Tag Archives: literature

Marilynne Robinson on ‘the felt life of the mind’ and beauty and strangeness


“Assuming that there is indeed a modern malaise, one contributing factor might be the exclusion of the felt like of the mind from the accounts of reality proposed by the oddly authoritative and deeply influential parascientific literature that has long associated itself with intellectual progress, and the exclusion of felt life from the varieties of thought and art that reflect the influence of these accounts. To some extent even theology has embraced impoverishment, often under the name of secularism, in order to blend more thoroughly into a disheartened cultural landscape. To the great degree that theology has accommodated the parascientific world view, it too has tended to forget the beauty and strangeness of the individual soul, that is, of the world as perceived in the course of a human life, of the mind as it exists in time. But the beauty and strangeness persist just the same. And theology persists, even when it has absorbed as truth theories and interpretations that could reasonably be expected to kill it off. This suggests that its real life is elsewhere, in a place not reached by these doubts and assaults. Subjectivity is the ancient haunt of piety and reverence and long, long thoughts. And the literatures that would dispel such things refuse to acknowledge subjectivity, perhaps because inability has evolved into principle and method.” — Pulitzer Prize winner Marilynne Robinson, in Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self (The Terry Lectures Series)

Please also see “The objectives of metaphysics, the objectives of science.”

Thus sayeth the Archbishop of Canterbury — in ‘Henry V’


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As I sit here in Lambeth, home of Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury —

Yesterday I couldn’t resist taking several photos of the 1888 monument in Stratford-Upon-Avon. This panel on the monument includes a quotation spoken by the Archbishop of Canterbury character in Shakespeare’s Henry V. When Prince Hal’s father dies, Hal (a.k.a. Harry) becomes King Henry V, and as the Archbishop of Canterbury notes, the new responsibilities instantaneous turned the revelling boy into a serious-minded adult.

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Engineering reliable serfs for a stable economy: diminishing the fine arts and humanities in education


Darcy Wells Ward wrote a fantastic post entitled “The Great Humanities Crisis.”

Ward writes, and quotes an unidentified Nussbaum:

…policy makers want to create a generation of workers, not thinkers. “The student’s freedom of mind is dangerous if what is wanted is a group of technically trained, obedient workers to carry out the plans of the elites who are aiming at foreign investment and technology investment.” (Nussbaum, 21)

The most powerful people can use their influence to create systems that engineer more serfs.

However, not all of the most powerful people always want to engineer serfs for themselves. Good intentions might guide efforts to engineer new policies.

Still, sometimes, the most difficult message to communicate is a message that says the present, current good intentions are not going to bring good outcomes.

Fear of poverty and fear of low status spur anxious parents and practical politicians and school districts to emphasize reductive skills that secure good salaries — and emphasize those salaries more than humane sensitivities and understandings born from the civilizing influence of well-taught and well-presented arts and literature.

Ward again:

…it is only a matter of time before the lack of interpersonal skills, as well as personal growth, created by inquiries into history, philosophy, art, music, and language will catch up with us.

Moving a society forward, like becoming an educated person, requires a balance of appreciation for traditions and appreciation for new research and theories.

Confucius once said, “Enliven the ancient and also know what is new, and then you will be a teacher.” And, you will be a citizen. And, you will be fully human.

Note: This balanced perspective won’t be accepted by certain threads of cultural conservatives, by certain threads of progressives, or by Serf Engineers.

Paradoxes for Better Living, 4


Seneca, part of double-herm in Antikensammlung...Come now, do I really give you the impression that I advocate a life of inactivity? I have only buried myself away behind closed doors in order to be able to be of use to more people.” — Seneca, in Letter VIII, translated by Robin Campbell (his translation differs somewhat from the linked translation)

Writers serve in solitude.

The tragicomic in daily life: internal blindness in Chekhov’s characters


Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov’s short fiction was undergirded by a spirituality and a morality that suggested what one critic called “internal blindness” — a blindness of the heart detected within the privileged characters of Chekhov’s short stories.

“And perhaps nothing is as tragicomic in our daily experience as that highly serious comedy of errors, moral and spiritual in character, constantly falsifying social relations and human intercourse…. Our own reciprocal misunderstandings are due not to material appearances or optical illusions, but to internal blindness.” — Renato Poggioli, “Storytelling in a Double Key,” an essay on Anton Chekhov’s short stories

Footnote on the reliability of the Bible: Let’s say we met 30 minutes ago


Let’s say you and I met 30 minutes ago.

We met in a hotel lobby, and a passing comment about a sports car became a conversation.

I told you, “Hey, I just got a new Jaguar.”

You said, “Wow — that’s cool!”

Then we decided to share a ride somewhere.

We walked up to my car. It’s a Honda Accord.

You said, “Oh, I thought you had your Jaguar with you.”

I said, “No, I just have an Accord.”

You wondered if I’m crazy or a liar or what.

We got in the car, and I started driving.

We passed a convention center, and a sign for an upcoming concert turned the conversation to music.

You said, “I really love jazz.”

I said, “Awesome! I’ve got a massive collection of jazz in the back. We’ll get it out when we pull into a gas station.”

When we pulled into the gas station, I reached into the back and pulled out a small compact-disc holder. I handed it to you. You opened it. Inside, you found five CDs of 1980s pop.

“This doesn’t look like a jazz collection,” you said, a little exasperated.

“Oh, I don’t have a jazz collection with me — I have a few 1980s pop CDs,” I said.

You thought I was crazy or a liar or something.

Now, in the past 30 minutes, twice I’ve told you something, and then I changed my story.

Do you think I’m trustworthy?

Maybe, just maybe, some of the debates about Biblical discrepencies could be described this way:

The “liberal” text critics might say, “Look, in this passage, the Bible clearly says he had a Jaguar, and in this passage, the Bible clearly says he had an Accord. This is a problem.”

The “conservative” text critics might say, “Look, the important thing is that he had a car, just like he said.”

The “liberal” text critics might say, “How can you call this inerrant? He said he had a big jazz collection, and then he said he had a small 1980s pop collection! This is what you mean by inerrancy?”

The “conservative” text critics might reply, “He said he had music in his car, and he did, and that’s the importance of this passage. Ergo, inerrancy preserved!”

Of course, this analogy doesn’t work for every instance of factual discrepency, but it might just apply to some.

Could it be that the “conservatives” have a very broad, liberal view of what makes a text trustworthy?

(And why don’t we talk about this in church? It’s like the elephant in the room.)

Faith, doubt, speculation, and wonder


As the Dallas Cowboys and my Washington Redskins duke it out tonight, I’ve been compiling a list of essays, poems, and books. The purpose behind this list is to give some editorial context to LiturgicalCredo‘s potential contributors.

The list, which I’ll reproduce below, represents a mix of faith, doubt, speculation and wonder — the kinds of thoughts and attitudes represented in LiturgicalCredo.

“On Stories,” an essay by C.S. Lewis, from On Stories: And Other Essays

“Recovering Evangelical: Reflections of an Erstwhile Christ Addict,” an essay by Todd Shy, from Image No. 51

“Giving Up Jerusalem,” an essay by Jeanne Murray Walker, from ImageNo. 40

“The Gift of the Call,” an essay by Christopher Bamford, from Parabola, Fall 2004

“Love Calls Us to the Things of This World,” a poem by Richard Wilbur, from New and Collected Poems

The Nobel Prize Lecture on Literature by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“Prayer” and “All Souls’,” poems by Dana Gioia, from The Gods of Winter

The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot

“501 Minutes to Christ,” an essay by Poe Ballantine, The Sun Magazine, August 2005

“Thread,” an essay by Stuart Dybek, found in Imaginative Writing by Janet Buroway

“Useless Virtues,” a poem by T.R. Hummer, from Useless Virtues

The Doubter’s Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense by John Ralston Saul

Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris

Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, nonfiction by Walker Percy

Love in the Ruins: Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World, a novel by Walker Percy

Thomas C. Oden’s introductory essay to Parables of Kierkegaard 

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Good Country People,” short stories by Flannery O’Connor, from A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories

A Stay Against Confusion: Essays on Faith and Fiction by Ron Hansen