Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Crawford Article at Aleteia

Yesterday Aleteia ran an article I wrote on Matthew Crawford. I've written about Crawford at greater length on this blog, here and here. In the article I try to make the case that Crawford's emphasis on getting outside of our heads in order to be genuinely human is really a Catholic one too. Thanks to Aleteia for publishing it, and Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ozick, O'Connor, and What Literature is For

I loved my time in graduate school, but eventually grew weary, as many have, with the political, deconstructionist theory that dominates the academy. As fascinating as Derrida and Foucault and company are at first encounter, they didn't satisfy me in the end because they failed at tending my literary flame, so to speak.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Endless Practice: A Fable of Modern Education

Imagine this: One summer you take your grade-school son to a professional baseball game, and he takes it all in—the sights, sounds, smells of the ballpark. He watches the game intently, standing on his seat when those in front of him rise to see a close play at the plate, trying to make sense of this new, fascinating world called baseball.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Ripatrazone on Writers Who Run

I've linked to Nick Ripatrazone's work before. He's a jack-of-all-trades: a high school teacher, father to young children, fiction writer, and compiler of an interview series with Catholic authors, among other things. In other words, he's my much-more-accomplished doppelganger: he inhabits many of the worlds that I dabble in, and has quickly become one of the preeminent voices at the intersection of faith and fiction.

If our interests and roles couldn't overlap more, I've just discovered that Nick, like me, is a runner. I ran distance in high school and college before settling into an off-again, on-again training schedule. Check out his most recent essay in The Atlantic, "Why Writers Run." Nick's own webpage is here.

My own blogging has been sparse of late, as some additional duties at school have kept me busier than normal. I hope to have a real post up soon!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Article at Aleteia

Aleteia, a Catholic news and spirituality site, is running my piece "Another Reason to Curl Up with a Good Book," which is a shortened version of my post on narratives earlier this month. Thanks to them!

For a more literary spin on the idea of narratives and Christian love, see my thoughts on poet Christian Wiman's spiritual memoir here.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Crawford, Consumerism, and Catholicism: On The World Beyond Your Head

After much anticipation I finally got through Matthew Crawford’s most recent book, The World Beyond Your Head. Earlier this year I posted about an extract I had read from the book in the form of an article in The New Atlantis.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Need for Narrative

A few days ago I was deep in the usual end-of-quarter mire of essays and tests. The first such occasion for feverish grading during the school year brings the sourest batch of stress and despair. At least at the end of the second quarter there is a milestone—halfway!—and mid-year exams signal a leaving-behind, a moving-on to new material. At the end of the third quarter, well, the snow is melting and we see the homestretch, so there is hope beyond the mountain of dried wood pulp. And of course the end of the year brings with it liberation, and grading is almost a joy. But the teacher who assigned too much at the end of the first quarter (and who doesn’t?) knows a darkness that he would not wish on his worst enemy. There’s no sweetness that accompanies the heave-ho of grading then, for with three quarters to go, where is the relief?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Attention and the Unplugged Classroom

In my recent article in America I talked about what Catholic schools are facing as they seek to keep themselves grounded in the teaching example of Christ while best utilizing the technology of our times. Though I tried to focus my article in the reality of the classroom (as opposed to politics and boards-of-education) I purposefully didn’t make practical suggestions as to specific guidelines that Catholic schools should adopt concerning the student use of things like iPads, tablets, smartphones, and laptops.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Writing the College Essay

In a bit of a departure from my recent subject matter here,  I wanted to say a few words about something neither specifically Catholic nor involving the reading of literature, and that is: essay writing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Marilynne Robinson's Religious Imagination, Part 3: Lila

My posts on Marilynne Robinson’s spiritual vision have focused, primarily, on the relationship of human love and divine love in her stories. In other words, I’ve been interested in how nature interacts with grace in the lives of the Ames and Boughton families. More so than Gilead and Home, Lila deals directly with the differences between the natural and supernatural, between the ebb and flow of the physical world and the formulas of organized religion.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Article in America

The Jesuit magazine America has gone live with their fall education issue, which includes my article on the goals of a Catholic education with regard to the use of technology. It's an article that emerged from my series of posts, earlier this year, on the topic (here, here, and here). Thanks to them for publishing it, and I hope it will generate conversations about how to approach the issue, about how Catholic schools can stand out.

The article does stake out some first principles in terms of using tech in a Catholic school, but I did not really get into practical steps or lay out how exactly, while not ignoring the benefits of personal technology, Catholic classrooms can keep personal relationships at the center of their activities. Understandably, this will differ from grade to grade and school to school... I would love to hear some suggestions and experiences from everyone out there.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Marilynne Robinson's Religious Imagination, Part 2: Home

At the end of my post on Gilead, I wondered if Marilynne Robinson, in focusing on the human aspects of divine love in her fiction—tenderness, compassion, etc.—somehow diminishes grace by equating it with human emotion or feeling. The second book in her trilogy, Home, told from the perspective of Glory, the daughter of Rev. Boughton and sister of the prodigal son Jack, draws us closer to an answer.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Marilynne Robinson's Religious Imagination, Part 1: Gilead

After hearing so many good things about Marilynne Robinson’s work, both from media outlets and from literary friends, I’ve decided to complete her trilogy, which includes Gilead, Home, and the recently published Lila. Almost universally lauded with breathless reviews that draw attention to her lucid, beautiful prose, Robinson is the only living fiction writer I can think of who writes from an admittedly religious perspective and who is on the receiving end of gushing adulation from the MFA-cum-New York literati.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Weekend Reads and Thoughts: July 10

Confessions of a Catholic Novelist
by William Giraldi, The New Republic

Giraldi, whose fiction I admire and whom I've written about before, tries to flee the attempts by some critics, such as D.G. Myers at Books and Culture, to label him a Catholic writer. Giraldi's defense seems hopelessly mired in the understanding of Catholic art as pious kitsch, which is mind-boggling to me, because his fiction clearly (to me, at least) carries on in the vein of the greatest Catholic writers--Hopkins, O'Connor, Dante, etc. An interesting read nonetheless. I'm working on a longer response to his essay.

An Interview with Christian Wiman: Being Prepared for Joy
by Anthony Domestico, Commonweal

A great interview from last year with the poet Wiman, whose My Bright Abyss I recently wrote about. Wiman speaks directly about his book, and shares his thoughts on Catholic versus Protestant art, and many others. Highly recommended.

Why College Kids are Avoiding the Study of Literature
by Gary Saul Morson, Commentary

A long-ish read about the failure of literature classes, at the secondary and collegiate levels. I've read many articles that rightly critique current pedagogy in literature classrooms; this one does the best job of any I've read of identifying the solution. Morson's point is that a work of literature is not primarily an informational text (as the Common Core would have it) nor is it primarily a gateway into ideology (as most college classes present it) but instead a world to be entered. The most important thing about teaching literature is the students' experience of reading itself, which he associates with cultivating a sense of empathy in the reader. The encounter between reader and text is the point of a literature class, and Morson realizes the importance of devoting class time to the often laborious but irreplaceable process of reading long passages, to show students how to "inhabit the author's world." I couldn't agree more.

How Corporate America Propelled Same-Sex Marriage
by Emily Cadei, Newsweek

A more benign take on corporate involvement in social issues than that of Patrick Deneen in the last issue of First Things. Cadei buys the narrative that the CEOs are selling--that companies really do care about issues such as same-sex marriage--rather than see the trend as simply the latest frontier in marketing, as a way for corporations to maintain the bottom line. That is not to say that Cadei's piece is a shill for big business, but it's not far off, humming with a kind of positive energy. I can't imagine that it would have the same tone, say, if corporate involvement had taken a rightward turn instead of leftward--that is, if the situation was different and polling data suggested that that course of action would be more profitable. Then, all of this would surely be a guise for making money, not genuine concern for social issues.

Where have all the good Marxists gone? Corporations are only ever concerned with making money, and whenever they weigh in on political or social matters, it's only to maximize profits, whatever they tell us. If people who opposed same-sex marriage suddenly stopped shopping at Walmart (I'd imagine this would be more than half of Walmart's customers), do you really think Walmart would continue its public support of it? Of course not. Wherever one stands on the ideological spectrum, whether one supports or opposes same-sex marriage, the fact that corporate culture has become so embedded in political and social issues should be deeply concerning. For sure, Huxley and Orwell are spinning in their graves.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Limits of Modern Poetry and the Spiritual Search: On Christian Wiman's My Bright Abyss

America is not a land brimming with prominent Christian spiritual autobiographers. Thomas Merton comes to mind, as does Dorothy Day and, more recently, Kathleen Norris. But we don’t have our Lewis and Chesterton, our Teresa of Avila or Augustine of Hippo. And so it was with great anticipation that I read My Bright Abyss, the much-lauded meditation on faith and suffering by Christian Wiman, former editor of Poetry magazine and one of America’s most respected poets. Published two years ago, Wiman’s book is a collection of his reflections written in the years since his diagnosis with a rare form of cancer, a time period during which Wiman has also returned to Christianity. Critics compared it favorably to A Grief Observed and Seven Storey Mountain, and hailed it as an instant classic.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Thoughts on Matthew Crawford's Latest in The New Atlantis

Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft, published in 2009 to wide acclaim, made the case for the value of manual labor, for work done by the likes of repairmen, builders, and mechanics. Crawford wrote from a unique position: he holds a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Chicago, and also is a working motorcycle mechanic. In other words, his own experience bridged two distinct worlds, worlds that usually have nothing to say to each other—that of abstract thought and physical work.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday, May 8, 2015

St. Midas' Prep: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Catholic Schools, and the Culture of Achievement

Commencement season is upon us, and as students from Catholic high schools file across auditorium stages and out into the world, can we say that they view the world in a different way than if they had not attended a Catholic school? And if we can, in what way is their viewpoint unique? In going about the business of preparing our students to enter a world where success is measured by dollars earned and accolades garnered, how do we prepare them differently than our public or private counterparts?

Friday, May 1, 2015

"How to Think Like Huck Finn" at Millennial

Millennial Journal, which ran my piece on textbooks a few months back, has graciously published "How to Think Like Huck Finn," a longer version of one of my posts from earlier this year. Thanks to them and check out their excellent site!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Weekend Reads: April 24--Pope Francis

I'm still deep in a thicket of 10-page papers but hope to have a new post up shortly. In the meantime, for reading material, I'll direct your attention to the spate of recent  commentary on Pope Francis by some major American secular magazines. The first piece is by Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, which ran as the cover story of The New Republic a short while ago. The next is Ross Douthat's new article in The Atlantic, and finally, I've included a blog response to Douthat by one of my favorite commentators, Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter.

I admire Stoker Bruenig's writing and intelligence, but her piece on Francis comes off as reductive. Essentially, she takes the reactions of a few prominent American Catholic conservatives and lets them stand for the entirety of traditional or orthodox Catholics. The entire essay reeks of  the mantra of graduate school ("liberals good... conservatives bad") that I remember all too well.  Douthat, whom Bruenig attacks and lumps (unfairly, I'd argue) with neoconservatives such as Michael Novak and George Weigel, writes a better piece, which is essentially a longer, more eloquently expressed and nuanced version of an op-ed he wrote for the New York Times a few months ago. With his talk of schism, though, Douthat still leans a little reactionary for me. I plan to attend a conference in June at the Portsmouth Abbey school where Bruenig and Douthat will both be speaking on Francis... will be interesting, to say the least.

In other news, in the near future America Magazine will be running an article I've written on Catholic schools and technology, essentially a more complete version of my three posts (see here, here, and here) from earlier this year. I will post a link when the article goes live.

Fear of a Radical Pope
by Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, The New Republic

Will Pope Francis Break the Church?
by Ross Douthat, The Atlantic

Michael Sean Winters' Response to Douthat
National Catholic Reporter

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Weekend reads: April 17

A Thousand Hands Will Grasp You with Warm Desire: On the Persistence of Physical Books
by Alix Christie, The Millions

Why Writers Love to Hate the MFA
by Cecilia Capuzzi Simon, The New York Times

The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama
by Ross Douthat, The Imaginative Conservative

Philosophy Returns to the Real World
by Christian Sartwell, The New York Times

and just because baseball is starting up again:

Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu
by John Updike, The New Yorker (1960)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Weekend Reads: April 10

Stacks of 10-page papers and a newborn daughter have stolen my writing time lately, and probably will for the next few weeks. That gives me a good excuse to link to a few articles that caught my interest lately. I'm hoping to make this posting a weekly occurrence, and use the blog not only for my writing but to share some of the things I've been reading. 

by Michael Bourne, The Millions

by Michael S. Roth, The Chronicle of Higher Education

Literary critic James Wood: ‘I’m taking a religious view of an earthly form’
by Peter Conrad, The Guardian

by Ross Douthat, The New York Times

by Michael Godsey, The Atlantic

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Proper English Empowers: A Response to Oliver Kamm

In his recent Wall Street Journal article “There is No Proper English,” British writer Oliver Kamm calls out grammar sticklers everywhere who would forbid poor souls from splitting their infinitives or using phrases like “between you and I.” He rails against “pedants” who believe that grammatical rules are like life rafts in the shipwreck of the English language, and that ending a sentence with a preposition is all that is needed to send the mother tongue to her watery grave. Language is what we make of it, Kamm argues: “If it is in general use, then that is what the language is.”

Friday, March 6, 2015

"Beyond Textbooks" at Millennial

Millennial, an online journal that highlights the ideas of young-ish Catholics (i.e. "millennials"), has been kind enough to publish my article "Beyond Textbooks: Awakening Students to the Transcendent." It's sort of a composite of some of my blog posts from the fall concerning textbooks and the need for a sense of mystery in the study of literature. Check out the site if you have a minute--it's an excellent collection of young Catholic voices from all different areas.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Reading Merton and Dante

Lent is a great time to read Dante. Against the backdrop of dust and detachment, the Inferno acquires a resonance it otherwise would not have, its tortures and punishments a little more relevant during our pre-Easter introspection. I’m reading it now with my senior classes, progressing slowly from Canto 1 to 34. It’s going slowly, as it should—we probably won’t finish until the end of March.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Reading for Lent

I'm not one to post a link for the sake of posting a link, but I couldn't pass up this excellent and lengthy "listicle" at The Millions by Catholic English teacher and writer Nick Ripatrazone. I have not read much of Ripatrazone's fiction (it's on my own to-read list) but I've become familiar with his work from The Millions and from his trove of interviews with Catholic writers. Like me, he teaches all day and comes home to a young family, but somehow finds time to be a staff writer for a prominent website and publish a few books. Yikes! His list is impressive, to say the least. I hope to keep coming back to it over the next 40 days.

No better way to celebrate Ash Wednesday than by turning to old Thomas Stearns!

Monday, February 16, 2015

How to Think Like Huck Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn often gets lumped with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a middle-school book, a 19th-century young-adult novel. After all, the two books share a central cast of characters and concern themselves with the often miscreant adventures of pre-teen boys. Yet Huckleberry Finn is a much more serious book, and it has come to occupy a central position in the American canon in a way that Tom Sawyer never could. Twain’s aspirations are different in his later book, essentially a coming-of-age story, a bildungsroman.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Screens and Sacraments: A Pedagogy of Presence

In my last two posts I addressed need for educators to think more seriously about the ways that our students use personal technology in the classroom. The real issue, as I tried to make clear, is that the devices so many students use to read and take notes also give them access to the internet, and thus endless distraction. What should we do? How can schools, especially Catholic schools, maintain the integrity of the classroom, while acknowledging the great tool that technology can be?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Screens and Sacraments: What's at Stake

In my last post I introduced the topic of technology in the classroom and griped a bit about my difficulty in enforcing boundaries on students’ use of personal devices. Now I hope to outline a few points that will better clarify what concerns me about technology use and what doesn’t, and just exactly what’s at stake with this issue.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Screens and Sacraments: A Prologue

            As schools everywhere prepare to begin a new semester, it’s a perfect time for teachers to take stock of the year, re-evaluate their goals, and, if needed, try to start over.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Year in Reading #3: Mariette in Ecstasy


           The third and last book in my 2014 reading I’ll talk about is Mariette in Ecstasy, a 1991 novel written by Ron Hansen, professor, author, essayist, and R.C. deacon. Hansen is perhaps best known for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and his collection of essays A Stay Against Confusion is among my favorite writing on literature and religion. I’d been meaning to read his short novel for a long time, and I finally got the chance over the summer.