Fall 2018 Pull Questions

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

The Messenger, by Matthew Jordan

The Torrey Honors Institute by no means encourages mastery of a book. While this outlook on reading can be comforting, it can also lead to a sort of perpetual sluggishness that would make my college life a post-lunch stroll. The youth, I believe, takes a bit too much pleasure in saying: “Well, I read the book and that’s how it is. All memories and annotations are paused eternally between the front and back cover.” This is where the pull question comes in. I think the name of the question is fitting- it’s an uncomfortable name for an uncomfortble activity. The pull question is defined in the syllabus as such:

“While much of your Torrey work (reading, session, and notebook) is primarily exploratory and expansive, Pull Questions are a key opportunity for you to tie down your opinions and practice the craft of writing. Tutors ask Pull Questions at the end of every session, and their questions are writing prompts that help you pull together your thoughts from the book and session. Your semester’s detailed reading list tells you the exact Pull Question requirement, usually one per book.

Pull Questions are written responses to the tutor’s prompt, typically 300-600 words. You should answer the question well, with an eye to the book that prompted the inquiry.”

( http://academics.biola.edu/torrey/academics/syllabus/writing/#pq )

Pull questions help the student to pull their thoughts and experiences from the book together into one page. Some look like a session reflection while others are the student’s chance to talk about something he thinks was skipped over. Regardless, it is an uncomfortable activity for those who find writing uncomfortable. I count myself in that group. You may, then, ask why I am writing this. If you asked me that, I could not give you a good answer. I guess it depends on the day.

I’ve included a list of the questions I answered this semester because I am proud of them. However, I feel that including all of the questions as well as their 400 word answers would make the post far too long. If you find one of the questions particularly interesting, I would be happy to email it to you.

  • Homer’s Iliad: What is it about getting what he wants that teaches Achilles to respond differently to Priam (than Agamemnon did to Chryses)?
  • Homer’s Odyssey: Is home completely a place of truth-telling?
  • Sophocles, Antigone: Why is it important that Antigone is a woman?
  • Sophocles, Oedipus the King: Is there self-knowledge you don’t want?
  • Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War: What is Thucydides’ view of Justice?
  • Plato, Meno: Does Socrates have a method? If so, how does he use it?
  • Plato, Symposium: How do the first five speeches prepare the way for Socrates?
  • Plato, Republic: Would the gods favor a just man or an unjust man who gave good sacrifices?
  • Euripides, Bacchae: Would Dionysus contest any of Plato’s images of the order of the soul?
  • Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics: Pick out a habit that it would be good for a college freshman to put into practice. Do this for 21 days. What virtue is that habit tied to?
  • Genesis: What are the similarities between the story of the garden and the tower of Babel and how does this shed light on the problem Adam and Eve create?
  • Exodus: From who and with what are the Israelites purchased?
  • Leviticus: What is the significance of understanding that rescue precedes commandments and how does that help you understand the law?
  • Numbers: How do you remember God’s holiness in your own life today (given God’s frightening holiness in Numbers)?
  • Deuteronomy: Why does the promised land carry a blessing and a curse?
  • Joshua: What is the significance of the monuments in Joshua? Do we have similar things in modern evangelical life? Should we?
  • Hebrews: For the rest of the day, practice God’s presence and see if that makes a difference in how you approach potential times of suffering.
Advertisements

On Monastic Spirituality

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Pew in the Old Town Albuquerque Chapel, By Matthew Jordan

Last week, I attended a special lecture on monastic spirituality at Biola University put on by the Torrey Honors Institute. I believe that being a nondenominational evangelical is not an excuse for being ignorant of other denominations and traditions, so I naturally went to the lecture.

The lecture was given from a monk known as father Luke on the topic of western Benedictine monasticism. I thought I would transfer a few of my lecture notes to this post that stood out to me:

  • Monks find God every day through prayer, loving ones neighbor, reading the Bible, and living in the best way for them.
  • The book of Psalms is the foundation for monastic prayer. The psalms (and hence the Psalter) contain(s) a complete range of every human emotion. Prayer of these reflects the human soul.
  • Benedictine monks practice silence between around the hours of 8:30 PM to 8:30 AM. The world is afraid of silence because silence acquaints you with the unresolved things in life.  The benefit of this is that while the silence shows you the intricacies and shortcomings of yourself, the Psalms then help you cry out to God based on your inadequacies and praises.
  • Monks fulfill the great commission primarily by inviting people into the monastery and praying with them, rather than going out into the world.
  • Monks only have permission to become hermits after years and years of living in community with other monks.
  • There’s a mean between multiplicity and simplicity as a way to encounter symbols and music.
  • Prayer is just as important as any other vocation and it would be a full life if all you did is prayed.
  • There is a five year period of waiting before you can commit to the benedictine monastery for life.
  • Father Luke described knowing he was ready to join the monastery by falling in love with the lifestyle of monasticism as one falls in love with another.
  • The monastic life is not “higher” than other calls except in bearing witness to Christ. However, even this vocation ends in death. At the end of the day, marriage is a sacrament while monasticism is not.

Since I think that there is no perfect denomination or tradition, it is good for all believers to spend extra effort loving their neighbors who keep the faith in different ways. I was encouraged by this lecture because I did not feel any “less Christian” around the monk. When one truly loves others, I think the effect one gives other believers will be the same.

Diotima’s Ladder and the Scala Amoris

 

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Serpentine Ladder of Stone, Hermosa Beach by Matthew Jordan

I’d like to talk about Diotima’s ladder and the Scala amoris. So naturally, I’ll begin by talking about Veggie Tales. My appreciation for film, which has always waxed and waned, may have culminated years ago in The Big River Rescue, a veggie tales classic. From the ages of 10 to 13, I loved the story, the smooth animations, and the good messages that the film conveyed. Due to the fact that it was the only DVD we had in the car for many a road trip, my sister and I watched it so frequently that we could act out the dialogue from memory. It took me years to realize that this episode did not stand alone. In fact, The Big River Rescue was almost the same story as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, right down to the names of the main characters- Huckleberry Larry and Tomato Sawyer.

Reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in high school gave me a new appreciation for the story as well as the satisfaction in knowing I had read the original. Veggie tales Christianized, or baptized the Mark Twain classic in order to convey a certain idea, namely that not helping somebody is the same as not hurting somebody. But let it not be said that there was no wisdom or morality to be learned from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The original story had very real and revolutionary ideas about youth, race, humor, and neighborliness that impacted American society for good after the book was released. The relation between Diotima’s ladder and the scala amoris is similar to the relation between The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Big River Rescue. 

Having gone to a classical Christian high school, I have become acquainted with the idea of the scala amoris in literature class. This is a foundational belief of Christians with regards to love and beauty. I became acquainted with this concept in my reading of the divine comedy- I’ve only read The Inferno but hopefully you will keep reading if I promise that I’ll read it soon. The entire divine comedy is on my school reading list so I don’t really have the choice but to read the whole thing.

Scala amoris translates roughly to “the scale, or ladder of love”. In the divine comedy, Dante poetically displays this scale of love in the example of the pilgrim. Before the narrative of the divine comedy begins, Dante himself encountered a beautiful girl by the name of Beatrice, who secures a significant role in Dante’s writings because of her beauty and importance to him. In his trip through hades and purgatory on his way to paradise, Dante is drawn upward by prospect of being with Beatrice while not that alone. This is because she is not the ultimate object of his affection- she is a window through which he can view God in all His glory. By loving her, Dante is drawn closer to paradise and all the while, his ability to love is being made purer. His love for a physical object (Beatrice) directs his love towards God. The disordered form of this is when the pilgrim is fixated on a beautiful individual to the extent that they see physical beauty as the highest kind of beauty and not as an intermediate beauty. In the image that the Italian supplies, the pilgrim scales the ladder while it is clear that the ladder is not the end of the effort. What the ladder is leaning on is the telos of the scaling and that is God.

This idea was very formational for me, so you might imagine my surprise when I found almost the same idea in Plato’s Symposium a couple of weeks ago! To give a bit of context, the Symposium could be described as a collection of speeches in praise of the god of love, Eros, which take place at a party. Out of the six that give speeches about Love Socrates is the last to speak. In his speech about Love, Socrates recalls a conversation he had with a wise woman named Diotima. She attaches the act of loving to wanting to possess the good forever. To do so, humans must give birth as well as seek the good- because we’re mortals and because we are not good people from the womb. The steps she gives, as related by Socrates, are as follows:

     “A lover who goes about this matter correctly must begin in his youth to devote himself to beautiful bodies. First, if the leader leads aright, he should love one body and beget beautiful ideas there; then he should realize that the beauty of any one body is brother to the beauty of any other and that if he is to pursue the beauty of form he’d be very foolish not to think that the beauty of all bodies is one and the same. When he grasps this, he must become a lover of all beautiful bodies, and he must think that this wild gaping after just one body is just a small thing and despise it.

After this he must think that the beauty of people’s souls is more valuable than the beauty of their bodies, so that if someone is decent in his soul, even though he is scarcely blooming in his body, our lover must be content to love and care for him and to seek to give birth to such ideas as will make young men better. The result is that our lover will be forced to gaze at the beauty of activities and laws and to see that all this is akin to itself, with the result that he will think that the beauty of bodies is a thing of no importance. After customs he must move on to various kinds of knowledge. The result is that he will see the beauty of knowledge and be looking mainly not at beauty in a single example. . . but the lover is turned to the great sea of beauty, and, gazing upon this, he gives birth to many gloriously beautiful ideas and theories, in insinuating love of wisdom, until, having grown and been strengthened there, he catches sight of such knowledge, and it is the knowledge of such beauty. . . (Plato: Complete WorksSymposium, 210a-e)”

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Big River Rescue both had a wealth of wisdom, but while they covered almost the same material, the reader or viewer is impacted in different ways. The same is true for Diotima’s ladder and the scala amoris. I’ll offer the opinion that neither should be read alone. There’s a sense to which Plato’s Symposium and the divine comedy are in conversation with each other. The ladder of love is a reality, but there are different ideas about what desiring to possess the good forever looks like.

Both texts recognize that love is the desire to possess the good forever, though in the Symposium, the good is not characterized in the being of God, but in a form of the good. Furthermore, the reality of the progression is conveyed in different ways- Plato uses dialogue while Dante uses poetry. So as opposed to Diotima’s ladder being explained on two pages, the reality of the scala amoris is poetically described throughout the entirety of the divine comedy. Lastly, the most significant similarity is the progression itself. Plato and Dante both saw the importance that physical beauty has in the search for transcendent beauty. To find a man in his natural state and expose the good in his affections is perhaps the best way to direct them to the highest form of affection.

Reflections of a High School Graduate

Last week, I graduated from high school. At this point, I’m inclined to say that I am excited to attend college in the fall though I am not sure if I actually feel that way or if I have been conditioned to say that in the seemingly hundreds of conversations I have had with inquisitive adults. But even then, if you think about it, maybe those adults are also conditioned to asking those generic questions which supersede any genuine interest in what I am doing with my life. But I digress.

Anxiety that comes as a result of change can manifest itself in many ways, and mine was the drab realization that I would cease to have frequent writing assignments from my English teacher. As a result, I have decided to take on his assignment to reflect on my high school career. The heart of this post is to have a Janus-faced outlook on my situation: to look forward to the future as well as back to the past. This couldn’t be complete without homage to Janus, the Roman god of doors, beginnings, and other things whose iconic two faces face opposite directions.

Related image

Its interesting how little you hear about how frightening this image is. And yes, I am by all means trying to critique the Romans because I think that they could have been a bit more creative. Personally, I prefer the Greek and Roman concept of the mos maiorum. This set of values is best described by the image of a rower. He rows forward while his gaze is directed backwards. He uses the past as a way to navigate the future. Though that may be more of a philosophy of progress rather than an outlook on life, I do find it more appealing than a man with two faces on his head. But I digress.

My education prior to graduation consisted of two schools, The Providence Christian School of Texas (where I attended from the age of five to fourteen) and The Cambridge School of Dallas (where I attended from age fourteen to eighteen). At Providence, that which I took away from the school as a human and not as an informational basket is contained in the motto: esse quam videri, which translates to be rather than to seem. There is a sense of simplemindedness and deliberateness in this motto (unlike our friend Janus) which should be quite indicative of all education. It is true that this outlook on life (to appear no better than you are) comes out of Biblical teaching, but I think that this should be true for all schools. An essential part of education should not be primarily in complexities, but in teaching a person to be one person. Only after development of the person should educational complexities begin their raid on the young mind. And for better or for worse, this is the way my high school began. I had always been completely on board with the whole “to be rather than to seem” train, and this was not always helpful to my popularity. There were times when I felt the obligation to convey my emotions as visibly as possible with my demeanor and body language. As a result, I have been subjected to many a tantalizing conversation with teachers and peers about my current well-being, while I was “too concerned” with my existential well-being.

I thought of the potential of this blog post while our class salutatorian gave his speech at our graduation. Since his job is to recount the past of the high school, I thought perhaps I could use parts of his speech in my own post. Sadly, his material is far out of my reach. He spoke of camaraderie by means of a class-designed coin-flipping tournament that “we” cheered for. Though his speech was redeemable because he was systematic in the way he spoke, I do not want to be known for enthusiasm for something that does not matter. Besides, I’m just recovering from being a “sports hater” primarily because the Greeks invented the Olympics to showcase the beauty of the human body in form and secondarily because there are some stylish athletes out there… I digress.

I visited the my high school for an orientation a week before classes started and a certain young lady caught my attention. I began to think of the prospects of romance. The night after the first day of school, there was a school wide ceremony in which all the students sang the hymn Be Thou My Vision. I’d like to say that my high school career for me as a person was at its core finding the proper place for romance and Christ in my life. Though I never ended up dating that particular girl and though I actually did not end up dating any girls in my high school career, I would like to think that the colossal vitality of my readiness for romance was unmet by any boy in my grade. I know there is no way to quantify and prove that claim, I’m not sure if that is something that I should be proud of, and I’m only confident in making the claim because I am positive none of the boys in my grade will read this. Nevertheless I do believe that when you pay attention to the importance of earthly relationships, you are more attune to the divine romance with Jesus prophesied about in Revelation. I like to call that term “romantic readiness” and it’s what I wrote my capstone senior thesis about. On the other hand, I spent a great deal of my days in high school thinking about how to properly have Christ be my vision and what that looked like in different scenarios. This outlook took various extremes resulting in me rightly blamed as being “too preachy” in my academic papers; in times of deficiency, I found myself at La Madeline in the pouring rain next to a fire arguing with a classmate that there was no deeper meaning to Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I believe that no man should be so presumptuous at to think that he has figured out “the way” to integrate his faith and his learning because there are many ways and none of them are perfect.

However, a way of seeing the world through the lens of the Bible and the Church is something I want to continue in college. This is actually why I have chosen to go to my college because it is what I love to do. I have picked Biola University in La Mirada, CA., because in my estimation, it is the best possible place where I can learn to see the world through the lens of the Bible and the Church. I will be doing this by means of their great text program, Torrey Honors Institute, in which my general education will consist of studying works that have widely impacted the world and the Christian faith. The way we will study these works is through Socratic-style discussion and through writing papers. This is the point at which part of me begins to be anxious about the future. I want to actually make money when I graduate college, but at the same time I don’t know how that is entirely possible if I have a philosophy, theology, or English major. The bottom line is that I will study at Biola University to become good at what matters most to me. Though I may not make as much money as some of my classmates, I dare not lead an existence without an adequate study of literature, philosophy, and theology. I think those three subjects matter most to my existential well-being. Besides, studying what is important to you and what you enjoy is what education should be for. Higher education should be the means by which you focus on what you want to do with the rest of your life. This is consistent with what I said above about the simplicity of education. At a certain point, it is foolish for the student to pursue something that is not important to him.

[Now I’d like to apologize to all math and science classes for the lack of care I have given you: I recognize that you are a pathway to the good, true, and beautiful but I have chosen another pathway to knowledge.]

And besides, I’d like to think that the future matters more about my demeanor as I pass through time than the job that I go to every day. After all, I’ve been watching Fox’s New Girl lately featuring four adults living in an apartment in their thirties, and I’ve realized that if these people are any indication of the way all adults are, then switching jobs and pursuits is completely normal.

Last Thursday, I stood up in the front pew and walked to the podium. The only clothing visible other than a cap and gown was a sleek pair of black Chelsea boots bought with my first work paycheck and a simple green necktie with the Welsh pendragon embroidered in the center. I turned to Be Thou my Vision in the hymnal and motioned for the congregation to stand and sing. Tubing and mostly shouting for two hours down Pecan Creek on the outskirts of Leaky, Tx. with 25 other seniors two days beforehand hadn’t exactly enhanced my prospects of having a beautiful voice with which to lead the congregation, so I was pleased when the organ drowned out the sound of my voice. I looked up and gazed at the rose window with gossamer streams of light struggling through it somewhere in the middle of the second verse so I would have something to write about here, but I quickly grounded my eyes again because apparently I haven’t memorized our school hymn in my four years of high school. But isn’t that the way it should be? Theres always something more to internalize about making Christ one’s vision and that’s what I want my future to be as a student.

The Independence that Indie Music Brings

IMG_0033

Pictured: Lead vocalist Sameer Gadhia of Young the Giant and his versatile mic stand during their colorful performance on 9/29/17 at Toyota Music Pavilion in Irving, Tx. By Michelle Xu.

If you were to ask me what type of music I listen to, you would get a long answer, but I assure you that the word “Indie” could be found within that response. I spend a few hours every day listening to music and Indie music has consistently had a prominent spot in my playlists.

Indie music is best defined two ways: first, the music produced by a group that has not yet been signed on to a record label, and Second, music from genres surrounding alternative and folk which have recently gained popularity. Indie comes from and seems to embody the word “independence”.

I am writing this after seeing Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) in concert. I am sure that there was a time where independence in music was risky and unpopular, but that does not seem to be to be the case for many Indie artists today. I say this with a confidence from the sole experience of walking a quarter mile down Canton street in downtown Dallas to get from the front of the line to the back of the line a whole hour before the doors to the venue opened. In one of my more adventurous moments, I verbally expressed my shock to my friend as we looked for the end of the line by exclaiming, “But it’s an Indie act! Indie is not supposed to be popular!” The end of the line was not in sight for the first few blocks. As I write this, Bon Iver is safely in the top 500 artists in the world.

I believe that the indie section of the music industry will be even more appealing to people in 2018 because of a cultural value of independence. I suppose that this will have many effects outside of the music world, but I will not concern myself with those matters because that would require work and getting outside of my comfort zone, which I will admit I do not do as much as I need to.

I do not know how long the gravitation to Indie music will last, but it are appealing for more than its independence. One aspect of Indie music that has fascinated me is its use of very new and old instruments. Just as the indie artist hopes to popularize himself and his style of music from obscurity to popularity, many artists have begun to popularize certain instruments in the same way. The Indie artist laches onto unpopular instruments on his rise to fame. Many people have already seen the recent popularity of the mandolin and banjo in contemporary music in the past few years. But that’s just the beginning! Justin Vernon has linked up with the Eau Claire memorial jazz group in the past few years and continues to use horns, saxophones, trumpets, and similar instruments in his concerts. This isn’t just because he likes brass. Its part of a bigger vision. My favorite instrument of Vernon’s is his legendary resonator guitar- an authentic ornate aluminum masterpiece- from the 1920’s which many people say he bought for only $100 at a pawn shop. Vernon uses this rusted beauty every time he plays “skinny love”. That’s not all. When I saw Young the Giant in 2017, lead vocalist Sameer Gadhia performed proudly next to a mic stand adorned with accessories including a cowbell, voice synthesizers, tambourines, and about four more unidentifiable instruments. And he actually used them too.

As I write, I have begun to realize just how underwhelming my evidence is for my claim. Believe me- its more than just a few bands who are like this- but I only feel comfortable writing about bands I have actually seen. The point is that music listeners who are interested in music’s future should tie a rope to Indie music and not let go. The joy of this progression is that obscure and forgotten instruments are enjoying new relevance and entitlement in contemporary music. It is the start of a movement in which instruments are not limited to one genre of music but have gained their independence and versatility. The indie artist has become the liberator for instruments enslaved and enshrined in the shackles of the past and the future. Will you support them?

To vividly illustrate the resurrection of instruments previously previously restricted to one genre of music, I invite you to watch Vernon perform 22 (OVER S∞∞N). Pay attention to the saxophone solo at 1:49 and the use of brass throughout. Once again, my evidence is lacking, which means that as the reader, you should pay attention to artists who also illustrate this point and determine whether you think this claim is correct or not.

If you find an artist you think supports this view, feel free to add it to the comments below as well!

On Grace and Hope

In my recent study of the theological virtue of hope with the help of Thomist philosopher Josef Pieper in his book Faith, Hope, Love, I came across an arrestingly beautiful image about how the habit of hope stems directly from grace and I wanted to share it with everyone. The text is from Frankish theologian Paschasius Radbertus:

Christ is held by the hand of hope. We hold him and are held. But it is a greater good that we are held by Christ than that we hold him. For we can hold him only so long as we are held by him (De fide, spe et caritate 2, I).

I have been learning about the great call of the Christian to hope. They are called to hope to heights the pagan never could have dreamed of, like beatitude, but these are only made possible by the grace of God. When the Christian forgets who the foundation and fulfillment of his hope is, his hope cannot be affirmed and can be washed away by circumstance. One should not begin hoping unless he has laid his foundation.

A Poem of Release

resolute pines

Pictured: The Towering Pines, By Matthew Jordan

I identify as a runner. Well, I do not anymore. I’ve been running for six years, which is a long time for a seventeen year old. I’ve had some rewarding experiences in cross country, but they all qualify as painful. I finished my last season ever with a joyous satisfaction of finishing what I started, and many more mixed emotions. The eternal art of poetry can describe those emotions which prose cannot comprehend:

I am an ornate pillar among the ruins of some temple,

I am the tide thrown on the beach night after night,

I am your transient fever raging in the dark,

Like leaves on the snowy maple,

I stand at the edge of some eternal task,

Waiting for those earthy wings to whisk me away.

I have seen my brothers, one after the other,

Thrown in, like cedar beams into the fire.

Oh, what must it feel like, to crackle and smolder.

I smolder with magnanimity because I have scorned utility herself

My flames lick the wind and swim to some aetherial sea,

I too have forgotten them.

The one who sees how four is divisible by two,

Must that day choose his path,

Whether we will transcend into oblivion,

or settle into the small-minded speeches of motivators.

I am not Odysseus, nor am I Socrates.

I am not Trimalchio, not Caesar.

Not Samuel, not the Baptist,

Not Dante, not Bartleby,

Not Prufrock, not Gatsby,

Not Fitzgerald, not Stahr.

Not Patton, not Mr. Motes,

Not Coltrane or even Vernon.

And yet I am not unlike them.