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Grace in Practice


Good Hair, Grace, and a Better Image

In October of this year, Paragon Charter Academy in Michigan informed the parents of 8-year-old Marian Scott that her red extensions precluded her from participating in picture day. According to the school’s official policy, students should only wear natural hair tones in order to have their photos taken. Marian’s style violated more than school policy, […]

The Quiet Dances and Grace in Jojo Rabbit

This review was written by Bryant Trinh. Loud and rambunctious: a couple words that might describe the trailer for Taika Waititi’s satirical new film Jojo Rabbit. We might also add to those: crass, audacious, daring. After the release of Joker a couple weeks prior, the world needed a film that would be a little more […]

The Parable of the Pop Quiz

There once was a Chaplain who worked at a school in Virginia. As part of his work, he taught a course in Comparative Religion to high school seniors. His class was made up of students from around the world with varying religious and non-religious backgrounds. Given one semester to cover the major world religions, he had […]

Classic Jazz, Pinot Noir, and Law/Gospel Couplets

He had ice water, I had the remnants of a large bottle of pinot noir. We clinked cup and bottle in a toast. He had been invited into the fellowship of the fellas — my exclusive man-cave or rather man-dungeon (I’m poor after all). It had been a long weekend filled with parental demands and […]

PZ’s Podcast: Achilles Heel; They Came from Beyond Space; Listen to the Music; Sine Qua Non; and Julie, Do You Love Me

Episode 283: Achilles Heel It seems that human nature, or rather, one’s understanding of human nature, is the Achilles Heel of theology — and philosophy, too — throughout the “Spin-Me-Round” (Dead or Alive, 1985) of cyclical human history and cyclical failed answers to the problem of being human. If you have a high doctrine of […]

You Don’t Know Me, Fred Rogers

As a Generation X child who grew up with a stay-at-home mom in the upper Midwest, it was almost mandatory that my younger brother and I watched Sesame Street during lunch, and then afterward, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I know exactly what my mom was thinking, putting two preschoolers in front of the television like that […]

Creedal Faith in the Age of Seculosity – David Zahl

Here’s the video of my recent talk from the HWSS Conference in San Diego, which marked the debut of (the rough version of) The Seculosity Creed. I highly doubt I’ll ever make people laugh this hard again–and that’s probably a good thing. Many thanks to the good folks at 1517 for allowing me the opportunity to poke fun.

Creedal Faith in the Age of Seculosity: Dave Zahl from 1517 on Vimeo.

Inherited Sin and Family Secrets: A Review of Nora Krug’s Belonging

My husband, overwhelmed by the news cycle a few years ago, re-subscribed to Ancestry.com. We call it “social media for dead people.” He will tell anyone who asks how interesting this has been for him. He will also tell you that if you are interested in researching your own family histories, you should beware that […]

Another Week Ends: Time-Wasting Projects, Serotonin, Destination Funerals, the Hope of Children, the Languages of Love, and Jesus is King

1. Ear Hustle is a podcast about incarceration. It shares stories about life in San Quentin prison and the reintegration into life that follows a sentence there. The final episode of the recent fourth season is a hard story of reconciliation between a police officer and the man who shot him and went to jail […]

Marriage Tips from SeaWorld

I’ll admit it — my first read of this article caused me to conjure up a pretty unattractive picture of myself. I, the seal, clapping my fins together, while my wife stands at the edge of the pool, poised to drop a fish in my mouth. But when I read a second time Amy Sutherland’s […]

Text Message for the Otherworld

When I was in school, Facebook was young. One evening, I saw a dead classmate’s profile, his picture featured on the sidebar, a recommended friend. I spent the next hours perusing the status updates he had posted when he did not realize his days were numbered. For anyone wondering, now Facebook has an answer for […]

Not a Product of Narrative or Moral Cause-and-Effect

This is too fabulous to bury in a weekender, the conversation between poet Kaveh Akbar and essayist (and 2019 Mbird Conference speaker!) Leslie Jamison, published last week on The Paris Review. The occasion for the interchange is the release of Jamison’s new collection Make It Scream, Make It Burn, which also contains a version of the essay she read at our conference. No, er, surprise but fresh language for our favorite subject abounds:

AKBAR

Can we begin by talking about grace? One of the things I’m most drawn to in the book, and in your work more broadly, is the steady orbit you make around the idea of grace. There’s a moment in one of the early essays in this collection where you crystallize it, writing: “The definition of grace is that it’s not deserved.” I have been grappling with this idea in my own life, the notion that if I’m capable of doling out grace only to those obviously deserving of it, it isn’t grace exactly. It’s kindness or it’s pity or it’s maybe even just propriety. What is grace to you? And what can it do?

JAMISON

Starting with grace is like diving into the deep end of the swimming pool—so much better than slowly lowering each inch of thigh down the steps in the shallow end. Or maybe it’s really like diving into the deep end of an infinity pool, where you come up to the edge and see that below is a more infinite body of water than the one you’re swimming in. Which is part of what grace means to me, you feel the world get larger around you, feel yourself get smaller within it. And the world can get large around you in so many ways. As a bespoke digital wonderland, as the infinite hall of mirrors of your prior lives, as a big blue whale large enough to swallow us all. All of these things—mythic whales, past lives, digital waterslides—can be sources of grace. The vending machine of grace is vast and it never gives you exactly what you asked for. And that means we have to pay attention, because we’re not always aware that grace has arrived. As you wrote, “I live in the gulf / between what I’ve been given / and what I’ve received.”

It makes me think of a beautiful sentiment I once heard from a stranger, Sometimes the solution has nothing to do with the problem. I think surprise is an important part of grace. You thought you wanted cookies, but you really needed seltzer. Grace isn’t the thing you planned, it’s what you get instead. Which is maybe connected to the ways you and I want to uncouple it from a sense of contingency or deserving it. It’s not a product of narrative or moral cause-and-effect. It catches you off guard…

Surprise is sometimes my working definition of God. Or grace.