Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Come, Thou Long Desired Autumn

I know the official end of summer is not until — oh, what is it?  September 22 or somesuch.  But, for all practical purposes, today is our last day of summer.  Tomorrow, Sadie goes back to school, and the 9-month hamster wheel turns anew.  I took her out of town this past weekend with one of her friends from church for a girls' getaway before we're locked back into that wretched schedule (can you tell that I have not reconciled myself even now to the non-homeschooling twist my plans have taken?).  But, today is the last day of vacation.

Instead of cramming in "one-lasts" all day, we're downplaying it with hanging out at home.  Really, we are pretty worn out from the weekend.  And, my glorious, obliging Pacific Northwest came through for me with a chilly, rainy, gloomy, inside sort of day.  I am tickled to death.  I am thinking of soups and sweaters and cozy fireside reads on the couch with my favorite old, green blanket tucked in around my toesies.  Autumn, autumn, blessed autumn!

Yeah, I guess I'm ready to say "good-bye" to summer. 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sugarless (and Probably Butterless, Too) in Seattle

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that potluck dessert offerings in conservative, Bible-belt areas are delicious — ooey-gooey and stuffed with sugar and butter and shortening and maybe even that mysterious element, lard.  What I know for sure is that such items at events in progressive, secular hubs like Seattle tend to bite the big one.  If you don't believe me, ask Sadie.  Yesterday, at her theater day camp's grand finale of play and parent-provided potluck, Sadie eagerly grabbed what looked to be a scrumptious piece of chocolate cake and an innocent-looking chocolate chip cookie.  One bite and an evocative grimace from Sadie revealed (and I confirmed by finishing the discarded balance) that the cake was instead a deceptive carob-applesauce concoction.  Fie, fie!  She then bit into the cookie and practically started to cry.  I didn't dare eat that one — I'm not a fan of chocolate chip cookies even under the best of circumstances — but I can guess by her disappointment that such things as butter substitute were probably defiling the heretofore unsuspicious baked treat.  Oh, the humanity!

Now I am starting to realize why, whenever I bake something to share at a communal event, my stuff flies out the window and I am met at every turn by ecstatic commentary muffled by the effect of hamster-like cheeks stuffed with my goodies.  These poor, deprived Puget Sound people have never before tasted real butter and real sugar.  I bake like a Bible-believer, and truly, you can taste and see that the Lord is good.

So, why are these libs obsessed with robbing childhood of the great joys of authentically ingrediented baked goods?  I'm sure part of it is bragging rights; you know, so they can say something like, "Little Saffron is on a sugar-free, gluten-free, fat-free diet.  I just love that she is eating healthy."  Dude, that's not healthy.  Someday that kid is going to get a hold of a Twinkie, and look out — next thing you know, she's flat on her back on the couch, watching The View, on the verge of a sugar-induced coma.  Think it can't happen?  I could tell you stories of my childhood friend who was raised in a vegan, sugar-free household, and who binged on candy whenever she escaped to my house.  I do not know what the other part of this deprivation is due to — maybe, like Mrs. Fidget, they just want the personal satisfaction of doing something good for their families, whether their families want it or not. 

I know kids are fat nowadays; but, they are not fat because Mom is baking homemade, delectable treats everyday.  They are fat because Mom buys Hostess products by the bushel and sets them up in front of the TV everyday.  Eliminate TV from your household and bake a real chocolate cake or Nestle Tollhouse cookies every week, and watch your kids thrive, I say.  Tree-climbing, hill-rolling, rock-flipping, snake-catching, bike-riding, book-reading kids who know the taste of real butter and sugar are happy, healthy kids, indeed.

Friday, August 20, 2010


To borrow from a popular pro-life slogan:  "Some children are fatherless by chance; not one should be fatherless by choice."

Nowadays we tend to think of orphans as being children bereft of both parents.  In the biblical sense, though, an orphan needs only to have lost his father to fall under the special protection and consideration of God and those who love Him.  Widows and orphans are grouped together in the Bible so often because they were often of the same family.  We must care for the widows and orphans.  If you love the Lord and believe His word, then there are no two ways about it.

Now, one of the frustrating things about modern culture is that the majority of "widows and orphans" are husbandless and fatherless, not because of death or even imprisonment, but because of divorce, abandonment, or chosen single-motherhood.  As Christians, we are bound by faith to support and provide for these fatherless homes.  But, because the state of fatherlessness is a chosen one and a rampant one, the burden is becoming far too great on the Body, and, I believe, taking away resources, time, and attention from other vital ministries. 

There is a young mother at our church.  She has a two-year-old daughter and is pregnant.  She and her husband were separated, reconciled temporarily (hence her burgeoning belly), and then he flat out abandoned her.  Left.  Flew the coop.  Refuses to provide for his wife or their progeny.  Now, as her church family, it is a pleasure and a privilege to step up and support her in this horrible, difficult time.  But, when I told my own wonderful husband her story, he had another — possibly inspired — idea of how best to support her.

"You want me to get a bunch of guys together to hunt this bastard down?  I wish you'd let me keep that beating stick I found on the hike at Barnabas.  Shove that in his face and he'd hustle back and take responsibility, boy howdy."

OK, my first reaction was to laugh heartily and say, "Yep, that's a Christian reaction."  But, on further reflection, why shouldn't Christian men band together to go after other supposedly Christian men and hold their feet to the fire?  Part of the reason that community is so important in the life of a Christ follower is that, by ourselves, on our own watch, we simply cannot hold ourselves accountable.  It is pretty easy to make excuses for our own bad behavior — heck, it is one of our specialties!  Calling out others can get murky — what with that whole speck and plank thing; but, when a person's behavior actively hurts the Body of Christ — such as choosing to create by his actions a widow and orphans — he or she ought to be made to answer for it.  There used to be "shotgun weddings" — and maybe we need to reinvigorate and expand that tradition.      

I think that my husband's gut reaction was, in his own very special way, a compassionate one.  It is not compassionate to look about at the state of the American family and exhibit only tolerance for bad choices that devastate children and rip apart the fabric of society.  Tolerance is not love; tolerance is a passive virtue, and love is active.  And, while waving a stout beating stick under the nose of a wayward husband might not be the most seemly of convincers, it is probably an effective one.  I suggest that a league be formed within every congregation called the A.W.B.F.C, which stands for — you've guessed it! — the Ass-Whupping Brothers for Christ. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Troughs

What makes a classic work of literature, well, classic?  Some may argue that broad appeal over many generations is the primary criterion.  Some might aver that a certain sense of pushing conventional boundaries or being revolutionary in scope or style are the marks of classics.  Still others might put forward that a work cannot achieve "classic" status unless it has been put under the scholarly microscope, subjected to reams of literary criticism.  I would like to offer up something I find increasingly:  a classic is a work which stands up to multiple readings, offering something new or unexpected with each.  Under my definition (as well as the others), The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is truly a classic.

I just finished my third reading of it. I'm pretty sure my own personal demon has read it, too, because I think I fall prey to just about every diabolical trick delineated in this book aimed to drive me away from Father, time and time again.  It's a squirmy, wormy feeling to read about "the Patient" and find that the patient is you.  And, while I could relate to every temptation presented to Wormwood's patient, what really caught my attention in this most recent reading was the letter about peaks and troughs, not so much because that is my own particular struggle right now (though, isn't it always at least a shadow struggle that threatens to solidify?), but because my dear friend is mired in a bit of a trough, and I have been relentlessly praying for her.

In Letter VIII, Screwtape schools his nephew, Wormwood, in what he calls the Law of Undulation.  We humans, you see, are amphibious — existing as half spirit, half animal.  Being as such — this "revolting hybrid" — we can only achieve a state approximating constancy between our spiritual selves (which can be sited on eternal objects) and our natural selves (always subject to temporal changes) through "undulation — the repeated return to a level from which [we] repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks."

We had a guest pastor at our church this past weekend while our senior pastor is on an extended vacation.  While, overall, it was a good sermon on 1 Samuel 15 and the progression of sin, I did have one disagreement.  The speaker said something like, "Dry seasons in your walk are not blessed times nor times of growth; if you are running spiritually dry, it is a sign of unresolved sin in your life."  Not only is this discouraging and disheartening, I do not think it is true — certainly not always true.  The presence of Father can at times be clouded to our senses by our sin; but, there are times when, for reasons only He knows, His palpable presence is simply not revealed to us.  And these are the times, C.S. Lewis surmises through the voice of Screwtape, when we grow in obedience.

God wants us to desire a relationship with Him; He wants, as Screwtape notes with disgust, "servants who can finally become sons."  But, because He desires that we desire Him, He has given us free will, making "the Irresistible and the Indisputable . . . two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. . . . He cannot ravish.  He can only woo."  When the Holy Spirit first washes over our lives, bringing repentance, reverence, and reconciliation, we live on the peak of what Carolyn Arends calls the "overflow of perichoresis" — that is, in the abundance of the love and life that exists and has always existed in the presence and fellowship of the Trinity.  But, then we wake up a day or a month or a year or a decade later and find that we are still half-animals.  Make no mistake, eventually you will hit a trough.  And why?

It's worth it to offer up as explanation this lengthy quote from the incomparable Jack Lewis:  "Sooner or later [God] withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives.  He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs — to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish.  It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be.  Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. . . . He cannot "tempt" to virtue as we do to vice.  He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there, He is pleased even with their stumbles."  If this is true, and I suspect it is, then God must love the Psalms — that handbook for the broken-hearted, filled with David's (and others') prayers from the trough.  Think for a moment of Psalm 27: "Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice!  Have mercy also upon me and answer me.  When You said, 'Seek My face,' my heart said to You, 'Your face, Lord, I will seek.' Do not hide Your face from me; do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; Do not leave me or forsake me, O God of my salvation. . . . I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living."  David, with all his sin and his dry seasons, was a man after God's own heart.

There are a lot of Christian songs about rain.  I tend to like them, because I really like rain (being a web-footed Pacific Northwest girl), and also, I think, because I like the analogy that, after the dry seasons, the rain travels down to the resting seeds and nourishes what was already there; the next season brings fruit.  The Lord provides this cyclical journey, because we need that sort of peak and trough rotation for equilibrium.  The key is not to despair during the dry or barren seasons, but to recognize them and still follow the "sweet will of God."  Here is the end of Chapter VIII which gave me chills when I came across it last week:  "Our cause [i.e. the cause of drawing souls away from God into fodder for demonic sustenance] is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys." [Emphasis mine.]

I am praying for you, dear friend, without ceasing.  And I know you will see again the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Stream of Semi-Consciousness

You know how it is when your alarm is set for 6:30 AM and at 6:20 AM there is a tap-tap-tapping sound of someone hammering outside and you really hear it because your husband opened the window last night before he went to sleep and the tap-tap-tapping noise doesn't wake him at all — oh no — so you have to get out of bed and close the damn thing and what's the point anyway because now it's 6:22 and you're awake and you might be able to go back to bed for that extra 8 minutes, but what's the point? so you get up and stumble down the hall to the kitchen to brew some coffee and no one remembered to filter enough water to make a pot so you fill the Brita system and have to wait for it to drip-drip-drip down; and while you're waiting you look out your window into the back yard and see that the deer have marauded through your garden last night you know your garden that has been thriving and looking gorgeous and you thought maybe you'd get a secondary strawberry harvest this year but now it's gone gone gone gone so you run out the front door to see if the deer made it there and they did of course munched up your giant tomato plant that you thought you could hide from them by putting it right next to the front door but of course these deer have no sense of shame and they marched right up and ate branches and leaves but you look down at the pavement and they were kind enough to have spit out the green tomatoes all over the ground and you want to call up your deer hunting brother-in-law and see if he'd like an easy neighborhood gig but by now the water is filtered and you might as well shove your rage down into your gullet and make the coffee but by now you're thinking that Alexander was right — and it is a terrible, horrible no-good, very bad day and you consider moving to Australia.  You know how it is.

Update:  Still bitter about those stolen 10 minutes.  Who hammers at 6:20 AM?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Review: Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
(Among others) Barnes & Noble Books (New York), 2004

Because at Adorable Trivialities we pride ourselves on being on the cutting edge of culture, here for your entertainment is a review of Emily Brontë's 19th century mega-hit, Wuthering Heights.

What is a confirmed Austenite to do with the Brontës?  For those of us who appreciate the sanity and moral clarity and balanced worldview of our keen-eyed genius, the Brontës are simply fetid waters — teeming with diseased and damaged characters, implausible plot twists, and a dark murkiness that oppresses and fatigues.  That is not to say that they are not interesting.  They surely are.  But, so is Pompeii.  Would you wish to have dwelt in the shadow of Vesuvius on August 24, 79?

I thoroughly enjoyed Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre as a teenager.  Much like Ayn Rand's novels, it is the sort of book that will always draw in the young and inexperienced.  I have not revisited it in years, but, I suspect, that I would find the same sort of disappointment that I found in 2005 when I tried to re-read The Fountainhead.  I remember briefly attempting Villette in college; other than that, until last week, Jane Eyre was the only Brontë exposure my literary life had experienced.

So, now I have read Wuthering Heights


Let me digress for a moment to note that I read The Turn of the Screw recently, after Jane's Fame by Claire Harman assured me that Henry James was Jane Austen's literary heir.  Oh God, how I hated that book!  I went through the slim volume gnashing my teeth and wailing to Jason that I loathed the governess heroine beyond reason, and I wished upon her all manner of suffering and despair at the hands of her demonic charges. 

Well, I hated Catherine and Heathcliff even more thoroughly and with far more cause.  In fact, I despised every character in that foul tome — from insipid Lockwood through to that lummox Hareton.  You know what I mean, right?  Or, have you the pleasure and privilege of never having cracked the covers of Wuthering Heights?

"Wuthering" is a North England word that means "having blustery, roaring winds." Well, in this book, they are ill winds, indeed, because they blow nobody — including the reader — any good.  Everyone in this novel operates within the confines of severe dysfunction, with everyone possessing a violent sort of loathing for everyone else.  Wuthering Heights is based upon the Jerry Springer Principle: that human train wrecks are entertainment.  And the novel is compelling.

The feckless Lockwood falls into this disenchanting web when he rents lodging from a Mr. Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights.  He gets stuck at that disreputable residence overnight, when weather prevents his returning to his rented quarters a small distance off.  Everyone is queer and everyone is hostile, and, while he spends a little time trying to figure out the strange dynamics, he readily consigns them all to unfathomability and goes to his provided room to sleep.  In the night, he is visited by a dream, a vision, a spirit from beyond, and — in his panic — he arouses the attention of the somber and repulsive Heathcliff.  Heathcliff does not seem surprised by this witching hours visitant; rather, he seems envious of Mr. Lockwood's experience.  Heathcliff then proceeds to while the rest of the night in lamentations and despairing exhortations to "Catherine."  Mr. Lockwood escapes home to the other rented property the next day — catching, for his troubles, a nasty cold.

Consigned to his bed, he entreats his housekeeper, one Ellen Dean, to tell him the story of all he observed at Wuthering Heights.  The rest of the novel is a series of flashbacks, as recalled by this domestic servant — the only somewhat rational voice in the entire book.

The former proprietor of Wuthering Heights, Mr. Earnshaw, brought back with him from a business trip an orphaned waif of no-repute or relation to live in his home.  He calls the boy "Heathcliff," and the child receives no other name.  Mr. Earnshaw's two children, Hindley and Catherine, at first scorn the boy; then, Catherine forms a passionate bond with him.  Abused by Hindley, adored by Catherine, Heathcliff grows up into a twisted and cruel man, whose only anchor to rationality is his devotion to "Cathy."  Long story short, Cathy marries a neighbor boy, Edgar Linton, instead of the degraded Heathcliff.  Heathcliff runs off for a few years.  In the meantime, Cathy gets pregnant.  Then, Heathcliff returns — remade and with some money — and proceeds to hang about the Lintons' home, making Edgar very nervous.  Cathy dies after childbirth, and Edgar's sister, Isabella, runs off with Heathcliff.  Heathcliff, in the meantime, has won through gambling the title of Wuthering Heights from drunken and debased Hindley.  When he returns with his hated bride, Heathcliff goes on to make everyone about him completely miserable for the rest of the novel, until he mercifully dies.  The second half of the novel is all about the story of Catherine's daughter, also named Catherine, Heathcliff's son with Isabella, named Linton, and Hindley's son, named Hareton.  Everyone behaves poorly to each other.  No one is likable. And, satisfactorily for this reader, in the end, almost all of them are dead.

Was I glad to have finished this book!  And yet, I have to admit, it was page-turner. 

Wuthering Heights was published in 1847.  Jane Austen died in 1817, before she had attained the age 42.  I imagine that, had she lived another thirty years, in her seventies, Jane Austen would have eagerly picked up the new novel from upstart author Ellis Bell.  And she would have laughed and laughed and laughed.  Then, she would have picked up her pen and written a brilliant parody of it, sent it to Cassandra, and given it nary another thought.  Miss Austen's sensibilities are not those of the Misses Brontë; and, I fear, mine are not, as well.  Overblown emotionalism; passions unchecked by reason or humor; sledge-hammerly subtle symbolism — oh, you Brontës need to get over yourselves!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sipping Once, Sipping Twice, Sipping Chicken Soup With Rice!

[Recite with sarcasm:]
In August it will be so hot,
I will become a cooking pot.
Cooking soup, of course.
Why not?
Cooking once, cooking twice,
Cooking chicken soup with rice.
--Maurice Sendak

It's barely 60°.  It is August 10.  Last night, I cooked chicken soup with rice.  Today, I am reheating leftovers.  Can you believe it?  It seems almost unreal.  God cracks me up.  Happy summer, all!

Book Review: The Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death, and Atheism

The Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death, and Atheism
by Mary Eberstadt
Ignatius Press (San Fransisco), 2010

C.S. Lewis used to be an atheist.  Yes he did.  And, if you ever read snippets of his writing and correspondence from those faithless years, you will find an alien Jack (as he was known — for reasons of his own — to friends, family, and colleagues) awaiting you.  Imagine the sharp and rapid synapses of that exceptional mind firing, not with the expansive geniality and wry humor so characteristic of his later years among the redeemed, but with bitterness, smug condescension, arrogance, and, frankly, snottiness.  It was a shock for me to read of rude, young Jack — in his own words — in Alan Jacobs's first-rate biography, The Narnian.  But, really, it ought not to have been.  After all, I was briefly an atheist, too.  And, if I recall correctly, I was not particularly pleasant to be around, either.

And, so, we have what are collectively called The New Atheists — including, but not limited to, Sam Harris (The End of Faith), Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), and Christopher Hitchens (god is Not Great).  As I am a Christian and believe such things are good for the soul, I will start with a confession:  I have not read any of these modern polemics.  Truly, life is too short on good reading time, and there is always a new book about Shakespeare (current read: Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt) or Jane Austen (most recent read: Jane's Fame by Claire Harman) or even a novel or two skulking about the bookshelf queue, awaiting perusal (just finished: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë -- next up: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver) — I have neither the will nor time to read books about something I, sorry guys, simply do not find all that interesting.  Don't feel bad — I tend not to read apologetics or other books about Christianity either.  I mean, we have the Bible and G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis and a small handful of other writers.  And I am content.  Faith question?  Answered.  Belief question?  Answered.  Religion question?  Answered.  God question? Answered.  So why did I hurry over to Amazon (after checking my local Christian bookstore, which did not have stock — c'mon guys, you need to be more on the ball!  I'm doing my best to keep you in business, but you're NOT helping!) to pick up Mary Eberstadt's brand-spanking-new epistolary novel, The Loser Letters?  Good question.

I read a review of it by chance at Christianity Today's website.  The reviewer said that it was a sort of modern take on C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters.  Interest officially piqued.  The one-sided record of correspondence between Screwtape, an undersecretary in some unnamed department of bureaucratized Hell, and his nephew, Wormwood, a young tempter on the make that chronicles their battle for the soul of one man against The Enemy is an enthralling read.  I was certainly intrigued to discover what Ms. Eberstadt -- whose book, Home Alone America, I enjoyed a few years ago — would do with an atheist version.

A.F. Christian is our correspondent in The Loser Letters.  She is a twenty-five year old in rehab; a convert from Christianity to atheism (the "A.F." stands for "a former"); and she writes a series of letters to the big guns of New Atheism — the aforementioned Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins as well as Onfray, Stenger, Dennett, and many others of whom I have never heard, let alone read.  In her first letter, she observes that, while she was lucky to have thrown off the shackles of belief in that "biggest fraud of all time, cosmic zero, ultimate no-show" Loser (God), there have, overall, not been many converts to the atheist mindset — especially in proportion to the amount of work put out by the men she addresses.  She proposes a series of letters to these worthy fellows, detailing the ways in which atheism can better be "sold" to the public at large — each letter touching on a different subject that might turn off the majority of believers (whom she cleverly labels as "Dulls," since — and I'm not making this up — several atheists are trying to assume the general cultural label of "Brights" instead of "Atheists") from giving up on the Deity and embracing atheism.

From this general premise, A.F. Christian proceeds to enlighten and inform the atheist brotherhood.  There is a much different dynamic at work in The Loser Letters from The Screwtape Letters.  In Screwtape, two demons consult each other (one advising, the other reporting) on their task of keeping one man, the patient, from the Enemy — that enemy, of course, is the Father and His armies of heavenly host and earthly saints.  Both devils know that the Enemy is real; both know His power and curse His love.  In Loser, the advisor and the soul in jeopardy of perdition are one in the same.  She rails against a power and presence she denies is real (though, from page one, the reader has the sense that she is no more convinced of that than I was during my brief, but excruciating, voyage into unbelief) to a group of men who have made it their business in life to be officially "without God."  In fact, the enemy in Loser is not so much the Loser Himself, as it is His followers — the Dulls who would believe so strongly in this imaginary friend, and act so rationally in accordance with their beliefs to heal and edify and encourage and support the world at large in the name of this friend.  See, atheists can, by definition, have no beef with God; they must be against those who cling to Him.

The strengths of The Loser Letters lie in the fact that some glaring inconsistencies of atheism — were atheism looked at as a whole cloth belief, which I think would arouse protest from many atheists  — are entertainingly brought to light.  For instance, there seems to be no agreement among atheists on whether man is just one of the higher orders of animals, whose lives are on par with those of many animals, and whose animal appetites ought to be satisfied as a natural occurrence (as someone such as Peter Singer might believe); or whether man is the highest, the noblest of beings, so sufficient unto himself that he, in his most exalted state, is worthy of worship and is certainly over all of nature (and most of his fellow men) in the pursuit of his goals (as, say, Ayn Rand might aver).  Ms. Eberstadt looks at the products of the systems of belief, as well, in a very effective way.  What, say, Christianity has wrought culturally, artistically, charitably versus what atheism has wrought.  She looks at the current, depressing cultural view of sex against a backdrop of the religious values of self-control and monogamy; the historic and current worlds of art; the myriad hospitals, soup kitchens, international missions, the grand, seismic shifts in human justice done in the name of Loser.  She does acknowledge (she is writing as an enthusiastic atheist, you know) the many times believers have fallen short of glory; but, she slyly insinuates that adherents of atheism never had any heights from which to fall.

There are several weaknesses in this book as well.  It is, altogether, a little too linguistically hip and swinging to be a really pleasant read.  I know that Ms. Eberstadt was going for the voice of disillusioned, twenty-something America; but, I had trouble easily digesting about 25% of what was written.  The cultural references are also up-to-the-minute (at least I assume they are; I'm about three hours late, culturally speaking), which, I fear, will detract from the shelf life of this book.  It certainly makes the "comic" aspect of the book a wee indecipherable to a fuddy-duddy like me.

I think, though, that the main weakness for me was the story itself.  Throughout the letters, A.F. reveals in piecemeal her personal story — her journey to unbelief.  When the story is fully revealed, I thought to myself, "This is entirely over the top; therefore, it rather discredits than bolsters the narrative."  The ending, too, is just a little too schmaltzy and pat and feel-good.  Take the ending of Screwtape — reassuring, yet unsettling and terrifying at the same time.  This was sort of like . . . eh.  I will admit that I did cry a little near the end; but, I dare any mom to read the last chapter and not tear up a bit.  But emotionalism on the cheap does not a strong story make, and overall, I was a bit disappointed.

So, who is The Loser Letters for and what are they to take from it?  You know, I'm not really sure.  Is it for Christians, to help them answer the arguments of atheists?  Surely; but, there are books that present those answers more thoroughly and fluently.  Is it for atheists, to encourage them to re-think some of their assumptions and assertions?  Surely; but, I am not convinced that it is most effective that way.  As a Christian, I was arguing against A.F. on the atheists' side; I do not think that atheists in general would have a light bulb over the noggin experience (truly, I do believe that only the Holy Spirit can effect such a welcome moment).  Mostly, I think, The Loser Letters is worthy entertainment for an evening; and, perhaps, a springboard to grander and better books on culture, faith, and this great "mess and mystery of life."  And, considering it is a published collection of an installment series from National Review Online, not a scholarly apologetic years in the researching, that is not too backward of a commendation.  A harmless and intermittently entertaining read.  But, make sure you read The Screwtape Letters, if you haven't already.

Oh, and one last quibble with Ms. Boar-City:  Why does my beloved Deutsch have to be the language of Hell?  Huh?  German is a glorious and startlingly beautiful language, and, though I am sure it was done in jest, deserves better than such malignancy.  I think the language of Hell is bound to be — in keeping with Jack Lewis's particular vision — government bureaucracy legalese, with every communication coming in 2,800 page documents.  Ooh, I just gave myself an other-worldly shiver . . .

Mentioned in this post (among others):