the great distillery tour!

My former student Gabriel RiCharde is now working for the pride of Waco, Balcones Distilling, and today he gave me a tour. It was really fascinating. I have read a bit over the years about the process of distilling spirits, and I knew that it is complicated — but when you actually get walked through each stage … wow. At every step of the process complex science is involved, but also decisions that require artful intuition.

Here’s a closeup of the door to the mash tun, which was bought from the Speyburn distillery in Scotland, and which has been used to make whisky for about 75 years:

And here’s one of the amazing new stills, just arrived a few weeks ago from Scotland:

And this steampunky thing is attached to the stills — I don’t know what it is, but it looks super cool:

Here’s the tasting and blending room, where I could have stayed for quite some time:

And here the aging process, in barrels made variously of American, French, and other European oak:

And finally, after all that hard work of listening and gaping, I had to take a couple of presents home for myself:

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Charles Murray Award for Inciting the Hatred of People Who Have Never Read a Word You’ve Written and Never Will

This year’s winner: Rod Dreher!

the absolutizing of fright

Farhad Manjoo:

In Silicon Valley, current events tend to fade into the background. The Sept. 11 attacks, the Iraq war, the financial crisis and every recent presidential election occurred, for the tech industry, on some parallel but distant timeline divorced from the everyday business of digitizing the world. Then Donald Trump won. In the 17 years I’ve spent covering Silicon Valley, I’ve never seen anything shake the place like his victory. In the span of a few months, the Valley has been transformed from a politically disengaged company town into a center of anti-Trump resistance and fear. A week after the election, one start-up founder sent me a private message on Twitter: “I think it’s worse than I thought,” he wrote. “Originally I thought 18 months. I’ve cut that in half.” Until what? “Apocalypse. End of the world.”

So by the end of 2017 the Earth will be a dead ball of rock spinning through space? Is that the idea? You reply, Obviously not. But if not that, then what?

I have the same questions about the notorious “Flight 93 Election” essay, which says “2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die.” And also says, “a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto.” And also says, “we are headed off a cliff.” Later our pseudonymous author says that conservatives will be “persecuted,” will be “crushed,” and under a Hillary presidency America will be “doomed.” But what precisely is he talking about? It’s absolutely impossible to tell. He doesn’t give even a hint.

Under a Clinton presidency, would socially-conservative evangelical Christians like me have been fired from our jobs, driven from our homes, and sent to re-education camps? Would we have been forced to sign some sort of Pledge of Allegiance to the Sexual Revolution, under threat of imprisonment? What?

And if, now that we have a Trumpery presidency, the world won’t literally end, what exactly is it that Manjoo’s texter fears? A nuclear war that renders most of the planet uninhabitable? A further acceleration of global warming? Or a Handmaid’s Tale-style Republic of Gilead? What? Those are very different scenarios, and it would be nice to know just what we’re supposed to be terrified of.

(This absolutizing of fright reminds me of the expanding scope of disasters in superhero comics and movies: People will die! — no wait, a whole city will be destroyed! — A city? Small stuff. The planet will be vaporized! — A mere planet? The universe will disappear in a puff of smoke! — Just this universe? No: all the universes there are or ever were or ever will be! All gone! Save us, O mighty ones!)

Such escalation of rhetoric means the deflation of care. All this pearl-clutching disguised as apocalyptic prophecy is not only intellectually vacuous, it’s counterproductive. You scream long enough and people stop hearing you, you become just another element of the background noise. If you are concerned and want others to share your concern, tell us precisely what you think will happen, why you think it will happen, and how you think it will happen. Otherwise you are merely darkening counsel by words without knowledge.


Back in the day (i.e. the 1970s) when I worked in a bookstore, it was fairly common for people to come in and ask, “Do you have Billy Graham’s book Angels Angels Angels Angels Angels?” This cover explains why.

Jimmy Wales and journalism

“If we have a community guiding the work and we have people who are paying to be monthly supporters we can do the numbers and say, well for this many monthly supporters we can hire another journalist…. Which means if a group wants us to hire a journalist on a particular topic, whatever that might be, then we can do that.”

— Jimmy Wales. And I’m sure that the people who commission a journalist and pay his or her salary won’t in any way influence the conclusions that journalist reaches.

Nothing says “Come unto me, all ye who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” like an armed police force.

Baylor’s nonexistent cliff

I’m not happy with this story about Baylor’s new president, Linda Livingstone, by my friend Ruth Graham, which is an unfamiliar experience for me because Ruth is one of the best journalists around. (Despite my criticisms here, you should read anything that has her byline on it.)

First of all, let me declare an obvious interest: I teach at Baylor, so I’m invested in its success.

Second: Baylor deserves the media lashing it has received in the past couple of years, and deserves it all the more because it’s a Christian university and should be holding itself to far higher ethical standards than are typical at secular institutions. Instead, and especially in its treatment of women, it has often fallen far below the already-low standards of its peer institutions. Heads needed to roll, and some big heads did roll; however, there are deeper and more insidious cultural forces at work that need to be identified and uprooted. I have seen, up close and personal, Baylor’s efforts in recent months to do that difficult uprooting work, and I commend the institutional leadership for that — even though I doubt that the job can be done as thoroughly as it needs to be done as long as the university is committed to success in Division I sports. (If I were Emperor of Baylor, I would take us to Division III in a heartbeat: no athletic scholarships. Of course, that would lead to my being tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail, so perhaps it’s better that I’m not Emperor of Baylor.)

So what’s my problem with Ruth’s post? This claim: “Livingstone’s historic appointment is a rather extreme example of a phenomenon known as the ‘glass cliff’: the tendency of women to be appointed to leadership only when an organization is in crisis.” Ruth is effectively arguing that Linda Livingstone has just signed up as captain of the Titanic.

But this is not true. Student applications continue to go up — last year’s class was the most selective in school history and this year’s may be even better —; giving remains strong and the university has never been more financially secure; we’ve been able to hire better and better faculty, even in the short time I’ve been here. This is an institution that has a crisis, but it’s not an institution that’s overall in crisis.

A comparison may help. The athletic department at the University of North Carolina is immured in an academic scandal so profound that the president of the University of Maryland has suggested that UNC athletics be given the ‘death penalty’ — that is, be shut down altogether, at least for a period. And yet, I don’t believe that anyone has described UNC as an “institution in crisis,” nor would anyone think that someone chosen as its president was about to walk off a cliff.

I’d just like for Baylor’s treatment in the media to be comparable to UNC’s. That is, I’d like for the university as a whole not to be defined, wholly and exclusively, by the worst thing that’s happened here — even though I want that “worst thing” to receive the widespread condemnation it’s already received.

And I also — last but definitely not least — want to say this: I hope Linda Livingstone thoroughly cleans house around here and sets up Baylor for a future in which it won’t even be possible for people to write pieces like Ruth’s.


Always rather embarrassing to wonder what one gets out of travel to make up for its privations, except that it requires so much more imagination to stay at home.

— William Empson, letter to John Hayward, 7 March 1933


The Stavelot Triptych at the Morgan Library (via John Overholt on Twitter)


by An Lin

Port Glasgow





From all the irrefutable testimonies of human misery there is no logically sound path to the great heavenly Physician; from the fact that we are sick it does not follow that we can be cured. It is possible, as Pascal repeatedly argued, that the human condition, including all its sorrows and evils, as well as its splendours and greatness, is unintelligible and meaningless unless it is seen in the light of sacred history: creation, sin, redemption. If so, it appears that the admissible options are: a meaningful world guided by God, spoilt by men, healed by the Redeemer; or an absurd world, going Nowhere, ending in Nothing, the futile toy of an impersonal Fate which does not distribute punishments and rewards and does not care about good and evil. Promethean atheism might appear, on this assumption, a puerile delusion, an image of a godless world which rushes on to the Ultimate Hilarity.
— Leszek Kolakowski, Religion

Lenten silence

Friends, there will be no posts here (or on Text Patterns, or on Twitter) until the Easter season. Blessings to you all.

the Map of Peace

Barth: great hope and little hopes

Hope seizes, or rather is seized by, the promise of the future. To that extent, it is the great hope, the expectation of the eternal life, which has still to be manifested and given to us, confidence in the coming Jesus Christ as the end and new beginning of all things, the joy in anticipation of the perfect being of man and all creatures in the service of God which is pledged because it is already actualized in Him. As it seizes the promise of the future it is in every respect – not only hope which derives from Him but also hope in Him as the eternally living One. He, the content of the promise and object of hope, cannot be replaced by any other. If there is also a small hope for today and tomorrow, if there are also temporal, penultimate, provisional and detailed hopes for the immediate future, it is only because He is the future One who shows himself in every future.

Where there is the great hope, necessarily there are also small hopes for the immediate future. These hopes have their basis and strength only in the great hope. They are small, relative and conditioned. In their detailed content, they may be mistaken and open to correction. But within these limits they are genuine hopes. And it is certainly in these many little hopes that the Christian lives from day to day if he really lives in the great hope. And perhaps he is most clearly distinguished from the non-Christian by the fact that, directed to the great hope, and without any illusions, he does not fail and is never weary to love daily in these little hopes. But this necessarily means that he is daily willing and ready for the small and provisional and imperfect service of God which the immediate future will demand of him because a great and final and perfect being in the service of God is the future of the world and all men, and therefore his future also.

Church Dogmatics IV/1, pp. 120-122

“the death of gods is a chain reaction”

A mythology, if it is to be effective, must be all-encompassing. The death of gods is a chain reaction; each drags another down into the abyss. Abyssus abyssum invocat. Hence the necessity – of which experienced priests are well aware – of maintaining the mythology as a system in which every detail is equally important and equally holy. The logic of mythology is familiar to every priest; it is there in his mind when he says: today you will miss Mass, tomorrow you will curse God, and the day after that you will become a Bolshevik. This is why only Stalinism, because it was all-encompassing, was a viable mythology. Stalin’s priests said: today you will admire a painting by Paul Klee, tomorrow you will cease admiring socialist-realist architecture, the day after that you will start to doubt the leap from quantity to quality, and the day after that you will renounce your loyalty to Caesar. And since Caesar’s rule is the rule of the people, you will be an enemy of the people. So by admiring a painting by Paul Klee you become an enemy of the people in potentia; you are ‘objectively’ an enemy of the people, a spy and a saboteur. The power of this strategy, confirmed by centuries of historical experience, is undeniable. And its collapse had to be as total as its rule had been: a chain of divinities, collapsing like a pack of cards. What folly to imagine it was possible to extract just one!

— Leszek Kolakowski, “The Death of Gods”

advice to teachers

Just a quick follow-up to my last post:

So you’re a teacher, and your students don’t meet your expectations. They’re not well-informed. They know nothing of Shakespeare. None of them get your sly biblical allusions. They can’t write elegant sentences. When they speak they punctuate every third word with “like.” When they think of God at all, they think of Him as a celestial fairy godfather who’s supposed to ensure that they get what they want in life.

Here’s my advice to you:

Teach them. Nobody promised you that all your students would know everything they need to know — everything that you didn’t know when you were their age. And if at their age you knew things they don’t know, then give thanks to God for your blessings and have pity on those who were not so blessed. Teach them. Take them wherever they are and move them a step or two forward. Stop your ceaseless, pointless whining and do your job. For the love of God, do your freakin’ job and shut the hell up.

excerpts from my Sent folder: kids these days

The percentage of young people willing to entertain a genuinely countercultural Gospel has always been small. It hasn’t changed in my 35 years of teaching. I can introduce you to students who would make you despair for humanity, but I can also introduce you to students — Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, evangelical — who would give you great hope for the future of the Christian faith. 

Seriously, I don’t get these people: what planet do they come from? Do they really remember, thirty years ago, teaching to a roomful of rapt scholars eager to absorb the richness of Christian tradition? Not a world I ever knew. Most people — here, now, and always — just want to go along to get along. Those who are open to the risks of genuine education are rare, were always rare, will ever be rare. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 


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