Piñon Coffee, the Taste of Albuquerque

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta 2014

When Folgers declined to sponsor Albuquerque’s 2015 Balloon Fiesta, a family-owned roaster stepped up. Albuquerque’s own Piñon Coffee brought an estimated 200,000 cups of coffee to the hot-air balloon event that started last weekend and continues through the week. It is the fiesta’s first local company to be coffee sponsor.

“A lot of handcrafting goes into every part of our coffee from the coffee all the way up to the bags to the fill the bags to the roll down of bags,” Piñon Coffee President Allen Bassett told KRGE News 13.

Bassett has been working on several strategies for building his brand and competing with national companies. He has recommended local coffee shops collaborating in order to hold their own against national franchisees.

(Photo of The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta 2014 by Duncan Rawlinson)

‘The Shadow Lamp’ and ‘The Fatal Tree,’ by Stephen Lawhead

I must admit that Stephen Lawhead almost lost me at one point, but I carried on with the last two books of the Bright Empires pentalogy, and came out a fan again.

If you’ve followed my reviews of the previous books, The Skin Map, The Bone House, and The Spirit Well (or if you’ve read the books; some people prefer to do it that way), you know the series involves a group of people who have learned the secrets of “ley travel,” using particular geographical formations in the earth at sunrise or sunset to travel to other times, places, and dimensions. The earlier books involve a sort of race between the good guys and the villainous Lord Burleigh to locate the “Skin Map,” the tanned skin of the discoverer of the ley lines, who had their locations tattooed on his body.

My temporary problems with the story occurred in the fourth book, The Shadow Lamp. I feared, for a while, that author Lawhead had succumbed to “Game of Thrones Disease” – not in terms of perversion, I hasten to add, but just in the sense of producing a story so complex and sprawling that he loses control of it. The characters seemed to be running around chasing each other through time and space, without advancing the story line much. But in the second half of the book things sharpen up. The focus shifts when the characters become aware that thoughtless ley traveling has caused a disruption in the very fabric of the cosmos. The quest becomes one to return to timeless Spirit Well and undo a thoughtless act. That quest continues in the final book, The Fatal Tree. By the time I got into that one I was back with the story all the way, and I found the resolution entirely satisfactory, nay, moving.

Lawhead (as I read him) has been endeavoring for some time to figure out a way to write epic fantasy without big battles. The Bright Empires series is his most successful effort so far.

Highly recommended.

Recapture that Blood Moon Moment

Last week, perhaps you were caught up in the thrills of seeing the moon turn to blood as a harbinger of the end of the world. Too bad it didn’t, right? That just means you can experience the fun all over again, and a group of short story writers may have you covered in this book about an apocalypse that wasn’t.

You can read the premise of the fauxpocalypse and more from the eleven contributing writers on their website. Briefly stated, a scientist predicted the path of an enormous comet would hit the earth on July 15 of this year, and it really looked as if it would hit us. But no. What do you do when almost everyone in the world believe this time it really isn’t a test? Dip into the book here.

I like the idea of the book, but perhaps gathering stories around the theme of something big that didn’t happen will only get you middling results, especially when the story begins with the anticlimax. As one story says it, “Either way, the world had not ended, so it was time for chores.”

I heard of this book through a writer friend, Dave Higgins. He contributes two stories, and you may find that his contributions are worth the price of the whole, though I also liked Alexandrina Brant’s exploration of faith in her story of a college student who attends what could be Oxford’s last chapel service.

Kingkiller Rothfuss Lands Huge Media Deal

“Honestly, I’ve never been very interested in a straight-up movie deal,” said Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Kingkiller Chronicle. But now he’s got a movie deal combined with TV shows, video games, bobble head dolls, and underwater theme park off the coast of Iceland. (I may have gotten a few of those details mixed up.)

Lars reviewed the two existing novels earlier this year, The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear.

Are Any Books Banned Today?

Ruth Graham points out the problems with that wonderful literary celebration currently engaging many sweet, ill-at-ease readers across the country, Banned Books Week.

Much of the rhetoric around Banned Books Week elides not just the difference between the past and the present but some other important distinctions: the difference between “bans” from public libraries and from school libraries, and between inclusion in school curricula and general availability in a library. A parent merely questioning the presence of a book on a required reading list is the same, to the organizations that run Banned Books Week, as the book being removed from circulation at the local public library. But the former, I would argue, is part of a reasonable local conversation about public education (even if the particular parental preferences are unreasonable). The latter comes closer to a “book ban.”

We at Brandywine Books hope you are enjoying your Banned Book celebrations. If you’re looking for suggestions, Lady Chatterley’s Lover has always been a great fire-starter. We’ve heard of some bacchants snatching books from tables at coffeeshops or smacking them out of the hands of readers on the sidewalk. Don’t let the reason for the season slip into history. Get out there and ban a book. (via Prufrock)

Losing Wisdom in Attempted Wit

Most Americans, it strikes me, are content with cleverness and snark. The scripts of television shows are rife with one-liners. Our children are raised around a torrent of witty banter, teaching them to become ever more clever in their responses. And, in our ever-increasing desire to appear more nonchalant and funny, something is lost.

That something, it seems to me, is wisdom.

Steve Bezner writes that we have so much content and so little wisdom. Seeking the wise life may be the most counter-cultural thing one could do today.

Can the Gospel Be Trojan-Horsed?

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Many Christian artists want to tell the Gospel in a compelling story in order to win readers or viewers to Christ, but can the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation, be Trojan-horsed into a new audience? Is there a delivery mechanism that can slip the gospel through cultural barriers and catch those who are tired of their church experience or unfamiliar with Christianity entirely?

Watch this video from a Christian filmmaker. He urges us to believe the moment is right for exploiting technology for the sake of the gospel. We must not be a divided house, he says. We must not hold ourselves to low standards. We must rally around a good, moral film and make it an international blockbuster.

George Whitefield recently tweeted from beyond the Pearly Gates, “Self-indulgence lulls the soul into a spiritual slumber.” I think that may apply here. What do you think? (via Jeffrey Overstreet)

‘The Cold Dish,’ by Craig Johnson

Like many people, I recently watched Season Four of the “Longmire” TV series, broadcast first on the A&E Network, and now produced by Netflix. The series, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a crime series centering on a laconic modern day Wyoming sheriff. Australian actor Robert Taylor (not to be confused with the American actor Robert Taylor, who was unavailable for the role due to being dead) plays Sheriff Walt Longmire, and the supporting cast includes Lou Diamond Philipps as his Indian friend Henry Standing Bear and Katee Sackhoff as Deputy Vic Moretti. The series is well done and scenic (though shot in New Mexico instead of Wyoming, which has to lose something in translation), and it has a large and faithful following (A&E reportedly dropped it because it the viewers were too old. Right up my alley).

So I thought I’d check out the first of the original Longmire novels, by Craig Johnson. It’s called The Cold Dish (points if you know the Cervantes reference), and introduces the characters (or some of them; several are unrecognizable). The first thing to strike the reader is the substantial differences between the TV series and the books. The Longmire of the series is a sort of Gary Cooper character, slow talking and depressed over the death of his much-loved wife. The Longmire of the books is older, fatter, and more easygoing. He’s lonely, but he admits he never loved his late wife all that much, nor she him. He’s inclined to be a joker.

In this book he investigates a series of sniper murders. All the victims are young white men who got off easily a couple years before after their conviction for the rape of a mentally challenged Cheyenne girl. The girl is a niece of Henry’s (this makes Henry a suspect, which is awkward). The murder weapon appears to be a relic of the Old West, an antique Sharps rifle. It all works out pretty tragically.

The book was very well written, and I enjoyed it. I had some trouble with the treatment of Native American spirituality; it’s presented as pretty obviously true and effective. But taken on its own terms, The Cold Dish is a good book.

Cautions for the usual things.

Where Was the Grace for Achan?

The story of Achan’s sin in Joshua 7 may be troubling to casual Bible readers. It’s the kind of story used as evidence by those who wish to believe the God of the Old Testament was all wrath and judgment, while the God of the New Testament is love and forgiveness. But we understand that the One who cut his covenant with the people of Israel is the One who raised our Savior from the dead. He is the unchanging, holy, and eternal God of heaven and earth.

So shouldn’t Achan have received some grace?

(I appreciate the opportunity to have another piece posted on For the Church.)

‘The Christians’ Is Serious Theater

Alissa Wilkinson writes, “When theatre works best, it’s because it forces you into a room where the action is happening right there, live. It’s often serious precisely because it’s a good setting for confronting serious issues, like being locked in a room where a horrible argument is happening.”

This is what she says happens when people attend the off-Broadway production of Lucas Hnath’s play The Christians. They’ll see a depiction of a church split over a serious theological disagreement without strawmen and caricatures.

When God Picks His Team

“Do you understand that God is not looking for ‘the cream of the crop?’” Jared Wilson asks. “He is in the margins, picking the scrubs, the losers, the dum-dums.”

Because in the Kingdom of God, the first, in our way of thinking, shall be last, but the last, as we see them, shall be first. God is not vindictive in saying this. There’s no mean spirit about him. He is simply telling us that we look at each other in ways he does not. Those we consider to be losers will not lose a thing in Christ.

‘The Devil’s Pleasure Palace,’ by Michael Walsh

It is the thesis of this book that the heroic narrative is not simply our way of telling ourselves comforting fairy tales about the ultimate triumph of Good over Evil, but an implanted moral compass that guides even the least religious among us.

In a book at once learned, insightful, inspirational, and maddening, Michael Walsh, former Time Magazine associate editor and current New York Post columnist, finds a useful lens through which to examine the culture wars of our time. The conflict goes beyond religion vs. atheism, or left vs. right, he tells us in The Devil’s Pleasure Palace. It’s about stories. It’s about the basic narrative through which we view history.

This, of course, is a point of view that pleases me immensely.

All human cultures, Walsh argues, have told their stories in the basic three-act form, the “ur-Narrative” – something is lost, a battle is fought, and the lost thing (or something better) is regained.

Against this, the modern left sets its own narrative of history, based on deconstruction, adopted from the poisonous thinkers of the Frankfurt School of philosophy who fled to America from Hitler in the 1930, took up residence, accepted the freedom and plenty of the country, and immediately began to plot to bring it all down in flames. Because they believe in destroying the good, to make way for their perfect dream of the socialist society.

I appreciated Walsh’s well-informed critique of the Frankfurt School thinkers and their influence. I was less enamored of his depiction of the “ur-Narrative.” He writes frankly from a Christian (Catholic) point of view, but his depiction of Christian theology is pretty idiosyncratic. It helps to remember that he bases his view of the narrative of the Fall of Man, not actually on Genesis, but on Milton’s poem “Paradise Lost.” And even in that, he stretches the text a bit to make a non-Miltonian, semi-Catholic point.

But I still found The Devil’s Pleasure Palace immensely fascinating and informative. Walsh has hope for the future of our culture. I’m not sure I share it. But I’m glad I read the book. Recommended, with cautions.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture