But first…a note from the editors. Beginning in our next issue, our “Forum” section will become a place for a more curated conversation about the subjects raised by our authors. Taking our inspiration from the golden age of blogging, we’ll be soliciting responses from a variety of people – and accepting unsolicited contributions as well. We’ll be looking for in-depth engagement and lively back-and-forth. So give it a shot – agree, disagree, tell us why, give us stories and examples. Contributions may be edited for length and clarity, and may be published in any medium. Please include your name and the city or town you’re writing from. Send contributions to email@example.com.
Progress and Presumption
On Natalia Osipova and Elena Avinova’s adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor” in “Regeneration,” Plough’s special 2020 digital issue: I cannot tell you how much I look forward to receiving my Plough issue. Sitting down and reading the essays, enjoying the art, just having it in my hands serves as an oasis of sanity and tranquility.
The graphic novel of “The Grand Inquisitor” episode in The Brothers Karamazov was very well timed – I will buy a few copies for those who lack the wisdom to subscribe.
As I grow older, I too think there has to be a better way; I pray that God will reveal a path. Paul Kingsnorth has noted: “One of the dangerous things about the story of progress is that we don’t think it’s a story. We think it’s the truth.” We cannot deny the advances made over the centuries – I, for one, welcome the advances in dentistry. The more you think about progress, the more you realize that it is simply intimacy with tools and technology. But the more technologically advanced we become, the more dependent we become on tools: tools that now control us in the sense that we have freely given them control over various aspects of our lives. Once control has been surrendered, it is challenging to regain – requiring a tech detox that rarely lasts.
Simply, thank you for Plough. I look forward to every issue and am grateful to have discovered your publication. It helps me find calm and quiet in an otherwise messy and noisy life.
Jean-Philippe Peltier, Monument, Colorado
Madonna House Greetings
On the Autumn 2020 issue, “Solidarity”: I was delighted to get two hard copies of the Autumn issue of Plough in the mail yesterday. I have been reading things online, but it doesn’t replace the “wholistic” experience of the issue in your hands. One of the priests has been joking with me when he sees me at the computer not typing, “You’re not reading Plough again?!”
So far no Covid cases within our Madonna House community. We’re being prudent about our activities away from the community, and we’re doing well. We have been able to receive new guests, which has been a blessing (of course, they go through testing before they enter). But as hospitality is one of the most important things we offer, it has been good to have been able to practice it concretely again.
I’ve just read Peter Mommsen’s book Homage to a Broken Man. What an incredible person J. Heinrich Arnold was: “I would rather trust and be betrayed thousands of times than mistrust for a single day.” Our foundress Catherine Doherty liked to say: “Trust the untrustworthy” – a call to Gospel living. She had another line: “Pain is the kiss of Christ.” I think Arnold understood that one well too.
We pray that you are well. We’re in the midst of harvest and the Lord has indeed been generous this year – an abundance in almost all the crops. We were able to give away three truckloads of squash. We killed our chickens earlier in the week and will all go together to begin to harvest the potatoes in a couple of days. Being all together doing a job is good for unity and family life.
Teresa Gehred, Madonna House, Combermere, Ontario, Canada
Arc of Justice
On Eugene F. Rivers’s and Jacqueline C. Rivers’s “Black Lives Matter and the Church,” Autumn 2020: What a refreshing commentary on where we are as a nation. Rev. and Dr. Rivers have brought such light of understanding to a complex issue. Most of all, I agree with their idea that this is the moment of the intercessors: those who’ve been called to pray and will not stop praying until something happens. It’s Joel 2:13 time: time to tear our hearts and not the outer garments of our past. As the church, we must take a true stand, repent from the inside of our hearts, then repent for the error of our ways where we have not addressed these issues of racism. And then it’ll be Joel 2:14 time: “Who knows what the Lord will do?” Let’s continue to have intelligent conversations like these, that let us remember that the wheat and the tares grow together now, and God said he’ll do the separating when he comes.
Gerald L. Johnson, Corona, California
On John D. Roth’s “The Anabaptist Vision of Politics,” Spring 2020: I’ll echo Roth’s central point: we must not be in thrall to a nation or government. We are not to think that real power lies in Washington, he writes. Of course, realistically, unimaginable amounts of tangible power lie there. It’s this that we can easily find ourselves in thrall to: that a nation has “a sacred right to –”, “a sacred duty to –”, that it is “a beacon of –”, and so on. Even “That’s not who we are” has this flavor of the sacred. . . .
The political is such a dangerous thing because it’s an animal with its eyes in its stomach: it has to devour a thing before it can see if it’s real. We can’t see anything – a doctor, a public works project, a school, an art form, God, Allah, without knowing its political standing. There’s always the question: “Is your church liberal? Is it conservative? Is it progressive?” There is a refusal to even attempt to see things in the light of the non-political, to not give everything to Caesar. We must, however, make that attempt.
Dan Ryan, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Vital Promise of Christian Education
On Richard Hughes Gibson’s “The Cassiodorus Necessity,”: As a Wheaton graduate, I appreciate your deeply historical and detailed argument for the “Cassiodorus Necessity.” My wife and I are neck-deep in establishing twenty Christian schools in Spain over the next twenty years. We subscribe to the Cassiodorus Necessity and believe that the work ethic, moral beauty, and “loving God with all our minds” of the Christian intellectual tradition are vital to raising a generation of leaders in Spain. (We desperately need philanthropists who are driven by this necessity to invest!) Thank you for your stimulating essay.
Timothy Westergren, Madrid, Spain
Pain Shared, Pain Relieved
On Kurt Armstrong’s “My Mean Brain”: Your article means the world to me – I thought I was the only one. We probably have theological differences but this article overpowers any of them in its richness and insightfulness. Hang on and never quit – this article is proof that you are an effective minister and top-notch writer. He who began the good work that is in you will be faithful to bring it to abundant harvest.
Shelly Jordan, Waterloo, Ontario
You must be reading my mind! I too live with a mood disorder and battle regularly with these kinds of thoughts. This is a really encouraging piece and it always helps to know that one is not alone in the struggle. Thank you for sharing your experience. I think I’m going to make my own “GO TO HELL” card!
Tim O’Regan, Brisbane, Australia
Concise and Gratifying Feedback
This might just be the best essay I’ve read about my book.
Rick Perlstein, Chicago, Illinois