Friday, December 28, 2001

My family bleeds history

If the sap of a tree is blood, then my family tree bleeds history, like I suppose all family trees must.

My wife's mother was part of the second generation in her family born in the United States. Her maiden name was Wilhelmy, a surname her grandfather assumed after passing through Ellis Island as a nod to his ancestry. As she has explained to me, my wife — and therefore our daughter as well — is descended from Kaiser Wilhelm.

As an aside, I've always understood that my wife's great-grandfather added the Y to Wilhelm in an attempt to mask his ancestry, from a concern over potential germanophobia. I imagine an angry mob chasing the fellow down a dark alley only there to hear his name properly for the first time.

"Wait boys," the mob's leader says. "His name is Wilhelmy. He's not a kraut after all. Sorry about the misunderstanding, sir."

There is no such illustrious pedigree on my side of the family, from what I can gather, although I do have a Green ancestor who served in the court of King Richard II of England. He even appears in Shakespeare's play. The first Learn was an immigrant from one of the German lands who appeared in Tannersville, Pa., some time before the American Revolution.

We have our share of interesting legends, though. They include an ancestor who was a prisoner of war at Andersonville during the Civil War, and an Indian attack on the original Learn homestead that led to the Sullivan campaign in the Northeast to drive the local Indians off the land.

That second one was a pretty tragic story. The whole family was killed except for one teenager and a couple infants/toddlers, who were taken prisoner. The teen went into Stroudsburg to get help in mounting a rescue, but the rescue party was so drunken and disorganized that the Indians heard them coming a mile off and the children were killed.

The family tree bleeds history. I need to find out more.

Copyright © 2001 by David Learn. Used with permission.

Thursday, December 27, 2001

tolkien's women

Tolkien's got women other than Éowyn, though you might not be able to tell that from the fans. What about Galadriel and Arwen?

Galadriel has that tremendous scene with Frodo where he offers her the Ring and we get a glimpse of how terrible and awe-inspiring she is -- and then she passes the test. She refuses the Ring and allows herself to diminish and ultimately disappear from Middle-earth along with all she rules.

And Arwen is a much bigger character than just in Lord of the Rings. Check out the appendices and the other related material. The sacrifice she makes for Aragorn is a tremendous one, and says a lot about her strength.

The movie doesn't factor into this. I couldn't think of anything Liv Tyler had been in prior to "The Fellowship of the Ring," and finally had to check on to find out. Cate Blanchett I saw in Elizabeth, which barely gave her a chance to show her acting talent because the director did such a hackneyed job on the film that it was fairly incomprehensible.

One of the things that keyed my interest in the movie is that Peter Jackson avoided casting any "stars." Elijah Wood, Sir Ian McKellan, Viggo Mortensen and the others are all fairly well-known, but they don't have the star drawing power of someone like Brad Pitt, Michelle Pfeiffer or the others. I can name only one or two movies for several of the stars, and even fewer for none.

I like the characters for their own sake, which is why I would have been annoyed if they had cast Sandra Bullock or Jennifer Lopez as one of the elves -- it would have been an obvious attempt to cash in on someone's star status at the expense of faithful casting.

Wednesday, December 26, 2001


Q: What does a Dead-head say when he runs out of pot?
A: Geez, this band sucks.

Tuesday, December 25, 2001

unbreakable and comicbook realism

Which is better: Comic books that are written for children, like "Adventures in the DC Universe," or comics that attempt to treat the subject of superheroes more realistically?

In 1961, it was realistic to have Warren Worthington marvel at the sheer unadulterated joy of unaided flight, and to have Peter Parker become a superhero because a moment of self-absorption cost him his uncle's life. That stuff is fairly standard now and is no longer sufficient when we're talking about relative realism in comics.

During the "Dark Age" of comics, realism to an extent involved angst-ridden, bitter, smoking men and women who whine about the meaninglessness of life and read Jean-Paul Sartre and still wear tight clothes and do impossible things. In my opinion that sort of comic was done well by Frank Miller, Alan Moore and pretty much no one else.

If you haven't checked out Kurt Busiek's "Astro City," I recommend it. He does a lot of exploring the "off-stage" exploits of his superheroes, focusing on the superheroes' daydreams, their children's desire to be normal kids, their struggles with being good parents, and so on. One of his best story arcs involves an alien invasion of the earth, but the aliens are on the periphery of the protagonist's internal struggles for self-worth and identity.

The movie "Unbreakable" tries to go a step further and essentially asks the question, "If there really were people with super powers, what would they be like?" There's no fancy costumes or anything; the main character is simply at one extreme of the bell curve on a few points and has never thought of himself as a "superhero" or having "super powers."

If you're into comic books, it's an interesting movie, but it's slow-paced and character-driven, which is why it wasn't received as well as more conventional superhero movies like "Batman," "Superman" or even "Spawn." I personally prefer "The Sixth Sense," which had a much stronger twist ending since it relied on completely changing the viewer's interpretation of the movie. In "Unbreakable," there are some clues to the twist ending, but most of the information to make it work is brand new.


I recently bought the original Tim Burton "Batman" movie with Michael Keaton, and was disappointed by some of the breaks from the established Batman character. Two things leapt out at me, though I'm sure there were others I could point out if I spent the time thinking of them.

One of the biggies, of course, is the degree of violence Batman used in the movie. He's been borderline even since Frank Miller reinvented him in "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Batman Year One," but to my knowledge, Batman has never willingly killed anyone. In the movie, he throws a few people to their deaths, offs the Joker and even fires machine guns from his plane at the Joker and his gang. What was it Superman once said? "When you strip away everything else, Batman doesn't want to see anyone else get killed."

And of course there's the whole Vicki Vale thing. The only time I thought that relationship worked right was in the Batcave when Alfred actually has let her in on the secret. Bruce Wayne's reaction here is classic Batman as he ignores her and focuses on stopping the Joker, essentially "I don't have time to deal with you right now."

Other than that, I thought THAT movie followed the comic fairly well. No wisecracking, some good fight scenes, good use of Batman's personal combat skills (though that could have been played up more), indications of Bruce Wayne's knowledge of chemistry, and of course some hints of the deeper and darker undertones of guilt that have led to Bruce Wayne's need to become the Dark Knight.

I never saw the Clooney or Kilmer Batman movies, since it was pretty obvious that the movies were on their way down. After all, Joel Schumacher said he wanted to get back into the spirit of the TV show, and we all know how awful THAT was. Adam West never played Batman. I have no idea what that was, but it wasn't Batman.

elmo ruins christmas

Evangeline acquired another piece of Elmo paraphernalia this Christmas.

Her Uncle Blair's offense is mitigated somewhat in that this Elmo does not sing or play music. He simply rides along the kitchen floor on his scooter. (Evangeline also found that Elmo scoots down the stairs, but not as neatly as he does on a flat surface.)

Sunday, December 23, 2001

thoughts on guns

As odious a product as tobacco is, the giant companies are within their rights to market it if the public is stupid enough to buy it, as there are no laws or court rulings banning the sale of tobacco.

Unless someone can make such an argument against firearms, that industry is legitimate and should not be lawyered out of existence because of what some people do with firearms.

That line of thinking should mean the next class-action lawsuit is against software companies like Microsoft for not making hackerproof or virusproof software.

Two of my brothers have owned a shotgun and a few other firearms for sport purposes -- we grew up in Pennsylvania, where the first day of hunting season is a holiday from school -- but I have never had the desire to own one, even after we had a burglar here in our house a few months ago.

Why? Because while my dog can screw up and bark at someone innocent, and even knock an innocent to the ground, I can't un-injure someone I killed believing them to a burglar, nor do I want to run the risk of an accidental death resulting from my weapon.

I think there is a perceived bias against guns in the media because a death or injury resulting from guns is more likely to make the news than nothing happening at all. On the other hand, if when I was editor of the Beacon, someone had come up to me and said, "Why don't you do a feature story on this rifle range down on Amwell Road?" or "Hey, I have a great idea for a story on this fellow who collects guns," I would have been all over it. As it is, no one suggested that idea until after I had left, and so we never did such a story. That's where gun-rights advocates need to be more proactive.

I think there is some bias against the gun culture in the news media because of what we've seen. Interview enough parents of children who died after being shot, and you might start to think that way too. Most journalists, however, would have the same approach as me: I might have a blind spot on a certain story, but if you can suggest an idea that expands my horizon, I'm all for it.

9/11 didn't really affect my position on the issue at all, since guns weren't the weapon of choice: box-cutters and airplanes were. Have to admit I'm glad to know that there are more federal marshals in the air, though I think it would be better if the airlines themselves put such marksmen on every flight instead of the federal crapshoot we have now.

plot and theme

A plot is, for lack of a better word, an external "crisis" that the characters in the story are trying to work their way through. Sometimes it's the driving force of the story, as you will find in a mystery novel; other times, it takes the back seat to character development, as in books like "Les Miserables" or "A Christmas Carol," where the transformation of the person is what grips us. Really good authors can combine the two of them.

What gets you to read "The Hobbit" the first time is the effort of the thirteen dwarves and their burglar to retrieve the gold from Smaug's lair. But what gets you to read it again is the transformation of Bilbo's character from a sedentary sort who mislikes adventures because they make one late for supper into the hobbit who risks his life sneaking the Arkenstone to Bard of Dale in an attempt to head off disaster.

Too much plot and not enough character development leaves you with a multimillion-dollar box office bomb like "The Last Action Hero." Switch the two around and you get something like "Unbreakable," which many reviewers considered too slow and plodding to be worth watching.

It is quite possible for a story to have no plot to speak of and still be good. Witness "The Sixth Sense," which was entirely character driven. In the case of "Star Wars," the plot was the conflict between the Empire and the Rebellion and centered on Grand Moff Tarkin's efforts to crush the Rebellion. Luke's growth from annoying whiny brat to melodramatic Jedi knight was a theme.

Saturday, December 22, 2001

tolkien's legacy

It's sad that Tolkien is not only the founder of the entire fantasy genre, he's also disliked by a number of people who have grown up with the derivatives. Pretty sad, they're so used to schlock they can't understand the real thing.

Friday, December 21, 2001

james bond

I've known a lot of people who are ready to start dueling over who the best James Bond is -- or rather, whether anyone since Sean Connery has played him "right" but I have to admit that the Bond flicks really don't do much for me, no matter who is playing 007.

I can't say as much for the earlier Bond movies that starred Connery, but lately they're just complex but uninteresting action flicks littered with pointless, consequenceless sex. It would make more sense if he were seducing women who at least could advance the plot by giving him useful information, for example -- that would shed some light on his character -- but more often it seems it's just sex to pass the time. It doesn't even cause serious entanglements, or at least does so only rarely. (I wouldn't like a Bond that amoral, mind you. I'm just saying that way it at least would serve a point to the movie.)

I'd also like to see the plots given a more intelligent treatment. If Bond is such a superspy, why does he draw attention to himself so much by driving tanks down the street in Moscow, or speeding down the Thames (and across the streets of London) in Q's specially modified speedboat. I guess I'd like to see Bond treated more like Sidney Riley, the British spy whose exploits he supposedly was based on.

But that might be such a break from the standard that no one would go see it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

god laughs, therefore i am

I've been wondering for over 31 years what point there possibly could be for such a thing as a "David Learn" to exist in this world, aside from affording God some laughs, and I have to admit I'm still not entirely sure what the point would be of such an entity.

the best star wars

I liked the original "Star Wars" movie, the one now subtitled "A New Hope." For all its flaws, it had a memorable and mythic story, the ending was tremendous, and it suggested deeper things beneath the surface.

But let's be honest: In many cinematic terms, the movie was hardly remarkable. The only good actors in Episode Four were Alec Guiness and James Earl Jones. Harrison Ford was on the verge of becoming a good actor -- he actually learned a lot of restraint from Guiness -- but he wasn't there yet. Carrie Fischer, Peter Cushing and many of the others were adequate, but Mark Hamill -- who had a fairly major role -- pretty much just walked through the movie with wide-eyed cluelessness.

And the writing was awful. The whole "Spare us your sorcerous ways, Lord Vader" speech is a classic example. Or the Millennium Falcon making the Kessell Run in under 12 parsecs, when a parsec is a measurement of distance not time, or ...

Well, it was good -- mostly because of its mythic qualities -- but I wouldn't say it was the best Star Wars movie. That title clearly goes to "The Empire Strikes Back." When it first came out in 1980, I was 10, or nearly so, and I hated the end of the movie. Since then I've come to appreciate that it's one wicked ending, the writing was topnotch, even Mark Hamill came across as a good actor, the director's vision was solid, and whoever came up with that fight scene between Darth Vader and Luke clearly had been doing some thinking about how a Jedi knight might fight.

It's by far the best Jedi fight scene we've seen in four movies. Remember how surprised Luke was when things started breaking off the wall to fly at him? You could almost hear him think, "Hey! You can't do that!"

"Return of the Jedi" sucked, and not just because it had a new Death Star. It was awful, for one simple reason: Ewoks. This should have been called "Attack of the Care Bears." An earlier version of the movie script had the Wookie homeworld being threatened, but the Evil Emperor decided there was more money to be made marketing the Ewoks.

I once wrote a mock term paper showing conclusively that "The Return of the Jedi" was more accurate historically than "A New Hope," which was a story put forth by the New Republic to make its hero, Luke Skywalker, look good. (Not only did the reconstructionists make the Death Star fully built, they also gave Luke sole credit for its destruction.)

"The Phanton Menace" was just awful: flat, one-dimensional characters; too much mindless action and overreliance on CGI special effects. Jake Lloyd, who played Anakin, wasn't up to grown-up repartee but didn't have other children to act like a child around either. And Lucas couldn't make up her mind whether he wanted an innocent boy who would become Darth Vader, or a brooding and angry boy who already was warped and destined for evil things.

This is the only Star Wars movie we don't have a copy of, that I have no desire to have a copy of, and that I consider worst than "Return of the Jedi."

sabbath rest

Every farmer worth his compost knows that a sabbath rest for the land is not just a good idea, but a basic requirement of agriculture. The cycle of sowing, cultivating and harvesting takes its toll on the soil, microorganisms and variopus insects and other animals that live there.

Giving the land a rest once every seven years helps the microecosystem to restore itself, for the soil to regain lost nutrients and for your next crop to be even better. It's even more important if you rely on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which "burn" the soil and damage beneficial organisms in the ground like earthworms and ants.

It's a practice I'm trying to apply with my organic garden and flower beds at this house, though I'm starting with soil that's been badly abused over the 80-plus years this house has been in existence. I left alone for two years a nice swath along side of the house and in the back yard where nothing has been growing, and last year, I started to see a few things start to grow there on their own. They'll be even further ahead when I mix in compost this spring.

Of course, I'm not aware of anyone who gives ALL the land such a rest at the same time, which is what the Torah prescribes. Usually it's cycled through.

Saturday, December 15, 2001

santa claus

I get a headache trying to figure this out: There is actually a town that doesn't want Santa Claus to light the Christmas tree, because he's too religious.

Talk about ridiculous. When did Santa become such a religious figure he needed to be banned from a tree lighting? Many religious folk don't want Santa because he steals the thunder from someone who wasn't born on Christmas, whose birth is chronicled only in two of the four gospels, and whose birth was nowhere near as important as the Good Friday/Easter Sunday one-two knockout punch.

Good grief. The entire Christmas package -- trees, presents, wreaths, lights, Santa and his many elves -- is so much cultural baggage anyway, I don't understand what the fuss is. It's neither religious nor areligious,* and many who do not consider themselves to be even nominally Christian celebrate the holiday because it's a cultural holiday like Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July, built more or less around the idea of charitable giving and spending time with family.

I've known Jews who take their children to see Santa and I've interviewed Hindus who celebrate Christmas. There are probably even Muslims who do the same, though the imam I interviewed about that five years ago no doubt would deny any such notion vigorously and indignantly.

I wish the anti-Santa parade and the anti-Christmas parade would march into the same room in Toledo, Ohio, where they can merrily ruin their own Christmases and allow the rest of us to keep the holiday as we wish.

Not that I'm opinionated.

* Yes, I'm aware that the etymological root of Christmas is Christ Mass. My point is that the holiday as it has existed for more than a hundred years is no more religious that Mardi Gras, which also has a religious origin. Blame it on The New Yorker and the businessmen in New York who more than 100 years ago decided to craft the myth of when Christmas was a warm, happy time of good cheer in New York's distant Dutch past, all in order to boost revenue.

Friday, December 14, 2001

creationism gone wild

Three fun ways to fit dinosaurs into the biblical account of creation:

  1. The dinosaurs were destroyed in the events described in Genesis 1:1: "Now the earth became formless and empty, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." In this reading, we have no idea how many years passed and what got fossilized.

  2. Dinosaurs were created on Day Six with the rest of the animals in the Hebrew cosmogony, co-existed with man in the Antedeluvian world and went extinct some time after the Flood. The tremendous pressures brought on by a worldwide Deluge, particularly with the seismic activity mentioned in Genesis 7 are more than enough according to hydrogeologists to fossilize organic matter and to convert other organic matter into fossil fuels. I've heard some people link Leviathan in the book of Job with a dinosaur.

  3. Dinosaurs are still not extinct. People who hold to this view usually tie dinosaurs into critters like the Loch Ness monster or other big creatures in heavily forested parts of the world. Scott Adams, to my knowledge, is the only person to suggest they live in the basements of houses and give wedgies to people.
And of course there are the really silly views that dinosaurs never existed in the first place and God either created their fossilized remains to test our faith, or that the whole thing is made up by paleontologists eager to bolster their standing in the scientific community. (Probably some truth to that second part, actually; they'll proclaim a whole new species based on one or two bones and fail to account for the variation within a single species today. Heck, humans range from under four feet tall to over eight feet. And dogs? Don't even get me started.)

There is a view that holds that there was a pre-Adamic race of humanity, or perhaps reptilian beings, who were destroyed between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, where the Hebrew can be rendered "Now the earth became formless and void." There is much basis in Scripture for this belief as saying the "unclean spirits" in the New Testament are angels who rebelled against God and were cast down. It's just that the latter doctrine is more widely accepted than the first.

On that tangent, I've heard it said that the "unclean spirits" Jesus was casting out of people were nonaligned spirits; i.e., they had taken no sides in the war between heaven and hell and are being forced to decide as the gospel advances. And I've also heard that they were -- are you ready for this? -- the eternal spirits of members of a pre-Adamic race!

genocide in the bible

A friend of mine wrote a very intriguing piece on two of the genocides mentioned in the book of Judges, specifically the slaughters of the Canaanites and of Amalekites, that used to be on his now-defunct web site. I don't remember all the nitty-gritty, but he tackled the subject from the perspective of graded absolutism.

A simple example of graded absolutism: Violence is wrong. Letting someone be beat to death also is wrong. If you see someone being beat to death, are you justified in using force to stop the assailants? Of course you are, and depending on the circumstances, you probably could even see your way to using lethal force.

As I recall, the contention of Greg's piece -- and if it's still online, I don't know where it would be -- was that for God to order the destruction of the Amalekites and Canaanites, their sin was so grievous there was no other way to handle it. He also gave the whole thing an important perspective: the command to wholesale destruction of a people were not given as frequently as people usually think.

Me, I still feel uncomfortable thinking of those orders.

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

the music i like

I don't hold with the differentiation between "Christian" music and "secular" music. What's good is what's good, and what's crap is crap. Most of what is produced on Christian labels is crap.

I appreciate music that makes me think and that challenges me to care about other people and that makes me stop and think about what I claim to believe. To that end, there are only three Christian musicians I've found that I consistently enjoy: Michael Card, Steve Taylor and Keith Green.

Keith Green died in a plane crash in 1982. His complete discography is available on Sparrow Records as "Keith Green: The Ministry Years." It's hard-hitting and prophetic stuff.

Steve Taylor is a former youth pastor who warranted an entire chapter in Jimmy Swaggart's book ranting about the evils of contemporary Christian music. Like Keith Green, his lyrics are also prophetic, but they're usually more in-your-face and are set to higher-power music than Keith Green's easy listening style.

Mike Card's music is more meditative and thought-provoking and often is Scripture paraphrased and set to music. I believe he is still rounding out his multivolume work on the Bible, which the last I knew merely awaited his album on the book of Hebrews. (I have a suspicion he's not going to follow my suggestion of rhyming Melchizedek with "Oh what the heck.") Mike's stuff is folksy, which I enjoy.

I guess I should add John Michael Talbot as a fourth Christian musician I've found I enjoy because of his meditative, worshipful approach to music.

Beyond that, I generally go for music that predates me by a decade or more, though not always. I enjoy Alan Sherman and Weird Al's wit (I'd also enjoy Tom Lehrer and Stan Freberg if I had their albums), but I also enjoy the folk songs of Simon & Garfunkel; Peter, Paul and Mary; and Crosby, Stills and Nash; and I enjoy a lot of the music produced in the 1960s and 1970s: Credence Clearwater Revival, the Beatles, and miscellaneous songs like "Eve of Destruction" and "Abraham, Martin and John." Billy Joel's music often is good also.

It really depends on what you want out of your music. Some music is nihilistic and embraces destruction, like stuff by Marilyn Manson, and other stuff just revels in offending parents, which I've never really found appealing either. A lot of what's produced today is meaningless fluff, but that includes a lot that's produced for Christian records labels as well. I used to get nauseous every time I'd hear the lyrics "God is too wise to be mistaken / God is too good to be unkind / So when you don't understand / When you can't see his plan / If you can't trace his hand / Trust his heart." (I feel sick just typing it.)

I've found much Christian music to be rather poor artistically and uninspired lyrically, which is why I don't listen to it. It's driven as much by the market as secular music industry. (Put it this way: How many balding middle-age men would make it big as Christian artists today if they were just starting out?)

I've found that the music I enjoy stylistically is simple and folksy rather than heavy on the synthesizer and electric guitars (Steve Taylor is an exception); addresses themes of lasting value, whether social issues like Phil Collins "Oh, Think Twice," or delving into spiritual matters like Mike Card or Keith Green; or telling a story of sorts, though such songs are rare these days.

The heart of the individual musician I'm never going to know. I don't generally keep tabs on musicians' private lives -- just not interested -- although sometimes it leaps out at me, as it did with Amy Grant and Gary Chapman's divorce. (Let me add that Amy Grant's "Lead Me On" album back in 1990-ish was her finest album ever, in my opinion, because it was so personal. I still enjoy it, even though the divorce foreshadowed in "Faithless Heart" has come to pass.)

Another example you can probably relate to: I'm aware The Beatles did major drugs at the height of their popularity, and I'm aware of the rumors that songs like "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" contain veiled references to drugs. That knowledge does not alter my enjoyment of The Beatles' music, though I have to admit that most of the "Sergeant Pepper" album is a little too weird for my tastes.

We all have our own criteria by which we judge what music we enjoy and find acceptable. Like Dave Barry, I'm starting to hate albums with titles like "Classic Children's Songs from Hell." I'm satisfied that my tastes are in submission to God, even though I know some people who would pray that I would stop listening to Simon & Garfunkel.

As a side note, just because something or someone appears to be in opposition to the church, Christianity or even God does not mean what they have to say should not be heard. Many times people outside the faith have valid perceptions and criticisms we're blind to. Or as Cervantes once observed, "Even a fart can be musical."

Put your emphasis on the substance of the music and its style, not the label that it falls under. That way you can't go wrong, and if you do, it's not for lack of effort or for trying to take the easy road out.

larryboy gets left behind

I don't know how many Veggie Tales viewers would understand a parody of the Left Behind books, but I think it would be interesting.

"Left Behind" as a phenomenon is pretty much restricted to evangelical Christians, from my understanding. A lot of the mainstream Christians might not get the parody, and it would be even more lost on non-Christians.

I suppose it could be interesting if it's handled well. Junior could start freaking out because his parents disappeared at the Stuff-Mart, causing Larry-Boy to leap to all sorts of wild conclusions when he notices Alfred is also missing. Later, it turns out that they were all in the bathroom or something...

Monday, December 10, 2001

keeping the sabbath

I would have to say that where I come down is somewhere on both sides of the debate of whether to keep the sabbath. I agree that keeping the Sabbath is not burdensome in the least, but I also agree that it is left to the individual believer to decide how or if to keep a Sabbath.

A fair amount of it ties back into the Christian segmentation of the Mosaic law into civil, moral and ceremonial law. While that's a breakdown I've heard before, I'm not convinced it's a division reflected in what Christ did on the Cross; rather, it seems to me to be a description of the function of different aspects of the law. Nowhere in the Torah is a distinction made between those three types of law: you find "moral" law, like the proscription on homosexual intercourse, incest and beastiality mixed in with other laws on how to make clothes and where to go to the bathroom. First-century Jews in fact regarded any effort to say one part of the law was more important than another as heretical, which is why the one scribe tried to trap Jesus by asking him which of the commandments was the greatest.

Since the Torah finds its fulfillment in Christ and we are freed from its sting and free to live by faith -- Paul quite specifically warns the Galatians against subjecting ourselves to live under part of the law, since we then are obligated to follow all of it -- I have to say that God does not require us to keep the sabbath. It's up to each of us to decide how, if and when we do so.

It's also worth noting that the sabbath existed long before its observance was required. All the way back in the creation story, God blessed the seventh day because on it he rested from his work. So even though we're freed from the requirement of keeping the sabbath, we're not free from the blessing of keeping the sabbath (if we keep it).

So what is the blessing? Well, as an outgrowth of this discussion, my wife and I started keeping a sabbath about a month ago. We keep ours on Sunday. Since it's essentially arbitrary which day you begin your week on, we start ours on Monday. Our reasoning was more or less what I've described above.

We started brainstorming reasons God might have had for putting the sabbath in the law he gave Moses. One reason we came up with is the standard reason you'll hear in churches: It's to remind us that we can't supply all our own needs, no matter how hard we work, and so we need to have faith to take one day off in seven. The second chief reason we thought of us is that it builds family.

Think about it. If you have one day in seven where you, your spouse and your children are all together, it gives you time to focus on what's really important in life. We might still do stuff around the house, or run a few errands, but we're doing them together and in each other's company. We keep the computer off all day, and we don't make long-distance calls to family members, because it's our sabbath. We know it's *our* day as a family.

We've been loving it. In fact, I've noticed that we're getting frustrated with each other a lot less.
So even though I don't think a sabbath is required, I do think people who choose not to observe one, or even to split it across two days as many of us in America do, are missing something. (Incidentally, we use Saturday to get a lot of solitary stuff done around the house. That's when I do my work on the garden and the yard, for example.)


I never did care for the term "saved." It seems like just another way of determining who is "really" a Christian and who is not -- like there's any way for us to really tell that -- and it sounds silly anyway. Where do people get "saved?" What sort of APR does the bank offer? Is there a penalty for early withdrawal? Puh-lease.

Saturday, December 08, 2001

superman qua reporter

I've often wondered what sort of story DC Comics could get if it focused just on mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent.

The normal course of events is that when there is trouble Clark changes immediately into his Superman outfit and rushes off to save the day. But imagine if Clark didn't do this for some reason. In this world he is just a reporter. It has never occurred to him to wear his underpants on the outside or to draw attention to himself. He just goes about fighting crime and corruption as the world's mightiest journalist.

Think of the story leads he'd get, for starters. He'd still have uncannily good eyesight, though it would never occur to him that he could set things on fire by staring at them, and he would be able to hear things no one else could. Maybe he'd put it down to hunches or intuition, but he'd get the goods on every corrupt business or political deal that he set his mind to cracking.

Imagine him doing a piece on organized crime, and the power bosses ordering a hit on him. He'd be absolutely fearless.

They actually did something like this in "Elseworld's Finest," an Elseworlds comic featuring a Depression-era Kent and a penniless Bruce Wayne as they raced Lex Luthor for the Argo Codex, but they abandoned that conceit fairly quickly for the traditional outlandish superhero morality tale. I'm talking about something where he's just a reporter, and that's the whole point of it.

I also recall an issue of Action Comics set on Earth-2 where Clark forgot he had the Superman identity because of some sort of ensorcelment. In that story he married Lois and became a crusading reporter, but I don't recall much of that either.

Come on, DC: "The Adventures of Clark Kent." How about it?

Copyright © 2001 by David Learn. Used with permission.

Wednesday, December 05, 2001

forbidden fruit

I think any Christian who's given the matter some thought has raised some serious questions about the Fall of Man and the forbidden fruit in Eden. Certainly many non-Christians have. After all, if the idea is that Adam shouldn't eat from the tree, why put it in the Garden of Eden, and not a mountaintop on Mars? Putting it right in the heart of the garden is rather like setting up a sign with flashing neon lights that scream, "Getcher forbidden fruit! Right here, today only!"

Part of the problem lies in our use of the term "perfect." Adam was not perfect before the Fall, nor do I believe Jesus was perfect when he was on earth, nor do I believe we will be perfect in the new earth. I believe Adam was sinless (until the Fall), as was Jesus, and as we will be one day ourselves, but being sinless does not mean being perfect.

Being sinless doesn't mean you understand everything. Jesus was sinless his entire life, but the Bible says he grew in wisdom as he aged; in other words, he probably had some of the same questions that everyone else has a teenager, and I imagine some questions plagued him up until the day he was crucified. And from my limited understanding of things, each of us will have different areas of understanding and ways of understanding God even in the next life, which is part of why we need more than ourselves to fully appreciate him.

As to why Adam sinned -- and note that Paul blames Adam and not Eve for the Fall and for the entry of sin and death into the natural order -- I haven't any idea what moved him. John Milton suggests in "Paradise Lost" that Adam believed Eve to be lost since she had been deceived, and couldn't bear the thought of losing her, so he ate the fruit in defiance of God's command.

Another possibility is that he saw that Eve didn't die when she ate the fruit, even though God had said they would die as soon as they are it, and so he figured God was an idiot. There might have been other factors too, conversations or words exchanged that are not reported in the Bible. And of course, all this assumes that the story in Genesis is meant to be taken literally.

Interesting note: the command not to eat from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil appears to have been given after Adam's creation but before Eve's, if you assume a chronological order to the events in the second creation story.

If that interpretation is correct, it was Adam's job to instruct Eve about the rules of the Garden, and he apparently failed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2001


It's curious, but there is no philological connection between javelin and javelina, despite the spellings. Javelin comes from the Celtic javelot, or the Old Irish gabul, forked stick. Javelina comes from the Spanish jabalina, or "wild pig."

I suppose it makes sense, though. Who's going to want to throw a wild pig for a sporting event?

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

My rotten teenhood

A lot of people talk about how much better it was when they were kids, but I love being being an adult. I hated my teenage years.

The start of middle school marked the beginning of the worst were the worst six years of my life, ending with college. The only good year in there was 1987, when I was an AFS exchange student in New Zealand. It wasn't until college and afterward, especially when I met my wife, that I really started to feel comfortable with the way things were.

Do people have fond memories of school? I love to learn, but too much of school was spent trying to survive and avoid being noticed by my peers. As early as third grade, when I was 9 years old, I have clear memories of being tormented and bullied by children who were faster, bigger and more athletic than I was. It didn't help socially that I was labeled "gifted" or that the majority of my teachers were content to let us work out our own problems even when that meant ostracism, ridicule and even violence.

That got especially brutal in fifth grade, when the district moved me to an elementary school where I literally had no friends, and it never really let up until I became an AFS student in 11th grade and got a clean slate at a different school in a different country.

Is adulthood supposed to be rough because people get bored? Believe me, there's a difference between an adult who is bored because there's nothing going on that evening and a teenager who's bored because there is no one to call, no one to visit, and no activities where you would feel welcome, and summer vacation is just beginning.

Maybe it's an attitude problem on my part, but even as a teen, I enjoyed feeling that my input was valued, particularly in matters that concerned me. I especially was driven crazy by rules and instructions that made absolutely no sense about what clothes I should wear for church; insinuations that I was somehow putting on airs for speaking in an accent and in terminology I had used for 12 months while living Down Under; and being lectured incessantly when my opinions differed from my parents'.

My teenage years could have been a lot more fun. I could have told the cafeteria ladies that I was being bullied into silence by one of the students I was required to sit next to, instead of suffering in silence. I could have told people off who looked down on me, or just been confident enough in my own uniqueness or specialness not to care what they thought.

My teachers could have been a little more attentive or given me a little more praise when I did things well; the apathetic and unfair teachers could have been denied tenure. My parents could have tried other tactics besides telling me to ignore it, or done more to help me develop social skills, or even moved me into situations where my skills and interests would have been assets instead of liabilities.

Hard to say, it's been 12 years since I've been a teenager.

The trick ultimately for all of us, teens, old farts, or other, is to be content with what we are when we are. I've been saying since sometime in college that "now" is the best time of my life, and I fully believe it. In college, I was in my element and flourishing for the first time in years. There were still jerks, but there were people who accepted me for who I was and even people who encouraged me at what I did because they thought I was good at it.

Now that I'm 31, I couldn't be happier. I'm married to the most wonderful woman in the world, and I have the world's greatest daughter. I get to make money by writing for a living, and I get to indulge other hobbies, like organic gardening.

When I turn 40, I imagine I'll feel much the same way I do now -- that it's the best age to be -- and I'll continue to feel that way for as long as I live. If I could have felt that way when I was a teen, I would have enjoyed that age despite the jerks, and now that I'm a father, I'm going to do what I can to let my daughter experience the fun of being a teen that I missed.

I think I had a point, but I can't remember what it is.

witness to the nations

When Christ said, "You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth," he was speaking to a group of men who were from Galilee, not from Jerusalem.

While the United States is indeed post-Christian and our peoples do need to respond to the gospel, a nation like Afghanistan, where sharing the gospel has been a capital offense for at least five years, has a much smaller Christian presence than Western nations like the United States and Australia.

"Operation World" claims the Christian population in Afghanistan is .01 percent, or about 2,314 in a nation of 23,141,000. That might have changed a little in the half-dozen years since my edition of "Operation World" was published, but it indicates a nation in much greater need for missionaries than our own.

Tuesday, November 20, 2001

honest questions

I have nothing sets people up better than the innocent curiosity of children.

My wife is breastfeeding our first child. One day while we were at a friend's house, my wife was nursing the baby when our friend's 5-year-old son, Dré, came over and watched her in utter fascination.

Filled with curiosity, he asked my wife about nursing. "Where do you get milk for the baby? Do you just drink a lot of milk and it all gathers there?"

When my wife was about seven months pregnant, we were visiting some friends' house for a Bible study. After the study was over, our friends' 4-year-old daughter came over, and as children are wont to do, she petted my wife's stomach and talked to the baby inside.

Rose's father is a little portly, and so was caught a little off-guardwhen Rose lifted up his shirt and asked, "Do you have a baby in there, Daddy?"

Monday, November 19, 2001

sorcerer's stone

Well, I've seen the new "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" movie, but I'm still sorting my feelings on it. The special effects were superb, the casting was excellent, and it was faithful to J.K. Rowling's story. The problem, of course, is that you have to judge the movie on its own merits and not as a version of the book -- a task that necessarily is complicated if you've read the book and are familiar with it.

I was disappointed that some of the best lines of the book were absent -- not surprised, given the length of the movie, but disappointed.

The adults did a good job acting, overall; the kids were leagues better than Jake Lloyd ("The Phantom Menace"), but still lacked polish.

Cleese's role was disappointinly brief -- he probably had no more than a minute of walk-on time. Not surprising, since Nearly Headless Nick has such a small part in the book, but it still seemed like a shame given that this was John Cleese.

The thing that I felt was most lacking was that it seemed like the kids were moving along too quickly. They suspected Snape of treachery without any clear reason to suspect him of duplicity. They picked up ideas about the Sorcerer's Stone seemingly from thin air, and generally seemed to hurry through the plot.

I was actually quite happy with the cuts they made at the beginning. In a book, it works well to meet the Dursleys first on the day of Voldemort's defeat, and then work our way toward discovering Harry, but it was highly cuttable material, and I'm not sure how well they could have translated it to a visual medium anyway.

I did love the addition of getting Dudley stuck behind the plate glass in the snake display. That was brilliant.

And I was very disappointed that they chose to have Hagrid get Norbert's egg from an Irishman. I can't think of a single good reason to eliminate the "Greek chappie." If there were a triple-headed hound at the gates to Annwn, I could perhaps overlook the trangression, but there's no such critter in any Gaelic myths I've read.

I probably won't see the movie again until it comes out on video next year -- but after a lot of rumination, I think I would have made the following changes:

  1. I would not have had Snape wish Harry luck at the quidditch match. Hopelessly out of character.
  2. I would have extended the scene in Potions class where Snape belittles Harry to the point that Harry suggests Snape call on Hermione, and Snape takes off five points from Gryffindor for "cheek."
  3. Harry, Ron and Hermione should have seen Snape running toward the door where Fluffy is kept.
With those things in place, there would have been a logical reason for the students to dislike Snape and suspect him of trying to steal the Sorcerer's Stone, and there would have been evidence of discord among Harry, Ron and Hermione over her being a know-it-all.

The Norbert stuff needed a little more work. He too obviously was a plot contrivance in the movie, to get everyone detention and then to find a way past Fluffy -- a way they didn't even need, incidentally, since an enchanted harp was left behind -- while in the book Norbert provided a good example of Hagrid's love of monsters. He probably could have been cut entirely to make the movie work more smoothly.

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

war in afghanistan

The Taliban are still around, they just don't control Kabul anymore. The Northern Alliance took it early Tuesday morning.

We need to pray for the needs of these people, not just for a stable political government, or a sound economy, or other such things. We need to pray for their spiritual liberation and for a true religious revival in Afghanistan. (And in our own nation, for that matter.)

We also need to avoid assuming that if al Qaeda falls, then our troubles from terrorists are over. There are many terrorist groups out there, al Qaeda being the one on everyone's mind right now because of Sept. 11.

Thursday, November 08, 2001


I have a tremendous problem with the megachurch movement. I'm aware that putting the resources of that many people into one assembly creates tremendous potential, but it REALLY pisses me off to see churches that big. God will judge me.

One of my wife's best friends was married in a church out in Tucson, Ariz., that could fit my entire block on its campus three or four times and still have room left over. It had a coffee house, a bookstore, high ceilings and probably an accredited Christian school and daycare on the premises. I kept thinking of the kids I knew in Haiti who had diminished eyesight from malnutrition, and of the teenage prostitues I met while I was down there. And I kept thinking of the poor in their own city and wondering why I didn't see a sign that said "Soup kitchen" or "Homeless Shelter."

Not their ministry, I guess.

The personal kicker was that because we had a child with us, we were told we had to sit in a separate, sound-proofed room so no one would be disturbed if she cried. That has to be the lamest excuse I've ever heard to tell someone they're not welcome in your church. ("Well, we're concerned if she cries it'll interfere with our seamless arrangement of the service.") And of course the pastor complained twice about cell phones ringing during the service.

I don't know. Megachurches CAN do some good things. Willow Creek's dramas usually are better than 90 percent of the stuff that passes for drama in the church today, and they do make an effort to make sure that everyone involved in their church is plugged into a Bible study and a small group of people.

But I think megachurches also become excellent places to hide from Christ and from accountability and they're symptomatic of the American idea that bigger is better and that money/material resources can solve all our problems. It's not just in America were that happens; the largest church in the world is an Assembly of God church pastored by Paul Yonggi Cho in Korea. But the phenomenon is very prevalent in America and, I believe, originates here. We have an incredible love for bigger and bigger things.

Most be those Texans.

Which is better, an effort at a high level that is diluted across a wide area by the time it trickles down to the grass roots, or a tight, focused effort in a small area with a smaller group of people?

I think I know which model Christ used. While people came in huge crowds to see Jesus, my impression has been that he did the bulk of his ministry and teaching in smaller groups, either with the Apostles or with whoever was giving them dinner that night.

It wasn't as though he held regular large meetings for people to come to in the same place all the time.


I had a friend in college who learned Esperanto because she loves languages, but  my chief exposure comes from the "Red Dwarf" novels by Grant Naylor.

In those books, which are adapted from the BBC show, Esperanto is the universal auxiliary language of diplomacy of the future. From what I have read, that is one of the original end goals for the language. Its creator and early adopters had dreams that it would become the global lingua franca, making international communication a cinch and putting everyone on equal footing since no one would have the hometown advantag.

I had been under the impression the language was created in this century and never really caught on, but some estimates claim as many as 2 million Esperanto speakers globally.

That's not as much as a "natural" language, but it's nothing to sneeze at either. Esperanto is the most successful constructed language ever made. It is at least enough to make someone with a passing interest in linguistics waste a little time reading about it.

Judging by the web sites, at least some Esperantists still share that goal of a universal auxlang. They note that English has a global penetration rate of only 8 percent; i.e., that the population of native English speakers is limited largly to Great Britain and the United States, and a few other former or current territories and colonies of those two great powers, such as Australia and New Zealand.

Now criticism of English as a global language has some legitimacy. English is irretrievably connected to hundreds of years of Colonialism via Britan and the United States, and as our sun sets, it's likely the influence of English also will wane.

Other linguas franca historically have diminished when the power behind them disappears as well. Witness French, for instance. Once the language of international diplomacy and culture, it still has some added sway because of France's prominence in European and global history, but it's been bumped from its pre-eminent seat as the language to learn.

But the Esperanto criticism of English is exaggerated, and also rests on a faulty or inconsistent definition of what constitutes a speaker of the language. While they claim that only 8 percent of the world speaks English, these sites keep claiming that there are 2 million Esperanto speakers globally.

That's impressive, considering it has no homeland to speak of, but that figure surely includes speakers beyond the estimated 4,000 or so for whom Esperanto is their mother tongue. With that same definition in place, English has a much higher than 8 percent penetration rate globally. There are English speakers in almost every country on earth.

They may be confined to the wealthy and the powerful in some countries, but they're there. And in the countries of Europe, and many other places as well, English proficiency is part and parcel of getting a basic education.

English today is like Greek and Latin were in the days of the Roman Empire. While it's not universally spoken or taught in other countris, it is the de facto "second language" of the world and generates the bulk of new words in most major lanaguages.

Like Greek and Latin, English itself is fragmenting as it spreads and produces hybrid languages in different parts of the world. Singaporean English, or "Singlish" uses a hefty amount of English vocabulary, but follows Singaporean grammar. Similar things have happened in Russia with "Russlish" and in Mexico with "Spanglish." In the long run, international English may have less to do with the Queen's English than with its children.

Long and short of it? English is deeply entrenched into the affairs of the world. Expect it to last long after the United States recedes from the world stage.

Copyright © 2001 by David Learn. Used with permission.


You know, I have a college degree but the only time I had to use the metric system was for my science electives. It had no practical application to my degree in English literature, nor to my minor in religion.

That being said, I don't see the point in clinging to a system that everyone else in the world has stopped using. All that's holding us back is inertia, and the only time scientists use English measurements is when they work for Lockheed Martin and NASA hires them to land something on Mars.

There was a big push when I was in elementary school to get everyone to learn metric because we were going to switch over by 1980 -- there were even Schoolhouse Rock songs about the metric system -- but we still haven't made the switch. My mind boggles.

I learned to "think metric" when I was an AFS student Down Under back in 1987, and still do, to an extent, as seen in my Delphi profile.

Back in 1994, when I was teaching at a Christian school in Bethlehem, Pa., one of my students became horribly offended that I would think the English system is outdated, cumbersome and best dropped. She called my attitude "unpatriotic." Of course, that was the year I committed any number of heresies, including saying that the teenage Jesus probably had zits ...

out-of-control elmo

It's his agent and the soulless forces of marketing that have made Elmo so popular. Big Bird used to be the star of the show, but at some point Elmo took that spot.

It could be partly because the other actors have been doing the Muppet voices for so long they'd prefer to use more of their time elsewhere. Frank Oz, for example, had nearly as much to do with creating the Muppets as Jim Henson did, but he's been doing more directing lately.

On top of that, Elmo shows up on everything. All the specialty "Sesame Street" videotapes I've seen have had Elmo as the main character: ABCs, counting (what, is the Count not good for that anymore?), cooking, tapes of popular children's songs, and guides to the development of warfare in the 20th century. Evangeline has a series of Sesame Street books, and Elmo is the main character of the entire series. She's been given two Sesame Street toys -- a "radio" and a toy steering wheel assembly -- and Elmo is prominently featured on both of those. My nephew has a toy guitar with Elmo on it. Press the button and it sings, "Jam with Elmo!"

All that bombardment makes Elmo more immediately recognizable to little children, with the result that even if he isn't their favorite character, he soon will be.

Wednesday, November 07, 2001


Once you have children, you will be obliged to get every videotape you can, and as fast as they come out, just to maintain your sanity. I do not say this because it is necessary to placate your children's insatiable demand for more, more, more, but in order to satisfy your need for variety.

silly song countdown

We just bought the "Ultimate Silly Song Countdown" today. It was good -- naturally, since it's all silly songs -- but I was disappointed by the choice for the No. 1 silly song. It was funny enough the first time I saw it, but I think they did funnier silly songs before and after the one that was ranked No. 1.

I'd demand a recount, but that joke worked better last year.

Tuesday, November 06, 2001


I believe Severus Snape, the potions instructor in the Harry Potter books, is a vampire.

First there's the way he's usually described, with a hooked nose, greasy hair, pale skin, and an evil demeanor, all vaguely vampiric. Add to that the fact that he works in a dungeon. But there is more.

First, the only times we've seen him outside (that I can recall) were at night: when he discovers Ron and Harry outside the Great Hall after Ron crashes his father's car; when he is chasing Harry, Ron, Hermione, Sirius, Lupin and Wormtail under the Whomping Willow to the Shrieking Shack; when he and Karkaroff are discussing the likely return of You Know Who; and presumably at the third contest in "The Goblet of Fire."

Second, lore has it that werewolves and vampires hate each other. While Lupin and Snape aren't constantly trying to kill each other, there is a fair amount of antagonism between them: Witness Snape's efforts to out Lupin with his assignment and the great danger he was in when Sirius tricked him into heading to the Shrieking Shack back when they were students. (Dangerous as it would have been for a human to meet a werewolf, a vampire and a werewolf would really have fought -- ahem! -- tooth and nail and probably to the death.)

Third, Rowling often uses bat imagery in connection with Snape: His cloak billows behind him like bat's wings; at one point in "Goblet of Fire" Harry asks if Snape could have got down to Barty Crouch and offed him while Dumbledore and he ran down. "Not likely," someone (Ron?) says, "unless he can turn into a bat." If memory serves, there also is a scene in "Azkaban" where Lupin makes a dig about vampires, and then says, "Oh, sorry, Severus."

Fourth, Snape is always showing up out of nowhere, an entrance characteristic of the night people.

Whether Snape is a vampire, of course, is a matter of conjecture at this point, since Rowling hasn't said definitively. It's also possible he is a damphir, a creature that is half-human, half-vampire.

santa stand-ins

When I was little, we were too poor for Santa Claus to come to our house. We didn't get Father Christmas either -- we had to settle for his grandson.

It was curious, but I discovered in Haiti that in Port-au-Prince, where the boujwa live, that they have Papa Noel, or Father Christmas. Out in the provinces, he's Tonton Noel, or "Uncle Christmas."

Of course, when I was there, during the embargo -- don't ever tell me that an embargo is more humane than a war, I've seen what they do -- the big phrase was "Tonton Noel pap vin paske annbago" (Santa's not coming because of the embargo).

pet names

I only named one fish that we had. It was called "Old Fart" because it wouldn't die even though we really wanted it to, since we had decided we'd rather use the aquarium for a turtle.

Naturally, when it did die, my younger brother Ward and I celebrated, and our mother was so incensed we weren't allowed to get anything for the tank for a year.

My current dog's name is Sandy, but that's because we got her used from the pound (rescued her from the needle), and her previous owner had been calling her Sandy for over nine years. The dogs I've named all have had literary value to their names: Ajax and Hamlet. I was going to name my next dog Strider for a sire or Circe for a dam, but like I said, she came fully equipped ...

Monday, November 05, 2001

stupid superbowl

Ever heard of bread and circuses?

Watching the Superbowl holds about as much interest for me as being lobotomized. I've noticed a marked similarity in the results, anyway, with the attention a number of my friends give to the game. I just don't get it. Bloody Americans take three hours to play a game that actually runs for only 60 minutes. Give me rugby any day.

I should add that my wife and I plan to hold an anti-Superbowl party this January for the benefit of people who haven't fallen prey to the game fever.

so poor

Our whole town was so poor that when no one paid the water company, they turned off our rain.

The local Mafia couldn't afford a Godfather; instead, it was run by an Uncle.

When we went swimming, we couldn't use a pool -- we had to use the neighbor's septic tank.

The schools had to rent their space to the local bars after classes were out so they could meet their operations budget.

We couldn't afford to watch TV. We just stared at the pictures we had hung on the walls instead.

No one in town had telephones either. We would just lean our heads out the window and shout our messages. The neighbor would hear them, and pass them along. It took five hours once to get directions to the corner store.

We couldn't afford canned laughter, either. We were so poor, the only way we could get laughter was to sneak around at night and steal it from people's yards or from fields where it was growing wild. And I have to say, to this date, I still enjoy wild laughter in moderate amounts. Too much of it can get really annoying, but I find that a helping of wild laughter once in a while keeps me on an even keel.

My family growing up was so poor that I had to take the neighbor's trash can lids to practice the cymbals for the school band.

My family today is so poor that Evangeline's toy drum has a picture of a Quaker on the front.

We're so poor that we don't have a computer. Instead, whenever we want to go online, we have to call the ISP manually and screech into the phone.

We would have considered sunshine to be sheerest luxury. For light, we had to scrape phosphorescent algae off decaying logs and old rocks and gather them in a pile to pretend we had sun, and even then we only got to enjoy for a minutes in the afternoon (the afternoon of July 23, to be specific) before government representatives would come to remove it as part of the sun tax.

(Missionaries love to play a variation on this game, called "My Support Stinks This Month." I was going to downtown Port-au-Prince one day with some other teachers from the school where I taught English to work on our driver's licenses, when a few of them started the game going. I listened for a few minutes, then tossed in, "My support was so low this past month that I had to send my supporters money." Game ended. I won.)

Saturday, November 03, 2001

veggie tales

We actually had the bulk of our Veggie Tales tapes before we had Evangeline. In fact, I owned a couple before I had a TV or VCR.

We have every tape except the most recent one, the Silly Songs countdown. Every day my daughter says, "Wats Ducky?" or "Wats Bob?" When we're in the kitchen, she'll point to the CD player and say "Bob?" Heaven forfend that we say no.

With a few exceptions, the VeggieTales tapes are excellent. (It took them until their third tape before they really caught their stride, and a couple others since then also were mediocre.) Like the classic Looney Tunes and various more recent cartoons, they rely on wit rather than the potty humor of Rug Rats or the banal talk-down-to-kids mentality of Barney, the Teletubbies and a few others.

I thought "Fib from Outer Space" was one of their finest episodes, honestly. Everything built steadily toward the climax, the humor was as witty as it's ever been, and everything just plain fit. Junior's lies were a small thing, but steadily and subtly grew until suddenly it owned him -- and, appropriately, no one else could do anything to stop the monster. Only Junior could, by telling the truth and freeing himself from what he had got himself into.

"Rumor Weed," though, was too much like a first draft. It came as the second of two really weak episodes that were less indicative of the story quality I associate with Big Idea and more of what I would expect from most Christian videos. I was glad when they got things back on track with "King George and the Ducky": more original, more clever, funnier, subtler, and none of the obvious jokes or morals we had been seeing.

I thought "God wants me to Forgive THEM?" relied on too many of the stock, expected jokes about forgiveness, and should have had a silly song instead of the "forgive-o-matic" commercial. The spoof of Gilligan's Island was inspired, though.

"Where's God When I'm S-Scared?" failed at storytelling in the Frankencelery portion, I thought; too much of Bob talking about God, although my wife and I were singing "God is Bigger than the Bogeyman" long before we were married, let alone had a daughter. Similarly, I thought the "Oh no, What We Gonna Do?" song is unforgettable, but the Daniel story as they presented it was too Sunday school-ish.

The other episiode that doesn't even get considered for favorite video include "Silly Sing-along 2: The End of Silliness?"

But a favorite? "Lyle" is still amusing, and I really enjoyed "Madame Blueberry." And like I said, "Fib" is excellent. "Esther" is topnotch too.

Maybe Esther.

Friday, November 02, 2001

Just as it's wrong to say the terrorist attacks we saw on Sept. 11 and since have their roots in Islam, it's too simplistic to blame it just on those who orchestrate terror. What happened Sept. 11 was not just a terrorist attack -- it was an event that has its roots and many ramifications in the spiritual world.

It's right to pray for justice, to pray that God thwarts the terrorists at every step of the way, and to pray for repentance on the part of Osama bin Laden et al, but it's also important for us to pray for revival in the Mideast, to pray for Palestinian Christians, Israeli Christians, and other Christians in Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Jordan and Afghanistan.

My other point also remains: We need to examine ourselves as a society and as a church. What do we need to repent of? It's possible God IS calling us to account for our sins as a nation, in which case we need to get right with him.

naming the enemy

Muslims are not our enemy. But I think we owe it to ourselves and to them to ask who or what our enemy really is in this situation. (And I don't mean a glib answer like "Satan is our enemy!" While that is true, it doesn't tell us much.)

Is the enemy just Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda terrorist network, and other organizations allegedly involved in the Sept. 11 and subsequent terrorist attacks?

Is the enemy fundamentalism? If so, does that apply to other "flavors" of fundamentalism?
Is the enemy extremism in general?

What is the spiritual component to what we have been seeing before and after the attacks? What should we be praying for?

Some people are saying that we brought the attacks on ourselves because of our politcal or economic policies, in backing Israel despite its troubled relationship with the Palestinians that has led to a yearlong intifadah, and in propping up corrupt foreign governments because of their benefits to us in terms of trade or political leverage, even in the face of horrendous human rights. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell went as far as blaming homosexuals and abortionists. What should we as a church be repenting of?

I don't know about anyone else, but I find it troubling to hear people wishing Osama bin Laden the most exquisite deaths imaginable and gloating over the probable soteriological sceniarios now being played out by the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks. My wife and I pray daily for the people in Afghanistan and for the Taliban, for their repentance and for revival in that nation.

Thursday, November 01, 2001

the sin of cain

Was Cain guilty of murder?

It's not as silly a question as it first appears. Remember that Abel's death is the first human death recorded in the Bible. It's conceivable that when Cain struck his brother he had no idea of what was about to happen.

wild about harry

I just bought a second copy of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" to give to another family at our church with three preteens.

See, at our church's "Harvest Festival" -- which I insist on referring to as a Halloween party, since I doubt more than a half-dozen of us in the church harvested anything, and certainly not enough for it to be worth throwing a festival over -- I went dressed as Severus Snape, Harry's potions professor.

This got me into a conversation with a couple of the children who have read and loved Harry Potter, and I noticed that one of the aforementioned preteens was listening to the conversation with that sad look of someone who wants to be a part of something but doesn't know what he needs to, to make that change.

So, being the left head of a three-headed beast that I am, I bought a copy of the book for his parents to read so they would approve it for their children as well.

Thus do I continue my campaign of deception.

10 things i hate about elmo

I was reminded Wednesday why I hate Elmo so much. My daughter turned 2 on Oct. 30, and for her birthday, a friend of ours bought her an Elmo music tape that features popular children's songs like "This Old Man" and "The Wheels of the Bus."

The idea is nice, but Elmo makes one awful host, and the actual performances are so unbelievably subpar for Sesame Street that I'm amazed Children's Television Workshop put that name on it. There was no innovation to speak of on most of the songs, the arrangements were way too simple and it contains what I imagine are supposed to be cute little segments of real children trying to sing the songs.

Evangeline was mesmerized by the video, but I think the producers forgot that Sesame Street's greatest strength is that it entertains children without talking down to them, so adults can enjoy it too.

We have the 25th Anniversary Musical Celebration videotape, and I actually don't mind watching that one with Evangeline or hearing it while I'm working in another room. Now I have to figure out how to specify to people that we'd prefer tapes like that one and not these cheesy "Elmo Presents" tapes.

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

brothers grinn

Neither David nor I write humor for its own sake, at least not for a long time. We get tired of the jokes and witticisms, and can't help wondering if they're really that funny anyway.

What we do enjoy is communicating Truth and truths through what we write, humor that bites or makes a point. To do that, we need writing that is good, original, and thoughtful. And in order to get Truth consistently, we believe a thoughtful, Christ-centered writer is necessary. On top of that, the whole process can take three hours a mailing, depending on its length and subject matter, and it pays zilch. Zippo. Nada. See the trouble in getting people to help us?

We're pursuing a couple agencies to help us publish a collection of Chicken Soup for the Soulless that uses several of our recurring characters, some unpublished material, and a recurring motif to tell a story that stretches across more than 100 years, but that's a process that could take a while. When that's done, we want to turn our efforts toward our more serious fantasy writing and have no idea, quite frankly, how the list will change. Right now it's pure dissemination of our material; Smirkov wants to turn into more of a promotional tool, to draw attention to our other writing and products.

Beyond that, GOK what's in store. I've been toying with the idea of a Brothers Grinn Bible, and there are other useful applications of humor, to teach history, organic gardening techniques and who knows what else. Anything really big would require some money in our company to hire writers such as yourself and editors to oversee the quality of the work to make sure it's consistent what we want.

David has done the bulk of the illustration as he is much better at it than I. He did commission a few pieces out of pocket for our Civil War 2000 section and for Smiley's Last Resort, both of which were done by Earl Oxford, whose name is just about all I know of the guy.

His feeling is that his strength lies more in writing than in illustration, and it's also where his passion lies. He does a pretty good job, I think, and I've done my best to encourage him with the drawing, but I can't tell him what he should do with his time.

Saturday, October 27, 2001

a definition

For your approval:

surreal: (sur-reel, adj.) 1. William Shatner singing "Mr. Tamborine Man." 2. Sebastian Cabot giving dramatic poetry readings of songs like "Like a Rolling Stone" or "It Ain't Me, Babe."

Such unusual talents notwithstanding, I am enjoying "Golden Throats," a Dr. Demento CD that my oldest brother has given me. The CD contains more than a dozen classic songs made more entertaining than ever by celebrities working under the misapprehension that they can sing.

Thursday, October 25, 2001

comic strips

There aren't that many strips I really enjoy anymore. "Doonesbury" never recovered from Trudeau's 18-month hiatus and so many other strips languish under limited-joke syndrome, like Garfield's fixation on lasagna, Mondays and what a loser Jon is.

Great strips I've read in my life include "Bloom County," "Calvin & Hobbes" and "The Far Side." I don't really care for "Boondocks" because it seems to me more anger than humor, and "Mutts," while reminiscent in some ways of older comics like "Krazy Kat," just ain't funny enough. James Thurber's doodles, of course, were immensely funny, and still are, but that wasn't properly speaking a comic strip.

Of the cartoons I'm familiar with, I'd have to say the classic "Merry Melodies"/"Looney Tunes" retain their top ranking. True, they're old, but I think they've aged well. The slapstick antics of Daffy and Bugs are just as funny now as they were 40 years ago. Attempts to create new Bugs cartoons in the 1980s failed miserably in my mind; you just can't duplicate Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng. Classic Warner Bros. cartoons are among the best ever made. My wife and I even bought two of the tapes for our daughter to watch.

Incidentally, that itself is a hoot. Every time the Coyote hits the canyone floor after falling off the cliff, Evangeline says "Uh-oh." Her sympathies are on the wrong side, but she definitely understands what's going on.


I think it would kind of fun to write articles for Watchtower.

Just think about it. You could be about halfway into a story about the significance of 1914 or some other major Jehovah's Witnesses doctrine, and then just stop and say, "I'm sorry. I just can't espouse this any more. I mean, let's look at some of the many weaknesses to our doctrines on the Deity and on Christ..."

The end result would be the same -- you wouldn't be writing for "Watchtower" -- but can you imagine the hoopla if it turned out the editor didn't even look at your story before running it?

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

harry potter movie

My wife and I just made plans to see the new Harry Potter flick on Nov. 17 with a couple friends of ours from church.

I can feel the flames of hell licking at the soles of my feet already. Ah....

In the meantime, I highly recommend the four books in the series, provided you can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. The books are nothing short of incredible. J.K. Rowling has my deep and abiding professional jealousy for her success.

Thursday, October 18, 2001

terror and islam

It's our inclination in the West to equate terrorism with Islam -- I don't know why that is, and I have to keep reminding myself that most of the stuff I've learned about Islam in church is about as accurate as, well, most of the American history I've heard in church.

But Islam is not a religion of terror, nor does extreme Islam have a monopoly on terrorists. Consider the lengthy history of fighting and riots between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

Then there's the Christian terrorists here in America. The most obvious example is the Ku Klux Klan, but there are extremists in the pro-life movement who see nothing wrong with killing abortionists and bombing clinics. As with the asterisks who have been sending anthrax to public figures the past week, these asterisks are doing it for the glory of God and believe that they will be rewarded in heaven for what they have done. I've even heard a few of them called martyrs.

Extreme devotion to Christ is an excellent thing, but one would think they would follow Christ's methods if they're going to call themselves his followers. Can't think of anyone he killed.

As to the other point, it's true the Quran has some harsh penalties: theieves' hands are cut off, liars' tongues are removed. Of course, the Bible also prescribes pretty harsh penalties: disrespect your parents, get stoned to death; commit adultery, get stoned to death; perform a homosexual act, get stoned to death; build a house that collapses and kills its owner's son, your own son is put to death; eye for eye, tooth for tooth, blow for blow, and burn for burn.

Of course, we explain that that's not what God REALLY wants from us. God forbid we allow Muslims the same luxury with the Quran.

funny commercials

The commercials I always find somewhat annoying are those that feature two people talking about a deeply personal problem -- incontinence, a weak bladder or impotence -- and one of them pulls out the product and starts talking about it. Worse, they're usually in a highly visible setting: a restaurant, a party, or something similar.

A few ad reps have handled it with class by poking fun at the ad convention; i.e., the wife begins talking about how her husband handled his incontinence with Wonder Brand Medicine, and he responds how you would expect in such a situation, "Geez, do you always have to embarass me with these stories?" or other people nearby start looking very uncomfortable and leave suddenly.

Friday, October 12, 2001

kosher laws

Taken from a post at CHRefugee, where someone asked about Christians and the kosher laws. Reposted here just because I like the thinking that went into it.

Heck, if someone wants to keep the kosher laws, you're probably not going to be able to dissuade them. More power to 'em. Keeping kosher is actually a pretty healthy way to eat and to live, but for your own edification, and because you asked politely, here are a few verses that satisfy me on my freedom from the dietary laws -- actually on pretty much the whole shebang:
Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened, and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."

Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."

The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."
— Acts 10:9-15
While this is part of the passage dealing with God calling on Peter to take the gospel to the Gentiles, note that the vision specifically deals with food. In fact, it's only after Peter accepts that the dietary restrictions have been superceded that he's willing to visit the house of Cornelius.

The church council in Jerusalem also settled the issue of Gentiles following the Torah in its letter to the Gentile churches:
We have heard that some went out from us withotu our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear brothers Barnabas and Paul ... It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.
— Acts 15:23-20
Of course, that didn't satisfy the group Paul called the Judaizers, and in several epistles he was forced to address the issue himself. One of his more strident passages says:
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing -- if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law or because you believe what you heard?

Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the Law." Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because "The righteous will live by faith." The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
— Galatians 3:1-12
In other words, observance of the Torah — including dietary law — is not required of a believer; we are expected to live by faith and the Spirit, which frees us from being enslaved to doing "the right thing." Put another way: I push all the little old ladies in front of cars that I want, rob all the banks I want, and have all the adultery I want. Of course, when you are living by faith and the Spirit, none of those things should appeal to you very much.

Remember that the Torah and all its dietary restrictions came to the Jewish people at the time of Moses. There is no reason to believe that Abraham observed the kosher laws, although it is possible that some of those laws developed during the period of Israel’s enslavement to Egypt and later received divine sanction after the exodus. In any event, the Scriptures are quite clear that we can eat pork and shellfish — that we can even eat pork roll and cheese on a bagel — and have a solid relationship with God.

In another of his letters, Paul has the following to say specifically about food:

Therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious fetival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
— Colossians 2:16-17
As I said earlier, I doubt any of this will change your correspondents’ minds. Generally, when people have made their minds up that strongly, they don’t want to acknowledge the validity of other interpretations and will just get more recalcitrant if you push the issue. My advice is to let them think what they want, and if you’re concerned that they’re in danger of shipwrecking their faith or that of others, that you pray for them. In a truly extreme case, you might want to consider blocking them from the forum, though it doesn’t sound like it’s that bad at this point.

Wednesday, October 03, 2001

single adults

The single adult thing gets tricky. Back when I belonged to Ashton Assembly of God, one of the older church members felt a need to start a singles Sunday school class. I attended it a couple times and started calling it the "Poor me, I'm Single" class since it was little more than a support group.

True, I wanted to be involved with someone -- I was maybe 20 at the time, and wouldn't meet Natasha for another four or five years at that point, and wouldn't marry her for another three years on top of that -- but the entire focus of the "class" was abject self-pity and coping with our "single disability."

Being single means opportunities that married folks don't have. As a single man, I was involved with the children's ministry to the point of helping to write the curriculum for two years running in addition to a number of other church activities that took a lot of my time, and when I graduated from college, I was able to announce to one and all that I was going to the missions field.

Now that I'm married -- and especially now that I have a daughter -- I don't have the time to write an entire children's church curriculum and I can't just up and take off for a third world nation for a couple years even if I'm sure that's where God wants me. I have other duties as a husband and a father.

A single friend of mine who's 34 has the time to volunteer nearly every night at the soup kitchen. She'd like to be married and have kids, but since she's not, Debbee is using the time and energy she has to serve God in other ways.

Of course, then there's the other extreme. I had another friend who, post-college, joined a "young adults fellowship" in the next town that often was little more than a meat market for single Christian folks to check each other out.

Tuesday, October 02, 2001

billy graham

Someone explain to me why Billy Graham is held up as par examplar of American Christianity. You can disagree with Falwell, deflate Swaggart and poke fun at Pat Robertson, but if you criticize Billy Graham, an unearthly quiet falls over the room and everyone looks at you in disdain.

No one's allowed to disapprove of Billy Graham.

And to large extent, he's earned it. Billy Graham has served in ministry longer than most of the rest of us have been alive. He's been an adviser to presidents, he leads those massive crusades that are major events in their own right, and he's done all this with no missteps serious enough to be reckoned as a scandal. He's reserved his influence for the church, and he's been a guidepost for many of us. Back when Time was looking for the Person of the 20th Century, there was a big e-mail campaign to have him named.

And yet, for all his reputation, I don't think his influence has been all that great. Everyone's heard of Billy Graham, and has respect for him, but for all the numbers he draws to his crusades, I really have to wonder at the supposed conversion rates attributed to his ministry. From what I've seen, the people who attend his crusades either already are Christians or belong very much to the churched crowd.

In other words, as with most Christian ministry in the United States, he's preaching to the proper and upright people rather than the ones who aren't likely to hear it elsewhere. Compare that to the words of Christ, who said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick."

Billy Graham's ministry has followed a pattern set at least a century ago and that had held for a generation or two, but is no longer valid for much of the United States.

How many crack addicts and teen prostitutes are going to attend a big revival meeting?

on australia

I was an afs exchange student to New Zealand in 1987, the year the All Blacks came forth and conquered in the World Rugby Cup and the Australians only came fourth. The rivalry between the two nations was pretty palpable, but I never sensed it was anything more than a friendly rivalry.

No doubt the 50,000 or so New Zealand emigrants who take up permanent residence in Australia annually have weighed their options as living in a nation colonized by criminals, versus living in a nation where there exists a real and growing danger of a sheep revolution, and decided it was better with the criminals. The sheep after all outnumber the humans in New Zealand by about 80 to 1.

The reference to the criminal past of Australia refers, of course, to Australia's pedigree. It's well-known throughout the Commonwealth that Britain colonized Australia with hardened criminals -- people from debtors prisons; i.e., people who couldn't afford the excessive taxes being levied at the time. Given the choice of Australia or prison, many of them foolishly picked Australia.

And as everyone knows, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. I'll bet most Australians STILL don't like to pay taxes. We don't, here in America, as the folks in Boston certainly made clear with that little tea party they threw a couple hundred years ago.

Monday, October 01, 2001

touched by an angel

Is it just me, or does the name of the show suggest a possible sexual harassment lawsuit?

In all seriousness, from what I've been able to gather of the show, my impression is that it for the most part it's a trite and feel-good TV show that has captured the attention of CHristians just as "Highway to Heaven" did 20 years ago because of its use of familiar phrases and symbols like God, heaven and angels.

The show does actual angels -- and the faith -- a disservice by lowering them to our level and turning them into creatures whose sole purpose is to make a tidy little conclusion at the end of the episode every week. Angels in the Bible appear only rarely, and when they do, their appearance generally is terrifying rather than beautiful and serene.

When the angel appears to Samson's parents, they fall to the ground, terrified. David sees an angel of God with his sword raised across Jerusalem and he's struck with fear. When Gabriel appears to Daniel, everyone else runs away in a panic and Daniel himself would have, but he was too weak from praying and fasting for weeks on end. The Apostle John has the same reaction to the angels in his visions at Patmos.

That's not to say angels have to be terrifying. Mary accepted Gabriel's appearance with faith and didn't run away screaming, and the angels who met the disciples and the women at the tomb seemed fairly low-key -- but even so, these cases illustrate another point that shows a problem with "Touched by an Angel" and society's current level of angelmania: Angels don't want attention drawn to them.

In the case of Mary, she responds in faith to God's message; because Zechariah doubts God's promise -- not because he doubts an angel -- he's struck mute for nine months.

I suppose it wouldn't make for much of a TV show if everytime Monica or Sam or Rufus the Angelic German Shepherd showed up, people fell on their faces in fear or ran away screaming, but there you have it. It would be nice to see just one episode like that, although you'd probably need someone like Eric Idle or Michael Palin to write it.


A former Pentecostal, I've been very indoctrianted to believe in the notion of a pre-Trib Rapture followed by the seven years of Tribulation and the millennial reign of Christ. A few years ago, the thought of the third Temple being built would have heralded to me a sure sign of the End being upon us. I admit I do wonder.

But all that aside, I've found that as I've grown further along in my faith, I find myself less inclined to believe in the Rapture, though not in the Tribulation. The Wittenburg Door actually had a pretty interesting piece in its last issue about the origins of the doctrines of the Rapture, and interviewed a fellow who traces it to 19th-century Scotland in the midst of massive revival preaching, including sermons by a woman who claimed to have had a vision that Scoffield later legitimized in his study Bible. Interesting stuff.

Those who favor a post-Millennial return of Christ -- i.e., one where the church ushers in a thousand-year reign of peace -- have never made much sense to me from a biblical doctrine of man's sin and the space the Bible gives to a coming time of wrath. Historically, that movement can be traced to the late 19th century here in America and the sense of the Great Century and America's "manifest destiny."

Overall, I try not to worry about it too much. It's more important to focus on the people around us and what we can do to reach them with Christ's love, by volunteering at the food kitchen or giving a cup of water to someone who is thirsty.

Monday, August 20, 2001

the bible, reviewed

The Bible, ghost-written by God, is one of the most interesting books I ever have read. With the assistance of 35 to 40 other writers, God has produced in the Bible what may be the most sweeping and transcendental romance of Eastern literature.

The Bible wastes little time in introducing us to its main character -- God himself, giving the book an autobiographical twist unusual for this genre -- and establishing its essential conflict in the form of a love triangle among God, humanity and other deities, ideals and goods.

From that simple start begins a truly epic tale as God, moved to jealousy when humanity spurns him, is forced nearly to destroy the entire human race at one point before dividing the race into manageable groups and developing a particularly close relationship with the Jewish race through which he intends to reconcile the rest of humanity to himself.

After this relationship begins, the story follows generations of the Jewish people as they alternately honor and dishonor their contract with God. Through it all, although the book is laced with incredible and often graphic perjorative over his loved ones' idolatry, God upholds his side of the contract, and demonstrates the full depth of his love through a personal sacrifice that by the end of the book restores the relationship lost at the start of the book.

The Bible is a curious blend of history and poetry, of human stories and dry philosophy, legal codes and genealogies, prevarications against forms of behavior God deems sinful, and statements so radical and tremendous that they would be sure to transform any society that dared embrace them. (I particularly was impressed with the devotion God shows to the disenfranchised, spending the bulk of his time with people most of his followers wouldn't be caught dead with: prostitutes, the homeless, drunkards, and other unrespectable and immoral sorts.)

It is these thoughts and the strong human element to the divine story -- who can forget the story of Joseph and his brothers, or the courage of Queen Esther? -- that have made the Bible a bestseller and a cornerstone of literature. When God's writing is dry, it is hard to stay awake through it, but when he gets going, the stories will leave an indelible mark.