Tag Archives: literature

The Colonizers of Dreams

My version of The Hobbit was printed in 1977 and contains a forward by Peter S. Beagle that I thought was excellent. He concluded his forward with this:

For in the end it is Middle-earth and its dwellers that we love, not Tolkien’s considerable gifts in showing it to us. I said once that the world he charts was there long before him, and I still believe it. He is a great enough magician to tap our most common nightmares, daydreams, and twilight fancies, but he never invented them either: he found them a place to live, a green alternative to each day’s madness here in a poisoned world. We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers – thieves planting flags, murders carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams.

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Happy, Dead Fish-Clones

Happy, dead fish-clones.

Before putting my daughter down for her nap today we read Jesus and His Friends. At the climax of the story Jesus feeds 5,000 people with a paltry five loaves of bread and two fish. After all of the people had their fill “there were even twelve baskets of food left over!”

I would like to point out the apparent joy the fish retained after being used by Jesus. I certainly hope that, like the miracle fish, I retain my joy even if God’s plan for me involves the skin and meat being stripped from my body.

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Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith

One of the earliest memories of school I have is singing patriotic hymns during music class. It was in music class that I learned to sing the popular hymn “America” – or as it was known to us “My Counrty, ‘Tis of Thee.” The driving march of its melody made it an easy song for a young boy to get in to.

While the tune of the song came from the UK’s national anthem – “God Save the Queen” – the lyrics were written in 1831 by a seminary student named Samuel Smith. It took him all of thirty minutes to compose three stanzas and then fifty-eight years before he wrote the fourth.

Samuel Francis Smith – who presumably made his hair look like that on purpose.

Smith’s Harvard roommate, Oliver Wendell Holmes, apparently tried to gain Smith some recognition for his lyric – he wrote over 150 other less well known hymns – by recommending him for an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Harvard in 1893. But Harvard president Charles William Eliot thought that ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee’ was more known for its tune that for the lyrics. Holmes, however, was of the opinion that it would continue to be sung even “when most of us and our pipings are forgotten.”

It appears as though Holmes was right, at least as far as Charles William Eliot’s pipings are concerned. Holmes said of Smith and his song:

And there’s a nice youngster of excellent pith,-
Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith;
But he shouted a song for the brave and the free,-
Just read on his medal, “My Country, of thee!”

References:
Wikipedia (obviously)
Morgan, Robert J., Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories, 2003 Thomas Nelson.

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Run, John, Run

A while back my pastor gave a sermon, most of which I forgot, about how the grace that God offers through Jesus is greater than our feeble and invariably failed attempts to live up to it. One part I did not forget, however, was a short poem illustrating how hopeless our cause is without the Gospel. The poem’s origin in unclear and was either written by John Bunyan (of Pilgrim’s Progress fame) or John Berridge , an eighteenth century evangelist. John writes:

Run, John, run the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands.
Far greater news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings.

As my pastor, Mark Vroegop, puts it, “the Law is rigid, demanding, clear, and impossible. It demands that we run when we have no hands or feet.” But as the verse states, the gospel frees us from this impossible burden and enables us to live up to the expectations of the law vicariously through Jesus.

The poem is beautiful because it simply expresses such a beautifully simple concept.

Here are a few other variations on the poem. One from another eighteenth century preacher, Ralph Erskine:

A rigid matter is the law
Demanding brick, denying straw
But when with gospel tongue it sings,
It bids me fly and gives me wings

I liked them so much I wrote my own:

The law shouts fire, the bell it tolls
But gives us buckets filled with holes;
The Gospel’s answer, though, is plain
When fire’s shouted, gives us rain.

And one from my good friend Michael Buschbacher

The law of God is just and pure,
Reveals disease but gives no cure,
But the Gospel gives what was denied
What once was dead, it makes alive.

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Who is Caspar Milquetoast?

Who indeed.

I recently came across a word I was unfamiliar with: milquetoast. The word is used to describe someone who is timid, weak, or unassertive.

The word originates from an early 1900’s comic strip created by H.T. Webster entitled “The Timid Soul.” The protagonist  of Webster’s cartoon is a timid, mustachioed man named Caspar Milquetoast who, as Webster described him, “walks softly and gets hit by a big stick.”

In his book “The Comics,” Coulton Waugh describes Milquetoast as “so sickening that many of his fans wonder why they go on reading.” p. 78. He goes on to posit that maybe we keep reading because within each of us is a little Milquetoast.

We are too lazy to face difficult biting issues; we excuse ourselves by thinking we are good-natured. Our soft, well-fed bodies shrink before a zero wind; we retreat to an overstuffed chair and fight the storm via an adventure book. Such weaknesses link us at once to Caspar; through these he catches our attention. Then by cleaver convention, he hands us a sudden backhanded compliment.

This convention is simply that he acts with a timidity far in excess of that of the average man. We would not be as puling as that, we think, and we are quite right. In this realization, we glow with a happy, suddenly inflated ego. We are quite pleased with ourselves after a Timid Soul reading, and look forward to an equal glow tomorrow and next Sunday.

Id. I think Waugh nailed it. I like this comic because it’s funny and because it makes me feel like less of a milquetoast. However, when I really begin an honest assessment of how I tend to act, I find that my personality aligns more closely with Milquetoast than I like to admit.

Caspar Milquetoast is a push-over and sometimes I’m Caspar Milquetoast.

Here’s some more Milquetoast for the road:

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“Hosanna!” to “Crucify!”

Eric Metaxas, in his book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy, highlighted what I thought was an interesting excerpt from Bonhoeffer’s writing. During his tenure as a pastor in Spain, Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to his sister describing arte taurina (bull fighting), which he had come to enjoy. He wrote:

I have never seen the swing from “Hosanna!” to “Crusify!” more graphically evoked than in the virtually insane way the crowd goes berserk when the toreador makes an adroit turn, and they immediately follow this with an equally insane howling and whistling when some mishap occurs. The momentary character of this mass mood goes so far that they applaud for the bull and against the toreador if, for example, the latter proves to be cowardly and-quite understandably-his courage fails him for a moment.

p. 75-76. It’s hard to fully appreciate how dramatic the shift in public opinion was from the Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem among shouts of “Hosanna!” to the next Friday when they all shouted “Crucify!”

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