If you think, as I obviously do, that we have more than enough Sanford-style religion in America, then the way he used the megaphone afforded by victory to do a little creative scriptural interpretation illustrates the problem with just bracketing a politician’s private life and saying “vote the party, not the man.” When that private life is already woven into the public narrative, a vote for the man is often a vote to ratify that narrative, and to lend one’s support not only to particular policies, but to a larger view of human behavior and affairs — encompassing, in this case, a theologically bankrupt and socially destructive understanding of what real redemption actually involves.
Yes, politicians are neither angels nor philosophers, and sometimes the political stakes are high enough to warrant voting for a man with Sanford’s baggage and beliefs. There’s no absolute rule for these things; they have to be navigated case by case. But a special election to fill out a term in a reliably-conservative seat seems like exactly the kind of high profile, low stakes contest where it makes sense to put moral and theological principle ahead of party. Unfortunately the voters of South Carolina disagreed. — Mark Sanford’s God - NYTimes.com
Some sort of idea, as it were, was coming to reign in his mind - now for the whole of his life and unto ages of ages. He fell to the earth a weak youth and rose up a fighter, steadfast for the rest of his life, and he knew it and felt it suddenly, in that very moment of his ecstasy. — Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Call up your courage again. Dismiss your grief and fear.
A joy it will be one day, perhaps, to remember even this. — Virgil, The Aeneid, trans. Robert Fagles
As we fear, so we write. Fearful writing is different from covering the bases. It’s building a glass wall around one’s project so that the reader can look at but can’t disturb the pleasant scene within.
It’s no surprise that the snow-globe book doesn’t do much. It can’t. There’s nothing to grab onto, no space for the reader to get into the text and texture of the argument. There may not even be an argument, or a thesis, or a claim, or even a very good, almost entirely coherent half-an-idea.
Academe has been in the snow-globe business for years. The problem here is not the specificity of research but the intention of the finished product. Inward-looking, careful to a fault, our monographs have been content to speak to other monographs rather than to real, human readers.
What happens if we imagine writing—and I include scholarship here—as a tool rather than as an artifact? As a mechanism instead of a brainy objet d’art? What if a scholarly book were, in other words, a machine? — Do We Dare Write for Readers? - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education
The same aunt who introduced me to my xiao gu gu was the only child old enough to accompany my grandfather on his trip to the schoolteachers’ house. As the story goes, my grandfather held his youngest daughter in one arm and his eldest with the crook of the other. When he handed over the baby, swathed in threadbare hand-me-downs, in exchange for the grain, his other daughter asked, “When is it my turn to be sold?” My grandfather, more leathery and grayed than he should have been at fortysomething, looked down at her, and at the twin bushels of grain in his other arm, and laughed. And then he wept. — The One-Child Policy and the Children of China : The New Yorker
Part of what helped the church to draw in so many people, Wilford argues, has been a strategy that has upended another commonly held assumption about centers and peripheries. While it’s common to speak of contemporary religious life in terms of “seekers,” such a usage typically refers to the individual, not the institution, as the one who is doing the seeking. Wilford suggests that Saddleback has reversed this scenario; by catering to individuals’ tastes, needs and preferences, the church, in effect, becomes the seeker. “It is not a matter of churches presenting their organization to the ‘seeking’ masses,” he writes, “but rather of actively seeking the masses out.”
This insight may press the point about “inversions” a little too hard; after all, if churches are trying to cater to “consumer” tastes, and consumers find the church based on those tastes, aren’t both parties doing at least some seeking, much in the same way consumers and producers in any marketplace seek one another out? Nevertheless, postsuburban megachurches, according to Wilford’s argument, have been more flexible and more receptive to their constituents’ needs and tastes than have their mainline or Catholic brethren, and this flexibility is largely responsible for their enormous growth. At Saddleback, this institutional seeking of the “religious customer” has taken a number of forms, including the development of a vast array of tastes: several alternative rock services, a “Spanish-language adult contemporary service,” an African American gospel service, a service featuring traditional hymns. If this menu seems to echo various spaces of consumption—a mall, perhaps, or a tourist resort that has lots of various dining and activities options—that’s quite literally by design. Wilford notes that Saddleback’s campus is intended to “mirror the architectural design of its surrounding environment,” a landscape well known for the prominence of its shopping spaces and opportunities for consumption. The line between consumption and religion—and, moreover, between what has been “sacralized” and what hasn’t—frankly seems so porous as to be nonexistent. — The Postsuburban Gospel | The Revealer
To paraphrase Douglass, a writer is worked on by what she works on. If you spend your time raging at the weakest arguments, or your most hysterical opponents, expect your own intellect to suffer. The intellect is a muscle; it must be exercised. There are cases in which people of great influence say stupid things and thus must be taken on. (See Chait on George Will’s disgraceful lying about climate change.) But you should keep your feuds with Michelle Malkin to a minimum.
In the interest of exercising that intellect, I would add something else: Write about something other than current politics. Do not limit yourself to fighting with people who are alive. Fight with some of the intellectual greats. Fight with historians, scientists, and academics. And then after you fight with them, have the decency to admit when they’ve kicked your ass. Do not use your platform to act like they didn’t. Getting your ass kicked is an essential part of growing your intellectual muscle.
To do all of that, you have to actually be curious. You have to not just want to be heard, but want to listen. Brooks makes the point that the detached writer’s role should be “more like teaching than activism.” I would say that it should be more like learning than teaching. The stuff you put on the page should be the byproduct of all you are taking in — and that taking in should not end after you get a degree from a selective university. Keep going. You must keep going. — How to Be a Political-Opinion Journalist - Ta-Nehisi Coates - The Atlantic
One writes of scars healed, a loose parallel to the pathology of the skin, but there is no such thing in the life of an individual. There are open wounds, shrunk sometimes to the size of a pin-prick but wounds still. The marks of suffering are more comparable to the loss of a finger, or of the sight of an eye. We may not miss them, either, for one minute in a year, but if we should there is nothing to be done about it. — F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night
Second: if you’re an academic leader, if you’re the incoming president of a university, then please do not tell academics that they can succeed only by walking some narrow tightrope, keeping to an impossibly precise Aristotelian Golden Mean, erring neither on the one side nor on the other. That’s nonsense. All such advice does is to multiply the apparent causes of failure and give people more reasons to blame themselves. Given the apparently crumbling economic foundations of the modern academy, people in that environment are not going to succeed by maintaining “a pleasing uniformity of decent competence.” Instead, if they’re going to succeed at all they’re going to succeed by doing something really extraordinary, by stretching their abilities and pushing against the limits of their disciplines. And there are many ways to do this, not just one: some are in teaching, some in scholarship, some in alternative-academic careers. But in any of these fastidiousness is no virtue. Now is not the time for faint hearts.
No one has ever achieved anything of real value by striving to avoid excesses: there must be a positive goal toward which you strive. That’s why, as I said on Twitter yesterday, it doesn’t help to tell people to avoid this or avoid that. Better, tell them to swing for the fences. We might as well. — A Word of Exhortation Prompted By Yesterday’s Twitter Feed | The American Conservative
Every reviewer will tackle the challenges of writing about books in the Internet era in his or her own way, but at the very least anyone hoping to be heard above the digital din needs to approach each review not as an exercise in personal taste – I liked/didn’t like this book, and here’s why – but as a mini-essay using the book under review as the focal point of a larger, more interesting story. In a great many cases, this will mean reviewers having the sense to shut up when they have an opinion about a book but have nothing to add to the conversation beyond whether they liked or didn’t like it. This might be called The Thumper Rule of Literary Criticism: “If you can’t say something interesting – Shh! Say nothing!”
… However critics rise to the challenge of the information overload facing readers today, rise we must, because as much information there is on sites like Amazon and GoodReads and the rest, there is too often precious little real intelligence. This is the paradox of the information age: the proliferation of data points makes smart criticism more relevant, not less. We are all swimming in information, not just about books but about sports teams and political parties and cooking tips, and what we need are smart, thoughtful commentators to sift through all that data and make it mean something. — The Millions : Say Goodbye to the Play-by-Play Book Review