Category Archives: Non-fiction

Fred Sanders Can’t Dance the Flow

In his review of Richard Rohr’s new book, Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, Fred Sanders explains how it isn’t about the Trinity at all. It’s about the divine flow, a dance within the Godhead that ends up being more important than the Godhead.

The flow is a self-giving exchange of love and life. If you were to ask Rohr whether the flow is primarily something about God, the world, or the human person, he would no doubt answer with an enthusiastic “Yes!” and his twinkling Franciscan eyes would twinkle Franciscanly. The flow overflows the distinction between the Creator and the creature. It flows from God as God empties Godself; it circulates among creatures and binds them together with each other and the absolute; it flows back to God, enriching and delighting that Holy Source who loves to see finite spirits awaken to their true, divine selves. The flow sounds like a noun, but it’s really a verb. Flow verbs all nouns as they flow with its flowing.

That looks like some good verbal dancing on Sanders’ part, but it isn’t the flow. It’s more like keeping his footing solid while the room shakes, which makes for entertaining reading.

A Basket Full of Links

Can novels spread awareness of mental health issues? Author C.K. Meena said, “Fiction has no purpose, if you want to spread awareness, use non-fiction.” But author Amandeep Sandhu countered with the idea that nothing we write is truly non-fiction, because we focus on or exaggerate some facts and ignore others.

Eighty-one Anglo-Saxon coffins made from the hollowed-out oak oak trees have been discovered at a site called Great Ryburgh in Norfolk, England. “‘This find is a dramatic example of how new evidence is helping to refine our knowledge of this fascinating period when Christianity and the Church were still developing on the ground,’ said Tim Pestell, curator at Norwich Castle Museum in Norfolk, where the finds from the dig will be kept.” Here are some photos.

“Exactly a century after Saki’s death on 14th November 1916, it seems remarkable that his work has survived so well. In a line-up of the wits of 20th-century English literature, Saki is usually tucked somewhere between PG Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh.” (via Prufrock News)

Appalachian culture is often misunderstood and misrepresented, a problem the people behind Foxfire magazine hope to correct. Mountain people are “very resourceful, self-reliant, hardworking, intelligent and with an amazing sense of humor.”

A new coffee vendor in Redlands, California, And Coffee, operates a “a remodeled utility truck” next to city hall and runs on donations.

Growing Up with the Cubs

The most challenging thing about suddenly taking in a 10-year-old who doesn’t start school for three weeks is figuring out what to actually do with them on a day to day basis. There are a lot of hours in a day, and every one of those hours needs filling. It is hard to whip up a busy routine from scratch, and it is doubly important to do so when that 10-year-old has just gone through what is likely the most traumatic thing she will ever endure.

One immediately fun activity involved the Cubs. I found a sports bar that would turn the Cubs games on while we were there, so we began going out to eat chicken fingers and watch the Cubs games. Early on, this meant weekends or the odd afternoon game so she could watch the whole thing. But even that changed, and the baseball became less important.

. . .  Baseball season ended, but Thursday night chicken fingers did not.

Lewis on Politics and Natural Law

C. S. Lewis on Natural Law

Today at Power Line blog, Steven Hayward writes about C.S. Lewis and a new book on Lewis and politics. He mentions having wondered in the past whether Lewis and Leo Strauss, whose thought he considers highly compatible, were aware of each other. Although he still doesn’t know that Lewis had ever heard of Strauss, he now has evidence that Strauss knew (and admired) Lewis’ The Abolition of Man.

He plugs a new book, C.S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law, by Justin Buckley Dyer and Micah J. Watson. No reason why we shouldn’t get in on that business too.

The Anchor as a Christian Symbol

Anchored“In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.”

What is the origin of the anchor as a Christian symbol, and why do we no longer use it? Apparently, it relied on a play on Greek words, so as Greek lost its hold as a language among Christians, so did the symbol.

Also,  a few questions answered by Jonathan Edwards’s A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, a highly recommended book.

Speech Is a Uniquely Human Quality

Max Muller, a pioneering 19th-century linguist at Oxford, read Darwin’s work and declared that the use of language was the gift that definitively separated human beings from the animal kingdom. It was, Muller said, “our Rubicon, and no brute will dare to cross it.” Nowadays, neo-Darwinians would dismiss mulish Muller as a “speciesist.”

