Saturday, November 17, 2018

new separate page with an index of select posts and post tags on the history of the former Mars Hill Church is now up

You should be able to see it in pages to the upper right and up top in the center where the new page appears.

The posts per tag is provisional as of today.  That number might eventually increase at some point in the future.  The post count is to let you know how deep a dive you're in for per topic.  While you won't be diving too deeply into any one campus if you try to read posts tagged "real estate and Mars Hill" you're in for a really deep dive if you try to go through all 118 posts!  You will also not be able to understand the full significance of the real estate posts if you aren't simultaneously cross referencing them to the "governance" posts.  Understanding how, why and how quickly Mars Hill upper leadership wanted to and insisted upon rapid real estate acquisition that would not be hampered by governance procedures from earlier systems goes a long, long way to understanding what political battles happened inside Mars Hill between 2006 and 2008.  The way those conflicts were resolved created enough bad blood and enough uncertainty as to financial transparency that those questions lingered even after many of the members and staff who had those concerns left or got fired or shunned. 

One of the stranger ironies of the Turner memo leak and some documents that were connected to Turner was that the concerns Turner apparently expressed about the speed with which Mars Hill was adding campuses and adding operational costs was basically the same concerns I raised on my way out as to why I was worried about the long-term fiscal viability of Mars Hill as a whole.  I know some have been tempted to say all Wenatchee The Hatchet ever did was criticize Pastor mark and Mars Hill but it was eye-opening to see how someone within executive level leadership was basically sharing a number of the criticisms I had had of Mars Hill on my way out.  I was hoping Mars Hill would reform rather than have to die but I was more than willing to pray that it should die if it was not willing to reform. 

The page is a thorough but not comprehensive list of psots and tags.  It feels like there's a lot more in the 2011 period going back into about 2008 where there are posts on the topic of Mars Hill but they are more oblique or cryptic. So the full range of posts that chronicled MH or my thoughts or feelings about MH and what I thought it had become or was becoming in comparison to what I thought it was when I joined might be hard to number.

As I was writing earlier this week I do have the new Driscoll book and I do have the 2nd edition of the Wilson/Booth book but I am not in a rush to review those books just now.  I might even save those for 2019 blogging. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

an update on a semi-incubation

so ... I've got a copy of the 2nd edition of Doug Wilson and Randy Booth's A Justice Primer, second hand.  It's the case that you could spend a mere three bucks and get a Kindle edition, for instance, but a paperback was more what I wanted.

The irony here is that I had considered getting a copy of the first edition but the week I planned to do so, curious to see if the rave Kevin DeYoung gave the book could be matched by the actual book, the first edition was retracted and discontinued because of the plagiarism that was found in the book by a blogger, a woman blogger at that.

The second edition notes the plagiarism and the errors and that the errors were pointed out and sorrys are said but there's not a mention of the name of the woman who documented the errors in a blog.

Given that the reason there is a second edition of this book has to do with the plagiarism documented for the public record by a blogger it would seem that that is inescapably part of what some might call the reception history of A Justice Primer.

Also picked up a copy of Spirit-Filled Jesus. Since I can think of all sorts of more fun things to do over a forthcoming holiday weekend than read that book I may just do a few of those things.  For about half the money of the Kindle edition of Driscoll's new book you could, for instance, get every sermon of Richard Sibbes and probably benefit a great deal more.  For maybe a tenth the cost you might be able to get the Kindle version of William Gurnall's The Christian in Complete Armor.   If you're as much a Spurgeon fan as Driscoll has said he is  you could go to monergism. org and get hundreds of Spurgeon sermons for free! 

I'm more in a reading Roger Scruton phase right now, and writing stuff in musicology.  I can get around to reading books by Driscoll and Wilson/Booth but it does not seem entirely urgent to read their books and write reviews about them.  As popular level wrtiing goes the lately departed Stan Lee has written more influential work in the form of his comics. 

I have looked a little at the Driscoll bibliography and a few names jumped out.  D. A. Carson gets a mention.  There's also a mention of Abraham Kuyper.  I have suspicions that Mark Driscoll has not left neo-Calvinist thought behind nearly asmuch as some have thought.  It is not where his patronage base may be these days but Driscoll seems not to have cast off neo-Calvinist influences that firmly. 

But I only recently got a copy of the book and, like I said, there are other things I mean to do with a holiday week coming up.  Probably some Ellul probably not Radner just yet!  Ephraim Radner's gonna have to wait a while! 

Whether it's Martyn Lloyd-Jones or Sibbes or Spurgeon or someone else, there's other folks I could read besides Wilson and Driscoll.  But I did want to let regular readers know I have picked up copies of the two aforementioned books.

on some nonconformists

people conform most
once they've convinced themselves they
are nonconformists

a baking axiom

the finest frosting
cannot, finally, disguise
a miserable cake

refined and updated form of the Stan Lee piece is up at Mbird

Hadn't read Jeet Heer's fascinating overview of Stan Lee being the legacy of Stanley Lieber despite Lieber's aspiration to write a great Americna novel at the time I posted here.  Fixed that.  Also added that and trimmed down other elements of the Stan Lee piece for an Mbird piece that has gone up.

It's strange to think that if Stanley Lieber had written those great American novels he may have dreamed of writing far fewer people, if any, might have read his obituary.  How many men in mid-20th century America wanted to be novelists and write the great American novel?  Didn't Tom Wolfe at one point poke fun at such men while eventually revealing he aspired to be such a man himself?  Stan Lee never managed to go in that direction.  He ended up having his pulp fictions become the basis for films and, sure, film critics may loathe and resent the influence that Marvel comics have had on film but as a kind of half-Native American guy I can tell you that I don't really think a glut of superhero films in the early 21st century is really inherently less creative than a glut of Westerns and cowboy films from the mid-20th century of American cinema.  I'll take the Coen brothers True Grit over the John Wayne era version, personally. It's not about whether the Wayne version was even bad, I'm just suggesting that we not forget that American film can express the prejudices of the time as distilled in the film industry itself.  Cinematic America may not be at all like literary America or musical America.  If I had to take a survey of cinematic America, literary America and musical America and if I had to pick one of the three ... I guess I'd say I pick musical America. 

Not that that may seem to have anything directly to do with Stan Lee. Stan Lee has died the pop culture icon that he has become because he didn't manage to become (and here I am willing to make some acid remarks on what he didn't become), because he did not turn into yet another Hemingway-admiring American bro hack writer who shouldn't have bothered being a writer to begin with.  Stanley Lieber may not have been a great writer in the long run but he was brilliant at finding artists to collaborate with.  Maybe Stan Lee by himself has gotten too much credit but Stan Lee with Jack Kirby or Stan Lee with Steve Ditko? That Stan Lee does deserve a lot of credit and it's to Lee's credit he worked with those men even if it may be far less to his credit if the men he worked with got less money or acclaim than Stan himself did. 

But we may well live in an era in which a solitary artist in a garret or the lone writer who "changes everything" may still appeal as mythology, when in practice collaboration may mark out greatness in this post-1900 era.  Had Stravinsky not teamed up with others there would not have been a Rite of Spring, would there?  Or there may have been "a" Rite of Spring but not "the" Rite of Spring we know.  The George Lucas who worked with his then wife and a number of other friends that made the original Star Wars trilogy stopped being that George Lucas for the prequels and what showed through that shift was, to me, an observation that the more Lucas thought it was his personal vision shaping and guiding the Star Wars films the more exasperating they became.  Separately there's not that much that seems that special about either Lennon or McCartney but together, they managed to create what was arguably the greatest boy band in the history of boy bands ...

Were those early Spider-man comics clunky and corny and maudlin?  Sure, but I've actually re-read Spider-man comics which is frankly more than I've ever been able to say about Optic Nerve.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Stan Lee, writer and pioneer of Marvel Comics and associated characters, dead at 95--Spider-man as a chronicle of inadvertent generational alienation, a kind of Fathers and Sons for the superhero genre

It was just a few months ago that Steve Ditko died (which, as a lifelong Spider-man fan, had to be noted here) and today Stan Lee has died.

There is a lot that could be said about what Stan Lee did as a writer to revolutionize the superhero genre but the clearest, simplest to describe what he did for the superhero genre might also gall fans of the genre--Stan Lee managed to inject into the superhero genre the relational and emotional characterizations of the soap opera to make superheroes more emotionally plausible.

The science was no more plausible in Marvel Comics than it was for DC.  Radiation doesn't give people super powers, it kills them, many times it kills them unless carefully used.  Peter Parker has superpowers, of course, but he has money problems first and foremost.  Then he has worries about the health of his elderly aunt.  Supposedly he has had problems with girls even though, as Steven Grant so bluntly noted, all of Parker's closest relationships have been with women and his girlfriends all look like models. 

That so many writers, editors and fans think that Peter Parker has troubles relating to women is part of a mythology about the character that doesn't really hold up all that well if you go back and read the comics. It might be more accurate to say that once Stan Lee stopped writing Gwen Stacy Parer's troubles with women were imposed upon him by Conway and others, or it might be said that Parker had problems connecting to women he found sexually desirable and who often did not reciprocate the attraction.  But well past the point that Ditko was drawing the character Peter Parker looked like a male model himself.  Not too shocking there if you know anything about what sort of comics Gil Kane for instance, drew when he wasn't known for Drawing superhero stories.  What Stan Lee wrote in the Spider-man stories was both more and less nuanced than he often gets credit for.  Parker's relationships were believable in terms of the highs and lows and the good and bad. 

But I confess that having been a fan of Spider-man more or less all my life, Stan Lee's writing showed that within the flagship character he had a penchant for reducing women to three general categories.  There's the vapid party girl (do I even have to name her?), the weepy clinger (do I have to name them?) and the old biddie.  Stan Lee could knowingly play this for laughs when he introduced a story in a Spider-man comic by claiming the story was so exciting and he was so confident that they would enjoy it that he was going to start the story with Aunt May.   It didn't seem quite so funny a joke to me as a younger boy as it has seemed since and partly it's because there's an expectation in action comics aimed at boys that the action starts up front--Lee riffed on that expectation to joke that the fight that would eventually arrive would be worth having the story begin with old women talking to each other. 

It's true that Stan Lee and his collaborators came up with superheroes who are women, people of color, not the routine white males and goddess females (i.e. Wonder Woman) that DC was known for by the Silver Age.    Stan Lee created a lot of fun and durable characters.  There's no disputing that.  What's interesting to consider the day of his death is how little that work was taken seriously over the last forty to fifty years.  You can revolutionize an art form but if the art form is regarded as trash altogether then the revolution isn't much of a thing respectable people will care about. 

Although I'm a lifelong Batman fan if I had to pick a superhero comics run that I think is the greatest iteration of the genre across the baord I would not hesitate to pick Stan Lee's run on Spider-man from the origin of the character up to Captain Stacy's death. 

I don't think that Stan Lee introduced that much emotional complexity into the superhero genre.  I can see ambivalence in Clark Kent's relationship to Lois Lane as Clark Kent and as Superman in the earliest Superman stories.  There's also a lot of humor.  I might say that given how much was lost or changed in DC comics in reaction to things like the Comics Code or industry shifts Stan Lee did not so much introduce emotional complexity or nuance into the superhero genre as re-introduce it.  That may seem impossible to take seriously given how much mythologizing people have done with Stan Lee's reputation but that's my impression of Lee's legacy.

But I will clarify that what Lee introduced was not so much emotional complexity in terms of a range of feelings, it might be more accurate to say that Lee and his collaborators refined an inescapable relational ambivalence into the superhero genre.  I get that writers and readers think of that as emotionally complex or more mature but I don't know if many would say that about the soap operas that were accomplishing ambivalent and complex webs of relationships.  Though I wasn't exactly drawn to soap operas I realized my mom watched them steadily, or at least one, Days of Our Lives.  Stephano could die and then turn out to not really have died about as often as Norman Osborne would seem to ... or the Green Goblin was a mere amateur at seeming dead by comparison. 

Norma's a good case in point of what Lee managed to achieve.  Norman Osborne is an older man who in the earlier comics had respect for Parker and Parker respected him.  Norman's son Harry felt slighted by comparison to his friend Peter.  As the Green Goblin Norman wants Spider-man to die and sees in Spider-man a way to prove his superior physical and intellectual abilities.  But in the earlier stories Norman has suffered enough brain damage from failed experimental work in which he stole the ideas of others that he doesn't realize he's the Green Goblin.  Why was Norman so eager to try things out?  Since his wife died he began to lose his emotional stability, became obsessed with work, and threw himself into doing all he could to support his son Harry financially even if it was at the expense of becoming emotionally remote and unscrupulous in his business practices. 

It was more important that Norman Osborne was the kind of bad father you might actually have to live with in real life, who means well and rarely ever does as well as he means, that made Spider-man comics so riveting in the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko years.  Unlike a Superman or Batman who could send the criminals to jail and then forget about them until the next time they broke out of jail, Peter Parker could never have a battle with the Green Goblin without considering that if the battle went sideways and Norman died, that he'd be responsible, or held responsible, for the death of the father of his best friend, Harry.  Winning in one realm of life nearly always meant losing in another realm of life. 

It can seem as though the "life lesson" that could be learned from that is a life lesson that many people resolve never to accept, that if a fanciful superhero can't "have it all" then we most assuredly can't either.

It's the kind of bitter humor that could remind a person of Ecclesiastes and all of its bleak humor about how a man can have everything you'd think would be needed for a good life and yet has no ability to enjoy any of it.  That could be a Norman Osborne, someone who had everything but in losing his wife lost the one good that anchored his moral compass and his ability to relate to people.  How do we know this?  We don't know it in the sense that we ever really got stories about Norman's wife ... but Lee's tales let it be implicit and explicit through Parker's sympathetic cross-examination of the Green Goblin's self-made origin/legend, that the Green Goblin was a man who had a good life, lost his wife, and began to spiral down into corruption before performing an experiment that damaged him so badly it reduced him to a deranged criminal when he was in costume. 

What Lee managed to accomplish in the classic Spider-man run was present a young man who was thoroughly alienated from his peer group but was respected and trust by father figures, or the men who would be part of his father's generation had Parker's father and mother not died.   In that sense the supervillains that have stood the test of time in Spider-man comics are arguably those father figures who reject Spider-man as a representation of all that Peter Parker "can" do or "could" do.  The most iconic of these supervillains, whether the Green Goblin or the Lizard or Doctor Octopus are not always against Peter.  Norman and Curt Connors both genuinely like Peter Parker and Connors trusts Spider-man, but when their villainous alter egos take over both Norman and Curt want Parker dead. 

Which is a long way of saying that of all the Marvel comics Spider-man may resonate most with people who might not otherwise get into comics because, i suggest, the subtext of the superheroics and supervillainy is generational alienation.  Stan Lee, through Spider-man, managed to distill a story about a young man who wants to find a place in the world, in the society he lives in, yet finds himself alienated from the generation from whom and to whom he looks for some sense of what he can do.

That is why the most moving death in the comics, for me, has never been Gwen's death.  Conway has said for the record he thought Gwen Stacy was too perfect and a bad fit for Parker and that Gwen was based conspicuously on Stan Lee's wife anyway.  The death of Gwen Stacy was a stunt to spike readership and while it worked at the time the stuntness of the moment shows and I think it stunted Spider-man storytelling moving forward in ways that can't be repaired.  That's just my take. 

What made the death of Captain Stacy potent for me was Captain Stacy was the man from that generation that Peter looked up to who was willing to be the father figure Peter lost.  Stacy knew perfectly well Parker was Spider-man but didn't punish him for it.  Furthermore, his dying words were asking Peter to take care of Gwen and letting Parker know that he would regard his future son-in-law (implied more than stated) would be a good man for his daughter to build a life with.

Ironically Captain Stacy died trying to save a life as Spider-man did battle with Doctor Octopus.  The irony, within the kid-aimed narratives of the superhero genre, couldn't have been much more bitter.  Parker became Spider-man in the heroic sense after realizing that his selfishness was why his Uncle Ben died.  Now near the end of the Stan Lee run on Spider-man Parker discovers that his best efforts as Spider-man can't keep Captain Stacy from dying in the line of duty as a police officer. 

Spider-man comics, at their best, shared stories about how you can deeply love someone who never quite stops making your life miserable, often while making a shipwreck of their own lives and the people they really love.  Even if what you do is the best that can be done there's often just no changing teh weakness of people.  Sometimes people give into their lesser selves and become demons, monsters who derive pleasure from the harm they can inflict on other people.  They see the power they wield as some kind of divine birthright or something they've earned the right to use because of their abilities in their professional domain.  Those first ninety some issues of Spider-man and even a good thirty to forty onward from Captain Stacy's death, were comics aimed at boys and teens, but they had stories that let us see Parker could discover as victim and perpetrator that sometimes the bitter disappointments you can encounter in life can't be avoided.  Success in one realm can lead to failure in another, some of the worst ways people let each other down are inadvertent. 

Stan Lee managed to create a superhero Charlie Brown and given the constraints of the superhero genre in what's known as the Silver Age that was no small feat. 

I haven't bothered to read Marvel comics in decades, though.  The Big Two have made so much dreck I don't want to spend too much money on superhero comics in their actual comics form most of the time.  A lot of the most vital storytelling shifted away from comics into animation in the last thirty years. 

One of the paradoxes of why Lee's stories matter is because they didn't have to matter.  The endless cycle of world-changing universe-changing "event" stories in Marvel and DC had not emerged in the Silver Age, when so many of the really classic superhero runs were going on. 

Lee and his collaborators made characters whose relational plights were as believable as possible within the milieu that Lee worked in.  In the case of Spider-man what made Lee's cumulative story-telling paradoxically blunt, lazy and yet also complex and nuanced was he managed to show that there was an often impassable generational rift in which young and old could not understand each other or connect and were finding themselves at odds but that this was not necessarily because of outright malice. 

That Parker could find sympathetic mentors in Reed Richards (him, of all people!) or Curt Connors, or other men in his father's generation suggested that the breach was not total, that enough good will and persistence on both sides could lead to some kind of connection.  That was what Captain Stacy embodied most distinctly in the early Spider-man comics and that is the emotional and social backdrop against which his death, far more than his daughter's, packs a substantial punch.  It's not just that Gwen was the woman Parker would have married, everyone who's read the comics worked that out, it's not just that she died, it's that she died after her father George basically gave Peter his blessing as a dying man who was convinced that Parker would be a fine son-in-law that George Stacy knew he couldn't live to see marry his child.  Gwen's death has the weight it has in the Spider-man comics because even she doesn't survive to fulfill the hopes that George Stacy had for Peter Parker and Gwen to build a happy life together.  On each side of a generational that divide that was being repaired death erased what men of two different generations hoped could happen. 

In Spider-man issues 1 to 90 Stan Lee may have, I don't know, proven himself the pulpiest Turgenev that the superhero genre could have had, maybe?