Victor Immature

(OK, let’s try this a second time. As you can tell, being the conservative I am, I’m incapable of dealing with change. So this new utility throws me into a tizzy, impelling me to throw my apron over my head at the first setback, jump up on a stool and cry, “Kill it! Kill it now!”)

Anyway, I was closing up the bookstore yesterday and my gaze fell on a book of Bible stories for children. One of the prominent figures on the cover was a bare-chested muscleman whom I assumed was supposed to be Samson. And that got me thinking about that character.

You’ve almost got to put Samson on the cover of a kids’ Bible book, because he’s one of the few Bible characters who really gets their attention. No matter how good a Sunday School teacher you may be, you know you’re never going to raise the same interest in the story of Nehemiah and his walls as you’ll get with the story of Samson. Samson’s story is simple. Samson himself was simple. He liked to party and he liked to fight, and when somebody crossed him, he killed them. Spiritualize the story all you like, but basically that’s what it is.

His story is a dysfunctional saga in the Bible’s most dysfunctional book—Judges, where “there was no king in Israel, and every man did what was right in his own eyes.”

Ever see the Cecil B. DeMille movie, “Samson and Delilah,” with Victor Mature and Hedy Lamar? It’s one of those sand-and-sandal extravaganzas that hasn’t held up well with the years, imho. It opens with a common movie device for those days—an open book, and a narrator reading what’s written on the page, in case anyone in the audience is illiterate, or Lithuanian, or something. This opening explains that Samson was a heroic freedom fighter, struggling to free his people from the yoke of the oppressive Philistines.

Which is hooey.

Pick up your Bible and go to the Book of Judges, chapters 13-16. Read the story and find me any passage where it speaks of Samson fighting for freedom, or even speaking up for freedom. He doesn’t do it. He doesn’t even speak up for God (though he speaks to Him at the end). He seems perfectly happy to hang out with the Philistines and party with them, until they cross him.

The Philistines (do you say “Fill-i-steen” or “Fill-i-stine?” I used to say “steen,” but I’ve gotten all hoity-toity in recent years and have been trying to learn to say “stine”), if I remember my history properly, were related to the Cretans, who were related to the Minoans, who were related to the Greeks. In other words they were Europeans who’d invaded the Middle East and snatched some prime real estate. Kind of like Vikings (I have a suspicion that Samson went after Philistine women because, like many guys before and since, he had a thing for blondes). The Philistines controlled iron technology in the region, which gave them a huge economic and strategic advantage. They had all the money and all the neat toys, and Samson appears to have enjoyed their culture quite a lot.

It wasn’t until the Philistines broke up his engagement and murdered his fiancée and her father that he started killing them. It had nothing to do with freedom, or with the Hebrew religion. It was pure personal vengeance. God made use of Samson, certainly, but Samson’s devotion isn’t evident in the story.

So the spiritual meaning, such as it is, seems to me to be that guys who waste their gifts and talents, break God’s law (Samson violates his Nazirite vows numerous times) and live by their lusts come to bad ends. There’s some grace at the point of death, which is a comfort, but all in all it’s a tragic story.

(Needless to say, the above commentary was written by a life-long wimp.)

Adrian’s Recommended Reading

England’s uber-blogger Adrian Warnock has a list of books which he believes every Christian should read:

  1. ESV Bible
  2. God is the Gospel by John Piper
  3. Humility – True Greatness by C.J.Mahaney
  4. Living the Cross-Centered Life by C.J.Mahaney
  5. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
  6. Spurgeon’s Sermons
  7. Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
  8. C.H.Spurgeon, The Soulwinner
  9. What is Reformed Theology?

The list is certainly weighted toward certain authors, but the books look to be contenders for required reading. What do you think?

Please pray for Adrian’s health and that the Lord would give him grace to perservere through his sickness. He has shingles.

Expert in Another Field

Keith Burgess-Jackson writes that Noam Chomsky has strong opinions on foreign policy and morality, but so what?

Chomsky’s expertise as a linguist (or as an amateur but competent philosopher of language) has no bearing on anything moral or political, including matters of foreign policy. These two aspects of his life are, quite simply, unrelated. That he has strong opinions about American foreign policy in general or the war in Iraq in particular is no more significant than that others, such as classicist Victor Davis Hanson, have equally strong but opposite opinions. So why does anyone care what Chomsky thinks? I suspect it’s because people commit a fallacy. Expertise (or the authority that rests on it) is not transferable from realm to realm. It’s realm-specific.

I suppose Chomsky’s opinion has the same weight as that of a celebrity. I wonder of Kevin Bacon thinks about it.

Hawthorne family reunited?

The news out of Concord, Mass. is that about 40 descendants of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne gathered in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to view the reburial of Sophia and her daughter Una, who were previously entered in a London cemetery where they lived after Nathaniel’s death in 1864.

Now the bodies are near each other in Concord, but the article quotes a literature professor, talking about their passionate marriage, as saying, “It’s a misfortune that they were separated in death. It’s very satisfying to anyone who knows the story of the Hawthorne marriage that they’re being reunited for eternity.”

It probably isn’t polite to disagree with this small point of theology, but that’s why we blog, isn’t it? I’m glad the family is encouraged by this burial decision, but I hope they know that Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne have been eternally together for over a hundred years now, rejoicing along with Longfellow and Melville in the love of God the Father who has welcomed them for eternity through the redemption of Jesus Christ.

That Joseph, He Talk Like a White Boy

Sherry of Semicolon has a new URL for her blog and a review of Joseph C. Phillips’ new book about being a conservative black Christian living in Hollywood. She writes:

He is not a stereotypical black American, Joseph Phillips has faced misunderstanding and accusations of not being ‘black enough.” He has struggled to understand how much of his identity as a person depends on the color of his skin and how he can fit into American society as not just a man and an actor, but as a black man whose “race” is an inevitable part of what other people see when they see him, an inevitable part of the image he sees in the mirror.

You can read Phillips’ essays on his website.

My fame grows

I just sent an e-mail to the guy who runs my website, telling him to note that I’ll be at the Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa, July 27-29. I gave him a link to their web page. I then scrolled down the page and found picture of myself playing Viking last year, handsome in a red shirt. You can see it here.

Coming: A good day to die

My local conservative talk radio station just changed their promo spot for the Michael Savage Show. Best I can figure out, the excerpt they’re using is one where Savage himself isn’t speaking, but a substitute host is.

That strikes me as brilliant marketing. What better come-on could there be for the Savage show than the promise that maybe Savage won’t be on tonight?

Sunday was a pretty good day. I went out to Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis to be part of the Viking Age Club & Society’s encampment for the annual Swedish Day celebration.

The weather started out rainy, but about the time we began setting up it cleared beautifully, and the temperatures were mild by summer standards. I sold a few books, and there were pretty blonde girls to look at. Can’t do much better than that.

I think it’s good for me to do the Viking thing. It gets me out into the fresh air for one thing, something I probably wouldn’t do at all if left to my own devices. It forces me to relate to my fellow humans, something I tend to neglect likewise. And it forces me to lift heavy objects (one of the tough parts of being a Viking is that everything’s made out of steel or wood, and the better your kit the heavier the load you have to carry around). By the way, I successfully pitched the new awning shade I made, following these directions. It’s not historically authentic, but I’ve accumulated too many sunburns portraying subarctic Europeans.

But the big news is that soon I’ll be fighting with a sword.

Eric and Ragnar did all the fighting this time, but we had some further practice, and I got more comfortable with the moves. I was waiting for them to tell me that I was ready to join in, but while we were striking camp I found out they’d been waiting for me to declare myself ready. Apparently my apprenticeship is over, and I’m ready to fight (translation: be killed) at our next event.

Can’t wait.

Five Favorites from Thirty Evangelicals

World’s July 1 cover story is made up of lists of favorite books and films from various Christian artists, writers, thinkers, and public officials. The link won’t reveal the article unless you subscribe to the magazine, but here are a few of the selections. They chose favorites, not necessarily what they think is the best of the field.

  • Scott Derrickson, Writer-director of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, gaves The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell and the film Breaking the Waves.
  • Brian Godawa chose Intensity, by Dean Koontz
  • Denis D. Haack of Ransom Fellowship offered Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  • Joe Carter of The Evangelical Outpost chose Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card and Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman

There were many more selections, but you’ll have to find the magazine or subscribe online to get them and the other book and movie articles this week.

Turning Freetime into Books

[First posted May 24, 2003] The Boston Globe reported on Massachusetts resident Francis McInerney, who is Amazon.com’s #7 reviewer [Now he is #36]. He began writing reviews a few years ago in his free time and has become influential among some editors. At least, I assume he has some influence with those editors who send him advance reader copies and galleys.

Quoted in the article, Elizabeth Taylor, literary editor of the Chicago Tribune, said, “I tell reviewers that a review should be a letter to a very smart friend. It should be rigorous, intellectually enterprising, artfully written, persuasive, and the reviewer should be clear about any conflicts and about point of view.” That reminded me of something George Grant said about the books he reviews. He said that after he had read a few chapters, he could usually tell whether the whole book would be worthwhile and if it was, he usually praised its merits. If it wasn’t, he stopped reading. That’s why, he said, most of his reviews were positive. He didn’t want to waste his time or his readers’ by reading and reviewing an avoidable book. World Magazine Editor Marvin Olasky made a similar comment regarding the books he reads while on his treadmill.

That’s as it should be, isn’t it? What purpose is served by negative reviews in general? Steve Almond, who had a short story collection published in 2002, wrote an article on the pain of negative reviews in the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. It supports my notion that book reviews in general ought to be positive. The existence of the review draws attention to the book being review, and some believe that no publicity is bad; so why do some books warrant a special warning for the hapless reader? I think I understand negative reviews of bestsellers. Books on the Top 10 lists attract attention, and if a particularly bad book makes it there, professional reviewers may feel obligated to warn their trusted readership against it, as does David Prather of The Huntsville Times in his review of the best-selling The Da Vinci Code. He wrote, “How much dreadful writing can [readers] accept to follow an interesting plot?” But of course, a bestseller must have something going for it or it wouldn’t be a bestseller—or maybe, it wouldn’t be a bestseller for weeks on end. But for those books which receive a lot of hype, like Mrs. Clinton’s upcoming, deserve honest reviews from a professional. (first seen on MobyLives.com)

Speaking of reviews, The Mobile Press-Register reviewed a biography of the great Southern writer Peter Taylor. Reviewer Thomas Uskali summaries the book by Hubert McAlexander by writing, “McAlexander covers every year of Taylor’s life, but in a manner that bogs down in details gleaned from interviews, letters and other research. Taylor himself told McAlexander that he didn’t consider his own life worthy of a biography, and while it is absolutely certain that Taylor’s life warrants one, it is also clear that there is much richness that gets overlooked in the barrage of minutiae.”

The Ruined Soul

We should be very sure that the ruined soul is not one who has missed a few more or less important theological points and will flunk a theological examination at the end of life. Hell is not an ‘oops!’ or a slip. One does not miss heaven by a hair, but by constant effort to avoid and escape God. ‘Outer darkness’ is for one who, everything said, wants it, whose entire orientation has slowly and firmly set itself against God and therefore against how the universe actually is. It is for those who are disastrously in error about their own life and their place before God and man. The ruined soul must be willing to hear of and recognize its own ruin before it can find how to enter a different path, the path of eternal life that naturally leads into spiritual formation in Christlikeness.

— Dallas Willard (1935- ), The Renovation of the Heart

Reading Literature for Life and Freedom

[Originally posted May 24, 2003] The Atlantic has published a great interview this month (available by subscription) called, “The Fiction of Life: Azar Nafisi, the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, on the dangers of using religion as an ideology, and the freedoms that literature can bring.” It’s about how the Western Canon of literature educated and provided emotional release for many Islamic women in Tehran. I was drawn to it by part of the subtitle, “the dangers of using religion as an ideology.” As I understand the words of that phrase, I could reword it like this, the dangers of using a system of beliefs about God as a system of beliefs about life. Shouldn’t our religion form the basis of our ideology, if they aren’t the same thing? Conversely, if our beliefs about God have nothing to do with our beliefs about life, then as St. James said, how can we prove that we really hold those beliefs about God?

But that’s not how the article uses “ideology.” It means the Iranian government’s way of shunning opposing ideas and demanding outward conformity. What Author Nafisi describes as ideology is a set of Islamistic political rules which aren’t open for debate, rules which are based in Islam or worded in religious language, but are not the natural outworking of the faith. It’s tyranny wrapped in the Islamic language. As such, her comments on freedom and the life-giving qualities of fiction apply to any tyrannical society, those cloaked in religious language and those opposed to it. (But then, even secular tyrannies define themselves in religious terms. God is not non-existent; the state has just taken his place.) Nafisi praises the freedom of ideas, saying that Western literature, such as Austen and Nabokov, exposes readers under oppression to inconceivable stories of freedom and hope.

Welcome to the New Brandywine Books

Brandywine Books sealI’m having a hard time blogging in present due to a loud recording of me reading an abridged Alice in Wonderland to my sweet children. They have left the room now, but the recording still plays. But enough on the personal life.

Welcome to the new Brandywine Books. In case you are brand, spanking new to this blog, let me explain that we are not affliated in any way with the Brandywine Valley in Pennsylvania and Delaware or the rare and used bookseller by the same name in Winter Park, Florida. Brandywine Books is a blog name of my own creation, inspired by the river in east Hobbiton where Meriadoc Brandybuck’s family makes their home.

This is the second home of this blog. The first is on the blogspot servers, where I hope it will stay for a while in order to maintain the integrity of the Internet (or something). I will repost some of the old posts, if they are still interesting, and soon a list of popular posts will appear in the sidebar.

Let us know what you think of the new blog. Have a good weekend.

lw: Some things are as lovely as a tree

I actually had another spot of good luck yesterday, which I neglected to mention.

As Lord and Master here at Blithering Heights, I’ve been concerned, since the snow melted, about my tree cover. Specifically the single large tree in my front yard (I think it’s probably an ash, but I’m not much good with trees. My only other tree is a big fir [or something] in back). The front yard tree drops a lot of small, dry branches, and it didn’t leaf out very well this spring. On top of that, it has a sort of soggy spot on the trunk, where it appears a branch was lopped off long ago.

So I called an arborist last week. His wife answered the phone, took my number, and said he’d get back to me. A diagnostic visit would cost $65. He never called me back.

Yesterday I called another arborist. He listened to my story and told me he could come out and do some tests ($50), but his recommendation was that I should call my City Forester, who’d look at it for free. The downside of that approach would be that if the Forester condemned the tree, there’d be no appeal. But he didn’t think I had a terminal problem, judging from what I’d told him. He also suggested pounding in some tree food spikes, available at any hardware store.

So I picked up some spikes tonight, and I’ll be installing them later this evening. If that doesn’t help, I’ll call the Forester.

I selected this arborist because, although his ad didn’t feature any telltale fish symbols or anything, his choice of business name suggested he was a Christian. He certainly does business as we like to think Christians do (and are too often disappointed).

Maybe civilization isn’t coming to an end right away after all.

Lars Walker

Book Reviews, Creative Culture