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About CJ Green

CJ Green studied English and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Virginia. He currently works at Mockingbird as a staff editor for print publications (mbird.com/publications) and as a moderator for the website. His favorite books are for ages 7-12.

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Author Archive
    
    Another Week Ends: The Craigslist Confessional, Ethical Beauty, Luck, Reincarnation, Realistic Wedding Vows, and Divided Times in the Body of Christ

    Another Week Ends: The Craigslist Confessional, Ethical Beauty, Luck, Reincarnation, Realistic Wedding Vows, and Divided Times in the Body of Christ

    1. This weekend’s opener: stories from the Craigslist Confessional. Several years ago, on a whim, a woman named Helena Bala posted an ad online, offering anyone who needed it the service of a non-judgmental listening ear. Crazy, huh? “Woke up the next morning…inbox was flooded.”

    The video is a testament to the power of listening—just listening, without corrections, prescriptions, or solutions. Later she says, “I hadn’t done anything…I hadn’t provided any extraordinary insight…. I was just listening.”

    But there’s an interesting part, two-thirds into the video, when a leading psychotherapist challenges Helena’s work, saying that, in his opinion, she isn’t doing longterm good,…

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    "The Confession of St. Jim-Ralph: Our Patron of Falling Short, Who Became a Prayer," by Denis Johnson

    “The Confession of St. Jim-Ralph: Our Patron of Falling Short, Who Became a Prayer,” by Denis Johnson

    The Confession of St. Jim-Ralph
    BY DENIS JOHNSON

    OUR PATRON OF FALLING SHORT,
    WHO BECAME A PRAYER

    I used to sneak into the movies without paying.
    I watched the stories but I failed to see the dark.
    I went to college and drank everything they gave me,
    and I never paid for any of that water
    on which I drifted as if by grace until
    after the drownings, when in the diamond light
    of seven-something A.M., as the spring was tearing
    me up in Cartajena, only praying
    on my knees before the magnifying ark
    of the Seventh St. Hotel could possibly save me,
    until falling on my face before the daughter
    of money while the world poured from the till
    brought the…

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    A Visit to Another World: Modern Fiction and Life After Death – A Conference Breakout Preview

    Christians have long puzzled over whether literary fiction is of any use to the remnant of believers in the world. Of course, most of the Western canon is essentially Christian; you can’t get anywhere in a lit course without some basic familiarity with the Bible. But many of today’s stories seem postmodern, remaining thematically ambiguous and unresolved. Even so, stories remain one of our surest avenues for (something like) transcendence.

    Good fiction describes the reality of everyday life—describes, in the words of Flannery O’Conner, “what is.” But for many Christians this seems too earthly a goal. Where have the symbolic references to Calvary gone? How long do we wait for this character’s redemption? Good stories are not always innocent or sentimental, nor necessarily redemptive. O’Connor, a Catholic herself, seemed just fine with this: “We lost our innocence in the Fall,” she writes plainly, “and our return to it is through the Redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite.” Oof!

    During this breakout session, we’ll spend some time looking at the work of 3 contemporary writers—Denis Johnson, George Saunders, and Ottessa Moshfegh—who I haven’t been able to get out of my head this year. Their stories relate, sometimes brutally, sometimes humorously, “what is.” These writers are not Christians (actually one of them is), but they nevertheless “reinforce our sense of the supernatural by grounding it in concrete, observable reality” (O’Connor). These stories poke fun at the absurdity of our everyday reality and illuminate our desperate need for a life after life. My hope is that their words will help us put some fresh “skin on the bones” of the Christian message (in the words of John Zahl). It should be fun and maybe a little weird! Hope to see ya there.

    Click here to register for the upcoming Mockingbird conference in NYC! And check out the incredible line-up of speakers here.

    Ted Bundy and Me: The Slow-Going Power of Love and the Myth of the Psychopath

    Ted Bundy and Me: The Slow-Going Power of Love and the Myth of the Psychopath

    Recently a friend told me I looked like a serial killer but “in a good way.”

    I said there is no good way to look like a serial killer.

    He said, “Oh but there is. Remember that one guy…? The one who didn’t look scary at all?”

    He was referring to Ted Bundy. For the record, I do not look like Ted Bundy, but it was an interesting point of coincidence, because I had just finished reading a massive, totally engrossing article about him. It’s called, “The End of Evil: America’s Most Famous Serial Killer and the Myth of the Psychopath,” by Sarah…

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    Another Week Ends: The Book of Life, Tribal Culture, Seasonal Depression, A Wrinkle in Time, Sister Jean's Prayers, David Attenborough's Horror, and Mason Pryor's Second Chance

    Another Week Ends: The Book of Life, Tribal Culture, Seasonal Depression, A Wrinkle in Time, Sister Jean’s Prayers, David Attenborough’s Horror, and Mason Pryor’s Second Chance

    1. Let’s begin with a couple links to Alain de Botton’s (wellspring of a) website, The Book of Life. The first is about the importance of confession. A traditionally Christian practice, confession remains as necessary in 2018 as it ever was (ht JB):

    …many of us feel like very bad people and have certainly done and thought some pretty odd things. But we are not, on that score, abnormal or beyond forgiveness, redemption and understanding. We are just operating with an overly narrow conception of normality and a desperately punitive idea of what is permissible… We need the opportunity to let another…

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    Lessons from the Mid-Lent Slump

    Lessons from the Mid-Lent Slump

    This year for Lent, I decided not to get crazy. In the past, especially as a kid, I’d sometimes give up three things at once, candy, my Gameboy, and fun in general. In the absence of those worldly distractions, I’d take up the terribly sanctified tendency of comparing and contrasting my virtue against my brother’s: “Mom, he’s playing Backyard Baseball, again…”

    This year, none of that. I wanted to do something low-key. I wanted to spend a little time every morning praying. And not for any reason other than that, even now, that just sounds like a really nice way to…

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    Another Week Ends: Kevin Love, Self-Awareness, Addiction and Morality, Super Important Longreads, Fake News, and the City of God

    Another Week Ends: Kevin Love, Self-Awareness, Addiction and Morality, Super Important Longreads, Fake News, and the City of God

    1. Lots to talk about this week! First, a profound confessional from the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love, in which he describes the life-changing experience of a panic attack (mid-game!) and the importance of asking for help. “Everyone Is Going Through Something”:

    Growing up, you figure out really quickly how a boy is supposed to act. You learn what it takes to “be a man.” It’s like a playbook: Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own… So for 29 years, I thought about mental health as someone else’s problem. Sure, I knew on some level that some…

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    Peace/Love/Elvis: The Death of Ambition, and Also of Denis Johnson

    Peace/Love/Elvis: The Death of Ambition, and Also of Denis Johnson

    It’s hard to say exactly when the plummet of Elvis Presley began. Some say in the late 60s, some say the early 70s. Some might say as early as 1958, when he was drafted into the Army. In any case, there’s no denying the devilish phase of physical and mental deterioration which carried him to his death, at age 42, in 1977. The last thing the King saw in this world was the cold tile, probably, of his bathroom wall.

    During the height of his career, Elvis seemed a different man, if even a man he was. I need not say…

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    Another Week Ends: Pyeongchang and Pardons, Parrothead Existentialism, Monopoly for Cheaters, Solitude vs. Loneliness, Aunt Lucy's Love, and More Recovery

    Another Week Ends: Pyeongchang and Pardons, Parrothead Existentialism, Monopoly for Cheaters, Solitude vs. Loneliness, Aunt Lucy’s Love, and More Recovery

    1. With the Olympics now underway in Pyeongchang, let’s begin with a powerful piece that looks back at the 1988 Games in Seoul and the deadly attempt, by the Kim Il Sung regime, to prevent them. 115 people were killed at the hands of elite agent, Kim Hyon-hui, a young woman who been “groomed” as a North Korean “warrior.”

    Yet thirty years later, after her arrest and subsequent pardoning, she now lives a quite different life:

    Kim’s life speaks to the disorienting contrasts on the Korean Peninsula, where the Olympics can be peaceful or deadly, unifying or dividing, and where a terrorist can…

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    Something Major Has Gone Wrong Here: Why Alain de Botton Loves the Concept of Original Sin

    A quick excerpt from a recent interview with School of Life founder Alain de Botton in the current Believer. Here, de Botton defends the concept of original sin as the starting point for functional relationships:

    BLVR: Did you grow up atheist?

