Preaching Connection: Human Nature

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Anatomy of a Murder

A veteran lawyer points out an obvious difficulty with respect to small-town sheriffs: “How in the name of the blessed saints can you expect a man to turn around and arrest the very people who elect him and keep him in office?  It’s contrary to human nature and our rare ‘good’ sheriffs are political freaks...
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All the Days and Nights: The Collected Stories

William Maxwell, long-term fiction editor at The New Yorker, wrote gentle, luminous stories, including some tiny ones he called “improvisations.”  He tells us that he wrote them to please his wife: When we were first married, after we had gone to bed I would tell her a story in the dark.  They came from I...
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Deadline: A Memoir

President Lyndon B. Johnson told his guests at the White House one night that he was going to give up alcohol and take up golf.  Considering all his other problems, I wrote, with mock alarm, he should have been doing the opposite.  As every Scotsman knew, golf inevitably added to man’s sorrows while ‘a wee...
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“In this People’s Court Only One Opinion Counts”

An account of the TV program “Judge Judy,” a woman that defendants have a hard time lying to (she says to one especially implausible defendant, “Look up here; Do you see ‘stupid’ written on my forehead?”). Judge Judy is actually retired supervising judge Judith Sheindlin of Manhattan Family Court, and author of Don’t Pee on...
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Scrupulous syntax and speech

“William Safire’s weekly column on scrupulous syntax and speech ended with a story that may speak for many of us: ‘I ran into an old friend whom I had not seen in too long. He clapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘I miss not seeing you!’ ‘No, I replied, he missed seeing me; not...
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The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat

For the Scottish philosopher David Hume “personal identity is a fiction—we do not exist, we are but a consecution of sensations, or perceptions. This is clearly not the case with a normal human being, because he owns his own perceptions. They are not a mere flux, but his own, united by an abiding individuality or...
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Self-Consciousness: Memoirs

“The child’s ego-sense does not come at birth but slowly emerges from a confusion of its self with the mother’s. We each chronically entrust ourselves to the subconscious realm of sleep, of dreams where the self wanders among its own raw materials, in an unquestioning present tense, without those limits that give the waking world...
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Nothing But the Best: The Struggle for Perfection at the Juilliard School

“Singers look and act different from instrumentalists because (some say) they are vulnerable in a way that instrumentalists are not. The singer is his instrument. The singer is judged not only on what he does with his instrument but on the quality of the instrument itself. . . . the voice faculty that rejects a...
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Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War

Manchester tells of his Marine commander, Colonel Horace F. Hastings, who was “the most redundant man I’ve ever known. He’d say, ‘We’re going to sail tomorrow aboard ship.’ Or, ‘Here in Dixie we’re in the South.’ Or, ‘Sunrise will come at dawn.’ Or, ‘Men, eat lots of food and plenty of it.’”
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Thomas Jefferson: A Life

Jefferson read everything. He was a ferocious learner, studying hours daily and also practicing his Amati violin. Here he is in a letter to Robert Skipwith of 1773, defending his program of general reading in a way that would have pleased Jonathan Edwards: “Everything is useful which contributes to fix in us the principles and...
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“John Calvin Got a Bad Rap”

Kimball reviews Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought and does so respectfully. Kimball admires Robinson for her toughness and independence of thought. She’s “contrarian,” defending the thought of Calvin and the social lives of Puritans, whom, she says, “’we disparage without knowledge or information’ just for ‘the pleasure of sharing an...
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Small World: An Academic Romance

“Does fashion in scholarship have a short life? It’s actually getting shorter all the time. There are people coming back into fashion who never even knew they were out of it.”
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Cannery Row

“Henri the painter was not French and his name was not Henri. Also he was not really a painter. Henri had so steeped himself in stories of the left Bank in Paris that he lived there although he had never been there. Feverishly he followed in periodicals the Dadaist movements and schisms, the strongly feminine...
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Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness

Jonah fled from the face of God–i.e. the presence of God. Face is “a metaphor charged with complex and intimate experience. In infancy, as our eyes gradually focus, the face becomes our first vista. By means of the parental face we know ourselves as ourselves and in its expressions learn our place in the world....
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Additional content related to Human Nature

Psalm 8

The poet of Psalm 8 stared into the night sky and was properly dazzled at what he saw. But to put it mildly, what he did not see was a lot! Had this psalmist been able to spend a scant ten minutes looking through a telescope, he would doubtless have fainted in wonderment. Ancient astronomers…

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Deuteronomy 26:1-11

This passage is at once lyric and heartbreaking.  It’s lyric for all the reasons I will detail below in terms of how handily these verses get at some very core spiritual truths regarding our lives within God’s creation.  It’s heartbreaking because you sense that things never quite worked out this way once the people of…

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Jeremiah 17:5-10

In the most straightforward sense, this snippet from Jeremiah 17 is all about trust.  Bad Trust.  Good Trust.  If you trust in mere human beings in all of life, you are on a slippery slope to ruin.  In fact such people can be considered cursed.  Nothing good will come their way.  But trust in God…

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Psalm 138

The Lectionary likes Psalm 138 and slates it sometimes in Ordinary Time and sometimes in Epiphany.  I have several sermon commentaries on the CEP site on Psalm 138 but for this week I will riff on the last time I wrote about this in the Sundays after Epiphany. I have noted often in my sermon…

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Luke 21:25-36

Diana Butler Bass says it well when she reflects on the way we get right into it. “Advent 1 slaps us with the uncertainty and violence of human history.” From the get go, we’re told that there will be natural signs of turmoil, political distress, and chaos will hover over the earth, seemingly inescapable. Fear…

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Mark 13:1-8

Between this week and last, we’ve gotten the benefits of a very pensive Jesus. Last week, Jesus sat and watched the Treasury system. This week he takes a seat on the Mount of Olives; from there he can see the entire site of the Temple, and he shares some of his reflections on what this…

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Psalm 8

The poet of Psalm 8 stared into the night sky and was properly dazzled at what he saw.  But to put it mildly, what he did not see was a lot!  Had this psalmist been able to spend a scant ten minutes looking through a telescope, he would doubtless have fainted in wonderment.  Ancient astronomers…

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Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Giving to the church is a notoriously difficult subject for preachers, deacons and other church leaders. It raises very hard questions. How is giving money or even time or talent to the church actually giving to God? Are there other ways to give to God besides giving to the local church? How much should people…

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