Radish and Orange Salad

 A recipe I improvised to use up stuff in my kitchen and that came out surprisingly well:


  • Most of a bag of radishes that you no longer remember why you bought but apparently only used about 3 of them.
  • Half of a blood orange that you have left over from something else, plus however many clementines it takes for the total volume of citrus to be a little more than the total volume of radishes. If you have a whole blood orange, that would probably be better. If you have no blood oranges, or navel oranges instead of clementines, I'm sure any combination of oranges or orange-adjacent fruits will be fine. This is a recipe for using up leftovers, after all.
  • 2/3 of a medium onion, sliced. It should be a red onion, really, but if what you have is a yellow onion because it's left over from another recipe that called for 1/3 of an onion (?!?), use that. If you don't have 2/3 of an onion left over from something else, round up to a whole onion. Maybe even a large onion. 
  • 1/2 cup of red wine vinegar, or balsamic vinegar, or apple cider vinegar. Plus a few splashes from a bottle of red wine that you happen to have already open when you later discover that you were too skimpy on the vinegar to start with. If you don't have an open bottle of red wine sitting around, increase vinegar to 3/4-1 cup, depending on the amount of onion you're using.
  • A handful of toasted pecans that you have left over because you were really bad at eyeballing how many pecans you would need for another recipe and toasted way too many pecans.
  • Sugar. About 2 teaspoons, or however much you like.
  • Salt, to taste (whatever that means)
  • Fresh ground black pepper, also to taste
  • Olive or Avocado oil, about 1/4 cup
  • A couple squirts of dijon or honey mustard


  1. Place sliced onion in a bowl and pour boiling water over it. Let sit for 5 seconds, then drain and return to the bowl. (I have no idea whether this step is necessary, but it's what the recipe I found when I Googled "quick pickled onions" said to do, so I followed orders.)
  2. Combine vinegar, sugar, and a little salt in a small saucepan and heat, stirring, until sugar/salt are dissolved. DO NOT INHALE THE VINEGAR FUMES. If you like to be fancy you can add some other spices, like cloves. I didn't. 
  3. Pour vinegar over the onion. When the vinegar isn't enough to fully submerse the onion, add enough red wine to cover. Set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  4. With a mandolin if you have one or a knife if you don't, slice the radishes into thin rounds and the citrus into slightly thicker rounds. Watch your fingers.
  5. Drain the onion, reserving the vinegar. 
  6. Combine citrus, radishes, and onion in a large bowl.
  7. In a small bowl, combine the oil, mustard, about half as much of the reserved vinegar as you had oil, and generous sprinklings of salt and pepper. Whisk together and taste. Add more vinegar, and maybe more salt and pepper. Repeat until it tastes good. 
  8. Pour the dressing and pecans over the salad and fold together gently.
  9. Let sit in the refrigerator overnight to allow flavors to meld. Or don't, if planning ahead isn't your thing. Planning ahead obviously isn't my thing, or else I wouldn't have ended up with this hodge-podge of ingredients in search of a way to eat them, but doing major cooking projects after dinner IS my thing, precisely because planning ahead isn't my thing so I frequently end up starving without time to cook and have a microwave burrito for dinner and then figure, now that I'm in the kitchen and no longer starving, I should maybe prepare food for the next day. 


(A work of speculative fiction) 

 On an idle winter day during a global pandemic, as "Read Across America Day" approaches, a member of the board of directors of Doctor Seuss Enterprises melancholically scrolls through Twitter on his iPhone. Observing left wing social media going apoplectic about a tacky gold-tone statue at CPAC, he suddenly has an epiphany about the zeitgeist and quickly fires off an email to the other directors: 

"You guys, 

We have a golden opportunity that I think we need to take advantage of. 

There is, obviously, a significant population of Americans who like racism. There is also a significant population of Americans who like performative anti-racism. 

Both groups can be reliably counted upon not to read all the way to the end of the first sentence of a news article or press release, but to react with outrage and moral certainty to whatever memeified version of an account they encounter from a pundit they already agree with. In the case of things related to the oeuvre we manage, those memes will almost certainly take the form of rhyming couplets with painfully chaotic meter that people will inexplicably consider clever, because not only do Americans not understand how intellectual property works, they don't understand how poetry works, either. But I digress. 

As you well know, our portfolio includes a number of obscure and under-performing titles with imagery and/or text that trades on exaggerated racial stereotypes. We make a few cents in royalties each year on these titles by selling replacement copies to libraries with completist collection policies and/or grandmas who have not themselves read them in 60 years and so have forgotten how long and, frankly, boring their are. The income rarely covers the cost of the warehouse space to store them or the occasional print run to restock the warehouse. We dare not promote them, because we don't want to draw attention to the racist shit and face a backlash. But we've so far been wary to let them drop out of print entirely out of a vague sense that Audrey entrusted us to steward Geisel's complete works. So they've been a drain on the whole operation for some time. 

I propose that we go ahead and cease publication of these titles, but instead of just dropping them from publication as happens with literally thousands of books every year and no one notices, I think we should announce publicly that we are making this change because of the "overt racism" in the books. 

The white people who like racism and hate "cancel culture" will be enraged at the "censorship" of a beloved children's author, and will rush out and buy copies of our remaining high-performing titles to show their support. 

The white people who dislike racism and find "cancel culture" rhetoric annoying will laud us for "doing the right thing," and will also rush out and buy copies of our remaining high-performing titles to show their support, conveniently overlooking or explaining away the deeply problematic content in some of our more popular holdings. 

People of color have never really been our target audience anyway, so if they are subjected to tedious demands from their white acquaintances that they explain exactly what is wrong with the books we're dropping, or blamed for the loss of a beloved childhood favorite because they're "too sensitive" (even if they've never expressed any opinion whatsoever about any Dr. Seuss book), that's frankly not our problem. 

It's a win-win proposition that could be worth millions of dollars in added revenue. 

The only question in my mind, really, is which books to cut. I'm sure we can all think of a few obvious candidates. I think we should focus on our worst-selling titles, but throw in a couple of titles that most journalists have at least heard of, since we might not get the media attention we need for this to work if we send out a press release that makes your typical news director think, "I didn't even know Dr. Seuss wrote that. Why would anyone care?" If I Ran the Zoo strikes me as the perfect combination of racist and obscure-but-not-too-obscure for this project. I welcome your suggestions for other titles to include and the ideal target number. 

While I think we want to be sure to include at least one or two somewhat familiar titles, we also should be cautious about overplaying our hand by not dropping anything that's too beloved, particularly not in this first round. But if this works the way I think it will, we may be able to capitalize on this strategy for multiple rounds of cuts before anyone catches on. We could ultimately streamline the collection to a few best-selling titles, while sparking millions of dollars in consumer slacktivism purchases in the meantime. We could branch out beyond the racism outrage market in future years if this proves to be a winning strategy. Imagine the attention we could get from pro-lifers for cancelling Horton, or from the environmentalists for chopping The Lorax. The sky's the limit. 

If we can figure this out and make the announcement before Geisel's birthday, we might be able to leverage that for more media attention. Most people haven't noticed that we're not formally affiliated with Read Across America anymore. If you're on board with this idea, please write back as soon as possible. Let's not leave this money on the table."

Already and Not Yet

One of the things that I love most about liturgical time is how it is sometimes gloriously out of sync with the secular calendar in ways that remind me that I am a citizen of a New Creation. 

I've never really thought about this in terms of when exactly the year starts, though. Honestly for many years I've thought the most salient thing about the church year starting with Advent was that it made it more complicated to remember which version of the lectionary we're supposed to be using at any given time.

This year I embraced the notion of the New Year starting with Advent with special gusto, mainly out of eagerness to consign this year to the past. Good riddance to 2020! I don't care that there's a month left on the calendar, I'm ready to stick a fork in this year and call it DONE. And if the liturgical calendar gives me an excuse to do that, I'm all for it.

But of course the things about 2020 that I want to be over, aren't over. The pandemic is still raging out of control. We're still enduring this uncertain political interregnum of an outgoing president who desperately wants to hang on to his job, even though he doesn't seem to have any interest at all in actually doing the job. Even the semester isn't over -- we've sent the students home, but finals are still looming, grades have yet to be posted, and all the miscellaneous tasks that kept getting kicked down the road in the face of the chaos that was teaching in a pandemic still need to be tended to. Declaring this year over is at best wishful thinking and at worst an excuse for irresponsible abdication of the responsibilities still before me, right?

Here's the thing, though -- no matter where on the calendar you peg the end of one year and the start of the next, the things you want to be over aren't magically over, and the things you hope to begin won't magically happen just because there's a new number on the calendar. A million New Year's resolutions  abandoned by mid-January bear witness to that fact. And yet I think it can make a difference where, in the sequence of things, you choose to mark the new year. 

Secular New Year comes as the last hurrah of a frenetic holiday season, before turning back to the mundane duties of daily life in the coldest, darkest part of the year. The past is past and the onus is on us to become better people by sheer force of will. It makes me tired just thinking about it. 

Starting the year with Advent, on the other hand, means starting the year with a season of waiting, preparation, and hope. There's no pressure to make THIS the year when we finally get things right, because remembering that Christ has come involves remembering why it was necessary for him to come -- we sinful human beings cannot save ourselves, but God so loved us even when we got everything wrong that he sent his Son to save us. And remembering that Christ is coming again puts any good that we do, by God's enabling, in the context of what He is already doing to bring his Kingdom to consummation. 

It's a New Year. The Creator and Redeemer of the world is already there. Christ has come. Christ is coming. The uncertainty and trouble of 2020 is continuing into 2021, but the all-consuming anxiety of these few months are a small thing in the cosmic story the season invites us to remember every year. Take heart, our King has overcome the world. 

An hour-by-hour guide to remaining patient, prepared, and epistemically humble throughout tonight (and tomorrow morning)

I love the fact that this is a sub-head to an article on The Atlantic. And I find the article itself helpful for those of us who cannot restrain the impulse to obsessively follow the news tonight. I don't think, however, that any guide to watching the results will actually help with the intellectual virtues lauded in the sub-head. So, a quick alternative guide:

RIGHT NOW (If you haven't already):

TURN OFF NOTIFICATIONS ON YOUR PHONE. Unless you are someone's emergency contact, turn off your phone altogether. Close the browser tabs with Twitter, Facebook, and your favorite news outlets. 

5 P.M. (or sooner if you can swing it):

Go for a walk before it gets too dark.

6 P.M.

Cook a good dinner for your loved ones, or just for yourself. Do not turn on the radio or TV.  Eat that dinner.

7 P.M.

Pray. Here's a Compline Service you can pray along with if you like. 

8 P.M.

Watch something fun and completely unrelated to the election on TV, and/or phone a friend who you can count on not to draw you into a spiral of interpreting the results.

9 P.M. 

Repeat 8 p.m.

10 P.M.

IF YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST, check on the news to see how things are unfolding, at a reputable outlet that you trust not to sensationalize things. Remind yourself that things are unlikely to be settled tonight, and refrain from jubilation or despair over the standings. Then, turn the TV/computer/phone OFF.

11 P.M.


On Preparing to Vigil Alone

Next Saturday will be only the second time in 17 years that I have not attended the Great Vigil of Easter. It's pretty much my favorite thing that happens all year.

This is despite the fact that I've only actually been a member of a congregation that celebrates the Great Vigil for one out of those 17 years. I am an ecclesiological sojourner each year when it comes to the Church's Great Feast of All Feasts, having to find a congregation other than the one with whom I worship and fellowship on a week-in, week-out basis that will welcome me as a guest to the grand party. I continue the celebration the next morning with my own people, and I delight that I can do both, but there is always a bifurcated character to my Easter celebration.

For me, the Great Vigil has always been about inaugurated eschatology -- the declaration that the Kingdom has Come in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, even as it is not yet fully realized in a broken world and an imperfect church.

I fell in love with the Vigil at the same time in my life that I was first truly experiencing the pain of shattered relationships -- coming to know first-hand how people can break your heart, how even self-consciously Christian communities can let you down, how my own sinfulness and frailty makes the call to live at peace with all, "as far as it depends on you," something that can sometimes only be fulfilled through distance. The very churches in which I first discovered the beauty of the Vigil were in fact churches I left feeling wounded and inadequately supported at a time in my life when I was in deep pain.

My experience of the Vigil, every year since, has been marked by the ongoing division of Christ's church. We are not yet One, as he prayed we would be. One year I unwittingly joined a congregation on what turned out to be their final time of worship together before they went their separate ways in a painful split. Another, I worshipped with a congregation that had made that hard decision not to host a joint, ecumenical Vigil with beloved brothers and sisters in Christ because they had realized that their theological and pastoral differences were too significant to create a reconciled service that could accommodate everyone's convictions. Multiple times over I have sat in the service alongside people listening to the homily in tense dismay as they heard, alongside the declaration of the Easter Gospel, teachings they believed to be profound distortions of that very Gospel, causing them to wrestle with their own consciences over whether they could faithfully stay in this congregation or if they must withdraw.

One of the things I love about having attended the Vigil in so many different churches over the years is the assurance that this same Great Story is being proclaimed around the world and by all manner of Christians. Whatever our differences in theology or worship style or local custom, Easter is when Christians announce to the world the essence of our faith: that Jesus is Risen, the Lord is Risen Indeed. But the very fact that I have attended the Vigil in so many different churches is also a testimony to our division -- there is never a single, unified church of Christ in any of the cities in which I lived. There are, to be sure, good reasons for our divisions, and God is using us as his emissaries in the world even with and through our division, yet this is itself a sign that the Kingdom has not yet fully been realized.

I think one of the reasons I am such a devotee of the Vigil is that it declares that Easter is greater and more final than all our divisions and failings. We stream out of the church into darkness, into a world that does not yet know that it has already been redeemed. We sing a broken Alleluia. We announce that light has come into the world, and is coming, and darkness cannot stop it. We live by faith and not by sight.

In a world shattered by sickness, where we are tempted to rage against those who seem to be making the situation worse, where we can be captivated by fear for ourselves and those we love, I need more than ever the reminder that Easter will have the final word, even if Not Yet. My Risen Lord has conquered death; where, oh grave, is your victory?

So I will celebrate a broken Vigil in a broken world this Easter. It is not right to do it alone, but the message we proclaim is more powerful than all that is not right in the world. So I will light a fire, and I will read the Word, and I will ring a bell, and I will declare that Christ is Risen! And I will observe an act of Spiritual Communion in lieu of the first Eucharist of Easter, which seems likely to be "absolutely impossible" this year. Spiritual Communion is an act of longing for the church as it should, and ultimately will, be -- which is, in fact, what all of these Easter Vigil celebrations that I have so loved over the years have also been.

In this world we will have trouble. But take heart! Christ has overcome the world.

His heart beats (In which Rachel over-analyzes her new favorite song)

Andrew Peterson released a new Easter album on Saturday and it's wonderful and you should go download it right now and listen to it on infinite loop for the next 50 days.

I mean, I assume it's all wonderful. I fell so in love with the first song that I've just been listening to that one on infinite loop since I first played it on the way home from the Great Vigil Saturday night. I'll get around to the rest of the album at some point, I'm sure.

The premise of the song took my breath away: it imagines the exact moment of the resurrection -- the first heartbeat, first breath, of Jesus' resurrected body. How have I never thought about it this way before? I asked myself. This was the most important moment that EVER HAPPENED, and yet I've never even thought about it.

But as the song looped over and over in the blessed night, I started having second thoughts. I remembered that part of the reason I've never thought about the moment of resurrection from Jesus' perspective is that Scripture is silent about it. So anything we say about it is imaginative speculation. Which isn't to say artists shouldn't engage in such speculation -- much great Christian art is the product of exactly that kind of imagining -- but there's a difference between our imagining and the teaching of the faith.

Just a couple days ago, I encountered another song (to which I will not link, in order to protect the guilty) that was also an imaginative retelling of part of the Easter story. I was appalled its theological vacuity and sentimentality. So I hesitated over my immediate affection for this song. It at least merited further reflection about how well-founded the speculation in question might be.

Further, I grew troubled that this depiction of the resurrection could give the impression that resurrection was simply reanimation of a corpse. Resurrection isn't just that a dead body stopped being dead. The resurrected body is transformed, glorified.

Peterson gives some indication of this in the lyrics:  "He rises / Glorified in flesh / Clothed in immortality / The firstborn from the dead." But what do these things mean? One could hear these lines and still imagine that the resurrection here described is essentially tantamount to waking up from a really, really deep coma. Which is not what the church teaches.

Just what, exactly, the glorification of the the resurrected body entails is largely mysterious. Immortality, clearly. And evidently some degree of liberty from the spatiotemporal constraints affecting our fallen bodies, to judge from some of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.

Yet, still flesh. Still human. Still one's own body. And if that's the case, then whatever else resurrection involves, surely a beating heart would be part of it -- because it's still HIS body, it still contains HIS heart, and if living, that heart beats. Right?

And that's when I was confronted anew by the scandalous particularity of the Christian teaching about the resurrected body. Do I really believe this? If I believe that his heart beat on that first Easter morning, then I believe that his heart beatS, now. That right this moment, at some real place (whatever "at the right hand of the Father" means), there exists a human heart that has been beating continuously for nearly two thousand years, and will keep on beating forever. And not only that, all our hearts will someday start beating again, and keep beating forever.

At first blush, that idea seemed even more implausible than someone rising from the dead. And would it even be desirable, even if possible? I thought of the sentiment I've heard from multiple nonagenarians expressing a fatigue that my middle-aged self can't even comprehend -- not just of the day's labor, but of continuing to be alive -- as though their stubborn hearts just keep on beating willy-nilly, and while they don't actively wish to die, they would be happier to just stop living. Multiply that by 20, and then by infinity? Is that good news?

But then I remember that I'm using our fallen-world, perishable bodies with their tired hearts as a yardstick for the imperishable, glorious bodies of the resurrection; comparing apples to Easter eggs. A two-thousand-year-old beating human heart seems impossible because human hearts always die a long time before that, and when they die, they decay. But things that keep living keep being renewed. There are some plants that have lived for thousands of years and still grow, so a two-thousand-year-old organism is not inherently incredible. Furthermore, when we're imagining resurrected bodies, we're stipulating that God's already done the hard part -- undone death, and transformed a dead, decaying body into a glorified, immortal one. Compared to that, sustaining it for centuries -- forever -- is child's play. So as crazy as it sounds, yeah, I think I do believe that his heart beatS.

But do I, as Peterson sings, "know, I know, his heart beats"? Not quite. (And this is why I probably wouldn't program this song as part of a worship service, unless perhaps there was also going to be a sermon about the resurrected body that could caution against the mistake of reducing resurrection to reanimation.)

Since the exact nature of the resurrected body is so mysterious, I must hold my conclusions about it lightly. I believe he lives. I believe he still has his human body. (Lord, help my unbelief.) I think it makes the most sense that that would mean his heart beats. As John Updike put it in his justly-famous Seven Stanzas, "if he rose at all / It was as His body; ... The same valved heart / That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered." And yet, I don't know for sure that a beating heart is an essential part of what it means for a body to be human. God created human bodies in the first place, so he gets to decide what makes them human. If at the end of days he laughs and says, "Oh, the pump? That's so humanity 1.0! The new improved version runs on a flux capacitor!" I'm certainly not going to reply, "But I like my pump! If I can't bring it with me into the New Creation, I'm not coming!" Still, since when he created humanity in the first place, he called it "very good," I suspect he's not going to deviate too much from the original design.

Anyway. It's a cool song. It's even more cool when you remember that Jesus isn't a zombie, and Easter isn't just the celebration that someone who was grieved by his friends as dead for a couple of days came back to them. As Peterson also sings, "[He] put death to death / Where is your sting, O grave? / How grave is your defeat / How great, how great is his victory."

He is risen indeed.

The king is dead; long live the King

The king is dead, and not only is there no heir apparent, we don't even have anything remotely resembling a plan of succession.

In the history of human society, this is normally a very bad situation for a group of people to find themselves in. It's why kings have historically been anxious to make sure they have heirs and spares, because having no one clearly in charge creates an opportunity for chaos, division, and war. It's why universities and churches and corporations so often end up with presidents/pastors/CEOs with the same name as the founder, only with a "III" or "IV" tacked on the end. It's why George Washington deciding not to run for re-election a second time was such a freaking big deal. Everybody dies; it's the one thing you can count on; so to know that it's coming and not plan for it is just sloppy leadership.

But when your leader is not the leader of an institution with a formal structure, but of an amorphous movement, a loose coalition of like-minded people and groups with no clear boundaries and an ever-shifting center, it's not like there's a mechanism to identify a spiritual heir who can claim the mantle that was bestowed by a unique combination of gifting, stewardship, networking, decades of discipline, and being in the right place at the right time. Any attempt to coronate a successor without the consensus of the movement is doomed to fail, and the movement is incapable of consensus. So we have no king, and we will probably never get another one. Grant Wacker masterfully captured this reality when he answered NPR's question about whether there will ever be another Billy Graham by quoting evangelicalism's other patron saint, C.S. Lewis: "The one prayer God never answers is, Encore."

As I've observed the current crisis of evangelical identity, I've been ruing the vacuum of leadership in American neo-evangelicalism in the decade-plus since Billy's retirement from public life. The names who are now commonly cited in the media as evangelical leaders are far lesser men whose pronouncements are more likely to elicit cringing or cries of protest from me than followership. The names who come to mind as the ones I now look to for leadership of the evangelical movement are, often as not, people who have chosen to distance themselves from the label "evangelical," concluding that it's become too polluted with political baggage to be a useful self-description in the public square. Another apt line sometimes attributed to Wacker, sometimes to George Marsden: "An evangelical is someone who likes Billy Graham." Without that unifying figure, the movement that he was instrumental in founding and forming is adrift. It's been this way for a while; his death just makes it complete and final.

I'm only now realizing that as long as Billy was alive, there was a little part of me that hoped that, even if he never again made a public appearance or met one on one with a president, he might still knock some sense into Franklin, might still remind the purported "leaders" of evangelicalism what a horrible idea it is to get too closely involved with a morally bankrupt politician, might still exercise some sort of high priestly office over the evangelical movement that that he was destined to soon leave on our own. We weren't really without a king as long as he drew breath. We could still think fondly of Billy, and honor him and his legacy, and stay in denial about the future of the movement by cultivating warm feelings about its past.

Then Billy died, and Christianity Today hit "PUBLISH" on the special obituary edition that it's had in the works for a couple of decades, and pundits started contesting his legacy almost instantaneously, and there's no going back. The young adults who know not Billy will never have the opportunity to know who he is, only who he was. And the evangelical movement will have maybe a few lingering weeks of being "people who like Billy Graham," but then we're going to have to find another way to define ourselves.

And this beckons a couple of questions: (1) Can American neo-evangelicalism as we know it survive without a figurehead like Billy Graham? and (2) If not, is that necessarily a bad thing?

Probably not. And probably not.

"As we know it" are of course the key wiggle-words in Question 1. Of course evangelicalism will look different when it's not organized around whether you (or your grandma) like Billy Graham. And that's surely for the better in the grand scheme of things -- for all the good Billy brought to a movement of otherwise-fundamentalists, it's not healthy for a religious movement to be so identified with its prophet that it loses focus on its God. Still, the question remains, can American evangelicalism continue as a recognizable thing anymore (if it's even recognizable now!), or is it going to be reabsorbed into fundamentalism while the theological moderates who used to call ourselves evangelicals find new homes in other traditions and decide it's no longer worth the effort to cultivate the pandenominational identity that we once upon a time found so essential to distinguish ourselves from the liberals/mainliners that we used to think of as the enemy but now recognize as near-kin? (Yes, I know that sentence was way too long. But it's my blog, and I'll indulge in Pauline syntax if I want to.)

I don't know. But I realize I don't need to know. Human institutions don't last forever. Maybe neo-evangelicalism was a movement that the American church needed in the mid-20th century, but it needs something else for the 21st. The evangel doesn't depend on evangelicalism in order to survive. "Evangelicalism" has been, for most of my life, a comfortable shorthand for describing what kind of Jesus-follower I happen to be. But my loyalty is not to a sociological category, it's to a Person -- and not Billy Graham, but the Savior he spent his career proclaiming.

A recurring theme in the Bible is that God's people keep clamoring for a king, no matter how many times he tells them that he alone is to be their Sovereign.

"Give us a king! It's scary and uncertain without one!" They demand, again and again.

"Trust me on this," God answers. "You wouldn't like having a king. Kings will always end up abusing their power. You don't need any king but me."

"No, really!" God's people say. "We know what we're asking for. We'll be good subjects. Give us a king!"

"Okay," God finally answers. "But don't say I didn't warn you..."

And they get their king, and everything goes to hell, just like God said it would.

Evangelicals are my tribe, and I confess that I'm nervous about our future without an earthly king. Of course, evangelicals are just the kind of people to loudly insist that WE HAVE NO KING BUT JESUS, even as we're staking our identity on our favorite charismatic leader of the hour. We have just as much trouble as the ancient Israelites really trusting in a king we cannot see.

We may be in for a bumpy ride. We may find our hopes and plans dashed when we put our trust in leaders who lead us astray. We may fracture into a million little sects, each following our own favorite little leader. We may cease to be a recognizable people, and have to find new homes and new descriptions for ourselves as we try in new contexts to do the work that we believe we were once called to do as part of a movement called "evangelical."

But whatever happens, we do in fact have a King whose Kingdom endures when our own institutions and movements do not. We have a King who will not die, because our King has already conquered death. We have a King who will not abandon us, even if we get obsessed with our little power struggles and forget to seek first his Kingdom. And so we can endure uncertainty, because the King reigns.

The king is dead. Long live the King.

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:


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








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. 

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