Another Week Ends

1. I’ll get to articles on our coronavirus life soon enough, but first I wanted […]

Todd Brewer / 3.27.20

1. I’ll get to articles on our coronavirus life soon enough, but first I wanted to feature this amazing NY Times interview with filmmaker Werner Herzog. It’s everything you don’t need right now and more: a wide-ranging, thoughtful, and disarmingly funny back-and-forth with perhaps the most interesting person in the world. And that story of him pulling Joaquin Phoenix from a car wreck…crazy stuff.

NYT: Your narration, in “Grizzly Man”, for example, is famous for your descriptions of nature as impersonal and savage.

WH: The monumental indifference.

NYT: Why are you inclined to interpret nature that way rather than, say, in the more cosmically harmonious manner of the Dalai Lama? You interviewed him for one of your documentaries.

WH: I advise you to go outside on a clear night and look out into the universe. It seems utterly indifferent to what we are doing. Now we are taking a very close look at the sun with a space probe. Look at the utmost hostility of the hundreds of millions of atomic bombs going off at the same time in its interior. So my personal interpretation of nature comes from taking a quick look at the stars.

NYT: How do you derive meaning from life if life is indifferent?

WH: Life is not indifferent. The universe is indifferent. But just trying, itself, is something I should do. […]

NYT: So baby Yoda wasn’t cute?

WH: Not cute. It’s heartbreaking. My wife has seen companion robots that are being created: a fluffy creature with big eyes talking to you, reading your facial expressions, putting its head to the side and asking you, “Oh, you don’t trust me?” There’s big stuff coming at us in terms of robotics.

NYT: Is anything cute to you? Have you ever seen a dog and thought, That’s a cute dog?

WH: No. I would assign a dog a different word.

2. Wednesday was the feast of the Annunciation — precisely nine months before Christmas (for those keeping track) — and there were two articles on it well worth your time. In the Living Church Jonathan Mitchican has a insightful reflection on the impossibility of the annunciation and our own impossible times. As with the virgin birth, God is the one who does what seems to be impossible.

Our God chose a young woman named Mary to become His Mother and the Tabernacle of His flesh. God did the impossible. He conquered the boundary that sin had built between Himself and us. He conquered death on the cross and gives us new life through something as simple as water poured on our heads. He can do the impossible. He will do the impossible. Nothing can separate us from His love, including this virus. It may keep us from gathering together today to worship Him the way we should, but it can’t keep Him from loving us. It can’t stop Him from healing our souls and ushering in His Kingdom.

3. Along similar lines, our friend Matthew Milliner wrote in the NY times about the strange medieval tradition of male depictions of Mary (yes you read that correctly). As jarring as images of pregnant men might be, it’s a pointed, visual way to suggest that Mary’s faith in God and reception of Jesus is a model for all people — both male and female.

That men, too, are called to also be like Mary is less a result of transgressive gender theory than of mainstream Christian theology. Jesus, after all, calls anyone his mother who does the will of God (Mark 3:35). “My little children,” says a maternal Paul, “for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” (Galatians 4:19).

For Paul, not just women, but all Christians groan in labor along with creation itself (Romans 8:22-23). Later theologians developed the motif: “Each conceives in like manner to [Mary] within himself the God of all, as she bore him in herself,” said Symeon the New Theologian (d. 1022).

4. There’s lots of writing out there now on what it’s like to be quarantined with your kids and spouse, but very little for those who are single and dating. Thankfully, Mother Jones is here to help: “Apocalyptic Booty Calls, Virtual Dating, and the Meaning of Loneliness in the Time of Coronavirus.” While many of the social impulses of single people have proven to be remarkably beneficial in these times, dating and loneliness are something else altogether. Julia Lurie writes:

I am a 30-year-old living in a sunny studio in San Francisco—a proudly independent woman, with the apparent exception of olive oil caps. Compared to many people in the world, I’ve had it incredibly easy over the past few days: My quarantine life has consisted mostly of me sitting on my couch, interviewing people over the phone and tapping away at my computer. Zoom dinners with dear friends have become a near-nightly fixture. My parents and brothers call all the time. I feel, in many ways, more connected to my social circles than ever before. (Sometimes, even, too connected—I’ve had to mute myself in Zoom meetings because the couple who live in the apartment next door have made it clear that they feel very connected to each other at around 11 a.m. every day.)

At the same time, there’s no getting around the fact that the Age of Coronavirus is a bizarre—and, at times, acutely lonely—time to be single. The rabbit holes of singledom seem to multiply when you’re by yourself for weeks on end: There’s the ever-ticking biological clock for aspiring mothers of a certain age, plus the questions about how long you’ll be on your own, if you’ll ever find a partner—I could go on and on.

As Lurie notes, one possible upshot to all our current social isolation is that everyone is now talking about loneliness. Getting it out in the open is certainly a start toward making connections with people, just as knowing that you’re hungry is a signal to find food. It probably won’t be the same as visiting your loved ones, but that’s all we have for now.

5. Speaking of which, Vox’s Ezra Klein takes a deep dive into the current research on loneliness and social isolation, which have dramatic physical and psychological effects. The picture is pretty grim and, if anything, it’s a good reason to try and call up and talk with others — for your sake and theirs:

[E]ven before the coronavirus, about a quarter of older adults fit the definition of socially isolated — which measures routine social contact — and 43 percent said they felt lonely. You can be socially isolated without reporting feelings of loneliness, and you can be lonely without being socially isolated. But both conditions seem to inflict harm on physical and mental health.

“Social isolation has been associated with a significantly increased risk of premature mortality from all causes,” the report found, including a “50 percent increased risk of developing dementia,” a “29 percent increased risk of incident coronary heart disease,” a “25 percent increased risk for cancer mortality,” a “59 percent increased risk of functional decline,” and a “32 percent increased risk of stroke.” The mental health risks are also profound. The researchers reviewed dozens of studies and found a consistent relationship between social isolation and depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

6. On a couple more positive notes… After looking back a couple weeks ago at how pandemics bring out the worst in people, this week David Brooks tries his best to give some reason for hope. In the midst of catastrophe, seeing the world around us in light of a larger story of redemption makes the present distress a little more livable. He thinks the urgency of the present moment is already making new and better things.

We’ll look back on this as one of the most meaningful periods of our lives.

Viktor Frankl, writing from the madness of the Holocaust, reminded us that we don’t get to choose our difficulties, but we do have the freedom to select our responses. Meaning, he argued, comes from three things: the work we offer in times of crisis, the love we give and our ability to display courage in the face of suffering. The menace may be subhuman or superhuman, but we all have the option of asserting our own dignity, even to the end.

I’d add one other source of meaning. It’s the story we tell about this moment. It’s the way we tie our moment of suffering to a larger narrative of redemption. It’s the way we then go out and stubbornly live out that story. The plague today is an invisible monster, but it gives birth to a better world.

7. Garrett Graff, likewise, sees places of hope amid the chaos. Writing in the Atlantic, he notes, “What Americans Are Doing Now Is Beautiful.” At least for now, the threat of widespread death has galvanized the U.S. in ways reminiscent of World War II. Who knows what the future holds, but I’ll take the encouraging news while I can!

For many people, forgoing familiar rituals—the calm of faith services or the reinforcement of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting—comes at a significant emotional cost. Moreover, the anxiety of the moment is real, both for ourselves and for our families, friends, and loved ones. Precisely because a sense of dread is entirely warranted, celebrating taking these drastic steps we are taking as a society becomes all the more important.

Even before federal and state leaders began ordering closures and cancellations in recent days, any number of small-business owners, restaurateurs, local mayors and officials, artists, and individuals provided leadership by prioritizing the collective health above their own profit motives or desperate need for income. We must recognize that truth, the collective-ness of this moment, and the mutual regard we all hold together for our communities and the most vulnerable among us in order to understand that the effect of turning off daily life with the suddenness of a light switch is actually as inspirational as it is a short-term hardship.

8. Some much-needed humor for this week:



One response to “Another Week Ends: Werner Herzog, the Annunciation, Pandemic Dating, Hope, Loneliness, and Humor”

  1. Sarah says:

    Werner Herzog is the vibe I needed. Thanks for highlighting this.

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