The Gospel of Mark as Sudden Fiction

Sudden fiction is another term for flash fiction, but the two aren’t simply synonymous, at least not to my ear.  Don’t read too much into the title of this post.  I’m not making some argument that the Gospel of Mark ought to be thought of as fiction or non-fiction by modern definitions.  I’m talking about effect.   Where does the writer mean to take us, and why?  How do we know?

The Gospel of Mark is short, but it’s also very sudden.  Replete with “immediatelys,” the narrative is constantly moving.  Like a good short story, it feels meant to be read in one sitting.

I’ve just finished a sudden read in this manner.  My sudden thoughts follow.

In Mark, Jesus is concerned with telling anyone who will hear that the kingdom of God is at hand, the kingdom of God is here, and that this news is good.

Often, his message gains traction through healing and exorcisms (these may or may not be the same).   He is clearly opposed to entrenched religious systems and values, but not to the teachings of Israel’s prophets.  His je ne sais quoi  has precisely to do with his vision of God and God’s kingdom in the context of Rome’s empire, Herod’s puppet vassal, the Sanhedrin’s religious hegemony, the temple-merchants’ guild and the common-place fiefdom of first-century mores, beliefs, and expectations often beguiling his disciples or other parts of the general public.  Often, those outside his immediate circle understand him best.  He is arrested, tried, and crucified quickly.  He even dies quickly.  His tomb is found empty, and his followers are instructed by a heavenly presence to meet him, the Risen, in Galilee.  No big deal.  Biggest deal ever.

We shouldn’t be surprised.

Bullets With Butterfly Wings: A Writing Prompt About Nerves, Dread, and Fear

Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?

The prompt (not the awesome title reference) came today from WordPress.  Butterflies like bullets.  You know what that’s about.  That song came out in 1995, which is probably exactly when my own strongest moment of heart-pounding, belly-twiting nervousness happened.  To make another reference, it was almost certainly about a girl.

And now I need to watch this, and so do you:

A few years ago I was on an obsessive workout regimen and dropped a million pounds.  Nirvana Unplugged was my cardio jam.  I wonder what that was about.

Solidarity, Serendipity, Grace: a brief story from my morning

This is probably from 2013:

Yesterday I reposted a three-year old piece about Hess’s, the famed and sorely missed downtown commercial icon that owned the 20th century not just in Allentown but really across this part of Pennsylvania.

As you know if you live here, Allentown is undergoing half-a-billion dollars in new capital investment.

This morning, I had a breakfast get-together downtown. I was early, and I found myself sitting in the lobby of one of the new buildings to pass the time.  It also occurred to me to pray.  At some point, a kind woman I’d never met before who works somewhere in the building asked me if I wanted anything to eat or if I could use some coffee. Yesterday, I had given a little extra at a local coffee shop and said if you don’t want the tip, please do pass it on to a homeless friend in need.

The kind woman from this morning may have thought I was homeless or just simply hurting, and maybe that’s on her mind because of all the awareness being raised about the needs in Allentown. Maybe looking out for others is part of who she is.  In any case,  I’m grateful for her kindness and her courage, and I know that someday soon it will encounter someone with needs I can’t begin to imagine.  Maybe it has already.

Opening Lines: Victory by Joseph Conrad

There is, as every schoolboy knows in this scientific age, a very close chemical relation between coal and diamonds. It is the reason, I believe, why some people allude to coal as “black diamonds.” Both these commodities represent wealth; but coal is a much less portable form of property. There is, from that point of view, a deplorable lack of concentration in coal. Now, if a coal-mine could be put into one’s waistcoat pocket–but it can’t! At the same time, there is a fascination in coal, the supreme commodity of the age in which we are camped like bewildered travelers in a garish, unrestful hotel. And I suppose those two considerations, the practical and the mystical, prevented Heyst – Axel Heyst – from going away.

Joseph Conrad, Victory, 1915.  page 1.

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Doubt, Depression, Dread-Mornings of the Soul

From 2014:

I’m trying to write a new post about depression and doubt. One does not do this without referencing Leonard Cohen and Ernest Hemingway. I looked up some old posts for reference, only to find that I’d written this almost a year ago to the day:

https://chriscocca.com/2013/02/08/rockstars-and-whetstones-and-ssris-steven-hyden-and-a-bunch-of-other-stuff/

I can’t say that my medical situation is exactly the same as it was then, but I feel a year better, at least, about almost everything.

Below is what I started with this morning before going back.

For me, doubt is never about the veracity of some narrative.  I suppose that’s because the living Christ is the only thing I really believe in.  I suppose it’s because I feel connected to the prophetic witness and movement of the Holy Spirit.  Or perhaps I am drawn to these realities specifically because I can’t fathom the idea that the salvation of the world depends on getting this or that narrative right.  I want to experience what Jesus experienced of God, and what his followers experienced of him.  I want to do what he did.  I don’t have time for anything else.

For me, doubt isn’t waking up and fearing that the stories we were raised on aren’t true.  I don’t care about that.  Doubt, for me, is far more insidious.  It has to do with waking up and worrying that everything I fought for yesterday doesn’t matter, or, worse, would embarrass Ernest Hemingway.  I’m talking about a specific, latent, and under-discussed anxiety that often turns young Christian or Muslim or just plain earnest men into misogynists: the fear of spiritual conviction as masculine failure.  In the West at least, men are inevitably trained to worry about this.  We are trained not only to believe that our worth as men or as people has everything to do with supposedly gender-bound responsibilities of provision to our families and sexual gratification to ourselves, but that the bald pursuit of both at any cost is somehow noble, right, and good.  Spirituality (like nurturing) is better left to women.  When we do pursue spiritual matters, God (God!) forbid we allow ourselves to cede equal ground to women or their equal standing before God.  God forbid we affirm the radical hunches of Paul or the radical directives of Jesus.  If we’re already concerned that spirituality (or anything not manifesting as apathy) makes us cruiser-weight chumps in the war of each against all, we’re not likely to admit women (or gay men, for that matter) can do that shit as well as us, period.

If you’ve ever felt this way, please know that hyper-masculine Neo-Calvinism won’t help.  This isn’t about embracing a beefed-up vision of Jesus but about reclaiming an honest one.  He fought the law and the law won.  And then he won.  On the dark mornings of my soul, waking up means having to remember that the radical potency of insubordination and insurrection isn’t just the point of Jesus’ witness, but of this “work in progress called life.”   The point of life, as best as I can see it, isn’t found in the catechisms of J.M. Barrie, Martin Luther, or Ulrich Zwingli.   It’s found in the life and work of someone like Jesus, killed for daring to free the world from the scarcity model.

That’s no small thing.  It’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of.   It won’t net you a sports car or pension or the kind of disposable relationships we sometimes crave.  It may, however, net you some life and in that sense, abundance.