Before we get going, time for our semi-annual update-and-appeal video:

Click here to take us up on the invitation. And as always, THANK YOU!

1. Not sure how I missed this first one. Tim Kreider penned “A Pandemic Commencement” for Medium a few weeks ago and one paragraph in particular warrants embroidery (on a very large pillow). A timeless and timely reiteration of human blindness, but in the service of hope rather than cynicism:

We’re constantly rewriting the narratives of our lives, and the more time and perspective we have, hopefully, the clearer our understanding becomes; to paraphrase a saying, our journals are the first rough draft of our personal histories. And, like breaking news, they’re rife with misinformation and more heavily censored than we realize. We’re very unreliable interpreters of the present; what we think is happening is—though we may not realize it till years later—not what’s really going on at all. We don’t know what the present is for, any more than I know what an essay is going to turn out to be about when I start writing it. As Mary Karr suggested in her own commencement speech: “This hard spell might be the start of something truly great I can’t foresee right now because I’m scared shitless.” Holed up at that cabin, I thought my main project in life was failing to write a novel. I was meanwhile procrastinating by writing letters—hundreds of letters, thousands of pages; letters to friends, to people I’d hardly spoken to in college, to women I wanted to fall in love with me, learning to curate details and anecdotes, to amuse and beguile, slowly honing my prose. It was by writing those letters that I became a writer; my essays are essentially letters to the reader.

2. Next up, in an article for the Atlantic that hit perilously close to home, theologian Ekemini Uwan praised the benefits of radical acceptance. Sounds a bit like the Gospel according to the Serenity Prayer:

Interviewed this legend for our upcoming Sports Issue this week!

In thinking about the tension between the past, the present, and the future, I have come to believe that the only way to move forward is to grieve the life we once knew, and to shift our mindsets to radical acceptance of our present reality in order to create a new normal that is better than our pre-pandemic life. The term radical acceptance was coined by the psychologist Marsha Linehan. “Radical acceptance is … without discrimination. In other words, one does not choose parts of reality to accept and parts to reject.”

I’m a public theologian who frequently speaks at conferences, universities, and churches. In talking with a friend recently about my work, I found myself painstakingly catching my words and rearranging them from present to past tense. The past tense has become a constant companion in the present moment, as every facet of my life has changed due to the pandemic. Mass gatherings such as conferences—my primary source of income—are foreclosed until social-distancing measures are lifted. Some scientists project that may not happen until 2022. That’s my reality.

Yet my Christian faith teaches me that I am not what I produce. I am valuable because I am a human being endowed by God with intrinsic dignity and worth. I have found solace in that truth. My faith teaches me that my value is not contingent on my circumstances. Radical acceptance … teaches me to release what I cannot control so that I can focus on what I can change.

Radical acceptance of this reality is not to be confused with approval of it. Linehan explains it thusly: “Radical acceptance doesn’t mean you don’t try to change things … You can’t change anything if you don’t accept it, because if you don’t accept it, you’ll try to change something else that you think is reality.”

3. This is exciting. Last week witnessed the release of Tara Isabella Burton’s fantastic new book, Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World. While, yes, there’s some (flattering) overlap with Seculosity, Strange Rites mines a territory all its own, jammed with fresh research into our strange spiritual landscape and boasting a prodigious grasp of religious and intellectual history, not to mention rhetorical flair to spare. Highly, highly recommended. Religion News Service posted a précis last week that’ll give you a taste—“How millennials make meaning from shopping, decorating and self-pampering”:

“[Religiously] Remixed Millennials” are at once attracted to moral and theological certainty—accounts of the human condition that claim totalizing truth or demand difficult adherence because the challenge is ultimately rewarding—and repulsed by traditions that set hard limits on personal, and particularly sexual or romantic, desire.

That, for better or for worse, is where corporations come in. Increasingly, companies have recognized that there is a gap in the needs of today’s Remixed: institutions, activities, philosophies, and rituals that manage to be challenging and totalizing while also preserving millennials’ need for personal freedom. It’s the dot-com bubble for spirituality, a free marketplace of innovation and religious disruption … Meaning, purpose, community, and ritual can all—separately or together—be purchased on Amazon Prime.

