The Unexamined Mid-September

So . . . my main target is Westminster, but they only do church history from the Reformation on for PhD work. If I get in, I’m going to push that as far back into the Middle Ages as possible. I still want to go there: they’re the closest to where my theological home is, my people, the RBs.

I’m going to, while in Louisville, visit the former dean of Central Seminary and ask his advice in all this (what will he make of my theological home? It is what it is–as the obvious is nowadays put; when he wrote a huge NO right in the middle of one of my exam essays back in days of yore, I think he figured out what I was and he was still friendly afterward). That’s one of the great things about retired teachers: they have time. Trying to talk to certain entities, say, employed faculty at the place you want to go to who are over busy, can be demanding.

* * *
I’m enjoying Latin, and I think I’m effective with my students. At least I think they like me, and that’s the chief thing, isn’t it?

I’m figuring them out–HA! I think that’s an enormous success. They are not crouching and muttering. They try perkily. I recommend teaching at a semi-homeschooler type of school for all who are starting out in a subject of some uncertainty.

Had one of them giggle uncontrollably when I tried to explain why I think the transitive verb ‘carry’ it is used intransitively (Susan carries, for example; it means she has a gun, which is indicated by aborting the direct object, concealing it, as it were). Or maybe she was laughing because I said they were not safe at school because I brought no weapon. There are still things about them I need to figure out.

* * *
I had reason to paint recently, but now that has withdrawn in a sunset of glowing success. I’ll probably go back to writing diligently. The GRE beast is this Friday, and after that it is the slow grind through intermediate Latin toward advanced. I don’t know if I should charge ahead or consolidate more, but I’m leaning toward charging. I’m not a stickler, I’m a user. I was taught always to look things up and I always do when careful work is required, so why stick too closely to mastering forms rather than breaking through into fluent reading? It’s the teaching makes me hesitate.

Speaking of Latin, I now have enough Latin books to take one for each student to practice pronunciation with, rather than dull stuff in the textbook (they have rather bizarre texts like the pledge of allegiance, I suppose the idea is that the wording is familiar in English). I have a student who can’t make the sounds correctly when he tries to read them. Not sure what the deal is, but maybe some personal attention will help. I can let the quickest one have the Virgil, the Harry Potter reader do the Harry Potter, then there are the Hobbit and Boethius; probably Boethius for the pronunciation chap, and a Bible for the Catholic. So on Monday, after we take care of Business, they’re going to work on pronunciation individually while I rotate them through and see if I can individually attend especially to our chap. He’s a whiz at grammar.

* * *
Note on the weather: it is sometimes in the afternoons so clear, so brightly sunny, the grass and leaves so green and whole, the skies so blue, and shapes so definite in the clear air that it is like living in Narnia, or Minnesota in June. I did not think such things were possible in Ohio. One walks under the honey locusts marveling. One looks into the shallow and clear Olentangy and sees each individual rock of the riverbed. And all the while the walnuts are showering yellow leaves like windblown magic.

Childhood and Wonder


, , , ,

There is something magical, a naive belief early on. It is a part of the innocence which is proper to children. I don’t mean by that that children are pure, but that they naturally expect good outcomes. But then, eventually, we aren’t protected from all outcomes and things that are not so wonderful take hold, and we can lose at least the naivete.

I think, however, we are still children if we acknowledge that we don’t understand and as a result we still trust, still believe, desire is still strong. That is how The Wind in the Willows and Narnia are childlike and can appeal to us: they believe in happy outcomes. They are all about the happy outcome. And good stories still magically provide them, though a good story doesn’t always. But a good story always provides a good thing in the sense of an outcome for the reader, if not a good outcome in the story.

I say that because there is a feeling (a dogma in some cases) that being an adult is about losing those dreams: not believing in them again, passing into life without that simple trust, settling into tedium and taming your expectations. And then what some people do is project on those successful authors of the innocent outcome such as Lewis the idea that he can’t have grown up–that Narnia is wishful thinking. And what is worse, that somehow he doesn’t take suffering into account.

Related, but somewhat obliquely, I’ve heard it said of Tolkien that he conceives his characters all in terms of black and white, and the great thing about George R.R. Martin–an author for grown-ups–is that he has morally ambiguous characters. That’s not the case. There are morally ambiguous characters in Tolkien (Denethor, Boromir, and especially Turin Turambar), but that does not relativize the morality of his world, which is what some really want when they criticize him. But a morally unambiguous universe has clear outcomes, is the one that we live in, not an escape, and that is why we believe in the four last things.

Lev Grossman helps me to get some of this straight. He’s not altogether on my side of that observation. He makes fun of Narnia, and he’s so good it almost works. The second half of his first novel can be construed as a relentless attack on Narnia–if one doesn’t have the tools to take it as an argument, in a more detached way. But I’m specially impervious, you have to understand, I’m a congenital believer, an incurable romantic, I seek wonder and I don’t think life has disappointments enough to quell me. And in that way I’m like Grossman’s main character, Quentin Coldwater. He believes, he is scolded for believing and for giving up on things that are not what he wants, and despised not altogether wrongly, but also with misunderstanding. Lev Grossman takes the boy through all the stages of dissapointment, by means of vice, betrayal, even the gods deny him. But in the end Quentin’s innocence cannot be quelled and Grossman, incredibly, rewards him. (Very satisfying ending.)

And that’s what I learn from Lewis: life’s troughs are in final analysis small. Life’s problems, however great, are not great in the scale of being. We are at present children, growing, but in a way always children if there is room to grow a infinite distance, and we have every reason to think we will continue to grow if we will continue to live not only for the happiest of outcomes, but the increase that begins at that point.

Weed It and Reap



The Magicians, The Magician King, The Magician’s Land

Lev Grossman writes well. Very well. Keep you turning pages the second time through well. He has an eye for detail, includes description that seems casual but is crucial, does so many things brilliantly. Conversations snap to life, has humor of all kinds, similes are astonishing and he does that again and again. He’s brilliant, and a disciplined imaginer.

Technically brilliant. Morally, not so much. His fiction in a way is in a line with Pullman: responding to C.S. Lewis. His aim is a secular Narnia, but one with all the wonder still. His trilogy ends better than Pullman’s, though it ought to be added lest the comparison mislead, Grossman is not writing for children. I thing his trilogy is more of a success even than The Hunger Games–far better writing, though his plots are more tangled. He has a better ending too because he really wants wonder, and he concedes something to keep it that Suzanne Collins never does. He admits mystery.

In other words, he doesn’t take a hard line secularist radical amputation of anything wondrous, smash it and just have unaccounted ephemera propped on nothing like Stephen Hawking irresponsibly building on a positivist philosophy. He accepts the supernatural. I think this represents an advance. Grossman was influenced by Susanna Clarke, and I think together they move the conversation about magic and fantasy forward. At least they give me a suggestion of something new. She does, decidedly, and he does as well. They make statements about fantastic literature in writing it successfully. From the point of view of someone trying to write fantastic literature, they’re illuminating.

Besides that, it is interesting that C.S. Lewis should require a response. That fact alone, and you can read where Grossman talks about it here , is significant. I think Grossman is engaging the argument better than Pullman. He tries to secularize his magical world by means of a ‘deeper magic’. Just to read the epigraph to the book “Further in and further up” is to understand he’s responding. Of course, you might read it to find out how.

And I think, though I don’t think he would say it, he has gone too far from the secular point of view, conceded too much, and that’s why he succeeds in spite of himself. I don’t say that because I can demonstrate that, but because of the satisfaction with which I ended the trilogy. He kept his covenant as a writer with this reader: I was grateful for the way it ended.

He writes in the modern vernacular, and does that well but I think only that. Be warned. Still, if you’re interested in fantasy, in writing, in what interesting things people are doing with it, weed it and reap.

The Most of it

It was a bowl of soup. It looked like a newer bowl, the baked clay painted black and shiny, the soup in it steaming. Barley he saw, something like a carrot submerged, a shred of meat floating ringed with shiny bubbles of grease. He stared at it for a while, lost in the detachment of body and spirit that comes with a head cold, feeling dull and tense at the same time. Outside it was snowing.

He sighed, and began to eat the soup. It had something spicy and made his nose run. He wiped it on his sleeve and wished he had not, because he had been using his sleeve for that too long now. He used his left sleeve, high up, near the shoulder. Then he sniffed hard, winced at the pressure in his head and sat back. The soup continued to steam. The fire popped, and he turned to look at it for a while, breathing through his mouth, vaguely aware of the aftertaste of the soup.

Some time later he finished eating, went over to the fire and slumped down on the fur before it. He fell asleep, a green run of snot forming on his upper lip. The snow sifted down outside, and the fire sank.

When he woke, there was a handkerchief in his hand. He blew his nose strenuously, felt the shifting pressures in his cranium, sighed. But he felt better as he pushed himself off the rug and stood up.

He peered through the panes of glass. It was all a dim blue greyness outside: the lighter ground, the darker skies, the nearby flakes still distinct. It must be getting dark, he thought. He not only felt better, he now felt hungry, and soon it would be time for dinner.

He opened a door and descended the cold, winding stairs into darkness. At the bottom he stopped to blow his nose again, and now the new handkerchief was all used. He stuffed it in his blouse. He pushed open the heavy wooden door, and walked into a draughty hallway. Light filtered in from high above, a fog dimmed light that brought snowflakes with it. The snow on the floor was slightly trampled. Now he heard sounds: creaking sounds, and banging. Cooler drafts troubled the powdery snow along the sides of the hall, and doors were heard slamming. They’re coming in for dinner, he thought.

He felt the cold on his head, breathed the winter in through his nasal passages for a change. It was stimulating and he felt good now, almost full of health. He knew it wouldn’t last, but at least it would last long enough to have a good meal. He hurried along holding his face up to catch the cool snowflakes, closing his eyes to concentrate on the feeling and hoping they had roasted a hog.

The Stage of Confusion

There comes a point in learning a language (probably more than once) where you’ve had too much and it all swims. After starting out fast on Wheelock’s, I’ve been brought to a slow crawl. I need to do some revision and consolidation.

But the GRE is next week. I need to study for that.


For a while.

So dreary. I’ve done a whole book on the GRE. What I really need to do is memorize these basic math concepts. Maybe I can cram the morning of. I have the test at noon.

Speaking of dreary, today Apple unvelied a new . . .
. . .
. . .
. . . telephone.

And a watch.

And all the world advertises it for them. It has to be one of the silliest events of our day. Future generations will look back on it as an oddity. Obviously trendy.

And speaking of trendy, we are having a Sunday school quarter on evangelism. I learned that there are ministers in the OP (as within the OPC it is fondly called) who actively discourage members from engaging in personal evangelism. Which struk me as . . . not fashionable nowadays, so I asked and was assured it was so. Not that they don’t encourage them to, but that they say: leave it to the experts. I love the OP. NOT TRENDY. I wish I were a presbyterian.

But I’m an RB. I think that’s what I’m always going to be. I’ve been an RB for years now.

The Back of Summer Broken

Cooler air is rushing in. Life begins to gleam with possibilities. Soon taking long hot baths won’t seem so odd. Soon I’ll be able to walk four hours downtown and back and not get sunstriken. Soon I’ll be able to dress in layers. I can’t wait. I don’t see why people want to wear fewer rather than more clothes. I like to wear clothes, especially when the clothes are trusty.

* * *
And yet we live in an age when people seem really outraged that their naked pictures they had taken or took of themselves have been stolen. It is bizzarre to me, and not just because I like to wear clothes.

* * *
Maybe I’m odd because I live behind a Wendy’s. They’ve redone the Wendy’s behind which I live. Nice to know that’s done before the third world war begins or people are actually forced to stop taking naked pictures of themselves due to the deteriorating situation.

They’re getting better at making a place that reaches out and draws you in, the restaurant refurbishers. My Wendy’s looks all luminous and new, and I’m so proud of it I might go ahead an take a picture of it, wearing clothes, of course. There’s nothing on Wendy’s menu I can think of I would like to eat, but the building sits there beckoning, like an Ikea which is full of comfy things in the midst of a bleak winter.

* * *
Can’t wait till the day comes that I can buy a cowhide rug. Ikea has them. Wonderful Swedes. Wish I lived in Sweden. Or farther north.

Not that I mind living right behind a Wendy’s–East. What is also in view anytime I step out of my door are the warm lights of Applebee’s, which has many things on its menu I can think I would like. I live right next to just about everything except for a good coffee place. We have a Starbuck’s in Target and another one at Kroger, but no really outstanding coffee place. Still, we make do.

* * *
Conrad Black is back from his ten week hiaitus, speaking of the North and winter. I like reading him, even when I don’t agree. He’s trenchant and at the same time sesquipedalian. He has a way of putting things.


When I paint, I don’t plan. I never get anything worth keeping intentionally. But what I got below I liked. The sky is ok, the mountains are good, and the trees are interesting.

In process

It is kind of blurry because it can’t sit on the scanner being still attached to a cardboard with tape. What it needs, after consideration, is a river coming out of it. I have seen so many of these promising starts with the white part full of possibilities that are then just ruined. I haven’t dared yet to put the river and the rest in, but I’m practicing. Here’s the practice:


Good sky, though it scans poorly, bad trees and bad mountains, but good river. If only I could replicate the river, I’d be set. But the second river was bad. It has to curve properly, is the thing. I have to practice that curve now. Two undulations on the right, and starting from behind the trees, and a leftward widening.

What I do end up with a lot of is headers for my blog, like this:



I lost a student today. She is a second year student who ended up in my first year because of a scheduling conflict. She’d already done everything we were going to go throuh, so I was wracking my brains (because I couldn’t wrack my experience) to figure out how to make the class challenging for her. And I had figured it out, and had a good plan, when she resolved the scheduling conflict and vanished out of my class. What’s the spell for disapparating? Evanesco suckers!

It also means I have a more evenly-distributed class with a comfortable pace.

So we had a good class today. I’m catching on to these seventh and eighth graders. Still testing what they can figure out and what they need to have laid out for them, but we’re learning Latin. The train is moving. Ten points for Griffindor and Hufflepuff–because no other houses are represented. Our Ravenclaw is in second year now.

C.S.Lewis at the Breakfast Table

C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Reminiscences: New EditionC. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Reminiscences: New Edition by James T. Como
The book is a collection of essays. People who knew Lewis remember him, from the guy who drove him around, to his personal doctor (and friend and Inkling, and blustery good-fellow who fitted him out with a catheter that was not quite the best), his colleagues and acquaintances.

The collection of course contains God’s plenty. These are the memories of people who sat with him in a car, went with him on vacation, could tell us how he prayed at train stations and read his Bible in the evening before supper. What is strange is the amount of criticism in it. Good criticism, but criticism nonetheless.

There was a lot of debate, a lot of exchanging ideas in the life of Lewis, and many of the people that remember him in this volume continue some of the debates. Alan Bede Griffiths has some penetrating criticisms to make (he’s skeptical of ‘the personal heresy’), and another curiously critical essay is that of John Wain. Griffiths brings up some inconsistencies in Lewises attitude toward Catholics. Many of Lewises friends were, but his attitude toward them was peculiar. John Wain seems to have more criticisms than fond recollections, though he adds a few of those. Perhaps Wain’s is anomalous.

Certainly, you go from the unpolished and sometimes maudlin essay of the bloke who drove Lewis around, to the too-polished and sometimes byzantine essay of Austin Farrer. But you get it all: the blokes he stayed up late talking to, the Americans who met him once or twice, and poor Walter Hooper’s tediously thorough historical account of the Socratic which is the only interminable essay in the collection.

Worth having, if you’re after a better understanding of C.S. Lewis.

Some Jones

In the mood of celebrating good health after coming from our once-every-five-year’s-visit to the doctor, and having broken the tribulation period of 24 hours without coffee at the excellent out-of-the-way coffee place with no tables or marketing or anything, we went to the bookstore. It was almost $50 I put down at there this morning. Besides the Virgil tweeted, I found some David Jones. There were two books, and I passed up the $20 to get the $5 one, as the cheaper still had more of what I wanted. David Jones is hard to find–try finding his Anathemata. What I got has bits of the Anathemata, besides other stuff–like collecting dust and broken sections of that thing I continue to pursue.

Latin First

I’ve done a Latin class; only 71 more to go. 

They thought it was cool that The Hobbit has been translated to Latin. They want to get there. For now. 

They’re well behaved kids: two girls with brushed hair, two girls with hair not so brushed, two participative boys–both eager. 

Life changing decision that comes out of this: if I don’t get accepted to a PhD program maybe instead I’ll teach High School Latin. I enjoy it so far, which is more than I expected.

Further Cogitations of an Unexamined Life

It is August. In the morning the trees greet the world with shadows long in the west, and all day long those shadows move under them, from west to east. The insects are loud, and with all this rain the plants flourish in the tropical heat, rank, untamed and wild. 

I smelled grass, and it came over me as an American smell again. So many good things of this country: the milk, the cheese, the pickles, the bacon, the smell of warm wooden houses in summer which I have not smelled since I was a kid somewhere in PA in an old aunt’s house–these all flow back. When you came back to the USA, to its conveniences, automatic doors, floods of air conditioning, exotic flavors like root beer and orange juice, the drollery of American ‘cheese’, these things all had their impact when you were a kid. Pleasing, believe it or not, because not only desired instantly, but associated with paneled basements with deep carpets, the living rooms smelling of candles and adjoining dining rooms next to kitchens redolent with American cooking; the spacious and comfortable coordinated nature of life here washed over one after tile floors, uncomfortable seating, public transportation and the grime of life elsewhere. 

It comes back to me in smells, now that I take it for granted. It charms me with memories of a time when I was small and all the world a wonder, and this country was brand new to me. And it still charms me, not only when I come back to the USA after being abroad. I still find grocery stores here magical from time to time, though not all the time or even most. I still get butterscotch ice cream not because I’m particularly fond of it (though I am; but I just don’t really ever crave ice cream), but because it is one of the flavors I associate this country.

