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((released 2023-02-28) (handle mh-157-m) (supplement ))
Volume 157
Volume 157
Volume 157
Volume 157
Volume 157
Volume 157
Volume 157
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Volume 157

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Guests on Volume 157

ALLAN C. CARLSON on early 20th-century American political projects that supported strong family life
MATTHEW STEWART on how the novels of Wallace Stegner explored the dilemmas of community in modern America
STEVEN KNEPPER on how philosopher William Desmond's thought recovers a metaphysics of wonder
HOLLY ORDWAY on the "meaning-making" power of great literature and its role in evangelism
NORM KLASSEN on the challenges to belief in rationality in modern literary theory
NORMAN WIRZBA on how a recognition of our "meshwork" lives encourages spiritual practices with an agrarian slant

Click here to download a pdf file with the contents listing and bibliographic information about this Volume.

Allan C. Carlson

When I was doing the work on this book, I went . . . to do a chapter on family policy and the New Deal. And, the first thing that struck me –astonishingly – was how uniformly the new feminist historians of the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s despised the New Deal, despised Eleanor Roosevelt, despised Franklin Roosevelt, despised the maternalist campaign. Not what I would have expected because again, ‘The New Deal is the great project of a liberal, left wing America. It’s socialism and so on.’ Aren’t feminists in favor of the New Deal? Well, they were not. And it was because the maternalists, their foes, had gained control of the levers of power. . . and virtually every domestic policy adopted by the Franklin Roosevelt administration in the 1930s and early 1940s, every one assumed the maternalist family vision.

Allan C. Carlson, author of The American Way: Family and Community in the Shaping of the American Identity (Second edition, Canon Press, 2022)

Historian Allan Carlson discusses how pigeonholing pro-family policy as left or right is counterproductive, both historically and in the present. In his recently reissued book, The American Way: Family and Community in the Shaping of the American Identity, Carlson relates the history of the maternalist movement, a prime example to muddle “left” or “right.” This movement grew out of the vision and work of social reform pioneer Jane Addams. In her work to help the immigrants of Chicago, Addams nurtured deep suspicion of industrial policy, setting up various efforts in order to “preserve ancestral ties within the new industrial order.” She advocated for public policy (such as a family wage) to support women specifically in their unique roles as wives and mothers, and the maternalists followed in Addams’s steps.The feminists of that time set themselves up as foes to the maternalists. In fact, the feminist National Women’s Party was funded by industrial capitalists who abhorred the idea of a family wage. Surprisingly — given today’s political climate — the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt was hated by the “liberals” of that day and entirely indebted to the lobbying of the maternalist movement.     

•     •     •

Matthew Stewart

“One of the things that was interesting to me, too, about his California novels is that he has these kind of jokes about the rebels always actually being pretty conformist in their rebellion. Their rebellions kind of have their own shared paths. . . But, [Stegner] wanted to be part of something bigger than himself. It struck me as I was working on the book, the idea of the rolling stone… that gathers no moss: that three major icons of the 20th century – Rolling Stone magazine, Rolling Stones band, and the Bob Dylan song – it’s just really central to our whole mythology in the 20th century. He actually said, you know, ‘I wanted some attics in my life.’ He didn’t know the names of three of his grandparents, so he had no past whatsoever and he recognized that that’s what so many Americans were chasing after, it’s ‘what I have,’ but it’s not at all satisfying to have no past and no ancestry.”

Matthew Stewart, author of The Most Beautiful Place on Earth: Wallace Stegner in California (The University of Utah Press, 2022)

Author Matthew D. Stewart discusses the placemaking tragedy of regionalist writer Wallace Stegner in his book The Most Beautiful Place on Earth: Wallace Stegner in California. Stegner described two American character types: the “boomer” and the “sticker.” The boomer creates American boomtowns and never sets down roots, while the “sticker” loves the place that they have made and stays there. Stewart explains that Stegner writes wistfully of these types because his own father was a “boomer” and Stegner longed to be of a family of “stickers,” a family who had attics of multigenerational accumulation. Stegner ultimately set down his roots in Palo Alto, California – a profoundly ironic choice because the place where he chose to stick became the ultimate boomtown: Silicon Valley. Stewart analyzes Stegner’s ambivalence to his chosen place in his California novels (All the Little Live Things, The Spectator Bird, and Angle of Repose). Tragically, as Stewart states, “homemaking was no easy task. . . . What Stegner wanted from his place was not possible to recreate on his own.”     

•     •     •

Steven Knepper

“In experiences of wonder, you’re struck by wonder. . . It’s not something you decide to do. It’s not something that you can force even. You know, you can cultivate openness to wonder, but in the end, wonder depends on being receptive to something that strikes you, being open to it. So, Desmond doesn’t discount willing. He says that humans are both receptive, porous creatures (He likes the word porous to describe this sense of receptivity), but we’re also willing creatures as well. And there’s a way in which those two things shouldn’t be just sort of posed against each other. They work together . . . To overemphasize just the willing, is not to be able to understand many many things in just our daily existence, broadly: from a great athlete, or the work of a craftsman, to the experience of wonder or the experience of beauty, even just sort of navigating your daily life. You have to have a combination of receptivity and openness and action.”

