All posts by Phil W

8 Lies about God that Sound Like the Truth

  1. God just wants you to be happy.
  2. You only live once.
  3. You need to live your truth.
  4. Your feelings are reality.

Sound familiar? That’s four of the eight statements that sound true enough but are actually lies that author Jared C. Wilson lays out in his latest book, The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies about God that Sound Like the Truth. The gospel-saturated author of many books explains the intent of each lie and how they undermine God’s will in our lives.

Kudos on the cover design that pushes me to turn the book on its face whenever I have it out. You could call that a drawback, but wouldn’t this be a great book to leave on top of the Gideon Bible in hotel room drawers?

Some of the points touched in the book:

  • Does God just want you to be happy or is your unhappiness a symptom of misplaced priorities or even a difficult calling? Could your happiness be the main thing drawing you away from him?
  • What do you justify with #YOLO? Is it godly living or self-indulgence?
  • What you call your truth may be relative, but the truth is not. Unfashionable? Sometimes. Reliable? Definitely.
  • Your feelings may not mean what you think they mean. They need biblical interpretation

Jared writes with light-hearted quips from our culture, quotes from contemporary and classic authors, and vulnerable illustrations from his own life.

When I’m not priding myself on being more whatever than others, I hate myself for not being whatever enough. The weird thing about humility is that the more you think about it, the more it goes away. That’s me.

The other lies he tackles:

  1. Your life is what you make it.
  2. You need to let go and let God.
  3. The Cross is not about wrath.
  4. God helps those who help themselves.

I found his exploration of problems with the clichic “let go and let God” eye-opening, and the next chapter on substitutionary atonement should be understood by everyone. Heartily recommended.

Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross

Artist Scott McCloud writes of his friend Kurt Busiek and their enjoyment of comics as teenagers. He says they wrote a series together of an epic battle that destroyed their high school and many landmarks of their Lexington, Mass, hometown. He and Busiek had an agreement, he says, that he would write critically acclaimed comics and Busiek would write the popular stuff that made money, but with Marvels Busiek has produced an award-winning, fan-loving hit that has sold like lemonade on hot day in a freedom-loving town in these blessed states of America.

Marvels tells the human side of living in New York City with superheroes, aliens, and mutants emerging in the world. Photographer Phil Sheldon hopes to land a gig as a war correspondent, but when the offer comes, he declines because The Human Torch and The Sub-Mariner have begun to fight through the skies of their city.

“… repeat the latest developments: The Human Torch had imprisoned The Sub-Mariner beneath a sheet of flame in an update reservoir, but the undersea dynamo freed himself — even as the Army bombed his fiery prison!”

Phil: “Blast them! Look at us — just sitting here waiting! There isn’t a thing we can do — and this is our city! Our world! Who gave them the right to just come in and take it away from us?!”

Over four collected issues, Phil works through varying emotions about the “Marvels,” his term: who or what they are, public reaction, and his own responsibilities. He doubts, he fears, he falls into public outrage at the mutant X-men and hurls a brick at Ice-Man. Then he rallies and writes a book about them that features his photography.

I looked up this series collection after listening to a Stitcher podcast based on it. Marvels reads a bit like the story of a Frenchman who survives WWII rolling overtop of him. It doesn’t tell much of the many stories it references. We just see something blow up down the street and empowered people we may or may not recognize rushing toward it.

In one conflict between Galactus and The Fantastic Four that appears to spell the end of the world, Phil runs home to spend whatever minutes he has left with his wife and kids. But the world doesn’t end, because the Marvels save it with every ounce of skill and luck they have.

The book doesn’t end on that note, because not every hero’s story moves from victory to victory, and Phil’s emotional turns flow naturally as he and the world react to many fantastic events. Fans of golden age comic book superheroes will love this gorgeously produced tale of a photographer who fights to see to wonder in the age of supers.

New Avengers: Other Worlds and A Perfect World

Jonathan Hickman put a poetic balance in his New Avengers: Illuminati tale of the end of universes. Several times we read Reed Richards saying, “Everything dies. You. Me. Everyone on this planet. . . . eventually the universe itself. This is simply how things are. It’s inevitable. And I accept it, but what I will not tolerate–what I find unacceptable–is the unnatural acceleration of that end.”

