I've seen a lot of references to the French writer-philosopher Jacques Barzun lately in books of conservative thought, and I finally decided to check out a book of his essays, The Culture We Deserve, to see what he's made of. This was a quote from an essay titled "Exeunt the Humanities." It deals with something I see more and more of these days -- people devoting enormous amounts of time becoming almost obsessive experts on narrow little topics and hobbies, while remaining ignorant of a lot of seemingly "big picture" things in the world around them.
"The danger is that we shall become a nation of pedants. I use the word literally and democratically to refer to the millions of people who are moved by a certain kind of passion in their pastimes as well as in their vocations. In both parts of their lives this passion comes out in shoptalk. I have in mind both the bird watchers and nature lovers: the young people who collect records and follow the lives of pop singers and movie stars; I mean the sort of knowledge possessed by "buffs" and "fans" of all species -- the baseball addicts and opera goers, the devotees of railroad trains and the collectors of objects, from first editions to netsuke. They are pedants not just because they know and recite an enormous quantity of facts -- if a school required them to learn as much they would scream against tyranny. It is not the extent of their information that appalls; it is the absence of any reflection upon it, any sense of relation between it and them and the world. Nothing is brought in from outside for contrast or comparison; no perspective is gained from the top of their monstrous factual pile; no generalities emerge to lighten the sameness of their endeavor."
If I am in danger of becoming one such obsessive pedant, it might be due to buying and collecting far too many old books. Here's another (more positive) way I found to look at my bibliophilia.
"Collecting books is like collecting other people's minds, like having people on the shelves -- only, you can just put them away when you want to."
There's probably as many definitions of creativity as there are people who claim to have that elusive gift in spades. Here's one description of what a creative person should look like that I found interesting.
"Creative people: 1, have their energy field accessible; 2, have the ability to tap and release unconscious and preconscious thought; 3, are able to withstand being thought of as abnormal or eccentric; 4, are more sensitive; 5, have a richer fantasy life and greater involvement in daydreaming; 6, are enthusiastic and impulsive; 7, show signs of synaesthesia (e.g., tasting color, seeing sound, hearing smells, etc.); 8, show different brain wave patterns than the less creative, especially during creative activity; 9, when confronted with novelty of design, music, or ideas, they get excitied and involved (less creative people get suspicious and hostile); 10, when given a new solution to a problem, they get enthused, suggest other ideas, overlook details and problems (less creative students analyze the defects rather than explore potentials."
--E. Paul Torrence and Laura K. Hall, Journal of Creative Behavior, 1980.
I must admit that in my focused daily trek to check off my "to do" list, too often I end up walking with my eyes watching my feet, intent on getting from point A to point B, and fail to see the divine light Thomas Merton talks about here.
"Life is this simple: we are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time. This is not just a fable or a nice story. It is true. If we abandon ourselves to God and forget ourselves, we see it sometimes, and we see it maybe frequently. God shows Himself everywhere, in everything -- in people and in things and in nature and in events...we cannot be without Him. It's impossible. The only thing is, we don't see it."
--Thomas Merton, 20th century Catholic monk
Besides not making enough time for God, I find it difficult to make as much time as I'd like to spend enriching my mind. As I plan to cut my overgrown back yard this week, I ponder this quote and wonder if its author managed to sell it to his wife.
"A man who wants time to read and write must let the grass grow long."
Maybe all I really need to do is listen to this next bit of wisdom.
"I think people don't place a high enough value on how much they are nurtured by doing whatever it is that totally absorbs them."
--Jean Shinoda Bolen
I love the NIV translation of the Bible, but I've recently done a little reading in the English Standard Version (ESV) translation, and have become a fan of some of its simple but eloquent prose. Here's a familiar verse in the ESV that I think sums up a Christian's marching orders quite well.
"Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life."
--Philippians 2:14-16 (ESV)
This is one of the best definitions of faith I've come across.
"Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation."
--Elton Trueblood, Puritan minister
Now for some fun quotes to wrap things up. First, who do you think was the most famous person in this encounter?
"I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph."
Have you read or heard anything about Joe Simpson, the stage father of singer Jessica Simpson? Some people have said Jessica's dad is downright creepy, and this quote from Dad about his famous daughter's...um, assets...might be one reason they think that.
"She just is sexy. If you put her in a T-shirt or you put her in a bustier, she's sexy in both. She's got double D's! You can't cover those suckers up!"
--Joe Simpson, on daughter Jessica
Finally, you might not know that when country singer Willie Nelson was starting his career in the 1950s, he worked for a time as a country DJ at station KCNC in Fort Worth. Here's how Willie opened his radio show back then. I wish I could have heard this live coming over the car speakers at the drive-in.
"This is your ol' cotton pickin', snuff dippin', tobacco chewin', coffee pot dodgin', dumplin' eatin', frog giggin' hillbilly."