March/April Issue


Crazy Beats

From Jennifer L. Holberg

It’s already 9 days into April, or as the literati like to call it, National Poetry Month.  I hope you’ve been celebrating appropriately—or even inappropriately, if that’s what poetry inspires in you (just keep your daffodil-frolicking to yourself). 

As an English professor, obviously, I’m contractually obligated to think of every month as poetry month, but I’ve been doing my bit nonetheless by spending time in my Brit lit survey course with modernist poets, such as Yeats, of whose verse one student wrote “It doesn’t seem like much more than a bunch of words on paper.” Admittedly, poems about odd desert creatures crawling towards Bethlehem or women being assaulted by gods-in-swan-form are a little weird.  And maybe even a little confusing.  

But Yeats is in good company.  I spent an extended period in my car on Monday, and I ended up listening to the radio.  Nothing as elevated as NPR.  No, I admit it: Top 40.  As a culture, we may not read much poetry any more collectively, but we do know song lyrics.  And as I bopped along to the admittedly hooky beats, I realized how many of the current hits are somewhat mystifying themselves. 

Take the current #1 song in the land: Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” Upbeat and joyful-sounding—and completely odd.


Praying in Restaurants

From Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

“Grandpa, we don’t pray in restaurants!”

So declared my daughter to my father, many, many years ago. Our food had arrived, and as was his custom my father said quietly, “Shall we pray?” Three year old Emma’s immediate retort was totally sincere. Her tone was more perplexed than curt. “What in the world is grandpa thinking?” might have been her subtext. 

I felt a little amused and a lot embarrassed. But Emma’s declaration was true. We didn’t pray in restaurants. I don’t recall it being a fully deliberate decision, although young Emma had obviously noted the clear distinction.

Our reluctance had something to do with Jesus’s words about not practicing your piety in public—although, as I’ve often reminded my congregation, the admonition against piety in public is not an admonition against piety in general.


Lent's Pachyderm, again

From Jessica Bratt

Good Monday to you. After much hemming and hawing over several half-baked ideas for today's post, I've decided to re-post this piece. I humbly (re)submit it, for myself as much as anyone. We're nearing the end of Lent, and I often find, as I am finding this year, that I start to lose sight of the message of Ash Wednesday by the time Holy Week draws near. Today I admit that I need to return to old words instead of coming up with new ones (but I guess we people of the Book do that all the time!). Wishing you all a continued holy Lent...

Behold the elephant in the room.

Banksy, the street graffiti artist, had this elephant in the room as part of his first US exhibit (Los Angeles, 2006). Nothing revives an overdone metaphor like taking it literally, I suppose.

I feel like that’s what Ash Wednesday does, too. The stark visibility of the ashes calls attention to realities that we are usually comfortable to leave unmentioned.

Like the reality that all of us participate as both perpetrators and victims in the world’s brokenness, and that we need to account for it in order to experience renewal.

Like the reality that being human has a 100% mortality rate.

It’s fitting that we “impose” ashes on foreheads. Ashes come with a message that is an imposition indeed: we are frail, vulnerable, and in glaring need of help. Try taking that to heart in the middle of your daily attempts to be productive and significant.


Fifth Sunday in Lent

One of the quiet glories of medieval Gothic architecture is the rose window, an ornate circular stained-glass window, found in the cathedrals of York, Amiens, and Notre-Dame, among others. A series of radiating forms (like petals) streaming from a central rosette, rose windows typically follow a geometric pattern employing the number twelve. Christ, or Mary and Christ are found in the center, surrounded by petals that might represent the signs of the zodiac, the months of the year, the tribes of Israel, or the number of disciples.

Rose windows provide religious instruction, but also inspire emotional and spiritual reactions. The light streaming through stained glass, said the twelfth-century Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis, transforms “that which is material to that which is immaterial.” Tracing the ornate patterns of the rose window with the eye, following the petals to the center, one feels calm and at peace, centered in Christ’s love.


Susan VanZanten teaches English at Seattle Pacific University, in Seattle, Washington. Her writings include Mending a Tattered Faith: Devotions with Dickinson (Wipf and Stock, 2011) and Reading a Different Story: A Christian Scholar's Journey from America to Africa (Baker Academic, 2013).


Noah: An Author Interview

From Debra Rienstra

I’ve been reading a lot of author interviews lately to prepare for Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing. So when I went to see the movie Noah, which opened last weekend, I thought I would arrange for The Twelve to interview the author of the book on which the movie was based.

The Twelve: So you’ve heard about the controversy over the film version of your book?

The Author: Oh sure. I’m pretty well tuned in. I hear about things. The movie is actually about one section of one of my books, by the way.

12: Right, I knew that. Anyway, the movie has been banned in several Muslim countries and of course there are objections to it from the usual quarters here in the U.S. The complaints in Muslim countries have to do with depictions of holy figures, but here in the U.S. the complaints are about whether the movie is faithful to the book. Do you care about that?

Author: Well, there are more and less important ways to be faithful, you know? Look, my work has been around for a long time and a lot of people have made adaptations. I’m used to it. That’s what happens when you write stories. In fact, that’s the power of stories. They’re generative. They’re designed to be stretchy and flexible so that they last. People in different times and places find their way into them—they find the dimensions of the story that speak. When people retell stories, they throw the emphasis on one or another of the big themes, and great stories are large enough to sustain that.

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