I think we’ve learned this at great national cost. It’s very hard to impose institutions that require high trust onto societies that have low trust. I covered the Soviet Union and the decline of the Soviet Union and the emergence of Russia. We sent teams of economists with privatization plans, and we emphasized the economic institutions they would need to thrive. But we didn’t appreciate the depth of lack of social trust. So I think we sort of got that wrong and did a great disservice.
…or me is not typing into the keyboards. It’s crawling around on the floor, organizing my piles. And the lesson for my students, which they ignore, is that your paper should be 80 percent done by the time you sit down and type it because writing is about structure and traffic management. If you don’t get that right, everything else will flow badly.
If something’s not working, judges have a saying, “That opinion won’t write.” They thought they knew what they believed, but then they started writing, and it just wasn’t flowing. Don’t try to fix it; start over with a new structure. So to me, I crawl. I write by crawling around on the carpet.
The 20s have become for many a brutal time, that they don’t quite know what their purpose is in life. They don’t quite have the skills to get out of the wide-open options. They’re afraid of closing off options because they’re not really quite sure who they are. We’ve produced a society that’s made being 25 phenomenally difficult, in part because you’re in the most supervised childhood at human history until 21, and after that, you’re released into the complete void.
Most religious people I know have those moments, and they get a sense of grace or of God’s presence. But then it goes away. So if you’re filled with doubt, and filled with doubt about your own interpretation, which is plura…
So he called to his girlfriend, who was in the shower. And she comes out, and she’s naked, dripping wet, and they stare at this falcon. And the falcon turns and locks eyes with them. And they’re just sort of awed by the experience of this contact with nature. And she whispers to him, “Make a wish, make a wish.” And he said, “I just was in wishing for a moment that moment would last forever, and it went away.” And he describes that as just this moment when sort of reality spills outside its boundaries.
There’s a guy named Frederick Buechner, who’s a novelist and a theologian. He said, “If you wake up every morning and say, ‘I feel God right next to me,’ I really don’t recognize you. But if you wake up one out of 10, and you feel some presence, and that presence comes with infinite laughter, that’s sort of how I feel it.”
A friend of mine is a great poet named Christian Wiman, who is up at Yale. He says he occasionally has moments of transcendence. The way he describes it, it feels like poetic inspiration. Then he says, “The rest of the time I don’t feel much, but I try to stay faithful to those moments.”
If one believes that Christ is, however you want to phrase the belief about the Trinity, but the Son of God or whatever the claim is, that’s almost by definition a radical, extreme claim. Or that the Koran literally has come down to us from God. That has to be an extreme claim to be interesting, right? So, is there such a thing as religious extremism as a negative?
His argument is that contracts are what we do for our individual benefit. A contract is about interest. But a covenant is when we make a promise to each other that transforms our identity. And when we make a covenant, one with another, whether it’s a marriage covenant or to our nation, we serve the relationship more than we serve ourselves.