Tag Archives: Reading

Flannery O’Connor: Is She in Heaven?

Did you know that American short story writer  had a peacock farm when she was still alive?

This I did not know. Until I learned about it in a most peculiar way.

I’ll get to that in a minute.

The Middle-of-the-Summer Outdoor Music Festival

My first exposure to O’Connor, like many of you, was when I had to read her “The Geranium” and “Everything That Rises Must Converge” in high school.

Unfortunately nothing came of that first exposure until I went to a Christian outdoor music festival somewhere in Central Illinois.

My wife and I were in our late twenties and peculiarly out of touch with the world. Every one was at least half our age–and a little older.

Just a little.

These children were comfortable in the extreme heat put off by the constantly beating sun. They were comfortable showering once (give or take a day) during the three-day festival. They were comfortable sleeping in tents on an old pig farm.

They were not bothered by the thick methane gas seeping from the ground. The loud music that never stopped. Nor swimming in an old, muddy pond (where they presumably showered and peed).

At twenty-nine I felt old. And needed a little comfort. Which I found under a tent where there was a Flannery O’Connor reading going on.

O’Connor in the English Lit Tent at Evening

The reading was in the evening, so it was cool, but that still does not explain why the Wheaton College professor behind the lecture was wearing some formidable dress and jacket made out of woolish material.

She, too, looked out-of-place.

I’m sad to say I do not remember much about the lecture. It centered around O’Connor’s faith, and obviously her stories. When she finished her talk, I threw my wife that look that says, “Can I buy something? Do we have the money?”

My wife said, “Yes, you may buy the book.”

So I jumped up and grabbed the .

Reading O’Connor

In the following week I read through the entire collection.

“The Geranium” and “Everything That Rises Must Converge” were not the stories I once thought they were. It seemed like I’d read someone’s dream version of those two.

I ended up bull rushing through “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” because I was like I know this story–I KNOW THIS STORY! How or why, I couldn’t tell you, but it was like I finally found what I was searching for.

If I was searching for it.

The last two stories, however, did me in. “Parker’s Back” and “Judgment Day.” I finally found a writer who managed to do something artful with Christian themes.

Now what?

O’Connor’s Peacock Heaven

The question faded as did my interest in Flannery O’Connor until a few weeks ago when I was exchanging emails with a good friend. He was sharing some pains he had with a previous employer and looking for advice on freelancing as a writer.

He ended the email with this sentence:

One day, we are going to be visiting Flannery O’Connor at her unspeakably beautiful peacock farm in Heaven, talking about Jesus and sharing our experiences…..there will be no sense of time and no trace of deception.

She had a peacock farm? Yes, she did. And it will be in heaven? Well, that’s debatable.

Then in struck me: what makes him so sure she would be in heaven to begin with? So I texted him:  

Mature thing to say. Fair enough. So I responded:

My friend knew more than I did:

“Not writing watered down ‘Christian’ stories. That’s what struck me to on my first pass through her stories. And it is probably what has inspired countless other Christian writers and readers.

And what about her sincere love for Jesus? I guess I’ll have to go and look that up.

But is she in heaven? I don’t know (you can’t look that up). Does that minimize her work? I don’t think so. Do you? Do you like Flannery O’Connor? Or peacocks?

Let me know what you think. Brutal and all.

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What’s This “Disputing about the Body of Moses” Business?

Jude is a tiny book at the back of your Bible, second to the last, right before the book of Revelation, and immediately after 3 John.

Even at 25 verses, though, Jude isn’t the smallest book in the Bible. That distinction goes to 2 John. Then 3 John.

Jude is a workhorse, however, despite its small size. Inside those 25 verses is enough to keep a theologian busy for a year or two.

For starters you have a saint, brother of James, writing a letter to a circuit of churches. He wanted to encourage the believers about the common blessing they had in salvation.

You feel if that letter was written it would have been friendly, calm and patient. Instead you get a combative and impassioned letter. One that feels almost rushed. Like a first century .

One of the Most Bizarre Statements in Jude

Jude had some stiff words for false teachers like calling them “wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.”

Yet for these sinners our response to them amounts to seeking the Lord’s intervening power against them. Michael, God’s chief angel, did just that when contending with the devil over the body of Moses.

And this is where you should do a screeching halt.

The exact text rendered in the :

But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Disputing about the body of Moses. Hmm.

The reason this is such a head scratcher is that this struggle is not mentioned anywhere in Scripture. There is a Hebrew text outside of the canon that mentions a fight between the two found in Yalcut Rubeni, fol. 43, 3:

At the time in which Isaac was bound there was a contention between Michael and Satan. Michael brought a ram, that Isaac might be liberated; but Satan endeavored to carry off the ram, that Isaac might be slain.

But nothing in the canon.

There is a situation where Michael is to do the bidding of the Lord in . His duty there is to make sure Jews would be free to return to their land.

But nothing on Moses or contending with devil.

Why Satan Wanted Moses’ Body

Moses died on Mt. Nebo.

Mt. Nebo overlooks the promised land, land Moses didn’t get to enter. This means this contention with the body of Moses happened on Mt. Nebo.

Or close by.

And Jude suggests that Michael was sent to protect the body from Satan.

But what exactly did Satan want to do with it? Josephus [] suggested that Satan would’ve used it as an idol or object of worship. Prop the stiff corpse up, and the people fall down at its feet.

Think of the golden calf. Or in more recent times, the .

Another theologian, Clark, suggests that the body was already buried and Michael was sent to keep it buried because Satan wanted to dig it up, you know, and show it to the people.

Allegorical Interpretations of “Body of Moses”

Still other theologians think that “the body of Moses” doesn’t refer to an actual physical body–but a collection of things.

Kind of like Paul in where he uses the phrase σωμα της ἁμαρτιας–the body of death.

This is not so far-fetched since among the Hebrews גוף guph, body, is often used this way.  So when גוף של משה guph shel Mosheh, the body of Moses is used, it could mean his laws.

The body of Moses’ laws.

If this is the case, then we have an angel and the devil disputing over these laws…but what’s not clear is who wanted to do what with them.

In keeping with a Christ-centered interpretation theologians who favor this view say that the laws were abolished and buried by Christ. And the devil wanted to keep them alive.

This is allegorical interpretation at it’s best.

Not good.

Better to stick with the literal meaning of the text.

Jude’s Troubling Source for This Text

However, the meaning of the text is small potatoes compared to Jude’s sources for this story.

As I mentioned above, this tale is not found in the biblical canon. And theologians aren’t one hundred percent sure of the source.

Some argue, starting with , that the source was an apocryphal book called “The Assumption of Moses.”

Whether this is true or not here’s what we know: Jude is using a non-canonical book to make a point.

Is that okay?

One theologian argued that Jude used the story from an apocryphal book because his readers were familiar with it…and he wanted to appeal to sources that they valued.

The only problem with this concept is that Jude uses this fable like he believes it actually happened. Perhaps no different from if he used the story of Moses smiting the rock or the parting of the Red Sea.

So what do we do with this?

Some have argued that due to Jude’s use of an apocryphal book Jude should be thrown out of the canon.

Others think that’s harsh, and point to several arguments to back their case:

  • Due to the references to apostles, the repetition of Jewish tradition (the same tradition that Paul came by the names of Jannes and Jambres), the recognition and warning of early forms of apostasy like Docetism, Marcionism, and Gnosticism and Jude’s competent Greek writing style the book should be dated between 66 and 90 A.D., and not at some later date that would mark it as suspect.
  • Jude was quickly adapted by early church fathers like Tertullian and Clement of Alexandrian.
  • The epithets in Jude are thought to be some of the best in the Bible, and the closing doxology is considered supreme in quality. (I guess the argument being heretical books use shoddy rhetorical tricks and cheap songs.)
  • Jude, by quoting “The Assumption of Moses,” a pagan source, did no differently than Paul who quoted a , a and a in his own letters.
  • Finally, these theologians who support canonical Jude point out that the point of the letter is biblical as all get out:  live a faithful and holy life, resist the lust of the flesh and do not deny God.

With those arguments squarely in our pockets, I think it is safe to say that this book was not written by man, but God speaking through a man who was carried along by the Holy Spirit–no matter how quirky that bit about Michael disputing with the body of Moses.

What do you think?

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Is 2 Kings 8:15 an Example of Waterboarding in the Bible?

Not really sure why I was excited when I found an example of waterboarding in the Bible. But I was.

This was one of those epiphanies that should be marked as “Disturbing but Sublime.” Like as in I think I found something nobody else knows about…

But it’s kind of creepy–do I even want to share it?

One thing was for sure: I needed to bone up on my understanding of waterboarding, so I paid a visit to Google and Wikipedia.

Lowdown on Waterboarding

The process is fairly simple: lay a wet towel over someone’s face and pour water on it. And while the technique has been around for centuries, the .

Keep in mind, this is different from the “Chinese water torture.” That cruel ordeal invented by the Ancient Asians involves slowly dripping water on someone’s face. The goal was to drive them made.

The goal behind waterboarding is to get people to talk.

And while some insist that waterboarding is a legitimate interrogation technique, others view it as torture, including Christopher Hitchens.

In his piece at Vanity Fair he reported on his experience of being water boarded. One of the things he wanted to learn was whether it was true that this technique “simulated drowning.”

About the experience, which lasted less than 15 seconds, Hitchens wrote:

You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning.

You can .

Waterboarding in the Bible–and The Idiot

I’m pretty sure there is a place in the Bible that describes someone being waterboarded. That places is found in :

But the next day he took the bed cloth and dipped it in water and spread it over his face, till he died. And Hazael became king in his place.

To be honest, Hazel wasn’t trying to torture Ben-hadad, the king. Nor was he trying to interrogate him.

He was trying to kill him.

And no lie, just a few days after I read that passage in 2 Kings I came across this in Dostoevsky’s novel :

Yes, not physically. I don’t think anyone would raise a hand against a creature like me, even a woman would not strike me now. Even Ganya wouldn’t strike me! Though I did think he was going to fly at me at one time yesterday…. I’ll bet you anything I know what you’re thinking about now. You’re thinking, ‘he mustn’t be beaten of course, but he might be smothered with a pillow or a wet cloth in his sleep–in fact one ought to….’ It is written on your face that you’re thinking that at this very second.

You can find that paragraph at the bottom of the page.

What Do You Think?

Did I get it right? Are these examples of deaths from waterboarding? Can you share any other examples of waterboarding from the Bible or literature?

Share your thoughts.

Psst…Karr? This Sex Scene Is a Really Bad Idea

What do you do with a memoir that details in four pages a graphic display of child molestation?

What if its the author as a young child that’s the subject…

Does that change the make up of the story from autobiography to something more sinister–like pornography?

Does it matter that this is an event in the past? Does it make it any less real or problematic?

Those were some of the questions I asked myself as I finished reading Mary Karr’s 1995 memoir .

The book was Karr’s first memoir [she’s since written two more–Cherry and Lit–I’ve read neither of them] and the idea to write it came from her friend Tobias Wolfe.

In her own words, Carr said it was an agonizing task that involved a mountain of emotional labor–not just to revisit dark places but to merely get the words on the page. Here she is in a :

I would lie down on the floor and go to sleep after about an hour and a half’s work. Literally go to sleep like I had been driving all night. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I went to a shrink and said, ‘Am I repressing something, bah bah bah bah.’ And she said, ‘Well, I think you are just really exhausted by it.’

Fortunately, her herculean effort paid off.

The Essence of The Liar’s Club

She wrote a compelling, hilarious and haunting autobiography about growing up as a child in Leechfield, Texas–oil refinery country–raised by a hard-working, hard-drinking, but sturdy and surprisingly gentle father who managed to marry a displaced New Yorker living on the outskirts of madness.

The book ended up being a runaway bestseller–a justified judgment given the quality of the writing and a decent payoff for the task of exposing herself.

But the question is–did she go too far?

In Carr’s defense, as a child she played the hand she was dealt–and as a child that’s sometimes all you can do.

What you get is a gritty, foul-mouthed eight-year-old girl who fought hard for survival and security, revenge and love–things hard to come by when you have a mother who’s head is in a perennial cloud of vodka, methamphetamine diet pills, suspect men, brooding jazz and fatalistic literature.

So it comes as no surprise when I tell you that Karr’s mother lacked a woeful amount of judgment, most clearly seen in her decision to allow questionable men to babysit her daughters.

The scene was terrible. And you saw it like a dark storm slowly sweeping in from the sea. At one point I wondered if Carr was going to actually go there. Or would she pull out early enough to avoid the explicit?

I had hope she’d pull out. Earlier in the book Carr handled a case of rape very sympathetically without giving an uncomfortable amount of detail.

That’s why it surprised me that she dove into this particular scene with no holds barred.

Where I’d Like to Have Not Gone

At least that’s my guess because the moment I saw where she was going and had no intention of stopping, I bailed and counted the pages before the scene was over.

Four pages.

Granted, as I quickly skimmed the pages looking for the end (it came, by the way, when the chapter ended) the scene covered mostly emotional territory, like her mental activity during the event.

And I’m glad to say she never revisited the topic again.

But here’s the deal: This scene would NEVER make it to the movie screen. In fact, if you owned a video of this event, you’d be arrested.

Why, then,  is it okay in a book? I argue it’s not. It permits us to go to dark places we should never visit.

Naturally, this uncorks a litany of problems, namely censorship. But should the world thank Mary Carr for “going there” on this particular topic and being candid about it?


All this does is allow us to inch our moral boundaries back, calibrated by our sense of appropriate indiscretion–and that’s, unfortunately, what you get when you don’t have absolute boundaries.

Gore Vidal–who defended cannabis laws–once said that some people should be told not to do drugs.

I agree. And the same goes for morality. Mary Karr’s book would’ve been a runaway bestseller without this scene.

A Curious–If Not Disturbing–Side Note about the The Liar’s Club

This book is viewed as the book that jump-started the memoir explosion. Naturally, in it’s wake we have self-expression without guardrails.

One has to wonder where this will take us if we don’t provide those boundaries.

What Do Your Bible Study Habits Look Like?

In the end, there are only two responses to the Bible–either you receive it or you reject it.

I recommend you receive it. Here’s why.

Basic to the Christian faith is the conviction that God, far from being dead and dumb, is living and vocal.

This means you can get to know him on a personal level…

Why is it important to get to know him? To know him means to build your life on a solid foundation.

As , it’s about putting ballast in the belly of your boat so that you can survive the wicked storm surge of the sea.

What You’ll Learn from Studying the Bible

If you read your Bible, you’ll learn how to survive adversity and judgment. You’ll overcome temptations, avoid sin. You’ll reform your mind. You’ll share words of wisdom and encouragement with people who need comfort.

But reading your Bible involves time. Lots of time.

It’s not going to be easy. You’re going to have to get up extra early in the morning. Stop staying up so late. Avoid the television, the radio. Practice patience and quietness.

It’s going to cramp your style–something fierce. That’s the drawback. The dark side.

What You’ll Gain from Studying the Bible

However, if you believe the Bible is God’s spoken Word that expresses God’s unapologetic purpose, then you’ll never regret the time spent.

You’ll never begrudge the sacrifices. (You’ll just learn how to make coffee at 4:30 AM.)

In fact, make the sacrifice and you’ll re-discover the lost art of meditation. You’ll experience the joy of solitude. The joy of isolation with Christ. You’ll crave time with Christ and your Bible.

And you’ll find what you need to survive in our post-modern, soap-opera saturated world.

Your Turn

So, what do your Bible study habits look like? Do you have strange circumstances that demand bizarre accommodations? And what personal changes have you seen from a sustained study and memorization of and meditation on the Bible?  I look forward to your thoughts.

TULIP: Where Did It Go Wrong?

Contemporary Calvinists suppose that the acronym TULIP is a time-honored, authentic distillation of what was achieved at the Synod of Dordt. They’re wrong.


The sacrosanct, historical formula understood to have been given to us by our Protestant fathers…

A formula that deserves consistent recasting to more effectively communicate the actual meaning of the five points that are often grossly misunderstood.

In the first case, you have what Covenant College professor  calls the “sovereign grace” tendency.

The second, an “apologetic tendency” towards TULIP.

Both tendencies, though, are grounded in a mistaken premise.

The Tragedy of TULIP

At least that’s Stewart’s argument in a recent essay “” [warning: PDF] in the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology.

Both tendencies–notable in the New Calvinists–suppose that the points of Calvinism (Total Depravity, Unconditional Grace, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints) are a time-honored, authentic distillation of what was achieved at the .

Stewart claims that’s a mistaken belief.

TULIP is NOT an accurate summary of the Dordt conference. And there are better ways to articulate it’s message than the contemporary, hardliner approach.

TULIP: A Brief History in the 19th Century

The most notable claim Stewart makes is that the acronym TULIP didn’t even appear in print until Loraine Boettner’s  [warning: PDF].

And that was in 1932.

Before that, in the 19th Century, you are hard-pressed to find a clear, positive reference to the acronym.

You have advocates for Calvinism. Proponents for the theology of Dordt. But no defenders of TULIP.

In fact, what you do find is subtle stiff-arming of the acronym.

In a small sample of 19th Century Calvinism Stewart demonstrates that consistency nor aggressiveness in stating the doctrines was on their mind.

For instance,  considered the five points of Calvinism “of little accuracy or worth; I use it to denote certain points of doctrine, because custom has made it familiar.”

TULIP: A Brief History in the 18th Century

Finding any sympathetic–let alone clear articulation of the modern TULIP–in the 18th Century is equally futile.

What most theologians of this time pushed was a presentation of “our common Christianity.” Things held in common with “Scriptural Christians.”

Most contended for Calvinist doctrine in a broad-brush approach, preferring “Particular Atonement” over “Limited” or “Original Sin and Incorrigible Depravity” over “Total Depravity.”

Even , fierce in his attacks on John Wesley’s Armenianism, did not use the formula.

What This Brief Historical Survey Means

This is what it boils down to: Stewart argues that contemporary advocates of the five points of Calvinism are wedded to a formula in a way quite unlike Calvinists of an earlier era….

A formula we’ve come to accept uncritically as a hallmark of Calvinist orthodoxy.

What does this say about us? Stewart contends:

“At very least, this use suggests that they have not understood their own past very well. At worst, it may mean that they have willingly consented to take a very loose rendering of the theology of Dordt in place of the actuality.”

What was once a gracious, sober minded egalitarianism has given way to a more slavish, unquestioning loyalty and use.

Not That We Weren’t Warned

To be fair, a few contemporary theologians have sounded the alarm.

Edwin H. Palmer–in his – stated in 1972, “Calvinism does not have five points and neither is Calvin the author of the five points.”

And in an essay written for a reprint of John Owen’s , J. I. Packer stated, ”It would not be correct to simply to equate Calvinism with the five point” and “the five points present Calvinistic soteriology in a negative and polemical form.”

In other words, the TULIP framework is deficient and the Calvinism of our age bears a belligerent, vehement streak in it…

This in spite of  and contemporary cautions.

The Solution

The solution to this mess, Stewart rightly suggests, is engaging with the actual . At least quoting them. Even crafting a compressed summary of their actual content would do us a world of good.

One piece of advice in particular I’m going to follow is to read Richard Mouw’s , a book Stewart believes will help us recover the “big picture” that was more evident in the past than it is now.

Anybody read it? What did you think? Looking forward to your thoughts.

22 Very Short Essays on the Underclass

Twenty-two very short essays explain why the underclass exists and how it impacts society. Based on the book Life at the Bottom.

I’ve been on a recent reading tear…knocking out some .

Granted, it’s self-induced. I want to read 50 books this year…

And review about half of them.

So far in 2009 I’ve completed reviews for Spectacular Sins and The Shack.

The following review is on Theodore Darymple’s the Worldview That Makes the Underclass.

Who Is Theodore Darymple?

First thing you should know:  is the pen name of a British physician and psychiatrist who treats the poor in a slum hospital and prison.

Apparently, Darymple has seen it all.

He’s heard and observed the every conceivable twist of depravity among his patients. Depravity that exceeds most people’s experience.

It’s the depravity of the underclass.

Life at the Bottom is a searing account of why the underclass exists…and even persists…and the implications for our society as a whole.

Who Is the Underclass?

The underclass are poor people whose lives are dominated by violence, crime and degradation.

Darymple’s unique contribution is his suggestion that the pathologies of the underclass are a result of the ideas that have filtered down from intellectuals…namely cultural relativism, sexual freedom and destruction of the family.

Darymple charges, “They consider the purity of their ideas to be more important than the actual consequences of their ideas.”

What follows are the book’s 22 chapters condensed down into 22 very short summaries. If you want more, you’ll have to read the book. But hopefully this will give you a taste. Enjoy.

The Knife Went In
The language of prisoners teaches much about the dishonest fatalism of the underclass. “The knife just went in” is a murderers plea to do exactly as he chooses without being held responsible.

Goodbye, Cruel World
Overdose victims and attempted suicides are prevalent in welfare states where  mindless entertainment and impulsive–often destructive–personal relationships cure boredom. Gestures towards death equal a way out of crisis.

Reader, She Married Him–Alas
Multiculturalists want a society where all cultural values are valid. Yet, allow everyone to rule as they please, we fall into anarchy and civil war. Groups can’t have individual rights. Absolute rule must reign.

Tough Love
After stabbing, strangling or merely striking their partners, violent men take an overdose for three reasons: to avoid a court appearance, apply emotional blackmail and present their rage as a medical condition.

It Hurts, Therefore I Am
Tattoos are a good indicator of a mind bent towards criminality.

Festivity and Menace
The Englishman may pursue his pleasure hotly, but once found, it should require zero mental contribution. In fact, it should blot out the memory of his life.

We Don’t Want No Education
In the wake of the English educational system failure, the underclass comes away with a profound aversion to anything that smacks of intelligence, education or culture.

Uncouth Chic
The English underclass life is obsessed with the easily inflamed ego,the  quick loss of temper, the violence, the scattering of illegitimate children and the self-exculpation by use of impersonal foul language.

The Heart of a Heartless World
In an age of relativism, random violence, unpunished crime and indifference, people seek certainty, transcendent meaning, refuge in divine law and community. Thus, the church.

There’s No Damned Merit In It
British underclass desires wealth but wishes to deny it to others. And among those methods of acquiring wealth they approve–gambling, dog races and bingo.

Choosing to Fail
There’s a mystery among the children of immigrants to England: some choose to succeed while others choose to fail. The operative word: choice.

Free to Choose
The chronic homeless suffer, but not for reasons we imagine. One man longed for premarital freedom and the joys of irresponsibility. So, he deserted his wife, child and job in favor of drinking all day.

What Is Poverty?
Perhaps a better description of the British underclass living conditions would be self-induced squalor.

Do Sties Make Pigs?
Public housing tenancy is to psychopaths what tenure is to academics: no better invitation to irresponsibility could possibly be imagined.

Lost in the Ghetto
Intelligent and curious people born in a slum cannot imagine a worse fate. It’s a long, slow torture. Boredom, persecution and suicide await.

And Dying Thus Around Us Every Day
Not surprising, the competence of public servants declines with the general level of education. But some demonstrate such a gross lack of common sense that something other than ignorance has to be at work.

The Rush from Judgment
The underclass use nonjudgmentalism as a prophylactic against learning from experience–God forbid that someone would appear judgmental over stupid.

What Causes Crime?
Crime is caused by a criminal who decides to commit it. No other way around it.

How Criminologists Foster Crime
Criminological writing generally conceives of criminals as objects: billiard balls responding mechanically to other billiard balls that impinge on them. Who can blame them for their social behavior?

Policemen in Wonderland
Britain’s new legions of ill-educated, uncouth and depraved young men can get away with anything short of murder because the police have lost the vision to reduce crime.

Zero Tolerance
The British intellectual class has adopted the poor’s attitude to cops: they all suck. This attitude was forged from a combination of ignorance, dishonesty and fashion.

Seeing Is Not Believing
Violence, vulgarity and educational failure of modern English life are hard to deny. Yet, complacency and denial dominate intellectual liberals. Why? Tackling these issues would encroach on their drive for momentary pleasure.

Your Turn

So, tell me: ever read this book? Even if you haven’t, do you disagree with Dalrymple’s argument? Anything you’d like to add?

I loook forward to your thoughts.