Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.
How’s this?” he asked, showing the ad to Charlotte.
It says ‘Crunchy.’ ‘Crunchy’ would be a good word to write in your web.”
Just the wrong idea,” replied Charlotte. “Couldn’t be worse. We don’t want Zuckerman to think Wilbur is crunchy. He might start thinking about crisp, crunchy bacon and tasty ham. That would put ideas into his head. We must advertise Wilbur’s noble qualities, not his tastiness.
When counseling people about to be married, I stress one point in particular: Mind your words. People may forgive spoken cruelties, but they will never forget the sound of your voice saying them. Neither will they forget the sound of you praying for them by name, or praising them to their friends.
“Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.”
~Arthur Miller from Death of a Salesman
Great American playwright Arthur Miller died on this day, February 10th in 2005. His masterwork, Death of a Salesman is the story of Everyman, Willy Loman; a success-obsessed man who eventually loses his job. Afterward, desiring to be supportive, Willy’s son takes him out for an evening. As they prepare to leave, his wife tells their son
“Be kind to your father, son; he is only a little boat looking for a harbor.”
In one masterful sentence, we understand man adrift.
Children are often confronted with harsh realities for which they are inadequately equipped. Innocence is fragile. Some of our earliest memories include bracing traumas of loss, and like every human being, children try to cope. In extreme, some children must face not only the death of a loved one but also their own as terminal disease closes in. They turn to God in their own way and often find Him in simple things, like books and their pets.
Children are inquisitive and insatiable for knowledge. This can be problematic, for it often tilts to trouble as any reader of Mark Twain will attest. We all have childhood stories of ‘that time when’ our appetite for adventure over-exceed good judgement. Fortunately, lucky children also find companions in books with whom they can safely fight pirates and sail starships.
Truth is best understood in progressive revelation, as Emily Dickinson has it:
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
For better or worse, our upbringing begins with indoctrination. We are instructed in absolute by our parents, our teachers, our friends and our preachers. Our worldview is also shaped by professionals of marketing, entertainment, and geopolitics whose success is measured by our behavior. In time, if we are fortunate, we learn that some of what we were taught isn’t true, and that bright moment is when indoctrination begins to yield to education.
Born in Steventon, Hampshire, on this day, December 16th in 1775, Jane Austen entered the world a full month later than her mother “expected.” Her entire family eagerly anticipated her arrival, and from the beginning, Jane enjoyed a close relationship with her father. After his death when Jane was nearly twenty, she wrote these words to her brother Frank:
“His tenderness as a father, who can do justice to?” She called him “an excellent Father” and referred to “the sweet, benevolent smile which always distinguished him.”
Jane’s personal experience of a father surely shaped her understanding of God as a father. She grew up with a loving, attentive father—one who was interested, kind, and present.
It was my great blessing to have had excellent English teachers from seventh grade through college. They each had a gift of teaching, but they each also had a passion for what they were teaching. They took me behind the story so that I could see it was a story, yes, but it was also a lesson about life, an inspiration, a pathway of imagination, a structure through which poured ideas, beliefs, assertions, and principles.
Jonathan Swift (born on this day in 1667) was the author of Gulliver’s Travels. In it he wrote “Undoubtedly, philosophers are in the right when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison.” Expressed a little more crudely, its easy to start believing your own BS. Easy, that is until someone else calls you out. Satire is at once funny and uncomfortable. G.K. Chesterton said “A man is angry at a libel because it is false, but at a satire because it is true.”
Children are often confronted with harsh realities for which they are inadequately equipped. Innocence is fragile. Some of our earliest memories include bracing traumas of loss, and like every human being, children try to cope. They turn to God in their own way and often find Him in His interaction with them through creation. Just as seasons reflect in microcosm the seasons of our lives, our dominion over the animals is a means by which His watch-care over us can be better understood. For children especially, this is high theology. It is also a gateway to the power of literature.
Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.
Chapter Eleven of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of Kindness with examples drawn from George Saunders’ Tenth of December.
As Karen wrote
The connection between kindness and kinship helps make sense of the reason for envy being the vice that opposes kindness. Aquinas calls envy “sorrow for another’s good.” Unless the relationship is marred by some dysfunction, it is natural for us to celebrate a family member’s happiness or success. When something good happens to someone in our family, it is like it has happened to us. We share in that good rather than envy it. To seek and celebrate the good for others is then to treat them as family in this way. This is what it means to be kind.
If kindness is so easy and simple, why is it so lacking around us?