Wednesday, August 31, 2022

325. Hymn for Advent 3 (Series A)

Further to my "hymn for every Sunday in the three-year lectionary" project, here is a ditty for the Third Sunday in Advent, for which I concentrated mostly on the Old Testament lesson from Isaiah 35:1-10. I think I may have also snuck in a tiny bit of the Epistle, from James 5:7-11, as well. For the tune, I plumped for GALILEE by William Herbert Jude (1851-1922), which you can find paired with the hymn "Jesus calls us; o'er the tumult" in the American Lutheran Hymnal, Service Book and Hymnal and Lutheran Book of Worship. Not to be confused with GALILEAN by Joseph Barnby (cf. "Hark the voice of Jesus crying"). It wasn't the tune I wanted, but I couldn't make words come out to fit the tune I did want; when I made the switch, everything flowed smoothly. I guess the hymn knew itself better than I knew it.

Brethren, shore up hands from sinking
And make firm the trembling knees;
Say to those whose heart is shrinking,
"Christ is coming; be at ease!"

See, He comes to recompense you
For your woes and injuries;
From the thorn that sore offends you,
Surely, surely Jesus frees.

From the chains of lust that bind you,
From your guilty soul's disease
And your reason's scales, which blind you,
Surely, surely Jesus frees.

That which blocks your ears from hearing,
Lips from speaking what He'd please,
Hearts from loving His appearing—
From these also Jesus frees.

Now the desert will be watered;
Even fools His road may seize.
No more victim need be slaughtered;
Jesus comes, and surely frees.

All His ransomed shall, rejoicing,
Meet the One who heals and frees,
Everlasting anthems voicing
As all woe and sighing flees.

So be patient, sisters, brothers;
Shore up drooping hands and knees,
Daily telling one another:
"Christ is coming; be at ease!"

EDIT: Here's that tune.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

324. Hymn for Advent 2 (Series A)

Continuing the new three-year lectionary cycle of hymns that I've proposed to myself, here is an attempt at the second Sunday of the Church Year, which Lutheran Service Book unceremoniously dubs Advent 2. I've covered this Sunday before (in a series of hymns on the one-year lectioary) and so, of course, it might be difficult to avoid repeating myself. But I guess on that previous occasion, I was working primarily from the Epistle and Gospel lessons, so perhaps it will be safe to focus this time on the Old Testament lesson from Isaiah 11:1-10.

Picking a tune for this hymn was weirdly difficult. My ransack of English-language Lutheran hymnals had identified seven suitable tunes, and amazingly, I like them all: AUF, AUF, IHR REICHSGENOSSEN by T. Selle, 1651 (cf. The Lutheran Church of Australia's Lutheran Hymnal, 1973), the widely used if not overworked AUS MEINES HERZENS GRUNDE (Hamburg, 1598), the mighty HELFT MIR GOTTS GÜTE (from Wolfgang Figulus, 1575), the 1569 Danish tune THOMISSØN (cf. the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary and the American Lutheran Hymnal), two different tunes named VON GOTT WILL ICH NICHT LASSEN (the one by Johann Crüger, 1640, found in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book and the same Australian hymnal; the other, from 1563 Erfurt, sometimes attributed to J. Magdeburg), and ZEUCH EIN (also by Crüger, 1653, used in ELHB, The Lutheran Hymnal, and my very own Edifying Hymns). I'm not usually so spoiled for choice, and my decision went several different ways before I finally decided on Crüger's VON GOTT WILL ICH NICHT LASSEN. But you may feel free to look up any of these tunes and imagine this hymn being sung to them.

Come, Rod from Jesse's vinestock!
Come, Sprout of David's root!
Come with the Holy Spirit
And bring forth holy fruit!
Oh, that we may be blest
To see Your royal banner
Stand forth in glorious manner
And lead us to our rest!

Anointed with the Spirit,
The same, we beg You, share
That we may grow in wisdom
And insight have to spare.
Our reason and our might
Bring under Your direction,
That we, in deep subjection,
May know and fear aright.

What else is it to please You
Than that we fear Your word,
And judge not as the eye sees
Or as the ear has heard?
Your word shall shake the globe:
The guilty sinner slaying,
Your righteousness displaying,
Both shroud and festal robe.

And so, a new beginning
We look for You to bring.
Both wolves and lambs together,
Both bears and cattle sing:
The tiny child may play
And fear not asp nor dragon,
Until Your royal wagon
Rolls up in that great day.

Monday, August 29, 2022

323. Hymn for Advent 1 (Series A)

In Useful Hymns, I put forth a hymn for every Sunday of the Church Year ... but that was following the historic, one-year lectionary as found in The Lutheran Hymnal. For some months now, I've been singing one of my hymns (or occasionally, somebody else's hymn set to music I wrote for it) out of UH or Edifying Hymns every Sunday. One trouble I have is that my current home church doesn't follow Historic One-Year; it follows the Lutheran Service Book three-year series, with a separate set of lessons for every Sunday in Year A, B and C. So, I've noticed that, more often than not, the hymn I wrote for a given Sunday in UH or even EH doesn't gel with the readings for the equivalent Sunday in A, B or C. Sometimes it's just a matter of moving a piece meant for a different week into the slot. Sometimes I have to hunt a little harder for something relevant to the day's lessons, and at times the stretch is considerable. And I've also noticed some gaps in my hymnnic output: Bible stories for which I haven't written a hymn, but maybe I should.

Meantime, my hymnwriting has slowed down quite a bit. I had a fit, a few weeks back, and scribbled out two epic hymns, but more often I've been going months at a time without writing any and I wonder, at times, if I'm just flat out of ideas. Or if the ideas I do have are just unwriteable (and I could give examples). But it has slowly dawned on me that what I really should do is clench my jaw and churn out three more Church Years worth of hymns. I'm not ruling out the possibility of putting "See UH No. X or EH No. Y" when I find myself on ground I've adequately covered before. But even with shortcuts like that, this new project gives my third hymnbook the potential to become the bulkiest of the lot, so far.

Today's hymn launches this project with a brief hymn (may they all be briefish!) for the Sunday that LSB glibly calls Advent 1 – the first Sunday of the Church Year. The lyrics largely riff on the Epistle from Romans 13:11-14, with a bit (toward the end) of the Gospel from Matthew 21:1-11. The tune I'm thinking of using is from a French metrical psalter of Strasbourg, 1539, and is called either AU (or possibly DU) FORT DE MA DÉTRESSE or OLD 130TH. It is sometimes ascrbed to Claude Goudimel and sometimes to Louis Bourgeois, though as the latter edited the Genevan Psalter, he is spuriously credited with a lot of tunes. I've seen this one used with at least four hymns in American Lutheranism: "In heaven is joy and gladness," "O Lord, hear Thou my calling" and "We stand in deep repentance," all in The Lutheran Hymnary, and "Mine eyes unto the mountains" in Service Book and Hymnal. And so, here's my hymn for the next Advent 1, seeing as we're going through Series C this church year.

Oh! Know the time, dear children,
High time to wake from sleep.
Now, loving one another,
All God's commandments keep;
For near is our salvation,
More than when you believed.
Cast off the works of darkness;
The mail of light receive!

Oh! Know the time, dear children:
The night is all but spent,
The day its fingers stretching
To touch the orient.
Walk as befits the daytime:
Clearheaded, chaste, at peace;
And put on Christ, refusing
To let your flesh have lease.

Oh! Know the time, dear children:
Your King rides in to rule,
As when the heir of David
Rode up on David's mule.
Believers cry "Hosanna!"
To David's Son and Lord;
If any ask, "Who is it?"
"The Christ," reply the horde.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Three Thousand Years of Longing

Today I took myself all the way to Bemidji (about an hour north of where I live), mooched around the downtown district, bought a book (Poached by Stuart Gibbs), ate a Two Little Pigs sandwich at Fozzie's Smokin Bar-B-Q, and sat down to watch the movie Three Thousand Years of Longing. It's directed by George Miller of Mad Max: Fury Road and based on a short story by A.S. Byatt, features Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba, and doesn't suck.

The story follows Alithea, a self-described narratologist – a scholar who travels around the world, collecting stories and telling stories about story. One day, during a lecture in Turkey, she is in the midst of rationalizing away the purpose of deities when one of them kind of jumps her. Her local colleague, concerned about her, offers to buy her a parting gift and she chooses a somewhat damaged bottle made of glass in an unusual pattern, takes it back to her hotel room and is scrubbing it with her electric toothbrush when a Djinn pops out. Naturally, the djinn is desperate to grant Alithea the statutory three wishes, but she hesitates. She knows all about wishes and how they tend to be booby-trapped. She's rather content with her lot in life, though it is perhaps a bit lonely; she's more than halfway determined not to make any wishes. So, the Djinn tells her a series of stories about his previous escapes from the bottle and why it is crucial to him that he grant Alithea her heart's desire.

These stories, dramatized in flashbacks rich in exotic imagery, are the sauce on the movie, so to speak, while the meat is Alithea's and the Djinn's dilemma. They feature a Queen of Sheba to whom King Solomon comes (not the other way around), the tragic story of a Sultan whose uppity favorite concubine turns him against his loyal son, a chapter about two brothers (heirs to the same sultanate) who are both mentally cracked but in different ways, and another vignette about a brilliant but angry young woman trapped in the role of a rich Turk's third wife. Almost all of them are heartbreaking in their own way.

But between and after all these stories, there's a linking and framing drama between Alithea and her Djinn, where the unifying theme proves to be the unquenchable desire to be loved, set at odds with the peril of trying to possess and control the other party. You might come to the movie hoping to see more spectacular magic take place once Alithea starts making wishes. You might even think, as I do, that the love scene between her and the Djinn fails to deliver even a mote of eroticism. But as far as entertaining the brain goes, it's an outstanding picture.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Solomon makes music for Sheba. His instrument will blow your mind. (2) The heartbreaking fate of Mustafa, which kept replaying in my mind's eye for a while after I left the theater. Incidental to this, the Djinn has an encounter with another type of demon who may remind you of the creature that menaces Kurt Russell & Co. in The Thing. (3) The incident in the auditorium which plants a doubt in Alithea's mind – doubt of her doubt. I got a kick out of it even though the only fruit it bore, later in the movie, was preparing her for the shock of becoming a character in her own Arabian Nights story.

Of course, in these latter days, we're all too knowledgeable to be taken in by tall stories about wish-granting fire spirits. Instead, we put our heart's desire into playing the PowerBall. Progress, eh?

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Fen Gold

Fen Gold
by Joan Lennon
Recommended Ages: 9+

Pip is a boy growing up in the care of the monks in a tiny, backwater abbey in a swampy corner of Britain. Perfect his his living gargoyle companion, shaped like a dragon and complete with the ability to swim, fly and breathe flame. Their usefulness as a team reaches the notice of a Nordic princess who needs to find her Viking ancestor's buried treasure before the summer ends, and her freedom with it. But Rane and her party aren't the only ones who have come to Wickit Abbey in search of help. A king's man with pound-signs in his eye is also there, and I don't mean the hashtag-looking thing under the 9 on your phone's keypad.

So, the girl more or less blackmails Pip and Perfect into helping her find the treasure, although this means traveling through the Black Bog, a region that strikes fear into their hearts. Meanwhile, this Cedric fellow is following them with his own nefarious designs. Using Perfect's unique abilities means risking discovery of their secret – for if certain people find out about Perfect, the Church could ask some pretty hard questions – as well as testing the strength of a sickly old man. It's a well realized adventure, contained in a compact package with charming characters and atmospheric scenery.

This is the second of four illustrated chapter books in "The Wickit Chronicles," beginning with Ely Plot and continuing with Ice Road and Witch Bell. Joan Lennon is also the author of There's a Kangaroo in My Soup!, three "Tales from the Keep," four "Slightly Jones Mystery" books, two "Leif Frond" books, Questors, The Seventh Tide, The Night of the Kelpies, Planet Hell, Silverskin and Walking Mountain.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Ely Plot

Ely Plot
by Joan Lennon
Recommended Ages: 9+

Pip has been brought up in the monastery of Wickit in the middle of a great English swamp since he was brought there as a baby in the arms of a woman dying of fever. Now he learns Latin and singing from the Abbot, does chores for the other monks and spends the balance of his time getting into mischief. One day, while scrambling around on the roof of the abbey, he discovers a gargoyle hidden inside the squat tower – and it discovers him. Perfect (short for Perfect Parting Gift) has been waiting a hundred years for a friend like Pip. Shaped like a dragon, she can actually fly and even swim, despite being made of stone. But mostly, she hides inside Pip's tunic, since discovery would probably lead to accusations of witchcraft.

Things are going about as well as they can for a boy and his gargoyle in medieval England until a trip to the cathedral city of Ely puts him on the spot. First, he's singled out for his singing talent, which puts the head choirboy's nose out of joint. Second, he and Perfect witness a plot to poison the teenage king, and are forced to go on the run with all the king's men (and some who aren't on his side) in full pursuit.

It's a charming and fun adventure full of historical color, magic, danger and characters who pop off the page despite being drawn in swift strokes. If I had to complain about anything, it's how quickly the story comes to a close, with some of the action actually happening "offstage," so to speak. I thought I saw potential here for a more extended adventure with Pip and the young king dodging danger and court intrigue coming to the backwater abbey. Instead, they make their narrow escape and that's about it – other than a tease of possible adventures to come.

This is the first book of "The Wickit Chronicles," which continues with Fen Gold, Ice Road and Witch Bell. Joan Lennon is the Canadian-Scottish author of such children's titles as The Ferret Princess, The Night of the Kelpies, Planet Hell, Walking Mountain and the "Slightly Jones Mystery" quartet. For another series of children's books featuring living gargoyles, may I suggest The Gargoyle in My Yard by Philippa Dowding?

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

A Bit of Paperwork

I grabbed my shopping list yesterday, after dinner, and went to the grocery store to pick up a few things that I'd forgotten to purchase the previous evening, when I forgot to take the list with me. Upon arriving at the store, I pulled out the shopping list and found, instead, a list of notes I had been scratching down for one of those "X number of grammar mistakes that irritate me" posts, which I had left lying nearby where it was convenient to add things to it as they occurred to me. Whoops.

So, I decided it's time to pull the trigger on this grammar rant, inspired in recent weeks by YouTube videos whose narrators said things that I couldn't help correcting out loud. They couldn't hear me correcting them, of course, but I'll have my revenge regardless. Or irregardless. And while I'm making that joke, let me note (for probably the umpteenth time) that I'm not disturbed by the standard line of gaffes like "irregardless," which regardless of so many grammar snobs' complaints that it isn't a word, clearly is a word because I typed it right there. People write it and say it all the time. The evidence that it's a word is incontrovertible. Whether it's a word that makes its users look ignorant is another question.

And then there's the "I could care less" canard. I actually find it more irritating to hear or read this long-standing idiom "corrected" to "I couldn't care less" than to encounter the original. The pedantry is so unbecoming. And when you drill down into grammatical facts, there is actually no grammatical error in the sentence "I could care less." Anyone who has a problem with that needs to go back to Sarcasm 101. And if you're gonna go all literal on me and evaluate "I could care less" vs. "I couldn't care less" on the basis of which one is closer to the truth at face value, I'd submit that no matter what you're talking about, you could probably think of something that you care less about – so, besides being an ironic remark to start with, it's also literally more accurate than the "corrected" version. Suck on that.

But now, on to the list itself, so I can finally throw it away and not confuse it with next week's shopping list. ... "As a kid ... " – Seemingly smart people keep saying things like this: "As a kid, my mother made me eat everything on my plate." How old was your mom when she had you, anyway? The grammar snob nomenclature for this mistake is "misplaced modifier," which in turn is a more inclusive version of the "dangling participle" that was listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual two or three editions back. In more lay-oriented (or orientated) terms, it means you're not thinking clearly enough about what you're saying, because what you're actually saying (or seem to be saying) isn't what you mean. "As a kid" seems to modify "my mother." What you meant was "When I was a kid." Say what you mean.

