Courage in Community: 25 Years of Image

Guest post by Hunter Sharpless

To celebrate Image’s twenty-fifth anniversary we are posting a series of essays by people who have encountered our programs over the years. Read the earlier installments: Stumbling into the WaterfallHenri Nouwen, Reaching OutThe Notecards of Paradise, and 18 Years of Glen Workshops.

Once I eavesdropped on a conversation in the graduate student lounge. A couple of my MFA peers here at the University of Minnesota were discussing a project they were going to call the Post-human Anthology. A snippet of their editorial statement: “We are simply and passionately trying to assemble a constellation of visionary contemporary poetry that challenges humanism by reaching into the volatile beyonds of post-humanism.”

This is today’s avant-garde: A rational materialism so strict that it has moved beyond any distinction between human beings and animals.

Two hours later, off campus, I was with a group of friends that not only believes in the atavistic ideas of the soul and human exceptionalism, but in fact believes that we have been made in the image of a loving, omnipotent God.

Thus swings the intellectual schedule of an evangelical Texan writer.

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Graciously Effaced: Saintseneca’s Dark Arc

Guest post by Isaac Anderson

Last August, Billy Corgan, of Smashing Pumpkins fame, got some press for declaring God the “great, unexplored territory” of rock music.

I’ve thought about Corgan’s comment of late, while listening to the record that’s been on repeat in my apartment the last month. Saintseneca’s Dark Arc is a meditation on doom, according to Zac Little, the band’s frontman and lyricist. Though that word may mislead, for this record is bleak at times, but luminous too. Nods to death or impermanence are often met with a resistance to the same:

If only the good ones die young
I pray your corruption come
Swift like a thief in the night
Right I pluck my right eye right out

Little is a fighter, of sorts—When I crave a split lip, he sings in “Happy Alone,” I’ll get it quick—and the doom expressed here wakes the listener to the appetites bucking beneath apathy, the desire to not go down without a fight.

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Avoiding the Mirror

Guest post by Cathy Warner

I have circled around this story several times, trying to write my way into it.

I begin with an inciting event:

An eighty-nine year-old man lies unconscious, unresponsive in intensive care in a California hospital. His name is Vince and he was hit by a car in the town he’s lived in near forty years, the same town that was my home for twenty-five.

I am now nine hundred miles north, but in my mind I see the pharmacy he left, the crosswalk, his wife waiting in their minivan parked outside the beauty parlor. I picture her stumbling from the car with her uneven gait, pedestrians rushing to her side, to his aide, sprinting to the fire department down the block for help.

I read the news on Facebook first, that “an elderly gentleman” had been hit, and stopped at this description of him. Though he’d been retired from his work as missionary to Pakistan the twenty-five years I’d known him, he was far from gentle.

From there my words add up to a litany of how hard this man—who died days later from his injuries—was to love, a long complaint about our relationship.

It doesn’t work. My editor tells me: “Basically you still believe he was deeply misguided about most everything and that you have the correct ideas, so the piece just becomes a ‘He was wrong and overbearing and fearful but we’re still all one in Christ.’”

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What Now?

Guest Post

By Scott Cairns

Image has just published its 25th anniversary issue (#80). We’re pleased today to run an excerpt from a symposium in that issue entitled “The Road Behind Us: Image’s Founding Generation,” in which we asked several writers and artists who have been part of Image’s community from its beginnings what they see as having changed over the years, whether there’s still a need for a venue like Image, and what our new calling might be.

Yes, the cultural landscape in America has changed dramatically since the 1980s. And building upon the previous brilliant, pioneering successes of a relative handful of remarkable writers—among them, John Updike, Annie Dillard, Denise Levertov, and Larry Woiwode come to mind—Image journal has been key to effecting dramatic change in the three decades of interim.

I believe that it was sometime in the fall of 1993 that I first learned of Image. I was gigging a Texas writers’ conference in San Angelo, and I met up with Virginia Stem Owens and her husband David who were also presenting their work. We hit it off, and—between readings, panel discussions, and other typical conference fare—struck up a series of conversations that led to what has been a continuing friendship. It was during that long weekend that Ginger first told me about this newish “Journal of the Arts and Religion,” suggesting I might send some work to Greg Wolfe, her then colleague at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas, and the editor and publisher of the magazine.

To be honest, I didn’t think I would be sending anything to Greg anytime soon. I had by then seen more than my share of literary journals attempting to bridge the chasm between art and faith, and in no previous case had I witnessed anything other than an acute diminishment of art, more often than not coupled with a cartoonish take on faith, to boot. That is to say, I was not expecting anything different along those lines.

Then I saw a copy of the new journal, Image Number 3, published the previous spring.

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The Heaven of Animals: A Coin in the Mouth

Guest Post

By Jen Hinst-White

“I have this mystical-schmystical idea,” one of my writing teachers once said, “that stories exist outside of us somewhere, and it’s our job to get them down properly.”

He was a hard-nosed editor and a robust skeptic, and he confessed this notion five minutes before workshop’s end, as if not to give his own idea too much credence. I suspect, though, that most of us knew what he meant.

And if we can be mystical-schmystical for a moment and imagine this is so: Well, what does it mean to get a story down “properly”? Skillfully, yes; honestly, one hopes; but do we employ the storyteller’s guile, or the sage’s compassion, or the filleting knife of the satirist? What do we do with the stories we catch?

I recently happened on The Heaven of Animals, the debut short story collection by David James Poissant, and it brought this question to mind. In it, Poissant casts his storyteller’s net and catches sixteen kinds of suffering. Here, a grief to ring the bell of every reader’s memory: deaths of friendships, parents, children. In several stories, it’s a marriage that dies, or else hovers in death’s doorway, waiting to tumble in or out.

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