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God narratives don’t tend to begin in hotel conference halls. Rarer still is it to find one starting with a couple of patched up sound technicians readying a hall for a TEDx talk on business processing. This one does. In March 2012, I was more concerned with how realistic it was to believe I could fund my master’s degree through selling bonsai trees than with existential questions about God and fatherhood. I didn’t expect to leave that job with a collapsing barracks of beliefs about what it means to be a father, son, or devotee. I took for granted that these relationships simply exist, never delving too far into what happens when one of the parties within these relationships doesn’t consider the relationship valid. I suppose such thoughts had been safely shut away in the cave of my personal mental garage, requiring a jolt to help pull the shutters up. That jolt came from a man trying to find the words to obliterate the distance between himself and his God. More… “Talking to Gods and Fathers”

Imran Khan received his degree from SOAS and teaches creative writing around South West England. His work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in ucity Review, The Lake, Puritan, Across the Margin, and elsewhere. Khan is a previous winner of the Thomas Hardy Award. He can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/ImranBoeKhan/

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Coming out
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I remember how my heart broke. I remember how I felt the air leave my chest, with no sign of ever returning. This feeling, an almost indescribable feeling, stuck around for almost a year.

The beginning of my sophomore year of high school, rumors began to spread. I was officially labeled the “gay” girl at school, and there was no going back. But truth be told, I didn’t even know if I was gay. Sure, I liked a girl, but that doesn’t really mean anything. I was still trying to figure myself out, trying to decide who I was. I could deal with the rumors at school, but then they hit home — they spread so far through the grapevine that they reached my uber-religious parents. More… “Remembering”

Janeane Glenn is a sophomore chemistry student. She dreams of attending medical school to become a doctor, but likes to write in her free time. She hopes to dedicate her life to helping others and making the world a more happy, peaceful place.

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It’s hard to know exactly what moment we occupy in regard to the New Atheism and its concomitant backlash. Are we in the backlash of the backlash? Or the backlash of the backlash of the backlash? As Tim Whitmarsh shows in his recent Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World, this debate is about two thousand years old; I don’t propose to resolve it today or tomorrow. I do, however, have a modest suggestion: Instead of riling up ourselves and our antagonists any further, we atheists might direct at least some of our righteousness into good-humored mockery of a perfectly harmless figure whose feelings can’t be hurt: God.

Admittedly, it’s almost impossible not to rile up people on this subject, but short of taking a vow of silence, atheists don’t have much choice. While muzzling ourselves in deference to the sensitivities of believers is not a reasonable expectation, expressing full-blown contempt for those same sensitivities isn’t much better. Might there be a middle path between excessive deference on the one hand and hurtful belligerence on the other? Yes, there is, and Friedrich Nietzsche marked it out in his gloriously intemperate polemic The Antichrist. More… “How To Laugh At God”

Stephen Akey is the author of the memoirs College and Library. A collection of his essays, Culture Fever, was published in January.

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Down in the bayou, spring comes around mid-March, but no one takes it seriously. Within a couple of weeks, the temperatures are so hot that everyone has forgotten spring. It is like a ghost, barely there when it is there, and barely remembered when it goes. The season that came before spring is hard, by the way, to call winter. It just isn’t cold enough by northern standards. Some of the trees down here do drop their leaves in the colder months. Maybe they do it just for fun. The people and fauna and flora of the Louisiana bayou all have a tendency to quirkiness. The fact that some of the trees pretend to a more northern nature is looked upon with indulgence.

Everything is mixed-up in the bayou. Half the vegetation acts perennial, half acts deciduous or in some variation between the two. That’s the Creole way, the Cajun… More…

Saint Teresa of Avila is best known in her ecstatic state, as captured in marble by the sculptor Gian Bernini — her arched back, her body caught in an orgasmic wave, the moan from her parted lips almost audible. She felt the presence of God as an erotic power, the connection between the divine and the mortal as an energy unlike any other. This chaste 16th-century nun wrote about her soul being penetrated by the arrow of the angel, “so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish it to cease, nor will one’s soul be content with anything less than God.”

Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity by Rebecca Goldstein. 304 pages. Schocken. $22. Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche by James Miller. 432 pages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $28. How… More…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. That’s what John says in his Gospel. But the story of the Word is more complicated for human beings. Creatures roughly like us in all the essential ways have existed for a couple of hundred thousand years. But it was only around 30,000 years ago, more or less, that people started talking to one another in any way that we would recognize as language. A threshold was crossed, an innovation took root. No one knows exactly how or why it happened. It just happened, and at around that time something we can call language began truly to take root and spread amongst the species we call Homo sapiens. The “sapiens” (Latin for “wisdom”) refers to the way that our species has consciousness, awareness, the ability to reason, and so forth.

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Driving alone on a highway through the desert of the Southwest, I passed a sign announcing the “Last Services for 100 Miles.” I asked myself, “How did they get a minyan way out here?” And then I came to a gas station. In the desert, “Last Gas” signs were powerful magnets, pulling my car off the road.  A “Last Chance” sign on a roadside farm market has the same effect.

 

“Last Peaches of the Season”? I’m pulling over. “First Asparagus”? I’m there, too.

It’s no wonder that I consider first fruits of the season to be significant. I grew up saying — and continue to say — the Shecheheyahu on the occasion of eating a seasonal fruit or vegetable for the first time in a year. The Shecheheyahu gives thanks to G-d “who has granted us life, sustained… More…