Grace in Practice

The Shelf Life of Athletic Grace

The Shelf Life of Athletic Grace

The Los Angeles Lakers get what they want. Period. Numerous franchises have flared up throughout NBA history in a prestigious Cinderella-like supernova only to, just as quickly, burn out. Since moving to the City of Angels from Minnesota, the Lakers have certainly been one of the association’s few spoiled evil stepsisters. As an Orlando Magic Fan, I abhor the Los Angeles Lakers above all other franchises for reasons that are obvious to any medial NBA fan (the Shaq embezzlement of ’96, dismantling us in the 2009 finals, and repeating history in 2013 when they yanked Dwight Howard away from…

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A Snob By Any Other Name

A Snob By Any Other Name

The first time I suspected there might really be something between me and the woman who would become my wife was when she made an off-hand reference to one of my favorite movies. It was a relatively obscure film, and not one that usually came up in conversation. Huh, I thought, that’s interesting. My confidence was shaken a few days later when she mentioned having recently attended a certain music festival, which will remain nameless. Let’s just say my appreciation for The Grateful Dead and their ilk had yet to blossom.

I’m embarrassed to admit this. Not just that I had…

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PZ’s Podcast: Whipped Cream

EPISODE 177

There is a current meltdown in more than one venerable institution within the Christian Church nationally. It’s like the explosions at the beginning of Cloverfield. They seem a little far away at first, but, turns out, they’re headed right for you.

I try to interpret these escalations of conflict within the Church as an expression of incompatibility — the incompatibility of institutions and institutional process with the improvisation and inspiration that mark genuine spiritual religion. (The phrase “improvisation and inspiration” to describe what ought to be, comes from Lloyd Fonvielle.) I have to say, institutions and property and hierarchy are in general incompatible with the teachings of the Founder. Emil Brunner stated this unarguably in 1951 in his book The Misunderstanding of the Church.

“Karma” comes into this, too, tho’ it’s a word I’m a little uncomfortable using, as it sounds awfully Eastern in this context. Meanwhile, Christianity has the same idea! Not to mention Eric Clapton and the Band, who electrified the world once in their performance of “Further on up the Road”. It’s striking how one’s persecutors yesterday become the persecuted themselves, today. As Marshall Schomberg at the Boyne cried to his Huguenot troops, pointing at the French soldiers across the river, “Voici vos persecuteurs!” You never have to worry that someone’s going to get his or her comeuppance. It always happens. You’re not going to have to lift a finger.

Finally, there’s the hope of the Contraption. God is actually with us. He’s neither against us nor indifferent. He is pro nobis, and that’s nothing new. Here, tho’, we can also look to Jane Austen. She’s going to have the last word today.

This podcast is dedicated to Jacob and Melina Smith.

Losing Is Winning When You Are a Cubs Fan

Losing Is Winning When You Are a Cubs Fan

This comes to us from Thomas Deatsch. 

“Continual loss” defines my feeling every baseball season. It’s my fault. I choose to follow the Chicago Cubs. No one forces me at gunpoint to root for these loveable losers. Every fall, when the season is waning, the Cubbies not only fail to reach the World Series, but more often than not, they do not even make the playoffs. I now believe it is a “merciful impasse.” The phrases “continual loss” and “merciful impasse” not only help me understand baseball, but how life, with its many cul-de-sacs and dead-ends, can have hope and meaning.

Being…

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Step Into Their World: The Parallel Universes of Alzheimer’s and Improv

Step Into Their World: The Parallel Universes of Alzheimer’s and Improv

By following the rules of improvisation, one family finds love and humor within the wilderness of dementia.

The episode “Magic Words” aired last month on This American Life and in it you’ll hear “Rainy Days and Mondys,” the story of Karen Stobbe, her husband Mondy, and her mother Virginia, who recently moved into their house because she has dementia.

The Power of Negative Thinking

The Power of Negative Thinking

The 8am service on the Sunday before Labor Day was not well attended, and the rain didn’t help. Honestly, I was only there because I am paid to be. Then came the first reading, from the prophet Jeremiah:

“I did not sit in the company of merrymakers, nor did I rejoice; under the weight of your hand I sat alone, for you had filled me with indignation.Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.”

Great. Thanks Jerry. That’s super-helpful. Just what I need for a little…

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Left Hooks in Elevators: Acting on the Anger in Our Hearts

Left Hooks in Elevators: Acting on the Anger in Our Hearts

It’s tough to admit this publicly. I’ve kicked the dog a time or two – not recently, but I have struck another living thing out of anger. I think back on that and I cringe, because it feels really dark. It can be terrifying to reflect on a time when I haven’t been able to control my anger. If I were to prioritize the sin tendencies I have in the order of how quickly I want them rooted out of me, vindictive, reactionary anger would be number one. I can’t imagine what it would be like for one of my…

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Joan Rivers Fought the Law…

Joan Rivers Fought the Law…

If you’re like me (and I hope you’re not), then the name Joan Rivers meant little more to you than “that horribly plastic old woman who can’t think of anything better to do than provide red carpet snark for E!”. Which is why, as news of her passing spread last week (having occurred during a “minor elective procedure”) it seemed at best trivial and at worst ironic, especially in light of other recent celebrity comic deaths.

And then I saw this video, from April 1967…

… and I had the following thoughts:

1. Joan Rivers used to look like a human being!

2. Wow. She’s really…

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PZ’s Podcast: Does The Name Grimsby Mean Anything To You? and Everything Is Tuesday

PZ’s Podcast: Does The Name Grimsby Mean Anything To You? and Everything Is Tuesday

Episode 175: Does the Name Grimsby Do Anything to You?

Ever since 2007 I related to Eliot’s succinct line, “Old men ought to be explorers”. Not that I was exactly an old man, but the line gave me hope. Notwithstanding the end of something, there was something hopeful I could still do. I could try to understand.

Could I become the first man on the moon, like ‘Major Franklin Grimsby’ in Rod Serling’s short story? If I were, would anyone care? (“Does Anyone Know What Time It Is?” – Chicago) Well, at least I’ve tried to try. Lo, a polyptoton.

In this cast,…

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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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