Winter Issue 11
A CONSIDERATE ROBBERY IN BRAZIL
by Jubiracy Filho
tried seven times. But every time his nails would creep in, the phone would fight back, creaking as if about to break and sealing itself again. It was like opening one of those last pistachios whose inward, delicious green you barely see. Eventually, though you are still salivating, you just give up.
But he wouldn’t. He was completely absorbed by the struggle, investing more and more of his ugly nails against that nail-proof phone. His henchman was looking without ceasing at that battle, becoming aggravated. I feared losing my chips if one of them lost their patience.
“Enough, man, let me try it now!”
“No, man, I got it, I got it.”
“We’ll be here all day, man!”
“Here!” he spoke as someone who just had a business idea: “go this way and I’ll go that way, man…” The man struck his machete into the sand in order to help his partner. “Same time, man.” Their foreheads were almost touching each other while they both held the phone, looking down at it: “Go!”
While one of them held the phone firmly with his left hand, (keeping it parallel to the ground, I gather) they both stuck the tip of their nails into that microscopic line, forcing the opposite corners of that large iPhone replica to let go of the plastic back cover already. The phone kept resisting it. And I was rather compelled by their sincere effort, their joined forces to assure that I would indeed walk away with my chips! I immediately felt stupid too, once again, for having felt touched by such a considerate robbery.
Yes, the machete kept calling me. If only I managed to reach it, sons! I could really do it, you know, they were in some sort of contemplative robbery right now. If I succeeded, I could have both my phone and my neck chain back. But if I failed, my beloved sons, that would be both my chain and my neck!
Oh, but I had bought it in the Bahamas! Had these bums ever even heard of the Bahamas? But their nails were at the point of breaking when the plastic cover suddenly popped:
“There you go, freaking telephone!”
“Good job, man, good job!”
“That was freaking hard, man.”
“Hard as a bone.”
“But you did it, man.”
“We’re a team, brother! We did it – we!”
I almost congratulated them too, cheering with them for such tremendous success. The man already had his machete in his hand when his partner removed the black battery of his phone and reached for the two chips.
“There you go, sir,” he passed them on to me, smiling as if I was being served some prize for participation.
Now, this is the most intriguing part, sons. The one who held the machete (perhaps for having seen me at a distance, raising my hands as a believer who is clearly evoking the Lord’s blessing for that day, or perhaps for having felt that the three of us had made some deeper connection beyond mere robbery) tried to encourage me with something he evidently believed to be a proverb written somewhere in the Bible:
“God has more to give,” he said, pausing for some silence. “Isn’t that so, sir?”
Isn’t that so, my sons? How could I not agree with such wisdom? I think I even smiled.
There. That is what the Worker’s Party has done to Brazil in thirteen years of government. Now, where were we?
The following is a sneak preview (just for you privileged Etc readers) of the book that I am writing about my awesome father. Behold now the unique diversity of Brazil, the nuanced dynamics of its courageous criminals and their gullible victims.
For any Brazilian reading this, my most sincere apologies. One shall not badmouth Brazil – most certainly not in English! After all, there is so much more to our beloved country than thefts, robberies, kidnappings, astounding poverty, illiteracy, malaria, dengue, chikungunya, zika virus, and last but not least, spectacular corruption. Nevertheless, this remains a true story. And do note that I am not introducing mere ordinary, stereotypical robbers here. These are considerate ones.
There I was, my sons, practically alone at the beach, walking serenely, praying to the Lord and raising my hands in complete surrender to His will – while the two criminals, from afar, were quickly approaching.
You see, after your mother and I had moved to the Northeast, I developed this habit of an early morning walk at the beach just before sunrise. I would wear nothing but my flip-flops, my gold chain necklace (the one I had bought in the Bahamas, remember?) and my navy blue speedo, of course. That became my daily morning routine, exercise with some prayer, you know? – contemplative prayer.
One of them was holding a machete.
“Good morning, sir.”
“Good morning…” I answered, not trusting it to be a good morning anymore.
“The neck chain, sir.”
“What about it?”
“You can pass it over to us, sir,” his henchman said, pointing at it with his machete: “This is a robbery.”
Sons, what did I tell you about certain people calling you “sir”?
Well, you know your father. Aside from a whole coconut lying on the sand, some spiky conch shells too, and my dual-chip iPhone replica, I had nothing else to use as a weapon against a machete. Immediately feeling stupid for not having removed that neck chain at home before leaving, I took it off at the beach now, to bless those two vagabonds.
“The cell phone too, sir.”
“May I remove the chips, please? I use them for work –” I lingered on the word for a moment, “and to call my three sons in the South.” They better realise I was a father of three, for Christ’s sake! Let us show some decency!
“By all means,” he answered.
Their decency didn’t comfort me. Trying to open the glossy back of that phone, sticking my nails right into the ultrathin line in between the screen and the back cover, I realised my iPhone replica seemed to have been armoured by the Chinese, evidently, to guard Brazilians from chip theft! Each time I tried to make that back cover pop off the plastic would creak, sealing itself back, as if having a life of its own. I tried once, I tried twice, I tried seven times.
“I can’t open it.”
“Would you allow me, sir?”
My instinct was to not let him help me. Was I about to trust my phone to a confessed robber?
“Of course,” I answered.
With my phone in their hands, the first robber tried to stick his dirty, yellow nail in the exact same way I had already
RABBI OR RABBIT?
A BRIEF CRITIQUE OF MY READING HABITS
by Carson Leith
A couple paragraphs down: “The territory of modern Ukraine has been inhabited by humans since 32,000 BC. During the Middle Ages, the area was a key center of East Slavic culture…” Hmm, Middle Ages. When was that again?
By this time I’ve forgotten why I started.
Has that ever been you? For the last while, I’ve been so jittery in my online reading that it makes me wonder if all my good reading habits that I developed in college were now lost. But something makes me think that I’m not alone in this.
It’s sad for me to admit, but these bad reading habits have changed the way I have been interacting with the Holy Word of God. I’ve become so erratic elsewhere that when I approach the Bible, I draw near with the same expectations and the same fluttering eye movements. Where are the bullet points in this thing? Where are the “Four Mistakes I’m Making as a Husband and How to Fix them Right Now”? Where is the “Five Steps to Having Work-Life Balance”? Where are the “Ten Ways to Be a Better Disciple of Christ”? Where are the bolded words that God wants me to pay attention to? Where are the summaries? Why are these paragraphs so long and boring? Where are the large, featured block quotations on the side of the page? Why isn’t this as easy to digest as a blog post? What happened to my three glossy takeaways?
God’s Word doesn’t work like that: it’s not for skimmers and scanners. He doesn’t give His wisdom to rabbits who are only willing to scurry in and leap out. I need to become less like a rabbit and more like rabbi: meditating day and night so that the words are written on my heart. Basking in them. Soaking in them. Asking them questions. Digesting slowly, so to speak, that I may enjoy the food more fully. The Word of God, unlike scanning the internet, demands all of our attention. The Word of God, unlike a blog post, is about slow wins that take hard thought, quiet meditation, and complete surrender to the Truth.
So, here’s my challenge to myself and also to you. From now until next Thursday, every time you’re on the internet looking for a quick win, another bullet point blog post, go to God’s Word, slow down, and engage with Him until your rabbit-like tendencies fade. The next time you feel the same urge, go to God’s Word again, breathe deeply, and read slowly, retraining yourself to take in rich food.
I’m scrolling through Facebook, trying to find a quick productivity fix.
Come on, come on, come on…
Finally an article catches my eye.
I scan the article, not even bothering with body text.
I'm only looking for the bold bullet points.
1. Got em.
2. Quick win.
Then, somehow I stumble onto Wikipedia and start reading about an artist I like.
Halfway down the bio, this person worked with someone else during their third album…who’s that artist?
It starts off, “Born in the Ukraine…” Where’s Ukraine again?
GLIMMERINGS OF TRUTH
by Bethely Cameron
problem around the big table in the back corner of Mahoney’s pub, with the fatherly wisdom of IainProvan guiding the Glimmerings discussion. Trying to yell over the noise of the pub, I gave a little recap of the exchange with my friend and concluded with my own discombobulated brand of intensity, “But isn’t that sad???”
I saw what I think was an amused smirk of sympathetic approval flicker across Iain’s face before a fellow student responded, “I think it’s important not to conflate honesty with truth.”
This answer helped things click into place for me. Iain added a very down to earth example: “Have you never said anything in the heat of a conversation which you knew to be honest, but which, upon reflection, you knew not to be true?” In other words, there is a fundamental difference between honest feelings and truth. Sometimes honesty and truth are aligned, and that’s good; but sometimes they are not—and that’s dangerous.
Nietzsche was honest, but this is potentially a very destructive place to be. Nietzsche prioritized his own personal, honest feelings at the expense of a truth that was bigger than him. I would find out later that Nietzsche was actually very concerned with the theme of honesty. You could say it was kind of his shtick—and no wonder, as the question must have troubled him very much. This kind of honesty makes the individual ultimately responsible for defining reality, independently from God’s revealed truth. This is a great way to induce anxiety, if you were looking for one. It’s called autonomy.
Here’s what Craig Gay says about autonomy: It stems from a “profound self-centeredness,” which lacks a sense of the individual’s relationship with or responsibility to others and God. There are extreme repercussions: “An increasing number of individuals,” notes Gay, “actually defend infidelity and betrayal as the prerogatives of authentic selfhood.”2If the individual’s autonomous freedom to determine reality is paramount, it comes at the cost of meaningful and responsible engagement with others, resulting in what Peter Berger calls a “deepening aloneness.”3So if that’s what “honesty” gets you, who needs it, right?
Incidentally, I’ve just completed a thesis on Augustine, and the North African bishop has a lot to say about this stuff. The pages of his Confessions are filled with prayers that can sound a lot like Nietszche’s. The desperate anxiety that Nietzsche encounters is not foreign to Augustine, who also struggles to express honest truth.
Augustine cries with urgency that God would give him the grace to align the words he writes with the truth. “Have mercy on me so that I may find words,” Augustine writes at the opening of the book, as he endeavors to present an honest account of himself to God.4It’s as if he is admitting that the goal of his book is definitely beyond the reach of his words before he has even begun the project of the Confessions.
The trick for Augustine is that he knows he’s incapable of being truthful on his own, despite his best intentions. He knows that his human capacity to be “honest” places him on a knife’s edge because he can honestly affirm or deny what is true.
But Augustine also knows that he is called to use his words to bear witness to Christ, to make a “confession” of his faith, and that’s why he can depend on God to provide him with words. “Woe to those who are silent about you,” he writes.5He cries for God’s mercy, so that his words can participate in the life of the true Word. He writes, “‘I believe and therefore I speak’ (Ps. 115:10).” In a tone of mingled defeat and awe, he adds, “‘Lord, you know’ (Ps. 68:6).”6
Truthful words only flow out of faithful obedience, which is the opposite of autonomy. Honesty is a good thing, but it’s also a dangerous freedom, and God takes a gamble with it. Only a cry for mercy gives us the gift of living honestly into Truth.
In which I trace the theme of honesty through several conversations and a thesis.
I lift up my hands to you in loneliness—
you, to whom I flee,
to whom in the deepest depths of my
I have solemnly consecrated altars
so that your voice
might summon me again….
I want to know you, Unknown One,
you who have reached deep into my
These lines of prayer were written by a young Friedrich Nietzsche. I learned about Nietzsche’s published prayers during a recent conversation with some friends. It was at the birthday party of a Regent grad, and there was wine, cheesecake, and a smattering of theology—the best kind of party.
When I heard this prayer read aloud, the searching tone and loving cry to God surprised me, given Nietzsche’s legacy of declaring that “God is dead” in the modern age.
“Yes,” a friend assured me, “Nietzsche was very pious as a young man.”
I put down my cheesecake. It made me sad to think about this trajectory in Nietzsche’s life, when he could pray with such fervor and trust in the listening ear of the Lord, but then somehow—no doubt through a long and painful process of losing hope—come to mistrust the God he had held so dear. He must have felt betrayed to find that there was no ear listening to his cries after all. The measure of his trust as a young man was the same measure of his bitter disappointment later in life. I wondered how such deep yearning for God could lead to such a sad end: Nietzsche not only lost his faith and declared God dead, but finally lost his sanity as he was consumed with anxiety and grief.
“Isn’t it sad?” I asked. My friend’s smile faded a little. He leaned forward with his characteristic professorial intensity, and replied, “Well, yes. But he was also a lot more honest than many of his contemporary Christians.”
I found no answer to this. How do you contest with honesty? Certainly, it was better for Nietzsche to be honestly faithless than to pretend to follow a God he had no trust in. After all, God prefers us to be either hot or cold, not “lukewarm” (Rev. 3:15). But the implication is that Nietzsche’s honesty overrides whatever sadness there is about the trajectory of Nietzsche’s honest life.
The question continued to trouble me, until one recent Tuesday I found occasion to bring up this
1 Nietzsche quoted in Bruce Ellis Benson, Pious Nietzsche: Decadence and Dionysian Faith (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2008), 22.
2 Craig M. Gay. The Way of the (Modern) World, or Why It’s Tempting to Live As If God Doesn’t Exist, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1998), 191-193.
3 Peter L. Berger. “Western Individualism: Liberation and Loneliness,” The Partisan Review, 52 (1985): 328.
4 Confessions, I.5.5.
5 Confessions, I.4.4.
6 Confessions, I.5.6.
A MYSTICAL SVALYANIC IPIAT TALE
by Ross Tuttle
clefted scratchings of shadow. To—”
He stopped. His eyes flashed and swiftly landed upon the painting beside us. The smell of licorice dissolved into the air. Not knowing what to say I left him there, staring, tracing Karina’s strokes with his ancient azure eyes. I returned to the gallery the following days, hoping to see the man who heard the call, transfixed, enraptured. Though I sailed the small gallery for hours, I never saw the man again. I will return though. If not to find the weathered stranger-friend then to listen for the call he heard so clearly. And you may hear it too. If you find yourself beside those noble steps of the College, follow them to the gallery. Drink with eyes Svalyanic oceans dipped in light. Search the air for hints of licorice. Spy a wizard of the sea. Train your ears for songs of sirens. Listen for the Old Man’s call.
*This strange and mystical encounter took place at Karina Svalya’s evocative show at the Regent College gallery. It is highly recommended by the author and St. Raphael the Archangel that all attend for their good and for the good of all of God’s holy Church. Amen.
The rickety man smiled as I shook his cold and veiny hand. We had not come together. Just two strangers meeting in the gallery of the College. Karina Svalya’s show of oceans surged around us. We stood awhile in pleasant silence. I jumped a bit as the withered stranger whispered, “Do you hear the call?” I told him I did not. He turned to face me, his eyes moist and blue. “Too young,” he said. The old man came closer, the smell of licorice filled the narrow space between us.
And he bellowed:
“To smell the brine, the death, the chaos beginning. To sit and watch immortal, the cragged rocky smile. To hear the muffled cries of Icarus, of Shelly, dissolve into the surf. To pass a moment beside a mother, great and sweet. To drink with eyes that awful deepdown torrent. To find a Petros standing, aching on the water, Nothing of him that doth fade, But doth suffer a sea-change, Into something rich and strange. To approach the mythwave. To taste her salty spittle. To encounter Darkness. To paint light. To wait upon a shadowed or a sunlit shore, between the double gaze of Christs.To wrestle rock and god and Melville. To hover lightly over. To hide within the
BENGALI CHICKEN SOUP
sent by Tim Cruickshank
from the Whitewater Cookbook
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 tsp dried red chili flakes
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
4 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 14oz can coconut milk
1/2 cup jasmine rice, uncooked
2 cups sauerkraut, with liquid
1/2 cup carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup potatoes peeled and sliced
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or sliced thinly
1/2 cup kecap manis (available at most grocery stores in the Asian food section)
1 cup cilantro, chopped
Saute onions and garlic in oil on medium high heat in a large soup pot until soft
Add coriander, curry powder, ginger, chili flakes and turmeric to onions and continue to saute for another 2 minutes.
Add chicken stock, coconut milk, rice, sauerkraut, carrots, potatoes, chicken and kecap manis and bring to a boil.
Turn heat down to a simmer, cover and cook for 1 hour
Stir in chopped cilantro and serve
POEM OF THE WEEK:
RESPONSE FROM A SOMEDAY WOMAN
Someday Man, can you love what is real?
Someday Man, I don't know how to feel.
You say "I love you," but behind that I see
Not love for me, but a hopeless ideal.
Someday Man, you ask what I pray?
Someday, man, I'll tell you one day
But before I betray the depths of my heart
I'll begin with smaller things, light and gay
Someday Man, why yes, I think about hope
I dream of the future, but also I mope.
I have good days abounding but also some bad
I shower, I fart, I forget to refill the soap.
Someday Man, maybe I too have dated all wrong,
I mean I'm still differentiating proper and improper diphthongs!
How the heck am I supposed to tell a boy from a man,
When there's so much more than being tall and strong.
Someday Man, you sound too good to be true,
Poetic, romantic, genuinely loves the Lord too??
Turn my head with your character, heart, and pursuit
of the Lord as your first—I don't mind if me you eschew.
Someday Man, I admit, that of love I'm afraid
The past is crippling, the mistakes I have made
But still I hold on to this lifeline called hope,
every night, for you I too have prayed.