Long before the advent of the World Wide Web, Marshall McLuhan, often considered the father of media studies, envisioned a technological future characterized by what he called “retribalization.” New forms of electronic media—television, for example—were being touted as ushering in the “global village”: a world in which disparate peoples would be united by the ideas and images newly available to them. McLuhan predicted that instead, we’d splinter into new, technology-driven “tribes.”

Burton’s essay on Postliberal Epistemology, also adapted from Strange Rites and published on Comment, provides an illuminating glimpse into the competing anthropologies underlining so much of our contemporary Seculosity (and currently duking it out in our public square). Incisive stuff. Cue one of The Beach Boys most wonderfully terrible songs:

4. Also on the Seculosity tip, rarely do you see the same angle being taken up in the National Review and the New Yorker, but here we are. I myself have struggled (read: failed) to find a way to write about the seculosity of the current moment in a way that isn’t heartless or hasty (and I don’t think NR manages to do so here). In fact, I’m not sure it’s possible to surface the atonement and justification dynamics at work without diminishing black pain, at least not yet. But the New Yorker‘s A Day at the Church of White Guilt nevertheless packs quite a punch while drawing a few smiles.

Otherwise, when it comes to the cancel culture endemic to Internet activism–currently being decried (and exercised) all over the place–I appreciated Tullian’s recent admonishment that, no matter our social or political location, we’ve all engaged in it from time to time, i.e., no single group has the market cornered on scapegoating. Which is not to suggest we’re not witnessing an alarming escalation, or spike(!), at present. The cynical view would be to see ‘cancel culture’ as all rooted in power–and I’m sure there’s some truth to that view–but the pastor in me knows that for a great many people, it is also an agonized cry of the heart. And let us not forget that Mary Karr’s words at the top of this column are especially true for the Christian.

All the while, I cannot shake what Alan Jacobs posted on his blog in 2017:

When a society rejects the Christian account of who we are, it doesn’t become less moralistic but far more so, because it retains an inchoate sense of justice but has no means of offering and receiving forgiveness. The great moral crisis of our time is not, as many of my fellow Christians believe, sexual licentiousness, but rather vindictiveness. Social media serve as crack for moralists: there’s no high like the high you get from punishing malefactors. But like every addiction, this one suffers from the inexorable law of diminishing returns. The mania for punishment will therefore get worse before it gets better.

5. Speaking of the law of diminishing returns, Halo Top decided to go all-in with one of our favorite slogans in its new ad campaign:

6. Checking in on Parental Burnout, the NY Times reported the following, which sounds about right:

A survey called “Stress in the Time of Covid-19,” conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association from April 24 to May 4, found that 46 percent of parents with children under 18 said their stress level was high, compared with 28 percent of adults without children.

The A.P.A. did a second survey from May 21 to June 3 that found while 69 percent of parents were looking forward to the school year being over, 60 percent said they were struggling to keep their children busy, and 60 percent said they “have no idea how they are going to keep their child occupied all summer.”

Elsewhere in that same publication, Claire Cain Miller dove deep to explore the toll being taken on parents as “a generation of hyper-scheduled children enters a fourth unscheduled month.” In short, pray for us:

Social scientists call this intensive parenting. They have found it has become the expectation of most parents, across race and class divides. Unlike helicopter parenting, which was more about keeping children physically safe, intensive parenting is about enriching them with one-on-one attention and extracurricular activities.

Many parents say the additional time with their children has been a silver lining of coronavirus closures. But experts also point to risks of high-pressure pandemic parenting. They worry about inequity, and about the mental health of both children and parents. Recent research has found that parents, especially employed mothers, feel immense guilt. They say it’s because they have to work, their children are spending more time on screens or they can’t substitute for teachers.

7. Next, it will come as no surprise that, as Wired reports, Doomscrolling Is Slowly Eroding Your Mental Health. Probably too soon to nominate that term for the word of the year … :

Mesfin Bekalu, a research scientist at the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, notes that while a lot of the news is bad, “as humans we have a ‘natural’ tendency to pay more attention to negative news.” This, along with social media algorithms, makes doomscrolling—and its impacts—almost inevitable. “Since the 1970s, we know of the ‘mean world syndrome’—the belief that the world is a more dangerous place to live in than it actually is—as a result of long-term exposure to violence-related content on television,” Bekalu says …

There’s something else in the etymology [of ‘doomscrolling’], though. Particularly in the word doom. Originally, the word had connotations that related it to judgement day and the end of the world, but now it’s just as likely to be associated with destruction or ruin. The act of doomscrolling, then, is to roll toward annihilation. Or, to borrow a phrase from Joan Didion, it is an act of slouching toward quietus. Taken biblically, it has a Revelation tone. Each swipe through the timeline marks the end of a day of reckoning—for the state of the world at large and for the person attached to each appendage doing the scrolling. Simultaneously, each person watches the demise of so much, while also slowly destroying themselves. (This rush to judgement could also explain why so many public figures are now facing cancelation.) Didion lifted “slouching towards Bethlehem” from W. B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming,” itself a reflection on the destruction caused by World War I written amidst the 1918 flu pandemic. It’s only natural that the world’s scrolling reflects those writers’ apocryphal Apocalypse visions.

8. Let’s end on a note of hope. NBW preached “A Sermon from Inside a Women’s Prison” that concluded with three of the more stunningly pastoral paragraphs I’ve come across in some time. I hope they resonate with you too:

This week I started to think of hope, not as a starting point, but as that which is left after everything else has failed us. After we have tried optimism and virtue and piety and denial and just trying harder and none of it has worked, then what is left is hope. And that kind of hope, is an Easter hope. Because it’s the kind of hope that is still standing after being dredged through Good Friday first. Easter hope is the kind that is still standing after being dredged through global pandemics and economic collapse and prison lock downs and systemic racism first.

And when it comes down to it, as cynical as I am, I still want hope—I just want a hope that doesn’t disappoint. I want a gritty hope—a hope that can only come from a God who has experienced birth, and love and friendship and lepers and prostitutes and betrayal and suffering and death and burial and a descent into hell itself. Only a God who has born suffering themselves can bring us any real hope of resurrection.

And I believe that faith in this kind of God doesn’t produce cheerful optimism, it produces a gritty, defiant hope that God is still writing the story and that despite the darkness a light still shines and that God can redeem us and that beauty matters and that despite every disappointing thing we have ever done or that we have ever endured, that there is no hell from which resurrection is impossible. To borrow from Bruce Cockburn, this kind of faith is one that kicks at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.

Strays

  • As statues keep falling, Gene Veith points to Martin Luther’s wisdom on destroying art and iconoclasm in general.
  • Lead fighter of foo Dave Grohl asks “How Far Does the Apple Fall From the Tree?” in a genuinely touching, post-Father’s Day remembrance. Based on his last few articles, I think a full-on memoir could be very welcome.
  • The Washington Post traced the history of Warner Sallman’s famous “Head of Christ” AKA Nordic Jesus but somehow failed to mention the Good Times episode about it (Ned the Wino!!).
  • “Like an equal mix of Back to the Future Part II and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s prairie novel The Long Winter” is how Ashley Fetters describes quarantine life in a fascinating article on the retro-futurism of coronatide.
  • New Mockingcast has been recorded and should be out Monday morning at the latest! Thanks for your patience.

Last but not least, here’s an Exciting Opportunity at Christ Church Charlottesville:

Christ Episcopal Church Charlottesville is searching for a male to join our Youth Ministry team through our Ministry Fellowship Program. This job involves part-time Youth Ministry work with our other female youth minister, as well as part-time work as a Ministry Fellow (with both, this is a full-time opportunity). 
Youth Minister Role: The youth ministry team works together to plan events for middle and high school students, leads weekly Sunday youth group, and meets with students in small groups or one-on-one throughout the week. Our goal in Youth Ministry is to create a space for teenagers where they know they are loved and accepted just as they are. Candidate does not necessarily need to have had prior youth ministry experience, but must enjoy being with kids and passionate about sharing the good news of the gospel.

Ministry Fellow Role: More information about the Ministry Fellowship program can be found here

We would also love to speak to you if you are interested in one of these roles, but not both. If interested, please contact Josh Bascom: josh@christchurchcville.org.