The Sampler (June 2020)

American culture rages like a sounding cataract, but the Sampler goes ever on.

Articles

Matthew Crawford, contrarian in residence, wrote “The Danger of Safetyism before the recent surge of protests around the country. One quote:

At the level of sentiment, there appears to be a feedback loop wherein the safer we become, the more intolerable any remaining risk appears. At the level of bureaucratic grasping, we can note that emergency powers are seldom relinquished once the emergency has passed. Together, these dynamics make up a kind of ratchet mechanism that moves in only one direction, tightening against the human spirit.

Crawford usually sounds like someone who chafes at being told what to do. I suppose that makes us kindred spirits. But I think he’s onto something. I was going to share an excerpt from his newest book on driving (and why self-driving cars may not be the greatest), but this is the Sampler, so we’re sampling, not feasting.

Cal Newport wrote recently on the Lost Satisfactions of Manuel Competence. People are discovering that making things and fixing your own stuff can make you quiet and easy.

To Watch

Alright, so here’s a sermon. It’s over twenty years old, and I’m aware that nothing good ever came out of the 90’s. Jim Cymbala has been the senior pastor at the Brooklyn Tabernacle since 1971. Several things on prayer clicked into place for me after listening to this. If your heart needs crackin’, I heartily recommend it.

Books!

I have some posts on a few new books in the queue, so I’ll just mention a short one, Ploductivity by Douglas Wilson. I’ve read seven or eight books on time management and productivity and this was the first that appears to have been written by a human. David Allen’s Getting Things Done is undoubtedly the best, but I’m confident that Allen is actually a robot. Wilson brings a much needed sense of humor to the subject.

It’s also great that Wilson is approaching his work as a Christian. The theology of Work and Theology of Wealth sections are worth the price of admission. Here’s a snippet:

So if technology is wealth, then we are all surrounded with astounding amounts of it. This is what I refer to as tangible grace. If you have a smartphone, you have more wealth in your pocket than Nebuchadnezzar accumulated over the course of his lifetime. We have a responsibility to turn a profit on these astounding resources—and that is what is meant by productivity. We have a responsibility to do this methodically, deliberately, and intentionally. This is what I mean by ploductivity. This is deliberate faithfulness: working in the same direction over an extended period of time. Our electronic servants may be super fast, but we should be as deliberate as ever.

Ploductivity: A Practical Theology of Work and Wealth, Location 129, Kindle Edition

Oh, and look who we picked up this weekend…

Meet Picket!

Bonhoeffer on Prayer and Work

dietrich-bonhoeffer3And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. Col. 3:17

The whole day now acquires an order and a discipline gained by winning this unity of the day. This order and discipline must be sought and found in the morning prayer. It will stand the test at work. Prayer offered in early morning is decisive for the day. The wasted time we are ashamed of, the temptations we succumb to, the weakness and discouragement in our work, the disorder and lack of discipline in our thinking and in our dealings with other people- all these very frequently have their cause in our neglect of morning prayer. The ordering and scheduling of our time will become more secure when it comes from prayer. The temptations of the working day will be overcome by this breakthrough to God. The decisions that are demanded by our work will become simpler and easier when they are made not in fear of other people, but solely before the face of God. “Whatever you do, do it from your hearts, as done for the Lord and not done for human beings” (Col. 3:23). Even routine mechanical work will be performed more patiently when it comes from the knowledge of God and God’s command. Our strength and energy for work increase when we have asked God to give us the strength we need for our daily work.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together, emphasis mine.

 

 

On Cash and College

What is the purpose of a college education in 2016? I recently came across an interesting piece in USA Today by James K.A. Smith, a Christian philosopher who has grabbed my attention in the past year. His article engages proposals that Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton have made regarding the availability of a college education to American citizens. When discussing the veritable behemoth issue of costs, Smith addresses the underlying question so little asked today: why college at all?

college-degree-and-graduation-hat-300x300I’ve reflected previously on the observable tension between promoters of the liberal arts and the devotees of the manual trades. A father of four, I’m a laborer in the construction trades pursuing an undergraduate degree in theology with a psychology minor, so the question has haunted me for some time. Though I’m cash flowing my final year, I’ve still amassed a sizable student loan that begs for justification.

The return on investment for a business degree is more easily seen than a course of study in say, theology. Ahem. I note that this return isn’t guaranteed- a guaranteed financial return for a college degree in any field is surely an illusion today. But it’s not hard to say that most undergraduate theology majors aren’t moving into a lucrative job market.

In my experience, the course of study was worth it, finances notwithstanding. Studying theology in particular and the liberal arts more generally has profoundly shaped the way I view my work. I wasn’t studying theology to get one more qualification on my resume, or to open one more door for a promotion- I wanted knowledge. I needed to make sense of my chaotic (and, as I would learn to call it- idolatrous) inner life. I needed to develop a worldview that brought a sense of unity and coherence. I wanted to change who I was. I wanted to gain access to the history of ideas so that I wouldn’t be a slave to the thinking of the present.

Obviously, I have a lot of things I would have done differently. I wouldn’t have borrowed money when I could have cash flowed the expenses over a longer course of study. C’est la vie. My wife and I have lots of thinking to do about our children’s education. But that should probably come in another post.

So, why college? I’m intrigued by the question and our political discussions on funding and availability assume an answer. What’s yours?

Marco Rubio, Welding, and Philosophy

“Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.” ~ Marco Rubio

GMAW.welding.af.ncsMarco Rubio’s recent comments have had some traffic since the most recent (39th?!) Republican presidential debate. (The scrutiny you receive as a presidential candidate is only one of the perks of running for office). The response on social media was as you might expect. The omniscient fact-checker gods flew in with their pronouncements on the Truth of how much philosophers really make. We also saw a host of articles written in defense of the learning of philosophy at the university level. Again, nothing surprising there. What did surprise me was the either/or nature of the debate on vocational vs. academic training. Either you think we need more vocational training in the manual trades or you think that philosophy is a study worthy of time, effort, and money. I smell a false dichotomy.

I’m qualified to address this because I have enthusiastically worked in the manual trades while pursing the liberal arts education that I wish began for me in high school. I have aspirations for pursuing pastoral ministry (when I grow up), and I have come to think that my apprenticeship as a carpenter has broadened and enriched my life experience for the kind of work that I’ll be doing. Manual competence changes the way we see and act in our world.

Probably the most surprising component of the manifold responses to the debate was the use of Matthew Crawford to support the study of philosophy. Indeed, Crawford does encourage young people to consider studying philosophy at the university level. However, Crawford, a philosopher-turned-motorcycle-mechanic, wrote his first book taking a jab at the dichotomy of “brain jobs” vs “manual jobs”. I’m thinking Plato and Aristotle wouldn’t have bought the distinction either.

I’m making no arguments about which field offers more pay because -to be frank -I don’t really care. If you’ve got the money to spend on a philosophy degree, have at it. Philosophy is wonderful. It’s a way of life. I do wish that the philosophers would take more strides, like Crawford, to encourage people to pursue the manual trades as a meaningful way to learn the world and as a means of attaining wisdom. Philosophers would better serve themselves in working to erase the popular stigma against philosophy by creating widespread interest in the history of ideas and the life of the mind. As Gracy Olmstead helpfully suggested, how about philosopher-welders?