Category re:generation quarterly

A star in the East: The enduring myth of Prester John


The first world map to include the Western Hemisphere was drawn in 1507 by an Alsatian cartographer named Martin Waldseemuller. Its initial printing ran a thousand copies, of which only one complete version—purchased recently by the Library of Congress for $10 million—is known to exist. Even in the tantalizingly low-resolution copies available on the Internet, Waldseemüller’s map is a thing of beauty, brilliantly illustrated and full of written descriptions and details about seas and cities and rivers.

The heart of the pathetic: V.S. Naipaul’s religious journeys

cc Shahram Sharif/flickr

Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey, by V.S. Naipaul (Random House, 1982), 430 pp.
A Turn in the South, by V.S. Naipaul (Vintage, 1990), 307 pp.

One of the advantages of getting your reading material from public libraries is finding handwritten notes and comments from your fellow readers in the pages of a borrowed book. Usually these are limited to inscrutable underlining and earnest corrections of minor facts. Occasionally, though, the comments are more entertaining: angry little essays scrawled in the margins. These protestations are, I would submit, one of the more gratifying forms of vandalism: a reminder to the solitary reader that he is but one of a league of citizens through whose hands, over the course of decades, this particular book will pass.

Omission impossible: Why we need enemies

photoshop/library of congress

He smiled and nodded: I know why it is better to be shot at on a Sunday afternoon than not be shot at. Because it means maybe there is an enemy after all. If there is no enemy, then I am either mad or living in a madhouse. Peace is only better than war if peace is not hell, too. War being hell makes sense.
—Walker Percy, The Second Coming

Sometimes an enemy can be the best sort of news. In a landscape defined by popular whim, consumer desire, and political spin, the appearance of a real, honest-to-God enemy is nothing short of a miracle: like coming upon something solid in a world of shifting sands. Which is why, despite the blood and bruises, a good, reliable enemy is always worth uncovering. And why it’s never really a relief to see a supposed enemy vanish before our eyes. All this could be the beginning of an ironic skewering of one of humanity’s basest instincts. People who see enemies as good news are, after all, the very sorts who show up on the evening news torching American flags in foreign capitals or picketing the local gay pride parade with those “God hates fags” posters.

Decolonizing Harry

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If you are restricted in your range by poverty you are but confined to the most significant and vital experiences. It is life near the bone where it is sweetest.
—Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,
By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!
—Rudyard Kipling, “Gunga Din”

When I set out to live in a biblically-centered community four summers ago, I really didn’t plan to find myself in the role of a colonial master, attempting to control my darker-skinned minions with insulting benevolence. It just sort of happened that way.

Theme-park theodicies

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Pastoralia: Stories, by George Saunders (RiverHead Books, 2000), 188 pp., $22.95.

So the pitch for the story goes something like this: a young man, the product of a working-class Chicago neighborhood, educated as a petroleum engineer at the Colorado School of Mines, starts writing at his computer terminal on the sly short stories about sad people with hilariously bad jobs, and then out of relative nowhere gets published by the New Yorker. His first collection of stories (1997’s CivilWarLand in Bad Decline) brings him acclaim throughout the literary parallel-universe as a new and astounding voice, which has seemingly burst fully formed from the head of Zeus.

Fast and Right through Me

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A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers (Simon and Schuster, 2000), 375 pp., $23.00.

This is a book review. As such, it will make the pretense of being primarily about the book in question. But as the reviewer pursues the task of informing you, the reader (hi!) whether, and in what ways, the book in question is good, or bad, or interesting, he is also working towards a second end, which is to let you know that the reviewer’s own ideas are, in fact, both good and interesting—perhaps even more interesting than the aforementioned book. And so, fair reader, be warned: for although this review may attempt to weave together common threads, citing the odd example in order to reveal, with astute and impeccable logic, what a certain four-hundred-page tome says and means, both in itself and as it concerns the life and ideas of its author (who is only in his late twenties, and may yet change his mind), it is still the work of a reviewer who is himself only in his middle twenties, who still has a lot to learn, and—in truth—who harbors the secret hope that the book’s author will one day read this review, and be so impressed, or moved, as to beg the reviewer to come and write for his current magazine, or will maybe want to hang out sometime. Ahem.

Roaring Lambs or bleating lions?

cc Roger Davies/flickr

By Andy Crouch and Nate Barksdale

Dream with us of an America transformed. At a sold-out concert at the Las Vegas House of Blues, hundreds of fans of the hottest pop sensation of the year sing along to lyrics that unabashedly proclaim dependence on God. On national television, an innovative and much-lauded musical artist reads from Scripture. The major media, no longer bastions of anti-Christian prejudice, take faith seriously, and novels written by Christian authors and dealing with explicitly Christian themes hold several slots on the New York Times best-seller lists. Meanwhile, the nation’s highest political leader repeatedly and publicly acknowledges his need for God and his reliance on faith. This is a world in which Christians are no longer second-class hangers-on in a secular culture. It is a world in which the gospel is presented on MTV, ABC, ESPN, and the highest-profile Internet sites. It is a world in which believers no longer feel ashamed.

Where the White things are: Visiting a town of Afrikaner separatists

To the vast majority of South Africans, Hendrik Verwoerd is hardly a martyr. As the apartheid government’s Minister of Bantu Education, Dr. Verwoerd in 1953 took over and dismantled the church school system that had educated men like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, stating that the benefits of European education were utterly wasted on non-whites.