Good Stuff I’m Reading 6.30

This NYT bio of Josh Brolin reminds me of why I like reading about famous people before they were successful. It’s encouraging to hear how much someone can struggle to make it at doing the thing that they were so obviously meant to do. It’s a detailed, honest, and affectionate piece, with beautiful lines like “Mr. Brolin is a Minecraft character of a man.”

This psychology professor’s take on the roots of today’s increase in suicide pulls together a lot of different threads: Increased awareness of mental health, fragmented relationships, technology, declining religious institutions, increased political hostility. I think it’s easy to set up just one of these in isolation, so it’s helpful to be reminded of unhealthy living is a compounding problem.

If you’re not following John Fea’s attempts to explain American evangelicalism, both to itself and to outsiders, you should be. This article traces the theme of fear through the broad history of evangelicalism in American history, and shows ways that evangelicals have made horrible mistakes through fear, as well as, sometimes, triumphed over it through faith.

This article isn’t the first, or the last, to raise questions about how we should go about marketing the humanities. It makes the case that humanities shouldn’t be marketed as a sort of means-to-an-end, like better GRE scores or a sure path to a law degree. On the one hand, I absolutely believe that education is about more than job prep: Humanities classes, books, and professors are where I really learned to listen to the other side, see the limitations of my own view, and appreciate ways that my own historical moment is an anomaly. On the other hand, it seems really dumb to ask students to spend $60,000 per year and not provide some sort of concrete way for them to translate their education into a job at the end. Some people (such as John Fea on his podcast, I believe) have advocated trying to reach more students with humanities-oriented minors, without asking them to change majors. But I think there’s also a very real sense in which the kind of education-of-the-whole-person does not actually depend on being in an academic context. Just based on my personal experience, I’ve learned lots more about history in my year since graduating undergrad, just by listening to podcasts, watching documentaries, and talking through articles and research with the historian I’m married to.

I really admire Josh Chatraw for the good work he’s done at Liberty University’s center for apologetics and cultural engagement: He brought a ton of great speakers to campus at a time when a lot of them were actively criticizing what the administration was doing. This article, a snapshot of his upcoming book, reframes the mission and methods of Christian apologetics, particularly by drawing on the work of James K. A. Smith and Charles Taylor. In undergrad, I grew disillusioned with the “we’re going to win the culture wars if our logic is good enough,” so I really appreciate this approach which starts first with calling the church to “live out an apologetic that undermines misconceptions of Christianity and embodies a more compelling and beatific vision of life.”

I love yoga, and I love this beautifully-written piece about how the daily practice of yoga can be life-giving. Our habits are connected to memory and our spiritual history.

This piece on Angels in America from electric literature is a beautiful reflection on what happens when you read a work of literature so often that it becomes part of your childhood, speech patterns, and identity. He also absolutely nails the experience of sharing a precious work of art with a loved one, and how awkward it is. I just also love this description of formative re-reading: “I understand this is basically analogous to how a devout Christian person might form a relationship with their Bible.”

Articles like this blog post on the benefits of using independent microblogging platforms almost tempt me to get off of social media. I know Alan Jacobs has moved to this platform as well, because it does not rely on sketchy algorithms, and allows you to collate all of your content in one place. However, I don’t think that I can, because for me social media is more than a platform for ‘getting my content out there’ — I actually want to see posts by other people and have an easy way to interact with them. So, while I’m tempted, I’m not making any changes any time soon.

Alissa Wilkinson has given us a lovely piece on this whole David Lynch/Donald Trump kerfluffle, which just one more news story that sounds absolutely made up. This lifting of self-aggrandizing quotes with no regard for context is something that would never fly in a basic writing class, and it’s wild to see it done by top leaders. As an added bonus, this article links to David Foster Wallace’s essay on David Lynch, which is, as always, bizarre and brilliant.

Dr. Barr is an amazing, compassionate graduate program director at Baylor’s history department, and this was the perfect article to read when I was feeling overwhelmed by this summer. I’ve never heard someone talk about failure as it relates to grad school. She has really great practical advice for how to cultivate this attitude, like being okay with not knowing everything, or feeling like a failure sometimes. The last bit of the article is really what has the potential to be most life-changing, though. I’ve heard lots of people talk about the importance of doing other things with your life besides school, like exercising or picking up a creative hobby. But here, she specifically recommends investing in a church community: building relationships, mentoring teenagers, and knowing people who are going through more struggles.

It’s wild to see Buzzfeed doing some serious journalism, but that’s exactly what this is. In the wake of a few viral stories about white neighbors unnecessarily calling cops on their neighbors of color, Buzzfeed went and crunched the numbers for a few different blocks in Harlem that have experienced gentrification in the past few years. I’m so fascinated with all of the data they looked at, and I really appreciate that one of their final thoughts was the importance of building relationships with neighbors and just talking to them.



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