How Literature Solves The Problem of Evil
Letter From The President
Why Imitation Is At The Heart of Classical Education
You are what you listen to p12
What Are We Doing To Our Boys?
HOW TO CULTIVATE DISCERNING CULTURAL CONSUMERS p30
Book Reviews p8
This magazine is published by the CiRCE Institute. Copyright CiRCE Institute 2014. For a digital version, and for additional content, please go to mag.circeinstitute.org. Publisher: Andrew Kern Managing Editor: David Kern Copy Editor: Jessica Kantrowitz Design & Layout: Aaron Harlow, Blackwood Media Additional graphics: Graeme Pitman
in this issue FEATURES 4
Andrew Kern LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT: YOU ARE WHAT YOU BEHOLD AND THEY’RE BEHOLDING YOU
Carol Reynolds YOU ARE WHAT YOU LISTEN TO: HOW SILENCE CAN RESHAPE YOUR WORLD AND CULTIVATE VIRTUE
Martin Cothran HOW LITERATURE SOLVES THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
Brett McCracken MODELING DISCERNING CULTURAL CONSUMPTION
Rod Dreher On Reading the ODYSSEY for the First Time
Doug Wilson On the State of Classical Education
Cindy Rollins and James Daniels WHAT ARE WE DOING TO OUR BOYS? HOW TO TREAT BOYS LIKE HUMANS AND HELP THEM FLOURISH
Brian Phillips on BEAUTY IN THE WORD: RETHINKING THE FOUNDATIONS OF EDUCATION BY STRATFORD CALDCOTT
TENDING THE HEART OF VIRTUE BY VIGEN GUROIAN
About CiRCE The CiRCE Institute is a non-profit 501 (c)3 organization that exists to promote and support classical education in the school and in the home. We seek to identify the ancient principles of learning, to communicate them enthusiastically, and to apply them vigorously in today’s educational settings through curricula development, teacher training, events, an online academy, and a content-laden website.
Our Business Philosophy “By the excellence of his work the workman is a neighbor. By selling only what he would not despise to own the salesman is a neighbor. By selling what is good his character survives his market.” Wendell Berry Farming: A Handbook
Contact For information regarding reproduction, submission, or advertising please email firstname.lastname@example.org. The CiRCE Institute 4190 Brownwood Lane Concord NC 28027 704.794.2227 email@example.com facebook.com/circeinstitute twitter.com/circeins
C ontributors MARTIN COTHRAN
Martin Cothran, the author of Memoria Press’ Traditional Logic, Material Logic and Classical Rhetoric programs, is an instructor of Latin, Logic, Rhetoric, and Classical Studies at Highlands Latin School. Martin holds a B.A. in philosophy and economics from the University of California at Santa Barbara and an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from the Simon Greenleaf School (now a part of Trinity University). He currently serves as senior policy analyst with The Family Foundation of Kentucky. His articles has have appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Louisville Courier-Journal, and various other newspapers, as well as on radio and television. He has also served as a registered agent (or “lobbyist”) at the Kentucky State Capitol for over 12 years and has served on various state committees that oversee education policy, where he continues to be an influential voice on education policy issues. Martin is the managing editor of “The Classical Teacher” magazine, which also serves as Memoria Press’ product catalog. He and his family live in Danville, KY.
Brian Phillips is the Director of the CiRCE Online Classical Academy and CiRCE Consulting, in addition to writing a regular column for the Institute. Having been involved in classical education for about a decade, Brian has served as a Head of Rhetoric School and a teacher of humanities and rhetoric. He is also the pastor of Holy Trinity Reformed Church in Concord, NC and a Board member of the Crisis Pregnancy Center of Cabarrus County. He has a B.A. and M.A. in Theological Studies, as well as an Ed.D. in Humanities/ Classical Education. More importantly, Brian is joyfully married to his college sweetheart, Shannon, with whom he has three little ones: Temperance, Ian, and Asher.
JAMES DANIELS James Daniels is currently the Head of Upper School at the Westminster School at Oak Mountain, a thriving classical and Christian school in the Birmingham area. Over the past fifteen years, James has served as consultant to over thirty schools. He resides in Chelsea, AL and enjoys good food, hunting and gardening. Most of all, James loves being a husband to his wife Larissa and a father to his daughter Alexandria (13).
ANDREW KERN Andrew Kern is founder and president of the CiRCE Institute, the founding author of The Lost Tools of Writing, a co-author of the best-selling book Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America, which he wrote with Dr. Gene Edward Veith, and a board member for The Society For Classical Learning (SCL). Since establishing CiRCE as a research and consulting service to classical educators, Andrew has trained teachers, led board retreats, and assisted with institutional development and start up in over 100 schools. Andrew helped start Providence Academy in Green Bay, WI in 1993, where he served as “Lead Teacher,” Foundations Academy (now Ambrose School) in Boise, ID, where he served as Director of Classical Instruction from 1996-2000, The Great Ideas Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he served as Headmaster from 2001-2003, and The Regent Schools of the Carolinas where he served as Dean of Academics from 2006-2008. He and his family live in North Carolina.
BRETT McCRACKEN Brett McCracken is the author of the recently released Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism & Liberty (Baker, 2013) and Hipster Christianity: When Church & Cool Collide (Baker, 2010). Follow him on Twitter @brettmccracken or on his blog: stillsearching.wordpress.com. 3
CAROL REYNOLDS Dr. Carol Reynolds is a musicologist and arts educator. She served as professor of Music History at Southern Methodist University from 1985 to 2006 and directed SMU’s Study-in Germany program. After retiring to a ranch, she started designing fine-arts curricula for high-schoolers and adults. In 2009, she published an unprecedented multimedia course entitled Discovering Music: 300 Years of Interaction in Western Music, Arts, History, and Culture. In 2011 she released a program covering American arts, literature, and history from the Puritans to 1951 and is now creating a course on the history of Sacred Music from Jewish Liturgy to 1600. For decades she has created educational material for organizations like the Van Cliburn Foundation, The Dallas Symphony, Kimball Museum, Fort Worth and Dallas Operas, San Francisco Wagner Society, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, and the Davidson Institute. She is a speaker for Smithsonian Voyages and gives talks at educational conferences across the United States.
CINDY ROLLINS Cindy Rollins is a homeschooling mom of nine (eight boys and one girl) who attended Stetson University and Toccoa Falls College. She was drawn towards homeschooling after hearing Raymond Moore in his original Focus on the Family Broadcast in the early 1980s and has now graduated six sons. She is a freelance writer with monthly columns in the Chattanooga Esprit and Knoxville Smoke Signals. For over 10 years, she blogged through her efforts to homeschool under the classical principles of Charlotte Mason. She can now be found blogging for The CiRCE Institute and has attended one year of the CiRCE Apprenticeship program. Cindy continues to enjoy teaching her own three children still at home and also serving the homeschooling community through classes covering Shakespeare and poetry. Her heart’s desire is to encourage moms, with a special concern for those raising sons. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee with her husband Tim and however many children happen to be home. She blogs at ordo-amoris. com.
LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT
YOU ARE WHAT YOU BEHOLD: AND THEY’RE BEHOLDING YOU
ntil well into the nineteenth century the purpose of education, even among non-Christians and even during the enlightenment, was to cultivate virtue. Educators were not ashamed to say it and many educated as if they meant it.
If virtue is your stated pedagogical end, then you know that methods won’t help you achieve that. Techniques don’t cultivate virtue. That’s why Socrates, who was obsessed with the cultivation of virtue, insisted that he didn’t teach methodologically. He didn’t look for a science-based technique. Instead, He let his purpose guide him, determining his every move, directing his preparation, and forming the discussion. Indeed, Socrates believed that the path to virtue was truth. He argued that the soul feeds on truth and that in doing so it learns to perceive truth and that when it perceives truth the soul is changed and thus becomes like Truth. That is to say, it becomes virtuous. But what do we mean when we say we want our students to be virtuous? I would argue that what we are seeking is blessedness. We strive to see them blessed, to see them fully realized. And the only way this can happen is for them to be transformed. The question, then, become: How do we become transformed? How do we, as teachers, becomes the means and instruments of grace towards that transformation? The Bible is not obscure on this point. We become transformed, and therefore blessed, by gazing on Christ. You become what you behold. You become what you pay attention to. What you pay attention to is what you become. This is why some ancient church liturgies say repeatedly, “Let us attend”. It follows that the most important thing you do as a teacher and as a parent, in this quest to guide your students towards blessedness, or virtue, is to direct their attention to the right things. Your first job is to teach them how to behold, to cultivate their ability to pay attention. Consider Philippians 4:8-9, where Paul essentially provides the complete description of the truly classical Christian curriculum. He says,
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble . . . if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Think on these things. He doesn’t tell us to condition ourselves to repeat a habit or to manipulate the senses. He doesn’t tell us to create systems or methods. He tells us, simply, think on these things. The most important thing every teacher should understand is that teaching is the art of being imitated. If you want a student to perceive a truth, you have to embody it. That’s what teaching is. When you teach, whether you intend to or not, you are saying to your students, “imitate me”. Make yourself worthy of imitation. You can teach with any method you like, but the only way your student will become truly virtuous is if you, as his teacher or parent, embody Truth. As he acquires Virtue, he will become free, he will be able to rule himself. He won’t need you anymore. The person who perceives the Truth can bring his own soul into harmony because he knows to what he should pay attention. This is why the CiRCE theme for 2014, all the way up through our conference, is Imitation. Modern educational theory is driven by method and process, by science and data. It’s not working. If we’re going to cultivate wisdom and virtue, if we’re going to be truly classical and truly Christian, then we need to focus instead on embodying the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty that we wish our students to themselves embody. We need to teach our students to gaze on the True, Good, and Beautiful, so that they can gaze on Him who is most True, most Good, and most Beautiful. Then, blessed, they can be fully realized human beings, free from the shackles of a culture that undercuts their humanness and disregards the Imago Dei within them. So that their souls will be transformed, Let us attend.
- ANDREW KERN
WORDS OF WISDOM
ON READING THE ODYSSEY FOR THE FIRST TIME Rod Dreher is a senior editor and blogger at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in St. Francisville, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written two books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming and Crunchy Cons. In a recent series of posts at his blog, Rod wrote about his experience reading the Odyssey alongside his son who attends a classical homeschooling co-op. These posts were so insightful and intriguing we thought we’d see if he was willing to take part in our web series, Words of Wisdom. He was, and here are his answers to our questions.
