There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said…
This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.~C.S. Lewis, Introduction to On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius
American culture rages like a sounding cataract, but the Sampler goes ever on.
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.
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.
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…
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.