Another Week Ends

1. Stephen Freeman, at it again, this time translating the story of the rich man […]

1. Stephen Freeman, at it again, this time translating the story of the rich man and the eye of the needle. Freeman offers that maybe we should read the pronouncement today as saying that it is impossible for the middle-class man to make it to heaven, not just the rich man. Freeman argues that whenever we read this little bit from the bible, we immediately sigh a sigh of relief that, praise be Him, we are not, like totally loaded, at least not like Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So that have a ton of extra cash and extra homes. Freeman says that our propensity to moralize the greed of the wealthy–wherever you draw the line–misses the point of the story, which is actually about the chosenness of the poor, who are chosen because of their closeness to unworthiness.

It is, however, equally difficult for those in the middle-class to understand the reason Christ would have pointed to the poor (with their seeming lack of virtue) so approvingly. Why should the entrance into the Kingdom be easier for them? The question has certainly dogged me for many years. My conclusion is fairly straightforward: their virtue is their lack of virtue.

He pulls a quote from the drunkard Marmelodov in Crime and Punishment about the end of the world, and then he closes with this final thought.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, echoed in Chrysostom’s homily, it is the older brother, the well-behaved and faithful son, who refuses to come to the feast. He thought his brother unworthy.

This is the eye of the needle: our competency and excellence. We are doing fairly well, on the whole, managing our lives in a responsible manner. If we are not worthy of the Kingdom of God, at least we are worthy of something, perhaps the American Dream.

The disciplines of the Christian life are not meant to make us “better persons.” The better persons will barely enter the Kingdom. A truly good discipline will reveal us as failures and without hope. In the Liturgy, Jesus is addressed as the “Hope of the hopeless.” But only the hopeless would know that. And this is why our salvation is so truly difficult.

Reminds me of the Lenten Discipline list we’ve cooked up in Humor Issue. Rather than the old standbys, we’ve got ones that are pretty sure to make you look like a failure.

And speaking of bible translations, the Ortbergian retranslation of 1 Corinthians 1-5 is pretty amazing. Here’s a snippet of the whole thing, which should be read at Shatner Chatner:

I think – I’m not sure, but I think – our mutual friend once pledged “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring nothing to the understanding of the prudent.” It might have even been written down somewhere. If one of you could double-check on that, I’d be very grateful. Presumably there is someone literate in the whole of Corinth. Is one of you wise? Do any of you know of a scribe, or someone who has seen a scroll? If not, I’m sure I can get one sent out to you. I was under the impression that we had all been informed that the old order of things, the received wisdom, was inferior to the joyful foolishness of our mutual friend. But perhaps you’ve received some further revelations! I would love to be informed of any updates in heavenly policy. We don’t get much news here in jail. (Aside from what Chloe tells me.)

It’s lucky for all of you out in Corinth, I think, that not many of the wise, not many of the mighty, not many of the noble have been called by our mutual friend to advance our cause. (I hope you know better than to take offense to that.) It is in fact rather fortunate for all of us that our mutual friend has not selected the right-thinking, the naturally intuitive, the discerning to his side, instead choosing to demonstrate the efficacy of his treatments through – well. Perhaps the contentions ought not to come as a surprise or a disappointment. Perhaps it is merely confirmation that Corinth is as good a place to start as any. (I will continue to hear from Chloe, so there’s no good hoping that maybe these things won’t get back to me.) Thank you, if nothing else, for the reminder that my hope can never rest in you for your own sakes.

2. Do you like sad music? Did you like Pedro the Lion? Pedro the Lion is back! Oh, and if you’re a War on Drugs fan, you might like Amen Dunes’ new record, Freedom. The album opens with, “We play religious music / Don’t think you understand, man.”

3. Ultramarathons have expanded 1000% over the past 10 years, so if you’re wanting to impress your colleagues with a feat of physical endurance, those pedestrian 26.2 marathons are not going to cut it. Not by a long shot. This article from the Guardian (which is written by an ultramarathoner, so, grain of salt…) talks about the spectacle of exceedingly long, increasingly long running races, including the Sri Chimnoy race in Queens, which is 3100 miles around one block. The race is a called a “self-transcendence” race. Call me a lazy bum, or someone just not hearing the “call to the wild,” but it’s hard to deny that we’re also talking about some righteousness issues here that would lead someone to run through Death Valley or the Sahara Desert.

