The Future’s So Bright, I’ve Got To Wear Shades

From 10:10 to 10:25AM today my company had a break for those who wanted to go outside and watch the near-total eclipse of the sun.  The scene was something odd.  I stayed inside the nearly deserved building but I looked outside through the window [1] to see the crowd of people looking up, some with special lenses on and some pointing their cell phones to the sky to take pictures and videos of the gathering darkness.  Many people where I work–including half of a neighboring department or so–had taken off for the whole day or several days in order to camp out in order to catch a few minutes of darkness in mid-morning.  My feeds on social media were filled with the photos and videos of friends of mine across the United States who looked up to the sky and did their part to record the partial or complete darkness as the eclipse made its way across the surface of my nation.  While some people were motivated not to do anything about it because of their dislike of the hype about the eclipse, most people seemed content to follow the hype and to buy products to make a few minutes of solar viewing a bit easier.

As might be expected, there was a great deal of selling regarding the eclipse.  Some people went to heroic efforts at the last minute to pay for glasses so that they could look at the brightness of the corona of the sun without the danger of blindness.  There were concerns about fakes and about which lenses had the ISO number for the proper protection, and I was bemused by the whole spectacle.  The days of increasing hype about the eclipse exposed the fact that many companies were simply not prepared for the market that they had.  Demand far outstretched supply even if this is not an event that happens enough that the glasses would be able to be used more than once.  Even in the relatively sedate world of reading books a novel about a previous American eclipse was promoted heavily, to my mild irritation, being a person generally hostile to sales pitches on principle, even when the product is one that I would be expected to enjoy as a general rule.  My slight interest in matters of solar eclipses is not great enough to tolerate it being used as just another excuse to buy something.

This is not to say that I am hostile to observing the patterns of the heavens?  I remember as a child looking out to see a partial eclipse of the sun when I was in middle school, but neither then or now have I considered such a thing a big deal.  Carly Simon, of course, sang in “You’re So Vain” about a former partner who flew some friends up to Nova Scotia for a total eclipse of the sun, and many people seemed to follow that example.  Friends of mine camped for days in national forests, and plenty of people rented their property for exorbitant fees to take advantage of those whose interest in the eclipse bordered on solar worship.  I just couldn’t get caught up in the hype.  An eclipse is a wonder of creation, and not particularly common, but it is not the sort of thing that stirs my blood to any particular great degree.  I am amused at the way others make a big deal out of it, but I do not really understand the appeal or share it, largely because the sun is just not something I really enjoy to any great degree [2].  In stark contrast to others, apparently, I am no sun worshiper.

What is it that people seek to get out of an event like an eclipse anyway?  The fact that the moon is just large enough to block the light of the sun is considered one of those “coincidences” that demonstrate intelligent design.  People in ancient times considered eclipses and other astronomical phenomena to be signs of impending disaster and doom.  I am surprised that this interpretation has not carried more weight in our own day and age, given the fact that this eclipse was only total in the United States and we are a rather pessimistic people at present.  Perhaps it was considered acceptable to buy into the hype about the eclipse without reading any sort of prophetic message into it.  Perhaps if our age was like those of the Middle Ages some enterprising chronicler would comment on the connection between fear and anxiety about the state of the world and the darkness of the sun around the middle of the day that happened today, but in our time we just buy glasses and read books about previous overhyped American eclipses and go about our merry way.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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Book Review: French Revolutions

French Revolutions:  Cycling The Tour De France, by Tim Moore

If you are familiar with this author, others like him, there is a familiar sense about this book.  A middle-aged sportswriter decides on some loony challenge and manages to secure a publishing advance and enough help to engage upon his challenge, which simultaneously proves some sort of heroism while maintaining the air of irony that is necessary to relate to contemporary readers.  I am by no means unfamiliar with this sort of writing, nor do I dislike it [1].  I feel this style of writing is more a commentary on our times and the way that heroism must be portrayed as mock heroism rather than frankly and honestly appreciated than it is on the writer themselves, whose achievements are certainly admirable.  If you like this sort of literature, you know what is coming, a lot of witty banter from a self-effacing and falsely modest English sportswriter who has a great love of books about travel and/or cycling that mixes “you are there” reportage with a somewhat cock-eyed look at history.  There is a lot to like here.  This book is familiar in the sense a witty and somewhat irreverent dinner partner is familiar, and that is familiar in the best way.

In this volume, the author takes a trip along the 2000 Tour de France, capturing the sights and smells of the route and giving a colorful and somewhat unpleasant picture of what it is like to be a clueless and mostly monolingual British tourist attempting to do crazy tasks overseas.  Here we see the author working on getting an up-to-date bike, doing stretch exercises and trying to take care of himself, and then try to manage life in mostly rural France.  The author experiments with the sort of cheating that is regularly undertaken by riders, from hitching a ride with drivers to cutting corners on routes to taking hay fever medicine and indulging in a large amount of drinking to get a competitive edge in the brutal riding.  As one might expect, the author gets more fit as the ride goes along, and manages to find quite a few interesting people.  He says some rude things about the Germans–he appears to have a particular animus against gay German motorcyclists, who he comments on repeatedly.  Even if one finds the author to be more than a little bit profane at times–and he is no question an earthy person who loves talking about scatological matters, this almost 300 page book has a lot to offer.

So, what does one learn about the Tour de France from this author?  Well, the author indicates that there is an air of secrecy behind much of how the Tour de France operates and that they are perhaps not the friendliest to gonzo journalists like him.  Additionally, there has been a consistent air of commercialism as well as cheating throughout the history of the tour.  The author states where he does not imply that only someone who is less than completely sane would undertake a task such as cycling for over 2000 miles over the course of three weeks.  I happen to agree with the author on this, and also find that the author makes some sound points on the connection between widespread apathy about cycling among young French people and the loss of French dominance in their national race, a subject about which they seem to be a bit sensitive.  Is this author a bit less than a good guy sometimes?  Absolutely.  Is he somewhat unreliable as a narrator and likely prone to exaggerate or underexaggerate matters depending on what makes for a more compelling story?  Yes.  Is this still an enjoyable book to read?  Without question.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Gironimo!

Gironimo!:  Riding The Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy, by Tim Moore

The ending of the first paragraph gives the reader a good idea of what to expect for this volume as a whole, and presumably the author’s entire body of work, which I am about to become a lot more aware of since I requested several books of his from the library:  “Their geriatric struggle demands sombre respect, but doesn’t get it, because the man is wearing a giant Rubettes cap and blue-glassed leather goggles, and when he comes to a squeaky halt in the lay-by his woollen-pouched nuts slam stoutly down into the crossbar (vii).”  Make no mistake, this is a very earthy book by a cycling [1] enthusiast and apparently popular writer on travel and bicycling.  If you like bicyling and can tolerate a middle-aged author humblebragging about his heroism in doing an insane historical reenactment stunt while continually talking about the battered and abused state of his genitals while making humorous observations on those he encounters, you will probably enjoy this book.  I found the author a bit crass for my tastes, but in all other aspects refreshingly Nathanish.  Take that as you will.

Like many books, this one has an interesting pacing over the course of its roughly 350 or so pages.  Frustrated with the cynicism and professionalism of the contemporary Tour de France, which he documented in a previous book–one on my reading list–the author decides to tackle the most punishing race in history, the 1914 Giro d’Italia, won by an obscure biker who was cycling’s version of a “one hit wonder.”  He decides, though, that he wants to race it in a period bicycle, which results in some hilarity as he attempts to learn how to put together a bicycle and acquire enough spare parts to make it on a gruelling Milan-Milan circuit.  He meets a lot of colorful people and writes in a self-effacing way about himself as is typical for this sort of sports journalism, and ends up being able to make it through the entire tour, albeit in more time than it took them.  He also seems to find himself viewed as somewhat heroic for engaging in the undertaking, reveling in his reputation as the crazy Englishman on an ancient bike.  Moreover, the ride seems to give him the excuse to engage in some self-reflection and also revive his faith in cycling–all in all–the book has the feeling of a successful effort in pilgrimage despite the suffering the author seems to undergo because of his equipment and his general lack of competence in Italian or bike repair.

It’s easy to like this book.  Again, this is an extremely earthy author who takes delight in somewhat crude humor, but that failing aside, the author comes off more as endearing than profane.  The author’s framing of himself is deeply strategic.  By painting himself as endearingly incompetent, more than a little bit awkward and harmlessly eccentric, he makes his somewhat slow trip around Italy on an antique but sturdy bike a heroic journey rather than something to treat with ridicule and contempt.  By humbling himself, he allows a sympathetic reader to honor him.  This would have been insufferable to read from someone like Lance Armstrong, but the author strikes just the right tone to make this an enjoyable read.  The combination of the author’s mastery of tone and his vivid descriptions of elderly Italian women trying to mow him down along with the lighthearted photos and drawings that liven up the text make this a winning volume and a good reason to see if there is a translation for the history of the 1914 Giro d’Italia referred to so often by the author.  This is a book that encourages the reader to find more books, which is always the sign of a champion in my book.

[1] See, for example:

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The Curious Connection Between Protestant Theology And Constitutional Law

From time to time I find and draw odd parallels between two phenomena that are considered to be widely disparate [1].  In listening to an audiobook from the Great Courses series about Martin Luther, I was struck by the professor’s discussion of the Protestant tendency to seek for the original meaning of passages.  This is not to say that such traditions always get the original meaning and apostolic practice correctly–questions of the proper relationship of believers to the law among them–but there is at least that goal in mind.  This reminded me of the struggles that go along with arguments about the Constitution and the question of original meaning.  So, what do these seemingly disparate areas–constitutional law and theology, have to do with each other?

Let us first note that these two fields are very similar.  In both cases there are similar issues.  We have authoritative texts that were written a long time ago, and there are questions about how to best interpret those texts in light of changed condition.  To what extent do we consider ourselves to be wiser than those who came before us, to what  extent do we consider ourselves bound by the covenants made by our ancestors, and to what extent do we feel it necessary to find timeless principles to apply to novel situations or disregard what we view as obsolete and archaic?  Even among those who have the same philosophies, there are likely to be different interpretations of the same passages–witness the difference between a Harry Jaffa and Roger Taney when it came to interpreting the Constitution when it comes to the civil rights of black citizens, while both claiming to be Originalists.  One finds similar differences between different strands of Protestant theologians in the same passages of the Bible.

Knowing that many different views come from the fact that both theology and constitutional law are heavily textual enterprises helps us recognize certain consistent approaches in both fields.  There are some people who engage in both tasks illegitimately by seeking proof texts that can be taken out of context in order to support pet theories and justify actions and decisions and interpretations that one wants to make.  For example, finding imaginary rights within the Constitution and finding imaginary justifications in the Bible in violence to what the text says are both done by the same sorts of people.  There is a big difference between sola scriptura and tota scriptura, and that is true whether we are looking at the authoritative texts of scripture or of constitutions.  Any interpretation that is undertaken contrary to the coherent position of the whole text is an illegitimate one, and ultimately lacking in validity.

When we look at authoritative texts we face a temptation to consider ourselves to be authorities on that text rather than subject to those texts.  That attitude accounts for a great deal of the variety that exists in how we view those texts or any others.  To the extent that we see ourselves as judges of the text, we will look at the imperfections of the people who wrote those texts and the societal evils of the past and we will see ourselves as their superiors, free to disregard whatever is not convenient to us.  However, to the extent that we see texts as authoritative and see ourselves as subject to them, we must at least deal with those passages that challenge our contemporary evils.  If we are subject to texts, then we have to address the fact that in some ways we may not have progressed from the past but rather regressed from it, and have fallen short of the standard of our fathers, as embarrassing as that reality is to accept.

The main benefit, I think, of looking at the connection between theology and constitutional law is to recognize that sometimes different problems can be easier to resolve and understand when we see the common threads that run through them.  Questions of theology and constitutional law as they relate to the interpretation of texts are fundamental problems in the areas of religion and politics, areas that are of the utmost importance in the quarrels and difficulties of our age or any other one.  Often differences of worldview cannot be compromised and knowledge of and awareness of them can increase the severity of conflicts because we realize what is at stake.  All the same, though, the importance of interpretation makes both theology and constitutional law areas where there is deep conflict over fundamental matters, and our attitude towards the texts involved makes a big difference in how we are able to get along with each other and how we live our lives, and how we believe our churches and governments should operate.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Slow Down

Slow Down:  Embracing The Everyday Moments of Motherhood, by Nichole Nordeman

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

At first glance, this book is a gorgeous coffee-table quality book that seems tailor made for new mothers.  The book’s front page makes it clear that this book is designed to be a gift from experienced mothers to less experienced ones, and throughout the book the text is interspersed with high quality photos of adorable children, sometimes with their mothers.  At the end of chapters there are additional notes and comments by some of the author’s famous friends, including writers like Natalie Grant [1] and Jen Hatmaker, and fellow Christian contemporary musicians like Amy Grant.  This is a book that seems constructed and designed to help mothers feel like a tribe and stick up for each other and avoid the conflicts and drama that seem to happen frequently between women.  Obviously, as a male reader of this book I am likely somewhat unusual because this is not a book that seems written with any kind of male audience in mind.  Although I am no stranger to sympathetically reading books written by women, about women, and for women [2], in this particular case I believe that the exclusive focus on women is a serious mistake.

In about two hundred quarto-sized pages, a length considerably padded by generous amounts of photos, the author writes fourteen short chapters about motherhood.  She shares stories like that of her son coloring all of the keys on her piano black as she writes a new song, “Slow Down,” that serves as the bonus track of her new cd as well as the title of this book.  She writes about surrendering to the storms of life, recognizing the folly of being rigid about foolish family traditions like having a particular mall Santa, being a part of a strong herd of mothers, accepting that a great deal of life is a matter of fixing things up, commenting that much about motherhood and its struggles has remained consistent through the generations, and that practice makes practice and not perfect.  This is an author who seems content with her messy and imperfect motherhood and who seeks to encourage other mothers to be honest and open about their struggles and to avoid putting on a false front of perfection that leads them to be harsh and ungenerous to other women.

There is, however, a massive problem with all of this that may be obvious to you all.  Motherhood is not the obvious companion of sisterhood, as this author writes often, but fatherhood, about which this author writes almost nothing.  Indeed, the absence of fathers and fatherhood in this volume is a malign one that shows the author is still engaged in image management even while proclaiming her messiness as a mother.  Once the author makes a comment about having put her music career on hiatus because her marriage was on life support and she felt it necessary to prove herself as a wife, and another time her mother comments about the author having survived the wreck of her marriage, but aside from these comments the author never comments on her ex-husband at all.  The author’s failure to be candid and to support cooperation and harmony between husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, greatly undercuts the credibility of the author as someone who can speak as an authority on motherhood and a positive influence on other mothers.  The lack of harmony between parents and within marriages is a far larger problem than the intratribal issues between women, and about this massively important issue the author says almost nothing.  This book, therefore, does not help mothers because it fails to encourage women to be better wives in happier marriages, where motherhood has less pressure and more resources.  All of the pretty pictures this book has cannot cover that shortcoming.  Sometimes, as is the case with this book, what is not said is far more important than what is said.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:


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Book Review: Sacred Mundane

Sacred Mundane:  How To Find Freedom, Purpose, And Joy, by Kari Patterson

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Kregel Book Tours.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

To a large degree, I am not part of the intended audience of this book.  This short volume of about two hundred pages falls under the type of books written by women, about women, and for women.  At best, I am only a generally sympathetic outsider to such concerns myself.  It can be said that this book is written by a Christian feminist, and a large amount of its point is that the author wishes to give a certain dignity to the ordinary and secular activities many women are involved in because when these activities are not given dignity, then we outsource these tasks to domestic workers who are not generally treated with a great deal of dignity [1].  The point of the book, therefore, comes with some pretty strong political and cultural implications, ones which I view with at least some concern and suspicion.  To be sure, the author is awfully vague and relies on repeating catchphrases like the “sacred mundane” in the absence of more substantive discussions to clear up her muddled train of thought, but there is a worthwhile point even if this book is a bit of a drudge to read.

Overall, the structure of this book is very simple, with eight chapters that encourage readers to let God in, see the world through the word of God, discern God’s voice in daily life, enter in, embrace, and trust what God is doing in our lives, find fulfillment through gratitude for what God has given and let our life be poured out through seemingly ordinary tasks.  This is not a book that deals with heroic virtue, but rather the blessings that come from involvement in what seems like a mundane ordinary and even boring life, letting God work through us to transform our ordinary experience into extraordinary character.  The author begins, moreover, by asking readers to summarize their life into one sentence and to wrestle with the disappointments of our existence, and also includes a small group study for those readers (almost certainly women) who want to read this book with others.  Within the pages of this book the chapters are divided into easy-to-read sections that are clearly marked.  This is the sort of book that is likely to provide at least some encouragement to women through its repeated mantras to embrace the sacred mundane of our existences.

If this book, therefore, is not always clear on where it is going on the large scale, it is at least coherent on the smaller level of sentences and paragraphs.  Likewise, it must be acknowledged that the author has a sound point to make–most of us do live lives of quiet desperation or at least considerable monotony and disappointment, and if our lives are to be redeemed and more than merely endured we must see a larger point in them.  Redeeming secular and mundane tasks and seeing what is godly and of lasting and even eternal value in them gives meaning to our lives.  Rather than holding the common and ordinary experience of life in contempt and seeking to escape such tasks, appreciating them gives such matters a sense of dignity and honor that elevates everyone.  If there is a sort of feminism I can in general endorse and celebrate, it is the sort that does not seek to exploit others, or to rant about the behavior of men, but rather the sort that seeks to elevate women and women’s work through giving it a genuine respect and dignity.  When we dignify the mundane but vital tasks of life, we give dignity to ourselves and to all others who do what is necessary but not often glorious, and that is a dignity we can all share in.

[1] See, for example:

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Things Observed Among An Overscheduled Life

I was reminded yesterday yet again, if such a reminder was necessary, that like most people I have an over-scheduled life.  Yet as hectic as that existence sometimes is, I still find a great deal of enjoyment and insight in the fact that this existence does not preclude being observant about other people and how they are living.  So, in the brief time allotted to me by my other responsibilities of the day–which will be discussed as part of my overscheduling [1]–I will attempt to discuss at least a few of those insights before I rapidly move on to other tasks of relative urgency, such as showering and getting out the door to accomplish those tasks that I have agreed to do.  So, let us begin.

On Friday evening, as I was reading before the Sabbath, I got a call from a friend of mine asking for the help of my roommate and myself–mostly my roommate, as I am no expert at the task–in cutting some wood for her.  I conveyed this request to my roommate and he agreed and commented that even if we do not feel as if we are getting enough progress on our own tasks in life that it is easy to assent to help a friend because at least that sort of task is one that we can consider finished and done.  I wholeheartedly agreed before returning to my own lair for a quiet rest of the evening portion of the Sabbath day.  Of course, it now being the morning of the first day of the week, it is now time to fulfill that promise, and so I write in the knowledge that I have things to do and do not have time to dawdle about my task.

At church, even more than usually I was a man on a mission.  For example, I wanted to clarify some details like what time we were wanted to help out with the woodcutting, which included a lunch–always a pleasant bribe for someone one wants to do some sort of work.  I also was looking for a bit of help on setting up the tent for next weekend’s church campout, since as usual I will likely be unable to arrive until fairly late Friday afternoon, a less than ideal time to set up a tent by myself before the arrival of the Sabbath.  During the course of the day as well I had the opportunity to talk to a few others about their own missions.  The gentleman I asked about helping with the tent and setting it up was busy himself as the songleader during services, trying to sell his house and enter into a new one, and rescheduling his next sermonette, as well as practicing a piece of special music.  After services another gentleman expressed a wish to switch sermonettes with me, as he thought he would likely be out of town when his was scheduled to spend time with his college-age daughter, which I assented to easily enough as my message is prepared and ready to give.  I was struck by the fact that I was not the only person with a lot of things to be concerned about in a short amount of time.

I spent an enjoyable evening with one of my fellow brethren working on a piece of special music that we are planning to sing in less than a month for our local congregation, a piece that involves a lot of Latin singing, and it was a productive evening.  Our tenor soloist (not me) sang enough to give out his voice, and I chatted with some of his brothers about the somewhat short amount of time I had been given to prepare for the split sermon I had at the camp-out, only to hear that he had been given the same amount of time to prepare as I had.  I had discussed with their father before the nature of preparing messages, and he had expressed to me personally that he sometimes has to wrestle with a subject for a long time before writing about it.  I suppose, as someone with a large amount of ideas more or less worked out in my head awaiting the opportunity to come out, that I am at an advantage in being able to work things up than others are.  Still, there are many people affected by wearing too many hats and not having a lot of time to prepare for their responsibilities.

In such times I am reminded of the prayer that Jesus Christ gave after the disciples returned with their report on the spiritual state of Judea, a prayer that God would raise up laborers for the harvest is ready but the laborers are few.  This is likely a prayer that many people raise up.  There is far more work to be done than there are people willing and able to do it.  How different this picture is from the one we often fear, where it seems as if little labor is required at all, and so we readily turn aside from our labors to less productive tasks.  Yet there is a great deal of labor to be done, and anyone who has ambitious plans is aware of the fact that there is far much more to be done than there are people to do it.  What is to account for this disconnect?  How is it that the work that needs to be done, the resources to do that work well, and the people that are ready and willing to do that work are not connected better?  Perhaps such work is a part of the labor that remains undone because there are few equipped for it.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Becoming Shakespeare

Becoming Shakespeare:  The Unlikely Afterlife That Turned A Provincial Playwright Into The Bard, by Jack Lynch

This book is an interesting piece of history, in that it presupposes the life and writing career of Shakespeare [1] and looks at the afterlife of his career showing how he went from a popular playwright among many to his place at the top of the writers of his age or any age.  As the author admits, this is by no means an exhaustive book.  The book includes no chapters on illustrating Shakespeare, setting his plays into operas, or the burgeoning industry of snobs who posits other writers besides William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon as the author of his plays.  Even without these additional chapters, which would have been quite worthwhile to read, this is a substantial volume that deals thoughtfully with the question of literary immortality and what it means.  This is a subject that many people have at least some interest in–even among those who do not harbor vain hopes that their own writings will be remembered fondly, and Shakespeare’s life makes a good case study for how relatively obscure people find literary immortality, as was the case for Jane Austen as well.

The contents of this book are organized in both chronological and topical fashion, extending from Shakespeare’s death to the 18th and 19th centuries, when Shakespeare’s reputation as a “classic” playwright was secure.  The first part looks at the period after his death when his career was revived through the publishing of the First Folio and the first rush of interest in Shakespeare as a writer.  After this came the period when performances of Shakespeare’s plays became more popular in the Restoration when the political context made his plays the best of what was relatively current after a long period when the theaters had been repressed.  The author turns his attention to studying Shakespeare and the textual criticism that his work underwent and still undergoes today.  After this the author looks at the matter of improving Shakespeare for his various defects, which led to a great many versions of Shakespeare that remained popular for centuries.  The author gives a very thoughtful look at the way that political regimes have long co-opted Shakespeare as an authority to support their own worldviews and agendas.  A chapter on the bowlderization and domestication of Shakespeare for women and children follows, full of intrigue in its own ways, before the author turns his attention to the careers of those who sought to forge Shakespeare writings for a variety of motives.  By the time the author has finished talking about the Shakespeare pilgrimages that mark the worship of Shakespeare as an original (if not the original) genius, the author has written a very excellent book of nearly 300 pages of material, and one that features a wide variety of material for further reading for those who are interested.

One thing that separates this book from many like it is that the author neatly sidesteps the contentious issues of Shakespeare’s biography, which has very little information and a great deal of supposal and speculation filling the place of the sort of hard textual and data-driven information that we would prefer to have and focuses on Shakespeare’s afterlife, for which there is a rich and diverse textual base.  Presuppositional apologetics is not something I am unfamiliar with when it comes to biblical studies, but this book is unusual in taking the same approach when it comes to textual studies, and in doing it well.  If one wants to make an evidence-based case, and this author certainly does, sometimes we must go where the evidence lies.  Sometimes the evidence leads us away from the shadowy depths where people engage in conflict and towards the place where we cease to argue over a mysterious past and examine our ourselves and what we demand from literature and how we judge it.  By the standards of Shakespeare’s time, he was a B+/A- kind of writer, and yet he is immortal today, a reminder of a dramatic shift in standards for theater that he was influential in creating, and at least something giving a measure of hope for writers today who ponder the circumstances of what endures beyond an author’s own era.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Players: The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare

Players:  The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare, by Bertram Fields

There is a deep hypocrisy at the heart of this book, one that is shared by many of its type among those who posit alternative theories for the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays [1].  Throughout this book, the author heaps scorn and contempt upon the supposed ‘man from Stratford,’ perhaps because calling him by his given name, by any of their spellings, would be to appear to legitimize him as one of the greatest writers in the English language, something the author is unwilling to accept.  In addition, the author shows contempt for those of the ‘Stratfordian’ school by saying that their books are full of may have and must have, for adopting the language of supposition and assumption.  Unfortunately, he shows himself to be adopt the same language himself, along with plenty of “couldn’t have” for all of the things he supposes that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon couldn’t have written because of his humble background and his litigious and somewhat ungenerous nature as it is revealed in surviving documentary evidence.  Pots should not be insulting the swarthy color of kettles, nor should those in glass houses gleefully start stone-throwing contests.  Those engaged in speculative efforts, as this book is, should be charitable towards others engaged in the same task, out of professional courtesy if nothing else.

Despite the intense scorn the author feels both for William Shakespeare, about whom he has very little good to say, as well as those who believe that such a commoner and grasping social climber as he could write such elevated writings that show such a depth of understanding of human nature and a wide variety of fields, the author at least attempts to portray himself as evenhanded and fair-minded over the course of this book’s almost 300 pages.  Part One of this book consists of a chapter that gives the historical context of Tudors and Stuarts.  The second part of the book consists of a lot of mostly short chapters that attempt to cast doubt that William Shakespeare was who he claimed to be.  The third part of the book looks at a host of other candidates, such as the Earl of Oxford, Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, William Stanley, Roger Manners, Queen Elizabeth, and the author’s own preferred group/collaboration theories.  The last chapter sums up the author’s case that he believes William Shakespeare served as a front man for one or more aristocrats with whom there was a collaboration between the high art of Shakespeare that has made it a classic and the sort of low arts of the stage that made it immediately popular with groundlings.

Ultimately, this book exists, and other books like it exist, because the author is a snob.  Every alternative theory for Shakespeare requires the existence of some sort of conspiracy.  Not wanting to think that a prickly and lowborn commoner was able to write in such an elevated fashion, the author and others of his ilk posit any kind of likely aristocratic candidate they can in order to believe that high art must be created by those who are highborn.  They believe that someone as common as the actor from the provincial market town of Stratford-upon-Avon could provide some savvy and profane lines to appeal to the prejudices of the ignorant masses, the sort that has long made people uncomfortable with unexpurgated Shakespeare plays, but that the nobility and excellence of Shakespeare’s plays could not come from a relatively uneducated person from the sticks whose surviving handwriting is cramped.  As someone not very far unlike Shakespeare in terms of his background and cramped handwriting who tends to write very elevated writings, I find this sort of snobbery a mortal offense.  This book can be enjoyed as the wishful thinking of snobs, but it makes for very poor literary criticism.

[1] It should be fairly obvious that I am a bardophile.  See, for example:

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When School Is In, Parents Win?

When I was younger, I found a great deal of amusement in watching a commercial that showed parents gleefully engaging in back to school shopping with despondent children, set to the tune of “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year,” but recently a similar advertisement that claimed “when school is in, parents win” troubled me greatly.  As is the case with many subjects, my thoughts on education are very complicated [1].  As a person I am very well educated, with two master’s degrees, one a Masters of Science in Engineering Management and the other a Masters of Art in Military History.  Clearly, I am not hostile to education as a whole, and my relentless pursuit of self-education in the absence of formal credentials is no less notable.  I wish this to be stated at the outset, because I do not want to be misunderstood as some sort of anti-intellectual who is opposed to education.  I care very much about education, and have for my entire life, and I do not see it stopping as long as I draw breath.

That said, there is a great deal I disagree with in the statement.  How do parents win when kids are in school?  Obviously, as an advertisement, this phrase is spouted off to sell something.  Going back to school often involves the expenditure of large amounts of money, even for ostensibly free education.  Kids buy a new wardrobe so that they avoid being looked at as uncool for wearing all of the same clothes they wore last year.  There is the requisite purchase of notebooks and folders and large amounts of paper and pens and pencils and other related products.  Clearly companies win when schools are in, to the point where some areas engage in sales tax holidays to help encourage such back-to-school spending among the working class families from whom the sales tax is mostly collected.  So, knowing that some companies win when school is in, it makes sense that these companies would wish to encourage parents to feel like winners too.

Still, there is something that many parents see as a win from the beginning of school, and that is having their children off their hands.  The public school in particular has a well-recognized role as behaving in loco parentis, and no doubt many parents–especially single working parents or families where both spouses work outside of the home–rejoice in not having to be responsible any longer for their children for large stretches of the day.  Somewhat sadly, it seems that not having to be responsible for children and not having to keep them occupied for long stretches of time is something for parents to celebrate.  I’m not sure what this says about us as a society, but celebrating that one doesn’t have to spend time with our own offspring is probably not a good thing.  Certainly, many children are needy and demanding, but all the same parents should want to be around their children and enjoy the time spent with them.

There is certainly plenty of evidence to demonstrate that children do not particularly enjoy school.  As much as some of us enjoy learning, school itself, especially public school, is not an enjoyable experience for many people.  People with nothing in common besides the same birthday and the same geographical area–where busing is not an issue–are forced to be together for hours engaged in tasks that few of them enjoy doing for their own pleasure instead of doing what they would rather be doing.  It is little surprise in such circumstances that so much bullying and abuse happens, similar to what would happen at a prison, because in many ways a school is a prison.  The despondency that children feel about the approach of school is easy enough to understand, but the happiness of parents is somewhat more problematic.  Should parents celebrate sending their offspring to places where ridicule and abuse are likely, where conditions are restrictive, and where the utility of what is learned is often dubious?

Let us make no mistake, parents do not win when it comes to what schools educate their children in.  Do you want your children educated in cheating, political correctness, and immorality?  Most parents do not.  Yet this is the sort of education that can easily be found in the vast majority of public schools.  Do parents win when children cease to look to their parents as authorities and look instead to corrupt agents of the state, or other children?  That does not seem like a win for parents, to be sure.  In that context, it is little surprise that many parents who take the worldview of their children seriously engage in homeschooling, despite the fact that this requires a great deal of intensive effort at instructing children and in at least some cases becoming better educated themselves through the effort.  Yet this is no doubt a win for parents as well–as these parents certainly take education seriously and their children have no doubt of it, even at the effort required of becoming teachers, which is no easy work if one does it with a great deal of effort as is often the case.  Many other parents spend a great deal of effort and expense educating their children in private and parochial schools for similar reasons, because they care greatly about the quality of education their children get and recognize that many schools do not do a good enough job at it.

What, ultimately, counts as victory?  Do we count it a win when we keep people too busy to bother us?  Do we win when we spend a great deal of money in taxes and in our post-tax expenses for people to educate children in ways that we do not wish and must spend a great deal of effort and toil to attempt to counteract?  Is victory having a bit more free time or a bit less responsibility because our adorable ragamuffins are not at home, or because our children are learning the sort of lessons we wish them to learn?  Does victory take into account either or both the well-being as well as the interests of the children themselves?  Do they have a say in what they consider victorious?  Is not any victory worth having something that serves not only our own interests for today, but the interests of ourselves and of the universe at large both now and for all time?  How is such a victory to be attained?

[1] See, for example:

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