"No one can furnish scientific proof of the existence or nature of a divine plan in the fulfillment of which men may cooperate, but it is evident that such an ideal lends strength and courage to mortal men."

- Edwin Grant Conklin
Book Giveaway

Jared is offering copies of Christian George's Godology and a copy of his own "Your Jesus Ain't Too Shabby" (or something like that) for commenters willing to offer up a fun story about theology, like this one from Clinton:

My Son was working with the kids program at a local church and the youth pastor had an off-site bible study for the teens the same night. The youth pastor decided it would be fun to scare my son and had hid in the church. He had my wife phone my son and tell him there was an alert because an escaped murderer had been seen in the area. She told him to lock the doors and check to make sure no one was in the church. During the search, the youth pastor jumped out at my son and another leader, Matt, doing the search. Matt clocked the youth pastor in the head with the 2 by 4 he was carrying...twice.
OUCH

50 Manly Fiction Options

This just in: The Essential Man’s Library: 50 Fictional Adventure Books Edition. Hey, where's G.A. Henty on that list? And I have to say up front, She and Ayesha are just not going to make my read-in-this-lifetime list. Maybe I'm missing out, but I think I'd rather read Patrick O'Brian and Wodehouse again.

Hey! Where's O'Brian on that list?

Manly Non-fiction

The Essential Adventure Library: 50 Non-fiction Adventure Books

Hauge and social change

(Due to popular demand, or at least my own demand not to have to come up with an idea tonight, here is the text of my talk at the 150th anniversary celebration of Hauge Lutheran Church, Kenyon, Minnesota, on June 28, 2009.)

At 10 o’clock on the evening of November 22, the bailiff came and delivered to me the provincial government’s order to read, which said that I should, under strict guard… be transported to Christiania…. The bailiff brought only his servant along and drove me to Christiania. He expressed his opinion that I would either be imprisoned in Munkholmen [prison] or exiled to the islands of the South Seas, so that I must not expect ever to see any of my faithful friends again. I answered him that as long as there is life there is hope of better things; and that if his prophecy should be fulfilled, my God would certainly take care of me, and “I am in His hands and satisfied to accept whatever tribulations He wills that I encounter.” With such thoughts and words I kept my courage up, and since the bailiff, as I experienced, did not care for my religious conversation, I spoke mostly with him of various projects for the public good of which I, here and there in the country, had been the initiator, of which I said, “It is sad to think that they should all be shipwrecked. Many will thereby lose their livelihoods. But even concerning that I will be at peace, if only I am myself satisfied that I have done what I could for the benefit of my homeland and my fellow men’s benefit, both temporal and eternal.”

These are Hans Nielsen Hauge’s own words, from his account of the arrest in 1804 which led to his long imprisonment. I read them here because they express something we sometimes forget about Hauge. He lived his message. He preached, first of all, that the gift of salvation must be received in the heart, and secondly, that true salvation must lead to good works. And he demonstrated that teaching by doing good—getting his hands dirty, sharing useful information and ideas, and building businesses that provided jobs.

It’s interesting that, while early critics of Hauge and his followers accused them of being shiftless, superstitious vagrants, later critics accused them of the exact opposite—they worked too hard, studied too much, were obsessed with money and profit. They didn’t have enough fun, and tried to spoil the fun of others.

These changes in criticism are really testimony to Hans Nielsen Hauge’s tremendous success. He changed the very character of his country. When Hauge was born, the best the average Norwegian could hope for was to be just what his father had been—and that was only if he was lucky enough to be the firstborn. If he wasn’t firstborn, he was lucky to make a living at all.

After Hauge, all Norwegians knew they had a multitude of possibilities. They could go into business. They could be teachers or pastors. They could write for a newspaper. And many of them did what was perhaps the most Haugean thing of all—they emigrated to America, where there was no class system and no state church, and no law prevented anyone from improving his situation and “edifying” his fellow men. Read the rest of this entry . . .

A Question

How long would you have to stir a large bowl of vegetable soup to get a string of noodles which spell out, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth"?

Feel free to add your question in the comments.

Must-hear web radio

My interview this morning with Stacy Harp of Active Christian Media can be downloaded here.

Have You Seen "District 9" Trailer?

What do you think about a new sci-fi movie called "District 9"? You can watch the trailer in several places, one of which being this blog from one of the movie aliens. You have to click a button to translate his posts into English. It looks as if the story focuses on the politics of modern day illegal aliens or undocumented workers. In fact, a YouTube video I saw in which someone shouts, "Do your part. Marry a non-human," makes explicit the illegal aliens angle. But that doesn't mean it isn't a good story or that there isn't plenty of truth in it. Hopefully, it won't boil down to a plea for everyone to just get along.

You can see some back-story for the movie on this official site. I have some thoughts on American's immigration problem too. Perhaps I should write on them here. Conservatives need to raise their voice on this, b/c the opposition isn't going to lead us anywhere healthy. Look at the rotten sewage the House passed in the name of environmental progress. Help us.

50 Writing Resources

Hone your writing skills with one or more of these websites. I've used Ask Oxford in the past, and I've needed help with my headlines for a long time. Do you use any of these resources? Do you dislike any of them?

Weekend report, sesquicentennial edition

Today and tomorrow, I’m doing something I’ve done many times over the years, but there never used to be a name for it –“Stay-cation.” Tomorrow morning I’m supposed to be interviewed by Stacy Harp over at Active Christian Media, so I figured that, since I’d certainly take that morning off rather than do it on the job, I might as well take Monday too and make it a long weekend.

Yesterday was the 150th anniversary
celebration of my home congregation, Hauge Lutheran in Kenyon, Minnesota. This was a special edition of the annual service held at the Old Stone Church, our original building out in the country. This is how it looked.
Old Stone Church Read the rest of this entry . . .

The face of St. Paul

The Vatican has made public the oldest known portrait of the Apostle Paul. It's Fourth Century, so it's not exactly contemporary, but it does conform to the traditional description.

Vatican archaeologists have uncovered what they say is the oldest known portrait of St Paul. The portrait, which was found two weeks ago but has been made public only after restoration, shows St Paul with a high domed forehead, deep-set eyes and a long pointed beard, confirming the image familiar from later depictions.

As I understand it, we do have (unlike in the case of Christ) a physical description of Paul which is very probably authentic. Not a photogenic fellow. Short, bow-legged, bald, with a prominent nose and thick lips.

Update:
It must be St. Paul week in Rome. They have also announced authenticating bones found under the Vatican as being Paul's.

Tip for both stories: Archaeology in Europe.

The Proper Use of Pain

Frederick Buechner on "The Stewardship of Pain."

Pain can become a treasure if we treasure it to the point where it can become compassion and healing, not just for ourselves, but also for other people. If you want to see that sort of thing in operation, the treasuring of pain, the using of pain to the healing of yourself and others, someday attend an open meeting of AA or any of the related groups. That is exactly what those people are doing, sharing their hurts, their experiences and their joys.

And remember the cross. It seems to me that the cross of Christ in a way speaks somewhat like this same word, saying that out of that greatest pain endured in love and faithfulness, comes the greatest beauty and our greatest hope.

"An Ode to Men and Fathers"

David Marcoe at Modern Conservative has a few words for feminists, about men:

Women are not men. Men are not women. Each half supports the other, having interdependent strengths that balance the whole. If you think you could replace them, keep dreaming, because you can’t be men, just as we can't be women. No matter how hard you rage and storm, no matter how badly you wish it, you can’t change that, nor should you, for attempts to do so have created man-children without virtue, who use women as objects, and women who've become ugly caricatures of men and allow themselves to be used and cheapened; the sexes alienated from one another in discord and hostility. In this attempt to deprive this world of a harmonious variety of form, it reduces everything to a tyrannical homogeneity and stamps upon the beauty and adventure of romance that has quickened us since the dawn of the human race.

The Children of Hurin, by J. R. R. Tolkien

(Yes, I finally got around to reading this book.)

The trouble with Tolkien’s Middle Earth writing,
apart from The Lord of the Rings, is the acute lack of hobbits. It’s hard to carry off the high heroic tone for a modern audience without offering non-heroic, funny intermediaries with whom the modern reader can identify. The moment I came up with the character of Father Aillil for my Erling books, I understood that the books could work. Modern readers find purely heroic characters and situations kind of clunky. I say it to our shame, but there are few old-style heroes among us (I’m talking about a whole cultural ethic here, not people who do heroic things), and we experience culture shock when we encounter such characters.

I’m not saying The Children of Húrin fails for this reason. I read it with great enjoyment. But you should be prepared for a rather different experience than what you get from Tolkien’s masterwork. If you’ve read The Silmarillion, you know what I mean, and indeed you will have read this story already, in a different form.

The Children of Húrin has been compared to an Icelandic saga. That’s true, if you’re thinking of the high heroic sagas, like the Volsunga Saga, sagas about heroes of old who were larger than life in every way—braver, crueler, more passionate than you and I.

Húrin is not the hero of this book, but his story frames it. At the beginning we learn how he earns the enmity of Glaurung, the evil dragon, who curses him and his family, then forces him to sit watching on a mountain as the curse works itself out. At the end he reappears for a brief epilogue.

The central character is his son Túrin, who (as the Vikings would have put it) has every good quality except for luck. Mighty and brave in battle, devoted to his family and friends, he nevertheless takes every wrong turn. He makes disastrous choices, trusts the wrong people, is offended by his best friends and offends those who should be his allies. In the end the dragon’s curse works itself out in his personal relationships, in a manner worthy of Greek tragedy (something Tolkien imposes on the saga form here, like the recent movie, "Beowulf"). Pity and terror are here in full measure.

I enjoyed it a lot, but it wasn’t lighthearted reading.

Recommended for serious-minded readers. I think it would be all right even for younger teens, if they’re mature.

You've Got a Great Band

So, what's it like to be a guitarist? Dan Skidmore says:

Without a doubt, the single biggest misconception people have about being a professional guitarist is that it is all about your technique on guitar . . . Unless you are Yngwie Malmsteen, being a professional guitarist is primarily about relating to and working well with other musicians. I bet even Mr. Malmsteen has had to say he’s sorry a couple times.

For example, one band I worked for was auditioning bass players. Following the auditions, we talked not only about each bassist’s skills, but also about what we termed his “potential jerk factor.” (We actually used a different word for “jerk.”) We would be spending a lot of time with anyone we hired. Is he pleasant to be around? Is he likely to show up for things on time? Will he do his share of all the work that goes into a gig? These considerations are at least as important as the musicianship. Any working musician will take a solid player with a good attitude over a virtuoso who is a pain.

De mortuis

On days like this, I should be legally barred from posting. We’ve got the deaths of not one but two pop icons from my youth, on top of the ongoing awfulness in Iran (which everybody seems to have forgotten all of a sudden), topped by the systematic transformation of our country into a European-style social democracy. Hmm, what shall the tone of tonight’s blog post be?

Speaking personally, Michael Jackson never really took up much of my mental square footage (and I do mean square). He was one of those phenomena, like the Rocky Horror Picture Show, that I observed from afar, uncomprehending.

But Farrah! The perfect face, at the perfect time of my life for emotional imprinting. She even resembled (sort of, in a distant way, in the right light) the girl who’d broken my heart about a year previously.
FARRAH FAWCETT

I forget what night of the week “Charlie’s Angels” was on. I do recall that it was opposite “Grizzly Adams,” because my roommate was a huge GA fan, while I always wanted to see CA. I don’t recall how we worked it out. Very likely we took turns. There was only the one TV. Read the rest of this entry . . .

In Defense of Shakespeare's Christianity

Leland Ryken rejoices to find Christian allusions galore in Shakespeare's writing. "[S]cholars who are attuned to the Christian element in Shakespeare's plays correctly observe that there is sometimes a gratuitous element in Shakespeare's Christian allusions, meaning that Shakespeare incorporates Christian references beyond what seem to be strictly required by the context."

Does that mean the great bard was a genuine believer? No, but he had a fairly Christian mind in his writing.

"The world that Shakespeare creates in As You Like It is approximately the same as the religiously-saturated world of the farms around Pella, Iowa, on which I was raised. While a writer can create a Christian world only to mock it, Shakespeare adopts a sympathetic stance to what he portrays in As You Like It."

"It isn't all about his heart"

Chad "The Elder" Dowdy over at Fraters Libertas (a proud Minnesota blog) says the words I was groping for about the Mark Sanford scandal:

The other thing that bothered me about Sanford's commitment to "get my heart right" is that this isn't all about his heart. Sanford is a Christian (Episcopal) and I know that he talked about his faith during the press conference. However, I'm surprised that a bigger part of his contrition wasn't focused on the sins he committed against God. It's great that you're going to work on getting your heart right Gov, but how about getting right with God? When you blindly follow your heart (or other parts of the anatomy) you easily can stray from God's path.

"The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford"

Just got an e-mail today from a reader (not of West Oversea, but of The Year of the Warrior) who thanked me for it somewhat ruefully. This person said that the story had given them the courage to turn down an employment opportunity which would have involved violating their conscience.

I am not a good enough man to have this effect on people.

I saw the movie, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” on DVD over the weekend. It’s one of those movies that got dynamite reviews but never received the distribution it deserved. And it must be admitted that it’s not popcorn fare.

I read the book it was based on, written by Ron Hansen, way back in the ’70s, when it first came out. As best as I can tell at this distance, the movie follows the novel pretty closely. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Happy birthday, Sissel

Today is Sissel Kyrkjebo's birthday.

Here's a video of her doing a lovely Swedish hymn, "Bred Dina Vida Vingar," (Spread Wide Thy Wings) during a concert tour in the Faeroe Islands. This was back in 1991, before she was spoiled by success and cut her hair short.

My campaign of misinformation

Ori, in a customarily generous comment on my previous post, spoke of the “Edutainment” value of my Viking novels, that people learn history from them. I like to think there’s some truth in that. But it got me thinking about the historical errors that I nevertheless do promulgate in my books. A few historical errors that come to mind follow:

1. In my books, Erling’s father Skjalg dies about the year 994, very close to the beginning of the story. In real life, according to the sagas, Skjalg was killed in a slave rebellion while Erling was still a young boy. How I got it wrong: This particular part of Erling’s story is not found in Heimskringla, my primary source. It comes from a reference in another saga, which I’d never heard of when I wrote Erling’s Word. I covered my tracks in The Year of the Warrior by referring to the slave rebellion, but having Skjalg survive it.

2. The traditional dates for King Olaf Trygvesson’s reign are 995 to 1000 A.D. But if you read The Year of the Warrior and pay close attention, you’ll see that only four years are reported, rather than five. How I got it wrong: I had no use for another year, so I ignored it. This is the sort of thing you can get away with in a novel, most of the time.

3. Erling tells Father Aillil that, although his father was a heathen, he himself was converted to Christianity after a raid in Ireland. In fact, historians believe that Jaeder (Erling’s original area of influence) was Christianized as far back as the reign of Haakon the Good. Heathen graves in the area disappear around that time, according to archaeologists. In all likelihood, the real Skjalg was a Christian. How I got it wrong: This was something else I didn’t learn until Erling’s Word had been published. I paper it over by mentioning that Christianity has become popular in Jaeder, and the heathen are feeling threatened. And frankly, it’s more dramatic to make Erling a rebel against his father’s religion. I might have chosen to do it that way even if I had known.

4. I speak of King Harald Finehair and his family as coming from eastern Norway, and of Olaf Trygvesson as being Harald’s descendent. Both those contentions are based on Heimskringla, and both are questioned by historians today. Historians from western Norway have been fighting hard in the last few years for the idea that Harald (traditionally the first king of a united Norway) came from the west, and that later saga writers, in order to legitimize the reigning dynasty, made him an easterner. (Apparently they’ve been having trouble with that, though, and a compromise is being hammered out.) It does seem clear that Olaf Trygvesson (and the later St. Olaf Haraldsson) were not descendants of Harald. How I got it wrong: Again, I didn’t know about these things when I wrote. But you know, I’m dealing with a national epic here. Trying to be too meticulous wouldn’t buy me much. And ten years down the road, historians will probably have changed their minds again anyway.

A Little Romanian Dance

The Dutch Violinist Janine Jansen plays Béla Bartók's Romanian Dances live from Prinsengrachtconcert Amsterdam 2005.

What If Broadway Challenged Liberal Ideology?

Michael Riedel writes on two politically conservative plays working the ropes to get produced in New York.

But wouldn't it be novel if, every once in a while, a show did more than reaffirm what theater people know to be the absolute truth? . . .

"Reagan" is a one-man play that doesn't portray the 40th president as a fascist. It's by Lionel Chetwynd, whose scripts for television and film include "The Hanoi Hilton," "Color of Justice," "Kissinger and Nixon" and "DC 9/11: Time of Crisis."

The other play is "Girls in Trouble (Formerly Three Abortions)" by Jonathan Reynolds, one of the few openly conservative members of the Dramatists Guild.

His play "Stonewall Jackson's House," a sharp attack on political correctness, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1998.
(via ArtsJournal)

Giveaway: The Vanishing Sculptor

Mr. Holtsberry is giving away one of Donita K. Paul's novels, The Vanishing Sculptor. Leave a comment on his post to enter. The winner will be chosen by a meeting of the minds at the U.S. Department of Treasury, that is to say, at random.

At least I'm the world's greatest expert on Father Aillil

It was a quiet weekend, highlighted by a little shopping and housecleaning, as well as church as usual. Today it’s good and stinking hot—the first day this year I’d characterize by that precise and objective characterization. Nearly 100 degrees, at least on my back porch. I like it. I’m a summer baby, never really comfortable until I’m uncomfortably warm.

I recently wrote a paper for the Georg Sverdup Society (for the benefit of newcomers, that’s the scholarly society for which I serve as Journal editor. We’re mostly devoted to translating the works of Prof. Georg Sverdrup of Augsburg College, one of the founders of my branch [or “perversion,” some of our Lutheran readers are thinking] of Lutheranism—a sort of congregational Lutheranism).

My premise was that the roots of our peculiarity (or “perversion,” as above) may partly be found in Norwegian social tradition going back to the Viking Age. (Norwegian Lutherans in America were remarkable in that they split up into a number of competing Lutheran fellowships, unlike most of the other Scandinavian-Americans, who founded purely ethnic, one-size-fits-all church bodies). I suggest (I don’t think it’s provable one way or another) that this contentiousness (dare I say “diversity?”) may spring—in part—from the old Viking-Age political system, which Prof. Torgrim Titlestad calls “confederative,” and for which Erling Skjalgsson (hero of West Oversea, of which you may have heard) lived and died.

I sent the article to my friend and blurb-writer Dr. John Eidsmoe, because it occurred to me that this would be red meat to him. And indeed he responded quickly, correcting a couple of points of fact, but also very interested in my premise. He said, “You might say that Erling Skjalgsson was the Robert E. Lee of Norway.” That struck me odd at first, but on consideration there’s a lot to be said for it.

He also suggested that I might be the world’s greatest expert on Erling. Very flattering, but not true. Prof. Titlestad knows rings around me. Maybe I’m the greatest expert in America. But I’d bet there’s some hungry professor in some obscure Midwestern history department whom I’ve never heard of, who did a brilliant (and neglected) doctoral thesis on Erling. And who is very bitter about it, and will probably hunt me down and shoot me if my novel's a success.

Still, it’s nice to be flattered. Flatter me all you like. I’ll make mordant, self-deprecatory jokes, but secretly I’ll like it, and don’t let me tell you otherwise.

Seeing Pixar's 'Up' Was Her Last Wish

Premiere of Disney Pixars Up - Arrivals "I'm ready (to die), but I'm going to wait for the movie," said a 10-year-old cancer patient, waiting to see Pixar's latest movie. The girl, Colby Curtin, was too sick to go to a theater, so a family friend called Pixar and Disney to ask if they would help her watch the movie before she died.

A Pixar employee brought a DVD to the Curtin family along with movie-related toys and stayed while the family watched. Colby couldn't open her eyes to see the film. Her mother described the scenes to her. The family didn't know "Up" focuses on an old man holding on to the dreams he had with his departed wife. They knew primarily that the story had lots of balloons and that Colby wanted to see it.

She died that evening.

Privy thoughts

It amused me today, for some reason, to recall that I know where to find a washroom at the fish market in Bergen, Norway. Oddly, I experienced almost as much pleasure in remembering that accomplishment as in the thought of being published (which just goes to show you there’s something very, very wrong with me).

Mark you, it’s not the greatest washroom you’ve ever used. For one thing, you have to pay to get into a stall. You pay an attendant, who—although I used the Men’s Room—was a woman, at least the last time I was there.

See, that’s what comes of Socialism. Verily I say unto you, if Pres. Obama (peace be upon him) and the Democrats have their way, soon all our washrooms will be pay toilets, and all the men’s rooms will have female attendants.

And it’ll do you no good staying home, because private washrooms will be outlawed. THIS WAY TO THE PEOPLE’S FACILITIES. YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK. PLEASE TAKE A NUMBER.

OK, I think I've taken this train of thought far enough down the track.

The Friday Fight: Recent Skirmishes



Book of the Year

World's 2009 Book of the Year is essentially a perennial bestseller: The Bible. Specifically, they are praising the ESV Study Bible, which has a hefty preview site.

Criminal Intent

It's one thing for an editor or columnist to call for censorship of bad or disfavored ideas by rounding up people who hold those ideas. It's another thing for the attorney general to call it. I wonder if hate crime law is inacted, will it make attempted assault just as harshly punished as assault under some circumstances? Worse than that, the current bill apparently allows the federal prosecutors to try a person twice for a single act of qualifying hatred.

The US Commission on Civil Rights says the bill currently in the Senate "will do little good and a great deal of harm." In a letter to several senators, the commissioners wrote:

“We regard the broad federalization of crime as a menace to civil liberties,” stated the commissioners. They pointed out that the loophole to “double jeopardy” exists because the authors of the Bill of Rights “never dreamed that federal criminal jurisdiction would be expanded to the point where an astonishing proportion of crimes are now both state and federal offenses.”

Assuming What You Claim to Prove

Kyle is not afraid of Freud.

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