1. Adam Grant wrote an op-ed this week in the New York Times about the question thrown at seven year olds everywhere: What do you want to be when you grow up? Grant, who is an “organizational psychologist,” believes that the question should be thrown out, not because no child could possibly know what they want to be, but because it initiates the painful and lifelong philosophy that “I am what I do.”

When you’re asked what you want to be when you grow up, it’s not socially acceptable to say, “A father,” or, “A mother,” let alone, “A person of integrity.” This might be one of the reasons many parents say their most important value for their children is to care about others, yet their kids believe that top value is success. When we define ourselves by our jobs, our worth depends on what we achieve.

Of course, this is only one question immersed in an entire cultural soup of performancism, and if a child isn’t asked this question by his or her parents, they will be asked this question (directly or indirectly) by their guidance counselors, their admissions forms, their teachers, their coaches, their friends, and their media. Achievement is America’s philosophical cotton, the fabric of our lives, which exposes another problem with this question, the fact that it assumes that achieving it equals fulfillment. Such high expectations, Grant warns, sets children up for massive disappointment:

Careers rarely live up to your childhood dreams. In one study, looking for the ideal job left college seniors feeling more anxious, stressed, overwhelmed and depressed throughout the process — and less satisfied with the outcome. As Tim Urban writes, happiness is reality minus expectations. If you’re looking for bliss, you’re bound to be disappointed. This explains research showing that people who graduate from college during a recession are more satisfied with their work three decades later: They don’t take it for granted that they have a job.

The upside of low expectations is that they erase the gap between what we wanted and what we got. Extensive evidence shows that instead of painting a rosy picture of a job, you’re better off going in with a realistic preview of what it’s really like, warts and all.

2. Stephen Freeman would say (and we would say) that this is not only the case with vocational pursuits, or with children, but with each of us in our own relational, moral and spiritual lives. In a post he wrote this week he discusses how we moderns are obsessed with the language of ascent. Even in the church, in a time as somber as Lent, we are masterful at “climbing ladders.”

Modernity likes ladders. We like the idea of upward mobility, of continuing improvement, of moral progress. We speak of “career ladders” and the “ladder of success.”  It is the myth of personal power…a story told to individuals that they can now become whatever they want. Freedom and personal industry are the twin rails supporting the rungs of progress. As a philosophy, this idea and its associated notions are the bedrock of free-market capitalism.  As theology, it is the foundation for self-help Christianity and the positive, motivational preaching of contemporary religion. “Be all that you can be, and Jesus can help!”

The ladder to Christ, though, as Freeman illustrates is not one which moves upward but downward. It takes our foregone delusions of righteousness, and walks us down, rung by rung, towards the reality of our need. This is why, Freeman claims, the Christian response to the grace of God is humility rather than glory. Following Christ, then, means following him to the bottom of the pit.

God does not meet us in the middle. He meets us at the bottom and asks us to meet Him there as well…It is within that place that true humility is born. Judgment ceases.

Modernity loves excellence. The moral improvement pitches of the motivational preachers love the drive for excellence. Our bosses and the owners demand that we strive for excellence. God is not our boss, nor does He place us in His debt (“freely you have received”). The constant nagging voice demanding improvement and excellence is not the voice of God. It is often nothing more than the neurotic echo of modernity sounding in our brains. It drives us with the threat of shame. However, Christ has trampled down shame by shame and invites us to do the same thing. “You cannot escape shame except by shame.”

3. Who are we kidding, though? It wasn’t like Jesus really knew the bottom, right?! He was the son of the Most High! He was blazoned with glory, even in the pit! Which is why I’m glad this news source finally got the facts straight: “Report Reveals Jesus Christ May Have Benefited From Father’s Influential Position To Gain High-Powered Role As Lord And Savior.”

“The selection of Jesus to become the Messiah appears to be a clear-cut case of nepotism,” said noted theologian and report co-author Philip Baxter, who remarked that in first-century Judea, it was widely believed John the Baptist was the frontrunner to sit at the right hand of the Father. “Until the age of 30, Christ’s only employment had been as a laborer with His stepfather’s woodworking business. So we must ask: How does someone with no background in management suddenly get put in charge of a 12-apostle team? And how exactly does a person with no prior experience as a monarch get appointed King of Kings?

4. It’s March Madness (in April), and the Final Four is set. It is the University of Virginia’s first trip to the Final Four in nearly 40 years, which means that Charlottesville is exuberant. Most of that, though, has to do with the fact that Virginia suffered the most historic loss in tournament history last year, and this year has been something of a redemption run. (If you’re not up on college hoops, Virginia was the overall #1 seed in last year’s tournament, and lost their first game to the UMBC Retrievers, the overall worst seed in last year’s tournament. That had never happened before in college basketball history.) Head coach Tony Bennett has spoken time again about how such a humiliating loss was, in ways, a gift, if you can learn to see it that way (see the Freeman article above).

