Another Week Ends

1. Lord Almighty, what a week. Feels like we could all use a good laugh […]

David Zahl / 10.2.20

1. Lord Almighty, what a week. Feels like we could all use a good laugh right now, and thankfully, McSweeney’s delivered a masterpiece in Audrey Burges’s “On the Seventh Day, God Created Parenting, and Then Parenting Created Coffee“:

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth in just six days, the seventh day dawned unscheduled. And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, and did declare it “Me Time,” because the past six days had been A Lot.

Guess what just went to the printers! (Not real cover).

God ignited a burning bush and cracked open a Book, but had no sooner settled down than the Angel Gabriel shouted, God? God? Where art thou? far louder than necessary, for God was sitting right there.

And the Lord God said, “I am here. Use thy inside voice.”

Gabriel then spake at a nigh imperceptible volume, having no concept of voice modulation. “Adam hath trod upon something pointy,” the Angel whispered, “Because the earth is super messy.”

“All was perfect when I departed mere minutes ago. How on earth can it be messy?” asked the Lord God.

And Gabriel shrugged and dragged his flaming sword along the ground with carelessness.

God commanded, “Fine. Let there be labeled, colorful bins in which to place the Pointy Things and Non-Pointy Things and Things for Making Colorful Art and Things for Playing Pretend.

“All that is in disarray shall, therefore, be organized into smaller units of disarray.”

It goes on from there and only gets funnier. And speaking of funny:

2. That’s right, the next single and video from the Electric Jesus soundtrack has arrived (^^above^^) and it’s a neutron bomb of power ballad sweetness. The twist on the “lyric video” is pretty ingenious too. Director Chris White was interviewed for American Songwriter about the movie’s soundtrack, and his answers should give you a sense of why we’re so excited about this film:

Raised by devout Southern Baptist parents, White felt like he’d never really seen a film that captured the voice of teenage Evangelicals. “At least not the ones I knew in my youth group in the 80s,” he tells American Songwriter. “Most churchy people in movies are portrayed as sinister, stupid, or superheroes. I didn’t know any kids like that. My friends were weird and funny and flawed … and sincerely loved Jesus, each other, and Christian rock music.”

Deciding to follow the adage, ‘write what you know,’ White resolved to make a film that played to this, in an endearing, John Hughes kind of way. The film, featuring Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club) and Brian Baumgartner (The Office), set in 1986, centers on a fictional band called 316, who spend their summer trying to open for Stryper, the long-running real-life multi-platinum crossover Christian metal rockers. “We revered bands like Stryper who talked non-ironically about Jesus, but played cool music and looked like legit rock stars,” says White, of his friends when they were younger. “I liked Stryper then, but now, several decades later, I love Stryper! They’ve never stopped writing, recording, creating excellent music, keeping old fans and winning over new ones. Really — someone needs to make a documentary about Stryper!” […]

“There’s even a song in the film that’s a mock-Christian worship chorus playing on a radio. I told Daniel that the song only had two words: “We just.” Those two words repeated over and over, the whole song. Could be the worst idea ever for a song, but somehow, he even made that song great!”

For more Electric Jesus love, check out the new episode of the excellent True Tunes cast with White, Brian Baumgartner (Kevin!), and musical director Daniel Smith.

3. Onto the more serious stuff. Writing in response to Amy Barrett’s SCOTUS nomination, David Brooks mused on “How Faith Shapes My Politics,” a timely subject if ever there was one. And yet several of the insights struck me as more lasting. For example, Brooks describes his spiritual awakening as follows:

I was gripped by the conviction that the people I encountered were not skin bags of DNA, but had souls; had essences with no size or shape, but that gave them infinite value and dignity. The conviction that people have souls led to the possibility that there was some spirit who breathed souls into them.

What finally did the trick was glimpses of infinite goodness. Secular religions are really good at identifying some evils, like oppression, and building a moral system against them. Divine religions are primarily oriented to an image of pure goodness, pure loving kindness, holiness. In periodic glimpses of radical goodness — in other people, in sensations of the transcendent — I felt, as Wendell Berry put it, “knowledge crawl over my skin.” The biblical stories from Genesis all the way through Luke and John became living presences in my life …

In a society that is growing radically more secular every day, I’d say we have more to fear from political dogmatism than religious dogmatism. We have more to fear from those who let their politics determine their faith practices and who turn their religious communities into political armies. We have more to fear from people who look to politics as a substitute for faith.

For crying out loud, someone get that man a copy of Seculosity! And while you’re at it …:

4. Needless to say, the last few weeks have felt like an all-out assault on the religiosity of politics. (Or, as I’m more and more tempted to call it, “the doctrine of salvation by politics alone”). Which is not to de-legitimize the legitimate pain and fear that people of all stripes are feeling. The stakes aren’t fictional, and I’m as freaked out as anyone. But if additional perspective would be useful, mental health-wise, it’s worth considering the tragedy that befell Chrissy Teigen and husband John Legend this week. The beloved model and Instagram personality lost the baby she was carrying, close to full-term. While some commentators have (predictably) decried the couple’s decision to air their grief as opportunistic, allow me to join the chorus of those who find it both brave and important. After 15 years in pastoral ministry, I can think of no subject that silences every mouth more quickly than stillbirth. No doubt because it’s too painful even to acknowledge. But the effect is that it isolates grieving parents for basically the rest of their lives. CNN’s write-up hits many of the important notes:

“We are shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we’ve never felt before,” Teigen wrote on Twitter. “We were never able to stop the bleeding and give our baby the fluids he needed, despite bags and bags of blood transfusions. It just wasn’t enough.”

Every year, 2.6 million babies are stillborn, according to data from the World Health Organization. Miscarriage occurs in 10% to 25% of known pregnancies, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Approximately 80% of them occur in the first trimester — which is why women have traditionally been encouraged to keep their pregnancy private until they are at least 12 weeks along. Only after crossing that marker do some feel “safe” in sharing the news with others.

“What that notion means is, ‘Don’t let people know you’re pregnant until your pregnancy is far enough along that it’s not going to be lost,'” Mindy Bergman, professor of psychology at Texas A&M University, said. “That’s what we mean when we say ‘safe.’ So there’s already from the very beginning this stigma, this shame for the potential of losing it.”

“This is usually kind of hidden,” Sarah Allen, a Chicago-area psychologist specializing in women’s mental health through reproductive years, told CNN. “Oftentimes people don’t know what to say and women typically feel quite lonely going through this.”

5. Oliver Burkeman’s last column for the Guardian brought a tear to the eye, as his byline has been a weekly destination for as long as this website has been around. In bowing out, he decided to round up “eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life” — AKA, what he’s learned in ten years of writing about human happiness. They’re all worth taking on board, but Number Six held special resonance:

The solution to imposter syndrome is to see that you are one. When I first wrote about how useful it is to remember that everyone is totally just winging it, all the time, we hadn’t yet entered the current era of leaderly incompetence (Brexit, Trump, coronavirus). Now, it’s harder to ignore. But the lesson to be drawn isn’t that we’re doomed to chaos. It’s that you — unconfident, self-conscious, all-too-aware-of-your-flaws — potentially have as much to contribute to your field, or the world, as anyone else.

Humanity is divided into two: on the one hand, those who are improvising their way through life, patching solutions together and putting out fires as they go, but deluding themselves otherwise; and on the other, those doing exactly the same, except that they know it. It’s infinitely better to be the latter (although too much “assertiveness training” consists of techniques for turning yourself into the former).

Remember: the reason you can’t hear other people’s inner monologues of self-doubt isn’t that they don’t have them. It’s that you only have access to your own mind.

6. Next, I wasn’t expecting to read such a stellar review of Marilynne Robinson’s new novel Jack in the AV Club but here we are:

Because he’s made bad choices so consistently in the past, disappointing everyone from his devout father to his siblings to his prior targets of romance, John is convinced he’s a certain way — a “textbook case of human degeneracy,” as he jokingly refers to himself with total seriousness. Jack is about the struggle to live with guilt, and the ways in which we can still find grace, or even a measure of redemption, in caring for others more than ourselves …

If the Jack of Home was in the throes of a spiritual crisis, a victim of heartbreak who was also the long-running emotional tormentor of his family, here he’s just beginning to realize that a life of easy choices and avoidance of harm may have the opposite effect. We’re so often taught to simply believe in ourselves — to trust our instincts — that to see a narrative in which second-guessing oneself and refusing one’s deepest impulses is a potential wellspring of charity and good is, in itself, noteworthy. That Robinson can make it ring so true is what makes it great.

7. Music-wise, it’s hard to believe that Oasis’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? turned 25 this week. While not my all-time fave by that band (believe it or not, Standing on the Shoulder w/b-sides occupies that spot in my heart), it nevertheless amazes me how much staying power “Wonderwall” has had, especially since it’s not even close to the best song on that album. Anyways, here’s the documentary they put out, which I’m told is chock-full of notable Noel-isms (between f-bombs):

Also in music, if you missed the new Dawes video I embedded on the David Chang post (and at the bottom of this one), “Didn’t Fix Me,” it’s #lowanthropology gold. Coming soon to a sermon near you.

8. TV-wise, I’ve been transfixed by Raised By Wolves, not just because of Ridley Scott’s masterful visuals, but the religious dynamics under examination. Without giving much away, let’s just say that both Genesis and Mark get a do-/makeover, and the line between believer and non-believer turns out to be razor-thin. As with most of Scott’s stuff, the characterization takes a backseat to the conceptualization — to put it mildly — but the story was certainly enough to keep me tuned in. Very excited to hear it’s been renewed for season 2. Also greatly enjoying Utopia and The Vow. Oh, and how about the new season of Fargo?!


  • A couple listening recs for the Mcast off-week (in addition to the True Tunes one mentioned above): First, Tom Holland guested on God Pod, and while I haven’t listened yet, I’m told it’s phenomenal. Second, I was honored to be a guest this week on The Way Home podcast, with Daniel Darling, whose terrific new book A Way With Words: Using Our Online Conversations for Good came out last month. I contributed the following blurb: “Talk on the Internet so easily makes us into our worst selves. Thank God, then, for Daniel Darling’s incisive new book about the problems we make for ourselves. His thoughts on discernment show both humble self-examination and careful observation, not to mention pastoral sensitivity. Highly recommended for any Christian looking for guidance through the rocky terrain of online discourse!”
  • I chuckled quite a bit at the New Yorker‘s spoof of “Welcome to the Top Chef Judges Table.”
  • Hoping to put together something longer on this soon, but journalist Anne Helen Petersen surveyed several voices to trace the contours of clergy burnout during the pandemic and the findings are quite prayer-inducing. Oh boy.
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