Separable skills

I once took some education classes, and heard the unpleasant aphorism, “There are those who do, and those who teach, and those who teach teachers to teach.” The implication was that each group was less valuable. Perhaps no one who has had an excellent teacher would think this.

I was talking with a friend over the weekend about teaching, and agreed that teaching seems to be something that some people can do, and that that the skill seems to be more or less separable from the subject matter. (My friend is a skilled raconteur, and has taught on such disparate things as running a restaurant, singing in parts, mold removal and the Bible). If you can teach, you can teach anything you yourself are willing to learn.

It seems to me that writing is another “separable skill,” and a good writer can write about almost anything — think of John McPhee writing about oranges, canoes, geology and fish; or Michael Lewis writing about football, baseball, the technology of markets, or disease; or Tracy Kidder writing about Haiti, contracting, computers and Burundi. This is strongly true of writers of nonfiction, though I concede that not all nonfiction writers can make the leap into fiction, and poetry is another thing entirely.

We hear of people who are “book smart” and the ability to learn from books may be its own separable skill, but not all separable skills are intellectual — we all know people who are sufficiently athletic that they would be picked for any team even in a sport they have never played before. Some people have mechanical ability as a separable skill. Musical aptitude may be a separable skill.

Are there others?

18 for ’21

Old and new friends.

Worth your time

The Trinity Forum, The Rabbit Room, and the WindRider Institute sponsored a conversation with Makoto Fujimura yesterday, and it was a delight to “get to know” this painter. Here’s the [link].

Makoto Fujimura, “Walking on Water: Azurite II” (2016) (Taipei City).

He spoke generally about “Art + Faith: A Theology of Making” but these nuggets especially caught my attention:

  • how “forced binaries” (conservative-progressive, left-right, etc.) satisfy our “lust for certainty”;
  • how the Japanese art of Kintsugi (which “repairs” broken pottery and calls attention to the repair, where the Western goal is to make it appear that there was never any break) may inform how we are to receive other broken people; and
  • how there are still “burning bushes” though we have stopped taking our shoes off.

Well worth an hour of your time. Watch, don’t just listen, for Fujimura’s delightfully expressive and joyful face.


I hope you have been following the ever reliable Sarah Willard (Blind Mule Blog) and Alan Jacobs (Snakes and Ladders), as both have been amazingly prolific over the last few months. Don’t wait for me to point you to specific posts!

Dystopia 2021

“Dignity? How can there be dignity if we care so little for the dignity of others?”

—Julian


In December 1983, it was a common thing to speculate about how similar (and different) the world was from that anticipated (proposed?) by George Orwell’s classic dystopia, 1984.

A few days ago I picked up P.D. James’ 1992 novel for the first time in 15 or 20 years and was surprised to rediscover that the first entry in Theo’s diary was for this coming Friday:

Friday 1 January 2021  Early this morning, 1 January 2021, three minutes after midnight, the last human being born on earth was killed in a pub brawl in a suburb of Buenos Aires, aged twenty-five years, two months and twelve days. . . .

I had forgotten that in The Children of Men (1992) the events all occur in 2021. The premise (no spoilers if you haven’t read it) is that human fertility declines so that no one is born after 1995. The implications are frightening, as the aging population comes to trade freedom for security (in the normal way) as it faces the coming disintegration of the social order.

Boris Johnson is not the Warden of England, and the disaster James speculated about is not upon us, but the cautions James weaves into this “hopeful dystopia” are ones we may benefit from in this, the age of the latest pandemic.

Recommended (again).*

*I have no opinion about the 2006 movie, which (in any case) is set in 2027, not 2021.

Born at the Right Time

Born at the Right Time What the Incarnation means for us all
A sermon delivered December 18, 2016
and lightly edited for posting

Taiwan, it seems, has one of the highest rates of Caesarian births in the world, which leads to two questions: “What are you talking about, Al?” and “Why is that?”

A Caesarian section is an operation whereby a baby is born by surgically opening the womb of the pregnant woman, usually because of some medical emergency. It was done in ancient times, nearly always at the cost of the life of the mother. I would have guessed that it was called a Caesarian birth because Julius Caesar was born that way, but that is apparently a myth. In any case, it is relatively common these days, and not terribly dangerous.

Continue reading Born at the Right Time

October reading

We all know that it is the worst of times . . .

If I vote for Biden, I will be complicit in abortions on a mass scale.

If I vote for Trump, I will be complicit in cementing a worldview in which the ends justify the means, power replaces truth, and thus the very truths by which we define and understand ourselves as human are at stake.

Karen Swallow Prior, “Voting for Neither,” Christianity Today (Oct. 28, 2020) [link].

Here’s your semi-regular reminder: You don’t have to be there. You can quit Twitter and Facebook and never go back.

Alan Jacobs, “it’s time,” Snakes and Ladders (Oct. 28, 2020) [link].

but it is also the best of times:

There have been many men on the court who seemed deep and were celebrated for their scholarly musings but were essentially, as individuals and in their conception of life, immature. But this is not a child, a sentimentalist, an ideological warrior. This is a thinker who thinks about reality.

Peggy Noonan, “Everyone Has Gone Crazy in Washington,” The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 15, 2020) [link].

Sad tales are generally accepted, but when you share joy it is likely that someone somewhere might be hurt by it, especially in a year marked by such sweeping stress. We are all secretly afraid that there might not be enough happiness to go around, and that we will perpetually be that kid that gets left behind.

Sarah Willard, “Reader, I Married Him,” Blind Mule Blog (Oct. 27, 2020) [link].

and indeed, it is like all times:

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one

T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” The Four Quartets [link].

It is not how we vote, or what we read, or who we support or oppose, or even how well we love. We live in a comedy, not a tragedy, for there is One to rescue us from ourselves.

There is One who does good, and the world is certainly in his hand. He will judge and he will redeem.