Where I’m Coming From: Five Influences On My Thinking

vivian-maier-los-angeles-man-walking-with-package-1955We think we write only to communicate to others, but that is largely wrong.

Sure, we want to connect, to tell others something about the world as we see it. But, we write just as much to discover those neglected bits of our own selves buried beneath the layers of scattered thoughts and other detritus of the mind.

For example, writing this blog has brought to light a number of themes that inform my thinking and, in order to refine them even further, I offer this post listing five of the major influences on my mind. My guess is that some of these won’t be foreign to you. My goal in sharing them is that if they are not, you will know you’re not alone.

Being Born in a Time of Decline

All my life I have lived in the decline. I was born in 1970. By then, America, and the West more generally, were well past their glory days. I was fortunate to be born into a family where more than a few traces of the old values survived. I was taught from early on to practice values that were, even then, being discarded by the culture at large.

I was fortunate too that I lived in a small town in Indiana that was behind the times in everything, including the rush to cultural suicide. In that blue-collar town, there remained for a while a consensus among adults I knew that the values I was being taught at home were the right ones. It took a long time for the rot to reach that little corner of the world, and by the time it set in, the values and worldview of another time had taken deep root in me.

Traditionalism

I wasn’t born reading Chesterton. That came later. I was born with something deeper than a mere intellectual understanding of “traditionalism.” I was born with a disposition toward wonder and melancholy that formed in me the foundation of the traditionalist temperament.

From as early as I can remember, tales of Robin Hood, of virtuous knights, of love and the hero who stood alone for The Good, seemed more vital and alive to me than the world I saw in everyday life. It was clear to me that an unbroken strain of virtues ran through history from some past time to this one and that those virtues were, in every age, under assault in some form or another.

Even as a boy, I knew that preserving those eternal virtues, the permanent things, was the great adventure of life, and in this way, I became the only traditionalist in my kindergarten, and in every other, class.

Christianity

I went to church for the first time with an aunt who took me when I was two. The moment I asked her “what’s church?” is one of my strongest early memories. She brought me to worship with her a few days later and I continued to attend until my late teenage years.

At church, in the Christian story, I found an explanation for all those inborn traditionalist impulses. I could see at a deep level that took years to articulate how all the heroes from the stories I loved were but shadows of The Hero whose story we call Christianity.

Though, I’ve moved quit a bit theologically from the pietistic, holiness church where I began, I remain Christian. I do not want, however, to be a “Christian” blogger. My focus is on helping all those I can to live more peacefully in their relationships, and to build a home for themselves in the world. Though my faith is not in the foreground of my writing here, it informs my perspective on every issue.

The Importance of Family

I am firmly convinced it is not good for man to be alone. I see the family as the natural setting for human flourishing. The isolated, atomized individual is a modern aberration. The path back toward wholeness, toward stability and sanity both for the individual and for society is the path back toward the family.

People now don’t know how to have families. They don’t know how to establish them or to maintain them. This is because families are the concrete expression of the values that our time disparages. Discarding those values meant discarding the family.

For this reason, much of my writing focuses on the cultivation of virtue and its role in relationships. Reflecting on these issues is part of my contribution to maintaining whatever can be maintained, amid a ruinous time, of the most precious things in life.

The Necessity of a Sense of Mission

A sense of mission is essential for living well. Our consumer society has nearly destroyed this for most people. Instead of having a grand ambition or even just feeling charged with transmitting values to the next generation, people focus on the next thing to buy. Their missions, such as they are, are mission of acquisition not conquest.

Our time calls for nobler quests than these. Discovering and acting upon the missions we’ve been given is the central point from which all else radiates in life. Writing here is part of mine. My hope is that by pursuing the mission I’ve been given, I might help you more fully accomplish yours.

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3 responses

  1. ” The isolated, atomized individual is a modern aberration.”

    Not modern. Sages, ascetics, poets, philosophers of yore were often isolated and atomized, at least until they came out to the world with their accumulated wisdom.

    • I see what you’re saying, however they were isolated generally in ways that directly bespoke a wider purpose/culture/religious mission or as you said with the eventual goal in some cases of bringing wisdom back to the tribe. I think Dean is talking more about the phenomenon of isolation in pursuit of material and worldly goals for people who often would just be much more fulfilled being a part of a whole with shared, helpful values. Correct me if I’m wrong? How I see it is postmodern Western culture increasingly posits ‘independence’ and personal material achievements over and above kinship, group identity and tradition.

      • This is exactly right. The isolation I am referring to is the isolation of the individual from others at an emotional and spiritual, not geographical, level.

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