1. Every now and then, you get to start the weekender out with the humor section. This week’s gem from the New Yorker, “Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, as E-mailed by Your Passive-Aggressive Co-Worker,” stole the show:

FROM: Martin.Luther@vatican.org

TO: All Vatican Staff

Subject: A Quick Note

Not to be that guy, and most of this is totally not a big deal, but I just wanted to take a moment to communicate my disappointment with a few things I’ve noticed occurring at the Church lately. Unless everyone feels differently, I think there may be some stuff we could look into changing around here to make this space a bit better for everyone involved. Again, these are just a couple of thoughts I had, so no pressure at all.

Yours in Christ,

Marty

It only gets better from there. Quick note to ’90s kids — Animaniacs is back on Hulu right now, and it’s just as zany and witty as it used to be. Also, to shift the goal posts a bit for our struggling parents this week, here’s “I Must Be a Good Parent if Time Travelers Haven’t Tried To Kill My Child.” I promise you all, dear readers — you’re doing just fine:

As a first-time parent, I struggle with self-doubt. I often question my child-rearing abilities and second-guess my decisions. But whenever these nagging thoughts enter my brain, I reassure myself with one simple truth: if time travelers from the future haven’t tried to kill my son, then I must be doing something right.

All parents know that when you’re raising a child, everyone thinks they know better than you. “You have to breastfeed, you should read to him every night, please get him to stop biting the waitstaff.” Believe me, I’ve heard it all.

But if I’m such a “neglectful parent” and “toxic influence,” then why haven’t underground freedom fighters from the future tried to stop my child from growing up? If I was imprinting values and character traits that would cause my son to eventually threaten humanity, then surely someone would come back to intervene.

2. From Martin Luther to Marty McFly, teen idol and Parkinson’s advocate Michael J. Fox is making the rounds in promotion of his new book, No Time For The Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality. The constant question asked of the man is how he can retain his positive attitude while suffering from a crippling neuromuscular disease. In an interview with Men’s Health, Fox describes how the initial diagnosis sent him into a tailspin of drinking, and how his wife and recovery wisdom were the inspiration to quit.

“The tools that worked for quitting drinking work even better for [living with Parkinson’s], which are: acceptance and surrender,” Fox says. “Not like, ‘I give up, I quit,’ but you just say, ‘Okay, I cede you the big points.’ With Parkinson’s, I’d reached a détente with it. An understanding. It was like, ‘You can take up this space, just leave me this space. And as it continues to shrink this space, I’ll find better ways to use it.’ And I was fine with that.”

The whole interview is fascinating, and the power of acceptance and surrender become apparent. 

3. Here’s another gem from Mbird speaker emeritus Oliver Burkeman, whose newsletter The Imperfectionist will likely be a regular weekender addition for some time to come. Here’s Burkeman’s take on the futility behind the idea of a fresh start:

I’ve only more recently grasped the deeper point here, which isn’t simply that fresh starts don’t work as intended, but that there never are any fresh starts in the first place. Contrary to self-help cliché, the thing we perfectionists need to learn isn’t that we’re probably going to experience failure. It’s that we’ve already failed, totally and irredeemably.

This is liable to sound incredibly depressing, but since it’s actually fantastic news, I hope you’ll allow me to elaborate.

Behind our more strenuous attempts at personal change, there’s almost always the desire for a feeling of control. We want to lever ourselves into a position of dominance over our lives, so that we might finally feel secure and in charge, and no longer so vulnerable to events. But whichever way you look at it, this kind of control is an illusion. It implies the ability to somehow stand back from or get outside of your life — which you never can, obviously, because you just are your life […]

The person attempting to leave the past behind, by making a fresh start, is one who’s been completely shaped by that past. The self you’re seeking to transform is the same one that’s doing the transforming — so you’re like Baron Munchausen, trying to pull himself out of the swamp by yanking on his own hair. You can never start life afresh, because you’re hopelessly stuck in this life; there’s no breaking through to another one in which everything’s different and better.

The reason this is so liberating, for anyone with even a hint of perfectionism, is that it means you get to give up on the exhausting struggle to take charge of your life, so as to steer it in a new direction. You get to abandon all hope of one day finding the perfect time management system — or perfect relationship, job, neighborhood, etcetera — and relax back into the inescapable chaos and muddle of the one you have.

And then — once you’re facing your real situation, not fixating on a fantasy alternative — you suddenly find yourself able to start making a few concrete improvements, here and now, unburdened by any need for those improvements to usher in a golden age of perfection. This, in my experience, is the only way personal change ever really happens: by first seeing that it’s always a matter of rebuilding the ship mid-ocean, making adjustments to a life you can’t ever take back to port or trade for another.

I find the takedown against total life restarts freeing, because it means that changes can come immediately to me as I currently am. Change can happen without precondition, which is good news for those of us who find fresh starts exhausting and nearly impossible to implement.

4. Again with the Julie Nolke fun. Language warning on this pandemic parable of works-righteousness:

5. File this one under “The Kids Are Alright” — new Barna research shows that Gen Z is well aware of the blessing and limitations of the smartphones in their pockets:

Despite the promises of social media to help connect people, teens worry that technology is coming between individuals. In fact, data show that nearly seven in 10 teens (68%) agree that devices keep them from having real conversations, and a third (32%) says devices sometimes separate them from other people. Younger generations see a paradox in which tech simultaneously connects and disconnects them from their peers. […]

Tech is captivating — but teens don’t necessarily want to be taken captive. They experience technology as a source of entertainment for boring hours but are uncomfortable with how much it can take over.

When asked about tech activities versus real-world activities, teens prefer real-life experiences such as talking to friends in-person, going outside in nice weather and spending time with family. However, as the chart below shows, preferences don’t always translate into reality. Though teens largely prefer in-person to online activities, they admit to often spending more time in the digital realm than in the real world. While they wish they could engage with the real world, their devices usually win.

While teens aren’t known for their love of discipline, when it comes to devices, they’re largely in favor of having restrictions. Over three in 10 teens (43% of those 13-15 years old, 32% of those 16-18 years old) have had their parents set restrictions on tech — typically on what they can view and on hours of screen time — and over four in five (83%) say they felt their parents’ rules were “about right.”

My takeaway from the data is that you don’t have to be a wizened boomer to understand that Romans 7 is a universal reality, and that kiddos generally welcome some first-use of the law when it comes to something as complex and groundbreaking as smartphone use. Which is to say, they probably won’t need this romantic anti-loneliness hand robot from Japan:

6. This was a tougher than average weekender to write. COVID transmission is up across the world, the political situation in the U.S. is still working itself out, and the stress of these larger-than-life troubles is overwhelming. Schools are closing up, and families are having those awkward and hard conversations about not traveling for Thanksgiving next week. I personally found Katie Koplin’s essay on the kiddos coming back home to do online school the best and most encouraging essay on the matter this week, and so let’s give her the last word:

This week, we are once again back to figuring out school from home, and my concern is not just for my kids. I am also concerned for myself as I juggle regular schedules, daily demands, and now, education. […]

It’s important to call a thing what it is, and this is hard. I don’t want to admit to you, myself, my kids, or my neighbor that I am struggling with this. […]

I have never thought of myself as a helicopter parent. However, that does not mean I am immune from hovering over my kids.

Recently, our boys have started wrestling competitively, and this experience has taught me a lot about the importance of resilience – both literally and metaphorically. Watching them compete has made me acutely aware of how little I want any of my kids to get hurt or even be in uncomfortable situations. Of course, it’s important to protect our kids, yet even our heavenly Father came not to eliminate suffering but embrace it. […]

Off of the wrestling mat, I know that I can let my kids wrestle with my failings because I am not their savior. I can let them wrestle with their own weaknesses because their salvation is secure in their Baptismal promise. I can let them wrestle with the rejection of friends because Christ suffered from the same. I can let them wrestle with the unknowns and fears of distance learning because Christ works all things for the good….

My kids will fail, and I will fail them. They will feel strong, they will feel weak, and we will continue to live through circumstances both good, hard, and unknown. In all time, places, and spaces, the best I can do is remind them God’s love has been poured into their hearts.

Strays:

  • Here’s a review of Simeon Zahl’s The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience from our own Adam Morton, who suggests that Zahl’s insights on Luther could go even deeper. Theology fans — don’t miss this!
  • More love for John Barclay’s latest volume, Paul and the Power of Grace, the inspiration for our “Defining Grace” series.
  • Over at 1517, Robert Farrar Capon says that Heaven is Miller Time.
  • Via Stephen Freeman: “The Gospel of Progress and the New Jerusalem.” Come for the thoughtful critique of “building the kingdom” rhetoric. Stay for the playful dig at Episcopalians.