Sections in the bookstore
- Books You Haven’t Read
- Books You Needn’t Read
- Books Made for Purposes Other Than Reading
- Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong to the Category of Books Read Before Being Written
- Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered
- Books You Mean to Read But There Are Others You Must Read First
- Books Too Expensive Now and You’ll Wait ‘Til They’re Remaindered
- Books ditto When They Come Out in Paperback
- Books You Can Borrow from Somebody
- Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too
- Books You’ve Been Planning to Read for Ages
- Books You’ve Been Hunting for Years Without Success
- Books Dealing with Something You’re Working on at the Moment
- Books You Want to Own So They’ll Be Handy Just in Case
- Books You Could Put Aside Maybe to Read This Summer
- Books You Need to Go with Other Books on Your Shelves
- Books That Fill You with Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified
- Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time to Re-read
- Books You’ve Always Pretended to Have Read and Now It’s Time to Sit Down and Really Read Them
Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler
(h/t Robinson Meyer)
Peter Brown reviewing From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity by Kyle Harper
[Harper] points out that the dark picture of what Roman married sex should be like took too seriously the writings of the Stoic philosophers—a “gloomy tribe”—and of contemporary doctors, whose advice, on matters of the heart, had always been “bourgeois, and a little geriatric.” He points to very different, more full-blooded bodies of evidence. He provides a commentary of admirable warmth and humanity on the sexual codes implied in the great Greek novels of the time, especially the Leucippe and Clitophon of Achilles Tatius. He also reminds us of the obvious—the overwhelming testimony of the erotic scenes on terra-cotta lamps that reached a height of production at just the time when sex was supposed to be frosting over in Rome. Those energetic males and their plump Venuses tumbled, in innumerable positions, beside every bedside. Philosophers might advise couples to blow out the light, butRomans not only had sex with the lamps on—they had sex in the flickering light of lamps that had images of them having sex by lamplight on them!So do we blame the Christians for bringing down the curtain on those merry scenes? Yes, but against a background that comes as a chill reminder of the lasting strangeness of the ancient world. If one asks if women in these scenes were free persons (and even how many of the men were free, for some might be slave gigolos), the unexpected answer would be: far fewer than we would wish to think. Many of the women were slaves. The jolly free-for-all, which we like to imagine as forming a timeless human bond between us and the ancients, was based upon the existence of a vast and cruel “zone of free access” provided by the enslaved bodies of boys and girls. Slavery, “an inherently degrading institution,” was “absolutely fundamental to the social and moral order of Roman life.
Alan Jacobs reviewing Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic
My friend and erstwhile colleague Roger Lundin has for years taught his students that the Christian faith is always practiced under cultural conditions that do a lot to determine its texture. The constant threat of martyrdom sets certain terms; the ease of a politically or just culturally established church, Kierkegaard’s “Christendom,” sets others. Those conditions will always offer dangers and possibilities alike. For us, in our time, doubt is a major ingredient of the air we breathe: we are constantly being reminded that it is possible to live without God, without faith. An educated Englishman like Francis Spufford understands this as well as anyone. So when he tells us that, whatever happens to us, “Christ will still be looking across at us from the middle of the angry crowd” and “God will still be there, shining,” he must if he is to write in good faith go on to say,If, that is, there is a God. There may well not be. I don’t know whether there is. And neither do you, and neither does Richard bloody Dawkins, and neither does anyone. It not being, as mentioned before, a knowable item. What I do know is that, when I am lucky, when I have managed to pay attention, when for once I have hushed my noise for a little while, it can feel as if there is one. And so it makes emotional sense to proceed as if He’s there; to dare the conditional.
He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.
He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.
He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.
Except for the parable of the great judgment at the end of Mathew 25, the prodigal son is probably the most theologically embracing of all the parables. It addresses something that Jesus brings up all the time, that the tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter heaven before you do—this insistence that the people who are discounted and problematic from the point of view of the righteous are, in fact, dear to God. And in a way it’s an explanation of this relationship. People who try to be righteous I utterly admire. The world depends on them. But the people who for some reason or other are askant of this understanding of the world, who can’t embrace it and can’t make sense of it, I think they’re precious too. I’m Calvinist (laughs). Others say it of me so I say it about myself, though nobody else really says it about him or herself. Anyway, of the things that [Calvin] says, one that I find most striking is that when another person is presented to you or given to you—he uses that language—God is posing a question to you. And the question is, what does God want from this encounter at this moment? I think that’s a very rich way to look at human interaction. It takes the emphasis off the self. So “what do I want” is no longer the question. I think that does in fact affect the way I conceive of my characters. They do test each other. They pose questions to each other. Of course, the world is so constructed that there is no end to the questions. Every question blossoms into other questions. But in the moment you are understanding something about the nature of being in the act of encountering the question.Marilynne Robinson (h/t Matt Thomas)
But it is also important to recognize how much the themes of the Narnia books are interwoven with what he was thinking and writing in other contexts around the same time, and with material he had already published in the 1940s — as well as the fact that the first seeds of the actual Narnia narrative seem to have been sown as early as 1939. For example: his 1946 book, The Great Divorce, foreshadows many of the ideas in the Narnia stories — most particularly a theme that Lewis insists on more and more as his work develops, the impossibility of forcing any person to accept love and the monumental and excruciating difficulty of receiving love when you are wedded to a certain picture of yourself. It is this theme that emerges most clearly in his last (and greatest) imaginative work, the 1956 novel, Till We Have Faces. The issues we shall be looking at in the following pages are very much the issues that Lewis is trying to work out in a variety of imaginative idioms from the early 1940s onwards — the problems of self-deception above all, the lure of self-dramatizing, the pain and challenge of encounter with divine truthfulness. What Narnia seeks to do, very ambitiously, is to translate these into terms that children can understand. And as to why Lewis decided to address such an audience, there is probably no very decisive answer except that he had a high view of children’s literature, a passion for myth and fantasy and a plain desire to communicate as widely as possible.Rowan Williams on C.S. Lewis and the point of Narnia | OUPblog (via ayjay)
Many lovers of Advent have long been advocating the extension of the season, but with a rather more gutsy and apocalyptic tonality. After All Saints, the lectionary (on most Sundays in most of the three cycles, though not quite all) takes a turn toward judgment and the Last Things. The chief personage of Advent is the apocalyptic prophet par excellence, John the Baptist. Advent, properly understood, is the season of the Second Coming. That will mean the definitive arrival of the Kingdom in its plenitude and permanence, but it will also mean the conclusive and final rejection of all evil. We can’t speak of the Kingdom without being conscious of the forces that war against God and all his purposes. That’s what the Synoptic Apocalypse is about (Matt. 24, Mark 13, Luke 21), and it is always read on the next-to-last Sunday before Advent (leaving many preachers feeling queasy about what to say, as I can testify from my travels). The very last Sunday before Advent is Christ the King Sunday, which proclaims the sovereignty of God over all the demonic Powers that strive both among us and in us to conquer his Kingdom. For those who will grasp the opportunity, it’s the best season of the year for preaching. There is something extremely bracing about looking evil and death straight in the eye and announcing the certainty of God’s judgment upon all that is at work to destroy his creation.Fleming Rutledge
When I came out to my friend Anthony, I still saw that emptiness in the mirror. I think that the only way I found the strength to say it was the unspeakable hope that the feelings I had for him were mutual.
We sat in his car in an empty parking lot at three in the morning.
“Anthony, I… I… I’ve wanted to tell you. I… I… I…” I couldn’t get it out. Getting even that short syllable to escape my lips was an exhausting task, and I couldn’t continue on after it. “I…” But I knew that I would just have to spit it out.
“I’m gay.” With those two words, the world changed. I could never take them back. He could never unhear them. My eyes were full of tears. I babbled on. “I mean, it’s much more complicated than that. But… that’s, I guess, the easiest way to say it.”
We talked. The feelings weren’t mutual. But he didn’t leave. He didn’t reject me. He just listened.
After a while, I told him about my fears. “When you’re like me, it’s just so hard to be honest. If people know about it, there are real social and professional consequences. Especially in the Catholic world. If you want to teach in a Catholic high school and you’re open about this, you can forget it.”
I looked straight ahead as he responded, “I think that one day I want to be a principal at a Catholic school, and I can’t think of anyone that I would rather have teach my kids.” It was too much. I put my head against the dashboard and started crying. He put his arm around me, and, after a bit, I just leaned over and put my head against his chest, sobbing as he held me.
“Man can only accept himself if he is accepted by another,” wrote Pope Benedict XV. “Only from the You can the I come into itself.” I remember laying against him and thinking, “I feel as though I’m loved the way I was made to be loved.”
For me, living faithfully after Christendom is an exercise in improvising in the key of gospel. We face – daily; hourly – previously-unimagined challenges and situations; a set of rules is too solid, too clunky, to cope. Obeying rules, however well-intentioned and well-written, will make us irrelevant and offensive. Instead, we need to learn to indwell the gospel narrative the way a jazz soloist learns to indwell the music, and to be as responsive to the ever-changing context as a soloist is to the audience and to the previous solos of her fellow players. We need to immediately, instinctively, create new movements that beautifully express one example of what gospel might look like in this particular context.
Of course, it is hard – so hard…
And – we’re talking improv – of course there is no training manual…
But there is that moment in jazz when you hear it (Kind of Blue, anyone?) and know that here is something that is at once both powerfully authentic and immediately relevant, and so that stands as a marker of what it looks like, how amazing it can be, when someone just gets it right.
And when a Pope asks a beggar to hear his confession…
Or when Andrew and Brenda and Nathan print some T-shirts reading ‘I’m sorry’…
Or when Tony throws a birthday party for a prostitute at three o’clock in the morning…
Or when the women of the church I once led said ‘we’re going to give her the mother of all baby showers…’
Or – well, I have some more stories, but what would you add to this list?…
…when these things happen, I swear I hear angels singing as they did in the hills above Bethlehem, and Heaven partying the way only Heaven can – because someone has learnt how to improvise in the key of gospel.
This is my commonplace book and sometime-journal.
I blog at SpiritualFriendship.org.
My book is here: Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.
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