All posts by Lars Walker

Elvis, Hauge and fear

Everyone’s talking about Elvis today, the 30th anniversary of his death.

I have nothing particular against Elvis, except that his stuff never did much for me.

I never got Rock ‘n Roll. Rock ‘n Roll is for adolescents, and I never really was one. I was a kid forced to act like a grownup before he was ready. I didn’t actually become a grownup, I just got stuck at the “kid playing adult” stage for the rest of my life, which is how it works when you do that. So I think I lacked some emotional components necessary to appreciate the genre.

Also, of course, R&R is about sex. Teenagers are excited about maturing, and their music expresses that. Me, I was terrified of what was going on in my body. I was pretty certain that I’d never get a lawful outlet for it (I was right), and I tried to deny the whole thing as long as I could.

I liked soaring, symphonic music that raised my spirit to eternal things, and causes worth dying for. “The Theme from Exodus” was my favorite song.

I think Mel Brooks is overrated, but I appreciated one running gag in his “2,000 Year Old Man” act. Carl Reiner would ask him where something—pretty much anything—got started, and Brooks would say, “Fear!”

Fear controls us more than we like to admit (even I, who admit it all the time). Writing a story? Want to know how to motivate your characters?

Ask two questions—“What does he want?” and “What is he afraid of?”

The answer to the first question will tell you what the character will do. The answer to the second question will tell you how he will do it.

Another thing that impressed me in my reading of Hans Nielsen Hauge’s autobiography (see yesterday’s post) was the fearless way he went about his ministry, doing stuff that nobody in his country had ever dared to do before.

It’s a measure of the depth of his Christian conversion that he became a man almost without fear—or at least a man whose faith conquered his fear.

Hauge was the first man in Norwegian history—one of the first in Europe—to decide that he wasn’t obligated to obey his rulers all the time. The principle that “we must obey God rather than men” is a biblical one, but it was taken for granted in those days that the king ruled by God’s authority, and so there could be no conflict. The law (a very sensible one in many ways) said that all religious preaching and instruction had to come from an authorized representative of the state church. Otherwise, you’ll get nuts running around preaching heresy and nature worship and reincarnation and witchcraft and a lot of other nonsense. Which did, in fact, happen in the end, so you can’t say their concern was unreasonable.

Hauge harkened back to a principle of Luther’s—that a plowboy with his Bible had more authority than all the popes and councils that ever met. Convinced of this authority, Hauge went out to do whatever good he could—spiritual or material—for his neighbors.

He was warned. He was arrested. He was beaten. He was thrown out of towns. But the conviction of his heart and his study of the Bible weighed more in his eyes than any intimidation or violence.

There was a Danish/Norwegian author named Axel Sandemo who invented what he called “janteloven,” the Law of Jante (which is a fictional city, based on his Danish birthplace, in his stories). It’s a series of rules that would be familiar to many people, Scandinavian or not. It’s sort of a Lake Woebegone thing. Some of the janteloven rules are:

You shall not think you are anybody.

You shall not think you are as good as we.

You shall not do anything to give the impression that you are better than we.

You shall not think you are worth anything.

You shall not think you can teach us anything.

Hauge fell to the janteloven in the end. They put him in a cell, where it was dark and cold, and they gave him nothing to do, and nothing to read (except the works of Voltaire), and they kept him from his friends. Year after year. Finally they let him go, sick and old before his time, but not before they’d gotten him to confess that he’d gone too far. He’d taken things to extremes. He’d been a bad Lutheran and a bad citizen.

He never recanted his faith (they didn’t want him to), but he recanted a part of his vocation. He wanted to walk under the sun again, to see things growing in the soil, to talk with fellow believers.

But the thing that really broke his heart, according to what I’ve read, was that they convinced him (it was hard, but they did it at last) that the king was against him.

It’s hard for us to understand today what the king meant to the peasants through most of European history. The king was not an oppressor. The king was their friend. The common people loved the king. Every man who suffered injustice knew in his heart, “If I could just get to the king’s ear, I’d get justice.”

“If the king thinks I was wrong, then I must be wrong,” Hauge thought.

And yet he won in the end. That bent, white-haired, toothless old man of fifty was nevertheless the future of the country.

Kind of like Elvis, I guess.

A Christ-like man

A lot of people think we’re behind the times at the seminary/Bible school where I work, and right now they’re right, at least technologically. Our computer network has been down since Monday. The timing couldn’t have been much worse for me. This is the week I’d planned to order textbooks for the fall, and I use the net extensively for that job. I can do most of it the old-fashioned way, I guess, with catalogs and phone calls, but I expect the network will be back up before I get far into that process, so I’m… delaying.

I’ve been looking at a book in the archive, a selection from the writings of the Norwegian lay evangelist Hans Nielsen Hauge. I’ve written about him before, and will probably write about him again. He was an important historical figure in a fairly unimportant country, so he’s not very famous except among Norwegian Lutherans. But he was a remarkable man, a true original and a Christian to his toes, and reading his story in his own words only reinforces that opinion in my mind.

[Short overview, for those of you who don’t want to read the Wikipedia entry: Hauge was a farmer’s son with a minimal education. In the 1790s he began traveling as a lay evangelist, urging people to repent, be converted, and live lives worthy of Christ. He also wrote books of edification, which he got printed and mostly gave away. His activities were illegal, and Hauge was arrested repeatedly, finally being sent to prison from 1804 to 1811. This broke his health and shortened his life. His movement, however, proved to be revolutionary. Under his teaching, the common people began to improve their education and to get involved in business, industry and politics.]

The first thing that impressed me was that he was an essentially cheerful man (remarkable in a Norwegian, but there it is). The stereotype of the Haugeans, built up over generations (and generally true), is of extremely dour people who frown on all pleasure and love to find opportunities for dressing their neighbors down. Hauge was definitely a Type A, obsessive about using every moment profitably (he even learned to knit so he could make stockings as he traveled on foot from place to place. I’ve seen a pair of his stockings in the Folk Museum in Oslo), but he was an optimistic Type A. When faced with a challenge, he assumed things would go well. When he met people, he assumed they would treat him well. He never feared the law, because he was convinced his good king would never oppose God’s work. He was a genuinely charming personality.

In a famous incident, during one of his early, temporary arrests, he was confined in a bailiff’s house. A girl was sent in. Hauge says she was sent to “mock him.” I have to assume the idea was seduction, to get evidence of hypocrisy against him. Most of the Haugeans I grew up with would have had a fit at that point. But Hauge didn’t lecture the girl. He spoke to her quietly, and in a few minutes she was weeping.

Then they sent in a crowd of people, led by the bailiff’s wife and a fiddler. The fiddler struck up a dance tune, and the rest of the people started dancing. The bailiff’s wife took Hauge’s hand and invited him to dance.

Hauge said, “I’ll join you if you’ll have the fiddler play this song—” and he began to sing an old hymn (he’s said to have had a beautiful voice). The dancing stopped immediately, and Hauge began to talk to the people. He doesn’t say that he converted any of them, but he says they began to take pity on him, and some said they wished they were like him.

I have found no incident in the story, so far, where Hauge “dresses anybody down.” He had a spirit of gentleness, always seeing Christ in people, even the crudest and most depraved. And it was that vision of Christ in others that made him bold to speak the gospel to them.

Freddy and Fredericka by Mark Helprin

Mark Helprin is one of those slow novelists who brings out a moving, life-altering book every decade or so, like a geological fault spawning earthquakes.

This is probably good, for two reasons. First of all, it’s really depressing for an ordinary author like me to read something as perfect as a Helprin book. It makes me feel like a junior higher who’s just discovered The Lord of the Rings and sets out to pen his own epic on his laptop, in a really neat font he downloaded off the web.

Also, it’s a fact, too often overlooked in the publishing industry, that you can’t produce a superior book like one of Helprin’s in a year. Or two. Even three.

It’s worth the wait.

My favorite Helprin novel (the same as pretty much everybody else’s) has got to be Winter’s Tale. My second favorite is probably Memoir From Antproof Case. A Soldier of the Great War is tremendous, but the tragic elements were too much for me. I haven’t read Refiner’s Fire (got to look for that).

But I think Freddy and Fredericka has supplanted MFAC as my second favorite. Briefly put, it was a delight from beginning to end.

Think of an Evelyn Waugh novel, written by P. G. Wodehouse. That’s the British part.

Think of a Tom Wolf or Mark Twain novel, also written by Wodehouse. That’s the American part.

The final segment, back in England, is merely sublime and moving.

It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed out loud, again and again, over a novel. But Freddy and Fredericka did that for me.

Here’s the (ridiculous) premise: Freddy and Fredericka are a fictionalized version of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, but it’s impossible not to recognize the royal family here as the one we know in our own, slightly inferior world.

Freddy seems, perhaps, a bit more solid than Prince Charles. He is strongly traditional and conservative in his opinions. Sound fellow. However, he has a problem. He is prone, sometimes because of irresistible impulses, and sometimes because of what Jeeves used to call “a concatenation of circumstances” to do ridiculous things in public that get him onto the front pages of the tabloids, such as (for instance,) trying to get back in through the gate of Buckingham Palace, stark naked, tarred and feathered, with a takeout chicken box on his head.

Fredericka, on the other hand, seems even more vapid and photogenic than her real world prototype. (At one point she asks Freddy, seriously, “What is a raw egg?”) On the other hand, she seems to be something of an airhead savant. She has bizarre flashes of brilliance, doing complex algebra problems in her head, for example.

My favorite line of her dialogue: “Lord Louey sent me a book on compassion that I have to read because he wants me to be the author.”

Because of the bad press, and because he has failed an occult family test to determine his worthiness to rule, Freddy and Fredericka are sent on a quest.

They are to parachute into New Jersey, incognito, clad only in rabbit skin bikinis, to win the United States back for the Commonwealth.

Piece of cake.

What follows is a satiric and affectionate odyssey through America, in which F & F (totally unrecognized by people who’ve been looking at their pictures all their lives) take odd jobs, ride the rails, serve as forest rangers, impersonate dentists, and Freddy becomes a speech writer for a presidential candidate (who bears no discernible resemblance to Bob Dole, despite the fact that Helprin himself was chief writer for his campaign, something I suspect even he would admit is not the highlight of his résumé). Like all good travelers, they learn not only to love the new country, but to love their own country better through it.

And the final chapters, when they go home, are deeply moving, filled with hope for the world.

One only wishes Prince Charles really were Freddy. And that Di had been Fredericka, of course.

I don’t award stars to books, but if I did I’d add a star for this one. Get it. Read it. Laugh. Be touched. Thank me later.

You’ll probably just want to skip this post

The family reunion went great. Fine weather, good turnout. Everyone was genial, and nobody said anything to offend me.

And yet I went home miserable.

Well, what do you expect? I’m me.

It started out fine. I drove down early to catch the 9:00 a.m. service at my old home church. Even when I got corralled into joining an impromptu quartet of relatives to sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” for the special music, I figured the experience couldn’t have been much worse for us who had to sing than for those who had to listen to us. Attendance was summer light, but the church was comfortable and I enjoyed the sermon. (The theme was “Be ye faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life,” in case you’re checking up on me.)

Then I drove out to the farm where the reunion is held nowadays. We had a couple hours yet before lunch, but I helped set up chairs and chatted with a few cousins.

Then people started arriving, and it got more difficult. Not bad. I was doing OK, though there are only three questions anyone asks me:

1. “Making any more trips to Norway?” (Answer: “No. I’m house-poor now. I may never get back to Norway again.”)

2. “Writing any more books?” (Answer: “Yes, but my publisher dumped me and my agent went belly up, so I’m back at square one.”)

3. (This one was only asked once, but was unquestionably posed silently by many:) “Now that Cousin X has surprised us all by getting married after all these years, are you gonna surprise us too?” (Answer: “Probably not, because I’m crazy in a way that women find particularly off-putting.”)

But I was holding up OK, until my brother Moloch casually mentioned something he said I’d said a long time ago, that I didn’t remember saying, and of which I’m ashamed now that I know about it.

That was when the trapdoor opened, and I plunged down—not into emptiness but into sewage, a noxious mixture of fear of other people and loathing of myself. I pretty much shut down for the rest of the afternoon, mostly just speaking when spoken to (which means, in all probability, nobody noticed any difference).

I drove home as soon as I could get away, and went to bed early.

I can’t even handle a pleasant afternoon with family. I wonder if I’m sliding toward complete agoraphobia. Which would be a bad thing for someone who doesn’t have anyone to sponge off for his upkeep.

I’m somewhat better today. It was a low fall and a quick bounce-back. But of course the bounce-back always ends up a little lower than the place where you started.

Beyond dispute

Tonight Hugh Hewitt (who obviously hates me) messed up my evening walk by broadcasting a debate between David Allen White and Christopher Hitchens over the existence of God.

This isn’t what I want in an exercise partly designed to lower my blood pressure. So I had to switch to the cassette function of my Walkman. I climbed down in the basement to find a cassette that hadn’t flaked off all its oxidation. I found an acceptable Sissel tape, and so saved the walk.

I hate arguments. If the Calvinists are right, and I’m not among the elect, I expect Hell to be a room full of people arguing at the tops of their voices forever. I shrink inside when people argue. I don’t have to be one of them. My fetal-position instinct kicks in.

I admire logic and disputation. I have immense respect for men like C. S. Lewis, who could go at an argument with a colleague for hours, then laugh and share a beer with him. That’s the way it ought to be. Questions should be talked out to the bitter end, all permutations nailed down, and there should be either consensus or an agreement to disagree. And no one should bear hard feelings.

Wish I could do it.

In harmony with this theme, my doorbell rang tonight, and there was a young woman “organizing the neighborhood for NARAL.” Last year they sent a tattooed, one-armed lesbian with her female “bodyguard.” This year’s representative was more presentable, though she avoided avoiding a cliché by having a stud in her nose. No visible bodyguard.

How does she dare go out alone like that, in a country steeped in rape and violence against women?

Anyway, I told her I wasn’t interested and backed away. She asked me why not, and I told her, “I’m pro-life.”

“I’m a sexist pig,” I added, as I closed the door.

That’s my zinger. I pull out the insult I expect from my opponent, and I use it on myself, to disarm them. “Your feeble bullets have no power over me, because I just shot myself!”



It doesn’t even make sense to me.

But let’s not argue about it.

Have a good weekend. I’m down to Kenyon for the biennial (semiannual?) every two year Walker Family Reunion on Sunday.

I thought of saying I’d share pictures, and then I thought, “Why?”

Intriguing story from Sweden

I’m a little later than usual tonight, as I had to go to the dentist for my semiannual (I think that’s right. Can’t be biennial, can it?) check-up and cleaning. Since I know you’re keeping score, you’ll be relieved to know that no cavities were discovered. However there is that tooth with the old root canal that’s going to crumble like an abandoned house deck in Florida one of these days. And there’s the other tooth that’s mostly amalgam, which also needs replacement. But I put them off. I always think that I’ll maybe have some money six months from now.

If you go to this page (which you probably can’t read because it’s in Norwegian), and scroll down (unless you’re reading this article in the future, when everything’s down in Archive territory), you’ll find a story headlined, “Homoprest nekter å vie enkjønnede samliv.” Which means, “Homosexual pastor refuses to bless same-sex relationships.” I’ll translate the rest for you, because this is really interesting, and I can’t find a report in English anywhere:

Homosexual priest Erik Johansson of the Swedish (Lutheran) Church has chosen to live in celibacy. Johansson refuses to bless same-sex relationships, even though this may lead to his expulsion from his own church.

Unfortunately this web site charges you to get the rest of the story, but I really want to know more. It seems to me this is precisely the way it ought to be. A homosexual willing to submit to the same sexual morality the Bible demands of all of us, which in his case means celibacy, is qualified to operate as a pastor and upholds Biblical teaching. Maybe I’m missing something, but this guy sounds like a hero who ought to be celebrated throughout the evangelical world.

Tonight, my imitation of Scrappleface

(San Francisco) Democratic presidential contenders vied with one another to declare defeat in their own campaigns today, in a candidates’ forum sponsored by the non-partisan group Childless Gays for Education.

“I’ve been campaigning for almost eight years now,” said Sen. Hillary Clinton, “and frankly I’m demoralized. The cost has been tremendous, and I see no guarantee of success further down the road. I’ve decided it’s time to admit defeat and go home to New York.”

Sen. Barack Obama did not delay in picking up the theme. “We hear sensational stories about possible devastation to the country under four more years of Republican government. I consider that unlikely. I support the Democratic party and its operatives one-hundred percent, but the best thing we can do for those patriotic men and women is to bring them home before they’re completely brutalized by this inhuman struggle.”

John Edwards retorted, “You guys are behind the curve. I gave up months ago. I began a phased withdrawal of my campaign workers back in March. It’s been clear to me for some time that, with our present national consensus that no fight is worth the trouble unless it can be finished in a few weeks at practically no cost, this campaign is a quagmire and a waste of time. I feel that the best thing I can do for the Democratic Party is to concede to the Republicans right away. And I’m doing that tonight.”

Schoolboy memories

Better today, thanks for asking. Went to bed early last night and slept hard until the alarm woke me. It was almost worth the deprivation of the previous night to enjoy such luxurious, concentrated sleep.

Here’s an interesting (interesting to me) post from a blog called Shape of Days. The author employs some language I wouldn’t use myself (be warned), but it was interesting to see another blogger writing about his emotional disorder. Indeed, his problem, Borderline Personality Disorder, is a cousin to my Avoidant Personality Disorder. I believe AvPD used to be diagnosed as Borderline, until they refined the criteria, or something.

His problem seems to be more severe than mine, which is some comfort, I guess. He blames it on a “brain defect or malfunction,” and I’m pretty sure mine, on the other hand, stemmed from simply growing up in a crazy environment, where I had to learn crazy behavior to survive. My first mistake was in choosing my parents. The second mistake was that I seem to have run into some remarkably toxic adult authority figures on my way up (or whatever way I was going).

Chief among these was Mr…. I’ll call him Mr. Woundwort. He was football coach and physical education (we called it Phy Ed in that time and place) teacher for our Junior/Senior high school, which meant he was licensed to poison my life for six full years.

The man was a sadist. That wasn’t just something his football players said as a joke after drills. Everyone knew he was a sadist. He was mean at the core. There was a story, a bit of schoolboy folklore, that said he’d accidentally killed his own brother when he was a kid. I don’t know if it’s true, but it would help explain a lot if it were.

Of all his hates, and he had many, his hatred of fat kids was chief. He singled out the fat kids, humiliated them. I was a fat kid. I was on his list from the first day.

One day he had us doing calisthenics, and he noticed that I couldn’t do a push-up. Yes, I wrote that right. I was a farm kid, but I didn’t have the upper body strength to do a single push-up. This was one of many clues which had already proved to me that I was unworthy and defective.

Mr. Woundwort decided this called for special coaching. His own kind of special coaching.

He set the rest of the guys to some game or other. He took a folding chair and a yardstick, and he took me to a corner of the gymnasium. He told me to get into push-up position in the corner, and he sat on the chair and told me to “Do one.” I tried and failed.

He hit me on the butt with the yardstick.

He told me he would keep telling me to do a push-up as long as it took, and every time I failed he’d hit me again.

We went on like that for the rest of the hour. By the time it was done my meager muscles were quivering, and I was sobbing uncontrollably. He had to let me go (he told me he’d test me later, and if I couldn’t do one by then, I’d have to take Phy Ed with the girls), and after showering I went immediately to the school Guidance Counselor, and told him what had happened.

I’m one of those who believe that educational standards have fallen appallingly since those days. I believe students today are coddled and over-rewarded and underdisciplined.

But there are limits, and Mr. Woundwort had gone over the line. Even in those days, I think, what he’d done with me was too much. I don’t know what happened, but Mr. Woundwort eased up on me after that, at least to the point of not punishing me sadistically anymore. So I think the G.C. probably had a heart-to-heart talk with him and made some threats.

I suspect Mr. Woundwort thought I was homosexual. Which is kind of ironic, since one of his prized football players (another sadist, as it happened, one who beat me up many times) later “came out of the closet,” and eventually died of AIDS.

I never told my parents about it, not even when I was grown up.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that they’d take Mr. Woundwort’s side.

Aaaaargh!

I am a frustrated man. A frustrated, tired man.

Today was the first day of our Summer Institute of Theology at the seminary. I was kept busy, off and on, selling textbooks to the pastors who have come in for continuing education. At 4:30 I went home, leaving the operation in the hands of my assistant, with some qualms. He’s a seminarian from a third-world country, and he has never really mastered the cash register. But the last thing he told me was that he felt he was doing better now.

I drove home and fell into bed. No afternoon walk, no lawn mowing (which is needed). I had a bad case of insomnia last night (my own fault—I stayed up late and missed the brain wave curve), and I just wanted a nap. I’d been nodding off all afternoon, and I never nod off in daytime.

I wasn’t horizontal long before the phone rang. It was my assistant. He said he was having a problem with the cash register.

Then there was a noise on the line. My renter had picked up the phone (he always does this. I suspect he’s a little deaf. He seems to hear the phone ringing, but he never hears me talking on it). When he realized I was talking to someone, he hung up. At the same moment I lost the connection with my assistant.

I waited for him to call back. Nothing happened.

I don’t have the number for the phone at the front desk. It’s not a number I’ve ever needed. I tried my office phone, and even the business office downstairs. No luck.

Maybe my assistant thought I hung up on him, and is afraid to call back.

I should have dressed and driven back to work. But I’m honestly so tired I’m afraid to drive.

And now I can’t sleep.

Oh fudge.

Well, I could have worse problems. Like this lady, for instance.

Dale sent this link to a story about an appalling case of contemporary censorship in England.

Every year American librarians rend their garments and sit in ashes, scraping themselves with potsherds, because of all the horrible “censorship” they endure, when parents try to keep them from making porn available to their children.

I’ll just bet the English librarians don’t say a word about this genuine act of censorship.

(Note: Dale points out, correctly, that this isn’t technically censorship, because it’s not a government act. But in suppressing the publication and distribution of a book, a foreign government has managed to restrict the ongoing discussion of ideas in England. It’s much closer than anything the ALA bellyaches about annually.)

It is by the Lord’s mercy that we are not consumed

First of all, many thanks to Uncle Orvis for e-mailing me to explain about Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters. (And yes, I do have an Uncle Orvis. And no, he doesn’t publish a catalog.) Turns out the one I was worried about is connected to one in the basement that does have a reset button. Once I’d discovered that, it was for me but the work of a moment to get the bathroom outlet working again. This is important, because my renter uses it for his electric razor.

They’ve reduced the number of missing in the bridge collapse. This feels bizarre, but good. I don’t think anybody, when they first heard about the event, was in any doubt that the death toll would be in the dozens at least.

It appears that many lives were saved by gridlock. If I understand it properly, the fact that the road surface was being worked on meant that traffic had been bottlenecked to two lanes. Cars were crawling.

Because of that, when the bridge went, most of the cars fell straight down. It was shocking and terrifying, and often caused serious injuries, but in most cases it wasn’t fatal.

If traffic had been zipping along freely, the cars would have gone off the end one after another before reflex time kicked in, and would have piled up on top of each other down below, probably to have the bridge then fall on them.

But as it is, it looks like we’ll have a list of dead not much worse than what you might see in a very bad traffic pileup.

It’s tragic and horrible for those who’ve lost loved ones, needless to say. Our hearts and our prayers go out to all of them.

But there are lots of people alive and with their families tonight who might easily have not been. I’m grateful to God for that.

Have a good weekend.

Not affected, but burned out anyway

The further we get into this bridge collapse story, the more far-fetched my insistence on terrorism appears. Witness the expert articles here and here, from Popular Mechanics (courtesy of James Lileks at www.buzz.mn). Right now we’re all just blue sky speculating. Perhaps we’re dealing with some kind of perfect architectural storm here (to overburden an already stressed metaphorical bridge).

I went through a time, when I was a kid, when I was afraid of bridges. I’ve never entirely gotten over it, though it’s pretty well suppressed. I suppose the suppression will be less effective for a while now.

My own complaints seem (and seem because they are) trivial today. A little after the tragedy last night, a thunderstorm hit here (it was a mercy of God that it only grazed the neighborhood of the bridge failure), and a lightning strike close by messed up a couple things in the house. The monitor I’m working on now lost some brightness (the degaussing utility fixed that) and my TV got all messed up, with arcs of primary color adorning the top and bottom, and green faces on all the people. According to what I read on the internet, my set ought to degauss itself, in a gradual fashion, a little bit each time I turn it on.

Also the Ground Fault Protection outlet in my bathroom went poof and stopped working. It’s the kind that doesn’t have a re-set button, so I guess I’ll have to call an electrician for that.

Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost re-posted this essay today. I consider it well worth your attention.

I find that I just don’t have the stomach for those old arguments anymore. I’m still willing to discuss doctrinal differences. But now I’m less sure that I’m standing on the right side of scripture. Is the view heretical or likely to lead someone away from salvation? Then I’ll fight it tooth-and-nail. If not, then I’ll probably just sit this one out. I no longer have an interest in being what Anthony Bradley calls a “wife beater”:

And I’ll leave you with that tonight.

In which I say nothing helpful about the disaster

It’s almost obligatory for anybody in this community to say, “I just drove over that bridge yesterday.” Or “last week.” Or “I drive it all the time.”

I think I must be the only person in Minneapolis who almost never goes that way. I’ve been trying to conjure up a memory of that particular stretch of 35W, and for the life of me I can’t. I live in the northwest suburbs, so I always angle off before downtown, and if I’m going north I angle off northeast. So I’m much less spooked than your average Twin Cities blogger today.

I’m very sad though.

And I still can’t get terrorism out of my mind. The whole thing just doesn’t add up. Somebody’s holding something back, I suspect, to prevent panic.

I’m all right

In case you were worried, I wasn’t anywhere near the 35W bridge when it collapsed tonight. It’s a terrible thing, and aside from the suffering (one confirmed dead at this time) it will cripple local commerce and transportation for a long time. This was the major artery of our community.

They say there’s no reason to suspect terrorism. I’ll go out on a limb and say that, personally, I do suspect it.

Beowulf, suffering servant

“Thus Beowulf showed himself brave, a man known in battles, of good deeds, bore himself according to discretion. Drunk, he slew no hearth-companions.”

I re-read Beowulf over the weekend, in response to our discussion about the movie trailer for the upcoming film.

My conclusion is that I enjoyed it, and I’m reasonably certain that no movie based on the poem (I believe yet another is in the works after this one) will get to the heart of the thing.

Beowulf is often described as a heathen tale overlaid with a thin veneer of Christianity (it’s a Dark Age story, probably based on events that happened [if they happened] in Denmark and Sweden sometime around 500 AD. But the poem as we have it was clearly re-worked by Christian scribes, based on an oral original). And that’s essentially true.

Nevertheless, I think I may understand why monks would have considered it worth preserving. Because they understood the poem in a way that moviemakers today never will. They understood that Beowulf’s actions are not based only on personal pride, on showing off, on “macho.” They are based, at bottom, on sacrifice.

It has often been noted how boastful Beowulf is, and how there is no hint of humility or reserve in his account of his great deeds at Hrothgar’s feast.

But the editor of the edition I read (an adaptation of F. Klaeber’s translation, in Vol. 1 of The Norton Anthology of English Literature) notes, “…his boast becomes a vow; the hero has put himself in a position from which he cannot withdraw.”

When you’re living in terror, when you’re afraid that not only your prosperity but your very life and the lives of your children will soon be lost, there’s nothing you want more than somebody big and strong and competent who’ll swagger in and say, “Trolls? I eat trolls for breakfast! I’ll moider da bum.”

You can sense Hrothgar’s blood pressure dropping as he listens to Beowulf’s self-promotion.

For all his braggadocio, there really isn’t much in the whole business for Beowulf personally. He risks his life with Grendel, then has to repeat the performance with Grendel’s mother. He receives honor and gifts, which are nice, but he almost always fights alone. His is essentially a lonely fate.

There’s an elegiac quality to the poem, too. If Beowulf ever married or had children, we aren’t told of it. After he becomes the king of his own people, the Geats, he rules successfully, but essentially leaves nothing behind, not even an heir. It’s hinted plainly that his people will be conquered and driven from their homes after his death. This, I suspect, is why the poem ended up in England. It probably crossed the sea with the refugees.

So Beowulf is essentially the story of a warrior who gives up his own life for his people, and for his allies. His is the story of every soldier, even in our own time, to a lesser or greater degree. In return for the sense of duty fulfilled, and fleeting glory, they give up their very lives. They become servants, and their pay is never enough.