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A Mama’s Grace in a Culture of “Do”

A Mama’s Grace in a Culture of “Do”

My daughter turned one a few weeks ago, and as is apparently the case whenever I throw a party with cupcakes at my house, I learned something about God’s grace.

Amidst making banners and hanging monthly pictures and Amazon Prime-ing multicolor tassels to hang from the mantle, I found myself reflecting both on what it means to celebrate my daughter, and on her growth and development. The “big O-N-E” tends to serve as a chance to throw a blowout party (we made it!) and as a clear marker for a child’s development: Can she wave “bye bye” yet? Can she stand on her…

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From the Archives: A Referendum on Midlife Friendships

From the Archives: A Referendum on Midlife Friendships

“We haven’t seen them in a while,” I hear myself observing every few weeks, usually in reference to friends with whom my wife and I have lost touch.

Most of the time, the estrangement is logistical, schedules being what they are in a house with two working parents and two napping toddlers. But guilt nevertheless sets in and triggers defensiveness. Soon platitudes like “it takes two to tango” or “life happens” are being trotted out and before long, you’re castigating yourself or the other person(s), possibly deconstructing society as a whole, and any chance of reconnection has been essentially nullified.

Growing up,…

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The Magnetic Power of a Proxy Marriage

The Magnetic Power of a Proxy Marriage

My late father-in-law, a pastor, used to say he would rather officiate a funeral than a wedding. It shocked my young ears at the time, but after I became a pastor I could see his reasoning. Weddings, at their worst, have a kind of dramatic tension that completely overwhelms its sacramental significance. Not all brides and their mothers live up to their stereotypes, but some do. In those cases, give me a simple funeral of a God-fearin’ woman or man.

But weddings at their best are animated by a sweetness and beauty that are hard to find anywhere else on a…

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Gchat Apologies and the Lonesome Cockpit

Gchat Apologies and the Lonesome Cockpit

In her new book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Sherry Turkle invests a lot of ink in the distinction between connection and conversation. This is a distinction already rife with commentary, on this site and others, that while connection is the term of choice for LinkedIn partnerships and Facebook “friends,” it is bankrupt when it comes to the real subjectivity present in a conversation between two breathing people. Turkle argues that this transition away from conversation is, in turn, bankrupting us of the real meaning of connection. With the growth of internet communities, relationships are…

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On Rejecting Love and Little Brothers: From Thomas Merton

On Rejecting Love and Little Brothers: From Thomas Merton

The following is an excerpt from Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain.

One thing I would say about my brother John Paul. My most vivid memories of him, in our childhood, all fill me with poignant compunction at the thought of my own pride and hard-heartedness, and his natural humility and love.

I suppose it is usual for elder brothers, when they are still children, to feel themselves demeaned by the company of a brother four or five years younger, whom they regard as a baby and whom they tend to patronise and look down upon. So when Russ and I and…

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The Benefit of Treating Your Spouse Like A Small Child

From a talk he gave on love this summer, Alain de Botton here gives us permission to view our significant others as the small children they actually are. Relying on a searingly low anthropology, de Botton argues that pessimism is, in fact, the key to a successful relationship. He says, “Pessimism is often seen as the enemy of good things, and indeed it is in many ventures. But when you embark on the journey of love, pessimism, in fact, is the most generous and kindly emotion you can direct towards yourself and your partner.” One of the ways we do this, he figures, is to disentangle one another from the “adult” expectations we have for one another. (The entire 20 minute talk, below, is well worth the listen. This comes in the last couple minutes.)

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The first thing we need to understand is: let’s stop treating our partners as if they were adults and let’s start treating them like small children. The reason this is so important is when a small child has done something wrong—let’s imagine you have a small child, you cook them dinner, they’re two years old, three years old, you have broccoli and some schnitzel and you put a plate down in front of them and they just swipe it off and go, “Ech!” and start screaming. Now, what do you do as a modern parent? You don’t hit them. You don’t go, “I’m so offended, I’ve had a hard day at work, and now this—you’re persecuting me!” You don’t say that. Instead, you go, “Maybe my poor child’s got a sore tooth, or maybe he’s a bit jealous of his sister being born, maybe that’s kind of weighing on him, maybe he’s a bit tired, that’s why he’s behaving like this.” In other words, we’re incredibly generous with our system of interpretation. We don’t do this with adults because we think, This person’s an adult. And, most adults look like adults, unfortunately. It would be so much more useful if we looked like children.

The thing about breaking something—like a broken arm—is that everyone can see it. “Oh, you’ve got a broken arm! I’m so sorry, let me open the door for you.” If you’ve got a broken bit of your soul, a broken bit of your psyche, everyone thinks your normal. But you want to say, “No, no, I’ve got this thing, it’s broken even though it doesn’t look broken.” We don’t look like children—but we are inside. And we’re so aware of how patronizing it is to be treated as if you are younger than you are, but we forget how generous, how kind, how truly loving it is to treat someone as if they are younger than they are. Because this is what it means to truly love someone: to be generous in one’s interpretation of another person.

Surprised by Love, Appalled by Grace: Richard Bausch’s “The Fireman’s Wife”

Surprised by Love, Appalled by Grace: Richard Bausch’s “The Fireman’s Wife”

Nothing prepared me for the ending of Richard Bausch’s short story, “The Fireman’s Wife.”[1] Just a couple of years into the marriage, Jane is experiencing deep regret over her decision to marry her firefighter husband. When Martin is not working long shifts with buddies Wally and Teddy, he is likely playing cards with them, drinking or doing drugs with them, or working on their shared passion of building and flying model airplanes.

Jane and Martin fight too much, and he comes off as remarkably immature, demanding, and self-absorbed. Her frequent headaches mirror the relational burdens she carries. Milly, Wally’s wife, tries…

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The Narcissist In Your Life

The Narcissist In Your Life

In her booklength essay on narcissism, Kristin Dombek enumerates the varieties of Narcissisms that plague the world order these days. There’s the Narcissistic Leader, whose ego runs the office you work for, the Collective Narcissist whose group or tribe is the best in the world, the Sexual Narcissist whose libidinal prowess must always be tested by new conquests. There’s also the Corporate Narcissist, the White Coat Narcissist, the Spiritual Narcissist and, of course, the Conversational Narcissist. The list is several pages long. (I wonder if you, like me, will be able to effortlessly match a face you know with each…

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Tough Love Lessons in a Year of Jail Ministry

Tough Love Lessons in a Year of Jail Ministry

Before even beginning this post, you probably noticed the one giant, smug asterisk that naturally attached itself to the title: *Oh goodness, that’s right. Can’t believe I forgot to tell you! I do jail ministry. NBD. I’d love to, you know, grab a beer and tell you more about it sometime…

Let me alleviate any forespoken superiority with a quick rejoinder: God did not equip me with enough confidence to throw “successful tips” out about much, and definitely not about doing jail Bible studies. I do not have tips. I am a “sensitive” guy, which does not exactly disqualify me from…

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Climbing Ladders with Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-26)

Climbing Ladders with Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-26)

The following is an excerpt from Eden and Afterward: A Mockingbird Guide to Genesis, available on Mockingbird and Amazon. The chapter below focuses on the story of Cain and Abel.

Here we follow the second generation of humanity, and we continue to see the effects of the Fall radiating outward. The first result of the Fall, in human relationships, was covering up and the second blame-shifting; the third will be murder. Cain’s competition with Abel follows so closely upon the Fall, and his crime is so closely linked with earning God’s favor, that a vital connection point with the later stories…

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Surviving Fifteen Years of Marriage

Surviving Fifteen Years of Marriage

This marital reflection comes to us from Samuel Son.

Fifteen years of marriage and I’m gonna cut to the chase — and through the rosy laces — and tell you that it has been ass-kickingly difficult: 15 years of a selfish person learning to live with another selfish person. Indeed, my wife is my Eve, my ripped-off rib.

Those fifteen years would have been more pleasant if our times together were sparse and sporadic, like those good friends you visit only when you travel and need to save hotel money. But it was nearly every day of those 15 years. I…

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The Postmodern Community: A Magnifying Mirror of Me

One of the most interesting books (if you are a nerd like me) I’ve read in the last couple of months is Babel, a book co-authored by Ezio Mauro, an Italian writer, and Zygmunt Bauman, a Polish sociologist. Himself a secular Jew, Bauman seems to always offer profound insight into our Western cultural climate, and if you manage to read Babel, it will likely leave you with more questions than answers. Here’s just one quote that is ripe for reflection and is good fodder on the self’s bent-inwardness (incurvatus in se):

41TCtCOvLTL…[C]ommunities came to be supplanted by ‘networks’—forms of association made to the measure of ‘self-communication’. In stark opposition to the old-style communities, a network is a grouping (more correctly, a list or a roll-call of names or addresses) meant to be selected/composed by the individual on his/her sole responsibility for the selection of links and nods. Its ‘membership’ and boundaries are not ‘given’; neither are they fixed—they are friable and eminently pliable; defined, drawn and endlessly redefined and re-drawn at will by the network’s composer placed firmly in its centre. By origin and by its mode of existence, it is but an extension of the self, or a carapace with which the ego surrounds itself for its own safety: cutting its own, hopefully secure, niche out of the dumbfounding, inhospitable, and perhaps—who knows?!—hostile offline world. A ‘network’ is not a space for challenges to the received ideas and preferences of its creator—it is rather an extended replica or magnifying mirror of its weaver, populated solely by like-minded people, saying what the person who admitted them is willing to hear, and ready to applaud whatever the person who admitted or appointed them says; dissenters, individuals holding to contrary—or just unfamiliar and thus uncomfortably puzzling—opinions are exiled (or, at least consolingly, amenable to being banished) at the first sign of their discordance.