Another Week Ends

1. First up, the incredibly moving TED talk above, in which Aaron Stark describes what […]

David Zahl / 8.24.18

1. First up, the incredibly moving TED talk above, in which Aaron Stark describes what led him to consider perpetrating a school shooting–and what prevented him from going through with it. It’s well worth the seven minutes. And the phrase “treat you like a Tuesday” may be my favorite new euphemism for grace. Just beautiful.

2.  On the opposite end of the law-grace spectrum, Jana McGregor at The Washington Post followed up Tesla/SpaceX’s honcho Elon Musk’s latest public cry for help interview with a terrific article on workaholism and the ever-expanding cult of productivity. Musk didn’t start the fire, of course, but man if he hasn’t become its poster boy. I feel for the guy. See Also: Elon Musk Is Making Me Sad (and Him, too). McGregor writes:

Describing his past year as “excruciating,” acknowledging it has “come at the expense of seeing my kids” and admitting to using Ambien to help him sleep, Musk’s emotional interview laid bare in surprisingly vulnerable terms the effects of his all-consuming work… Yet the 47-year-old entrepreneur’s bruising hours somehow remain an idealized conception of what executives might be capable of if they just knew how to squeeze every bit of productivity out of their bodies and their time, experts say.

Gianpiero Petriglieri, a professor at INSEAD’s business school who directs its executive education program, [commented] “He’s the symbol of a workplace culture in which we long for a very personal, even romantic relationship with work” — even if that means it becomes all-consuming.

Even executives who do value getting more sleep, he said, often do so today not merely as a way to be healthy but because they view it as elite athletes might: as a way of improving their productivity. Even sleep gets co-opted as a performance technique,” he said.

Let’s not forget Failure! As The NY Times Magazine reminded us earlier this week, it now serves in the House of Almighty Performance as well, #SECULOSITY.

3. While we’re on the subject of pathological performancism, there’s Harvard Business Review’s How Self-Care Became so Much Work, which pretty much speaks for itself.

We are approaching the pursuit of work-life balance with the same obsessive (and oppressive) energy as we do our careers. Although the American Psychiatric Association reports that 39% of U.S. adults feel more anxious than they did a year ago, we continue to glamorize being overworked, busy, and stressed. Numerous studies support this — for example, the Journal of Consumer Research has published research showing that Americans associate busyness and stress with prestige and status. This might explain why counting our steps and recording our exhales are satisfying ways to measure the success of our self-care routine once we leave the office. But in this context, our high anxiety becomes just another thing to “work on.”…

Check it out: a bunny with sunglasses!

Even now, our attempts to exert control on our bodies and minds remain underpinned by a moral charge. Yet what’s different in today’s world of solutionism and tech is that prioritizing self-care — specifically with the aid of consumer goods like wellness apps and health food — is not just a testament to one’s self-discipline or moral virtue. It is an emblem of success and cultural know-how.

In other words, self-care has taken off as a hashtag not only because we are all so battered and exhausted by the pace of modern life (which we are–see Strays), but because of how deftly the phenomenon combines indulgence with self-justification, a way to signal your success while enhancing it. Or something like that.

4.The Catholic Church Needs Mothers,” writes our own Sarah Condon over at The Living Church in a wise and trenchant piece on the unspeakable awfulness coming to light in Pennsylvania. After you’ve taken a moment to absorb–and are ready for a pick-me-up–be sure to check out their glowing review of Churchy. Bravo x 100!

Grace abounds in this book. Condon’s willingness to share her brokenness and need for Christ through recounting of her life experience is what drives this book. She traces grace at work, reinforcing that this miracle happens in so many little and unexpected ways, and often despite our best intentions.

5. Humor: The New Yorker’s “I’m Taking a Break from Social Media” takes a good joke and makes it better. The Babylon Bee’s “Presbyterian Pool Party Just Lawn With Sprinkler” doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its headline but thankfully Hard Times does us all a favor by explaining “Why the Radical Left Is Terrified of How Afraid the Far Right Is That Antifa Nazi Libertarians Are Winning the War of Clicking on This Article.” And McSweeney’s hit a couple homers with “What to Do If You’re Caught Trying” and “I Am the Universe, and Humans Are Correctly Interpreting My Signs”:

Trisha really should not exercise this morning. If she does, death will befall her entire family. How do I let her know that this morning she absolutely must skip the gym? I know — I’ll send a very light drizzle of rain lasting no more than seven minutes. That’ll keep her in bed!

6. Over at The Atlantic, Alena Samuels explores “how online shopping and cheap prices are turning Americans into hoarders” along the way, hinting at the aspirations and self-justifications informing our relationship to Stuff. One of these days I’d like to attempt a piece about shopping choices/habits and the deep wells of emotion (e.g., guilt, defensiveness and resentment) they unleash between people, especially in a marriage. Talk about scorekeeping! For the time being, a few stats to ponder:

All told, “we are all accumulating mountains of things,” said Mark A. Cohen, the director of retail studies at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business…The number of self-storage units is rapidly increasing, too: There are around 52,000 such facilities nationally; two decades ago, there were half that number…The 16,000 students who live in dorms at Michigan State University left behind 147,946 pounds of goods like clothing, towels, and appliances when they moved out this year, a 40 percent increase from 2016, according to Kat Cooper, a spokeswoman.

The internet has also made it easier to recycle some of the stuff Americans buy and no longer want. Online consignment shops like thredUP and Poshmark help people buy and sell clothes from their closets. But the ability to easily get rid of stuff may be making people feel a little better about buying things they don’t need, and motivating them to buy even more.

7. In music, do my eyes deceive me? Has Steve Perry really released his first new music in 24 years?! While the man’s voice sounds, understandably, a bit more worn than we last heard it, “No Erasin'” scratches the Journey itch with vigor, praise God. The interview he gave to Q104 (below) touches on the reasons for his silence, which touch on a number of our favorite themes (death-resurrection, works righteousness, etc). Speaking of those we were tempted to count out, the first songs off Elvis Costello’s new album bode extremely well. I’ve had “Under Lime” on repeat, along with Suede’s fantastic new single “Life Is Golden.” Oh and those looking for something more on Aretha, the best thing I’ve ever come across, book-wise, is Aaron Cohen’s marvelous little 33 1/3 book on her Amazing Grace record/concert. Last but not least, our friend Nathan Colberg has a new record out, Silo, bursting with gorgeous melodies, piano-driven uplift and the sort of spiritual pleading that you wish Chris Martin would/could still write, albeit with a voice all his own. Bravo, Nathan!


  • On the Christian Century podcast, Fleming Rutledge reads “Divine Absence and the Light Inaccessible”, taken from her forthcoming book on Advent. Over on Give and Take, Scott Jones spoke with Michele Margolis about her work on the flip-flopped relationship between politics and religion (the former now dictating the latter, rather than vice versa). It’s a fascinating discussion. Great recent episode, too, with Alan Noble author of the new book, Disruptive Witness.
  • Writing in The NY Times to unpack why “Why Prosperity Has Increased but Happiness Has Not” Jonathan Rauch drops this doozie: “Although moral philosophers may wish Homo sapiens were wired more rationally, we humans are walking, talking status meters, constantly judging our worth and social standing by comparing ourselves with others today and with our own prior selves.” Which reminds me, these weekenders used to have a lot more meat in them, no?
  • New episode of The Mockingcast up now! In which Sarah, RJ and Dave interpret the signs, buy too much stuff and visit a cancer ward. Also, Sarah wonders what Mother Mary is thinking right now. Oh and apologies for the fidelity of my voice on this one – the tech demons really did their worst (but should be exorcised next episode).
  • Finally, our own Duo Dickinson traced the Puritan history of New England’s greens (not parks!), and the curious light that sheds on the sadness that unfolded in his town last week, “Tragedy on the New Haven Green.” The final few paragraphs are stunning.