Last week we ran a list of some of 2014’s best non-Fare Forward articles, as nominated by Fare Forward writers. Today here are some of my favorite pieces Fare Forward ran in 2014, whether in print or online, in no particular order.
1) “This is What We Do”: Will Seath’s profile of a parish and school in Hyattsville, MD that presents a compelling model for how to create Christian community in 21st century America:
“In St. Jerome Parish, Currie saw potential for a community like one he had known and lost in his Detroit childhood, before the city became ripe for urban dystopian mockery. Back then, he remembers, life in his predominantly Polish-American neighborhood was anchored by Transfiguration Parish: “Everything happened there—not just the schooling and worship, but all the fraternal organizations, the dances and the festivals, the weddings and the funerals. Everybody in the neighborhood was Catholic, and everybody walked to church. There was still a sense of people living together, not sequestered in their own homes.”
2) “On Prayer, Post-Conversion”: Leah Libresco on developing habits of prayer in her daily life after her conversion:
But it’s been hard to remember to say grace at meals, because, when I’m eating, I’m not in a setting that I recognize as religious. The restaurant I’ve met my friend at may be dimly lit, but there are no smells and bells to signal an opportunity to be sanctified. It’s easy to try to infuse new habits with religion, but hard to hold on to the presence of God when I’m immersed in an old environment, where I have a long habit of just not thinking of Him. But all those new habits are in the service of inviting God in everywhere, even the times and places I’ve treated as secular.
3) “Everyone’s A Critic”: Andy Quinn dissects the way second-order discourse is crowding out direct experience of reality, direct living of life:
News coverage about news coverage designed to shape perceptions of a perception. Millennials have a word for this. “That’s so meta”…At every turn and in every arena, we flee the first order for the second. We avert our gaze from the substantive content of events, ideas, and values, and stare hypnotically into refracted rainbows of conceptually distant criticism—optically fascinating, perhaps, but profoundly insubstantial. From markets to morals to our own mentalities, meta is metastasizing. Everyone’s a critic. Everyone’s to blame. And everyone is suffering for it.
4) “Always Winter, Never Christmas”: B.D. McClay uses a Christmas carol to launch into a beautiful reflection on snow, Christmas, and redemption:
Snow can represent many things, some of them contradictory. In its purity, it can represent an innocence that will be restored to us. It can, in settling upon the world, create a landscape that seems ready to be made new. But snow can also—as it does in “In the Bleak Midwinter” and other carols—intensify the hostility of the world into which Christ is being born.
5) “Talking About Ambition”: Charlie Clark gives a history of the Christian attitude towards the concept of ambition, and argues that the “vocation” needs to rescue “ambition”:
A return to vocation entails choices that appear sacrificial from the perspective of modern culture, and which will be painful insofar as we have been culturally conditioned to privilege a non-vocational definition of success. That is, we must come to terms with looking like “unambitious losers” if we choose to pursue “happy, fulfilling lives” apart from collecting status symbols. Furthermore, because material goods are presently distributed through a market built on non-vocational values, a rejection of those values will almost certainly limit our access to such goods, at least compared with those who embrace them. Which is to say, if you choose to work within limits, you can expect to get paid within limits, too.
6) “The Way, It’s True, Is A Life”: A personal account of time spent on the Camino de Santiago by Nick Maione
The Camino is a little life. It is complete with beginning, middle, and end. Its context as a pilgrimage powerfully unites spirit and body. It has a wholeness about it, pulling together in a brief amount of time many characteristics of what life itself is. The Way is so beautifully balanced: aloneness and society, food and hunger, song and silence, nature and city, past and present, trials and rewards, doubts and purpose. It simplifies and highlights.
7) “Days Bound Each to Each: A Review of Boyhood“: Kevin Gallagher’s review of one of the best movies of the year:
This is a dark vision – and yet it is almost impossible to leave the theater and conclude that Boyhood is a bleak film. It is too beautiful a film for that, and in that beauty, there is a kind of secular redemption. Despite the disappointment and poverty and failed fatherhood and cruelty and lack of direction in life – despite it all, there is an undeniable loveliness to this vision. Moreover (I would contend), this loveliness is not extrinsic or formal or merely artistic.
8) “A Place for Liturgy”: Jake Meador argues that Christians enthusiastic about taking Christianity into the world shouldn’t lose sight of how important physical churches are:
It is almost certainly impossible to overstate the importance of public worship and the liturgy in the church’s life, particularly in a setting where the church is a social minority and where its beliefs and life are often questioned and undermined by larger social bodies. It is the distinctiveness of the Gospel that is its power, its Otherness that provides the rationale for going into the world. If that uniqueness is lost, then we go into the world with nothing to share but another sanitized, sterilized religion, deprived of its ability to produce any genuine change in individuals or in communities.
9) “Like a Child”: Laura Marshall dives into the concept of a “child-like faith” and reaches a different conclusion about some Biblical passages used to fill that concept out:
These passages where Christ holds up children to his disciples do not support a view of faith that is unquestioning or blind. Rather, they indicate Christ’s interest in his disciples’ intelligent participation in the logic of the kingdom. This logic requires the reception of those who seem helpless—such as infants—because receiving them is an act of welcoming something that is small and insignificant but holds tremendous potential.
10) “Lila: Too Mysterious by Half“: My review of Marilynne Robinson’s latest novel:
One of the funniest tropes in Lila to me is his repeated apologies to Lila for his inability to adequately answer her questions about suffering, hell, and grace, which are constantly on her mind (“For a preacher you ain’t much at explaining things,” Lila says at one point). There are a few times he attempts an answer to her questions, but often he acts kind of surprised by them (“Lila, you always do ask the hardest questions”) and then retreats into an invocation of mystery or the transcendence of divine truth (“If I tried to explain I wouldn’t believe what I was saying to you. That’s lying, isn’t it?…I really don’t think preachers ought to lie”). It turns out to be so difficult to put theology into words without sullying it that it is better just to remain silent. But what, then, does he preach when he steps up to the pulpit?
11) “Virtuous Exemplars”: Matt Dugandzic relates some of the lessons he’s learned about virtue from his grandparents—and how that informs the need for intergenerational living:
For me, reflecting on these experiences illustrates the importance of living nearby the multiple generations that make up one’s family. In today’s world, where young people leave their parents to go off to college and then find a job in some faraway city, we are missing many opportunities to learn from our parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents. It’s not enough merely to be told what to expect in old age; to be able to see it lived out virtuously will prepare one for one’s “golden years” better than could any textbook on virtue.
12) “Sherwood Anderson and the Platonic Touch”: Enoch Kuo finds in Sherwood Anderson a prescient diagnosis of the void left when Platonic touch became less common:
The necessity of physical contact, and our inability to understand and act upon these impulses; the romanticization and sexualization of touch in lieu of such apprehension; the heart-aching loneliness of communities more connected than ever yet never more distant – these are the unnamed longings which Anderson manages to put into the words which would inspire the likes of Earnest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and William Faulkner.
13) “The Unprepared-For Death is Not Worth Dying”: Fr. Austin Dominic Litke, OP offers a homiletic reflection on preparing for death
Echoing Socrates, we might profess that the unprepared-for death is not worth dying. The passage from physical life to physical death is the natural transition that all mortal creatures, by definition, undergo. For the followers of Christ, we do not wait to undergo the transformation from death to life at that final moment. We seek to live it out in response to the Gospel, in a life informed by Faith and enlivened by Charity
14) “The Rule of the Clan”: By a way of a book review, Brandon McGinley identifies the dangers of a political theory that sees nothing but the state on the one hand and the individual on the other:
What does a conception of liberty that leaves room for the involuntary look like? At the very least it is a liberty that recognizes goods equal to or greater than itself, and therefore it is about more than procedure and competing liberty claims. In properly situating itself among other social goods, this liberty embraces certain involuntary institutions and responsibilities, such as the ties of kinship that Weiner targets, as essential to a just and humane society. It is a liberty of substance that acknowledges that, just as justice without freedom isn’t really justice at all, so neither is freedom without justice worthy of the name.