Kieron Winn, All Will Be Well

Poet Kieron Winn has the curious role of being a “freelance teacher of creative writing and English literature.” That’s probably like being a gunslinger, only with pens instead of guns–more lethal. He has released his first collection of poems, The Mortal Man, in the U.K. One of them is available this month in The New Criterion, called “In the Garden” and others through his website.

In one about his aging father, he writes:

I cannot bring a bucket of rock-pool creatures
And have him beam at me and understand,
But it dies hard, wanting someone to say
All will be well, with the power to make it so today.

For ISIS, Past Is Present

Robert R. Reilly explains the irrationality of ISIS. He says there were two schools of thought at one time, and the irrational one won out.

Islamists do not live in what we might call historical time. Recall that for them the Qur’an is an ahistorical document. It exists in eternity. Also keep in mind that Ash’arite metaphysics guts historical time of its narrative meaning: time is a succession of unrelated events. ISIS adherents live in sacred time, which is static. In sacred time, everything is present all at once. This is why Islamists refer to Westerners in their literature as “Romans,” which is what seventh-century Muslim warriors called their Byzantine opponents. They are not being quaint. The past is present to them; that is why they must smash it if it does not conform to their beliefs.Ahistory fights history. This is why the Coptic Christians were faced north across the Mediterranean toward Rome when their throats were cut, as a warning that ISIS would next conquer Rome as Muslims once took Constantinople.

A Season of Harvest from Ruth

A new devotional on the life of Ruth will be released tomorrow, one that I had the joy to work on. Kevin Foster, a Bible student and teacher who has been a missionary of one kind or another almost his entire life, wrote a remarkable book on the ideas, culture, and themes found in the book of Ruth. He calls it The Gospel According to Ruth and broke it into 121 devotionals with many quotations from the KJV and NKJV.

From Ruth 1:2, he drew this insight. “Elimelech placed a great burden upon his family fleeing Judah for Moab from the correction of God. The famine was not for the nation only, but also for the man himself. Famine is a calling card of God, calling the man to repentance.”

The book is worth sampling, and Kevin has given readers a large sheath of options  in both written and audio excerpts. The Gospel According to Ruth touches on ancient Hebrew feasts, harvest seasons, God’s blessing on Bethlehem, Christ’s foreshadowing in Boaz and other characters, and other enlightening points.

“Christ is our protector, our covering, and our shield. ‘He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler’ (Psalm 91:4 KJV).”

The Lord blessed me deeply by allowing me to edit this book and advise Kevin on getting it published. He has been a great man to work with. He has the kind of pastoral spirit you hope to see in every gospel minister.

Again, from the book:

In-Gods-Eyes

“There are only two conceptions of human ethics”

Our friend Anthony Sacramone, of the Strange Herring blog, meditates on Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon:

There lies deep within every soul an inkling, an intimation, that things are not as they should be—that something is fundamentally wrong, with society, culture, government, our very selves. We do not do what we want, and we do what we don’t want. In short, we act in self-destructive ways even as we protest that we are exercising our freedom in the name or survival and self-expression. We have “fallen” from a great height, a status, a stature, that we can still vaguely discern. Call this “golden age” a myth, if you like, but if we are merely material byproducts of an inexorable and natural process, with one trajectory, then we should be more comfortable in our skin than we are. Instead, an uneasiness about the state of things troubles everyone, as does the burden of putting down the Old Man and his anarchic predations so that a New Man can arise.

Extremely profound. Read it all here.

Emmitt Til Would Be 75 This Year

Otis Pickett talks about how the story of Emmitt Til’s death influenced him. “If you were to ask any Civil Rights activist in SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) in the 1960s what one event motivated them to participate in the movement, many would have said seeing pictures of Till’s mangled body in Jet magazine in 1955, and reading his story when they were his age.”

Lazy Journalism Makes Growing Trends Out of Personal Story

Aaron Bady talks about the Duke University Freshman whose article in the student newspaper about rejecting a particular graphic novel on the recommended reading list was picked up by national newspapers and distorted.

Take, for example, the fact that the USA Today story links to and relies on a story published by The Inquisitr. Now, the USA Today is not the most reputable news outlet you’ll ever find, but it’s the newspaper you get stuck with in hotels and it’s been around for long enough that one generally assumes it’s not completely worthless. The Inquisitr—which is where USA Today’s first link goes to—is pretty worthless.

