Encounter: Robert Farrar Capon

“Let me pause for a moment and speak a word to those starting over after some kind of death.

The world, oddly enough, does not take kindly to resurrections. The risen dead are tolerated only as long as they are careful not to look too obviously raised. The trouble with Lazarus had to have been that he refused to be discreet about being alive. Had he gone to just one or two small dinner parties and done a respectable revived-corpse act, [the authorities] might have put up with him. But no. Instead, he dined regularly six nights a week, ate like Diamond Jim Brady, drank Calvados til two in the morning, and laughed all night at his own dialect jokes.

You will be asked, sometimes politely but always firmly, not to look too alive: Lazarus at a dinner confuses the troops. And yet, what is there to do? Act as if you were still in the grave? Carry a little flacon of eau de tombeau in your purse? Of course not. You have been given a new life: flaunt it. Sadness and guilt are facts; but forgiveness must always be the largest fact. Embarrassment at the riches of your own existence is a loser.

Life itself is resurrection, or else it isn’t life. There is no way of being raised that doesn’t involve acting risen.”

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Hurry

From “The Kingdom of the Ordinary” by Marie Howe.
We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store
and the gas station and the green market and
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,
as she runs along two or three steps behind me
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.
….
Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?
Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,
Honey I’m sorry I keep saying Hurry—
you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.
….
And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking
back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,
hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.
….

Create ~ Instructions for the Journey

Instructions for the Journey
by Pat Schneider

The self you leave behind
is only a skin you have outgrown.
Don’t grieve for it.
Look to the wet, raw, unfinished
self, the one you are becoming.
The world, too, sheds its skin:
politicians, cataclysm, ordinary days.
It’s easy to lose this tenderly
unfolding moment. Look for it
as if it were the first green blade
After a long winter. Listen for it
as if it were the first clear tone
in a place where dawn is heralded by bells.

And, if all that fails,
wash your own dishes.
Rinse them.
Stand in your kitchen at your sink.
Let cold water run between your fingers.
Feel it.

What happens when you write instructions for the journey? What are the alternatives? What “if all that fails”? Even if you don’t feel it, what images would you create for yourself that end with the insistence/encouragement/command/exhortation/hope to “Feel it.”

Jewels from Festival of Faith & Writing

The Festival of Faith & Writing was short on tulips this year, but still rich in jewels from writers of many kinds.  Some glints from the riches:

“Make friends with really accomplished dead people.”
“Looking for truth can look like looking for trouble.”
“When you write about what you know, you point to an object– you elevate what you know. Instead, create a scene that provokes a way of knowing.”
Poet Scott Cairns

“Don’t try to write about your faith directly. Live your faith. Then write about your life and your faith will come out authentically.”
Comic book writer Gene Luen Yang

“Books are a military of reason and discourse.”
“I don’t need to spend time remembering my mistakes– other people will do plenty of that for me.”
Author and musician James McBride

“When we give our thinking to petty things, we become small souls.”
Author Richard Foster

“They sit down and get up. They sit down and feel put-upon. They sit down and feel victimized. They sit down and feel superior about feeling victimized. That’s what it’s like for the people whose work you admire– that’s what it’s like for everyone.”
Anne Lamott

“Fidelity to the facts is an aesthetic pleasure.”
Essayist Amy Leach

“Reference to transcendence is not dependent on religious impulse– the impulse toward transcendence is a structural restlessness in human nature.”
“There are culturally-conditioned captivities. We need to listen to our brothers and sisters of other places and eras if we hope to be released from those captivities.”
“The Golden Rule means if I want a right, I have to grant a right.”
“The enemy of Christianity today is not atheism but sentimentality.”
Yale Professor and theologian Miroslav Volf

Rhythms for the Preservation of Life

“You and I are creatures of the earth made by a God who established rhythms for the preservation of life. Evening and morning. Summer and winter. Cross and resurrection. These are rhythms in nature and in history, rhythms both physical and spiritual, of plenty and of scarcity. In light of these rhythms, I submit that God has created us to experience the artistic rhythms of festal muchness and cleansing simplicity. Like so much in our [lives], our artistic health is a movement across a spectrum, from the maximal to the minimal, back and forth, each playing an important role in our maturation as disciples.” W. David O. Taylor, in For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts

Encounter: Jeremy Begbie

I’ve never been a fan of “Christian” writing and have been known to openly mock Christian romance, particularly the apparently recognizable sub-genre “Amish romance.” “Scoff” may, in fact, be an understatement.  Though, these assessments have not always been fair. I have read some, and thereby avoided the danger of judging a book by its (chaste) cover. However, I’ve sometimes had difficulty articulating what I find disingenuous about a fair amount of this Christian writing.

By many counts, Christian romance is more faithful than much of my own writing– the morals are more anchored, the worldview more orthodox, the plots more harmonious, the answers more available. But something about it strikes me as false. In fact, much “Christian” writing prompts not just scorn but anger–  I react to it as viscerally as a lie. Why?

This week I encountered Jeremy Begbie for the first time. His perspective (given here in summary from an article from the London Institute on Contemporary Christianity) helped me clarify my protest to most forms of Christian romance (and an unfortunate amount of Christian music and media as well):

Begbie identifies “three characteristics of sentimentality. First, sentimentality misrepresents reality through evading or trivialising evil; it is selective in what it chooses to notice (the world is a great place, really), and projects innocence where there is no innocence (she’s not so bad, really). Second, sentimentality is emotionally self-indulgent; sentimental art encourages an emotional reaction to reality that is shallow or one-dimensional. Jeremy referred here to Milan Kundera’s characterisation of kitsch: ‘Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.’ What really moves the sentimentalist is the fact that he’s being moved. Third, sentimentality fails to take appropriate costly action; the sentimentalist screens out darker dimensions, wants emotion without expense.

Insofar as Christian art and worship displaces honesty with niceness, wallows in self-indulgent emotions, refuses to face up to difficult issues, denies the reality of what is wrong with the world, deals only with what is comfortable, nice and builds self-esteem – to that extent, we have succumbed to sentimentality. Importantly, it’s not an issue of emotion per se, but whether emotion is theologically grounded, appropriately directed, expresses truth, and inspires us to engage with a damaged world.

In countering sentimentality, Jeremy encourages Christians to have ‘a three-days faith’. We need to experience the three days of Easter from an inside perspective: to feel the pain of Friday and the despair of Saturday before the joy of Sunday. Sentimentality skips over the tension of the story to the happiness of final resolution. But, by living inside the three days of Easter, pain is confirmed not erased, gratification is delayed, the tension is extended, and the true power of Easter morning is revealed. Christian art and music must pause at Good Friday and not rush to Easter Sunday.”

I’ll be adding Begbie’s essay “Beauty, Sentimentality and the Arts” to my summer reading list.