The FPR conference this weekend was a great delight. The only problem is that I wanted to have long conversations with everyone who came. I was mollified, however, by seeing many lively conversations happening during breaks throughout the day and over drinks in the evening. Among others, there are two things I really appreciate about these gatherings: First, there’s a shared commitment to bowing out of online spats and instead playing the long game, to naming and practicing on a local scale the human goods that are threatened and vulnerable. Fighting the long defeat fosters rich and lasting friendships.
Hence the second aspect I value: the unlikely friendships and collaborators that spring up. I chatted with homeschooling parents, someone who fits prosthetic devices, a lawyer who works for a union, an engineer who has a small homestead, a professor who introduces his students to good books despite institutional decay, a community member committed to neighborhood revitalization, and the list goes on. Similarly, the speakers come from different disciplines and perspectives; several attendees noted that the speakers articulated views with substantive differences from one another. This sort of intellectual tension is hard to maintain these days, but it’s vital for genuine conversation and learning. And despite the disagreements, Porchers remain united by a conviction that place and community matter. These are people who still talk with those neighbors who, as Richard Wilbur puts it, “are rumored to be unlike” them. And then they roll up their sleeves and set about the work of loving care. Such work may seem “unhistoric.” It may not show up on social media. But their faithful hidden lives contribute to the growing good of the world.
Thanks to all who came! We’re beginning to plot next year’s conference, and I’ve already received requests for some local Porches in the meantime. So let me know if you want to host a small, informal gathering with other FPR readers in your town. I’ll post a list of cities with the name and email of a local host, and interested readers can coordinate a time and place to meet.
“After Philosophy.” Christopher Shannon’s review of the newly translated Alasdair MacIntyre: An Intellectual Biography by Émile Perreau-Saussine finds Perreau-Saussine’s approach intriguing yet odd: “his fascination with MacIntyre recalls nothing if not the relation of Herod to John the Baptist: He spends much of the book restating the arguments surrounding MacIntyre’s critique of utilitarian and rights-based liberalism, arguments that always point to the incommensurability and relativism that MacIntyre feared once he moved toward Wittgenstein. Yet in the end, liberalism, for Perreau-Saussine, is right because it works.”
“Mid/South Contributors: Casey Spinks.” Casie Dodd talks with fellow Porcher Casey Spinks about poetry, place, and regional art: “I don’t think it’s possible to write about ‘being’ or ‘existence’—the things I try to write about—without the particularity of place. All writing is regional, though hopefully not all of it is regional-ist.”
“On the Advent of Fall.” Brian Miller meditates on fall work: “Perhaps it is because I have grown accustomed to viewing life through the lens of a farmer, but each season really does have its own time and place. And even as things die, they are reborn, including hope.”
“When Chess is Hard and Cheating is Easy, the Next Move is Complicated.” Sally Jenkins tries to parse the cheating accusations that are roiling the chess world right now. Playing chess at a high level is incredibly grueling, and while AI can help players develop new lines of play, it also poses enticing temptations.
“The Shock and Aftershocks of ‘The Waste Land.’” In a lengthy essay for the New Yorker, Anthony Lane surveys the celebrations of the hundredth birthday of Eliot’s famous poem: “All of which, for some people, will be about as thrilling as a dead bouquet, left over from last Tuesday. Why such a fuss over an old poem? Who cares who reads which lines with greater grace? One answer is that the new, in every field, flowers out of the old; the radical, by definition, has roots. What’s more, Eliot has the knack of sounding newer than the new.”
“What Small Churches Teach Us About Meaningful Membership.” Mike Kubinec reflects on three facets of Wendell-Berry-esque membership in his small church: “My time as a small-church pastor has shown me the beauty and strength of remaining small.” (Recommended by Jason Kees.)
“Forget Where–Let’s Talk About When.” Jake Casale reviews James K.A. Smith’s new book, How to Inhabit Time: “Spiritual timekeeping does not assume that human perspectives and action ever exist beyond historical forces—instead, we are indelibly formed and limited by history, our own and that of the communities we find ourselves in. When the church fails to account for this reality, it can lead to practicing a strange sort of “nowhen” Christianity, which in turn places the church out of step with its own inherent creatureliness.”
“The End of the Culture of Narcissism.” Ashley Colby writes about the psychological ills that manifest in contemporary political discourse and suggests an alternative:”The antidote to the individualistic culture of narcissism created by the upswing of energy resources, as well as the culture of victimhood birthed by its painful downswing, is a culture of interdependence, an acceptance of limits, and a reliance on mutual care. Historically, humans living within material constraints were forced to rely on one another to get by, with some of the worst impulses of human nature constrained by mutual interdependence. Our greatest moderating force is the experience of being relied upon, and relying upon others. “
“Dating Is Broken. Going Retro Could Fix It.” Michal Leibowitz draws on her experience in conservative Jewish communities to suggest that older forms of courtship might ameliorate the ills of contemporary dating culture: “A reacquaintance with more traditional forms of meeting and falling in love makes me feel hopeful. I see signs of a culture grasping for the things it rightly needs.” (Recommended by Sarah Soltis.)
“The Making of Nikole Hannah-Jones.” I have become weary of all stories about the 1619 Project, but Marc Weitzmann pens a perceptive and interesting essay: “In the course of researching, reporting, and interviewing for this story, I became less interested in finding out how exactly The 1619 Project came to be or in unearthing the gossipy details of Hannah-Jones’ role at The New York Times—a tired story, in large part, of digital-age news media business-model implosion—than in how Americans find themselves more and more in this odd and idiosyncratic predicament: splitting into opposing camps that are more or less aware of their deliberate deviations from the truth, yet clinging desperately to ever more extreme and factional positions of unreality. To a foreign observer, at least, few things seem more distinctly American than this racially tainted, self-destructive double nature of every norm, institution, and subculture.”