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Accidental Killers and Cities of Refuge

Accidental Killers and Cities of Refuge

“There are self-help books written for seemingly every aberration of human experience: for alcoholics and opiate abusers; for widows, rape victims, gambling addicts, and anorexics; for the parents of children with disabilities; for sufferers of acne and shopping compulsions; for cancer survivors, asexuals, and people who just aren’t that happy...

Pre-Register Today!

Pre-Register Today!

We're overjoyed to announce that, over Reformation Weekend (Oct 27-28), we'll be celebrating in Washington, DC, with a 24-hour mini-conference. Hosted by our friends at All Saints Chevy Chase, we would love for you to join us. Talks will be (of course) Reformation-themed, and as always, we'll...

Revenge of the Puritans

Revenge of the Puritans

Whether God is in your life or not, you know you are going to die here on Earth. Mortality is as common and constant as sunrise and sunset. But we, the folks who gave you Stonehenge, rage against the fading light. Duh.

There are options. You can choose...

Why I Invited Daryl Davis to Speak in DC

Why I Invited Daryl Davis to Speak in DC

There’s a scene about fifteen minutes into Accidental Courtesy, the 2016 documentary about musician Daryl Davis, that so blew my hair back that I immediately looked up his contact info for the purposes of begging him to join us at our upcoming event in Washington, DC.

The scene begins with a...

The Preacher Goes to Fashion Week: Jim Carrey's Gospel Madness

The Preacher Goes to Fashion Week: Jim Carrey’s Gospel Madness

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,     vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

God, in his mercy, sends preachers. Some are well-educated and institutionally-approved folk serving the faithful in fine old churches, but in these last days we should take no alarm that the same Lord who spoke through Balaam’s ass might again...

Seven Tips for Winning an Argument with Your Spouse

Seven Tips for Winning an Argument with Your Spouse

The subtitle in the Love & Death Issue is, naturally, “How to Bring Hell into Your Household.”  

1. Ignore initial pesky feeling that you might be wrong.

If you are thinking to yourself that this is the moment to apologize, forget about it. You started this riot in...

"Jesus Take the Wheel" Is Not Enough

“Jesus Take the Wheel” Is Not Enough

Carrie Underwood has offered many the willy-nilly soul “spinning on a thin black sheet of glass” a sense of relief since her 2005 hit, “Jesus Take the Wheel.” There is an immediate comfort to the notion that when we’re “running low on faith and gasoline,” God might step in as...

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Seeing Tares

Seeing Tares

Grateful for this one by Jay Wamsted.

I could hear the trouble outside through my door. I taught ninth graders that year—a challenge even on the best day—and I should have been posted up in the hallway before my students returned from lunch, should have been using their inertia to usher them straight into class. Instead I was just a little late crossing the room from my desk, panicking as I unlocked the door. Though I was able to watch the tail end of an argument between two of my students—they were squared off in the shadow of my doorway, foot…

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Another Week Ends: Stories of Forgiveness, Electric Jesus, Selfish Marriages, Bad Vicars, Exhausted Chefs, and Discount Books

Another Week Ends: Stories of Forgiveness, Electric Jesus, Selfish Marriages, Bad Vicars, Exhausted Chefs, and Discount Books

1. Let’s start this round-up with a beautiful story from an unlikely source. Last week, The Wall Street Journal published an incredible exposition on forgiveness, “The Challenge of Jewish Repentance,” by Jonathan Sacks. Beginning with the Old Testament, with Genesis, Sacks describes how Jewish history has always revolved around the general wheel of transgression and forgiveness, disobedience and mercy.

With Rosh Hashanah having begun Wednesday evening, Sacks explains how, during the Ten Days of Repentance, Jews are put “on trial for [their] lives.” Focused on the confession of sins, it marks a time to marvel at the God “whose property is always…

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Roughing Up an Isle of Dogs

The debut of the unbelievably delightful first trailer for The Isle of Dogs (which arrives in theaters on yours truly’s birthday – coincidence?) is as good an occasion as any for posting a few paragraphs from the Wes Anderson essay that opens Mockingbird at the Movies.

“The very mention of a religious dimension to Wes Anderson’s films may sound surprising, even bizarre. It is certainly not what he is known for. Critics praise his visual imagination, his attention to detail, his pet themes and oft-imitated (but never replicated) whimsy. They do not, as a group, gravitate toward spiritual language when discussing his movies. If anything, Wes has been criticized for the emotional distance of his dollhouse-like visions. The net effect of the fanciful scenery and mannered dialogue is to keep the viewer from fully entering into the picture, heart-wise, to say nothing of the spirit. Everything is so gloriously precise; it seems there is no room in a Wes Anderson film for any deity other than Wes Anderson.

While such a view may not be entirely unfounded, it does not account for the stories themselves, in particular the trilogy of The Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. What emerges is something more akin to the fake Italian talk show interview with Wes that’s included on the Criterion edition of The Life Aquatic. Following a series of increasingly awkward exchanges, the befuddled host asks the director point- blank if he believes in God. Wes answers, “Eh, I think so. Yeah. I mean, roughly.”

By “roughly” he no doubt meant “approximately,” yet given the films in question he might as well have been using it in the physical sense. In Anderson’s films, God intervenes upon hapless human beings with force, often in the guise of something cataclysmic and unpleasant–as a divine interruption as opposed to something engineered by one of the protagonists. However precious his sensibility may be in other ways–that is, the opposite of gothic–Wes demonstrates time and again an implicit grasp of what novelist Flannery O’Connor once described in relation to her own work:

I suppose the reasons for the use of so much violence in modern fiction will differ with each writer who uses it, but in my own stories I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace. Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will do the work. This idea, that reality is something to which we must be returned at considerable cost, is one which is seldom understood by the casual reader, but it is one which is implicit in the Christian view of the world.

Where Flannery speaks of hard-headedness, Wes’ characters tend to be softer, not so much calloused by suffering and indignity as consumed with charming minutiae and narcissistic navel-gazing. But the inwardness proves intractable and warrants just as much of an abrupt, outside interruption.” (pg 16-17)

To read more…

The Preacher Goes to Fashion Week: Jim Carrey's Gospel Madness

The Preacher Goes to Fashion Week: Jim Carrey’s Gospel Madness

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
    vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

God, in his mercy, sends preachers. Some are well-educated and institutionally-approved folk serving the faithful in fine old churches, but in these last days we should take no alarm that the same Lord who spoke through Balaam’s ass might again choose an eccentric instrument. His preachers are not necessarily welcomed even under ordinary circumstances – indeed, the urgency of the need and the warmth of the reception seem often enough to have an inverse relationship. Again, this should not surprise, because the preacher’s first word is a word of law,…

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Revenge of the Puritans

Revenge of the Puritans

Whether God is in your life or not, you know you are going to die here on Earth. Mortality is as common and constant as sunrise and sunset. But we, the folks who gave you Stonehenge, rage against the fading light. Duh.

There are options. You can choose to live for you. You can be grateful for the things you have been given, especially life itself, and be “mindful”. Or you think there is a much Greater Truth, that you are part of it, and that there is a transaction it offers—more than just a gift. For some…

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Accidental Killers and Cities of Refuge

Accidental Killers and Cities of Refuge

“There are self-help books written for seemingly every aberration of human experience: for alcoholics and opiate abusers; for widows, rape victims, gambling addicts, and anorexics; for the parents of children with disabilities; for sufferers of acne and shopping compulsions; for cancer survivors, asexuals, and people who just aren’t that happy and don’t know why. But there are no self-help books for anyone who has accidentally killed another person. An exhaustive search yielded no research on such people, and nothing in the way of therapeutic protocols, publicly listed support groups, or therapists who specialize in their treatment…”

Thus opens the second section…

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From The New Yorker

"Jesus Take the Wheel" Is Not Enough

“Jesus Take the Wheel” Is Not Enough

Carrie Underwood has offered many the willy-nilly soul “spinning on a thin black sheet of glass” a sense of relief since her 2005 hit, “Jesus Take the Wheel.” There is an immediate comfort to the notion that when we’re “running low on faith and gasoline,” God might step in as if he were a sub, tagging us out of the game of life; as if to say, “Thanks for keeping us on the right track, soldier! You rest a while. I’ve got it from here.”

