Timothy Snyder: The “vertical magic” of the written word

I learned of Dr. Timothy Snyder when I read his short but important book “On Tyranny.” (If you haven’t read it, you should.) I enjoyed his writing style – clear, concise, pointed.

So, I started reading other works of his, and especially commentary on current events. When I learned he was doing a newsletter on Substack, I signed up immediately.

What I didn’t know was that he also was interested in writing itself. Today’s newsletter (and the next few, where he will expand on the topic) digs into the magic of words, and why they are magic … including an exploration of just where the words live.

On the page? In your brain? Somewhere between? And what, exactly, is a “book” – and what happens when you have “read the book” and the book then is burned or lost?

It’s a good article, and a thought-provoking one. Go read it. And if you haven’t signed up for his newsletter, do so. You’ll be glad you did.


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Terror, joy, doubt — and διαλογισμός

(A Lection Reflection on Luke 24:36b-48)

I was reading today’s Gospel lesson, and in the midst of the familiar passage, I was stuck by one verse: “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering …”

Talk about a maelstrom of emotions! In one moment, as the risen Christ stood before them, they were joyful, but also thinking this was surely fake, and unsure what in the world was going on.

Having noticed this verse, I decided to dig a little deeper. So, I opened up the Blue Letter Bible, turned on the Strong’s annotations, and went through the passage. And I found something else interesting.

In verse 38, Jesus asks the disciples “Why do doubts arise in your hearts?” But using “doubt” there doesn’t capture the Greek, in my opinion.

The Greek word there is διαλογισμός – from “dialogue.” Strong’s defines it as “the thinking of a person deliberating with themselves. An internal deliberation.”

So, in the midst of the event that we just finished celebrating, one of the most amazing affirmations of life over death and evil over good, the disciples are not celebrating. Instead, they are having an internal debate about just what this means.

Why am I pointing this out? Because so many times, we cast doubt upon … doubt. We tell people “just believe” and “your faith needs to be stronger.” And yet, the one group you would expect to take it all in with joy and certainty is like “I dunno, man. Seems a little too bizarre to be real.”

We are especially bad about this with young people. Abstract thought begins at about age 12. What could be more natural than for a teenager to begin questioning abstract concepts like God, faith, and beliefs? And of course, and perhaps especially, resurrection.

And yet, we clamp down on their doubts and questions, probably because we ourselves have the same questions and don’t want to admit it.

Here’s the interesting thing: Churches that encourage questioning, doubting, and dialogue about the faith, wind up producing more mature and more resilient disciples. Faith that is never examined, never rethought, that doesn’t grow and change and deepen along with the rest of one’s life, becomes brittle and useless. It fails when tested. And will eventually be abandoned.

So, let’s join those disciples in that room. Let’s have joy, to be sure; but let’s also allow ourselves, both individually and corporately, to have that dialogue – both about the event and about the meaning of the event.

And, let’s accept whatever balance of joy and questioning we experience ourselves, and that we see around us. Let’s not force others to be at our location on the journey; let’s just celebrate making the journey together.


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A Christian Response to the Trump Election

This post is for all persons who call themselves Christian and are facing a Trump presidency, whether or not you voted for him. As Christians, what is our response? What should we do? Here are six things that seem obvious to me.

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The Scribes and Widows You Don’t See

Imagine a group of people: a crowd at a football game, the downtown of a city, a congregation gathered for worship.

Now pick out the scribes and the widows. And here’s a hint: not all the widows are women, and not all the scribes are men.

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The Last Word

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song …

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