Testimony

Bracing Ourselves for #bestchristmasever

Bracing Ourselves for #bestchristmasever

In my 32 years on the planet, I’ve had all kinds of Christmases. There was the Almost Jewish Christmas (thanks, college boyfriend), the Just Gave Birth 3 Weeks Ago Christmas (thanks, husband), and my personal favorite, the We’re too Broke to Go Home for Christmas Christmas. I’ve had many Dr. Phil Christmases (but, really, who hasn’t?). And there’s been a few Merry ones sprinkled in between. Every year, Christmas comes upon me with waves of the urge to do, to fix, and to reboot the season. Every year, I long to make Christmas as happy as I’m told it should…

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PZ’s Podcast: Ere The Winter Storms and Metropolitan Life

PZ’s Podcast: Ere The Winter Storms and Metropolitan Life

Episode 179: Ere the Winter Storms

I wonder as I wander: How come people are changed so little by the roadblocks of life? Sure, they make short-term adaptations, and “take emergency measures” in order to survive. But lasting change? Change of heart, change of character?

A telling example of this comes in the Broadway play and later movie entitled “I Never Sang for My Father”. Robert Anderson wrote the play, and also the screenplay for the 1970 Hollywood version, which turned out to be extremely good — the word is “shattering”. “I Never Sang for my Father” concerns the relationship of a…

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Another Week Ends: Life in Psychiatric Records, Faith as Ambiguous Blessing, Evangelical Women, Relentlessly Positive Millennials, Flawed In-Laws, and Friends of Sinners

Another Week Ends: Life in Psychiatric Records, Faith as Ambiguous Blessing, Evangelical Women, Relentlessly Positive Millennials, Flawed In-Laws, and Friends of Sinners

1. If anyone thought that medical records couldn’t be riveting and deeply touching, you’re not alone. But George Scialabba, an acclaimed thinker, writer, and book reviewer, voluntarily posted his psychiatric medical history in the current issue of The Baffler. Apart from the courage and vulnerability  such a move shows, as well as the compassion for fellow sufferers which presumably undergirds his release, Scialabba’s post offers a curious mixture of elements as a reader: self-reproach for such intimate voyeurism combined with a feeling that you’re really seeing yourself; wonder at how far short even highly accomplished people can fall far short of…

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“I Wanna Get Better”—Self-Propulsion, Self-Reproach, and the Big Picture

“I Wanna Get Better”—Self-Propulsion, Self-Reproach, and the Big Picture

This reflection comes from our friend Mimi Montgomery:

And I miss the days of a life still permanent / Mourn the years before I got carried away / So now I’m staring at the interstate screaming at myself, / ’Hey, I wanna get better!’

I didn’t know I was broken ‘till I wanted to change / I wanna get better, better, better, better, / I wanna get better

-Bleachers, “I Wanna Get Better”

I have a compulsive need to continuously have some sort of background noise going on while I drive my car—NPR, the radio, my iPod, calling my mom so I can listen while…

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

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.”