Another Week Ends

Click here to listen to this week’s episode of The Mockingcast, which features an interview with […]

David Zahl / 4.22.16

Click here to listen to this week’s episode of The Mockingcast, which features an interview with musician Derek Webb, among other things. Conference recordings coming early next week!

1. Given the grim findings reported in the next item, I thought we’d kick off with a beautiful story of grace that aired on CBS this week. Pretty much the reverse of every prison movie ever made, thank God:

2. This past Friday, the National Institute for Health Statistics published updated findings on national rates of suicide, and the news is not good. Bluntly put, between 1999 and 2014, the US suicide rate has risen by 24%, with the sharpest increases for those in the 45-64 age range (63% for women, 43% for men). This is up 7% from the alarming 2010 figures, which made so many headlines when they were released a few years ago. When you break it down by race, whites are substantially more at risk than any other group. In fact, during the period in question (1999-2014) middle-aged white women experienced an increase of 80 percent–though men are still 3.6 more likely to kill themselves. These are incredibly sobering numbers, and it doesn’t take a social psychologist to proffer that they reflect profound, mounting despair in significant segments of the population. The NY Times report refrains from theorizing too much, but one paragraph stuck out, especially in light of last weekend’s conference: 

Disappointed expectations of social and economic well-being among less educated white men from the baby-boom generation may also be playing a role, she said. They grew up in an era that valued “masculinity and self-reliance” — characteristics that could get in the way of asking for help.

“It appears this group isn’t seeking help but rather turning to self-destructive means of dealing with their despair,” Professor Phillips said.

A horrifying and heart-breaking phenomenon if ever there was one. There’s plenty to be said, especially from the perspective of religious hope, but today perhaps it’s enough to not turn down the volume and let the news speak for itself.

3. On a thankfully more refreshing note (phew!), be sure to read the interview with Mallory “The Toast” Ortberg over at Sojourners, in which our favorite humorist spills the beans about a variety of subjects, including the revelation that the rumors of her atheism have been greatly exaggerated. Indeed, the Almighty gets some love, as do Episcopalians, and she drops a laugh out loud line about 17th century Carmelite mystic Brother Lawrence. They then play a hilarious word association game. But the part that jumped off the screen had to do with prayer:

The last time I wrote anything about growing up in the church was an essay I did a couple years ago about leaving the church. There’s a lot I still really like about that essay. And then when I got sober, right around when we started The Toast, I found myself very embarrassed to think, “Oh, no — I think I love God. Oh, this is so embarrassing.”…

IMG_8481I was recently traveling in New Zealand, and I was walking around in this preserve up above Wellington in super ancient forests and they were like, “This tree is a hundred million years old,” and I was just overwhelmed with this sense of time, in a way that was very — I would describe it as horrified awe. … I felt very overwhelmed with a sense of, “I have been given so much, and the last thing that the universe or God is going to give me is death, and I don’t want that.”

And the prayer that I had over and over was just, “God, help me die.” It was this very anxious, very focused prayer, and by the time I walked out of there I didn’t feel like, “Cool, I’m ready to die at any minute,” but I felt like my prayer over and over again had just been, “God, help me accept death from you when the day comes.” And if all I get out of recovery and out of spirituality is that I die less panicked and afraid, and spend less of my time in between now and death feeling terrified and vulnerable and lashing out, I’ll take it.

4. This comes during a week when, against all odds, The Babylon Bee continues to give Mallory a run for her money in the affectionate-yet-substantive-jabs-at-Christian-culture department. I’m thinking specifically of two headlines they published this week that elicited a chuckle or three: Gridlock Reached As Two Men Both Certain God Told Them To Date Same Girl and Youth Pastor Forgets What His Hebrew Tattoo Means (““A divine appointment gone horribly wrong, that’s for sure.”). Christianity Today got in on the satire action with their list of 22 Suggested Small Group Icebreakers.

5. Next, Whit Stillman’s wonderful 1994 film Barcelona made its long-awaited debut in the Criterion Collection this past week, prompting the label to release his first three films in trilogy format. The event has inspired a couple of think-pieces, my favorite of which would have to be the one Jason Guriel wrote for Flavorwire, “How Whit Stillman Humanized Privilege”. Don’t be put off by the trendy title:

In our sweltering microclimate of outrage and hot takes, Stillman’s work — equal parts guilty pleasure and hydrating tonic — can feel unnervingly, irresponsibly cool… Stillman, the new Criterion boxset reminds us, is radical precisely because he remains unfashionable. He takes a sympathetic stance towards unsympathetic subjects, and also liberates audiences from the tyranny of ideas, through a commitment to aesthetic pleasure: style, wit, and humor.

6. On the TV front, we’ll have a full review of the brilliant second season of Better Call Saul next week, but in the meantime, Esquire ran a profile on Mbird fave Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood), whose new show, The Path, is now available for binging streaming on Hulu. If anyone’s watched yet, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. This quote though:

“What I do as a storyteller, and what we do in the writers’ room, is try not to divorce ourselves,” he says. “We begin with events from our own lives. In Parenthood, for instance, there’s the story about a kid with Asperger’s, which I experienced with my son. And there’s also the story when Monica Potter gets breast cancer—I went through that with my wife. What we try to do as writers is not to let ourselves think about the characters as characters only. We try to think of them as people like ourselves. As an actor, when you get a role, you have to find yourself in that role. We try to do that as storytellers.”

7. Tech-wise, writing for The NY Times Magazine, Jenna Wortham dove into the question of What Chatbots Reveal About Our Own Shortcomings, something we’ve tried to answer on the podcast a couple of times. She writes: 

Bots, which promise to make us more godlike, are instead revealing our all-too-human shortcomings and pettiness… A bot, like any other piece of software, is only as good as its makers’ imagination. Technologies embody the values — and the biases and prejudices — of the society that incubates them, and if we can’t imagine the future we want, then neither can our creations.

8. The GNR reunion tour is picking up steam (“Coma”! “Double Talkin Jive”! “Civil War”!), and I’m not sure what’s more entertaining: watching the increasingly terrific-sounding vids or reading the critics falling into the exact same traps about the band they did 25 years ago–it’s almost as though they never read our secret history…The Daily Beast is the worst offender (get in the ring!), while Esquire may understate their awesomeness, but at least they’re not, um, ‘out to get’ the gunners. The whole thing could not be more rife with transference and expectation. Oh and contrary to reports, Axl looks and sounds better than he has in ages. T

Also in music, amidst all of the anecdotes surfacing about Prince, this one from none other than Joni Mitchell caught my eye. Beyond the strange bedfellows angle, the prospect of a 15 year old, fully formed Prince made me smile, ht GP:

Interviewer: Of all the musicians and rappers who have cited you as an influence, whose work do you appreciate most?
Joni Mitchell: Prince. Prince attended one of my concerts in Minnesota. I remember seeing him sitting in the front row when he was very young. He must have been about 15. He was in an aisle seat and he had unusually big eyes. He watched the whole show with his collar up, looking side to side. You couldn’t miss him—he was a little Prince-ling. [Laughs.] Prince used to write me fan mail with all of the U’s and hearts that way that he writes. And the office took it as mail from the lunatic fringe and just tossed it! [Laughs.]

9. Finally, in the theologosphere, the line of the week comes from Frederica Matthewes-Green’s astute if not 100% sympathetic essay on repentance: “The early Christians didn’t have the power to do anything in the public square except die.” Woah. Her analysis of the double-visioned Christ of Sinai icon hit me in the gut too. Also, John Newton’s new book Falling Into Grace just hit the shelves and it’s fabulous. Here’s the trailer: