All posts by Lars Walker

Post-traumatic stress

My cold (I’m pretty sure by now it’s a cold) is still with me. The sore throat is better, but I’m more stuffed up today. And yet I went in to work, good soldier that I am. Now I’m home and I plan to lie down a bit after I’ve posted this, and before I get to some more Christmas cards.

There are a couple Minnesota connections
to that Colorado shootings story. One is that one of the dead at the YWAM facility was a Minnesota native, Tiffany Johnson. Another Minnesotan, Charles Blanch, was wounded in the leg. And of course you’ve heard about Jeanne Assam, the volunteer security guard who shot and stopped the shooter (who will not be dignified by the use of his name in this post), although apparently he took his own life at the end.

According to this report, Assam was fired from the Minneapolis police force in 1997. This information caught my attention right off, since I can think of many possible reasons why a Christian might be fired in the politically correct climate of Minneapolis city politics today. But apparently she was fired for lying about an incident on a bus where she swore at a driver. Sounds more like a pre-conversion incident, though one never knows.

What is certainly true is that right now, on top of the trauma of having been involved in a fatal fire fight, and survivor’s guilt, she is facing public scrutiny directed at a past she may have hoped to have put behind her. So a prayer for her, as well as for the wounded and the families of the victims, would not be out of order.

Notes from an invalid weekend

I don’t have much for you tonight. I’ve been feeling sub-par since last Friday. I have a bad sore throat (moderated by Ibuprofen), and I feel run down. Flu? There’s no temperature (Seems like I never do run a temperature, no matter how bad I feel. I’m beginning to wonder if I have a defective thermometer). I’m proud to say, however, that I got the majority of my Christmas shopping done on Saturday, in spite of this handicap. (It’s true. I am a genius. Or else I’m past caring. One of those.) Sunday I spent on the couch with a couple books.

One was Forever Odd, the middle book of the three Dean Koontz’ Odd Thomas adventures published so far. Very good, moving and gripping, like the others. I noted a theological problem with the afterlife as Koontz describes it, though. Odd tells us that damned souls generally depart for Hell immediately after death. The ghosts whom he encounters and tries to help on their way are, for the most part, “good” people who have unfinished business, or are too attached to their loved ones, or are afraid of their reception in Heaven. Odd’s message to them seems to be that they’ll be welcomed by God because they’re good.

This is lousy theology. The Cross is nowhere to be seen.

I suppose that if Koontz (who is, I believe, a Catholic) had employed better theology, he’d have ended up writing “Christian fiction” which would have reached only a limited audience, though. I think there’s an element of allegory in the Odd Thomas books, instead of straight doctrine.

Still, it bothered me a little. Liked the book anyway.

I also read A Time to Hunt, another book in Stephen Hunter’s Bob Lee Swagger series. Like all of them it’s fascinating, richly researched, vivid in its action and characterizations, and satisfying all around.

The books don’t bear much thinking about all at once, though. Bob Lee and his father Earl, also hero of several of Hunter’s books, seem to be falling victim to the terrible doom of the heroes of action TV series—they have more death-defying adventures than can be comfortably believed in, in the aggregate. Earl, for instance, was murdered at a fairly young age, but Hunter has given him so many big adventures that it appears he must have had about one a month all through his short adulthood.

Bob Lee has lived longer than his dad, but he’s around 60 now, and pretty shot up. I hope he can handle all the blood and thunder his author’s still got planned for him.

Another amusing thing about the Swagger Saga is that the stories aren’t consistent with each other. Hunter cheerfully contradicts things he said in other books, and doesn’t apologize for it.

Just like a newspaper man.

They sure are good books, though.

And now, the couch beckons me.

But I’ve got to get started on the Christmas cards.

Suing Father Brown

Here’s an odd, and somewhat troubling, story from my own state.

It seems a boy was killed in 1957 in what appeared to be a car accident. Years later, a priest investigated the matter and decided the boy had in fact been murdered. He wrote a book that claimed to prove his theory, substituting fictional names for the real characters he blamed for the death.

Problem was, it was set in such a small community that the fictionalized characters were easily identifiable.

So the people the characters were based on sued the priest. They have now won a settlement out of court.

I guess that without a judgment, this doesn’t create a legal precedent, but it’s bad news for authors. It should be noted that just changing a person’s name and giving him a different hair color doesn’t necessarily protect you from a libel suit.

I’ve never heard of this book. I doubt it was a bestseller, so there can’t have been a lot of royalty money in the pot. I suppose the priest’s order ended up paying the lion’s share of the settlement.

That must be frustrating. This time (for a change) the priest wasn’t even accused of the crime.

The concert was too short, and so was the hair

The Sissel concert on PBS last night was great. It was filmed in the picturesque Norwegian town of Røros in wintertime, the music itself performed in a historic church there. Very classy and reverent, I thought. And, needless to say, The Greatest Voice in the World soared through the pure, arctic air, delivering beauty like an angelic UPS truck. Or something.

My only unhappiness concerned Sissel’s hair. As is so often the case.

I care about women’s hair. It has something to do with an experience I had once, which it would be lugubrious to recount now (I suspect I’ve already told the story in this space, or on the old site, anyway). But I’ve always had strong opinions on women’s hair.

If you look at pictures of Sissel in the early stages of her career, you’ll see a lovely young girl with long, thick, honey-colored hair. That’s how she looked when I first became a fan, and that’s the image I imprinted on.

But it all changed around the time of the Winter Olympics in Norway in 1994. There she appeared, suddenly, and to the great shock of most, at the opening ceremonies with short, dark hair. Her hairstyle has changed constantly in the years since, but has generally been more or less that sort of thing.

Since her marriage broke up she seems to have grown it out a little, but for the concert she appeared in some kind of avant-garde coiffure that looked both oily and swirly. It was not becoming, in the eyes of this obsessive fan.

Why do women do this? I don’t know a lot about women, it goes without saying, but I’m pretty sure they tend to be more insecure about how they look than men are. That being true, why do they consistently put themselves in the hands of hairdressers of ambiguous gender, and trust them when they say, “Oh, darling, we’ll just streak your hair with purple, and lacquer it, and make it stand out straight from the left side of your skull so you look like a character from Anime! You’ll look divine!”

Any man can easily tell you what we want in a woman’s hair. Like most things about men, it’s very simple: “Long. Grow it as long as you can. Never cut it. Split ends? What are those? Dry, fly-away hair? Who cares?”

Show me a woman who wears her hair extremely long, and I’ll show you a woman who understands men deeply.

Of course a woman who wears her hair extremely short probably understands men deeply too.

Which sort is wiser, I’m not qualified to say.

Did you borrow my dictionary?

As long as I have a post idea I haven’t used yet, I feel rich in material. What I always forget is that my idea bench is usually about one player deep.

I’d been meaning to do a post about how Christians have gone from complaining about the commercialization of Christmas to complaining about being left out of the holidays entirely, for some time. Last night I used it, and tonight I find myself swept and garnished of topics.

Which won’t stop me from posting. I’ll just write about myself. Haven’t tried that in, oh, a day or two.

I’m in the midst of a Christmas card crisis.
I’m one of those tedious people who send a Christmas letter with their cards, and I have an annual protocol for it. First I write the letter. Then I translate it into Norwegian, so I can send it to my friends and relatives in the Old Country first, since mail takes longer to get there.

An indispensable tool for me over the years, in setting those letters in Norwegian, has been a book I acquired (oddly enough) during my sojourn in Florida. It’s an English-Norwegian dictionary, where you can look up the word in English and find the Norwegian equivalent (“Boat,” for instance, is “båt.” “Tree” is “tre” [which also stands in for “wood.”]. Squirrel, oddly enough, is “ekorn” in Norwegian. I’m not kidding).

But this year I’m being handicapped by the complete disappearance of my dictionary. It ought to be somewhere right around here by the computer, since I always leave things where I last used them, and never straighten the desk up. But I’ve been through all the piles and it’s nowhere.

I blame the elves (“nisser” in Norwegian).

Speaking of Norwegian,
I see that my PBS station is broadcasting the new musical production, “Northern Lights: An Evening With Sissel” tonight. Chances are your PBS station is broadcasting it too, one of these nights, during the sacred Pledge season. I’m no great booster of PBS, but this is your chance to discover why I’ve been promoting this woman all these years. I expect you to watch it. You will be tested on the material.

Silent Night and Day

More coming tomorrow. Snow, I mean. My old bones tell me we’re getting an inch or two more snow.

That’s a lie, by the way.
My bones are indeed old, but they’re as surprised by the weather as I am most of the time. I get my weather off the radio and the internet these days, and those portents agree that it’ll probably snow tomorrow.

It looks very much as if our White Christmas is secure for 2007. Or “White Holiday,” as they say nowadays. I suppose singers make it, “White Season,” so it’ll scan. Anything to avoid the embarrassing, shocking word, “Christmas,” containing, as it does, the foul, profane syllable, “cris,” which must be kept at all costs from the ears of our children. (Or your children, anyway. I’ve done my bit for carbon neutrality and the maintenance of the gene pool by keeping my DNA to myself. No need to thank me. Just send a present.)

I’ve noticed there’s been some uproar from Christian groups over the Christmas advertising of the Kohl’s department store chain. The Kohl’s commercials (which star a very attractive woman who’s got a sort of Terri Hatcher thing going, I couldn’t help noticing) feature trappings and symbols that look Christmas-y in a generic, non-sectarian sort of way, but the music they use (to one’s amazement once one realizes it) is Cole Porter’s “De-Lovely,” hitherto never considered a trademark of the season.

All in all I disapprove. But I can’t help noting a certain irony in the situation.

Because I’m old, as mentioned above, and I can remember back in the 50s and 60s, when all the stores had Christmas sales, and Christmas decorations, and they played Christmas carols over the loudspeakers—and some of them even had crèches in their display windows.

And you know what? Christian leaders hated it. You’d hear it in their sermons, and read it in their letters to the editor. “Christmas is a holy festival of the Faith!” they’d say. “How dare these merchandisers hijack this blessed season for sordid gain!”

Which should be a lesson to all of us to be careful what we ask for.

Because the merchandisers have now done just what we wanted them to. They divorced their business entirely from our religious festival.

And we’re not happy at all with the result.

Weekend reading report

We got more snow today. I’m not sure how much. Three inches, maybe. It looks likely to be one of those ol’ fashun winters, like we used to have when I was a kid, back in the Later Pleistocene. One of my earliest memories is of going out of the house with Mom and my brother Moloch, through snow about waist high (considering that I was about three feet tall at the time), to my Dad’s old, World War II-era car. Might have been a Studebaker. He had one at some point along there.

The only thing is, that isn’t a real memory. Or rather, it’s a memory, not of the actual event, but of the film of it that Dad was taking with his Brownie movie camera that day. I’ve seen the movie enough times that, in my mind, I think I actually remember being there. But it’s all a construct.

Memory fascinates me. Especially my early memories. I have this idea (probably picked up from that quack, Freud) that if I could just pull the right memory up into God’s light, I’d solve all my problems.

Well, not the problem of making it through another winter, but other problems.

This weekend I read two books which follow up other books I recently reviewed, so what follows isn’t really meant to be a couple of reviews, just reader’s impressions.

Odd Thomas is the first of the three Odd Thomas books by Dean Koontz published to date. It was a hard read in a way, because I already knew (from Brother Odd) how it was going to end.

Nevertheless, Koontz completely blindsided me with the climax. And thinking back, I realize he telegraphed it from the beginning.

Well done!

Dragons From the Sea
is a sequel to Judson Roberts’ Viking Warrior. Both are extremely well-written Young Adults about a young man in 9th Century Denmark who rises from slavery to become a warrior, and gets drawn into a grim drama of murder and revenge.

I enjoyed this volume almost as much as the first one. My only reservation is that in this episode Halfdan, the hero, joins a major Viking attack on France. Although the leaders justify the action as a necessary preemptive strike (I don’t think Roberts has a contemporary political message in mind here; he’s following history pretty closely), the realities of the thing are pretty brutal, and Halfdan does things it’s hard to root for.

(I pretty much dodged this problem in my Erling books. I sent Erling on one raid, but had it happen off-stage. Generally I kept him busy with politics and magical enemies.)

I still recommend Dragons From the Sea. It might not be for the more sensitive of the younger readers, though. (The violence isn’t gratuitous, and there’s no sex.) Good book.

Notes from a cold climate

The timing was spot on. In my mental calendar, November is a cool month that’s all about Thanksgiving. December is a white, snowy month that’s all about Christmas. So on the selfsame day that I turned the calendar page, the Frost Giants dropped four inches of heavenly sugar on us, like theater techies lowering the “Winter Scene” backdrop from the flyspace over the year’s stage, right on cue.

But four inches was all it was. No mighty blizzard. Commerce did not cease. Schools wouldn’t have closed if it had been a weekday (probably some would have been delayed, but they wouldn’t have closed).

It did keep me from doing any Christmas shopping. The roads were kind of slick, and as you know, one of my secret shames is that Mrs. Hermanson, my Chevy Tracker, does not actually have operative four wheel drive.

I did go out, though, to my regular Chinese buffet. The Guangzhou Restaurant in Robbinsdale has become my steady Saturday lunch venue. Their buffet is not extensive, but it’s good food, and not expensive. And now they know me, and pretty much expect me. I’ve achieved the status of “regular.” They don’t actually know my name, but I have a regular booth.

It’s not hard to have a regular booth on Saturdays at the Guangzhou. I think they do a pretty fair weekday business, but on Saturdays I’m sometimes the only one around. If I don’t show up, I think of all that food going to waste, and I feel guilty. (Not that most of it doesn’t go to waste even if I do show up. Even I don’t eat that much.)

But I didn’t drive there. That is silly on the face of it, I know. All summer, when the walking was easy, I drove to the restaurant. Saturday, when the arctic wind was blowing and snow was piling up, I trudged through the drifts. This was because, aside from the minimal danger of dying of exposure, my feet were more dependable than my slightly bald tires would have been on the streets that day.

I think I’ll walk to the restaurant more often in the future.

Starting next spring.

Via Mirabilis: You know that Gospel of Judas that National Geographic made a big production of last year? The one that suggested that Judas was actually following Jesus’ instructions in betraying him, and was a great saint in Heaven?

Never mind.

Turns out it was just a bad translation.

Could happen to anybody, right? Who among us has not promoted a major TV special and sponsored a national promotional campaign on the basis of a quick-and-dirty, slanted translation?

You don’t imagine there was any agenda here, do you? Is it possible that some people at NG jumped the gun on publication and fact-checking because they had an ax to grind against Christianity?

No, no. Forget I suggested it.

Report on an amusing evening

I went to my Viking Age Club & Society meeting tonight (the snow isn’t expected till sometime in the morning–maybe not even till the afternoon).

Anyway, I took the exit from Hiawatha Ave. onto Lake Street in Minneapolis. And there, on a corner in the underpass, stood a guy with one of those hand-lettered cardboard signs. It said:





Full marks for honesty to that fellow. (No, I didn’t give him anything.)

At the meeting, members of the club gave me a Christmas gift, which was entirely unexpected. It was a copy of the new Sissel Christmas CD, in concert with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I have it on the stereo at this moment, and it’s lovely.

It’s also autographed.

Just when I think I’ve got the world figured out, somebody’s nice to me. Sheesh.

The end of Evel

Evel Knievel has died, if you hadn’t heard. I was never a follower of his career, but I thought I’d mention it since he professed faith in Christ a while back. His connection with Robert Schuller gives me pause, personally, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he made The Really Big Jump successfully.

I was once in a fellowship group in Florida where three of the guys had first been drawn to Christ through watching Schuller on TV. By the time I met them, all of them had left Schuller’s brand of pop-salvationism behind for more nourishing spiritual fare.

Here’s a rhetorical question:

When you’ve got crowds of thousands who’ve turned out to demand the execution of a middle-aged schoolteacher because she allowed the little girls in her class to name a teddy bear “Muhammad,” are you allowed to point out the self-evident fact that those people (in particular, making no assumptions about their fellow countrymen or co-religionists) are scumferrets?

No, probably not.

Another rhetorical question:
Do you think some of these people’s anger might possibly arise, not from her perceived blasphemy, but from the fact that she comes from another country and has a different skin color?

No, no. Impossible. That could only happen in America.

We’re expecting a snow storm tomorrow. I was planning to do some Christmas shopping, but I may be snowbound. If you don’t hear from me again, notify my next of kin—whatsername, that hot chick from House.

Jack’s birthday

Somebody mentioned it today, and I looked it up, and it’s true—it’s C.S. Lewis’ birthday. He was born November 29, 1898. I’m not an anti-smoking zealot, but I wish he hadn’t been a puffer. We might have had him around into the ’70s or ’80s.

Not that this helps you. You read this blog tomorrow, don’t you? I’m a day late. I should have told you about it Wednesday.

That’s me. Always on the receding slope of the bell curve. Yesterday I looked at my desk calendar to see when I needed to send out memos to instructors, so they could get their book orders to me.

Turns out I should have done it last week.

Today as I was leaving work, I thought about stopping at the grocery store. Then a voice in my head said, “No, you have something else to do tonight.”

“What could it be?” I wondered. I consulted my pocket calendar.

I had an appointment to give blood.

Two nights ago.

Ack. I’ve become one of those embarrassing old bachelors who misses all his appointments, dribbles food on his vest and is the last to know when he has holes in his clothes.

I need a keeper.

Not a book review

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Not just long, long ago, though. I think of Christina Rossetti’s poem every time Christmas approaches and the temperature tumbles. I even used to think of it when I lived in Florida, when Christmas approached and the temperature plunged to something we’d call “brisk” up here. The snow hasn’t fallen, snow on snow, yet, but the spike has been driven down into the bone.

The liturgical question for times like these is, “Cold enough for ya?” to which the liturgical response is… puzzlement. There’s no good answer to “Cold enough for ya?” If you say “Yes,” it’s lame, and if you say “No,” you’re obviously insane. Most of us twist our mouths up (which hurts, because our lips are paralyzed) and try to figure out some kind of clever response. But there is none. Nobody has ever gotten off a good answer to that question. The guy who asked the question has swept all the points. He may be spouting clichés, but at least he hasn’t been struck dumb like you, you poor sap.

Thus do we torment one another on the frozen steppes.

What follows is not a book review.
I am not qualified to review this book.

I re-read Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer out of desperation. It was early Sunday evening, and I’d just finished Koontz’ Brother Odd, and had no new books in the house. So I went to the shelf and pulled out The Moviegoer. I’m not a Percy fanatic, for reasons that shall be made clear, but I approve of him in principle, and I very much enjoyed The Thanatos Syndrome, his last novel, in which he condescended to write a thriller for common folk like me, and did a bang-up job.

The Moviegoer
is the kind of book that makes me feel like Bertie Wooster, when he assumed that Jeeves’ pocket Spinoza was a murder mystery. The book exists on a level far above my poor powers of comprehension. I think I understand it a little better now than I did the first time I read it, but that’s not saying a whole lot.

The story, set around 1960, concerns Binx Bolling, the narrator, who is a scion of an old Louisiana family. He makes his living selling stocks and bonds, and everyone agrees he was designed for better things. Binx isn’t sure of that, and a career isn’t really his primary concern. What he worries about is what he calls the “malaise” which dogs him. He’s a veteran of the Korean War, and the only time he can remember when he felt really alive was the time just after he was wounded. He goes to movies regularly, not because he wants life to be a movie or can’t tell the difference between the two, but because they distract him from the malaise.

Love seems to be his best hope, but he’s gone through several girlfriends (all of them his secretaries; they were more tolerant of that sort of thing in those days), and although they excite him we can tell he’s not genuinely engaged with them. More serious are his feelings for his distant cousin, Kate, who’s more messed up than Binx is. She takes pills and is suicidal. Eventually Binx runs off with her to Chicago, which sets off a crisis that finally decides how he will live out the rest of his life.

How we’re supposed to feel about that ending, I haven’t a clue.

But people I admire say it’s a great book, and I trust them.

Book Review: Brother Odd, by Dean Koontz

Our commenter Aitchmark recommended Dean Koontz’ Odd Thomas books to me. I dragged my feet, because I’d read one Koontz and wasn’t terribly impressed. I didn’t think he used language very skillfully.

But I picked up Brother Odd last week, and frankly it turned my world upside down and gave it a good shake.

I still don’t think Koontz is a very good wordsmith. Time and again it seemed to me he was aiming for effects he wasn’t achieving.

But in Odd Thomas he has created a character who won my heart, and I’ll bet he’ll win yours too. You should not pick up this one first, though, but go back to the earlier books in the series to get the tragedies in sequence, because it does make a difference.

Odd Thomas (Odd is his first name. He explains it as a typo on his birth certificate, where it was supposed to say, “Todd.” Koontz doesn’t seem to be aware that Odd is an uncommon but not unknown Norwegian name, a variant of “Odin”) is a young man who makes his living as a fry cook. He is totally unremarkable (disregarding the pain he has suffered in his life) except for his unusual gift. Like the kid in The Sixth Sense and that girl on the TV show, he sees dead people.

But it’s harder for him than it is for them, because the dead don’t speak to him. The ghosts who linger in this world, in these stories, are mute. They are usually the victims of murder, and it’s Odd’s task to figure out their unspoken secrets and give them rest.

This all sounds very New Age, but it’s anything but that. Odd is a devout, practicing Roman Catholic.

In Brother Odd, in fact, he has left his California home and entered a Colorado monastery, overwhelmed by the personal losses he experienced in earlier adventures. It’s fairly quiet there for him—the only resident ghost is a monk who hanged himself in the bell tower and appears only occasionally.

But it doesn’t stay quiet. Besides ghosts, Odd is able to see spirits he calls “bodachs,” dark, shadowy figures that always gather in advance of acts of massive death and violence.

At the beginning of the story, Odd sees three of them. And they head straight for the monastery’s associated school, where the nuns care for retarded and handicapped children.

In his efforts to prevent whatever unknown horror is threatening the children, Odd must uncover the secrets of the monastery residents.

But these aren’t the kind of secrets you expect in a contemporary thriller. The monks and nuns are not practicing secret sexual rituals, or abusing the children, or plotting the overthrow of democracy. They are, by and large, sweet souls, the kind of people you can believe have given their lives in service to God and their fellow man. (I have to give Koontz tremendous props for these characterizations. As C.S. Lewis noted [I think] in The Four Loves, good characters are “the very devil” for an author.)

No, the secrets are deeper than that, and the evil resides in a place Dan Brown would have never imagined.

Koontz got completely past my reservations about his style, and grabbed me with the characters and the story. I don’t often cry over a book, but Brother Odd got to me.

Highly recommended. I’ve got to read the earlier installments, Odd Thomas and Forever Odd.