Tag Archives: douglas wilson

On the Bookshelf XXIX

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Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
Conspiracy theories. Templars. A map. And a literary joke gone very, very wrong. If an uber-bizarre, intellectually sophisticated version of National Treasure sounds like your thing, you may want to give Eco’s book a try.

The Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett
A beautiful, Word-saturated collection of Puritan prayers that should be on every Christian’s shelf. “​Oh God, it is amazing that men can talk so much about man’s creaturely power and goodness, when, if thou didst not hold us back every moment, we should be devils incar​​nate.”

My Life for Yours by Douglas Wilson
A walk through the Christian home.  Allie and I are reading through this together and appreciating it immensely.

What’s on your bookshelf right now?

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You Know You’re Bitter When…

“There are some telltale signs that would be good for every member of the household to be aware of.

Bitterness always has a sharp memory for all the details. And this is because bitterness has good study habits: review, review, review.

It’s also true that bitterness frequently resorts to anonymous critiques or attacks. Bitter words are frequently unsigned. This is obviously more difficult to accomplish inside a home, but sin can be pretty creative.

Hide me from the secret counsel of the wicked; from the insurrection of the workers of iniquity: Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words: That they may shoot in secret at the perfect: suddenly do they shoot at him, and fear not. (Ps. 64:2-4)

Another good indicator is the practice of conducting imaginary conversations in the mind. ‘Then I says to him, says I…” And of course, during these imaginary conversations, the brunt of this brilliant repartee is never capable of coming back with anything intelligible at all.

Bitterness also starts to invert the moral order of things.

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.  (Is. 5:20)

A bitter person frequently starts to approve what they would have never approved at an earlier time in their life. When a Christian finds himself justifying what he would never have approved in other circumstances, he is probably bitter.

As we saw earlier in the passage from Hebrews 12, bitterness is like a root. It grows. It gathers nutrients everywhere it can. Soon the person’s heart and mouth are full of it – ‘Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness’ (Rom. 3:14). What happens when the jar of your life is jostled? What comes out? If bitterness splashes on to everyone, this simply tells us what the jar was already full of.”

– Douglas Wilson, My Life for Yours (pp. 44-45)

Book Review: A Landscape with Dragons

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A Landscape with Dragons is about battlegrounds and books and battlegrounds that are books. In it Michael O’Brien offers a critique of contemporary children’s literature, with a goal of pushing parents to think seriously about the impact such reading can have on their children – for good or ill.

O’Brien is a smart and impeccably readable writer, and that makes it difficult not to respect his line of thought even when one disagrees with it. He’s also the author of Island of the World, one of the most marvelous storytelling triumphs I’ve ever seen. So while I’m busy reviewing Dragons, allow me to pause and strenuously recommend that you find a copy of Island somewhere. Experiencing that story will lend greater credibility to what the author has to say about stories here.

That said, I came away from Dragons with mixed feelings. Sometimes it was the pettiness of certain complaints; sometimes the line of argument just wasn’t very convincing. I’m not ready to concede, for example, that Jurassic Park is a manifesto for reptilian omniscience.

More troubling is O’Brien’s Roman Catholicism. He toots the popish horn rather loudly for my taste. (Being the iconographer that he is, I suppose such things are to be expected.) Case in point, there’s that awkward moment when he admonishes his readers about the perils of idolatry – and then urges them to invoke the intercession of the saints, the angels, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. For this Presbyterian, the irony was a bit much.

There is also his over-polite handling of the Universalism of George MacDonald. MacDonald was an exemplary writer and storyteller (see The Princess and the Goblin), but O’Brien’s appreciation for these qualities leads him to treat MacDonald’s stray theology with gloves that can only be described as alarmingly soft.

In sum? O’Brien urges us to be cautious in our reading habits, and to take our helpings of literary porridge with a grain of salt. We ought to do the same with him.

Having given that caveat, it must be said that I loved a great deal of what he has to say – above all, perhaps, his passionate reinforcement of a truth often acknowledged but infrequently acted upon: the minds of the young will not be left alone. Either we will see to them, or someone else will. This means war. This means tending the imagination, fortifying it to withstand the shock troops of paganism. As Douglas Wilson writes in Father Hunger,

If a Christian father does not teach his children that the dead are raised, someone else is going to teach them that the dead will do no such thing… Nature does indeed abhor a vacuum, and when Christian fathers leave a vacuum, someone or something else will in fact fill it.

And so it goes with the literature our children feed on. Lay off the super-sized pop cliches and faddish nothings. Real culture, the kind that reaches down and seizes beauty, goodness, and truth by its roots – this is essential. This is the choicest meat; this, the choicest wine. Why are we be satisfied with less?

“The imagination must be fed good food,” notes O’Brien, “or it will become the haunt of monsters.”

The Baloney On Your Theological Sandwich…

… also known as “full-time Christian work.” It’s not as healthy or holy as it looks.

Many glorious truths were recovered in the Reformation, and one of them was the doctrine of vocation. Unfortunately, this is part of our Protestant heritage that we have shamefully neglected, and have almost lost. One of the principal indications that we have lost this doctrine is that we nowadays speak easily and readily of ‘full-time Christian work,’ as though there were anything else for a Christian to do. The reestablishment of two ‘holiness’ layers of occupations in Christendom has been a terrible loss.

(Douglas Wilson, Father Hunger, p. 98)

Book Review: Beowulf: A New Verse Rendering

17722865I may as well begin by admitting that I am a rank amateur in all things Anglo-Saxon. The most dilettante of dilettante dilettantes. My favorite Anglo-Saxon word is probably merscmealuwe. Which means marshmallow. Which ought to tell you something about how many Anglo-Saxon words I know.

Having said that, I Love – yes, capital ‘L’ intended – the story of Beowulf. Read it for the first time when I was twelve. Haven’t stopped reading it since. It is the Ultimate Epic, and I began to Love it even more when I discovered Seamus Heaney’s translation. I’ve read that one four or five times now (and counting).

Yet lo and behold, my appreciation for this Saga of Sagas has been deepened further. I owe this deepening to Pastor Douglas Wilson, and to the very, very dear soul who sent me a copy of Beowulf: A New Verse Rendering.

In a Grendel-sized nutshell? This thing is amazing.

And I’m not just saying that because of the preposterously cool cover art.

You’ll notice it is called a “rendering” rather than a translation. Wilson explains why in the Introduction:

While I am limited in Old English, I do okay in New English, and know my way around, both with the regular stuff and in the reading and writing of poetry. So what I did was this. I took about five different translations of Beowulf, including my two favorites (Heaney and Chickering), got the sense of lines x, y, and/or z from them, and then cast that general sense into my own modern form of an Anglo-Saxon-style alliterative poetry. Then I did the same thing over again, and went on and on until I was done. Since I was making free to add words for the sake of the alliteration, and because I sometimes supplied my own imagery, the result is a loose paraphrase of the sense of the original and not a knock-off of any of the translations I used. At the same time, the poem can generally be followed “line by line,” give or take a couple of lines, and I am not saying I never looked at the original. What with one thing and another, this version of the poem has three more lines than respectable editions do. I don’t know. It was dark. They were big. Just think of it as more Beowulf than you would get with those other editions. But the sense of the original is there. 

It seemed pretty clear to me that Wilson had more fun with this than is, strictly-speaking, legal. I believe I had the same amount in reading it. It’s stylish, it’s elegant, it’s clear, it’s bursting with cinematic moxie, and I enjoyed the heck out of every line. So much so, in fact, that at the conclusion of the story I had to be confined to a chair with zip ties until the irrepressible urge to slay something – or at least rip its arm off – had subsided.

Yes. I have my moments.

Included at the back of the book are two essays, one on Beowulf as “the unChrist” and another on the poem’s chiastic structure. The former was of particular interest to me. Wilson makes a brilliant case for seeing the poetry of Beowulf, not only as an artistic triumph,  but also “as an evangelistic and apologetic tour de force.” Muchly good stuff.

So. It is with great delight that I see two versions of Beowulf – Heaney and Wilson – living side by side on my shelf. It’s like having a really awesome best friend, and then learning that he has a really awesome twin brother, and now they’re both chillin’ in your living room having a bloody good time with the pie and the Guinness and the dart board.

Or something like that.