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"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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Still Learning

Still Learning

Grateful for this piece—11 vignettes of 100 words each—by Andrew Taylor-Troutman.

“It is a hard time to be human. / We know too much / and too little.” Ellen Bass

1

Newly minted with my Masters of Divinity degree, I stepped into a pulpit before a dozen black faces. After reading from Romans, I launched into my six-page lecture sprinkled more liberally with Shelley and Keats than the Apostle Paul, and I’d not hit even the third sentence when an elderly woman, small and dark like a raisin, sounded out from the back pew like ringing a bell:

—Lord, hep him! Hep him, Jesus!

I’d…

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Heroin in the Hymnals

Heroin in the Hymnals

There is a moment deep into Netflix’s underrated Ozark (spoilers below), where the raising of a cross atop a church emits ripples of fear, as if recreational Missouri were ancient Rome. Whatever the show’s imperfections, I submit that restoring a sense of the scandal of the cross to America’s Bible belt is a considerable accomplishment. For the most part, the sex and violence in this show is more narrative tool than titillation – though I do wish there had been less of it. Even so, while most critics have fallen into lock-step complaint that Ozark is not Breaking Bad, I…

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The Power of the Personal Essay

The Power of the Personal Essay

In her piece for newyorker.com, “The Personal-Essay Boom is Over,” Jia Tolentino laments the death of a genre of writing that was, for a spell, ubiquitous. “A genre that partially defined the last decade of the Internet has essentially disappeared,” she writes. The Toast, Hairpin, Gawker, and other sites showcasing the noble attempts of young writers to mine their experiences and explore what they had to say have since disbanded or stopped receiving first-person pitches. The audience has shrunk for these essays, and Tolentino is sad to see them go.

The online personal essay has its faults. The form’s popularity contributed…

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When You Can't Get the S-Town Off of You

When You Can’t Get the S-Town Off of You

There are these golden moments in interviews where everything before and after becomes fuzzy, and the clarity of what is happening between those two people gets thrust into sharp contrast, like an audio pull-quote. Recently I had just that experience.

I felt an urge to relisten to S-Town just a few weeks ago. It was even more moving the second time, hearing Brian Reed tell the story of the eccentric genius John B. McLemore and the equally colorful supporting cast of characters that were his family and neighbors. It was like listening to a real-life Flannery O’Connor story; Southern Gothic meets…

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When We Were Young: A Story of America

When We Were Young: A Story of America

Back in the summer of 2004, roughly fifteen months after the United States invaded Iraq, I sat in the United States House of Representatives, high in the balcony on to the right of the lectern for he who stood at it, and listened to Colin Powell speak to a chamber full of congressional interns. It was a hard time for the United States. The Bush presidency and the invasion of Iraq had led to a sense of national division as great as we had experienced in my lifetime, and certainly since the Vietnam War. I tried to remain aloof and…

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Top Hat Meets Obelisk

Top Hat Meets Obelisk

For about a century, proud and dead Americans imagined themselves to be Egyptians. Throwing away the simple, hopeful crosses of common grave-marking, and setting aside the robust traditions of soaring angels and death’s heads of Puritan or German decoration, we erected obelisks in our own memory. It doesn’t seem to have ever extended to mummification and canopic jars, but it was a fad of fads that grew up following the Napoleonic spoliation of Egypt—and the sudden appearance of Cleopatra’s needles in Paris, Rome, London, and New York. It ended as abruptly as it began. But the obelisks still poke the…

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Downer Darko

As Martin Luther reminds us, the thirst for glory is not ended by satisfying it, but by extinguishing it (paraphrase). Few men have had that thirst more publicly and painfully extinguished than Darko Milicic, the 2nd pick in the 2003 NBA Draft – right after Lebron. And before All-Stars Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Josh Howard, David West and two others whom you can go look up if you like. Milicic is widely considered the greatest NBA bust of all time, a joke and cautionary tale. Imagine carrying that burden – Biggest Failure of All Time – everywhere you go, forever. Ouch.

All of which is why I was drawn to a recent article on Darko. Turns out he’s doing pretty well. As he puts it:

I kind of feel like Old Darko died. Like, when I think about myself, or myself when I was playing, I feel like I’m sort of thinking about someone who is dead.

Yes, he still has a sizable portion of the 50+ million dollars he made playing basketball (I chose the wrong profession), but he also has assets infinitely more valuable: a loving family, a sense of humor, something to live for, and some perspective. I won’t spoil the ending, but Jesus figures prominently in this man’s ability to accept himself as-is. May we all be so blessed, whether we succeed or fail.

 

The God of Order and the God of Cabbage Hill

The God of Order and the God of Cabbage Hill

Most Sundays you can find me in the pulpit of an imposing brick church on the western edge of downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania. One-way streets join in odd angles and strange numbers before its disused front doors; Cabbage Hill at once rises and descends behind it into a labyrinth of narrow alleys, overhead power lines, and crumbling Edwardian row houses. Not a hundred feet out of sight is our parking lot, one of very few in that corner of the city, but woe to the one who seeks it without aid of GPS. I have on occasion suggested a sign for…

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We're All Right? Phil Harvey Spector, “Sign of the Times”, and the Horror of Pop

We’re All Right? Phil Harvey Spector, “Sign of the Times”, and the Horror of Pop

The following was written by our friend, Rachel Gaffin. A version of this article was originally published in The Ruckus last September.

The year my brother Richard discovered rock and roll, his Christmas gifts shared a common theme: one uncle bought him a giant red Visual Dictionary of Rock and Roll; another bought him a set of AC/DC boxers. At the time a wide-eyed ten-year-old, I watched my brother the way he watched videos of Hendrix wailing out “The Star-Spangled Banner” in ’69: with reverence and a burning desire to imitate. Since the boxers weren’t exactly accessible, I turned instead to the…

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The Essential Shift: Moving from Orphan to Beloved Son

A terrific talk from the 2017 Coming Back Stronger Conference in Birmingham, AL. Tray Lovvorn, one of the hosts of Undone Redone, talks about the different ways we understand our relationship to God:

Identity and Summer Selfies: A Reminder

Identity and Summer Selfies: A Reminder

It’s that time of year again, when all of us at some level look at our bodies and realize that we’ve been more, let’s say, “relaxed” about our health during the colder months. We also see — well, some of us do, anyway — our offensively pale skin or winter-weight and dread the first day of shorts, or sun dresses, or swimsuits. It’s difficult because when everything is green and bright, there is much work to do. That is, those social media photos aren’t going to take themselves.

There’s tremendous pressure, isn’t there, to have a good time when times…

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