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Volume 10, Issue 3: Meander

Here and There

Douglas Wilson

I am a grandfather now, and decided it was time to begin muttering in my beard, changing subjects abruptly, talking about the old days, and generally scattering about pointed but disjointed cultural observations.


Harold O.J. Brown has written a clearheaded book entitled The Sensate Culture. Following the lead of Pitirim Sorokin, he describes all human cultures as falling into one of three categories—ideational, idealistic, or sensate. The ideational recognizes the truth of heaven as being the only truth. The idealistic receives input from other sources, but still recognizes the supremacy of heaven. The sensate is materialistic, and recognizes no authority above what we feel in our tingly little nerve endings. As Brown ably points out, our culture is an overripe example of the sensate, poised either to lurch into the abyss, or back to one of the other two options. Great book, published by Word.


Speaking of great books, I also highly recommend Commodify Your Dissent, edited by Thomas Frank and someone else whose name escapes me. I loaned the book to someone and can't check. The contributors are a gaggle of leftists, who do a first-rate job dissecting the American commercial passion to shrink-wrap and ship everything. These essays originally appeared in The Baffler, a magazine which is apparently unknown to everybody. When the essays address the corporate packaging and marketing of "cool," which is what they mostly do, the book is wonderfully provocative. However, one essay by Frank, on how the twenty-somethings aren't going to take it anymore, is marvelously bad, mostly because Frank shows in other places that he knows better. There are also some places where that old leftist demon envy mugs it up a little, but he can be readily ignored, and the rest of the book enjoyed. Frank has also written The Conquest of Cool, which is also pretty good.


George Bryson is a very unusual non-Calvinist. He is able to describe the doctrinal position of Calvinism without putting any extra eggs in the pudding. His descriptions are fair and accurate, and he clearly knows his subject. The first portion of the book, the place where he does all this, is very good. The second, where he turns to refutation, falls in another category. The name of this book is The Five Points of Calvinism: Weighed and Found Wanting.


Turning to novels, I can heartily recommend a recent one by Susan Wise Bauer. She teaches at William and Mary, which is fine, and contributes regularly to Christianity Today and Books & Culture, which is a shame. But I suppose someone has to do it. She is also in the final stages of editing an anthology for homeschoolers published by Norton. Oh, right, the book. The name of the novel is Though the Darkness Hide Thee, published by our friends at Multnomah. Thomas Clement, a young pastor, accepts a call with a small country church in rural Virginia. His wife Amanda is from the town originally, and Thomas is in search of roots. The small town has plenty of roots all right, but they are all twisted and bent. In short order a perplexing suicide and murder reveal a true heritage of bitterness. For a Christian to write a novel is difficult enough. Writing a novel in which the main characters are explicitly Christian is even more difficult, at a higher order of magnitude. The ever present danger is that of falling into a paroxysm of cliches, at the end of which seizure everybody gets converted. But Mrs. Bauer has a gift of anticipating literary cliches, and not only avoiding them, but also surprising the reader with how she does it.


Ann Douglas has written a book which shouldn't be out of print, but it is. The Feminization of American Culture explains our history as few other books do. You can probably get hold of this book through using www.bibliofind.com. I recommend reading it together with Murray's Revival and Revivalism, and Greg Singer's Theological Interpretation of American History. If you want to understand your nation, this book is a necessary part of your reading.


One of the best rock albums I have ever heard is called Reconciled by The Call. This was brought to mind recently because I just reordered it on CD. Our family had worn the tape out and then somebody lost it. Upon reading this, one of my family will no doubt produce the tape, but I wanted it digital anyway. Good rock and roll is like haiku. The form is so simple that when it is done right, the impact is profound. When it is not done right, the result is the music of Neil Young.


While we are on the subject of good music, may I also commend St. Matthew's Passion by J.S. Bach? This oratorio is just simply one of the high points of Western culture. Before we all forget what we have in treasures like this, we among the ignorati need to call for some books which provide good musical and textual commentary for such great works.


Since coming to the Reformed faith, I have had my mind changed on so many subjects, I am somewhat cautious about thinking it cannot happen again. But a near universal Reformed practice still bothers me. Could one of our readers be kind enough to point me to a written defense/explanation of the use of the honorific Rev.? Is there one anywhere?

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