    ADB: I grew up totally atheist… Christians were a naive lot who had sort of fallen for Jesus. They were sentimental, they were too emotional… It was all very tribal and just ridiculous in a way. But that was the ideology I grew up with. And now I’m very interested in Christian vulnerability, the taboo. So I spend quite a lot of time discussing that, you know… I love the concept of original sin, the idea that we’re all fundamentally broken and fundamentally incomplete. 

    BLVR: Why do you love that idea?

    ADB: Because it seems to be such a useful starting point. You know, if you imagine a relationship in which two people think they’re great—you know, perfect—that’s going to lead to intolerance and terrible disappointment when they realize that they’re not great, they’re not perfect. Whereas imagine a relationship that begins under the idea that two people are quite broken and therefore they need forgiveness from the other and they need to apply charity to the other and they need to forgive the other, and so that seems a much better starting point. I like these descriptions of human beings as being really quite flawed and crazy and out of control and you find that in Buddhism and Judaism and Christianity. The human being is presented as a very fragile, sort of broken creature. And I like that. It’s a good starting point and also it feels true to my experience.

    BLVR: How are you defining broken?

    ADB: By broken I mean “not quite right.” And that could mean so many different things but it could mean “with a great tendency to anxiety,” say, or “with a great tendency toward despair,” say, or “with a tendency to panic.” Any of these fundamental dispositions toward low self-esteem or whatever it is; many of us have a background of ways in which we’re not quite right.

    BLVR: That’s all of us.

    ADB: Yes, all of us. So that’s why the concept of original sin seems so plausible and applicable and also kind, because it basically says, Look, when you meet someone new, don’t just look for the positives; just assume that something major has gone wrong here. Treat everybody you meet as though they were laboring under some really big problem, basically. That’s the starting point of any encounter. Rather than how great are they, it’s more like, OK, where’s the broken bit of them? That’s a much kinder and more interesting way of getting to know someone. And also to say, That’s the bit of you I’m actually interested in. Like, I don’t really want to hear—that’s fantastic that you’ve been promoted, and you know that’s great, but, like, I don’t think that’s where your real self is.

    Kinda reminds me of a line from Grace in Practice“Once the grievous nuance and unplumbable depth of the psyche were named, the power of the absolution could rise to the occasion. Once the total depravity of original sin was out of the closet, then the magnificent response latent within the grace of God in the cross of Christ could be portrayed. It could be displayed for people to see.”

    Step Back From That Ledge? Outdoor Activity, 'the Progression Mindset,' and the Pressure of Experience

    Step Back From That Ledge? Outdoor Activity, ‘the Progression Mindset,’ and the Pressure of Experience

    Imagine you’re on a hike. (Where I live, everyone loves to hike.) Imagine you’re out in the woods, and you’ve been on the trail for hours, going steadily uphill, stepping carefully over rocks and slippery wet roots. By the time you reach the summit, you’ve eaten all your snacks, drunk most of your water, and rolled your ankle once or twice. But you’re there! You’ve made it. And you’re enjoying the view when suddenly you notice, in the distance, another peak, just slightly higher than the one you’re on.

    It turns out you haven’t reached the summit. That’s another mile along….

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    Another Week Ends: The Loneliness Minister,  Divine Retribution, Sexual Misery, Lighthearted Poetry, Smart Pills, Astrology in the App Age, and David Bentley Hart's Grocery List

    Another Week Ends: The Loneliness Minister, Divine Retribution, Sexual Misery, Lighthearted Poetry, Smart Pills, Astrology in the App Age, and David Bentley Hart’s Grocery List

    1. This week brought some good news from the Old Country… In response to the increasingly acknowledged correlation between loneliness and physical deterioration/illness, the UK has appointed a minister for loneliness. I don’t know about you guys but, having grown up with a deep-seated appreciation for self-reliance, I couldn’t help getting a little smirky at this headline. But then, you can’t deny the humility in play here. Publicly admitting that not only is loneliness a legitimate problem but also that an entire nation is dangerously affected by it? That’s a pretty powerful admission of human need—which is in no way specifically…

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