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Five Questions with Tripp York

In response (or retribution) to the Five Questions With… series on Amish Jihadist, Profligate Grace sat down with Tripp York, author of The Devil Wears Nada (among many other things).  Kara Slade takes full responsibility for these questions.

1) I noticed that you had the good taste (and good theological sense) to quote Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear it Away on the dedication page. In my unique fantasy life, where I make up reading lists for classes I will probably never teach, that would be one of my top picks. She gets into sacramental ministry, the nature of vocation, the collision of faith and modernity, and on and on. But, of course, it’s all written as a grotesque portrayal of Protestants, and it’s possible to read it in only the grotesque sense. Is it weird to draw parallels between your book and The Violent Bear It Away?

You know, that particular quote was dedicated to my father because it fits our story perfectly—although he admitted to my mother that he had no idea what I meant by it. Thanks, dad.

Fortunately, I’ve been very lucky to be able to use her work in a number of my courses. The Violent Bear it Away is a must. It’s nasty good. But, I often wonder if her portrayal really fits the category of grotesque as much as the category of grotesque is projected onto her work. I don’t know. Maybe such thinking has more to do with my insane ecclesial upbringing in the South, yet I find her character depictions to often be quite realistic (and I’m pretty sure she addressed this grotesque/realism dichotomy). I received an email from an O’Connor scholar of sorts—teaches literature in GA, actually—suggesting that my work in The Devil Wears Nada reads like a non-fictional O’Connor text. Of course, I pretty much wet my pants in joy, but I often wonder if this categorization really does her justice. Because, you know, these are real people. Granted, I think I occasionally employed O’Connor as a sort of hermeneutical tool for negotiating some of the, oh . . . I guess what some may refer to as the bizarre/grotesque, what she even once referred to as ‘freakish’ (which is a great song by Saves the Day)—or, maybe we can just say ‘different’—experiences I enjoyed while hanging out with snake handlers, druids, Christ-loving bodybuilders, and practitioners of the so-called dark arts. Which, by the way, the answer is ‘no’. I did not meet a single Sith Lord.

I’m beginning to think this whole Star Wars thing may be the product of someone’s very active imagination.

2) Which just-war advocate would be the most likely to be martyred to testify to the imperative of Christ’s peace: Dan Bell, Tobias Winright, or Allen Verhey? (And why?)

Tobias. Definitely. I think he feels like he’s got something to prove to all of his pacifist buddies. He wants to, ultimately, out-peace us, so he’d be the one. And don’t worry Tobias, my first book was on martyrdom—I’ll do you justice!

By the way, tell Allen I said, ‘hello’. I like that guy. I was once his TA in a bioethics course in which we had, like, four students. Easiest job ever.

3) You write that you “have grown quite weary of how utterly predictable every argument, claim, and comment my students make about God turn out to be.” Is this a problem for the Church? Or are most people just that boring and predictable? [By the way, “weary” is such a wonderful word. It’s one of those unusual words Kierkegaardians use: “weary,” “beloved,” “earnest.” It’s like throwing a linguistic gang sign. But that’s not a question unless you want it to be.]

I do want it to be. As you well know, we’ve been trained by the same Kierkegaardian scholar—Amy Laura Hall. So, you know, that’s how we represent.

I think one of the things I was going after in the book is how people ranging from devil worshippers to Unitarians have become quite predictable in their thinking because we all suckle from the same teat. Ah, that was an awkward analogy, wasn’t it? I’ve been around a lot of barnyards lately. Don’t ask. I mean, it is natural. It’s part of what makes a mammal a mammal. Oh! That reminds me of a story: I was in Amy Laura’s first course called ‘Justice and The Family’ (remind me later to tell you what I learned in that course) and there was a lovely lady in there that was bringing her newborn to class. Which was awesome. Kids in a class revolving around justice and the family. Makes sense. Anyway, Amy announced in this class of twelve students, where I was maybe one of two males, if not the only male, that if this gal needed to breast-feed her child during class she should. And then she looked directly at me, pointed to me, and stated in a very slow manner, “Because, Tripp . . . that’s what breasts are for.” Aw man. I’m normally not a ‘rendered speechless kind of guy’, but I had nothing. I was like, “Yes, ma’am. That is correct. You got me there with all of your highfalutin’ biology.”

Anyway. What was I saying? Oh yeah . . . so, we’re all drinking from the same cup and it has really limited the more imaginative ways by which we can narrate our way through modernity and all of its ‘posts’. Yet, due to the parameters of language and practices dictated to us, the choices are no choice at all and so we end up with the same publishers publishing books by both Dawkins and Ward, and Nat Geo running documentaries explaining why string theory does and does not rule out God, and its done, supposedly, all in an effort to prove they are willing to provide ‘both sides’. Yet, it’s performed in such a way that no one thinks to stop and ask if the sides haven’t been rigged from the outset. And I feel like I want to be called for being ‘offside’ in this game. Maybe a ‘neutral zone’ infraction or something. I just don’t like the rules. We need some penalties! Wittgenstein save us!!! And, maybe, in a way, this comes back to Kierkegaard (who Wittgenstein once referred to as a saint) but only in the sense that he would thoroughly dismantle us. I need to be dismantled.

4) Why are you always photographed in your kitchen?

Because I CAN stand the heat! Ahh . . .

5) If  The Devil Wears Nada had a soundtrack, what songs would be on it?

It does have a soundtrack! Pages 138-139 detail about a third of it. Those were the songs I was listening to while I was trying to flee the owls messing with me during my time at the crossroads in Scaryville, NC. Looking back at that, I really think something could be wrong with me.

But sticking with the symbolic theme of numbers employed in the book, I’ll name six bands that can only heighten your reading experience: Social Distortion, Johnny Cash, The Gas Light Anthem, The Misfits, The Pogues, and The Gaither Vocal Band—well, them or Queen. Probably Queen. Can you imagine Freddie Mercury singing ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’? Aw, man . . . almost makes me wanna cry.

Where’s my Maker’s Mark?

Tripp York, PhD, teaches at Virginia Wesleyan College. He is the author and editor of more than half a dozen books including his two most recent, Third Way Allegiance and The Devil Wears Nada. He is the general editor of the forthcoming three volume Peaceable Kingdom Series. Tripp also serves as a Keeper’s Aide at the Virginia Zoological Park working primarily in the elephant barn where he spends much of his time shoveling the poop of various awesome animals. Finally, he one day hopes to be a comic book writer. Don’t laugh. That’s the honest-to-Thor truth. (Ah, get it? Thor? Get it?) You can visit him at

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