The Unseriousness of Human Affairs  by   James Schall


Human Life is serious.   Or is it?   How is it so “serious” ?    Compared to what?

If it’s so serious,  how can we take time off for football!?    for music?  for singing and dancing?  for enjoying a good book?   And all the other things that we do just for the pleasure of it.

Dr. James Schall is an author worth reading, a lecturer worth hearing  (much available on YouTube).    He will lead you into interesting glimpses of life as we live it,  and before we readers know it,  we are also led into meaningful little insights — of the philosophical,  transcendent kind.     You think you’re being mildly entertained,  but you are being given your  dignity by exercising your God-given intellect.   And that feels good.

Is our life unserious?      Our life is a serious matter,  but when compared to the utter eternal serious reality of God,  the matters which we ten to take so seriously become smaller in proportion — and then we realize that it’s in the small, unserious things that we do that we find the opportunity to contemplate and connect with God Himself, in all his serious reality.

Activities which are sometimes considered to be useless,  of no utilitarian value,  form the “stuff’ that our lives are made of.   We can become engrossed in a small, personal,  enjoyable activity and discover things about ourselves;  and sometimes sensing  our connection to the so-much-more serious eternal matters.

God is.  That is the serious matter.   We exist,  but we are lesser.    And so are our little causes and concerns, our worries, fears, doubts, plans, and endeavors.

Lighten up.   It is in doing our lesser things, worrying about these lesser problems,  enjoying these lesser activities,  that we see ourselves in comparison to That which matters,  and in making the comparison,  we find our place in the Reality of God.

Dr. James Schall is a good writer.  I am not.  I can only try to recommend this book.

Published in: on October 30, 2015 at 11:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Silver Canon”      I’ve been to places like that.   Walked around for about four hours in that kind of country — by myself  … foolishly …  without water …  without protection from the bear and puma.    I wasn’t afraid at the time, though;  maybe just a little leery,  but I was mostly having fun in dinosaur territory.

But this  territory —

Cathedral Butte far

Cathedral Butte.     Salt River Mesa.      The “blue mountains.”      And the Silver Canon.         Empty.    Dry and parched land.  Bright sun bearing down.   Heat so intense it makes the air wavy.      Precious creeks and little pools of water.     Scrub.   Enough  life to make a good pot of stew  with the rabbits and roots and needles and wild herbs.   Enough life to sustain a herd of tough beef cattle.


It’s hostile land in southwestern Utah,  but men and women went out there to make homes and to create huge cattle ranches that provided our young country with the meat it needed to build and create and to grow.

They were “building”  and developing the law out there too.   Men were free and unregulated by government laws,  but they were protected by a knowledge of right and wrong and by their sense of honor — and by the courage to do what had to be done to those who violated human decency.

I have never read a Louis L’Amour book before.  As many Westerns as I have read,  I’ve always avoided his books,  probably because “they” made television movies out of them and I’m decidedly prejudiced against any television production.  Did this so-called great Western author just hack out books for a TV audience?

Well,  no!     NO!

Whatever is the equivalent of being “glued to the TV set,”   that’s how I was with this book.   Action from the very first page.  Tension.  Drama.   The world through the eyes of a brash young man, not yet tamed by life,  but smart enough to know his mouth is getting him into big trouble  with the tough men in the new town he rode into,  with the girl he named as his future wife,  no money, no job, no land . . . . But he knew his own worth,  he trusted his own good character,   and his brashness and courage proved to be the catalyst for peace between the ranchers in town who were being stirred up by the Bad Guy who knew a secret he could use to obtain all the ranches, with an unknown silver mine thrown in to boot.

That’s the plot.

I was a willing audience for the action:   ranching skills,    gunslinger skills;    tracking skills;   character judging skills;   bluffing skills;   skills of deduction and logic.   And, oh, yes – the young man  main character,  was it Matt Brennan?       Gained his skills from experience and observation –  and self-education.   He said there was a book-reading time in his past.   The books he mentioned were the kind that educated young men a hundred  and more years ago and helped the young people to build our great country.     These are the kind of books that require close attention but build clear thinking and good character,  and prepare a man for hard work.

Keep reading good books!







Published in: on March 3, 2015 at 11:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Well, I did, then didn’t, and in the end, I really did enjoy this rather long book.

last ship

That’s the front and back cover, both, with the book spread open.

I like the premise of this book.  Good ship’s commander and worthy crew do their duty for years and years, which is to patrol the Barents Sea area with nuclear weapons ready in the very unlikely event they would ever be called upon to use them.

alone ship

But they do get the order –  and they must “turn the keys” and launch the missiles.   It’s not as easy as you’d think.   These are human beings deliberately creating devastation of the worst kind on their fellow human beings…as are the “enemies”  who are also launching their missiles this way.

But it’s not a book about the rights and wrongs of modern warfare, but rather the aftermath of a world with very few survivors, only two ships known in the whole world have made it past the initial launch day.  Both ships will run out of fuel and provisions some day.     It’s imperative that they find some safe place to eventually land, to make a home, to grow food, to continue the human race, if possible.


Most of the book takes place “inside” the Commanding Officer’s head.    We see things from his point of view – and he has a LOT on his mind.   He is not a bad guy, he is intelligent and conscientious and has many more things to consider than I ever could have imagined.    I found myself enjoying being in his head and working through his thought process.    Then the book took a turn that I didn’t like —  but then it seemed likely that it would go that way after all,  because these are people from the post-Western-Civilization era of the early 21st century, so I suppose. . . .

And in the end,  although I wouldn’t have written the book that way,   it was fascinating to see what was going to happen.

Now, I saw advertisements for the TV series version of this book, and I looked forward to seeing it.  However,    now that I’m hearing discussions of the upcoming TV series,  I realize that they’ve taken the title of this book and created a story that only slightly resembles what’s in the book.    The complaints seem to be that they have made this is a political commentary from the extreme Leftist point of view.

I hope everyone’s wrong.  I don’t mind if the series doesn’t follow the book, but this is a story with human considerations,  not politics.

I don’t know whether I’d recommend the book to anyone.   Few people I know can tolerate realistic apocalyptic novels, but this is a pretty good one.     I’ll watch the first episode of the series on TV –  I’ll see what it has to say about itself.




Published in: on June 20, 2014 at 10:07 pm  Comments (2)  


Noah posterI am aware that certain Christians are incensed by the unbiblical liberties taken by this movie.

I’m aware that the producer,  Aronofsky,  is familiar with the ancient Jewish Zohar and other non-canonical mystical traditions.

I’m aware that this movie could be interpreted in terms of a presentation of Gnostic doctrine.

But –  I saw the movie anyway, because so many people were asking me what I thought;  and because I was curious about the special effects.   (I do love worldwide disaster movies.)   I was prepared to hate the presentation of a “murderous, drunken” Noah, and I was prepared to laugh at the “volcanic rock Transformer monsters.”    I was   prepared to dislike the movie because of its inaccuracies,  when compared to Genesis 6 – 9.

I wasn’t prepared to like the movie!   I may have painted the world  a little differently, if I were producing the movie,  different stage settings,  a different kind of culture and technology, maybe.   I may have put slightly different words in the mouths of the characters.   But there were many good things,  many true and important things presented in this movie.

Noah preaching before the Ark:

Noah at Ark

In the movie, there is a general and common acknowledgement of the existence of God among all people.   There is knowledge of God as Creator.    There is knowledge of the first humans, of the event that caused Original sin, of the first murder,  of sin,  of rebellion against God,  but also of Oral Tradition that kept the knowledge of God alive through the line of Seth, all the way down to Noah.

There is a presentation of the Fallen Angels who were swept out of Heaven, into the universe, some of them coming to earth.   These beings of light were then entrapped in the dark, heavy stuff of matter.  It must have felt like that for them,  that they were heavy, dull creatures, feeling the loss of light, the loss of the ability to move freely and easily,  the loss of so much . . . except their intelligence, their power, and the memory of free will.

That the humans of this world had become incorrigibly wicked and evil and could only, always hurt each other and everything around them, exploiting and killing living things and the whole earth –  that was certainly portrayed well.

Noah versus wickednesss

There comes a point when God must act to save the possibility of life and goodness.    God, in His infinite knowledge and righteous judgment knew that these people were not going to “reform”  themselves.    Evil was made manifest by the human race.

And so the


The second part of the movie was a bit long and drawn-out –  only one issue laboriously treated:    From Noah’s point of view,  and  not being all-knowing and all-wise,  if God has now chosen to destroy the human race  because they were doing only evil continually — and, yes,  “harming” the planet and the animals,  then didn’t God mean for ALL humans to be destroyed?    If he, Noah, was to arrange to have the animals saved,  does that mean that he, Noah,  should see to it that no human beings should be saved, because eventually all would become wicked again?  Did the Ark mean only animals,  no more human beings?

I think the “long, drawn-out” second half ended rather well.    There is a saying that every newborn baby is God’s desire that the human race is worth saving….

No, this question isn’t biblical, it is right out of ancient Jewish and Babylonian mystical traditions,  but I understand the question, and it’s a very important question for us today.     It becomes an acute question for us living today.    Acute and urgent.  What’s to become of the human race that is capable of doing such evil to each other – continually?

If your information about the state of the world comes from the news-entertainment sources on television, then you might not have this urgency.   If your religious-type beliefs come from the modernist idea that man is “reformable”  and “transformable,”  if only we had a strong enough government to keep us “good,”  then  Noah’s questioning about the worth of the human race must seem out of place and mystifying.

But all of us would do well to remember the words of Jesus:  As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the time of the Coming of the Son of Man.       And this quotation speaks to our sense that “the world can’t go on like this forever.”    Something is going to break.  Something is going to give.   We are heading for trouble, and we can’t stop it.     Peter, in the New Testament, acknowledges the reality of the worldwide Flood;  he acknowledges that God said there won’t be another one.

But he also writes to us that next time –  the world will be destroyed by Fire.

These are Christian issues.  Biblical issues.   Human issues.




Published in: on April 14, 2014 at 5:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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It’s been a while since I was here, writing about my reading. I’ve been reading right along, but something about this book makes me want to write again:

bourne boom

It was that kind of experience.

I had only seen the Bourne movies, but I had no idea how much more exciting the books are.

bourne book coverThe pairing of Robert Ludlum and Eric Lustbader is . . .well, dynamite.    Both are superb action adventure authors who write with such knowledge and breadth of detail that the reader is on  a breathtaking ride as soon as he settles in to the book.

I nearly didn’t make it past the introductory chapters —  almost put it down because of the “senseless, savage violence” in a world I didn’t know well.   But then I began the next chapter, where we see  a different kind of Bourne who is known to his new world by his real name, David Webb, mild-mannered professor on a beautiful, peaceful campus….

….walking along a tree covered pathway.   Where we would hear the youthful chatter of passing students and maybe the singing of birds, the sounds of distant traffic,  Webb heard a “phutt!”

“Reacting instinctively”  (oh, yes,  here’s where we begin to differ!)   Webb dodged behind  a nearby  tree that had just been hit by a bullet.  “Crack markman? ”      “Bourne’s thoughts began to flood through Webb’s brain in response to the organizm finding himself under attack.”

Bourne is back!

“The ordinary world was in Webb’s eyes, but the extraordinary world that ran parallel to it, Jason’s Bourne’s world …  flared like napalm in his mind.”

And I “saw” the flare and I was “had.”   I was taken in by the sheer pleasure of reading such well crafted words that both preesented the dangerous action fo the present moment and also hinted at what was coming in Bourne’s life – no one would shoot at Webb, but someone would shoot at Bourne –  and the napalm…what a terrible pointer  to the profound emotional underpinning of the development of Bourne’s character presented in this book.

The plots and subplots hurried along like golden threads crackling and whipping themselves into a strong coherent braid.

One more example of the fascinating writing in this book:   How would you describe meeting a Hungarian woman for the first time?  What would your first impression sound like?

How about through Bourne’s eyes?   “She had a well sculpted face dominated by green Magyar eyes, large and hooded, and wide, generous lips.   There was about her a certain sharp-edged primness, but at the same time a fin de siecle sensuality that in its sub rosa nature hinted intriguingly of a more innocent century when what was kept unspoken was  often more important than what was freely expressed.”

I read that sentence many times,  just enjoying the use of words and the many references within the sentence that enriched the description.    For sheer reading pleasure you can’t beat writing like that.

Many more times I had the luxury of being a reader, not a movie goer, and stopping the action so I could savor the words.   Words deep and richly satisfying.

The violence was no longer “senseless” and my world became much, much larger with this book.  And my heart was broken, at the end, along with a very human Jason Bourne’s.


Published in: on March 4, 2014 at 11:09 pm  Leave a Comment  



“Bernadette”  is, of course,  Bernadette  Soubirous, the young girl who was confronted by a ‘beautiful lady”  in France, in the mid-19th century, just outside the town of Lourdes.   She was 14 years old, not well-educated, completely plain and simple.    She made no pronouncements about the lady who met her at a cave-grotto, for a few successive days in late winter.

Bern outside Bernadette and two other girls were gathering sticks and kindling for their home fireplaces.  The other two girls went further ahead, Bernadette staying behind so as  not to have to cross an icy cold creek and endanger her already precarious health.   It was then,  when she was alone,  that she saw the “beautiful lady.”

Word spread to the people of Lourdes, and they began to go out with Bernadette when the lady came back to meet her.   They saw no lady,  but they saw Bernadette’s face transfigured into one of great beauty as she conversed with the lady.

But then on of these meetings Bernadette crawled across he muddy floor of the cave, beganscratching in the mud,  and it became apparent after a few days that a spring had begun flowing, right where Bernadette had been digging, at the instructions of the lady.

This all was beyond silly,  beyond decent,  and she was questioned by the authorities of the town and of the church.  It was so interesting to read the harsh questions put to her by so many officials, and then to read the simple and direct answers that Bernadette gave.   She didn’t “spin” her answers or anticipate what they were trying to get out of her,  she didn’t defend herself, but she answered the questions just as they were put to her, much to the chagrin of her very “clever”  questioners.

At last, commanded to ask the lady – if she indeed existed! – what the lady’s name is,  Bernadette’s information shocked the bishop and the priests.    The lady had given her  a seemingly nonsensical answer,  one that Bernadette didn’t understand but only memorized the sound of so that she could repeat it when she arrived the office of the church.

It was not a name at all, but the term for a theological concept that had just been defined hundreds of miles away in Rome, and only now the definition was beginning to become known among the hierarchy of the church.    The theological concept and the sounds that Bernadette had learned to repeat was:  I am the Immaculate Conception.

It’s not a name;  it’s a term.   But in the heavenly realm there is no difference;  what you are is who you are.    So here we have Mary,  the Mother of Jesus,  specially prepared for her role as bearing the Incarnate Word of God;  specially prepared from her conception to be a fit vessel, unstained by sin,  a holy place.

Although many documented miracles of “impossible”  medical cures have occurred at Lourdes,  well over a hundred confirmed,and many, many others  witnessed and experienced,  the fact that a young girl repeated words that confirmed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is confirmation for me that something truly miraculously happened at Lourdes.

This book is long and substantial and satisfyingly detailed.   The story was interesting,  but even the dry accounts of the officials and what was going on in their heads and hearts was a vital addition to my understanding of just how God works His will through the lives of ordinary people, just doing their jobs.   God’s wishes overcome the most stubborn hearts.

Published in: on February 4, 2013 at 10:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sometimes here at the Reading Shelf I write about a movie I’ve seen.   So here’s the latest DVD that has inspired a little comment.

The name of the movie is Raid Redemption, and I went to Blockbusters four times before there was finally a copy for me.   I was told it was that popular.

So there is this high-rise Safe House in Malaysia, Indonesia, but a Drug Lord has taken control and is using it as a base for criminal activity, which, by the way, includes the intimidation and torture and killing of the residents.

A police force is assigned to take back the building and bring down the Drug Lord and his gang.    For a large part of the team this is their first big assignment.     They launch the attack carefully, but the audience knows they’ll be making mistakes.  Cannon fodder.

Something goes wrong.   The criminals use spotters to look out for trouble, and one of the spotters see the police in the building and gives the alert.    From then on,  the next hour and a half is filled with unrelenting violence –

   –  and lots of blood, gore,  death, menacing dialogue, obscenities, and close-up pain.

So, after almost a month of waiting and checking for my turn to watch this movie, what did I think of it?   Not too much.     It wasn’t that good.   The oriental fascination for up close and personal looks of terror and misty sprays of brains splattering against the wall…..    All that was distracting and a little disgusting.

A much better movie with the same theme is Assault on Precinct 13, a movie made long ago, but with the same story, a police force overwhelmed by urban bad guys.     That movie took the time to develop some understanding and sympathy for the police force and you really cared about the outcome.

But Raid Redemption had one thing I’ll always remember.       It was something one of the “good” criminals said to his brother who was trying to convince him to return to his family.  He said:  “Just because you see what I do as bad doesn’t mean I’m not good at it!”

What a great line!     I have no idea how I can use that line,  but it would be fun to be able to some day!



Published in: on November 15, 2012 at 12:07 am  Leave a Comment  


Begging two pardons from you:     I didn’t mean to be away from The Reading Shelf for so long.  It’s not that I haven’t been reading, it’s just that I haven’t been able to write about my reading for a variety of reasons.    Hope to remedy that now.

Here is a recent book:

Action-packed adventure disaster story,  with one horrible twist:    It could really happen.   In fact,  our government is preparing for it and urging us to prepare for it also!

The second “pardon” I need to beg is that I can’t copy from the book some excerpts, although there would be many good ones.   My books is being passed around and it hasn’t come back to me yet.

But I can tell you a little about the book because it made a deep impression on me.    I was recently traveling along I-40 near Asheville, North Carolina,  and I stopped nearby and took a hotel room, close enough to the interstate so that I could still hear the traffic in the distance.

And that’s how the book begins.    A somewhat typical American family in a somewhat typical subdivision spread out among the hills and forest of North Carolina, near Asheville, near Interstate 40.    The action begins with the Dad bringing home a birthday present for his twelve-year-old daughter.   Just as they were preparing a nice barbecue for the evening meal, the lights go out.

No explanation.   The lights just go out.   All electricity in the region goes out.   No one is alarmed at first, until everyone realizes it’s very quiet – no sound of traffic from I-40.    A bad traffic accident?    A bad traffic accident that knocked out the power lines?

For several hundred pages all the people in the area have no idea why the power went out, but they have plenty to cope with, including people coming in from “other” regions, people who are increasingly hungry and desperate.   This is a survival story, although not really very many survive.

It’s also a story in which you’d ask yourself on each page,  “Where would I be in this scene?”   What would I be doing?”     “What decisions would I be making?”

It’s written pretty well, but the chief value of this book is that it raises serious and realistic issues of life in our country after an EMP.      A very serious situation indeed, one that our government is also taking very seriously.

Published in: on September 29, 2012 at 8:29 pm  Comments (2)  
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Ahhhhh, the beautiful Bitterroots, those rugged snow-capped mountains of Montana and Idaho, home to the Shoshone Cheyenne,  and “others” including those who need to get away for a while.

What happens when a good man gets an undeservedly bad reputation and those who are eager to enhance their own reputation – and their own pocketbooks – are out to get you, with the law on their side?

The book is full of good guys and bad guys,  the innocent and the guilty, and the moral choices that are forced on all of them.    The good guys sometimes must do bad things.  The bad guys are working on the side of the law.   And “correct” moral choices aren’t too clear to the ones who care.

The hero is a young officer in the US Calvary, whose commanding officer tacitly allows him to “resign” after a captured renegade Indian  escaped.    The rumor was the young officer allowed the Indian to escape.   The rumor was the young officer was half brother to the Indian.    And when some bad guys took offense and tried to kill the young former-officer, they themselves were killed.

And now there is a bounty on his head.   And there are plenty of scoundrels who want that bounty paid to them.

The hero is a likable young man.   The reader can feel his growing dismay and desperation as one bad thing leads to another, and he is forced to kill – in self-defense – which only increases his bad reputation and the bounty on his head.

There is a love story here, too.   Not a sentimental love story, but a complicated one because the girl is no fool and won’t trick or pressure the young man into doing something he doesn’t know yet that he wants to do.

There was drama in each chapter, descriptions of the scenery and of the men and their activities that makes the reader see the Old West.   Cattle drives, blizzards, chuck wagons, a general store in an isolated valley,  the movement of cavalry troops, small town jails, the stalking of the skilled bounty hunter, and the attack of a group of young Indian bucks, earning their place among the men of their tribe.

I learned the ways of the Old West with each incident, and I learned a little bit of wisdom and right thinking as the young hero met each challenge, more or less successfully.

My favorite part is when the young Indians were challenging our hero who was working with the cattlemen, way out on the range, far from any help.   The young man showed courage and restraint as the young Indians came attacking, holding still as they counted coup on him.   The cattlemen watched from a distance, amazed.

But then they saw one young Indian come back,  riding in for an attack with murder in his eyes.   He held a large knife in his hand and it was certain he meant to kill.   Even though he had already counted  and could go home honorably, there was an evil in the Indian’s mind.     The young man took out his gun and shot the young Indian, dead.   When asked why he didn’t engage in a knife fight,  the young man said, simply and realistically,   “Because he might have won.”

Restraint is good.      But when the enemy is out to defeat you,  use your big guns.       Whatever big guns you have.

Why do I like Westerns?    Because the good guys are not weak or morally confused.

Published in: on January 9, 2012 at 11:33 pm  Leave a Comment  


Well, it’s Brideshead Revisited, of course,  by Evelyn Waugh.


I’ve read about it all my life.  I’ve seen the BBC series on television.   I’ve read  studies on this book in  serious magazines,  both secular and religious.    I’ve owned the book, and it was time to read it for myself.

And – how strange – I couldn’t recognize the book I had always read about in the actual reading of the book.

This is definitely a book of great literary worth, written with skill and artistry;  it is indeed a work of art.   I enjoyed the unfolding of the scenes, the development of the narrative and of the characters , and which in turn necessarily pulled the reader along a kind of development of his own thoughts too as he experiences the world connected to Brideshead.

I can tell you about the plot and about the characters, but I can’t tell you the “meaning” of this book.   For that, you’ll have to turn to all those studies of this book.    And so will I, in order to find out what this book is about.

I hope it’s more than just another literary celebration of modern angst — as all the literary analysts seem to have discovered.

Great book.   Recommended.   But I’m so ready to leave the 20th century!


Published in: on October 6, 2011 at 12:53 am  Leave a Comment