Upon closer observation, this is a pretty flimsy picture of a God who “created the heavens…

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A Welcomed Interrogation

A Welcomed Interrogation

John le Carré knows spy craft. A master of espionage fiction, he also once served as an intelligence officer in Britain’s MI5. In a recent interview with Terry Gross of NPR’s “Fresh Air,” while promoting “A Legacy of Spies,” le Carré discussed the art of interrogation. He expressed his firm conviction that the “rough stuff” we hear about today (say, waterboarding and torture) is “quite useless,” not to mention immoral. Why? People under such pressure and pain will basically say anything to make the pain stop.

“I’ve found that trying to understand people, trying to befriend them, trying to indicate that…

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PZ's Podcast: Turning Point & The Year We Make Contact

PZ’s Podcast: Turning Point & The Year We Make Contact

EPISODE 234: Turning Point

This theme of the insuperability of at least one problem in your life continues to absorb me — and in the light of hope and hopefulness.

I tell the story of a woman who recently attended a meeting of church executives, almost all of whom are absorbed by current issues and questions of identity in political terms. This person said to me afterwards, “It seemed like a voice spoke to me, as I listened to the virtue-signalling: ‘This form of Christianity has no future.’ ” What she meant was that there was no SAVING being proffered, nothing related…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Eighteen Verses Twenty-One Through Thirty-Five

This morning’s devotion, inspired by yesterday’s Gospel passage, was written by Kris McInnes.

…Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-35, NRSV)

Forgiveness is hard, and the forgiveness God demands is impossible. Jesus tells a story of a man who was forgiven much and then refused to forgive one who owed him little. This unforgiving man was tortured until he paid back all he owed, an amount so staggering that it would have been impossible for him to recover.

We often assume the point of the parable is simple, that we should forgive others and not hold grudges, but that end is impossible to attain. If we walk away from the parable thinking that this is something we can live up to, or worse, something we are living up to, then we are lost. The parable can only help us if through it we hear what we are supposed to do and realize that we are not doing it. And this should come naturally—it won’t take long to think about how unforgiving we are: think about the last time you heard someone sing the national anthem, the last time you watched Access Hollywood, the last time you sized someone up in the grocery store, the latest gossip you heard.

These are our shortcomings before the Law of Forgiveness. We may like that Jesus forgives, we may even like the idea of forgiving others, but we cannot do it ourselves. Like any other, this law can only assist us in illuminating our death before it and our need for an external forgiver. Thankfully, on the other side of this death is the new life in a forgiving and loving God, who sent his son Jesus to show us how it’s done.

From the cross Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and that is exactly what God does. He doesn’t even wait for us to ask. Before we go looking for it or even realize we need help, we are forgiven. Before our mouths can even form the words “I’m sorry,” we are forgiven.

Another Week Ends: Apple's Future; the Problem with Present-ism; Rick, Morty, Jim Carrey, and JAZ; Denis Johnson's Darkness; Bergman's Light; and HGTV-Fights

Another Week Ends: Apple’s Future; the Problem with Present-ism; Rick, Morty, Jim Carrey, and JAZ; Denis Johnson’s Darkness; Bergman’s Light; and HGTV-Fights

1. At Apple’s Keynote on Tuesday, Tim Cook – in classic Jobs style – gave a short history of television. The first stage was black and white, and the second was color. A third was HD. Now, he assured his audience, we’re at another “inflection point” in television history: Apple TV 4K.

In hindsight, the original iPhone really did present such an inflection point: it dramatically changed the way we live our lives. People that attended that original keynote were, in a sense, present for the making of history. I’m not sure how well that holds up, actually–if one of my…

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