Another Week Ends

Time-Wasting Projects, Serotonin, Destination Funerals, the Hope of Children, the Languages of Love, and Jesus is King

Bryan J. / 10.25.19

1. Ear Hustle is a podcast about incarceration. It shares stories about life in San Quentin prison and the reintegration into life that follows a sentence there. The final episode of the recent fourth season is a hard story of reconciliation between a police officer and the man who shot him and went to jail for it. The episode is titled “Tell Christy I Love Her,” and if you need a reaffirmation that miracles exist, download and listen. Here’s a sample:

I told Jason: I don’t think I need to forgive you. Because I understand what happened. He and I were like two rocket ships on the same trajectory from different directions. He had been raised and trained in an environment that caused him to react exactly like you would expect a human being to react, given his training and environment. I was doing exactly the same thing, reacting exactly how I was trained. To me, it was almost inevitable what had happened.

By “I don’t think I need to forgive you,” officer Tom Morgan actually means, “I have already forgiven you.” If you’re wondering lately how judges can come to hug the defendants sentenced to prison, or if you’re shocked at how a man can hug the person who killed his brother, keep following the trail. You’ll find Jesus at the end of it.

2. Re-appropriating a quote from Marilynne Robinson, “Nobody seems to have an unkind word to say about ‘innovation’ these days…” That’s generally true, though Simon Waxman takes a stab at the buzzword of buzzwords in his essay “Against Innovation.”

Innovation recognizes that we face challenges now and responds with faith in the future. Maybe this is all to the good. Maybe the best escapes from our current entanglements have not yet been found. But the notion of innovating our way out of contentious debates is fishy. Our seemingly insurmountable disagreements reflect what we think of as real ethical and ideological difference. The innovation ethos says that these differences are in fact insubstantial and that there is a solution we will all agree to if only we can think of it and engineer it into existence.

In other words, tomorrow’s solution is not merely better than those we can conceive of today, but it is outside the bounds of contestation. It has no normative content; it just works, and we’ll all recognize that.

The essay is from Jacobin Magazine, so you know, expect solutions from a particular political angle. Still, if faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1), Waxman is right to categorize innovation as a faith in the future, not just the conviction, but the assurance, that the solution will present itself through new technology and thought.

3. Gary Chapman’s famous Five Love Languages is the Chick-fil-A of marital self-help: sourced in Baptist values and beloved by many in the secular world. Ashley Fetters takes a deep dive into the cultural legacy of the oft quoted and parodied relationship tool. Sadly, even the most evangelical of ideas can be coopted by the #Seculosity of Romance:

But people who become familiar with the concept without reading the book often think, Todd noted, that people should simply express love in the way that feels natural to them and then explain to their partners that that’s their love language—or that the point is to know your own love language solely for the purpose of telling your partner what you want. Certainly, Todd emphasized, it’s good to know your own love language, and it’s healthy to communicate to your partner what makes you feel appreciated and what doesn’t do much for you. But Chapman’s advice, she pointed out, doesn’t stop there so much as it starts there.

If you sit down and read Chapman’s book, it’s clear that the love language you’re meant to think about isn’t your own, but your partner’s. The first chapter concludes by hammering home that the pathway to a more fulfilling relationship is to tailor your own expressions of love to what makes your partner feel loved: “We cannot rely on our native tongue if our spouse does not understand it,” Chapman writes. “If we want them to feel the love we are trying to communicate, we must express it in their primary love language.”

Chapman then devotes five chapters to identifying each of the love languages in a partner, just one to identifying your own love language, and the better part of six chapters—essentially the rest of the book—to specific strategies for adapting your behavior to your partner’s love language. In other words, what often gets lost in the discourse is that The Five Love Languages encourages attentiveness and behavioral self-regulation above all else.

Which, if you ask some relationship researchers, is a shame—because that’s the part that holds the most promise.

4. Tim Kreider, Mbird NYC speaker emeritus and essayist, is here to talk about his Massive Secret Time-Wasting Project. Do you have a MSTWP? His essay The Art of Doing Nothing is a reflection on the MSTWP and whether they are true distractions from life’s most important things or whether they are life’s most important things. Here’s a sample:

There really is something illicit — sinful — about procrastination, and not just because you’re wriggling out of your responsibilities or filching a few minutes from your employer; it has the same perverse, thanatotic thrill of smoking cigars, drinking whiskey, or other more overtly self-destructive vices: Instead of heedlessly endangering your health, you are knowingly squandering time, a commodity more irreplaceable than uranium. My friend Nell likes to ask people in the throes of romantic or sexual obsessions, “If you weren’t thinking about [x person], what would you be thinking about instead?” because it is usually this that they are fleeing into their infatuation or affair. The true driving force of an obsession is not its ostensible object but the thing it occludes. Beneath the frivolous subject of procrastination is the dreadful subtext of time passing, deadlines approaching, things left undone. I am over 50 now, and the time has begun to feel distinctly finite. I have 20 or 30 years left to work; I know what 20 or 30 years feels like, and I can also feel the time accelerating. And creative energy, like physical energy, eventually begins to flag; an older writer recently told me it gets harder to sustain the flow state of composition as long. I should be dedicating all my time and attention to my next book; I know I want it to be big, ambitious, formally complex and innovative. But first I just need to finish the first two or possibly three episodes of my screenplay adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy.

