A Green Man

[Edit – I’ve actually finished this book now. I found this short post sitting in my drafts folder, so I’m Frankensteining it.]

I’m partway through Roger Deakin’s (not the cinematographer) book Wildwood, and I’m finding it almost exactly what I hoped: meditations on trees that vary from detailed (a whole chapter on ash) to general (living in houses made entirely from wood).

Random thoughts:

  • Wood is a bridge between man and metal. Knives have wooden handles. Guns have wooden stocks. The once-living connects the living and the dead.
  • David Nash, sculptor: three-dimensional art (sculpture, for instance) is experienced in relation to the human body, two-dimensional art is experienced more in the imagination. Also, objects increase in size when put indoors and decrease in size when put outdoors by a factor of about one-third.
  • Lots of interesting thoughts from Barthes and Ruskin on architecture and technology. Barthes: cars are the modern-day Gothic cathedral. They are almost mystical in their summation of our culture.
  • A bunch of crazy words: juglone, thwmps, bothy.

A Man Visits Sick Heart River

On Sunday, my father preached a wonderful sermon at TPC. One of his best, I think. He spoke of Christ’s loneliness on the cross, and afterward, a parishioner asked him if he knew of any artistic representations of that kind of loneliness. We have gory images in art, so we can imagine Jesus’s pain. But do we anything that communicates his abandonment?

Some suggestions were thrown out: Harry entering the forest at the end of Deathly Hallows; the film version of Endo’s Silence; part of The Power and the Glory. I mentioned Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest, which is a real bummer of a book. My dad brought up a John Buchan novel called Sick Heart River, which he had read years ago. It’s about a man who goes out into the Canadian wilderness to die. Google didn’t give us much information, until I discovered that the book was published in the US under a different name: Mountain Meadow.

I’ve been collecting books that have been released from Samford’s library. They put them on a little red roller shelf that sits in the lobby with a sign taped to it that says “FREE BOOKS.” One of the many volumes I’ve schlepped back to my office over the past few months is Mountain Meadow. When I picked it up, I knew nothing about it except that it was written by John Buchan. Now I know it is good enough for my father to remember it after twenty years.

Here are some photos of the object of my good fortune.

A Man is a List of Books to Read

Megan Whalen Turner, author of the excellent Queen’s Thief series, included a list of recommended books at the end of one of her novels. It’s easy, she says, to find lists of new books for young readers, harder to find lists of old. Her recommendations address that imbalance. I’m a sucker for recommendations and for lists of books, so I’ve reproduced MWT’s work here:

  1. The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliff
  2. Warrior Scarlet, Rosemary Sutcliff
  3. Blood Feud, Rosemary Sutcliff
  4. Knight’s Fee, Rosemary Sutcliff
  5. Puck of Pook’s Hill, Rudyard Kipling
  6. The Enchanted Castle, E. Nesbit
  7. The Story of the Treasure Seekers, E. Nesbit
  8. The Railway Children, E. Nesbit
  9. Half Magic, Edward Eager (a favorite)
  10. Magic By the Lake, Edward Eager
  11. Seven Day Magic, Edward Eager
  12. Knight’s Castle, Edward Eager
  13. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken (another favorite)
  14. Black Hearts in Battersea, Joan Aiken
  15. Midnight is a Place, Joan Aiken
  16. Go Saddle the Sea, Joan Aiken
  17. The Green Knowe series, L. M. Boston
  18. The Return of the Twelves, Pauline Clarke
  19. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Time, Jane Louise Curry
  20. The Perilous Guard, Elizabeth Marie Pope
  21. The Sherwood Ring, Elizabeth Marie Pope
  22. The Changes trilogy, Peter Dickinson
  23. The Princess and Curdie, George MacDonald
  24. The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald
  25. Moccasin Trail, Eloise Jarvis McGraw
  26. Little Britches, Ralph Moody
  27. Minnow on the Say, Philippa Pearce
  28. Tom’s Midnight Garden, Philippa Pearce
  29. The Ides of April, Mary Ray
  30. The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper
  31. Three on the Run, Nina Bawden
  32. Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne
  33. Playing Beatrice Bow, Ruth Park
  34. The Crime of Martin Coverly, Leonard Wibberly
  35. A Chance Child, Jill Patton Walsh

A Man Read About Business

Here are short reviews of two books I read recently about Christian business.

Business for the Glory of God, Wayne Grudem

To his credit, Grudem argues that business, possessions, money, profit, competition, and all the rest are not evil or even morally neutral, but fundamentally good. As in, blessed by God. (Exempli gratia: the commandment against stealing implies private ownership; the Proverbs 31 woman is commended for earning profit.) Grudem admits that all created goods can be used for evil, but he goes to bat for them, which is commendable.

I part ways with him in two places. First, he says that the free market produces love of one’s neighbor because you have to get along in order to do business. I don’t think so. Quashing your hatred of the local mechanic so that he’ll fix your car is not a good thing. Your hatred needs to be dealt with. I do think that business and trade are good things that will flourish in a place full of confessing Christians. I just don’t think the causation works the other direction.

Second, Grudem has far too much faith in the free market to solve the world’s ills. He tells a story of firing a painter who botched the job of painting the Grudems’ living room. Don’t worry, he says, I did that man a favor. Eventually, market forces will tell him that he’s a terrible painter and he’ll find something else to do, something he’s good at. Listen to the market and the market will reward you. It will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Now, a businessman should not feel guilty for firing a bad employee. In some situations, it is a favor to everyone. But the way Grudem explains it here makes it sound like the best thing you can do for someone who’s struggling financially is tell them they need to work harder. That’s not always true. The market is not kind to everyone. People do get caught in the riptides and go under.

Works of mercy require more than telling someone what they’ve done isn’t good enough. Sometimes you have to step in and show them how to do better next time. And, sometimes, you just pay the man and repaint the living room yourself.

Acres of Diamonds, Russell H. Conwell

I read these books because I do not have a head for business. This one was useful in encouraging me to look for talents hidden in my own backyard, so to speak. He’s so positive about the fact that anyone (everyone!) can make themselves rich that you almost believe him.

On the negative side, I discovered an upstream tributary of Wayne Grudem’s book. Conwell (a Baptist minister) has this bizarre blind faith in the free market. Don’t leave an inheritance to your children, he says. They won’t experience the benefit of amassing wealth for themselves. Don’t give money to the poor. It will just make them lazier than they already are. Yeesh.

One last thing: he notes that ninety-eight out of one hundred rich men are honest. Being honest is what made them rich. I think he’s probably right about that. But that doesn’t mean that honesty and riches always go together. God’s world isn’t that cut and dry.

A Man Had a Thought About Tech-Wise Families

I started an online book group with a couple of friends, David K. and Jon B. The second book we read (just finished last week) was The Tech-Wise Family, by Andy Crouch. It was pretty good, holding the football steady so we could kick off a lively discussion. I’m not going to summarize or review it here. I just want to talk about something Crouch says in the section called “Shaping Space.”

He says that his one key recommendation, his if-you-only-remember-one-thing-from-this-book recommendation, is this: “Find the room where your family spends the most time and ruthlessly eliminate the things that ask little of you and develop little in you.” Good advice. Push yourself to become skillful in things. Pursue wisdom and gain courage. When I started to think about how I would apply this is my family, however, I immediately had questions…

My wife and I are sitting on the sofa in our living room right now, she reading, I typing this sentence. The wall opposite the sofa is mostly covered with books. To the left of the bookshelves is an electric keyboard, piled with sheet music. Above that hang two guitars. Now, this seems to pass the tech-wise assessment test. Books and musical instruments ask a lot of you and develop a lot in you, right? That may be true, but that’s not why we have them in our living room. We have the books because we enjoy reading. We have the instruments because we enjoy playing them. We hope that our daughter will enjoy both activities, too, of course, and so far, she does.

But let’s imagine that we had on the wall of our living room, not books, but a giant TV (like we do in the bedroom, ahem…). And let’s imagine that, after reading Tech-Wise, my wife and I agreed to ruthlessly eliminate the TV and replace it with a complete set of Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World. Would we grow apt to pull a volume down and flip through it? I don’t think so. Far more needs to change than the furniture.

I still think Crouch’s advice is good. (And you should still read the book.) The architecture and layout of your home will affect how you spend your time there. But I think we need to spend more time thinking about the role enjoyment plays in all of this. I can all too easily imagine a father and mother who, determined to ask more of their family, make their home a place where nobody wants to be (including the two of them). If you are really trying to wean yourself off your TV or smartphone or Netflix subscription, start with something small and enjoyable. Instead of the Great Books, replace your TV with a bunch of Tintin and the Complete Calvin and Hobbes.

 

A Man Presents Some of the Most Useful Titles from the Theopolis Library

  • It’s a Gas: A Study of Flatulence
  • It’s Not News, It’s Fark
  • Flower Thoughts: A Selection
  • Arsy Varsy, and its sequel, Varsy Arsy
  • The Importance of Wearing Clothes
    • This last one is dedicated to John Steinbeck, which makes me wonder if he had a predilection towards nudism. (When I told him this, Dave said: Gives a new meaning to “Grapes of Wrath,” doesn’t it?)

A Man Goes Where Creative Work is Happening

On David K’s recommendation, I’m reading Jeff Goins’ book Real Artists Don’t Starve. Goins is attacking some common myths that hang around artistic types, like the idea that making money means you sold out, or the notion that success is all a matter of blind luck. Believe it or not, you can work things to your advantage in your pursuit of art. Goins distills his advice into a dozen principles, which he doesn’t call The Twelve Rules of Goins, but I’m going to.

Behold, the Twelve Rules of Goins.

1. The Starving Artist believes you must be born an artist. The Thriving Artist knows you must become one.
2. The Starving Artist strives to be original. The Thriving Artist steals from his influences.
3. The Starving Artist believes he has enough talent. The Thriving Artist apprentices under a master.
4. The Starving Artist is stubborn about everything. The Thriving Artist is stubborn about the right things.
5. The Starving Artist waits to be noticed. The Thriving Artist cultivates patrons.
6. The Starving Artist believes he can be creative anywhere. The Thriving Artist goes where creative work is already happening.
7. The Starving Artist always works alone. The Thriving Artist collaborates with others.
8. The Starving Artist does his work in private. The Thriving Artist practices in public.
9. The Starving Artist works for free. The Thriving Artist always works for something.
10. The Starving Artist sells out too soon. The Thriving Artist owns his work.
11. The Starving Artist masters one craft. The Thriving Artist masters many.
12. The Starving Artist despises the need for money. The Thriving Artist makes money to make art.

Some solid advice there. Take a closer look at #6: The Thriving Artist goes where creative work is already happening. In that chapter, Goins quotes a little detail from Patti Smith on why so many creative types moved to New York in the 1970s: “It was cheap to live here, really cheap.” Obviously NYC is the furthest thing from cheap nowadays. But the art scene of the 1970s is a big reason why the city still holds a flavor that so many hip youngsters find irresistible. Apparently the cycle goes something like this: a bunch of creative people move to a cheap town, meet each other, do their creative thing, and attract lots of other people who want to live in a happenin’ place.

That right there is seventy percent of the reason T and I moved to Birmingham. It’s cheap to live here, really cheap. When don’t have to worry so much about stacking the wampum, you have the luxury to spend your time on other, more creative pursuits. And when those creative pursuits do start to turn a profit, the profit doesn’t have to be enormous for you to make ends meet.

One final thought: my friend Daniel pointed out that there’s this assumption underneath these twelve principles that Thriving Artists are the real artists, whereas Starving Artists are poseurs. Goins makes that assumption explicit in the title of the book: real artists don’t starve. The implication is that, if you aren’t making money on your art, you’re not a real artist. When you get right down to it, is that any more helpful that the reverse? There’s nothing wrong with an electrician who writes music in his spare time and never makes a nickel from it.