Another Week Ends

Wrapping up the latest from the week, we’d be remiss not to recap the biggest news, […]

Bryan J. / 11.16.18

Wrapping up the latest from the week, we’d be remiss not to recap the biggest news, which is that DZ’s new book Seculosity is now available for your pre-ordering pleasure! For a preview of the content, go here, and to get in your pre-order, go here. (According to those ‘in the know,’ pre-orders are actually what make best-sellers). And let’s get that #seculosity hashtag rolling!

1. Can’t wait to hear our Mockingcast hosts dive into this first note for the week. Sarah Dahl’s essay Trading Brunch for the Eucharist is a deep dive into that particular #seculosity of Silicon Valley and the church’s role in forming its counterculture. Dahl’s accurate diagnosis of the secular religiosity of San Francisco is as good as her description of weekly communion. One of those “wish we could repost the whole thing” type of essays:

This is also an area that lives by a creed my husband (a Midwestern transplant who spends most of the hours in his day immersed in the tech-startup world) noticed almost right away: “You should live better.” You can’t live here long without breathing it in the air, drinking it in the water. So much of our cultural, civic, business, and social life in this city is organized around optimizing everything, all the time—a habit of mind that, over time, forms people in ways that make traditional churchgoing, much less a deep embrace of any distinctly Christian vision of the good for human life, increasingly hard to understand.

“You should live better” starts out innocuously enough. Drink better coffee. Eat better food (whatever that means to you: paleo, vegan, locally sourced, humanely grown, ad infinitum). Optimize your exercise and mindfulness routines. Craft a healthy work-life balance. Don’t waste any time on chores that technology can solve for you, but do occasionally detox from your devices. Get your systems in place. Establish your flow…

But in a culture that’s rich in money and opportunity while short on time, introspection or connection with the transcendent, the mantra “you should live better” becomes shorthand for “you have the duty and the right to optimize your limited time on this planet in whatever way you see fit.” I can only speak for myself, but I suspect that many of us go about cultivating, curating, designing, and improving our lives as a kind of grand exercise in existential justification. We want to earn the right to the space we take up on this planet, or at least to squeeze the very best out of our patch of it.

And that is a creed that, at best, can muffle a healthy discomfort with privilege, burnishing self-indulgence with the patina of moral obligation. At its worst, it is a confession that teaches us to look at life in the world as a potentially perfectible experience and grants us permission to simply drop anything or any person that is unproductive, ineffective, or simply a waste of time.

Are we good enough to deserve the space we take up on this planet? As DZ has pointed out, any time we’re using the language of “enoughness,” we’re in the realm of religion. Robert Capon makes an appearance in the essay, as does Bob Newhart’s infamous ‘Stop It’ sketch. Here’s a taste of how it ends:

On any given Sunday in our own church, a motley collection of finance executives, recalcitrant teenagers, transgender men and women, stay-at-home moms, social workers, lawyers, venture capitalists, married couples of all orientations and varied levels of contentment, software developers, quilters, musicians, and teachers all shuffle forward to hear the words, “the body of Christ, given for you.” Unproductive people, ineffective people, unfaithful spouses, and lapsed addicts, all of us. With each taste, we remember that the life we have now was never ours to start with. The life we are given isn’t ours to control. Someone else has broken in—has yelled, “Stop it! Stop trying to get up already: you’re dead!”—and then resuscitated us out of nothing more than love. Sometimes we’re actually surprised enough to look up and see the people around us; on a really good day, we might actually recognize that we’re made of the same renewed dust and we’re all here by the same invitation.

Speaking of invitations… are you on our mailing list yet?

2. A great week for #seculosity, but a sad and bittersweet week for comic book fans. Stan Lee, the writer who brought Marvel Comics to the masses, died at age 95. Mockingbird friend and resident comic expert WtH broke down what made Stan Lee’s Spiderman such an important cultural figure yesterday. His diagnosis, that Stan Lee’s characters had failures and foibles that made them sympathetic and real, are shared by many of the obituaries. When Teri Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air interviewed Stan Lee back in 1991, he gave this as his example of the humor and reality he wanted to inject into his stories:

And then the other thing that we try for very much is humor. Now, I guess before Marvel comics started, there wasn’t too much humor in superhero adventures. But for instance, with Spider-Man, I tried, again, to inject the humor in such a way that it was realistic. For example, there was a time when he had received a check as a reward for something he had done, and he was so happy to have this money, this check made out to Spider-Man. And he went to a bank to cash it in his Spider-Man costume. And the teller behind the counter said, well, I can’t cash this check. I need identification. And he said, I’m wearing a Spider-Man costume. He said, anybody could wear a Spider-Man costume. You know, who are you? And he said, I’ve got a secret identity. I can’t tell people who I am.

And anyway, this went from bad to worse. And he was never able to cash the check. Now, to me the interesting thing about that was I really wasn’t trying to be funny so much as I was trying to be realistic. Because what would happen if a guy in a Spider-Man suit had a check that he tried to cash?

3. Continuing on with humor, over at McSweeneys, the smartphone has officially been added to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, natch… And if you need to find a place to cry in your creative and hip new open office, strategies are indeed available to you.  For instance, you could cry…

At Ravi’s standing desk: The dry cleaning he’s always hanging on it will provide partial coverage. Plus, crying at a sit/stand desk is so much better for your posture.

At the center of the office: The company doesn’t believe in walls, so why build one around your emotions? Let it go and play the “Frozen” soundtrack while you’re at it. Do a cartwheel that turns into a split and then cry onto Colleen’s emotional support dog. You have the space for it! After all, the company wanted to increase productivity and you’ve never been more efficient with your crying in your life.

4. On the entertainment front, I for one am ecstatic to live in a world where a Detective Pikachu movie exists. You better bet I’m going to catch all of that gritty noir pocket monster action. And while the winds of winter are officially hitting my neck of the woods with ice and snow right now, George R.R. Martin’s next Game of Thrones novel is still running behind. If you’re wondering why Martin can find the time to write a 736-page history of the Targaryens but The Winds of Winter is taking so long, it turns out the pressure to craft the perfect novel is the culprit:

And there’s the pressure it brings to the writing. The sheer popularity of Game of Thrones has made cracking on with the series harder, he admits. And there’s also the problem of the storyline in the show overtaking that in the books.

“The show has achieved such popularity around the world, the books have been so popular and so well reviewed, that every time I sit down I’m very conscious I have to do something great, and trying to do something great is a considerable weight to bear,” [Martin] says. “On the other hand, once I really get rolling, I get into the world, and that happened recently with Fire and Blood. I was going to sleep thinking of Aegon and Jaehaerys and waking up thinking of them and I couldn’t wait to get the typewriter. The rest of the world vanishes, and I don’t care what I’m having for dinner or what movies are on or what my email says, who’s mad at me this week because The Winds of Winter isn’t out, all that is gone and I’m just living in the world I’m writing about. But it’s sometimes hard to get to that almost trance state.”

The original interview, with all its Targaryen glory, can be found here, and includes another great anecdote about writing fantasy under the shadow of JRR Tolkein. The AV Club’s summary with less GoT jargon and fewer plot details can be found here.

And here’s an interview with The Good Place creator Mike Schur. Lots of spoilers here, but it looks like the show will continue to be a source of sermon inspiration into future seasons. Also in the interview: would the creator of a TV sitcom based on moral philosophy work with #MeToo perpetrator Aziz Ansari again? And there’s much wisdom to be found in this sentiment: “The cure for any bad behavior, any systematic bad behavior, any calcified bad behavior, is to be like, sorry! We just gotta keep talking about it.”

5. On a very serious note, the American Lawyer’s essay from Joanna Litt, “Big Law Killed My Husband,” is a painful tale of performancism run amok. Composed by the widow herself, the article is a heartbreaking look into the suicidal pressures of high-stakes legal work.

The Sunday before leaving to file in Delaware, he spent all day at the office. When I finally called him that evening, it was clear he was in distress and had been working himself to exhaustion. He told me his body was failing him. I picked him up and we decided he should go to the emergency room. He actually said to me on the way there, “You know, if we go, this is the end of my career.”…

About a week later Mattress Firm publicly filed. I sent an article announcing the bankruptcy to my mom and a couple of close friends with the exact words, “This is the case that is killing my husband.”…

Looking back on the things Gabe confided in me, I now know I missed a lot of signs. He told me he felt like he was doing the work of three people—and I think that’s being generous. He told me the deal to resolve the bankruptcy kept changing. He also felt that while a senior partner in Chicago was heading the case, a lot of pressure fell directly on him.

We spoke a handful of times about how he should just try to care less about the work, but knowing the kind of person my husband was, that was never going to happen. He said he felt like a phony who had everyone fooled about his abilities as a lawyer, and thought after this case was over, he was going to be fired—despite having won honors for his work…

Gabe lived his life with integrity and treated those around him with sincerity, kindness, and a genuine sense of presence. Unfortunately, I know my husband died not knowing the impact he had on so many people. I believe he died feeling overworked, inferior and undervalued. And I know he died with a lot of shame.

This words of grief are remarkably fresh: Litt’s husband committed suicide about one month ago. The powerlessness she feels in being able to save her husband is equally remarkable. Come Lord Jesus. Amen.

6. Lastly, Mockingbird friend Jason Micheli brings it home this week with a story of airborne absolution. Lots of weeping in this story. You might join in. Have a great weekend everyone!

“Have you confessed all the sins now that have been troubling you?” Jim said to him.

“What do you mean confessed?! I’ve never confessed.” The man replied.

“You’ve been confessing your sins to me this whole flight long. And I’ve been commanded by Christ Jesus that when I hear a confession like that to hand over the goods and speak a particular word to you. So, you have any more sins burdening you? If so, throw them in there.”

“I’m done now,” the man next to him said, “I’m finished.”

“And then he grabbed my hand,” Jim said to us in the presentation, “He grabbed my hand like he’d just had a second thought, and he said to me: ‘But, I told you— I’m not a believer. I don’t have any faith in me.’”

“I unbuckled my seatbelt and I said to him: ‘Well, that’s quite alright brother.Jesus says that it’s what’s inside of you is what’s wrong with the world. Nobody has faith inside of them— faith alone saves us because it comes from outside of us, from one creature to another creature.I’m going to speak faith into you.’”

So I unsqueezed myself from my chair and I stood up. The seatbelt sign had already dinged on and the tray tables had been secured back in their upright positions and the seats were all back up straight and proper, but I stood up over him.”

“The stewardess then— she starts yelling and fussing at me: ‘Sir— SIR— you can’t do that. Sit down. You can’t do that.’”

“I ignored her, which meant pretty soon others around us were fussing and hollering at me too. ‘You can’t do that. Sit down,’ they said to me.”

“Can’t do it?” I said to the stewardess. “Ma’am Christ our Lord commands me to do it.”

“And she looked back at me, scared, like she was afraid I was going to evangelize her or something. So I turned back to the man next to me and, standing up over him, I put my hand on his head andI said: ‘In the name of Jesus Christ and by his authority, I declare the entire forgiveness of all your sins.’”

“You— you can’t do that.”He whispered to me.

“I can do it. I must. Christ compels me to do it, and I just did it and I’ll do it again.”

“So I gave him the goods again. I tipped his head back and I spoke faith into him, and I did it loud for everyone on that plane to hear it: ‘In the name of Jesus Christ and by his authority, I declare unto you the entire forgiveness of all your sins.”

“And just like that,” Jim said, “the man started sobbing… like somebody had stuck him. Soon his shirt was wet from all his weeping. It was like he’d become a little child again and so I sat down and I held him in my arms like I’d hold a child.”

New episode of The Mockingcast is up! “A More Brunch-Like Experience,” in which Dave, Sarah, and RJ figure out how to cry in their offices and optimize their Sunday mornings. Plus, the gospel according to Stan Lee. ‘Nuff said.

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One response to “Another Week Ends: Silicon Valley #Seculosity, Airborne Absolution, Big Law Kills, Maslow’s Smartphone, Stan Lee’s Humor, and True Detective Pikachu”

  1. David Zahl says:

    GREAT weekender, B. Can’t get over how good that Brunch piece is. Not to mention the Nestingen story… (thanks for the plug, too!)

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