How to Be Unlucky, part 2

how to be unlucky

How to Be Unlucky: Reflections on the Pursuit of Virtue, by Joshua Gibbs. Originally published in 2018. 246 pages.

Part 1 of this review touched a lot on the spiritual characteristics highlighted in the book’s reflections on the pursuit of virtue. Another aspect of it is that it is also highly concerned with the role the teacher has -in this case the Christian classical educator- in helping his student to pursue virtue.

To that end, interspersed between all the deep burning questions and conundrums Boethius poses to Lady Philosophy in The Consolation, the author treats us to a sampling of the discussions he has with his students. Discussions in which he reminds them of many things, one of which is that adults are no more virtuous than they are, and with it the importance of understanding that now is the time to cultivate goodness.

In the chapter titled On Pedagogy, Gibbs keeps me pretty well riveted (and convicted) from beginning to end. In the chapter he makes the distinction between the three parts of our being which must be rightly ordered for us to be truly virtuous, drawing from C. S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man. Regular readers here are not unfamiliar with the brain as the icon for what we know, the heart for what we love, and the stomach for what we want, our appetite for pleasant things. He argues that stomach holds more power than the brain, and that the heart and the brain must work together to subdue the stomach. This is the reason I so relate and appreciate Mr. Gibbs’ commentary. He isn’t afraid to get real:

Early in my marriage I came to realize that Scripture is no talisman for warding off sin…

On the other hand, when I was tempted to the degradations of lust, I typically found that imagining my wife’s face distorted by tears was such a talisman. Any man battling the temptation to lust will do far better changing his computer desktop to an image of his wife than some artist’s representation of the Ten Commandments. This is not because a man loves his wife more than God (though most men do, in my experience), but because a wife is the living embodiment of the seventh commandment; a spouse is the incarnation of an abstract moral precept. p. 148

Perhaps it’s because I’ve always stood a little in awe of my husband and have also always battled to keep my love of God and my love for my husband in the proper order, but this speaks to me. Deeply, and I cannot remember a time in the last two decades when I’ve read an author or heard a preacher get real this way about well… almost anything. The connection between the physical, living embodiment of a spiritual principle itself is almost unheard of in modern Christian thought. It’s as if admitting that we struggle to do what is right and that it isn’t oh-so-easy simply because we’re head over heels in love with God whom we cannot see makes us bad Christians.

So we pretend. Gibbs doesn’t, and I liked that.

In the chapter titled On Pleasure, Gibbs gets into the confusion and cognitive dissonance that has gripped American Christians as we have designated just about every solitary act as either sinful or not sinful. In doing so, we’ve equalized things that are not equal even though they are not sinful. We’ve also freed ourselves to be perpetually amused and superficially sated, yet without guilt.

Earthly pleasure can lead to sanctification and epiphany, and we should “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8), as the Psalmist says; however seeing that “the Lord is good” is not a result of every taste, and an over-abundance of tasting distracts from our ability to see that the Lord is good. p. 193

In the chapter On Metaphysics and Freedom, Gibbs hits some topics that I am still turning over in my mind. The first is that Adam and Eve didn’t have a sin nature when they sinned, yet the first things we utter when confronted with our sin or someone else’s is that it is our sin nature. Now that alone is enough to stir debate all the livelong day, isn’t it?

His point isn’t to dismiss that Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, but that Christians are so quick to *go there* that we often miss opportunities to address real issues and concerns rather than spout off pat religious answers that we think are super spiritual. Sometimes the answer is simply, we don’t know everything, nor can we.

The title of the final chapter is Why Do Anything? In it, Gibbs closes by making the point that what we do in our mundane daily lives in less important than how ( I’d also add why) we do it.

If a man is willing to become common and to live a common life with times and seasons which God makes common to all, he will submit himself to a mysterious, transcendent reality. p.230

I completely agree, and that is one of the beautiful takeaways of this book in a world and church which is yelling at each of us that we are not common, are not subject to the law of averages, and in so doing makes us perpetually discontent with normal, anonymous daily living.

If I’d offer any negative criticism of the book, it’s that on occasion the flow left a little to be desired. It felt disjointed at a few points, but the overwhelming amount of wisdom and opportunity to for this reader to examine herself and her motivations far outweighed that minutiae.

5 out of 5 stars

You can read a sample of the first chapter of How to Be Unlucky at this link.

How to Be Unlucky, part 1

how to be unlucky

How to Be Unlucky: Reflections on the Pursuit of Virtue, by Joshua Gibbs. Originally published in 2018. 246 pages.

You can read a sample of chapter 1 of How to Be Unlucky here.

The year is young, from a reader’s perscpective, and I still have two Christian books in my queue for the fall (Sacred Pathways and Meet Generation Z), so this may be a premature pronouncement. Nevertheless, I’m going to make it: How to Be Unlucky is by far my favorite nonfiction read of 2018. More than that, and this is saying a lot, it has syrocketed to my top 10 list of Christian books worth reading.

Before I get too far into this, I should issue fair warning. As I have been breathlessly sharing my thoughts on this book with different people, and especially as I share posts penned by Gibbs at the Circe Institute’s Cedar Room Blog, I’ve come to appreciate that Mr. Gibbs is an acquired taste. His tone, idealism, and pull no punches rhetoric isn’t for everyone.

If like me, you like your Truth straight up, you’re tired of pussyfooting around hard things and weary of making excuses for your own shortcomings, then you’ll like this book. If you need caveats and heaping loads of grace poured onto your principled exceptions and extraordinary situations, then skip it. If you don’t like hearing that we do rotten things because of the rot that is in us, and because we take great comfort in indulging our pet sins, again,  I advise you to skip it.

The really cool thing about this book, if I may use such an irreverent term, is that it isn’t at all the Calvinist-sounding manifesto you might be anticipating based on my introductory description. Gibbs is big “o” Orthodox and a classical educator who teaches Great Books to high schoolers, and that, rather than Calvinist theology is what frames the philosophical arguments he makes in this book.

Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy is the source and backdrop which Gibbs uses to take his readers on a journey to prayerfully peel back the layers and examine what really makes us tick. There are several Biblical references, but like a true classisist and adherent of a very old traditional church of the Christian faith, Gibbs draws on the beauty and truth that has been passed down through ages; not as a replacement for Scripture, but as evidence that all expressions of truth are God’s Truth, and I had no trouble drawing clear lines of connection between what Gibbs offered from Boethius and the Truth as revealed in the Bible.

I’m almost done with my second reading of the book, and I’m already getting knee deep into reading The Scarlet Pimpernel along with my kids for literature class, so I figured I should stop mulling over how to review this book and just get to it.

On the first page of the book, Gibbs sets the stage for what to come when he confesses:

I was embarrassingly old by the time I first heard a robust answer to the question, “Why be good?”

Given that, if I am not mistaken, this author is not yet 40 years old, he’s certainly not embarrassingly old, but I do understand this sentiment. American Christianity (and yes, I know how that characterization sounds) is embarrassingly inconsistent is so many ways that it’s easy to see why one might be confused by things that shouldn’t be particularly confusing. At least if we believe, and I do, that our faith is not void of reason or logic.

The struggle to encapsulate what I gleaned from this book is the reason for my delay in reviewing it, so I’ll put a bow on this by offering my favorite quotes from each chapter, beginning with the chapter entitled, Death as a Practical Problem:

Every pursuit of maturity-made during any stage of life, whether made by a high school sophomore or a man in his retirement- is ultimately a preparation for death, there is no sense in preparing for anything else. p.71

This is from the same chapter but I liked it, so:

The oldest woman in the club is an embarrassment, but she is also the woman who was the second-oldest in the club last month, the third-oldest last winter, the fourth-oldest last year…and the three-hundred-twenty-ninth oldest on the eve of her 21st birthday, when she went out dancing for the first time. She had the cultural right to go out on her twenty-first birthday, but with every passing day, the ultimate unreliability of this right should be increasingly clear to her. The best way to not become the oldest woman in the club is to quit going to the club the moment you realize such a future is distasteful. p.70.

From the chapter Fortune, Luck, and Salvation:

The   modern man wants every proverb qualified, asterisked, and stated so tentatively that it has nothing to do with himself. Only a common man cares about what commonly happens, but ours is a generation of proud weirdos. For a proverb to be of value to a man, he must see himself as normal, ordinary, common. He must not see himself as special, atypical, excused from the law of averages. A proverb is not a law, but a description of the world right down the middle. Thus, the more unique a man thinks himself, the less open he is to the wisdom of the ages, for Solomon is not interested in describing the unusual cases, but the conventional ones. p.91

From the chapter Temptation and Besetting Sins:

That the wicked are “happier if they suffer punishment than if they are unrestrained” (p.97) [of The Consolation] is obvious to anyone who has tired of the anxiety which attends continually getting away with sin. Few men want to confess their sin, but they dream of how good life might be today of they had confessed their sin a year ago. A man wants to be done with his sin, but he doesn’t want to suffer the embarrassment of cutting himself off from it, for truly breaking entrenched sinful habits requires the help of others who then become aware of his struggle. Hence, a man tries to deal with his sin on his own. p.135

It wasn’t my original intent to analyze this post in parts, and it still isn’t, but I thinkit will take two posts to say everything I wish to about the book, so I’ll finish doing that in part 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming Attractions: Meet Generation Z

I ran across a book title which has piqued my curiosity. It’s called Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World. The Goodreads blurb alone stopped me short:

Move over Boomers, Xers, and Millennials; there’s a new generation–making up more than 25 percent of the US population–that represents a seismic cultural shift. Born approximately between 1993 and 2012, Generation Z is the first truly post-Christian generation, and they are poised to challenge every church to rethink its role in light of a rapidly changing culture.

From the award-winning author of The Rise of the Nones comes this enlightening introduction to the youngest generation. James Emery White explains who this generation is, how it came to be, and the impact it is likely to have on the nation and the faith. Then he reintroduces us to the ancient countercultural model of the early church, arguing that this is the model Christian leaders must adopt and adapt if we are to reach members of Generation Z with the gospel. He helps readers rethink evangelistic and apologetic methods, cultivate a culture of invitation, and communicate with this connected generation where they are.

Pastors, ministry leaders, youth workers, and parents will find this an essential and hopeful resource.

And all this time, I thought my kids born in the mid-90s were officially millennials! Seems I was wrong.

More than this however, is the fact that the differences and overlapping of generations has begun to fascinate me much more in recent years. We tend to assume that generations in families are distinct and easily identifiable, and that may be true now, but it wasn’t always the case.

I was 7 years old when I first became an aunt, so have nieces who are my comrades in 40-somethingness. Many of my nephews and nieces are fellow Gex Xers. That’s basically unheard of today with our delayed family formation and small family sizes, but I can remember being in elementary school with two girls who were the same age, but also niece and auntie.

Because of my unique experience which is only unique in the context of our current reality, I am always intrigued by the different generational labels, and this book by James Emery White is, I hope, an interesting peek at the differences between the current generation of young Christians and the approach to Christian outreach when I was a kid. We’ll see if there is a new, more effective way to share our faith.

When I finish it, I’ll offer my take on whether it’s as helpful a resource as the publisher asserts.

 

Friday Faves Potpourri

Consider this stream of consciousness, outlining a few things this past week that piqued my interest, made me think, or sparked joy.

Inspired by Sanne @ Adventures in Keeping House, with her blackberry jam, I’ll start by sharing the peach preserves that our daughter made and canned on Saturday. Peach season is winding down, but you can still get some good ones and they are still perfectly peachy right now. Last year, I posted a few pictures of our time picking peaches and the resulting peach cobbler. We enjoy peaches very much!

While our daughter did most of the work on the preserves, we all pitched in and offered assistance. My biggest contribution was peeling of the peaches, and the Sunday morning almond flour biscuits that were the canvas on which the preserves were able to shine during breakfast. We are big on staging our food photgraphs, in case it isn’t obvious:

Screenshot_2019-08-04-13-36-55~2.png

In addition to peach preserves last weekend, I had the immense pleasure of joining some fellow travelers on the homeschooling journey to read Shakespeare’s, Julius Caesar. It was a wonderful time to prepare in anticipation of our junior high and high school students reading it this fall.

caesar1

I don’t remember enjoying the play nearly as much when I was forced to read it in high school. It’s always better to read something when you’re better able to appreciate not only the language, but the nuances and tone of the work. I strongly suggest considering a re-read of the books you think you hated because you were forced to read them in high school.

Next, some thoughts about fast fashion versus clothing made with real fabrics. I was recently looking for a casual, white cotton button downshirt for my husband, and as usual, I was looking for a deal. However, I ran across a really luxurious feeling linen shirt, and although it cost a bit more than I had originally wanted to spend, I bought it anyway.

white linen

My friend Hearthie writes a lot about real versus counterfeit and in that moment I realized how often we miss opportunities to buy the thing that will hold it’s value, shape, and quality over time for the sake of a few bucks. And I was kind of proud of myself.

A note about my increasing enjoyment of sprinting, something I never imagined I could ever enjoy. At least, not since I was about 12 years old. When my husband first started challenging me  four weeks ago to forgo the long jogs in favor of HIIT training composed of brisk walks interspersed with sprints of about 100 yards, I gave him 100 excuses for why I couldn’t do it. Now? I love it, especially noting how much farther I can last and how much shorter my recovery time is after each sprint.

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

how to be unlucky

Lastly, I am almost ready to review the book I have enjoyed most year to date, How to Be Unlucky: Reflections on the Pursuit of Virtue, by Joshua Gibbs. At about 3/4 of the way through my second reading, I’ve finally decided not to break this review up into a post of analysis as I go. There’s just too much to absorb and I wouldn’t begin to know what to focus on and how to highlight the ideas that I was most arrested by. There are just too many. I am certain I’ve said this before, but despite our very different religious backgrounds, this lifelong Protestant has found an ideological and spiritual kindred spirit in the Orthodox Joshua Gibbs.

I’ll have a proper review up by the end of the month.

What are some things that you are enjoying or have enjoyed recently?

 

 

 

Back to homeschool (or whatever this is) has arrived.

After attending an orientation last night and rush ordering a few textbooks with expedited shipping, it is official. Summer may not end formally until September 21st (some consider Labor Day summer’s official end), but symbolically, our summer is over. School’s beginning signals a massive shift from the way we’ve been doing things the past four months.

As homeschoolers -technically speaking- our summer starts in mid-May and ends in mid-August, hence the four months of down time. Most of the ancillary schools which support homeschooling families call it quits fairly early compared to traditional school structure. At home, we continue to work diligently into June, but by then we’re only operating at maintenance levels, tying up the academic loose ends of the recently completed school year.

As school starts, my reading queue shifts accordingly. In addition to reading whatever I happen to be interested in at a given moment, I also read whatever my kids have been assigned by their literature teachers. This semester’s list offers me lots of opportunity to revisit old friends that I haven’t read in decades. Titles such as Animal Farm and The Scarlet Pimpernel are on this year’s list, among others. I’m looking forward to seeing these books through my kids’ eyes.

After the orientation and meet and greet so reminiscent of the days when our older kids went through the government school system, I was struck by how the reality of homeschooling (at least how we do it) is so different from the perception most people have when I answer their queries with, “They’re homeschooled”.

We do have friends who have been homeschooling for a quarter century or more and are still at it. That’s one of the great things about homeschooling when you have a large family; so many other people have large families that not only are you not unusual, your family may even be small by comparison to many. Our five kids is no big deal. But I digress.

The point, which I was so easily distracted from, is that homeschooling in 2019 is very different from what homeschooling was in 1994, which was when several of my homeschooling friends started out. The vast number of co-ops, support networks, ancillary schools and opportunities to homeschool in community were far fewer and much farther between than they are today. Those ladies were doing almost all of the heavy lifting on their own, and from what I can tell, most have done an incredible job of it.

Even with all the publicity, resources, and information available related to homeschooling, I still get the same kinds of questions; even from people to whom I’ve answered them several times!

  • Who are you accountable to for your curriculum?
  • How do you know they’ve passed to the next grade?
  • The state allows you to do that?
  • And lastly…

Can you guess, dear reader, what the final and most often posed question is when we mention homeschooling?

I bet you’ll have no trouble coming up with the answer.

All of this left me wondering if homeschooling is even an appropriate description of what many of us are doing now. While our kids’ education is parent directed, we’re not the only teachers, and our kids aren’t at home with us all day, every day. One critical distinction is that what we delegate in time as we outsource some of the instruction, we pay for in treasure, because it’s not cheap, and no one is giving our kids their books as they would in the government school system.

So… if our kids do some of their learning at home, some of it in school, and some of it independently, what would be the proper term for such an education? I for one, believe it’s far more sane and reality-based than the traditional model. A model, I might add, which is only providing optimal results for the children whose family have the time or treasure to properly supplement with home learning and extracurricular support, which sounds eerily like what we’re doing.

We’ve chosen religious rather than secular instruction, but that’s the major difference.

A la carte education is here to stay, unless and until someone decides that is too harmful to the political status quo. I am of the opinion that proper acknowledgment of the a la carte educational model would be a very good thing.

For now, we’re homeschoolers.

The Old Man and the Sea

old man and the sea

The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway, published in 1952. 112 pages.

This weekend, I decided to read this short novel from Hemingway for a couple of reasons. The first is his poetic way of describing natural beauty, and the second is because this is a very short book, and I was guaranteed to finish it off in less than two days. It is a very satisfying man vs. nature novella.

Santiago is an old fisherman, once successful, who has experienced a long run of bad luck on the seas. For a time, the young boy Manolin was his apprentice fisherman, and caretaker on and off the boat. However, since Santiago has gone for so long without catching any fish, his parents forbid him from fishing with him any longer. They send him to apprentice with more successful fishermen.

Manolin obeys his parents, but his heart is still with old Santiago, and he checks in on the solitary fisherman every morning and every night. He makes sure that he eats, gets him his morning coffee, and they talk baseball. Both love Joe Dimaggio.

One morning Santiago heads out early, determined that it will be the day his luck turns around. He loads his skiff and sails out farther than he normally would, following the current and the birds overhead who seem to indicate a place where he’ll find a large school of fish.

The thing I love about this book, despite having zero experience with sailing, is the way the sea is almost a character all its own. This was something I noticed when reading The Lion’s Paw and Captains Courageous as well. Here, Hemingway contrasts the way older fishermen like Santiago and younger fishermen characterize the sea:

He [Santiago] always thought of the sea as la mar, which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things about of her but they are always said as though she were a woman. Some of the younger fishermen, those who used buoys as floats for their lines and had motorboats, bought when the shark livers had brought much money, spoke of her as el mar, which is masculine. They spoke of her as a contestant or a place or even an enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favours, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought. p.29-30

Leaving aside the political correctness or lack thereof in Hemingway’s description, it’s a poetically beautiful description of the sea which gives the reader a vivid picture of how much the old man loves her.

On the day when he goes far out to sea, his luck does indeed turn. He hooks a gigantic marlin, so large that it pulls him farther and farther out to sea. He holds on to marlin, suffering intense pain, hunger, and discomfort for two days. In the end…

You’ll just have to read it, which you can do for free right here. It’s so short that the only thing left is the ending, and I don’t want to spoil it for you!

4 out of 5 stars.

 

 

Friday Faves: Articles of the Week

I’m thinking Friday Faves might be a regular installment, so if there is any topic you think might be fun to include, suggest it as a possible Friday Fave post. It doesn’t have to be reading or education related. It can include any number of things that go on in the life between the reading.

Here are a few of the posts I’ve read over the past week that have stuck with me in one way or another. Most are about reading and educaton issues, but not all, and that’s a requirement for the list. For this week, they’re among my faves.

  • Thinkspot and the Rise of Long-Tail Social Media: When Cal Newport first wrote about long-tail social media, I had to look it up. It was something I’d never heard before, although I realize that I have been a part of things like it before. The brain-child of Jordan Peterson, Thinkspot is offering a different way. It sounds a lot better as an option for discussing common interests than Twitter. I really dislike Twitter. Anything that can be used to destroy someone’s life because of what they believe needs to be usurped and tossed for a better alternative. Let’s hope long-tail social media catches on if we’re going to have social media at all.
  • The Mis-Education at Garvey’s Ghost: As usual, Sondjata cuts through the bull surrounding the achievement gap and asks the hard questions. I’m not always 100% in agreement with him about things, but I always appreciate his intellectual honesty, and I do agree with him on a great many issues.
  • Is Classical Education Just a Fad? Joshua Gibbs asks what we are to make of the recent surge in schools dedicated to the classical education model. I for one don’t think it’s a fad because it stands in stark contrast to current educational dogma and norms, but we’ll see. Gibbs offers his take in this piece.
  • This is Why Your Library Doesn’t Own the E-book You Want: Krysta at Pages Unbound discussses the tug of war between local libraries and major publishing companies which are steadily increasing the prices of electronic book offerings. It’s an interesting conversation; at least to those of us who are invested in the library system.
  • Impure Motives of Purity Culture Critics: Rod Dreher examines the harshness with which many Christians condemn so-called purity culture, and reaches a conclusion that I agree with. There are legitimate issues to be had with formulaic approaches to the faith which ignore the fact that a good many people in the current culture have no framework in which to put chastity to begin with. But a lot of Christians condemn all attempts to encourage modesty and chastity on order to excuse their own behavior.

Those are a few of the interesting links I’ve read over the past week. I’ll be moving all of these posts over to the links worth a look page where there are other interesting linked articles.

Have a great weekend!