Uncle Buck

I’ve been planning to blog about Uncle Buck since last weekend, when I gathered with family and they gave me his yearbook. But other things to write about came up. So here it is, the birthday of the Marine Corps, and tomorrow is Veterans’ Day. And Uncle Buck was a Marine. Pacific Theater. WWII.

Good timing. Almost makes me believe in Divine Providence. Which I do believe in. Except when it comes to real life.

Years ago, one time when we were visiting his house, Uncle Buck handed me a red book. “This is the story of my unit in the Marines,” he said.

I should have realized what a big deal that was. Uncle Buck never talked about the war. Never.

I looked at the book for a while, but didn’t get much out of it. I’ve felt guilty about that ever since. Especially since he died of cancer in 1978.

Last Saturday, when I went down to Faribault for the burial of Uncle George and Aunt Martha, I was given the red book. It turns out to be pretty much what it looks like—a school yearbook. Only the school was Marine boot camp.

And it leaves me pretty much as ignorant as I was before.

I asked an aunt on Saturday, “Do you know where Buck fought in the Pacific? What battles he was in?”

She thought a second and said, “No, I really don’t. He didn’t talk about it much. I think he might have been at Wake Island. But they kept him out of some of the fighting because he’d gotten that Dear John letter. So he wasn’t in all the battles with his unit.”

The yearbook doesn’t help. I really shouldn’t have felt guilty about not getting much from it when he showed it to me. The name of the unit was the 9th Replacement Battalion. They trained at Camp Elliott, near San Diego in 1943. I can find no mention of them on the internet. For all I know they were dispersed to existing battalions after finishing their training.

Uncle Buck is still a mystery.

I remember him as a tough guy. A quiet man who never knew what to say to kids (never had any of his own), and who drank and smoked a lot. If I remember the story correctly, he met a girl in Australia while in the Pacific and got engaged to her. Then she sent him a Dear John letter, as mentioned above. He saw combat—somewhere. Eventually he contracted malaria and was discharged. He had recurrences of the malaria for the rest of his life. After the war he married a girl my grandfather didn’t like, converting to Catholicism to marry her. Everyone agreed he was a different man after the war than he’d been before.

We tell stories about our warriors. We make movies about them; build statues. We try to preserve some memorial, to let them know that we understand that they lost something they can never get back for the sake of the rest of us.

But we can’t really know. All we can do is say thanks, and give them what honor we can.

Semper Fi, Uncle Buck.

To all you veterans, thanks.

Renewing the Mind

Nate Shurden of Reformation21 on James E. White’s A Mind for God:

In a day where more and more Christians prefer humble ignorance to a cultivated mind and where the newest bestseller receives more attention than Christian classics, White’s introduction to Christian thinking is not a moment too soon. In a little over a hundred pages, we’re exposed to the world of the mind and principles by which our minds can be enlisted in the work of God for the glory of God. White understands our time to be filled with great promise and opportunity, like no other time in human history. But, equally so, ours is a time of great peril. We cannot continue to shirk our God-given responsibility to think and live in a consistently Christian manner. At heart, it’s a question of worship. Will we be conformed to this world or transformed by the renewing of our minds? Time will be our biographer; let us choose today what story will be told of us.

I submit that most of us in the modern church do not know what “conforming to the world” means. We may be able to define it adequately, but we can’t apply it to our lives and we don’t know what it looks like. “Taking every thought captive”–what does that mean? Do I have to give up Desperate Housewives?

‘God Delusion’ Helped by Reading the Word

Frank Wilson reviews Richard Dawkins’ complaint about faith in God, entitled The God Delusion. He says Dawkins doesn’t mind teaching the Word of God in classrooms for its cultural value and somehow believes this will undermine faith instead of build it. Frank notes:

As for teaching the Bible as literature, that might be the best way of communicating its spiritual message. If the scriptures were treated with the respect and attention we give to poems and novels and plays, with an appreciation for their often rich ambiguity, they would touch readers – in the way poems and novels and plays do.

I agree, but, Frank, why the complaint about people who take the Bible literally (which can be read at the end of his review)? Are you saying I shouldn’t believe Joshua really fought the Battle of Jericho several centuries ago?

“If a conservative order is to return . . .”

If a conservative order is indeed to return, we ought to know the tradition which is attached to it, so that we may rebuild society; if it is not to be restored, still we ought to understand conservative ideas so that we may rake from the ashes what scorched fragments of civilization escape the conflagration of unchecked will and appetite.

—Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind

SR directed my attention to ISI.org, and I found this quote which opens a pamphlet called, “Ten Books That Shaped America’s Conservative Renaissance.

Do Books Cost Too Much?

Interesting quotes from people on the Killjoy Express by way of The New Yorker: “Our wasteful consumer society buys, reads, and discards more brand-new hardcover fiction in a single day than the rest of the industrial world combined. I find that statistic staggering.”

Now, I don’t understand this man testimony: “People don’t seem to care where they start or stop in a book nowadays, so long as they’re reading. . . . And the minute they finish one novel they toss it aside and start another. I’ve seen people on the freeway flip through a novel to the dénouement, read it, and throw the book out the window. Then they’ll swing by a bodega, buy a new novel or two or a dozen, and be on their way. No one bothers to pick up the old novels, so they’re scattered all over, as we know, backing up in storm drains. The excess of it appalls me.”

Where does that happen?

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.”

Book Reviews, Creative Culture