Christians in the Age of Sincerity

Guest Post

By Dyana Herron

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 Ahead: Voices for the Next Twenty-Five Years,” consisting of reflections by a group of writers under the age of 35.

Although I don’t consider myself to have a finger on the pulse of culture (I’m not a journalist or a critic or an academic, but someone who writes mostly from a limited personal perspective), I do agree that the contemporary public square seems a safer place to be a Christian artist or intellectual than it has in even the recent past.

This is a strange position for Christians to find ourselves in, because we are much more accustomed to persecution than popularity. I can imagine, though, that if Jesus, with his wavy hair and mellow but antiauthoritarian attitude, chose to appear as a young man in America today, he might just as likely be crowned prom king as King of the Jews. And then where would humanity be?

Christians have never been particularly cool, no matter how hard DC Talk or our youth pastors tried to convince us otherwise. That’s partly because our parents never allowed us to go to the good parties. But more because, historically, coolness is about detachment, distance, and self-assurance, whereas Christianity is about commitment, presence, and self-surrender.

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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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What We Wish For, What We Think Is True, Part 2

Guest Post

By Isaac Anderson

Continued from yesterday.

After we’ve gone our separate ways to work, the philosopher comes by my apartment for a beer. In addition to Descartes, this afternoon he taught Shakespeare, Sonnet 40. We walk out to the side yard, to a gazebo ringed with wood chips and dead leaves, gaze at the oaks wrapped in kudzu. I smoke American Spirits and he smokes a pipe and tells me about reading lines aloud to his students from that desolate verse: Take all my loves, my love, yea take them all.

It’s a poem reckoning with betrayal. The speaker’s mistress has taken up with his best friend. The word love repeats plaintively—love, love’s, loves—ineffectually, like a dead lighter that won’t produce a flame. Or as one commentator has it, like a spell cast to keep love from flying away.

I picture my friend reciting the sonnet’s lines aloud to his class, reciting and remembering the times he and his wife read to each other from old Russian novels (how different it feels now reading alone at night). I wonder if any of his students suspect how close Shakespeare is to describing the backdrop of their professor’s life.

Do they think about what lay behind his intensity? What makes him grip his pencil hard enough while reading that it accidentally snaps like a piece of straw in his hand?

We sit under the gazebo as he runs through the sonnet’s arc, recalling phrases. Lascivious grace, that’s a good one. His voice has a rarefied quality, hard to interpret, something beyond anger or self-recrimination, but with traces of each. The tree-lined neighborhood is quiet. Plumes of smoke become like thought-bubbles between us.

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