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What Russell Brand Used to Think of as Happiness

On the Mockingcast this past week, we talked a bit about our favorite books of 2017. For me, Russell Brand’s Recovery was right up there, in part because it’s so funny but mainly because it cuts through so much of the baloney (read: reactivity) surrounding the G-O-D question these days and grounds it in the reality of lived experience and desperation. Here are a few more cases in point:

I have heard 12 Step support groups referred to as a cult and it could be argued that any group with a system of beliefs is a cult. In working a 12 Step program I don’t feel like I’ve joined a cult, but that I’ve been liberated from one. The cult that told me that I’m not enough, that I need to be famous to be of value, that I need to have money to live a worthwhile life, that I should affiliate, associate and identify on 
the basis of color and class, that my role in life is to consume, that 
I was to live in a darkness only occasionally lit up by billboards and screens, always framing the smiling face of someone trying to sell me something. Sell me phones and food and prejudice, low cost and low values, low-frequency thinking. We are in a cult by default. We just can’t see it because its boundaries lie beyond our horizons. (pg 67)

When my last great romance combusted and I came fleeing from the inferno, looking for comfort and peace, it is to this community, assembled around the mutual wound, that I turned. Every time I reinvest in the material world as a potential source of happiness I am able to return to them when it fails. When religions talk of idolatry, I feel I know what they are saying; when I make something else,… my symbol of the divine, I get in trouble. If you take away the bombast, the sense that these edicts are being bellowed down from a purple cloud, ‘Don’t get too wrapped up in relationships or money’ sounds like the sort of thing a grandparent might say. I have an inclination to make these things my salvation. (pg 101)

What I used to think of as happiness was merely distraction from the pain. (pg 218)

How do you stop yourself from milking [a] situation for spiritual credit? Of course there is no such thing as spiritual credit, as soon as credit is sought you are in the domain of the ego. So even by writing about it the purity is compromised if not undone. How do you avoid making it about the result? You just do your best and let go of the outcome. It’s easy to become snared on each of these points. In the end, you just try your best. (pg 235)

The Road Back for Pariahs

The Road Back for Pariahs

It is hard to know how much of his tongue was in his cheek when Politico’s Jack Shafer penned “The Sex Pariah’s 6-Step Guide to Rehabilitation.” Yet the questions he addresses in the wake of Weinstein and Lauer and O’Reilly (and so many others) are both serious and timely: once the pariahs have served their punishments, “can we, should we, allow them to return to public life and their careers? And by what avenue?” The advice which follows is laced with explicit Catholic pastoral care and 12-Step best practices. They include unqualified confession, a season of retreat, submission to a…

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Psychomachia, 8-Balls, and Alien Righteousness

Psychomachia, 8-Balls, and Alien Righteousness

This one comes to us from RJ Coburn.

Psychomachia is the name given to the common trope found in movies, television, and comic strips when a character is dealing with temptation. Two versions of his or her self appear, an angel version and a devil version. Commonly, the devil is on the left shoulder (or standing on the left, if shown as a full-sized person) and the angel on the right. This represents the battle of the soul, or as Homer tells Lisa on an episode of The Simpsons, “Inside every man is a struggle between good and evil that cannot…

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Portal Guns, Talking Horses, and the Future of TV Comedy (Part 2)

Portal Guns, Talking Horses, and the Future of TV Comedy (Part 2)

Too long for one post, we’re looking at the advent of the “sadcom,” a unique TV comedy developed over recent years. Sadcoms are shows that find humor in the debauched and dysfunctional lives of lead characters, punctuating that wildness with sincere moments of sympathy. For a longer breakdown, check out part 1, with a review of BoJack Horseman‘s season four.

It’s worth asking how we got to this place, where alcoholic horses and mad-scientist grandpas become critically acclaimed television for adults. It’s a question that Elizabeth Bruenig’s write-up “Why is Millennial humor so weird?” worked to answer last August in the…

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Some Other Power At Work in Russell Brand's Life (Inadvertently)

Some Other Power At Work in Russell Brand’s Life (Inadvertently)

Great little passage from the comedian’s far from (merely) comic new book Recovery:

These are secular times. I just went to see a priest with my girlfriend to discuss getting married in his church and God wasn’t mentioned, as if doing so might cause embarrassment and I feel some of the same tension when writing. It’s not like the atheists have all the best tunes, though some people who I really admire are devout atheists, but it is the time we live in, the mechanical dome that umbrellas us from the eternal that causes me consternation. The unwillingness to open our…

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Confessions of a Foodaholic

Confessions of a Foodaholic

During the summer following my junior year of college, I attended a handful of Overeaters Anonymous meetings. I was plagued with compulsive overeating, binge eating, whatever you want to call it, starting in high school, having been off and on diets since age 14, and it reached its height in college; hence the infamous rock bottom that lead me to OA. OA is based on the same principles and twelve steps as AA, simply replacing alcohol with food, and it was not until OA that I faced or even recognized the depth of my problem. Anything you associate with an…

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A Clockwork Theology and the Un-Free Will

A Clockwork Theology and the Un-Free Will

A friend recently noted that TV, post-Breaking Bad, seems to be getting more violent. Typically I’d discard this as your run-of-the-mill cantankerous “kids these days” complaint…but somewhere between grimace-inducing episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale and Netflix’s The Keepers, I realized, well, maybe he had a point. Game of Thrones fits the bill. So does HBO’s adaptation of Big Little Lies, which was much darker than its airport-thriller source material. The list goes on.

Considering all this, I was reminded of the landmark violence of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, which I read way back in high school, for a project about banned books. For the (lucky?) uninitiated, it tells the story of a violent young…

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Cringe-Watching Catastrophe

Cringe-Watching Catastrophe

For the last few weeks at bedtime, my youngest son has requested that I read him a story out of a book called “Farmyard Tales.” These are innocuous little stories of Apple Tree Farm, and the family who lives there. They are sweet and lovely, and also criminally boring. They are perfect bedtime stories for a tired little kid, though, and I send him off to dreamland with pleasant little stories about goats and pigs and their little farmyard antics galloping through his head.

By contrast, my husband and I then go downstairs to our living room to fold piles of…

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Something Missing (in Recovery Services)

Something Missing (in Recovery Services)

Compulsion is brutal.

But the last decade has seen a huge cultural effort to remove spiritual death from the tragedy of addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous was, and largely still is, the model for treatment, but a Higher Power does not play well in the wave of commercial exploitation of “recovery services.”

Squeaky clean, dead serious ads put coifed “addicts” and similarly serious “therapists” in front of us. With all the sincerity of “ethical” car sales shills, the very worst in any of us has the same cure as a dirty floor: buy me. There is a new, aggressive PR explosion everywhere, which loudly…

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Freedom Isn't Free

Freedom Isn’t Free

Another glimpse into our Food & Drink Issue. This essay is written by Connor Gwin. 

It is a funny thing, getting sober in seminary. I spent years discerning my call to ordained ministry and answering questions from committee after committee, only to find myself in front of the mirror in my seminary dorm room. It was the morning after a blur of a day spent drinking to celebrate St. Patrick. The celebration ended in a blackout, as they seemed to more and more, and there I stood in front of my bathroom mirror. I gazed into my own eyes and spoke…

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Hallelujah Anyway: Anne Lamott's Latest on Rediscovering Mercy

Hallelujah Anyway: Anne Lamott’s Latest on Rediscovering Mercy

I have loved Anne Lamott since I read her first memoir, Traveling Mercies, when I was in law school. In a world where I was, quite literally, surrounded by law, I heard grace in her words, and it was the drink I didn’t even know I was thirsty for. Later, Lamott’s Operating Instructions, her memoir about her son’s first year, prepared me for motherhood in a way that all of the What to Expect books failed to do.

Naturally, I wanted to share my enthusiasm for my favorite lay theologian with my friends, some of whom scoffed at Lamott’s personal history: how could they…

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Can Love Survive Addiction and Co-Dependency?

This is a serious honor. We’ve received permission from filmmaker Kurt Neale to post his incredible new documentary, Ask: Can Love Survive Addiction and Co-Dependency?, here on Mockingbird. As you’ll see, he and his crew have given us an enormous gift, not just to those of us who’ve experienced the fearful realities of addiction and co-dependency, but to anyone who has drawn breath in the world described in Romans 7. Not to mention anyone who’s come into contact with what Andrew Sullivan calls “this generation’s AIDS crisis”. You could almost call it Grace in Addiction: The Movie. That is, the whole thing brims with honesty and humanity and compassion and, yes, real hope–the Polyphonic Spree is just icing on the cake.

Naturally, the film contains mature subject matter and language. Viewer discretion is advised.

P.S. As you’ll see, this is a work of art ideally suited for discussion. If you’re interested, I know Kurt and co are open to arranging screenings around the country. You can contact him via his website.

P.P.S. If it all sounds a tad on the heavy-side, fast forward to minute 1:19 for a hilarious Easter egg.