Another Week Ends

1. The question of why millennials are leaving the church came back into public view […]

David Zahl / 8.2.13

funny-church-signs-1581. The question of why millennials are leaving the church came back into public view this week via an opinion piece by Rachel Held Evans on CNN, the key line being, “What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.” Accessibility and format are not really the issue in other words; if anything, church-as-performance appears to be symptomatic of an insecurity in modern believers that has alienated as many as it has attracted. Evans believes the real problem is the What, not the How. Fair enough–the substance of much of what passes for Christianity these days does need some rethinking–but the suggestions she lists are, to these ears at least, nothing more or less than a recalibration of law (“we want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers”). Meaning, it’s the same old boss–the same old substance!–just with a new easy-pour mug. Brett McCracken, in a thoughtful response over at The Washington Post, points out the consumerist bias implicit in Evans’ diagnosis (his note about “perception obsession” and junior high school is priceless), but I’m not so sure his conclusions are all that different. Meaning, the transformative vision of faith he endorses may be less curated or convenient, but it’s still premised on a result rather than a message. Grace and rest and absolution–with no new strings or projects (or anxieties!) attached–now that would be a change in substance. Alas, I’m retreading tired ground.

2. McCracken’s timing was nonetheless pretty uncanny when he suggested that we might do well to listen to the wisdom of our elders, as Pope Francis put all the young pundits to shame this week during his remarkable (and remarkably gentle) airplane press conference, zeroing in on the beating heart of the matter when he spoke about forgiveness. In fact, over at The Washington Post, Ezra Klein noted that news outlets may have glossed over perhaps the most radical comments Francis made, namely his claim that when it comes to confessed trespass, God not only forgives but forgets, that we consequently “don’t have the right not to forget.” Woah. Klein writes:

Mr_Forgetful___Mr_Men_by_DeviblueWe live in an age where your neighbor’s past indiscretions are only a Google search away — and they’re only a Google search away forever. Washington is particularly obsessed with digging up decades-old indiscretions and embarrassment in order to humiliate people running for office or serving in government.

The pope says we don’t have the right to not forget, but today, we have the technology to unearth many more sins, and to make sure they’re never forgotten. There’s not a lot of mercy in the Google oppo dump, but there can be a lot of page views, or points in the polls, in it.

So while Washington is enthusiastically applauding the thing the Pope said that we already agree with, we could perhaps spend some time thinking about the thing he said that we don’t agree with — or at least that we don’t often practice. This is a town where forgiveness is cheap, but forgetting is rarely available at any price.

3. A tie for Social Science Study of the Week. The first comes from NPR: “Hating on Fat People Just Makes Them Fatter”, ht NW, in which we read that “‘People often rationalize that it’s OK to discriminate based on weight because it will motivate the victim to lose pounds,’ a psychologist at the Florida State College of Medicine in Tallahassee [reported]. ‘But our findings suggest the opposite.'”

The second would have to be The Atlantic’s “Meaning Is Healthier Than Happiness,” which restates, in genetic terms, recent findings about physical health being correlated more closely with eudaimonic than hedonic wellbeing. But before you put any of this stuff into practice, be sure to read the Tales From The Hood post on how “sacrifice” can often be subordinated to self-justification when it comes to humanitarian work (or ministry, for that matter), ht MM.

4. A piece on the Huffington Post seems to have put its finger on the pulse of the oppressive postpartem standards for young mothers that Stephen Colbert hinted at last week, aptly juxtaposing “Kate Middleton and The Mom in the Mirror”, ht JD. While the conclusions may land pretty squarely in emotional bootstrapping territory, still, when did it became the highest compliment you can pay a woman to say, “You look like you never even had a baby”?


5. The Dissolve has had a terrific first few weeks, not the least of which being Matt Singer’s reflection on the rise of the movie teaser, where “the hints of what’s to come matter more than the events themselves”. It’s worth a read even if you’re not interested in the dynamic of expectation and resentment–but especially if you are, ht WJ:

All those years of hype can create impossibly high expectations. How could any movie live up to the fantasy of Batman Vs. Superman that every DC Comics fan is going to be dreaming about every day from now until 2015? It can’t. Surrounded by such impossibly high hopes, the actual texts are often disappointing. Which feeds back into teaser culture. For consumers who are anticipating everything, everything becomes a potential (and likely) letdown. At that point, the only thing anyone has left to look forward to is looking forward to more stuff, and occasionally reminiscing about the days of futures past.

6. In the sports world, it’s probably no coincidence that ex-dogfighting Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was the first to forgive teammate Riley Cooper for making racist comments at a Kenny Chesney concert, ht BJ.

7. We have a full-length post on the whole Anthony Weiner debacle coming on Monday, but if you just can’t contain yourself (!), The Atlantic’s “Where Narcissism Meets Addiction” has some valuable things to say on the subject. Only qualifier here being that whatever the label we give his behavior–addiction, compulsion, narcissism–only matters so much when it comes to its meaning or impact.

Despite the contempt, moral opprobrium and brutal mockery that have greeted this latest revelation, there is in fact something tragic about Anthony Weiner’s coming downfall. In the classic sense of the word, tragedy concerns the fate of a prominent figure brought down, not by external events, but by a flaw in his character. Weiner’s “flaw,” his primary psychological weakness, is the relentless pursuit of admiration and sexual excitement in order to ward off an unconscious sense of inferiority. Sexting with multiple partners bolsters narcissistic defense mechanisms, but tragically drives him to behave in ways that lead to further exposure and deeper shame. The public attention that comes with a high-profile political campaign inflates his sense of self but draws the kind of media scrutiny that inevitably deflates him.

8. Humor-wise, The Onion reports that “Nation Just Wants To Be Safe, Happy, Rich, Comfortable, Entertained At All Times
Also Healthy, Fulfilled, Successful, and Loved”
. Also, church nerds will find much to chuckle at in “The Lowchurchman’s Guide to the Solemn High Mass”.

9. Last but not least, the new TV on the Radio single has a great name (and great lyrics too):

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Bonus Track: If this morning’s Grace in Practice quote got your motor running, be sure to check out Matthew Warren’s excellent series on the book over at Die Evangelischen Theologen. Wednesday’s installment on “Paul Zahl’s (un)Ecclesiology” (No one has ever awakened in the middle of the night anxious about ecclesiology per se, pg 225) ends things on a wonderfully iconoclastic note.