Another Week Ends

1. If you’ve ever seen an interview with Jim Carrey, you quickly realize that he […]

Todd Brewer / 7.3.20

1. If you’ve ever seen an interview with Jim Carrey, you quickly realize that he is incredibly weird and awkwardly introspective. At times he seems to either be the lunatic of The Mask or a shaman-mystic, or both at the same time. Carrey is always fascinating, and judging from this LA Times article, his upcoming memoir is undoubtedly going to be insane. But the story of when he thought he had 10 minutes to live is wonderful. In 2018 there was a (mistaken) emergency alert for an incoming ballistic missile attack. Death was imminent. So what did Carrey do?

“My assistant, Linda, called me and said, ‘Chief, we have 10 minutes,’ and I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And she said, ‘The missiles are coming.’ And she was squeezing the phone and accidentally took a screen shot,” Carrey says. “That’s the cover of the book, my actual face after being told I had 10 minutes to live.”

After initially trying to reach his daughter from Maui, Carrey walked outside, sat on the lanai and spent eight minutes going through a “gratitude list.” Staggered by the bounty of his life, he reached a state of grace, closed his eyes, and waited for the missiles.

“Now, I walk around the world knowing what that is for me, and if that should happen, where my head’s going to be,” Carrey says haltingly, wiping away tears. “I’ll sit and thank God for the blessings in my life. If I was anybody, who was I? And I don’t really believe that I’m anybody. I believe there’s nothing that isn’t you.”

2. As the pandemic continues to blaze outside our doors, the stresses of quarantine and the threat of getting sick have unsurprisingly made people much more judgmental. The life-and-death stakes of it all seem to have provided ample justification for people to lose their “nice” filter and say what’s really on their minds. As Laura Leigh Abby reports over at the Washington Post, shame abounds on Facebook more than usual (as if that were possible!):

Since the novel coronavirus hit, though, I’ve noticed that the tone in these groups has shifted. Conversations initially changed to advice on where to buy a swing set or talk of home-schooling resources. But then the mom-shaming began. Though these groups exist so we can help each other shoulder the burden of parenting and shield each other from negativity, self-righteous replies and judgmental feedback were suddenly peppered throughout every thread. An innocent question about when to take the kids to visit their grandma elicited dozens of nasty responses. Advice on where to get groceries or takeout led to arguments and name-calling. It seems that just when we need our online communities most, they’ve become toxic. […]

Members posting or threatening to post photos of other people’s kids as a form of shaming has become a common issue in groups across the country. Amy Roberts, of Westchester, N.Y., says that in her group, every time someone threatens to post pictures of kids they see around town, parents light up the responses to say that it would not be okay, and that seems to keep things in check.

In some cases, conversations have become so volatile that the administrators have archived the group, which means the group doesn’t appear in searches and no new members can join. This happened to Tiffany Pitts, of Washington state, after two parents argued about whether it was safe to travel, and one of the parents took to all of the local Facebook pages to insult the other.

She ends the article with a heartfelt plea to tone down the judgment and (gasp!) be more understanding and gracious to each other. If we’re going to make it out of this ordeal with our relationships intact, that sounds like the only way to me:

When it comes to parenting, every day can be a challenge, and the coronavirus has made an already scary world feel even more threatening. Cruelty toward other parents is not going to make the pandemic disappear, and publicly shaming everyone we disagree with has led to a lack of compassion, both online and off. And yet no one is going to get through to anyone else by resorting to name-calling or bullying. […]

The administrators and moderators in my own groups tell me that after a few heated discussions during the early weeks of social distancing, the group threads have generally been peaceful. Some members even say they’ve seen heightened positivity and increased kindness, which is encouraging. That is how I try to approach social media. If I don’t have a kind remark or a helpful suggestion, I refrain from commenting, and if a parent is looking for compassion, I try to provide it. We don’t know what’s on the other side of the screen, and if we want to support each other, kindness is always the right response.

3. This week The Living Church podcast had a delightful interview with Paul Zahl on his book Peace in the Last Third of Life: A Handbook of Hope for Boomers

3a. In other podcast news, our own Bryan Jarrell was interviewed by MB friend Jason Micheli in his “Crackers and Grape Juice” podcast! They talk about a range of different topics, but particularly his recent post on the Lost Cause of the Confederacy as Replacement Religion.

4. If you enjoyed the “Politics” chapter in Seculosity and are looking for more, the new Tara Isabella Burton book Strange Rites looks to be an appropriate place to start. A few weeks ago Christianity Today‘s Bonnie Kristian offers a helpful summary and review of the book:

We do not live in a godless world,” Burton argues in subversion of her own subtitle. “Rather, we live in a profoundly anti-institutional one, where the proliferation of internet creative culture and consumer capitalism have rendered us all simultaneously parishioner, high priest, and deity.” Armed with a doctorate in theology from Oxford and a journalist’s eye for anthropological curiosities, Burton delves into self-focused “new religions” as disparate as SoulCycle and Harry Potter. […]

Burton’s Strange Rites trains its political coverage on three new movements, each born online but eager to reshape the offline world. First is the social justice movement—“social justice warriors” in the pejorative—critical equally of tradition and the rationalism and capitalism of the liberal order. Second is the “culture of Silicon Valley … [techno-utopians who] envision an equally radical account of human potential.” Third is what Burton dubs “new atavism,” a broad category encompassing everything from the “intellectual dark web” to the “black pill,” their commonality a vision of a hierarchical world where one makes meaning through sheer willpower—bootstrap existentialism, sometimes with a heavy dose of racism and misogyny.

Kristian ends her summary of the book with a powerful reflection of her own about political power and the true gospel Christianity proclaims:

The temptation of political power is sly. It confuses us about reality in a social climate Burton described to me as already ambiguous “about what is ‘real’ (physically, spiritually, socially, biologically).” Like the Devil in the desert, it lies about what we can have and what we should want, encouraging at once undue fixation on our present world—politics as a source of meaning, purpose, and community we ought to find in Christ—and too little true love for neighbor and enemy alike, especially those with politics unlike ours. “Our citizenship is in heaven,” we are too often inclined to forget, “and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). That hope “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8), no matter what politics we face or what strange new rites arise around us.

5. It sounds like it’s been a rough couple of years for Rachel Hollis, the lifestyle coach and relationship guru. There have been multiple accusations of plagiarism, and just last month Hollis announced that she and her husband are getting a divorce. Her fans are understandably feeling a bit betrayed. While Mockingbird hasn’t exactly been a big fan of Hollis’s message in the past, this isn’t a time to cast more stones with an angry mob. Life is super messy and there’s grace for divorcees and the married alike. But as Shannon Ashley notes over in Medium, the whole drama does offer another data point for the difficulty of the “curated authenticity” brand, where the personal success story of the “preacher” establishes the viability of their “you can do it too” message.

For a woman who’s based her entire brand on telling it like it is, it looks like Rachel’s only been telling you what she thinks you need to hear. But this recent revelation suggests that the slightly sloppy yet miraculously put together Hollis hasn’t been as honest or vulnerable as she’s claimed.

After all, wouldn’t her fans have had some sort of inkling that the power couple was deeply struggling?

This whole story reeks of curated authenticity and it’s reminiscent of that other mommy blogger, Myka Stauffer, who recently gave away her adopted son. Granted, husbands are much easier (and far less controversial) to leave than a child. But much like Hollis, Myka has made a name for herself for supposedly being vulnerable and authentic.

So, when they reveal something so significant in their lives that shocks virtually their entire fan base, something about that tastes pretty damn fishy. Like the discovery that maybe these women aren’t so real after all. […]

Fans of Hollis will note that she has, at times, acknowledged places where her own life has been been far from perfect, but the narrative always leads to triumph, as if her struggles are behind her. In other words, even her messiness serves her victorious, “curated authenticity” brand. If the apostle Paul narrated his life story as a model for repentance and self-examination, Hollis did the opposite:

She speaks of her past struggles, whether it’s emotional eating, or a toxic relationship as if they’ve already been resolved. But then we discover how much moral superiority she imbues into dieting and weight loss, or we discover that the toxic relationship she been describing from years ago is actually with her husband.

The absence of even a shred of self-awareness is something I find shocking. How certain passages of her book ever made it past an editor is beyond me. All I can really think is that we still let pretty, slim, and wealthy white women get away with being utterly vacuous. And that’s a damn shame.

By now, some folks think I’m being way too hard on Rachel, especially since I make a living by openly discussing my own life. My hope, however, is that people understand the difference between writing with vulnerability and setting yourself up as an actual life coach.

Anytime I write about making progress in my life, I have to follow it up with the three steps (at least) that I’ve also taken back. Because that’s what success actually looks like. It’s messy and tinged with various failures along the way. We want success to be some beautiful end game but it’s really just one complex piece of the journey.

When Rachel leaves her failures out or tries to dress them up as if they’re in the past, she does no one any favors — the least of all herself. 

6.  Lauren Oyler in Book Forum offers comment on the shifting valuation of morality in modern novels, where books are judged according their contributions to the collective good. She calls it, “the Great Awokening,” where books are not judged so much for their aesthetic prowess, but for their social consciousness. She writes,

If the author was once God, creating worlds over which he had total control, the reader has usurped this position. Under the terms of popular, social-media-inflected criticism, she is now judge and jury, examining works for their political content and assessing the moral goodness of the author in the process. The novels that have resulted feature writers who are wildly self-conscious about both the thing they spend all their time doing and what that says about the essence of their souls.

It should then come as no surprise that a new genre of writing has emerged, “autofiction,” in which the author’s stories are veiled autobiographies replete with self-deprecation and mundane stories of life. In this context, concerns about God and divine judgment have been overly eclipsed by anxieties over worldly judgment. Oyler continues:

Although autofictional authors embed their anxieties about being judged in their novels, they ultimately refuse to allow the reader to play God. Presenting the author as what he is, some guy who writes books that you may ignore or pay attention to as it suits you, seems the most moral approach to novel writing one could take; it is also the least “fake and embarrassing,” to use Rachel Cusk’s description of traditional fiction. Sometimes this leveling appears as the hand-wringing that accompanies discussions of the author’s relative place in the real-world hierarchy of power relations, as in Olivia Laing’s Crudo or Offill’s Weather; in her “Outline” novels, Cusk makes her autofictional narrator a supremely judgmental force in her day-to-day interactions, which is, paradoxically, a humanizing quality. Any yearning for divine judgment is immediately undermined as kind of silly, as are worries about the fate of one’s eternal soul.

7. In humor this week, McSweeney’s asks parents of children in quarantine, “Would you rather…“:

Would you rather be self-isolating with a child who insists on re-watching the same episode of Fuller House, or the same episode of Elmo’s World?

Would you rather teach your child a new craft, or lie on the couch and stare at the unwashed pile of dishes in the sink?

Would you rather be isolating with one child that requires entertaining, or multiple children that require you to break up fights over whose turn it is to use the Swiffer as a sword?

Along the same lines, the New Yorker has a copy of your child’s itinerary for Online Camp Chickasaw:

9:15 a.m. Breakfast — Your parent or guardian will scramble seven eggs with absolutely no taste. (See Zoom chat for “Tasteless Eggs” recipe.) Add as much ketchup as you want—this is camp! To simulate the deafening roar of a mess hall, we encourage you and your sibling to scream camp songs at the top of your lungs. (See Zoom chat for words to “Boom Chicka Boom.”) …

p.m. Cabin Activity 3: Capture the Flag– See the Zoom chat for a link to a virtual game site. We really aren’t sure how this works and are hoping you kids can figure it out.

p.m. Cabin Activity 4: More Swimming!– We’re really trying here.

And if your head is spinning from reading about COVID science, then this hilarious Reductress satire is for you.