‘Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary,’ by J. R. R. Tolkien

First of all, it should be made clear – and I wonder how anyone could be in doubt on this, but it’s possible – that J. R. R. Tolkien’s Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary is not a work of imagination meant for popular entertainment. It’s a translation of an already much-translated work, intended as a teaching aid, by a major scholar in the field. If you’re unfamiliar with Beowulf, you might want to try one of the modern verse translations, like Heaney’s, but I liked this version very much.

Personally, I prefer a prose translation. Tolkien probably knew Old English poetry better than any modern man, and here he attempts to provide some sense of the original metrical form, but he is not forced to alter the text in order to make the verse scan. Any translation is always a trade-off, especially in poetry, and for my own part I prefer some approximation of the original text.

Tolkien’s translation is a lively one. I can imagine him reading it to Lewis (and we’re told Lewis did advise him on bits of it) and then ignoring, as he always did, Lewis’ suggestions.

There are many notes. Some are by Christopher Tolkien, the author’s son, who is editor. Others are drawn directly from Tolkien’s own notes. Some of this material fascinated me, some seemed to me (approaching more from the historian’s than the language scholar’s perspective) pretty tall grass. It was interesting to read, for instance, that Tolkien thinks the Beowulf poem correct in crediting (in passing) the slaying of the dragon to Sigfried’s father Sigmund, rather than to Sigfried himself. The dragon-slaying fits in with Sigmund’s story, he thinks, and seems like an interpolation in the Sigfried-Brunhilde narrative.

Also in this book is a work called “The Sellic Spell,” which is Tolkien’s attempt to reconstruct how the Beowulf story might have been passed down as a folk tale, rather than as a heroic poem. He sees a separation between the “fairy tale” Beowulf and the “historical” (by which he does not mean to suggest he thinks Beowulf a real historical character) tale. Here Tolkien may be observed “reverse engineering” an imagined lost legend, something he later did in a larger, more powerful way with The Lord of the Rings.

Also appended to this book is “The Lay of Beowulf,” an attempt to reimagine story as a sort of ballad. That was pleasant to read, but the editor gives us two earlier drafts to read as well, at which point I’m afraid I lost interest in it.

I recommend Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary for people interested in the Old English poem itself. Less so for readers whose main interest is Middle Earth. I’m glad this work has come out in print, and I’m happy I read it.

Opposites in Common

Rod Dreher writes about his hesitation over a potential proposal to work with a man on his memoir.

He had read my 2013 memoir, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, and saw potential for us to collaborate. Knowing Wendell [Pierce]’s formidable reputation as an actor, I was flattered that he had read my book—and humbled that he thought it good enough to consider hiring me to help him write his own. So why my skepticism?

Wendell and I come from the same state and are of the same generation, but we grew up in different worlds. He is a black liberal from the Crescent City; I am a white conservative from the rural hills of West Feliciana Parish. How could we possibly have enough in common to work together?

Dreher’s wife told him that he does work on the book, it’ll be good for him spiritually. Find out what happened with Dreher and Pierce in The American Conservative.

The Man Who Did Not Run for President

“The idea of writing a book about a presidential campaign that never happened had not occurred to Don Cogman,” write Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard. “He had spent two years trying to get Mitch Daniels, then governor of Indiana, to run for president in 2012. His effort—and it was no small effort—had failed. Daniels had moved on, right out of politics. He’d become president of Purdue University.”

But someone in what would have been the Mitch for President campaign encouraged Cogman to write a book about it. It’s history, no matter what happened. Or didn’t.

2012 Republican Presidential Candidates

The Story We Tell Ourselves

Derek Rishmawy describes an idea he teaches young men and women who think they’ll ditch their biblical morality for a season in order to have fun.

I always tell my students they need to be aware of the myths and stories they tell themselves about reality, because the story you think you’re in determines the character you become. Neutral time is a particularly popular story. It goes something like this:

I’ve been a good kid in high school. I’ve done my homework, been to Bible study, and didn’t mess around too much or anything. Now, though, I really want to go out and enjoy myself a bit. The “college experience” is calling, and I can’t be expected to go and not let loose a little bit. I mean, I really love Jesus and my faith will always be a big part of my life, but you know, I’ll just go off for a bit, maybe a semester or two, have my fun, and then be back around. You’ll see.

Where else in real life does this exist? Would they tell the Lord to his face that they’ll mock him with their actions for a time and then come back? This is easily the beginning of a story Old Scratch often tells. It begins with the suggestion that morality doesn’t matter and can be left aside for a time and builds to the declaration that Jesus never cared about you because if he did, you wouldn’t be in this immoral mess.

