Call It God’s Judgment

Forty-five years ago a murderous squad of tornadoes mobbed thirteen states within eighteen hours, killing 315 people and injuring 6,000 more.

When catastrophes happen, someone will likely attribute it to God’s judgment on our country at large or the damaged region in particular, saying the sin of those people had become so great that God had to do wipe them out with a grand outpouring of his wrath. That’s misguided but not entirely inaccurate. We should understand natural disasters as part of God’s judgment on our people or our neighbors. Our sin deserves it. For God to remind us of his terrible wrath, which will not ignore anyone, is profoundly merciful.

But a catastrophe isn’t only judgment. It’s mercy for some who have been living in bondage to other’s people sinful control. It’s opportunity for some to trust him, having been unshackled from their self-reliance or material ties. It’s a challenge to some to love their neighbors, to get out of their isolation and rebuild what they can. It’s providential direction for some, who are being forced to move to a new city and begin a new life.

We are too narrow-minded when attributing divine motives to particular events. God’s mind is infinite. His motives for orchestrating any event could be as many as the number of people involved. They could be plans we would understand if we knew them; they could be plans we don’t want to hear. No matter what his reasons, God bids us to trust him.

Great troubles come when we least expect them. We may be at peace in a happy home. At an hour when we think that all is calm, without warning — the darling child whom we love so much, lies dead in our arms! The friend we trusted, and who we thought would never fail us — proves false! The hopescherished for years — wither in our hands, like flowers when the frost comes!

The storms of life are nearly all sudden surprises. They do not hang out danger-signals days before, to warn us. The only way to be ready for them — is to have Jesus with us in our boat.

from J. R. Miller, Daily Bible Readings in the Life of Christ (1890)

New Viking Exhibition in Oslo

It’s pretty much all Vikings, all the time for me this week. A family member sent me a link to the following video, about a brand new Viking exhibition in Oslo:

You can read more about the exhibition in this article from medieval.eu.

Due to unforeseen reparations being carried out at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, the opening of a new Viking exhibition has been rescheduled. End of March – hopefully – visitors will be able to enjoy a bonanza of the more spectacular archaeological finds from the last ten years; add to this a selection of some of the highlights from an earlier time, and visitors may expect an enjoyable tour of the Norwegian Viking past. Later in 2025, when the new museum opens at Bygdøy, the treasures will be transferred there, supplementing the finds from OsebergGokstad, and Tune. Perhaps finds from the newly discovered Viking boat in Østfold – as yet not excavated – will join the older treasures

Lots of cool stuff here. I’m pleased that the video maker, who rejoices in the extremely Norwegian name, Bjorn Andreas Bull-Hansen, is not entirely convinced that women warriors existed, like me. I think I’ve been in this museum, if it’s the one I’m thinking of.

The Generation that Reads the Most

A grain of salt may be needed here. Research from this decade is showing 80 percent of millennials are reading books in one format or another. They prefer print but also enjoy ebooks and audiobooks. This generation (born b/w 1981 and 1996) use public libraries more than any other generation but also tend to buy the books they read. Keep these stats in mind when you see the next slate of research on millennial reading habits.

INFOGRAPHIC: The Surprising Reading Habits of Millennials

Hey, millennial, tell us how you read. Do you prefer books, use libraries, and read much or only a bit?

Photo by Fabiola Peñalba on Unsplash

The Vikings: From Odin to Christ, by M. & H. Whittock

The voluntary nature of the Scandinavian conversion – in Denmark and Sweden at least – seems to have led to communities feeling that they did not need to significantly alter their artistic communication or abandon their traditional culture in order to be good Christians.

C. S. Lewis writes somewhere that one of the best methods of evangelism would be for Christians, not to produce more “Christian” work, but to simply do better work as Christians. From my perspective as an amateur historian, I would say that Martyn and Hannah Whittock (father and daughter) have produced superior historical work in producing The Vikings: From Odin to Christ, published by Lion Books, a Christian publisher.

It’s weird for a guy like me, a promoter of the historical value of the Icelandic sagas, to say, but there’s good reason to believe that the story of the conversion of the Vikings, as presented in the sagas, may be misleading. The Whittocks point out – and somehow I’d missed this – that there is little report of violence in the conversions of Denmark and Sweden. Only in Norway, where saga writers had political motivation to glamorize Olaf Haraldsson as Norway’s national hero and saint, do we have stories of torture and threats of death.

It may be true that Olaf was a bloody-handed tyrant (I believe that). But his work may not have been as influential in the conversion as the sagas suggest. There’s good reason to think that the earlier Christian king, Haakon the Good, who gets short shrift in the sagas, may have been a far more effective missionary than history remembers.

This harmonizes with things I’ve been saying in my lectures for some time. Now, having read the Whittocks’ book, I have more ammunition for those arguments.

I’m also delighted that the Whittocks have very clearly read Bishop Fridtjof Birkeli’s untranslated book, Tolf Vintrer Hadde Kristendommen Vært i Norge (which Anders Winroth, for all his expertise, overlooks entirely in his book on the conversion of Scandinavia). I’m delighted that Birkeli’s important ideas, largely unknown to English readers till now, are being conveyed through this book.

The Vikings: From Odin to Christ covers a lot more than the conversion of Norway, of course. We start with a historical overview, then examine each Scandinavian country in turn, followed by various regions that the Vikings colonized. I have a couple minor quibbles – at one point they suggest St. Olaf’s opposition was motivated by heathenry, but they correct that later on.

I haven’t found a history book a page-turner in a long time. The Vikings: From Odin to Christ kept me turning the pages. I recommend it highly.

Your Viking news update

My reading pace is a little slow just now. Had some translation to do on Monday, and now I’m working hard on preparing for my lecture at Union University in TN next Tuesday.

So here’s some Viking news, courtesy of HisTecho:

While Norwegian archeologists in Trondheim’s city, excavated the market area, they stumbled upon a curious discovery.

It was 13 feet long, and while the wood had been destroyed over time, evidence such as nails and rusty lumps indicated that it was a boat. The boat dates from the 7th to the 10th century, a time when Vikings wandered the seas, raided and explored, according to the initial analysis.

Inside the boat, burial goods such as bronze, a piece of a spoon, and a key to a small box were discovered, alongside 2 long bones.

The DNA testing is yet to prove if the bones are human or provide any details that might bring more information about the person possibly buried in the boat.

The article indicates that scholars are surprised by the age of the find, but I don’t find it surprising that there would be human habitation, and burials, in Trondheim before the turn of the millennium. Trondheim didn’t become really important until Olaf Trygvesson’s time (around 1000), but we’re talking about arable land in a soil-poor country. Trondheim is a nice spot, with a good port. I’d be surprised if somebody wasn’t living there.

Restricted by Film, Bergman Turned to Novels

If you like long novels about families slouching toward their doom, marriage as a “life catastrophe,” and reconciliations that come fifty-years late if at all, then you may already know that writer and director Ingmar Bergman turned to novels at one point in his life to overcome the “perfectionist restriction” he felt in his film work.

He wrote the three autobiographical novels [following his autobiography] in a remarkable creative rush between the ages of seventy-three and seventy-eight. The Best Intentions, a dramatization of his parents’ improbable courtship and troubled marriage that’s punctuated by conversations (real or imagined) with Erik and Karin (referred to in the novel by the pseudonyms “Anna” and “Henrik”) in their old age, came out in 1991; Sunday’s Children, which focuses on a precarious moment in the young Ingmar’s relationship with his forbidding father, in 1993; and Private Confessions, a series of six brief stories, each featuring his mother at a crucial moment in her emotional and spiritual life, in 1996.*

Serious Preaching in a Comedy Culture

Dr. David P. Murray worries that preachers joke around in the pulpit too much.

Since coming to North America, I’ve preached in a number of different churches. A few times I’ve been taken aback by laughter in response to something I’ve said in my sermon. The first time it happened, I froze on the spot. I could hardly go on. I was stunned. In Scotland, I never cracked a joke in the pulpit. It would not even cross my mind to try to make people laugh. That was just not done in most Reformed churches. Yet, now, the same words, said in the same way, create laughter!

A few months ago I heard a well-known preacher give an address on a very serious subject to a large conference. He started by speaking of his own sinful inadequacy. But as he confessed his sinfulness, laughter erupted. The speaker was startled. He tried again. The result was the same. He eventually said that he could not understand the reaction, abandoned his introduction, and just got started on his address.

In some ways, none of this should surprise us. We live in a comedy-saturated culture. . . .

He notes some preachers are naturally light-hearted and will present their subject more humorously than others will, but comedy as a means of crowd-pleasing should be avoided. Preaching, he says, should be serious.

This is not an argument for dull, boring, predictable, unimaginative or lethargic preaching. Preaching should be energetic, lively, interesting, creative and joyful. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that ‘a dull preacher is a contradiction in terms; if he is dull he is not a preacher. He may stand in a pulpit and talk, but he is certainly not a preacher.’

‘No Smoke Without Fire,’ by Paul Gitsham

A sort of a cross between Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels and “Midsommer Murders.” That’s how I’d explain Paul Gitsham’s DCI Warren Jones novels.

In No Smoke Without Fire, young women start disappearing in the English town of Middlesbury. When their bodies are found, they have been raped and strangled. The crime scenes are remarkable for their lack of forensic evidence. This monster has studied police forensic procedures, and knows what to do. More young women will die until Jones and his team can get into his strange, twisted mind and put a stop to him.

I’m enjoying these books, but I have to admit I also find them slow for long stretches. I think that’s because author Gitsham does a good job describing the tedious, day to day routine of police work. He saves the fireworks (except for somewhat harrowing descriptions of the abductions) for the obligatory showdown at the end.

I thought this was a new series for me, but I find I reviewed one of the books some time back, before rediscovering it.

These are intelligent, enjoyable books, if occasionally slow. Christianity, again, is generally treated with respect. Only a few cautions for language.

Jeeves Appears Again

I missed or had forgotten that Sebastian Faulks had been commissioned by the Wodehouse estate to write a new novel with Jeeves and Wooster. The resulting Jeeves and the Wedding Bells was a hit.

Now a second novel has been commissioned from a different writer, Ben Schott, and the result has also rung true with Wodehouse fans. Mark McGinness writes about Schott’s Jeeves and the King of Clubs.

Every few pages bear a Masterly metaphor. “Monty is to reading as Mozart is to golf”; arriving on the scene “bearing two glasses of Madeira and, so it seemed, the weight of the world”; “a Savile Row suit can be handed down the generations—like gout”; “she has a profile that, if not a thousand ships, certainly propelled a punt or two down the Cherwell”; and “Aunt Dahlia rose from the table with the cumbersome majesty of an unmoored Zeppelin.”

from “A Splendid Schott at Plum” (via Prufrock News)

A short pause for the Long Ships

Today I got a little translation work to do. Not a lot, but there are reasons to hope things may pick up a bit.

And I did a little housework.

And I have nothing to write about. I’m blank. In lieu of an actual intellectual contribution to the world wide web, I offer the opening titles from a truly mediocre Viking movie, The Long Ships, with Richard Widmark.

This film, beyond its general inaccuracy and implausibility, commits the great sin of being unworthy of its source material — the fine novel The Long Ships, by Fran Gunnar Bengtsson.

You may note that the ship’s rudder is (properly) on the starboard side in some shots, and occasionally on the port side. This is the result of a cheat on the film editors’ parts. They just reversed the print. For some reason.

I owned a 45 rpm vinyl disc of this song — a cousin had it and didn’t want it, and she gave it to me. I think I listened to it once — somehow I left it sitting a car window and it melted.

Only the first of many disappointments connected with this movie.

‘The Last Straw,’ by Paul Gitsham

I was in a mood for a change of pace from intense crime thrillers, and thought I’d look for a good, old-fashioned police procedural. I found it in The Last Straw, Paul Gitsham’s first in a series starring Detective Chief Inspector Warren Jones of the (fictional) Middlesbury police force, in England.

Professor Alan Tunbridge of the (also fictional) University of Middle England’s biology department was a genius and, by all accounts, a pretty vile man. He abused his colleagues, exploited and sabotaged his student assistants, and pursued any pretty young woman who came his way.

Nevertheless, he didn’t deserve to have this throat cut. Which is what happened, in his office, on a day when the laboratory building was nearly empty.

A suspect is quickly identified. A figure on the building’s closed circuit TV is readily identifiable as a former student of Tunbridge’s, an Italian man with good reason to hate him. When bloodstained clothing is found on the man’s property, it follows naturally he must be arrested and charged.

But DCI Warren Jones, newly promoted and transferred in to Middlesbury, is a stickler for “dotting the Is and crossing the Ts,” as he repeatedly says. And he and his subordinates begin to have doubts about the evidence. Looking more closely, they begin to uncover a ruthless conspiracy, one which will not stint at committing further murders to keep its secrets —  and even cops are not safe.

