Death and the Gift

“Death reorients us to our limitations as creatures and helps us to see God’s good gifts right in front of us all the time, each and every day of our lives. Instead of using these gifts as means to a greater end of securing ultimate gain in the world, we take the time to live inside the gifts themselves and see the hand of God in them. Ordinarily, we eat and drink simply as fuel to enable us to keep going with our work. Ordinarily, we work not just to earn a living but to find satisfaction and purpose and very likely to make a reputation for ourselves and to achieve success. What if the pleasure of food is a daily joy that we ungratefully overlook? What if our work was never intended to make us successful but simply to make us faithful and generous? What if it is death that shows us that this is how we are meant to live?”

David Gibson, Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017) 45.

 

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Real Life

The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s imagination.

C. S. Lewis, quoted in Tim Challies, Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity (Minneapolis: Cruciform, 2015) 94.

I’ve read several biographies of Lewis over the years and all of them discuss his relationship with Mrs. Moore, the mother of a university friend whom Lewis may or may not have been romantically involved with. She lived with him until she died and was more-or-less a terror of a woman whom he waited on hand and foot. During her last years she couldn’t really get out of bed or care for herself and yet she insisted on keeping a small yappy dog that wasn’t even house broken. As Lewis wrote some of his most profound books he often had to stop every fifteen minutes to clean up dog poo off his carpet, make Mrs. Moore a tea, or do some other infuriating and menial thing.

During hectic times when I cannot seem to find hours in the day or am deluged by the vagaries of life, I often take solace in Lewis’s example. If he can write Mere Christianity and clean up dog poo every fifteen minutes off the bedroom rug then I can keep at whatever I am trying to do and possibly even succeed.

 

A Parable

“Imagine after Armageddon all that is left on earth is an international congress of scholars who have been taking an outing in a remote part of Iceland. In their pockets they find they have 39 books from the last ten centuries of English literature, though they have all had their title pages ripped out and so are undated and lacking any information about their authors. While our scholars wait for the radiation sickness to take effect, they decide they will spend their time reconstructing the history of English literature, together with the social mores, the religious beliefs, the political controversies and the internal and external history of the British Isles and the English–speaking world for the last thousand years. This is a parable.”

David J. A. Clines, “What do We Really Know About the Pentateuch?” (Unpublished 2007 conference paper available on Academia.edu).

File under “this idea must die.” No doubt there were sources used in the composition of Scripture, but the idea that we can accurately reconstruct such things goes way beyond the evidence. What we have is ancient literature that has been given to us as Scripture. We can either do our best to engage with it as ancient literature (while doing due diligence to understand the cultural context) and as Scripture or we can admit that we are going a bit beyond the evidence.

Tolkien’s CV in His Own Words

From J. R. R. Tolkien’s 1925 letter of application to the Professorship of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford:

“I entered Exeter College [Oxford] as Stapledon Exhibitioner in 1911. After taking Classical Moderations in 1913 (in which I specialized in Greek philology), I graduated with first class honours in English in 1915, my special subject being Old Icelandic. Until the end of 1918 I held a commission in the Lancashire Fusiliers [i.e., fought in WWI, including the Somme], and at that date entered the service of the Oxford English Dictionary. I was one of Dr. Bradley’s assistants until the Spring of 1920, when my own work and the increasing labours of a tutor made it impossible to continue.

In October 1920 I went to Leeds as a Reader in English Language, with a free commission to develop the linguistic side of a large and growing School of English studies, […] The instruction has been gradually extended and now covers a large part of the field of English and Germanic Philology. Courses are given on Old English heroic verse, the history of English*, various Old English and Middle English texts*, Old and Middle English philology*, introductory Germanic philology*, Gothic, Old Icelandic (a second-year* and third-year course), and Medieval Welsh*. All these courses I have from time to time given myself; those that I have given personally in the past year are marked *. […]

If elected to the Rawlinson and Bosworth Chair I should endeavor to make productive use of the opportunities which it offers for research; to advance, to the best of my ability, the growing neighborliness of linguistic and literary studies, which can never be enemies except by misunderstanding or without loss to both; and to continue in a wider and more fertile field the encouragement of philological enthusiasm among the young.

I remain, Gentlemen, Your obedient servant, J. R. R. Tolkien”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981), 12–13.

 

Memes not Genres

“The term ‘meme’ was introduced by the biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. As part of his larger effort to apply evolutionary theory to cultural change, Dawkins defined memes as small cultural units of transmission, analogous to genes, that spread from person to person by copying or imitation. Examples include cultural artifacts such as melodies, catchphrases, and clothing fashions, as well as abstract beliefs (for instance the concept of God). Like genes, memes are defined as replicators that undergo variation, competition, selection, and retention. At any given moment, many memes are competing for the attention of hosts; however, only memes suited to their sociocultural environment spread successfully, while others become extinct.”

Limor Shifman, Memes in Digital Culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2014) 9.

 

A Letter to TIME Magazine

Dear TIME,
I was appalled by your cover article by Katie Reilly on teachers’ salaries which arrived in my mailbox today (9.17.18). First of all, let me say that teaching is an incredibly difficult job, that is very demanding—probably too demanding—and is underpaid. I believe teachers should be paid more.
Here’s what I found to be reprehensible about the article—the misrepresentation of teachers’ wages as unlivable. This is not only untrue it is insulting to people like me (and the majority of other Americans) who make less than the salaries you listed and are living a quality life with money to spare. According to census.gov the median household income in 2017 was $60,336. Of the four teachers that the article profiles in the call out boxes, three make significantly more than this figure and one makes less. The one who makes less makes only $5,000/year less, and lives in the lowest cost-of-living area of any of the teachers profiled.
I live within the city limits of Minneapolis, MN (probably a mid-range cost of living, lowish for a large city). I make $XX,000 a year (less than three of the teachers profiled) and I support a family of three on this salary no problem (my wife chooses to stay home with our 9-month-old daughter). In fact, beyond living a happy, quality life that includes luxuries like cash for books, beer, and baby toys, we manage to go on international vacations each year and to save for graduate school tuition and pay down school debt. Many, many American families live on less than these teachers and suffer no major hardships. These teachers do deserve a raise, but apparently more pressingly they need a budget and some personal finance lessons.
This article does its readers a disservice by suggesting that if you make a teacher‘s salary you won’t be able to make ends meet. This is not only a lie, it is a lie that is likely to keep the people who believe it poorer than they need to be. My sister-in-law is a public elementary school teacher in Florida (a state that is on the lower end of teacher pay—<$50,000—according to the chart on p. 30 of the article) and yet she also manages to live a happy, healthy, fulfilled life, largely though budgeting, self-control, and using her brain to make good choices rather than feeling sorry for herself.
This article really feels like it is playing to emotions rather than being honest about facts. Time should be ashamed of publishing it and perpetuating irresponsible thinking.
Sincerely,
Alex Kirk