Peter the Great, Russia, and The Church

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Although I’ve had Robert K. Massie’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography “Peter the Great:  His Life and World” on my bookshelf for a couple of decades, I’d never gotten around to actually reading it until this year.  At 890 pages, the length may seem daunting to some readers, but Massie’s compelling narrative style and superb research make the book well worth the effort.

As a history major at the University of Central Florida years ago, I took every available class on Russian and Soviet History (all taught by the inimitable Dr. John Evans, RIP).  I found the history of the region and people fascinating; their story is complicated, sometimes beautiful, often brutal, and always intriguing.  Certainly anyone attempting to understand and analyze modern Russia and the surrounding region will be utterly lost without the essential background knowledge of this people and their unique culture.

Massie published “Peter the Great” in 1980 (and won the Pulitzer Prize in biography the following year,) so there are a vast number of fine book reviews available to potential readers.  In short, Massie wove together knowledge of Russia’s people, religion, art, architecture, literature, military strategy, and politics to create a compelling narrative of Peter Alexeyevich and his undeniable impact on Russia and the world.

Even with its pre-glasnost viewpoint “Peter the Great” provides ample fodder for discussion, and one insight on politics and religion is particularly relevant to modern Christians.  In describing Peter’s reforms of the Russian church, which included positive aspects such as clerical education, Massie suggests that subjugating the church to the state contributed to the downfall of the government and the hostile atheism embraced by the Bolsheviks and subsequent Soviet government.

Massie writes:

“In time, however, the assumption of state control over the church had an injurious effect on Russia.  Individual parishioners could seek salvation and find solace from life’s burdens in the glory of the Orthodox service and its choral liturgy, and in the warm communality of human suffering found in a church community.  But a tame church which occupied itself with private spiritual matters and failed to stand up against successive governments on behalf of Christian values in questions of social justice soon lost the allegiance of the most dynamic elements of Russian society…The church, which might have led, simply followed, and ultimately the entire religious bureaucracy established by Peter followed the imperial government over the cliff; the Holy Synod was abolished in 1918 along with all the other governing institutions of the imperial regime.  Lenin reestablished the Patriarchate, but it was a puppet Patriarchate, more controlled by the state than the Holy Synod ever was…It was the continuing passivity and servitude of the Russian church which Alexander Solzhenitsyn was regretting when he declared that the history of Russia would have been “incomparably more humane and harmonious in the last few centuries if the church had not surrendered its independence and had continued to make its voice heard among the people…”

Throughout the world, Christians continue to wrestle with their role in society and government.  In China the Vatican has agreed to let the government appoint bishops, and in the European Union churches are recognized and affirmed in some ways, but also subject to restrictions, such as those on employment and parental choices in education.  Christians in the United States are also increasingly finding conflict with government and hearing calls from within the faith to “stand down” on controversial issues.  The dilemma for some is a well-intentioned desire to focus on salvation of souls rather than engagement with prickly political issues.  And of course, there are plenty of examples of Christians who do not engage well or winsomely. But in light of the Russian example, just how efficacious and attractive is a church that has in all matters subjected itself to the state?

The same day I read the above passage from Massie, World Magazine’s daily news podcast included a segment marking the 35th anniversary of the death of Francis Schaeffer.  They played audio from a speech Schaeffer delivered in 1982, in which he warned against a complacent and silent church, and argued that even in the early church, believers practiced a dangerous civil disobedience that led to death in an arena with wild beasts.  Schaeffer argues that Christians have always “acted in the realization that if there is no place for disobeying the government, that government has been put in the place of the living God.  In such a case, the government has been made a false god.”  “Christ must be the final Lord and not society and not Caesar.”

Lessons from history, whether from the Early Church or Russia or anywhere else, can enlighten our choices for engagement. And we should be careful of the ways we define “success.”  A form of worldly success and world “peace,” may be attainable in the short-term, but what we do today may very well matter in 200 years, and will certainly matter in eternity.

 

 

Massie, Robert K. Peter the Great : His Life and World. 9th ed., New York, Ballantine Books, 1980, p. 815.

‌Photo: By Unidentified painter – [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5705235
No Copyright:  This work has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.

“We Call this Friday Good”

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I once met an associate pastor who surprised me by saying he found wearing a cross repulsive.  To be fair, he was not a seminarian, but worked in an administrative position.  He asserted that a cross was an ugly thing, a symbol of death and suffering, and he did not understand why anyone would wear something reminiscent of so much pain.

In some variations of the Christian faith, I think there’s a tendency to skip over the events of Good Friday, and the reality of the crucifixion of Jesus.  After all, to understand the meaning behind the suffering of that day, we must fully embrace the depths of our sin: not a popular pastime in a culture for which the highest values are good self-esteem and tolerance of anything and everything.

To understand the Cross, we must acknowledge that we are not “good,” and therefore not acceptable to a perfectly perfect and Holy God.  While these are not pleasant meditations, without this awareness and understanding, the Resurrection of Jesus and the Easter celebrations are meaningless and empty.

While the above-mentioned pastor was certainly correct about the original meaning of a cross, I think he had not yet fully embraced the truth that through Christ’s suffering and death, that which is ugly is made beautiful.  Not only is the symbol transformed, but also those who embrace The Cross, and the sacrifice, mystery, and overwhelming love of the one true God.

After his conversion, 20th century poet T. S. Eliot wrote many lines expressing the deeper truths of Christ’s sacrifice and what it means to embrace Christianity.  Among his powerful “Four Quartets,” is a profound passage from “East Coker” which describes the Passion of the Christ in a modern context: a wounded surgeon who will heal us, but who must first destroy our sin.  On first encountering these lines, I found them ugly and repulsive, but deeper study and meditation of their meaning has changed my mind.  They are about a truth that is both good and beautiful; they are about The Cross.

For your Good Friday meditation:

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

                                                               T. S. Eliot, “Four Quartets, East Coker”

 



			
					

Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Asks for Record-Breaking $1.76 Billion Bond

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On May 4, 2019, Texas’ third largest school district will ask voters to approve the largest school bond debt package in state history.

Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, located northwest of Houston, reports a student enrollment of 116,249 for 2018-19.  The district has grown significantly over the past few decades, although growth has slowed recently, with an increase of about 3,000 since the district’s last bond election in 2014.  CFISD officials predict the district will grow by another 3,000 to 4,000 students by 2025.

Earlier this year, the CFISD Board of Trustees voted unanimously to hold a new bond election requesting a record-setting $1.76 billion in new debt.  If approved, CFISD ballot language states that the funds will be used for a variety of construction and renovation projects, purchases of land and buses, as well as improvements to security infrastructure.  The CFISD website indicates that the bond package will only fund two new schools, but also a new performance center and an instructional support center.

Despite the unprecedented amount of tax-payer debt requested, there does not seem to be any organized opposition to the nearly $1.8 billion proposal.  The district seems to be promoting the bond with its taxpayer-funded website, and as with the 2014 bond election, a number of contractors, businesses, and individuals have funded a political action committee entitled “Say Yes for CFISD Kids” in order to pay for campaign materials promoting passage.  Many of the 2014 contributors are again listed on the PAC’s 2019 website, and some of those 2014 supporters were awarded ISD contracts related to the previous bond.  ICI Construction Inc. listed as a 2014 “Say Yes for CFISD Kids” PAC contributor, was awarded $16.87 million in contracts by the district just last September.

The 2014 CFISD bond set records at the time, successfully obtaining approval for $1.2 billion in new debt.  As of February 2019, the district had yet to issue $158.8 million from that package, but chief financial officer Stuart Snow indicated the district would sell the remaining amounts in the fall of 2019.

CFISD’s 2014 bond was infamous for more than breaking the billion dollar mark; the board of trustees authorized the use of controversial “rolling polling,” which significantly suppressed voter turnout and provoked state scrutiny.  During early voting, the district moved voting locations daily, creating an inconvenient and chaotic scenario for citizen participation.   Consequently only 7,266 of more than 200,000 registered voters participated in that election (with only 5,909 voting to approve.)

The controversial strategy used by both the Cypress-Fairbanks and Frisco districts prompted the Texas Legislature to outlaw so-called “rolling polling” the following year.  As bill sponsor Greg Bonnen (R-Pearland) noted in 2015, the practice could allow school districts to “essentially harvest votes.”  Bonnen stated, “That did not seem consistent with giving all the voters an equal stake in the election.”

