Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Things Above

(Now that I think about it, that would be a killer blog title. I'll sell it to you for a tenner.)

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Colossians 3:1-2

Surely these verses say more about theology than they do about good writing, but let us push on a little bit.

I recently bought a used copy of God In the Dock by C.S. Lewis, and it showed up yesterday. I've been loving it so far, especially since I have not had the pleasure to read much of Lewis's nonfiction. I've also been working my way through Heretics by G.K. Chesterton, and I can certainly see the influence that Chesterton had on Lewis. The same razor's edge is there, the same ability to cut to the heart of an issue, and divide into logical categories things which, on first examination, might seem more muddled. So in "Miracles," when Lewis discusses different objections to the idea of miracles, he gives a definite and brilliant proof that all of natural life is a miracle, albeit in a slower cycle than those which Christ performed:

God creates the vine and teaches it to draw up water by its roots and, with the aid of the sun, to turn the water into a juice which will ferment and take on certain qualities. Thus every year, from Noah's time till ours, God turns water into wine. That, men fail to see.

Brilliant. I love this guy. Of course, I've loved all the Narnia books since I was a kid and my parents read them to me, but now I can see more clearly the incredible mind behind the incredible creativity.

(I just finished "Myth Become Fact" and it is great. This is lines up with what I've been thinking through lately with archetypes and antetypes, and also makes me really excited for the 7th grade mythology class next year.)

The book's forward ended with a quote from The Four Loves: "All that is not eternal is eternally out of date."

Now, I haven't read the book from which this is excerpted, and so I'm not sure to what he is directly referring, and I'm sure it has a higher initial purpose - much like the verses above - but it made me think about literature. And it specifically made me think about William Faulkner's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech. In it, he says:

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.
He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

This is what we get when we apply the Colossians verse to writing. Not that everything needs to be explicitly about Christ, or other "things above," but that the eternal themes that are contained in the grand narrative of Scripture should permeate our writing. So The Lord of the Rings is not a story of how Jesus Christ takes the "Sin" of the world (the Ring) upon himself, to destroy it (Frodo), travels and preaches "the good news" (Gandalf), and, through humility, becomes the reigning King (Aragorn). But each of these characters bears a mythical and mystical connection to the person and work of Christ. Because The Lord of the Rings contains many eternal things connected with Christ (humility, service, duty, sacrifice, honor, etc.), it is an eternal book. And because it is an eternal book, it will last the test of time. There's a reason that we still read The Illiad and The Odyssey, thousands of years later, and it's the same reason why we probably won't be reading something like White Noise thousands of years from now.

As a bit of an aside, and something that I'll talk about later (maybe over the summer, after I've read the last book), this is the reason why I don't think G.R.R. Martian and the Song of Ice and Fire series comes even close to Tolkien's work. (for background, someone at Time called GRRM "the American Tolkien")

GRRM is a great writer. There should be no doubt about that for anyone who has seriously read his books. The man knows how to craft a story, how to make (and name!) characters, and keep interest through some very long books.

But what he doesn't write are eternal themes. There is no pity in these books. There is no (or precious little) honor. There is no sacrifice, except in the sense that the strong sacrifice the weak for their own ends. In this way, it might be a more accurate picture of reality (people with power taking advantage of people without), and it might be a more accurate picture of fallen and unredeemed man, but that is exactly why I think it will fail the test of time.

The world has enough examples of wanton destruction, and cruelty for it's own sake, and battles fought for nothing, and greed to the extreme. We (I) don't want to see more of that. We (I) don't want our (my) fantasy worlds populated by the same filth and offal that swallows up the evening news.

I want a hero that will forsake his comfortable home for the sake of all people, even if it means his life.

I want a hero that is tireless in encouragement, in compassion, in Righteous anger.

I want a hero that will lay aside his claim to Kingship to help the least of these.

That's why I do and will keep re-reading The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. And that is why I doubt I will re-read any of ASOIAF.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Doug Wilson/Heavy Metal: Formidable Children

I read a great article by Douglas Wilson yesterday, on raising children that are formidable spiritual warfare. I haven't thought much about this, and it is something I do struggle with. I mean, come on. Right now we only have a daughter, and she is unanimously the cutest ever. People who have kids her age tell us she's the cutest baby they've ever seen.

But when I think of Ciahna in the future, as a young woman, with all of the competing ideologies in the world, many of which I have fallen for in the past, I strongly desire to see her become formidable. Not just in knowledge, though certainly in that. But also in fighting for the oppressed, for the widows and orphans, for those who need the hope of Christ.

When I read the article, I couldn't help but think of the Project 86 song "Fall, Goliath, Fall" (which I have taken as both spiritual and political statement). I can't imagine Mr. Wilson would be flattered by the comparison of one of his articles to heavy metal, but it works for me.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate (Psalm 127:3–5).

Thanks to Reforming Fatherhood for the tip on the article.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Nice Pair

This is a great matching pair. My wife bought the journal for me as a graduation present (along with some really nice books - a combined Homer volume and the complete Chronicles of Narnia, in cool blue hardbacks), and it hasn't gotten the love and use it needs. I'm almost done with my current medium sized Moleskine (which I use for taking notes in church and writing down little fragments of poetry), and I think I'll use this instead. It's just a hair taller and skinnier than the Bible (the ESV Single Column Journaling Bible, which is excellent), and they fit together well.

I've linked to both on Amazon below, but the notebook is much much cheaper at Barnes and Nobel. Good leather (at least to my unschooled eyes and hands), and a smyth sewn, refillable journal insert. I haven't used it enough to get it to lay open of itself, but I think with some time, abuse, and a little oiling, I think it'll do the trick nicely. I also need to put a ribbon in there, as well as add a third ribbon to my Bible.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Here are some links related to adoption that you might be interested in.

My wife and I are adopting through the state, and our homestudy was approved a few days ago! Praise the Lord!

I wrote a little article on the theology (or doctrine) of adoption on my Hubpages account (another venue for writing to get a little extra cash - emphasis on little).

The orphan ministry at our church is also in the process of starting a closet to help those families who are adopting or fostering. We are very excited about this as we are a young ministry, and look forward to having something tangible to do. Please pray for this ministry to raise awareness in Clemson Presbyterian Church about the call on Christians to care for orphans.

Enjoy. The Great Tradition posts will return later on this week, I promise.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Used Bookstore

I love McClure's bookstore, Clemson's used book shop. It is only a few minutes from our house, and I always find something awesome to bring home.

Even better, they have a great kid's section. My daughter and I go there all the time (on our dates). She gets a book or two, and daddy gets a book or two. I've been blessed with a daughter who loves to read. How could it get any better?

The last trip was last week. I think we'll probably go this Friday, too (I have that day off!). Here was the haul from last week.

This week, who knows? They had some volumes of the Great Books series, but I don't want to piece it out. I daresay I could find something in the poetry section (Eliot, perhaps?), or some new Tolkien? But what I'd really like is Lewis's space trilogy (they only have the second) and Shelby Foote's The Civil War: A Narrative.

I'll let you know what we come away with.


Monday, March 18, 2013


Wordle is a pretty cool program. If you've never used it before, you can copy and paste text into a box, and the site will arrange the text into word clouds based on frequency.

Here is an example, with the first sixteen verses of John:

I think that's pretty cool.

But a really cool thing you can do is enter a blog address/feed, and it will analyze all the text. So here is the word-cloud for this blog:

Well, it kind of makes me feel good that "good" and "things" are two of the biggest. Anyways, I like it.

Try it out. I did one with "The Allegory of the Cave" that turned out really well too, but I didn't save it. I have it up in my classroom, though.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Great Tradition: Aristotle on Music

This will be a quick post, because this has been a very busy week.

I don't necessarily agree with Aristotle on the way he views music, particularly the moral judgements that he imposes on aspects of music that I don't think merit such judgements. For instance, he says of the flute (one of the instruments that I use to play Irish Traditional Music), that "the flute is not an instrument which has a good moral effect; it is too exciting." (64-65 in The Great Tradition)

But I do agree that music has a number of benefits, the most important being the appreciation of beautiful things. While Aristotle and I don't agree on what constitutes beautiful music, we do agree that early education in music will help children in a transfer of criteria to other things. For instance, if they know a song is beautiful because it fulfills the criteria, they can know how to judge a poem for beauty. Certainly the criteria will be different, but learning to use criteria is important.

Another benefit is the relaxation that Aristotle mentions. And here is where I'll drop a quick plug. If you find yourself in need of rest and relaxation this weekend, come to McGee's Pub in Anderson, South Carolina to see my play with Emerald Road, a traditional Irish group.

I will also say that I was able to rest and relax while watching Danu this past Thursday. They are real deal, born in Ireland musicians, and they did a really great job. If you would like to check them out, they are on iTunes.

P.S. - Emerald Road is also on iTunes