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1. Heather Havrilesky comments on A Mother’s Reckoning, the new memoir by Sue Klebold (mother of Dylan, one of the Columbine shooterS), and naturally, she has some beautiful insights into the nature of our fascination with this woman’s story. On the one hand, Havrilesky notes, there is an innate longing to hear about the mother of a suicide-shooter, if only to form an opinion—or learn a lesson—on what not to do in mothering. Havrilesky unpacks her own impulse there. But then she also describes what it must be like to be Sue Klebold herself—the kinds of self-justifications and blame-shifts and pleas of ignorance that must surface in the weight of what has come to so tragically punctuate your existence.

Raising any teenager, let alone a kid who’s as depressed and withdrawn as Dylan clearly was, is complicated and confusing. On top of that, it’s easy to assume that anyone can make their true feelings clear on the page, but non-writers like Klebold often sound dogmatic, defensive, and not all that self-aware in print. Tellingly, Sue Klebold (and her son) come across as much more thoughtful 635909234255873242-XXX-A04-DYLAN-26and flexible in Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree, a book about exceptional children with a chapter about crime that focuses on the Klebolds. In that book, Sue Klebold tells the author that if she could see her son again, she would ask him to forgive her “for being his mother and never knowing what was going on inside his head, for not being able to help him, for not being the person that he could confide in.”

In A Mother’s Reckoning, though, Klebold’s humility is repeatedly obscured by contradictions that Klebold herself doesn’t seem to recognize. Klebold tells us over and over that she raised Dylan to be “polite,” but she never seems to push Dylan to understand other people’s feelings, their challenges, and the pressures on them that might not be apparent on the surface. Her idea of “good” parenting, even in retrospect, seems to focus on controlling and preventing negative outcomes rather than staying engaged and helping to reframe the confused, black-and-white thinking of a teenager into a more accepting space of forgiving yourself and others for being less than perfect. After all, it’s not just school that’s sometimes not fair. The world is often a “not fair” place, and it takes a lot of patience with ourselves and others — and an ability to gently stand up for ourselves rather than either rolling over or going ballistic — to push for change.

While it may sound at times as though Havrilesky is raking this poor mother over the coals of her own trials, she isn’t. She doesn’t want to do anything but say that Klebold’s account of her parenting—and the kinds of conflicts it sloppily attempts to unwrinkle—is the normal story of modern parenting. In other words, Sue Klebold is not a pathological example. She’s a normal mother. Trying hard and failing.

imageA Mother’s Reckoning is a very detailed book, but its stories feel dizzying because they constantly circle back on themselves, rationalizing and blaming and lashing out defensively, without adequately examining the deeply humbling facts on the ground. That’s largely the fault of Klebold’s collaborators and editors. Yet, when we unravel this anxious tangle of words, what we discover is a woman who wants, more than anything else, to be told that she did everything any normal, regular parent from a so-called “good home” would do.

Sue Klebold is a normal, regular parent. But what we consider normal parenting these days is a strange mix of coddling and struggling to keep our anxious minds from acknowledging darkness or taking on complex puzzles that aren’t easily solved. Children call their parents their best friends, but emerge from their cocoons feeling lonely, powerless, insecure, narcissistic, and angry that the world is so impossibly unfair and hostile and hard. Normal parents hover, but they don’t model how to move through an unjust world with patience and grace. They encourage their children to stand up for themselves, but they’re afraid to stand up to their own children. They tell their children to express their emotions, then stigmatize and chide their kids when they actually do so. Normal parents, in other words, share the anxious, clinging, insecure, angry, avoidant, black-and-white thinking of depressed adolescents. No wonder so many kids fall through the cracks. We unknowingly reinforce their worst impulses. We are not expansive enough or patient enough or mature enough to be worthy of their confidences.

2. The Atlantic just launched a new project called “Choosing My Religion”, which explores how young people operate in the faith-arena. The lead article, written by Emma Green, takes particular fascination in the much-talked-about Pew results about Millennials and the declining numbers of those affiliated with organized religion. Much like the new David Dark book, Green argues that this is much ado about nothing. Just because the polls point to a growing number of nones, polls just as quickly point to a relatively stable number of people who—despite that—believe in God, go to church regularly, and pray.

Life's Too Short to Pretend You're Not ReligiousThese narratives also assume that religion can be quantified. Church attendance may be down, but that doesn’t say much about the people finding church outside the walls of a sanctuary. Certain denominations may clock more hours and count more bodies at their worship services, but that may say more about those institutions than the people who participate in them. Polls, and especially polls about religion, have limits. They often depend on small samples and low response rates, and they rely on people to describe themselves in a coherent way—something that’s not, it turns out, so easy to do. They sometimes privilege the culture and practices of certain groups—e.g., Christians, white people—over others. Their purpose, fundamentally, is to sort messy phenomena into neat categories. But religion—a sprawling sphere of life that encompasses everything from saccharine celebrations to the search for ultimate meaning—religion is not neat.

I am reminded of our conversation with Rodney Stark, which will be published in the (very soon to be released) Church Issue of The Mockingbird. Stark, author of The Triumph of Faith: Why the World Is More Religious than Ever, argues not just that the Pew results are inaccurate depictions of the American “religious landscape,” but that in fact, religious belief is on the rise worldwide.

But Emma Green also argues that, for millennials, there is a felt anxiety about religious identity—especially traditional religious identity—because of their generation’s difficulty with aligning their choices to any categorizing expectations of them. Over the next week, The Atlantic will be investigating what these choices end up looking like.  I know I’ll be reading.

3. This week on The Mockingcast we were privileged to have art historian Matthew Milliner on the show to discuss Passion paintings down through the ages–and the revelations about Michelangelo are worth the price of admission alone! The talk to which he and Scott refer is the cleverly titled “Artists Gone Mild” embedded below, which also includes slides of some of the paintings he mentions:

4. A great piece by Fredrik deBoer regarding the current obsession with “cultural appropriation,” and the trouble with being offended on another’s behalf. You don’t have to walk too far on the interwebs to find out what he’s talking about. Everywhere you look, read, and listen, there are critics arguing in defense of a group for which they do not belong. deBoer argues that, not only is this snooping tendency narcissistic, but it utilizes the cultural imperialism it is so often attempting to scout out. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly “colonialism” can be attributed to both the victimizer and the victim-defender.

The point is that the dialogue of cultural appropriation presumes impossible weakness on the part of other countries. It claims to speak from a place of ultimate respect towards the nonwhite people of the world, but it treats them as permanently neutered children, incapable of making change in the world or having their own ideas about the proper spread of their own cultural artifacts.

There’s a profound sense in which appropriation presumes the desires of white supremacists: it assumes out of existence the power of non-white people.

5. This one from the Wall Street Journal may not be surprising, but it is promising, especially as we observe Good Friday: The Healing Power of Forgiveness.

And you can’t talk about forgiveness without talking about control—i.e., the relinquishing of control. But so often what happens in relationships is quite the opposite. Cue, yes, again, Heather Havrilesky, who describes it as “parole officer” relationships: when we take the job upon ourselves to fix another human being. This job doesn’t pay—and it hurts you more than it helps them.

51THwe49DNLSo now you have a choice. You can carry this disappointment around with you forever, wondering if you’re really a manipulative, abusive person or not. Or you can look at the facts on the ground instead: You took a job that didn’t pay. You took a job that was wrong for you. You took a job that tested your mettle, day in and day out, and all you had to show for it in the end was loneliness and despair. You gave everything you had to give, yes, and what you got in return was sadness and isolation and disappointment, and also THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON OF YOUR LIFE.

The lesson? Never sign up to be someone’s parole officer. Ever. Because you will give too much and you’ll live your life through that person and you’ll slowly disappear and one day you’ll wake up and the one person you poured all of your energy into will resent you more than anyone else alive.

6. Okay, something funny? We need something funny! The Babylon Bee continues to impress. This Onionesque Christian satire site is having all kinds of fun. For example, take your pick:

“Average Christian Spends 37 Percent of Prayer Time Saying Word ‘Just’”

“Man Planning Deathbed Conversion Really Beefed Eventual Testimony Last Night”

“Woman Completes Quiet Time Without Instagramming”

Oh, and this. “A Trend Story about Millennials, by the New York Times.”

7. But we can’t end a Good Friday Weekender on a positive note, can we? Or at least a funny one. So we’ll end with the story of John Elder Robison, the writer of the new memoir, Switched On, the story of his life with Asperger’s, and the temporary change brought on by a procedure called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)—to allow him to experience emotional cues and interpersonal nuances. Robison, who for years had expected that these new faculties would give him a greater appreciation for human feeling and generosity, instead found the opposite. Instead, he became awake to a world of cynics and cheats, a world who might shout, with unanimity, “Crucify him.”

51vY4PAEGIL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_As nonverbal cues became increasingly legible to him, Mr. Robison also realizes that a longtime friend has been subtly mocking him for years. Mr. Robison’s marriage to his second wife, who suffers from debilitating depression, starts to decay. “When Martha had her down days, I was no longer able to jump out of bed and go to work,” he writes. “As soon as I got up I’d feel panic over her sadness.”

Most profoundly, he discovers that neurotypical humans are not, as a rule, happy.

“I had created a fantasy that seeing into people would be sweetness and love,” he writes. “Now I knew the truth: most of the emotions floating around in space are not positive. When you look into a crowd with real emotional insight you’ll see lust, greed, rage, anxiety, and what for a lack of a better word I call ‘tension’ — with only the occasional flash of love or happiness.”

Is there anyone who can deliver us? Can this help us? It has to! (ht JF)


P.S. A sermon preached earlier today by DZ: “The Disappointment of Good Friday”

P.P.S. Videos from Tyler coming next week!

P.P.P.S. Tune into VanyaRadio on Sunday for 24 straight hours of The Stone Roses’ “I Am The Resurrection”.