— Steven Knepper, author of Wonder Strikes: Approaching Aesthetics and Literature with William Desmond (State University of New York Press, 2022)

Professor Steven Knepper describes why the work of philosopher William Desmond has dramatically formed his understanding of aesthetics and theology. In his book Wonder Strikes: Approaching Aesthetics and Literature with William Desmond, Knepper gives both an orientation to the demanding philosophy of Desmond as well as an application in literature. As Knepper explains, four themes are especially prominent in Desmond’s work: wonder, receptivity, abundance, and affirmation. Knepper centers on the theme of wonder, explaining how in Desmond’s account, there are modes of wonder: astonishment (which is primarily affirmative), perplexity (which can be unsettling and even negative), and curiosity (which is not existential, but primarily looks at how things work). Desmond doesn’t see these modes as oppositional. Even curiosity, while it can become just a preoccupation on a surface level, is fundamentally an openness to the intelligibility of existence which leads back to wonder at the deeper mystery of being.     

•     •     •

Holly Ordway

“[There is a] distrust of stories in general in some sense,  because stories are incarnations of ideas. You have particular characters in a particular place and setting. It’s not pure abstract idea. And so that’s why you care about them . . . And, in one sense there is a sense of the power of narrative, but also, I think, a fear or distrust of it, because it gets us involved with this messy business of givenness and that makes us uncomfortable. But of course, that is a discomfort that comes from rubbing up against the fundamental, incarnate, created,  given nature of reality. And so, that’s a good reason, I think, to grab onto storytelling and say, ‘Well, let’s use this.”

— Holly Ordway, author of Tales of Truth: A Guide to Sharing the Gospel through Literature (Word on Fire Institute, 2022)

Professor Holly Ordway is convinced that discussing literature is an exemplary way for modern secular people to learn how to attach meaning to Christian concepts.. In her book, Tales of Truth: A Guide to Sharing the Gospel through Literature, Ordway explains that too often we can talk of abstract ideas like “truth, goodness, and beauty” and unbelievers have no way of connecting those concepts to reality. The way to make meaning of those concepts is through imagination, as Ordway argues (following C. S. Lewis). Until the imagination can supply an image for a concept, the reason has no materials with which to work. As Ordway observes, since stories are fundamentally the incarnation of ideas, they offer the imagination the materials it needs to make meaning and can therefore, make the Gospel meaningful to modern people.     

•     •     •

Norm Klassen

“I want to give them a sense . . . [that] we have to respect the deep critique of what passes for rationality, especially since the Enlightenment, especially in the way that we embrace science and economic thinking. There’s something really important going on here. Really valuable. But, can we affirm rationality as one of God’s gifts to us? Not the only gift, and not to be unaccompanied by faith, or love (in the way that Augustine especially will talk about love) but can we acknowledge that there is something more here that needs to be accessed and talked about and thought about. . . . I see this as kind of a work of pre-evangelism.”

— Norm Klassen, author of Rationality Is . . . The Essence of Literary Theory (Cascade Books, 2022)

English professor Norm Klassen argues that while literary theory makes a necessary and important critique of Enlightenment rationality, it means to undercut the validity of reason itself. In his book, Rationality Is . . . The Essence of Literary Theory, Klassen unpacks the goals of Feminist theory, Critical Race theory, and Freudian Psychoanalysis. Klassen believes that many English professors who are teaching theory do not really know the philosophy and metaphysics behind it; they do not understand the radical relativization of meaning. Klassen is not defending a modernist rationality; instead, he believes that a theology of participation, following especially after the insights of Paul Ricoeur, can account both for theory’s valid critiques of rationality, but also the reality that rationality participates in the Logos. Klassen ultimately believes that Christ is the “Word behind the inner word” that “underwrites the the confidence we have that we can understand reality.”     

•     •     •

Norman Wirzba

“Apart from an understanding and appreciation for soil, for the land, we will be at odds with everything else that we touch. And this is important to stress because when we talk about nurturing the soil that then nurtures the plants that nurture the animals that nurture us and so forth, nurturing the soil is bedrock insofar as it helps us appreciate how we are soil-birthed, soil-nurtured kinds of beings. That we can’t think about our world as just a production platform or a stage upon which we do the varying and highly interesting things that human beings might do. No, we have to make our decisions about social practices, economic practices, political priorities with the health of the land first. Because when the land is neglected, everything that depends upon it will also suffer.”

— Norman Wirzba, author of Agrarian Spirit: Cultivating Faith, Community, and the Land (University of Notre Dame Press, 2022)

Theologian Norman Wirzba argues that God is an agrarian and that therefore, Christian ascetic practices must be deeply agrarian. In his book, Agrarian Spirit: Cultivating Faith, Community, and the Land, Wirzba explains that his argument is not a back-to-the-land enterprise or a nostalgic ode to the way things used to be. To be an agrarian is not a matter of being rural or urban, instead, he defines, it’s “for people to understand that we have to nurture the land that nurtures us.” The skills that are implicit to nurturing and cultivating must shape our spiritual practices. Christian spirituality is not merely about getting our cognitive affairs in order, but it’s about being formed by the kind of bodily practices that we understand through the life of our embodied Lord.