Reading & viewing links

current reading and viewingMore than usual, sorry, I usually post when I have three, this time I have five for you. Please don’t miss the last one.

Stephen L. Carter, “How We Got to Capital-B ‘Black’: America’s long conversation about race has often stumbled over which specific words to use,” BloombergOpinion (July 1, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueSo black is now Black. In the wake of the protests following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many others, editors everywhere have decreed with sudden and remarkable unanimity that the formerly common adjective referring to African Americans will henceforth be a proper adjective.

I’m all for the change. Yes, as a card-carrying Grammar Curmudgeon I have a few curmudgeonly concerns. But before we get to that part, let’s do a little history.

Over the past half millennium, the U.S. and its predecessor colonies have invented all sorts of ways to refer to the Africans they bought and sold and their many generations of descendants. Many of those terms were derogatory at the time; most are considered derogatory today. The nation’s difficulty in finding the proper word to describe a people dragged unwillingly to its shores itself mirrors the difficulty the nation has had in digesting the original crime.

Carter continues to look at the history and significance of the usage, with his usual insight. Alas he is behind the Bloomberg paywall, and (so far as I am aware) his earlier columns are not released after a period of captivity like some other writers. See, e.g., Peggy Noonan [link]. Choose your one free article for the month wisely (now I will have to wait until August).


Sarah Willard, “Remember This,” Blind Mule Blog (June 29, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueIn January I wrote the word Eucatastrophe down on a scrap of paper and propped it up on my desk. A sudden turn of good events, it means, which ensures the protagonist does not meet some very probable doom. It was with barely a mustard seed of belief that I wrote it down. Really I just liked the way it looked on paper. I didn’t name it and claim it. I didn’t presume to pray for it. I was, in fact, avoiding it personally.

Great word, Sarah, and one we need to remember. She gives us a scrap of story about unexpected grace.


Nadia Nadim, “The Outsiders,” The Players’ Tribune (June 18, 2020):

small quotes blueAlthough I’m encouraged by the Black Lives Matter protests, I still feel that too many people have become numb to what’s going on in certain parts of the world. Take one of them aid campaigns about Africa, where children are suffering from hunger. People see it, in the literal sense, but they don’t really see it. You know? But then let’s say that you live in Denmark, where I arrived when I was 12, or in any other privileged country. If two Danes die or get killed in Africa or Syria or wherever, that’s suddenly big news. You’re like, “Oh my God. They were Danish!!” 

This is a different story than we are used to.


Rebecca Manley Pippert, Stay Salt (2020) [link]:

small quotes blueOur task is learning how to apply all that we have received from God so that we can witness to the truth about him in ways that are effective and that truly connect with people today. We do not need to get angry, shouting at our culture. We do not need to feel defeated, staying silent in our culture. We can be hopeful, as we share the message that the whole word so desperately needs to hear. To put it another way, we can still be disciple-makers. We can—we must—stay salt!


Voddie Baucham, “Racial Reconciliation,” YouTube (2019) [link]:

small quotes blueIf God can reconcile those who have real and God-ordained distinctions between them, He can certainly reconcile people who have arbitrary and artificial differences and distinctions between them.

This is a very powerful sermon—by the way, Dr. Baucham is not (1) saying there is no problem, or (2) reading books is worthless, or that (3) we can experience no peace with non-believers. What he does say is worth multiple hearings.

Dr. Baucham has many online sermons—does anyone have other suggestions? This was the first I had heard.

Returning to reality

O'connor TSOMI have been reading about Flannery O’Connor in Jonathan Rogers, The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O’Connor (2012), which is excellent.1

During her life O’Connor was often rebuked for the violence in her fiction, but she explained how it was not at all inconsistent with her Christian faith:

small quotes blueI suppose the reasons for the use of so much violence in modern fiction will differ with each writer who uses it, but in my own stories I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace. Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will do the work. This idea, that reality is something to which we must be returned at considerable cost, is one which is seldom understood by the casual reader, but it is one which is implicit in the Christian view of the world.2

I was struck by this, I think, because it seems particularly apropos to our current situation in which our lives have been violently reduced, and much that was extraneous has been torn away from us.

It seems to me that O’Connor echoes C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain (p. 81: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”) and in “Learning in War-Time” (The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.”).

O’Connor, as diligent “sub-creator,” looked for ways that her character might be brought to grace — our creator (and hers) is now doing the same.


1Isn’t that a perfect title? The Terrible Speed of Mercy is a great place to start a study of O’Connor. [Ed. note: It turns out that “the terrible speed of mercy” is a phrase of Flannery O’Connor’s.]

2Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (ed. Sally and Robert Fitzgerald (1961) (emphasis added).

Without the numbers

esvI’ve been reading in the ESV Readers Bible, and I am somewhere in Luke — not exactly sure where (that’s the point, right?). Anyway, John the baptizer has just sent two of his disciples to try to find out whether Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah (since he has been doing all sorts of amazing things).

John’s disciples say: “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” The text says that

In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them,

Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.

Notice this — there are six types of people in distress: “blind,” “lame,” “lepers,” “deaf,” “dead” (“distressed” might not be the best word for dead people), and “poor.” The first five are given what we would expect a true miracle worker to give:

    • the blind receive their sight,
    • the lame walk,
    • lepers are cleansed,
    • the deaf hear,

and

    • the dead are raised up

But the sixth receives something quite unexpected — it is not “and the poor are given food,” or “the poor are given money,” or even “the needs of the poor are met.” Instead, Jesus says

the poor have good news [the word is “gospel”] preached to them.

Only one who is authoritatively the Messiah* would be so bold as to give something of eternal value where there are more “immediate” needs.

I draw two conclusions:

  1. Even in this time of crisis, we need to give “good news” to those in distress, even as we need those immediate needs.
  2. We need to remember that life is more than what we consume.**

 


*The numbers and the cross-references can have great value, of course, as they help us keep track of what we learn — if you can find Isaiah 26:19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; and 61:1, you will see that these acts are part of the redemption that the Lord promises to bring about.

**I’m pretty sure I read that second point about a fourth of the way through Matthew, but I can’t find it now.

Jesu juva

Andrew Peterson, Adorning the Dark: Thought on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making (2019) [link]. Adorning the Dark

This is an absolutely marvelous book if you (1) are a fan of Andrew Peterson, (2) are interested in Christians in the arts, or (3) read books. (Okay, I threw the last one in, because I think this could have very broad appeal.)  Peterson, of course is a singer-songwriter living near Nashville who is also involved the lives of a number of creative Christians in an online community called The Rabbit Room.*

You likely know Peterson as a thoughtful singer-songwriter and (perhaps) a gleeful author — mostly of fantasy novels — but in this case his thoughtful faith plays out in a string of reflections and personal anecdotes about the faith and the creative calling. Adorning the Dark is memoir and (in the best sense) sermon.

There are many delightful anecdotes referencing the influences on his thought, including some usual suspects (C.S. Lewis, Rich Mullins, Wendell Berry) and some decidedly unusual suspects (The Dragonlance novels, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor). Tolkien and Dylan were relatively late additions. By far, though, it is friends and fellow believers who seem to have built themselves into Peterson’s life. Continue reading Jesu juva

Re-reading

Visiting an old friend, Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow:

JayberCrowsmall quotesIf you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line—starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King’s Highway past appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. But that is not the way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circle or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I have deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led — make of that what you will.

p. 149.


As a lover of allusions, I get a kick out of the references to Bunyan, Dante and a certain famous hymn.

On honest uncertainty at a funeral

Between the stirrup

James Boswell attributes this near quotation of William Camden (originally “Betwixt the stirrup and the ground, Mercy I ask’d; mercy I found.”) to Samuel Johnson, and goes on to report that Johnson said “Sir, we are not to judge [with certainty] the state in which a man leaves this life. He may in a moment have repented effectually, and it is possible may have been accepted of God.” James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson 543 (1830) [link].*

We can never know the depth of God’s grace or the end of his persistent pursuit of each human heart. Let us resolve to speak the gospel of grace whenever we can.


*In the novel Brighton Rock (1938), Graham Greene has his character Pinkie rely on this quotation as a basis for rejecting grace on the assumption that he will be able to repent at the last moment. But in a moment in which his death seems imminent, he finds that he has hardened himself against repentance.

Good Friday

IV

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind us of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood-
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

 T.S. Eliot, “East Coker, pt. IV,” Four Quartets (1940).

No excerpts

current reading 2Sarah Willard writes about choices, and the will of God and finding a place to light, mentioning Jayber Crow, and Amy Carmichael and Galatians 5. Today, I am giving no excerpts—you need to read this whole thing: “Freedom also for her to stay (and our ever sure place to light),” Blind Mule Blog (Apr. 8, 2019) [link].

You should follow this wise young woman.


Another piece you should just read in its entirety is Kyle Korver, “Privileged,” The Player’s Tribune (Apr. 8, 2019) [link], in which he thinks about how white men should react to racism.