Reflections of the Unexamined Life

I think the woke moment has peaked. I really think it has reached the point where its enormity is obvious and more importantly, understood, expected, no longer puzzling or novel; I think it is palpably tarnishing. I conclude, therefore, that its appeal begins to diminish.

And so . . . what’s the next thing?

* * *
Craig Carter fumbled his way into Twitter and soon mastered it. He’s not yet broken 1K followers, but he does the most interesting things. His book seeks to explain and to a certain extent popularize what you can get in an essay by Steinmetz from a while back. This last, has apparently been percolating through circles in which the procedure and method of the reformers exerts a gravitational pull.

He’s right on hermeneutics, you know. Premodern metaphysics calls for premodern approaches, and the issue of metaphysics is anterior to most other issues, as I was clearly taught at Central Seminary.

I’m, by the way, so glad I attended there. You come out with baggage anywhere you go, in the case of Central, curiously, dispensational. But I’d rather not be ignorant of issues anterior to others than otherwise. I’ve talked to people who can cross and recross Scripture and have mastered all the minutiae of Covenant Theology but are flaccid on their metaphysics and you can tell what is anterior. We either interpret with the tradition of the church through the ages, or we interpret with the tradition of our age.

You need to hammer out your epistemology.

* * *
As anybody who pays attention knows, my attitude toward the USA is that it is grand in its enormities, and I find that grand. I’m not particularly pious when it comes to patriotism, perhaps because I grew up in another country. So I have enjoyed the Trump candidacy and presidency. A lot. And I look forward to more.

I will say, if Tulsi prevails in the Democratic field, I’m going to feel a conflict. Not because I think our president should be presidential. I think the president of the United States of America should be American, and there are few that do American the way el Trump does. The puzzling thing about the whole show is how few of the candidates have any strong appeal. I think it will be sane and interesting if she makes it, and the way these things go, you never know. But then, if she makes it, a lot of people are going to be feeling conflicted, won’t they?

You know what I don’t understand? People who get so worked up about it they can’t listen to the other side, or hear about things they don’t like in politics. Perhaps that is something that has always been the case, but it puzzles and intrigues me. Is there more of it these days?

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The whole thing with AI, space, China, the possibility of Interwebs . . . this decade is shaping up to be a good one. I enjoy Niall Ferguson on the present moment. All kinds of things are going to keep shaking out. Do we at last, for example, have a compelling reason to colonize the moon? That possibility grips me.

And just look at how the world has changed in past decades.

I got a smartphone for the first time last April, and then Google sent me an email showing me all the places I’d taken it to. I was actually told by someone that you can turn that off and if you do they won’t track you. Please! I’ve worked in a fraud department. The point of networking stuff is to have it available to you. The point of a cellphone is that it is always with you, with all its connections, both the ones you desire and the ones that are the price you pay for the things you desire. The way forward is not backward, it is not to treat cars like carriages or to ban the printing press.

* * *
Things are also left behind. All are lamenting the death of Roger Scruton, who shall not be alive for this decade. He was a bit of an enigma, but a good enigma and a very helpful person. I went to events with him twice, thanks to living near Princeton and Villanova. Had him in my sights at Princeton, but couldn’t think of anything to say, so I didn’t approach him. As a result I also have my own gentle regrets.

He has become, like the England for which he wrote an elegy, another of our ideals. And in that sense he will outlast many others.

Some Unexamined Life

You know you’re a pastor when you got a shelf of IX Marks books and for the first time in your life you’re interested in them. They’re not academic, rather kind of breezy to read, if you see what I mean. Stuff I would always in the past have passed over in favor of the collected letters of T.S. Eliot. Now they actually contend with him.

What will happen to me if I do this?

Life will happen to me. It’s nothing other than another thing that I have to do. Like seeing someone left alone at the potluck and knowing the place beside is reserved for me. Life will occur with its variegated experiences; life with its strangeness and variety. The stream of time will carry me toward its completion and my eternity.

* * *

There is a real sense of that in Vodolazkin’s novels.

One of the great pleasures of this life is having a day off to read novels. I always read novels, but those days when you can read what you don’t have to read make that reading all the more interesting. Which is the same point again, isn’t it?

* * *

David Bentley Hart seems to have become David Hartley Bent, from all accounts. I have found what he writes stimulating in the past because he’s learned and devastating against his enemies. It is part of the joy how devastating he is against his enemies, when they are my enemies. I admit there was a time when I found him annoying, before I found something that was more calculated to annoy others. Now I read a review of his latest over in one of the big Gospel conglomerates, and it made me wonder. I have his NT translation, and one can see the oddities encroaching on it, but can it really be as bad as is claimed? Strong reactions are obtaining everywhere. Loud.

Or is it just how David Hartley Bent always goes after those he targets? Listen, did he mince words on the New Atheists? I wonder. I wonder if the caliber of the gun he uses ever changes, no matter who’s in view.

I tried to get the local library to do an interlibrary loan to obtain the book in question. They treated it as a request to purchase, told me their budget for such was terminated, and that was that. So I’ll have to go along with life till the book comes to me otherwise.

Ah well, for now, Mark Dever.

High Street

Walking down High Street is something I shall miss about Columbus. I have gone up and down it like a yo-yo, walking in all weathers–save the very cold–reading, looking around, having thoughts sometimes, in sun, wind, rain and whatever else there is.

I live at a part called Graceland, which is a series of strip mall shopping centers. Graceland is graced with three has-been bars (one of which calls itself on the awning the cultural hub of the Midwest), which makes it a gathering place for the aged, but not for the rowdy young, and bums. Also there is an Applebee’s and a Buffalo Wild Wings, so nothing fancy. Bob Evans is there, and the down-market version of Bob Evans called TJ’s Country Place: which I love. We have Subway, Qdoba, Arby’s, Wendy’s, more recently Cane’s, as well as various places of pizza persuasion, Noodles, a hole in the wall middle eastern place where the drunks eat when the has-been bars don’t bring in a food truck to supplement their debatable fare called Pita Hut, a bakery, as well as a Target and the more plebeian of the two great grocery stores, Kroger. Krogerz, as the folk like to say. Did I mention Taco Bell? It stands guard over the deteriorating neighborhoods, along with UDF, usually (United Dairy Farmers, though this one signals the conclusion Taco Bell opens). There are more, but I won’t go on: we are ideally located, and it has been great.

I start out crossing Morse Road heading south, past the ugly monument of Walgreens, past a mostly idle Faslube, past the Verizon store, past Mozart’s precious bakery, on through an area known as Clintonville where the houses are somewhat more than less interesting and the long streets linking High Street to the preposterously named Indianola Ave. have elaborate speed bumps and traffic slowing roundabouts and people that fiddle with their lawns all the time.

White people can be seen eating enthusiastically at the Northstar Cafe, a place the attractions of which remain elusive to me. They don’t do real french fries, but fake sweet potato ones, have a limited, overpriced menu, and they have a peculiar label on the ketchup that proclaims it organic. Organic ketchup! and people go there–I shake my head if I notice it, because it is usually crowded.

There are many interesting trees which at various stages of the year can be poignant: there are some wondrous maples at Whetstone library, some marvelous elms around where two coffee shops have crashed and burned and where the fire station is, and this or that pine or grove or clump or thicket. I shall not mention them more, but I should say the honey locusts are particularly friendly, and the walnuts often stately. As far as businesses go, it remains relatively uninteresting until you approach North Broadway.

There is some caring save-the-planet coffee shop I’ve never tried, then Karen Wycliffe’s wondrous book store, and various precious places of interior decoration before you reach Donato’s Pizza–which has come down in the world from its former glory–then the peculiar pen place decked with an excess of signage, and then Krogerz again. North Broadway splits into W and E at the High Street intersection, so you know it is a momentous intersection.

One usually has to wait because there are too many things going on at the intersection, but crossing one enters a more desolate region with a school, a church, Nancy’s glorious greasy spoon Diner, tattoo places with cutesy death-eater names, and on to the more expensive grocery alternative in these regions, Giant Eagle, where people can often be seen entering carrying their own bags. And Lucky’s, which is another grocery store of more modest proportions and environmental piety that I suppose is the hipster alternative. My wife likes it and I scorn it for pandering to every whim of spoiled people with a thousand fastidious preferences, allergies, food intolerances and what not in vogue today which tomorrow’s scientific research I expect will overthrow besides global warming. Lucky Dragon Chinese is there, and I recommend it warmly.

Somewhere in this region there is a new billboard that reads: Syphilis Explosion. Then it has a website. Apparently because of all the apps there are for casual encounters, there has been an impressive increase in STDs in the USA. People ask me how I live without a cellular telephone. I wonder how they continue.

With that we have come to the Old North, which has some grand old buildings and from the look of things, a lively nightlife and probably the beginnings of a lot of the transmission of disease mentioned in the billboard slightly north. There’s also a good but unfortunately popular breakfast joint called Ben and Jerry’s or something like that around there, and then the good times are abruptly brought to an end by the presence of a Taco Bell. If you want a sign that things are about to become down market, look for a Taco Bell. There is, across the street, a Rally’s, and that’s a cheerful thing, but it means essentially the same. We now come into the regions of campus you see, with littered pavements, squalid and frequent ATMs, failing restaurants, raucous bars and college students schlepping around in various stages of habiliment or a peculiarly conceived final stage thereof. What one can say about the OSU campus is that it is frequently busy. You can always find mendicants there, disproportionate building projects, flashy cars, small moving mobs and jerks on bicycles.

One of the odd things that happens right now is that the burly construction workers in hard hats often cross the High Street from the high rise modern tenements they’re building on the north edge of campus. A cop actually stands in the middle of the street and stops traffic for them, I’ve seen it more than once, as if were an elementary school. There’s a McDonald’s a little farther south, and that’s where the construction workers apparently safely end up.

Among the recent improvements there is a new Wendy’s where they serve breakfast. It is always empty. I walk past and stare at the manager and he stares back at me, idle. What is full is Buckeye Donuts right across the alley, which is an eighth the size of Wendy’s and often has people lined up out the door like a Tim Horton’s in Toronto. They crowd in there and chow down under cramped circumstances, which speaks to the quality of the grub. Speaking of quality grub, they just shut down the infamous No. 1 Chinese. I guess there’s too many Chinese students at OSU telling the truth about that place nowadays.

The east side of High Street on campus is a variety of commercial endeavors, banks, bars, more bars, more ATMs, as many ATMs as there are bars, mendicants, every single kind of burrito and sandwich joint ever, no Burger King, oddly, UDF, and–you were waiting for it, weren’t you–Taco Bell. Actually Taco Bell comes once the preposterous overlarge and often ugly buildings of the Ohio State University cease and desist on the west side, and it signals the coming of an abandoned building or two, laundromats, a public library, and then a Krogerz that acknowledges the toughness and proximity of campus by having a separate store for the liquor.

Things are grim for a block or two, stares are often received, and then you come to the Short North, which is first signaled by a beer brewery, and continues upmarket from there. White people like the Short North and generally crowd it on weekends.

Mostly upmarket. There’s the oddly built from scratch so-called Gay Thrift Store and Pharmacy. A thrift store in a building built new for that purpose . . . what is the economy of this? Is this where the lesbians financially underwrite the lifestyle of homosexual men? That’s my guess, but I admit I’m not at all informed. Still, who builds a new thrift store from scratch rather than sticking it in an abandoned K-Mart? Next, predictably, come a few shops where persons who find the idea of plain sex not entirely stimulating may purchase stimulating aids and props. The rest is uplifting: cigar shops, costumer shops, laundromats, banks, interior decorating ventures, a UDF where they’re always playing loud classical music to repel the natives of Columbus from congregating, there is such a thing as a White Castle, in the midst of better restaurants but probably explained by the bars. They have galleries down here, allegedly, and actually relatively busy sidewalks, for the USA.

You can get tremendous portions at some of the places down that way, and see what they’re like through the windows as you walk by. It is a bit upscale (fake, I mean) but there’s an interesting Cajun place, besides all the Thai, Italian, all the present varieties catering to all the whims, though nothing Peruvian. The hipster moment is passing in the culture at large, I gather, so you will find hipsters firmly entrenched going on with business as usual in Columbus, their high, tight jeans, their beards, their goofy glasses, the hats and bikes, their whimsical tattoos. You can see them at the Northstar Cafe in the Short North, mobbing cramped tables, eating environmentally pious food, not upsetting their many food issues too much.

There are a lot of expensive stores of used stuff with the euphemistical designation antiques among the attractions of the Short North, and even in the Old North a little south of Krogerz at N Broadway. Some of those stores are quite old actually, and the floor moves disconcertingly, loaded as it is with detritus from the 20th century.

Eventually you come over the overpass with expensive restaurants on it, past the monstrous convention center, near the North Market which has lost for us its old charm, and to the downtown proper. I went on, but I doubt you’re with me still, so I’ll leave it at that.

Travel Unexamined

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.

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*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

Since 2005

Do you know I’ve been providing quality blogging since 2005?

It’s the truth.

I’ve seen a lot of blogging go down in that time. Blogs come and go, and some abide.

Ten years! Nine more of those and you have a century. A hundred years ago Billy Sunday was going strong, basking in the peak of his fame and glory. A thousand years ago was the year of the great council at Oxford, King Knute went to Sandwich, King Ethelred lay sick at Corsham, and all the while Alderman Edric was up to his schemes.

I’ll probably be blogging about church history soon. Blogging provides you with observations. Here’s a few:

One thing Tom Shippey mentioned in a lecture I listened to recently was that Tolkien’s great theme is not death, it is loss. I think that is right.

One thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes people call–at my job–and because they are mad at the bank they want to punish me. It is my job to take it, apparently, though I don’t always. It is an education, sitting there figuring out why we feel like doing to the people who have to answer but not determine the things we do. Because somehow I have to there, unlike the comments here.

Look to what you hear, the Lord says. What draws you and why, why do you pay attention to what you do, and how. It reminds me of another thing Tolkien says through his elves when they’re telling Sam about the rope they make. They say they put much of what they love into the thing they make. I say we all do. We put much of what we love into the things we make. That is the tragedy.

Here is this blog, and me putting into it over 10 years much of what I love. And here you are, still reading it.

Things I’d rather be writing about

Why do seminaries keep asking me to describe my spiritual growth? I remember one year at Central I just put that I had none.

Talk to my pastor. I think I’m going to give the Catholic schools more of a look because they don’t ask me to describe my spiritual growth.

What are you supposed to say?

Yes, my spiritual life is coming along fine, I’m so glad you asked right about now and not, say, three months ago when it was not the word ‘growth’ I’d have used. Some days, well, I’m dashed if I don’t seem to not even do my devotions, but I’m happy to report that is mostly on Saturdays and I feel Sunday makes up for it, specially if I help with the youth. I really can’t say that I like Christianity more than I did two weeks ago at this point, but I honestly don’t feel like being a mormon. Probably I have a ‘greater heart for missions’ now than a month ago. I’m a lot fonder of . . . hymns than I was a week ago . . . and I do feel there’s a lot more humility now definitely. Especially humility. I’ve grown a lot in that, actually. The Lord is so good. I do not deserve to be as humble as I presently am. THANK YOU JESUS FOR ALL THE HUMILITY YOU HAVE SO FREELY POURED OUT ON ME RECENTLY! Also, having discovered christian Rap, my life is super blessed because I meditate on angry Scriptural doggerel more than I would have otherwise and still enjoy singing hymns when they come up in church. So . . . yeah, I’m growing probably enough to be in a seminary.

* * *
Speaking of getting ebola, I think we’re flying through Dallas to get to McAllen. Great time for that. One week from now. Flying. Through Dallas. I don’t know how long it takes to develop full blown ebola after you’ve been in the Dallas airport, but it is probably a lot faster than my spiritual growth.

* * *
I look forward to seeing McAllen Texas. I don’t know if they even have K-Mart there still, but there I bought all my legos when I was a kid. I did grow in legos till I had quite a few. We used to get the space ship ones and the medieval ones and not the contemporary ones. When I was a kid, they only had three kinds of flavor: past, present and future. Not like now.

Another thing I liked about Edinburg Texas was their macadam roads for roller-skating on, as well as the smoothness of shuffle-board courts. When I was a kid I would race around on roller skates for hours. Then I’d do a bike for hours. Then I’d read until we were allowed to watch TV. Where we stayed at in Texas they had color TV. My stupid brother would pick as his program (we could each pick one) Mr. Rogers neighborhood. I don’t remember what I picked, but it would never have had puppets or singing.

And we’d always watch the news with Dan Rather. And football sometimes, but I didn’t know the rules.

* * *
I used to have the four-wheel roller skates, you know, not these in-line deals. I would wear out the wheels and not the pokey brake thing. The front left wheel on the right foot would get worn down to nothing. It makes sense. I’d drag a foot to slow down and that was the most exposed. Always disdained the pokey brake thing. Didn’t make a whole lot of sense in the front, but it did serve nicely when you were going backwards.

They still sell them, but come to think about it, I don’t see people skating with any kind of skate here in Columbus. They bike or they run.

* * *
I need to grow in the accordion is what. I haven’t figured it into my schedule, what with working on applications in the odd corners of time life throws one’s way. This moment, of course, is brought to you by being fed up and having had too much coffee late in the day. It may also have to do with the potato salad with hot sauce I was eating. Probably it’s just an annoying question though.

So how would you describe your spiritual growth?

Wonderful Winter

People have been saying that winters in Columbus are usually affairs of the 40s and 30s (that is good weather for being out of doors). Now I am not sure they would say that every winter, but some around here now are because we have been fortunate this year in the wintriness of winter. It’s been something like Minnesota, but with more thaws.

In the providence of God, I backed my little Ford Focus into a parked Acura’s alloy wheel and scratched a panel or two. As a result of the estimated $2000 in damages to the SUV inflicted by my little Focus, I put in a claim and am having the Focus cleaned up. So the insurance company gave me a 2014 Nisan Altima, and it turns out an excellent time to be driving a car with perks and conveniences. So it is something of a sugar-coated week: deep winter, extreme sweater weather, snug apartment, best bathtub ever, got book to write, got a difficult Sunday school to prepare for, the wife cooks, the car starts with the push of a button, snow, the cold that makes smoke billow from everything . . .

If I were a pagan my gods would be winter gods.

Winter trees

The Urbs, the Urbs

The road led north through fall to where the lake laps winter. Great bridges in long, free spans that rise and fall, break to the left and to the right, open on something new, farther extend the extended road. Long sights, distant blue cities, the farms nearby, the rest stops that only pause our quest. The highway sped us, construction shunted and constrained us, the wind and rain and sunlight fell on us through blown leaves we left behind. Somewhere, rushing nowhere, a quiet creature goes by muddy waters listening as the reeds rustle in the local wind.

We walked Toronto’s busy sidewalks–bustling Chinatown, the autumnal colleges, the bleak downtown canyons under inhuman and inhospitable glasssteelconcrete monuments. They have an underground, a long, extended mall where out of the cold there is dry hot air in the warren of downtown. And we passed many, many people in that city of open acceptance–that destination of all the world. The museum was overflowing, prowled and thronged and still orderly. Tim Horton’s everywhere and everywhere a long line at the counter all day long and into night. Lines for the streetcars, every table taken behind glass, and rising over new towers construction cranes. Go to Canada and see the world.

I walk in Columbus now where along the sidewalks I can read. Perhaps on Campus there are more people. You see the law of proportions in the Short North, where the buildings are not towers dwarfing life–there people are and go and live and shop and eat and drink. Under the tower goes a luxury vehicle, crouching, poised for speed, alone on the street and the interior secluded all away behind hard glass as a bleak wind scatters the discarded leaves and paper.

High Street of the Unexamined Life

I had a walk today. I went down the High Street in the early morning cool. I’m reading In Parenthesis by David Jones and nearing one of the last remaining Caribou’s I got a suggestion for a story. So I stopped in and to the sound of gormless cady-cane pop consumed a latte while doing what nobody else around me was doing: I used pen and paper most conspicuously.

This is an age of surfaces. Notice how superficial even the depths of computing are getting. Progress, that blind worm, gnaws and consumes indiscriminately, its crystal teeth swirling with images of our time like monitors. I have to wonder at how small the devices that hold people’s attention nowadays can be.

Continuing down the High Street I stopped at one of the last remaining book stores–not a chain, not organized, not spacious, and with excellent shelves when you can get to them. I doubt moderns have the patience of purchasing at Karen Wycliffe’s where they only take cash and write out your receipt, but that is another good reason to go. And you will never be affronted there by gormless candy-cane pop.

Then on to McDonald’s where they had quit serving breakfast, unfortunately. I listened to a group of atheists talk with gentle condescension about believers and the Bible. They were old guys all with long beards, like a collection of dwarves. In spite of myself, I listened to them, what they had to say. I’ve been there before and so have they.

And then on down in the warming day. There are bands of better and worse traversing the long stretch of High Street. The neighborhood is iffy after McDonald’s, then after that it is just the neglect of transience unloved places gather to themselves approaching the OSU campus. The modern university surrounds itself by the kind of decay it stands for, I guess. Minerva is not often found dwelling nearby nowadays. Then High Street perks up a bit on the southern end where they’ve restored a thing or two and brought in the proud suburban chains that cater to the broadly undiscriminating. They are set in architecture that is a monument to banality on the less modest scale and which stands for the conviction that there is nothing really worth fighting for ever.

Then follows a dodgier part (at least here, the sign of entry is in every case a Taco Bell) until you get to the short north to which the adjective ‘classy’ with and without irony can be applied. It is where you have dens of alternative smoking, fancier restaurants not in chains, galleries and what not. Also better architecture–compared to the rest of High Street. It can almost feel sophisticated (for Columbus) and they do have a good store for art supplies. Lots of white people go to that part, you know, men have intimate lunches together and all the pets are well-behaved. It culminates downtown, but I turned back at the edge of the Victorian village.

And then I came back for an inordinate hot bath and gunpowder green tea.