I heard Tim Keller use this quote in a talk recently and thought that it was worth saving and sharing. From the Norweigian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s play, Wild Duck:

If you take the life lie from an average man, you take away his happiness as well.

From Wikipedia (see ‘Wild Duck’ link above):

Different translations use different words for the “life-lie”. In Eva le Gallienne’s translation, Relling says “I try to discover the Basic Lie – the pet illusion – that makes life possible; and then I foster it.” He also says “No, no; that’s what I said: the Basic Lie that makes life possible.”

On Cultivating the Ability to Detect Crap

In the early 1960s, an interviewer was trying to get Ernest Hemingway to identify the characteristics required to be a ‘great writer’…

After several attempts to get a straightforward answer,

Hemingway replied, ‘Yes, there is. In order to be a great writer a person must have a built-in, shockproof crap detector.’

-Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, pp. 2, 3

Jesus himself was quite the Crap Detector: “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25).

He warns us,  “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues…” (Matt. 10:16-17).

In other words, always have your Crap Detector at hand. Have your eyes open to the schemes of man. Beware (be wary) of them. But, at the same time, don’t be the kind of person who makes other people’s Crap Detector go off. Be shrewd, but never look to harm anyone when you see their crap. Plus, the example of Christ means that sometimes you will have to give yourself over to be hurt by such people. And you’ll have to do it willingly. Plus plus, your detector won’t always go off. When it doesn’t, don’t assume the worst. Maybe you’ve met someone who isn’t full of it.


When you plug something into a wall, something is getting plugged into you

When you plug something into a wall, [something] is getting plugged into you.

-Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, p. 7

Postman was fond of saying, following McLuhan, that when you add new technology to an environment, you change the environment. Hence the big idea of media ecology. If you add an XBOX to your living room, you don’t just have your old living room plus an XBOX. You have a new living room – a new environment. Something fundamental in the environment has changed that will affect the total atmosphere/ecosystem.

The idea that when you plug something in, it gets plugged into you, is a helpful summary of this concept. When you plug your smartphone in – when you put it in your pocket – you don’t have you plus a smartphone in your pocket. You have new version of you.

This is not always bad (and Postman never claimed it was), but awareness is key. I often quote the GI Joe PSAs I grew up watching – Knowing is half the battle.

Should Christians Read and Quote Non-Christians?

John Calvin on Paul’s reference to a Cretan author in Titus 1:12:

12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own
I have no doubt that he who is here spoken of is Epimenides, who was a native of Crete; for, when the Apostle says that this author was “one of themselves,” and was “a prophet of their own,” he undoubtedly means that he belonged to the nation of the Cretans. Why he calls him a Prophet–is doubtful. Some think that the reason is, that the book from which Paul borrowed this passage bears the title Περὶ Χρησμῶν “concerning oracles.” Others are of opinion that Paul speaks ironically, by saying that they have such a Prophet — a Prophet worthy of a nation which refuses to listen to the servants of God. But as poets are sometimes called by the Greeks ( προφὢται) “prophets,” and as the Latin authors call them Vates , I consider it to denote simply a teacher. The reason why they were so called appears to have been, that they were always reckoned to be ( γένος θεῖον καὶ ἐνθουσιαστικόν)a divine race and moved by divine inspiration.” Thus also Adimantus, in the Second Book of Plato’s treatise Περὶ Πολιτείας after having called the poets υἵους Θεῶν “sons of the gods,” adds, that they also became their prophets. For this reason I think that Paul accommodates his style to the ordinary practice. Nor is it of any importance to inquire on what occasion Epimenides calls his countrymen liars, namely, because they boast of having the sepulcher of Jupiter; but seeing that the poet takes it from an ancient and well-known report, the Apostle quotes it as a proverbial saying. (228)

From this passage we may infer that those persons are superstitious, who do not venture to borrow anything from heathen authors. All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it; for it has come from God. Besides, all things are of God; and, therefore, why should it not be lawful to dedicate to his glory everything that can properly be employed for such a purpose? But on this subject the reader may consult Basil’s discourse (229) πρὸς τοὺς νέους, ὅπως ἂν ἐξ ἑλλ κ.τ.λ

Read the whole thing HERE. I came across this quote in an article by the Calvinist International a while back.

Calvin’s answer (to ‘Should we read and quote non-Christians’) is obviously ‘Yes.’

This is interesting to me for a number of reasons:

1) I like reading non-Christians and quote them regularly. It’s nice when Calvin has your back. (I decided to post this today because I am going to meet one of my own favorite ‘heathen’ authors today at a book reading).

2) It acknowledges common grace in non-Christian authors, which implicitly endorses the reading of non-Christian authors as a source of learning (rather than simply reading with a view toward critique).

3) Calvin explicitly says superstition is the only thing that keeps us from reading such.

4) Paul calls the Cretan a “prophet.” Calvin has no great explanation for this. But if you take G.K. Chesterton’s idea that a prophet is essentially someone who sees the world (under the sun) as it actually is, then there should be no quibbles about some non-Christians having a quasi-prophetic perception of the world. Chesterton put it this way:

…If we see what is the real trend of humanity, we shall feel it most probable that he was stoned for saying that the grass was green and that the birds sang in spring; for the mission of all the prophets from the beginning has not been so much the pointing out of heavens or hells as primarily the pointing out of the earth.

Religion has had to provide that longest and strangest telescope – the telescope through which we could see the star upon which we dwelt…

So then, a worldly prophet is someone who sees the world, particularly the age, with insight, and therefore can accurately describe the state of the fallen world. We are called to learn from such.

This doesn’t bode well for those who would tell us we should only read books from ‘trusted sources’ that will surely never lead us astray. Holding such a position, Calvin says above, is from nothing other than superstition.

Chesterton on Following Advice and Being Different

I think I owe my success to having listened respectfully and rather bashfully to the very best advice, given by all the best journalists who had achieved the best sort of success in journalism; and then going away and doing the exact opposite. . .

I have a notion that the real advice I could give to a young journalist is simply this: to write an article for the Sporting Times and one for the Church Times and put them in the wrong envelopes…What is really the matter with almost every paper, is that it is much too full of things suitable to the paper.

– G.K. Chesterton, The Autobiography of G.K. Chesterton

This quote now hangs on my office wall.


Not a Substitute

I am currently listening to the audiobook of James Bannerman’s The Church of Christ. A quote jumped out at me today that I thought worth remembering:

In the first place, the Christian Church, in reference to the world in which it is found, is designed and fitted to be a witness for Christ, and not a substitute for Christ.

Creating More Energy Than You Demand

Chuck Palahniuk says that writing workshops allow a writer to test his or her stories, to “see if it’s a story that creates more energy than it takes to listen to it.”

I think that’s a good thought for a preacher as well; and for a blogger. Ask yourself if your work is going to create more energy than it takes to attend to it.

Want of Wonder

The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.

-G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles

A couple of Shakespeare quotes come to mind; let’s rip them out of context and use them:

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.