Very fun to tell this one. Theme was “All In A Day.” Thanks Tenx9Nashville.
“Where is God when a gunman shoots children in a school, when [children’s books illustrator] Holly Meade dies [of cancer] in the midst of meeting a grandson, or when a child is hung in Auschwitz?” asks Frank Schaeffer in his new book, Why I Am An Atheist Who Believes in God – How to Give Love, Create Beauty and Find Peace. “Either God is evil and should be punched in the mouth, or there is no God.”
Schaeffer’s non-fiction books of recent years, including this one, loosely follow the same narrative: a formerly fundamentalist evangelical Christian and Religious Right leader with great influence finds his life profoundly empty because of his faith. He leaves it, disappears from the public for a time. Through art, immediate family, and relentless honesty, he eventually finds spiritual health and personal happiness. He even gets his voice back – though he has a different song.
There’s nothing quite like a fresh article from Schaeffer taking on his longtime alter-ego, Franklin Graham. Less than a month apart in age (both are 61), they have in common titanic Christian fathers (Schaeffer’s is the late Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer, a Billy Graham-sized figure of Protestant academe). Franklin Graham heads the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (his father, Billy, is weak and up in years); he steadily upholds fundamentalist evangelical credo (for example, Easter Sunday weeks ago on ABC’s This Week he affirms that homosexuals should not be able to adopt children). Schaeffer, not surprisingly, has been on Franklin Graham’s back awhile. In March 2014, he posted blog entry, “Do Evangelical Leaders Really Believe Their Own BS?” It is this sort of rub that takes place 24-7 for Schaeffer—ghosts of the world of his father (who passed in 1984), flesh of leaders of today.
Schaeffer today values the Christian faith (he is a regular at his local Greek Orthodox church), but places the content of one’s character above all – whether atheist, Bible-believer, or in between. His end of the political spectrum has shifted, making his ability to use his own history to exploit weaknesses in conservative Christianity a rare gift. Born in Champery, Switzerland in 1952, his first book along these lines was in 2007, entitled Crazy for God: How I Grew Up As One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. He has appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross and is a frequent guest of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.
In this book, one of the many fine passages is Schaeffer’s quoting of and response to the Umberto Eco essay, “When the Other Appears on the Scene”:
To accept even if only for a moment the idea that there is no God; that man appeared in the world out of a blunder on the part of maladroit fate, delivered not only unto his mortal condition but also condemned to be aware of this, and for this reason the most imperfect of all creatures … in order to find the courage to await death, we would necessarily become a religious animal, and would aspire to the construction of narratives capable of providing us with an explanation and a model, an exemplary image. And among the many stories we imagine—some dazzling, some awe-inspiring, some pathetically comforting—in the fullness of time we have at a certain point the religious, moral, and poetic strength to conceive the model of Christ, of universal love, of forgiveness for enemies, of a life sacrificed that others may be saved. If I were a traveler from a distant galaxy and I found myself confronted with a species capable of proposing this model, I would be filled with admiration… I would judge this wretched and vile species, which has committed so many horrors, redeemed were it only for the fact that it has managed to wish and to believe that all this is the truth… [T]he fact that this story could have been imagined and desired by humans, creatures who know only that they do not know, would be just as miraculous (miraculously mysterious) as the son of a real God being made flesh. This natural and worldly mystery would not cease to move and ennoble the hearts of those who do not believe.
I glimpse the beauty, the love and the peace that is—as [his wife] Genie puts it so wonderfully—too good to be true during an annual church service we treasure, the Service of Forgiveness. This is a service only a liturgical community could provide. After prayers the service ends with each person in our local church walking to the front of the sanctuary, kissing the icon of Jesus and then bowing in front of our priest. “Forgive me,” we say. “I forgive you,” answers our priest. We embrace and then we say, “God forgives us both.” Each person then takes his or her place next to the priest in a line that eventually stretches around the interior of our church. Each person repeats the action and moves down the line repeating the “Forgive me” ritual with everyone until we’ve each asked one another for forgiveness and have all been forgiven. We bow before children and old people, middle-aged parishioners and giggling toddlers. We ask forgiveness from people we love and from people we don’t love and even from some we dislike. The priest and the youngest infant in arms are equals in this ritual. When I get to Genie, I whisper “Forgive me.” We hug as we’ve hugged others, but in Genie’s embrace I tumble into a healing moment of sweet reconciliation. My wife says, “I forgive you,” with deep warmth and sincerity. And she really knows me! Yet, I am forgiven! I realize that life is not a step to a better place, life IS the better place, right here and now. It’s too good to be true—and it’s real.
Schaeffer reaches broadly towards the end of the book with the following passage – triumphant fodder for anyone reliant on the Internet – perhaps, even, religious about it.
A new generation is embracing human connection rather than debunking it. The liberating results are real. The geeks (bless them) are killing off the cold hearted jaded gatekeepers. When I was a young artist in the 1970s I had to travel to a gallery, slides in sweaty hand, and beg for a meeting with the owner if I wanted to sell a painting. If the owner loved my work, I’d be invited back and a year or two later he or she would put a few paintings in a show. When I started painting again in 2006, I worked for eight years until I liked my work enough to show it. I started a website in 2014 and now sell art directly to collectors. There are no gatekeepers in sight. It’s just me directly in touch with people who like my work. The same goes for my writing. I self-published this book. Several of my secular publishers and several religious publishers were interested in publishing it. They wanted me to craft it to fit their marketing strategies. For some my book was “too secular” for others “too religious.” Could I change it and make it “more marketable?” “Does it go on the New Atheist or Religion shelf? The answer was no. Yet you are reading the book I wrote. Who needs a shelf? I don’t view you as part of a demographic. I view you as my partner, an individual reader, a friend as complex and maybe even as conflicted, as me. My liberators in Silicon Valley have freed me to write for you directly and to say or paint what I want to say to whomever I want to say it whenever I want to say it. With the fading away of the cultural gatekeepers’ power, the monolithic story about our meaninglessness has begun to erode. The Internet and its innovators are doing more to facilitate the reemergence of spirituality not to mention content-laden (even craft-rich) art, than all the churches combined.
Frank Schaeffer’s Why I Am An Atheist Who Believes in God – How to Give Love, Create Beauty and Find Peace is available immediately for order in paperback at this link at Amazon.com.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.
Gareth Higgins has found a striking way to announce “Sense memory matters! I’ll use all fifty United States to prove it!” His latest book is an ambitious undertaking, but his longtime work as film critic and co-host of the excellent The Film Talk podcast serve him perfectly here. To understand the modality of his approach, a paragraph near the book’s end is helpful:
I’m obsessed with movies… my ego mingles with the ids on screen. My real life dreams are shaped by the fictional ones I’ve seen. Like Jeff Daniels in The Purple Rose of Cairo, I sometimes imagine that God is the writer of whatever film I happen to be watching. But I know, at the end of the day, that I am just an ordinary person. And the movies that don’t like ordinary won’t let me in. They will always ultimately betray me, unless I can continue to learn appropriate boundaries between my life and the movie world. I’d rather be the real me than the movie me, anyway. I’m sure Harrison Ford (an actor, a carpenter) feels the same way. Perhaps that’s why he lives in Wyoming and is making tables instead of in Brentwood having them waited upon.
The full title of the book is Cinematic States: Stories We Tell, The American Dreamlife, And How To Understand Everything (Mostly, But Not Really, But Sort Of) (Burnside Books, 2013). Such verbiage, comedic really, is an example of the author’s disarming tone. He is generous throughout, his opinions moldable and still evolving. But Higgins isn’t only revealing to the reader his take on his most impressionable, impressionistic American films, he’s also connecting how such stories arrive from regional mythology and/or national meta-narrative – what those used to be; what those are. A Northern Irishman from Belfast, Higgins notes that he first visited U.S. soil in 1993 before moving to North Carolina (also becoming a citizen) in recent years. His European origins allow an ample amount of critical distance to see these American characters, the cinemascapes they inhabit, and insights into the deepest source of their conflicts.
For instance, Higgins makes good work early on the state of Arkansas (the book is construed alphabetically). He chooses to exhibit Thelma and Louise (1991) and Slingblade (1996). It’s a colorful dive on these few pages (most states contain 3-5 pages of content). He gives insight and additional denouements for these rich, somewhat unresolved, films.
The forces of the South wind blow people back from whence they came—Karl is going back to jail, Thelma and Louise are going to die. We may be left with a sour taste because they seem to imply that the rejection of patriarchy can only end with the destruction of its opponents. Karl’s choice to kill a man so he can be returned to the only place where he feels he knows himself breaks the moral spine of an otherwise perfect film… I suppose the American myth upon which these stories are built reminds us that at least these three—Thelma, Louise, and Karl—submit to inevitability on their own terms.
Life in the information age, we learn more each day, is desperate for curation. Such is the strength of this book. States, for generations to come, will best be understood as a bold, ultra-encyclopedia of folklore. Divorce, if possible, notions of “movie star,” “Hollywood,” and “multiplex theater” from the concept: “America’s Best Stories.” Are these not what we have with Gone With the Wind (1936), Field of Dreams (1989), and Forrest Gump (1994) (each featured in the book)? What Higgins gives us is fresh angle on our deepest, often most challenging, American narratives. What are these? Which do we agree are true? False?
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through theSpeakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.
Few memories/ideas/faves from year that was.
Seeing William Shatner, THE SHAT, in his one man show coming through Nashville on January 12. Saw with beloved friend Joel Dark, who years before, we’d died laughing to repeat plays of Shat’s You’ll Have Time (You’re Gonna Die) spoken word song. Coincidentally, Ben Folds recorded this and the rest of that album, Has Been, for Shat here in the Music City in 2003. (You’re Gonna Die song) There’s really no one like him, and I don’t think we could have made him up.
The Foals’ Holy Fire record is my pick for best rock album of 2013. The Oxford, England, band released it in February. There’s a tight, focused pathos at work, from the creepy/driving “Prelude” all the way to the lush end-confessional “Moon”. Yes, they lean towards danceablility, which will frustrate rock purists. But they are in a zone throughout this record, total there-ness. Check out Inhaler track.
I wrote and performed a one-man play in May, Solomon, performing it at Bongo Java’s After Hours Theatre three nights (and a couple more times later in summer). He was on a brief tour from the afterlife, and had a few things to clear up – the hundreds of wives, daddy issues, the “idolatery.” It was a pleasure to play him. He came to me as a mix of Shakespeare, Christopher Hitchens, and John Cleese. Super thankful for support of many people to ‘go for it’ in doing this – including Gareth Higgins, David Maddox, Brian Ammons, Claire Armbruster, Ken Locke, and Alison McCommons. A clip from one of Bongo nites.
If you can gin up the nerve, run the RC Cola/Moon Pie 10 miler in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, in the second or so Saturday of June. I did it this past year. It is raced mainly by Nashvillians who drive out to this tiny town, about 1,000 in number, which must match the town population. The sun is just rising at the 7.00 a.m. start, and the humidity is visible. But the experience is through wild, sparse, and beautiful country. Enchanting country backroads. The RC cola at the finish is a lot better after first tasting heat exhaustion.
I’d never done a “boot camp” before, and I stumbled across Inferno Fitness online. Joannes Williams is a marvelous instructor and business woman. The downtown location is just open after the Antioch location has been in place for a few years. I did the camp for the better part of both July and August three times a week at dawn. Highly recommended. I hope to go back in 2014. http://infernonashville.com/
If you’ve wondered if there is any reason to keep going along the Christianity trajectory – as I have very constantly – then the Wild Goose Festival is for you. This was my third year to participate. The community of original voices is unmatched; the friends you will make from all over the country most stellar; and the feel – that a new wind is blowing – is pure hope. See if you can make it in 2014. The dates are June 26 through 29.
The best movie I saw in 2013 was in September when I went with friend Andy Harding to see Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. Featuring actors Alec Baldwin, Cate Blanchett, Louis C.K., and (wait for it) The Diceman (he is amazing). Burned a hole right through me. Funny, sad, prophetic, voraciously aware.
In October marvelous things happened in quick succession. Thom Yorke’s Atoms for Peace show played in Nashville (War Memorial Auditorium) on Thursday the 3rd. I still can’t believe it happened. Time there with David Dark, Todd Greene, Andrew and Lindsey Krinks, and many others was most remarkable. I traveled the next day to visit Trappist monastery, Gethsemani, in rural Kentucky (and anyone can make a 3 or 5 day retreat). A memory: as I did so, I listened to George Winston’s 2013 album, which is all harmonica solos. The beauty of that drive, with that soundtrack, is emblazoned on mi hart. Days later I was in New York City to see friend Ryan Taylor. This included our attendance of show of epic electronic performer, Bonobo, as he (with collaborators) amazed a sold out crowd at Terminal 5. Bonobo’s North Borders album was a pillar of my 2013. Here’s a track, “Antenna”.
Want to confuse everyone? Throw a “Beer & Hymn Sing.” Actually, it was pretty sweet. Maybe confusion isn’t the worst thing. Modeled after pub culture in places like London, Belfast, and Dublin, here in twang-town, I was pleased that, once assembled, it seemed to run itself. One friend said to me later: “You need to understand, Geoff, Nashville is full of former Church of Christers – with nowhere to sing.” Hahaha. In fact, coincidentally, my pop was in town on that day, November 1, and though one prone to avoid draught hauses, he rather enjoyed himself. To accomplish the Sing, me and friends from Downtown Presbyterian rented out Mad Donna’s (in East Nashville). All sorts of folks showed. It was “All Saints Day” on the church calendar. Anyone was welcome. A little girl came and did an Irish jig at one point. Talk about the spirit moving. We had a capacity crowd for much of the the 2.5 hours. With a few breaks, we crooned 100+ year old songs – all a cappella. The love for this activity surfaced again on the steps of the downtown church (DPC) for Christmas carols on December 7, even in sub-zero temperatures (estimate). The next official Beer & Hymns is set for Friday, January 17, 2014, again at Mad Donna’s (7.30 p.m.).
For years I have loved the Moth Podcast, which is a live storytelling event where people show up and tell stories on a theme. It is so. Cutting. Edge. Hahaha. Okay, it’s actually about as primal as man-at-campfire-ghost-story. When friend Cary Gibson said there was something like this now happening in Nashville, related to Belfast, N. Irish friend Padraig O’Tuama, I was pleased to learn of it. What Lipscomb professor (and part time jail chaplain) Michael McCray does each month to assemble 9 storytellers around a theme – is exceedingly special. Called Tenx9 Nashville, there have been four months (four shows) total, each taking place at the venerable Café Coco (their back room). Thanks, Michael for believing in this event and for inviting me and many others to participate. More is coming in 2014. Their website is here. My three stories from 2013 are captured elsewhere on this website.
Happy 2013/Happy New Year.