Current/Recent Reading List

24 February 2009

Why Lent Matters

We've been reading Greek stories in my honors class, and the story of Perseus and his many heroic feats (in heroic sandals, I might add - get it? get it?) was one of the most popular with the group. As an extension assignment, I asked the class to write about the "Medusas" in their life they need to slay, and how and why they need to do this. I also told them that I wanted them to be totally honest about this, but if what they had written was too personal, they could put it in an envelope marked "Do Not Read", and I would trust that they did it (and honor their request of course).

Well, I did get about five envelopes - and yes, I believe that they really wrote the paper - but most everyone else was willing to share. Much of what I got was standard teen anxiety, such as worries about measuring up to expectations, or figuring out which social groups are the right fit. But there were also much darker stories shared, the kind of stories that almost make the world stop for a few moments.

I read a long paper from a girl who hasn't seen her mother in a year. This is the same mother who has been through four boyfriends over the course of this girl's sixteen years, who once had to go to the hospital after one of the boyfriends beat the crap out of her, which her girl vividly remembers. Upon last seeing her daughter, this mother showed more affection for her latest boyfriend's children than for her own, leaving the girl in tears. That will never go away.

And there was a beautifully written paper from another girl telling about how her life has fallen apart since only October, when she moved in with her mother. She writes about finally facing "reality", which for her means that people are essentially selfish and that the best way to make it through is to "not care about anything or give a crap about anyone." She's been in therapy, is taking antidepressants, has been in fights, and has failed classes. From her demeanor in class, I never would have guessed any of this.

So we come to that time of year when we give special heed to our own sinfulness, our own damned and damning selfishness, and when we do, we need to pay heed to the "least of these" who always suffer the most for it. But we do so not out of morbidity, not because of allegiance to death and darkness. We do so because there is Hope on the other side, blessed Hope. I hope our lost children, despite our best efforts, still know it's there.

16 February 2009

Coincidence by Design?

Honestly, I had no idea last week marked a Darwin anniversary of some sort until I saw a note about how Google had changed their homepage design to commemorate the date. It was pure coincidence then, I'm sure (?) that I was at the time delving into a fascinating read: John Carroll's The Wreck of Western Culture .

Carroll, an Australian intellectual, begins with the Renaissance and proceeds to march down the centuries until the 9/11, showing how humanism's first assertions of the great I ("we can become what we will") eventually led to the total unraveling of western culture in all but material aspects. Humanism, he posits, is now dead, and we live in its ruins, awaiting a new chapter. He utilizes brilliant readings of certain paintings, pieces of literature, and pieces of music to narrate his tale, and his heroes are the painter Poussin and the composer Bach, both of whom offered visions of life which still led to cogent answers for the three great questions: where did we come from? what is the meaning of our lives? where do we go when we die? Unfortunately, few others living under humanism's roof could address these questions - which tends to happen when we make ourselves the measure of all things.

Yesterday I read Carroll's chapter on Marx and Darwin, the final twin wreckers of the west. Marx, he points out, was full of rancor and bitterness (he actually never even toured a factory, and lived as a conventional bourgeois). Darwin's story is, to me, even more disconcerting - he wrote with no rancor, but with stereotypical scientific coldness, all along explaining how, in essence, the only god is the god of skulls (ape and human).

Now, whenever I read about the full Darwinian explanation for EVERYTHING (as opposed to the demonstrable portions of his observations), I'll admit a chill runs up my spine. Partially it is the worry that the largescale implications of his theory are correct, and that life is an absurd accident, ending merely in negation of being. Partially, it is the way so many embraced (and continue to embrace) this dead end, quite gleefully.

How to deal with this? How to answer Darwin, for those of us who stare out into his abyss, but recoil from it, not believing we do so in an effort to delude ourselves?

Well, I guarantee I have nothing profound to add, and can only speak for myself, but I find it amazing that all my Darwinian anxiety tends to lift as soon as I find myself in the company of others, working within the context of my relationships with them. Relations with my family, my friends, my students - they all put the lie to the nihilistic worldview, and for a Christian this should not be a stunning revelation. At its core, our faith is a faith in relationship - THE Relationship.

Perhaps it doesn't seem much to stand on, especially among the ruins of western culture. But from relationship comes a knowledge that the intellect, I believe, can only stand in awe of, and must follow. Darwin, when he overstepped his bounds, be damned.