Christian, Culture, nonfiction, Uncategorized

The Benedict Option

benedict option

The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher, originally published in 2017.

I originally posted this review in January of this year, and am presenting it again with  additional thoughts based on my expended perspective on the issues it explores.

This article,  which I only recently encountered, outlines some concerns about the prospect of Christians fervently embracing The Benedict Option. I think he makes some valid points worthy of consideration. It left me wondering where the perfect balance is between The Benedict Option and the status quo. I concluded that it isn’t so hard to find, at least in this instance.

One of the reasons I read non fiction books is because I hope to learn, discern, and implement things of value from with the pages. Because my life contained precious little extension towards building intentional Christian community outside of Sunday services, I have undertaken what it for me a valiant undertaking: Opening my home up to extend hospitality to my fellow believers at least once a month.

We shall see how that develops, but after the first official event yesterday, and with invitations extended for another, I was reminded of my review of this book and the evolution of my thoughts on the subject. it with this in mind that I am re-running my review of The Benedict Option:

I decided to read this book after about six months of regularly reading Mr. Dreher’s commentary over at his blog on The American Conservative. As such, I approached this entire discussion and exploration of his ideas from a novice perspective. I was unaware that he had been promoting this idea for some time or that it had undergone various iterations over the past few years.

I am quite partial to the virtues of seeing a thing through new eyes. It was after all, my husband’s novice, unchurched, untainted conversion to the Christian faith which invigorated my own and showed -embarrassingly so- how little I knew the Bible that I thought I knew so much about.

In the time since I have begun reading Mr. Dreher, I have come to learn that people whose opinions I hold in regard find the sum total Mr. Dreher’s prescription problematic. However, I am going to review this book the way I originally approached it; as a novice to Mr. Dreher’s ideas and solely on the merits of what he offered within its pages.

I begin this review with the same caveat I offered to my Protestant friend before she began it. Namely that Dreher is “big O” Orthodox, and Protestants should appreciate this distinction as they begin his book. There are points and assertions Dreher makes which spring from this base and no doubt would turn off many a Protestant who is unprepared for some of his points.

Overall, however, I think the book and its ideas is worth a look. I suspect many Christians are probably already living loose versions of his idea in their own lives if they haven’t trapped themselves in ideologically driven quarantines from other believers.

In sum, Dreher -in his book at least- proposes that Christians build intentional and separate communities from the larger culture as the cultural ethos grows increasingly hostile to Christian faith and values. It is always best for the reader to do his or her own homework. However, even with a few quibbles here and there, I agree with the general tone and proposal Dreher puts forth. After all the Bible does implore us to come out and be separate, calling us a peculiar people.

A quote:

Relearning the lost art of community is something Christians should do in obedience to the Apostle Paul, who counseled the faithful to do their parts to grow the Body of Christ “for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:15). But there are also practical reasons for doing so. Building communities of believers will be necessary as the number of Christians becomes thinner on the ground.

In the book I did not gather that Dreher was advocating total isolation from the larger culture, which was a good thing. On technological advances:

Benedict Option families and communities who remain apathetic toward technology inadvertently undermine nearly everything they are trying to achieve. Technology itself is a kind of liturgy that teaches us to frame our experiences in the world in certain ways and that, if we aren’t careful, profoundly distorts our relationship to God, to other people, and to the material world – and even our self-understanding.

When we abstain from practices that disorder our loves, and in that time of fasting redouble our contemplation of God and the good things of Creation, we re-center our minds on the inner stability we need to create a coherent, meaningful self. The Internet is a scattering phenomenon, one that encourages surrender to passionate impulses. If we fail to push back against the Internet as hard as it pushes against us, we cannot help but lose our footing. And if we lose our footing, we ultimately lose the straight path through life.

I liked the book. I think Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together (reviewed here) is infinitely better as Bonhoeffer is pretty incomparable. However, as he deals at length with the changes in the sexual culture and the inducement of technology into every phase of life, I think this book is worth the time it takes to give it a read.

Grade: B

RELATED: Review of Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
American history, autobiographies, Classics, nonfiction, writing

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

frederick douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass. Kindle Edition. Original work published in 1845. Paperback edition, 82 pages.

I hadn’t planned to re-read this autobiographical work by the famed orator, abolitionist and escaped Frederick Douglass. It wasn’t in my queue for the fall. However our kids were assigned excerpts from it in a lesson on persuasive literary techniques and in the 20 years since my first reading, there were large portions I’d forgotten.

When unforeseen events found us on a road trip this weekend, I purchased the Kindle version of The Narrative for 0.99, using the travel time to reintroduce myself to Frederick Douglass’ brief but passionate recounting of his life in slavery, from his early years to his eventual escape and rise to prominence as a free man and respected abolitionist speaker and writer. I’m glad I reacquainted myself with it.

For myriad reasons, I long ago made the decision not to expend significant time reexamining nor ruminating on the history of slavery in America. To the extent that we want our children to understand the fruit of human sin as well as the blessings they now enjoy, we teach them the history of their ancestors, including those ancestors still among us who haven’t always shared the freedom they enjoy.

It means teaching the good as well as the bad. Those lessons however, are always balanced with the truth that they have enormous amounts of opportunities available to them as a result of earnest attempts at redress, no matter how imperfect. Their mission, should they choose to rise to the challenge of morality, industry, and integrity, is to seize it.

Frederick Douglass, with no opportunity, and only bitter yokes of oppression somehow seized the reins of his destiny and emerged not only successfully, but triumphantly. He wasn’t content with the achievement of his own freedom. He had a deep Christian faith which sparked in him the desire to see all men be free.

That is the moral of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, alongside his fervent abolitionist message. And his narrative is indeed an excellent example to use as a tool to teach the principles of persuasive writing. To that end, I will keep this short and sweet by ending with a few persuasive and eloquent quotes from Douglass’ narrative.

On how his master unwittingly sparked his passionate desire for knowledge and freedom when he was a young boy between 8 and 10 (Douglass never knew his exact age or birth date). His master discovered that his mistress was teaching him to read:

Now,” said he, “if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.”

These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty — to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained.

On the importance of keeping the mind of the slave in captivity. This quote feels especially apt in our current cultural climate, regardless of race:

“To make a contented slave, you must make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate his power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery. The man that takes his earnings, must be able to convince him that he has a perfect right to do so. It must not depend upon mere force; the slave must know no Higher Law than his master’s will. The whole relationship must not only demonstrate, to his mind, its necessity, but its absolute rightfulness.”

On the unprecedented and unparalleled cruelty of those oppressors who claim to be Christians:

“For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.”

Further:

“We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen, all for the glory of God and the good of souls. The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave trade go hand in hand.”

None of this spoiled Douglass’ fervor for and belief in Christ and the Christian faith:

“I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the
corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical
Christianity of this land.”

This indeed is an excellent piece for exploring the power of persuasive rhetoric, and a powerful narrative of an important period in American history. I could go on, but the only other option is to paste the whole narrative here, which I don’t think is feasible.

It’s worth a read.

5 out of 5 stars.

Christian, family, homemaking manuals, nonfiction

The Life Giving Home

life giving home book

The Life Giving Home: Creating a Place of becoming and Belonging, by Sally Clarkson and Sarah Clarkson. Originally purchased in 2016. 272 pages.

Books and people which extol ideals and poetically challenge us to reach for them can be good for us, even when attaining those ideals feels impossibly out of our reach. The key to being able to properly appreciate what we’re reading is to be comfortable and settled in to who we are, what we can do, and what our particular life and stage of life requires of us. If we’re not, what is meant to encourage us can cause the reader to feel as if she is failing.

Often before reading a book, and occasionally in the midst of reading it, I read reviews other readers have written about the book. About halfway through The Life Giving Home, I suddenly wanted to know what other readers took away from this book, because the ideal loomed large.

Sally and Sarah Clarkson, the mother and daughter authors of The Life Giving Home did a good job of combining their homemaking ideas, principles, and stories. Using these, they weaved together a tapestry designed to give the reader both a glimpse and a spark of desire to cultivate a “life-giving home”.

There were redundancies and literary hiccups along the way, to be sure. As I read the chapters that Sarah Clarkson authored, I was often reminded of the words of acclaimed author James Baldwin: “You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. That is the goal.” Despite those missteps, I appreciated her insights on the importance of home cultivation even as a single person. A home and hearth which provides peace, restoration and sustenance is important in the life of everyone, regardless of their particular family situation.

“All people need a place where their roots can grow deep and they always feel like they belong and have a loving refuge. And all people need a place that gives wings to their dreams, nurturing possibilities of who they might become.”

The ideals espoused in Sally Clarkson’s chapters were what drew ire and feelings of inadequacy from those readers who didn’t enjoy her book. The temptation is strong to feel defensive in the presence of examples and family stories which seem far above anything we can replicate in our own lives and families. I don’t light candles, neither do we have a fireplace but love, life, laughter and creativity are cultivated in our home in myriads of other ways. Quite recently we had a painting night where we all produced works that are masterpieces to no one but us:

paint night1

paintnight3

In other words, you can build family memories on things other than candles, hearth fires, Celtic music, and poetry reading.

This book is hopeful if far from a perfect one in many respects. I found their idealism refreshing; worthy of emulation. We don’t live in the same geographic region nor do we have the same likes or dislikes as the authors’ family. We do however, engage in meals, family routines, and memories that look different from the Clarksons and that is as it should be. It doesn’t require that we do everything the way Sally and Clay Clarkson did:

“Every day in each inch of space, each rhythm of time, each practice of love, we have the chance to join God in coming home, in living so that we make a home of this broken and beautiful world all over again. Love is enfleshed in the meals we make, the rooms we fill, the spaces in which we live and breathe and have our being.”

The Clarskons do paint a picture of their home life that could invoke feelings of inferiority were I not settled in my own life and in the home we have created for our family. Her children, in whom she expressed  praised and immense pride, could summon worries of personal deficiencies in parents whose children are still finding their way. As I read this book, I was thoroughly convinced that this was not her intent but rather that the authors hoped to inspire a determination to create a home of sanctuary, whatever that entailed for each of us.

The book had a well organized structure, but should have been shorter. After the initial chapter, each chapter correlated to a specific month of year, beginning in January. In each of those either Sally or Sarah offered inspirational ideas that could be implemented in that month, accompanied by stories of family memories.

Some of the ideas and stories felt redundant or reworked from chapter to chapter, which I found bothersome. I only need to hear about the peaceful atmosphere provided by lighting candles a couple of times. I get it. They find lighting a candle a peaceful, affirming addition to the atmosphere of the home. The same things apply to music, fires in the fireplace, and a hot bowl of soup. The repetitiveness of those family rituals were often repeated in a ritualistic way. It would have been better to express the importance of constancy in a less redundant way.

Lastly, the flowery language that Sally Clarkson is known for is just as prevalent in this books as in past books. There are times when I can read and enjoy flowery language, but it’s not something I am always in the mood for. When I’m not in the mood for it, I can barely read more than a chapter of it. I recognize that there are some readers who don’t ever enjoy it, so I feel obliged to include an advisory that this is a flowery book.

Many of the other reviewers of this book felt as if they couldn’t appreciate while they had several young children underfoot, or felt as if  it was some way in condemning to their underwhelming efforts as wives and mothers. That was, in my opinion, an unfortunate reading of the book, even though I understand how a young mother could reach that conclusion. The takeaway is do what we can, in line with our own abilities, resources, and family structure to live a little more intentionally when we consider the atmosphere of our home.

A strong current of encouraging hospitality was also a part of this book. Hospitality is a struggle for many of us in this era, but inviting someone over for coffee and cake is a lot less pressure than a full-on dinner party, which was also a good reminder.

I can’t say I loved this book, but there were sections that I liked a great deal. Unfortunately, there were parts I didn’t like as much. However, it wasn’t because I felt the book offered unrealistic ideals.

2 and 1/2 our of 5 stars.

 

 

 

health and fitness, nonfiction, politics

The Great Prostate Hoax

great prostate hoax

The Great Prostate Hoax: How Big medicine Hijacked the PSA Test and Caused a Public Health Disaster, by Richard J Ablin, Ph.D. and Ronald Piana. Originally published in 2014, 272 pages.

This is without a doubt the most controversial modern medical book I have ever read, bar none. The backlash against it was swift and strong, as I found out once I began barely scratching the surface to gain some insight into the author’s background. Before I offer my thoughts, here is the goodreads promotional blurb:

Every year, more than a million men undergo painful needle biopsies for prostate cancer, and upward of 100,000 have radical prostatectomies, resulting in incontinence and impotence. But the shocking fact is that most of these men would never have died from this common form of cancer, which frequently grows so slowly that it never even leaves the prostate. How did we get to a point where so many unnecessary tests and surgeries are being done? In The Great Prostate Hoax, Richard J. Ablin exposes how a discovery he made in 1970, the prostate-specific antigen (PSA), was co-opted by the pharmaceutical industry into a multibillion-dollar business. He shows how his discovery of PSA was never meant to be used for screening prostate cancer, and yet nonetheless the test was patented and eventurally approved by the FDA in 1994. Now, doctors and victims are beginning to speak out about the harm of the test, and beginning to search for a true prostate cancer-specific marker.

I started this book without a clear position on the subject either way. For certain, I am wary of big medicine, big pharma, and the scalpel-happy specialists who dominate western medical practice. But there have also been men in my life, whom I loved dearly, who battled prostate cancer. The rub in this book is based on a saying the author quoted at the very beginning of the book:

Some men die of prostate cancer. All men die with prostate cancer.

Of course he is referring to men who reach a certain milestone in life -approximately 70 years of age- and the rub is knowing the difference between men who can live perfectly fine and dandy never knowing if they have prostate cancer, and those for whom knowledge is a matter of life and death. The current urological standard of using PSA testing to make these determinations are what Dr. Amblin dissects in his book.

Based on the numbers of men left incontinent, impotent and otherwise impaired by what he feels are unwarranted biopsies and prostatectomies, Dr. Amblin comes down firmly on the minority side of the argument, concluding that using PSA to justify surgeries and biopsies which harm men is unacceptable. PSA is a naturally occurring antigen which can vary based on a number of factors, from horseback riding to an amorous night with one’s spouse right before the test the next morning and as such, Dr. Amblin cautions against the stock being put into it.

He also takes pains to explain the medicinal intricacies, which I found hard to follow at times. The sections where he outlines what he believes were profit driven motives to expand the use of PSA  testing into a must-have test for all men over 50 are quite interesting. All the conspiracy theory sections of my brain lit right up!

However, as the wife of a husband who is not only closing in on 50 years old in the next 5 years, and is also a member of a higher risk ethnic group where prostate cancer is concerned, I can’t say that Dr. Amblin convinced me. He did give us a lot to think about.

four out of five stars

…because I got a good education from this one.

 

 

 

Culture, family, nonfiction, politics

Folks, this ain’t normal.

folks tthis aint normal book
Folks, this ain’t normal: A farmer’s advice for happier hens, healthier people, and a better world, by Joel Salatin. Published in 2011. 384 pages.

When most modern Americans stop to consider a time when life resembled something normal (juxtaposed against the insanity of today), minds automatically drift toward the 1950s. Although the images that spring to mind are more Hollywood conjuring than anything a majority of Americans can actually remember, the amalgamated images of Ward and June Cleaver combined with Father Knows Best transport us to a time and place where life was simple, normal, and family-oriented.

In Folks This Ain’t Normal, however, Joel Salatin submits that the 1950s were in many ways the acceleration of our culture’s move away from normal life, speeding us like a locomotive to the dysfunction that we are grappling with in post modern America. While his book is without question and indictment of what has become of our food supply and ways of food production which harm our health and our planet, this book is about much more than that. Much the way Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community explores how the tentacles of abnormal economy infect our communities and most intimate relationships, Folks This Ain’t Normal offers something similar using our dysfunctional food system as its starting point.

No doubt you’re wondering how I concluded that the 1950s would be the point in time where the acceleration of abnormal living took root according to Mr. Salatin. I know I’d be wondering how such an idyllic period in American history could be viewed through such a lens. Salatin argues that the first supermarket appeared on the American landscape around 1946:

“The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.”

Using his timetable as a measuring stick, one can conclude that he sees the late 1940s into the 1950s as a watershed period in the way Americans acquired their food. Not everyone agrees with Salatin’s assertion (see here for one example), but whether or not you agree, one thing is for certain: the way we eat, live, work and play in 21st century is not normal when measured against any other time period in human history. Salatin argues quite convincingly that this abnormal way of life is more of regression than any evidence of human progress. That in fact, our approach to food and eating as described here:

“The average person is still under the aberrant delusion that food should be somebody else’s responsibility until I’m ready to eat it.”

Has put us all in a position where food security is an issue even for the most affluent among us. We are too detached from the reality of how to acquire and secure food for our families in the event of any hiccup in our current infrastructure:

“Food security is not in the supermarket. It’s not in the government. It’s not at the emergency services division. True food security is the historical normalcy of packing it in during the abundant times, building that in-house larder, and resting easy knowing that our little ones are not dependent on next week’s farmers’ market or the electronic cashiers at the supermarket.”

To some extent, Salatin oversimplifies his argument because there have always been and will always be people for whom hunger is a reality of life. What he gets correct, however, is that far too many of us are ignorant of the things that make for a normal life and healthy food untainted by substances harmful to the human body, produced in a sustainable way, and ingested in a form as close as possible to the way God made it.

While the food supply is the jumping off point for Salatin’s arguments, he hardly stops there. He points out how the proliferation of plastic is harming our environment, how our cultural aversion to hard work and addiction to screens is further disconnecting us from our humanity, the earth, and each other, and offers his opinion on things we can do on an individual level to change the way we live our lives.

“As a culture, we don’t cook at home. We don’t have a larder. We’re tuned in, plugged in, addicted to electronic gadgetry to the exclusion of a whippoorwill’s midsummer song or a herd of cows lying down contentedly on the leeward side of a slope, indicating a thunderstorm in the offing. Most modern Americans can’t conceive of a time without supermarkets, without refrigeration, stainless steel, plastic, bar codes, potato chips.”

Because Hearth prepared me in her review of this book, I knew the last two chapters of the book were a nice long political rant. It was unnecessary, detracting from the much more entertaining rant on food and post modern life that filled the book up until that point.

There is a lot of farm jargon in the book as well, but I always welcome the opportunity to learn as I read, so I didn’t mind it. If you’re not familiar with farm language, however, be prepared to do some googling for clarification.

One of the things I most appreciated about this book was the fact that this Christian, libertarian leaning author has a clear and unambiguous concern for the environment. People who oppose conservative/religious ideology often assume that those of us on this end of the spectrum don’t care about the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Refusing to worship creation doesn’t necessarily translate into having no concern for it.

Overall, this was worth a read, an encouraging reminder to me to embrace normalcy not only in my approach to food and eating, but every area of life.

3.5 out of 5 stars

American history, Culture, marriage and relationships, nonfiction, philosophy, politics

Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community

sex economy freedom community book

Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community: Eight Essays by Wendell Berry. Published in 1993. 208 pages.

I have always loved the commentary and writings of the insightful, prolific Wendell Berry. Reading his book, “Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community”, it became clearer why I find his perspective so refreshing. How often have we heard the connection made between our culture’s predilection to specialization and compartmentalization with the destruction of the economy, sexuality, marriage, family, community, and the nation?

Very rarely I submit, although it’s a connection which is hard to deny upon serious observation and even harder to address as our culture succumbs more and more to the seduction of the “me first” mentality. A mentality which is largely driven by our increasing focus on individual rights at the expense of everything and every one, up to and including our own parents, our own children, and their children.

In the book’s title essay, Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community Berry attempts to piece together how our movement away from interdependence and local community standards and toward a tendency to think globally has impacted our most intimate relationships, and how sexual love in general and marriage in particular have been irreparably damaged as a result:

There are two kinds of sexuality that correspond to the two kinds of economy. The sexuality of community life, whatever its vagaries, is centered on marriage, which joins two living souls as closely as, in this world, they can be joined. This joining of two who know, love, and trust one another brings them in the same breath into the freedom of sexual consent and into the fullest earthly realization of the image of God. From their joining, other living souls come into being, and with them great responsibilities that are unending, fearful, and joyful. The marriage of two lovers joins them to one another, to forebears, to descendants, to the community, to Heaven, and earth. It is the fundamental connection without which nothing holds, and trust is its necessity.

Our present sexual conduct, on the other hand, having “liberated” itself from the several trusts of community life, is public, like our present economy. It has forsaken trust, for it rests on the easy giving and breaking of promises. And having forsaken trust, it has predictably become political. “Losing kindness” as Lao-tzu said, they turn to justness.” (p. 134-135)

This is sadly correct. Sexual politics is a dominant and lucrative industry in America today. Divorce law, child support enforcement, abortion rights, contraceptive availability, health departments to deal with communicable diseases, sexual harassment, and on it goes. All of these institutions have grown in our misguided attempt to interject perfect justice and the semblance of safety into the necessarily murky business of male/female interpersonal relations. As a result, most women view every man as a potential aggressor and many men have grown to view every woman as a potential accuser of anything form date rape to dead beat fatherhood. This is supposed to liberating? Berry continues:

The difficulty is that marriage, family life, friendship, neighborhood, and other personal connections do not depend exclusively or even primarily on justice-though, of course, they all must try for it. They depend also on trust, patience, respect, mutual help, forgiveness-in other words, the practice of love, as opposed to the mere feeling of love.

As soon as the parties to a marriage or a friendship begin to require strict justice, then that marriage or friendship begins to be destroyed…(p.135)

And this of course, is exactly what has happened on a grand scale. As sexuality has become a commodity to be consumed (think of the quest for hotness at all costs), coupled with the right to do whatever feels good to us without regard for anyone else, and we have all but destroyed the beauty of sexual love and marriage. Sex sells. There is even a new term for the atmosphere in which people pair off: the sexual marketplace. No longer are the terms “husband” or “wife” adequate to describe the person we share our most intimate relations with. The term is now sexual “partners” and we gauge others’ sexual morality not by their fidelity in marriage but by their “partner count.” The language of intimacy is now the language of the marketplace.

People enter into marriage under the spell of sexual infatuation, failing to recognize that the practice of love, rather than the mere feeling of love, is what keeps a marriage alive, growing and fulfilling. The values of the marketplace, of quid pro quo, has usurped the place of love and forgiveness, reducing marriage to nothing more than an arrangement that lasts as long as our arbitrary and fickle senses of satisfaction are appeased.

Sadly, Berry notes, we have moved into a culture that can only be described as nihilist, one where most people are not interested in or able to be contented with this diffusion of love. They want to continue to have love focused myopically on them and them alone, as this is what society has groomed us to believe that marriage is all about.

A society whose members are concerned only with themselves, their individual needs, and are slaves to their passions with no regard for the greater good can be described no other way than nihilist. Churchgoing, “civic minded” nihilists, but nihilists nonetheless because a life spent pursuing personal pleasure-no matter what euphemisms we use to make it seem otherwise- is a useless, hopeless life. Our selfish greed can never be truly satisfied. Fulfillment is found through service and love executed in practice, not as the pursuit of sensations. And it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference if we call ourselves liberal or conservative, as Mr. Berry so eloquently states:

“The conventional public opposition of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ is, here as elsewhere, perfectly useless. The ‘conservatives’ promote the family as a sort of public icon, but they will not promote the economic integrity of the household or the community, which are the mainstays of family life. Under the sponsorship of ‘conservative’ presidencies, the economy of the modern household, which once required the father to work away from home – a development that was bad enough – now requires the mother to work away from home, as well. And this development has the wholehearted endorsement of ‘liberals,’ who see the mother thus forced to spend her days away from her home and children as ‘liberated’ – though nobody has yet seen the fathers thus forced away as ‘liberated.’ Some feminists are thus in the curious position of opposing the mistreatment of women and yet advocating their participation in an economy in which everything is mistreated.”

Most contemporary rhetoric about service and duty is nothing more than the demagoguery of hypocrites, playing on our emotions for the sake of their own ambitions:

There is no denying, of course, that “community” ranks with “family,” “our land,” and “our beloved country” as an icon of the public vocabulary; everybody is for it, and this means nothing. p. 132

Now that we have stated the problem, the next step is to work toward a solution. The question then, is how do those of us who yearn for community, family, respect for the land and love for country achieve even a semblance of either while surrounded by a culture for whom these things are nothing more than feel good rhetoric at best and obstacles to personal desire and ambitions at worst?

Berry offers solutions, but they are hard solutions for a culture of people comfortably entrenched in an easy, resistance-free way of life. Here, he gets credit for trying.

5 out of 5 stars.

I originally wrote this read and reviewed this book in 2012, but it seems more relevant today than it did even when I first read it, so I’m featuring it here. Reviews for more recently read books are in draft and forth coming.

nonfiction, parenting, philosophy

Children Learn What They Live

by Children Learn What They Live by [Harris, Rachel, Nolte, Dorothy Law]

Children Learn What They Live: Parenting to Inspire Values, by Dorothy Law Nolte and Rachel Harris. Paperback edition published n 1998. 224 pages.

I picked this book from one of the myriad circles I travel where homeschooling families we know bring their extra books to give away and make space for yet more books. It looked intriguing to me, so I picked it up. At the time, I didn’t realize that the book was based on a relatively well regarded poem of the same title by Dr. Dorothy Law Nolte:

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

 

The chapters in the book are divided to correspond with each of the virtues as outlined in the poem. When I started reading this, I found a lot of encouragement and opportunities for parental introspection.  Any of us would be hard pressed to deny that the values extolled in the poem are  worthy of emulation and instilling into our children.

However, as I continued to read, I found my discomfort with the tone of the book gradually increasing. I initially chalked it up to my own sense of shame as the realization that my report card, as measured by this poetic rubric -particularly weighed against the examples and stories given in the book to illustrate them-  nets me a solid ‘C’ as a mother. Even making concessions for my inadequacies,  there was something about the book I couldn’t quite put my finger on until I could, and it was this: The ideals are presented in ways which negate the foundational truths of the Christian faith to which I adhere.

For instance, there was no allowance given to the reality that often we should feel shame for our actions  and that we should see the connections between our actions and what they tell us about who we are as human  beings, which can lead us to understand our need for God. Our children need to take this journey as well. That we should be transmitting this truth to our children in ways that which don’t do unnecessary damage is worthy of emphasis. However, this book seemed to imply that we aren’t to impart this truth at all; that shame in itself is inherently damaging. I don’t ascribe to that assertion.

As recognition of my issues with the book took shape, I was able to read it with more of an open mind because I understood that rather than presenting eternal truths, it is presenting ideals in the light psychological and cultural “truth”. Good values, but values which assume inherent human goodness which I reject. More importantly, raising children in this way to the exclusion of any exposure to the reality of human nature in a fallen world sets them up for failure.

We should praise our children when they do well, but Dr. Nolte offers no allowance for the reality that sometimes proper guidance insists that we offer our children constructive criticism. The vagueness in the examples of guidance towards children who have done a disobedient or dishonorable thing seemed to insist that we not make children feel bad, even when they should. The massive fog of entitlement that seems to have swept over and infected every generation from my own (GenX) forward is evidence enough to me that the self-esteem movement has failed. We do them no favors when we shield children from their need for forgiveness and grace.

Lest I am beginning to sound as if I hated the book, I didn’t. I learned some things. Things that I, even after 24 years of parenting, was thankful to be reintroduced to because I can be an impatient mother. The virtues are good ones, and we should be offering our children quadruple the grace as opposed to guilt, if only because we are keenly aware of our own need for grace.

The problem emerges when we uncouple the implantation of these values from transcendent truth, which is exactly what this book attempts to do. Morality without a tether is soon severed in pursuit of what a person thinks they “deserve” when they’ve been trained that they are wonderful, fabulous and deserving of only good things simply because they breathe.

 

3 out of 5 stars.