Another Week Ends

1. I think we have to lead off with this one: Leo DiCaprio’s Malibu beach […]

Ethan Richardson / 9.23.16

1. I think we have to lead off with this one: Leo DiCaprio’s Malibu beach property is on the market (for a measly $11M), and the folks from LAist decided to have some fun with the realtors over at Redfin, in a nihilistic sort of way. With some help from their friends—Jean-Paul Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche—the journalists ponder whether or not this future home could ever bring meaning to an otherwise meaningless and, well, imponderable existence.

b59c3c29f81d5c3fd361e0bf7b653418LAist: Hi! Love the house!! Just a few questions. Albert Camus once said “At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman.” This house is obviously super beautiful—do you think there is anything inhuman about that beauty?
Redfin: Um, wow, that wasn’t the question I was expecting. I think with this house in particular, with where it sits especially, it’s an absolutely breathtaking home. I do not think there is anything inhuman about this house. I think it’s a representation of the oceanfront property that it sits on.

Sounds great! Camus also once said “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” Would a house like this maybe give the buyer an insight into the meaning of life?
Can you repeat that quote again?

… Just a few more things. Jean-Paul Sartre once said “I exist, that is all, and I find it nauseating.” Obviously, you’re still going to exist even if you buy this house, but do you think living in it would offer any temporary break from that nausea?
Yes, I definitely think this house is a getaway!

2. Bruce Springsteen’s new memoir is out, and Richard Ford reviews it in the New York Times. The Boss is particularly candid (and artfully so) about his relationship with his father, whom he says “loved me, but he couldn’t stand me.” Ford cites this amazing line about the wounds we grow up living in reaction to:

“Those whose love we wanted but could not get,” Springsteen writes, memorably, “we emulate. It is dangerous but it makes us feel closer, gives us an illusion of the intimacy we never had. It stakes our claim upon that which was rightfully ours but denied. In my 20s, as my song and my story began to take shape, I searched for the voice I would blend with mine to do the telling. It is a moment when through creativity and will you can rework, repossess and rebirth the conflicting voices of your childhood, to turn them into something alive, powerful and seeking light. I’m a repairman. That’s part of my job. So I, who’d never done a week’s worth of manual labor in my life . . . put on a factory worker’s clothes, my father’s clothes, and went to work.”


Who can’t relate to that? It may not be your father (or your mother!), but from an emotional standpoint, whose relationships aren’t colored/discolored by all the ways we’ve received a “No” from those we love? It strikes me as a powerful picture of the inner-child, for one, but also an intimate and near-elemental understanding of self-justification, that we live our lives so as to recreate the child that got the love we didn’t.

3. From the “law increases the trespass” department, The New York Times uncovers a new study demonstrating the inefficacy of Fitbits and other wearable activity trackers. The studies found that those who used a Fitbit instead of other forms of self-evaluation for physical fitness upkeep wound up feeling either a) crushed by the impossible demand of the device or b) detached from the responsibility of ‘taking care of themselves’ altogether (ht CB).

It is possible, he says, that when those wearing the trackers realized they would not reach their daily exercise goal, they simply gave up, leading to relatively low caloric expenditure on those days, and less weight loss overall than among those not using the technology.

Within the same department, The Economist wrote an article about the impossible demand of workplace happiness, something we’re not unacquainted with on this site, you’ll remember. Foisting the expectation of optimism or a positivity—no matter the benefits of such demeanors in work (and home) life—cannot produce the outcome. In fact, it makes things worse (ht WM)

The idea of companies employing jolly good fellows and “happiness alchemists” may be cringe-making, but is there anything else really wrong with it? Various academic studies suggest that “emotional labour” can bring significant costs. The more employees are obliged to fix their faces with a rictus smile or express joy at a customer’s choice of shoes, the more likely they are to suffer problems of burnout. And the contradiction between companies demanding more displays of contentment from workers, even as they put them on miserably short-term contracts and turn them into self-employed “partners”, is becoming more stark.

4. In The Chattanoogan, an amazing anecdote of psychiatrist Carl Jung surfaced from our friend Eric Youngblood’s review of the Andrew Sullivan article. Jung is treating an overworked minister with particularly “jangled nerves.” Jung suggests that the minister take the next week to change his habits—to work less, spend more time at home, spend more time alone. The minister takes those words to practice—he works eight hours, and spends the evenings quietly listening to Mozart and reading Herman Hesse. He returns to Jung with news that nothing’s changed.

When the minister told him of his nightly rest period with classical music or novels, Jung chided, “No, I said to spend the time alone not with music or authors.”

Realizing with fuller clarity what was being demanded, the priest replied, “Oh, you mean to spend my time all alone with just myself? That would be intolerable!”

And Jung is purported to have sagely suggested, “You cannot stand to spend even an hour per night with yourself, and yet that same self, you are willing to inflict on others for 14 hours per day!” I don’t know if the minister returned.


5. Yet another startling article about our country’s religious nones from RNS entitled, “Why Most People Leave Religion? They Just ‘Stop Believing.’” The article points out this news as startling because many leave their religious affiliations, not because they have a bad experience—a palliative myth for many who would blame the decline on overly moralistic or narrow-minded teaching. What is interesting is the number of nones who still believe in God. Katherine Ozment, who wrote Grace Without God, said this was unsurprising, and even explains why some atheists would still want to attend a church.

“I think there are a lot of nones who miss singing in the choir, who would love to go into a building and hear a moving speech, but the minute someone starts talking about the Bible they check out,” she said. “It no longer feels applicable to them. That’s a big challenge to the church.”

Which, similarly, brings me to the new TV version of The Exorcist. A review in The Atlantic takes the opportunity to point to the powerful and rich history of Catholic storytelling…a genre of storytelling that has more or less become history in recent decades with the decline of belief in America. Nick Ripatrazone wonders if this will mean a hard flop for the new show, or an opening door. One calling card for Catholic storytellers, he writes, is the power of God shown in the places of human suffering.

The Exorcist got audiences thinking about good, evil, and God while they were being both entertained and frightened. The core of the film is ironically contained in a scene that was cut before the film made theaters, but then was edited back into the re-release. Exhausted from the first round of exorcism, Father Merrin and Father Karras sit together on the stairs outside of Regan’s room. Downcast, Father Karras asks, “Why this girl? It makes no sense.” Father Merrin responds, “I think that the point is to make us despair. To see ourselves as animal and ugly. To reject the possibility that God could love us.”

The best Catholic stories of the past didn’t offer happy endings; instead, they were defined by suffering. The Exorcist TV series arrives with the blessing and burden of being connected to one of the most successful horror films ever made. The novel, film, and show all share essential elements of Catholic storytelling: Faith is often buoyed by doubt. God and grace are mysterious, often impenetrable. Belief does not erase fear, anxiety, and pain from the world—yet belief offers a way forward into and through the dark.

6. Let’s close with a beautiful personal narrative from the New York Times Magazine, about a young girl growing up in Sierra Leone, whose parents were nominally Christian, though initially born into Muslim families. Her family was not a churchgoing family, and she describes that, “in Sierra Leone, religions intermingle, and Christians and Muslims celebrate each other’s holy days side by side.” One day, though, her mother gets sick and her uncle Moi, brings a Christian prayer circle over to pray for her. Alongside Moi is a beautiful woman, a college student with beautiful braids. Her eyes are closed in fervent prayer, tears running down her face…her uncle, on the other hand, seems more subdued than the others.

Miraculously, the prayers work! Her mother feels better. She sleeps well. Our narrator and her family begin going to church again every Sunday. Strangely, she doesn’t see her uncle going to church, though.

When my mom finally confronted him on this, his answer was simple, as truthful answers often are.

“I was in that group because I liked that girl. But she said I wasn’t ‘Christian’ enough for her, so I gave up the act.”

I laughed hard. But my mother counseled me sternly: “Remember, we are none of us perfect, but God can use us to do great things.”


The Origin Story of Grape Juice Communion

Water Sommeliers! (ht MM)

The Blue-State Moralism of Heaven in The Good Place

What’s Your Patronus Charm?