"The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become."

- Milan Kundera
Smoking or non-smoking?

In my ongoing effort to demonstrate my spiritual superiority and make most of you feel guilty, I’m going to talk about my morning devotional.

(I was pretty guilty about it myself, by the way, until recently. I finally found a way to make my devotions fairly regular. I spend fifteen minutes with the Bible during my first coffee break each day at work. This isn’t a live option for lots of people, I understand, but since I’m the boss, and I can’t leave the office during that time period anyway, it works for me.)

I was in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 this morning. I was using the ESV at work, but I don’t have a copy here at home, so I’ll transcribe verses 11-15 from the NIV:

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through flames.

Occasionally I’ve heard the question asked, “Will Christians go through the Last Judgment?” It seems to me the answer is right here. Christians will be judged, but only in terms of rewards, not punishment.

Paul imagines—or perhaps he once observed—a man going through the ruins of his house after it has burned down. The man sifts through the ashes, recognizing charred scraps of clothing or sticks of furniture, ruined forever.

But in the cinders he touches something heavy and solid. He lifts it up. It’s his savings—a bag of coins. The bag itself has burned up, but the money comes up all together in a lump, because it’s gold and silver. It’s melted together, but it’s all there, and just as valuable as it was before the fire. Because gold and silver are invulnerable to flames.

That’s how it will be at the Last Judgment, Paul is saying. It won’t be like the Muslim Last Judgment. Muslims believe that everyone—Muslim and infidel—will stand before the same court. There will be a balance scale there. On one side of the balance, all the person’s good deeds will be placed. On the other side all his sins will go. If the good is heavier than the bad, the person goes to Paradise. If the evil weighs more, he goes to Hell. Thus no Muslim is ever entirely sure of salvation (unless he's a martyr, of course).

I suspect a lot of people who think they’re Christians are actually Muslims, at least in this doctrine.

But Paul says that as long as you stand on the Foundation—that is, Jesus Christ—you can’t be condemned in the Judgment. Your deeds, though—all the stuff you bring with you from your life—your achievements and piety—all that will go through the fire. When the fire has had its way, you’ll see (and I’ll see) how much of that was gold, how much was kindling.

A comforting thought, and a troubling one, all at once.

I should practice sleeping out of doors, I think.

Cryptic post

A lot of people have a lot invested in the belief that Jesus Christ was merely a great human teacher, about whom fantastic but fictitious tales were spread after his death. This view permits such people to consider themselves "Christians" in the sense of being followers of “the real Jesus” (about whom, according to this theory, we really can say nothing for sure, but they’re sure they know what He truly meant anyway, and—what do you know? It’s precisely what they already think!). Most importantly it avoids the whole scandal of the Cross thing, which is so tacky.

And that, in short, is what I think of James Cameron and his documentary on Jesus’ tomb. I move right past discussion of his claims and settle on an ad hominem attack.

But if you want a discussion of Cameron’s arguments, I recommend to you this post at Dennis Ingolfsland’s Recliner Commentaries blog, a blog that deserves to be better known than it is.

For a more sinister, humorous take I liked what Dirty Harry wrote yesterday at Libertas blog.

Land of 10,000 sore backs

Nice weekend, all in all. The predicted snow came, and for once we got as much as was promised. I think it was about fifteen inches, and this is how my back yard looks today:

I got a call Saturday night that church would be cancelled. This did not break my heart, because (mea culpa) I go to church out of obligation, not desire. Suffering as I do from a psychological condition clinically known as “being nuts,” I don’t enjoy gathering with other people much. A guilt-free Sunday morning off does not cast down my heart.

I was in the basement Sunday morning when I noticed my neighbor’s wife through the window above, shoveling our shared driveway. This was curious, since my neighbor has a snow blower. He keeps it in my garage, and the deal is that in return for that accommodation he clears my side as well.

I could have pretended I hadn’t noticed, but I decided to pretend to be a responsible adult. I went out and grabbed my shovel. I found my neighbor out there too. He explained that the blower had a flat tire. So I pitched in and we managed to clear adequate paths. This is the kind of work where overweight, middle-aged men tend to fall over with heart attacks, but I dodged the bullet.

The snow in the picture, I can tell you with absolute moral authority, is wet and heavy. This was, in fact, the heaviest snowfall our metropolis has experienced in several years.

I think there’s a sense of satisfaction all over our fair state today, a grin behind the grumbling. With a few hiati, this winter has been pretty easy so far, and that’s bad for our self-image. Minnesotans think of themselves as the hardy folk who thrive in arctic conditions for half the year and like it—yes, like it, by golly! In our secret hearts, we think it makes us better than folks who live in easier climes. Now we’ve earned a little cred back, and we’re swaggering a bit.

I think I’ll swagger over to the thermostat and turn it up.

Last dispatch. Or not.

Sorry for the late posting. My wireless connection chose this evening to forget its way home, and all my blandishments and caresses were of no avail. Now suddenly, having come back upstairs from my shield project (of which more below) I find the necessary light back on again, and I’m able to resume communication with you, the Esteemed Reader.

I wanted to call Earthlink Customer Support about the problem, but I had to leave the phone line open, as a guy had made an appointment to come over and look at the room for rent tonight. Or rather, he was going to call to get directions tonight, and then come over. But so far, no action on that front. I have a suspicion he’s going to stand me up.

Which is only justice, in the greater scheme of things. I remember a couple times I did the very same thing to landlords, in my youth. When I’d decided not to check a place out, I never had the nerve to phone and tell the manager personally. Avoidant stuff.

But I was itching to finish painting my shields tonight, so I finally went down to the basement and worked on that, with the door open so I could hear the phone (haven’t got one down there).

I’d already done the blue base coat. Tonight I put on the decorations, and now they look like this:

I’m not entirely happy. I’d like bolder colors—ideally I’d have preferred the bright red and yellow I usually paint my Viking stuff with. But I’m trying to conform to the general standards of the big-time re-enactors, and they prefer muted colors, because bright was hard (and expensive) to do a thousand years ago. So I took somebody’s advice and went to a paint store and looked for “mistints,” which sell cheap. These were the most interesting colors I could find, but the reddish thing is almost pink, and it underwhelms me.

I’ll live with it, though. Better this than have an English re-enactor (should I ever chance to encounter one) get in my face.

The design, by the way, is based on the heraldic device of the island of Karmøy, where my great-grandfather was born.

We’re supposed to get a big snowstorm tonight, which will continue on through Sunday. If you don’t hear from me again, it’s because I starved or froze.

Or because my wireless has gone out again.

Notes of an immune superman

I think I may have had the flu last night.

I’m not really sure. As I was IMing with someone last night, I began to feel tired and physically weak. I told my friend I thought I might be getting sick. Flu maybe.

This morning I got up and felt fine, but later in the morning I had a bout of what I’ll delicately call “intestinal distress.” But when that was done, it was over.

Maybe it was something I “et,” but I’ve noticed a pattern in the last few years. I’ll feel like I’m coming down with something in the evening, but after a good sleep I’m fine.

I’m coming to believe that I’ve developed a superhumanly strong immune system. When I was a kid I got sick a lot. When I grew a little older I got sick less often. Now that I’m entering my golden years, I don’t seem to ever get sick anymore.

I know a guy my age ought to get flu shots, but I’m kind of scared of upsetting this remarkable balance I seem to have achieved.

It’s a strange time in the library these days, for me. I’ve been given a new assistant, and I’m not sure how it’s going to go.

The new assistant is a short-term seminarian from Africa, an elderly pastor so far ahead of me spiritually I can barely make out his silhouette on the distant horizon.

We like to give our foreign students part-time jobs on campus, because they usually don’t have the option of driving. I imagine the Higher Powers decided to send this pastor to the library because they figured the library is a light job.

It’s light in terms of lifting (mostly), true enough. But I fear that this pastor may be finding it pretty heavy in emotional terms.

He has almost no experience with western technology. He’s never used a computer in his life. The control of a mouse is an extremely frustrating exercise for him, much as learning to operate a video game controller would probably be for me. Even the electronic typewriter we type check-out cards with frustrates him.

I hope it’s not keeping him awake at night or anything. I hope I’m a patient trainer.

Culture Shock is my middle name. Or middle names.

