The Humane Pursuits of Brian Brown

A fond farewell: Former Pray Channel editor toasts HP and its founder in this, our 1,000th (and final) post.


“We read a lot of interesting books and articles, have a lot of interesting ideas, and debate some good stuff.  What if we put all that to good use?” Brian Brown sent me this email on July 29, in the year of our Lord 2009. Included in the email was a mock-up for a WordPress group blog, Humane Pursuits.

Over nearly a decade, the scaffolding of Humane Pursuits has been worked by scores of writers on topics from Pokémon to Anna Karenina, from Brad Paisley to T.S. Eliot (of course). They’ve prescribed and lamented, proscribed and gushed. But above all, they have held together around a particularly compelling vision: that human nature and beauty are still worth thinking seriously about today, and that imagination is a cultivated art.

And this was always the vision of Brian Brown.

It was literally in Brian’s follow-up email from July 30, 2009: “I’m thinking the ‘moral imagination’ is a good theme for what we’re doing.”

I and the other contributors had our own agendas on politics, philosophy, and our own fun arguments. We bantered and tried to pick fights with parallel blogs. Meanwhile, Brian was busy pushing essays about “Why Men Like Jane Austen.” Last I heard, that was still one of the most successful articles on HP.

Little by little, I realized what the founder was up to. I saw eyes light up around the possibilities, and better writers (or at least better writing) began to populate the pages. It was less soapbox and more hope. Eventually, I myself caught on: people need to feel what you are trying to tell them … and that’s the whole point of the site. Feelings are critically important—but the best feelings don’t just happen, they come from a life well-considered, a life well-lived. That’s a long vision, but really good writing helps us dip into some of that now.

When I was eighteen, my grandpa died and I was asked to read a poem. It was from Thomas Merton on a little prayer card my grandpa carried around. On the back he had written, in the practiced cursive of a proud man, “Live love.”

I might see that phrase anywhere. It’s pithy and sonorous and fits a bumper sticker. It could sell jeans. But the lyrical beauty for me is lodged in the story of an 84-year-old man. It is a true story and makes truer words. It lifts the simple words to the point of ascension. I never would have described that stubborn man as poetic, but capping his memory with “Live love” also had the reverse effect of casting unseen light onto his whole life.

This is the effect that Humane Pursuits has been creating for years now. True stories and beautiful words. They are gifts for each other, worth working at—and this is indeed the hopefulness that I have loved about what this site has become.

It is not easy to institutionalize a theological virtue like hope. But while we have been whittling away on our little cornices—waxing verbose on Facebook culture and the meaning of life—Brian has been setting up structures to make this project more realistic. We have stood on his vision and found ourselves aiming at better pursuits.

—Bryan Wandel



Editor’s Note: The infection of hope has so caught Bryan (former Pray Channel Editor), that he has answered the call to plant an Anglican church in Buffalo, NY. The hope germinating in his life, mind, and heart once prompted him to tell me, “If anything is to shock our souls, let it be hope.” I have carried that line with me for years, thanks to the influence of those with whom I have shared this corner of the world called Humane Pursuits.
~ Jody Byrkett


Photo copyright Lancia E. Smith Photography

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