Exploring Setting: A NaNoWriMo Prompt

Continuing on my theme [1] of using prompts for preparing for National Novel Writing Month this year, I would like to comment on the settings for my upcoming novel. Admittedly, with a novel planned that only takes place over a few months in late 1783 and early 1784, the settings of this part of a larger saga are much more constrained to England than is the case in the series as a whole (if I get around to writing more of the long saga that is currently in my head of which Return Of The Native Son is the first of the stories in mind). I will comment at least briefly on the larger and smaller settings of the novel I am planning to write next month (as I write this) as a way of seeking to frame my own thoughts. First I will comment on the larger settings and then on such smaller ones as come to mind.

Yorkshire:

The home region of my protagonist, the Third Viscount Lipton, is located in the area of North Yorkshire, and a fair amount of the action of the novel itself occurs in this region. Given that the novel itself confines itself to the perspective of the main character and those who are around him via free indirect discourse, the settings are limited to places that the protagonist himself goes to over the course of those few months, and those are limited to the area of his home estate and London (more on that later). Here are some of the locations in mind for the novel.

Market Weighton, although this particular town is not located in North Yorkshire itself, it is part of the way between Hull and the protagonist’s estate in North Yorkshire and is the place where the novel opens at an inn where the protagonist is staying. He also explores the streets of the town and finds himself involved in an interesting situation that has serious repercussions.

Orient Hall: The estate of the Viscounts Lipton, this particular building and its surrounding grounds and fields, makes up a major setting of the book as it is the main place where the protagonist spends his time in his household, around his family, as well as in conversations with guests, as well as in visits to the houses of various others who are a part of his larger estate.

London:

London was, and is, the biggest city in England and so it is natural that the protagonist, who is himself a viscount and thus a peer sitting in the House of Lords, would come here from time to time. There are at least a few places here that he would spend time based on his interests and behavior.

Lipton House: The Viscount Lipton, of course, has his own London house in a suitably fashionable district although he is by no means very showy of it, and he spends his time here when he is in town, enjoying his usual standard of labor.

Sydney House: He will be spending at least some time at Sydney House, the London residence of the Viscount Sydney and his family, for various reasons.

St. James Palace: At least one scene of the place takes place when the protagonist goes to the palace to be introduced to the monarch, whom he actually had never met personally.

House Of Lords: There will be at least one, and possibly more, scenes where the protagonist speaks to the House of Lords, as he is a peer.

Brook’s Club: Although the protagonist is not a particular partisan, there is going to be a scene in Brook’s club where there is a confrontation involving the protagonist and a political accuser.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Nearer To God

Nearer To God: Closing The Distance Between You And Your Creator, by Wayman Ming Jr.

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Chosen Books in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

In theory, this is the sort of book that is easy enough to understand. There are a great number of people who desire intimacy with God and find the gap the exists between God and professed believers to be intense and well worth bridging. In light of the culture that we live in, it is entirely easy to understand the desire for personal revival and peace in light of the problems that our contemporary age faces. People have a longing to go deeper and shake up the comfortable nature of their habits and patterns of worship, and again, in theory there is nothing wrong with that. Where this book sometimes stumbles is in the gap between the author’s desire to go deeper and the fact that he is not really a deep person himself, nor does he really appear to understand the Bible very deeply. What results is a fair amount of sloganeering as well as attempts to make the Bible and God relevant by using contemporary language and analogies with technology as a way to stay hip but without maintaining the solid scriptural knowledge that one needs.

That is not to say that this book is not without value. The subject matter of the book is very worthwhile. It is certainly a good thing that people would desire to progress in their spiritual lives and shake up their comfortable habits, although I am by no means hostile to comfortable habits, it must be admitted. It would be worthwhile for us to ponder, as is insufficiently pondered, that in the Bible a great many of those who were offered greater intimacy to God rejected the offer because God’s holiness, and God’s demands for obedience, were too much to take. And the uniform response of believers to the presence of God and the intimacy of God was a concern for their own well-being in light of their flawed nature. One of the reasons the author demonstrates his lack of depth as a writer is failing to understand that it is our sins that separate us from God, and that God has always longed to be nearer to us, it is just we that are terrified to be close to Him in light of our own awareness of our fallen and imperfect state, if we have any self-knowledge at all.

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Book Review: The Fire Of God’s Presence

The Fire Of God’s Presence: Drawing Near To A Holy God, by A.W. Tozer

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Generally speaking, my ambivalence towards the author is pretty strong and this book did nothing to move the needle as to the way I feel about him. In general, it may be said that I find his calls to holiness a bracing antidote to being complacent about human weakness and that is not necessarily a bad thing and if that is your focus than this book is certainly one that can be read very profitably. This book looks at the experience of Moses as setting the context for our own encounters with God in our lives, and that is certainly a very striking and interesting extended metaphor. The author seems to approach this from a somewhat mystical perspective, but it is his usual tough-minded approach, and the extended metaphor also involves a discussion of the temple as well as Elijah. Even as someone who is by no means a fan of the author, this sounds like it would have been fascinating to hear him give these messages originally, from which this book has been posthumously compiled.

In reading this book, and others like it, I am struck by how much basic logic is missing. We know that God does not dwell in and does not allow those who are not holy to draw near. We also know (or at least should) that it is not our own holiness that allows us to draw near to God, but rather the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. So far, so good. But it is striking that the author emphasizes a holiness that is not to be found by an examination of our life to see that we are obedient to God’s ways. To be sure, obedience is talked about in the general sense, but we do not get to brass tacks as to what sort of conduct meets obedience to God’s standards, God’s laws, as expressed in scripture. Perhaps the author would point to certain moral laws or sexual purity, but we do not see a deep focus on the laws as they are written in scripture, and this somewhat undercuts the author’s focus on the holiness of the believer. To what standard are we to be holy is the obvious follow-up question.

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On The Missing Links Between Genetic Genealogy And Traditional Genealogy

One of the hobbies that I spend far more time doing than writing about is examining my genetic genealogical relationship to others. Sometimes this means finding out how I am a distant cousin to strangers whose family roots are immensely complicated, but most of the time this means matching myself to various ancient peoples who have been dug up and whose genes have been tested. Sometimes the results of that are quite fascinating, and I would like to talk about two such sets of examples that raise interesting questions to me about how it is that Genetic Genealogy operates among large companies and the gaps between what we can know about our genealogy and what we can know about our larger background.

Earlier today, as I write this, some acquaintances of mine online shared some DNA samples that have recently been studied concerning the Philistine invasion of the Levant. As a student of biblical history, of course, I have long studied the Philistines, but it was very surprising and striking to me to find that I share a substantial amount of DNA with some of the early Philistine settlers of Ashdod. How is this so? The numbers are far too large to be accidental, ranging between 1 and 3% or so of my entire background. How did a sizable amount of my ancestry end up being Philistine, and where did it connect to my background at present? There has to have been some sort of story–am I descended from Philistines who converted to biblical religion and were part of David’s bodyguards, or what? To be sure, I have no genealogies that go back to that point, and it remains rather striking and unusual that it could be obvious that I have background going back to the crisis of the late Bronze age and the settlement of Philistia from Aegean sources and not know anything about how that family line came to join with other backgrounds.

A similar thing happened recently when I looked at various ancient indigenous American DNA results and found a small but traceable amount of ancestry going back to various ancient peoples who migrated into North America and were among the earlier settlers of North America. Here too there is a mystery of how this DNA connects with my own. Which ancestors of mine married into local Native American tribes? What are their stories? What tribes were involved in this, as it almost certainly happened at some point during the colonial period? The genes don’t lie–there is some connection there–and yet that connection does not tie to a traceable record that I have at present. And, it should be noted, in neither case do DNA companies trace this sort of ancestry back through anything in particular, even though especially in the Philistine case a large amount of DNA is involved.

There are definitely gaps here. How do we get from the point where can trace clear ancestry to individual samples with whom we have no paper connection to knowing what sort of background those people had, and then being able to find out how it is that we connect to these distant sources? At some point one wants a paper trail to work with. Knowing that 3000 years ago some sizable portion of my ancestry was made up of Aegean settlers of a particularly fierce kind (not particularly unbelievable) is certainly enjoyable, or knowing that a smaller part of my ancestry (around 1% or so) settled North America early, all of that is enjoyable to know. But those genes traveled generation after generation before arriving in me. How does one recover that tale?

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Book Review: Awesome!

Awesome!: Exploring The Nature And Names Of Jesus, by Dick Eastman

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Chosen Books in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by this book. As a devotional, I had pretty low expectations about its contents, but although this book is by no means a thorough examination of the nature and names of Jesus Christ, it certainly does offer a thoughtful examination of some of those names, and that is to be appreciated. This book is a 31-chapter book, each chapter a short one, that looks at various aspects of Jesus’ life that are worthy of reflection and consideration. Admittedly, these chapters appear to be in a somewhat random order but the qualities that are discussed are certainly worthwhile ones: Christ as supreme, awesome, beautiful, creative, human, divine, obedient, suffering, resurrected, ascended, humble, compassionate, merciful, abiding, spotless, missional, authoritative, praying, faithful, miraculous, worthy, righteous, selfless, victorious, joyful, returning, glorious, steadfast, preeminent, eternal, and incomparable. While at least a couple of these chapters clearly represent contemporary concerns rather than biblical ones, they are still worthwhile to consider.

Each chapter is organized in an interesting way. Each chapter begins with its day and title, and also contains a quote from a (usually Christian) writer on the subject. After this comes an essay of several pages that combines scripture and the author’s observations on the subject. This is then followed by a prayer for today, a practical encounter with this aspect of Christ, and a page that glorifies Christ by looking at some of the names of Jesus Christ that can be found in the scriptures. It is likely that the way that the book begins by seeking to introduce the author as a worthwhile fellow is done because this book’s enjoyment depends on how much one enjoys the author’s approach to his subject. Again, I would have preferred a more elevated and scholarly sort of work, but this book is certainly enjoyable to read and is likely to be widely appreciated by those who read it.

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Book Review: Lead Like Christ

Lead Like Christ: Reflecting The Qualities And Character Of Christ In Your Ministry, by A.W. Tozer

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Bethany House Publishing. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

This book begins with an introduction that tries to frame Tozer’s writing and thinking in a way that avoids offending the reader. This sort of introduction is necessary because Tozer often strikes this reader as a somewhat mean-spirited and intensely critical writer, and a critical reader is not always appreciative of being paid in his own coin by a critical writer (and vice versa, as it happens). This book is aimed at those in the ministry and is reputedly being written to encourage the reader to be Christlike in every respect. This is a worthwhile aim, but the author fails in at least two serious respects to succeed at this task as well as he aims. First, he fails to exhibit the sort of charity that Jesus Christ showed and that allowed him to be loved by those who might be put off by Tozer’s occasionally Pharisaical perfectionism. Second, he fails to point out how Jesus’ leadership sprang from the body of biblical law and prophecy that the author seems to largely ignore, perhaps out of a lack of knowledge.

That is not to say that this book is without value. At his best, Tozer is a bracing cup of cold water for the reader, and that can be a very good thing. This book consists of nineteen short chapters of less than ten pages apiece on average that combine to talk about various aspects of being a Christ-like leader in the view of the author, with such topics discussed as: the foundation, model, and a demonstration of Christ-like leadership, motivation by complete truth, the framework of God’s promises, preaching, understanding biblical order, obvious fruit, attributes of a spiritual leader, understanding the foundation of leadership, and maintaining a tight grip on the Word. Other chapters explore such issues as sound doctrine, God’s grace, our value to Christ, how God sees us, our motives, and facing spiritual warfare. At its best, this book is bracing and challenging in a way that many readers will likely need to be challenged, and this is a worthwhile task that Tozer was well-equipped to undertake.

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On The Theology Of Songs On The Radio: Part One

We do not usually think of the theology of songs on the radio. And this is a great shame, as popular culture is often rich in a source of bad theology. This was not always the case. If one goes back even a hundred years ago or just a bit more, one could reliably find music that was popular that had very good theology. To be sure, many of these songs were written by religious people, but this ought not to surprise us that religious people would write music, and that this music was theologically worthwhile. It is more to be lamented that there is still a great amount of music, some of which actually becomes popular, but most of it not nearly as theologically engaging as it was in the past. It is not only that ordinary culture has become less theologically astute, but also that those who profess to be believers are so little inclined to make music that contains a rich understanding of theology to the extent that was the case in the past.

I would like to begin this occasional series by looking at the theology of a song that has inspired a blog before and which came out several years ago and was a successful song on the alternative charts called “Unbelievers,” by the group Vampire Weekend. I still hear this song from time to time and as far as a pleasant song musically speaking it certainly is enjoyable so long as one does not think too much about the lyrics. As I tend to pay attention to the lyrics of songs in general (they are a great source of writing material, it must be admitted), my pleasure of the song is limited by a major theological error that the songwriter(s) for Vampire Weekend have when it comes to their melancholy meditation about the fate that awaits unbelievers like themselves. And as this theological error appears to be common it is also worth correcting.

The song “Unbelievers” by Vampire Weekend assumes that it is believers, “half of the world,” according to the narrator of the song, who desire the fiery fate of eternal judgment that supposedly awaits unbelievers. The entire downbeat musing about hell and judgment and related subjects assumes that it is the belief system of believers that is what makes the fate of unbelievers unpleasant. This is a serious error. Speaking as a believer myself, my belief in judgment, such as it is, does not in any way affect what will happen to those who persist in rebellion against God and hostility against His ways. I am not the judge or executioner of someone in the position of the narrator of the song. I do not even wish that any should perish in persistent unbelief. Indeed, far from wishing suffering and harm upon unbelievers, it is generally the case that believers wish all people to be like themselves and thus enter into the Kingdom of heaven. Indeed, the Bible makes it plain that God desires all mankind to be saved, and this wish is taken by some to be an expression of will.

What accounts for this disconnect? Why are the motives and wishes of believers–and indeed of God Himself–so persistently misunderstood? Those who are hostile to God, or indeed hostile to anyone, tend to project their own feelings onto their object of hatred. If we behave towards someone with contempt, we hold them to be contemptible. If we treat them with disrespect, we view them to be disrespectful. We see others as we are. And it is the hatred that the narrator of Vampire Weekend, and others like him, that leads him to project his hatred for believers onto those believers themselves and to believe that they desire as much harm to happen to him as he wishes would come to them as a result of his contempt for their religious ways. What is to be done about this? How do we encourage people to see that it is their own hatred that they rage against when they imagine it to be present in others? How do we put the mirror so that people recognize that they are responsible for the feelings that they incorrectly and unjustly ascribe to others? It is not believers that the narrator ought to be concerned about, but rather his own feelings that add to his own judgment for unbelief by projecting his own lack of charity onto those who desire, often fervently, that all be saved from sin and unbelief. If this desire and longing for all to be saved is seen as hateful, that only shows how far some people have fallen not only from belief, but also from basic reason and sanity.

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Book Review: Being Creative

Being Creative, by Laura Bartnick

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by the Christian Indie Publishers Association Book Review Program. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

In reading this book, I was struck by the fact that my expectations did not prepare me for the book that I read. I expected a broad book about creativity and how it allowed human beings to act in the image and likeness of God. This book is not nearly that general, though, and in stead the book is a very specific book that looks at the author’s view of creativity–and all too often the author’s views about politics–from a very specific place as a Christian author and publisher. This is not to say that there are not some aspects of this book that are pleasant and enjoyable, but they are not what I expected. One of the aspects about this book that particularly rings true for me is the way that the author says that not all art is made for all readers, and this book is not really made with a writer like me in mind. That is not to say that there are not readers who will appreciate this book and what it has to offer, but my own takeaways from this book are pretty modest, and I hoped for me.

Coming to this book as a male writer of mostly nonfiction did not really showcase this book’s appeal to a different audience. This book seems to be written mainly to appeal to female audiences of those who write Christian genre fiction and who want to be encouraged not only to be creative but to do so in a way that does not alienate other people. Similarly, people who are impressed or won over by the author’s somewhat odd personality are likely to enjoy this book, as it is written as a personal account more than it is written as a doctrinal or historical exploration of creativity and what it means. This was disappointing for me, since I was a bit frustrated by the author’s attempts to invent terms or to promote herself as some sort of expert on the subject of creativity by talking about her own personal business, which was of limited appeal to me. It may appeal more to others, though.

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How Shall The Young Direct Their Way?

Normally we tend to think of education as something that happens to the young. People opine about the school-prison industrial complex where failures to socialize in school lead people to engage in behavior that leads to a far less educational sort of confinement. Others discuss the political aspects of education and the utter failure of our schools as a whole to educate children to the level of other similar countries, for which various excuses are made for the failure to use tax money in an effective fashion while simultaneously engaging in dubious social experiments on a largely captive population of people. It should be noted that there are in fact multiple words in the Greek that describe education, as the education of children is conceived in that tradition to be different from the education of adults. Yet many adults, around a quarter from estimates I have read, have never read a single book for fun, and so the education of adults is something that many people do not even consider to be something they are engaged in.

It is important to realize, though, that education is at its most vital when it is not something that is foisted upon us but rather something that we seek after for ourselves. One of the reasons that we tend to associate education with coercion is that education is viewed as being so vital to the youth that we do not believe that they should choose it for themselves. Yet it is not years spent in a classroom that gives one an education. If one has the desire to be educated, one needs only worthwhile books to read, worthwhile people to communicate with and converse with, and worthwhile examples to follow. It must be admitted that these things are not always easy to find, but they are the elements of any worthwhile and successful education at any age in any subject. To be sure, an education can be found in a classroom, but it need not be so. The chief issue of an education is our desire to learn, and it is this that is often lacking. To the extent that we ask how our way is to be directed, we are already well on our way to learning.

It is a great shame that we often rely on force to encourage learning and seldom pause to explain what it is and why it is that we want others to learn. It is lamentably true that a great many people have no great longing to learn and grow, are not curious to direct their way in the proper forms, or to expand their mind with reading and musing and intelligent conversation. Yet most of us want to educate ourselves in some things. If we have an interest, we delight in reading and practicing that interest so as to become skilled at it, not realizing that this is in fact education. If we are interested in enough things, we will find ourselves to be well-educated without realizing it. It is lamentable that so many people are interested in so few things, such that we are not able to enjoy the learning that could elevate us without our being conscious of what is going on. As is often the case, it is our deliberate attention to things that often leads them not to work out very well.

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No Matter How The Dice Roll, Someone Else Always Gets To Call The Number

Is Drake a fan of the Bee Gees? We know, for example, that the Bee Gees were fans of the Beatles, enough to be a part of a pretty terrible movie made from one of their concept albums. One of the most puzzling things to me has been the way that artists often tend to be tossed into the rubbish bin regarding their later music after they have reached a point of saturation, after which they are often viewed as lame. The Beatles were fortunate enough to break up before that happened and have each of their solo artists manage to maintain a high degree of popularity within the music industry. The Bee Gees were fortunate enough to be good songwriters for others even if their own songs were not so popular for them after the disco craze ended. Perhaps Drake will end up being a figure like French Montana or Tyga trying to maintain relevance by hopping on the tracks of others after people stop streaming and purchasing his music, which will surely happen at some point.

How is it that we know what others have to offer? In an efficient market, there is communication about what is available. If, for example, I have a history of listening to music or buying books from particular people, it would make sense that I would be interested in knowing what else they have to offer. If I am listening to one album by Coldplay, perhaps I would be amenable to listen to their new single with BTS (or, given my feelings for the inorganic nature of BTS popularity and stan-influenced purchasing habits, perhaps not). But if I am reviewing albums by ABBA, the Bee Gees, and others from that era, it would not be likely that I would be interested in reviewing the latest hip hop releases, and would probably not be as interested in them. No matter how much someone pushes something I don’t want to listen to, I am not going to want to listen to it, and yet there are a great many people (and a great many government agencies) who think that people can be pushed through unwanted marketing into doing what they do not want to do and refuse to listen to those people who want to turn off such marketing and advertising altogether.

What is it that gives power to people in the middle? During the years after disco, for example, the Bee Gees simply could not get their songs played on the radio, and though the band did interviews and promotion for later albums, most of those albums remain very obscure, and it was not until the mid 1990’s when they returned to some degree of popularity again once they moved to Adult Contemporary (where most of their audience had gone) rather than attempting to be played on pop radio. Similarly, for many years the music of Aaliyah was not widely available on streaming services, and so a generation of fans of R&B were unable to easily find the music of an artist who strongly influenced many later female R&B singers like her. Just as it is a problem when people in the middle try to push a product or a message that people do not want to hear and want to actively get away from, so too people in the middle may hinder the transfer of information and content from those who create it to those who want it, as we see with the behavior of many technology companies in actively trying to distort communication when that communication is from a worldview different than that of the people who run such companies.

To the extent that our society is free, the choices that they make will reveal what is in their heart. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Generally speaking, people who are virtuous are better able to enjoy freedom because what they want causes less harm to other people. Those people who want what is bad for them or what causes harm to other people, in contrast, will tend to find that they are restrained from what they want by a variety of factors outside to them if they lack self-restraint. One of the tragedies of our contemporary age is that those who attempt to legislate their own view of morality through distorting their role as brokers of goods, services, and information are so disinclined to be honest about what they are about. The worst sort of Pharisee is the one who pretends that they are not a Pharisee, for if one gets honest hectoring and moralizing at least one is getting it from someone who is self-aware and not a total hypocrite.

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