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Filtering by Tag: Paul Luikart

Coffee Table

Paul Luikart

26 Luikart Two seemingly innocuous, unrelated events converged in my recent past. The first was that my wife and kids went to visit my parents in Ohio for a two-week stay. Without me. The second is that, whilst wandering the Internet, I came across an article called (something like) “Things You Can Make With 2x4’s.” I forget exactly what all the things you could make were, but I remember that one was a coffee table. 

You should know this about me: I’m the world’s worst carpenter. Except for the gumball machine I made in woodshop back in 8th grade, I have never even attempted to make a thing out of wood. Still. A coffee table out of 2x4’s seemed doable. So against any sense of logic, I proceeded with the project using these tools:

  • A small crosscut saw I got when my wife and I first got married, whose main purpose had been, so far, cutting the bottom six inches off our Christmas trees each year so they’d fit in the stand.
  • A Philips head screwdriver that had been with me since college. Mainly used to open up battery cases.
  • That’s it.

I made a trip to Home Depot and bought some things that I thought might be useful. Sand paper, woodscrews, nails, stain, lacquer and, of course, the 2x4’s. Certainly the employees at Home Depot thought (and kindly kept it to themselves) “There goes a guy who saw a thing on the Internet and now he thinks he’s Bob Vila.” Hampered all the more by the fact that my only workspace was my front porch (Come on. The saw I mentioned is a notch above a pocketknife. Do I have a workshop? Get real.), I got started.

Here’s something else: Aside from the fact that I just wanted to try something new, I wanted to see if manual labor, real work, carpentry in this case, could somehow be meditative. For me. I know it is for my friends who are good at carpentry, who do it regularly and draw intense satisfaction from it. The skin on my hands is too soft, I thought. I haven’t gotten enough blisters or splinters in my adult life. I haven’t ever physically sweated over an object I built.

The scratching sound of the sandpaper on the boards was peaceful. The rhythms of the paintbrushes, one for the stain and one for the lacquer, soothed me. The twisting of the woodscrews through the 2x4’s, over and over again, drove me deep into a conversation with myself, a kind of silent discourse beyond the range of words. I was getting to know a self that I assumed had never existed.

Sometime during the course of the project, I found a big moth wing on my front-porch-turned-workbench. As a monument, I guess, to this internal dialogue I stuck it to the bottom of the coffee table with my last coat of lacquer. Something impossibly delicate and silent, something incredibly hard to find.

I suppose it’s true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but maybe it’s true an old dog can find a new dog living inside his skin. And the best part is: now there’s a coffee table in my living room. When I drink coffee in my house, even if everything else I said here is total crap, I have a place to set my cup.

I’m a Recovering Church Dramatist

Paul Luikart

26 Luikart Photo I’m a recovering church dramatist. Back in the day, I worked with a performance team. We wrote sketches and performed them during Sunday services. We had a lot of fun and we were, dare I brag, pretty funny. This was in Chicago where improv is king. We'd craft scripted sketches out of improvised scenes we made up related to the pastors’ sermon topics. It was fairly organic at first and, for the most part, we had the freedom to do whatever we wanted. As long as we didn’t swear or anything.

I was proud of what we created back then, but as I reflect on those sketches now, there’s a bit of a dark, nagging undertone that I’m not sure I noticed at the time. It’s not that what we did was bad, but it never could have stood alone. What we produced was inextricably linked to those sermons, subserviently linked in fact, and in the big picture, subserviently linked to the evangelical purposes of either a) saving souls or b) edifying saved souls. Art, if you can call what we did art, was a serf to the vassal of the modern evangelical church.

A be-all-end-all definition of art is difficult to come across, but one thing I'm certain of is that art is not a slave. Roping art to a cause of some kind is a misuse of it, one that demonstrates a core misunderstanding of the stuff. But stating what art isn’t begs the question, "What is it?" Ha. You might just as well ask, "Who is God?" especially if you're up for some maddening non-answers. There are some pat answers—"Art is human expression," "God is love"—that aren't necessarily false. It's just that they can only ever be partially true.

Art is inherently mysterious. I think the typical human response to the grandly mysterious (like art, like God) is a knee-jerk, semi-conscious attempt at appropriation. If we can’t fully describe something, we yank it from its own empire and compress it to grasp-able suburban terms, not realizing that as we compress it, we shear it of its essence, the thing that makes the thing the thing. Art is no longer art, but propaganda, and propaganda harangues with one of two choices: Are you with us or are you against us? Your life teeters on your answer. Answer now.

