All posts by Phil W

The Ardent Fan

From an article on Thomas Pynchon comes this description of a fan.

Tim Ware, who runs the Web site thomaspynchon.com from Oakland, Calif., recalls having a hard time getting through “Gravity’s Rainbow,” at least the first time around.

“I went back and looked again at the first page and everything just sort of snapped into view, and I thought, ‘This guy is a genius,’ like those who walked the Earth in the 19th century,” says Ware.

“And I got rather messianic about it, and I wanted my wife to read it. I started creating an index of all the characters, because there were so many and it was so hard to keep track of them.”

Maybe this is the wrong day for me to read something like this, but with so much going on in our shrinking world, giving yourself to the ardent fandom of Thomas Pynchon seems like a waste.

Don’t Want the Must-Read List

Have you read Blue Like Jazz? What did you think about it? Jared gives it high marks for narcissism and thought message was “Look how cool me and my friends are.” He also cannot recommend A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity, whose authors apparently want to remake God to appeal to the modern world.

I know I’ve always thought the most culturally appealing things about Christianity were genuine godly character and authentic Christian living, which I suppose is another way to say loving our Lord wholeheartedly and loving each other properly. But that’s the most repelling thing about Christianity too. We can count on being slandered for our good deeds. I wonder if the emergent crowd understands that or if they are working to be appealing only.

Eugene Peterson: Recommended

Jared of Thinklings has heartily recommended Eugene Peterson’s books, namely Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. He quotes Petersen, saying, “The blunt reality is that for all our sophistication, learning, and self-study we don’t know enough to run our lives. The sorry state of the lives of the many who have taken their own experience as the text for their lives is a damning refutation of the pretensions of the sovereignty of the self.”

Peterson was a guest on one the Mars Hill Audio Journals this year, and notes from that appearance as well as his entire unedited conversation with Ken Myers are available at marshillaudio.org. Myers notes that “Peterson believes, [the Bible] is too often read in that superficial way, perhaps because we are in a hurry to get down to the real business of life, which we assume can be conducted well with only a quick pit-stop with Jesus. That is not a good way to read anything important, especially the Word of God.”

Praise for ‘Stranger Than Fiction’

World Magazine Editor Marvin Olasky says the new Will Ferrell movie, Stranger Than Fiction, is good viewing. It’s a funny, interesting story.

“Screenwriter Zach Helm suggests that our lives are part of a bigger design but that we also have free will; that knowing we have purpose rescues us from everydayness and can even lead us to heroic activity; that there is joy in simple tasks, such as serving good cookies.”

I’ve thought this had potentional the first time I saw the trailer, but some trailers are better than their movies. I’m glad this one will be good.

Renewing the Mind

Nate Shurden of Reformation21 on James E. White’s A Mind for God:

In a day where more and more Christians prefer humble ignorance to a cultivated mind and where the newest bestseller receives more attention than Christian classics, White’s introduction to Christian thinking is not a moment too soon. In a little over a hundred pages, we’re exposed to the world of the mind and principles by which our minds can be enlisted in the work of God for the glory of God. White understands our time to be filled with great promise and opportunity, like no other time in human history. But, equally so, ours is a time of great peril. We cannot continue to shirk our God-given responsibility to think and live in a consistently Christian manner. At heart, it’s a question of worship. Will we be conformed to this world or transformed by the renewing of our minds? Time will be our biographer; let us choose today what story will be told of us.

I submit that most of us in the modern church do not know what “conforming to the world” means. We may be able to define it adequately, but we can’t apply it to our lives and we don’t know what it looks like. “Taking every thought captive”–what does that mean? Do I have to give up Desperate Housewives?

‘God Delusion’ Helped by Reading the Word

Frank Wilson reviews Richard Dawkins’ complaint about faith in God, entitled The God Delusion. He says Dawkins doesn’t mind teaching the Word of God in classrooms for its cultural value and somehow believes this will undermine faith instead of build it. Frank notes:

As for teaching the Bible as literature, that might be the best way of communicating its spiritual message. If the scriptures were treated with the respect and attention we give to poems and novels and plays, with an appreciation for their often rich ambiguity, they would touch readers – in the way poems and novels and plays do.

I agree, but, Frank, why the complaint about people who take the Bible literally (which can be read at the end of his review)? Are you saying I shouldn’t believe Joshua really fought the Battle of Jericho several centuries ago?

“If a conservative order is to return . . .”

If a conservative order is indeed to return, we ought to know the tradition which is attached to it, so that we may rebuild society; if it is not to be restored, still we ought to understand conservative ideas so that we may rake from the ashes what scorched fragments of civilization escape the conflagration of unchecked will and appetite.

—Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind

SR directed my attention to ISI.org, and I found this quote which opens a pamphlet called, “Ten Books That Shaped America’s Conservative Renaissance.

Do Books Cost Too Much?

Interesting quotes from people on the Killjoy Express by way of The New Yorker: “Our wasteful consumer society buys, reads, and discards more brand-new hardcover fiction in a single day than the rest of the industrial world combined. I find that statistic staggering.”

Now, I don’t understand this man testimony: “People don’t seem to care where they start or stop in a book nowadays, so long as they’re reading. . . . And the minute they finish one novel they toss it aside and start another. I’ve seen people on the freeway flip through a novel to the dénouement, read it, and throw the book out the window. Then they’ll swing by a bodega, buy a new novel or two or a dozen, and be on their way. No one bothers to pick up the old novels, so they’re scattered all over, as we know, backing up in storm drains. The excess of it appalls me.”

Where does that happen?

Jihadist is a Good Term. Stop Whining.

Harrison Scott Key at World Magazine’s blog points out an NPR series on political words and terms used in the last few years. From NPR:

Take “jihadist,” for example. To most non-Muslim Westerners, a jihadist would be defined as an Islamic extremist who uses violence for religious reasons. Indeed, built into the 7th century notion of jihad is the idea of warfare. But it’s not so simple, because Islam treats violent jihad as a regulated endeavor, governed by very strict laws of conduct.

Then there’s the other problem: Jihad has a multiplicity of meanings — so many layers, in fact, that its meaning lies largely in the mouths of those who use it.

If someone with whom I feel comfortable talking about real issues says something like this, my first response is to tell them to shut up. Sure, Jihad is a complicated idea, but that doesn’t make it unusable. If a knowledgeable, faithful Muslim disagrees the terrorists who abuse Islam by calling for a jihad against Western countries, then the term “jihadist” makes all the more sense to me. The terrorists are fighting a legitimate jihad; they are using religious language to cloak their barbarian campaign. Adding -ist to their term is a good way to communicate that.

The same reasoning applies to “Islamofascism,” which a teacher at UCLA thinks should be changed to the more accurate label “fascist-like al-Qaida extremists.” Just slips off your tongue, doesn’t it? Makes you want to put in a rhyme. Peter Piper picked a peck of fascist-like al-Qaida excrement. Did I say that right?

The long and the short of discussions like this is that scholars and experts will disagree on terms all day long. If Muslims are offended at these terms, they should address their complaints to the terrorists, not the freedom fighters. (There’s a use of terms for you.)

Ahoy! The Pixel Viking

Photoblogger Pixel Viking has gorgeous photos from his home town, Odense, Denmark. Wednesday’s image is striking, common, and quiet. I like the selected color use. It feel different than this one, also a street scene, in full color. This one called “Viking jewelry” may be of interested too.

And just in case those don’t float your boat as it were, how about this photo from Diane Varner of the sea breaking against the boundaries set for it by the Lord who spoke it into being?

Let’s Cultivate Simplicity and Solitude

This is written by A. W. Tozer, adapted from Of God and Men. It’s a good meditation.

We Christians must simplify our lives or lose untold treasures on earth and in eternity. Modern civilization is so complex as to make the devotional life all but impossible. It wears us out by multiplying distractions and beats us down by destroying our solitude, where otherwise we might drink and renew our strength before going out to face the world again.

The thoughtful soul to solitude retires,” said the poet of other and quieter times; but where is the solitude to which we can retire today? Science, which has provided men with certain material comforts, has robbed them of their souls by surrounding them with a world hostile to their existence. “Commune with your own heart upon your bed and be still” is a wise and healing counsel, but how can it be followed in this day of the newspaper, the telephone, the radio and the television? These modern playthings, like pet tiger cubs, have grown so large and dangerous that they threaten to devour us all. What was intended to be a blessing has become a positive curse. No spot is now safe from the world’s intrusion. One way the civilized world destroys men is by preventing them from thinking their own thoughts.

Our “vastly improved methods of communication,” of which the shortsighted boast so loudly, now enable a few men in strategic centers to feed into millions of minds alien thought stuff, ready-made and predigested. A little effortless assimilation of these borrowed ideas and the average man has done all the thinking he will or can do. This subtle brainwashing goes on day after day and year after year to the eternal injury of the populace-a populace, incidentally, which is willing to pay big money to have the job done, the reason being, I suppose, that it relieves them of the arduous and often frightening task of reaching independent decisions for which they must take responsibility.

The need for solitude and quietness was never greater than it is today. What the world will do about it is their problem. Apparently the masses want it the way it is and the majority of Christians are so completely conformed to this present age that they, too, want things the way they are. They may be annoyed a bit by the clamor and by the goldfish bowl existence they live, but apparently they are not annoyed enough to do anything about it. However, there are a few of God’s children who have had enough. They want to relearn the ways of solitude and simplicity and gain the infinite riches of the interior life. They want to discover the blessedness of what Dr. Max Reich called “spiritual aloneness.” To such I offer a brief paragraph of counsel.

Retire from the world each day to some private spot, even if it is only the bedroom (for a while I retreated to the furnace room for want of a better place). Stay in the secret place till the surrounding noises begin to fade out of your heart and a sense of God’s presence envelops you. Deliberately tune out the unpleasant sounds and come out of your closet determined not to hear them. Listen for the inward Voice till you learn to recognize it. Stop trying to compete with others. Give yourself to God, and then be what and who you are without regard to what others think. Reduce your interests to a few. Don’t try to know what will be of no service to you. Avoid the digest type of mind — short bits of unrelated facts, cute stories and bright sayings. Learn to pray inwardly every moment. After a while you can do this even while you work. Practice candor, childlike honesty, humility. Pray for a single eye. Read less, but read more of what is important to your inner life. Call home your roving thoughts. Gaze on Christ with the eyes of your soul. Practice spiritual concentration.

All the above is contingent upon a right relation to God through Christ and daily meditation on the Scriptures. Lacking these, nothing will help us; granted these, the discipline recommended will go far to neutralize the evil effects of externalism and to make us acquainted with God and our own souls.

Writing Advice

John Baker has a series of short posts on learning to writing which may interest you, starting here. Of course, you can take them or leave them and still be following his advice in post three: “Don’t listen to other writers.

This note on pacing is worth meditation. Baker quotes Gustav Mahler saying, “If you think you’re boring your audience, go slower not faster.”

In his post on beginnings, he writes, “Don’t open with a character alone just thinking. Unless it’s a momentous decision or in mysterious circumstances. I know you can tell me about classic novels that break this rule. When you are writing your classic novel you can break it as well. But for now it is best avoided.”

Warning: Contains Hot Coffee

Lars dislike of coffee may have saved him from a painful disaster had he used an EspressoExpress. The coffee-making device is being recalled because “the heating element can ‘forcefully separate from its base during the brewing cycle.'” If the product was properly labeled with warning to the user, I don’t see the need for the recall. “Warning: May spew scalding liquid while brewing. If contact with skin, consult a physician. What remains in the carafe should be great espresso. Enjoy.”