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caligraphy pen, Petar Milošević, Wikimedia commons

Readers Respond: Issue 14

Letters to the Editor

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We welcome letters to the editor. Letters and web comments may be edited for length and clarity, and may be published in any medium. Letters should be sent with the writer’s name and address to letters@plough.com.

Remembering Johann Christoph Arnold

On J. Heinrich Arnold II’s “Not a Saint, but a Prophet: Remembering My Father,” Summer 2017: What an excellent article by a son about his dear father, Johann Christoph Arnold, certainly a saint in my book. A line that struck me most in this very interesting article was that his father “listened more than he spoke,” something sorely missing in today’s world – be it among politicians or ordinary mortals.  —Mervyn Maciel, Surrey, UK

J. Heinrich II’s words about his father are wonderful. What I admire most is his capacity to love. I am so very grateful to have been able to at least read and know Johann Christoph, his father, and his grand­father, if only vicariously. It’s a very small world when we are able to love.  —Luke Looschen, Rosharon, TX

Joe Strummer – Really?

On Jason Landsel’s “Forerunners” column: It has been difficult to understand the purpose of the “Forerunners” section. Is it to hold up certain people as heroes, role models, men and women of faith whose lives we would like to emulate in some way? Why then does it include people like Joe Strummer or Muhammad Ali? I have no doubt that there are things we could learn from both men, but at the same time there were major areas in both of their lives that seriously distract from the message of discipleship to Jesus Christ that I think you wish to present. In lifting these men up as heroes and pointing out their good points without ever a note of caution, the message one receives is that it really doesn’t matter that much how I live my life overall, as long as I have some good cause or do some good things. In fact, it really doesn’t even matter if I’m a Christian or not. Is that truly the message you wish to present?

Don’t misunderstand me: I think there is a place for giving credit to men and women who have been a good example in some way but whose lives in general we may not approve of. However, to feature such people in a special place in your magazine, giving the impression that they are heroes of the faith, is a different matter. Is there really a shortage of heroes of the faith whose lives in general can be upheld as a consistent witness to the one true God and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?  —Joshua Geiser, Caneyville, KY

Jason Landsel replies:

I’ll respond with a story. Growing up in a pacifist Christian community, I subconsciously carried  an aloofness toward members of the military: I viewed them, in fact, as sinners. But my moralism was challenged when I befriended Larry Mason, a Vietnam veteran whom I featured in an earlier column. Larry and I were close friends for many years, and when my wife and I married, he became part of our family. Together we spent weekends volunteering at the local National Guard base and VFW post. There I met some of the most committed and caring people I’ve ever encountered. My friend, who was now “Grandpa Larry” to my kids, never lost the many rough edges to his personality, but in his daily life I saw one of the greatest personal faiths lived out.

In “Forerunners,” I’d occasionally like to take the reader on a similar journey. I could cherry-pick the top ten saints of all time, but that would be too predictable. Since all human beings are made in the image of God, there must be an element of the divine at work in any human being who seeks, however imperfectly, to do good. Larry taught me to have reverence for this divine spark. Ultimately, I believe, that’s the example given us by Jesus himself, who praised the faith of a Gentile centurion, doubtless much to the exasperation of the pious. In that light, even a Muslim heavyweight champion or an English punk rocker can be counted among those – to use Geiser’s words – “whose lives we would like to emulate in some way.”

Benedict Option, cont.

On the Benedict Option Forum, Summer 2017:
Each issue of Plough goes deeper into our Christian roots. The Summer 2017 issue offered beautiful reflections on our contemplative tradition, but I was surprised that there was no mention of Contemplative Outreach, spearheaded by Thomas Keating, who continued where Thomas Merton left off. His work has been shared with thousands of communities worldwide. —Joan Monastero, Saugerties, NY

While formal religion does seem to be on the decline in the West, spiritual life and practice is flourishing. Perhaps theological reflection that fails to speak the language of the heart to modern and postmodern people is to blame for religious disbelief in the contemporary world. Benedict was not mainly interested in separating his life from the evil living of the world. He chose the more difficult option of living side-by-side with the world, endeavoring to point the way toward the joy of loving God. Through the centuries, Benedictines have struggled with this tension, to their great credit and substantial service to the world and God. —Norvene Vest, Green Valley, AZ

Contemplative Cats

On Nathaniel Peters’s “Saving Silence: Unlearning the Sin of Curiosity,” Summer 2017
Curiosity is a constant threat to my soul. Over the years, I have learned to enjoy and benefit from periods of solitude. A person can hear more in a quiet environment than in the noise and scuffles of high-tech living. —Mark Jabusch

I have been wondering why I love knowing stuff, and I thought of how Adam was assigned the task of naming – we are all geared towards information gathering. But to what end is all this information gathered? With the smartphone and internet, our natural curiosity has certainly become a disordered and inordinate thing! Curiosity can kill the cat, it seems. —Jenni Ho-Huan, Singapore

At Attention

On Sister Dominic Mary Heath’s “Giving God Our Attention,” Summer 2017
You have cleared my eyes as if you had removed my cataracts. This year, the simple work of gardening on our vegetable allotment has brought me such peace and fulfillment, and the joy of sharing with others, teaching me that bookish study must be linked with sensory and material learning. My allotment “learning” reminds me of what I remember the philosopher Bertrand Russell writing: “I am surrounded by learned men insisting that happiness is impossible, but daily confronted by my gardener proving the opposite!” —Andy Wilson, Carlisle, Cumbria, UK
an old woman reading Albert Anker, Elderly Woman Reading the Bible Image from Wikimedia Commons (public domain)
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