All posts by Phil W

Mark Bertrand on That Reoccurring Question

Mr. Bertrand talks about some pitfalls with that oft-discussed question of Christian artistic excellence.

Fiction has been called “a lie that tells the truth,” a paradox that goes to the heart of the difficulty — and explains why, historically, evangelicals have been suspicious of art and its makers. Many evangelical artists have internalized their community’s critique of art, which has led them to seek ways of doing art that evade the ‘evils’ their fellow believers have articulated. This desire not to be tainted by the criticism has, I think, contributed to the mediocrity problem. Some have been quick to dismiss what they didn’t understand, just to remain in solidarity with other evangelical critics.

For related post (as if he needs me to point out his good posts), see Mr. Bertrand’s posts on “edgy fiction”: Edgy Fiction: A 5-Part Spectrum and Mauriac’s Edgy Fiction

If a god showed up every time

Canadian Author Margaret Atwood is quoted by Bill Moyers on his “Faith & Reason” site: “If a god showed up every time you put a quarter in the prayer slot it wouldn’t be God, it would be a puppet that you could control by doing that…that would make the deity subservient to you. So it wouldn’t be a deity would it?”

That’s good. It points a problem many Christians have, because we kick around a lot of bad theology on prayer. God never announced that he would pardon us for specific sins after we repeat a memorized prayer nor does he wait for us to use specific phrases from the Bible in our prayers before acting with power. He is the Lord of all creation and everyone in it. No one can stop him from doing what he wants and no one can make him act.

For more on this idea, I recommend a book by J.B. Phillips called, Your God Is Too Small.

Before the Brave New World

John Miller writes about the Soviet “Brave New World” written before Aldous Huxley’s. It is We by the shunned Russian novelist Yevgeny Zamyatin, completed in 1921 and release in a new English transation this month. It wasn’t published in Russia until 1988 because it harshly criticized the Evil Empire. Mr. Miller describes it:

We is also the product of a powerful imagination. It describes a futuristic world dominated by the One State, which is devoted to “mathematically infallible happiness.” Because freedom is supposedly the enemy of happiness, the One State strives to eradicate all marks of individuality. “To be original means to somehow stand out from others,” says one character. “Consequently, being original is to violate equality.”

What They Look For in a Book

Lit-bloggers are declaring their reading preferences. Scott of Converational Reading started the ball rolling. Dan of the Emerging Writers Network and Ed Champion of Return of the Reluctant pick it up.

I’d love to blog about this, but I am utterly unqualified. I still feel a strong urge to read whatever-it-is because I’m supposed to, even when I know I’m not. You won’t get preferences from me in an easy-to-read list. I could play the postmodern card and say no definite list exists, but the truth is I’m weak in the head. I’ve even read a couple Harry Potter books. Perhaps you would like to follow the lead of these lit-bloggers and declare your preferences.

It’s A Crime at Harrogate

It’s a Crime! has been blogging on the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. One point I note:

On Saturday afternoon Frances Fyfield conducted an excellent interview with P D James. She was sure to emphasise at the start that P D James is not just a prolific author, but also someone whose life in public service should be recognised and remembered. She brought out all the best in P D James, as an author, and as a woman whose life has inspired and motivated her writing career. P D James was wonderfully open and direct and left the room with a well deserved and respectful standing ovation.

Emily Bronte Was Not a Man

Sherry points out Emily Bronte’s birthday today. She writes: “Some critics insisted that Emily’s novel, Wuthering Heights, must have been written by a man because no woman could have written such a passionate story. Emily Bronte died of tuberculosis one year after the publication of her only novel. She was 30 years old.”

Why do critics argue stupid points like this? I guess it was a different era, when women were not considered valuable members of society or at least literary culture. Our era has its own stupid ideas, such as a constitutional right to privacy and global warming.

Persian Words Only, Please

This just came across our Friends of Fascism desk from Tehran. “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ordered government and cultural bodies to use modified Persian words to replace foreign words that have [insidiously] crept into the language, such as ‘pizzas’ which will now be known as ‘elastic loaves,’ state media reported Saturday.” According the report, “short talk” will replace “chat” and “small room” will replace “cabin.”

Unmentioned in this report is the president’s frequent promise to annihilate Israel.

Rumors suggest Ahmadinejad is writing a memoir called “Hitler’s Mistakes and How I Will Correct Them.” It will be a bestseller by presidential degree.

Watch Out for the One in the Black Hat

When I pointed to Jana Riess’ post on Christy Award nominees last Friday, I remembered some criticism of a Christian suspense novel which I didn’t mention here on BwB. I’m uncomfortable with negative reviews–well, at least of living authors.

I heard Musician Michael Card talk about criticism of his music from the press. I think he said it was almost entirely unhelpful, but he may have said only the negative reviews or pointed critiques were unhelpful, the reason being that the critic is outside the artist’s community. The artist has no relationship with the critic in the press, so negative comments have no context for interpretation. Does the critic really know his subject when he says the artist’s song is a pseudo-type of a purer form (e.g. He says a song has a wanna-be gospel melody. This could be informed feedback or snarkiness.) Card’s point was that artists should live in an active, supportive community with people who can criticize the artwork in a way that builds the artist. Card said he has received only one negative review which helped him, and he thought it showed that his community had failed him by not giving him the same critique before the album was published.

So maybe it’s the same idea that holds me back with some negative criticism I have. I probably should spill forth with vigor and contagious energy whatever positive or negative criticism I can harvest from my fertile brain. And I probably won’t.

Enough of that–what about the book? It was a mystery or suspense novel, so I expected the bad guy, who first appeared in the late middle of the story, to be one of the major characters, maybe one of the more developed minors. There were only a few developed characters, so my expectation didn’t make much sense, but I held it nonetheless. The police floated suspected names from the back-story, not actual characters, but of course if the story went in that direction, it would have felt hollow with no real enemy at all.

The bad guy turned out to be a slightly developed minor character whom my sweet wife had spotted at a distance. She said he was the only character presented in a bad light. I didn’t notice the lighting, but I remember him being an antagonist from the start. I didn’t suspect him because I thought he was too minor a character. And, yes, the story felt a bit hollow because of it.

Another problem I had with this novel was the unannounced Christian flavor. I wasn’t ready to assume the characters were born-again believers before given evidence of their faith, so when the main character prayed quietly, “God, this is a terrible situation,” I assumed he was talking to himself. He did it again later, and I suspected he was praying. At one point, a character was introduced as an unbeliever, and I think that should have been my guideline. Assume faith unless told otherwise. I don’t think that’s a habit I can make.

Hymn: Our Salvation

I put these words to a 15th Century hymn tune, which is often sung as “Sing We Now of Christmas.” You can listen to a good midi version through that link. I also found part of it sampled from this choral album. It has that beautifully ancient quality I admire in many hymns.

Our Salvation

Glory to our God who reigns over everything.

He rebuilds our hearts to give us mind to sing

Of Him, the I Am

Our hope in heaven’s Lamb,

His redemptive choice, and eternal blessing.

The Lord gives His blessing to all who receive

By the mouth confessing, by the heart believe

That Jesus is Lord

And from the grave restored,

That all who come believing may His life receive.

To Love’s gracious call we could not answer then;

For as Adam’s children, we were dead in sin.

But Jesus, our Lord,

Had chosen us before

He set the planets spinning in the solar wind.

Did the Lord Teach Us Nothing?

I like this passage from Lars’ book, The Year of the Warrior, in which the hero is talking to his blind friend, Helge:

. . . I told Helge about Eyvind Ragnvaldsson. “He says the world is an illusion, subject to shaping by those who’ve trained themselves in secret truths. It’s heresy, of course–buut that knife passed straight through his body. I saw it. It jarred me, friend. I’ll say this to you, and to no other living man: Suppose we misunderstood our Lord? Suppose He rose from the dead because He knew that the world of things is but a dream and so was able to impose His will on the dream?”

“That’s easier to believe, I think, when you live by sight. For me, who must meet the world by ever barking my shins on it, it’s hard to shrug off bodies so lightly.”

“But suppose we can’t trust any of our senses?”

“Then why believe what you saw Eyvind do? The knife that passed through him cuts both ways.”

“You’re right, of course. I never thought of it so.”

“But it goes further. You must decide what you believe. Do you believe that our Lord spent three years with His disciples, and they learned nothing from Him at all? Absorbed not an inkling of His real teaching? If so, He was the worst teacher ever born. Can you really believe that?”