1. A nice change of pace this week, with not one but two stories of grace to get the tear ducts working. First, via The NY Times Magazine, lawyer and writer Bryan Stephenson recalls “The Man on Death Row Who Changed Me”. During law school, Stephenson was asked to visit an inmate on death row, to inform the prisoner that a ‘real’ lawyer had yet to be assigned his case. Bryan arrives feeling unprepared and nervous about delivering what he assumes to be bad news. To say that the condemned man’s response takes him aback would be an understatement:

The power of Christ compels you (to click on this link)!

The power of Christ compels you (to click on this link and order our new issue)!

“It’s O.K., Bryan,” he said. “Don’t worry about this. Just come back and see me again, O.K.?”

I struggled to say something appropriate, something reassuring. He looked at me and smiled. Then he did something completely unexpected. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back. I was confused, but then he opened his mouth, and I understood. He had a tremendous baritone that was strong and clear.

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on heaven’s tableland;
A higher plane than I have found,
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

It was an old hymn they used to sing all the time in church where I grew up. I hadn’t heard it in years. Because his ankles were shackled and his hands were locked behind his back, he almost stumbled when the guard shoved him forward. But he kept on singing.

His voice was filled with desire. I had come into the prison with such anxiety and fear about his willingness to tolerate my inadequacy. I didn’t expect him to be compassionate or generous. I had no right to expect anything from a condemned man on death row. But that day, I could hear him as he went down the hall, until the echo of his earnest, soaring voice faded. When it had gone, the still silence of that space sounded different from when I entered. Even today, after 30 years of defending death-row prisoners, I still hear him.

2. Next, The Washington Post profiled the extraordinary L’Arche community near DC, where intellectually disabled “core members” live together with non-disabled “assistants”. (Henri Nouwen lived at a L’Arche center for the final ten years of his life). The article, written by Michael Gerson, underlines the difference between efficiency and, well, grace, a powerful illustration of what it looks like to be loved apart from our attributes or capabilities or whatever we think we ‘bring to the table’, ht AW:

-1The prevailing professional model of social services involves the setting of emotional boundaries. L’Arche exists to cross those boundaries — to strive for a friendship of equals. The saintly founder of L’Arche, Jean Vanier, argues that generosity is offered from a position of power. True communion, in contrast, involves the loss of power and a willingness to be “transformed by weakness.” Assistants approach core members as teachers. The result is a deeper, riskier relationship…

Some volunteers burn out. More typically, however, assistants report being stripped down to emotional essentials and opened to something larger. “My job, what I make, meant nothing to her,” says one assistant of her core member. “She loved me, without any accomplishments, without anything I thought made me lovable. It is how God loves me.”

This small community accomplishes many outsize things. It vindicates the ideal of human dignity, which does not depend on normal measures of human accomplishment. It lays bare the illusion that ability means superiority. It displays the lavishness of grace, which, in Christian theology, is needed by and granted to us all.

3. On a less heartening note, Christianity Today reports on new poll which shows some alarming if unsurprising trends among evangelicals, even widely embraced heresies. Just when we were beginning to feel bad about possibly caricaturing American Semi-Pelagianism…, ht JD:


4. If that’s not scary enough for you on Halloween, Slate compiled an incredible (and frankly quite horrifying) slide show of America’s Spookiest Homes, as photographed by Seph Lawless. The Oliver Family Mansion may be the winner.

5. While we’re on the subject, Stephen King talked about evil and God and original sin (and, tangentially, recovery) in an interview with The Guardian about his new book, Revival, which has a Methodist minister as its protagonist. The plot sounds more than a little autobiographical, given the fact that King himself backed off religious themes quite dramatically following his 1999 accident. But considering the affirmation of the divine he gives The Guardian, I’m curious to read Revival (an excerpt of which available on Rolling Stone).

6. Real Clear Religion’s article on “The Faith of Andy Warhol” was definitely news to me, ht WM:

Warhol is associated with irony, disco, Pop Art paintings of everyday objects like Campbell’s soup cans, and cool. But he never lost the faith. Even during his high-flying Studio-54 days, Warhol would appear at Mass at St. Vincent Ferrer several mornings a week — and as a volunteer at soup kitchens. When his mother moved to New York to live with him, Warhol would warn visiting guests not to curse. Warhol also paid for his nephew to go through seminary and become a priest.

A good, if rare, overview of Warhol’s faith is Jane Daggett Dillenberger’s book The Religious Art of Andy Warhol. There is an entire section dedicated to the over one hundred drawings Warhol made of the Last Supper. When Warhol died in 1987, his eulogist John Richardson said that there were “two Andy Warhols” — the whimsical Pop Art celebrity and the shy and pious Christian.


7. Humor: Jacqueline Wilson’s “Halloween for Kids in the 70s vs. Halloween Today” made this parent chuckle quite a bit. But the video at the very bottom of this post gave me the straight-up giggles, something fierce.

8. Social Science Study of The Week comes to us from The Pacific Standard: “Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves”, ht TB:

A new study suggests it’s because the rumors, innuendo, and hearsay are ultimately all about us—where we rate in the unofficial local hierarchy, and how we might improve our standing. “Gossip recipients tend to use positive and negative group information to improve, promote, and protect the self,” writes a research team led by Elena Martinescu of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. “Individuals need evaluative information about others to evaluate themselves.”

Runner up would have to be The Atlantic’s report on “Just Looking at Cash Makes People Selfish and Less Social”.

9. Finally, in Music, The A/V Club has run primers for three Mbird faves in the past couple months, Fleetwood Mac, The Beach Boys, and Alex Chilton, always fun to read. Elsewhere, Springsteen fessed up to the Flannery influence, big time. If you’re in need of some creepy music tonight, look no further than “100 Greatest Horror Soundtracks”, ht JF. Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan’s new Bazan Monthly project is pretty rad. And last but certainly not least, Belle and Sebastian released the first single from their forthcoming LP, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, “The Party Line”: