A man sitting inside a woman's ovaries, reading a book.
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In the early ’80s, my mother — barely 30, but already divorced — took a children’s lit course at community college. We were living at the time in a rented house next to an old tuberculosis sanatorium that had been turned into a home for the developmentally disabled, and every night, while the old buildings on the hill above us were lit like spaceships, my mother read in a small pool of light, her feet tucked beneath her, occasionally hooking a fallen strand of hair behind her ear. My brother and I read with her: Watership Down and Charlotte’s Web and Where The Wild Things Are. More… “Are You There God? It’s Me, Crenshaw.”

Paul Crenshaw’s essay collection This One Will Hurt You is forthcoming from The Ohio State University Press in spring 2019. Other work has appeared in Best American Essays, Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Pushcart Prize, anthologies by Houghton Mifflin and W.W. Norton, Oxford American, Ecotone, Brevity, North American Review, and Glimmer Train, among others. @PaulCrenstorm

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In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandal, on October 16, 2017, a movement swept across social media: women posting “#metoo” to acknowledge the pervasive nature of sexual harassment, assault, and rape. The movement has maintained momentum, along with the “time’s up” movement, in which women are stepping forward to point the finger at famous men. Allegations of sexual misconduct — everything from unwanted touching to rape — have been bringing down powerful men, although the President of the United States has remained immune thus far. A fraught but necessary public discussion about the injustices suffered by women within the patriarchy appears to have finally reached critical mass.

Talking about this with a female friend, I had to admit that I was embarrassed and ashamed that it took me so long to question the assumptions of my patriarchal upbringing and its treatment of women. I do not write from outside this issue. I grew up in a conservative evangelical home, and I had long since abandoned the theology of my youth before it occurred to me that maybe I should question it — it was just so convenient not to, I suppose. I grew up learning two somewhat paradoxical notions about women. First, women wield an irresistible power over men. Second, women are weak and silly creatures who cannot be trusted to recognize the truth much less speak it and need to remain under the guidance and authority of men. More… “Not a Bad Man at All”

Vic Sizemore’s fiction and nonfiction is published or forthcoming in Story Quarterly, Southern Humanities Review, storySouth, Connecticut Review, Blue Mesa Review, [Pank] Magazine, Silk Road Review, Reed Magazine, and elsewhere. His fiction has won the New Millennium Writings Award and has been nominated for Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best of the Net, and two Pushcart Prizes.

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Once on the water, we could see the rainforest pushing close to the river. The town of Coca, a depot on Ecuador’s Rio Napo, was already slipping away, disappearing behind a bend. It was early morning. There had been a week of heavy rain and trees had fallen into the river as the bank washed away. With the pressure of the current, branches emerged from the brown water and waved up and down, as if saying goodbye. Older branches, now blackened and leafless, broke the surface and then silently disappeared.

After an hour, we began to see wildlife: toucans and parrots, movements in the trees that suggested monkeys. On one log, I spotted four turtles sitting in a row, each with a butterfly on its head. (I took this as a sign, an offering; it turned out to be the standard post-card image from the Napo valley.) I had been on the lookout for caiman, fresh water alligators, which entertained our guides — sharp-nosed men who grew up along this river. The men were from one of the local tribes, most likely Huaorani, Kichwa, or Shuar. They wore t-shirts and baseball caps.
More… “In Search of Yasuní”

David Bartholomae has taught travel writing to U.S. students in Beijing, Hyderabad, London, Cape Town, Florianopolis, Buenos Aires, and the Napo valley of Ecuador. In May, 2018, he will be teaching in Havana. He is Professor of English and the Charles Crow Chair of Expository Writing at the University of Pittsburgh. His current project is an essay on Spain’s Camino de Santiago.

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When I was seven, I moved out of the room I shared with my older brother and into my own room. I don’t recall what caused my parents to decide this — perhaps it was a birthday present for my brother turning ten — but for me it was nothing if not a mixed blessing. I mean, I loved getting my own desk and new wallpaper that I picked out and my own bed, all the trappings of a room to grow up in. But without my brother there with me, there was something truly terrifying about being alone at night in the dark.

Not that my brother was much of a protector. More often he’d attack me in my sleep, steal and break my toys, and “dead-arm” me over and over again for his sadistic pleasure. But in my room alone, all alone, I felt susceptible to all the forces of darkness — the monsters under the bed, the prowlers lurking at the window, the creepers in the closet waiting to kidnap me. I had no protection at all. Leaving the safety in numbers of my brother’s room and the comfort of our New York Giants’ helmet night light filled me with imaginings of untold peril.
More… “Halloween is Cancelled”

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On the surface, it looks a lot like your typical Sunday School. There are children gathered at the feet of the woman teaching the class. They are singing Christmas carols, listening to stories about how we as people came to be on this earth, making arts and crafts. It could be taking place in any church basement across America.

Until you start to listen to the words of this particular version of “Silent Night.”

Silent night, holy night

all is calm, all is bright

planets gracefully circle the Sun

Stardust cycles through everyone

Life abounds upon Earth

Life abounds upon Earth

They begin another song, this one without the familiar melody.

In the beginning

was the Great Radiance

14 billion years ago

out of the fireball

came simple hydrogen

and helium from that great glow

The children gather now to make what look like rosaries, and the instructor spreads out a large selection of beads. Only, rather than using them to count prayers, the beads are there to help the children contemplate the stages of life development. The first bead represents the Big Bang, next the formation of the stars, then the birth of the planets, the beginning of life on Earth, and so on. More… “Earthly Intervention”

Jessa Crispin is editor and founder of Bookslut.com. She currently resides in Chicago.

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Both Jews and Muslims consider the pink, snout-nosed animals we know as pigs to be unclean. The question of why this is so has not been conclusively resolved. Did the Koran follow a Jewish rule? Or does the ban stem from the fact that eating raw or undercooked pork meat can contain roundworm larvae, which cause trichinosis? People may have made a connection between pigs and disease, resulting in a fear-based taboo. For the anthropologist Marvin Harris, the main reasons for prohibiting the eating of pork were ecological and economical. Pigs require lots of water and shady woods with seeds, conditions that are scarce in the Middle East.

But the full story may be even more complicated. Whether pigs are considered “clean” or “unclean” has differed from culture to culture, and no clear dividing line based on climate conditions is evident. As a result, it’s difficult to determine what exactly people in the distant past thought about meat. Could it be that this taboo was chosen more or less randomly to create a sense of community among believers of the same religion? To the Egyptian pharaohs, pork was unclean, to the ancient Greeks it was not. The hoggish Romans had a great deal of sympathy for the genus sus, and one pig in ancient Rome even had its own tomb. The inscription reads “Porcella hic dormit” — here rests a piglet. This particular pig lived for three years, ten months and 13 days. Its modern descendants “enjoy” much shorter lives, as they are usually slaughtered when they are between six and ten months old. Christianity’s Saint Anthony, a monk who was born in Egypt, serves as the patron saint of farmers, swineherds, and butchers. Legend has it that at some point he worked as a swineherd, and Hieronymus Bosch painted him with a pet pig at his side. In the Middle Ages, pigs, like many other animals, were held culpable for criminal acts and could be taken to court and executed. All in all, the pigs do not exactly have the best reputation in the Christian tradition — but people still eat them. More… “Between Porcophilia and Porcophobia”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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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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Near the end of Christopher Durang’s satirical one-act play Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You, the title character shoots dead one rebellious former student in self-defense and holds three others at gunpoint before murdering one of them (the gay one). Addressing the audience during a moment of calm between the shootings, Sister Mary Ignatius insists, “Most of my students turned out beautifully, these are the few exceptions.” She then turns to her seven-year-old stage assistant, Thomas. “But we never give up on those who’ve turned out badly, do we?” she asks in obvious bad faith. “What is the story of the Good Shepherd and the Lost Sheep?”

THOMAS: The Good Shepherd was so concerned about his Lost Sheep that He left his flock to go find the Lost Sheep, and then He found it.

SISTER: That’s right. And while he was gone, a great big wolf came and killed his
entire flock. No, just kidding. I’m feeling lightheaded from all this excitement.

Finally, Sister explicates the parable in earnest. “By the story of the Lost Sheep,” she states, “Christ tells us that when a sinner strays, we mustn’t give up on the sinner.”

More… “A Good Parable is Hard to Write”

Myles Weber is the author of Consuming Silences: How We Read Authors Who Don’t Publish. His literary criticism appears frequently in such journals as The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, New England Review, The Kenyon Review, The Sewanee Review, Salmagundi, and Michigan Quarterly Review. He is an associate professor of English at Winona State University in Minnesota.

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Religion and spirituality are not subjects that have figured heavily into the world of American comics. When they have, traditionally, it’s been either in the form of evangelism (i.e. Jack Chick’s hardcore proselytizing pamphlets), straightforward adaptation (Picture Stories from the Bible and Robert Crumb’s by-the-numbers version of Genesis) or nose-thumbing iconoclasm (Winshluss’s In God We Trust being a recent example). Rare is the comic or cartoonist that attempts to grapple with issues of theology — or at least Western theology — in the modern world.

Not Chester Brown, though. While far from being the central focus of his bibliography, Brown has long been fascinated with exploring and questioning Christian doctrine, especially when it dovetails with sexuality. It’s a fascination that comes to a head in his latest work, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus: Prostitution and Religious Obedience in the Bible.

More… “Chester’s Christian Comics”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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Do ethnic groups or religious believers own their myths and legends? That is the question raised by a controversy involving British author J.K. Rowling. The creator of Harry Potter and Hogwarts has been condemned for incorporating Native American traditions — for example, stories about supernatural “skinwalkers” — into her expanding literary mythology.

It is impossible not to sympathize with the complaint. Few groups have suffered more than Native Americans from having their traditions stereotyped or appropriated by white Americans and Europeans. Outright caricature, like the big-nosed, red-skinned Indians in old cartoons, is the least of it. From the American patriots who dressed up as “Indians” to vandalize British ships during the Boston Tea Party of 1773 to the New York political machine named “Tammany Hall” after Tamanend, a Lenape leader, to the modern Washington Redskins football team and the appropriation of Native Americans as New Age sages and environmental heroes, the casual and disrespectful borrowing of Native American motifs and imagery by white Americans has paralleled the white supremacist tradition of blackface minstrelsy. More… “Who Owns Myths and Legends?”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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