1. Leading off this week, Carlen Maddux has a fantastic interview with none other than Mary Zahl discussing the practice of active listening and its transformative, healing power. While most of our daily conversations could be said to be two people waiting for the other person to stop talking, active listening is something else altogether: non-judgmental, self-giving love.

[L]istening well can be learned with practice, and it has more healing power in itself than anything I know. It’s a skill that can be taught, yet is seldom practiced by anyone.

Listening well doesn’t require you to change your mind, Carlen, but it does require a willingness to sacrifice, at least temporarily, any expression of ‘what I think is right.’ St. Francis said, “A person had not yet given up everything for God as long as he held on to the moneybag of his own opinions.” […]

In my training sessions I often ask the participants to say the word that comes to mind when I ask: “What did it feel like when you were listened to?” Here are some of the words I typically hear in response: Loved, valued, important, heard, relieved, accepted, understood, energized.

I also ask them to picture a time when they were not listened to. What did that feel like? These are some of those words in response: Invisible, empty, angry, deflated, depressed, helpless, unimportant, rejected, dismissed, unloved. […]

You’ll find that listening well is a threefold process: Listening to your loved one or designated partner, listening to yourself, and listening to God, all at the same time. The more you’re able to sacrifice your need to react, the more you begin to see lifelong patterns within yourself. It’s amazing to become aware of your emotional reactions and patterns.

2. For Veterans’ Day this week, Plough reposted Michael Yandell’s 2016 article, “Hope in the Void,” on the concept of moral injury. When someone excessively breaks their own moral code, a rupture occurs within their identity and self-understanding. The trauma of this inner conflict reverberates long after the events themselves, perhaps disproportionately so. The “wages of sin” are high, exceeding the circumstantial consequences of the sin itself.

Moral injury results from exactly this kind of irreversible schism between one’s perceived moral self and one’s actions. A person is morally injured when she comes to recognize herself — when she has witnessed herself failing to live by her own moral convictions, especially in profoundly demanding circumstances. […]

Before the war, I thought of myself as good, as someone capable of choosing goodness. I recognize now that I am not good, and that I have never been good in the way I once used to imagine. Yet to think that I can heal from such recognition, or that my moral injury is somehow reversible, is a false pathway to hope. Rather than returning to some glorified past, I must come to terms with who I am and then must look toward becoming something new. […]

[Unlike mental illness] moral injury cannot be treated with medication, nor can it be compartmentalized. Rather, moral injury is like a nail that pierces through layers of interconnected trauma. It pierces me with a sobering clarity, illuminating not only my illness, but my entire life — past, present, and future. Thus, moral injury is not a veil that obscures what really happened: it is a ripping away of the veil, a permanent showing, a continuous truth-telling. And it hurts.

Healing from moral injury, Yandell believes, comes by way of listening (see above!), to

seek out encounters with people who, like us, wish to hold on to what really happened: other soldiers, teachers, mentors, family. […] We must ask the hard questions and go on living, constantly turning our heads to catch a glimpse of the good — or of God.

Veterans must continue to try to articulate the void of moral injury. Their neighbors must continue to try to see it, to hear it, and to come to terms with it. There must be people and institutions capable of bearing that responsibility in order to open pathways of hope.

3. In the “proof that good things can happen on Twitter” category this week, Mbird friend Blake Collier shared a phenomenal thread on the abolitionist, John Brown, and his grace-in-practice approach to parenting. Corporal punishment is pretty controversial these days, but this anecdote from Evan Carton’s book Patriotic Treason is moving:

A little tidbit I just learned about John Brown, the abolitionist: His son, John Jr., was of the rebellious breed — making all wonder where he got it from, ha! — and John Brown, unable to tame his sons many wiles, began to keep accounting of John Jr.’s actions. Whenever John Jr. misbehaved (like disobeying his mother, etc.), his father would pair each instance with a strike of the switch. The number of licks could be lowered whenever John Jr. was on his best behavior.

The accounting, however, become a little too heavy in the bad column and John and his son had to have a reckoning. So they went out into the woods with switch in hand. The number of licks was to be 25. John allowed his son to make final arguments or amendments to the count. All of his justifications, they agreed, were weak and not warranting of a decrease. So John Jr. assumes the position, tearful, but accepting of his plight. John Brown lays into him once, twice, three times, four, five, six, seven, eight times. John Jr. […] realized that the beatings had stopped so he turned to see what his father was doing.

He saw his father, John Brown, bringing his suspenders down, unbuttoning his white shirt. This was confusing to Jr. and he didn’t know what his father was doing and why he wasn’t continuing. At this point John Brown speaks to his son (paraphrased, of course): “Eight lashes have been delivered to you as your punishment for your behavior.” He hands Jr. the switch and continues, “I will take from you the other 17 lashes as your father. I am responsible for your behavior as well as you are. You are my son and this is my punishment for failing you as a father.” John Brown demands that Jr. deliver his 17 lashes upon his father’s bare back. He does so. With tears in his eyes and a sadness in his countenance.

4. A little light in the humor category this week, but the Onion‘s “Asshole Monk Hogging Meditation Spot Under Waterfall For Whole Hour Now” was a highlight.

Junior Priest Ryōgen Ichishima, adding that he had tried to cough politely, but the meditating jackass had just pretended he was too “blissed out” sitting in his full lotus position before the cascading water and mountainside scenery to even notice.

Along similarly religious lines, Points in Case‘s thoroughly irreverent “If People Appropriated White, Midwestern Catholicism the Way They Appropriate Yoga” is laugh-out-loud funny:

You should now feel ready to build strength. We are about to go into a high plank  —  or as we call it, the Last Supper position. If you can’t hold a full plank yet, please use the stack of bibles to your left to modify the position. The stack will wiggle, helping to strengthen your core. All of the Bibles we use  — purely as props  —  are covered in leather, which wicks away sweat, pulling it away from you and into the pages below. Is your stack of bibles too greasy? Please just chuck them into the trash against the wall. We have more.

Rise. Hold two bibles over your head as weights, and lower yourself into a squat. This is our Hail Mary. You’ll see why in a minute. Let out a guttural “I repent!” as you push up out of your squat. Do ten sets of ten reps. Your bum should feel as if it’s burning in hellfire!

And images this week come from the New York Times‘ “Your Favorite Children’s Book Characters as Fashion Icons

5. Just in time for the holidays, over at the New York Times, Aubrey Gordon pleads to “Leave the Fat Kids Alone,” and I couldn’t agree more. Citing several studies on the subject with occasional personal anecdotes, it turns out that shame and judgment do not produce salad-eating youth (or adults — see below). The current war on obesity hasn’t lightened the scales and can lead to mental distress and/or eating disorders — particularly for children:

Overwhelmingly, childhood anti-obesity programs hinged on shame and fear, a scared-straight approach for fat children. As of 2017, fully half of the states required that schools track students’ body mass index. Many require “BMI report cards” to be sent home to parents, despite the fact that 53 percent of parents don’t actually believe the reports accurately categorize their child’s weight status. And observational studies in Arkansas and California have shown that the practice of parental notification doesn’t appear to lead to individual weight loss or an overall reduction in students’ BMIs. One eating disorder treatment center called the report cards a “pathway to weight stigma” that would most likely contribute to development of eating disorders in predisposed students.

Experiencing weight stigma has significant long-term effects, too. A 2012 study in the journal Obesity asked fat adults to indicate how often they had experienced various weight-stigmatizing events. Seventy-four percent of women and 70 percent of men of similar BMI and age reported others’ making negative assumptions. Twenty-eight percent of women and 23 percent of men reported job discrimination. For various of the subcategory, the effects of stigma were especially dire for young people, very fat people and those who started dieting early in life. To cope, 79 percent of all respondents reported eating, 74 percent isolated themselves, and 41 percent left the situation or avoided it in the future. Rather than motivating fat people to lose weight, weight stigma had led to more isolation, more avoidance, and less support.

Despite ample federal and state funding, multiple national public health campaigns and a slew of television shows, the war on obesity does not appear to be lowering Americans’ BMIs. According to the Centers for Disease Control, since 1999 there has been a 39 percent increase in adult obesity and a 33.1 percent increase in obesity among children.

Weight stigma kick-starts what for many will become lifelong cycles of shame. And it sends a clear, heartbreaking message to fat children: The world would be a better place without you in it.

Yet, despite its demonstrated ineffectiveness, the so-called war on childhood obesity rages on. This holiday season, for the sake of children who are told You’re not beautiful. You’re indulging too much. Your body is wrong. You must have done it, I hope some parents will declare a cease-fire.

6. Elsewhere in culinary news: if pizza is on the menu for you tonight, you’re apparently not alone. As outlined in Marker, pizza consumption has skyrocketed since the pandemic began. By contrast, nobody is eating salad anymore. Turning to convenient comfort food in stressful times isn’t much of a surprise to me — we tend to eat our feelings — but the rise of pizza and the decline of salad is telling. Salad is the food choice when someone is looking over our shoulder at the office, but we’d really rather be eating pizza. Salad, after all, isn’t actually as healthy as we think, but it does do wonders for telling other people you want to be righteous — I mean, healthy.

We are a nation in the throes of an unprecedented eight-month pizza binge that shows no signs of abating. Multiple pizzerias in Los Angeles reported a 250% rise in sales on Election Day, and on Thursday, Papa John’s reported quarterly same-store sales growth of 23.8%. For months now, the underlying forces for the sustained pizza craze have been as hotly debated within the restaurant industry as the election results have been parsed by professional pollsters. Stress eating is a major cause; quarantine-induced failure of imagination and the return of three major-league sports within weeks of one another over the summer certainly didn’t hurt. […]

The losing side of this stark new restaurant reality is a virtually endless list, but the unequivocal biggest loser has probably been the so-called $15 salad genre embodied by the fast-food chain cum tech unicorn Sweetgreen,  […]

The mass shift to remote work is the salad industry’s most conspicuous problem: Nearly all the chains are heavily reliant on capturing the office-worker lunch rush, so much so that Sweetgreen has an entire arm of its business devoted to delivering salads in bulk to offices free of charge.

Strays:

  • Ahead of a new lockdown order in the UK, the priest and writer Giles Fraser has launch an ingenious pop-up blog: Dinner at the Vicarage, which pairs recipes and wine recommendations with theological reflection. Robert Farrar Capon would be proud!
  • Singer-songwriter Lo Sy Lo has released a new Advent-themed album, “St. Fleming of Advent,” inspired by the writings of (you guessed it) Fleming Rutledge!
  • Mbird contributor Ian Olson has a zinger at Mere Orthodoxy: “Death Does Not Come for the Deserving“.
  • The newest episode of The Mockingcast is in the works and should go live early next week at the latest!

And in case you haven’t heard, we released a NEW devotional today: