Testimony
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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Hopelessly Devoted (to Tony): No Longer an Orphan

Hopelessly Devoted (to Tony): No Longer an Orphan

Recently, while serving in Kampala, Uganda with one of my favorite ministries, Sixty Feet, I was reminded of a story I once heard from my friend, Jim Gash. The story is called Starfish and goes like this:

Once upon a time, there was a man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of…

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In Gratitude of A Love Supreme

In Gratitude of A Love Supreme

I recently read Tim Keller’s book on work, Every Good Endeavor. One of the most important takeaways for me was learning more about John Coltrane, who is the inspiration for Keller’s title. Keller quotes the original liner notes to Coltrane’s most famous album, A Love Supreme, which use the words “every good endeavor.” This week I bought the album, something I should have done a long time ago. Here are those original liner notes, now in a CD booklet. Keller only excerpts the notes, but I feel the whole thing was worth sharing—”a love supreme” turns out to be Coltrane’s…

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Upending the Bird (and Sleepless Newborns)

Upending the Bird (and Sleepless Newborns)

Another humdinger from Ginger M:

On New Year’s Eve night, my husband and I hosted two other couples for dinner. In my husband’s family, it has been a New Year’s Eve tradition for all dinner guests to come with a question to ask to the table, preferably one pertaining to the previous year. “What was your most awkward verbal exchange of the past year?” proved to be quite humorous, but the question that ended our night was “What will you most miss about 2013?”. Two guests remarked, with nervous laughter, that they were going to miss the substances that they were…

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Confessions of a Sad, Tweeting Batman On Word-Porn

Confessions of a Sad, Tweeting Batman On Word-Porn

What happens when you mix equal parts family crisis, a comedic coping mechanism, and an insatiable desire to be an internet star? Well, according to Twitter funnyman Sammy Rhodes, not a recipe for happiness.

Popular comedy Twitter-er Sammy Rhodes is a pastor hailing from the Midwest who nabbed the twitter handle “@prodigalsam” back in 2009. At first, like all Twitter beginners, he began tweeting the standard stuff.  That he’d attended a barbeque and hoped his potato salad turned out OK. Eventually, he upped his Twitter game and joined the gospel–centered tweet crew. You know, pithy statements about grace that make you…

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A Monument to Loss

A Monument to Loss

This insightful and personal reflection on Edvard Munch’s work, as well as the plans for a new museum commemorating it, comes from our friend Daniel A. Siedell.

One of my most cherished memories from last year was a trip to New York City to see Edvard Munch’s The Scream on view at the Museum of Modern Art. The painting had made news in May 2012 because it was purchased by New York collector and businessman Leon Black for $120 million, at the time the most ever paid at auction for a work of art.

But The Scream has been an American pop…

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“Excuse Me, Ma’am, But That’s TMI”: Six Favorite Moments of 2013

“Excuse Me, Ma’am, But That’s TMI”: Six Favorite Moments of 2013

I’m not a cultured enough moviegoer to give you a list of the best films of the year; my only qualification for a “good” movie is if I can watch it in 3-D. I’m nowhere near up to speed on current music to talk about the best artists or albums of 2013. If you want to know the top books of the 12th or 16th century, well then, I’m your girl. The only books I’ve read this year are theological ones, mostly Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther. But books of 2013? I haven’t got a clue. Let’s not even talk…

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Control Is Just an Illusion, But Love Casts Out Fear (in Disney’s Frozen)

Control Is Just an Illusion, But Love Casts Out Fear (in Disney’s Frozen)

This deeply personal, honest, and insightful reflection on Disney’s Frozen – and our love affair with control – comes from our friend Brandi Midkiff.

Lots of people sneer at the Control Freak archetype. I do not understand these people. They seem to think loss of control would be a good time—like a roller coaster, perhaps, which is actually a tightly controlled construct when functioning correctly and not killing people. Also people choose whether or not to get on the thing, thereby exercising control; so this is not the best illustration, though I see it used a lot.

Loss of control is not an…

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