Wednesday, April 14, 2021
On sabbatical, so this was a pretty good semester of reading (for me). 23 books and two online courses. A good bit about contemplation and religion with some philosophy and fiction. The Remains of the Day and A River Runs Through It were probably my two favorite, though the Merton and Willard books were meaningful too.
Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk About it) - Elizabeth Anderson (2017) (Philosophy). Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Princeton University. Four commenting essays by different professors follow, then Professor Anderson responds. Her main claim is that Adam Smith and others envisioned a free market with large amounts of self-employment. But powerful modern employers have become “unaccountable communist dictators” who use the rhetoric of freedom, but provide very little of it within their firms. Many employees have no “dignity, standing, or autonomy” in their firms and Anderson calls for more of an employee role in governance, perhaps along the German codetermination model.
Invitation to Solitude and Silence- Ruth Haley Barton (2004) (Religion). “We are starved for quiet, to hear the sound of sheer silence that is the presence of God himself.”
The Stranger - Albert Camus (1942) (Novel). Death, relationships, crime, and the absurd. “I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.”
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains - Nicholas Carr (2011) (Culture). Extending Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media (1964) and Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) to the Internet. Since reading Postman’s book, I’ve been curious about what he would say about the Internet, and Carr attempts to do some of that work, looking especially at our diminished attention spans.
My Name is Hope - John Mark Comer (2011) (Religion). Faith, anxiety, and depression. A bit memoir and a bit self-help. Admits that he is not a doctor or a therapist, but posits that there are root situational or historic causes under most cases of anxiety and depression. Makes calls for attention to the mind/body connections, prayer and meditation, and transparency and forgiveness.
Garden City - John Mark Comer (2015) (Religion). Faith, work, and rest. “The American Dream...has devolved over the years into a narcissistic desire to make as much money as possible, in as little time as possible, with as little effort as possible, so that we can get off work and go do something else.”
Happy Money - Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton (2013) (Behavioral Science). Buy experiences, not stuff. Make it a treat, not daily indulgence. Savor. Buy time; outsource dreaded time-consuming tasks. Time affluence tied to greater happiness. Stay present. The slow movement. Buy now, consume later (“delaying consumption allows spenders to reap the pleasures of anticipation without the buzzkill of reality, vacations provide the most happiness before they occur.”) Invest in others; people who donate to charity report feeling wealthier.
The Happiness Hypothesis - Jonathan Haidt (2006) (Psychology). Happiness and meaning and positive psychology through the lens of ancient wisdom. Elephant (desire) and the rider (reason). Happiness = Set Point (Meditation, Cognitive Therapy, Prosac) + Living Conditions ($70K, commute, relationships) + Voluntary Activities (gratitude, building community, being useful).
The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro (1988) (Novel). British butler ponders duty, dignity, family, love, bantering, and tradition on a few days of countryside driving and reminiscing.
How to Be an Antiracist - Ibram X. Kendi (2019) (Race). The expectations and comments of his teachers struck me. I have known about the powerful positive potential of our words as professors, but Kendi’s work reminds me that we can do great harm as well. Kendi writes “ I internalized my academic struggles as indicative of something wrong not just with my behavior but with Black behavior as a whole, since I represented the race, both in their eyes - or what I thought I saw in their eyes-and in my own.” He noted that “Black students who have at least one Black teacher in elementary school are 29 percent less likely to drop out of school.” He did a nice job showing problems with standardized testing, but did not have much in terms of detailed proposals in changing college admissions.
The Practice of the Presence of God - Brother Lawrence (1895) (Religion). “His only thought was about doing little things for the love of God, since he was not capable of doing great things. Afterward, whatever happened to him would be according to God’s will, so he was not at all worried about it.” “Our sufferings will always be sweeter and more pleasant when we are Him, and without Him, our greatest pleasure will be but a cruel torture.” “I would like to be able to persuade you that God is often nearer to us in our times of sickness and infirmity than when we enjoy perfect health.”
Abolition of Man - C.S. Lewis (1943) (Education). Short book on education, truth, the doctrine of objective value, recognizing our flaws (Lewis did not like being around small children). justice, and valor.
Extraterrestrial: The First Signs of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth- Avi Loeb (2021) (Space). Harvard astronomy professor discusses Oumaumua, an odd interstellar object, sighted for 11 days in October of 2017 and the possibility that we are not alone in the universe. He bemoans the closed mindedness of some academic disciplines and argues for humility (even as he brags a bit about his accomplishments).
A River Runs Through It - Norman Maclean (1989) (Novel). Family and fishing. Younger brother, troubled and beautiful. Supposedly first novel published by University of Chicago Press.
No Man is an Island- Thomas Merton (1955) (Religion). OK to be ordinary. “All things are at once good and imperfect. The goodness bears witness to the goodness of God. But the imperfection of all things reminds us to leave them in order to live in hope. They are themselves insufficient. We must go beyond them to Him in Whom they have their true being.” “Everything in modern city life is calculated to keep man from entering into himself and thinking about spiritual things. Even with the best of intentions a spiritual man finds himself exhausted and deadened and debased by the constant noise of machines and loudspeakers, the dead air and the glaring lights of offices and shops, the everlasting suggestions of advertising and propaganda.” (108-09). “The cornerstone of all asceticism is humility.” (113). “A [person] who is not at peace with himself projects his interior fighting into the society of those he lives with, and spreads a contagion of conflict all around him….In order to settle down in the quiet of our own being we must learn to be detached from the results of our own activity. We must withdraw ourselves, to some extent, from effects that are beyond our control and be content with the good will and the work that are the quiet expression of our inner life...Our Christian identity is, in fact, a great one; but we cannot achieve greatness unless we lose all interest in being great.”
New Seeds of Contemplation- Thomas Merton (1964) (Religion). "There is no true peace possible for the man who still imagines that some accident of talent or grace or virtue segregates him from other men and places him above them" “Hate in any form is self-destructive, and even when it triumphs physically it triumphs in its own spiritual ruin.” “Hurry ruins saints as well as artists.” “If we were incapable of humility we would be incapable of joy, because humility alone can destroy the self-centeredness that makes joy impossible.” “A humble man can do great things with an uncommon perfection because he is no longer concerned about incidentals, like his own interests and his own reputation, and therefore he no longer needs to waste his efforts in defending them.”
In the Name of Jesus - Henri Nouwen (1989) (Religion). From Harvard to working with people with mental challenges at L’Arche. Brought Bill with him to talk to aspiring ministers in Washington D.C. - “we did it together.”
Can You Drink the Cup? - Henri Nouwen (1996) (Religion). “Joys are hidden in sorrow.” "We want to drink our cup together and thus celebrate the truth that the wounds of our individual lives, which seem intolerable when lived alone, become sources of healing when we live them as part of a fellowship of mutual care.”
The Tyranny of Merit - Michael Sandel (2020) (Philosophy). Even if we had a level playing field, the talented would win and talent is not deserved or earned. A bit short on solutions, but suggests a lower bar for elite college admissions and then lottery to select who goes. Thinks this would inject a bit of humility into the process and dispel that elite college admissions is earned by the individual.
The Ethics of Authenticity - Charles Taylor (1991) (Philosophy). Searches for a nuanced view of authenticity--exploring subjectivism, narcissism, apathy, horizons of significance, dialogue, and social traditions. (Lectures entitled “Malaise of Modernity”)
The Spirit of the Disciplines - Dallas Willard (1988) (Religion). Disciplines of Abstinence (solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice). Disciplines of Engagement (study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, submission).
The Great Omission - Dallas Willard (2014) (Religion). The great commission is not just about conversions, but about making *disciples* of all kinds of people.
Called to Business - Dallas Willard (2019) (Religion) Extremely short book. A few articles on faith and work; serving others while making a living.
The Promise Podcast (2020) - ~5 hours. Season 2. East Nashville public schools, diversity, wealth, and school choice.