The Living Church

Ephemera, 8/15/23

I recently read Clare Carlisle’s biography of Kierkegaard; it was illuminating about Kierkegaard, but also a well-written and insightful work in its own right. She writes here about the way in which marriage impacted the life and work of both Kierkegaard and George Eliot. Of SK, she says:

“Kierkegaard once wrote that marriage requires complete openness between husband and wife, and that he could not open himself to another person in this way. Perhaps he was driven by his artistic and philosophical vocation to seek a solitary life. Or perhaps his decision to stay single (and celibate, as far as we know) was shaped by the belief, held as sacred by his Christian church, that certain forms of desire — homosexuality, for example — were sinful and shameful. Kierkegaard took these questions to the grave, boasting that no one would ever discover the secret that explained his inner life. All we know is that he felt unable to become a husband, and that he interpreted this incapacity as a spiritual situation.”

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I wrote earlier about the film Passages; the wonderful Garth Greenwell writes about it with much greater insight and greater style, and at greater length. His piece reminds me that there is so much more in the film than I could wrap my head around in my single viewing — including Tomas’ career as filmmaker. Of the Tomas character, Greenwell writes:

“He put me in mind of a line from the theologian Denys Turner, whom I’ve quoted before in this newsletter. Talking about the ascetical practices of certain mystics, Turner makes a quip about the ‘pre-ascetical self’ — the self before it’s submitted to any kind of discipline — being ‘a riot of desires,’ hardly a self at all. Art can come from that, of course — Tomas doesn’t hold a candle to the giants of artistic bad behavior; but Tomas’s emotional riots, his fervors, his temper tantrums, his utter disregard for others, are no guarantee of the quality of his art … The only thing they can guarantee — for everyone around him, for himself above all — is pain.

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So that people don’t think I only write snarky comments about Covenant blog posts, this one about Paul Simon, his career and his beautiful new album is quite enlightening and worth a read. I saw Simon perform during his “Rhythm of the Saints” tour a lifetime ago, and remember it as a great show. Most vividly I recall, before playing “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” he said something like, “There are two definitive versions of this song, one sung by Art Garfunkel and the other by Aretha Franklin. I only sing it to remind people that I wrote it.”

Ephemera, 08/07/23

“Got a special celebration on your parish calendar? A.I. can compose a unique hymn for the occasion!” Is this satire?

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I’ve very recently started reading David Bentley Hart’s translation of the New Testament as part of my morning routine, usually a chapter at a time. Reading the gospel as something both familiar and strange has really fired me up and improved my focus. I’ve been writing lengthy notes on each chapter in my own journal; don’t worry, I’m not subjecting the interwebs to my stream-of-consciousness Biblical babbling. But these readings may lead to some other posts here.

I mention all this just because Richard Beck had a great quote from DBH’s introduction to this translation (which makes a fascinating essay in its own right) which feels perfect for a Monday. Of the shocking and strange message of Christianity (which most of us forget is either shocking or strange, we are so immersed in, or bored by, it), DBH says, “I doubt any of us has ever understood it nearly as well as we imagine.”

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I still remember the first time I heard Sinead O’Connor. I was a college freshman, and my friend Chris played “The Lion and the Cobra” for me in his dorm room. “Mandinka” is what always gets mentioned, and it’s a great song on a great album, but it’s the very first track, “Jackie,” with its cold and plaintive opening, that haunts me to this day.

I’ve been washing the sand
With my salty tears
Searching the shore
For these long years
And I’ll walk the seas forever more

Ephemera, 07/27/23

This starts out interesting and ends in complete and total absurdity. Yes: stop whining on your Discord server, go to your local parish, and say, “If everyone is welcome, then welcome me and people like me.” Uh, no: don’t chase people out of the parish and onto the sidewalk while screaming, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

Seriously, people. The return of orthodoxy to the Episcopal Church will depend upon the young gay priests who are right now demanding it, and who know what it actually means to be credally orthodox. (Hint: Leviticus 18 and its admonition against having sex with women while they are menstruating didn’t make the final cut on any of the creeds.)

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“When I go to a great bookstore, which, to me, is like a cathedral, I feel the need to tithe.” Sigh, me too. (Chris Vognar)

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“We eggheads used to understand that art is the best hope we have in this low world for a truly autonomous sphere, and that this autonomy is nowhere pushed further than in the productions of the avant-garde. Accordingly, avant-garde artists rejected mass entertainments, or at least did not engage with them as if they were the best thing on offer … In fact the sorry truth is that they may well be the best thing on offer, simply because the forces that produced them have absolutely bulldozed the last surviving hopes for art as a sphere of autonomous creation.” (Justin Smith-Ruiu; used to be Justin E. H. Smith, not exactly sure what happened there)