Another Week Ends

Alleluia! Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has […]

Bryan J. / 4.17.20

Alleluia! Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.

The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

So goes the Pascha Nostrum, an old hymn that Christians have sung for centuries. The liturgical types among us may be reciting it on our church livestreams for the next few weeks. And in the age of the virus, it encapsulates the Easter hope that Christians have touted from day one: death is not the end. It’s no surprise that this week’s links are pretty Easter-heavy. See, for example, the above video. Christ the Redeemer is also Christ the Physician. Rumor has it he hasn’t lost a patient yet. His is risen indeed. Alleluia!

1. For more hope this week, check the Easter write-up in the NYT this week by Elizabeth Dias, a collection of Christian hope doing its work in a dark time:

Not long after the sun rose on Easter morning, Beba Tata arrived at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., ready to pray.

It all felt strangely quiet, almost hollow, thought Ms. Tata, a Catholic chaplain. This was not the way she normally would celebrate the sacred day. But little has felt normal lately: Just a few days ago, she had been called to pray outside the sealed door of a coronavirus patient’s hospital room, at the urgent plea of his grieving wife.

All around her, she was seeing echoes of the story of Jesus’ final days. His suffering on the cross while his loved ones watched “at a distance,” as the Book of Mark said. His final gasp for air. His disciples waiting, hoping, wondering about life beyond death.

On Sunday, she looked up at a hospital television. A priest was celebrating the Easter Mass. She began to worship, her pager at her side in case she was called to see a patient.

“That is where I find my hope, knowing death did not have the last word,” she said, reflecting on the story of Easter. “There is a time when this will be over, and we will rise out of the dust.” …

On a very personal level, the story of Jesus felt unusually close for many believers this Holy Week, and not just on Easter Sunday. Christians on the front lines of the coronavirus fight described in interviews their feelings of being drawn into the memory of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, as they stared into suffering in their own midst and reflected on what it meant to hope. The veil between the story of Jesus and the story of the nation, they said, has felt thin.

Amen. The whole writeup is sympathetic to the cause, taking stock of the ways Christians across the political and theological spectrum gathered to stake a claim to hope in a dark time.

2. ICYMI, Andrea Bocelli believes in the Christian Easter. Fast forward to 19 minutes for a haunting and beautiful “Amazing Grace” sung over the empty streets of Milan.

3. Despite a season of great hardship, there’s some longterm optimism to be found if you ask Johnathan Haidt. The MbirdNYC speaker emeritus had been in a pessimistic place about the increase in polarization in the public sphere. In an interview with the WSJ’s Peggy Noonan, he shares that the virus might change that:

Mr. Haidt has been studying political polarization for years, and what he’s seen in the data is distressing. Yet he would always say at the end of his talks that if present trends continue we’re in trouble, “but present trends never continue. Something will happen to force this off the trajectory.”

He thinks this might be “the thing”: “It’s the end of a cycle, not the end of the world.” He hopes that in a shift “from I to we,” Americans may more deeply cultivate the virtues we need as a democracy, “which include the virtues of the Christian and Jewish traditions—humility, mercy. We are so quick to judge. We need to be easier on each other, turn down the judgment 80% or 90%.”

“The virus may do this. We have all been humbled by it, as a nation of institutions and of individuals, from the beginning.”

That, by the way, is where Lincoln wound up at the end of the Civil War, thinking we must turn down the judgment. A friend this week quoted from Edward Achorn’s “Every Drop of Blood,” a study of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. Mr. Achorn writes that Lincoln had come to think “it was time for Americans to stop thinking about self-righteousness. The only way forward was to recognize that all had been wrong and to treat each other with mercy.”

4. With a somewhat off-key counterpoint, another one of our favorite writers, Jennifer Weiner, shares that the virus is bringing out the Karen in all of us.

When I see misbehavior in person, it is all I can do not to start shouting, either in real life or virtually. Why aren’t you and Why don’t you and Don’t you realize you’re putting people at risk?

I understand (thanks, therapy!) that anger is a manifestation of fear, a way of exerting a tiny measure of control. I have no power over the pandemic. I can’t control who gets sick and if my hospital is ready and when we might return to something that looks like normal. But yelling at a guy on the sidewalk, or posting his picture on with the caption “So gross!” or “Can you believe this!?” — that I can do.