Apple TV already has a streaming adaptation of The Foundation Trilogy in the works, by the way. Also, the essay gifts us Jay Leno’s great joke: “Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone goofed off at work as much as you do?”

5. This week in humor, McSweeney’s You’re Invited to My Destination Funeral is a slice of fried gold, and so is the video below from the minds of Lutheran Satire! Also, The Onion has 5 Things To Know About Kanye’s “Jesus Is King”. Joking aside, Kanye’s newest album is something special, and I imagine there’ll be some more talk about it on the site soon enough. Here’s a preview from Vox: You’re My Chick-fil-A and Other Incredibly Kanye Lyrics from Jesus Is King.

6. John Waters reviews the latest novel from Michael Houellebecq, titled “Seratonin: A Novel” over at First Things:

Only a culture rooted in the sacred is capable of sustaining a human person or society over the long run. Houellebecq understands this, although he struggles with the knowledge. Even if he does not quite buy it, it informs his investigations of the human journey to see if there is a point at which the mess man has made on his own doorstep will force human desire onto a different path…

“God is a mediocre scriptwriter,” declares Florent, “that’s the conviction that almost fifty years of life have led me to form, and more generally God is mediocre: the whole of his creation bears the stamp of approximation and failure, when it isn’t meanness pure and simple.”

But later, having condemned himself, as he busily prepares his own end, he is a new man.

God takes care of us; he thinks of us every minute, and he gives us instructions that are sometimes very precise. Those surges of love that flow into our chests and take our breath away—those illuminations, those ecstasies, inexplicable if we consider our biological nature, our status as simple primates—are extremely clear signs.

God’s death is true only in this world; when we can no longer even live, it loses its purchase. Then we may have a chance. Perhaps the reason Europe has recently seemed intent upon self-destruction is that this is the only route back to meaning that its residual instincts know.

7. Let’s close today with a reflection on the gift of children. While we’re at it, let’s dedicate this post to the newest Mbird in the nest, Mr. David Keene Richardson, son of Mockingbird Magazine editor Ethan and wife Hannah, born October 22, 6lbs, 11oz, 20.25 inches. Wes Hill reflects on the hope that children represent apart from their utility over at Point Magazine.

The early Christians thought that something shifted with parents and children after Jesus rose from the dead. Prior to the Incarnation, throughout the plotline of the Hebrew Bible, children were the guarantee that the life of Israel would continue. God had once led their ancestor Abraham outside and asked him to observe just how many cold white pinpricks made up the haze in the black sky. “That’s how many descendants you will have,” the Lord said (Genesis 15:5). Being unmarried or unable to conceive then was, like it is for many today, a trial and a grief, but doubly so. The single and the barren in Israel not only suffered a kind of loneliness but also represented a sort of social and theological aberration: without a way to contribute to the longevity of the community, the childless were on the margins.

Jesus, however, complicated that way of thinking. The Da Vinci Code notwithstanding, he chose a life of celibacy for himself and announced that one didn’t need to conceive children biologically in order to be a parent. His resurrection spelled the end of death’s dominion, which meant, as early Christian thinkers quickly saw, that having children wasn’t essential for the perpetuation of the church. With death defeated, one didn’t have to rely on a procreative strategy to elude it. The church would grow by evangelism and baptism, not primarily or at least not necessarily through sex and child-rearing. According to Stanley Hauerwas, Christians “believe that every Christian in one generation might be called to singleness, yet God will create the church anew.”

This new Christian point of view gradually changed the way believers thought about the children they welcomed into the world. Although the church recommended the immediate baptism of newborn infants and developed its own fascination with genealogies and ecclesiastical dynasties, it has never quite lost its sense that there is now a clear way to appreciate children without pinning all your hope for the future on them. Children, after Christ, are not simply to be seen as links in a generational chain that will preserve the church’s family name or guarantee its future flourishing but instead are gratuitous gifts. Hauerwas again: “Christians do not place their hope in their children, but rather their children are a sign of their hope, in spite of the considerable evidence to the contrary, that God has not abandoned this world.”

Happy weekends all. You’re our Chick fil A. You’re our number 1 with the lemonade.


Posthumous Leonard Cohen – What Happens to the Heart? (see above)

The internet’s favorite theme park and death trap has its own documentary.

Kierkegaard, Hegel, Whitman, Plato, and a number of other thinkers, on the subject of desire in opposition to longing.

Along with Wes Hill’s and Tim Kreider’s essays above, the Mockingcast trio also discuss this essay on Parenting and Panic.

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3 responses to “Another Week Ends”

  1. CJ says:

    So much good stuff here, not just all the chick fil a references… i also have approximately 80 MSTWPs, so i needed this. Thanks, Bryan!

  2. James Fishwick says:

    Was disappointed to learn it wasn’t that John Waters 🙁

  3. Bryan J. says:

    Say what you will about Kanye’s Chick fil A song, but my wife Beth and I were driving home this afternoon listening to the album… eating Chick fil A like a stereotype… and we almost shot unsweet tea out our noses when that track came on.

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