The great secret, as C.S. Lewis asserted years ago, is that God is a hedonist at heart. God tells us to say no to many things, but only that we may say yes to higher and better things! God instructs us to say no to avarice and prodigality in order that we may say yes to generosity; He commands that we say no to selfishness and self-centeredness so that we may say yes to love and community.
I vividly remember sitting in a dim school auditorium my junior year of high school, pencil positioned to take the PSAT when all test-takers were required to copy out a pledge promising that no cheating would take place. The requirement? The pledge had to be written in cursive. One by one, students’ hands went up as they asked, “How do you write in cursive?” “How do you make a capital ‘i’?” and “Are all the letters supposed to be connected?”
Where does literature fit in a well-ordered life?
That’s a question I try to get my students to ask on the last day of “Civilization and Literature,” a core humanities course I teach at Grove City College. A small percentage of these young men and women will never teach a literary text. The lion’s share never blink at the prospect of a PhD in English. (And thank heaven, since someone needs to keep the world running.) What part will the classics play in their lives five years from now, ten years from now, twenty?
Today we pursue episodic happiness with a tenacious, if not illogical, commitment. Yet despite our attachment to it, the modern notion of happiness is rather novel.
Someone recently told me that I'm practical. I’m not sure exactly what that meant, but it provoked my thinking, because that was probably true. But I’m also wildly impractical in some ways, because I love and work in classical education. That work is all about spending two decades on an education that teaches people to know and love what is true and good and beautiful. It spends a lot of years on an education that doesn’t have anything to do with job training!
I would like to talk about feasting. Particularly, I would like to talk about the role feasting plays in being human and how it reminds us of several important truths about reality. These truths are at odds with the prevailing wisdom of our age—the sophistry of the calculators who believe that human beings are simply biological machines whose lives ought to be measured against how closely they compare with an assembly line: What do they get done? How quickly did they do it?
Is Facebook suffocating our ability for public discourse? Is YouTube degrading the morals of our children? These are the sorts of questions that our cultural conservatism inclines us to ask. We read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, or Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, and become acutely aware of the dangers of the digital tools we use every day. How do we rightly judge between good and bad uses of these machines? Like so many cultural debates, it’s a question of intentions and presuppositions.
It is often said in the teaching profession that the first year is the hardest and the second is far easier: You have a better idea of what you are doing, of what is expected, and of how to deal with students. As I reflect on the school year thus far, however, I realize that I am learning just as much, if not more, than I did last year. Perhaps the fear and unknown of Year One no longer exists, but I am still a brand new teacher. Here are a few musings from this school year.
1. To teach is to name.
A couple of weeks ago, I was angry at a friend. During a conversation, he had said some things that frustrated me, made me feel unwanted, and it resulted in me not wanting to be around anyone else for awhile. Shortly thereafter, a couple of other friends invited me to lunch, and I refused to go with them because I was too irritated to be around anyone else. I drove off to get some lunch, alone. As I was pulling into the drive thru line at a fast food chicken joint, two vehicles in front of me crashed into each other.
“But we who would be born again indeed
Must wake our souls unnumbered times a day…”
—George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul
If you do a little exploring into the influences behind C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, you’ll soon discover a portal into the world of George MacDonald. Lewis claimed MacDonald as his literary and spiritual father, and the presence of this nineteenth-century Scot can be detected in every volume of Lewis’ fiction—in The Great Divorce he even becomes a primary character.