Saturday, December 29, 2012

Beauty is truth, truth beauty - Except It Isn't

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty" is a line written by romantic poet John Keats. Being a Christian and having a philosophical bent, I'd always thought he meant the truth is beautiful, but as Doug McKelvey points out in this terrific article over on the Rabbit Room, he meant just the opposite. It means that if a thing is beautiful, it is the truth. If it makes me feel good, it is good.

McKelvey's article challenges the idea that art can be meaningless, an outpouring of pointless emotion. Instead, he declares the Christian belief that there is intrinsic meaning in everything, that that idea extends even to abstract art and stream-of-consciousness writing. It's also harder to do right, but it's worth it. Because, after all, if...

If things meant something, if art incarnated ideas and if ideas had consequences, if truth was not the same as beauty (at least not in the way that Keats believed it), then I was responsible for the impact of the things I made and therefore had need to be sensitive and discerning. It wasn’t enough just to spin evocative, poetic phrases that were fragments of no greater whole. This was a holier vocation than I had imagined.

Meaningless art is just the easy way out. As a writer who spends a lot of time crafting, and, as Hemingway said, "getting the words right", this affirmation of the try-again-and-again-till-it's-just-right approach versus the flash-bang!-inspiration-equals-automatic-product school is refreshing. (Even better, he called it a holy vocation. Cool.)

McKelvey believes that, as Flannery O'Connor said, there are "lines of spiritual motion" in everything, and it is the artist's job to discover them. And it might mean there's a greater romance than the romantics every dreamed. What is it? Read the article to find out.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Christian Hobbit?

Martin Freeman as Bilbo
Over the years, I've had to argue in the favor of The Lord of the Rings as a Christian epic. At first, as a kid, I took it at face value and said, "Look, it's just a fun adventure story." But with the increase of spiritual maturity, I've seen plain Christian themes in the Rings books, and even in the atheist-produced movies. Re-reading the books for the first time in years, God has shown me things I missed for years - the overt themes of humility, trust, providence, love, mercy, hope, and heaven are hard to miss, but then, I always read Rings for the fantasy stuff. Dark Lords, battles, elves, and dwarves were much more interesting to my twelve-year-old, adventure-starved self even when couched in lessons on moral relativism and absolute truth. As a kid, I knew there was some sort of great moral goodness in these books I loved, but I wasn't old enough to understand it. Now, it's like reading them for the first time, and I'm savoring the experience. But I digress. When talking Tolkien, this is prone to happen.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas to everybody - and a Happy New Year to the WORLD!

I'm a big fan of A Christmas Carol (we did a podcast on it last week), and my favorite version is easily George C. Scott's. Partly, it's because of this song:

The past of man is cold as ice:
He would not mend his ways.
He strove for silver in his heart
And gold in all his days.
His reason weak, his anger sharp,
And sorrow all his pay,
He went to church but once a year,
And that was Christmas Day.

 So grant us all a change of heart,
Rejoice for Mary’s son;
Pray, Peace on earth to all mankind,
God bless us everyone!
 The present man is full of flame:
He rushes here and there.
He turns away the orphan child,
The widow in her chair.
He takes from them he merely meets,
Forgets how brief his stay,
And stands a-jingling of his coins
In church on Christmas Day.

 So grant us all a change of heart,
Rejoice for Mary’s son;
Pray, Peace on earth to all mankind,
God bless us everyone!

The man to come we do not know:
May he make peace on earth,
And live the glory of the Word,
The message of the birth,
And gather all the children in
To banish their dismay,
Lift up his heart among the bells
In church on Christmas Day.

So grant us all a change of heart,
Rejoice for Mary’s son;
Pray, Peace on earth to all mankind,
God bless us everyone!

Merry Christmas - and may you keep it in your heart all the year,

Sunday, December 23, 2012

If We Survive - A Review

It seems like every time I finish an Andrew Klavan book, I’m impressed anew with how easily he can drag me into a story. I like predicting things. I like working things out. After reading his first series: the Homelanders, I thought I’d done that. Well, I thought, undoubtedly, that was great suspense, but he works with a formula. Handsome, strong, Christian patriot dude fights people that don’t agree with him and Gets The Girl.

When I got Klavan’s next book, Crazy Dangerous, I settled myself in for some highbrow criticism. Ah ha! I said. Here’s a cleancut American Christian dude—this is the same thing. But it wasn’t. If Charlie West was Jet Li, Sam Hopkins was Barney Fife. He had no super cool blackbelt skills, and his obstacles were given a quite different flavor. The suspense was nail-bitingly good. But there was a beautiful secondary character who classified as The Girl, and was there to be Got. Phew. I had predicted one thing. Obviously, there was a formula somewhere.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Other Stocking, by G.K. Chesterton

(Thought this was rather appropriate for the holidays, so here's a guest post from our friend Mr. Chesterton)

What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way.

As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good–far from it.

And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still.

I have merely extended the idea.

Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.

Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dolls and crackers, now, I thank him for stars and street faces and wine and the great sea.

Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.

Merry Christmas,

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Hobbit - A Great Adventure, But Not as Great as it Could Have Been

Let’s be honest, I’ve been looking forward to this movie since I was about six years old. I’ve followed the process for the last year and a half. I grew up with The Lord of the Rings movies defining my childhood. So when I walked into the theater to see The Hobbit, I was muttering to myself, “Open-minded. Be critical – you’re going to write a review. Don’t get your hopes up.”

(There are spoilers – so be wary.)

But I have to admit, when I saw Bag-End, Frodo, and Ian Holm’s Bilbo, I was geeking out of my boots. In particular, the moment that Bilbo dashes, hatless, coatless, and handkerchiefless out his front door clutching the dwarves’ contract, to a backup of an upbeat version of Concerning Hobbits (a.k.a. The Adventure Begins), I was thinking…Ah, we’re back. This is Middle-Earth. On the other hand, when it was good, it was very, very good, but when it was bad…

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Silence of God

Today, more than ever, I feel the deep brokenness of the world. That Man could do such things, such brutal, animal, cruel things to innocent children, makes one want to scream at the heavens, why? Why?

I am not one to ask why the world is broken, or what would have been if it was not - it is enough that it is. But I was sitting at the computer, wondering whether it was okay to be hurt about this. The world is broken, but am I allowed to doubt God? To ask why? If I believe in heaven, why does this hurt so much? Then I came to a song that I had heard many times, but as has so often happened before, this time I really listened.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

If There Was Any Justice in the World - The Evolution of the Detective Story

The laughter echoes through the halls of the mist-shrouded mansion. The clink of wine glasses, the sudden high-pitched voice of the host. A small group of seemingly innocent, happy people gather in the drawing room. Two of them are having an affair, three others were involved in a previous murder inquiry, that little old lady isn’t what she appears to be, and all of them have motives for killing the mysterious man in black.
Suddenly, a shot rings out. The maid screams. The inquisitive (but not overly surprised or distraught) group crowds around a body sprawled on the floor. Outside, the storm has arrived and the guests peer out into a snowy wonderland. The butler informs them that the phones are down.

“Well, old boy,” says the hawk-nosed individual in the interesting coat. “I suppose we’ll have to sort it out ourselves.”

It’s the classic setup. An interesting character trots around the English countryside, uncovering things folk would rather have kept hidden, asking awkward questions, pushing the limits of the law in defense of the law, and ultimately, inevitably, triumphantly arresting the local vicar for the murder.

Mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers observed half a century ago that “Death seems to provide the minds of the Anglo-Saxon race with a greater fund of amusement than any other single subject.” It is still true today. Mystery is one of the three most popular genres in the English fiction market (the other two being romance and science fiction). (1) The most-watched TV shows in the world in 2006 and 2007 were the crime shows CSI: Las Vegas and CSI: Miami. Even the medical drama House, most-watched in 2008 (2), drew its inspiration from Sherlock Holmes, and another runner-up was the comedy-mystery show Monk. Clearly, there’s just something about a mystery.

As Christians living in a culture with so many books and movies centered on violence and immorality, it is important to examine what we read and watch. That begs the question, is it ever good to use evil? After all, “what fellowship has light with darkness?”(2 Cor. 6:14, ESV)

It’s not a new idea. Many in the early 20th Century thought that “To write a story about a burglary is, in their eyes, a sort of spiritual manner of committing it.”(Chesterton, Defense) But when it gets down to it, murder mysteries, at least the good old-fashioned kind, aren’t really about murder. There is invariably a body, sometimes two, but they aren’t there because the author likes killing people, but because murders happen in real life. Mysteries, particularly the ones in later years, try to accurately portray how police deal with murders, and how murder is to be dealt with. There’s one thing about mysteries that isn’t realistic, and it’s not the murders. It’s not the evil part—it’s the fact that murderers are caught. Mysteries always have happy endings.

Dorothy L. Sayers’s fictional sleuth proclaimed that “in detective stories virtue is always triumphant. They’re the purest literature we have.”(qtd. in Dubose, 216) The murderer is nearly always caught, and justice done. For detectives, the first commandment is devotion to law and justice. Sleuths stand as lonely sentinels against encroaching lawlessness. In literature, the closest comparison would be knights and dragons, or possibly David and Goliath. It doesn’t get much purer than that, and the pursuit of Justice is a very Christian principle. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Redemptive Shiver

I'm a bit late for Hallowe'en, but I finally got around to reading Pete Peterson's ghost story he posted a few months ago. It's wonderfully creepy, and I (who am normally pretty good at this) didn't spot the plot twist till the plot had Very reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe in tone, and Arthur Conan Doyle in narration, with an extra dose of original Peterson folksiness and an unexpectedly redemptive storyline.

Silence in a Field of Yellow: A Ghost Story by A.S. Peterson.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Tone of The Hobbit

Over the last five or so years, my mom asked me many times, “Do you think Peter Jackson will do The Hobbit?”

And for the last four, I always said, “No way!”

“Why not?” she’d ask.

“It’s not like The Lord of the Rings,” I’d say, sagely. “It’s a children’s book. There are fifteen primary characters with nearly indistinguishable names. It has talking trolls named William and Tom. The elves sing ‘tra-la-lally.’ Need I say more?”

I am now eating crow, for my mother’s hopes were right. But the crow, to use a weathered phrase, tastes like chicken. I was delighted when I found out that PJ was, in fact, doing The Hobbit. Doubtful, but delighted. It was quickly confirmed, and I could give full rein to my excitement.

Soon enough, however, the cynicism crept in again. The Cast? Who’s Bilbo? Have they got Ian McKellen? TWO movies? Will the trolls talk? Tra-la-lally?

The cast was near-perfect, Bilbo certainly was, there are now three movies, and yes, the trolls talk. No news on the tra-la-lally, yet. Over the months, if I’ve been bored, I can drum up a bit of Hobbit excitement on Now, the Day is almost here, but my traitorous brain is still trying to find reasons that PJ and the crew will go wrong.

It won’t be like the book. It’ll have a lot of corny humor. It’ll be (horror of horrors) politically correct. It’ll be a Ready-Made Blockbuster. Tolkien will be blasphemed.

But over the last few days, some really interesting things have popped to my attention, most of which were Phillipa Boyens’s comments.

