Ruminations of an Aging Man

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Today is my birthday and I am getting old, fifty-six to be precise. (FYI, the foto at the right is Adin Steinsaltz not me. I don’t look that old, only feel it.) For some reason I awoke today thinking about words and their importance as conveyors of ideas. There was a time when I thought everyone valued words, ideas and the books in which both can be found. There was a time when I thought everyone agreed that activism without thought was foolhardy and thought without action insufficient.

Don’t get me wrong, like Martin Buber I’ve not been content with just words and ideas, but have always sought a rhythm of time alone with my books, balanced by the excitement of opening the door to greet an old friend or make a new one.

I notice that on my bookshelves are titles like, Words Still Count with Me, by Herbert Mitgang; Simple Words by Adin Steinsaltz; Standing By Words by Wendell Berry. In broadcasting, my show was at times labeled “too intellectual” and I would argue that I was simply trying to do an intelligent, literate show.

Most of you know I am in a career transition of sorts. I feel I need to challenge the next generation to be serious about faith, savvy about culture, skilled in relating to both. People complain that Thomas Jefferson clipped out phrases he disagreed with from his Bible. I think for all intents and purposes that is what many Christians have done with Jesus phrase, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your mind.” We have forgotten that the unexamined life is not worth living, and the abundant life is not about bigger houses, fatter paychecks and new cars; it is about a wholeness that springs from nurturing our body, spirit, soul and mind.

So today I bring you a cluster of quotes about words and ideas from my reading this week. (Also two quotes from an interview with Harold Best on his new book Unceasing Worship (Inter Varsity Press).

TV has taken a big bite out of the written word. But words still count with me. E.B. White, Words Still Count With Me

This is not a preaching book. To the extent that it has a message, it is a very humble one: understand better what you are saying; there is more in you than you imagine. The hidden wisdom of commonplace words is sometimes startling, not because it is novel, but because it is somehow known to us. Adin Steinsaltz, Simple Words.

The public has become one of the subjects of poetry, but is no longer its audience.
Edwin Muir, The Estate of Poetry.

We no longer speak precisely about things. We have taken our vocabulary of transcendence and applied it to very simple things, like a pizza is awesome. That was an awesome ice cream sundae. This is incredible, that’s extraordinary, everything is unique. You go to a concert and everybody gets a standing ovation. So we have no words leftover truly to describe the transcendent parts of our lives, mainly God. But pizza is awesome. And then we say God is awesome. We have done huge damage.
Harold Best, DS Interview.

What we have too frequently now, in the words of hundreds of poetry reviews in the time of my own coming of age, is the notion that what distinguishes a writer from a nonwriter is, first and last, a gift and a love of language. Writers, that is, are not distinguished by their knowledge or character or vision or inspiration or the stories they have to tell; they are distinguished by their specialties. This is a difference not of degree, but of kind. And the resulting absurdities are greater than before, and more dangerous. Wendell Berry, Standing By Words.

I would still like to be a writer. Maybe I will write a book. I love to play with words and twist phrases, I always will play Scrabble. John W. Dean III, Standing By Words, (Wendell Berry proving the point he made in the previous quoet!)

But our malaise, both in our art and in our lives, is that we have lost sight of the possibility of right or responsible action. Publicly, we have delegated our capacity to act to men who are capable of action only because they cannot think.
Wendell Berry, Standing By Words.

We assume, in short, that language is communal, and that its purpose is to tell the truth. Wendell Berry, Standing by Words.

The church is the only fixer, as far as I’m concerned, in this culture. We have to, as Christians, become severely responsible for restoring language to its full dignity¢â‚¬¦ When we preach about Jesus, when we teach about Jesus, when we translate about Jesus¢â‚¬¦we have to be poets.
Harold Best, DS Interview.

Remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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