Olsen letter #4a


Katrina and Ole Olsen Kvalevaag

It’s been a while since I shared one of my translations of the letters from my great-great grandfather to my great-grandfather. (The first three are posted here, here, and here, and here.) This one is the most dramatic of them all. I’ll give it to you in two parts, but this section is the meat of it. Five years have passed since the last preserved letter, and John has moved from Illinois to Iowa.

[Envelope postmarked 7 IV 97, addressed to Mr. John Walker, Radcliffe, Harding co., Jova, North Amerika]

Kvalevaag, the 7 April 1897

Mr. Jan H. Olson,

Dear children of my heart,

I received your very welcome letter this afternoon, and re-read it with tears, and I want to answer it right away if I get the strength from the Lord to manage a letter to you at this time. I saw and heard from your letter to me that all was well with you when you wrote to me, which was precious to me to hear from you.

Ja, dear son and daughter and children, I have another piece of news to tell you today, and that is that the Lord has called your mother from me to Himself; and now, God help me, I am left here forsaken and alone as a wild bird, and have no one to cling to. Ja, God must now be my comforter and helper both now and preferably forever. Continue reading Olsen letter #4a

The Good, Old Book

For some time, “higher critics” of the Bible have assured us that the biblical text can’t be older than the 6th century B.C., “because the Hebrews didn’t know how to write before that.”


“It indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research,” said Gershon Galil, a professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa in Israel, who deciphered the ancient text.

As an added bonus, the inscription itself (not an actual biblical text) is a rather lovely one, calling on the reader to show kindness to widows, orphans, the poor and slaves.

Tip: Mere Comments.

Flying Dutch, by Tom Holt

A couple of my friends are Tom Holt fiends, and they’ve contrived to place in my hands three of his best novels (I reviewed the other two here). Flying Dutch is another offering in his original idiom (to quote, appropriately, Sir Lancelot in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”), the legend-based farce. (He’s moved into actual historical fiction with his more recent novel Meadowlands, a story of Vikings in America which I haven’t read yet.)

As you may have guessed, this is the story of the Flying Dutchman. In legend, the Flying Dutchman is a sea captain who cursed God, and so was condemned to sail the seas forever, allowed to visit shore only once every seven years, until some condition (true love, in Wagner’s opera) is fulfilled.

Holt’s version is slightly different. The Dutchman, Cornelius Vanderdecker, is indeed immortal, along with his crew, and only gets shore leave once in seven years, but the reason is somewhat more prosaic (I won’t spoil it for you). His story gets entwined with that of Jane Doland, an English accountant who stumbles onto the financial complications that naturally result from owning a still-in-force, three century old insurance policy.

As she investigates, and eventually gets to know the Dutchman herself, the true story is gradually revealed. We encounter among other elements alchemy, an immortal cat, and the meddling of a television producer who has figured in other Holt novels.

Once again, I felt that Holt’s writing resembled nothing so much as P.G. Wodehouse’s. Holt isn’t as great a genius as The Master, but he can be very funny, and the plots are similar—a colorful cast of characters, many of them none too bright, meaning well and crossing one another in multiple boneheaded ways. There’s a hint of politics, with some mild criticism of the United States, and the conventional assumption that nuclear power is purely evil, but you’re not intended to take any of it seriously. The ending is satisfying, if off-center.

No offensive elements that I recall. Recommended, if you can find a copy (it’s out of print, sadly).

Rachel Motte reviews Introverts in the Church

Over at Evangelical Outpost, Rachel Motte reviews a book called Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. Looks fascinating, and (in my humble opinion) it’s long overdue.

I probably don’t need to mention that this is an issue of considerable interest to me (though to call myself an introvert is a gross understatement). I’ve heard of churches where every single member is required, as a condition of membership, to do house-to-house visitation. It seems to me that that kind of one-size-fits-all Christianity is entirely false to the true nature of the church. As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:14-20, “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body…. But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”

A church, as I understand it, isn’t meant to look at its membership and say, “Where can we find people to do this and this and this?” It shouldn’t try to shoehorn members into pre-defined roles. Instead, the leadership ought to understand that God has already given them the parts He intends, for the sort of ministry He has in mind. They should get to know their fellow members, and prayerfully try to set each one to work doing what God has gifted him (or her) to do.

That’s not to say that a certain amount of personal growth isn’t necessary, or that people can’t learn to do things they’ve never thought of before. But I think many churches are in the position of the man who looks at himself in a mirror, decides he’s too short, and resolutely sets about finding a way to be taller. God (one assumes) made him the height he is for a reason.

As I mention in my comment to Rachel’s review, I attended a church years back (in Florida) whose pastor was also an introvert. He preached extremely well, and many people came to listen to him. But he himself admitted that he was poor at the one-on-one aspects of the ministry. He was blessed with an understanding board of elders, who were willing to back him up by finding others, both assistant pastors and laity, to take much of that burden off him. That church was dynamic and growing, one of the most exciting churches I’ve ever been involved in.

“The Poet’s Parnassus”

Among my Christmas gifts was a used volume called, Old Time Punishments, by William Andrews, a reprint of a book originally published in 1890.

In a chapter provocatively titled, “Punishing Authors,” I find this passage:

Authors and publishers were often nailed by the ears to the pillory, and when ready to be set at liberty the ears would frequently be cut off, and left on the post of the pillory. A farce called “The Patron,” by Foote, contains allusions to the practice. Puff advises Dactyl to write a satire. To the suggestion replies Dactyl: “Yes, and so get cropped for libel.” Puff answers him: “Cropped! aye, and the luckiest thing that could happen to you! Why, I would not give twopence for an author who is afraid of his ears! Writing — writing is, as I may say, Mr. Dactyl, a sort of warfare, and none can be victor that can be least afraid of a scar. Why, zooks, sir! I never got salt to my porridge till I was mounted at the Royal Exchange; and that was the making of me. Then my name made a noise in the world. Talk of forked hills and Helicon! Romance and fabulous stuff, the true Castalian stream is a shower of eggs, and a pillory the poet’s Parnassus.”

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon is a brilliant writer, and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a masterful, scintillating book. It’s lyrical as a poem, funny as a Shecky Greene monologue, and engaging as a crossword puzzle. It’s the kind of book that makes lesser authors (like me) want to throw their laptops through the window and take up careers in online marketing.

And yet I don’t recommend it.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a hard-boiled police novel, set in an alternate universe in which the state of Israel failed in 1948. The homeless Jews were (grudgingly) offered a home in the Alaska panhandle, around Sitka. There they have lived for almost 60 years (the book is set in 2007), but next year the mandate runs out, and the land is scheduled to be returned to the Tlinkit Indians (that’s pronounced “Clinkit,” by the way. You probably didn’t know that. I know it because I spent a summer in the Shumagin Islands, long ago).

It’s in this climate of insecurity and futility that police detective Meyer Landsman is taken to view the body of a gunshot victim in the seedy hotel where he’s lived since his divorce. The body turns out to be that of a once-famous young man, a chess prodigy, rabbi’s son and miracle worker who many thought would be the Messiah. Depressed, self-destructive, alcoholic, Det. Landsman sets about solving the mystery, sometimes helped and sometimes hindered by his half-Tlinkit partner and his ex-wife, who is now his boss.

Be warned—the rest of this review includes spoilers. Not spoilers about the plot, but about the meaning of the book. Of course, I may have misunderstood the meaning altogether, as ordinary chess players in this novel are baffled by the moves of the great masters. But I’ll tell you what I got out of it, for whatever that’s worth.

The lesson of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is that the real danger in the world comes from the devout, whatever their religion. Chabon has cleverly, in his alternate universe, created a world without Islamic terrorism (because we all know there’d be no Islamic terrorism if there were no Israel). But there is terrorism nevertheless, coming out of those famously vicious groups, orthodox Jews and Christian evangelicals.

This book, it appears to me, is the heart-cry of the assimilated, secular, self-hating Jew. When the Muslim terrorist says it’s all the Jews’ fault, Chabon (it would appear) hangs his head and says, “It’s true. But it’s not my fault. It’s the fault of those black hats. They’re just crazy.”

So the book saddened me. I should also mention that I read it to the end, though—something which I rarely do with books that offend me deeply. This one was just too good to put down, even when I thought it morally perverse and dangerous.

Cautions for language apply—not only obscenity and cursing, but actual blasphemy. Also a lot of jokes about Jews that no Gentile could get away with.

Read at your own risk.

“Why Faith Is Not a Private Matter”

Brit Hume suggested on air that Tiger Woods seek the Lord Jesus Christ for answers to his current problems, and people started talking. Selwyn Duke says the religious and the political are closely tied and always have been, so certain folk can reevaluate their offense to religious or specifically Christian evangelism when political evangelism goes on all the time. He writes, “I mean, could you imagine, let’s say, Jay Bookman stating, ‘You know, I like universal health care, but, hey, dude, whatever works for you’?”

Book Reviews, Creative Culture