Bitter? Moi?

Haven’t got much to tell tonight. I’ve delayed coming online in order to keep my phone free so the repairman may call me and tell me my desktop (home of my high-speed connection) is fixed. Of course there’s been no such call.

The only thing I’ve got to report is a call that did come in—at work—from the friend I call Chip (for blogging purposes, not personal conversations).

I don’t think I’ve told you what Chip does for a living. He drives a limousine. It’s a perfect job for him. He likes to drive and he likes to talk to people. When I think of a guy finding his niche, Chip leaps (or rolls) to mind.

Anyway, he called me at my office number and said, “I’m driving a guy named Neil Gaiman around today. You ever heard of him?”

I said yes, I’d read one of his novels.

Chip had to hang up then, because Gaiman and his handlers were at that moment piling back into the limo to be transported from Minnesota Public Radio to some bookstore. Or something.

He called back later to tell me where Gaiman would be speaking and signing books this evening, in case I wanted to come.

I chose not to. I had a computer repair call to wait for. And frankly I’m still somewhat miffed that in a world where there’s probably only room for one big novel about Odin trying to set up shop in modern America, it was Gaiman’s book that found that particular niche and not my own Wolf Time.

If Gaiman wants to meet me, let him ask me to lunch. That’s what I say.

The phone continues silent.

The Best Ice Cream Vote

Let’s discuss something serious for a moment, shall we? What’s your favorite ice cream brand? I buy Edy’s most often, and I prefer it to Breyers. Edy’s vanilla or their cream in general tastes richer, creamer, thicker than Breyers. Is it better or even noticably different than the locally churned Mayfields or Texas-based Blue Bell? I don’t know. I may like those brands equally.

But what about you? Do you prefer the grocery store brands, the high-end ones, or the ones mentioned above?

Language Police in Malaysia

“Malaysia in its bid to preserve and strengthen ‘Bahasa Malaysia’, the national language, will fine the ‘mutated and incorrect’ use of language by people and also on billboards and posters,” reports PTI. That misuse is by mixing the national language with filthy English into what’s called “Manglish.”

I know some English speakers, like, want to soap up their language too, get it all 99.94% pure and stuff. I think that’s so-o passe, like pre-historic 19th Century stuff, you know?

Yoduk Story, A Musical from North Korea

If Les Miserables, the book or musical, described the circumstances of modern people somewhere in the world, how would you respond? A defector from North Korea has done just that with a musical called, Yoduk Story. The producers says, “For two and a half hours, this epic based on true eyewitness testimonies depicts the horrors and desperate love still occurring inside Yoduk Political Prisoners Camp, the living hell on earth.”

A hypocrite’s pretty much like a prude, right?

Today Gene Edward Veith at Cranach blogged on the point (which I’ve brought up myself here) that in our society today all crimes, however vile, are considered preferable to hypocrisy. In theory the modern American thinks that a man who struggles in the privacy of his soul with a besetting sin like drunkenness is a hypocrite, and therefore far more to be condemned than a mass murderer, providing the mass murderer commits his crime in public, before the eyes of all.

In my comment I referenced a poem of Ogden Nash’s, which seemed to me prophetic. I’ll post the poem here. This version comes from the collection Verses From 1929 On, published by Modern Library.

THE STRANGE CASE OF THE IRKSOME PRUDE

Once upon a time there was a young man named Harold Scrutiny.

*

Harold had many virtues and practically no vices.

*

He smoked, to be sure.

*

Also he drank and swore.

*

Moreover, he was a pickpocket.

*

But, for all that, Harold was no prude.

*

I am no prude, Harold often said.

*

But Detective Guilfoyle of the Pickpocket Squad is a prude, the old prude, said Harold.

*

One day Harold went into the subway to pick some pockets.

*

There was a man on the platform penciling a beard on the lady on the toothpaste placard.

*

Hey, said Harold.

*

Hey who, said the man.

*

Hey you, that’s hey who, said Harold.

*

Aren’t you going to give her a moustache?

*

Sure I’m going to give her a moustache, said the man.

*

What do you think I am?

*

I think you’re somebody that puts beards on ladies on toothpaste placards before they put on the moustache, said Harold.

*

Don’t you know enough to put the moustache on first?

