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Misunderstanding, Misunderstood: The Sylvia Plath Who Wrote For Children

Misunderstanding, Misunderstood: The Sylvia Plath Who Wrote For Children

At 17, I read The Bell Jar. After grimacing through the suicide attempts, the shock therapy sessions, the nervous breakdowns, and the general darkness, I closed the book, appreciated the work, and then thought, “Damn. This woman was crazy.”

At 21, I thought my life had become The Bell Jar. I felt the same suffocating dread Plath expressed in her characters’ fears of “settling.” I wallowed in my failures, was crippled by indecision, felt misunderstood, tired, and nervous. About everything. Plath was my female masthead, unapologetically vocalizing every one of my rite-of-passage fears with poetic authenticity.

Then, just last week, my English major survey…

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2016 NYC Conference Book Table

2016 NYC Conference Book Table

As requested, here’s the list of books (and music), we had for sale up in NYC, along with a couple of selections that were heavily referenced in talks. Lots of overlap with the “Recommended Reading” list on our I’m New Here page, but what can you do.

Theology/Religion

Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace. Robert Farrar Capon.
The Christian Life: Cross or Glory? Steven A. Hein.
Comfortable Words: Essays in Honor of Paul F.M. Zahl. Jady Koch and Todd Brewer.
The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ. Fleming Rutledge
Eden and Afterward: A Mockingbird Guide to Genesis. Will McDavid.
Grace in Practice: A Theology of…

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From the Magazine: Molly Worthen on Cultural Identity in the American Church

With the Church Issue out the door and hitting mailboxes this week, we thought it might be prudent to post a teaser edition of our amazing interview with religious historian and New York Times contributor Molly Worthen. 

If you want to order the Church Issue or subscribe, this is the place to do it.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 9.15.30 AMIn the introduction to her 2014 book, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism, historian and journalist Molly Worthen sets out to reappraise the term “evangelical”—both what it has meant and what it continues to mean today. She discusses the inherent distrust of American evangelical culture in the wider public sphere, where evangelicals on the whole are typecasted as hostile or anachronistic, too blinded by an authoritarian faith to confront the discoveries of science and reason. Yet Worthen argues that this characterization misrepresents wide swaths of evangelicals, that, on the whole, evangelicals are far more thoughtful and diverse than most critics realize. Worthen argues that evangelicals have been further from ‘authoritarian’ than the intellectual spheres that so readily spurn them:

The central source of anti-intellectualism in evangelical life is the antithesis of “authoritarianism.” It is evangelicals’ ongoing crisis of authority—their struggle to reconcile reason with revelation, heart with head, and private piety with the public square—that best explains their anxiety and animosity toward intellectual life. Thinkers in the democratic West celebrate their freedom of thought but practice a certain kind of unwavering obedience—bowing to the Enlightenment before all other gods—that allows modern intellectual life to function. Evangelicals, by contrast, are torn between sovereign powers that each claim supremacy.

In a way, this tension has been the story of the Church universal, perpetually buffeted between the unique revelation of truth in Jesus Christ, and the world of independent thought that also demands their everyday consideration. The Church, for better or worse, tends to operate in tandem with these powers, which has always led to tricky (and often, precarious) outcomes.

Worthen argues that evangelicals today are still searching for firm footing. As a journalist, the current moments of discord seem of particular interest to her. Her articles in the New York Times often engage the tension between the doctrines of tolerance given us by secular liberalism, and the exclusive truth claims made by the many we would call “evangelicals.” As a Professor at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), she is also interested in how secular thought and identity politics on American campuses have tended to provoke similar kinds of exclusive truth claims on its students, though to a different end. As you will see in our interview, for Molly Worthen, evangelicals are a group of believers who have found it necessary to reconcile the constraints of the public sphere and the demands of their own personal belief.

Worthen spoke to us from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

M

Are there contemporary issues today within the Church that are simply rehashings of an old issue from centuries ago?

MW

Sure, I’m often aware of continuities, and I try to stress them to my students. I teach a course on North American religion since European contact, and one of the themes is the way Christians have always struggled with the paradoxes that define their faith. These paradoxes are what give Christianity its majesty and brilliance, but they’re also what cause great frustration among believers. It has seemed to me that, over the millennia, people who are deemed heretics by defenders of orthodoxy are Christians who sought to resolve one or more of the key paradoxes of Christianity—whether it was to try to separate Christ’s human and divine nature or to try to rationalize the mystery of the Trinity or to push apart the paradox of free will and divine sovereignty.

