Bret Lott Honored in Seattle

Author Bret Lott (Jewel, A Song I Knew By Heart) is to receive The Denise Levertov Award on May 8, 2007, at the Seattle Art Museum. He is the fourth to receive this honor. “The Levertov Award is presented annually in May to an artist or creative writer whose work exemplifies a serious and sustained engagement with the Judeo-Christian tradition,” reports Image Journal.

In related news, literary awards are important cues for readers who might not notice or hear of a book otherwise, according to Maya Jaggi. She writes, “Good fiction is a dialogue between story and reader, to which a reader brings not only personal history but imaginative experience of other books. Judging is as much about being open to others’ readings as trying to persuade them of your own.”

Out of uniform

In my list of Thinking Bloggers last night, I didn’t include Roy Jacobsen of Dispatches From Outland and Writing, Clear and Simple. This omission was not due to any waning in my enjoyment of his work, but due simply to the fact that he almost never posts anymore.

Just a hint, to nobody in particular.

I sat down at the computer tonight, and suddenly realized I hadn’t planned anything to blog about.

So I resorted to the scribbled post-it notes I collect in my pocket planner. There I found this thought, which is apropos of nothing in particular:

“If God answered all prayers in the same way, it would make Him appear to be an object, a device we can manipulate. But beyond that, it would make us objects as well. Uniformity is dehumanizing.”

One of the convictions that grows on me with every passing year is my revulsion against uniformity, when applied to humans. Uniformity is great in science and industry—understanding the laws of nature makes scientific progress possible, and the standardization of parts made valuable (and not so valuable) things available to more people than our ancestors could have dreamed of.

But the great enterprise of the modern Left has been to make people uniform. For all their talk about diversity and personal self-esteem, their definition of justice is equality, not of opportunity but of results. They believe (sincerely) that this will enrich human life, but in practice it reduces people to interchangeable ciphers. Why did Stalin have no problem murdering millions of people, merely because they were inconvenient to his plans? Because they were just numbers to him, just units. There were plenty more where they come from. I do not say that those who work for equal distribution of wealth are all like Stalin. But Stalins inevitably rise to the top when they acquire power. I think we see this in the increasing hostility to the very existence of humanity seen in sectors of the ecological and animal rights movements.

Many people think Jesus preached equality of wealth. They are wrong. He preached equality of contentment, a very different thing

How Could We Breathe Without Lungs?

The Abolition of ManFrom C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man, which I found in full on the Columbia University’s Augustine Club website:

Propaganda is their abomination: not because their own philosophy gives a ground for condemning it (or anything else) but because they are better than their principles. They probably have some vague notion (I will examine it in my next lecture) that valour and good faith and justice could be sufficiently commended to the pupil on what they would call ‘rational’ or ‘biological’ or ‘modern’ grounds, if it should ever become necessary. In the meantime, they leave the matter alone and get on with the business of debunking. But this course, though less inhuman, is not less disastrous than the opposite alternative of cynical propaganda. Let us suppose for a moment that the harder virtues could really be theoretically justified with no appeal to objective value. It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite sceptical about ethics, but bred to believe that ‘a gentleman does not cheat’, than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers. In battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism (such as Gaius and Titius would wince at) about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use. We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the ‘spirited element’.20 The head rules the belly through the chest—the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity,21 of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment—these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.

The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed it would be strange if they were: a persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment which Gaius and Titius could debunk as easily as any other. It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.

And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

On suffering

Phil mentioned several of my favorite blogs in his Thinking Blogger nominations. I might add Gene Edward Veith’s personal blog at World Magazine, The Recliner Commentaries, and S. T. Karnick.

Whew. I came home tonight and found my renter here, unloading another carload of personal stuff. If I hadn’t seen him tonight, I had a tentative plan to start nosing through his personal possessions in the hope of finding a phone number I could call to check on him. Apparently he’s just making a graduated move.

Another glorious day in my favorite season of the year. Not as warm as yesterday, only a click above sixty, but very nice for my evening walk. It would have been perfect if it weren’t for the subject matter on the radio…

Not that Hugh Hewitt isn’t handling it like a champ. He’s hanging up on the second-guessers and finger-pointers. He’s concentrating on talking about the victims, and about how people can help the survivors. Very classy. Hewitt at his best.

He brought David Allen White on to talk about suffering, and White touched on a thought that has intrigued me for some time. He read from Colossians 1:24:

“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (NIV)

“How can anything be lacking in Christ’s sufferings?” we ask. Here’s what the passage says to me. I don’t insist on it, and I’m open to correction.

But it looks to me as if this means that Christ’s suffering is still going on. I don’t mean His suffering for our sins. I believe that’s finished, complete. But He also is the Head of His Body, the Church. When we, the parts of the Body, suffer, the Head suffers. In that sense His sufferings will not end until the coming of the Kingdom. Therefore none of us who are in Christ suffer alone.

I remember reading long ago about a female martyr (I forget who) who was warned by her judge of the terrible sufferings she faced. She replied, in so many words, “I am one with my Lord, and it will not be me who suffers. It will be Him suffering for me.”

I don’t know if I’d have the courage to make such a statement of faith, but I like the sound of it.

Award: Thoughtful Provocation

From our Omnibus desk–it has come to our attention that some BwB readers have been encouraged, inspired, and provoked to deeper or more diverse thought. We don’t quite know how this could happen, and to the extent that anyone anywhere might be offended by this alleged provocation, we sincerely apologize. Specifically, to Sherry and Kathryn, the bloggers of BwB apologize for spurring your thoughts.

By way of penance, we have been asked to link to other blogs which have provoked our thoughts over the past few months. This would be an reasonable act, however, we don’t think. At all. The thought fairy shuns us (she has even stuffed thistles in my ears when I have considered thinking). We avoid even shallow thought whenever possible, which in our experience has been about 98% of our blogging lives. So we ask for mercy. In asking for mercy, we beg you, the unfortunate readers of this blog, to recommend blogs which have inspired you to further mental activity. Perhaps, the JunkYardBlog or the Blue Crab Blvd, The Thinklings or World Mag Blog. Don’t be shy. Tell us which blogs have provoked you.

The Thinking Blogger

Excalibur by Bernard Cornwell

First off, my prayers go out to the families and friends of the victims of the Virginia Tech atrocity. Commenter Aitchmark tells me that one of his good friends is an instructor there. According to the last message I got from him, his friend would appear to be all right. But lots of other people’s friends weren’t so lucky, and there are just no words to say except that we are thinking of them and lifting them up to God.

The news didn’t match the weather, at least not here. It was an exquisite day. Seventy degrees. Last Monday it was winter. Today it was summer. It’s enough to give you whiplash.

I had a busy weekend. On Saturday my new renter moved in. So far he’s been the perfect tenant—he’s hardly been here at all. He brought three carloads of stuff in on Saturday, and then I didn’t see him again. I didn’t see him on Sunday, but while I was gone he seems to have brought some more in. Today, nothing as far as I can tell. I don’t have a number to call to check on him. Hope everything’s all right.

On Sunday I did one of my Viking PowerPoints for the Norwegian Federation in St. Paul. It’s a Norwegian-American friendship organization. They fed me a nice lunch, laughed at my jokes, bought a good number of books and promise to send a gratuity check. I have no complaints. On top of that the meeting was held at Luther Seminary, so I can now put “Lecturer, Luther Theological Seminary” on my resume. (I’m joking, I’m joking.)

When I got home I was pretty wiped out, as I usually am after public speaking engagements. But the day was so gorgeous I forced myself to go out for a walk, bribing myself by designating the local Dairy Queen the terminus of my route. There were two long lines strung out in front of the place (it’s one of the old-fashioned ones where you stand outside). Minnesotans have a lot of pent up cabin fever to work off right now. I think if the Blizzard machine had broken down, it might have gotten ugly.

I finished Excalibur, the final book of The Warlord Chronicles trilogy by Bernard Cornwell, on Saturday. I think I have rarely both enjoyed and disliked a book so much.

I enjoyed it as a drama and an action book. The battle scenes were outstanding, particularly the Battle of Camlan, Arthur’s last battle. As I read it, I couldn’t help thinking, “I can’t believe that someone could figure out a fresh, exciting way to do Camlan, after all the times it’s been done before.” But Cornwell achieves that. He mixes action, suspense, pathos and lyricism in a way I only wish I could emulate.

What I disliked was the general picture of religion in general, and Christianity in particular. Cornwell seems to hold the view of the average “sensible” Briton today, that religion is all well and good, but all you really need is a little simple humanity, because religion tends to get out of hand.

Cornwell clearly isn’t promoting heathenism. Although his narrator is a heathen (through most of the book, and always in his heart), Cornwell pictures the old gods of Britain as cruel and bloody. They are, however, powerful.

Christianity, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have any inherent power at all. The great advances it makes in this story are all due to the priests telling lies and extorting conversions.

Cornwell’s position, it seems to me, is the very one that’s killing Europe. “If we’re just sensible, practical agnostics, everything will be fine. We can counter militant Islam through our enlightened culture and comfortable lifestyle. We don’t need to believe anything ourselves to defend our civilization from holy war.”

Sorry. I’m obsessed with Europe these days.

Anyway, I give Excalibur high marks as a novel, low marks in the culture wars.

Addendum: I forgot to mention he puts horns on the Saxons’ helmets. This is an egregious fault for which I can think of no excuse.

“Real as Possible” Scenario

Here’s a story I can’t pass up. Christian gunmen shot up a New Jersey school and took a few hostages in retaliation for one of their daughters being expelled for public prayer. At least, that’s how the terrorism simulation played out in a New Jersey high school last month. Don’t want to rile up folks over Muslim militants. No, sir. Christians, “who don’t believe in separation of church and state,” are a hair-trigger away from all out war. It’s a wonder they don’t preach on street corners while shooting down various people groups to which Revs. Sharpton and Jackson have referred in the past (audio link).

In related news, The European Union wants to avoid using words which link terrorism with Islam. Words such as “Jihad,” “Islamist” and “fundamentalist” are disfavored now.

Who Should Be Fired for This?

Employees at Waterstone’s, Britain’s largest bookstore chain, prefer male authors to female in a recent survey. “The company asked its 5,000 employees to name their favourite five books written since 1982, when Waterstone’s opened its first store. The resulting list of the top 100 favourites is dominated by male authors,” reports the UK Telegraph.

A store spokesman said, while women don’t care about an author’s gender, “Subconsciously, I think men stick to male writers. They think that what women write doesn’t appeal to them.” (via Books, Inq.)

Would They Add Conversation Value to My Bookshelf?

BookDaddy points out some odd book titles. The winning title for this year is The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification. On Amazon.com, reviewer Robin Benson, whom I hope received a free review copy of this, says, “Flick through this book and many of you might think [author] Julian Montague needs to get a life, roaming round the North Eastern states snapping the death throes of shopping carts, indeed. The book is a bit of fun though and quite cleverly thought out, but maybe the joke wears a bit thin by page 176.”

Oddly enough, Shopping Carts beat out How Green Were the Nazis? for oddest title.

Setting Lewis straight

This post will probably be completely incoherent, as I’m working under a time deadline. I have a Viking Age Society meeting tonight.

Actually, I have plenty of time to write this, but you never know what will happen. I might get an attack of writer’s block and have to leave without posting. I might have a sudden toilet explosion and have to spend the evening with a plunger and towels.

Worry as globally as possible, that’s my motto. Because disasters are always so much more bearable if you’ve worried yourself sick about them in advance.

Also I’m not entirely sure I haven’t posted on this subject before. But if I did it was a long time ago, and who remembers? That’s the upside of writing ephemera.

Anyway, thinking along the lines of my post last night, I thought I’d mention one point on which I differ (I think) with C.S. Lewis.

(That sound you hear is everyone who knows me intaking breath. [Taking in breath? Performing an intake of breath? Clumsy. Clumsy whichever way you go. Replace it or let it stand? Let it stand. I’m in a hurry here.]) I’m well known to be one of those Christian English majors who have trouble telling the works of CSL apart from canonical scripture.

But Lewis says in several places (I’d look it up, but like I said I’m sweating under a deadline here. High R-factor in those deadlines) that Jesus Christ introduced no new ethical ideas. And this is a good thing, in his view (and in mine) because good and evil are universal, and have been recognized, in generally recognizable forms, throughout all cultures throughout all history.

But I think Christ did introduce one fresh, unprecedented teaching. One teaching that no one had presented before. And that was personal humility in relation to one’s neighbor.

Other religions have taught humility before God. But Christ (correct me if I’m wrong) was the first to say, “You should treat your neighbor as if you were his servant. You should do nothing to defend your personal honor.”

Remember, you read it here first.

Unless you didn’t.

Hey, I’m done! In plenty of time, too!

Now I can worry about something else. Computer crash. Traffic accident on the way to the meeting tonight. I’ll come up with something.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture