Vanishing Point

Vanishing Point

(Homage to the brothers and sisters in Christ at Emmanuel AME Church, Charleston, SC, 2015)

Lines converged

At the front of Emanuel AME church.

UnWise Blood, brooding in the back, ran cold.


Lines converged

As Emanuel AME-“God with us”-black brother and sisters.

Wise Blood sought the unconditional, indiscriminate embrace of the Other.


Lines converged

While prayers ascended

UnWise Blood descended…into hell.


Lines converged

A fine point emerged (but not from prayer),

A trajectory of bile aimed at neighbors on their knees.


Lines converged and Wise Blood flowed out

Wooden cross braces could no longer bear its sacred weight.

New Life arose away from earth’s downward pull.


Lines Converged

As showers of prayers began descending:

“I forgive you.” “I pray that you repent.” “May God have mercy on your soul.”


Lines Converged

When I was told “White Privilege is your name.”

“You are excluded, neighbor”.


Lines Converged

When credence for exclusion beget civil war anarchy,

When credence for exclusion became Dogma from a bully pulpit.


Lines Converged

When Evil handed UnWise Blood the means to destroy the spiritual growth of the Other.

At twenty-one.


 Lines converged

Dylann Roof emerged.

Civil War meet God.




© Sally Paradise, 2015, All Rights Reserved


Charleston Victims Forgive the Shooter

“We’re On A Mission From God”

Lent may be a good time for this discourse…

“If you live today, you breath in nihilism … it’s the gas you breathe. If I hadn’t had the Church to fight it with or to tell me the necessity of fighting it, I would be the stinkingest logical positivist you ever saw right now.”
― Flannery O’Connor

I have not read Dr. Thomas Howard’s book “Evangelical is not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament.” A Goodreads description about the book piqued my interest.

After reading the brief synopsis and a thread of comments about the book, I would have to say that I have perhaps made a similar journey away from formal Evangelicalism. My reasons may be similar to Howard’s, but, as mentioned, I haven’t read his book.

My own journey began with seeking wisdom and authentic Christianity. In my thirties I would find a wellspring of wisdom and a dose of ‘real’ Christianity from reading the works of Saint Teresa of Avila and some of the church fathers.

In 1984 I came across “A Life of Prayer” by St. Teresa of Avila. The book, the abridged edition out of Multnomah Press copyright 1983, was one in a series of “Classics of Faith and Devotion.”

The preface, written by Dr. James Houston a University Lecturer at Oxford University and later Chancellor of Regent College, notes that “The goal for the reader of these books is not to seek information. Instead, these volumes teach one about living wisely…Nor are these books “how-to” kits or texts…They guide us to “be” authentic, and not necessarily help us to promote more professional activities.” But I am ahead of myself.

“You have to quit confusing a madness with a mission.”
― Flannery O’Connor

I would like to share some of my journey, a condensed version, from formal Evangelicalism to Anglicanism with you. Where to begin? I’ll start like many of those who commented on Howard’s book: I was born and raised in an Evangelical Christian home.

While my parents were attending Moody Bible Institute as married students I was born. Voilà! Orbiting in such a universe my life rotated around daily Scripture reading, teaching and preaching. The ‘Word’ was heard it everywhere in my world – our small apartments.

The Word resounded from a tiny Zenith radio tuned to MBI’s flagship station WMBI. My mother had the radio tuned in and turned on every day while she worked around the house, prepared meals and changed you know who.

My earliest remembrances of the WMBI were of Aunt Theresa Worman and the KYB club (Know Your Bible Club). Through this and many other radio programs I would became bathed in Sola Scriptura at a very early age.

Later, along with my younger siblings, all of us sitting around the dinner table, my mother would read a chapter out of the book of Proverbs after each meal. And, often a missionary story as well. I also memorized tons of Scripture for Sunday School memorization contests.

With such an influx of spiritual truth each of us kids would become instilled with a desire to become missionaries or pastors or ministry involved from our earliest ages. For me, as I would later surmise, seeking wisdom, knowledge and a good understanding would be my life’s journey. I had to have the Truth – REALITY – and the discernment to know the Truth when I found it. I prayed for wisdom, knowledge and a good understanding every day.

Like my parents before me I attended Moody Bible Institute, in the ‘70s. I mainly studied Christian Education, music (I play the trumpet), Old and New Testament Scriptures and Koine (New Testament) Greek.

In my required first Personal Evangelism course I was taught that Catholicism was a cult just as Jehovah’s Witness and Mormonism are cults. It would be years before I eradicated that thinking from my head. In the mean time, though, I felt pretty proud of myself being an in the ‘know’ “Protestant.” I found out later that this smugness was a two-way street.

“Smugness is the Great Catholic Sin.”
― Flannery O’Connor

Now, after all of the jumbled background I’ve laid out here, let’s get back to the reason I ‘switched’ turf. Reading would play an important role in my ‘change.’

St. Teresa, a Catholic, wrote mainly about prayer and the inner life with God. Her work is filled with imagery, primarily three images:

There is the Journey or Pilgrimage of the soul: the coming home to the Truth, to the Presence.

There is the image of the Castle representing the wholeness of the soul where “His Majesty” dwells. As James M. Houston’s Editor’s Note points out: “For it is God’s presence within the soul of man that gives it such spaciousness and delight. How contrastive is Kafka’s Castle with its fearful absence of the landlord depicting not only the absence of the earthly father of the novelist, but also Kafka’s alienation from God.”
The soul St. Teresa depicts “is the domicile of His majesty.”

Water is the third image. Here Teresa refers to prayer. She will talk about water’s scarcity during the journey and water from a deep well of meditation, water as a conduit or viaduct poured into us as joy or as fresh rain, replenishing the parched soul.

Another image, one that I use often in prayer, is the garden of the soul. I’ll talk about this more in another post.

To put it mildly, back in the day, I wasn’t hearing anything like the above from the preachers or from the ‘Christian’ radio or from…Christians. What I was hearing, every single Sunday in E-Free (The Evangelical Free church) was that if you wanted to trust Jesus as your Savior or if you wanted to rededicate your life for the umptee-umph time to the Lord then raise your hand, walk down the aisle and kneel.

It seemed to me that people just wanted to relive their rebirth experience, perhaps vicariously through someone else. But, please don’t ask those in attendance to drink or eat anything but milk. The meat of the word was left on the side. After many years of this diet I hungered for more solid food.

And what I hungered for was the Eucharist. Not all the parading up and down the aisles.

The Evangelical Free church (E-Free Church) I attended would ‘celebrate’ communion once a month, like an after thought, like something you put on the calendar and can’t forget to do. Saving souls, replaying the salvation message tape over and over again every Sunday, selling hell fire insurance and eternal life real estate was the bottom line. That, and making ever bigger buildings to house wider aisles to accommodate the walking recycled.

Am I being polemical? Absolutely, as my Lord would be.

“I am not afraid that the book will be controversial, I’m afraid it will not be controversial.”
― Flannery O’Connor

Now, there are churches called “Seeker Churches!” What in the world?

When I was involved in the Jesus People Movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s we would hold Jesus Rallies at public high school auditoriums. This was evangelization.

There would be worship music and Street-wise Preachers. We’d invite our high school friends. Many would come to belief in Christ. We would immediately baptize them in a pond nearby. One of them was my best friend Carl.

Today churches are trying to play culture catch-up and it’s a fool’s errand.

Three point sermons? Nope. Sermons as centerpiece of Sunday morning ‘service’. Nope

The church, the ekklesia, the called out ones, are to be fed, ministered to and to minister to one another: gifts, giving, koinonia, and NOT “let’s watch a Jesus flick this morning” or “let’s listen to a raging sermon that really tells someone off” or “You really need my homiletics to get you through the next week.” No.

The church is to gather to worship as One Body the Triune God. The church universal, with those in prison, with those hurting and alone, comes together to feed on HIM. THEN, the church, fed, recharged, goes out into the world to seek the lost. Evangelization is life after Eucharist.

I chose to go to an Anglican church because the Lord had placed in my heart, since day one, the need to receive His REAL Presence through the sacrament. Yes, I have the Holy Spirit dwelling within me. He is the one saying “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.” I wanted the Wisdom of God dwelling in me. I need this bread and drink every week, at the very least. Come Lord Jesus.

Yes, I need the liturgy. I am a Romantic-Rationalist. I need to hear the Common Book prayers read aloud and the scriptures read aloud. I need the formal hymns AND the folk songs of the church (I listen to David Crowder at home). I need the formality, the ritual, the pomp and circumstance, the expectation of His Presence leading up to the Eucharist.

Everything that happens within the liturgy points to the Eucharist – The Great Thanksgiving. That is exactly why I attend an Anglican church – exalting His Majestic REAL Presence with us.

There is beauty in the liturgical season colors, the stained glass windows. There is beauty in the spoken prayers and Scripture. There is beauty in the truth of the hymns.

I need beauty wherever and whenever I can find it. We all do. Beauty reveals the Godhead. Beauty reveals the love of God towards us.

And yet, even though most of my spiritual needs (of gift and giver) are met at the Anglican Church, the Body of Christ can be so much more than this. The corporate church has become the church corporate – worldly configured and less Christ-centric dynamism. Think personally involved house-to-house koinonia-laying–on-of-hands-prayer and not sit-back-and-let government (or church) do “social justice.”

I have started several threads in this post. I can’t follow all of them here. Read Saint Teresa’s “A Life of Prayer.” Read the church fathers. Read Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood. Read N.T. Wright’s “How God Became King”. Read Dr. Luke’s The Acts of the Apostles.  Become His Church as Followers of the Way. Feed on Him in your hearts by faith and with Thanksgiving.

“You don’t serve God by saying: the Church is ineffective, I’ll have none of it. Your pain at its lack of effectiveness is a sign of your nearness to God. We help overcome this lack of effectiveness simply by suffering on account of it. ”
― Flannery O’Connor

Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the ‘most portable’ person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, ‘Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.’ That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”

Flannery O’Connor on the Eucharist and Church History



Safe Distance

Myrna waited for the commuter at her usual spot. This morning, icy winter wind coursed down the tracks slamming up against her.  Trying to stay warm she shifted her weight back and forth.  Every so often she would turn her face into the wind in hopes of seeing the train’s headlight coming down the tracks.  At 5:39 the train arrived.  No one else had been waiting for the train. This fact seemed odd to her but the day, being the Monday after Christmas, she thought it was possible.

 She found her usual seat, a single on the upper deck, and settled in.  As she did, the train lurched forward, leaving the station. She hadn’t noticed a conductor when she boarded and from the empty seats it appeared that none of the regular passengers were on board. Looking down from her seat she did see a man with tattered dirty clothes.  He was bent over in his seat and rocking back and forth.

 The train ride to the city usually took an hour and ten minutes. Myrna pulled Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Stories from her tote, found her place in the book and began reading. She had promised her son that she would read this book.

 The compilation of stories had been given to her on Christmas day.  Her son Ethan handed it to her just as he was telling her that he had become a Christian.  Myrna had been quite taken back by this news. She had thought that Ethan was an intellectual atheist just like herself.  She had raised him to be a well-adjusted man of the world.  She shuddered to think about gooeyness of religion smothering her son. 

 Though she had been raised a Lutheran, Myrna, later decided that Christianity had its place for the weak and dull of mind, for those not willing to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. She believed that learning was the key to life.  She went to night school.  She applied herself. Life was what you made it, she told herself.  And, she didn’t need a savior.  Saviors were for those who needed saving from themselves.  The savior myth of a dying god was just another story like Homer’s Iliad.  Her Literature teacher had told her so.

 And, Myrna certainly wasn’t going to waste time bending the knee and genuflecting before someone she couldn’t see and relate to. Besides, there were children in this world who are hurting.  Why would a god who is supposed to be love let such things happen to children?  She wouldn’t let bad things happen to her baby. In fact, she felt she was god enough for Elliot and for herself. Ethan was raised to respect knowledge.  Myrna had steeled him with a good college education. He was well-adjusted and not like his father.

 When the train arrived at the next stop Myrna looked out into the morning darkness and saw only blowing snow under street lights. She didn’t see any other movement.  No cars. No people. After a minute, the train started up again. She heard no one get on the train.

 Looking down from her seat, Myrna was able to see an old woman sitting behind the homeless man.  From the look of her clothes, the woman must have been destitute. She thought how strange to hear no one board the train and yet another passenger was sitting below. She brushed this off as not paying attention to what was happening and returned to my book.

 As the train headed east to the next stop she sat thinking about Ethan’s father. Ten years ago she divorced her son’s father.  She had had enough of the man.  Her son’s father thought himself a woman.  He wanted to live as a woman.  How absurd. Any fool, she thought, knows that DNA has the final word.  Why mess with a genetic constant. Does he think he’s god? 

 At the beginning of their marriage she did tell Ethan’s father that she had a friend who was transgendered but, she had no idea at that time that the children’s father was in the same mold.  As time went on she learned about him and decided that this relationship was not what she wanted.  He wasn’t of any use to her. She would have no part in him.  She didn’t want him. She decided that he was only good for the money he could provide. She told him, “I don’t want you. I want your money.”  She took him to court, divorced him and made him pay for what had become in her eyes a relationship with a freak of nature, a perverted third kind of person. She felt the divorce was the right thing to do:  “bar this miscreant from Myrna and the kids” is what her attorney told the judge.

 The matter was settled as far as Myrna was concerned.  She was not going to embrace “That THING!”  Just thinking about these things again filled her with more icy resolve.  She pulled her coat around her shoulders and returned to the book.

 Thumpety-thump.  Thumpety-thump. Thumpety-thump.

 After fifteen minutes, the train slowed down, pulling up to the next stop. As before, there was no movement, no sound. And, again, she looked around and saw another person now seated on the train.  This time it was a boy of about ten years of age. He sat down with the old woman. In front of them the homeless man sat rocking back and forth.  Myrna’s curiosity was awakened.  Do they let homeless people ride the train on cold winter days? She questioned to herself the sense of letting people ride a train who didn’t appear to have any money to pay for the ride. She thought, “I am paying for my ride and their rides.  Why isn’t the government paying for all of this?  With only a part time job and the monthly child support over, there is barely enough for me to get by. Why doesn’t somebody make this right? “

Except for the rocking tramp, the old woman and the youth the train was empty. Again Myrna wondered: “Is this a government holiday? Am I the only one going to work today?”  She quickly brushed this thought from her mind when she noticed across from her a young man seated, reading a newspaper.  “Where the hell did he come from?”  There hadn’t been any sound except for the train bell clanging and the constant thumpety-thump of the train running down the tracks.  The man appeared normal so Myrna felt better.  She now wished she had some coffee.  She wished her mind was stirred enough to discharge the other passenger phantasms.

 Another stop brought her closer to the city.  As the train came to a complete stop she turned her eyes from her book.  She peered down to the lower level, hoping to see if anyone came on board.  Yet, as before, there was no movement, no new passengers.  She put the book down on her lap.  There, right in front of her, sat a grey-haired woman. Myrna gasped.  The woman sat still, looking forward.  Myrna reached up and touched her shoulder, but there was no response.

 “Excuse me.  Is today a government holiday?” Myrna asked.

 No response.  Myrna then heard a whimper coming from down below.  The waif was now rocking back and forth, crying softly.  With a shudder, Myrna sarcastically wondered “How strange. Is this the train from hell?”  She couldn’t wait to get off the train and get to work.  She needed facts and figures, calculations and foundation plans to straighten her mind.  She looked down at her watch.  The time was 5:40 am!  The battery must have died, she thought.

 Holding her cell phone close to the window for a signal, Myrna called her boss.  His answering machine came on.  The deep voice reassured her.  He was a reasonable man her boss. He was smart and strong.  Well-adjusted.  She left him a voice message saying that she would be a little late.  She hung up and put the cell phone away. Looking up from her purse, she now saw a dozen people on the train’s upper deck: six people were sitting in a row directly in front of her and the frozen older woman. Six other people sat across the aisle sat facing them. No one was talking.  Their faces were dull, eyes barely open.

 Myrna’s heart began pounding.  Fear and anger flushed her face. She liked to be in control of things.  It was time for her to be at the station.  She wanted to get off the train, stretch her legs and get moving.  She needed circulation. She needed some fresh air. She needed to be at her desk with all her things around her just like before.

 The train lurched and then picked up speed.  Myrna leaned back into her seat no longer able to read.  Looking around she saw that every seat was now filled.  People were all around her but no one was talking.  It was deadly silent in the car.

 Thumpety-thump. Thmpety-thump.

 After a minute, the train braked and came to a sudden stop. Myrna turned her head to listen. She hoped the engineer would tell the passengers why the train had stopped. She was anxious to leave this theatre of the absurd.

 Looking through the window she saw a moonless black morning.  Out of habit she looked again at her watch.  5:40 am.  She knew that the train had been running for at least an hour, making the usual stops, and yet the train seemed to be no where near the downtown station. She wondered what the hold up was. She got up and walked down the tightly wound staircase to the first level of the train to see what was going on.

 Inside the coach vestibule, there was no one. No one could be seen in the other half of the coach.  No conductor asked for her ticket.  Myrna looked back into her car and saw the same lifeless people.  Nothing had changed.  It was good to be standing here, she thought, though not really sure that anywhere on this train was good. At that moment the north doors pulled opened and a gush of artic wind swept in.  In came a woman, a tall woman, who looked uncannily familiar.  Myrna thought she had seen those blue eyes and that pensive look somewhere before. Something clicked in Myrna but the thought soon vanished as the woman walked past her into the car where the others sat. 

 “Caution!  The Doors Are About To Close.” The booming voice on speakers warned.

 The tall woman sat down next to the homeless man.  He stopped rocking and sat up.

 Myrna, feeling peeved and not making sense of it all, decided to stay in the vestibule until the train reached the station.  No more foolishness for her, she reasoned, she must stay focused.

 With a loud clanging bell the train pulled into the station.  Myrna stood alone in the vestibule waiting for the doors to pull back. When they did, she stepped down and with a loud bothered sigh of relief said, “Thank God!”

 The station was empty.  The hallways and vendor shops were deserted.  Myrna, instead of being concerned, decided that she was beginning to like the peace and quiet.  She had become adjusted to the situation.  Her two feet felt strong under her.  It felt good and liberating to be walking to work.

 As she walked though the main lobby she felt as if she had left something behind.  An unnerving thought suddenly crossed her mind:  “Those eyes.  That look.  Ethan?  No, I am losing it.  Elliot lives in New York, she reminded herself.  Ethan is well-adjusted.  No. No. Absolutely Not.  And those people.  Did I know them? Haven’t I seen them before?  No.  No way.”  Without a further thought Myrna headed for the street door.

 Outside, wind-whipped snow lashed down empty streets and alleys, the air’s turbulence unleashing howling wraith-like gusts. The normally sun gilt buildings now stood before Myrna as dark and monstrous cyclopean structures.  With head down and jaw set Myrna pushed steadily onward towards work, disregarding the enduring chill she carried with her.

© Sally Paradise, 2011, All Rights Reserved

Tender is the Night, These Days

“One of the tendencies of this age is to use the suffering of children to discredit the goodness of God, and once you have discredited his goodness, you are done with him. The *Alymers whom (Nathaniel) Hawthorne saw as a menace have multiplied. Busy cutting down human imperfection, they are making headway also on the raw material of good. Ivan Karamazov cannot believe, as long as one child is in torment; Camus’ hero cannot accept the divinity of Christ, because of the massacre of innocents. In this popular pity, we mark our gain with sensibility and our loss in vision. If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say, of faith. In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.” Flannery O’Connor, Introduction to A Memoir of Mary Ann, 1961

*The Alymers is a generic reference to the husband/scientist in a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Birthmark.

A Temple of the Holy Ghost

Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” is a comical story filled with Christian symbolism. There is a “freak”, a hermaphrodite, in the story. The story reveals to us how God regards His creation. Below is a quote from the story. A little twelve-year old girl has just gone to bed after hearing about the freak from two visiting girls.  The girls had just returned from the carnival:

“She lay in bed trying to picture the tent with the freak walking from side to side…She could hear the freak saying, “God made me thisaway and I don’t dispute hit,” and the people saying “Amen. Amen””

Some commentary about the story:

“O’Connor used the hermaphrodite to illustrate that The Holy Ghost or love of God dwells in each of us, whether pretty, ugly, rich, poor or anywhere in between. Even in the body of the hermaphrodite, a grotesque symbol of the unity of man and woman, a temple of God is a holy thing. The hermaphrodite knew that because God dwells in us, we are all reverent beings, and we should mutually treat each other with care, love and respect.”

Commentary from:

“A Good Man Is Hard To Find”

Here is a quote from Flannery O’Connor’s story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”:

Alone with The Misfit, the grandmother found that she had lost her voice. There was not a cloud in the sky nor any sun. There was nothing around her but woods. She wanted to tell him that he must pray. She opened and closed her mouth several times before anything came out. Finally she found herself saying, “Jesus. Jesus,” meaning, Jesus will help you, but the way she was saying it, it sounded as if she might be cursing.

“Yes’m, The Misfit said as if he agreed. “Jesus thown everything off balance. It was the same case with Him as with me except He hadn’t committed any crime and they could prove I had committed one because they had the papers on me. Of course,” he said, “they never shown me my papers. That’s why I sign myself now. I said long ago, you get you a signature and sign everything you do and keep a copy of it. Then you’ll know what you done and you can hold up the crime to the punishment and see do they match and in the end you’ll have something to prove you ain’t been treated right. I call myself The Misfit,” he said, “because I can’t make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment.”

Wise Blood

The boy didn’t need to hear it.  There was already a deep black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.  He knew by the time he was twelve years old that he was going to be a preacher.  Later, he saw Jesus move from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark where he was not sure of his footing, where he might be walking on the water and not know it and then suddenly know it and drown. 

(Hazel Motes, Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor)

The blind man gave his edgy laugh.  “Listen boy,” he said, “you can’t run away from Jesus.  Jesus is a fact.”

(The blind preacher Asa Hawks speaking to Hazel Motes, Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor)