Friday Faves: My Anniversary Cake.

We’re celebrating our anniversary this week; 27 years and counting. We almost never buy one another anniversary gifts. We prefer instead to channel that money into having an enjoyable experience together. We have a nice dinner, maybe go spend one night in a nice hotel somewhere, etc. In fact, that’s almost always our modus operandi for every occasion except Christmas. We tend prize experiences over buying things that gather dust and take up space. Our kids usually just say, “Happy Anniversary!” and then promptly set about their day. In other words, it’s a low key event around here.

However this year, the most amazing food blogger you’ve never heard of decided to surprise us with a very delicious and very cute cake. It was a 6″ vanilla cake with boysenberry filling and a lemon buttercream frosting topped with blackberries and mint leaves.

Being grateful for the love, rather than worrying about the fact that eating cake cuts directly against my current fitness goals, was the challenge. I rose to it, and I’m glad I did because this was a really good cake. It was an original recipe, too, which made it taste even better.

Happy Friday, all!

Reel Talk: Run, Hide, Fight

One of my favorite conservative media outlets is The Daily Wire, which is run by YouTube commentator Ben Shapiro. His Daily Wire partner, Jeremy Boreing, is a former Hollywood guy and evangelical whose worldview simply didn’t mesh with the dominant Hollywood culture, so he left. One of their stated goals, besides championing free speech, is reconsidering the conservative decision to cede the culture to the left.

One of the ways they propose to rectify this, is by using their knowledge and understanding of the film industry to produce feature films. Their first release, Run, Hide, Fight was recently released through the Daily Wire. Viewers lauded it on Rotten Tomatoes, while critics panned it. Politics has indeed infected every facet of American life. The official trailer is below, and my thoughts about the film will follow.

My general conclusion is that as a garden variety shoot ’em up action film, it was pretty well done. The acting was good, and the stunts and effects were done well enough also. It is a very violent, gruesome film, so be warned. The premise is that disgruntled students plan an elaborate armed heist to take control of their rural high school, and kill as many students as possible in the process.

The hero, 18-year-old Zoe, played by Isabel May, is an angry troubled girl, still reeling from the loss of her mother. Despite her father’s best efforts, she is impossibly hard to reach, and is basically ticking off time until she graduates, goes off to college, and leaves their home town for good. One of the things Zoe has allowed her father to teach her is how to hunt, shoot, and respect nature.

I’ll be honest. When I first saw the trailer for this movie, it bothered me that the hero was a girl. Not because I have an inherent problem with the hero being a girl, but because I hated that The Daily Wire felt the need to make the hero female. I understood why they did it, so I accepted it, but this was a lost opportunity. One of the ways -in my opinion- you fight back in the culture war is not only by making high quality films, but by using those films to challenge the dominant narrative. Since men have been all but eliminated as heroes in the minds of most movie watchers, making the hero a boy would have been to toss a live round right back into the middle of the current trend.

I’ll wrap this review up with another missed opportunity, but I think it’s fair to point out some of the things that I liked about the film. The acknowledgement that most school lock down plans put students more in harms way, not less, was subtle but unmistakable. The jabs at the social media juggernauts that often drive people over the edge, motivating them to do less than honorable acts solely for the sake of an audience, was also astute.

The other missed opportunity I noticed was to not to jump on the “nearly every couple in the film is interracial” bandwagon. Before I go farther, I want to be clear. I have absolutely no objections to interracial couplings. I am a firm believe in vetting potential suitors for faith, character, and work ethic before ethnic background unless that is something of supreme importance to you. If it is, I respect it. I truly just do not care about that one way or the other. I am a firm believer in the family of God trumping temporal characteristics.

However, I also don’t like being propagandized and pushed to view something as desirable and normative when it is neither strongly desired nor normative for most people. Don’t tell me what to think! Again, since the entirety of Hollywood is on this particular bandwagon, I was a bit disappointed that the Daily Wire guys didn’t make a conscious choice not to go there. Why not have the captain of the football team asked the blonde head cheerleader to prom, in more of a throwback to the days when films were a little less overtly political? Why does Zoe’s love interest have to be a black kid? I didn’t dislike the characters, but I was looking for this film to back away from current trends, not lean into them. I don’t see any other way to gain ground in the culture war, for those who purport to care about that.

Overall, it was a decent film, if you don’t mind the violence and you are not *triggered* by a graphic portrayal of school shooters. It didn’t however, appear to me to produce any kind of serious effort to reject Hollywood’s narrative trajectory. Actually, it was just the opposite.

3 out of 5 stars.

Live Not by Lies

Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, by Rod Dreher. Published in 2020. Hardcover, 304 pages.

I’ve been a reader of Rod Dreher’s blog at The American Conservative for the past five years. During that time, my reaction to his Internet commentary has run the gamut. Some of his columns I connect with in hearty agreement, hastily share with friends, and use as springboards for engaging and edifying conversations. Others of his columns confound me, while others annoy me so much that I click away, refusing to read further.

I’ve concluded that this is the nature of writing and publishing one’s thoughts about the day’s happenings in real time to a “live audience”. Internet commentary, whether of the instant variety such as Twitter, or long form such as blogging, is inherently more emotionally charged than a book. Books require more from all involved. Both author and reader have to exert more of themselves to the writing experience; more thought, more analysis, more contemplation of the ideas presented and received.

I’ve also concluded that this distinction is the reason why I enjoy Rod Dreher’s books so much more than his columns. Whether it’s Crunchy Cons, The Benedict Option, or in this case, Live Not By Lies, he does a much better job connecting with this reader through his books than on the Internet.

Live Not by Lies is exactly what its subtitle suggests; a manual for Christian dissidents. It feels, in many ways, like a follow up to The Benedict Option, which strongly exhorts believers to embrace a return to intimate, local faith communities operating outside of a dominant culture that is increasingly hostile to Christian faith and morality. He doesn’t suggest that we necessarily run off and build communes, as he has been accused of doing. Rather, that we construct places of refuge from the daily vexation of our souls.

But once we form these communities, what do we do within them? More importantly, how do we continue to live and work in the truth when and if the ability to do that comes at a price we’ve never had to pay here in America? We do that, first and foremost, by refusing to live by lies. The books titular exhortation was originally penned by Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn in a 1974 essay of the same title. He was arrested by Soviet secret police on the day of its writing. In it, Solzhenitsyn lists a relatively simply outline for refusing to live by lies, even though he knew it wouldn’t produce life lived on flowery beds of ease:

Some, at first, will lose their jobs. For young people who want to live with truth, this will, in the beginning, complicate their young lives very much, because the required recitations are stuffed with lies, and it is necessary to make a choice.

But there are no loopholes for anybody who wants to be honest. On any given day any one of us will be confronted with at least one of the above-mentioned choices even in the most secure of the technical sciences. Either truth or falsehood: Toward spiritual independence or toward spiritual servitude.

And he who is not sufficiently courageous even to defend his soul—don’t let him be proud of his “progressive” views, don’t let him boast that he is an academician or a people’s artist, a merited figure, or a general—let him say to himself: I am in the herd, and a coward. It’s all the same to me as long as I’m fed and warm.

It is with Solzhenitsyn in mind that Rod Dreher sets out a roadmap for the terrain we must navigate in 2021 as we resolve not to live by lies. Our current cultural trajectory is one that diverges from the one in which Soviet dissidents lived, and Dreher takes an excellent turn at describing the glaring signs pointing to a kind of totalitarianism that believers need to brace and prepare for:

The Western world has become post-Christian, with large numbers of those born after 1980 rejecting religious faith. This means that they will not only oppose Christians when we stand up for our principles—in particular, in defense of the traditional family, of male and female gender roles, and of the sanctity of human life—but also they will not even understand why they should tolerate dissent based in religious belief.

He later warns:

The foundation of totalitarianism is an ideology made of lies. The system depends for its existence on a people’s fear of challenging the lies. Said the writer, “Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies!” You may not have the strength to stand up in public and say what you really believe, but you can at least refuse to affirm what you do not believe. You may not be able to overthrow totalitarianism, but you can find within yourself and your community the means to live in the dignity of truth. If we must live under the dictatorship of lies, the writer said, then our response must be: “Let their rule hold not through me!”

Dreher encourages his readers to keep the faith, and not lose hope, but to also be wise and observant of the times in which we live. Portions of his book bring to mind Christ’s admonition to his followers to be “wise and serpents, yet harmful as doves.”

There is a lot of well-tilled ground here for those who have been attentive to the increasing influence and encroaching power of big tech companies, the academic ideological cathedral, and woke corporations wielding their power to influence debate in the public square. Nevertheless, there was information here that I was not aware of and was grateful to be more fully informed.

The compilation of all of these things, combined with concrete strategies and encouragement to stand strong make this a good read.

4 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

 

 

Word Nerd Wednesday: Unplug

The topic of this week’s post has absolutely nothing to do with staking out a political position. Certain things are, or used to be, bedrock American principles regardless of whether one stands on the right or left sides of the aisle.

One thing has become infinitely clear however, giving lip service to the principles of liberty isn’t really enough anymore. Being willing to put our inconvenience where our mouths are demands action. Which is why it is important that we be willing to unplug. This post, of course, refers to word as defined by the Urban Dictionary:

Unplug: To take yourself off any social media outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc. for a few days. To unplug the computer and enjoy real life interactions with live people such as your family and friends. To live life without computer related devices.

Of course, the unplugging I’m referring to is the kind that lasts much longer than a few days. It’s a willingness to recapture the saner parts of life as it was lived before, even if those parts were far less convenient.

Calling your distant Aunt Gertrude at least once a month, rather than depending on Facebook as a means of connection. Sending photos to you family either hard copy, or even via text message. Of course, this necessarily means that only the people you care most about will view your personal photos, but isn’t that better anyway?

The Instagram app that I kept for the sake of viewing pictures of distant relatives? Off the phone. I can always use the browser on my computer every couple of weeks to catch up, but no more free data mining for Facebook. I have been suggesting to people that they direct message all of the contacts they’ve developed a real relationship with on social media, trade contact info, delete those accounts (or at least drop the apps), and start communicating via email or even -gasp!- voice calls and snail mail!

For me, the biggest hindrance to cancelling my Prime account was the notion of 1) having to wait more than two days to receive certain items, and 2) paying for shipping. But you know what? The advantage of refusing to support mega corps that wage political warfare, destroy vendors as well as small brick and mortar businesses and screw print authors is that I’ll shop less. Additionally, the $12 a month I’m saving on the Prime membership will pay for shipping on the vastly reduced numbers of items I’m ordering.

Again, this is not a matter of taking sides politically. Either the “American Dream” which prioritizes free speech and the flourishing of the individual, and encourages entrepreneurship, is worth paying a few extra pennies to encourage, or it isn’t.

In the current zeitgeist, voicing my support for the things that matters means I need to unplug.

Word Nerd Wednesday: Epiphany

Since yesterday was the 12th day of Christmas, and today is known as Epiphany, I thought I’d use this occasion to discuss the holiday as well as the evolution of epiphany over time.

How often have you thought you had an epiphany? Was it a great idea? Was it the crystallization of a concept you hadn’t quite understood before? Whatever it was, something was unveiled that you hadn’t seen before. And that, my friends is exactly what happened on the first Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day, which is commemorated as the first time that Jesus the Messiah was revealed to gentiles.

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. Matthew 2:9-12.

As Protestants, our family rarely gave deep consideration to the Feast of Epiphany. However our school, being a Christian classical school, educates its students on the significant events on the liturgical calendar.

If this is a new revelation to you, consider yourselves so educated.

As a result of the original unveiling, we have all come to use the word epiphany as Webster defines it:

1) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something

2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking

3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure b : a revealing scene or moment

So there you have it, both the holiday and the vocabulary of the word Epiphany!

Reading Room Goals 2021

Happy New Year folks!

I’m not among the crowd approaching 2021 with boundless optimism. I’m eagerly hoping for a bounty of blessings, the fruition of moderate dreams and the accomplishment of measured goals. You know, the typical things we contemplate as the clock strikes 12:00 between December 31 and January 1. However, since the crazy that characterized 2020 shows no signs of dissipating, my expectations are appropriate to that reality. Nevertheless, I’ve set goals relevant to this little blog, and I’ll share them with you.

2020 was not a productive reading year, as evidenced by the grand total of 17 book reviews posted for the entire 12 months. This was largely due to succumbing to the countless distractions we were all assaulted with this year. From pandemics to social unrest and election drama, I found myself spending many more hours on current events than I would typically allow. Even with the increased time at home this spring, the effort to read more deeply was short circuited.

However, I did review short stories and poetry, which is also atypical for me, and I enjoyed those a great deal. I enjoyed them so much that I look forward to exploring more of those genres in the Reading Room this year. With those retrospective thoughts, I have established some reading and blogging goals for 2021. They include both personal goals and plans to help me keep this blog consistently updated with new content. Some of the things that really worked, I’ll continue to do.

  • Read and review more books than in 2020. No matter what is happening in the broader culture, it’s no excuse to get sucked into the pixels and away from books.
  • Blog with a strict plan and categorical pattern to  stay focused and writing regularly. With exceptions for liturgical calendar breaks such as Lent and Advent, as well as family vacations, I plan to post three times a week, as follows:
  • Continue to post Word Nerd Wednesday posts, but with more regularity. As it becomes increasingly apparent that George Orwell’s 1984 with its eerie exploration of language manipulation, was more prophetic than fiction, it’s vitally important that we remember the power of words. To that end, I will strive to consistently add installments to the Word Nerd category.
  • Weekly book reviews: This is going to be a challenge for me, but one I will to rise to. Reviewing and discussing books is important in a world with an increasingly short attention span. Not all of my reviews will be of full length books, as I have really enjoyed our short story discussions this year, and the variation will keep things fresh. Also, including short stories offers greater opportunities for you all to read a story, then come back here to offer your thought.
  • Friday Favorites with a wide range of topics will be revived. The topics will vary from education to nature, food, health and everything in between. The world is filled with wonder and beauty and everything around us conspires to shield it from our view. One of my goals here is to do a little bit to push back against the beast of digital domination and cultural discontent.
  • The first half of this year will find these goals easier to meet than the latter half, and none of us knows what insanity might be awaiting us either collectively or individually, as the year unfolds. Nevertheless, without a goal and plan, it’s much easier for the time to slip away from us having accomplished nothing.

I’m also interested to know what kinds of things my readers are reading. I have a reading queue a mile long, but I’m always tweaking it, and dropping titles to the bottom of the pile as I discover more interesting reads. So feel free to offer suggestions of books I might read as you encounter them along your bibliophile path.

One of my first reading goals of this year is to settle in and finish The Brothers Karamazov.  I’ll jump right back into it; just as soon as I finish Live Not By Lies. I’m not sure I’m off the best start, but we’ll see.

Happy New Year, All!

What are your plans as the new year begins?

 

 

My Favorite Movies of the Season

It’s almost Christmas! If the unusual dearth of traffic I experienced this morning is any indication, the two-week holiday hiatus from the normal rhythm of life has begun for many people.

Christmas is a conflicted time of year for me. One the one hand, the advent of Christ and everything that it means to me makes this a precious time. On the other hand, the amount of money spent at Christmas, even with budgets and cash only and all the guardrails, makes me shudder. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve struck a nice balance, and this year I feel more festive than I have in several years.

One of my favorite parts of this time of year is watching a few specific movies. It’s a short list, and I would love it if you would share some of your favorites in the comments.

  1. A Christmas Story– This funny, poignant, 80s classic is one of my favorites.

2. Elf- This is a thoroughly modern movie, and my informal polling indicates that my fondness for is far from universal. I understand why, since Will Farrell is hardly leading man material. But again, it’s funny and touching and silly and captures the magic of Christmas.

3. Rise of the Guardians– This isn’t really a Christmas movie as much as it is a fairy tale about mythical creatures, but I only think of it in December, and I only watch it in December. Yeah, that’s Santa in the center!

Now we’re getting into the movies that encompass the true meaning of Christmas.

4. The Nativity Story– I hardly think this one needs explanation, but it is exactly as it sounds. It’s a narrative of the birth of Jesus.

5. It’s a Wonderful Life. If you haven’t heard of Frank Capra’s 1946 Christmas classic, I implore you to go read the plot summary and then watch the film. It’s a wonderful exploration of faithfulness and hope rising from the ashes of despair. At Christmas!

What are your favorite films of the season?

Reel Talk: Created Equal; Clarence Thomas, In His Own Words

One of the most reticent justices on the United States Supreme Court is Justice Clarence Thomas. He’s also my favorite justice because more than any other on the court, he is a proven and consistent constitutional originalist.

I also like him because, unlike most of the sniveling anti-racist political agitators of our day, he actually lived through the worst aspects of racial segregation, poverty, and struggle. In spite of the disadvantages, he excelled. He did so on the strength of his grandfather’s stellar parenting, and his own intelligence and determination, coupled with hard work. Against all odds, he rose to the upper echelon of American political life.

Recently, a documentary outlining the story of his life and ascendancy to the Supreme Court was available to rent for .99 on Amazon Prime. I decided that one dollar was a small price to pay to hear Thomas tell his story. It was also interspersed with the highlights of his career along with the climax of his notorious 1991 Senate confirmation hearing. People often forget that Clarence Thomas, and not Brett Kavanaugh, was the first conservative justice whose nomination was blindsided by a #metoo accusation long before Twitter was conceived; back when hashtags were still known as pound signs.

This moving retrospective, in Thomas’ own words, was equal parts informative, poignant, and reflective. It’s worth a look. See the trailer below.

My review of Clarence Thomas’ memoir can be read here.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you are able spend it with your families and loved ones.