Testimony

As For Me and My House (We Will Break Your Arms)

This past Tuesday marked a day of several anniversaries for my family. Twelve years ago, my husband and I started dating. Nine years ago, we got engaged. One year ago, we moved into our current house.

When our realtor got back from taking over our contract to the homeowners last June, she told us that they were the nicest people with whom she’d ever negotiated a contract. They recognized our name on the contract because they attended the same church as my in-laws. They told her that they had been praying specifically for a young, Christian family to buy their house…

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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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From the Magazine: The Hidden Spirituality of Teach For America

From the Magazine: The Hidden Spirituality of Teach For America

A throwback from the first issue! Ethan Richardson’s long-form treatise on the promise and perils of America’s great education reform movement.

And let this be a reminder: the first issue is on sale on the magazine webpage for $10. And we’re not far from the release of the Fall Relationships Issue. Click here to subscribe.

My two-year career as a teacher began much as my Evangelical education did—in a single summer in the Arizona desert, far and away from where my training would be put to use. Teach For America placed me in the Greater New Orleans region to teach middle school…

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New Music: Mac Demarco’s Salad Days and the Impasse of Good Advice

New Music: Mac Demarco’s Salad Days and the Impasse of Good Advice

“Treat Her Better”, and “Go Easy”: the voice of pleading fights down that of advice in Demarco’s latest release.

Mac Demarco’s Salad Days has been, strangely enough, a joy to listen to. If I were a music critic, I’d try and fail to describe the playful self-awareness, the almost-total coincidence between irony and sincerity, etc. I can’t describe musical form too precisely, but suffice it to say, it’s tailored extremely well to the album’s content. And the content is stunning – or would be, if it didn’t have so many layers of irony and alienation covering it over.

In this case, that’s…

Hopelessly Devoted: 1 Samuel 8:9-22

Hopelessly Devoted: 1 Samuel 8:9-22

This morning’s reflection comes from Leonard Finn, by way of the Mockingbird Devotional:

But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No! but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Hearken to their voice, and make them a king.” Samuel then said…

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Deserts, Shovels, and Miracles

Deserts, Shovels, and Miracles

July 26, 2013

DESERT. You are in a taxi. The heavy air presses down on your skin, which threatens to melt down in pools on the smoke-seared seats. The driver, Mahmoud, loves Shakira, and he asks, Do you love Shakira? You have no opinion on Shakira, so he takes that as a yes and “hips don’t lie” rips from the speakers by your head; you are sitting in the back. Your friend Michael sits up front and makes small talk. He speaks Arabic better than you. He’s better at speaking generally, even in English.

You put the window down and Mahmoud looks…

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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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Mary Gaitskill’s Desultory (First) Conversion

From her stunning essay, “Revelation”:

gaitskill200“When I was twenty-one, I became a born-again Christian. It was a random and desperate choice; I had dropped out of high school and left home at sixteen, and while I’d had some fun, by twenty-one, thinks were looking squalid and stupid. My boyfriend had dumped me and I was living in a rooming house and selling hideous rodium jewelry on the street in Toronto, which is where the “Jesus freaks” approached me. I had been solicited by these people before and usually gave them short shrift, but on that particular evening I was at a low ebb. They told me that if I let Jesus into my heart right there, even if I just said the words, that everything would be okay. I said, all right, I’ll try it. They praised God and moved on.

Even though my conversion was pretty desultory, I decided to pray that night. I had never seriously prayed before, and all my pent-up desperation and fear made it an act of furious psychic propulsion that lasted almost an hour. It was a very private experience that I would find hard to describe; suffice to say that I felt I was being listened to.”

A Place on the Ladder: Notes from Sibling Rivalry

A Place on the Ladder: Notes from Sibling Rivalry

It was a Ken Griffey, Jr. baseball card, blue and shiny and highly-coveted by Little Leaguers everywhere. Packed in with four other no-names, it was a diamond in the rough. And it was mine. My brother, a year older, couldn’t believe I was so lucky—I mean, Ken Griffey, Jr.—so he proceeded to, quite sneakily, remove it from my collection and place it in his own. I can’t remember exactly what happened next but, after many tears and a flurry of hand-to-hand combat, the card lay discarded on the ground with river-like creases running over Ken’s regal face. My Ken Griffey…

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A Girl Named Sally and a Dog Named Something Else

A Girl Named Sally and a Dog Named Something Else

This reminiscence comes to us from Tommy M:

On a warm spring night in 1994, I found myself within reach of what I, at age 13, saw as one of the milestones on the road to manhood—the first kiss. I had started going out with Sally (all names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent) a few weeks before. Now we were at a party at one her friends’ houses. In attendance were about fifteen boys and girls who would never have invited me to this party. But now that I was with Sally, the curtain had been pulled back and…

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Sister-Ax Evangelizes The Voice: “God Doesn’t Take Anything Away from Us”

To the surprise of so many who watched, last week an Italian nun dominated The Voice of Italy by signing Alicia Keys’ “No One” in English. The absolute highlight of her appearance (which you can see in the video below) is when J-Ax, a heavily tattooed Italian rapper and one of the voice coaches, reacts with pure delight to Sister Cristina, including shedding a few tears of joy. Another highlight is that she says she auditioned for the sake of evangelism—something she claims Pope Francis inspired her to do. We are all ears, Sister! I also love that some of her fellow sisters appeared on the show in support.

Here are some highlights. Make sure you click “CC” on the video to get the English captions.

Question: What brought you here to The Voice?
Sister Cristina: I have a gift and I am giving it to you. Shouldn’t things be this way?

J-Ax: If I had met you during the Mass, when I was a child, now I would be Pope! I would surely have attended all the functions.
Sister Cristina: Well you have met me now.

Question: What does the Vatican say about you auditioning at The Voice?
Sister Cristina: Listen, I don’t really know. I am waiting for Pope Francesco to call me on the phone. He always says we should go out and evangelize telling God doesn’t take anything away from us but will give us more. I am here for this. [The audience erupts in applause, and J-Ax begins to cry.]

P.S. Have you seen this? Aaaauuugghhh!!!!!

Lecturing the Prodigal Son(s) in The NY Times

Lecturing the Prodigal Son(s) in The NY Times

A few thoughts on some recent Internet Prodigal Son banter, from David Zahl and Will McDavid:

As much as I admire The NY Times, it’s not where I go to read about grace. You? And yet, David Brooks was back at it again this week, talking about the parable of the prodigal son(s) and endorsing grace as an essential factor in crafting social policy for those who’ve squandered their inheritance/potential/goodwill. Check it out:

We live in a divided society in which many of us in the middle- and upper-middle classes are like the older brother and many of the people who drop…

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