Grace in Practice

Agnetha Faltskog Is God? (Mbird Find of the Century)

As a music fan, every once and a while you have one of those “there-is-a-god moments” that makes all the digging worthwhile. You find something, usually by accident, that seems tailormade for YOU, a piece of the puzzle that fits perfectly, that you didn’t know you were missing. It sounds far-fetched, but the sensation is a spiritual one. In an instant, the impersonal universe evaporates and the existence of God seems like a foregone conclusion. And not just any God but a God that cares about, well, you. It happened when I stumbled across Elvis Presley’s “Let Us Pray”. Same thing when I heard the story behind The Monkees’ “St. Matthew”. But this one may take the cake: the lead off track on Agnetha Faltskog’s second solo album (you know, the girl who put the ‘A’ in ABBA). Written by none other than ELO maestro Jeff Lynne–especially for her!–and produced by 10cc’s Eric Stewart, I’m sure you’ll agree that the circle is now complete:

To quote Elaine Benes, I have no speech. I mean, a Wilbury-written OWL, sung by ‘the girl with the golden hair’, the one who was by all accounts the most damaged by her former group’s astronomical success?! It’s too much. You’ll forgive me if I take the opportunity to repost Paul Zahl’s classic formulation (which Fall Conference speaker Tullian Tchividjian has run with so convincingly and enthusiastically). While PZ clearly takes the phrase in a different direction than Agnetha, by no means does his usage rule out the ‘unrequited’ aspect–it just switches the roles, i.e. Agnetha sings from the God’s-eye point of view, ‘natch:

article-2213169-006FA67000000258-499_468x763Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. It is being loved when you are the opposite of lovable. The cliché definition of grace is “unconditional love.” It is a true cliché, for it is a good description of the thing. It sounds a little 1970s (as in “Have a Nice Day!”). Yet the words are apt.

Let’s go a little further, though. Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called “gifts” (whatever they may be). It reflects a decision on the part of the giver, the one who loves, in relation to the receiver, the one who is loved, that negates any qualifications the receiver may personally hold…. Grace is one-way love.”

‘No Divorce’ Pacts and the Benefits of a Recession

‘No Divorce’ Pacts and the Benefits of a Recession

A touching installment of Modern Love appeared in this past Sunday’s NY Times, entitled “We Pledge Allegiance…”, in which Debby Greene traces how the “no divorce” pact she made with her husband has played out in her marriage, thirty years down the line. Clearly the survival of any relationship is seldom a matter simply of resolve. Still, in a society biased toward self-determination and individual ‘freedom’, their pact seems downright radical. I should let her tell it:

Our first summer together, we read the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy to each other below high cliffs on a beach in Southern California….

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Love Lessons from Fungus: Married at First Sight

Love Lessons from Fungus: Married at First Sight

In case you haven’t heard, the Biography Channel ain’t your Dad’s late night insomnia cure any longer. Over the past few months they have relaunched as “fyi,” (yes, the weird comma is in the logo). And they are turning out some really wild programming.

Married at First Sight (Tuesdays at 9ET/10PT) is a show billed as a “social experiment” where people volunteer to get married to complete strangers. They meet for the first time when they exchange their vows. Six people were narrowed down from hundreds of applicants to be paired together in attempted wedded bliss. Four experts, a sexologist, psychologist, sociologist,…

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PZ’s Podcast: Phony Wars, And the Winner Is, and The Federal Theology of Samuel Rutherford

PZ’s Podcast: Phony Wars, And the Winner Is, and The Federal Theology of Samuel Rutherford

Episode 172: Phony Wars

This purports to be an attack of reality in the midst of “phony wars”.

I am always struck by the truth of pop songs. Not all of them, but some of them. Such as “Waterloo” by ABBA. (Mary and I were there, as it were, when ABBA hit, stuck at a “Saturday Dance” (Geoff Goddard) during the spring of 1974 in the parish hall of Holy Trinity, Hounslow. As soon as we heard the song, and watched the girls line-dancing to ABBA, we knew we weren’t stuck any more. We got up ourselves, tho’ I’m no Diamond.)

There was…

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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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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.

 

PZ’s Podcast: If You Can’t Stand the Heat

EPISODE 171: If You Can’t Stand the Heat

IMG_3572Guess I never tire of quoting Gerald Heard’s maxim about opting out: “The verb to escape is clear enough — it means to leave a position which has become impossible.”

There’s a long back-and-forth within the history of Christian endeavor as to the relative merit of engaging a fallen world in the hope of transforming it; or opting out of it in order to watch, wait and pray. Many dedicated saints have taken the first road. Many others have taken the second. There is obviously room for both.

This podcast examines the second road, and offers another element, too. You could entitle the talk “Feel to Heal”. I believe it, in any event.

Something happened to me on the 26th of July in London, Ontario. I knew it was happening when it was happening. It was even captured “on tape”. You can hear it at the end of this cast, about five minutes into the concluding music. “Good God,” I said to my friend — over the shouting — “he’s really doing it!” Speechless we were. Hope you will be, too, in a good way.

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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Jogarza and the Only Left-Handed Catcher (Ever): Netflix’s Battered Bastards of Baseball

Jogarza and the Only Left-Handed Catcher (Ever): Netflix’s Battered Bastards of Baseball

A look into the new Netflix documentary on the scrappy, beer-belching, independent pro baseball team, Portland’s Mavericks, and the joke they pulled on Major League Baseball.

The Courage to Be “Weird”

The Courage to Be “Weird”

The internet got a little bit stranger this week with the release of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s newest album, Mandatory Fun. For close to 40 years now, Weird Al has embraced everything counterculture, playfully mocking the earnestness of 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 00’s, and 10’s versions of “cool.” From Michael Jackson to Celine Dion, from Star Wars to the Beverly Hillbillies, there are few pop culture themes and memes that the musical master of parody has left untouched.

Weird Al predates me. I discovered him as a nerdy elementary schooler at a friend’s sleep-over. All we third and fourth graders howled with laughter,…

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The Jilted Lover Rejoices! Lebron Goes Home

The Jilted Lover Rejoices! Lebron Goes Home

The biggest professional sports play in their history is notoriously referred to as “The Fumble”. Their NFL owner literally packed up their beloved team and moved them to Baltimore in the middle of the night. Their NFL team has been in existence for 68 years and has never sniffed a Super Bowl, let alone won one. Their MLB team hasn’t won a World Series title since the ’40s. Their NBA team has been around since 1970, zero championships. Futility, thy name is Cleveland.

That’s not to say that the city hasn’t had it’s sports moments.  The Indians have found their way back…

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“Louie” Discussion 2.0 – A Season 4 Recap

“Louie” Discussion 2.0 – A Season 4 Recap

With the final five episodes of the fourth season of Louie, Blake (B.I.C) and I felt like another conversation over the remainder of the season was in order. So. For your perusal, here is part two of our ongoing email conversations on this season of Louie.

Blake: So there are two main story lines that must be dealt with to complete our coverage of this season of Louie. One is the about Pamela (who has been a love interest of Louie’s off and on throughout the seasons) and the other is a couple of episodes that deal with Louie’s middle school…

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The Messy Truth of the Axe Effect

The Messy Truth of the Axe Effect

Before the early 2000’s, the mention of the word “axe” conjured up visions of heavily bearded, weapon wielding men; men who were cloaked in bright red, pre-hipsterdom flannel, the kind of flannel that a man could wear while walking through a forest of ten foot tall thorn bushes and come out unscathed. Maybe hearing the word would even force out an occasional banshee like “TIMBER!” scream. But now, the word axe, attacks a different sense. It brings back the toxic smells of an overly fumigated high school boy’s locker room. Or, if you are a girl, the scent of that…

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Another Week Ends: Capitalist Christians, Parents Teaching Achievement (Not Empathy), Post-Penitent Pantene, Sedaris’s Journey to the Ends of the Law (and Back), Antinomian Aucklanders,  and Crooked-Timber Anthropology

Another Week Ends: Capitalist Christians, Parents Teaching Achievement (Not Empathy), Post-Penitent Pantene, Sedaris’s Journey to the Ends of the Law (and Back), Antinomian Aucklanders, and Crooked-Timber Anthropology

1. The New York Times hosted a debate asking the question of whether capitalism has become incompatible with Christianity. It’s a pretty interesting forum, and some highlights with commentary are below:

[Gary Dorrien, Union:] The field I teach, social ethics, was founded in the late 19th century as a protest against capitalist ideology. American social gospel theologian Walter Rauschenbusch put it poignantly: “Capitalism has overdeveloped the selfish instincts in all of us and left the capacity of devotion to larger ends shrunken and atrophied.” Pope Leo XIII described capitalism as a system defined by the callousness of employers and the greed of unrestrained competition, including its…

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