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About Ethan Richardson

Ethan Richardson is a contributing staff member for Mockingbird. Born and raised in Lexington, KY, he graduated from the University of Virginia in 2009, majoring in Religious Studies and English. In June of 2011, he finished two years of teaching 5th grade in the inner city of New Orleans, and now lives in Charlottesville, VA and works for Mockingbird along with serving at Christ Episcopal Church.

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Author Archive
    

    Another Week Ends: Lonely Girls, Religious Radicals, Anderson Cooper, Terrence Malick, Sleep Productivity, and the Sacrament of the Gospel

    1. We’ve discussed the plight of teenage boys, but now there’s this research, from clinical psychologist Mary Pipher, about the increasing prevalence of loneliness in adolescent girls across America. Pipher talks about the 36% of school-age girls who report being anxious every day, who lack self-sufficiency and spend six to nine hours of each day […]

    Another Week Ends: Decision Fatigue, Millennial Astrologists, an Inmate from Greenwich, the Phantom of Winnipeg, and the American Dream Value Menu

    1. Headlining this week is a story from Vanity Fair about Chip Skowron, a hedge fund manager in Greenwich, CT who was indicted for insider trading and found himself facing prison time. What comes next is a story of grace if I’ve ever seen one, and one that continues to bear fruit (ht CB).  Like […]

    The Open-Concept Family, AKA The Family Issue Opener and Table of Contents

    As the Family Issue make its way from the printer to the post office, here’s a look at the opener, and a peek at what comes after! If you haven’t ordered a copy yet, you can do so here

    You can’t talk about families without talking about the containers they come in. The home, especially in America, is the sanctum sanctorum of family life. No other non-living entity absorbs so much human ambition and longing, so much futzing and pruning, so much money and worry, and so much love. “Home” for you might be an efficiency apartment or a sprawling suburban ranch, but odds are the majority of your memories can be placed within the confines of those walls. You know the exact spot in the house where you got that phone call, or the spot where he used to read his newspaper, or the exact rung in the banister where everyone’s shirt gets snagged. “If these walls could talk …”

    Walls can’t talk, though. And even if they could, walls definitely aren’t talking these days, since there really are no walls to speak of. Open concept houses, where nearly zero rooms are divided by walls, have become the way families imagine doing life together. When the kitchen, living room, dining room, and TV room are all one room, there’s the promise that you’re creating space that “allows the love to flow,” as the Scandinavians say. Fewer boundaries equals more family togetherness.

    What realtors are starting to find, though, is that the aspirational notion of more family time has led to … more family time. The Boston Globe reported that this has led homeowners to face some harsh truths about their family lives, namely,

    That you’re not a parent who wants the kids RIGHT THERE when you’re in the kitchen, your only alone time, or what used to be your only alone time. That you’re not a host relaxed enough to chat with guests while preparing a three-course meal. That you’re not Marie Kondo enough to keep every inch of what used to be three rooms clutter-free at all times.

    Walls, in other words, were nice: For one, they hid the mountain of crap that inevitably flowed over from the other parts of our lives. But most importantly, they buffered us from the strange people who shared our DNA.

    Unfortunately, walls or not, these strange people will always remain strange. Every home is its own molecular structure of dysfunction, a physical reminder that you are born under a larger umbrella organization. You have parents and (sometimes) siblings, who have names and stories and contexts that you may not want but are inseparably yours. There are certain codes of conduct, certain ways of communicating (or not communicating), certain predispositions to freckles or spicy foods or hand-eye clumsiness. For better or worse, this place is your first and often most influential institution of “professional development.” Weirdly, you never submitted your résumé to this office—you don’t know if you would’ve if you had the choice—but the job’s yours all the same. You are a born natural for it!

    Still, despite the job description and the baggage it brings, the homes we live in tend to foster our fiercest loyalties and most deep-seated convictions. The oldest religion in the world is family. If the etymology of religion is “to tighten” or “to bind,” then it makes sense that the oldest established religion came not with cuneiform or pyramids, but with the family unit, where members have always been bound up together in collective mythologies and rituals. It continues today, as you watch old VHS home videos, as you obnoxiously rehash the same old jokes with the same lame punchline, as you comfortably fall back into familiar roles like a well-worn sofa.

