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Posts tagged "short stories"

"Say Yes" - Tobias Wolff's Parable of Faith

“Say Yes” – Tobias Wolff’s Parable of Faith

In Tobias Wolff’s 1985 short story, “Say Yes,” a husband and wife are washing and drying the dishes. He is clearly proud of himself for what a considerate husband he is to help with household chores. But whatever goodwill he has earned evaporates when, in casual conversation, he expresses his opposition to interracial marriage. When she challenges his regressive views, he immediately declaims on his long and positive association with blacks. When she presses him for reasons, he claims that “a person from their culture and a person from our culture could never really know each other.” She responds:…

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A Gift Discarded in Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums"

A Gift Discarded in Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums”

Somehow, all these years later, that “dark speck” has stuck with me.

I first spotted it over 30 years ago, when I discovered John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums” (available online here) in a short story class in college. I knew then that there was much more much going on in that beautiful story than I would  ever be able to divine. But I did know that I would not easily move past that “dark speck.”

Elisa Allen lives in the beautiful but cloistered Salinas Valley. As the story opens, she wears a man’s black hat pulled down low and her…

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The Magnetic Power of a Proxy Marriage

The Magnetic Power of a Proxy Marriage

My late father-in-law, a pastor, used to say he would rather officiate a funeral than a wedding. It shocked my young ears at the time, but after I became a pastor I could see his reasoning. Weddings, at their worst, have a kind of dramatic tension that completely overwhelms its sacramental significance. Not all brides and their mothers live up to their stereotypes, but some do. In those cases, give me a simple funeral of a God-fearin’ woman or man.

But weddings at their best are animated by a sweetness and beauty that are hard to find anywhere else on a…

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Short Story Wednesdays: "Where I'm Calling From" by Raymond Carver

Short Story Wednesdays: “Where I’m Calling From” by Raymond Carver

If Alcoholics Anonymous really is a model for the Church, then Raymond Carver has some of the best ecclesiology around! This time we turn to a story from his Cathedral collection about addiction, love, empathy, and (just maybe!) redemption. To read along, go here.

The next morning Frank Martin got me aside and said, ‘We can help you. If you want help and want to listen to what we say.’ But I didn’t know if they could help me or not. Part of me wanted help. But there was another part. All said, it was a very big if.

The story opens…

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Short Stories: The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges

Short Stories: The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges

This time, we turn to one of the famous Argentine’s stories about religion, language, fatalism, and self-justification. To read along, go here.

In classic, weird Borges style, “The Library of Babel” takes us to an alternate/future/past universe, one of a tremendous library-world whose citizens are constantly trying to discover the meaning of the world they live in. In sketching this world, Borges touches on deeply religious themes, everything from abstract metaphysics to the everyday roots of anxiety.

Since Borges’s story is more describing this world than it is a strict narrative, we’ll look at his world to summarize. It’s a vast library…

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Holiness is Being a Vagabond: Reflections on Tolstoy's "Father Sergius"

Holiness is Being a Vagabond: Reflections on Tolstoy’s “Father Sergius”

To read along, go here.

The possibility for man to come to God lies precisely in the fact that he is a sinner… As he was pursued by desire and fear, so he was pursued by God.

-Rudolf Bultmann, “The Problem of ‘Natural Theology’”

Leo Tolstoy’s short story “Father Sergius” is a parable of conversion and sanctification unmatched in anything modern I’ve read, except perhaps Flaubert. To summarize: an up-and-coming, well-educated Russian military officer is gradually breaking into the highest society; he wins promotions quickly and finds the Tsar’s favor. He becomes engaged to a high-class woman whom he loves, but when he…

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Short Story Wednesdays: "The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller" by Gustave Flaubert

Short Story Wednesdays: “The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller” by Gustave Flaubert

This week, we get to hear all about Christianity, morality, and sanctification, from the ever-insightful Gustave Flaubert, in his fantastic story about learning to hunt as an up-and-coming medieval prince. After a series of twists, we meet Jesus Christ in a riverside hovel. Read along here.

Only the saint knows sin.

-W.P. DuBose

A pretentious student once asked Flannery O’Connor whether she had been influenced at all by Flaubert. She responded (once imagines in her thickest Southern drawl), “FLOW-BARE? Never heard of him.” Despite the sarcasm, his writing style, stance on faith, and meditations on how the grace of God changes someone were…

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Short Story Wednesdays: "An Encounter" by James Joyce

Short Story Wednesdays: “An Encounter” by James Joyce

Introducing a new feature! Weekly or quasi-weekly postings of short stories followed by a few observations/thoughts on the story – they’ll all be available online, and discussion is (highly) encouraged for those who are inclined.

As an opening salvo, I thought we’d look at “An Encounter” from James Joyce’s Dubliners, a beautiful little composition set in the city of Dublin and written in the early twentieth century. The story deals with two young boys who set off on a day of adventure in the big city. As such, it’s a tale of youthful idealism running up against the realities of the adult,…

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