Worse Than You’ve Heard

Tullian Tchividjian has started blogging again.

“As Charles Spurgeon once said, ‘If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him. For you are worse than he thinks you to be.’ This statement is painfully true. The truth is, I selfishly wrecked my life and the lives of many others.”

He tells the story of seeing his endorsement on the cover of a book and feeling renewed guilt over the blotch of his name.

Having resigned his ministries in 2015, he has remarried and his family now attend a Lutheran Brethren church in Florida.

Another year, another Hostfest

I suppose you’ll want a report of my week at Høstfest 2017 in Minot, North Dakota. You’re demanding that way; I’ve been meaning to discuss it with you.

Hostfest 17a

My major reaction, frankly, is that I’m pretty exhausted. That doesn’t mean it was a bad week. It just means I’m old and too fat, and not as much up to the challenge as I used to be. Back when I was a fighter, I found the fight shows kind of demanding. Now that I’m retired, I miss the action. 11 hour days, surrounded by crowds of strangers. Walking around on concrete floors wearing unstructured medieval shoes. The dusty, dry air of the horse barn which was our venue. It all took its toll.

Hostfest 17b

But the thing in itself was pretty successful. We had a large group of reenactors, most of them of pretty high on the authenticity scale. I met or improved my acquaintance with some interesting people – notably Phil Lacher the wood carver, Dawson Lewis the Saxon moneyer, and – surprising to me – Randy Asplund, an artist who used to work with Baen Books, and now – get this – makes medieval books in the traditional manner.

My basic criterion for a successful Høstfest is whether I make enough money selling books to cover the cost of the Viking bling I buy. I succeeded at that, and I got some pretty cool stuff. One was a finger ring based on a famous Danish arm ring. The other, an even greater delight to me, was a silver crucifix that looks like this:

Birka crucifix

This picture isn’t of mine, it’s the original, but they’re pretty much identical, except that the thong ring on mine is a tad narrower, and mine is – I honestly think – a little better executed than the original. I used to have a rather crude copy of this crucifix, but I lost it last year. This one, I am told, was made by a Polish artisan who once crafted a chalice for Pope John Paul II. It is tiny and perfect and exquisite.

So all in all, a good festival. Now excuse me, I have to lie down.

What Banned Book Did You Read?

Last week was Banned Books Week in America. I hope the loyal readers of this blog enjoyed their local book burning fires and a witty tête-à-tête with a stranger over a cup of pumpkin spiced something. I was somewhat busy last week, so I ignored the festivities entirely, which I hasten to say is in keeping with the holiday spirit.

Matthew Walther wishes all of this would just go away. They urge him to read a banned book. Which book? he asks. Mein Kampf? If that old Hilterian classic appeared in readers’ hands throughout a city during Banned Books Week, would librarians and bookstore owners be slapping each other on the back for a successful campaign? Heil, no, they would not. Walther writes,

In my experience, those with the strongest emotional investment in Banned Books Week tend to be people whose idea of literature is something called “Y.A.,” which they can continue to enjoy well into their 20s, plus whatever they found themselves forced to slog through as liberal arts majors in college in between tweeting and watching prestige cable and old Buffy reruns on Netflix.

(via Prufrock News)

God Has Designed Us to Sing

We have three young daughters, and it has surprised us with each of them how early they could sing. Simple melodies with mumbled words grew into phrases like “O sing happylujah,” or a bizarre mixture of “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

Keith and Kristin Getty say, “Your ability to sing is fearfully and wonderfully made,” which is the reason God has called us to sing in worship. They say it isn’t your talent for carrying a tune that’s most important; it’s the tenor of your heart.

National Coffee Day: Get Coffee by Drone

Today is national coffee day. I don’t know why this very special day is always overrun in the stores by Halloween or Fall decorations. Where are the family values?

Mercedes-Benz is testing a drone-delivery system in Zurich, Switzerland, to speed up coffee delivery. Their current plan combines drones and vans to get the coffee into your hands, which in a world without flying cars is about what we should expect. When I first saw this news, I hoped they would be testing a system of delivering coffee to your moving car during your morning commute. But maybe self-driving cars would be a prerequisite to avoid collisions.

In honor of the day, let me recommend some coffee roasters you may not have heard about. These guys have skills and unique personalities behind their companies and coffee.

  1. Lagares Coffee Roasters, the proud sponsors of the Happy Rant Podcast. Hector Lagares is one of those marvelous men in a small community who works an uplifting magic that can smooth away your worries. He offers a few blends and a few single origin coffees, so check him out.
  2. Mad Priest Coffee uses their business to employ refugees resettled in the Chattanooga area. As the name suggests, they’re a little crazy. Here’s how they describe their Dark Night of the Soul blend. “It’s been a dark night. A very long dark night (St. John of the Cross thought so). But never fear, this dark roast blend will help awaken you to the dawn of a glorious new day. Flavor Notes: Sunshine, Sigh of Relief, Puppy Kisses.”
  3. Goodman Coffee, also Chattanooga-based, is definitely a good-to-the-last-drop roaster. Ian Goodman raised the bar for delicious coffee in our city back in 1995 with the establishment of Greyfriar’s on Broad Street. This is my favorite brand.

You can order from any of these companies at the websites I’ve linked, but deliveries will not come by drone this year. If you’re ordering from Minnesota or Iowa, you’ll have to use your typical pony express.

Learning English in North Korea

In Pyongyang 1989, a man greeted Theodore Dalrymple in an open square, asking if he spoke English.

“I am a student of the Foreign Languages Institute,” he said. “Reading Dickens and Shakespeare is the greatest, the only, joy of my life.”

Dalrymple says, “I think I understood at once what he meant. In Dickens and Shakespeare, even the poorest and most downtrodden person speaks in his own voice. His utterances are at least his own, and are the product of his own brain. In North Korea, with its endless speeches in the most rigid of langues de bois, to speak in your own voice was impossible. All speech is either compulsory or forbidden.”

Rice on the Spirit of Democracy

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to Hugh Hewitt last May about her book, Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom and the many accounts of democracy, mostly in Eastern Europe and Russia. This is from the transcript of their talk.

Hewitt: At the bottom of my notes, I wrote you have to be willing to accept defeat, and you have to really believe that political campaigns and political warfare are much more preferable to the real thing with bullets and artillery. And that the democratic spirit is just the people you hold up to admire, embrace it, and the people that you scold, and sometimes not so gently, don’t.

Rice: Right. Right, because democracy is really right perched, sort of perched between authoritarianism and chaos. So democracy’s that sweet spot. It’s the place where you have institutions where people can carry out their concerns, their interests, they can change their leaders peacefully. I say in the book that democracy is built for disruption, because what we do in democracy is we say okay, you want change? Go and vote in a new candidate, a new president or a new governor or a new senator. You want change? You think your rights have been violated? Take it to the courts. And by the way, take it all the way to the Supreme Court if you want to, Brown V. Board of Education. And because we have this spirit of constitutionalism, or spirit of democracy, we are willing to use the institutions of disruption rather than going into the streets and fighting it out in the streets. And that’s a tremendous gift from our founders, from the people who have sustained that system over the more than 250 years or so of our existence. And we sometimes lose patience with those who are just starting that process. You know, Hugh, democracy is a pretty mysterious thing that you get people to say I’m going to rely on this abstraction called the Constitution rather than my family or my clan or my religious group. And we’ve been very fortunate that we have those institutions, and I think part of our greatness is to be able to help others find them, too.

Honoring Theologian Robert W. Jenson

Throughout modernity, the church has presumed that its mission was directed to persons who already understood themselves as inhabitants of a narratable world. Moreover, since the God of a narratable world is the God of Scripture, the church was also able to presume that the narrative sense people had antecedently tried to make of their lives had somehow to cohere with the particular story, “the gospel,” that the church had to communicate. Somebody who could read Rex Stout or the morning paper with pleasure and increase of self-understanding was for that very reason taken as already situated to grasp the church’s message (which did not of course mean that he or she would necessarily believe it). In effect, the church could say to her hearers: “You know that story you think you must be living out in the real world? We are here to tell you about its turning point and outcome.”

But this is precisely what the postmodern church cannot presume. What then? The obvious answer is that if the church does not find her hearers antecedently inhabiting a narratable world, then the church must herself be that world.

Mars Hill Audio calls Robert Jenson, who taught at at Luther College, Mansfield College (Oxford), Lutheran Seminary, and St. Olaf College, one of our “greatest living theologians.” He passed away early this month. The above quotation is from his essay “How the World Lost Its Story,” which Ken Myers reads in this recording.

Death Wish Coffee Could Kill You

Demonstrating that the gods of irony will not take time off, Death Wish Coffee‘s cans of nitrogen-infused cold brew coffee are being recalled for possible botox contamination. Yes, apparently our federal watchdogs are okay with allowing it to be injected in your face but not growing in your coffee. The toxic effects of Botulinum include but are not limited to death.

But then, you’re drinking Death Wish Coffee, so…

Actually, the lede is far stronger than the reality. The coffee is being recalled because a tester raised a flag on the possibility of botulinum growing. He did not find it there and no one has become sick… yet.

Of course, this could end up being a publicity boon for the company.

In completely unrelated news, Atlanta’s newspaper asks if it’s possible to overdose on caffeine. They say it would be very hard to die by drinking too much coffee, adding that people can safely consume ten cans of cola per day. Really? If it’s not caffeine that makes ten cans unhealthy for you, maybe it’s the sugar.

‘Katharine von Bora: The Morning Star of Wittenberg,’ by Jenna and Shanna Strackbein

Katherine von Bora: The Morning Star of Wittenberg

In the spirit of the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, I have received a free review copy of Katharine von Bora: The Morning Star of Wittenberg, by Jenna and Shanna Strackbein, with illustrations by Emily and Jenna Strackbein.

This is a book for children — intermediate readers, I’d estimate. It narrates the life of the woman who became Martin Luther’s wife, from her childhood to the early years of their married life. The text is clear (with German pronunciations provided, which is a nice touch), and there’s a glossary in the back, as well as a timeline. The colored pictures are numerous and lively.

The story is addressed from a Lutheran theological point of view, so non-Protestants – or even some Reformed – may not appreciate parts of it. But it’s pretty handsome.

‘Lost in a Good Book,’ by Jasper Fforde

Lost in a Good Book

“You’re the Cheshire Cat, aren’t you?” I asked.

“I was the Cheshire Cat,” he replied with a slightly aggrieved air. “But they moved the county boundaries, so technically speaking I’m now the Unitary Authority of Warrington Cat, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it….”

Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels were recommended to me by a reader of this blog. I found Lost in a Good Book, the second in the series, amusing. But alas, I didn’t love it.

The world of female Special Operative Thursday Next is an alternate one from ours. In this world England was occupied during World War II (though they beat the Germans at last), and the Crimean War went on for more than a century. The cloning of extinct species is routine, so that many people keep pet dodos, mastodons roam the land, and sad Neanderthals work at menial jobs. The plots and characters of works of fiction are not entirely fixed, so that agents like Thursday keep occupied running down truant literary characters.

When a nobleman discovers a lost play of Shakespeare’s in his ancient library, Thursday helps to authenticate it, but it’s not what it appears. Thursday’s husband vanishes at about the same time she discovers she’s pregnant. The people who abducted him pressure her to enter the world of Poe’s “The Raven” to do a job for them, in spite of known dangers. In need of money, she moonlights as a “JurisFiction” agent, helping fictional characters police their own under the tutelage of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. And, according to Thursday’s father (who doesn’t technically exist), the world is about to end in a couple days.

The closest parallel I can think of is A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The action is non-stop, and so are the jokes. If you like puns, these books will please you.

I think my problem with it was that I’m deficient in a certain kind of imagination. I want to have a sense of the logic of a story, and I was never really sure what the rules were here. Oddly, the parts that really spoke to me best were the brief passages involving Neanderthals, sad strangers in the world who find no place for their distinct way of thinking, and have no hope of posterity because they’ve all been cloned sterile.

Lost In a Good Book is a very clever, very creative book, and you may enjoy it a lot. Cautions for some bad language, and for strange religious concepts.

Parallel worlds

“But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on – and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers)

Tonight, a writing report. I passed a milestone in my Work In Progress the other night, achieving 50,000 words. I also incorporated a passage of dialogue I’d been saving for the right moment. So I enjoyed a small sense of satisfaction as I went to bed.

I’ve written about courage before, I think. Courage and faith are almost identical in my view – the main difference being the object to which the particular virtue is directed. I’ve written about the fact that good stories are about courage – the main character tries, and fails, and tries and fails again, until everything looks hopeless. But at that point he/she chooses to go on, perhaps without rational reason. And he or she either succeeds, or fails in a way that’s significant.

And it occurred to me that writing itself works the same way. In the course of writing almost any story, there come moments (generally toward the middle or two-thirds of the way through for me) when the whole thing appears hopeless, and the writer is strongly tempted to give it up. The successful ones keep on, hoping against hope, and finish the story.

Thus, what is going on on the page correlates directly with what the author is doing in the real world.

How did I never notice this before?

Discovering a Poem by Ezra Pound

Daniel Swift discovered a little poem about bread and flowers by Ezra Pound, written on the back of an envelope. It shows something of his skill but also the inconsistencies of his philosophy. He spent WWII as a propagandist for fascists, condemning equality among nations and races, and was tried and acquitted for treason in 1946.

“And yet the method of his poetry,” Swift says, “insists that ideas can and must be translated across cultures. He mixes African myth with classical Greek epic, ancient Chinese poetry and the American blues.”

This sharply contrasted his poisonous radio diatribes, which Robert Wernick describes:

His scripts for Radio Roma covered political, economic, historical and cultural subjects, interspersed with personal reminiscences, all tumbling over one another in such impulsive and unpredictable order that some Italian officials suspected he was transmitting military secrets to the enemies of Italy in an unbreakable code. He was in fact expressing in his customary percussive prose style his deeply-held beliefs that only a currency reform under a system known as Social Credit would solve the world’s economic problems; that only an authoritarian regime like Mussolini’s could clear out the muck that was stifling modern life; and that something, preferably something violent, should be done to get rid of the Jews, the Bank of England, Franklin Roosevelt (“Stinky Rosenstein”), Winston Churchill, publishers, night-clubs, usury, birth control, muddy painters like Rembrandt, sloppy composers like Beethoven and Puccini (“Spewcini”). Along the way he would drop in gnomic utterances on the order of, “The laws of durable government have been known since the days of King Wen,” or, “The cultural stink betrayed the U. S. in 1863.”

Pound did spend time after the trial in a mental hospital, but I’m inclined to attribute his hateful ideas to simple human hubris more than mental illness. It doesn’t take much to hate other people.

Talk like Charlton Heston

It be “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” ye lubbers, and this here be a stub from what’s to my mind the most squared away and Bristol fashion version of Treasure Island ever filmed, the 1990 TV version starring Charlton Heston as Long John Silver, and a young Christian Bale as Jack Hawkins.

You can’t say fairer than that; ye has me affy-davy on it.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture