Another Week Ends

1. So you’re trying to sleep, and it’s well after bedtime, but you’re tossing and […]

CJ Green / 8.9.19

1. So you’re trying to sleep, and it’s well after bedtime, but you’re tossing and turning and unable to get comfy, and you notice you’re replaying the same scenario in your head: some vision of tomorrow, of what might happen, how a hope could be dashed. If you’ve had this experience, you’re far from alone (do I sound like I’m writing from experience?). Today’s first link is from Inverse:

“This is what breaks my heart about worry,” Lucas LaFreniere, Ph.D., a clinical psychology researcher, tells me. “It makes you miserable in the present moment to try and prevent misery in the future.”

“For chronic worriers, this process leads them to be continually distressed all their lives in order to avoid later events that never happen. Worry sucks the joy out of the ‘here and now’ to prevent an unrealistic ‘then and there.’”

So it goes with the Sunday Scaries, onslaughts of anxiety that occur before the workweek begins. (But for the anxious among us, they could strike any time…) The good news is, LaFreniere’s study found that in a survey of worrisome people, 91.4 percent of their worries never actually actualized.

“They found that their worries weren’t worth the trouble they caused,” LaFreniere says.

Worrying caused only more misery, did nothing to help the worriers handle whatever they had been worrying about — largely because the hotly anticipated events never transpired. I’m reminded of what a wise man once said: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” And also: “See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” Paul Walker, who is also a wise man, once said,

…the only real counterpunch to worry is knowing — I mean really knowing — that God will provide all that we need… Most of all — His Son. For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, so that all who believe in him may not perish but have everlasting life. Amen.

2. This week, a thoughtful reflection on faith and literature was penned by Gina Dalfonzo, at Christ + Pop Culture. Citing Lewis, Tolkien, Graham Greene, and others, Dalfonzo notes that many mid-century British writers doubled, also, as apologists. Not only that but they were read widely, and not just (or even mainly) by churchgoers. Dalfonzo wonders what caused such a ‘movement,’ in such proximity.

The word relatable is overused, but there’s something to be said for finding the right theme at the right cultural moment for the right audience, in what can only be called a divine accident. When Greene’s Sarah Miles (The End of the Affair) made a desperate vow to a God she didn’t even believe in to save her lover from dying in an air raid, readers could understand. They could grasp the concepts of right and wrong as Lewis explained them when the whole world was battling over them. In the postwar years, though many Tolkien readers were unaware of his beliefs, they could certainly relate to his portrayal of the battle to preserve a beloved homeland against the forces of darkness. It was the right moment for big themes like sacrifice and redemption, and yes, reaching out in faith. […]

Since that time, it seems as if Christians have been searching for another such moment, a moment that would bring great artists and audience and faith all together, sparking a blaze that would light up the world. Considering the scope of the crisis that sparked that previous moment, however, perhaps we should remember to be careful what we wish for. Divine accidents, as Greene and Lewis and Eliot and all the others would probably tell us, tend to involve the catastrophic.

Point taken. It must be said, however, that today’s catastrophic thermometer reads ‘fever,’ though not WW3, admittedly. Still, “existential threat” is a term not uncommonly used.

Along with the broad, albeit reluctant concession that science has not achieved what spirituality once did, widespread disillusionment has brought many back into the hands of faith, but not necessarily Christian. As Aamna Mohdin reports, there is a “resurgent interest in astrology” due to “widespread anger and frustration with job insecurity, the housing crisis and an ecological system on the brink of collapse.” One interviewee says, “Do I think all the answers to life’s questions are found in the planet placements when someone was born? No. But even science doesn’t have all life’s answers.” Yet you don’t need pseudoscience to believe in replacement religions — and David Zahl isn’t the only one saying so

3. Work is the new God, is what Derek Thompson is saying, at The Atlantic. Of the video below, I’ve transcribed a few key parts:

Workism is the idea that work is the centerpiece of our identity, the focal point of our lives, the organizing principle of society. A lot of people have turned to work to find the things they used to seek from traditional religions, transcendence, meaning, community, self-actualization, a totalizing purpose in life…we have essentially made our work our god… We’ve evolved from jobs, to careers, to callings.

Of course everyone needs ‘purpose.’ In this respect, workism maybe wouldn’t be so bad, you might argue, except that it comes at a cost: you get all of the demand of religion but none of the grace: “Burnout,” we learn, “can now be diagnosed as a medical condition.”

4. Though certainly a biggie, workism is not today’s only god; they come in all shapes and sizes, as Jia Tolentino attests in her essay collection Trick Mirror, part of which was reproduced this week in The Guardian. Some of this may sound familiar, as the topics have been described on Mockingbird many times over (see: athleisure, dietary righteousness, life optimization) but I digress. Tolentino, take it away:

Sweetgreen is a marvel of optimization: a line of 40 people – a texting, shuffling, eyes-down snake – can be processed in 10 minutes […] I go to Sweetgreen on days when I need to eat vegetables very quickly because I’ve been working till 1am all week and don’t have time to make dinner because I have to work till 1am again…then I “grab” my salad and eat it in under 10 minutes while looking at email.

It’s very easy, under conditions of artificial but continually escalating obligation, to find yourself organizing your life around practices you find ridiculous and possibly indefensible. […]

“Artificial obligation” is another way to describe the demands of seculosity, or the little-l laws of everyday life: those daily imperatives that accuse and enjoin us to feel generally inadequate. There remains, too, a spirituality, a pervading sense of anointedness or pre-destination or, at least, a grappling for it.

…the real trick of athleisure is the way it can physically suggest that you were made to do this — that you’re the kind of person who thinks that putting in expensive hard work for a high-functioning, maximally attractive consumer existence is about as good a way to pass your time on Earth as there is.

What am I made to do? What am I here for? Athleisure is just one of the many ways to signal you have taken charge of your life, but as Tolentino says, there’s an artifice involved and, more than likely, a cost/profit. Compare with this excerpt from David Zahl’s Seculosity:

…poll your Type A neighbors on what they do to unwind. They’ll more than likely give you a list of reasons why downtime isn’t an option right now. They may even do what many well-meaning Christians do: embrace a mandatory day of rest while dodging its existential punch by finding another, more ostensibly holy pursuit to occupy them on their day off. They simply replace one form of self-justification with another. Instead of making a contribution at our desk, we make a contribution on our bicycle, or with our kids, or at our church. Anything but sit still (“and know that I am God”!).

In related humor, The New Yorker posted How to Motivate Me During an Exercise Class: “Slap me in the throat and shriek, ‘Someone’s coming to get you!’” Ha!

Also, from The Onion: Child Concerned Parents Might Never Amount To Anything:

SAN DIEGO—Expressing worries about their seeming lack of motivation and ambition, local child James Lipstein, 12, told reporters Thursday that he was increasingly concerned that his parents might never end up amounting to much of anything. “I’ll always love them, of course, but I’m starting to think that if they don’t get into gear soon, life will completely pass them by…”

5. When it comes to the “optimal” relationship, most of us will be looking for “drama free.” Understandable. But this morning Oliver Burkeman offered a compelling riposte to such expectations:

…by demanding “no drama”, you get to characterise your fear of difficult emotions as a simple matter of self-care. Of course you don’t want to date somebody with, you know, issues! (To be clear: if drama means emotional or physical abuse, you should definitely avoid it.) On the other hand, good luck finding a fulfilling relationship if you will only consider people with no issues.

He goes on to say that a relationship without drama is, if not entirely mythical, then essentially “soulless.” Wouldn’t we rather be with a person, not a mannequin? To share in life’s ups and downs, those moments that make life meaningful? Maybe so, Burkeman says, but few of us have the willpower to actually choose what we want.

The problem here is the collision of a timeless truth – that what we think we want isn’t always what’s best for us – with a modern one: the way the “convenience revolution” makes it so easy to get what we think we want. Convenience plays funny tricks: “I prefer to brew my coffee,” writes the academic Tim Wu, “but Starbucks Instant is so convenient I hardly ever do what I ‘prefer’.”

For more giggles re: modern romance, check out this one, again from The New Yorker: All the Define-the-Relationship (D.T.R.) Moments in a Modern Romance:

Admitting You Didn’t Watch His/Her TV Recommendation: Because I value you, and because I don’t smoke weed, I need you to know that I will not even pretend to watch “Adventure Time.” […]

Stating Your True Dietary Restrictions: I’m a vegetarian for ethical reasons. Eating meat goes against everything I believe in. I only ate a burger those fourteen times so that you’d think I was a “chill girl.”

From The Atlantic: HANGZHOU, CHINA – AUGUST 07: A child eats a piece of watermelon to mark Liqiu, the Start of Autumn, at a watermelon-eating contest on August 7, 2019 in Hangzhou, China. The Start of Autumn, the 13th solar term of the year, begins on August 8 this year. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

6. For the theologians out there, Jason Micheli reviewed a slate of books featuring perennial faves Steven Paulson, Philip Ziegler, and Jonathan Linebaugh, among others. (Fair warning, the review begins with a stomach-turning illustration that does, indeed, reflect the “full darkness” referenced later.)

In Full Darkness: Original Sin, Moral Injury, and Wartime Violence (Eerdmans), [Brian] Powers makes plain the balm the church forsakes when it jettisons the language of sin. A veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Powers shows that the language of original sin and the fallenness of creation not only provides a narrative that the world needs, it offers a path for veterans, traumatized by war and shamed by their participation in it, to find redemptive healing. […] By overly esteeming the individual’s moral autonomy in the world, we’ve become blind to our own capacity for sin and violence. We’ve lost our appreciation for what Paul calls the spiritual forces of evil—and its tenacity at corrupting even the noblest of human intentions. As a consequence, we’ve lost in our politics a sense of humility. Convinced of our own goodness, we no longer enter the public square with a posture of grace toward our neighbors.

At 1517, Dan van Voorhis proceeds down a similar line of thought, drawing out the discrepancies between the promises of God and humanity’s sufficiency, sin and suffering and expectations of prosperity:

To be set free, I need to be told the story of sinners rescued from the grave. I need to be reminded that the God-man strong to save is for, and not against, me. But rather than this message, instead I often hear about my best life, 12 principles to improve my devotional life… I’m demoralized by moralizing bible studies and tired of warmed-over self-help slogans. The story we tell pertains to life and death. Please remind me that all of God’s promises are “yes” in Jesus, and therefore that I can be of good cheer. Then, with our guards finally down and our eyes and mouths open, we can sing with the Saints who have gone before us, from Francis Pott’s “The Strife is O’er The Battle Done”:

The pow’rs of death have done their worst;
But Christ their legions has dispersed;
Let shouts of holy joy outburst:

Van Voorhis’s message here reminds me of a short story in the latest Kenyon Review, David Wade’s “Baptism”: definitely recommend the whole thing, and at risk of ruining its ending, I’ll say here that Wade illustrates seamlessly how aims for life-betterment don’t become foolproof when you attach “Jesus” to them. As Wade has it: even in baptism, “you know how the story ends. They don’t stay clean. Or married. And those little girls grow up to stay stuck in the same stuck town doing the same stuck things as the rest of the stuck people, looking nothing like stained glass at all.” […] Our narrator, a young boy, nevertheless steps up to the altar:

“Nephew,” my uncle said, claiming this special, familial privilege for himself. “Do you believe?”

I didn’t look at my father, or my mother, or Charlotte, or even Uncle Roy. Just straight up at the Christ on the cross, skin brown like mine, face pitiful with sadness.

“I do.”

Extra innings: