Live Not by Lies

Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, by Rod Dreher. Published in 2020. Hardcover, 304 pages.

I’ve been a reader of Rod Dreher’s blog at The American Conservative for the past five years. During that time, my reaction to his Internet commentary has run the gamut. Some of his columns I connect with in hearty agreement, hastily share with friends, and use as springboards for engaging and edifying conversations. Others of his columns confound me, while others annoy me so much that I click away, refusing to read further.

I’ve concluded that this is the nature of writing and publishing one’s thoughts about the day’s happenings in real time to a “live audience”. Internet commentary, whether of the instant variety such as Twitter, or long form such as blogging, is inherently more emotionally charged than a book. Books require more from all involved. Both author and reader have to exert more of themselves to the writing experience; more thought, more analysis, more contemplation of the ideas presented and received.

I’ve also concluded that this distinction is the reason why I enjoy Rod Dreher’s books so much more than his columns. Whether it’s Crunchy Cons, The Benedict Option, or in this case, Live Not By Lies, he does a much better job connecting with this reader through his books than on the Internet.

Live Not by Lies is exactly what its subtitle suggests; a manual for Christian dissidents. It feels, in many ways, like a follow up to The Benedict Option, which strongly exhorts believers to embrace a return to intimate, local faith communities operating outside of a dominant culture that is increasingly hostile to Christian faith and morality. He doesn’t suggest that we necessarily run off and build communes, as he has been accused of doing. Rather, that we construct places of refuge from the daily vexation of our souls.

But once we form these communities, what do we do within them? More importantly, how do we continue to live and work in the truth when and if the ability to do that comes at a price we’ve never had to pay here in America? We do that, first and foremost, by refusing to live by lies. The books titular exhortation was originally penned by Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn in a 1974 essay of the same title. He was arrested by Soviet secret police on the day of its writing. In it, Solzhenitsyn lists a relatively simply outline for refusing to live by lies, even though he knew it wouldn’t produce life lived on flowery beds of ease:

Some, at first, will lose their jobs. For young people who want to live with truth, this will, in the beginning, complicate their young lives very much, because the required recitations are stuffed with lies, and it is necessary to make a choice.

But there are no loopholes for anybody who wants to be honest. On any given day any one of us will be confronted with at least one of the above-mentioned choices even in the most secure of the technical sciences. Either truth or falsehood: Toward spiritual independence or toward spiritual servitude.

And he who is not sufficiently courageous even to defend his soul—don’t let him be proud of his “progressive” views, don’t let him boast that he is an academician or a people’s artist, a merited figure, or a general—let him say to himself: I am in the herd, and a coward. It’s all the same to me as long as I’m fed and warm.

It is with Solzhenitsyn in mind that Rod Dreher sets out a roadmap for the terrain we must navigate in 2021 as we resolve not to live by lies. Our current cultural trajectory is one that diverges from the one in which Soviet dissidents lived, and Dreher takes an excellent turn at describing the glaring signs pointing to a kind of totalitarianism that believers need to brace and prepare for:

The Western world has become post-Christian, with large numbers of those born after 1980 rejecting religious faith. This means that they will not only oppose Christians when we stand up for our principles—in particular, in defense of the traditional family, of male and female gender roles, and of the sanctity of human life—but also they will not even understand why they should tolerate dissent based in religious belief.

He later warns:

The foundation of totalitarianism is an ideology made of lies. The system depends for its existence on a people’s fear of challenging the lies. Said the writer, “Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies!” You may not have the strength to stand up in public and say what you really believe, but you can at least refuse to affirm what you do not believe. You may not be able to overthrow totalitarianism, but you can find within yourself and your community the means to live in the dignity of truth. If we must live under the dictatorship of lies, the writer said, then our response must be: “Let their rule hold not through me!”

Dreher encourages his readers to keep the faith, and not lose hope, but to also be wise and observant of the times in which we live. Portions of his book bring to mind Christ’s admonition to his followers to be “wise and serpents, yet harmful as doves.”

There is a lot of well-tilled ground here for those who have been attentive to the increasing influence and encroaching power of big tech companies, the academic ideological cathedral, and woke corporations wielding their power to influence debate in the public square. Nevertheless, there was information here that I was not aware of and was grateful to be more fully informed.

The compilation of all of these things, combined with concrete strategies and encouragement to stand strong make this a good read.

4 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

 

 

Word Nerd Wednesday: Unplug

The topic of this week’s post has absolutely nothing to do with staking out a political position. Certain things are, or used to be, bedrock American principles regardless of whether one stands on the right or left sides of the aisle.

One thing has become infinitely clear however, giving lip service to the principles of liberty isn’t really enough anymore. Being willing to put our inconvenience where our mouths are demands action. Which is why it is important that we be willing to unplug. This post, of course, refers to word as defined by the Urban Dictionary:

Unplug: To take yourself off any social media outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc. for a few days. To unplug the computer and enjoy real life interactions with live people such as your family and friends. To live life without computer related devices.

Of course, the unplugging I’m referring to is the kind that lasts much longer than a few days. It’s a willingness to recapture the saner parts of life as it was lived before, even if those parts were far less convenient.

Calling your distant Aunt Gertrude at least once a month, rather than depending on Facebook as a means of connection. Sending photos to you family either hard copy, or even via text message. Of course, this necessarily means that only the people you care most about will view your personal photos, but isn’t that better anyway?

The Instagram app that I kept for the sake of viewing pictures of distant relatives? Off the phone. I can always use the browser on my computer every couple of weeks to catch up, but no more free data mining for Facebook. I have been suggesting to people that they direct message all of the contacts they’ve developed a real relationship with on social media, trade contact info, delete those accounts (or at least drop the apps), and start communicating via email or even -gasp!- voice calls and snail mail!

For me, the biggest hindrance to cancelling my Prime account was the notion of 1) having to wait more than two days to receive certain items, and 2) paying for shipping. But you know what? The advantage of refusing to support mega corps that wage political warfare, destroy vendors as well as small brick and mortar businesses and screw print authors is that I’ll shop less. Additionally, the $12 a month I’m saving on the Prime membership will pay for shipping on the vastly reduced numbers of items I’m ordering.

Again, this is not a matter of taking sides politically. Either the “American Dream” which prioritizes free speech and the flourishing of the individual, and encourages entrepreneurship, is worth paying a few extra pennies to encourage, or it isn’t.

In the current zeitgeist, voicing my support for the things that matters means I need to unplug.

Quotable Literary Quote

Note well, that this was originally penned in 1910:

And now, as this book is drawing to a close, I will whisper in the reader’s ear a horrible suspicion that has sometimes haunted me: the suspicion that Hudge [the Progressive] and Gudge [the Conservative] are secretly in partnership. That the quarrel they keep up in public is very much of a put-up job, and that the way in which they perpetually play into each other’s hands is not an everlasting coincidence.

I do not know whether the partnership of Hudge and Gudge is conscious or unconscious. I only know that between them they still keep the common man homeless.

G.K. Chesterton wrote this over a century ago. Politics as a hope for what ails humanity is death to soul of men and idolatry to the Christian believer.

Just my .02, if you were wondering what I think about all of this.

hat tip: Will S.

Word Nerd Wednesday: Epiphany

Since yesterday was the 12th day of Christmas, and today is known as Epiphany, I thought I’d use this occasion to discuss the holiday as well as the evolution of epiphany over time.

How often have you thought you had an epiphany? Was it a great idea? Was it the crystallization of a concept you hadn’t quite understood before? Whatever it was, something was unveiled that you hadn’t seen before. And that, my friends is exactly what happened on the first Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day, which is commemorated as the first time that Jesus the Messiah was revealed to gentiles.

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. Matthew 2:9-12.

As Protestants, our family rarely gave deep consideration to the Feast of Epiphany. However our school, being a Christian classical school, educates its students on the significant events on the liturgical calendar.

If this is a new revelation to you, consider yourselves so educated.

As a result of the original unveiling, we have all come to use the word epiphany as Webster defines it:

1) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something

2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking

3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure b : a revealing scene or moment

So there you have it, both the holiday and the vocabulary of the word Epiphany!

Reading Room Goals 2021

Happy New Year folks!

I’m not among the crowd approaching 2021 with boundless optimism. I’m eagerly hoping for a bounty of blessings, the fruition of moderate dreams and the accomplishment of measured goals. You know, the typical things we contemplate as the clock strikes 12:00 between December 31 and January 1. However, since the crazy that characterized 2020 shows no signs of dissipating, my expectations are appropriate to that reality. Nevertheless, I’ve set goals relevant to this little blog, and I’ll share them with you.

2020 was not a productive reading year, as evidenced by the grand total of 17 book reviews posted for the entire 12 months. This was largely due to succumbing to the countless distractions we were all assaulted with this year. From pandemics to social unrest and election drama, I found myself spending many more hours on current events than I would typically allow. Even with the increased time at home this spring, the effort to read more deeply was short circuited.

However, I did review short stories and poetry, which is also atypical for me, and I enjoyed those a great deal. I enjoyed them so much that I look forward to exploring more of those genres in the Reading Room this year. With those retrospective thoughts, I have established some reading and blogging goals for 2021. They include both personal goals and plans to help me keep this blog consistently updated with new content. Some of the things that really worked, I’ll continue to do.

  • Read and review more books than in 2020. No matter what is happening in the broader culture, it’s no excuse to get sucked into the pixels and away from books.
  • Blog with a strict plan and categorical pattern to  stay focused and writing regularly. With exceptions for liturgical calendar breaks such as Lent and Advent, as well as family vacations, I plan to post three times a week, as follows:
  • Continue to post Word Nerd Wednesday posts, but with more regularity. As it becomes increasingly apparent that George Orwell’s 1984 with its eerie exploration of language manipulation, was more prophetic than fiction, it’s vitally important that we remember the power of words. To that end, I will strive to consistently add installments to the Word Nerd category.
  • Weekly book reviews: This is going to be a challenge for me, but one I will to rise to. Reviewing and discussing books is important in a world with an increasingly short attention span. Not all of my reviews will be of full length books, as I have really enjoyed our short story discussions this year, and the variation will keep things fresh. Also, including short stories offers greater opportunities for you all to read a story, then come back here to offer your thought.
  • Friday Favorites with a wide range of topics will be revived. The topics will vary from education to nature, food, health and everything in between. The world is filled with wonder and beauty and everything around us conspires to shield it from our view. One of my goals here is to do a little bit to push back against the beast of digital domination and cultural discontent.
  • The first half of this year will find these goals easier to meet than the latter half, and none of us knows what insanity might be awaiting us either collectively or individually, as the year unfolds. Nevertheless, without a goal and plan, it’s much easier for the time to slip away from us having accomplished nothing.

I’m also interested to know what kinds of things my readers are reading. I have a reading queue a mile long, but I’m always tweaking it, and dropping titles to the bottom of the pile as I discover more interesting reads. So feel free to offer suggestions of books I might read as you encounter them along your bibliophile path.

One of my first reading goals of this year is to settle in and finish The Brothers Karamazov.  I’ll jump right back into it; just as soon as I finish Live Not By Lies. I’m not sure I’m off the best start, but we’ll see.

Happy New Year, All!

What are your plans as the new year begins?

 

 

My Favorite Movies of the Season

It’s almost Christmas! If the unusual dearth of traffic I experienced this morning is any indication, the two-week holiday hiatus from the normal rhythm of life has begun for many people.

Christmas is a conflicted time of year for me. One the one hand, the advent of Christ and everything that it means to me makes this a precious time. On the other hand, the amount of money spent at Christmas, even with budgets and cash only and all the guardrails, makes me shudder. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve struck a nice balance, and this year I feel more festive than I have in several years.

One of my favorite parts of this time of year is watching a few specific movies. It’s a short list, and I would love it if you would share some of your favorites in the comments.

  1. A Christmas Story– This funny, poignant, 80s classic is one of my favorites.

2. Elf- This is a thoroughly modern movie, and my informal polling indicates that my fondness for is far from universal. I understand why, since Will Farrell is hardly leading man material. But again, it’s funny and touching and silly and captures the magic of Christmas.

3. Rise of the Guardians– This isn’t really a Christmas movie as much as it is a fairy tale about mythical creatures, but I only think of it in December, and I only watch it in December. Yeah, that’s Santa in the center!

Now we’re getting into the movies that encompass the true meaning of Christmas.

4. The Nativity Story– I hardly think this one needs explanation, but it is exactly as it sounds. It’s a narrative of the birth of Jesus.

5. It’s a Wonderful Life. If you haven’t heard of Frank Capra’s 1946 Christmas classic, I implore you to go read the plot summary and then watch the film. It’s a wonderful exploration of faithfulness and hope rising from the ashes of despair. At Christmas!

What are your favorite films of the season?

Word Nerd Wednesday: Unequivocal

The past two weeks found me musing on the lives of people, recently departed, whose lives have affected mine. One of those people is a woman with a small but potent sphere of influence. Her effect on me was profound, but personal.

The other is a person of renown with a much larger sphere of influence, whose writing and commentary began to help shape my cultural and political philosophy when I was only beginning to form them.

In the case of both of these people, one word I would use to describe them is unequivocal. My kind of people. The kind of people with which there is little to no ambiguity. On issues that matter, they are clear about where they stand and leave no room for doubt about it.

Unequivocal: Not ambiguous; not of doubtful signification; not admitting different interpretations; as unequivocal words or expressions.

My friend was a woman who loved without partiality and judgment. With her there was no hypocrisy and no doubt.

The educator and commentator who helped me reconcile that the common sense values of my youth were incongruent with the political traditions I had embraced was unequivocal in his assertions. And he was right.

Because this is a site dedicated to learning, literacy, and the importance of education’s impact on culture, I want to focus on the unequivocal work and words of the recently departed Dr. Walter E. Williams. He was an economist, educator, and prolific author.

Dr. Williams, an economy professor at George Mason University, passed away on December 2, at the age of 84. You can read the Washington Post’s subpar obituary here, and Dr. Thomas Sowell’s tribute to him here.

I have never reviewed one of  Walter Williams’ books in this space. I have only read one, Race and Economics, and it was back before I began this blog. However, in honor of his legacy I intend to read it next month and review it here. I’ll end this post with an excerpt from one of Dr. Williams last columns, Blackshttp://walterewilliams.com/blacks-of-yesteryear-and-today/ of Yesteryear and Today:

At the time of my youth, today’s opportunities for socioeconomic advancement were nonexistent for black people. For all but a few, college attendance was out of the question because of finances and racial discrimination. If you were not admitted to the black colleges of Lincoln University or Cheyney State College, forget about college. I do not know of any student of my 1954 class at Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin High School who attended college. Though the quality of education at Benjamin Franklin is a mere shadow of its past, today roughly 17% of its graduating class has been admitted to college. The true hope for a youngster graduating from high school during the 1950s was a well-paying and steady job. My first well-paying job was as a taxi driver for Yellow Cab Company.

Younger black people today have no idea of and have not experienced the poverty and discrimination of earlier generations. Also, the problems today’s black people face have little or nothing to do with poverty and discrimination. Political hustlers like to blame poverty and racism while ignoring the fact that poverty and racism were much greater yesteryear but there was not nearly the same amount of chaos.

The out-of-wedlock birth rate among blacks in 1940 was about 11%; today, it is 75%. Black female-headed households were just 18% of households in 1950, as opposed to about 68% today. In fact, from 1890 to 1940, the black marriage rate was slightly higher than that of whites. Even during slavery, when marriage was forbidden, most black children lived in biological two-parent families. In New York City, in 1925, 85% of black households were two-parent households. A study of 1880 family structure in Philadelphia shows that three-quarters of black families were two-parent households.

There’s little protest against the horrible and dangerous conditions under which many poor and law-abiding black people must live. It is not uncommon for 50 black people to be shot over a weekend in Chicago — not by policemen but by other black people. About 7,300 black people are murdered each year, and not by white people or racist cops, but mostly by other black people. These numbers almost make our history of victimization by racist lynching look like child’s play.

The solutions to the many problems that black Americans face must come from within our black communities. They will not come from the political arena. Blacks hold high offices and dominate the politics in cities such as Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans. Yet, these are the very cities with the nation’s worst-performing schools, highest crime rates, high illegitimacy rates, weak family structure and other forms of social pathology.

I am not saying that blacks having political power is the cause of these problems. What I am saying is that the solution to most of the major problems that confront black people will not be found in the political arena or by electing more blacks to high office.

One important step is for black Americans to stop being “useful tools” for the leftist, hate-America agenda. Many black problems are exacerbated by guilt-ridden white people. Often, they accept behavior and standards from black people that they would not begin to accept from white people. In that sense, white liberal guilt is a form of disrespect in their relationships with black Americans. By the same token, black people should stop exploiting the guilt of whites. Let us all keep in mind that history is one of those immutable facts of life.

Unequivocal.

Rest in Peace, Dr. Williams.

Word Nerd Wednesday: Dipsomania

Disclaimer: While I am for the most part, a teetotaler with a few rare exceptions, I do not view drinking a glass of wine as a moral or Christian offense. Nevertheless, the wine mom trend has given me pause about the current state of American motherhood.

When I was recently reacquainted with this week’s word, I decided its pleasant linguistics, combined with the current motherhood zeitgeist, made it a worthy WNW installment.

Dipsomania: An uncontrollable craving for alcoholic liquors

Dipsomania among moms is now one big meme; laughed off as harmless fun or a lifesaving coping mechanism. Raising children in the context of a society with few to no community bonds and little social support means many mothers are stretched thin, a problem that we need to earnestly address. And it can’t be properly improved with Internet “communities”.

Instead, we’re told that a glass -or two, or three- of wine supposedly takes the edge off. From the Atlantic piece:

Moms who enjoy wine certainly existed before the internet, but it’s the internet that catapulted the wine mom to meme stardom. In the mid-2010s, the phrase was popularized as it became commonplace for moms to joke online about drinking wine to cope with the stresses of motherhood: Self-identifying wine moms began to poke fun at themselves in viral videos, blog posts, and memes. “The most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink,” goes a particularly ubiquitous meme. “Wine is to moms what duct tape is to dads. It fixes everything,” says another. “Motherhood—powered by love, fueled by coffee, sustained by wine.”

I’ve been thinking a bit about dipsomania as the increase in drinking among moms of all social, economic, and religious categories has increased.

What do you guys make of the wine mom trend?

Reel Talk: Created Equal; Clarence Thomas, In His Own Words

One of the most reticent justices on the United States Supreme Court is Justice Clarence Thomas. He’s also my favorite justice because more than any other on the court, he is a proven and consistent constitutional originalist.

I also like him because, unlike most of the sniveling anti-racist political agitators of our day, he actually lived through the worst aspects of racial segregation, poverty, and struggle. In spite of the disadvantages, he excelled. He did so on the strength of his grandfather’s stellar parenting, and his own intelligence and determination, coupled with hard work. Against all odds, he rose to the upper echelon of American political life.

Recently, a documentary outlining the story of his life and ascendancy to the Supreme Court was available to rent for .99 on Amazon Prime. I decided that one dollar was a small price to pay to hear Thomas tell his story. It was also interspersed with the highlights of his career along with the climax of his notorious 1991 Senate confirmation hearing. People often forget that Clarence Thomas, and not Brett Kavanaugh, was the first conservative justice whose nomination was blindsided by a #metoo accusation long before Twitter was conceived; back when hashtags were still known as pound signs.

This moving retrospective, in Thomas’ own words, was equal parts informative, poignant, and reflective. It’s worth a look. See the trailer below.

My review of Clarence Thomas’ memoir can be read here.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you are able spend it with your families and loved ones.

Friday Faves: Florida’s hidden gems

Freedom-loving Americans are looking at my home state of Florida in a different light these days. Following the actual science shows that the current levels of restriction, economic hardship and suppression of liberties may not be warranted by the current health crisis. As a result, states like Florida and Texas are being viewed as potential havens by people who want to resume living semi-normal lives.

People often view Florida as a place with a dull, flat landscape and oppressive heat that they are willing to endure for the freedom of being ale to live as they please. I don’t blame them for believing this. We’ve been relegated in the minds of most America to three things: Mickey Mouse, Daytona Beach, and Florida Man, none of which are particularly endearing characteristics. True, it is very hot here six months of the year, and the landscape is void of mountains. However, it’s also a balmy 78 throughout most of the winter.

A little known reality about the state of Florida is that our landscape is anything but dull. There is a reason why the Spaniards named this place “the land of flowers”, and it’s not because of an ugly, lifeless landscape. Of course, to experience it you have to exit the interstates and wander off the beaten path, something few tourists bother to do. I’d never bothered to do it, which is why I was approaching middle age before I realized the wealth of natural beauty surrounding me for my entire life.

One development of the initial lock down is that as our church stopped meetings, we began exploring creation and Florida’s natural beauty most every Sunday. Using sites such as Florida Hikes and others, we have walked hundreds of miles of some of the most beautiful hidden gems of terrain on the Florida peninsula.

We’ve gone to beaches that make Daytona Beach look like a dump by comparison. We’ve been reminded that vast swaths of Florida are still quite rural, that cattle country in alive and well down here (learn here that Florida, not Texas, has the oldest U.S. cattle ranching history), and that our spicy varieties of life reveal tourist traps for the plastic fakery they are. There are times when artificially generated fun is enjoyable, but the equating of my home state with artificially generated fun is to miss the reality that God’s fingerprints are here as much as they are anywhere else.

This week, I decided to share some things most people would never consider when asked what they know about Florida. Some of these are places we’ve explored in recent years, and others are on our list of places to visit some time in 2021. First up is cattle country.

We visited Lake Okeechobee area last year, and the scenic beauty of the ecosystem was breathtaking. It’s also one of the biggest cattle ranching areas in the state. The following two photos are from Trip Advisor, but they mirror very closely the things we saw while we were there.

Southwest Florida, besides being friendlier and even more freer than the mostly free rest of the state, is the home of one the thing I’ve enjoyed most as we’ve toured Florida off the beaten path. The Edison-Ford Estate, where Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone spent winters working 100 years ago is a wonderful place to explore. The gardens, the labs, and the old architecture is worth a visit. And the southwest beaches, trails and parks are nice also.

From my amateur photo collection
from my amateur photo collection
Statue of Edison. Cool or Creepy? I like it!
Lil’ Old me down at the base of a massive Kapok tree on the estate.

Up further north from the Southwest corner of the state are a few quaint towns along beautiful lakes and riverbeds.

Most of the beaches down here are what you expect from Florida. Pretty flat sand dunes, but I really enjoy them anyway. However, not all of our beaches are without individual character:

There is one more place our family is making plans to visit on the not too distant future: The Florida Caverns State Park. Yes. You read that right; Florida Caverns. They have a campground there as well, and we plan to make good use of it when we visit.

Photo credit
Photo credit

I could dig through my photos from the past year and post more, but I’ll not bore you. Wineries, hills, Bok Tower Gardens, and countless other state parks, landmarks and natural wonders. We’re a lot more down here than Mickey Mouse and a state where you are still free to go to the gym or out to eat.

But it helps if you know where to look.