more than 95 theses

oddments

A journal, commonplace book, and Wunderkammer by Alan Jacobs.

My blog on technologies of reading, writing, and knowledge is called Text Patterns; I am an occasional contributor to the Technology channel of The Atlantic; I'm a Contributing Editor for The New Atlantis. Also, I tweet.

My biography of the Book of Common Prayer has now been published by Princeton University Press, and I’ve created an associated tumblelog.

My critical edition of W. H. Auden’s long poem For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio is now available.

My next book will be about Christian humanism in a time of total war.

I invite you to a meditative encounter with my online project The Gospel of the Trees.

Please consider supporting this tumblelog by buying some of my books. I will thank you, my family will thank you, and the internet — surely — will thank you.

”Reverting to Type: a Reader’s Story”

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

The Age of Anxiety, by W. H. Auden — a critical edition. A PDF of my Introduction to the poem is available online.

Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant

Original Sin: a Cultural History

Looking Before and After: Testimony and the Christian Life

The Narnian: the Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis

Shaming the Devil: Essays in Truthtelling

A Theology of Reading: the Hermeneutics of Love

A Visit to Vanity Fair: Moral Essays on the Present Age

What Became of Wystan: Change and Continuity in Auden’s Poetry

  • July 24, 2014 7:13 am

    "The takeaway message is this: no one needs churches to be nice or tasteful. If churches have a future, it’s in addressing our existential darkness: sin and death. Progressive politics is important, but it doesn’t do any deep religious work. And liberals in the church will have to rediscover this after we have won our culture wars. What other religion has such a dark image at its centre? And yet my own brand of liberal Christianity too often seeks salvation through a few gentle verses of All Things Bright and Beautiful or lots of self-important dressing up and wandering around in fancy churches. Devoted atheists are never going to be persuaded by a theology of the cross. But no one whatsoever is going to be persuaded by a theology of nice."

    Giles Fraser

  • July 23, 2014 3:07 pm

    The Rio Grande at Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park

  • July 23, 2014 3:04 pm

    Pictures taken from the Lost Mine Trail, Big Bend National Park

  • July 19, 2014 8:57 pm

    "My best Beloved keeps his throne
    On hills of light, in worlds unknown;
    But he descends and shows his face
    In the young gardens of his grace."

    — Isaac Watts, from a little-known hymn that (Watts says) paraphrases Song of Songs 6. A stunning poetic sentence.

  • July 19, 2014 11:11 am

    Enough is Enough

    The historical blindness, moral obtuseness, and self-satisfied pomposity of this op-ed by Timothy Egan is only the most recent in a long line of New York Times pieces meant to incite hatred of religious believers. But it’s the last one I’ll read. I have canceled my subscription and will no longer read anything published in that newspaper, with the exception of columns and blog posts by my friend Ross Douthat.

    If journalistic integrity, elementary fairness, and the peace of our nation mean anything to you, I would suggest that you try to find a way to protest the combination of belligerence and utter ignorance that has come to characterize almost all of the NYT’s coverage of religion, especially American religion.

  • July 19, 2014 8:43 am

    "

    Those “courageous” progressives don’t really value the opinions or affirmations of conservative evangelicalism anyway. What they really value, long for, and try to curry is the favor of “the Enlightened”—whether that’s the mainstream academy or the progressive chattering class who police our cultural mores of tolerance. Sure, these “courageous” progressives will take fire from conservative evangelicals—but that’s not a loss or sacrifice for them. Indeed, their own self-understanding is fueled by such criticism. In other words, these stands don’t take “courage” at all; they don’t stand to lose anything with those they truly value.

    Similarly, “courageous” conservatives who “stand up” to the progressive academy aren’t putting much at risk because that’s not where they look for validation and it’s not where their professional identities are invested. They are usually “populists” (in a fairly technical sense of the word) whose professional lives are much more closely tethered to the church and popular opinion. And in those sectors, “standing up to” the academy isn’t a risk at all—it’s a way to win praise. When your so-called contrarian stands win favor from those you value most…well, it’s hard to see how “courage” applies.

    But here’s what we don’t often see: Christian scholars who have vested their professional lives in the mainstream academy willing to take stands that would be unpopular at the MLA or APA or AAR. Conversely, we don’t see many conservative scholars willing to defend positions that would jeapordize their favored status with popular evangelicalism.

    Now both of those options would require courage.

    "

    Fors Clavigera: On “Courage” in the (Christian) Academy

  • July 19, 2014 8:40 am

    "If the ultimate aim of education in the liberal arts is to draw us out of ourselves, to teach us the language of praise and gratitude, then Jimmie attained it in worship. Education in the liberal arts — if we can still find it in our world — is one important path to finding one’s soul. But it is neither the only nor even the most suitable path for many people. Were we really to absorb this truth, we could stop pretending that the liberal arts are important frosting on the cake of an education that is in fact designed for other purposes. In so doing, we might free the liberal arts to set us free."

    Who Needs a Liberal Education?

  • July 18, 2014 5:54 pm

    "It seems like many people think that if you drive yourself crazy, then you can write. I’m absolutely not interested in that. It made sense to me to be as whole and well as I could be, and as happy. I wanted to see what a fortunate life would produce. What writing would come out of a mind that didn’t try to torment itself? What did I have to know? What did I have to do rather than what can I torment and bend myself into doing? What was the fruit on that tree?"

    Kay Ryan (via austinkleon)

  • July 18, 2014 5:54 pm
  • July 18, 2014 5:53 pm
    natgeofound:

A farmer embraces his dog in his stonewalled field on Inishmore Island in Ireland, March 1971.Photograph by Winfield Parks, National Geographic Creative View high resolution

    natgeofound:

    A farmer embraces his dog in his stonewalled field on Inishmore Island in Ireland, March 1971.Photograph by Winfield Parks, National Geographic Creative

  • July 18, 2014 8:45 am

    "

    For almost four decades (yikes!) I’ve worked as a freelance writer, feeling enormously blessed to make a good living by writing about issues of faith that I would want to explore even if no one bought my books. Every year my royalties go down, though with more than 20 books in print I can still pay bills and find publishers willing to sponsor new books.

    The changes in publishing, especially Christian publishing, stood out sharply to me when I stopped in at the largest annual Christian book convention in June. At one time 15,000 attended that trade show, a convention so large that only a handful of cities could accommodate it. Now less than 4,000 attend, and in Atlanta it occupied a corner of the huge convention center. A couple hundred delegates attended a luncheon in which I participated on a panel with Ravi Zacharias and Ryan Dobson; ten years ago the same luncheon would have filled a thousand-seat banquet hall. Though name authors had book signings, the only lines I saw were for two stars of Duck Dynasty.

    "

    Philip Yancey

  • July 17, 2014 11:29 am

    "

    My professional life has been framed by two very different institutions. For the first twenty-two years of my academic career, I taught at the University of Washington in Seattle. In many ways, my time there was a blessing. The UW is an elite academic institution with an extraordinary faculty and world-class resources. During my time there it boasted five Nobel Prize winners, one of the largest libraries in North America, and was ranked by the Economist as one of the top twenty public universities in the world.

    I also made several good friends at UW and benefited from a number of genuinely kind colleagues who took sincere interest in my well being, both personal and professional. Finally, I should acknowledge that I flourished there professionally — in certain respects. I was awarded tenure, rose in rank from assistant to associate to full professor, won the university’s distinguished teaching award, and was accorded a prestigious endowed chair in U. S. history.

    And yet while I was experiencing a certain measure of professional success, my soul was always deeply divided….

    For twenty-two years I accommodated my sense of calling to this secular dogma, bracketing my faith and limiting explicit Christian expressions and Christian reflections to private conversations with students who sought me out. In his book Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation, Parker Palmer writes movingly about the costs of such segmentation. Vocation is a calling to a way of life more than to a sphere of life. “Divided no more!” is Palmer’s rallying cry.

    If I were to characterize my experience since coming to Wheaton four years ago, these are the words that first come to mind — divided no more. Wheaton is not a perfect place, nor did I expect it to be one when I came here. But I can honestly say that I have experienced much greater academic freedom at Wheaton than I ever did at the secular university that I left.

    "

    — My former colleague Tracy McKenzie.

  • July 17, 2014 8:40 am

    "

    Christians have a long way to go in affirming the value of pluralism for all members of society. We might begin by recognizing its role for our gay and lesbian neighbors. When Uganda enacts a law that punishes homosexuality with death, U.S. Christians can speak out against such a law. Domestically, we need to think carefully about the kinds of legislation being pushed at the state level. Some proposed laws are undoubtedly important to protect religious institutions’ right to live in accordance with their own beliefs and traditions; others are deeply problematic. Christians in states without any antidiscrimination protections for gays and lesbians might consider supporting those laws containing exemptions for religious groups, rather than simply advocating for religious freedom on its own.

    Unkind words have emerged from almost every corner of the public discourse. Christians should not be bullied or silenced by careless language. But neither should they engage in it. Advocacy for Christian witness must itself demonstrate Christian witness. In this way, our present circumstances provide new opportunities to embody tolerance, humility, and patience. And, of course, we have at our disposal not only these aspirations but also the virtues that shape our lives: faith, hope, and love.

    "

    Religious Freedom vs. LGBT Rights? It’s More Complicated

  • July 17, 2014 7:49 am

    "

    Is our overvaluation of spontaneity not, after all, born of a deep-seated fear – the fear of missing out? If we commit to one social plan for the whole evening, we might be missing out on something cooler happening just around the corner. So the mediated-spontaneity tools of the smartphone comfort us with the idea that it is always possible to bail out in favour of something better. And this is pleasant, too, for the hipster entrepreneurs who have just launched the nearby pop-up absinthe bar or dude-food smokehouse. As Jacob Burak reports in a recent essay, the fear of missing out “occurs mostly in people with unfulfilled psychological needs in realms such as love, respect, autonomy and security”. Too overwhelming a fear of missing out – a generalised attitude of always looking over the shoulder of the person you’re talking to in case there is someone more interesting or attractive at the party – can rob the victim of the ability to take pleasure in anything.

    And so it might be that those dedicated to the spontaneous lifestyle will continue to be frazzled and unhappy, however many bikini razors and pairs of Brazilian flip-flops they own – while their masters, whose plans are anything but spontaneous, look on with dark satisfaction.

    "

    New Statesman | Think before you act: against the modern cult of spontaneity

  • July 16, 2014 1:41 pm

    "The mature practitioner (not me) will discover a steady clarity in the vision of self and world, and, in “advanced” states, an awareness of unbroken inner light, with the strong sense of an action going on within that is quite independent of your individual will – the prayer “praying itself”, not just human words but a connection between God transcendent and God present and within. Ritual anchors, ritual aligns, harmonises, relates. And what happens in the “Jesus Prayer” is just the way an individual can make real what is constantly going on in the larger-scale worship of the sacraments. The pity is that a lot of western Christianity these days finds all this increasingly alien. But I don’t think any one of us can begin to discover again what religion might mean unless we are prepared to expose ourselves to new ways of being in our bodies. But that’s a long story."

    Rowan Williams