Hello friendly reader. I’ve been on hiatus and I’d like to hop back onto the train. I began working part-time as a pastoral assistant last fall and I’ve repeatedly told myself that I needed time to transition before picking up writing again.
Interestingly, we’re almost eight months into this and I still haven’t made time for it. I need to resurrect the discipline of writing because it was one of the few ways I could reliably organize my thinking. Teaching has always been rewarding for me in this respect, but the writing had a way of giving depth and breadth to my teaching that just hasn’t been there lately.
In some respects my writing here will probably reflect concerns and interests that are developing in my pastoral work. Much of my focus in that regard these days is on discipleship- how do we become (and in turn lead others to become) people who carefully observe the teaching of Christ in our thoughts and our actions?
So my writing on Christianity and Culture will hopefully reflect this commitment. My aim is to constructively challenge you, gentle reader. In keeping with this, your comments and criticism are welcome for our mutual encouragement. The peace of the Lord,
“What is a Poet? He is a man speaking to men: a man, it is true, endued with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind; a man pleased with his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life that is in him; delighting to contemplate similar volitions and passions as manifested in the goings-on of the universe, and habitually impelled to create them where he does not find them.”
~ William Wordsworth in his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads.
The most dangerous metaphors for us are the ones that cease to be recognizable as metaphors. For many people the analogy between brain and computer has reached that point: the brain isn’t like a computer, they think, it is a computer. (“A computer made of meat,” some say.) When that happens to us, we are in a bad way, because those screens become permanently implanted, and we lose the ability to redirect our attention toward those elements of reality we have ignored.
~Alan Jacobs, How to Think, p. 104
Tony Reinke’s work at Desiring God has steadily drawn my attention over the last year. Here is an excerpt of his recent article on sarcasm, where he draws fruitfully from the late novelist David Foster Wallace:
Satire’s most potent work is in exposing phony facades. But it cannot accomplish anything more important, and there’s the problem, as Wallace explained in a 1997 radio interview: “Irony and sarcasm are fantastic for exploding hypocrisy and exposing what’s wrong in extant values. They are notably less good in erecting replacement values or coming close to the truth.”
Sarcasm is a free-swinging wrecking ball. It cannot construct.
So what happens when mocking sarcasm lives past its use and becomes the tone of a generation? Wallace explains. “What’s been passed down from the postmodern heyday is sarcasm, cynicism, a manic ennui, suspicion of all authority, suspicion of all constraints on conduct, and a terrible penchant for ironic diagnosis of unpleasantness, instead of an ambition not just to diagnose and ridicule but to redeem. You’ve got to understand that this stuff has permeated the culture. It’s become our language; we’re so in it we don’t even see that it’s one perspective, one among many possible ways of seeing. Postmodern irony’s become our environment.”
– Did the Simpsons Ruin a Generation?
So you might say satire works on one level, in its proper season. A sarcastic word fitly spoken is a delight to me. Reinke, however, (channeling Wallace) prophetically points to the moral possibilities of an entire generation steeped in parody, irony and sarcasm. There is also a time for earnestness and sincerity.