Another Week Ends

Rhymin’ Simon, Redemptive Fatigue, Unhappy Money, Forgiven Road Ragers, and Indestructible Hope

David Zahl / 4.14.23

1. The most redemptive and exciting thing I saw this past week was the announcement that Paul Simon, at age 81, is releasing a new record called Seven Psalms on May 19th. He describes the short suite of songs as ‘an argument with myself about belief,’ the instructions for which he received in a dream.

The snatches of lyrics that hop out in the trailer hint at a deeply religious work — “the Lord is my engineer / the Lord is my record producer” and “hoping the gates won’t be closed before your forgiveness” — as do the song movement titles (“The Lord,” “Your Forgiveness,” “The Sacred Harp”). If you’ve paid attention to Simon’s last few records you know that he and the Almighty have been having quite a conversation these past twenty years, with a certain carpenter very much in the mix as well. I’ve embedded a few of their exchanges below. The fact that he recorded some of Seven Psalms in a church only amps up the anticipation.

I’d heard that Paul was done making new music, so what a beautiful thing to witness creativity unbounded by age and planning. By all appearances this is a serious artist taking on serious subject matter in a serious way, and regardless of how it turns out, I can’t help but admire any vessel so open to the eternal. I was also touched by the hand-holding with wife Edie Brickell. Take a look:

2. In other words, what a miracle that Rhymin’ Simon does not appear to be suffering from exhaustion! Don’t let him read French historian Georges Vigarello’s A History of Fatigue, which Anthony Lane reviewed for The New Yorker last week. Maybe it’s the post-Holy Week depletion speaking, but the project spoke to me powerfully. The driving principle of the book, we are told, is that the human race is a race, with every generation striving to outrun the previous one. The pace only ever seems to quicken, such that fatigue becomes a foregone conclusion in human affairs. Which sounds painful but I suppose a low anthropologist might chime in with some praise for tiredness as a unifying and compassion-inducing force, i.e., not always the ‘negative’ experience that we tend to view it as.

I was also grateful to see Lane highlight the religious dimension of fatigue, something especially inescapable at Easter:

We are also honored with a useful section on “redemptive fatigue” — the soul-cleansing result of pilgrimages and other acts of penance, undertaken either barefoot or in shoes that were, as Vigarello says, “usually made of one piece of leather.” […]

The strange thing is that Vigarello, having glanced at the subject of spiritual exhaustion, goes briskly onward and doesn’t look back, as if the figure of the pilgrim were too antiquated to detain him further. Yet the Christian narrative of depletion and renewal has proved stubbornly enduring. Crowds of the faithful have sat in the pews of churches and listened to this:

Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

That lofty guarantee, from the Book of Isaiah, is borne forward into a single verse in the Gospel of St. Matthew, and thence into the Book of Common Prayer: “Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” Spurn or scorn such promises, if you will, but it’s hard to deny them a place in any history of fatigue, just as the history of art has been enriched by recurring images of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, surrounded by his somnolent disciples (“Could you not watch with me one hour?” he asks Peter), or rising from the tomb, unnoticed by the dozing Roman guards. Of all the tumults in the world, they sleep through this one.

If Vigarello truly sees redemptive fatigue as antiquated, we can assume he has not spent much time on a Peloton of late (or hung out with any Americans). The other development that stuck out to me in the review was the way that fatigue seems to have become less and less corporeal throughout the centuries. Weariness of the mind does not always coincide with weariness of the body. For some, it’s more like the opposite is true:

Some of the most mordant passages in “A History of Fatigue” focus on the advent of “languor” in the vocabulary of the well-to-do, and on the vexation that ensued. “I was feeling weary since I left Fontainebleau,” Madame de Maintenon wrote in a letter of 1713. “I was able to rest more there and that affects my health.” What’s interesting here is the intimation of a rift in meaning; ennui is peeling away from fatigue. You can be tired of something — or, more querulous still, sick and tired of it — despite not being tired by it, or falling demonstrably sick. A routine of social conduct, even one that might be envied as luxurious, winds up cosseting, jading, and eventually stifling the souls (if not the bodies) of those whom it was devised to entertain.

