Helen Andrews. I think maybe I linked to this post when it first came out, but I just reread it and resonate with it entirely. And I’m reminded of one of my favorite lines from Auden: “When one thinks of the attention that a great poem demands, there is something frivolous about the notion of spending every day with one. Masterpieces should be kept for High Holidays of the Spirit’.”
But after six months of sticking with only the most unimpeachable reason—I’m reading this because it makes me happy for reasons I wouldn’t be ashamed to admit—I have gained a new appreciation for some of the stupid reasons. Viral articles give you something to talk with strangers about. Blog posts give you an excuse to email your friends. The news cycle helps mark the passage of time, differentiating one week from the next and one’s own century from those gone by (not an unalloyed good by any means, but nevertheless indispensable to sanity).
These scraps of text may be, in themselves, entirely or nearly devoid of content, and if any Luddite wants to urge people to be more self-aware about that, I’m all for it. But positively luxuriating in content for six months has taught me that content isn’t everything.
Isaac Cordal, “Follow the leaders.” Berlin. 2011. AKA, politicians discussing climate change. Via Jason Goroncy on Twitter.
[T]he saint is first and foremost the one who renders constant thanks for having been loved…Erasmo Leiva
Rod Dreher, commenting on this article
At the end of the spring semester, [Tish Harrison Warren] says, 14 on-campus religious organizations were de-recognized by the university. Vanderbilt will tolerate Christians, but only tame ones…. Harrison, who is now an Anglican priest, says that half the problem is that Vanderbilt wants to discriminate radically against religious organizations, but wants to pretend it’s not doing so.
As I was reading this, I thought, “Who needs the university’s permission to meet as a Christian organization, and to do what Christians do?” Meet, do your thing, and be very public about it. Dare them to shut you down. If I were an undergraduate, I would be more attracted to an organization the campus authorities thought so dangerous that it ought to be shut down. Just what is it about orthodox Christianity that frightens Vanderbilt’s administrators so? Force the question.
Here’s the frustration: if you’ve been on Twitter a while, it’s changed out from under you. Christopher Alexander made a great diagram, a spectrum of privacy: street to sidewalk to porch to living room to bedroom. I think for many of us Twitter started as the porch—our space, our friends, with the occassional neighborhood passer-by. As the service grew and we gained follwers, we slid across the spectrum of privacy into the street.
Of course, the things you say on your porch are much different than what you’d say on the street. But if the porch turned into the street without you noticing, there’d be a few painful months before you realized you needed to change how you spoke. I remember the first few times I was talking to friends (forgetting the conversation could be viewed by those who followed both of us), only to have strangers piggy-back on our grousing. It felt like a violation. But that’s on me for participating in a kinda-private, kinda-public conversation.
For the better part of a year, I’ve been trying to make Twitter feel like talking on the porch again, but it just can’t happen. Twitter isn’t talking for anyone with more than 500 followers—it’s publishing or advertising. We’re all on the street, and it’s noisy.
Rebecca Mead, “The Pleasure of Reading to Impress Yourself”
We have become accustomed to hearing commercial novelists express frustration with the ways in which their books are taken less seriously than ones that are deemed literary: book reviewers don’t pay them enough attention, while publishers give their works safe, predictable cover treatments. In this debate, academic arguments that have been conducted for more than a generation, about the validity or otherwise of a literary canon, meet the marketplace. The debate has its merits, but less discussed has been the converse consequence of the popular-literary distinction: that literary works, especially those not written last year, are placed at the opposite pole to fun.
My list reminds me of a time when I was more or less in ignorance of this proposition. It may not include any examples of what I later learned to call commercial fiction: I did not, for example, read “Hollywood Wives,” by Jackie Collins, which had been published the same year that I started the list, and I am not sure I had even heard of it. But I can’t imagine that it could have given me more delight than did the romantic travails that ironically unfold in “Emma,” or that its satisfactions could possibly have been greater than those offered by the lyricism and very adult drama of “Tender is the Night.” The fallacy that the pleasures offered by reading must necessarily be pleasures to which a self-defeating sense of shame is attached offers a very impoverished definition of gratification, whatever book we choose to pull from the shelf.
That’s the conclusion of a very rich post on marriage by Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig.
But if you allow tragedy to guide you to look beyond the meeting of needs, beyond the temporary scarcities and lacks of life on earth, you see that the irresolution of tragedy imagines a looming surprise.
For the Christian frame, this surprise is salvation, an infinite life in which all needs are perfectly harmonized. Does it mean the tragedies of life are less tragic, less painful? Not at all. But it contextualizes them in such a way as to demonstrate that they shouldn’t be made primary in our ethics. They are not eternal like hope is, but rather incidental. Life has a gap in it: it just does. You can’t resolve it because it’s just the nature of life on earth, but the fact that we must qualify ‘life’ with ‘on earth’ in the context of tragedy means that there is life beyond this one, and it’s toward that end that we orient our ethics. This alone allows us to register our unhappiness and dissatisfaction while still sojourning on.
Who Will Stand Up for the Christians? - NYTimes.com (via ayjay)
The Middle East and parts of central Africa are losing entire Christian communities that have lived in peace for centuries. The terrorist group Boko Haram has kidnapped and killed hundreds of Christians this year — ravaging the predominantly Christian town of Gwoza, in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, two weeks ago. Half a million Christian Arabs have been driven out of Syria during the three-plus years of civil war there. Christians have been persecuted and killed in countries from Lebanon to Sudan.
Historians may look back at this period and wonder if people had lost their bearings. Few reporters have traveled to Iraq to bear witness to the Nazi-like wave of terror that is rolling across that country. The United Nations has been mostly mum. World leaders seem to be consumed with other matters in this strange summer of 2014. There are no flotillas traveling to Syria or Iraq. And the beautiful celebrities and aging rock stars — why doesn’t the slaughter of Christians seem to activate their social antennas?
Andrew Klavan, “Report the truth — the whole truth — on Robin Williams’ death”
It is not a journalist’s job to protect us from the ugly facts. Neither is it his job to protect the sensitive from the painful truth or anyone, really, from anything.
In fact, speaking more broadly, it is not a journalist’s job to make the world a better place, to ensure our right thinking, or to defend the virtuous politicians that sophisticates like himself voted for while excoriating the evildoers elected by those country rubes on the other side. It is not his job to do good or be kind or be wise. The idea that any of this is a journalist’s job is a fallacy that seems to have infected the trade in the 1970s, when idealistic highbrows began to replace the Janes and Joes who knew a good story when they heard one.
Because that’s the journalist’s job: the story. His only job: to tell the whole story straight.
In the greater scheme of things, Williams’ suicide is a small story, but it is part of a bigger story: the story of our country and our world. That story unfolds only slowly, and no one knows what wisdom it will ultimately reveal. The best we can do is tell each chapter whole and true, without piety or fear or favor.
This is my commonplace book and sometime-journal.
I blog at SpiritualFriendship.org.
My book is here: Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.
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