*

You put the moustache on first, why then you can turn it up or turn it down, whichever you want, said Harold.

*

You try to turn a moustache down after the beard’s on, it runs into the beard, said Harold.

*

It don’t look like a moustache, only like a beard grows up and down both.

*

Go on, said the man, go on and pick some pockets.

*

Harold turned to his work, but his mind was elsewhere.

*

Suddenly the lady on the toothpaste placard got off the toothpaste placard and arrested him.

*

It was Detective Guilfoyle of the Pickpocket Squad all the time.

*

You got a beard grows up and down both, said Harold.

*

Detective Guilfoyle searched Harold.

*

He certainly was surprised at what he found.

*

So was Harold.

*

Harold hadn’t picked any pockets at all because his mind was elsewhere.

*

He had picked a peck of pickled peppers.

*

Detective Guilfoyle wanted to call Harold a name, but he couldn’t because he was a prude.

*

Harold picked his pocket and later became the smokingest swearingest, drinkingest Assistant District Attorney the county ever had.

*

Don’t be a prude.

Meditation on the News from a Pennsylvania Schoolhouse

With the ugly news coming from a Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, schoolhouse, people tend to throw out reserved phrases to describe their view of God’s role in the killing of several little girls and a milkman.

1. The sanctimonious person who believes he knows the mind of God, especially in judgment cases, will say God has reserved a special place in hell for milkman turned gunman who apparently wanted to do something sexual to the school girls before or after shooting them. This person probably speaks with the same motivation John and James spoke when they asked Jesus if he wanted them to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans who refused them hospitality (Luke 9). What the sanctimonious fail to see is the Lord’s incomprehensible mercy. He forgives evil men on his own terms, which has nothing to do the acts of the men forgiven. In God’s bizarre mercy on mankind, he has saved many evil men from eternal judgment and reserved that special place in hell for relatively decent people because no one can recommend himself to the Lord. The Lord gives his mercy to whomever he wishes.

I admit there is comfort in knowing an murderer will be judged perfectly according to his deeds, but the sanctimonious person sees only his own justice, not his own position under God. If the romantic rouge of Shelly’s poetry right, believing he has sinned too much to receive any eternal mercy, then we are all in trouble. God’s mercy must extend even to horrible criminals like the milkman. And the sanctimonious among us forget just how close to the milkman they are. They give themselves a pass.

2. The sentimental person will say that God wanted those little girls in heaven with him. They were such sweet flowers he had to have them close to him. Somehow that twisted idea is meant to fill the grieving with warmth. If God really thinks this way, he should create his own flowers and give the daughters of Eve long lives of faith and hope.

But the Lord does number our days, and he gives us all only a few of them to trust him before bringing us home or resigning us to exist in isolation forever. Life is a vapor during which he gives all joy and all heartache for drawing us to himself, the source of indescribable peace and genuine strength.

3. That may not comfort the one who readily, understandably, will ask where God was during the murder Monday morning. How could he allow this to happen? I know that some Christians will suggest God isn’t behind this because he does not do evil things. The devil does things like this, so it’s his fault, not God’s. That’s a sorry answer, in my opinion. If God didn’t do it, he could have stopped it, and we return to the original question. Where was the God Almighty, capable of saving the murderer from himself before he executed innocent children?

Right in the middle of it.

In G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, an anarchist charges God with judgmental isolationism, sitting on his ivory pillar to condemn the world by his whim and avoid getting his hands dirty. The anarchist says God knows nothing of the daily pain of life or the suffering of his creation. God replies by quoting Jesus. “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”

Unlike any other god of the world’s religions, the Lord has suffered greatly on our behalf. He entered the world we broke, the one we ruined through our selfishness, and suffered at our hands in order to give us eternal mercy and lasting peace. When the innocent suffer, the Lord suffers with them.

4. Why would God suffer like a weakling instead of stopping the murderer? Why did the milkman see a vision and repent or drop dead on his way to the school? Who cares if he suffered with the children; he should have saved them from it? Why didn’t he?

For the person who feels desperate pain asking these questions, don’t worry that God will be offended. He can handle any question you have. He will not reject you for asking hard questions or speaking from your pain. The problem for us, speaking in human terms, is that God rarely answers these questions specifically. I’m sorry. It seems the Lord responds to these situations almost always by urging you to seek him for comfort and strength.

But since we are removed from the intimate pain in Lancaster County, we can talk about these questions a bit more openly. Why didn’t the Lord do something? There’s an ocean full of evil in the world. At what point do you want the Lord to step in and stop it? Just before it gets too ugly for your taste?

When we ask where God is when horrible things happen, we fail to see that the horrible things occur within a large context. It’s easy for you and me to talk about evil in the world at large and charge God with the task of doing something about it, but if he answered us by meddling with the seeds of evil in our lives, we would complain, wouldn’t we? This milkman didn’t wake up in the bed of evil and act on new impulses. He acted on the wickedness he nurtured within his heart for years. When do you think the Lord should have stepped in and arrested him?

The person who prefers to trust himself rather than the Lord has difficulty understanding that the Lord stepped in to arrest death and evil and bring eternal life when he was born in Bethlehem as an infant. He lived in his creation, taught, suffered greatly, died, and rose from the grave in order to save milkmen, congressmen, and angry students from the evil within them. That’s when mankind was offered peace and good will, but we reject it because we’re more comfortable living with ourselves than with our creator. Why he doesn’t force it on us for our own good I have no idea.

Reuters Uses the Word “Terrorist”

An interesting language point from Opinion Journal:

[In a Reuters story]:

An Iranian woman now living in a homeless shelter in Manhattan, was once a leader in a terrorist group based in Iraq trying to overthrow the Tehran government, federal authorities said in court documents on Monday.

A what group? Isn’t one man’s terrorist another’s freedom fighter? Where are the scare quotes?

Oh wait, she was trying to overthrow the Iranian government, not just wantonly murdering civilians. That’s very different.

Bravo, Mr. Taranto.

Paul by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

I did not yet know (and I was long in learning) the name of the new quality, the bright shadow, that rested on the travels of Anodos [in George MacDonald’s Phantastes]. I do now. It was Holiness. (C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, Chapter XI).

For some years I have told people that there is one author in particular whose sandals I feel myself utterly unworthy to untie. That author is Walter Wangerin. If I could trade my entire past and future literary output for the ability to say that I’d written The Book of the Dun Cow, I’d… well, I’d be strongly tempted. If any work of expressly Christian fiction written in my lifetime is likely to endure, I think it will be that marvelous book. Not only for its outstanding literary quality, but for the Holiness Lewis found in MacDonald and I find in Wangerin.

Still, I haven’t been a big reader of Wangerin’s books. That was partly because I thought he’d gone over the top with his sequel, The Book of Sorrows, a book almost unendurable for me from an emotional point of view. Also he’s a pastor in good standing in the Very Large Lutheran Church Body Which Shall Remain Nameless, and I have to assume that means we have major theological disagreements, particularly in terms of our views of Scripture.

But if Paul is typical of the stuff Wangerin’s been putting out all these years, I’ve got some catching up to do. I can quibble with some of his dramatic choices, but taken all in all this is a fine, spiritually nourishing work of fiction, one that I heartily recommend to all readers.

The book is largely a retelling of the material we are given in the Book of Acts in the Bible. The story of Paul’s life is told from multiple viewpoints—people who knew Paul like Barnabas and Prisca and James the Apostle and Timothy (one exception is the philosopher Seneca, Nero’s tutor, who keeps us posted on events in Rome). Each chapter presents the story from a different point of view, friendly or hostile to Paul. Each narrator is well-defined and believable as a character. Wangerin makes use of historical research to flesh out Scripture’s spare accounts, helping stories and passages we’ve known all our lives take on new vividness.

I can hardly think of a better commentary on Acts and the Epistles than this, as a gift for a new Bible reader.

I wouldn’t have handled some of the material the way Wangerin does. He alters the scriptural account in small ways. For instance, as he tells it here, Barnabas’ break-up with Paul was not a result of a fight over giving John Mark another chance to accompany them, but over the dispute about eating with Gentiles. Dramatically, though, it works better this way, and we all know that it’s possible for two witnesses to remember different causes. Wangerin is also bold enough to add small paragraphs to biblical passages, as if restoring lost sections. I don’t think I’d have the nerve (or the temerity) to add to Scripture that way.

Wangerin also invents some unrecorded incidents (though not many), and one in particular (concerning a prison escape) struck me as kind of far-fetched.

