Review: Beversluis

Note:  This review was originally published in Mythlore: The Journal of the Mythopoeic Society105/106, Spring/Summer 2009): 168-70.

C. S. LEWIS AND THE SEARCH FOR RATIONAL RELIGION.  Revised and Updated.  John Beversluis.  Amherst, N. Y.:  Prometheus Books, 2007. 363 pp.  $20.00, pbk.  ISBN 978-1-59102-3.

Surely one of the most controversial books in the history of Lewis studies was the first edition of John Beversluis’s C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion, originally published by Eerdmans in 1985.  Billing itself as the only book-length critical study of Lewis’s rational apologetic for Christian faith, it concluded that none of his arguments succeeded.  Reviewing the first edition in Mythlore 43 (Autumn 1985), Nancy-Lou Patterson called it “as waspish a work” as it had ever been her “disagreeable task to review,” concluding that the faith, “including its reasoned elements” would survive the book (42).  Patterson was right: the first edition sometimes gave the impression that Beversluis thought accusing Lewis of a fallacy was equivalent to demonstrating that he had committed it.  Few readers who had appreciated Lewis’s apologetic works were convinced by Beversluis’s arguments.

Now we have a new revised, updated, and expanded edition.  It has already caused much exultation on atheist websites and much dismissive eye-rolling among Lewis fans.  Neither reaction is justified.

Beversluis has responded to his critics, continued his own thinking, and rewritten each section to the point that this version is almost a completely new book.  In the process, he has strengthened his presentation considerably.  While in the end I still find it mostly unconvincing, it does keep its promise to provide the strongest sustained critique of Lewis’s apologetic on the market.  As such it performs a valuable service.  Those who wish to continue using updated versions of Lewis’s arguments for Christian theism will have to get past Beversluis in order to do so with credibility, and their arguments will be stronger for the exercise.

C. S. Lewis’s Desk

Beversluis sets out to take seriously Lewis’s statement in Mere Christianity that he does not ask anyone to accept Christianity “if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it.”  Beversluis approves of Lewis for demanding evidence and wants to know if he has succeeded in showing that the best reasoning supports Christian faith.  Beversluis concludes that Lewis’s own best reasoning fails to do so.  While he examines several of Lewis’s arguments—the argument from desire, the moral argument for theism, the “trilemma” argument for the deity of Christ, the argument from reason for the self-refuting character of naturalism, Lewis’s theodicy, etc.—in great detail, his objections can be summarized in two points.  First, the “apparent cogency of [Lewis’s] arguments depends on his rhetoric rather than on his logic” (20).  Lewis was such a good writer that people are carried away by his words and do not notice the fallacies being committed under their cover.  Second, Lewis’s arguments are fallacious, and his besetting fallacy is the False Dilemma.  Lewis will say that there are only two (or three) choices, refute one, and thus seem to leave Christian theism standing in sole possession of the field; but in reality, there are other alternatives he has not considered, and the one he is rejecting is a straw man.

It should be immediately obvious to Beversluis’s readers that his first criticism of Lewis is valid only if, and only to the extent that, the second is upheld.  It is hardly a fault to write well unless that writing can be shown to be in the service of error.  The details of the second criticism will likely be debated in the journals for some time.  The question will be whether the additional alternatives Beversluis tries to posit do not in fact ultimately reduce to the set of choices that Lewis’s more incisive analysis had set before us in the first place.  In most cases, I believe that they do.

For example, Beversluis argues that Lewis’s refutation of moral subjectivism is vitiated by the fact that he treats it as a single genus, when actually “there are more sophisticated and nuanced versions that . . . cannot be disposed of so easily” (83).  The example we are offered is Hume’s theory of morals as based on human feeling, which Beversluis claims is not susceptible to Lewis’s “loose-cannon generalizations” (87).  Well, I think it is.  In fact, I think it can be doubted whether Hume’s view is properly a theory of ethics at all, as it has absolutely no answer to Lewis’s charge that subjectivist ethics is unable to account for the word “ought.”  When the philosophical jargon is stripped away from the allegedly “more nuanced” views, it is not clear at all to me that Beversluis has made his charge of False Dilemma stick rather than just muddying the water.  The other forms of subjectivism remain species of the genus.

C. S. L:ewis

In the discussion of the Trilemma (“Lord/Liar/Lunatic”—not Lewis’s words, by the way), the alleged missed alternatives include the possibility that Jesus did not actually say or mean the statements on which the argument is based, and that a person could be mistaken about being God and still be a great moral teacher.  In the first case, Beversluis himself commits the fallacies of dicto simpliciter and ad verecundiam, telling us that “All mainstream New Testament scholars agree that the synoptic Gospels are fragmentary, episodic, internally inconsistent, and written by people who were not eyewitnesses” (123).  All?  That generalization has never been true, and it is less true now than it has ever been.  (See Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, Eerdmans, 2006, as just one counter-example.)   Even if the “experts” were in fact unanimous, it would not make them right.  And surely one can be mistaken about a great many things, including one’s own identity, and still be a good moral teacher.  But we are asked now to believe that a person could wrongly think he is the Creator of the Universe, the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal Being who thundered from Sinai now incarnate in human flesh, and still retain any credibility on anything else he might say!  Beversluis argues that Jesus’ moral statements would still be true even if he were a lunatic; but this misses the point completely.  Lewis assumes the validity of the teaching; it is the credibility of the Teacher that is on trial.  To say the least, I do not find Beversluis’s “alternatives” to Lewis’s allegedly prematurely limited choices terribly impressive.

A Better Book about Lewis?

What my best reasoning tells me at the end of the day is that people who want to escape the conclusions of Christian theism can always find a loophole that will satisfy them.  John Beversluis is particularly good at doing so.  It does not follow that theism is false or that Lewis’s arguments for it are bad.  Whether you agree with me or with Beversluis about Lewis’s arguments, one thing is certain: the discussion is sure to continue.  I for one look forward to that.

Donald T. Williams

 Check out Dr. Williams’ new Lantern Hollow Press books at http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), Reflections on Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lantern Hollow, 2012), and Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed. (Lantern Hollow, 2012).  Each is $15.00 + shipping. 

 

 

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Review: Beowulf

REVIEW: “BEOWULF”

A Robert Zemeckis Film with Screenplay by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary

Released December, 2007

I am not even going to get started on the differences in plot between the new Beowulf movie and the original poem; or even the differences in the characters. If a student watched this movie to learn about Beowulf for his English class and tried to substitute that viewing for reading the book, he would most deservedly fail. But all that I will not touch, nor will I comment on the annoying inconsistency in how realistic the various computer-generated humans look, being studious of brevity. Instead, let me try to address the differences in philosophy or world view between the two works.

The poem was written by a medieval Anglo-Saxon Christian who used Beowulf’s character to address issues of Christ and culture that still resonate with us today. What does accepting Christianity mean to Anglo-Saxon heirs of the Germanic tribal tradition of Norse gods and a heroic warrior culture who still live in a very dangerous world? The poet went out of his way to set up parallels between Beowulf and Christ: Beowulf’s “baptism” in the mere, his apparent death at the “ninth hour,” his subsequent “resurrection,” his fight with a dragon at which he has twelve companions, one of which is a traitor and eleven of which abandon him (with the exception of Wiglaf, who thus represents John the beloved disciple), etc.

Medieval Wall at New College, Oxford

The poet’s point is that Beowulf is the modern model for the Christ-like man. This theme seems strange until you compare Beowulf with the other heroes of that culture. It often doesn’t come across to today’s reader because we are no longer familiar with the old warrior culture. But Beowulf stands out as one who does not slay his kin out of drunkenness or for personal gain. He only fights to defend the weak and innocent. And when he gives his Battle Boast, he strikes a radically new note. Rather than boasting about how his own prowess and superiority will win the day, he says, “I will fight Grendel, and may the true God [not Fate, as in the movie] then assign victory to whoever pleases him.” Beowulf’s boast gives the ultimate glory if he wins to God, not to himself. The word may sound ironic to us moderns, but Beowulf stands out from his contemporaries like a sore thumb as precisely meek. Beowulf is the Christ-like hero that the poet thinks his generation needs, because he acknowledges his strength as a gift from God, uses it for good, not personal gain or power, and gives the glory to God.

This reading of Beowulf’s character and of the poem that came down to us is confirmed by a comparison with that other brilliant Anglo-Saxon portrayal of Christ as hero, “The Dream of the Rood.”  There, far from being a passive victim, Christ is the one supremely in control of what is happening at the crucifixion.  It is his strength that enables the Cross itself to bear him, and as a conquering hero he “mounted the cross to redeem mankind” (emphasis added).  If that is the portrait of Christ that resonated with Anglo-Saxon Christians, then Beowulf is the portrait of the Christ-like man.

The Monk who Might have Written Beowulf?

The movie goes out of its way to contradict the message of the poem at every possible point. There is no sense in acknowledging or praying to the gods–especially the “new Roman god, Christ”–because the gods will not do anything for us that we don’t do for ourselves. Far from being a Christ-like hero, Beowulf sells his soul to Grendel’s mother for absolute power and then lies about having killed her when he returns from the mere. The movie’s writers apparently believe that real personal integrity is just inconceivable, for the only person who appears to have any–Wiglaf–is walking out into the water towards the she-demon (Angelina Jolie) with lust in his eyes in the very last scene that we see at the close. This is a Beowulf that is not only secular but also cynical. Though the dragon is slain, there is really no basis for any kind of hope at all in the movie’s imaginative world.

Robert Zemeckis is at least honest about his approach to retelling the story.  “Nothing about the original poem appealed to me,” he writes on the film’s website (www.beowulfmovie.com).  Quite so.  Neal Gaiman and Roger Avary profess in their screenplay to have undone the “editing” that the monks who presumably gave us our version of the story supposedly did to the original.  But their proffered “restoration” is based on no scholarship about that supposed original at all, other than the supposition that it must have existed.  (There is evidence that the story is older than the version we have, and probably did have pagan origins.  For more on the real significance of this fact, see J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic essay, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.”)

Wiglaf and the Dragon

 

So what is the basis for this allegedly original version?  As I was watching the film, I kept thinking, “This movie is what you would get if you tried to morph a secular and cynical Beowulf with–of all things–C. S. Lewis’s pre-conversion epic poem Dymer.” The movie Grendel is actually Hrothgar’s illegitimate son through his illicit sexual union with the seductive demon Jolie. Beowulf has had evidence for this astounding fact presented to him before he encounters Jolie, but forgets it and repeats the same tragic mistake, so that the dragon is actually his son; and Wiglaf’s first act as the new king is apparently going to be to repeat the same pattern. It is Lewis’s myth, of the man who has to confront the monster he himself begot, on steroids. If one wanted charitably to find a positive lesson in this hopeless mishmash, it could be to “be sure that your sin will find you out.” But the problem is that, with the gods (not just including Christ, but especially Christ) having been dismissed as irrelevant, no possibility of redemption from this inevitable fate is ever held out.

I kept thinking, “This couldn’t be an unholy marriage between Beowulf and Dymer!” But then I saw Neal Gaiman’s name in the credits. Whatever else you may say about Mr. Gaiman, he has read his Lewis–how profitably is a matter of some debate. So I am now setting it forth as a reasonable hypothesis that Dymer does have something to do with this Beowulf. If so, the end result is the worst of both worlds.  It should be seen only by the mature and spiritually fortified adult—not, despite its misleading PG-13 rating, by children of any age.

You can check out Dr. Williams’ Lantern Hollow Press books at http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), Reflections on Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lantern Hollow, 2012), and Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed. (Lantern Hollow, 2012).  Each is $15.00 + shipping. 

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THOUGHTS ON THE WORSHIP WARS

How should we approach the “Worship Wars” as pastors, ministers of music, and lay persons?  We must first realize that the question is not whether music is old or new but whether it is good.  We cannot discern the best contemporary worship music without knowing those marks of excellence that made the best of the past stand out.  Biblical truth, theological profundity, poetic richness, musical beauty, and the fitting of music to text in ways that enhance rather than distort meaning, are the marks of excellence in any age.  They are not arbitrary, but derived from biblical teaching about the nature of worship and an understanding of the nature of music.

Protestant hymnody insists on Biblical Truth.  The earliest congregational songs for Reformation churches were paraphrased Scripture texts.  The metrical Psalms of Sternhold and Hopkins (1549) was the most popular book in Elizabethan England.  By the Eighteenth Century, writers like Watts, Cowper, Newton, and the Wesleys felt free to compose words of praise that were not strict paraphrases of Scripture.  But they still felt obligated to ensure that their words were Scriptural.  Often hymns were printed with the biblical references that justified their content appended to every verse.

Theological Profundity also marks the best of past hymnody.  Even simple folk praised a majestically transcendent God with a graciously incarnated Son who saved them by grace through faith.  The best texts not only lifted them up in worship but also helped them interpret their own religious experiences in biblically sound ways.  So we sing to One who is “Immortal, invisible, God only wise, / In light inaccessible hid from our eyes.”  We give our “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.”  Has anyone ever applied the specifics of the atonement to the experience of conversion better than Charles Wesley in “And Can it Be?”

Poetic Richness is a virtue that must be pursued carefully, because a text that is too allusive can be confusing for average people and thus hinder rather than enrich worship.  Nevertheless, appropriate kinds of literary excellence have a role.  Examples include gems like the use of the questions in “What Child is this?” to capture the wonder of the incarnation, the appropriate military metaphors in that great meditation on spiritual warfare, “A Mighty Fortress,” or the choice of a simple, evocative word like “wretch” in “Amazing Grace.”  Little touches that make a text more intellectually suggestive or emotionally powerful without making it unnecessarily difficult will show up in hymns that survive the test of time, while texts that are just rhymed prose with tunes attached are more forgettable.

Musical Beauty might be thought to be in the ear of the hearer.  To a certain extent, it is.  Nevertheless, there are contours, structures, and cadences that make for a sing-able melody and harmonic felicities that can make that melody more memorable or even haunting.  Think of how Slane (“Be Thou my Vision”) rises and falls like an ocean wave, the gently rolling ABA structure of Ebenezer (“Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus”), the men’s voices in Diadem (the “complicated” version of “All Hail the Power”) punctuating the flowing women’s line in the chorus, or the inner parts moving against the still melody in the third measure of Nicaea (“Holy, Holy, Holy”).

A good Fit between the Words and their Musical Setting is essential to great worship music even when text and tune are both excellent in themselves.  The most egregious violation of this principle may be A. B. Simpson’s “A Missionary Cry”: “A hundred thousand souls a day / Are marching one by one away. / They’re passing to their doom.”  If ever there was content demanding a minor key and a dirge-like tempo . . . but this song is set to a completely inappropriate snappy march tune! Examples of good fit are the meditative, plainsong-derived melodies of Picardy in the contemplative “Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” and Divinum Mysterium in “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” or the sprightly, joyous rhythms of Ariel in “Oh Could I Speak the Matchless Worth.”

CONCLUSION:  Biblical truth, theological profundity, poetic richness, musical beauty, and appropriate fitness are not matters of style.  They are the marks of excellence for worship music in any age, but only knowledge of musical history can tell us this.  Only musicians who are classically and historically (as well as biblically and theologically) trained are poised to guide the church in judicious appropriation of the best new music as a supplement to her rich musical heritage.

Every hymn in the hymnbook was contemporary when it was written.  Some of their authors crop up more often than others because their work manifested truth, profundity, richness, beauty, and fitness more powerfully and reliably.  The church should still cling to their work, both for its intrinsic merit and because only an informed familiarity with that merit can help us discern and propagate the best “new songs” being written today.

Donald T. Williams, PhD, teaches at Toccoa Falls College and sings Baritone with the Toccoa Falls Singing Men.

Check out Dr. Williams’ books at http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), Reflections on Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lantern Hollow, 2012), and Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed. (Lantern Hollow, 2012).  Each is $15.00 + shipping. 

 

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SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE

SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE

“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the Head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15, NASB).

“Speaking the truth in love” is a phrase we have come to parrot all too comfortably.  If we truly understood it, we would realize that the Apostle’s exhortation in Eph. 4:15 impales the contemporary church on the horns of a dilemma designed to make its dependence on its own strength and wisdom self-destruct.  When we are thus impaled, we have the opportunity to discover how little we understand of either truth or love.

The truth in a fallen world is often harsh and always hostile to human pride.  When human beings–even redeemed ones–try in their own wisdom to combine that truth with love, their natural tendency is to blunt the edges and soften the blows of this terrible two-edged Sword.  Thus is born theological liberalism and political correctness.  But eschewing those betrayals of truth, some of us run the opposite way only to find ourselves not with Christ’s flock but with the cruel Pharisees.  Thus is born legalism and self righteousness.  In neither case does either truth or love really come through.

History is replete with illustrative examples.  They begin at least as early as Job’s friends, with their ham-fisted application to Job’s situation of a very sound theology of the holiness and transcendence of God.  Jehovah was not impressed with the theological correctness of their defense of His character because they had not spoken what was right about his servant, Job. I think Martin Luther was right to condemn Muentzer and the Peasant’s Revolt.  In fact, early in the controversy he had balanced and sensible things to say to both sides which, if they had been heeded, might have done much good.  But the harshness of his attack “Against the Murderous and Plundering Bands of Peasants,” urging the magistrates to “stab, kill, and strangle” as they would a mad dog those who participated, did seem to exceed the bounds of Christian charity.  Even allowing for the pejorative debating style of the times, it has left an unfortunate spot on the reputation of that shining hero of the Faith ever since.

We, the American Fundamentalist Movement and its heirs, have provided more than our fair share of such examples.  Carl MacIntyre and Bob Jones may have had a point when they argued in the ’50’s that Billy Graham was taking insufficient care to see that his converts ended up in churches that stood without compromise for the Gospel he preached.  But instead of a loving critique of a brother, they launched a savage attack on an enemy.  The cause of a balanced and biblical approach to ecclesiastical separation and theological integrity has still not recovered from the bad taste that episode left in our collective mouths.  Or think of the glib pronouncements that were flying around a decade or two ago that AIDS was God’s judgment on homosexuals.  Of course, in a sense, it is; the claim was not simply false.  God’s universe is so structured that violations of its moral programming tend to have negative consequences.  But what did such pronouncements say to the family of the young lady who got HIV from her dentist?  It would seem that Job’s friends are still alive and well.

Perhaps the most instructive recent example is Jerry Falwell’s infamous attribution of the infamous Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to God’s judgment on America’s tolerance of homosexuality, pornography, and abortion.  As a factual statement, it may not have been so far wrong as many would like to assume.  Frustration with America’s decadence and its use of its media to disseminate what is perceived as moral filth is one of the explicit motivations that lie behind Islamic terrorism.  Islamic fundamentalists believe that our iniquity, like that of the Amorites, is full, and that therefore our destruction by Islam, like that of the Amorites by Israel in the Old Testament, is justified.  Had Falwell asked us to consider whether we might have given Islamic extremists more than a little excuse for holding this arrogant error, he might have performed a useful service.  Instead, all that most people heard was anger, indignation, arrogance, and self righteousness.  The apparent absence of compassion in his finger-pointing tone not only hindered and obscured, it buried and even twisted the grains of truth that really were there in his pronouncement.

The problem is not simply an insufficient grasp of either contemporary fact or biblical content (though no doubt there are many who do inadequate homework in both areas).  The problem is much deeper.  It is our failure to understand that truth is more than factual correctness; it is a Person, the eternal Logos, whose perspectives on those facts are essential to any truth that is whole and wholesome.  And love is more than just being nice; it is a willingness to die for one’s enemies that flows, like truth itself, from only one place:  that same Person.

As the descendants of the Fundamentalist Movement, Evangelicals continue to wrestle with the legacy of its failures, sometimes distancing ourselves from it to the point that we forget what we owe to it.  If only we could avoid its vices without losing its virtues! I’ve tried to summarize the history of our own struggles in the following sonnet:

THE RISE AND FALL OF PROTESTANT FUNDAMENTALISM

Sonnet XCVI

“Christ’s Virgin Birth, his Deity, his Cross,

His Word, his Resurrection, his Return:

Could these be given up without the loss

Of Christian faith itself?” was the concern

Of those first known as “Fundamentalist.”

If their descendants’ words have proved uncouth

As if the mind had closed up like a fist,

At least they started caring for the Truth.

It’s one of mankind’s greatest tragedies

Beyond the power of the tongue to tell,

This hardening of mental arteries

Within a movement that began so well.

What they forgot should be like hand in glove:

Truth is not Truth unless we speak in love.

Truth without love is truth distorted; it is ultimately deceptive.  And love without truth is love perverted; it is ultimately destructive.  This is so even when the truth is factually correct and the love emotionally sincere.  Thus are vitiated all merely human attempts either to speak or to serve.  Nevertheless, healing speech and true action become possible even for sinful human beings like us when–and only when–we are actively indwelt by the One who is both Logos and Love.  Then, speaking the truth in love, we may indeed grow up in all aspects unto Him who is the head, even Christ.

A minister in the Evangelical Free Church of America, Donald T. Williams is a graduate of Taylor University (BA,, 1973), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.Div., 1976) and the University of Georgia (PhD, 1985).  He currently serves as R. A. Forrest Scholar and Professor of English at Toccoa Falls College in the hills of NE Georgia.

Check out Dr. Williams’ books at http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), Reflections on Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lantern Hollow, 2012), and Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed. (Lantern Hollow, 2012).  Each is $15.00 + shipping. 

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Review: Origin

Jessica Khoury. Origin.  NY: Razorbill (imprint of Penguin), 2012.  395 pp., cloth, $17.99.

Jessica Khoury’s brand new first novel, Origin, has been getting a lot of buzz.  It deserves it.

I’ll get the negative out of the way first.  There isn’t much. I found the first-person, present-tense narration highly annoying.  Is that a YA thing?  I don’t recall it in the young-adult books I read fifty years ago. I suppose it’s a ploy for immediacy, but it seems to me a cheap trick.  A really good writer can achieve it, even for young readers, without pandering to the “everything is about me, myself, and I, and the present moment is the only reality” mindset.  But I have to add that, while the narrative strategy was an irritant for me, the story was often so good that I forgot about it for pages at a time.

Now to the positive.  And there is a lot.  The settings are vivid and the story well plotted and perfectly paced.  “The jungle hides a girl who cannot die”–hides her from the world and from herself.  But the jungle ironically is also what reveals her.  Pia is the result of a series of eugenics experiments which have produced a girl both “perfect” and immortal.  But there is a terrible secret behind those experiments, a mystery that keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole way through as it is revealed one bit at a time until it all hits Pia like an oncoming truck and demands some very hard choices of her.  A love story, a coming of age story, and a murder mystery are perfectly dovetailed, with each supporting rather than distracting us from the others (and you don’t even realize the murder mystery is happening until near the end).  That’s a lot of plot elements to keep suspended and bring together satisfactorily at the end.  For a rookie writer to pull it off so successfully in her first novel is truly impressive.  And a coming of age story that is actually original (pun intended) and without cliches?  Hard to believe–but true.

New Cam?

But it’s not just a great story.  Pia has to confront some pretty important issues as she answers questions on which her life and those of many others depend.  What does it mean to be human?  What is the nature of truth, and how does scientific truth fit into that?  Is there more to truth and reality than science can teach us?  If there is, how do we discover it?  Is love more than just a distracting emotion?  All this and more arises naturally from the plot.  None of it is forced.  To deal so well with philosophical and even theological issues without preaching (or even having characters preach for you) is almost unheard of in a writer this young these days.  It bodes well for Jessica’s future as a writer–and ours as readers.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

For information on some of Dr. Williams’ more recent books, go to  http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/

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XXIX

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 

By now I have made good progress as an English Major in discovering something of the range of what poetry can do.  The English Romantics—Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats—teach us how effectively Nature can mirror our own moods back to us and help us to explore them, and they showed how poetry could mirror that mirror.  They thought (see Wordsworth in “Expostulation and Reply” and “The Tables Turned”) that Nature could do more than that, that it had positive content, and so an impulse from a vernal wood could teach us more of moral evil and of good than all the sages can.  From this critical distance it is easy to see that they imported their own propositional content into those experiences, content they got somewhere else.  So must we all do, and find other ways of testing the validity those beliefs than how well they fit Nature’s moods.  What Nature—and nature poetry—can do is to help us find the perfect language for expressing them.

 

MEDITATION XIV

 

The music of the dripping leaves,

A booming frog, a cricket’s song,

The night-owl’s call to one who grieves

Remind me of that of which I’m bereaved

And that I don’t belong.

 

And often when the brittle stars

Flame out in Midnight’s deep, dark dome,

Their pristine light, remote, unmarred,

Reminds me of how small men are

And that I’m not at home.

 

But when I turn, Lord, to your Book

And read the things that you have done:

How although Man your law forsook

You pity on your creatures took

And gave your only Son

 

To die for an undeserving race,

My stubborn heart’s bowed down

To think of how you took my place

That my weak eyes might see your face

And I, your sheep, be found.

 

Then Nature has different things to say:

Your handiwork in wood and stone,

In starlit night and rainy day

Remind me of the price you paid,

And that I’m not alone.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://www.createspace.com/3562314 and order Stars Through the Clouds!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

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XXVIII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 

It is now time for my senior year at Taylor University.  At Taylor in those days we had a winterim session which in your junior year was devoted to a course called “Junior Practicum.”  I got to serve mine working with Dr. C. S. Kilby in the then fledgling Wade Center for the study of the Inklings at Wheaton College in Illinois.  Getting to know Kilby, then the dean of American Lewis scholars, was a great blessing.  He was already advanced in years, and his elderly head with its bright eyes is still my personal picture of Bilbo in his declining years at Rivendell.  We kept in touch, and this poem was the result.

 

TO CLYDE S. KILBY

 

I

 

I wandered through the silent trees

Of fair Loth Lorien;

At Cerin Amroth, saw the leaves

Blow o’er the tomb of Arwen.

 

I wandered north to Rivendell,

To Elrond’s homely halls,

And watched as evening shadows fell

On long deserted walls.

 

And West I turned, past hill and tree,

‘Till I stood by the shore.

But Cirdan was gone, and elves to the sea

Down Anduin sail no more.

 

II

 

And I have stood as tall as a king

On a hilltop windy and bare

And drunk the air of a Narnian spring

When no one else was there.

 

And I have seen Cair Paravel

And stood by Aslan’s Howe;

But where the king was none could tell,

For no one goes there now.

 

III

 

And homeward I my feet have turned,

But home I never came,

For in my soul a fire burned

And “home” was not the same.

 

And human eyes I seldom find

Who seem to understand

The longing of a pilgrim mind

For distant Faerie lands.

 

But when I find such eyes, I call

The man who owns them “friend.”

And together we wander in leafy halls

In fair Loth Lorien.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://www.createspace.com/3562314 and order Stars Through the Clouds!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

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