Another Week Ends

1) The New Yorker recently released a very good (and very short) story from none […]

Ethan Richardson / 8.3.12

1) The New Yorker recently released a very good (and very short) story from none other than F. Scott Fitzgerald, called “Thank You for the Light.” A “pretty, somewhat faded woman of forty,” a midwestern corset saleswoman, she cannot find a place to smoke a cigarette away from judgmental eyes. She is becoming desperate and in her desperation she finds, yes, a church. A small sampling here, but be sure to take the extra five minutes and read the whole thing here.

And to herself she was thinking, If I could just get three puffs I could sell old-fashioned whalebone.

She had one more store to visit now but her appointment was not for half an hour. That was just time to go to her hotel but, as there was no taxi in sight, she walked along the street, thinking, Perhaps I ought to give up cigarettes. I’m getting to be a drug fiend.

Before her, she saw the Catholic cathedral. It seemed very tall, and suddenly she had an inspiration: if so much incense had gone up in the spires to God, a little smoke in the vestibule would make no difference. How could the Good Lord care if a tired woman took a few puffs in the vestibule?

Nevertheless, though she was not a Catholic, the thought offended her. Was it so important that she have her cigarette, when it might offend a lot of other people, too?

Still. He wouldn’t mind, she thought persistently. In His days, they hadn’t even discovered tobacco. . . .

She went into the church; the vestibule was dark, and she felt for a match in the bag she carried but there weren’t any.

I’ll go and get a light from one of their candles, she thought.

The darkness of the nave was broken only by a splash of light in one corner. She walked up the aisle toward the white blur, and found that it was not made by candles and, in any case, it was about to go out—an old man was on the point of extinguishing a last oil lamp

2) As college move-in day nears across the country, numerous articles like this are popping up everywhere, about the loving way to un-parent one’s way out of your child’s college life. The Wall Street Journal focused on one small liberal arts school that gives its parents just a quick window of time to say their goodbyes and shoos them out.

It’s when administrators at the small private college in Rock Island, Ill., give parents 15 minutes to say goodbye to their children. Then, students are told to report to the gym for freshman orientation, while parents are basically told to shove off.

…Faced with what a Syracuse University administrator calls “the most over-involved generation of all time,” colleges across the country are increasingly focusing on parents who are struggling with the transition from high school to college. Colleges are holding special orientation seminars for parents, appointing administrators to handle outreach with parents and providing emailed newsletters and specific parent portal websites, among other services.

One of the toughest parts, administrators say, is educating parents how to stay involved without coming across as overbearing, or worse, a hovering “helicopter parent.” “Our job is to take the gas out of the helicopter, so that by the time their children become seniors, that helicopter is grounded, and students can take care of themselves,” says Rodney Johnson, executive director of parent services at George Washington University.

3) If you’re like me and looking for a site that, unlike the NYT, has decided not to spoil Olympic fun, but still contains good Olympics writing, Bill Simmons is in London, corresponding for his Grantland, and his series “The London Chronicles” is superbly funny, particularly his Dr. Jack analysis of swimming versus gymnastics. It’s hard not to see in watching, though, the American obsession with glory roads and winner-makings, as the Harvard Business Review did a great job of pointing out in “Our Unhealthy Obsession with Winning” with a great Robert Louis Stevenson quote thrown in there: “Is there anything in life so disenchanting as attainment?” (ht BFG). We can’t always relate to gainers and pommel horses, but competition? Absolutely. Success narratives? You betcha. And if there’s anything more to say about that, The New Yorker‘s piece on the Olympics as Reality TV really brings it home.

4) Speaking of the modern achievement-oriented mind, The Stone recently discussed our paleolithic (or elemental) propensities for being wired against saving ourselves from ecological meltdown. “Are We Unfit for Modernity?” indeed–and look at the ways  we can redirect it! No joke: “moral bioenhancement.”

Thanks to recent trends like the paleolithic diet and barefoot running, many are familiar with the theory that modern physical maladies from diabetes to tendonitis can be blamed more or less on the fact that our bodies are adapted to the conditions of hunter-gatherer societies in the Pleistocene. In an essay at Philosophy Now, Julian Savulescu and Ingmar Persson go further, arguing that our minds are analogously outdated, leaving us vulnerable to catastrophe on a global scale. Because our moral psychology is adapted to living in “groups the size of a small village or a nomadic tribe,” and with a “bias towards the near future” it is unable to handle long-term challenges like climate change. To close the gap, they advocate for a program of “moral bioenhancement,” including “drugs or genetic modifications,” in tandem with traditional “moral education.”

Which dovetails nicely into the feuding manifestos in Slate this week about, um, air conditioning, the first of which you can pretty much predict the thesis, right? We use too much energy, we are heating the earth to cool ourselves, yada yada. And then came the loving retort, “Don’t Sweat It: The Case Against the Case Against Air Conditioning,” the end of which I’ll put here.

In any case, there’s a certain pride in taking the heat, a thermal machismo that doesn’t apply as often when the mercury plunges. Anti-A/C crusaders invoke the sultry afternoons of yore, when ladies fanned themselves on the front porch and gentlemen rolled up their shirtsleeves and mopped their brows. Because air conditioning is a more recent invention than fire and furnaces, it seems less connected to who we are and who we’ve been.

5) Continuing in the social science field, The Atlantic‘s weekly highlighting of studies is proving for fertile theological ground. They all end up saying something to this affect: “We think these things are happening and, looking deep down, we realize they’re wrong, very wrong.” Take this one, “We Believe We’re Losing Weight When We’re Actually Gaining,” and this one, “Paranoia Is Self-Fulfilling,” the jist of which is below:

Basically, the researchers confirmed that people who are highly motivated to acquire relationship-threatening information exhibit paranoia and related behaviors. They also have a higher likelihood of being excluded and provoking anger among their group members. One interesting bit of data showed that paranoid,(high MARTI) people were 3.63 times more likely to be excluded from a group than people who wanted feedback and 16.5 times more likely to excluded than people who wanted to learn about group interactions… It’s a quick downward spiral from social uncertainty to paranoid thoughts and behaviors to ultimate social rejection. Ironically, those who are most predisposed to that initial uncertainty end up causing the problems they wanted to avoid.

6) Bob Dylan is coming out with a new record, Tempest, the first details of which Rolling Stones covered this week, and there’s a song called “Pay in Blood”?!

The album contains 10 songs, including a John Lennon tribute entitled “Roll on John,” which quotes lines from multiple Beatles songs, including “Come together right now” from “Come Together” and “I heard the news today, oh boy” from “A Day in the Life.” The title track is a 14-minute epic about the sinking of the Titanic, which actually refers to a scene from James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic at one point. The chorus of another standout track, “Pay in Blood,” includes the line, “I’ll pay in blood, but not my own.” 

7) Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems David Brooks really hit a national vein in his commentary yesterday on the campaigns thus far–basically that they’ve been so schmeh, so dull and seemingly inconsequential. Maybe it points to American apathy, maybe it points to the campaign strategies and gaff-attacks, that make it feel farcical. Either way, and its probably a bit of both, he nails it here on technology and dishonesty:

Eighth, technology is making campaigns dumber. BlackBerrys and iPhones mean that campaigns can respond to their opponents minute by minute and hour by hour. The campaigns get lost in tit-for-tat minutiae that nobody outside the bubble cares about. Meanwhile, use of the Internet means that Web videos overshadow candidate speeches and appearances. Video replaces verbal. Tactics eclipse vision.

Finally, dishonesty numbs. A few years ago, newspapers and nonprofits set up fact-checking squads, rating campaign statements with Pinocchios and such. The hope was that if nonpartisan outfits exposed campaign deception, the campaigns would be too ashamed to lie so much.

This hope was naive. As John Dickerson of Slate has said, the campaigns want the Pinocchios. They want to show how tough they are. But the result is a credibility vacuum. It’s impossible to take ads seriously. They are the jackhammer noise in the background of life.

8) And finally, David Zahl was interviewed this week by the gracious folks at ChurchNext on the ministry of “Disconnected Adults”. In the interview, DZ talks about Mockingbird’s history and framework, the community of those de-churched, and the power of meaning over persuasion. And finally, in that vein, I leave you with a great theological capstone from Chuck Collins called “Give Me Meat!” over at Holy Trinity Anglican’s site. In consideration of the repeating message of the Gospel of the Grace of God, why not something new for a change, something more?

The misunderstanding comes when we distinguish justification and sanctification in such a way that one has to do with God’s effort and one with our own effort. NO! That’s not what the Bible teaches. The gospel of Grace is the answer to justification AND sanctification. When it comes to justification we are clear that it is a free gift from God’s loving heart. But when we get to sanctification, POOF! we all-of-a-sudden turn into performance-based legalists – “You have to pray, study the Bible, tithe, stop cussing and spittin’ on sidewalks, and just try harder to be  better people.” Then they go in search of a preacher who affirms them in their self-salvation by preaching “try harder” sermons.

Give you meat. Okay: “GROW IN GRACE.” Grow in your understanding of the sinfulness of sin and the greatness of Grace that is extended to someone who doesn’t deserve it, hasn’t earned it, and could never do enough to be awarded it. We never grow out of Grace or scratch the surface of its meaning. If we fail to remember our justification we will never understand our sanctification. God wants us to grow deeper in our appreciation of what is already ours in Jesus Christ our Lord. This is true discipleship.