Literature
Marcel Proust on Self-Sabotaging Discipline

Marcel Proust on Self-Sabotaging Discipline

Someways into the Frenchman’s third volume, his masterful forays into the life of the mind sound a distinctly practical, as well as Lutheran, note. The sentence structure takes some getting used to (occurrence of the word ‘which’ in English language, a probably corollary of overwrought syntax, has almost halved since the time of Moncrieff’s translation, though not without a promising recent resurgence), but the sentiment is timeless. The narrator recalls trying to write more and for other good habits, but his desired behavior eluded him still-more when he tried to exercise self-control:

If only I had been able to start writing! But…

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Frederick Buechner on the Confusion of Faces

Frederick Buechner on the Confusion of Faces

A great section from Frederick Buechner’s The Hungering Dark, a book of meditations on the light that can be found in the darkness of doubt. Reminiscent of a staircase invention we’ve heard of before…

There is a silly little jingle that goes something like this:

My face I don’t mind it
For I am behind it,
It’s the people out front get the jar.

But, on the contrary, the person inside gets the jar too. You catch sight of your face in the mirror when you are brushing your teeth in the morning or combing your hair, and often…

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Another Week Ends: Little League Love, Excellent Sheep, Normal Thoughts, Memoir Distance, Lees of Memory, Leftovers and TMNT

Another Week Ends: Little League Love, Excellent Sheep, Normal Thoughts, Memoir Distance, Lees of Memory, Leftovers and TMNT

1. First off, grab the kleenbox box because here’s a beautiful instance of grace in practice. It comes to us from little league coach Dave Belisle, whose Cumberland American team (Rhode Island) lost the Little League World Series championship game to Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West this past week. In their moment of defeat, Coach Belisle gave the following speech:

2. Looking through our archive this past month, clearly two subjects have been occupying the (hive-)mind: education and suicide. The Atlantic ran an interview this week with lead Ivy League critic William Deresiewicz about his new book Excellent Sheep, and if he’s…

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“My Fall My Stay”: Addiction and Low Anthropology

Some more highlights from John Z.’s remarkable Grace in Addiction:

“The only person lacking desperation is the one who does not know herself very well. Usually a few examples of typical, universal human difficulty are enough to ‘raise the bottom’ to the point where the idea of powerlessness will connect with any layperson. Let’s explore some of these…

Like Swiss cheese, people are full of holes. The Twelve Step approach is quick to draw attention to those holes, rather than try to dodge, cover, or counterbalance them. So which weaknesses tend to be present universally? The Big Book provides its own list:

“We had to ask ourselves why we shouldn’t apply to our human problems this same readiness to change our point of view. We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people…” (52)

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I have yet to meet the person who cannot identify with a least one of the items on that list. Who, for example, is a stranger to fear? Jesus offered a similar list in his famous Sermon on the Mount, but his list also included anger, lust, and anxiety. These are the “classics”, and they account for much of the content of the day-to-day experience of being human.

Using similar logic, AA would liken sin to sickness. R. C. Sproul voiced this sentiment when he wrote, “We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.” We would happily extrapolate along those same lines: “we are not alcoholics because we drink uncontrollably; we drink uncontrollably because we are alcoholics.” Have you ever thought of misdoing as a kind of illness? Like an allergy or a virus, self-centeredness cannot easily be mastered or controlled. The good news is that our negative attributes can become a bedrock upon which effective spirituality can be built. Without them, there is no hope for spiritual rejuvenation; in the place of health, there is apparently no need for recovery.

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The realization of our own weakness is so counterintuitive to human nature that the revelation can be rightly ascribed to the divine. A Christian would ascribe this work to the Holy Spirit. The old-fashioned word for it is repentance.

And so it is with the entire progression of AA’s Twelve Steps. As the ego is deflated and self-confidence is discouraged at every turn, something called “faith”, or “God-confidence” miraculously begins to take its place – although it doesn’t appear that way to the subject at first. In Step 12, AA refers to the fruit of this faith as “a spiritual awakening.”

We close this section on Step 1 with an incisive quote from the sixteenth-century English theologian Richard Hooker:

My eager protestations, made in the glory of my ghostly strength, I am ashamed of; but those crystal tears, wherewith my sin and weakness was bewailed, have procured my endless joy; my strength hath been my ruin, and my fall my stay.

Another Week Ends: Cosmopolitans, Accepting Feedback, Instagram Envy, Ideology Trumping Art, Hawaii Sucks, Muggles, and Mudbloods

Another Week Ends: Cosmopolitans, Accepting Feedback, Instagram Envy, Ideology Trumping Art, Hawaii Sucks, Muggles, and Mudbloods

1. While we try to stay away from plugging anything too exuberantly, and Lord knows TV/movie recs can make one less likely to watch, not more, still – writer/director Whit Stillman is coming out with a new show on Amazon, Cosmopolitans, which sounds like a not-so-veiled reference to his acclaimed feature debut about young WASP life in NYC. Vanity Fair this week got a preview of the pilot, and TV snobs will be heartened to know that Stillman cited Everybody Loves Raymond and Desperate Housewives as favorites. Cautiously optimistic, Stillman said that even if the show doesn’t get picked up, he’s happy to have just a pilot: “I really feel that…

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Steve Brown on the Laughter of the Forgiven

WBGIGE_13610f86-7f95-48b5-8411-f07cf247ee34_1024x1024Mockingbird-favorite Steve Brown’s classic, When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough (recently revised in a new edition), calls us to enter the impasse of the overcontrolled Christian, half-looking at ourselves or at others with one eye, while the other one’s uneasily flitting back and forth to the scoreboard, seeing how things are measuring up. It admits that despite our doctrinal sophistication, our born-again spiritual credentials, our good work, and/or our pursuit of holiness, something still seems to missing. Brown says we miss laughter, the normal reaction to one’s own silliness or unexpected good fortune, because we take ourselves very seriously – especially in faith – and try to expect, predict, and control for everything. How could there be laughter in those circumstances? How can there be?

One story of his follows a woman who moved from having everything under control to being forced to give it up, ht JH:

Early in my ministry I counseled a woman who, some twenty years before, had been unfaithful to her husband. For years that sin had haunted her. I was the first person she had ever told about it. After we talked and prayed for a long time, I recommended she tell her husband. (That, by the way, isn’t always the advice I give. In this case, I knew the woman’s husband and knew that her revelation, after the initial shock, would probably strengthen their marriage.) It wasn’t easy for her, but she promised she would tell him. “Pastor,” she said, “I trust you enough to do what you ask, but if my marriage falls apart as a result, I want you to know I’m going to blame you.” She didn’t smile when she said that, either.

That’s when I commenced to pray with a high degree of seriousness. (I pray best when I’m scared.) “Father,” I prayed, “if I gave her dumb advice, forgive me and clean up my mess.”

I saw her the next day, and she looked fifteen years younger. “What happened?” I asked. “When I told him,” she exclaimed, “replied that he had known about the incident for twenty years and was just waiting for me to tell him so he could tell me how much he loved me!” And then she started to laugh. “He forgave me twenty years ago, and I’ve been needlessly carrying all this guilt for all these years!” Perhaps you are like this woman who had been forgiven and didn’t know it.

 

Will-lessly (Happy 80th, Wendell Berry)

In honor of the man’s 80th birthday, a poem from his newest collection of Sabbath poems, This Day.

by-j-b-hallWill-lessly the leaves fall,
are blown, coming at last
to the ground and to their rest.
Among them in their coming down
purposely the birds pass,
of all the unnumbered ways
choosing one, until
they like the leaves will
will-lessly fall. Thus freed
by gravity, every one
enters the soil, conformed
to the craft and wisdom, the behest
of God’s appointed vicar,
our mother and judge, who binds
us each to each, the largest
to the least, in the family of all
the creatures: great Nature
by whom all are changed, none
are wasted, none are lost.
Supreme artist of this
our present world, her works
live and move, love
their places and their lives in them.
And this is praise to the highest
knowledge by the most low.

Matthew 4.18-19 (A Loose Translation)

Matthew 4.18-19 (A Loose Translation)

I never considered myself much of a fisherman, so when my dad said, “Take a gaff,” I asked what that was. He held up a massive hook. “In case you get a big one,” he insisted. And I answered, “We’ve been fishing all summer and never needed a gaff.” But I took it anyways, because he said so.

My brother, Andrew, and I packed the rest of the rods into the doorless Jeep and off-roaded past the cul-de-sac into the woods, where deep in the trees a river runs. I plopped on the bank where my feet could dangle above the…

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Raleigh W. Hayes Snubs the General Confession

Raleigh W. Hayes Snubs the General Confession

Another look into the redemptive story of the Prodigal Son’s elder brother, Raleigh W. Hayes, and his mischievous minister father, the Episcopal minister Earley Hayes.

New Music: French Style Fur’s Is Exotic Bait

New Music: French Style Fur’s Is Exotic Bait

On the heels of obsessing over Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence, Matthew Linder and I found another target for our obsession in French Style Fur’s Is Exotic Bait. The band is made from members of We Barbarians and Cold War Kids, and most of the lyrical content comes straight out of the poetry of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and mystic. Here are the results of a conversation surrounding one of the deepest albums we have heard in quite a while.

Matt: So what did you think about “All the Way Down”?

Blake: That track is just so credal. I can’t ignore that…

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The Lame Shall Enter First: Remembering Flannery O’Connor, Fifty Years Later

The Lame Shall Enter First: Remembering Flannery O’Connor, Fifty Years Later

A woman once wrote Flannery O’Connor, whose stories spanned such plots as misfit murderers, rapacious Bible salesmen, and racist old men, and the woman suggested Flannery’s stories weren’t uplifting. Complaining about the criticism in a letter to a friend, O’Connor said she would’ve found them uplifting, “if her heart were in the right place.”

Flannery’s stories usually involved the all-out assault on the human illusion of mastery and independence, undertaken desperately and absurdly. An invalid for years, you can almost hear O’Connor’s relish as she describes various medical aids:

The brace shop was a small concrete warehouse lined and stacked with the equipment…

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Another Week Ends: Electroshock Silence, MMO Addiction, Little Miss Perfect, Novel Tweets, Dawkins Hubris, Weird Dylan and Mad Max

Another Week Ends: Electroshock Silence, MMO Addiction, Little Miss Perfect, Novel Tweets, Dawkins Hubris, Weird Dylan and Mad Max

1. Buried in a weekender earlier this month, you may have seen the, er, shocking report of a study conducted at UVA (of all places!) that found that “People Prefer Electric Shocks to Being Alone With Their Thoughts.” If you dismissed it as classic social science clickbait, Lord knows you’d have our sympathy. But it would appear the findings were for real. In an article for The NY Times this week, Kate Murphy expanded on them substantially, folding in a number of our hobby horses along the way (compulsive busyness, over-distraction, Romans 7, even male underachievement), while curiously missing a golden opportunity…

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Walker Percy on Going Down Before Going Up

Walker Percy on Going Down Before Going Up

A psychiatrist wants to buoy up one of Percy’s characters; she wants something else.

Failed Confessions of a Success-o-holic

Failed Confessions of a Success-o-holic

We’re told that learning how to handle failure is an important part of growing up. Yet we do everything we can to make sure our kids never experience it. What did Samuel Beckett actually mean when he told us to “fail better”? And what does it have to do–if anything–with the theology of the cross? All this and (not) much more!

“I Shall Be Released” – Charles Wright

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From the American poet laureate’s collection, Sestets

There is a consolation beyond nomenclature
of what is past
Or is about to pass, though I don’t know what it is.
Someone, somewhere, must, and this is addressed to him.

Come on, Long Eyes, crack the book.
Thumb through the pages and stop at the one with the golden script.
Breathe deeply and lay it on me,
that character with the luminous half-life.