Another Week Ends

1. Headlining this week is a story from Vanity Fair about Chip Skowron, a hedge […]

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 many people contemplating a once unthinkable future, Skowron found himself drawn to religion. He read Scripture obsessively. As he considered whether to fight the charges against him—charges he knew to be legitimate, and which did not encompass the whole of his insider-trading résumé—a passage from Matthew seemed especially relevant: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

…Skowron’s fall was jarring. But he quickly had reason to think that, in pleading guilty, he had made the right decision. On his first day in prison, at a medium-security facility in Pennsylvania, another inmate extended his hand.

“Hi,” the man said. “My name is Chip.”

Unbelieving, Skowron replied, “My name is Chip, too.”

“Let’s be clear about this,” the man said. “I’m Chip 1, you’re Chip 2.” Noticing that Skowron was holding a Bible, Chip 1 quoted from Romans: “Just remember that all things work together for good.” They embraced, and Skowron felt confirmed in his newfound belief that he was being guided by God.

We have talked before about how jails and prisons have the odd tendency to illuminate hope, for the same reason that many rock-bottom experiences do. In prison with a room-full of other criminals, the pretenses and confabulations of your identity are no longer necessary, and honest, loving relationships can flourish. Chip found this not only with this other Chip, but with a growing group of fellow inmates in need of Jesus. A small bible study quickly turned into a large group following, and by the time he was back home in Greenwich, Chip was a new person—a pariah with his old tribe, with a new tribe back “home” in prison. A year after release, Chip has gone back, beginning a new ministry in a prison in Bridgeport, where he feels a break from the world he loved so much before: 

Jeff Grant, the lawyer turned minister who counseled Skowron before he entered prison, now has a congregation in Bridgeport. Greenwich’s taste for schadenfreude, he says, has much to do with brute competition. “When anybody shows signs of weakness, everyone is feeding on the carcass—of the person or institution that’s been torn down,” he says. “In Bridgeport, when someone goes down for a crime, the community rallies around to help the family. Here, we cast them out on an iceberg.”…Since his release, Skowron has spoken regularly about his journey—to college students, churchgoers, and Wall Street brokers—and he takes evident pleasure in recounting his story. “I had no idea how deeply in love I could fall with making money,” he told one audience recently. “But that was nothing compared to how deeply in love I was with myself. If I went to prison for everything I did, I’d still be there.”…

On a bright, windy afternoon last fall, Skowron climbed into the big white pickup truck that he uses to cart around Theo, the family’s exuberant golden retriever, for the drive to Bridgeport Correctional. When he arrived, Michael Christie, a chaplain at the prison, escorted him to a conference room where the new warden, Amonda Hannah, was having lunch with some corrections employees. “I want to thank you for letting me be here,” Skowron told her. “I need this. Even though things back home are in some ways returning to normal, I really feel most comfortable here—in prison.”

2. A couple new ones to tag onto the seculosity train. From the LA Times comes this feature on the ever-customizable faiths of the millennial generation. Whether it’s tarot or rose quartzes or witchcraft, Jessica Roy describes a rootless landscape of “nones” who are just as religious as those who came before them. 

Today, young people still seek the things that traditional organized religion may have provided for their parents or grandparents: religious beliefs, yes, but also a sense of community, guidance, purpose and meaning. But it can be hard for young people to find those things in their parents’ religions. So they’re looking elsewhere.

One of the big draws for younger people about spiritual practices is the ability to “pick and choose,” said Jim Burklo, a progressive Christian reverend who works with college students as the senior associate dean of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life at USC. Spiritual practices appeal to the commitment-wary: You can get a little into crystals or astrology or tarot, or a lot into it. You can buy a few rose quartzes or light a few candles and if it’s meaningful for you, keep it; if not, it’s not like you went through a full religious conversion. “This is a worldwide, but certainly American, trend toward heterodoxy — toward individuals cooking up their own spiritual or religious stew and cooking it up their way,” Burklo said. “You’re seeing an aggregation of disaffiliation, people coming up with their own meaning-making and their own personal spiritualities.”

Maybe this describes the millennial nuns, too? 

Then there’s this one, too, from the Atlantic, about the perfectionistic allure of “productive” parenting, and the business-optimizing apps (like Slack) which promise to make them happen (ht DL).

3. McSweeney’s does it again with this list: “Memorials to Those We Have Lost to Parenting.” A few favorites, though you should definitely read them all: 

CHARLES, SERENA, 45, touched the face of God after ingesting one too many spoonfuls of leftover blue-box macaroni and cheese. Her family says she lived as she died, muttering under her breath, “In this house, we don’t waste food.”

GRANT, MARIA, 29, a new mother to a two-month-old daughter, suffocated last weekend under the weight of internet advice. After reviewing her wishes, her family notes she will be read two bedtime stories, swaddled, arms-out, and will be buried with a white-noise machine.

UMBRIDGE, ETHAN, 39, leaves behind a bereft family after patting himself too hard on the back for taking care of his young son for two days while his wife attended an accounting conference in Tulsa. He will be remembered as a hero to fathers everywhere.

4. What’s it like being a therapist to millennials? Tess Brigham knows, and contrary to all the flack they get for being the self-absorbed succubuses responsible for ruining the world, Brigham argues that they’re (we’re!) actually quite smart, ambitious, and empathetic people. What’s really getting them down? The unbearable pressure of options. Call it a symptom of entitlement, the same phony form of suffering that leads them to buy crystals and astrological calendars, but Brigham says it has to do with wanting to get it right, the fear that one false step will push them astray. It’s no surprise that one of the firstfruits of “decision fatigue” is paralysis. 

Yes, decision fatigue is a real thing, especially in today’s world, where we are overloaded with information and have an immense pressure to succeed. There are so many big life decisions to make — who to marry, what career path to take, where to live, how to manage our money — and so many options.

While having an abundance of choices might sound appealing, studies have found that it often causes us to feel stressed and overwhelmed.

In modern “emerging adulthood” — a term that psychology professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett defines as “the period between the ages of 18 and 25 when many directions remain possible and very little about the future has been decided” — delayed choices ultimately leads to confusion about one’s identity and purpose in life.

What we’re talking about here is the command to “have it all”, and the unbearable weight that bestows. Which is exactly what Nielsen had to say about Americans’ TV watching habits. And it is exactly the theme of Harrison Scott Key’s TED talk, which just came out last week. (I’ll never think of iambic pentameter the same.)  

(And, side-note, speaking of therapy that works, there’s this one from The Onion: “Extremely Effective Therapist Just Lets Patients Beat S*** Out Of Him For 45 Minutes.”)

5. We love Will Storr, the guy who wrote Selfie, and we also love David McRaney, the guy who wrote the book (and now the blog) You Are Not So Smart, about all the stupid stuff people do. In this podcast you get to hear them both, as they walk through the Age of Perfectionism, and how perfectionism evolved to become “the idea that kills.” 

6. A convicting piece from Quillette, “In Defense of Decency,” about the refusal along both sides of the ideological table to engage anyone on the other. Citing our man Daryl Davis, the article talks about the seductive pleasure of an ideological enemy, and how changes of heart happen through listening and connection, rather than bolstering and stonewalling.

We don’t have to wax philosophical about free will to recognize that no human is fully autonomous. None of us has complete control over the experiences and genes that made us, our personality, our worldview, or our insecurities. This is true for everyone from a Doctors Without Borders volunteer to the ignoramus at the local pub. None of which means we shouldn’t incarcerate criminals, or criticize bad ideas and those who espouse them. But the recognition that we are shaped by forces beyond our control can dissolve genuine hatred, leaving a void that can be replaced with something more constructive.

Hatred may seduce us with feelings of righteousness, but it changes little for the better. Morality should certainly shape our political views, but our politics must never shape our morality. Adopting such an inversion, we may find ourselves defending the unconscionable.

7. Finally, a couple great ones went live on the Rooted website this week. One is from our friend Liz Edrington, who will give you yet further reasons to see Toy Story 4. The other is from Cameron Cole, about the difficulty of meting out law and grace in parenting (a daughter). A great note to end on: 

Dads, you need to know that the world is going to degrade these truths about your daughter from childhood into adulthood at every turn. We have the blissful opportunity to be a powerful voice of grace to our daughters. If you have to lean to one side or the other of law and grace in fathering a daughter, I encourage you to lean heavy on the grace side. The world will give them all the law they can handle.

Featured Image Credit: Slinkachu

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

  1. Alison Mary White says:

    Thank you~

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