About Tony Woodlief

Tony Woodlief lives in North Carolina. His essays have appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The London Times, and his short stories appeared in Image, Ruminate, Saint Katherine Review, and Dappled Things. His website is www.tonywoodlief.com.

I Come Not to Praise the Megachurch

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The church may have begun as a non-spiritual entity, a business of some sort that was judged insufficiently profitable. Maybe it was one of those sprawling climate-controlled storage facilities, for example, the kind assembled from pre-fab insulated concrete forms, crafted not for enlivening souls but for storing up the treasures that have no place elsewhere.

But likely it was intended as a church from the beginning, a box, yes, but a box whose utilitarianism is a testimony befitting the Horatio Alger genesis tale of the modern American church: We began in a warehouse; we began in a living room; we began in a movie theater. In the beginning we sat on borrowed semi-circled folding chairs and read the Word from our soft well-worn leather-bound Bibles and the Word was with us and the Word was us. [Read more...]

Downturned Face, Upturned Eyes

16031088392_2eed4d7889_zThere is no writing more precious and self-indulgent than the essay about the difficulty of writing, so I will not write an essay about that. The truth is that writing is easy if you have a little talent. A little talent affords some writers a fine living, in fact. The only real pain comes not from the act of writing, but from a voice hovering in your ear, which may be your conscience or your mother but most likely is the devil, whispering: They’re not going to like it.

What does the devil get for his trouble? A cheapening of words. Another breezy, bullshitty essay, or another snarky, hopeless one: It makes little difference; the devil edits them all.

(See how he’s angling for your sympathy, with his poor-tortured-truthful-soul-in-a-sea-of-mendacity shtick?) [Read more...]

A Boy, a Wren, and the Kingdom

7006957796_5f0915be8b_zThe little boy moves amongst his creation in the sand: a montage drawn with a stick, with fingers, with his heel dragged before him as he hobbles backwards. Amidst its various pictures are small mosaics of driftwood and shell, all of it held together by whatever artistic vision fires the imagination of a seven-year-old. He stands slick-bellied in afternoon light streaming through gathered clouds to strike the gunmetal sea. The boy is oblivious to the light, to the sea, to the beachcombers who must adopt increasingly expansive detours to avoid his creation.

The boy stands hands-on-hips, head turned sideways now, trying to assay what’s missing. The boy is single-minded in a manner that is rare among children these days, so successfully have we embedded them in digital distraction. There are no televisions here, no hand-sized rectangles that bind wrists and haul necks downward as effectively as any manacle. Only the sand and the sea and what the sea has cast upon the sand. The boy is free to be single-minded about something, and he is still able. He stoops, he gouges a circle in the sand, and within this a smaller circle, and so on. [Read more...]

Dancing for My Life, Part 2

Continued from yesterday.

elegant-barn-decorating-ideas-with-barn-dance-decoration-ideas-10Traditional dance is, by modern standards, inherently misogynistic. The man leads, in most basic arrangements, by stepping forward. The woman must step back to make room for him. In some dances, the couple maintains a squared frame with their arms, so the woman can sense when the man is going to turn her, or shift direction. In others, like swing, they hold hands, and he alternately sends her away and tugs her back again, or pulls her into his embrace to send her twirling outward.

They’re at odds with the mood of the age, but the dances we’re learning are certainly less misogynistic than what passes for dancing these days. Gulya will never instruct Maggie to bend over and twerk while I pretend to spank her.

Still, I suppose we could follow in the steps of feminists trying to strike a blow for equality by having their male ballroom partners learn the traditionally female, back-stepping role. I wish them well, but I’m having a tough enough time learning one set of steps per dance.

And no matter who’s stepping forward, you can’t escape the fact that someone has to lead. You can learn a thing or two about marriage when you’re dancing. Like how frustrating it is for the other person when you don’t signal your intention. How you can walk your partner directly into a curtain, or a chair (I’ve done both) if you’re indecisive about when to pull her into the ninety-degree sidestep that allows you to turn a corner during a waltz. That if you keep not deciding, your partner will start deciding for you. [Read more...]

Dancing for My Life, Part 1

barn-wedding-dance-area“ONE two three, LONG short short—don’t step on her!”

Gulya is my dance instructor. She’s from Azerbaijan, she’s five feet tall, and I’m afraid of her. Gulya, too, is afraid. She fears I will stomp my wife’s toes. I’m wearing boots, because we are a month away from a wedding on a California ranch, where real cowboys will be dancing real cowboy dances. Faced with this prospect, I realized several weeks ago that my choices are:

1) Ask my beautiful wife to sit beside me in a gorgeously decorated barn and watch everyone else dance the night away;

2) Sit by myself in said barn and watch my wife dance the night away with cowboys;

3) Learn how to dance.

In other words, I have no choice. [Read more...]


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