Kevin Pariseau, Where Are You?

Last night I finally finished listening to the Audible version of Herman Wouk's classic, War and Remembrance.

This was my third time through the two-volume series (beginning with The Winds of War), but my first listening experience. I began the saga early in 2016, and mainly listened while traveling: on airplanes, trains, and automobiles. It was 102 hours of my life unbelievably well-spent (transatlantic travel helps). What can I say, other than this is easily one of my very favorite works of fiction? But it isn't really fiction, is it? Wouk has managed to plug his characters into living, breathing history; the times, places, characters, and events all happened precisely as he narrates them. When the time comes for my girls to learn about the world catastrophe of World War II, I am not exaggerating when I say that no other curriculum is necessary.

Upon completion, I spent a bit of time trying to find contact information for the man who so expertly brought it all to life: Kevin Pariseau, the reader. I couldn't find anything, other than he is a stage actor still working and doing voice-work on the side. I wanted to write him a letter of thanks, so I guess I'll just blog it.

Kevin, sometimes I can tell when an audiobook reader is just doing it because it's a job. Puts food on the table. I get it. In this case, I cannot imagine the work that went into reading aloud for a finished product of 102 hours. You must have really wanted to do this. And it shows. Your pacing is perfect; no rushing to get the thing done. There are a multitude of characters speaking plain American English, yet somehow you manage a different tone and inflection for each one, lovingly maintaining it with incredible consistency. I know who is speaking without you telling me. And that's just the Henry family. Your British accents are diverse and perfect; the German and Russian (in original form as well as accents), superb. And that's not to mention your singing from time to time, especially Udan's haunting Yiddish dirge in Theresienstadt: chills. And tears.

Kevin, I've long-since written Mr. Wouk to express my thanks for his marvelous historical testament. But now I thank you. Thank you for your sheer excellence. What an accomplishment! Your recordings will remain a treasure in my household, for we will always seek that for which Mr. Wouk wrote the volumes:


You have helped me to remember. Thank you.

Miroslav Volf, Cautionary Tale

The headline calls it "surprising," but it was the least surprising thing I'd encountered in a long time. Influential theologian Miroslav Volf endorsed voting for Hillary Clinton, essentially saying that her worldview is more in line with Christian principles than that of her opponent.

As I say, I am not surprised. Earlier this year Volf co-authored a book entitled, Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity. To call this book "disappointing" is an understatement.

Chapter after chapter the authors lay out the various burning political issues of the day, explaining the debate, the motivations of the various views, and itemizing the points of dispute (in a section called "Room For Debate"). And... that's it. They never "land" anywhere. Their magnanimity and openness is such that I am reminded of the Chesterton quote: "Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of the opening of the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid." Instead, we get pages and pages of "hmm-ing, "hawing," thoughtful head-nodding, and chin pinching.

Consider the chapter on abortion, probably as clear-cut a contemporary moral issue as we can find. The hand-wringing is virtually audible, as if emanating from the physical page. The authors cannot decide whether pre-viable unborn humans should be "accorded the respect, protection, and nurture a human life deserves." They must "leave open" the question of when human life begins. And when it comes to debates about abortion in America (a country with the most damningly laissez faire laws in the world), they find the necessary moral judgments "vexingly difficult." (I have no doubt they do.) When it comes to public policy, we get a lot about the need for expanded health care, education, economic protection and support, safe environments, and so forth, but abortion foes are then backhandedly chided for expending their finite resources into, well, opposing abortion laws. If there is any real moral guidance in this chapter, it is elusive. Yes, their first sentence says that human life is precious. If any reader can discern exactly what that principle means for the real-world problem of the wholesale eradication of millions of babies after reading this chapter, they deserve some kind of award.

On and on it goes, the authors sailing and drifting in the upper atmosphere, never picking a spot to land...

And then...

One reaches the chapter on (extra points if you guessed it)...marriage. Suddenly our authors have very strong convictions. Suddenly they can say something with a refreshing amount of boldness and certainty. And what they say is that Christians ought to (that is, are morally obligated to) support the idea of marriage for same-sex couples. No ambiguity, no hand-wringing; just full-throated advocacy. It is truly an amazing transformation.

And I won't be shy telling you what I really think. The pathetic, tedious, roundabout collection of hand-wringing chapters in this book are just a smokescreen for this one chapter. Is it really an accident or funny coincidence that this is the single chapter with a discernible agenda? I very much doubt it. The authors lull the reader with all their care and erudition, all the "vexing questions" about which they refuse to be dogmatic, thus gaining the reader's trust with their apparent (as the subtitle indicates) care, wisdom, and integrity. And then they slip in this poison pill.

I need to be clear. I don't actually believe that Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnally-Linz somehow consciously decided to perform what amounts to a sleight-of-hand. I actually believe they didn't need to. That's the nature of self-deception, the kind of self-deception that arrives at a place where questions about abortion in the Bible are vexing and perplexing, but that the Bible pretty clearly approves of solemnifying same-sex relationships in matrimony. Seriously, just chew on that for a while. You see, the mind cannot remain open forever; it, like the mouth, must shut on something. And when God's Word is not that on which we feed, when it never actually "lands," never actually applies in the real world, when it's an intellectual plaything rather than Holy Writ, when it's just a chin-pinching conversation partner alongside other equally valid considerations, we will find ourselves very, very upside down.

As I say, it's a cautionary tale.