The select men who form the Illuminati fear they must do horrible things to avoid the death of their instance of Earth (explained in an earlier post). So far they’ve only had to destroy planets that were dead or dying. In Other Worlds, the Black Swan tells them of a device she calls a mirror that allows someone to see into realities or universes. Because in this type of sci-fi all you need is to conceive of a thing in order have a working device in the next few days, they build this device and begin scanning for incursion points on other Earths. In this way they see other societies with other heroes being invaded by the horrifically deadly agents they have only heard about: Mapmakers and Black Priests. In the second book, Infinity, they return to Black Swan after defeating Thanos, and she ridicules them. Why worry about a dog when you have a demon charging you? she asks, because what’s coming is irresistable death.

It’s never clear whether she is shooting straight with them, and as the weeks burn up they see potential threats that only make them fear the worst. In A Perfect World the worst comes in the least acceptable form. The next world incursion is not filled with abominations but with heroes who could be their superiors. Are they willing to destroy a good world to save their own this time?

In this other version of Earth, we read Dr. Richards’ dialogue with a different spin from a Superman-like figure called Zoran, the Sun God.

“Everything lives. It lives before it dies and we are judged by what we do during that time. Like a brilliant, life-giving star, we illuminate the universe, chasing away the shadows. We create life and then celebrate that creation.”

After reading Zoran’s hopeful words, I thought they may right every wrong, even if it took turning back the clock. But now I see this is only part of a much longer story. It probably won’t turn hopeful or patch certain holes in character arcs. Maybe the bottom line comes from one of the characters, who said these men were not heroes but kings. Kings have authority from birth and do not reason within normal human morality; they commit necessary evil to defend their people, and even though you may be able to argue that certain acts were not necessary, if the people are safe, then the actions were acceptable.

That’s more like embracing the shadows than chasing them away.

Bible Translation Can Be Murder

John Wilson describes Daniel Taylor’s new novel Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees, the third in a mystery series featuring Jon Mote, an amatuer dectective in the Minnesota area. Mote is something of an academic and is currently working as an editor for a publishing house. Wilson writes:

When his employers decide that they want a piece of the lucrative if already crowded market for Bible translations, Jon is drafted to serve as a non-voting member of the committee that will oversee the new translation. “The word is, Mr. Mote, that you grew up among the fundamentalists. Those are your people. We need someone on our side who understands them.” Of course, Jon didn’t grow up among “fundamentalists,” but his bosses aren’t interested in such fine distinctions.

Wilson calls it hilarious, but having not read it myself I can’t say how light-hearted or overall comical it is. It’s new today.

Daniel Taylor’s first novel, Death Comes for the Deconstructionist, won the Christianity Today 2016 Book Award for fiction. Lars reviewed it and Do We Not Bleed? in earlier posts.

Happy at Home, staying at Home

Here’s a little Latin you may find useful when you’re working from home, recovering at home, taking refuge at home, or being confined at home.

Domi manere convenit felicibus. — It befits those who are happy at home to remain there.

I hope that’s true for you; it’s not true for too many, because as Ovid says, “Dos est uxoria lites,” that is, strife is a wife’s dowry. May that not be your home, for domus sua cuique tutissimum refugium (every man’s home is his safest place of refuge).

Remember that a friendly house is the best of houses (domus amica domus optima), but remember also that pain compels all things (dolor omnia cogit).

You may find it useful to say to yourself and others:

  • Dominus vobiscum (The Lord be with you)
  • Dominus providebit (The Lord will provide)
  • Dominus illuminatio mea (The Lord is my light)
  • Deus det [nobis pacem] (May God give [us peace])
  • Deus propitius esto mihi peccatori (God be merciful to me a sinner)

Here are a few others words you may wish to repeat, echoing the wisdom of the ages.

  • Honesty is the poor man’s pork and the rich man’s pudding.
  • Hope is grief’s best music, but help which is long on the road is no help.
  • Keep a thing seven years, and you’ll find a use for it.
  • Little fires burn up much corn.
  • Love your neighbor, yet pull not down your hedge.
  • Many a man asks the way he knows full well.

Found in W. Gurney Benham’s A Book of Quotations: Proverbs and Household Words (Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash)

The New Avengers: Illuminati by Bendis, Reed, and Cheung

I put aside my reading of the New Avengers series to look at this collection of five issues called The New Avengers: Illuminati. I thought it was a prequel to the other series and it does begin that way, but somehow I got mixed up on publication dates. My library site has 2019, but these issues start in 2008 and may stretch to 2010-11, putting this book well before my current series.

But it begins as I expected. Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, Tony Stark, Namor the Sub-Mariner, Charles Xavier, Stephen Strange, and Black Bolt have pulled together to tackle select work of a specialized nature in light of war between the Kree and Skrulls that spilled onto the Earth. Richards has called the meeting and tells them he has one (no, three) of the infinity gems. Oh, and a gauntlet. Understanding it would be super-dangerous for anyone to have all six gems, Richards suggests they are just the super-dangerous men to collect all six in order to keep them out of everyone else’s hands.

Of course, they collect the other three gems, and The Watcher shows up to say, “My job is to watch and record the universe’s defining events.” (I think he’s contractually obligated to say that.) And, Reed, I am so disappointed in you. He says no one should have all six gems, especially a human, so Reed distributes them to the team.

What could go wrong?

In the next issue, the deal with an entirely overpowered young man who just wants to have fun. Then they handle another young man who’s really, really mad at mankind. Finally they talk over the implications of someone they’ve found and realized their efforts to end a future Skrull invasion have kicked open a remodeled level of Hell.

When I said that reading comic books usually involves hopping into the middle of some kind of story arc, this is book has more open ends than a farmhouse in summertime. While it does set up the Secret Invasion series (which might have been nice to learn from the preface), as a whole this book is like watching five disconnected episodes in an evening marathon, the last of which is barely more than a cliffhanger scene.

Infinity by Hickman, Spencer, Latour, et al

Earlier I said I was missing parts of the story being framed up in Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers series, volume two, called Infinity. That missing part was something like the whole backside of a house. I feel as if I’ve read three Longest-Day-style war stories back to back, and I’m glad I didn’t borrow this collection of issues before reading Everything Dies. While that collection begins with a page telling part of a previously told story, those details introduced the opening scene neatly. Whenever you pick up a comic book that is not issue one, you should assume you’re stepping into the middle of a story at some point.

Infinity by Hickman, Spencer, Latour, and many illustrators begins at issue seven in the series I’ve been reading and issue fourteen in a separate series, so yeah, if I was inclined to be lost by characters I’ve never even heard scant rumor of, then I’d be lost like the shed key I thought I put in the drawer back in October and, I assume, has since been borrowed by the little people of the house.

There’s no way to summarize this book, but I can say its plot is instigated by the loss of the infinity gems I alluded to in the other post. When the gems were used, it appears at least three powerful beings, Thanos among them, noticed immediately. War is raging through the universe, and Thanos looks over Earth and sees an opportunity to accomplish one of his life ambitions–to kill his son.

The battles are legitimately marvelous, and Captain America shines as the man who sees the winning strategy when brute force has been beaten against the wall. But sometimes the more powerful characters appear to be holding back.

One young man, maybe fifteen years old, is known by many others as having great, cosmic power, but he doesn’t know it himself. So when he has to be coached into using his strength, there’s a sense to it; when other characters use their fists until they are almost struck down before ka-booom! they let loose their unique power, I’m left wondering why they didn’t do that to begin with.

I assume this book reflects Marvel’s mythological metanarrative accurately, but that narrative may not be neatly defined. There are plenty of cosmic beings, one of whom is a beautiful woman who apparently created everything. The great enemy that brings so many disparate empires and heroes together to oppose it claims to be agents of evolution, destroyers and creators as they deem appropriate. They note they were created by the universal mother and have since rejected her. At another time, as she lay unconscious, the heroes repeat the main refrain of these books, that everything dies–men, worlds, gods, and galaxies. We’re all just dust in the wind, I suppose.

So what’s the point of it all? asks a younger team member, an Australian named Eden. “How do you make sense of it? Fate? Faith?”

Continue reading Infinity by Hickman, Spencer, Latour, et al

New Avengers: Everything Dies and Infinity

I mentioned a few days ago that I was reading a series called New Avengers, and when I began considering what I could say that would be worth reading (a barrier to entry that you might say hasn’t stopped me before) I remembered some gaping plot points. A war is started and then shrugged off. A major cosmic villain appears and is suddenly neutralized behind the scenes. What am I missing?

I am missing another entire series that fills in the story. Why isn’t there a note at the end of one issue that the story continues in another series’, because when you finish issue 6 and pick up issue 7, you tend to expect the story to pick up with you.

Cover of New Avengers: Everything Dies by Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting

I’m reading the 2014 New Avengers series by Jonathan Hickman, a four volume set. This is the first cover, showing Steve Epting’s excellent artwork. Each volume has a different lead illustrator; all of them impressive. In Everything Dies, seven heroes who aren’t necessarily Avengers, if that term means something, gather as the secret rulers of the known universe, the Illuminati (which is the only name that can be given to that sort of group, even if no one ever uses it).

They meet because Black Panther witnesses a woman, calling herself a black swan, jump to our planet from another one that hung perilously above. She then detonates the first one, and swoosh, all returns to normal. She claims there’s a natural order to the multiverse (infinite parallel universes, infinite parallel realities), and while everything will eventually die, something happened on an Earth in a universe somewhere that caused it to come to an untimely end. That weakened the walls between universes apparently, because it led to two universes touching each other at their point of Earth. As you’ve likely seen in the news, when two universes reject social distancing guidelines, they eliminate each other.

When universes are eliminated, it bothers people, particularly those who wear the same form-fitting suit to work everyday.

The other Earth that the black swan dropped from was an Earth in its own universe. Soon another one will appear in the sky, and if one of the two planets is not destroyed quickly, both universes will perish. The heroes begin work on an early warning system, hoping to give themselves eight hours to save one or both universes. And then someone remembers he has an old infinity gauntlet in his car trunk, and since they have all the infinity gems already, why not try using it?

Continue reading New Avengers: Everything Dies and Infinity

Robin Hood, To Tell the Truth

Host: Would the real Robin Hood, outlaw of Sherwood Forest, Duke of Lockesley, please stand up? Psst, one of you should stand. Who’s the original?

(All three subjects stand.)

Host: Ha, ha! They’re still playing with us, folks. Okay, that’s swell. Now, two of you sit down and the genuine Robin Hood remain standing. Come on, now. We’re running out of air time.

Shout from audience: Let ’em shoot it out with arrows!

Blackthorn and Stone has written about the changing character of Robin Hood and how the original stories aren’t the most important thing about him. Was Robin an actual person who lived over 650 years ago? No, he appears to be have been a commonly beloved folk hero.

Interesting to note about the early Robin Hood-esque character is that Hereford’s noble status and inheritance problems don’t feature in the country pageant version of Robin Hood—however, they do turn up again in the Tudor period and have stuck with us ever since.

Did the Tudor era reinvent a Robin Hood for their purposes, or were they actually harkening back to the original conception of the rogue? Evidence for the interpretation of Robin Hood as an archetype, rather than a person, is found when looking at where the vast majority of Robin Hood pre-1600 source material comes from: plays and festivals.

Blackstone and Stone, “An Outlaw Hero for Every Age

Requiem for the Living

Before we all got sent to the bench for several games, before we started murmuring about whether we’d get to play again this season, the choir in my church had been preparing to join other choirs for a late April performance of Dan Forrest’s marvelous Requiem for the Living. Now as ever, mankind must to recognize his need for good, restorative rest.

I have loved John Rutter’s Requiem for many years. I bought the CD in college, when I was buying music like that, and maybe I heard it on the radio prior that, I don’t remember. It’s enchanting. Forrest’s piece will be second favorite now. I hope you enjoy this recording.

The composer writes his piece tells “a narrative just as much for the living, and their own struggle with pain and sorrow, as for the dead.”

The opening movement sets the traditional Introit and Kyrie texts- pleas for rest and mercy- using ever-increasing elaborations on a simple three-note descending motive. The second movement, instead of the traditional Dies Irae, sets Scriptural texts that speak of the turmoil and sorrow which face humanity, while yet invoking musical and textual allusions to the Dies Irae. This movement juxtaposes aggressive rhythmic gestures with long, floating melodic lines, including quotes of the Kyrie from the first movement. The Agnus Dei is performed next (a departure from the usual liturgical order) as a plea for deliverance and peace; the Sanctus, following it, becomes a response to this redemption.

The Sanctus offers three different glimpses of the “heavens and earth, full of Thy glory”, all of which develop the same musical motive: an ethereal opening section inspired by images of space from the Hubble Space Telescope, a stirring middle section inspired by images of our own planet as viewed from the International Space Station, and a closing section which brings the listener down to Earth, where cities teem with the energy of humanity.

The Lux Aeterna which then closes the work portrays light, peace, and rest- for both the deceased and the living. 

from the program notes shared on danforrest.com

The words are latin. Here’s the translation pulled from this recordings page.

Continue reading Requiem for the Living

Heroes in Their Own Story

In the bonus material on the back pages of Justice, author Jim Krueger praises Bob McKee and his story seminar for teaching him this pivotal idea: every good villain must believe himself to be the hero of his story.

You can see that idea played out best in my description of Luthor’s motives. He wanted to raise up a new, stronger humanity that didn’t lean on the crutches of overpowered non-humans like Superman and the Martian Manhunter. He’s still a villain because of the path he’s willing to take to get there, but you can see how calling him a hero of his own story could work.

Wilson Fisk (Kingpin) in the Daredevil series would easily fit here too. He spoke of remaking the city into a better, safer neighborhood. But he also knew what goodness and moral truth were, at least, something of them. In this clip, which is one of the best of the season, he talks through his thinking process probably for dramatic effect, not from a fit of honesty.

Krueger says good villains don’t roll out of bed wondering what new terrors they can unleash, except some of them do. Some men just want to watch the world burn, as Alfred in another story put it, and even Krueger’s story demonstrates that

In Justice, dozens of villains collaborate on a single, grand cause because they are being manipulated by their leaders. I won’t tell you how to avoid the spoiler, but they do not share a distorted view of some common good that has pressed them to put aside differences. Their only good is their own profit, power, or pleasure. Their leader is using them to wage war for as long as he can until he disposed of them. Nothing about that can be called good.

Heroism is about saving people. In the New Avengers series I’m reading now, their compulsion to save people is almost a weakness. They will not let go of the possibility that they could defeat what at the moment appears to be indefeatable. They must try while they still can. Villains think about using people and saving themselves, which isn’t good just as abuse of all types is heroic.

Macbeth may be the hero of his story. Hamlet is. Many others just want the thrill of dropping the match that sets the world aflame.

“Nothing Is Lost”

Bethel University, with campuses in St. Paul and Arden Hills, MN, has cut thirty faculty and thirty staff for the fall semester. Professor Chris Gehrz fears the college may not survive if other factors reduce enrollment.

Even if we could somehow suspend our fears of an invisible contagion spreading a potentially fatal disease, many of us at Bethel are experiencing the death of dreams and ideals and relationships. Losing a faculty position at a place like Bethel means the loss of income and stability, but also threatens a loss of calling. Most of those who lose their positions will struggle to find anything like a true replacement; many will have to leave academia and seek work in a depressed economy.

None of the anger, anxiety, and loss that people are going to feel this week is magically eliminated by a resurrection that left scars on Jesus’ own body.

I still believe my late friend Glen Wiberg was right that nothing, not even the brokenness and grief of mortal existence, is wasted, that God is “gathering up the fragments in resurrection so that nothing goes down the drain, nothing at all is lost.” 

“Nothing for your journey,” The Pietist Schoolman

New Oxford Shakespeare Reattributes Several Works

One of my English professors, Dr. Cornelius, told us about a joke attempted during oral exams for his doctorate. He thought he had recognized a light-hearted spirit among his examining professors, so when the time came he offered a new line of study that fascinated him: The King James Bible had been translated by Shakespeare himself. Of course, the playwright would not openly take credit for this feat, but he did leave clues. Open up Psalm 46 and count to the 46th word, shake. Count again from the end of the psalm to the 47th word, spear.

I don’t remember how much further he was able to take the joke, but he could tell his audience wasn’t amused. Maybe it hit too close to home.

In 2016, The New Oxford Shakespeare strayed into that territory by way of “computerized textual analysis.” The edtiors believe they can attribute some new works to Shakespeare’s collaboration and other authors to other collaborations. Here’s a screenshot from the table of contents.

These new attributions came through comparing word choice and frequency. In this article from Oct. 2016, part of this analysis is described by the lead editor.

One piece of evidence identified five “Shakespeare-plus words”: gentle, answer, beseech, spoke, tonight. Taylor explained: “What we mean by Shakespeare-plus is that we’ve looked at the frequency of certain words which might seem commonplace like ‘tonight’ in all the plays of that early period, say up to 1600. Anybody could use any of these words. They’re not words that Shakespeare invented. But we can say Shakespeare used ‘tonight’ much more often than other playwrights in those 20 years.

“Christopher Marlowe credited as Shakespeare’s co-writer,” The Irish Times, Oct. 24, 2106.

Brian Vickers and his team of researchers believe this new evidence proves just about nothing. He gets into some of the weeds in this piece in the Times Literary Supplement, and I’ll jump in the middle of it here.

Although he endorsed Word Adjacency Networks, Gary Taylor preferred a simpler approach. Middleton’s increased share of Macbeth in the recent edition derives from a method that he had invented himself, called “micro-attribution”. Where other scholars use segments of 2,000 or 5,000 words, Taylor claimed he could determine the authorship of a speech by Hecate in four rhyming couplets, or only “sixty-three consecutive words”. . . . On first view I thought this a daft method, treating words like counters in a board game and creating meaningless word-units, which the player would search for in texts by other authors. Taylor solemnly applied it to passages of matching length and verse form in plays by Middleton and Shakespeare, and by a lengthy process of calculation involving very small matches (nine to eight, or six to four), he assigned Hecate’s speech to Middleton. No reputable scholar would accept attributions made on such Lilliputian samples.

Brian Vickers, “Infecting the teller,” Times Literary Supplement, April 17, 2020.

(Via Prufrock News)

Justice by Jim Krueger and Alex Ross

It would be natural and unfair to compare Justice by Jim Krueger and Alex Ross to the comic book series I reviewed a couple days ago. The Infinity Gauntlet was published in 1991, Justice in published in 2007. The scope of each project was likely different from the start. The possibility of twelve large issues for Thanos’s story may not have been possibility had it been proposed.

But the two series offer roughly similar stories. The end of the world is at hand and a wide host of characters jump forward to move the story in their own direction, at least half of them I didn’t know. This set of twelve issues touches good, moving themes that are often left in draft in other series or touched so briefly as to be unnoticable.

Justice appears to be a story of DC Comics’ Justice League of America moving from a loosely coordinated group of confederates to a band of actual friends. It begins with the world in nuclear holocaust, each hero failing to save a city or region as another destructive wave crashes over them. A few of them say, “I was too late. But I’m never too late.”

This is just a dream, however, that the world’s supervillians all experience together. They come to believe the world will end soon and their nemeses in the Justice League will be powerless to stop it. So they band together to save humanity, while taking measures to profit personally. Captain Cold and Poison Ivy turn a desert into an oasis. Scarecrow offers miracle cures to young people with crippling diseases. When the time is right, Luthor, Black Manta, and others announce to the world their generosity and intent to raise up new, floating cities to welcome the downtrodden and raise up a newly emboldened human race to seek new horizons, to soar to new heights, etc. etc.

The world is amazed at this turn of events, but willing to go along with what appears to be a good thing. The Justice League of America is nowhere to seen, so they don’t appear to have a problem with it or maybe, the cynics say, they can’t profit by it.

Continue reading Justice by Jim Krueger and Alex Ross

The Lark Ascending

Perhaps Britian’s most popular work of classical music, The Lark Ascending draws a listener to a quiet, comfortable seat. You can listen to it through the link.

Ralph Vaughan Williams composed The Lark Ascending in 1914, shortly before the outbreak of World War One. With hindsight, the work has assumed a deeper significance in the UK’s national consciousness. A haunting ‘pastoral romance’ for solo violin and orchestra, it has become a symbol of the calm before the storm, perhaps of the summer countryside in the last days of peace before thousands of young men were sent away to their deaths (though suggestions that the piece was written while Vaughan Williams watched troops setting out for France are probably apocryphal).