Another Week Ends

1. This week’s first link comes from the Athletic. As a young player, UK footballer […]

CJ Green / 7.10.20

1. This week’s first link comes from the Athletic. As a young player, UK footballer Michael Johnson was a natural talent who appeared to be “in supreme control of his destiny.” He played professionally for only a few years before announcing his retirement in January 2013, when he was just 24, saying “he wished to be ‘left alone to live the rest of my life.’” Since then, he’s been reclusive. The quotes below come from his first interview in years:

I want people to be able to understand mental health and self-esteem. My issue was always self-esteem. I just felt really low in myself. I didn’t ever feel I was as good as the kids next to me.

I’m not talking football-wise. I knew I was good at football. I’m talking about how I felt as a person. … My mindset was just really low. Really low. I had no confidence, no self-esteem. My way of dealing with it was to play and to be the best. And if I’m the best, I’m worth something. …

It was all about my self-esteem issues. I needed to try to understand that I can’t control what people think and people say. Before that, I was constantly worrying about what people thought of me. I would be going into the shops and thinking, ‘I hope that person doesn’t look at me. He can’t look at me or it’s going to make me feel bad’. I was trying to control the uncontrollable. Once you learn to stop trying to control the uncontrollable, life is a lot easier.

2. On a similar note re: mental health, Matthew Sitman wrote an excellent essay for Commonweal. I do recommend the whole thing, especially if you or someone you know lives with depression. But the following paragraph jumped out as particularly good. Reviewing George Scialabba’s new book How To Be Depressed, Sitman writes,

To be depressed is to feel overwhelmed, that life is just too much. Part of [Scialabba’s] advice is to bluntly ask your loved ones to help you. “Don’t hesitate to ask friends for material help: to shop for you, to cook, to drive you to doctor’s appointments, to come over and watch television with you,” he writes, “or just be there while you clean the house or do your laundry or pay bills, if you find those things too hard to do by yourself.” I would add: don’t hesitate to offend someone by asking if they need this kind of help.

3. For a little light humor, there’s this from the Onion: “Man Somehow Able to Muster Strength To Fold Laundry Without Listening To Podcast“:

Eyewitnesses marveled as the audacious 31-year-old persevered through seven towels and nine pairs of pants without consuming so much as a minute of his favorite history show or learning a single factoid about the origins of the word “biscuit,” refusing to succumb to boredom as he matched sock after sock.

Also, the pictures in this post come from boredpanda!

4. Now, besides this next link being an insanely poignant account of love and marriage, it is also full of great advice. In the Wall Street Journal, Arthur Kleinmen wrote that his daily life in self-quarantine is not unlike the 10 years he spent caring for his wife, Joan, while she had Alzheimer’s. During that time, they learned to find meaning in the mundane:

Joan and I banished the feeling that we had fallen into limbo by reconstructing our daily activities. By celebrating shared experiences and intensifying attention to mundane tasks, we filled those moments with passion and awareness. Exercise, cooking, eating, reading, work, and even watching the news became more deliberate components of our daily ritual, giving us happy moments to look forward to, creating a mood of anticipation rather than paralysis. In a time of randomness and uncertainty, it made us feel proactive instead of reactive.

Joan is gone now. My job is no longer to care for her but to practice self-care. I am 79 and entering my fifth week of social separation. … The wisdom that I acquired giving care to Joan helps me cope with the solitude. The threat of feeling vulnerable and defeated is ever-present, but I know that I can manage it by organizing my day around highly ritualized activities and giving myself over to them.

A plague, as Albert Camus knew, is the moment to ask what life is for. The response to Covid-19 suggests one answer: care for yourself and others. So take a breath and take the time to change the daily rituals that make up life. Throw yourself into them as if your life were at stake, which it is.

I completely understand what Kleinmen is describing, and have actually experienced a little bit of it myself. But also, little rituals can easily become law. Much of life, and its vitality, involves the clamorous pieces of ourselves that sabotage routines. In any case, there’s one thing he didn’t mention as part of his ritual—checking social media. Which brings us to …

5. Sophie McBain’s review of No Filter, a new book by Sarah Frier about the rise of Instagram and the ways it “influences” our personal lives:

Instagram has become a measure of cultural capital and even those with small ­followings feel pressure to compete, and build lives that look good online. … A 2017 study by the Royal Society for Public Health named Instagram the worst app for mental health because of how anxious and unhappy it makes young people. …

The company acts as a hidden force, shaping our digital landscape, our preferences, our horizons. When it makes unilateral changes to the app, such as when it began displaying posts algorithmically rather than chronologically, it kills countless careers and often creates a new influencer elite, rewarding celebrities who have a personal link to Instagram or those quickest to grasp the new rules of the game. …

Frier is a skilled reporter and an astute and sensitive cultural observer. No Filter is a vital read for anyone seeking to understand the incredible power Silicon Valley executives exercise over us, and the opaque, unpredictable and undemocratic mechanisms by which they do so. It offers a useful framework for thinking about how the tech we use changes us, and for beginning to understand what we really want from the websites we consult so frequently and so unthinkingly.

If anything, I feel more pessimistic about the current state of affairs than she does. …

You could, indeed, think of Instagram as a way to honour our quotidian lives. It tells us that everyone’s life is worthy of display. It reminds us that the world is worth noticing: urging us to keep an eye out for perfect sunsets and autumn leaves arranged, just so, on grey pavements, and hilariously juxtapositioned street signs. But at the same time, it cheapens and flattens subjective experiences, making users feel as though moments are only valuable if they can be shared online and are met with sufficient approval from strangers. The climb up a mountain may not feel worth it if you can’t get a good summit shot.

Personally I have become less and less interested in commentary about social media that does not expressly decry it. How many exposés does one need, how many bad nights scrolling in dismay? From a religious perspective, the only revelation here is of human weakness. One wonders if we stay on these platforms because we simply don’t accept the fact of our weakness—our capacity to be influenced in myriad miserable ways.

6. This one could have been a post all its own. Commentator David French, at his own site, equated politics (far left and far right) with not just religion but fundamentalism. Humility is the characteristic fundamentalists are bereft of:

… while there are many, many things we can know about God—and many things we can learn—we must approach our faith and our world with a sense of existential humility.

And that is exactly the quality that the fundamentalist lacks. It’s the fierce existential certainty of the fundamentalist that is so often the root of authoritarianism and illiberalism. I’m reminded of the old religious maxim, “Error has no rights.” That impulse lies at the heart of much of the Christian nationalist/integralist critique of classical liberalism. That impulse lies at the heart of the speech code and the metastasizing intolerance of woke capitalism.

In a spirituality of grace, error has all sorts of rights. It is not a thing one does so much as a state one lives in. We may just need to get comfortable asking for forgiveness. French goes on:

As longtime readers know, I grew up in a church that had strong fundamentalist roots. I’ve seen many people leave fundamentalism and enter religious communities that were rich with the fruits of the spirit, including love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness. I have not, however, seen people battered, mocked, and berated out of fundamentalism. Indeed, anger and intolerance directed at the angry and intolerant often only serve to deepen the fundamentalist’s sense of conviction and purpose.

In other words, the “fight fire with fire” logic of the competing fundamentalist strains of the American secular revival is precisely wrong. One flame doesn’t eradicate (or even permanently defeat) the other. They both feed each other, until the conflagration spirals out of control. Instead, fight this fundamentalist fire with water, the living water from the Holy Spirit of a loving God.

7. On a related note, Giles Fraser wrote about the myth of “pure” history. Nothing is born out of purity, he argues, and we should take this into account as we grapple with our national histories and/or cast a deceptively nostalgic eye on the past:

One of the things I have especially appreciated about the Church of England is that a narrative about purity of origins is not available to it. The Church of England was created because Henry VIII was a megalomaniacal sex-pest whose ego was so huge and fragile he would take no lessons from the bishop of Rome. … The Church of England was born in shame.

And what is true about the Church of England is doubly true of the Anglican Communion. The worldwide Anglican Communion was the religious by-product of British imperial expansion. The church may like to tell the story of William Wilberforce and its part in the struggle against slavery. But many of its clergy owned slaves, and one of its largest mission agencies was funded for over a century by a slave plantation in Barbados …

So why do I say that this shameful past is something that I have “appreciated” about being a priest in the Church of England? It was a hard word to pick. But Christianity is fundamentally the story of redemption. That is what is so appealing about it to a sinner like me. And redemption doesn’t work by pretending we have a beautiful past.

8. Lastly, at the Living Church Mark Clavier composed an insightful meditation on home—our homes, and the home of God:

When God acts among us, he isn’t doing so from afar. There is no departure or return for God. God simply is. God is in heaven; God is on earth; God is also beyond both. Indeed, God is in heaven much more than any of his heavenly hosts, just as he’s among us and with us far more fully and deeply than we are. If anything, in our fallen creatureliness, we’re the ones at home in neither place. We’re the restless ones ever searching for our home, always finding ourselves abroad and thus unable to rest or be still. God is never truly the stranger, while we almost invariably are. …

In On Christian Teaching, Augustine likened our Christian lives to a journey back to our homeland, back to God. I think it’s important for us not to think of this homeland as just heaven — it includes the renewed cosmos where we’ll discover God equally at home. Peter refers to us as “aliens and exiles,” not to creation and not (though this is generally how it’s taken) from heaven, either. We’re “aliens and exiles” from the world erected by fallen humanity, because now in Christ we have found our home in God.

The soundtrack to this weekender is Blake Flattley. Listen to this this weekend!



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