Worth Reading - 7/6

1. A recent study indicates that overly protective parents of college students contribute to depression:

Academically overbearing parents are doing great harm. So says Bill Deresiewicz in his groundbreaking 2014 manifesto Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life. “[For students] haunted their whole lives by a fear of failure—often, in the first instance, by their parents’ fear of failure,” writes Deresiewicz, “the cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential.”

Those whom Deresiewicz calls “excellent sheep” I call the “existentially impotent.” From 2006 to 2008, I served on Stanford University’s mental health task force, which examined the problem of student depression and proposed ways to teach faculty, staff, and students to better understand, notice, and respond to mental health issues. As dean, I saw a lack of intellectual and emotional freedom—this existential impotence—behind closed doors. The “excellent sheep” were in my office. Often brilliant, always accomplished, these students would sit on my couch holding their fragile, brittle parts together, resigned to the fact that these outwardly successful situations were their miserable lives.

2. The role of books in the Harry Potter series. This is whimsical, but fascinating:

The Harry Potter novels take place in a fully developed book culture – that is, they take place in a world where people (some people) use and interact with books. There are many more books used in the Harry Potter novels than there are other series with which they are sometimes compared. When I present this topic as a talk, I begin by asking the audience for the names of books that are mentioned in the HP novels. After getting about a dozen titles mentioned (usually very quickly) I then ask the audience for the names of books that are mentioned in The Chronicles of Narnia. The silence is stunning. How about The Lord of the Rings Trilogy? Usually someone will remember There and Back Again (which is part of Red Book of Westmarch) but that’s it. Any books in The Hunger Games? We haven’t been able to remember any.

The prominence of books in the Harry Potter novels is only partially explained by the fact that the Harry Potter novels are set in a school. Several of the most important books in these novels are not school books or textbooks. Consider The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, Tom Riddle’s diary and The Tales of Beedle the Bard. None of these are textbooks, and yet these are so important that they could almost be said to function as characters in the novels. Notice also that the Twilight series is at least partially set in a school – in a high school – and there are not nearly as many books mentioned. Certainly there’s nothing like The Monster Book of Monsters.

It is clear that Rowling understands books. They are an ocean in which she knows how to swim (as does her sometimes spokesperson Hermione.) In her interview with Charlie Rose Rowling talked about growing up in a house full of books and thanked her mother for that.

3. From Smithsonian Magazine on why Milo's sunrises in The Phantom Tollbooth are symphonies of color:

Tollbooth, Juster’s first book, was published in 1961 and came about accidentally, through procrastination and boredom. He had been awarded a Ford Foundation grant to write a textbook on urban planning for school kids, but instead found himself scribbling notes and doodles about his childhood. He started creating a fantastical world based on wordplay and puns and his friend, cartoonist Jules Feiffer, agreed to illustrate it.

“Between the two of us, we just blundered through absolutely everything, and it somehow managed to work,” he says in a faint Brooklyn accent.

The book tells the story of Milo, a disengaged 10-year-old who doesn’t understand school or grownups. A phantom tollbooth appears in his room and transports him to the Lands Beyond, where he encounters strange places and people, fights demons and rescues the princess sisters of Rhyme and Reason.
Working at a Bible college for three years and spending seven years (so far) as a student in biblical and theological training, it’s always said (but not repeated enough) that doing theology is a humble person’s task. Pride puffs up, leaving the theologian with nothing but Spirit-less fodder for intramural debates. Humility, on the other hand, allows for God-exaltation to happen in the life and work of the theologian.

Theology literally means words about God. God-talk. That’s no small thing! We’re attempting to describe the character, acts, and will of an infinite, perfect being with finite, imperfect language. In order to even attempt at doing theology humbly, let me encourage you to consider three things (that I constantly need to remind myself).