Tuesday, March 29, 2005


A lot of authors are unhappy. I've been reading Faulkner, Hardy, Lewis Carroll, and Yeats, and despite the glitter, they just miserable people.

I think it's related to their view of reality. If life is accidental, nature "red in tooth and claw," and the meaning of life nonexistent, then they are quite right. And we should be miserable too.

"If Christ is not raised from the dead, then we are of all men most to be pitied."

On the other hand...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Step softly

When night descends upon the campus
And even Lake Bob calmly sleeps,
When dark has silenced goosely rumpus
And Security his vigil keeps—
Step softly!

The form of Beauty glides along
On elven sandals dancing light.
Though elephants have footfalls strong,
O gentle lady, I pray you might—
Step softly!

The wall dividing stair and dreamers
Is not so thick as one might wish,
And oft thud steps of midnight schemers.
So if your studies keep you late—
Step softly!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Rice and Hamburgers


We married at the flowering
Of peach trees: for my job
We came to the United States.

My lady has learned English.
She visits neighbors
And walks to Bible study.

The accelerator is good,
For when neutrons go
Through the strong magnetic field,

The mathematics and results
Agree. I return home.
My lady cooks me hamburgers.

I ask her, “Why English? Why hamburgers?
Why Bible study?
Are Mandarin and rice not enough?”

“I learned to make these today.
Will you not eat them?”
I do not like hamburgers.

“Then I will cook you fried rice.
I am a Christian now:
I would serve and honor you.”

Since then, I do not know her.
She wishes me to come
With her to church. I will not.

She becomes more American
Each sunrise. I keep company
With the accelerator.


I married my lord and we loved:
He was handsome and brilliant
And picked me peach blossoms.

When the government offered him
An American job in science,
I said, “Accept. That is high status!”

And since he was educated
And loved Western physics,
He decided to do the work.

The lady next door in America
Invited me for tea, and then
To a Bible study. I went.

They spoke of a God both Creator
And Repairer of broken souls.
I knew mine was broken.

Though my lord despises my study
The accelerator pleases his soul.
So I asked his friends’ wives what they eat.

To bless him I cooked out. He frowned.
I left on his plate a peach bloom,
Yet he spends much time at work.

Be all you're meant to be

I just watched The Incredibles last night, and I think the Pixar people have a grip on the meaning of life. The thing about the Incredible family is that they are intrinsically different. When the government outlaws superheroes, they go incognito and try to be ordinary, but they can't do it. It's like forcing acorns to grow into chrysanthemums. Won't happen.
On the other side, there's an ordinary boy who wants to be a superhero but just isn't one. He tries, but his dream hurts him and everyone else.
I found the movie a refreshing change from the "Fulfill your dreams!" nonsense floating around. It frankly doesn't matter what you want, because reality trumps dreams.
This isn't harsh or limiting. The acorn doesn't want to be a flower, because nothing is more wonderful than to be what you're meant to be.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Harry Potter can of worms

I think I'll open a can of worms.

I just finished reading Connie Neal's What's a Christian to do with Harry Potter? I don't think I can entirely buy her argument, but I appreciate a lot of what she had to say.

To start with, she completely affirmed that witchcraft and sorcery were real and that Christians must absolutely stay away from them.

She also applied--rightly, I think--Paul's instructions from Corinthians on how Christians should behave when dealing with moral questions. In their day, the issue was eating meat sacrificed to idols. Every man should be convinced in his own mind, and don't cause a brother to stumble, and whatever you do, do to the glory of God. We may disagree, but need to do so as brothers, not enemies.

Neal pointed out the illustrious career of what she calls "literary magic" and says that if you're going to object to the portrayal of magic on principle, you need to apply that principle consistently.

She dared pick up the WWJD question and answered it in a number of plausible ways, generally relying on Harry Potter as reflection or parable for the truth.

She points out that refusing to have anything to do with Harry Potter, hermit-like, or alternately going hysterical, is neither a good witness nor being in but not of. She advocates having a Christian worldview on the matter. (Can't argue with that one.)

She points out that the good characters sin, but they also grow. They are not flat or static.

She finally emphasizes that you cannot just let your children loose with Harry Potter, but need to help them distinguish good from evil. I would entirely agree that reading him requires discernment and maturity. (And he's just too scary for small children, I would say.)

I have read all five books and seen all three movies. I like Harry Potter. Rowling is brilliant and applies the Western literary tradition with the best of them. At the end of Neal's book, I am left with the same opinion I started with: there is good in the series, but you cannot go to the series to discover the good. Not as the series stands now, incomplete. And with that, I hereby put the lid back on the can.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


It was not too long ago—but quite long enough—I sat, clipboard on my knee. It contained a sheaf of plain white paper, a drawing of a Spanish courtyard, and a poem.

One day, I inherited a garden.
I discovered weeds.
Yes, there were weeds.
I pulled one. It came easily enough, but the root broke off.
Ah well.
I pulled another.
Next weed.
Soon a corner of the garden was mostly weedless.

I returned to the garden a week later.
The root had begun growing again.
It was too small to grab hold of,
So I left it alone.
It grew.

I returned a week later.
It was long enough to hold now.
I pulled.
The weed would not come up.
I pulled.
I pulled with both hands.
I put on gloves and pulled.
I braced myself with both feet.
I pulled.
The weed was battered and beat up, but still would not come out.
Meanwhile, the other weeds sought garden hegemony.

But I WILL have a weedless garden.
I will continue pulling.

“It is sloppy and poorly written. The tone is all over. It’s free verse, and not very good free verse at that. And it only expresses the human half. It doesn’t really explain—well, why the garden should be weeded—and it’s all me doing the weeding. Apparently my muse wasn’t listening at Bible study, when we talked about –what were we talking about? We’ve been talking about it for months—”

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
Without faith, you cannot please God.
Work out your faith—
Work out your faith—
Not by works, lest any man should boast.

(To please God!)

And yet it is not I who live, but Christ lives in me.
Drudgery—not drudgery—
But I want to have a weedless garden.
No weeds.
Just flowers.
Fruit, which God grows and you don’t.

Monday, March 07, 2005


These Germanic sea raiders, ancestors of the English, in short order gave the Pictish and Scottish aggressors what was coming to them. Then, with eyes ever on the main chance, a complete lack of any sense of international morality, and no fear whatever of being prosecuted as war criminals, they very unidealistically, though as it turned out sensibly, proceeded to subjugate and ultimately to dispossess the Britons whom they had come ostensibly to help.

--Thomas Pyles, The Origins and Development of the English Language, 2nd ed. 114.

Thus the word raid is a northern dialectal variant of the word road: both come from OE rad, which originally meant 'a riding, a journey'; it is a telling comment on life in the turbulent North during the Middle Ages that a riding of Scots into England or of Englishmen into Scotland should come to mean a raid.

--Charles Barber, The English Language, 138-139.

In Norse, at any rate, the gods are within Time, doomed with their allies to death. Their battle is with the monsters and the outer darkness. ...For in a sense [Southern, i.e. Greco-Roman, mythology] had shirked the problem precisely by not having the monsters in the centre--as they are in Beowulf to the astonishment of the critics. But such horrors cannot be left permanently unexplained, lurking on the outer edges and under suspicion of being connected with the Government. It is the strength of the northern mythological imagination that it faced this problem, put the monsters in the centre, gave them victory but no honour, and found a potent but terrible solution in naked will and courage.

But we may remember that the poet of Beowulf saw clearly: the wages of heroism is death.

--J. R. R. Tolkien, The Monsters and the Critics, 25-26.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

A deep IM, to prove it can be done

Me: We know that sanctification looks different in every person. And there's a time for iron to sharpen iron, and there's a time for bearing with one another and letting love cover offenses. And then I was thinking about how the modern church doesn't look much at all like the early church. We don't concentrate on the same things; we don't even approach the things we do share in the same way. We are united in Christ, though. So I was wondering: would God even want us to look like the early church?

"These things have been written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come"--but we are a different culture, and the current church probably shouldn't reach it like the ancient church reached theirs.

So I guess I'm having another version of the it's-really-okay-not-to-be-just-like-everyone-else question. I suppose the goal is to be Christlike, not earlychurchlike.

Friend's response: Well, the church can't be like the early church in every way, 'cause it's different. The gospel has clearly gone to the Gentiles and beyond (so to speak) and it's not...directly...under the apostles anymore.

I put it to you: how much of the early church should the modern church imitate?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

In an old film

In an old film,
The world is black and white.
When the snow falls,
The world is black and white.

Film and summer
Splinter light to rainbow;
When reality falls,
Be whiter than the snow.