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From “Like I Was Jesus: How to bring a nine-year-old to Christ” in the August 2009 Harper’s. Rachel Aviv is a writer living in Brooklyn. This is her first article for Harper’s Magazine.
Last summer, forty Christian missionaries, members of the Child Evangelism Fellowship, roamed the housing projects of Connecticut telling children the condensed and colorful story of Jesus’ life. The goal was salvation, but the missionaries rarely used that long word. They employed monosyllabic language and avoided abstract concepts and homonyms. “Holy” was a problem, the missionaries said, as children thought it meant “full of holes.” “Christ rose from the dead” was also tricky because children mistook the verb for a flower.
One afternoon in July, on a basketball court in Waterbury, Scott Harris, a black nine-year-old in an oversized sleeveless jersey, was inspecting a wound on his knee. The wound was sloppily stitched and looked grotesque, like a pair of lips. “I’m mad at Adam and Eve,” Scott said to a missionary named Isaac Weaver. “If they hadn’t eaten that apple, there would be no more bushes, prickers, and bugs. I wouldn’t have busted my knee open.”
“But do you ever think,” Isaac asked, “‘What if I were the first one?’ I think I’d probably make the same mistake as Eve.”
“No, I wouldn’t have tasted that fruit,” said Scott, his voice high and hoarse. “I’m trying not to get in trouble all the time. People say, Sit down, and I’m already sitting down. They say, Be quiet, and I’m not even saying anything.”
Isaac, twenty-six years old, blue-eyed, tan, and willowy, picked up his EvangeCube, a plastic toy of eight interlocking blocks that tell the Gospel in pictures. (The cube comes in a box that bears the slogan unfolding the answer to life’s greatest questions.) He pointed to the image of Heaven: a pastel hole in the clouds emanating milky rays of light. “You were right about Adam and Eve,” Isaac said. “Where they lived, everything was perfect.” He asked Scott if he knew his ABCs, and when the boy nodded, Isaac explained that “accepting Jesus is as easy as A B C. ‘A’ stands for Admit you are a sinner. ‘B’ is for Believe that Jesus went on the cross and died for your sins. And ‘C’ is for Choose to accept Him as the boss of your life and go to Heaven forever.”
The crisis began with the advent of the ballpoint pen. Early ballpoints were also very messy and if, immediately after writing, you ran your finger over the last few words, a smudge inevitably appeared. And people no longer felt much interest in writing well, since handwriting, when produced with a ballpoint, even a clean one, no longer had soul, style or personality. –“Umberto Eco: The lost art of handwriting,” Umberto Eco, The Guardian (via)
Burning the world to live in it is wrong,
As wrong as to make war to get along
And be at peace, to falsify the land
By sciences of greed, or by demand
For food that’s fast or cheap to falsify
The body’s health and pleasure—don’t ask why.
The ratio between the country’s shelters for battered women and its shelters for stray animals stands at three to one in favor of the animals. –“The God in the Machine,” Lewis H. Lapham, Lapham’s Quarterly
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”