This is, unfortunately, a type of sentence-structure goof that you see and hear everywhere. The easiest-to-detect instances actually have a participle clause, with a verb ending with "-ing," introducing a sentence whose subject isn't the same as the subject of the participle. Like, "Driving to work this morning, a deer jumped right out in front of me." This sentence raises questions that demand answers, like: What kind of car was the deer driving? Where does it work? Are deer allowed to drive now? Is life in the wild going so badly these days that they have to get jobs? Who's hiring them? Who's putting them at the wheel of a car? Shouldn't something be done about this?

More subtle instances of misplaced modifiers may slip by without most people noticing, but I notice them and they're a leading cause of me yelling at YouTube. When sentences start with "Hopefully," they're almost never well thought out. "Hopefully, the escaped rhinoceros will go away so I can come down out of this tree." This is literally a prediction that the rhino, feeling hopeful, will leave. What you really mean when you say this is, "I hope the escaped rhino will go away."

And then there's "thankfully." "Thankfully, the pterodactyl was more interested in collecting the shiny time machine than in attacking and eating me." How do you know the pterodactyl was thankful? Most accounts of flying dinosaur attacks suggest that pterodactyls have a rather entitled attitude, and take what they like without a scintilla of gratitude. A more thoughtful word choice would have been "fortunately," although I suppose that could also be interpreted as saying the pterodactyl was fortunate in its choice of target. "Lucky for me," maybe? Or how about "I'm thankful that ... "

And now, here are just a few cases of easily confused words, where I've noticed some folks going with the wrong choice. The distinctions may be subtle, but missing them can lead to a thoughtful remark sounding just a bit wrong.
  • Perverse vs. Perverted – This isn't really a mistake, since (according to Merriam-Webster) "perverse" can also mean "marked by perversion," but I think that definition is mostly there in recognition of the fact that too many people aren't propertly distinguishing between these two words. Mostly, and I think most correctly, "perverse" means something like cranky, stubborn, wrongheaded or improper, shading toward but not quite reaching the utter twistedness that I would describe as "perverted." Their noun forms are different, too: perverseness vs. perversion. You wouldn't necessarily call someone a pervert for being perverse. Perverse behavior is more self-punishing than perverted behavior is. Does that help?
  • Unsatisfied vs. Dissatisfied – Here's another vanishingly subtle distinction, but I think it's worth preserving just to ensure we have the words for what we really mean. Conditions or requirements can be unsatisfied; only people are dissatisfied. Hunger, thirst, and other wants and needs can go unsatisfied; a person whose needs aren't met may even feel unsatisfied. But even when those needs are met, someone may still feel dissatisfied – discontented, aggrieved, disgruntled – because there's having enough, and then there's having all that you want.
  • Testimony vs. Testament – It almost drives me bonkers to hear these two mixed up. Usually it goes like this: Something or other is "a testament" to this or that – like, the capture of the Golden State killer is "a testament" to he persistence of police, who kept working the evidence through multiple generations of detectives until genetic geneology finally cracked the case. Yadda, yadda. Only, "testament" is a legal act, as in "last will and testament," while the word that example is looking for is "testimony," as in giving evidence or bearing witness.

Bullet Train

It's a brutal, bloody, graphically violent tale of professional killers tearing each other to pieces on a high-speed train, with Japanese comic-book stylings and a plot that explores the philosophy of fate. Also, it's genuinely funny. It's Bullet Train, directed by the guy who directed Deadpool 2 and based on a Japanese novel originally titled Maria Beetle (but published in the U.S. as Bullet Train).

The story goes like this: A "snatch and grab" professional, code-named Ladybug (Brad Pitt), has been feeling down after a streak of bad luck in which people end up dying (or almost dying) during each of his jobs. His handler, Maria (Sandra Bullock), tries to raise his spirits by sending him on a "simple" job, liberating a briefcase from a Japanese high-speed train, or shinkansen. But by what can't be random chance (unless the universe really hates him), Ladybug finds himself at cross purposes with multiple hitpersons, including a zany pair of "twins" named Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry, who voiced the role of Miles Morales's father in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson of Kick-Ass), a psychopathic schoolgirl named "The Prince" (Kissing Booth's Joey King), a Mexican tough guy called "The Wolf" (played by Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny) and a poisoner named "The Hornet" (Zazie Beetz, who co-stars with Henry in FX's Atlanta).

Other more or less desperate characters include a young Japanese assassin seeking revenge on the psycho who put his son in a coma (Andrew Koji of Snake Eyes), his "elder" assassin father (martial arts maven Hiroyuki Sanada), a Russian crime lord known as the White Death (Michael Shannon) and his son, who spends most of his onscreen time dead (an almost unrecognizable Logan Lerman of "Percy Jackson" fame). Other cast members include Masi Oka (of TV's Heroes) as a train conductor, and cameos by Channing Tatum and Ryan Reynolds. (I mentioned this movie to someone who immediately said, "Isn't Ryan Reynolds in that?" I don't know where they picked that up; but his brief appearance here wasn't out of place, given the movie's violence and sense of humor.)

Other than the fact that Ladybug's mission goes off the rails, first figuratively and then literally, with breathtaking violence alternating with light comedy and touches of Eastern mysticism and noble mercenary stuff, I don't know what else to say in synopsis, without blowing the whole plot (such as it is), other than to bang out the Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Ladybug's battle with Lemon while seated in the "quiet car" on the train. (2) The entire buildup to the fate of the White Death, from the Prince's plot to all the ways it goes wrong and how they both get their final comeuppance. (3) The "bullet time" train crash – a visual pun on the film's title, which is already a double-entendre – complete with Pitt flying through the air and bonking his head on a teapot. Really, the teapot bonk made my day.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

A Pinch of Magic

A Pinch of Magic
by Michelle Harrison
Recommended Ages: 12+

The middle Widdershins sister, Betty dreams of getting off the island of Crowstone and seeing the world. But her Granny, who runs a run-down tavern called the Poacher's Pocket, keeps a short apron-string on her and the other girls, Fliss and Charlie. One night when Betty attempts a daring escape, Granny brings her home with the aid of a teleporting carpet bag. No longer can she be kept in the dark about her family's secret: Each of the three girls is heir to a magical object – the traveling bag, a mirror of spying and a set of nesting dolls that can turn people invisible. But they are also heirs to a family curse that keeps any female born or married into the Widdershins family from leaving the island chain of the Misty Marshes. It all goes back, somehow, to a woman more than 100 years ago who threw herself to her death out of a prison tower on the day she was to be hanged for sorcery. But the upshot of it is, if the girls cross outside the boundaries of Crowstone and its island neighbors of Repent, Lament and Torment, three things will happen: (1) A stone will fall out of the tower; (2) They will be driven bonkers by the cawing of crows inside their heads; and (3) They will die at sunset.

Betty is devastated by the news that she is trapped for life in Crowstone. But a clue in Granny's laundry leads the girls to hope there may be a way to break the curse that nobody has tried in 100 years. Unfortunately, to find out what it is, they have to spring an inmate from the prison on Repent. And when they do, things go wrong that doom Fliss and Charlie to a cursèd fate if Betty doesn't actually break the curse by the end of the day. This will mean continuing to rely on the help of an escaped convict who has already proven unreliable, listening to a bitter old informer's story about the reason for her family's gifts and curse, and pursuing her sisters and their captor into forbidden territory – which means Betty's life, too, is now at stake.

The sisters' adventure forces them to face up to shameful facts about their family history and guilty knowledge about themselves – such as the destructive power of envy. More subtly, it's also a study of how women can feel trapped in their role, how folks in a rural community can be sacrificially kind on one level and unforgivingly judgy on another, and maybe how a small change can completely rewrite reality. Trimmed around the edges with humor, wild adventure and spooky atmospherics, it has at its heart an emotionally deep family drama that challenges readers to imagine a multi-generational tragedy and the possibility of making it better.

This is the first book of of a series that Michelle Harrison's website dubs the "Widdershins Adventures." Its sequels to-date are A Sprinkle of Sorcery, A Tangle of Spells and A Storm of Sisters. Harrison is also the author of the four-book "13 Treasures Trilogy," the "Midnight Magic" trilogy (featuring a magical cat named Midnight), the spooky novel Unrest and The Other Alice, in which characters from an author's notebook come to life.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Silent (but Deadly) Night

Silent (but Deadly) Night
by Jo Nesbø
Recommended Ages: 10+

Doctor Proctor (Victor to his French cook, Juliette, with whom he is quite close) is a zany inventor who lives and Oslo and tests many of his inventions with the aid of a couple of neighborhood children – a nice girl named Lisa and an outrageous little red-haired imp named Nilly. Among the strange things he has brewed up, or collected from other mad scientists, are the fart powder prominently featured on this book's cover, which can clear your front walk of snow in an instant or (if you aim with expert precision) carry you to a nearby rooftop; and also time soap, which in bubble bath form enables you to get lathered up, think about a place and time, and instantly arrive there and then. We won't go into silly things like a nuclear-powered car, an invisible boomerang, a self-knotting tie and whatnot. We have to stick to what's important.

What's important, in this wacky adventure, is saving Christmas. You see, the King of Norway has sold Christmas to a greedy department store magnate, who decrees that nobody can have Christmas unless they spend at least 10,000 crowns (about $1,000 in today's U.S. dollars) buying stuff they probably don't need at his stores. Now, I'm sure we all sympathize with everyone's desire to support local business and ensuring the royal palace's basement is mold-free, but the sad fact is, the newly appointed Christmas police are ruining the holiday for a lot of people who can't afford to blow $1,000 on a shopping spree. You probably don't have to use your imagination too hard on that concept. But Doctor Proctor and friends make it their mission to save Christmas for everybody.

How do they go about it? Well, the answer to that would take longer to write than I plan to spend on this review. So I suggest you just get the book. I founded it in a local bookshop, but because they didn't have any other books in the series, it's the only installment I've read. You could try online. But for a taster, I might mention that they track down the real Santa Claus (who isn't as jolly as you'd think), hook up a team of jet reindeer, outfly a missle-that-can't-miss (can't missile?), and have a variety of hilarious mishaps and run-ins with the bungling Christmas police, the bumbling king (whose tagline seems to be "Booooring!"), and a variety of Oslo landmarks. If you're not familiar with a lot of Oslo landmarks, that last cartegory might not be as hilarious to you as it is to speakers of the book's original language. But I'd hazard to guess that even American kids (and adults) will feel their ribs tickled by the adventure's irreverent approach to many cultural sacred cows – like a fountain in the middle of town lit so that it looks like it's spraying pear-flavored soda, or the monarchy, or the military, or Father Christmas, or holiday shopping, or the Finnish language (which nobody understands but that sounds angry when read aloud), and much, much more. I mean, I've not even gotten to the vampire giraffe cuckoo clock, but I'm out of time so you're on your own.

It's a book with kid appeal that has a streak of adult naughtiness shot through it, from the potty humor surrounding fart powder to the professional gross-out of Nilly's mom's constipation, all the way beyond that to a Santa who's used his downtime to sow his wild oats around the world. There's the nursery-level appeal of finding out what reindeer say ("møø") as well as the sci-fi wonderland of a Santa's workshop where the elves have been replaced with robots. And mixed in with it all is a taste of Norwegian culture, which calls the day before Christmas Eve "Little Christmas Eve" and Ascension Day the thematically appropriate sounding Kristi Himmelfart.

Jo Nesbø is the author of 12 "Harry Hole" crime novels in the burgeoning genre that has been introduced to me as Nordic Noir. I actually wrote an article about Nordic Noir once that was translated into French for a literary review in France, and it intrigued me to see that the French version preserved the alliteration as Polar Polaire. Anyway, the one book in the Harry Hole series that I've read, and that was also released in the U.S. as a movie (that I know of), is No. 7, The Snowman. This book, meanwhile, is No. 5 in the "Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder" series, which begins with a book by that title and continues with Bubble in the Bathtub (a.k.a. Time-Travel Bath Bomb), The End of the World. Maybe (a.k.a. Who Cut the Cheese?), The Great Gold Robbery (a.k.a. The Magical Fruit) and this book. Nesbø, described by Fantastic Fiction as a Norwegian musician, songwriter and economist, is also the author of Headhunters, The Son, Blood on Snow, Midnight Sun and The Kingdom. According to the very fine print on the copyright page of this book, it was translated into English by Tara Chace.

EDIT: Oh, my goodness. There's already a movie based on Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

322. Sermon on the Mount Hymn

Here, less than 24 hours after an epic hymn paraphrasing a single passage of Scripture, is another of about the same length. I'm sure it's not as good, despite the fact that I've been brainstorming on it for much longer. Months, even. I mean, the Hebrews 11 Hymn that I wrote in the wee hours of this morning grew out of a thought I had last Sunday. But I'm tired of the thunder and lightning endlessly crashing and flashing between my ears, so out this hymn comes at last. I'm recycling a 16th century Bohemian Brethren melody called SINGEN WIR AUS HERZENS GRUND for it; I previously used it for a youth encouragement hymn in Edifying Hymns. And lo:

When He saw the multitudes,
Jesus, sitting on the mount,
Gathered His disciples round,
Speaking the Beatitudes.
Son of God and Son of Man,
Servant of God's saving plan,
His great discourse so began.

Not as men does Jesus bless—
Favoring the poor and meek,
Those who peace and mercy seek,
Hungering for righteousness;
Those who mourn, the pure in heart,
Persecuted for His part—
Bucking custom from the start.

Jesus styled us who believe
As our age's salt and light:
Seasoning the world aright,
That God's grace men may perceive.
Without faith, He says, the world
Would as flavorless be hurled,
Man's salvation unrevealed.

Jesus came not to destroy,
But fulfill, the Word of God.
Till the world ends, not one jot,
Not one dot will pass away
Till He has all things fulfilled,
For the sinner scourged and killed,
And God's law in us instilled.

Without righteousness, He said,
Even more without a flaw
Than the teachers of the law,
None His kingdom's gate will thread.
How can man his way correct?
Only Christ, without defect,
Can our righteousness perfect.

He said, lest men trust the Law,
And suppose "You shall not kill"
To be easy to fulfill,
Even wrath and insults raw
Slay men in our hearts and damn.
Lest this guilt our souls condemn,
Jesus bids, make peace with them.

Lest in outward chastity
We should place our pious trust,
He said gazes full of lust
Are at heart adultery;
And from swearing on God's name
Jesus would our lips restrain:
Rather, 'yes' and 'no' speak plain.

Turn the other cheek, Christ said,
Nor seek vengeance for your hurt;
Robbed of jacket, give your shirt,
Nor from borr'wers turn your head.
Forced to walk a mile, go two;
Love your foes; good service do
Those who hate and mistreat you.

Do your alms, your fasts and prayers
Not for men's admiring gaze
But to God, by secret ways.
Neither store up, by your cares,
Things that vanish or decay,
Or that thieves can snatch away,
But on heav'n your treasure stay.

Of the eye, Christ's teaching mark:
Be it good, you'll fill with light;
Bad, how clouded were your sight!
Save us, Lord, from vision dark!
And since none can serve two lords,
Loosen mammon's strangling cords,
Tied to hollow, brief rewards!

He says, fret not how to live,
What to eat or drink or wear;
Trust God, who with Father's care,
Knows how much and when to give.
But seek first His kingly grace
And His righteousness embrace;
All these things will come apace.

Judge yourself before you judge;
Pluck the roofpeak from your eye,
Then your brother's speck decry.
And if you would not begrudge
Any good your children need,
Trust your Father will indeed
Asking, seeking, knocking heed.

Enter by the narrow gate,
For the way to hell is broad
And full many walk that road,
While the gate to life is strait
And few find its toilful way.
Watch for wolves in sheep's array,
Who would lead God's lambs astray.

Yes, Christ says, you'll know their fruits;
Look in them for no good thing,
Lest you feel the thistle's sting.
With false teaching at their root,
They are fit to be cut down,
In the blazing furnace thrown,
And God's vine the better grown.

Even some who own His name,
Christ says, will remain outside
When at last He's glorified.
They'll cry, "Lord, Lord," all the same;
"Did we not work signs for You?"
To His "You I never knew"
None can answer or review.

Therefore, let us keep His word,
Being built as on a rock,
Proof for every storm and shock;
Lest, dismissing what we've heard,
As a fool who built on sand,
We see all we've schemed and planned
Overthrown upon the strand.

When these sayings were complete,
How the people were amazed
And His forceful teaching praised!
We too see, in figures neat,
Christ becoming what we need
In His being, word and deed:
Both our Pattern and our Creed.

Brethren, let us ask the Lord,
Diligently seek the Son,
Knock for the Proceeding One—
One God, endlessly adored—
Who no treasure will deny
Those who on His word rely
When He gathers us on high.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

321. Hebrews 11 Hymn

This is a paraphrase of a chapter (and change) of the Bible that has impressed me with its tight argument since I was a little kid. And I was just thinking, when looking at hymn selections for a couple of Sundays in which portions of this chapter come up in the readings, that a hymn like this might be pretty handy ... give or take how horrendously long it is. I suppose you could break it up into segments to go with an extended study or sermon series on this section of Hebrews. It includes Hebrews 12:1-2 and a doxology at the end. EDIT: I struggled to find an existing tune that I thought would pair well with this hymn. In the wee hours, I sketched out an original tune for it that will, by and by, be known as BY FAITH.

By faith, the substance of our hope,
Things not yet seen we own;
By faith, the saints who passed before
A good account have known;
And that God's unseen word has framed
The worlds, by faith is shown.

By faith, what Abel sacrificed
God savored more than Cain's,
And by commending Abel's gift
His righteousness proclaims.
Thus even Abel, being dead,
A living voice obtains.

By faith was Enoch taken up,
And so he never died.
That God was fully pleased with him
Such honor testified;
Yet without faith one cannot be
Before God justified.

Apart from faith, God is not pleased;
The thing cannot be done.
Apart from faith, all works are sin,
And lost is everyone;
For He who seeks the Lord must know
He saves us through His Son.

By faith one Noah, warned of things
Divinely strange and dark,
Was moved with godly fear to build
A life-preserving ark,
And so condemned the world, and gained
Faith's justifying mark.

By faith did Abram heed the call
To tent in foreign lands,
Expecting an inheritance
From God's almighty hands;
By faith his dead flesh sired a tribe
As countless as the sands.

In faith the fathers died, assured
A promised land was theirs,
Seen from afar but entered not,
As pilgrims in the earth;
A better city they now seek,
A land of heavenly worth.

By faith, when tested, Abraham
Prepared his son to slay,
Convinced that God would raise him up,
So faithful is His way.
By faith, the latter fathers, too,
Breathed blessings in their day.

By faith, two parents saved their child
Despite the king's command;
Raised in the palace, Moses then
Forsook the king's right hand
And chose with them to suffer who
Looked for the promised land.

By faith, he hazarded the wrath
Of Egypt's dreaded king;
He kept the feast, the sprinkled blood,
Lest Israel feel death's sting,
Then led them through the sea dryshod,
Th'oppressor smothering.

By faith, the walls of Jericho
Fell, and Rahab was spared.
And must we also mention how
The faithful judges fared?
Must every king and prophet
With this precept be compared?

They conquered realms, worked justice, reaped
Rewards, stopped lions' maws,
Quenched fire, escaped the sword, grew strong
And bravely waged their cause,
Turned hosts to flight, and women's sons
Restored from out death's jaws.

Eyes on the resurrection, they
Bore witness, bearing pains;
They suffered scorn and scourging, bore
Imprisonment and chains;
Stoned, sawn in two, beheaded, they
By faith made no complaints.

Condemned to destitution, poor
And weak, they did not swerve,
But walked in desolations, dens
And caves, with holy nerve.
By faith, they were a treasure that
The world did not deseve.

All these, by faith imprinted with
A faultless, holy name,
Did not receive the promise till,
In Christ, a Better came,
That we and they together should
By faith perfection claim.

Since such a cloud of martyrs swirls
Around us, brethren, let
Us lay aside the vices that
Would catch us in their net,
And run with perseverence in
The race before us set;

And fix our eyes on Jesus, who
Begins and ends our faith,
Who for the joy before Him bore
The cross, the shame of death,
And sits at God's right hand, the throne
All powers fall beneath.

To God the Father, whom the Son
Reveals, a hymn we raise,
And to the Spirit, who with them
Is One, bring endless praise
Through Jesus Christ, the Author and
Perfecter of our faith!

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Belly Up

Belly Up
by Stuart Gibbs
Recommended Ages: 11+

Despite its deceptively juvenile cover design, the sleuth in this mystery is a mature-for-his-age 12-year-old named Teddy, who lives at a zoo/theme park called FunJungle where his mom does gorilla research and his dad shoots wildlife photos. Brought up in the wild, he's still got a wild streak in him, frequently putting him on the outs with park security – such as when he arms the chimps with water balloons so they can fight back against zoo guests throwing stuff at them. He definitely has a higher opinion of animals than of people. And so, when the park's head vet suspects foul play in the death of Henry the Hippo – FunJungle's mean, unwisely chosen mascot – it's murder as far as Teddy is concerned.

To be sure, Teddy didn't think much of Henry in life. In death, however, he sets out to solve his murder, whether or not anyone at the zoo cares to know who done it. He's aided by Summer, the park's owner's daughter, a celebrity kid whose every move makes it into the tabloids. But it's hard to tell whom to trust when everyone seems to have a motive to kill the hippo, and other animals are mysteriously dying as well. The closer Teddy gets the truth, the more danger he finds himself in, as first one dangerous animal and then another is set loose when he's around. By the time he cracks the case, everyone will be after him, leading to disaster at a hippo's funeral, a madcap chase through SafariLand and a desperate race to get the evidence to Summer's dad.

The vividly drawn setting and unusual victim elevate this book above your common or (zoological) garden murder mystery. Teddy's a sharp kid who's up to outrageous adventures, with a witty narrative voice and an irrepressible attitude that make him a fun character to follow. Also, he has the coolest parents, and they mix professionally with a wide range of quirky characters, from the public relations wonk who tells the press that a hippo is a whale on legs to the vet's assistant who names every large animal that comes to the zoo including the ill-fated Carl the Capybara and Alistair the Anaconda. It's a tale that makes the Texas sunshine seethe with intrigue on multiple levels, and fills the shadowy corners with chilling dangers. My only complaint is that I'd have read it sooner if the cover art hadn't made it look like a little kids' book. Actually it's right on target for my mental age.

This is the first of going on eight books in the FunJungle series, followed (so far) by Poached, Big Game, Panda-monium, Lion Down, Tyrannosaurus Wrecks, Bear Bottom and the upcoming Whale Done, set for release in February 2023. Gibbs is also the author of the "Last Musketeer," "Moon Base Alpha" and "Charlie Thorne" trilogies, the "Spy School" series, and Once Upon a Tim.

Monday, August 1, 2022

The Black Phone

Thanks to a movie called Nope playing in area movie theaters, I actually had the following conversation with myself a week ago: "Are any movies playing in the area that look good?" "Nope." "OK, I'll stay home and read, then." Ha, ha. I was still thinking about seeing Nope this past weekend, but when it came time to decide, I decided on The Black Phone after all. I had watched online trailers for both movies and I guess the concept for The Black Phone thrilled me a bit more.

The movie takes place in the Denver area in 1978, when people's phones hung on walls, plugged into a jack, and had handsets connected to the receiver by a curly cord. A phone like this hangs on the wall of the soundproofed basement where Finney finds himself after he becomes the sixth victim of a serial kidnapper, abuser and murderer of teenage boys, known in the local press as the Grabber. The phone's cable (connecting it to the jack) has been cut, but that doesn't stop it from ringing now and then, and when Finney answers it, he hears the voices of the Grabber's previous victims giving him tips about how to survive. Meanwhile, his sister Gwen (who sometimes has dreams that come true) is also dreaming about the five kids the Grabber grabbed before Finney, and each dream brings her closer to being able to identify the house where her brother is being held.

The Grabber plays a sick game with these kids, and in a way, Finney is the perfect victim because when it comes to schoolyard bullies, he never fights back. But as the ghost of his best friend (the previous victim) points out, he's also a tough kid who takes a beating and gets back up. He just needs to nerve himself to fight because his dead buddy is relying on him to live.

Perfect victim, maybe, but he's also the Grabber's most troublesome one, drawing blood when he's snatched off the street (none of the others managed that), very nearly escaping (he gets heartbreakingly close), and finally ... well, telling would spoil it for you. In his fear and in his low point of despair, Finney has a vulnerability that'll go to your heart. Most of the time, however, he is remarkably calm and he really works hard to survive.

In a similar paradox, Gwen often seems like such a sweet, fragile thing, but boy! does she have a mouth on her, as seen when she cusses out the cops who grill her over a dream in which she saw images of one of the kidnaps including details the police never released to the public. She doesn't hold back from Jesus, either, going from humbly praying for a helpful revelation to (at one point) rudely challenging him to prove He exists. Her search for her missing brother runs parallel to his ghost-guided preparation for a final opportunity to either escape or die -- and neither proceeds in a straight line.

It's an emotionally wrenching thriller with enough jump scares, ghostly apparitions and one really icky on-screen murder to keep it just inside the "horror" box. The exquisite creepiness of the Grabber doesn't hurt. It's also weirdly uplifting in the sense that you see the hero kid, Finney, trying all the dead kids' suggestions in the hope that they'll get him out of there, but none of them turn out as he expects or hopes. It's only at the point where he completely gives up that it starts to become clear exactly how each of their hints will help him survive.

Based on a short story by Stephen King's son, Joe Hill, the movie is directed by Scott Derrickson, who also helmed such pictures as The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister and Doctor Strange. The movie casts Ethan Hawke against type as the creepoid; he manages to project a broad range of expression (all within the parameters of a terrifying psycho) while most of the time covering his face in one of a few horrible masks, which is why it's worth paying for an A-lister in a role like this. His coked-up brother, Max, is played by James Ransone of The Wire, Sinister and It Chapter Two, with a manic innocence (his eyes really are an asset) epitomized by the Grabber's line, "He was an idiot, but he was my idiot." The hero kids' abusive, drunk father is played by Jeremy Davies, a.k.a. Upham in Saving Private Ryan, Charles Manson in Helter Skelter and Dickie Bennett in Justified -- accomplishing, as he frequently does, the feat of making you loathe him and pity him at the same time.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Finney's escape attempt and its agonizing conclusion. (2) Fighting lessons via phone with a ghost. Actually, the whole scene in which Robin talks Finney into fighting to survive was the tear-jerking heart of the movie. (3) The moment Max looks at the bulletin board where he's been following the Grabber investigation (thinking his help will be valuable to the police) and you see the penny drop in his eyes. Actually this movie is pretty good at showing what its characters are thinking without a word of dialogue, like Gwen wondering whether what she's seeing is real, or Finney's crush/science lab partner hearing the news that he's been snatched. But you've gotta admit that playing the scene where a doofus comes out of his mental haze long enough to realize, "You know what? My brother could be the Grabber," is an acting assignment that's worth the inconvenience of taking an axe in the head (oops, spoiler).