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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading, Uncategorized

Is reading necessarily the highest use of leisure time?

“I don’t own a television.”

It’s the mantra of many who want to signal their elevation above the unwashed masses who go bananas with excitement at the prospect of a new season of Game of Thrones or Jack Ryan. I had to Google “most popular current television shows” to come up with those two titles. Does that earn me a bit of intellectual gravitas?

The sign of an educated mind today is often marked by testimonies of reading, and reading so many books per month, quarter or year, determined by what the reader thinks is the best period to use as a gauge. Reading it is supposed, is infinitely better than watching television. Anything, it is supposed, is better than watching television. Given that this is a blog dedicated chiefly to the discussion of books, reading, and the vast amount of knowledge to be found as a result, you might assume I am of the mind that reading is ever and always better than watching television.

Disclosure: As I begin this post, America’s Test Kitchen is fading to black on PBS and I am looking forward to next program, Steven Raichlen’s Project Fire. I am a sucker for a good cooking show and PBS spares me offensive commercials. No. I have not killed my TV. It doesn’t get a whole lot of use, at least not for scripted broadcast television shows, but we do have one.

Over dinner tonight we discussed this idea that reading in itself is a higher brow leisure activity.  The general consensus was that yes, it is certainly better than watching television. There was also a general agreement that a lot of people who brag about their lack of television watching spend copious amounts of time watching YouTube videos or arguing on Twitter and Facebook, which is hardly any better. What I really wanted to know however, is if there is more reading taking place, and if so, is it the kind of reading which adds to the metal acuity what television is presumed to take away from it. The answer we came away with was: It depends.

One of our daughters, a history buff if ever there was one, has been watching the documentary series World War II in color. She questioned whether reading one of the latest YA novels would be more advantageous than watching her documentary based solely on the fact that she would be turning pages whether than watching a screen. It’s on this point that I find myself parked.

There is a school of thought among people in general and even some educators that children and teens reading anything is better than if they were reading nothing at all. I am embarrassed to admit that there was a point when I harbored such foolish thoughts as well. Reading is fundamental, after all! Reading is always the best and most effective use of one’s leisure if television is the alternative. Hikes, jogs, nature exploration and the likes are even better, but suburbanites are not always in the position to exercise those options.

However, a cursory glance at the books which are most popular today leaves me with the impression that most are literature’s version of junk food. Books so devoid of depth (of characters as well as language) that many people can read two or three of them a week without missing a beat! Given the relatively common damage to the attention spans of the public at large, it doesn’t take a literature professor to figure out that 300 page books which can be zipped through in one’s spare time after just three days and over 4 hours are probably hamburger to Thackeray’s t-bone steak.

The devolution of reading, which we’ve discussed before, necessitates that certain books demand different levels of engagement than others. In other words, digesting words on a page is technically to read. However when we digest and process ideas, language, and stories that challenge us to think deeply and seek more earnestly the good, the true, and beautiful, then we know that we are really reading.

In short, not all reading is created equal.

Elaboration: Yes, in most cases, reading beats watching television. I know full well most Americans aren’t into PBS cooking shows or WWII documentaries. Including our young adult kids, who are kind of hooked on The Office.

Wait. Is Netflix TV?

 

Els' Rabbit Trails, Links worth a look, Uncategorized

Rabbit Trail: July’s links worth a look.

There is a page on this blog dedicated to links I’ve found here and there which I think are worth sharing, but are not related to books, reading, and education. They are categorized by month and I update them as I run across them, adding to the list as I go.

As a general rule, I have no desire to use this blog as a discussion point for things that people tend to get overly animated about, but since I made the links a part of the blog, I decided that at the end of every month I’d open a reminder thread so that my readers know the links are there.

So consider this El’s PSA that there are a lot of interesting, informative, and educational items on the Links Worth a Look page.

Culture, Uncategorized

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

So You've Been Publicly Shamed

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson. Published in 2015. 304 pages.

Before I get into the meat of this book, I decided to share one of my pet peeves to set the tone (consider yourselves warned):

I have an intense aversion to reading a news story on a “reputable” news site (NYT, FOX, NBC, etc.) and seeing random tweets from various Twitter users interspersed throughout the story. I’m perpetually confused as to why a “reputable” news outlet would lend gravitas to the rantings of random Internet commentators -fame does not impute authority, for the record-  as if their opinions have any bearing on the validity of the story being reported. This peeve is the context from which I began reading and begin reviewing So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

I consider Twitter a cesspool and enemy of critical thought, so it came as no surprise to me that Jon Ronson was able to compose a 300-page book comprised in large part of interviews with people whose lives have been tortured or careers torpedoed solely because a Twitter mob -or other Internet denizens- decided that one ill-advised stroke of their keyboards was worthy of public, worldwide, electronic excoriation.

Although Ronson begins with public shaming instigated online, he doesn’t stay parked there. There is a chapter on the history of public shaming during our colonial period which was quite informative. He also interviewed former judge turned Texas Congressman Ted Poe, known as the King of Shame for incorporating public shaming in his sentencing of young or first time offenders.

After interviewing both Poe and one of the men he had sentence to public shaming, Ronson came away with a different perspective than he started with regarding Congressman Poe’s use of public shaming in sentencing. Not only did Poe not regret his tactics, but the young man interviewed deeply appreciated the sentence he received. It was apparent that situations where a judge in a courtroom is looking into the eye of a guilty perpetrator who had his day in court is vastly different from an anonymous Twitter mob condemning and causing irreparable harm to a stranger based on personal offense without due process.

The book also delved into industries and areas of life which depend largely on the ability of those in it to turn off that mechanism: the ability to feel ashamed in the first place. He interviewed people in the porn industry or who were involved with various alternative sexual lifestyles. Within the latter group were stories of people who had taken their own lives when news of their deviant proclivities were made public and diverged greatly from their public personas of trust.

Whether it was classes devoted to helping patients overcome secret shame or figuring out how a fortunate few weathered their public shamings relatively unscathed, there are few stones if any that Ronson left unturned. The most potent parts of the book for me however, were those specifically related to public shaming via the Internet, because this particular mechanism of public shaming is more sinister, shameful, and shameless than most. The author points out that:

“A life had been ruined. What was it for: just some social media drama? I think our natural disposition as humans is to plod along until we get old and stop. But with social media, we’ve created a stage for constant artificial high drama. Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain. It’s all very sweeping, and not the way we actually are as people.”

Social media as community is an unnatural way of living, and so its denizens behave in  unnatural ways and react to things unnaturally. How many of us would publicly crucify a long term friend or even a loosely held acquaintance on the strength of one tactless joke or political opinion we find disagreeable? We wouldn’t, but:

“…when shamings are delivered like remotely administered drone strikes nobody needs to think about how ferocious our collective power might be.”

Feeling shame as a result of a guilty finding in a court of law or having violated the trust of an actual community of people with whom you interact day to day may be painful, but it’s born of real expectations of behavior based on reasonable measures of real accountability. Shame induced via an anonymous or semi-anonymous individual or group of individuals to whom the “shamee” has no direct connection and therefore no reasonable expectation of accountability is able to occur when the one being shamed is effectively stripped of their humanity by those feeding their emptiness through seeking to destroy another’s livelihoods and relationships.

When based on one moment of bad virtual judgment, divorced from any knowledge of the shamee’s character, it’s tantamount to doing the one thing most people in our culture would view as the cardinal sin if such action were taken against them: passing sweeping judgement and heaping condemnation on someone as a result of one mistake. Those who are able to do this and sleep at night are able to do so by engaging in an astonishing exercise in cognitive dissonance, in Ronson’s opinion:

“I suppose it’s no surprise that we feel the need to dehumanize the people we hurt—before, during, or after the hurting occurs. But it always comes as a surprise. In psychology it’s known as cognitive dissonance. It’s the idea that it feels stressful and painful for us to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time (like the idea that we’re kind people and the idea that we’ve just destroyed someone). And so to ease the pain we create illusory ways to justify our contradictory behavior.”

This is a book worth reading for anyone who spends any significant amount of time on social media. I don’t, but because I have online interaction with people I both agree and disagree with, it was good for me as well. It’s a good reminder to beware of attempts to shame anonymous individuals who are not accountable to me, my family or my church, even the most peripheral areas of my life.  That’s not what we are called to do. Live and let live is one of my life’s credos.

A few of the cases Ronson recounts are those you will easily recognize, but some aren’t. Reading about the horror and collateral damage others have suffered based on nothing more than a moment of bad judgment before pushing “post” (or even having a private joke overheard by an ill-humored SJW) is sobering reading. I used to not take the web all that seriously, but the need to exercise caution has never been more clear to me.  This one is worth a look.

4 out of 5 stars.

Content advisory: Many of the interviewees Ronson recounts use profanity in their conversations. There is also a chapter where he does research into the shamelessness of those who engage in the porn industry, so there is frank sex talk and recounting of some of the things he witnessed. None of it is offered in a titillating, gratuitous way, but it is included in the book in a matter of fact sort of way.

Uncategorized

Blogkeeping notes.

There is a new page on the menu. Those of you who were here reading when I first started writing in this sleepy corner of the web may remember that I had a page devoted to links I’d encountered that I wanted to share. I was saving those links on Delicious, which has since vanished into the ether. I had hoped to find a link sharing site that I enjoyed using as much as I did Delicious, but I never did, so I kissed my hundreds of links good bye 😦 and took down the page.

I decided recently that I would just make a new page and add any interesting links I read there. Some ideas are worth sharing, contemplating, and thinking about. Books are my preferred method since ideas are better fleshed out in them, whether I agree with them or not. But this is the age of the Internet, and the germs of most ideas can be found here as well. Hence the Links Worth a Look page.

I updated the comment policy to more accurately reflect the mood of this site. Namely, I turned off moderation because -hopefully- it’s pretty clear that I don’t need to moderate very heavily here. First time commentators will still go to the moderation process first, but other than that, comments can flow freely. Unless and until but some weird quirk I find that particular change was a mistake.

Just a couple of notes to update my readers of a few small changes on the blog.

Y’all have a great weekend, and try to stay cool, huh?

 

joys of reading, the business of books, Uncategorized

Kindle strikes again.

I am an avid library patron. I try more often than not to read books with pages, patronize bookstores, and generally be a good little bibliophile. Books are important. Despite imagining myself fighting the good fight against a digital takeover of reading for myself and for my kids, I just – like 5 minutes ago- downloaded My Man Jeeves onto my Kindle for 0.99. I am not beyond a great deal.

I recently re-blogged posts (here and here) which illustrate the education I’ve been obtaining on Amazon’s book sales pricing and practices. There is definitely cause to pause and consider alternatives to Amazon when purchasing books. I’ve been more careful about taking those things into consideration. I even bought a Barnes and Noble membership which isn’t a complete waste because I buy almost all of our kids’ assigned literature books from Barnes and Noble to the tune of about 12 books a year.

Nevertheless, I own a Kindle. Kindle makes it very easy to download and store a boat load of books at reasonable prices, which makes it very easy to open it, shop, and click my way to a great read in a convenient and inexpensive format.  I often find good books there for free, such as a book I recently reviewed, Miss Maitland Private Secretary.

The downside is that is very easy to nickel and dime my way to spending too much on books when it would be easier to go to the library and check them out. Thankfully, my genuine love of the library creates a very low risk of that happening. When it comes to the value of local libraries, I am a true believer. As such, I rarely purchase a book to download on the Kindle more than once a month.

My Kindle library still isn’t as big as my physical library, but the ease with which I can amass books to read later means the Kindle library could rival the book shelf in the near future. Ease of use, an extensive list of titles and rock bottom prices makes it easier to buy books from Amazon.

I always buy our kids books with physical pages to turn, or check them out from the library because the last thing they need at this point is another screen, even if it’s for a good use such as reading good books. That also keeps me in libraries and books stores more often than I might be if we encouraged them to read digital books. However, I am not a paper book purist, nor even on an all out boycott of Amazon books. I do however, like to consider these things when I spend my money.

This bibliographic stream of consciousness brought to you courtesy of Kindle, My Man Jeeves, and the fact that I am a sucker for a 0.99 book, which together inspired these thoughts.