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Language, Witness, and Control: Some Thoughts on Rhetoric and Grace

Language, Witness, and Control: Some Thoughts on Rhetoric and Grace

Reading Hannah Arendt’s marvelous book on The Human Condition, I came across a particularly thought-provoking paragraph on the ancient ideal of speech. Arendt draws a sharp contrast between the Greek household—which was ruled by necessity, the need to provide food and shelter and to raise children—and the political life. The two were distinct because once […]

The Art of Subtlety in Faith (and Doubt): Our Interview with Meghan O'Gieblyn

The Art of Subtlety in Faith (and Doubt): Our Interview with Meghan O’Gieblyn

Our first peek into the Faith & Doubt Issue is this interview with Meghan O’Gieblyn, author of the new book of essays, Interior States. We also were lucky enough to republish parts of her essay, originally published in The Point, “The Insane Idea.” Copies of Faith & Doubt can be gotten here, and here.  If […]

Sobriety as More Than Deprivation

Incredibly pleased to announce that the final addition to the speaker line-up at our upcoming NYC Conference (4/25-27)–our ‘mystery guest’–is none other than Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams and The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath. Needless to say, her work has served as a mighty source of inspiration these past few years, and it is a rare privilege to host her. She’ll be joining us on Saturday morning, April 27th, and to celebrate, here’s a favorite passage from The Recovering, a book which details, among (many) other things, her relationship with addiction:

Leslie Jamison by Beowulf Sheehan

For a long time, I’d believed that sincerity was all about actions lining up with belief: knowing myself and acting accordingly. But when it came to drinking, I’d parsed my motivations in a thousand sincere conversations–with friends, with therapists, with my mother, with my boyfriends–and all my self-understanding hadn’t granted me any release from compulsion…

I didn’t know what I believed, and prayed anyway. I called my sponsor even when I didn’t want to, showed up to meetings even when I didn’t want to. I sat in the circle and held hands with everyone, opened myself up to cliches I felt ashamed to be described by, got down on my knees to pray even though I wasn’t sure what I was praying to, only what I was praying for: don’t drink, don’t drink, don’t drink. The desire to believe that there was something out there, something that wasn’t me, that could make not-drinking seem like anything other than punishment–this desire was strong enough to dissolve the rigid border I’d drawn between faith and its absence. When I looked back on my early days in church, I started to realize how silly it had been to think that I’d had a monopoly on doubt, or that wanting faith was so categorically different from having it.

When people in the program talked about a Higher Power, they sometimes simply said “H.P.,” which seemed expansive and open, a pair of letters you could fill with whatever you needed: the sky, other people in meetings, an old woman who wore loose flowing skirts like my grandmother had worn. Whatever it was, I needed to believe in something stronger than my willpower. This willpower was a fine-tuned machine, fierce and humming, and it had done plenty of things–gotten me straight A’s, gotten my papers written, gotten me through cross-country training runs–but when I’d applied it to drinking, the only thing I felt was that I was turning my life into a small, joyless clenched fist. The Higher Power that turned sobriety into more than deprivation was simply not me. That was all I knew. It was a force animating the world in all of its particular glories: jellyfish, the clean turn of line breaks, pineapple upside-down cake, my friend Rachel’s laughter. Perhaps I’d been looking for it–for whatever it was–for years, bent over the toilet on all those other nights, retching and heaving. (pgs 303-4)

Click here to pre-register for our NYC Conference!

The Quiet Grace of <i>Silence and Beauty</i>, by Makoto Fujimura

The Quiet Grace of Silence and Beauty, by Makoto Fujimura

Grateful for this piece by Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, a review of Makoto Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering. For more on the topic, see here for the Mockingcast episode featuring Fujimura as guest. This gorgeous reflection on Christian faith is a kind of detective story, mysteries layered one on top of the other, much like […]

Liturgical Folk, vol. 4: LENT (Out Now!)

Liturgical Folk, vol. 4: LENT (Out Now!)

Liturgical Folk’s new album, Lent, is out today, and it’s beautiful. Quiet, contemplative, comforting, these songs are devotional works of art. The album offers ten songs and hymns for the upcoming season, from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. Based on collects from the Book of Common Prayer, these songs are extended prayers, with all the […]

PZ's Podcast: Tip for a Happy Marriage & Surprise, Surprise

PZ’s Podcast: Tip for a Happy Marriage & Surprise, Surprise

EPISODE 264: Tip for a Happy Marriage Justin Hayward is a sort of archivist for romantic relationships. He is 72 and still going strong. Two ‘Live’ performances book-end this cast, which is intended as fresh therapy towards a happy marriage. Appeals to grace, forgiveness, and empathy in relating to this impossibly different person with whom […]

The Trauma of Decadent Religion (and the Best Worst S-Word)

The Trauma of Decadent Religion (and the Best Worst S-Word)

The notion of sin dominated my girlhood. Raised in Indiana by fundamentalist parents, sin was the inflexible yardstick by which I was measured. Actions, words, even thoughts weren’t safe from scrutiny. The list of sinful offenses seemed infinite: listening to secular music or watching secular television, saying “gosh” or “darn” or “jeez,” questioning authorities, envying […]

How Do the Sick Participate in Christ?

How Do the Sick Participate in Christ?

Grateful for this reflection from our friend Jason Micheli.  More so than the stab of regret, what cancer injects into your life is perspective, as fresh as it is swift. The philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, perhaps the ablest critic of Christianity, charged that we view God through the eyes of our tribe, our culture and tradition, and […]

We Are Suddenly Surrounded By Dead Trees

We Are Suddenly Surrounded By Dead Trees

For many of us in America, “the holidays” means erecting a tree. Usually from life from some woods or its simulation from a box that we assemble. But in any event, almost always, the icon we erect in our living rooms is “really most sincerely dead.” But that tree is evanescently sparkling and alive for this […]

Looking East

Looking East

Through accidents of First Worldness, I have come to spend much of my life in airports and on airplanes. I live in a city so small that its airport has flights to only one city—Philadelphia—and where there is active opposition to the idea of lengthening the runway so that we might be able to travel […]

The Helplessness of the God of Christmas

When I read this way back in September, I just knew I needed to come back to it for Christmas. This is from W.H. Vanstone’s Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense, a short reflection by the late English theologian-priest on the nature of God’s love. You can’t talk about God’s love becoming knowable without talking about Christmas, which is why Vanstone tells this simple story. What becomes clear though, is how this depiction of God’s love—which looks discomfortingly like helplessness—is evacuated from our usual understandings of Christmas. In the story, Vanstone is closing up the church in preparation for services the following day, and there meets a disruption to his pretty Christmas picture.

The Word of God discloses to us at Christmas the helplessness of love at the hands of its own creatures—the fact that it is in their hands, vulnerable to their hands, dependent upon their hands for its own triumphant or tragic issue. But the disclosure is made graciously, in the form and presence of a Child. The helplessness of a child is a manageable helplessness, about which we know what we may do, by which our heart and our will are touched. It is not a harrowing helplessness, before which one who saw it might stand appalled. The same truth, the tragic possibility of the love of God, might have been exposed to us in harrowing and appalling form.

On a certain night, shortly before Christmas, I stood in the beautiful church which, in due time, rose beside the commonplace building where, at the first, the people of a new community had worshipped. The Church was ready for Christmas; and the quiet light of candles enhanced its tranquility and beauty. It was very late: but the beauty of Christmas and of its symbols seemed peculiarly intense that night; and I was glad to receive it while I might. I was disturbed by a noise behind me—a dull thud: and I saw, against the glass door, a face pressed, and grotesquely distorted by the pressure. A man was half slumped, half kneeling against the door. He was drunk; and when we talked and he gradually became more sober, it was clear that, though he was quite young, he was already an alcoholic. His experience of life was nothing but the experience of conflict and squalor: and at Christmas he expected nothing different. When at last I retired to sleep my mind must have dwelt on the tragic and distorted face which had, so to speak, invaded the beauty of Christmas. For I dreamed: and in my dream a rubbish-collector came to me and told me that he had been clearing up after a riot; and I myself saw a huge pile of stones and cans and waste paper and scrap metal which he had collected. Then the man touched my arm and said, ‘But what am I to do? For deep within the pile, buried at the bottom of it, I have seen a living face.’ Though my own eyes did not see a face, I knew in my dream that it must be the face of God.

A few hours later, when I preached in Church, I was compelled to speak of my dream. For it seemed to suggest a different way in which the truth of Christmas might have been disclosed—a harrowing and appalling way. It made one newly sensitive to, and grateful for, the graciousness of the way in which the truth of Christmas is in fact disclosed to us. But, in substance, it was the same truth. It was the truth of a God Who, in love, is totally expended for the being of His creation—so that He is helpless under its weight and barely survives for its everlasting support; so that, in the tragedies of creation, in its waste and rubbish, God Himself is exposed to tragedy: so that the creation is sustained at the cost of the agony of the One Who is buried and almost wholly submerged within the depths of it.

Mary Definitely Knew

Mary Definitely Knew

They brought the baby to our doorstep. Five days old. Directly from the hospital. One outfit. Four pre-made bottles. A handful of diapers. A package of wipes. And a packet of papers that offered no definitive judgment on the proper pronunciation of her name. “I think it’s…” the social worker said. “I’m pretty sure.” A […]