Tag Archives: literature

Paradoxes for Better Living, 4

Seneca, part of double-herm in Antikensammlung...Come now, do I really give you the impression that I advocate a life of inactivity? I have only buried myself away behind closed doors in order to be able to be of use to more people.” — Seneca, in Letter VIII, translated by Robin Campbell (his translation differs somewhat from the linked translation)

Writers serve in solitude.

The tragicomic in daily life: internal blindness in Chekhov’s characters

Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov’s short fiction was undergirded by a spirituality and a morality that suggested what one critic called “internal blindness” — a blindness of the heart detected within the privileged characters of Chekhov’s short stories.

“And perhaps nothing is as tragicomic in our daily experience as that highly serious comedy of errors, moral and spiritual in character, constantly falsifying social relations and human intercourse…. Our own reciprocal misunderstandings are due not to material appearances or optical illusions, but to internal blindness.” — Renato Poggioli, “Storytelling in a Double Key,” an essay on Anton Chekhov’s short stories

Footnote on the reliability of the Bible: Let’s say we met 30 minutes ago

Let’s say you and I met 30 minutes ago.

We met in a hotel lobby, and a passing comment about a sports car became a conversation.

I told you, “Hey, I just got a new Jaguar.”

You said, “Wow — that’s cool!”

Then we decided to share a ride somewhere.

We walked up to my car. It’s a Honda Accord.

You said, “Oh, I thought you had your Jaguar with you.”

I said, “No, I just have an Accord.”

You wondered if I’m crazy or a liar or what.

We got in the car, and I started driving.

We passed a convention center, and a sign for an upcoming concert turned the conversation to music.

You said, “I really love jazz.”

I said, “Awesome! I’ve got a massive collection of jazz in the back. We’ll get it out when we pull into a gas station.”

When we pulled into the gas station, I reached into the back and pulled out a small compact-disc holder. I handed it to you. You opened it. Inside, you found five CDs of 1980s pop.

“This doesn’t look like a jazz collection,” you said, a little exasperated.

“Oh, I don’t have a jazz collection with me — I have a few 1980s pop CDs,” I said.

You thought I was crazy or a liar or something.

Now, in the past 30 minutes, twice I’ve told you something, and then I changed my story.

Do you think I’m trustworthy?

Maybe, just maybe, some of the debates about Biblical discrepencies could be described this way:

The “liberal” text critics might say, “Look, in this passage, the Bible clearly says he had a Jaguar, and in this passage, the Bible clearly says he had an Accord. This is a problem.”

The “conservative” text critics might say, “Look, the important thing is that he had a car, just like he said.”

The “liberal” text critics might say, “How can you call this inerrant? He said he had a big jazz collection, and then he said he had a small 1980s pop collection! This is what you mean by inerrancy?”

The “conservative” text critics might reply, “He said he had music in his car, and he did, and that’s the importance of this passage. Ergo, inerrancy preserved!”

Of course, this analogy doesn’t work for every instance of factual discrepency, but it might just apply to some.

Could it be that the “conservatives” have a very broad, liberal view of what makes a text trustworthy?

(And why don’t we talk about this in church? It’s like the elephant in the room.)

Faith, doubt, speculation, and wonder

As the Dallas Cowboys and my Washington Redskins duke it out tonight, I’ve been compiling a list of essays, poems, and books. The purpose behind this list is to give some editorial context to LiturgicalCredo‘s potential contributors.

The list, which I’ll reproduce below, represents a mix of faith, doubt, speculation and wonder — the kinds of thoughts and attitudes represented in LiturgicalCredo.

“On Stories,” an essay by C.S. Lewis, from On Stories: And Other Essays

“Recovering Evangelical: Reflections of an Erstwhile Christ Addict,” an essay by Todd Shy, from Image No. 51

“Giving Up Jerusalem,” an essay by Jeanne Murray Walker, from ImageNo. 40

“The Gift of the Call,” an essay by Christopher Bamford, from Parabola, Fall 2004

“Love Calls Us to the Things of This World,” a poem by Richard Wilbur, from New and Collected Poems

The Nobel Prize Lecture on Literature by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“Prayer” and “All Souls’,” poems by Dana Gioia, from The Gods of Winter

The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot

“501 Minutes to Christ,” an essay by Poe Ballantine, The Sun Magazine, August 2005

“Thread,” an essay by Stuart Dybek, found in Imaginative Writing by Janet Buroway

“Useless Virtues,” a poem by T.R. Hummer, from Useless Virtues

The Doubter’s Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense by John Ralston Saul

Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris

Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, nonfiction by Walker Percy

Love in the Ruins: Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World, a novel by Walker Percy

Thomas C. Oden’s introductory essay to Parables of Kierkegaard 

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Good Country People,” short stories by Flannery O’Connor, from A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories

A Stay Against Confusion: Essays on Faith and Fiction by Ron Hansen

Another use for a church: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in and around St. Paul’s Church Covent Garden

Study for The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania by...

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Tonight Kristi, Pat, and I saw a performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream that took place in three locations in the churchyard of Saint Paul’s Church Covent Garden and ended inside the church.

This open-air approach had a few advantages.

First, the sets are set and don’t (necessarily) have to be changed.

Only one of the three locations in the churchyard had a scene change. The other two locations kept the same sets throughout the play.

Second, the audience moves with the cast during the performance.

No one has to get completely cramped while waiting for the rescue of the intermission. Fresh air is nice, too!

Third, the actors can easily enter from all sides of the stages or performance spaces.

Even with actors entering from the back or sides of the audience in a traditional theater, the options fixed by the physical structure of the theater. Especially in one of tonight’s churchyard locations, the cast entered the performance space from four points, like the points of a compass.

If you’re in London sometime between now and August 5, check out this performance. The good news is, London is fairly cool right now — not at all like summer in the States!

George Orwell’s letter to Malcolm Muggeridge

Picture of George Orwell which appears in an o...

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“The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.” — George Orwell, in a letter to Malcolm Muggeridge, found in this new article in the New York Review of Books.

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The presence of myth in technologically advanced, scientific cultures

Leszek Kołakowski (1927-2009), Polish philosopher

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Leszek Kolakowski:

“In the scientific sense, ‘true’ means that which has the chance of being employed in effective technological procedures…. Metaphysical questions and beliefs are technologically barren and are therefore neither part of the analytical effort nor an element of science. As an organ of culture they are an extension of the mythical core…. A language which attempts to reach transcendence directly violates, to no purpose, its own technological instrumentality. It reaches transcendence in myths which give a meaning to empirical realities and practical activities via relativization. A mythical organization of the world (that is, the rules of understanding empirical realities as meaningful) is permanently present in culture.” — Leszek Kolakowski, The Presence of Myth