To be honest, I found The Last Straw a little dull at first. I’ve grown accustomed to angst-ridden detectives, bedeviled by alcoholism, PTSD, bad marriages and ingrown guilt. DCI Jones is another kind of policeman altogether. He’s healthy, well organized, and generally cheerful. And when personal conflicts appear on his team, he handles them in a manner that’s an example to us all. I do worry about his marriage though – his wife is remarkably patient, but the pressure is heavy.

The book grew on me. It didn’t hurt that a couple of the characters identified as Christians and church-goers. I recommend The Last Straw for a more leisurely read than common in the genre, with only a mild caution for language.

‘Another Kingdom,’ by Andrew Klavan

I’d been told that Hollywood was where you went if you wanted to sell your soul to make movies. I went, but I never sold my soul. No one would buy it. I just got tired of carrying it around.

As a fantasy writer myself, I resent the way an interloper, like thriller writer Andrew Klavan, can just waltz in and write a compelling fantasy without (apparently) breaking a sweat or learning the secret handshake.

I comfort myself by finding a few nitpicks in my generally enthusiastic reception.

The hero of Another Kingdom is Austin Lively, a lowly Hollywood “story analyst.” A story analyst reads unsolicited scripts, and novels under consideration for script development, for Hollywood studios. Austin wrote a very good script once, but it died in development purgatory. Now he just gets by, a Hollywood drone, the despair of his high-achieving family.

But one day he has an impulse to re-read a book he “analyzed” a while back. The author withdrew it from consideration, but it stuck in his mind. He can’t find it on Amazon, and no bookseller seems to have it. On his way to check out another possibility, he walks through a doorway…

And finds himself in a tall castle window, teetering over the edge. He has a bloody dagger in his hand, and a beautiful woman lies dead, stabbed to death, on the floor behind him. Armed men break in and arrest him, dragging him off to a dungeon. There he nearly loses his mind with fear, until the guards come to take him away for torture. As he passes through the door again, he is transported back to Los Angeles…

Where he soon finds himself being hunted by a sexually ambiguous hit man, who works for a billionaire – who just happens to be the man who employs his father, his mother, and his brother. Who also owns the studio where Austin works.

Somebody will be killed, and Austin will be blamed. And all the while, at uncontrollable intervals, when he least expects it, Austin will be dropped back into the world of Another Kingdom, where he is now part of the resistance to a tyrannical government, fighting to bring back the rightful queen.

Each time he passes into Another Kingdom, he learns something – something that helps him survive in the “real world” of Los Angeles. And gradually he matures, becoming the man he always wanted to be, but never believed he could be.

Because this is Klavan, I assume Another Kingdom is Christian fantasy. But it’s not like your ordinary Christian fantasy (not even mine). There’s foul language, and sex scenes without any reference to Christian morality. I’m expecting the lessons to be deeper, and to become apparent later in the trilogy.

I had a few quibbles, as I mentioned. The medieval fantasy world of Another Kingdom seems to me pretty much pro forma, a city boy’s imagination. It lacked verisimilitude, for me. I don’t expect a medieval manor house to have glass doors (too expensive and fragile). A horse is lent to the hero, and all he does with it is ride it – he doesn’t feed it or unsaddle it or rub it down or check its feet. It’s just there for his use, like a car.

But the trademark Klavan storytelling delights are all here – the action never lets up, and one deadly peril follows the other in breathtaking style. This book will not bore you, not for one moment. I recommend it (with cautions for adult stuff) and look forward to the rest of the trilogy.

Have Journalists Connected Dots that Do not Add Up?

Despite the connect-the-dots graphic in its other story, and despite the astonishing, emotion-laden editorial the paper also ran suggesting “We don’t need to read the Mueller report” because we know Trump is guilty, Baker at least began the work of preparing Times readers for a hard question: “Have journalists connected too many dots that do not really add up?”

. . .

There was never real gray area here. Either Trump is a compromised foreign agent, or he isn’t. If he isn’t, news outlets once again swallowed a massive disinformation campaign, only this error is many orders of magnitude more stupid than any in the recent past, WMD included. Honest reporters like ABC’s Terry Moran understand: Mueller coming back empty-handed on collusion means a “reckoning for the media.”

Of course, there won’t be such a reckoning. (There never is). But there should be. We broke every written and unwritten rule in pursuit of this story, starting with the prohibition on reporting things we can’t confirm.

From a chapter released today of Hate, Inc. by Matt Taibbi

Book Reviews, Creative Culture