Sunday’s Best: The Danger of Escalation

Today’s a pretty good day for the funny pages.  WuMo does a nice job of reminding us, even farcically, of the dangers of escalation.

WuMo Escalation(image from gocomics.com)

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Sunday’s Best: Calvin without Calvin

Today’s classic Calvin and Hobbes is a rare example of the strip without either of the two title characters.  This one is all about Calvin’s dad and his joy in bike-riding.  It’s broadly symmetrical like last Sunday’s strip (with some variation on the bottom row) and mostly monologue pointing out contradictions.  But those contradictions don’t hamper the love of bike-riding, anymore than the one line Calvin’s mom gets in at the end.  Makes you wonder what is being said about work.

Calving without Calvin(image from gocomics.com)

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Sunday’s Best: Calvin and the Moral Law

Today’s classic Calvin and Hobbes is one that I’ll be able to use in the spring when I’m reading Mere Christianity with my students.  That Calvin actually utters the phrase “the moral law” is pretty brilliant.  The simplicity and symmetry of the layout is brilliant, too.

Calvin and the Moral Law(image from gocomics.com)

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On Tour with Tuor

There was a time where I thought this summer would be the time to reread the Lord of the Rings.  I even  packed my bags in preparation for it.  But to read LOTR is no small task, not something to walk into half-heartedly.  So I read “Leaf by Niggle” to get me in the right frame of mind . . . and then it didn’t happen.  So I put the books in the box of goodies that I shipped back to Honolulu to keep the load light. And then I read books that I bought tied to my time at Laity Lodge instead.

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Unfinished TalesOne of the questions posed early on at the Lodge a few weeks ago was the question of what authors we turn to for comfort (because these last few years have brought great need for comfort).  I told the couple I sat near that I would often turn to Tolkien and Lewis and Chesterton.  And it doesn’t matter much what I read from them as long as it is from them.  Granted, the shorter the better has been the case of late. I had just reread a number of shorter Lewis pieces collected in Present Concerns.  But I did want to read some Tolkien.  So I went back to Unfinished Tales.  I had read the entries tied into The Hobbit and LOTR a few weeks before but had, at that time, decided to stay away from the longer pieces from “the first age” that take up most of the book.  I’ve read the Silmarillion before and enjoyed it, but it is also a bit of a commitment.  And I’m a little leery of reading “First Age” and “Second Age” content with Amazon’s Rings of Power coming in September.  But I jumped into the story of Tuor and his journey to Gondolin anyway.  I’m so glad that I did.

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Unfinished Tales is a collection of pieces edited by Christopher Tolkien that are “elaborations ‘of matters told more briefly, or at least referred to elsewhere.”  Christopher Tolkien wove things together based on manuscripts and fragments and notes.  It is amazing to me how much of Tolkien’s voice shines through even in drafts and fragments.  There is joy and sadness and wonder in almost every little narrative piece. Tuor’s tale, which clocks in at about 30 pages, features a kind of depth you would expect from stories that are chronologically later.  Here Tuor shows up fully realized in a fully realized world.  A favorite text:

In this way, Tuor passed into the borders of Nevrast, where once Turgon had dwelt; and at last unawares (for the cliff-tops at the margin of the land were higher than the slopes behind) he came suddenly to the black brink of Middle-earth, and saw the Great Sea, Belegar the Shoreless.  And at that hour the sun went down beyond the rim of the world, as a mighty fire; and Tuor stood alone upon the cliff with outspread arms, and a great yearning filled his heart.  It is said that he was the first of Men to reach the Great Sea, and that none, save the Elder, have ever felt more deeply the longing that it brings. (25)

And that’s just around the 1/3 mark of the tale of Tuor’s coming to Gondolin.  And yes, it’s difficult to hold all of the names of people and places in your head.  And yes, it’s great to turn to the end notes that C. Tolkien added that point to connections (or contradictions) with the bigger story.  And there’s no real hurry to finish things because each piece of the book stands on its own.  It’s nice just savoring the wonder of each good moment.

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So now I’m onto the story of Turin, also set in the First Age.  And it’s good.  Hopeful and tragic at the same time, and not only because you know the “long story” but also because Tolkien renders each character so well while saying so little.

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Stranger Thors

This past week was an interesting one with popular long-form storytelling.  I was able to catch the final two episodes of Stranger Things 4 while also watching the fourth Thor movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  While I enjoyed them both, one stood out more than the other (and it wasn’t the one I thought it would be).

Taika Waititi has been a favorite movie-maker for me for a while now.  His work with Thor: Ragnarok brought new life to the franchise and set up Thor for some great moments in Avengers: Infinity War.  Ragnarok was something of a buddy movie with more humor in 15 minutes than the first two Thor movies combined.  So I was looking forward to what Waititi would do with Love and Thunder, how the characters might progress and how they would fold a more recent comic book story (Jane Foster and Gorr) into the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe.  There are some really good moments in the movie.  The cast does well with what they are given.  Much like with Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, you get a real sense of the director’s unique vision.  And yet, when the final stinger went to black, I found myself more tired than anything.  The story itself was pretty tight without being minimalist.  There were some good, emotional moments.  Was the humor too much?  I think so.  And I say that as someone who found the goats pretty funny.  I think the story went off the rails for me when Zeus came into the picture.  Which is also why the Zeus-centric stinger fell flatter than usual for me.  It was a well-told tale, I think.  I just find myself a bit fatigued with things (and I say that as someone who loves serial story-telling).  With Phase Four, I’m kind of losing a sense of caring about what is next.  I’m glad that Marvel is getting to build someone beyond the Infinity Saga.  It’s possible, though, that their TV shows have become more enjoyable than their movies.  We’ll see how Ms. Marvel ends this week.

ST4 Express UKOn the other hand, I didn’t have too high expectations for Stranger Things 4.  It had been so long since the last series.  Humor has also been a hallmark for the show.  But the humor is there to humanize things and to keep things from getting too heavy.  And this season was quite heavy.  The show also took the risk of sending its characters in different directions for the entire run: three groups, actually.  Sometimes that can backfire.  But as with stories like Harry Potter, the adventures of Eleven and her friends gets better the more it digs into the past of things.  And I really think the show benefits from having set an actual conclusion to the story (which also helped immensely with shows like Lost).  And so the final scene, which isn’t quite a cliffhanger but definitely leaves you hanging, doesn’t grate as much as the conclusion and stingers for Love and Thunder.  And it sets you up for what you know will be the real finale.  The show has stuck with what makes it great: friendship, spiritual struggle, and something about life in the 80s.  Such an interesting story: so consistently tense with super-high stakes but with something of a simple set-up.  I’m glad that it still resonates on multiple levels.

It will be interesting to see what happens next, both with Thor and with Stranger Things.  Both are coming back, of course, though I’m not sure what timeline exists for Thor’s next chronological appearance.  Writing is about to start up for Stranger Things.  Until then, there’s all kinds of reading that can be done for behind-the-scenes information.  But the story is what carries it.  And the hope of resolution is a good hope.  It will be interesting to see how everything ends.

(image from express.co.uk)

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Sunday’s Best: Consumer Report

Today’s full-form Frazz by Jef Mallett brings together running and the realities of being a consumer society.  And yes, it is a kind of anthropology.  Maybe that’s a degree of great use to all of us.

Frazz Consumers(image from gocomics.com)

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Enchantment of the Clouds

A couple of recent classic Calvin and Hobbes strips capture the interesting tension between an enchanted and a disenchanted world.  The first strip is brilliant on its own:

Calvin's Cloud #1The simplicity of each panel: all of the open space with a clear sense of levels is really nice.  And it’s always funny seeing a kid using the word inscrutable, a word most adults would never use.  But he sees the image in the clouds as an omen, which points to a more enchanted view of things.  Until the next strip:

Calvin's Cloud #2Calvin, of course, sees himself.  And he calls it a sign.  But then he moves from an enchanted approach (an omen) to something much less enchanted: a sign of high altitude winds.  For good or bad, I think most of us are more like Hobbes than Calvin in this instance.

(images from gocomics.com)

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The Three Movements of This Summer

Today marks the beginning of the “third movement” of summer 2022 for me.  My summer officially started after our commencement service back in the first weekend of June.  From there, the summer divided itself neatly into three movements.  The first was a time to decompress, to stay in Hawaii but also stay away from work as much as possible.  That movement lasted just over two weeks and was quite restful.  It was a nice mix of weekend routine plus good time downtown hanging in places I don’t get to see much during the school year.

The second movement, which came to an end yesterday, was rooted in travel: first, to Texas for a retreat at Laity Lodge and second, to Tennessee for time with family.  This movement had a rhythm of its own, too.  It involved travel time, which I mostly enjoy, and then time at rest.  In both the first and second “movements,” I tried to restrict work stuff.  I was mostly successful at it, I think.  And hopefully it won’t set me behind too much going into the next few weeks.  This part of the summer lasted right at two weeks.

The third movement of summer begins today and will last about just over 2 weeks.  Work will enter the picture again bit by bit.  The school year starts with an even that I have some responsibility for.  Beyond that, I’ve got a couple of new “hires” that I need to prep.  Plus, our new pastor just arrived, so I’ll be checking in on him and working on his installation service for later in August.  And, alas, I will need to do some real prep work for the classroom as the new year gets started.

A main goal of the summer was to put some distance between me and work.  I love what I do, and am hopeful that I will enjoy a more simplified “line” this school year with the “temporary vocational stretch” finally over.  But work is almost ubiquitous (for lots of people, not just for me), and I’ve felt the strain of that, especially this last year.  The hope has been that the distance will allow for some “deep work” that can happen beneath the surface of things . . . maybe getting some deeper roots in some things, adjusting my routine where things are less “bundled.”  I know that I don’t want to spend this year drawing from the “same well” as the last five, mostly because that well has kind of dried up (as well it should).

A lot of this goes back to that story Jesus tells about the guy with the unclean spirit that is cast out.  The man gets his life in order, but the spirit has no where to go, so it goes back to find things all “cleaned up” with the man, so he brings some of his friends with him.  And the man is worse off than he was before.  Now: work is no unclean spirit and the story isn’t about my life in particular, but it does illustrate something about people more broadly and the dangers we should be aware of.  “Let the right one in,” on some basic level.  This summer has, bit by bit, a way of trying to recalibrate for that.  To prepare to live differently even if those around me are embarking on another year “as usual.”

So here’s to the “third movement” of the summer of 2022.  You can plan all you want, and life will do what it does.  I get that.  But hopefully there will be a rhythm and routine that is particular to the next couple of weeks that will set me up well for the fall and beyond.

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Out to Pasture

This short and recent piece by Alan Jacobs is about conservatism, but I can’t help but think it’s also true about so much more (like church or education).  It’s an interesting slant on ancient imagery about sheep, shepherds, and sheepdogs.   A quick quote:

What sheepdogs are useless at is caring for the sheep. They can’t feed the sheep, or inspect them for injury or illness, or give them medicine. All they can do is bark when they see someone who might be a predator. And that’s fine, except for this: the sheepdogs of the conservative movement think that everyone who is not a sheepdog – everyone who is not angrily barking — is a wolf.

Both sheep and sheepdog submit to the guidance of the shepherd.  Or at least they are supposed to.  These days it feels like shepherds, those who know what they are doing, are in short supply.  Or they’ve decided that really the sheepdogs can do all that is necessary (though definitely not all that is good).

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Sunday’s Best: Why Don’t You Slide?

Here’s yesterday’s classic Calvin and Hobbes strip by Bill Watterson.  Such a great build for such a quick (and fitting) final panel.  Turns out climbing up and sliding down aren’t always quite the same (at least in the eyes of a child).

Calvin on the Slide(image from gocomics.com)

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