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This is (Almost) 40

This is (Almost) 40

Until recently, if you had asked me the question: “If you had to re-live one time in your life, what would it be?” my answer would have been almost always: “My junior year of college.” With apologies to my husband and kids, who are lovely and the best things that ever happened to me, I really felt like I was hitting my stride that third year at a big university, and I will admit to missing the metabolism and sleep schedule of my 19-year-old self.

Now, though, I have a new answer to the question of whether I’d like to relive…

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The Immensely Disconcerting Truth About Our Adversaries

I honestly cannot say enough good things about Alan Jacobs’ How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. And that’s not just cause he’s speaking for us in NYC this year (though that doesn’t hurt). He’s put together something that’s both simple and hopeful, gently prescriptive in a way that’s more matter-of-fact than guilt-inducing, grounded in humility and refreshingly non-rationalistic (despite what the title may imply). Indeed, this short book–really a guide to uncovering the ideological blindspots and biases that’ve allowed us to turn our neighbor into an “other”–oozes compassion for our fractured culture and selves. It has helped me immensely, and continues to do so. If I had to pick a favorite chapter, it would probably be the one on “Repulsions,” from which the following paragraphs are taken. Quick note is that Jacobs is riffing here on Roger Scruton’s understanding of “unscrupulous optimism” AKA the core belief, either stated or un-, that “the difficulties and disorders of humankind can be overcome by some large-scale adjustment”:

When you believe that the brokenness of this world can be not just ameliorated but fixed, once and for all, then people who don’t share your optimism, or who do share it but invest it in a different system, are adversaries of Utopia. (An “adversary” is literally one who has turned against you, one who blocks your path.) Whole classes of people can by this logic become expendable–indeed, it can become the optimist’s perceived duty to eliminate adversaries. As a nineteenth-century pope notoriously commented, “Error has not rights.” Caught up by the momentum of his or her cause, the Optimist can easily forget the vital addendum to the papal statement made by Orestes Brownson: “Error has no rights, but the man who errs has equal rights with him who errs not.”

Over the years, I’ve had to acknowledge that some of the people whose views on education appall me are more devoted to their students than I am to mine; and that some of the people whose theological positions strike me as immensely damaging to the health of the church are nevertheless more prayerful and charitable, more Christlike, than I will ever be. This is immensely disconcerting, even when it doesn’t mean that those people are right about those matters we disagree on. Being around those people forces me to confront certain truths about myself that I would rather avoid; and that alone is reason to seek every means possible to constrain the energies of animus.

Memories from the Future: A Word on Abandoned Houses, Nostalgia, and the Hope of the World

Memories from the Future: A Word on Abandoned Houses, Nostalgia, and the Hope of the World

Grateful for this incredible piece by Nate Mills:

When I was 3 or 4 I had an apocalyptic vision. It may not have been as otherworldly as the Ancient of Days appearing in resplendent glory like in Daniel 7, but it was unmistakably surreal. My family was taking a road trip from our home in rural Canada across the 49th parallel when, as we crossed the Ambassador Bridge into Detroit, it appeared: Michigan Central Station, blazing in decrepit glory before my eyes. I was entranced.

Abandoned since 1989, the stunning 18-story neoclassical building appeared as a monolith presiding ominously over the Detroit…

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Individualism, Community, and Kafka

Individualism, Community, and Kafka

This post, first published on our site in 2008, remains a timely critique that cuts straight to the heart! Written by David Browder:

If one is to enter any sort of seminary situation or spend time in any form of Christian subculture, that person will encounter two things. They are two sides of the same coin. One is “community” and the other is Western individualism. The first (one is told) is good, and the second is bad. I have been doing some thinking on both and would like to publicly “air” out what I have come up with. Perhaps the reader…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Numbers Chapter Thirteen Verse Thirty Through Chapter Fourteen Verse Four

Hopelessly Devoted: Numbers Chapter Thirteen Verse Thirty Through Chapter Fourteen Verse Four

I don’t know about you, but Numbers has rarely been my “go-to” for a good word in the morning… But this passage, from The Mockingbird Devotional, seems fitting for a sleepy Monday. With their eyes on the land of Canaan, the Israelites begin doubting (yet again!) God’s providence. Commentary by Javier Garcia:

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among…

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Improve Thyself! On the Fantasy Person You're Failing to Become

Improve Thyself! On the Fantasy Person You’re Failing to Become

If you go to an American bookshop, by far the biggest section is self-help and improvement. The idea that life is refine-able and that you can learn a technique for anything, whether it’s love-making, being a businessman, marriage, cooking, losing weight, whatever it is. There’s a Tony Robbins way of doing it, there’s a things-they-didn’t-teach-you-at-Harvard way of doing it. There’s an unbelievable sense that life is improvable.

These are the words of Stephen Fry, on his way to explaining the difference between British and American comedy (clue: Adam & Eve). While I’m not sure I buy his ultimate point, there’s no…

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But Now Let's Have a Surprise

But Now Let’s Have a Surprise

I love church mishaps. Once, at a Baptist service, I spilled my little cup of communion Welch’s on a neighbor’s new white pants. He was so kind about it but also probably mad, and I was so embarrassed. There was a soft piano playing in the background while the preacher, up front, invited the congregation to commune with the Lord and, when we were ready, to go ahead and drink. I tried mopping up the spill with my sleeve, until parishioners from all sides descended upon me and told me to stop: “It’s okay,” they said, “it’s okay.” It didn’t…

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When the Diagnosis Is the Treatment

We’re slowly but surely rolling out the list of confirmed speakers for this year’s NYC Conference (4/26-28) and somewhere very close to the top of the pile sits Alan Jacobs, a writer, teacher, and thinker who has been an invaluable influence on–and help to–our work these past couple years. Alan’s How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds dropped this past Fall, i.e. not a moment too soon, and the book is as short as it is essential. (NY Times readers may remember it inspiring a particularly strong Brooks column back in October.) Here’s a small taste of the intro:

Everyone today seems to have an RCO [Repugnant Cultural Other], and everyone’s RCO is on social media somewhere. We may be able to avoid listening to our RCO, but we can’t avoid the realization that he or she is there, shouting from two rooms away.

This is a profoundly unhealthy situation. It’s unhealthy because it prevents us from recognizing others as our neighbors–even when they are quite literally our neighbors. If I’m consumed by this belief that that person over there is both Other and Repugnant, I may never discover that my favorite television program is also his favorite television program; that we like some of the same books, though not precisely for the same reasons; that we both know what it’s like to nurse a loved one through a long illness. All of which is to say that I may all too easily forget that political and social and religious differences are not the whole of human experience. The cold divisive logic of the RCO impoverishes us, all of us, and brings us closer to that primitive state that the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes called “the war of every man against every man.”…

Once, years ago, I started having chest pains, and my doctors couldn’t isolate the problem: I exercised regularly, my heart seemed healthy, nothing was evidently wrong. But the pains kept coming back, and that scared me. Finally, one doctor asked some probing questions and discovered that I had had, before the pains began, a lingering heavy cough. It seemed that coughing had strained a muscle in my chest, and that was the source of the pain; and when I started worrying about it, the resulting anxiety tensed the muscle and increased the pain–which then led to more anxiety. It was the classic vicious circle of reinforcement. When I asked the doctor what treatment he thought best, he replied, “The diagnosis is the treatment. Now that you know you don’t have a life-threatening illness, you won’t worry so much, and less stress in your mind will mean less stress on your chest muscles. That’ll give them a chance to heal.”

p.s. Click here to pre-register for the NYC Conference (4/26-28)!

A New Year & A Better Immanuel...

A New Year & A Better Immanuel…

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

-Matthew 1:23

Immanuel, God with us, epitomizes the Christmas season and carries certain implications which we could summarize in the following respects: Firstly, God has come near us not to condemn, but rather to be condemned for our sins. We understand this as a fitting contrast to Genesis 3:8 (and they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden…and they hid). As well, we can see in this a foreshadowing of the blessed future state John…

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What Steve Jobs Taught Me About Life and Death

What Steve Jobs Taught Me About Life and Death

Grateful for this one by Nicholas Davis.

I made the decision to purchase an iPhone years ago because I already owned a MacBook and an iPad (why not have the whole system, right?). Steve Jobs invention has taught me much about life and death.

As a whole, I’ve been pleased with how little effort it takes on my part to accomplish virtually anything I want (short of making me my morning cup of coffee…there’s no app for that). From searching to syncing, to going “paperless” by scanning print documents, handling finances from my phone, reading the Greek New Testament with a tap…

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If Only In My Dreams

If Only In My Dreams

I love Christmas music. I say that fully aware of the considerable aesthetic shortcomings that this love means I must endure, and yet every year as dusk falls upon Thanksgiving Day, I tune in like a character in a Lou Reed song waiting for their man. I find it easy to overlook the saccharine sweetness that under most other circumstances would be a disincentive, to say the absolute least: at no other point in time would I ever even consider sitting through an entire Barry Manilow song. But if it’s “Jingle Bells” with Expose then you bet your duff I’m…

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Is There Life After Law? A Few Reflections on Pauline Ethics

Is There Life After Law? A Few Reflections on Pauline Ethics

Another wonderful piece by Charis Hamiltonius, continuing from last week’s entry on Luther and Paul.

“Shall we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” This rhetorical question, dropped in the middle of Paul’s lengthy argument in Romans against a Law-oriented life, is not without merit. If grace is freely given to the ungodly, if the moral ordering of the universe is upside-down, and if our works have no bearing on our righteousness before God, then a reader of Paul’s letter would understandably wonder whether Paul cares about morality at all. To this question, Paul emphatically says, “HELL…

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