Unoriginal Thoughts

We’ve spent a lot of time talking during the last two years. Now the ugly truth can come out: I am a shameless plagiarist, with seldom an original idea to my name. So what better to send you off with than the sum and substance of myself — some of my favorite quotes?

Nineteen years ago, we bade some friends adieu as they moved back to the west coast. I recently came across a letter I gave them as my going-away gift, from which the preceding was the brief introduction.

Some of the quotes I shared:

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The extent of one’s power to forget is the final measure of one’s elasticity of spirit. If a man cannot forget, he will never amount to much … Forgetting is the true expression for an ideal process of assimilation by which the experience is reduced to a sounding‑board for the soul’s own music … Forgetting is the shears with which you cut away what you cannot use, doing it under the supreme direction of memory. Forgetting and remembering are thus identical arts, and the artistic achievement of this identity is the Archimedean point from which to lift the whole world. When we say that we CONSIGN something to oblivion, we suggest simultaneously that it is to be forgotten and yet also remembered.

Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or

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To live by principle is not “to be obsessed with dogma.” It is to carry from past experience and the conveyed experience of others a set of general convictions that are always active, always being confirmed, questioned, amended, annulled. To live by principle is a mentally active experience, not a slouching of the mind.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Let not young souls be smothered out before
They do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride.
It is the world’s one crime its babies grow dull
Its poor are oxlike, limp and leaden‑eyed.
Not that they starve, but starve so dreamlessly;
Not that they sow, but that they seldom reap;
Not that they serve, but have no gods to serve;
Not that they die, but that they die like sheep.

Vachel Lindsay

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[From one who died unpopular, cast out by the gatekeepers of Movement Conservatism, but who I’ll long remember]

You can’t have moral authority unless you’re willing to be unpopular. The word “jeremiad” recalls the prophet Jeremiah.  His views were very unfashionable in his day.  That’s why we still remember him in our own day.

Joseph Sobran

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Men who have gods worship those gods; it is the spectators who describe this as “religion.”

C.S. Lewis

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When truth conquers with the help of 10,000 yelling men ‑‑ even supposing that that which is victorious is a truth: with the form and manner of the victory a far greater untruth is victorious.

Soren Kierkegaard, The Journals

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[The Gospel in ten words or less:] We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.

Lonesome is when somebody isn’t there and you know they’ll be back after a while. Being lonely is when you don’t have anyone to be lonesome for.

(Will Campbell, Brother to a Dragonfly)

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And the wind shall say: “Here were decent godless people
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.”

T.S. Eliot

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[Words that encourage me when I’m grasping for words]

A man who is vague in his ideas does not speak obscurely, because his own dazed and drifting condition leads him to clutch at phrases like ropes and use the formulae that everyone understands . . . But if a young man really has ideas of his own, he must be obscure at first, because he lives in a world of his own in which there are symbols and correspondences and categories unknown to the rest of the world.”

G. K. Chesterton

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[Words that I now affirm even more than 19 years ago]

Myth is the closest approximation to truth available to the finite human mind.  A myth tells of that which was true, is true, and will be true.  If we will allow it, myth will integrate intellect and intuition, night and day; our warring opposites are reconciled, male and female, spirit and flesh, desire and will, pain and joy, life and death.

Madeline L’Engle

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[Finally, a reminder why I’m not competent to judge anyone, and why modern Pharisees with all I’s dotted and all T’s crossed on their systematic theologies dare not, if they’re sane, judge either]

A man who disbelieved the Christian story as fact but continually fed on it as myth would, perhaps, be more spiritually alive than one who assented and did not think much about it. The modernist ‑‑ the extreme modernist, infidel in all but name ‑‑ need not be called a fool or hypocrite because he obstinately retains, even in the midst of his intellectual atheism, the language, rites, sacraments, and story of the Christians. The poor man may be clinging (with a wisdom he himself by no means understands) to that which is his life.”

C. S. Lewis

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.