How Doctor Who Saved A Writer

Doctor Who and the Giant Robot - Penguin styleScottish author A.L. Kennedy says writing a Doctor Who novel alongside another novel for grownups saved her faith in childlike imagination.

It’s sad that so much of the air has gone from literary endeavour, that academic theorising and categorising have come to decide which novels are acceptable and reviewed, that literary publishing has squashed itself into more and more predictable boxes more and more often. Storytelling, company, human solidarity – they never go away, but they do seem to be moving away from the mainstream. It will be the mainstream’s loss. Readers will always go where they can find the joy they knew in childhood, the joy they deserve.

‘The Devil in the White City,’ by Erik Larson

It is part of the lore of the Walker family that my immigrant great-grandfather, who was farming in Iowa at the time – although famously workaholic and tight-fisted – took time and money to attend the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. He must have been impressed, because he made it a practice to attend other world’s fairs whenever he could.

And he well might have been impressed, judging from the story told in Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, which chronicles, for a generation which has forgotten it, the story of the Columbian Exposition. Along with a much more sordid story.

Who today knows that the construction of the Columbian Exposition involved the first use of spray paint in history? That the Pledge of Allegiance was composed for it? That the vertical file was first introduced there? That the first Ferris wheel was built for it? That Columbus Day was created in its honor? That it contained the first carnival “Midway?” That it provided the public its first taste of Juicy Fruit gum, Cracker Jacks, and Shredded Wheat? That it showcased long-distance telephone service, Edison’s moving pictures, and newfangled zippers?

The hero of the story is Daniel H. Burnham, a Chicago architect who became the chief organizer of the fair. When Chicago won the right to host it, the world scoffed. Chicago had no reputation as a cultural center, and New Yorkers (especially) laughed at the idea that such a raw, filthy, slaughterhouse town could dream of mounting an exhibition that would be anything but embarrassing compared to the previous one, which was held in Paris and stunned the world with (among other marvels) the Eiffel Tower. Continue reading ‘The Devil in the White City,’ by Erik Larson

Two TV shows about one-armed men

The most famous one-armed man in television history is, of course, the murderer hunted by Dr. Richard Kimball on The Fugitive. But I don’t have him in mind in this post. I never actually watched The Fugitive much.

But I have fond memories of two television series from my childhood, each of whose main characters had one arm. Why one-armed characters resonate with me, I cannot say. The reasons are probably emotionally complex and embarrassing (I had one character lose a hand in my novel Wolf Time, and another lose a whole arm in Troll Valley). But I’m delighted that YouTube has made it possible to rediscover these series, at least in part. My viewing report follows.

The Vise

The character of detective Mark Saber had an interesting evolution. According to my internet research (not always coherent), he began as a British detective working (for some reason) on the police force of a large American city on an early US TV series called Mystery Theater. He was played by Tom Conway (not to be confused with comedian Tim Conway). Tom Conway was the brother of famous movie heavy George Sanders, and spent his career in his brother’s shadow. His character dressed nattily, and (judging by the one episode I found on YouTube) fought crime more with fisticuffs than with deduction or forensics.

The show ran from 1951-1954. Then in 1955 the character was resurrected back in the old home country in a new series called The Vise. Mark Saber was now a London private investigator, and was now played by Donald Gray, a native of South Africa who lost his left arm in France in World War II. I’ve only found a couple episodes of this series on YouTube. Here’s one:

Continue reading Two TV shows about one-armed men

Standing with the Oppressed

There is beauty in this land, but I don't always feel it.

The growing pains in the Evangelical church today are in America’s race problem and the issues of social justice. I heard a pastor this year say Jesus’ message was largely one of social justice, and if I hear that term with political ears, I reject it. If I hear “social justice” and think “social gospel” and all the bad theology that has been woven into that, then I can’t help but reject it, but if I understand “social justice” to mean loving one’s neighbor, then I can accept it, maybe not as my primary choice of words, but as an understandable choice.

Believers today need to come to grips with the particulars of loving our neighbors, rejecting the political hostility and individualism that may feel natural to us. How much has personal comfort (ignoring real sacrifice) become our standard for judging God’s will for our lives?

A few days ago, a pastor in my denomination and his daughter were arrested for demonstrating in the St. Louis metro area on the anniversary of the shooting of Mike Brown. I believe he was trying get a petition heard by a federal marshall. They were arrested for obstructing entrances that were already obstructed by official barricades. They talk about it with Jamar Tisby here. This is moving. I encourage you to listen to this.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture