The Fellowship of the Inklings

The Eagle and Child

“In general, the all-male group shared a longing for that half-imaginary time before man’s alienation from God, nature and self, the time before the chaos and materialism of the post-industrial era had displaced the elegantly organized cosmos of the Middle Ages. In their ­various ways, each hoped to spearhead a rehabilitation, a re-enchantment of our fallen world.” Michael Dirda reflects on The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski. He says the book focuses largely on the men’s religious lives and thoughts.

The Fellowship looks to be a great, detailed introduction to Barfield and Williams, two men close to Lewis and Tolkien but unfamiliar to most of their fans.

‘Black,’ and ‘Black is Back,’ by Russell Blake

When I started reading the first book in Russell Blake’s detective series, Black, I was frankly not much impressed. The main character and his situation seemed hackneyed and glib. But I gave it a chance, and soon decided that there’s a whole lot more going on with these books than was initially apparent, and now I’m a fan.

Artemus Black (he tries to avoid his first name) is a low rent PI in the stereotypical shabby Los Angeles office. He has an office assistant, Roxie, a hot goth chick with superior research and hacking skills, who is reliably insolent to him. He also has an obese, rescued “office cat,” who hates him. He’s seeing a psychologist to help him work through his anger issues – anger at his hippie parents who, although stoned most of the time, keep turning their arts and crafts into wildly profitable businesses, and at his ex-wife who, back when he was a rock musician, recorded an album of songs he wrote and then left him to become an international star, taking all the song rights with her. He drives a classic Cadillac El Dorado convertible, and wears 1940s suits and fedoras. He drinks too much and is trying to quit smoking.

The first book is simply called Black, and involves Black being hired by an aging action movie star with a particular hatred for the paparazzi. Now paparazzi are getting murdered wherever the star goes, and suspicion is being directed at him.

The second book, Black is Back, deals with murder in the rap music scene.

What’s best about the Black books is the characters and the dialogue. Black’s arguments with Roxie are masterpieces of emotional manipulation and veiled sexual tension. His dialogues with his cop friend, Stan Colt, are just hilarious guy talk – cross-chat that’s never been done better in print.

There are some surprisingly beautiful descriptive passages. Russell Blake is an excellent writer. Also some moments when Black exhibits some pretty solid moral sense.

Highly recommended. Cautions for violence, language, and adult stuff, but not really very heavy.

Why College Students Avoid Literature Studies

“When I was growing up in the Bronx, the local Jewish deli owner, whose meats smelled vaguely rancid and whose bagels seemed to start out already a day old, attributed his failing business to the vulgarization of Bronx tastes.” Professor Gary Saul Morson says the deli owner’s rationale illustrates the same by many humanities professors. Students and their parents have every right to ask why they should subject themselves to literature courses.

“I speak with students by the dozens,” Morson writes, “and none has ever told me that he or she does not take more literature courses because every moment at school must be devoted to maximizing future income. On the contrary, students respond by describing some literature course they took that left them thinking they had nothing to gain from repeating the experience. And when I hear their descriptions of these classes, I see their point.” (via Prufrock)

Racism Fails to See Human Beings as Human

Slaves
Margaret Biser, who has led historical tours at a Southern house and plantation for years. She writes about the questions she received, such as whether the slaves appreciated the good treatment they received or whether being a house slave instead of a field hand was a cushy life.

Why did her guests continue to ask questions ignorant or opposed to the history she presented? Inaccurate education for many. Apathy for some.

“In many other cases, however, justifications of slavery seemed primarily like an attempt by white Americans to avoid feelings of guilt for the past. After all, for many people, beliefs about one’s ancestors reflect one’s beliefs about oneself. We don’t want our ancestors to have done bad things because we don’t want to think of ourselves as being bad people. These slavery apologists were less invested in defending slavery per se than in defending slaveowners, and they weren’t defending slaveowners so much as themselves.”

This is how I understand the KKK began. You could call it a failure of believers to reach poor white members in neighboring small towns with the full gospel, but however you want to think about, people who felt rejected by their community turned their bitterness against blacks, an easy target. And some carry on that legacy today, both directly as members of the Klan and indirectly when they argue that #BlackLivesMatter is not as strong as #AllLivesMatter, missing the point that black lives are the ones still longing for respect.

“Addressing racism,” Biser writes, “isn’t just about correcting erroneous beliefs — it’s about making people see the humanity in others.” But with dehumanization active all around us today, we should wake up to the fact that we won’t learn this lesson without the gospel fully applied. Some of us haven’t learned it even with the gospel.

Why J.I. Packer Walked Out

There are two views on the Bible.

One is the historic Christian belief that through the prophets, the incarnate Son, the apostles, and the writers of canonical Scripture as a body, God has used human language to tell us definitively and transculturally about his ways, his works, his will, and his worship. . . . The second view applies to Christianity the Enlightenment’s trust in human reason, along with the fashionable evolutionary assumption that the present is wiser than the past. It concludes that the world has the wisdom, and the church must play intellectual catch-up in each generation in order to survive.

The wonderful Bible scholar J.I. Packer subscribes to the first of those views, so when in 2002 the Anglican synod took steps to create a service for the blessing of same-sex unions, Packer among others walked out.

“Because this decision,” he said, “taken in its context, falsifies the gospel of Christ, abandons the authority of Scripture, jeopardizes the salvation of fellow human beings, and betrays the church in its God-appointed role as the bastion and bulwark of divine truth.”

That “piece of paper”

I offer the song above, dredged from my college years, as documentary evidence of the facts I’m about to tell you. Because you won’t hear about this much of anywhere else. This is Lost History, things that happened but are now officially non-things, like Stalin’s old revolutionary comrades and Hillary Clinton’s emails.

“A piece of paper.” “Just a piece of paper.” It’s a phrase I first recall encountering in an article about an actress in a magazine (Life, perhaps), back when I was a kid. “Why haven’t we gotten married?” she replied to a question about her love life. “What’s a marriage license? Just a vulgar piece of paper.”

I’m sure she wasn’t the first to put it that way, but after that I noticed that I encountered it again and again. Actors said it. Writers. Rock musicians. Poets. Intellectuals. “What’s a marriage license? Just a vulgar piece of paper. What does such an object have to do with real love?”

This form of expression stopped appearing, I think, sometime in the 1980s. It’s clear now what happened. The Big Heads of the left realized that the promotion of homosexual marriage would be a splendid hammer with which to bash traditional Christian sexual morality.

And suddenly the cry was no longer, “It’s just a piece of paper!” but “It’s the Most Important Piece of Paper in the universe! Anyone prevented from having this wonderful, transcendent piece of paper has been denied their deepest human right!”

This sudden dialectical U-turn was not accompanied by any admission that they might have been wrong in their old position. No, the old slogan just went down the memory hole, along with Pres. Obama’s college records and Che Guevara’s murders. “Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, and progressives have always revered marriage.”

Because it’s all about the political narrative. And the narrative runs in whatever channel will best serve the Cause.

Recommended Reading on the Black Church

Thabiti Anyabwile says it’s challenging to recommend books on Black history and the church, in part, because many good books can’t be unreservedly endorsed. There’s plenty of value in them, but some readers would assume he advocates everything the writer has advocated, and that just isn’t so.

“I usually take the easy way out and recommend everything Tony Carter has written on the subject! That gets me out of most jams because everybody loves Tony and he only writes good stuff!”

But beyond reading Tony Carter, here are eight books Anyabwile recommends for understanding Black church history.

Inside Out: Kids Grow Up

Pete Docter and others talk about their latest Pixar hit movie, Inside Out. Docter is the writer and director of this film was also a leading writer behind several Toy Story movies, Up, and Monsters, Inc. For Inside Out, he said being a parent played a big role in developing the story.

“That was a core thing throughout the whole film: Trying to tap into that difficulty — that kids grow up and it’s sad and it’s beautiful and it’s necessary.”

His daughter Elie inspired the character Riley in the film. She was eleven at the start. Now she’s sixteen.

“She saw it a couple of months ago,” Docter said, “and she said [plainly]: ‘Good movie, Dad.’ ”

‘The Buried,’ by Brett Battles

Among my recently read books is Brett Battles latest Jonathan Quinn novel, The Buried.

I’ve been enjoying this series through the previous eight books, and this one was just as good, or better, than its predecessors.

As I’ve explained before, Jonathan Quinn, the hero, is a “cleaner.” He works for a private contractor that works with intelligence agencies, removing bodies and cleaning up sites where somebody has been liquidated. He’s not supposed to get into the action himself, but of course he often does, or there’d be no novels.

In The Buried, he comes to remove a body from a suburban American home, but about the time he shows up, the government assassin he’s supposed to clean up for discovers a secret chamber underneath the late target’s house. In the chamber they find cells containing four women, one of them dead.

Calling his boss for instructions, Quinn is instructed to call the police and leave, but to take one of the prisoners with him. It turns out this woman possesses a very important secret, and ruthless agents from around the world are competing to find her and extract that secret, by any means necessary. The rest of the story is strong on chases, one way and the other.

The Buried is great fun, especially because of a sort of running joke in the plot. Quinn’s partner (and wife) Orlando is extremely pregnant during this story, but can’t resist trying to participate in the action as if she were not. It’s her nature, as regular readers will recognize. Her continuing denial is not only funny, but contributes to the rising plot tension.

Recommended. Not too much objectionable stuff.

We Are What We Read

Rosaria Butterfield describes her rejection of lesbianism, three heresies related to homosexuality, and the importance of what and how we read to our worldview.

In short, we honor God with our reading diligence. We honor God with our reading sacrifice. If you watch two hours of TV and surf the internet for three, what would happen if you abandoned these habits for reading the Bible and the Puritans? For real. Could the best solution to the sin that enslaves us be just that simple and difficult all at the same time? We create Christian communities that are safe places to struggle because we know sin is also “lurking at [our] door.” God tells us that sin’s “desire is for you, but you shall have mastery over it” (Gen. 4:7). Sin isn’t a matter of knowing better, it isn’t (only) a series of bad choices—and if it were, we wouldn’t need a Savior, just need a new app on our iPhone.

Re:raptured, Better Have Clean Underwear On

Ted Kluck has written and collaborated on a number of books, but his name isn’t on the book I heard him recommend last month and consequently purchased. That book comes from Ted’s media empire, Gut Check Press. It’s re:raptured by Committee. Exactly who wrote it is being withheld, no doubt pending Congressional subpoena, but I think Ted had a hand in it. Maybe even a foot.

The story begins with a young Episcopal priest getting his lights dashed by Tim Van Shrimpy, “Bible Scholar.” The reason Van Shrimpy is rampaging around beating up people is still unclear to me, but realism was sold out when this tale was typed up. Ted Strongbow is a football superstar with few real skills (wait, is this part straight-up parody of actual people?). Rev. Lewis Ironsides has written the book Exactly How to Look and Exactly What to Say If You Want to Marry My Daughter Carol-Anne, which, he says, isn’t exactly arranging her marriage, but it’s a hot item among controlling homeschool moms with eligible sons.

It takes place in a world that has The Honorable Philip Yancey Hospital housed within the Dynex/Lifeway/Excellence in Christian Publishing Kilometer High Stadium, home to the Denver Values football team (Strongbow’s team). The story takes up a whole handful of characters in short, often choppy, scenes that flow together just like the end-times thrillers it intends to skewer. What is bringing all these people together? Their loyalty of dispensational end-times teaching and the belief that they need to be in place before the rapture occurs. But are they mobilizing to be in place to usher in or ward off the rapture? Continue reading Re:raptured, Better Have Clean Underwear On

The Most Expensive Coffee Anywhere

I found a new-to-me coffee retailer this morning while casually browsing for coffee-related sites and was surprised to notice a price category for $350.00 – $400.00. What do they offer in that price range? Ten pound bags of Jamaican Blue Mountain? No, this site, named Coffee for Less, offers one pound bags of whole Kopi Luwak beans for $350.00.

You may not think you’re the type to drop over three Franklins on a bag of coffee beans, but wait ’til you hear the reason for the price. Kopi Luwak beans are personally processed by luwaks, small mammals in Southeast Asia, who eat coffee berries off the plant and pass them neatly into a farmer’s poop-scooper, giving them a can-u-believe-it, yowza-yowza flavor!

I mean, who wouldn’t want to eat something preciously prepared by this cute, little guy? Don’t look at me like that. You know you would.

Naturally, knowing you like I do, you may have already gone out for another variety of poop coffee blend from Thailand called Black Ivory Coffee. These beans have been especially excreted by elephants, which produces a reportedly smoother flavor than the Luwak variety. There is a difference, and it may be in the animals’ diets. Luwaks are omnivores; elephants are herbivores. Theoretically, your Kopi Luwak could brush up against some squirrel carcass on its way to your Best Part of Waking Up, whereas your Black Ivory beans may be fondled by foliage. Plus, every cup of Black Ivory comes out looking like this:

Waiter, there's an elephant in my coffee...

That’s straight from the elephant’s mouth, as they say. Who wouldn’t pay $$$$ for that?

Book Reviews, Creative Culture