Andrew Ferguson summarizes and reviews Tom Wolfe’s The Kingdom of Speech for sympathetic readers. He condemns scientists who argue against non-scientists asking awkward questions they’d rather ignore and claim to deserve a respect they have yet to earn.  “Evolutionary theory is no closer than it was in Darwin’s day to explaining in materialist terms how traits like self-consciousness and language came to be.” (via Prufrock News)

How Media Bias Influences Americans

Professor Tim Groseclose released a book in 2011 with his eight years’ of research into political biases in newsrooms and communities. He pushed for a way to quantify someone’s ideology–to slap a number on it–with as much accuracy as possible. As a result, he developed the political quotient (PQ).

” A person’s PQ indicates the degree to which he is liberal,” Groseclose explains. “For instance, as I have calculated, the PQs of Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) are approximately 100. Meanwhile the PQs of noted conservatives Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) are approximately 0.”

The main point of his book is that most media outlets are liberal, far more liberal than their readers and viewers. Naturally, their PQ comes through in their reporting, and their perspective is moving Americans in a liberal direction. Get a rather detailed overview in this lecture to an audience at the Cato Institute.

Media bias, he says, is largely in what is not reported, “true statements they are leaving out, not false statements they report.” He illustrates this by recalling a report on voter limitations, saying nothing in the article was a lie, but there were several things that should have been stated to give proper context for the truth. Also what the press chooses to report on and what to ignore shows their biases (Van Jones being a communist, for example).

If it were possible to remove the influence of media bias on Americans, what would the result be? Continue reading How Media Bias Influences Americans

The Real Nat Turner

Justin Taylor explores many details in the true story behind the new movie The Birth of a Nation, which one history professor called “a deeply flawed, historically inaccurate movie that exploits and distorts Nat Turner’s story and the history of slavery in America.”

According to his own testimony, Nat Turner appears to have been a strong, intelligent man who could not be subdued by a slave economy. He was gifted and believed he was called by God to lead a righteous war against slave owners. Reading his spiritual account, you could say he was powerfully deceived, but you might also say a brilliant and spiritually sensitive man can be twisted and perverted when shackled by oppression. Not that any motive or character study would justify the murder he and his allies committed, but the slavery in which they lived cannot be justified either. Four times as many slaves were murdered in retribution to Nat Turner’s revolt as whites were murdered by the revolt, which speaks to the war-like nature of the whole affair. This wasn’t a just war nor was it followed by a just condemnation.

Recommended reading ends the post.

History professor Vanessa M. Holden, in the past linked from Taylor’s, says, “Parker’s movie is important. Its independent roots and blockbuster distribution deal are significant in an industry that still grapples with racism. It also draws the public’s attention to a history that has no white saviors or triumphant endings. The character Turner is not long suffering; he springs into violent action as soon as he becomes aware of slavery’s brutality and validates his claim to humanity and freedom, just as the historical Turner did, through a radicalized Christianity. But the license that Parker took in an effort to craft his heroic version of Turner ultimately strips away too much valuable context.”

 

Distorting History

Justin Taylor interviews Sir Richard J. Evans, a historian and expert witness in David Irving v. Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt, which is the subject of a new movie called Denial. The trial dealt with a lawsuit by the British Hitler apologist David Irving against American historian Deborah Lipstadt and her UK publisher. In her book and public speaking, Lipstadt said Irving had manipulated evidence and misrepresented facts in favor of the Third Reich. She believed he was the most dangerous Holocaust denier in the world, because he had some level of respect among historians at that time.

Evans has written on European history, and perhaps more to the point, he has written on the concept of historical knowledge. The trial could easily have been framed as an issue of freedom of speech. Could anyone say or claim anything? Is it actually possible to establish historical facts?

Even though it was Irving who sued Lipstadt, some people defended Irving’s right for free speech as if he were the victim or the one on trial. How could the public have been so confused about the nature of this well-publicized case?

This is because the defence’s tactic was to focus on Irving, repeat Lipstadt’s accusations at much greater length, and back them up with overwhelming evidence.

Had he won, the freedom of speech would have been seriously damaged in the UK. Even though he lost, I still had major problems publishing my book on the case because publishers were afraid he would sue them. The movie makes it clear what was at stake.

A similarly skewed perspective of history appears to be on display today at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, where you can learn that Anita Hill was a major figure in the twentieth century and Justice Clarence Thomas was an also ran.  But maybe, looking on the bright side, the museum plans a major exhibit on Thomas next year.

How Would Edmund Burke Advise You to Vote?

