Miscellany

Alan Jacobs, “To Have and Have Not,” The Hedgehog Review (Mar. 2, 2022)[link] (concerning the relative “value” of owning physical books versus being granted a license to read Kindle books — and similar issues):

  • “I have come to think that the prospect of passing my library along helps me to avoid the twin specters of pure ownership and pure consumption. My books are lent to me for a while; I am their caretaker, their steward, not really their owner. Even the ones I have most deeply loved, a love marked with many notes and queries, I will someday be parted from.”

Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember (1984) (via frederickbuechner.com blog — Reading for Ash Wednesday (Mar. 2, 2022) [link]):

  • “The church is intact in many ways, and at their best most of the things the church does serve their purpose—sometimes, we pray, serve even Christ’s purpose—and at their worst are probably at least harmless. But is it possible that something crucial is missing the way something crucial was missing in the Temple at Jerusalem in 586 B.C., which is why it fell like a ton of bricks? “You are the body of Christ,” Paul said, and if you stop to think of it at all, that is a most fateful and devastating word. Christ on this earth was the healer of the sick, the feeder of the hungry, the hope of the hopeless, the sinners’ friend, and thank God for that because that means he is also our hope, our friend. Thank God for every time the church remembers that and acts out of that. But Christ was also a tiger, the denouncer of a narrow and loveless piety, the scourge of the merely moral, the enemy of every religious tradition of his day, no matter how sacred, that did not serve the Kingdom as he saw it and embodied it in all its wildness and beauty. Where he was, passion was, life was. To be near him was to catch life from him the way sails catch the wind. He was the Prince of Peace, and when he said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” what he presumably meant was that it was not peacefulness and passivity that he came to bring but that high and life-breathing peace that burns at the hearts only of those who are willing to do battle, as he did battle, to bring to pass God’s loving, healing, forgiving will for the world and all its people.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Patience” (c. 1888).

PATIENCE, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray,
But bid for, Patience is! Patience who asks
Wants war, wants wounds; weary his times, his tasks;
To do without, take tosses, and obey.
    Rare patience roots in these, and, these away,
Nowhere. Natural heart’s ivy, Patience masks
Our ruins of wrecked past purpose. There she basks
Purple eyes and seas of liquid leaves all day.

We hear our hearts grate on themselves: it kills
To bruise them dearer. Yet the rebellious wills
Of us we do bid God bend to him even so.
    And where is he who more and more distils
Delicious kindness?–He is patient. Patience fills
His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.

The workers are few . . .

d. Paul Farmer, physician (1959-1922). from @PIH: “Partners In Health announced that its founder, Dr. Paul Farmer, unexpectedly passed away today in his sleep while in Rwanda. Dr. Farmer was 62 years old. He is survived by his wife, Didi Bertrand Farmer, and their three children.”

  • “Little sleep, no investment portfolio, no family around, no hot water. On an evening a few days after arriving in Cange, I wondered aloud what compensation he got for these various hardships. He told me, “If you’re making sacrifices, unless you’re automatically following some rule, it stands to reason that you’re trying to lessen some psychic discomfort. So, for example, if I took steps to be a doctor for those who don’t have medical care, it could be regarded as a sacrifice, but it could also be regarded as a way to deal with ambivalence.” He went on, and his voice changed a little. He didn’t bristle, but his tone had an edge: “I feel ambivalent about selling my services in a world where some can’t buy them. You can feel ambivalent about that, because you should feel ambivalent. Comma.” Tracy Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains (2003) [Amazon].

And now the work falls to others, as it always does. Read the book if you dare.

Peggy Noonan, holdover from the Reagan Republican party (a compliment, that), invites Republicans to repair what was damaged by Mr. Trump.

  • “[A]n enduring party’s stands must reflect and address the needs and demands of its era. The pressing challenges America now faces aren’t those of 1970 or 1980. A great party must be in line with the crises of its time.”

“Republicans, Stand against Excess, Wall Street Journal (Feb. 17, 2022) [link]. I have more confidence in Alan Jacob‘s version of “Invitation and Repair” [link] which might be more significant to the One with actual authority.

But I have the most faith in those who determine to simply do the next thing with faithfulness, love and compassion:

  • “Mothering and writing are alike, I’ve found, and they are both like gardening . . . and gardening, well, it’s like all of life, isn’t it? With gardening, the essential thing is not so much to accumulate expertise, as to continue on in doing it. We do not become better and better gardeners. We are gardeners, and that is enough, for to keep the earth is to reckon every day with being yet so far away from heaven, and so the most important thing is to not lose heart.”

Sarah Willard Rowell, “February Morning,” Blind Mule Blog (Feb. 9, 2022) [link].

There is so much to be done.

AJ

You should visit Alan Jacob’s blog regularly or have Snakes and Ladders (blog.ayjay.org) on your newsfeed. You know this, because I write it all the time. Of course you will not find everything he writes (or reads) interesting, but many things are quite striking. Four recent examples:

  • In “hubris” (Aug. 26, 2021) [link], Jacobs revisits the question of whether it might just be better to opt out of social media.
  • On August 25 [link], Jacobs points us to his January 6, 2021 piece “School for Scale” in The Hedgehog Review [link] and reminds us why it is really, really important to understand decimals.
  • Jacobs refers us to something Oliver Burkeman wrote long ago in the Guardian: “Everyone is totally just winging it, all the time” (May 21, 2014) [link]. Eerily reminiscent of observed reality!
  • “Tolkien and Auden” (Aug. 16, 2021) [link] concerns the two famous writers who were good, though unlikely, friends. Jacobs wrote a delightful short play (“Sandfield Road”) about the two men. You can read it in 15 minutes, here [link].

Jacobs has twenty eight posts since August 15, so you have some catching up to do.

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!

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.

Breaking Bread

My review of Alan Jacob’s Breaking Bread with the Dead (Penguin Press, 2020) is online at Englewood Review of Books and is reproduced below:

Alan Jacobs, Breaking Bread with the Dead:
A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind

(Penguin Press, 2020).

To read with intelligent charity.

Alan Jacobs, A Theology of Reading:
The Hermeneutics of Love (2001).

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.

C.S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books,”
God in the Dock 217 (2014).

As a society we are reconsidering our relationship to the past.

We wonder whether statues, schools and flags should be removed, renamed or redesigned because of their association with causes, people and history which we now find evil, embarrassing or repugnant. We wonder about the past.

Continue reading Breaking Bread

More June reading

current reading 2Alan Jacobs, again, with a nicely captured piece of worldly wisdom completely at odds with orthodox Christian belief:

small quotes blue“[M]etaphysical capitalism”: I am a commodity owned solely by myself; I may do with this property whatever I want and call it whatever I want; any suggestion that my rights over myself are limited in any way I regard as an intolerable tyranny. I am what I say I am. I am my own. As a Christian I do not and cannot believe this. My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.

“last word on critical theory,” Snakes and Ladders (June 17, 2020) [link]. There’s more here, and you can follow Jacob’s interior links, but this is an immediately important concept that is relevant in many political, social and personal contexts. “You are not your own.” 1 Cor. 6:19-20. Let us strive to live as Christ’s δουλοι.


Stephen L. Carter, “Are the George Floyd Protests Different?” Bloomberg News (June 4, 2020) [link]”

small quotes blueIs it different this time? That’s the question on so many lips as furious protesters march through streets all across the U.S. and major cities impose curfews. We ask because we’ve seen this movie before — explosions of activism that seem for an instant to herald a tectonic shift in the nation’s self-understanding, only to turn out to be the distant fading trumpets of a movement in retreat.

But what if this is an actual uprising? A revolution? Not in the silly way the words are sometimes used, as synonyms for “really big demonstrations” — but an actual uprising, the sort of thing that over history has toppled regimes?

That’s the question, but you need to read the entire piece to see what Mr. Carter thinks.


W.H. Auden, A Certain World: A Commonplace Book, 87 (1970), quoted in Ian Sansom, September 1, 1939: Biography of a Poem 224 (2019)*:

small quotes blueBy all means let a poet, if he wants to, write engagé poems, protesting against this or that political evil or social injustice. But let him remember this. The only person who will benefit from them is himself; they will enhance his literary reputation among those who feel as he does. The evil or injustice, however, will remain exactly what it would have been if he had kept his mouth shut.

Matters aren’t solved by words, spoken or written, it is true; but matters are not normally solved by silence, either.

Still reading, gingerly

current reading and viewingRoss Douthat, “It’s Trump’s Revolution,” New York Times (June 13, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueIn this environment, few conservatives outside the MAGA core would declare Trump’s presidency a ringing success. But many will stand by him out of a sense of self-protection, hoping a miracle keeps him in the White House as a firewall against whatever post-2020 liberalism might become.

This is a natural impulse, but they should consider another possibility: That so long as he remains in office, Trump will be an accelerant of the right’s erasure, an agent of its marginalization and defeat, no matter how many of his appointees occupy the federal bench.


Alan Jacobs, “more on the mania for unanimity,” Snakes and Ladders (June 11, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueHow exactly does a narrative coalesce such that “silence is violence” about some forms of suffering but not others, even if the others have greater scope?

This post is not a simple criticism so much as an actual answer to the question raised.


Peggy Noonan, “On Some Things, Americans Can Agree: George Floyd’s killing was brutal. Good cops are needed. And Trump hurt himself badly this week.” The Wall Street Journal (June 4, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueAs to the president, this week he altered his position in the political landscape. Something broke. He is no longer the force he was and no longer lucky. In some new and indelible way his essential nature was revealed.

I am proud of Peggy Noonan and George Will and others for being willing to speak truth to the political powers that were their home fans. George Will famously left the Republican Party before the 2016 [link] election, and has continued to write bluntly (not protectively) about the Administration (his opinions are behind the Washington Post paywall).

Eyes open

current reading and viewingIt has been a while, but these links from the last week are worth your time:

A brief reflection on crowd-sourcing our attention spans—Alan Jacobs, “not so much,” Snakes and Ladders (June 7, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueHuman beings have overwhelmingly powerful cravings for novelty and unanimity. We want new problems to face, because we’re tired of the old ones: they bore us, and remind us of our failures to solve them. And, especially in times of stress, we crave environments in which dissent is silenced and even mere difference is erased. We call that “solidarity,” but it‘s more like an instinctual bullying. You must attend to the thing I am attending to. I despise both of those tendencies.

A sobering comment on how evenhanded uncertainty can be sacrificed on the altar of tribalism—Yuval Levin, “Tribalism comes for Pandemic Science,” American Enterprise Institute (June 5, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueThe virus has demanded a lot from our country, and Americans have been willing to make great sacrifices to address it. But to defeat it, we will also need to be willing to temper our powerful inclination to polarize and tribalize, and we will need to demand more of political leaders, of public health experts, and of ourselves. Success in the coming months depends on our ability to build up habits of humility — and those would serve us well far beyond this crisis too.

A powerful spoken poem about unresolved racial violence—Propaganda, “Again,” The Rabbit Room (June 1, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueLas night another black man was murdered . . . . again . . . .

Selah

current reading 2This is a time in which it is particularly hard to know whether reading on the internet is going to do us any good, after we get the basic information. On the assumption that each of us will read some things, here are some suggestions:

First, from The Rabbit Room:

O Christ Our Healer,

There is no end to malady, sickness,
injury, and disease in this broken world,
so there is no end to the line of hurting
people who daily need my tending.

Therefore give me grace, O God,
that I might be generous with my kindness,
and that in this healing and care-taking vocation
my hands might become an extension of your
hands, and my service a conduit for your mercy . . . .

Excerpt from Doug McKelvey, “A Liturgy for Medical Providers,”  Every Moment Holy (posted on The Rabbit Room, March 13, 2020) [link].


The COVID-19 disease has uncovered all sorts of weaknesses and problems in our country and our public discourse, including those of epistemology (how we know what we know). Not surprisingly, Alan Jacobs has a thoughtful pair of pieces on Snakes and Ladders:

Rush Limbaugh says, “Yeah, I’m dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says, “I mean, people always say, well, the flu, you know, the flu does this, the flu does that. The flu has a mortality of 0.1 percent. This is ten times that.” (He could have said “at least ten times that.”)

Question: Why does Rush Limbaugh think he knows better than Fauci?

Excerpt from “who you gonna believe?” [link]. On a narrower point, he laments generational Schadenfreude in “a sad bit of fair play” [link].


Some of those weaknesses and problems are not at all new:

Jesus didn’t live during a time of pandemic flu, but he had a lot to say about worrying for the future. He admonished people not to store up treasure on earth, not to worry about tomorrow, and not to wonder where their next meal would come from or whether they’d have a face mask to protect themselves. He told a parable about a foolish rich man who stockpiled his abundant harvest, only to unexpectedly die. While it might seem that worrying for the future could actually prolong our life, Jesus says otherwise. He commends to his disciples a reckless disinterest in the concern for their future wellbeing. Instead of self-preservation, he demands the preservation of others, foregoing our future needs to care for the sick, the helpless, and the needy.

Todd Brewer, “Hoarding in a Crisis, Stealing from Your Neighbor,” Mockingbird (Mar. 13, 2020) [link].


Finally, go back to the Word, maybe especially the Psalms:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

Selah

Psalm 46:1-3.