Monthly Archives July 2023

What the Soul Misses: Andrea Gibson’s “For the Days I Stop Wanting a Body”

If you’ve ever been grievously ill or incapacitated and cursed your fate and your body, this poem is for you.

If you’ve ever suffered from a chronic disease, this poem is for you.

If you’ve ever been near death, or been with a beloved who is, and bounced back, this poem is for you.

If you’ve ever waited in vigil and beheld a loved one’s last days and breaths, this poem is for you.

If you’ve ever wondered and remained mystified by questions of mind and body, mortality and immortality, earth and the heavens, this poem is for you.

And if you’ve ever looked slightly askance or never even heard of “spoken word poetry,” this poem is for you, too.


I’ve never gone deeply into spoken word poetry, which puts much more emphasis on the performative, in-the-moment oral transmission of poetic works in a public setting rather than poems written to be read mostly by individual persons in a quiet encounter with the pr...

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A Pastor Grapples With Faith and the Future: Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed”

A young eco-activist confronts the massive evidence of humankind’s abuse of the earth, and he spirals downward in a doom loop of despair. The new life growing in his wife’s belly offers no solace. Quite the contrary—he’s not at all sure he wants to bear the responsibility of subjecting a child to the hellscape he is convinced life on earth is destined to become.

He can’t bear the thought, he confides, that his daughter might look accusingly into his eyes 20 years on and ask, “You knew this all along, didn’t you?”

His wife suggests counseling with the minister of a postcard-of-an-old-world church she occasionally frequents, which is long on history (soon to celebrate its 250th anniversary) but dismally short of people in the pews (maybe a half-dozen) on any given Sunday.

The encounter between minister and activist will prove fateful for both of them, in different ways.

A riveting 11-minute dialogue just m...

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Great Art From Bad People: Claire Dederer’s “Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma”

The theme, rendered in the form of a question, recurs over and over again in the history of the arts: Why are so many creative geniuses such terrible, mean-spirited human beings? Then the second question rising from its wake, forcing a decision by all admirers of any given artist’s work: “Can I still love the art if I come to hate the artist for all his misdeeds?”

(I use the masculine pronoun there with purpose, given that most artists whose creations have been admitted to the canon of so-called Great Works over the centuries have been male [and been chosen by other males, surprise surprise!]. That bare and sorry fact means vastly more of them present the archetype of the rebellious, inner-directed artist than do women, and do so in a much more dramatic, outward-bound way.)

The critic (and creative artist in her own right) Claire Dederer has been rolling these questions over in her fertile mind for man...

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Freedom, Fanaticism, Retrenchment: John Brown and the Southern Baptist Convention

Two events drew my attention and stood in severe contrast last week. One was coming across the 2020 Showtime mini-series, “The Good Lord Bird,” about pre-Civil War abolitionist John Brown and his star-crossed effort in 1859 to spark a slave revolt that he convinced himself would spread from Harpers Ferry, Virginia throughout the Southern states and effectively bring an end to slavery in America.

The second was news out of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting last week in New Orleans, at which delegates voted on an amendment to the organization’s constitution that would bring it in line with the tradition’s “statement of faith” that specifically says, “the office of pastor is limited to men.”

What brings these two occurrences together is the radical disparity in the main protagonists’ views on faith and freedom, unbound.

On the surface, Brown would seem to have much in common with the ...

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