Advent Letter: Year 2, Letter #4

Note: This is this year’s final letter of my and my brother’s Advent Letters project.  We’ve really enjoyed creating these for our kids and for all of you, and we hope you’ve enjoyed reading. The story will continue next Advent.

If you missed last week’s letter, read it here.  For an explanation of the project and to get caught up on last year’s letters, click here.

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After a night of staring at the ceiling from his mattress, Matt got out of bed that morning to a tap at the door. He opened it with a groan.

“You again?” He said.

“That’s right, lady-hips.” Said Ratatosk, who was literally bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. “Eat a quick breakfast, boys. They want us at the chapel in ten minutes.”

Because of the knot in his stomach, Matt could barely eat half a sugarplum before Ratatosk whisked them out the door. Trudging through the new snow, something popped into Matt’s head.

“What happens when our parents wake up and realize we’re gone?”

Ratatosk said, “Not a problem. It’s hard for your tiny human brains, but time doesn’t work here like it does down south. A hundred years here could be a month where you’re from. Or a week. Or even a day.” Matt wondered if that was how Santa delivered the toys in one night, but was afraid to ask. Ratatosk continued, “And if you’re lost forever, we’ll just send changelings.”

Before Matt could follow up, Brian cut in. “Is that Santa’s house?”

The group had entered a bustling central square. On one end was a towering building, cruciform and with a golden spire in the center.

Ratatosk laughed. “You don’t know Santa at all. He lives in a one-room cottage outside of town. That’s the North Pole chapel.” He led the boys through its doors, carved with saints and fantastical creatures.

Inside was a cavernous silence except for a soft chanting that hung on air heavy with incense. It was dark except for candles reflecting off icons.

Behind an altar at the front was a silver filigree screen. Squinting, Matt almost thought he could see a large shadow behind it. But instead of Santa, Erno and Kanute emerged, coming toward them at a brisk walk. Kanute held a large velvet bag, while Erno held a scroll.

“Come with me.” Erno ushered them out.

“We just came out of the council with Saint Nicholas.” Erno said as they walked through the courtyard. “We have a plan. Step one: read this.”

Matt took the scroll. With a shaking voice, he began:

My dearest Mellemas

I am sorry I cannot see you face to face. I trust it will not always be this way.

You may wonder why I have chosen you boys to retrieve the Heart of the North. I do not wish to simply contain the Mark by banishing you from the world. I want you to be healed. The only way to do that is return the jewel with the right heart.

That’s why I have given you my bag. And yes, it is the bag–the one I use to make my Christmas deliveries. Everything you need is in it. And yes I do mean everything.

Yours faithfully,

Nicholas

PS: You may be wondering how, even if you find the jewel, you can return it with the right heart. Hopefully that will become clear along the journey.

By the time Matt finished reading, Erno had led them to the base of a giant tree on the other side of the courtyard. Kanute handed the bag to Jer.

“But how will we know–” before Jer could finish his question, the bag leaped toward him.

“Go on.” Kanute told him.

Gingerly, Jer reached inside. After a moment’s confusion, his face sparked with wonder. He presented a glistening bow, along with a quiver of arrows.

The bag jumped toward Brian. He plunged in and came out with a war hammer so enormous Matt wondered how he could lift it.

A wave of dread slithered down Matt’s chest in the moment before the bag jumped to him. With a sigh, he pulled out a sword and shield. The sword was the length of his leg, was double-edged and straight, and had a ruby in the pommel. The shield had the same ivory unicorn as his tunic.

“These are not merely weapons.” Kanute said. “Each has its own blessings and abilities.”

“They’re magic?” Brian asked.

“That’s a crude way of putting it,” Kanute replied. “But in a way.”

“What are their powers?” Jer asked.

“That’s for you to discover.” Erno said.

“Discover?” Matt squeaked. “We’re actually going to use these?”

Instead of answering, Erno nodded to Ratatosk, who scampered up the side of the giant tree. He waved his paw over runes carved deep in the wood. For an instant the runes flashed vermillion. Then the tree began to quiver and shake.

In answer to the boys’ expressions, Erno began, “This is Idrasail. You may know it as the North Pole. It connects the human world to Faerie. Watch.”

Matt stepped back with racing thoughts. So the North Pole was actually a tree? Or mayke that two trees–one ash white and one cedar red–twisting around each other. The shaking grew stronger, and then the tree started to grow, shooting up toward the stars before stretching out its branches across the sky. Below, the roots grew and expanded, diving in and out of the cobblestone like sea monsters. At its base, a gap between the trunks glowed that same deep vermillion into a swirling vortex.

“Whenever you’re ready.” Erno said, gesturing to the portal.

“Wait–what?!?” Matt had expected weeks of training to prepare for every possible problem.

“You have to.” Erno said. “Even a moment’s delay could lose the Heart of the North forever.”

“And your Mark is growing stronger by the second.” Kanute added.

Matt glanced at the throbbing Mark on his arm. “But we’re not ready,” he pleaded..

“You’re as ready as you’re ever going to be.” Kanute said.

“Boys,” Erno said, “the bag will give everything you need. But be wary. Faerie is a beautiful place, but also dangerous. Topsy-turvy. You must learn wisdom.”

A crowd had gathered around the boys, who stood frozen before the portal.

“Well!” Ratatosk finally shouted. “You wimps going or what?”

Brian, with sudden resolve, gave a battle cry. War hammer raised, he charged into the portal. Jer rolled his eyes, tightened his quiver, and followed after. Matt just dug in his heels.

“Well, lady hips?” Ratatosk taunted. Behind Matt, the crowd muttered about the delay. Erno and Kanute’s encouragement fell leaden on his ears. He couldn’t go. He just couldn’t.

Then something happened. The sword jumped in his hand. It pulled him toward the gateway. For a moment Matt thought about letting go and escaping. But he held on. The sword dragged him into Faerie.

***

And with that, I’m afraid our tale must end for another year. I have to navigate through the festival in the town square to make it to the post office in time. Plus, Avvu is returning to prepare Christmas lutefisk for his polar bear friends, and I need to escape that scent as quickly as possible.

Have a merry Christmas through all twelve days of Christmastide. And if you see Santa tonight, please don’t ask him for any hints about what happens next. I’m afraid he might actually tell you.

Festively,

Erno

North Pole Head Secretary

Advent Letters: Year 2, Letter #3

Note: This is part 7 of me and my brother’s Advent Letters project.  If you missed last week’s letter, read it here.  For an explanation of the project and to get caught up on last year’s letters, click here.

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Erno hailed a raven and whispered something in its ear before sending it off. Kanute flipped a gadget on his wrist. This started a forest of tree-sized organ pipes. Their rumble resounded through the North Pole and made the boys’ chests tingle.

“The Council starts in ten minutes.” Erno told Kanute. “Drop the boys at Holly Cottage and meet me there.”

Trailing Kanute through the cobbled streets, Jer asked, “What happens at the Council?”.

“The North Pole’s leaders will decide how to proceed in light of these….developments.”

“Will Santa be there?” Brian said.

“He’s still delivering presents.” Kanute replied. “But it wouldn’t be possible anyway.”

“What’s the Mark? Is it serious?” Matt asked.

“Very serious. And very dangerous. In fact, it–oh, here we are.”

Kanute led them around a corner into a glade of spruce with what looked like a giant gingerbread cottage in the center. Walking toward its oak door, they crossed a field of poppies. Fairies danced and darted among the flowers, giggling at the visitors.

Kanute checked his pocket watch. “I have to go. The house fairies left food in the cupboards, and a change of clothes in the closet. You can draw water from the well, and the outhouse is over that hill. Be sure to check for fairies before you use it.”

And he was off, leaving the boys blinking in the poppies.

The first thing they did was change out of their wet pajamas. The North Pole clothes were weird. With their tunics, leggings, and feathered caps, they felt like they were in a Shakespeare play. What’s more, each tunic was different. Matt’s was blue, with a silver unicorn across the front. Jer’s was green, with a bronze griffin. Brian’s was red, with a golden phoenix.

After eating a smorgasbord of pies and puddings, the boys went about their own business. Matt took a leather-bound book from the shelf and sat by the fire. Brian went outside and, forgetting all his prior lessons, joined a game of tag with the poppy fairies.

Jer sat at the table and stewed. Matt was the one who took the jewel from the fireplace. Brian was the one who carried it outside. How had his crazy brothers dragged him into this?

Hours passed. Brian waived the fairies goodnight, and Matt wondered aloud if they should get ready for bed. Then a harsh tapping came from the door. Jer threw it open to find a squirrel. But not just any squirrel. It came up to Jer’s waist, and wore a rich mantle and Norse helmet.

“Uhhh….” Jer wasn’t sure how to address a viking squirrel.

The squirrel smirked. “I can see you’re the brains of the group. The name’s Ratatosk. I’m taking you to hear the Council’s decision.”

“What did they decide?” Matt asked.

“If I knew that, I wouldn’t be bringing you there.” Ratatosk replied, eyeing Matt. “I’m surprised your tunic even fit over those lady hips.” Matt stuttered a comeback before blushing. Jer and Brian laughed.

Ten minutes–and half a dozen insults–later, they approached a pine-covered hill with an amphitheatre cut into its granite. Torches danced along the edges, and distant voices murmured.

“The entrance is straight ahead.” Ratatosk gestured to a stone archway. “Try not to say anything stupid. So don’t say anything at all.” Ratatosk left with a hearty laugh.

Matt was about to remark how big a jerk the squirrel was when Jer pulled him and Brian through the archway.

“It’s resolved.” Erno announced at the front of the stage. “The team will have our ten largest polar bears, our twenty best elven archers, and five gnomish engineers. They will depart tomorrow to recover the Heart of the North.” The Council attendees in the amphitheatre nodded assent: gnomes and elves and polar bears, with foxes and badgers and other creatures sprinkled in. Jer even saw a walrus toward the back. But they all fell silent when the boys stepped on stage.

“Good, the Me-LEE-ma brothers are here.” Erno said briskly. “The Council will now present you our proposal.” Jer glanced at his brothers and wondered if his own face was the same stone white. He also wondered at the gnomes working feverishly to install some giant frosted orb at the side entrance.

“First,” Erno began in his most judicial voice, “the Council finds that you boys did, with covetous intent, grasp the Heart of the North for your own, specifically . . .” Jer was so furious he didn’t hear the rest. The Council shouldn’t punish him for something that wasn’t his fault. This wasn’t fair. He would speak up and defend himself…..

Then Jer looked at his Mark. In the short time since he first noticed it, it had grown darker. And it seemed to pulse in rhythm with his angry thoughts. He shuddered, and held his tongue.

“We cannot send you back to your home, because you would infect your whole town by the end of the week. And although we North Polians are not as susceptible to the Mark as humans, we would eventually catch it as well. The Council therefore proposes . . .” Erno began describing a plan for the boys to stay in quarantine in a gingerbread house just outside the North Pole.1 The full horror of the plan was just sinking in when silvery bells resounded off the hill. The amphitheatre went silent.

A torch lit behind the frosted orb, and a large shadow stepped behind the glass. Jer’s heart lept and sank at the same time. Santa. Or at least, his shadow.

“Master Clause,” Erno stammered. “I’m glad the raven has briefed you. Why, err….”?

“Why did I come?” Santa said. His voice was like hot chocolate after a day of sledding.

“Well, yes. Even behind the quarantine glass you are dangerously close to the infected, and if you caught the Mark it would be–”

“The end of the North Pole as we know it.” Santa said as if he were telling a joke. “I’m aware of the risk.”

“Do you agree with the Council’s proposals on recovering the jewell and protecting ourselves from the Me-LEE-ma brothers?” The boys waited with held breath.

Instead of answering, Santa laughed. A deep, joyful laugh. The boys looked at each other, perplexed.

“I disagree on two points: recovering the jewel, and a solution for the Mellemas.” Santa paused to chuckle. “The solution to both problems is the same. The jewel will indeed be recovered . . . “ The boys leaned toward Santa’s shadow. The Council did too.

“By the Mellema brothers.”

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1  Before you judge me on trying to quarantine your father and uncles, please understand that it really was a complicated plan.

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Illustration by Brian Mellema

Advent Letter: Year 2, Letter #2

Note: This is part 6 of me and my brother’s Advent Letters project.  If you missed last week’s letter, read it here.  For an explanation of the project and to get caught up on last year’s letters, click here.

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Matt and Jer chased down the street after Brian. But a team of penguins with hockey sticks over their shoulders wedged between them. Jer got pushed to the right, down an alley toward a red-tile court. A group of elves and gnomes was playing some kind of game with paddles, passing a ball back and forth before slamming it over a net.

 Seeing an unused paddle and ball, Jer got an idea. He could whack the ball at the fairies to scare them into dropping Bri. Hopefully somewhere soft. He grabbed the paddle. But when he did, it rumbled. Tiny gears whirled and smoke puffed from the top of the paddle. Before he could drop it,brass wires looped around his hand down his arm. Motors grinding, it dragged Jer onto the red tiles as the players argued over whose team he was on. Whatever this game was, Jer was playing.

On the left side of the street, Matt sidestepped his way through the crowd while keeping his eyes toward Brian. He bumped into something that dropped him to the ground. That something was big, but slightly squishy.And fuzzy. Looking up, a curtain of white fur ran to a dark snout filled with teeth. A polar bear. In the middle of the street. And it reached a dinner-plate sized paw toward Matt.

If Matt had been paying attention, he would have noticed a whistle around the bear’s neck, and a “Stop” sign in its other paw. But he was too scared to do anything but scamper to his feet and tense his muscles.

So when the bear asked, “Are you okay, young man?” Matt screamed and ran, not stopping to wonder how a bear just spoke to him. He dodged along snowy side streets, ducking past elves and hopping over raccoons until he was safely on the other side of a mossy-stone bridge.

Catching his breath, Matt noticed a glittering overhead.Brian and the fairies. Before he could start after him, something else stepped in front of him. A reindeer this time. Still jumpy from the polar bear, Matt backed away with his arms in the air. But instead of talking,1 the reindeer pawed the cobblestone, and gestured its snout toward Brian. Matt’s stomach dropped. The reindeer was offering to carry him up to Brian. Matt stuttered, but the reindeer cut him off with a growl. Too shocked to do anything else, Matt climbed on its back. Before he could even get his arms around its neck the reindeer sprang into the air.

If the reindeer had simply flown straight, everything would have been fine. But unbeknownst to Matt, reindeer have a penchant for hotdogging–especially when they have a rider to impress. Matt was soon spinning and barrel-rolling his way to Brian.

Matt’s arms and legs viced against the reindeer to stay aboard. Like Brian, he was too scared to scream. Despite all this, Brian was soon within reach. Ever so carefully, Matt reached out his hand. But at that moment, the reindeer did a twirl in the opposite direction, sending Matt flying into the air. Flailing, Matt clung onto Bri’s ankle. The added weight caused the fairies to lose their grip, and both boys dropped from the sky.

While all this was happening, Jer’s game of römmeljebållen had reached match point. The opposing gnome whackers set the ball as Jer jostled with an elf skirmisher along the net. But when Jer reached to block the shot, the ball pelted him in the forehead before careening out of reach. The other team cheered. Jer’s team groaned, and lined up along the net while the other team all grabbed balls with a triumphant gleam in their eyes.

Jer did not want to see what happened next. He also noticed that the paddle’s wires had finally unwound from his hand. He threw the paddle down and ran, ignoring the cries of shame from the players. But before he made it five steps, Jer turned at a loud buzzing behind him. The paddle was chasing him and, with a looping arc, whacked him in the rear. Then it looped around and whacked him again. And again.

While the paddle chased Jer through the city, he noticed Bri and Matt fall through the air, and land in a snowbank with a powdery poof. Seeing his chance to escape the paddle, Jer sprinted toward the snowbank with all his might, diving in head first.

For a moment, the brothers sprawled in the snow and panted.Eventually, they started laughing. They were about to swap adventure stories when a shadow fell over them.

It was an elf. Dressed in his Christmas finery, he had a sharp nose, pointy ears, and  a distinguished, handsome face. He carried a giant ledger and quill pen. His name was Erno.2

“Who, may I ask, are you?” Erno’s voice was crisp.

Before the boys could answer, Kanute bounded toward them. “They’re with me.”

“Human children at the North Pole? Highly irregular.” Erno said.

“I didn’t have a choice. They captured me and used their wish to come here.”

Erno sighed. “Just tell me you got the Heart of the North.” Kanute played with his beard, and Erno’s face slowly turned. “What happened?”

“It landed at these boys’ house. By the time I got there,they’d brought it into their yard where it was . . .” Kanute gulped. The boys ducked their faces behind the snow bank. “Taken by a troll.”

Erno’s face was ashen. “This is horrible. Awful.Catastrophic. I shall tell Santa Claus immediately.” The boys, now frozen and miserable, hoped the elf would forget about them. Instead, he turned and stared.

“Did you boys touch the Heart of the North?”

They nodded.

“And when you did this, did you have in your hearts feelings of greed, avarice, or other twisted desires?” The boys’ squirming was all the answer Erno needed. “Show me your palms. Come now, be quick about it.”

The boys complied , and Erno gasped.

“How could you bring them here, Kanute?”

“I didn’t think to–I mean, with the jewel gone and the wish it slipped my mind that . . .”

“What is it?” Jer asked, and looked down at his and his brothers’ hands. On their palms, fainter than a faded bruise, was a circular pattern. It looked almost like a wreath or weeds.

Erno’s voice was heavy. “You boys have the Mark.”

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1  While other North Pole creatures (such as raccoons, penguins, seals, foxes, and mice) have the ability to reason, only Polar Bears are capable of human speech. This, of course, is because the Saami hunter Juho taught them to speak around the time of the North Pole’s founding. But that’s a tale for another day…

2  Yes, that’s me! And sorry for the “distinguished, handsome face” line. I know that’s the sort of thing you humans view as conceited. We elves view it as truthful. Our breathtaking beauty is such a burden sometimes…

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Illustration by Brian Mellema

Advent Letter: Year 2, Letter #1

Note: This is part 5 of me and my brother’s Advent Letters project. For an explanation of the project and to get caught up on past letters, click here.

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My dear young Mellemas,

The past year certainly has flown by. To think that Sam is nearly three, and singing the first two verses of “Frosty the Snowman.” And that Susannah, Piper, and Noah are walking and climbing stairs. I especially commend Shepherd for his sage decision to choose crawling instead.

As you know, we at the North Pole monitor the world’s children throughout the year. Whenever you five all visit your grandparents’ house, we have to bring in extra gnomes to keep up!

But I’m doing it again. Avvu told me that last year’s letters rambled on so much about myself that it got in the way of the story. I assume he’s right. Any faults notwithstanding, Avvu is a brutally honest editor, and his judgment is sound. As such, I’ll keep my personal asides to a minimum this year. Those who don’t like it can address their complaints to Avvu the Polar Bear, 5 Kringle Road, North Pole.

***

Kanute’s sphere zoomed into the clouds, and the world became a blur. Steam poured over the gears and Kanute pulled levers. Through the domed windows the mountains, then forests, then glaciers whipped past them. The boys grabbed each others’ shoulders and tried to scream.

As quickly as it started, the sphere stopped. It hovered for a moment before lowering like an elevator. After a crunch of ground, the lid opened with a hydraulic wheeze. The boys spilled out on top of each other.

“As requested: the North Pole.” Kanute said. The boys looked around in wide-eyed amazement.

Continue reading “Advent Letter: Year 2, Letter #1”

NEW Advent Letters Coming Tomorrow: Catch Up on the First Four

It’s that time of year again—the next four installments of the Advent Letters are coming! This is a Christmas adventure story my brother, Brian, and I are telling to our kids. And lucky you, we’re letting you all follow along. We’re telling the story one letter at a time and only on Sundays of Advent (yes, this might take awhile).

In case you missed last year, here are the first four Advent Letters to get you caught up.

Advent Letter #1

 

Advent Letter #2

 

Advent Letter #3

 

Advent Letter #4

Expect the newest letter the first week of advent (tomorrow)!

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Awesome illustrations by my brother Brian Mellema

 

Repost: “Those Evangelicals” Are Ruining Everything

My last repost before the project is done….I think…maybe…hopefully…

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The original post is over here.

My last post was on assuming the worst about “Those Evangelicals” and the liturgy. This week, I thought Those Evangelicals deserved their own post. But first, I should explain what I mean by Those Evangelicals.

Who are Those Evangelicals?

No matter your theology or politics, everybody can have Those Evangelicals.

If you’re a conservative, Those Evangelicals are the people who read Rachel Held Evans and vote Bernie Sanders and use words like “social justice” and “fair trade coffee.”

If you’re a liberal, Those Evangelicals listen to James Dobson and vote Ted Cruz and use words like “sanctity of marriage” and “American exceptionalism.”

And if you’re like me and like pretending you’re a moderate, you could have Those Evangelicals on both sides of you.

Continue reading “Repost: “Those Evangelicals” Are Ruining Everything”

Repost: The Essential Guide to Praying in a Circle

Still plugging away on the special project. Here’s another of my most popular posts.

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Here‘s the original post. You can check it out or just keep reading.

Last post, I shared one of my many embarrassing prayer stories. It was basically an example of what not to do. Today, I want to be more helpful. I’ll give you a step-by-step guide to the most important type of public prayer: the group circle.

Basics

The hallmark of prayer circles is informality. A group of people–usually guys–gather around and pray before an event. This informality causes the awkwardness. Prayer circles can splinter any number of directions, depending on who’s in charge and what method they’re using.

I’ve assembled a list of simple rules for dealing with each of these methods.

Continue reading “Repost: The Essential Guide to Praying in a Circle”

Repost: The Time My Mom Was Right

I’m still working away on that special project (that I hope to have for you to enjoy by Thanksgiving or so), so here’s repost #2.  Thanks for bearing with me!

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The original post is here, but you can just keep reading. And to clarify, my mom has been right about a lot more than this one thing.

The week before I started high school, my mom took me aside to have One of Those Talks. As only a mother can, she worried that my charm and winning smile would attract a bevy of girls. And some of those girls might lead me down the path of vice.

If mom ever saw me talk to a girl, she’d know she had nothing to worry about. My tongue turned to lead. Sweat beaded down my forehead. And when I started talking, a small piece of my brain told me that I was a thin-wristed loser who wasn’t pulling off that shell necklace. It’s hard to find a girlfriend under those conditions.

As high school rolled through college and into young adulthood, my tongue stayed as lead as ever. But my mother started believing that I was staying single on purpose. This was partly because she still saw me through mom-colored goggles.

Also, that’s what I told her.

Toward the tail end of college I realized that the sweaty forehead would probably never change. But I could change how I framed it. Instead of being the guy too awkward to talk to girls, I became the guy with too many plans to waste time on women.

Continue reading “Repost: The Time My Mom Was Right”

Repost (and Some News): Why I Like My Grandma’s Church

I have good news and bad news. First the bad news: I won’t be able to update the blog for a few weeks. That means you’ll be getting a series of “best of” posts. But the reason I can’t update the blog is (cue good news) I’m working on a secret new project. I think you’ll like it. I won’t give too much away, but it involves evangelicalism, robots, and Tasmanian tigers. And don’t worry–I’ll let you all know as soon as it’s ready….

So now, here’s “best of” post number one:

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Check out the original post here, or just keep reading.

As any cynic knows, the easiest targets are previous generations. It’s simple for millennials to be cynical toward people who are older than us:

  • They’ve already had a shot at running the world. That means all remaining problems must be the result of them screwing up.
  • They have different views of morality and propriety. This obviously means they’re prudish, bigoted, narrow-minded, and generally wicked.
  • They’re, well, old. So we can point to hilarious examples of why they’re silly–look at those old people with their sagging skin and high pants and McDonalds coffee! They can’t even use Facebook right!

When cynics look further into the past, things get even easier. We can make whatever sarcastic joke we want. It could be unfair, and even untrue (Victorians were afraid of sex! Puritans hated fun! The Middle Ages were full of ignorant superstition!). It still sticks.

Continue reading “Repost (and Some News): Why I Like My Grandma’s Church”

What Old Books and Rwandan Bishops Have in Common

The last couple weeks have been depressing. Of course, there’s the usual stuff: hectic job, crowded schedule, and the existential horror of finding a grey hair in your mustache scruff. The social mediasphere is as toxic as I’ve ever seen it. It’s getting to the point where each new development in the Kavanaugh quagmire makes me feel nauseous.

But this week, I’ve found comfort from two different sources: century-old books, and a Rwandan bishop. I think they’re comforting for the same reason. But before I explain, here’s a little bit about the two sources:

  • Old Books. This past week I’ve been revisiting a couple old books that I love. They aren’t profound. In fact, they’re pulpy and kind of silly. One is “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins, which was published in 1859. The other is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “A Princess of Mars” from 1912. But what the books lack in substance they make up in other virtues–they’re both imaginative, atmospheric, and charged with adventure. And they both have wonderful narratorial voices. By wonderful, I mean different. There’s a unique kind of intimacy that comes from following the way a narrator guides a novel. You get access not only into their opinions, but also the assumptions and habits that were commonplace to them, but are alien to modern readers. While sometimes shocking, on the whole it’s charming.
  • Rwandan Bishops. One of my favorite things about my church is our connection with Rwanda. We were planted by the Anglican Church of Rwanda, and have kept close ties ever since. Folks from our church regularly head over to Rwanda on pilgrimage. And, on the rare occasions, the visa system permits Rwandan leaders to visit us. This past Sunday we hosted Bishop Samuel Mugisha Mugiraneza. His sermon was excellent–you can listen to it here. His insights into American culture were especially striking. Being a visitor and observer helped him identify uniquely American struggles we take for granted–a consuming desire to get ahead, a gnawing need to work, and monetizing all our time.

You probably guessed what these sources have in common, but I’ll explain anyway. They both got me out of my neurotic news bubble. Getting outside the bubble lets me see its limits, feel its edges, and put it in context. My problems aren’t the whole world. My country’s problems aren’t either. They’re just a tiny piece of a larger picture. Whether you’re hearing the Word of God from the other side of the world, or just spending some time in a pleasant Victorian page-turner, it helps to remember that.

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Photo by David Flores