The Crazy Sex Lady at the Solitary Banquet

bacon by cookbookman17 on flickr“The crazy sex ladies are coming to school today,” said my oldest. “We’re missing it.”

“Good,” I said. I was driving the kids to the middle school an hour into their first period class. A glitch in the family routine over the past twenty-four hours prevented any of the three alarm clocks in the house from going off. We all overslept that morning, which must have been a mercy of God, because I’d been wondering what to do about the crazy sex ladies for a long time.

I went through training over the summer to become a crazy sex lady, to teach abstinence in public school.

It seemed, at first, like a good fit for me. But something became clear to me after going through the training (though I couldn’t quite pinpoint the problem at the time): attempting to instill an elevated concept of sexual purity without a corresponding concept of grace is just as dangerous as teaching that “anything goes.” [Read more…]

Getting Close to You, God: A Meditation During the Month of Elul

by-david-bergin-emmett-and-elliott-on-flickr“You are my light and my help / Whom should I fear?” Thus begins Norman Fischer’s Zen-inspired translation of Psalm 27.

Right now, at this very moment, Shabbat morning, the 14th of Elul, 5776; Sept. 17, 2016, these verses don’t resonate with me. Fear: yes, I am afraid, afraid, at the moment, that I won’t finish this essay by the deadline, two days from now, for my next contribution to “Good Letters.”

Whom do I fear? The “Good Letters” editor, a kind woman and talented writer who generously works with a group of writers for the blog? The editor-in-chief of Image, the extraordinary journal that is at the heart of an equally extraordinary community of writers, artists, musicians whose work engages, one way or another, ultimate questions of “art, faith, and mystery”?

What about the Divine, YHVH, whose commandment to observe the Shabbat I am breaking by writing this piece this morning, is that who I fear? Or is it some internal judge who took up residence within me, probably so early in my life that I can’t remember when. [Read more…]

Against “Amazing Grace”

hymnalIn a world in which it seems that just about everything seems to be complained about online—bitch, bitch, bitch, moan, moan, moan—ad infinitum, here’s a little beef I’d like to proffer, that I don’t recall having seen anywhere yet:

I despise “Amazing Grace.”

Mind you, I’m not complaining about the notion of grace itself, God’s unmerited favor given in the gift of his son to save us from our sins—the distinctive Christian soteriology. It is not, therefore, the theological concept I doubt—though as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I’m probably a bigger fan of the book of James than a lot of my Protestant brethren.

I don’t even have an issue with the hymn’s composer, John Newton, that poor former British slave trader, who was haunted by the dehumanizing work he had pursued, though not enough to leave it for decades. It was good for him to repent, and write against slavery. I am glad he found forgiveness, despite the horror he perpetuated. (I believe that forgiveness can, indeed, be received. Even for horrendous evils.)

It’s the hymn that’s the problem. [Read more…]

The Cult of Emotion

6342521726_1709c6f3f5_zAs a newish, struggling Christian recovering from two years in a fundamentalist youth group, I committed to starting afresh in college. I was going to get fellowship right this time.

My high school church had been all about the rules: No secular music (unless oldies from the 1950s). No shorts with hems higher than the ends of your fingertips. No left-leaning politics.

But the people I met at Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at the University of California, Riverside, were all about the heart. As I started spending time in Bible studies where I learned to read the scriptures for myself, I wished I had understood all along that Christianity was about following Jesus, not a list of don’ts.

But even the heart seems to have some rules. The heart can quickly become an idol, our emotions, laws. [Read more…]

The Dragon and the Yahrzeit Candle: On Forgetting and Remembering, Part 3

8407335830_6cda2c94c5_zContinued from yesterday and Tuesday.

In Hunger Mountain: A Field Guide to Mind and Landscape, David Hinton observes, “We tend to ignore the disappearing, the forgetfulness, but all day long, day in and day out, forgetfulness keeps us woven into dragon’s traceless transformations.”

The dragon, he explained earlier, is “China’s mythological embodiment of all creation and all destruction, the ten thousand hunger-driven things tumbling through their traceless transformations.

“Self, that center of identity,” Hinton continues, “is a denial of dragon and the empirical reality it represents: the generative female structure of consciousness and Cosmos. It is a denial of forgetfulness and of our actual moment-to-moment experience. That denial is part of dragon, of course, but it is dragon’s blindness to itself. And as the defining structure of the center, language is the medium of that blindness. It too is a denial of forgetfulness and Absence and the generative nature of things.” [Read more…]


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