CS Lewis Archives of Mere O

We don’t often post on the Lord’s Day here, but we’re making an exception: Today marks 52 years since the death of CS Lewis, one of the two men whose work inspired the naming of this site. It’s no surprise, then, that we have had a fair bit to say about Lewis over the years here at Mere O. Here are a few of our best pieces on the old dinosaur of Oxford.

SJWs, the Careerist Peace, and the American Corporation

Ross Douthat has, unsurprisingly, written one of the best things on the recent outbreaks at American campuses protesting, amongst other things, institutionalized racism as well as sometimes real and sometimes perceived insensitivities on the part of campus leadership. In short, Douthat’s argument is that as the old humanism of the university died, it was replaced by a strong left wing ethos in the humanities and a careerist, technocratic ethos in the business schools, engineering departments, and so on. Continue reading

When Grace “Fails”—The Music of Call the Midwife

The third episode of the first season of the BBC show Call the Midwife is about what we do when our attempts to love and show mercy to a person seem to fail. The first story in the episode concerns Nurse Lee’s relationship with an old soldier who she visits in-home to help care for his ulcerous feet. The second concerns a pregnant woman in her early 40s who has remarried after becoming a widow but who has married more for her children’s sake than out of love. Continue reading

Evangelicals need to read Richard Hooker.

I’m pleased to host this excellent interview between Mere Fidelity contributor Alastair Roberts and my friend Dr. Brad Littlejohn. Dr. Littlejohn, who did his doctoral work at Edinburgh with Mere O favorite Oliver O’Donovan, has just published a popular level introduction to 16th century English theologian Richard Hooker. If you’re like me, you’ve probably come across Hooker’s name somewhere, but don’t know much about him. His lone major work, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, is hard to track down in an affordable edition. So Hooker is just a name for most of us, like other obscure theologians in the church’s past. Brad’s book will go some way toward addressing this problem. Having read it, I now want to find a way of reading Laws, if only I can find an affordable edition. Enjoy the interview! (Full disclosure, Brad is the president of the Davenant Trust, an organization I’m pleased to serve as a board member. But even if I were not his friend and fellow board member I would be delighted to host this interview here at Mere O.)

Thank you for agreeing to join me to discuss the subject of your new book, Richard Hooker: A Companion to His Life and Work. For the sake of those who may not be familiar with Hooker, can you give a very brief description of who he was?

Sure thing. Basically, when I’m talking to Reformed people, I say something like “Think of him as Anglicanism’s John Calvin.” He became within a few decades after his death the preeminent theologian of the tradition that came to call itself “Anglican,” even though Hooker wouldn’t have thought of himself in these terms, just as Calvin never thought of himself as the first “Calvinist.” His life was comparatively short (1553-1600), almost entirely coinciding with Queen Elizabeth’s long reign (1558-1603), so he is mostly known only for his one great work, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Continue reading

Evangelicals are not modern gnostics. We’re materialists.

There’s a scene in HBO’s John Adams miniseries that remains one of the most succinct summaries of today’s defining cultural battle. The scene features the two guiding stars of the American founding, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. The two friends are attending the launch of a hot air balloon in France where they are attempting to negotiate a treaty between France and the revolting American colonies.

As the balloon rises up into the sky, Jefferson sings “So our umbilical cord to mother Earth has been severed for the first time in history. Mankind floats upon a limitless plain of air.”

Typically unimpressed, Adams replies “hot air” as the two friends exchange a playful glance. Continue reading

On the Demise of Grantland

The news that those of us who love good writing had been dreading finally came last Friday: Grantland is dead. No one can be particularly surprised at the move given ESPN’s acrimonious split with site founder and editor-in-chief Bill Simmons earlier this year. Indeed, the Atlantic predicted how all this would play out four years ago:

But Simmons will lose this battle — the rebellious teenager still relies too heavily on its parents for support — and ESPN will drive this site into the ground. It’s only a matter of time before he leaves. “I don’t know, I think I have one more big sellout of my career,” Simmons told Mahler. Well, at least ESPN didn’t name the site The SimmonsPost; naming it Grantland will make it easier to extract Simmons from the venture when the time comes.

READ MORE: Don’t miss our roundup of other things to read about Grantland over on Mere O Notes.

After the announcement a number of different people took to Twitter to discuss the story. Nicole Cliff of The Toast perhaps made some of the most important observations: Continue reading

Benedict, Patrick, Jeremiah, and Other Nouns as Well

One of the persistent challenges to the ongoing discussion of the Benedict Option is the claim that the BenOp is primarily a retreat from public life and is, therefore, wrong-headed. Though they are presented under separate names, this seems to be the essential critique of both the “Jeremiah Option” and the “Patrick Option” as best I can tell. (In the mean time, can I propose a moratorium on all other “(Name) Option” formulations? And if a writer does insist on inventing a new option, can we at least have a bit of fun with it? I saw “Benedict Cumberbatch Option” on Twitter and like it enormously. And yes, the title of this post is an Eddie Izzard reference. Incidentally, hopefully the fact that I’ve referenced Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Izzard in back-to-back sentences should establish that one can be aware of popular culture and think the BenOp is a move in the right direction.)

In any case, the counsel of many people is that this is not a time for any sort of withdrawal from public life, but rather committing ourselves to a new level of “engagement,” although engagement, very like retreat, is a generally nebulous term in these conversations. Continue reading

The Strength of the Hills Is Not Ours–Our Modern Identity Crisis

Tolkien once remarked to me that the feeling about home must have been quite different in the days when the family had fed on the produce of the same few miles of country for six generations, and that perhaps this was why they saw nymphs in the fountains and dryads in the wood – they were not mistaken for there was in a sense a real (not metaphorical) connection between them and the countryside. What had been earth and air & later corn, and later still bread, really was in them. We of course who live on a standardised international diet (you may have had Canadian flour, English meat, Scotch oatmeal, African oranges, & Australian wine to day) are really artificial beings and have no connection (save in sentiment) with any place on earth. We are synthetic men, uprooted. The strength of the hills is not ours.
~CS Lewis

Wesley Morris has a fine essay on our obsession with identity over at the New York Times. Morris ties together a number of major news stories from the past year to highlight how they all relate in one way or another to a widely shared obsession with identity: What makes a person who they are? How much control does a person have over their own identity? How fluid can an identity be? And why is race, in contrast to gender, so much harder to redefine or shift?

In a piece that ranges from Anne Hathaway’s new movie to Barack Obama to Mr. Robot to Amazon’s popular show “Transparent,” Morris attempts to answer those questions. Continue reading

The Benedict Option and the Pace of Middle Class Life

NOTE: If you are a reader in the DC area interested in further discussion about the BenOp, consider attending an event this Saturday at Georgetown University featuring Rod Dreher and Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio. You can learn more about the event here. It begins at 10am.

Brian Gumm has a new post up at his blog that is hitting on something that I suspect many of us will relate to:

After a year and a half of making small, episodic attempts at doing “church planting stuff,” sometime this summer it just clicked: This. Is. Not. Working.

Maybe it was that I have multiple jobs, including a small business startup, and my wife works her tail off as a mental health professional in our struggling rural community. Maybe it’s because we have a teenage daughter that we’re trying to raise into the great woman that she’s already becoming. Maybe it’s because the friends we were connecting with for church stuff were just as busy or busier than us, working our tails off just to get by. Maybe it’s because other than mailings from denominational offices that I couldn’t use (we don’t have a church bulletin board, or mailboxes, or a treasurer, OR a pastor!!), I got nothin’. I missed our denomination’s semi-annual church planting conference last year, maybe that hindered the work, but I doubt it; I had plenty of big ideas in my head already and that tends to be what conferences traffic in.

The problem Gumm is getting at is a sort of awful cycle that many middle-class Christians will likely understand: We feel the absence of a spiritual rootedness in our lives that exists not only in our hearts and minds, but in the stuff of daily life. We feel a sense of aimlessness or purposelessness in our work; we feel frustrated by the lack of intimate relationships in our church; we feel isolated in our attempts to raise and educate our children. Thus we conclude that we need to attempt something new to address the problem. Continue reading

A Note on Mere O Notes

Hey all, so I’m still sorting through some of the things I want to do with Mere O as the lead writer. One thing I’ve been thinking about, and reading this book has pushed me further along in this thinking, is the role that Mere O Notes will play on the site. When Matt and I launched that part of the site the vision was to have a kind of Daily Dish-style curation hub that we used to share interesting essays and articles we came across online.

Since that time, a few things have happened: Continue reading