But even more impressive was this article that came out this week about Ryan Odom, head coach of the UMBC Retrievers, the tiny school that knocked off UVA last year, genuinely reveling in Virginia’s championship run. And not for any old reason: After last year’s loss, UVA point guard Kyle Guy publicly spoke out about his struggles with anxiety and mental illness, and the hope that he found in moving through such a looming loss. Odom heard about Guy’s statement, and immediately thought of his own son, Connor, who had recently been struggling with anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. Odom wrote a handwritten letter to Guy, applauding his courage:

“Class act,” Guy said of Odom. “He’s a high-character guy. … I was skeptical at first getting a letter from (UMBC), but it was great.”

“What a brave guy to be able to put his business out there for everyone to hear,” Odom said, “to share his story … and hopefully help someone else. … I think hope is the word that I would use. You’re providing somebody else that is really struggling – there’s another Kyle Guy out there, there’s another Connor Odom out there, that’s really struggling. You never know, you might provide that youngster with some hope that he needs at that particular time, and you don’t even know you’re doing it.”

…Odom will be in Minneapolis this week at the Final Four, rooting for Guy and Virginia to win the program’s first national championship. Many UMBC faithful have boarded the Cavaliers’ train, and the Retrievers’ clever Twitter account toasted them late Saturday night.

“To see them experiencing their own joy right now,” Ryan Odom said, “it’s not just cool for me to watch, it’s cool for the country to watch it. … What a story, what a tremendous story.”

5. The Atlantic published an article by W. Bradford Wilcox and Lyman Stone of the Institute for Family Science, about the sex recession in America and its connection with the American search for happiness, both of which have reached record lows. Wilcox and Stone argue that the two are related, and that they are also related with certain trends in the lives of young adults, including social lives, religious affiliation, and relationship status. The results are startling.

And speaking of religions and their replacements, DZ has taken to Birmingham and Tyler to begin his #seculosity tour. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by! Here’s a nice review that came out this week from YCWI:

What if church is the one place left where we could be not-enough, where we could let go of the struggle and let God meet us and love us right where we are? What if it could be a place where we as communities of faith could meet each other in the messiness and brokenness of our actual lives instead of the curated versions we’d rather show the world? How might we be transformed, as individuals, and as a society if church could be that?

6. Super interesting piece from Slate about the nature of neverending conversations in the age of texting. Jane Hu writes about how “ttyl,” “ttfn,” “g2g,” are all relics of an old conversational style, one that closes the loop. Today, instead, we live in the subtly anxious space of never being done with a conversation, always waiting for/wondering about response times, and always being vulnerable to the expectations of another.

Giovanna Mascheroni, a media sociologist at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, has studied how teens negotiate the “perpetual contact” our phones have created. In a 2016 study, many respondents say they read into a lack of response. It’s especially confusing when your conversational medium tells you if someone is currently online, or has already read your messages, like the “read” labels in iMessage, the green dot by your name in Slack, or the blue tick mark on WhatsApp messages. “When WhatsApp introduced the blue tick [that shows when you’re online], that introduced a lot of anxiety,” she says. “[Teens] felt they had to reply in real time, and when they saw the other person reading the text but being very slow in replying, that created anxiety—especially if they were experimenting with romantic relationships.”

7. Virtue signaling is a buzzword, one that is often used to undermine a reaction to an issue of real moral concern for another party. But this New York Times op-ed talks about how there’s no such thing as moral indignation that’s not also based in self-righteousness.

And as a case in point: Patagonia has decided not to “co-brand” its power fleece vests with investment banks anymore! (ht MP)

8. Let’s close with an obit for the ages. R.I.P. Tim Schrandt, who “made his last inappropriate comment March 29, 2019.”

A common line in obituaries is “He never met a stranger”, in Tim’s case he never met a rule he couldn’t break, a boundary he couldn’t push, a line he couldn’t cross and a story he couldn’t stretch. Another common obituary phrase is “He’d give the shirt off his back”, well Tim was prepared to do that, and he could do it quickly, because he always wore his shirts unbuttoned ¾ the way down. Tim was anything but common!

Despite his crusty exterior, cutting remarks and stubbornness, there is actual evidence that he was a loving, giving and caring person. That evidence is the deep sorrow and pain in our hearts that his family feels from his passing. Tim led a good life and had a peaceful death – but the transition was a bitch. And for the record, he did not lose his battle with cancer. When he died, the cancer died, so technically it was a tie! He was ready to meet his Maker, we’re just not sure “The Maker” is ready to meet Tim. Good luck God!

We are considering establishing a Go-Fund-Me account for G. Heileman Brewing Co., the brewers of Old Style beer, as we anticipate they are about to experience significant hardship as a result of the loss of Tim”s business. Keep them in your thoughts.