1. The highlight of this past week for me comes from David Brooks’s deep dive into historical Jesus research. Much of who Jesus was is perfectly intelligible within his Jewish context: his miracles, his teachings, or his willful poverty. But Brooks, like Ernst Käsemann before him, still finds Jesus to be an entirely anomalous Jewish figure:

Jesus is not presenting himself as just another kind and learned rabbi. There is a story he tells about his own person that is different, more powerful and bizarre. He doesn’t fit into any group in the culture wars of his day. He sometimes offends the Pharisees and the Sadducees, but other times wins them over. He is uncategorizable. He transcends the fractious din.

He is somehow playing a different game. He is taking all the traditional categories of Jewish thought and somehow seeing them differently, from a different vantage point, and fusing them together in new ways. He is at once a product of his time, but he is also offering a new paradigm, sparking a new gospel, and so is standing beyond his time.

2. Gizmodo asked a bunch of religion scholars “Which Religion is Friendliest to the Idea of Aliens?” Predictably, many said that Buddhism was the best option available to extraterrestrial life, but it’s at least a fun thought experiment to have. For my money, the answer is obviously Christianity. It’s the only religion that has proven to be adaptable to wide variations of cultures, and extending this feature of Christianity to aliens is kind of a no-brainer.

3. For parents of teenagers, youth leaders, or anyone who wants to re-live middle school, Lydia Denworth’s article on middle school friendships is a fascinating study of neuroscience and teenagers. Unsurprisingly, friends can alter someone’s behavior in drastic ways — for good and ill.

4. Lots to report on the #seculosity front, beginning with Molly Conway’s lament over “The Modern Trap of Turning Hobbies Into Hustles”:

How did we get to the point where free time is so full of things we have to do that there’s no room for things we get to do? When did a beautiful handmade dress become a reminder of one’s inadequacies? Would the world really fall apart if, when I came home from a long day of work, instead of trying to figure out what I could conquer, I sat down and, I don’t know, tried my hand at watercolors? What if I sucked? What if it didn’t matter? What if that’s not the point?

When does a hobby become a side hustle? While “money” might seem to be the obvious answer, the difference seems to lie more in whether the hobby provides enjoyment or validation. Which is to say that it’s perfectly fine to play that pointless game on your phone.

5. You might not have heard of the billion-dollar makeup brand Glossier, but it’s the latest to profit from the modern law gods of identity, feminism, and belonging. The result is a genuinely millennial church-company:

Glossier understands that to try and be an “ideal woman”—that impossible vision—is absurd and gruelling. It understands that the acknowledgement of this truth has not stopped masses of dreamers from trying anyway. As you follow your doomed path to transcendence, one that will see you endlessly hit at a wall, caught in a feedback loop of temporarily sating your inappropriate desires with inappropriate consumer goods that further inflame your inappropriate appetites, Glossier wants, above all, to be your friend. It’s a kinder, gentler capitalism—but a capitalism all the same.

Exploiting the impossible stereotypes of beauty to then offer your product as a solution feels like a particularly duplicitous form of benevolence. It may feel like a gentler, gospel-like message, but the law never actually goes away.

6. On the lighter side, McSweeney’s listed the inner-monologue of a man who wears a Carhartt jacket and what he thinks everyone else is thinking. The law of masculinity is humorously cruel:

“Now there’s a guy who owns a real tool chest. It’s definitely not a shoebox that he stores in his armoire next to the cat food.”

“I can’t imagine this guy lowering his voice when speaking to repairmen.”

“He could totally grow a beard — he just chooses not to.”

7. Speaking of manliness…the Super Bowl is this weekend, and I can’t wait for the commercials. One surprising ad has already caused a bit of a stir. I hate to break the news to you, but Mr. Peanut has died. In a fitting eulogy, NYC Conference Speaker Tara Isabella Burton tries to make sense of his death:

In the absence of shared metaphysical narratives about the world we live in — or even, increasingly, shared cultural properties, as fandom itself becomes more siloed in the wake of #GamerGate-style culture wars and niche marketing tribalization — the only characters that we can be trusted to jointly recognize and severally invest in are the mascots that sell us things. Just as brands are becoming self-proclaimed moral arbiters — selling us fantasies of feminism and spiritual self-care — so too are they becoming the repository of our storytelling. Mr. Peanut’s sacrifice can, if not emotionally arrest us, at the very least unite us.

8. Right on cue, Gen-Xer’s are having their mid-life crises. As Andrea Petersen contends in her essay, “The Virtuous Midlife Crisis,” these aspirations of youthfulness aren’t translating into more sports car/motorcycle purchases. The goal, instead, is to defeat Father Time himself with yoga, juice cleanses, keto diets, and exercise. Traditional Religion (even the notion of right and wrong) isn’t high on the to-do list. If you’re above the age of 35, this one probably hits a little too close to home:

“There’s the general sense that I can’t get away with what I used to get away with. Or it’s the personal wake-up call. The cholesterol reading, the high blood pressure, the being overweight,” says Jim Eastburn, Canyon Ranch’s corporate director- transformational wellness. Middle-aged guests also have a “greater sense of urgency around mindfulness,” he says. In response to demand, the company has added several new “spiritual wellness” services in the last couple of years, including one titled “Cultivating a life of purpose.

9. The Grammys were a bit of a yawn, but then Demi Lovato stole the show with her first song since since her near-fatal overdose. Ditching platitudes for honesty, she sang her confession of hopelessness that cries for help. “Lord, is there anyone?”, indeed.

Strays:

and…

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