1. Wow, if there was a subcategory for stories like this first one, I’d have to call it, “Weird Stories of Forgiveness.” Weird and weirdly beautiful. It starts with a 62-year-old woman named Maria Grette who, after a nasty divorce and some prodding from her friends, created an online dating profile. She made contact with a romantic 58-year-old Danish man who was in fact a 24-year-old Nigerian “scammer,” who, in time, tricked her into wiring him money. A few thousand Euros later, she realized something was amiss.

Three weeks after her silence, he called her and confessed. He told her that he was not who she thought he was. “I said I already knew that. I asked him to tell me his true identity and he did.” He was a 24-year-old Nigerian “419” scammer. He had finished university two years earlier but had no job. These kind of advance fee frauds are known as 419 scams in Nigeria after the section of the Criminal Code which covers fraud.

He further described himself as a “devil” who had wronged “a lovely woman”…From this point on, their communication took a new turn. There were no further requests for cash…

In October 2009, Ms Grette travelled to Africa for the first time in her life. “When I saw him at the airport in Abuja, tears fell over his face, and I knew I had known him all my life.”

Ms Grette described her two weeks in Nigeria as blissful, a period during which she and Johnny succeeded in transforming their romantic feelings for each other into a good friendship.

She met his friends, many of whom were also scammers. It was while enjoying their company one night in a local bar that she began to wonder how she could make a difference…

“Johnny has given me more than he took,” she said, “Without him, I would not have met Africa…He is very dear to me…He has asked me so many times to forgive him and I told him that the most important thing is to forgive himself.”

2. Speaking of the strange new land of modern romance, no one said navigating it would be easy…Especially not Moira Weigel and Emily Witt, the two writers reviewed in Judith Shulevitz’s article, Why Is Dating in the App Era Such Hard Work?, from The Atlantic.

Shulevitz pivots nicely around alarmism and goes on to highlight a strange paradox: Despite our society’s increasing preoccupation with personal liberation and sexual freedom, the current dating scene, for so many people, isn’t very fun.

If you’re one of the many who have used an online dating service (among those “single and looking,” more than a third have), you know how quickly dating devolves into work. Tinder’s creators modeled their app on playing cards so it would seem more like a game than services like OkCupid, which put more emphasis on creating a detailed profile. But vetting and being vetted by so many strangers still takes time and concerted attention. Like any other freelance operator, you have to develop and protect your brand. At its worst, as Moira Weigel observes in her recent book, Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating, dating is like a “precarious form of contemporary labor: an unpaid internship. You cannot be sure where things are heading, but you try to gain experience. If you look sharp, you might get a free lunch.” In Future Sex, another new examination of contemporary sexual mores, Emily Witt is even more plaintive. “I had not sought so much choice for myself,” she writes, “and when I found myself with total sexual freedom, I was unhappy.”


Shulevitz compares and contrasts the two writers’ experiences: Weigel traces the development of modern dating, critiquing it, while Witt goes the more experiential route–embracing the somewhat popularized pursuit of sexual freedom (Burning Man, Tinder, etc). Witt’s reported experiences are pretty graphic, and her lack of joy is telling. Shulevitz concludes:

I hope I don’t sound like an alarmed old fogy when I say that the lessons Witt takes away from her journey aren’t very comforting…Marriage could be downgraded to a joint custodial venture for the raising of children. We could practice “the emotional management of multiple concurrent relationships.” That doesn’t sound fulfilling; it sounds exhausting…

Weigel, by contrast, doesn’t give up on the quest for lasting affection…Her advice for today’s daters is to embrace the fact that dating is indeed a transaction, that it involves work. Only then can they focus on making the change that counts: approaching romance not as a consumer but as a would-be producer. What would they produce? Care.

More than give dating advice, Shulevitz has set up a dichotomy of perspectives, which may, with some theological stretching, be construed as a theology of glory and a theology of the cross. One pursues what the world should offer and one identifies what the world actually offers. One yearns for sexual liberation, one admits that relationships are tough.

In the end, admitting that dating is work might be the first step to it feeling, for once, like play.


3. On the topic of work v. play, The NY Times published a write-up on Mike Lanza’s Silicon Valley “playborhood”–one entrepreneur’s attempt at getting kids to play outside “again”. Frankly there’s a lot to not like about Mike Lanza—his over-manufactured wonderland, his perpetual glass of wine, his insistence on the healthy nature of “boyish aggression”…and you really can’t shake the sneaking suspicion that his amusement park of a backyard is just another way of staying ahead of the pack. (Purely speculation.)

But the one really magical thing about him is that he lets his kids play.

“What strikes me is that there is this extraordinary level of anxiety,” Mike told me. “Parents don’t have fundamental faith in their offspring…one of the biggest problems we have in American society is that children don’t have enough freedom” — children thrive on benign neglect. “Look, there is always a power struggle between children and adults,” he says. “One way to see the present is that the children have been decimated. It’s not good for children that adults have so much control over them.”…

“I want to trust them,” he replied. “I’m O.K. with things happening that I don’t want to happen. My oxygen is when my kids are having fun…It’s a constant struggle for me, but I feel I am reaching a higher level of parenting if I can honestly trust them. And I believe they care about keeping my trust.”

He may seem careless and self-congratulatory but the brilliance of the playborhood is that Lanza actually he gains control by letting it go–he gains his kids’ trusts, and his own trust of them, by letting them be by themselves and play. This isn’t passive aggressive parenting; it strikes me as more like “left-handed power.”


4. Here is a wonderful short article by Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby: Why I Love the Arnolfi Portrait, One of Art History’s Greatest Riddles. (In it, I caught a whiff of Mallory Ortberg’s art commentaries from The Toast…RIP). Gadsby discusses one of history’s most significant commentaries on The Arnolfi Portrait:

Panofsky argued, very persuasively, that this portrait was not just a work of art, it was also a legal document – the wedding certificate, as it were, of the couple in the painting…

Panofsky did such a thorough job and with it he ushered in a new era of art history. He suggested the world was both knowable and solvable. But here’s the snag: in 1990 a document came to light that certified the wedding of Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami occurred in 1447, 13 years after the portrait was painted and six years after the artist had died.

Panofsky’s once-robust theory began to unravel like a ball of string surrounded by a litter of kittens with opposable thumbs. Since then, nobody has been able to come up with a satisfying reading of this painting.

I felt quite sad and foolish when I first found out that Panofsky’s knowable little world had fallen apart. But eventually, I was relieved. Art history has moved beyond the reach of Panofsky. A man of his time, he approached art from a fixed perspective – one that was only ever accessible to the white European elite of the male variety. To assume that a work of art has singular meaning is as arrogant as assuming that every person experiences the world in the same way as you.

I was relieved in the same way I was when I first found out about the Santa Claus conspiracy. Finally, I was able to understand why some kids could starve to death and why I never got a bike.

I include this in our weekender not to advocate for relativism but as a simple rejoinder to the idea that the world is “solvable”—that everything including art may be “figured out” if we speak convincingly enough. And, even though we try to find it on our own, the truth, like Giovanni and Giovanna’s wedding certificate, will find us.

5. This letter from George H.W. Bush has been floating around the Internet, and we couldn’t not repost it here. Grace in politics seems…so, so rare.


6. This one is really funny, from The Babylon Bee, “Local Man Receives Rare Spiritual Gift Of Critical Emailing“:

KANSAS CITY, MO—While every Christian has a unique blend of God-given, supernatural gifts, some believers are able to discern what their gifting is much more quickly than others. Such is the case with local man Nathan Byers, a recent convert who immediately discovered that he has an uncanny, “Spirit-breathed” ability to offer scathing critical rebukes of others via email, sources confirmed Wednesday.

Byers’ gifting was reportedly confirmed by his local church Sunday afternoon, as he fired off a holy email blast scolding the pastor for everything from the song selection, which was “too modern,” to the sermon, which was “too stuffy.”

“Byers is a real blessing to our church,” his pastor told reporters. “It’s so encouraging to see a young man with a real passion for using his spiritual gift to really berate other people from a distance via electronic communication, for any minor disagreement or difference.”

The pastor also reported that Byers’ gift was utilized no less than fifteen times throughout the remainder of the week, as the Lord called to mind other extremely minor issues he needed to crusade against via sacred digital missives.

“I’m not looking for any recognition or fame,” Byers said via email. “I’m just humbly using the gift that the Spirit graciously gave me to let others know that my way of doing things is best.”

7. Here’s a not-too-surprising statistic from Science of Us: More than half of Americans don’t take advantage of their paid vacations:

The above video suggests that it could be employers’ faults for sending mixed messages about whether or not their employees should take advantage of their paid work days. Alternatively, it could be because we love to self-justify with the facade of hard work; we would rather be seen running than snoozing.