What are you reading, watching, thinking about this week? As usual, here’s a few which have been on our mind. Let us know your thoughts on any/all of them. If you have items you’d like us to consider for the top five, add them in the comments or send them to Tom or Mike.
1. Ever struggle with The Morality of Sleep (The Chronicle of Higher Education. 8/11/2010)? Hope this research helps encourage the driven (including myself) to remember to take a day of rest, develop margin, and step into helpful habits/rhythms of life in order to be a blessing to those who the Lord brings along their path. A learning community which is committed to such a perspective provides a great context for mature relationships which bless others, without it the counter-cultural nature of seeking sleep/rest can cause conflict in and of itself.
2. Yale’s New ‘Jewish Lives’ Series seeks to address the provoking question of what it means to be Jewish. Why do the editors start the series with a biography of Sarah Bernhardt?
A: We launched with Bernhardt because her life raises so many powerful questions about what it means to be Jewish. Though she converted to Catholicism, she felt deeply identified as a Jew throughout her life. Then there is the sheer fascination of her life, especially through the eyes of Bob Gottlieb; and her enduring legacy as the greatest actress who ever lived. — Sarah Bernhardt Premieres in Yale’s New ‘Jewish Lives’ Series (The Chronicle of Higher Education. 8/11/2010).
3. Brainstorm: Justification by Faith: Michael Ruse is repelled by some Christian believers’ eager anticipation of a deathbed conversion from Christopher Hitchens, the cancer-stricken writer and atheist. (The Chronicle of Higher Education. 8/10/2010). Well worth a read, consideration, and response in your campus discussion group. Would love for someone to start a conversation on the article before I have opportunity to return to it.
More in Christians in the academy and some talk about poetry after the jump.
4. Christians in Academe: A Response: A couple of weeks ago, the Week in Review covered Timothy Larsen’s Inside Higher Ed column about bias against Christians in academia. Adam Kotsko of Kalamazoo College responded with the idea that, if there is bias, it is largely of Christians’ own making:
I would propose instead that we need to acknowledge that conservative evangelical Christians, as a cultural group, often have difficulty assimilating to the culture of secular colleges and universities. Such difficulties are faced by many groups, including first-generation college students, lower- and working-class students, and members of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. It seems to me, however, that conservative evangelical Christians represent a special case in this regard. In the other cases, we are dealing with people who have historically been excluded from academe and are therefore simply unfamiliar with its culture and expectations — a relatively straightforward problem to solve, though not always an easy one. In the case of conservative evangelical Christianity, however, we are dealing with a group whose leaders have encouraged its members to define themselves over against the secular world and particularly secular academe.
A helpful conversation ensued between Larsen and Kotsko in the comments. For another good conversation on this topic, check out RJS’ post on the Jesus Creed Blog about these columns and the Mark Noll interview we covered last week.
5. James K. A. Smith on the Poetry of Charles Wright: In Comment’s online edition, Smith (the author of the excellent book Desiring the Kingdom, which we have often mentioned) addresses the important question of how should we interpret art. Against a view that we need to “find God” in art, Smith proposes:
We should expect art to be more oblique. And instead of asking artists to show us God, we should want them to reveal the world—to expand the world, to make worlds that expand creation with their gifts of co- and sub-creative power. The calling of painters and poets, sculptors and songwriters is not always and only to hymn the Creator but to also and often be at play in the fields of the Lord, mired and mucking about in the gifted immanence that is creation. With that rich creational mandate, a Christian affirmation of the arts refuses the instrumentalist justification that we “find God” in our plays and poetry. In a way that is provocatively close to the aestheticism of Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde, such a creational framing of the arts grants license for art to be quite “useless” —to (almost) be art for its own sake, for the sake of delight and play, for the sheer wonder and mystery of creating. Some of our best artists show us corners of creation we wouldn’t have seen otherwise—and often because they’ve just given birth to a possibility hitherto only latent in the womb of creation.
Yes! Smith goes on to look at how the poet Charles Wright does this. (This is Mike here.) As someone who occasionally writes poetry myself, part of the artistic process (and pleasure) is exploring the potential of God’s creation. My chosen medium – language – isn’t as transparently God-given as wood or stone, but it is a reality outside of myself, with its own rules, structures, and substance. Our “rich creational mandate,” as Smith describes it, includes exploring possibilities inherent in the materials of creation.