Category: Featured

How Not to Sacrifice if You’re a Father

Hint: Don’t be Rousseau

unrecognizable man with child on hilltop

I’ve been reading some Nock. Albert Jay Nock, one of the premier American essayists of the early twentieth century and one of the founders of modern conservative/libertarian thought.

A weighty man, that Nock.

But also a disturbing man. In a 1964 biography, Robert M. Crunden said Nock was greatly fond of the ladies. Nock was also greatly fond of being absent from his wife. He apparently deserted her after she bore him two children.

Let me qualify this: I don’t know any details about the abandonment. Nock was an extremely private man who took secrecy to new levels. He would, for instance, occasionally bundle up his outgoing mail and ship it from another state, so people wouldn’t know where he was living. Was the abandonment wholesale or more like a divorce with child visitation rights? Nobody seems to know. We know he left his job as an Episcopal minister and family, but we also know his sons knew their father well enough to assist later biographers.

But what I’ve always found fascinating about Nock is this: Only after leaving his wife, children, and conventional job did he climb up the ladder as an intellectual man of letters, joining the staff of the popular magazine, American Magazine, at age 39.

It kind of reminds me of Jean Rousseau, who orphaned five children so he could continue as Europe’s leading man of … Read the rest

Is It Even Possible for a Church to Advertise Properly?

Is it even possible to use material bait to capture a spiritual fish?

Marlboro Man, meet Pastor Phil.

I wrote those words back in 2005 when I heard that the United Methodist Church will start a four-week, $4 million effort to market its church. John Wesley’s spiritual descendants said they were “turning to those who know how to sell cars, houses, and other commercial products.”

It was part of a trend that has only grown stronger over the past 15 years. Many churches have their own “marketing arms.”

I’m not sure I like it. It’s hard to pinpoint the reason, but it’s worth remembering the most common criticism of advertising today (after its saturation of public space): it’s more concerned with getting sales than imparting truth. Indeed, we know that some advertising gurus will distort the truth to get sales for their clients. If churches turn to ad agencies for whom such an approach is the norm, isn’t there a significant risk that the ads will be misleading or play off emotionalism and thereby be a discredit to institutions that claim to impart objective truth?

But forget that for the moment. I’m more curious about a potential branch problem of such advertising.

As advertising becomes acceptable to draw people to the pews, might advertising become acceptable once people are in the pews? Catholic Churches have advertised on the back of bulletins for years, with no … Read the rest

What the Most Famous Love Story of the Middle Ages Can Tell Us About Ourselves

Uncle Fulbert: Abelard, Heloise, and the Culture of Narcissism

It was the love story of the Middle Ages, and one of the greatest love stories of all time.

Abelard, the premier philosopher of the twelfth century and an instrumental force in the rise of the University of Paris, had become attracted to the comely young Heloise, a teenage girl about twenty years his junior, who had already gained a reputation for her learning.

He approached Heloise’s Uncle Fulbert (her guardian) and proposed to live with him and take Heloise under his erudite wing. Fulbert eagerly agreed, proud that his smart niece had been chosen by the leading intellectual light of Europe for special instruction. Fulbert turned Heloise over to Abelard, giving him constant access to her, the right to direct her studies night and day, and even to administer corporal punishment. Under such circumstances, it didn’t take Abelard long to seduce Heloise. They carried on an affair in Fulbert’s house for months, Fulbert blind to it. (Abelard would later write, citing St. Jerome and referring to Fulbert, that a man is invariably the last to know what is going on in his own home; everyone knows what a woman is up to before her father or husband.)

Fulbert eventually learned of the affair and tossed Abelard out of the house. But Abelard had fallen passionately in love with his victim, so they carried on … Read the rest

How a Talisman Works

An Introduction to Basic Principles of Magic.

Do you want to live a long life? Make the image of Saturn on a sapphire. Or maybe make an image of Jupiter on a white, clear stone. You’ll be in adult diapers the longest.

Do you need to cure an illness? Carve the image of a king on a throne, in a yellow garment, next to a crow, sitting in front of the sun. That’ll do the trick.

Have a fever? Carve in marble the image of Mercury, with helmet and eagle’s feet, sitting on a throne, holding a rooster in his left hand. That’ll break it.

Those are examples of talismans: the art of introducing spirit into material objects. By following the property techniques, you can guide a spirit into an object then carry it around with you to overcome earthly adversity, change an earthly condition, or obtain an earthly advantage. The type of earthly affair capable of being altered by the object that has received the spirit depends on the sphere of power property to that spirit.

Perhaps the most influential book about making talismans: The Arabic Picatrix, which described in great detail the craft of making images of the “stars inscribed on the correct materials, at the right times, in the right frame of mind” to cure toothaches, aid business ventures, and overcome rivals. Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition.… Read the rest

Why June 1 is a Great Day to Honor the Copts

Plus: Coptic Lemonade

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. 

Gospel of Matthew, Chp. 2

Our Christian brothers, the Copts, celebrate “The Entry of the Lord into Egypt” today.

It’s one of seven minor Coptic feasts that commemorate events in Christ’s life.

I’d think this one is especially special to them.


Copt, from the Arabic “Kibt,” which derives from the Greek word for “Egyptians.”

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1998).

The Copts are one of the four or five Oriental Orthodox Churches: Syrian (which has two branches), Ethiopian, Armenian (of Kardashian fame), and Coptic. The term “Coptic” essentially means “Egyptian Christian.”

They come into history after 451, when the Council of Chalcedon condemned the Monophysite heresy (which, broadly speaking, rejected Christ’s two natures). The condemned Monophysites rejected the Council and continued their heretical stance.

Unfortunately, the Council was emotional, with shouting and temper and passions continued to ride high for years after the Council.

In 452, the main proponent of Monophysitism, Dioscorus, was deposed as the Patriarch … Read the rest

Garden Writing is About More than Plants

The biographical, philosophical, meditational, and countercultural world of American gardening literature

Riddle: What literary genre has historical roots that predate Socrates; features hundreds of American writers including Thoreau, Washington Irving, and Edith Wharton; and is a genre that you’ve probably never even heard of?

Answer: American gardening literature.

Don’t roll your eyes.

It’s a thing.

American gardening literature is a blend

In fact, American gardening literature is a big thing.

I have three volumes of gardening literature anthologies in my home library alone. Amazon has an entire department dedicated to “Gardening & Horticultural Essays.” Yes, just “essays.” It has two dozen other departments dedicated to gardening and horticulture in general.

The genre of American garden writing runs the gamut from technical to inspirational, from garden bed blueprints to meditations on weeding.

There are, for instance, seed catalogs that merely list seed specifications. They hardly qualify as literary endeavors. And then there are literary seed catalogs . . . those rare (and free!) publications that are informational, occasionally witty, and serious about their prose (one of my favorites is published by Wild Garden Seeds in Oregon).

Among contemporary books, you have The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, which is my standard “go-to” book but hardly qualifies as serious literature. And you have Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening, by theologian-gardener Vigen Guroian, which might be lovely but scarcely talks about gardening techniques.

And then you have The Read the rest

How I Use the Gardening Blockchain Crypto-Johnson Rod Algorithm to Deal with the Modern World

Confused and Contented in the Garden

“I want to live happily in a world I don’t understand.” The financier/philosopher Nassim Taleb starts one of his chapters with these words in Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder.

Taleb goes to great lengths to point out that modernity (a thing he loathes) is a highly complicated world that, truth be recognized, nobody understands. The world is integrated, labyrinthine, complex, technological, speedy–all adjectives he employs. And he’s right.

It reminds me of a conversation that my wife and I had last spring. She was talking about a friend’s investments and his conviction that the United States economy is going to fall apart. In addition to gold and silver, he’s also buying guns. She asked what I thought, and I basically said, “Yeah, maybe. And definitely, at some point . . . like maybe in 500 years or maybe next week. Who can possibly know? You know what I know? I know that sickly spinach plant I re-planted two weeks ago is going to make it. That’s what I know.”

I don’t understand this world. Heck, it goes beyond that: I don’t understand the world, trust the world, or even particularly like the world.

The World

Now, by “world” I mean the modern world, the cultural-economic milieu in which I find myself. I’m not referring to creation or other people in general. I’m not a Gnostic who thinks … Read the rest

I Was There When Vegas Came Back

What I Saw in Sin City

I went to Las Vegas last week, spending four nights at the iconic Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas. I spent Tuesday evening walking from the Nugget to the Strat, where I surveyed Vegas from 100 stories high for two hours.

The next morning, I covered five miles of downtown Las Vegas on foot, covering huge swaths of area.

On Thursday, I walked the length of the Strip, clocking in over 32,000 steps.

I took a two-hour bus tour and talked with the guide. I talked with Uber drivers. I chatted with all sorts of workers, from a farmers market vendor a half-mile north of Fremont Street to bartenders who make those frozen concoctions along the Strip.

I made notes. I came home and surfed the web. I bounced observations off my traveling companion (wife).

I then put all this into a giant blender and poured out these observations.


Primary Observation: Vegas is Back

Vegas, economists say, got hit the hardest among major cities. Nevada casinos alone saw revenues drop $6 billion in 2020. Vegas’ lucrative convention business was shut down. The reverberation through everything—other tourist attractions, hotels, restaurants—has been devastating.

I could see it Tuesday evening when Marie and I walked 2.1 miles from the Golden Nugget to the Stratosphere. We marveled at the ghost town feeling. After we left the Fremont Street area (which had … Read the rest