All posts by Lars Walker

Eielsen and Hanson

Here’s the text of my talk, given at the Old Stone Church (Hauge Lutheran Church), Kenyon, Minnesota, on Sunday, June 24, 2007

The year was 1846. A boat docked in Muskegon, Michigan, and one of my distant relations—actually the half-brother of my great-great-grandfather—disembarked along with his family and a group of other Norwegians. They looked around them, blinked in the sunlight—and hadn’t the faintest idea what to do next. They wanted to see a man in Lisbon, Illinois, but they’d never imagined that America was so big—or so wild. So they hunkered down in Muskegon for a while, to try to figure out their next step.

One day a wagon rolled up, and a man jumped off and greeted them in Norwegian. He was a preacher, and he said he knew Lisbon, Illinois very well. He invited my relation to get on his wagon, and he’d take him there.

They traveled over open prairie, sleeping under the wagon at night. When they reached Lisbon, they found the man they were looking for, and then the preacher took my relation back to Muskegon to arrange for the whole group to relocate.

The preacher’s name was Elling Eielsen, and what he did for that group was all in a couple weeks’ work for him. Wherever there were Norwegians in America in the mid-nineteenth century, Eielsen would be there sooner or later, to preach the gospel and to help them adjust to the new country.

Elling Eielsen was born in Voss, in Norway, in 1804. He was converted in the Haugean revivals, and soon began to follow in Hauge’s steps, preaching all over Norway, as well as Sweden and Denmark, as a layman. And, like Hauge, he spent time in prison for his preaching activities.

In 1839 he came to America. He came because there was a need. More and more Norwegians were immigrating to this country, and there was not a single Norwegian Lutheran pastor here to minister to them. Many newcomers were converting to the Mormon church.

Eielsen settled first in Fox River, Illinois, where he began a small congregation in his home, a congregation which still exists and is part of our AFLC today. This may have been the first Norwegian Lutheran church in America—though that claim is disputed.

At the request of his congregation, Eielsen went to Chicago and found a German Lutheran pastor there who was willing to ordain him. Thus he may have become the first Norwegian Lutheran pastor ordained in America—though that claim is also disputed.

What is not disputed is that he was the first Norwegian Lutheran publisher in America. Needing teaching material for his confirmation classes, he traveled to New York to get an English translation of Luther’s Small Catechism printed. Later he went back to get a Norwegian book printed—Pontoppidan’s Explanation of the Catechism, the first Norwegian language book ever published in this country. That job involved a side trip to Philadelphia to get the typeface he wanted, and when the books were finished he carried them on his back, back to Illinois, on foot, in the dead of winter.

Elling Eielsen was not afraid of hard work.

He served many congregations over the years, but his chief work was traveling as an evangelist. He preached to Norwegian settlers in Texas. He preached in Kansas. He preached in the Dakotas. And, of course, he preached right here. The origins of Hauge and Immanuel Congregations are obscure, but it seems certain that they began with meetings led by Eielsen in this area.

As Eielsen’s ministry bore fruit, congregations were established, and they looked to him as their leader. So in 1846 a new church body came to be. Its name was—and I’m not joking here—the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. But it was better known as the Eielsen Synod.

Eielsen was probably not the best choice for a leader. His gifts were for evangelism. He was not a good organizer. He did not work well with people. He had a fiery temper, and he tended to see disagreement as heresy.

There was conflict in the Eielsen Synod. It had already split twice when, in 1876, a majority of the congregations decided they could no longer accept a paragraph in the constitution concerning church membership. Eielsen would not hear of a change. And so the majority of the congregations went on to become the Hauge Synod. A small group continued under the old constitution and Eielsen’s leadership.

The Hauge Synod chose as its first president a man whose name ought to be familiar around here. His name was Arne Boyum. But the second president should be a familiar name too. He was Østen Hanson, and he was pastor of Immanuel and Hauge churches, Kenyon, Minnesota. He served this parish for 37 years, and never took another call. Unlike Eielsen, Hanson knew how to stay put.

Østen Hanson was born in Telemark, Norway. Although his faith was every bit as solid and biblical as Eielsen’s, he had the ability to disagree with people without being disagreeable. He had a gift for organization, and he knew how to choose his battles.

He was not an educated man by the standards of this world. None of the early Haugeans were. But N. N. Rønning, in his book Fifty Years in America, says of him:

Hanson was a brainy man…. He was a converted man…. He had an insatiable hunger for knowledge and was an assiduous and discerning reader. He sought every occasion to talk with learned men. He had a passion for thinking things through.

The Bible was the book for Hanson. Everything he preached was riveted in the Bible. He wrestled with the Word. He found no peace of mind before he had mastered it, only to find, of course, that it was not fully mastered. He must have known the Letter to the Romans by heart; at least he had the more significant passages at the tip of his tongue.

I’m happy to be able to report that the synodical split did not make Eielsen and Hanson lifelong enemies. Later in his life Eielsen visited Pastor Hanson in the parsonage over in Aspelund, and he held meetings in this parish.

Ole Rølvaag tells us, quoting the Bible, that there were giants in the earth in those days. These stone walls have echoed to the voices of prophets. Hauge and Immanuel congregations have a powerful—even a heroic—spiritual heritage.

It’s not a heritage just for looking back on. I think it’s a heritage that has something to teach us today. Just as our ancestors had to find ways to practice the old, true faith in a strange new environment, so we face a strange new environment today. America was less different from Norway in the 19th Century than it is today from the country many of us grew up in. Once again our task as Christians is to work in new circumstances, speaking the timeless gospel in a new language.

May the same Spirit who worked in Eielsen and Hanson work in all of us here today, pastors and laity alike, as we carry on the ministry of repentance and faith.

I fight (sort of) and I preach (sort of)

A strenuous weekend (by my effete standards), but a pretty good one, all in all.

In Moorhead, Minnesota there is a museum dedicated to the Hjemkomst (Homecoming), a replica Viking ship that sailed to Norway in 1984. Each year they hold a Scandinavian festival there, and sometimes they invite the Viking Age Club & Society. This was one of our years.

We were blessed with pretty good weather in our encampment. It got warm, but we had a breeze most of the time, and that makes all the difference if you’ve got some shade. I sold a few books. We did two combat shows on Friday and three on Saturday (Roy Jacobsen of Writing, Clear and Simple posted this link to a Fargo Forum newspaper photo in the comments below, but I give you the link again, so you can be suitably impressed. Much as it may surprise you, that’s not a screen capture from ‘300.’ It’s yours truly, terrible in his wrath, defending himself heroically against a base attack by those scoundrels, the Andersons.

The photographer must have had a camera with a fast shutter, because this battle lasted about 3/8 of a second.

You’ll note, if you look closely, that there are holes in my shield. Here’s a picture of the shield today:


It’s on its way out, but I think I’ll use it a while longer. Those holes can actually be an advantage, if you’re fast (which, unfortunately, I’m not). You can catch your enemy’s weapon in them, give the shield a twist, and disarm him.

I packed up Saturday afternoon and drove home. Sunday morning I drove down to Kenyon, my home town, for the annual historical service at my home congregation’s Old Stone Church, pictured here:

Old Stone Church

I wasn’t aware (or hadn’t paid attention) but this was a special service of dedication at the end of a major refurbishing project. They had tuck-pointed the stonework and completely re-done the interior, replacing the crumbling plaster walls with concrete colored to look like the originals. Some private grant money and a lot of volunteer work went into the job.

Old Stone Interior

Here’s a close-up of the old altar.

Old Stone altar

It’s a very Haugean altar (the Haugeans are the pietistic Lutheran group which formed my religious outlook). On either side are the tables of the Law. Haugeans are always aware of the Law. We’re not the kind of people who think the Law is of no further interest to those who are in Christ.

But the Cross is in the center, lifted high above the Law. The Cross puts the Law in perspective. The Cross rules over the Law.

And under the Cross is a painting of the Lord’s Supper, a central means by which the grace of the Cross is mediated to the worshipers kneeling at the altar.

The verse on the plaque is John 3:16.

I came in costume (not Viking but 19th Century), since it’s my belief that anything worth doing is worth overdoing. I’d been asked to give a historical talk. I suppose they had in mind a synopsis of the story of the congregation and the building. Being me, I did it my own way.

I didn’t want to do just names and dates. I wanted to tell a story, to convey the romance (and it was a romance) of Norwegian immigration and evangelism in the new world. I figured there’d be children there (there were) and I wanted to tell them things they might remember.

So I told the stories of two men—Elling Eielsen, the Norwegian evangelist who planted Haugeanism in America, and Østen Hanson, Eielsen’s disciple who broke with him and became the president of the Hauge Synod, pastor of our church (and its sister congregation) for 37 years.

I’ll post the text of my talk tomorrow, because I promised some people I would. The rest of you might find it interesting too, as a case study if nothing else.

Counterplay, by Robert K. Tanenbaum

I’ll be taking a blog break till Monday, probably, unless I get a wireless connection in Moorhead and find the time. I’m going up with the Vikings for the Hjemkomst festival. Drop by if you’re in the area, but I won’t be there Sunday.

On Sunday I shoot back south, overshoot my home, and come to rest in Kenyon, Minnesota, my original home town. I’ve been asked to give a short historical talk for a special service. My home church (Hauge Lutheran) has an old stone church, the congregation’s original building (it was built in 1875 and is on the National Register of Historic Places). A service is held there once a year (it used to be in Norwegian, but that’s kind of pointless nowadays). Anyway, I’ll be helping out with that Sunday morning.

I always look forward to Robert K. Tanenbaum’s Karp/Ciampi books, and I can’t say I didn’t enjoy Counterplay. But I see problems in this old, dependable franchise.

Our friend Aitchmark reviewed it here. He thinks Tanenbaum has succumbed to the temptation to try to make every book “bigger” than the last. I see that, and I agree to an extent. But I think I discern a deeper problem.

First, a synopsis: The last couple books have featured Butch Karp’s great nemesis—former New York City District Attorney Andrew Kane, a rich and corrupt man who nearly became mayor of New York. We thought Kane was beaten at the end of the previous book, when his plot to destroy the Catholic Church was unmasked and foiled.

But Kane has escaped from the police, and has made it clear that he is going to a) kill everyone Karp (now District Attorney himself) cares about, and b) perform a major act of terrorism. Security people believe he’s planning to target Russian president Yeltsin on an upcoming visit to the U.S.

You get your money’s worth in entertainment with any Tanenbaum book. He rolls out the beloved stock company of funny, eccentric, well-developed regulars we’ve come to love. The most interesting part of the story for me, actually, was a sub-plot—the cold-case against a millionaire for the murder of his wife, prosecuted by good ol’ Ray Guma, on the basis of a memory recovered by the couple’s son under hypnosis.

But there really is a problem, and I think Tanenbaum needs to do something about it. I think he’s fallen into the Superman Dilemma.

The Superman Dilemma is simple. Once you’ve created a hero who is faster than a speeding bullet, bulletproof himself, inhumanly strong and incredibly smart, what do you do to give him a challenge? Yeah, you’ve got kryptonite, but you can only use that stuff so often before people get bored.

The answer is the Super-Villain. You’ve got to come up with an adversary worthy of his steel skin. Someone who matches him in at least one category, and who is as bad as he is good.

Tanenbaum, over the course of this long series, has gradually loaded the Karp family with a pantheon of super friends. Tran, the former Viet Cong, was the first, I think. He’s a leader of the Asian mob, and will do anything to protect Butch’s wife Marlene, on whom he’s been nursing a crush for years. Then there’s John Jojola, the Taos Indian/Special Forces veteran, who walks unseen and has strange mystical powers. And there’s David Grale, the psychotic who leads and army of the homeless, fighting evil in the city sewers. And there’s daughter Lucy’s new boyfriend, the cowboy Ned, who is (of course) a crack shot and a quick-draw artist. Lucy herself is a language prodigy, which helps in a lot of situations. And Marlene is the Top Gun in Manhattan. She also trains huge attack dogs.

Which means that in real life, a family like the Karps would be safer than the president in the presidential bunker, just giving folks a tour. Thus, for a challenge, we need a super-villain capable of working past all these layers of security.

Andrew Kane has been the super-villain in the last few books, and is again here. And frankly it’s getting to the point where he’s straining credibility. The man is so insane—so filled with hate and yet so omnicompetent, that it’s hard to take him seriously.

Tanenbaum has produced a comic book. A superior comic book, one well worth reading, but a comic book nevertheless.

He needs to drop the end-of-the-world scenarios, kill off some of the family’s protectors, and get back to writing stories about people we recognize. There’s plenty of ordinary evil in the world for a big-city D.A. to fight.

Even Superman shouldn’t fly out of sight.

And now for something completely less awful

Well, that was self-indulgent, wasn’t it?

I figure I owe you about a year of cheerful posts after that last one (not that you’ll get anything of the sort). I find myself getting all mooky pretty much every June, on the anniversary of… well, I’ve said enough about that.

Events have overtaken me again, it seems. Last week The American Spectator Online published a column by me in which I imagined a female mainline bishop rationalizing her attraction to Islam. Now comes this story, about a female Episcopal priest who has openly converted to Islam, without leaving her present job, and nobody seems to be interested in disciplining her.

Which goes to show that you have to run as fast as you can to keep up with the future nowadays. I’m working on another Pastoral Letter, and hope to turn it into a series. I think I’ve got a few surprises up my sleeve, but this priest has stolen some of my wind, no question.

OK—something happy. Here’s a photo I got yesterday, from my distant cousin Trygve in Norway:

Norway Wedding

He was married on June 2 at historic Ullensvang church in Hardanger (unfortunately he went into the hospital right afterwards, which is why I didn’t hear about it till now. He’s feeling some better, he says). His bride is Denae, an American of Norwegian descent. I had the pleasure of meeting her last summer, when Trygve was over here visiting.

The striking gray-bearded gentleman in back is wearing a bunad, a Norwegian national costume. The lady on the far right is also wearing one, as is the woman in back, between them, though you can’t see much of hers. Every region in Norway has its own characteristic bunads, male and female.

The reception was held at the Hotel Ullensvang, a historic institution in the area, founded originally by one of Trygve’s ancestors (not my side of the family). The composer Edvard Grieg was a friend of that founder, and the little cabin they built on the grounds, for Grieg to compose in, is still standing.

Best wishes to the couple.

Long, long post

I’m pretty sure I figured out the proximate cause of my depression attack.

It was this.

A YouTube video of Linda Ronstadt singing “Long, Long Time.” (This is a truncated version, by the way, omitting the plaintive third verse so the producers could fit 20 seconds more of valuable commercial time into the slot.)

One of my favorite songs of all time. It’s so beautiful. So poignant. So evocative.

And it makes me feel so very, very sorry for myself.



