All posts by Phil W

A Bedbugger Talks Work on the Road

This excerpt from The Long Haul, by Finn Murphy reads like a western, and I suppose it is, even though he says, “I do not for a moment think I’m a symbol of some bygone ideal of Wild West American freedom or any other half-mythic, half-menacing nugget of folk nonsense.”

My destination is the ultrarich haven called Aspen, Colorado. This makes perfect sense because I’m a long-haul mover at the pinnacle of the game, a specialist. I can make $250,000 a year doing what is called high-end executive relocation. No U-Hauls for me, thank you very much. I’ll take the movie stars, the ambassadors, the corporate bigwigs. At the office in Connecticut they call me the Great White Mover. This Aspen load, insured for $3 million, belongs to a former investment banker from a former investment bank who apparently escaped the toppled citadel with his personal loot intact.

… How well a truck is loaded is the acid test of a mover. I can look at any driver’s load and tell at a glance if he’s any good at all.

The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road by Finn Murphy was released last year.

A Generation of Theological Orphans

I was scared into the kingdom by one of those late-’70s “Left Behind” films. Nothing could be more important than to stand for the truth, even in the face of the anti-Christ’s persecution.

We Saw You at the Pole, where evangelical students gathered ostensibly to pray for the country but also, honestly, to thumb their noses at all those worldly humanists who wanted to take away our right to pray in schools.

We ate apologetics books like communion wafers—and were about as nourished. What we learned was to argue, to corner our opponents in their intellectually unfurnished corners, defeating them with our theistic strength and consistency.

And then something happened. Our Merlins and Gandalfs became Barnums and Baileys.

A months ago, Jared C. Wilson wrote this piece on a shifting tide. Let’s keep praying the waters will flow in the most beneficial direction for everyone.

Moby Dick Illustrated One Day at a Time

Illustrator Matt Kish says he had read Moby Dick eight times already, calling the novel “endlessly revealing.” Feeling a strong need for artistic inspiration, he returned to it.

“I wanted a slow, intense pace through the book so I decided to create one illustration a day, every day, for every single one of the 552 pages of my Signet Classics paperback, and on August 4, 2009 I began.”

He spent about 18 months on it.

Of course, there are other illustrators too.

Lewis’s Enduring Influence on Gaiman

Neil Gaiman was irritated to learn his beloved C.S. Lewis was a Christian who infused his work with Christian truths. He felt betrayed that this favorite author would have an agenda for his stories (as if all authors don’t write from some kind of moral framework), but Lewis’s influence on Gaiman carries on. Russell Moore spells in out in Touchstone.

In the American Gods mythology, the old gods—the supernatural beings associated with rain and fertility and war—are at odds with the new gods—such as media and technology. Many of the motifs of Narnia are there. The “bad guys” muster their troops at the Stone Table in Lewis’s Narnia; they do so at Chattanooga’s Rock City in Gaiman’s America. The Pevensie children find their destiny as kings and queens of Narnia; Gaiman’s human Shadow Moon (yes, that’s his name) finds his destiny as, literally, the son of a god. Aslan offers up his life as an atoning sacrifice in Narnia; Odin does the same for Gaiman, complete with a spear in his side and, of course, a resurrection.

Gaiman would say that he is simply working with the myths as he found them. As he retells the story in his recent collection of Norse myths, Odin does indeed climb the world tree and hang himself in self-sacrifice, “making the world-tree a gallows and himself the gallows god.” For Gaiman, the gospel might well simply be an echo of that archetypal story. One god with the gallows, another with the cross. But, of course, that is precisely what initially repelled Lewis from Christianity, and ultimately drew him to it.

 

Does Voracious Consumption of News Consume Us the Most?

A period of “debilitating postpartum anxiety” led Abigail Favale to drop out of social media and stop watching the news.

I steered clear of Facebook, which is its own strange minefield, photos of chubby babies and too-flattering selfies alongside headlines of horror – headlines of articles that few actually read, but we share them anyway, to at least feel like we’ve done something; we’ve shown that we’re woke, we’re aware.

Now she asks a particularly Lenten question. “Is the voracious consumption of information a virtue? Is seeking not to know a vice?”

This question has increasing importance. Most of us already suffer from an info glut and many people view this as normal life. But I won’t be surprised when news comes of the next generation rejecting all of this and seeking what some may call a new puritanism of personal responsibility and local (mostly offline) living. I’m pretty sure it’s happening already.

Jane Austen, the Teacher We Need

John Mark N. Reynolds encourages us to learn from Jane Austen, because she is a woman made in the image of God. “Jane Austen is the teacher we need, the thinker we ignore at our peril.”

Women don’t think the same way men do, generally speaking. That’s good and even godly, because the Lord created us in his image, male and female in his image. Our differences matter as mature adults designed to worship the Lord on earth.

If there is a tendency to value enduring relationships over abstract ideas in the ethics valued by most (though not all) women, then Austen is an educator in that voice. She must not be reduced to entertainment, though she is good fun. She is wrestling with status, relationships, and how to morally negotiate status ethically.

Comparing King and Coates

Scott Allen compares what he sees of the diverging worldviews of Martin Luther King and Ta-Nehisi Coates. The former advocated for a biblical application of justice and neighborly love; the latter appears to see only power.

The civil rights movement that King led had a clear agenda: End Jim Crow and bring about a change in America whereby people would be judged not by skin color but by character. It succeeded overwhelmingly, garnering support from people of all ethnicities. It led to the passage of the famous Civil Rights Act of 1964 and to the greatest period of equality and harmony between races that the nation had ever known.

Coates is very muted about the positive changes that King brought about. He prefers to paint race relations in America circa 2018 as little changed from America in 1850 or 1950. He puts forward no real positive agenda for improved race relations. Rich Lowry comments that his writing “feels nihilistic because there is no positive program to leaven the despair.”

For Dickens, Good People Drink Tea

British food historian Pen Vogler has brewed up a book of sixty recipes that appear in Dickens’ stories or figured into his life. She suggests Dickens put coffee into the hands of wicked people and tea in cups of the right, moral, and good.

Take Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House.

“She neglects her feminine role as mother and wife, whilst she writes coffee-fueled letters long into the night, to promote her coffee-growing charity,” says Vogler. “It is funny, but, as with all Dickens’ bad mothers, it has a chilling ring of his own unhappy experience. He could never forgive his mother for wanting him to continue to work at the blacking factory, rather than go to school, even after his father was released from debtors’ prison.”

By contrast, Joe Gargery in Great Expectations is “as truly humble and good as Uriah Heep is not” and “a natural tea-drinker.” (via Prufrock News)

Christian Smith: Higher Ed is Full of BS

You’ve probably heard Christian Smith quoted in a sermon or lecture within the last decade, even if you don’t know who he is. He’s the one who gave us the label “moralistic therapeutic deism” as a descriptor of what is commonly taught in American churches. Earlier this month in a piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Smith describes the state of American higher ed in words I don’t expect pastors will quote so freely. He lists 22 things that are worthless in our university system.

Calling out the BS is not about my personal experience, limits, or feelings. It is not even only about the unconscionable fact that countless millions of students are receiving compromised and sometimes worthless college educations, as sickening as that is. Ultimately, we must grasp the more dreadful reality that all of this BS in the academy is mortally corrosive of our larger culture and politics.

It’s tragic, he says, but his contemporaries have probably lost all understanding of that concept.

No, the idea of tragedy is incomprehensible in institutions drifting in a Bermuda Triangle marked by the external-funding addictions of the STEM fields, the obsequious scientism of the social sciences, and the intellectual fads, ideological doctrines, and science-envy that captivate and enervate the humanities.

What Did Lincoln Think About Slavery?

The president’s personal notes, that pull together into a fragmented diary, show how he thought about the argument for and against slavery in the United States. He asks if one person can claim a right to enslave another, what prevents the latter person from claiming the same right over the former? Is it color? Then we are all in danger of being enslaved or having to fight against that legal claim by anyone with fairer skin than our own. Lincoln then asks,

You do not mean color exactly? — You mean whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and, therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own.

In another place, he mocks the idea that slavery is good for the slaves, saying that’s the reason wolves eat lambs, “not because it is good for their own greedy maws, but because it [is] good for the lambs!!!” [via Prufrock News]

Did OT Writers Misunderstand God’s Kindness?

In his two-volume book, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross, [Greg] Boyd argues that such “violent” injunctions come from the “textual” God of the misguided ancient Near Eastern biblical author with his fallen, violence-prone worldview (“thus says Moses/Joshua”). These aren’t instances of “thus says the Lord”—the “actual” God whom Jesus represents. Boyd’s “cruciform” hermeneutic emphasizes how the character of God is displayed in the power-surrendering, non-violent, self-giving Christ on the cross. If this is what God is really like, then we must rethink how we view violent OT texts—and even certain New Testament (NT) passages.

This is our author Paul Copan summarizes the book he reviews, telling us what its author intends. He presents Boyd’s points in brief and then criticizes each one.  I’d like to add my own thoughts to Copan’s, but I know nothing compared to what he has written, so go read it yourself.

If anything, Boyd should chastise the redeemed martyrs, who are actually petitioning God to “judge [krineis] and avenge [’ekdikeis] our blood” (Rev. 6:10). Indeed, he should oppose the satisfaction of “heaven . . . and you saints and apostles and prophets” at God’s just judgment: “Rejoice over her . . . because God has pronounced judgment [’ekrinen . . . to krima] for you against her” (Rev. 18:20). That believers shouldn’t take personal vengeance, but to call on God to bring judgment, is anchored in both Testaments and in Jesus himself.

Aye, Robot by Robert Kroese

I too have read a novel by Robert Kroese recently. It seems to be closer to the vein of Kroese’s other novels than perhaps The Dream of the Iron Dragon is, judging by titles and Lars’s review alone.

Aye, Robot is the latest in a short series of Starship Grifters book. It’s the second of three, the prequel, Out of the Soylent Planet, being published after its release. A few dialogue lines refer to previous events and none of the main characters need reintroduction, but it stands on its own.

  “Don’t be ridiculous,” snapped Rex. “What’s my name?”
“Rex Nihilio,” I said.
“And what’s my occupation?”
“You’re the self-described ‘greatest wheeler-dealer in the galaxy.'”
“Correct,” said Rex. “It sounds better if you leave off the ‘self-described,’ though. What’s your name?”
“Sasha.”
“Which stands for what?”
“Self-Arresting near Sentient Heuristic Android.”

Sasha, the narrator of the story, tells us the space grifter Rex Nihilio is reckless enough to need someone to hold him back (or get in his way) so he doesn’t get killed while off on a wild hair. That’s where she comes in. She begins by wondering about loss of memory, because she realizes nether she nor Rex can recall details of their actions from minutes before the conversation above. Plus Rex is acting generously, completely out of character for him.

They quickly fall into trouble through Rex’s new behavior patterns and just as quickly go from fryer to fire as something very big watches them from the shadows. As their adventure continues, they run afowl common criminals, Space Apostles, and the Malarchian government’s worst law-enforcer, Heinous Vlaak.

The story leans more light-hearted crime novel than full-throated comic. Most of the comedy comes in funny names and misused words. Nothing dark. Gullible stooges get their just desserts. It’s all good. I enjoyed it. One of my children did too, but a younger one didn’t get it.

Also included in this book is the novella, “The Yanthus Prime Job,” another light-hearted crime story with one of the characters we meet in the main story. It raises questions about how we treat those we deem unimportant.

Richard Scarry’s ‘What Do People Do All Day’

What Do People Do All Day turns 50 this year. Author Richard Scarry (1919-1994) has sold well over 100 million books by sticking to what The Independent calls “his limitation. Having hit on a formula that worked so well he did little more than tinker with it throughout a long and highly profitable creative career.” When your readers and their parents beat your books up with love, why would you shift gears to draw maps for the army or some such?

Half his books are storybooks,” his son, Richard Scarry, Jr., who writes under the name Huck Scarry, told the NY Times in 1994, “and half are educational books, but the educational books always try to get across whatever educational information they have to tell in an amusing and lighthearted way.”