Thursday, February 28, 2008


A few days ago, I told my community college creative writing class, “You need to be sure to give your main character some situation to deal with, some angst, some disturbance of normal life.”

They looked at me and blinked a few times without reacting much. I said, “Do you know what ‘angst’ means?”

Most of them just kept looking at me and blinking. A few shook their heads. I wasn’t sure I knew, either, now that we got to that point. We looked it up. One student said it is a German word, meaning fear. People rather like the word angst; it has an appealing intellectual sound.

The handy-dandy Merriam-Webster says it is a “fearful concern or interest, painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill.”

Another definition is a “cause of anxiety.” Anxiety is a cause of anxiety? It is spiral in nature, then, feeding upon itself.

It gets worse: “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one's capacity to cope with it.”

We decided anxiety and fear are related, that fear is sometimes paralyzing. It can pull you down into some dark place where you feel very much alone with your disturbing thoughts. It can be debilitating. Much of literature (we think of our English 2307 stories as literature) shows characters learning how to cope with angst—or not.

I can’t say this in my class, because it is a public educational institution and it’s not allowed. But I can say it here all I want to: God never leaves us alone. We can depend on his love, which is stronger than any angst ever could be. According to this linked web site, the Bible tells us not to fear 365 times. God knows fear is widespread and contagious, and he does not want us to be enslaved by it.

First John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

In his love, we can find peace.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Amazing Grace is an amazing movie, directed by Michael Apted. It tells the story of William Wilberforce, a man God used in abolishing slavery in the British Empire in the 1800s.

Wilberforce is played by Ioan Gruffudd, pictured here. The British-made film gives the viewer a seemingly accurate taste of what life was like in the late 1700s/early 1800s in England. Wilberforce is portrayed as a strong, passionate, lovable man caught up in revolutionary ideas that would bring about great change in the entire society.

Many Americans don’t pay much attention to history, especially in other countries. I did not realize that slavery was a major part of the British economy in those times, just as it was in the American South, maybe more so. I think many people know little to nothing about Wilberforce and slavery; we should know about these things. God works powerfully in history.

Slavery was officially abolished, although not in a real way, in England in 1807, although the British remained active in slave trading until 1833. William Wilberforce, a convert to evangelical Christianity, was the primary leader of the abolition movement in the British Parliament. Wilberforce often sought counsel with Olaudah Equiano, John Newton, and others during this fight. After devoting most of his adult life to fighting against slavery, he died three days after learning that the slave trade would finally be completely abolished by Parliament from Great Britain.

All his life, Wilberforce was dedicated to the prevention of cruelty; along with two other men, Richard Martin and Arthur Broome, he founded the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It is said that he often took in sick or mistreated animals such as rabbits, dogs, and horses, invited into his home groups of poor and hungry people, and gave away most of his income to charities.

Wilberforce grew up as an orphan, and he was greatly influenced by his teacher and mentor John Newton. Newton encouraged and inspired Wilberforce in his fight against slavery.

Newton suffered guilt feelings for many years because he had commanded slave ships for years, and as a result of his experiences wrote the famous hymn “Amazing Grace,” which everybody has heard somewhere. Here is the epitaph on his gravestone, which he himself wrote (from this web site):

JOHN NEWTON, Clerk / Once an infidel and libertine / A servant of slaves in Africa, / Was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour / JESUS CHRIST, / restored, pardoned, and ap­point­ed to preach / the Gospel which he had long laboured to destroy. / He min­is­tered, / Near sixteen years in Ol­ney, in Bucks, / And twenty-eight years in this Church.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Belly Laugh

The baby in this YouTube video has the most infectious laugh--watch it and be tickled!

It comes from a new blog--BloggedIn-News & Networking. This blog is a new creation of the Family-Friendly Blogroll, whose link you'll see at the top of the sidebar of this blog. Its purpose is to feature blogs that keep their content clean, suitable for families. I'm very proud that my blog is part of it, and I appreciate their efforts to help weed out offensive Internet stuff.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Olaudah Equiano, A Slave (ca. 1745-1797)

In about 1756, Olaudah Equiano was captured at the age of eleven from his African village and sold into slavery. With many other miserable, mistreated slaves, he was dragged across the African continent and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean. After ten years of slavery, he was allowed to buy his freedom. He became an eloquent advocate of the abolition of slavery.

According to the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Olaudah Equiano was “the most influential African abolitionist writer in both America and Britain.”

The Norton Anthology of English Literature editors, M. H. Abrams and others, tell us that Equiano’s life story “was an important contribution to [the abolitionist] movement, not only for its explicit arguments against the slave trade but also for its demonstration that someone born in Africa could be humane, intelligent, a good Christian, and a free and eloquent British subject.” Many British people at that time believed otherwise.

The web site of the Equiano Foundation tells us that

At the age of forty four he wrote and published his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African. Written by Himself, which he registered at Stationer's Hall, London, in 1789. More than two centuries later, this work is recognized not only as one of the first works written in English by a former slave, but perhaps more important as the paradigm of the slave narrative, a new literary genre.

Equiano’s entire book , The Interesting Narrative . . . , may be found online at the Gutenberg Project . It is fascinating reading. Equiano is the basis for a character in the British-made movie Amazing Grace, the true story of William Wilberforce, who led the decades-long fight against slavery in Great Britain.

To be continued--

Friday, February 01, 2008

Hearing the Right Voice

On March 29, 1999, Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicle No. 2, a $45 million spy plane, puzzled its earth-bound pilots by going into the termination mode. It just wiped out all its classified computer data, set itself into death mode, and spiraled into the ground in “a pre-programmed, rolling, vertical descent from an altitude of 41,000 feet.”

Upon investigation, the Air Force learned that the unmanned plane committed suicide. $45 million down the drain on purpose. What happened? Apparently, it picked up a signal meant for another unmanned Aerial Vehicle miles away, took the message to heart, and killed itself. The Air Force said the incident was “unfortunate.”

Sometimes the same kind of thing happens to people. They listen to the wrong voice and self-destruct—voices saying “you’re not worth anything and never have been any good.” These are the voices of darkness and evil. The results are often unfortunate, to say the least, and unnecessary if we just listen to the right voice.

Voices from light and life come from God. God speaks to us through circumstances, through other people, through the Bible. Sometimes he speaks in an audible voice, a shout or a soft whisper. If we form the habit of listening, we can hear his gentle, loving voice.

The picture comes from this linked site.