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I noticed an ad for a conference. The theme: Where are the New Intellectuals? I mentioned it to my priest and he sent back an article from the 1950s asking the same question – bemoaning, in fact, the death of Catholic intellectuals. Not that I qualify as a New Intellectual, but, having, at least, an intellect, I thought I’d chew on this.
My response? Pish-tosh!
There certainly are Contemporary Intellectuals, and I think I know why you aren’t finding them. They are sitting around in Real Lives, not in universities that have the funds to send them to conferences like these. Lots of them are home educators – moms and dads who are discovering the holes in their educations and patching them up as fast as they can. Sometimes they’re just a few steps ahead of the Next Intellectuals they are raising.
Include, in the ranks of these auto-didacts, everyone who is actively reading and discussing books like G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, A.E. Sertillange’s The Intellectual Life (a blueprint for New Intellectuals, by the way), Fr. Schall’s The Unseriousness of Human Affairs, or Stratford Caldecott’s The Radiance of Beauty. Catholic magazines (and their readers) like First Things, St. Austin Review, Second Spring and Gilbert are full of NIs. In fact, if Joseph Pearce, Dale Ahlquist, Stratford Caldecott, Anthony Esolen, and Gregg Wolfe aren’t on your short list of NIs, you’re looking in the wrong place (still in academia, are we?).
No wonder you’re spending big bucks to investigate the crisis of the disappearing Catholic intellectual. I’d love to have been at this conference to hear the answers they came up with. I’m genuinely interested in learning what was said, who said it, and what they all thought we should do next. Meanwhile, here’s my advice to those who are searching for New Intellectuals:
- Look for people with a genuine interest in a wide variety of topics. The ability to be interested, to place myself into the essence of things, is root and fruit of an expanding intellect.
- Look for people who ask questions, especially questions that provoke you. The intellect must be able to focus on both ‘objects’ of study and on ‘positive absences’ (things noticeable for not being there).
- Look for people who enjoy and make time for conversation and who are capable of being influenced by those conversations. (Hint: a book can be read as a conversation with the author – notice whether you tend to ‘talk back’ as you read.)
- Look for people who respond to what they learn – write about it, talk about it, change behaviors, improve practices, dive in to learn more, create derivative works. The intellect must be a two-way street, or it’ll become a dead end.
I’m not exactly sure why you, or anyone, is hunting up NIs, but I hope these tips help you find a few. Meanwhile, if you’re wishing (for whatever reasons) there were more of ‘em, perhaps that’s your call to become one, or raise one, or both.
This is a shameless plug for my own book! I’m so excited that Angelico Press has published Souls at Work, and I have high hopes that it will be a blessing to readers. Someone has asked “What kind of book is this?” and it’s hard to put it into a typical category.
It is ‘self-help,’ because I enjoy talking to people who enjoy self-improvement. It is ‘educational,’ because I look at the world through the lens of the classical Trivium and suggest this as a model for self-educators and for teachers. It is ‘Catholic spiritual direction,’ because I strongly believe that your interior life will be much improved by taking on reality in all its forms – art, persons, subjects, buildings and more.
It is ‘poetic,’ because it is meant to give you entrance into my own lived experience, and so is written with a richness of vocabulary and diction that is sadly missing from many 10-bullet-point books. It is ‘hard,’ because it invites you into the adventure of working out your salvation in the rough and tumble tensions of things that are difficult for you. It is a ‘workbook,’ because I ask you to do the work of writing it for yourself (!), or, at least, responding to its questions to make it truly your own.
It is ‘dangerous,’ because there is no true growth or education possible apart from venturing into the unknown territory of the Real World with only our imperfect realization of Christ to guide us. It is ‘Catholic,’ because it is deeply indebted to and respectful of the Faith, and is predicated on my own love for Christ and His teaching magisterium…without being at all a work of theology.
What else? A fountain of youth? Yes. A great conversation starter? Yes. A fun romp through science, art, literature, architecture, and more with, not an expert, but an interested fellow student? Yes. A help in understanding relationship dynamics? Yes. A new perspective on the new evangelization? Yes!
So, as one who is obviously totally unbiased about this book, I highly recommend you get a copy and share the news that it is available. THANKS to all who take the plunge and wade into this ‘invitation to freedom’. Together, Catholic writers and readers must discover what it means for an artist to be, not a law unto herself, but a member of the Body of Christ. I so look forward to your response to this book. Please tell me what kind of book it is when you know!
Don’t waste the food! Don’t waste the oil pastels and the good watercolors! Don’t waste the expensive fabric, the nice paper, the good wine! Above all, don’t waste time playing, chatting resting! Have you ever thought about the paradox of forming the highest things?
To learn to turn ideas into works of art, we must indulge a bit – not recklessly, but with some daring – in wasting art supplies. Give a kid the kind of art supplies you don’t care if he wastes, and I’ll bet they’re also not satisfying to use, either. Interest will wane. To learn to cook, we need to take some risks with foods.
No skill at words is acquired without long practice tossing away and rewriting ‘wasted’ words. No friendship is strengthened without great ‘waste’ of time together. No love is proved by other than life poured out in service. To turn feasts into practice for the Eucharist, we need to taste the finest wine (Note: the ‘finest wine’ I’ve ever been able to afford cost $26 a bottle, but it’s the thought that counts, and paisano is great for most meals. As fans of Rumpole, we call ours ‘Chateau Kaw Embankment’!)
We must learn to value and to give what is of highest value. There’s the paradox. Only a child can give, or use up, or waste with complete abandon, and only an adult can rightly value things. It is the work of growing up to become able to bear the tension of doing both. To give without knowing the value does nothing to honor the recipient, and to value without giving communicates no actual good.
A priest once counseled that if time is our greatest asset, the best gift we can give Him is to waste it. Since I write and speak about Holy Leisure, this was great reinforcement! Sabbath rest is all about learning to be, to be acted upon, to be whole and offer that wholeness to Christ. It can be very, very hard in our goal-oriented, product-producing, efficiency-loving culture to let go and give God some simple leisure time. Even our Christian culture tends toward purpose-driven lives and accomplishing great things for God.
I hope you’ll learn to waste boldly where the great thing being accomplished is YOU!
My whole life is an argument! It’s not that I go around picking fights, but that every choice I make, every action is, in its own way, an argument for choosing that action over other possibilities. This quality of actuality – one judgment realized in concrete form necessarily limits the range of possibility for the next choice – is one reason we keep ideas and virtue locked in a mental tower, and so seldom actualize them in forms, gestures, incontrovertible proofs of what we have thought about.
Thankfully, I don’t live intimately among people who choose quite differently. So, there’s not really much overt argument about my life choices. Every now and then, I realize that my very presence – because of these choices, not because I’m constantly mouthing off about my decisions – is a challenge to someone else.
I know how they feel. I’ve felt it myself – a little defensive in the presence even of someone who has chosen to dress nicer for this party, or go ahead and buy from that company. They might feel a bit wary that their choice for something I clearly chose against might be grounds for exile from my heart, my community, or my regard for them.
Their remedy – if my experience is any indicator – is to be much more clear than people usually are about the whys and wherefores of their own choices. The real challenge is to see that it’s me who needs to shift course when I feel defensive. I need to go over my own reasoning with a teachable spirit (not a combative, internal, self-righteous rehearsal) and then take a calm stand based on my own judgment.
Most important, I need to ‘own my own stuff’ and not attribute my discomfort to the other person, as though he were forcing me to defend myself.
I can stand my high ground, but need to stay free while doing it. Read some surprising reasons why you should argue.
Did you miss Part 1?
Tuition includes swim lessons, piano and other instrument lessons, various physical training and sport options, art lessons in every media, and several foreign languages. Fundraisers and grants-in-aid pay not only for direct expenses of the school, but for placement of pianos, computers, pottery wheels, woodworking equipment, and more in the homes of the students! Talk about ‘homework’! Sit down, there’s more: travel grants are made to families and small groups for field trips to the seashore (oceanography), Rome (religion, history, art, Italian), Mexico (missions work, Spanish), Civil War battle fields, folk art camps, and a number of other wow destinations. [Read more…]