Suffering
The Repetitive Hope of Gavin Bryars’s “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”

The Repetitive Hope of Gavin Bryars’s “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”

I heard Gavin Bryar’s “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” for the first time in college late one night while perusing the internet for new music. This was during a particularly dark period in my life after a recent breakup where I spent many a night on the internet distracting myself with music blogs, Facebook, or AddictingGames.com. I happened upon a positive review endorsing the piece and intrigued by the concept and backstory, I downloaded it and pressed play. Normally, I would listen to music on my laptop while continuing to browse the internet but minutes after the song started,…

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Mining Netflix: Giving Up on Being Right in My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend

Mining Netflix: Giving Up on Being Right in My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend

Mark Twain once said, “Humor is tragedy plus time”. But, how much time?

In the fall of 2012, researchers at the University of Colorado examined “how humorous responses to a tragedy change over time by measuring reactions to jokes about Hurricane Sandy”. By studying humorous responses to a tragic situation, they found that, contrary to popular belief, most events don’t get funnier over time and that there is a actually a rise, peak, and fall to a joke’s reception after a tragedy. Essentially, jokes after a tragedy have a peak window of time where they are received as most funny and…

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Is It My Fault? Shedding Light in the Darkness of Domestic Violence

Is It My Fault? Shedding Light in the Darkness of Domestic Violence

Justin and Lindsey Holcomb have done it again. As with their earlier work on sexual assault, Rid of My Disgrace, their most recent book Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence, goes where most Christian authors can’t or won’t go. Justin and Lindsey have the unique pastoral ability–and the theology to back it–to shine a light in the darkest of human experiences: abuse from the hands of another human. Truly, the Holcombs are lights in the darkness.

The book is broken into three sections, four if you count the substantial appendices. The Holcomb’s first move is…

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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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New Music: Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence

New Music: Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence

Matthew Linder (who gave Mbird a delightful treatise on Willy Wonka) and I, for well over a week and counting, have been infatuated with the newest Lana Del Rey album, and conversations over Facebook and email ensued. Below are some of the highlights of our discussion of what we both consider a tremendously beautiful and heart-wrenching album.

 

Blake:

So from the first listen, I felt an aural tie to the gothic americana genre, but without the usual folk/bluegrass instrumentation. Gothic americana is notorious for using religious allusion and imagery for often non-religious reasons. It is all tied into this idea of Flannery…

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The Logic of Grace and the Exclusivity of Meaning

The Logic of Grace and the Exclusivity of Meaning

I was a bit surprised, reading Bulfinch’s Mythology yesterday, to discover an interesting ‘allegorizing’ move in the Greek myth of a river-god, Achelous, losing his horn. Hercules and Achelous, the story goes, were wrestling for the right to wed Dejanira, a beautiful woman. Achelous transforms into various creatures, including a snake, in his attempt to best Hercules, and Hercules subdues them all. Finally, Achelous transforms into his last remaining form, a bull, and Hercules rips off one of his horns, which becomes ‘Cornucopia’, the horn of plenty. Then things get interesting – as Bulfinch notes,

The ancients were fond of finding a…

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The Glory in the Struggle – Team USA at The World Cup

The Glory in the Struggle – Team USA at The World Cup

I found myself getting frustrated on my commute into work on Tuesday morning. All of the chatter on  sports talk radio was about how “lucky” Team USA was to defeat Ghana in the World Cup on Monday night, and about how poorly Team USA played. I must not have been watching the same game. I really thought I was though. First of all, do people realize that their beloved American team was not favored in this game? Ghana had knocked the U.S. (single-handedly) out of the last two World Cups, and odds were, they were going to send the U.S….

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The Death and Resurrection of the San Antonio Spurs

The Death and Resurrection of the San Antonio Spurs

The abrupt end of the NBA Finals on Sunday left me with no other option than to dedicate all my sport-watching energy to the World Cup. This transition has felt uncomfortable. I root for players I have never heard of. For countries I am ashamed to say I previously did not know existed. Watching the games, I feel like the cliché ugly American tourist, lost and confused amidst the international community of lifelong soccer hooligans. If these feelings have crystallized one thing for me, it is this: I miss the NBA. Before we, as Americans, immerse ourselves too fully in…

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Willem Dafoe Plays Eliphaz (in The Fault in Our Stars)

Willem Dafoe Plays Eliphaz (in The Fault in Our Stars)

Disguised as a chick flick, The Fault in Our Stars woos floods of teenage girls while simultaneously offering a startlingly honest commentary on life and death. Sure, it’s a used plot (cancer-stricken teens fall in love) and an even more used conflict (inexplicable suffering), but The Fault in Our Stars strikes up a whirlwind of important questions, which, chances are, will challenge viewers beyond their expectations. These are important questions. Questions of Joban proportions.

Because let’s face it, all the characters are there: Job, Job’s family, Job’s friends. The Fault in Our Stars, based on John Green’s bestselling novel, addresses inexplicable…

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Notes from the Panopticon: A Solution Outside the Field of Battle

Paul F.M. Zahl speaks, from years of theological accomplishment and pastoral experience, on religion that works, from PZ’s Panopticon: An Off-the-Wall Guide to World Religion. Readers should note that we’ve just released an updated version of PZP which includes a few minor revisions, tighter formatting, no typos, etc. Be sure to check out the reviews on Amazon–they’re flattering to say the least!

“Whatever is true about my apparent self, which could be called my “ego”, it is highly resistant, or better, obdurate. It doesn’t like to be told what it should want or what it should do. It doesn’t like to go along with anyone else’s bright ideas.

theater-of-blood-still-444x250

Religions that are about subduing that particular driver—“They call me Baby Driver”—fail. Or at least they fail to do what they have set themselves up to do. No matter how noble they sound in maxim and aphorism, no matter how lofty their goals in terms of personal and social improvement, and high-mindedness, they don’t work. Their problem is that they are trying to revive a patient, as we now see him, who is struggling against the inevitable, which is death, down in the operating theater. The “drowning pool” of failed efforts to re-animate the dead cannot be allowed to become the prime theater of life. If you think it is the scene of life’s real action—and resolution—then it will turn into Vincent Price’s Theatre of Blood (1973).

A religion that works needs to be a religion that is not having to work “over-time” to conquer the unconquerable. You could say that a religion which works has to have different raw material than the human “self” who is involved in a life-long action to deny and postpone the inevitable. Religion that works, in other words, is a question of “if you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen.” I am talking about religion as flight, not fight.

At first hearing, this sounds like cowardice, the opposite of religion as good works, social improvement, and engaged optimism. But religion with those outstanding positive themes, when it is not anchored to the fact of death, and the near-death which permeates life, fails to deliver, by which I mean, “deliver us from evil” and help us face death. Practical religion takes the measure of the ego’s impossible situation, and locates the solution to it outside the field of battle. As Gerald Heard put it, “The verb to escape is clear enough—it means to leave a position which has become impossible.”

True Detective 1x08 - Form and Void - Detective Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), Detective Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson)

The panopticon of life cannot be in the hands of the struggler down in ICU. He or she is losing the fight. There is no way under the sun by which the ego-life on that flat surface will be able to carry on forever, no matter what. It is too late for the extinguishing self to understand what is going on with it. All he and she can do is “keep on dancing (dancin’ and a prancin’, doing the jerk)” (The Gentrys, 1965), until they just collapse upon the ground.

The man on the ceiling [who is near death, out-of-body in the operating room] is the one with the panopticon, not the man below. It is always too late for the man below. The raw material of him can’t respond to treatment. It is the man on the ceiling to whom the religions of the world have got to have something to say. He is the man on the moon.”

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The Drunken Downfall (and Death) of Thomas Kinkade

The Drunken Downfall (and Death) of Thomas Kinkade

To be honest, I didn’t even know Thomas Kinkade was dead. That was until I read this fascinating piece on Kinkade, America’s favorite sentimental “Painter of Light,” from The Daily Beast by Zac Bissonnette: “The Drunken Downfall of Evangelical America’s Favorite Painter.” I also had no idea Kinkade was (a) an Evangelical Christian and (b) an alcoholic. The story is at once alarming, yet not surprising, and ultimately really sad. Thus, I can’t help but explore it here.

(Before I move on, I should preface this essay by noting that Kinkade died on Good Friday two years ago, so I was probably distracted…

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Misogyny, Works Righteousness, and Nerd Culture

Misogyny, Works Righteousness, and Nerd Culture

Another year, another shooting- not to trivialize this heartbreaking matter, of course, but to highlight that the best laid plans have yet to stop the phenomenon. News is continuing to trickle out of UCSB as the school, state, and country return to a place of mourning, and the op-ed sections continue to suggest solutions related to guns or mental health. Churches are returning to their prayers as well with the words “Lord have Mercy” fresh on their minds and hearts.

The dynamics of this most recent shooting are somewhat unique in that they’ve started an online conversation about nerd culture and…

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Crossing Off Checklist Item 31

Crossing Off Checklist Item 31

One of this year’s books to come upon my shelf is Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, which won the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, and received a glowing review from our friend, Mary Karr, who said it shows well “how empathy deepens us, yet how we unwittingly sabotage our own capacities for it.” The title story recounts the author’s time as a medical actor–a “standardized patient” for med school trainees attempting to diagnose any assortment of maladies. Mixed with the humor this scenario no doubt entails, the essay is also a deeply heartfelt memoir about the writer’s actual medical history–her abortion,…

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Of ACLs, Tommy Johns, and “One Fine Day”

Of ACLs, Tommy Johns, and “One Fine Day”

In 2012, University of South Carolina running back Marcus Latimore was on pace to become the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, before being derailed by an (anterior cruciate ligament) “ACL” tear in his knee. In 2013, University of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was on the same path as Latimore, before also going down with an ACL. Both players were potential first round, ten million dollar NFL draft picks. Both were picked in the 5th round – Latimore by the 49ers, Murray by the Chiefs. The prognosis going forward is not quite as good for Latimore (he has torn his…

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Sending Your Child to Summer Grief Camp

Sending Your Child to Summer Grief Camp

If your Kleenexes are collecting dust, or your heartstrings are–and you happen to have HBO–their latest documentary will take you where you need to go. It’s only 30-minutes long, but One Last Hug has the abreactive torque of an emotional 18-wheeler. It details the stories of a handful of children, and three days of their stay at Grief Camp. Camp Erin is a nationwide network of camps for children who have lost family members. It was founded by former major league baseball player Jamie Moyer, after meeting Erin through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Diagnosed with liver cancer at age 15, Erin…

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