Saturday, May 27, 2006

Screwtape Reads Dan Brown

Some have suggested that I am too hard on Dan Brown and The DaVinci Code. I sort of thought I might be a bit biased myself. Yet, I did not like the book when I read it in 2004. Now that I am reading again I like it even less.

So I went searching for a positive review of the book so I could try and understand why some appreciated it. The most positive review of the book I have found comes from Screwtape. You may remember his best-selling letters that were published by C. S. Lewis in the 1940's. It seems he is still writing and Eric Metaxas has posted a recent letter from Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood on his webpage.

So, in the interest of fairness, I offer a "positive" review of The DaVinci Code.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A Cup of Cold Air

My mother used to say that something mechanical would break whenever my father left town. The clutch on the truck would go bad; the water lines would burst, etc. My father is a fix-it guy and the big fixes would be needed when he was away.

I hope my family hasn't inherited this curse. Just a day before I was to leave for the Sermon Seminar in Michigan, our air conditioner went out. I knew it was coming. The old blower fan was grunting and groaning under the sever demands I placed on it. Still, I had hoped it would last a bit longer. I am an evil taskmaster when it comes to cold air.

I felt like a heel leaving my family in a warm, muggy house whilst I retreated to the cooler climate of Michigan. But they were troopers and vowed that a a few fans would be just fine. I encouraged my boys my telling them that I grew up without air conditioned comfort and that this experience would be good for their constitution.

At worship yesterday, Russ McConnell and Blake Frost heard of my family's plight. They each had a window AC they were willing to loan me. I thanked them, but I regretted that I wouldn't be able to install the window unit as I was leaving for the airport within an hour. No problem! Russ and David Berger came over last night and put in both window units.

I know that having AC is really just a luxury. I know that most of the world does not enjoy this creature comfort. I know that all of us would be fine without it. But what I appreciate is the thoughtfulness and kindness of these good people who took the time to care for my family. It is comforting to know that we have such a loving and caring church family. Jesus said that the one who offers something as simple as a cup of cold water to a disciple will not lose out on the reward. I think that also applies to a cup of cold air.

Thank you Russ, David, and Blake!

Friday, May 19, 2006


English doesn't allow double negatives, right? A double negative is actually a positive, yes? So if I "don't never" use double negatives I actually do because I do not never use them.

Remembering this rather logical lesson from grammar has helped me classify the genre of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. Currently, no one can agree if DaCode is fiction or non-fiction. Brown claims it is fiction - as do many of the book's naysayers. However, Brown also prefaces the book with a "fact" page that intends to root the fictional adventures of Robert Langdon within a factual setting. So, is DaCode fact or fiction?

I read Dan Brown's claim of fiction as a double negative. The first negative is the "fact" page which has very little basis in fact. The second negative is the claim that Dan Brown intended to write fiction. He has said on an ABC interview that if he had written the book as non-fiction he would have changed none of the details of the conspiracy and historical interpretation. This makes it hard to classify the genre of DaCode, but I propose we create a new genre for DaCode and its ilk: pseudo-fiction. A pseudo-fiction is "false-false." It is false fiction; which means, according to the rule of double negative, it is non-fiction. Note that I did not say it was true or fact. We have no such category when it comes to literature, unless you include reference materials. However, reference materials and non-fiction works are subject to scrutiny.

The point of proposing the "pseudo-fiction" genre is to get around the claim of Brown and others that DaCode is "just fiction." It isn't fair to simply claim that something is fiction when it pretends to be more. Is it really justifiable for anyone to write a slanderous tale about a public figure and then try to claim that it is "just fiction." That defense is offered by children on the playground who apologize for their malicious actions by retorting, "I'm just joking!"

DaCode is not "just fiction." It makes more claims than "just fiction" and so it is subject to the same scrutiny as non-fiction. That shouldn't bother Dan Brown though. As fiction, DaCode is a bore. As pseudo-fiction, the book has generated worthwhile conversation about non-fictional subjects of lasting importance.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

No Greater Love

The Memorial Day observances begin early this month. Our nation has designated this week as a time to remember the men and women of our police forces. Today was Police Officer Memorial Day in Fort Smith.

I was honored to be a part of a small but meaningful service at the Fort Smith Police Department today. There have been nine men who died in the line of duty during the history of the FSPD. For the record they are . . .

E. A. "Gus" Anthony, Andy Carr, Samuel Booth, William Bourland, Ralph Howard, Thomas Hairston, Randy Basnett, Ray Tate, and Billy Simms.

I first learned of these men when I was teaching an Ethics in-service for the FSPD. They have a display case in the front lobby that memorializes these officers. Nine souls may not seem like too many in the long history of Fort Smith. The dates of their deaths range from the early 1900's to 1986. Nevertheless, each of them is a man with family and friends. Jesus said that there is no greater love that to lay down one's life for one's friends.

Those officers that I know who are a part of the Fort Smith PD today I consider friends. May God bless them and protect them as they risk their lives out of love and duty.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Dusting Off the Cap and Gown

Two years ago I graduated from Abilene Christian University with my doctorate in ministry. I purchased the required academic regalia for the ceremony. These are by no means the most practical articles of clothing I have ever owned. The hood, for example, is emblazoned with the colors of your school and your field of study. It wraps around your neck and hangs down your back. I cannot fathom how this piece of clothing can be called a hood. Maybe it would serve well as a hood if my head were three feet in diameter. Likewise the cap is not the sort of item I could wear out on the lake or during cold weather. At least our caps as doctoral grads were the eight-sided tams. They have more style than the weird skullcap with a square attached to it. Who would ever design a hat like this. If we didn't immediately associate this cap with graduation I swear that this hat would look like something from the wardrobe of a bad science-fiction movie.

So after I wore the cap, gown, and hood for my graduation two years ago I thought I would never wear them again. Why would I? My answer came about a month ago when I was asked to lead the invocation and benediction for the University of Arkansas Fort Smith graduation. Strangely, I didn't feel out of place in my sci-fi attire because it was the fashion of the day. It was an honor and privilege to serve UA Fort Smith at graduation. West-Ark Church of Christ and UA Fort Smith are becoming good neighbors and that is a blessing for us.

I will don my attire in a few weeks when I serve as the graduation speaker for Webster University. They have just five graduates this year and they all insisted on wearing the funny caps and gowns. I guess there is something about this silly attire that gives one a sense of achievement. I will be happy to honor the graduates of Webster by wearing my regalia also . . . and I also want to get my money's worth from it.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Gratitude for Heretics

When I read The Da Vinci Code about two years ago I did so at the behest of many friends who insisted on it. Being a completist, I read Dan Brown's first book, Angels and Demons, beforehand. I found it to be an interesting thriller, so I anticipated reading The DaVinci Code.

I was disappointed. I found the characters flat and uninteresting. Brown used them as the vehicle for unpacking the big conspiracy story the wove together the Holy Grail, Leonardo DaVinci, and the secret history of Jesus Christ. I could have just read Holy Blood, Holy Grail and been done with it.

Now, almost two years later, I am reading "Da Code" again as grist for a sermon series. Of course this is a direct response to the upcoming movie. Along with Brown's book, I am also reading many of the response books that have been written such The Gospel Code, The DaVinci Hoax, and Breaking the DaVinci Code. Perusing the aisles at Books-a-Million today I was amazed at how many different books have a bone to pick with "Da Code." And it is not just the theology that is being corrected, some books set out to correct the interpretations of the artwork and history. If Dan Brown's goal was really to start a conversation about matters of religion, art, faith, and history then I would say he has succeeded.

Dan Brown's version of the collection of the New Testament books is laughable. That's probably why I did not enjoy reading Da Code the first time - it was just too silly. This week I am studying the process of how the church selected and affirmed the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. Along the way I have read some of the early non-canonical Christian documents such as 1 Clement, the Didache, and Epistle of Barnabas. Likewise I have re-read some of the Nag Hammadi Coptic Gnostic texts like Gospel of Thomas and read some for the first time, such as the Gospel of Phillip.

This has been an intense and beneficial study for me and I hope for our congregation. The early church was pressed to define itself in response to the unusual and potentially harmful notions of heretical groups. Likewise I find myself benefitting by responding to certain avant-garde proposals current today. So, I owe a debt of gratitude to heretics and heterodoxy. You are challenging me to be a better believer.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Refilling the Pen With Invisible Ink

I declare a return to writing. I have been out of the habit too long. I needed the time off to rethink my philosophy of writing. I have never wanted to be a blogger who adds entries about the the great barbecue I had for lunch today. I wanted to write about weightier matters. I am also too critical of my writing and I edit myself into despair. Yet, this blog is a habit; it is a discipline. I need to write even if I am simply describing good barbecue.

Summer is also here and that means it is time to light the Magic Lantern again. This is the year of the DaVinci Code and the time has come to write of many things (my apologies to the Walrus for adapting his quote).

See you at the movies!