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The Death of Control

The Death of Control

My wife has one unrelenting addiction: “Jeopardy!” If there is time, she will watch, and if I am there, I will sit through it. In his 35 years on the syndicated nightly show, Alex Trebek has become an icon. His hushed superiority, muffled humor, and obvious judgments of the players and the game are, now, […]

The Boy Who Lived: A Tribute to My First Reading of the <i>Harry Potter</i> Series

The Boy Who Lived: A Tribute to My First Reading of the Harry Potter Series

Spoilers! (But I might be last person who would have needed that warning.) I closed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and sat frozen in place. The weight in my chest slowly subsided as tears continued to stream down my face. I couldn’t quite figure out what to do next. The reality sunk in that […]

The Ash Wednesday Immortality Bus

The Ash Wednesday Immortality Bus

From our archives, the following piece by Ethan Richardson was originally published in 2017 — but the Immortality Bus is ageless. Buckle up… There was a dark horse in the 2016 presidential campaign that you missed. And what a shame! This gentleman really promised to turn things around, in ways no one else was talking about. […]

I Am Not Karl Lagerfeld

I Am Not Karl Lagerfeld

A man who designed things died this week, but what ended was his central, lifelong design: himself. I design things every day, but I am completely clueless about my own design. Death imposes reflection on us, whether we like it or not. So when I see a person pass away who was virtually a cartoon of […]

MORE LIFE: Blessings and a Guilty God in <i>Angels in America</i>

MORE LIFE: Blessings and a Guilty God in Angels in America

the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force The Great Question before us is: Are we doomed? The Great Question before us is: Will the Past Release us? The Great Question before us is: Can we Change? In Time? And we all desire that Change will come. So begins the […]

Dying…with Style

Dying…with Style

Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear I wrap my fear around me like a blanket I sailed my ship of safety ’til I sank it I’m crawling on your shores — Indigo Girls I like the pillows on my couch and bed to be arranged […]

How Do the Sick Participate in Christ?

How Do the Sick Participate in Christ?

Grateful for this reflection from our friend Jason Micheli.  More so than the stab of regret, what cancer injects into your life is perspective, as fresh as it is swift. The philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, perhaps the ablest critic of Christianity, charged that we view God through the eyes of our tribe, our culture and tradition, and […]

God Loves Dark Comedies

God Loves Dark Comedies

I’ve recently decided that God has a unique affinity for dark comedies. His sense of humor seems sadistic at times. Perhaps you find that an unscrupulous statement bred in the waters of sacrilege. But I assure you, God is smiling in the storm. At least, that’s how I’ve looked up and seen him lately. You […]

Helen Maroulis and the Fear to End All Fears

Helen Maroulis and the Fear to End All Fears

“I’m afraid. Like, of everything. Afraid of the dark. Afraid of people looking at me. Afraid of being home alone. Afraid of not being enough. Afraid of my fear. Afraid of your impression of me after you read about my fear.” Helen Maroulis won a women’s wrestling gold medal at the Rio Olympic games, but […]

Giving Thanks at Holidays, with Family and Death

Giving Thanks at Holidays, with Family and Death

“You brought us out of nothing into being, and when we had fallen away, You raised us up again.” My dad’s family gathered in his parents’ kitchen, all 27 of us, for the Thanksgiving thanksgiving. Before my dad’s dad prayed, as he always does at these meals, my grandma spoke up. Papa would be having […]

The Helplessness of the God of Christmas

When I read this way back in September, I just knew I needed to come back to it for Christmas. This is from W.H. Vanstone’s Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense, a short reflection by the late English theologian-priest on the nature of God’s love. You can’t talk about God’s love becoming knowable without talking about Christmas, which is why Vanstone tells this simple story. What becomes clear though, is how this depiction of God’s love—which looks discomfortingly like helplessness—is evacuated from our usual understandings of Christmas. In the story, Vanstone is closing up the church in preparation for services the following day, and there meets a disruption to his pretty Christmas picture.

The Word of God discloses to us at Christmas the helplessness of love at the hands of its own creatures—the fact that it is in their hands, vulnerable to their hands, dependent upon their hands for its own triumphant or tragic issue. But the disclosure is made graciously, in the form and presence of a Child. The helplessness of a child is a manageable helplessness, about which we know what we may do, by which our heart and our will are touched. It is not a harrowing helplessness, before which one who saw it might stand appalled. The same truth, the tragic possibility of the love of God, might have been exposed to us in harrowing and appalling form.

On a certain night, shortly before Christmas, I stood in the beautiful church which, in due time, rose beside the commonplace building where, at the first, the people of a new community had worshipped. The Church was ready for Christmas; and the quiet light of candles enhanced its tranquility and beauty. It was very late: but the beauty of Christmas and of its symbols seemed peculiarly intense that night; and I was glad to receive it while I might. I was disturbed by a noise behind me—a dull thud: and I saw, against the glass door, a face pressed, and grotesquely distorted by the pressure. A man was half slumped, half kneeling against the door. He was drunk; and when we talked and he gradually became more sober, it was clear that, though he was quite young, he was already an alcoholic. His experience of life was nothing but the experience of conflict and squalor: and at Christmas he expected nothing different. When at last I retired to sleep my mind must have dwelt on the tragic and distorted face which had, so to speak, invaded the beauty of Christmas. For I dreamed: and in my dream a rubbish-collector came to me and told me that he had been clearing up after a riot; and I myself saw a huge pile of stones and cans and waste paper and scrap metal which he had collected. Then the man touched my arm and said, ‘But what am I to do? For deep within the pile, buried at the bottom of it, I have seen a living face.’ Though my own eyes did not see a face, I knew in my dream that it must be the face of God.

A few hours later, when I preached in Church, I was compelled to speak of my dream. For it seemed to suggest a different way in which the truth of Christmas might have been disclosed—a harrowing and appalling way. It made one newly sensitive to, and grateful for, the graciousness of the way in which the truth of Christmas is in fact disclosed to us. But, in substance, it was the same truth. It was the truth of a God Who, in love, is totally expended for the being of His creation—so that He is helpless under its weight and barely survives for its everlasting support; so that, in the tragedies of creation, in its waste and rubbish, God Himself is exposed to tragedy: so that the creation is sustained at the cost of the agony of the One Who is buried and almost wholly submerged within the depths of it.

Mary Definitely Knew

Mary Definitely Knew

They brought the baby to our doorstep. Five days old. Directly from the hospital. One outfit. Four pre-made bottles. A handful of diapers. A package of wipes. And a packet of papers that offered no definitive judgment on the proper pronunciation of her name. “I think it’s…” the social worker said. “I’m pretty sure.” A […]