1. Any time the Resurrection breaks into the New York Times, it’s generally a thing to celebrate. But when Esau McCaulley offers the Resurrection as the balm for the trauma and rage of our times, it’s more than a celebration — it’s proclamation, which is even rarer. I’m tempted to share the whole op-ed, but we’ll pick up after he introduces the famously violent and rage-filled Psalm 137:

For Christians, rage (Psalm 137) must eventually give way to hope (Isaiah 49). And we find the spiritual resources to make this transition at the cross. Jesus could have called down the psalms of rage upon his enemies and shouted a final word of defiance before he breathed his last. Instead he called for forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” he says in Luke 23.

It was not a false reconciliation: Jesus experienced the reality of state-sponsored terror. That is why the black Christian has always felt a particular kinship with this crucified king from an oppressed ethnic group. The cross helps us make sense of the lynching tree.

And Jesus’ resurrection three days after his crucifixion shows that neither the lynching tree nor the cross have the final say about those whom God values. The state thought that violence could stop God’s purposes. For the Christian, the resurrection makes clear the futility of the attempt. Further, Jesus’ profound act of forgiving his opponents provides me with the theological resources to hope.

Dare we speak of hope when chants of “I can’t breathe” echo in the streets? Do we risk the criticism commonly levied at Christians that we move too quickly to hope because faith pacifies? Resurrection hope doesn’t remove the Christian from the struggle for justice. It empties the state’s greatest weapon — the fear of death — of its power.

2. Is it still news if nobody is surprised to hear it? A new poll shows Americans are the unhappiest they’ve been in 50 years, and the data was mostly collected before the death of George Floyd. A few comments via the AP:

— Compared with surveys conducted after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Americans are less likely to report some types of emotional and psychological stress reactions following the COVID-19 outbreak. Fewer report smoking more than usual, crying or feeling dazed now than after those two previous tragedies, though more report having lost their temper or wanting to get drunk.

About twice as many Americans report being lonely today as in 2018, and not surprisingly given the lockdowns that tried to contain the spread of the coronavirus, there’s also been a drop in satisfaction with social activities and relationships. Compared with 2018, Americans also are about twice as likely to say they sometimes or often have felt a lack of companionship (45% vs. 27%) and felt left out (37% vs. 18%) in the past four weeks.

Check the link if you want the full stats. Anger and booze are up, crying and smoking are down, and everyone is lonely. That tracks with my social spheres, especially if you add “overeating” as an additional coping mechanism.

In the middle of a season marked by a pandemic and a revolution on matters of race and equality, sadness seems like a perfectly fine emotion. It’s an understandable part of the grief that comes when the old world is passing away without our consent or permission. And so, I think, this report acts as kind of a litmus test for those who are reading it. Do we believe that human beings were meant to be happy, free from significant suffering and hardship? Or do we believe, as crossover band Switchfoot sang back in 2005, “Happy Is A Yuppie Word,” a shallow metric for measuring life from the perspective of our own ineffective director’s chairs? The study may prove how we’ve silently become attached to the idea that we are justified by our happiness. #Seculosity indeed.

3. In a season of heartbreaks, Melissa Fay Greene’s essay Can An Unloved Child Learn to Love in the Atlantic is remarkable for its outline of the importance of attachment. Those Romanian orphans the world discovered in the ’90s after the fall of communism? They’ve entered adulthood now, and we’re now getting to see how the psychological lack of attachment can have devastating consequences in the long term. What kind of adults do children turn out to be if they are never touched, affirmed, supported, and loved? It ain’t pretty:

The neuropsychologist Ron Federici was another of the first wave of child-development experts to visit the institutions for the “unsalvageables,” and he has become one of the world’s top specialists caring for post-institutionalized children adopted into Western homes. “In the early years, everybody had starry eyes,” Federici says. “They thought loving, caring families could heal these kids. I warned them: These kids are going to push you to the breaking point. Get trained to work with special-needs children. Keep their bedrooms spare and simple. Instead of ‘I love you,’ just tell them, ‘You are safe.’” But most new or prospective parents couldn’t bear to hear it, and the adoption agencies that set up shop overnight in Romania weren’t in the business of delivering such dire messages. “I got a lot of hate mail,” says Federici, who is fast-talking and blunt, with a long face and a thatch of shiny black hair. “‘You’re cold! They need love! They’ve got to be hugged.’” But the former marine, once widely accused of being too pessimistic about the kids’ futures, is now considered prescient.

Federici and his wife adopted eight children from brutal institutions themselves: three from Russia and five from Romania, including a trio of brothers, ages 8, 10, and 12. The two oldest weighed 30 pounds each and were dying from untreated hemophilia and hepatitis C when he carried them out the front door of their orphanage; it took the couple two years to locate the boys’ younger brother in another institution. Since then, in his clinical practice in Northern Virginia, Federici has seen 9,000 young people, close to a third of them from Romania. Tracking his patients across the decades, he has found that 25 percent require round-the-clock care, another 55 percent have “significant” challenges that can be managed with adult-support services, and about 20 percent are able to live independently …

When a baby was born into the family nine years ago — the family’s only biological child — the doctor began to see new behaviors in his older kids. “The little one is a rock star to them,” he says. “The big brothers at home are so protective of him. In public, in restaurants, God forbid anyone would hurt him or touch a hair on his head. It’s an interesting dynamic: No one watched out for them in their childhoods, but they’ve appointed themselves his bodyguards. He’s their little brother. He’s been to Romania with them. Is this love? It’s whatever. They’re more attached to him than to us, which is absolutely fine.”

I am reminded of Bonnie Poon Zahl’s essay from The Mental Health Issue: Attachment Theory and Your Relationship with God. We too have a God who adopts, a God who is up for the challenge Federici outlined above:

But some Christians may still be uncomfortable with all of this talk of attachment — surely God is bigger than my temperaments and my experiences as a small child? Well, yes. And no. I believe that God treats us as the human beings we are, and that includes all the biological, psychological, and cultural factors that make up who we are. This means that human psychology and human spirituality are intimately related — indeed, so much so that it is impossible to fully distinguish one from the other, in the end. Our human attachment relationships provide a framework for us to describe and understand why we, as different individuals, might relate to God in the unique and different ways that we do. Our spiritual lives are beautifully woven through the most threatening and terrifying experiences we’ve known — aloneness and helplessness — in the period of our lives when we are, quite literally, completely dependent. Just as some of us are born with a tendency towards depression or addiction, so some of us, thanks to attachment patterns, tend to relate to God in anxious ways, others with patterns of avoidance, and others in secure ways. Still, God meets us as we are.

4. Humor time. McSweeneys has the biggest laugh of the week with the quiz: “Are You a Landlord or Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide’?

6. You’re afraid of:

A) Tenant’s rights

B) Changing. Well, you were afraid of it, but not anymore.

7. What have you built?

A) Well, I use unlicensed contractors for all my work, so physically nothing, but fiscally I’ve built incredible equity.

B) My life around you: Lindsey Buckingham

City Enters Phase 4 of Pretending Coronavirus Over is good for a chuckle too, as is Man Misses Protest After Spending Too Much Time Trying to Come Up With Funny Sign.

5. Mbird’s guilty pleasure Stephen Freeman is back at it again this week, with a reflection on failure that is top shelf Orthodoxy:

We are a culture of measurements. We imagine that if something (or someone) can be measured, it can be quantified and improved. Efficiency, productivity, and usefulness become existential categories as though our lives were beans for the counting. My first year out of seminary, I served as a Deacon in a parish with a priest who had interesting ideas. One of those was that all clergy are lazy. He set a requirement that I was to keep a precise record of everything I did, every phone call, every visit, etc. I gave a report to the Vestry every month. I was to work six days a week. It was a regime that haunted me for a number of years, a message of shame that is the stuff of clergy burnout. That year I rescued him from a suicide attempt (long story). This stuff is deadly.

There is a fear that if we do not fear failure, we will never succeed. It is the same mentality that imagines the gospel to only be successful if it is backed by the threat of hell. It is, I think, the voice of shame and shaming. My experience is that when the world is seen through this lens, success itself brings no satisfaction. It is always haunted by the possibility of failure that waits around the corner.

St. Paul said that he would “boast of his ‘weaknesses,’” noting that, “in my weakness His strength is made complete.” Many times the strength of God is made complete simply as we sit in His presence and acknowledge our failure. This acknowledgement is bearable when we allow our failure to be captured and swallowed by His strength.

The success messaging that permeates our culture is, strangely, shame-producing. We offer “positive” reinforcements for children, but often presume that confronting failure will simply overwhelm them, leaving them unprepared for what inevitably lies ahead. To have a healthy “self-image” is best nurtured with a confidence in the love and acceptance that surrounds us rather than a constant bath of affirmative pep-talks. Failure should not be a cause for shame.

6. I haven’t seen the usual sermon-shaming going around these days on the Twitterverse; you know the ones I’m talking about. “If your preacher doesn’t address this hot social issue on Sunday, it’s time for you to find another church!” Here’s a good word from our friend Chad Bird, who offered an alternative take for the preachers in our readership:

When the direction of preaching is dictated by the issues of the day, like it or not, the pulpit becomes the perpetual servant of CNN and Fox News. Historically, the church has followed her own calendar, with seasons such as Advent, Epiphany, Lent, and so forth. Pastors have preached from a series of readings, assigned for each Sunday, called the lectionary. These have helped to create and foster a church culture that is universal or catholic, literally spanning the globe. Worship becomes a dance of joy and freedom within which preacher and congregation annually rehearse the rhythm of the life of Christ and his church.

The news and social media cycle, with its chameleonic alterations from this all-important issue (this week) to that next-all-important issue (next week); this war to that riot; this protest to that legislation, does not create a rhythmic dance for the church but a sort of frenzied whack-a-mole worship. Now smack your homiletical hand down on this … now that … now this … now that.


Rave reviews for the new Dylan album. “I’m gonna make you play the piano like Leon Russell / Like Liberace, like St. John the Apostle.”

• For the Lutheran-inclined, Mbird friend, speaker, and inspiration Dr. Steven Paulson is on a new podcast, The Outlaw God, via 1517.

• Also, a new podcast from Mbird friend Ben Fort and Christ and Pop Culture, Funny Beliefs, dropped this week on the intersection between faith and comedy.

Abandoned Soviet Architecture is bleak and gorgeous.