All posts by Phil W

Eating Seasonally, Feasting Locally

We don’t plant a backyard garden every year and have grown a good crop only two or three times. You may have had more zucchini than you could eat time and again, but we’ve only begun to approach that level once. Usually our squash grows leaves and flowers but no fruit. Once I grew some nice turnip greens; at least the first batch was nice. The second was to bitter. I put only tomatoes and basil out this year, because I didn’t get around to clearing the other bed and trying beans.

Gracy Olmstead has a good piece on feasting, the church calendar, and seasonal eating, noting the self-control and humility it takes to live closer to the land around you.

Don’t get me wrong: we’re incredibly fortunate to get avocados and bananas year-round, and to have refrigerators and freezers in our houses. But I think we’ve also lost some of the joy of food, the ability to treasure the flavors of the seasons, because we no longer understand these patterns of waiting and feasting.

This concern became especially real for me two summers ago, after my husband and I moved to the Virginia countryside. As we were unpacking our books and clothes, I transplanted our fledgling tomato plants into a garden plot the previous homeowners had left behind. Those plants seemed to shoot upward overnight, spreading with fervent glee. . . .

Soon we were picking giant bowls full of tomatoes every day, and the toddler and dog would sit next to each other in the garden and eat them to their hearts’ content. 

Death Levels Us All

Matthew McCullough’s recent book on death was featured last week in World Magazine’s Saturday series. It’s not a subject I like to think about, perhaps because I like to imagine I’m above it just as he says here:

The reality of death is profoundly humbling. It tells me that I’m not indispensable. It assures me I will be forgotten. And so death boots me from my self-appointed place at the center of the universe. But learning to recognize death’s challenge to my subconscious narcissism also raises haunting questions about who I am. It isn’t just that death is humbling. It can also be profoundly disorienting.

Most of us would probably agree that a reality check is a generally a good thing. No one likes a narcissist. Wouldn’t it be better for all of us if none of us saw himself as more important than everyone else? If death puts us in our place, that’s ultimately healthy, right?


Yes … but. Death’s challenge actually pushes even deeper. Death’s statement does more than put us in our place. It also raises questions about where our place actually is.

PTSD in Greek Tragedy

Scott Beauchamp reviews a Barnard Columbia Ancient Drama production of Euripides’s Herakles. It’s being performed in ancient Greek with English projections, so — dang! And the music is no afterthought, evoking a unique, ancient feel.

Beauchamp says the story of the god-like Herakles, who returns home to save his family but is deceived by malicious gods, draws him in.

As a former soldier myself who spent years away from his family, it’s difficult for me not to read PTSD into the story of Herakles. Trauma never finds you where you expect it to. It’s never in the moment of combat itself, or triggered by toy guns or cars backfiring (at least not in my experience). PTSD sneaks in through the attic window when you least expect it. You might be driving along on a beautiful day, listening to the radio. Or grocery shopping. Or mowing the lawn. It’s never when you’re ready for it, when it’s obvious. Lyssa [the goddess of rage] comes in at the most anodyne times, or the most exalted ones. She comes right at the moment when your labors are done, you’ve returned home, and put your house back in order. She destroys your clichés from the inside out.

On Mulling over a Library Book Sale

My local library has a few shelves to the left of the doors that hold for-sale books. They’ve dragged out more shelves for a larger sale at times, but I think they’ve settled into a simple pattern of perpetual selling. The Chattanooga library system just had its semi-annual book sale in our shopping-mall-turned-town-center. I have wanted to take my kids to one of these, but I forget year after year.

(BTW, when people talk about malls as a thing of the past, they aren’t in the past here yet. We still have nice, old school shopping malls with food courts and big department stores. We just got a Cheesecake Factory this year, which seems to be riding on the reputation of other restaurants in the franchise because it struck me as high-end fast food.)

Was I talking about books? Oh, yeah. The no-longer-shopping-mall space has a library book sale at least once a year. Luke Holmes went to a similar sale Oklahoma City and noted the not-so-classics available there.

There are piles of books that promise me they will be the next big thing. Learn how to capture the Zim Zum or Chazown, or how to have your best life now. There are enough books about bettering your life to build a house with, not to mention all the books about prayer, leadership, and integrity from those men who were found to be acting in their own power, abusing women, or stealing money.

He draws from this a few good thoughts. Yes, as the wise man once said, of the writing and fussing over books there will be no end until the sun finally boils the ocean. So read something good, friend.

Write History as You Would Want to Be Written About

If only all history teachers would take a Golden Rule approach as Yale professor Mark A. Peterson does. It would revive history as a viable college major. (via John Wilson)

“If you take seriously the moral reality of historical subjects as equal to your own and write about them with the respect they deserve, I think that is a valuable skill in terms of how you conduct yourself in your daily life,” says Peterson. “In that regard, I see a serious engagement with the humanities as the most essential thing that anyone can pursue in college. Even subjects that we don’t always associate with ‘the humanities’ such as engineering, computer science, and chemistry deserve the kind of scrutiny that humanistic thinking teaches, the capacity to imagine and interrogate how the discoveries we make and the things we invent will shape the lives, for better or worse, of real human beings like ourselves, our fellow inhabitants of humanity’s only planet.”

