Book Review: The Opposite Of Loneliness

The Opposite Of Loneliness:  Essays And Stories, by Marina Keegan


You should not judge a book by its cover, even when that book has an appealing cover featuring a photograph of the late author, a friendly-looking ginger young woman in a bright yellow blazer and a short floral skirt.  Why is that?  Well, if you pick up said book and decide to read it, you may find out that what is trumpeted as a voice for the Millennial generation cut off in its prime, five days after graduation from Yale before she had a chance to make her mark as a writer for the New Yorker ends up being a regrettable example of contemporary decadence and writing that is not nearly as good as it is said to be.  This book has a lot of hype, but in terms of actual quality, this book is not very good, and likely would never have been published if the author had not been well connected with elite circles or had died in such tragic circumstances, given that these writings are not particularly accomplished undergraduate writings [1].  The author may speak with the zeitgeist in these stories and essays, but that does not happen to make them worthwhile, sadly.

About two thirds of this 200 page book is made up of the author’s monotonously repetitive stories of mostly privileged youth without a sufficient moral or religious background involved in dysfunctional relationships involving casual sex and drug use and not a lot of sense.  The author’s voice is highly casual and if she writes often about the death of romantic partners or the struggle to deal with cheating partners (or, sometimes, being the cheating partner), she does not write particularly well or write anything that is worth reading, much less celebrating.  Her essays, though, if possible, are even worse.  The opening essay, which apparently went viral (although I never heard of it), is the title essay, in which the author bloviates on the absence of loneliness that she found in her college environment and her efforts at keeping that community feeling alive.  Her other essays include a great deal of leftist naval gazing that passes as deep thinking that makes the author an embodiment of contemporary fake depth.  One can see these works, many of which were written as assignments of one kind or another, as evidence in why college is such a waste of time and money for so many people.

Although this book was not enjoyable and even though a short read still time I wish I would have had back, it is not as if there is nothing whatsoever that is praiseworthy about this book.  The author can be praised for writing in her own voice rather than attempting to write in the voice of someone with more life experience and more sense than she possessed.  If the author’s voice is not a good voice or a worthwhile voice, I can reasonably believe it is her voice at least.  This book reeks with the propaganda that passes for contemporary learning and the moral corruption that passes for creativity and originality.  The author would likely have been one of those young people one encounters with strong opinions but little worthwhile of genuine knowledge or a firm moral worldview to base those strong opinions on.  Wherever you encounter this book, whether in a bookstore or library, you can take the author’s advice that “there is always some better thing” than this book to waste your time on.  That may be the only piece of advice this author or her surrogates attempts to pass on that is worth taking to heart.

[1] This author, for example, has some comparable samples:

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Book Review: The Bro Code For Parents

The Bro Code For Parents:  What To Expect When You’re Awesome, by Barney Stinson with Matt Kuhn

This may be the worst parenting book of all time [1].  In looking at this book, I had a hard time thinking of any parenting advice in this book that I would want to take, and consider it pretty hilarious all the same.  If you read this book expecting serious advice to parents and take the advice as something to follow, the results could be unpleasant.   Likewise, if you are offended by the crass vulgarity of this book, you will probably not have a good time reading it.  If you realize that there are a lot of people (especially immature men) who are like the fictive author of this book, then you can take the book as a sort of anthropological research project.  This book almost encourages that you laugh at Barney Stinson for being such a troglodyte, even if that is not the most charitable responses towards an author and his work.  Really, though, as this book is (very) juvenile humor, you know going into this whether you appreciate that or not and can base your reading choice accordingly.

As a whole, this book presupposes that you know the Bro Code and have at least the ability to stand the author’s perspective about women and family, which is far from my own personal perspective.  After an introduction where the author gives himself a good deal of unwarranted praise, this book is divided into four parts.  The first part looks at how one gets pregnant.  The second part of the book looks at how to deal with being pregnant.  The third part of the book looks at early childhood, and the fourth and final part of the book examines toddlerhood.  The book is organized, therefore, in chronological fashion and contains a variety of spectacularly ill-suited advice including interview questions for nannies, inappropriate singalongs, and even advice for down the road, such as viewing one’s daughter as old enough to date if you are attracted to some of her friends.  Suffice it to say that the book comes with a fitting disclaimer:  “..the opinions, techniques, and alarmingly comprehensive parenting advise presented throughout this gospel should never be construed as commonly accepted fact or scientifically proven medical truth, even when expressly presented as such (vii).”  Caveat lector.

I felt bad about finding this book funny.  Given that the book is completely devoid of factual or moral value, and that I find some of the author’s advice repellent, the only value I can see from a book like this is its humor, and even that is a rather doubtful proposition.  Since I happen to know people who are not particularly dissimilar from the persona of the author–testament perhaps to my ability to get along with people who are very much unlike me–I found this to be a frightening look at their thinking process.  That said, I do not wish to promote this book given that a great many people will not find this book funny and will find nothing of value in it whatsoever.  If you are a person with remotely decent personal standards of morality and conduct, there is likely going to be a lot in this book that offends you, but the book will also be written from a point of view close to one’s worldly (male) relatives and coworkers and future edge lords in training, which means that this is a book that puts on the outside what many people think and how many people would wish to act if they could, even in such times as our own.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Bro Code

The Bro Code, by Barney Stinson with Matt Kuhn

Although my knowledge of and fandom of the late CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother is at best slight [1], this book does fit in with a genre of books that I read and tend to enjoy written by men about the issue of masculinity [2].  Does this work stand apart from a series so that it is enjoyable to read even if the show has largely faded from public consciousness?  Yes, this is still an enjoyable and funny book even outside of the context of the sitcom from which it sprang.  On those grounds alone this is a worthwhile and enjoyable volume and one I recommend so long as the reader is not offended by the pervasive tone of crudity and casual immorality that can be found in it.  This is by no means an edifying book, but it is a book that can provide the sensitive reader with some painful but worthwhile realization that even those of us who might consider ourselves to be godly people have been deeply influenced by the moral decay of our times of which this book is so emblematic a representative.

This short and breezy book of about 200 pages begins with an introduction, defines a bro (carefully and accurately pointing out that one’s brother is not necessarily a bro, as is the case for me), and gives some rather facetious discussions of a brocabulary and the origin of the bro code in the imagined mists of ancient history.  The vast majority of the book contains 150 articles of the bro code, making it among the more readable examples of massive law (?) codes in existence, some of them with exceptions and limitations to the exceptions, with ten amendments to the rules, a commentary on the penalties for violation of the rules, and a glossary of terms for those who may need a bit of aid in improving their brocabulary to the level of the author.  Some of the rules are entertaining, and I found much to my surprise (and sometimes alarm) that a great deal of my own social conduct around my more broish friends through my adulthood has in fact corresponded with the approach and standards outlined here.   Whether or not that is a good thing or a very bad thing is something I lead to the reader to decide, hopefully according to the hermeneutic of charity.

I am not sure how common this would be, but when I was reading this book I could think of numerous people who I find to be rather broish.  Some of these people are my own bros, so to speak, and they certainly are bros to other people, including some people who may not think or feel all that fondly of me.  In general these codes reveal a sophisticated understanding of the social life of men, including a high degree of discretion in one’s behavior as well as what one says about others (including the avoidance of gossip), the avoidance of awkward and embarrassing moments in dealing with male dignity in public, the ways in which male bonding takes place in a context where cars, sports, food, booze, and a shared appreciation of the appreciative male gaze is often involved, and where loyalty and respect are key aspects of getting along over the long term.  More negatively, one can find here plenty of cases of objectification of women as well as a certain phobia towards commitment to marriage and family and a desire to provide a safe space for openness of expression with people who will not be offended by what a guy really wants to say.  Despite its pervasive crudity and immorality, this book has a surprisingly shrewd and knowledgeable core.  The authors clearly know men well and write with a loving and humorous respect for men as men.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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Papias And The Millennium

As a writer whose thoughts have quite often gone towards the millennium and what it will be like [1], it is quite a joy to me that the ancient writer Papias was interested in the Sabbath as well.  To be sure, Paipas’ writings about the Sabbath, recording what he had heard from the Apostle John, were matters that ancient writers made fun of him for.  Even in the ancient world, the idea of a literal 1000 year period ruled over by Jesus Christ where there was a drastic change between the world as it is now and the world under godly rulership was something that was the subject of ridicule to Hellenistic believers who did not think that such a dramatic change was necessary.  We see in the contemporary world that those who are either amillennialists or postmillennialists do not believe that the world as it is now requires such a drastic intervention on the part of God and Jesus Christ to make things the way it ought to be, generally because they view the power of Hellenistic Christianity as being sufficient to gradually change the world into a godly one without needing Jesus’ direct intervention in the matter.

Papias, through John the Apostle, knew better.  Here is what Papias has to say about the millennial blessings on agriculture:  “The days will come in which vines shall grow, having each ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each true twig ten thousand shoots, and on every one of the shoots ten thousand clusters, and on every one of the clusters ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will give five-and-twenty metretes [a metrete is an ancient unit of measurement equivalent to 37.4 liters or 32.9 quarts] of wine (9).”  Obviously, a picture like this is designed to be particularly enthusiastic.  And for those who would make fun of this image, it is similar to that given by Amos in Amos 9:13-15:  ““Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord“When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.  I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them.  I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God.””

While it is unknown what else Papias had to say about the Millennium, he did indicate that the original efforts by God to have angels oversee the administration of the earth came to naught:  “To some of them [angels] He gave dominion over the arrangement of the world, and He commissioned them to exercise their dominion well…but it happened that their arrangement came to nothing (16).”  One gets the feeling that this failure was certainly not terribly surprising, and from Papias’ views of angeology we can infer that just as the arrangement of the world under the authority of corruptible angels came to nothing, so Papias had little faith in the ability of corruptible human beings to exercise their dominion well.  Indeed, this understanding, which John shared, about the corruptibility of angels humanity is what likely accounts to a great extent in the premillennialism that Papias speaks of, and the lack of faith in humanity living and ordering itself voluntarily according to God’s ways is what accounts for a great deal of the pessimism about human rule and government among contemporary premillennialists like myself that mankind will ever get it right to the degree required to have postmillennial optimism as some Calvinists do.

We can get a great deal of insight into Papias’ views of the millennium from the few fragments that we have, although it would undoubtedly be easier to understand them in greater detail if he had his full body of writings.  For example, we can see that Papias was concerned about the literal blessings that would be given to those in the millennium through the blessings of Christ Jesus as ruler.  It is not necessarily fashionable to think about these matters, or to take the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures seriously when they think of millennial blessings in terms of wastelands made into productive agricultural lands, bountiful harvests, enough land for everyone to have their own vine and fig tree, and highways built between historical enemies where people can come to celebrate the festivals of God.  Yet this is the language that the Bible uses, and as the Apostle John took these matters seriously–see Revelation–so too Papias takes them seriously regardless of how unfashionable such matters may seem to us.  Likewise, we get a great deal of insight from Papias’ pessimism and from an understanding that only God is fit to rule over the universe, and that any being that does not have His infinite virtue and incorruptibility will inevitably screw things up as angels and human beings have done.

Should Papias’ view of the millennium influence our own?  As someone who seeks to follow apostolic worship practices as best as they can be known, it is personally gratifying to me that someone who similarly viewed the Apostles as worth knowing about and worth following as Papias did has the same sort of views of the Millennium as we are best able to understand them given the fragmentary nature of his surviving writings.  Those who wish to follow the apostles can do a lot worse than to gain encouragement by the fact that those who were close to the apostles also share the same views on the Millennium as best as we can know them.  That said, even in ancient history those who increasingly disregarded the example and practice of the Apostles were quick to view Papias’ emphasis on millennial matters to be embarrassing or ridiculous, and those who emphasize a believe in progressive revelation extending beyond the apostolic period are not likely to find Papias very convincing as a witness to proper eschatological views.  Whether or not you find Papias’ thoughts on the Millennium to be inspirational or cringeworthy depends in large part on the assumptions that you bring to a study of ancient writings and to the desirability of recovering the faith once given to the apostles, as is the case with so many other matters.

[1] See, for example:

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Interview Questions For A Martyr

I just have a few questions for you, Ignatius, if you
don’t mind.  Why is it that you thought it was
necessary for you “become like wheat” and be
chewed up by the lions in order to reach the
kingdom of God?  You were, after all, once the
bishop of Antioch in Syria, and in your position,
even if you were somewhat of a late convert it
must be admitted, you did not do anything that
was worthy of you being denied entry into the
kingdom, right?  If other Christians could enter
into that kingdom through being godly people
living according to the Spirit by the laws and ways
of God, why would it be different for you?

Is there a reason why you did not write to the
bishop of Rome when you made it a specific
point to write to the bishops of everywhere else
that you traveled along your road to martyrdom
in Rome?  You may have been an important leader
in ruling over the Church of God in Antioch, which
was no doubt an important city, but given that you
wrote a letter specifically for the bishop of Smyrna
as well as letters to the Ephesians, Magnesians,
Trallians, and Philadelphians that all commented on how
bishops and elders and deacons should be obeyed
and treated with respect, why is it that you did not
comment on this very important fact with the Church
at Rome?  Did you think that they already were
obeying their bishop or did you find their bishop too
powerful already, as he would later become, or was
it simply that you were too focused on the death by
martyrdom that you were seeking to think of questions
of mere church authority while that was on your mind?

There is one more thing I am curious about as well if
you don’t mind answering me.  Why is it that you thought
you were doing a favor to people by trying to coerce them
into no longer obeying the Sabbath?  If you were following in
the footsteps of the Apostles, and you were no doubt aware
of how they loyally kept the Sabbath as was recorded by Luke
in the Acts of the Apostles, how could it be that remembering
the Sabbath day and keeping it holy would be a matter of
judaizing for anyone else?  Are you not aware that the Lord and
Savior who you thought to imitate through your own
martyrdom was Himself Lord of the Sabbath and that He
claimed no other day as His own that would be acceptable
for fellowship and for worship during the week?  How then
did you think that following the example of Christ Jesus would
be inappropriate in that way if it was appropriate to seek His
manner of death at the hands of the heathen for yourself as
a way of entering into His kingdom?


Sometimes when we look at people from ancient history, and this is definitely the case when I look at the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, we imagine ourselves in the point of view of somewhat obnoxious interviewers seeking answers to questions.  Some of the writers among the Apostolic Fathers [1] are people I think I would find friendly.  For example, Polycarp strikes me as someone with whom I would have a great conversation about his faith and example, and Papias was someone who collected the stories of the Apostles and someone who loves good conversation about the Bible and its people will definitely be welcome to talk to for myself.  Clement strikes me as someone who would be a gentle person to talk to and very witty, and the fragments of Quadratus, that most obscure of people, would indicate that he was someone who was deeply interested in biblical history and aiming at a persuasive appeal to stop persecution against Christians, all of which is welcome by me.  These are all people I think I would relish knowing personally among the writers of the Apostolic Fathers.

It is different, however, when we look at Ignatius.  I see Ignatius as someone who would not be the nicest of people or the easiest of people to get along with.  Certainly during his life he was someone who had a great deal of conflicts over his holding a position as overseer of all of the churches of Antioch, and his belief that he had to suffer martyrdom in order to enter into the Kingdom is more than a little bit intense for the tastes of many people.  For me, though, Ignatius’ seeming hostility to the Sabbath (if this indeed is a genuine writing of his and not some sort of fraudulent later interpolation) is really the clincher as to why we would not get along.  After all, I had a pastor in my teenage years who made it clear that he did not view the Sabbath with respect, and though I found his son friendly enough, the pastor himself was not someone whose authority I could respect given his hostility to God’s ways, and there was soon a parting of the ways between us so that I could attend a church that maintained a practice of godly Sabbathkeeping.  Obviously, then I would not be able to respect Ignatius as an authority, and in that light I think it is possible that we would not get along in a friendly way considering the fact that his hostility to the Sabbath and my resulting denial of any godly authority on his part would mean that there was nothing we could agree upon concerning his place.

It is one thing to ask questions, even pointed questions such as I imagine myself asking Ignatius when he is raised in the general resurrection (presumably) with the great mass of people who lived and died without following God’s ways.  It would be another thing to answer these questions.  Given that I do not know Ignatius personally and that his only record to posterity is seven relatively short letters written as he was on his way to death, or at least that is the only aspect of his life that I am familiar with at any rate, I did not feel that it was appropriate for me to imagine the answers that Ignatius would give to my questions, although I feel confident that his answers would be somewhat pointed and combative.  I do not know, though, if Ignatius would be a person that other people would care to ask questions to, or if his general obscurity as a writer of the early Second Century AD would mean that few people would care about his life and death at all, despite his best efforts to die in a memorable fashion.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Squirrel Proofing Your Home & Garden

Squirrel Proofing Your Home & Garden, by Rhonda Massingham Hart

Despite the fact that squirrels can be somewhat annoying creatures, I must admit that I have generally been fond of squirrels because I appreciate their antics [1].  Nevertheless, squirrels are animals that have a lot of serious concerns in the modern world.  They are resourceful and clever animals that compete with birds for food (and often eat eggs), and make their homes in trees and gardens, and that find both hazards and opportunities in human structures.  This book, it should be noted, also talks about squirrels in the broad sense rather than in the narrow sense, meaning that this book also discusses flying squirrels, chipmunks and ground squirrels, as well as groundhogs and prairie dogs, not all of which are generally figured as squirrels in the popular consciousness.  Also, as a humorous aside, this book earned some goodwill because it discussed the place where I first learned about the way that squirrels easily become familiar with humans and their generosity, namely the University of South Florida, from which I have plenty of my own squirrel encounter stories, like many other people I imagine.  This book was likely written with that sort of situation in mind.

The book as a whole is a pretty short one of about 150 pages or so.  The author begins the book by introducing a look at the world from the perspective of the squirrel, not something that many people consider, I think.  After that there is a short statement about how much in control squirrels are (1) along with a lesson on squirreldom (2).  The author generally maintains a humorous perspective on squirrels’ possessiveness towards anything connected to their trees, like bird feeders, and the cleverness and playfulness of the animals.  A considerable amount of time is spent identifying squirrels, their habitat and what good they do for the environment (3).  After this the author discusses the damage that squirrels do to trees, bird feeders, and homes through their exploration and settlement and scrounging (4).  The author gives some very specific and highly creative tips on how people can defend their bird feeders from squirrel depredations (5) while also including some tips on how people can protect their house and garden as well (6).  Finally, the author provides some clever and even ingenious designs on how one can squirrel proof not only by response but by design (7), after which the book closes with some resources and an index.

Overall, this book is entertaining.  The author manages a difficult balancing act between showing a great deal of humor as well as a certain degree of respect for squirrels and their capabilities on the one hand as well as forthright statements on the harm that squirrels can do that tends to lead some people at least to view them as very irritating pests.  As is common in life, the extent to which the antics or irritations of squirrels predominates in the mind of others varies across a wide area.  Being sympathetic towards concerns about overcrowding, the way that squirrels tend to be rather sensitive animals who can respond badly to being trapped and relocated, and the playfulness of animals whose attitude amuses me, I tend to among those who are rather understanding and not prone to viewing squirrels or other small woodland animals as ferocious enemies.  On the other hand, many people are less sympathetic about the plight of small and fierce woodland animals and do not find their antics particularly amusing at all, and those are the people who are likely to view this book in the most grimly serious fashion.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Salad Leaves For All Seasons

Salad Leaves For All Seasons:  Organic Growing From Pot To Plot, by Charles Dowding

My library had this book presented, and I do not think it was necessarily the best move.  That is not to say that this is a bad book, but the book is tailor-made to showing how to grow salad leaves in the UK in all seasons and that is not always very applicable to a climate like that of Oregon.  Even so, as someone who likes to eat salads all year round [1], I found a great deal to enjoy in this book.  If you read this book, you are likely to enjoy salads as well and you may even be likely to have a fondness for the sort of organic ideals that the author does.  Those who do not eat salads all that avidly are also not the people who are likely to devote considerable time trying to grow salad greens year round for their own table.  This is the sort of book whose topic matter rather nicely self-selects its reading audience, something that probably happens a fair amount when it comes to books that are published and that are put on display in a library.

This book of almost 200 pages is made up of 4 parts and 19 mostly short chapters.  First, the author begins by talking about growing leaves (I) through learning new tricks to get high yields from small spaces using special methods (1), and by focusing on ways to sow less and pick more (2).  He discusses experimenting with salad beds to slow, plant, and harvest throughout the year (3) and pick baby leaves when one has to grow in confined spaces (4), focusing on the palette of leaf colors to work with (5).  He continues by talking about how to sow, raise, and sustain healthy plants indoors and outdoors (6), bring new energy to soil, plants, and ourselves (7), and deal with slugs and other pests (8).  After this the author spends some time looking at the seasons of harvest (II) by showing salad plants that grow year round (9), giving some terrible recipes for all seasons (10).  The author then turns to celebrating outdoor leaves (III) by writing about lettuce (11), endives and chicories (12), cabbages (13), spinach, chard, and beet (14), exotic tastes and colors (15), herbs and flowers (16), and outdoor winter salads (17).  The author then closes the book with a discussion on indoor sowing and growing (IV), with the benefits of sowing indoors (18), as well as growing salad leaves indoors through the winter (19) before including some English resources and an index.

The author clearly has different tastes than I do, and to some extent that makes this book less enjoyable for me than it would have been otherwise.  I think being English certainly accounts in part for the unpleasant recipes offered for what would otherwise be some spectacular salad plants.  Even so, there are some worthwhile insights that this book provides that are well worth pointing out.  For example, the author comments that pests tend to select plants that are distressed in some fashion.  Rather than being (too) angry at such flies and aphids and slugs, it is worthwhile to wonder what is causing problems with the plants that would make them attractive to pests.  Most of the time, I think, people are unaware of the positive side of animals that we tend to think poorly of, but it is worthwhile to note that trouble does deliberately seek out those who are already struggling, something that some people would know without having to read it in a book about plants.  As long as you focus on the author’s techniques and less on the author’s recipes and opinions about plants, this is a worthwhile book.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Cottage Gardens

Cottage Gardens, by Philip Edinger and the Editors of Sunset Books

During the Middle Ages cottage gardens developed for very practical reasons.  Peasants had some land near the pathways to their hovels and needed to grow some edibles and medicinal plants that could be the difference between starving and merely a difficult life and so over time certain assemblages of plants came to be associated with cottages and the space around them.  Over time, of course, changing fashions and the addition of new hybrids and more exotic plants as well as the gentrification of the cottage garden when rural living became popular in the 19th century for elites seeking to escape the city turned what was originally a very practical matter into something that was done for aesthetic reasons.  Despite my black thumb, I am no stranger to reading excellent gardening books [1], and this book is certainly a worthwhile one whether or not one is fond of the tangled and complicated history of the cottage garden and how what was once a lowly but necessary type of garden became something associated with class and prestige, once all of the peasants had been kicked off of the land and forced into grimy cities or exiled abroad and the countryside became a place of pastoral fantasies for the well-heeled.

This reasonably short book of a bit more than 100 full-sized pages, many of them with glorious full-color photographs of cottage garden plants in bloom, is divided into several sections.  The first chapter discusses the history of the cottage garden and its essence and variety.  After that the author talks about the adaptability of the cottage garden based on climate and then how one plans a cottage garden either from scratch or using effective designs with the author helpfully provides.  After this the author gives a series of annuals, biennials, perennials, shrubs, vines, and trees that work in a cottage garden with descriptions and photos.  After this the author provides some discussion about herbs, ornamental grasses, fruits and vegetables, and roses that complete a cottage garden.  The author then closes with a discussion of the details and accessories that add charm to a cottage garden (like pathways, fences, gates, arbors, trellises, seats, bird feeders, and so on) as well as provides a look at the climate map of the United States when the book was published as well as an index.

What is it that makes a cottage garden so intriguing?  For one, there is the blend between plants that have clear practical uses as edibles and other plants that are ornamentals, and still other plants that are fragrant and useful for birds and bees.  For another, cottage gardens are appealing because they are meant to be low maintenance assemblages of plant life that show a certain apparent natural quality and that provide the feeling of a rustic life.  These elements combine to make a cottage garden an appealing idea for those who wish to enjoy as well as share the beauty of that life with other people and the occasional worthwhile animal.  The author certainly has some interesting ideas about what makes for beautiful cottage gardens and includes a large variety of plants and accessories for the reader to plan based on the area of the country they live in as well as their own ideal garden.  Unsurprisingly, the author also includes some references to other books from the publisher that deal with related subjects like bird feeders to help encourage cross-pollenization when it comes to reading audiences for the publisher’s books.  All in all, though, this is an enjoyable and beautiful book.

[1] See, for example:

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Papias And The Metadata Problem Of The Gospels

Papias is an important figure in determining how it is we know what we know about the authors of the Gospels.  This is a problem that is somewhat difficult for contemporary readers to understand, largely because metadata is something we deal with on a regular basis, so often that we often fail to recognize its problematic nature in ancient texts.  When we look at book, metadata is all over the place.  The book greets us with a title and author on its title page and often the title and author and publisher are printed on the spine of the book (or book cover) as well when we look at it.  The book contains a copyright page that gives in detail the ISBN number for tracking as well as information about the copyright date or number of pages or how the book is labeled according to the Library of Congress or some other system, and there are often detailed indices and footnotes or endnotes and biographical information about the author and sometimes lists of books that the author has previously written.  All of this data is missing when we look at the writings of the ancient world.

This is perhaps not too surprising if we look at it closely enough.  The books of the Bible and the writings of the Apostolic Fathers in the century or so after the Bible was written were not published by the ancient world equivalent of our large publishing houses or even vanity presses.  By and large, they were self-published affairs.  About half of the New Testament, for example, is made up of the personal mail of various Apostles and their associates (mostly Paul, but also John, Peter, James, and Jude).  Yet, just as is the case for our letters, the letters of the Apostles are easy enough to label by author even if some scholars continue to doubt the legitimacy of Ephesians or 2 Peter or the pastoral epistles, and this is with the information of the writer and the recipients of the letters intact within the writings themselves as they they are for epistles in general.  Metadata is a much more serious issue when one looks at the Gospels because the Gospels were not a form of literature that included the sort of metadata that we take for granted in our contemporary books.  Moreover, two of the authors of the Gospels (Matthew and Mark) wrote nothing else that we can compare to the Gospels on stylistic grounds the same way that Luke-Acts and the writings of John are easy to compare with each other on textual grounds [1].

It is fortunate, therefore, that we have the writings of Papias to help us understand the differences between Matthew and Mark as Gospels.  Writing in the late first to early second century, within the lifetime of people who knew the Apostles firsthand (and with himself an associate of John’s), Papias has this to say about the first two Gospels:  “Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered.  It was not, however, in the exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ.  For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him.  But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings.  Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them.  For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements (14).”  And of Matthew Papias writes:  “Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew [Aramaic?] languag, and each one interpreted them as best as he could (14).”

Papias, therefore, shows himself to be a conscientious writer about the Gospels, and it is fortunate that we have surviving these comments about the first two Gospels, at least.  Matthew was said to have been the secretary of the Gospels, writing down the oracles of the Lord which were then interpreted by others and used later in (in either Greek or Aramaic or both) his own Gospel account.  Thus Papias gives us the first recorded comments we have of the mythical source Q of the sayings of Jesus Christ, and lo and behold Papias records Matthew as having been the secretary among the Apostles and recording down what Jesus taught for others to use as a fair record.  Likewise, Papias’ statements about Mark are perfectly sensible in light to the fact that Mark was a youth at the time of Jesus’ preaching and while he was definitely early associated with the Apostles (being a relative of Barnabas and an early and late associate of Paul), he makes no claims of having followed Jesus during his ministry and his own account of fleeing naked from the Garden of Gethsemane is of a piece of modesty and self-effacement typical of the earliest New Testament writings.  Here Papias provides information about the authorship of Matthew and Mark that we would not have by looking at the Gospels alone.

And this indicates the nature of the metadata problem for these texts as a whole.  The original Gospels did not include their authors’ names, and the authors themselves were modest (both Luke and John are possible to identify through process of elimination in their writings, but it takes some work) and not the sort to brag about themselves.  Yet with the early copies of the manuscripts of the Gospels went various traditions and oral statements that provided context.  Papias, fond of hearing and also of recording down what he had heard from associates of the earliest Christians, records these traditions passed along with the text down, and later writers (fortunately) saw enough that was worthwhile in these comments to record them for our benefit, such that we have the Gospels with their authors and can know at least something about the circumstances in which they were written, and the reasons why the Gospels differ as they do in terms of their focus and perspective.  When we see Matthew and Luke as careful chroniclers and Mark writing the perspective of Peter and focusing on the action of Jesus Christ that Peter’s early audience heard with pleasure and John as writing after the other Gospels and filling in some of the gaps in the narrative with his own memories and aimed at heresies during his own time, we can understand something of the context in which the Gospels were written and copied.  And in that understanding, we owe Papias a great deal as an early recorder of that context for our benefit.

[1] See, for example:

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Facing The Lions

You were an old man when you were taken
up in a raid near Smyrna and burned at
the stake, when there was a threat, I suppose,
that like Ignatious before you you would be
facing the lions.  And you were no doubt
brave, by all accounts, when it came your
time to die as a martyr to the faith you had
held all your life.  Indeed, you would likely
be happy to know that the accounts of your
bravery that Sabbath of your death have
lived on and that you are still remembered
fondly to this day as someone who had given
the ultimate level of sacrifice for your faith.

But was it braver for you to face the lions at
least metaphorically speaking on the day of
your death, or to face the doctrinal corruption
of that bishop of Rome who could have chosen
to defend a festival of the firstfruits that Jesus
kept in his brief ascension to the Father before
returning to comfort the disciples, but instead
sought to justify keeping a heathen festival started
by the Babylonians to increase membership in
the fallen church instead?  Would it have made you
feel more heroic as you stood in defense of apostolic
custom in celebrating the Passover if you knew that
this stance would make you a hero for those who
kept the Sabbath as they did even to this day?


As a writer, I have long been interested in the career of Polycarp [1] of Smyrna.  This interest springs from many sources.  For one, Polycarp is widely considered within my religious tradition to have been one of the few examples of a godly church leader in the post-apostolic period to preserve the godly example and practices of the Apostles, most notable in his debate in the quartodeciman controversy with Anicetus of Rome.  That said, the reader of the Apostolic Fathers as a body of literature will find reasons to doubt whether Polycarp was as much a friend of biblical belief as his reputation has allowed.  Of course, it is possible that the anti-Sabbitarian writings in Ignatius were fraudulent, but it is possible that even in the early second century keeping the biblical Sabbath was viewed as judaizing within many Christian circles, a lamentable tendency that continues to this day.  And given that, Polycarp’s role in preserving Ignatius’ writings comes off as less than entirely heroic.   Be that as it may, Polycarp remains an interesting figure even as his complexity increases.

And it is that complexity that I wish to capture in this particular poem.  While this poem only slightly references Ignatius (who, of course, has seven epistles of his own to make him a somewhat well-known figure among the Apostolic Fathers), I did wish to contrast the bravery shown by Polycarp in the two massive conflicts of the end of his life.  Appropriately enough, both of these conflicts dealt with Rome and to his role as an essentially antagonistic figure to Roman religious and political interests.  In his fight with Anicetus, Polycarp gained a reputation as someone who stood up for apostolic tradition against a rapidly Hellenizing and apostasizing tendency that would become dominant with Rome as it became less and less Christian in the attempt to gain members through syncretism.  Likewise, in his martyrdom, Polycarp served as an aged victim to the superstition of the heathen local population that blamed Christians for whatever political and natural disasters came upon the heathen population.  Incidentally enough, this was the same charge that philosophers faced from the superstitious mobs, making an unlikely case where philosophers and Christians could ally against the superstition of the heathen masses, an alliance that only seems to have worked in elite circles.

What made Rome the ultimate enemy of Polycarp?  In the hostility to Christianity that would lead to the martyrdom of Polycarp and many others, what made Rome the enemy of Christians is that Roman government was tolerant of polytheism and had a messianic view of the state that was hostile to anyone who denied those messianic claims, including venerable old believers like Polycarp who had lived mostly in peace during his long lifetime.  The hostility of the Roman church under Anicetus was due to the rising trends of syncretism by which popular heathen thoughts and practices were given a Christian veneer and made mandatory festivals for Christians, a tendency that would give the world most of its contemporary “Christian” holidays from Christmas to Easter even to Valentine’s Day and Lent and All Soul’s Day among other examples.  Ultimately, the same lion (namely Satan) was behind both tendencies, either the messianic state or the phony Christian Church seeking to appeal to heathens through the adoption of heathen traditions, a tendency that appears to this day in the behavior of the Catholic Church and in many Hellenistic churches that crave relevance in contemporary society above all else.  In such an age where these tendencies take power in church and state all good people are either exiles and refugees on the one hand trying to lay low or are martyrs for the faith once delivered on the other hand, unless they choose to apostasize themselves.

[1] See, for example:

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