Solzhenitsyn Praises by His Sons

There’s a new anthology of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s work, and his two sons praised him at a related celebration event in Philadelphia last Friday. Asked whether they could understand their father’s deeply felt pain, Ignat, the musician in the family, responded:

It’s a fundamental question of human experience, what can be transmitted and what can’t. Fundamentally, we only really understand things we experience ourselves. Having said that, he has spoken very eloquently, nowhere more so than in his Nobel lecture, about the power of art to fill that gap, to build that bridge, to connect the disconnect, to help people to understand without the benefit of bitter experience what others have suffered, what others have experienced, whether taken as nations or as individuals.

(Thanks to Books, Inq. for the link.)

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.

Uncle Buck

I’ve been planning to blog about Uncle Buck since last weekend, when I gathered with family and they gave me his yearbook. But other things to write about came up. So here it is, the birthday of the Marine Corps, and tomorrow is Veterans’ Day. And Uncle Buck was a Marine. Pacific Theater. WWII.

Good timing. Almost makes me believe in Divine Providence. Which I do believe in. Except when it comes to real life.

Years ago, one time when we were visiting his house, Uncle Buck handed me a red book. “This is the story of my unit in the Marines,” he said.

I should have realized what a big deal that was. Uncle Buck never talked about the war. Never.

I looked at the book for a while, but didn’t get much out of it. I’ve felt guilty about that ever since. Especially since he died of cancer in 1978.

Last Saturday, when I went down to Faribault for the burial of Uncle George and Aunt Martha, I was given the red book. It turns out to be pretty much what it looks like—a school yearbook. Only the school was Marine boot camp.

And it leaves me pretty much as ignorant as I was before.

I asked an aunt on Saturday, “Do you know where Buck fought in the Pacific? What battles he was in?”

She thought a second and said, “No, I really don’t. He didn’t talk about it much. I think he might have been at Wake Island. But they kept him out of some of the fighting because he’d gotten that Dear John letter. So he wasn’t in all the battles with his unit.”

The yearbook doesn’t help. I really shouldn’t have felt guilty about not getting much from it when he showed it to me. The name of the unit was the 9th Replacement Battalion. They trained at Camp Elliott, near San Diego in 1943. I can find no mention of them on the internet. For all I know they were dispersed to existing battalions after finishing their training.

Uncle Buck is still a mystery.

I remember him as a tough guy. A quiet man who never knew what to say to kids (never had any of his own), and who drank and smoked a lot. If I remember the story correctly, he met a girl in Australia while in the Pacific and got engaged to her. Then she sent him a Dear John letter, as mentioned above. He saw combat—somewhere. Eventually he contracted malaria and was discharged. He had recurrences of the malaria for the rest of his life. After the war he married a girl my grandfather didn’t like, converting to Catholicism to marry her. Everyone agreed he was a different man after the war than he’d been before.

We tell stories about our warriors. We make movies about them; build statues. We try to preserve some memorial, to let them know that we understand that they lost something they can never get back for the sake of the rest of us.

But we can’t really know. All we can do is say thanks, and give them what honor we can.

Semper Fi, Uncle Buck.

To all you veterans, thanks.

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?

Why can’t we get more stories like this from Christian writers?

Here’s a story that made me laugh, and will probably offend half our readers. It’s another excerpt from Vol. II of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis. It comes from one he wrote to his brother Warren on Nov. 5, 1939, when Warren had been recalled to active service in the Second World War:

I heard as good a story as I know this week about old Phelps the Provost of Oriel [College]—you probably remember him, with the beard and the black straw hat. Jenner was a fellow of Jesus [College], a high-minded dissenter and fanatical tee-totaller. He was dining at Oriel and the Provost asked him to take wine with him:

Jenner: Sir, I would rather commit adultery than drink a glass of that.

Provost: (in a low, stern voice) So would we all, Jenner; but not at the table, if you please.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture