Current reading

current reading 2Lore Ferguson Wilbert reviews a new book for the Gospel Coalition that sounds like it would be an excellent read for a married+single church study:

Allberry argues that although sex is part of intimacy in marriage, it isn’t as foundational to intimacy as friendship—and friendship is available to the unmarried as well as the married. This concept, if truly believed and adopted, would free many unmarried Christians who worry they’re missing out on intimacy because of their singleness. And, if God does give the gift of marriage, this understanding of foundational intimate friendship could help address the complications many marriages have around sex.

Lore Ferguson Wilbert, “The Book on Singleness I’ve Been Waiting For,” The Gospel Coalition (Feb. 27, 2019) [link]. The book is Sam Allberry, 7 Myths about Singleness (Crossway 2019) [amazon].


The NYTMag describes a newly discovered Rembrandt in Russell Shorto, “Rembrandt in the Blood: An Obsessive Aristocrat, Rediscovered Paintings and an Art-World Feud,” The New York Times Magazine (Feb. 27, 2019) [link]. Very interesting! (Thanks, GLBH.)


I am unclear why First Things is publishing a review of a poor novel from the 1980s, but I have an idea, and the review is worth reading, even if the book is not.

I think Justin Lee properly discounts a certain kind of Protestant literature, and correctly critiques Frank Peretti’s novels:

Peretti’s art fails, and it does so for the simple reason that his representations of angels and demons are not strange enough. His novels just aren’t scary because they fail to be true to the irreducible particularity of human life, which means we don’t see the dangers as real. In the end, readers are left only with what propositional meanings can be gleaned from the surface.

Justin Lee, “The Art of Spiritual Warfare,” First Things (March 2019) [link].

This article really doesn’t do what one expects from a book review, which is to direct the review reader to an interesting book (or warn her off a book not worth her time) or (in the case of a current book) to identify strengths and weaknesses.

I think this is not really a book review, though, but a too-brief attempt to answer the really difficult question “Why can’t Protestants and Evangelicals produce great novels like Catholics and Anglicans?” For that it is worth reading.

Anticipation!

I am re-reading one of my old favorites, Reamde, by Neal Stephenson () [amazon], because I heard the other day that Stephenson was writing a sequel. I understand perfectly well that either Cryptonomicon (1999) [amazon], or The Diamond Age (1995) [amazon], or even Snow Crash (1992) [amazon] is a cooler favorite,* and indeed I love all Reamdethree of those, but as I am reading Reamde for the third time, I realize that because of the excellent dialogue and complex, multifaceted narrative, combined with Stephenson’s normal dry comedy and dizzying excursions into technical detail, this is really my favorite.

FallIn any case, Stephenson has written a sequel of sorts Fall; or, Dodge in Hell which is coming out on June 4, 2019 [amazon]. He also has a novella, Atmosphæra Incognita which sounds like a re-telling of the Tower of Babel being released on July 31, 2019 [amazon].The River

In a similar vein, I just received a review copy of The River (2019) by Peter Heller [amazon], which I hope will be as entertaining as The Painter (2015) [amazon] or The Dog Stars (2013) [amazon]. I also have the newest Adam Roberts The Black Prince (2018, adaptation of a script by Anthony Burgess) [amazon] on the shelf beside my bed.

AgencyWith William Gibson still on track to publish Agency (a sequel to The Peripheral) in September 2019 (though the date keeps on being moved) [amazon], I now have new work by a number of my favorites. I am still waiting on Neil Gaiman, Emily St. John Mandel, David Mitchell, and Donna Tartt.

*seveneves (2015) is also very good, while Anathem (2008), The Mongoliad (2010–2012) and The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. (2017, with Nicole Galland) are also entertaining. I could never quite mesh with The Baroque Cycle (2003-2004).

Pushing away grace

Reading Genesis WellIn my church, we sometimes find it most loving to be “careful with the images” in the sense that (for example) when we pray on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day we want to be gentle, knowing that there are some who would like to be mothers but can not; and some who had fathers who did not remotely model Godly fatherhood. That makes this passage particularly poignant:

small quotes blue[Some biblical] images we recognize from our own experience, but once we have grasped them, they in turn cause us to revise the way we carry out the activity. An example would be God as father; as Proverbs 3:12 has it, “for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” There is no reason to suppose that the compilers of Proverbs had a too-rosy view of what actual fathers are like; they could no doubt be every bit as distant, abusive, short-tempered, or just plain inconsistent in Israel as they can in the modern West. But most people have an intuition of what a father ought to be and can use that for thinking about God. The image has a varied texture.

So God is compared to a father not because fathers are perfect fathers but because God is a perfect father.

Another instance is Psalm 103:13, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.” Those who meet the image halfway, allowing imagination and intuition to prevent experience from making them cynical, may find their own practice of fathering is changed to be more like what they perceive God’s to be, infusing tender compassion into moral education.

C. John Collins, Reading Genesis Well 76 (2018) [amazon].

A brilliant point I think, but here is what I thought when I read it—those who will not meet the image (fatherhood, marriage, parental compassion, exuberant celebration, feasting, fertility) halfway because of past experience push away a part of the grace offered to them.

And we each need grace too much to push any of it away.

Let us open our hearts to the metaphors in which God speaks.

A mentor

One of the nicer things about working at my law firm is hearing other attorneys talking about the former members of the firm, in this case the senior partner of the firm when I first arrived. Sometimes those old stories find their way into print, as in this recent example:

small quotes blue[After clerking for Judge David W. Dyer, I returned to the private sector, and was working for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where] I was working on a sensitive criminal case arising out of the Kennedy Space Center. Our client, a contractor on the space program, had been accused of defrauding the government. It looked like the case might go to a grand jury for possible criminal charges. I was in charge of the day-to-day investigation. Part of my duty was to prepare for Armageddon if, heaven forbid, the company was indicted. Continue reading A mentor

Reading

current reading 2Three of my favorite online writers. Please realize these pull quotes aren’t the main course:

Alan Jacobs, “Defilement and Expulsion,” Snakes and Ladders (Feb. 11, 2019) [link]:

small quotes blueWhen a society rejects the Christian account of who we are, it doesn’t become less moralistic but far more so, because it retains an inchoate sense of justice but has no means of offering and receiving forgiveness.

Lore Ferguson Wilbert, “Second Wife, Second Life” Fathom (Feb. 11, 2019) [link]:

small quotes blueI suppose there is such a thing as what some would call their no-fault divorce, but I have never seen one entirely without faults.

Sarah Willard, “Greatest Treasure,” Blind Mule Blog (Feb. 6, 2019) [link]:

small quotes blueThe hardest thing about loving elderly people, and caring for them, is death. It has a way of taking people, you know, clear off the face of the earth.

The Delightful Scalia

In 2018 I read an old book of miscellaneous addresses and essays by my favorite Canadian curmudgeon Robertson Davies called The Merry Heart (1998 [amazon]), and in previous years enjoyed similar compilations of material from Neil Gaiman (The View from the Cheap Seats, 2016 [amazon]); and Neal Stephenson (Some Remarks, 2012 [amazon]).

Scalia SpeaksThis year’s delight is certainly going to be Scalia Speaks (2017 [amazon]), a compilation of speeches by the late justice known for his staggering erudition, his biting wit, and his personal warmth. One of his sons (Christopher J. Scalia) and one of his former law clerks (Edward Whelen) have chosen and introduced a number of addresses given on many occasions. They are marvelous! Scalia’s good friend and fellow justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Notorious RBG herself) wrote the forward.

Here are a few tidbits:

Continue reading The Delightful Scalia

“Faith and . . .”

“The ‘I surrender’ list,” Mockingbird (Jan. 28, 2019) [link]

small quotes blue[T]he opposite of faith is not doubt—doubt is the enduring human companion, even in faith. No, the opposite of faith is control, the need to be in the driver’s seat for every turn in the road. Just like Eric facing that silent room and that blank page, the invitation to faith also means a resignation of will, namely your will. Faith means surrendering the notion that you are the Higher Power guiding your life, and realizing instead that it might be better off in Another’s hands.

Surrender is never considered a virtue, though, especially in a culture which champions, uh, champions, those who don’t surrender. Surrendering means failing—raising the flag of defeat or incompetence. And surrender is especially dubious when the terms are chartered by some less-than-appealing Religious Authority. Faith simply isn’t worth the risk with a God Who Vindictively Punishes or God Who Is Church Lady. But with a God Who Forgives?

Wow.

Opiates and opioids

current reading 2You won’t agree with all of his conclusions, but this 10-month-old article and a followup (how did I miss them?) is well worth the time.

small quotes blueBetween 2010 and 2015, opioid prescriptions declined by 18 percent. But if it was a huge, well-intended mistake to create this army of addicts, it was an even bigger one to cut them off from their supply. That is when the addicted were forced to turn to black-market pills and street heroin.

*   *   *

Addiction — to work, to food, to phones, to TV, to video games, to porn, to news, and to drugs — is all around us. The core habit of bourgeois life — deferred gratification — has lost its grip on the American soul. We seek the instant, easy highs, and it’s hard not to see this as the broader context for the opioid wave. This was not originally a conscious choice for most of those caught up in it: Most were introduced to the poppy’s joys by their own family members and friends, the last link in a chain that included the medical establishment and began with the pharmaceutical companies. It may be best to think of this wave therefore not as a function of miserable people turning to drugs en masse but of people who didn’t realize how miserable they were until they found out what life without misery could be. To return to their previous lives became unthinkable. For so many, it still is.

*   *   *

To see this epidemic as simply a pharmaceutical or chemically addictive problem is to miss something: the despair that currently makes so many want to fly away. Opioids are just one of the ways Americans are trying to cope with an inhuman new world where everything is flat, where communication is virtual, and where those core elements of human happiness — faith, family, community — seem to elude so many. Until we resolve these deeper social, cultural, and psychological problems, until we discover a new meaning or reimagine our old religion or reinvent our way of life, the poppy will flourish.

Andrew Sullivan, “The Poison We Pick,” New York Magazine (Feb. 19, 2018) [link].

Then go read David Zahl, “Grace in the Age of Fentanyl,” Mockingbird (Feb. 28, 2018) [link]:

small quotes blueThis gospel, if it is to be actual good news, must address men and women whose hearts and bodies are infected with all manner of trouble, bereft of hope, who see God as an exacting cop (if at all), not a loving father who meets us where we are, in our shame and sin, with mercy, help and the spirit of adoption.

Thankfully–and miraculously–it does. The gospel in the age of fentanyl is the same gospel as ever, the message about the God who intervenes upon us with outlandish charity, at a cost to himself, offering life eternal to those who’ve been checkmated by the here and now. Not one who gives hope to the hopeless, but who is hope to the hopeless.

Amen to that.

Living with sin, living with others

current reading 2Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans 130 (W. Pauck, trans.) (Westminster John Knox Press 1961):

small quotes blue[T]his life is a life of cure from sin; it is not a life of sinlessness, as if the cure were finished and health had been recovered. The church is an inn and an infirmary for the sick and for convalescents. Heaven, however, is the palace where the whole and the righteous live.


Justin Lee, “In The Age Of #MeToo, Men Must Read More Literary Fiction,” ARC (Nov. 6, 2018) [link]. Lee argues that fiction reading impacts the reader’s ability to place themselves in another’s shoes:

small quotes blueReading fiction requires a sustained act of imagination: you inhabit a world of others, identify with their joys and travails, even learn the texture of their minds. Serious readers know that reading great fiction enhances their ability to empathize. And habitual reading helps sustain that empathy, makes it reflexive.

This (not surprisingly) makes me think of a well-known quotation from another Lee:

small quotes blue“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) (Atticus speaking to his daughter, Scout).

I believe both Lees are correct.