This turns out to be a mix of this week and last. I am glad to be here.
The David Foster Wallace piece is here:
Wallace made clear what he was hoping to do. He would take the most boring and repetitive job imaginable, apply to it the same formula about heightened attention and awareness that he offered to the Kenyon College graduates, and demonstrate how tedious, irksome labor could yield a path to grace and the salvation of the soul:
Ability to pay attention. It turns out that bliss—a second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious—lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (tax returns, televised golf), and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Constant bliss in every atom.
This is a variant on the old and familiar Christian theme of how to ennoble lowly toil by doing it in the service of Christ. Milton touches on it in “On His Blindness” (“They also serve who only stand and wait”), and George Herbert explores it in “The Elixir”:
…All may of thee partake:Make faces
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture (for thy sake)
Will not grow bright and clean.
A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
Makes that and the action fine.
This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold…
Missing from the drawn pages was David Dark's amazing review of Love Wins - I read this in part as a gloss and expansion on the DFW business:
As Barth argues in The Epistle to the Romans, the gospel has to be (and remain) a question mark sitting strangely next to whatever we dare to deem orthodox and sound in our own thinking. And when it comes to what we hope to understand of the judgments of God, we have to leave an awful lot to unwritten history lest we believe ourselves to own the copyright on them or find ourselves explaining them away.
Judgment, the decision to be made, the alive and signaling, evangelical pinch isn’t to be deferred. It’s now. Or as Modest Mouse famously puts it, “If you wasted this life, why wouldn’t you waste the afterlife?” Life in the age to come is as inescapably social and ethically laden as this one, only moreso. With Jesus’ counsel to the young man to sell everything he has and give to the poor, we’re given a vision of here and there which is anything but neutral (economically, politically, what have you). “Heaven also confronts. Heaven, we learn, has teeth, flames, edges, and sharp points. What Jesus is insisting with the rich man is that certain things will not survive in the age to come.” As Bell points out, the Apostle Paul draws on the same sensibility in his vision of values, identifiers, and fixations being burned and those overly attached to them being saved, but only as one passing through the flames. No disembodied faith will. The question of inheriting olam habah can’t be evangelically distinguished from the question of what we’re up to now, because here is the new there: “How we think about heaven, then, directly affects how we understand what we do with our days and energies now, in this age.”
The news from Mr. Dark is always welcome even when it disturbs.