Tides and Turning

Improving What is Read

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Recent Reading: Feeding the Mind, by Lewis Carroll

I was browsing free Kindle books on logic when I came across this little treasure. It was a balm for my soul today.

In this short book, Carroll likens reading to eating and the life of the mind to the life of the body. And so, he gives practical advice for how to properly feed the mind.

His three basic rules are that our mental intake should include the right kind, amount, and variety of reading to support a well-nourished mind.

From there we must (1) be careful to provide the right amount of time between meals (giving the mind an opportunity to rest) and (2) make sure that we properly chew and digest our food (he calls it ‘mastication’ and sums it up with Cranmer’s famous words that we are to ‘read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest‘).

Here are a few of my favorite quotes with a brief introduction to each:

1. You know what foods don’t sit well with your body; shouldn’t you know what kinds of books don’t sit well with your mind?

First, then, we should set ourselves to provide for our mind its proper kind of food. We very soon learn what will, and what will not, agree with the body, and find little difficulty in refusing a piece of the tempting pudding or pie which is associated in our memory with that terrible attack of indigestion, and whose very name irresistibly recalls rhubarb and magnesia; but it takes a great many lessons to convince us how indigestible some of our favourite lines of reading are, and again and again we make a meal of the unwholesome novel, sure to be followed by its usual train of low spirits, unwillingness to work, weariness of existence—in fact, by mental nightmare.

2. Don’t be a mental glutton. Over-reading is probably not a danger for most people today, but I myself went through a period in my life where I experienced it and needed a break.

Then we should be careful to provide this wholesome food in proper amount. Mental gluttony, or over-reading, is a dangerous propensity, tending to weakness of digestive power, and in some cases to loss of appetite…

3. Take short breaks

Having settled the proper kind, amount, and variety of our mental food, it remains that we should be careful to allow proper intervals between meal and meal, and not swallow the food hastily without mastication, so that it may be thoroughly digested; both which rules, for the body, are also applicable at once to the mind. First, as to the intervals: these are as really necessary as they are for the body, with this difference only, that while the body requires three or four hours’ rest before it is ready for another meal, the mind will in many cases do with three or four minutes. I believe that the interval required is much shorter than is generally supposed, and from personal experience, I would recommend anyone, who has to devote several hours together to one subject of thought, to try the effect of such a break, say once an hour, leaving off for five minutes only each time, but taking care to throw the mind absolutely ‘out of gear’ for those five minutes, and to turn it entirely to other subjects. It is astonishing what an amount of impetus and elasticity the mind recovers during those short periods of rest.

4. Chew your food; digest your food. Don’t eat any more until you’ve digested your last meal. This may be the best advice, and the advice I will take most to heart, of this book.

And then, as to the mastication of the food, the mental process answering to this is simply thinking over what we read. This is a very much greater exertion of mind than the mere passive taking in the contents of our Author. So much greater an exertion is it, that, as Coleridge says, the mind often ‘angrily refuses’ to put itself to such trouble—so much greater, that we are far too apt to neglect it altogether, and go on pouring in fresh food on the top of the undigested masses already lying there, till the unfortunate mind is fairly swamped under the flood. But the greater the exertion the more valuable, we may be sure, is the effect. One hour of steady thinking over a subject (a solitary walk is as good an opportunity for the process as any other) is worth two or three of reading only.

All in all it is a book that is as delightful as it is short, serving as a practical guide to get the most out of your reading. You can get the book for free for Kindle HERE, for free on the web HERE, and you can buy a paper copy HERE.


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The Softness of a Padded Cell (Chesterton)

All blows fall soundless on the softness of a padded cell.

- G.K. Chesterton, The Mad Official, from In Defense of Sanity, p. 62

The point? When the lunatics aren’t making any noise, you can be sure that the entire place has become an asylum.


Personal Knowledge: Submitting to Authority and Tradition

To learn by example is to submit to authority. You follow your master because you trust his manner of doing things even when you cannot analyse and account in detail for its effectiveness. By watching the master and emulating his efforts in the presence of his example, the apprentice unconsciously picks up the rules of the art, including those which are not explicitly known to the master himself. These hidden rules can be assimilated only by a person who surrenders himself to that extent uncritically to the imitation of another. A society which wants to preserve a fund of personal knowledge must submit to tradition.

- Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, p. 53

What follows are some random thoughts that may make zero sense to anyone other than myself.

The Apostle Paul put it this way: ‘Imitate me, as I imitate Christ’ (1 Cor. 11:1); and this way: ‘What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you’ (Phil 4:9). The author of the epistle to the Hebrews put it this way: ‘Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith’ (13:7).  Discipleship is still relevant, and it is relevant for every area in which you seek knowledge.

I actually think that Polanyi’s principle is implied in the 5th Commandment: ‘Honor your father and mother that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God is giving to you’ (Ex. 20:12). If we are to thrive, we must not buck off authority, culture, and tradition. Chaos does not lead to progress. Progress comes as we advance by building upon the foundation that has already been given to us. This is why the early Reformers were intent to build upon the Church Fathers rather than start from scratch.

The danger here is that authority might become dictatorial authority. But the pre-Catholic Chesterton, who was a Protestant when he wrote Orthodoxy, got it right initially: tradition is the democracy, not dictatorship, of the dead. We give a vote those who come before us, valuing their opinion as much as our own. They are a foundation, but not the Cornerstone. And the application of this principle goes far beyond brute theological matters. It applies to virtually any form of education or enculturation.

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Death and Resurrection: The Story of God and Man in a Garden

After God created Man, He placed him in a garden in a placed called Eden (literally, Paradise or Delight). There God communed with Adam, promising him life for obedience and death for disobedience to his commands. After the Fall, Genesis records,

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden (3:8).

There is debate about whether or not the English phrase ‘cool of the day’ is a proper translation. Some scholars have argued that the phrase should actually be rendered, ‘And they heard the sound of the Lord God in the garden in the wind of the storm…’ That’s quite different from ‘in the cool of the day.’ You can read about the translation issues HERE. If the phrase, ‘in the wind of the storm’ is accurate, it only serves to emphasize the judgement that was impending for Adam and Eve.

That judgement included the several curses listed in Genesis 3, along with expulsion from the garden:

He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life (3:24).

From the flaming sword of Genesis 3, thousands of years, and the entire Old Testament, pass before God is seen again walking with man in the garden. That brings us to John’s Gospel and Jesus’ betrayal by Judas Iscariot:

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples (John 18:1-2).

Jesus Christ, the man who is God, met with his disciples in a garden called Gethsemane; it was there that he wrestled with God over the judgment that was to be poured out upon him at the cross. It was there that he sweat, as it were, drops of blood for the sake of sinners:

For me it was in the garden he prayed, ‘Not my will but thine.’
He had no tears for his own grief, but sweat drops of blood for mine.

That wasn’t the last we would see of God in a garden. Somewhere near Golgotha he was laid to rest in a garden tomb:

Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there (John 19:41-42).

And because he was laid to rest in a garden, he was resurrected in a garden. In fact, the first eyewitness of the resurrection, Mary, mistook him to be a gardener:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away” (John 20:15).

She mistook him for the gardener of that particular place at that particular time, but we make no mistake in realizing that he is the great Gardener. His resurrection opens the doors to paradise for all those who rest and trust in him as he is offered in the gospel. G.K. Chesterton comments on this passage:

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at day-break to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realised that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but of the dawn (The Everlasting Man, p. 214).

The resurrection begins the new creation, and each of us who trust in that resurrection are already a part of it, awaiting its ultimate consummation. John’s Revelation points to the consummation of the new creation in a city; but assuredly it will be a garden-city, for in it is Eden’s Tree of Life:

…through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:2).

From one angle, the Bible is the story of Paradise, Paradise lost, Paradise regained, and Paradise restored. And it tells us that in order for that restoration to happen, man has to pass through the flaming sword of God’s judgment (Gen. 3:24). Beginning with Gethsemane, to the cross, Jesus did precisely that. Adam forfeited his life in the garden when he ate the forbidden fruit, Jesus gained it back for us when he took the foreboding cup of God’s wrath. Adam betrayed God in a garden, Jesus was betrayed by Judas in a garden (for the sake of the children of Adam). Then he was buried in a garden to rise in a garden that he might open the doors of paradise for all who would trust in him.

Everyone desires paradise. Eden is programmed into our system. Whether it’s a snow-capped mountain, a warm beach, a cabin on the lake, or a rock concert, we all want it, and we all know that it is lost. We may have glimpses from time to time, but we can never lay hold of it. Jesus in the garden of resurrection assures us that when the Christian thinks about paradise, it is not simply a tragedy of the past, lost and almost forgotten; rather it is our hope for the future.

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Scientifically Branded Wrapping

The public, taught by the sociologist to distrust its traditional morality, is grateful to receive it back from him in a scientifically branded wrapping.

- Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, p. 234

Polanyi was all over the idea that modern Science (with a capital S, not the kind he loved and practiced) had essentially become a popular religion. Put the stamp of science on it and it becomes like the law of the Medes and Persians.

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The Moral Force of Immorality

The propagandistic appeal of Marxism is the most interesting case of (what might be called) the moral force of immorality. For it is the most precisely formulated system having such a paradoxical appeal, and this self-contradiction actually seems to supply the main impulse of the Marxian movement.

- Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, p. 227

Sound familiar? Polanyi wrote that over half a century ago. Marxism may be no longer the most interesting case of the moral force of immorality; it’s certainly not the most contemporary. He was fighting the battle of his day, and we have our own battles to fight.

It’s a great phrase that is worth remembering.

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Pray for Jim Kelly

Jim Kelly was my childhood hero. I wore the number 12 on my football jersey from 9th to 12th grade in honor of him, and I still have his old Buffalo Bills jersey hanging in my closet. I wore that jersey all the time when I was a kid, and I had this poster hanging on my wall (it’s actually still on the wall of my old room at my dad’s house):


He loves the Lord and has quite a story; and now, he’s battling serious cancer. If you read this post, please take some time to pray for him.

You can read a story about his current situation HERE. And you can hear some of his story HERE.


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