Saints and Laborers

One of the pleasures of praying the Daily Office is the juxtaposition of Bible verses, prayers and spiritual readings that makes me reflect on familiar verses in a new way. 

Yesterday’s gospel was the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, in Matthew 20:1-16. That’s the one where Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a landowner who pays all his workers the same amount, whether they worked all day or only for an hour. This parable sometimes comforts, sometimes outrages, and always fascinates me. To feel validated as a human being, I need to believe two somewhat contradictory things: that God cares about fairness, and that God loves each of us unconditionally, in some way that doesn’t depend on our relative merits. 

The online Daily Office at Mission St. Clare includes brief biographies of saints and great Christian historical figures. To these, also, I have a complex relationship. Sometimes I feel deeply and personally cared for by these people whom I have never met, who faced martyrdom so that I could know the gospel. Other times I’m uncomfortably aware of how high they set the bar. Isn’t envy often rooted in fear that the same miracles will be expected of us as well? Saints and geniuses expose how the heights of endurance and achievement that we wrote off as safely impossible are actually within human reach.

I’d bet that most people wrestling with the vineyard parable, like me, automatically identify with the workers who did more than the average and felt shortchanged. Compared to the saints, though, nearly all of us are more like the late-hired workers, who should be grateful that they get an equal share in the kingdom of heaven despite their meager contribution.

Poetry Roundup: Teicher, Rodriguez, Rose

In the course of researching winners of major contests for the next Winning Writers newsletter, I came across some exceptional poems online that I wanted to share with readers of this blog. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2008 will be to get caught up on my review copies because there are so many exciting new books being published. Here, samples of three very different authors:

Jennifer Rose’s second book, Hometown for an Hour, has won several prizes including the Publishing Triangle’s Audre Lorde Award. Structured as a series of postcards from cities ranging from Gettysburg to Mostar, the book explores experiences of rootlessness and belonging. For instance, in “Provincetown Postcard“, she writes:

The street’s deserted,
as if a villain and the sheriff were
about to shoot it out, though nobody
peers from behind these shutters
except the endless pairs of sunglasses
staring toward June. Eight o’clock.
A church bell and one foghorn sing an aria
so poignant I want to cry. The marina
swizzles its lights into the harbor.
It’s Tuesday. I must be the last tourist
in P-town. How paradoxical “home” is–
you must get sick of it to earn the right
to have to stay in spite of that. I’ve never been
able to take any place for granted
like these year-rounders I see scratching
their lottery tickets at the Governor Bradford.
Where would they go with their winnings?
How do we know where we belong?

Read more poems from this book at her website.

Chicano author and activist Luis J. Rodriguez has written several acclaimed volumes of poetry as well as a memoir about growing up in the gangs of East L.A. He is now an advocate for disadvantaged youth, and the founder of Tia Chucha Press in Chicago. Read excerpts from his work at the Academy of American Poets website. In the title poem from his collection The Concrete River, he depicts barrio youth getting high on inhalants to escape from their bleak urban landscape into a beautiful, dangerous hallucination:

…We aim spray into paper bags.
Suckle them. Take deep breaths.
An echo of steel-sounds grates the sky.
Home for now. Along an urban-spawned
Stream of muck, we gargle in
The technicolor synthesized madness.

This river, this concrete river,
Becomes a steaming, bubbling
Snake of water, pouring over
Nightmares of wakefulness;
Pouring out a rush of birds;
A flow of clear liquid
On a cloudless day.
Not like the black oil stains we lie in,
Not like the factory air engulfing us;
Not this plastic death in a can.

Sun rays dance on the surface.
Gray fish fidget below the sheen.
And us looking like Huckleberry Finns/

Tom Sawyers, with stick fishing poles,
As dew drips off low branches
As if it were earth’s breast milk.

Oh, we should be novas of our born days.
We should be scraping wet dirt
        with callused toes.
We should be flowering petals
        playing ball.
Soon water/fish/dew wane into
A pulsating whiteness.
I enter a tunnel of circles,
Swimming to a glare of lights.
Family and friends beckon me.
I want to be there,
In perpetual dreaming;
In the din of exquisite screams.
I want to know this mother-comfort
Surging through me.

Read the whole poem here.

Craig Morgan Teicher’s collection Brenda Is in the Room and Other Poems won this year’s Colorado Prize for Poetry. In this poem, “Ten Movies and Books”, first published in La Petite Zine, disjointed capsule summaries of unnamed classic movies and books turn out to be more about the reader’s bewilderment and longing than about the books themselves. Excerpt:


The twist is that, the whole time,
while he’s been trying to help
the boy, who is plagued
by his ability to see and speak with the dead,

Bruce Willis is dead. I’m sorry.

I’ve ruined another movie. But someone else
probably told you already. It’s still good, even if

it’s ruined for you.


Poems are meant
    to be read
in private, in bed, when

no one else is in the bed
    with you.
Never speak about poems.

Never tell anyone that you
    have heard
of them. Every poem

that someone discusses
    with someone
else disappears or breaks.

In fact, even reading a poem
    to yourself
hurts what little chance it has.


Holden Caufield
is pissed about everything.

He goes on and on.
Everyone just wants to make him better,
but he is too beautiful

for the world. Maybe everyone is
until they turn sixteen
or seventeen. After that,

maybe only some are too beautiful.

I will break Teicher’s rule #9 by directing you to read the whole poem here.


Juliet OC: “Just This Here Now”

A member of the British writers’ forum who writes under the pen name Juliet OC has contributed this lyrical, intense story that combines raw emotion with careful literary craft:

“Just this here now… just this here now… just this, here now… just this, here, now,” she whispers the mantra into the incensed air. “Just this… here… now… only now is important, we only have this moment… just this, here now.”

A river rushes past my left ear, it bubbles and fades as distant bells grow closer, like the church on the hill on summer mornings, or cows in an Alpine meadow. The dog collapses into my side, he only lives for now; just this, here now. I screw his fur in my palm, and he throws his head back into my lap as I breathe in on, just this; and out on, here now. I imagine us in a painting, the title; Dying in ecstasy, sub-title; just this here now. My sister snores in the hospital bed as I lie on her ‘real’ bed, her old bed. She doesn’t lie on it anymore, not even in the daytime.

The phone rings in another room, I am allowed not to answer it. I have been given permission to be; just this here now. I don’t want this to end – I want to stay here on this bed, quiet and still with the sounds of bells like tiny cymbals, reminding me of an India I have never been to, and a rolling rumble that resonates deep in my stomach like distant thunder after the storm.

The back door slams. Someone shouts, “Hello!” I open my eyes and find I am back behind bars….

Read the whole story here. Read more by Juliet here.

Robert Orsi: Scholarship as an Act of Love


Catholic historian of religion Robert A. Orsi delivered the 2007 commencement address at Harvard Divinity School. His speech, “Love in a Time of Distraction”, is reprinted on page 8 of the Harvard Divinity Today summer newsletter, online as a PDF file here. This excerpt stood out for me:

Scholarship is the practice of disciplined attention to the world as we find the world, in its undeniable otherness and difference, but most of all in its obdurate and resistant presence. It is our privilege in the humanities and social sciences to go as inquirers into the company of other humans in the present and the past. We meet these men and women and children in the archives, in texts and in fragments of texts, and in the field. We find them always in the immediate circumstances of their lives, at work on their worlds; we find them in webs of relationship with each other that come to include us, once we have entered their worlds, in the present and in the past. And we meet them in the circumstances of our own lives, from within our own stories, gripped by our own fears and desires and hopes. “Research is a living relationship between people,” Sartre wrote. “The sociologist and his ‘object’ [which Sartre puts in quotation marks] form a couple, each of which is to be interpreted by the other; the relationship between them must be itself interpreted as a moment of history.”

Understood this way, scholarship is the practice of a particular kind of love. Veritas is Harvard’s motto, but the ground of veritas is amor. The love of your family and friends has sustained you these years; your love for what you were studying kept you going. Love is there, too, at the heart of our epistemology. The canons of modern reason insist that love is the nemesis of rationality; scholars must be objective, love is subjective. But the paradox of scholarship in the humanities is that the more we are present as particular persons and scholars to the world—the more “subjective” we are—the more the world stands forth in its realness and otherness—the more “objective” it is. The deepest challenge of epistemology is not an abstract “objectivity” but the fearlessness to be radically present to the other as we permit the other to be radically present to us. This is the sacramental dimension of scholarship; sacramental meaning the practice whereby the self comes face-to-face with the real.

The Depressed Christian

Christians prone to depression, as I am, can feel extra burdens of shame and doubt. We’ve heard the best news in the world, yet we can hardly motivate ourselves to butter our toast. Are we failing to work the program, or does the program itself not work? Are we setting a bad example in a world already inclined to believe that our faith is useless at best, harmful at worst?

Travis Mamone’s article The Boy with the Thorn in His Side at Relevant Magazine asks these exact questions. With humor and pathos, he describes how he read The Bible Code last year and became paralyzed with fear that the apocalypse was imminent. Though he eventually debunked that specific worry, he was disturbed by how easily the habit of panic returned, despite his faith:

When will this struggle be over? I had been dealing with mental illness for most of my life now, and I was getting sick of it. There was nothing else I wanted more than to just wake up one day and no longer have another anxiety attack. Ever! The Gospels report that Jesus once drove demons out of a man who hid in caves and cut himself with rocks. I thought all my demons were supposed to be gone.

And then it hit me: this is exactly like the thorn in Paul’s flesh!

I can’t imagine how my weakness and hang-ups can possibly give glory to God. When people look at me, I want them to see a strong man, a man whose life has been changed by God. More often, however, people see my failures and moments of weakness when I let the negative thoughts drag me down. What kind of testimony is that supposed to give?

Or maybe that’s exactly the kind of testimony I’m supposed to give. If I had the strength to battle my demons on my own, I would have never given my life to Christ in the first place. But the truth is I’m not. I tried to do it on my own, but just fell back into the same cycle of depression and getting better and falling back again. It wasn’t until I came to know God that I realized I didn’t have to battle it alone. In fact, the battle is not even mine to begin with; it is God’s. There are moments when it seems as if all is lost and the darkness is completely taking over. But then there always ends up being something to keep me going; it could be a Bible verse, a memory of being blessed, or a gut feeling that everything’s going to be okay. God’s mercy always shines through the darkness.

There a particular Bible quote that comes to mind: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Maybe there’s some one out there right now, huddled up in his or her room, wondering when the darkness will end. Maybe this person is waiting to hear a story such as mine, a story that’ll make him or her realize, “Hey, I’m not alone!”

Today, that person is me. Thanks, Travis.

Check out Travis’ blog at (What’s really disturbing is that the “What type of hipster are you?” graphic accompanying yesterday’s post looks exactly like me on a bad hair day. And you wonder why I’m depressed?)

Book Notes: The Gift of Being Yourself

Christian psychologist and spiritual director David G. Benner has written an intriguing but too-brief inspirational volume, The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, whose premise is that knowing God is inseparable from knowing yourself.

This might sound like New Age self-deification, but Benner’s orthodoxy is solid. Relationships require authenticity. If we are afraid to be our true selves, he says, we are also afraid to encounter God in prayer. This observation rang true for me because fear of myself has been a major obstacle to my prayer life. Sometimes it’s that I don’t want to know my own sins; other times, I’m afraid that I couldn’t process the intense emotions of prayer without losing my mental balance. Then the people whose affection I want to retain will reject me, saying, “Who is this depressing person who cries all the time even though her life is so fortunate? Obviously, whatever she believes, it doesn’t work.”

And then there’s the Psalmist’s question, “What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” I look at my weakness, the mundane concerns that so easily overwhelm me, and imagine that God must see me as, well, a schmoe.

Some strains of thought in Protestant theology are less than helpful for this problem. I do believe that Christ died for my sins. However, some ways of talking about substitutionary atonement and human depravity make the transaction appear formalistic, almost false: I am actually loathsome, to the extent that I am myself, but God accepts the legal fiction that He is looking at Christ when He looks at me. This sets up a dynamic of God in opposition to the self, which can perpetuate the feelings of shame and self-avoidance that I always thought the gospel was meant to cure.

Becoming aware of my inability to cope with my sinful nature was the prelude to my conversion, but it was not conversion itself. Conversion was the realization that my deepest self was separate from that sin, cherished by God and somehow protected from ultimate worthlessness, but not through my own efforts.

Hence Benner’s well-chosen title. We are meant to be ourselves, but our personhood is a gift, not an achievement. Moreover, the unique talents and inclinations we discover in ourselves are clues to our God-given vocation. (This insight also reassured me, as I’ve found it hard to root out the Kantian anxiety that God will prevent me from finishing my novel because my enjoyment of it is idolatrous.)


Much of the book is spent discussing ways we construct a false self. In language reminiscent of the Buddhist doctrine of “non-self”, Benner suggests that we become overly attached to particular personality traits and preferences, which we adopted out of habit, or because they were pleasurable, or helped us manipulate others. We assume that these traits are our fixed “self” when perhaps they are things we do in order to protect our egos, and could be changed.

Whenever we act as if it’s our responsibility to create a unique personality for ourselves, we end up shoring up the false self and hiding from our flaws. By contrast, accepting that our uniqueness is given to us by God, and that our primary identity is being a person loved by God, frees us to discover who God meant us to be.

This worldview is appealing enough that I wished Benner had included narrative examples of what a person’s life might look like before and after giving up the false self. He briefly outlines the Enneagram, a list of nine personality types and their characteristic sins, but doesn’t give specific guidelines for working with it, nor explain why Christians should take it as authoritative. The book is the first in a series that includes Surrender to Love and Desiring God’s Will. I will continue to explore his works in search of more practical advice.


Christina Lovin: “Coal Country”

What I can’t remember, and what I can:
my mother washing coal dust from the necks
of Mason jars filled with last summer’s jams
and vegetables, their lids and rings black
with grit, contents obscured then visible
beneath the touch of a damp flannel rag
she wiped across hand-printed labels,
then dipped again into an enamel pan
where gray water settled from suds to silt.
Those cloths were always discarded, never
used for dishes again, deemed unfit
for the kitchen. Fifty years are over
now: I’ve known sullied cloth and family:
how some stains never wash out completely.

Some stains never wash out completely,
but my mother’s mother, Mary, would scrub
worn work camisas for the soiled but neatly
oiled and pompadoured Mexican railroad-
tie men who came to coal country laying
the wooden ties two thousand to the mile.
Boiled in lye, bleach in the wash and bluing
in the rinse, the shirts emerged starkly white
and innocent as angels. But these iron horsemen
of the Apocalypse, bearing spikes and crosses
for coal and cattle, carried pestilence
with them in that Spring of early losses-
my grandfather dead of flu in ’17-
not knowing the damage that would be done.

Not knowing the damage that could be done
we swam in the bright green lake of caustic
water. We thought it daring fun to plunge
beneath the foamy surface, opalescent
with chemicals that oozed unseen from dull
slag heaps: gray hillocks of thick detritus
left from the processing of newly-mined coal.
Knox County was blessed with bituminous
veins, cursed with the scars of its retrieval.
By the sixties, production had slowed down
to a handful of mines that were viable:
the older underground shafts abandoned,
while strip mining left the once-lush landscape stark,
rusted hoppers spilled coal beside old tracks.

Railroad hoppers spilled coal beside new tracks
as my mother, at ten, scurried along
the crisply graveled rail bed, packing sacks
of burlap with the fuel that had fallen
from overfilled cars. On her lucky days,
the bags grew heavy quickly and no snow
fell across the hills or, ankle-deep, lay
filling up the trackside ditches below,
where the tiny tank town of Appleton,
Illinois, lay crammed into the valley.
And sometimes, when the weak winter sun
grew thin as gruel from a caboose galley,
kind wind-burned men climbed atop the coal cars
and the black heat was gently handed down to her

This was how the black heat was handled: First,
the topsoil was peeled back by bulldozers
and piled aside for reclamation. Burst
through with draglines, the veins lying closer
to the surface were fractured, making it
easy to scoop the coal from the ground.
Crushed and separated, refined for what-
ever use it was destined: fine powder
for the power plant at Havana, coke
for steel, stoker coal for industry, egg and lump
for the furnaces of homes. Shale, sandstone,
pyrite-impurities-were hauled away and dumped
like wasted lives: what helps and what hinders
and what remains: dead ash and cold cinders.

And this is what remained: dead ash and cold cinders,
carried in an old coal hod to the driveway,
dumped in the low places. Rusty clinkers
of stony matter fused together by
the great heat of what warmed our little home
on sharp winter mornings. And in summer
the sunlight spiked off the marcasite nodes:
jewels that scraped and stung, lodging under
the skin of my shins and knees when I fell
from my bike to the cinders and gravel.
White scars remain to remind and foretell:
the last delivery truck of T.O. Miles;
shadows filling empty corners of the coal
room: one small, high window like a square halo.

One small, high window with a square halo
of light around the ill-fitting metal door:
coal lumps heaped up the walls. Dust billowed
through the air, covering the worn brick floor,
my father’s tools stored inside for the winter,
and the many shelves of calming jars, contours
soft beneath a veil of dull black. Heat sent
rising through the grates above and the roar
of the ancient furnace were a living
pulse to which we pressed our ears and bodies,
until the natural gas lines reached us, ending
our affair with coal. But like lost love’s memories
swept clean, damp days a dark stench still rises and chokes
with what I can remember, and what I won’t.

Copyright 2006 by Christina Lovin. Reprinted by permission.

Christina’s poem has won numerous prizes, which should come as no surprise. Most recently, it was awarded the “Best of the Best” prize from the online journal Triplopia, a contest for poems that have already won first prizes in other contests. Triplopia editor Tracy Koretsky’s commentary on “Coal Country” is a model of how poetry critiques should be written, full of insights into poetic form, prosody, and layers of meaning. Read the commentary and Tracy’s interview with Christina here.

What? You haven’t bought Tracy’s novel Ropeless yet? What’s the matter with you? Go here now.

Jen Besemer: “The Sea of No Future”

Writers of “transgressive” fiction now have an outlet at Ignavia, a new online journal seeking submissions of stories that are “dark, edgy and queer.” (Maximum 4,000 words; submit by email only.) I found Jen Besemer’s story from the first issue especially compelling. An excerpt:

My mother is the sound of derisive laughter, my father is a gunshot. I am the crust of bread left on the table after the guests are gone, or perhaps—sometimes—I am the lost bicycle of autumn found at the bottom of spring’s ravine. In either case I am, how do you say it, flotsam or jetsam. That which is thrown overboard, that which is overbalanced, topheavy, that which is fallen.

No. And again, no. I reject this present tense because I am no longer a shipwreck nor a wreck of any kind. No bruises darken my jaw, no scars slender as night glove my wrists or decorate my throat, and my long strand of bright freshwater pills has been buried for months. Oh, loss. That I could have pined for even these things, imagine, pined for my own doom. But I did pine and now I turn away and disappear. The present tense is imprecise but it still shines in its hazy way.

Time has a luminous quality, haven’t you noticed? What we call the past, what has already happened to us and entered our notice, is illuminated with a clarity in which we can take no active part. That is to say that today is the land of cloud and shadow, but yesterday comes to us with sharp outlines and a follow-spot which makes certain that we recall even the most horrific experiences with clearer vision than what we bring to our morning mirror meetings with ourselves. I’m not talking about history, I’m talking about memory. How the mind makes memory into history is no puzzle, but that’s not my concern. It’s just that even I succumb sometimes to the temptation to shut myself off from the things I have done, and that which has been done to me, calling it the past. What is this “past” we talk about like a family plot in the cemetery? We point it out to others as though proud of it: “Well, there was a girl I knew once whose legs were as long and smooth as the sky before daybreak, but that was a long time ago.” Oh yes, we say, nodding at the well-kept grave. Why make that distinction? There still exists, undeniably, a girl whose legs are as long and smooth as the sky before daybreak. Does it matter whether we recognize her or not? She maintains herself quite well without our attempts to place her forever behind us.

Earlier I rejected the present as imprecise and I insisted that I am no longer a crust of bread or a broken bicycle. That may be true; the point is that I am not primarily a broken or a devoured thing, though I have spent a great deal of energy already in functioning (if you can call it that) in the manner of such things. That life does not suit me today and I allow it to remain ill-suited to me.

Read the whole story here.

A Royal Priesthood

Today is the feast day of Pope Leo the Great, bishop of Rome from 440 to 461 AD, whose writings played a significant role in clarifying the doctrine of the Incarnation. James Kiefer at The Daily Office shares this encouraging passage from one of his sermons:

Although the universal Church of God is constituted of distinct orders of members, still, in spite of the many parts of its holy body, the Church subsists as an integral whole, just as the Apostle says: we are all one in Christ. . .

For all, regenerated in Christ, are made kings by the sign of the cross; they are consecrated priests by the oil of the Holy Spirit, so that beyond the special service of our ministry as priests, all spiritual and mature Christians know that they are a royal race and are sharers in the office of the priesthood. For what is more king-like that to find yourself ruler over your body after having surrendered your soul to God? And what is more priestly than to promise the Lord a pure conscience and to offer him in love unblemished victims on the altar of one’s heart?

Perhaps we’d behave better in our theological disputes and in the daily administration of the church if we tried to look at one another as members of a royal priesthood.  As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours….Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses…for in him also Christ vere latitat — the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

Makoto Fujimura on Jesus and Monsters

Acclaimed visual artist Makoto Fujimura shares some profound insights about resisting the cultural imperative to choose between religious faith and the unfettered artistic imagination, in this article from Implications, the online journal of the Trinity Forum. Highlights:

If you are an artist, you know you are seen as out of the mainstream, as avant-garde, but you also have been treated like a misfit or patronized like a child. You struggle to find meaning and significance in that gap between the two seemingly irreconcilable worlds. “Grow up and do something useful for society!” The world seems to place them in opposition, pitting Innocence against the reality of the Experience. Artists are caught between being able to have that curiosity, inquisitiveness, and emboldened sense of discovery of a child and the reality of the “adult world,” a reality that forces us to realize that we all indeed live in fear, in a ground zero of some kind or another. In our conversation to create a world that ought to be, we must start at that zero point of devastation.

In a recent Fresh Air broadcast with Guillermo Del Toro, Terry Gross interviews the writer/director of Pan’s Labyrinth. A remarkable film. It is not what you would call a family film, but as a kind of Narnia for adults it delves deeply into the mystery of redemption within the cruel setting of the Spanish civil war.

Terry Gross interviewed Del Toro about his upbringing, in which his strict Catholic grandmother tried to exorcize him twice because he was drawing monsters. He was forbidden to imagine a fantasy world. That was his “ground zero.” So he grew up having to bifurcate his moral sense of duty to his family, and his growing imagination. He was lead to believe that he could not have both imagination and religion, that the two worlds could not be reconciled: so he chose to journey on the path of imagination, leaving religion behind him.

Some of us identify with Del Toro, thoroughly. We feel that the church has tried to “exorcise” us of our imagination. Del Toro states “I invited Jesus into my heart as a young child . . . but then I invited monsters into my heart.”

International Arts Movement exists for this type of wrestling of faith, culture, and humanity. It starts with the admission that living and creating in ground zero means you live with both Jesus and monsters.

Wrestling in this way, we give ourselves permission to ask deeper questions. What if the monsters do take over? That would be a concern of parents for their children. That may be our current cultural condition of fear. But I think the situation is reversed: monsters have already taken over in reality, and the only hope we have is to imaginatively work backwards. We are to take charge of the situation, and we mediate both the sinister and the good. Just like in Pan’s Labyrinth, we need to know we have a greater inheritance waiting for us.

Some have called the twenty-first century the “Creative Age.” Phil Hanes, philanthropist and arts advocate, at a recent National Council on the Arts meeting, began a discussion on how we need to prepare ourselves as a nation to address this shift. Richard Florida, Thomas Friedman, Daniel Pink and others have noted similar shifts in culture: The Information Age is behind us, and yet we, in America, are educating our children to thrive in that past. The skills and knowledge for Information Age are now outsourced, but we are ill equipped to lead in the age of imagination, the age of synthesis.

While a hard term to define, the Creative Age will certainly mean one thing: we would have to reconcile living with both Jesus and monsters in our imaginative territories. We have to reconsider the artist’s role in society, in our education of our children; and we need to redefine how we see ourselves, all of us, as creative human beings who need art in our lives so that we can preserve a child’s innocence in the midst of horror and unspeakable evil, and help them to prosper and thrive in the creative age.

Read the whole article here. On a related note, the Internet Monk says “Bring it on!” to movies like “The Golden Compass”, the upcoming adaptation of the first book in Philip Pullman’s atheist fantasy trilogy for young adults (i.e., the anti-Narnia):

I’m firmly in the camp of Chesterton on this one. The more the atheist talks, the more Christianity makes sense to me. When I listen to atheists describe their noble vision of existence in an absurd and meaningless world where their firm and rational grasp on reality can give meaning to all of us who walk the aisle to becoming “Brights,” I’m so grateful for the doctrine of total depravity I could write an entire musical about it….

Atheism has been around for a long time. It’s going be around for a long time to come. It’s going to make more documentaries. It’s going to have more best-sellers. I’m sure it will have its own reality show on MTV. Your kids are going hear from atheist friends, professors and employers. They are going to be a lot less reluctant to portray Christians as a threat to peace and civil society than they were in the past.

You need to get ready for the “new atheism” to become a factor in every facet of our culture. We won’t get ready for that if we protest The Golden Compass or the twenty atheist-friendly Hollywood products that are coming soon to a theater near you.

No, it’s time to love your enemy. (Atheists aren’t the enemy anyway. It’s time we quit falling for every panic monger who wants to tell us that some group wants to “attack the family” or “take away our rights.” It’s not true most of the time, and when it is, Jesus had plenty to say about the blessings of being persecuted.) It’s time to find ways for the light to shine winsomely. It’s time to be a servant for Jesus’ sake. It’s time to give a reason for the hope that is in us. It’s time to turn and face the atheist challenge and not protest, run away or declare war.

Atheism has a powerful appeal when Christians aren’t well taught, honest and engaged. Its message can be potent when you’ve lived like a rabbit instead of a watchman or a witness. Many of the Christians warning us of “Atheists Ahead!” may be afraid their own faith couldn’t survive reading Sam Harris’s book. Atheists make dozens of challenges to Christianity and Christians that are MUCH NEEDED and LONG OVERDUE for consideration in many Christian circles.

If that is the case, then I say buy the atheist nearest you a good dinner, because he/she is doing us all a favor by challenging that house of cards we’re so afraid might get blown over. Remember this: when the atheist finishes making his presentation to my students, they’ve just learned that it makes no difference what they do. It’s all a matter of chemicals hitting the brain anyway, and it goes no deeper. When I finish my presentation, there’s a reason to go to class, to study, to pass, to graduate, to do something with your life and even to continue on with hope if you fail. The atheist says eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. I say remember your creator in the days of your youth, because he will bring all things into judgment.

My talk sounds a lot better when they’ve heard his/hers. Don’t forget that.

(I for one would love to see a musical about total depravity. Perhaps starring Nathan Lane as Martin Luther?)