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Archive for July, 2011

Tolkien considered

I just finished reading Mark Horne’s biography of J. R. R. Tolkien (a volume in the Thomas Nelson “Christian Encounters” series, e-book version kindly supplied free of charge by Booksneeze). This is a very nice introduction to Tolkien for those who (like me) have not taken the time to read the more thorough biographies).

Horne’s Tolkien could be slighted (because of its brevity) but it ought not to be. It is a clear, concise summary of Tolkien’s life and work – but it’s more than that. You get the facts, dates, times, and places, but you also get a great deal besides. Mark’s expertise as a trained theologian and Biblical scholar makes his treatment of Tolkien’s life much more than the work of another Tolkien “fanboy” (though, unquestionably, Mark is a great fan of Tolkien).

Mark’s own insights on Tolkien’s life and thought are scattered throughout the book but especially helpful (and provocative) is his analysis of Tolkien’s legacy (the last chapter). Tolkien was not a preacher but a storyteller. And, as Tolkien himself insisted, his stories were not allegories. But that doesn’t mean that his stories weren’t influenced by his convictions and experiences, or that they didn’t have a strong, vibrant message that Tolkien wanted to convey.

Contrary to many Christian authors and artists of our day, however, Tolkien refused to “dominate” the reader by forcing the message down his throat. Rather, he simply told a compelling story. Though the story Tolkien told was about an imaginary land, it was a story that enables the reader to see his own life (and duty) in the “real” world. Horne concludes:

Even though world war and Tolkien’s experiences in the face of real battles are part of what created his story, one does not need to experience life during wartime to relate to, learn from, and use Tolkien’s fiction. The loves and losses that we all experience in peacetime as well as in wartime are more than sufficient to make his imagined world relevant to ours. His enduring impact on the world shows us how a Christian artist can be most effective when he offers himself rather than when he tries to ‘help’ others see the truth. While God calls Christians to proclaim his truth in a variety of ways and situations—some of which are unavoidably confrontational—we can learn from Tolkien that sometimes a mere story can change people ’s lives.

Even though one might classify Mark Horne’s biography of J.R.R. Tolkien as “light reading” (reading the book is the work of a few hours rather than days), it’s not in the least “light-weight.” Rather, it’s a well-written, brief survey and analysis of one of the most influential writers of the modern world – and one that will repay you well beyond the few hours it cost you to read it.

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Time again for another amazing creature. The picture below is not photoshopped or electronically altered in any way. It’s a real picture of a real creature: the Hydrothermal Worm.

The picture is taken with the aid of an electron microscope and is magnified 525 times. The worm lives in the depths of the sea and is one of the smallest animals in existence (only 568/1000 of a millimeter). They are mostly found near hydrothermal vents in the ocean floor. So, thankfully, you don’t need to worry about stepping on one in your pool.

But . . . just imagine coming across one of these guys, except instead of being microscopic, he was about 6 feet long — whoa! gives me a whole body shiver.

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So now we learn that the nice guy (Christian Lopez) who caught Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit (which happened to be a homerun) and didn’t ask for anything in exchange for the ball, is going to be punished by the IRS. Why, you ask?

Well, now we know who failed his class on “How to think like the IRS” don’t we?

Here’s what happened: When Christian refused to demand payment for the ball, the Yankees rewarded him with luxury box seats for the rest of the season (along with some other things), to thank him for his generous spirit. The value of the gifts comes to around $32,000. Experts estimate the ball Christian caught could have fetched around $250,000 to 300K in an auction. So, really, this was a nice example of a fan showing his appreciation to one of his favorite players and the player (and his team) returning the favor by rewarding him for his good spirit. Happy story. Makes me feel good and all that.

Until this morning when I see again that the IRS is determined not to allow any act of generosity to go unpunished. They have put Christian on notice that he might owe them money since he demonstrated the bad judgment to be unselfish and generous. In fact, Christian might owe them as much at $13,000 in payment.

That’ll certainly teach him not to be so unmaterialistic! How dare he refuse to show so little love for “filthy lucre”? If everybody acted like Christian Lopez, . . . what would become of us?? I mean, where did he learn to act like this? He has to be some kind of right-wing extremist plotting to undermine the government . . . . generosity?? c’mon!

Doesn’t it make you feel safe to know that the IRS is so watchful to catch all the “bad guys” who try to cheat our government?

Yeah. Me too.

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Worlds apart

Sometimes it’s shocking to realize how far apart you are in your thinking from people who used to be friends.

I haven’t read World magazine in a long time. Occasionally people point me to an article that actually is worth reading but those times have grown to be fewer and fewer over the years. Doug Wilson just pointed out another reason why World can safely be ignored.

The article by Megan Dunham shows what happens when you actually listen to and take seriously the nightly news and opinion shows:

For the longest time I’ve struggled to put my finger on just what I believe about homosexuality and whether or not same-sex marriages should be allowed. Five years ago, I think I would have come down pretty solid on the line of “absolutely not”—under no circumstance should this mockery of what God ordained as union between one man and one woman be given the same status.

I’m not sure I can say that anymore. . . . Because of my Christian worldview, I do not agree with the practice of homosexuality, but I do not expect the government or most of our country or world to share that view.

Sadly, I think this reflects the views of the majority of evangelicals. Too bad. Jesus is Lord, we sing. But apparently being the King of kings and Lord of lords doesn’t mean as much as we used to think it did. I remember a time when evangelicals believed that the command God gives to all kings and rulers to bow down and serve His Son should actually be obeyed by earthly kings and rulers — all of them.

But Megan has now learned not to expect that anymore. We’re not told why.

And, apparently, World magazine agrees.

And that’s too bad in every way.

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Minimum wage racism

One of the great economic myths of liberalism is that raising the minimum wage raises living standards. No one thinks about the fact that the true effect of raising the minimum wage is to cut more unskilled workers out of the job market.

It works this way: If I’m a business owner, I might be willing to hire 4 unskilled workers at $4.00 per hour until they learn the job and prove themselves capable and dependable and worth a raise. But if you force me to pay a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, I might hire only two new employees (or I might hire no new employees in hopes that my present workers can take up the slack). So, instead of having 4 teenagers earning $4.00 per hour, now only two have a job and two have nothing (unemployment increases).

But what is especially unspoken (and consequently largely unknown) is that the evil effects of raising the minimum wage hit young black teens the hardest. In 2007 (when the latest hikes in the minimum wage began to be put in place), the unemployment rate among black teens was 29%. Today (after the minimum wage hikes) that rate has risen to almost 42%. Thanks to the “wisdom” of Congress the number of unemployed black teens is almost 13% higher than it was 4 years ago (according to a report in today’s Wall Street Journal)

And still we have not learned our lesson. According to the Journal article, “The Center for American Progress, often called the think tank for the Obama White House, recently recommended another increase [in the minimum wage] to $8.25 an hour.”

The CAP says that raising the minimum wage would result in “50,000 new jobs”! Oh, right. That’s always what happens with a raise in the minimum wage. Sure.

The most likely result of raising the minimum wage by another dollar would be to push the black teen unemployment rate to 50%. If I didn’t know better, I’d be wondering how the Ku Klux Klan took over the Center for American Progress.

But then again, maybe I just don’t understand how the Obama administration defines “progress.”

[HT to Anthony Bradley for pointing out the WSJ article]

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