All posts by Lars Walker

Meme of 8

Beautiful day, if a little windy. The temperature is in the 70s, and it looks like tomorrow will be much the same.

Walking through the park this evening, I saw a man standing all by himself, practicing some kind of dance that called for stomping his feet with his knees bent and making elaborate motions with his arms.

I envy him his lack of self-consciousness.

But only that.

Sherry at Intellectuelle has tagged Phil and me with an Eight Things meme. These are the rules:

Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

Hmm, that’s a challenge. Not to write eight things about myself, it goes without saying, but to try to think of eight things about myself I haven’t told you already. Two or three times.

But let’s give it a shot.

1. I’m not a genius. That ought to be a no-brainer (to put it weirdly), but some people seem to have gotten that impression, probably because of my intellectual arrogance. My IQ, at the last testing, was 126. A nice, comfortable upper-middle range figure, but nothing that would get me into MENSA.

2, I have a rather nice singing voice. Indeed, I spent nine years with an obscure Christian musical group. However I have a lousy ear and no ability whatever to play an instrument.

3. I’ve visited Norway 4 times, and have gotten as far north as the North Cape. I’ve also visited Iceland once, and I’ve been to the Leif Eriksson archaeological site at L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland.

4. On the American side, I’ve visited Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, his childhood home in Indiana, and his home in New Salem, Illinois. I’ve also been to Ford’s Theater, and the Peterson House across the street where he died. Oh yes, I’ve also visited a house in Tennessee built by Davy Crockett, and Wild Bill Hickok’s grave in Deadwood.

5. In community theater, in Florida, I played Mordred in Camelot, Prof. Moriarty in a Sherlock Holmes play, the leads in both Larry Shue’s comedies, “The Foreigner” and “The Nerd,” Tony in “You Can’t Take It With You,” Crichton in “The Admirable Crichton,” and Clive in “Write Me a Murder.” I also did a local TV commercial for kitchen fans.

6. My personality is almost entirely synthetic, by which I mean it’s man-made. I wasn’t born programmed to be the man I am. As a child (I’m told), I was happy, outgoing and talkative. I grew up to be depressive, introverted and famously taciturn. The difference came because certain people in my life didn’t like my original personality and set about changing it, with complete success.

7. I once read the entire Lord of the Rings out loud (to my roommate). But not in one sitting.

8. I can wiggle my ears.

As is my custom, I shall not tag anyone with this meme.

“Kill the wabbit!”

I hate to admit it, but I actually had a pretty good weekend. I know that’s a disappointment to those of you who come to this blog for a daily fillip of angst, alienation, futility and despair, but even I can’t maintain perfect consistency all my life.

Saturday was quiet and uneventful, which suits me just fine. Picked up a couple needed items at Kmart and had lunch at my regular Chinese buffet. Took my renter’s door off its hinges and shaved the top down so it would close better. I discovered then that there remains yet another problem—the latch won’t engage in the hole in the striker plate. Which means I’m going to have to figure out how to move that hole just a whisker.

Whoever painted that door has much to answer for.

Sunday was, as I mentioned on Friday, Norway Day at Minnehaha Park. I first attended Norway Day in 1980 (I remember because I was attending Brown Institute of Broadcasting at the time). I was living in an apartment house just up the street. I walked down there on a Sunday afternoon just to get some fresh air, and lo and behold, My Own Tribe had gathered. It was a pretty big event, with lots of vendors and food stands, and they’d brought in a folk dancing group from Norway for entertainment.

I went back the first year I was back from Florida, and it was much the same.

But in the years since, the event has shriveled visibly. I don’t think it’s just because the old people are dying off and the young people are all half German now. I suspect there’s some tragic story of organizing groups finally reaching the breaking point and saying what they really think, and people taking their fish balls and going home.

I hope the decline hasn’t been due to the presence of the Viking Age Club & Society in the last few years.

At this point our encampment is almost half the event.

We’re crowd-pleasers, though. Our combats gathered enthusiastic crowds, and I think we gave them a pretty good show. It was only Eric and me this time, and I’m happy to report that I was on my game and beat him about three out of four bouts in two presentations. He missed the chance to get his revenge in the third, when the sky darkened, somebody opened a giant refrigerator door, and heavy rain cut loose on us and set everybody to tearing down tents, packing vehicles and driving away.

We needed the rain, though.

I also did a decoration job on the sheath of my new saex. I’m pretty happy with the results:

Sheath tooled

As a final note, I’d fail in my predictability (and render this post’s title meaningless) if I didn’t note that this week is the 50th Anniversary of what many consider the greatest cartoon short ever made, “What’s Opera Doc?” featuring Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny doing Wagner. They tell me it’s much more impressive on a big screen. But it’s funny even on YouTube.

The Old Age of Reason

The bulls have been slaughtered and their entrails carefully examined by the meteorological priesthood. The shamans declare that we are entering into a period of heat and drought. This isn’t a tough call in Minnesota in July, but we always hope we might catch a break, and it’s their job to dash that hope.

I plan to potter around Blithering Heights on Saturday, staying indoors as much as possible. On Saturday I shall imprudently join the Viking Age Club & Society for an encampment at Minnehaha Park (it’s the annual Norway Day celebration). Stop by if you’re in the area. (I actually have a strong suspicion that I’m our only reader in the Minneapolis area.)

I always enjoy our events at Minnehaha Park, having lived in that part of town, off and on, for several years in the aggregate, sometime back around the time when Minnehaha Falls was brand new.

Here’s what I’m worrying about today:

As you’ve noted, I worry about everything. And I’m confident that everything I worry about will happen, even though several of them are mutually contradictory. I operate on the theory that just because the guy on my right has punched me, that doesn’t mean the guy on my left can’t follow up with a kick to the kneecap.

Anyway, I was worrying today.

Here’s what’s bothering me. Back when the American Founding Fathers were hammering out the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, they were working off a shared, common world view. You frequently hear people insisting that “all the Founders were Deists.” This is a) a considerable exaggeration, and b) irrelevant in a sense. Because for all the theological differences between the Deists and the Christians, they shared a basic agreement on the operation of reason and the nature of truth. They believed that if A is larger than B, and B is equal to C, then A must also be larger than C. They took it for granted that reasonable men would always agree on such things. It was an honorable thing, a sign of great-mindedness, to yield to the weight of logic.

This was a primary reason for their insistence on freedom of speech. It wasn’t (regardless of what you may have heard) because of their concern that pornography should always be freely available, but because they believed that if all the facts were stated, and all opinions heard, Reason would force all men of good will to agree in the end on the correct solution. Because Reason had objective existence, and followed scientific laws.

This is not believed much anymore.

Today, you have one side screaming its own set of facts, and the other side screaming its set of facts, and these sets of facts bear no relation to one another. The Iraq War that I follow in the news is nothing like the Iraq War that most Democrats follow in the news, for instance.

And there’s no place in our culture for the two sides to find common ground. We both suspect everything the other side says—because we’ve all been lied to too often, and we’ve come to suspect that any “fact” or news report we disagree with was probably doctored. And in the case of the Left, many of them doubt that there is such a thing as objective reality in any case.

We face a situation where the Left and the Right live in entirely different worlds, and can hardly communicate. And it’s not just a matter of Left and Right. There are an infinity of positions out there (this is one of the things that makes the Fairness Doctrine unworkable), and each opinion builds, as it were, its own self-contained universe.

I don’t see any solution for this problem.

Have a wonderful weekend!

America needs Sam

I’m reading Stephen Hunter’s Point of Impact right now. I picked it up because I’d heard Hunter interviewed on the radio, and he described himself as “libertarian/conservative.” So far I’m enjoying it quite a lot. I’ll probably review it when I’m done. That’s not what I want to talk about tonight, though. I want to talk about the movie they made from the book. A movie I haven’t seen, and have no plans to see.

The main character in the book is Bob Lee Swagger, a grizzled, taciturn, moderately crippled Vietnam veteran. In the war he was the second top U.S. sniper. Now he lives alone in a shack in the western Arkansas hills, subsisting on his military pension, maintaining a precarious sobriety, tuning his guns and keeping his shooting skills sharp. There are three people in the world he talks to (plus his dog), and he keeps out of the way of the rest of mankind.

So when Hollywood decided to turn this book into a movie, whom did they cast to carry this interesting character role?

Mark Wahlberg.

Think about that for a moment. Ponder the genius of the mind that made such decision.

Isn’t obvious to the meanest intelligence (which, needless to say, puts it beyond the reach of most of Hollywood) that a role like that simply screams for Sam Elliot?

Sam Elliot can’t carry a major motion picture, you say? He’s too old to play a lead, you say?

I say that kind of thinking is what’s wrong with America today.

I say that if Hollywood had a lick of sense, they’d be turning out a string of big Sam Elliot movies. These movies would be like the films John Wayne made at the end—improbable action flicks about big old men (Elliot even has the advantage of not having gotten fat) who buffalo the young punks and charm the ladies, who never lie or say die, and by thunder they get the job done.

