Education and leisure

In light of recent essays by my two bosses at WCC, the Academic Dean and the President, I have been thinking about the nature of the place where I work.  What is a liberal arts college?  What is my job at a liberal arts college?

So I found myself back the at the font, so to speak, rereading a book that has taught me much over the years about education, about teaching—about humanity.  The book is Joseph Pieper’s Leisure the Basis of Culture (translator, Gerald Malsbury; Sound Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine’s Press, 1998).  In this post I have pulled together a few of my favorite of Pieper’s sophismata.  They read well on their own, without commentary: Continue reading “Education and leisure”

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Fantasy vs. fantazy

Reading C.S. Lewis’s autobiographical Surprised by Joy, I was reminded of a useful distinction between two meanings of the word “fantasy.”  One is the meaning I outlined in a previous post, namely a kind of literature that brings one into contact with the Other.  The second is the self-indulgent fantasy we turn into the verb “fantasize.”  Lewis draws the distinction nicely: Continue reading “Fantasy vs. fantazy”

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A scholastic dispute: Whether I am alive

It would seem that I am alive.

Objection 1. I am writing this blog post. But activity is proper to the living. Therefore I am alive.

Objection 2. If I were dead, I would be enjoying eternal bliss. That hardly describes my current experience. Therefore I am alive.

On the contrary. The life of a rational creature is a life of reason. But I am incapable of reasoning now. Therefore it seems that I am not alive. Continue reading “A scholastic dispute: Whether I am alive”

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Accreditation and confidence

My life these past few days has been consumed by accreditation. Tomorrow, by midnight Central Time, our college has to submit its latest accreditation documentation, and the whole effort has been entrusted to me.

Our regional accreditor has a slick new online system for submitting documents. (Actually, you have to submit one document using one method of formatting, another document using a different formatting approach, and a third set is submitted still another way via the online portal—but I digress.) The online portal is easy to understand, easy to coordinate with lots of people, and all-around geeky and slick. When it works.

When it breaks down two days before your deadline on a weekend so no one answers the telephones, then it’s not so slick. Continue reading “Accreditation and confidence”

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How I got organized and nearly made a million

My favorite organizational tool this year is the one that almost made me rich.

Mulling over the ongoing problems with my tickler file, it hit me one day: why not have some way of sending myself an e-mail that will arrive at a certain time in the future? You wouldn’t need a program or an app, just an e-mail address that acts like a well-timed boomerang.  Use it right out of your current e-mail thingy.

And you know what? We could do it. David knows enough about web servers and Javascript and html and css and all that good stuff. We can just purchase a man-sized web hosting plan, set up our e-mail server, and I’ll betcha dollars to doughnuts we’ll monetize that thing. Continue reading “How I got organized and nearly made a million”

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But the only way is death

Last night a friend from college days died suddenly. I didn’t know Matt well, but he married my wife’s former roommate, who was a good friend, and I was always grateful to Matt for being so good to Sharon. We got Christmas cards from them every year. I kept up with Matt via Facebook.

Last November, Matt posted this on Facebook:

Ok, so I’m going through a rough day. (nothing major, I’m not dying or anything.) But it occurs to me that we have to consider our place in the world sometimes. It’s been my pleasure to know some wonderful men and women, and it occurs to me that we live as long as God plans us to. Some young, some old, but all to their cause. There really is only one sin, “Non Serviam” … “I will not serve”. On the feast of Bl. Miguel Pro I offer and ask you to say a prayer that echoes his last words, “Viva Cristo Rey”:

Dear Lord, let me be your poor servant. Grant me the wisdom to understand Your will, and the health and strength to carry it out. Allow me the grace to serve you as my Eternal King and show witness to the world of your sacrifice. I know that I am an imperfect vessel, and while I may try at times to bargain with you, I trust you and will always keep Your words in my heart, ‘Satan, get behind me’.

Continue reading “But the only way is death”

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Frustration-free proof-reading

Proofreading is hard. Really hard. Have you ever noticed how you can wash a paintbrush forever and the paint keeps coming? Texts and typos are like that: proof and proof and proof your text, and mistakes keep pouring out.

Well, I have discovered a master secret for proofreading: text-to-speech software. The human eye is too smart, often filling in what “should” be there and so glossing past a mistake. Computers are mercilessly dumb. Whatever you have printed, they just read it, and if it’s a typo then it will sound strange.

Any time I write an important letter, a blog post, or anything else that is (a) destined for scrutiny and (b) relatively short, I crank it through my text-to-speech software. I use Natural Reader, but there are great free options as well.

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Rubber Baby Bloggy Bumpies

You may have noticed that the New Song blog fell suddenly silent a week or more ago.  I had just begun the Jesse Tree project, and I was tossing up additional posts, getting into the Advent season–and then nothing.  The Holmes house hit a major bump when all the kids came down with this nasty cold/flu thing going around and flopped around on chairs and couches like they had just rolled off the rubber chicken factory line.

Actually, the major bump was when Matthew the seven-month-old filled his head with mucus, started coughing, and stopped sleeping.  My wife and I took turns pacing with him through the night for the better part of a week; we did only the essentials during the day, and by the end we didn’t do those, either.  We hit that point where you have to rearrange things on the kitchen counter creatively so you can put down your cup.  Only you can’t find a cup, because all the sniffling, hacking rubber chickens take one sip from each cup in the cupboard, decide they need a new cup, and even drink from your cup when you’re not looking.

So the Jesse Tree project is dead for this year.  But in all that night-time pacing I thought a lot about new ideas and directions for the blog.  I actually compiled a spreadsheet one afternoon of all my top blog posts from the past couple of years and I ranked them by the number of “hits”.  And I learned something extremely valuable from that exercise:

Which posts get lots of “hits” and which do not is pretty much random.  It has nothing to do with how well written or thoughtful the blog post is.  Seeing that fact in cold numbers really takes the ego out of blogging.

So I figure I should just keep writing about whatever I enjoy writing about, although I do have some crazy ideas about new directions that may or may not work out, depending on which way the wind blows.  To this point in my life, when I have kept on doing things I enjoy then God has always opened neat doors in front of me.

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Official Mixed Drink of the Feast of St. Luke

Luke Drink

Mix one for the man.

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Three ways to manage your “inner other”

[This is the third in a series: 1. The “Inner Other”; 2. Discovering the “Inner Other”; 3. Three ways to manage your “inner other”.]

My posts about the “inner other” may come across as despairing, as a lament of the human condition, but they are not meant that way. In the end it’s a beautiful thing that we are built for relation even in what is most human about us.

But clearly, the “inner other” needs managing. Anything that boosts objectivity in thought will help to counteract the problems I have outlined in this blog series, so one could go on and on about what to do. In this last post, though, I just want to note three tactics that work directly on the “inner other”:

1. Move in more than one circle.

If the “inner other” is a composite of the people we interact with, we can make it a better and better conversation partner by interacting with people who think very differently from one another. We can make friends in different circles, or just make a habit of reading authors who think very differently from one another. The different circles don’t necessarily have to hate each other or disagree with each other about everything; they just need very different ways of getting to their conclusions. Round him out, make him complex, and talking to the “inner other” may be more profitable than talking to yourself.

2. Silence

The “inner other” comes into play in our moments of interior talking, so we would do well to have periods where we avoid all chatter, exterior or interior, and simply gaze at reality. My own experience has been that the more exterior talking I do, the more interior talking I do, so it is useful now and then simply to shut up for a while. If I am working on a particular question, I need to take some time to look at reality in silence. This always leads to more honesty with myself about what I really think, and sometimes it leads to a breakthrough: the mind has ways of working without words, if we will only let it.

3. Prayer

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange once wrote that as our spiritual life progresses, our interior conversation should tend more and more to be conversation with God. Besides contributing to holiness, a habit of talking to God does wonders for your “inner other,” for several reasons.

First, God is not imaginary but real. I don’t mean that he “talks back” in the usual way, although I know several people who have heard God speak to them audibly at least once. But the fact of God’s reality makes him more satisfying to speak with than an imaginary interlocutor, even when we don’t notice a direct response. In itself this doesn’t contribute to objectivity of thought, but it does contribute to happiness.

Second, the more we refine our understanding of God, the more we come to see how far removed his way of thinking is from everyone around us. Early in life, talking to God may be a lot like talking to anyone else, because we think of him as a very big but somehow invisible human, but for a mature Christian talking to God takes the conversation away from the usual reference points and above the usual horizon. Instead of cramping our viewpoint, God expands it. The same is true of speaking to Jesus as God Incarnate: the more we meditate on the mysteries of his life and his glorification, the more we see the degree to which he rises above the current concerns of Democrats or Republicans or any other merely human group.

Third, we know that God actually sees right through us. Unlike our family or our friends or the authors we read, God sees our thoughts and our desires directly, and we imagine him as doing so. Consequently, we are less likely to let ourselves get away with crap when speaking to God. Even with nothing supernatural going on, when we are just interacting with God as we imagine him, we still imagine God as stopping us short, cutting us off, giving us “the look,” when we say something blatantly selfish or lie about our feelings or thoughts. He doesn’t wink-wink nudge-nudge the way the standard “inner other” is wont to do.

So there you have three ways to live with that natural phenomenon, the “inner other”: make him better, shut him up, or baptize him. But if you don’t do anything else, at least become aware of his existence and you will be better off for it.

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