Monday, February 9, 2009

Time for Mourning, and Cathartic Reading

This past weekend my wife's maternal grandmother passed away unexpectedly. Since Thursday evening we have been in Austin with family and friends, first surrounding Granji's bedside, then grieving her death. I returned to Atlanta today and Katelin will be back later this week.

Right now we are, and for a while will be, residing in the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Later this week or the next I will share more about the wonderful woman who was Jinx "The Granj" Lacey. For now, you can read her obituary in the Austin American-Statesman; there is also an online guest book; and Su Mohr has started a Facebook group entitled "Jinx Lacey - Queen of the Mavs," which already has more than 1,100 members.

For now, I simply wanted to share what I've been reading over the past few days. At first I was unsure of what to feel about perusing my regular sites online in the midst of realities like coma, life support, suffering, family, and death. I realized, however, that reading -- even on the internet -- was cathartic, life-giving, and normality-returning. In the same way I will try to get back into "normal" blogging this week, at least to the extent that "normal" includes having been forever changed by the last few days' experience.

I hope you find similar catharsis, if even from nothing but the beating of the days.
  • I am finding myself increasingly intrigued by and drawn to the writing of Christopher Hitchens. I read his short book, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, on the plane ride home today, and, though my limited scope means little, I find him to be one of the most gifted authors writing today. Even when I profoundly disagree with him -- which is not always -- I find myself unable to stop reading. His position is clear; his argument is sharp; his language is direct; his wit is peerless. More to the point, his endless willingness, even lust, for polemicism is, in my opinion, his greatest gift. We often do not know where we or others stand except by the fences we build, and, if anything, we know the fence line of Christopher Hitchens' thought. (And this is not even to mention his seemingly boundless knowledge of historical, geographical, and political realities, precisely detailed, the world over.) I await his weekly Monday column at Slate with great anticipation, and I rarely conclude disappointed. I learn more from him about writing, history, international politics, and religion than I do from any dozen other authors. And I hope that, in some small way, this would-be Christian theologian and minister reading the rabid atheist Christopher Hitchens would bring a grin -- if not tussled with a grimace -- to his face. (Here are his archives at Slate and Vanity Fair.)
  • Speaking of Hitchens, I appreciated both his and Ben Meyers' remembrances of the novelist John Updike. Just two weeks ago, upon Meyers' recommendation of Updike as having been churning out "Barthian novels" for years before Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, I went out and picked up a used copy of Updike's Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit, Run. I plan to read it soon in his honor.
  • I was more than happy to find out that Ain't It Cool News' own Eric "Quint" Vespe is teaming up with an old friend ("Kraken"), Elijah Wood, Richard Taylor, and WETA to start production on a horror film he co-wrote. The movie might not end up being my bag of tea, but I have always appreciated Quint's dependable, friendly voice to provide reports, rumors, and reviews for years now, and the few times we have corresponded he was swift and generous in his replies. And his recently wrapped-up series "A Movie A Day" was a delight. Congratulations, Quint!
  • All Spurs all the time: subsequent to San Antonio's win in Boston on Sunday, Marc Stein has them at #2 and John Hollinger at #5; Hollinger has found it in himself (finally) to allow for the possibility of the Spurs' continued elite status; and Charles Barkley will return to TNT after the All-Star Game, presumably just in time for the Spurs' annual second-half surge and beastly cries of "Ginobili!" And, as always, Graydon Gordian and Tim Varner over at 48 Minutes of Hell are holding down the fort for 24-7 quality news and analysis for all things Silver and Black.
  • Demitri Martin is very funny, and he is getting his own TV show.
  • Halden Doerge finds it in himself to criticize the scholarly canonized (I include myself in that categorization!) Walter Brueggemann; argues for the proper use of polemic in Christian writing; and offers powerful, ought-to-be-required-reading-for-all-seminarians/theologians/ministers/scholars thoughts for theological commentary.
  • Richard Beck continues his outstanding series on Original Sin and the Malthusian World.
  • Davey Henreckson, anticipating an upcoming post of mine (I'll forgive him), writes on the alternative of Localism, echoing Wendell Berry in both form and content.
  • Speaking of Wendell Berry, I wrote to him just a couple weeks ago, and getting the mail today I found a letter waiting for me from Lanes Landing Farm in Port Royal, Kentucky. What do you know -- he wrote back! How's that for an unexpected gift?
To conclude, I'd like to share a famous sonnet by John Donne, one which has always given me great comfort, and which seems especially poignant at this moment in time:

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

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