1. Whosoever is planning a summer vacation should note the following strategy from writer Olga Khazan: “I once made my boyfriend pay me for the hours I spent booking flights and hotels for our vacation.” That’s either evil or brilliant (or tragic); in any case, I’m very impressed! In context, Khazan is investigating “work-life balance” and the propensity for work to overwhelm everything, even vacation. Relaxing gets taxing and “balance” becomes an elusive ideal ever strived-for. Some bizarre work environments perpetuate this — “creative professions” — but you don’t have to live in Silicon Valley to have gotten at least a taste of the following:

“…the conventional definition of work-life balance is doing equal things in equal proportion,” [author Brad Stulberg] said. I need to be the perfect husband or wife; I should exercise; I should go to happy hour.”

For people who work a lot of hours, even trying to achieve work-life balance can be a source of imbalance itself. [Or can be, as Kazan writes elsewhere, “exhausting.”] (Several years ago, I took up baking in an attempt to gain work-life balance, then realized I was usually too tired to bake after a 12-hour workday. Now I hate baking.)

Whether baking, resting, meditating, or just setting aside some time to sit on a rock near a babbling brook (as you do), R&R so easily becomes a tiresome barricade, or worse, fuel for productivity; either way, work has this amazing ability to retain the center of attention. Extricating oneself can seem impossible, so Khazan offers that “the best way to achieve balance might just be giving yourself permission not to have it.” That’s almost relieving yet also, I think, very depressing! To some extent anyway. I’m reminded for some reason of St. Paul who wrung out his agony with infamous words: “I do not understand my own actions… Who will rescue me from this body of death?” And his answer, now more than ever, comes like a cool island breeze.

2. Overworked, overwhelmed…these are the feelings that may have led a group of nonreligious millennial activists to seek asylum, and also cheap housing, at a convent in the Bay Area (h/t CB). In a wonderful write-up for the New York Times, Nellie Bowles describes Nuns and Nones, the initiative that pairs two unlikely demographics in a very weird experiment. There’s a lot to be surprised by — and to celebrate — including the brief mending of a generational gap, evidenced by the following haiku by Sister Janet Rozzano, age 81: “Eek. What will I say? / I’m too old for millennials. / Surprise, we’re soul mates!”

Many of the elderly sisters were drawn to the convent for reasons similar to their younger counterparts. Traditional marriage seemed too…traditional. Also, there was justice to be served, and work to be done. Eventually, however, you can’t help noticing how they are talking past one another:

The sisters began to see that the millennials wanted a road map for life and ritual, rather than a belief system. On one of the first nights, Sister Judy Carle said, one of the young people casually asked the sisters, “So, what’s your spiritual practice?”

“That’s the first question, not, ‘What do you believe?’” she said, noting that throughout history, the specifics of belief were so important that people fought wars about it.… One young woman wanted ritual so much that she started going to Mass every morning.

Ritual and structure are important things offered by religion and religious law. But they are not the main thing. With a warranted skepticism toward her own generation, Bowles proceeds: “It’s hard to adopt practices that stem from vows without belief — hard to do a Cliff’s Notes version of 60 years in a convent.” Wading through their humorous verbiage — recasting Catholicism as a “spiritual practice” and obedience as “a dialogue” — Bowles approaches the heart of the matter. The nuns, she says, seem less concerned with imbuing social virtue or prolonging the life of their institution than with proffering their namesake:

What worries them most is who will inherit their charism — the great spiritual gift their order brings. For the Sisters of Mercy, that gift is, naturally, mercy.

Following a similar arc, Anne Kennedy, at Patheos, shared some compelling thoughts on grace and expectation, justice and human nature, in the era of widespread public accountability. Discussing recent allegations about MLK, Kennedy argues “the problem with everything” is that all humans are, well, human.

…we oughtn’t to demand great purity from each other. We ought to find ways to forgive and rectify injustice that leans heavily on mercy. Because we cannot be just. The roots of badness are intertwined so completely around goodness that we cannot perfectly and satisfactorily disentangle them — not as we know they ought to be — in the clear light of day. Only Jesus can do that.

3. In reckoning ‘this present age’ as one where information moves fast and ‘moral emotion’ even faster, Cass Sunstein argues, “We need a word for destructive group outrage.” There is no concise language, he says, to describe the increasingly prevalent phenomenon of what happens when an [often virtual] crowd or group channels disproportionate outrage to some public figure’s transgression, “real or imagined.” Sunstein burnishes an ancient term: “lapidation”, aka stoning.

In ancient times, people were lapidated for adultery and idolatry. Like its old namesake, contemporary lapidation typically occurs when a person or institution has violated a taboo. Lapidators operate as a kind of private police force, enforcing some moral commitment that (in their view) is at risk. […]

When people lapidate, they think that they are achieving something important. Maybe they are; maybe they aren’t. […] True, lapidators may succeed in ruining a reputation or forcing a resignation. That may be justified and important, even essential.

Also achieved, at least much of the time, is the similarly ancient scapegoating, the funneling of collective anger on to one person/thing, often undeservedly. The lapidator is filled with a justifying energy, is morally elevated above, at least, the punished party. Sunstein concludes:

We shouldn’t lapidate lapidators. But we might remind them of the words of a great opponent of lapidation: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”

I’m reminded of the fire-and-brimstone preacher referenced in Jason Micheli’s wonderful sermon (from last week, “God in the Hands of Angry Sinners”) to whom this reminder is given: “The Judge has been judged in our place,” Micheli says. “It’s not about reward and punishment anymore. It’s about promise.”

4. Meanwhile, for humor (and also a stinging social commentary!), here’s “An Open Letter to Everyone Sharing Their Wisdom About How to Cure My Depression”:

All it takes is someone saying, “Think positive!” and I wonder, where have these saviors been for my entire life of struggling with this severe mental illness? So now, when I’m crushed beneath the boulder of hopelessness and feel like maybe I should just end it all, all I have to do is think about how I have nothing to be depressed about and presto! I have a will to live. That’s all thanks to you.

Others of you told me to try turmeric. What a brilliant suggestion! And boy did I try it. I started with using it in my food but quickly realized that snorting it was a faster and more effective method of consumption to achieve the full benefits of not being depressed anymore.

5. This Thursday in the church calendar was Ascension Day, and there is never enough attention paid to this very strange part of the biblical story! Thus I am pleased to pass along this engaging piece on the topic from Chad Bird: “Ascending Downward: When the Manger Becomes the Cosmos.” A snippet I particularly enjoyed:

Christ ascends into heaven in order to descend fully into this world, into the lives of his people. The ascension is the dénouement of the incarnation. Jesus has entered his glory “in such a way that he knows everything, is able to do everything, is present for all his creatures, and has under his feet and in his hands all that is in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, not only as God but also as human creature” (Formula of Concord, Epitome, VIII.11). In other words, because of the ascension, the manger has become the cosmos. […]

Because all things are under his feet, Christ is there with us when all the nastiness and ugliness of life tramples us under its own feet.

6. In the arena of the secular/sacred, a one-eyebrow-raising study from The New Scientist reads as follows: “Most atheists believe in the supernatural, despite trusting science” (h/t AM), from which this conclusion is drawn:

Here, we present the percentage of unbelievers who are thoroughgoing naturalists. For the purposes of this report, we are using a consistently negative answer to each and every supernatural phenomenon as a proxy for naturalism…in none of our six countries surveyed does the percentage of unbelievers who qualify as naturalists approach 50%. Even among American atheists, the most naturalistic group across our surveyed countries, only a third seem to have a wholly naturalistic world view. Among Chinese atheists meanwhile, fewer than one in ten does. “

And in the spirit of ambivalent secularism, Katherine Lucky for Commonweal wrote a beautiful piece about her baptism in the Charles River near Harvard. First she describes her everyday experience in Cambridge, and the mixed messages of it, which preceded the dunking:

Harvard taught lessons in jealousy, greed, self-reproach. I felt utter vincibility, even near commencement, an apex of mortarboards and Latin, American elms, bells, and addresses. There was doubt, all around: not of God, but of achievement, which had made me whiny, and insufferable. Narratives conflicted: the “citizen-leaders” and the “least of these,” accruing and tithing, college and the real world — and the real world to come. Uneasy, I was starting to suspect that the standards of one place might inevitably contradict those of the other.

She eventually heads to the river, and at the last moment plugs her nose:

It was Class Day: there would be speeches in the heat, and a wine and cheese reception (of course). I longed for them after the morning’s self-death, the weird ritual that didn’t translate into status. It wasn’t an achievement, but an initiation — a beginning I’d been given rather than an end I deserved.

Strays:

  • You may have wondered, how often are the words “anxiety” and “depression” used in hip-hop lyrics? The answer is, increasingly.
  • But on the upside, the ‘Holy Spirit’ saved this German driver from a speeding fine! Just amazing.
  • There is an impromptu Mockingbird conference in Lancaster, PA, June 11-13! There will be food, ancient texts, pastoral care and more. Ministry will be the primary theme, though all are welcome! More details on the site here.
  • Final note: we’ll be in the process of switching servers this weekend, so if you notice any technical interruptions, bear with us! Merci beaucoup