((released 2008-05-01) (handle mh-90-cd) (supplement ))
Volume 90 (CD Edition)
Guests on Volume 90: J. Mark Bertrand, on how the language of worldviews can mean something richer than it often does; Michael P. Schutt, on how the day-to-day practice of Christian lawyers can reflect a Christian view of the nature of law; Michael Ward, on how C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia were shaped by medieval cosmological beliefs about the seven planets; Dana Gioia, on the disturbing trends in the reading (non)habits of Americans; Makoto Fujimura, on reading, painting, and attending to the world; Gregory Edward Reynolds, on lessons about reading from the study of media ecology; Catherine Prescott, on why portrait painters often depict their subjects with books in their hands; and Eugene Peterson, on the place of reading in the spiritual lives of Christians.
“I was guilty myself of instilling an overweening confidence in students and giving them the false idea that being equipped with a few bullet points would give them the ability to hold their own in an argument against anyone on any topic on any day of the week.”
—J. Mark Bertrand
Author and teacher J. Mark Bertrand talks about the concept of a “worldview.” He reflects on a kind of mental fatigue that develops when worldview becomes a shorthand for dissecting and deconstructing how people think for narrowly apologetic purposes. Bertrand believes the reduction of the idea of worldview can prevent us from having an openness to gaining wisdom and learning to witness in our world. Worldview discourse often has the unfortunate side-effect of making thinkers too comfortable with the intellectual safety of the familiar and known to be able to gain valuable insight into the varied breadth of the world.
“They want a shark. They want a hired gun. They want someone who will bend every rule possible in order to win. And so part of what the task of the Christian lawyer is is to educate his or her clients in thinking properly about the nature of the legal system and why this particular client is coming to a lawyer in the first place. And in order to do that, you have to think of your clients as human beings and not just legal problems that walk in the door.”
—Michael P. Schutt
Michael P. Schutt, associate professor of law at Regent University Law School, discusses the ways secular law schools tend to ignore a Christian understanding of the nature of law and treat law as a wholly human artifact, instrumental to the fulfillment of human desires. For Schutt, an essential distinction is whether law has a transcendent nature that binds human authorities or whether law is merely an instrument of those in power for the enacting of their wills. From there, Christians must come to understand the jurisprudential distinction between law and morality embodied in human institutions with their own spheres of authority. Schutt is concerned not simply with the theoretical basis of law, but with how a proper understanding of it is embodied in Christian practice, how lawyers live out the profession which has been entrusted to them in the legal and general communities of which they are a part.
“I thought I knew these books. I’d been reading these books for nearly thirty years by this point. And I’d been studying them for ten years and more and at quite a high level. And I knew that people had gone looking for some kind of hidden thread or theme to the books. Critics have suggested all sorts of possible governing ideas like the seven sacraments or the seven deadly sins or the seven virtues or the seven books of Spencer’s Fairy Queen, but none of those explanations had ever convinced anyone.”
Scholar and Anglican clergyman Michael Ward discusses his groundbreaking book on C. S. Lewis entitled Planet Narnia. Ward describes how he came to discover one night the connection between Lewis’s conception of the seven Ptolemaic planets and the seven Narnian chronicles. Contrary to some critics, the Chronicles of Narnia are artistically rich and precise as a whole series, and Lewis’s vision behind it coherent in its imagination. The full interview with Michael Ward is available as a MARS HILL AUDIO Conversation entitled The Heav’ns and All the Powers Therein: The Medieval Cosmos and the World of Narnia.
“Reading is not a natural activity. Reading is not like walking. It’s like playing the piano. It requires an ongoing practice and mastery which is to the end that you can sit and you can play the piano without even thinking about it, but that reflects years of sustained attention and practice.”
Dana Gioia, the Chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts, explains the results of the recently released NEA report on reading in America. Gioia believes the report highlights literacy trends that show a decreasing ability in young and adult Americans to sustain the attention in reading required to deal with complex, multi-dimensional issues and problems. The growing educational focus on the literacy of children is not being followed through to the adolescent and adult years, precisely when other commercial media step up their influence. Gioia discusses possible ways that schools and churches and other communities and cultural institutions can navigate adolescent and adult Americans back to learn the complex joys of literature and the arts.
“People do say ‘I am a visual learner,’ but what I find as a visual artist is that people are not taking in much information at all … they’re scanning. What the internet does is create this pseudo-learning experience where you think you are engaged with something but at the end of the day you haven't really thought deeply about much of anything, so you end up with a very superficial understanding of the world.”
What relationship does verbal literacy have to visual literacy? Accomplished painter Makoto Fujimura addresses that question in this interview. Fujimura suggests that the practice and discipline of reading has a kind of unity with the visual arts due to the need for the active, focused use of intelligence for the appreciation of both forms and the depth of truths represented therein. To the extent that both reading and the visual arts allow human beings to grow out of themselves and engage with the world, the decline in literacy represents the gradual transformation of intelligent engagement into a superficial, disengaged, reductive kind of scanning that can actually hinder understanding of the objects in view.
“Substantive reading, good reading, entering into the conversation of the ages as it were, and of our own culture, is going to expand your soul, it’s going to deepen your soul, so that you will not be detached from the people around you.”
—Gregory E. Reynolds
Rev. Gregory Reynolds discusses the kind of healthy disengagement reading encourages in allowing readers to take the time to think deeply about a subject to better engage reality. By contrast, visual media often encourages a kind of engagement whose immersive qualities prevent the distance necessary for an intentional engagement between the person and the subject. Reynolds warns against the unthinking acceptance of new technological media that can shape our lives in powerful ways.
“But her interiority is shaped by books that she reads, and she expresses that. When she speaks, she speaks with words that she's read in books.”
Catherine Prescott talks about painting portraits of people reading. She describes the reasons she chooses certain individuals as her portrait subjects and discusses how the interior life of a person is expressed through the body as meaningful manifestations. What we read can play an important part in forming our interior lives and in this way, painting people reading can be more interesting and meaningful with respect to who they are and who they are becoming.
“By reading slowly and paying attention to a writer, you learn how words work and how much space words need around them before there’s a conversation that develops.”
Pastor and theologian Eugene Peterson reflects on the place of reading in his childhood and growing up. He describes the kind of spiritual reading that has nothing to do with the content, but is about relating meaningfully to the text and allowing the reading to be a participation in the text that can form one’s life. Reflecting on things he’s learned about reading, Peterson expresses concerns about the how the way we approach books in general affects the way we approach Scripture and communicating with others.