Another Week Ends

1. A very timely, and heartwarming, little essay from our friend Mark Galli entitled “A […]

Ethan Richardson / 7.14.17

1. A very timely, and heartwarming, little essay from our friend Mark Galli entitled “A Theology of Play,” which has a lot to say about the inner-critics and scorekeepers that can trouble the summer frame of mind. Galli, who is a golfer and fisherman, describes the litany of moral reasons, practical reasons, and theological reasons he must lay out to defend himself from the accusations of uselessness and wastefulness of enjoying himself. These are the inner-lawyers with whom Galli must contend:

The prosecutors rest their case on a common but questionable assumption: That life’s highest purpose is to work, to get things done, to be useful, to make the world a better place. Leisure, if it is to be justified, must fit into this purpose by making it possible for us to work longer, harder, and better. And even then, leisure must be efficient.

Leisure and play, though, Galli continues, are beautiful because they are not efficient, not even useful. They cannot be justified to the prosecutors. And this is why they are so important:

Biblical rest does not mean doing nothing, for the eternal Sabbath rest includes joyful worship of the Lord (Rev. 4). But the activity of rest is not about doing something to justify our use of our time. It’s not about shoring up our energy for more work. It’s activity designed to do one thing: bring joy. If it’s not useless (in the way we normally understand that word), it’s not rest. And one of the best ways to rest (besides worship) is to play….Whenever we take a Sabbath—or whenever we find time to play—we remind ourselves from where we’ve come and to where we’re going. We’re living into our purpose and destiny. We’re practicing for eternity. This is why Peter L. Berger, in his book A Rumor of Angels, says that play is a “signal of transcendence.”

Here’s to hoping our sabbatical boy is off being useless.

And speaking of justifying play, an intriguing piece over at Reason about the pluses and minuses of young men playing video games. Gamer Peter Suderman describes the mixed feelings he has about the role its had on his life, especially in times when he was an outcast—either a nerd growing up or without a job in adulthood. Games, Suderman writes, certainly provide a crutch for those stung by reality, for better and for worse. But sometimes, a crutch is precisely what you need.

So mostly I looked on from afar, cheering friends as they made heroic runs through Super Mario Brothers and Sonic the Hedgehog, standing off to the side and watching with awe at the twitchy focus older teenagers brought to competitive arcade games like Street Fighter II. They sweated over their work with the anxiety and brow-furrowed determination of craftsmen and artists. I came to admire the way they shaped the games according to their whims and, equally, the way they had shaped themselves to the demands of the games. In the ’80s and ’90s, gaming was still the domain of losers and outcasts, nerds with no social skills. But at the arcade, or at home with a console, surrounded by friends, these gamers had found something that transcended the derision, something that made them feel accomplished and worthy. It was clear to me, even as an observer, that for the best players, games were a totalizing experience and also a significant personal accomplishment. It was something that they worked at—and, in the right setting, something they could be proud of.

And while we’re on the work & play vibe, check out what Quartz says about the most common small-talk question in America.

2. Conor Friedersdorf (with the help of Alan Jacobs and Erika Christakis) continues the conversation on Harvard’s move to eliminate social clubs. Friedersdorf comments on the faculty panel’s suggestion as the move of a “helicopter college,” the coddling of the minds/lives of its student body. One faculty member, psychologist Steven Pinker, responded that such a recommendation was at odds with the ideals of the university for student policy, that Harvard should never be “an arbiter over their lives, 24/7.” He continued, writing, “This illiberal policy can only contribute to the impression in the country that elite universities are not dispassionate forums for clarifying values, analyzing problems…but are institutions determined to impose their ideology and values on a diverse population by brute force.”

Oof. But what’s really interesting is point Conor makes, with the help of Jacobs, about how education really happens: through allowing them to deal with their own conflicts.

In a fascinating article called “The Japanese Preschool’s Pedagogy of Peripheral Participation,” Akiko Hayashi and Joseph Tobin describe a twofold strategy commonly deployed in Japan to deal with preschoolers’ conflicts: machi no hoiku and mimamoru. The former means “caring by waiting”; the second means “standing guard.” When children come into conflict, the teacher makes sure the students know that she is present—she may even add, kamisama datte miterun, daiyo (the gods too are watching)—but she does not intervene unless absolutely necessary. Even if the children start to fight she may not intervene; that will depend on whether a child is genuinely attempting to hurt another or the two are halfheartedly “play-fighting.”

The idea is to give children every possible opportunity to resolve their own conflicts—even past the point at which it might, to an American observer, seem that a conflict is irresolvable. This requires patient waiting; and of course one can wait too long—just as one can intervene too quickly. The mimamoru strategy is meant to reassure children that their authorities will not allow anything really bad to happen to them, though perhaps some unpleasant moments may arise. But those unpleasant moments must be tolerated, else how will the children learn to respond constructively and effectively to conflict—conflict which is, after all, inevitable in any social environment? And if children don’t begin to learn such responses in preschool when will they learn it?Imagine if at university they had developed no such abilities and were constantly dependent on authorities to ease every instance of social friction.

3. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Steel Magnolias, a Southerner’s favorite. Garden and Gun did a retrospective with Robert Harling, the playwright, whose younger sister’s death formed the basis of the story (ht SC). Harling described that time in his life, and world of suffering the “men in the den” could not handle.

After my sister’s funeral, everybody came over to the house, and there was all this food. I was watching the men in the den, and they were a mess. My dad couldn’t talk about anything; none of them knew what to do. And I could see into the kitchen, and there were all these women and they were laughing and telling stories and dishing things out. They were saying things like, “You know this would be a lot better if she had just put a little white pepper in it.” And I thought, “This is very interesting. The women are getting it done and the guys cannot function.”

4. From the Bee: “Smithsonian To Display Covenant God Signed With America” (ht LR).

WASHINGTON, D.C.—In honor of the Fourth of July holiday, the Smithsonian’s American History Museum announced Monday it would be displaying the covenant God signed with America upon the founding of the nation in 1776. The historical contract famously outlines the terms and conditions governing God’s choice of America as His covenant people.

“For the first time, the full covenant the Founding Fathers signed with the Lord on high will be available for public viewing, for a limited time only,” a curator told reporters. “It is our hope that the American public would gain a greater appreciation for the country’s solemn duty to advance the kingdom of God on earth, as the Lord commissioned us to do upon our nation’s founding.”

5. Another big Luther book review, from Elizabeth Bruenig over at The Nation. She covers three new Luther biographies, by Ryrie, Roper and Rao, and while some of the writers are not glowing about the Protestantism that flowed from Luther’s progeny, the biggest takeaway is that Luther’s legacy is mammoth (and mammothly complicated). While some argue that Luther instigated the secularism that so many Protestants decry now, others argue that Luther was the beginning of the “free markets and atomized individuals.” Take what you will.

And speaking of theology, and Elizabeth Bruenig, here’s an amazing quote from Rowan Williams:


6. College counselors in high demand are taking up offices in dorms to be on the frontlines of student need. I was blown away by this statistic: In 2016, over 60 percent of students claimed they felt overwhelming anxiety in the past year. Nearly 40 percent claimed they felt so depressed it was difficult to function (ht MM).

In-house counseling centers often hold office hours that are more in line with students’ schedules than the main health facilities on campus. At Ohio University, for example, students can drop in for sessions with three counselors in residence—counseling or psychology doctoral students who also live in faculty apartments in the dormitories—between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. every day but Saturday.

Even schools that have long posted counselors in dorms, like Columbia University, have been making adjustments. “There’s more of a demand for service, and more of a demand for immediate service,” said Josette Cline, director of counseling and psychological services at the University of Arkansas.

7. And this film looks, well, to the bone. Counselor Keanu!


This book on Protestant ecclesiology looks promising.

-Fireworks last week, but Spireworks?

-The New York Times: It’s Okay to Skip Forward On A Show.

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