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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 […]

Connection

For 30 years, I have designed places for people to live when they are at the edge of coping. When creating anything, knowing those who will use the creation makes the creation better. This year, I have been part of an effort to make a safe harbor for the young who are lost. Listening to […]

A Grave Hope

And if life is a miraculous opening, why cannot death be a miraculous opening also? — Brian Doyle 1 In Acts 7:16, readers are told that the bodies of Jacob and his twelve sons were brought back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the […]

The Holidays Are Upon Us!

This one comes to us from Jesse Pirschel. The holidays are upon us! When I say “upon us,” I mean it in the same sense as “the Philistines are upon us!” The Thanksgiving feast has just wound down and people are busily replacing their faux fall foliage with evergreens and twinkling lights. Ready or not, […]

What Could Be Creepier

This one comes to us from Juliette Alvey. I could never be a hunter. This is not a moral judgment but rather a statement about my squeamishness. I was just driving home and saw a raccoon get hit by the car in front of me. I felt my gut wrench as the animal lay still […]

All Hallows Eve Is for Sufferers

“The harvest was in, the summer done, the world brown and drab and mindful of death. Snow had not yet descended to comfort and hide the bony trees or blackened fields; so with little effort man could look about and see a meditation on death and life hereafter… The vigil for the souls, as well […]

Tom King’s Pen: a Gavel and a Sanctuary

This one comes to us from Blake Nail. Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a man with superpowers, a closet full of skeletons, a chest constricted by anxieties, and a diagnosis of PTSD, all from saving the world! Whether we’re stuck on a hurtling train with the brakes cut, […]