Made Like Us in Every Respect

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:14-18 ESV)

Wheeling and dealing internationally

I was cited as a reliable source today over at Gene Edward Veith’s Cranach blog. I think this is good. Dr. Veith is now on his way to acquiring that high level of credibility he’s been striving for.

It looks like I’ve got a renter. The story (I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn) is rather weird.

Last night I got a call. It turned out to be a transcription call (or whatever they call it). That’s the kind of call you get from a deaf person. They type out a message which is read to you by the operator. Then the operator transcribes your reply so the caller can read it.

This caller was a businessman from Columbia, South Carolina, calling from Thailand (I’m not making this up). He was contacting me on behalf of his son, who is coming to study for a Master’s Degree somewhere in these parts. They (or he) saw my ad in the local Christian paper (probably on the web site, I would guess) and they want the room.

Sight unseen.

And they’ll pay an entire year’s rent in advance.

Hard to turn down an offer like that.

Around bedtime I got to thinking, “You know, this is suspicious. I get a call from a guy in the far east, whose voice I don’t get to hear. He offers me a sizable amount of money. I’ll bet this is a scam. I bet he’s going to end up asking for my bank account number.” (Which would be a joke on him. Hardly worth the cost of the phone call.)

But I checked my e-mail again and there was a message saying he’s sending a cashier’s check.

I can’t figure out a way for that to be bad.

Hope I get along with my new tenant.

When I get to meet him.

I think I know why it took this long to get a renter. This past Monday I sent an e-mail to the relatives in Norway, saying I wouldn’t be able to come to visit this year. I think if I’d had a renter, I might have opted to make the trip. And I think God doesn’t want me to do that in 2007. For reasons of His own.

His ways are above ours.

Have a blessed Maundy Thursday, friends.

Update: Commenter Susan warns me that this offer shows earmarks of a classic e-mail scam, and on checking I see that it does look suspicious. The main difference is the original contact by phone in my case. Security experts warn that one should never accept payment from a renter who contacts you by e-mail and does not examine the property first. I am going to take this very cautiously. Thanks to Susan for the heads-up.

The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell

Just as I expected (let’s face it—I’m always right, and it sucks) we had snow on the ground this morning. I can’t describe it as a blanket of snow. More of a sheet, with a low thread count. But it was white, and it’s not what we want to see in April (though we do, we always do). Most of it melted in the sun today, though the temperatures stayed below freezing. Tomorrow will be a little warmer, but it will be slow warming up. Easter, I think, will be about fifty.

Dave Alpern sent me Bernard Cornwell’s three Arthur books to read. I’d been thinking about reading the books, since I really like Cornwell as a writer (I especially enjoyed his seafaring thrillers, which he’s given up on because they didn’t sell). But I hesitated with these because I’ve become leery of all contemporary treatments of the Matter of Britain (reasons to follow).

Everybody, it seems, wants to write about Arthur, and some very good stuff has been done. I’ve thought about doing it myself, though it would mean trying to master a whole new cultural idiom. Stephen Lawhead did a series that pretty much accomplished what I meant to try (probably better than I’d have done it), so I figure, why bother?

Not that Lawhead entirely succeeded. I don’t think anyone has succeeded in writing a great Arthur novel since T. H. White. Since White everybody tries to set Arthur in his proper historical period. That’s fertile ground, and yet… no novel ever seems to achieve the promise.

When I read Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, or any of the earlier Arthurian material, I feel as if, from time to time, I get to peek through a spy hole in a theater curtain, looking at a great drama being performed. I can only see bits of the action and hear scattered words of dialogue, but it looks like a great play. Modern attempts to retell the Arthur story always look to me like attempts to reconstruct that hidden play, but they never live up to my hopes.

That said, Cornwell’s The Winter King (first of a trilogy) is pretty good.

Cornwell’s Arthur is not a king, but a “warlord,” regent for a king who’s still a small boy. This agrees well with the (meager) historical record, by the way, since our earliest reports of Arthur never call him a king. Also authentically, his primary concern is defending Celtic Britain from the inroads of the Anglo-Saxons. His primary challenge is the disunity of his own people, a situation he himself makes worse when he breaks an oath to a neighboring king. Real tragedy is at work here, in the classic sense where a man means to do good but is frustrated by his own passions.

The narrator is Derfel, a Saxon by birth and a former slave, who rises to become one of Arthur’s lieutenants. Derfel is a sympathetic voice, a deeply feeling and compassionate man, yet a great warrior, who writes the story in a monastery in his old age.

It was the religious element that made me wary of these books. The second volume is called The Enemy of God, after all, and that accords with some of the earliest accounts of Arthur in books of saints’ lives. Arthur seems to have had a bad reputation with the church. It’s been speculated that he appropriated church treasures to pay for his campaigns. There’s much opportunity here for an author with an anti-Christian axe to grind.

I wasn’t entirely happy with Cornwell’s treatment, but it could have been much worse, and I can’t pretend it lacks historical probability. Cornwell’s Arthur is a man of no particular religion in a Britain divided between Christians and heathens. The wars are not religious ones, and any given kingdom or army is mixed. One Christian priest is pictured pretty negatively, but other Christians look good (though it seems to me they are treated more sympathetically in reverse proportion to their orthodoxy).

On the other hand, Cornwell does not, as so many do today, gloss over the ugliness of heathenism. His Druids, even the friendly ones, are dangerous and half crazy, and their rites and ceremonies are bloody and ugly.

Merlin is presented as a Druid. He’s amusing, and reminds one of Gandalf, if Gandalf were utterly amoral and ruthless. He’s on Arthur’s side here, but everyone knows that that’s only because he finds Arthur useful. If Arthur becomes inconvenient to him he’ll throw him away like a small animal whose guts he’s divining from.

Cornwell doesn’t stick strictly to historicity. Later accretions like Lancelot and Camelot are included without apology.

As in any Cornwell novel, the battles are well thought out and vividly described. The end is extremely satisfying, but you know there’s more coming. Fortunately there are two more volumes.

I liked it a lot. It was as good as any Arthur book I’ve read, since White. It may even be the best since White.

Who Are You Telling to Shut Up?

Mark Bertrand encourages us to shut up and write.

I fear that the fundamental question in a Christian artist’s development — what it means to do art as a believer — is one he is not allowed to touch with a ten-foot pole. The answer has already been decided for him. “This is what it means,” his betters instruct him, and if he doesn’t listen he is kindly invited to go out into the mainstream, where people like him are welcome. The irony is not lost on readers of Scripture, but too often it is lost on the speakers themselves, who seem pleased to have caused the dust to be shaken off another pair of sandals.

Resources for Changing Lives

April 1–We call it April Fool’s Day because for a long time it was celebrated as New Year’s Day, and after the changing calendar, some clung to the old ways, I suppose despite a lack of evidence. Wikipedia notes the Nun’s Priest’s Tale as being a tale of two fools occurring on April 1, so whatever the reason, fools have come out of the closet on that day for a long time. I’ve always thought of it as an alternate New Year’s Day, which is why in Camelot they sing, “The lusty month of May, that darling month when everyone throws self-control away.” Now that I type it, it makes no sense whatsoever, but . . . onward.

If you’ve come to this week in April thinking your New Year’s resolutions are shot or that you really haven’t given yourself a chance to work them out, let my heartily recommend some fantastic booklets. P&R Publishing offers “Resources for Changing Lives,” a series of short books on hot-button issues and the harder stuff of New Year’s resolutions, such as anger, loneliness, depression, handling conflict, grief, marriage, cutting, and stress. Weight-loss is not among them nor is one on improving your sex life, but appetite and love are there.

The sweepings of the day

Well, it was a short summer.

(That’s a Minnesota joke. We like to use it in spring, when an early mild spell is followed by a return of cold weather and snow. Which is what happened today. It snowed on us, although the stuff melted when it hit ground. I expect the snow predicted for tonight will be waiting for us in the morning though.)

Just to bring you up to date on my personal life, which I know is why you come to this blog, I actually had a guy over to look at my room to rent on Sunday. What amazed me was that I’d made a special prayer that morning for the Lord to send me a renter. Then I got a call of inquiry before I left for church.

What spoils the story somewhat is that I suspect the guy won’t take the room. If I’m any judge of people (and I’m not), I don’t think he was much interested in what’s on offer here. But we’ll see.

Today counts as a good day, all in all. I banked my tax refund (smaller than I’d hoped, but welcome) and the Spectator ran my piece. I feel almost like a person today.

I close with the following quotation, which I found in a devotional book this morning. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that I like this one a lot:

What an amazing, what a blessed disproportion between the evil we do, and the evil we are capable of doing, and now seem sometimes on the very verge of doing! If my soul has grown tares, when it was full of the seeds of nightshade, how happy ought I to be! And that the tares have not wholly strangled the wheat, what a wonder it is! We ought to thank God daily for the sins we have not committed.

(Frederick W. Faber, 1815-1863)

Thank You Very Much, Sherry

Sherry of Semicolon is back in full force

  1. recommending Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild, an account of the end of Britain’s slave trade–she draws parallels between old arguments to current rationale in modern times;
  2. recommending Dissolution by C.J. Sansom, a historic crime novel;
  3. and saying very kind things about Lars, me, and BwB in the line of blog awards.

Thank you very much, Sherry. If only I deserved your praised–but then if I felt I deserved it, then maybe I wouldn’t.

Rest

This is a good week to ask this question. Are you comfortable at rest? Do you feel you have too much to do to stop for several minutes to be quiet, watch the grass grow, listen to the rain?

Requiem for bank robber

It only got up to about fifty today, with cloudy skies, and tonight it’ll rain. It might turn to snow.

See, I told you. The stab isn’t coming in March as I predicted, I grant you, but Madame March just handed the shiv off to Lady April. Lady April is just as villainous as Madame March, and the more dangerous because we trust her more.

In case you were wondering what happened with the police cordon I reported on Friday, it was indeed a serious business. And it ended in tragedy. Though not as awful a tragedy as it might have been.

According to news reports, a man named David Dahlen, previously incarcerated for bank robbery in California, walked into the Four Seasons Mall US Bank in Plymouth, Minnesota (which is next door to my dentist’s office, as it happens) with a gun. It’s unclear whether he left with the money he wanted or not, but he fled the bank and entered a house in the neighborhood. He forced the woman who lived there to leave at gunpoint. She called the police, and they sealed off the area. And waited.

While they waited, trying to contact him, he called his family. Then he put the gun to his chest and shot himself. After some hours the police entered the house and found the body.

It’s a sign of the depravity of our times that a story like that seems almost sweet. Here was a guy with a gun, on the run. The standard procedure for someone in that situation, in recent years, has been to take hostages or just shoot down innocent bystanders.

Robbing a bank is a bad thing. Pointing a gun at innocent people is a bad thing. I don’t want to be misunderstood on that. And I consider suicide a mortal sin.

But this guy had the chance to end his life like a Tarantino movie, and instead he chose to go out like someone in a Bret Harte story. In my book, that wins him a few sympathy points.

How many times have I heard of a hostage or sniper situation in the last few years and thought, “If you want to kill yourself, just kill yourself—don’t murder people who want to live”?

May the Lord have mercy on David Dahlen.

New Music in the Familiar

Philosopher William Alston on why he believes the claims of Jesus Christ:

I’m a Christian not because I have been convinced by some impressive arguments: arguments from natural theology for the existence of God, historical arguments concerning the authenticity of the Scriptures or the reliability of the Apostles, or whatever. My coming back was less like seeing that certain premises implied a conclusion than it was like coming to hear some things in music that I hadn’t heard before, or having my eyes opened to the significance of things that are going on around me.

Why America Hates New York City

They hate it for “cheap art-world stunts,” suggests James Panero. Clicking that link will show you an article on a chocolate sculpture representing Jesus on a cross. Sure it’s blasphemous, even if you think it’s defensible under our freedom rights, but James asks the right question, “Why have I yet to see a custard Mohammed?”

I heard a variant of that question from a Christian apologist who debated the Rational Response Squad for a few hours. They are group that encouraged people to deny the Holy Spirit on tape so that they were guaranteed eternal damnation according to their misuse of Scripture. The apologist asked if they respected Allah at all, which of course they did not, and why they didn’t encourage people to rant against him or Mohammed. They said they didn’t want to suffer the backlash. “So you are attacking Christians because we’re kinder?” he replied.

Sure they are. It was Jesus’ divine kindness, his focus on the kingdom not of this earth, that turned the crowd who shouted, “Hosanna,” for him on Sunday to shouting “Crucify him,” on Friday. So what do we do with this as Christians? Do we sigh and return to our petty concerns, our consumer needs, our entertainments? Or do we fight back?

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10 :3-6 ESV).

Book Reviews, Creative Culture