Meme break

Another beautiful day, the last for a while. Tomorrow will be colder, and there may be snow over the weekend.

Hope I can finish this and get it posted before I leave for church. I’m reading Scripture tonight, and that’s one of the few things I’ll confess to being good at.

Will Duquette of View From the Foothills sent me the following meme. Memes are easier than thinking of something to write about.

1. What is your occupation? Librarian/Bookstore Manager.

2. What color are your socks right now? Black.

3. What are you listening to right now? Hugh Hewitt on the radio.

4. What was the last thing that you ate? A Banquet turkey TV dinner.

5. Can you drive a stick shift? Yes.

6. If you were a crayon, what color would you be? I’d be tan, but I’d wish I were red.

7. The last person you spoke to on the phone? A woman who’d called about my room to rent for herself and her husband (I told her I thought it would be a little crowded).

8. Do you like the person who sent this to you? So far as I know him online.

9. How old are you today? 56.

10. Favorite drink? Diet Orange Sunkist soda.

11. What is your favorite sport to watch? Live steel combat (participation is better).

12. Pets? None.

13. Allergies? Adhesive bandage tape makes my skin turn red. Other than that, nothing.

14. Favorite foods? Roast turkey, pizza, steak, hamburgers. Chocolate.

15. What was the last movie you watched? Stranger Than Fiction.

16. What do you do to vent anger? I don't. I stuff it.

17. What was your favorite toy as a child? Toy guns.

18. What is your favorite season fall or spring? Spring.

19. Hugs or kisses? I don’t get either.

20. Cherries or Blueberries? Cherries.

21. Do you want your family and friends to email you back? Does not apply.

22. Who is most likely to respond? DNA.

23. Who is least likely to respond? DNA.

24. Living arrangements? I live in a house by myself, until I get a renter.

25. When was the last time you cried? Don’t recall.

26. What is on the floor of your closet? Shoes. Boxes. Dust.

27. What did you do last night? Walked, blogged, straightened the living room, worked on an opinion piece for Hunter Baker.

28. Favorite smells? The sea. Popcorn. Roasting meat.

29. What inspires you? Sublime music.

30. What are you (most) afraid of? Rejection and humiliation.

31. Favorite dog breed? Not sure. But something large.

32. Number of keys on your key ring? Eight on the main one.

33. Favorite day of the week? Sunday (specifically Sunday afternoons).

34. How many states have you lived in? Five. Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Florida.

35. Favorite holiday? Christmas.

36. Ever driven a motorcycle or heavy machinery? No. I tried a motorcycle once; nearly had an accident. In somebody’s yard.

37. Ever left the country? Yes. Mostly to Norway.

38. Favorite kind of music? British folk music, classical, Ennio Morricone spaghetti scores.

39. Last book you read? The Two Towers.

Freedom of speech, freedom of ostracism

The temperature was up around forty today. In Minnesota, in February, that counts as a beautiful day. The sun shone, and our thin snow cover faded like the new congress’s gravitas.

I even had time for a walk before sundown, though evening shadows were lengthening by the time I finished. As an added bonus, somebody had left a bookcase out in front of their house, with a “Free” sign taped to it. I jumped into Mrs. Hermanson, drove back and snagged it. It’s kind of beat up, granted, but I meant it for the basement. I can never have enough bookcases.

S. T. Karnick has been relentlessly asking hard questions about the Tim Hardaway controversy. I’m not sure I agree entirely with his position, but I’m not sure I entirely agree with my own either. Assuming I have one.

When I was young I came to embrace a passionate, Jeffersonian view of freedom of speech. I believed the American approach was essentially based in a Christian world view. If everybody, regardless of how outrageous his opinion, is permitted to make his case the best he can, the marketplace of ideas will make the truth evident to all, because there’s power in Truth.

However, there’s another way to look at it, also based in a Christian world view. That approach would say that, since human beings are sinful and essentially perverse, they will always choose the answers they find most convenient, flattering and profitable, regardless of the merits of the arguments.

When arguing with people about vulgar music and movies, whenever I’ve been subjected to the inevitable accusation that I'm in favor of censorship, my standard response has been to say, “No, I don’t want censorship. I want public opinion to shame these people into silence. I want to make publishers ashamed to produce this stuff.”

Which is precisely what the left is doing with Hardaway.

So I ought to be OK with that.

But I can’t dismiss Karnick’s argument that it’s pretty hypocritical for people to self-righteously pretend they don’t share Hardaway’s feelings to some extent, and to justify themselves by throwing stones at him.

I’ll let you know if I come to any conclusions.

An Opportunity for a Hoax

The classical world is one of arduous work but also miracles of artistry. Every year brings child prodigies wise beyond their years. Meanwhile, the demise of major classical recording labels over the last decade has given rise to an uncountable number of independent labels. Among the many musicians turned out each year by the world's conservatories, the unknown ones who record for such operations are often as talented and distinctive as those who fill seats at Carnegie Hall.
So writes David Patrick Stearns in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, "Ears don't deceive - the CD covers do." Partly for these reasons, the husband of a recently deceased pianist was able to republish under her name excellent concertos by musicians who were not readily known. When one critic put one of Joyce Hatto's discs into his computer, it told him the performer was Laszlo Simon. You can read how that happened and exactly how the hoax of the greatest pianist of our time is currently unraveling on ClassicsToday.com.

First in war, with a shield

They tell me that, Dennis Prager’s curmudgeoning to the contrary, today is not legally President’s Day, but Washington’s Birthday. “Presidents Day” is just what the stores call it. I’m not sure why. “Washington’s” is twelve letters, if you count the apostrophe, and “Presidents” is ten letters (eleven if you add an apostrophe, which isn’t strictly necessary), and that’s not going to make much difference to your ad copy column inches costs.

Let’s see, what do I know about Washington that doesn’t call for a lot of research on a holiday that’s mostly already over as I write?

Washington’s ideal—the model that inspired him—was the farmer-statesmen of the Roman republic. Those guys who reluctantly left their fields to shoulder the burden of civic responsibility for a time, then joyfully laid it down again to go back to their real lives. You can see echoes of that pattern everywhere in the great man’s career.

Even the architecture at Mount Vernon was a statement of this ideal. In contrast to the Greek Revival architecture favored by Jefferson and his crowd, Mount Vernon is Roman to the foundations.

He wasn’t a fun guy, Mr. President Washington. He was “on” all the time, playing the role, conscious that he was setting a benchmark by which his successors would be expected to measure themselves.

It definitely helped.

For a while, anyway.

I spent my weekend working on my new Viking shields for live steel.

Here’s how far I got:
Shields: Stage 1

I’ve got three rounds like this now, and I drilled holes in the two bosses (the boss is the bowl-like metal thing there). One round will be a spare, for when one gets shattered (which will definitely happen).

The great challenge was getting a 4x8’ sheet of 3/8” plywood home from Home Depot. First I drove around trying to find an auto parts store that sold clamp-on car top carriers. Turns out nobody carries them anymore.

Then I figured, well, if you take an old blanket to protect Mrs. Hermanson’s roof, you can just buy some tie-downs at the store and strap ‘er on and drive home that way.

Which is what I did, but it took a while. We had a stiff wind (pretty cold too) that wanted to blow the blanket off, so I had to bungee that down first. Then I got the plywood sheet up and discovered that Mrs. Hermanson, being one of those SUV’s built without a top rack, is specially designed for the frou-frou set, having no projections or inlets of any kind to which a conventional tie-down may be attached. I finally got the tie-downs hooked into the window channels, but only in the same way that you can chin yourself up on the molding on your living room wall.

I was also concerned that the front of the panel would get lifted by the wind as I drove. I was just starting to unfasten everything and see if I couldn’t fit the thing inside Mrs. Hermanson, at an angle with a bend, when a Home Depot employee came to help me. The inside-the-vehicle experiment didn’t work, but he helped me load it back up on top, and suggested running a strap down the center in front, hooking it on the hood to hold the leading edge down. Wish I’d thought of that.

Wish I’d thought to tip him too.

Once at home I set to work with a keyhole hand saw (I don’t own an electric saw) and managed to get what you see done by Sunday night.

Next step: painting.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress, when there is some more to report.

Because I know it matters to you.

Oh, the Outrage! The Horror!!

From our Much Ado About Nothing desk: The Higher Power of Lucky is a Newbery Award winning children's book with at least one word to provoke dissent. This looks like the kind of thing I would not know disturbed readers if I hadn't heard about it before reading it. You can read the details at The Publishing Contrarian.

William Wilberforce in Book and Film

There's certainly not the build up to Amazing Grace, the movie on William Wilberforce, as there was to The Passion, but I note one similarity. Author John Piper wrote a companion book to both films. You can read Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce in PDF at desiringgod.org.

If you know about Wilberforce, you know he still speaks for our day.

The fatal habit of considering Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrines insensibly gained strength. Thus the peculiar doctrines of Christianity went more and more out of sight, and as might naturally have been expected, the moral system itself also began to wither and decay, being robbed of that which should have supplied it with life and nutriment.

If you don't know about Wilberforce (1759-1833), he is remembered for having "the grand object of [his] parliamentary existence" as the abolition of the slave trade. "If it please God to know me so far may I be the instrument of stopping such a course of wickedness and cruelty as never before disgraced a Christian country" (quoted from the preface of Piper's book).

President's Day

The Presidential Prayer Team has been organizing prayer for today. They have almost 4,000 people enrolled so far.

I saw a headline this morning which raised a question for me. If you could declare another U.S. president for honoring on this day or another President's Day holiday, who would you recommend? I ask this despite my reluctance to recommend any of them. I like many of our presidents, but making holidays isn't something I want to think about. So, I blogged it instead.

I see a new president for 2009 has already been declared.

Book Sales Figures Are Inflated

How many copies did Sahara actually sell? As many as the publisher says it did, according to the LA Times. "Publishers are notoriously reluctant to divulge sales numbers, and the complex, arcane nature of bookselling makes it hard to determine how well or badly a title is doing," writes Josh Getlin. "Publishers routinely withhold full sales figures, saying the information is proprietary. The only people legally entitled to know those numbers are authors and their agents."

Apparently, most books don't sell well, even losing money for the publisher, so insiders keep real sales figures, if they can be known, to themselves. If an author claims his book sold 100,000, you have to trust him. There's no public record to verify it.

Judge Not Lest . . .

Here's a book for those who think they understand Jesus' intent behind his command to avoid judging others lest we fall under condemnation. Making Judgments Without Being Judgmental: Nurturing a Clear Mind and a Generous Heart, by Terry D. Cooper.

Out of Egypt on the Lutheran Confession

Presbyterian blogger Donovan praises some Lutheran doctrines and criticizes others. He writes, ". . . though I love the first part of the section on Election (and think that the best Calvinist practice is in line with its cautions), find the second part (which teaches the doctrine of resistable grace) to be in conflict with the FoC's own teaching earlier on, in the section on Free Will. And not in a paradoxical sort of way either, just an out-and-out contradictory sort of way."

You don't have to thank me for bringing this to your attention. I blog because I care.

All Ten Best as Chosen by Writers

I'm late to point out another of Frank's interesting reviews (Books, Inq. is a top ten litblog anyway, so you probably should read him first and scan this one when you have the time.) He reviews J. Peder Zane's The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, in which the ten favorite books taken from the submissions of 125 writers are revealed. Anna Karenina tops them all.

Strange also, to me at least, is the omission of Austen. I think the inclusion of Lolita and Gatsby is odd, too. Nothing wrong with either, mind you. Both are bona-fide masterpieces. . . . Paging through the 125 individual lists, what proves interesting is how many of the books chosen were written in the 20th century, and often pretty late in the century - which only reinforces the impression that these are books the writers have learned from.
Frank offers his own list here and links to a great list from a Master of Arts program. Further, J. Peder Zane has a book site with reader contributions.

The Greatest In Great Britain

Frank Wilson says A.S. Byatt is the greatest living British author. As you may know by now, I don't have the experience to argue this point. (What did they teach me in that school I attended?)

Present company excepted of course...

Jeffrey Lord writes at The American Spectator site today about the Democratic Party and race.

I think he makes a lot of sense.

He particularly reinforced my prejudices in regard to questions of war and peace:

It is striking that Democratic Party history shows a repeated pattern of wanting to declare failure and come home in the Civil War, Vietnam and Iraq or opposed involvement in Grenada, the first Gulf War over Kuwait or stopping the genocide in Rwanda - all wars that involved liberating non-whites.

I'm probably being judgmental, even though I used to be a Democrat myself (never a peace-at-any-price Democrat, but a Democrat).

In any case, this argument certainly does not apply to any Democrat who happens to be reading this.

You Talk and You Talk. Where's the Action?

Mr. Bertrand blogs, "For all our speculative theorizing, precious few of us can make our theories work out on paper. The rhetoric of Christian fiction is a more exalted thing than the reality, in part because we understand our ambitions better than we do our abilities, but also because rhetoric is always more exalted than reality, no matter who's talking."

Read "The Whole Truth."

from Phillis Wheatley's "Imagination"

Imagination! who can sing thy force?
Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?
Soaring through air to find the bright abode,
Th' empyreal palace of the thund'ring God,
We on thy pinions can surpass the wind,
And leave the rolling universe behind:
From star to star the mental optics rove,
Measure the skies, and range the realms above.
There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,
Or with new worlds amaze th' unbounded soul.

Phillis Wheatley (~1753–1784) was an American poet. She is considered the first important black writer in the United States.

Johnson & Johnson & Johnson & Johnson...

I’m [irony alert] hung over from my excessive Valentine’s celebrations yesterday [end irony alert], so I thought I’d upload another interesting old picture from my scans. Unfortunately I found that the picture I meant to use is in .tif format, which Photobucket is too good to associate with. So I’ll have to make a note to myself to convert that picture, and instead I’ll share this one:

Johnson family

This is one of my favorite family historical pictures. It comes from Mom’s side, the "disreputable" side. It was taken on the family farm, and I believe they were living in Hurley, Wisconsin then. That’s not something most people brag about (Back when I worked at the denominational headquarters, I once told one of my bosses that my grandmother had been born in Hurley. He looked at me and said, “You didn’t tell us that when you interviewed for this job”). I don’t know what year it was taken, but it had to be 1914 or earlier.

Reading from left to right, the fat lady we come to first is Elvira, (we pronounce it “El-VEE-rah” in my family) my great-grandmother. She was born in Trondheim, Norway in 1862. She may be part Sami (that’s Lapplander, but they don’t like to be called that anymore. Never did like it, actually), but I don’t know much about her background (nor her husband’s). She came to America in 1890. She is a devout and faithful Christian, and sometimes organizes Sunday Schools for immigrant children . She will die in 1914, aged 52.

Next to her is my grandmother, Hilda Johnson. She may not be as young as she looks in this picture. She was a very small person. On the other hand, that’s a little girl’s dress, so she’s probably not confirmed yet. She will die in 1959, at the age of 59. I remember her as an old woman with no teeth, but usually kind, and a faithful Christian. She and my Walker grandmother used to bring competing cakes for my and Moloch’s birthdays, which was great as far as we were concerned.

Next is the legendary John B. Johnson, scourge of the seven seas and northern Wisconsin. He was born in 1860. I’ve done some research based on hints my mother remembered, and I believe I’ve identified his birthplace as Grov on Hinnøy, which is almost, but not quite, in the Lofoten Islands. If this is true, he may be the Sami in the family (Grandpa said he thought there was some), since they were more common there than around Trondheim. But Elvira looks more Sami to me.

John B. has lived a colorful life. He worked on the restoration of Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim in the 1880’s. He was a cook on a whaling ship, and is said to have once escaped a sinking ship, towing two drowning men behind him on a long swim. Blood was gushing from his nose when he made shore. He’s said to have sometimes taken bites out of porcelain plates when he was drunk (which was often). And a woman once appeared at the door of their house, asked for him, then handed him a baby. “This is yours,” she said, and walked away. He didn’t dispute it, and they raised the child as part of the family.

I don’t know when he died, but it was in Saxon, Wisconsin.

Just behind John B. is John A.—John A., my grandfather. He doesn’t even belong in this picture, properly. He isn’t part of the family—yet. Not many years later he will marry the little girl Hilda, who will be only 18 even then. What he was doing at the Johnson place that day, I have no idea. I’ve told you about him before. He will live a life of struggle and poverty until he lands a job with the Milwaukee Road. When he retires on his railroad pension he’ll find himself suddenly making more money than he ever did before in his life. He’ll die in 1976, at 79.

The other two young men are Hilda’s brothers, Jacob and Alfred, about whom I know little.

About the horse I know nothing.

Pictures like this—roomy images that show whole houses rather than just little clumps of people—please me very much. They give me the feeling that I’ve gotten a peek into the people’s lives. I’ve magnified this picture and studied it in detail without discovering any hidden secrets, but I still like to look at it.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Large garden gnomes

Man, Teach Not The Lord's People

"10 reasons why men shouldn't be pastors"

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.

5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers.
Here's a bit o' humor passed from blog to blog which could be a conversation igniter. I've gotten my chuckles out of it, and I link to it here despite my fear that it could be fodder for a feminist diatribe on women in church leadership. I don't want to support that. I'm one of those failed intellectuals who believes the Bible grants church and family authority to men, not to men and women equally. Both genders are equally valuable in all roles of life, but men have the responsibility to lead their families and churches after the example of Christ.

Speaking of Quotations

The New Yorker asks what phrase, thought, or bit of instruction isn't quotable. "Whenever I take a plane, I am struck by 'Secure your own mask before assisting others' as advice with wide application."

That's sage advice, don't you think? How about these potential quotations?

  • "Walk. Don't run."
  • "Do not microwave."
  • "Toughest on grease."
  • "No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher."

Bitter, but not stupid

In case you’re reading this on Thursday or later, the quotation Phil chose for our header on Valentine’s Day was this one:

"That man that hath a tongue, I say, is no man, if with his tongue he cannot win a woman."

- William Shakespeare, The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Thanks for your support, Phil.

I spent last evening on the phone with Earthlink technical support, always an exercise in character building and cross-cultural enlightenment. I’d used their online chat service the night before to complain that the laptop card they’d sent me for my wireless network had stopped working. I finally convinced them that it wasn’t me, that the card actually had stopped working. The technician told me to call their Sales Support number so I could arrange to have the thing replaced at no cost.

I decided not to call right away, because it was getting late. I’d do it the next day.

Wise choice.

First I talked to Sales (after a long wait on hold, of course). Sales said no, we can’t do that for you. You’ve got to talk to Technical Support. We’ll transfer you.

Hold Music again for about 45 minutes. Finally I reached Tech. Sup.

“We can’t help you with that,” they said. “You’ve got to talk to Sales.”

More Hold Time.

Got to Sales. “You have to arrange this with Technical Support,” they told me. They put me on hold again.

Another wait.

“I don’t understand,” the Tech guy said. “We don’t have a way to do this.”

I explained that I’d been running back and forth between the two departments all night.

“I’ll find out,” he said. “I’m afraid I’ll have to put you on hold again for a while.”

I waited, but while I waited he actually walked over to Sales and asked them about it. He finally talked to a supervisor and found a way to get my card replaced without a charge.

If I had a daughter, I’d want her to marry this guy.

But I’m not so happy with Earthlink.

I’ve read that there’s an anti-Valentine’s Day movement going on in this country.

“Walker’ll get behind that,” you probably think. “He loves cynical stuff like that.”

Wrong. In fact think it’s disgusting.

It’s part of the whole Me First attitude that’s hardening the arteries of the republic. “I don’t believe in God, so everybody else should hide their religion. I’m allergic to dogs, so dogs should be outlawed. I don’t have a Significant Other, so you better shut up about yours.”

Here’s what I say. If you’ve got somebody you love, hold ‘em tight. Treat ‘em like royalty. Let ‘em know how much you need ‘em and appreciate ‘em.

Give ‘em chocolate.

It doesn’t make me feel any warmer, out here in the cold, to be told it’s just as cold inside.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

P.J. O'Rourke Doesn't Make the Cut

Mr. Holtsberry reviews P. J. O'Rourke's On The Wealth of Nations, which is O'Rourke's take on Adam Smith's classic (Does anyone read The Wealth of Nations anymore? Does anyone read any of the classics?). In short, he doesn't think much of it. "I am not sure O'Rourke really captures anything quintessential or insightful about Adam Smith's famous work or helps the reader understand it better. It is an interesting journey but you end up with little to hold onto in the end."

The Gift That Says You're Special, Blood

Here's a good Valentine's link for you. Giving blood may promote heart health. I need to give my blood again. The Blood Assurance people have already called about it.


I got linked by Shot In the Dark:

Can the Big Time be far off now?

I'll have to diss the Northern Alliance guys more often.

Works for Hewitt.

Want some mustard on that Hero?

You know what an “earworm” is, don’t you? One of those tunes that get stuck in your head, and you can’t seem to not hear it.

On the Northern Alliance Radio Network show on Saturday (the second act, featuring Mitch Berg from Shot In the Dark and Captain Ed from Captain’s Quarters), they used up valuable radio time playing Frankie Valli’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice,” in its entirety. I’m still not sure why. I think it might have been an oblique comment on something Nancy Pelosi said.

In any case, it’s been my off-and-on earworm all week, and it’s a weird one. Strangely fascinating, though repellant, like seeing Mickey Mouse in a Tennessee Williams play, or watching a man dancing the tango in clown shoes.

I wrote the other day about the problem of villains in books (or any storytelling medium). Villains, being villainous, generally wish to dominate the world, and they definitely want to dominate your story.

The thing about villains is that they do stuff. They get out there and mix it up. Unencumbered by concern for the comfort and convenience of others, they disrupt lives and systems and whole nations in order to get the bright shiny things they covet.

Your hero, on the other hand, is probably heavily encumbered. He’s nice. He’s not going to break down anybody’s door to find out what nameless evil is looming in the shadows. He’s got a job (probably). He’s got responsibilities.

To put it bluntly, he’s kind of dull. He might be nice to have as a husband or a friend, but he’s not very interesting to watch.

This, I suspect, is why many popular heroes are a little nuts. Sherlock Holmes, besides his drug problem, is bipolar, antisocial and narcissistic. Hercule Poirot is narcissistic and obsessive-compulsive. James Bond is a charming, psychopathic satyr.

But you can only take that so far. Make your hero too proactive and he becomes a busybody or a bully.

So the usual solution is to get him into trouble. Bring the villain to him, let the villain do something he can’t overlook, then let them mix it up. Make the villain formidable, give the hero lots of failures and set-backs and close misses to overcome, and you’ve got a story.

But the whole thing’s unsatisfactory to me, as a Christian writer. I believe that good is not essentially quiescent (I’m not a Buddhist). My Lord was contemplative when it was appropriate, but could be extremely proactive when faced with evil. He even picked fights (rhetorically), and once used a whip on some guys (or at least their livestock).

When I created my favorite character of my own, Father Ailill, I had the idea of a mad Irishman coming to live among a lot of dull Norwegians. It might have been good if I’d done it that way, but I came to feel that I’d be able to write him better if he were more like me. So I made him an essentially brash and aggressive guy who’s been broken (I know all about being broken). This added a Flashmanesque element of cowardice (although Ailill is less cowardly than he thinks). I believe it worked all right (I’m not fishing for compliments, I’m just telling you how I dealt with the problem).

But I’d like to figure out a way to build more proactive heroes.

Shoot, I’d like to figure out a way to be a little proactive myself.

Let's Talk About the Worst

Valentine's Day is tomorrow, and no doubt you have worked up warm and squishy feelings over the people or food products you most love. I think you need some balance. Talk to me about those books you wish you hadn't read or those that were so bad you couldn't finish them.

The discussion has already started. Sherry doesn't give us the name of the "bodice-ripper" she couldn't get through, though she may not remember it. Mark points out several titles which despite the strong writing may be difficult for many readers to finish. One book I reviewed favorably last year drew harsh criticism from my sister and a few others for stilted dialogue and otherwise boring writing.

I still don't think I read many books for good reasons. I slog through many books in order to review them later. I also read slowly, so when I say "many books" it's probably just a few compared to you. I probably should read careless for a year, giving a book 50 pages to interest me and feeling no guilt for dropping it.

But what about you? Can you name any books you disliked?

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