Adventures in faith, by a non-adventurer

It’s been weeks (or days at least) since I’ve promoted Andrew Klavan. In this LA Times piece today he analyzes Hollywood’s problem with portraying the War on Terror, and as usual he’s dead on. H/T to Dave Lull for the link.

High drama at my house last night—not the kind that would make a John Woo movie, or even an Edward Albee drama, but the internal kind.

I paid my bills, and there was an insurance bill in there I’d been worrying about. Sure enough, when all was done and I looked at my checkbook balance, a metaphorical hand, cold as a pump handle in February, took hold of my heart. The balance was about the size of the check for a large party at a nice restaurant (not that I ever eat at nice restaurants).

I’ll get paid in a few days, so it wasn’t the end of the world, barring emergencies. But it scared me badly. I’m not a gambler, and I find myself in a game of economic Russian Roulette these days.

Many Christians don’t worry about such things, or claim they don’t. “Jesus promised us our daily bread,” they say. “He’ll always provide for our physical needs.”

I don’t read the Bible that way. Lots of better Christians than me have lost homes, family members and their very lives without Jesus doing anything about it. I think the error comes from mistaking Jesus’ point. I don’t believe He meant to say that we were guaranteed some kind of miraculous minimum wage. I think He meant that we have to orient our spirits to understand that all we really need is Him, and if He chooses to deny us any “necessity,” it’s because it’s not really a necessity. Only He is a necessity.

Which isn’t to deny that God generally provides most of us our daily bread. I know the stories about George Mueller. It’s just that sometimes He doesn’t provide physical needs, and it’s always His choice, for His purposes. We can’t manipulate Him, and we’ve got no right to complain if the decision isn’t one we like.

In other words, God has the right to take my house, and I have to live with that. Rejoice in it, even.

Then, just before bedtime, I picked up the mail I’d gotten that day, and forgotten to open. There was a reimbursement check from my health insurance flex account. I’d pretty much forgotten it was coming. It didn’t entirely solve my problem, but it certainly increased my comfort level.

Frankly that spooked me as much as the low balance had.

A Few Bookish Interviews

Yesterday’s Prime Time America ran spots on some interesting subjects: on history with Meic Pearse, author of a book called Age of Reason, (31:00) on fiction with editor Andy McGuire and author Tracy Groot on fiction (46:30), and Leslie Montgomery on her book The Faith of Condoleeza Rice (1:10:30).

Here’s a link to the audio of Prime Time America. It’s the whole show. You can fast-foward to these segments using the times above.

Bob and Tom today

What shall I say tonight, to follow yesterday’s hubris fest? Something self-deprecatory? That’s always a favorite, and I imagine I’ll get to it before I’m done, but instead, just to make a change, why don’t I deprecate somebody else? Somebody famous, somebody whose majestic literary legacy makes me look not only tiny, but invisible.

I’ll trash Robert Burns.

Mitch Berg at Shot in the Dark reminds us that today is Burns’ birthday. Scotsmen and their descendants around the world are toasting him today, no doubt, and good health to them.

But I don’t like Burns.

It’s not his poetry I object to, but his life. When I think of Burns I think of his womanizing, and that offends me. I unloaded on this subject through one of the characters in Blood and Judgment. That whole 19th Century Romantic movement was as famed for its flouting of traditional sexual mores as for its creative accomplishments.

You know what happened to a girl who got pregnant out of wedlock in those days? How many young women debauched by these scoundrels, do you think, ended up thrown out of their homes, walking the streets? I’m not defending that kind of draconian attitude toward “fallen women.” I’m affirming a more draconian attitude toward seducers.

Part of it’s plain jealousy, I have no doubt. I’ve always had a furious, repressed resentment against guys who have an easy way with women. I envy them deeply. I’ll not deny it.

And I know that C. S. Lewis would reprimand me for practicing “the personal heresy,” allowing judgments about a poet’s life to cloud my appreciation of his work, which is a thing whole unto itself.

Guilty on both counts.

But that doesn’t make me like Burns.

I close this section with the only Burns story I know, which isn’t helpful to my purpose in any way, but might soften the effects of my rant.

As the story goes, Burns was walking down the road one morning, when he met a pretty milkmaid.

“Good morning, lassy,” he said to her, tipping his hat.

“Good morning sir.” The girl smiled and continued on her way. Obviously she hadn’t recognized the poet.

“Do you know who I am, lassy?” he asked, turning.

“No sir.”

“I’m Robert Burns.”

“Oh,” said the girl. “I expect I’d better put doon my pails then.”

Commenter Michael suggested the other day, in response to my post about my medical test, that I might be “the Tom Bombadil of psychotropic drugs,” utterly unaffected by them.

That’s flattering, but laughable. If there’s a less Bombadillian character in the world than I, I don’t know who it is.

But it reminds me that in my recent re-reading of The Fellowship Of the Ring, I think I finally figured out a way to think about old Tom.

I’ve always had trouble figuring him out. I know that Tolkien didn’t write allegory, and so it’s always false to say of any of his characters, “This character symbolizes X.” His characters are rich and complex. They reflect qualities, and multiple qualities at that. They sometimes act in ways reminiscent of Christ or the Virgin Mary or others, but none of them is anybody but himself, consistently.

Still I find it helpful to see Tom Bombadil as a sort of Adam figure. Not the fallen Adam, but the unfallen, the First Patriarch who named the beasts and tended the Garden. Bombadil reminds me of the Green Lady in C. S. Lewis’ Perelandra, though he’s been tested and lacks her vulnerability. Bombadil, it seems to me, represents humanity as it was created to be—at one with nature but not beastly; highly sexual but chaste.

(By the way, I’m glad they skipped him in the Peter Jackson movie. He’s absolutely unfilmable, and the scenes in his house could only have been done as a sort of musical comedy number. I just can’t see it working).

I could well be wrong in my conclusions. Feel free to tell me why.

Letters from Anne Frank’s Father Discovered

Letters from Otto Frank, written in 1941, will be released to the public this Valentine’s Day, according to AFP.

Otto Frank wrote the letters in 1941 in a despairing effort to get his family out of Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, before finally hiding the family, including Anne, in secret rooms in an Amsterdam office building for two years until they were betrayed, Time magazine said Thursday

In a related story, a survey suggests several people in the U.K. don’t know much about the Holocaust and think it could happen again. This second article mentions intolerance and prejudice, but I suspect the people quoted see only the surface, not the philosophy that bears the fruit of prejudice. That’s our modern problem. Perhaps, it’s a problem human government has always had.

You will gain nothing by preaching love to your neighbors if you also preach independence and meaninglessness to yourself.

Slaves to fashion

I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet (for all you born after 1970, that’s a reference from the Bible).

But I think I have a gift for recognizing cultural trends a little faster than other people do. Or so I’m given to understand by fans of Wolf Time.

It seems easy to me. You just note three related points in contemporary thinking, lay a ruler against them and see where the extended line leads. Perhaps the trick is in recognizing which points, out of the thousands ranged around us, are related in a way that indicates a direction and a trend.

In any case, I’ve identified a trend (or think I have), followed it out, and I’m ready to make a prediction. I could be wrong. But I seriously expect to see this happen in my lifetime. If it hasn’t come true by the time I die, you can stand over my grave and say you told me so.

It seems to me that Taboo Depletion is becoming a serious problem for the cultural left. The problem is this—once you’ve defined “progress” and “art” as the continual demolition of traditional society, culture and social norms, what do you do when you’ve run out of taboos to flout? It was easy in the ‘60s. Make a movie with nudity. Write a novel about homosexuals. Instant, reflexive shock. People write angry letters. Mothers march with signs. The artist gains artistic cred, and the publicity’s good for business.

