(2017 Mars Hill Graduation Address)

I want to focus on one word today: gratitude. Gratitude for what we have as a community in Mars Hill. I’m tempted to go on and on about the outstanding academic achievements of this school—our ACT scores, the performance of our graduates in college, and what they go on to do—but I won’t. I’ll just share one example. Years ago I had a student at Mars Hill who was—how shall we say it—near the back of the pack. I had this student, however, as an Asbury student later and realized that she was head and shoulders above the other students in her college class. I took a second look at the essay that she had written for my class and realized that it wasn’t really any better than what she had written for me at Mars Hill. Compared to her peers at Mars Hill she appeared to give poor work, while compared to her peers at college coming out of a progressivist school environment she appeared to be someone who could actually write grammatically complete English sentences. And not just that: she actually knew what an argument was and how to form one. I won’t go on and on about how we should be grateful for the academic advantages of Mars Hill because this really is not Mars Hill’s greatest strength. I was talking to Martin Cothran on Thursday night about the massive flowering of classical schools across the country. More and more these schools are forming their own accreditation agencies, their own college tests, and more and more colleges and employers are courting their graduates because the results are clear and decisive. Next to these schools, Mars Hill is merely one among many who do it better than we.

Instead I want to encourage a profound sense of gratitude on the part of everyone here today for the thing that I believe Mars Hill does best: community, a common life lived together in genuine love. I do not think that we are unique in this, but we are atypical. When I look into the dank cramped cave of the human heart I find ugly little blind fish that eat away at community. The Christian tradition calls these little blind fish “the passions”: greed, sensuality, pride, selfishness, rebellion, lust, self-absortion, conceit, idolatry. These things and others like them are called the “passions” from the Latin word passio because they are diseases of the soul from which we suffer. The Greek equivalent gives us our word “pathology.” What Christianity has always tried to overcome, many forces in our world today would now try to exploit in order to gain your dollars or your votes. What our education tries to slowly eradicate in the soul, progressivist education tries to cultivate. In such a world, it is no wonder that real community is hard to find. We should be grateful, then, for what we have because it is rare.

In place of broken homes we have strong marriages that nurture children. In place of parents seeking their own toys, we have parents laying down their lives for the upbringing of their children. In place of a principal that took this job as a way to advance his own career, we have a headmaster that we don’t pay who loves each of these graduates individually and sacrifices extraordinary amounts of his time to dig into the real spiritual battles of their lives. In place of cliques and bullies we have a single, unified senior class that loves one another and holds one another accountable. In place of the back-biting politics of PTA and sports-team boosters, we have families that come together around a common vision. In place of teenagers, we have men and women. In place of rebellion, we have submission. In place of kids who are absorbed in looking cool, we have Kyle and Mason.

But all this is not possible. It is not as though the parents and teachers and students that I see here never had a dank cramped cave in their hearts where they fed tidbits of community to their own little blind fish. The dynamics of love, sacrifice, and commitment that I see here should not be possible for beings such as these. What I see here is literally miraculous, a rupture of the order of things only possible because Omnipotent Love has torn it open. Two thousand years ago our king allowed nails to be driven into his hands and his feet and he allowed a spear to be driven into his side. From that torn open side still flows a river of blood and water that tears open our cramped cave and kills the fish that swim there. Only the death of God and his victory over death through the power of an indestructible life make this impossible Mars Hill possible. And the appropriate response in our hearts to this is gratitude.

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Whittaker Chambers on Writing and Inertia

By simply picking up a pen, things can be done, if we have the will to overcome inertia.

From a letter by Whittaker Chambers to Henry Regnery regarding Russell Kirk’s Conservative Mind.

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Burke on Moral Order

The awful Author of our being is the author of our place in the order of existence; and that having disposed and marshalled us by a divine tactic, not according to our will, but according to His, He has, in and by that disposition, virtually subjected us to act the part which belongs to the part assigned to us. We have obligations to mankind at large, which are not in consequence of any special voluntary pact. They arise from the relation of man to man, and the relation of man to God, which relations are not a matter of choice….When we marry, the choice is voluntary, but the duties are not a matter of choice….The instincts which give rise to this mysterious process of nature are not of our making. But out of physical causes, unknown to us, perhaps unknowable, arise moral duties, which, as we are able perfectly to comprehend, we are bound indispensably to perform.

—Edmund Burke, “Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs,” Works, III, p. 79, quoted in Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind, p. 31.

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Touchstone Review

I was pleased to see my review of the recently republished Liturgy and Personality by Dietrich von Hildebrand (Hildebrand Press) in this month’s Touchstone. You can read the short review online here. If you are at all interested in the ways that worship shapes and forms us at the deepest level, I highly recommend this short but dense book.

I’m also very much looking forward to this year’s Hildebrand Project Summer Seminar. This year, the focus will be on beauty and the line-up of faculty looks quite good.

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Christopher Graney on Galileo

Last week I had the pleasure of going to a wonderful talk by Dr. Christopher Graney at Immaculata Classical Academy. Graney spoke about the controversy surrounding Galileo and the heliocentric model. His main point was that most people spin this controversy as a conflict between science and bible-thumping faith, while ignoring the numerous scientific arguments that opponents of Galileo made at the time. For example, out of twenty-two arguments presented by Galileo’s contemporary Johann Georg Locher, only two were theological. The others had to do with objections from empirical data such as the absence of any observed parallax in the stars, the incorrect predictions of where planets would be on Galileo’s model, the apparent size of stars in telescopes at the time, and the motion of projectiles. These scientific objections were not decisively overcome until much later with the discoveries of Kepler, Newton, Coriolis, and others.

I had always thought that the main battle lines at the time of the controversy were between the old Ptolemaic model and the new Copernican model. I learned last week, however, that the most supported model at the time was that of Tycho Brahe, which differed from the Ptolemaic model by having the planets (other than the Earth) revolve around the sun, while the Sun, Moon, and stars still revolved around the Earth. The model apparently had better accuracy than either of the alternatives at the time and avoided the difficulties that are introduced with a moving Earth.

After the talk, Graney gave an encouragement to all the students of Latin at this classical school. He pointed out that most people who are into science these days have no Latin, and most people who study Latin are into things like classical poetry. This leaves a big hole in the history of science where there are few qualified researchers and yet a good deal of interest and funding available.

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Sublime Plugins for Pandoc

In the last post, I gave a brief introduction to using Pandoc. There are a few plugins for Sublime Text that I have installed that make it much easier to use Pandoc. On any Sublime Text installation, the first plugin to add should be Package Control. This allows you to easily install more plugins from within Sublime Text with an easy-to-use interface. While there are many plugins out there geared toward Markdown in general and Pandoc in particular, these are the ones that I use:

Markdown Editing
This markdown plugin trumps all the others and provides a base color scheme that I really like.
Academic Markdown
This requires Markdown Editing and extends its features to include some of the things academics would be interested in, like highlighting for Pandoc’s version of citations and CriticMarkup.
Just tell this plugin where your BibTeX file is and it will handle all your citation needs. I especially use the fuzzy filterable list of all my bibliography entries to add citations extremely quickly even when I only half remember a title or the name of an author.
This does what it says with lots of reconfigurability and minimal overhead.
Wrap Plus
This hard wraps selections and best of all it intelligently handles markdown-style block quotes and lists. (As an added bonus it handles a variety of block comment styles in different programming languages.)

Also take a look at the little tweaks that I have added myself for Academic Markdown and creating footnotes with a consistent numbering scheme across multiple files.

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Pandoc is a command line tool that transforms one text format (like Markdown or reStructuredText) into another (like HTML, PDF, or Word). I primarily use it to transform my markdown source files into pretty things like web pages or PDFs that are ready to be printed out. Pandoc is more suitable to my needs as an academic than other markdown tools because it allows for necessary extensions of markdown like footnotes, bibliographies, and tables without becoming too unwieldy. Pandoc’s template system also means that I have full control over my output—although the defaults are pretty good when I just want to spit something out in an unusual format.

After installing Pandoc, you can simply run it from a command line (like Terminal or iTerm in OSX or cmd.exe or Cygwin in Windows). The basic usage is simple:

pandoc -o myOutputFile.docx

Here the -o flag just means “output” and the filepath after it specifies the name of the file you want to create. Pandoc will automatically detect which format you want to go from and which format you want to output just by the file extensions you give it. In my example, I’m going from a markdown file to a word file.

So far so good, but what if you want to take advantage of those cool things like automatically formated bibliographic footnotes? Simply add the appropriate flags with the necessary information.

pandoc --csl=myChicagoDefault.csl --bibliography=myBibliography.bib -o myOutputFile.docx

In this example the --csl flag specifies a file with the CSL-style specification for how footnotes and bibliographic entries should be formated and the --bibliography flag specifies a file containing my BibTeX database of bibliography information. You can get more information on my exact set up in this post. Other flags I often include are --smart for transforming straight quotes into curly quotes and hyphens into dashes and --chapters for making first level headers in markdown into chapters in my dissertation.

At this point it becomes somewhat unmanageable to type all these flags in every time you want to get a Word version of the essay you’ve been writing. Luckily, I rarely open up the command line for Pandoc. Instead, I just save the command I use together with all the flags as a “build system” in Sublime Text.

Here’s the build system that I use as a Gist:

Using this I just press Ctrl+Shift+B and I get a menu with the various output formats. I just select one, using either the mouse or the arrow keys, and out pops a new version of the file that I have focused in Sublime. The new file has the same name as the markdown version except that the extension is different.

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Electric Archeology Open Notebook

I’m really impressed with what Shawn Graham over at Electric Archeology is doing with the Sublime Zettelkasten plugin. He is using Pykwiki to create a static site from his local folder of markdown files so that he can host an open notebook. You should really go over and check it out.

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The Why and the Wherefore

Sascha Fast said that I should write up a blog post explaining why I find my association of notes through Git useful. Admittedly, I only use this kind of association rarely. When I do, however, it proves to be just what I need.

I tend to work on my notes in creative bursts during which my mind is deeply immersed in the material. While I am putting all the notes and citations from (e.g.) an article where they go, I’m also opening totally fresh topics and thinking about seemingly unrelated things. For example, thoughts about Socrates’s comments about the real self, the soul, and conversation in the Alcibiades, will make me think about something connected to Martin Buber and Gabriel Marcel. When I’m done with a burst I commit in Git.

Most of the time, I navigate around my notes by either:

  1. using the quick panel in Sublime because I know exactly where I want to go,
  2. using direct links between explicitly associated notes, or
  3. searching for words or citekeys because I know the general topic I am looking for.

But these ways of moving from one note to others will not capture the association between Socrates and Martin Buber—there is no citekey in the later note since the article I was reading had nothing to do with Martin Buber; there are no obvious key words to search between the two files; and the random inspiration during the burst did not cause me to explicitly associate the notes with a hard link. Nevertheless, a year later I start to see the deep pattern that initially led me to think of Martin Buber while reading about Socrates. When I had the original inspiration, my grasp of this underlying pattern was totally inchoate. But now, I’m starting to see many little ideas across years of reading form one big constellation. As I work on this, it is super helpful to pull up a list—in under ten keystrokes—of all the notes I edited when I was working on this particular sentence of my note on the Alcibiades.

Christian Tietze had this to say on Twitter:

Date-based IDs in the file name do the same but only upon creation—the tech hurdle for Git is high, though.

I wanted to point out that I think everyone should be using Git anyway if they are doing anything in plain text. With an appropriate plugin, there is really very little to learn (no need to get into the CLI or any advanced features for our purposes). I also want to point out that Christian is exactly right. With date-of-creation timestamps or date-of-modification timestamps, you only get one point at which to place this note near others. With Git, you get nearness based on each change—both to the starting note and to its “change neighbors.”

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Definition Lists

After telling someone that they should use definition lists, I noticed that I had ignored them in my papers because I was too lazy back then to set up a nice format in LaTeX. Definition lists are great for philosophers (especially analytic philosophers) because it provides a good semantic structure for defining a proposition or example. So I updated the source of my papers to reflect my own advice. A good example of this is in my paper “Why Molinism Does not Help with the Rollback Argument.” You can see the raw source of this paper here, the PDF output here, and the HTML output here.

To get the PDF output to style nicely, I added this to the header of the LaTeX template that I use for Pandoc:

To get the HTML output for this site to style nicely, I used this CSS:

Hope this helps!

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