Valorizing spontaneity

I’ve been gathering some things for a blog that’s not ready for prime time. These stood out and I’m breaking them out.

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Hell is where no one has anything in common with anyone else except that they all hate one another and cannot get away from each other and from themselves.

(Thomas Merton via Abbot Tryphon)

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This one is not about Trump. It’s about something more important than him. Bear with me.

The normal role of a speechwriter is to find, refine and elevate the voice of a leader. The greatest professional victory comes when a president thinks: This is the way I would sound if I had more time to write and more talent with language. In these circumstances, speechwriting is not deception; it is amplification.

But what about speechwriting that is designed to give a leader a different voice? Here moral issues begin to lurk. Is it ethical to make a cynical leader appear principled? A violent leader seem pacific? A cruel leader seem compassionate? This calculation is difficult, because most of us have an incongruous mix of such traits. Or maybe a speechwriter can hope a president will eventually rise to the level of his teleprompter.

Trump deserves a patent on the idea that political authenticity means spontaneity.

(Michael Gerson, former speechwriter)

One of the joys I found in becoming Orthodox was the use of prayer books. To use Gerson’s analogy, I thought “This is the way I would pray if I weren’t self-absorbed, if I took seriously the priesthood of all believers — the responsibility of each believer not only for himself, but for all — and respected the voice of my spiritual ancestors.”

I also realized that if I deliberately prayed that way, I might gradually become that kind of person. That’s an important part of how life works.

Yet to tens of millions, particularly those of my former tribe, prayer books are inauthentic because they’re not spontaneous. They’re designed to give your prayer a different voice, to make you appear something that you’re not.

It’s as if prayer were performance art rather than spiritual discipline. Their tacit prayer paradigm is public prayer, designed to be heard by other mortals. And if your rhetorical reach in prayer exceeds your spiritual grasp, you’re just faking it. Think “expressive individualism.”

Jerry Falwell, Jr. thinks it’s a feature, not a bug, that Trump “says what’s in his heart, what he believes.” 81% of my former tribe voted for him. This political spill-over matters less eternally, though, than the spiritual self-stunting.

Dare I suggest that valorizing spontaneity is a pernicious spiritual bug?

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There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

2 thoughts on “Valorizing spontaneity

  1. From the heart, not imitating anyone, and it wasn’t even what I was thinking when I started quoting Gerson on speechwriters’ craft. It just came to me.

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