An autobiobibliography

(Scroll to the end of the post if you want my list of personally significant books by half-decade of my life without the navel-gazing backstory.)

If you ask me what my favorite book is, I will just laugh at you for asking such a silly question.

If you ask me what my five favorite books are, I will still just laugh at you for asking such a silly question.

If you ask me what my 12, or 15, or 20 favorite books are, I might say, "Now there's a number that I might be able to work with. Let me get back to you on that." And then I will spend a couple of days pleasantly musing about the question, then forget about it for seven years, and never get back to you.

If you ask me again what my 12, or 15, or 20 favorite books are, and cut me off before I have a chance to say "Let me get back to you on that" to insist, "No, no, don't overthink this; it doesn't have to be your all time top 20 list, just tell me what comes to mind right away!" I will say, "Don't overthink this? Have you met me? If I'm not allowed to overthink in this game, I don't want to play." And I will, once again, never get back to you.

The only time I have ever successfully compiled a list of "My Books" off the top of my head was in response to this prompt from First Things, and I totally broke the rules. They asked for two books; I came up with sixteen. That's about as low as you'll ever get me to go on one of these kinds of questions.

But it was a fun exercise, even if I failed at the intent. So now, having mentioned the existence of the list to people whose curiosity it piqued, I will eventually share it with you.

The question in First Things was to name TWO books that most define you. These are called "bookends" in the piece, but I think the two foci of an ellipse is a more apt analogy. As Carter notes, a pair of books, especially if they are of somewhat disparate character, is much more illuminating than a single book. So even though I generally just laugh at any request for fewer than 10 books, I actually gave this one some thought -- and found it much easier to identify a pair of books than one single favorite.

But as I considered my pair, I realized that the pair was definitely definitive of myself around the time I read them (18-20ish), but did I want to claim them for my whole life? As Rusty Reno observes in one of the few comment threads on the whole internet that is worth reading, "most personality-defining books come early in life, during the formative years." So it stands to reason that my pair would come from that period of life. But I still wasn't sure about committing to my me-at-20 pair.

So I tried again, and came up with a completely different pair -- and quickly noticed that those suited 25-year-old me to a T. But my whole life? I still wasn't sure.

But observing that my first two attempts had landed neatly at roughly 5-year intervals, I wondered, could I trace my life in books in 5-year chunks, two books per half decade? And lo, I found that I could. And since this was for me both more interesting and easier than naming only two, ONLY TWO books for my whole life, I abandoned that quest and took up the other: the compilation of my autobiobibliography.

A few notes:

  • It gets harder to be confident of my picks the closer I get to the present. This is probably in line with Reno's observation of formative reading happening earlier in life, plus the lack of critical distance. This is why the last pairing isn't yet finalized.
  • There are some books on this list that are parts of series. I chose the particular volume I did on purpose. In most cases it is fair to take those books as synecdoche for the larger whole, but in a couple of cases I didn't even finish the series and/or loathed other installments.
  • There are some books on this list that were later expanded by their authors into larger, more definitive treatments. My selection of the earlier, shorter versions is deliberate. 
Now then, if you're still with me, my list:

5ish

Honorable Mention: The Great Green Turkey Creek Monster by James Flora

10ish

15ish

20ish

25ish

30ish

35ish

40ish

If any of my friends finds it an interesting exercise to examine their lives in terms of books (in whatever intervals of years and number of books per interval works for you), I would be delighted to see the resulting lists.

A Few of My Favorite Podcasts (#Trypod)


A bunch of my favorite podcasts are engaged in a viral marketing push called #trypod in which they encourage their listeners to introduce their friends and families to podcasts they might like. I'm totally onboard with giving them free publicity because podcasts genuinely add joy to my life. The problem is that I have so many favorites that it's had to know where to start in making recommendations. So instead of trying to narrow it down to a tweetable short list, I'm posting this list, with hyperlinks, in an attempt to make it easier for my friends to find the podcasts that catch their attention from among the many that I love.

(Here's a quick-start guide from This American Life on options for downloading podcasts if you don't want to just listen through your web browser. DAD.)

Most of my favorite podcasts are nonfiction storytelling programs. Here are some of them, with their major themes:
I am usually quick to lose patience with unscripted roundtable-style podcasts, but a couple of my absolute favorites are in the smart people with microphones category:
And one delightfully surreal serial fiction show:
For even more attention-worthy podcasts, these producers and networks have reliably high-quality offerings on a variety of topics:

I asked for a trigger warning on Ovid before it was cool

Discussions about the possibility and role of trigger warnings in higher education always make me a little depressed, because it seems that any mention of the theme instantly devolves into a shouting match between two camps, both terrified that the other will leverage power and privilege to trample on their cherished values, with the result that no one ends up listening to the valid concerns of those who disagree.

Those opposed to any use of trigger warnings in the classroom typecast those who dare request them as "an insufferable breed of self-centered Care Bears," members of a generation so coddled from infancy that they can't stand to have their feelings hurt or be forced to grapple with an uncomfortable idea. They point out that the notion of a trigger warning has been diluted by the wide range of content to which it has been applied, and argue that since it's impossible to provide warnings for every possible category of disturbing content, we shouldn't try at all.


Now, to be clear, I appreciate the academic freedom concerns that are raised by some of the more draconian proposed policies about trigger warnings. I don't think that the onus should be placed on instructors to imagine every possible "trigger" in every text they assign out of fear of reprisal should they fail to anticipate a student's distinctive pressure point. I oppose policies that demand or even suggest the censorship of course content, and I don't think that instructors should be compelled or pressured to provide alternative assignments for students who find certain content distressing (with the possible rare exception of students with confirmed diagnoses of PTSD, in which case requests for alternative assignments should be handled as ADA accommodations through a university's disability services office). I believe that an important part of a college education is grappling with ideas and depictions that challenge our comfort zones, and that students should be treated as adults with the capacity to deal with challenging material.

But I don't think any of this requires the disdain and vitriol that I so often see poured out on those students who have the courage to speak out about course content that they, because of their unique background and experiences, find especially difficult to face.

It turns out, I was way ahead of the trend on this issue. I requested a trigger warning on Ovid before I even knew what a trigger warning was.

Fifteen years ago, in an advanced Latin reading class, I was part of a small cohort of students working our way through Ovid's Ars Amatoria ("The Art of Love"), basically a first-century Pick-Up Artist's Manual. Somehow, when I was preparing the text in advance of the class meeting, I was so caught up in the nuts and bolts of figuring out the vocabulary and syntax that the message of the text didn't really sink in. It wasn't until we were working through the translation in class and Ovid's description of rape as something the victim desired was meet with awkward silence from my female classmates and nervous giggling from the males that the content really hit me. I was shaken and nauseated by the text and disturbed by the experience of having it left completely unchallenged. I tried to console myself with the idea that the wrongness of that assertion goes without saying, but given the ongoing crisis of sexual assault on university campuses, now I'm not so sure it does.

Now, I was not harmed by the experience of reading that text and witnessing that reaction. I was physically and emotionally disturbed for a little while, but I got over it. But then, I have not experienced sexual assault. Someone I love has, and it was the association of this text with her story that triggered my reaction. 

That evening I sent an email to my instructor, suggesting that when he teaches this text in the future, it might be helpful to offer a disclaimer. I made it clear that I didn't want the text to be censored, I just wanted him to be cognizant of the near-inevitability that sooner or later (and probably sooner than later), he would have a sexual assault victim as a student in his class, and this passage could be difficult for them to read. 

I didn't mean it as a complaint; I didn't blame my instructor for my uncomfortable experience. But I knew he was at the very beginning of his teaching career (he was a graduate instructor, just a year or two older than us students), and I thought it might be helpful for him to be aware of the strong reaction this text could provoke.

I never heard back from him.

I also wrote one other email that night: a thank you note to a professor whose class I had taken three years before. He had made a passing comment condemning and rejecting Aristotle's misogyny in the context of an introductory lecture about Aristotle's philosophy and his tremendous contribution to the history of Western thought. At the time, I had felt like the comment was nice but not really necessary -- of course Aristotle was wrong about women; let's say no more about it. After my experience with Ovid, though, I was grateful for the memory of a man in a position of power and privilege stating in no uncertain terms that a revered author of the classical canon was just plain wrong in his attitude toward women. 

Instructors: it costs us nothing to err on the side of kindness. We can't, and shouldn't try to, issue warnings and disclaimers about every possible thing that might discomfit a student, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't ever give advanced notice when we know (and our students don't) that we're approaching especially difficult material. Often, all a student needs to be able to productively engage with an emotionally challenging text is the opportunity to prepare themself psychologically instead of being caught off guard by something that reminds them of a personal trauma. Remember that not everyone has the luxury of being able to approach texts from a position of detached analysis, and the voices of those who cannot muster such detachment may be an especially valuable part of the education of all our students. So do what you can to offer them a place at the table. 

Unreal absence

It's funny. When my father's father was dying, I wanted to tell my facebook friends about it, but I felt like I couldn't. Because I knew that no matter how carefully and clearly I explained it to the contrary, people were going to jump to the conclusion that the grandfather in question was the grandfather I've been living with for the last five years, and I didn't have the emotional energy to make the correction over and over again.  (And sure enough, when I finally did make the announcement, even though I explicitly prefaced it with a disclaimer that I was not talking about Ben, a number of people demonstrated lack of reading comprehension.)

Now my mother's father -- the one I have been living with for the last five years -- has also died, and I don't really feel like talking about it.

But I so appreciate the compassion and kind words of my friends, and I want to honor the concern of those who wonder how I'm doing. So. A couple observations:

(1)

Quite a number of people have expressed concern that it must be hard for me to be alone in the big empty house that I used to share with GrandDad. But I've actually been surprised over how not-strange it feels. When I moved here, one of the things that was almost unsettling was the very palpable absence of my grandmother. So when my grandfather left, I fully expected that profound sense of absence to double, that the whole property would be haunted by the privation of both of the people who had given it life for more than half a century. But it doesn't feel that way at all. Even when I occupy my grandfather's room (I'm sitting on his bed as I type these words), the place is not consumed with his absence.

And then I realized that what made my grandmother's absence so profound was the undying heartache of how much he missed her. The emptiness that's filled the house for years has been the emptiness of separation. Now that my grandparents are no longer separated, that emptiness no longer fills every corner of the house. It's peaceful here, not depressing or eerie.

It is, admittedly, sometimes a little bit lonely. I am glad in those moments especially that I have a cat.

(2)

I take immense comfort in the way the details came together in the final week of my grandfather's life. I feel like God knew exactly who needed to be here, and who didn't, and arranged it just so. The people we all would have expected to be here for the end -- the daughter who lives in the next city and myself -- were both on vacation. Because of that, two other daughters and the necessary professional caregivers were here. I do not regret that I was not here at the very end, but I am very glad that my mother and her sister were.

I expected to be devestated when this happened, and am surprised that I am not. I miss him, to be sure. But having witnessed how he struggled with the physical limitations that plagued him in his final months, it feels like it would be selfish to wish him back. I'm sorry that I didn't get the chance to sit with him and go through his watch collection and have him tell me the stories of where each one came from, as we were planning to do when I came back from my vacation. But I'm not sorry that he is free from the "thorns in the flesh" that were such a burden to him of late. And I am grateful that the painful part of the dying process was not drawn out, and that he got the death he wanted: at home, not hooked up to machines, with his children at his side.

I am somewhat anxious about what comes next for me, although there are some developments just in the last 24 hours (that I'm not going to tell you about just yet -- sorry!) that make it feel like that, too, is coming together in possibly wonderful ways. I am hopeful, if unsettled by the uncertainty. And I am deeply grateful for the prayers of caring friends.

Apt descriptions

So, there are a lot of bad theological habits embedded in evangelical popular piety.  And often (for me, at least), a person can run into some such expression and feel like there's something just not right about it, but be hesitant to quibble because it seems petty or unspiritual to object to something that's couched in pious-sounding language.  That's probably the reason I so appreciate it when I come across a turn of phrase that does an especially good job of naming just what is wrong about certain ways of thinking/speaking/acting, as I have several times in the last couple of days. To wit:

"Romantic Prosperity Gospel" -- the myth that trusting in God and sexual obedience guarantees the reward of an out-of-this-world romantic marriage experience.

"Spiritual Incantations" --  quoting snippets of scripture out of context in the hopes that applying the Word of God to an unrelated situation will compel God to act the way we want him to.

“Thou shalt not use the name of thy Lord and Savior as a tool for passive-aggressive manipulation!"-- the best response to those religious chain letters/memes that imply that the reader is a bad Christian if s/he doesn't pass on the spam.

In Praise of Facebook

A new article over at Relevant Magazine talks about the dangers of Facebook envy and the threat social media poses to true community. 

I want to be sympathetic to the author's concerns, but I have to object to the way she universalizes one kind of experience with social media and suggests that it is inherent to those media themselves.  For some of us, Facebook can be a valuable tool for promoting true community.

Niequist writes:

We check [Facebook] when we’re bored and when we’re lonely, and it intensifies that boredom and loneliness.

Huh?

I check Facebook when I'm bored and/or lonely, sure.  (Not only when I'm bored or lonely, but some of the times I check Facebook are also times that I'm bored or lonely.)  But it doesn't intensify those feelings -- it helps to relieve them.  I cease to be bored because my friends invariably post really interesting stuff that's worth reading on Facebook.  I cease to be lonely because there's a reasonably good chance that checking Facebook (at least at certain times of the day) will lead to having a real-time chat conversation with someone who loves me who is also on Facebook at the same time. And even if I don't end up in a direct exchange with a friend, I feel less alone simply by being connected with my friends' lives, sharing their everyday sorrows and joys as they come across in their status updates.

She continues:
... it only takes one friend at the Eiffel Tower to make you feel like a loser.

Again, Huh?

I can't say it any better than Jon Stewart:  "I'm not a doctor, but if you get upset because other people are happy, it seems your problem might not be Facebook, but that you're an asshole."

Seriously: if you respond to the news that one of your friends is in Paris by throwing a pity party for yourself rather than thinking, "That's so cool!  I hope she's having a great time!" -- you need to get over yourself.  And/or seek therapy.

Now, I freely grant that I have an exceptionally good experience with Facebook because I have extraordinary Facebook friends.  Every once in a while I am reminded that most people who use Facebook probably don't encounter a newsfeed filled with articulate, thoughtful, faithful reflections on life, the universe, and everything.  But Niequist's discussion seems to imply that every one of her Facebook friends uses the service only to present a carefully crafted persona that shows them in the best possible light.

I find this kind of hard to believe.  (Although, if it is the case, I guess I can understand why Niequist would find Facebook depressing.)  What I find when I log in to Facebook is not a newsfeed full of show-offs, but an opportunity to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.  I pray for my friends who share their fears and struggles with me using Facebook.  I commiserate and offer encouragement to those who vent their frustration over the annoyances of living in a fallen world.  I laugh with delight at the pictures and anecdotes of my friends' brilliant and beautiful children.  I cheer the victories when my friends share the good news of a major goal accomplished.  Yes, I know, my friends don't show me everything that's going on in their lives, but in the aggregate, I feel like my Facebook feed gives me a realistic snapshot of the daily ups and downs in the lives of people I love, not just a set of "carefully curated images."

...I don’t think you can build transforming friendships that take place only in a public sphere like Facebook or Instagram.

I guess my point of disagreement with Niequist here is in her classification of Facebook as only "a public sphere."  To be fair, in calling her readers to "stop comparing" and "start connecting," she says, "You can use Facebook if you want," while arguing that other media like email, Skype, or text messages might be better suited.  She seems to experience Facebook as a format that encourages the user to passively consume status updates rather than interacting personally with the people who posted them.  But there is nothing about Facebook that forces us to use it that way.

Many of the most intimate and life-giving exchanges I have had on Facebook have been through mechanisms that Facebook provides that are decidedly NOT in the public sphere:  a private, invitation-only group that has become a place where members can reach out for moral support when dealing with hostile interlocutors on more public areas of Facebook (or the broader internet); a private message thread through which a group of friends organized a surprise for a new mother; another private message thread in which we rallied to encourage and pray for a friend with cancer.  I imagine these communications would fit Niequist's definition of connecting and building community.  They did not happen in spite of Facebook; they were things that happened in part because Facebook made them possible.

To my own great surprise, I have true friends whom I have never met in real life, but only know on Facebook.  I do not mean here "friend" only the Facebook sense of the word (I've got a number of those, too), but real friends -- people I love and pray for, people I would be delighted to welcome into my home if they ever come to my side of the country, people I trust, whom I genuinely believe I could call on for help in a crisis, and to whom I would readily offer my assistance if they needed it.  These are people for whom I am immensely grateful, and chances are we would never have known each other (and surely not known each other as well as we do) without Facebook.  They are for me the greatest possible testimony of the potential of Facebook to be a vehicle for real community.

The world is about to turn


I am a devotee of the Great Vigil of Easter.  The most important thing I will do all year is a three-hour worship service tonight that starts with the kindling of the New Fire and recounts the epic story of salvation on which the Christian faith is founded.

I am also a Presbyterian, which is a bit of a problem, because most Presbyterian churches (including my own) do not observe the Vigil.  So for the last eight years, come Holy Saturday, I have been an ecumenical tourist, seeking out some Episcopalian, Lutheran, or (in one case) Methodist church in my area that does have a Vigil.  I've only lived in two cities in this time, but I've attended Easter Vigils at eight different churches in five different cities over the same interval.

I am thankful that my wilderness wanderings with respect to the Vigil are at an end, at least for now, because dear friends of mine who are also devotees of the Great Vigil are living in a neighboring city and are on the steering committee of the new church plant.  There is no way that their church is ever not going to have a Vigil, which means that I have a home to go to for this great service.

It's a 45-60 minute drive, each way, for me to get to their church, so I've put together a playlist for the drive there and the drive back.  Because the Vigil takes place after nightfall, this creates a weird kind of cognitive dissonance: on the way to the Vigil, I am usually driving through a brilliant SoCal spring day, with the sun sparkling off the vivid blue of the Pacific Ocean out to my left, while listening to mournful music of quiet waiting that speaks of darkness and death and entombment.  On the way from the Vigil, I am driving through black night, while listening to/singing along at the top of my lungs with triumphant music about a glorious morning that witnessed the defeat of death and the dawn of new life. 

Really, though, I think there's something profoundly right about the mismatch between my music and my environment on these drives, because Easter is an event that confounds expectations.  This world, even at its brightest and most glorious, is profoundly broken and in need of redemption.  This world, even at its darkest and most despairing, is being redeemed by the same power that brought Jesus Christ back from the dead.

 Songs for Holy Saturday -- Before the Vigil


Songs for Holy Saturday -- After the Vigil

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

Last year, I noted with some surprise and some relief that Valentine's Day didn't feel like a huge emotional ordeal anymore.  This year feels different still: I'm fairly sure this is the best Valentine's Day I have ever had.  At least, it is almost certainly the best Valentine's Day I've ever had since the worst Valentine's Day I've ever had, which was the day as a teenager when I first really had my heart broken.  (First runner-up for worst Valentine's Day ever: I came down with the chickenpox on Feb. 14, 1989. So I think I come by my antipathy for the holiday quite honestly.)

It has been a beautiful day today.  I have had several rich conversations with people I love, who love me.  And I have received several serendipitous little surprises that have added joy to my day, from discovering that something that I thought might be a problem with my vehicle turns out not to be a problem to happening upon a book that I have long desired for my personal library at the Friends of the Library sale at my public library.

I scroll through my facebook feed, and I find myself reacting with equal delight to the creativity of those who lampoon Valentine's Day as a made-up, manipulative scheme of the Hallmark corporation and to the sincerity of those who use this occasion to declare their love for their spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends, parents, kids, siblings, friends, what have you.  I am blessed with such an amazing collection of people to love, and this fantastic technology that makes it easy to keep in touch with them (even if a certain proportion of them did just sign off for forty days of social media fasting for Lent).

Yet there's a part of me that feels like it's just WRONG for me to be having a good day today, because of something else that is going on at the same time as these rich conversations and little surprises and fun facebook reminders of friends and loved ones: today, someone I love deeply and will miss profoundly is going through the very hard work of leaving this world for the next.

This is a mercy, coming at the end of a long illness that has brought much sorrow to my loved one and those closest to him.  It is a Good Death, with a devoted son keeping vigil, with many other loved ones accompanying him with their prayers, with excellent, compassionate medical and personal care (High Desert Hospice and Pelican Pointe Memory Care Community: may your tribes increase!). He is not suffering, and, as my mother loves to say, "heaven will be better."  Not only that: heaven will be perfect.  But the world will be a poorer place for those of us who are going to catch up later.

But even if today ends up being the day that this precious, faithful soul finishes the race set out for him, I don't think that's going to catapult 2013 to the top of the list of worst St. Valentine's Days Ever.  I'm reminded of how we got Saint's Days in the first place: the early church commemorated the faithful departed not on the dates of their births, but on the dates of their deaths, for that was the date on which they were born into the new life to come.  If this is the day, then St. Valentine's Day will forever after be for me St. Jim's Day, an unshakeable reminder that I have been truly, deeply loved, and I have the precious and privileged heritage of sharing that love for as long as the Lord gives me life.

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. Amen.

ETA, 8 p.m. PDT:  A blessed St. Jim's Day to all, especially his family and beloved friends.  Acknowledge, O merciful Savior, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace,
and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

On the metaphysics of horcruxes

Tygre and I were talking the other day about some of our favorite fantasy universes and their metaphysical underpinnings (or lack thereof), and the subject came around to the fact that J.K. Rowling simply doesn't give a damn how or why magic works in the Potterverse.  And Tygre said something to the effect (I'm sure I'm putting words in his mouth now, so don't hold him to my interpretation of his remark) that this is particularly unsatisfying when it comes to the lack of any coherent mechanism to explain just how it is that Lily's self-sacrifice functions (and ceases to function) as magical protection for her son.

He's basically right about that.  I think that the Potterverse is fundamentally metaphysically incoherent and the ultimate explanation for the "rules" of that magical universe, such as they are, is narrative convenience.  But there is some degree of logic to the way that Lily's sacrifice and Lily's blood work beyond simply being symbols that self-giving love is a good thing.

For starters, it's not the protective power of Lily's love that wears out or expires when Harry comes of age, but only the bond between that magical protection and the home of Lily's sister, Petunia Dursley.  Why this is is never adequately explained (narrative convenience!).  But I think we can posit some sort of plausible theory that, as Harry is merely the Dursleys' ward and not their son, once he reaches his majority, their home is no longer legally, magically, his home, which is the predicate upon which the special protection of that place depends.  (Which makes me wonder whether, if the Dursleys had done as Dumbledore asked and accepted Harry as their own son, if they had loved him as Lily had, or even loved him for Lily's sake, the protective charm upon their home might not have broken when it did.  But they didn't, so nevermind.)

So the protection on the home expires, but the protection on Harry endures, and comes into play in the penultimate confrontation between Harry and Voldemort.

Here is how this works.  (Sort of. I think.)

Laying down your life for another is the opposite of a horcrux.  A horcrux destroys another life to extend one's own; self-sacrifice saves another life at the cost of its own.  This makes Lily's blood a kind of anti-horcrux.

When Voldemort regenerates his human body, he doesn't understand what it is about Harry that allowed him to survive the killing curse and defeat a powerful dark wizard, but he figures whatever that power is, he can appropriate it for himself by using Harry's blood in the regeneration spell.  When he later learns that it was Lily's sacrifice that protected Harry, he thinks that he has succeeded in co-opting that powerful protection for himself.  He doesn't realize that what he has done is infused his own very body with a magic that would rather die than hurt Harry.

So when Harry goes to meet Voldemort in the forbidden forest, he knows that he is a horcrux, carrying a fragment of Voldemort's "soul," and that all the horcruxes must be destroyed before Voldemort can die, and he is willing to lose his own life to make that happen.  Voldemort is ignorant both that Harry is a horcrux and that his (Voldemort's) body only exists by means of the anti-horcrux power of Harry's (i.e. Lily's) blood.  Therefore, when Voldemort uses his treacherous body to cast the spell that is meant to kill Harry, it only succeeds in killing the horcrux.  The power of Lily's blood in Voldemort's body would rather kill itself than hurt Harry, and so the killing spell cast by that body at Harry finds itself -- the bit of Voldemort's soul attached to Harry -- and kills that, rather than killing Harry.

Dumbledore insists that for this to even have a chance of working, Harry must be struck by Voldemort himself, and he must go willingly and not defend himself.  It is not clear to me why these are essential criteria. I think it has to be Voldemort because if anyone other than Voldemort-in-a-body-regenerated-with-Lily's-blood tries to kill Harry directly, Harry will simply die.  The protection of her sacrifice doesn't make him immortal.

The not-defending-himself part is harder to parse.  Is it simply so that the protection of self-giving sacrifice can be extended, casting that great protection over all those back at the castle for whom Harry was trying to lay down his life?  Or is that if Harry were to strike back, even in self-defense, that Voldemort-like behavior would have made it impossible, in that crucial moment, for the spell to distinguish the horcrux-in-Harry from Harry himself, and both would be destroyed?

Attempting to construct a fully formed underlying logic from the fragments of Potter canon that we have is an exercise in building castles in the clouds.  It is possible that I have now thought harder about these things than Rowling herself.  (I suspect not, though -- I think she probably did have at least the logic of blood vs. horcruxes worked out for herself, and just didn't put all her cards on the table when she wrote the books.)

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints

Since last summer, I've been tracking with and praying for four families facing medical crises.  All of these families used various forms of electronic media to keep far-flung friends and family updated about their situation; two of the four did this by creating a site on CaringBridge.org.

When I followed the directions for logging on to the first of these Caring Bridge sites, I found that I already had an account with the site, although I didn't recall exactly when or why I had created it. When I downloaded the Caring Bridge App for my iPod and signed into it, I discovered the reason.

When you open the Caring Bridge App, the front page is always your Site List, which gives you one-touch access to all of the personal sites that you have registered as following. And there on the list, right beneath the name of the friend I had just added, was the name of another precious friend who had died two and a half years earlier.

I came very close to deleting that old site from my Site List. It hadn't been updated since about a month after the funeral, and it was jarring, every time I tapped on the app to see the latest news from one of the two families I am now following, to be forcibly reminded that I now live in a world without Dianne in it.

But it didn't seem right to stop following Dianne's site. And before long, seeing her name on that list stopped being a painful reminder of her absence from this earth, and turned into a comforting reminder of the hope that we have.  I went back and re-read some of her husband's accounts of the signs of God's mercy in her final days and weeks, and was encouraged in my ongoing prayers for others whose final chapters of this life have yet to be written.

One of the people I am currently following on Caring Bridge is dying. He has already lived far longer than anyone expected when he went on hospice care, but his condition is not getting better and there is no cure. Sooner or later, and more likely sooner than later, he will join Dianne.

The other person I am currently following on Caring Bridge is also dying, in the sense that to be alive is to be moving towards one's death.  But in terms of the crisis that led his family to create the Caring Bridge site in the first place, the immediate danger appears to have passed.  For several months he was fighting for his life, and the odds were against him; but now he is doing well and getting stronger every day.  Of course, in the midst of those months, we had no way of knowing that we would ever see this day.

It can be scary to pray for mercy for a suffering person and not know what form that mercy might take.  Seeing the name of Dianne, who has finished the race of this mortal life, alongside the names of dear ones who still have who-knows-how-much-more of the race ahead of them, helps me to pray these prayers with a broader perspective, and to remember, as Julian of Norwich said, that "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

Today marks the third anniversary of Dianne's death.  It still seems so wrong that her sweet, generous, loving spirit no longer shines a ray of light in this broken world.  But I am thankful that she still bears witness to the resurrection that we have not yet experienced but cling to as a sure and certain hope through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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