I’m not alone in my fury, or my impulses. My is writhing with finger-pointing; my Facebook groups are roiling with gotchas. I saw a supermarket cashier without a mask! I saw a man use an A.T.M. pad with his bare hands! My idiot cousin is posting conspiracy theories! My mom went and got a pedicure!

But with that impulse comes a different fear — the fear of being that white lady of a certain age who would like to speak to your manager. The fear of being Coronavirus Karen.

A Karen, for those who don’t know, is “based on the idea that there is a specific type of overprivileged white woman suburban soccer mom with the ‘Can I speak to the manager?’ haircut,” said Aja Romano, a culture writer at Vox.

As the lockdown continues, are the Karens becoming even more Karen-ish? Has the virus started the Night of the Living Karens? As everyone scrutinizes and side-eyes and embraces the mandate Snitch on Thy Neighbor, are we all Karens now?

5. On the Mockingcast this week, DZ referenced a blurb from another Mockingbird favorite, Kate Bowler, who was asked about her theology-professor-with-incurable-cancer take on the virus. Here’s that excerpt, certainly worth revisiting in print alongside the audio shout-out:

A. I think it’s painful for everyone to know that there’s just not a lot of room between anybody and the very edge. It really does run counter to the whole American story. It’s a story about how scrappy individuals will always make it, and it’s a story about how Americans’ collective self-understanding will always build something that will save the nation. And currently both things are not true. Everyone else in the world will suffer, too, but I don’t think they will suffer nearly the same cultural disillusionment because they didn’t have that account of exceptionalism.

A. The idea that we’re all supposed to be positive all the time has become an American obsession. It gives us momentum and purpose to feel like the best is yet to come. But the problem is when it becomes a kind of poison, in which it expects that people who are suffering — which is pretty much everyone right now — are somehow always supposed to find the silver lining or not speak realistically about their circumstances.

The main problem is that it adds shame to suffering, by just requiring everyone to be prescriptively joyful. If I see one more millionaire on Instagram yell that she is choosing joy, while selling journals in which stay-at-home moms are supposed to write joy mantras, I am going to lose my mind!

A. The trick is to find meaning without being taught a lesson. A pandemic is not a judgment, and it will not discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving. I think moments like this reveal to me God’s unbelievable love for us.

The second I see all these nurses and doctors going out there trying to save somebody else’s life, I realized it’s such a window into how gorgeous it is to be a human being. And the more we see fragility, sometimes the more we understand what an incredible miracle it is to have been created at all. So I think just having a higher and higher view of our gorgeous and terrible humanity.

We’re learning right now in isolation what interdependence feels like and what a gift it is. And the more we’re apart, the more we realize how much we need each other. We’re allowed to be like beautifully, stupidly needy right now. We’re allowed to FaceTime people and be like, I feel like a mess, and all I want to do is be loved.

6. Things that made us laugh this week: McSweeney’s The Seven Deadly Sins of Quarantine for starters (previewed above). Also from McSweeney’s: Living Through a Pandemic or Potty Training a Toddler? My favorite from the bunch: “You know you’re not supposed to use junk food as a reward, but you’ve already gone through ten bags of M&M’s.” Also funny this week: Russian Roulette Champion Won’t Let Son Play Russian Roulette, and Woman Diagnosed With COVID-19, Multiple Types of Rare Cancer by WebMD.

7. In news not pertaining to the virus, the long read of the week belongs to Kate Julian’s essay Parenting Kids With Anxiety. It’s an in-depth look at what we might call a decrease in the resilience of kiddos to handle hard subjects in the last fifteen years or so. There’s so much good stuff in the essay — DZ plans to give it the full write-up next week — but the thesis of the essay is that childhood anxiety is correlated with parental anxiety. Here’s a blurb that might make you feel a little judgey about other parents, but it gets to the point. If you can jump past the somewhat voyeuristic journey into parents whose children have extreme anxiety cases (no turkey loaf for my kiddo ever!), there’s both law and gospel for those who need it:

When I spoke with Kathryn L. Humphreys, a psychology professor at Vanderbilt University who specializes in the effects of caregiving in early life, she observed a widespread hesitancy to talk about depressing concepts with kids. Parents seem to feel that doing so is “developmentally inappropriate,” she mused, though this strikes her as exactly backwards given what we know about the benefits of graduated exposure to things that frighten us. Humphreys listens to the news after work, and her 4-year-old daughter will often ask tough questions. She told me she understands why people are concerned about having difficult conversations with kids, and yet, she asked, “At what age is it that you think kids are capable of that?” Scary things are happening all the time, and avoiding them—“We’re just gonna turn off the news!” as she put it—won’t change that. “Sometimes it’s the avoidance that makes it harder for kids who are anxious,” she added.

In my experience, this cloistering extends to everything from the Holocaust to sex. I’m surprised by how many of my friends think their fourth and fifth graders don’t know how babies are made. Meanwhile, the efforts parents make to promote belief in, for example, Santa Claus seem more fervent than ever, via tools like Elf on the Shelf and apps that supposedly show Santa’s visit to your home. One of the more revealing mommy-board threads I’ve encountered began with an irate warning titled “Super Fudge book outs Santa as fake.” More than 100 people jumped into the outraged fray that followed, all over a revelation in a classic Judy Blume novel that’s aimed at third-to-sixth graders and that came out four decades ago. So we find ourselves with a bizarre mishmash: Some adults think their fourth graders believe in Santa Claus and don’t know how babies are made while other adults—or maybe some of the same adults—think fourth graders should have smartphones. In another era, the desire to keep kids in the dark might not be a problem, but it’s a strange combination with the easy access many of them now have to Pornhub and viral videos of real-life violence.

8. By the way, how was your Lenten fast? What? You’re still fasting? Let’s give the last word today to Giles Frasier. We’re a little behind on this lenten reflection, but unlike much of the writing done these days, it has stood the test of these few weeks well.

Christianity has suffered a great deal from the idea that it is a sort of glorified life insurance policy, offering immortality in return for the measly premium of a little bit of religious believing. But that’s really not it at all. Not least because total freedom from death wouldn’t be worth having. Immortality is a desire driven by fear. It seeks, above all, the protection of me, on and on, into infinity. This sort of infinitely endless life could only ever end with suicide. Or madness.

See, for example, Janacek’s famous opera The Makropulos Affair — something that those who speak foolishly about transhumanism and uploading oneself into the ether, there to survive forever, could do with reflecting on more. That’s not salvation. It is philosophical trash talk and a theological version of hell.

Christianity offers the kind of salvation that takes place when everything is not all about me — when the me has been displaced from the centre of one’s life. And if that transition can be said to be an escape from death, it is to the extent that we have placed the centre of gravity in our life outside of ourselves; that is, in a place where our own personal death cannot reach it. This de-centering isn’t all about not dying. It’s about the sort of other-centredness that draws the sting from the fear of personal annihilation. And it is an extraordinary liberation.

This is a more philosophical way of expressing the good news that you are going to die. Another way is to speak of the thing that Lent is specifically a preparation for: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that takes place at Easter. When the earliest Christians were baptised at Easter, they were not just being sprinkled with a bit of holy water as if it were some sort of spell. They were being symbolically drowned. Baptism is death and resurrection imagery. The old person is extinguished, the new one born again. We are preparing to die so that we might more fully live. That, in Christian terms, is the good news.


Mockingbird friend Neil Willard, inspired by Luke Roland’s story of Law, Gospel, and Mayberry earlier this week, reupped his 2018 reflection on Andy Griffith’s pastor inspiration, Mr. Mickey.

News you can use: how to navigate food expiration dates. Summary: it’s less law, more book-of-Proverbs.

A Different Kind of Heaven: a look at John Prine’s musical ideal of an afterlife and the sinners who populate it.

Here’s an impromptu concert by Andrew Peterson for Easter Sunday, if you’re a Christian music fan.

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One response to “Another Week Ends: Christ the Physician, Lincoln’s Grace, Music for Hope, Personal Annihilation, and Night of the Living Karens”

  1. Sam Bush says:

    SO great, Bryan, thank you! We’re potty training this week and that McSweeney’s list might just get us through.

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