Category Essay

Books

It wasn’t until I’d been preaching and writing like this for a number of years that the pathos of John Ames’s sermons in Gilead, boxed up in the attic and waiting for his post-mortem bonfire, really hit home. I was exposed to a massive dose of T.S. Eliot at an off-label age, and I was perhaps too complacent with his running theme of the life and death of words and their meanings. “These things have served their purpose; let them be,” I learned by heart before I had made much of anything to be attached to in the first place. Now I’m a million-odd words deep into a vocation whose tangible products are subject to nearly instant forgetting, recycling, the half-life of modest virality, and the onset of linkrot, and I am tempted to be less philosophical.

Risk and Reward

The season’s meager forays into discomfort can only show how very different fasting is from true hunger, let alone hunger imposed and enforced as a policy. Self-imposed penance for the sins of the world is an impossibility; it can even be a perverse delusion. Nothing in that world can be assimilated to our prostrations or hair shirts. “Weep not for me, but for yourselves,” as Jesus says

Hungry Gods

So it happens that skipping one meal on Ash Wednesday, another on Friday, and eating neither meat nor sweets at all, leaves me feeling like Gandhi by Saturday. One of the implicit bargains I’ve made with life is that I do my work and meet my responsibilities, however onerous, and in exchange I eat whatever I feel like, whenever I wish to. And it’s not just me. This is the structure of daily life in the twilight of the middle class: sacrifice sleep, family time, personal interests, and peace of mind, but grant yourself any of a million coruscating indulgences.

Chicago Diarist: Twelve Years

(Note: I wrote, but apparently did not finish, this post in March, 2013.) We may well never know what proximate cause led Pope Benedict XVI to resign when he did, but without a doubt, such an unusual announcement had a special resonance landing shortly before Ash Wednesday (a resonance that was noted). It occasioned a flurry […]

The Blessed Failure

(Note: I wrote this in October, 2012. I’m republishing it for St. Ansgar’s feast day tomorrow)   As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me […]

Youth in Exile

(Note: I wrote this in May 2010, when the Rolling Stones re-released Exile on Main Street) When I picked up Exile on Main Street in 1992, during the summer after seventh grade, the album was something of a hidden classic. It was not much anthologized on the numerous hits discs and live albums the Stones pumped out […]

I Like Politicians

The loss of this mode of politicking is the less-seen shadow side of the dysfunction and looming institutional crisis created by extreme gerrymandering. Once you know with a mathematical certainly who you don’t need, and where you don’t ever have to go, you are just wasting your time trying to hear out and nod along with some random collection of constituents. You have to tend to your party’s nominating voters and your funders, and they don’t care whether you’re able to empathize with whatever marginal voter you’re chasing at the mosque or the deli or the tavern. 

Time Present

(Note: I wrote this in July 2010. While none of it is left there, it helped prompt me to write a book) Last week I went to a local establishment to watch some baseball and read Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being. In retrospect it was a comical choice. On the screen I watch the momentary […]

Chicago Diarist: A Priestly People

(Note: I wrote this in January 2011) Back when I was just getting started in ministry, early in my seminary career, Christmas was a high point of the year. There is a strange thrill in doing something, as it were, from the inside out–in knowing the alleys that connect the gleaming storefronts, in working while […]

Chicago Diarist: Happy Birthday to Ya

(Note: I wrote this for my blog in January, 2008) Yesterday we celebrated the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. at church. The pastor switched the appointed Gospel reading with a passage from the Sermon on the Mount and, between the readings and the children’s sermon, we listened to an excerpt from one of King’s […]