1. Tis the season for sickness. B.D. McClay over at The Hedgehog Review got mono, and while the short term result was a bout of feverish nightmares, excruciatingly painful swallowing, thundering headaches, and seemingly unending fatigue, the long term result was this marvelous essay: “The Ills That Flesh Is Heir to.” Her essay is a deep dive into the powerlessness of the sick body, the temptations of gnosticism, and the link between vulnerability and love. For all the sick among us, bedridden with the flu or incapacitated by something chronic, McClay’s words are a thinking-person’s balm. A few choice excerpts:

One might know, for instance, that kissing makes one vulnerable to certain diseases. But so does breathing, which, unlike kissing, is not an optional activity. Whenever we undertake a whole host of mundane activities, we are becoming vulnerable to the bodies of other people.

Such vulnerabilities can have desired results: pregnancy, for example, the supreme example of boundary blurring in the human body. It also can mean a cold, smallpox, herpes, or the Spanish flu. There is no vulnerability that does not entail vulnerability to harm. So the sick body is not just a needy and dependent body, unable to help itself. It’s also a dangerous body. In an epidemic, the degree to which human beings are vulnerable to and dependent on one another—not only people they don’t know, but people they never will—is revealed. And people, confronted with their own fragility, do not usually rise to the occasion…

Gregory of Nyssa, one of the early Church Fathers who wrestled with these problems, viewed this question in part through the life and death of his sister, Macrina. When alive, Macrina had refused to have a tumor operated on out of modesty and instead asked her mother to pray for her, which had caused the tumor to vanish, leaving only a scar. After Macrina’s death, her body seemed in some sense transfigured: “Rays of light seemed to shine out from her beauty,” Gregory tells us. But the scar remained, “a reminder…of God’s visitation, as an impetus and cause for constant thanksgiving to God.”

Such a story tells us that we, as individuals, matter to God and will continue to matter. But when the time comes to bury Macrina in the family tomb, the tone changes. Gregory is terrified of having to behold the bodies of his parents, “decomposed and disintegrated and changed into a hideous, repulsive formlessness.” And, indeed, he arranges things in such a manner that he does not have to.

Half-of-a-Gold-Star to all the Thanos Ash Wednesday memes from this week.

2. The #Seculosity hits keep on coming. On the heels of DZ’s roundup last week, the new religion of work continues to be a hot topic. Over at The New Republic, Jonathan Malesic adds Max Weber to the conversation, the writer famous for linking American workaholism with the colonial Puritans. At least, observes Malesic, the Puritans had some spiritual restraint from their total devotion to work.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Citing the English Puritan theologian Richard Baxter, Weber wrote that the systematic drive to produce wealth was meant to be “like a thin cloak which can be thrown off at any time.” You work hard when you need to, but you can stop anytime, for God’s sake or otherwise. Your work doesn’t change who you are. “But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage,” Weber wrote. We ended up stuck with the ethic the Puritans developed, even after we stopped believing in predestination.

For more a bit more on the Protestant Work Ethic, may I commend our own Will McDavid? Here’s a sample of his reflection on Weber and the PWE:

If self-justification is the baseline of fallen humanity, then Weber’s insights cohere perfectly with the psychology of pride or control or performancism. It’s not anti-Calvin at all – Weber appreciated Calvin immensely – but more a lament for how, in the world of theology, you’re kind of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” (ha). That is, even the most formally gracious theologies will be hijacked by the Old Adam’s ego and need for control, and this applies as much to Catholicism or Lutheranism or any other tradition as to Calvinism. 

Contrast all this with the new Swedish art project “Eternal Employment”. The project will pay one lucky person $46K a year to simply clock in and clock out at a Swedish rail station terminal. What they do in between? It’s up to them:

Imagine: For the rest of your life, you are assigned no tasks at work. You can watch movies, read books, work on creative projects or just sleep. In fact, the only thing that you have to do is clock in and out every day. Since the position is permanent, you’ll never need to worry about getting another job again…

The job’s requirements couldn’t be simpler: An employee shows up to the train station each morning and punches the time clock. That, in turn, illuminates an extra bank of fluorescent lights over the platform, letting travelers and commuters know that the otherwise functionless employee is on the job. At the end of the day, the worker returns to clock out, and the lights go off. In between, they can do whatever they want, aside from work at another paying job. They’re not even obligated to stay at the station all day long. They can quit or retire and be replaced by another worker anytime they want; otherwise, their employment is guaranteed for life. No specific qualifications are needed, and the artists overseeing the project assured Atlas Obscura that anyone in the world could apply.

The stock photo referenced below.

3. There are two parts to this next story about hipsters and conformity. The first part is a study out of MIT where one professor tried to mathematically model why and when a counterculture’s style eventually becomes mainstream. To build his algorithm, he used typical hipster fashion as a starting point: beards, beanies, flannel, etc. His result wasn’t surprising:

What Touboul found is that the hipsters ironically end up “synchronizing,” sensing the transition away from a conformist trend at roughly the same time, then abandoning it altogether before starting a new trend — that the mainstreams will inevitably encroach upon again. And so on and so on.

The result: They “conform in their nonconformity,” Touboul wrote…

“Despite (and actually, in response to) their constant efforts, at all times, anticonformists fail being disaligned with the majority,” Touboul wrote. “They actually create the trends they will soon try to escape.”

See also this bit of evergreen goodness from our own Nick Lannon, whose new book is dropping from Mockingbird next week! What made this story weekender worthy was the followup reported in the Washington Post. It turns out one hipster, reading the article, saw himself in the article. Literally, he saw himself in the feature image attached to the article. Here’s his email to the journal:

“You used a heavily edited Getty image of me for your recent bit of clickbait about why hipsters all look the same. It’s a poorly written and insulting article, and — somewhat ironically — about 5 years too late to be as desperately relevant as it is attempting to be, by using a tired cultural trope to try to spruce up an otherwise disturbing study.”

