Click here to listen to this week’s episode of The Mockingcast, which features an interview with theologian Jeffrey Pugh about his new book, Theology After You’ve Been Left Behind.

1. First of all, this (times a billion trillion):

2. Second, bravo to Charlotte Donlon for her column in The Washington Post this week about what happens when churches ignore mental illness–and not just because it jives so profoundly with the emphasis of the new issue of The Mockingbird. After recounting a painful yet all-too-familiar episode of pastoral ineptness vis-a-vis her own bipolar disorder, she ruminates on the danger of equating sin and joylessness, sanctification and emotional smooth-sailing. But she’s ultimately less interested in chiding clueless clergy than underlining the hope and comfort the Christian faith offers those who suffer from abiding mental illness:

On our way home [from church, after hearing a sermon that maintained “if you aren’t experiencing joy, you should examine your life and repent of any sin that might be blocking it”], I think about my friend Allison, who is recovering from a mental health crisis that peaked in March. She was diagnosed with bipolar II and is trying to get her meds straight and process how this will affect her life. She is confused and trying to heal. The sermon I just heard wouldn’t offer her any hope.

bowieLater that day, I count how many friends I’ve sent Psalm 88 to in the past year. I come up with five. Psalm 88 is the only psalm that doesn’t include any verses of praise or thanksgiving. There are 149 others that do, and I pray through those psalms, too.

But Psalm 88 is sometimes the one I need. It gives me the language I need to speak to God when He seems far away. So I send it to those who may also need that language. I pray it for my friends who can’t imagine how God can be anywhere near them.

I was particularly struck by the quote Charlotte relays from author Amy Simpson–almost doubles as a mission statement for our recent issue:

“Talking about mental illness is a great place to start and might accomplish 50 percent of what people need from the church. For people isolated by stigma and fear, it’s powerful to hear an acknowledgement that this kind of suffering exists, that it doesn’t mean God has abandoned them, and that people in the church might be willing to walk through it with them.”

Bravo as well to our friend Hawley Schneider for the photo credit!


3. On a somewhat related note, CBC radio aired a fascinating interview with Anna Katherina Schaffner, author of the new Exhaustion: A History. The book does exactly what you might think, looking at reports of burnout and stress from the present day all the way back to classical antiquity, one of the principal findings being–surprise, surprise–that we have always claimed that the age we’re living in to be the most exhausted in history. Not only that, but the ‘humblebrag’ may not be a modern innovation, e.g., exhaustion as a means of self-justification, ht RJ:

When we say nowadays I’m very stressed or if we say I’m burned out, the implication is that we’re very much in demand. We’re very popular. We have very full lives. We feel that we are essential at work—if we are not there, everything will break down. And the burnout diagnosis also basically implies the idea that we have given our all to work, which in a lot of cultures is still considered something very positive. So even a burnout diagnosis might be worn as a badge of honor. And historically speaking, exhaustion crops up in various different syndromes such as melancholia, acedia, nervousness, nervous weakness, depression and various other diagnoses. And in a lot of cases, there are positive associations that come with being exhausted. In the melancholic individual for example, in classical antiquity and especially in the age of Romanticism, was thought to be someone who was creative, someone who was a genius, even sometimes someone who might be a scholar or an artist. So often, melancholia was associated with being exceptional.

superWhat I found really fascinating was that there are no clear conceptions of human energy available in Western medicine at this point in time. We have the calorie intake model, but there is nothing measurable or scientifically solid that would allow us to measure someone’s energy levels. And I found that throughout history, although there are so many theories about exhaustion, every theorist is quite vague about what is being exhausted, which is of course human energy.

She then goes through several metaphors we use for energy depletion–e.g, empty batteries, broken machines, bowls of milk, my personal favorite being the vampire–before hinting at the condition behind the condition:

There is this underlying universal psychological concern with aging and death, the fear of death, which I think drives the discourses on exhaustion in all periods.