Friday, November 23, 2012

O Theo

Vincent Van Gogh was crazy talented…though probably more crazy. He’s best known as a painter, particularly of the odd, beautiful Starry Night. Later in his life, he had long bouts of madness, that has always made me think of him in a sort of Edgar Allan Poe barmy genius light. Eventually, he committed suicide. However, until this year, I didn’t know the story of Vincent’s younger brother, Theo.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Andrew Peterson posted this hilarious poem on the Rabbit Room last Thanksgiving, and I laugh out loud every time I read it. It also rather convicts me of my own failings.


O God, Magnificent Confounder,
Boundless in mercy and power,
Be near me in my apathy.

Be near me, Savage Dreamer,
Bright Igniter of Exploding Suns,
But not too near. I’d like to live,

By your grace, just long enough
To taste another perfect steak.
And to see my children marry,

And, perhaps, to pen a memoir.
Great redeemer of my lechery,
Bright Dawn of Blessed Hope,

Lay waste to every prideful thing,
Each black infraction of your law.
O Swirling Storm of Holy Anger,

Be patient with me. I’m certain
I will make a second gluttonous
Trip to the festal spread of food.

And I might as well admit, O King
Omniscient, I plan to make a third.
And that will lead to sloth, I know,

If only for the afternoon. Awake,
O sleeper! But not yet, not yet.
I want to dream a dream of light

In Heaven’s towering splendor.
I long, my Lord, to walk its streets
Or better yet, to drive them.

I’ve always wanted a motorcycle,
A cool one that blats and rumbles
Like a herd of flaming zebras.

I could totally impress the ladies
With my holy rolling zebra steed,
But only by your perfect pleasure,

Ruler of the angel armies, blaster
Of the horn of strength, would I ride
The golden highways awesomely.

O Wisdom of the Ages, speak!
Sing to me of secret knowledge
Open wide the gates of truth,

And let me learn it, by your grace,
Through the medium of television–
Smartly written situational comedy,

Perhaps, or an epic space opera.
Let me taste the honey of your word,
My beloved savior. Seriously. Save me

From my wit, my words, my songs,
My sin, my bad poems, my vanity,
My every single human impulse,

Except the ones I like and am able
To justify using my corruptible
Reason, my imperfect understanding,

And my belief in your inexhaustible
Forgiveness. When I awake, saintly,
I will consume a dish of pumpkin pie.

And, as I politely swallow a belch,
I will lean my heart on yours, Almighty,
To whom, alone, is due thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving,
Neo-Mayberry, Middle of Nowhere, America (I really need a new sign-off...)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Leonard the Lonely Astronaut - A Review

They built a spaceship behind a burrito place. They actually built a ship and recorded an album in it. Whether you think it’s the height of nerdiness or coolness (or both), it shows Andrew Osenga's devotion to this idea.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds. It’s a concept album, about a character named Leonard Belle. Leonard lives in the not-too-distant future, a place when spaceships can move at the speed of light. His life is falling apart. When his wife dies in the midst of a divorce, he finally goes off the deep end. Giving up everything, he takes a job on a space-freighter that will deliver supplies to a far-off outpost. Moving at light-speed, it will only be a year for him, but when he returns to Earth, everyone he knows will be dead. Leonard is pretty desperate to escape his problems. As a catharsis on his year-long journey, he decides to make an album.

I have no idea where the idea came from, but it’s pretty dang original. The result is very true to the idea—it sounds like something a middle-aged guy named Leonard would make, a sort of space-80’s-acoustic-rock mix-up. There are long soulful electric guitar solos, upbeat rock songs, jazzy laments. It’s got a good chunk of catchy songs that I’m still able to enjoy after quite a few listens. My younger brother, who is notorious for his neutrality on music, loves it.

In the end, to risk spoilers, Leonard realizes that going to space isn’t the answer to his problems, and he’s just as lonely as before. “It was not good for man to be alone,” he sings in the song of that name. It doesn’t feature too many great profound statements about humanity, but sometimes something jumps out and surprises me. Anyway, the subject matter is definitely above average stuff-on-the-radio, and it’s great fun to listen to. By and large, a good offering from Andrew Osenga.

Also. He’s wearing a home-made spacesuit on the tour.


You can get it here or on iTunes.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Test of All Happiness

"The test of all happiness is gratitude."
-G.K. Chesterton

There's a moment in the Lord of the Rings movies that has always bothered me a little. It's actually my favorite scene, when Frodo and Sam are in Osgiliath, and all hope is dead, it seems. Frodo, despairing, says, "What are we holding onto, Sam?"

Sam turns, grabs Frodo by the shoulders, and hauls him to his feet, staring him eye-to-eye. "There's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it's worth fighting for."

The music swells. Gollum, remembering that little plan about the big spider, looks sheepish. And everyone feels a little better than they did before. It's by far my favorite scene. But, watching it again and again, there was always something nagging me. I knew that it wasn't actually in the books, so I never worried about Tolkien's theology...but here I was, swept up into the clouds by something I didn't believe was true.

I believed that to be theologically correct, we must say there is no good in the world, and there hasn't been since Adam's Fall (excepting a certain carpenter in early AD). All our righteousness is as filthy rags, after all. I didn't feel like it was right to call anything this side of heaven truly good.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

He Has Given You a Name

(All scripture quotations are taken from The Severely Dramatized Gospel of Longish.)

When somebody meets you, what’s the first thing they ask? If you’re not me, it probably won’t be “Oh my gosh! Can I have your autograph?” But even us famous people are asked “What’s your name?” occasionally. After that, it’s generally “What do you do?” or “Where are you from?” Those questions are the basic building blocks for forming a mental portrait of other people. If you’re from up North, you probably won’t be interested in the latest Redskins game. If you’re a mechanic, you probably won’t be too interested in philosophy. But even though a name doesn’t tell us much anymore, it’s still one of the first things asked.

Why is that? Back in the day, it was because folk wanted to know who your pa and ma were. Before that, to what tribe or feudal lord you owed your allegiance. And way, way, back, in ancient Israel, it was to know who you were meant to be. These days, it’s just a formality, but in the patriarch Jacob’s day, names meant a heck of a lot.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Presidential Comedy

Ever since 2008's Al Smith dinner, I've been looking forward to this one. I must say, both candidates were hilarious, but neither of them as funny as John McCain back in the day. But while neither may have a future in stand-up comedy, I thought they were both great. Who knew that they could grin like that???

Neo-Mayberry, Middle of Nowhere, America

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Light for the Lost Boy - a Review

I remember the day of the Tennessee Flood,
The sound of the scream
and the sight of the blood.
My son he saw as the animal died
in the jaws of the dog as the river ran by,
He said, "Come back soon."

It takes guts to start an album with lines like that. When I first heard them, I was surprised and intrigued. And right from the get-go, Andrew Peterson fans, both new and old, aren’t quite sure what to expect. Unlike his previous albums, Lost Boy is immediately dark and brooding, while at the same time deep and satisfying.

The instrumental backing, (and in particular, the addition of the epic drumming of Will Chapman—yes, son of Steven Curtis) is much broader than with earlier records. Gone are the folksy banjos and fiddles, enter drums and mournful electric guitar. While unusual at first, I quickly decided it was cool, and it certainly still had that Andrew Peterson vibe to it (references to thunder and mountains, and at least one song with hammered dulcimer).

Come Back Soon, the opening track, introduces the main theme of the album: loss of innocence. The album draws inspiration from both The Yearling and Peter Pan, and there is frequent imagery of a boy, lost in the woods. In some ways, starting the album with Come Back Soon feels like starting off right where his previous record, Counting Stars, left off. Counting Stars ends with the lines,

I know that I don’t know what I’m asking,
But I long, Lord, I long to look you full in the face,
I am ready for the Reckoning.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Creed of the Modern Thinker

I haven't quite finished the next blog post, but in the meantime, here's a quote I heard in a Ravi Zacharias podcast some time ago. It makes me laugh every time, but the postscript is chilling. It was written by a secular journalist, sarcastically poking fun at his own beliefs.

The Creed of the Modern Thinker

We believe in Marx, Freud and Darwin.

We believe that everything is okay as long as you don’t hurt anyone to the best of your definition of hurt and to the best of your definition of knowledge.

We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage.

We believe in the therapy of sin.

We believe that adultery is fun.

We believe that sodomy is okay.

We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything getting better despite evidence to the contrary.

The evidence must be investigated and you can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there’s something in horoscopes, UFOs and bent spoons.

Jesus was a good man, just like Buddha, Muhammad, and ourselves,
He was a good moral teacher, although we think basically his good morals were really bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same; at least the ones we read were,
They all believe in love and goodness, they only differ on matters of
Creation, sin heaven, hell, God, and salvation.

We believe that after death comes nothing because when you ask the dead what happens, they say nothing.

If death is not the end, and the dead have lied, then it’s compulsory heaven for everyone,
Except perhaps Hitler, Stalin and Genghis Khan.

We believe in Masters and Johnson,
What’s selected is average,
What’s average is normal,
And what’s normal is good.

(That’s the salvation-by-survey syndrome.)

We believe that there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed.

Americans should beat their guns into tractors and the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good; it’s only his behavior that lets him down.

This is the fault of society,
Society is the fault of conditions,
And conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him and reality will adapt accordingly,
The universe will readjust, history will alter.

We believe that there is no absolute truth except the truth there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds and the flowering of individual thought.

If chance be the father of all flesh,
Disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
And when you hear: “State of emergency:
Sniper kills ten, troops on rampage,
Youths go looting, bomb blasts school,”
It is but the sound of man worshipping his maker.

-Steve Turner

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Detective Design

This pic makes me grin like an idiot every time I see it
Jeremy Brett, David Suchet, Peter Davison, John Thaw, or: Sherlock Holmes
Hercule Poirot, Albert Campion/Dangerous Davies, Inspector Morse

I've been a fan of murder mysteries for a long time, but this year in particular I've been bombarded by mystery shows, movies, and books. We watched the RDJ/Jude Law Sherlock Holmes movie in the spring (an abomination, most Sherlockians say, but I thought it was fun), were then prompted to watch the first season of Sherlock (wonderful, most Sherlockians say, and they’re right).

From there, along with our old favorites (Poirot, Inspector Alleyn, Miss Marple, Cadfael) we moved on to Foyle’s War, Midsomer Murders, Murdoch Mysteries, Inspector Morse, and Campion. Right now I'm into Dorothy L. Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey novels and am watching Hetty Wainthropp Investigates. I have two Charles Finch novels on my book shelf, and me, my mom and dad are halfway through Inspector Morse series.

So, needless to say, if you need to know how to kill someone, talk to me.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Only a Slave Can Be Truly Free - Paradise Lost

Only the eyes of the heart perceive
That the deaf and blind can hear and see
That insanity’s saner than sanity
That only a slave can be truly free
-“Through the Eye” Michael Card
I tend to prefer the epic to the commonplace. While Shakespeare’s tightly plotted tragedies and comedies are hardly everyday fare, compared to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, they’re as familiar as an alarm clock in the morning. Because really, Paradise Lost is high fantasy. Fantasy based on fact, but still legendary in scale. Peopled with fantastic creatures and transcendent beings, colossal settings and astounding descriptions, Paradise Lost consists mainly of Milton letting his imagination run wild as it fills in gaps between the first few chapters of Genesis.

Milton doesn’t just try his hand at description; he also takes a shot at theology. Obviously, anyone who creates a fictional story puts their characters in a world where the author’s views are Truth. For instance, judging the bulk of literature, one concludes that most of humanity (consciously or unconsciously) believes in an ultimate Happy Ending, and longs for the triumph of Justice.

“…and they lived happily ever after.”
The main ideas that jump out in Lost (really, the TV show wasn’t very true to the book), are those of justice, pride, freedom, gratitude, and forgiveness. Milton certainly isn’t a universalist. He correctly understands that every time God forgives, he must do so at the expense of his justice. Of Jesus he said:

Saturday, September 29, 2012

There is More

My name is Longish and I approve this video:

There is more
More than we can see
From our tiny vantage point
In this vast eternity
There is more
...There is more than what the naked eye can see
Clothing all our days with mystery
Watching over everything
Wilder than our wildest dreams
Could ever dream to be
There is more
-Andrew Peterson "More"

Neo-Mayberry, Middle of Nowhere, America

Monday, September 24, 2012

Celtic Day

I don't suppose I've mentioned it yet, but I'm a member of a celtic band. Night Crossing just played at the Celtic Festival in Big Stone Gap. Got to meet a real, live Scotsman. Somehow, one never expects to meet someone with a British accent outside of TV. I could've listened to him talk all day. It was like...Alistair Begg was right there. Except his name was Jack. I admit, I was terribly tempted to ask him if my accents were realistic, but I missed my chance.

Neo-Mayberry, Middle of Nowhere, America

Sunday, September 23, 2012

To Be or Not To Be, Despair or Drudgery? - My review of Hamlet

A young(!) Derek Jacobi as Hamlet

Everyone knows a little bit about Hamlet, but I didn’t know how great the play's effect on culture truly was until I began reading it. Immediately, I started recognizing phrases, such as “Neither a borrower nor a lender be”, or “To thine own self be true” which I always thought were just old sayings. Not only was it easier to understand than other Shakespearean plays (though, admittedly, the last one I read when I was fifteen), but the story is intriguing and quick-paced. And, also to my surprise, it makes broad true statements about humanity, the Fall, and the futility of revenge.

Hamlet himself is a perfect example. At the beginning of the play, he in a state of hopelessness and desperation. In a nutshell, his father is dead, his mother has married his uncle, and Hamlet ain’t happy about it. Not an enviable state of affairs, but Hamlet’s despair has advanced to the extent that he wishes “the Everlasting had not fixed/ His canon ’gainst self-slaughter.” When it is revealed that his father was murdered, Hamlet’s despair ignites into a passionate and near obsessive desire for vengeance. He justifies it to himself by saying that Claudius is a murderer, and in fact, he is just the hand of God meting out justice.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

New HOBBIT Trailer!

Am slight worried. This looks so much trendier than LotR. I hope it's not all about the visual effects and magic stuff. It could be a disaster if PJ makes it Harry Potter does Middle-Earth. Of course, anyone that could write a scene like that one with Sam in Osgiliath must be amazing. Fire ahead, Phillipa and Fran!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I Liked White Better - or: Saruman and Social Darwinism - Part Two

Continued from I Liked White Better - Part One.

Saruman stands in stark opposition to the doctrines of Christianity. They teach that the weak and the poor are the ones that have the most to teach us—and, because of that, we should care deeply about how they are treated. God himself came to our world and was willing to be viewed as the bastard son of a poor carpenter from an underprivileged town which everyone (even inhabitants of the equally despised region of Galilee) shunned and avoided. He never attempted to get in the In Crowd; he never tried to look like one of the Wise.

Instead, he was firmly on the side of ordinary people, rather than those with Much. He was, theologically, a hobbit—one of the little people from a fly-over state. He was against the rich, but not just those Communists call bourgeoisie, the rich in material goods, but those prosperous in smarts or special talents. Not that possessing those things is bad (after all, he did give them to us), but not admitting that they are a gift is a great sin—akin to “blasphemy against the holy spirit.”

"Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
(Matthew 19:23-24 ESV)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Songs We All Knew

I tend to be a little star-struck when it comes to the small group of people I think are famous. There's a certain group of amazing Christian musicians in Nashville who congregate on a website called The Rabbit Room (after the Eagle and Child pub, of Inklings fame). I only discovered them two years ago, but since then, we have acquired six Rabbit Room books, ten or more Rabbit Room albums, and check in frequently on the site for new posts. The Rabbit Room's proprieter is a singer/songwriter/author named Andrew Peterson.  He's such a household name with us that I can just say “Andrew said on Facebook earlier…” and the rest of the family will know exactly who I’m talking about.
Andrew Peterson on tour with Steven Curtis Chapman and Josh Wilson

Last year, after I met Michael Card, I said "Now, I just need to meet Andrew Peterson, and life will be complete. " A few weeks ago, I did meet him (at a concert in Winston-Salem) and he signed my copies of his books. My life is not, in fact, complete, but as soon as someone sends me a private plane and tickets to The Hobbit premiere, it will be. Make it happen, readers.

The Captains Courageous (their unofficial name) were terrific live. Andrew, Ben Shive and Andy Gullahorn, (the other Captains) were hilarious, making fun of one another or providing the sort of witty banter than makes shows better than CDs. We were fifteen feet from the stage, on the front row. With each song came an amusing and interesting tale; not only is he a gifted songwriter, but Andrew's a real storyteller too. He's like our pastor, Don, who can tell a joke and have us all in stitches, but when I tell it the next day...blank faces. Some people are just Funny when they're talking about anything. See the The Cheese Song.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Father Brown hits the BBC - again

G.K. Chesterton is most likely my overall favorite author. Yes, I love Tolkien, and I'm sorry, but he only wrote epic fantasy, he didn't also write amazing stuff on theology, politics, apologetics, travel, cheese, humor and detective fiction. Chesterton wrote about everything. And not only that, but he wrote about everything well. He was charming, funny, and brilliantly clear. He, like C.S. Lewis (who, like Tolkien and Gandhi, was a Chesterton fan), was extremely smart, but so down-to-Earth that anybody can understand what he wrote.

So now, that's my little ode to Chesterton. I could really go on, but if I did, I probably wouldn't stop.

Hearing that his detective, Father Brown, will once again be brought to life on the screen ought to have me dancing in the streets (though I'd have to run half a mile to find one). All the same, I'm rather worried. I'm an enormous fan of the sleuth, but I have a hard time seeing him portrayed in a way that is more interesting than the books.
Kenneth More as Father Brown

I've watched a few of the Kenneth More episodes and found them rather boring (Alec Guinness - yes, he who, to his chagrin, would always be known as Obi-Wan - was slightly more interesting). However, I must say, seeing that there will be some regulars on the show (to serve the purpose of a Watson or a Hastings) predicts a more entertaining run. Also, Hugo Speer will be one of them, and he was wonderful in Bleak House. It would be very cool if they were set in the modern day - and I really hope they're true to their very religious themes. Chesterton used Father Brown all the time to showcase his love for paradox and the beauty of God's creation. We can only hope the BBC does the same.

Another mystery show to add to the 2013 list - along with Poirot, Foyle's War, and Sherlock.

Tip of the day: NEVER phone the detective to provide vital evidence in an empty room with your back to the door and no gun.

Neo-Mayberry, Middle of Nowhere, America

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I Liked White Better – or: Saruman and Social Darwinism - Part 1

“‘For I am Saruman, the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!’
“I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered.
“ ‘I liked white better,’ I said.
“ ‘White!’ he sneered. ‘It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken.’
“ ‘In which case it is no longer white,’ said I. ‘And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.’”
"Book 2, Chapter 2: The Council of Elrond" The Fellowship of the Ring

For many years, The Lord of the Rings has been my favorite book. Sir Peter Jackson’s film adaptation has, for nearly as long, been my movie of choice. In so many ways, the films perfectly capture the tone and story of the books, but, still, as requirements of the medium, a good chunk of the original had to be sacrificed.  Most of the changes are understandable. Tom Bombadil’s absence, for example, can obviously be attributed to the sheer difficulty of a faithful portrayal.

But there are things I miss, and chief among them (closely followed by a non-goofy Mouth of Sauron scene) is a brief snippet of conversation between Gandalf and Saruman deep in the stony bowels of Orthanc. It is in this scene that Saruman (pun intended) shows his true colors. Unlike in PJ’s adaptations, Saruman did not stay “the White” for long. Instead, he seeks to improve on the original design, making himself  “Saruman of Many Colours."

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Death Cloud - a Review

These days, I don’t read many light adventure stories. Even when I do, they were probably written fifty or more years ago. So I had conflicting thoughts about Death Cloud, by Andrew Lane, coming right off a binge of heavy prose and old-fashioned dialogue. As the first teen series endorsed by the Conan Doyle Estate, this new Sherlock Holmes book had to rise to a certain level of expectations on my part. In some ways, it did, and in others, not so much.

As a writer, my first thoughts were: What a title! It’s horrifically non-original and bland. If I had to guess what the story was about, I’d say it was the memoirs of an atomic bomb researcher. Cloud of Death would’ve been better. The tagline wasn’t much better: Two Dead Bodies. One Unforgettable Hero. Really? That’s a fairly accurate description, but just…two dead bodies? It needs stronger words - corpses, cadavers, bloody murders! But, maybe it’s just that the thought of having a tagline for a Sherlock Holmes book strikes me as strange, having just finished reading several of the original stories.

But, now I’ve gotten over that, Death Cloud had many good elements. The pacing is excellent, drawing the reader into a series of mysteries, interesting encounters, escapes and rescues, all culminating with a fascinating climax. I liked all the main characters, even the protagonist, which is out of the norm for me.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Triumph of Despair

Suicide’s Note

The calm,
Cool face of the river,
Asked me for a kiss.

-Langston Hughes

Richard Cory

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
'Good-morning,' and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich - yes, richer than a king -
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

-Edwin Arlington Robinson

This morning, in my poetry textbook, I read Suicide’s Note, by Langston Hughes. Unlike the longer, more elaborate poetry that I had been reading, this struck me as being extremely informal and, well, slightly silly. But after a few seconds, I realized that this was much more subtle than that. The image, brief as it is, paints a very full picture – and that’s a difficult thing to do with as little space as was allowed. A still, glassy, black pool of water, beckoning, enfolding the poet in a cold and deadly embrace. He sinks into the water, only to realize that the siren’s call has become his death.

Contrast Suicide’s Note with the poem, Richard Cory. Immediately, one hears the difference in tone and meter, which add a very different feeling to the story. With Richard Cory, there is a pattern of four-line paragraphs, with the a-b-a-b rhyming scheme. The imagery is light-hearted, the character or Cory puts one in mind of a Lord Peter Wimsey figure, immaculately mannered, charming—the social ideal. Cory is idolized by the poet(s); he couldn’t possibly make a faux pas, perfect wife, perfect family, butter wouldn’t melt – etc. Wouldn’t you want to be Richard Cory?

You know the type.

He has everything you’d ever want – charisma, wealth, manners, popularity. He’s that CEO who everybody likes, despite. People scrimp and save, longing to be their idol.

“And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.”
And that is what makes the poem’s end so effective: idols are always flawed. No man is perfect, appearances are deceiving. The poet is brilliant to keep the tone light-hearted and jaunty…right up until the fatal moment. That’s what suicide is like in real life – not melodramatic and mythic like Suicide’s Note, but quick, brutal and catastrophic. It is the triumph of despair and loneliness.

This is why so many people are devastated with the fall of pastors, actors, philanthropists and other “good” public figures, who had gained their trust. As Ravi Zacharias says, why should we be surprised when those we consider “holy” fall? Being a pastor does not change the desperate depravity of the human heart. Everyone, even and especially they, are subject to temptations and despair.

The current tagline of my novel, Raven’s Death, sums it up: “Judge not by sight. Secrets remain hidden because they are not clearly seen.” Well, it needs some work, but it’s supposed to be a maxim in my fantasy land, Mordreal, and I was trying to make it sound…proverby.

But here's the flipside: martyrdom. Suicide is much different than martyrdom. Many people have asked Christians why we condemn one and glorify the other. That is because there is a fundamental difference in the motives. Hear it from he who always says it best:

About the same time I read a solemn flippancy by some free thinker: he said that a suicide was only the same as a martyr. The open fallacy of this helped to clear the question. Obviously a suicide is the opposite of a martyr. A martyr is a man who cares so much for something outside him, that he forgets his own personal life. A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything. One wants something to begin: the other wants everything to end. In other words, the martyr is noble, exactly because (however he renounces the world or execrates all humanity) he confesses this ultimate link with life; he sets his heart outside himself: he dies that something may live. The suicide is ignoble because he has not this link with being: he is a mere destroyer; spiritually, he destroys the universe.

-G.K. Chesterton
Suicide is the triumph of despair, abandoning and not "so loving" the world. Tolkien demonstrates this in many ways in The Lord of the Rings:

“Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death,” answered Gandalf. “And only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death . . . Come! We are needed. There is much that you can do.”

-Return of the King
I just discovered an article that follows the Chesterton-Tolkien connection even further; it's great. Check it out here.

There's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo,
Neo-Mayberry, Middle of Nowhere, America

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Up and Coming British Mystery

This is older information - for the latest, follow this link. 

The year of 2013 isgoing to be a great one for British mystery buffs. Like, say, yours truly.

First on the list is my personal favorite: Hercule Poirot. For the last twenty-some years, he’s been portrayed (quite excellently, I might add) by David Suchet.

David Suchet as Hercule Poirot

I remember watching Poirot episodes when I was a small child, and I’m still watching and loving the series. But in the next year or so the eccentric little Belgian’s TV career will draw to a close, which is causing me some serious nostalgia. Later this year, shooting will begin on the last five episodes of the Poirot canon. With the exception of one short story (“The Lemesurier Inheritence”), Suchet will have filmed every Poirot tale that Agatha Christie ever wrote, which is a huge accomplishment. I just realized a few weeks ago that I’ve now watched every single one so far - all sixty-five of them.

The show itself is great - the costumes, settings and acting are usually stellar. It's just icing on the cake to know that David Suchet is, in fact, a Christian - a rare thing in actors, much less British ones. The post-2004 episodes have become much heavier than the light fare of the 90's, but it's not such a bad thing. It took a bit of getting used to and I won't deny that I miss the regular cast of the good old days (Hastings, Miss Lemon, and Inspector Japp), but the darker themes (such as religion and capital punishment) place Poirot in totally new situations and reveal a lot about his character in a more mature setting. The only downside is that the directors have started putting more and more homosexual characters in the shows, which annoys me somewhat on a Christian level. However, Poirot never condones that, so I'm satisfied that they've stayed true to the character's Catholic origins.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Road Goes Even On and On (and on...)

Well, the news has broken. Like an expensive vase. The rumors (which I steadfastedly refused to believe) have been confirmed. Sir Peter Jackson announced on Facebook this morning that there would be a third Hobbit movie.


I'm not quite sure what I thinks, precious. When I first heard the rumors, I dismissed them, and even when I tried to take it seriously, it was all a little unbelievable. Two Hobbit movies was stretching the material pretty thin, but three? Even Peter Jackson couldn't push that far. Well, I guess he can. He has said that a lot of information from the RotK's appendices will be used, which is encouraging. But still, when I first heard the news, I, even I, the die-hard fan, was anxious.

I've realized that ultimately, it gets down to this: How much do we trust Peter Jackson?

I was too young to be involved in the excitement preceding LotR's release, but I do know that no one (outside a few insiders) expected much - nothing like what we got. Some no-name director from New Zealand blew the world away and swept the Academy Awards. Peter Jackson took the UK's favorite trilogy (that no one ever thought would be done justice in the cinema) and performed a miracle. I'm convinced that no one else could have created such a masterpiece with such a difficult book. There must be something about Peter Jackson that inspires people to do their absolute best, because the performance from ever sector was phenomenal. Or maybe he just used magic.

That's it!

The man is a wizard. Of course he make another Hobbit film and do Tolkien justice. One of the comments on this post (which says basically what I just said, only better) on The Rabbit Room says it best (and the commenter may or may not be my dad):

"Tom Bombadil: Hey dol! Merry dol! Why be ye troubled me hearties! Ol’ Pete’s behind the camera with a steady hand and eye. I’ve been a-running through the meadows and know the River Daughter. Trusty Pete! Rusty Pete! Have no more of dragons and dark lords! To New Zealand I will go!
And 3D is waiting….."

PJ all the way,

[7/25/2014 - in retrospect, this is a very sad post.]

