Category Fiction

A Sermon on “Fiction and the Religious Imagination”

Once a year or so, I’ll fill the pulpit for a lay-led service at my home church, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Santa Rosa. Today was one those days, with the sermon title as noted above.

Oh, what a long, strange and compelling story humanity has written for itself over the eons! Some of this story is reflected in our history books—especially those weighty tomes that tend to sit on our shelves for decades collecting heavy carpets of dust. Under the dust, we can barely make out grandiose titles like The Story of Man…or Civilization. Or, if you want to get more micro about it:  Copper Crucible: How the Arizona Miners’ Strike of 1983 Recast Labor-Management Relations in America.

But there is another class of stories within the narrative of history. Another way of telling humanity’s tale. Rather than focusing on external events—who, what, when, where, why?—this way focuses on internal eve...

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Making Love to Your Life: Light Amidst Philip Roth’s Dark Vision

 In Philip Roth’s otherwise dark and terrifying Pulitzer Prize-winning novel American Pastoral, there is an improbably lovely sequence during which the protagonist, Swede Levov, is romping over hill and dale on his gentleman’s country estate, caught up in reminiscences about his boyhood literary hero Johnny Appleseed. Youthful, vigorous and successful before Roth begins to turn the vise of multiple tragedy tighter and tighter on his neck, Levov is concluding his jaunt by cheerfully pretending to toss apple seeds across his beloved land from an imaginary bag on his shoulder.

Having observed him from an upstairs window, his wife inquires upon his return to the house what he had been doing...

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The Body As Tool: A Super Bowl Reflection

Amidst the hype of our modern day gladiator spectacle known as the Super Bowl, it is hard not to marvel at the fantastic-though-punishing physical feats of the combatants on one of the world’s biggest media stages. These young men strutting about on the field, biceps and triceps jutting out of their short sleeves (in extremely cold weather, that, too, is a display of manly, don’t-mess-with-me bravado), represent the heights of physical accomplishment, of raw talent bolstered by the tireless work ethic and study required to hone it to such rarefied levels.

That said, a kind of darkness hovers over them as well, both in the ever-looming threat of horrific physical injury suffered on any given play, and in the long-term disability virtually every one of them suffers to some degree in their retirement.

Bad backs and knees and hips and elbows and shoulders are quite the norm among ex-NFL players, and they a...

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The Physicality of Reading

Reading is a most curious and fantastic act. The recognition of ink blots set in a certain pattern on a page, the training to decode those blots (often beginning barely out of infancy, before the basic biological function of controlled toileting is even mastered!).

The oft-times visceral response to those blots as we piece them together, run them through our interpretive sieve, and then find ourselves engaged, body and soul, with the stories they tell.

This ability of the written word to transport us out of time, into another world, another circumstance, another set of characters for whom we come to have a deep regard—if not love—this is an astonishing and even miraculous thing, is it not? It makes me want to sing to the heavens in praise of our brains. (And sometimes wail in despair at their misbegotten use…)

Recently I was reading a magazine article on the novelist Philip Roth and his relationships...

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Jagged Trajectory: From Renaissance Glory to Lord of the Flies

The older I get, the more sense history makes. All the pieces of humanity’s exceedingly checkered past fall more into place, resulting in both more compassion for what we have come through and alarm for what continues to befall us. More than 500 years after the Renaissance posited that humanity could become a shining beacon of perfectly realized rational values, we lurch from one crisis, one massacre, one civil war, one bellicose despot to the next. One part or other of our world is always threatening to go up in flames even as many of us preoccupy ourselves with whose dessert will make the grade on the next installment of some epic cooking show that plays like the Last Judgement, set to music.

These thoughts occur as I work my way through two books that have piled atop each other on my reading table this week: Charles Taylor’s sweeping account of the secular-religious tracks running on their often paral...

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