The women in many of Alice Munro’s stories are fleeing, in quiet and not-so-quiet ways. A woman has an affair while on a train on her way to Toronto. A young girl in a controlling family runs away with a saxophone player. A repressed woman throws a party without telling her husband.
My Lenten practice has almost involved some kind of endurance. As a child I usually gave up something like chocolate or sweets. My practice evolved into committing to walk to the grocery store or buy nothing but food or, one year, give up plastic.
But regardless of what I took on or gave up, I have always intended for this to last through all of Lent. The practice ends—or finds a new form—at Holy Week, and the endurance test ends with it.
This year, Lent has an entirely different rhythm for me—because of a book by writer and Benedictine oblate Paula Huston.
When I saw the headline in the New York Times—“The Hidden Prosperity of the Poor”— I thought of something very different than what Tom Edsall’s commentary is actually about.
Edsall highlights an insidious and specious argument about income inequality made on the right. In essence, the cost of basic human needs has gone down in relation to income, while consumer goods have become cheaper and cheaper.
As I mentioned before, I’ve been reading this strange book called The Spiritual Meadow, written by sixth-century wandering monk John Moschos. One of the last stories in the book was as relevant to my daily existence as any story I have read in a long time. I have only the vaguest idea what it means, but I do know it’s another weird monk joke. And this one was aimed directly at me.
The story goes like this: In the ancient city of Antioch, the church had various kinds of social services. “A man who was a friend of Christ” used to gather supplies and give them out to people in need.
This year, I have decided to make space for more non-urgent reading. This is reading that isn’t about keeping up with work-related issues or the latest, best writers. It might mean that I will have to lay off a bit on my habit of reading the New York Times Book Review and imagining the necessity of reading everything that is in it.
“Anyone who reads independently and spiritedly is going to carry an eclectic canon around in his head,” writes Christian Wiman. “That is half the fun of it all.”
For the past five years or so, I have had the responsibility of coming up with the novels to put on the Century’s list of Christmas picks for fiction. At first I was baffled by this job. Did I have to read every new book?
I didn’t vote for Amendent 64, which legalized marijuana for recreational use in my home state of Colorado. I had mixed feelings about it. When marijuana was legalized for medical use in 2000, the effect on my small mountain community wasn’t something to celebrate. The majority of people who got licenses for medical marijuana were young men under the age of 34. At least legalization for recreational use will put a stop to that farce.
It is true, as a Century editorial recently argued, that poverty did not get the attention it deserved in the presidential campaign. Even more frustrating are the comments often made about poverty and social program when they do come up. Let’s look at three common distortions.
Earlier this year, the Century published a piece by an environmental scientist on just how radical the current shift in CO2 levels are—from the perspective of 50 million years. As I was working with that scientist, Lee Vierling, on the piece, we struggled to find a language that he and I and readers of the Century could share.
He wanted something that was fluid and scientifically absolutely accurate. He also wanted to be certain that he was not using scare tactics.
By now, we are all familiar with what liberation theology and Catholic social teaching have called the Bible’s “preferential option for the poor.” But what about a biblical preferential option for the rebel?
In a new book by biblical scholar Yoram Hazony called The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture—which I learned about from Jonathan Yudelman’s review—the story of Cain and Abel receives a reading different from any I have heard.
At a reception to launch a new collection of Lucille Clifton’s poems (The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010), the editor of the volume, Kevin Young, described coming across a folder in Clifton’s archives at Emory University. The folder had been labeled “Unpublished Poems.” That label had been scratched out and replaced by something like, “Poems that really aren’t that good and should probably just be thrown away someday.” That label too had been scratched out and replaced with “Bad poems.”
I have lately been reading stories of the desert monastics, collected by the monk John Moschos in the seventh century. I don’t think I get it.
My pattern has been to feel slightly offended—sometimes even disgusted—by a story, and then walk away from it, wander around for awhile and finally realize that the story was probably a joke. In its own context, the main thing it elicited was probably laughter. But for me the humor is so strange, so wry, so unexpected that I don’t perceive it for hours.
Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Richard Posner mocks the British father-son pair Robert and Edward Skidelsky for wondering about the balance between work and leisure in contemporary society.