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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Henry Kingsley on Important Distinctions: Part 2

The denomination leader addresses
the regional assembly.

When I was growing up, regional assemblies of my local church's denomination where held in city convention centers. Regional leaders rented such large facilities because, by and large, none of their local churches were big enough to hold all the pastors, lay representatives, and other parishioners who wished to attend. These events bustled with energy, the anticipation of learning what the denomination was doing in their region and around the world, and the welcome camaraderie from touching bases with people who attended different churches. These days, regional assemblies are held in large churches, which are never filled. The denomination's publishing house sends no representatives or books that could help local pastors and lay leaders. Those attendees who do come, by and large, leave disappointed that these conventions don't accomplish more. That they don't sizzle with energy, excitement, and enthusiasm.

How do you make people think that the denomination is important, when sermons and worship services are conducted along generic interdenominational lines? Why should a parishioner really sacrifice and give a large portion of their income, such as ten percent, or the Biblical tithe, when they aren't taught to believe in the distinctive importance of their own denomination? Why should people sacrifice their time, and work hard in their local church, when representatives of the denomination do not regularly visit, tell them about all the great things that are happening in the larger Church, and help them see how their local efforts impact the distinctive work of the Church worldwide?

The answer is that, sadly, you can't. Nearly all the churches I attended in my life have closed up. Only the big ones still exist, and of those two, one had to sell the big sanctuary it built because the congregation shrank and could no longer afford it. Congregants seem uninterested in paying tithe, or playing a lay ministerial role on a weekly basis. And even those who do become leaders find reasons not to pay their tithe, which helps support the local church, the church at the regional level, and supports the denomination's ministries across the globe.

It seems odd to me that in a time of so much worldwide religious intolerance, and violence being perpetrated by religious fundamentalists, that believers and leaders would willing strip their denomination of all its distinctiveness and unique importance. In his novel Ravenshoe, Henry Kingsley demonstrated how such people can use the distinctiveness and unique importance of their faith to hurt others. While I've seen plenty of examples of that in a number of denominations (and sadly, plenty of examples of that in my denomination in my adolescent years), I still wish the denomination of my youth were an institution that actually stood for something. That it offered today's believers something positive and distinctly beneficial. That it offered people like me something I could not receive from any other local, unaffiliated, protestant churches.

But then, I suppose I purchase my share of no-name, generic-label products when I go to the market. They save me money, and are just as good as the name-brands, right?

Dragon Dave

Monday, June 20, 2016

Henry Kingsley on Important Distinctions: Part 1

Whimsical carving in an English church.

Recently, I attended the church regional gathering with my mother and friend. The leader, one of a handful of men at the top of the denomination, preached on the ministry of his church in other countries. He had spent most of his adult life in other countries working as a local pastor and regional leader. During his message, he spoke a little about those instances when his wife dragged him along on a trip to the market. He mentioned how she always sought out the no-label or generic-label products, because they saved her money, and, she insisted, were just as good as those that carried a brand name.

In my childhood and adolescence, being a member of this denomination really meant something. Or at least, that was how it seemed. Unfortunately, in recent years, the denomination leaders refused to address the changing needs of its members. The denomination's publishing company lost sight of what local congregations really needed. Regional leaders opted for phone calls to pastors, rather than regular visits to every church in their territories. 

Every organization occasionally loses its way. What has surprised me is how the denomination has not yet recaptured its distinctiveness. What does it mean to be a member of this institution today? Contemporary leaders seem incapable of addressing this question.

Henry Kingsley believed that the distinctions between Catholicism and Protestantism in 19th Century England were important and worth fighting for. In his novel Ravenshoe, Father Mackworth, Charles Ravenshoe, and other family members make important stands for their faith. They believed those distinctions not only affected themselves, but everyone else whom they oversaw or interacted with. 

Today, what I hear repeatedly from pastors of this denomination is that their parishioners don't want to hear about what it means to be a member of the larger organization. These pastors claim that members of their local churches cannot see how the distinct theology that formed the denomination plays a useful role in their life of faith. Instead, they claim that their congregants just want to be as interdenominational as possible. You know: just like everyone else.

So pastors ignore such distinctions in their sermons, and organize their worship services, and all other church functions, according to what seems most popular. Some even remove the denomination's name from the sign outside the door, and bestow upon the church some generic title that could apply to any Christian church, such as New Hope, New Life, or (Place Your Own Made-up Title Here).

It seems an odd approach for a denomination, doesn't it?

Dragon Dave

Friday, June 17, 2016

Henry Kingsley on the Seeds of War

Cricket St Thomas,
a manor house in Somerset, England

In Henry Kingsley's novel Ravenshoe, Densil Ravenshoe, the heir to his family's land and fortune, returns from a trip to Europe with a Protestant wife. With his little act of rebellion, Densil Ravenshoe inadvertently starts a war that will be waged for decades. Shortly after giving birth to a boy, his wife extracts a promise from him: that Densil will have the boy raised in the Protestant faith. This tears at the heart of Father Mackworth, the Catholic priest who presides over the church on the family's land. He had hoped to raise the boy as a Catholic. If the new heir of the Ravenshoe family is to be raised Protestant, all the land and fortune of the family be devoted to Protestant causes. As if this weren't enough, all the workers on the estate, and the people living in the local village, whose livelihoods are dependent upon the lord of the manor, will also fall under Protestant control.

As the boy grows up, young Charles Ravenshoe is taught why he should believe and affirm Protestant ways. He is never taught to respect Father Mackworth's beliefs or practices. While in many ways Charles is kind and loving, he cannot help but tease and make fun of Father Mackworth. The priest, who believes he represents something precious and important, views such acts as attacks on his authority, and the teachings and beliefs he holds dear. Thus, years of ceaseless warfare ensue, in which the combatants, Charles Ravenshoe and Father Mackworth, sling emotional darts at one another. 

We often convince ourselves we are right when we tease others, when we do little things to confound others, when we tell ourselves that it's just harmless fun, that the other person should take it. We tell ourselves that he or she needs to be a bigger person, that he or she needs to take things less seriously, and we're doing this for their own good. We insist that our way is the right way, and that they need to respect "our ways," instead of quietly doing things our way, and in a way that would not offend them. 

Hey, it's the other person's problem right? No lasting harm can come from it, right?

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Henry Kingsley on Hope For Tomorrow

Thurnham Hall, a manor house in northern England

In Henry Kingsley's novel Ravenshoe, after the death of his first wife, Densil Ravenshoe travels through Europe. When he returns home, he brings back home a Protestant wife. This, as you would imagine, greatly offends Father Mackworth, the Catholic priest who resides on the manor estate. 

Instead of respecting the priest's practices and beliefs, Densil's new wife insists on pointing out all the deficiencies in Catholic teaching. This compounds Father Mackworth's sense of injury. He sees life as a holy battle, and himself as a soldier for his Lord. He wishes to do all he can to help England discard its experiment with protestantism, and return to Catholicism. Instead, he finds himself continually reeling from the assaults of Densil's new, strong willed wife. The priest grows so depressed that he considers returning to Rome, and requesting a reassignment from the Pope. 

Then one day, Father Mackworth overhears a conversation between Densil and his new wife. She is with child! This firms his resolve to stay. If he can instruct the next generation of Ravenshoes in the true faith, perhaps he can overcome the protestant woman's influence. By raising up Densil's heir, he hopes to ensure that this great family, which controls wealth, a great stretch of land, and the people in the nearby village, will remain Catholic. In so doing, he will do his part to help poor, errant England, a country that broke away from his denomination during the reign of Henry VIII three hundred years previously, to return to the Catholic fold.

It's a noble goal, at least as he sees it. There's no reason for him to believe that such an obstinate woman will allow her child to be raised as a Catholic. But such is Father Mackworth's belief in the importance of his mission in England that he resolves to stay. I suspect we're all a little like Father Mackworth. We live by faith, we grasp at hope, and we live not for what we have, but what we might possibly just accomplish if given half a chance. But then, even the most depressed, disillusioned person must believe that tomorrow might possibly be better than today. Otherwise, life wouldn't be worth living, would it?

Dragon Dave

Monday, June 13, 2016

Henry Kingsley on Little Rebellions

This is a book I mentioned in the May Reading Roundup posts. 
Westminster Abbey,
a church directly responsible to the Queen,
and a symbol of England's status
in the spiritual realm.

After reading The Babe by E. F. Benson, in which the character of the Babe finds inspiration and determination in Henry Kingsley's novel Ravenshoe, I decided to indulge my curiosity. I downloaded latter novel as a free eBook onto my Kindle. Then, I began reading it. And reading it. 

And reading it.

Like Westward Ho! by his brother Charles, Ravenshoe is a long, doorstopper of a novel. Or at least it seemed so, while reading it on my small, illuminated screen. The narrator's voice intrudes at times, a little more heavily than I would like. Still, it's an involving novel about life among the various classes of life in England in the mid 19th century. Lovers of Charles Dicken's meditations on the nitty-gritty of life across the vast social spectrum, and devotees of such TV series as Downton Abbey, may find this novel offers another lens though which to gaze back upon an earlier era of British life.

The Ravenshoes have a long family history, going back to 1066, an important time in English history. Throughout all the centuries, they have remained staunchly Catholic. A priest resides on the Ravenshoe family property, where he conducts services in the family church, and instructs the children in their religious education. But in the early 19th century, one man breaks with tradition. He is Densil Ravenshoe, the family heir. After the death of his first wife, he travels through Europe. When he returns, he brings back home a Protestant wife. 

You might wonder why Densil would do such a thing. It's not as if he has decided to renounce his own Catholicism. So why should he make trouble for himself like this? The thing is, that in his youth, he went away to Oxford, and began mixing with a crowd of people who espoused different beliefs and values than his Catholic priest. Although the priest came after him, convinced him to conform to expectations, and return home, Densil obviously resented being asked to tow the line. This, years later, was his act of rebellion. Still, talk about making your life difficult. Not only that, but putting the woman you've fallen in love with into a difficult situation. And all to get back at a priest who had "put him in his place" in his youth.

Thankfully, such an act resides entirely in the land of fiction. I mean, none of us would ever act out in such a way, right?

Dragon Dave

Friday, June 10, 2016

May Reading Roundup Part 2

6. Transit by Ben Aaronovitch. What if you could travel to another planet simply by boarding a train. This is the future that the seventh Doctor Who and his companion Bernice Summerfield confront in this New Adventures novel. The only problem is that, by creating wormholes through normal space, the designers have given entry points for beings from another dimension. The action takes place all over the solar system, from Earth to Mars to Pluto, and all places in between. The Doctor will not allow these beings to take control of our worlds and our lives. But can he prevent it? The action, and the reasoning behind it, may be a little difficult to follow at times, following as it does the English literary style of the New Weird. But the story is fun, told at an epic scale, and features a young black woman who is a descendant of the classic Doctor Who character, Brigadier Leftbridge Stewart.

7. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. I also read this classic novel on my Kindle. We meet a mole who decides that, instead of keeping his home underground tidy, he would rather go boating every day with his friend the water rat. He and Rat get along famously, and make a new friend in Toad. But whereas Mole and Rat make rational, thoughtful decisions, the Toad always wants to be the center of attention. He follows the latest fads, but never takes the time to master any skills. Thus, when he discovers he likes driving automobiles, he drives them too fast, and crashes them. Rat and Mole try to intervene, and prevent him from ruining his reputation, and losing his wealth through his extravagance, but Toad escapes from them, and gets into even more trouble. It's a fun novel, which has been adapted many times for TV. It amazes me how powerfully this simple story has affected generations of readers and viewers. Sadly, my version didn't come with any illustrations, such as in the edition pictured above. Maybe I'll have to watch a TV version, and see how others adapted it for the small screen.

8. Artemis Invaded by Jane Lindskold. This is the second of a two-part series about a planet that has been lost by galactic civilization. After society climbs back from its crash, one young man from a powerful family discovers Artemis, a world created by prior generations as a pleasure planet. Technology does not work there, and his shuttle crashes before he can land safely. But he makes friends with a young lady, a hunter, who has a psychic connection with a puma. In this second novel, other members of the man's family land on Artemis. They seek to control the natives and exploit the technology of a former age. As some of this technology involves powerful weapons, this is of concern to all. But the biggest dilemma is faced by Adara, the young huntress. During the events of book one, she came into psychic communication with the planet's consciousness. Artemis offers her stronger powers, and a means to defend her world against the grasping avarice of the man's family. But to accept Artemis' gift means opening herself up even more to Artemis. Will there be anything of Adara left is she accepts these offered powers? Or will she become simply a human extension of the planetary consciousness? 

A building in Oxford, the historic university
Gerald will later attend.

9. Gerald Eversley's Friendship by James Welldon. This is an ebook which I read in the PDF format on my computer. It's a nineteenth century English novel written by a Church of England priest. The title character attends St Anselm's on a scholarship, as his father, the vicar of a small country village, could not have afforded to send him. There he makes a friend in the rich son of an English lord. While Gerald is introverted, and makes few friends, he slowly gains the respect of his peers through his scholastic efforts, as well as his sterling character. He eventually gains a scholarship to Oxford University. But while it seems like his life is a smooth rise to the top of society, it is anything but. His growing knowledge of the world around him makes it difficult for him to believe in the tenets of Christianity, which separates him from his parents. And another setback, the illness of someone he loves, looms in his future. Ultimately, the friend he made the first day at St. Anselm's school that will save him from committing a terrible folly. But then, that is the power of friendship.

Dinosaurs live not only on isolated Central American plateaus,
but also in Natural History Museum in Oxford, England.

10. The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle. A family member once told me that, while he would never read any story I wrote, he would watch a film version of any book I wrote. The numerous film versions of The Lost World demonstrate how var a film (or for that matter, a TV adaptation) can veer from the original novel. I've seen several versions, and none of them bear much resemblance to Doyle's classic novel, at least in my memory. Actually, this novel reminds me of the trilogy of novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, beginning with The Land That Time Forgot. It's the story of Professor Challenger, who leads an expedition to a Central American plateau. There dinosaurs live, along with a few primitive humans, and a race of intelligent, aggressive apes. But no creatures are more aggressive than the pterodactyls, those dragons of the prehistoric age. It was interesting to read the Sherlock Holmes stories, so grounded in nuts and bolts of normal Victorian life, and then read this flight of fantasy by the same author. But then, while Burroughs' novels are more fantasy than science, Doyle writes a quintessential science fiction novel. To honor him, Michael Crichton gave his sequel to Jurassic Park the same title as Doyle's classic novel. A few years ago, I read Dinosaur Summer, which author Greg Bear fashioned as a more direct sequel to Doyle's. Only instead of Doctor Challenger, his heroes are real life people like special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen, and the men who made the original movie "King Kong."

11. The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie. A young man travels from Africa to England. Although he attended the best schools in England, he travels under an assumed name. He does so because he left England to escape large debts. He also wishes to keep a low profile. He undertakes this journey for two reasons. He must deliver the memoirs of a deceased politician to the publishers, while evading the agents of government factions who wish to see the manuscript destroyed. He also seeks to return a collection of letters to a lady, a member of the aristocracy, who would see her world erupt in scandal should they reach other members of society. But on his first day in England, he is attacked in his hotel room. That night, the letters are stolen. The following day, he delivers the memoirs to an agent of the publisher, only to later learn that the man to whom he delivered the manuscript was an imposter. His efforts to reclaim the manuscript and the letters will lead him to Miss Virginia Revel, the woman implicated in the letters, and take him to a grand English manor house known as Chimneys. I found this novel impossible to put down. I read the final half of it one evening. The recent TV version featured Miss Marple, and told an entertaining story. But this novel, which Agatha Christie wrote two years before she created her classic heroine, seemed far richer.

Well, there you have it, the list of books I read May. It does not attempt to address all the individual issues of comics I read, aside from those collected in book form. It was a good month for reading, and I can say that, for all their differences, I enjoyed them all a lot. That being said, I hope for a full return to health next month, and less reading. While I enjoy having virtual adventures on the printed page, I prefer to have some real life adventures as well. Still, if I had to be sick, I couldn't have wished for better books to keep me company.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

May Reading Roundup Part 1

May was a good month for reading, if a bad month for other reasons. Although we returned feeling healthy and rested from Hawaii, we soon got sick. Whatever we caught, the illness lingered. But, while this limited how much we accomplished in other aspects of our lives, it was good for my reading. Here's a rundown of the books I read last month.

Wychnor House, in the English Midlands,
one of many former manor houses
that have since been turned into hotels.

1. Ravenshoe by Henry Kingsley. This was a nineteenth century English novel about a young man raised as a protestant in a Catholic household. Eventually, the Catholic priest reveals that the Protestant son is actually a bastard, and the son of an estate worker is actually an heir to the family fortune. The Protestant son leaves his family's manor house, goes to serve as a groom to a rich man, and eventually joins the army. He goes abroad to fight in the Crimean War, and even takes part in the Charge of the Light Brigade. This is a long, epic-style novel. It's less fun than The Pickwick Papers, but like Charles Dickens' novel, it paints a compelling portrait of life among the various social classes in another age.

2. Y: The Last Man: Book One by Brian K. Vaughan. This is a graphic novel I picked up in Hawaii, but finished after I returned home. It collects the first ten issues of the sixty-issue series. In the first issue, an unexplained event occurs, and every male Human and animal dies. This event crashes governments, the financial markets, and industries that supply basic needs like power, water, and food. As the title suggests, one man survives, along with his pet male monkey. The new female president assigns him a bodyguard, who travels with him to find a genetics research scientist who they hope may determine why he lived, while all the other males died. Of course, as he faces dangers at every turn, including from a group of militant Amazon warriors who ascribe all the evils of the world to man. The tension is increased by the knowledge that if he dies, all humanity will follow him.

3. Soulless by Gail Carriger. This recent novel is set in the nineteenth century. It focuses on a heroine who lacks a soul. This makes her immune to the bite of werewolves and vampires, who are created by possessing an "excess" of soul. While Victorian Britain is ruled by the monarch, power blocks of werewolves and vampires act as the Queen's advisors. As for our heroine, she is courted by a scientist who seeks a cure for an "excess" of soul, which would wipe out vampires and werewolves. At the same time, she is courted by a werewolf who oversees a powerful domestic force that guards ordinary citizens against supernatural dangers. For our heroine needs no outside assistance. With her cunning, and her silver-tipped umbrella, and her soulless status, she can defend herself against most every danger that threatens her. If only she had lighter skin, and possessed the features that London society defines as "beautiful." Then she could find a wealthy suitor, and get married!

4. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. Is anyone in the world unfamiliar with Sherlock Holmes? This collection of short stories needs little introduction or summary. These are the cases that made Holmes into a household world in Victorian England. I read these stories on my Kindle, a few pages or so each night, until my wife drifted off to sleep. Then reluctantly, I switched over to another novel, such as Ravenshoe, which I also read on my Kindle. 

5. WildCATs Compendium by Jim Lee and Brandon Choi. This graphic novel collects the first four issues of this series. The WildCATS is a team of superheroes, overseen by a dwarf (not a mythical being, but a person of short stature) who has gone from homeless to billionaire in a few years. He has accomplished this feat with the aid of a spectral being who can see into the future. Thus, he has raised a team of superheroes, as he knows that there is an evil force, a member of the Daemonite race, who is raising an army of superheroes to control the war. It's all part of a centuries-long war between the Kerubim and the Daemonites, two races who arrived on Earth long ago, and now seek to control the world. If these characters bear some similarities with more recognizable characters from Marvel, they're still fun, and the artwork is particularly striking.

It's kind of an interesting mix so far, comprising an English family novel, a collection of mysteries, a post apocalyptic tale, a clash of superheroes, and a Jane Austen style fantasy mashup. I'll cover the remaining six books in Part 2.

Dragon Dave 

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Dragons of "The Huntsman: Winter's War"

Freya's winter palace in "The Huntsman: Winter's War" sports some notable dragon imagery. The first thing the casual visitor will notice is the asian-style entry gates into the courtyard (like those behind me at Disney's Epcot Center in Florida). Extending outward from the top of each bent beam is the carved head of a dragon. The dragon lover would feel right at home there, if it were not so cold, and Freya was a more loving person. 

If you look closely, you can see a dragon poking out of the roof of the winter palace in the courtyard where Freya's army performs their weapons play. (It's right above the man on the left). This dragon is one of many that protrudes from the corners of buildings, and overlooks the alleys between buildings. You'll find dragons guarding every area of Freya's stronghold. But she's best protected when sitting on her throne.

Even if Freya could not create walls of ice around herself, or hurl lethal darts of ice at her attackers, she is amply protected by the dragons who adorn her throne. She revels in their presence, and rests her hands atop them when she sits in her seat of power. 

When you are surrounded by dragons like Freya is, you have nothing to fear. Well, except for the power of love...

Dragon Dave

Friday, June 3, 2016

Returning to Wells with The Huntsman: Winter's War

Last summer, my wife and I traveled to Wells, England. This is a small town, and the smallest in the country to host a Church of England cathedral. It rained on and off the two days we spent there, which put a damper on our explorations. It also put a damper on the activities of a film crew, who were there to film scenes for the 2016 movie "The Huntsman: Winter's War."

In addition to the large trucks (or lorries, as they call them in England), there were also large pieces of equipment parked beside the cathedral. If you look closely, you can see my wife inspecting a crane from which a camera operator may have filmed overhead shots. 

Last weekend, my wife and I went to see "The Huntman: Winter's War" in the cinema. The story begins before its predecessor, "Snow White and the Huntman," and introduces us to Queen Ravenna's sister Freya. One night, Freya runs down a hall of her castle in fright. This was a hallway through which we also traveled (although, thankfully, not in fright). It took us from the sanctuary to the tea room.

In an earlier post, I mentioned how my wife and I spent an hour or so sketching in the sanctuary, while a children's choir sang. We took a photo before we left for lunch.

This is what the sanctuary looked like in "The Huntsman: Winter's War," during a funeral scene.

Wells features eye-catching architecture, grand curving streets, a beautiful church, and a picturesque town center. We thought we had seen most of what the city had to offer during our short stay there. Then we read about the filming locations for the movie, and learned the crew had also filmed at the Bishop's Palace, which we didn't see during our visit. I believe the front of the palace for the castle doubled for Queen Ravenna's castle. I suspect they also used the Bishop's Palace for the evening scene in which Freya steps outside, and sees fire burning in another part of her castle. (This causes her to run down the corridor above in fright). 

I wanted to return to Wells even before seeing "The Huntsman: Winter's War." Now I've got even more reason to return. Ah, someday...

Dragon Dave 

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Locations for "The Huntsman: Winter's War"