All posts by Lars Walker

Vanity, vanity, says the preacher

Phil sent me this link to a story about evidence (through chicken bone analysis, no less) that the Polynesians sailed to South America about a century before Columbus.

This, as Phil mentions in his note, still leaves them about 400 years behind Leif Eriksson.

But it doesn’t surprise me in the least. The Polynesians were truly phenomenal blue water sailors.

What particularly intrigued me was the idea that Thor Heyerdahl might have been right, but backwards. Although he proved with his Kon Tiki voyage that it was possible for South Americans to have populated the South Pacific islands, recent DNA studies have proved that Polynesians are not the descendents of Native Americans.

Apparently the voyage was made at least once, though. Only it was in the opposite direction than Heyerdahl theorized.


Speaking of Norwegians, I’ve been asked to give a short talk at a heritage-themed service at my home church later this month. In looking for information on one of the early pastors, I came on an old book called Fifty Years in America, by N. N. Rønning (long out of print. Don’t even bother looking for it on Amazon).

Rønning came to America from Norway in the 1880s, about the same time my own people arrived. He had a more intellectual bent than most immigrants, though, and eventually attended the University of Minnesota, ending up as a professional writer.

He gives character sketches in the book of some of his teachers at the U. of M., including Cyrus Northrop, the university president:

In an address delivered November 18, 1908, at Whitman College, Washington, [Northrop] said:

“I would not stay one day at a state university if I were hampered in the maintenance of Christianity, and were compelled to recognize agnosticism as being as good as Christianity. I said to the Regents of the University of Minnesota in my inaugural address that I must be free as a believer in Christianity, and daily service in chapel, with singing of hymns, reading of scriptures and prayer to God has gone on all these years, and hundreds of students daily attend these services, their attendance being entirely voluntary….”

In another address delivered at the commencement of the University of Wisconsin, June 21, 1893, he said: “I have a very genuine contempt for a class of men who are forever proclaiming the failure of Christianity, or the failure of education, or the failure of the human mind, or the failure of God, because everything is not yet perfect.”

Minnesotans today know Northrop’s name primarily from Northrop Memorial Auditorium, a stadium at the university that’s named in his honor. Here’s its web site. You’ll note that one of the first events listed on the schedule (if you’re reading this in the archive, sometime in the future, never mind—it will have changed by now) is an event called “Glitter and Be Gay.”

You know, some days I feel like the guy in Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 (NIV): “I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.”

But I suppose that would make me like one of the men Northrop expressed contempt for in 1893.

Update: Phil tells me the original message came from reader Greg Smith, and he forwarded it to me. For the record.

Letting Lewis be interesting in my place

Pretty good weekend. My big project Saturday was to take a plane to the tops of a couple doors. The bedroom doors in my house haven’t closed properly since I’ve been here. I suspect it has to do with their being painted at some time in the past, while most of the woodwork in the place is original finish (and beautiful). I, being me, was willing to live with it, but my renter asked to get it fixed, and I could hardly deny the justice of that request. It was a little more work than I expected, and I never got his door completely right. I’ll have to take it off the hinges to do that. Maybe one day. For now, both doors will close and latch, which is a major improvement.

Sunday was a Viking occasion, at the annual Danish Day at Danebo Hall in Minneapolis. Because of weather we had to set up inside the building, which cramped our style a bit. Our combat was a scheduled portion of the program, so we only got one set of three fights in (it was just Ragnar and me, and I got one kill, which is as good as it gets for me). I sold a total of four books, two of them to members of our own group.

I also finished The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. III, another accomplishment not to be sneezed at, even in allergy season. Here’s a few more excerpts, which attentive readers will recognize as a pretty good sign that I’m in a vegetative mental state today:

From a letter to Joan Lancaster, Aug. 11, 1959:

I’m all for the Gauls myself and I hate all conquerors. But I never knew a woman who was not all for Caesar—just as they were in his life-time.

From a letter to Father Richard Ginder, Aug. 18, 1960:

I wonder do we blame T.V. and the Comics too much? Was not a certain sort of boy in a certain sort of home wasting his time just as badly in other ways before they were invented? It annoys me when parents who read nothing but the newspapers themselves—i.e. nothing but lies, libels, poppycock, propaganda, and pornography—complain of their children reading the Comics! Upon my soul I think the children’s diet is healthier than their parents’.

From a letter to Mrs. R. E. Herman, Oct. 10, 1960:

The queer thing is that this horror of the [mentally] deficient is quite modern. Our ancestors don’t seem to have felt it at all. On this, as on many other subjects, we have grown odiously and wickedly ‘refined’.

From a letter to Mary Willis Shelburne, July 31, 1962:

Yes, it is strange that anyone should dislike cats. But cats themselves are the worst offenders in this respect. They very seldom seem to like one another.

That’s all for tonight. Now scroll down and watch the Sissel clip again.

Sissel song: “Marry Me”

I don’t usually post on weekends, but I just found a YouTube link to share. I’m about a light year behind everybody else on things like this, and I’ve only been exploring YouTube recently. I checked out The Divine Sissel, and found that this number is available.

It’s a country song, which isn’t her usual medium, but I think it’s a lot of fun, and it might help explain my enthusiasm for this really remarkable talent. Also check her rendition of the contemporary gospel number, “My Tribute.”

O frabjous day!

This has been a good day. I’ll say it openly, knowing it’s entirely contrary to my idiom, and throwing myself open completely to all kinds of joshing from commenters.

The air conditioning guy came today to do the warranty work. I had to take the afternoon off work to be here.

The first pleasant surprise was that, instead of just replacing the condenser (as I’m sure the woman on the phone said) he replaced the whole unit.

The second pleasant surprise was that he asked for no more than the regular deductible in payment. The woman on the phone had said there’d be extra charges for parts.

Oh, I expect the other shoe will drop in a couple days, and some kind of horrendous bill will hit me like a cosh to the back of the head, but for today life is good.

More snippets from The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. III:

From a letter to Mary Van Deusen, July 7, 1955:

Don’t let anyone bully you into avoiding sentences with a preposition at the end! It’s an arbitrary rule that most great writers took no notice of. The Authorized Version and E. Burke thought a preposition a very good word to end with. So there!

From a letter to Mary Willis Shelburne, Sept. 8, 1956:

…(that journalists can be saved is a doctrine, if not contrary to, yet certainly above, reason!).

From a letter to Martin Kilmer, Jan. 22, 1957

The (Narnia) books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there is plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get into Aslan’s country in the end—in her own way.

From a letter to Clyde S. Kilby, Feb. 10, 1957:

The children (in Till We Have Faces) made mud pies not for symbolic purposes but because children do.

From a letter to Francis Warner, July 15, 1959:

So many people, when they begin ‘research’, lose all desire, and presently all power, of writing clear, sharp, and unambiguous English. Hold onto your finite transitive verb, your concrete nouns, and the muscles of language (but, through, for, because etc.).

A good weekend to all of you.

Lewis-ly translated

It isn’t every day I get a cartoon dedicated to me. Thanks, Phil.

Now try and get your comment utility fixed.

Haven’t live-blogged The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. III, for a few days. I’m still at it. I’ve gotten through Lewis’ death, thinking dark thoughts of mortality, and now I’m in the resurrection land of the Supplement section, where Hooper prints some letters he left out of the earlier volumes, then decided he wanted to include after all. After this comes the “Great War” supplement, in which all Lewis’ letters to Owen Barfield, arguing about Theosophy, are gathered in one place.

Anyway, here are a few excerpts that interested and/or amused me:

From a letter to Mary Van Deusen, Oct. 3, 1953:

It is hard, when difficulties arise to know whether one is meant to overcome them or whether they are signs that one is on the wrong track.

From a letter to Dom Bede Griffiths, Jan. 30, 1954:

The trouble with Thackeray, is that… all his ‘good’ people are not only simple, but simpletons. That is a subtle poison wh. comes in with the Renaissance: the Machiavellian (intelligent) villain presently producing the idiot hero. The Middle Ages didn’t make Herod clever and knew the devil was an ass. There is really an un-faith about Thackeray’s ethics…. No conception that the purification of the will… leads to the enlightenment of the intelligence.

From a letter to Katharine Farrer, Feb. 3, 1954:

The bearings of this are wide, as you’ll see if you reflect on the difference between drawing a nude and verbally describing it, or the impossibility of mentioning Cheko-Slovakia (is that how you spell it) at the apex of a lyric however deeply one may feel about that country.

From a letter to Chad Walsh, Dec. 3, 1955:

I’ve often thought that if I wrote a play I’d do it in verse but type it as prose. In the present state of the human ear no publisher, manager, actor, or audience wd. recognize it, not even if it was in heroic couplets or the metre of Hiawatha.

One thing that constantly exercises my limited powers of charity throughout these books is the fact that Lewis consistently spells “all right,” “alright.” I personally consider “alright” an atrocity against the English language. However, as one quickly learns in reading the letters, Lewis wasn’t a very good speller.

In relation to that, it’s often been said that Lewis had a photographic memory. Someone who knew him wrote somewhere (I can’t find it; I can never find the Lewis reference I want. No photographic memory here) that if you named a page number from any book Lewis had ever read, he could recite the contents of that page verbatim for you. This would seem to be an exaggeration. He uses many quotations in the letters, and the notes show that they’re only approximately correct, like his spelling. His memory was obviously phenomenal, but it wasn’t exact.

Follow my advice and you’ll go to the Dogs

I’m still beat tonight. Had another good night’s sleep, and my eye-bags have receded somewhat, like one of Sen. Gore’s icebergs, but I’m still shot from the weekend. I mowed the lawn after work, and now I’m about ready to collapse in a wrinkled, damp pile in a corner, like a college guy’s tee-shirt.

So I’ll redirect you to this post, composed by someone who calls himself “The Big Stink” (I assume it’s a he; rare is the woman who’d voluntarily assume a name like that) at an excellent Twin Cities blog called Freedom Dogs. I wish someone had told me these things at graduation. I wish I had the courage to put some of them into practice even today.

Back from the wars

I made it back from Iowa all right, thanks for asking. I came home physically beat, not only due to insomnia caused by sleeping in a strange bed (how strange I’ll explain further on), but because I’d slept badly all week leading up to the trip. So I figure I’m still about three nights in the red, even though I slept nine hours straight when I got back to my own mattress Sunday night (the first time I’ve slept that long at a stretch since… roughly 1995). I have massive swellings, like goggles (visible in my peripheral vision) around my eyes, making me resemble the British actor Michael Gambon even more than I usually do.

The weekend went fine. For those of you joining us for the first time, I made a six-hour trip to Elk Horn, Iowa for the Tivoli Danish Festival this past weekend. A Viking encampment has been part of the festivities for several years now, and I and a couple others from the Viking Age Society of the Sons of Norway joined a much larger group from Omaha in adding to the ambience by wearing our Viking outfits and whacking each other with blunt swords.

This year’s festival was more successful than last year’s. Saturday morning was rainy, but things cleared up and in the afternoon we had a creditable encampment going, and got some fighting in. In fact, I believe it may have been the largest Viking encampment they’ve ever assembled for that event. We were able to field two “armies” of eight men each for the group fights. That’s certainly the largest I’ve ever been involved in.

The good citizens of Elk Horn have allocated funds, (public and private, I believe) for the construction of a Viking house, next to the genuine Danish windmill they imported from the Old Country a few years back. Here’s how it looks right now:

Viking house

It’s not completed inside, and that makes this the embarrassing stage, since a lot of cheating has gone into the construction. When it’s done it ought to look authentic, but a truly authentic house, aside from being expensive and time-consuming to construct, has a short life expectancy (they rot). The Danes of Elk Horn want a house that’ll last a while, and so concrete footings and plastic moisture barriers and plywood are much in evidence now. Here’s the interior:


That’s Sam from Missouri, who brought his Viking boat again and set up a crucible to cast commemorate pewter coins, which he sold for the benefit of the house project. He’s working on the casting in the picture. I expect he wouldn’t be delighted to be featured on a Christian blog, but on the other hand he’ll probably never know.

On the tallish bench behind him, in the space between the upright posts, was where I made my bed, by permission of John, the project honcho. That’s how Vikings generally slept—on fixed benches along the walls of their houses (although I’ve always thought of the benches as somewhat lower than this). My inflatable mattress fit almost perfectly in the space, as it happened.

We had fireworks on Saturday night, and they were impressive. According to what I was told, the spectacle wasn’t orchestrated by professionals but by the local pharmacist, who does it as a hobby. Perhaps he benefited by having explosives stored up, since the fireworks were cancelled due to weather last year. In any case he did not fall prey to the mistake many pyrotechnicians make, of shooting up a fancy rocket that does something nobody’s seen before, and then pausing to give the audience time to appreciate it and applaud. That slows everything down. This guy didn’t spare himself. He kept it moving and had the bombs bursting in air pretty much constantly. I’ve seen far less impressive spectacles done by much larger towns, and I don’t recall being more impressed even at Disney World.

We got some good fighting in. I felt extremely diffident the first day, observing how much better our hosts were than we were (they practice pretty much every weekend; our practices and our demonstrations are generally the same things). Also a couple guys from Canada were there to demonstrate their somewhat different system, which permits much nastier blows (but uses anachronistic plate armor protection). The second day felt better, although I never overcame my deepest sin as a warrior—I forget my discipline when the armies engage and break out of the shield wall. This, if you know your Viking history, is a capital mistake that caused big defeats at Stamford Bridge and Hastings, among other battles.

I have a nasty purple bruise on my left shoulder, and my neck is sore from falling over backwards on top of another warrior with my torso on the ground but my head on his stomach. All that’s OK. I like going away a little hurt.

Thanks to the people of Elk Horn, and to the Skjaldborg group, for a memorable and successful long weekend.

Viking blood

Gave blood after work tonight. The venue was the VFW post in Golden Valley, where they’re broadminded enough to accept slightly-less-red blood from non-veterans like me. They also serve sloppy joes (although the sandwiches are smaller now than they used to be. On the other hand, they’re free).

They were busy tonight, so it took longer than I’m used to. Also my draining was delayed when a lady got poked wrong, and they had to summon all hands to apply pressure, cauterize, mop up blood spill, lie to the press, etc.

On the other hand, I got the cute young female tech. I gave her a piece of advice, as an old veteran blood donor—“Bear down with that Betadine swab. When you use pressure, it doesn’t tickle.”

She did not thank me. On the other hand, she didn’t allow me to bleed to death, so it all works out.

Something has been changed every time I give blood. This time they gave us brightly colored plastic balls to roll in our hands to promote blood flow, instead of the pieces of plastic tubing they used to use. I’m not sure if that’s an improvement or not. I’ll have to ponder the positives and negatives before I come to a final conclusion. By which time they’ll have switched to Beanie Babies or something.

No post from me tomorrow, I’m afraid. I’m driving down to Elk Horn, Iowa, again, for the Tivoli Festival. The Danes of Elk Horn have invested in building a genuine Viking house next to their landmark windmill, and I’ve been granted the privilege of sleeping in it.

Also I’ll get to bash and be bashed, which is usually good for my mental health.

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you’ve probably guessed I could use some bashing.

I’ll give a full report when I get back. Assuming I do. Maybe pictures too.

It’s not raining wisdom

We’ve been having a dry spell, but that broke today, in the sense that Scotch Highland bulls break china in shops and politicians break promises not to raise taxes.

It had been cloudy for a couple days, but showers had been spotty. So today didn’t look like much of a change. As the day wore on, though, the sky darkened and lowered (that’s not “lowered” as in “got lower,” but “lowered” as in Longfellow’s “…when night is beginning to lower.” It rhymes with “flower”). The darker it got, the more you expected it to be raining when you checked out the window, and the more you were surprised that it wasn’t yet. Obviously a lot of potential energy was building up. You began to expect a plague of frogs or something.

Then the rain came all at once, gusting in on a billow of wind. It rained hard, and then it hailed for a while. The hail stopped but the rain went on.

My African library assistant seemed frightened by the whole thing. I’d had the idea that they get pretty severe weather back where he comes from, but it all seemed new to him.

Which doesn’t have anything at all to do with my subject for today’s post.

I was thinking about being young, and trying to be wise (I know I’m far removed from being young, but I can remember that far back. Also I’m remarkably immature. And I didn’t say “being wise.” I said “trying to be wise”).

I often wonder about the value of sharing wisdom with young people. We all try to do it. It seems a waste to go through all the hard learning experiences we’ve had, if we can’t pass that experience on to the young.

The problem, it seems to me, is that wisdom is a thing you can’t really share.

You heard your elders give you the same advice you want to pass on now, didn’t you, once long ago? Did it help?

Of course not. Because the maxims and bromides and proverbs and aphorisms never mean anything until you’ve bumped up against life and gotten some bruises. Touched a few hot stoves and gotten burned.

It’s only then—only after a few bruises and burns have been collected, that the sayings of your elders suddenly start to make sense.

When I was a kid I made a conscious effort to follow the advice I heard from old people. I did this because I was more cowardly than most people my age, and I wanted any excuse I could wangle to avoid taking risks.

And it didn’t work. I had the words right, but the music was wrong. Wisdom only operates, it seems, in those who are inclined to act foolishly in the first place. For the cautious and prudent, like me, the rules turn out to be kind of counterproductive.

The moral? Go ahead. Tell the kids not to play in the street.

But be prepared to see them get hit by cars anyway.

The consolation is that the survivors will probably listen.

Irony defined

I can’t find a reference in The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. III right now, but in a couple of the letters Lewis expresses his deep dislike for the “modern” fashion of printing book titles sideways on book spines, so that you have to tilt your head to read them on the shelves.

He likes his titles printed so they’ll read horizontally, straight across.

The current volume of this series features a spine over 2 ½ inches wide. If they’d called the book The Collected and Edited Letters of the Immortal Clive Staples Lewis, Copiously Annotated and Furnished With Supplements Containing Previously Unknown Letters As Well As the Entire Body of the “Great War” Correspondence With His Friend Owen Barfield, they still could have almost fit that title in one line across such a massive spine.

But they print the title sideways, so you have to tilt your head to read it on the shelf.

“There’s glory for you,” as Humpty Dumpty would say. Even if you’re C. S. Lewis, world renowned and up on a pedestal only a little below St. Paul’s level in the eyes of many Christians, you still can’t get a publisher to print your covers the way you want them to.

It seems so simple when I explain it to me that way!

I continue live-blogging my reading of Vol. 3 of The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis.

Just went through the year (1960) when Lewis’ wife, Joy Davidman, dies. One of the most poignant things about this part of the book is the fact that Lewis keeps up his mountainous correspondence almost without a break.

It makes you wonder about the people who wrote to him (especially Mary Willis Shelburne, the “American Lady” of Letters to an American Lady, the quality of whose letters you can only guess based on his replies. But she apparently thought of him as her personal unpaid counselor, a man with nothing in the world to do but advise her on how to pay her bills and get along with her daughter). One thinks of that poor man, himself in bad health, who had for years considered his personal correspondence a sort of hairshirt that he bore for the love of Christ, pushing his arthritic hand across the paper just as he always had, even with his heart broken.

If I’d been in his place, I’m pretty sure I’d have said, “I deserve some personal freedom just now.” I’d have sent form letters to all but my real friends, and I’d have assumed that the real friends would understand a period of silence.

The first letter in the book after Joy’s funeral is one to a lady in Fairbanks, Alaska (not Mrs. Shelburne). She has asked about something Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain about God’s compassion. She apparently has some trouble reconciling the doctrine of God’s impassivity (the fact that he has no emotions in the human sense) with the biblical picture of God as being loving, angry, jealous, etc.

Lewis’ answer is somewhat philosophical, talking about how God is essentially a Mystery, whom we can never comprehend.

This is true. But I’m going to make so bold as to offer a (partial) explanation. Needless to say, if it’s true someone has doubtless said it before, and you’re free to tell me about it. If it’s original, I’m probably wrong.

But here’s how I see it.

We’re handicapped in thinking about God by the fact that we are singular beings who live in time, while He is a Trinitarian Being who dwells in eternity.

In other words, it seems to me, we can’t understand how someone can be unchanging and yet have emotions, because for us emotions always involve change.

But God is capable of being both loving and angry at the same time. (And when I say “at the same time, I’m obviously speaking from our point of view. From God’s point of view the statement is meaningless.) He has always been loving, and He has always been angry (at the perversion of His creation we call evil; in fact His anger is just a facet of His love). He doesn’t have to switch from one to another. It’s all eternally present with Him.

So now I’ve settled it for you.

You may thank me by buying my books.

I’ll even answer letters, in moderation.

American Pietist

It’s been an interesting week. Special thanks to everyone who commented (and so civilly) on my post about divorce. I learned some things I hadn’t known, which I’d like to list and examine, as an exercise in humility.

On the basis of my upbringing, and everything I’d heard in my own contacts within my church body, I’d gotten the impression that our official position is “No remarriage after divorce, for any reason.”

I should have known better. First of all, we’re (organizationally) a congregational church body. We try to keep our central mandates to an absolute minimum. Every congregation has the right to make its own decisions on such matters as whom they will marry, and this issue is no different. Some of our churches (and pastors) will marry divorced people, some won’t.

I also hadn’t known (though I think Dale told me before, and I should have) that the Lutheran tradition has held almost universally that remarriage is permitted for innocent parties. The tradition where I grew up, which held a view closer to the Catholic one, is not mainstream but fringe.

I looked some things up, and talked to a couple knowledgeable people, and nobody seems to know where the tradition I’m familiar with first entered the Lutheran stream. I suspect that it may have come with Pietism, which in its purest form insists that any matter that might possibly be considered sin is indeed sin, and must be rejected. That’s why we Pietists have our famous rules against drinking and dancing, rules not actually found in Scripture.

On the other hand, somebody told me he thought the Missouri Synod also had an anti-remarriage tradition, and the Missourians are far from being Pietists. Maybe someone who knows more about that can give me more information.

But the Pietist thing is thorny. I consider myself a Pietist, and I’m proud of it. It’s easy for us, today, to look down on the Pietists and condemn them as loveless rule-jockeys. And there’s plenty of justification for that.

But if you know history, there are reasons for what they did. My own people, the Norwegians, had a reputation you wouldn’t recognize when they first arrived on U.S. shores. They were considered drunken, brawling reprobates, and they deserved it.

I wrote about my great-grandfather John B. Johnson a while back. He was a colorful character, but he was also a genuine monster. When he was drunk, which was often, he was capable of anything. He came home one night (so the story goes), with a friend in tow. He loudly announced he had “sold” his daughter (my grandmother, then a little girl) to his friend for the night. My great-grandmother took a broom to the both of them, fortunately, and nothing came of that.

But are you surprised if she wanted to join the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and wipe out saloons?

In the Pietist revivals, hundreds, even thousands, knelt at the altar and received salvation, and then were expected to live a Pietist life. No drinking. No gambling. No dancing (which was likely to put you in situations where you’d be pressured to drink and gamble). Living like that tends to concentrate you, and it also saves money. It greatly assists your upward mobility. Is it any wonder that Pietist immigrant groups tended to assimilate faster and do better in America than other groups? As Wesley is supposed to have said about his converts, “I just can’t keep them poor!”

And yet, as Joe Carter notes in this post at Evangelical Oupost, it’s unquestionably hubristic to try to be “more ethical than Jesus.”

I’ve long felt that the proper rule is, “I will determine in my heart, relying on Scripture and good counsel, how I believe God wants me to live. But I will not try to impose on anyone else any rule not plainly taught in Scripture.”

Which makes me a wishy-washy Pietist, I guess.

Now I wonder if I should start asking out divorced women. I could open myself up to whole new worlds of rejection.

Ah, well. I’m too poor to date right now anyway.

Syttende Mai, 2007

You may not be aware of this, reserved as I’ve been on the subject, but most of my ancestral roots are Norwegian.

And on this day of days, May 17, I’m bound to write something about Norway. America is my mother, but Norway is my grandmother. And grandmothers are special.

Today’s not Norwegian Independence Day, as many suppose. It’s Constitution Day. The Norwegians drafted their constitution in 1814, when the European powers, flush with victory over Napoleon, wrested Norway from Bonaparte’s ally, Denmark, and awarded it to Sweden. The Norwegians thought this would be a good time to declare independence, and they wrote the constitution as a first step. The king of Sweden responded by marching in troops and killing a few people, then graciously allowed the Norwegians to keep their constitution, but under the Swedish crown.

For the next 90 years, the Norwegians celebrated their Constitution Day annually, as part of a calculated effort to press for independence. At last, in 1905, they got it. But Constitution Day was such a beloved tradition by then that it remains the most revered national holiday, beating Independence Day (June 7) like an egg. There are large parades all over the country on May 17. An important part of the celebrations is children’s parades, with hundreds of small children (where they can assemble hundreds; not easy nowadays in Norway) marching and waving blue, white and red flags, many wearing miniature versions of the national costumes.

Here’s a picture from Norway.


This is the Borgund stave church, a national treasure that’s about 1200 years old. The first stave churches were built in Viking times, but all of those rotted eventually, since the supporting pillars were set in earth. Later they learned to set the pillars in stone sills, and the churches (coated in pitch) became almost immortal, barring lightning strikes, candle accidents and arson. At one time there were hundreds around the country. Today there are a couple dozen. What really did them in was a well-meaning law requiring all parishes to have church buildings capable of holding a minimum number of worshipers. Most congregations had to build new churches, and many of them stopped maintaining the old ones, or even dismantled them. The Borgund church, here, is considered the jewel of the survivors, the best preserved of them all.

I took the picture in 2003, during my first lecture cruise. It was a perfect picture-taking day, as they were having a drought in Norway that year.

I shall close with the traditional Ole joke.

Mrs. Ole called the newspaper. “I vant yoo ta print an announcement for me,” she said. “Print, ‘Ole died.’”

“That’s it?” the newspaper man asked. “Just ‘Ole died’?”

“Ja. Dat’s all anybody needs ta know.”

“But you know, our newspaper gives you five words free for an announcement. Do you want to waste three words? Surely there’s something more you want to say about your late husband.”

Mrs. Ole thought for a moment.

“Print, ‘Ole died. Boat for sale,’” she said.

This one ought to bring in some comments

Took another half day off work today, to welcome another air conditioner tech into the bosom of my home. He looked my late, lamented unit over for the household warranty company, called in his findings (he concurred with the previous diagnosis) and told me the company would get back to me. I’m now waiting for that call.

The possibilities are two. One is that they’ll just replace the dead condenser. This will be good in the sense of saving me money just now, when money’s tight. Less good long-range. The other possibility is that they’ll offer some kind of deal on replacement of the whole shebang, which will raise the problem of how much that may cost, and how I’ll cover it.

Actually there’s a third possibility. They may just deny coverage, which the tech casually remarked they did on the last unit he inspected for them.

A number of decisions about what I’ll be doing this summer await that final verdict.

Learned something new from Vol. III of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis today.

It had always seemed a little… squishy to me, the way Lewis maintained (as he does in a couple letters in this volume) that there can be no Christian remarriage after divorce, right up until the time he fell in love with a divorced woman and wanted to marry her. (The original BBC version of Shadowlands deals with this dilemma, by the way, while the later theatrical version ignores it.) One understands the power of love, of course, not to mention his heroic willingness to take on married life (and step-fatherhood) with a woman he expected to die very soon. But it seemed a little self-serving, in view of his previously expressed views.

But Hooper notes here, between letters written in March, 1957:

About the time Joy was admitted to hospital with cancer, Lewis discovered that William Gresham had been legally married before his marriage to Joy, and that his first wife had been alive at the time of this second marriage. Lewis took the view of the Catholic Church that his second marriage was therefore invalid, leaving Joy free to marry again.

I’m aware that the No Remarriage rule doesn’t have many Protestant (probably not even many Catholic) adherents these days, but that passage comforted me.

And when I say that, I want to make it very, very clear that I don’t want to start a debate on the subject. My own church body holds to the old, hard rule, and I personally agree with it, which is one of many reasons I’m still single (Let’s face it—the best single women in my age group are almost always divorced).

You should see the angry e-mails I got a few years back, when I took out an ad on a Christian singles website and tried to explain—really, really gently—that I couldn’t consider marriage to a divorced woman. A couple writers accused me of saying “everybody who’s divorced is going to Hell.”

What I say is, let everyone be convinced in their own consciences, and I’m happy to leave the judgment to God.

(By the way, I went through a self-serving period myself, when I lived in Florida. I attended an excellent singles group down there, and it included a number of admirable and very attractive divorced women. I found myself unaccountably persuaded, for a while, that remarriage was permissible. But I never got a date anyway.)

Now let the flaming begin.

When Scourby last with his great voice boom’d

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,

And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,

I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,

Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,

And thought of him I love.

O powerful western fallen star!

O shades of night — O moody, tearful night!

O great star disappear’d — O the black murk that hides the star!

O cruel hands that hold me powerless — O helpless soul of me!

O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.

In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,

Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,

With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,

With every leaf a miracle — and from this bush in the dooryard,

With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,

A sprig with its flower I break.

That’s from the poem “When Lilacs Last In the Dooryard Bloom’d,” by Walt Whitman. I thought of it tonight during my evening walk, a little late, which is typical for me. The lilacs are disappearing now. Too bad. Lilacs have always meant a lot to me. We had some big lilac bushes in the front yard on the farm where I grew up (I understand my Uncle Orvis, who reads this blog, planted them originally). They looked pretty, and they smelled good, and they weren’t any trouble to take care of. And if you pulled the little flower out of its stem (my brothers and I learned) and sucked on its narrow base, there was a tiny little drop of sweetness you could taste.

It also brings memories of a reading of Whitman by the actor Alexander Scourby (famous for his Bible recordings) which I heard in college. I was working as a library assistant, and the librarian was in charge of booking cultural events for the school. When I heard that Scourby was coming I went ape (well, actually I allowed some emotion to cross my face. Pretty excessive for me) because I’d grown up listening to a record my folks had bought for educational purposes, featuring Scourby’s voice reading poetry. It was from Scourby I learned “Gunga Din.”

Shortly before the date of the event, the librarian asked me if I’d like to be one of the students having dinner with Scourby before the reading. Naturally I said, yes, please.

But as the day approached, the librarian said no more about it.

A reasonable person would have asked a question. I’m not a reasonable person, of course. In the environment where I grew up, asking about something a second time was a guaranteed way to make sure you’d be turned down. Just to teach you not to bother people.

So I said nothing, and waited for information to be given. None came. I never got the chance to meet Scourby, and never mentioned it to the librarian again. The reading was wonderful, and I remember that Scourby wore the most beautiful gray suit I’d ever seen.

The librarian did give me a publicity photo of the man, which I think I still have somewhere. And I remember each spring, when I smell the lilacs.