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Literature

Char and Steph Wander the Desert: A Flashback to Ancient Israel

Char and Steph Wander the Desert: A Flashback to Ancient Israel

The following play — a precious relic from ancient Israel — tells the untold story of motherhood in Exodus. It was published in Mockingbird’s latest book, Unmapped, a memoir duet about spirituality, family, and finding home in unexpected exile. This is Act I of IV:

Char and Steph Wander the Desert
A Play by Charlotte Getz and Stephanie Phillips
ACT I

CHAR and STEPH, two young-ish Hebrew women, work side-by-side in a field making bricks out of clay and straw. They are just two women amongst thousands, and the sun beats down on them all without a trace of shade in sight.

CHAR (wipes…

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Sleeping the Pain Away: A Young Woman Takes a Chill Pill in "My Year of Rest and Relaxation"

Sleeping the Pain Away: A Young Woman Takes a Chill Pill in “My Year of Rest and Relaxation”

When asked about her favorite holiday, writer Ottessa Moshfegh says, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been on holiday…?” And then laughs.

On the one hand, I suppose she could be speaking literally. But I take the above response as an invitation, a question: Do human beings ever really relax? After all, we never catch a break from the predominant source of our exhaustion: us.

This points to the central conflict in Moshfegh’s haunting (and darkly funny) new book My Year of Rest and Relaxation, which reviewers have called “the finest existential novel not written by a French author.” (It’s already been optioned…

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The Apostles' Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism

The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism

I always judge books by their covers. In part, this habit is a terrible prejudice, but I also think it’s a useful way of deciding how to use limited time on an unlimited supply of books. Thankfully, Lexham Press crafted a beautiful design for their recent book The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. It’s the first in their “Christian Essentials” series, set to cover the Ten Commandments, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Prayer, and corporate worship.

In this book, form and content match beautifully. The design, which merges traditional iconography and contemporary minimalism, reflects the…

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On Praying in the Bathroom, and Giving Up on Self-Control

On Praying in the Bathroom, and Giving Up on Self-Control

Leslie Jamison’s book The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath uses a broad scope of material to construct the experience of addiction and attempts at recovery: through personal memoir, research into historical figures, and reflection on the methods and theories associated with treating substance abuse. There are many, many reasons to read this book, and none of them are explicitly prescriptive. Instead, Jamison ends up talking a lot about her experience with alcoholism, and gently exploits the memoir genre to create a case which is so intimate with her own reality that it will not leave its readers alone after they…

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Lord, I Was Faithless – Mary Karr

Another wonderful poem from Mary Karr’s newest collection Tropic of Squalor:

Lord, I Was Faithless

I murdered you early, Father
My disbelief was an ice pick plunged
In mine own third eye

Like damned Oedipus
Whose sight could not stand
What his hand had done

And I—whose chief grumble
Was my kidhood (whose torments
Did fill many profitable volumes)

Refused your pedigree
I revised myself into a bastard
Orphan rather than serve

Like a poppet at your caprice
One among many numbered
To live size extra small

Whole years I lost in the kingdom
Of mine own skull
With my scepter the remote

I sat enthroned in a La-Z-Boy
Watching dramas I controlled
Only the volume on

I was a poor death’s head then
In my hook-rug empire
With snowflakes of paper

My favorite button is power

PZ's Podcast: The Spider and the Fly

PZ’s Podcast: The Spider and the Fly

EPISODE 251

Benjamin Britten’s ‘Spider and the Fly’ number from his Suite for “Johnson over Jordan”, by J.B. Priestley, takes you by surprise. It sounds like Gershwin at the start, then becomes a kind of danse, and is ultimately sinister. The composer meant it like that, for he was drawn to Priestley’s play because it concerns life after death; and Britten was interested in life after death during this period of his career.

Priestley broke an English taboo, you might say — but it’s a taboo in our country, also, in practice — in his 1939 reflection on purgatory, and salvation, which…

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Negative Grace: Eliot's Dark Gospel

Negative Grace: Eliot’s Dark Gospel

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror…

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For the Record: Summer Reading (From the Humor Issue)

For the Record: Summer Reading (From the Humor Issue)

Here’s to hoping there’s a beach in your future, or some other cosy spot to kick up your feet and soak in a good book. Below, you’ll find staff picks for this summer, taken from the recently released Humor Issue.

On Our Bookshelf

Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved) by Kate Bowler

After having her first child and landing her dream teaching gig, Kate Bowler found out, at the age of 35, that she had stage IV colon cancer. Since then, she has had to live life in 3 month increments between treatments and scans, in the presence of…

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The Only Available Candidates for Holy Matrimony

The Only Available Candidates for Holy Matrimony

Well, it’s wedding season here in Charlottesville, VA, which is as good a time as any to share some marital non-advice from the late priest-chef-writer Robert Farrar Capon. The following excerpt is taken from his seminal work, originally published in the 60s, Bed & Board: Plain Talk About Marriage (ht AM). 

A man and a woman schooled in pride cannot simply sit down together and start caring. It takes humility to look wide-eyed at somebody else, to praise, to cherish, to honor. They will have to acquire some before they can succeed. For as long as it lasts, of course, the first…

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Lex Semper Accusat

Lex Semper Accusat

The following is excerpted from Mockingbird’s Law & Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints). 

If the law were simply a matter of doing or not doing, commission or omission, we might reasonably imagine we have a shot at keeping it. And sometimes the echoes of law we hear in society are strictly behavioral. Not so with the Law of God. It goes a step further. Christ himself applies the divine ordinance to motivation as well as action. In the Sermon on the Mount, instead of simply prohibiting acts of murder, he prohibits thoughts of murder. Later on he tells us…

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The Like Button – Mary Karr

From Tropic of Squalor, the latest collection of poems by former Mockingbird conference speaker Mary Karr.

The Like Button

Back in the before time
those days of amber
desire was an inner
and often ugly thing.
And if we wanted,
my brothers and hungry
sisters, we were oft flung
far from each other. Think
tin-cans-and-string far,
plum-colored-smoke-signal
far. No web wove the pinpoints
of ourselves into a map. No
upward thumb could be pressed
to say yes or its detractor: no.
Soon, we may each evolve
a glow button maybe mid brow,
so as we pass each other we can vote
praise or scorn to light up yay
or nay on a passing stranger’s face
a thumb. At first the young celebs
with asses you can serve drinks off
will rack up zillions of votes
till we tire of such bodacious butts,
and then the smart, the brave,
the strong will take their turns,
but what if we start to like,
say, the stout, the schlubby
neighbor raking leaves or that
subway sleeper who’s woven
yellow crime scene tape into
a jock strap—Police Line: Do
Not Cross—till all the undeodorized,
the unloved all their lives, start to feel
their foreheads blip
and blip as it becomes hip
to love the oddest, the most
perilously lonely. Imagine
the forever dispossessed
transforming as they feel the thumb
of yes impress itself
into the very flesh.

Reckless Love: Sometimes Mercy is Uncomfortable

Reckless Love: Sometimes Mercy is Uncomfortable

Our friend/favorite/conference speaker John Newton’s newest book Reckless Love: The Scandal of Grace in a Performance-Driven World puts at odds the reality of the grace we receive daily with the ways we think grace is supposed to work. Instead of something given in return for our own goodness, grace can cause outrage by the abundance with which God gives it and in the way that he “refuses to love selectively.”

Read an excerpt below:

The tax collector and all the other disreputable types in the Gospels loved Jesus’s program of forgiveness. It was the religious establishment that gave Jesus pushback. Forgiveness struck…

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