Having been prevented by end-of-semester duties at the University of Mississippi from maintaining my usual weekly writing schedule since the end of April, I write today with the somewhat unhappy announcement that I will not be resuming that schedule until August or September of this year. The reason for this is by no means dissatisfaction with blogging, but rather the need to devote my literary energies for the summer to my largest writing project yet. I will share a bit more about that at the conclusion of this post. While I do not anticipate writing here regularly for the next several months, I would not be surprised if I find myself sharing an occasional post if a matter of particular interest or importance presents itself.
As I “sign off” for the time being, I would like to leave The Reforming Trombonist’s small audience with an ironic exhortation for a blog: “get off the internet.” I write to you today as one who for the better part of a decade has devoted an inordinate amount of time to reading online resources of various kinds. I am rather grateful for a number of these; I very likely would never have discovered the Reformed faith which I have come to cherish were it not for the availability online of writings new and old promoting that view of the Scriptures, faith, and life. Through social media I am able to maintain (if imperfectly) relationships with old friends, former classmates, and former students now scattered around the country and world, as well as with professional colleagues both at home and abroad. Even this blog was directly responsible for my securing a contract for the book to which I will devote the majority of this summer. Clearly by advising readers to “get off the internet” I do not intend that this exhortation be observed in its fullest, literal sense.
And yet, I do mean to say that we could all stand to spend less time online. In a previous post, I shared a listing of “Websites I Check Regularly,” a rather extensive listing of materials which, if viewed daily, could easily occupy over an hour of reading time. While I do not wish to diminish the value of any of those sites, and I still check all of them from time to time, not everyone has an hour to spend reading online each day. Perhaps no one should spend that long even if the time is available. As Providence would have it, I found myself with a significant overload in my teaching schedule this past semester. I quickly discovered that the time I had available for reading and study was severely diminished, and I would have to choose between maintaining a habit of reading books and print journals, and continuing my previous volume of online reading. Happily, I chose the former.
The internet is a wonderful source of news and information, but in withdrawing from it to a certain extent I came to realize just how much of what seems at the time to be “vital information” is in fact fleeting and ephemeral. Additionally, that which proves to be important is better viewed after some time has passed and information has been collected and processed, in contrast to the often-erroneous “breaking news” that has rendered much of the cable “news” industry (and its associated websites) both annoying and worthless. The advent of podcasting has proven to be a timesaving measure for taking in that which is needful; a number of quality websites and authors that produce news and commentary from a variety of perspectives now offer regular podcasts that can be automatically downloaded by your smart phone or other portable device. This way, one can take in much of the same material that once had to be read online while getting dressed, driving to work, eating lunch, etc.
By reducing my online reading and getting much of the online information I still consume through podcasts, I have, even with my limited schedule, been able to spend more time enjoying books. As readers of this blog are certainly aware, my favorite field of avocational reading is theology (and, secondarily, its effects upon life and culture), and it is in that field particularly that I have come to enjoy reading “old books,” as C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) so famously advised his readers to do. I just finished reading a rather lengthy volume of collected essays and reviews by J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937), perhaps the leading conservative theologian in American Presbyterianism during the first half of the twentieth century (and also the gentleman pictured at the far right of the banner on the top of this page). Machen possessed an uncanny ability to express complex truths in a style that is simultaneously scholarly and conversational, and which effectively bridges the gap between pedantic nineteenth-century prose and the often too simplistic style that prevails today. More importantly, I am constantly impressed by his foresight in anticipating many of the theological, social, and political controversies which continue today. Those controversies existed in his time, but in what we might call “seed form,” and were not always recognized by Machen’s contemporaries. His insights, now a century removed in some cases, are instructive and, as Lewis observed, subject to different “blind spots” than those possessed by contemporary writers. In this and other cases, I have found the reading of “old books” to be particularly enlightening.
And so, dear reader, I invite you to join me in what I have called “The New-Old Country,” that place where a person who has tasted both the benefits and limitations of modern technology learns (or begins to learn) to “put those things in their place” and once again embraces the old books, the old ways, the old learning, and the insights to be found therein, insights which are uncannily useful in their contemporary applications. As a blogger, this also means that my responsibility to ensure that my writings here are useful and “worth your time” is even greater. I look forward to assuming this responsibility once again in the fall, after spending the summer on a book project tentatively entitled The Low Brass Player’s Guide to Doubling, to be published by Mountain Peak Music in early 2015 (D.V.). Performing on multiple low brass instruments has become a vital part of my performing and teaching career, one about which I have written in this space on several occasions. I am excited about the opportunity to write at greater length on this subject, and hope that the forthcoming book will be useful to my colleagues and their students.