Transcript for SS #61: Have Your Humble Pie … and Eat It, Too!
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Brandy: You’re listening to Scholé Sisters episode number 61.
Welcome to Scholé Sisters, the podcast for the classical homeschooling mama who seeks to learn and grow while she’s helping her children learn and grow. Scholé Sisters is a casual conversation about topics that matter to those of us in the trenches of classical homeschooling who yearn for something more than just checking boxes and getting it all done. I’m your host, Brandy Vencel. You can find me at Afterthoughts—that’s my main blog, and also Teaching Reading with Bob Books, which is where I keep my line of printable phonics lessons. You can hear more from me on my other podcast, AfterCast. My co-hosts today are Pam Barnhill and Mystie Winckler. Pam is a speaker, podcaster, blogger at PamBarnhill.com, and author of two fabulous books, Better Together and the newly released, Plan Your Year.Mystie is a second-generation homeschooler with five kids and too many projects. With her blog, podcast, and membership, she helps you organize your attitude so you can organize your life. Find her over at SimplyConvivial.com. I have a special announcement, coming up in November we are hosting our first ever month long challenge. As you know, principles aren’t for having or knowing they’re for living. What if you took a principle and determined to live it out in some small way every weekday for a whole month? Think what a difference that would make and the power of the habit you would build. Learn more about our challenge by going to ScholeSisters.com/challenge to learn more. Today’s episode was recorded live at the beach house while we were at the fall retreat! The sound quality is a little less than our usual, but I can’t tell you how fun it was to record face-to-face. Our topic today is humility and teachableness. We think you’ll find the conversation very interesting. And so, without further ado, let’s get to it.
[00:02:25] Scholé Every Day
Brandy: Let’s start off with our Scholé … this is weird to see you guys [Laughter]. I’m actually avoiding eye contact. Let’s start off with our Scholé Every Day. Pam, you want to start?
Pam: Sure, I’ll start. Since I’ve already revealed mine? So, I read Hannah Coulter on the plane yesterday. And, so I totally got sucked into the book and could not stop, which is fabulous, because normally on the plane I’m a little more restless than that, but it was good. It was really good. I read it for my book club which now has five members and a couple more who didn’t come to the meeting. So I read it for the book club and it was really good. I enjoyed it so much. It’s not the greatest book to read when you’re leaving your children. [Laughter] So, tissue warning! I had to pull out my tissues, and I cried, and sniffled a lot. The people on the plane probably thought I was weird, but it was really, really good. I enjoyed it a lot. It was my first Wendell Berry.
Brandy: Really? I think that’s my favorite Wendell Berry. I know everyone says you’re supposed to love Jayber Crow the best, and I like that book, but I loved Hannah Coulter.
Mystie: I liked Hannah Coulter more than Jayber Crow. I read Hannah Coulter first. That was my first Wendell Berry and it’s been my favorite.
Pam: Well, and I think that’s what Mystie told me was read Hannah Coulter first and then Jayber Crow just feels all that much more.
Brandy: I read his … what’s the one about the little boy? I’ll have to look it up.
Mystie: Better keep this episode snappy.
Brandy: Yes. Yes, we should.
Pam: So we should go on to Brandy. What’s yours? [Laughter]
Brandy: As she takes control. Okay, so mine is None Greater, and I’m bringing this up because of the conversation we were having this morning because can I bring this up?
Brandy: So, I’m reading None Greater by Matthew Barrett (I think his last name is) which is actually really fun because in the very beginning of the book he tells how he met his wife and they went to, as I was reading it I was like they had to have gone to the same college as me and they did, and they met up outside the cafeteria and the way he described it was like how it can happen at this particular school because of the way that the layout of the campus is. And so, anyway, it was just kind of funny because I was like, oh I can envision this whole story.
Pam: So it’s a college campus set up for hookups. [Laughter]
Brandy: That’s right. Ring before spring or your money back. That’s not why I’m reading it. A year ago he was a fellow alum until afterwards, but I chose it, well, to read by myself. I had heard a podcast interview with the author and I was like, “Ooh, I want to read this,” and then I read like two or three chapters (it was so good that I was still looking for a Bible or theology book for senior year for my oldest), and so I added it and so now we’re reading it together. So, even though I’ve been reading it for a while I’m only on chapter four or five because I’m reading it as we’re reading it … like, I don’t read the next chapter until after we’ve discussed the previous one so I’m not jumping the gun on conversation. Anyway, it’s a book on the attributes of God, but the reason why I’m bringing it up is because there was a slight complaint in the episode with Ashley that aired (when this comes out it will have aired a few weeks ago) but when Ashley said “we cannot know God” some people were offended by that. I think it was a misunderstanding of what she was saying because she didn’t mean you cannot have a relationship with God or that you can’t know Him in your mediated relationship through Christ or any of that. What she meant was God’s really big, we’re really small, you could never wrap your mind around Him.
Mystie: That’s incomprehensible.
Pam: He’s a mystery.
Brandy: Yes, he is and interestingly enough that’s actually like a lot of what my talk is about for the retreat that I’m giving tomorrow is about how theologically sometimes we have trouble trusting God because we’ve made Him really small in our minds and sometimes that’s out of an honest attempt to understand Him without remembering a finite mind cannot actually understand an infinite God. So anyway, the book is on the attributes of God, but he always brings it back to God’s infinity. So if you’re talking about goodness, you’re not just talking about goodness the way we experience it, you’re talking about absolute infinite goodness. And I love the way he keeps bringing it back to God’s transcendent qualities. So even the things we understand and can have: mercy, justice, we always have as a derivative, and he’s always bringing it back to how incomprehensibly just God is or how incomprehensively merciful God is. It’s really good. I think it’s on track to be my book of the year, which I did not expect. I just thought I was buying a good theology book, but it’s just it’s super good. So anyway, that’s mine.
Mystie: That might be the book that’s purchased this Scholé Sister episode.
Brandy: I don’t know what I expected but I don’t know like in college or something we did an attributes of God study and I actually felt like it was probably bad for me because it felt like “Oh, I know that, I know that.” So to have one where I feel super worshipful, like he really helps you see how small you are and how big God is. It just is really great.
Pam: Well, and maybe in college you just weren’t in a place. Like, you just didn’t have enough humility.
Brandy: Right. That could be. I wasn’t docile. I wasn’t teachable enough. Okay Mystie, what about you?
Mystie: Mine is one that I read to prepare for this talk. It’s been on my shelf for a couple years because after reading Leisure: the Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper, one of the times that I read it years ago, I decided I should own more of his books. Turns out he’s written other books. And so I purchased a bunch and then they sat on my shelf. And so I finally picked this one up because it seemed like oh, maybe this will help me figure out what I’m supposed to say. And it’s called In Tune with the World. This is like show and tell because you guys are all right here. I feel like I get to show you: In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity. And so here is what I think. I think that Leisure: the Basis of Culture there are two different translators. Pieper needed a better translator for Leisure: the Basis of Culture. He had a great translator for this. This was so readable.
Pam: Really? Ooh.
Mystie: I read it twice. I took it during a swim team meet and I was like, Okay, I’ll read like a page or something. I’ve read almost the whole book.
Pam: Who translated that? Maybe we need to contact them and say, “Can you please translate the other one?”
Mystie: Richard and Clara Winston. St. Augustine’s Press, 1999.
Pam: We need to reach out.
Mystie: Yeah. It was so readable and so good. So, The Theory of Festivity—it ties back to scholé. So one of his things is that Labor Day and Memorial Day, like what’s actually wrong with holidays like that, but he’s speaking to the Germans and wanting to be communist sort of thing and how holidays have to be religious …
Pam: Because they’re holy days.
Mystie: They’re holy days and why a secular government tries and fails to have festival.
Pam: Well, and I don’t know that anybody’s trying to have festival around Memorial Day. I think it is morphed into this cultural thing where everybody’s like getting together and cooking out and things like that, but it really was and is and should be a day of remembrance.
Mystie: Yeah. He was going more on Labor Day where the idea of the laborers rise up and unite and he goes back to some of the French attempts in the French Revolution to go back to secular.
Pam: Well wasn’t Mayday a big communist…
Brandy: Okay, that’s interesting because I just finished reading Sweep by Jonathan Auxier. Mayday plays a big part in it and I don’t know my history well enough to know if how he’s portraying it is how it was but it was in London, there’s this big parade once a year of the sweeps. Like, the children would actually wash themselves and then people would give them food and throw pennies at them or something and they would do this whole parade and isn’t it nice? It was sort of putting some lipstick on child labor. Anyway, I don’t want to spoil the book. So it plays like a big part in the ending of the book and everything, but I’ve never heard of this before but if this whole thing—it was like a workers march and child labor on parade, hooray. Anyway, …
Brandy: … I had never heard of Mayday really before that so it’s interesting.
Pam: Well, and I think too, going back to the whole holy day holiday it’s just like the idea of the word has changed …
Mystie: Yeah, it has.
Pam: … so much. Nobody thinks of it. I mean even our biggest holiday, which okay, so I won’t say our biggest holiday, our biggest secular holiday is now Christmas. They’ve made it secular but the word holiday has also been made secular too.
Mystie: So it says you have to be connected to transcendent meaning which a utilitarian worldview can never let you do. It’s trying to keep you down basically and it’s religion and festival that lifts you up out of that. So the two actually never go together. So, a festival requires you taking time off work because part of the point is that the work isn’t the point.
Mystie: So the book is on scholé really. He never uses the word, he’s talking about festivity, but it’s the same concept of not letting a utilitarian mindset rule. And it’s more of a societal level instead of individual level.
Brandy: Well, I remember near the end of Leisure: the Basis of Culture he talks about scholé and the connection of scholé to festival.
Mystie: Yeah, he does.
Brandy: And I had a hard time wrapping my mind around what he really meant by festival. So it sounds like that would be a good follow-up read.
Mystie: He even has a chapter on Sabbath which was really good. I’ve read books on Sabbath and the idea of sabbath-keeping and whatever and this just one chapter. I was like, oh man, it was so good. Like, “Okay, that makes sense. I get it now.”
Brandy: I will buy it.
Pam: I have to get that one.
[00:13:27] Topical Discussion
Brandy: Alright. So, today’s topic—we like to choose big complicated words, so Authority and Docility, but really just Docility. So I was going to start us off –this is not a Charlotte Mason podcast episode, but I was going to start us off with her principle because I think it’s a good starting place because we’re mainly talking about docility …
Pam: Can we go back to why? Are you going to talk about why we’re doing this podcast?
Brandy: Well, we’re doing … well, why are we doing it? Because we had a Voxer conversation?
Pam: No, you told me there was a reason. Didn’t somebody ask for it?
Brandy: Somebody did ask for it. And I was like, “Ooh, we could talk about this. This would be fun.”
Mystie: It would be a good conversation to have.
Brandy: And I think it actually dovetails with some of our previous episodes in if I was less lazy, I would have looked them up before we were doing this, but I wanted to bring up Charlotte Mason’s principle (make sure I do it right). So, Charlotte Mason, her third principle of education. she says:
The principle of authority on the one hand and of obedience on the other are natural, necessary, and fundamental.
But then when she’s actually writing Volume 6 where she outlines—like, each chapter basically is one of her principles or part of one of her principles. She doesn’t call it authority and obedience in the chapter in Volume 6 where she does it, she calls it Authority and Docility, which is interesting to us because that’s the exact word that Sertillanges uses in The Intellectual Life. So when she talks about authority and docility or authority and obedience being natural, necessary, and fundamental. She’s meaning that philosophically this is a prerequisite to learning. It’s a prerequisite to educating. And so that is somehow foundational. And I think we all know if you don’t have like a general obedient relationship between parent and child it makes even potty training super hard. If they’re not going to obey you at all then you’re not really going to get the potty train going or whatever. And I think we all have those days where someone wakes up, doesn’t want to obey, and it derails your whole school day. But I docility goes beyond obedience, which is helpful because lots of times here we’re talking about adult learners and obedience feels weird. We’re reading a book. We’re not in a classroom. So what does it mean to be docile? I think it’s important to remember the authority part though, because Charlotte Mason was never meaning we’re going to graduate people who have blind obedience to whatever their teacher says, but there was this acknowledgement that some people are authorities. Your author of your book (if you’ve chosen a good book) should be an authority. There is an appropriate type of submission that is required for learning. And I think docility was a word they used to use a lot more than we use now. So, for us it doesn’t even quite sound right or make sense. But anyway, I wanted to start us off with authority and docility just to recognize that there’s this fundamental relationship. And even those of us who are adults and maybe we don’t even have a boss or whatever they’re still a docility or a submission that we’re supposed to have to truth, to the Lord, to the church, so we all are under authority even when we’re mostly in authority—like as moms were mostly in authority, but that doesn’t mean we’re not under authority also. So docility is a universal concept that we all have to have if we’re going to learn.
Mystie: So would you say it’s a principle, it’s a mindset of someone who is educated as well as someone who is learning. It has to happen for learning to happen, but it also is a habit of mind for someone who is educated to have humility, which is the word that Karen Glass uses when she’s talking about it in Consider This because I think sometimes we think of someone who’s educated as someone who is maybe not. Or if we think of someone who has a lot of education we think of someone or we know people who are full of themselves or authoritative without any docility and that’s actually not real. That’s not the fruit of real learning.
Brandy: They know and they don’t need teaching.
Brandy: Well, and that seems to be part of what’s wrong with modern academia, really, is there’s a whole bunch of people who think they don’t need to be taught and there’s no room for movement, even intellectually. There’s no room for movement because …
Pam: They are the authority.
Brandy: They are the authority. Right. That’s an interesting thing is if you start to view … like, let’s say you actually become an authority on something and you start to view yourself as an authority. Once you cross the line over into thinking that you no longer need to be taught. It seems like that’s where it falls apart for people.
Mystie: And that’s why it comes up in The Intellectual Life because he’s talking about what is it like to live an intellectual life? And there still is this amount of humility, docility that’s retained. So would we call docility a mindset? Maybe.
Mystie: An attitude.
Pam: I think totally.
Brandy: Okay, disposition?
Pam: Yeah. So can I tell a personal story? Okay, so my husband’s driving me to the airport the other morning at like 3:30 in the morning, yesterday morning. It seems like forever ago, and he said (God bless him), he said, “So, where are you going again? [Laughter] Who are you going to be with? Do I know any of these people?” Which basically means have I met any of these people? And I say, “Well, Dawn’s going to be there, you’ve met Dawn.” And I said, “It’s Mystie, Brandy, and I and I’ve been doing a podcast with them for (God bless him) a number of years…”
Brandy: “You have a podcast?” [Laughter]
Pam: And I said, “Oh, it’s the one where we talk about all the real intellectual things,” and I said, “I’m the Irlene Mandrell of the podcast.” He says, “Wow, they must be pretty smart if you’re admitting that you’re … [Laughter], they must be really intellectual.” But for years, and that goes back to my comment to you about being teachable in college, when I was young, I mean, I was always told growing up, “You’re one of the smartest kids in school” and the older I get the more I realize how little I know. And so it’s only by embracing that idea that I don’t know anything that now there’s so much more of a fullness to what I’m able to learn.
Mystie: I think that’s one of the identity, normal identity crisis, why that happens around like around thirty or you know in there because your 20-somethings you do think that, ‘Like, okay, like no way, I’ve got it figured out, you guys got it all wrong. Let me just show you.’ And then you’re like, ‘Oh.’
Brandy: Yeah, it’s true.
Pam: I think the more you can admit…
Pam: … how little you know, the more you’re then able to learn.
Pam: And wasn’t it like the ancient Greeks they had all of this learning or something up until they were—who talked about that? Was it Plato or Aristotle? Like, up to a really old age.
Pam: Now you can take your place now you’ve learned enough that you can take your place in society or be a politician or a leader whatever it was. Was that from Hicks that I’m remembering that?
Mystie: It’s in Aristotle that you need to be fifty before.
Brandy: I even remember Jewish culture. Why did Jesus need to be thirty when he entered his ministry? Because you couldn’t be called a Rabbi in your twenties. And that’s interesting in our culture where everybody wants to be a thought leader by the time they’re twenty-seven. I don’t want to say there was limited learning but the Torah is not huge—you don’t have to read all the things to know the Scriptures, but even then, you needed to have been studying them for thirty years to be any sort of authority.
Pam: Oh, there’s something there like unpacking that, like going back again and again and looking at something. Like you can’t just read it once and say, “Okay, now I know this.”
Mystie: And can teach it to others. I think I need a few more people who would say, “Oh, are you not thirty yet? I’m sorry, I’m not going to listen to you.”
Brandy: Honestly, I have this distinct memory of someone telling me that they read a book (I’m not going to name the book), they read a book one time and they understood it and they knew it and they had read it one time. And it was a book that I had struggled through many times and I don’t mean because it was … how do I put this? … it was hard reading but not in the sense of that it’s really hard to decode these words and I have to read it with a dictionary. It was hard reading because there was so much—it was like any really good book. There’s a lot of ideas on every page. There’s a lot to think about. Why you can read it over and over again is because you’re not going to get everything on every paragraph everything …
Pam: It was a living book.
Brandy: It was a living book exactly. I try not to be judgy when someone says something like that, but I was just, “You didn’t get the book.” If you’re going to come away from the book reading it one time and saying I read it and I understood it and I know it then to me, it was right up there with saying that about some other book that people would (this is not a classic book), but it was right up there and saying that about Plato or Scripture or anything. You don’t understand what it means to read these kinds of things. But it was that attitude of wanting to have mastered the book instead of wanting to submit yourself to the book …
Brandy/Mystie: Or be Mastered by.
Pam: Well, and this may be slightly off the topic of conversation, but so much about what our society is about, what education in our society about is like the end product. It’s never about the journey.
Brandy: Well, it’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of this when we say things like mastery based education, and I get what we’re saying. Like in math you want them to understand this before you try to build on it. So, I get that—it’s not that it’s all bad, but it is interesting when we start throwing these words around that the idea is to create a master.
Mystie: Well, and there are different kinds, like math and philosophy or humanities are very different.
Brandy: True, true.
Mystie: So we do need to come at them from different… You can’t necessarily apply the same tools or techniques to both.
Pam: Especially to fundamental math as opposed to more theoretical and …
[00:24:18] Docility ~ Humility ~ Teachableness
Brandy: So, docility. There’s different words: you said humility, Karen Glass said humility. Teachableness, I think is the word I like, but I would like to talk about a little bit, what does this actually look like because I don’t think it means, then every book I read I need to throw all my discernment out the window and just sit at the author’s feet and accept any error—swallow the whole thing whole. I feel like it’s not that, but then what does it look like? Because I think the opposite of swallowing it whole, you know, we say virtue runs in the middle. The opposite of swallowing whole would be I’m reading this book and I’m setting myself up as an authority over it and I’m going to tear it apart.
Mystie: Be critical.
Brandy: Because I am superior to the author and to the author’s message. So I feel like those are the two extremes.
Mystie: And sometimes we call that, and I think this is why it’s in Consider This is we think of that as analytical.
Mystie: And when someone like Karen Glass is talking about how we approach learning and she’s saying don’t be analytical that’s really what she’s getting at and …
Brandy: You know what? I don’t know—something about how you just said that made me think about why I didn’t really jive with that attributes of God study when I was in college. I think it was analytical, tearing up God and dividing him into these different boxes, and you were going to like somehow master God…
Mystie: Whereas this one is more scholé approach because it’s going back to worship.
Brandy: Yes, that’s interesting.
Mystie: And transcendence.
Brandy: Yeah, and somehow that college study I feel like God felt smaller to me which is weird because if you’re expanding your understanding of him, he should feel bigger. But so, what does it look like? How it would look for our kids and how it would look for us. And I think that is a little bit different just because the facility part there’s a certain submission that kids need to have to their teachers to their parent and a lot of that goes away in adulthood. So for us as adult readers, as adult learners, what do you think docility actually looks like?
Mystie: It’s coming to the book with openness. And so, I really liked the section in The Intellectual Life where he was talking about this because I hadn’t ever really thought about it, but as soon as he described like the two kinds of reading and said that there was a place for both then I was like, yes, and I need to make sure that I am not doing only the one kind. So, there’s reading that really is you’re looking for truth and you’re listening to what the person’s actually saying which I think allows them to use words in different ways than you’re used to—like, you’re not wanting them to say things the way you’re used to hearing them. But you are letting them say what they are saying in their way and trying to figure out what they mean and you’re trying to understand their thinking.
Pam: So what’s the other kind of reading for those listeners who have not read The Intellectual Life?
Mystie: So the other kind, and this is the way I started reading In Tune with the World: The Theory of Festivity, I had a purpose. I had to write a talk on laughter and so I’m looking at my bookshelf and I pull this one off the shelf. I’m coming at the book with my own agenda.
Mystie: To look for something. To research.
Brandy: It’s when you’re writing a research paper you’re doing that, you’re looking for your quote.
Mystie: And so I’m reading. I’m looking like, is this on my topic, and I’m pulling quotes out for a purpose, for my own purpose. The other way would have been if I was reading this like during my morning peace where I don’t have to do something with it, but it’s different from having a research project basically. And so in The Intellectual Life he says there’s a place for the research project, but we have to make sure that’s not the only kind of reading we do because that’s coming at it with what we want out of it. We’re looking to get something, we’re looking to get something specific out of it, our own purpose.
Pam: We go at the book with an agenda as opposed to going at a book with no agenda other than what the book is going to teach me.
Brandy: So like wrestling with the topic would not be blind obedience, but it would also not be setting yourself up as an authority over the book if you’re looking for confirmation or whatever.
Pam: Right. Because a lot of times when we’re writing a talk or something like that we’re like “I have my idea” now, let me go find some things that support that idea.
Brandy: And it is much harder because I’ve done it both ways. It is much harder to write a talk … like, I’ve selected topics before because I wanted to struggle through that topic and come to a conclusion, but writing the talk from that position of trying to figure out where you stand on something and trying to figure out what did this thinker really mean when they were talking about this? And then do I agree with it? And is it scriptural? Doing all of that, I mean, I have one talk that took me two hundred hours to prepare because I didn’t have an agenda. Well, my goodness, I can see why people only write talks on what they already have an opinion on. It took too long. You can’t live that way.
Pam: But having said that, you have an opinion on what you’re writing to talk about because of some past experience.
Brandy: You did the hundreds of hours before you started writing.
Mystie: So, I think the other way to come at the book then is knowing that yes, the author has an agenda and you’re just going to pay attention to them and let them set an agenda and you’ll come to your own conclusions after you’ve let them have their say.
Pam: Well, which goes back to with our kids and where this gets dangerous, if somebody’s saying “Oh, you know, you’re telling your kids not to ever think for themselves.” No, that’s not what we’re talking about. They come, you have the agenda, and then they get to decide later where they fall on that.
Brandy: I found this quote in The Intellectual Life, and this is in his section called, The Spirit of the Work, but he’s talking about the need to submit to truth and I think for him that’s ultimately what docility or teachableness is about is that in your reading you are willing to be corrected, you’re willing to submit to truth wherever you find it, even if the author’s someone you generally don’t agree with. If they bring up something that’s true then you have to adjust if you’ve learned a new trick. So he says,
This submission to truth is the binding condition for communion with it.
And I thought that is really interesting because later he says,
As in everything self-will is the enemy of God.
And so he’s actually saying that when we start to approach truth with pride were distancing ourselves from the ability to know truth and then ultimately then the ability to know God because obviously all truth comes from God. So, we’re reading a derivative work and I have distinct memories of doing this, I wanted to be the skeptic that tore the book apart. And he talks about that:
And the intelligence, which does not submit is in a state of skepticism and the skeptic is ill-prepared for the truth.
Blogging twelve years ago was all about that, right? It was all about, you get the book from the publisher and you tear it up or whatever, you know, and so anyway it’s just interesting to see him set you the book to the extent that it has truth and where will the truth come from and if you’re not willing to submit to it, then what does that ultimately mean about even your spiritual growth? It’s an interesting thing.
Pam: But caveating, and I think we’ve mentioned this again, it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to read a book and disagree with what it says.
Brandy: Right. Yes, right, but have we really heard … this actually kind of reminds me of one of Charlotte Mason’s other concepts where she talks about how the reason is a good servant but a bad master. And when she talks about the way the reason she’s saying children should be taught to understand that unless you’re doing math your reason is working just to confirm what you already think. And that’s why you’ll meet people who they’ve never changed their mind about anything. They thought this thing and then you kind of watch them and you’re like, well, they read this book and that like, how did they not nuance their understanding of it? Well, it’s because your reason is going to just confirm what we …
Mystie: Information bias.
Brandy: Exactly. It’s going to confirm what she said with irrefragable proofs, which apparently is no longer considered a word according to Microsoft Word. You can’t use that, they will try and change it into irrefragmenting or something. But anyway, I was thinking about this but she’s saying you have to take a step back and recognize the ideas that you’re if you already accepted and I think there’s a connection here that when I’m reading a book if I want to be open to, if I want to be open to correction in this book I need to think about what ideas if I already accepted that maybe are not true. Like in None Greater have I already assumed that I can know God and I am I going to be offended when he says that I can’t know God without seeking to understand what he really means? Because I know he’s a Christian so I know he’s not saying I can’t be in relationship with God. So what does he mean that I can’t know. It’s not to attack the person who was offended by that, I hope that didn’t sound like that, but I’m just thinking like what ideas do we come to the table with that we’re looking for confirmation without even realizing it which actually sets up a barrier from us being able to grow or learn.
Mystie: Or even something like the great now, you know, I’ve read bits and parts of Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle for a pod—for scholé sisters episode. Yeah, where are you know use the index and you find the topic and you just read that bit and so right now I was like, okay, you know, maybe this book actually isn’t just a bunch of fragments for research, for a specific topic. This is actually an entire book that’s reasoning something out. So, I’m starting from the beginning and it’s very slow going but when …
Brandy: When you’re done are you going to teach it to us in Sistership?
Mystie: I’m writing. I’m doing little bits of narration as I go. That’s why it’s taking so long.
Brandy: Good for you.
Mystie: So, it’s going to take me like five years. But …
Brandy: So in five years?
Mystie: In five years—there you go. But, there have been times where picking it up or just then different conversations I have with other people in real life kind of thing and realizing, you know coming to Aristotle you have to realize his context and let him and kind of the translator, you know as well set some of the vocabulary, which is going to be used to differently than you’re used to and so to know that his meaning in that word might not be what you’re imposing on it. So you’re kind of open to redefinitions and nuance. I think you have to be open to the fact that there is nuance here that I probably won’t see the first time through because I think this word means this but that’s not really what he’s getting at and also, you know, that kind of whole can we read Pagan authors, pre-Christian authors, which I think Pagan but I would not read a pagan work written five years ago but I would read a pre-Christian philosopher with an open mind to see what he was trying to say because he’s in a different context. And I think that God’s telling this big sweeping story where that had a place and a purpose in history and ought still to be respected, especially when you can see the church fathers, the reformer—like, all the great thinkers up until now, respected, the pre-Christian philosophers, so maybe we shouldn’t write them off.
Pam: Well, and there’s a difference between a pagan author who was writing before Christ …
Pam: … when the truth wasn’t revealed yet, and then one who’s writing now because that’s a rejection.
Mystie: It’s a rejection.
Mystie: Whereas they are seeking true and how are they doing that, it’s really fascinating, and they come to a lot of the truth and that’s what some of the medieval and early church fathers were saying is that they came as close to the truth as you could without God and they set the stage in the Greco-Roman world for the Gospel.
Brandy: Well, there’s certain ideas in Greek theology that allow for a rapid spread of the …
Brandy: … Gospel. Even political ideas, because there’s a reason why the roads were built and why the empires set up the way it was and I mean all those things.
Mystie: It’s all providential.
Brandy: For sure.
Mystie: God had a purpose for Plato and Aristotle. So not writing them off because they aren’t Christians and respecting the fact that they were intelligent and more intelligent than we are and so trying to be open to that instead of that kind of reading like yeah, I’m just going to assume that I disagree or am superior to because I am modern.
[00:38:18] Is it Okay to Criticize a Book?
Brandy: Do you think … I was trying to decide what I think about this. I see in my own life how dangerous it was to my soul when I would choose to read books for the sole purpose of arguing with them, which I did in my twenties and I think some of that is like a twenties attitude and I think the twenties idealism actually has a really important part to play in life. So I functionally it’s good, but just overall do you think it’s better not to read a book then it is to read it with an attitude of true pride? I’m trying to think how to put it.
Mystie: A critical spirit?
Mystie: Or assumption?
Pam: I think a book can change you, so I’m just thinking about Sarah Mackenzie’s conversion story. She very much went into reading those books because she was going to debunk everything in there.
Brandy: Oh, really? I don’t think I remember that.
Pam: And so she was not Catholic, her husband was and she’s like, I’m going to read all of these books so I can tell him everywhere he’s wrong. And then she converted. And she was in her twenties. And just as a side note, I don’t think you can ever tell a twenty-year-old what the problem is and them say, “I’m not going to do this.” They have to go through that.
Brandy: I guess I was thinking …
Mystie: Was it damaging to you, do you think? Is that what you’re kind of …
Brandy: I’m wondering if it would be now. There are sometimes books published and I’m like, oh, you know this book is going to be a problem or whatever. I think that because maybe the author has a blog and I’ve read some of their opinions or whatever and usually I don’t. I don’t have time to read books I don’t really want to read so I think that protects me a lot from any of that, but I was just wondering …
Mystie: I think it can be done, but I think that some of your reading—that should definitely not be all of your reading.
Brandy: Okay, good example, the “Christian discernment bloggers” that are out there and I don’t know any of them personally so this is not like a personal attack on anybody out there or anything, but I was wondering if that was the kind of blog that I had set up for myself where my mission was to read all of the latest Evangelical tripe and tear it apart and tell everybody why Rachel Hollis shouldn’t be read or whatever.
Mystie: If I was going to read her books it would be to debunk them. [Laughter]
Brandy: I was wondering is that damaging to the soul, but maybe that’s what you’re saying is if it’s all you’re reading, …
Mystie: If that’s the only attitude you ever read with and you’re never connecting two big ideas …
Pam: Bigger than you because if you’re only doing that then you’re putting yourself in that authority position all the time and never practicing the docility.
Brandy: Ah! So we need to always be reading something; obviously scripture, but beyond that we always need to be reading something that we’re submitting to.
Mystie: I think so.
Pam: Yeah. On a regular basis. And I would think that needs to be the majority of your reading.
Brandy: Okay. I like that.
Pam: At least more than fifty percent. That’s just my opinion.
Mystie: Well, and if some of it is it needs to include Scripture and it should include authors also.
Pam: Well, and it goes back to you don’t have anything to talk about or think about if you aren’t filling yourself up. Just like if I go to Mystie and whine, “I have nothing to write about,” she says, “What have you read lately?” And if I’m like, “Well…”
Mystie: I said that?
Pam: You have! [Laughter] In the past. And then what I come to quickly find out is the stuff I’ve been reading are not things that are filling me.
Pam: I mean, it’s other things, but business books aren’t going to help me have something to write about because I’m not writing about business.
Brandy: And it does seem like the type of humility this is really talking about, like Karen Glass saying I was reading on this at the beginning of chapter 4 in Consider This she says,
The intellectual and moral journey we want to make toward wisdom and virtue requires a recognition that I do not have wisdom.
I cut out a few words there, but that’s basically what she put. When we read how-to type books. If I’m reading a book on managing my kitchen and meals and all that stuff better or managing my house better all that, I will submit to things in that because I will find tips that are …
Brandy: … helpful. I will implement those and that’s a form of obedience or submission or teachableness or whatever. But I do wonder maybe it’s not so much that it’s different but it’s just at a different level, like I feel like that’s different than what we’re talking about. I guess I do come to those books saying I do not have wisdom but I’m thinking we’re talking, I think, about bigger than that.
Pam: I think just the fact that you’re reading one of those books is a submission. Why would you bother?
Brandy: I wouldn’t want those to be the bulk of my reading either.
Mystie: No, because that’s practical how-to.
Pam: That’s informational, it’s almost … what’s the word that Pieper uses?
Pam: I know that one, it’s the opposite of liberal. Servile. That’s the word.
Mystie: Servile Arts.
Pam: Servile arts, not the liberal arts.
Brandy: Okay, so if someone listening has never heard that distinction before do you guys want to elaborate a little bit?
Mystie: Servile arts would be what the household servants would be doing in an older culture, like moms are doing those things. So it’s not to demean it, it’s to distinguish it from that the practical daily duties and the life of the mind which a servant didn’t need.
Pam: And didn’t have time for.
Mystie: And didn’t have time for.
Brandy: And, isn’t it true that sometimes people didn’t want to give it to them because they might imagine another life?
Mystie: Yes. Yes. Yes.
Brandy: Which might actually be why people didn’t educate women sometimes too. Afraid they might not cook dinner.
Pam: Well, and it happens sometimes. Sometimes I’m reading my book and dinner doesn’t get done. [Laughter] There’s truth to that statement.
Brandy: My teenage daughter, though, has mastered having a book in one hand and stirring the beans with the other. It makes me really nervous, but she seems to have not started a fire so I’m not saying anything.
Mystie: I tell my son he can’t hold a book in one hand and wash the table and have it actually washed. Washing the table doesn’t mean just passing a rag over parts of it. We are still working on that.
Brandy: That is so disappointing.
Mystie: Apparently, that takes years to learn and we still aren’t there yet. It’s a servile art that we need to practice.
Brandy: Some arts are harder to master than others.
Mystie: Washing the table, apparently.
Mystie: So we’ve seen this idea that concept of authority and docility or humility or teachableness and people are using different words, and I think that’s part of it, of being a humble open learner is recognizing that different people are using words differently and letting them mean what they mean and not what you would mean if you were using that word. But I don’t like using the word docility. So, I take issue with that. Clearly a Victorian word.
Pam: So, what word would you use? Obedience?
Mystie: Well, I like humility.
Pam: Okay. Better.
Pam: I do, too.
Mystie: So, Brandy was saying that humility is broader and so she likes docility.
Brandy: I think I like teachableness.
Brandy: And when it comes to reading I feel like if I say, I need to come to the book with humility then I feel the need to clarify what I mean versus if I say, I’m coming to the book and trying to be teachable …
Mystie: That is a lot clearer.
Brandy: … someone knows what I mean without explaining it.
Pam: And I think we need to make a point here that maybe we haven’t made strongly enough that you shouldn’t enter into a relationship with every book out there in this way because there are some books that you’re going to know just on approaching that there’s no truth there. Or there’s very little truth there. Now, we could make an argument as to why do you read those books? Maybe it’s that other kind of reading, the research reading, maybe you are needing to debunk something but I want to make it clear that the Scholé Sisters are not saying every book …
Pam: … because they’re false books.
[00:47:40] Know Our Limits When Choosing a Book
Brandy: And I think it also depends. I have one child that there’s just certain things she cannot read. She’s our weakest member. I would say like there’s certain … it’s almost like she’s too teachable or something. She’s very easily influenced. Sifting through that stuff she finds confusing. And so, we also have to know our own limits. There may be certain things that, we as individuals… I wouldn’t say there’s certain things I can’t read but therefore you shouldn’t read it either, I wouldn’t extend it to that. But I think it’s good for us all to know our limits. Like there are certain things that some of us can’t read and that’s knowing ourselves really.
Mystie: And there’s a distinction too between choosing your books because you know it’s …
Pam: It fits with your worldview?
Mystie: Yeah, and you’re only going …
Pam: You’re only going to read those books.
Mystie: If you can come at a book even if you are maybe looking to debunk it but you’re choosing books that you know this is a strong thinker. So like you’re coming to Aristotle. There are other maybe different traditions, different whatever, but you are coming at it knowing that the person is smarter than you. You might still read and disagree with him in the end but there’s a recognition that he’s an able thinker. So, you’re looking at what he’s actually saying. There’s a really great, I think it’s the introduction of Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality.
Brandy: Okay. I have his complete works, but I don’t think I’ve read.
Mystie: I don’t know if it’s the introduction or the first chapter, but he talks about how it was a scary point in his life, but he realized he needed to come to truth from the beginning. He thought he knew where he was. He thought he knew everything, basically, and realized that he didn’t and he didn’t know what he didn’t know, and the only way he was going to figure it out was to start from scratch. So he decided, you know, kind of like a “discard moment” almost like, “I’m going to just forget it all and work through it from the beginning, and how that’s coming at it all from an opened mind but he also came at it with faith. He never doubted God existed. He was coming at it from if this is true then I can find it and know it. Maybe we can’t fully know God, but God does make Himself knowable. And I have faith that that I don’t have to have all of, you know, I can discard the rules that were keeping me safe in my box and go out into the open world of big ideas and the truth will be there. The world of ideas there’s a lot of error out there but it’s a world as a Christian you can go into knowing that truth is stronger than error.
Brandy: Which that in itself is a that’s a worldview. That is a way of viewing our encounter with the world and I wonder too, then, when we struggle with things like being afraid to read this book and I don’t want to ever come across as I think anybody can read anything because I know that there are books that are dangerous to certain souls and I never want to discount that or tell someone they should read something when their conscience is convicting and that they shouldn’t but I do wonder sometimes if we have built up evil as being too powerful that the fear is that we’ve built a dualism in our world where evil and good are equal, truth and falsehood are equal, instead of false is real and evil’s real, but good overcomes and truth is
Pam: We know how the story ends.
Brandy: Exactly. I remember that just reading some of the more superstitious Evangelical books in high school and starting to see that evil spirit behind every rock and it made me feel like evil was too powerful and I was a teenager and I knew that I was weak and it made me more fearful.
Pam: Well, when those books were really popular I read part of the first one and I just stopped. And they were really popular in the circles that I was in at that time and I was like, no, no. I don’t know what it was but it was …
Brandy: You were probably picking up on the dualism. I was probably just too young to really get that that’s what it was doing to me. I just knew that it made me …
Mystie: The picture that Francis Schaeffer then uses later is that when you have faith you can come at the world and there are open windows in your mind. Breezes can blow through and you can encounter anything that’s out there from a strong foundation without being afraid that you’ll be knocked down. So, if your faith is rooted in truth and you’re not afraid that you will lose your faith or lose truth or he even calls it true truth. If you believe that truth is actually true, then you’re not going to be afraid of error because it’s not going to work. In the end only if God really is telling the story really does end the way he says and God really is who he says he is then none of the other philosophies are actually going to work so you can explore them because they will fall apart.
Brandy: Like Plato and Aristotle were not sufficient. Nothing else would have happened after that.
Mystie: So you can read them knowing that they will fall apart, but pulling what truth you can from it.
Pam: Wisdom from it. It makes me think of abolition. There’s truth everywhere in the world in all kinds of different places. There’s this universal truth and then it’s almost like we have a concept in Catholicism where it’s the fullness of faith. And so, we have the fullness of truth, but there are little bits and pieces elsewhere.
Mystie: That’s what makes a lot of the error compelling is that it’s a partial truth.
[00:54:20] To Recap Today’s Conversation
Pam: So we’re saying you need to know what your limits are. I think we need to recap. So, this kind of reading should not be the majority of your reading we’ve already said that.
Mystie: Which kind?
Pam: The seeking kind of reading.
Mystie: The agenda driven.
Pam: The agenda driven, I’m going to debunk these things or things like that because I don’t want anybody now to say, oh they’re saying we should just recklessly go out and read everything.
Brandy: I think that’s our whole virtue lies in the middle; we don’t do it brainlessly and we don’t read with an agenda, and somewhere in the middle is this type of virtuous humble reading that we’re trying to
Mystie: That is part of the premise. It has to be worthy books and it is difficult sometimes knowing what is worthy.
Brandy: That’s true. Well, and maybe that’s an important key. If we’re going to read this way then you need to be pickier about what you’re reading.
Pam: And maybe that’s a whole other podcast episode.
Brandy: It might be. But I think that’s where the whole multum non multa episode comes in where we talked about read broadly, but you’re only reading the best books, you’re not reading every book on every topic. You don’t have to sift through the junk there’s usually three or four books on a topic that are authoritative and really good.
Mystie: And you look for someone who you respect as an authority and see what they read and you read that.
Brandy: Yeah, good point.
Pam: But you don’t have to be fearful in your reading either. If you come across ideas that don’t jive you can read those ideas and it’s not going to …
Brandy: You know, come to think of it, I hope this is not a tangent at the end because I know we need to wrap it up, but I wonder if narration is a good tool for embodying this just because with narration we are supposed to retell and therefore kind of embody what the author was saying. It’s not the time for me to say my opinion on this. When I’m narrating I’m having to do justice to the author’s words and then any judgment I would make would come after that. And I wonder if narration is really good because it requires a certain humility to put the kibosh on my opinion and just have to say what this person said to the best of my ability. If that actually maintains a certain humility. I mean, that’s kind of like the danger almost of saying like I’m going to skip narration will just go straight to discussion, I think because we’re skipping the part where we had to honor the author and just the author’s thoughts.
Pam: Now having said that as a mother of a teenager if you’re going to use narration then I think you can’t skip the discussion either, especially if you’re reading some of these books. And largely I think we’ve been talking about adult reading throughout this.
Brandy: But I wonder if it would help us in adult reading, like if we’re going to narrate.
Pam: Oh yes, I agree.
Mystie: But there is a point where they shouldn’t be only narrating either.
Pam: You should be having the discussion if you’re doing some of these wrestling with kind of books with your teenager. So, you’ve got to have both parts.
Brandy: Yes. Well, there we go. Anything else to wrap this up?
Mystie: Nope. I think we’re good.
Pam: I think we covered a lot of stuff.
Mystie: It was a good discussion.
Brandy: Great. Thanks guys. This was fun.
Mystie: Especially that I got to face the beach.
Brandy: That’s it for today. Thank you so much for listening and being a part of the Sisterhood of the podcast. Don’t forget to push subscribe in your podcast player so that you never miss an episode. Also remember to download Your Scholé Sheet to think through and apply the ideas from this episode, then bring your thoughts into the Sistership and join the conversation happening there. Start by going to ScholeSisters.com/ss61 to down Your Scholé Sheet copy for free. Also, don’t forget to stop by ScholeSisters.com/challenge to get more information on our November challenge which is coming up really soon. Next episode, Mystie and I discuss the four different kinds of reading. This comes from Sertillanges’ book, The Intellectual Life and explains a bit of some of what we talked about today. Until then, we want to remind you once again that homeschooling is a marathon you needn’t run alone, so open up your eyes, and look around you, find your sisters.