All posts by Lars Walker

Memoirs of a voter

There is hope on the horizon.

I’m not talking about the elections (more on them below). I got a call this evening in response to my ad to rent out my spare room. A guy will be coming over tomorrow evening to take a look at the place.

The downside is that I’ll have to straighten up tonight.

A little.

Don’t want to give a false impression.

I voted bright and early, on my way to work. The polling place was a Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod church.

Why doesn’t the ACLU sue over locating polling places in churches?

No doubt it’s somewhere on their list. Maybe right after they force cities to stop granting building permits to places of worship, since such commerce between church and state puts us at risk of theocracy.

I remember how my parents used to sit down with pen and sample ballot in early November, and decide together how they’d vote. That was because Dad tended Democrat and Mom tended Republican, and they didn’t want to “cancel each other out.”

That thought troubles me. It’s an easy exercise for married couples. They have somebody right there to reconcile ballots with.

But I’m single, so my opposite number is out there somewhere in the community. I probably don’t even know him (or her). He (she) is likely canceling my vote right now, and I can’t do anything about it.

Makes it seem pointless to vote at all.

No. That’s not right.

But if it’s not, why did my parents bother?

My brain hurts.

Go out and vote if you haven’t yet, and if the polls are still open when you read this.

Unless you’re canceling me.

Franchises: Voting and Starbucks

First things first: Vote tomorrow. I won’t tell you how to vote. Since I know I’ve been fully as successful as CBS News in keeping my political preferences secret, I feel confident I remain non-partisan, fair and balanced when I advise you to vote as your heart tells you I would vote.

Look—I know that only a meteor strike on the North Side of Minneapolis will prevent a former Nation of Islam member—an associate of Louis Farrakhan’s, supported by CAIR—from being my congressman, and I’m still voting. So you can certainly make the effort.

Sharia law is probably next thing. You think the ACLU’ll complain when that happens? I can hear them now—“What’s the problem? It was just Christianity in government we were worried about. The Constitution doesn’t say anything about Islam.”



I finally figured out where to vote. I got a map in a city mailing, telling me which precinct I was in, and I noted that it did not jibe with the information I’d gotten from the Secretary of State’s website. I called city hall and got the answer (I think). Naturally, my polling place is the one farthest away from where I live.

Brother Moloch spent last night in my spare room. I took a half-day off work and drove him to the airport today. He’s in the sky now, winging his way to Tanzania to visit the Youngest Niece, who’s spending a semester there. Her chief supply request? “Bring Gummi Bears.”

I can imagine the Man from Macedonia telling Paul in the vision: “Come over to Macedonia and help us. Bring Gummi Bears.”

(By the way, I’ve always wondered at the people who ask how Paul knew the man was from Macedonia. Hello? The guy said, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” You’ve got to figure he wasn’t Belgian.)

Moloch broke in my coffee maker for me. I bought the machine months ago, when my cousin from Norway came to visit. You can’t host guests from Norway without offering them coffee. Coffee is the Norwegian national jones. You know why the Vikings turned into Scandinavians, why they went from the terrors of the world to the dullest people in Europe (the dullest continent)?

It’s because they finally got coffee. “Ah. That’s better. Somehow I don’t feel like fighting anyone anymore. I feel like wearing clogs and making furniture with nothing but right angles.”

But my cousin didn’t drink coffee. This created an instant bond between us. We are both Unworthy, Uncaffeinated Norwegians.

My secret shame (well one of my secret shames) has always been that I didn’t drink coffee. All my grandparents drank the stuff. My parents and all my uncles and aunts drank it. But my brothers, Moloch and Baal and I, we never picked up the habit. We never saw the point.

Until Moloch became a pastor. Lutheran pastors are required under some obscure provision of the Book of Concord to drink coffee. What are you supposed to do, go to Mrs. Olson’s house (if you remember Mrs. Olson, don’t say anything. You’ll only prove you’re as old as I am) and say, “Oh no, I don’t drink coffee. Got any tea? Moxie? Single Malt Whisky? Absinthe?”

You’ll drink coffee and like it.

In fact, after a while, you’ll be screaming and breaking out in hives if you don’t get it.

Drawn and Haggard

The whole Ted Haggard thing makes me sad. Not only for its own sake, but because it strikes a nerve around here.

I wasn’t actually involved with the church body I now work for, back when it happened, except in the sense that the church I grew up in had joined up. I got the news from a friend (now a former friend) who derived considerable pleasure from the discomfiture of those disgusting pietists.

It was several years ago now, back when the Very Large Lutheran Church Body Which Shall Remain Nameless was coalescing like a lump in a batch of Cream o’ Wheat (“Hey! You guys don’t believe anything anymore, and we don’t believe anything anymore either! No reason we can’t do whatever it is we’re doing all together!”). Lots of churches that hadn’t gotten the Postmodern Memo were looking for a new affiliation, and our group looked pretty good to many of them. We (and by “we” I mean “they,” because I wasn’t involved yet) were doing great, adding congregations almost on a weekly basis.

But the scandal threw all that in the dumper for a while.

The president of our fellowship, a man widely liked, respected and admired, was discovered to be living a double life. He was, as it turned out, a secret bisexual. He couldn’t hide it anymore when his wife was diagnosed with H.I.V.

I came on staff some time later, when the wounds were beginning to heal. But the pain remained; the betrayal was far from forgotten. The man himself was still alive when I came in. He was a member of my church. I never met him as such, but I saw him often, a tall, gaunt man whose skin was darker than his genetics had intended. His wife had already passed away by then. He had repented and accepted discipline. He was on the sidelines, off the roster. I never heard him speak.

I know two of his daughters, both of them members of my church. Lovely, smart, godly women. I can’t even imagine the kind of emotional suffering they’ve been through.

I don’t have much point in writing this, except to remind people of the personal tragedy that accompanies scandals of this sort. Somebody’s in a lot of pain today, and could use your prayers.

Jack slices, then crushes, a friend

I came today to one of my favorites in my reading of C.S. Lewis’ Letters. It’s one he wrote to his friend Cecil Harwood on May 7, 1934.

If you know about Lewis’ life, or if you hang out with Lewis people (and let’s face it, you’re here) you probably know of his great love for the music of Wagner. But he knew Wagner almost exclusively from gramophone records. He had very little opportunity to hear the operas performed live.

In spring 1934 he and his brother Warnie, along with J.R.R. Tolkien and others, planned to go to London to attend festival performances of the entire Ring cycle. Cecil Harwood was entrusted with the job of buying tickets. Harwood, for some reason, failed to carry out this assignment.

Lewis responded to Harwood’s letter of apology with this epistle (which Harwood himself, if I remember correctly, described as “Johnsonian”):

Sir,

I have read your pathetical letter with such sentiments as it naturally suggests and write to assure you that you need expect from me no ungenerous reproach. It would be cruel, if it were possible, and impossible, if it were attempted, to add to the mortification which you must now be supposed to suffer. Where I cannot console, it is far from my purpose to aggravate: for it is part of the complicated misery of your state that while I pity your sufferings, I cannot innocently wish them lighter. He would be no friend to your reason or your virtue who would wish you to pass over so great a miscarriage in heartless frivolity or brutal insensibility. As the loss is irretrievable, so your remorse will be lasting. As those whom you have betrayed are your friends, so your conduct admits of no exculpation. As you were once virtuous, so now you must be forever miserable…. I will not paint to you the consequences of your conduct which are doubtless daily and nightly before your eyes. Believe me, my dear Sir, that I forgive you.

As soon as you can, pray let me know through some respectable acquaintance what plans you have formed for the future. In what quarter of the globe do you intend to sustain that irrevocable exile, hopeless penury, and perpetual disgrace to which you have condemned yourself? Do not give in to the sin of Despair: learn from this example the fatal consequences of error and hope, in some humbler station and some distant land, that you may yet become useful to your species.

Yours etc

C. S. Lewis

When I see my title clear

Courtesy of Writer’s Digest Magazine, here’s this cute little engine from www. lulu.com that analyzes your book title, to discern whether it’s bestseller quality or not.

Naturally I plugged my own titles in. Personally I think I’m pretty good at composing titles, but the utility doesn’t entirely agree with me.

Two of my titles earned 63.7% ratings, which isn’t bad–Wolf Time and The Year of the Warrior.

But Blood and Judgment only rated 26.3%, as did the original title I wanted for Wolf TimeWind Time, Wolf Time (which I still think is a great title, no matter what anybody says).

Personally I like to have words that start with W in my titles. W has an evocative sound. It reminds me of wind and water.

And Walker.

No tricks, a couple treats, and I’m a Halloweenie

Cartoonist Doug TenNapel has reached a million hits on his blog, and (if I understand correctly) has retired from posting. Good luck, Doug. I’ll miss you. Your blog was one of my daily treats.

Another treat (though not daily) is Yucky Salad With Bones, a Minnesota blog. It’s not the kind of blog I ordinarily like, being mostly day-to-day reports of family life written by the mother. But this woman has such a mordant sense of humor I can’t resist her. She’s my kind of gal. Unfortunately she’s already married.

I’m not doing Halloween. Instead of putting out a pumpkin I’m hiding my house light under a bushel. I have two main reasons:

1. I consider it prudent for any unmarried, middle-aged man to avoid contact with children as much as possible.

2. The Wiccans have pretty much appropriated the festival, aided and abetted by Christians. As I’ve said before, I don’t believe in magic and I don’t believe in witchcraft. But that doesn’t mean I want to encourage these people. I can remember when Halloween was fun. I can remember a lot of things that aren’t true anymore.

I pretty much agree with Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost. Especially on Jack Chick.

Happy Reformation Day!

If you’re already depressed, don’t read this post

The sky was dimming as I left work today. It wasn’t evening yet, but the afternoon was effectively shot. That’s how it is in Minnesota, the first Monday after the time change. It’s always a shock, like somebody dropping something on your roof with a thump.

One of these years the first big blizzard will occur on the first Monday after Fall Back. And when that happens, half the population of the Great Plains will commit seppuku in concert.

The guy who runs the used book shop I patronize recommended the author Phillip Margolin to me, noticing that I’d pretty much run through all the Jonathan Kellerman. So I picked up Wild Justice.

Short review, after 45 pages: Hackwork. Uninspired writing and flat characters. I’m not going to finish it. Since I’ve decided to stop buying books for a while, to save money, I’m going to finish Volume Two of C. S. Lewis’ Letters now, and then I plan to re-read The Lord of the Rings.

On Saturday I drove down to Faribault to join Aunt Ada and Uncle Ralph, along with several of their children and grandchildren, for a committal service for an uncle and aunt I’ll call… oh, George and Martha. George passed away recently and was cremated, and while cleaning out his apartment Cousin Brian found Martha’s ashes in a cupboard. So they arranged to inter them together in my maternal grandparents’ plot.

My brother Moloch, who as you may recall is a pastor in The Very Large Lutheran Church Body Which Shall Remain Nameless, led a short service. We sang “Abide With Me” and “Amazing Grace” in a chilly breeze.

Moloch is sanguine about George and Martha’s final destinations. He’s a sacramentalist, believing that once you’re baptized you’re pretty much guaranteed salvation unless you perform a black mass and storm the heavens or something. I found the occasion rather more melancholy than he did.

Not that George and Martha were awful people. Martha, my mother’s sister, was an extremely amiable person—desperately amiable. She was as insecure as I am, but she handled it in an equal and opposite manner. She was an incessant talker, saying anything that came into her mind anytime the conversation threatened to slacken. She believed (I always suspected) that silence would give people an opportunity to think bad things about her.

I remember her saying, one day at Grandpa’s house, “The point of any religion is to do the best you can, after all, isn’t it?”

I didn’t correct her. Kids didn’t correct adults’ theology in our family. Perhaps her blood is on my hands because of that.

George probably led a pretty good life, according to his lights. He didn’t like to work and he did like to drink. He worked some years for an agricultural implement company. When they closed down and laid him off, he gave up working, living off Martha’s small income. He had enough money to pay the rent on their shabby apartment, play some golf and drink pretty steadily. He seemed content with that.

I’d like to say something more profound about him, but I really didn’t know him. He wasn’t the kind of man you had conversations with, not sober anyway.

I’m going to stop this post here, because there’s nowhere to go that isn’t depressing.

Happy Autumn.

Confederacy of cats

I was intrigued by Florence King’s review of Dixie Betrayed by David J. Eicher over at the American Spectator blog today.

My attitudinal history as regards the Confederacy has traced a sine wave profile over the years. As a child I was a Lincoln buff (still am), and a rabid partisan of the Union (I was born just in time to have the Civil War Centennial pretty generally in my face during my early teen years, and I loved it).

Later, as I found myself drawn to federalist politics, I started thinking more highly of the South. I find the argument pretty compelling that the Constitution would never have been ratified if anybody’d been told that secession would be forbidden. Lincoln’s constitutional argument, so far as I could tell (in spite of my reverence for the man himself) seemed to be basically, “We have to preserve the Union because I think it’s a good idea.”

Which is nice, but one might argue whether it was worth 600,000 lives.

But I had no idea what an organizational mess the Confederacy was, if Eicher is correct in his analysis.

Maybe the best thing Lincoln could have done would have been to have told them, “Bye-bye, have a good life,” and then waited for them to go to pieces, then crawl back and ask to be readmitted.

I have a sad feeling that somewhere on one of those battlefields a man died who would have written or preached or sung something that would have made America a better, happier place today.

Then again, maybe Lincoln was right when he said in his second inaugural address.

“Yet, if God wills that [the war] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

Sometimes stories lie

I sit in a house that’s both quiet and not quiet. It’s quiet in the sense that I don’t have Hugh Hewitt on, as is my custom this time of day (he’s interviewing Andrew Sullivan, and who needs that at suppertime? Or is it Andrew McCarthy?).

But the house is noisy because I’ve got a half-dozen guys crawling around my roof replacing the shingles, hammering away and occasionally dropping what sounds like sleeper sofas. The Day has come at last. In theory they’ll get the job done tonight, though it looks to me like a lot of work remains.

The previous owner was in love with green. The walls of Blithering Heights are a mottled green stucco, and the shingles were bright green. Up till now I’ve been able to end my directions, when telling people how to get here, with, “And my house is the green one, third from the corner.”

I am not in love with green. It’s my least favorite color, in fact. I chose a solid, conventional brown for my new shingles. I have no objection to standing out from other houses, but I don’t want to stand out in terms of greenness.

My impulse was to shingle the place in red, but I figured it would end up looking like a Christmas decoration.

Restraint is my watchword.

Restraint and “chocolate.”

Hence the brown shingles.

I think I’ve got one more post on subjectivity and stories in me. I’ll just open up the old brain-box and see if anything’s in there…

Nope.

Ready as I ever am, in other words.

I was saying that stories are a powerful means of teaching, because they engage both reason and emotion, thus bringing the whole person into the project.

But this is a sword that cuts both ways (“The Amazing Crossover Cutlass! Only $49.95 in three easy payments, from K-Tel!”). You can use a story to nail truth down in a person’s heart. But you can nail a lie down just as easily.

I read some time back about a phenomenon in cinema called “Movie Logic.” The wonderful thing about movies is that people believe what they see. If you show a car leaping over a twenty-six foot gap in a bridge, you believe it because you just saw it happen, right before your eyes. You don’t think about the fact that one end of a car contains the engine and is therefore much heavier than the other end. For that reason, when a car goes over a gap like that in real life, it tends to nose down (if the engine’s in front) pretty quick. Stunt arrangers load the rears of stunt cars with counterweights to permit them to make such jumps.

How many times in recent years have you seen somebody in a movie run out of an exploding building, ahead of a blast that just barely manages not to catch them?

Care to try that in real life?

It’s similar in stories, though not as vivid. But most of us trust writing more than movies, so I suspect literature may have more staying power in the long run.

How many kids have learned one of their first profound life lessons from Dr. Seuss’s The Butter Battle Book? Dr. Seuss explains it all. The Yooks eat their bread butter-side-up, and the Zooks eat it butter-side-down. And that’s all the difference between them. All this war stuff, it’s based on a misunderstanding. All our differences are trivial. If we’d just sit down and talk it over reasonably, why, we’d discover we all want precisely the same things.

Remember M*A*S*H*? The TV show especially. The North Koreans, when we were allowed to see one, were always scared, confused young men who only really wanted to go home. They weren’t interested in killing anybody. The only people who wanted to kill anybody were stupid Americans like Frank Burns and Col. Flag (apparently the rule that we all want the same things doesn’t apply to Americans).

It’s all a misunderstanding! We just haven’t talked enough! Can’t we understand that the North Koreans were always our friends? Even today, Kim Jong Il is just posturing with those nukes. What he really wants is for George Bush to put his arm around his shoulders and tell him how proud he is of him.

We all want the same things. We Americans want our children to grow up happy and healthy. So the Islamic jihadists have to want that too. If they instead strap bombs to their kids and send them out to blow themselves up in crowded markets, well… well, we must have driven them to it by not understanding them enough. And anyway, George Bush signed death warrants in Texas, so it’s all the same.

It must be, because Dr. Seuss told us so.

We need stories that touch our hearts, but we need stories that exercise our brains too. Stories informed with knowledge of the real world.

Remember the movie “Being There” with Peter Sellers? At the beginning Sellers, playing a retarded man who has spent his entire life watching TV in a rich man’s house, is turned out on the street, with nothing but a nice suit and his remote control.

When some young muggers confront him, he tries to use the remote to change the channel.

There’s a story we can learn from.

Living in the purple zone

Let’s see. We were talking about fiction and the problem of subjectivity. It’s a problem for me anyway. The moment I hear somebody saying, “It’s all subjective,” I can feel the cholesterol clumping up in my arteries. I hate subjectivity with Schaefferian zeal. I remember an argument I had with my college roommate for hours one Sunday at lunch (we were eating with girls and could have spent the time more profitably). After going around and around forever, I finally figured out that my roommate had his own private definition of “subjective,” one which bore no resemblance to any recognized definition anybody else used.

He’d defined “subjective” subjectively.

So I’m reflexively resistant to all talk of the “S” word.

But that’s a wrong response. (Blame my subjective reaction.)

Look at it this way:

Imagine two colored vertical bars, like the design on the French flag. On one side you’ve got a red bar—all passionate and fiery and subjective. Emotional. Think of Barbra Streisand’s political philosophy.

On the other side you’ve got cool blue. Clinical. Reasoned and proportional. “Just the facts, ma’am.” Systematic.

Personally I’m a lot more comfortable with the blue side. What good did emotions ever do for me?

But like I said, that’s wrong. (My reason tells me so.)

What do you suppose you find in the middle, between the two bars? A wide white no-man’s-land (again like on the French flag)? An impassible barrier, where never the twain shall meet?

No, it’s not like that at all. What you have is a very wide band of purple, graduating from red to blue.

And that purple area is where you and I live. We live in reason and emotion, spirit and body.

Some days we’re closer to the red side. Other days we’re closer to the blue. Some people try to live all the way over on one side or the other (think Sherlock Holmes contrasted with Rosie O’Donnell).

But we all have to live in the purple area. So our communication—our really effective communication—has to be a blend of red and blue, passion and reason.

That’s why stories communicate so well. When God wanted to tell us about Himself, He didn’t dictate a book of Systematic Theology (as I would have advised Him if He’d asked me). He gave us a book full of stories, stories about people’s real lives and how He’s dealt with them.

That’s why a human being in a photograph provides the best overall kind of scale. A concrete post with words “SIX FEET” painted on it might work, but it wouldn’t work as well. Because the story of the waterfall is not just a story of measurements. It’s a story of experience too. The feeling of the spray on your face, the roaring of the water in your ears.

That’s why fiction speaks to people as science and philosophy (essential though they are) never can.

Man is not the measure of all things.

But man is the best measure of some things.

Boring post on interesting writing

In my last post I included a photograph, and noted the fact that adding a staged, theatrical element to the scene actually resulted in a more realistic (and impressive) picture, one that gave a truer impression.

I burbled something fuzzy about the paradox of a fiction increasing realism. I wasn’t up to thinking about it much more at the time.

I’m not actually up to thinking much tonight either, but I’ve been pondering the matter off and on over the weekend and have come up with the following hypothesis.

What the tourist people did, when they added the fictional elf-girl to the scene, was a sort of visual counterpart to what I do when writing novels (especially since I write fantasy).

You had a prospect, a “view” which was most impressive in real life, but didn’t translate well to the photographic record. The problem with the photograph was that scale was lacking. You saw a picture of rocks and moving water, and you couldn’t tell if you were looking at a small mountain stream or a mighty waterfall.

So the tourist people added a human being. She gave it scale. Suddenly you take a picture and you can see how large the waterfall is in comparison to her. The falls comes alive (not to mention that the girl is nice to look at in her own right). You can almost hear the roar of the water now.

Fiction is like that. History (contemporary or older) provides data, data that can overwhelm and bore the consumer. There are a few talented historians who can bring the stories alive, but even their work doesn’t ring bells for many people. Because the historian (generally) follows strict rules. He can only use the documented evidence. He may not invent things. And there’s a lot he can’t know.

His narrative, therefore, often lacks human scale on the emotional level. We miss the drama of the story because the historian can’t tell us how it felt to the people involved—the things they feared, their hates and loves.

The novelist adds the personal element. He tries (with more or less success) to transport us into the skin of a historical character (real or imagined or composite). He tells us how things looked and sounded and smelled. He shows us (doesn’t just tell us) how the issues being contested affected the people involved. The flat photograph acquires proportion.

The subjective human element provides scale.

The irony of this is that subjective things generally make poor yardsticks.

I shall consider that problem tomorrow.

Unless I find I’ve thought myself into a corner and turn to drink instead.

I like it when the elves trick me

My mind is sterile, tonight, clean as a boiled sheet. All I can think of to do is to post a picture and tell you about it.

Elf maiden

This comes from my last trip to Norway. There’s a place called Flåm, on a beautiful fjord. A funicular railroad runs up to a mountain station from there. Some people take the train for practical purposes, but much of its business is tourists (like me, on two occasions).

This picture shows a place on the route where they stop the train so people can take photos of the waterfall. The first time I took the trip, with my dad, we got out and took pictures, but they were a little disappointing. In two dimensions, it just wasn’t as dramatic as it is in real life.

This last time the tourist people had jazzed it up. When a crowd comes out to gawk, a girl in folk costume comes out and stands on the rocks. She mimics singing while a loudspeaker plays a haunting folk song. At one point she disappears behind the rocks, and another girl dressed just the same pops out of a building nearer by, as if she had magically transported herself. Clearly she’s a huldre, an elf maiden, trying to lure us to our deaths in the fast water.

It’s hokey and corny, but you know what? It works. Not just for the drama, but because including the girl in your photo adds perspective to the whole thing and makes the waterfall look much more dramatic. In other words, the fake thing makes it more real.

I don’t know what the moral of this is. Perhaps it means it’s OK to go over the top now and then, as long as it works and nobody’s fooled.

Lewis link

I got this link from the New York C.S. Lewis Society’s newsletter. Sort of.

Apparently the BBC has reconfigured its website, and the precise link I got from the newsletter didn’t work. But, in my selfless zeal to provide the best resources to you, the valued reader, I worked my way through the maze and found the right place.

What you’ll get here is two sound files made from voice recordings of Lewis himself in his career as a BBC broadcaster. One is from 1944, part of the broadcast talk that became the book Beyond Personality, later a section of Mere Christianity. The other is his introduction to The Great Divorce from 1948.

I’ve often dreamed that original recordings of Lewis’ BBC broadcasts might be found. Apparently these bits are all that were actually saved. (Yes, I know about the Four Loves recordings, and I have them. But I’m told those aren’t his best work.)

But personally I don’t believe the recordings are lost. I believe the BBC is sitting on the original wax disks, terrified that the release of the full series would singlehandedly bring Britain back to God.

It would dishonor me not to wear a tie

Thoughts thought while preparing to go to church for the meeting last night:

“Looks like rain. I’d better wear my trenchcoat.

“If I wear the trenchcoat, I’ll have to wear a tie.

“You cannot wear a trenchcoat without a tie. If you do, you look like a pervert hanging around a playground, not the International Man of Intrigue you bought the coat to resemble.”

Dave Lull sent me this link to a Reason article by Jonathan Rauch which explains Honor Cultures (one of my current obsessions) pretty clearly.