Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

I’m just over half way through the first volume of Jaroslav Pelikan’s History of Christian Doctrine. Fingers crossed, I’ll finish it before the end of January.

One of Pelikan’s main observations throughout the book is that Christian doctrine developed in (at least) three distinct ways: as a response to Judaism and Greek philosophy, as a response to heresy, and as an articulation of the life of the church–i.e., its liturgical forms of worship and common practices among Christian believers. Having grown up in a non-denominational church I regularly heard about how early Christian writers were responding to heresy and contemporary religious belief systems. But I can’t recall anyone making the claim that liturgy preceded doctrine. Even now, as a member of an Anglo-Catholic parish with strong sympathies for the Orthodox church, I’m struck by how strange it is that early orthodox Christians were worshiping the Trinity before they had any clear idea of how the theological conception of the Trinity is distinct and separate from the worship of any other deity.

By the first century, Christians were already meeting regularly, praying together, baptizing their infants, and celebrating the Eucharist. It wasn’t until teachers began articulating the specifics of Christian belief that controversy arose. The baptizing of infants, for example, inspired discussions about original sin–what is it? how did we acquire it? how does baptism affect it? The Eucharist raised questions about Christology, of the relationship between Christ’s divine and human nature, and whether Christ was present in the Eucharist itself.

I don’t know if Pelikan makes this point later in his series, but from this lay-observer’s point of view, it seems that the relationship between liturgy and doctrine has been inverted in most Protestant churches. When I talk with my low-church evangelical Image result for thomas aquinas strawfriends about the Anglican liturgy, I’m often met with questions about whether prayer to the saints, infant baptism, or belief that Christ is present in the bread and wine is biblical. The answer to both questions is an emphatic “Yes!” But this would have been a strange question in the second century of the church. They were worshiping and believing based on the teaching and revelation that had been passed down to them from the apostles, not based on careful biblical exegesis (…though of course early Christian writers were also busy analyzing the Old Testament and outlining its continuity with the revelation of Christ).

Like poetry, the life and prayer of the church says more in its form and ritual than any single doctrine could express in any number of volumes. It’s no wonder that Thomas Aquinas, after experiencing a beatific vision toward the end of his life, considered all of his writings to be nothing but straw. The power of liturgy cannot be fully harnessed by the rational mind. It always transcends and encompasses rational thought.

 

 

Looking Ahead to 2019

2018 has been a year of major transitions. The most significant was the birth of my firstborn child in October. If three months of parenting has taught me anything, it’s that the messiness and intensity of life swirls just below the surface of daily routines. I’m more aware now of how hard-won true discipline is. Whether it’s the small habits of attending morning prayer every morning, or simply obeying the admonition “Don’t shake a baby” when every fiber of your being wants to shake the inconsolable child who is squirming, crying, and screaming at 3a for the fifth night in a row. But no. You put the kibosh on all the impulses that distract and attempt to misdirect your behavior. It’s a herculean effort.

(…though when he smiles at me in the morning, I magically forget everything that happened the night before. I’m pretty sure it’s witchcraft.)

So now, sitting at the beginning of 2019, I’m wary of making New Year resolutions. Only small, actionable resolutions for me this year. Here are a few related to the blog and reading/writing habits:

First, I’m going to start by trying to keep a reading log for the year. I’ve made attempts at this in the past, but I’ve never managed to come up with a system that I could reliably update throughout the whole year. For 2019, I’m incorporating my reading list to this website. I’m not going to stash away my reading log in a random journal or in an obscure file on my computer. I’ve dedicated a whole page to the site and have created categories and codes that will make it easy to update.

Second, I’m going to take another step in my attempts to remove myself from social media by financially investing in magazines, journals, and various other forms of periodicals. The internet in general has made me less and less tolerant of information that costs money. Pay walls frustrate me. Shouldn’t all internet content be free? No. Good content–whether it’s print or digital, essays or podcasts–takes hours and hours of preparation. Most of the writers I enjoy following have day jobs because writing itself usually isn’t enough to make a living, much less support a family. Supporting writers is an obligation if you want to read thoughtful arguments or careful analysis, and not just the latest, most provocative hot take. I now have subscriptions to Mars Hill Audio Journal, Christianity Today, and Comment Magazine. I’ve followed these publications for a while, but have yet to put my money where my mouth is. I plan to add to the subscription list throughout the year–First Things and Plough Booksamong others, might make the list as well, but I’m also open to other suggestions. By investing money into the articles I read on a regular basis, I now have some skin in the game, which I hope will motivate me to read more carefully and more diligently. Despite the “free stuff” on the internet, I’m more and more convinced that “free” dangerously flattens the hierarchy of carefully edited publications and encourages intellectual laziness on the part of readers.

Third, I’m convinced by Austin Kleon’s call to “own your own turf.” I began to revive this blog as an attempt to support my extraction from social media, and to encourage a more consistent writing habit. I’ve been more or less successful, but I’d like to kick it into a new gear for 2019. Piggy-backing on my resolve to invest in the information I read, I’m also going to invest in this site and purchase the lowest level WordPress subscription. The goal for the remainder of the year will be to practice writing short posts–three to four paragraphs–what Brad East calls “mezzo blogging.” My hope is that writing more frequently and in a more controlled, though still public, context will eventually lead to writing more long-form pieces for other venues. Because everything on the site is linked through categories and tags, it’ll function as a kind of notebook of ideas I can return to when I’m working on other projects.

Cheers to 2019! In the words of Sheldon and Davy Vanauken, “If it’s half as good as the half we’ve known, then here’s ‘Hail!’ to the rest of the road.”

Review: After Virtue

I met one half of my goal at the end of 2018 and finished Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue. There were points where I had to push my way through some of the dense philosophical analysis of other philosophers and allusions to some of the current academic debates that were relevant at the time he wrote the book. Much of that went over my head. Nevertheless, the thesis of the book and some of MacIntyre’s most important arguments came through loud and clear. This is due, in part, to MacIntyre’s repeated summary of his own argument and my prior familiarity with recent work by writers like Karen Swallow Prior, James K. A. Smith, Rod Dreher, and Patrick Deneen (et al.) who frequently reference some of his most important claims.

The premise of MacIntyre’s argument is that the modern world of moral knowledge is in tatters and has produced a “simulacra of morality” in western culture (2). Although modern moral knowledge relies on the intellectual/philosophical capital of ancient Image result for after virtuecivilizations, it purports to have disabused itself of ancient myopic prejudices. Despite the similar moral vocabulary, morality itself has been reduced to “use” and “preference.” MacIntyre describes the current accepted mode of moral philosophy as emotivism, an idea he locates primarily in the work of G. E. Moore whose book Principia Ethica was influential for the early 20th century writers known as the Bloomsbury Group. MacIntrye defines emotivism as “the doctrine that all judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude and feeling, insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character” (11-12).

Sound familiar? Go check out Comment Magazine’s recent issue on minimalism where they address many of our current cultural obsessions with #lifestyle choices and self-actualization, and you’ll see what I mean.

To demonstrate the precedence for Moore’s philosophy, MacIntyre walks backward through history. He shows how modern moral conceptions have been built on previous failures of philosophy to justify various moral behaviors. After Moore, he discusses Kierkegaard, then Kant, Diderot, Hume, Mills, and Bentham, among others. I can’t give a full evaluative account of his philosophical history on this point, but what little I have read of the philosophers he engages, his observations about the development of moral philosophical ideas ring true.

The walk backwards through the history of moral philosophy changes directions at chapter nine. At this point, MacIntyre addresses the significance of Nietzsche who, he argues, was one of the few philosophers in the history of the modern west to fully grasp the hollowed-out moral vocabulary in the west. MacIntyre, however, is an Aristotelian and he uses Aristotle as Nietzsche’s character foil.

The brilliance of Nietzsche’s “will to power” theory stems from his willingness to take seriously the logical outcomes of moral utilitarianism and emotivism, which MacIntyre identifies as the view that individuals are autonomous agents. During and after the 18th century, philosophers began to think of individuals atomistically–as discreet entities that can be understood apart from their social context. This shift marks a radical departure from historical forms of anthropology. Beginning with Homer, MacIntyre observes that most (if not all) ancient conceptions of man stem from a conception of the social order to which an individual belongs. Every human person has a social role, and this role tells us at least two important aspects about that person: 1) we learn her identity—i.e., who she is is predicated on her social membership and inherited cultural traditions; and 2) we learn her moral value—i.e., what she is owed and what she owes to others.

According to MacIntyre, any recognizable and practical form of virtue is inextricably linked to the larger social order. Individuals cannot be virtuous on their own, much less have an identity apart from the social context in which they were born. To pretend that a person can wholly cast off the cultural traditions inherited by the time and place of her birth, and the context in which she grows up, is delusional at best, and at worst will usher a person off the cliff of existential despair (e.g., MacIntyre does not mince words about his disagreement with Jean Paul Sartre). Toward the end of the book, MacIntyre argues that the fragmentation of morality has corresponded with changing conceptions of the self—specifically the tendency to think atomistically of human identity and actions (204). In contrast, “moral arguments within the classical, Aristotelian tradition…involve…the concept of man understood as having an essential nature and an essential purpose or function” both of which are rooted in the larger social structure (58). More from MacIntyre: “It is only when man is thought of as an individual prior to and apart from his roles that man ceases to be a functional concept” (59).

The atomistic thinking of the modern era has resulted in two fundamental problems. First, individuals have been stripped of any coherent identity. The “self,” abstracted from its social embeddedness, loses any narrative sense of its place and purpose. In some ways, the idea of an overarching narrative is at the root of MacIntyre’s solution to his diagnosis of modern western culture. Without a narrative—the inherited history, stories, modes of behavior, geographical location, traditions, etc.—people lose their conception of a telos. There is no end by which they can evaluate themselves, nor is there a clear functional purpose to their existence. It’s important to note as well that MacIntyre does not believe a person is the sole author of her own narrative. At best she is a co-author. Narratives are passed down from one generation to another. While it’s possible to reject certain aspects of a particular narrative, a person cannot completely reinvent or escape the givenness of their history and traditions.

The second and correlative problem is the inability to speak constructively about moral knowledge, much less moral behavior. The problem can be seen in the etymology of the word “moral” itself. In the writings of Cicero, morality referred to a person’s overall character which derived its coherency from a unifying and communal conception of the “Good.” It was not typically used in reference to the moral value of discrete actions. Actions, as Aristotle demonstrates in the Nicomachean Ethics, were discussed in the context of disciplines and habits which formed and revealed character. And this is (one of) MacIntyre’s main points: without any unifying concept of “Good” there can be no rational basis for argument (71). There can only be discrete actions made by autonomous nodal points we call “persons.”

It’s at this point in MacIntyre’s argument that most critics begin to bristle. He starts to sound nostalgic for the good ol’ days of ancient Athens, when people knew their place, agreed upon a unifying “Good,” and behaved accordingly. Scott Alexander, for example, agrees with MacIntyre’s analysis of modern philosophy but finds a) his use of virtue ethics to be a non-solution solution because it requires a consensus about how to solve moral dilemmas, but such a consensus is impossible; and b) he thinks MacIntyre’s version of history is overly simplistic.

Responding to Scott Alexander’s distaste for virtue ethics would require a whole new post—and I’d need to do more homework on the subject. But his critique of MacIntyre’s history is much less substantial if you pay attention to MacIntyre’s own critique of Aristotle’s view of history. Aristotle did not understand the transience of the polis because he did not have an understanding of historicity. Both Plato and Aristotle took the long-term staying power of the polis for granted, and failed to recognize that no city will last forever. Cities—and specifically social orders—rise and fall and reappear in new iterations. Sometimes the fall of a particular polis is good and sometimes a new iteration successfully corrects the errors of the previous one. But sometimes they don’t. MacIntyre is not nostalgic for an ancient Athenian polis. However, he recognizes that Aristotle’s insistence that virtue is connected to a social order, and that successful social orders require a shared understanding of the “Good,” is not wrong. Unfortunately, the modern era’s hyper awareness of historicity has caused many of its most influential moral philosophers to advance an extreme and untenable view of moral knowledge. Hence, “unmasking/demystifying” history has become one of the highest and only true modern virtues (72).  The result, however, is a culture that uses an inherited moral language with an unspoken emotivist understanding, hallowed out of meaning and deprived of any grounds for rational justification.

During and after reading After Virtue, I was struck by the thoroughness of MacIntyre’s argument which he roots in a series of interconnected close readings of philosophical, literary, and historical texts. All of which call for greater scrutiny, since each of those chapters could have been a book unto itself. In preparing this post, I toyed with the idea of only writing about his section on medieval narratives and his assertion of a fundamental historical shift from ancient heroic to medieval quest narratives and the role they played in reshaping anthropology. Any writer is in dangerous waters when he condenses and summarizes large, complex, and epochal social changes into a single book chapter.

In fact, it would be worth taking each chapter on its own terms. But for a blog post that, I realized, would risk getting lost in the weeds and missing the big picture. From the beginning, I forced myself to read through large chunks of the text so that I could get a better sense of MacIntyre’s argument. I wanted the big picture, even if it came at the expense of all the details which are equally important and fascinating in their own right. I’m sure I’ll return to specific chapters in After Virtue. In the meantime, I’m glad to have had the discipline to read it all in one fell swoop.

For further reading, especially if you’re interested in some more contemporary engagement with MacIntyre’s work, I recommend the following:

1. Brad East has a fantastic article at Mere Orthodoxy that outlines the ways in which academic debates trickle down into mainstream discussions. Brad specifically addresses the Benedict Option phenomenon and its academic predecessors. He doesn’t solely focus on MacIntyre, but he figures heavily in his article.

2. Stanley Hauerwas is a philosopher and theologian who has not only been influenced by MacIntyre’s work, but has also become one of the great expositors of MacIntyre’s philosophy as it has developed across his various publications. Hauerwas wrote a great article for First Things several years ago that gave me a better sense of MacIntyre’s philosophical project, context, and development.

3. Dallas Willard also engaged MacIntyre’s work regularly. As far as I can tell, he believes MacIntyre’s project ultimately failed, but that it brought to light important, under-discussed dimensions of modern moral philosophy. I watched Willard’s UCI lectures, and hope eventually to read the corresponding book to get a better idea of where Willard disagrees with MacIntyre.

 

 

Tradition vs. History

I am attempting a difficult task. Before the end of the year, I hope to have finished reading Aladair MacIntyre’s book, After Virtue, and the first volume of Jaroslav Pelikan’s book The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600).

I’m almost half way through MacIntyre’s book, and only in the second chapter of Image result for The Emergence of the Catholic TraditionPelikan’s. So, at the very least, I’m hopeful I’ll finish After Virtue and have made substantial progress in The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition.

Meanwhile, I plan to comment on both books as I work my way through them. First up, Pelikan:

Tradition without history has homogenized all the stages of development into one statically defined truth; history without tradition has produced a historicism that relativized the development of Christian doctrine in such a way as to make the distinction between authentic growth and cancerous aberration seem completely arbitrary. . . The history of Christian doctrine is the most effective means available of exposing the artificial theories of continuity that have often assumed normative status in the churches, and at the same time it is an avenue into the authentic continuity of Christian believing, teaching, and confessing. Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.

Pelikan’s series on the history of Christianity has been recommended to me countless times, and any time I run across reading lists of my favorite theologians, professors, and/or Christian writers in general, his name is inevitably near the top five. So far, he’s living up to the hype.

His brief discussion about the difference between history and tradition is worth the price of admission. As someone who has gone through an English graduate program at a local state school, I can tell that very few academics who write about Christian beliefs and practices in history make the distinction he makes (…though in my experience it’s nearly zero). All of history is either an arbitrary series of events or worse a socially constructed narrative that reinforces contemporary power structures.

In one sense, history is both of those things. But as far as the Christian church is concerned, history is more than a series of events and more than a cultural construction. It is a living tradition that preserves divine revelation, which breathes life into the contemporary church, and connects it with the past. Individuals do not have the power to tamper with tradition in the same way they can alter historical narratives for personal prestige or empowerment. Christians participate in the tradition; they don’t write it. The distinction, even as I’m writing about it, is difficult to parse. But Pelikan reminds us that there is a difference, and that we should apply our understanding of tradition and history to the study of the development of church doctrine–past, present, and future.

Review: Death, Dying, and LotR

At Fafnir: Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research I have a review published of Amy Amendt-Radeuge’s book The Sweet and the Bitter: Death and Dying in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

It’s one of those books that touched on all my favorite subjects: Tolkien, medieval studies, medievalism, and cultural criticism. Here’s a snippet from my review:

…chapter five reasserts the interplay between the theme of death and Tolkien’s notion of “hope without guarantees,” and the strong link between modern Western society and medieval Northern European culture. None of the characters espouse certain knowledge of life after death, yet all the good deaths demonstrate that a life well-lived affords hope beyond the grave. The uncertainty of death also establishes the foundation for the enduring relevance of Tolkien’s work. Amendt-Raduege argues that “by showing death as both a positive and negative . . . Tolkien’s text offers each of us the means to prepare for our own eventual ends” (110).

The Pleasures of Reading

I’ve been thinking about how we read, why we read, and whether it can be done well.

For example, check out my review of Karen Swallow Prior’s book On Reading Well over at Mere Orthodoxy.

Image result for the pleasures of reading in an age of distractionIn addition to Prior’s book, I’ve also been reading two other books about reading.

The first is Alan Jacobs’s The Pleasures of Reading Well in a Distracted Age. A couple things I’ve enjoyed about Jacobs’s book:

Jacobs does not offer strategies, techniques, or formula for getting the most out of a book. He simply explains why and how reading can be enjoyable. His first foundational principle for reading for pleasure is to read at whim:

…for heaven’s sake, don’t turn reading into the intellectual equivalent of eating organic greens, or (shifting the metaphor slightly) some fearfully disciplined appointment with an elliptical trainer of the mind in which you count words or pages the way some people fix their attention on the ‘calories burned’ readout–some assiduous and taxing exercise that allows you to look back on your conquest of Middlemarch with grim satisfaction. How depressing. This kind of thing is not reading at all, but what C. S. Lewis once called ‘social and ethical hygiene.’ (17)

This is a timely word. In a numbers-obsessed culture–we count steps, calories, proteins, words, pages, sleep hours, etc.–everything has become a standard and a burden. Whimsy is a byword, and joy is suspect.

Don’t misunderstand Jacobs. Whim isn’t an excuse for thoughtlessness and bad taste. If taken seriously, whim will lead to ever expanding horizons, greater beauty, and a hunger for deeper truth. Jacobs makes a distinction between whim and Whim:

In its lower-case version, whim is thoughtless, directionless preference that almost invariably leads to boredom or frustration or both. But Whim is something very different: it can guide us because it is based in self-knowledge–it can become for us a gracious Swiss pedagogue of the mind. (41)

Diligently reading at Whim means being selective, choosing only those books that bring the most pleasure and stir up interest. This is harder than it sounds. Especially, if like me, you constantly stand under the dark cloud of “BOOKS YOU SHOULD READ TO BE EDUCATED.” But reading strictly for numbers and standards isn’t reading. Reading, if done well, is a transformative experience (e.g., On Reading Well). It will change a habit of thought or perception. Reading at Whim facilitates reading well because it precImage result for what we see when we readipitates the enjoyment necessary for reading slowly, carefully, and lovingly.

I’d like to think I’ve had such an experience recently. I was at the publicly library and (at whim!) picked up Peter Mendelsund’s book What We See When We Read. This is not the kind of book I would normally think to read. But as soon as I flipped through a few of the pages, I added it to my library stack. It’s a fun but also serious analysis of how our minds project images of characters from a story based on the words we see on the page. If I’m not careful, thinking aImage result for what we see when we readbout how reading works while I’m reading can cause me to stall out. It’s like thinking about thinking while thinking: at some point the system crashes.

But Mendelsund’s approach, using images alongside words, avoids the usual problems of reading about reading because he forces your mind to process the same information in multiple ways. The result, so far, is an enriched reading experience. I don’t think I’ll read the same way again.

Happy reading!

Community: Not just an idea

The older I get, the more I’m convinced that “community” is a serendipitous phenomena.

After a long, honest discussion with friends about the idea of community and of personal experiences with successful and failed communities, I’m more aware of how the elements of a thriving group of people who live in relationship with one another is nothing short of a miracle.

Post-discussion, here are five aspects of community I’m still thinking about. I know there are more, but these stand out to me as non-negotiable.

1. Time

As someone who’s moved twice within the past ten years, I’ve experienced firsthand that it takes a solid year-and-a-half to two-years for new friendships to gain traction (…if you’re lucky). The mere fact of knowing about someone’s existence and interacting with that person in a physical setting (not online, and however fleetingly) lays the foundation for the possibility of a friendship. There is no short-cut, even if there are ways to encourage & cultivate new friendships.

The trouble is that in many of the situations in which we find ourselves, people are not committed for an indefinite amount of time to live in the same place. When my wife and I moved to Murfreesboro, TN it was with the intention that we would only be here for a maximum of two years. Three years later, we still think of Murfreesboro as a temporary place for us: both our families live in different states, and I’m still toying with the idea of doctoral studies. It feels disingenuous to invest in a community when you know, or if you’re 90% sure, there’s a time limit.

2. Proximity

Community also requires close physical proximity. The church, school, and/or gym you attend is determined by where you live. Even if you attend a church, private school, or gym outside of town, you’ve made a calculation about how far you’re willing to drive in order to become a member of that community. You could not, for example, live on the West coast and feasibly attend a weekly church service on the East coast.

Proximity is a question of who you’re stuck with. Although there’s greater freedom in the 21st century to expand our community perimeters, limitations remain unavoidable.

3. Goal(s)/Common Good

Proximity, like time, is not enough. Communities form, in part, because of a shared interest. Throwing a bunch of people in a room does not a community make. But if you do throw a bunch of people in a room for a long period of time, they’ll begin talking with one another, sharing with one another, and eventually form a common bond. The “common bond” will emerge from a collective sense of purpose and shared interests. The purpose does not have to be an agreed upon destination or goal; it could simply be an agreement to wonder about the same questions, to ensure the health and safety of others, or to simply coexist.

The strength of the community, however, will be determined by the strength of its shared purpose(s). A purpose like “coexist” is flimsy at best and will have no staying power. A community that establishes a collectively shared moral system in order to achieve a common good, in contrast, will grow from strength to strength. Jake Meador is especially good on this point:

A community is not just a gaggle of people; it’s a group of people bound around a specific good. And that good can be the good of a city, the good of a certain sort of work, or the good of study and reflection. But the point is that there needs to be something for the community to do.

4. Trust

Unfortunately, the binding good of a community is often a point on which many communities fall apart. A shared understanding of the common good is fraught with disagreement and miscommunication–both of which can lead to a sense of distrust among the members. Without trust, there’s no authenticity. Without authenticity, productive work and dialogue halts. Instead, members become suspicious of each other’s motives. The result is a group of people alone together. The community no longer contains members but individuals seeking their personalized good(s).

5. Effort

Finally, there is no chance of a community without personal effort. Individuals must choose to form and then diligently maintain a community. Effort will involve sacrifice for the sake of the common good; it will require a willingness to trust others, to continue to live in close proximity with one another, and to allow for the time needed for relationships to take root and flourish.

Effort may seem like the most obvious component to community building, but that’s because we’re steeped in a culture that believes “will-power” is the secret to success. If we’ll simply start cleaning our rooms on a regular basis, or if we’ll balance our budget monthly, or if we’ll declutter our living spaces, then life will bend to our every desire.

Despite the will-power narrative, there remain forces beyond our control. Sometimes effort is an act of waiting and patience as much as an exertion of will over a set of circumstances. Effort also entails a set of prerequisite resources: without time, proximity, a common good, or trust, my efforts to form a community will diminish and finally dissolve.

Concluding Thought

Writing this brief and informal reflection on the components of community has proved more difficult than I anticipated. I realize that part of the reason is that the “idea of a community” and the “practice of community” don’t always correspond with each other. Some of my own frustrations with fledgling communities in the past, for example, often stemmed from the disjunction between my ideas and my experience.

The difficulty also has arisen from the fact that the components of a community are symbiotic. It’s difficult to talk about the time needed for building relationships without also talking about how proximity and effort make time fruitful, and vice versa. Each aspect infuses the others.

A “community,” in other words, is not a machine composed of separable parts. It can’t be replicated following a universal set of rules or procedures, and the individual parts are not inanimate or predictable. There are no blocks or cogs, only persons. And like human persons, communities flourish under the happy confluence of a certain set of circumstances: time, proximity, a common good, trust, effort, and a healthy amount of grace.