41-xe2IErwL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_And then there are the less Trinitarian paradoxes that continue to pop up in contemporary religion, that deal with culture—the paradox of the Christian calling to be ‘in the world but not of it’—that dilemma frames so many issues for Christians today.

The paradox whereby Paul calls Christians to be always alert to the way in which culture can become confused with the Gospel, and worldly identities blended with identity in Christ—that one is so apparent in the current presidential election. It certainly illuminates the appeal of Donald Trump’s xenophobic, nativist, essentially white supremacist language. Some evangelical leaders I’ve asked about this insist that evangelicals who support Trump are not real evangelicals because many of them don’t go to church, but the fact is that “evangelical” has become a kind of cultural identity that churches do not control.

One trend I’ve been following is the way in which more and more evangelical leaders are calling for American Christians to think of themselves as a “moral minority,” a Christian counterculture, to recognize that the ship has sailed on marriage equality and that they can no longer aspire to “take the country back.” And yet, at the same time, we have the evangelical grassroots rallying for a presidential candidate who is resurrecting the rhetoric of Jerry Falwell, speaking about how the “silent majority” is back to reclaim the country. I mean, this is what Trump says! So there’s a widening gap between the strategies and desires of many evangelical leaders, and what seem to be the sentiments of their constituents.

M

College students are certainly up against a lot, especially if they’re professing a faith that has exclusive truth claims. Your recent article in the New York Times, “Hallelujah College,” talked a little bit about that too, about the Christian student in a world of trigger warnings and what Jonathan Haidt called, “emotional coddling.” Can you share your thoughts there?

MW

I think that the general paradigm on most secular campuses is that of New Left identity politics, in which we all claim a certain set of identities based on our life experiences. We have authority to speak from those identities because of our experiences, and we must grant all respect and sovereignty to other people’s identity claims and adopt a posture of openness, but never confrontation or judgment. My students, even those who come from conservative Christian backgrounds, have been steeped in that culture for long enough that they obey its rules without really thinking about them. On one hand, pragmatically, it works. It produces a fairly civil conversation. Most of the time, it allows people with very different perspectives to coexist.

But the fact is that traditional Christianity has a different way of conceiving of human nature and truth claims than do modern secular liberals. I think that modern secular liberals have not worked through some of the inconsistencies in their own ideologies when it comes to the accommodation of traditional religions, Christian or otherwise. You know, this problem is really coming to the fore in Western Europe, as these secular European liberal democracies try to accommodate and acculturate huge numbers of conservative Muslim immigrants. For the secular liberal, it’s the old problem of, “How do you tolerate the intolerant?” What boundaries do you enforce?

It’s a conversation that liberals have been exempt from having for a long time, at least in this country, and what I find interesting is the way conservative Christian students are trying to compel that conversation. Although both sides sometimes fall prey to a sense of moral superiority, and the rigidity of their own assumptions can prevent them from totally hearing the other side, I think liberals have a lot to learn from the way religious conservatives have learned to articulate their presuppositions and understand the intellectual framework of their own worldview. I think liberals, especially at universities, where they do enjoy cultural dominance, have not always had to come to terms with the logic of their own ideas.

Order your copy here!

Unexpected Help from the World of Xanth

Unexpected Help from the World of Xanth

A few weeks ago, NPR’s episode of This American Life was called “Show Me the Way,” (a rerun from 2012) and it focused on stories of people in trouble who sought help in strange places. The main story was about a fifteen-year-old who, feeling antagonized by both his stepfather and his high school, walked himself eight miles to the airport and then flew off to Florida using several years’ worth of paper route money in search of Piers Anthony, his favorite author.

Xanth, the fantasy kingdom in Piers Anthony’s books, looks remarkably like Florida, and fifteen-year-old Andy used the maps in…

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NAPOLEON DYNAMITE [US 2004]  TINA MAJORINO, JON HEDER           Date: 2004

Awkwardness and a Theology of the Cross

This review of This is Awkward, by Sammy Rhodes, comes to us from Brian Mesimer.

“It’s been said that a friend is a gift that you give yourself. Maybe it’s better to say that friendship is giving someone the gift of yourself. You in all your ruined glory, waiting to be opened and enjoyed.”  – This is Awkward

Martin Luther’s dichotomy between the theology of the cross and the theology of glory is a well worn theological concept. Like a good sweater on a cold day, it’s a way of viewing life that you want to keep putting on when the time calls…

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Stranded Between Ocean and Army

Stranded Between Ocean and Army

The Lord will make a way for you where no foot has been before. That which, like a sea, threatens to drown you, shall be like a highway for your escape.” – Charles Spurgeon

My husband is nearing the end of his graduate program in building sciences. Time and again over the last year he has taken one singular, dogged stance when it comes to his future career: “I’ll go anywhere but California or New York.”

He’s almost exclusively been gunning for a job in Birmingham, my home town. In fact, we’ve been so confident in his placement there, we’ve told everyone…

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From the Archives: Projecting Our Way Through Holy Week

From the Archives: Projecting Our Way Through Holy Week

The friendly overtures of a person whom we no longer love, overtures which strike us, in our indifference to her, as excessive, would perhaps have fallen a long way short of satisfying our love. Those tender speeches, that invitation or acceptance, we think only of the pleasure which they would have given us, and not of all those speeches and meetings by which we would have wished to see them immediately followed, which we should, as likely as not, simply by our avidity for them, have precluded from ever happening. So that we can never be certain that the good…

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On Being Southern, and Human

On Being Southern, and Human

Pat Conroy died a couple of weeks ago. If you aren’t familiar with the name, then you’ve probably heard of at least one of his novels–most likely The Prince of Tides, which was made into a movie in 1991, starring Nick Nolte and Barbra Streisand. (Three other books of his were also made movies, but to less fanfare and star wattage.) As far as celebrity deaths go–literary celebrity deaths, at least–this one hit me pretty hard.

I was a fan of Conroy’s from the time I stole my mom’s copy of Beach Music. I was probably…

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On Public Speaking, From Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book

On Public Speaking, From Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book

This excerpt is from Walker Percy’s edgy mock-self-help book, Lost in the Cosmos, published in ’83, which provides a sympathetic voice for any readers who might personally identify as a “lost self.” This little post is dedicated to any pastors/public speakers who get nervous addressing a crowd:

The Fearful Self: Why the Self is so Afraid of Being Found Out

A recent poll asked people what they feared most. A majority of respondents agreed in ranking one fear above all others, above fear of sickness, accidents, crime, war, even death. It is the fear of speaking before a group, stage fright.

Yet,…

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“The Chother” and the Movement of Anti-Grace, by David Dark

“The Chother” and the Movement of Anti-Grace, by David Dark

This is an excerpt from David Dark’s newest book, Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious. Don’t miss our excellent interview with the author on the latest episode of The Mockingcast!

I have a concept, sacred in my estimation, that arose from repeatedly leaving a child alone in front of a television. It’s a serendipitous slip of the tongue I gleaned and now treasure from the testimony of my once-four-year-old son when he offered a commentary upon an iconic image within the Hanna-Barbera tradition. Giving voice to his specific love for the antics and escapades of Scooby-Doo and the community with…

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At Your Service: Thoughts on Downton Abbey, and Life

At Your Service: Thoughts on Downton Abbey, and Life

I dread my kids getting sick–and not just because I hate to see them suffer. So much for empathy, right? 

Our latest cavalcade of illnesses–recurrent ear infections, nasty colds, and a violent stomach virus–coincided with the wrapping-up of the series Downton Abbey. And don’t think for a second that the deep cosmic significance of that timing is lost on me. I’ve been a fan of the show since summer of 2011, when I tuned in via Netflix from the couch and fought off waves of morning (and afternoon, and evening) sickness by escaping to early-20th century England. I gasped at the…

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Legalism and Grace in Adao’s Dance

Legalism and Grace in Adao’s Dance

This post was written by our friend Russ Masterson, who recently released his first work of fiction, a novel entitled Adao’s Dance, available here.

About six or seven years ago I found myself exhausted as a pastor. I was insecure and restless internally, just always felt like I wasn’t doing enough as a Christian. I knew I was forgiven, even loved, but I didn’t understand the depth of that love or the security that it gives. This began my journey into understanding how God regards us and relates with us. I realized God just wasn’t keeping score anymore, yet I was, every…

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