So you’ve written recently on your blog about how, thanks to your son’s classical education homeschool co-op, you’ve begun reading some of the Great Books you missed in your own schooling. What made you want to read them with your son? In the fall of 2012, Matthew joined a new classical Christian homeschooling program called Sequitur. It required him to have two mornings of classroom instruction twice a week. Because it’s a homeschooling program, 5
parents are expected to read along with their kids, and supplement the classroom instruction with home teaching. In our house, my wife Julie is the primary educator, but this was something I could do. The first year Matt’s class read The Odyssey. I started it with him out of a sense of duty. Never having read any of the classics, I figured it would be an eat-your-broccoli experience for me. But I was hooked from the start when early on, the prophet Halitherses interprets a sign,
warning the suitors that it means Zeus has judged them, and that Odysseus is coming back to settle his score with them. We, the readers, know this is true, but I found it fascinating how the suitors made fun of the old man, and refused to take him seriously. I thought about how often that happens in our own public life, how we tend only to believe what we want to believe. In my work as a journalist, I see this all the time, and have been guilty of this myself. And as a Christian, I thought about how God speaks to us, and how
we know when He is trying to show us something, but we are too blind to see. All these thoughts went through my head doing the first of the assigned readings! Matthew and I talked about them, too; I found that the long drive to and from Baton Rouge, where his classes were, gave us lots of time to explore the ideas in the poem. It turned out that not only was The Odyssey an intellectual adventure for me -- for both of us, actually -- but it also gave my son and me an opportunity to grow closer. This fall, Matthew’s class is reading The Iliad, and so am I. What has surprised you most about these books? Has your experience with them been what you expected? Two things: how accessible they are to the modern reader, and how utterly relevant they are to the world we live in today. Again, I expected reading them to be a chore, but it’s not like that at all! And not only is it pleasurable, The Odyssey and The Iliad give me so much insight into the problems and challenges we live with today. Matthew and I are only five books into The Iliad, but I have been knocked flat by Homer’s insight into the the nature of war, and how we, in our fallen humanity, give ourselves over to such destruction. It has made me think about the Iraq War, in which my brother-in-law served, and how I let my own passion for 9/11 vengeance -- I was a New Yorker on that day, and stood on the Brooklyn Bridge and watched the south tower fall -- draw me into supporting what turns out to have been a foolish and incredibly destructive war. This morning, as I’m talking with you, the White House is considering entering the Syrian conflict. I’m reading expert commentary online, weighing the pros and cons of military action there, but I’m also thinking about Homer and his deep wisdom. I never imagined that the classics could have such intense relevance to my thinking and my work as a journalist. I never imagined that they would give me such insight into my world, and myself. Reading Homer has had another effect on me. I have recently started reading Dante’s Divine Comedy on my own, not only for the pleasure of it, but in hopes that it will disclose the wisdom I need to help me think through some challenges I’m going through in the middle of my life (I’m 46). And sure enough, the profundity of Dante’s moral and theological vision is dazzling me, and teaching me, and strengthening me through reflection and instruction. In what ways do you think your life – your career as a journalist and writer in particular – would have been different had you read these books as a student? I would certainly have been less time-bound in my outlook on life. Today we tend to think that what we see is all there is. I mean, even if we know better, that’s how most of us live. When I was a young man, I looked to the newspapers and magazines to know what was going on in my world, and how I should think about it. There is nothing wrong with this! In fact, I was better informed than most people my age. But there is a difference between knowledge and information, and I didn’t know that back then. Had I encountered the classics as a student, I imagine that I would have grasped the relativism of our own worldview. I mean, I would have been a lot more questioning and skeptical of the worldview we receive from the supposedly wise men and women of our own time and place. We suffer from what I call chronological parochialism -- that is, the idea that we, being modern, know better than everybody who came before us. If the past is an undiscovered country, our modern prejudices tell us that we 6
don’t have anything to learn from the people who live there. But Homer knew the human heart better than most contemporaries, and Dante knew the human soul more penetratingly than many of us do. I’m not saying that the Greek epics, and the Divine Comedy are holy writ, but I am saying that if I had encountered them as a student, my perspective on the world and my place in it would likely have been deeper. Even now, as a middle-aged conservative Christian, I find that Dante’s insights on the relationship between the will and the intellect with regard to our struggles against sin challenge my thinking in constructive ways. I think about all the self-help volumes clotting the shelves in bookstores, and I think, Lord have mercy, just read Dante! He’s right! In the face of the new Common Core initiatives many people are wondering whether it’s really necessary for students to read so many stories, especially myths. What do you think, is it necessary? Or should we let them wait until they are adults and decide for themselves? No, you have to read them now. Again, we’re confronted with presentism -- the idea that we know better than those who came before us. There is a reason why Homer and Dante have survived for so long. They not only wrote beautifully, but they wrote with deep wisdom. Encountering the classics at my age, accompanying my son on his educational journey, has revealed to me the importance of imparting to young people the sense of historical and cultural perspective you can only get from the classics. If Homer could get so much right about human nature, and he lived so far from us culturally and historically, there must be many other poets and philosophers of our civilization who considered life, and who have something to tell us about how things really are. The classics are like messages in a bottle, tossed into the sea of time, washing ashore with maps to help us find our way out of the shipwreck of modernity. Would we let our children walk around lost on the beach, and not show them maps that could help them find their way home until they were adults? Again, the classics are not on the same level as Scripture, but because they are the best secular things that our civilization has thought and said, I think we should take them with similar seriousness. Would you consider it a responsible thing to do to let your kids wait until they were adults to introduce them to the Bible, and let them choose for themselves? That’s how I’ve come to think of Homer, Dante, and the others. How should students, in your opinion, be assessed on that reading? Honestly, I don’t know. I am far removed from the methods of assessment. I can see from my interaction with my son that he understands Homer, and I trust his Sequitur instructor sees the same in their testing. How do you quantify this sort of thing, though? I don’t know. What I hate, though, is this attitude we have today that knowledge can be measured by information a kid disgorges on a standardized test. This may well be the world that we live in, and we homeschooling parents may have to deal with these things. But I don’t trust our educational experts to have the foggiest idea about what’s important for students to know. They too suffer from the bias of presentism, but they often don’t know it. What book is next? I’m thinking The Aeneid. I like this Virgil guy. If Dante loves and trusts him, that’s enough for me.
WORDS OF WISDOM
ON THE STATE OF CLASSICAL EDUCATION One of the leading proponents of classical Christian education, Douglas Wilson is the Senior Pastor at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. He has been happily married to his wife, Nancy for 35 years and counting and has three kids and fifteen grandchildren. He’s a prolific author and speaker and blogs over at Blog & Mablog. He also debated the late Christopher Hitchens in a documentary that asks “Is Christianity Good for the World?” He’s the author of Rediscovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to a Distinctively Christian Education, a co-founder of the influential Logos School in Moscow, ID and is a founding board member of the Association of Classical Christian Schools. Recently, Mr. Wilson was kind enough to answer some questions on the state of classical education for our web series, Words of Wisdom. It’s been more than thirty years since you and your colleagues started Logos School in Moscow, ID and more than twenty years since Rediscovering the Lost Tools of Learning came out. Since then, classical Christian education has grown quite a bit, in no small part because of the work of ACCS and organizations like it. In looking back, what gives you the most satisfaction? I think I would have to say that it is most gratifying that the movement now has enough history and momentum to continue on when I am out of the picture. We are well past our lift-off stage, and we can turn our attention to the work of consolidation, and deliberate expansion. I am very grateful to God for how far we have come.
the great challenges for our schools that have been successful (in this sense) is the challenge of staying true to the mission, and not becoming just another private prep school. What do you foresee being most challenging moving forward? How can these challenges be overcome? I
What challenges have been most resolute in testing the mettle of this movement? There is nothing new under the sun, and so our two great challenges have been the same as they have been for every form of culture building. Those challenges are failure and success. The challenge of looming failure is the challenge of keeping enough students enrolled, paying for the books, keeping teachers fed, and so on. Some schools are challenged every year with the daunting prospect of simply making it. The other great challenge is the challenge of success. You don’t have to worry about survival, and your waiting list goes around the block three times. One of 7
education has proven itself academically, so -- as a movement -- I don’t think we need to worry about disappearing into nothing. I do think we need to worry about disappearing into something else. I am concerned that many of our schools are starting to measure success by how assiduously established colleges and universities are recruiting their graduates, and luring them with big time scholarships. But we are at the tail end of a higher education bubble, and so I don’t believe that this should be how
we measure success. I would love to see a deepening commitment to Christian higher ed. I know that God calls some of our graduates into the existing system, and God bless them all. But I don’t want anybody going there under false pretenses. So I think the prep school vibe is a big temptation to be resisted. What does the classical Christian education need for continued growth? We need to deepen our bench. By this I mean providing a thorough classical Christian education to our next generation of teachers. That would be one thing. We also need to develop and enrich the curriculum choices that we have available to us. A lot has been done here, but much more needs to be done. We are trying to do our share in this, and are grateful to everyone who has a hand in it. For an example of the “next generation” kind of thing we are trying to do in this area, you could check out -- http://www. logospressonline.com/ Ideally, what would you like the movement to look like in ten years? In ten years, I would like to see a great increase in the number of ACCS accredited schools. I would like to see resources developed (curriculum, online teachers, etc.) for schools that don’t have large numbers. And I would like to see the development of a large database that would enable us to track our graduates and make note of their accomplishments.
