I'm embarrassed to admit it, embarrassed because it took graduate school to teach me something it's hard to imagine I didn't learn much earlier. I don't want to blame my teachers. I don't think of them as nincompoops. If I didn't learn what I should, I probably wasn't listening.
But I'll never forget working on some graduate school research paper—probably something about John Milton—and stumbling on history so elementary I was embarrassed I didn't know it.
As we walked out of a room where my 95-year-old father-in-law had just had an eye exam, he wheeled his walker into a waiting-room area. To say the least, he's not quick on his feet. What's more, he needs at least four. One of these days that walker will be closeted, and he'll have to back into a wheelchair. I know he dreads it.
Perhaps my father was wrong, but he wasn't alone. Check out this document—the general title is unmistakable: "COMMUNIST PARTY, USA" and then "NEGRO QUESTION." It's a memorandum of the United States Government dated August 30, 1963.
Dr. Martin Luther King was shot, four of us--small-town white boys--followed the
Gulf of Mexico's eastern shore on an all-night trek from south Florida to New
Orleans. It was spring break, 1968, only a few months from the summer that
seemed, even at the time, to change all of our lives. Somewhere down
south we heard of Dr.
time. Once, years ago, when I was a college student home for a break,
my mother, who taught piano for most of her life, declared that she
would bestow upon her son a 10-dollar bill if he would only sit down at
the piano in the den and pound out a hymn, any hymn at all.
We have friends who decided to release their children from all obligations to attend Sunday worship when those children turned 18. Their reasoning is self-evident: What's required of each and every believing soul is willed commitment, not social (or parental) obligation. Once their children reached what some old creeds call "the age of discretion," they were, quite literally, on their own.
Because of his uncommonly fine use of language and the gracious character which emerges from his work, Alan Jacobs, who teaches English at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, has always struck me as someone who could be both entertaining and enlightening on almost any subject. This book certainly supports that evaluation.
Support the Christian Century
The Century's work relies primarily on subscriptions and donations. Thank you for supporting nonprofit journalism.