Hannah Graham and a Silence too Loud

hannahgrahamweb_7f64e4c639e69df5491ce7a6c6354be9It was forty degrees this morning when I got into my car. The back window was spotted white with frost. As I drove to work, a new appeal came from news that had made me heartsick for weeks. It was a plea from the mother of Hannah Graham, the eighteen-year-old student who disappeared in September from the University of Virginia.

“Please, please, please,” the mother’s anguished voice came over the radio with a British accent. “Help us find our girl,” she cried out (to someone who knows something? Anyone? God?). “Please, please, please, help us bring Hannah home.”

The police are still looking, as are fire departments and federal agents and hundreds of volunteers. Hannah is out there somewhere these cold nights. No one is talking about whether or not she is still alive, but they are scouring the countryside for clues, “a cell phone, or a shoe,” as one searcher told reporters, “anything that will point us to Hannah.”

Jesse Matthew, the suspect arrested on charges of abduction “with intent to defile” has invoked his right not to speak. Hannah cannot speak right now. It is likely that no one else knows what happened. Will Hannah ever break her silence? [Read more...]

Pasternak: Artist and Holy Fool

tumblr_lz6uc9ddzz1r4t46jo1_500As I read the essay “The Writer and the Valet” in my latest issue of the London Review of Books, an image came to mind of a T-shirt I saw in one of the random catalogs that come in the mail. It was a simple black shirt with the sentence, “Artists make bad slaves” printed on it.

The essay by Frances Stoner Saunders is about how Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago came to publication, and it is a story filled with Cold War suspense and intrigue. It also parallels the novel itself—the story of an individual artist whose life and living are wrecked by revolution in his homeland.

Pasternak was born in 1890 into the home of an artist father and pianist mother. Artists and musicians frequented his parents’ home, including the likes of Sergei Rachmaninoff. Pasternak himself started his studies in music, switched to philosophy, and then found his calling with poetry. He was a poet who loved botany, and was, according to Alan Furst in his review of The Zhivago Affair, “above all else, a poet of the human spirit, a poet in love with a world of weather, landscapes, romance and the Russian soul.” [Read more...]

The Demons That Possess Us

Vasily-Perov-Dostoyevsky-3When I graduated from Seattle Pacific’s MFA program, I was sorely disappointed to hear Greg Wolfe announce The Brothers Karamazov as the next common reading selection. Upon returning home from my final residency at Whidbey Island, I pulled Dostoyevsky’s great novel down from the shelf as my first post-graduation self-assigned reading. It was such a decrepit old copy that it fell apart as I read, grew smaller as glue gave out and pages fell away—a visual gauge of my progress. When I finished, I had to go out and buy a new copy for my bookshelf.

So I was delighted last month when, over brioche, fresh fruit, and coffee, the summer reading group I attend settled on The Brothers Karamazov for next summer. Though my teaching load is heavy, I have decided to read my way back through all my Dostoyevsky in preparation for our summer with Brothers. I have returned to Brothers and Crime and Punishment several times over the years, and I often teach Notes from the Underground in spring semester, so I’ve decided to start with Dostoyevsky’s books I’ve only read once.

When I was a young man in my last year of seminary, I read Dostoyevsky for the first time. As many do, I started with Crime and Punishment; as maybe not so many do, I went on a Dostoyevsky bender that lasted through his novels and notebooks, to criticism and biographies. This eventually spread to Tolstoy, Chekhov, Pasternak, and then on to the likes of Berdyaev, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Unamuno, Camus. Dostoyevsky diverted me down a whole new stream of literature that I’ve been riding for the past two decades. [Read more...]

The Creationist Crisis Reprise

Sevbible2eral months ago I blogged about the Ken Ham Bill Nye debate at Liberty University. I hadn’t given the two much thought since then until last week when they both rose back into the media. My son’s Popular Science magazine arrived with Nye on the front, his fists wrapped like a boxer’s, and the title of the article about him: Nerd Fight! The same day, Ham hit the news as a butt of jokes for blogging that intelligent alien life cannot exist because, “the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation… To suggest that aliens could respond to the gospel is just totally wrong.”

What struck me about the Ham kerfuffle is how this arises from the same place that his strict stance on young earth creationism does. At its core, this is not about the science; it is about hermeneutics.

[Read more...]

Righteous Minds Left and Right

religionpolitics__432x324The orthodontist’s new office has a waiting room tricked out with video games—even a genuine old tabletop Mrs. Pac-Man. Grace and I were racing cars—and she was winning by more than a lap—when the woman in purple scrubs called her name.

“Hey Grace,” she drawled, as Grace approached her. She had frosty blond hair and friendly blue eyes, and cool running shoes under those purple scrubs, rocking the hip-grandma look. She swung her arm in a wide come-on wave and said, “You’re coming too, Mom and Dad.”

Later, when Gracie’s mother complimented her on how easy she makes her job look, she said, “I’ve been doing this for forty-five years.” She joked and teased in just the right ways to put Grace at ease as she lay back and opened her mouth for the light stretching on its long arm toward her.

After the orthodontist examined her and discussed the braces—and oral surgery—our hip grandma was back with the pricing sheet. She was just as good at this part, had the numbers written neatly, the math done, clear and simple. She said, “You have good insurance. Insurance usually doesn’t cover this much.” [Read more...]


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