The Heart of the Unexamined Life

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I was cheered by the scorn for the Northland ‘heart’ expressed in that dubious resort: the IRM (a place of declining entertainment value, alas, which in these latter days has stooped so far as even to link to me). And not without reason. That heart is not so much characterized by any object of its affection, but as a passionate subject: capacious, undiscriminating, passionate, did we say passionate? and definitely just awesome for loving on people, on Geezus, on the lost, on mission, on camping, on Northland, or Northland’s alumni with so much heart, on Grammy nominated rap artists-for-lack-of-a-better-term, on random stuff, and perhaps even on big Al Mohler. If Roger Scruton is right to say that sentimentality is when the perceiving subject eclipses the object that should be in focus, then you have the Northland heart.

About the Northland heart, you have to understand: that was its product. That is what people went there to get, what we* paid for and what people gave to, and what the people working there thought they were striving to impart. There is Scripture to back the idea of the heart being of all things the most important; it is a proper object of care and should be guarded with attention.

I doubt it was too much scrupulous attention to the heart that was the problem though. It is an object of care, but not of satisfaction, and as an object of satisfaction is how it becomes sickening for those who get weary of hearing about it. It’s always a problem to deal frivolously with what you need to take seriously, obvious as that may seem. It is hard on the heart. A search for ordinate affections will be eclipsed by attention to the magnitude of the organ’s increasingly random effusions. If you use the word serious and behave like a clown and never let up, what are people looking to you for direction bound to conclude? That seriousness is just intensity of any kind, however excited. And if they don’t fall for it, they will at least stop looking up to you when it comes to what it serious.

But here is where I will agree with Northland, in name they had the target right. In an age of practicalities and merely utilitarian considerations, when even those who offer Latin talk about its utility and so undermine what they’re offering, when remote, permanent, transcendent are no longer criteria for what you teach, it would be good not to throw the heart out just because Northland has made it an embarrassment. Jesus Christ is coming to look upon it, and to see exactly what it is that you desire, and to give it to you.

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*I didn’t go there for the heart, but there’s no reason for you to believe me. We are responsible for our choices, and going to Northland was a choice I made.

From Another World

Some music sounds as if it beckons from another world. Roger Scruton mentions it somewhere, and he’s right. Think of Bruckner’s 4th symphony or Brahms’ 2nd piano concerto. Listen to those first sounds and you’ll hear what he’s talking about.

And in a way, everything Bach ever wrote sounds that way. It comes from otherwhere. At least I thought so on Sunday when the prelude was a movement from the trio sonatas and the offertory a fugue. It is a sound that welcomes you into a place that is not of this world. It suggests the sacred because the sacred is not common, and it reminds you that you are coming from one place into another. Almost anything by Bach will do that.

It is music that beckons from otherwhere, and yet it is music that from the heart that longs for the transcendent also causes it to leap with cordial consent. I think that is because in that music from otherwhere the Platonical subject can hear the sound of home. Perhaps because I told our organist that, that the sound of Bach is always the sound of home, the idea was in his head and he played it back to me; but I’d like to think it is there to begin with. It is a remote call, reminded me of my exile and pilgrimage, and because it did that it was both a remote and a familiar call.

Here’s a bit of what helps me. Roger Scruton’s Gifford Lectures can be read in a book called The Face of God, or you can listen to him lecturing live here. The quality of his voice in the last lecture is an interesting thing in and of itself. The first lectures have a time of question and answer which also shed light on things. Of course, the substance is noumenal, simply noumenal. And it is the kind of thing you need several washes of exposure to just to profit from rightly. They are not lectures for the lazy, but they are worth the attention.

Gather It Up into a Memory

Northland, the not very reputable mother of my admittedly deserving soul, seems from all I can tell, doomed. For Southern to back out abruptly, sensitive as surely they are to the PR of it–at the least–sounds to me like an iron bell tolling. Of course, I’m very removed from what is going on but when I see the leadership conference, which had Big Al scheduled, now scheduling something that promises more alumni enthusiasm than otherwise, well, I hear the sound of the bell tolling for it.

And it makes sense. If you were to enroll in Boyce college, would you go to the campus where the faculty and seminary, library and institutions of Southern Seminary were–for all that it is in Kentucky–or would you go to the unknown campus set in the winter wastes of northern Wisconsin? There’s the camp ‘ministry’ and there’s no doubt enough of the dwindling foam of American Christianity for a camp to be run with for another few years. But when that 19th Century idea fades further?

Sentimentality has always been one of the worst features of fundamentalism, and dwindling only makes it worse: it makes you cling to exhausted means because there is no power to distinguish these from ends. If it is over, I say, gather it up into memory. We live in an age of transition and many things are passing, good and bad, indifferent and decidedly mingled. It is a good thing for many of the present things to pass into memory; it is a good time to make sure ends are not lost to view, and that memory is not damaged.

Perhaps there is a way around it. But if there is not, the true memory of what happened will be one of the good things that can come out of this–though it will hardly atone for all of us, the alumni from that teeming womb of the undistinguished. Still, the clearer the understanding of how it was, what people thought they were doing, what they actually did, why, when–so important, the when–how it went from beginning to middle to end would be a service to anybody wishing to remember it. Is that wisdom possible? Maybe some of the records, at least, can in the end be lodged at Boyce College, in the catacombs of Louisville, a gift they can afford.

Since Chances to Post Ignorant Dreams Will Eventually Be Driven Out, One Expects, by Knowledge

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When I was waiting in Kentucky, reading Dawson, I came across something that has stuck to me ever since. He made the observation that the cosmos of Galileo, Kepler and Newton was Platonic. (Which is one of the most attractive things about Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and ironic; he understands some of the wonder and magic of the platonic, though Plotinus would chastise him for what mars the work and spoils its ending, the degradation into the fungoid Gnosticism. Another interesting work that endeavors to preserve that luminous mechanical-mystical cosmology incarnate in the world of objects is The Alternation, by Kingsley Amis, from what I remember. Both books are interesting for that, to me.)

Plato is behind much that is interesting. If there be any magic or wonder of the highest order, there is Plato, so serious, advocating immediate contact, contemplator, sentiment anterior to reason, Reason . . . Reason, circles, numerical mysteries, the contemplation of the gods and the contemplation of God. A mystery of health always begins to grow in the appropriation of Plato, like an oak, which is why he was and is and always will remain the Christian’s philosopher.

I admit, I’m more interested in them as Yeats was, as symbols. They make great symbols don’t they? Build up Plato and then suggest remoter, more ancient and primeval, most connected and better is the figure of Pythagoras: a shadow in the distance coming closer. And Plotinus standing for all who consecrate themselves to the greatest and highest, ascetic, body-scorning, devoted.

I wanted to get into Plotinus, that man who was serious about Plato, that symbol of platonic seriousness which is serious about contemplation, given over to the unending rigorous pursuit of immediate contact. I understand also he was the synthesizer in his time of Plato and Aristotle. Perhaps he yoked Aristotle to the chariot Plato drives. I’d like to understand that. Perhaps I still can. I want to understand the great Plotinus better, though who knows what I will find. After him, only steps down: Porphyry, Iamblicus, and the activities of Julian and Justinian. But also Ambrose and Augustine, dear neo-platonic Augustine who viewed the invisible city.

Nicolas of Cusa is the only one left to me on the list of endnotes from Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy (a list of some of the sons and daughters of Plato through the ages, is it not?) whom I have not read too much. He’s right in the period I’m heading into–Latin, Platonic. I might be a Nicolas of Cusa guy, since the cardinal is one my brother sons of Plato.