“A living, breathing, 20th century desert father”

Pastor and author Andrew Arndt shared this quote from that great Christian musician Rich Mullins out of research he has been working on for a book with NavPress.

Arndt quoted Mullins from an interview:

How do you know when God is calling you? Well, for me, for years I tried to avoid loneliness, because it hurt too much. Now I am beginning to recognize that maybe that’s what it feels like when God calls. Maybe when God is calling it hurts. Maybe when God calls us it feels like a pain. And for years I tried to drown and avoid that pain, and fill the ache with stuff that was destroying me. To listen to the call of God means to accept some of the emptiness we have in our lives and rather than always trying to drown out that feeling of emptiness we allow it instead to be a door we go through in order to meet God. And this is where moral purity begins to play in. Almost everything that corrupts us is something we use to fill an ache and moral purity might be nothing more than a call to accept the ache and the emptiness and to allow ourselves to go through it to where God is calling us to go. And the joy of the Christian life is that those aches are met ultimately in Christ.

When we finally pull the lifeline we’ve created to the things we’ve tried to fill our emptiness with, when we say no, it is very scary and we think will we ever stop hurting. My answer is don’t worry about hurting. Realize that this is how badly God wants you and that the hurt you’re feeling – maybe that’s the way it feels when you’re called by God so don’t try to fill or quiet it but ask God to give you the courage to face it and walk through it to him.

Copyediting Stereophile Magazine

Vintage editor Richard Lehnert tells something of his story in this three page web article on his years at Stereophile magazine. (via Prufrock News)

Larry would hand me endless accordion-pleated foldings of copy, printed in some knockoff of Palatino by a clacking daisy-wheel printer on a single endless roll of paper. I would take them home, mark them up in red pencil, and then, if delivering them after or before office hours, drive in my ’66 VW bug from my abuelita hovel on Alicia Street, in the Barrio, to Early Street, and leave them in the Stereophile mailbox—until one day four long articles bleeding red with my crabbed edits vanished from that mailbox, no doubt seized by an irate postperson, and I had to do them over from scratch.

Warren Wiersbe, pastor, author, Bridge Builder

Dr. Warren Wiersbe, 89, author of over 150 books that opened the Bible to readers around the world, died yesterday. His grandson, Dan Jacobsen, writes about him with his persistent voice in his ear: “As I write, I can’t help but imagine him hovering in the background and trying to find a way to edit what I’m writing so that it reflects a crisp tone with active voice and genius alliteration. (Grandpa mutters the phrase, ‘write for the ear, not for the eye!’ but what does that even mean?!) “

Wiersbe described himself as a bridge builder. “When he said it, he meant that he had a knack for filling leadership roles as the interim between giants. The hallmark picture of this has always been his tenure as senior pastor at the historic Moody Church in Chicago.” Wiersbe served at Moody Church between George Sweeting and Erwin Lutzer. Jacobsen remembers he frequently said, “You know the best thing I ever did for that place was leave so that Lutzer could pastor there.”

Of course, Jacobsen doesn’t stop with the professional aspects of his grandfather’s life. Get a run down of those details here.

Grandpa taught me what it is to pray. I think it was only two or three years ago this month that I spent a weekend with him. At many junctures along our days he would stop me and say, “let’s have a word of prayer together,” and he would acknowledge the Lord. I got the sense from him that he knew Jesus better than I even thought possible, and his life was lived in daily, sometimes hourly admission of his need for Christ in prayer.

The Curious Christian, by Barnabas Piper

I remember a relative in the family of one of my college friends telling me about his bright young son (maybe grandson) before going to school. He was inquisitive about everything and was encouraged to love learning. But after a year in first grade he shut down; he didn’t ask questions or chat about his observations anymore. His father (or grandfather) blamed it entirely on the school system, took the boy out, and taught him at home. I think he said it took a few months for the little guy to regain his curiosity. A nurturing environment was all he needed.

I remembered this story while reading Barnabas Piper’s book, The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life. His premise is as simple as that subtitle. We need curiosity in our lives to worship the Lord fully, engage our world courageously, and live together as God directs. We may call it by another name: invention, devotion, problem solving, hospitality, or even perseverance; Piper draws all of those things together into curiosity. That’s what we need.

By having curious minds we will take interest in others and in the culture around us. We will share stories and listen to others share theirs. Too many of us believe we have resolved the answers to the big questions and fear the answers or exploration others have found if they differ significantly from our understanding. Our school system presses us into this mold: know what’s being graded and repeat that answer for the test. If you ask too many questions (particularly the wrong sort of questions), you’ll get shamed or possibly kicked out.

From behind our overprotective hedge, we don’t have anything like this passage in mind:

All of creation resonates with God’s voice, sometimes only as echoes faint, distant, and indistinct. It reflects Him in some way, blurry or clear. Nothing exists that was not created by God and sustained by God. Sustained means that every day He keeps it existing. We have a hard time imagining the opposite of this, so we take it for granted. But without God’s sustaining power, we would cease to exist. We would not fall down dead. We would not crumble into dust or ashes. We would not melt like wax. We would be erased, all of our matter simply gone. Just as God spoke the world into existence–out of nothing, a total void–with His word, so He keeps it in existence daily with His word. And so the world continues to bear God’s mark and echo His divine voice.

Piper encourages us to lean into God’s mark on the world by asking questions and taking an interest in what’s around us. How is the Holy Spirit active in our community? What new avenues can we take in love, joy, peace, and the rest that will worship our Lord more wholeheartedly and love our neighbor more selflessly?

This review may come too late in the season, but I think The Curious Christian would make a great graduation gift. It’s a short, well-written book that could light a fire under people who feel a little hemmed in by undefinable cords. Its message is easily one of those that seem obvious at first blush but need to be repeated and applied in various ways to truly stick. It’s easy, enjoyable reading, though it could be improved by adding some stories.

Don’t Rely on Movies for History

The star of the upcoming biopic on Tolkien, Nicholas Hoult, said he loves what he has learned about the great author’s rich knowledge of history and language. His character demonstrates an early love of language in the film by talking to the woman who would become his wife about a word he felt should mean far more than it does. Entertainment Weekly states, “The give-and-take of their blossoming romance is founded on language, and in such ways, Tolkien makes a case for why the mind of The Lord of the Rings author was as fascinating as his fantasy epics.”

I gather that scene or anything like it actually never happened, which is one reason the Tolkien estate said they would not support or endorse the movie and did not authorize or participate in its production.

Tolkien historian John Garth said theirs is a good plan, because biographical movies like this usually make up things. He told The Guardian, “As a biographer, I expect I’ll be busy correcting new misconceptions arising from the movie. I hope that anyone who enjoys the film and is interested in Tolkien’s formative years will pick up a reliable biography.”

Logos Theatre steals Past Watchful Dragons

Dwight Longenecker talks about a remarkably good theater group based in an unlikely university that has produced some marvelous Narnia plays.

This is because plenty of religious people have as their true foundation materialistic/secularism and plenty of non-religious people instinctively believe in the reality of the supernatural. . . . I am speaking of the modernists who wear ecclesiastical costumes and spout religious and liturgical language, but whose worldview is materialistic and regard religion as no more than an extension of their preferred ideology or political party but with the sugar icing of religiosity.

The secular materialist (both the religious and the non religious variety) are the most vigilant of watchful dragons, for they breathe withering fire on any sign of the supernatural. When contemplating these dragons, I realize I have more in common with the follower of any other religion that is rooted in a supernatural worldview than I do with many of my fellow Catholics.

He Made the World by His Word; Why is Salvation by Suffering?

From the sixth century bishop of southern France, Caesarius of Arles, comes this important meditation on the salvific work of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Why the Lord Jesus Christ freed the human race through harsh suffering, not through power.”

He says this is a common question. “Why did he who is proclaimed to have given life in the beginning by his word not destroy death by his word?  What reason was there that lost men should not be brought back by the same majesty which was able to create things not yet existing?”

He would have been able, yes; but reason resisted, justice did not give its permission: and these are more important to God than all power and might.  . . . This then had to be kept in mind: compassion must not destroy justice, love must not destroy equity.  For if He had finished off the Devil and rescued man from his jaws by His majesty and power, there would indeed have been power, but there would not have been justice.

It’s a marvelous sermon, worthy of the week, and brought to us by Ben Wheaton, Ph.D., medieval studies, University of Toronto.

Photo by Robert Nyman on Unsplash

Original Prin: Canadian Writes Real Laugher

Micah Mattix praises Randy Boyagoda’s Original Prin as a terrifically funny religious satire. In it a small liberal arts college, newly named University of the Family Universal, needs more money to keep treading water, so a specialist is hired to uncover their options. She offers them two options: “sell UFU’s buildings to a Chinese developer to transform into an assisted living care facility where the professors would provide ‘stress free’ workshops to residents, or take money from the university-less country of Dragomans in exchange for providing online classes and degrees to its citizens.”

Someone will have to ferret out these options to see which one is better. Enter our hero, Professor Prin, who specializes in seahorses in Canadian literature.

Read Mattix’s review for better feel for the comedy what looks like good and proper skewering of some of our institutions.

Beautiful Bookstores in London

Here’s a bit of Monday tourism via desk for you: London’s prettiest, most picturesque bookstores. The image below was taken in Liberia, which prohibits using your phone like this, so images like this are subversive acts of rebellion. Notice the reflective ceiling multiplies the store’s bookish enchantment. You can see more of this wonderful little place in the 360 degree image on their website.