Edgar Rice Burroughs & his failed movie

I mentioned to our daughter that we were going to the movies this weekend.  “What are you going to see,” she asked, “Hunger Games?”  No, I told her, we are going to see a movie of an equivalent wildly popular young adult book from back when your mother and I were young adults:  John Carter [of Mars]!

We needed to see it quick because I had heard that it is slated to lose $200 million, making it the biggest bomb of all time.  So it probably isn’t going to be in the theaters for much longer.  But we had been looking forward to this movie for a long time, so we weren’t going to let its failure stop us!

When I was a kid–not a young adult at all, just young–it was Edgar Rice Burroughs who transitioned me from comic books to reading actual novels.  Comic books seized my imagination, in stark contrast to the “See Spot Run” books we had to read in school, but when I somewhat randomly picked up a Tarzan book, I found that reading a novel is a lot better than comic books, movies, and TV shows.  While I was reading about Tarzan and that lost city with the dinosaurs and La performing human sacrifices and the whole thing, I found myself completely immersed in the story.   The other media kept me at arms-length from the action.  But the book worked on my mind and on my imagination, giving me a vicarious experience like nothing else I had found.  My love of reading came to life, and it led me to where I am today, as a literature professor.

Now when I read Edgar Rice Burroughs, I see his faults, and I eventually grew in my taste.  But I feel I owe him something, at least going to the movie someone finally made of his John Carter tales.  I never got into that particular series myself, but my wife did, liking them better than Tarzan, and I respect her judgment as a science fiction fan.

The movie got distinctly mixed reviews–Rotten Tomatoes scores it as receiving 51% “rotten,” which means that 49% of the critics scored it as “ripe”–with audiences generally liking it more than the critics did.  I’m not sure what could have helped its reception.  Just calling it “John Carter” and leaving out the “of Mars” part couldn’t have helped.  Young adults today probably think, wasn’t he a president?  And, yes, a lot of this sort of thing has been seen before, even though Burroughs did it before anyone else did.

We thought the movie was pretty good, actually.  The story by today’s standards was convoluted–a number of critics complained they couldn’t understand it–and over-the-top and without a shred of irony.  But it reminded me of the fun I used to have at the B-movies growing up.  Yes, it was too expensive to make, with special effects required in nearly every frame, but we got a kick out of it.

An interview about “Family Vocation”

Christianity Today interviewed Mary and me about our new book:

For Gene Edward Veith Jr., provost and professor of literature at Patrick Henry College, Martin Luther’s doctrine of vocation undergirds a truly Christian theology of the family. Vocation, as he describes it, is “the way God works through human beings.” In his latest book, Family Vocation: God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood (Crossway), Veith looks to Luther’s ideals of loving and serving our neighbor, and to his view of the family as a “holy order” unto itself. Coauthored with daughter Mary J. Moerbe, a deaconess in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the book applies Luther’s understanding to the various family vocations (marriage, parenthood, and childhood) and the “offices” within those vocations (husband, wife, father, mother, and child). Author and Her.meneutics blog contributor Caryn Rivadeneira spoke with father and daughter about Luther’s vision of family life.

Did writing this book together help you learn anything about your own family?

Veith: As I look back, I can see how God has been working through our family; how he brought Mary into her callings as wife and mother and everything else she does. Of course, that’s the part of vocation that is often forgotten: that God works through our vocations. God is present and active, and he works through fallen, weak, mistake-prone human beings to accomplish his purposes. It’s illuminating to see how even ordinary family life is really God’s working through us.

In terms of everyday life within the individual family offices, is there freedom to re-interpret or step outside of one’s roles?

Veith: We do say that there are roles within family. There is authority in family. But at the same time, Christian books tend to reduce things to, “Who has to obey whom?” It reduces roles to power relations, whereas the Scriptures and the doctrine of vocation teach that the purpose of every vocation is to love and serve your neighbor.

When we forget the mystery of how God works in vocation—that it’s about loving and serving—we end up with a legalistic set of rules. That’s what happens when the gospel is drained out of our view of vocation.

Moerbe: There’s also a tendency to oversimplify our understanding of vocation by prioritizing vocations. Yes, motherhood is great, and frankly, motherhood takes so much time that it’s often difficult to be active in a lot of other vocations. However, when I think about God being the source of vocations, he is Father, he is Son, and he is King. Do we say that God the Father is more important than God the King? No, he relates to us in different ways.

Veith: These differences make each vocation personal and unique. No two people have the same callings because no two people have the same neighbors, the same gifts, or the same tasks and opportunities.

You suggest that the proper and unique work of marriage is sexual intercourse. Can you explain?

Veith: Every vocation has its unique work, its defining work. Sex inside of marriage is sex according to God’s design, and thus sex becomes a good work within marriage.

Many of us are Victorian and prudish. It’s very uncomfortable to write about sex, but it’s so important. What the Bible says about sex inside of marriage is quite remarkable. It says we’re one flesh. There’s a mutuality: The husband doesn’t have control over his own body, but his wife does. And the wife doesn’t have control over her own body, but her husband does. Just the fact that the wife has control over the husband’s body was very radical in the ancient world. There is mutuality.

Indeed, the Bible says that sex is what creates marriage. The reason you’re not supposed to have sex with someone you’re not married to is because you’re not called to. You don’t have an authorization—it’s not part of your vocation—to have sex with someone you’re not married to, so it’s sinful.

Moerbe: Sex also reminds us that marriage is a vocation unlike other vocations. In marriage, you serve one neighbor. In parenthood, you might have more than one kid. If you work outside the home, there will be plenty of customers and plenty of co-workers. But marriage is unique in that it is one-on-one.

What do readers need to grasp about how the doctrine of vocation applies to family?

Moerbe: The message is simple: Love and serve your neighbor. Love and serve your family, not because of who is in your family, but because God is in your family. Christ is hidden behind our neighbors, and Christ is present with us in our neighbors.

UPDATE:  This was an hour-long conversation from which the reporter excerpted a few lines, often leaving out the context.  We do a lot with the concept of “one flesh,” which is intrinsic to marriage and parenthood in the family,and which Scripture discusses in term of sex.  We’re not saying that if someone has a sex with a prostitute then he is married to her, and we go on to say that one flesh unions can be broken.  One of the contributions of our book is to show why sex outside of marriage is wrong, beyond just breaking arbitrary rules.  We do consider the orders of creation, the fall, and the distinction between law and gospel.  And we do indeed say that marriage and family and everything we say about these callings are for non-Christians as well!

via Family as Calling: Finding Vocation In and Near the Home | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Help me decide for Super Tuesday

The state where I now live, Virginia, has its presidential primary on Tuesday, joining nine other states in a delegate extravaganza that constitutes Super Tuesday.   As I’ve complained earlier, the only candidates to get their act together so as to come up with enough names on petitions to get on the ballot here in the state that has provided more presidents than any other are Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.

Now I wasn’t going to vote at all, since, as I have also complained, the state Republican party was going to try to keep Democrats from voting in this open primary by requiring a loyalty oath, making voters promise to cast their ballot for the Republican nominee in the general election no matter what.  I oppose that on principle.  But, I’m happy to report, the loyalty oath will not be required after all.  So I feel my patriotic duty to cast my vote.

But for whom?  Another of my numerous complaints has been with the Republican field as a whole.  I’m uncertain anyway, but now I only have two choices.  Write-ins are forbidden by law and will not be counted.  So should I vote for Romney or Paul?  The Mormon or the Libertarian?  Which is the lesser of two evils or the greater of two goods?

I am very much open to persuasion and I will take your recommendations very seriously.   Who knows?  A number of these primary elections have been ridiculously close, and my vote may tip the balance to one candidate or another, which in turn may have national implications!

So who shall it be?  Mitt Romney or Ron Paul?

Oklahoma and the “conservative life”

Last Thursday the Washington Post had a big feature article–on the front page, no less–about Washington, Oklahoma, which is just down the road from where my wife’s father and brother live.  The article was focusing on Oklahoma as a Super Tuesday state and as one of the most consistently Republican states in the union, voting for George W. Bush at a rate of 65.6% and for John McCain at the exact same rate of 65.6%.   The little town of Washington, population 600, was targeted, I guess because it has the same name as our nation’s capital, and it was presented as exemplifying “the conservative life,” whatever that is.

The stereotypes and condescension abound, presenting the folks of Washington as an exotic tribe, as in a National Geographic special.  But the reporter, Eli Saslow, has a way with description, and his details made me nostalgic for my own Oklahoma roots growing up:

What you see is Sid’s Easy Shop opening downtown each morning at 6, where Sid will sell you gas, rent you a movie, make you a new set of keys or bring your soda to one of the classic red booths preserved from the 1950s. The post office, its roof painted red and white to reflect the stripes of the American flag, opens for business a few hours later. Next door to that, Casey operates her coffee shop with the help of her husband and five kids, who take turns working the register, Yes Sir and Yes Ma’am, and sell T-shirts imprinted with the phrase “Make God Famous.”

What you see is a parade of several dozen well-wishers lining the street and stretching out their hands to the bus every time one of the varsity high school teams leaves to play a road game, and a few hundred people gathering for community workdays to fix up the Little League field so Washington doesn’t waste money on parks and rec. Almost all of the houses in town are single-story ranchers, and more than 70 percent belong to married couples — few Hispanic, fewer black, none Muslim and none openly gay.

What you see are calves dropping in the spring, coyotes circling at night, shooting stars, roaring tornados and thick flocks of birds migrating across skies that round over the horizon.

And yet, the article itself has details that show the folks of Washington are more complicated than he lets on.  The town has no diversity, with few Hispanics and Blacks and no Muslims, the article complains, but it turns out that the rancher being interviewed is Chickasaw, whose ancestors came to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.  I suspect the same could be said for many of the other Washingtonians.   So Native Americans don’t count in the diversity requirements?

It also turns out that the rancher, described riding his pickup to check on the cattle, went to college, worked in St. Louis, and now telecommutes with a financial company.  The preacher in the story with the alarmingly conservative congregation turns out to be from Chicago.

As for Oklahoma being so Republican, the fact is, just a few decades ago, Oklahoma was purely Democratic.  When I was growing up, there was not even a Republican party organization in the county.   All local elections were decided in the Democratic primary.  I don’t think I ever saw  a Republican, except on TV, until my cousin married one.  (There were some in the family who thought such a mixed marriage would never work, and we were all surprised to learn what a nice guy he was.) Back in the 1960s, Oklahoma was famous for its “Yellow Dog Democrats,” meaning that people would vote for a yellow dog if he was a Democrat.

The people condescended to in this article used to be the base of the Democratic party.  Judging from other liberal rhetoric, I thought “the conservative life” was represented by “the 1%,” the rich, the corporate oligarchs.   The people presented as primitive and retrograde in this article are closer to poor.  I thought liberals championed the poor.  Why are they making fun of them?

The Democratic party would do well to ponder why states that were once solidly in their pocket have gone Republican.  The hints are in the article. The people here are zealously against abortion.  They worry about moral values.  Their families are central to everything they do.  They know about family breakups, their teenagers using crystal meth, and crime problems from bitter experience, and they hate the breakdown in social order that these represent and that have reached even Washington, Oklahoma.  But they are proud to be Americans, volunteer to fight their country’s wars, are fiercely independent, and are ardent in their faith.  There was a time when you could be a Democrat, a liberal even, and hold to all of this.

Why has Washington, Oklahoma, become so strange, so alien, regarded as both scary and comical, to today’s liberal establishment?

via To residents of another Washington, their cherished values are under assault – The Washington Post.

What they are saying about our book Family Vocation

Please indulge me in another post about our book Family Vocation:  God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood.  (And, hey, thanks for bringing us into the top 2,000 on Amazon!)

When a book is on the verge of being released, the publisher sends out copies of the proofs to various dignitaries in an effort to get endorsements and blurbs.  They ask the authors to do the same if they have any appropriate contacts.

I’ve gone through that process quite a few times, but I have never gotten endorsements like these.  Therefore I can only conclude that the difference is due to the contribution of my daughter and co-writer, Mary Moerbe.  So I feel that I can call your attention to these kind words without violating the tenets of humility, displacing the praise to her.   OK, I’m embarrassed with what Chuck Colson says–all that “the greatest” this or that is, of course, ridiculous, but I have been told that he had read something I had written and been helped by it so he’s been a fan.   The power and usefulness of the book is in the doctrine of vocation, which comes ultimately from the Bible and so is not something we can take credit for.

“Gene Veith is one of the most powerful thinkers and apologists in the Christian world today. In Family Vocation, Veith and Moerbe have really hit the mark—we must learn to think of marriage and families as vocations from God. Here is an ancient and sacred vision of marriage and family that we would do well to understand, promote, and most importantly live out.”

—Charles Colson, founder, Prison Fellowship and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview

“A great president once referred to the family as the ‘unseen pillar of civilization.’ He was right, and so is Gene Veith in this luminous book, which underscores the centrality of family, marriage, and parenting. Timely and absorbing, this book arrives on the scene at exactly the right time.”

—Tim Goeglein, Vice President, Focus on the Family

“Family Vocation is a thorough and thoughtful look at family as a calling from God. Using Martin Luther’s teaching on family living as a starting point, Gene Veith and his daughter Mary Moerbe have produced a foundational book addressing all the callings of family life. In a marketplace in which so many family books only scratch the surface, Family Vocation digs down deep. The things I look for in a book on family are all here: a focus on nurture, the priority of internal change, and the power of grace and the gospel to enable. A worthy read!”

—Tedd Tripp, pastor, author, international conference speaker

“The phrase ‘gospel-centered’ has become almost a cliché when describing Christian writing. Every Christian author would desire such an epitaph for his or her work. However, in so many books, especially those dealing with family, gospel-centered deteriorates into ‘be like Jesus.’ Family Vocation is the epitome of what gospel-centered truly means. The authors introduce it plainly, ‘The gospel—that is, the message of Christ crucified for sinners—relates to every moment of the believer’s life.’ Every chapter has its foundation, built not upon what we do in our various vocations, but upon what God has done in Christ. This approach to vocation is the means through which Christian families can truly be strengthened and restored, and then bring their influence to bear on our culture.”

—James I. Lamb, Executive Director, Lutherans for Life

“The ageless questions we’ve pondered about marriage, divorce, sexuality, and parenting are asked candidly and answered faithfully by Veith and Moerbe in this timely application of Luther’s doctrine of vocation. The word family has been hijacked by our culture and Christians reel with each new and dysfunctional incarnation of the concept. What is family? What is marriage? What is God’s call to be a husband, wife, parent, or child? The authors offer rich, biblical responses to these questions and bring clarity to our understanding about cross-bearing love and sacrifice. Family Vocation is sure to find a home on the desks of pastors, teachers, and counselors who seek an engaging resource for Bible classes, spiritual care conversations, and godly counsel. This book leads the way to abiding grace and hope in God’s promises—a ‘need-to-read’ for Christian husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons!”

—Beverly K. Yahnke, Department Chair of Social Sciences, Concordia University Wisconsin

“Martin Luther identified marriage and family as one of three fundamental estates of human life instituted by God for the good of his creation. In this book, a father and daughter team up to bring Luther’s rich insights into the twenty-first century in a way that challenges and encourages Christians to see the family as the arena for God’s work. In an age when the fabric of the family is strained by cultural forces of self-interest and hedonism, this book suggests a way forward for Christian families to see life together as husband/wife, parent/child—encompassed in vocation lived out under the cross.”

—John T. Pless, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions, Concordia Theological Seminary

“In the church today, there is no more significant issue than the family. This divine institution is in the crosshairs of every evil plan and purpose of the Devil himself. Take down the family, and with it go education, order, decency, law, church, and even faith. How my years in a struggling inner-city parish taught me that the gospel does not thrive in a community of chaos, dilapidation, crime, and disorder! The root cause of it, as I came to be convinced, is institutional and spiritual forces attacking the stability of God’s best agent for good in both the kingdom of the civil realm and that of the church—the family. What was once more commonly an urban reality has become a rural and suburban way of life. As we all struggle in the families we have—often rag-tag rings of sinners, sometimes a patchwork quilt of multiple families and forces—we need Christ and the vocation to forgive.”

—Matthew Harrison, President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

via Amazon.com: Family Vocation: God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood (9781433524066): Gene Edward Veith Jr., Mary J. Moerbe: Books.

And let me add the two kind reviews on the Amazon site:

5.0 out of 5 stars A Theology of Everyday Things
This book is a must read for anyone who wants to explore what God’s Word says about marriage and family. Dr. Veith has long been able to show what God’s word has to say about things we consider to be ordinary and not religious in any way. In this book as in others, Dr. Veith has shown how the holiness of the Christian live consists in serving the neighbor, and what neighbor is closer than your own family?
This book also benefits greatly from the collaboration between Dr. Veith and his daughter, Mary, a mother of three and wife of a Lutheran pastor. Mary’s theological training shines, and her experience as daughter, wife, and mother adds to Dr. Veith’s own experiences.
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book on such an important topic, February 29, 2012

By Todd A. Peperkorn “Todd Peperkorn” (Rocklin, California) -

Dr. Gene Edward Veith is one of the foremost Christian thinkers today, especially among those of the more confessional end of Christianity. He has written works on vocation (God at Work), the arts, literature, C.S. Lewis, and a host of other topics. So it is with great joy that I saw him turn his agile pen to this topic.

Dr. Veith, along with his daughter, Mary Moerbe, approach this topic from the perspective of Christian vocation. God has called us to be His instruments in various ways and places in our lives. Husband, wife, son and daughter are some of the most fundamental callings that we as Christians have. But how do I understand this from the perspective of the Gospel, not just the Law and a “to do” list for me to feel guilty about? That is the question they seek to answer.

I look forward to more work from this father/daughter team, and hope that many will find comfort and life in this book’s pages!

We’re not worthy!  We’re not worthy!

Our new book on family vocations is out!

I have a new book that I wrote with my daughter, Deaconness Mary Moerbe, with the support of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN, that has just been released from Crossway Books. It’s entitled Family Vocation: God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood.

Today when we hear “vocation” we mainly think of “job,” but for Luther and the early Reformers “vocation” referred above all to the estate of the family.  (Work as a calling was itself seen as part of the larger estate of the household; that is, the family and what you do to support your family.)  So Mary and I applied the doctrine of vocation to the specific offices of the family:  Husband and wife; father and mother; child.  We also have some things to say about brothers and sisters, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, and ancestors.

And I have to say that vocation provides a way of thinking about all of our family relationships that makes them more precious than ever.   And it’s all so practical, giving us down-to-earth guidance that can help us through our everyday lives, including the problems that come up in marriage, parenting, and being a child.   Our book turned into a comprehensive study of the what the Bible says about all of these offices.  We show how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are literally present and at work in marriage (which images Christ and the Church), parenthood (the Fatherhood of God), and childhood (the Son of God).  We deal with bearing the Cross in these vocations, frankly discussing the problems that people wrestle with in these different callings and what difference the Cross of Jesus can make with these problems.   I even think our book illuminates things like sex and other topics that have been hard for Christians to talk about.

We do all of this without just laying down laws and rules, like most Christian books on the family.  We don’t get bogged down in “who has to obey whom,” though I think we completely resolve the issues in those debates, which take on a completely different light when seen in terms of vocation.  Throughout our focus is on the Gospel.   It’s the Gospel that looms in God’s design behind marriage and parenting and even being a child.

I am not bragging about our book, since we did not invent the teachings that it puts forward, but I am just saying that I myself was greatly benefited by putting this book together.  Mary, with her Deaconness training, brought to bear a depth of Scriptural application that I never thought of before.  I have been studying vocation for a long time, since my book God at Work to which this is something of a sequel, but I really think we have broken new ground in apprehending God’s callings and how we can live out our faith in ordinary life.

When we made our proposal to Crossway, the editors said that they had thought they had seen every approach to family issues that was possible, and yet they had never seen anything like this.  Which is sad, since the doctrine of vocation is the theology of the Christian life and the Biblical teaching on the family.  If Christians can bring back from long disuse the doctrine of vocation, we can stop the breakdown of the family–at least in our own divorce rates, dysfunctional relationships, and counterproductive parenting–and become culturally influential again, like we used to be.

The Amazon site has a “Look Inside” feature, which will let you get a taste of it.  And, yes, it’s also available on Kindle.  So please forgive me for urging you to buy our book.  And let other people know about it, including those having problems in their marriages, with their children, and with their parents.   It would also be helpful to couples contemplating marriage or having just entered that estate.  And for new parents.  And for those who currently belong to a family, which includes everyone.

I would be embarrassed to be so crassly commercial if I didn’t think that you would be blessed by reading  it, as Mary and I were blessed in writing it.