Christian Kerfuffles, Taking Offense, and the Poetry of Li-Young Lee

LyleeIn late October, I had the privilege of teaching two workshops at the Indiana Faith and Writing Conference on the campus of Anderson University.

The IFWC, originally known as the Indianapolis Christian Writers Conference, brings together writers of faith to help them develop in their craft and find opportunities for publishing. The director, Liz Boltz Ranfeld, is an Anderson English professor, an essayist, and the mother of two young children.

One responsibility Ranfeld hadn’t expected was answering to outrage over the closing keynote speaker, renowned poet Li-Young Lee. In the following conversation, I attempt to explore what happened, why, and what people of faith can learn.

Tania Runyan: What happened at the closing address?

Liz Boltz Ranfeld: For the first part of the keynote address, things were fine. However, when Li-Young started reading “The Undressing,” the audience became uncomfortable. [Read more...]

My Soul Thirsts

10935610953_ecff276a2d_zMy children’s Michigan fact book says you can’t go more than eight miles without hitting water in this state, but it must be less this far north. I imagine the land shifting and disappearing beneath my feet as it does at the shoreline, except I’m standing in my kitchen.

“You’re basically living on a big dune,” a woman says when I mention my back pain. I thought I’d pulled something lifting moving boxes, but she says transplants often complain of chronic pain. We go rigid trying to find our sea legs. [Read more...]

The Rothko Chapel: The Dark Before the Dawn

By Rebecca A. Spears

Rothko_Chapel_ExteriorThe few years I lived in Houston’s Menil neighborhood, right behind the University of St. Thomas, I felt like I’d been invited to live in a sacred garden, a nearly prelapsarian environment.

It is a beautiful space, near the art museum known as the Menil Collection and its park, and bordered by several streets of Craftsman-style houses.

Yet while I lived in my “Menil house,” I was forced to learn more about darkness and my faith and how it might endure. Both my daughters, in their early twenties, were in trouble. They’d become entangled in bad relationships with jealous, controlling men. They’d begun abusing drugs.

During that time, I saw my daughters less and less; they seemed to be disappearing right before my eyes. I’d invite them to the house every couple of weeks or try to meet with one or both of them for coffee. Often they’d say yes, only to cancel at the last minute or forget to show up. Or when they did show up, they’d arrive with their drugged, unpredictable partners.

On a positive note, my friends loved my new space and were happy to stop by or spend the whole day with me there. In the fall, we could walk to the Greek or Italian festivals. Or we’d visit the Menil Collection or just sit on my front porch, enjoying the view—the park, the massive live oaks, and directly across the street, the Rothko Chapel. [Read more...]

Lucia Berlin: A Master of Catholic Fiction, Part 1

By Jenny Shank


In September, Lucia Berlin’s posthumous collection of selected short stories A Manual for Cleaning Women hit the New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover fiction.

Vice called Lucia Berlin “the greatest American writer you’ve never heard of.”

Marie Claire predicted that this “highly semiautobiographical collection will catapult [Berlin] into a household name.”

And John Williams wrote in the New York Times, “She put much of her roving, rowdy life onto the page in vivid stories that garnered the respect of a modest audience and now could be on the verge of making her posthumously famous.”

I count myself as part of that “modest audience” who was lucky to know Berlin and her work before her death in 2004. I met Berlin when she was my teacher in the graduate creative writing program at the University of Colorado, and I was immediately taken by her as a writer and as a person. [Read more...]

Life-Saving Moments of Art

Drawing of a nesting hen In August, the musical duo Alright Alright, composed of husband and wife Seth and China Kent, performed in our living room for their last house concert in a series of a dozen across the country.

As the musicians (described as “piano-based folk Americana with a healthy measure of art-song/cabaret”) set up their lighting and cigar-box guitars, a number of children played outside in a tree house garlanded with flowers. Cicadas electrified the maples. Adults drank cheap pinot and dipped pretzels in hummus. For many, the next day would be the first day of attending or teaching school. Already, it was a bittersweet, beauty-haunted evening.

And then the couple sang.

With her rich, soulful voice and his tender harmonies, China and Seth filled our small space with songs about quirky lovers, a dying father, child soldiers, and Mary, mother of Jesus. Our usually empty living room couch and chairs radiated with an unlikely assortment of friends and neighbors who just minutes before had been strangers. The immediate, shared intimacy of participating in this music together was palpable: communion, healing, and worship.

[Read more...]