While pro-taxpayer advocates successfully banned CFISD’s problematic election structure, state bills proposed to improve transparency and voter participation have not prevailed.  Texas school districts and other local government entities are not required to display existing outstanding debt information, including principal and interest.  There is also no ballot language requirement for displaying estimated principal and interest of the proposed bond, nor the estimated tax impact.

Even without a ballot language requirement, such information is difficult to find.  The Texas Comptroller’s “Debt At A Glance” site is woefully out of date, and only includes data from August 31, 2017.  The site does note that a portion of the district’s debt is due to capital appreciation bonds: controversial and costly non-voter-approved borrowing that was finally restricted by the state in 2015.  CFISD’s CAB debt includes a principal amount of $505,000, but a maturity amount of a staggering $6.64 million.

The Texas Bond Review Board site is a little more helpful, reporting the following for CFISD, fiscal year 2018:

Principal:  $2,517,955,000 ($2.5 billion)
Interest:  $1,338,864,254 ($1.3 billion)
Total Payment: $3,856,819,254 ($3.8 billion)

Reformers argue that any business or individual seeking loans would have such information scrutinized by lenders, but Texas does not require similar information to be provided to voters.  Nor is relevant debt data readily discoverable on the CFISD website, although the 2018-19 summary of the proposed budget does report that debt service will be more than $205 million this year alone.

Supporters of the bond have produced the usual arguments about increases in student enrollment and need for updates.  No doubt these are legitimate concerns.  But fiscal responsibility advocates note that while Texas student enrollment increased 48% between 1993 and 2015, the number of teachers increased by 56% and non-teaching staff by 66% over the same period.  Watchdog groups also note that many school districts have spent generously on upscale stadiums, performance centers, and even water parks.  (CFISD spent $84 million on the touted Berry Center stadium in 2006.)  They note that such spending increases do not correlate to improved student outcomes.  CFISD’s archives indicate Grade 3-8 reading and writing achievements have actually declined slightly since 2014, and the Texas Education Agency reports that in 2018 43% of the district’s students were performing “below grade level.”  While the bipartisan Texas House Bill 3 calls for districts to conduct third-party “efficiency audits,” CFISD is currently not obligated to provide such an efficiency-in-spending audit to the public.

While claiming need for increased spending and debt, CFISD continues to use taxpayer funds to lobby against expansion of charter schools, which often help districts absorb student growth and can be more successful in improving student outcomes, all while spending less per pupil.  CFISD also spends taxpayer money to lobby for dismantling the state’s new school accountability ratings and reducing objective student achievement measures like standardized tests.

Due to the anticipated low voter participation rates typical of May elections, along with PAC spending on promotional campaign activities, and a lack of organized opposition, CFISD’s record-setting bond is likely to pass.  As with the 2014 bond package, the district has tried to reassure voters that they will issue bonds slowly and to try to mitigate the inevitable tax rate increases.  They are also counting on rising property values and growth in the tax base to increase revenues, but there are no guarantees regarding future tax increases.  Even if the Texas Legislature comes through with currently proposed reforms, both the 2014 and 2019 bond packages give CFISD the leeway to increase taxes to pay for its ever-growing debt burden.

Find voting information for the CFISD 2019 Bond Election:

Early Voting:  April 22-30, 2019

Election Day:  May 4, 2019

 

Eighth Day of Christmas Resolutions

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I’ve been told that New Year’s resolutions are garbage, so I’m making some Eighth Day of Christmas resolutions to pursue during the next 365 days.  Hopefully these won’t be garbage.

Among the goals regarding my spiritual life and physical health, I have resolved to return to writing on a regular basis.  For a variety of reasons, I had taken a hiatus from public writing that was supposed to be a year, but stretched into nearly four.  Now I believe it is time to begin again.

My goal has always been to tell the truth.  Unfortunately, the truth does not always make people happy, and it certainly doesn’t engender affection for the speaker.  Like most humans, I do enjoy being approved and liked, but I also suffer from a strong inclination to question popular mantras and seek underlying reality.  Deconstructing a popular mantra makes one, well, unpopular.

The challenge of course is in presenting perspectives in a way that does not alienate and which might be persuasive.  While I am certain that photo-shopped memes and personal attacks do little to persuade the persuadable, even presentation of cold data can upset readers.  This problem has accelerated in the past few years, and as Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt note in their 2018 book “The Coddling of the American Mind,” many young people see themselves as fragile and interpret any intellectual challenge as a literal, physical threat.  Not only do many of them expect to be kept “safe” from diversity of opinion, they perceive challengers as “evil” individuals who must be silenced by any means.

I would suggest that even before the trend described by Lukianoff and Haidt, many of us have been guilty of over-generalizations.  If we hear certain headlines or bumper-sticker-length mantras frequently enough, we begin to accept them as facts, even the “truth.”  We may not only believe in them, we actually invest in them on both an intellectual and literal level.  Therefore, a challenge may not just interrupt a mere perception, but an entire life-path.  Hence the animosity towards those who challenge our beliefs.

But I am resolved on this Eighth Day of Christmas to try to tell the truth anyway.  Sometimes, of course, I will get it wrong, and I can only beg for grace in those inevitable circumstances.  Sometimes my readers will disagree with my assessments, and I hope they will engage in non-personal, open-minded debate of any issue on the table.  Although it may be at times with fear and trepidation, I am resolved to write about what I have learned, and what I see.  To paraphrase Thomas Merton, if a writer is too cautious to write what may be criticized, he (or she) will never write anything that can be read.

If you want to help other people, you have got to make up your mind to write things some men will condemn.
Thomas Merton

My prospective readers will no doubt criticize, but hopefully find my offerings worth reading.

May your Eighth Day of Christmas be blessed.

 

In Defense of November

 

In which I stand athwart November yelling, “Stop!”

The day after Halloween I was horrified to discover some of my social media friends announcing that it was time to start playing “Christmas” music.  Some of these friends are even putting up a tree, baking cookies, and enjoying hot chocolate.  Sure enough, on November 1st some stores began blaring the musical news that “Santa Claus is coming to town,” and rushed to deck the retail halls with boughs of imitation holly.

Bah, humbug.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not really a Scrooge when it comes to Christmas.  I love the season as much as anyone else.  But here I raise my Ebenezer: in order to really keep Christmas, we need November.

In the years before Halloween became a multi-billion dollar industry, November 1st was the day most Americans packed away costumes and sent the jack’ o’ lanterns to their eternal rest on the compost heap.  Some of the less-desirable candy may have lingered for a few days, but for the most part, we moved into the next season, which was not Christmas.

But it was more than “not Christmas.”  Although I grew up in central Florida, which features little, if any, seasonal change, our school teachers punctually changed the bulletin board decor on November 1st to reflect the natural beauty occurring in more northern regions.  Out were pumpkins, bats, and ghosts, and in were colorful leaves, turkeys, pilgrims and Native Americans.   We learned about our history, both good and bad, and prepared to celebrate an official day of thanks-giving.

In addition to Thanksgiving celebrations, in some years November general elections bring at least a temporary reprieve from political campaigning (unless you live in Broward County, Florida), and we pause to remember our service men and women on Veteran’s or Remembrance Day.  The month seems to be filled with opportunities for reflection on less material values.

We might consider November as a kind of fast.  Although fasting has a negative connotation, it has many benefits.  Scientists have learned that fasting from food improves health, and when I’m fasting from social media and ‘screens’ I’m very productive in other ways.  Without the smart phone in hand, I experience quality time with real live humans, read good books, and think out my next article.  When we fast, or set something aside, we do not enter a void.  Rather we replace one thing with another; fasting can lead to deeper contemplation, insightful prayer, greater appreciation of nature, and cultivation of our relationships.

And when our fast is completed, our celebration is so much richer and genuine.  The Christmas celebration is for the birth of a savior.  But unless we recognize our need for a savior, perhaps through remembrance, contemplation, or metaphorical time in the wilderness, the Christ-mass is reduced to a meaningless, materialist celebration of consumption.  If you want to really understand Christmas, you need to set aside a November.

Properly observed, November allows for a more thoughtful, reflective, and thankful season; a much-needed pause between the excitement of Halloween and Christmas.  Please don’t Christmas our November; November is a rich and beautiful time of year filled with its own observances and customs.  And if we keep Christmas in its rightful place, we can truly keep Christmas in our hearts.

Making an Informed Decision About 210 Candidates

How on Earth do we make an informed decision about 210 candidates?

In case you haven’t heard, there’s an election next month.  I don’t know how you could miss it since we are being bombarded with television and radio ads, mailers, emails, and now even unsolicited text messages.

What you may not know, is that there’s probably a lot more on your ballot than what those folks in the ads are talking about.  Here in Texas, where judges are elected, you may have multiple races for courts of law, county commissioners, school board trustees, and tax-payer funded bond proposals.

The Harris County (Houston-area) ballot is, I’m told, the longest in the nation.  In preparation for voting, I printed my sample ballot for review, and I count a total of 93, that’s ninety-three, different contests.

I take my responsibilities as a U.S. citizen seriously, and always try to learn as much as I can before heading to the polls.  But how does one really dig down into the details of 93 different contests?

One method is to consult some of the many available voter guides.  Of course, such guides are inherently biased, and sometimes oriented to a single issue.  Even if the provider claims to be neutral and non-partisan, there will be discernible bias.  A smart voter must make sure he/she understands what each group values in candidates.

A well-meaning and intelligent friend suggests that rather than rely on voter guides or “straight ticket” votes, each citizen should do his or her own research.

Which brings me back to that Harris County ballot; dispersed among the 93 contests are some 210 candidates.  How on Earth does the average citizen, perhaps one with a full-time job and a family, have time to research 210 different candidates?

While I’m not as politically involved as I have been in the past, I think I’m more informed than average, and I find this ballot daunting.  I attended a few meet-and-greet events earlier this year, but candidates far outnumbered non-candidates in attendance, and each candidate only had 2 minutes to speak.

Even worse may be what’s not on this ballot; there are numerous other boards consisting of both elected and appointed officials that have jurisdiction over myself, my family, and my property.  These boards are not necessarily required to hold elections at the biennial general election.  I’ve spent hours trying to track down even the most basic information about the governance structure of the ten different entities taxing my home with very little success.

We’ve come a long way since Tocqueville praised the structures of local government as a key component of representative democracy.  Unlike citizens in the early 19th century, I not only do not know and interact with my locally elected officials; sometimes I don’t even know they exist, much less who they are, and what they do.

But back to that Harris County ballot with 93 contests and 210 candidates.  What’s a citizen to do?

While I’m not a fan of unquestioning party loyalty, one of the few things I can do is consider party-affiliation.  In my case, I agree with much of the Republican and little of the Democrat Party platform. I’m not naïve enough to think every nominal Republican or Democrat adheres to party platform, but it is one tool for gaining insight.  I do look at voter guides from groups with which I largely agree, and sometimes those with which I do not.

There’s an election next month. Your ballot may be a mess, and it may take some time and effort to understand it.  But citizen participation is what makes our system work.  It’s not perfect, but pretty good overall.  Of course, always remember that government is ultimately comprised of flawed human beings, not angels.  Keep your perspective and reserve your real faith for a perfect and holy God.

There’s an election next month.  Be informed; be a voter.

Here are some of the voter guides/scorecards I use:

Texas Values
Heritage Action 
Texans for Fiscal Responsibility
Texas Home School Coalition (not just for home school, for parental rights)

Texas Right to Life and Texas Alliance for Life.  (These two are sometimes at odds, especially in primaries, so you really have to consider the specific tools used to determine endorsements.  When I step back to consider broader fiscal, judicial, educational, and constitutional liberty issues, I’m usually more in agreement with TRL, but not always.)

Here in Harris County, there are 75 contests for various courts, including everything from the Texas Supreme Court down to the Justice of the Peace.  Not an endorsement guide per se, the Houston Judicial Preference Poll is very interesting this year.  Although a left-leaning group of attorneys, they have mostly preferred the GOP judges.  I’m told the GOP judges are far more knowledgeable, efficient, and fair. 

The Harris County GOP has provided this resource on those judges as well: Republican Judges

There’s quite a few competing “Conservative” groups in Harris County that often disagree in primary endorsements, but are united in the general elections.  Harris County Conservative Coalition has a guide for school district and Lone Star College races.

(Header image:  Alexis de Tocqueville by Théodore Chassériau.)

Girl, Read a Great Book

How do we learn to live well?

“The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility:
humility is endless.”  -T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

One of the best-selling books of the past year is, Girl, Wash Your Face, in which Christian author Rachel Hollis tells her female audience to “stop believing the lies about who you are.”  I am not a fan of these kinds of self-help books; most could be condensed into a magazine-length article without losing one iota of solid content. Furthermore, these popular books often promote some questionable psychology and untenable, self-centered views of reality.

Widely read, Girl, Wash Your Face has dominated the non-fiction best-sellers list for several weeks now.  But sadly, Hollis’ advice is woefully inadequate for those who really want to live well: wisely and with humility.

I won’t reiterate the sticky theological pitfalls offered in Girl, Wash Your Face; Alisa Childers has already offered some sound analysis (here) identifying the book’s promotion of an egocentric and universalist worldview (all religions are true-just pick one!).

Rather, I would offer an antidote in the form of Karen Swallow Prior’s new book, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books

Karen Swallow Prior, an English Professor who has written for the Atlantic, Christianity Today, First Things, and Vox, encourages readers to take up the “great books;” that is, works that have stood the test of time and which give readers a path to the understanding of humanity, reality, and what it means to truly live well.

She does not suggest we read for mere pleasure; many of the books she recommends are certainly delightful, but some, like Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel Silence, are profoundly haunting and challenging.  But Prior argues that by reading both promiscuously and thoughtfully, we can learn not what to think, but how to think, and in so doing, live well.

Each chapter explores a ‘great book’ in order to elucidate the nature and application of one of twelve virtues.  Readers could easily find a one-sentence definition for each virtue, but Prior argues that thoughtful reading of great literature “invites readers to participate in the experience aesthetically, not merely intellectually.”  She notes that such reading is “formative, not merely informative,” and can lead us into a fuller understanding of what it means to actually practice virtues like patience or kindness.

For example, Dr. Prior uses George Saunders’ Tenth of December to teach that the virtue of kindness should not be confused with “niceness.”  Rather, the word kindness is related to the word kin, and refers to the way we treat family members.  In the shared closeness of a family, there are times when we must speak truth, or “lovingly correct.”  But she warns us that real kindness is neither “natural nor nice,” and must inherently link to truth.  And she is not referring to postmodern notions of “her truth” or “my truth,” but real truth — painful as it may be.

This is in sharp contrast with books like Girl, Wash Your Face, which, while couched in tough love terminology, actually encourage a kind of relativistic view of truth, and often offer just really bad advice.  Whereas Hollis tells her audience to never, ever, give up on your dreams (no matter what), in an exploration of patience, Prior offers a much wiser, mature, and realistic approach to personal dreams:

“Slow down.  Don’t be in a hurry.  Life is long.  Work hard, and the rewards will come. The dreams you have —some of them — will come true; those that don’t will be replaced by others, maybe even better ones.” (Emphasis mine.)

Every chapter of On Reading Well offers a rich and thoughtful analysis of great use to anyone seeking to live well and wisely.  The books Prior highlights range from the overtly Christian (Pilgrim’s Progress) to the modern secular (Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.)  The chapters need not be read in order, and even if one has not read the referenced literature, the explanations help us to discover the nuanced application of each virtue.  (Although I think you will want to read every book listed after  studying Prior’s explanations).

While not a self-help book per se, I’d suggest readers would derive much greater value from On Reading Well than Girl, Wash Your Face, or much else in the self-help genre for that matter.  Prior’s book does seem to be gaining traction, and I’m hopeful that more leaders and educators will return to the great books as a tool for developing character, understanding, and wisdom.  Prior appropriately ends her book with an exploration of the virtue of humility, for, as she quotes Flannery O’Connor:

“To know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks.  It is to measure oneself against Truth, and not the other way around.  The first product of self-knowledge is humility.”

Prior concludes with this profound sentence: “The good life begins and ends with humility.”  Indeed.  Read well, and live well.

On Reading Well

*Although I am connected to Karen Swallow Prior on social media, I did not seek her approval to contrast her approach with that of Rachel Hollis.  If this comparison gives offense, the blame is mine alone.