What we're reading (February edition)...

We're back with another new edition of "What we're reading..." In this monthly blog feature, we share news, articles and other items that we've lately found to be interesting, inspiring, or otherwise thought-provoking.

For February, we take a look at how to read a book, writing - by hand!, faith and the development of culture, classical music and its impact, raft building & the great conversation, as well as a hymn reflection as we transition into the Lenten season.

What's on your reading list right now? Please share as we are always on the look out for new things to read that spark our imagination, educate or inform!

The most useful book you could read in 2018 isn’t about contemporary politics, or socio-cultural trends, or even about God. It’s not on the New York Times best-seller list — as far as I can tell, it has never been on the best-seller list. It wasn’t written by one of those famous names of Western civilization, someone you might recognize from some high-school or college English class.

For anyone interested in improving his ability to read and debate, Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren’s “How to Read a Book,” originally published in 1940 solely under Adler’s name, is the surest, most faithful guide. You can get it on numerous online stores for less than $10, making it one of the most affordable long-term investments on the market. Here’s why: in less than 350 pages, Adler and Van Doren (hereafter just Adler, since he was the original author) will more than likely transform the way you read and argue.
— Casey Chalk, "Why This Classic 'Guide To Intelligent Reading' Should Be On Your Book List

If you teach high school or college students, or have kids who are passing through those ­places, and if your duties include grading papers, or you watch your kids struggle with writing assignments, I have a piece of advice. Tell them to try composing by hand, with pen and paper, not on the keyboard.
So where are we now? Worse off than we were before. Students write faster with keyboard and mouse, but would anybody say that student writing has improved in the last three decades? Certainly the test scores say no. The SAT added a writing component in 2005, and scores have gone down every year except two of them, when they were flat. The ACT college readiness scores in English have dropped six points in the last five years (67 percent of test takers reaching readiness in 2012, 61 percent in 2016). With all the tools available to amend grammar and usage and spelling, twenty-first-­century students aren’t gaining. They are writing more words than ever before, yes, because of social media, but more hasn’t meant better.

That’s because they’re doing more with the wrong tool. The keyboard isn’t an advance on the pen. It’s a step sideways, if not backward.
— Mark Bauerlein, "Phenomenology of the Hand"

As thinkers including Russell Kirk have famously noted, culture itself arises largely from religious ideas and practices. For a thing called a culture to exist, its participants must have some kind of understood social order that “has a purchase on us,” Kalthoff says, some transcendent truths the people hold in common. These truths are almost universally religious in nature, as they must be accepted on faith rather than demonstrated through scientific proofs. Kalthoff outlines four key beliefs about the Hebrew deity crucial to creating the West: God is one, not many; he is transcendent, not a part of this world; he is sovereign; and he is good.

From these abstract religious concepts have developed a variety of practical and political arrangements now inside the air we breathe. The idea of God’s transcendence, for example, establishes a higher law applicable to all men equally, even those who rule. This was a particularly unusual idea among peoples at the time, whose rulers tended more toward tyranny, in which the king or tribal leader was sovereign and those under him essentially serfs.
— Joy Pullman, "How the Ancient Hebrews' Deep Faith Affected the West's Cultural Development"

Can a daily dose of classical music change your life? It sounds like an impossibly grand claim, but in my case, the answer has been a resounding yes. And January — so often a miserable month of discarded resolutions, debts and diets — is arguably the perfect time to dive in to a new sonic soundscape in all its rich, diverse wonder.

We are a music-making species — always have been, always will be. We are also a music-exchanging species: long before lovesick teenagers started curating mixtapes for each other, or digital streaming services enabled us to swap favourite tracks, we were communicating and connecting through music. We evolved as humans by coming together around the fire after a long day’s hunter-gathering, singing songs and telling stories through song. That’s what our ancestors did; that’s how they made sense of the world; that’s how they learned how to be.
— Clemency Burton-Hill, "Can Listening to Classical Music Improve Your Life?"

In his wonderful book An Experiment in Criticism, C. S. Lewis says that this is one of the great powers of literature: the ability to multiply our experience, to draw us into foreign worlds and allow us to experience them from the safety of our own. “My own eyes are not enough for me,” Lewis says. “I will see through those of others.” I would not have put it in those words as a boy, but I remember feeling that hunger for a broader experience.
— Adam Andrews, "Raft Building and the Great Conversation"

As I reflect on the end of the Epiphany season and the beginning of Lent, I like to turn to the hymn that transitions us from one to the other on Transfiguration Sunday: “Alleluia, Song of Gladness” (LSB 417). The early Latin text adequately conveys tension between life here on earth and the eternal joy we look forward to in heaven.

“Alleluia, Song of Gladness” addresses the hope that we have through Jesus’ death and resurrection, hope that we will participate in the joyous music of heaven. The text of the hymn uses words such as song, anthem, choirs, and sing. These words point to the importance of music in expressing our joy through Christ.
— Marie Landskroener, "Reflection on "Alleluia, Song of Gladness"