An Unexpected Reading Journey

Wingfeather 1So last week I looked into purchasing an old novel by George MacDonald (an inspiration of C. S. Lewis).  When it arrived, I realized that I had not read the “fine print” well- the “scholar’s edition” that I had purchased (on sale) was a replication of the original text in its original setting.  Translation: they had made copies of an original printing and had bound it.  Which meant, old book that it was, many pages weren’t even legible.  So I ordered another copy, a modern resetting of the text.  In the meantime, to balance out the heavy reading of A Secular Age, I broke down and cracked open my copy of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson.  I’ve been a Peterson fan for years, just primarily for his music.  I’ve known about his Wingfeather Saga for years but just haven’t been ready to cross media like that.  But I had some time (at least until Thursday), and I had a copies of books one and two at hand, so I took the plunge.

I’m really glad that I did!  It’s not just easy to read . . . it’s pleasant to read.  It reads quickly, but Peterson has inserted footnotes that add texture and humor.  Plus, at times, the narrative voice shines well.  The characters are formed just enough and the mysteries are parsed out at a good pace.  I’m over halfway through, and I still don’t quite know where things are headed (which is really nice in a world where you know how so many stories are going to go before the curtain falls).  And while the main young characters (Janner, Tink, and Leeli) are a joy to read, it really is the adult cast that adds the mystery and the depth.

The other book will come in Thursday.  There’s nothing fantastical about it: no sea dragons or Fangs, no mysterious jewels with their treasure maps.  But it will be a story about Scotland, which should be nice.  But until then, it looks like I’ll be learning about the town of Glipwood and the world of Aerwiar.

(image from amazon.com)

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Sunday’s Best: Celebrating Summer Reading

A day late for this, but better late than never.  That’s especially true when you get a quip about summer reading.  Yesterday’s four-color Frazz by Jef Mallett:

Frazz FireworksWe had an overcast, drizzly Independence Day here in Honolulu.  And not much noise, either (unless I slept through things).  Had quality dinner and conversation and then made my way home for good night’s sleep.

I do like the quip above.  It reminds me of the time I was reading the early chapters of Lord of the Rings around July 4th, with Gandalf and his fireworks.  It’s a fun little way to see things fold together.

(image from gocomics.com)

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A Kind of Summer Ending

It’s June 30th, which means I’m unofficially bringing a certain phase of “summer vacation” to an end.  June has been good: a quality trip home, a few weeks to (re)establish some daily and weekly rhythm and routines, good sleep and good time with friends.  And minimal work: mostly emails and the occasional in-person, on-campus conversation.  I’ve got responsibilities, though, that require the school year start a little earlier for me than for others, and I prefer easing my way into that instead of crashing and burning at the last minute.

Which isn’t to say that I’m ready to go back.  My mind is still a little scattered, my attentions a bit distracted.  I recently, I’m not sure how, got directed to this April 2021 blog post by Austin Kleon about the late-April New York Times article on languishing.  The title says it all: “I’m not languishing; I’m dormant.”  It’s a good read, and a necessary perspective when trying to make sense of the last 15 months.  Lots of gardening imagery, which falls in line with our school’s recent theme of Cultivate.  In the weeks leading up to the end of the school year, I pressed for some kind of conversation about the fall.  I got dismissed and rebuffed, which was not a surprise.  But I pressed for the early conversation because I knew the summer would need to be for re-charging.  I implored those I spoke to at the end of the school year to put things away and to rest.  And I’ve tried to do that myself.  Perhaps a kind of dormancy?

Kleon writes:

I’m not languishing, I’m dormant.

Like a plant. Or a volcano.

I am waiting to be activated.

I like the idea of “waiting to be activated.”  And I think it works on a deeper level than just just getting work done.  Something, perhaps, about coming alive in a deeper way?  Maybe, maybe not.

Kleon continues:

It seems to me that the reason that so many of us feel like we’re languishing is that we are trying to flourish in terrible conditions. It is spring outside — or the “unlocking” season — but it is still “Winter in America,” and, as any gardener knows, if you try to wake a plant out of dormancy too soon, it will wither, and maybe die . . . It is a mistake and a misreading of nature to think that you, a living creature, will be flourishing all the days of your life.

It’s a great post with lots of links, quotes, and images to help us see things just a bit more clearly.

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I recently had lunch with a staff-member from church.  One question asked: do you see the summertime as a chance to prepare for the fall or a chance to do other things?  They are connected, in a way, but not in an immediate-fruit-production kind of way.  Part of that is because whatever sense of calling or vocation that I have isn’t strictly about what job I have.  I’ve been fortunate that it all connects, but the two are not totally synonymous.  It can be easy to forget that.  So sure, as I read The Problem of Pain or A Secular Age, things I talk about in class come to mind.  But I’m not reading them solely (or mainly) for using them in class.

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So the plan starting tomorrow is to keep my morning routine (with modifications for Mondays) and to use the afternoon to get things done on-campus.  That should be a nice balance of things.  And I imagine I’ll still get a little bit of the afternoon for some summer vacation.  The nice thing is that the work needing to get done isn’t all that verbal: it’s mostly putting things together, ordering things.  So while it’s work, it isn’t as draining as verbal communication often ends up being.

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Sunday’s Best: Great Lengths to Save the Planet

This week’s FoxTrot is a great visual gag with fun, familial implications.  Jason is always pretty creative, and this is a good reminder of that.  Funny that he has his own Super-Jason costume, too.

FoxTrot SuperJason(image from gocomics.com)

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Short Season of Sequels

I finished Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary a few days ago.  It’s the kind of novel that almost demands a sequel (or at least a second novel that dovetails with missing but intriguing plot points).  Sequels are always a little tricky.  When I read The Passage back in the day, I was so pleased with the overall reading experience that the need of a sequel didn’t even cross my mind (and even though a sequel made perfect sense).  I’m glad Cronin continued Amy’s story in The Twelve and City of Mirrors.  But reading that first book was reading bliss for me.

Last ShadowI’m not sure we’ll get a follow-up to Project Hail Mary, but I am aware of two other sequels that I’m excited about.  One will bring to a close one of the most fascinating science fiction reads ever for me.  Ender’s Game was a game-changer for me.  I read the first book over twenty years ago (and even then didn’t see that ending coming).  Speaker for the Dead was a sequel so much better than it had to be.  It was a novel that moved Ender’s story in a direction that made total sense, even though the story was completely different in nature.  And then Card went back and told a totally different story by following Bean’s perspective  . . . and it was a fascinating read!  Orson Scott Card brings the series to a close this fall with The Last Shadow.  It brings the threads of Ender’s story and Bean’s story together one last time.  (Which is a real bummer to me because the events of the previous novel made the one thing I really wanted to see impossible).  The book drops in October.

The EveryThe other sequel is from Dave Eggers and picks up threads from The Circle (a somewhat misunderstood thriller that became a better-than-you-remember movie).  The Every brings e-commerce to the world of social networking in way, I hope, that really gets us to think.  I also hope it’s a good page-turner.  The Every drops in November.

It’s been a good summer of books for me so far.  After a series of shorter books, I’m now ankle-deep in Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age.  Brilliant thinking.  I’ve been reading around the book for years now (thanks to James K. A. Smith and Andrew Root).  It’s good to finally read the book for myself (and for the online class I’m currently “taking” each week).

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Sunday’s Best: The Broom and the Bulb

Today’s Nancy strip by Olivia Jaimes resonates way more than it ought, I fear.

Nancy Light Bulb(image from gocomics.com)

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To Be and To Do

This week Frazz and Caulfield discussed a question that students get asked often (one I’m probably guilty of asking, too).  It’s a good question, though it probably nudges students to more stress than necessary.  Caulfield handles it well . . . and then the story ends with a nod to 20th century pop music.

Frazz Future 1

Frazz Future 2

Frazz Future 3

Frazz Future 4(images from gocomics.com)

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What We Might Have Given

Yesterday I wrote a bit about the “work” that I had set up for myself this summer using some thoughts from an Ephraim Radner article from March 2020.  At almost the same time, the folks at First Things also posted a piece by Radner titled “The Time of the Virus.”  Some of Radner’s thinking in the first article rightly shows up here.  But he also asks about what Christians might bring to the table for the time of Covid:

What Christians may perhaps offer is a special sense of the times we are traversing. Cities are locked down, borders closed, schools shuttered; production and distribution lines have unraveled; work and retirement income is threatened. These disruptions have cascaded in ways that seem novel and imaginatively overwhelming. All of a sudden, we see before us something we have perhaps talked about before, but never really faced: the way, as societies, we have allowed our personal lives to become enfolded in and seemingly dependent upon intricate and vast networks of collective construction that have diminished our humanity. Suddenly we must “go home,” stay with our families, turn to ourselves. And we are, surprisingly, afraid!

He then goes on to call the potentially good things that Covidtide could offer “fallow time,” thus drawing a line to the Old Testament concept of Jubilee, which was to be a time of deep rest and reset for both God’s people and the land.  Radner continues:

The Jubilee is not simply a time of rejoicing. It is not simply a time to play enforced Scrabble games, let alone turn on the gaming console. It is a time to turn to God, to reckon God’s gifts, to tend and cherish common responsibilities and the life given through birth, children, and parents. No flying about the globe, no boardroom deals, commercialized sociality, mass political campaigns, pushing to get ahead, or making one’s mark. Instead, this is a time for living with the gift of life God has provided. In doing so, God’s own being and grace is unveiled to the otherwise distracted and self-absorbed creature. “You shall fear your God; for I am the LORD your God.” Dare we say that it is providential that the Time of the Virus has come in Lent? Not for penitence alone, but for the sabbath of sabbaths—for a place where prayer and thanks are actually nurtured and where they can flourish. This is something Christians should not only ponder, but embrace and share, in a posture not of resignation, but of joyful hope.

While I wouldn’t go as far as Radner in making the Jubilee connection, I do think that he was onto something we might have missed: the opportunity to pro-actively reorient ourselves, to reset our habits and practices and communities, in a way that points to our deep and “joyful hope.”

By the end of the article, Radner calls “the Time of the Virus” “both a gift and a provocation for Christians– not only for our personal faith, but for what we have to offer others.”  Looking back, I’m not sure how well we were able to see it as either.  Necessary, perhaps, but unfortunate.

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I imagine it might seem odd for me to be writing about articles from over a year ago, articles that I probably wrote about back then, too.  It’s a kind of context-building for the rest of my “summer work.”  Last year I had started a new “tag” for this site: Notes for a World’s End.  Even though a good portion of that world is returning to normal, the effects of moving from one world to the next (and back again) still linger.  And they are an opportunity to learn.  And that’s both a personal and an institutional thing.  But if our institutions won’t learn, perhaps we as individuals can.

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The Work of (This) Summer

After a good trip back home to Tennessee to see family and friends, I’m back in Honolulu adjusting to mostly-free days and evenings.  For many years, summer vacation was difficult for me (and summer school almost a necessity) because of my need for structure and flow.  And while that concern still remains, I’d like to think that I’ve matured some in this respect.  Covid has made it difficult, of course, because I like to work at coffee shops (most of which aren’t available for early hours).  But there’s been some loosening of that practice, which has been good for me.

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This summer is a particularly interesting one because we are, it seems, on the other side of Covid.  As such, we have the opportunity to ask all of the questions that we could have asked during early Covid but didn’t have the energy for (because we were busy adjusting and surviving).  Most people, I think, just want to get back to normal as quickly and easily as possible, which is a sentiment I understand completely.  At the same time, seize the moment people, ask the hard questions that God might be calling us to in this quickly-closing window.

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I suppose it’s primarily because of this article by Ephraim Radner from March 2020 that I keep coming back to thinking through “things learned.”  The article itself is a time capsule that feels like a hundred years ago to some.  It’s a reminder of the good and necessary scramble that church leaders were going through as things shut down.  He wrote of things that he saw church leaders saying and doing: an “insistent call to comfort and be comforting,” the “infantilization” of church members because of the “maternalization” of the church in such a time, and “the siliconization” of the church.  It was this last item that ultimately spilled over into (or was it from?) education, and the one that I felt the affects of most.  It was the question of whether or not to live-stream worship that crystallized Radner’s thoughts:

Should we live stream worship at this time? Maybe not. At least we should think about why, to what end, and with what consequences. We cannot, nor should we, seek to give the impression that life “goes on as normal.” It never did, after all. Our lives are fragile, vulnerable, and ultimately subject to the power and grace of God who has made us and will finally take us. Their maturity is marked by obediently living into the death of Jesus, with a hope of sharing in his resurrection (Rom. 6:5; 8:17; Phil. 3:10-11; 2 Tim. 2:11). That is the goal of anything that the church seeks to do as a formative and worshipping body. It is also the case that maternalizing, infantilizing, and siliconizing the church probably doesn’t add much to this goal.

Near the end of the article, Radner wrote:

When it comes to worship, we might learn to pray alone. We might learn to use the prayer book with our families, aloud, regularly — using an actual book, turning pages, touching paper. We might learn to sing hymns together, rather than listening to them broadcast through the computer. We might learn to become lonely (or finally to admit that we already are) and to cry out. We might learn to hunger and thirst even for the Bread of Life, for the Body of Christ, as many have done over the centuries in this or that place of desolation or confinement. We might learn to read the Scriptures audibly, for ourselves and with others in our homes. We might let clergy and others make home visits, one on one. We might — I might! — stop telling everybody what to do, and let them grow up.

We might. But we might not.

This sentiment was articulated in the present day wonderfully in yesterday SBC presidential address by J. D. Greear.  In his speech, which made good mention of the difficulties of the last year, Greear spoke of what his initial hopes had been for himself and for his church at the advent of Covidtide . . . and of how many of those hopes didn’t quite happen.  (I really hope a post-able version of the sermon becomes available soon.)

But now we’re at the place where we find ourselves wondering “what now?”  Some things will go back to normally quickly.  Other things won’t change back at all.  What do we do about online learning?  What do we do about Sunday schools where people from all over the country gathered with old friends in their virtual Sunday school classes?  How do we (or even do we) re-learn how to gather together?  These are just a sample of the questions we should be asking ourselves as we make our way out of the cave or the tunnel of Covid. 

That, for me, is the “work” of this summer: to think and pray and question things along these lines.  I’ve mostly made peace with the fact that many don’t have the time or bandwidth to ask such questions.  But I know I need to.  It’s a good work, I think, and I’m looking forward to it.

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Some Shade and Some Jade?

After a long time without much new television, it seems like we’ve got serial superhero madness all over the place (especially at the CW).  One of last summer’s few/great joys was the first season of Stargirl.  Because it was produced for the DCUniverse app first and the CW second, the show’s season had a shorter order with better effects and a tighter story.  (In those ways, it’s a lot more like this season of Superman and Lois than, say, The Flash).  The second season of the show drops this August.  The just-dropped trailer for the season brings in a couple of threads from season one while also giving some quality hints about the future, particularly as it concerns the villainy of the Shade and the introduction of Jade.  That’s the assumption, at least, as Jade has more ties to the Justice Society than any other green-powered Green Lantern legacy.

I’m hopeful that the second season will be as well-paced as the first.  Like so many other coming-of-age stories, it’s the depth revealed slowly through the narrative’s history that gives even great context and weight to things.  That was true for season one; surely it will be true for season two.

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