Reading list: Speaking Freely

In an interesting little piece on First Things that I just got around to reading, Carl Trueman relates a story from Speaking Freely by Nat Hentoff about a politician who was very pro-life until he decided to run for president and abruptly switched sides. I won’t spoil the name of the politician – you can go read the story yourself.

Trueman’s praise for the book, though, makes me want to read it myself. Trueman says

I first came across his work when I emigrated in 2001 and bought on a whim a remaindered copy of his autobiography, Speaking Freely. Little did I know that his love (and mine) of freedom of speech in the civic sphere would soon be jeopardized by those who fail to understand—or perhaps who understand just too well—that free speech means the right of my bitterest opponents to articulate their most reprehensible views in the public square.

Of course, my to-read list is miles long and I might never get to this one. So I’m starting a new category of blog posts, where I tell you about a book I want to read (along with maybe a little bit of why I want to read it) and then if you read it you can tell me if it’s worth it. Deal? Deal.

The soft underbelly of knowledge

In the reading a few weeks ago for one of my classes, I came across this tidbit on gossip:

All gossip has an element of curiosity in it, of wonderment, and that means some quest, however infinitesimal, however distorted, for knowledge. If we were to adopt the metaphor “body of knowledge,” we might perhaps say, using a famous phrase from recent political and military history, that gossip constitutes the soft underbelly of knowledge. Gossip is the small tribute that our passionate and appetitive life pays – in very, very small coins – to intellectual life.

Jacob Klein, “The Idea of Liberal Education” in The Essays and Lectures of Jacob Klein, p. 159-160.

I post this quotation to justify the two links which follow, because they are a couple of guilty-pleasure reads. 

The first is a profile of Jenny Slate. You surely know her as Mona Lisa Saperstein, and as the voice of Marcel the Shell. If you are in the loop, you also know that she dated Chris Evans (turns out grad school puts you out of the loop…I learned it by reading this profile). Anyway, part of the fun of reading this profile is getting the inside scoop on Mister “I Don’t Wike It“: “I first really liked Chris as a person because he is so unpretentious,” she says. “He is a straight-up 35-year-old man who wants to play games. That’s it. I was like, ‘I’d better not discount this, because this is purity.’ ” So you kinda get two-for-one with this profile. That’s nice. {Warning: she’s a liberal comedian with all the endemic vulgarity—not just swearing but also graphic descriptions of bodies. Read at your own risk.}

And the second is…. well….


By most definitions, Tom Hiddleston is…uncool. His vulnerability, his enthusiasm, his Bolognese, these are not trademarks of a dashing movie star. And yet here he is, a sweet-natured bookworm trapped in the second act of a movie where the overlooked geek has been given the face and body of the only man who should ever be allowed to wear a suit (or jeans, or that long-sleeve navy T-shirt he wore when we had dinner).

Good Friday

Every year on Good Friday I find myself revisiting these two homilies, which are among the best I have ever known. If you have 20 minutes, it is worth it to listen to the audio of Sumpter’s homily. It is devastating, appropriate for a devastating day.

Toby Sumpter: My Song is Love Unknown Audio || Text

And do you remember that day when our God stood in our place? Do you remember that day when our husband received their taunts and blows? Do you remember when He stood there for us? Do you remember when they lifted Him up, when they drove stakes into His hands and feet, when then crowned our King with thorns? When He hung there looking at us like a knight, like a hero, like a bridegroom watching His bride come down the aisle?

And we beheld Him, despised and rejected, and we hid our faces, hating Him. Surely He carried our sorrows. He was wounded for us. He was afflicted for us. And He did not open His mouth. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.

Peter Leithart: Christ and Him Crucified

Paul determined to know nothing but Jesus and the cross. Was that enough? What is the cross? Is it big enough to fill the universe?

The cross is the work of the Father, who gave His Son in love for the world; the cross is the work of the Son, who did not cling to equality with God but gave Himself to shameful death; the cross is the work of the Spirit, through whom the Son offers Himself to the Father and who is poured out from the pierced side of the glorified Son. The cross displays the height and the depth and the breadth of eternal Triune love.

The Four Quartets

Holy Week always seems like a good time to revisit the Four Quartets, and I recently discovered that Jeremy Irons recorded them (along with a bunch of other Eliot) for the BBC around the new year. Everyone​ can sense that these words are suited to times when we look forward and back, gazing in upon ourselves and out upon the world. It is poetry both reflective and prospective, poetry hanging on the Cross of Reality. 

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.

Eric Clapton, Peyton Manning and Apollo 11

My friend Ashley Beauchamp (who blogs delightfully about fashion here) sent me this video the other day with the comment that Eric Clapton “looks like a mild-mannered accountant who wandered onto stage and decided to shred some guitar.” She’s absolutely right. 

And if that wasn’t an invitation for me to link to my favorite article about football (though not my favorite article about any sport), I don’t know what is. 

After all, it’s the article that says “It’s possible to imagine, say, Ben Roethlisberger, if a night took a weird swerve, actually wielding a torch in anger; Peyton Manning would spend that same night at home, in his sock-folding room, folding his socks.”

It’s the article that says “Manning makes being a midlevel IT manager look like a form of ruthless conquest. It’s as if he wrote a script to install automatic PC updates, and somehow it made him the god-emperor of hell.”

It’s the article that says “He goes out every week with a graphing calculator and a stack of forms, and he just audits teams to death.”

And then, in a final brilliant extended image, it compares Manning to the astronauts who landed on the moon.* Go read it.

Just a link on the Benedict Option

Well…. just a link and a tiny bit of commentary.

I haven’t read the book myself, but I found this review by Brad Littlejohn to be extremely helpful. He outlines the substance of Dreher’s proposal more clearly than I’ve heard it summarized before, and proceeds to what seem like pretty fair critiques of the system.

For example, my second- and third-hand understanding of the Benedict Option made it sound pretty retreatist, but he notes that

Dreher plays down the importance of politics in his book, and indeed has been read as advocating a total Christian withdrawal from politics. This is an unfair assessment; in his lament over the failures and idolatries of Religious Right politics, he says nothing but what many others, including Hunter, have acknowledged, and he is surely right that the Trump phenomenon will either prove a Pyrrhic victory for evangelicals, or, best case, a rearguard action that buys us a brief respite on certain fronts.

(Parenthetically: That “brief respite” is one of the reasons a professor I have come to regard quite highly decided she could not sign the #NeverTrump statement. I would have chosen differently, but I understand why she came to her conclusion)

Just a little later, Brad makes an incredibly salient point that I want to highlight so you don’t miss it:

Faithful Christians in positions of cultural and political influence in the West must work in an environment of growing hostility, and are even beginning to find doors closing in their faces. But most of the doors are still open, and although it may get harder and harder to push through them, Christians still have a duty to serve in these vocations—as lawmakers and lawyers, teachers and writers, police officers and governors, businessmen and philanthropists—as long as they have opportunity to do so.


As bad as things are, and they might be pretty bad, Christians still have lots of opportunities that we should not let slip while we lament how bad things have gotten.



Original source: The Benedict Mandate and the Need for Faithful Presence