Becoming Like Children, the Attack on the Capitol, and Why Accomplishments Don't Matter
|Phillip Johnston & Andy Patton||Feb 2|
Dignity Beyond Accomplishment
Justin Hawkins on the dignity of Down Syndrome
Heard of The Congratulations Project? It’s a summer camp for people with Down Syndrome where campers are paired with volunteers for days filled with beach visits, sports, karaoke — and letter writing. The letters are addressed to families who have recently received a Down’s diagnosis. When medical professionals deliver this news, the first words are frequently, I’m sorry. In every letter sent from this camp, the first word is, Congratulations!
“If Socrates was captive to the idea that the practice of philosophy was the condition of a worthy life, America flirts often with captivity to the notion that accomplishment is the condition of a worthy life," writes Justin Hawkins. "We are habituated to a world of accomplishment and competition, and consequently have very little intuitive comprehension of a life largely devoid of those.”
The Congratulations Project shifts the conversation in favour of human dignity, a dignity that remains no matter how much the child may accomplish in life. This article does the same from a Christian point of view. Hawkins is an ethicist, but he’s also brother to Jenna, who has Down's. His essay testifies to a brother’s love and makes an elegant case for the persistent goodness of life.
Read "Dignity Beyond Accomplishment" over at Mere Orthodoxy. For more on a consistent life ethic, see Charles Camosy's Resisting Throwaway Culture: How a Consistent Life Ethic Can Unite a Fractured People.
Why George MacDonald Matters
Timothy Larsen on the godfather of fairy stories
Let Tim Larsen introduce you to the man without whom we would have no Narnia, no Middle Earth, and no A Wrinkle in Time in an essay that is no less rich for being brief.
George MacDonald (1824-1905), the great Scottish writer of fairy stories, was a pathbreaking figure whose writing helped children "escape from relentlessly didactic and moralizing literature" and into fairyland. He was also doing much more besides, writes Larsen.
MacDonald was not merely helping to create a more playful and less earnest form of children’s literature—he was helping to foster a new attitude toward childhood. Maybe a child’s imagination should be cultivated rather than curbed. Maybe even it was not just that children needed to learn how to become adults, but that adults also needed to learn how to become children again. Jesus himself had said as much, but the Victorians were apt to assume that the Master was confining the thought to one specific trait of childhood such as a willingness to trust. What if the wild imaginative play and fantasy worlds of children were also a part of what adults needed to recover?
Read "Why George MacDonald Matters" over at Marginalia and then pick up a copy of The Light Princess from The Rabbit Room. For more from Timothy Larsen, check out George MacDonald in the Age of Miracles: Incarnation, Doubt, and Reenchantment.
We Need a New Media Ecosystem
Matt Taibbi on what we should learn from January 6
Culture war sells. Writing just after the events of January 6, Matt Taibbi offers an energetic summary of the how the mainstream American press has been selling this war for years. The media has been in "the audience-stroking business, and by extension the politics business." This ramped up after the 2016 election, but the story stretches further back:
Trump began to be described as a cause of America’s problems, rather than a symptom, and his followers, every last one, were demonized right along with him, in caricatures that tickled the urbane audiences of channels like CNN but made conservatives want to reach for something sharp. This technique was borrowed from Fox, which learned in the Bush years that you could boost ratings by selling audiences on the idea that their liberal neighbors were terrorist traitors. Such messaging worked better by far than bashing al-Qaeda, because this enemy was closer, making the hate more real.
Any American with a steady diet of mainstream media output is bound to be ideologically siloed. This is doubly true for anyone who spends a substantial time on social media where users are ceaselessly engaged by algorithmically curated feeds that either flatter or enrage one’s worldview. Bret Weinstein has made the astute observation that the events of January 6 were “physical manifestations of processes we interface all the time with on social media” — a social media echo chamber pushed out into the streets of DC.
Read “We Need a New Media Ecosystem” over at Matt Taibbi’s Substack. For a Christian attempt to wrangle with January 6, see this Twitter thread from Joe Rigney.
Tish Harrison Warren
At the centre of Tish Harrison Warren’s beautiful and honest new book Prayer in the Night is a familiar ancient prayer from the Book of Common Prayer:
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.
Each chapter of Prayer in the Night expounds a phrase from this prayer, offering a gentle invitation to confront faith’s most difficult questions. The book has much to say about our daily struggles and encounters with those things we’d rather not — disease, betrayal, pain, separation, loss. By placing a prayer at the centre of her reflection, however, Warren reminds us that in the middle of our own pain, sorrow and confusion we are invited to keep up a relationship with God through Jesus.
Tish is not writing from a distance. Her words flow with openness and passion from personal wrestling with God and her experience as a pastor. The book also displays a deep love for the Church and the wisdom of Christians who have come before us. In an age that values self-expressions of praise as the way of honoring God, Prayer in the Night is a call to reality. Many have come before us; we will be enriched and grow if we are humble enough to learn from them.
Prayer in the Night is an encouraging and profound book, written with love and compassion. It is an edifying and powerful invitation to hope in Christ in the darkest of the hours.
In his relentless pursuit of the best habit-tracking app, Andy has been turning his habits into pixellated patterns with the creative little Pixelist app. Give it a try.
Reading: Andy hasn't been able to put down Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Matthews. He has been looking for a readable successor on systems thinking to Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline and this is it.
Listening: Andy has been enjoying Joshua Burnside's new Album Into the Depths of Hell. His lyrics are a haunting exploration of the past, our modern moment in history, and fear for the future. Consider this line that evokes the digital attention economy: "Every thought I thought was mine was bought and sold and sold back to me."
Phillip and family are settling into their new home. Though the £80 eBay fridge pooped out on them after two months, having a place of their own is a great relief. A new home calls for a new fridge anyway.
Reading: Imagine Phillip's delight in finding a book on Augustine and conspiracy theories! Who knew?! Jeff Bilbro's Reading the Times A Literary and Theological Inquiry into the News is also on the night stand. Concise, practical, deeply convicting. He hasn't scrolled Twitter since it arrived.
Listening: Whenever Phillip hears The Listening Service on the radio, he brims with delight and is tempted to covet Tom Service's brilliant musical imagination. Are there really any new tunes left to be written? Listen to "All the Tunes" to find out.
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