Another Week Ends

Real quick before we get going: Conference recordings should be up early next week! Videos […]

Ethan Richardson / 4.11.14

Real quick before we get going: Conference recordings should be up early next week! Videos will roll out gradually after that. Also, we’ve pulled Eden and Afterward to make some final changes. Look for a release announcement in the next ten days.

1) Even getting out of the game is part of the game, now. In fact, it is the game de rigueur. If you thought you weren’t in a fashion trend, if you didn’t know a group existed for people who were actually dressed just like most people, now there is, and you are, and it is the innest of in: and it is called, I kid you not, Normcore. The well-heeled are trading in their Louboutin booties for dad’s K-Swiss and tucked-in, label-free polo shirts. He never would have guessed it, but your dad—and Jerry Seinfeld—have become the icons of sincerity in New York City.

Normcore was discovered—or first observed—in the February issue of New York Magazine. It describes an anti-fashion fashion movement, an intentional re-appraisal of the values of fashion, by way of fashion. Which sounds a bit like same old hipster self-satire, but in case you’re worried, normcore has left the stadium of proving, right? It has walked the catwalk, and left the building, no longer trying, no longer redefining. Just, you know, being.

But what happens when you’re normcore and you don’t know you’re normcore? How ought you feel about yourself? Am I happy that I unwittingly walked into cool? Or is my Carhartt vest the butt of a joke? Like the tree of knowledge, fashion is the cloaking of self-evidence, and the extinction of self-evidence begins with saying you’re “the type of person who”…

The very nature of normcore—in which a trendy, goal-post-moving, fashion-obsessed bloke cunningly disguises himself so as to appear fashion-oblivious—makes it profoundly hazardous. Booby traps and potential landmines abound. Sorting the unwitting normcore dude from the intentional normcorer is one of many perils. Do not assume that the person before you is a normcore dude just because he is wearing squishy caramel-colored Mephistos and a fully buttoned Mr. Rogers cardigan with pockets. We found this out the hard way.

Last week we complimented a gal pal’s new beau on his normcore stylings. He had no idea what we was talking about. By the time we bumbled through an explanation—“It’s a nuanced anti-fashion look … for people who are … badly dressed … I mean … people who are disinclined to dress in a more overtly stylish manner”—he was thoroughly offended. It took hours to talk him and his unlogo’d amphibious Pacific Northwest walking shoes in off the ledge.

Even if a guy is, in fact, a genuine, card-carrying normcorer, it is best not to address him as such. Like hippies and punks and metrosexuals, normcore adherents are wary of declaring their affiliation with their group. Don’t argue with them. It’s best to just compliment your normcorer on his dusty-plum-colored made-in-Romania windbreaker and leave it at that. If normcorers start to feel that they have been cornered or “busted,” God only knows what they will come up with next. If they sense they have been “exposed,” they will feel obliged to concoct some new and even more terrifyingly perverse mode of dressing.

While I am sensitive to the needs of the normcorporation and its flock, I must confess to a certain ambivalence. Normcore loathes the flashy, the parvenue, the nouveau riche, and everything else we hold dear. We have always had a more straightforward approach, celebrating style in a more overt and, dare we say it, less disingenuous manner.EDITD-normcore-Gap-tweet

Normcore defenders would doubtlessly claim that simple clothes are more honest. Without the distracting bells and whistles of fashion, the real essence of an individual is permitted to shine. Though I applaud the optimism inherent in this point of view, I am concerned that the defenders might be overestimating the shine potential of the average dude. Most of us need all the packaging and promotion we can get.

For those earnest be-sweatpanted readers who find themselves unwittingly caught up in this fashion madness, I have the following advice: Stay calm. Don’t freak out. Do not attempt to normcordon yourself off from the trendy normcorers. Do not attempt to distance yourself by running out and buying a pair of white patent-leather bejeweled Versace assless chaps. Why should you change your spots? The comfy, nondescript, low-key clothes you are wearing are authentically yours, which is more than can be said for the normcore crew. They are just faking it. You are the real deal. So enjoy the spotlight. This is your moment.

2) And if we’re aestheticizing norms, why stop with just fashion? Might as well move on to more lasting desires, like writing the Great American Novel, or eternal life. The New Yorker drops this completely depressing article on technological perpetuity—programs and apps that allow the deceased to continue to “speak” over their legacy. Again, if I was kidding, I would have used these names for some Ray Bradbury mock-sci-fi satire: and Deathswitch? “Legacy Locker”? Amazing!

AkbarJeffCryonicsHutNever has the cryonics movement, with its promise of reviving frozen bodies in the future, seemed so old-school. wants to rely on the real substance of twenty-first-century life: online activity. There are other companies that offer related services: Legacy Locker and Entrustnet allow users to nominate an “executor” who will act out their digital wishes after death, including passing on account information to designated heirs. Deathswitch sends personalized messages to pre-selected contacts. Life.Vu offers online memorial pages for loved ones who have passed away. But none of this is close to what is promising.

The company plans to store data from Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, photos, video, location information, and even Google Glass and Fitbit devices. While you are living, you can curate and add to this material; you can also choose privacy settings and determine what information you want stored and made public. then allows you to create a list of people who will be contacted and given access to your account in the case of death, giving your descendants quick and easy access to that Instagram pic of your latte or a detailed history of your Facebook pokes.

The service’s defining feature is a 3-D digital avatar, designed to look and sound like you, whose job will be to emulate your personality and dish out bits of information to friends and family taken from a database of stored information. A user will be encouraged to “train” its avatar, through daily interactions, in order to improve its vocabulary and conversational skills.

3) The big news this week is Stephen Colbert’s new job, and it hasn’t taken the internet long to begin asking (and worrying) if his real persona—as opposed to the one we see every night on Comedy Central—is something we know well enough to trust. Talk about identity issues, and shedding the self you’ve been known by (and misrepresented by). Vanity Fair reminded us what we can expect:

4) The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead doesn’t really sound like a chart-topper, nor are step-by-step programs of self-improvement a favorite for Mockingbird fodder, but bear with me! Charles Murray offers some pretty sound—and death-and-resurrection grounded—advice, regardless of the format. Rule 3 deals with the death of ambition, and the Geffen quote is going to get some mileage (ht BG)!

Years ago, I was watching a television profile of David Geffen, the billionaire music and film producer. At some point, he said, “Show me someone who thinks that money buys happiness, and I’ll show you someone who has never had a lot of money.” The remark was accompanied by an ineffably sad smile on Mr. Geffen’s face, which said that he had been there, done that and knew what he was talking about. The whole vignette struck me in a way that “money can’t buy happiness” never had, and my visceral reaction was reinforced by one especially memorable shot during the profile, taken down the length of Mr. Geffen’s private jet, along the rows of empty leather seats and sofas, to where he sat all alone in the rear.

The problem that you face in your 20s and 30s is that you are gnawed by anxiety that you won’t be a big success. It is an inevitable side effect of ambition. My little story about David Geffen won’t help—now. Pull it out again in 20 years. Fame and wealth do accomplish something: They cure ambition anxiety. But that’s all. It isn’t much.

5) From the Onion: “Alcohol Unfairly Blamed for Local Man’s Impaired Judgment”

MATTOON, IL—Soon after the 28-year-old leapt off the lid of a dumpster and sprained his ankle Tuesday night, friends of area man Jesse Willard unjustly placed the blame for his questionable behavior on alcohol, sources confirmed. “Man, that guy turns into such a moron when he gets a few beers in him,” said Sean Taggart, 29, unfairly accusing the chemical ethanol of being responsible for Willard’s lack of foresight and poor decision-making, traits that are in fact fundamental features of his personality and are equally present when he’s completely sober.

6) For the Parenting-bloggers and -readers out there, the NYT’s Motherlode blog released a great post on contingency in human love. Basically, Cara Pauik writes what Meatloaf said so well, that “I will do anything for love, but I won’t do that.” And that conditionality has an impact on a relationship (ht BR).

I don’t remember the exact day, or the exact reason, or even the exact words, but I know it started with “I love you, but …” I was throwing “I love you” in to soften the blow, but let’s be honest, when you say it like that, the purpose of the statement is to communicate everything except “I love you.” The “but” slices the top of the sentence off and the “I love you” gets discarded like a strawberry’s calyx. “I love you,” usually the most beautiful and powerful triad of words in the world, becomes inauthentic and trivial — cheap. A throwaway line.

And for some parenting humor there’s “If 70s Moms Had Blogs” (ht RW)

7) Closing on a powerful dichotomy, I think, between two very different preaching styles, and articles about their deeper-seated philosophies and theologies. The first comes from the Federalist on the Oprah-fication of the Church, through the likes of “ooey-gooey” Joel Osteen self-empowerment strategies and Rob Bell’s amorphous Chicken Noodle Soup…

We ought not be blind slaves to the arbitrary demands of others, of course. But as tourmate Elizabeth Gilbert unknowingly demonstrates, we also ought not eat-pray-love ourselves into oblivion, divorcing our “callings” from external needs and our desires from absolute obligations. If the “life you want” begins with the life you want, you’re not likely to find much life at all. When all you’ve got is an “opened self,” a “cleared mind,” and “the will to dream for yourself,” that delicious taco you ate on your Meditation Vacation to the Andes is probably your best bet for filling the void.

The prophets of self-esteem are sure to point to a “higher power,” of course. Indeed, for starting out as the first and second greatest commandments, the calls to love God and neighbor have evolved into furry-and-blurry platitudes for many. Yet properly understood, and bound to their particular context of obedience and sacrifice to a particular God and Savior, this is where true self-empowerment ultimately lies, and where the self, quite paradoxically, dies.

Grasping the true meaning of all that shouldn’t be too complicated, especially for self-help experts who peddle expensive weekends jam-packed with “timeless wisdom.” But it does require a clear vision of the image painted on the altar. And here, Oprah’s Big Tent Self-Helpism isn’t about to lend any spectacles.


The article goes on to say the Feel Good Vibes of Christendom could take a word from the Book of Macklemore, “I can’t change, even if I tried, even if I wanted to.” And, with that, comes a word from Chuck DeGroat on the pastor and his learned and relearned state powerlessness (ht RW).

How many times have I had this inner conversation?  In the many times that I’ve preached, how often have I thought – “this one is for so-and-so” or “I hope so-and-so hears this”? I have so many examples of people I’d cite as addicts, as abusers, as men and women who hurt others.  And it’d go over well if I used them.  My self-righteous self longs to use them.

“Our (deepest) addiction is to our own ego, and through this addiction our relationship to everything else is ruined.” (Wendy Farley)

I can see ego a mile away.  I can see it in tweets and Facebook updates, but more subtly in one-on-one conversations.  I can see it in progressive friends who are pretty damn sure they are right.  And with ‘justice’ on their side, they fight.  I can see it in conservative friends who cock their heads and express an attitude of ‘concern’ about truth and faithfulness.  I see it in myself and other “third-way” and “centrist” folks who are quite delighted that we walk in the narrow way of Jesus.

But, in the end, the ego exhausts us.  The ego exhausts us all.  Brought to the place of powerlessness, we are all faced with the possibility of honesty.  And then, even our honesty can be a form of manipulation that resists that very powerlessness we’re invited to.