1. An amazing story of reconciliation in the latest episode of Jonathan Goldstein’s Heavyweight, the podcast DZ recommended in last week’s AWE. Every episode turns back the clock, diving into the past of a different person with unique resentments or grievances to air out.

The most recent episode is the story of Jesse, a man who at age twenty-one was t-boned by a car going 45mph. For a time he was legally dead, and seventeen days after the accident, he awoke from a coma half-paralyzed, expecting never again to walk, never again to drive. The life he once lived, his dreams, his expectations, were all lost.

But he survived. And slowly things began to change. In time, he came to appreciate the little things, the color of the sky, the touch of a friend. He experienced a complete rebirth. “Even the most familiar things,” Goldstein reports, “were new again.” He became slower-moving, softer-speaking. He changed his name to Jivana and says that “every day now is like a second chance.” Jivana, remarkably, wants to thank the driver who t-boned him, the man, he says, who gave him his life:

“I’ve always wanted to meet him. I’ve always wanted to sit down across from him and tell him, like, I’ve become increasingly grateful for being hit by that car. And, like, I want to thank him for showing me how beautiful life can be. But I also want to say sorry.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

[Goldstein narrates:] Up until this moment, I was with him. The idea of being curious and wanting to meet the driver…that I kind of got. But wanting to thank him? Apologize? To the guy who ran you over? Jivana was acting like Jesus. And for the people who give out the Jesusy vibe, like, say, Jesus, it doesn’t usually end so well. An eye for an eye is what my wrathful Hebrew Lord instructs. Even if you don’t want to. You have an obligation. Take an eyeball. For later. You never know, it might come in handy. And to show extra piety, maybe grab a fistful of eyelash. But at the very least, saith the Lord, if a guy almost kills you, make him beg for your forgiveness.

“You sincerely don’t feel like you’re looking for an apology?”

“I don’t blame him for what happened that day. We’ve all been late to work. We’ve all run yellow lights. Like, every day that I drive on a busy street with intersections going over thirty, I kind of can imagine what it would be like for a bicyclist to suddenly be there.”

This is what it means when Mockingbird writers say, “We are all three days away from being tabloid news.” If we aren’t already, we could easily find ourselves in over our heads even by the end of today, because at our cores, we are all the same. Just people.

Goldstein tracks down the driver of the car, named Christian. His family tells Goldstein that Christian’s life has changed just as drastically as Jivana’s, but inversely. After years of agonized wondering, of reliving that day over and over in his head, his parents fear that bringing him face-to-face with Jivana will only make Christian’s life worse. But Jivana insists: “I don’t need an apology from him. I think the only person that can really tell him that it’s ok, the only person that he maybe would believe, is me.” Eventually they do meet, and they talk, and they hug.

It isn’t a half-hug, one of those awkward one-armed things that men do. It was a full-on embrace. Later, when I speak to Jivana, he’ll tell me that Christian didn’t strike him as the huggy type, but that the hug he gave felt like the hug of someone who’d been saving up his hugs. […]

Only one line has to alter its course even the tiniest bit, and eventually two parallel lines will meet. 

There’s much to unpack from this story, but that final image, of parallel lines intersecting unexpectedly, illustrates the human-divine conflict. God and man exist on two separate planes, the perfect and the imperfect, running stubbornly along their own tracks. Something has to give if we are ever going to meet. We find hope in a God who diverges from his path and comes to find us wherever we may be.

2. For something more culturey-trendy, check out Dana Wood’s fascinating deposition against “clean” beauty products in The Wall Street Journal (ht MM). Describing our rising affection for beauty products that resist traditional “anti-aging” marketing, Wood uncovers our culture’s obsession with age, and with beauty, but also the how easily seduced we can be by the law of purity. It would seem that our attraction to “clean” products emerges from our persistent need for cleansing—which ultimately proves to be a spiritual quest, since, as Wood points out, no one actually knows what these clean products do.

…so far most clean products haven’t undergone clinical trials, which beauty companies perform to test the safety and efficacy of formulations, as well as to support their claims. Many clean products, said Dr. Engelman, “aren’t going to be as potent as something that was formulated specifically for anti-aging.” A lot of them may work to a certain extent, she added, “but they aren’t going to change the structure of your skin.”

Regardless of how we package stuff, however, ultimately no one wants to age. Even if we prefer clean products, our motive remains the same. It’s merely “delaying the inevitable.”

3. Some good parenting-related humor from The New Yorker: here’s the Trendiest Parenting Fears of 2017. Those looking for something slightly more potent may also get a laugh from “Entirety of Hollywood Film Industry Replaced with 40,000 Christopher Plummers,” courtesy of The Onion.

4. Over at 1517, Wade Johnston commemorates the Reformation with a nice reflection on what “Christian freedom” means in the context of everyday life. Johnson issues some powerful words for a religion that exhibits a tendency to hide from the world and to invoke limitations on what its subscribers are allowed to do and feel:

We’re free to enjoy the world in a way we never before could, recognizing that it’s full of gifts, penultimate as they are, which we can enjoy as gifts and not turn into idols, as things that are ultimate. Luther warns about the danger of forgetting that, of looking again to our works, or to earthly things, for a salvation that can only be received as a gift, for any identity presumably greater than the greatest one we already have as sons and daughters of the Beggar-King, Who loved us and gave Himself for us when we were still His enemies:

“From this anyone can clearly see how a Christian is free from all things and over all things so that he needs no works to make him righteous and save him, since faith alone abundantly confers all these things. Should he grow so foolish, however, as to presume to become righteous, free, saved, and a Christian by means of some good work, he would instantly lose faith and all its benefits, a foolishness aptly illustrated in the fable of the dog who runs along a stream with a piece of meat in his mouth and, deceived by the reflection of meat in the water, opens his mouth to snap at it and so loses both the meat and the reflection” (Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, LW 31, 356).

5. This new lyric from Sleigh Bells is pretty spot-on re: the whole saints/sinners thing: “I swear I’m the shell of a man/And you said, ‘Nah, you’re a hell of a man.’”

6. Discussing previously unpublished entries from Flannery O’Connor’s college diary, Karen Swallow Prior, for The Atlantic, wrote a moving article about the famed writer’s early bouts with self-doubt and fear. After listing all of O’Connor’s many accolades, which I need not reproduce here, Prior writes:

But the young woman of 18 writing in the journal knows none of this. What she knows is that she wants to succeed as an artist, but she is filled with self-doubt, which she deflects by professing that she would prefer “social success” to literary achievement even though that seems an even more hopeless pursuit for such a “frightened rabbit” as she. Yet, she is similarly skeptical of her intellectual and writing abilities; her lack in this area is merely compounded by her limited social experiencewhich she worries gives her too little material to reflect and write upon—the catch-22 of every unaccomplished aspirant.

It’s a softhearted look at the humanity of one of our most beloved writers. At the same time, it’s hard not to see Prior’s write-up as a mild appropriation of O’Connor’s work—shaping the author’s life into the inspirational tale of a trepidatious young woman who beat the odds and blossomed into a talented badass. Which is not to say that’s not O’Connor’s legacy.

But the gist of her work serves a different purpose, one that cannot be understood apart from her devout faith and her critical understanding of what our friend Blake Collier calls an “interventionist God.” In an excellent recent piece on the theology behind O’Connor’s writings, Blake writes:

There are also short stories like Revelation that focus on the reversal of expectations by those who place too much pride and power in their religious self-estimation. They are brought low by those they see as not quite holy, but more secular. Ruby Turpin sees black people and “white trash” as inferior to her. They don’t show the requisite personal piety and Southern bootstrap mentality to be better than they are. Yet by the end of the story, a revelation comes to her and we see that those she took to be profane are the ones ushered first into heaven, thereby confounding her categories. The grace, spoken of by O’Connor, has a way of defying our own appraisals of our self and others. This is something that Flannery was always aware of in her own writing:

“All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal” (The Habit of Being).

We are all skeptical of the actions of an interventionist God. Without grace, we are left viewing ourselves without reference to something else that transcends our own judgments, self-evaluations and the “other-ing” of people that happens when we live divided lives between the sacred and the secular. Flannery O’Connor was a prophet in her own right when it came to the slap in the face of grace given by the Christian gospel. It shocks, it hurts, the pain lingers, but so does the truth and change will follow.

7. More music: how did we miss this? From Moby, last year. A bit sad but so powerful, and certainly reminiscent of Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos.

8. Last but far from least, the following story reminds us that the hardships wreaked by Hurricane Harvey are far from over. It’s about the town of Refugio, TX, where residents find hope in “the one place they can usually find it—football.” It’s also the story of a coach who longs to see his community redeemed (ht SC).

When one of his players experiences a debilitating injury, Coach Herring says:

“When something like that happens to one of your kids that you love, it puts everything in perspective,” Herring says. “Casey and his family lost everything, and then, on top of that, a week later he gets paralyzed. I just felt, God put it on my heart that that kids deserves a home to come home to and there’s not one…I think any coach that’s gone through this will tell you there’s a little bit of guilt,” says Herring. “You wonder, did I teach tackling right? Did I do this right? Did I do everything? Did I tell him enough to keep his head up?…[S]o there’s this sense of responsibility that I know I feel and I just want to do everything that I can to help that kid and that family.”

This must be what it’s like to be in a leadership role of any kind in the midst of tragedy, whether coach, parent, or pastor.

“Both things, the hurricane and Casey’s injury is a lot to overcome and you’re not going to overcome it by yourself,” he says.

This is a good time to let our readers know that next week we are sending 111 copies of Mockingbird’s latest publication, a children’s book called The Very Persistent Pirate, to first graders at a school in Houston. Since so much was lost, including books, it’s our hope that this story of good news and redemption will encourage these kids as they recover from the hurricane.

If you’d like to purchase a book for a first grader in Houston, you can make a donation here. Thank you!

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