Wouldn’t it be cool to write a dissertation on the Platonic fraternity? The Platonic Paternity, perhaps: the living mystical core of the holy catholic church. Renaissance and Reformation Platonism . . . Henry Vaughan.

Projects

I printed out my epic fantasy novel. It has been rewritten from scratch. I don’t think any of the words from the original go are in it. The surprising thing about printing it out was the sense of accomplishment. It is a large object, and appears so when it comes out of the uncertain world of pretending to be, which is the computer, and into the world of objects. I think that with another five years’ work it could be finished, maybe even fewer.

* * *

My brother’s project, somewhat greater.

A Spring Day in the Unexamined Life

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There are books that don’t lend themselves to walking and reading and Ernst Bresisach’s Renaissance Europe is one such. Four hours, 100 pages. In four hours you can usually do 200 pages. So the thing is going to take me 12 16 hours to read, rather than the today and tomorrow I had originally thought. Good weather for it though!

Part of the problem is that its is a heavy book; that is a nice workout on the arms, but draws one’s attention away, nagging downward all the time (the higher you can hold the book the faster you’ll walk, usually). Another part of it is that this copy has this ridiculous loose plastic covering glued onto it since the 70’s when it triumphantly entered the Bexley Public Library to be read repeatedly over the years. I have half a mind to help the artificial cover become unglued. Dust jackets, plastic wrappings, all such fiddly adiaphora get in the way of finishing books because they do not permit good and sensible purchase. This book has a durable heavy binding and the weighty paper is stitched. It will endure without the rattly plastic frivolity, O pedantic librarians. The final thing is the ten point font on foot-long pages. I think I’ve probably read 200 pages worth, and the book is just more formidable than it looks.

It is a good book, by the way, organized to the hilt as you probably can surmise, and not tending to induce a wandering of the attention. After the preface, the table of contents, the list of illustration you come on an Analytical Table of Contents that sometimes includes paragraph length subdivisions (I know what you’re thinking, but the answer is no: the pagination there is in Roman numerals; there are before the reader after all that still 404 pages of regular text). He planned his work and worked his plan, and he did it awfully well.

* * *
Just got the complete Dvorak string quartets. I’m starting to look very fit in the string quartet department. We’ll see how good they are, being a complete set, but at least I can begin to become properly familiar with them. I’m such a desultory buyer that I can be looking for something for years at Half-Wit and used book stores. But if I went online and just got stuff, I’d have no reason to go to book stores–used book stores, that is–and I like that so much better.

Mental Toil of the Unexamined Life

The plants are all busy outside. At least, one thinks so when one looks out now that the weather’s warmer. All the humans are sleeping at 3AM, but the plants sleep not. And yet, do I want to say they’re awake?
What are they? Are they the living impulse awakened or the living impulse dormant? They seem to be the living impulse without consciousness, though of course I can’t be sure.* They are the living impulse with the permanence of the place, unmoving, rooted, raising up over the years into the sun and the wind the gratitude the earth feels, casting it back down in showers of autumn leaves. A bit of structure on formless matter imposed for a while, and then gradually dissolved, like all the objects of this world.
Which is why the world of objects cannot be the basis of reality.
* * *
I’ve been reading a few thought-provoking articles found through Arts & Letters Daily. One was written by a guy who teaches evolution at a university in Kentucky. A lot of his students come to school knowing nothing about evolution, and he makes it sound as if many of them reject it. What was interesting was a stray remark that crept in about the imperfections of the human body. He believes we get backaches because our organs are hung from a spine originally meant to be parallel not perpendicular to the ground.
I’ve encountered that sad evolutionary idea in the full melancholy of it in the two works by Michel Faber I’ve read: Under the Skin and The Book of Strange New Things. It represents–at least it suggests that to me–a sense of bitterness about the world and our existence; it is the tragic sense of life, but with resentment, not resignation. Where there was a mystery developing that you then find out is a yawning chasm of insurmountable imperfection only the dimwitted deny. Is it like Blakeian experience, with no innocence of outcome left? Still, the possibility of something better is perceived, and dimly desired. It is tragic because and innocence still lingers, the heart is not altogether stone yet. It is the heart of a tree, however: vegetable and no longer animal, and you can’t help thinking they’re going the wrong way.
* * *
The other article I read was about how the internet itself is changing and what it does to us. It suggested this: if the telephone is a way of being where you are not, of speaking disembodied, then the internet is a way of being what you are not, of existing disembodied. It suggested that to me because that’s how I think about the telephone, which I do not love, and it wanted to say that the telephone was one step and the internet a next step.
It also suggested to me that the present impulse to have tattoos, the whole transgender thing, the ability that now exists beyond quantities that–I think–can safely be encompassed by the category of the deranged of so many to mess surgically and permanently with their outward appearance, their whole body, and at the same time the fad of fitness, of personal image, all this is a kind of internet driven attempt to project oneself even in the world of objects. As if a disembodied existence were colliding with embodied existence with no attention to the underlying reality, to the self that grows. Perhaps that’s why all the issues of gay marriage, and other nonsense of the day seem to have come out of nowhere. They are part of how we think about the world when the internet and all it entails has attained a lodging in our lives the way it has.
* * *
I do think it is interesting how we form our perceptions of how things are. I remember hearing with dismay years back that more and more Christians are social drinkers. Things, I felt, are getting worse. I have not learned from that not to feel sometimes that things are indeed getting worse, but to wonder about the measure I’m using.
For the premillennialist, things are supposed to be getting worse. If that’s your outlook, then you will see it. And often things are getting worse, could get worse than they are, and even might. And if you are an amillennialist things stay the same. For the postmillennialist things are getting better, and it makes sense if you consider that things are improved, sometimes they are even getting better, and could improve more, and even might.
We live in an age of transition, like the tumultuous 16th and 17th centuries. I’m reading Russell Kirk, and he points out how much thinking about what makes life stable came out of those tumultuous times. He’s a good chronicler of ideas, it seems to me. And one of the things he points out is how little design and how much accident goes into the shaping of whole nations and the way people live.
It made me think of Roger Scruton’s elegy for England that is no more. That some living and changing thing is gone is true enough, but the idea of it still yields and will yield whenever it is perceived in the many memorials still mediating it to us, just as Greece which rose splendid of old and destroyed itself still yields and fructifies, just as Europe does which rose up long ago now and committed suicide, but was of old. It makes me wonder about WWII is what it does. Did Britain survive the war only to lose the invisible and shining greatness of Logres? Scruton thinks so. Of course, we evaluate what we have now in terms of what we remember, and we do not always remember accurately. Maybe we didn’t have that much to begin with, one can think, or maybe we have more at present than we think. It had an incarnation that is lost, and that’s a heavy loss. But a thought-provoking loss that makes Logres memorable, and it reaches a new stage of life while fading out of living memory.
That’s perhaps too grand, but I do think it is a kind of squalor of desire to be all tamped down in a kind of frantic dejection about this world. Is it not a vegetative thing, more like a tree? I must be an amillennialist simply by temperament.
* * *
Here are today’s trees, skies, ideas and trajectories. We are subjects incarnate in the world of objects (O thank you Scruton for that insight!) and we do not remain the same. Bad influences arise and take their toll, and they are countered, leavened, mitigated, and even have unexpected outcomes for good. So thought Kirk, at least, and I suppose he must have been an amillennialist.
Innocence of outcome, what you expect: the tree will flourish and the tree will die, but need its wood fall to the forest floor and rot? I remember when I think of these things that Jesus always chided us for having hard hearts, expecting meager and reduced things, being anxious. Not that we are meant to be glib or shallow, but to have a deeper joy beyond the solemn and vast tragedy that fills the limited dimensions of our experience of reality, incarnate in a world of objects with which at present we have no mastering congruity.
Is it a dream? I write these things so deep into the night that it is almost morning.

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*Have you ever noticed how people who hunt think they can get inside an animal’s head? It is one of the oddest things about reading Roger Scruton that he tells you sometimes with certainty what he believes is going on or not going on in an animal’s head. It must be that to hunt you have to study and predict, and that when you make successful predictions you get the idea that you have succeeded at entering the animal’s consciousness and become certain about things which you only imagine. But we know from the Ptolemaic system that successful prediction does not mean you have arrived at the inside truth of a thing.

Reading History

I read the great man’s book on Histories and Fallacies yesterday and learned a few things.

1 – He did grow up near Wales. I was wondering: Gloucestershire. Shall have to see about understanding something of that more.
2 – He studied Latin to an advanced level. Resolved: to finish Wheelock’s and push hard.
3 – There are three books about History he expects his students to have (179-80). Ordered two.
4 – Recommends reading lots of history, the literature of the age, getting as broadly familiar with everything as possible. What could be better? One always fears one will be expected to read everything Evangelical and the option to read anything else is optional. I have no reason to fear this with the great man. If his expectations are high as far as Chaucer and Dante go, so much the better.

Got a nice deal on a two-volume work on the Hundred Year’s War.

A Post

Columbus is having a moody April. Showers, thunderstorms, tempests, shinning emerald grass, trees hoary with moss putting forth diligently the primaveral bud, sunshine and gloom alternating, birds in multitude everywhere. Spring is full upon us.

I’m at the moment enjoying a high tide of good books, reading to the sound of rain. Pelikan, Huizinga, a Waugh revival, Kirk, and a backlog to keep me. To counter the springtime, some autumn from Huizinga:

Symbolism was a poor means of expressing those connections that we know to be essential at time when they rise to consciousness as we listen to music–“Videmus nunc per speculum in aenigmate.” There was an awareness of looking at an enigma yet here were attempts to distinguish the images in the mirror, to explain images through images, and to hold up mirrors to mirrors. The whole world was capsulated in independent figures; it was a tme of overripeness and the falling of blossoms. Thought had become too dependent on figures; the visual tendency, so very characteristic of the waning Middle Ages, was now overpowering. Everything that could be thought had become plastic and pictorial. The conception of the world had reached the quietude of a cathedral in the moonlight in which thought was allowed to rest.

The way he uses the term “reality” in the book is not reassuring, but still Huizinga is tremendous. And speaking of sententiae sprinkled throughout, some advice for preachers and public speakers from antiquity:

Cura oratoris dicturi eos audituros delectat. -Quintillian

Verbum semel emissum volat irrevocabile. – Horace

Westminster

Looks like Philadelphia and its environs will contain us. I’m eager for it already. Can’t say it is easy to say no to Southern, but it is easy to say no to Louisville.

The wife of me, who has a way sometimes of putting the question, helped me arrive at the conclusion this morning when she asked me–as we’re still waiting to hear back from the U of St. Louis–if they accepted you would you go? Already she knew the answer. The answer is of course that I have no enthusiasm left for them.

So I need to start lifting things so that when the time comes to move I am not so easily taken out of the action. And getting rid of things, which I am always fond of doing. None of the packrat with me. I look with horror sometimes at the amount of things persons get into their places of habitation. I return to my own to look around with even greater horror. The books we have have doubled in three years. They need to be trimmed back. Things are nice, but they require order, constant ordering and care, and who has time?

Time is what is running out on me. All too soon I’ll be swallowed up in duties and probably German . . . I think they want me to learn German before I start. I ought to check on that soon. But not before I finish Latin and get closer to the end of Wheelock’s. A hard two months of finishing up with school lie before me, but I’m sure that time will fly.

Speaking of German, we drove back through the land of my fathers–York, Lancaster, Gettysburg (didn’t quite make it to Hanover, the locus classicus of the family). Italian food and the metropoleis of the east coast and living closer to the sea! There are going to be lots of things to see and do out there, not least of which will be to earn a PhD.

Scrutopia

In case you haven’t gotten the link, there’s an interview of Roger Scruton over on The Spectator and it is worth a glance. I like his resignation, his attitude, his perseverance.

But things have got better, haven’t they? Hasn’t the discussion at least opened out? We are speaking a couple of days after Trevor Phillips has made another noted intervention, attacking those ‘anti-racists’ who have shut down debate for years. This prompts a classically Scrutonian response: ‘Things have changed now because as always when a battle is lost you can speak freely about it.’

Then

When the world was half a thousand years younger all events had much sharper outlines than now. The distance between sadness and joy, between good and bad fortune, seemed to be much greater than for us; every experience had that degree of directness and absoluteness that joy and sadness still have in the mind of a child. Every event, every deed was defined in given and expressive forms and was in accord with the solemnity of a tight, invariable life style. the great events of human life–birth, marriage, death–by virtue of the sacraments, basked in the radiance of the divine mystery. But even the lesser events–a journey, labor, a visit–were accompanied by a multitude of blessings, ceremonies, saying, and conventions.

Johan Huizinga, The Autumn of the Middle Ages

All My Road Before Me

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All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C. S. Lewis, 1922-1927All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C. S. Lewis, 1922-1927 by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis always aimed to write enjoyable reading, and of course often succeeded. Certainly, this diary is enjoyable; there are no tedious portions to it that I can think of. It is also instructive.

One thing you will learn from it is how to lead the scholarly life, because that’s what he chronicles. In fact, his account includes a portion of his life when he was under enormous strain at home with daily life, moving, being poor, having a madman to care for for two weeks and to cap that all off, difficult examinations. Warren Lewis comments on the result of that examination as perhaps his brother’s greatest academic achievement. You can read in this book about the experiences and events leading up to it. There are sometimes mythical overstatements of the intellectual powers of C.S. Lewis. Here you get in his own words how he studied, how much he got done in a day, the sorts of setbacks and frustrations he faced.

Another thing that can be learned here and studied is his maturing attitude toward Romanticism. He had to struggle with it not only because it shaped all his moments of pleasure in nature–which delight was a constant thing for him–but also because the episode of a fortnight in close proximity with a raving demented man shook him up and made him approach Romanticism much more responsibly than he would have.

It is interesting to know that he read Richard Hooker–from whom he derives his ideas of church polity, which is important in shaping his Christian writing later on–before he returned to Christianity and for the sake of understanding the period, rather than the Anglican Church.

Much also about his friends in this book, Barfield, Greeves, Harwood, Baker. Not, alas, so much about Tolkien. It does make you wish he’d kept up the practice, but then what eventually he had to do was write letters, of which we have a good remaining amount.

I can’t help thinking, reading what is available in this journal, that I wish the biographies to date had made better use of this material.

WTS, Impressions

In every age, I suppose, there are incongruities. It is not unusual of ours to have them, however odd they may be. And things are judged differently depending on where you happen to be located.

Our guide was a nice person, and perhaps a deep thinker. He is not a quick thinker, at least not if he thinks at the rate he speaks. I’ve had several phone conversations with him (that is not something I can say about many people–outside of my job); and quick and to the point they were not. So the first hour was listening to him. No coat, no name tag, no commercial patter, no attempt to sway me. I was glad of that incongruity (for as such, of course, it comes across in this age to us), and of his wit which flashed forth in his somewhat labored dialogue from time to time, all unexpected.

On our first arrival we wandered in to a largely abandoned Machen hall and caused some slight dismay in the lobby by asking for directions. Apparently the desk there is manned (or womaned) largely as an effort at interior decoration. It is not a big place and there are friendly people there, but they do not seem to be in charge. In fact, Westminster does not seem to be a place where anybody is in charge at all. That will, come time for administrative necessities, no doubt be a drawback; but I find it warms my heart at the moment. A bit fuzzly, shall we say they are? Allow me to coin the term. A bit fuzzly about getting things done, but I am not in the mood for high efficiency at this point.

Some stories about Machen and about Murray there were, under their portraits (the genial Machen’s resolve and fidelity, the severe Murray’s cigar smoke and incarceration). These notables for some reason do not have the honor of the paneled lobby that Van Til’s chilling portrait surmounts–of whom no stories were told whatever. The ugliest building on a campus not distinguished for its architecture is named after Van Til, which I found satisfying, though he probably did too, the blighter.

There were many people studying in the library. The more frivolous portions of the place were desolate, but the library was full of industry and quiet. One likes to see that in a library. No incongruity. I understand in this world there will be incongruities, but things are going as well as can be expected under the moon if they can be at least kept from the library.

They have to many Korean students that they offer a degree in Theological English to help those who haven’t quite TOEFLd their way to sufficient fluid command. Apparently, Westminster means to Koreans what a place like Oxford would mean to us: a storied university of splendor, glory and ancient dignity. That is what was confided to me, at least, when making inquiries. This degree, the activity implied by it at least, is something that interests me, having taught English and dealt a little with the problems of getting things across to people in Spanish. And as the Protestant age passes and perhaps the torch of leadership leaves the Anglophone world, it seems a worthwhile consideration: how to get the resources we now have to where they are needed.

We attended a class consisting of a mostly clear explanation of the philosophy behind Rudolf Bultmann. I should like to have asked When? a lot more, but I shall have time anon. It was not uninteresting, though the quality of the discussion could not have said to have been penetrating. But, after all, penetrating discussion, I am sure every teacher will tell you, is not something you get every day.

Philadelphia has a lot of precious white people places with organic ketchup and other such logical fallacies. Because we were in a hurry, with apologies, our host took us to Chili’s. I like Chili’s, personally, and Applebee’s for that matter, or Cane’s. Apparently, there are persons who think such places are uninteresting, which was the point of the apology. I had far rather get something worth eating than organic turnips fried in craft beer and sprinkled with seasonal pickled crab grass. Highly satisfied with my club sandwich and cup of southwestern chicken soup, stuffed copiously, I suppose, with pesticides, hormones, gluten and stuff that renders the immune system more robust but which white people now fastidiously avoid, we arrived late to Trueman’s class, which is something I can regret.

He is not ceremonious at all. Did not greet us, did not come over to speak, nothing (I realize how many persons are likely to take that so let me just say it is not a negative statement I make). His lecture on of all things the Synod of Dort was good, with insight afforded and quite a bit of banter. He has a devilish pointiness to eyebrows and nose when he smiles, which I’m glad to say he is not reluctant to do. He knows what he’s talking about and that makes you pay attention to him readily.

He lectures sitting down, which I wish he didn’t. He sometimes walks around, which I wish he would do more. He’s more animated, but then he’s more extemporaneous when he’s walking around. So I listened to him, watching him. There is nothing to remark about his habiliment, I am glad to say. Sometimes these professors are shabby or have bad taste. His hands are small and pale, and delicate and I wished he would gesture more. He doesn’t. He’s a very still person, with his dark, burning eyes (from a distance; not so dark up close). I didn’t think he would be such a white person as to have a Macintosh computer, but he did. Absolutely trendy. There’s your incongruity.

Afterward we shook hands, settled on a mostly deserted place to talk, and he was generous with the few questions I managed to fumble at him. I found out what I wanted to know, but no more, and this is largely due to the fact that speaking with people is not something I do very naturally, and with perfect strangers not at all well. I didn’t want to say more than a few words about anything not to the point. (Often a good impression can be marred by overmuch in the way of things said, I have noticed. And if I am to have him as my adviser I’d rather he thought of me as one who tendeth more to brevity than otherwise. I feel that when it comes to scheduling time with him in the future that would be more advantageous.)

I’d be able to push back into the middle ages with him, and that has its attractions. So there’s that. As far as living here (being on location for this special edition of my blog), Philadelphia has its attractions. It is expensive to live here, but we’ve managed before in two big cities and also in the semi-rural rustic environs of Columbus, OH (Oh, it is good to be back in a big city for a few days, and the consideration of moving instead out to the hinterland of KY is a bit of an off-putting consideration). I walk among the quaint old buildings that white people are good at keeping up, though they fill them with their precious restaurants and fair trade soap and gormless pottery shops and overpriced boutique hotels furnished by T.J.Max and Target, and think how good it is to clap eyes on a decent structure made of stone and with the traces of more than a few generations on it. The grounds of venerable colleges are here, the tangled roads of human passage rather than the wanton grid, the air from the Atlantic Ocean, the eastern seaboard which is among other things the locus classicus of Reformed Baptists in America.

But as Trueman himself put it to me, if you want to study Plotinus and Origen and Early Church stuff, Michael Haykin is your man. And that is the question. Do I? Here is my dilemma: until I’ve been there for a while, gotten to know the adviser, figured out more about the thing I’m getting into, how can I possibly know?

Travel Unexamined

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Snow on the ground this morning. Above, the rook delighting sky.* Long miles in a car today, until going slow feels unreal. John Synge, Dorothy Sayers, Trollope if need be.

I don’t find it best to eat a lot on journeys. But then sometimes it is good to stand still, to be refreshed with good cheer somewhere. Today, somewhere in Pennsylvania, or in West Virginia. Perhaps we will have fog; I’d like that.

_____________________
*Suddenly I saw the cold and rook delighting Heaven
That seemed as though ice burned and was but the more ice,
And thereupon imagination and heart were driven
So wild, that every casual thought of that and this
Vanished, and left but memories, that should be out of season
With the hot blood of youth, of love crossed long ago;
And I took all the blame out of all sense and reason,

-the poet Yeats

Why must theology be so difficult?

Trueman’s work on John Owen is rather stratospheric when it comes to theology–and that kind of theologian I am not. That coupled with another sally into the fourth century trinitarian controversy on Saturday–how bewildering that can be to the uninitiated–prompted the question. Why must theology be so difficult?

At least two reasons spring to mind:

1 That we are talking about divinity, and there is no reason for that subject to be easy. Why should God and his ways be easy for any mind? True, there are ways of coming at it, basics which we can readily master, but it would be foolish to think the subject doesn’t go deep beyond the basics. Further up and further in, he says, and we are meant to follow.

2 That theology must deal in truth, and one error is enough to disturb it. A simple error in logic is enough to undermine a doctrine, which is odd to think about, but nevertheless true. God will have all of us and requires the most careful thinking; God possesses all things, therefore there is nothing that he does not find useful to his purposes. Every consideration is necessary. How shall the consideration of him who is holy not require of us an entirety of attention? Everything possible must be considered; and the slightest mistake will be a telling mistake.

Email of the Unexamined Life

OSU sent an email to say I would not do. Which I’d rather be saying to them than have said to me, but at least puts that potential to rest. Columbus, I shall not live in thee more than a few months! What would I have done had they accepted me? I do not know. Why even apply? I was expected to, and I did it to say I had.

So, two acceptances and one rejection. How vain must I be that it stings nevertheless. I had rather be the lord of all rejections! But it prepares me for the dashing of my St. Louis hopes when that occurs.

As a consolation I have begun to charge my blue pen with sepia ink, and it is a wise move on the whole. Sepia is a nice, autumnal color. Muted, but unusual, with a sense of faded antiquity. There are shades of paper on which one does not use it of course, but white and pale green are good for sepia, as I think cream will be to. Sepia seeps out of the pen which had been struggling with the intermingled red and blue rather more than is convenient better. I am consoled by it.

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