A Preview of Things To Come
Some Writing Plans For the Next Three Months
Laying out some foundations of things to come. An inquiry. A modest appeal. The return of the book club.
Some Modest Plans Ahead
As the Fall descends on the United States1, the weather cools and many growing things are in decline.2 I’ve plucked the last batch of tomatoes from the vine and put them in a brown paper sack with the hopes of ripening them up on the counter; soups are on the menu at home in frequent rotation, and the fireplace gets persistent use.
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And so, the world enters a time of relief from the heat, and this newsletter enters a time of replanting for the months to come. This week, the subscriber list topped 1,500 (!!!!) people, which is more than I could ever hoped for when starting this. And so, it’s time to do some housekeeping around here.
Over the last two years, I’ve been writing an occasional series on “Keywords of the Moral Life”, which now totals somewhere around twenty entries. Kathleen Norris wrote a wonderful book some many years ago now called Amazing Grace, in which she offers a kind of normie approach to the grammar of faith. It’s beautiful, and I hope to have done something like that, with brief essays unpacking big moral ideas. The world of moral thinking is endlessly fuzzy, and often times get stuck in a cul-de-sac of intutitionism3: in slowly unpacking these terms, I’ve tried to help us move beyond ethics as “I think this is right, but don’t know why”, to something like “God wants us to reason through things carefully and modestly.”
Going forward, I think I’ll probably retire these, not because we’re done, but because they easily become the thing to write when nothing else seems to be in the tank. In busy seasons—such as this past semester—it’s good to have fallback plans, but it’s no good when all your life is a fallback plan.
And so, I’m going out on a limb and retiring the easy treads and committing myself, before the Internet and God, to writing more on the following things going forward:
The Moral Life of the Old Testament4.
By this, I do not mean “an exegetical approach to the Old Testament”. Not interested in the kind of fine-grained work that my colleagues do, not that I have the facility for the nuances of Hebrew verbs to begin with. What I have in mind is to do what Christians have done for centuries: to read the Old Testament and to ask what this might say to Christians today, with respect to how we respond to God as moral creatures.
Not all of the Old Testament is straightforward moral code, but it would be an error to say that only that which is a straightforward command or law is meant for our moral lives. It’s fairly sparse in my own reading diet, and thus, I want to work on that.
No surprises here. I have a stack on things on my desk that, when I’m not working on various projects, I’m trying to read through, as I become more steeped in what it means that we are called to be persons, and by that, not only those who do certain actions, but who are people capable of doing certain actions. We do not forever act on the basis of what is commanded of us, but as those who want to love that which is good for us, who want to act wisely when there is no command, and who want what we are to match what we do.
So, expect interactions with the pile of things on virtue that have been stacking up.
The Roots That Show Up in Current Events
This is not a current events newsletter. I could care less what controversies are inflaming us today, though I do care about the things which inflame us over the long term. Thus, Israel and Palestine are worth caring about, but not whether Bishop Strickland was ousted unjustly.5 That being said, we learn to be moral as we navigate the world we live in, and so, the world we live in requires our attention. I’ll continue to step back from current events in order to see them well. It’s not all on fire, and some fires are smoldering and need our attention more than the ones generating all the attention.
For paid subscribers, I’ve offered book clubs in the past, and the last one, on Thomas a’ Kempis’ Imitation of Christ didn’t fly so well. I think part of it is just good old fashioned busyness, but it’s something I enjoy, and I think others do as well.
And so, a poll: if you were to do a book club over Zoom (one hour commitment, no quizzes), involving your beverage of choice and all rabbit trails permitted, what would you pick?
The book club will be available for paid subscribers. Which brings me to the modest appeal:
I’m currently running a 50% deal on both monthly and annual paid subscriptions. I’ve written a few times as to why I offer a paid option, but it boils down to reasons both vocational and personal—I love doing this, and there are always bills to pay.6
For the paid subscribers, there’s the paid subscriber posts, as well as the book clubs, as well as the occasional other goody, but I want to try this out going forward: I’d love to try to answer the questions that you’re asking.
I have things that I find really interesting, but they’re not all there is in the world, and half the joy of writing is that it offers me the chance to find out what I think. And boy howdy, there are many things about which I have no idea, but would love to learn.
Thanks for bearing with me. Here’s a picture of what I’m teaching later today, as a treat.
Thanks for reading. Join me, won’t you?
Nothing dramatic meant here. It’s November. If things don’t start cooling off now, buckle up and start planning to move to Alaska next summer. From here on out, we’ll probably abandon Texas for a month each summer just to escape the heat, taking up refuge in Michigan and Indiana. Open to suggestions, and always eager to trade talking for camping dollars in that direction.
I’m beginning to wonder if my metaphors are getting ahead of me. Nothing sinister meant, I promise.
I used to think that the default notion of moral reflection for most folks was something like a command: “Do this because we are commanded to do it.” I’m now persuaded that something like intuition drives us more frequently: the grasping of a conclusion before we work through what might be moving us toward the conclusion. I say this not as a good thing.
The use of the term “Old Testament” is fairly gauche in academic circles. But this is the appellation given the books from Genesis to Malachi given by Christians since Melito of Sardis in the 2nd century, so with this we’ll stick. “Hebrew Bible”, “First Testament”, “Elder Testament”, and so forth: these are all fine and I have no objections to their use. But “Old” need not designate something like “out of use”, but rather “ancient”: it does start with the origin of time itself, after all.
He wasn’t. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Exactly.
Who doesn’t have bills to pay? I know.