Another Week Ends

Masked Mandalorians, New Modes of Time Keeping, Awards Season Hypocrisy, Holding Babies, Hating Your Job, Absolving Your Father, and the Boys Who Wear Shorts All Winter

Bryan J. / 1.10.20

A belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year as the Mockingbird world returns to its regular posting schedule. Lots of great articles came out over the holiday and they’re worth highlighting even if they aren’t timely on January 10. Stay tuned for new podcasts, new magazines, and new posts that are on the way!

1. New year, new decade, new frame of reference for tracking the passage of time? That’s the argument Katherine Miller makes over at Buzzfeed, where she observes how the rise of the algorithm and the ubiquity of online life has made time harder to track. Miller links the phenomenon with the Trump presidency, but in my thinking, the issue transcends the political. If you’re wondering why your head hasn’t stopped spinning in the last decade or so, Miller has some insights worth your consideration.

This long and wearying decade is coming to a close, though, even if there’s no sense of an ending. People are always saying stuff like: Time has melted; my brain has melted; …I can’t remember if that was two weeks ago or two months ago or two years ago; what a year this week has been. Donald Trump tells the story of 2016 again. Your Facebook feed won’t stop showing you a post from four days ago, about someone you haven’t seen in three years. The Office, six years after it ended, might be the most popular show in the United States. Donald Trump tells the story of 2016 again. One high schooler dances to a Mariah Carey song from 2009 (“Why you so obsessed with me?”) in a video that loops in 15-second increments on TikTok; then other teens do it; then a high school dance team dances that dance to this Mariah Carey song as a gym full of teens sings along, in a video that loops in 15-second increments on TikTok. Donald Trump tells the story of 2016 again. What was here yesterday no longer is.

The touch and taste of the 2010s was nonlinear acceleration: always moving, always faster, but torn this way and that way, pushed forward, and pulled back under… If it feels like so much has happened, it’s because so much did happen. And when you go back and tally it all up — when this product got announced and when that platform launched this feature — so much of the way our phones and lives work today congealed during the 2016 election.

Throw in a dose of the Apple Watch, the advent of the Netflix binge, and a heaping helping of news alerts, and we’re in a real twilight zone. So if you’re feeling tired and pulled in a number of directions, you’re not alone, and you’re not crazy. Will any of this change in the 2020s? Probably not. But the good news is that the God for whom a thousand years is interchangeable with twenty-four hours doesn’t change, either. There is a Balm in Gilead:

2. ♪ All I want for Christmas is my sin absolved. ♪ Not as cute as the original version with the two front teeth, but I am currently capable of saying “sister Susie sitting on a thistle,” so my holiday wish list has moved on. Absolution isn’t the most common holiday gift, but over at the Washington Post, Cynthia McCabe describes how she wrapped up absolution, put a bow on it, and gave it to her father for Christmas. The title of the article alone is worth the price of admission: This Christmas, I’m Absolving My Father: He Is Forever Off the Hook.

Someone joked recently on Twitter that all lists touting gifts for men at this time of year contain bourbon, something made out of reclaimed wood and smoked meats. My father doesn’t drink bourbon, has no use for a cigar box made out of a barn and, with his cholesterol, really shouldn’t eat smoked meats. Unserved by these lists, I’m going with something free: absolution. It’s been a long time coming.

Roughly 35 years in fact, when my father and I went on a walk that scarred him for life as a parent. It’s that walk that nearly reduces him to tears when he recalls it, that stirs regret and that leads to half-joking, semiannual calls for forgiveness…

What Dad did every day since that walk when it was invoked was demonstrate what it means to be a parent who can admit mistakes. Who can apologize. A grown-up asking for forgiveness from a child…

In return, this Christmas, I’m writing to absolve him. He is forever off the hook. The Walk goes back to just being a walk. Because in a moment he regrets, he made me a better parent, and made a better life possible for his granddaughters.

I mean, better than socks, right? Thankfully, absolution also makes a good Valentine’s day gift, too, or at least, it’s a better gift than resentment or score-keeping.

3. Over at Harvard Business Review, the #Seculosity of work gets a write-up from a psychologist specializing in high power existential crisis.

Dan, a partner at a major Boston law firm, was due at the office, but instead, he was curled on his bathroom floor, unshaven and in his pajamas, crying into a towel.

It began slowly, in a meeting with a particularly pushy client, when a thought bubbled up in his mind: “Why the hell am I even here?” From that moment, he noticed that his impatience, unhappiness, and frustration with his job grew deeper, until all at once, he realized: he didn’t find happiness or fulfillment in his work — and maybe he never had.

For someone who had built his entire idea of himself around his career, this thought sent Dan into an existential crisis. Who was he, if not a high-powered lawyer? Had he wasted so many years working for nothing? Would he have had more friends and a happier family if he hadn’t spent all those nights at the office?

Dan’s story is not uncommon. Many people with high-pressure jobs find themselves unhappy with their careers, despite working hard their whole lives to get to their current position. Hating your job is one thing — but what happens if you identify so closely with your work that hating your job means hating yourself?

The rest of the article gives some action steps, mostly practical (and certainly not spiritual), but the fact that HBR is giving space to the issue is remarkable. It’s no coincidence, I imagine, that the article went up the day after Christmas, when the only folks reading HBR that day were probably the ones who most needed it. Related: Woman Married to Job Loses Everything In Divorce.

4. The estate of Mac Miller has news music to share, and the late rapper’s new track Good News is good stuff.

5. In humor this week: Here are 5 Noise Canceling Headphones That Do Nothing to Drown Out Your Inner Monologue. Also, Man Who Quit Social Media On New Years Going Door To Door To Tell Everyone at least wants to stay friends with those folks. Also, Man Stuck In Dead End Body. But The Atlantic won my laughs with their not-intended-to-be-funny profile of a favorite adolescent type, Boys Who Wear Shorts All Winter:

Lindsey Miller first took note of the boys who refused to wear long pants when she was in grade school. At her elementary school in Maryland, a few particular boys made a habit of wearing shorts to school all winter, even though January temperatures in the mid-Atlantic state routinely drop below freezing. And it was always boys, she told me, never female students—“Girls made fun of them, but other guys cheered them on,” she recalled. One kid she knew in third grade, whose name has escaped her memory in the decade-plus since, “wore basically the same pair of shorts all year,” Miller, now 20, remembered.

The “one kid who wears shorts to school all year”: In regions that get cold and snowy in the winter, he’s a figure that’s equal parts familiar and bewildering to kids and teachers alike, and his clothing choices present an annual hassle for his parents. On Twitter, where Lindsey Miller once joked about the middle-school winter-shorts boy, he is in fact the butt of a number of observational jokes, many of them from classmates and beleaguered moms and dads…

Educators at a middle school and high school in Minnesota confirmed to me that they can count on having two or three of him every year, arriving at school after braving the morning windchill with bare calves…

In other words, the Boy Who Wears Shorts All Winter is a highly recognizable but largely inscrutable character…

The reasons for our BWWSAW? One part attention seeking, one part teenage rebellion, one part not really all that cold. Also, they mostly grow out of it. I know that’s not strictly a humor piece, but it’s the second most popular article on The Atlantic right now, which is really funny to me. Find your BWWSAW and give them a hug today!

5a. Tons of fun in the entertainment world this week, with the Golden Globes dominating the headlines. Ricky Gervais is an interesting guy if you count yourself among the faithful. The vocally atheist comedian regularly takes unearned victory laps after dunking on religious straw men, but then he turns around and makes a dynamite TV show about grief and love and loss. It was not a surprise to see that the acerbic awards host had little time for Hollywood’s tradition of awards season politicking, calling out the crowd about their cozy relationships with #MeToo villains, unethical tech giants, and Jeffery Epstein. Here’s the take from Megan Ardle over at WaPo:

Whatever the merits, it was refreshing to see someone stand up at a Hollywood awards ceremony and actually speak truth to power — by which I mean the actual powers in their own lives, not a hypothetical power structure with no real prospect of striking back…

There are certainly famous people who have taken genuinely brave stands for social justice. You may disagree with Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the national anthem. But you can’t deny that Kaepernick was actually taking a serious personal risk, one that ultimately cost him years of playing football and a great deal of money. The awards-show grandstanders, on the other hand, cost themselves nothing and, indeed, get a great deal of attention for themselves as well as their causes.

What Gervais did, by contrast, was genuinely risky. He didn’t call out some shadowy villain who is perpetuating the patriarchy or warming the planet; he attacked people right there in the room, ones who could affect his future employment prospects. Moreover, he hit them where it hurts most: in their pocketbooks and their politics.

In the process, Gervais neatly illustrated exactly why so many people so resent the increasingly ritualized ceremonial sanctimony. Because it turns out that this may be exactly what makes people hate hypocrites so much: They fool us into giving them credit for holding potentially costly moral beliefs without actually paying those costs.

It’s truly remarkable that Hollywood’s award season has become this odd laboratory for social signaling. (See also the 2018 Oscars gag where Jimmy Kimmel offered a Jet Ski to the award winner with the shortest speech.) In an era when moral grandstanding and virtue signaling extend beyond Hollywood, Gervais’s attempt to convince the assembly there was none righteous in the room was a prophetic breath of fresh air.

5b. While Hollywood was celebrating its best, columnist Rod Dreher took the critics to task for whiffing on the latest film from Terrance Malick, A Hidden Life. The 2019 film just hit wide release, and it seems a number of film critics are missing the film’s deeper meaning because of biblical illiteracy. The film profiles the resistance of Franz Jägerstätter, a rural Austrian farmer who declined to sign an allegiance oath to Hitler when drafted and was sentenced to death. If you haven’t seen it, Dreher said this in his review of the film:

It’s without question a masterpiece, one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen, and to my mind, the best evocation of the Gospel ever committed to film. Nothing else even comes close — not The Passion Of The Christ, nor The Gospel According To St. Matthew, nor Of Gods And Men. All of them are great films, and great Christian films, but this one is in a class of its own.

Strong words for sure, and in a follow-up essay, Dreher noted that much of the secular critical response has missed the film’s use of biblical imagery to make its point:

Here’s what I mean. Malick is an extraordinary poet of cinema, and like the best poets, he calls his reader out of himself in an attempt to understand his art. Watching a Malick movie is not an easy experience, in which everything is explained for the viewer. That is not to say that his meaning is obscure! It’s only that it is buried deep within mystery, and can only be experienced indirectly, sacramentally. You never once hear the word “Jesus” in this film — yet Christ saturates this picture! There is not an altar call, nor is there a straightforward apologetic explanation from Franz of “this is why I am doing what I’m doing” — yet every word and every image conveys the message to those with ears to hear and eyes to see.

But we are deaf and we are blind. I say that not as a criticism (except of Christian viewers), but as a descriptive observation. For example, when the Austrian villagers are working their wheat fields together, there is a moment in which one of the outcasts, Fani’s sister, stands among them winnowing grain with a basket — that is, separating the useful part of the wheat from the worthless bits. To the eyes of a Peter Travers, this is just one more picturesque, pointless digression: oh look, one more boring shot of peasants at labor. But a Christian formed by the Bible will see this and instantly be reminded of the word of John the Baptist at the River Jordan, before Jesus presents himself to be baptized:

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

This was the prophet’s description of what the coming Christ will do: sort the good from the evil. And this is what the drama taking place in that village is doing too: the reaction of the Christian people of that town to the evil of Nazism is testing their faith. Franz and his suffering family are the wheat; the villagers who despise them for their anti-Nazi resistance are the chaff.

Within living memory, I believe, educated people would have understood the reference, even if they didn’t hold the faith. To live in a Christian culture is to grasp the stories, the symbols, and the phrases that tell us who we are. The “wheat and the chaff” metaphor is something that almost everybody, from the simple believer to an unbelieving New York critic, would have understood in, say, 1940. But not today, because we are no longer a Christian culture, in the sense we no longer see the Bible, and the deep themes of the Bible, as telling us who we are. “Tell me what your story is, and I’ll tell you who you are.” Well, the inability to understand this movie is a pretty good sign of who we aren’t.

Dreher is on to something here, that one of the problems facing the future of the church is fundamentally rhetorical. It was author Thornton Wilder who wrote that “The revival in religion will be a rhetorical problem — new persuasive words for defaced or degraded ones.” Wheat, chaff, yeast, harvest, refining fire, wind — Dreher is pointing out that the profound agrarian imagery of the Bible has lost its universal recognition. Language of conversion, born again, and spiritual awakening have become defaced and degraded. Consider the article an awards-season snapshot of the very real challenges that Christians will have communicating their faith in the future.

5c. Referring back to link 1, some of us had a chance to binge TV over the holiday, and for some of us, that meant finishing up season one of either The Mandalorian on Disney+ or Watchmen on HBO. This write-up from Spencer Kornhaber is a thoughtful look into two shows where the heroes hide their faces:

Watchmen in particular tried to address the why of our cultural fascination with masks, and ended up spinning a deep fable about loss, identity, and savior complexes. The Mandalorian uncannily chimes with that show’s insights: The flashbacks of Djarin’s parents trying to hide him as their village was terrorized by battle droids is, cinematographically, similar to Watchmen’s scenes of the Tulsa massacre that inspired generations of black Americans to put on masks and fight evil. But thus far, The Mandalorian has less been a pondering of trauma than a pondering of humanity and nonhumanity. The point of the scene in which Djarin removes his helmet lies in the interaction between him and the IG-11, which hints at Star Wars’ insight on masks and armor: They’re the means by which people try to attain the perfection, and indifference, of machines.

6. Let’s give the final word to this baby-themed devotion from Mockingbird friend Lonnie Lacy. It’s too long to fully reproduce here, but we enthusiastically recommend your click-through. In the meantime, we don’t intend on forgetting old acquaintances. A cup of kindness to you all in 2020!

This may sound odd, but one of the most important things  anyone ever said to me when I was still trainingto be a pastor was this: “Honey, whatever that is you’re doin’, you gotta put it down and come hold this baby.”


“Put it down, and come hold this baby.”

I was a brand new chaplain-intern at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. I was all of 24 years old, just two years out of college. I had just arrived and been told that the floor I would be covering was the neonatal intensive care unit. I knew nothing. So there I was on my first day.  My starchy white shirt. My coat and tie. My shiny new plastic badge. A clipboard in my hands and a clueless expression on my face. I had no idea what I was doing as I stood watching those nurses tending those babies who were fighting for their very lives. So, I did what any of us would do: I tried my best to look very busy and very important.

By the way, if you ever want to look very busy and very important just carry a clipboard and flip the pages up and down while you glance up and side to side.  As a wise man once said, “60% of the time it works every time.” But not on this nurse.

“Honey,” she said, “whatever that is you’re doin’,  you gotta put it down and come hold this baby.”


Put it down, and come hold this baby.” Let the record show, this nurse was no Virgin Mary meek and mild. Before I knew it, she had physically yanked the clipboard  from my hands, spun me around by my shoulders, popped me down into a rocking chair, and placed somebody else’s baby  right into my arms.

“There,” she said. “If you’re gonna be that baby’s chaplain, that’s what he needs you to do.”

“Uh okay,” I said, “But what else am I supposed to do?”

“Nothing!” she said. “There’s nothing else you can do. You just hold him. And love him, and pray.” Turns out, she was right. A huge part of how I learned to be a pastor was by holding babies in a hospital wing for an entire summer.


• Are you an Anglican/Episcopalian type? Check out these twenty-first century collects, including prayers for opening a dating app, prayers for those about to hoop, and prayers for before watching This Is Us.

• It turns out, 2019 was not the worst year in history. It was actually 536.

• For the theologically inclined: Philip Cary goes down the theology rabbit hole on Sacraments and Assurance.

• Derek Thompson, who gave us the phrase “Workism” in 2019, now offers three reasons why you never have free time.

• Poet fave Christian Wiman is a licked Christian.

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5 responses to “Another Year Begins”

  1. Jason Thompson says:

    My 10 year old is a BWWSAW…I’ll be sure to give him a hug, haha! I fuss at him a lot. My 7 year old was 51 days in the NICU…I’ll be sure to hold her….

  2. Pierre says:

    Well said. I am suspicious of some of the tribalism that has emerged in response to this monologue, which has gotten a surprising amount of play. Slate, which I read regularly, had a piece that basically suggested that we should be suspicious that conservatives “loved” Gervais’ monologue. If it’s disrupting my usual tribalistic patterns, then I know I ought to pay closer attention.

  3. David Zahl says:

    Ha – my 9 year old is a BWWSAW, too! The struggle is real.

    Such an inspired weekender, B. And some of those 21st Century collects are truly terrific.

  4. WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

    2020 started off as a bad year indeed for folks with an appreciation of progressive rock. Neil Peart of Rush fame has died

  5. Re: The Mandalorian – you have got to see this:

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