The Evidence of Things Not Seen

Egyptian StatuesSince I’ve been blogging here at Good Letters I have been contacted by several friends who knew me back when I was a Baptist. My friend Heidi asked, “Are you a universalist now?” Cliff wondered if I was, “denying or seriously doubting Jesus’ claim to be God.” Another asked if I was “still a believer,” and yet another frankly labeled me agnostic.

These friends are seeing my musings after many years away—thanks to social media. Their own journeys seem to be keeping closer to their original faith, and mine not so much. There’s no doubt that it’s been a long road from my strict fundamentalist childhood to where I am now. [Read more...]

Save the Economy: Read the Classics

booksI was reading Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si when I began an article called “What is Wrong with the West’s Economies?” Published in the August 13, 2015 issue of The New York Review of Books, the article is by Edmund Phelps, 2006 Nobel Laureate in Economics, Director of Columbia’s Center on Capitalism and Society, and author of Mass Flourishing.

What surprised me was that sometimes I couldn’t tell which work I was reading.

“Many people have long felt the desire to do something with their lives besides consuming goods and having leisure. They desire to participate in a community in which they can interact and develop.”

“We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment.” [Read more...]

The Bearable Weightiness of Being

By Amy Peterson
61pASF-GwkL._SL500_I was restless this spring, edging manic. I think my kids noticed. One Thursday I checked them out of school for an impromptu road trip.

“Isn’t this fun?” I asked. If this were a novel I’d say my eyes were glittering, but this is not fiction: I have no idea how wild-eyed I was.

“I just think it’s a little weird to leave school for no reason,” my six-year-old said.

It wasn’t for no reason. The responsibilities of adult life were weighing heavily on me, and I felt stuck with mortgage payments and email responses and writing deadlines and the feeling that every person in our small town was watching me. At the same time, my body was remembering another spring, the spring when I felt most free.

Karis and I took a gently rocking train from Budapest to Prague, clutching paper cups of coffee, steam fogging the green view outside the window. It was May 2002, and I was twenty-years-old, wearing my hair in greasy braids, mostly unaware of my privilege, and taking myself and my freedom very seriously. [Read more...]

The Soul of the Law

e7eccc8e1b84a088At the beginning of the old Norton Anthology of English Literature (4th Ed.) appeared this account from the medieval chronicler Gerald of Wales:

The Lord of Chateau-Roux in France maintained in the castle a man whose eyes he had formerly put out, but who, by long habit, recollected the ways of the castle, and the steps leading to the towers. Seizing an opportunity of revenge, and meditating the destruction of the youth, he fastened the inward doors of the castle, and took the only son and heir of the governor of the castle to the summit of a high tower, from whence he was seen with the utmost concern by the people beneath. [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...]