[I]f we are to use the words childish or infantile as terms of disapproval, we must make sure that they refer only to those characteristics of childhood which we become better and happier by outgrowing; not to those which every sane man would keep if he could and which some are fortunate for keeping.
On the bodily level this is sufficiently obvious. We are glad to have outgrown the muscular weakness of childhood; but we envy those who retain its energy, its well-thatched scalp, its easily won sleeps, and its power of rapid recuperation. But surely the same is true on another level? The sooner we cease to be as fickle, as boastful, as jealous, as cruel, as ignorant, and as easily frightened as most children are, the better for us and for our neighbours.
But who in his senses would not keep, if he could, that tireless curiosity, that intensity of imagination, that facility of suspending disbelief, that unspoiled appetite, that readiness to wonder, to pity, and to admire? The process of growing up is to be valued for what we gain, not for what we lose. Not to acquire a taste for the realistic is childish in the bad sense; to have lost the taste for marvels and adventures is no more a matter for congratulation than losing our teeth, our hair, our palate, and finally, our hopes. Why do we hear so much about the defects of immaturity and so little about those of senility?C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism
Here’s the Sampler for the month. Don’t worry, I avoided any political babble and COVID-19. For productive, interesting, and valuable content, take a look.
In writing, the race is not to the swift but to the clear. Clear writing requires clear thinking. This is one reason Rachel and I decided to school our children at home. We all need to write better than we do, and we write more often than we realize. Texts, emails, presentations, thank you cards, and notes for the next meeting all involve writing! We’re all writers, and a little effort goes a long way. Perhaps this is why the New York Times has an article in their “Smarter Living” column entitled: How to Edit Your Own Writing. It’s quite good.
David Mathis (I’m reading a lot of his articles lately) gives a Christian Hedonist’s take on a theology of exercise: “How might it change your exercise routine if you did not exercise for mere weight loss, or long-term health, or improved physical appearance, but you did it to enjoy God more?” Mathis shows capable Christian writing on a subject that has intrigued me for years.
In spite of the cash I spent on Logos Bible Software, I still almost always use Blueletterbible.org when I’m looking up a word or reference in Scripture. It’s free and remarkably easy to use.
My parents have been passionate about organic and sustainable farming for years. I’m usually skeptical, as wary of the organic industry as the ‘Big Agriculture’ its trying to displace. However, it’s hard to argue with fresh eggs and the satisfaction of eating meat and vegetables you nurtured from start to finish. In the interest of being open minded, I read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food last month. I enjoyed reading Pollan’s insistence that we make food and nutrition much too complicated. He’s able to argue the nutrition science, if that’s your thing, but he prefers to summarize his book in seven words: Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants. I lost three pounds just reading that. Dad, next up is The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
Be Still My Beating Heart!
Finally, Matthew Crawford has a new book coming out in June! Why We Drive: Toward a Philosophy of the Open Road
P.S. Send me any goodies you come across in your travels of the wasteland that is the internet. You can also leave some recommendations in the comments thread.
John Wesley read loads of books riding horseback. 250,000 miles.* Imagine the hours spent in solitary (and bumpy) reading and prayer. My back hurts just thinking about it.
Why all the effort? Wesley explained in a letter to a pastor why he should be reading more and how he could do it:
What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear to this day, is want of reading.
I scarce ever knew a preacher read so little. And perhaps by neglecting it you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety; there is no compass of thought.
Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it any more than a thorough Christian. O begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterwards be pleasant.
Whether you like it or no, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way: else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty, superficial preacher. Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer. Take up your cross, and be a Christian altogether. Then will all the children of God rejoice (not grieve) over you, and in particular Yours, &c.
~ John Wesley in a letter to John Tremboth, August 17th, 1760
Wesley explains why he should read- who wants to be pretty and superficial? He also shows how to get there- meditation and daily prayer.
Your reading will stick with you if you think and pray over it. Sticky reading reciprocally makes you a better reader and a clear-headed thinker. Do that twenty minutes every day for three years and you’ll be a different person. Reading is the gateway to mental depth and focus that we all wish for in our age of distraction. Read to learn, read to think, read to pray- it is for your life!
*Oakes, Edward T. (2004). “John Wesley: A Biography”. First Things.
I believe I can help those who want to think better, but—I need to say it before taking one more step—no, it’s not because I’m an academic. My fellow academics, taken as a group, are just as reluctant to engage in genuine reflection as the less highly educated person in the street. Academics have always been afflicted by unusually high levels of conformity to expectations: one of the chief ways you prove yourself worthy of an academic life is by getting very good grades, and you don’t get very good grades without saying the sorts of things that your professors like to hear.
~Alan Jacobs, How to Think (pp. 23-24)
I read this in bed a few weeks ago. Academics are not immune to peer pressure, Jacobs says. Over the next few days, similar ideas from a variety of authors floated to the surface of my mind. A kind of conversation emerged:
First voice, John Locke
Michael Shermer wrote for the Scientific American about speaking with narrow minded people. I considered here that his advice was sound, but his article seemed too lax on his own atheistic tribe. I brought in John Locke, who said we tend to think and argue in favor of our desires, rather than our reason.
Second voice, Allan Bloom
In what oddly became the most commonly visited post on this site, I reflected on Bernie Sanders’ popularity and his supporters use of the term ‘Revolution’. I mention Allan Bloom:
Freedom of the mind requires not only, or not even especially, the absence of legal constraints but the presence of alternative thoughts. The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside.
~Allan Bloom, Closing of the American Mind, (emphasis mine)
When we remove the voices that challenge us, we should beware the ecology of ideas we’re creating. Locke and Bloom reinforce Jacobs’ concern.
Third voice, Rosaria Butterfield
I remembered a counterpoint to Jacobs. Rosaria Butterfield, wrote on the benefit of university culture. Describing her entrance into the church after conversion:
I miss being in the company of risky and complex thinkers, people who are invested in our culture and who challenge me to think to the edges of my comfort zones. I believed then and I believe now that where everybody thinks the same nobody thinks very much.
~Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert, pg. 7
Butterfield argues that the Academy is a fitting place for the exchange of ideas. See how her statement echoes Bloom? There’s tyranny afoot when other perspectives are edged out. Jacobs, however, says there’s more insularity in the Academy than Butterield acknowledges. Professors aren’t immune to the peer pressure and temptations to desire Locke mentioned.
Maybe Butterfield is issuing a statement of faith in what the university should be.
Finale, Matthew Crawford
Matthew Crawford, the philosopher-turned-motorcycle-mechanic, agrees:
Getting things right requires triangulating with other people. Psychologists therefore would do well to ask whether “metacognition” (thinking critically about your own thinking) is at bottom a social phenomenon. It typically happens in conversation— not idle chitchat, but the kind that aims to get to the bottom of things. I call this an “art” because it requires both tact and doggedness. And I call it a moral accomplishment because to be good at this kind of conversation you have to love the truth more than you love your own current state of understanding. This is, of course, an unusual priority to have, which may help to account for the rarity of real mastery in any pursuit.
~Matthew Crawford, emphasis mine. The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (p. 63).
Rare indeed. This is my favorite kind of reading. Continuing Crawford’s argument, guiding your books into a conversation is indispensable when learning to think. The kind of freedom that emerges is what a liberal arts education is all about. Think about it.