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Literature


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 […]

“First Coming”, by Madeleine L’Engle

From The Ordering of Love: The New and Collected Poems of Madeleine L’Engle:

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.

He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he cameto a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Grace at SantaLand: Why David Sedaris Is My Favorite Advent Reading

This one was written by Jonathan Sanchez. It’s a bit of a weird choice for an Advent meditation, I’ll admit–the last entry of “SantaLand Diaries” by David Sedaris. Honestly, though, I’ve read those two pages so many times, I know them by heart. In the great Christmas stories, there’s a lot of dark stuff. Scrooge […]