We are in the post-marathon age, when everybody knows somebody who has run a marathon. Now, it seems, a genuinely impressive feat has to be something longer and more extreme. Fifty miles is OK, but it’s better if you can reel off numbers in the hundreds, and preferably over an insanely steep mountain range, a desert or some perilous jungle. With more and more stories of ultra races circulating, you have to feel sorry for the person looking for sponsorship for a little marathon jaunt.

4. A great grace in practice one for April Fools, though it really did happen. In Victoria, Canada in 2001, a man named Nick Burchill planned on pranking his buddies with a suitcase full of pepperonis. He left the suitcase in his hotel room near an open window, to keep the smell down. When he returned to his room after a time, he found over 40 seagulls inside his hotel room. “They immediately started flying around and crashing into things as they desperately tried to leave the room through the small opening by which they had entered,” said Burchill, who lives in Dartmouth. “The result was a tornado of seagull excrement, feathers, pepperoni chunks and fairly large birds whipping around the room.” He was personally banned from the hotel for life.

After 17 years he decided to write a letter of apology to the Fairmont Empress, and the ban was lifted, with much laughter from the hotel.

5. A Daily Shout from the New Yorker this past week is a classic. “Journal Entries from my Imaginary Week without Anxiety.”

March 30: I went on a date tonight. We had a nice time!

For some reason, I didn’t wonder if it had gone well enough to warrant a second date; if the things that seemed like red flags would become even redder flags, somewhere down the line; if there would be a “down the line”; if I had talked too much about Spider-Man; if I’m even in a place to go on a date; if I said something offensive without realizing it; if I should send a text about something relevant to the conversation we had; if she would text me first; if it matters who texts first; if we’ll ever text again; if I even deserve love; why I’m thinking about love at this juncture, because it was just a first date; if my fear of ending up alone is the same thing that makes me drive the people who dare to get close to me far, far away; where my fears of intimacy originate; if I tipped enough; or if I didn’t talk enough about Spider-Man.

I just thought, Hey, we had a nice time.

6. Invisibilia continues to impress. Their episode this week covers the phenomenon of “pattern thinking,” and the various patterns we look for in individuals and in ourselves. The story they cover is Tarra Simmons’ story, a woman hoping to break free of her own self-destructive patterns, and the difficulties she faces due to the criminal behavior patterns she’s found herself a part of. I wouldn’t spoil it for you, but the findings have a lot to say about the illusions of control that are rendered in patterns, how we even yearn to make patterns about the kinds of people who can or can’t break them.

7. Finally, a beautiful little review about a film recently made on Jean Vanier’s L’Arche Communities (trailer below), Summer in the Forest. L’Arche is a community for individuals with disabilities, with locations around the world. The film focuses on the residents of L’Arche on their own terms, and does not list off each individual’s “exact diagnoses and deficits.” Instead, “the task is to encounter these men and women as individuals.”

Somehow, it seems much more natural to be moved to awe by an infant than by a person who is grown, but who may have the same dependencies as a child. More than his age and his own infirmity, it is his look of awe that makes Vanier appear most like the other residents of L’Arche. I was struck by the degree to which stillness can look, to me, like intellectual disability. I see ability when it is channeled into action, but Vanier routinely steps back to be receptive, not active.

Summer in the Forest is an invitation from L’Arche to give oneself over to love and receptivity. We are invited to realize that all the moments in which we have most been awed by the face of God in another were part of God’s ceaseless invitation to love. It is my slowness to accept His offer, not any deficiency in those I might love, that prevents me from experiencing Vanier’s joy.

“The weak lead us to reality,” Vanier says.

Finally, a couple NYC conference-related announcements:

  1. The menu is here! 

  2. There are 2 tickets left for a Wednesday night showing of Babette’s Feast. If you want ’em, claim ’em by emailing us at

subscribe to the Mockingbird newsletter


2 responses to “Another Week Ends: Jean Vanier, Amen Dunes, Father Freeman, Invisibilia, 1 Corinthians (Ortberg Translation), and A Flock of (Hotel) Seagulls”

  1. Jeremiah Lawson says:

    one of the co-founders of Studio Ghibli, Isao Takahata, died yesterday. Details pending, but for those who know his work and the work of Studio Ghibli we lost one of the titans of late 20th and early 21st century anime this week

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *