The wise man recognizes truth in the words of his enemies.
Anyone who was active in the earlier days of homeschooling will recognize the name of Gregg Harris, and for many it will not be a positive memory. One should not visit the sins of the father on the sons, but my experiences left me cautious and suspicious when I heard about Do Hard Things, a book written by his twin sons, Brett and Alex, and The Rebelution, their challenge to other teens to rise above society's low expectations. However, since I've long preached that we cripple our children by our low expectations, not just of teens but all the way back to birth, it seemed prudent to grit my teeth and read the book.
It was all I could to to keep from buying a copy for every one of our nephews. (No sexism here, just a regrettable lack of nieces.) What can I say? Some of the political and religious views expressed set my teeth on edge, and I suspect most of the families I would give the book to would react still more strongly. But it's well worth the effort to get past that reaction, because Brett and Alex write well, and what they are saying is incredibly important, not just for teens who share their beliefs, but for everyone, of any age.
The next challenge came when I learned of Angels in the Architecture, by Douglas Jones and Douglas Wilson. About Douglas Jones I knew nothing, but for reasons both personal and philosophical the name of Doug Wilson ties my stomach in knots. I believe both private and home educators owe Wilson a great debt for popularizing Dorothy Sayers' great essay, The Lost Tools of Learning, and for inspiring the tremendous quantity of high-quality materials that have erupted out of the Classical Christian education movement.
That doesn't mean I like the man. The only other of his books that I have read, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, I found to be arrogant, condescending, and rude—and hearing him speak in person was an even worse experience. So my initial attitude toward Angels in the Architecture was as suspicious as that toward Do Hard Things. However, Amazon's description of the book was too compelling to ignore, especially when accompanied by this comment from one of the reviewers: "The book avoids much of the sarchasim [sic] for which the authors have become quite famous."
Christianity presents a glorious vision for culture, a vision overflowing with truth, beauty, and goodness. It's a vision that stands in stark conflict with the anemic modern (and postmodern) perspectives that dominate contemporary life. Medieval Christianity began telling a beautiful story about the good life, but it was silenced in mid-sentence. The Reformation rescued truth, but its modern grandchildren have often ignored the importance of a medieval grasp of the good life. This book sketches a vision of "Medieval Protestantism," a personal and cultural vision that embraces the fullness of Christian truth, beauty, and goodness.
Having experienced too much of contemporary Protestantism's denegration of art, beauty, and culture, I was anticipating a keen, fresh wind to cut through those prejudices. It wasn't there. Not even close. Part of the fault probably lies in having read it very quickly, since I bought it as a gift and had time only to down it in great gulps before turning it over to its rightful owner. I'm sure he will read more thoughtfully, and perhaps find the gems that eluded me. I'm certain that Jones and Wilson have discovered something of vital importance, but for me it was lost amidst a great deal of chaff.
My final lesson (for now) in learning from those with whom I disagree is personal, and ongoing. I have sung under half a dozen or so church choir directors in my adult years, in different denominations and in different parts of the country. With all of them I got along well, and some became good friends. The new music minister at our church, however, has been a challenge for me. My reaction, when I first learned he had been hired, was "Here is someone I can learn something new from, for he is vastly different from me and from any other choir director I have experienced." I still believe that, as I also believe that there's a good chance he is exactly what our struggling church needs at this moment.That doesn't make it any easier to sing under him. Our personality differences are extreme, and I seem to get under his skin as much as he gets under mine. It's early yet, so I don't know what it is I'm to be learning from him, but if it's only to speak less and listen more it will be worthwhile.