The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing

Isn’t this the one thing you know from Edmund Burke, an Irishman and political thinker? You didn’t even know he was Irish. All you knew about Burke was that he said the above quotation. Except he didn’t.

What he said that closely resembles this comes from his 1770 book, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents.

No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united Cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

Now this is curious. Burke is arguing in favor of unity, of banding together to oppose “ambitious citizens” who have already united their efforts. We could call them The Establishment or a number of other things. Burke’s point appears to be that virtuous people should not believe their individual virtues, their personal choices, to be effective against those who are working together to oppose us.

Here’s more of what Burke wrote in Present Discontents:  Continue reading How Would Edmund Burke Advise You to Vote?

Jack the Beowulf Singer

Jason Craig and Dave Malloy have written a rock opera based on Beowulf, just what you didn’t know you never wanted. A. M. Juster describes it.

We meet the dimwitted hipster Beowulf and the snarkier Hrothgar, who are backed up by a chorus of four female “warriors” who resemble strapping Cyndi Laupers in football pads and Goth makeup. We hear pulsing but mediocre rock, which at least drowns out such dull refrains as “Hey, it’s that guy,” “It’s my body,” and “That was death and then they died.”

It has a few perks, but Juster was not thrilled by the whole.

On another horrific, somewhat more gruesome, note, Otto Penzler has compiled The Big Book of Jack the Ripper. Steve Donoghue says it’s very good. “This editor is an old, practiced hand at picking these kinds of stories; his anthologies are always masterworks of combining old favorites with carefully chosen new surprises.”

The real payoff of Penzler’s book is its opening section, “The True Story,” and the main reason is clear: the raw events of the true story are more bizarre, more sordid, and more horrifying than any concoction a writer could dream up.

(via Prufrock News)

Scrubbing a Story of Christians

John Mark Reynolds reviews Disney’s new movie, Queen of Katwe, which has many great things going for it, except that the “based on a true story” part can’t find a way to articulate the Christian motives of its characters.

Anybody want to bet whether a Ugandan evangelical ministry ever talks about Jesus? Why is this offensive? . . . Disney shows that it can get Uganda sort-of-right, but Uganda’s pervasive Christianity must be minimized. We should ask: “Why?”

Who Has Authority to Speak on a Subject?

Min Hyoung Song, an English professor at Boston College, focuses much of his time on Chinese-American literature and has written this review of book that contrasts two China-focused authors, one a Pulitzer and Nobel winner, the other struggling for any attention at all. He asks:

What does it mean to be serious? Or, more specifically, how does a subject get to be something (or someone) worth speaking about? Who gets to speak about this subject and be accepted as someone who knows what he or she is talking about? What forms can this authority take, and in what kinds of contexts? Pearl S. Buck’s wild successes and H. T. Tsiang’s wild failures are the two extremes.

Those are good questions for any subject, and the answer seems to have much to do with personal trust and connection. An author or teacher may have good, or what would be fair to call “the right,” answers on a topic but fail to connect with his readers. Without such a connection, no one will trust him to know what he’s talking about. On the other hand, that person who has gained his readers’ trust can be wrong about many things and still be considered an authority. Personal trust is the key. (via ALDaily)

No One Can Set Up a Theocracy

“It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects — military, political, economic, and what not,” Lewis wrote. “But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.”

Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center shares some good thoughts from C. S. Lewis about Christians in the political world, but I think I may have strong disagreements.

Certainly, to create a specifically Christian political party could cause problems, because while the Bible has many applications to civil society, it does not give us a platform for twenty-first century governing. Wehner says Lewis “believed that theocracy was the worst form of government and detested the idea of a ‘Christian party,’ which risked blaspheming the name of Christ.”

I can see that danger, but who among us is even capable of establishing a theocracy? If God were to descend on Washington D.C. and declare his regulations from the Lincoln Memorial, if he were to charge his followers with discipling those who refuse to obey him and blessing them with divine gifts for carrying out his will, then we would have a theocracy. What are the Lord’s trade and immigration policies? How does the Lord want us to handle our crime-ridden cities? Let’s ask him directly.

No. We can’t get there from here. We could set up a “Christian” party. I’m pretty sure we have. And we have several Christian candidates for various offices, but none of them can reconstruct our government to submit to the direct decrees of God. What Wehner and Lewis, I suppose, are criticizing is a government ruled by priests who claim to speak for the Almighty–the Holy American Empire, in other words.  Continue reading No One Can Set Up a Theocracy