Another Week Ends

1. First, if you didn’t catch the headlines about French policeman Arnaud Beltrame, they’re tailormade […]

David Zahl / 3.30.18

1. First, if you didn’t catch the headlines about French policeman Arnaud Beltrame, they’re tailormade for today, e.g., “French officer who swapped places with a hostage in terror attack dies.” The story is really something:

The Daily Mail ran an interview with the Catholic monk who gave Beltrame last rites and was in the midst of preparing the gendarme to be married. It would appear that faith was not a minor part of the fallen man’s life.

2. Elsewhere, Elizabeth Bruenig penned the brief yet moving “It Will Happen Again and Again” on the long hour that passes between Peter’s second and third denials of Christ and how that relates to you and me:

The majority of us — who Augustine called the non-valde-boni, the not-very-good-ones—live our whole lives in the space of that hour. We hope. We try. We will probably fail. It will happen over and over again. The most relatable Christians in literature are not the subjects of hagiographies, but of the kind of morally ambiguous stories that amount, in the end, to what we call a life. Shusaku Endo’s Kichijiro, who repents only one more time than he apostatizes, is perhaps the ideal form.

In an era where solutions are judged by their efficiency, it can be hard to accept that this is just how grace works on fallen creatures: like a spiral, circling around you over and over again as you repeat the same mistakes, drawing nearer and nearer to your heart the longer you seek it. It isn’t that grace is ineffective or inefficient but that we are, being what we are, imperfect vessels for it. The miracle is that it works anyway.

3. A stirring reflection by Wesley Hill in Christianity Today on the confluence of Easter and April Fool’s Day (a running theme this year, eh?), wisely cautioning against the temptation to frame the resurrection as some kind of a divine prank. Not because it wasn’t surprising, but because the true foolishness lies elsewhere:

It’s telling that when the apostle Paul tries to pinpoint the real “foolishness” of Christian faith, he doesn’t locate it in the events of Easter Sunday—as if the idea of resurrection were inherently unbelievable. Rather he finds it in the scandal of what happened on Good Friday: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:22–23, NRSV, emphasis added). For Paul, it seems, if God played an April Fools’ joke on humanity, the joke was more in the crucifixion than it was in the empty tomb.

For instance, if someone tried to prank me by claiming that my deceased friend Chris had turned up at his favorite pub, I’d laugh and wink, but it wouldn’t necessarily undermine my fundamental convictions about how the world works if it turned out to be true. I’m prepared to meet God in the miraculous, in the glitter of the supernatural and in the joy of favors I’ve repeatedly prayed for. If, however, someone tried to convince me that God was “hiddenly” at work in the year that I collapsed in depression and had to take a hiatus from grad school or in the moment when I got the news that a beloved colleague was given six weeks to live, I’d frown in skepticism. “I don’t think you realize just how painful that was,” I’d say. “God couldn’t have been connected with those heartaches.”

But such, it seems, is what Paul finds most bizarre and offensive and, indeed, foolish about Easter… The Resurrection revealed a suffering, humiliated man as the Lord of the universe, thereby inscribing defeat and suffering into the definition of what salvation is all about.

4. I wasn’t a quarter of the way through Gary Greenberg’s lengthy review in The New Yorker of Leslie Jamison’s forthcoming memoir The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath before I hit the ol’ pre-order button. Jamison, as you may recall, was responsible for The Empathy Exams, a portion of which inspired the Opener to our Mental Health Issue. Most of Greenberg’s commentary I honestly could take or leave, but the bits of Jamison which poke through are pure lightning. For example:

The addict’s life, Jamison says, “thwarts the impulse to narrate self-awareness as salvation” by turning the writer into an unreliable narrator of her own life… Jamison bridled at the Big Book’s levelling platitudes, not only for their aesthetic offenses but because of the sentiment that allowed them to become the watchwords of the recovering life—that addiction makes no exceptions for individuals, so slogans apply equally to all. A.A.’s “insistence that we were all the same . . . was basically a way of saying fuck you to my entire value system,” she writes. “My whole life I’d been taught that something was good because it was original—that singularity was the driving engine of value.”…

But the Big Book’s beef with will power is not limited to its inability to free us from addiction, nor are addicts uniquely lacking in it… The trouble with alcohol lies not in the bottle or in our organic chemicals but in ourselves, and not in our individual constitutions but in the misbegotten conception of self under which each of us labors: that we must be the authors of our own life stories. We all suffer from these high expectations, alcoholics no more or less than anyone else. But they have encountered the limits of self-will in a particularly dire way. The cure is to get over themselves, to become anonymous.

What the A.A. version of recovery offers is an alternative to the modern idea that we must fashion our lives out of self-knowledge. “I’d come to worship self-awareness,” Jamison writes, and this “brand of secular humanism” has its own misguided slogan: “Know thyself, and act accordingly.” But “what if you reversed this? Act, and know thyself differently. Showing up for a meeting, for a ritual, for a conversation—this was an act that could be true no matter what you felt as you were doing it.”

5. Social Science Study of the Week is the one outlined in the companion article to episode three of the (incredible) new season of Invisibilia, namely, “We tend to think we understand each other better than we actually do.”

6. Humor-wise, we can’t let a Resurrection Sunday pass without linking to a collection of The Creepy Easter Bunny of Yore photos. Good golly. The Onion made me chuckle with “‘I Don’t Fit Into Any Of Corporate America’s Little Boxes,’ Says Single, 18-To-36-Year-Old Hispanic Female With Brand Loyalty To Tom’s, Chobani.” But what made me laugh hardest this past couple weeks was definitely the unearthed 1976 BBC news segment on a misbegotten tourism initiative. Very Partridge-esque in a theology of the cross kind of way:

7. TV: Not sure how I could’ve enjoyed the third (and final) season of Love more. The ending… well, it was perfect: a genuinely touching testimony to the counter-intuitive connection between vulnerability/weakness and love, what (sometimes) happens in relationships when the pleasing and proving and hiding stops, AKA the fruit of surrender. Plus, Bertie! And Randy! Has a single sitcom ever had so many great side characters?! I think not. But speaking of great ensembles, Atlanta season 2 is off to a suitably unpredictable if slightly laconic start. Definitely too soon to tell if Glover has bought into his own hype or if he’s simply in a league of his own. I suspect the latter and am hoping we’ll get a Darius-centric episode before long. Allow me to join the chorus of viewers who were skeptical about Silicon Valley‘s prospects, post-TJ Miller. O we of little faith! The premiere was up there with their funniest. Lastly, I’m mid-way through Netflix’s Wild Wild Country documentary series and WOW. Talk about stranger than fiction. I’m told there’s a pretty profound moment of grace toward the end, but if that’s the case, then man I’ve got a long way to go.

8. In music, the AV Club’s review of the extraordinarily well-timed Larry Norman biography which came out last week make me doubly excited for the book in question. Succinctly put, “the founder of Christian rock music would’ve hated what it’s become.” Speaking of proto-Christian rock, where have I been re: Daniel Amos? Their debut album from 1976 is, as the kids say, everything (“Losers and Winners”!). Otherwise, it may be my inner Fleetwood Mac fanaticism speaking, but I can’t get the recent Sunflower Bean singles out of my head (see below). Oh and that reminds me, how is it that I hadn’t heard of the missing link in the ELO chain, Tandy + Morgan’s amazing 1985 Earthrise album, until now? Feels criminal.


  • Foodies take note of this delightfully contrarian take on baconmania.
  • File this under totally unexpected: The Village Voice gave the new Paul movie (Paul, The Apostle of Christ) a legitimately positive review going so far as to call it “somehow not terrible.” Color me intrigued.
  • In the long-read department, over on Commonweal, Gary Gutting’s review of Steven Pinker’s new opus, Enlightenment Now, is a helpful and incisive overview of the issues at play, especially the religious ones. And on Quillette, Samuel Biagetti traces the changing meaning of the word “privilege” and how its current usage–particularly (and ironically) among the country’s most exclusive communities–has a curious way of camouflaging social class. Hmmm….
  • One last Good Friday-Easter piece to commend would be Mark Galli’s “What Dostoyevsky’s Prostitute Can Teach Us About the Cross.”
  • This is cool: a few pages of the Humor Issue are now up for you to preview on the magazine site and they look snazzy as all get-out. The issue is scheduled to ship Tuesday, no foolin.
  • Lastly, there are only a couple of tickets left for the Babette’s Feast outing the night before the rapidly-approaching(!) NYC conference (Weds 4/25). Email us asap at if you’re hoping to attend.