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In short, the basic thrust of much modern thinking serves to shatter the idea of the individual as one whose best interests are served by being educated to conform to the canons and protocols of society. And that is the intellectual foundation for the first reversal, whereby therapy ceases to serve the purpose of socializing an individual. Instead, it seeks to protect the individual from the kind of harmful neuroses that society itself creates through its smothering of the individual’s ability simply to be herself.

This then leads to the second reversal. In the worlds of political, religious, and economic man, commitment was outwardly directed to those communal beliefs, practices, and institutions that were bigger than the individual and in which the individual, to the degree that he or she conformed to or cooperated with them, found meaning. The ancient Athenian was committed to the assembly, the medieval Christian to his church, and the twentieth-century factory worker to his trade union and working man’s club. All of them found their purpose and well-being by being committed to something outside themselves. In the world of psychological man, however, the commitment is first and foremost to the self and is inwardly directed. Thus, the order is reversed. Outward institutions become in effect the servants of the individual and her sense of inner well-being.

In fact, I might press this point further: institutions cease to be places for the formation of individuals via their schooling in the various practices and disciplines that allow them to take their place in society. Instead, they become platforms for performance, where individuals are allowed to be their authentic selves precisely because they are able to give expression to who they are “inside.” Rieff characterizes the values of modern society and the person in such terms:

Reticence, secrecy, concealment of self have been transformed into social problems; once they were aspects of civility, when the great Western formulary summed up in the creedal phrase “Know thyself” encouraged obedience to communal purposes rather than suspicion of them.

For such selves in such a world, institutions such as schools and churches are places where one goes to perform, not to be formed—or, perhaps better, where one goes to be formed by performing.

— Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self

When I first started sending Wrinkle around I called it Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which because that was how the book had first come to me, those three names suddenly appearing out of the blue. When Farrar, Straus and Giroux finally decided to risk publishing it, they felt that this title sounded too juvenile, so they came up with The Worlds of Charles Wallace. I didn’t like this but couldn’t invent anything better.

This was all happening at a time when my mother was visiting us, and one morning I took her an early morning cup of coffee, and she said, “I didn’t sleep well last night, but I think I’ve got a title for you, right out of the text: A Wrinkle in Time.”

“You’ve got it, Mother! That’s it!”

It was. When I called the publishers they, too, were delighted. Not only titles, but sometimes some of the content of a book is from someone else, a gift which only needs to be recognized. This is in no sense plagiarism; I didn’t need Lewis Thomas’s words or chapters for A Wind in the Door; all I needed was to get excited about mitochondria. In a sense, nothing the artist produces is his in any exclusive way. An inventor takes inventory of that which is already there. A discoverer uncovers that which is. T. S. Eliot says: “Poetry takes something that we know already and turns it into something new.” Perhaps art is seeing the obvious in such a new light that the old becomes new.

— Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

Consider Jesus. In Levitical categories, he is the cleanest person to ever walk the face of the earth. He was the Clean One. Whatever horrors cause us to cringe—we who are naturally unclean and fallen would cause Jesus to cringe all the more. We cannot fathom the sheer purity, holiness, cleanness, of his mind and heart. The simplicity, the innocence, the loveliness.

And what did he do when he saw the unclean? What was his first impulse when he came across prostitutes and lepers? He moved toward them. Pity flooded his heart, the longing of true compassion. He spent time with them. He touched them. We all can testify to the humaneness of touch. A warm hug does something warm words of greeting alone cannot. But there is something deeper in Christ’s touch of compassion. He was reversing the Jewish system. When Jesus, the Clean One, touched an unclean sinner, Christ did not become unclean. The sinner became clean.

Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry was one of giving back to undeserving sinners their humanity. We tend to think of the miracles of the Gospels as interruptions in the natural order. Yet German theologian Jurgen Moltmann points out that miracles are not an interruption of the natural order but the restoration of the natural order. We are so used to a fallen world that sickness, disease, pain, and death seem natural. In fact, they are the interruption.

When Jesus expels demons and heals the sick, he is driving out of creation the powers of destruction, and is healing and restoring created beings who are hurt and sick. The lordship of God to which the healings witness, restores creation to health. Jesus’ healings are not supernatural miracles in a natural world. They are the only truly “natural” thing in a world that is unnatural, demonized and wounded.

Jesus walked the earth rehumanizing the dehumanized and cleansing the unclean. Why? Because his heart refused to let him sleep in. Sadness confronted him in every town. So wherever he went, whenever he was confronted with pain and longing, he spread the good contagion of his cleansing mercy.

— Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly

Speech hurts

A few years ago, I invited Mary Beth Tinker to meet with my undergraduate class on the history of American education. Tinker herself is an important figure in that history, because she was one of the students who wore black armbands to school in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1965 to protest America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Sent home as a punishment, she sued her school district on free-speech grounds. Tinker v. Des Moines made its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in her favor in 1969. In a ringing decision, the Court declared that neither students nor teachers need to “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

My students loved Tinker’s story, and who doesn’t? Adorable seventh grader confronts Big Bad Authority. Adorable seventh grader wins. Cut to the credits.

But when our class discussion turned to the present, the mood changed. Students insisted that schools and universities should prohibit hate speech, which hurts innocent people. Mary Beth Tinker was fighting the good fight, against the war in Vietnam. But racists and sexists and homophobes and transphobes are different, my students said. They cause harm, offense, and even trauma in their victims. We need to shut them down.

Tinker wasn’t having it. At her middle school in Des Moines, she said, there were students who had fathers, uncles, and brothers who were fighting in Southeast Asia. Don’t you think they were offended and hurt by a snot-nosed kid whose armband suggested that their loved ones were risking their lives for a lie?

Of course they were. Speech hurts, which is why censors across time have tried to stamp it out. So if you’re going to bar speech that hurts someone, well, forget about Tinker’s armband. Forget about free speech, period.

My students took this in, and then they tried another tack. Wasn’t free speech really just a tool of the powerful? That’s why white men like it so much, of course. It lets them have their say while it harms (there’s that word again) people with less status and influence in society.

Mary Beth Tinker wasn’t having that, either. In 1965, she told the class, she was a 13-year-old girl. Free speech was the only power she had! Take that away, and she would have nothing at all.

Jonathan Zimmerman

(via Alan Jacobs)

We may end in certainty

If we begin with certainties, we shall end in doubts; but if we begin with doubts, and bear them patiently, we may end in certainty.

— Francis Bacon

When things go wrong

One act of thanksgiving made when things go wrong is worth a thousand when things go well.

— John of the Cross

Intellectual arrogance

The intellectual arrogance of clever people, intolerable though it often is, is nothing to the intellectual arrogance of ignorant people.

— Anthony Powell 

The Jews would not willingly tread upon the smallest piece of paper in their way, but took it up; for possibly, they say, the name of God may be on it. Though there was a little superstition in this, yet truly there is nothing but good religion in it, if we apply it to men. Trample not on any; there may be some work of grace there, that thou knowest not of. The name of God may be written upon that soul thou treadest on; it may be a soul that Christ thought so much of, as to give His precious blood for it; therefore despise it not.

— Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Not long ago a college senior asked if she could talk to me about being a Christian writer. If she wanted to write Christian fiction, how was she to go about it? I told her that if she is truly and deeply a Christian, what she writes is going to be Christian, whether she mentions Jesus or not. And if she is not, in the most profound sense, Christian, then what she writes is not going to be Christian, no matter how many times she invokes the name of the Lord.

— Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

“Easter Morning” by William Stafford

Maybe someone comes to the door and says,
“Repent,” and you say, “Come on in,” and it’s
Jesus. That’s when all you ever did, or said,
or even thought, suddenly wakes up again and
sings out, “I’m still here,” and you know it’s true.
You just shiver alive and are left standing
there suddenly brought to account: saved.

Except, maybe that someone says, “I’ve got a deal
for you.” And you listen, because that’s how
you’re trained—they told you, “Always hear both sides.”
So then the slick voice can sell you anything, even
Hell, which is what you’re getting by listening.
Well, what should you do? I’d say always go to
the door, yes, but keep the screen locked. Then,
while you hold the Bible in one hand, lean forward
and say carefully, “Jesus?”