Business Insider has an archive of some of the greatest rejection letters you’ll ever read. Everything from “the work you sent us is quite terrible,” to a rejection letter to Gertrude Stein mocking her work to The New York Times advising one writer about what profanities are or are not admissible in their paper. Given that it’s Friday afternoon now, give yourself a five minute break to relax and have a good laugh. These letters will deliver, I assure you.
Last fall I got the chance to meet Wendell Berry, which is for me what meeting Chesterton would be like for Matt. Next to C.S. Lewis there isn’t a writer in the world who has been more of a gift to my soul than Berry.
Eventually I got to the front of the line and handed him my copies of Jayber Crow and Hannah Coulter to sign. He signed the first–my favorite novel and the best novel of the past 25 years, in my opinion–and then, as I gave him the second, I told him that my wife and I had read Hannah as part of our pre-marital counseling. “Huh,” Wendell replied. “Did it help any?” I assured him that it did and then asked if I could get a picture with him. “As long as you don’t mind if I keep signing while you take it,” he said. And so my pastor’s wife took the picture shown at right.
What happened shortly after that, however, was the best part of the weekend. Wendell was on a panel discussion with his daughter Mary. So the speaker introduced them, brought them both out, and Mary introduced their talk. She then asked her dad–daddy, she called him–the first question. When Wendell spoke, he began his response by saying–forgive my memory, I’m paraphrasing–“I want everyone to know, first of all, that this is my daughter Mary and I am very proud of her. Her mother and I have had the privilege of raising her and now for these past 30 years knowing her as a friend and neighbor. We are very proud of her.” That moment more than anything else I can think of is why I so admire Berry and appreciate him. I share that story as a preface to this marvelous piece written by Mary about the experience of growing up with Wendell as her father.
We’ve got more on same-sex marriage because there’s simply been so much good writing being done about it.
It’s not that bodies are “irrelevant” for gay people—otherwise gay men wouldn’t be attracted to men!—but it’s that having a male body is, for gay-affirming Christian theology, taken to be irrelevantwhen it comes to discerning whether it’s ethical for me to have sex with another man (or men). I strongly agree with Crouch’s core affirmation that our being male and female is a given of creation, but I’m just pressing for a bit more precision.
If marriage is, in part, about the begetting and rearing of children, then sexual difference does matter for the definition of marriage. For those who say that marriage need not be open to procreation, bodies may still matter a great deal, but they can’t matter in that way.
Ted Olson posted a fine rebuttal to the “right side of history” meme going around right now.
Also, Alastair Roberts posted a lengthy quote from Oliver O’Donovan and took a bit of time to discuss something tied into Russ Moore’s point about our “pathetic” marriage culture: For Christians, weddings aren’t something where we have total freedom to invent every bit of it exactly as we’d prefer. I’ll let Alastair take it away:
If you’ve spent any length of time in evangelicalism, you’ve no doubt heard some version of the standard self-hating-evangelical rhetoric. There’s lots of reasons evangelicals give for this masochistic rhetoric, but one of the most common is that ours is a tradition that actually isn’t much of a tradition. Where Rome, Constantinople or even Canterbury seem to offer centuries of depth and experience, evangelicalism can often seem fad-driven and consumeristic, captive to whatever trend hits the church market next. (You’ve seen Sunday’s Coming, I trust.) And while that criticism does exist for a reason, I’ve come to believe that in many cases it is dramatically over-stated. In fact, I’d even say that often times when a jaded evangelical is criticizing our lack of history, that criticism may be more a commentary on their ignorance of church history than on an actual problem with evangelicalism. (I say that as someone who at one time made that criticism with some regularity.)
As one example of the surprising depth of evangelicalism, I’d warmly commend a recent release from Intervarsity Press titled Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide for Evangelicals (disclosure: IVP sent me a copy of the book). I only received the book this past Saturday, so I’ve not read the whole thing yet, but Fred Sanders’ essay on reading the classics as an evangelical is worth the price of the book. In it, Sanders shares advice on spiritual reading from a great Christian of the past. Savvy readers will read these quotes and say, “Oh, that’s a lot like lectio divina.” Here’s a few excerpts:
“Prepare yourself for reading, by purity of intention, singly aiming at the good of your soul, and by fervent prayer to God, that he would enable you to see his will, and give you a firm resolution to perform it.”
Be sure to read, not cursorily or hastily, but leisurely, seriously, and with great attention; with proper pauses and intervals, that you may allow time for the enlightenings of divine grace. To this end, recollect, every now and then, what you have read, and consider how to reduce it to practice. Farther, let your reading be continued and regular, not rambling and desultory. To taste of many things, without fixing upon any, shows a vitiated palate, and feeds the disease which makes it pleasing.
Work yourself up into a temper correspondent with what you read; for that reading is useless which only enlightens the understanding, without warming the affections. And therefore intersperse, here and there, earnest aspirations to God, for his heat as well as his light.
Now let’s play a game of “guess who said it?” The answer is below the jump.
What many undergraduates do not know — and what so many of their professors have been unable to tell them — is how valuable the most fundamental gift of the humanities will turn out to be. That gift is clear thinking, clear writing and a lifelong engagement with literature.
Maybe it takes some living to find out this truth. Whenever I teach older students, whether they’re undergraduates, graduate students or junior faculty, I find a vivid, pressing sense of how much they need the skill they didn’t acquire earlier in life. They don’t call that skill the humanities. They don’t call it literature. They call it writing — the ability to distribute their thinking in the kinds of sentences that have a merit, even a literary merit, of their own.
Writing well used to be a fundamental principle of the humanities, as essential as the knowledge of mathematics and statistics in the sciences. But writing well isn’t merely a utilitarian skill. It is about developing a rational grace and energy in your conversation with the world around you.
No one has found a way to put a dollar sign on this kind of literacy, and I doubt anyone ever will. But everyone who possesses it — no matter how or when it was acquired — knows that it is a rare and precious inheritance.
Andrew Delbanco sounds a similar note:
In times of economic stress, it’s entirely reasonable for students and families to demand evidence that paying for college makes sense. Bennett construes college as a business proposition, but Selingo allows himself to reflect on what’s sacrificed in such a view: “I worry at times about what might be lost in an unbound, personalized experience for students. Will they discover subjects they never knew existed? If a computer is telling them where to sit for class discussions, will they make those random connections that lead to lifelong friends? Will they be able to develop friendships and mentors if they move from provider to provider?”
These are the right questions. In striving to “prove their worth,” America’s colleges risk losing their value as places young people enter as adventurous adolescents and from which they emerge as intellectually curious adults. Such a loss could never be compensated by any gain.
The Supreme Court delivered its rulings yesterday on United States vs. Windsor and Hollingsworth vs. Perry. Windsor concerned the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) while Perry focused on the attempt to uphold Proposition 8 in California.
SCOTUS Blog summarized Windsor in plain English:
The federal Defense of Marriage Act defines “marriage,” for purposes of over a thousand federal laws and programs, as a union between a man and a woman only. Today the Court ruled, by a vote of five to four, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, that the law is unconstitutional. The Court explained that the states have long had the responsibility of regulating and defining marriage, and some states have opted to allow same-sex couples to marry to give them the protection and dignity associated with marriage. By denying recognition to same-sex couples who are legally married, federal law discriminates against them to express disapproval of state-sanctioned same-sex marriage. This decision means that same-sex couples who are legally married must now be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.
But what has changed for us, for our churches, and our witness to the gospel?
In one sense, nothing. Jesus of Nazareth is still alive. He is calling the cosmos toward his kingdom, and he will ultimately be Lord indeed. Regardless of what happens with marriage, the gospel doesn’t need “family values” to flourish. In fact, it often thrives when it is in sharp contrast to the cultures around it. That’s why the gospel rocketed out of the first-century from places such as Ephesus and Philippi and Corinth and Rome, which were hardly Mayberry.
In another sense, though, the marginalization of conjugal marriage in American culture has profound implications for our gospel witness. First of all, marriage isn’t incidental to gospel preaching.
There’s a reason why persons don’t split apart like amoebas. We were all conceived in the union between a man and a woman. Beyond the natural reality, the gospel tells us there’s a cosmic mystery (Eph. 5:32).
God designed the one-flesh union of marriage as an embedded icon of the union between Christ and his church. Marriage and sexuality, among the most powerful pulls in human existence, are designed to train humanity to recognize, in the fullness of time, what it means for Jesus to be one with his church, as a head with a body.
That means that we must repent of our pathetic marriage cultures within the church. For too long, we’ve refused to discipline a divorce culture that has ravaged our cultures. For too long, we’ve quieted our voices on the biblical witness of the distinctive missions of fathers and mothers in favor of generic messages on “parenting.”
For too long, we’ve acted as though the officers of Christ’s church were Justices of the Peace, marrying people who have no accountability to the church, and in many cases were forbidden by Scripture to marry. Just because we don’t have two brides or two grooms in front of us, that doesn’t mean we’ve been holding to biblical marriage.
The dangerous winds of religious liberty suppression means that our nominal Bible Belt marrying parson ways are over. Good riddance. This means we have the opportunity, by God’s grace, to take marriage as seriously as the gospel does, in a way that prompts the culture around us to ask why.
The increased attention to the question of marriage also gives us the opportunity to love our gay and lesbian neighbors as Jesus does. Some will capitulate on a Christian sexual ethic. There are always those professional “dissidents” who make a living espousing mainline Protestant shibboleths to an evangelical market. But the church will stand, and that means the gospel Jesus has handed down through the millennia. As we stand with conviction, we don’t look at our gay and lesbian neighbors as our enemies. They are not.
The gay and lesbian people in your community aren’t part of some global “Gay Agenda” conspiracy. They aren’t super-villains in some cartoon. They are, like all of us, seeking a way that seems right to them. If we believe marriage is as resilient as Jesus says it is (Mk. 10:6-9), it cannot be eradicated by a vote of justices or a vote of a state legislature. Some will be disappointed by what they thought would answer their quest for meaning. Will our churches be ready to answer?
Joe Carter wrote a helpful “nine things you need to know” post for TGC. (And published it almost immediately after the decisions were announced.)
Turn off the lights:
“Darkness increases freedom from constraints, which in turn promotes creativity,” report Anna Steidle of the University of Stuttgart and Lioba Werth of the University of Hohenheim. A dimly lit environment, they explain in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, “elicits a feeling of freedom, self-determination, and reduced inhibition,” all of which encourage innovative thinking.
Steidle and Werth describe six experiments which provide evidence for their thesis. The key one featured 114 German undergraduates, who were seated in groups of two or three in a small room designed to simulate an office.
The room was lit by a fixture hanging from the ceiling directly above the desk. The amount of illumination varied, with some groups receiving only 150 lux (dim light), others 500 lux (the recommended lighting level for an office), and still others 1,500 lux (bright light).
After acclimating themselves for approximately 15 minutes, participants went to work on what the researchers describe as “four creative insight problems typically used in creativity research. These tasks require that individuals change their perceptions of a given problem in order to find the optimal solution.”
After spending two minutes attempting to solve each problem, participants rated how free from constraints they felt. They noted the degree to which they felt externally controlled, and reported their level of self-assurance.
The results: Those in the dimly lit room solved significantly more problems correctly than those in the brightly lit room. They also felt freer and less inhibited than their intensely illuminated counterparts. Participants in the bright and the conventionally lit rooms did not differ significantly from one another on either scale.
But the problem with Monsters University, especially when compared to the rest of the Pixar oeuvre, is that there are plenty of fresh, dazzling new ideas—without enough familiar, affecting ones. Like some reviewers said of 2012’sBrave, it seems to have found itself at a tradeoff between spectacle and story—and chosen spectacle.
As Alyssa Rosenberg wisely points out in her review, the greatest films of Pixar’s greatest era—which is a bargument for another day, but can safely be said to include films like Up, the original Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, andWall-E—put colorful, kid-friendly dressings on visceral, universally familiar adult themes. “Pixar movies are at their best when they aren’t afraid of the darkness in relationships like marriage, the ones between parents and children, or even between friends,” she writes.
The Incredibles dealt with alienation and middle-aged listlessness; Finding Nemo and Up dealt with loss, grief, and the sometimes-uneven healing of broken families. And while the original Monsters Inc. dealt with, as Collider put it, “the terror of becoming a parent,” Monsters University has no Boo to awaken Mike and Sulley’s deeper, more unexpected emotional instincts. Rather, it has a series of inspired “Scare Games” competitions designed to test Mike and Sulley’s mutual antagonism and finally force their band of misfits to work as a team. The setup makes for an entertaining, if predictable, journey, but its central question of what-could-happen-if-this-doesn’t-all-work-out? is a little less emotionally gripping than some of its predecessors’.
For example: The underlying questions of some of Pixar’s earlier greats include Finding Nemo‘s “Will little lost motherless Nemo finally be reunited with his worried dad, and will they learn to appreciate each other as they are?” and Up‘s “Will Carl and Russell save their beloved bird companion from an evil, fame-hungry explorer, honor Carl’s beloved dead wife’s wishes, and create the father-and-son relationship they each never had?” Family and honor hang in the balance.
By contrast, “Will two monsters named Mike and Sulley who just met learn to get along so that they get to stay enrolled in their college major of choice?” packs less of an emotional wallop. Especially when—alas, the curse of a prequel—we already know the answer to that first question.
None of this is to say that Monsters University is an outright bad movie. It looks gorgeous, it’s very funny, and a climax that’s a witty commentary on horror movies tropes is awfully enjoyable. But Pixar made its name on movies that cut to the heart. I hope that with its subsequent original movies, the company can find a way to combine its gorgeous fantasies with the human insight that so few other animation studios bother to consider.
Interesting essay from The New Republic:
I wondered, too. What draws sophisticated and healthy people like Aharoni’s friends to commercial quasi-fasts? Cleanses, whether they last a day, a weekend, or three weeks, and whether they consist exclusively of fruit and vegetable juices or just a severe restriction of solids, are quickly becoming a part of what you might call the cosmopolitan diet, consumed in the more urbane sectors of New York and Los Angeles and Austin or wherever you find Whole Foods–levels of gastronomic consciousness and sufficient disposable income. (A three-week supply of Clean Program products costs $425.) Ask around, and you’ll probably find you know someone who knows someone who’s done a cleanse of one kind or another:Blueprint, Life Juice, Master Cleanse,Organic Avenue.
Smith begins with the question of marriage and relationships. She argues that incentives for marriage have changed over the past few decades, and that now men face high risks if they choose to marry. Should a marriage fall apart, divorce courts tend to favor women (who, incidentally, initiate the majority of divorces). Current policies surrounding divorce and child custody are suited to times past, when women mostly stayed at home to raise children and depended on men financially. While social realities have changed, the laws have yet to catch up. Some states still mandate permanent alimony, which can indebt a man to a woman to whom he was married for only a short time, even if there are no children and she can fully support herself.
Men face even worse straits when children enter into the picture, Smith writes. When it comes to paternity and reproductive rights, men and women are on very uneven playing fields. Courts almost exclusively favor the mother in custody decisions and force men to pay child support, she writes, regardless of “whether [the mother] used false information or made false statements to the man concerning birth control,” often even in cases where the man is not the biological father. Thousands of men are paying for children who aren’t theirs, a condition Smith calls “de facto slavery.”