Neo-Mayberry, Middle of Nowhere, America

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Don't Judge a Book - How I encountered 19th Century America, the Middle-East and England all in one day

(Interesting and unusual pseudonyms used - because it's fun.)

Yesterday was my first day of work at a local museum. Basically, it’s a restored 19th Century American farmhouse, school and pastures. It’s hard to describe what I was thinking when I hopped out of the car and walked up the path on my own. First, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into – was it a real job, should I try to impress? Or was it just a volunteer thing, nothing to worry about? I wasn’t quite sure – I hadn’t even talked to the director, much less met her. I forced myself not to look back as I heard my mom’s car pulling out of the parking lot. That wouldn’t have been cool.
            Halfway to the Visitor’s Center I passed a little old lady and asked her if she was the one I was supposed to talk to.
            “I don’t think so,” she said. “You’re probably lookin’ for Agatha, she’s inside.”
            My thoughts on other things, my unconscious who-is-this-person-and-how-should-I-act-around-them feelers were reaching out. I immediately, from her soft-spoken country accent, labeled her as a sweet (if somewhat absent-minded) old woman. She walked beside me up the stairs and we stepped inside the Visitor’s Center. Like the farmhouse and school, this building had been built in the 1800’s and it was immediately evident. The rooms are small and square, the walls of plaster, the doors surrounded by thick wooden frames. A ragged rug lies on the floor, old-fashioned chairs and an ancient piano are the only pieces of furniture.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

ABC says: The Tea Party's Fault, Yet Again.

I usually try not to let the leftist media have the honor of obtaining my disgust - they're just not worth the time. But like Scott Ott, this latest unjustifiable slander pushes me close to the edge. They've started to say that the Tea Party was behind the Batman Shootings. Talk about disgusting.

Here's the Trifecta video:

That's the video, but if you don't have time to watch it, here are the best quotes:

"I never wondered if [the shooter] were a Democrat, or a Republican, or a Communist, or a Libertarian, because it doesn't matter! Because there were seventy people with holes in their bodies that were whole a couple of days ago, and there are people who have lost family members. And when you people in the obsolete media stop thinking about everything that happens as a political circus then perhaps you'll recover some of your humanity and then quit the profession and go do something worthwhile with your lives."
-Scott Ott


Thursday, July 19, 2012

In Defense of Tom Bombadil

"Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow;
Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.
None has ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the master:
His songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster."
The Fellowship of the Ring "Chapter 8: Fog on the Barrow-Downs."

Tom Bombadil is a mystery. Whenever I come to his brief cameo in The Lord of the Rings, I leave him feeling somewhat confused and definitely amused. Most of the time, I’m content to let him fall into the Tolkien’s Loose Ends category, along with the entwives and the secret of hobbits' origin, which, if we’re honest, is probably exactly where they belong.

 Just a cursory search on Google is enough to show that many people have devoted considerable time to cracking the Bombadil code. I don’t pretend to be one of them. I’m not really a Tolkien scholar; I’ve never even read Unfinished Tales (though I really want to), and I only read The Silmarillion once a few years ago. I try my best not to be drawn into stories to the extent that I start quoting and cross-examining them like the Bible (see the Baker Street Irregulars), all the same, it’s always fun to speculate about these things.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hello, Public.

"Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese."
-G.K. Chesterton
Greetings, dear web-cruising friend, you have stumbled onto the first post of what will be a very interesting blog. Or, at least, if you’re interested in dry wit, philosophy, theology, high fantasy, mystery and politics, it will be interesting.

To begin, a little about Me, Myself and You. I’m from a small town in the middle of nowhere. You could probably find it on Google Earth – Middle of Nowhere, America. But I digress. In this small town, things are as much like Mayberry as they can possibly be outside of idealistic (but very good and absolutely hilarious) TV shows from the ’60s. I’m even more isolated than most Middle of Nowhere citizens, living in a house on a hill surrounded by trees, mountains, wild possums and several magical portals.

Neo-Mayberry, view to the South

The internet, most days, is my only connection with the outside world. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m out of touch with reality. I keep up with current events more than most people, especially those my age. Though my interest in politics has declined over the last few years (mostly into Deep Disgust), I do keep up with the latest Big Gov fiascos.

I have a rapacious interest in books. Right now, the current trend is murder mysteries, so expect plenty on that subject—though my long-lived obsession with The Lord of the Rings will doubtless seep through. Perhaps an occasional Ode to G.K. Chesterton’s Epicness will appear as well. Bear with those, or even better, get some Chesterton and read it.


I’m also a writer, and I’ll use some of the time that I should spend editing and novelling in telling you all about how great my writing is and what’s up with my many half-finished books. Don’t believe my bragging and believe all of my criticism.

As you’ve probably noticed by now, I use sarcasm liberally, but I can’t stand the negative tear-people-down type of sarcasm, so I try my best not to be that cynical. Yet, when used correctly (and with a British accent) sarcasm can be hilarious. And by the way, it isn't "the lowest form of wit" as the saying goes - watch the average YouTube video that has FUnNY!!!_! in the title, and you'll agree with me.

At times, I might write a random essay on something that interests me. This is very possible. I’m working my way to the SAT’s, so I need the practice. Rate them, if you like. I need the help.

So now you’ve heard about the Me and Myself, so let’s talk about You. You’re the Audience. Don’t expect to be catered to; I probably won’t be very consistent in topics. I’m writing letters to myself, really. But I love to get feedback, all the same, so even if you turn up just for the writing posts, or the political posts, or even the dry wit posts, I would love to hear from you. Just keep it civil and on topic, thanks.

In conclusion, I may write in fragments. If there are any web-cruising grammar teachers out there. Give me. A break. Please.


Neo-Mayberry, Middle of Nowhere, America