The Long Regretful Wait

By Tony Woodlief

PhoneMy mother’s quavering voicemail was right: I hadn’t called in a long time. I justified my neglect with the assurance that I’d called on her birthday, I’d called on Mother’s Day, I’d made my dutiful calls even though I suspected she was mad at me. I made them and she didn’t answer.

I hadn’t called in a long time, but goddammit, neither had she.

My mother’s tears always put a knot in my gut. Once as a boy I fell asleep on her bed, and woke to her weeping. On the television were men, some in brown uniforms, some wearing white sheets. They stood shouting in the parking lot of our local library. The next day Mama put a letter in our mailbox, and the newspaper published it.

A week later, angry people were calling our house. Mama argued with some, hung up quickly on others. I beat her to the phone once, and a woman asked: “Just what is your mama’s problem with the Klan?”

Only God knows what my mother would have done to that woman, had she possessed the power to reach through the phone. [Read more…]

The Beast Without

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“Isaac’s being a jerk,” my seven year-old, Isaiah, says about his older brother. They have been sledding over new-fallen snow.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because he keeps knocking me off my sled.”

“Why do you think he does that?” I ask. I’ve been trying to help my children consider how sometimes they incite one another.

“Because he’s evil.”

Well, then.

“My sisters pregnant I can’t wait to find out if im gonna be an aunt or uncle,” is what the girl tweeted. By the time I saw a screenshot of her words, they had traveled pretty widely. What an idiot, people said. Glad I’m not that stupid. I thought the same things. [Read more…]

Let Me Die Like This

redWhen I die, Lord, let me go in a plane crash, spiraling down, earthward, earthward, apportioned enough time to pray but not nearly enough to forget what we’re all prone to forget: that the end comes, it rushes up to greet us, every one in flight.

What I’d pray in my downfall is: forgive, sweet Christ, forgive, and this: let me see. Let me see myself in your mirror so I may know, before the end, if I am known.

They say it’s easier to conjure faith in desperation, but I suspect the opposite is true, that all we hold in our trembling hands, when the earth charges up to embrace us for the last time, is what’s really there, what we really believe, what we really love, be it God or ourselves or our children or our comforts, or likely some combination of these, with salvation turning perhaps not on a choice so much as on the algorithm, on our hammered-out parameters of love. [Read more…]

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…]


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