All posts by Lars Walker

No, I don’t mean all rules are conditional

This will be short, if I have anything to say about it. I’m not feeling very well. One swollen gland (on the left side of my jaw, in case you’re making a diagram), and feeling run down. I chickened out of work a little early today, and hope to spend the evening on my back.

My renter has moved in, and so far he has made himself almost invisible. That’s how we like our renters around here. He’s even found a couple things in the house he thinks he can upgrade for me.

Of course that’s how it would start, wouldn’t it, if this were a slasher movie? The quiet, helpful tenant moves in and proceeds to gradually take over the house, and then my life, until the moment when he finally reveals his horrid, unspeakable plans for me…

However, I’ve noticed that real life generally resembles horror movies only in this regard, that if you feel under your seat you’ll find dried gum.

Dennis Prager had a guest on the other day who’d written a book on grammar. One subject they brought up was the common “John and I” mistake, where the person says, “He delivered the pizza to John and I.”

In fact it ought to be “John and me” in this sentence. You can figure out what to do by simply dropping John (and believe me, honey, you should have dropped the bum long ago) and seeing how the sentence goes without him. “He delivered the pizza to me” is obviously correct. Adding John to the mix does not change the matter.

But I know where the problem comes from. It comes from overextended rule-following. I remember even today my mother hearing me say, “Moloch and me went out into the grove,” and she corrected me. “It’s ‘Moloch and I went out to the grove.’”

She failed to add (and I probably wouldn’t have understood it if she had, at that age) that this only applied to the objects of sentences, not the subjects. (Or is it subjects, not objects? I always get them confused. Look it up? I’m sick, you sadist!)

Anyway, many people never get past that lesson and believe that “X and I” is correct in all situations.

Thus do we try to apply as absolutes rules which are only conditional. No doubt there are many such situations, in grammar and life.

But I’m too tired to think about it.

Thanksgiving disaster!!!

The worst possible thing happened at Thanksgiving, from a blogger’s point of view.

Everything went fine.

Moloch and his wife drove up on Wednesday night, so as to roust me out of bed early, to remind me that Turkeys Take Time. With their supervision I set about the mighty enterprise, le grande ouvre, den store gjerning.

And it was a total success. I followed Martha Stewart’s turkey instructions (brother Baal had sent me a link to her site), and the result was as perfect a turkey as I’ve ever enjoyed. I don’t think I’ll go to the extent of following her giblet gravy recipe again in the future (it was a lot of work and I didn’t like it any better than the kind we usually make), but even I, who live to make jokes about myself, can’t find any reason to quibble.

It was, in fact, pretty much the kind of holiday experience I’d hoped to facilitate when I bought a house that could be a central holiday gathering place for the Walker clan. Blithering Heights is a little cramped with more than five people in it at once, but we got along well in the close quarters. Not so much as a political or theological discussion arose to trouble the waters.

We laughed loudly when The Oldest Niece spoke to her boyfriend on the phone thus:

TON: “I’m here in Minneapolis with my family.”

BF: (Unheard)

TON: “Yeah, well, you don’t know my family.”

(Fill in the blank yourself.)

We also had some laughs when The Oldest Nephew brought out his newly purchased Wii gaming box and hooked it up to my TV. He showed us the games he had. Moloch’s wife showed remarkable enthusiasm playing the boxing game against Moloch. I averted my eyes, wounded by this gratuitous display of virtual domestic violence. But Mrs. Moloch seemed to enjoy herself a whole lot.

The best part of the Wii system, in my opinion, was the opportunity to create avatars of ourselves. We worked as a committee to caricature each one of us in turn, and we got some remarkable likenesses. My avatar, everyone agreed, was the most successful, largely because my hair and beard are fairly distinctive. Smooth-faced kids are the toughest.

I’m sorry that this report isn’t as entertaining as a “drop-kick the turkey” Thanksgiving horror story would be.

But not very sorry.

The feast of St. Jack

I’m not glad President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Far from it. But I am glad that, if he had to be assassinated, Providence scheduled the event for November 22, 1963, because that’s the day C. S. Lewis died. (Aldous Huxley too, but who cares about him?) I hadn’t read Lewis yet at the time (I was thirteen years old), but it comforts me somewhat to know I mourned deeply that day.

I remember it well. I was in an art class in school when the radio broadcast came over the intercom system with the news from Dallas. It was my brother Baal’s birthday, which was rather tough for him. Moloch and I gave him a great gift—a plastic car designed to fly to pieces spectacularly when you crashed it into a wall. But the news dampened even his eight-year-old spirits.

I credit Lewis with being God’s instrument to preserve my faith through all the challenges it met in college and since. He was the first writer to tell me that faith involved reason as well as feeling. It seemed too good to be true at first. I thought surely I’d learn somewhere that this was heresy. But it wasn’t. So I planted my banner on the orthodox side of the battle-lines for life.

Here’s a quote from Lewis’ letter to his friend Owen Barfield, April 4, 1949:

Talking of beasts and birds, have you ever noticed this contrast: that when you read a scientific account of any animal’s life you get an impression of laborious, incessant, almost rational economic activity (as if all animals were Germans) but when you study any animal you know – what at once strikes you is their cheerful fatuity, the pointlessness of nearly all they do. Say what you like, Barfield, the world is sillier and better fun than they make out.

Have a great Thanksgiving, friends.

Important pumpkin pie news

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it, but I’m hosting my brothers and their families for Thanksgiving (no doubt there will be much slapstick to report once the smoke has cleared).

Anyway, tonight I’m baking pumpkin pie, using the Sacred Walker Recipe. I shall share this recipe with you now, for the betterment of the commonwealth.

I learned it from my mom, who for all her faults was a pretty good cook. It’s also really simple. If you can make a pie from canned filling, you can make this adjustment.

Here’s the secret:

However many eggs your recipe calls for, increase the quantity to 7 (seven).

Otherwise do everything the same, except that the makings will have to go into two deep dish pie pans. Bake as instructed.

That’s it. The result is two lovely, delicate, custardy pumpkin pies. Your family will love them, unless they’re jaded or Swedish or something.

I’m sure there’s a theme here somewhere

Expect this post to be a mess. Several things to write about, without any unifying theme of which I’m aware.

The project of cataloging our archives continues apace in the library. We’re into the B’s. (We catalog the old books by authors’ names.) But lots of books have been mislabeled, since previous librarians have lacked my magisterial knowledge of Norwegian.

One such book I looked at today was a compendium of Lutheran theology, translated from German, printed in Stavanger in 1856. That nearly took my breath away. Publishing in Norway doesn’t go back much farther than that. It was increased literacy, largely sparked by the pietist movement with which I still identify, that made such things possible in that poor country, at the time a province of Sweden.

Another was a book from the 1860s, a small collection of poems by Peder Dass, a pastor-poet who worked in the north of Norway in the 17th Century and became a genuinely mythical figure, endowed with magical powers in the eyes of the common folk. He wasn’t a magician, but he was a pretty good poet.

I also looked at a bundle of much more recent books sent by one of our pastors. One is the highly disjointed autobiography of a pastor who used to be prominent in youth ministry in a Lutheran church body that no longer exists. When I saw the name of the church he served for many years, I began to wonder if I knew this man. Then I saw a picture of him with his “collection of pictures of John the Baptist,” and I knew it was the same guy.

Flash back to the summer of 1970. The Christian musical group for which I was lyricist was traveling around the east coast region. We were three guys and three girls. I’d made the major mistake, months before, of falling—well, I won’t say falling in love, because once I got some distance on the thing I realized my motivation had originated about a foot and a half south of my heart—developing a crush on one of the girls in the group. A few weeks before I’d made the further mistake of telling her how I felt (which she already knew all about, needless to say). I’d gotten the response I knew in my heart I’d get.

In retrospect it was a good thing she turned me down. She was a fairly neurotic girl, and between our mutual dysfunctions we’d have made a marriage that would have lasted, at best, about half an hour if she’d been insane enough to encourage me. But at the time my world was landfill. I became a walking shadow, a memento mori in flare jeans. Since I’m no hogshead of laughs at the best of times, I think I probably served as a negative witness for Christ that summer.

Finally we came to that pastor’s church. Well, most of us came. Our group leader, fed up to here with me, and with the couple in the group who had gotten together (and who spent quite a lot of time making out), announced that he had business to tend to at home and left us on our own that particular week.

So we showed up at the church of this prominent pastor, one who (we learned later) was in a position to do much good or much harm to our sponsoring organization’s reputation with his denomination. We were missing a leader. We had one couple with hands all over each other, and another couple who barely spoke to each other. And me with a rain cloud over my head, like Joe Bfxztplk (I’m not sure of the spelling) in the old Li’l Abner comic.

I was going to reminisce some more about that week, but you know… I’d just rather not.

Good news—the guy who looked at my rental room yesterday says he’ll move in. Probably this weekend. I’m saved, financially.

Cloud gone, for now.

Movie Review: Stranger Than Fiction

Brother Moloch arrived Sunday afternoon. All is well. He observed more than fifty baptisms and three exorcisms in Tanzania.

I had two calls from prospective renters over the weekend. One left his work number on my machine, then never returned my messages. The second left me a number that doesn’t work.

However: A young man came to see the room this evening. He is alleged to be a handyman. Might be good.

Once Moloch was gone on Sunday, I found myself at loose ends and remembered I’d been wanting to see “Stranger Than Fiction.” So I did that. Short review—I have lots of quibbles, but it was the most enjoyable film I’ve seen in some time. I do enjoy these existential fantasy movies, like “Groundhog Day,” “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind,” and “Bruce Almighty.”

Will Ferrell stars as Harold Crick, an IRS agent who is obsessed with numbers. He counts the strokes as he brushes his teeth, and can multiply large figures in his head. His life is barren emotionally. He lives in an apartment that looks like a motel suite, except that the suite would be homier.

One morning as he’s counting out his brushing, he begins to hear the voice of author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) narrating what he’s doing. The narration isn’t constant, but he finds it distracting when it’s there. He sees a couple counselors who tell him he’s going schizophrenic, but he rejects that explanation. Finally, on the theory that he’s involved in somebody’s story, he goes to see a literature professor, played by Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman sets about analyzing what kind of story Harold is part of, and has him journaling his experiences to see if it’s a comedy or a tragedy.

Meanwhile Harold is auditing a charming baker, Anna Pascal, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. I was ambivalent about her character. First of all, she’s a tax protestor who refuses to pay the portion of her taxes earmarked for National Defense. Secondly she’s fairly heavily tattooed, which just creeps me out. On the other hand she has a very sweet smile, which was enough to get me over the rough spots.

As you’d expect, Anna starts out hating Harold, but gradually warms to him, and they end up sharing a bed.

Harold’s story is intercut with scenes where we see author Eiffel, who is fascinating (but then all authors are, aren’t they?). She thinks like me and walks around half-dazed, drinking and smoking like… well, like somebody I knew well at one time. When Hoffman’s character (sorry, I’ve forgotten his name) finally figures out that Harold is in a Kay Eiffel novel (she always writes tragedies), Harold sets about finding her to beg for his life.

I can quibble with the movie all night. Are we supposed to believe that Kay Eiffel created Harold Crick, or did she just somehow commandeer his life narrative? Various authorial comments suggest that Harold’s watch has something to do with his ability to hear Kay’s voice, but how that might work isn’t explained (or else I missed it).

And why must it be taken for granted that people immediately go to bed with each other the moment they fall in love? I know lots of people do, especially nowadays, but there must be a few exceptions. And why does Harold have to approach her with the words, “I want you,” instead of “I love you”? Is that supposed to make him authentic?

But for all that, it was a very good movie. I thought its portrayal of writer’s block was pretty authentic (how many of us have been stopped in our tracks by a reluctance to hurt a character we liked?). And there’s a theme of selflessness and laying one’s life down that did my heart good.

There’s some bad language and a little nudity (though it’ll only be prurient if old guys in a health club shower room get your motor running), but it’s fairly unobjectionable by contemporary Hollywood standards.

I recommend “Stranger Than Fiction” highly, for smart grownups. Especially ones who like books.

Flying post

I took a half day off work today, so I could go to the airport and meet my brother Moloch, returning from Tanzania.

I waited two hours and he never came out of the gate. He didn’t answer a page, and a call to Customs let me know they weren’t holding him in durance vile there.

One assumes he missed his connection in Amsterdam. Either that or he’s fallen into one of those missing persons mysteries along with Ambrose Bierce and Judge Crater.

I’ll keep you posted.

Update: Moloch is stuck in Dar es Salaam.

I think my evening will be free.

From out of the depths I squeak

Can it get worse after yesterday?

You bet it can.

I found out I have another Church Constitution meeting tonight.

I knew about it already, actually. It was right there in my date book (which records “dates” in the sense of “calendar dates,” needless to say, not dates in the sense of “I’ll pick you up at 7:00 for dinner and a movie.”). But I had the idea that it was a tentative scheduling, likely to be cancelled due to conflict. No such luck.

If I were a Catholic I’d cry out to some minor saint, “HOW MUCH CAN ONE MAN BE EXPECTED TO ENDURE?”

Not a major saint, of course. I’d be embarrassed to bother a big saint with a little gripe like this one.

Some minor, mostly forgotten saint. Somebody like St. Olaf, who was patron saint to a country that went Protestant out from under him.

Of course St. Olaf might not like me because I write books about Erling Skjalgsson, his lifelong enemy.

But I figure he’s probably so neglected these days that he appreciates any attention he can get.

Then again, from what I read of his life, I figure he’s probably not really a saint anyway. He’s probably still in Purgatory.

Wait, I don’t believe in Purgatory either.

Never mind.

I have a meeting to go to.

Just skip this post. Seriously.

If Eeyore, Porkypine and Hamlet were in the house with me right now, they’d all go out for a drink together, leaving me behind. “You’re bringing us down, man,” they’d say as they slammed the door.

Everything good that’s likely to happen in my life, it seems to me, has already happened. About all I have to look forward to is the arrival of the Great Tribulation (I don’t buy that Pre-Trib Rapture moonshine). My comforting hope is that, with the way I’ve been eating lately, I’ll probably die of a massive heart attack before the Antichrist has time to get his biometric scanners up and running.

Somebody’s blog linked to this interesting site, Crummy Church Signs, today, but I can’t find the linker now. I ran down the link itself with a web search though, so you might care to check it out, if you’re in a mood to snicker at your fellow Christians.

I don’t know what depresses me more—the stupidity of the signs, or the condescending smugness of the web site operator.

It puts me in mind of my short time writing humorous pieces for the Wittenberg Door back in the late ‘70s. One day the thought struck me, “You know, the people I’m lampooning may be taste-deficient, but how do I know they don’t stand far higher in God’s esteem than I do?”

So that’s how it is for me today.

And it isn’t even winter yet.

Update: The link came from World Magazine Blog.

When you have no thoughts of your own, quote Lewis

I know I’m quoting too much from my current reading, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, but I burned my brain out last night, and I was impressed with this passage today, from a July 20, 1940 letter to his brother Warren:

Humphrey came up to see me last night… and we listened to Hitler’s speech together. I don’t know if I’m weaker than other people: but it is a positive revelation to me how while the speech lasts it is impossible not to waver just a little. I should be useless as a schoolmaster or a policeman. Statements which I know to be untrue all but convince me, at any rate for the moment, if only the man says them unflinchingly. The same weakness is why I am a slow examiner: if a candidate with a bold, mature handwriting attributed Paradise Lost to Wordsworth, I shd. feel a tendency to go and look it up for fear he might be right after all.

I know just how he felt.

This, by the way, is from the same letter, where he mentions, later on, in reference to going to church on Sunday morning…

Before the service was over – one cd. wish these things came more seasonably – I was struck by an idea for a book wh. I think might be both useful and entertaining. It wd. be called As one Devil to Another and would consist of letters from an elderly retired devil to a young devil who has just started work on his first ‘patient’….

Call me Cassandra

I heard from my prospective renter a few minutes back. He decided he’d fit better in an apartment of his own.

Maybe God’s telling me that’s where I belong too.

Gave a lecture to the Northfield, Minnesota Sons of Norway lodge last night. It was a special Twenty-fifth Anniversary meeting, held in a banquet room at St. Olaf College (which was fitting, since I was lecturing on the original St. Olaf, among other people).

It was one of my better lecturing experiences. Excellent meal, receptive audience, and I sold a lot of books.

And yet, my heart is bowed down.

I wrote the following years ago, in my novel Wolf Time. The speaker is a television news reporter:

“Look, don’t get me wrong. I’m sorry we have to bury America—it has its good points. But we’re talking survival now. This is the nuclear age, the killer virus age, the age of terrorism. As long as we can defend ourselves there’s no chance for survival…. I want to live, and I want my children to live, if I ever decide to have any. In a world like this we can’t afford honor. My honor, if you want to call it that, is to persuade people, any way I can, that nothing—nothing in the world—is worth dying for. And I think people are getting the message. You know why we’ve only fought little wars since Vietnam? Because Americans don’t have any stomach for long-term sacrifice anymore. I like to think we [the news media] had something to do with that. It’s an incredible power we have.”

I hate being right. I had the hope, when I wrote that scene in a novel set in the near future, that the Universe (not Providence. They’re two different things) would step in, as it usually does, to prove my prediction false. Unfortunately the Universe backed me up this time.

I’ve heard all the arguments that nothing big will happen in the wake of the power shift in Washington, because of gridlock, etc.

I don’t buy it. I keep hearing smart people on the radio saying the election was mostly about the war. And it doesn’t matter that a lot of people who voted to throw the bums out were angry that the war wasn’t being prosecuted aggressively enough.

The message sent by this election was, “America has given up. We’re pulling out. We’ll do what we can to save face as we leave, but you’ve beaten us.”

I think we’ve turned a critical corner, pulled the pin on the grenade. The message of Vietnam has been confirmed—fight the Americans long enough and you’ll wear them down. They’re soft. They won’t make sacrifices.

I have a vision of the future. I hope I’m wrong this time.

I see embattled people all around the world, Christians and non-Christians, fighting against the pressure of Islam. They’ll know that there’s no help to be expected from America, and far less from the United Nations. In other words, there won’t be any polite, Geneva Convention answer to their problem.

They will do what they need to do to survive.

It will be very, very ugly. There will be acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing. There will be terrible battles and massacres and atrocities. On both sides.

I don’t think it will happen in America. At least not soon. But it will happen elsewhere, and it won’t be long now.

And it will be our fault. Because we had the chance to stop jihadism in Iraq, and we couldn’t finish the job.

But I see something else. It came to my mind as I sat in church on Sunday.

Our guest preacher was a missionary from Mexico. He spoke, among other things, of signs and wonders.

I need to explain here that we’re not a charismatic group. We mistrust faith healers, and positively oppose tongue-speaking.

But this pastor spoke of miraculous healings in answer to prayer, on the mission field. He spoke of a man raised from the dead. He spoke of exorcisms. He named names, names of several people who are known to us from mission trips, or as students at the Bible School.

He talked of all this matter-of-factly, as things just to be expected when God is working.

And that reminded me that the Kingdom of God is bigger than my fears. God is at work today, and what He’s planning to do is probably something that hasn’t occurred to me. His instruments will come from places where I’m not looking.

So be comforted.

But not too comforted.

Uncle Buck

I’ve been planning to blog about Uncle Buck since last weekend, when I gathered with family and they gave me his yearbook. But other things to write about came up. So here it is, the birthday of the Marine Corps, and tomorrow is Veterans’ Day. And Uncle Buck was a Marine. Pacific Theater. WWII.

Good timing. Almost makes me believe in Divine Providence. Which I do believe in. Except when it comes to real life.

Years ago, one time when we were visiting his house, Uncle Buck handed me a red book. “This is the story of my unit in the Marines,” he said.

I should have realized what a big deal that was. Uncle Buck never talked about the war. Never.

I looked at the book for a while, but didn’t get much out of it. I’ve felt guilty about that ever since. Especially since he died of cancer in 1978.

Last Saturday, when I went down to Faribault for the burial of Uncle George and Aunt Martha, I was given the red book. It turns out to be pretty much what it looks like—a school yearbook. Only the school was Marine boot camp.

And it leaves me pretty much as ignorant as I was before.

I asked an aunt on Saturday, “Do you know where Buck fought in the Pacific? What battles he was in?”

She thought a second and said, “No, I really don’t. He didn’t talk about it much. I think he might have been at Wake Island. But they kept him out of some of the fighting because he’d gotten that Dear John letter. So he wasn’t in all the battles with his unit.”

The yearbook doesn’t help. I really shouldn’t have felt guilty about not getting much from it when he showed it to me. The name of the unit was the 9th Replacement Battalion. They trained at Camp Elliott, near San Diego in 1943. I can find no mention of them on the internet. For all I know they were dispersed to existing battalions after finishing their training.

Uncle Buck is still a mystery.

I remember him as a tough guy. A quiet man who never knew what to say to kids (never had any of his own), and who drank and smoked a lot. If I remember the story correctly, he met a girl in Australia while in the Pacific and got engaged to her. Then she sent him a Dear John letter, as mentioned above. He saw combat—somewhere. Eventually he contracted malaria and was discharged. He had recurrences of the malaria for the rest of his life. After the war he married a girl my grandfather didn’t like, converting to Catholicism to marry her. Everyone agreed he was a different man after the war than he’d been before.

We tell stories about our warriors. We make movies about them; build statues. We try to preserve some memorial, to let them know that we understand that they lost something they can never get back for the sake of the rest of us.

But we can’t really know. All we can do is say thanks, and give them what honor we can.

Semper Fi, Uncle Buck.

To all you veterans, thanks.

Why can’t we get more stories like this from Christian writers?

Here’s a story that made me laugh, and will probably offend half our readers. It’s another excerpt from Vol. II of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis. It comes from one he wrote to his brother Warren on Nov. 5, 1939, when Warren had been recalled to active service in the Second World War:

I heard as good a story as I know this week about old Phelps the Provost of Oriel [College]—you probably remember him, with the beard and the black straw hat. Jenner was a fellow of Jesus [College], a high-minded dissenter and fanatical tee-totaller. He was dining at Oriel and the Provost asked him to take wine with him:

Jenner: Sir, I would rather commit adultery than drink a glass of that.

Provost: (in a low, stern voice) So would we all, Jenner; but not at the table, if you please.