I wrote a lot this year, more than I had any good reason for writing, and more than anyone was likely to much benefit from. It’s hard to exaggerate how quickly it all flies away. Now and then something has a life of its own and wanders back to meet you, but for the most part things just drift off if you don’t pin them down. At least that’s how it goes for me. So I try to keep track.
So a few things I wrote this year that you might enjoy if you missed them:
- I wrote about becoming a prude in The Christian Century: “Having worked mostly in churches, it’s no particular surprise that the part of the sexual revolution where people felt free to chat about pornography at the office passed me by. Still, it’s the height of oddity to claim that Americans—of whatever vocational circumstance, political bent, or religious affiliation—suffer from too much bashfulness. We may suffer from too little honesty or too little courage. But our self-expression—the voice we give our opinions, experiences, and desires—is the most sacred thing left in our emptying cupboard of household gods.”
- I reviewed a couple books, having the most fun with Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton: “For Louise, spurred by shapeless ambitions and chronic financial need, love and friendship become indistinguishable from casual and precarious labor. A reliable tutoring client breaks up with her suddenly—he’s been assured of a squash-team acceptance to Dartmouth—then salves the blow to her income with an extra fifty. Like a bad Tinder assignation, he’s “back on his phone before Louise even leaves the room.” Lavinia requires and pays for emotional labor, and Louise ruthlessly optimizes herself to provide it.”
- On religion and public life, I wrote about “The Leadership Crisis at the End of the Megachurch Era”: “It became possible, or maybe necessary, to jettison some of the structures of oversight and accountability that had seemed to hobble the older, struggling churches. It was necessary to move on from the pious, weird, limiting ethic of American protestant ministry—part middle-class, part mendicant; part college professor, part undertaker—to something bolder, more exuberant, and less apologetic. Power could be had, even in a nation of emptying pews, but only and especially without the responsibility that could restrain and limit its use.”
- My most-read blog post this year was a eulogy for a Deep Springs classmate who died right around Easter: “Our first year we had a poetry class, half reading modern poets, half writing and workshopping our own efforts, and he really excelled at that. He brought in a hand-written poem once, with a refrain that went something like “This is a failed poem, and Jesus was a failed man.” I was not a Christian then, but I found that sophomorically edgy. It was in utter earnestness however–this guy was nothing if not earnest–and inspired by the death, I think by suicide, of a friend of his. At any rate, the line stayed with me. I didn’t know much about failure then, at least in words or in religion, and I’ve spent much of the two decades since informing myself. Crucifixion is serious business, and there’s no cheap shock value in putting it in the harshest possible terms.”
- My favorite post of the year was about books that address the horrors of history: “These writers are, in different ways, trying to restore humanity to people who surrendered it or had it stolen. That is not as optimistic as it sounds. Humanity is restored with dread and vengeance no less than with kindness and pity. In the face of such tasks, and the unfathomable probability of meeting success in them, oblivion and forgetting can seem comparatively rational.”
- And yes, I published a book this year, Sacred Signposts: Words, Water, and Other Acts of Resistance. I shared some reviews here and some of the supporting pieces I put out around the same time, but here’s a bit from the introduction: “So it happens that those who cling to the practices of faith inhabit a double fragility and experience a double anxiety: first, as outliers in a world that doesn’t need, and even seems hostile to, religion; second, as citizens of that world that feels and fears its own mortality. Grasping our holy possessions more faithfully and passionately won’t help us deny or evade that fragility and anxiety, and it won’t heal our internal divisions. But grasping our holy possessions can turn us outward, to a world that needs a kind of healing it can neither imagine nor grant.”
Thank you for reading. Have a happy and blessed Christmas!