Another Week Ends: Merciful Pontifex, Louis CK’s Daughters, Winning Losers, Seinfeld Movies, Dairy Queen Grace, and Whitewashing Walterby David Zahl on Sep 20, 2013 • 4:42 pm 3 Comments
1. This guy! No doubt you’ve seen it elsewhere, but a must-read interview with Pope Francis I appeared this week in which the undeniably humble and surprisingly sympathetic Bishop of Rome articulated something like a new poetics of faith. Ironically enough, most pundits have jumped on his decidedly apolitical focus as evidence of some political agenda or other, but to these ears it just sounds like heartfelt Christianity of the most non-churchy variety. His comments aren’t easy to pare down, but if we had to put together a Mockingbird highlight reel, it would probably look like this:
I ask Pope Francis point-blank: “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” He stares at me in silence. I ask him if I may ask him this question. He nods and replies: “I do not know what might be the most fitting description…. I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”…
“I see clearly,” the pope continues, “that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.
“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all…
“But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing… The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.”
2. The other deservedly buzzed-about interview of the week took place on Conan’s couch. Louis CK’s reasoning for not allowing his daughters to have smartphones finds the comedian-auteur at his wisest and most matter of fact, getting at the underlying existential and dare-I-say religious factors at work with trademark wit, brashness and colorful language (requisite warning!). There’s even something, well, cruciform about his take on joy. And “that forever empty” is sermon bait if I’ve ever heard it:
3. Speaking of cruciformity in everyday life, in “Losing Is the New Winning” The Atlantic registers some pushback on the “fetishization of failure” as found in certain (pop) psychology spheres, citing a number of books and projects we’ve spotlighted over the years. Read a little closer, though, and you’ll find that it’s not failure or weakness or vulnerability as such that are being criticized, more the tendency to use these things as rationalizations and/or stepping stones to conventional success:
Far from being a liability, failure—and humble emergence from failure as sadder, wiser, etc.—has become something to tout. This idea is not entirely new. As the historian Robert Dallek pointed out to me, overcoming failure—bankruptcy, addiction, dissolution, defeat—is part of the quintessential American success story. Failure narratives resonate with all sorts of deeply held cultural tenets, from Christianity’s focus on forgiveness and rebirth to the frontier mentality’s emphasis on prevailing over obstacles both external and internal, including our own imperfect selves. Still, some eras seem to crave stories of redemption more than others…
“To believe that failure is only a valuable lesson if it leads eventually to triumph really isn’t embracing failure at all. It’s crossing your fingers behind your back that eventually you’re going to succeed.” Victory and loss are often beyond our control, whatever we might like to think about our ability to triumph over circumstance. And yet we like what we like for a reason. Other people’s failures, served up with the right ratio of struggle to eventual redemption, are interesting to watch. Failure and recovery make for a grand narrative, transforming an ordinary person or politician into something more like a literary character.
In theological language, the author is talking about what happens when death (failure, or an admission of failure) is reduced to a rung on the ladder to resurrection (success, re-election, etc), when the theology of the cross is turned from a descriptive reality into a strategy for achieving self-glorifying ends–also known as standard behavior for those of us defined by inveterate self-justifying. The fortunate irony here is that the cross resists such attempts (thank God!); you can’t game a dead-end. In other words, Louis CK’s sadness at hearing “Jungle Land” wasn’t a ploy for gaining some emotional payoff, or if it was, there wouldn’t have been any.
4. A generous take on the question “Can Faith Ever Be Rational?” over at NPR, featuring an interview with philosopher Lara Buchak. While the whole discussion may risk an inflated view of reason (and overemphasis on behavior), still, the undeniably high quality of sympathetic thought going on is very encouraging. Also on the philosophical side of things, Win Bassett’s playful juxtaposition on The Toast of quotes from Man Booker prize winner Lydia Davis and our own Will McDavid (via his talk on Kierkegaard and Young Adult Anxiety) is not something you come across every day. Well worth your time.
5. Social Science Link of the Week: Over on Storyline Blog, Donald Miller asks “Does Trying to Impress People Make You Sad?” and looks to the (fascinating) work of writer Penelope Trunk for some insight. Suffice it to say, even cursory research found that “the more interested people were in being impressive, the less happy they tended to be,” ht RW. Go figure.
6. What will the Internet do when Breaking Bad ends?! What will we do? It is astounding how much genuinely great discussion this show has been generating. (Note: it has generated some rather extraneous commentary as well.) Non-Mbird case in point this week would have to be Matt Zoller-Seitz’s “Why Viewers Need to Whitewash Walter White”, ht AOC:
Some viewers desperately, desperately, desperately need for Walt to be somehow a “good guy.” As in, good at heart. Good, deep down. Flawed but worthy of redemption. And also an incredible badass, a man with a plan. Heisenberg! A guy who really is doing it all for his family, though he’s made some mistakes along the way, Lord knows — but give the dude a break, look at the pressure he’s under!… Where does this impulse to Whitewash come from?
I think we know: We like Walter. We root for Walter. We think of ourselves as good people. We can’t root for a bad person. Therefore, if we root for him, he must be good. Or good at heart. Otherwise we’re bad for rooting for him.
Walter is a sad, misguided, good man. Walter is a hateful, vindictive monster. Neither statement excludes the other. These contradictory emotions and readings are all present, all essential, all of a piece. People are more than one thing simultaneously, always. There are lies in truth and truths within lies, in life, and in art.
7. As the images adorning this post suggest, the posters for the movies referenced in various episodes of Seinfeld are a fun recent discovery (click here for part two). Then there’s “If Films Were Reviewed Like Video Games,” ht SZ, as well as the hilarious “I’m Just a Free Spirit Who Is Entirely Financially Dependent on Others” at The Onion.
8. Finally, if you need a little dose of faith in humanity, in the grace-in-everyday-life department, there’s the story of a remarkable Dairy Queen employee who stood up for a disabled customer at a cost to himself, ht BJ.
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