The City” : “What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish. This is bad for everyone; the majority lose all genuine taste of their own, and the minority become cultural snobs.” (via Prufrock News)

Photo by Huỳnh Đạt from Pexels

A Writer’s Anniversary Thoughts

This summer, one of our favorite authors, Jared C. Wilson, has three ten-year anniversaries, and he reflects on those years at his blog. “It was an odd feeling at the time when Your Jesus is Too Safe became my first published book. I’d been trying ten years at that point trying to get published as a novelist.”

That novel, Otherworld, has seen the light of day, and he has two others in the works, but only one with a contract (let’s step it up, publishers). “By God’s grace, I have been privileged to write nearly 20 books and study resources in the last 10 years.” His next published work looks exciting: The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies about God that Sound Like the Truth, coming January 2020.

Most Influential Pastor?

What pastor has most influenced your life?

I take this question from a recent Mortification of Spin podcast. I’d love to read your answer to it, and I think it would be remarkable if we can get good, 21st-century data on this influence. Wouldn’t it be easy to suppose your favorite pastor or minister has most influenced you when in fact it was someone else, someone whose teaching has defined your life more than you recognize? Someone like your youth pastor so many years ago or the minister at the church you visited for a couple years during your stint in Duluth.

To answer the question, my most influencing pastor has to be the founding pastor of the church I’ve been a member of virtually all of my adult life. I can’t quote many of the things he’s said, but I think many of his expressly taught conclusions as well as his approach to Scripture and manner of handling doctrine have shaped me more than anyone else could have.

What about you?

Image by Helge Leirdal from Pixabay

The True Crime book Harper Lee never finished

Author Casey Cep writes about a true crime story Harper Lee could not complete. “Harper Lee always said that she was ‘intrigued with crime.’ She grew up surrounded by stacks of the magazine True Detective Mysteries, cut her teeth on Sherlock Holmes, watched trials from the balcony of the local courthouse as a kid, and studied criminal law at the University of Alabama.”

The story of Reverend Willie Maxwell, a man accused but not convicted of murdering and collecting death benefits from five family members, was as compelling as any story Lee had grown up with. But she could not pull it together. Perhaps the characters were too much larger than life.

Part of why true crime stories are so appealing is that they force us to confront the limits of what can be known, and eliding those limits, whether by fabricating motives or means or inventing someone’s inner life, doesn’t just cross the boundary between fiction and nonfiction; it transgresses something deeper.

For His Lovingkindness Endures Forever

A great way to remember the Lord’s work in your life is to write down your prayers and experiences. My pastor has recommended a mementos box to remind you of the stories of God’s faithfulness. Others have recommended keep a diary. I know a ministry leader who has filled up dozens of journals with daily devotions, prayers, and their answers.

World News Group reports on a great-grandmother, Ernesta Wood, who has been writing letters for many years.

Wood’s home displays photos of her 53 descendants, nearly all Christians. Once a week for the past 16 years, she has sent them letters—777 in all, as of July 1—filled with stories. Some are dramatic: Her blind grandmother miraculously saw Wood’s grandfather minutes before he died. Other stories cultivate a sense of God’s presence in less dramatic moments: Once, her parents’ pet birds escaped but returned to their cage before dark, just as her mother had prayed.

Promises Not Made

I’ve seen many critical comments about “purity culture” this year from strangers on the Internet. I didn’t know exactly what they were referring to, but that’s normal when you come into the middle of someone’s conversation, which is what social media allows you to do all day, every day. And you can’t bring a pot of coffee with you. Last week such conversations couldn’t be avoided as everyone on my side of the Internet cafe took up talking about the announced divorce and apostasy of the author of a 1990s bestselling book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

The criticism has been as open-ended as the label. I think much of what I saw was from people who were pushing back appropriately on a shame-based rationale they were taught, but many critics seemed to be attacking biblical sexual ethics as a whole. The latter is ridiculous, but I’d like to write about the former for a minute.

Continue reading Promises Not Made

The Traveling Bookstore of France

Jean-Jacques Megel-Nuber’s first drawing of his imagined bookstore on wheels had little in common with its final design. “It looked like the cabins in a Christmas market,” says Megel-Nuber, who is from the Alsace region of eastern France, known for its festive seasonal markets. He had originally thought about opening a brick-and-mortar bookshop but decided he wanted one that could travel to French country towns whose bookstores have often closed. He also wanted a space where he could live during his travels.

So he commissioned a young design firm to construct a cute, little store on a trailer that travels through rural France with 3,000 books, typically stopping at festivals. He’s dubbed his shop Au Vrai Chic Littérère (The Truly Elegant Literary).

‘being judged by our children as morally corrupt’

British author Sofka Zinovieff, 58, has written a book set in the 70s about a relationship between a child and an adult who is twenty-five years older. It has been called “a Lolita for the era of #MeToo.” In The Guardian this month, she writes about how her daughter’s generation think they have this morality thing all figured out.

When I asked my 23-year-old daughter whether there was sometimes too much emphasis on consent, she retorted: “You can’t debate the importance of consent when rape is still such a big issue. It’s confusing priorities.”

I tried again with my 26-year-old daughter. “It must sometimes be hard these days for sensitive, intelligent, young men,” I said. “They have to be so careful about what they can say and do.”

“It’s only about not being an ****##$*,” she replied curtly. “That’s not so difficult. It’s just speaking and behaving with respect.”

Zinovieff doesn’t spell out exactly what she’s defending. Perhaps we’d have to read her book to get a better idea. But I wonder if both she and her daughters are saying the same thing: whatever happens in a physical relationship, if everyone continues to say her or she approves of it, then it’s good or at least difficult to oppose; only when someone says he or she has been hurt does the relationship become a problem.

Continue reading ‘being judged by our children as morally corrupt’

How Landing on the Moon Changed Us

We once thought nothing was in the heavens, at least nothing like what we saw around us. We didn’t see the moon as a destination of any kind. Joseph Bottum says that began to change after the Renaissance. Authors used the moon as a metaphor for their own commentary for a while; later sci-fi authors explored how we could get there and who might meet us. Before the moon landing, authors told new stories of an uninhabited moon.

But after the 1969 moon landing, the expectation shifted again—to the notion that now we would see a rapid expansion of human settlement out into the solar system. The moon would be a pawn in interplanetary politics, a hostage in the fight between such dominant powers as Mars and the moons of Saturn.  . . . That space mission 50 years ago—Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin moonwalking on July 20, 1969—felt to science-fiction writers mostly a precursor, a first step, to the planets beyond. 

Image by Ponciano from Pixabay

Brutal Opposition (Sometimes Fictitious)

Journalist Andy Ngo has spent a good bit time looking at hate crimes and hoaxes of them. He said, “If you constantly tell the public that bigotry is everywhere, some will do anything to seek it out or even create it when they can’t find it.” This piece backs up that assertion, in which Ngo starts with the lawsuit Oberlin College lost to a local bakery and notes the numerous hoaxes its student body has generated. He reports,

In 2013, students at the elite liberal arts college panicked after someone reported seeing a person in a Ku Klux Klan robe on campus. The administration cancelled all classes for the day. The phantom klansman was never found, though police did find someone wrapped in a blanket. This overreaction was preceded by a month-long spate of racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-gay posters around campus. These, too, were found to be hoaxes. 

Twitter is good at these misdirections. Today people are noticing a trending hashtag #NotMyAriel, supposedly in response to the adorable Halle Bailey being cast in a live action remake of The Little Mermaid. However of all the comments pushing back on her casting, none of them use that hashtag. You’re yawning; I can tell. Am I boring you?

Ngo’s reporting is far more serious than unused hashtags. He has worked to expose Antifa for the dangerous group it is. In Portland, Oregon, last Saturday, he was attacked by protesters and consequently hospitalized. Quillette magazine states, “Like schoolboy characters out of Lord of the Flies, these cosplay revolutionaries stomp around, imagining themselves to be heroes stalking the great beast of fascism. But when the beast proves elusive, they gladly settle for beating up journalists, harassing the elderly or engaging in random physical destruction.”

Ngo has written more on the attack in this piece for the Wall Street Journal, going so far as to say Portland is growing into a sanctuary city for “domestic terrorists.”

Joy Harjo Named Poet Laureate

We were running out of breath, as we ran out to meet ourselves. We were surfacing the edge of our ancestors’ fights, and ready to strike.

from “An American Sunrise” by Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo has appointed the next U.S. poet laureate. She is of the Muscogee Creek nation, born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the first Oklahoman to be named poet laureate.

She told Tulsa World, “I know a lot of young people were turned off from poetry when the teacher would ask us to ‘tell what the poem means.’ But sometimes, it’s better just to listen. I mean, we all listen to something like ‘Hotel California,’ but could we really explain what it means? What is so amazing about poetry is that it’s a way to speak beyond words.”

Many outlets are reporting that Harjo is the first Native American to be appointed to this position, but poet William Jay Smith, who was part Choctaw, held the position in 1968-70. (This detail was pointed out by A.M. Juster, which I learned through Prufrock)