If they added a little jingoistic Americanism that wouldn’t hurt either. (I don’t know what Elliot’s politics are, but if he knew his best interests he’d do the lines and take the money.)

That would get me back into the theaters.

But will anyone listen? Ha!

I try to help. I really try.

Happy 4th of July!

I’m in no position to tell you what to do, but I’d like to go on record as saying I’m flying my flag today. And if you’re an American, I urge you to do the same. Dennis Prager’s column on the need for an “American seder” pretty much sums up my views.

Someone recently sent me a quotation I’ve read before, and like very much. It’s attributed to a scholar named Sir Alex Fraser, and it goes like this:

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, (which is) always followed by a dictatorship.”

An excellent sentiment and (I think) indisputably true. Unfortunately, according to both and, the statement cannot be found in any of Sir Alexander Fraser (Tyler)’s writings.

Which is very odd. It would appear that somebody came up with this extremely perceptive statement, and instead of taking credit for it himself, distributed it under the name of a long-dead scholar. Which shows admirable humility, but doesn’t really do much to promote his purposes, since once the false attribution is known, the whole thing loses credibility.

Or maybe somebody just remembered wrong.

I’ll leave that puzzle in its knot, and close with one of my favorite quotations from John Adams, our second president and one of our most brilliant and amusing, if not the most likeable:

“We have no government armed in power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” (Address to the military, Oct. 11, 1798)

Which is essentially the same point, I think.

The Ritual Bath, by Faye Kellerman

Will this work? I have my doubts. I’ve had the kind of afternoon where every time I reach for something I knock something over, and every time I pick something up I drop it (I’m exaggerating, but it feels like that). So I figure either my computer will crash or Bloo will go down just about the time I’m ready to post. But I shall make the effort.

I bought Faye Kellerman’s The Ritual Bath (first in a series of mysteries involving Det. Peter Decker and widow Rina Lazarus) on the strength of my fondness for her husband Jonathan’s Alex Delaware novels. I had misgivings. Generally I don’t care for mysteries written by women (I’m not weighing in on our discussion, some time back, of whether men write the best mysteries or not. I find men usually write the best mysteries for me, which is a very different matter).

I was very pleasantly surprised. The Ritual Bath is both a satisfying crime story and a sensitive examination of the conflicts and stresses involved in being seriously religious in a secular society.

Rina Lazarus lives at an orthodox yeshiva (Torah school) in a run-down section of Los Angeles. Ordinarily an unmarried woman wouldn’t live at an all-male yeshiva, but her late husband was a student, and the school gave her a job and a home so that she could take care of her two young sons. Her job involves cleaning and caring for the mikvah (ritual bath), used monthly by students’ wives.

The night the novel begins, a young woman is attacked and raped outside the mikvah. Detective Peter Decker and his partner arrive to investigate.

There is immediate chemistry between the tall, red-haired detective and the tiny Jewish widow. But though Decker pursues her singlemindedly throughout the book, Rina has to explain, again and again, that there is no way she could possibly date a goy. As the likelihood grows that the rapist (who keeps coming back) may be someone inside the yeshiva, there are numerous opportunities for personal and professional missteps and misunderstandings.

The picture of life in an Orthodox community appears (so far as I can tell) to be pretty accurate. At least it’s credible. The constant nuisance of concern for ritual cleanliness is not glossed over, but neither are the joys of deep belief and genuine community life. (As a sideline, it made me more aware than ever of Paul’s statement that “the letter of the law kills,” and reminded me how grateful I ought to be that Christians are free of such.)

Another pleasure was Kellerman’s portrayal of Detective Decker. I suspect that one reason so many female writers have a hard time with male characters is that they find it both difficult and repellant to try to get into our heads. I found no false notes in Peter Decker. He struck me as a very believable decent guy, at once strongly aroused by Rina and making an honest effort to keep his hormones suppressed.

Another thing that made the book interesting (and problematic) from a Christian point of view was the fact that Det. Decker is increasingly attracted to the Jewish religion itself, as well as to a particular Jew, as the story goes on. We are told that he was raised a Baptist but is nothing in particular now. Question: If a secular person is drawn to Judaism, does that bring him closer to, or farther away from, Jesus Christ?

Another thing that struck me was how similar the book was to a lot of Christian Booksellers Association fiction. The tall, strong, unbeliever is drawn to the beautiful believer, and as love grows he is attracted to her faith as well.

Only Kellerman does it better. Her writing is on a higher level (not perfect, but far superior to most CBA, so far as I’ve read any), her characters more rounded and believable. Also the book is earthier. There are intense situations. There is bad language. Those things might disqualify a book from CBA, but they also increase realism, giving the story greater credibility.

I’ll read more of these.

Saex talk

We got a little rain today (and that’s a good thing), but it was just a little. When I got home, the evidence suggested that we’d gotten a little more right here. Even better. And the skies were full of dark clouds. I took my afternoon walk on the theory that my vulnerability would prove an irresistible temptation to the heavens, but it didn’t work (could it be that the universe isn’t specifically engineered to frustrate me? This could crush my entire paradigm!).

But when I sat down to start this post it was raining again. A tentative, Avoidant rain, unsure of its welcome. I didn’t have much hope of it, but lo, it continues, even unto this minute.

The weekend went OK. I didn’t have anyplace to go, so I washed and waxed Mrs. Hermanson and did some repair and staining on the latticework underneath my screen porch.

My treat was the arrival of this object:


This is a Viking saex, hand-made for me by author and knifemaker Michael Z. Williamson. If you’re wondering why a guy who’s been hinting at financial constraints throws away money on things like this, the answer is that I ordered and paid for it a couple years ago, when I was flush, and it’s been delayed for various reasons. So this was a long-awaited pleasure.

I posted about saexes (or seaxes, or saxes, or saekses, ad infinitum) a while back, when I made a sheath for the back-up saex I’d bought for live steel. This knife is not for live steel. This one is fully sharp. Even Crocodile Dundee, I believe, would concede that this is a knife. It’s 16 ½” long.

If you look closely you can see Viking runes inlaid in the side of the blade. These spell out (in Old Norse) a line from the poem, Bjarkamál: “Breast to breast the eagles shall claw each other.” The Bjarkamál was a very popular war poem in the Viking Age. One of King (St.) Olaf’s poets sang it before the Battle of Stiklestad, and this particular line was nearly the last words of Erling Skjalgsson, hero of The Year of the Warrior.

The saex was one of the most common, and prized, weapons in the Dark Ages, and continued to be so long after the Viking Age had passed. It has been suggested that possession of this weapon was restricted to free men, and was a mark of freedom—the Saxons took their name from the weapon. Most men couldn’t afford to invest valuable steel in swords which had no practical use outside of warfare. But every free man had one of these, useable as a machete, a butcher knife and an offensive weapon.

It’s still raining, very lightly. This would be perfect if it just lingered and lingered. I don’t think that’s in the forecast, though. But we’ll take what we can get.

A day too good to criticize

Just about a perfect day today. The temperature was precisely right for my personal comfort—which means it would probably be a little warm for most people. I’m a cold-blooded beast. The thermometer usually reads about 98.2 when the nurse pulls it from my mouth and reads it. I blame this condition for my inability to endure cold. When my brothers are thumping their chests and saying, “Isn’t this great? It’s so bracing!” I’m cupping my hands over my ears to keep them warm (cupping them very carefully, though. Touching them too forcefully might shatter them like cheap plastic cups from a convenience store pop machine).

We could use some rain, but if it were raining it wouldn’t be a perfect day, would it? “Seek not contrary pleasures,” said Dr. Johnson.

One disappointment I’ve suffered during my afternoon walks down to Crystal Lake and back has been the lack of girls in bikinis sunning themselves along the shore. Crystal Lake has been sorely deficient in the sunbathing girls department. More often the shore has been encircled by an unbroken ring of Hmong people, all of them with fishing poles, pulling sunfish 2 centimeters long out of the water for supper.

But today that was remedied. I didn’t get an ideal look at the girl (no doubt that was her intention) as she was lying on a fairly steep slope that runs down from the street to the water’s edge, but she seemed to be not ugly, and she was in a bikini.

Maybe it’ll be a good weekend.

There was another form of beauty too—butterflies. I suppose it’s unmanly of me, but I love butterflies. They seem to me an entirely useless addition to the environment. I’m sure their ecological niche could have been filled by something brown that looked like one of the more undistinguished moths. But God gave us flowers that flew, just as a treat.

That’s how I think of butterflies. They’re a gift. A grace note. A cherry on top of the sundae of summer.

Have a good weekend.

It’s called Dispatches from Outland

Roy Jacobsen, over at Dispatches from Outland, Dispatches from Outland, Dispatches from Outland (I repeat it three times in penance for getting it wrong last night) succumbed to my passive-aggressive hint and posted the pictures of me this morning, here.

He mentioned it in the comments on my last post, but I’m saying it out here in the sunlight to make sure YOU NOTICE IT.

Man, I love attention. That might surprise some people, because I make a fetish of not calling attention to myself or promoting myself, but all the time I’m trying to find oblique ways to get that notice, either by some achievement or other, or by passive aggression.

So thanks, Roy, for being my enabler.

(The blog is called Dispatches from Outland.)

So, the immigration bill went down in flames.

I never knew what to think about that issue. Most of the talk shows are against it, but when Michael Medved came on to defend it, I thought he made a lot of sense too. So I was utterly at sea, and not sure enough of any position to badger my senator.

But here’s what I do think.

I think there’s a movement (not a conspiracy. No council of plutocrats is strategizing in a secret room. It’s more of a state of mind abroad in the land) that wants America to be anything but what it has been in the past.

The people who hold this view love America, but they love it in their own way. They love America the way parents love a drug-addicted teenager—“You’ll always be our son and we’ll always love you, but you have to clean up your act.”

These people don’t love America’s origins. They don’t love its history. They don’t love its traditions (especially its religion).

What they love about America is what they see as its potential to become something they could be proud of.

Because they hate America’s history and traditions, they see no reason why anyone should be expected to go through a regularized naturalization process, to learn about America. Why learn about something we’re going to erase anyway?

Because they hate America’s culture, they don’t want immigrants to assimilate. They want to see Balcanization—a country built up of thousands of ethnic enclaves, peopled by folks who can’t communicate with one another, because there’s no common language.

Because they’re ashamed of America’s history, they want to enable (not cause, but open the door to) the partition of America, so that the Old Southwest either goes back to Mexico or becomes an independent Hispanic nation.

I think they lost a fight today, but they win a little by carrying on the status quo too. So I’m not celebrating.

You know what I see for the future (putting on my prophet’s hat here)? I see—certainly in Europe and very possibly in America—ethnic conflict on a scale never before seen in history. Bloodbaths, deportations, genocide and terrorism.

Until somebody charismatic and ruthless rides in on a white horse to impose order.

And I don’t like the thought of him either.

Still a little peanut butter in the jar

I’m really milking this weekend for material. It wasn’t spectacularly eventful, but it was more memorable than my mental activity has been in the days since. So I’ll squeeze out a few more notes, because I know how you all live vicariously through me.

I made a marvelous discovery during my (roughly) eight hours of driving. Or I think I did. It appears (I haven’t proved it to the level of scientific demonstration, but it looks promising) that my vehicle is one of those that actually get better mileage with the windows shut and the air conditioning on, than with the A/C off and the windows open. This is wonderful. Not only is it more comfortable to drive that way, but I can actually hear my Sissel CDs.

I had a visit in the Viking encampment from Roy Jacobsen of Writing, Clear and Simple and Dispatches from Outland. He took a picture, but so far it hasn’t appeared on either of his blogs.

On the other hand, when I see it I may be sorry I brought it up. I keep forgetting I’m old and fat now.

A woman who’d bought a couple of my books the last time I was at the Hjemkomst Festival came by to tell me she’d enjoyed them very much, and she wants me to speak at a Scandinavian cultural conference in Wisconsin next winter. She said they’d pay me and everything.

Almost the most beautiful words in the English language.

Here’s an interesting article. It appears they’ve found an Incan skeleton in a Norwegian grave dated to 1,000 AD (that’s Erling Skjalgsson’s period). (Hat tip: Mirabilis)

If that’s not a mistake, it’s earthshaking. The Incans lived in Peru, which is on the whole other side of South America. Man, there’s a novel in that. I wrote an (unpublished) book about Erling in which he went to Vinland, but I didn’t have the nerve to send him further south than somewhere around Connecticut.

Update: I have corrected the name of Roy Jacobsen’s 2nd blog, “Dispatches From Outland.” The error was due to a brain charleyhorse, an increasingly common problem for me. ljw

Eielsen and Hanson

Here’s the text of my talk, given at the Old Stone Church (Hauge Lutheran Church), Kenyon, Minnesota, on Sunday, June 24, 2007

The year was 1846. A boat docked in Muskegon, Michigan, and one of my distant relations—actually the half-brother of my great-great-grandfather—disembarked along with his family and a group of other Norwegians. They looked around them, blinked in the sunlight—and hadn’t the faintest idea what to do next. They wanted to see a man in Lisbon, Illinois, but they’d never imagined that America was so big—or so wild. So they hunkered down in Muskegon for a while, to try to figure out their next step.

One day a wagon rolled up, and a man jumped off and greeted them in Norwegian. He was a preacher, and he said he knew Lisbon, Illinois very well. He invited my relation to get on his wagon, and he’d take him there.

They traveled over open prairie, sleeping under the wagon at night. When they reached Lisbon, they found the man they were looking for, and then the preacher took my relation back to Muskegon to arrange for the whole group to relocate.

The preacher’s name was Elling Eielsen, and what he did for that group was all in a couple weeks’ work for him. Wherever there were Norwegians in America in the mid-nineteenth century, Eielsen would be there sooner or later, to preach the gospel and to help them adjust to the new country.

Elling Eielsen was born in Voss, in Norway, in 1804. He was converted in the Haugean revivals, and soon began to follow in Hauge’s steps, preaching all over Norway, as well as Sweden and Denmark, as a layman. And, like Hauge, he spent time in prison for his preaching activities.

In 1839 he came to America. He came because there was a need. More and more Norwegians were immigrating to this country, and there was not a single Norwegian Lutheran pastor here to minister to them. Many newcomers were converting to the Mormon church.

Eielsen settled first in Fox River, Illinois, where he began a small congregation in his home, a congregation which still exists and is part of our AFLC today. This may have been the first Norwegian Lutheran church in America—though that claim is disputed.

At the request of his congregation, Eielsen went to Chicago and found a German Lutheran pastor there who was willing to ordain him. Thus he may have become the first Norwegian Lutheran pastor ordained in America—though that claim is also disputed.

What is not disputed is that he was the first Norwegian Lutheran publisher in America. Needing teaching material for his confirmation classes, he traveled to New York to get an English translation of Luther’s Small Catechism printed. Later he went back to get a Norwegian book printed—Pontoppidan’s Explanation of the Catechism, the first Norwegian language book ever published in this country. That job involved a side trip to Philadelphia to get the typeface he wanted, and when the books were finished he carried them on his back, back to Illinois, on foot, in the dead of winter.

Elling Eielsen was not afraid of hard work.

He served many congregations over the years, but his chief work was traveling as an evangelist. He preached to Norwegian settlers in Texas. He preached in Kansas. He preached in the Dakotas. And, of course, he preached right here. The origins of Hauge and Immanuel Congregations are obscure, but it seems certain that they began with meetings led by Eielsen in this area.

As Eielsen’s ministry bore fruit, congregations were established, and they looked to him as their leader. So in 1846 a new church body came to be. Its name was—and I’m not joking here—the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. But it was better known as the Eielsen Synod.

Eielsen was probably not the best choice for a leader. His gifts were for evangelism. He was not a good organizer. He did not work well with people. He had a fiery temper, and he tended to see disagreement as heresy.

There was conflict in the Eielsen Synod. It had already split twice when, in 1876, a majority of the congregations decided they could no longer accept a paragraph in the constitution concerning church membership. Eielsen would not hear of a change. And so the majority of the congregations went on to become the Hauge Synod. A small group continued under the old constitution and Eielsen’s leadership.

The Hauge Synod chose as its first president a man whose name ought to be familiar around here. His name was Arne Boyum. But the second president should be a familiar name too. He was Østen Hanson, and he was pastor of Immanuel and Hauge churches, Kenyon, Minnesota. He served this parish for 37 years, and never took another call. Unlike Eielsen, Hanson knew how to stay put.

Østen Hanson was born in Telemark, Norway. Although his faith was every bit as solid and biblical as Eielsen’s, he had the ability to disagree with people without being disagreeable. He had a gift for organization, and he knew how to choose his battles.

He was not an educated man by the standards of this world. None of the early Haugeans were. But N. N. Rønning, in his book Fifty Years in America, says of him:

Hanson was a brainy man…. He was a converted man…. He had an insatiable hunger for knowledge and was an assiduous and discerning reader. He sought every occasion to talk with learned men. He had a passion for thinking things through.

The Bible was the book for Hanson. Everything he preached was riveted in the Bible. He wrestled with the Word. He found no peace of mind before he had mastered it, only to find, of course, that it was not fully mastered. He must have known the Letter to the Romans by heart; at least he had the more significant passages at the tip of his tongue.

I’m happy to be able to report that the synodical split did not make Eielsen and Hanson lifelong enemies. Later in his life Eielsen visited Pastor Hanson in the parsonage over in Aspelund, and he held meetings in this parish.

Ole Rølvaag tells us, quoting the Bible, that there were giants in the earth in those days. These stone walls have echoed to the voices of prophets. Hauge and Immanuel congregations have a powerful—even a heroic—spiritual heritage.

It’s not a heritage just for looking back on. I think it’s a heritage that has something to teach us today. Just as our ancestors had to find ways to practice the old, true faith in a strange new environment, so we face a strange new environment today. America was less different from Norway in the 19th Century than it is today from the country many of us grew up in. Once again our task as Christians is to work in new circumstances, speaking the timeless gospel in a new language.

May the same Spirit who worked in Eielsen and Hanson work in all of us here today, pastors and laity alike, as we carry on the ministry of repentance and faith.

I fight (sort of) and I preach (sort of)

A strenuous weekend (by my effete standards), but a pretty good one, all in all.

In Moorhead, Minnesota there is a museum dedicated to the Hjemkomst (Homecoming), a replica Viking ship that sailed to Norway in 1984. Each year they hold a Scandinavian festival there, and sometimes they invite the Viking Age Club & Society. This was one of our years.

We were blessed with pretty good weather in our encampment. It got warm, but we had a breeze most of the time, and that makes all the difference if you’ve got some shade. I sold a few books. We did two combat shows on Friday and three on Saturday (Roy Jacobsen of Writing, Clear and Simple posted this link to a Fargo Forum newspaper photo in the comments below, but I give you the link again, so you can be suitably impressed. Much as it may surprise you, that’s not a screen capture from ‘300.’ It’s yours truly, terrible in his wrath, defending himself heroically against a base attack by those scoundrels, the Andersons.

The photographer must have had a camera with a fast shutter, because this battle lasted about 3/8 of a second.

You’ll note, if you look closely, that there are holes in my shield. Here’s a picture of the shield today:


It’s on its way out, but I think I’ll use it a while longer. Those holes can actually be an advantage, if you’re fast (which, unfortunately, I’m not). You can catch your enemy’s weapon in them, give the shield a twist, and disarm him.

I packed up Saturday afternoon and drove home. Sunday morning I drove down to Kenyon, my home town, for the annual historical service at my home congregation’s Old Stone Church, pictured here:

Old Stone Church

I wasn’t aware (or hadn’t paid attention) but this was a special service of dedication at the end of a major refurbishing project. They had tuck-pointed the stonework and completely re-done the interior, replacing the crumbling plaster walls with concrete colored to look like the originals. Some private grant money and a lot of volunteer work went into the job.

Old Stone Interior

Here’s a close-up of the old altar.

Old Stone altar

It’s a very Haugean altar (the Haugeans are the pietistic Lutheran group which formed my religious outlook). On either side are the tables of the Law. Haugeans are always aware of the Law. We’re not the kind of people who think the Law is of no further interest to those who are in Christ.

But the Cross is in the center, lifted high above the Law. The Cross puts the Law in perspective. The Cross rules over the Law.

And under the Cross is a painting of the Lord’s Supper, a central means by which the grace of the Cross is mediated to the worshipers kneeling at the altar.

The verse on the plaque is John 3:16.

I came in costume (not Viking but 19th Century), since it’s my belief that anything worth doing is worth overdoing. I’d been asked to give a historical talk. I suppose they had in mind a synopsis of the story of the congregation and the building. Being me, I did it my own way.

I didn’t want to do just names and dates. I wanted to tell a story, to convey the romance (and it was a romance) of Norwegian immigration and evangelism in the new world. I figured there’d be children there (there were) and I wanted to tell them things they might remember.

So I told the stories of two men—Elling Eielsen, the Norwegian evangelist who planted Haugeanism in America, and Østen Hanson, Eielsen’s disciple who broke with him and became the president of the Hauge Synod, pastor of our church (and its sister congregation) for 37 years.

I’ll post the text of my talk tomorrow, because I promised some people I would. The rest of you might find it interesting too, as a case study if nothing else.

Counterplay, by Robert K. Tanenbaum

I’ll be taking a blog break till Monday, probably, unless I get a wireless connection in Moorhead and find the time. I’m going up with the Vikings for the Hjemkomst festival. Drop by if you’re in the area, but I won’t be there Sunday.

On Sunday I shoot back south, overshoot my home, and come to rest in Kenyon, Minnesota, my original home town. I’ve been asked to give a short historical talk for a special service. My home church (Hauge Lutheran) has an old stone church, the congregation’s original building (it was built in 1875 and is on the National Register of Historic Places). A service is held there once a year (it used to be in Norwegian, but that’s kind of pointless nowadays). Anyway, I’ll be helping out with that Sunday morning.

I always look forward to Robert K. Tanenbaum’s Karp/Ciampi books, and I can’t say I didn’t enjoy Counterplay. But I see problems in this old, dependable franchise.

Our friend Aitchmark reviewed it here. He thinks Tanenbaum has succumbed to the temptation to try to make every book “bigger” than the last. I see that, and I agree to an extent. But I think I discern a deeper problem.

First, a synopsis: The last couple books have featured Butch Karp’s great nemesis—former New York City District Attorney Andrew Kane, a rich and corrupt man who nearly became mayor of New York. We thought Kane was beaten at the end of the previous book, when his plot to destroy the Catholic Church was unmasked and foiled.

But Kane has escaped from the police, and has made it clear that he is going to a) kill everyone Karp (now District Attorney himself) cares about, and b) perform a major act of terrorism. Security people believe he’s planning to target Russian president Yeltsin on an upcoming visit to the U.S.

You get your money’s worth in entertainment with any Tanenbaum book. He rolls out the beloved stock company of funny, eccentric, well-developed regulars we’ve come to love. The most interesting part of the story for me, actually, was a sub-plot—the cold-case against a millionaire for the murder of his wife, prosecuted by good ol’ Ray Guma, on the basis of a memory recovered by the couple’s son under hypnosis.

But there really is a problem, and I think Tanenbaum needs to do something about it. I think he’s fallen into the Superman Dilemma.

The Superman Dilemma is simple. Once you’ve created a hero who is faster than a speeding bullet, bulletproof himself, inhumanly strong and incredibly smart, what do you do to give him a challenge? Yeah, you’ve got kryptonite, but you can only use that stuff so often before people get bored.

The answer is the Super-Villain. You’ve got to come up with an adversary worthy of his steel skin. Someone who matches him in at least one category, and who is as bad as he is good.

Tanenbaum, over the course of this long series, has gradually loaded the Karp family with a pantheon of super friends. Tran, the former Viet Cong, was the first, I think. He’s a leader of the Asian mob, and will do anything to protect Butch’s wife Marlene, on whom he’s been nursing a crush for years. Then there’s John Jojola, the Taos Indian/Special Forces veteran, who walks unseen and has strange mystical powers. And there’s David Grale, the psychotic who leads and army of the homeless, fighting evil in the city sewers. And there’s daughter Lucy’s new boyfriend, the cowboy Ned, who is (of course) a crack shot and a quick-draw artist. Lucy herself is a language prodigy, which helps in a lot of situations. And Marlene is the Top Gun in Manhattan. She also trains huge attack dogs.

Which means that in real life, a family like the Karps would be safer than the president in the presidential bunker, just giving folks a tour. Thus, for a challenge, we need a super-villain capable of working past all these layers of security.

Andrew Kane has been the super-villain in the last few books, and is again here. And frankly it’s getting to the point where he’s straining credibility. The man is so insane—so filled with hate and yet so omnicompetent, that it’s hard to take him seriously.

Tanenbaum has produced a comic book. A superior comic book, one well worth reading, but a comic book nevertheless.

He needs to drop the end-of-the-world scenarios, kill off some of the family’s protectors, and get back to writing stories about people we recognize. There’s plenty of ordinary evil in the world for a big-city D.A. to fight.

Even Superman shouldn’t fly out of sight.

And now for something completely less awful

Well, that was self-indulgent, wasn’t it?

I figure I owe you about a year of cheerful posts after that last one (not that you’ll get anything of the sort). I find myself getting all mooky pretty much every June, on the anniversary of… well, I’ve said enough about that.

Events have overtaken me again, it seems. Last week The American Spectator Online published a column by me in which I imagined a female mainline bishop rationalizing her attraction to Islam. Now comes this story, about a female Episcopal priest who has openly converted to Islam, without leaving her present job, and nobody seems to be interested in disciplining her.

Which goes to show that you have to run as fast as you can to keep up with the future nowadays. I’m working on another Pastoral Letter, and hope to turn it into a series. I think I’ve got a few surprises up my sleeve, but this priest has stolen some of my wind, no question.

OK—something happy. Here’s a photo I got yesterday, from my distant cousin Trygve in Norway:

Norway Wedding

He was married on June 2 at historic Ullensvang church in Hardanger (unfortunately he went into the hospital right afterwards, which is why I didn’t hear about it till now. He’s feeling some better, he says). His bride is Denae, an American of Norwegian descent. I had the pleasure of meeting her last summer, when Trygve was over here visiting.

The striking gray-bearded gentleman in back is wearing a bunad, a Norwegian national costume. The lady on the far right is also wearing one, as is the woman in back, between them, though you can’t see much of hers. Every region in Norway has its own characteristic bunads, male and female.

The reception was held at the Hotel Ullensvang, a historic institution in the area, founded originally by one of Trygve’s ancestors (not my side of the family). The composer Edvard Grieg was a friend of that founder, and the little cabin they built on the grounds, for Grieg to compose in, is still standing.

Best wishes to the couple.