Let us now praise comic books

Nice article about Stan Lee of Marvel Comics, now 88, whose comic book creations such as Spider Man and now Thor, have gone from cheap pulp paper to the silver screen, making him a rich man:

Stan Lee professes no deep and analytical insight into the human soul. “I’m not a psychiatrist,” he begs off. “All I know is, the good superhero movie has got action, suspense, colorful characters, new angles — that’s what people like.”

The rangy 88-year-old — sitting poised against the leopard-print pillows on the couch in his POW! Entertainment office, several days before “Thor’s” premiere — is a natural at delivering the dramatic angle. Asked to strike a towering pose, he springs to his feet and in a blink is balancing with feline ease atop a chair.

Seventy years to the month after the nom-de-toon “Stan Lee” first appeared in a comic book, “Thor” is similarly perched atop the box office. In one sense, the origin story of Stanley Martin Lieber resembles that of the Norse superhero he co-created, only told backward. Thor is to the godhead born until, because of his impudence, he’s sentenced to a mortal existence. Lee was a mere Manhattan comics-industry mortal for decades until, because of diligence and vision, he was elevated to Marvel Comics demigod, creating — alongside fellow legends Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko — the likes of Spider-Man and Iron Man, the Hulk, X-Men and the Fantastic Four.

All those characters have already appeared in feature films, and the latest wave of Hollywood superheroes is gathering force as it rolls in this summer. “Thor’s” domestic opening last Friday will be followed in short order by “X-Men: First Class,” DC’s “Green Lantern” and Marvel’s “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Meanwhile, casting decisions for the next Superman and Batman films — as well as the Spider-Man reboot and the cinematic assembling of the Avengers — have sparked feverish online speculation and reaction.

The superhero film is still as unstoppable and resilient and globally enduring as, well, Stan Lee himself. . . .

“My theory about why people like superheroes is that when we were kids, we all loved to read fairy tales,” says Lee, beaming behind his trademark tinted glasses. “Fairy tales are all about things bigger than life: giants, witches, trolls, dinosaurs and dragons and all sorts of imaginative things. Then you get a little bit older and you stop reading fairy tales, but you don’t ever outgrow your love of them.

“Superhero movies are like fairy tales for older people,” continues Lee, whose voice envelops the listener with a raspy, lilting warmth. “All those things you imagined — if only I could fly or be the strongest — are about wish fulfillment. . . . And because of that, I don’t think they’ll ever go out of vogue.”

via In a superhero-heavy summer at the movies, Stan Lee talks about genre’s appeal – The Washington Post.

When I was a kid, I was a comic book fan.  Comic books taught me to love reading and sent my imagination soaring.  I liked D.C. comics–Superman, Batman, also Flash and the Atom–better than Marvel, whose heroes were too angst-ridden for my taste, but Dell had some good titles too:  TarzanTurok, Son of Stone.  (Somebody should make a Turok movie!  Indians and dinosaurs!)  I liked Classics Illustrated too.  They really did lead me into great literature.   In fact, I see a direct line from my comic book phase to my literary scholarship!  Comics are an interesting combination of visual art and writing.

Does anyone else have any comic book testimonials?

Top ten signs you’re too afraid of your government

My brother Jimmy is always a little behind, which means that when he comments on this blog he usually does so after everyone else is tired of the topic and has stopped following the discussion.  But he posted a top 10 list on that presidential cell phone thread that is worthy of David Letterman.  And even though it is arguably wrong-headed, it is very humorous.  So I wanted all of you to see it:

Top ten signs that you too may be a victim of anti-government fear mongering:

10. When the government census worker came to your door, you hid in the closet.

9. You can’t find your long form birth certificate and question your own citizenship.

8. You have already contacted your local hospital administrator to see what you have to do to get appointed to serve on a “death panel”.

7. You watch “King of the Hill”, and think that Dale Gribble is the smart one.

6. While waiting on a table at a restaurant, you refuse to give the host your real name.

5. You think that FBI agents are living in your attic. (Personal note to my big brother, “Dr. Veith”. This one runs in our family. Don’t tell anyone.)

4. You refuse to set your clocks to daylight savings time.

3. You have nightmares where a team of Navy SEALS descend upon your compound in black stealth helicopters and shoot you in the head. (Wait a minute. . . . that could actually happen!)

2. When you watch Fox news you think you are watching the news.

1.. Headdress of choice: Tin Foil

Whirlwinds

I grew up in Oklahoma, right in tornado alley.  We didn’t have a basement or a cellar so when the sirens blew we would get in the car and drive through the wind, often us kids still in our pajamas, to the church basement.  When we didn’t have time, we’d hide under our parents’ bed.  I remember vividly looking out their window and seeing a funnel bearing down.   I’ve seen a lot of massive wreckage.  Few things are as scary or as awe-inspiring as a tornado.  But I never went through anything like what happened on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, with  among the worst tornado outbreaks in history:

At least 290 people were killed across six states — more than two-thirds of them in Alabama, where large cities bore the half-mile-wide scars the twisters left behind.

The death toll from Wednesday’s storms seems out of a bygone era, before Doppler radar and pinpoint satellite forecasts were around to warn communities of severe weather. Residents were told the tornadoes were coming up to 24 minutes ahead of time, but they were just too wide, too powerful and too locked onto populated areas to avoid a horrifying body count.

“These were the most intense super-cell thunderstorms that I think anybody who was out there forecasting has ever seen,” said meteorologist Greg Carbin at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

via Tornadoes devastate South, killing at least 290 – Yahoo! News.

A dying church

A pejorative term directed against some congregations is that they are “a dying church.”  Either because most of their members are elderly or because they don’t get a lot of new members or because they don’t seem exciting enough.  I have always thought that this is rather wicked to say, since we have no idea about the true spiritual life that may be pulsing inside of these Christians, however elderly or not-growing or unexciting they may be.  Then our pastor, Rev. Douthwaite, preached this sermon on Palm Sunday:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. And we also prayed: Mercifully grant that we may follow the example of His great humility and patience.

What does this mean? Do you know what this is saying? With these words we are really saying: Lord, help us to die. Help us be dying Christians. Help us be a dying church.

Ah, no. That doesn’t sound right! We don’t want to be a dying church! We don’t want to be dying Christians, do we? That sounds like failure. We want to be successful, we want to be admired, we want to be big, we want to be glorious. A dying church sounds . . . like . . . a story gone horribly wrong.

But this is exactly what it means to have the mind of Christ. We are to be a dying church, because we have a dying Saviour. For only by dying can we live. . . .

But what has Jesus done? What is this story we are hearing again today and will remember all this week? This story is not a story gone horribly wrong, but of our Saviour using suffering and death for life, for good. That what looks like defeat is really victory.And so we are a dying church because we have a dying Saviour. This is not our doing – our Saviour pulls us into His dying; for to die with Jesus is to live.

And so in baptism we are pulled into His death and resurrection.

We hear the preaching of Christ crucified and are pulled into the story of the cross.

We die in repentance and are raised in absolution.

The dying and rising body and blood of Jesus are put into your mouth, to pull you into that same dying and rising.

You see, that is what set the Apostles free to face death when they went out into all the world – they had already died with Christ! They had nothing to fear.

That is what set the early martyrs and the Reformers free to face death – they had already died with Christ! They had nothing to fear.

And this is what sets you free to face whatever this world and its evil prince may throw at you – you have already died with Christ! You have nothing to fear.

And so it is only by dying with Christ that can we then live. For dying with Christ, we live a life that suffering cannot take away, that the sins of others cannot take away, that the struggles of this world cannot take away, that disasters and tragedies cannot take away, that laying down our lives for others cannot take away, that not even death can take away.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church.

Online Apologetics Conference

And speaking of Apologetics Conferences, here is one sponsored by Anthony Horvath at Athanatos Ministries.  It will be held completely online, April 7, 8, & 9.  The overall topic will be “Defending Christianity and God’s Plan for Marriage, Family, and Life through Creative Arts such as Film and Literature.”  I’ll be the keynote speaker.  Here is the lineup:

Keynote:

 

Gene Edward Veith, Jr. Provost and Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, and columnist for World Magazine.  Website.  Topic:  “Cultural Apologetics.”

Plenaries:

Jason Jones, Co-executive producer of the award winning Bella and president of the Bella Hero Project and humanitarian project, I Am Whole Life

Dallas Jenkins, Producer/Director of Jenkins Entertainment (eg, What If and Though None Go With Me) “How to Convey the Christian Worldview To a Skeptical Audience”

Dick Rolfe,  CEO of the Dove Foundation “Using Hollywood to Win the World.”

Dr. Angus Menuge, Concordia University Wisconsin.  “C. S. Lewis on Domesticated Living.”

Dr. Ryan MacPherson, Bethany Lutheran College.  President of The Hausvater Project.  “The Biblical Model of Marriage.”

Mikel Del Rosario, Apologeticsguy.com.  “Families Under Fire: Defending a Biblical view of Marriage and the Family through the Visual Arts.”  Info

Mr. Anthony Horvath, Athanatos Christian Ministries, “The Enduring Impact of the Scopes Monkey Trial on Marriage, Family, and Life Issues.”

1st Prize Winner of ACM’s Christian Writing Contest.

Workshops

Glenn Jones, apologist.  “Hollywood, Lewis, and Planet Narnia: A Look At The First Three Films”

Holly Ordway, writer and professor. “Family-Friendly Fantasy? Questions of Morality in Twilight and Harry Potter.”

Israel Wayne, writer and presenter.  “The Family Culture vs. Pop Culture.”

Brian Auten, apologist.  “Tips and Secrets for Creating Apologetics Media Content”

Jamie Greening, pastor and author. “Family in the Trenches… a Pastor’s Perspective.”

Go to the site to sign up.  It only costs $30.

via Online Apologetics Conference: Casting a vision for promoting the Christian worldview through literature and the arts..

Patrick Henry College is #1 in test scores

Please forgive me for bragging about the academic prowess of my students.  This is something I wrote about the findings of our assessment efforts at Patrick Henry College, where I am the Provost and a Literature Professor:

A new book and a spate of news reports are presenting evidence that America’s college students, on the whole, are not learning very much. They score poorly in critical thinking, writing, and other academic skills. Most college students score abysmally low in “civic literacy,” the basic knowledge of America’s heritage of freedom and self-government. Though they might pick up some very narrow specialized knowledge in their majors, they find it difficult to think outside of their professional boxes and make real-world connections.

These things cannot be said, however, of Patrick Henry College students. Assessment data keeps pouring in that shows PHC students outperforming their peers in every category tested.

On the ETS Proficiency Profile, a recognized and widely-used standardized test of academic proficiency in higher education, Patrick Henry College students posted the highest average scores of all institutions that took the test. Those 261 schools taking the test included liberal arts colleges and large research, doctoral-granting universities. Among those taking that test, PHC’s academic performance is #1.

In their much-discussed new book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, educational scholars Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa express special concern for the low scores college students at large register in critical thinking and writing, asmeasured by similar tests.

PHC students, however, posted the highest average scores (a number drawn from all students, not just a few high performers) of all institutions that took the ETS test in critical thinking.  Also in writing.  Also in reading.  And in humanities.  And in Social Sciences.  And in Mathematics.  And in Natural Sciences.  PHC students were number one not only in the total score, but in every category tested.

But some might say all of this book learning is obsolete.  We are in the information age.  What students most need today is to adapt to technology.

Well, one does not have to agree with that to appreciate that PHC students have also ranked #1 in informational literacy also!   PHC students took the Standardized Assessment of Information Literacy Skills test developed by Kent State, and, again, their average score was higher than that of students from all other institutions that took the test.

Does this mean that PHC is the best college academically in the nation?  We can’t say that.  Not all colleges and universities take part in these standardized tests.  The elite Ivy League colleges, having nothing to prove, do not subject their students to all of this testing.  Some colleges might be afraid of what the tests might show about their academic quality.  PHC, though, does have something to prove — that a solidly Christian college with conservative principles can be an academic powerhouse — and the data that has been collected is proving it.

What is the secret to PHC’s academic success?

One answer is suggested by another problem in higher education that is receiving attention.  In an op-ed piece for the Washington Post entitled “Our Stunted Scholars,” Heather Wilson, who interviews applicants for the Rhodes Scholarship, sees something lacking in even our best students.  “I have,” she writes,” become increasingly concerned in recent years — not about the talent of the applicants but about the education American universities are providing.”

Even from America’s great liberal arts colleges, transcripts reflect an undergraduate specialization that would have been unthinkably narrow just a generation ago. As a result, high-achieving students seem less able to grapple with issues that require them to think across disciplines or reflect on difficult questions about what matters and why. . . . Our great universities seem to have redefined what it means to be an exceptional student. They are producing top students who have given very little thought to matters beyond their impressive grasp of an intense area of study. This narrowing has resulted in a curiously unprepared and superficial pre-professionalism.

Part of the problem is that most colleges and universities have given up on a liberal arts education.  Instead of giving students a solid foundation in a wide range of interconnected academic disciplines, which build up knowledge and mental skills that they can then draw on in their majors, most colleges send their students right into a narrow specialty.  The classic, integrated, core curriculum has been reduced to a handful of “general education” requirements that can be satisfied by students picking and choosing from a list of specialized and unconnected courses.

Patrick Henry College students, on the other hand, benefit from a broad and rich core curriculum of 63 credits, plus foreign language proficiency.  This “common core” means that every single student takes all of the courses, so that they all receive the same carefully-constructed educational foundation.  All PHC students study the great books of our civilization.  They take courses in logic and rhetoric, and they practice deep thinking and effective writing in all of their classes.  They take not one, but four, history courses.  They all study Constitutional Law.  They take two “Freedom’s Foundation” courses, in which they study the ideas that formed this country, from Plato’s Republic to The Federalist Papers.

PHC students see how all knowledge is interconnected.  What they are reading in their literature classes is illuminated by what they are reading in their theology classes.  The beautiful sounds they are enjoying in their music class are understood on another level when they study waves and harmonics in physics.

The core builds up students’ mental muscles for when they do specialize.  PHC offers majors in journalism, history, literature, the classical liberal arts, and government. Students may specialize within the majors in tracks like American Politics & Policy, International Politics & Policy, Political Theory, and Strategic Intelligence.

Another feature of PHC’s unique educational program is our apprenticeship requirement.  Students put what they have learned into practice in congressional offices, think tanks, businesses, local schools, the media, and other “real world” settings.  Internship directors love to have PHC students.  We keep hearing, “Your students can really write well!”  “They can really think and analyze!”  “They are so articulate, and they present themselves so well!”  Implicitly, these internship directors are comparing our students’ work against that of typical college students!

A key factor in PHC’s academic quality, in addition to its traditional, yet innovative curriculum, is its faculty.  Every professor is at once a devoted Christian, a world-class scholar, and an engaging classroom teacher.

Above all is PHC’s commitment to Christian truth.  In Christ “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).  In the postmodernist academic scene, truth is relative, morality is subjective, and nothing has objective meaning.  No wonder the academy is having trouble teaching anything of value.  But PHC has laid a full foundation for education.  And while the typical college culture is one of frat-house partying and promiscuous hook-ups, PHC students comprise a counterculture that grows out of a love of learning, moral integrity, and authentic Christian community.

The testing reveals something else about PHC’s success.  PHC’s students, over 80% of whom are home-schooled, are exceptionally well-prepared.  The college has been administering the ETS Proficiency Profile for three years to both graduating seniors and to incoming freshmen.  In a tribute to their parents, who in one way or the other supervised their education, PHC incoming freshmen, when compared to first-year students at other institutions that took the test, also were #1 in all categories!

via 20110223 – Veith – PHC Students Outperform.


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