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Goodbye and Hello

February 13, 2012

If anyone is still there, and listening…Goodbye, and hello. I stopped blogging for a bit, obviously. Two jobs and two babies under three years old will do that to you. Also, the “green leaf” thing, plus my purpose for the whole site was never really that clear. I am starting over. The posts will still be random and varied, but at least the name fits. Check out Land of Caleb. This site will remain up…just because.


On Christian Movies…

April 14, 2011

So, there’s this new movie out, Soul Surfer, about a Pro Surfer who at the ripe old age of 13 lost an arm to a shark and kept surfing. She was helped through this by her steadfast faith in God. I haven’t seen this movie yet (and I’m not sure that I will, though I’m sure I’ll get the same looks I get when I tell people I haven’t seen Fireproof and don’t care to). I have heard and read the story, and it is very inspirational. So what I my issue this time? Here is a quote from the review of Soul Surfer by Roger Ebert:

But there had to be more to it than that. I applaud her faith and spirit. I give her full credit for her determination. I realize she is a great athlete. But I feel something is missing. There had to be dark nights of the soul. Times of grief and rage. The temptation of nihilism. The lure of despair. Can a 13-year-old girl lose an arm and keep right on smiling?

The flaw in the storytelling strategy of “Soul Surfer” is that it doesn’t make Bethany easy to identify with. She’s almost eerie in her optimism. Her religious faith is so unshaken, it feels taken for granted. The film feels more like an inspirational parable than a harrowing story of personal tragedy.

Now Ebert is no Christian, but he is actually fairly generous with this film. But these two paragraphs made me think about two of the major issues I have with the majority of “Christian” movies. First, the idea that Christians have no problems while everyone else has all the issues. Just believe in Jesus and all your problems will miraculously disappear. Your marriage will be perfect, you will have all you need financially, you will get a new truck, your business will do well, your team will win the championship, you will have that baby you were wanting, etc.

I don’t doubt that this isn’t done from good motives. Like, “we have to show the non-Christians that everything is better for us.” The only problem is, this isn’t true to real life, nor is it Biblical. If you are a Christian, you know everything isn’t perfect like this, so why pretend it is for everyone else?

Second, most of these movies portray God (I don’t think intentionally, but they do, nonetheless) as a means to an end. God is the way to get what you want in the world. Want a good marriage, try God. Want a successful business, a championship, to get back on the surf board? Try God. God ends up being a means to attain our idols. The joy is in the stuff we get from God, not in God Himself, in spite of our circumstances.

I know we can do better.

Incidentally, this isn’t true of all Christian films. While not a perfect film, To Save a Life is a Christian movie that doesn’t fall into either of these traps.


Update on Tinkers

March 28, 2011

So I think I made the right choice with reading Tinkers first. Without giving anything away, suffice to say I see it getting a solid review. I read this interview today with author Paul Harding. He’s is an acquaintance and student of Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winner for her excellent novel Gilead. That says a lot, as does this novel.

Blogging the Pulitzer Prize Novels

March 25, 2011

So, I’m embarking on a new challenge. It will take some time, but I intend to read and review every Pulitzer Prize winning novel. I’ll get a Pulitzer page up soon with a list of the novels. I have read Gone With the Wind (1937), The Grapes of Wrath (1940),  All the King’s Men (1947), To Kill a Mockingbird (1961), A Confederacy of Dunces (1981), Gilead (2005), and The Road (2007). That’s only 7 out of 84, so I have a long way to go.

I’m starting with the latest, Tinkers, 2010’s winner, then I’ll head back and read the ones from 1918 and 1919, then I’ll pick a decade and study the decade as I work through the novels. Hopefully this will be a good historical critique of modernity and postmodernity, and I’m even more hopeful that some of this, supposedly the best literature, will transcend some of that malaise.

I will be grading each book out on the Good, the Beautiful and the True. I will do this on a scale of 1-10 for each category, not because I love that format, but because it will help me to think critically and will help on my list for a brief recap review.

Some questions I will consider:

Is it Good: Is it a good (i.e. compelling) story. Does it make me care? Also, is it morally good, is it transcendent or does it wallow in the mire?

Is it Beautiful: How is the writing and storytelling? How is the character development? What is the setting, the scenes, the poetry of the language?

Is it True: Does it match up with 1) Read life as people perceive it 2) Life as we know God has created it? So, an honest pagan can discover some real truth in the world, but to get a maximum score here there is going to have to be some acknowledgment of God and the Biblical worldview.

This may change and develop as I move along, but I’ll do my best to keep you posted. On to Tinkers.

Listen to Ordinary Time

March 21, 2011

I’ve been loving this lately. Good, good stuff:

Book Review: “Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl” by N.D. Wilson

March 17, 2011

It’s hard to classify Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson. I suppose it’s a Stream of Consciousness/Creative Writing reflection on God, His Sovereignty, Hell and the meaning of life. The entire book is good, but it really gets good in the second half.

The book is a full-frontal assault on dualistic, gnostic, soft and fluffy, cheap forms of Christianity and is an honest and thoughtful look at God in all his holiness and glory, creation in all it’s craziness and beauty and hope for the afterlife stripped of all it’s petty sentimentality.

I think the best way to recommend this book, and I most certainly do, is to give you a taste. So here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“When one of my characters dies – no matter what other character pulls the trigger, no matter what guilt is incurred by others in the story – on the transcendent level, the level outside the cloth cover and dust jacket, I am the one who kills them.”

“Is it strange to you that an accident would invent baseball and walruses and Englishmen? If an observer had watched the birth of an ever expanding universe from the womb of a fireball, was he surprised when the explosion invented llamas? Tell me the story of the great god Boom. Tell me how he accidentally made llamas from hydrogen.”

“Why do Christians think of purity, holiness, and even divinity as something with big eyes and soft fur? Why do we so often ignore the beautiful in exchange for the cute?”

“Heaven will be wonderful (understatement). It will be more wonderful than we can imagine, even if our imaginations weren’t so stunted by marshmallow visions. You will have a body more physical than this one. Heaven will be hard and bright, and the winds will be strong. You will have the body and the eyes and the purified, well-aged soul to bear it. We will remake it with blistered hands.”

“The world is rated R, and no one is checking ID’s. Do not try to make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows.”

Book Review: “The Last Kingdom” by Bernard Cornwell

March 16, 2011

I read my first (and then second through fourth) Bernard Cornwell novels over Christmas break when I was looking for something light and entertaining to read. His most famous “Sharpe” series of books were only $5 apiece on Kindle, and they were very entertaining.

I’ve also been attempting to utilize the public library recently due to a lack of funds for books (I have a new baby on the way). I noticed some books by Cornwell and decided to check them out. The Last Kingdom was one of those missed opportunity moments, one of my many book ideas had been a series of novels about Alfred the Great, and Cornwell beat me to the punch. I have finished the first two novels in the series, and, like the Sharpe novels, they are good. Cornwell isn’t winning a Pulitzer anytime soon, but his writing is a notch above typical popular fiction.

What bothered me about this series is the portrayal of Alfred and the Christian Saxons. It’s not that they are fake Christians…they are portrayed as very devout, but the main character and hero is a Pagan Saxon who refuses to become a Christian even though he fights for Alfred, named Uthred, and his perception of the Christians becomes the readers perception.

For the most part the novels are cynical about the Christian God and about Alfred, but they are also cynical about the Pagan gods. It is a typical humanist take on traditional religion. There are good and bad men and women on both sides and religion is primarily a tool for controlling people and getting what a person wants. There is a leveling of the fields, where the pagan Vikings are idealized and the Christian Saxons are made out to be just as barbarous as the Saxons. Cornwell is also cynical about Alfred himself. While Alfred is devout, he is also fickle and sermonizing and a less than capable warrior because of his devotion to the Christian God. The pagan Uthred is the best warrior because he is pagan, and the Saxons fight best when they forget their God and fight like pagans.

This picture is typical of modern history and historical fiction, but is simply not accurate. Christianity mattered a great deal to the men and women of Wessex, and particularly Alfred. It made a difference in their laws, their politics and warfare. The men in the sheild wall fought for God and country, and Alfred heroically fought side by side in the shield wall, often helping to turn the tide of battles himself. There wasn’t too much to admire about the Vikings. They weren’t noble savages, but ruthless, money hungry pagans who raped, murdered and stole their way through England until Alfred punched them in the mouth and later brought many of them to Christ, including Guthrum.

The one thing I will say about the books is that Uthred seems to be realizing (I haven’t read the last two books in the series yet) that his worldview is kind of pointless. Hopefully he will believe in Jesus before all is said in done, even though he is a fictional character.

For a better take on Alfred, just read Asser himself. Maybe he slips into legend a bit at times, but who knows? At least you can avoid modern cynicism.

For another excellent biography of Alfred from a historical, theological and political perspective, read The White Horse King by Ben Merkle. It was an excellent read, along the lines of Thomas Cahill but with good theology. Read Cornwell for a fast paced, interesting read, but be discerning and know your history.