The email concluded with the threat of legal action, arguing that the similarity of style and feature obviously pointed to using his photo without compensation. It turns out, the image was not a photo of the angry email writer, but a Getty stock photo model. A parable of conformity indeed. The whole drama is explained here.

4. More humor headlines for this week: Woman Nervous For Boyfriend To Meet Person She Becomes Around ParentsDevout Atheist Playing ‘Minecraft’ Patiently Waits For Complex Structures To Build Themselves, and This Church Burned To The Ground, But Not A Single VeggieTales VHS Tape Was Touched By The Flames. And even though we’re moving on from Kondo right now, the Onion’s “Fans Shocked After Marie Kondo Reveals She Has Been Dating Untidy Cupboard for Past 6 Months” is the big winner this week:.

More forgiving fans theorized that perhaps the cabinet did indeed at one point spark joy within Kondo, and that she simply may not yet be ready to thank the dilapidated cabinet for its service and toss it aside.

5. While Mbird attempts to keep an editorial stance of affirming the positive rather than highlighting the negative, sometimes it’s worth affirming when someone else highlights the negative. Which is a way of saying that two writeups came to us this week critiquing the writings of Instagram influencer and vaguely Christian lifestyle guru Rachel Hollis, and both of them were helpful. Hollis, author of bestselling self-help book Girl Wash Your Face, and more recently, Girl, Stop Apologizing, writes about her rags-to-riches story and offers a tough-love, harsh bootstrap vision for women to take ownership of their own lives.

First, Laura Turner pens Buzzfeed’s take on the book, which critiques the racial, class, and faith issues in Girl Wash Your Face. This paragraph here gets to one of the book’s root issues:

“You get one and only one chance to live, and life is passing you by,” Hollis writes in the introduction to Girl, Wash Your Face. “Stop beating yourself up, and dang it, stop letting others do it, too.” But anyone reading her book may find it hard to follow that last bit of advice. The trouble with, and the appeal of, curated imperfection is the assumption that all imperfections lie in the past — they have supposedly been understood, integrated, and learned from in order to create a present that is blissfully free from earlier mistakes. And at her worst, Hollis refashions her own (apparently resolved) struggles into astonishingly harsh instruction for other women, under the guise of women’s empowerment and tough love.

Curated imperfection is a great term, the desire to present oneself as just disheveled enough to be relatable but not one iota more. Jen Oshman has a similar take on Hollis’s new book, Girl, Stop Apologizing over at The Gospel Coalition:

I’m here to beg you to reject Hollis’s teaching, because it’s both exhausting and damning. It’s exhausting to believe in ourselves, because that belief is only as good as we are. It will only suffice for as long as we have ample energy and good behavior and right thinking. And we already know that we get tired, we mess up, we fall short. We need more for this life than we’re able to conjure up within. Ironically, believing in yourself will not lead to freedom or wholeness or to the pinnacle of your dreams, but rather to enslavement. Enslavement to self…

Contrary to the message of Girl, Stop Apologizing, becoming the women we were meant to be starts with apologizing. It starts with the humble acknowledgement that we were made by a beautiful and holy God, and that we rebel against him in countless ways every day. It starts with recognizing that Jesus died and rose to rescue us.

We were made to be more than self-made. We are God-made. God-rescued. God-loved. Only as we orient our lives and dreams around him will we experience true and lasting joy.

The Mockingcast team is taking a deep dive into Hollis’s books this week. I believe I overheard the phrase “she is the anti-Lent”.

6. For all the sports fans out there, disgraced Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino is coaching in Greece right now, and this long read from The Ringer is a deep dive into the prodigal son’s foreign sojourn. Writer John Gonzalez catalogs the new and wild world of Greek basketball, where the Panathinaikos club owner is a self-styled Bond villain, the games are played in cages to keep fans from throwing trash at the visiting team, and the club’s main rivalry makes American sports rivalries look like “church league volleyball on a Sunday night.”

Wallace hopes Pitino gets another opportunity stateside but allowed that Pitino’s “accomplishments have been overshadowed by the last few years.” During one of many conversations, I told Pitino I have no idea whether this really is just “a bad break,” as he called it, or if he did the things he’s been accused of doing. He could be complicit or negligent or some combination of both. Either way, the end result is the same. The verdict has been rendered. Whatever Pitino’s sins, real or perceived, this one thing is certain: His banishment has become a weird, wild ride. Pitino didn’t push back on that last point. He listened and nodded and drank his wine.

Come to look at a man approaching rock bottom. Stay for the part where the fans bring emergency flares and fireworks to the games and set them off in the stands.

7. One last Ash Wednesday devotional moment before we sign off from the week. This 2018 Ash Wednesday devotional from our own Sam Bush was highlighted on this week’s Mockingcast. We commend it to you in your observation of a holy Lent.

Ash Wednesday is a bonfire of the vanities. It is where everything you have and everything you are — your accomplishments, your charming disposition, your intellect, your connections, your sin, your anxieties, your shame — your very self! — it’s all burned up by the righteousness of God. Hebrews 12 puts it bluntly: “Our God is a consuming fire.”

And yet, when the flames have subdued, in the soft glow of the embers, one thing remains: God’s promise. It is the only thing that has not turned to ash. It is indestructible. If there’s any doubt in your mind of that, Isaiah 54 explicitly says, “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” God’s promise is stronger than your accomplishments; it is stronger than your sin; it is stronger than you and it is stronger than death. God might not be in the entertainment business, but He is in the business of death and resurrection.