Art, like God, permits an infinite number of responses to itself. It piques curiosity, provokes introspection, picks at our core values, and invites us to return over and over again. Those who patronize the arts correctly remove their crowns and listen. Those who patronize incorrectly first seek themselves in the painting, the novel, the symphony, and give up on art all together when, in fact, they find themselves.

The leadership at my church back then eventually chopped our sketches from the services permanently. I never knew why exactly. We didn’t swear, not even once. Probably because first they made us quit writing our own stuff and use Willow Creek Community Church’s pre-written stuff. But whatever the reason, it was for the best. Though we were ultimately mistreating art, it never shunned us. Art, like God, was kind to us.

Lenny Bruce

Paul Luikart

26 toilet tank

I get a lot of reading done sitting on the can. Evidently there’s something about filling my nostrils with my own stench that also makes me want to fill my mind. If I were smarter I’d conduct some Pavlovian-type research to see if the smell of crap actually increases my brain’s neuroplasticity. (DAMN. There’s a word that’ll make you slap your mama upside the prefrontal cortex. But let me tell on myself: Wikipedia.) Right next to my commode is a basket of books and magazines. The current selections include Madeline L’Engle’s Walking on Water, a Runner’s World that’s a couple of months old, some magazines about parenting and, from 1967, The Essential Lenny Bruce. It’s an original edition. Musty, with brittle pages and those tiny bugs that crawl up from the binding once in awhile (which straight up give me the creeps. After all I routinely open the book inches above my exposed junk.) Anyway, The Essential Lenny Bruce is nothing more than his act transcribed onto the page.

Lenny Bruce, the original filthy comic. He nailed topics like drugs, politics, pornography, religion(s), and made gorgeous art out of the word “motherfucker” while his contemporaries were riffing on their wives’ terrible cooking. Bruce got arrested all the time for the stuff he said. Sometimes the cops would climb up on stage and collar him right in front of the audience. How’s that for a show?

Lenny Bruce, the original comic’s comic. Bruce was light years ahead of his time. Without Lenny Bruce, you can forget about George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks, Roseanne Barr, Dennis Leary, David Letterman, Louis CK. The list goes on. Though I have a feeling we’d still be cursed with Andrew Dice Clay, Yakov Smirnoff, Dane Cook…it is a fallen world after all.

Lenny Bruce, an original modern prophet. Howzat? Yeah. Now, I think God is pretty funny. I mean, the Divine has a sense of humor and it’s kind of sick if you think about it. Dig. We Christian types like to say stuff about the Judeo-Christian prophets like, “Well, that was a different time and after Jesus, you know, we didn’t need prophets anymore so God doesn’t, you know, work like that. Anymore.” I’ll bet He does. Probably all the time. It’s just that we Christian types don’t hang around where His prophets do. That’s funny, man.

Of course it goes without saying that the Christian types chased Lenny Bruce around in his day. “Motherfucker” was just their cover. Bruce was more than dirty words. He stuck it to them right in the heart and it made them twitch. So they called him immoral and they all wrote him off. For bits like this: Imagining Jesus and Moses walking into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, Bruce said:

Christ and Moses standing in the back of St. Pat's, looking around. Confused, Christ is, at the grandeur of the interior, the baroque interior, the rocoque baroque interior. Because his route took him through Spanish Harlem, and he was wondering what the hell fifty Puerto Ricans were doing living in one room when that stained glass window is worth ten G's a square foot? And this guy had a ring worth eight grand. Why weren't the Puerto Ricans living here? That was the purpose of church—for the people.

Some comic material goes with the times in which it was created and only with those times. It lacks the universality to propel it through the generations. I’m thinking of Mike Myers thrusting his crotch at the camera. “Shwing!” It’s irrelevant now and can only be appreciated in an ironic sense even if it does elicit laughter. But imagine Bruce’s bit above as it pertains to now. Replace the words “St. Pat’s” with “Willow Creek Community Church,” “Spanish Harlem” with “East Garfield Park” and “stained glass window” with “sound system.” Fifty years later and it still hangs true. I call that a motherfucking prophecy.


Paul Luikart

Highlights of entries to the Hubble Pop Culture competition. When I was a kid, I loved the movie Krull. My buddy Phil and I used to watch it at his house because he taped it off HBO. If you don’t know Krull, it’s an early 80’s sci-fantasy movie. The planet Krull is invaded by these evil aliens. There’s a big quest involving the main guy who has a weapon called the Glaive, which is this magical spinning blade that basically has a mind of its own. But it’s loyal to the main guy. Like, he can recall it to his hand after he throws it. It looks like a beautiful, golden ninja star but functions like a deadly, sentient boomerang. Anyway, the aliens kidnap the main guy's girl and he has to go save her and save the planet too. There is a cyclops and some wizards and quicksand and needless to say, as soon as we got Netflix, I made my wife watch Krull with me. But when it was over I thought, “What a piece of s***."

Krull didn't age well. I'm thankful that Hollywood hasn't rebooted it. God knows when that will happen, but it probably will. It'll be hipper, sleeker, sexier, and louder, but it will still suck. Some other absolutely unnecessary contributions to American pop culture that have been said and done (we assumed) in decades past but—flash forward to now—here they are again for some reason: A Jem movie (yep, that's comin'.) The reformation of New Kids on the Block (They hadn't been mercilessly ridiculed enough the first go-round?) Dancing with the Stars (an orgy, after-all, of has-beens whom we started tuning in to see because, "Oh, THAT'S what Urkel looks like now!")

We Americans must like to eat ourselves. We must like the taste of our own blood on our tongues. We must like the feel of our own skin wedged between our teeth. We must like the smell of our own muscle roasting in the oven. But we're plastic. Parts of us are indigestible. So we regurgitate them and cook them again, hoping for a more nuanced flavor (at least a palatability that wasn't there the first time) but not finding it once again, we choke them up, this time more desperately. We eat ourselves again and we gag on the rotten taste. But we eat ourselves like there is no other food. We're starving for ourselves.

Nostalgia is okay. It's okay for me to go into my parent's basement every now and then and look at my Star Wars toys. It's okay (mostly) that sometimes I watch clips of He-Man on YouTube. Once I even Wikipedia-ed the Go-Bots. But American pop culture is way beyond nostalgia and, truthfully, has been for a long time. I have no empirical evidence for what I'm about to say (call it a hunch), but I'm certain we cannibalize our pop culture past because we can't face our present reality. American collective sins, the indigestible parts of us—and I mean as far back as slavery all the way up to the way we worship billionaires now—are profoundly wicked. We know it. But we're still too proud to say, as one nation under God, "Forgive us."

Look, if a friend of mine called me up and said, "Come over and let's watch Krull," I'd say, "Cool, I'll bring the beer." Because, honestly, you'd need a lot of beer to make it through. We'd laugh and shout, "Oh yeah, THIS PART!" from time to time and maybe make up a drinking game where we drink every time there are terrible special effects (and we'd be passed out in fifteen minutes.) But also because I myself am an American. I'd rather chew my own bones than honestly face the ways I've done wrong.

Imogen's Disney Books

Paul Luikart

26 Princesses I love to read to my kids. Imogen, my eldest daughter, has a particular set of Disney books. They’re uber-condensed versions of Disney’s biggest animated movies—Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and several others. The set, though, came with a reader. It’s this little push-pad device that lets you choose which of the books you want to read and then there’s this syrupy voice that reads whatever book you chose. You have to push certain buttons on the device to cue the voice that you’re done with one page and that it can start reading the next one. Concurrently, you physically turn the book’s pages. But even though the voice does my job for me, Imogen always wants me to sit with her while it reads to her. Or to us. (That she wants me to sit with her warms the cockles of my father-heart, by the way. This I will cherish when she is sixteen and curses me because I won’t let her date “Octopus the Maladjusted Senior*.”) Because I’m not doing the reading, I find myself paying attention to the books in a way that I don’t when I am reading them.

I’ll be the first to admit that I know jack about feminism. I think men and women should be treated equally, and that’s about all I know. I wish I could give you a smart-sounding dissertation on gender roles. I can’t. But I noticed something in Imogen's books. In some of the books, the female protagonist, the princess, is functionally a mannequin. Like, Cinderella? Nothing that happens in the story is her fault, whether for good or bad. She doesn’t cause anything. She doesn’t choose to go to the ball, for example. The prince invites all the ladies in the kingdom to the ball to, essentially, celebrate him. Cinderella doesn’t choose a fairy godmother. Rather, one just shows up and, without really asking Cinderella’s opinion of any of it, bibbity bobbity boo’s all that glass slipper business right down on top of her. After the clock strikes midnight and Cinderella runs away, the prince finds her; she doesn’t go out looking for him. What I’m saying is that Cinderella is about 98% purely passive.

It’s different in, specifically, Beauty and the Beast. Really, Belle is the hero in that one. There’s Gaston, whose advances she keeps at bay. She’s not falling for his expectorating hunter bullshit. She reads books like a house on fire, so she’s smart and has real opinions on stuff. Then there’s her father, a bumbling old guy who means well, but is…way too bumbling. Belle is the brave one who takes her father’s place as the Beast’s captive, and it’s out of sheer love that she does it. Even the Beast, as big and strong as he is, ends up dead. It's Belle who chooses to love him. Her active choice of love a.) saves him and b.) turns him back into a man. (Which, personally, would have pissed me off. “My horns! My sweet fangs! NOOO!”)

I want my daughters—I have Ingrid as well as Imogen—to be opinionated and active and brave. That doesn’t mean I want them to be manly, whatever that means. (Maybe Gaston is manly, spitting and hunting and all of that.) Above all, I want them to be loving. Loving in the real sense. How could Cinderella, poor girl, be loving? I predict divorce for her and the prince within six months after the prince finds out she doesn’t. Do. Anything. He probably has to feed her. “I’m outta here, Cinderella. I’m tired of shoving figs in your mouth and then working your jaw for you.” Loving as in sacrificial. Loving as in making hard choices. Loving as in putting other people’s well-being ahead of their own. You get what I’m saying. Loving as in Belle-ish-ness.


*Don’t even think about stealing “Octopus the Maladjusted Senior.” I’m going to write a rock opera about him. Don’t touch.

Fritz Eichenberg

Paul Luikart

26 artwork One of my favorite pieces of visual art is Fritz Eichenberg’s wood-cutting from 1951 called The Christ of the Breadlines. I have a print of it framed and hanging on the wall in my house. It depicts Jesus Christ standing in line at a soup kitchen, waiting with the rest of the down-and-outers for His turn to be served. In front of Him and behind Him are other raggedy people, hands in their pockets, wrapped up in shawls, anxiously waiting for food, a meal they couldn’t prepare for themselves. They’re all together nomads, riff-raff, vagrants, human dreck, homeless.

I like this piece simply because it’s not a very typical depiction of Jesus. Other artists, Peter Paul Reubens for example, who portrayed Jesus’ death and resurrection on more than one occasion, gleefully inserted muscle upon muscle into the Jesuses of their paintings. Doing so achieves a certain effect: Jesus, the All Powerful One, retains His strength even at the most vulnerable point in His life. What can keep Him down? Not even the Cross. Reubens’ canvases are also very busy with action and motion, with the twisting, straining bodies of Jesus’ friends and family, Roman guards and servants. The same could be said for Michelangelo or any number of other Renaissance painters. But Eichenberg’s Jesus is weak. He’s wrapped in rags. He’s entirely in shadow. No bulging abs, no mountainous biceps. And the figures in the painting with Him are still. They stand, with the Lord of the universe in their midst, motionless in their deep poverty and hunger, wanting the same thing He wants—rest, fulfillment, an end to suffering.

The wood-cutting is very dark. In fact, Eichenberg’s only light source in the entire image is Jesus’ halo, central to the composition. By it and only by it does Eichenberg permit us to see that there are even any figures in the etching at all. Whereas artists like Reubens composed their paintings so the figures and action draw the eye to Christ, whether He is on the Cross or on the ground just after His death, Eichenberg gives us a different kind of composition. The figure of Jesus is literally in the middle of the piece, but the details—the stuff that Eichenberg pays such close attention to—are of those in the soup kitchen line with Jesus and not Jesus Himself. However, they can only be seen by the light of His crown.

The Age of Heroes

Paul Luikart

Sporting News Archive Tacked to the corkboard that hung on my bedroom wall throughout most of my childhood was a giant poster of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. The caption on the poster read, “The Bash Brothers” and McGwire and Canseco were dressed in fedoras and black Ray-Bans, a la the Blues Brothers. At the time, McGwire and Canseco were the two hottest ballplayers in the Major Leagues. They were both with the Oakland A’s. I wasn’t an A’s fan per se, but I loved baseball in general and I loved that McGwire and Canseco were so much larger than life. That turned out to be true in more ways than one as almost two decades later Canseco himself, of all people, revealed that both of them (along with a bunch of other big-time major leaguers) were filled with more juice than a dump truck full of grapefruits.

I posit that human history has necessarily entered an age beyond heroes. Perhaps we, as a species, have outlived our use for them. Perhaps that’s for the better. Heroes in the American sense of the word, at least: seemingly infallible Earth-bound Ubermenschen who possess no discernable faults. They’re the people we want to be like, but they’re also the people we realize, with simple glances in our bathroom mirrors, we’re actually nothing like. And since we can’t be like them, since we can’t join their ranks, we do the next best thing. Worship them. But there’s the inevitable (and why, oh why, don’t we understand just how truly inevitable this is?) cataclysm—the crime, the fall, the bust, the sin. Who needs a god who needs steroids to slam homeruns, the boyhood equivalent of watching the Red Sea part? With even one speck of failure on their burnished faces, pilgrimages to their shrines—ballparks in the case of McGwire and Canseco—become an exercise in self-delusion. So it may be that quitting them altogether is the most righteous response.

I also had a collection of, watch this, Bill Cosby records. I’d hunt for them in thrift stores and independent record shops and buy them up as quickly as I came across them. And not only did I buy them, I listened to them. A lot. Sitting cross-legged on the floor for hours in front of my parents’ big record player. Recently, I mentioned to a friend my squeamishness at even admitting to owning such a collection given the rapist label that’s (let’s face it, probably appropriately) attached to Cosby these days. I understand he’s innocent until proven guilty, but as more and more allegations come out…well, let’s just say the math is working against him. My friend said, “He’s still funny.” So what if he is? I’ve been forced to become a Cosby-atheist. Those records will sit where they are: in some dark place collecting dust. Let that vinyl return to the earth from which it came.


Paul Luikart

Empty Room Like a lot of kids, I used to fantasize about slugging a bottom of the ninth game winning home run for Cleveland. Game 7 of the World Series of course. Crack! And the crowd goes wild. I grew up some and fantasized about becoming a comedian, and even lived that one out a little bit, at least more than I ever lived out the game-winning home run fantasy. A whole room laughing at my jokes? Mozart himself couldn’t create a sound quite as beautiful. In the more recent past, I’ve thought about what it’ll be like to read from my National Book Award winning novel (you know, after I write it.) The reverberation of my own voice in lecture halls packed with fans. Fans? Nay, international literary aficionados. And then afterwards: “Mr. Luikart, absolutely stunning. A harrowing work. Truly.”

But right now, you know what sounds good? Utter silence. No, strike that. Sounds that go on and on, whether I’m there to hear them or not. Sounds like water dripping from the ceiling of an empty cave. Wind in pine trees. Ocean waves. Fire. In other words, the sound of a lack of me. I don’t really permit myself any kinds of reminders that the good of the world isn’t predicated upon the author of this blog entry. In fact, the world still crackles and splashes and burns whether or not I exist. So what good is it to exist? Of course that depends. Who are you? What religion do you (or don’t you) practice? Do you have suicidal tendencies? Likely, though, the answer falls on a line segment stretched between two philosophically opposite poles. At one pole, you might find people existing because they’re working out their salvation with fear and trembling. At the other, people who are hyper-aware of the meaningless of life and would just as soon fall off into the void.

The most profound image in the Bible to me is Jesus going off alone. Which might sound weird that I think that’s all that profound. The Bible is full of profound images: An entire sea magically dividing itself in half, for example. I have to imagine that Jesus’ life, except for those times He spent alone, was a non-stop cacophony of wailing and “Heal me! Save me!” and the ancient equivalent of “You’re making zero sense, Rabbi.”

The Bible tells us that Jesus went to be alone so He could pray, that is, to talk to and listen to God. Far be it from me to put my own feet in the footsteps of the Divine, but if I were Jesus and I’d just gotten away from my idiot best friends or a bunch of lepers whose body parts keep dropping off or all the hoity-toity church types who get their rocks off praying super loud and then, when I finally disappeared into the hills, my Father said to me, “Okay, here’s the next plan,” I think I might say, “Please, God. Let’s just be quiet. Okay? Just for a minute.”

What the Rich Need from the Poor

Paul Luikart

homeless I was talking to a guy at church a while ago and he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I worked with homeless men and women and his immediate response was, “They’re all drunk, right? On drugs?” I came to find out he owned his own construction business and had, in the past, employed a few homeless people to do general labor on his construction sites. He’d been burned. “They’re never on time. They don’t work hard.” That kind of stuff. This guy was wealthy. He’d built the construction business from the ground up and put a lot of hard work into it over many years. He’d seen hard times, no doubt, but now lived in a palace off Lake Shore Drive.

At the very least, he had a logic problem—extrapolating an ironclad belief about an entire demographic from the behaviors of a small percentage of that demographic. On a grander scale, what he didn’t realize is just how closely linked the rich and the poor are meant to be. The poor see this need for connection more clearly than the rich see it. At the very least, the poor are typically much more aware of what they need from the rich. But Dorothy Day went so far as to say, “I firmly believe that our salvation depends on the poor.” If this is true, then a positive outcome in terms of heaven or hell necessitates an intimacy between the rich and the poor. It has to go both ways. But there’s a tragic affection common only to the rich that prevents this intimacy from forming. An affection not for stuff, like the big TVs, summerhouses and all the rest, but for privilege. Privilege allows for the unfair expectation that the poor should act like the rich if they are ever to become un-poor. It also allows for the notion that help without strings from the rich to the poor will only produce a sense of entitlement in the poor. What’s swept under the rug, in that case, is the enormous sense of entitlement possessed by the rich. The rich perceive irreversible failure in the lives of the poor but if they, the rich, are to lend their help, privilege expects conformity from the poor to an impossible standard.

By the way, I only know the guy lived in a palace off Lake Shore Drive because I ended up in a Bible study with him. Sometimes we met there. How ironic and personally irksome. Over the Word of God, I had to figure out if I could love this guy like he was my brother, if I could stand being linked to him for the sake of my own soul. I’m not rich. I’m not poor either, but my sentiments obviously favor the poor. I often wondered what he thought about my job. He and I never talked about homeless people again.

Nelson Algren

Paul Luikart

nelson algrenNelson Algren spent a lot of time in homeless shelters in Chicago. This was in the 1940’s and 50’s. He wasn’t homeless, but when you read his novels and stories—especially when you realize the measures he took to get them right—you get the impression he wished that he was. He used to go to Pacific Garden Mission, a giant homeless shelter still in operation in Chicago to this day, and sit down with the drunks and down-and-outers. He’d eat dinner with them, play cards, and shoot the breeze. There’s one picture, taken by Algren’s photographer buddy Art Shay, which depicts a junkie with a hypo showing Algren how he shoots up. All of this produced the world’s first National Book Award-winning novel in 1950—The Man With the Golden Arm. Algren’s protagonist, Frankie Machine, a struggling dope addict, is based on one of the men he used to play poker with. It is, in my opinion, the greatest novel ever written and certainly the most underrated. What makes it so good is what Algren inherently understood and then portrayed so sharply in the book: human civilization can actually only move forward at the pace of its least-of-these. That is to say, the speed of human progress is the speed at which a homeless man shambles down the sidewalk, peeking into garbage cans and begging for change.

Where Algren gets it right—and where I get it wrong time and time again, both as a writer and as a plain old human being—is that he dared to consider how beautiful the ugly things are. There’s a Christian tune I heard with the lyric “beauty from the ashes” but suppose the beauty is actually already in the ashes?

I don’t know if Algren was Christian or not. Probably not. Besides homeless people, he also hung around with existentialists and Marxists, archenemies of the Christians back then. This was at a time when a lot of Christians figured the appropriate approach to those that Christ Himself spent so much time with was to screech the Gospel at them from afar. But judging by the way Nelson Algren lived, not to mention the content of his body of work, he acted like a Christian—the way they’re supposed to act. My prayer for myself is simply, “Dear God, make me as good of a writer and as good of a Christian as Mr. Nelson Algren. Amen.”