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Sitting Shiva for Kobe: On the Complicated Nature of Grief, and Humans

If there’s anything the movie This Is Where I Leave You taught me — besides that Tina Fey should not do accents — it’s about shiva, the Jewish tradition in response to the death of an immediate family member. I’d heard of shiva before but for the first time saw it dramatized in the film, […]

The Body and the Coffin

This one comes to us from Kurt Armstrong. A few years ago I built a coffin for my father-in-law Walter. I made it with oak plywood, the oak a nice veneer, the plywood strong and stable so it wouldn’t warp or twist or cup. I built it, stained it, and varnished it, and I kept […]

Because It Rains: Why Kobe Bryant’s Death Hit So Hard & Wide

The following was written by Isabella Yosuico. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:45) Why has a death like that of Kobe Bryant—and his daughter and companions—hit so many so very hard? Even non-basketball fans have been […]

When Atheists Have More Faith Than You Do

Harold Braswell grew up a nice atheist Jew. Then, he researched hospices, and he started to ponder Jesus. The hospice he studied was Our Lady of Help in Atlanta, a free Roman Catholic facility for those who are dying but can’t care for themselves at home. The Dominican nuns there offer extraordinary service, and the […]

My Sober Mid-Thirties and the Etymology of Nothing

If you’d asked me as a teenager what my life would look like by my mid-thirties, I would have painted the most thrilling picture. There would be spotlights, awards shows, dreamy husbands, kids if I felt like it, adventure, and minutes and days just bursting with outrageous abundance. Let me acknowledge what you pseudo-psychology nerds […]

The Sins of our Fathers: Disease and Low Anthropology

Dr. Gabor Maté’s When the Body Says No was published 15 years ago, when I was in 7th grade (sorry boomers). At that point in my life, I had given my childhood very little critical thought, except that I should for sure have a later bedtime. In my mid-twenties, I find myself thinking about my […]

When Christmas Looks Like Easter: Reflections from the First 72 Hours of Processing Grief

On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth… – Isaiah 25:7-8 No one’s ever really gone – Luke Skywalker On Christmas Eve, my Dad slipped into a […]

When Your Theology of Pain Is Painfully Bad

All too often have I heard — and thought myself — that from a Christian perspective suffering is the doorway to new life and to freedom, even that suffering is good. Even that it is beautiful. Yet as Kate Bowler and others have so eloquently pointed out, this concept seems misguided at best — though […]

The World Is Always Burning

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” – Frederick Buechner Warning: extremely first world problems dissected ahead. Sydney is burning. And I don’t like my house. These problems are not equal, but they are both real. The rest of the world has finally caught on to what people 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 […]

The Weight of Advent: Speak What You Feel, Not What You Ought to Say

As Black Friday reaches further back in time each year, so as to even colonize the twilight hours of Thanksgiving Day, we in North America are no strangers to the porousness of time. Commercial interests can collapse chronology such that two times can overlap in a way purely linear calendar time can’t countenance; we can […]