All posts by Lars Walker

Call me Cassandra

I heard from my prospective renter a few minutes back. He decided he’d fit better in an apartment of his own.

Maybe God’s telling me that’s where I belong too.

Gave a lecture to the Northfield, Minnesota Sons of Norway lodge last night. It was a special Twenty-fifth Anniversary meeting, held in a banquet room at St. Olaf College (which was fitting, since I was lecturing on the original St. Olaf, among other people).

It was one of my better lecturing experiences. Excellent meal, receptive audience, and I sold a lot of books.

And yet, my heart is bowed down.

I wrote the following years ago, in my novel Wolf Time. The speaker is a television news reporter:

“Look, don’t get me wrong. I’m sorry we have to bury America—it has its good points. But we’re talking survival now. This is the nuclear age, the killer virus age, the age of terrorism. As long as we can defend ourselves there’s no chance for survival…. I want to live, and I want my children to live, if I ever decide to have any. In a world like this we can’t afford honor. My honor, if you want to call it that, is to persuade people, any way I can, that nothing—nothing in the world—is worth dying for. And I think people are getting the message. You know why we’ve only fought little wars since Vietnam? Because Americans don’t have any stomach for long-term sacrifice anymore. I like to think we [the news media] had something to do with that. It’s an incredible power we have.”

I hate being right. I had the hope, when I wrote that scene in a novel set in the near future, that the Universe (not Providence. They’re two different things) would step in, as it usually does, to prove my prediction false. Unfortunately the Universe backed me up this time.

I’ve heard all the arguments that nothing big will happen in the wake of the power shift in Washington, because of gridlock, etc.

I don’t buy it. I keep hearing smart people on the radio saying the election was mostly about the war. And it doesn’t matter that a lot of people who voted to throw the bums out were angry that the war wasn’t being prosecuted aggressively enough.

The message sent by this election was, “America has given up. We’re pulling out. We’ll do what we can to save face as we leave, but you’ve beaten us.”

I think we’ve turned a critical corner, pulled the pin on the grenade. The message of Vietnam has been confirmed—fight the Americans long enough and you’ll wear them down. They’re soft. They won’t make sacrifices.

I have a vision of the future. I hope I’m wrong this time.

I see embattled people all around the world, Christians and non-Christians, fighting against the pressure of Islam. They’ll know that there’s no help to be expected from America, and far less from the United Nations. In other words, there won’t be any polite, Geneva Convention answer to their problem.

They will do what they need to do to survive.

It will be very, very ugly. There will be acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing. There will be terrible battles and massacres and atrocities. On both sides.

I don’t think it will happen in America. At least not soon. But it will happen elsewhere, and it won’t be long now.

And it will be our fault. Because we had the chance to stop jihadism in Iraq, and we couldn’t finish the job.

But I see something else. It came to my mind as I sat in church on Sunday.

Our guest preacher was a missionary from Mexico. He spoke, among other things, of signs and wonders.

I need to explain here that we’re not a charismatic group. We mistrust faith healers, and positively oppose tongue-speaking.

But this pastor spoke of miraculous healings in answer to prayer, on the mission field. He spoke of a man raised from the dead. He spoke of exorcisms. He named names, names of several people who are known to us from mission trips, or as students at the Bible School.

He talked of all this matter-of-factly, as things just to be expected when God is working.

And that reminded me that the Kingdom of God is bigger than my fears. God is at work today, and what He’s planning to do is probably something that hasn’t occurred to me. His instruments will come from places where I’m not looking.

So be comforted.

But not too comforted.

Uncle Buck

I’ve been planning to blog about Uncle Buck since last weekend, when I gathered with family and they gave me his yearbook. But other things to write about came up. So here it is, the birthday of the Marine Corps, and tomorrow is Veterans’ Day. And Uncle Buck was a Marine. Pacific Theater. WWII.

Good timing. Almost makes me believe in Divine Providence. Which I do believe in. Except when it comes to real life.

Years ago, one time when we were visiting his house, Uncle Buck handed me a red book. “This is the story of my unit in the Marines,” he said.

I should have realized what a big deal that was. Uncle Buck never talked about the war. Never.

I looked at the book for a while, but didn’t get much out of it. I’ve felt guilty about that ever since. Especially since he died of cancer in 1978.

Last Saturday, when I went down to Faribault for the burial of Uncle George and Aunt Martha, I was given the red book. It turns out to be pretty much what it looks like—a school yearbook. Only the school was Marine boot camp.

And it leaves me pretty much as ignorant as I was before.

I asked an aunt on Saturday, “Do you know where Buck fought in the Pacific? What battles he was in?”

She thought a second and said, “No, I really don’t. He didn’t talk about it much. I think he might have been at Wake Island. But they kept him out of some of the fighting because he’d gotten that Dear John letter. So he wasn’t in all the battles with his unit.”

The yearbook doesn’t help. I really shouldn’t have felt guilty about not getting much from it when he showed it to me. The name of the unit was the 9th Replacement Battalion. They trained at Camp Elliott, near San Diego in 1943. I can find no mention of them on the internet. For all I know they were dispersed to existing battalions after finishing their training.

Uncle Buck is still a mystery.

I remember him as a tough guy. A quiet man who never knew what to say to kids (never had any of his own), and who drank and smoked a lot. If I remember the story correctly, he met a girl in Australia while in the Pacific and got engaged to her. Then she sent him a Dear John letter, as mentioned above. He saw combat—somewhere. Eventually he contracted malaria and was discharged. He had recurrences of the malaria for the rest of his life. After the war he married a girl my grandfather didn’t like, converting to Catholicism to marry her. Everyone agreed he was a different man after the war than he’d been before.

We tell stories about our warriors. We make movies about them; build statues. We try to preserve some memorial, to let them know that we understand that they lost something they can never get back for the sake of the rest of us.

But we can’t really know. All we can do is say thanks, and give them what honor we can.

Semper Fi, Uncle Buck.

To all you veterans, thanks.

Why can’t we get more stories like this from Christian writers?

Here’s a story that made me laugh, and will probably offend half our readers. It’s another excerpt from Vol. II of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis. It comes from one he wrote to his brother Warren on Nov. 5, 1939, when Warren had been recalled to active service in the Second World War:

I heard as good a story as I know this week about old Phelps the Provost of Oriel [College]—you probably remember him, with the beard and the black straw hat. Jenner was a fellow of Jesus [College], a high-minded dissenter and fanatical tee-totaller. He was dining at Oriel and the Provost asked him to take wine with him:

Jenner: Sir, I would rather commit adultery than drink a glass of that.

Provost: (in a low, stern voice) So would we all, Jenner; but not at the table, if you please.

Going out and coming in

The temperature got up to 70 today, just to mock my depression (of course if it had been cold and rainy, I’d have thought that was mocking my depression too. I have an extremely broad mockery threshold).

Congratulations to any Democrats who wander in here. You won fair and square, and you’ve earned your celebration.

I myself find comfort in the following thoughts:

1. In any story, you’ve got to have setbacks. That’s what builds the plot. That’s what keeps interest up. In real life, setbacks are what keep us from being complacent. And the Republicans have been pretty stinking complacent over the last couple years.

2. Think of who the new congressional leadership will be. These are people eminently qualified to hang themselves, given adequate rope. And they’ll have rope a-plenty now.

My prospective renter came to look at the house today. He strikes me as a pretty good fit, a quiet guy, around my age, with professional credentials, who works with a Christian service organization. Likes to read. Likes to mow lawns.

He’s going to pray about it and get back to me. If you’re not overwhelmed with more important stuff to pray about, you might shoot up a quick prayer over this decision.

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.’”