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Calvary

calvary

The Master of death will come soon enough—and perhaps we can already hear His footsteps. There is no need to forestall His hour nor to fear it. When He enters into us to destroy, as it seems, the virtues and the forces that we have distilled with so much loving care out of the sap of the world, it will be as a loving fire to consummate our completion in union.  The Divine Milieu

There’s a well-known exchange in the documentary Bowling for Columbine wherein Michael Moore interviews Marilyn Manson about politics, media culture, and his supposed influence on Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the perpetrators of the Columbine shooting. Pretty quickly after the 1999 tragedy, Manson’s violent lyrics, “trenchcoat mafia” look, and anti-authoritarian attitude were scorned by parents and politicians, and the man himself was made a primary scapegoat for the carnage done by two troubled teens. Moore asks Manson what he would say to them if he could have talked to them directly: “I wouldn’t say a single word to them,” Manson said. “I’d listen to what they have to say. That’s what no one did.”

Wise words from a surprising source. I thought of them after seeing Calvary, the new film from John McDonaugh. (Here be spoilers, natch.) The film begins with Father James (Brendan Gleeson), pastor of a small Irish parish, listening in a confession booth to something startling: a mystery parishioner, abused by a priest as a child, threatens to kill him—an innocent priest—as payment for the sins of the Church. The man tells Father James to settle his affairs, make his peace with God, and meet him on the beach in a week’s time. Father James doesn’t fight back, call the police, or flee: he listens, letting the heavy words sink in, and then embarks on his allotted week bearing a new and heavy cross.

But it’s a burden, it becomes clear, he must bear alone. His fellow parish priest (a nervous, judgmental type) doesn’t share Father James’s relative serenity, earned from his pre-priesthood life. As a layman, I’d imagine, Father James experienced the same loss, doubt, and other common plagues of the soul; it’s what makes him unlike the other priests, “too smart” for this parish as one woman puts it and yet faithful enough to abide in it. Yet even as a priest he’s still a sinner, struggling with alcohol and the desire to flee. His parishioners aren’t a reliable source of inspiration or support, their interactions with Father James throughout the week ranging from tepid respect to outright scorn. And his adult daughter, visiting after a botched suicide attempt, struggles to reconcile her father’s new pastoral role with his lack of paternal guidance in the wake of her mother’s death. He’s trying his best with the deck stacked against him, the trauma of the Catholic church sex abuse scandal still fresh for his wary flock.

Simultaneously, Father James tries to deduce his would-be killer’s identity. Like many whodunits, most of the players in his life are suspects: is it the cuckolded town butcher he confronted about beating his wife? the pompous, grandiloquent millionaire whose support he spurned? the sarcastic male prostitute who’s contemptuous of the Church? or the nihilistic doctor hardened by the suffering around him? Father James fields each of these parishioners’ caustic commentaries —against him, the Church, or whatever else travails them. He listens, but also wearies. The parade of sin feels too long, too hopelessly unredeemable. As King Theodin remarks in The Return of the King, “What can men do against such reckless hate?”

And what can we do? Marilyn Manson’s response aside, I doubt merely sitting down with the Columbine killers and listening to them would have persuaded them not to commit their heinous crimes. So for as much as Father James listens patiently to the troubles of his congregants, there’s not much he can do. He can administer absolution, sure, but only to the penitent, of which there are few. But now, with a very real target on his back, the time for talk is over: what is he to do?

Calvary winds through Father James’ (final?) week with that question in mind. It’s Gleeson’s charisma as an actor that keeps things steady throughout this tumultuous journey. Gleeson teems with soulful presence and hard-won wisdom. This differs greatly from his role as Sgt. Boyle in The Guard (also directed by McDonaugh) yet still retains a similar good-heartedness. McDonaugh brings the celestial themes of sin, sacrifice, and redemption back down to earth in this darkly comic story, in a community that really could be anyone’s. It’s a welcome relief from the spate of sterile, overtly “Christian” films that proselytize more than ponder, that make good sermons but usually not good art. Calvary is good art because it isn’t sterile; it’s not afraid to get dirty, to search for truth and beauty in the muck of faith on earth. With life and death as the stakes, Calvary’s search is on indeed.

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Books Libraries Religion Teach Me How to Dewey

DDC 290-299: Like the ending of LOST

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 290 Other & comparative religions
  • 291 Comparative religion
  • 292 Classical (Greek & Roman) religion
  • 293 Germanic religion
  • 294 Religions of Indian origin
  • 295 Zoroastrianism (Mazdaism, Parseeism)
  • 296 Judaism
  • 297 Islam, Bábism & Bahá’í Faith
  • 298 No longer used—formerly Mormonism
  • 299 Other religions

As acknowledged back in DDC 220-229, the 200s have been overwhelmingly biased toward Christianity. But don’t fear, every other religious person reading this: your time has come! The Lords of Dewey have deigned the 290s the “Oh Crap We Forgot All The Other Religions” section. Hence Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and every other possible religious -ism bunched together in the caboose for a SparkNotes tour through ancient and modern religion and spirituality. Certainly not adequate space for the plethora of writing out there, but it’s the best Dewey is willing to do at this point.

Time for an #OccupyDewey campaign? Only the people can decide. Meanwhile, we’ve concluded what has to be the most contentious section in all of Dewey. (What’s that? The 320s are Political Science?)

The Dew3:

Buddha or Bust: In Search of Truth, Meaning, Happiness and the Man Who Found Them All
By Perry Garfinkel
Dewey: 294.3
Random Sentence: “Like any tourist, I was eager to visit what has been dubbed the Disneyland of Buddhist monasteries.”

Bring Me the Rhinoceros: And Other Zen Koans That Will Save Your Life
By John Tarrant
Dewey: 294.34432
Random Sentence: “Why can’t clear-eyed Bodhisattvas sever the red thread?”

Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari’a Law From the Deserts of Ancient Arabia to the Streets of the Modern Muslim World
By Sadakat Kadri
Dewey: 297
Random Sentence: “Shafi’i’s vision, as amplified by later generations of students, was destined to prevail.”

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Books Libraries Religion Teach Me How to Dewey

DDC 280-289: The denomination is in the details

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 280 Christian denominations & sects
  • 281 Early church & Eastern churches
  • 282 Roman Catholic Church
  • 283 Anglican churches
  • 284 Protestants of Continental origin
  • 285 Presbyterian, Reformed, Congregational
  • 286 Baptist, Disciples of Christ, Adventist
  • 287 Methodist & related churches
  • 288 No longer used—formerly Unitarian
  • 289 Other denominations & sects

Outside of being Protestant, I don’t have a specific denominational background. In spite (or because?) of that, I find other denominations, sects, and congregational interpretations fascinating. As a non-participant in the holy wars between Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterian, and of course Catholics, I watch with equal parts confusion and admiration for the dedication each section holds for their specific ways. Though all housed under the “Christian” umbrella, their adherents have found many ways to diverge from each other since the very beginning of the faith. (Only those in the culture can appreciate/disdain the irony of “no longer used” being paired with Unitarianism.) Despite the division, there is much to be gained historically, sociologically, and theologically from reading about how each of these parts interact with each other and with the whole of the faith.

Or, if you’re sick of Christianity, you can just wait for the 290s.

The Dew3:

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint
By Nadia Bolz-Weber
Dewey: 284.135
Random Sentence: “I’m not certain of the exact origins of the idea, but I’m guessing it was a biopic about Jim Morrison.”

Living the Quaker Way: Timeless Wisdom for A Better Life Today
By Philip Gulley
Dewey: 289.6
Random Sentence: “We spend much time yoked to the very devices we hoped would liberate us.”

Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish
By Tom Shachtman
Dewey: 289.73
Random Sentence: “She counters with an additional demand for fenders on the wheels.”

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Books Libraries Religion Teach Me How to Dewey

DDC 270-279: Persecution junction

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 270 Christian church history
  • 271 Religious orders in church history
  • 272 Persecutions in church history
  • 273 Heresies in church history
  • 274 Christian church in Europe
  • 275 Christian church in Asia
  • 276 Christian church in Africa
  • 277 Christian church in North America
  • 278 Christian church in South America
  • 279 Christian church in other areas

As with any honest historical assessment, this section’s books take on the good, the bad, and the ugly of Christianity’s past. 272 Persecutions could fill up an entire library. But many forget that though the Catholic Church has been responsible for some pretty heinous persecution over the years, the Christian church in general were also persecuted themselves for a long time. And even though Western Christianity (and religion in general) is fairly protected from persecution, there are places in the Middle East and Asia where being a Christian can get you killed. That’s what makes books like The Irresistible Revolution (see below)—which call for radical, countercultural living—get real real fast. In whatever time or place, people who really take their faith to heart will face the consequences of it, good and bad. And that makes one hell of a story.

The Dew3:

The Irresistible Revolution: Living as An Ordinary Radical
By Shane Claiborne
Dewey: 277.3
Random Sentence: “I’m not sure the Christian Gospel always draws a crowd.”

The Habit: A History of the Clothing of Catholic Nuns
By Elizabeth Kuhns
Dewey: 271.9
Random Sentence: “Walking was to be accomplished in a calm, demure manner–hurrying was discouraged.”

The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God
By Jonathan Kirsch
Dewey: 272.2
Random Sentence: “The old authoritarian impulse was still fully alive.”

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Books Libraries Religion Teach Me How to Dewey

DDC 260-269: Fred Phelps would hate this

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 260 Christian social theology
  • 261 Social theology
  • 262 Ecclesiology
  • 263 Times, places of religious observance
  • 264 Public worship
  • 265 Sacraments, other rites & acts
  • 266 Missions
  • 267 Associations for religious work
  • 268 Religious education
  • 269 Spiritual renewal

Is Christianity cool? Starting with this section through the next few, a lot of the books would give you some proof in the affirmative and in the negative. Obvious examples include the first book featured below, which explicitly asks that question, but also the books that don’t overtly make a claim yet by merely existing make a case.

Sadly, much of what people see on cable news is the worst of so-called Christian social theology, propagated for clicks and viewers but not based in the day-to-day reality of living out the biggest religion on earth. If you love history or tradition, there is a lot of interesting stuff to explore in Christianity’s past that conveniently also has 0% to do with Westboro Baptist.

The Dew3:

Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide
By Brett McCracken
Dewey: 261.1
Random Sentence: “For some pastors, this means they include references to Paris Hilton and The Hills in their sermons.”

On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family, and the Church in the Twenty-First Century
By Jorge Bergoglio
Dewey: 261.83
Random Sentence: “Christianity condemns both Communism and wild capitalism with the same vigor.”

Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity
By Keri Wyatt Kent
Dewey: 263.2
Random Sentence: “In play, we shed the shackles of schedule, efficiency, even purpose.”

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Books Libraries Religion Teach Me How to Dewey

DDC 250-259: Parish Administration: The Movie

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 250 Christian orders & local church
  • 251 Preaching (Homiletics)
  • 252 Texts of sermons
  • 253 Pastoral office (Pastoral theology)
  • 254 Parish government & administration
  • 255 Religious congregations & orders
  • 256 No longer used—formerly Religious societies
  • 257 No longer used—formerly Parochial schools, libraries, etc.
  • 258 No longer used—formerly Parochial medicine
  • 259 Activities of the local church

Are you ready for the explosive, blockbuster, wham-bang awesomeness that is 254 Parish government & administration? Can’t wait for a movie to be made out of books in that section. Meanwhile, I was surprised to find a lot of interesting material here. It ranged (as is evident below) from silly to sincere, with some strange mixed in too. I think it’s very important for any subculture to be able to make fun of itself, and there’s a good amount of evidence for that within Christianity, whether by current or former adherents. Of course, as a old religion it has its more rigid types, but we all need to laugh, especially when things are funny. Sounds obvious, but it’s easy to get trapped in the thinking that all sacred things must also be serious and earnest. Sometimes serious things are funny.

The Dew3:

Nuns Having Fun
By Maureen Kelly
Dewey: 255.9
Random Sentence: “Protect us, O Lord, for we are upright women–at least for now.”

Church Signs Across America
By Steve Paulson
Dewey: 254.4
Random Sentence: “A good angle to approach any problem is the ‘try’-angle.”

Strength to Love
By Martin Luther King
Dewey: 252
Random Sentence: “We can master fear through one of the supreme virtues known to man: courage.”

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Books Libraries Religion Teach Me How to Dewey

DDC 240-249: Ain’t your mama’s Christian writing

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 240 Christian moral & devotional theology
  • 241 Moral theology
  • 242 Devotional literature
  • 243 Evangelistic writings for individuals
  • 244 No longer used—formerly Religious fiction
  • 245 No longer used—formerly Hymnology
  • 246 Use of art in Christianity
  • 247 Church furnishings & articles
  • 248 Christian experience, practice, life
  • 249 Christian observances in family life

The thing I like about sections like this is how it surprises. Even though (or perhaps because) I grew up in the Christian world and am very familiar with its tropes, biases, and tendencies, I love when I find new things—perspectives that challenge conventional wisdom or allow for greater nuance and a rich, learning experience.

Anne Lamott (featured below) is a good example of this: though she is a Christian writer, she could hardly be more unconventional or irreverent in her approach and writing style. People who have either struggled with religiously oriented literature or written it off entirely would be pleasantly surprised by writers like her who, as the saying goes, ain’t your mama’s Christian writer. This is just one example of how Dewey, and really libraries in general, can surprise you if you take the time to browse and let serendipity be your guide.

The Dew3:

Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will
By Kevin DeYoung
Dewey: 248.4
Random Sentence: “Wisdom sounds good but how does it work?”

Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith
By Anne Lamott
Dewey: 248.4
Random Sentence: “I was an out-of-control alcoholic then–but in a good way, I had thought.”

Sin Bravely: A Joyful Alternative to A Purpose-Driven Life
By Mark Ellingsen
Dewey: 248.4
Random Sentence: “Such a diminution of sin is what the American public wants.”

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Books Libraries Religion Teach Me How to Dewey

DDC 230-239: Fresh loaves and fishes

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 230 Christian theology
  • 231 God
  • 232 Jesus Christ & his family
  • 233 Humankind
  • 234 Salvation (Soteriology) & grace
  • 235 Spiritual beings
  • 236 Eschatology
  • 237 No longer used—formerly Future state
  • 238 Creeds & catechisms
  • 239 Apologetics & polemics

Probably because, not in spite of, Christianity’s hitherto cultural/religious hegemony in the United States specifically, it has inspired a lot of writing. Some good, some terrible, and some I’m not quite sure about. Reading Jesus (below), for example, seems to bring a new approach to the Gospels, which are arguably the most published and referenced texts in world history. At weddings, funerals, and many events in between we hear many of the same verses quoted as inspiration and encouragement, or as argument or counterargument. It’s easy to cherry-pick and plug in a verse for an occasion, but how often does it go beyond that? There’s a lot to consider if we want to get past the tired, old interpretations of religious orthodoxy, so as someone reared in the Christian world I appreciate those who try to look at Jesus and his teachings in fresh ways.

The Dew3:

Disappointment With God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud
By Philip Yancey
Dewey: 231.7
Random Sentence: “Richard does not know Mother Theresa, but he does know me.”

Reading Jesus: A Writer’s Encounter With the Gospels
By Mary Gordon
Dewey: 232
Random Sentence: “The darkness of my grandmother’s bedroom.”

The Great Divorce
By C.S. Lewis
Dewey: 236.2
Random Sentence: “‘Whisht, now!’ said my Teacher suddenly.”

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Books Libraries Religion Teach Me How to Dewey

DDC 220-229: Blessed is Samuel L. Jackson

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 220 Bible
  • 221 Old Testament
  • 222 Historical books of Old Testament
  • 223 Poetic books of Old Testament
  • 224 Prophetic books of Old Testament
  • 225 New Testament
  • 226 Gospels & Acts
  • 227 Epistles
  • 228 Revelation (Apocalypse)
  • 229 Apocrypha & pseudepigrapha

Regardless of how accurate it is in a given situation, deploying “Old Testament” as an intensifying adjective/adverb–i.e. “It’s about to get Old Testament up in here”–is one of my favorite things. To me in implies a righteous fury or a majestic/violent power that descends from above in order to make a plain scenario a whole lot less plain.

I guess what I mean to say is that “Old Testament” seems like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction: wide-eyed, vindictive, and not at all safe for work.

Whether it’s a fight scene in a movie or an argument with a friend, the metaphorical and rhetorical power of the Old Testament is a lot more interesting than people (religious and secular) give it credit for. Those who saw the Darren Aronofsky film Noah will understand this, as that well-worn Old Testament tale got an authentically Old Testament retelling that both does justice to the text and brings that aforementioned righteous fury to the filmmaking and the story.

What were we talking about again? Oh yeah… It is pretty evident by now that the 200s have a strong predilection toward Christianity. This is probably a remnant of the original Dewey classification of the mid-to-late 19th century, which was born in a much more faith-infused time than ours. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, since Christianity is often woefully misunderstood (or not understood at all) by its critics but also by its proponents. That’s certainly the case, too, for other major religions, so I guess the moral here is: Learn!

The Dew3:

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible As Literally As Possible
By A.J. Jacobs
Dewey: 220
Random Sentence: “The floor is exactly like a Seattle mosh pit circa 1992.”

The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible, 1611-2011
By Melvyn Bragg
Dewey: 220.52
Random Sentence: “Gravity was God’s other face.”

Water from the Well: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah
By Anne Richardson Roiphe
Dewey: 221.922082
Random Sentence: “She must have been wrapped in regret.”

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Books God Libraries Religion Teach Me How to Dewey

DDC 210-219: Are you there, God? It’s Melvil

A Teach Me How To Dewey production

This Is How We Dewey:

  • 211 Concepts of God
  • 212 Existence, attributes of God
  • 213 Creation
  • 214 Theodicy
  • 215 Science & religion
  • 216 No longer used—formerly Evil
  • 217 No longer used—formerly Prayer
  • 218 Humankind
  • 219 No longer used—formerly Analogies

Once again we’ve got a number of winning Ghosts of Dewey Past. Perhaps it’s fitting that formerly evil is in the section about God. Whether by divine intervention, miracle, or the fortuitous maneuverings of an OCLC employee, Dewey #216 is no longer the damnable hellscape of sin and evil it once was, and I for one am thankful. I was pleasantly surprised to find a quite varied field of God-related books: some that argue for the existence of God, others that aren’t so sure, and some that make a federal case out of their certitude either way. Personally, I’m more interested in the former than the latter. Doubt, like any tool, serves an important purpose in its right context, so leaving some room for it, I think, is a healthy way to look at the world.

But what do I know anyway?

The Dew3:

Einstein’s God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit
By Krista Tippett
Dewey: 215
Random Sentence: “But ‘wonder’ for St. Augustine was a religious experience that drove back to a creator.”

Divinity of Doubt: The God Question
By Vincent Bugliosi
Dewey: 211.7
Random Sentence: “I’ve said that I don’t believe Jesus was insane.”

Galileo Goes to Jail: And Other Myths About Science and Religion
Edited by Ronald Numbers
Dewey: 215
Random Sentence: “As Stark sees it, chimneys and pianos, and all the more so chemistry and physics, owe their existence to Catholics and Protestants.”