The courage of God

Evangelical Outpost linked today to this article, questioning the traditional understanding of the martyrdom of Lady Jane Grey. Even if all it says is true, for me it doesn’t diminish the pathos of her youthful martyrdom.

Then I read an article about Auschwitz in Smithsonian Magazine.

So I’ve been contemplating human suffering today.

Have you ever thought this thought? I’ve thought it many times: If I had been God, and had known that giving human beings free will would result in all the evil and horror that have in fact been produced, I wouldn’t have given them free will. And if the human project was unsatisfactory without free will, I’d have just skipped the whole business.

I have an answer that satisfies me intellectually. 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Apparently, in God’s economy, the good He is creating far outweighs all the innumerable evils perpetrated by man since the fall of Adam. From the viewpoint of eternity, we’ll look back and say, “Yes, it was well worth it.”

Now that answer raises a hundred questions in my mind. Questions for which I have no answer, and for which we have been given no plain answers.

This, I guess, calls for faith.

But it also argues, I think, for courage on God’s part. Granted, He saw the outcome from the beginning. But part of that outcome, I believe, was His own assumption of all that evil on the cross.

I read somewhere that, in the early years of the Superman comic strip, the writers came to a crisis when they’d made their character so powerful that they couldn’t come up with a challenging enough opponent for him anymore. That was when they invented Kryptonite. Something that took all that power away.

God did it in real life.

I can’t find the reference, but G. K. Chesterton wrote somewhere that all those scoffers, who call God evil for creating an evil world, are right in a sense, and that God acknowledged it (in a way) by explicitly accepting the punishment for creating all that evil.

Whatever else you think, I think you’ve got to admit it’s no cowardly strategy.

Why Are So Many Young Black Men in Emergency Rooms?

When Dr. John Rich was at the Boston City Hospital, he assumed the young black men who frequently showed up in his emergency room were somehow responsible for their violent wounds. But when he started interviewing them, he learned that many of them were victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Some had been robbed, others had talked to the wrong girl at a party or been caught in the line of fire while walking home,” reports this NPR interview with Dr. Rich and Roy Martin, Rich’s urban cultural interpreter.

Dr. Rich is working to deal with the trauma these men have experienced in order to help them truly heal.

The Scarecrow, by Michael Connelly

For a few years, mystery novelist Michael Connelly’s books bounced back and forth between two recurring main characters—Los Angeles detective Harry Bosch, and Terry McCaleb, retired FBI profiler. Sometimes both at once. But Connelly killed McCaleb off a few books back, and since then he seems to be casting about for a new regular series, mixing and matching characters in various combinations.

The Scarecrow appears to be an attempt to re-launch the adventures of crime reporter Jack McEvoy and FBI profiler Rachel Walling. They teamed up (as investigators and lovers) in a much earlier novel, The Poet, and Rachel also featured in a recent Harry Bosch book. But Connelly here drops big hints that he’s carving out a future for them as a team.

I applaud this, but wish they could have been re-launched in a slightly better book. Not that The Scarecrow is bad. It moves right along, and builds tension nicely, but I wouldn’t list it among Connelly’s best works. Of course, that’s a pretty high bar. Continue reading The Scarecrow, by Michael Connelly

Old Spice is Manly

I must share this commercial. You may have seen it already. Apparently over 700,000 have watched it on YouTube. If I didn’t already love using Old Spice, this ad would make me consider trying it.

The negative way

Loren Eaton, at I Saw Lightning Fall, writes today about the Via Negativa. That’s the technique of telling a moral story through depicting vice, and revealing its destructive effects.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin
, if I understand the concept correctly, was largely (not wholly) a Via Negativa story, in that it denounced slavery by examining slavery (it was also a Via Positiva story, in that it showcased the exemplary life of the main character).

When I was a boy, a teetotal relative gave me a copy of the book, Ten Nights in a Bar-Room. This was an 1854 novel, written by T. S. Arthur, in the form of a series of reminiscences by a man who stayed (at infrequent intervals) at a particular inn where liquor was served. By showing the gradual deterioration of the inn, the family that ran it, and the community it influenced, he argued for the prohibition of alcohol. It was a very influential book in its time, and a pure example of Via Negativa.

I often think of a particular scene my own The Year of the Warrior—if you’ve read it, you’ll probably recall the Great Summer Sacrifice scene. I used it to try to express all the horror which (I firmly believe) lurks behind true heathenism (as opposed to the pasteurized, humanist version generally promoted in the West today). No one has ever complained to me about the scene that I recall, but frankly it bothers me. I think I went a little too far, and if I had it to write over, I’d probably do it slightly differently.

I recall a particular novel published in the Christian market (and no, I won’t tell you which one it was), in which the author tried to do something similar, and I felt he’d crossed a line. Maybe I was wrong (the book certainly sold more copies than any of mine, and to a Christian audience). But I know there’s a danger here.

Loren’s article speaks of one danger of the Via Negativa—that the audience will miss the message, and root for the wrong side. I think there’s further danger—that the author will look into the abyss, and find the abyss looking back into him.

In my estimation (and maybe I misunderstand entirely) I thought novelist Thomas Harris succumbed to this temptation to some extent in dealing with his charismatic villain, Hannibal Lector. When Lector first appeared in Red Dragon, and when he reappeared in The Silence of the Lambs, Harris was able to keep his balance, getting deep into the psyche of the villain, but never taking his side. But in the follow-up novel, Hannibal, it seemed to me he lost his bearings, and began to delight, to some extent, in Lector’s atrocities. I never even looked at Hannibal Rising.

That doesn’t make the Via Negativa too dangerous to try. It just means we need to take care.

And choose wise readers to give us feedback.

Roger Ebert’s Political History and Civics Quiz

This quiz seems a bit petty, but it is mostly interesting. Of course, if one were to use this as part of an argument for liberal intellectual prowess, it fails. Why would it matter for voters to remember how many presidents and first ladies graduated from Harvard? Does graduating from Harvard mean they are intellectually superior to the rest of us and thus must be obeyed? What about Yale graduates? I remember John Kerry being praised for mental acumen, but his grades were not as good as George W. Bush’s at during the Yale years, and Bush went on to Harvard Business School for an MBA.

Beyond that, Ebert ask a few questions that are debatable. His suggestion that we can just search for the answers is unhelpful at best. “Is ‘Obamacare’ allowed by the U. S. Constitution?” My search results lead to this: “A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States.”

I don’t think that’s the answer Ebert’s looking for, but what do I know? He thinks it matters that I remember Vice President Agnew. (Cross-posted on Newsvine; hat tip: Big Hollywood)

Piles of snow, and pyramids of words

Focused Businessman

Last night my neighbor blew the snow out of the driveway, for which I was grateful. Tonight I did it again, because it had to be done again. Consumer report: Tonight’s snow was about the consistency of flour, and pleasantly loose to blow (no jams), although it tended to come back at you when you blew it into the wind.

(On tonight’s menu, sweet rolls baked from Snowblower Flour, with Snowblower Jam filling.)

Today is apparently National Link to Roy Jacobsen Day.
I was amused by the picture Roy posted here, giving a graphic example of what editing is all about. Also what news writing is all about, by the way.

Long ago, the journalism industry settled on an “upside down pyramid” form for news stories, and they use it to this day, because it works extremely well.

The formula is to put the most essential information, and only that, in the first paragraph. The heaviest stuff. The base of the upside-down pyramid. “Who, what, when, where and why?” You may very the order, but Paragraph One will contain all those things.

The next paragraph will include important further information that deepens the reader’s knowledge. (Like “how.”)

The next paragraph will include slightly less important information.

Each paragraph will be less important than the one before.

This accomplishes three things.

1.It starts the story with a bang.

2.It permits the reader who only has time to skim, to get the gist of the story at the top.

3.It permits the mighty editor (and this is far from the least of the reporter’s concerns) to trim the article from the bottom. If he needs to cut two paragraphs, he knows that cutting the last two will remove the two least important parts of the story.

I’m not a journalist, so I feel free to share these trade secrets with the general public.

Now you, too, can start a news blog.

The Fear of Writing Well

Roy Jacobsen has a post on bad writing, quoting Stephen King who said fear is the root of most of it. (via Nerol Notae) I don’t know how much bad writing fear has caused for me, but I know it works me daily to produce no writing. Even now, I don’t know what to say next, which is the reason I link to other posts far more often than work up my own. What do I have to say that’s worth reading?

Now for the bad writing I’ve edited, fear may be the main reason behind it, but I have thought the reasons are lack of skill or time. I worked with one man who wrote frequently, but his style was difficult to read. He strung together several propositions without building an argument for any of them. A couple times, I suggested that the focus on one or two points for the article and illustrate them, but that idea never made into the writing. If he tried to do it, I don’t know. I told a friend that I thought he was writing at the best of his ability and that in order to write better he would have to spend much more time at it.

Perhaps fear was the root of his propositional writing. I don’t see it clearly enough to label it.

Weekend wrap-up

I had two memorable experiences over the weekend.

First of all, I went to a funeral. It was the funeral of a man I’m not sure I ever actually met, but his son was an old friend. The son asked me to read the scripture lesson for the service, and I was happy to do it. In all honesty, if I hadn’t had that request I probably wouldn’t have gone at all, because I have a hard time believing anybody really wants me anywhere, unless they state precisely what particular job they’re looking for me to do. Jobs I understand. The concept that anyone would just want me around to talk to fails the test of willing suspension of disbelief.

It went well, and I saw some old friends.

On Sunday morning, after I’d come home from early church, I logged on to Facebook. I then got a chat message from a friend who’s doing missionary work in Alaska. It seemed awfully early for him to be up.

The first warning bell went off when he told me he’d been mugged while vacationing in London. Vacations in London aren’t the sort of thing this fellow takes a lot of.

So while he was explaining how he’d been robbed at gunpoint, and hit over the head (huh?), and robbed of cash, credit cards and cell phone, I checked his personal page. There another friend had posted a warning in all caps, saying that he’d gotten a similar chat message, and it was a scam.

I then asked my interlocutor a question only somebody who’d worked together with us at our church body headquarters would know. And he disappeared completely.

I’ve said it before—I hate con men. In the great balance of things, I’d prefer the kind of armed robber who didn’t hold up my friend in London, over a con man. Because con men destroy trust. They turn society into a collection of strangers. They make human beings more frightened of one another, and less likely to give help where it’s really needed. They are scum.

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