Monday, February 19, 2018

Requiescat In Pace

In case you haven’t heard, I really hate to break the news, but. . . .


I have this doleful discourse on good authority from several reliable sources — the internet, for example. And social media. And even some people I may have inadvertently married or given birth to.   

Apparently, now that our species has digital information at its fingertips, print books are no longer necessary. In this scenario, books are the dinosaurs, and the digital revolution the asteroid. 


For example, blogger Benny Lewis says, "I am absolutely confident that within a few decades books will just be antiques. Collectors or die-hard fans will keep them “alive” in much the same way LPs still exist today." ("Books are dead--it's time to ditch the 15th century technology," Benny Lewis.)

My blood boils a little whenever anyone says that books are dead — meaning print books, of course. But my revenge is to curl up on the couch with a stack of good books and a cup of hot cocoa (with swirly, twirly mounds of whipped cream) until these false prophets are forced to (choose one). . . .
  • jump overboard into the jaws of a great white whale
  • relive adolescence with Holden Caulfield
  • compete in the Hunger Games    and/or
  • reinstate their library cards and read until they get some sense.

Meanwhile I, along with other enlightened ones, will continue to enjoy the heft of a book in my hands, the smell of a used bookstore on a rainy day, the beauty of a well-designed book, the delights of reading a beautiful book by a favorite author, the joy of discovering yet another new favorite.

And along with my precious print books, I’ll also enjoy books in digital and audio formats. I agree with Stephen Fry, who said, “Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.” Have you noticed? Nobody ever says "Stairs are dead."

I love being surrounded by shelf after shelf (after shelf...) of my old friends, the beloved books that have encouraged and shaped me through the years. Although I must admit that whenever it’s time to move to a new house, I sometimes have a teensy twinge of regret about my book hoarding. (Twinge = "What the bleep was I thinking when I got all these blankety books?")

All those boxes of books are so darn heavy to lift and tote. Just ask my grown children, since they are usually the ones doing the aforementioned lifting and toting. But I feel bad about it. 

I really do.

Oh well, serves them right for saying that books are dead!

(...Um, just kidding, guys! You know that, right? . . .Right?)

So, books are dead? Never! To the contrary, books are alive and thriving. In fact, many of them are living a life of pampering and privilege at my house. You can trust the Stark Raving Mythopath.

Photo Credits:
     Crying angel -- © Can Stock Photo / mkistryn
     Candles -- © Can Stock Photo / Irochka
     Girl reading -- Public Domain
     Bookcases -- Public Domain
     Cartoon of Moving Day -- Public Domain
     Mourner -- © Can Stock Photo / gina_sanders

Monday, February 12, 2018

Happily Never After?

The shoe fits!  [The peasants rejoice!]

To everyone's surprise, the ash-streaked girl who has waited hand and foot on her ugly-wicked-stepsisters for many long years marries a prince. Her life is changed forever. Freedom. Riches. And best of all, True Love.  πŸ’— πŸ’— πŸ’—

Wait! There's one more girl to try!

What is this, a fairy tale? You bet. 

By magic, a beautiful mermaid loses her tail and grows legs like a human. She washes up on the shore and is rescued by her prince. At last she has everything she ever wanted.

Almost. In order to grow legs, she has traded her voice, and now she has no way to tell the prince of her love for him. The prince -- her everything, her one true love -- marries another. The only option left to her is to pursue an immortal soul for three-hundred years.   πŸ˜§ 😧 😧

The Mermaid bargains with the Sea Witch

A fairy tale? Yes, this one is too.

Which story is a reflection of real life? They both are, for fairy and folk tales contain glimpses of deeper truths. 

Sometimes a real-life love story works out. And sometimes, not so much. In spite of what Disney and Avalon Romance try to tell us, not all love stories have a happy ending. 

What is "happily ever after" anyway? I have trouble believing that Cinderella and her Prince spent the long, blissful years of wedded life with never a cross word muttered or eyes rolled in impatience, with never a dispute about whose turn it was to take out the trash or who tracked mud on the Persian carpet.

I think we all know by now that having a fairy tale wedding or becoming a princess doesn't necessarily mean happy-ever-after.

And how many of us, I wonder, now look back with fondness and a sense of relief  on that girlfriend or boyfriend who broke our hearts so long ago. Oh, the pain, the tears! The comfort food consumed! But in hind sight, it's a blessing that relationship fizzled out. How different our lives would have been. And look at all we would have missed.

Next week, my Valentine and I will be celebrating 43 years of marriage. We have four grown children, five grandchildren, and many happy memories. So hats off to the boyfriends of days-gone-by. How nice that they merely broke my heart instead of ruining my life.

Even the Little Mermaid's story didn't have a truly tragic ending. She lost her prince but gained an immortal soul. Ironically, it was she who wound up with a true happily-ever-after.

Happy Valentine's Day from the Stark Raving Mythopath! πŸ’—

Photo credits:
  Little Mermaid: Ivan Billibin illustration, Public Domain
  Princess Diana: Author:  Princess_diana_bristol_1987_01.jpg: Rick; derivative work: Crisco 1492  
  Little Mermaid Postcard:  E. S. Hardy, Public Domain

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Rooster Is My Hero

One summer, I got a letter from the Writing Academy. The Academy was an international writer's group that began in 1978. So in August of 1980, we were going to come together for our third annual meeting. That's when the letter came.

It was an announcement that the featured speaker for the conference was a young pastor from some place in Indiana. Some guy named Walter Wangerin, Jr.  

Or whatever.

Oh great, I thought. They couldn't get a REAL writer for a speaker, so they got some pastor from Podunkville to fill the time. Isn't that just peachy? 

But I did note that his book was a fantasy novel, and I was, after all, a rabid fantasy fan. And incidentally, it had won a little something called the National Book Award. My curiosity was piqued.

Something else interesting happened to me that same summer. I became a mom for the first time.

So I rocked and fed my baby boy while I read Wangerin's novel, The Book of the Dun Cow--loosely based on the beast fable of Chanticleer and the Fox, adapted from a story in The Canterbury Tales

The characters in Dun Cow are all animals--barnyard and woodland creatures. They live in a pre-human world, and they have a solemn task assigned to them by the Almighty. They are the keepers of Wyrm, an evil basilisk locked in the earth's core.

The leader of the barnyard is Chauntecleer, the proud rooster, supported by his wife, the beautiful Pertelote, and many friends--including the impetuous John Wesley Weasel, the mystical Dun Cow, and the mournful mutt, Mundo Cani. For all his bluster and bravado, Chauntecleer has a huge heart, and he takes his leadership role very seriously. It falls to him to protect his many "children" from the terror of Cockatrice, an evil half-rooster/half-serpent creature spawned by Wyrm. There is an epic war between the army of Cockatrice and the army of the valiant Chauntecleer.

Cockatrice. Say it out loud and you are hissing.

Walter Wangerin, Jr.
I found the characters to be well-rounded and true-to-life and the story engaging and gripping. There were so many nuances and layers of meaning. When I finished, my preconceptions had been shattered and my heart deeply touched.  I still have that paperback edition of Dun Cow, with its beautiful cover art and well-worn pages.

Not bad for a pastor from Podunkville. I knew I had to go and meet this guy.

And meet him I did. Not only was Rev. Wangerin an excellent writer--he was a dynamic and inspiring speaker, one of the most memorable I have ever heard.

A few years later, Wangerin released a second book about the brave rooster and his companions. Alas, I found The Book of Sorrows to be rather depressing, as Chauntecleer dealt with guilt about  the death of some of his dearest friends. (I believe this book has now been renamed The Second Book of the Dun Cow: Lamentations.)

Book Two begins after the great war. Chauntecleer is leading the animals on a journey to find a new home, since the barnyard has been despoiled by their enemies. Throughout this story, Chauntecleer's sorrow is deepening, as he mourns the loss of his friends. This story ends in  a tragedy.

Last year, I decided to look Wangerin up online and see what he has been doing lately. To my delight, I discovered that he has written a conclusion to the Dun Cow trilogy: Peace at the Last. And I am happy to say that Book Three gives a triumphant and satisfying ending to the story of Chauntecleer, Pertelote, and their brave comrades-in-arms. But I won't say more, lest the Spoiler Police hunt me down through my IP address.
The spoiler police--nah, just kidding--
it's a basilisk.
So much for my pre-conceived notions. A pastor from Podunkville turned out to be one of the best writers I have ever read and one of the best speakers I have ever heard. My bookshelves house many titles by this writer--in the section where I keep the really good books, the ones worth reading again and again. The Dun Cow books are keepers.

Photo credits:
     barnyard -- public domain; rooster and chicken -- photo by Stijn Ghesquiere 2004;       
     Book of the Dun Cow -- cover art; Walter Wangerin, Jr. -- photo by Liddlelf;      
     Aubrac cow -- author: Jean-Luc Bailleul;
     rooster head -- photo by Roman KΓΆhler, public domain; 
     basilisk -- painted by Friedrich Johann Justin Bertuch (1747-1822) -- public domain; 
     rooster -- a pastel by Friedrich Johann Justin Bertuch (1747-1822), photo by Sara Atkins

Saturday, April 1, 2017

April Fool's

April first—a day for jokes and high jinks, pranks and put-ons.

So how did April Fool’s Day begin? Funny you should ask. It’s a little known fact that during the Roman Empire, a court jester boasted to Emperor Constantine that fools could do a better job of ruling the kingdom. Constantine, accepting the challenge, set aside one day a year for fools  to rule. 

The first fool appointed to the task was named Kugel. He decreed that only foolishness would be allowed on that day. And so began April Fool’s Day—as reported by Professor Joseph Boskin, of Boston University, in 1983.

Just one eensy little problem. Barely worth mentioning. Boskin was himself playing an April Fool’s Day joke when he told this story, but several newspapers ran it as news. Boston University later apologized for the ruse. The truth is that nobody really knows how April Fool’s Day began. 

Following are some more of the most epic April Fool’s jokes ever played. 

Spaghetti Trees

In 1957, a British news show, Panorama, played fake footage of farmers in southern Switzerland harvesting spaghetti from trees. Hundreds of  people contacted the BBC, wanting to know how to grow their own spaghetti trees. The BBC politely told them, “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."

Bogus Burgers 

In 1998, Burger King ran an ad in USA Today, for “left-handed Whoppers.” These southpaw patties had all the regular ingredients, rotated 180 degrees. Many customers started ordering their burgers left- or right-handed--because yes, people really are that dumb.

TV stinks! 

In 1965,  British TV claimed to be testing a new technology that would transmit odors to the viewing audience. Some people actually called to say that smell-o-vision was working!

Shock and Ahhhh... 

One April 1st during World War I, a French pilot flew over a German camp and dropped a big bomb. The Germans ran for cover, but the bomb failed to explode. The reason? When the soldiers inspected the “bomb” at close range, it turned out to be a football with a note that read, “April Fool!” 

Are You at Risk? 

A respected British journal, The Veterinary Record, ran an article in 1972 about the dreadful diseases of Brunus edwardii, a species "commonly kept in homes in the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe and North America." Serious discussion about the article continued for months—even though Brunus edwardii, it turns out, is a fancy-pants name for a teddy bear.

Hats off to all these inspired pranksters and jokers who save us momentarily from our hair-shirt seriousness and prune-faced self-importance. 

But these days, adrift in a sea of fake news and outright deception, we may have lost our ability to be amused by April Fool's jokes. It figures that the enemy of our souls would target God's gift of humor--for laughter is a great and powerful weapon in the battle of good vs. evil. 

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  -- I Cor. 1:27

April Fool's Day reminds me that God chooses the foolish things of the world to surprise and confound the so-called wise. And that gives me hope that He can use me, along with all the other weak and stammering and foolish things.

     Photo credits:
          jester -- "The Laughing Jester," an anonymous painting in the Art Museum of Sweden -- public domain
          spaghetti -- public domain
          Burger King -- a Burger King in Norway, photo by Nicky Pallas
          WWI Bomber -- public domain
         Teddy bear -- photo by Jonik

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Passion Voices: Mary


Who moved the stone? What's going on here?

It's not enough, I suppose, that we watched him suffer and die. It's not enough that every nail was pounded into my heart, that every lash of the whip tore my soul apart.

Now they've taken his body too!

What kind of low-life lunatic would do such a thing? We have nothing left except the comfort of giving him a proper burial. There was no time on Friday. They barely got him to the tomb before Sabbath began. 

And what a strange and silent Sabbath it was. Yesterday I could feel nothing at all. Not the warmth of the sun, not even the pain of my grief. Not the sweet Spirit of God which has sustained me since the day I met him. 

The world went on as always, as if nothing had happened. And even God was silent.

Don't you understand? He was everything to me. Everything. He's the only one who ever looked at me as if I were a real person. Not a harlot. Not an outcast. But as if I were a daughter of the Most High.

I hate the silence.  Never to hear his wonderful stories. Never to hear his prayers. Never to hear the sound of my name on his lips--the sweetest sound I ever heard. The only voice I want to hear is the one I can never hear again.

Here's the gardener. I'll ask him if he knows anything. Maybe he saw something. Maybe he knows who did this. How did they move the stone? Where is my Lord? Where is my. . .


Photo Credits:
    Entombment of Christ, by  anonymous Russian icon painter
    Easter Morning, painting by Johann Friedrick Overbeck

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Passion Voices: the Centurion

You get used to it. 

The stares. The contempt. The muttered curses. The spitting when they think we aren't looking. 

We came to bring the peace, but apparently they don't want peace. They prefer independence to the Pax Romana. 

Independence! These Jews can't even settle simple disputes about their own religion by themselves. And, of course, you can't argue with "the chosen ones." 

Or reason either.

I'm not used to arguing anyway. If I tell my men "Do this" or "Go there," they don't mouth off. They don't ask questions. They just do it. They just go where they're told.

That's what I told Jesus when I went to see him. That's why I understood that he didn't need to come to my house for my servant to be healed. I knew He could just give the command and it would be done. I do know something about authority, and I could see that this man had it.

I've tried to help these people. I gave money to help them build a synagogue.

But I don't understand this at all. Why are they crucifying this man? He has taught them, healed them, loved them. While they stand jeering and scoffing, even the sky has covered its face with a dark veil. Even the clouds are weeping. 

I've seen men die this wretched death--criminals who deserved it. Like these thieves, caught in the act! But this man has done nothing wrong. Nothing! 

Oh God, no. I think they've had their way now. He's not gasping for air anymore. He's dead.

Can't you people see it? I don't care what you say about him.

Surely this was the Son of God!

Photo Credits:
    Roman soldiers, by  Harrak.a
    Jesus healing the Centurion's servant, painting by Paolo Veronese
    Crucifixion, by Benvenuto di Giovanni
     Crucifixion, after Joseph Van Fuhrich, detail, photo by Wolfgang Sauber

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Passion Voices: Thieves


Well, Saul. Here we are. Your plan a charm.


Shut up, Josiah. Just shut up.


Don't worry. We'll both be silent soon...thanks to you and your brilliant plans.


Shut up. Can't you be quiet even now? If you hadn't confessed ... we wouldn't be dying like criminals.


We are criminals.

Just! Shut! Up!


I wish Mom were here.


Why? Our mother doesn't care....Nobody cares. Didn't I tell you?


Don't say that.


Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing.


Forgive? How can anyone forgive this mob?


Show some respect!


Don't worry. This guy will save us. He's a king! [To Jesus] Hey, Big Shot! ... King of the Jews! Why don't you save yourself!


Quiet, Saul. Can't you see we're just getting what we deserve .... We're thieves. This man has done nothing wrong.


Whatever. It doesn't matter now. Nothing matters now.


It matters. [To Jesus] Lord, when you come into your kingdom ... please remember me.


Who are you talking to? He can't help you. We're all in the same boat here...and the boat is sinking.


[To Josiah] Truly, my friend. Today you will be with me in Paradise.


Thank you. Now I can die in peace.


Paradise? Have fun in Paradise, you guys.... Send me a postcard in Hell....

Photo Credits:
     Christ on the Cross between two thieves, Artist unknown

     Christ on the Cross between the Two Thieves, by Peter Paul Rubenst