    In other words, no matter how far you fly, or with whom you create new families, you always take them with you, because to some degree, you are them. As the country singer Lori McKenna put it,

    The tree grows where it’s planted / And that’s the fate of a fallen seed

    No matter how many times I’ve denied it / The apple never falls far from the tree

    As long as family therapists and professional helpers have been around, their work has centered on the damning determinism of the family unit, how the proverbial “sins of the father” really do, in fact, sprawl out in time. God’s family, as it is presented in the Bible, proves no different: All down the family line is a story of liars begetting murderers begetting drunks begetting liars again.

    Which I guess makes Jesus’ ambivalence about the family enterprise less startling. But only slightly less. Living in a cultural (and theological) milieu that, much like today, prioritized family over all else, he denounced it as a powerful evasion, a way to wall off reality and revelation. Whenever a family caveat is thrown before him (“But Jesus, your mom is outside!” or “Wait Jesus, I need to bury my father!”) Jesus doubles down on the centrality of his own message: “I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother.”

    Jesus is not anti-family so much as he is anti-walls, and the way he sees it, the four walls of a home are no different from the four walls of the temple—a safe haven from a cruel world, sure, but also a buffer zone from the true heart of God and a breeding ground for self-deception. I wonder whether his devastating prophecy about the temple could just as easily be levied on the family mythologies rehearsed in every family home: “Do you see these great buildings?” he says. “Not one stone (nay, not one “accent wall”) will be standing where it’s standing now.”

    Ultimately, Jesus reminds us, even if our families love us and protect us, no rearing could ever have the generative power to make us whole or evade suffering. Every family, Ben Maddison writes in this issue, is cruciform in shape. In the end, our families point us to a need they cannot provide.

    Jesus points us to the fragility of our walled-off holiest of holies, and to the only hope that our families have ever had. Look at the home you can’t keep clean, the mother-in-law you can’t tolerate, the daughter who won’t call, the spouse you’re losing to cancer. There is an endless array of reckonings awaiting all families. But as Christ stands within the four walls of your failed temple, and he stretches out his hands, he offers not only the compassion of a loving God, but the hope of a very real resurrection: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

    There is no shortage of losses in families, both literally and figuratively. This also means that there is no limit to the stories in which God has done some of his own home restoration work. We’ve compiled a few of them here, in the hopes that they provide consolation and hope. We also have interviews with psychologist Harriet Lerner, education and parenting expert Alfie Kohn, and Silver Linings Playbook author Matthew Quick. We’ve got essays about foster parents and surrogate parents, preacher families and estranged families. We talk about divorce, dogs, apologies, parenting advice, and the church’s incessant focus on families. And that’s not all.

    So, brew yourself some tea, turn the page, and enjoy the remaining walls in your open concept home. By the time you reach the last page, we’ll have (hopefully) removed them all.

    Click here to order your copy!

    ORDER YOUR COPY HERE!

    Another Week Ends: School Performance, Workplace Food, Cowboy Suicides, Love Ambitionists, and the Wrong Side of History

    1. Today the fourteenth issue of the magazine goes to print, and so it’s only appropriate that we open this weekender with one of our issue’s featured interviewees (and conference speaker!), Alfie Kohn. In our Family Issue, Alfie and I talked about parenting and education, and how kids (and the people who raise them) are […]

    Another Week Ends: The Seculosity of…Work, Pop Culture, Boutique Ice Cream, Even Doing Nothing At All, and the Perils of YEEZter

    1. Perhaps it was fated that, as the Seculosity Train pulled into our hometown of Charlottesville, VA, for the book launch, there would be a whole host of articles detailing its newest incarnations. The Seculosity of Work, of Ice Cream, of Kanye, of Happiness, the list goes on. First off, here’s one from The New […]

    Another Week Ends: Chutes and Ladders, Sex Recessions, Virtue Signaling, the Final Four, and the End of Goodbyes

    1. Adam Grant wrote an op-ed this week in the New York Times about the question thrown at seven year olds everywhere: What do you want to be when you grow up? Grant, who is an “organizational psychologist,” believes that the question should be thrown out, not because no child could possibly know what they […]

    Another Week Ends: The Mass Audience, The Power of Invisibility, College Loan Evangelism, Intuitive Eating, and the Fourth United Church

    1. From The Spectator comes “The Quiet Sorrow of the Instagram Blogger.” It tells the true story of one “Influencer,” who really is a caricatured stand-in for everyone these days, named Kelly Larkin, of the “Kelly in the City” brand. Larkin is known (apparently) as an “aspirational but accessible” lifestyle branding influencer. As these cautionary […]

    Another Week Ends: Fake Meat, Away Messages, Ambiguous Grief, Dopey, Lebowitz, Gaffigan, and Generous Pot Roast

    1. Meghan O’Gieblyn’s been on our radar of late, and not just because she’s featured so prominently in our new Faith & Doubt Issue. Meghan’s book of essays, Interior States, is phenomenal. American religiosity (and #seculosity) is on full display, and the theme continues in this new monthly series she’s doing at The Paris Review, […]

    Moonlighters Anonymous

    Moonlighting—also known as working a second job, having a “side hustle”—is a pretty standard theme these days. Thanks to Pinterest and Instagram, everyone’s got a home renovation project, a knack for macramé, and a small business opportunity. But in truth it’s been around forever. Loads of famous people “made it” by moonlighting. The American poet […]

    Another Week Ends: Prison Seminary, Bingo Card Memes, Tidying Up (and Stuffing It Down), Wendell’s Port William, and Four Very Specific Oreos

    1. First up is this doozie of an interview from Christianity Today, about a woman recently released from a 30-year sentence in a California prison. Linda Barkman was sentenced with second-degree murder in 1979 after her boyfriend murdered her 2-year-old daughter. That devastating outcome, she says, came at the end of a string of abusive […]

    The Helplessness of the God of Christmas

    When I read this way back in September, I just knew I needed to come back to it for Christmas. This is from W.H. Vanstone’s Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense, a short reflection by the late English theologian-priest on the nature of God’s love. You can’t talk about God’s love becoming knowable without talking about Christmas, which is why Vanstone tells this simple story. What becomes clear though, is how this depiction of God’s love—which looks discomfortingly like helplessness—is evacuated from our usual understandings of Christmas. In the story, Vanstone is closing up the church in preparation for services the following day, and there meets a disruption to his pretty Christmas picture.

    The Word of God discloses to us at Christmas the helplessness of love at the hands of its own creatures—the fact that it is in their hands, vulnerable to their hands, dependent upon their hands for its own triumphant or tragic issue. But the disclosure is made graciously, in the form and presence of a Child. The helplessness of a child is a manageable helplessness, about which we know what we may do, by which our heart and our will are touched. It is not a harrowing helplessness, before which one who saw it might stand appalled. The same truth, the tragic possibility of the love of God, might have been exposed to us in harrowing and appalling form.

    On a certain night, shortly before Christmas, I stood in the beautiful church which, in due time, rose beside the commonplace building where, at the first, the people of a new community had worshipped. The Church was ready for Christmas; and the quiet light of candles enhanced its tranquility and beauty. It was very late: but the beauty of Christmas and of its symbols seemed peculiarly intense that night; and I was glad to receive it while I might. I was disturbed by a noise behind me—a dull thud: and I saw, against the glass door, a face pressed, and grotesquely distorted by the pressure. A man was half slumped, half kneeling against the door. He was drunk; and when we talked and he gradually became more sober, it was clear that, though he was quite young, he was already an alcoholic. His experience of life was nothing but the experience of conflict and squalor: and at Christmas he expected nothing different. When at last I retired to sleep my mind must have dwelt on the tragic and distorted face which had, so to speak, invaded the beauty of Christmas. For I dreamed: and in my dream a rubbish-collector came to me and told me that he had been clearing up after a riot; and I myself saw a huge pile of stones and cans and waste paper and scrap metal which he had collected. Then the man touched my arm and said, ‘But what am I to do? For deep within the pile, buried at the bottom of it, I have seen a living face.’ Though my own eyes did not see a face, I knew in my dream that it must be the face of God.

    A few hours later, when I preached in Church, I was compelled to speak of my dream. For it seemed to suggest a different way in which the truth of Christmas might have been disclosed—a harrowing and appalling way. It made one newly sensitive to, and grateful for, the graciousness of the way in which the truth of Christmas is in fact disclosed to us. But, in substance, it was the same truth. It was the truth of a God Who, in love, is totally expended for the being of His creation—so that He is helpless under its weight and barely survives for its everlasting support; so that, in the tragedies of creation, in its waste and rubbish, God Himself is exposed to tragedy: so that the creation is sustained at the cost of the agony of the One Who is buried and almost wholly submerged within the depths of it.

    Another Week Ends: Esther Perel, Tourist Photos, Six-Week Church Services, Perfect Products, and Lunch Brushers

    1. For those of you who are, like me, already devotees of Esther Perel’s Where Should We Begin? podcast, much of her interview with the New Yorker will come as no surprise. On multiple platforms I’ve heard her give this explanation about our current marital malaise, but that doesn’t matter because it’s great: Marriage is […]

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