A bit light on the commentary today since the Year in Television ate up most of the daylight–though Lord knows we had plenty to say on an extended episode of The Mockingcast (I forget who we interviewed this time…).

1. First up, a super sweet story of grace that we missed back in October, about a 4-year old and her new best friend, ht JZ.

2. A terrific little essay from Charles Leadbetter in Aeon entitled “Nobody Is Home” on a subject that far too few people are talking about. Longing for “home”, which is often code for childhood, or love, or heaven, or God, is an extremely potent force in human life, a form of sentimental attachment that is distinct from xenophobia but (far too) easy to mistake for it. Plus, displacement and belonging are not exactly foreign to the current season:

The tiny house [phenomenon on the West Coast] is just one example of the lengths to which people will go to create a sense of home even when they lack the means for it. It’s just one symptom of a much wider and intensifying search for belonging, which makes home as important to politics as the idea of class or rights – especially now, when so many people feel displaced, both literally and figuratively, by life in innovation-driven, high-tech, networked capitalism…

The common thread to all these meanings of home is that they provide us with a tethered sense of identity. Home matters so much just now because so many people feel the tether coming loose.

norah-and-mr-dan[Controversial philosopher Martin] Heidegger detested René Descartes’s dictum ‘I think, therefore I am’ which located the search for identity in our brains. There, it was secured by a rational process of thought, detached from a physical world that presented itself to the knowing subject as a puzzle to be solved. Had Heidegger ever come up with a saying to sum up his philosophy it would have been: ‘I dwell, therefore I am.’ For him, identity is bound up with being in the world, which in turn means having a place in it. We don’t live in the abstract space favoured by philosophers, but in a particular place, with specific features and history.

Heidegger’s pessimistic diagnosis of the ills of a restless and rootless modern society, driven by science and technology, is that it systematically robs people of this feeling of being at home in the world. It is set up to deny the very thing we most need for a sense of identity and purpose. For Heidegger, nostalgia – the unrequited longing to return home – is a necessary condition of being modern.

Tensions over the meaning of home will only intensify; if people feel thwarted in finding their place in the world, they can become angry, depressed, defeated and sad.

3. Speaking of life away from home, believe it or not, this year marks the 20th anniversary of Henri Nouwen’s death. Commonweal published a beautiful, thorough tribute by Michael Higgins entitled “Priest, Writer, Mentor, Misfit” . The whole thing is worth your time, but one paragraph that stood out would be:

…the richly faceted dimensions of Henri Nouwen, a Pierrot-like figure with many masks: a solo artist and yet needy companion; a man born for the stage and yet deeply unsure of his own authenticity; a marvel and a misfit; a Joseph with a many-colored dreamcoat. In his ability to turn personal vulnerability into spiritual exploration lies the broad appeal his writing made—and continues to make—to his devoted readers. Nouwen addressed other people’s pain by nakedly sharing his own; he spoke of our “woundedness” because he knew what that meant in very personal and even visceral terms. Whether counseling students, attending to the sick and the dying, or comforting the despairing, Nouwen drew from the well of his own anguish. He saw in his own pain a conduit of grace, a generative source of compassion and ground of human solidarity, an opening to heal others.

4. Christianity Today just named Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion their Book of the Year, a choice with which we heartily concur. In fact, it feels like as good an occasion as any to announce that Fleming will be one of the keynote speakers at the 10th Anniversary Mbird Conference in New York (4/27-29)! They’ve reprinted an excerpt of the book on their site, under the heading “The Wrath the World Needs”–an appropriate reading in a week when the horrific images being transmitted out of Aleppo continue to brand themselves on our minds and hearts.

It makes many people queasy nowadays to talk about the wrath of God, but there can be no turning away from this prominent biblical theme. Oppressed peoples from around the world have been empowered by the scriptural picture of a God who is angered by injustice and unrighteousness…

[The wrath of God] is not an emotion; it is God’s righteous activity in setting right what is wrong. It is God’s intervention on behalf of those who cannot help themselves.

No one could have imagined, however, that he would ultimately intervene by interposing himself. By becoming one of the poor who was deprived of his rights, by dying as one of those robbed of justice, God’s Son submitted to the utmost extremity of his humiliation, entering into total solidarity with those who are without help…

Even more astonishingly, however, he underwent helplessness and humiliation not only for the victimized but also for the perpetrators. Who would have thought that the same God who passed judgment, calling down woe upon the religious establishment (Matt. 23; Luke 11), would come under his own judgment and woe? This is a shockingly immoral and unreligious idea; the crucifixion reveals God placing himself under his own sentence. The wrath of God has lodged in God’s own self. Perfect justice is wrought in the self-offering of the Son, who alone of all human beings was perfectly righteous. Therefore no one, neither victim nor victimizer, can claim any exemption from judgment on one’s own merits, but only on the merits of the Son.


5. Amen to that. Of course, I can’t help but think of the headline over at the Babylon Bee this week, “Local Family Inadvertently Prints Imprecatory Psalm On Christmas Cards” (above). Also in humor, they ran “Arminian Feeling Pretty Saved Today”, which gave me a chuckle. Meanwhile, The Onion gave us “Universe Feels Zero Connection To Guy Tripping On Mushrooms”.

6. Next, for The Atlantic, Julie Beck provided a timely refresher on Jonathan Haidt’s work, for the sake of Understanding America’s Moral Divides:

Haidt’s work identifies six different moral metrics—liberty, fairness, loyalty, authority, care, and purity. Different groups and cultures prefer to emphasize these domains to different degrees. For example… people who live in countries where there has historically been higher prevalence of disease also place a higher value on purity, as well as loyalty and authority. In the United States, liberals tend to focus mostly on care, fairness, and liberty, while conservatives generally emphasize all six domains.

men_s-happy-birthday-jesus-christmas-sweater_2As ingroups become larger and more depersonalized, the institutions, rules, and customs that maintain ingroup loyalty and cooperation take on the character of moral authority… When the moral order is seen as absolute rather than relative, moral superiority is incompatible with tolerance for difference. “Different” gets coded as “immoral,” and that’s where the trouble begins. This intolerance can manifest as contempt, segregation, and avoidance.

When an issue is moralized for someone… they care more about getting the “right” outcome than how it is achieved… If the system comes to the morally wrong answer, it’s taken as a sign that the system is broken.

Once difference gets coded as “immoral,” the tension is nigh impossible to defuse. Or at least, research has yet to find a way. “I don’t know how one undoes it, once this moralizing of difference has happened.” [One expert] says. “Other than, you know, a Martian invasion. Something more different comes along that makes you realize you have some similarities.”

Something like, I dunno, a star appearing in the East…

7. Dovetails nicely into Elly Vintiadis blogpost “The Irrationality Within Us” on Scientific American, which delves into the philosophical side of what Haidt studies from a socio-psychological vantage point, teasing out a few of the (radical yet) practical implications:

After decades of research, there is compelling evidence that we are not as rational as we think we are… Most people’s financial decision-making and eating habits fall short of rationality, in the sense that our intentions and our behavior are often not in agreement. We also – and practically everyone is included in this – routinely have inconsistent beliefs and preferences and we habitually make mistakes in reasoning.

[Philosopher] Lisa Bortolotti has offered evidence that though we tend to rationalize our decisions after we have made them, we do not make choices primarily by rational deliberation. Instead, most of our decision-making involves emotions and intuition and, often, these processes lead to better results than those achieved by reasoning through our choices…

Given what we currently know, our persistent belief that we are primarily rational could itself be an irrational belief.


8. Social Science Study Observation of the Week: “Status Anxiety About Happiness Is a Dumb American Habit”, once again, via America the Anxious, Ruth Whippman’s terrific new book in which she reports about life as a British ex-pat on the West Coast. Great shoutout to Alain de Botton in there too:

…there was a “real anxiety about being as happy as you could be.” This looks like a sunny, Californian equivalent of what economists call the “local ladder effect” in earnings: i.e. having a higher salary won’t make you happier, but making more money than your friends will. In the America that Whippman sees, to be happy is to be happier than one’s peers. What Whippman is criticizing is happiness — or perhaps more precisely, wellness — as status symbol…

9. Finally, the inestimable Patti Smith shared a beautiful testimony of strength in weakness on The New Yorker site, relating her experience last week singing/flubbing Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” at the Nobel Prize ceremony.

“When I arose the next morning, it was snowing. In the breakfast room, I was greeted by many of the Nobel scientists. They showed appreciation for my very public struggle. They told me I did a good job. I wish I would have done better, I said. No, no, they replied, none of us wish that. For us, your performance seemed a metaphor for our own struggles. Words of kindness continued through the day, and in the end I had to come to terms with the truer nature of my duty. Why do we commit our work? Why do we perform? It is above all for the entertainment and transformation of the people. It is all for them. The song asked for nothing. The creator of the song asked for nothing. So why should I ask for anything?”

– Great little profile in The Pacific Standard, “The Night Minister: On the Streets of the Tenderloin With Father Lyle Beckman
– Tom Wolfe on The Faith of John Glenn
Always remember that A Charlie Brown Christmas nearly didn’t happen.
Victorian Christmas Cards were creepy.