Category Archives: WORD: The Logos Blog

Calls for Submissions

The theme for our Spring 2020 journal theme is wonder. Our hope is to ask questions alongside and together with the rest of campus. To do this, we must move into spaces in which we all are stunned into wonder. 

In my mind, wonder has two sides. The first is a state of wonder, awe and admiration at beautiful mysteries we can only try to unpack, like the orderliness of the universe or the magnificence of nature. You know the feeling. The second is an act of questioning, an active wondering about certain phenomenons: Why is humankind unhappy? What is love and how can we do better at it?

If you have thoughts, we want to publish them:

  1. Submit a pitch for wonder here!
  2. Submit artwork or photographs for our journal’s design team here!

Contact Editor-in-Chief Bradley Yam (bradley.yam@yale.edu) for more information.

 

Kanye West and the King

By Jason Lee, TD ’22. Jason is majoring in Global Affairs.

I want to start by saying that my good friend predicted that Kanye West would put out a gospel album long before we heard anything about “Jesus is King”. I was blindsided. We were, after all, talking about a person who sloughed off his “slave name” for his “god name” just a handful of years ago. So to hear first the friends in my ministry, my home pastor, then my parents talk about Kanye West’s new album was, simply put, rather jarring.

I’m not here to talk about quality. The general verdict seems to be that “Jesus is King” is a refreshing “Christian” album but a mediocre Kanye album that speaks more to the scope of contemporary gospel music than to anything else. The point is that whatever artistry Kanye commands, he’s had a tumultuous relationship with his faith. Among his most acclaimed works is “Jesus Walks”, in which he espouses a deep devotion to Christ amidst life’s many maladies:

“(Jesus walk)

God show me the way because the Devil’s tryna break me down

(Jesus walk with me)

The only thing that I pray is that my feet don’t fail me now”

Yeezus’s “I am a God” is (despite the title) more ambiguous, featuring the rapper simultaneously claiming both his own divinity and his surrender to the Lord in a way that still leaves me with a vaguely heretical aftertaste. In between and outside these two songs, sexism abounds, as does a marked irreverence for the civil rights movement — both on and off track — and a, let’s say, superfluous amount of self-love.

It’s difficult to suppress a giggle whenever anyone brings up “Jesus is King” because it listens like an unequivocal declaration of repentance and rebirth from a man who, lyrics aside, seems to have lived much of his life as his own idol. It seems absurd. Perhaps it is only an ingenious marketing ploy, a sharp musical inflection to enliven his work as Kanye has done in the past. If so, it’s been a roaring success. We have Christians talking about Kanye West at the mild expense of Tim Keller, whose book, also Jesus is King, has been exiled to somewhere beyond the 15th page of search results. As much as we now play him, West has played us.

But then, we have seen genuine dramatic conversions before. So say it is genuine: if Kanye truly has reformed, is it any more dramatic of a return than our own conversions? It’s dangerous to treat divorce from God as a matter of degrees. We too, once lived lives separate from the Lord. For me at least, it isn’t fair to say I was not, or do not at times continue to be, as hypocritical, erratic, or mercurial in my commitment to the Lord, or as allured by the temptations of my own environment as any artist adrift in wealth and fame. This would be nothing more than a masked type of pride.

Still assuming this is indeed a true turn to Christ, while we have much to praise, there is also much to pray for. Kanye is still saying things like “I’m the greatest human artist alive” in the same breath he thanks the Lord for humbling him. Kanye still very much loves Kanye. Even setting matters of pride aside, his recent comments describing American slavery as “a choice” ensure the road to public redemption, and any serious attempt at advocacy, remain arduously long.

But this isn’t really just about Kanye. Rather than just talk about one artist, I feel this could be an opportunity to reevaluate what we mean when we say “Christian” music. While “Jesus is King” is unique in its authorial context, I wonder to what extent it differs from what other secular rap/R&B/hip-hop artists (or at least, artists not thought of as primarily Christian) have been doing for a while. Or rather, do we lose anything when we distinguish between music that is gospel/gospel-adjacent (that is, 2019 Kanye), and music that engages gospel, say, Kendrick Lamar?

Surely the work of Kendrick Lamar who, despite the agitation of the rest of the album, opens good kid, m.A.A.d city with a prayer— 

“Lord God, I come to you a sinner

And I humbly repent for my sins

I believe that Jesus is Lord

I believe that you raised him from the dead

I will ask that Jesus will come to my life

And be my Lord and Savior

I receive Jesus to take control of my life

And that I may live for him from this day forth

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for saving me with your precious blood

In Jesus’ name, Amen” 

–can embolden us in our own agitated commitments, just as well as any gospel of hope? From DAMN., the track “FEAR.” weighs upon one’s throat like any lamentation of Job’s. Perhaps To Pimp a Butterfly’s “Alright” delivers a blunt statement of hope — 

“Nazareth, I’m fucked up

Homie, you fucked up

But if God got us, then we gon’ be alright” 

–that resonates better than other hymns with certain defeated spiritual states. If nothing else, surely the rest of the album with its turbulent, furious search for higher meaning as it relates to identity, trauma, resilience, race, death, hope, sex, mortality, and the fallen world — 

“He looked at me and said, “Know the truth, it’ll set you free

You’re lookin’ at the Messiah, the son of Jehovah, the higher power

The choir that spoke the word, the Holy Spirit

The nerve of Nazareth, and I’ll tell you just how much a dollar cost

The price of having a spot in Heaven, embrace your loss—I am God”

–surely this mirrors and engages our own desperate pursuit of the Lord?

So to answer my own question, “Do we lose anything?”, I’d say: not necessarily. However, it helps us to keep in mind that traditional “Christian” music doesn’t hold a monopoly over either the desires of faith or bearing witness to God’s glory. Until now I’ve focused on rap, but I’m sure an argument can be made for “Country Roads” as a celebration of creation. Secular music that sings to our souls can, in some sense, be just as Christian as any “Christian” song, and nourish our faith accordingly. 

This isn’t to say all such distinctions are meaningless. I’m hardly advocating for Sunday Lamar in the cathedral, or Kanye during communion. Acknowledging that Kendrick’s purposes extend beyond solely the expression of his faith, while by no means detracting from his work, illustrates the need for some sort of delineation. Our methods of worship and praise should be reserved to those wholly devoted to such a purpose. 

I am speaking rather to our own listening habits. Whether or not you buy, in both senses of the word, Kanye West, “Jesus is King” has already served its purpose by getting us to review, faithfully, our musical intake. If you don’t buy anything I’ve said thus far, that’s okay — take this then as a reminder to seek the Lord even in the most unlikely of places, even our playlists. I leave you with this benediction-adjacent passage from BROCKHAMPTON’s latest album, Ginger, song “NO HALO”:

“Used to fight all my night terrors, now I smoke through the dreams

Depression put me into places where I’m stuck in the seams

They sealed my mouth and said the only way to breathe is to scream

Pop the stitches from society and fall to my knees

The machines weavin’ our fate are gettin’ harder to please

But I believe to an extreme

(That we all can find a way)

To anybody listenin’ that’s in between

(That we all can find a way)”

 

Dante and Desire

By Joe Brownsberger, SM ’21. Joe is majoring in Physics & Philosophy.

We live in an age of unprecedented liberty. The sheer number of choices available to us is staggering; we desire things that people in former ages never thought of. Along with these desires comes the power to satisfy many of them. Although this represents progress in many senses, the liberty that we have inherited has also been in large part squandered. We who have been given the ability to do anything have chosen instead to indulge in the pointless, “insipid pleasures” and extravagances that even luxury-loving Hume recognizes as worthless.[1] The Enlightenment, promising “man’s release from his self-imposed tutelage,” has instead culminated in a new and more degrading serfdom, a bondage to the god of Entertainment.[2] Like the decadent imperial Rome and the corrupt medieval nobility before us, we have been given the liberty to desire anything and fulfill those desires—and we have desired wrongly.

I argue that for liberty to be justifiable, on the societal level but perhaps to a greater degree in the individual, it must be ordered towards an end, and this end must be the Good (which of course for religious people is synonymous with God). In place of our many conflicting and pointless desires that point every which way, we must strive to wrestle our often-errant will into conformity with the Good so that our desires all point in a unified, positive direction. In this way, the fulfillment of those desires also brings us closer to our goal. Desire simply as an inclination to do something is a fundamentally good thing; it is in fact the way we draw closer to God and become better people. It is only when our desires are bent and misdirected that we find ourselves dissipated and unsatisfied.

***

No one speaks of this “wrestling of the will” more beautifully or with more insight than Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy. In the beginning of the poem, Dante (appearing as a character in his own work) finds himself in a dark wood, having lost the “diritta via,” the straight and right path. And as a result of his faulty inclinations towards pride, lust, and greed (symbolized by three beasts), he is unable to climb the mountain that would bring him to virtue and happiness. Instead, then, Dante turns towards the poet Virgil, who guides him through the realms of the afterlife. Circling down through the rings of Hell and circling up around the mountain of Purgatory, Dante untwists his warped will and gradually rids himself of his vices. At long last, in Canto 27 of Purgatorio, Virgil addresses Dante with the last words he will speak in the Comedy. As Dante is more eloquent than I will ever be, I encourage the reader to meditate on his words and to pay more attention to them than to the rest of this essay.

Non aspettar mio dir più né mio cenno;

libero, dritto e sano è tuo arbitrio,

e fallo fora non fare a suo senno:

per ch’io te sovra te corono e mitrio.

 

Do not any longer expect my words or advice; free, right, and healthy is your will, and you would be foolish not to do as it commands: over yourself I crown and mitre you.

Purg 27.139-142

In touching and beautiful verse, Dante makes clear the true essence of liberty: to be lord over oneself and to will the right. As described above, his desires no longer pull him in unproductive directions, but his desire is simply to do that which will bring him closer to God. Therefore, he is not only good but also happy, walking once again on the diritta via.

Over the next thirty-nine cantos of the Comedy, Dante grows stronger in his new, sanctified identity, gradually gaining the ability to realize the good intentions that he has been given. At last, he is able to gaze straight into the supreme Light, the Good from which all good things derive not only their goodness, but their very being. The final words of the Comedy run thus:

A l’alta fantasia qui mancò possa;

ma già volgeva il mio disio e ‘l velle,

sì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa,

l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.

Here I lack the force to describe the high fantasy, but already my will and my desire was turned, like a wheel which is evenly moved, by the Love that moves the sun and other stars

Par 33.142-145

Dante here ends his magnum opus with a simile of a rotating wheel: the edges of the wheel move exactly in accordance with every other part of the whole, around the central point that itself does not move at all. In the same way Dante’s desires conform to the greater scheme of the universe, which like the wheel moves around its Unmoved Mover in perfect harmony. Dante takes his place in the order of the cosmos and is truly free.

My humble suggestion is that for us too, true liberty is achieved when our desires conform to the Divine Will, when we take our place in the order of the cosmos. Our obsequious servitude of Entertainment and other vain pursuits puts us at risk—to borrow a phrase from St. Augustine—of finding ourselves “scattered out over multiplicity” instead of self-possessed, ordered by and ordered towards “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.”

[1] Hume, David. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and Other Writings. Cambridge University Press, 2007.

[2] Kant, Immanuel. An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?

To Want to Want: Desiring Differently

By Jason Lee, TD ’22. Jason is majoring in Global Affairs.

Sometimes I’ll look up from lunch and wish I liked math. This is different from wishing I was good at math. As it is, I’m perfectly fine being remarkably average. What I mean is that sometimes I wish math was as beautiful to me as it to the people who love it. Somewhere past the point where numbers become Greek lies the internal, ticking logic of the universe that I imagine is what pushes them to slog through things called combinatorics or “Boolean” whatever.

But while I know I’m missing some sort of splendor behind the polynomial veil, I’m stopped by the unfortunate fact that math bores me. So I kind of want it, but not really. There’s a distance between me, a person who wants to see lovely and evocative things, and a desire for this particular lovely and evocative thing.I almost have the desire, but not quite.

This is odd, but not uncommon. Exercise is another example of this in which we all know that running — or jogging, hopping, or picking things up and putting them down again — in the long run will make us healthy, which we want. But for various reasons we don’t do any of these activities. Eating poorly and staying up late are related examples in that, right now, we want to do both — fast fried food tastes good, and there’s a curious sense of pride and/or solidarity in working until predawn — but we wish we didn’t. Next to all our wantings and not-wantings, there appears to be a second category of desire in which we want to want or, alternatively, we want to not want.

Academics sometimes call this “wanting-to-want” a second-order desire or metadesire. I do not want to do math, but I know there’s an arithmetic wonder for those who count it all out, so in recognition of that, I want to want to do math. Once recognized, metadesires pop up everywhere (see: procrastination — we want to punt the p-set that’s really just the same problem repeated seven times, but we wish we didn’t).

So then, what to do about this, not new, but maybe newly attended to set of wants? We may as well start where we do with our more immediate cravings, which is to say, rank them. We do this almost instinctively with our regular wants. Our desire for learning (or maybe just a diploma) outweighs our desires for things incompatible with the demands of college, such as free time, or a disposable income. Over learning, we value our identities and our self-worth.

In the same way, maybe our want to want to exercise lies above our want to want to listen to country music. That seems to make sense: fitness can be its own reward, whereas country — country can wait. But then, shouldn’t we value finding, or rather, learning beauty in all things above being able to lift unreasonably heavy objects? That’s not exactly a fair comparison, but what I’m trying to ask is, whether we do or don’t, why?

There appears to be a standard or purpose by which we have ordered our desires, even if we did not consciously subscribe to one. There are a thousand and one such standards, whether altruism, God, or I-just-want-to-be-happy, and all offer many ways to prioritize, but also filter, our desires. If this standard, or “The Point” is our own happiness, we pull our great tangle of wants into order based on what drives us to joy. Maybe eating terrific cuisine tops that list, or making gobs and gobs of money, or living by the coast while others are cast aside.

By ranking and pursuing these immediate desires we can take steps towards our Point. At the same time, we also put together a set of metadesires, which by nature are more oriented towards the future. Alongside desires fitted to who we are right now, there exists a class of metadesires that pertain to self-transformation, to who we want to become.

Maybe that sounds a little grandiose. And in a way it is grandiose, ambitious, and plain difficult to accept–not to mention achieve–the project of self-improvement. After all, there’s been more than enough research demonstrating sturdy links between CO2 ppm and meat production, refrigerators, and palm oil to provoke some lifestyle changes with the recognition of “caring about the planet” as a worthy desire in line with our Point. Yet for some reason, that recognition isn’t enough. Even if we only consider those who have the funds to enact such lifestyle changes, my favorite dish is short rib stew, yours is ice cream cake and we both use semi-cheap soaps. Sometimes, our resolve to pursue improvement is simply too weak. Within certain margins of nuance, we don’t want to protect the environment: we want to want to.

It is here that our metadesires of self-improvement become achingly relevant. On some level, our metadesires reveal a lack: of resolve, of foresight, of willpower, of vision, of stamina, or of tenacity in ourselves. There’s a sense in which we want to become ready, or maybe worthy of our Point before we take it on. If our Point is to protect and empower people, we must first want to fight by all means for the planet, to acknowledge the homeless, or even just be academically responsible and start papers prior to their due date. If we ignore the project of self-improvement fueled by these transformative metadesires, then the Point is not only out of our reach, but out of our pursuit. If we don’t value metadesires as part of our Point, if we are always waiting to be prepared for our desires rather than letting our metadesires prepare us, then there’s no reason to seek anything more than what we are already capable of, to desire anything more than what we already know, or to be more than we already are.

But if we do attend to them, our desires for transformation help us not to just pursue “feeling good,” but health, and not just health but wholeness. They guide us beyond I-just-want-to-be-happy to a timeless happiness that may be called satisfaction, or even peace. They push us not just to live well or be compassionate, but to be good, the best we can be. Wholeness, peace, goodness, which can be called righteousness: these are enduring, one might say eternal desires that prepare us for our Point as much as they push us to it.

At the same time, it makes sense to be wary of these types of metadesires. After all, we don’t know where they come from, and sorting the origins of desire like trying to unmix paint. Maybe these projects of self-improvement as I’ve defined them are just the result of social pressure, conditioning, and overactive community instincts. Maybe it is efficient or biologically sound to pursue certain desires, even if, for some reason, we don’t feel the desire itself. Maybe they’re a burrowing side effect of a consumerist culture that is constantly telling us to want things that we don’t currently want. The resulting wariness is paralyzing; if we can never parse the roots of our desires, how do we know we’re not wasting our time, or worse, being made fools of?

It is in this uneasiness that I and other believers turn to faith. As Christians, we believe that there’s a Big Guy™ up there who not only created the world, but has a particular way in which He’d like us to live in it. Not because He’s picky, but because He knows His Point for us will be larger and broader and more fulfilling for us, the people He loves, than any other.

This is not to say that such a life will not be difficult. God knows it will at times seem just as complicated and confusing as all the other Points. In fact, Paul, the author of several books of the Bible, explicitly acknowledges in his letter to the Romans the difficulty of metadesire, self-improvement, and general existence in this way:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do … For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15-19, NIV).

In response, we’re promised that God will help us along the way. In combination with our own earnest efforts, He will grant us the resolve and the capacity we lack to deny our misleading (which for me means un-Godly but could also be called counterproductive) desires and help us become worthy of the Point that He has set before us.

If this is true, then resolve can be trained and morality practiced. We can try to do it on our own, or with those we trust. It could be that the desires of self-improvement promoted by the Bible are the only way to live a fulfilling life. The exact way we live and the goals we set for ourselves seem to be matters of faith. For those who say, “that’s good for you, but I don’t really need it,” I understand. In fact, I’ll be honest in saying that even if we believe them to be promoted by a holy text, we’re not always sure how our professed metadesires will get us where we need to be.

One simple response to this uncertainty is that if there is a person or method or series of poems that some believe to be inspired and effective in helping them get to where they want to be, it seems odd not to look there. But more importantly, the Christian message is that in our doubt, in our uncertainty, we’ve chosen to believe the word of an unwavering, divine, bigger-than-capitalism God. Rather than rely on what we know–which, as we’ve discussed, is often so, so little–we’ve chosen to humble ourselves in faith. To keep living in that humility is the Point.

Taken from the Fall 2019 issue of Logos, Desire.

The Weight of Expectations

By Serena Puang, DC ’22. Serena is majoring in Linguistics.

After Dorothy went back to Kansas, the land of Oz descended into madness, and I was powerless to stop it. The apple trees decided that they didn’t want to give up their fruit anymore, so they started stretching their branches over the main roads in an act of self-protection and gutted transportation infrastructure in Oz.

A wise man once told me that experience is the only thing that brings knowledge; I guess I’m “experiencing” right now, but I don’t feel wiser. I traded my ratty green sweater for a classy three-piece suit, I’m running meetings I could have only dreamed of sitting in on a couple of months ago, but on the inside, I still feel like the same Scarecrow who spent years fighting to keep the crows from pecking at my hat, the one who watched in silence as thousands of passersby debated each other, wishing I had a brain too.

Not many people are given the opportunity to rule Oz, and I just want to do it well. No more tricks or optical illusions, I want to do right by the citizens of Oz:  to truly see them and make each person feel valued, to create an environment where everyone can succeed–the wizard certainly didn’t.

“Scarecrow, there are a few individuals requesting an audience with you,” Tinman says.

“Just a minute,” I reply, “I want to read the briefing from yesterday before I jump into more meetings.”

“You misunderstand, they’re presently in the throne room.” he says.

As a little scarebaby, I marveled at pictures of the Oz throne room. The long curtains that trailed down from the high ceilings lent an air of mystery, and the gold siding sparkled in a way that made anyone standing in the room glow. I remember thinking if only I could belong here, then nothing else would matter. But now, the whole room is technically mine, and the too-nice chairs in the too-nice grand hall bring out the accent colors in the too-nice wall decor. I’m almost scared to go in because it feels like I would ruin it.

I take a deep breath and entered through a side door anyway. Five Munchkins, two flying monkeys, and seventeen bunnies are crowding  around the main entrance. When they see me, they suddenly charge at the throne, pushing and shoving to get to the front. I didn’t even know bunnies lived in Oz.

Three hours later, the monkeys are still screeching over each other about unemployment in light of the Wicked Witch of the West’s…recent change of state. The room lost its illustrious glow about two hours ago, and the sheer amount of green that permeates every crevice of the room is about to drive me crazy. The bunnies left after I agreed to let them sell more carrots to make up for the lost apples, but the Munchkins and I are still talking in circles, trying to figure out what to do about the trees.

“We just need to cut them back,” repeats Illad, self-appointed leader of the group, “Nothing’s going to get done if they’re on the roads”

I sigh. If the fighting trees are anything like the apple trees around my field at home, it might not make sense to cut them back. They’ll just get angrier and put down stronger roots. But they must have considered that, right? Surely I’m not the only one who’s had this thought…maybe it’s just so obvious that it goes without saying.

“You need to do something!” another Munchkin reiterates, “What’s your plan of action?”

“I need to have a talk with the trees before we move forward–don’t you think?” I say.

There is so much chaos in the room, I can’t even remember a time people weren’t demanding things from me. Over everything, I hear my heart racing. It’s like something is pushing against the sides of my brain, trying desperately to get out. I wanted to do the best job I possibly could, which is why I instituted an open door policy for citizens to voice their concerns, but the amount of need is overwhelming. Maybe it would be better if I weren’t the one doing the job at all.

“I thought you were on our side!” Illad exclaims, “Why can’t you just make your own decisions? Don’t you have a brain in that thick head of yours?”

“Of course I do!” I scream, “I’m trying my best! It’s not my fault that you’re all being unreasonable!”

“So much for a ruler that listens and is always on our side,” Illad snorts, “Let’s go.”

Guilt washes over me as everyone else filed out of the room with their things. Why did I snap like that? Tinman comes in with Lion and a list of agenda items.

“How are you doing?” he asks.

I respond, “Completely overwhelmed and out of my depth,” except for some reason it comes out “Fine. You?”

He brushes off the question like it was a stray piece of straw I trailed on the ground, “Did you take the time to glance over the briefing I sent you?”

“I haven’t had time yet.” I reply apologetically.

“No worries, there isn’t anything that pressing. As long as you didn’t agree to allow the bunnies sell more carrots. That would be a disaster.” He pauses to look at me.“Is something troubling you?” he asks.

“I just…I guess I’m stressed about the whole tree situation. ” I say, tiptoeing around the carrot issue,   “I don’t want to make the wrong decision”

Lion piped up, “Oh! I understand completely! I get stressed all the time. You know, like is my mane losing its shine? Do I do bows or no bows? All you need is to take a ME-day–it’s self care. Have you tried clearing your mind of all your worries?”

“I’m not sure this is the same–”

“Perhaps your mind is too occupied,” Tinman adds. “Frequent rest is key to a productive and efficient mind. If you simply set the problem down and return to it at a later time with a clear head, you’ll likely find that the solution was there the whole time.”

“Yeah! Sometimes the answer is inside you all along!” says Lion.

“I guess you could be right,” I say weakly.

I know they’re trying to help, but they don’t get it. They seem to be fitting right into their new roles, and even if Lion is a little dramatic, they haven’t messed up like I have. They haven’t failed Oz.

I’m so lost in thought, I almost don’t notice the man wearing a sleeveless green button-up with matching green pants who has entered and is tapping his foot, waiting for me to address him–yet another failure of the day.

“Can I help you?” I say in the most professional tone I can muster.

“The ruler of Oz needs a consistent and reliable public face. It’s key to public relations and stability as you can probably imagine. As you learned during your audience with him, the Wizard before you used this machine to create that projection,” the man says, gesturing to the contraption, hidden behind one of the curtains, which creates the formidable floating head I’m used to associating with the Wizard, complete with voice modulation. “Now, since you, Tinman, and Lion are co-rulers, you all need to learn to use the projection. It’s a fundamental part of the job.”

Without pause, the man launches into a long explanation of each of the dials, knobs, switches, and levers that control the projection. I try to listen, but I’m not convinced that we actually need a projection at all. He says it’s for public relations, but it feels like deception. When I saw behind the curtain and found out the Wizard was just an ordinary man from Kansas, I felt betrayed. I don’t know if I want to or should do that to someone else, but maybe this is what it takes to be a good ruler. Maybe, if I nail this, I’ll finally feel like the legitimate leader of Oz everyone expects me to. Maybe this is all worth it.

He demonstrates and I try to imitate him exactly, but my feet don’t glide over the pedals like his do. When he does the projection, it looks like the formidable wizard I’ve admired for my entire life, but when I do it, the smoke comes out in awkward puffs like an asthmatic choo choo train and I can never get the voice quite right. Despite everything, the man seems to still believe I can do it. Each failure is met with a “Just try again, you’ll get it,” or “You’re obviously capable of this.” I know that’s supposed to be encouraging, but each one feels like a weight being stacked on my shoulders, a pressure to live up to everything this title entails. I start to think that he’s just saying these things. I may never get this. What made me think I could ever be better than the wizard? How can I be a good ruler if I can’t even use the projection?

I try again, and the projection looks like it’s being operated by a gang of blindfolded flying monkeys–a lot of moving parts and zero coordination. After what feels like my fiftieth failed attempt, just looking at the contraption to think about trying again fills me with a pang of anxiety. I turn back and realize that Tinman is still there, patiently waiting so he can have a turn. I step down and let him try, and of course, he gets it effortlessly on the first time. I don’t know why I’m surprised, but I feel my cheeks burn in embarrassment anyway. The task was easy. I’m the problem. I shouldn’t be here. Tinman doesn’t say anything, but I know what he’s thinking: I can’t believe this brainless fool is in charge.

I want to melt into the walls or better yet, return to the fields I came from. At least there, longing for a brain felt hopeful. Even as a distant dream, it was something to cling to. Now I have everything I thought I wanted, but I’ve never been so unhappy. Before I know what I’m doing, I start running–even though I know I won’t get far. I keep going even when I feel my legs go numb and see the trail of straw I’m leaving behind me. That is, until I stumble and fall. I look up, face to face with the apple tree whose roots I just tripped over.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there.”

“No one does,” the tree replies gruffly. “It’s like we’re completely invisible.”

“Um…well it’s kind of hard to miss you. You’re in the middle of the road,” I say.

“That’s not what I mean,” he says slowly. “You wouldn’t understand.”

“Try me,” I say.

“Everyone in Oz is constantly telling us what our problem is, but the problem was never really apples. It’s the fact that no one ever comes to see us unless they want something. Don’t get me wrong, we want to do our jobs, we just don’t want that to be the only thing that gives us value.”

I pause for a moment, unsure of what to say.

“Told you, you don’t understand,” he sighs.

“Well, maybe if we all met together we could talk it out,” I suggest, but it feels hollow.

He gives me this incredulous look, and suddenly I regret saying anything at all. I want to say the right thing to make this all better, but I don’t think that exists.

“We won’t stop,” he says matter of factly. “You won’t convince me that anything will change.”

I could take him at his word and act accordingly; I could go in Monday morning and issue a formal decree recognizing the trees for their contributions to Oz–no projections, no games, just a legitimate, maybe feeble attempt to extend an olive branch to a group that is often overlooked. But that would counter what everyone else is telling me we have to do: cut them back. There’s no guarantee that the trees will do anything in response to us reaching out, and if it fails, even more of Oz will be mad at me. Despite everything, I think reaching out to them is right. It’s what we should do, so despite every fiber of my being that’s screaming at me to wait or to consult Tinman or to let someone more qualified take over, I issue the decree right when I get home.

I start with the history of the partnership between Oz and the trees. With careful attention, I describe the work they do every day, how Oz wouldn’t function without them, how grateful we should all be to them. It seems futile. The trees probably won’t even care.

The next morning, everyone is buzzing around the throne room before I get there, and once I enter, a chorus of congratulations greets me.

“Good job!” Lion says enthusiastically, “I knew you already had the solution.”

“I have to admit, that was really smart of you. I’m sorry I misjudged you yesterday,” says Illad.

I bury the words that want to leap out of my mouth next. I didn’t think of anything— I just happened to be at the right place at the right time, and that was only because I was completely incompetent at projecting. I did what anyone would have done.

That night, everyone goes out to dinner to celebrate, and I try to match the enthusiasm everyone else seems to have, but it’s hollow. Everything around me is happening, and I’m just there. I know I still don’t really belong here. Everyone thinks I’m great now because I “did something smart”, but I didn’t. Anyone could have done this, anyone should have done this.  I’m so mad at myself because this is technically what I wanted, but it still feels like I’m pretending. When the conversation lulls, I get up and say I have to get home.

“I shall keep you company,” says Tinman, and we walk out together. “I believe personal congratulations are in order.”

“I’d really appreciate it if we just didn’t talk about that.”

“Why is that?” he asks.

“Don’t you see? I stumbled upon that solution. I didn’t know it would work. It’s not like I was actually smart or actually thought anything through. It’s not like I really have a brain; I was just there.”

“I was under the impression that the wizard…”

“He gave me a piece of paper and a title. That didn’t make me smarter.”

“I thought you were adept enough to realize that this fixation you have on attaining brain severely misses the point. It’s not a superpower” he says.

“Yeah…I guess. But you do have a brain,” I shoot back.

He shouldn’t get to tell me that it’s not a big deal. It is a big deal that everyone else can do something I can’t. Growing up, I couldn’t stand being the dumbest person in the room, but what’s worse is the pressure to pretend that you’re not.

“Why is having a brain so important to you?” he asks.

“How else am I going to do my job well?”

“I believe you already have.”

Taken from the Fall 2019 issue of Logos, Desire.

An Ordinary Love

By The Logos Masthead.

For all its hype, love doesn’t always work out. Christians, for whom love is the most fundamental truth and mandate, can say that “love covers a multitude of sins” and “love is patient, love is kind” (1 Pet. 4:8, 1 Cor. 13:4), but these verses don’t seem to be a very good remedy for a broken heart.

While the precise definition(s) of “love” may warrant extensive discussion, we know love when we encounter it. It is a deep and powerful force that changes the way we feel, the way we act, the way we promise. It is something extraordinary, in the literal sense. Love is patient and kind but also crushing. It can be tyrannical.

“I envy their happiness who have never loved; how quiet and easy are they! But the tide of pleasures has always a reflux of bitterness.” – Peter Abelard

Before love breaks in on our blissfully ignorant existence, life is reasonable and full of the possibility of contentment. When it does invade, everything fades to dark in contrast. The most powerful love feels not only desirable, but right–so right that nothing can be denied it, and anything can be justified for its sake. Even when our conscience tells us that something about this love–its intensity, its object, its context–may be wrong, love pushes back: not to love would be wrong. Love seems to come so close to the divine, sanctifying and exalting its object.

“When the Best is gone – I know that other things are not of consequence – The Heart wants what it wants – or else it does not care –

Not to see what we love, is very terrible – and talking – doesn’t ease it – and nothing does – but just itself.

I often wonder how the love of Christ, is done – when that – below – holds – so -“ Emily Dickinson

As divine as it can feel, love is tragically bound by mortality. The classic love story always features a happily-ever-after: love’s triumph over seemingly insurmountable circumstances. But there is no guarantee of this happily-ever-after in real life. Arbitrary and inevitable difficulties will tear at relationships, seeming to contrive against lovers’ perfect union and satisfaction. No union between people can ever be perfect, thus to be a lover is to never be satisfied; to be a lover is to face daily tragedy.

“In spite of all my misfortunes, I hoped to find nothing in it besides arguments of comfort; but how ingenious are lovers in tormenting themselves!” – Heloise d’Argenteuil 

The one inescapable circumstance of human life is death. Yet worse than death is having to kill our loves. In the face of inevitable obstacles, what happens when unextraordinary ethics challenge love’s tyrannical rightness? The height of tragedy is the moment of choice. Agamemnon decides to slay Iphigenia. Cordelia refuses to profane her love to Lear. Christ says “Your will be done.” Does one choose to be good, or to be happy?

“The love boat has crashed against the everyday” – Mayakovsky

Sometimes the choice is widely agreed upon by society: monogamy is preferable, while restrictions on sex and gender are now almost unthinkable. The struggle raging in our hearts is rarely so clear. If I love someone I cannot be with, why does it sear my lungs? Because I feel that this capricious, tragic love is something extraordinary. I feel that the love that is opposed to life also transcends life. But I know I am wrong.

“I incessantly seek for you in my mind; I recall your image in my memory; and in such different disquietudes I betray and contradict myself. I hate you: I love you. Shame presses me on all sides: I am at this moment afraid lest I should seem more indifferent than you, and yet I am ashamed to discover my trouble. How weak are we in ourselves, if we do not support ourselves on the cross of Christ.” – Peter Abelard

The Christian claim is that ethics and happiness are compatible in Christ, no matter how seemingly at odds. If love and justice meet at the cross, where is the hope for the unjust lover? I am trying to believe in the ordinariness of extraordinary love. We fall in love given the right circumstances, the right time, and in the most unexpected of ways–only our finitude is what makes love special and extraordinary in this place and time. But the hope of the resurrection is that somehow, all ordinary loves will be made extraordinary. At such a time, the most extraordinary, mind-blowing, heart-breaking earthly love will be no more or less divine than other, simpler loves.

When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven (Mark 12:5).

This, I think, is the hope of an ordinary love: that we can look at  our extraordinary loves and believe that they will be made abundant. It means that we can temper love’s tyranny because this isn’t the last or even the best of it. It means that when the ethical crashes into the love boat, it need not sink, but can expand to include the ethical. It means that mortal life need not stand opposed to love.

“I love you as I did on the first day – you know that, and I have always known it, even before this reunion.” – Hannah Arendt

Taken from the Fall 2019 issue of Logos, Desire.

A Fear of Far Drops

By Bella Gamboa, JE ’22. Bella is majoring in Humanities.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses, an epic poem dating from the early first century CE, is a collection of tales of transformation, many of which remain quite well known in some form today. Among these stories is that of Daedalus, the ill-fated artisan who is exiled to Crete, and his son, Icarus. What follows is an original translation of Ovid’s Latin text.

Daedalus loathed Crete and his long exile; he was filled with longing for his home, the place of his birth, but the vast sea separated him from it.

“Minos, king of Crete, may obstruct our escape by land or sea,” he said, “but the sky is yet clear. We will take that path: though he might possess everything, even Minos does not control the air.”

As Daedalus spoke, he directed his mind to previously unknown arts. Now, he makes nature itself new. He puts feathers in ascending order, beginning from the smallest, with the short feathers following the long – you could imagine they grew along a slope, like a rustic panpipe that rises up little by little, with uneven stalks. Then he fastens the center of the feathers with flax and their edges with wax; and he bends the structures which he assembled so that they resemble real wings.

Meanwhile, Daedalus’ son, Icarus, stands nearby. Not knowing that he handles his own ruin, his face beaming with pleasure, Icarus begins capturing feathers, which he lifts with his breath; just now, he softens the golden wax with his thumb – and his playing hinders the wondrous work of his father.

After Daedalus placed the finishing touch on this undertaking, the craftsman balances his body in the pair of wings, and, as his wings strike the air, he hangs aloft.

Daedalus equips his son and says, “Icarus, I warn you to fly quickly in the middle way. Do  not go too low, for the water will weigh down your wings; and if you soar too high, the sun’s fire will scorch you. Do not be distracted by the constellations – not the Deer-keeper or Ursa Major, nor the unsheathed sword of Orion. Rather, be sure to follow my lead, and seize the way!”

As he gives his son this advice for flying, Daedalus fastens the unfamiliar wings onto Icarus’ shoulders. Between the work and the warning, his aged cheeks grow wet, and the fatherly hands tremble; he gives kisses to his son, not to be repeated again. Daedalus flies ahead, lifted by his wings. He fears for his companion, just like a bird that leads forth its fragile offspring from their high nest into the air. Daedalus encourages his follower, and he instructs Icarus in the damned art, and shifts his own wings to look around at those of his son.

Those who catch sight of them flying – a fisherman trying to catch fish with his rod, or a shepherd with his staff, or a farmer leaning on his plough – are amazed and believe those who can soar over the sky to be gods.

And as they begin to pass by the islands – on the left side lies Junonian Samos (Delos and Paros had been left behind), Lebinthos on the right; and Calymne, overflowing with honey – the boy begins to delight in daring flight. He deserts his leader and pursues a higher path, as he flies full of desire for the sky. The nearness of the swift sun softens the sweet-smelling waxes that bind the feathers; the waxes gradually melt.

Icarus shakes his arms, now bare; but, lacking wings, he cannot catch hold of the air. His lips, forming the name of his father, are received by the sapphire sea, which afterwards was named for him.

And the unlucky father, now no longer a father, cries, “Icarus, Icarus, where are you? Where should I seek you? Icarus!”  he calls out.

But then he catches sight of feathers in the waves, and he curses his skill. He lays Icarus to rest in a grave. That island is since called by the name of the buried.

From a ditch, a cackling partridge watches the unfortunate son being placed in a muddy tomb. The bird claps his wings and reveals his joy with song. At that time, this bird, called a perdix, was unique and had never been seen before – it was created but recently as an eternal record of your crime, Daedalus.

Once, Daedalus’ sister, not knowing what fate held, had given her child to Daedelus for teaching, a twelve-year-old boy, with a mind hungry for learning. This child, Perdix, removed fishes’ backbones to study them; he cut continuous spikes in the spines with a sharp knife and discovered its use as a saw; and he was the first to fasten two iron arms onto one vertex, so that when the bars were evenly set apart, one arm traced a circle.

But Daedalus envied the boy and threw him headlong from the sacred citadel of Minerva. Then he lied that the boy had fallen. But Pallas Athena, goddess of wisdom, who favors the clever, saved Perdix and transformed him into a bird and covered him with feathers in midair. So the vigor that once fed his genius was transferred to his swift wings and feet. His name from before, Perdix, remains as the name of the partridge. However, this bird does not lift its body on high, nor does it make its nest in branches and high trees: rather, it flies near to the ground and places its eggs in bushes. Mindful of its past, it fears far drops.


Icarus’ flaming fall is a well-known parable, generally presented as a warning against the foolish ambition represented by his arrogantly flying too close to the sun. But Ovid’s myth in its entirety, including the little-known context of Perdix’s story, transforms typical images of the principal characters. Icarus becomes a playful boy who flies too high due to the exhilaration of flight, while Daedalus is jealous and overreaching, guilty of killing his nephew and of manufacturing the false wings that enabled his son’s death.

Yet even with the story of Perdix, Daedelus is not entirely despicable. He appears to genuinely desire intellectual distinction, and he achieves mastery as an artisan and inventor. Yet this desire leads him tragically astray. What, then, is the distinction between productive intellectual pursuits, and the destructive desire for preeminence that dooms Daedalus?

Despite the myth’s age, Daedalus’ overreaching ambition remains recognizable, particularly at a place like Yale, where everyone strives for excellence. Just getting to Yale requires a highly competitive process, and that competitive pursuit of success continues here, with countless applications for internships, seminars, and clubs. Although our ambition might not lead us to throw our nephew off a citadel or result in the death of our son, any degree of mastery requires sacrifice — students’ sleep deprivation and overwhelming GCals can attest to the toll.

While the inventive Perdix displays the beauty of innovation and genius, Daedalus twists this pure curiosity with his consuming desire for preeminence. Blinded to his limitations,  Daedelus values his own supremacy over Perdix’s life, and that murder leads to his exile. Then, in his attempt to escape, he convinces himself that he can “make nature new.” But as real as the wings might appear, and despite his trust in his creation, Daedalus’ work is flawed and finally melts away. He could never have made Icarus a bird, for no matter his skill, Daedalus is only human. Icarus was only a playful, curious child whose entrancement with flight was practically inevitable. Daedalus begins with genuine knowledge and passion for his artistry; but once his desire becomes one for preeminence itself, without heed for his finitude or the consequences of his actions, he pursues any end to remain the greatest and to escape his stifling exile.

Our desire for intellectual distinction can both push us to be our best self and lead us astray. An understanding of both excellence and humility is necessary to honor our efforts and passions and prevent them from crushing us.

Like Perdix, with his “mind hungry for instruction,” I find that learning is most enjoyable when it is sought for its own sake. Beyond the pleasure of learning itself, as a Christian I think that God appreciates and even encourages intellectual efforts, just as Athena offers her divine endorsement to Perdix. Furthermore, I believe that God is Himself the source of that impulse. Our desire to learn and to create, intellectually or physically, reflects our being made in the image of God. God’s preeminent creativity is apparent in the simple beauty of ochre autumn leaves, or in the more opaque but nonetheless fascinating principles of organic chemistry. The divine value of intellectual pursuits is liberating and invigorating, particularly for students – we ought to and can acquire knowledge, grow in creativity, and passionately pursue our interests.

But lest we depend on excellence for satiation, a certain humility is crucial so that our pursuits do not become distorted as Daedalus’ desire for preeminence. Humility is not equivalent to self-deprecation, but rather entails a healthy recognition of one’s limitations, and of what is greater than ourselves. Daedalus unsuccessfully attempts to bring about a metamorphosis of himself and his son into birds; but unlike Daedalus, the divine Athena successfully transforms Perdix into a true bird. It often seems that we can attain an enduring sense of self-worth, or some sustaining success, through our work and academics, or other spheres in which we might seek perfection and preeminence. But I, at least, cannot successfully manage this. I know that I will fail, whether a slightly disastrous pop quiz or something of greater significance. I cannot accumulate achievements that are sufficiently dependable. When Perdix falls, Athena enfolds him in feathers, and provides some salvation. Yet even his new partridge form remains limited – the bird does not lose its fear, and so it continues to “fl[y] near to the ground and place its eggs in bushes.”

To me, Christianity offers a more thoroughgoing and enduring salvation; Christ, in his faultless life and sacrificial death, covers us with his perfection. As a result, I do not need perfection and supremacy to establish my identity or prove my value. And the existence of God counteracts my hubristic sense that I must or even can attain some unattainable supremacy – it is, in a sense, an impulse to make myself a god, comparable to Daedalus’ foolhardy wings. Just as only Athena can make a true bird, only God can offer me full, lasting perfection and ultimate excellence.

The elusiveness of preeminence and greatness are no longer an existential threat when my performance and distinction do not define my identity or worth. The ability to pursue knowledge and excellence without the pressure that my identity is rooted in my success in these endeavors is quite freeing.  That I will inevitably fail, in ways large and small, is not crushing, and I need not despair that I am not the best in every (or any) subject. Though they certainly remain stressful, orgo midterms do not define me, and I can more readily embark upon my attempts to muddle through material without that additional pressure; and classes that are primarily pleasurable can become all the more so. I can enjoy soaring through the sky when I have the chance, for when I fall like Icarus, I know I will not face his end. And unlike Perdix, I need not “fear far drops” due to past catastrophes. The knowledge that in God I needn’t and simply cannot be the best is perhaps the only effective relief I find from the endless pursuit of ever-fleeting success.

Taken from the Fall 2019 issue of Logos, Desire.