It is similar to the reason I read C.S. Lewis: the associations conjured up. The order and imagination and intelligence and the goodness of a dim pub in a damp country with a good fire in the grate, the neglected joys of books, the atmosphere of all his stuff, his fondness of good cheer. 

I’m a hobbit. 

* * *

I listened to a few things yesterday. A couple of good Scruton youtubes and one not so great (because he was on a panel with a couple of Canadian dimwits), and then a not-outstanding panel discussion on CS Lewis in which among others was featured one William Lane Craig. Craig said something interesting in an off-hand way: That he knew about Mormons who for whatever reason picked up Mere Christianity and were faced with Lewises Trinitarian arguments. Isn’t that interesting to consider? 

They are exposed to Narnia probably, they like it, they look deeper, they find Mere Christianity, and there are faced with his rather relentless contention that a Christian believes in the Trinity. All their life they’ve been told they’re Christians, just that some Christians who aren’t exactly right about Christianity and the prophet Joseph Smith are bigoted and won’t admit them. And then they look at Lewis. Lane intimated they begin to question the prophet Joe. 

Isn’t that interesting? So now William Lane Craig has said something interesting.

* * *

I’m listening to Thomas Sowell’s Economic Facts and Fallacies. I think this is the kind of book people who lament that we no longer follow an elaborate argument might be happy for more people to read. In order to debunk the fallacies, Sowell has to go into some lengthy considerations. For example, in order to show the futility of drawing conclusions simply by contrasting how much women and on the other hand men make, he goes into all the various reasons why this is pointless, at length. It is good: a long bit of careful considerations and close reasoning. What else he also does that is very interesting to me as I’m considering the shadowy world of higher education, having some friends who are a bit snobbish about the place you get your degree and for some reason rather keen on saving money while doing it, is show how much economic skullduggery goes on in so-called higher education. Collusions and nonsense.

I also like Thomas Sowell because he’s not a snob. Like C.S. Lewis, he teaches me well in that area. Speaking of whom, Craig was on a panel of academics discussing him (degrees from Yale and Cambridge and other celebrity universities) and said panel was largely making no sense in their rambling pronunciations, or at best uttering platitudes and truisms with the added emphasis of the shaking of the head, like evangelicals. 

* * *

Speaking of evangelicals, I think I’m going to visit Southern Seminary in Louisville. I’ve been invited by them and by WTS, so far. It is a four hour drive to KY, they’ll put me up free, they’ll feed me free, and I can’t lose on it since my expectations are not high. I still have to find out whether they’ll welcome the addition of my wife, but I’m pretty sure southern hospitality will not fail us there. 

I thought about it: I could go out to Philadelphia and they’d put me up in a hotel, but I’d have to fly (and take my wife who will not be left behind), pay to rent a car, pay for food, etc., and then maybe Trueman isn’t there for whatever reason (ash cloud from Iceland, say) and I end up with bitterness. Better take up Southern on their offer. Do I expect anything but programmatic enthusiasms and a glib, glossy reception? No. 

What if I somehow get something more? Just slightly more? I’ll be glad, and I’ll get all the free food as well.

And what if I get someone who cares about the permanent things and evidences a real concern for the things of God and the cause of Christ in this present evil age? I will be astonished and glad beyond measure. 

You have to admit that as a strategy, it has much to commend it.

Rain Today

People don’t like to walk in the rain, even when it is slight. They hunch over and wince sometimes, as if there were nothing so painful as getting a drop of water on the face. C.S. Lewis made quite a few sensible remarks about weather in the person of Camilla Deniston in That Hideous Strength; persons ought to consider these remarks more. Weather is interesting, and clothes dry pretty quickly.

Of course, my clothes aren’t top of the line. I don’t like to look like I’ve made too much of an effort–I go out of my way to make sure I don’t too much look like I’ve made too much of an effort–because I don’t want to come across as being to particular about my appearance. It does make me wonder if I’ll have to dress up to teach Latin. I have a feeling that’s going to be the case.

I don’t even have much in the way of ties nowadays. I have noticed they’re all narrow and of thick material–thick material does not strike me as congenial. I don’t think I’ve bought a new tie in ten years, and I’ve chucked quite a lot. Do I care that my remaining ties are wider and thin? The patterns are not recent? Shall I play the old guy who doesn’t care? Wish I had more timeless ties.

But is it even in the nature of a tie to be timeless? Probably not, unless it is a bow tie, and that’s not something I’m willing to do. Bit of the wrong kind of eccentric about that for me, like a tie with words: not something I’d of my own free will do. Goofy stuff, cartoons–No.

They vary everything on ties, don’t they? The dots can change, the patterns, the width of the stripes. Does it mean anything? Does the overall look become identifiable later? How far it hangs or not can stand out over time. Then there’s the guys who knot it short and tuck the remainder on the wrong end into their pants. Not recommended.

Clip-on ties I need hardly mention. I have seen where some people use strings to suspend elaborate metal badges on their necks, apparently a custom in more Western regions, at least in the past.

It troubles me that ties cannot be timeless. Why should that be? Am I troubled that other articles of clothing will change constantly? Not really. It is in the nature of clothes to wear out. Clothes wax old as doth a garment, even ties which are probably the least of all garments.

Forty years were the children of Israel in the desert and their clothes did not wax old. Like a walking thrift store, come to think of it: all used clothes, none new, none worn entirely through. But they weren’t wearing ties, were they? Because if they had, we would have heard them complaining of it. I for one regret about the age to which I was born that it requires ties from time to time.

Meanwhile, the trees bask in the rain and the moss flourishes. It is a bit humid, this August rain. I’m glad my habiliment can be casual.

Fruit of the Day

It was a warmer August day. The grass browning, the crickets loud when traffic died away. We went to the North Market and found it mostly empty: it is a wonderful place when its empty. Stuff white people like, but without the crowds of white people, when it’s empty. Barrels of pickles, cheeses, coffee, waffles if you like that thing, bowls of soup, smoked meat, fresh meat, fish and flowers, spirits and kitchen supplies. The poles got me again: leek salad. A leek salad which adumbrated the children of Israel’s desire to return to bondage, provided they got leeks again.

I’m resting from my labors till school starts next week, as August pauses and the summer pauses before the rest of the year begins. Heroic, I’ll sprawl over the end of this week, dawdling over my Friday off, if by the end of tomorrow evening I don’t feel like the thing to do would just be Latin (I like it, as long as I don’t make it become onerous by undertaking it too ambitiously). I am under the impression at the moment (an impression I do not believe will last much beyond my first week) that I will be a genial and accomplished teacher of Latin, and I’m not arguing with myself about it but enjoying it here, with the sound of the crickets of August and the memory of the polish leek salad of this morning.

Where It Is At

From what I can tell, I’ll be lucky to score above 50% on the quantitative reasoning of the GRE, and probably can score about 75% on the verbal sections. As for the essays, as long as they don’t include a disputable word such as ‘nation’ that I can’t figure out why it bothers me in less than half an hour, I should be fine. I’ve done some practice tests and that’s what it works out to on average. And I haven’t tried to bother so much as I would in the real situation. I’m counting on that really paying off at test time.

It does strike me as a bit artificial to operate on a time limit. I hope the reasoning is not that people procrastinate. I do not do things at the last minute, just because I don’t always go all out on them always; I shut down a whole lot of time before the last minute and I stress out about things a whole lot earlier than everyone else. I hate being penalized for the procrastination of others more than anything. If that is the reason, I will blow a gasket right in the ETS testing center. What would suit me better would be: take as long as you can stand doing this, and if you can’t deal with the question, write something interesting about it instead using the random word ‘firehydrant’. That’s more of my idea of the GRE.

But I’m ready to get it out of my life. Whether that gets me anywhere, I don’t know. My aim is Westminster. What I managed to find out from talking to them is that they only care about the GRE slightly more than they care about feminism, which is promising. I might have a chance nevertheless at St. Louis U for next year, just because it seems a good chance that applications may not be quite as many as usual there this year. Other than that, there aren’t places that seem interesting, not that St. Louis U seems interesting: they have one of these eager-beaver PhD programs with diversity and crap. We white Anglo-Saxon male protestants realize that it is a world in which we’ll have to pay our way. I would not have it otherwise. I remember with admiration still the dude Solzhenitsyn met in the Gulag: never compromised, got worse treatment, derived palpable strength from his integrity. One has to have integrity and be strong, if for no other reason than to be able to write an indictment of the age.

That still leaves the overseas stuff that doesn’t even look at the GRE. That’s looking all the time more interesting. I just haven’t managed yet to find out how those programs work. Not that I’ve managed all that much about anything since all my time is taken up with this ridiculous . . . GRE.

The Comforts of Winter

Already I am thinking about it, and it is not mitigated by this mild August. I watched the walnut leaves blowing down on the path along the Olentangy river just a few days ago. Autumn in the air already. The mornings are often cool now, and the evenings mild and gentle. Oh, it must be wonderful farther north! Apparently in Cleveland the average high has been 66 or something. One would think that with such temperatures I would be pleased, and I am. I am thankful, let me hasten to add, that the highs hit no more than the eighties and have only a few times, mostly in Ohio’s rash June, crept near to ninety.

But I want more. I want cold, I want sweaters, I want the sun in my south-facing windows when outside it is cold. I dream and long for it. I think of Iceland, of Minnesota, read Canadian news, pine for all these legendary and too, too distant boreal realms.

And yet it is pleasant here in August. I can look out and in the distance see the clear motion of the leaves in the breeze of a morning high above. It is as if they rippled in the clear water of a stream. It doesn’t seem that long ago the fulsome green of the world was only beginning, but for that predatory intervening June.

The wet leaves, the clear skies, the frost, the melancholy peaceful desolation, the silent snow, the layers and the books, the books of winter all rise up out of their summer graves. A few more weeks of the idiotic and perpetual sun and then it should be changing. Night with its twinkling snowflakes will draw near.

GRE Week

I’m ahead enough on Latin. I can shuffle priorities and study for the GRE this week. Study . . . practice, more like. It is a hoop you have to jump through and I’m still mad that so many Americans do. But they want to see that you’ve tried, and I can at least try.

This week they’re tearing down the Wendy’s behind which I live in order to put up something more in keeping with, I assume, the times. It is an exercise not altogether unlike mine of the GRE. I look on the diminishing building as I come out of my apartment building and think: “It’s GRE week.” I hope to have the examination over by the time Wendy’s is back in business.

Algebra! Who needs it? People who use it need it, but it has been 20 years since I have, and now I find myself tested on it–on the area of a triangle and the perimeter of a trapezoid, and stuff I no longer retain. And of course I wonder why we still consider hanging on to information like that important for graduate work. I would rather be learning Anglo-Saxon. I can see the need for carpenters knowing algebra. But I’m not applying to carpentry graduate school.

Is it an insight into the culture of higher education . . . you’re going to have to be able to handle this, it seems to say, if you’re going to be in places run by academics? Maybe it boosts the esteem of math faculties so that they don’t feel like an appendage and closer to the real work done by the glorious and necessary faculty of Anglo-Saxon. To me, it makes the places that don’t require a GRE look a lot more legitimate. Oxford does not require it unless you are applying to the department of the dismal science. Is this indicative of anything?

It is in God’s nature to be patient

Tertullian made the observation, and he apologizes at the beginning of the treatise On Patience because patient, he says, he is not.

Nor am I. Nor are we. Do you know, for example, what’s so attractive about fast food? Not the taste, though that’s part of it–the predictable taste we can count on. It isn’t that great when you eat it. What is great is how easy it is. How quickly one can have it, sit down to devour it unceremoniously, stuff the disproportionate trash in an extra large trash can, slouch off. Fast food that is fiddly and laborious to eat is doomed. Fast food that requires cutlery . . . do you think it would keep the fast food restaurants open? And I think it is the badness of it, the instantness we want. At least, that’s what at present I believe.

And if you agree, then you will see there are an awful lot of things in this American life like that. It is as if there were a huge push to satisfy us easily, with that which is desirable because it is nothing so much as easy. Convenient–from appliances, to loans, to food, to relationships, to church, everything–it is the great good. It is how we define comfortable–both in the sense of easy (comfortable is convenient, in clothes however sloven, in food however substandard, in recreation however vulgar). Is it also in the sense of consoling us? Is convenience, is ease comfort? I have the feeling it is, and that is awfully near the core of the heart, isn’t it? It seems to me that we cultivate impatience because it is how you best desire the great good of easy everything. It’s the American way. Is it Tertullian also who speaks of how impatient lust is? That’s another one we’re laboring under in our day; not just a disordered desire, but one that will not wait to be satisfied and in our day must be easily satisfied. And we live in the middle of the consequences of this impatience.

What ought truly to comfort us is that it is in God’s nature to be patient. And the Christian life is about the life of God in the soul of man. The fruit of the Spirit is longsuffering and meekness. We have no patience and live in an age at war with patience and even its benefits. But God is at war with the age and living in his people. It is in God’s nature to be patient, and we have been made participants in the divine nature to manifest the radiant supernatural qualities of patience in a world dim and torpid with impatience.


One of the reasons for studying another language is to learn to think more clearly about what you say, and specially about how you say things. When you are at first bewildered by the various ways in which you can take a Greek genitive case, you can begin to wonder if it is the same with similar phenomena in your language, and you can start to realize that we mean different things by similar expressions. When you try to use another language on the basis of conjugations and declensions and the rules of syntax, you are more likely to become aware, I think. It helps us to see how we say things, and it helps us to be more honest about how we understand the things others say.

Not that you can’t be honest and aware if you don’t study another language, but that studying another language makes is obvious as few other things–in my experience–do. And what it does is make us more sophisticated in our ability to use language, or it should. We should realize that there are ways of taking things, that people don’t always chose the right expression, that we need to, as it were, listen with attention, because it isn’t what we say, it’s what we mean that we try to communicate with varying levels of success.

It is sounds strange to say that honesty and sophistication go together, but consider what a great ruse it is to associate sophistication with deceit. In one fell swoop the sincere are diverted from something valuable and the wicked attracted to its misuse. Still, prevailing notions of sophistication are wrong. There are things that must be taken in a sophisticated way in order to be dealt with correctly, because there are things that are more complex things in and of themselves.

One example would be a murder mystery. We might be inclined to think it dwells on murder and depravity and so it is therefore a bad thing. But if we thought this, we would not be dealing rightly with what a murder mystery is. A murder mystery is not about reveling in murder, it is about dealing with what murder does to our village, or town, or society, and about how we recover the peace of order after such a disruption occurs. If it were absolutely bad to think about those things, it would be wrong to be a policeman, and that is obviously not the case.

The mystery has to do with why the baffling deed occurred, and what resources we have to understand it and make sure it is not often repeated. You can say: it happens because men are evil and nobody can understand the heart; but we find that murder is still anomalous after we’ve said that; none of us would want to live in a society where murder was more than rare (in other words, no society but instead anarchy). We understand we can’t live in a society free of evil men. We live in societies with evil men (ourselves being one of those evil members) because society provides ways to control our evil so that we can live tolerably together, though not perfectly. We want societies that reduce evil to a minimum and study ways to achieve that, and we should. Once we think about the kind of society we want our descendants to live in, we realize we have a duty to make sure if possible that our society is a wise one, one that reduces evil to a minimum in the best way so that we can all enjoy the benefits of living together. And a murder mystery wants to know how the order of society was broken, how life together became for one of us death. It is not about enjoying the damage, but about picking up the pieces. And we don’t write manuals about appreciating murder mysteries because most of us understand that something like that is going on. When we understand they’re trying to figure out what happened, we understand it is about figuring out what happened on a larger scale – not about solving a particular mystery, but about how to deal with and if possible prevent these kinds of events in our societies.

That’s a bit far afield from learning a second language, but it illustrates what you stand to gain. Of course, there is a nearer place for us, and that is the interpretation of Scripture.

One of the rules of hermeneutics that came at me in the DR was this one, neatly translated into Spanish: si el sentido sencillo tiene sentido, no busques otro sentido (if the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense). I was taught that, and I think part of the appeal to the person teaching me was that it made a neat little saying. I don’t warm to those kinds of things (like the last verse of “Praise the Savior,” I think it’s silly). But I thought for many years that it was the truth. Now I don’t, and when it came at me recently, I considered it from a new angle and found I could not agree. I found myself thinking that what it means is that the Bible is not interesting.

It is a principle of interpretation which seeks to go no deeper if the meaning is obvious to the reader. I don’t agree, and I interpret Scripture differently. It doesn’t mean that the obvious meaning on the surface of a text isn’t important, but that it isn’t where an interpreter stops. If that is where you stop, then the Bible in many places is just giving you information about the past, because it does and that is plain. But the Bible is not giving us information about the past merely; it is giving information about the past not to inform us about the past primarily but by that means to reveal God to us. I believe that because I believe that’s how the apostles handled the Bible, and I believe that they did that as examples, teaching us how we should handle Scripture. In fact, I’m pretty enthusiastic about the four levels of interpretation the church used to advocate: literal, tropological, anagogical and allegorical. And I think it is true that you will get what you go looking for, which is why I don’t agree with the saying above.

True, there are abuses. People see a plausible explanation and they think that as long as you can explain something it must be true. They get discouraged when they are faced with two explanations, because immediately it defeats their assumption. But a good explanation is the one that explains more, and the best explanation is the one that explains most. Not most arbitrarily, explaining anything at all you want to ask of the text including things the text never seeks to explain; but coherently, controlled by the literal meaning but going deeper and showing us God as he reveals himself to us, showing what he expects of us, and showing us at the deepest level who and what Christ is and does.

It is a clear book, but it is not an easy book. It is revealing sophisticated things, such as the doctrine of the Trinity and the dealings of God with man. If you have the idea these things aren’t sophisticated, you either think that and don’t operate on that notion, or you operate on that notion and will be limited in what you understand of what God reveals.

And that’s why it is good to study another language. You’ll start to see what you’re missing.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 107 other followers