3. On a closely related note, writing for The Atlantic, Michael Mechanic parsed the findings of the most recent study on the perennial “Does Money Buy Happiness” question, some of which have been misreported in recent weeks. What he found will surprising anyone who’s been tuned into Succession (how ’bout that third episode!):

Recent polling from The Wall Street Journal and the University of Chicago points to a steep decline over the past quarter century in the percentage of American adults who view patriotism, religion, parenting, [tolerance!], and community involvement as “very important.” The only priority tested whose perceived importance grew during that period, the pollsters reported, was money.

Sigh. We talked about this quite a bit on the new Mcast (out on Monday) and tried to do so with sympathy, as many of us feel like we’ve had to prioritize moola out of necessity — and drop those other values as the related institutions have failed us. In the meantime, though, I suppose it’s worth remembering that truth which everyone-knows-but-no-one-actually-believes (in their heart):

Kahneman and Deaton found [definitively, in their original 2010 study] that the quadrupling of a person’s income had an effect on well-being roughly equal to the mood boost of a weekend “and less than a third as large as the [negative] effect of a headache.” The authors also explain that “the difference between the medians of happiness at household incomes of $15,000 and $250,000 is about five points on a 100-point scale.”

That’s “almost nothing,” [psychologist and researcher] Jebb told me in an email. With such a small difference, in fact, one could argue that “there is no practical effect of income at all!”

4. Doubleness, thy name is Dollars. Which segues into this next item, the brilliantly titled “Your Luxury Handbag Is Causing Me To Stumble”, in which upcoming conference speaker Katelyn Baety reminds readers that Paul probably wasn’t talking about cutoffs and bikinis in 1 Timothy.

Perhaps because the American church has almost exclusively taught modesty as sexual purity that so many Christians have missed the broader biblical teaching. It’s easier to police other people’s hemlines than our own budget lines.

Modesty is a Christian virtue, but not exclusively in the way evangelicals have taught it in recent decades. In 1 Timothy 2, Paul advises women to “dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes” (v. 9, emphasis mine). The point here is that, in the cultural context in which Paul is writing, gold, pearls, and expensive clothes signify opulence — lavish displays of wealth. Paul is telling early Christians not to draw attention to themselves with fancy things.

5. Moving on, the new Netflix series Beef, starring Ali Wong and Steven Yuen, may be pitched as a show about road rage but as with the phenomenon itself, there’s quite a bit more than going on than meets the eye. Don’t want to give away too much but the scenes in church had my jaw on the floor. And the interviews with the principals (and showrunner Lee Sung Jin) have been uniformly fascinating, e.g., this one with the LA Times:

[Beef] begins in the parking lot of a big-box retailer, where Danny (Yeun), a struggling contractor who seems destined to fail at everything nearly backs his beat-up pickup truck into a white Mercedes SUV driven by Amy (Wong), a tensely coiled entrepreneur who has a seemingly perfect life. The showdown triggers a mutual quest for revenge that spirals out of control and ultimately reveals how much Amy and Danny actually have in common despite their ferocious antipathy for each other.

“At the core, whether they know it or not, they’re both struggling with the same thing, which is this existential void that feels unfillable,” said Lee.

“I am conscious of the idea that when I’m mad at someone, all the projections I put on that person are a weird reflection back at [myself],” [Yeun] said. “And that’s what usually stops me from engaging further. I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m just telling on myself.’”…

Don’t know about you but I was definitely not expecting Wong to make an argument against ‘representation’ toward the end:

“When you have a predominantly Asian American cast, which is very rare, all the people get to be people,” Wong said. “So when you reference who your favorite character is, you won’t say, ‘Oh, it’s the Asian one.’”

6. Long read of the week comes to us from The Point, the transcription of Elizabeth Bruenig’s talk on “The Limits of Forgiveness.” Bruenig has spent most of the past year writing powerfully about prisoners on death row in Texas, and I dare say the essay reaps some of the fruit of that grim task. It turns out that no one — left, right, or center — really likes forgiveness in practice, unless they are its recipients. And even then! Some would say the virtue has never been less fashionable, so bravo to Bruenig for wading into the debate so concretely and raising the flag amidst potential flack. A few choice portions:

If you, like me, are the kind of person who believes that society functions best when we all have equal dignity and equal moral status, then it’s clear that the states of moral exception created when people wrong one another are antithetical to a good society. The best option would be for nobody to ever wrong anyone else. But the more realistic option, when faced with the fact that states of moral exception are potentially desirable and potentially permanent, is to generally counsel forgiveness.

… the most important thing about this broad reading of forgiveness is that it recommends not so much a specific kind of practice as a specific kind of person — a forgiving kind. It isn’t so much that every case of wrongdoing ought to be forgiven on the same terms or in the same way as much as every case ought to be viewed with a forgiving eye, approached with an openness to that transformation in sentiments.

Forgiveness is hard. It is not a magic process that redresses all wrongs. Nor is it necessarily a short and straightforward process. But in my view it’s a process that unites wronged and wrongdoer in a plan of peace, and since we’ve all been on both sides of that equation hoping for the same thing, it seems a most useful virtue.

7. In humor, Points in Case is quickly becoming the first stop in search of laughs. To wit, “I’m Super Busy but I Still Have Enough Time to Explain to You in Excruciating Detail Just How Busy I Am”. The Onion weighed in with the clever, “Philosophical Bachelor Party Celebrates Last Day Of Man’s Illusion Of Freedom”. And the New Yorker served up a mini-masterpiece with Zach Zimmerman’s “A Review of My Positive Self-Talk by My Negative Self-Talk”.

8. Finally, upcoming NYC conference speaker Esau McCaulley gave us something of a mic-drop moment in his column for the New York Times “On Hope, Hate and the Most Radical Claim of the Easter Season.” Read the whole thing (esp the words on Judas and the safety of hopelessness) but do not miss the ending:

In the Gospel stories, Jesus overflows with forgiveness. On the cross, one of the last things he said was a plea that God forgive those who crucified him. After the resurrection, he forgives Peter and the other disciples.

His generosity has been a great cheer to all of us misfits who have faltered in our time of testing. The only better story of redemption I can imagine would have been the reconciliation of Judas the Betrayer and Jesus. I am confident Jesus would have forgiven Judas. But in the narrative Judas dies before Jesus rises from the dead. If only Judas had lived a little longer to find that the beautiful thing he tried to destroy was not so easily vanquished.

That indestructibility of hope might be the central and most radical claim of Easter — that on the third day after Jesus was killed, he returned to his disciples physically and that made all the difference. Easter, then, is a not metaphor for new beginnings; it is about encountering the person who, despite every disappointment we experience with ourselves and with the world, gives us a reason to carry on.

So this Easter I will make my way with my family to the South Side of Chicago, to that congregation that serves as our church home. I will do my best to join in the songs of celebration, not because I no longer feel the darkness that has marked so much of my journey, but because sometimes I still do.


  • Our New York Conference is a mere two weeks away!! And we at HQ are getting mighty excited. Especially as all the swag starts to arrive. Reminder: while pre-registration is technically sold out (unless you’re a member of Calvary St George’s in NYC), we will do our best to accommodate walk-ins.
  • As a follow-up to the pair of recent mockingcasts about therapeutic overreach, this one from Bustle asking “Is Therapy-Speak Making Us More Selfish?” reads almost like satire. At least that’s how I experienced it within my personal framework. I recognize that you may adhere to different interpretative boundaries, which I validate fully and without reservation while nonetheless holding space for my own. Mmmkay?
  • In a review of Adam Gopnik’s new book on mastery, Oliver Burkeman weighs “The Spiritual Emptiness of Achievement”, ending with  a not-to-be-missed illustration involving shy bladder syndrome.
  • Yours truly is all in favor of Nutrition Science’s Most Preposterous Result.
  • As we barrel toward summer, it’s jarring to see numbers about “wedding sprawl” that the Atlantic reported: “from 2007 to 2017, the percentage of people who traveled out of state to attend a bachelor or bachelorette party quadrupled, according to a WeddingWire survey. The survey found that average spending on weddings jumped by 81 percent in that same time frame, and the average length of engagement grew from eight to thirteen months — more time to plan and hold extra events.” Oy vey.
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One response to “April 8-14”

  1. Jim Munroe says:

    Hey Dave – For one who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, with Paul and Art articulating all of my inner struggles so brilliantly – “to look for America” in “the sounds of silence” – the picture of an old Paul in the Seven Psalms Trailer singing about the Lord just blows me away. And singing in the church with Edie – golly!!! And THEN, to see the tears in church in the “Beef” clip – well, it sure is all about grace!

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