And everydaywonder shall be no more...

That's it, I've finally finished my other blog, moving my online personality to jasonrecampbell.blogspot.com. This one is officially toast.


The launch of new blogs

So I've been threatening for a while to launch some new blogs, and after much work in the web design area, I finally got my first new one out of the gate.

A tiny bit of background first: I've always been irritated by a lack of good sites on the internet that review fantasy and science fiction in anything approaching my tastes. Nearly all the sites out there are so specialized that I can't even understand what they are saying, or they are so broad so as to praise every work to be released by Tor with phrases like "lucent, lyrical prose", "fast-paced" and "action-packed". I managed to find a movie review site out there whom I trust, and I hope to become something like that for picky fans of the fantasy genre. Someday. After I get a few more posts on: fantasticfictions.blogspot.com.

Okay, since I wrote this blog, I got inspired and launched one of the others I've been sitting on for a while. Go check out sanctuscross.blogspot.com.


Marco Polo in three strands


A swimming pool in some state between California and Nebraska: it's warm outside, the afternoon sun disappearing somewhere beyond the raised freeway that cuts a swath through this town with a name not worth remembering. Three older children whose names I don't know are with me in the pool. One of the children has his eyes closed and repeatedly and obnoxiously yells "Marco!", to which all the rest of us, trying desperately to stay out of his you're-it reach, respond "Polo!"


A decade or more later, I am standing in Barnes & Noble just before the border between Washington and Oregon. It is raining. I have a gift card to spend, and I find myself following a string of interesting book titles from one Italo Calvino. I settle on two, If Upon A Winter's Night a Traveler and Invisible Cities.

Weeks later, I sit down to read Invisible Cities. Each chapter begins with an exchange between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan; this is representative:

POLO: Perhaps the terraces of this garden overlook only the lake of our mind...

KUBLAI: ...and however far our troubled enterprises as warriors and merchants may take us, we both harbor within ourselves this silent shade, this conversation of pauses, this evening that is always the same.

POLO: Unless the opposite hypothesis is correct: that those who strive in camps and ports exist only because we two think of them, here, enclosed among these bamboo hedges, motionless since time began.

KUBLAI: Unless toil, shouts, sores, stink do not exist; and only this azalea bush.

POLO: Unless porters, stonecutters, rubbish collectors, cooks cleaning the lights of chickens, washerwomen bent over stones, mothers stirring rice as they nurse their infants, exist only because we think them.

KUBLAI: To tell the truth, I never think them.

POLO: Then they do not exist.

KUBLAI: To me this conjecture does not seem to suit our purposes. Without them we could never remain here swaying, cocooned in our hammocks.

Each chapter following such exchanges is composed entirely of descriptions of cities which Marco Polo purportedly visited throughout the great Khan's empire. Each description is rarely more than a page in length, something like this:

Summoned to lay down the rules for the foundation of Perinthia, the astronomers established the place and the day according to the position of the stars; they drew the intersecting lines of the decumanus and the cardo, the first oriented to the passage of the sun and the other like the axis on which the heavens turn. They divided the map according to the twelve houses of the zodiac so that each temple and each neighborhood would receive the proper influence of the favoring constellations; they fixed the point in the walls where gates should be cut, foreseeing how each would frame an eclipse of the moon in the next thousand years. Perinthia--they guaranteed--would reflect the harmony of the firmament; nature's reason and the gods' benevolence would shape the inhabitants' destinies.

Following the astronomers' calculations precisely, Perinthia was constructed; various peoples came to populate it; the first generation born in Perinthia began to grow within its walls; and these citizens reached the age to marry and have children.

In Perinthia's streets and square today you encounter cripples, dwarfs, hunchbacks, obese men, beared women. But the worse cannot be seen; guttural howls are heard from cellars and lofts, where families hide children with three heads or with six legs.

Perinthia's astronomers are faced with a difficult choice. Either they must admit that all their calculations are wrong and their figures are unable to describe the heavens, or else they must reveal that the order of the gods is reflected exactly in the city of monsters.

Hundreds of cities, so described, haunt or sing from the pages of this strange and wonderful book.


Later still, I am looking for information about explorers and come across the works of one Marco Polo, his huge work given the unassuming title of simple Travels. This great work is the descriptive travelogue of Marco Polo (1254-1324), the Venetian explorer who claims to have traveled from his home in Venice to the court of Kublai Khan in China. His work consists of brief descriptive chapters which read like this:

Having stayed a while at Soldaia, they considered the matter, and thought it well to extend their journey further. So they set forth from Soldaia and travelled till they came to the Court of a certain Tartar Prince, BARCA KAAN by name, whose residences were at SARA and at BOLGARA [and who was esteemed one of the most liberal and courteous Princes that ever was among the Tartars.] This Barca was delighted at the arrival of the Two Brothers, and treated them with great honour; so they presented to him the whole of the jewels that they had brought with them. The Prince was highly pleased with these, and accepted the offering most graciously, causing the Brothers to receive at least twice its value.

After they had spent a twelvemonth at the court of this Prince there broke out a great war between Barca and Aláu, the Lord of the Tartars of the Levant, and great hosts were mustered on either side.

But in the end Barca, the Lord of the Tartars of the Ponent, was defeated, though on both sides there was great slaughter. And by reason of this war no one could travel without peril of being taken; thus it was at least on the road by which the Brothers had come, though there was no obstacle to their travelling forward. So the Brothers, finding they could not retrace their steps, determined to go forward. Quitting Bolgara, therefore, they proceeded to a city called UCACA, which was at the extremity of the kingdom of the Lord of the Ponent; and thence departing again, and passing the great River Tigris, they travelled across a Desert which extended for seventeen days' journey, and wherein they found neither town nor village, falling in only with the tents of Tartars occupied with their cattle at pasture.

Here, then, is the experience of postmodern culture. A figure whose name I recognize from a childhood game appears as a figurehead in a book about the postmodern condition: exploring themes of perception, truth, experience, and the poverty of language used to describe and relate that experience to another. The book's primary literary charm is the use of a real world figure in the mode of that figure's expression, all to express modern angst in a beautiful literary work. Calvino's work has no beauty unless it springboards from the real Polo, dimly known.

And most strange of all is that in my own experience, the last work for me to encounter is that of the real Marco Polo. In fact, I think Invisible Cities worked on me more profoundly because of my lack of knowledge about the historical person. I came to Calvino's work more malleable because I had only a dim understanding of who Marco Polo and Kublai Khan actually were; their fantastical aspect allowed for more room upon which Calvino could paint.


Most who refuse Christian faith in this culture do not refuse the faith that Christians know. The have come to know faith in Christ as a childhood game: in glimpses, in games, in jokes, in clips in movies and cartoons. They encounter symbols they do not understand, words they cannot know, ideas which seem monstrous, strange, cryptic, or wicked.

Perhaps that is why athiest popularizers Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have such a loyal following in popular culture--because the faith they attack is one experienced only in false reflections, faint echoes, shadows cast upon a cold wall. When these figures begin to paint their picture of the venom and violence of Christian faith, they paint upon white canvas, unsmirched by experience of Jesus and the people among whom He dwells.


Sustained focus on our goals:
New tools for my spiritual disciplines

The season of Lent this year revealed much to me about the practice of spiritual disciplines. One of the insights that I value from this experience is the realization that I can be pretty tenacious about a disciplined behavior when it has a fixed (and short) duration. For Lent, I chose to give up shopping for books (gasp!) and all non-real food.

Those may seem strange goals for Lent, but here was the rationale: the book thing was becoming for me a habit of mind--when I had free time, one of the things which occurred to me was to go check out what's new at the local bookstore. I have limited funds with which to buy books, so it wasn't a matter really of stewardship so much as, well, lust. I wanted to know what new books were out and what great deals I could find at some of the local book shops. I wanted to add to my collection, I wanted new ideas to think about, I wanted new adventures to experience in the form of fiction. The habit of mind was becoming intrusive, so it was time to chain it up for a while and teach it some manners. The diet thing was similar--chain up the desire for worthless food: cookies, cake, fried junk, candy, chips--the stuff that has no nutritional value but rises higher on the "I-want" list than bread and beans (and makes the bathroom scale rise higher too). Hence the Lenten fast.

I didn't find it terribly difficult to give up either of these things, mostly because I knew it was for a limited duration. Granted, when Melissa baked cookies for house guests or when we came to dessert time at Home Community, my eyes certainly locked on the goodies for longer than was healthy. But all in all, not too bad.

The really interesting part for me was the transition following Lent. Once I could return to the bookstore and the bag of chips, I found that my desire for them had changed. The habit of mind had shrunk significantly for both items, and I found that life pretty much went on just fine without either thing. Of course, like an idiot, I started eating french fries again just because I could and now I'm back to craving them all the time. But it didn't have to turn out that way. With better management of transition between the season of tight discipline and returning to a normal order of life, I could have put minor behaviors in place which would have maintained the discipline without it really being a discipline--instead, it would have become a change in habit.

Which brings me to my new tool: the 21-day discipline. Lent was too long and has too many other worthy and powerful spiritual components to be repeated more than once a year. But, taking what I learned from the short-term discipline part of it, I am implementing a new strategy in reaching the various spiritual, financial, emotional, and physical goals I have set for myself. I pick one thing to address for a period of 21 days and set up a discipline around it. Then, through prayer and the application of my own will, I seek to free myself from habits which obstruct the accomplishment of my goals.

Also, taking what I have learned from the transition out of Lent, I'll try to take advantage of the loosening of the old habits and put the minor behaviors in place which will maintain and nurture the new habits until they become "nature".

For example, on May 5th, I began a discipline intended to open the way to one of my goals: to become a published writer. As a pastor, husband, and father, I don't have an excess of free time, so finding time to write has remained a real challenge. Add to that the fact that sleep and I get along very, very well, I have set for myself the goal of adjusting my sleeping habits and schedule to allow for some disciplined writing time. For the last ten days (excluding Sundays, the day for celebration and rest from your discipline; another thing I learned from Lent), I have been getting out of bed at 6:00am and writing for two hours. Actually, it works out to more like 45 minutes, once I get some cereal down, make coffee, and stare at the screen until I wake up, but the idea is the same. That's 45 minutes more per day than I have ever had in my life.

The trick will come at the end of the 21 days. How will I maintain the discipline of rising early while setting down the hard work of forcing myself out of bed at 6:00? It's already becoming a habit, but what happens when I am "free" to sleep in whenever I feel like it? And oh, will I feel like it come May 26th. I wonder.


Monsters in the Garbage Cans, pt. II

(read part I)

Edward came to the foot of ladder, setting his feet on what seemed like damp stone. The pungent scent of garbage still lingered, but it was no worse than it was at the top of the ladder. Even down here, he could still hear the bubble gum music ponderously thudding along. Somewhere in the distance, water trickled into a drain. Only the strongest rays of light braved these depths, leaving Edward enveloped in umbrous shadow; and though he could see nothing around him, he found that he was not much afraid. Better here than stuck in a fashion shop all afternoon.

In the darkness he searched his pockets, discovering there a Super Joe action figure he had brought with him. Edward smiled the smile of false competence, as if he had known all along that he would find himself in such a predicament. You see, Super Joe was a large action figure whose main weapon against Terron was a fearsome chest-mounted laser cannon. And since most toy manufacturers frowned upon the distribution of such armaments to small children (at least in the United States), they substituted a weak flashlight beam. Edward switched it on and held the figure before him like something part way between a crucifix and a fully-articulated lantern.

The dim light revealed the walls to be formed of smooth concrete, cold and dusty. The floor was rougher and every few feet, Edward had to step around a wide, shallow puddle of muddy water. He walked along in his small bubble of light for several minutes, taking a turn here or there. He fancied he could not become lost, since the route did not branch at any point that he could see. It did not take him long to leave behind a whole world of malls and fashion shops, pretzel vendors and pet stores; so easily we forget ourselves in the solitude of our private journeys.

A faint scratching sound reached his ears from somewhere far ahead. Edward stopped to listen; the scratching reminded him of the sound of his spaniel's dull nails on the hardwood floors of the kitchen. He wondered to himself what sort of dog would wander tunnels like this. He supposed it could drink from the muddy puddles, but who filled its bowl? As he continued toward it, the sound grew louder until he began to wonder why he did not see the dog's eyes glimmering in Joe's light beam. Edward stopped, listening again for the sound. The scratching sound had stopped. And as he looked around, he realized he had come into some sort of small chamber, circular in shape, with walls which bent in and up like a funnel.

As he was looking up into the darkness, he caught a brief flash of light accompanied by the sound of a small, rusty metal door swinging open. Before the light disappeared again, he caught a glimpse of something falling toward him. He instinctively covered his head with his hands. Just in time too, for he was struck by something which left him warm, wet, and sticky—what was that smell? Coffee?

He found where he had dropped Super Joe, and shined the dim light around him. It was indeed coffee—and there on the floor near him was a soggy Starbucks cup. "Yuck, who drinks that stuff?" he said to himself, utterly unaware that opinions might be subject to change years hence.

He looked up again, wondering where the cup had come from. The coffee was not hot, the cup had not been full—then it occurred to him: the tiny metal door above him was the door to a metal garbage can. Which meant—

Something grey and bristling walked toward him out of the darkness, its dull nails scratching along the floor. Edward backed away until he bumped into the cold concrete wall. As it crept closer, he could see a shaggy head in a mass of grey fur, and above a wide mouth of square white teeth peered two large yellow eyes. They blinked at him. Edward did not know if he should be frightened or reassured by its appearance—it was something of a cross between a chubby wolf and a furry bean bag. And those white teeth smiling (snarling?) at him, none of it gave any clear indication of the beast's intentions.

Edward waited in silence, holding Super Joe before him like a talisman. And then the beast did something else unexpected—it spoke! In a gurgling voice, as if speaking from the bottom of a pool, it said, "Come ex-plorin', did it? What does it want?"

Edward frowned and looked around. Was it talking to him? Edward had never been refered to as an 'it' before. In a weak voice, he ventured, "Are you talking to me?"

The beast jumped back, startled. With wide eyes, it asked, "It speaks? A greeder speaks, now that makes for silly con-versation!"

"Who—what are you?"

"Sogga-Moffin, that's my name. And that's what I am; I eats the greeders' toss-aways. Do greeders have names? Something to eats?"

"My name is Edward." He hesitated, then added, "You don't plan to eat me do you?"

A sound like a clogged garbage disposal echoed around the chamber. After Edward realized that it was laughing, he calmed down a little. It said, after it had finished its grating laughter, "Silly Edwards; why would a Sogga-Moffin eats a greeder? Then Edward give no more eats, Sogga-Moffins go hungry."

Edward breathed a sigh of relief. Spying the coffee cup on the floor, he pointed to it. "What about that? Do you eat those?"

The shaggy beast turned its head, and upon seeing the cup, it opened its wide mouth, revealing three rows of blocky white teeth. A slimy tongue ending in three little knuckle-knobs unfurled from behind the teeth. With this strange and disgusting appendage, Sogga-Moffin lifted the coffee cup to its mouth and began chewing slowly like a cow.

Edward shook his head, half amazed, half disgusted. "Where is this place?"

The bristly brows above its dark eyes knitted together in what looked like a frown. It continued chewing for several long moments, and then let out a moist and fragrant belch. "Not polite to talks while Sogga-Moffin chews. Where, greeder asks? How it comes to Dis-kardia and doesn't know where it is?"

"Diskardia? I've never heard of such a place. Do the janitors know it exists? I always thought they just emptied the garbage cans."

Sogga-Moffin looked at him quizzically. "Sogga-Moffin doesn't know 'jan-i-tors', doesn't know gar-bage cans. Sogga-Moffin takes greeders to the Drain-Snipes. Maybe they knows." The beast wheeled around and scuttled off into the darkness, and to his own surprise, Edward followed. Much, much better than a fashion store, Edward thought to himself.

(part III coming soon...)


The stories which grow with each reading

Among the very best experiences one can have with a favored story book is to read it again at different ages. Ideally suited for such readings are the fairy tales, which have one thing to share with the limitless fountainhead of the child's imagination, and even more to share as one re-reads it through the color of experience and wisdom. In the re-reading, one remembers the wonder of the first reading, bringing with it an upwelling of that same fountainhead, which mixes with all that has transpired since. In the fairy tale, the child encounters truth as a wild, unpredictable creature that grows more familiar, more beautiful, and more profound with each re-reading.

I recently finished the English translation of The Neverending Story, written in the late 70's by Michael Ende. I grew up loving the movie. The Rockbiter on his huge trike, the Swamps of Sadness where Atreyu loses Artex, the roiling cloud of Nothing, the Childlike Empress, the incomprehensible name which Bastian yells out the window into the storm. And of course, who could forget Falkor, the Luckdragon?

Now, having read the book, my mind is reeling with the wonders I encountered there. I have a new book to add to my greatest-books-of-all-time list. Not only is the book even better than the movie, it is much, much longer. The events which take place in the movie barely extend to the 100th page of the 370+ page book. And while I still consider the movie to be solid and powerful, it pales to the richness of the symbolism and maturity of the written work.

Is it a children's book? Yes and no. This is one of the few works which stands in the place reserved for very few stories. It is a true fairy tale in every sense of the word, one that grows with the re-telling and the re-reading. I cannot recommend this one highly enough. If you have young children (perhaps as young as six), give them a wonderful gift: read this story to them. It will take them on a journey that will exhilarate them for months. And when they return to the world years later, perhaps reading it to their children, that same sense of joy will come again, only deeper this time, and more wonderful.

So, for those of you who are keeping a record, here are the very best in this rare category of fairy tale which grows with each reading:
  1. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings
  2. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia
  3. Ende's Neverending Story
  4. MacDonald's The Golden Key
  5. Andersen's The Snow Queen

Last, but not least, it might interest some of you theologically astute readers to know that the German title for this book is "die undendliche geschichte". Not quite the heilsgeschichte, but that perhaps, as Lewis said, is the one true myth.


The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!"

Revelation 22:17 reads:

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.
Especially among the newer, younger churches, there seems to be an emphasis on these words of Jesus to all who would come to Him and seek the gift of His transformative love. I find it amazing that in this Scripture text it mentions those who give the earnest, profound invitation: both the Spirit and the "bride". Where else does a wounded sinner belong but in the arms of Christ, and by extension, in the arms of His bride, the church, where can be found a company of the redeemed? But among the redeemed there can be found also the company of the seeking-sinner, who has not yet glimpsed the redeeming grace, who has not yet tasted the water of life. And therein lies the problem. Consider a recent post by Ben Witherington:

I once had an odd experience while staying in Atlanta some years ago. I had run into a man in the hotel where I was staying who said he wanted to go to church with me in the morning. Said he was a regular attender back home in Kansas. I thought, well sure-- sounds fine. He then proceeded to tell me he was in counseling for child porn and for fondling children and was doing better. He was a doctor who had lost his job. At that juncture I had a dilemma on my hands. I didn't think I could decide for the church in question whether he ought to be there or not. I honestly didn't know what to say or do. The next morning I got up and went on to church early , and this man showed up as well. Well, I sat with him. We sang the hymns together, but I have to tell you I was more than a little distracted. I was watching him closely more than I was paying attention to the service. I am still not sure what I should have done, if anything.
And here we have the classic conundrum for the church. Should this man be welcomed into the fellowship of the church? At first, the answer appears to be yes, especially in light of the text that we looked at above. Where else could this man find the healing grace of unconditional love if not the church? Where else could he be known for who he is and not despised? Where else could he find the loving care and call to discipleship that could lead to authentic transformation?

But at what cost? If the church is filled with people less than fully formed into the likeness of Jesus, what effect will his presence have on their faith walk? Certainly, a Christian leader in the church, full of the Holy Spirit, could take advantage of this vivid opportunity to call others to be like Christ and accept him. But what of the family with small children, loving, yes, but deeply concerned about the consequences of a single episode of backsliding? That is to say nothing of the unchurched family whose mother brought them to seek Jesus precisely because as a child she was abused at the hands of a similar person. Again, a vivid opportunity for her to learn about the need for unconditional forgiveness.

But will she stay long enough to meet Jesus? Or will she run in fear from this group of (in her mind) fools who are too naive to know the corrupting power which has soiled this man's soul?

This story hit me hard as I find myself wondering how I would approach this man and how I would shepherd the faith community for which God has given me responsibility. My heart would go out to him, eager to show him the transforming love which I have experienced at the feet of my Savior. I would challenge others to do the same, to reach out to him and become for him a community of friends in which he could grow and heal while confronting the sinful nature which had driven him to such acts.

But what of the five families who would leave because they cannot bear that call to discipleship (at least not yet)? Is their fellowship and journey of faith worth less than his?

We make choices with every person we invite alongside us on the journey of faith. We cannot be all for the sake of all, as much as great men like Paul have tried. In the end, he was called to take the gospel to the gentile churches, leaving the Jews to others. I hope and pray that should God call us to such a radical opportunity to show His love, that He guide us as we seek a way to honor Him and His sending purpose.


"It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me."

Though in many natural objects, whiteness refiningly enhances beauty, as if imparting some special virtue of its own, as in marbles, japonicas, and pearls; and though various nations have in some way recognised a certain royal preeminence in this hue; even the barbaric, grand old kings of Pegu placing the title "Lord of the White Elephants" above all their other magniloquent ascriptions of dominion; and the modern kings of Siam unfurling the same snow-white quadruped in the royal standard; and the Hanoverian flag bearing the one figure of a snow-white charger; and the great Austrian Empire, Caesarian, heir to overlording Rome, having for the imperial color the same imperial hue; and though this pre-eminence in it applies to the human race itself, giving the white man ideal mastership over every dusky tribe; and though, besides, all this, whiteness has been even made significant of gladness, for among the Romans a white stone marked a joyful day; and though in other mortal sympathies and symbolizings, this same hue is made the emblem of many touching, noble things— the innocence of brides, the benignity of age; though among the Red Men of America the giving of the white belt of wampum was the deepest pledge of honor; though in many climes, whiteness typifies the majesty of Justice in the ermine of the Judge, and contributes to the daily state of kings and queens drawn by milk-white steeds; though even in the higher mysteries of the most august religions it has been made the symbol of the divine spotlessness and power; by the Persian fire worshippers, the white forked flame being held the holiest on the altar; and in the Greek mythologies, Great Jove himself being made incarnate in a snow-white bull; and though to the noble Iroquois, the midwinter sacrifice of the sacred White Dog was by far the holiest festival of their theology, that spotless, faithful creature being held the purest envoy they could send to the Great Spirit with the annual tidings of their own fidelity; and though directly from the Latin word for white, all Christian priests derive the name of one part of their sacred vesture, the alb or tunic, worn beneath the cassock; and though among the holy pomps of the Romish faith, white is specially employed in the celebration of the Passion of our Lord; though in the Vision of St. John, white robes are given to the redeemed, and the four-and-twenty elders stand clothed in white before the great-white throne, and the Holy One that sitteth there white like wool; yet for all these accumulated associations, with whatever is sweet, and honorable, and sublime, there yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood…

…Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color; and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows—a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink? And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues—every stately or lovely emblazoning— the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge—pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in Lapland, who refuse to wear colored and coloring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?

Thus is the experience of reading Moby-Dick by the ascendant Herman Melville, of whom it is said: "Moby-Dick is now considered to be one of the greatest novels in the English language, and has secured Melville's reputation in the first rank of American writers."

They do not exaggerate. The book is one of the most challenging books I've ever read—which ought to be evident by the archaisms of the prose quoted above. Most challenging, and most rewarding. My appreciation of the book lies in Meville's ability to accomplish at once two things: first, his vivid depiction of all the authentic details and experiences of a 19th-century whaling vessel, with all its accompanying boredoms and terrors. Here are written hundreds of passages which capture the yard-arms, the oakums, the spermaceti, the ship-calling trumpets, the smallest of the sail-maker's needles, all essential to the whaler's noisome task. To read Moby-Dick is to read a travelogue of the whaleman. And second, his ability to use such experiences (in all their minutiae) to explore the great frontiers of human experience. I mentioned a moment ago that the details and experiences are often realistic—the plot, the movements of the chief characters, the extended dialogue and soliloquys are not. But they serve Meville's purpose of thinking through the transcendant amidst the toils of the difficult task.

I could not have read this book with any enjoyment in high school. But now having read it, I know why it possesses the reputation it does. Anyone who loves the beauty of language and the outworking of philosophy embarks on a fortunate voyage when he steps aboard the ill-fated Pequod with Ahab and Ishmael. Fear not the 520 pages, press on, sailor, for the white whale calls!


Cascade Hills goes Youtube

It had to happen sooner or later. As Easter approaches, I was looking for ways to help encourage our folks to be inviting their friends and family to the various good things going on all weekend at Cascade Hills. We realized that inviting people to church can be a little scary, and that we had some cultural realities in place we needed to overcome. After a bit of brainstorming, we decided to make a video about it, helping people to understand that it's really very simple:

Step one: Say "Hey, what are you doing for Easter?"

Step two: Hand them a flyer. You can use either hand.

I know, it's a breakthrough system. We may try to patent this critical invitation-to-church technology. We busted out a cheap digital video camera, committed this two-step process to digital posterity, and BANG! Cascade Hills has moved into the Youtube era. Who knew church could be this fun?

Happy Easter!


“Ssssh, They might hear you…”

Once upon a time, a young boy went to the shopping mall with his two cousins. They were both girls, a little older than him, with blonde hair and bright eyes. They liked nothing better than to parade him around the city, pretending as if he were their younger brother, or perhaps son, depending on what sort of game they felt like playing that day. The boy, who's name was Edward, especially liked it when they took him to the toy store with the glass cases where they kept all the rare and wonderful toys that couldn't be found at any other toy seller.

Each time they took Edward with them wherever they went, they remembered why Edward's parents were trying to get loose of him to begin with: he was a very loud and rambunctious boy, who, with no regard whatever for the sensibilities of two blonde teenagers, would skip around the echoing halls of the mall making frighteningly realistic fire engine noises at the top of his lungs.

On this particular day, it had not taken long for one of the girls to lose her patience with his shrill gambolling. She marched over to him and caught him by the wrist. Kneeling down, she whispered, "Sssshhhh, They might hear you. Do you really want Them to know you are here?"

Confused, the boy looked around. A few familes walked the mall, pushing strollers or carrying large plastic bags filled with shoes or albums or jewelry boxes. A straggly old man with a yellowing beard nursed a foam coffee cup. A security guard stared blankly from behind a desk set into the wall, one hand propping up his chin.

"No, not them. Them." The girl pointed a quivering finger toward the bulbous, silver-topped garbage cans. "Inside. They'll hear you."

"What are you talking about?"

"They live inside those garbage cans, listening. And if they hear you, they'll rush out from their lair, streak across the mall in a flash of black fur and razor-teeth, snatch you up, and you'll never come out again."

The boy stopped and stared at the garbage cans. They looked big enough to house such a creature, and as he looked around, everyone else was being very quiet. Come to think of it, the only sound at all came from somewhere near the ceiling: a dull, placid piano. He looked up at his cousin, who was standing above him now, holding his hand with a wide, proud smile on her face. Solemnly, he nodded.

The rest of the way to the teen fashion store, Edward walked silently, close to his cousins, looking up and down the wide walks for streaking black fur. Perhaps his shoes squeaked louder than others? Could they hear him breathing? Why were his cousins talking so loud? As they passed row after row of benches, each one had a garbage can on either side. The boy's eyes locked on each one, watching breathlessly for the tiniest sway of its topmost, silvery swing-door.

He let out a long sigh upon crossing onto the carpet of the fashion store, the girls' favorite mall destination. He hated the store; there was nothing to play with, only a thousand round racks filled with strangely colored clothing that made ridiculous anyone who touched them. Normally, he would remain outside the store, running around the middle of the mall among the collections of benches, fake plants, wide brown rugs, and (gulp) garbage cans. He hugged one of the plastic pillars at the entrance to the store, watching the five or six cans within sight. He was thankful for the sanctuary.

Reluctantly, Edward turned eyes back to the interior of the fashion store, the pink and purple heaps making him squint and frown. Bubble gum music oozed from hidden alcoves somewhere above him. Somewhere to one side, his cousins chortled excitedly with garishly dressed and clownishly painted attendants. "There has to be something fun to do in here," Edward said to himself.

Still shorter than most of the clothing racks, he wound his way between them to the back of the store, where the clothes no one wanted waited on dusty racks. He found a particularly full rack, and thrust his hands between an orange sweater and something made from lime-green taffeta, parting them just wide enough for him to climb inside. Bunching shut behind him, the circular clothing rack became his refuge from the store, a fortress from which he could think up something fun to do.

As he thought through his options, he glanced down in the dim light which filtered through the glass top of the rack. He noticed that on the dirty floor beneath him, right in the middle of the carpet, was what appeared to be a wooden trap door, complete with a gnarled iron ring set in its face. He had never seen anything like it, except maybe in an old story book or cartoon. He stared at it for a long time, as if waiting for something to burst forth from below. On a whim, he reached down, grasped the ring firmly, and pulled the creaking door upright. Suddenly, the smell of dirty water and old burger wrappers billowed his nose. The light was just strong enough for him to see the top rungs of an old wooden ladder which led down into the steaming darkness.

A voice came from somewhere outside the world of the rack, "Edward, where'd you go?"

He set one foot on the ladder, glanced up once, and then began climbing down…

(read part II)