But it’s more difficult today. Actual sex acts between actors in a film? Done that. Novels about torture murder from the point of view of the murderer, sympathetically portrayed? Been there. What shocking thing can a performance artist do, that hasn’t been done by someone else already? Hard to think of anything. As Alexander is said to have wept because there were no more worlds to conquer (he didn’t, by the way. He wept because he wouldn’t live long enough to conquer them all), one imagines today’s young intellectual weeping because there are no more boundary lines to violate.

But I can think of one. And I see hints that it will soon take its place on the public stage.

I think we’ll soon see a movement to restore the institution of slavery.

First of all, the undeniable historical fact that Christians were largely responsible for the abolition of slavery is a constant irritation to leftists. They like to frame their narrative in terms that say, “Abolitionism was a liberal movement,” which is true, while covering over the fact that liberalism was, for the most part, a Christian evangelical impulse in those days.

It would give many of them much relief to be able to turn around and say, “You Christians abolished slavery, and it was an unforgivable act of cultural imperialism!”

“Cultural Imperialism” is a handy label. Any act of the Right, regardless of the idealism that might lie behind it, can be labeled “cultural imperialism.” Trying to spread democracy in places where it is not found yet? Cultural imperialism. Attempting to stop third world genocide? Cultural imperialism. Fighting international sex trafficking? Cultural imperialism. Defending freedom of speech or religion in Communist countries? Egregious C. I.!

So it’s only a short jump to a position that would say, “Well of course I’m personally opposed to slavery, but what right has America, a country where zoophiles still don’t enjoy full human rights, to try to impose its antislavery norms on countries with different, and equally valid, traditions?”

And once that’s accepted, why not legalize slavery in “multicultural” America?

Normal-looking deviants could be booked on Oprah, tearfully telling the stories of how they never found personal fulfillment until they entered into a satisfying slave/master relationship. Numerous Muslim clerics could be found to appear on the evening news to condemn American cultural arrogance. Movies would be made, which no one would attend, but they’d win Academy Awards and the moviemakers would be interviewed sympathetically in Time Magazine.

Sound ridiculous? Sure. Lots of things that sounded ridiculous when I was a kid are the law of the land today. And things move a lot faster now than they did back then.

Give it time. See if I’m wrong.

I hope I am.

Quick Scripture Reference for Counseling Youth

My admirable cousin, Jimmy Davis, has reviewed a Baker Books reference guide to youth counseling for Breakpoint.org. Here’s my entirely biased post on it. He writes:

Like the biblical book of Proverbs, this handy reference book brings together hundreds of wise, God-inspired sayings about the practical issues of living. Unlike Proverbs, this book categorizes its insights under almost one hundred different sub-headings making its collective wisdom easier to find. Why didn’t Solomon think of that?

Rather than dump dozens of verses about sexual purity into a box labeled “sexual purity” without any other helpful arrangement, the Millers have carefully sorted the verses related to each topic into smaller groups headed by a simple statement of truth. For example, under the heading “Dress/Clothes” the authors have organized twenty passages underneath ten simple statements such as “1. God has promised to supply our necessary clothing” and “2. He knows that we have need of clothing but asks that we give him priority in our lives” or “10. Spiritual qualities are the most important ‘clothing’.”

This particular topic was one of my favorites in the book because it summarized an excellent “theology of clothing.”

Read the rest of his review on the Quick Scripture Reference for Counseling Youth.

Hey, have I told you about my test?

Is there anything more tedious and self-indulgent than a middle-aged man telling you all about a medical procedure he’s been through? And yet here I am, and at least some of you seem to expect a report. (More sensitive and tasteful souls are advised to stop reading here.)

I shall not name the procedure I went through yesterday. That low I will not descend. Many of you will guess. The rest of you are better off in ignorance.

The worst part of this particular procedure is preparing for it. It involves two days of eating low-fiber food, and then one day of what’s called a “clear liquid diet,” capped off by the liberal use of certain medicaments which have prompt and dramatic effects.

I had a lot of opportunity to read during that last preparation day. I fear that I will always hereafter associate the reading of The Fellowship of the Ring with… rather intense physical sensations.

The day of the test itself was pretty easy. They don’t allow you to drive yourself, due to the sedatives used. As a certified urban hermit, I was entitled to a cab ride to the clinic, and a shuttle ride back, paid for by the study (there was a bad moment at the front desk where the receptionist told me they didn’t provide rides—I should have been told that. Turned out it was a misunderstanding, and the study people had my ride scheduled. Right hand uninformed by the left hand, as it turned out).

I had to undress and put on a hospital gown and robe (we all know they design those things to deprive us of all human dignity, don’t we?). In the operating room they gave me intravenous drugs for pain control and relaxation. I was told that one effect was amnesia in regard to the test itself, and I was interested to find out what that would be like.

They did their thing, and it was a lot less unpleasant than the preparation had been. Also quickly over. I did not get amnesia. I remember the whole thing, what it felt like and what it looked like on the monitor.

Once again a psychotropic medication has failed to have the promised effect on me. I seem to have superhuman resistance to such things. I think I’ve mentioned that antidepressants do nothing for me at all (except for the side effects).

I should probably be a spy. I can see myself bound to a chair, like Jack Bauer, saying, “I’ll tell you nothing! Your puny sodium pentathol is powerless against me! Uh, what are you doing with those pliers…?”

But I must admit the Valium component did relax me. So much so that I actually made conversation with the shuttle driver on the way home. Or rather, he made conversation and I (uncharacteristically) went along with it. It still took an act of will for me to ask a couple questions, but I did it.

And I had the nicest afternoon nap I’ve had in years.

I could have made a blog post after all, but I’d been through a soul-searing ordeal, and the day was mine, mine, mine! Or at least what was left after the nap was mine. As long as I didn’t drive anywhere.

Are Online Books Really Books?

Here’s a report on books, libraries, and the Interweb from Bryan Appleyard (by way of Frank Wilson): The final chapter in the life of the book? He makes a good point about teacher, which Frank quotes, but let me point out something else. Mr. Appleyard writes:

Intellectual property is the big difference between the developing and developed worlds. But intellectual property rights and the internet are uneasy bedfellows. Google’s stated mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. The words “universally accessible” carry the implicit threat that nobody can actually own or earn revenue from any information since it will all be just out there.

This is one reason an Interweb library search, like Google Book, won’t take over the literary world. Publishers and writers, who can’t afford to work for free, won’t allow it. At the same time, I won’t be surprised if users won’t allow it either when they realize the Interweb can’t offer everything for free (it doesn’t even today) and what they want to read or know won’t be online.

From Treading Water to Walking on It

Lynne Scanlon has darkly roasted and robust conversations about modern bookselling at this post: “Wicked Witch of Publishing Takes Over Pretend Independent Bookstore. Will She Thrive—or Just Survive?” Post and comments, all very interesting, such as:

  • Find ways to save money and make money simultaneously by renegotiating your building lease and subletting to authors or anyone who needs a bit o’ space.
  • Answer the question “What would you have to believe about my store to be willing to come here and spend money here?”
  • In the comments: what on earth does this say about the basic premise of even having an indie if you have to do all this to prop it up?
  • If we had been voracious business people instead of voracious readers we might have had a chance — maybe.
  • I believe that anybody should work for a minimum of 12 months alongside an experienced bookseller who has a proven sales record.

New meme for 2007

Which of these two statements do you believe to be either true or closer to the truth?

1.

a. The best things in life are free.

b. If money can’t buy happiness, then maybe I don’t need to be happy.

c. Both of these statements are equally true.

2.

a. Perception is reality.

b. Reality is what you trips you when you’re walking through the dark.

c. Both of these statements are equally true.

3.

a. When I fall in love, it will be forever.

b. Hello. I love you. Will you tell me your name?

c. Both of these statements are equally true.

4.

a. The glass is half full.

b. The glass is half empty.

c. Both of these statements are equally true.

5.

a. Life is too short to drink the house wine.

b. The small garden of a free gardener was all my need and due.

c. Both of these statements are equally true.

Continue reading New meme for 2007

Book Reviews, Creative Culture