Author Casey Cep writes about a true crime story Harper Lee could not complete. “Harper Lee always said that she was ‘intrigued with crime.’ She grew up surrounded by stacks of the magazine True Detective Mysteries, cut her teeth on Sherlock Holmes, watched trials from the balcony of the local courthouse as a kid, and studied criminal law at the University of Alabama.”
The story of Reverend Willie Maxwell, a man accused but not convicted of murdering and collecting death benefits from five family members, was as compelling as any story Lee had grown up with. But she could not pull it together. Perhaps the characters were too much larger than life.
Part of why true crime stories are so appealing is that they force us to confront the limits of what can be known, and eliding those limits, whether by fabricating motives or means or inventing someone’s inner life, doesn’t just cross the boundary between fiction and nonfiction; it transgresses something deeper.
I’ve seen many critical comments about “purity culture” this year from strangers on the Internet. I didn’t know exactly what they were referring to, but that’s normal when you come into the middle of someone’s conversation, which is what social media allows you to do all day, every day. And you can’t bring a pot of coffee with you. Last week such conversations couldn’t be avoided as everyone on my side of the Internet cafe took up talking about the announced divorce and apostasy of the author of a 1990s bestselling book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
The criticism has been as open-ended as the label. I think much of what I saw was from people who were pushing back appropriately on a shame-based rationale they were taught, but many critics seemed to be attacking biblical sexual ethics as a whole. The latter is ridiculous, but I’d like to write about the former for a minute.
We were running out of breath, as we ran out to meet ourselves. We were surfacing the edge of our ancestors’ fights, and ready to strike.
from “An American Sunrise” by Joy Harjo
Joy Harjo has appointed the next U.S. poet laureate. She is of the Muscogee Creek nation, born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the first Oklahoman to be named poet laureate.
She told Tulsa World, “I know a lot of young people were turned off from poetry when the teacher would ask us to ‘tell what the poem means.’ But sometimes, it’s better just to listen. I mean, we all listen to something like ‘Hotel California,’ but could we really explain what it means? What is so amazing about poetry is that it’s a way to speak beyond words.”
Many outlets are reporting that Harjo is the first Native American to be appointed to this position, but poet William Jay Smith, who was part Choctaw, held the position in 1968-70. (This detail was pointed out by A.M. Juster, which I learned through Prufrock)
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.
This is from his account of the long night’s conversation among Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Hugo Dyson at Oxford in 1931, which bore fruit a few days later in Lewis’s conversion. It’s tremendously important.
We have come from God (continued Tolkien), and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil….
Lewis listened as Dyson affirmed in his own way what Tolkien had said. You mean, asked Lewis, that the story of Christ is simply a true myth, a myth that works on us in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened? In that case, he said, I begin to understand.
During the war he had said to Christopher: ‘We are attempting to conquer Sauron with the Ring’ and now he wrote: ‘The War is not over (and the one that is, or part of it, has largely been lost). But it is of course wrong to fall into such a mood, for Wars are always lost, and The War always goes on, and it is no good growing faint.’
The trailers for the new Tolkien movie looked kind of good, so I figured I might go to see it. It seemed to me it would be a good idea to read a Tolkien biography before I did that. And although I’m now hearing that the movie leaves out Tolkien’s Catholic faith – which means I probably won’t see it after all – I’m glad I bought Humphrey Carpenter’s Tolkien: A Biography.
The book is easy to read and not too long. It follows “Toller’s”
life from his birth in South Africa to his death in England, and the author is
clearly a sympathetic fan – though he is often amused by Tolkien’s
eccentricities. Which were many.
This is, I believe, the classic Tolkien biography, and it’s fairly
old now. I expect there are new things to be learned from more recent ones. I
noted, for instance, that Carpenter speaks of “Jack” Lewis’s transfer to
Cambridge University only in passing, as a step backwards in the two men’s
friendship. While that’s true enough, it should have been noted that it was
through the good offices of Tolkien himself that Jack got the job.
But, reading as a fan, I found Tolkien: A Biography fascinating. I recommend it highly.
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.”
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.
Thursday through Sunday this week, I’ll be at the Festival of Nations at the River Centre in St. Paul. I’ll have Viking Legacy, West Oversea, and Blood and Judgment to sell and sign. I’ll be set up with the Viking Age Club and Society. Look for the avoidant with the hunted look in his eyes.
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.”
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.”
My first order of business is to express my sincere gratitude to Dr. Hunter Baker, Dr. Ray Van Neste, and all the wonderful people at Union University, Jackson, Tennessee, for making me so extremely welcome for the last couple days. It was a tremendous experience for me. I hope it was enjoyable for innocent bystanders as well.
I flew in to Memphis, courtesy of the school, on Monday. Dr. Hunter Baker met me, in two senses. He’s one of those people I’ve known online for years, but we’d never actually been in the same physical space before. He took me out for pizza (very good), and then back to the school for a short tour. That’s when I also got to meet Dr. Ray Van Neste, another online friend and the co-conspirator in my invitation.
They’re both deans. When you’re a dean, you can get away
with spending institutional funds on marginal literary figures.
Tuesday was the most intense day I’ve experienced in a long
time. It’s hard to describe. Hunter told me I wasn’t like he expected, based on
my self-descriptions on this blog. And he was right. I was in a different
reality on Tuesday. I was “on,” as in performing. Like when I used to act.
In retrospect, I’m not at all sure why I decided it would be
a good idea to wear my frock coat, vest, and tie when I visited classes on
Tuesday. Especially when I pulled out my monocle for reading, it must have made
me look distinctly bizarre. But it somehow made sense to me in my altered state
of consciousness. I sat in on Hunter’s Modern Political Thought class that
morning, discussing medieval political thought. Seemed to go OK. In the
afternoon I joined a writing class, and that was quite a bit of fun – or at
least the alien intelligence possessing my consciousness thought so.
All day I was in performance mode, and people enabled me by
asking me questions on subjects about which I had something to say. These elements
combined to make me appear to be an extrovert. The real me just hung on for the
Lunch that day was one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had,
at a local place, and for dinner we joined another dean (whose name I’ve
forgotten, I fear) for a memorable meal at the nicest place in town. My alien possessor
handled this well, I believe.
Then in the evening, I did my big presentation on “When Christianity Came To the Vikings.” I am pretty much unable to tell you how it went, because my grandiose half thinks it was awesome, and my neurotic half thinks I messed it up completely. The truth, no doubt, falls somewhere in between, but where on a scale from one to ten, I can’t tell you. They inform me the video will be posted, and I’ll share it with you. But I will never have the nerve to watch it.
I do know I knocked my water bottle off the podium. Could have used that water.
There were a number of questions afterward (always a good
sign), and one fan who wasn’t a student or faculty member drove a distance to
be there (nice to meet you, Steve).
Then I returned to my guest room and crashed, feeling as if
I’d gone nine rounds with a prizefighter.
And Wednesday I flew home. It was a perfect spring day in
Tennessee, and in Minneapolis we were having a snowstorm.
As previously mentioned, I will be lecturing in the Barefoot Student Union Building, Union University, Jackson, Tennessee, Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. My subject will be, “When Christianity Came to the Vikings.”
More information here, if you’re in the neighborhood.
If you like long novels about families slouching toward their doom, marriage as a “life catastrophe,” and reconciliations that come fifty-years late if at all, then you may already know that writer and director Ingmar Bergman turned to novels at one point in his life to overcome the “perfectionist restriction” he felt in his film work.
He wrote the three autobiographical novels [following his autobiography] in a remarkable creative rush between the ages of seventy-three and seventy-eight. The Best Intentions, a dramatization of his parents’ improbable courtship and troubled marriage that’s punctuated by conversations (real or imagined) with Erik and Karin (referred to in the novel by the pseudonyms “Anna” and “Henrik”) in their old age, came out in 1991; Sunday’s Children, which focuses on a precarious moment in the young Ingmar’s relationship with his forbidding father, in 1993; and Private Confessions, a series of six brief stories, each featuring his mother at a crucial moment in her emotional and spiritual life, in 1996.*
I will be speaking at Union University, Jackson, Tennessee on Tuesday, April 9, on the subject: “When Christianity Came to the Vikings.” More information here.
Thanks to Ray Van Neste, Dean of the School of Theology and Missions, and Hunter Baker, Dean of Arts and Sciences, for putting whatever pressure was necessary on the right people to allow this event to happen.
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).