Hymn: Our Salvation

I put these words to a 15th Century hymn tune, which is often sung as “Sing We Now of Christmas.” You can listen to a good midi version through that link. I also found part of it sampled from this choral album. It has that beautifully ancient quality I admire in many hymns.

Our Salvation

Glory to our God who reigns over everything.

He rebuilds our hearts to give us mind to sing

Of Him, the I Am

Our hope in heaven’s Lamb,

His redemptive choice, and eternal blessing.

The Lord gives His blessing to all who receive

By the mouth confessing, by the heart believe

That Jesus is Lord

And from the grave restored,

That all who come believing may His life receive.

To Love’s gracious call we could not answer then;

For as Adam’s children, we were dead in sin.

But Jesus, our Lord,

Had chosen us before

He set the planets spinning in the solar wind.

Did the Lord Teach Us Nothing?

I like this passage from Lars’ book, The Year of the Warrior, in which the hero is talking to his blind friend, Helge:

. . . I told Helge about Eyvind Ragnvaldsson. “He says the world is an illusion, subject to shaping by those who’ve trained themselves in secret truths. It’s heresy, of course–buut that knife passed straight through his body. I saw it. It jarred me, friend. I’ll say this to you, and to no other living man: Suppose we misunderstood our Lord? Suppose He rose from the dead because He knew that the world of things is but a dream and so was able to impose His will on the dream?”

“That’s easier to believe, I think, when you live by sight. For me, who must meet the world by ever barking my shins on it, it’s hard to shrug off bodies so lightly.”

“But suppose we can’t trust any of our senses?”

“Then why believe what you saw Eyvind do? The knife that passed through him cuts both ways.”

“You’re right, of course. I never thought of it so.”

“But it goes further. You must decide what you believe. Do you believe that our Lord spent three years with His disciples, and they learned nothing from Him at all? Absorbed not an inkling of His real teaching? If so, He was the worst teacher ever born. Can you really believe that?”

A Psalm for Violent Times

A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

O LORD, how many are my foes!

Many are rising against me;

many are saying of my soul,

there is no salvation for him in God. Selah

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,

my glory, and the lifter of my head.

I cried aloud to the LORD,

and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

I lay down and slept;

I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.

I will not be afraid of many thousands of people

who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O LORD!

Save me, O my God!

For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;

you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the LORD;

your blessing be on your people! Selah

(Psalm 3, English Standard Version)

Author Yoram Kaniuk from Tel Aviv

Nextbook.org is running a series of diary posts from Author Yoram Kaniuk, who has been called “the great Israeli voice of his generation.” Read his latest entry here. He writes, “Our war started when the British issued the Balfour Declaration, which gave the Jews the right to be recognized as a national entity. Since then, the war has been called by various names, but it’s the same war that began in 1920.”

I agree. Why do the leaders of the world disagree? Why does the American press disagree?

I wonder if many members of the press core don’t take the attitude of these girls Kaniuk quotes: “Five girls with their navels hanging out—two look like hooks for rings—are laughing and talking loudly. One says, ‘What? Are you sure? You’re kidding me! What? His father was killed by a rocket in Haifa? I just saw him a week ago. What a crazy country, that he could die that way, like, how weird is that?’”

Not just a crazy enough country, lass, but a crazy enough world in which would-be leaders and elected officials argue against your country’s right to defend itself. If Cuba had a militia in Mexico and kidnapped two of our soldiers after years of verbal abuse and forked-tongue diplomacy punctuated with errant missiles and suicide bombers in El Paso and Las Vegas, would the liberals of America argue for restraint and police procedure over military engagement? Israel was attacked, has been attacked, and will continue to be attacked by terrorists who do not believe they should exist. The U.N. appears to agree with the terrorists even though they have proclaimed Israel’s existence and mapped out their territory. And the old officials from the last administration as well as like-minded Democrats call for a ceasefire. What will that accomplish? Terrorists may stop shooting, but only to regroup.

News flash: Solomon was smarter than me

Today I started thinking about a certain practical concern, and I decided to pray about it.

I prayed something like this: “Lord, I’d appreciate it if you’d provide _______ for me. However, there’s lots of people in greater need, so if the answer is no, I’ll understand.”

I thought this a very mature kind of prayer. I’ve always had Solomon’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 1 in mind when I pray: “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (NIV). God responds, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, riches or honor…, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, riches and honor….” (v.11-12).

The lesson I drew from this as a child was, “Don’t ask for much. God will be pleased with your humility, and maybe He’ll throw in some goodies as a reward.”

But it occurred to me today (and you adults probably knew this already) that that’s not the point at all.

Solomon doesn’t ask for small things. Wisdom and knowledge aren’t small. What he’s asking for is precisely the tools he needs in order to do the work God has set before him. He’s asking God to equip him for his vocation.

Passive-aggressiveness is a sickness of the soul. Also I’m pretty sure God can’t be manipulated into rewarding me for fake humility.

I wonder if I’ll ever live long enough to grow up.

I’ll be taking another blog-break until Monday evening. I’ll be in Decorah, Iowa for the Nordic Fest, playing Viking, live-steel fighting, and selling a few books (I hope). If you’re in the area, stop by. The Viking encampment is next to the Vesterheim museum.

SOLD: Multnomah and Thomas Nelson

Bloomberg reports on the sale of two Christian publishers to large publishing corporations. The more recent deal, the sale of Multnomah, is still anonymous. Publishers Weekly believes the buyer is Random House, though they already own WaterBrook Press so why would they buy another Christian publisher.

On June 8, Thomas Nelson was sold to InterMedia Partners, a private equity firm.

The article concludes with this interesting note:

Thomas Nelson has even invested in its own form of the mega- church. In 2000, the company bought the Women of Faith franchise. Based in Plano, Texas, this self-described “spiritual spa” offers music and a roster of speakers — often Thomas Nelson authors — over two days in an arena setting. Last year, an average of 15,000 people attended each event, and 422,000 people in all bought tickets.

These events have plenty of well-stocked book tables. Thomas Nelson President Michael Hyatt said exposure like this is better than anything he can get in a bookstore.

Success, plus inventory meditations

I heard from the man with the genealogy information last night, and he seems to know pretty much everything Cousin Trygve wants to find out. I got the highlights to pass on to him, and I’ll get documents with details when I go down to Decorah this weekend.

Another crisis met and mastered, less than the dust beneath my chariot wheels.

I was back at work today, inventorying books. I found a commentary on Revelation called something like The Letters of Jesus Christ to the Churches. The title hit me funny, and I realized I’d always had a misconception about the New Testament. I’d thought that Jesus left no personal writings behind, but for those of us who believe in the full inspiration of Scripture, the first three chapters of Revelation clearly constitute seven epistles to churches, dictated by the Lord Himself.

Then a second thing occurred to me. If 20th Century American Christians were to imagine an epistle from Jesus, it wouldn’t be like the real ones at all.

Here’s the sort of thing we’d write:

My dear children,

How are you? I just wanted to write and tell you how much I love you. I derive such pleasure from watching you living and growing, enjoying your lives and your families.

I’m not happy about some of the things you do, but I want you to know that no matter how often you fall, I’ll always be right there to lift you onto your feet again. I have such wonderful plans for you—if you could just see what they are, you’d be amazed…

You get the idea.

Now look at what He actually writes. He compliments the churches a little (if He can), and tells them very clearly what they’re doing wrong. He warns them in no uncertain terms that if they don’t straighten up and fly right there will be serious, eternal consequences. The only warm fuzzies he has to offer are to churches under severe persecution, and the best He can promise them is a reward if they hold out to the end (that is, until their enemies kill them).

Compare and contrast.

Later, I picked up a book called The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology, by Charles P. Krauth, D.D., published in 1871 by the United Lutheran Church Publishing House in Philadelphia. The first line of the Preface caught my eye:

That some form of Christianity is to be the religion of the world, is not only an assured fact to the believer in Revelation, but must be regarded as probable, even in the judgment which is formed on purely natural evidence.

That was how it looked in 1871, folks. Everybody, even skeptics, were pretty sure that Christianity was so obviously superior to all other religions that it must inevitably be universally adopted in time. This idea went hand in hand with the certainty that Western Culture, in its obvious superiority, was destined to be taken up by every nation and tribe, as each was educated and gained enlightenment.

It’s a depressing thought, considered in light of how the world has changed since then.

But I prefer to think of it in a more positive way. It’s a reminder that things that look inevitable in one age often turn out to be very evitable indeed. Global warming, Islamicization, ever-increasing government power, homosexual marriage… any and all of them may fizzle and end up as a bad joke.

We’re not as wise as we think, and that’s often a good thing.

Using the Bookstore as a Library

Lynne Scanlon also complains about the shoppers in some stores, which I felt was interesting enough to put in a unique post:

If Borders were to become the preferred destination for book buyers, people would walk or drive the extra distance and pass right by a Barnes & Noble.

Jones already gets the message that too much time is spent by walk-ins and loungers who spend too little money at the cash registers. He’d like to remedy that, so would I. I loath tripping over those parked baby buggies (install meters!) and having to deal with kids whose moms use Barnes & Noble as a place to kill a few hours on the cheap. PT Barnum faced the same problem until he hung a sign that said: “This Way to the Egress!” I like the idea of a sign that reads: “First you pay, then you read.”

Is that too harsh? Does it conflict with her idea about inviting writers to write on in-store computers? Does it conflict a bit with coffeeshops in stores?

Suggestions for Remaking a Major Bookseller

Lynne Scanlon notes that Borders Group has a new CEO, and she wonders what he could do to make Borders and WaldenBooks more attractive than Barnes & Noble. She has many great suggestions:

  • Make exclusive arrangements with publishers to sell specific books at Borders and Borders only.
  • Create a “new format” book that is sold exclusively at Borders.
  • Co-publish books with Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and medium- and small-sized publishers. Give preferential shelf placement in lieu of a cash investment.
  • Have a prestigious VIP cash register and pass out discount coupons to the big spenders, say, at the $150 purchase level.
  • Rope off a special VIP room for people who buy books in quantity and make these readers feel important because they are!
  • Have “For Authors Only Socials” where local authors meet local authors in Borders to socialize over a glass of wine or something significantly stronger.
  • Offer to rent computer space in Borders to struggling writers.

There are more and commenters join in. What do you think?

CNN Reporting Hezbollah’s Prepared Message

CNN’s man in Beirut, Nic Robertson, told CNN’s Reliable Sources host Howard Kurtz that Hezbollah controlled his story entirely. Rich Noyes blogs on it:

Robertson suggested Hezbollah has “very, very sophisticated and slick media operations,” that the terrorist group “had control of the situation. They designated the places that we went to, and we certainly didn’t have time to go into the houses or lift up the rubble to see what was underneath,” and he even contradicted Hezbollah’s self-serving spin: “There’s no doubt that the [Israeli] bombs there are hitting Hezbollah facilities.”

Lars Walker, down the mean streets

I picked Cousin Trygve up at the airport on Friday afternoon. I took him home to Blithering Heights (“Is this Mrs. Hermanson?” he asked when he saw my car. Probably the only time that’ll ever happen). He gave me Sissel Kyrkjebø’s latest CD as a gift, and I played it while we got acquainted. We settled into a language system—he spoke English to me, and I spoke Norwegian to him. It seemed to work out best for both of us that way.

On Saturday morning, not too early, I drove him down to Kenyon, to show him the grave of Martha Swelland, my great-grandmother and the half-sister of his great-grandfather (I think I’ve got that right. I lose track). I also showed him the farm where the Swellands had lived, along with the farm where I grew up, which is just next door. I took him through Monkey Valley, the inspiration for Troll Valley in my novel Wolf Time, and the original, long-abandoned town site of Epsom (also prominent in Wolf Time).

Here’s the mystery he’s hunting: My great-great-grandmother, Mari Olsdatter, the mother of Martha Swelland, had a child out of wedlock before marrying Haldor Syverson, my g-g-grandfather. When they and their children emigrated to America in 1881, they brought that child along. He was a young man by then, and his name was Ole Nielsen.

This Ole Nielsen had fathered an out-of-wedlock child himself before emigrating. This child grew up and lived his life in Norway, and he was the ancestor of Cousin Trygve. Cousin Trygve made contact with me on the basis of the story of Lars Swelland, which I told on this blog a while back. I was the first relative on that side he’d ever been able to find in America.

His quest is to find out what happened to Ole Nielsen over here. Nobody in Norway ever heard what became of him. Nobody in my family seems to know either. So I wanted to do what I could to try to help him in that. But I wasn’t very hopeful. Asking questions, as I’ve said more than once, is not my strong suit.

On Sunday I took him down to Zumbrota, Minnesota to meet Cousin Dorothy. Cousin Dorothy is my dad’s first cousin, a Swelland by birth. She’d told me over the phone that she didn’t know much, but was happy to have us come down for lunch.

Dorothy and her husband gave us a lovely lunch in their pleasant house. In the manner of all Great Detectives, I did my best to draw her out, priming the pump with my own memories of my grandmother (her aunt) and others in the family.

Finally she said, “You know, you ought to go to the Severson Reunion. They hold a reunion down in Iowa every year! I think I’ve got the invitation around here somewhere.”

Bingo. The Seversons were precisely the family we were trying to make contact with. Dorothy couldn’t find the invitation, but she gave me the name and address of the man who sent it. Turns out he’s actively involved with the Vesterheim Norwegian Immigration Museum in Decorah, Iowa (where I’ll be traveling for the Nordic Fest this coming weekend).

A relative who organizes family reunions and is involved in the immigration museum. I think it’s just possible he may be able to help us.

Who says Avoidants can’t be great sleuths?

Unfortunately, our resource guy doesn’t seem to be at home right now. I’m awaiting his call-back. I drove Trygve up to Fergus Falls today and passed him off to some relatives on the other side of his family.

But I’m feeling pretty Sherlockian today. I’m debating whether to start smoking a pipe, or to adopt the more socially acceptable habit of mainlining cocaine.

Comic Con: Smarter Pop Culture

This report by Borys Kit states that Hollywood knows where to woo and make-up with “pop culture’s smart set”–at the largest comic book convention in the country. A quick run-down:

  • Bryan Singer announced that he was discussing the sequel to his Superman movie. The crowd loved the idea, despite the many problems they had with it.
  • How about this answer Singer gave to the fan who thought that having an illegitiate child would compromise Superman’s character: “Love in the modern world takes many forms,” he said. “There are many kinds of families that exist now, and sometimes pregnancies occur unintentionally, and it’s a choice to have a child.” Profound.
  • Principles from Spiderman 3 appeared.
  • Samuel L. Jackson, who hails from Chattanooga, TN, bowled over the crowds.
  • Studios showed excerpts from “Children of Men,” “Stardust,” and “Eragon.”
  • Bryan Singer said comic books will prove to be the mythology of our age.

Open Mic

I hope to blog later today, but don’t let that stop you from commenting while I wait. I know you’ve been wanting to say something, so go ahead.

Technical Errors in Some Recent Christian Fiction

Five-time Christy Award Judge Jana Riess talks about this year’s batch of first novels. After praising some specific books, she writes:

As a judge, every year I’ve been able to say quite honestly that despite generally uneven quality and a few total dogs in each batch, the overall picture for Christian fiction continues to improve. This year, however, gave me pause. What was interesting was that my main criticism in the past — that the novels tended to be overly didactic and preachy — was not a common problem among the 25 novels I read. There were only a few that hammered readers over the head with A Message. Instead, this year’s problems were technical: characters who were important in the first half of the book who entirely disappear in the second. Plot threads that go absolutely nowhere. Stock characters and plots that are almost entirely predictable. Overuse of sentence fragments. And excessive conjunctions at the beginning of sentences.

Read on. [seen in on JMarkBertrand.com]

Congratulations to Nicole Mazzarella for her debut novel, This Heavy Silence.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture