In Other’s Words: Truth and Tone are often strange bedfellows.

When people are overly concerned with tone or are sensitive to the tone police, fewer people will be willing to speak hard truth. Joshua Gibbs examines the surge in accusations of “tone deafness”. You should really read the entire piece, Tone Deaf: Our Favorite New Pretentious Complaint. An  excerpt:

Modern men care very deeply about tone. Such concern goes hand-in-hand with our endless thirst for flattery.

In a prior age, “tone” was a minor concern of rhetoric teachers, but that’s it. No one grumbles about “tone” in the works of Homer or Virgil. No one carps about “tone” in the Divine Comedy. The writers of the Old Testament are curiously silent about tone— imagine Moses writing, “said God sullenly.”  Or, imagine Luther hearing out Eck’s arguments at Worms and opening his rebuttal with, “Well, I’m sure Mr. Eck made some fine points, but honestly, I couldn’t discern them due to the unfortunate shrillness of his tone,” at which point the Keystone Cops would show up in court, led by the fearless but foppish Capt. Winsome. Really, tone became an obsession when dilletantes took over, which is exactly why internet arguments cannot take two steps forward without someone clutching his pearls and making a scene about his opponent’s tone. If you would speak to the master while he sits on his social media throne, you must bow thrice before opening your mouth.

I am not suggesting that everyone who has ever been accused of tone deafness is innocent altogether, but I would say that tone deafness is a peevish, self-important thing with which to charge anyone. What we call “tone deaf” might be arrogance, hubris, or vanity— but if that’s what the tone deaf man is really guilty of, then we ought to have the guts to define his vice in more precise terms. Really, “tone deaf” just means “not zeitgeisty enough.” It means “not on the right side of history”— if we take “history” to mean nothing more than “how we have felt for the last 48 hours.” As sojourners on this earth and citizens of another World, Christianity is always going to be tone deaf.

What he said.

 

 

Ship of Fools

ship of fools

Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution, by Tucker Carlson. Hardcover edition published in 2018, 256 pages.

There’s this feeling I get when someone writes what I am thinking. When they are able to say it and somehow hit all the nuances that I wish I could fill in, but am not quite sure how, and when they seem to just *get it*, even if imperfectly, such a writer is a kindred spirit. That describes Tucker Carlson’s Ship of Fools.

In a political climate that is so contentious and within which everyone seems to be stuck in a foolishly binary perspective, I find political conversations very frustrating. When I converse with sincere, well-meaning people who, in their zeal to help the poor, view the left as the least-best option, I cringe. I don’t cringe for the reasons you might assume. No, I cringe because I know that when you scratch the surface of things and watch what politicians do rather than what they say, you quickly realize that the left’s talking points are a mere window covering for a party as beholden to big business as the rabid, pro-corporate, so-called capitalists on the right.

In other words, there is no savior in Washington, D.C.  They are almost all -regardless of the party affiliation- looking out for their own interests. This is the case Tucker Carlson lays out beautifully in Ship of Fools. I should add here that he isn’t asserting, and neither am I, that there are no good people with good intentions in politics. However, among those who wield the most power, they are very few and far between, and even those soon get swallowed up in the zeitgeist, unable to affect the change they had hoped.

Before I offer a couple of quotes, a brief outline of what I liked and didn’t like about the book. I’m a big fan of the bad news first approach to these things, so I’ll start with the problematic aspects of the book, in my own opinion:

  • The tone often reminded me of Carlson’s televised monologues; so much so that I am convinced that several parts I vividly recall hearing from him before. Given that I don’t watch his show (or any news networks outside of youtube snippets) that’s problematic.
  • There wasn’t enough tilling of new ground. There was very little here that I wasn’t already aware of. To be fair, I’m more informed than your average American, but I would suspect that is the case with a fair number of Carlson’s readers.
  • No source notes. When you put forth as many claims on the work and positions of as many people as Carlson does here, you need to have tens of pages of footnotes and sources to back it up. Again, because of my familiarity with much of what is written here, I am comfortable with the veracity of his claims, but a book such as this one needs to provide sources for the sake of its own integrity.

What I liked about this book:

  • This isn’t a “progressives bad”, “conservatives good” type of book. Carlson rightly acknowledges that there is more than enough blame on both sides of the imaginary aisle for the current political and economic predicament this country finds herself in.
  • The dissecting of the sacred pillars of the political classes, both left and right.
  • The populism angle speaks to me. As much as I abhor the notion of socialism as a political and economic order, I’m not overly enamored with the fake crony capitalism of the right or the market-as-king, pie-in-the-sky notions of libertarians either. I do believe that there is a third way, but because it doesn’t serve the interests of our present oligarchy it is often dismissed.
  • Carlson’s witty, biting humor and gifted storytelling keep his book moving forward.

Enough about what I think. Here are a few salient quotes from Ship of Fools. On the unholy alliance between the left, who supposedly care about the downtrodden, and big businesses like Apple and Amazon, who routinely and grossly mistreat their poor, foreign workers (love those iPhones though!):

All pretty grim. Yet when was the last time you heard a politician decry Apple’s treatment of workers, let alone introduce legislation intended to address it? When was the last time a group of socially conscious hipsters from Brooklyn protested outside the home of Apple CEO Tim Cook?

Never, of course. That’s because Apple, like virtually other big employer in American life, has purchased indulgences from the church of cultural liberalism. Apple has a gay CEO with fashionable social views. The company issues statements about green energy and has generous domestic partner benefits. Apple publicly protested the Trump administration’s immigration policies. The company is progressive in ways that matter in Brooklyn. That’s enough to stop any conversation about working conditions in Foxconn factories.

On the foolishness of foreign wars began by Republican presidents and then perpetuated and often expanded by their liberal successors:

The first is that war is destructive. It kills people. War flattens cities, hobble economies, topple civilizations, and upend ancient ways of doing things; often forever. In war, children always die.

None of this is hidden knowledge- nobody would deny that war destroys- but it’s easy to forget it anyway. Look up any speech by a political leader rushing his country into conflict and you’ll notice how nonspecific the descriptions are. It’s always a battle for something abstract, like freedom of sovereignty. If politicians acknowledge that soldiers will be killed at all, it’s only to extol their bravery and highlight the sheer glory of the endeavor. In speeches, war is never a bloody slog where eighteen-year-old boys get castrated by landmines, blasted apart by grenades, or pointlessly massacred in friendly-fire accidents, though that’s exactly what it is. p.91

Tackling everything from the foolishness of modern feminism and identity politics with several detours highlighting the utter silliness of editorial and political personalities such as the hawkish Bill Kristol and the utterly banal Ta-Nehisi Coates, Carlson does a good job cutting through the bull. He invites the reader to look at the evidence rather than get swept up in talking points and media propaganda. One need only scratch the surface to see that there are no heroes to be found in our current political system.

The irony here is that like him or loathe him, the only genuine political actor in the current paradigm, the only person who is generally a “what you see is what you get” operator, is Donald Trump.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

 

Friday Faves: Just a Short Update

How are you guys doing out there? You staying sane in the midst of our collective national push to practice social distancing? I thought I’d take a minute to talk about what life is looking like for us during this season.

Where we live, large swaths of the state are under some kind of stay at home order. Some are more strict than others, but most everyone has guidelines to adhere to. Because of that, we’re -obviously- spending a lot more time at home. We still get out for walks, jogs and the occasional bike rides, and we buy groceries like milk and eggs as needed (we’re pretty well stocked on the non-perishables). Other than that, we’re not getting out much, although a few of us are in jobs considered “essential” for various reasons. So there are family members heading out and returning home each day. We’ve maintained our health and our sanity, for which we are quite grateful. So what are we doing with all this extra time? By way of home projects (since thankfully home improvement and gardening places are still open):

  • Building new garden beds, and doing other backyard projects.
  • Cleaning out the garage (on the to-do list for the next week)
  • Clearing out the file cabinet (a hellish job if ever there was one!)
  • Reorganizing cabinets and bureaus.

On the literary and education front:

  • We’re already technically homeschoolers, despite the fact that most of our kids’ academic courses are supported by outside class time. So our kids have been doing several classes online using Zoom meeting platforms as I continue my usual role as supporter and facilitator.
  • I’m reading a lot when we’re not working on home stuff. Currently reading A.W. Tozer, a writer who requires a fair amount of prayerful concentration. I’ve spent the last 36 hours -when I can manage a private moment- trying to discern what it is I really believe about God; deep down in my soul, and not just from all the Bible verses I’ve memorized.
  • Cooking and baking, of the paleo variety. Except I need to remember that cookies made with almond flour and sweetened with coconut sugar aren’t magically calorie-free!  The flour was wiped out at my local grocer (I wasn’t looking for it I just noticed), and I’ve since learned that women are getting into baking bread and stuff since they’re stuck at home. That, in my opinion, is very cool.
  • Working on my side hustle. You might remember that I acquired a certification last year from my Local U. I figured since I’ve been forced off my normal suburban mom rate race treadmill, I may as well put the time into drumming up some coin out of it. Requires a fair amount of -again- ability to concentrate, so I’m not making much headway there.
  • Sewing. My daughter and  I are gearing up to make skirts. I’m not the greatest seamstress, but I really want to fit this into the time that is available to us right now.
  • And lastly, writing. That’s all I say about that because it is very slow going right now.

This list is composed partially of works in progress and partly ambitions of things I hope to do over the next two weeks.

The theme of this season for me, right now, is learning to be content, and preparing for the possibility of a very different world when this is done. The possibility that our lives will change materially, culturally, and politically is a possibility we would all do well to prepare for. so that’s what I am doing in addition to striving to be productive during this time, since productivity, along with prayer, also staves off panic and worry. Panic and worry help no one.

So…what’s life looking like for you guys?

Word Nerd Wednesday: Ersatz

We are living in interesting, if not especially novel, times my friends! I suspect more people are reading books than have been in a very long time. I have several going at once, and as many book reviews in draft, so stay tuned.

Ove the past week or so, I’ve been hearing or reading a particular word used more often than I am used to hearing it. Both in podcasts and columns, the word ersatz has been coming up, almost as if it’s trending. I don’t know it’s a trendy word right now, but I like it. Ergo, our word of the week is ersatz.

Ersatz: 1. Being a usually inferior imitation or substitute; artificial: ersatz coffee made of chicory. 2. Not genuine; fake.

I’ll use the word in a sentence:

We live in a culture awash in ersatz experts, activists, and spiritual gurus.

Besides the fact that I enjoy the sound and spelling of ersatz, something about the increased usage of the word instead of simply “fake” or “phony” or even “faux” highlights the current zeitgeist or spirit of the age. Zeitgeist is another word I really like.
What the heck. Let’s make it a twofer!

Zeitgeist: The spirit of the time; the taste and outlook characteristic of a period or generation.

Let’s use it in a sentence!

The cult of celebrity and social media influence is deeply embedded in the current zeitgeist.

I’m not sure if that’s a great sentence, but it’s all I can come up with at the moment.

Those are the words of the week. So tell me, what do you think of these two words? Do you use them? Do you hear them often?

The Practice of the Presence of God

presence of god book

The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawerence, Kindle edition. The text was originally written and compiled in 1692.

Timing is everything, at least that’s what the ubiquitous “they” supposedly say. In this case, I’d have to agree. The time was right for me to read The Practice of the Presence of God. I know that the time was right because, at almost any other time, I would have found it too mystic for my general sensibilities. However, these times are uncertain, and for the duration of this season and its fallout, I have a strong impression that Brother Lawrence’s admonition to purposefully focus on God will be the key to enduring whatever comes next.

Before I offer my overall impressions and brief excerpts, a little background may be in order for readers who are unfamiliar with this book, or with Brother Lawerence. From a brief biographical piece by Christianity Today:

[Brother Lawerence] was assigned to the monastery kitchen where, amidst the tedious chores of cooking and cleaning at the constant bidding of his superiors, he developed his rule of spirituality and work. In his Maxims, Lawrence writes, “Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?”

For Brother Lawrence, “common business,” no matter how mundane or routine, was the medium of God’s love. The issue was not the sacredness or worldly status of the task but the motivation behind it. “Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”

Brother Lawerence’s peace and communion with God became so well regarded that many people sought him out for spiritual guidance.

When I first started reading the book, my stoic, sola Scriptura mind was not entirely receptive. I’m not a Calvinist, but I see some of the merits in Reformed Theology, and one of them is the wholesale condemnation of relying too much on our feelings at the expense of the written word of God. I actually put this book aside for a bit to ruminate before picking it back up. It’s a short book, however, so once I went back to it in the wake of current events, it spoke to me in a fresh way. I realized that what Brother Lawerence referred to was not a contradiction of the Scripture, but was in effect a result of hiding the logos in my heart.

After getting past my initial reservations about the mysticism, and reconciling the veracity of Brother Lawerence’s recorded experiences and admonitions with the truth of Scripture, I was challenged with contemplating whether what Lawerence described is even realistic for a busy wife and mother with a busy life and days filled with lots people, places, and things to do:

Thus, I resolved to give my all for God’s all. After having given myself wholly to God that he might take away my sin, I renounced, for the love of God, everything that was not God, and I began to live as if there was none but God and I in the world.

I don’t live in a monastic order like Brother Lawerence did. St. Paul himself acknowledged that the married believer is naturally distracted by the things of the world in a way that an unmarried believer is not.

Nevertheless, I have come around to the conclusion that Brother Lawerence’s single-hearted devotion to remembering and focusing on the fact that God is always with us, and that Christ, the hope of glory, is indeed in us, is a truth within the grasp of each and everyone who is a believer. Is it a challenge? He admits as much:

I found a great deal of pain in this exercise, and yet I continued it even in the midst of all the difficulties that occurred, trying not to trouble myself or get angry when my mind had wandered involuntarily. I made this my business throughout the entire day in addition to my appointed times of prayer.

At all times, every hour, every minute, even at my busiest times, I drove away from my mind everything that was capable of interrupting my thought of God.

This has been my practice since the first days I entered into religion. Though I have done it imperfectly, I have found great advantages in this practice. I am aware, however, that all of these advantages are to be attributed to the mercy and goodness of God, because we can do nothing without him—especially me!

What is good is almost never easy to acquire, and while few of us postmoderns may ever reach the heights of spiritual fulfillment Lawerence described, we can, by God’s grace, achieve more than we have to date.

As far as the writing goes, the structure of the book lends itself to a bit of repetitiveness. Because these are mostly letters written by Brother Lawerence to various fellow Christian travelers to whom he is offering spiritual encouragement, this is to be expected. Lawerence had found the key to living at peace in a tumultuous world and rather than coming up with new or novel things to say to his friends, he continued to share with them what worked. Repetitiveness is often a very good thing, especially when are trying to internalize things that are particularly hard to internalize.

The biggest thing for me to embrace (and again, I don’t know if I ever fully will), is that despite my deeply flawed nature, I can have faith in God’s presence if I draw near to him rather than hide as Adam and Eve did:

I imagine myself as the most wretched of all, full of sores and sins, and one who has committed all sorts of crimes against his king. Felling a deep sorrow, I confess to him all of my sins, I ask his forgiveness, and I abandon myself into his hands so that he may do with me what he pleases.

This king, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chastening me, embraces me with love, invites me to feast at his table, serves me with his own hands, and gives me the key to his treasures. He converses with me, and takes delight in me, and treats me as if I were his favorite. This is how I imagine myself from time to time in his holy presence.

Timing is everything, and this was the right time for me to read this book. At no time is the reality of God’s presence more important than when we are facing the unknown and the reality that we are not as in control of our life’s trajectory as we imagined.

4 out of 5 stars.

Lots of Extra Time to Read These Days…

The latest call to self-isolate means a lot of people are currently finding themselves with a lot of extra time their hands. Yesterday, our daughter reported that her coworker complained that, given the need to avoid the usual away from home distractions, it’s unfortunate that he can’t find anything worth watching on Netflix. He was promptly reprimanded that he could always read a book, and I totally agree! Of course, the wonderfully insightful Joshua Gibbs offers some movie suggestions for those so inclined:

Fourth, a few recommendations… If you’re going to allow your children to watch just one movie a day over the coronavirus break, I would suggest imposing a rule on your selections— as in, resolve to not watch anything less than fifty years old. Whatever you do, don’t have a Lord of the Rings marathon, a Star Wars marathon, or what have you. It isn’t not gluttony just because you’ve attached the word “marathon” or “contest” to whatever you’re doing.

While the word “classic” means something much less when referring to a film than to a book, older films demand more patience, more intellection, and repay third and fourth viewings. Here are several older films which any student attending a classical school ought to see.

1. Vertigo: In the last ten years, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo has replaced Citizen Kane as the film which most regularly tops critic’s lists of the greatest films ever made. Like Psycho and The Birds, Vertigo is a retelling of the Tristan and Iseult myth, though it easily the most sophisticated of the three.

2. The Night of the Hunter: A good film to show anyone who thinks old films are boring. The Night of the Hunter is a humid, terrifying film about two children on the run from an ersatz preacher who murdered their mother. It is one of just two films written by legendary film critic James Agee (his other screenplay is The African Queen). Made in 1955, but not recommended for anyone younger than high school.

3. Paths of Glory: One of Stanley Kubrick’s early films, Paths of Glory is a vexing, aggravating movie set in World War I about a French general (played by Kirk Douglas) whose men are unfairly condemned for refusing to take part in a suicidal charge. Part war film, part courtroom drama, fans of René Girard will adore this scapegoat story.

4. Casablanca: The Bogart-Bergman classic needs no introduction, but have your sons and daughters watch this one, then have them read Umberto Eco’s “Casablanca, or, the Clichés Are Having a Ball,” which is one of the most delightful film essays ever written.

5. Black Narcissus: Powell and Pressburger’s gorgeously shot psycho drama about a bunch of nuns high on the Himalayan mountains who are trying to 1) run a school and 2) not fall in love with a shirtless David Farrar who play the lusty but cynical handyman who knows their school won’t last.

Three of these five recommendations are movies I am wholly unfamiliar with, so I appreciated the list.

The fortuitous thing about living where we live is that self-isolating in early March need not mean being stuck indoors. Fresh and sunshine are superb health tonics and we are experiencing that in spades right now, along with moderate temperatures and lower humidity than we’ll enjoy a few weeks hence. I’m encouraging my kids and other people I know that taking long walks during this season can only serve your health, not endanger it.

Of course, I recognize that many Americans are not living where it’s sunny, breezy, and 80 degrees in Mid-March, and so won’t be sitting on their patio reading books, as I am about to do after I throw in the next load of laundry. My kids are currently meeting online with one of their teachers since classical co-op class meetings are on temporary hiatus. Here are a few books I am adding to my current queue over the next couple of weeks:

I was considering adding Bowling Alone, but there will be a new updated version of that book available this summer, so I’m going to wait. The new addition will consider the role the Internet has played in the increased disintegration of community and social capital in the 20 years since the original book was published.

My question for readers is two-fold:

First: how are you handling the requests for increased isolation and social distancing? Are you changing your lifestyle and habits during this time?

Secondly: If you are changing your routine a bit, are you increasing the time you devote to reading? And if so, what will you be reading? I’m endlessly curious about what other people are reading!

Book Review: Bowling Alone

This is Hearthie’s review of the book Bowling Alone.

I haven’t read this book, but I am planning to read it very soon. The loss of community bonds and social capital is a topic that interests me greatly.

When I read this book later in the spring, I’ll add my thoughts.

Hands, Heart, Hearth

bowling_alone

20 years late to the party is better than never….

It’s the habit of most of my readers and friends online to discuss the whys and wherefores of community involvement, religious involvement, and “how did we get into the mess we’re in”.   This book looks at the correlative and causative factors in the demise of community involvement (from politics to religion to the Lion’s club) and gives some theories about what we might do about it, now that we’re here.

A short quote to sum things up:

“To predict whether I am likely to give time, money, blood, or even a minor favor, you need to know, above all, how active I am in community life and how strong my ties to family, friends, and neighbors are.”  (p. 120-121)

In other words, being a member of the Bumble Bee Association makes you more likely to vote or pick up trash…

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