4. Speaking of exhaustion, the presidential election appears to be producing exactly that in more and more of us, this past Monday’s debate being the most recent boiling point. In The NY Times, Peter Wehner suggested that we might all do well to explore “The Political Magic of C.S. Lewis”. It’s an endearing and in places surprising article about America’s favorite apologist, full of the sort of arresting quotes one expects from the venerable Dr. Ransom, albeit on an unexpected subject. I for one was unaware he’d turned down the CBE that Churchill tried to award him. But the heart of the article has to do with Lewis’s deep reservations about public aligning Christianity with political parties:

“The danger of mistaking our merely natural, though perhaps legitimate, enthusiasms for holy zeal, is always great,” Lewis wrote. “The demon inherent in every party is at all times ready enough to disguise himself as the Holy Ghost; the formation of a Christian Party means handing over to him the most efficient makeup we can find.”

Lewis knew that a faith-informed conscience could advance justice and that Christianity played an enormous part in establishing the concept of natural rights and the dignity of the human person. But he also believed that legislation is not an exact science; that a Christian citizen does not, in the words of Professors Dyer and Watson, “have the authority to represent his or her prudential judgment as required by Christianity”; and that no political party can come close to approximating God’s ideal. Christianity is about ends, not means, according to Lewis, and so he spent a good deal of his life articulating what he believed was the telos, the ultimate purpose, of human beings. Lewis was convinced that partisan political engagement often undermined that effort…

Like water that refracts light and changes the shape of things, politics can distort and invert Christianity, turning a faith that at its core is about grace, reconciliation and redemption into one that is characterized by bitterness, recriminations and lack of charity.

We talk a bit more about this on the cast. Those looking for a little flash of light amidst all the ill feeling might take a gander at that wonderful picture of Michelle Obama embracing George W. Bush last week. The Times described the image’s appeal in terms of “unexpected warmth” and “tenderness at [a time when presidential politics has become] a festival of cruelty”, both of which could serve as terrific euphemisms for grace. Right, Justin?

5. On to the fun stuff. Over at The Vulture, Heather Havrilesky weighed a couple of possibilities re: “The Best TV Couple of the Past 30 Years”. No surprise in who she nominates, but her explanation is worth reprinting:

What’s truly delightful about Tami and Eric [Taylor], what makes you want to marry both of them and have a million of their babies, is that they can calm each other down and love each other even in the middle of a shitstorm. In fact, they make marriage look like the only sane thing that can exist in the middle of a shitstorm…

At a time when we’re awash in fearmongering and nostalgia and wishfully believing that somehow our misremembered past can save us from having to show up and take responsibility for the present, Tami and Eric remind us that empathy and patience can create a kind of paradise in the middle of the hell… In their relaxed, effortless comfort with each other, in their affection and humor and acceptance of each other’s flaws, Tami and Eric don’t just show us how it actually looks and sounds to be in love. They show us what love is.

loisold6. Which brings me to the runner-up to our Social Science Study of the Week, “A Happy Spouse May Be Good for Your Health”. Go figure. The co-winners come to us from (where else?) Science of Us, which reported on both “How Relentless Optimism Can Hurt Sick People” and that “Kids Are Tiny, Judgmental Snobs When It Comes to Morality”. That second headline is a little deceiving; a child’s moral sensibility, it turns out, comes a lot closer to the Sermon on the Mount than an adult’s, i.e., in its appreciation of motivation, it’s less Pharisaical, not more.

7. Funniest thing I saw this week was definitely the Between Two Ferns with a certain presidential candidate. Elsewhere, The Onion gave us “New Study Finds Solving Every Single Personal Problem Reduces Anxiety”.

8. Last but not least, the folks over at Ex-Pastors convinced our friend Tullian Tchividjian to offer some thoughts on Losing It All, and I’m glad he complied. Needless to say, read the comments at your own risk.