All posts by Phil W

Between Camps in Defense of the Truth

Last week Dr. Anthony Bradley revisited topics he wrote in the introductory chapter of his collaborative book, Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions. It’s the kind of statement some battle-hardened writers and speakers may dismiss as part of the normal push and shove of public theology, but minority writers and speakers in our country appear to have one extra front to defend–expectations on their ethnicity. When a smart, young, black man embraces the Westminster Confession, why would he have to justify himself to his peers for choosing a “white” church and defend himself from his would-be allies against charges of tokenism?

I know this is a hot-button topic I’m unqualified to blog about, but I’m pressing on to recommend Aliens in the Promised Land as a good start at catching our blind spots. Believers and church people alike easily read their cultural assumptions and convictions into the Bible, turning them around to others as proper applications of God’s Word. We talk about this whenever we bring up selections from a list of most misunderstood or misapplied verses. How many sermons barely apply the text in favor of the speaker’s personal convictions?

Life assumptions come from our family history, life experiences, and place in society, and in that last area minorities say they have suffered. One professor in the book wrote about his ancestors living in the Texas area long before the state was formed. He said they didn’t cross the border, the border crossed them. They have been US citizens for five generations, but because of his Latino heritage this American has had people tell him to go back to Mexico and the people who didn’t say that ask him why he wasn’t Catholic. If you look a certain way you must be a certain person.

That may be the world’s response , but let’s leave it with them and conduct ourselves in light of Christ’s great work, “having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two [Jew and gentile], thus making peace and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity” (Ephesians 2:15-16 NKJV).

Continue reading Between Camps in Defense of the Truth

Best Tolkien Movie Yet

Jeffrey Overstreet calls Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old, a documentary on the war that shaped J.R.R. Tolkien the best offering of all of Jackson’s Tolkien-inspired movies.

Honoring these intimate archival recordings, Jackson reveals harrowing accounts of the misleading propaganda that summoned so many young men, the dehumanizing pressures of the war, the particular chaos and slaughter of the Somme, the burdens that the survivors would have to carry, and the betrayals, abandonment, and loneliness that awaited those few who returned. And as we listen, he fills the screen with highlights (that word sounds trite and inappropriate here) from more than 600 hours of material from the Imperial War Museum and BBC archives. Much of it is sharpened and focused, but then, as in Wings of Desire and The Wizard of Oz, its black-and-white footage suddenly blooms into color and detail that takes your breath away.

Tolkien fans: Peter Jackson saved the best for last

Twitter Mob Turns on Its Own

People who know nothing about the Bible seem to know a few verses, such as “Judge not lest ye be judged,” but the young, bright users of the Internet will want to think those words through and apply them before a social media mob over takes them. Because (sorry for the remedial) Jesus wasn’t condemning judgement in toto. He was saying, “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

To put it another way, if you call out people for cultural offenses, you put yourself at risk for being called out for the same.

This week, a YA author, who led Twitter mobs against perceived social injustices, has had the mob turn on him. He participated in this outcry:

[A] campaign based on misunderstanding and exaggeration led the author Amélie Zhao to take the unusual step of agreeing to cancel the publication of Blood Heir, her hotly anticipated debut novel, which was set to be the first in a trilogy. Advance reading copies had already been sent out. But an angry and underinformed subset of YA Twitter decided that a racially ambiguous character in Blood Heir was black, or this fictional universe’s equivalent of black—the character had “bronze” skin and “aquamarine” eyes—and that therefore certain things that character said and did constituted harmful tropes. (YA Twitter has very conservative norms pertaining to what characters of different ethnicities are allowed to say or do.) The fact that Zhao is ethnically Chinese, is an immigrant to the U.S., and had written Blood Heir in part as a commentary on present-day indentured servitude in Asia didn’t offer her much protection.

Now he has pulled his own novel from publication, having run afoul of his own tribe of trolls.

Jesse Singal (quoted above) notes that this outrage may be warranted or at least understandable if it came from readers who had read the books, but this outrage flames up from shallow reviews, tweets, or public comments before books are even released.

“Young-adult books are being targeted in intense social media callouts, draggings, and pile-ons—sometimes before anybody’s even read them,” Vulture‘s Kat Rosenfield wrote in the definitive must-read piece on this strange and angry internet community. The call-outs, draggings, and pile-ons almost always involve claims that books are insensitive with regard to their treatment of some marginalized group, and the specific charges, as Rosenfield showed convincingly, often don’t seem to warrant the blowups they spark—when they make any sense at all.

(via Prufrock News)

Early Review of “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”

On this day in 1895, the great American orator and statesman Frederick Douglass passed away. To mark the day, Bookmarks has reproduced a review of Douglass’s 1845 autobiography that ran in The New York Tribune on June 10, 1845.

We wish that every one may read his book and see what a mind might have been stifled in bondage,—what a man may be subjected to the insults of spendthrift dandies, or the blows of mercenary brutes, in whom there is no whiteness except of the skin, no humanity except in the outward form, and of whom the Avenger will not fail yet to demand—’Where is thy brother?’

Narrative was well-received, selling close to 30,000 copies by 1860.

The need for Christian artists

Andrew Collins writes in his article, “How Art Moved Me Beyond the Cliché,” about overcoming a blasé familiarity with Scripture. “I recently read through the Psalms—one song every morning or evening. But when I got to Psalm 23, something happened. I read through it in a minute or two, and not a single substantive thought went through my head. When I reached the end, my mind was blank.

“Why? Because it’s Psalm 23! Everyone knows it. I’ve probably had it memorized since I was 7 years old. Over the years, the psalm has dissolved, for me, into a rote sequence of words. What a shame. Gratefully, I remember Jon Foreman’s song ‘House of God Forever.'” 

I’ve had a similar revitalizing through Michael Card’s songs from the Psalms in his album, The Way of Wisdom. His renderings of Psalm 23 and 139 have stuck with me for twenty years.

Godzilla 3: Dream of a Deadly Death

Today I watched Godzilla: The Planet Eater, the third part of the impressively animated Netflix series released last year. Whereas the second part was largely a UPS van stuffed with technobabble, this story swapped that out for a cathedral stuffed with religiobabble. I thought this part might have a slower build, because the characters must have exhausted themselves by this point, but having to listen to the priest of the deadly death for at least forty-five minutes was boring.

Viewers would be excused for thinking this was a screed against religion as a whole. Words are said to that effect, but the religion in question is the cult of the void, the enlightened understanding that nothing is everything, death is peace, and all struggle should be assisted into oblivion preferably by a physician or qualified government agent.

No, this story seems to come from the root of Godzilla mythology. Those nuclear bombs we made, all that E=MC2 stuff (written clearly on a chalkboard during one of the priest’s expositions), brought judgment on our heads. Godzilla rose from the earth because our civilization was too advanced, but he was only phase one. Ghidorah the Golden Demise is phase two.

I may not be smart enough to run with this, but this series may be an effectively illustration against atheism. Godzilla embodies the earth fighting for itself. Ghidorah is a nihilistic void. Mankind has only its own wits to use and cannot keep up. All of the talk here of gods and salvation only makes a kind of sense because of the echoes of actual sense found in the Bible and other major religions. Many atheists understand this implicitly. What they call the nonsense of Christianity is more of an argument against what they think God may actually be, an actual creator who has every right to hold his creation accountable for their actions. Far better to paint priests and believers as a death cult.

But Christians (and Jews, Muslims, and some others) aren’t the ones arguing for death in our civilization. We’re the ones saying the weapons of war must be used wisely. Nuking a city must be a last resort, because we want everyone to live in peace.

But nuclear bombs have been dropped. Maybe the idea of a god-like monster rising up to lay down the smack on our hubris appeals to some who have no knowledge of a far greater, far more terrifying judge.

Time Passes Hand in Hand with Seasons

Dylan Thomas wrote about the seasons washing over
the Welsh Glamorgan county–the summer so beautiful, the winter barren. Time repeatedly rides up from the coast, bringing nothing unusual, nothing but change. Here’s the sound of a winter thaw.

And now the horns of England, in the sound of shape,
Summon your snowy horsemen, and the four-stringed hill,
Over the sea-gut loudening, sets a rock alive;
Hurdles and guns and railings, as the boulders heave,
Crack like a spring in vice, bone breaking April,
Spill the lank folly’s hunter and the hard-held hope.

Read the whole thing here: “Hold Hard, These Ancient Minutes in the Cuckoo’s Mouth”

( Photo by Bit Cloud on Unsplash )

Dana Gioia on Catholic Writers

Poet Dana Gioia from a recent interview with Image Journal

Image: Do you consciously think of yourself as part of a tradition of Catholic writers?

DG: I am a Catholic, and I am a writer. I don’t think you can separate the two identities. But I have never wanted to be “a Catholic writer” in some narrow sense. Was Evelyn Waugh a Catholic writer? Was Flannery O’Connor or Muriel Spark? Well, yes and no. They were first and foremost writers who strived for expressive intensity and imaginative power. Their Catholicism entered into their work along with their humor, violence, sexuality, and imaginative verve. The few devotional works Waugh wrote are his worst books. His merciless early comic novels, which are Catholic only in their depiction of a hopelessly fallen world, are probably his best. Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange is a deeply Catholic novel about free will, but it is also a violent, dystopian science fiction novel about social collapse and political hypocrisy, all of which is written in an invented futuristic slang. There is something complicated going on here that cannot be simplified into faith-based writing.

A Conversation with Dana Gioia

‘Intelligences to Replace Us’

We are rushing into the unconsidered embrace of a computerized future that, deep in the core of its design process, hates us. “Engineers at our leading tech firms and universities tend to see human beings as the problem and technology as the solution,” Team Human notes. “When they are not developing interfaces to control us, they are building intelligences to replace us.”

Joseph Bottum in his review of Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff. It’s an uneven book, he says, with many good details and many mushy proposals presented as solutions.

Go Podcast, young man

Everyone is podcasting these days. Your aunt is probably planning one if she can only get Clippy and Bob to show her how to record it. There are over 630,000 podcasts available today on just about everything. True crime is a popular topic. For months I’ve daydreamed about the details of a mock crime podcast that could use the song above as a theme, present itself in the tone and rhythm of true crime shows, but actually tell a story about nothing at all. If I could find one or more colorful Southerners who tell jokes and funny stories for hours, I would have material for a great recurring segment. I’d probably be the only one who thought it was funny though.

Podcasting has been taken up by both professionals and amateurs, like anything on the Internet. A couple of my favorites are “The World and Everything in It,” the news show from World News Group. It is the best news out there. I recommend playing the show from your desktop, if you don’t do podcasts in a mobile-like devicy kind of way. (You might ask Alexa to play “The World and Everything in It” and see what you get. I have no idea.) Also I’m new to a show that has been around since 2009, “The Sporkful,” a show about food for the rest of us. It’s a ton of fun. A recent episode on southern BBQ in Chicago made me want to get out and try things (which I won’t do, of course, because budgets mean something in my house.)

That may lead you to ask, has podcasting been around ten years already? Yes, it began in 2004. The first how-to book came out in 2005. Even before that, we had audioblogging in some capacity.

The way I listen to my handful of shows is through one ear while driving. I don’t want to plug both ears in case I need to hear something, so with road and wind noise in the background I need podcast audio to be clear with a steady volume. I know I’m usually behind the tech curve, so I wonder if my listening experience is typical, but I encourage the podcasters out there who are recording their conference calls in hopes of landing a better book contract to listen to those recordings with plenty of outside background noise. If you can’t hear what’s been said, neither will I.

Why We Read Fiction?

We suffer from a worldly sickness engineered by the Enlightenment project, a misapprehension of reason as the highest faculty and as dislocated from our imagination. Such an assumption leads us to consider literature as unwarranted; Novels and poems play with our emotions, we think, and clutter our pure reason. But what if our emotions help us register our humanity, guiding us in moral decision-making? C. S. Lewis argues as much in The Abolition of Man. How we imagine God, the world, and our place in relation to both transforms how we act. Great literature trains the moral imagination.

Jessica Hooten Wilson, “In Praise of Useless Reading,” TGC, Jan. 25

Scott Sterling, Comic gold

Witness comic genius in these two skits about the epic Yale athlete Scott Sterling and his ability to block the ball. The first video featuring soccer penalty kicks came out in 2014 (though before this weekend I thought it was much older than that). It’s one of the funniest videos of the decades, only made better by the follow-up volleyball video released in 2016. The execution and pacing of these videos sells the comedy marvelously.

The unstoppable Scott Sterling, soccer goalie
The unstoppable Scott Sterling, volleyball team captain

Like the man said, when Armageddon comes I want to be in a bunker made of that man’s face.

Voice, opportunity, and other Benefits of blogging

Tim Challies, the grandfather of godbloggers (or should that be godfather), who has been blogging for years (And Pharaoh said to him, “How many are the days of the years of your life?”  And he said to Pharaoh, “Can’t count that high, dude.”), has a good post on the benefits of blogging. He encourages his readers to write steadily on topics of their interest, doing their best while understanding every post can’t break the Internet.

He contrasts what a blog could be against what articles submitted to one of the big ministry websites usually are.

If you only ever submit articles for consideration at the ministry blogs, you’ll become obsessed with the quality of each article. To borrow a baseball analogy, you’ll only ever swing for the fences. So much of life, and ministry, and writing is hitting singles, and learning to be okay with hitting singles, and learning to appreciate how God so often uses those singles to incrementally advance his causes. . . . There’s also this: we vastly overestimate our ability to predict which of our articles will resonate with people and make a difference in their day or in their life. 

These are just two of seven good points he makes on the value of blogging. These apply in some ways to podcasters and vloggers, who could do all of this in another medium.

THE TURN THAT REVEALS

In this universe God made, streams run to the sea; salmon swim upstream; monarch butterflies, at winter’s coming, fly 5,000 miles in search of warmth; objects tossed into the air return to earth—and doings among men are subject to “the turn.” The yearning for justice is as engrained as yearning for the last note on a scale to be played, and godly souls feel ill at ease till it’s complete.


Andrée  Seu Peterson, “The Turn”

The Best Icelandic Saga

What’s the best Icelandic saga? You asked yourself that just the other day, didn’t you? Yoav Tirosh says it’s the Brennu-Njáls saga largely because that title could be taken two ways.

It’s the story of a couple fun-loving vikings who want to take over their district. Everything goes swimmingly until someone dies, there’s a power struggle, and then some zealots off the one guy everybody loves. Blood-relatives or not, those zealots are going to have to pay. Lars talked about it more in an earlier post.

Tirosh praises some of the saga’s virtues and suggests the duality in the title clues us into the story’s greatness, because Brennu-Njáls can mean either Burnt Njáll and Njáll the Burner. It’s the story of the burner and the burned, both embodied in one character.