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Literature


The Absurdity of Death: A Lenten Reflection on Camus

I both love and am unsettled by Lent. This season of the church calendar has always felt especially “real,” or maybe “lived-in” to me. I don’t really know the right language to describe it. But where Christmas and Advent quickly become enmeshed in joyful-but-confusing commercialization, and Easter culturally comes and goes over the course of […]

Reasonable Access

I shared a version of these words at the inaugural Mockingbird Dallas event on March 7, 2020. Major thanks to all who came and helped pull it off. Have you ever played the children’s card game “Concentration”? You have all these facedown cards randomly distributed, and you turn over two at a time looking for […]

The Mindset of Paradise Is Grace: What I Learned from Satan

“Me miserable! which way shall I fly Infinite wrath, and infinite despair? Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell … as far From granting he, as I from begging, peace; All hope excluded thus, behold, in stead Mankind created, and for him this world. So farewell, hope; and with hope farewell, fear; Farewell, […]

The Trial of Atticus Finch: Aaron Sorkin’s To Kill a Mockingbird

It’s a common complaint of fans that adaptations aren’t really as good as the books. Not everything in a novel can make it into a film. Themes, characters, and scenes are inevitably cut for the sake of running time. Even still, I didn’t expect the Broadway remake of To Kill a Mockingbird to be such […]

Leslie Jamison on Grace Without a Backstory

“This is the story of a layover. Who tells that story? I’m telling it to you now. One January evening, my flight got delayed out of Louisiana, where I’d been talking to people about their past lives, and I missed my connection in Houston. I had a night there. Trying to have a travel experience […]

Just Getting By, but Decadently: Christian Wiman’s Survival Is a Style

“In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing.” – Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest Camp is not the obvious center in Christian Wiman’s new book of poems. But given his title’s invocation of affectation — Survival Is a Style — and given that camp is the supreme aesthetic (obviously), it […]

On Cruciform Lightsabers and the Two Deaths of Kylo Ren

I spend a lot of my life thinking about stories. I teach stories, I read stories, and I write about stories. Welcome to the life of an English major, kids, there’s hope for you yet. One of the greatest gifts of Christmas (other than the birth of a Savior) is time. The first semester of […]

Twenty-Five Picture Books for Grown-Ups

Grateful to Mandy Smith for compiling this. “You must never illustrate exactly what is written. You must find a space in the text so that the pictures can do the work.” – Maurice Sendak It’s said that medieval churches had stained glass windows for the illiterate masses. But I’m starting to think that, even in […]

The Top Theology Books of 2019

Farewell 2019! Lots to love about the books that came out this past year. Several of these are instant classics I’ll be paging through for years to come! As always, feel free to let me know in the comments if I’ve missed a deserving book! I’m always on the hunt for a good read… In […]

Gravy: A Prayer for You at Year’s End

I preached a funeral for a friend a few weeks back — ironically, a day before Thanksgiving. I was under strict instructions not to speak the name of the disease that had ended her earthly life (hint: it starts with “c”; a six-letter word that acts more like a four-letter word). I couldn’t ignore that word’s presence altogether, since it had surely been a contributing writer on the screenplay of her life. But I never uttered the word and did my best to give Jesus top billing.

Raymond Carver managed to accomplish something similar in one of his final poems, “Gravy.” He looked back over the last sober decade – the love he experienced from Tess Gallagher, the vital work of writing and teaching and living. It is a mere 125 words. And not to nag you like your 10th grade English teacher or anything, but I do believe it would reward the time you spend reading it:

“Gravy” by Raymond Carver

No other word will do. For that’s what it was.
Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. “Don’t weep for me,”
he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure Gravy. And don’t forget it.

May I pray this prayer for us?

Lord Jesus, another year is gone, and only you know what awaits us. For those things we fear are “building up” and “breaking down,” we pray for healing and endurance in the days to come. And as we reflect on 2019, Lord, focus our minds on the gravy — the moments we weren’t promised, the work that kept us “alive,” the remarkable disasters we mysteriously avoided, and most importantly, the grace that raised us up when we were “going nowhere but down.”

Gravy. Pure gravy. Please pass the gravy. Amen.

Cautiously Postmodern White Trash: The Resurrection of Larry Brown

The canon of Southern literature is sprawling and intimidating. Larry Brown was aware. A fireman and lifelong Mississippian, Brown is probably best-known for his determination to become a writer; following that, his success at it. Though the road was “long and rough,” he published many stories, novels, and one memoir, until his untimely death at […]

Mockingbird’s Favorite Books (2010-2019)

When I set out to assemble a Mockingbird-themed end-of-decade books list, some guiding measures came into focus. We decided to stay away from books that came from our own imprint — of which many made a good splash this decade. Notably, ten years is a long time — so this is a long list! But […]