"The wise screen writer is he who wears his second-best suit, artistically speaking, and doesn’t take things too much to heart."

- Raymond Chandler
My Roman holiday

It was a strenuous weekend, by my standards. And quite a lot of fun, all in all.

A while back a fellow I know through Viking reenactment alerted me to an event coming up in September in New Ulm, Minnesota. It’s a battle reenactment, in honor of the 2,000th anniversary of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest (something that only happens once a millennium. I did the math). They’re bringing in a bunch of Roman reenactors from various places in the U.S., and they needed something approximating Iron Age Germans. Vikings are close enough for the purposes of the exercise.

You can read about the battle of Teutoburg Forest here, and about Arminius, the German chieftain who made his name there. Whatever it was. We don’t actually know what he called himself, but Martin Luther (who got pretty excited over the story of a German who smashed the Romans) decided his name must have been “Hermann,” and “Hermann the German” he has been, in popular imagination, ever since.

I drove down with a (different) Viking friend, and we managed to show up only about an hour late. (We wanted to avoid Highway 169 because the Renaissance Faire tends to back it up pretty awful on Saturday mornings in season. So we took a roundabout route, and managed to miss every intersection we tried to find. But eventually we made it, mostly by process of elimination.) Read the rest of this entry . . .

2009 Cybil Nominations

This year's CYBIL Awards, the Children's and Young Adult Blogger's Literary Awards, will start taking nominations for books published primarily this year on October 1. Learn more about the award and how to nominate your favorite book on their website.

100 20th Century Poets with Rebutal

Edward Bryne, a poet, blogger and professor, posted a list of 100 recommended books of American 20th Century poetry. He invited his readers to comment and add to the list, and he got a good bit of feedback. (via Books, Inq. for both links) Bryne notes:

At first I was hesitant about sharing this list, thinking along the line that Robin Kemp stated in her comment, “Boy, you’re really asking for it, aren’t you?!” Nevertheless, I believe readers’ replies exhibited something expressed in John Guzlowski’s comment: “I think that what this list and the comments adding more names to the list suggest is that poetry isn’t dead. It's alive as you or I.” On the other hand, Daniel E. Pritchard at The Wooden Spoon offered a contrary view as he observed: “I’m struck by how sparse the century was in terms of really obviously great poetry. This list probably could have been 50 titles and some of them still would’ve been in dispute.”

"There was nothing but land: not a country at all"

On the Road in Willa Cather Territory

More on Self-evident Truths

On Big Hollywood, Jeremy D. Boreing writes about America's founders.

Of the four claims about God and Americans outlined in the Declaration, it was the idea that man was made by God to be free that was the most radical, and which was so pivotal. The British press mocked it openly. It is, however, at the very heart of the founding ideology. If it is God who made men free, then Liberty is not a pragmatic imperative; it is a moral one. Governments that encroach on that liberty are not only violating the preferences of the governed, they are violating the very intention of God for government. For the Founders, this idea would fundamentally redefine the relationship between government and citizen. Man does not exist to be governed; governments exist to protect man’s freedom. Man does not owe government anything, other than what is necessary to aid that government in securing his basic rights. Likewise, government does not owe man anything other than protection from those who would intrude upon his freedom, be it his fellow citizen, foreign enemies, or the government itself.

We Hold These Truths to be Self-evident

Jacques Barzun: "Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred." (by way of Books, Inq.)

Educated Outside the System

Thomas Jodziewicz writes about Frederick Douglas' education into freedom. "Our popular culture promotes the injurious fiction," he says, "that the world is all about me, myself, and my ephemeral needs, a temptation that American culture has confronted for a long time. But a true liberal arts education can provide an escape from such alienation and loneliness—and boredom. A true liberal education is a way to discover that you are not alone."

Friday blather

I had an e-mail at work from Dr. John Eidsmoe yesterday. He was looking for the documentary source of a quotation from Luther that most of us have read more than once (I first saw it in Francis Schaeffer's work):

"If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point."

John couldn’t find it, and he thought maybe I could help (not as hopeful a thought as he imagined). Still, I attacked our complete edition of Luther and its index, and found precisely nothing.

So I went online, and finally found this interesting discussion.

There’s a lot of back-and-forth in comments, but the upshot seems to be that the quotation doesn’t actually come from Luther (though he said something different on the same lines), but from a 19th Century novel called Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family, by Elizabeth Rundle Charles. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Life by Hemingway

I don't know much about Ernest Hemingway, despite my desire to read his work. The fact that he killed himself in a type of defiance of God colors everything I read about him. But Brett has taken up Hemingway's ideas and made several motivational poster images in his most recent post, and they're worth browsing. I love the top photo.

In the Secret

Sherry writes about secret places in stories. I enjoy these places too. I've always loved the idea of a secret room in a large house. Of course, I'd want to go into it often--the kids would too--so the secret or secluded part of being in the room would wear out soon. But true stories like this one of a man finding a hidden room while renovating a 120-year-old house are so cool--unless you balance them with stories about hidden rooms with notes ("I owned this house for a short while, and it was discovered to have a serious mold problem.").

What is this strange, unaccustomed feeling?

Yesterday I had all sorts of stuff to blog about. Today I’m pretty dry.

The only unusual thing about my life right now (aside from its usual unusualness) is that I feel pretty good.

Years back, I used to jog. I was never a hard core runner, though there was a time when I might have become one. I'd gotten my running up to four miles at a time, and was enjoying it. Then I blew out my knee (due to my own stupidity), which limited me to two miles a day ever after. And eventually I couldn’t even do that anymore.

After a long hiatus (and gaining back a lot of weight I’d kept at bay for fifteen years), I took up walking a few years back, taking half hour walks instead of twenty minute runs. It was better than nothing, but there was very little pleasure in it, and sloughing off was easy. I didn’t know why.

But lately, out of desperation to improve my condition, I started lifting some very light weights (which I bought back when I was running) while doing the walks.

And lo, I discovered what I’d been missing all these years. I was missing pushing it. I was missing actually having a workout that took effort. Now the burn is back, and I feel better than I have in years.

Sorry to break out of the Lars Walker character you know and have come to expect. I’m sure I’ll be griping about something again soon.

If It Was Made by Slaves, Would You Buy it?

As I understand it, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is required by Congress (Trafficking Victims' Protection Act (TVPA) of 2005) to list the goods produced by forced labor or child labor and the countries which produced those things. At the end of last year, Congress told the DOL to issue that list by the end of 2009 (William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008). Change.org and Polaris Project are asking us to write the DOL to encourage it to make it's deadline.

I'd think a list like this would be very difficult to compile, even if you did not have businesses arguing against it (which I assume some lobbyist or two is actually doing). There was an informational meeting held on May 28, 2008. Perhaps now, almost five years later, the DOL is ready to finger the companies and products made in unjust conditions. You can join the effort here.

Christ-Centered Worship

"Christ-Centered Worship calls people to go beyond 'contemporary worship' without being polemical in spirit. It takes historic worship traditions very seriously but uses the gospel itself as the way to critique and design orders of worship. It is full, balanced, and extremely practical. This will now be the first book I give people--or turn to myself--on the practice of understanding, planning, and leading in corporate worship."--Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church; author of The Reason for God

"Never an Unfree Man"

An essay I wrote recently, called "Never an Unfree Man," about Viking Norway and the (possible) roots of Free Lutheranism (the brand to which I adhere), has been posted online by my publisher, here.

In other news, Nordskog reports that they've ordered a second printing of West Oversea.

Abandoned book review: Viking: Odinn's Child, by Tim Severin

There was a time when I made it a point of honor to finish every book of fiction I started. As I’ve aged I’ve grown more surly and impatient, and nowadays if a book bores or offends me, I toss it away. Life’s too short. I’ve got stuff I need to read.

So I’m going to do a new thing here. I’m going to post a biased review of a book to which I may not have given a fair chance.

I’d had Tim Severin’s Viking trilogy recommended to me, and I do try to keep up, to some degree, with my competition in the Viking novels field. I looked forward to the book. Severin is the author of The Brendan Voyage, an account of his own Atlantic voyage in a leather coracle, in emulation of St. Brendan, a book I read, enjoyed, and profited from.

But I got up to page 74 of Viking: Odinn’s Child and just couldn’t take it any further. There were two reasons, stylistic and ideological. I’ll start with the stylistic, so that anyone who doesn’t care about my religious views can just read this part and drop the review, as I dropped the book. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Words that don't mean what we think they mean

In news reports and discussion of the death today of Sen. Edward Kennedy, I keep hearing references to the "Kennedy family tragedies." This might suggest to some people that the death of Sen. Kennedy is also a tragedy. It is not. (Please understand that I don't mean to suggest it's not sad. I mean it doesn't meet either the ancient or the modern definitions of "tragedy.")

The ancient definition of tragedy was, "The story of the violent and premature death of a great man, which he brings upon himself through some flaw in his character."

The modern definition is, "An early or untimely death marked by a notable loss of human potential."

Sen. Kennedy's life fulfills neither of these criteria.

Sen. Kennedy died at an advanced age, fabulously wealthy and one of the most powerful people in the world. Whatever the indiscretions and sins of his life, he managed to avoid suffering almost any temporal consequences for them.

Almost the diametric opposite of tragedy.

This Labor Day, Read About Suicide

National Suicide by Martin L. Gross Cal Thomas praises "a must-read for people who are sick of the way government operates." It's Martin L. Gross' book National Suicide: How Washington Is Destroying the American Dream from A to Z. This isn't about health care or terrorism. It's about politicians and the system they have worked up in Washington D.C. that has little to do with serving the public.

The current administration has a projected budget deficit of $9 trillion over ten years. I can only assume that's because very few congressmen use calculators when considering budget proposals. Do any living congressmen ask about current revenues or unreasonable tax burdens for legitimate reasons, not political points? Do they care about the limitations put on them by the constitution?

Thomas describes some of the problems recorded in National Suicide:

The Alternative Minimum Tax, which he says is “based on an accounting lie,” will cost taxpayers $1 trillion over the next 10 years. America, he writes, spends $700 billion a year on various welfare programs, amounting to $65,000 for each poor family of four, yet we still have the poor with us. Both political parties, Gross charges, secretly encourage illegal immigration (the Democrats for votes, the Republicans for cheap labor) and then reward the immigrants’ children with automatic U.S. citizenship.
Care to guess how many government programs deal with "disappearing rural areas"? 89, 200, 500? It's much higher than that.

Before the next election, we may want to think through what has brought us to the point of national suicide and ask ourselves who we can trust to serve the country with humility, loving mercy, and acting justly.

The End of Secularism, by Hunter Baker

Our friend Hunter Baker’s new book, The End of Secularism, reminds me more than anything in my own experience of the work of Francis Schaeffer (though Baker criticizes Schaeffer in certain areas). It’s a dense book, heavily footnoted, presenting a lot of information in a relatively short (194 pages) format. You’ll want to keep a highlighter in hand as you read it, and if you’re like me, you’ll have to stop and contemplate what you’re reading from time to time.

Baker begins with several chapters of historical overview, tracing the history of the Christian church, then explaining how secularism as a world-view and ideology burgeoned in a world increasingly weary of religious conflict and war. Secularism—the view that religion (if tolerated at all) must be cordoned off from public life, so that even someone whose politics are formed by faith must find secular public arguments for it in order to participate in the process—was originally marketed, and continues to be marketed today, as the only rational and impartial alternative to the passions and intolerance of believers.

Baker then applies to this claim of rationality and impartiality the same kind of analysis that secularists like to use on religion. He finds secularism greatly wanting, and fatally blind to its own unexamined presuppositions. It’s strange to find postmodern thinkers presented positively in a Christian book, but Baker takes particular note of recent deconstructions of secularism by younger thinkers. These postmoderns note that secularists are not, as they imagine, impartial referees in the world of thought, but partisans holding a distinct ideology, and that their efforts to silence religious ideas in the public square are simply a new example of an elite class attempting to muzzle heretics. Baker also marshals historical facts to demonstrate that secularism has no better record of tolerance and the prevention of conflict than Christianity had. He devotes a later chapter specifically to the “legend” of the incompatibility of religion and science. In the final chapter he examines an interesting situation from recent history where politicians explicitly appealed to religion in a controversy in a southern state, and the secularists made no complaint at all—because in that case, religion was being marshaled in the service of a liberal cause.

The End of Secularism will challenge the Christian reader, and will raise some Christian hackles—Baker gives short shrift to those who claim that America was founded as a Christian nation, for instance. (Update: Hunter points out to me that he criticizes those who claim a secularist founding as well, which is a fair point.) But Christians should read it, for the mental exercise, and for the hope it presents that the long cultural dominance of secularism may finally be coming to the beginning of its end. Secularists should read it for an education.

Highly recommended.

Getting Outside Oneself

Writing good fiction is hard because it must be outside the writer, not focused on him. If he can define something of the larger world, his work may live beyond his memory. (HT: Frank Wilson)

"Souls on Ice"

Anthony Sacramone reviews the movie "Souls on Ice" at Filmwell. As he sees it, a promising concept, disappointingly delivered.

Alas, Cold Souls’s parts are greater than its whole, and sounds funnier than it is. It fails to cohere in part because the central conceit—Paul Giamatti playing Paul Giamatti—serves no great purpose. After all, Giamatti, however ill at ease and sad-sackish he may appear, is a successful and respected actor. If we are to believe that he is nevertheless experiencing a soul-shifting crisis, a deep-seated desire to, as Vanya says, “live the rest of his life in a different way,” those scenes must have been left on the cutting-room floor or on Barthes’ laptop.

End is Near

Hunter Baker's The End of Secularism

Yesterday, I received my copy of Hunter Baker's The End of Secularism. I'll fill you in on the yummy details when I can. You can listen to him on Moody's Prime Time America from a link on his blog.

Two Millions

Congratulations to The Millions blog on their new design--very nice.

I left the ELCA before leaving the ELCA was cool

(I’ve made a running joke in this blog of referring to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) as The Very Large Lutheran Church Body That Shall Remain Nameless (TVLLCBTSRN). In view of recent events, I’m going to name names in this post. In the future, who knows?)

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s decision, this past week, to bless same-sex sexual relationships, and to allow open homosexuals (if monogamous) to serve as clergy, will, I’m sure, lead to a perceptible (possibly dramatic) exodus of conservative churches and individuals from the denomination. I approve of this, and encourage it.

Still, I can already hear the accusations of the ELCA liberals and homosexual activists—“This isn’t about truth! It’s about hate! You people just can’t get past your homophobia!”

And in a sense, I understand the criticism. One might reasonably ask, “Why now? Has this problem come up all of a sudden (like the unpredicted tornado that knocked the cross off the steeple of Central Lutheran Church, a convention venue, during deliberations)? Why strain out this particular camel, when you’ve swallowed so many camels already?” Read the rest of this entry . . .

Embrace the Future

Terry Teachout writes about new media: "Everybody in America was talking about TV early in 1949, though comparatively few Americans owned a set of their own. Network radio was still the dominant mass entertainment ­medium." There are lessons for today, but they aren't detailed. Making money by reporting news or providing entertainment online is still a pioneer territory. The old ad model may not do the job anymore.

Tickling Ears

Frank Wilson describes The Da Vinci Code's reception as I have always understood it.

We're Watching What You Say So You Won't Have To

In Britain, you will no longer be "blackballed," encounter a "black day," or find anyone's "right-hand man." Those words and phrases have been deemed offensive and banned from use by public servants. If you travel to that still beautiful country, get everything in writing because you will not find a "gentleman's agreement" anywhere. From the article:

Anthony Horowitz, author of the Alex Rider children’s spy books, said: “A great deal of our modern language is based on traditions which have now gone but it would be silly — and extremely inconvenient — to replace them all. A ‘white collar worker’, for example, probably doesn’t wear one. An ‘able seaman’, under new regulations, could well be neither. ‘Spanish practices’ can happen all over Europe. We know what these phrases mean and we can find out from where they were derived. Banning them is just unnecessary.”
Unnecessary? Come, come. We all know that when one corrects one's speech, one corrects one's heart. If you look good on the outside, you will be good on the inside. Whitewash the sepulcre without, and it is cleansed within. We all know this, so of course it's necessary.

Context Is King

"Why Short Films Don’t Work in Church"

There's a Train A-Coming

Update: The first video I posted was removed by the YouTube user.

A Student in Thousand Dollar Bills

Earlier this week, James Lileks posted the cover of a 1941 copy of Reader’s Digest magazine (which just went into bankruptcy reorganization. I could go on an on about the decline of that publication, but that’s a story for another day). Read the rest of this entry . . .

Lock It Away

More news in time for Banned Books Week: The Brooklyn Public Library has a big safe for books which are "not for the public."

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