But overall I enjoyed the novel very much, and it improved my comprehension of the New Testament (and I speak as one who’s read the New Testament many times).

I encourage you to read Paul. Drink in the Holiness. Wangerin’s health is bad. We may not have many more books from him.

If English Is Good Enough for Me . . .

Forgive me for not blogging on this last week. In the Nashville, Tennessee area, some residents don’t want non-English books in their library. “At a meeting of the Marshall County Memorial Library board, an eighth grade social studies teacher said if one penny has been spent on Spanish language books, it’s too much,” reports WKRN-TV. Since this little flair up, the library has received many offers for funding.

This reminds me of a complaint the six-year-old Calvin had about studying foreign languages in school. If I remember correctly, he said, “If English is good enough for me, it’s good enough for the rest of the world!”

Belated aaaaaargh!

I promised to review Beowulf & Grendel tonight. Can’t do it, due to the Great Software Conspiracy.

All my software is colluding to frustrate me. First of all, I’ve found it impossible to reinstall Norton System Works on my desktop after getting the hard drive replaced and reinstalling my original manufacturer software. Last night, after the umpteenth online chat with tech support, I admitted defeat. Today I took the computer back to the shop.

And that means that my review, which I wrote on that machine but prudently saved to my jump drive, can’t be posted, because it was written in Microsoft Works and this computer can’t read that (nor does the conversion utility work. All part of the conspiracy).

My cataloging software at work isn’t functioning properly either. It goes without saying that the technical support person who was supposed to call me back never did.

I’m delayed posting because a) I took the computer to the shop, and b) I couldn’t resist taking my evening walk, late as it got to be. Today was a beautiful day–beautiful like a final farewell to a loved one, on a deathbed or at the airport as they go off to war. “You’re not going to get another evening like this,” I said to myself. “Use it or regret it forever.”

Indian Summer evenings, at least, aren’t controlled by software.

13th Tale: A Deeply Moving Novel

Frank Wilson has a glowing review of Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, which is #5 on USA Today’s best-selling list though I didn’t see it on the American Booksellers Association list. Mr. Wilson writes, “One thing is certain: Those who buy and read this complex, compelling and, in the end, deeply moving novel are unlikely to feel they’ve been shortchanged.”

The publisher praises independent booksellers for The Thirteenth Tale‘s success, saying it reminds readers “of the kinds of books, such as Jane Eyre, that they read as a child.”

Congratulations to Anne, the PalmTree Pundit

Congratulations for Anne, the PalmTree Pundit, for winning our second blog contest. Her winning post begins: “This summer I had grand plans to get way ahead of my children in reading for Omnibus I, our literature, theology, and history curriculum. I even took part in a summer reading challenge, envisioning myself day after day on the beach, reading the Great Books plus some breezier writing, and recovering from homeschool burnout. As usual, my plans weren’t God’s plans. Yes, I did read many books, but most of them weren’t on my reading list.”

That bit about the beach comes from the fact that she lives in a coastal state. Hawaii is a coastal state, isn’t it?

Thank you for everyone who participated.

I amaze myself once again

This is what it’s like to be me:

I have an e-mail friend out east who had emergency surgery the other day. Today I went into the bookstore I manage for the Bible school, to get her a get-well card (no customer discount, in case you were wondering. Our margins are already pretty low).

The card rang up to two dollars and change. As I was digging my money out, I started thinking, as I always do, about whether to pay exact price or get change.

I like to do exact price because, like everybody else in America, I’ve got too much of my personal assets invested in coins in peanut butter jars. But I often just get the change because I don’t want to keep the clerk (and the people in line behind me) waiting while I fumble in my coin purse.

I was about to do just that today, and then I thought, “I’m the clerk here. I have time to wait for me to count change.”

The utter irrationality of my way of living is a constant amazement to me.

It’s like being a university professor.

I declare tonight Movie Night in my domicile! The new Beowulf and Grendel movie, which played for about three hours in six widely separated theaters (none of them around here) has just come out on DVD. Some of my Viking contacts say it doesn’t s*ck, which is pretty high praise by Viking movie standards. I dusted the cobwebs off my Blockbuster card and rented it this afternoon.

I’ll let you know what I think. Monday, maybe.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture