Nothing So Foolish or So Profound

Although it is not always easy to recognize it as such, marriage is the most remarkable and most courageous of all human acts—the promise of two human beings to share life together on all levels, physical, economic, spiritual—a promise made in the face of the certainty of death, the certainty of change, and the uncertainty of everything else. There is nothing else a human being might choose to do that is quite like this act, nothing so foolish or so profound.

Finding God at Home, Ernest Boyer, Jr.

A Few Titles

That I’ve been reading lately.

  • Eothen by A. W. Kinglake – Once upon a time, travel narratives were all the rage, perhaps because, as someone (I forget who) guessed, tourism wasn’t viable for most people. Kinglake traveled to “the Orient,” by which he meant Turkey and Arabia. I came across this book in one of C. S. Lewis’s letters, where he speaks highly of Kinglake’s descriptions of the landscape. To my ear, the descriptions are fine enough, but nothing compared to, say, Mary Austin or John Muir. Maybe the comparison isn’t fair, though, since they were describing different landscapes. Lewis also praised Kinglake’s sense of humor, which I have enjoyed. Some sample quotes:
    • “…as grim as an army of giants with a thousand years’ pay in arrears.”
    • Describing Turkish: “The structure of the language, especially in its more lengthy sentences, is very like to the Latin: the subject matters are slowly and patiently enumerated, without disclosing the purpose of the speaker until he reaches the end of his sentence, and then at last there comes the clenching word, which gives a meaning and connection to all that has gone before. If you listen at all to speaking of this kind your attention, rather than be suffered to flag, must grow more and more lively as the phrase marches on.”
    • On the curmudgeonliness of the Greeks during their fasts: “The number of murders committed during Lent is greater, I am told, than at any other time of their year. A man under the influence of a bean dietary (for this is the principal food of the Greeks during their fasts) will be in an apt humor for enriching the shrine of his saint, and passing a knife through his next-door neighbor.”
  • Leave It to Psmith, P. G. Wodehouse – I realized partway through this book that I may have only ever seen the play. The book more than lived up to it. Psmith is the kind of character who should annoy you, but somehow does not, rather like Innocent Smith from Manalive. Incidentally, Wodehouse said that Psmith was his only character who was drawn from real life—apparently from Richard D’Oyly Carte, the man who brought Gilbert and Sullivan to the admiring masses. [Edit: Psmith was actually based on Richard’s son Rupert.]
  • House, Tracy Kidder – I bought this for my wife thinking a) it was by a woman and b) it was a collection of essays meditating on the significance of different rooms in a house. That would be a great book, but that’s not what this is. For one thing, it was written by a man. It is not a collection of essays. It is, however, about a house. It’s a non-fiction novel (think Capote’s In Cold Blood) chronicling the construction of a large home in New England. Though it’s not what I was expecting, it has been great so far.

A Verse for Teachers

Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.

1 Thessalonians 5:14

Drab Utilitarianism

I’m making my way through J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism and will be posting some of my notes here. Describing the woeful tendency of liberalism to quash all higher aspirations in favor of “drab utilitarianism,” Machen gives this example:

In the state of Nebraska, for example, a law is now in force according to which no instruction in any school in the state, public or private, is to be given through the medium of a language other than English, and no language other than English is to be studied even as a language until the child has passed an examination before the county superintendent of education showing that the eighth grade has been passed. In other words, no foreign language, apparently not even Latin or Greek, is to be studied until the child is too old to learn it well. It is in this way that modern collectivism deals with a kind of study which is absolutely essential to all genuine mental advance. The minds of the people of Nebraska, and of any other states where similar laws prevail, are to be kept by the power of the state in a permanent condition of arrested development.

Machen, Christianity and Liberalism

What is curious about this example is that it is the exact opposite of what today’s liberal would advocate. Public school teachers and boards in many states are strong proponents of teaching in multiple languages, especially Spanish, and of striking down English-only laws. I can’t imagine a law being passed that would prevent a school from teaching a non-English language before eighth grade. (In fact, the law Machen refers to was revoked in 1923, the same year Christianity and Liberalism was published.)

How can it be that what Machen saw as an example of liberalism would now be seen as an example of extreme conservatism? My guess is that he would argue that A) is it still utilitarian (bi-lingual education results in higher achieving graduates, which results in higher achieving citizens, etc.) and B) that both banning and requiring multiple languages in school are examples of the state meddling in the private affairs of citizens.

If These Be Not Truths

“Even if there be no hereafter, I would live my time believing in a grand thing that ought to be true if it is not. And if these be not truths, then is the loftiest part of our nature a waste. Let me hold by the better than the actual, and fall into nothingness off the same precipice with Jesus and Paul and a thousand more, who were lovely in their lives, and with their death make even the nothingness into which they have passed like the garden of the Lord. I will go further, and say I would rather die forevermore believing as Jesus believed, than live forevermore believing as those that deny Him.”

~ George MacDonald, Thomas Wingfold, Curate

Puddleglum must have been a MacDonald fan, according to what he says to the Queen of Underland:

Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.

The Silver Chair (via Goodreads)

(MacDonald quote via Alan Jacobs)

Qualities of Dreams

Those who join in the work of animation are people who dream more than others and who wish to convey these dreams to others. After a while they realize how incredibly difficult it is to entertain others. Anyone who has tried to describe the wonderful or bittersweet qualities of his dreams should be able to understand how hard this is.

Hayao Miyazaki

First Class Novels

A novel, according to my tastes, does not come into the first class unless it contains some person whom one can thoroughly love, and if a pretty woman all the better.

Charles Darwin

Words to Live By

Last night T and I attended the funeral of a good friend’s mother. The young pastor gave a wonderful homily, and the words he said that hit me with the greatest impact were these, spoken to him many years ago by the woman who had died:

“You don’t have to compromise because you don’t have to survive.”

Every Christian business, every Christian college, every Christian school, every Christian non-profit, every Christian artist, every Christian church, and every Christian home needs to engrave these words on a plaque and hang it on the most prominent wall available.

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Marx

I would like to… accuse Marx of plagiarism. His critique of capitalism is, in essence, the biblical concern for widows and orphans, stripped of its theological foundations and applied to the conditions of modernity.

Merold Westphal, Suspicion and Faith, p. 203 (qtd. in Keller, The Reason for God, p. 59