BEAUTY IN THE WORD By Brian Phillips
“And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look toward the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive someone saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned toward more existence, he has a clearer vision - what will be his reply?” Plato, Book VII of The Republic
n his “Allegory of the Cave”, Plato describes a scene in which men who, having spent their lives shackled in the darkness of a cave so that they see objects only by shadows illuminated by distant firelight, are suddenly freed and brought into the light. They endure pain and rage as they face, for the first time, the world no longer in shadow and obscurity, but blazing with sunlight. These new sights prove quite difficult to comprehend. As Plato asks Glaucon, “. . . Will [these men] not be perplexed? Will [they] not fancy that the shadows which [they] formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to [them]?” Stratford Caldecott’s book, Beauty in the Word serves, in my opinion, as a call for teachers to leave the cave, to step out of the shadows, and to truly look upon the foundations of classical education. Serving as a sequel to his 2009 work, Beauty for Truth’s Sake,
in which he offered a study of the mathematical arts of the Quadrivium and called for an education that reintegrates the arts and sciences, Beauty in the Word examines the Trivium – the foundational arts of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric – and calls for their application in ways that recognize and honor the human nature of both child and teacher. While acknowledging that Dorothy Sayers is largely responsible for the “modern revival of the Trivium” through her essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” in which she connects the “stages” of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric to corresponding periods of child development, Caldecott beckons us to go a bit further. Far from a simple (and all-too-familiar) regurgitation of the Trivium as three “stages” of learning, Beauty in the Word examines the Trivium in more complete, human terms - as Remembering, Thinking, and Speaking. Even more significantly, Caldecott roots his understanding of the Trivium in the Trinity, or the triune nature of God. He
“An education for freedom (a ‘liberal’ education) is underpinned by a Trinitarian theology as follows… In order to Be we must remember our origin and end, the grammar of our existence. This is the beginning of all communication - communication from God, who loves us before we love him. We come from the Father… In discovering the Father we become thinkers, we awaken thought in ourselves, which is the following of the light of truth, walking with the Son, the Logos incarnate, leading to the face-to-face knowledge of the Father that only the Son possesses, and those with whom he shares it… That sharing is done through the Spirit, the Ruah or breath of the Father that carries the Word… ‘Communication’ is closely related to ‘communion.’ The Spirit is the Rhetoric of God.”
writes, in explanation of this Trinitarian structure: For Caldecott, a Christian understanding of the Trivium is rooted, not simply in pedagogical or historical knowledge, but in the character of God Himself, and a full awareness that both teacher and student are made in His image. Speaking of Grammar as “the art of Remembering,” Caldecott notes that Grammar is an invention of the Greeks and, quoting Kenneth L. Schmitz, points out that the Greeks “by an effort of mind and imagination, withdrew partially from the immediacy of their spoken language in order to lay it out before themselves and to dissect or analyze its functional elements: eventually into nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, moods, conjugations, and declensions.” Indeed, Caldecott reminds us that it is from Grammar that both Dialectic and Rhetoric arise. Emphasizing the link between language and memory, Caldecott calls us to see the “more profound sense in which to fill a word with meaning is an act of remembering the being of the thing itself.” This, in turn, brings us to the art of Thinking - from Grammar to the Dialectic or Logic, from “the realm of Mythos to that of Logos” and “from the realm of the Father to that of the Son.” It is through the art of Thinking that we connect names, natures, and identities, allowing us to sense and understand the intelligible order of the world. Finally, Caldecott connects the art of Thinking (Dialectic or Logic) to the art of Speaking (Rhetoric). Moving the
reader from Mythos to Logos to Ethos, from the realm of the Father to that of the Son to that of the Spirit, Caldecott draws upon Hans Urs von Balthasar - “The spirit receives two gifts simultaneously: the gift of knowing the truth and the gift of saying it. It would be unthinkable if it obtained only the first gift without the second. It would be burned up by an inward abundance that could not be expressed outwardly. It would be like a light that had to shine in itself without being able to emit any rays …” Beauty in the Word provides a powerful exposition of the Trivium, yet the book has even more worthy of commendation. One could argue that the Foreword by Anthony Esolen, in which he scathingly summarizes the state of American education, is worth the price of admission: “I am tempted to conclude that there are only two things wrong with our schools: what they don’t teach our children, and what they do.” Additionally, Caldecott’s introductory chapters are worthy reads. In them, he argues that “education is not primarily about the acquisition of information. It is not even about the acquisition of ‘skills’ in the conventional sense, to equip us for particular roles in society. It is about how we become more human (and therefore more free, in the truest sense of that word)…Too often we have not been educating our humanity. We have been educating ourselves for doing rather than for being.” His exploration of the Trivium in that light is truly enlightening, inspiring, and convicting.
R e v iew
TENDING THE HEART OF VIRTUE r e v i e w e d B Y B RI A N P H I L L I P S “What then is the good of - what is even the defence for - occupying our hearts with stories of what never happened and entering vicariously into feelings which we should try to avoid having in our own person? Or of fixing our inner eye earnestly on things that can never exist?” In self-reply, he offers, “The nearest I have yet got to an answer is that we seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves…We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own…We demand windows…In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.”
AN EXPERIMENT IN CRITICISM
and charging, my daughter poised with her bow and “magic medicine,” should they be needed. (She is our only daughter and must double as both Susan and Lucy sometimes.) But bit by bit, as we age, we leave behind such visible displays of how story changes us. The reenactments fade, the games become mere recollection. Yet, as Anthony Esolen argues in Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, it is those “memories of play that no one regrets, and that are almost the only things an old man can look back on with complete satisfaction.” Esolen’s words reveal that the modern abandonment of fairy tales and classic stories is far more tragic than we seem to realize. We deny grown men the “memories of play that no one regrets” by denying them the stories that produce play in childhood. But far more is at stake than pleasant memories. When children are denied access to noble stories and fairy tales - whether through omission, through exposure only to the sugary Disney versions, or through the more common and deadlier method of “moralizing” - that is, when we tell rather than show what is true, good, and beautiful, thus reducing virtue and morality to mere platitudes - their moral growth is stunted, for they are denied the greatest models of honor, wisdom, courage, selflessness, and other significant virtues. Yet, as C.S. Lewis laments, we pretend to be shocked when such virtues are absent in the lives of our children:
In his excellent work, Tending the Heart of Virtue, Vigen Guroian calls us to remember the importance of great stories, to recognize the power of classic fairy tales in forming the moral imagination and feeding the soul. When we read great stories, we are changed. We become different people. Children seem to understand this far more than “grown-ups”. My own children spend many of their waking moments in Narnia, fighting the First Battle of Beruna, the boys armed
“And all the time - such is the tragi-comedy of our situation - we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
If possible, the situation is made more tragic by the obvious presence of a child’s “moral constitution.” As Vigen Guroian observes in the opening words of Tending the Heart of Virtue, “Children are vitally concerned with distinguishing good from evil and truth from falsehood…Every parent who has read a fairy tale to a young son or daughter is familiar with…a universal refrain of childhood: ‘But is he a good person or a bad one?’ What greater proof or assurance could we want that God and nature have endowed human beings with a moral constitution that needs to be nurtured and cultivated?” Fairy tales and classic stories are among the greatest tools for nurturing and cultivating the moral constitution, or moral imagination, of children. Author Ran Hansen writes in his book A Stay Against Confusion: Essays on Faith and Fiction, that “Self-help books provide guidance in the ways that parents and good advisors do. Stories teach by example, and by permitting us to safely participate in crises we hope to never get near. Quotidian life seldom offers opportunities for glorious heroism or grand agonies of defeat, but fictional entertainments offer those opportunities in abundance.” But aren’t there more direct routes to moral formation? Is it not much more efficient to simply tell children what they should and should not do, rather than relying on stories? Guroian addresses this, saying, “Mere instruction in morality is not sufficient to nurture the virtues. It might even backfire, especially when the presentation is heavily exhortative and the pupil’s will is coerced.” We must, to borrow from Flannery O’Connor, “show” virtue and goodness to our children, not simply “tell” them about it. The avoidance of classic stories poses only the most obvious threat to a child’s moral imagination, not the most dangerous. While celebrating that the “Grendel” of omission has been vanquished, many parents who do read good stories to their children fail to notice Grendel’s mother, moralization, lurking. She is, indeed, a far deadlier enemy. When we moralize, we reduce ethics and morality to a set of propositions, as if knowledge of those propositions somehow guarantees true internalization of them. Guroian argues that such moralizations occur “especially when the role of reason in human conduct is overestimated and the roles of the will and the imagination are underestimated.” Again, Guroian: “Much of what passes for moral education fails to nurture the moral imagination. Yet, only a pedagogy that awakens and enlivens the moral imagination will persuade the child or the student that courage is the ultimate test of good character, that honesty is essential for trust and harmony among persons, and that humility and a magnanimous spirit are goods greater than the prizes won by selfishness, pride, or the unscrupulous exercise of position and power.” Education will always be moral, but it need not collapse under the error of moralism, which despite even the purest intentions, produces no lasting virtue. Ethical platitudes show themselves anemic in the face of the truth, goodness, and beauty demonstrated in great stories. Citing Guroian once more, “The deep truths of a good story, especially fairy tales, cannot be revealed through discursive analysis - otherwise, why tell the story? Rather, these truths must be experienced through the story itself and savored in the immediacy of the moment that unfolds with the impending danger of the quest or the joy of reunion with the beloved.” In Tending the Heart of Virtue, Guroian shows us how to do just that - how to let a story unfold in all its beauty, how to learn from the deep truths it contains, and how to avoid the great dangers of moralism that undercut the moral imagination of our children. Tending the Heart of Virtue is a valuable book for teacher and parent alike, worthy to be read and reread, as are the great works it calls us to remember.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU LISTEN TO: HOW SILENCE CAN RESHAPE YOUR WORLD & CULTIVATE VIRTUE by Dr. Carol Reynolds
The décor was impeccable. The transformation of this 18th-century villa on the outskirts of Milan into a boutique hotel belied the popular image of a Best Western (which it was). The burnt colors of the stucco walls and fabrics evoked clay pottery, while the grotesquely oversized wrought-iron chandelier struck the eye as hilariously whimsical. Vanilla and orange spice flavored the air, and the fine tracing on the carpets reminded me of fields of wheat. The aesthetic goals set forth by the architect had been met and surpassed. A mere “place” we’d booked on Expedia had turned out to be a work of art. . . . except for the blast of sound that hit us when we entered. “I shot the sheriff,” the speakers boomed down on us. And not the more subtle Bob Marley version, either: it was the Eric Clapton rendition; bubble-gum music. I almost fell over backwards. I ignored the chicly dressed clerk’s “Buon giorno, Signora.” “What is that?” I asked him, pointing up to the tastefully concealed speakers. “What?” he asked with genuine concern.
“The noise polluting this beautiful space,” I said, as I surveyed the finely crated Italian glass canisters filled with glittering bon-bons. He remained puzzled. In my rusty Italian I tried to ask why this gorgeous lobby was defiled by an utterly incongruous wave of “but I didn’t shoot the deputy.” He had no idea what I was talking about, but in perfect English he apologized profusely. We live in a world of noise pollution. The prime culprit isn’t the leaf blowers, motorcycles, or jet planes. Nor is it the booming speakers of the muscle car next to us at the traffic light. These are distressing factors in our noisy world, but they aren’t the ones that undo our souls. Our souls are undone by mindless noise that pretends to be music. We are diminished, whether by the electronic so-called music that is piped in at volumes able to trump the leaf blower or by the desensitizing soft musical goo that we swim in almost subconsciously as we stand in cafeteria lines. Both are poisoning every possibility that our society will ever be able to hear music again. Really hear it. Most of us have lost our connection with music and music-making. Blame it, if you wish, on the double-whammy of the gramophone and the microphone. These inventions changed music-making from a three-dimensional human activity, which required calories and skill and produced energy in the performer and the listener, into a one-di-
mensional electronic experience that requires no one to receive it and ever fewer to produce it. The technological devices that our toddlers play with remove the physical connection to music-making so that the adult of tomorrow will never have to enter a special place (a concert hall, a church, or the living room parlor), undergo a process of learning (at grandpa’s knee or in formal lessons), refine a skill (from virtuosic whistling to playing the cello), or even discern the types and names of instruments. What do we get in return? A narcotic murmur of background music, whether we want it or not, or foreground music sure to drown out normal human interaction. Music meant neither for contemplation nor enjoyment. Of course, we’ve always had background music. Every ceremonial aspect of King Louis XIV’s daily life was accompanied by music in some form (from Les Petits violons du roi and military fanfares to the full-blown court orchestra). But these were, at least, real people trained to play instruments or to sing. The players were physically present; they expected to be heard and judged. And at every level of society, music was perceived as a significant element, worthy of the best resources. It was a symbol of luxury and power, as well as a vehicle of religious inspiration and the preservation of the collective memory. Ah, the collective memory. Surely that was part of what was missing at my Italian hotel. The music was collective all right: we all had to listen to it. But it evoked no memory, no inspiration, no purpose. The technological problem has merged with an aesthetic one. The gradual transformation of the arts from an endeavor expressing beauty and truth into an unanchored activity called “personal expression” has more drastic spiritual consequences than we realize. We were endowed with the ability to be creative. Animals respond to instinct in ways that look creative to us, from the outside. But only Man is able to employ creativity both to solve problems and to express thoughts and feelings. The drive to create is Divine. Most scholars attribute the loss of aesthetic standards to the dawn of individualism in the 19th century and the simultaneous rejection of religious and moral values. Others date it back to the creeping doubt created by the brilliant polemics of Enlightenment authors like Jean-Jacques Rousseau. And still others carry the origins of the dilemma further back into the Renaissance, when painters of religious art first began to sign sacred works as their own. Regardless of the origin, the result is the same. In a culture where we are overwhelmed by stimuli, the entire concept of an objective standard is fully passé. And where it lingers, it is discredited. As contemporary philosopher Roger Scruton points out so clearly:
“. . . People no longer see works of art as objects of judgement or as expressions of the moral life increasingly many teachers of the humanities agree with their incoming students that there is no distinction between good and bad taste, but only between your taste and mine.” The consequence of this is worse than losing artistic forms that were pleasant to the eye and ear. Without the rules of taste, the power embodied in the Fine Arts has been derailed, denuded, and debunked. The transformative power of the arts has been perverted into an unregulated energy that we receive unawares and often unwillingly, with disorienting results. The Ancients knew well that music was a potent force. It could be palliative or destructive, depending on how it was used. Think of it as a chemical, which in the proper dose cleanses, but in an extreme or mishandled dose poisons. Plato discussed the need for society to purge certain kinds of scales, and even instruments, to protect social well-being: “[M]usical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful. . . .” Plato was more concerned here with practical effects than moral ones. He knew that a dance piece or love song in the wrong kind of scale would produce the wrong kind of mood, something to derail a warrior or lead a youth into wanton behavior. Neurologists today, using the most up-to-date research, conclude a modern version of the same theory, with volumes of data to back up their tests. But Plato argued that art has consequences and thus he appealed to a shared aesthetic. We have lost this long-held understanding. The modern notion that art is all about the individual creator means that the consequences also are individual rather than societal. Concerns about the collective impact are dismissed as prudish or as elitist meddling which means that any agreed aesthetic will be trumped by the artist’s striving for originality – indeed, originality becomes the only goal. And so here we are in a perfect storm of technological marvels flooding our senses with aesthetic nihilism. All options are equally valid; you may choose anything except silence. Art that is purely personal has no shared meaning, no shared aesthetic, and cannot be judged. So what difference does it make what music the hotel plays? Each patron can make of it what he will, if it registers in his brain at all. The hotel manager has quite possibly never given a moment’s thought to any of this.
“The technological problem has merged with an aesthetic one. The gradual transformation of the arts from an endeavor expressing beauty and truth into an unanchored activity called “personal expression” has more drastic spiritual consequences than we realize.”
We should not blame the problem on any transformation of musical styles. The endless succession of old people complaining about the declining styles and tastes of the younger generation requires an aesthetic frame of reference – precisely what we as educators want to encourage. It requires an engagement with music – precisely what the hotelier expects to avoid. The far greater problem is the passivity of the electronic medium. As the electronic medium of music insinuates itself into every possible physical space of our world, we are bathed effortlessly and passively in endless access to sound with no fury, all signifying nothing. Consequently we hear less and less because we have conditioned our brains to tune it out. But we can reclaim our ears and our aesthetic sensibilities with a little effort. You don’t have to sign up your children for music lessons, although that’s always a nice thing. Even the child who takes five lessons and despises the endeavor learns, if nothing else, the difficulty of making real music. No, I have a cheaper solution – three suggestions, actually, with no need to buy a thing or pile into the car to implement them: First, find strategies to identify what you’re actually hearing in any given day or period of days. In our signature course Discovering Music, we offer listening exercises that help students become aware of the “music” that hits their ears every day and to track both its production (passive/active) and its effect. Keeping a listening journal will require more discipline and vigilance than you may expect. It will create a profile of the soundscape in your daily life, and you may be surprised at what you find. Second, turn off all electronically produced musical sound for one month. Ban it. That might even include the TV (although I’ll let the parents have the amount of news and NFL they deem essential). But overall, restore silence to your home and track what happens. Do the members of your household find themselves hearing more music internally (that inward melody that whistles or sings in our heads)? Do you hear more singing and whistling in your house? Does someone wander to the guitar or piano, in an effort to hear some music? Are you inclined to seek out some kind of live music-making, from church to a park concert or maybe the high-school band concert? Just what happens when human beings are forced to return to an active relationship in order to have the necessary spiritual food of music? Third, get proactive. If you’re bombarded by crude rock while filling your gas tank, ask the attendant to turn it off, and if it can’t be shut off, find another gas station. Write a letter to the company explaining why your $54.00 went to another business. Leave a restaurant where the loud music necessitates even louder conversation, but make sure the maître d’ knows it. Avoid, where possible, the mindless e-concerts going on in elevators and malls, and complain to the manager. Can this make a difference? Well, obviously, if enough people determined to do it, yes. But the important thing is that you and those you care about can recreate a better, richer soundscape. Silence, the great enemy in our modern culture, can become the most beautiful décor of your thoughts, one which opens meaningfully to let in the power of music, a power that shapes who we are and who we become. As you listen to music attentively, you will discover a different virtual world – a virtuous one of contemplation and beauty.
How Literature Solves the Problem of Evil b y M artin C othran
IN THE WAKE
of every disaster, there follow narrative accounts and musical commemorations. From The Iliad and The Odyssey to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, books have dwelt on death and destruction. What great crime doesn’t have its own documentary? What great disaster doesn’t have its own song?
Shipwrecks and floods have been particularly amenable to this treatment. There are over a hundred songs about the sinking of the Titanic, making it one of many disasters that has its own soundtrack. One modern folk song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” was written about the 1975 sinking of a ship during a storm on Lake Superior, a song that asked a familiar question: “Does anyone know where the love of God goes/When the waves turn the minutes to hours?” The December, 1933 flood in Los Angeles was immortalized by Woody Guthrie in “Los Angeles New Years Flood”: “No, you could not see it coming/Till through our town it rolled/One hundred souls were taken/In that fatal New Year’s flood.” “There ain’t no place for a poor old girl to go” in Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues”; There’s “six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline” in Randy Newman’s “Louisiana, 1927”; and the “hives are gone/I’ve lost my bees/The chickens are sleepin’ in the willow trees/Cow’s in water up past her knees” in Johnnie Cash’s, “Five Feet High and Risin’.” You can order The Great International Disaster Book on Amazon. com. And you can find a website called “The Natural Disaster Song List.” When twenty-six people were shot last year by a gunman at a school in Newtown, Connecticut (twenty of them children), the community did the same thing as the friends and families of the victims of the ship on Lake Superior: They went to church. “In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed/ In the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral/The church bell chimed ‘til it rang twenty-nine times/For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.” There are two things the Church provides the sufferer that other things do not: context and cantation—story and song. The resort to religion is, in fact, the norm when it comes to responding to disaster. And yet the world seems to always have a different remedy. When a television viewer sees a report of evil or suffering, he is more inclined to experience it as an abstract, philosophical problem (if not a psychological problem). This is why the problem of evil has traditionally been considered a logical dilemma: If God were perfectly good, then he would prevent evil; and if God were all-powerful, then he could prevent evil But God has not prevented evil Therefore, God is either not perfectly good or He is not all-powerful
From a philosophical perspective, the argument is unanswerable. Once we admit the evil, we are faced with either rejecting the goodness of God or his omniscience— which as Christians we can never do. The only other course is to deny the evil in the first place. While comforting, that doesn’t seem like a realistic solution. But the problem stated in this way is designed to keep us at a distance. The tools we have invented to help us uncover the secrets of nature have somehow alienated us from it. The very abstractions by which we would capture reality—which we think of as their strength—prevent us from comprehending it. The man of the present day, said philosopher William Barrett, “lives on a level of abstraction altogether beyond the man of the past...The level of abstraction at which we live is the very source of man’s power...But it is also a power which has, like everything human, its negative side, in the desolating sense of rootlessness, vacuity, and the lack of concrete feeling that assails modern man in his moments of real anxiety.” The philosophical problem of evil is a philosophical question—asked by philosophers—requiring a philosophical answer—provided by philosophers. Its answer (if there is one) is sought only by people who are not themselves suffering. It is the question of a comfortable man seeking intellectual comfort in the face of potential intellectual discomfort. In it, abstraction calleth unto abstraction in the noise of our intellectual curiosity. The problem of evil is, to steal a phrase from The Hobbit, a “riddle in the dark.” And philosophers do not do well in the dark. They fly by day. When darkness comes, pure intelligence is of little avail. Darkness requires wisdom, and wisdom is of the poets. I don’t think Hegel meant it this way, but it is perhaps why the Owl of Minerva, the symbol of wisdom, flies only at dusk. When people look for a solution to the problem of evil in its rational or logical form, they are looking for a resolution to a technical problem. But this question—the rational question of evil—is not the real problem of evil. At least it is not the question with which people who experience suffering actually struggle. In fact, the vast majority of those who actually struggle with evil couldn’t even tell you what the logical question was. And even if they were aware of the problem—and even if they knew the answer to it—they would not be satisfied. How would the answer to a logical question assuage their grief? Their grief is not a logical problem. The logical dilemma of evil would not be satisfying to anyone but a logician—and it would only satisfy him as a logician; it would not satisfy him as a human being.
How Literature Solves the Problem of Evil
The purely abstract philosophical problem of evil is an impersonal question. It is always someone else’s problem. But the real problem of evil and suffering—the existential problem—is necessarily a personal question. It is a problem for me. The philosophical question of evil is not the question parents and friends of those killed in Newtown or Japan or the twin towers asked themselves. It is certainly not the question addressed by God speaking from Job’s whirlwind. There is, in fact, not just one problem of evil: There are two. The first is the logical question, “How can there be evil and suffering in a world created by a good and all powerful God?” But the second question, which can often sound the same, is actually much different. The second question is “Why is evil happening to me?” This second question is not a logical question, but an existential question--or perhaps we might better say that it is a phenomenological question. It is not a question about something that happens in the abstract, it is something that happens to us. In Job’s story, the characters do not make this distinction, but I think the author does. Certainly God does, as we see by the end of the story. Job is dealing (whether he knows it or not) with the second question—why is evil happening to me?—while his Comforters are dealing with the first question—“How can there be evil and suffering in a world created by a good and all powerful God?” Job’s question is concrete and existential, not abstract and philosophical. But his friends are all philosophers. Job himself seems unaware of this distinction—or maybe, to borrow a phrase from Chesterton, it was in his soul but not in his mind. In any case, this was part of his struggle, and this is the primary reason why the advice of his friends is not a help to him: He thinks they are addressing his question, when, in fact, they are not. While his Comforters bring him reasons, God brings the news of the poetic order of the world. God’s words mean more to Job than those of his comforters because the world is more like a poem than a syllogism. What most disturbs us about evil is not that it presents a logical problem. In fact, what most disturbs us about evil is not evil itself. What most disturbs us about it is its seeming absurdity. One indication of this is that we do not ask the same questions when discussing someone who is killed in battle fighting for a just cause that we do when a child is killed by a stray bullet. Nor we do see the death of someone who has lived a long and productive life the same way we see a child who dies in infancy.
There is something the former cases in each of these examples have that the latter do not. In the former cases, the event is more clearly part of a larger narrative, whereas the latter events are (or seem) random—outside of any larger narrative order. The former seem to involve a purpose that was in some way achieved, whereas the latter do not. It is easier to detect the why in one than in the other. This is why Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamozov chose cruelty to children as the paradigm case of evil in his discussion with his brother in Brothers Karamozov: On the surface, Ivan is talking about the problem of evil. But more fundamentally, he is articulating to Alyosha a universe without metaphysical order—a universe in which evil is out of anyone’s control. But the vision of orderless evil Ivan casts before Alyosha is a false vision. The evil Ivan thinks is absurd and without place in the world is not absurd or out of place. It has meaning because it has a place in the story he is in—Dostoevsky’s story. And the Devil is not out of control for him—He is under the author’s control. What we fear is not evil per se, but metaphysical chaos. What scares us is not bad things; what scares us, to use the words of William Butler Yeats, is that “things fall apart—the center cannot hold.” If we accept this as being the case, which it clearly seems to be, then it makes sense that stories and songs would be the most adequate response. The only “problem” with the problem of evil is that we do not, and most of the time cannot, see the overarching narrative theme. This is the case in All Quiet on the Western Front, perhaps the greatest piece of literature to emerge from World War I. The characters in Enrique Remarque’s story see what seems to them to be senseless violence all around them. They are in the trenches and the wholesale slaughter of human life they see around them seems completely absurd. But the view of these same events would be much different from the perspective of the war room in which the battles that they waged were being planned. From that perspective the deaths would have a larger purpose. It may be a good purpose or a bad one, but in either case that purpose provides a metaphysical context that gives meaning to the individual actions of each soldier. But not only do the soldiers who are characters in this story have a limited view—and therefore a cynical attitude— we the readers do too. We are never shown in the story what the purpose of these events is, and so we see it the way the soldiers see it—the same way, in fact, that we all must see our
own world in the absence of access to the fuller narrative. This larger narrative framework is what Sam Gamgee seeks when, as he and Frodo are entering Mordor, he tries to put their situation into perspective: “‘I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We’re in one, of course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say: “Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring!’” Sam is not discouraged—or at least not as discouraged as he would be if he didn’t know that he was in a story. His and Frodo’s actions—and the evil they had and were to witness—had meaning because they had a context that gave them meaning. They were on a quest. They knew what they had to do and why they had to do it. They knew the story they were in. “We are willing to endure suffering,” says William Kilpatrick, “when the suffering has meaning.” This is why literature succeeds where philosophy fails. “Reason is the organ of truth,” says C. S. Lewis, “but imagination is the organ of meaning.” In his book After Virtue, philosopher Alasdaire MacIntyre has pointed out that in heroic societies it was a person’s role in the community that gave his ethical bearings. The community, with its traditions and customs, provided the narrative scheme within which he played his role, and within which his actions and those of others had ethical meaning. The community provides us with setting within which the drama of life takes place. “Act well your part,” says Alexander Pope, “there your honor lies.” Our actions can only be called good in relation to the story we are in—and they can only be judged evil in the same context. But in addition to context, there is cantation. Whereas a story provides a perspective from which even evil events can be seen to have meaning, a song seems to have a further power. There is a long tradition in stories of the power of music to drive away evil. In George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin, Princess Irene and her nurse are walking home and they hear whistling, which they discover is coming from a miner boy who is walking from the other direction. The nurse worries that it will attract the goblins who live under the mountain. But Curdie knows better.
He continues singing: “Hush! scush! scurry! There you go in a hurry! Gobble! gobble! gobblin! There you go a wobblin’; Hobble, hobble, hobblin’! Cobble! cobble !cobblin’! Hob-bob-goblin Huuuuuh!” Curdie knows that, far from attracting the goblins, music repels them: “There! that’ll do for them. They can’t bear singing, and they can’t stand that song. They can’t sing themselves, for they have no more voice than a crow; and they don’t like other people to sing.” When Frodo and Sam are bewitched by Old Man Willow, Tom Bombadil happens along, effecting their rescue. His method of extracting Frodo is to sing into the tree, at which it immediately relents. Bombadil is the most poetic—and musical—being in Middle Earth. He is also, not coincidentally, I suspect, the creature who is the most impervious to evil. He is the only character in the story who is immune from the power of the ring. When he asks Frodo if he can handle it, Frodo willingly gives it to him (this never happens with others, all of whom he jealously guards it from, including Gandalf). Bombadil puts the Ring on, and nothing happens. And when Frodo puts it on himself in Bombadil’s presence, Frodo is invisible to everyone but him. This is mentioned at the Council, where there is a short discussion of giving the Ring to Bombadil, but they decide against it because he cares so little for it that they fear he might lose it. In literature, singing has incantational powers. In fact, the very word “incantation” means “singing into.” Once again, if our lives are themselves stories, is there a possibility that music has the same power in life as it does in story? I find it interesting that, just before the earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison and unfastened their bonds, Paul and Cyrus had been singing hymns. Music has this in common with story: it is narrative in structure. It too must have a conflict. In his book Howards End, E. M. Forster describes a scene in which the Schlegels, the family with whom the story is chiefly concerned, attend a concert at which Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is being performed. Forster translates the
How Literature Solves the Problem of Evil
music into narrative. As they wait for the Third Movement, Helen announces the coming of the Goblins: The music started with a goblin walking quietly over the universe, from end to end. Others followed him. They were not aggressive creatures; it was not that that made them so terrible to Helen. They merely observed in passing that there was no such thing as splendour or heroism in the world. After the interlude of the elephants dancing, they returned and made the observation for the second time. Helen could not contradict them, for, once at all events, she had felt the same and had seen the reliable walls of youth collapse. Panic and emptiness! Panic and emptiness! The goblins were right. Her brother raised his finger: it was the transitional passage on the drum. For, as if things were going too far, Beethoven took hold of the goblins and made them do what he wanted. He appeared in person. He gave them a little push, and they began to walk in major key instead of in minor, and then—he blew with his mouth and they were scattered! Gusts of splendour, gods and demi-gods contending with vast swords, colour and fragrance broadcast on the field of battle, magnificent victory, magnificent death! Oh, it all burst before the girl, and she even stretched out her gloved hands as if it was tangible. Any fate was titanic; any contest desirable; conqueror and conquered would alike be applauded by the angels of the utmost stars. And the goblins—they had not really been there at all! They were only the phantoms of impulse and unbelief? One healthy human impulse would dispel them? … Beethoven knew better. The goblins really had been there. They might return—and they did. It was as if the splendour of life might boil over and waste to steam and froth. In its dissolution one heard the terrible, ominous note, and a goblin, with increased malignity, walked quietly over the universe from end to end. Panic and emptiness! Panic and emptiness! Even the flaming ramparts of the world might fall.
Beethoven chose to make all right in the end. He built the ramparts up. He blew with his mouth for the second time, and again the goblins were scattered. He brought back the gusts of splendour, the heroism, the youth, the magnificence of life
and death, and, amid the vast roarings of a superhuman joy, he led his Fifth Symphony to its conclusion. But the goblins were there. They could return. He had said so bravely, and that is why one can trust Beethoven when he says other things. Beethoven has introduced evil into his music. But we do not blame him for it. That the goblins are there, in fact— really there—is part of the greatness of the Fifth Symphony. It is the very conflict between good and evil that create the possibility of its triumphant end. And we see it because we, like Beethoven see the whole, not just a part. Notice that we never blame an author for the evil he has put in his story. We do not blame Dostoevsky for the murder Raskolnikov commits in Crime and Punishment, or Flannery O’Connor for the murder of the old women in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” We do not blame John Steinbeck for the social conditions in Grapes of Wrath, or George Lucas for Darth Vadar. In fact, more often than not, we congratulate the author for the conflict he has written into his story. It’s a necessary part of what makes it what it is. If a story contains no evil, then it is not a story—or at least, not a very good one. A story— or a song—must necessarily have conflict in order to be satisfying. When he was teaching a class of high school English students several years ago at Highlands Latin School, Wendell Berry drew a vertical line on the chalk board. On the left hand side of the line, he wrote, “Good.” On the right side of the line, he wrote, “Evil.” Then he drew an arrow pointing to the line: “This is where a story happens,” he said. That is not only what makes it exciting, what qualifies it as a good story, that is also what gives it meaning. We might even say that, in a story, evil is good. “Even Gollum might be good in a tale,” says Frodo, “better than he is to have by you, anyway.” But what if life—and even history—were a story? What if life itself and the events of history have meaning only because they too were cast in a larger narrative? Would evil be “good” in the same way? Would we be willing—if we could see things from an ultimate perspective—to do away with evil if it meant there would be no meaning to any of our actions? Why are we tempted, like Ivan Karamazov, to blame the Author—an Author who promises an end that will give meaning to all that went before—an Author, we might point out, who has entered His story like Beethoven has entered his song?
INTER V IE W
WHAT ARE WE DOING TO OUR BOYS? How To Treat Boys Like Humans and Help Them Flourish
BY DAVID KERN WITH CINDY ROLLINS AND JAMES DANIELS
everal years ago James Daniels, a popular speaker at various classical education conferences and an experienced teacher and administrator gave a talk at a CiRCE Conference called “What Are We Doing To Our Boys?” in which he asserted that most modern educational methods and programs that claim to turn boys into young men are doing quite the opposite of their stated goals. Rather than developing boys into men they simply prolong childhood before they release their subjects into the world to fend for themselves, no closer to being men than when they started. This is one of our most popular talks ever.
Meanwhile, Cindy Rollins, a mother of seven boys and a popular blogger and speaker on all matters classical homeschooling, presented a talk at the 2013 CiRCE conference called “What Are We Doing To Our Boys Redux: A Mom’s View” in which she reflected on many of the claims that Daniels made in his original talk, and developed further much of what James argued. James and Cindy were kind enough to chat with me about this important subject, one that matters deeply to me as I raise my two young boys (just as I imagine it does for many of you who are raising and/or teaching boys).
W h at is th e biggest ch a llenge to r a isi ng boys today? CINDY: The culture of pleasure is probably the biggest surface challenge. Boys are easily lured into taking the easy way out and both computer game addictions and pornography are stripping today’s young men of their ability to make hard decisions and face real challenges in life and relationships. Perhaps this goes back to the lack of honor in our society which leaves our sons without inspiration or purpose and makes addiction to pleasure a viable alternative to meaninglessness. JAMES: I think to answer that question, we must first ask, “what is at the center, or what is the defining characteristic, of masculine identity?” It seems that the “heart” of the man can be best explained by what has been referred to in the past as “thumos” – that masculine spirit that focuses on a “drive to power”. Now most of the time, when that is expressed, our minds think of what I consider misconceptions about masculinity. I don’t believe that the common “ideal type” of manhood involving a certain physical prowess, an assertion of power, or aggressive behavior really captures the idea of thumos. I believe that the concept that embodies the essence of manhood is initiation. But I do believe that there must be a “drive”, a passion, that fuels initiative. So, with that in mind, as someone that spends a lot of time mentoring and discipling young men, when I think of “challenges” to boys becoming men, I seek to identity things that cause boys to either suppress that drive (a true wimp) to take the initiative or that cause them to overuse that drive to power in unrestrained ways (a barbarian). Both are usually distorting that passion to feed and satisfy their own ego or needs first, instead of looking outside of themselves to the world or to the other people around them to receive cues on what they should become and how they should act. While there are more specific obstacles that we can discuss, the most threatening challenge in my mind is boys left to their own devices.
Inter esti ng. So w e don’t wa nt boys to be left to th eir ow n dev ices, bu t w e a lso don’t wa nt to k eep th e m from “i n iti ati ng”, r ight? W h er e do w e fi n d 25
th at fi n e li n e? JAMES: To be clear, we want boys to continually be about the process of initiating but we need to constantly guide that initiative. That’s why I always try to frame the conversation in terms of two major categories when it comes to boys becoming men: experience and mentorship. So much of masculinity is externally-based (as opposed to femininity, which is more internally-based - more tied to physiology). As an Upper School Principal, I constantly challenge my faculty to think of ways to provide daily challenges and opportunities for the boys. Cindy [has spoken in the past about] creating an atmosphere where the young men are “needed”. They must feel that they are needed, even obligated, to play a role (in the family, in the school community, in the church, etc.) and must not be allowed to play the role of “consumer.” Additionally, others in the community, especially the males, must model that role for them, guide them into fulfilling the expectations of the role, and speak words of affirmation (in addition to correction) into their lives as they fulfill the role well.
So, to both of you, w h at does th at look lik e i n pr actice? W h at does a n atmosph er e “w h er e boys a r e n eeded” look lik e, i n th e hom e a n d i n th e school? CINDY: In the home it means that mom gets out of the way. Often mothers find themselves stepping in to take care of all of life’s problems for their sons. They prevent their sons from falling and failing and therefore they prevent them from learning to be men. One clue that you are THAT mom is the Mary Poppins purse. Sometimes not being on hand with snacks and water is the best thing you can do. Let a young man begin to think ahead for himself when he walks out the door. I like to let my boys drive whenever we get into the car together. At first this is difficult for a mother to do but it sends a huge message to a son. I recommend becoming a hyper-Calvinist too, at least on these car trips. I am not sure what the atmosphere of most homes would look like but in our home, where there are eight boys, I try not to interfere in
every competitive event that springs up and I tend to turn a blind eye to arguments in the early stages.
risk. I have a friend that likes to joke that ‘rigor’ come from rigor mortis and I think she is on to something.
I talk to moms quite a bit about not moralizing, spiritualizing, or nagging. I think this is tied to what James is saying about masculinity being externally-based, while femininity is internally-based. I naturally learned over the years that I could preach away if it made me feel better – only no one was listening. Worse than that, it deadens the conscience.
This is one area where homeschoolers have an advantage. We have more freedom to order our days organically. We can make sure that after the book learning is accomplished there is time left for service, work, and physical challenges. I used to let my guys take days off when the farmer down the road needed to put up hay. I always said that when I found a school that would do that I would enroll the boys. Charlotte Mason advised that mornings were for scholarship and afternoons for other pursuits. As James mentions, the afternoons should not be left for our sons to just ‘consume’ but these afternoons should not be filled with schoolwork either. This is difficult. I think schools have become what they are because our lives are not structured towards the formerly masculine pursuits of scholarship, work, and play. We aren’t very good at work and therefore we aren’t very good at play.
It also helps if we do not stand between our sons and their male mentors, even when we get frustrated with how things are going–which is often the case with coaching situations (Women tend to internalize sporting situations, making them about moral imperatives when really they are about external issues which may develop strength of character).
Ja m es, W h at do you thi n k? JAMES: For the most part, I see folks that are involved in discussing and crafting plans for mentoring boys that focus on big events, adrenaline-laden adventures, and ceremony. While I won’t downplay some of the value of such events, I think that sometimes it gives boys the wrong impression. You see, there is already such a disconnect in the minds of young men between the vision for masculinity and the mundane. I find that boys that aspire to be men generally have big dreams of conquering and protecting . . . slaying the dragon and saving the “damsel in distress”. But the fact is, this may be where masculinity is embodied but it is not where it is developed. The masculine spirit, the thumos, is developed by habituation in the routine...the small things...everyday chores...work. You can’t effectively swing a sword if you haven’t been swinging the sickle. We would never put a man on the battlefield that hasn’t endured a routine of discipline first. We should be connecting the dots for young men between their lofty views of manhood and the small things they encounter everyday: chores, lawn mowing, homework, picking up trash at school when they see it...not romantic in the least but highly effective in building masculine habits of the soul. The boys must understand that if you are not building these habits in the small things, they won’t be there in the big events. That’s great. And it’s why sports can be so helpful in developing men.
Let’s shift ov er mor e specifica lly to school: W h at a r e w e doi ng i n ou r cl a ssrooms a n d hom eschools th at is detr i m enta l to th e dev elopm ent of m a scu li n it y. W h at shou ld w e be doi ng i nste a d? CINDY: I think the way we organize our school days in modern times is detrimental to masculinity on almost every level. I can’t think of one way that boys benefit from the structure of modern schooling, which often doesn’t even have room for PE in its cascade of ever increasing ‘subjects’. This is why girls are blossoming at the expense of boys. It is also where our philosophy can get us into trouble. If we think of classical education as back-to-basics or rigor then we put our boys at 26
At this point I can hear the voices in my head saying that boys need rigor. I like to think, and I am borrowing this from my friend, that rather than rigor they need vigor. Study hard, work hard, play hard. Each pursuit enhances the joy of the others but when out of balance they lose their effectiveness, especially for boys. All of this requires discipline on the part of parents, teachers, administrators, and students. JAMES: The bulk of masculine spirit is developed by the habituation of “stepping up” in the routine and everyday chores, work, and tasks. We must be about the work of connecting the dots for young men – showing them how taking initiative in the mundane fits into the higher pursuits and calling of being a man. With that in mind, anything that would blur those connections, or present an obstacle to their seeing that connection, would be detrimental to that process. Those types of threats usually come in the form of not allowing them to experience real consequences for their actions. Allowing them to live in an artificial world, trying to “save” them or protect them from reality, and not giving them an opportunity to be challenged or be adventurous. This is one of the main reasons I am so strongly against the idea of allowing boys to spend too much time playing video games. I am not opposed to the idea of playing violent games because it promotes violence . . . rather, I am far more bothered by the fact that they use them as a substitution for reality. This is also why pornography is destroying the souls of our young men. It gives them the illusion of power without real consequences. I highly recommend parents encourage their boys to do yard work, landscaping, gardening, farming, etc. It is hard work, which it very good for our boys, but it also grants direct and tangible results of the young man’s labor, which is very satisfying to the masculine soul. As parents, teachers, and administrators, we are far too quick to protect the young men of our schools. Failing and facing consequences for our actions (good or bad) are huge factors in cultivating masculinity. It is the losing of a football, soccer, or baseball game that truly shows you the heart of a young man, not usually the winning. Anyone can take the initiative when it is easy. Many times, I hear teachers tell young men in our schools: “I’m going to give you grace this time, but next time you are going to have to face the consequences”. Not only are you distorting the nature of Grace, in my opinion, but you are giving boys the idea that you are doing them a favor when you are doing just the
Interview: What Are We Doing To Our Boys? opposite. Additionally, we must realize that we should discipline boys differently than girls. The most important aspect in disciplining young men is to draw the straightest line between their actions and the direct consequences of those actions. Blowing a situation out of proportion, nagging, or preaching to the boys, making discipline an overly emotional process, or having a long “heart-to-heart” conversation with boys usually accomplishes the opposite result of what you are after. You don’t “control” the masculine spirit – you cultivate and channel it toward a higher and more noble cause. Finally, any opportunity that you can give the young men to share in the responsibility of governing, serving, protecting, and maintaining the community, the culture, and even the physical facilities of the school plays a huge role in the lives of these young men – valuing them as contributors, not consumers. CINDY: Excellent points. I relate to the idea of not turning every disciplinary session into a spiritual lesson. This is something I have tried to articulate to moms but your words are much more powerful.
Isn’t it tru e, though, th at most boys w ill r esist ou r offer s to h elp w ith ya r d wor k or facilit y m a i ntena nce? W h at do w e do w ith th e boy th at actua lly pr efer s to pl ay v ideo ga m es or w ho is l a z y a n d r esists h a r d wor k? Is th er e som ethi ng w e ca n do besides wor k i ng to ch a nge th e cu ltu r e of ou r hom es a n d schools? Som ethi ng ta ngible a n d i mm edi ate? CINDY: I don’t want to sound heavy-handed or authoritarian because I believe in wearing authority lightly. But it must be worn. A parent or teacher needs to be confident in their authority. Your 7th grader doesn’t need a smart phone. In our house you have to be fifteen to have a Facebook account and we don’t own a game console. The last portable console someone gave the boys was fun for awhile but when I saw it was doing damage– and it was doing the worst sort of damage–I dropped it in water. The boys still ask to play games on my Kindle Fire and I sometimes let them, but right now it is off limits for the month of September because their school lists were not being done thoroughly. In spite of my approach to video games, and even though the boys enjoy them as much as the next guy, they seem to feel the love behind our restriction. But then this policy has a long history in our family. It is much easier to keep things from boys than to take them away. We had an issue yesterday where the boys were wrestling in the house and it was worrying my husband. We are renting and we could easily imagine the house falling on top of us and indeed there is at least one big, gaping hole in the plaster from where a vacuum cleaner was dropped down the stairs. My husband told the boys there would be no more rough-housing. Then about an hour later we heard familiar thumping going on downstairs. My husband thought of a punishment for the boys and I thought of one and we gave them the choice. 27
They both chose working in the yard an extra hour. They chose the punishment and there was no sign of bitterness or feeling persecuted. Of course, there wasn’t any rejoicing either. I think the choice helped. And as James so astutely pointed out, we did not need to make a spiritual production out of it. They knew they had disobeyed. They just needed to see that we were going to follow through. Once authority and respect are established they are much easier to maintain, but the battle can be a hard one at first. This is one reason I say a mother must be strong. She cannot mistake understanding the male temperament with letting her sons walk all over her. JAMES: I agree with Cindy . . . anything that I would have to say in addition would just be various nuances reiterating the same theme: we are the adults....we are the parents...and it is a destructive mode to allow children to develop a view of reality that conforms to their own preferences versus conforming their souls to the real world...and ultimately depressing and unsatisfying to them.
Bu t th er e a r e a lways goi ng to be those boys (ev en if on ly a few of th em) w ho a r e goi ng to be r ebellious. W ho, for w h atev er r e a son, w ill r esist you no m atter w h at you say or how you say it. How shou ld te ach er s a n d pa r ents r espon d to such boys i n a way th at is au thor itati v e bu t doesn’t di m i n ish th e hu m a n-n ess of th at child? JAMES: For me, I think that this may be the hardest question to answer so far due to the complexity of these types of situations. There’s no short answer or formula here. I really love what you brought to the discussion here in regard to cultivating “humanness” as the end point (or telos) of education. Models of education that focus primarily on vocation or college as an end are severely limited in dealing with these types of matters - it’s why I have always had a passion for liberal arts education. If this is really our goal in liberal arts - developing the fullness of human beings as God has intended them - then we must utilize that paradigm in every single decision that we make in our homes and schools. Aristotle and other philosophers in the past have promoted the idea of eudaimonia, which has been reduced today to just “happiness” or “well-being”. But, given the context of Aristotle’s use of the word, I believe that a more accurate translation would be the idea of “human flourishing”. I believe this idea is a beautiful concept to transfer to our goals in education and, in my mind, applies directly to your question. Not only to these types of situations dealing with rebellious youths, but the same principles really apply universally to raising boys to be men in generally. This idea of “human-ness” should be the bookend of our conversations with young men. I believe we should start with the concepts of
Interview: What Are We Doing To Our Boys?
masculine passions– thumos, initiation, and “drive to power”– as gifts bestowed by the Creator upon these young men and we should end the conversations with “human flourishing” as the end in which God has in mind for all of humanity. I believe that we should work from this understanding and communicate these thoughts as often as possible. This removes the idea that I am asserting my power over another person because of who I am and derived from my own authority (which men in general will always “buck up” against) but appeals to a higher authority...which has more to do with the role that I play versus my personhood or even adequacy to perfectly govern these young men. At the heart of education is the idea of submission. As a man, for me to have the desire to submit, I generally must see value in submitting and respect the authority over me. As teachers, the less we appeal to ourselves as personalities and our abilities, the better off we will be in establishing authority. We have all seen it in students (and we are guilty of it ourselves): if we don’t like the way that someone in authority does something or don’t mesh with their personality, then we have a tendency to not respect them or submit to them as authority figures. We must seek to appeal to something higher than ourselves if we are ever going to establish healthy lines of authority. For the most part, boys respect and understand “pecking orders” far more than the young ladies. Many times we perceive that young ladies are just more “submissive” than the young men, but in reality, they are, by temperament , just trying to be “pleasers” or to appear more “pleasing” to those around them. In my experience, young men seem to have a deeper understanding of the importance of submission and are more in tune to hierarchies of authority. The way it generally plays out in the classroom is that if a young lady doesn’t see the value of authority, it doesn’t show as much as in young men whose passions will not allow them to remain neutral about the whole affair. Additionally, if we are viewing the matter as a robustly human endeavor, we will refrain from trying to “control” these passions, but will channel them into human flourishing. We should be constantly telling and showing the boys that we are not trying to de-humanize or neuter them like the majority of the world seems to be doing, but that we are trying to assist them in plugging these passions and affections to something higher and far more satisfying. Finally, I think we should address rebellious young men in terms of three categories: routines, teachable moments, and higher vision. First, our routines should be structured but not stifling. The idea that we could take a boy and put him in a classroom for hours at a time without any physical exertion or expression is not squelching rebellion, but asking for it. Let’s be realistic about our routines. Are we pursuing human flourishing or classroom management? Additionally, while we should avoid making the process of disciplining young men a long drawn-out conversation, it is important that boys see purpose and reason behind the discipline. Rarely do reactionary situations make for teachable moments. Create margins at home and in your school for constructive and authentic conversation. 28
Finally, we must cast a vision [for] the young men regarding what we are after–a vision that captures their moral imagination and moves them beyond themselves. I have generally found that the pontifications administrators give at assemblies and chapels are far less effective than constantly surrounding young men in the classroom and at home with stories and models that embody human flourishing and the masculine spirit. These stories should not just be about warriors in battle or courage, but [about] themes relating to the correct use of freedom and power, and a healthy view of authority and autonomy. These narratives should not only be stories in literature from long ago and far away places, but as teachers we should be gathering and telling stories of young men in today’s world or of dads and other male leaders who interact in masculine ways in the world we live - stories that express heroic acts that serve higher causes. The humanizing stories. CINDY: James’s response reminds me of a few brief points. One of my regrets from my younger years of parenting is that I didn’t take time to fully grasp what Charlotte Mason meant when she said, “Children are born persons”. I got very caught up with worrying over what she meant in regards to the sin nature and missed that she was saying something very important about how we relate to each other as humans. It was later when I realized [that] my ‘sphere of sovereignty’ over my boys was limited that I started to pay more attention to what Charlotte meant. This was freeing for me and for the boys. At that point I took a deep breath and stopped trying to make them into something I imagined and started trying to work with them. I was able to let go of winning battles in order to win the war. As James says, this is hard to communicate because it requires wisdom for varying circumstances. It is not meant to mean that we offer grace when we should be firm. Mothers, especially, think that our sermons are effective when generally they are not but that doesn’t mean that what we want to say is not needed. We just need to wait for an opening of the heart. Sometimes when an older boy is clearly in the wrong we might have to step away from being an enforcer for a little while in order to wait for the moment when we can talk about it rationally. I try not to state my opinions in ways that make the boys tune me out completely (or my daughter). This is just simple human respect for another person and, sometimes, when the emotions are involved it is very, very difficult. But the rewards of treating your children with respect are many. I try to be strong and speak truth to my sons but I try to do it by first taking a step backwards to get a clearer view of what they are saying. That step backwards often diffuses the atmosphere enough to allow real communication. What James says about routine reminds me of one very common problem where a boy loses confidence in what is going on in the homeschool because, indeed, things are lax and they see lack of routine and (often) purpose. Sometimes parents don’t recognize this because a young man will not communicate that he wants his school to be harder or more orderly. Rather he will act out his frustration in other ways. This problem is common enough that it is the first thing I try to discern when talking to moms. Creating a family routine for school can open the door to the liberal arts wide open because it allows us the structure to build our schools brick by brick over the long haul.
On Habitus & the Desires It Shapes Why Healthy Models of Cultural Consumption Are More Important Than Ever
BY BRETT McCRACKEN
pe™, Jakob Nylund , www.formconspiracy.se
hen I think about the people whose habits of cultural consumption shaped me the most, I have a hard time narrowing it down to just a few. From the buddy in third grade whose glazed-over eyes rarely averted from a video game screen (and thus turned me off to video games from an early age) to the Hobbit-like college history professor whose infectious glee at all manner of European art and film couldn’t help but rub off on me, the influences in my development as a cultural consumer are vast. I was raised in Baptist churches in Oklahoma and Kansas, so the extent of my early exposure to cultural consumption was largely confined to things like Adventures in Odyssey, McGee & Me, contemporary Christian/gospel music, and church potlucks featuring diverse culinary genres like the “mayo-based casserole,” “desserts featuring Jello” and “side dishes incorporating cream of mushroom soup.” Thankfully I had more refined cultural influences built into my extended family: a grandfather who adored classical music and a mother who played it; a great-grandmother whose oil landscapes hung on the walls of our home; an aunt and a sister who loved art history and organized family trips to the Art Institute of Chicago, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Kansas City) or the Gilcrease Museum (Tulsa); and a father and an uncle who read books voraciously and shared them with one another. I wouldn’t say I grew up in an “artsy” family or even an “intellectual” one, but it was certainly one that appreciated culture in its proper place. We watched, played, and attended sporting events together; we went to movies and gathered around the TV for our favorite shows (T.G.I.F. followed by 20/20 was a Friday night ritual); we played music together at Christmas and whenever the extended McCracken clan gathered we sang Scottish folk songs as my grandmother played the piano and (in later years) my uncle droned away on the bagpipes.
Then there were the influences from outside of my family: the friends, mentors, professors, and co-workers whose postures toward culture I observed and imitated. People like my family friend Larry, a sixty-something church usher whose ability to converse passionately about everything from Proust to Tarantino to college basketball inspired me to be a well-rounded connoisseur; or Dr. Lundin at Wheaton College, a professor whose love of Melville, Dostoevsky, and Dickinson turned me on to the power of language to communicate the transcendent. There are also people I’ve never met--artists, thinkers, poets, bloggers--whose work has shaped and inspired my own approach to culture. The filmmaker Terrence Malick is one. Every film he makes teaches me something new about how I can better appreciate the beauty in everything. C.S. Lewis is another. When I first read works like An Experiment in Criticism or “The Weight of Glory,” significant things happened in my development as a Christian consumer of culture. But behind and beneath these later-in-life intellectual epiphanies is a basic disposition which I adopted from a young age: a sense of awe, wonder, discovery, and reverence in the face of God and beauty. Before I ever laid eyes on Malick’s Days of Heaven, I was being formed by a family that recognized and celebrated the wonder of our Creator and His creation. My family loved worshiping God in church, but we also loved traveling, camping, and exploring the outdoors. My parents encouraged me and my sister to explore the creek and ride bikes all over the neighborhood. We ventured to National Parks, Civil War battlefields and science museums. My dad incentivized us with summer reading programs which successfully got me addicted to reading. He told compelling bedtime stories of family history, war, and college hitchhiking tales, which successfully got me addicted to storytelling. All of this added to what I now see as the single-most important habituation of my cultural formation: the habituation of Christian imagination. How Cultural Consumption Shapes Our Desires Healthy consumption of culture is critical for the Christian life. Whether we think about it consciously or not, all of us are
being shaped by our daily habits and interactions with culture. In his books Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith talks about “cultural liturgies” that form us on a preconscious, gut level between instinct and intellect; things like: Going to the shopping mall, watching a football game, playing Angry Birds on an iPhone, and eating a Big Mac. While Christians talk a lot about thinking Christianly and cultivating a proper “worldview,” do we give as much attention to the action and “habitus” of the Christian life? Smith suggests we need to take more seriously the “liturgical environments” all around us that, for better or worse, shape our “vision of the good life” not intellectually but on an “aesthetic, metaphorical, poetic register” (126). Smith argues that most of us do not appreciate the religious nature of these everyday cultural practices, and so before we know it “we become habituated to ways of life that run counter to what God envisions for the flourishing of creation… We absorb rival gospels as habitus” (141). Over time these cultural liturgies shape our desires and our temperament in ways that can overwhelm or undermine the Christian habitus which form within us alternative, counter-cultural desires for the kingdom of God. That’s why it’s important for Christians to embody a “dispositional deflection” from the world while remaining within it. But as Smith notes, dispositional deflection requires sanctifying perception, because if we are to “recalibrate our attunement to the world… we need nothing less than a Christian imagination.” If we are going to be agents of the coming kingdom, acting in ways that embody God’s desires for creation, then our imaginations need to be conscripted by God… It won’t be enough to be convinced; we need to be moved. Otherwise we’ll just be reading Wendell Berry in Costco. (157) This is why cultural habits matter for Christians. It’s more than just how we worship on Sundays in church (what we normally think of as “liturgies”). It’s about how (and what) we worship every other moment of our lives, and how our cultural habits do or do not inflame within us a desire for the kingdom of God. It follows that it’s vital for Christian young people to not only see models of Christian behavior and worship on Sundays or in other “churchy” environments; they must also see healthy examples of the Christian habitus worked out in everyday life. For too long Christians have had bifurcated views of the sacred and secular, dividing “church” life from “everything else,” which has led to the malformation of our desires on account
of negligence. For our children’s sake, we must stop modeling a Christian faith that is disconnected from the vast array of cultural habits shaping our imaginations everyday, or (worse) a Christian faith that is less compelling than those “secular” liturgies capturing our interest and forming within us idolatrous desires. Rather, we must model a counter-cultural Christian temperament--a dispositional deflection--that envisions the Christian life as so holistic and so compelling that it need not fear being overwhelmed or infected by the culture around it. And that modeling is more important than ever. Cultural Consumption is More Conspicuous Than Ever Modeling healthy habits for those who would imitate us (particularly younger people) has always been important. But technology has only made it more so. For one thing, technology allows us to have far more access to a much wider variety of types of people: people whose thoughts, writings, talking head pontificating, and media grandstanding subtly shapes us for good and ill. When it’s good it’s great. Some of the most impactful “models” of healthy approaches to culture are bloggers or critics I’ve never met but have learned much from, thanks to technology’s connecting power. But this can be a liability too. Technology makes our cultural consumption more public than ever, meaning that even when we aren’t intending to “model” anything, someone might be watching, envying, resenting, or imitating. As I write in my book Gray Matters: Our consumer lives are fully on display on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Amazon (and other sites yet to come) where we willingly, deliberately identify ourselves by the brands, books, bands, and products we like. On our “profiles,” we are defined by our “likes,” so that who we are to the world appears mostly as an ingredient listing of consumer tastes and preferences. Consumerism has become the front line of our witness, the outer layer of identity. Therefore, in this fast-paced, consumerism-as-social-media-identity world, Christians must be more intentional about being present, active, and critical in our consumer choices. People are watching. We are observed, processed, known through our consumptive habits. What message are we sending? (16-17) In a world that increasingly amplifies our habits of cultural consumption, and in which young people are knowing and being known via these tweeted, Instagrammed, and Facebooked moments of cultural consumption, it’s all the more crucial that models of healthy consumption exist.
Modeling a Posture of Discerning Cultural Consumption:
Parents, teachers, pastors, educators: How can you make the most positive impression on those looking to you as example of how to discerningly consume culture? Here are a few quick tips:
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Practice what you preach. If you tell your kids or students not to do something, but you do it yourself, have an explanation ready. Nothing leads a young person to rebel quite like observing hypocrisy or wafer-thin logic in their elders’ habits and choices. It’s OK (and wise) to be firm in what you advise young people to consume or not to consume, but rather than just instructing in terms of “dos and don’ts,” aim to always have logical reasons for why or why not -- especially if you say its OK for you but not for them. Integrate your cultural consumption with your faith. Is what you do for fun on Friday night totally unrelated to what you do on Sunday morning? It’s important to resist the culture’s dualistic tendency (pervasive even within Evangelicalism) to cordon off “spiritual” things from everything else. Don’t model a Gnostic privileging of ethereal realms of “the spiritual” but instead weave your faith into your everyday life. Be able to demonstrate an integrated approach where cultural consumption isn’t framed as something belonging only to the “secular” part of existence. Our young people desperately need healthy models of this. Embrace your passions but expand your horizons. Don’t be afraid of the types of culture to which you are naturally drawn. Love food? Embrace that passion and cultivate it in a way that informs and is informed by your faith; likewise if you love a certain genre of literature, or film, or era of art history. Start with what excites you. Young people who witness in their elders a genuine passion for culture or art are bound to be similarly inspired. But also expand your horizons. Model open-mindedness. Be willing to learn. Travel. Read widely. Visit museums. Discuss. Inspire those around you to develop a well-rounded approach to culture. Care about quality. Don’t be the parent who encourages children to read terrible Christian young adult fiction just because it is “safe,” or to watch Disney movies simply because they contain no swear words. Care about quality. Model a deeper theology of culture that sees the very act of creating with excellence as something inherently God-glorifying. Be willing to say no. When it comes to the choice of whether or not to consume a piece of culture, don’t just tell your children or students no. When appropriate, tell yourself no. Be willing to think discerningly and critically in your own habits of consumption. Model a thoughtful willingness to live out Paul’s instruction that everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial (1 Cor. 10:23). Avoiding certain things or letting some things (even artful things) remain unseen, and being able to articulate your rationale for avoidance, can be a very powerful witness. Emphasize community rather than isolated cultural consumption. Make culture a matter of discussion around the dinner table, in the Bible study, in the classroom. Try not to model isolated cultural consumption (watching movies or TV shows in some private corner of the house; always listening to music in headphone, etc.). Cultivate the communal consumption of culture. Play your favorite music aloud for others. Watch television shows with others. Try to get the family together for an activity of culture (even if just enjoying a meal together) at least once a day.
I m itating
Your Way To Good Poetry
While we won’t call poetry a lost art, it’s certainly not practiced – or read – as ubiquitously as it once was. We’re not a culture that is practiced at thinking poetically, we don’t speak the language of poetry. And that means that poetry is intimidating and difficult. It’s like learning Latin. But as is the case with any language, imitation is a great way to learn to write poetry. Imitation poems, like the one to the right by our friend Rebekah Leland, are a great place to start because they take away some of the pressure of trying to create a poem entirely from scratch and they can be as simple or complex as you are comfortable with. There are various ways to approach an imitation poem; here are just a few: A) imitate the form, alter the content (as in the sample imitation poem below): note precisely the form/structure of the original poem and copy it exactly while substituting a different content. Sonnets are great for practicing this. B) imitate the content, alter the form: write a poem with the same basic content of the original, but experiment with different forms/structures. Writing the same poem with different forms alters and changes the content in some fascinating ways! C) begin your poem with the same first line as the original, but take it in a different direction. Try and capture the ethos of the original poem, while also crafting a logos that is your own.
Time Does Not Bring Relief: You All Have Lied
By Edna St. Vincent Millay
Time does not bring relief; you all have lied Who told me time would ease me of my pain! I miss him in the weeping of the rain; I want him at the shrinking of the tide; The old snows melt from every mountain-side, And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane; But last year’s bitter loving must remain Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide. There are a hundred places where I fear To go,—so with his memory they brim. And entering with relief some quiet place Where never fell his foot or shone his face I say, “There is no memory of him here!” And so stand stricken, so remembering him.
By Rebekah Leland
Now dark and warm and secret in that place-you are mine: this all pondered in my heart. Now gasping, light and cold, we come apart-dimpled hands and fingers, bright blinking face-still mine while yet you drink of me, still laced together we, though less. And now it starts: that sure and steady wrenching all apart: now you smile, crawl, and run at such a pace-I cannot follow. Now will come the time I give you up. To death or life I fling open these pale hands, as Mary opened hers. And time runs on, unconquered, undeterred by me. Yet always His by seal and sign, now my flesh, my child: mine, yet never mine.
N ow try your own