1. First up, The New York Times published an eye-opening article about sorority rush in US colleges this week that’s been spreading like wildfire. It visits all the usual themes of the Law of group belonging: self-doubt, attempts at identity improvement, the need to belong, and our single-minded attempts to live up to a certain standard – no matter how much or little positive correlation it has with Old Testament/church morality. To illustrate how far the phenomenon of belonging is going:

In the early rounds, [girls] have only minutes to make a positive impression… Many aspiring sisters spend their summer working out and dieting. “Rushing shakes your confidence level,” says Maggie, who also spoke on condition she not be fully identified. She will soon be heading to Washington & Lee, and is trying to lose weight. “You are being judged on how you look,” she says. Case in point: A study of Northwestern undergraduates in a normal weight range, published in 2010, showed the thinner women more likely to join a sorority.

As rush grinds on, students often text their moms with frequent, sometimes tearful updates. “Drama Trauma Drama,” wrote one weary mother on a Greek chat forum. For some mothers, empathizing with the pain of peer rejection is excruciating.

“I lost six pounds that week,” recalls Julie Baselice, whose daughter Christina is now a Chi Omega at the University of Texas. “It was the most stressful experience of my life.”

Madeline D’Arcambal Braun, a Manhattan native entering her junior year at Indiana University Bloomington, says she had “absolutely no idea” why she wasn’t asked back. She dropped out of rush freshman year after the houses she wanted didn’t invite her back. “It’s exactly like a breakup. That’s how this feels.”

Gawker wrote a predictably horrified response (a bit too vulgar to link to here), expressing a mass distaste for the extreme stress that girls and mothers feel about rush – it seems like many of these people don’t have “real-world” (read: serious financial) problems. Nonetheless, Gawker’s condemnation misses the essential, and compassion-producing reality that the pressure to fit in (at all costs!) transcends class/looks/education level.

2. Speaking of judgment and compassion, a study recently published in Scientific American confirms that the internalization of mercy aids with mental health. Giving an empirical, psychological instance of “judge not, lest ye be judged”, the article also finds a strong correlation between compassion for others and compassion for oneself, ht MS:

Self-compassion is distinct from self-esteem, a trait that can shade into narcissism. Nor should it be confused with self-pity or self-indulgence… People who are self-compassionate avoid harsh critiques or negative generalizations of themselves, and they see their troubles as part of the human condition.

…Contrary to what many people think, treating yourself kindly is also good for achieving your goals. “People believe that self-criticism helps to motivate them,” Neff says. Those low in self-compassion think that unless they are hard on themselves, they will not amount to much—but research reveals that being kind to yourself does not lower your standards. “With self-compassion, you reach just as high, but if you don’t reach your goals it’s okay because your sense of self-worth isn’t contingent on success,” she explains.

3. As the Dark Knight Rises finally hits theaters, the reviews are flooding in. While Rises hasn’t fared quite as well as its predecessors (which, one could say, set the bar ridiculously high already), opinion has been mostly positive. Regardless of whether or not it “measures up”, the New York Times came out with a spectacular review, focusing instead on themes and character development (mild spoiler alert):

Mr. Nolan’s Bruce-Batman has oscillated between seemingly opposite poles, even as he’s always come out a superhero. He is savior and destroyer, human and beast, the ultimate radical individualist and people’s protector. Yet as the series evolved, this binary opposition — echoed by Dent’s rived face — has grown progressively messier, less discrete.

…Mr. Nolan, for his part, has been engaging Sept. 11 in his blockbuster behemoths, specifically in a vision of Batman who stands between right and wrong, principles and their perversions, because he himself incarnates both extremes.

4. This is amazing. A recently-deceased man named Val Patterson offered a confessional obituary – that is, he requested that a litany of unconfessed sins from his life be shared publicly in the newspaper. While most obituaries naturally try to highlight the best aspects of someone for his/her legacy, this one acknowledges the sometimes-ugly reality of his life, with pathos and no small amount of humor. The reaction, furthermore, has been incredible – people from his hometown and the Internet reported being surprised, touched, and even a little impressed, ht JC:

As it turns out, I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June, 1971. I could have left that unsaid, but I wanted to get it off my chest. Also, I really am NOT a PhD…In fact, I never did even learn what the letters “PhD” even stood for… Now to that really mean Park Ranger; after all, it was me that rolled those rocks into your geyser and ruined it. I did notice a few years later that you did get Old Faithful working again. To Disneyland – you can now throw away that “Banned for Life” file you have on me, I’m not a problem anymore – and SeaWorld San Diego, too, if you read this.

5. Over at The Onion, a hilarious (fictional) fourth-grader issues an eloquent and scathing response to idealistic, fresh-out-of-college teachers with liberal arts degrees, community-service tumblrs, and the like in a point/counterpoint-style piece, asking, “Can We Please, Just Once, Have a Real Teacher?”

6. Mbird-faves (and friends) The Hill and Wood just released a new music video, directed by the ultra talented Charlotte Hornsby – enjoy!

The HIll And Wood — The Call from Ryan De Franco on Vimeo.

7. As Breaking Bad‘s Walter White continues to ascend the criminal ladder on Sunday nights, The Atlantic chose to examine “The Moral Universe of ‘Breaking Bad’”, accurately using the term “moral” to describe an actions-have-consequences, get-what-you-give universe that’s the brutal zenith of the Law. In the way of nature, Walter’s transgressions simply MUST come back in the form of judgment sometime:

 Breaking Bad, more than any other drama currently on television, is set in a moral universe…There’s always been a kind of fatalism to Breaking Bad, from the plane crash over the White household that Walter inadvertently caused by letting Jane die, to the drug deal that Walter chose, both literally and metaphorically, over the birth of his daughter. Breaking Bad operates by the rules of science; every action causes an equal and opposite reaction, and at this point in the series, Walter is a man of very extreme action.

8. At Liberate, Tullian Tchividjian posted another wonderful excerpt from his forthcoming book Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free, one that takes seriously the notion of a moralistic universe…and then inverts it, ht DZ:

So, while no one can deny that our actions have consequences—that if you put your finger in a light socket you will “reap” a shock—we do God (and ourselves!) a great disservice when we project this schema onto Him. That is, when we moralize our suffering and that of others…Your marriage falls apart, and you assume God is meting out His judgment on your indiscretions.

…On the opposite end of our natural tendency to moralize life and suffering stands the counter-intuitive affirmation of Christianity. Christianity affirms that Jesus severed the link between suffering and deserving once for all on Calvary. God put the ledgers away and settled the accounts. The good news of the gospel is NOT that good people get good stuff. It’s not that life is cyclical and that “what comes around goes around.” Rather, it’s that the bad get the best, the worst inherit the wealth, and the slave becomes a son.

9. The New York Times this week reviewed a new book by prominent atheist Sam Harris concerning free will – or rather, the illusion of it. While we appreciate Harris’s contribution to the contemporary critique of free will, there’s a certain historical arrogance to thinking this critique is original to modern psych/neuroscience, and Harris’s un-free will is more a product of scientific determinism than it is of bondage to selfish/sinful/harmful inner compulsions:

Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control.” We assume that we could have made other choices in the past, Harris continues, and we also assume that we consciously originate “our thoughts and actions in the present. . . . Both of these assumptions are false.”

…As Harris’s text and impressive citations substantiate, these experiments and others like them have chiseled away much of the rock of free will upon which religion, jurisprudence and moral judgments have traditionally rested. (One could argue that Judaism and Christianity originated with Adam and Eve’s decision to disobey God’s order.)

… he does acknowledge that “certain moral intuitions begin to relax” with the abandonment of belief in free will. “Once we recognize that even the mosterrifying predators are, in a very real sense, unlucky to be who they are, the logic of hating (as opposed to fearing) them begins to unravel.”

10. The Internet Monk recently went on a fantastic rant in response to Francis Chan’s ubiquitous Crazy Love and some of its semi-Pelagian passages. Some highlights:

It seems to me that some preachers simply have no tolerance for ordinary, daily life with all its messiness and imperfection as a realm in which God is at work, and in which we participate through simply being who we are, trusting God, and loving our neighbors. No, the message is loud and clear: do more, give more, sacrifice more, serve more…

There are no super-Christians in the New Testament.

…Nor do Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, or John preach at us incessantly to live a “letting go, letting go, letting go” lifestyle that is focused on “heaven” and dismissive of the ordinary stuff of this world. Indeed, they tell us we are free from the voices of religious demand that cry out continually, “More! More! More!” They remind us of a good Creator and a faithful Redeemer who has given us freely all things to enjoy and the greatest gift of all, contentment in his love.

11. We’re pleased to announce that the full schedule for our Fall 2012 Mockingbird Conference in Charlottesville, VA (9/28-29) is officially up over on the conference website! Also, the dates for our 2013 events have been set.

12. Finally, as you may have seen in the slider this past week, Knox Theological Seminary in Ft. Lauderdale, FL is offering a can’t-miss course on Grace in Practice taught by – you guessed it! – none other than Paul F.M. Zahl.  The Floridians (and would-be Floridians) among us can register here.

P.S. Woah: