Mary and Martha, or What I Did in My Summer Vacation

It has been quite the summer.

First I learned how to search Twitter and discovered what my academic colleagues have really been saying about Milo and me for the past several years.

Then there was the takeover of the Kalamazoo Medieval Congress Facebook group by the SJWs.

Then there was Milo’s magnum opus about the controversy in my field.

Then there was getting to see Milo and my friends from Three Kraters in person.

There there were the invitations to appear on YouTube videos and podcasts.

Then there was the Open Letter that the National Association of Scholars wrote in my support—not to mention the thousand-plus signatures it has received.

Then there was the continuing pressure on the part of my academic colleagues for me to stay quiet.

Then there are all the arguments still to be made on the culture front.

A girl might be forgiven for finding it hard to settle down and—as Milo keeps telling me I shouldget back to work!

Did I tell you he reminds me of Jesus?
Now it came to pass as they went, that he entered into a certain town: and a certain woman named Martha, received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sitting also at the Lord’s feet, heard his word. 
But Martha was busy about much serving. Who stood and said: Lord, hast thou no care that my sister hath left me alone to serve? speak to her therefore, that she help me. 
And the Lord answering, said to her: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things. But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken from her.” —Luke 10:38-42 (Douay Rheims)
It is a tension as old as Christianity itself. Which is better: to serve in the world or to sit still in contemplation?

My colleagues in medieval studies who have been most upset with me these past several years would almost certainly answer that it is better to be Martha, actively engaged. That is, after all, how they see themselves: fighting on the front lines of the culture war against the institutional racism, white supremacism, and fascism on which they argue our culture is structurally dependent.

Those who keep urging me to let go of my blogging would most likely insist that it is better to be Mary, removed from the world and its temptations.

Except, of course, that what they really mean is, removed from the temptations to activism of which they disapprove. Some of the same colleagues advising me to shut up are themselves ::ahem:: quite politically active, just not fans of what Milo and I would say is at stake in the culture wars.

Milo is the only one who appreciates what is truly at stake.

Milo is the one who wants me to be Mary and get back to my proper work, sitting at the feet of the Lord.

You’d think I would listen to him, wouldn’t you?

The temptations are relentless. Do you know how much fun I have been having being out there on the front lines after training for decades to learn the material that I am now being given the opportunity to share?

Think Wonder Woman in the trenches given the opportunity to go over the top into No Man’s Land.

This is what I have been training for. This is my fight. 

And Milo wants me to sit still?!

If I won’t listen to him, perhaps I will listen to Camille Paglia. She knows what it is like to enjoy being in the fray. But she also knows what it is like pretending to be doing work when you aren’t.

Academics are especially good at this. They call it “presenting at conferences.”
The self-made Inferno of the academic junk-bond era is the conferences, where the din of ambition is as deafening as on the floor of the stock exchange. The huge post-Sixties proliferation of conferences [Paglia was writing in 1991], used as an administrative marketing tool by colleges and universities, produced a diversion of professional energy away from study and toward performance, networking, advertisement, cruising, hustling, glad-handing, back-scratching, chitchat, groupthink. Interdisciplinary innovation? Hardly. Real interdisciplinary work is done reading and writing at home and in the library. The conferences teach corporate raiding: academics become lone wolves without loyalty to their own disciplines or institutions; they’re always on the trail and on the lookout, ears up for the better job and bigger salary, the next golden fleece or golden parachute. The conferences are all about insider trading and racketeering, jockeying for power by fast-track traveling salesmen pushing their shrink-wrapped product and touting fancy new commercial slogans.* The conferences induce a delusional removal from reality.... 
Hell by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)
Whole careers have gone down the tubes at conferences. Dozens of prominent academics are approaching the moment of reckoning, when they and everyone else will realize they have wasted the best years of their professional lives on cutesy mini-papers and globe-trotting.... What is absurdly called theory today is just a mask for fashion and greed. The conferences are the Alphabet City of addiction to junk, the self-numbing anodyne of rootless, soulless people who have lost contact with their own ethnic traditions. Their work will die with them, for it is based on neither learning nor inspired interpretation. The conferences are oppressive bourgeois forms that enforce a style of affected patter and smarmy whimsy in the speaker and polite chuckles and iron-butt torpor in the audience. Success at the conferences requires a certain kind of physically inert personality, superficially cordial but emotionally dissociated. It’s the genteel high Protestant style of the country clubs and corporate board rooms, with their financial reports and marketing presentations. The transient intimacies of the conferences are themselves junk bonds. Dante would classify the conference-hoppers as perverters of the intellect, bad guides, sowers of schism.
No wonder my colleagues in medieval studies were so eager to take over the International Congress on Medieval Studies proposal review! I wonder where Dante would put them?

There is likewise the constant temptation of wanting to belong to what C.S. Lewis called “The Inner Ring,” that privileged conversation of “we,” the “sensible people,” the ones inside. That is, the World to which academics all want to belong, to be excluded from which is to feel oneself damned, cast out into the darkness, made an unperson. A shade. Like, for example, Allen Frantzen. Or me. Because, of course, the whole point of the existence of the Inner Ring is to exclude. This happens accidentally, if the purpose of the Ring is to encourage real craftsmanship and expertise. But it happens purposefully when the point is to be one of the Inner Ring. After all, in Lewis’s words, “there’d be no fun if there were no outsiders. The invisible line would have no meaning unless most people were on the wrong side of it. Exclusion is no accident; it is the essence.”

The desire to belong, to be one of the Inner Ring has the power to make scoundrels of us all.

It is also the most direct route to spending our lives chasing that desire, rather than settling down and doing our own work.

To be Conference Marthas, rather than Marys, sitting at the feet of the Lord.

There are yet other temptations, of which Milo has been trying to warn me, practiced as he is in braving the No Man’s Land of being in the public eye.

There is the temptation to please one’s fans by sacrificing one’s proper work for something more marketable.

There is the temptation to avoid disagreements by talking only with those who already agree with you—or by saying only the things your fans tell you they expect you to say.

There is the temptation to keep fighting the same fight over and over again when it would be much better to move on.

There is the temptation to feel important because one is involved in much serving—and thus to lose sight of the Lord that we serve.

I don’t know how Milo does it.

Contemplation is hard. It involves sitting still for great stretches of time, thinking thoughts nobody else can appreciate because there is nobody but God to hear. It involves putting yourself on the front line not of attacks from other people, but of your own ignorance—and your own vanity. It is so much easier just to keep talking about things that you already know.

I have greatly enjoyed doing all the podcasts and videos I have recorded this summer. And I have enjoyed the conversations that I have had on my Facebook page and—now that I have some inkling how it works—on Twitter. I enjoy hearing from people who have been reading my blog, and I like the thought that I am helping encourage others who have felt the brunt of the culture wars.

But Milo is right.

It is not enough to be bustling about all the time, taking care of others.

I need to spend some time sitting still again.

I need to remember what it means to be Mary, now that I have had a summer of being Martha for the sake of the Lord.

*Like, for instance, “white supremacist, neo-Nazi, fascist aesthetics.” It’s all in the slogans, you know.

For my continuing adventures with Milo, go here. For my adventures as a conservative in academia, go here.

Image of Mary and Mary found here

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