Takes me back, that does, to my year-and-a-half of servitude at a country radio station. It was a country station in two senses. Not only did it follow a Nashville format, but it was actually located in the country, out among the cornfields in rural Wisconsin.

The managers did at least one thing for the announcers that was kind of nice. They’d approved a work schedule that allowed each of us to enjoy a full, two-day weekend—once every three weeks. If you’ve ever worked radio, you’ll know that’s pretty rare. Radio announcers are assumed to be doing “fun” work—“Heck, I’d pay them to let me do this!” says the company man—so a ten hour day and a six day week is pretty standard. (I used to say that if I’d known about this before I got in, I’d have just become a migrant worker and saved the expense of broadcast school).

But this schedule required one weekend guy, on rotation, to work a pretty brutal weekend schedule. Part of that schedule involved doing the sign-off on Saturday night (at midnight) and then being back in to sign on again Sunday morning (6:00 a.m.).

When I had one of those weekends, I’d sweeten the ordeal by signing off with “Long, Long Time” the last thing Saturday night. This would put me in the mood to drive home alone in the darkness to the trailer I rented (and couldn’t afford to heat properly), and lie in the embrace of insomnia, running those lyrics through my head and thinking back six years to The One That Got Away, The Bus I Missed, After Which There Were No More Buses


I don’t think I’ve ever been so frightened in my life as the day I called her to ask her out. I first met her when she was next-door neighbor to a friend and his wife, living in residential houses converted to apartments on a college campus. She was studying drama, and she asked my friend to take a part in a one-act play she had to direct for a class. “And do you think Lars would be willing to take a small part?” she asked him.

“No, I don’t think so,” my friend said. “But if you’ve got a large part you haven’t cast, he’d probably do that.”

And so I worked with her on the play (a cut of Anouilh’s Antigone, if you’re curious), and the more time I spent with her, the more I realized that, although I’d originally thought her skinny and kind of horse-faced, she was in fact slender and graceful, and she had the kind of grave beauty I associate with Pre-Raphaelite paintings. She was funny and smart and spontaneous, and one day I realized I was falling in love with her, and I did not fight it one little bit.

And so I said to myself, “You’ve got to ask her out. There’s no chance that a woman this wonderful is ever going to just drop into your life this way again.”

I was 23 years old. I’d never asked a girl out before.



A spring afternoon in 1974 (the following year). It must have been late May or early June, because she went away that June. I called her (I could have just walked over and asked [I’d shrewdly taken over my friend’s apartment]. But somehow it was easier to call first) and asked if she wanted to walk down to the Dairy Queen.

“Well, I guess I could,” she said. “Just a minute.”

A few moments later she said, “OK, I just subtracted the money from my trip budget.” (She was a missionary kid, and she was going back to see her parents.)

“I’m paying,” I said.

“No, no,” she replied. “I’ve written it down now. I’m not going to go to the trouble of adding it back in.”

So we took our walk. I tried to memorize every moment; every word. Soon she’d be gone, and she wouldn’t be back for eight weeks. Eight weeks seemed like forever.



When we got back we sat on her front step and talked. Somehow the conversation turned to the old bromide that goes, “If you love something, let it go. If it does not come back to you, it was never yours in the first place.” I said I agreed with that.

“I talked to my mother about that once,” she said. “I told her, ‘If you really love someone, you have to give them their freedom.’

“And she said, ‘No. If you love someone you want them with you forever.’”




After she flew away, I got letters from her. She wanted to be pen pals. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity.

In one letter she said she’d like to stay in that country, if people weren’t waiting for her back here.

I told her she should do what she felt was best for herself. I hoped she didn’t think anyone was trying to force her to do anything she didn’t want to.

So she didn’t come back.

And then she got engaged to a guy over there.

And I’ve always wondered—had she told me what she really wanted, that evening 33 years ago this month? Had she been telling me she wanted a man who had the strength to say, “Come back to me. I need you in my life”?

I’ve wondered for a long, long time. But I’ll never know.

Guidebook to Purgatory

It was a nice two days, anyway.

But I couldn’t expect my depression to stay away for much more than that.

What I’m experiencing now isn’t a bottomless, cosmic cold sore, like last week’s depression. But it’s a definite downturn. And that (plus the fact that I’m stuck for other material) gives me an excuse to post a little essay about depression I’ve been thinking out. I justify this in two ways. One, I’m going to make a literary comparison. Two, some of you may be writers who don’t know much about deep depression (or is that an oxymoron?) and I hope to clarify exactly what the experience feels like. For the record.

One of the most notable (and surprising) characteristics of a truly ripe depression is the sense of clarity it seems to give.

Deep depression is like Occam’s Razor, a simple, elegant answer to the whole messy problem.

It’s like the “payoff” in a classic mystery. You know the scene where the detective gathers all the suspects and explains everything, extending an accusing finger at the true culprit (who generally pulls out a hidden gun and forces the detective to dispense quick justice)?

When you’re deeply depressed, you look over your whole life—everything you’ve done and experienced, and you say, “Oh, that explains it. It’s all so simple.” It’s like that moment of clarity one imagines one has just before one dies. Which, the depressee feels, is likely to happen any minute.

So it resembles the payoff in a mystery, as stated above, but the mystery isn’t an English Cozy, or even a Thirties Hard-boiled. It’s a Noir, directed by a Frenchman

I suppose it’s a little like the experience of LSD users. I don’t know about this from experience, but I’m told that musicians (for instance) who performed under the influence of the drug thought they were producing brilliant stuff. And were appalled when they heard recordings once they’d “come down.”

When you’re deeply depressed, all your questions are answered—unpleasantly. “Why am I having trouble at work? Why are my relationships going badly? Why is my health failing?” The answer is simple. “It’s all my own fault. I am a miserable, stupid person whom nobody loves. Not only is my life lousy, but it’s going to get worse and worse until I die. Which will be soon.”

I believe in reason. I’m a strong defender of reason (all praise to Francis Schaeffer). But human beings don’t always recognize reason (or unreason) in their own heads.

That, I think, is one of the things we need other people in our lives to help with.

I’ll go out and find some. Just as soon as I’m a little less depressed.

(Please note that the above, written under the influence of a certain level of depression, may all be complete hogwash.)

In which I flatter myself by comparison to a much better writer

C. S. Lewis, in the introduction to the 1961 edition of The Screwtape Letters, tells of one subscriber to the Manchester Guardian, which originally published the series, who canceled his subscription because “much of the advice given in these letters seemed to him not only erroneous but positively diabolical.”

Today I got an e-mail from someone who read my latest American Spectator Online article. In the interest of objectivity, I shall quote a portion of his opening paragraph unedited:

You are the most out-of-touch, backwards-thinking, and plain ignorant author I have read on the subject of Islam. Your blatant, and apparently deliberate, disregard for the abhorrent inequalities and lack of human rights inherent to Islam is despicable.

He goes on to castigate me for my defense of Islamic culture.

Now this certainly doesn’t prove…

a) that I’m as good an author as Lewis, or

b) that my correspondent is as dense as the Guardian subscriber.

It’s possible, for instance, that I’m just a bad parodist, and that thousands of readers came away with the very same impression, but weren’t exercised enough to write to me.

And there’s always the possibility that my reader’s letter was itself parody, and that I didn’t get it.

Of death and life

Via James Lileks’ new Minneapolis blog, Don Herbert, better known to my generation as “Mr. Wizard,” has passed away. I hadn’t realized he was a Minnesota native.

I don’t recall that I watched his show a lot. I have an idea I was never sure when it was on, or the station moved it around, or something. But I remember really liking the show when I did see it.

And that wasn’t because of my deep love for science (I possess no such alien commodity). As I remember it, I mostly liked the idea of a smart grownup with a lot of neat toys who never had anything more important to do than explain stuff to kids. There were precious few adults anything like that in my own world.

So now you’re asking, “Well, now that you’re a grownup yourself, are you like that?”

My answer would be to scream and run away at my personal best speed.

Middle-aged, single men are not advised to have anything to do with children if they can help it, in today’s world. This is no great sacrifice in my case, as I really don’t like children much, and can never think of anything to say to them anyway.

Come to think of it, I don’t think we ever saw Mrs. Wizard.

But I’m confident there was one.

Well, I didn’t see today coming.

And I mean that in a good way.

Last night I had one of my insomnia attacks. I lay awake, obsessing between dozes. That’s usually the prelude to a really Huxleyan, semi-comatose work day.

But somehow, when I got up, I felt that today would be different. Taking silent inventory of my thews, sinews and reflexes, I realized I felt pretty good. Somehow I knew that when I got to work I’d catch up on several projects I’d been dogging, and I wouldn’t slip on my diet, and I’d have a good evening walk.

And behold, it came to pass even as I foresaw. All day I felt as if I was looking at things from above, like a grownup, rather than from below, like a helpless kid.

I can think of two explanations.

One is that I’ve been sleeping too much. Maybe God designed me for five hours a night.

The other is that somebody’s been praying for me.

If it’s the second, and you’re the one, thanks.

Warning: Political opinions expressed

This is going to be a political post. I’ll say that up front, so that those of you not interested in my politics can surf on. And why should you be interested in my politics? I have a little bit of credibility when I post on writing and books. I have none at all when I talk about politics. (“Why then,” asks the perceptive reader, “do you write occasional columns for a political organ like The American Spectator Online?” The answer is that I write for them because they pay me. I’m a capitalist. At least I am now.)

20 years ago tomorrow, President Reagan made his famous “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” speech. That was 1987 (in case you were having trouble with the math), and it was just about then that I was going through my great political transformation.

I grew up a Democrat. Dad was a Democrat, heir to an old strain of Upper Midwest Scandinavian populism, embodied even today in the name of the Minnesota liberal party—the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party. Those pietistic Scandinavian pioneers I like to write about had been political radicals back in the old country, and they continued pro-worker and anti-corporation in their American politics. Back in those days, nobody saw any disconnect in William Jennings Bryan being a fiery, Bible-thumping evangelical even as he railed against the oppression of the bankers. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, chief force behind Prohibition, was the mother of every liberal world-fixing organization that’s come since, from the ACLU to PETA to NARAL.

But during the Reagan administration I began to re-think all this. All my fellow Democrats despised Reagan. They called him “Ronald Ray-gun,” and described him as a superannuated, has-been actor with polyurethaned hair. But he was growing on me. I don’t think I ever voted for him, but I couldn’t help noticing that he kept saying and doing things I just liked.

And I was more and more uncomfortable in my own party.

The first thing that began to distance me from the Democrats was a thought—a thought that started as a tiny little shoot in my mind (planted, I think, by an article on the new phenomenon of the neo-cons in Time Magazine) and grew tenaciously once it put out roots. This thought went like this—“When you look at another human being and say, ‘That poor fellow is not capable of looking after himself. He must be cared for all his life, or he will die,’ you are not investing that person with dignity. You are treating him as subhuman (indeed the defenders of slavery had made a very similar argument). Some people may indeed be incapable of caring for themselves, but that judgment does not give them dignity. To expect a man to work is to treat him as a man.”

On top of that, my party was changing. I remembered when there were lots of pro-life Democrats, and when support for traditional marriage was not only the majority position, it was the only position. But it was growing more and more clear that there was no place for those opinions in the party anymore.

So one day I looked around me, and I said, “I guess I’m a Republican.”

Did you hear the one about the Norwegian and the Swede?

I had to sidle up to the banana bleachers at the grocery store tonight, because an elderly lady was front and center, working the entire display like a symphony conductor. She was selecting various bunches, pulling one banana off each, and placing them in her cart.

“I like to get a variety of expiration dates on my bananas,” she told me in confidence. “I hate it when they get too ripe.”

That’s what we Boomers have to look forward to, I thought to myself. Timing our bananas, like IEDs in Baghdad. Hello, retirement! On the other hand, by the time I retire they may have genetically altered bananas with little digital clocks on the stems.

In connection with Phil’s post about The Dangerous Book for Boys, here’s a fine article from today’s American Spectator Online, (link defunct) about contemporary childhood in England, by my friend Hal Colebatch. (Of course I realize I’m dropping names. I like dropping names. When I’m retired I’ll have leisure to drop names on a carefully timed schedule, like ripening bananas.)

Something I thought very weird (even eerie) happened on Saturday. As I drove to my favorite local Chinese place for lunch, I was listening (as I generally do) to the Northern Alliance Radio Network guys on our local talk radio station. They were doing live coverage of the dedication of a new World War II memorial at the Minnesota state capitol.

To fill time, they were talking about what else you could see on the grounds. They talked about two large statues in front of the capitol building, statues of prominent (now pretty much forgotten) politicians named Knute Nelson and John A. Johnson. One of the guys was reading information on the two men, probably from some kind of guide book.

So I get to the restaurant, sit down in my booth, and open the book I brought—Fifty Years In America by N. N. Rønning, a book I mentioned a couple days ago.

And what is right there, where I pick up my reading?

Character sketches of Knute Nelson and John A. Johnson.

(In case your wondering, Knute Nelson was, according to Rønning, “the first Norwegian[-American] politician who gained national recognition.” He was a Minnesota congressman, governor and U.S. senator. A Republican, though he broke with his party in not supporting protectionism.

John A. Johnson was a Swede and a Democrat. He hadn’t distinguished himself much before the 1904 Democratic state convention, but in a lackluster field he won the nomination for governor. As the campaign went on he began to find his voice as an orator, and started attracting popular support. His opponents uncovered a skeleton in his closet—his father had been a “drunkard.” After they published the story he responded with the greatest speech of his campaign. His opponents found that they had tarred their own image rather than his. The same year that the Republican Roosevelt won a landslide victory over William Jennings Bryan, Johnson was elected governor of Minnesota by 7,000 votes. He was reelected in 1906 and 1908. He was considered a serious presidential contender when he died unexpectedly in 1910.)

The coincidence of the radio program and my reading material shook me considerably. Although I theoretically believe in coincidences, it seemed too fortuitous to be mere chance.

On the other hand, what could it possibly mean?

I’m open to suggestions.

The agency of innocence

This poster from embodies a vision I’m coming to embrace in my own life. In the spirit of that sentiment, I’ll discuss a question commenters Sherry and Kathleen Marie raised on my last post, which was (in essence), “How does a head case like you get an agent?”

The answer is, “Once, by luck. Probably never again.”

(I’m not going to name my agents, by the way. They’re good guys who agented part time and never made it to the top of the pile. They made some choices that probably weren’t optimal, but then so have I.)

I’ve sometimes referred to “my agent” in blog posts, but that was an abbreviation of convenience. In fact they were a two-man shop. I’ll call them Primus and Secundus. Primus was the senior partner, and I dealt with him mostly when I actually had book contracts. I dealt with Secundus when I was out in the cold, at the beginning and at the end.

I got acquainted with them (by correspondence; I’ve never actually met either man) back when I was writing short fantasy stories. They were editors for a certain prominent fantasy and science fiction magazine, and they immediately impressed me with their taste and good judgment (by buying the first short story I ever sent them).

After a couple fruitful years (in which I never managed to sell a story to anybody else) they announced they were resigning from the magazine and opening an agency. They asked me if I’d care to come on board, and I jumped at it, knowing that getting an agent in the first place is one of the biggest hurdles a prospective author faces.

Then followed about ten years of nothing. I dealt almost exclusively with Secundus during that period, and they sent my first manuscript, and then a second, off to one publisher after another. Each one bounced back, although I got some flattering rejections.

I noticed, as time passed, that the agency was… less than energetic. Very compatible with my own personal style, of course, but not what you really want in an agent. They’d send a book off to somebody, and a year and a half later I’d ask them whether they’d heard anything, and they’d say, “Oh yes, we’ll have to give them a call.” Then another year would pass before the final rejection came.

Finally Jim Baen of Baen Books took the bait, and I started dealing with Primus.

Four books later, Jim Baen invited me never to darken his transom again, and I was back with Secundus.

And the slow, measured rhythm of submissions resumed. And again I’d ask them after a year or two if they’d heard anything, and again I’d get the impression that they’d forgotten about me completely.

Then one day I e-mailed Primus (I forget why it was him and not Secundus), and got no response. When I e-mailed him again, he replied that I should contact Secundus.

And Secundus told me that a) Primus was in bad health, and b) they’d recently noticed that nobody was returning their calls or messages. They deduced from this fact that they were out of business.

But Secundus said that he’d been in contact with a woman from a major agency, and she was interested in hearing from me. So I carefully sent her an e-mail with my personal bibliography, along with sample chapters from an unpublished book as an attachment.

No response.

I’ve done some research on this agency, and I have my doubts. For one thing this agency proudly declares itself a pioneering feminist agency. It was begun for the express purpose of getting more women writers published.

This makes me wonder if, after all these years, Secundus has ever actually read one of my books. Maybe he thinks I’m a woman. It’s a little troubling when your own agent misunderstands you so fundamentally.

So here I am. I’ve asked a couple writer acquaintances for references, but the one contact I’ve gotten went into the hospital about the time I e-mailed him, and so nothing has happened to date.

As you’d expect, knowing me, my hopes aren’t high.

What I need to do is go to one of the agent sites (here and here) I shared a while back, buckle down and start sending out query letters.

Maybe when this bout of light-headedness (and heavy-bottomedness) is past.

Trust me–you don’t want to live in my world

Warning: All I’ve got to post t about is what I did today. Which, as faithful readers know, is a subject both dull and irritating.

I actually accomplished a small achievement. One of the burdens of my job, a job which I generally like very much, is the business of book returns. No matter how canny you try to be when ordering textbooks in fall and winter, you always end up with rows and rows of unsold books, staring back at you with a “You brought us out here for this?” expression on their spines. (Yes, books look at you with their spines. They’re books, for pete’s sake. If they have eyes at all, they have them all over, like the living beasts in Ezekiel.)

I hate doing book returns. It’s one of many activities which normal people accomplish without a second thought, but are like East German tax audits to me. I hate to call strangers on the phone, for one thing. And of all the things I could call them about, asking their permission give back something I asked them for in the first place is one of the worst. One of the numerous absolute rules in my shabby little interior world is that I should never ask for anything that might possibly be refused. Refusal—rejection—is intolerable. Refusal is judgment on my personal worth. There’s no possible reason anyone would ever turn me down on anything, except that they hold me in utter contempt.

Sometime last term, one of our instructors ordered five copies of a particular book, then changed his mind after it had been delivered. So (at great expense in emotional effort) I called the distribution company and faxed them the information the lady said she needed to provide a return document.

But when I’d done that, I got a fax back from her saying she had no record of that book in their stock lists.

This was in April. Since that time I’ve had the books sitting in a box in my office, and I’ve told myself every day, “I’ve got to call her back and find out what the hang-up is.”

Today, I called at last. The lady I’d dealt with was on vacation, but the lady I talked to said I needed to talk to another number (some sort of publisher/distributor division of labor). The lady I talked to at the new place took my information, then e-mailed me a .pdf of the return document I needed. I put the box of books in the mail this afternoon.


My reward? I get to do the same thing with a bunch of other books and publishers.

Headed home, I noticed that all the traffic lights were out in my neighborhood. I wondered if we were having a power outage.

We were. The problem, apparently, was some kind of fire or accident just down the street from me. The street where I’d planned to walk after work, taking advantage of the rare sunny afternoon in a rainy week.

And, of course, when the fire department barricades a street, I don’t go up it even on foot. Somebody might tell me I wasn’t allowed to come that way, and that would be a judgment on my personal worth (see above).

So I mowed my lawn. Which is just as good, and accomplishes something besides.

The moral? The moral? After a day like this you want morals from me? As my enemies have always maintained (when they’re not refusing me things), I’ve got no morals.

Speaking truth to D-Day

Today is the anniversary of the Normandy invasion in 1944.

I was all prepared to do a knee-jerk patriotic post, going on and on about the courage of our fighting forces.

But I’ve been reading lefty blogs and watching network television news lately, and the scales have fallen from my eyes (pardon me while I put the scales back in the bathroom, where they belong). I now see what a horrible crime our participation in World War II was. In fact, I’m at a loss to explain how the enlightened voices of our mainstream media can continue to cover up the horrific crimes of Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and their henchmen. Where are the Cindy Sheehans, the Rosie O’Donnells, the John Murthas of the (so called) Greatest Generation? When will the truth be told?

Today, while archiving old books in the library, I found a small pamphlet tucked into one of them. It’s a contemptible piece of war propaganda published by the USO. I’ll show you a couple pages here; but it actually folds out to six pages, front and back.

Look at the front page:


The first thing that strikes the enlightened reader is the picture of the soldiers. I suppose the fact that one is a sailor, one a soldier and one a marine is supposed to suggest some sense of diversity. Ha! You call that diversity? They’re all white. They’re all male. None of them is visibly disabled. The fact that they’re hugging might suggest that they’re gay, which would be worth something, I suppose, but they’re probably just drunk, celebrating the massacre of innocent civilians somewhere.

You’d almost think that they thought in those days that an army existed for the purpose of fighting wars, rather than for providing educational opportunities to impoverished young people.


Note also the second quotation under the picture. The word “Jap” is used openly. Do you need further evidence that this was a purely racist war, in which Roosevelt and his striped-pants buddies trumped up the flimsy excuse of a minor misunderstanding at Pearl Harbor, in order to prosecute a genocidal war against Asians, in order to steal their… whatever it was Japan had that they wanted to steal?

Note also that the soldiers are referred to as “men” fully three times, just on this page. No mention at all of the thousands of female soldiers who were fighting and dying all over Europe and the Pacific, whose story has been cruelly suppressed by the male hegemony, even unto this day!

But what really settles the matter is the back page:


Note the names of the two chairmen—Rockefeller and Bush (and yes, Prescott S. Bush was the father of George H. W. Bush, and grandfather of George W. Bush).

What further proof do you need that the whole war was a farce, started by liars purely for oil?

The only thing that’s missing is Halliburton.

But it goes without saying that the lack of any mention of Halliburton is the most definitive proof that the whole thing was their insidious plan.

Vanity, vanity, says the preacher

Phil sent me this link to a story about evidence (through chicken bone analysis, no less) that the Polynesians sailed to South America about a century before Columbus.

This, as Phil mentions in his note, still leaves them about 400 years behind Leif Eriksson.

But it doesn’t surprise me in the least. The Polynesians were truly phenomenal blue water sailors.

What particularly intrigued me was the idea that Thor Heyerdahl might have been right, but backwards. Although he proved with his Kon Tiki voyage that it was possible for South Americans to have populated the South Pacific islands, recent DNA studies have proved that Polynesians are not the descendents of Native Americans.

Apparently the voyage was made at least once, though. Only it was in the opposite direction than Heyerdahl theorized.


Speaking of Norwegians, I’ve been asked to give a short talk at a heritage-themed service at my home church later this month. In looking for information on one of the early pastors, I came on an old book called Fifty Years in America, by N. N. Rønning (long out of print. Don’t even bother looking for it on Amazon).

Rønning came to America from Norway in the 1880s, about the same time my own people arrived. He had a more intellectual bent than most immigrants, though, and eventually attended the University of Minnesota, ending up as a professional writer.

He gives character sketches in the book of some of his teachers at the U. of M., including Cyrus Northrop, the university president:

In an address delivered November 18, 1908, at Whitman College, Washington, [Northrop] said:

“I would not stay one day at a state university if I were hampered in the maintenance of Christianity, and were compelled to recognize agnosticism as being as good as Christianity. I said to the Regents of the University of Minnesota in my inaugural address that I must be free as a believer in Christianity, and daily service in chapel, with singing of hymns, reading of scriptures and prayer to God has gone on all these years, and hundreds of students daily attend these services, their attendance being entirely voluntary….”

In another address delivered at the commencement of the University of Wisconsin, June 21, 1893, he said: “I have a very genuine contempt for a class of men who are forever proclaiming the failure of Christianity, or the failure of education, or the failure of the human mind, or the failure of God, because everything is not yet perfect.”

Minnesotans today know Northrop’s name primarily from Northrop Memorial Auditorium, a stadium at the university that’s named in his honor. Here’s its web site. You’ll note that one of the first events listed on the schedule (if you’re reading this in the archive, sometime in the future, never mind—it will have changed by now) is an event called “Glitter and Be Gay.”

You know, some days I feel like the guy in Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 (NIV): “I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.”

But I suppose that would make me like one of the men Northrop expressed contempt for in 1893.

Update: Phil tells me the original message came from reader Greg Smith, and he forwarded it to me. For the record.