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.

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?

Going out and coming in

The temperature got up to 70 today, just to mock my depression (of course if it had been cold and rainy, I’d have thought that was mocking my depression too. I have an extremely broad mockery threshold).

Congratulations to any Democrats who wander in here. You won fair and square, and you’ve earned your celebration.

I myself find comfort in the following thoughts:

1. In any story, you’ve got to have setbacks. That’s what builds the plot. That’s what keeps interest up. In real life, setbacks are what keep us from being complacent. And the Republicans have been pretty stinking complacent over the last couple years.

2. Think of who the new congressional leadership will be. These are people eminently qualified to hang themselves, given adequate rope. And they’ll have rope a-plenty now.

My prospective renter came to look at the house today. He strikes me as a pretty good fit, a quiet guy, around my age, with professional credentials, who works with a Christian service organization. Likes to read. Likes to mow lawns.

He’s going to pray about it and get back to me. If you’re not overwhelmed with more important stuff to pray about, you might shoot up a quick prayer over this decision.

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.

Memoirs of a voter

There is hope on the horizon.

I’m not talking about the elections (more on them below). I got a call this evening in response to my ad to rent out my spare room. A guy will be coming over tomorrow evening to take a look at the place.

The downside is that I’ll have to straighten up tonight.

A little.

Don’t want to give a false impression.

I voted bright and early, on my way to work. The polling place was a Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod church.

Why doesn’t the ACLU sue over locating polling places in churches?

No doubt it’s somewhere on their list. Maybe right after they force cities to stop granting building permits to places of worship, since such commerce between church and state puts us at risk of theocracy.

I remember how my parents used to sit down with pen and sample ballot in early November, and decide together how they’d vote. That was because Dad tended Democrat and Mom tended Republican, and they didn’t want to “cancel each other out.”

That thought troubles me. It’s an easy exercise for married couples. They have somebody right there to reconcile ballots with.

But I’m single, so my opposite number is out there somewhere in the community. I probably don’t even know him (or her). He (she) is likely canceling my vote right now, and I can’t do anything about it.

Makes it seem pointless to vote at all.

No. That’s not right.

But if it’s not, why did my parents bother?

My brain hurts.

Go out and vote if you haven’t yet, and if the polls are still open when you read this.

Unless you’re canceling me.

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.”

Franchises: Voting and Starbucks

First things first: Vote tomorrow. I won’t tell you how to vote. Since I know I’ve been fully as successful as CBS News in keeping my political preferences secret, I feel confident I remain non-partisan, fair and balanced when I advise you to vote as your heart tells you I would vote.

Look—I know that only a meteor strike on the North Side of Minneapolis will prevent a former Nation of Islam member—an associate of Louis Farrakhan’s, supported by CAIR—from being my congressman, and I’m still voting. So you can certainly make the effort.

Sharia law is probably next thing. You think the ACLU’ll complain when that happens? I can hear them now—“What’s the problem? It was just Christianity in government we were worried about. The Constitution doesn’t say anything about Islam.”



I finally figured out where to vote. I got a map in a city mailing, telling me which precinct I was in, and I noted that it did not jibe with the information I’d gotten from the Secretary of State’s website. I called city hall and got the answer (I think). Naturally, my polling place is the one farthest away from where I live.

Brother Moloch spent last night in my spare room. I took a half-day off work and drove him to the airport today. He’s in the sky now, winging his way to Tanzania to visit the Youngest Niece, who’s spending a semester there. Her chief supply request? “Bring Gummi Bears.”

I can imagine the Man from Macedonia telling Paul in the vision: “Come over to Macedonia and help us. Bring Gummi Bears.”

(By the way, I’ve always wondered at the people who ask how Paul knew the man was from Macedonia. Hello? The guy said, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” You’ve got to figure he wasn’t Belgian.)

Moloch broke in my coffee maker for me. I bought the machine months ago, when my cousin from Norway came to visit. You can’t host guests from Norway without offering them coffee. Coffee is the Norwegian national jones. You know why the Vikings turned into Scandinavians, why they went from the terrors of the world to the dullest people in Europe (the dullest continent)?

It’s because they finally got coffee. “Ah. That’s better. Somehow I don’t feel like fighting anyone anymore. I feel like wearing clogs and making furniture with nothing but right angles.”

But my cousin didn’t drink coffee. This created an instant bond between us. We are both Unworthy, Uncaffeinated Norwegians.

My secret shame (well one of my secret shames) has always been that I didn’t drink coffee. All my grandparents drank the stuff. My parents and all my uncles and aunts drank it. But my brothers, Moloch and Baal and I, we never picked up the habit. We never saw the point.

Until Moloch became a pastor. Lutheran pastors are required under some obscure provision of the Book of Concord to drink coffee. What are you supposed to do, go to Mrs. Olson’s house (if you remember Mrs. Olson, don’t say anything. You’ll only prove you’re as old as I am) and say, “Oh no, I don’t drink coffee. Got any tea? Moxie? Single Malt Whisky? Absinthe?”

You’ll drink coffee and like it.

In fact, after a while, you’ll be screaming and breaking out in hives if you don’t get it.

Philosophy of Science: Evolution

Maxine of Petrona has a couple posts on evolution. The first points to several reviews of Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion and other evolutionary items. The second post criticizes a librarian who appears to leap the logic to conclude that libraries are biased against intelligent design theories.

Author Marilynne Robinson also reviewed Dawkins’ book in the latest Harper’s. Mark Bertrand summarizes that review here:

In a nutshell, the problem with Dawkins is that he compares the very worst of religion with the very best of science. Nineteenth and early twentieth century race-based eugenics isn’t “real science,” in Dawkins view — in spite of its widespread acceptance by the scientific community worldwide, not just in Nazi Germany — but suicide bombings, the Inquisition, and the murder of abortion clinic doctors are real religion. Historically speaking, science hasn’t always made things better, just as religion hasn’t made them worse. But, as Robinson points out, Dawkins isn’t concerned too much with historical realities.

Perhaps Robinson makes the point on which I always stand with evolution (though I didn’t stand there firmly in our recent blog argument), that being the theory of evolution is only a philosphy of science, a way of viewing the evidence, not the only conclusion for clear-headed scientists.

Next in the Continuing Saga of Mr. Darcy

Do you remember that bit of news on publishers seeking out fan-fic writers and a particular trilogy based on Pride and Prejudice? Will Duquette has read the first in that trilogy, An Assembly Such As This by Pamela Aidan. He says it isn’t all that bad. “Aidan’s Darcy is nevertheless an intriguing character, consistent with Austen’s Darcy.”

Speaking of fan-fic, November is National Novel Writing Month. I want to type out some fiction this month as well, not for a novel, but for sketches and stories. I may shove some of it to the blog so you have the “opportunity” to read or ignore it.

Bertrand on The Master’s Artist

J. Mark Bertrand describes what it means to write stories as a Christian, someone who belongs to Adonai:

The Master’s Artist isn’t a synonym for “an evangelical writer” . . . It bespeaks an effort to do one’s art graciously, with beauty and truth, to do it theologically, applying the ideas of scripture like so much sandpaper to the ideas of man. The evangelical artist might be content to argue one side against another, but the Master’s Artist argues against himself as well as his world, longing in some small way to be useful as an instrument of Christ’s comprehensive redemptive work.

Drawn and Haggard

The whole Ted Haggard thing makes me sad. Not only for its own sake, but because it strikes a nerve around here.

I wasn’t actually involved with the church body I now work for, back when it happened, except in the sense that the church I grew up in had joined up. I got the news from a friend (now a former friend) who derived considerable pleasure from the discomfiture of those disgusting pietists.

It was several years ago now, back when the Very Large Lutheran Church Body Which Shall Remain Nameless was coalescing like a lump in a batch of Cream o’ Wheat (“Hey! You guys don’t believe anything anymore, and we don’t believe anything anymore either! No reason we can’t do whatever it is we’re doing all together!”). Lots of churches that hadn’t gotten the Postmodern Memo were looking for a new affiliation, and our group looked pretty good to many of them. We (and by “we” I mean “they,” because I wasn’t involved yet) were doing great, adding congregations almost on a weekly basis.

But the scandal threw all that in the dumper for a while.

The president of our fellowship, a man widely liked, respected and admired, was discovered to be living a double life. He was, as it turned out, a secret bisexual. He couldn’t hide it anymore when his wife was diagnosed with H.I.V.

I came on staff some time later, when the wounds were beginning to heal. But the pain remained; the betrayal was far from forgotten. The man himself was still alive when I came in. He was a member of my church. I never met him as such, but I saw him often, a tall, gaunt man whose skin was darker than his genetics had intended. His wife had already passed away by then. He had repented and accepted discipline. He was on the sidelines, off the roster. I never heard him speak.

I know two of his daughters, both of them members of my church. Lovely, smart, godly women. I can’t even imagine the kind of emotional suffering they’ve been through.

I don’t have much point in writing this, except to remind people of the personal tragedy that accompanies scandals of this sort. Somebody’s in a lot of pain today, and could use your prayers.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture