Reverend Warren’s weekly bromide and sermon in the New York Times

December 12, 2021 • 2:00 pm

Why, oh why, does the New York Times continue to print an Anglican priest’s useless lucubrations week after week after tedious week? For the Reverend Tish Harrison Warren, on deadline, always decides to write a column with the theme, “How can we improve our lives by pondering Jesus?”  There’s a slight variation this week, for she’s pondering Mary as well as Jesus. Click on the screenshot if you love Jesus:

The email bringing me Rev. Warren’s words (ceiling cat help me, I subscribe) was headed: “What Mary can teach us about the joy and pain of life.” Well, what can the fictitious virgin teach us about those things? Simply this: life is a mixture of joy and pain.  We know this because Mary was told by an angel that she will have a great son, but at the same time she is greatly troubled, for she senses her son will come to no good end nailed to the cross. She had joy and heartbreak.

And so we learn that we have joy and heartbreak, too, and you can’t have one without the other. (Not true: many people have a ton of heartbreak and no joy.) The Reverend Warren:

Mary was called by God, and her life reminds me that the vocations that God calls us to inevitably involve both joy and pain. “Love and loss are a double helix this side of heaven,” I write in my book “Prayer in the Night,” “You can’t have one without the other. God’s calling on our lives will inevitably require us to risk both. We know this dappled reality in the most meaningful parts of our life: in struggling through marriage or singleness and celibacy, in loving and raising children, in our work, in serving the church,” and in our closest friendships.

(I think she stole the odd adjective “dappled” from another religious source, Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “Pied Beauty.”)

How many times have you heard something like this, but without the goddy part? It’s simply the old bromide that life has both pain and joy.

And then comes the sermon: we can’t fill the hole in our lives without God and Baby Jesus, for the hole is God-shaped:

When I feel loneliness, loss and the emptiness present in even my very good life, I rush to fill it up. Winds of emptiness echo in a hollow moment of my day, and I run to distraction. I stuff my waking moments with busyness, social media, argument, work and consumption. These can be cheap attempts at joy, or at least at numbing any sense of grief.

But Mary’s story recalls that joy can’t be gotten cheaply. The pain of the world cannot be papered over in a sentimental display of tamed little angels and a cute, chubby baby Jesus. The emptiness in the world and in our own lives can’t be filled with enough hurry or buying power or likes or retweets. We wait for the birth of Jesus, who was called Emmanuel, God with us. We wait with Mary for our hunger to be filled.

This seems nothing more like an attempt to converting readers to Christianity. It’s surely more than Warren’s own personal story, for she tells it to “us”, and also informs “us” what we should do to fill our void. Or is she sayng something else? What is the sweating Reverend trying to say?

But now it’s time to head home, where I have Pinker’s new book waiting for me, a t-bone steak marinating in the fridge, and a good bottle of red wine to accompany it.  For me, at least, joy can be gotten pretty cheaply: the price of a steak, a book, and some Rhone wine. As far as I’m concerned, Baby Jesus can wait.

Oh, and joy is absolutely free at Botany Pond, where Draco and Molly are the sole residents this sunny but chilly afternoon. Honey and her swain are long gone.

24 thoughts on “Reverend Warren’s weekly bromide and sermon in the New York Times

  1. I subscribe to NYT and have never received one of her newsletters in my email. I hope you haven’t accidentally signed up for it, as getting this in my in-box weekly would surely be annoying. It truly is pap.

  2. I think she stole the odd adjective “dappled” from another believer, Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “Pied Beauty.”

    If Warren sampled “dappled” from Hopkin’s poem, she sampled “You can’t have one without the other” from Jimmy Van Heusen’s song. 🙂

    1. Actually, the lyrics were Sammy Cahn’s; the music was by Jimmy Van Heusen. I hadda look it up.

      Whaddya gotta do to get use of an edit button back around here?

  3. This kind of stuff has been around since at least Solon in 5th Century BC Athens ( “Call no man happy before he dies; he is, at most, fortunate”). Longfellow’s 1842 poem “The Rainy Day” (“into each life some rain must fall”) conveys the idea more eloquently than anything Reverend Warren churns out. As does Led Zeppelin’s “Rain Song” echoing Longfellow’s imagery (though they were more likely channelling The Ink Spots):

    Upon us all, upon us all, a little rain must fall
    Just a little rain, oh, yeah
    Oh, ooh, yeah-yeah-yeah

    My advice to Warren: When you find yourself being out-philosophised by Led Zepp it’s probably time to quit!

  4. “But Mary’s story recalls that joy can’t be gotten cheaply.”

    Mary obviously never had access to a really great pizza.


  5. “We wait for the birth of Jesus, who was called Emmanuel”. That’s a bog-standard Anglican trope, which is faithfully trotted out every Advent. And once Advent is over, “we” will be waiting for the next date in the never-ending Christian calendar.

    The first Christians were assured that Jesus would return within their lifetimes. He didn’t; and he has continued not to return throughout the subsequent couple of millennia.

    There is a definition of insanity (sometimes attributed to Einstein), which is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. Waiting for Jesus surely now falls within that particular delusion

    1. The funny thing is, Jesus is never addressed as or called Emmanuel anywhere in the gospels. Associating that appellation with him is just another instance of Christians retconning the Hebrew scriptures, in this case Isaiah, to “prove” that Jesus is the Messiah.

    2. You are wrong. Jesus has returned on numerous occasions. Always in burnt toast, or the mold growing on the side of the fridge

      1. What? Can I withstand such blaspheming? I am the Messiah returned, and I eat all toasts and molds likened unto me! It is difficult, but I overcome. Amen. Blurp.

    1. Marinate overnight in a sealed plastic bag in extra virgin olive oil and crushed garlic cloves, if I have any. Bring to room temperature, dry the oil off the steak while you cover it liberally with ground pink Himalayan salt, some pepper and a bit of crushed red chili pepper. Heat olive oil in a heavy cast iron pan over high heat. When oil smokes, put in the steak, salt side down for 1.5 minutes. During that time, press salt and pepper and chili onto the unsalted side. Flip and cook, without moving it for another 1.5 minutes.

      Put the pan and steak in a preheated 350 oven. Depending on how you like your steak (I like mine rare) leave in oven for between 2.25 and 3.5 minutes depending on thickness (you can remove it in the pan and slice into the center if you think it’s not done. In the video below, Josh cooks his steak too long, and it doesn’t turn out rare.

      Let rest for five minutes on a plate. Serve without toppings, ketchup, or other sauces.

      This is the way I learned to pan-fry a good steak from my late friend Josh Ozersky. food critic for Esquire. You can see the way he did it on this video:

      Remember his immortal words: “Don’t monkey with it; don’t potchky with it.”

      1. Thank you. I’ve copied this to save and try later. I tend to use dry rubs, and cook outdoors on a pellet grill. I need to get a good cast iron pan.

        1. There is no substitute for a heavy cast-iron frying pan. They are cheap and they are good. Be sure it’s heavy, that you season it well, that you never use soap on it, and you dry it over a medium flame immediately after scrubbing it with a nylon pad and rinsing it well. My pan will last for generations (except I have no kids!).

          It’s a hell of a lot easier than grilling, I tell you. The key is good meat, marinating, using TONS of salt to get the crust, and practicing till you’ve got the timing down But 1.5 minutes per side on top of the stove is good for any steak; it’s the time in the 350-degree oven that’s crucial for doneness.

  6. I didn’t click (and never do) on that odious woman’s worthless, annoying, cloying column.

    Now I COULD say it “made me feel unsafe” and win the argument that way – seems to be all the rage these days to end all adult conversations…. but I won’t. I’ll just say it is bs so not worth my time. 🙂

  7. Being alerted to this new NYT trend, I found the interviews of the poor victims of the tornadoes strangely laced by references to the deity, also strangely not to complain or mention His or Her wrath, but to rely on Her or His help to surmount the natural events’ consequences. It seemed to me that every person whose or whose comments were reported had God in mind. That cannot be a random sample.

  8. I come across Christian-inspired musings/texts/sermons occasionally, and I have sometimes even read Christian theology out of a kind of anthropological/scientific interest and she really is one of worst. She has nothing to say and says it badly.

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