Another Week Ends

1. We’ve discussed the plight of teenage boys, but now there’s this research, from clinical […]

Ethan Richardson / 8.16.19

1. We’ve discussed the plight of teenage boys, but now there’s this research, from clinical psychologist Mary Pipher, about the increasing prevalence of loneliness in adolescent girls across America. Pipher talks about the 36% of school-age girls who report being anxious every day, who lack self-sufficiency and spend six to nine hours of each day online. She describes how much of the loneliness stems from the “unplanned social experiment” of social media and technology: 

Because of the omnipresent smartphone, girls can call or text their parents to ask what’s for dinner or request a ride home. Many girls are rarely out in the world alone, solving problems by themselves. When girls do eventually leave home, they often find themselves ill-prepared to navigate “real life.” In 2011, the American College Health Association reported that 31% of female freshmen said they had experienced overwhelming anxiety or panic attacks; by 2016, that had shot up to 62%.

“When my friends are depressed, I’m the person they call,” said Olivia, 14. “It’s terrifying. I’ve put suicide-prevention apps on so many peoples’ phones.” We are grateful for girls like Olivia who help their friends, but teenagers aren’t ready to handle this level of emotional responsibility.

Most girls do not leave the house on weekends, but interact with friends online. Several of the girls in the study report wanting the “olden days” childhood—hanging out with friends in person, going on dates—but sense it is impossible to grasp. While Pipher has precautions that parents can take to protect their girls from our culture’s more “noxious elements,” and instill some confidence/resilience, the major takeaway is the sense that, while times have changed, the needs have not. Girls need people in their lives who love them, who listen, and who invite them to explore their lives, both inside and outside the home. 

2. Phillip Cary discusses his new book over at Eclectic Orthodoxy, and describes what it means that Luther had a “sacramental concept of the Gospel.” This makes some Protestants uneasy, Cary says, but it shouldn’t if we understand it correctly. Beautiful stuff here: 

We are justified by faith alone, Luther insists, because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is an external word that does what a sacrament does: it gives what it signifies to all who properly receive it. And what the Gospel of Jesus Christ signifies is in fact nothing less than Jesus Christ, God in person, together with all the gifts he has to give those who believe him. It is not hard to show (I wasn’t the first to show it) that Luther developed his distinctive notion of the Gospel when he was first writing about the sacra­ments. And it turns out (here I’ll take credit for a little originality) that if you want to understand the characteristic things Luther has to say about the saving power of the Gospel, you have to look to sacraments as the clearest example.

…Thus what Luther was saying to anxious Catholics (i.e., all of Europe) in the sixteenth century was, in effect: notice what God has already promised you in your baptism and in the Eucharist, and cling to it in faith, rather than turning to your own good works—even the works of love that you are to achieve with the help of faith and grace. If you are anxious about whether you love God enough—whether you are in a state of grace rather than mortal sin—then there is good news for you: all your good works are damnable mortal sins (Luther actually says this), so there’s no point in being anxious about whether they’re good enough. You have no hope of salvation unless you have been baptized into Christ, who shed his blood and gave his body for you, and promised himself to you in your baptism. So unless you call Christ a liar, you have no choice but to believe he is your savior.

3. In the wake of the El Paso shooting, Tara Isabella Burton’s op-ed in the New York Times discusses that, while the majority of our collective attention has been focused (understandably) on the racial and political motives of these massacres, the “religious hunger” at its root often goes unnoticed. Until we better understand the vacuums of meaning and belonging lost to secularism, and the impulse to seek out “replacement religions” to fill the gap, we’re bound to miss what’s being communicated by these attacks. 

Not all of the extremists who carried out massacres in recent years — the 2014 University of California Santa Barbara killings, the 2018 Toronto van attack, the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shootings, to name just a few — shared the same politics. While most expressed some combination of avowedly white supremacist, anti-Semitic or misogynist views, few were part of specific, organized movements or even had coherent political outlooks. But what nearly all of these perpetrators shared was a cosmic-level worldview that fetishizes violence as a kind of purifying fire: a destruction necessary to “reset” the world from its current broken state. This atavistic worldview idealizes an imagined past, one that predates the afflictions of, say, feminism and multiculturalism.

…It is necessary to condemn these hate groups and their atrocities. But it is simplistic, — and ineffectual — to do so in a vacuum. To characterize these killers as lonely, disaffected, disenchanted men, rebels in search of a cause, is not to ameliorate the atrocity of their actions, nor to excuse them as merely “misunderstood.” Rather, it is to envision a productive way forward — a chance to de-radicalize some of them before they commit acts of violence, to provide people with a different form of “lifefuel.”

4. After his mother’s death, Anderson Cooper reached out to St. Stephen Colbert, Theologian of the Cross, for an interview about grief, citing much of the GQ article that we talked about so much way back in 2015. Cooper asked Colbert about a statement he made in that interview: “What punishments of God are not gifts?” Both Cooper and Colbert lost their dads unexpectedly when they were ten years old. The full interview can be watched here, but the second half is gold.

5. Brilliant, from McSweeney’s: “A Preschooler’s Guide to Managing Your Personal Assistant.”  

My assistant comes to drive me home just as I’ve started working with the Magna-Tiles. I wait all day for my turn on this equipment and now she’s rushing me to leave. I cross my arms and glare at her, but decide not to share the reason for my sour mood. I take slow, tiny steps to the car in protest. She questions me about my motives, but I stay strong and silent in the face of her exasperation. She knows what she did. She needs to learn. It’s important for PA’s to figure things out for themselves. She makes an empty threat about “losing screen time.” She’s bluffing. I hold strong. She threatens again. I meet her gaze, steely-eyed. She leans down to me and hisses something about no screen time for the rest of the week. I notice a few of my colleagues exiting the building. I’ve got to get control of my assistant before her outburst ruins my reputation, so I make a quick decision to run to the car. She can’t embarrass me if she can’t catch me.

6. Two investigations on seemingly passive human enterprises—one on the role of sleep, the other on the role of boredom in our lives—and how each might sound unproductive, but are actually, in the end, ways for us to become more, do more, investigate more, etc. The GQ article on sleep in particular discusses how “sleep science” and “sleep business” is creating a performancist arena where there was none before. And this arena is quite literal: soccer clubs in England, including Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, have built team “recovery” housing for sleeping before matches, and hired sleep scientists to get them to bed better

Littlehales (a sleep expert) now works with the police, the NHS, airline pilots, the fire service and several universities. Just don’t get him started on his rival experts: “There’s so much crap out there now! There’s people who do hypnotherapy who’ve become sleep coaches. There’s people who used to sit in sleep clinics in universities who’ve come out and started writing books. All this stuff going on trying to get into this trillion-dollar black hole of sleep.”

Makes one wonder, when even our sleep is opportunized for productivity, where can we ever rest our heads?

7. To answer that question, I wanted to close with a post that was written by Benjamin Sledge back in 2016, which just came across our inbox this week, entitled “Why I Am a Christian (And Continue to Suck at Being One)”. Sledge tells his own story of being burned by the church, but eventually finding his way back to the heart of Christianity, and how that heart stood independent of all the hypocrisies he was experiencing with others and within himself. After years of going to church, wondering if he was a good enough Christian, he was finally made aware of the Gospel, that he would always need fixing, that he would never be enough, but that Jesus was enough. 

As Christians our goal is not to follow a set of rules to earn God’s favor. Often there are people out there who can easily live more moral lives than us. In fact, it seemed most non-Christians were helping more people than those in the pews every Sunday… the cross where Jesus died was a reminder that as good as we try to be, we still need someone to save us from ourselves because at the end of the day we love to compare ourselves to scoundrels. But Christianity teaches that if anything we realize what a train wreck we are, and so when we see people in this light it humbles us. I know of no other religion that does that.

Amen. Have a great weekend. Oh, and if you’re jonesing for some more true religion, Seculosity (for the time being) is 50% off at Amazon! Get to it while you can! 


-Is Marianne Williamson Weird, or Just Religious? 

-6 Reasons We Make Terrible Decisions

-Proof of the Babylonian Conquest!