1. In the Harvard Business Review, Greg McKeown explores the problem of perfectionism, urging us “Today, Just Be Average”. Easier said than done, but a few of the observations are worth reproducing here, ht RW:
Unlike other obsessions and addictions, perfectionism is something a lot of people celebrate, believing it’s an asset. But true perfectionism can actually get in the way of productivity and happiness. I recently interviewed David Burns, author of “Feeling Good” has made this exact connection. In his more than 35,000 therapy sessions he has learned that the pursuit of perfection is arguably the surest way to undermine happiness and productivity…
[Burns goes on to say,] “There are two doors to enlightenment. One is marked, ‘Perfection’ and the other is marked, ‘Average.’ The ‘Perfection’ door is ornate, fancy, and seductive… So you try to go through the ‘Perfection’ door and always discover a brick wall on the other side… On the other side of the ‘Average’ door, in contrast, there’s a magic garden. But it may have never occurred to you to open the door to take a look.” As he wrote in a recent entry on his blog, “Much of our suffering derives from our perfectionism, and our belief that we should be ‘special.’ But…[w]hen you don’t have to be special, life becomes special.”
2. An excerpt of Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic appeared on The Huffington Post this week, one of his priceless riffs on new persuasive words, specifically about “What Sin Really Is (The Human Propensity to F**k Things Up)”. We’ve posted it before actually, but the final paragraph is too, um, perfect not to rerun:
Our appointment with realization often comes at one of the classic moments of adult failure: when a marriage ends, when a career stalls or crumbles, when a relationship fades away with a child seen only on Saturdays, when the supposedly recreational coke habit turns out to be exercising veto powers over every other hope and dream. It need not be dramatic, though. It can equally well just be the drifting into place of one more pleasant, indistinguishable little atom of wasted time, one more morning like all the others, which quietly discloses you to yourself. You’re lying in the bath and you notice that you’re 39, and you don’t have children and that the way your living bears scarcely any resemblance to what you think you’ve always wanted; yet you got here by choice, by a long series of choices for things which, at any one moment, temporarily outbid the things you say you wanted most. And as the water cools, and the light of Saturday morning in summer ripples heartlessly on the bathroom ceiling, you glimpse an unflattering vision of yourself as a being whose wants make no sense, don’t harmonize: whose desires, deep down, are discordantly arranged, so that you truly want to possess and you truly want not to, at the very same time. You’re equipped, you realize, for farce (or even tragedy) more than you are for happy endings. The HPtFtU dawns on you. You have, indeed, fucked things up. Of course you have. You’re human, and that’s where we live; that’s our normal experience.
A more conventional but no less stirring reflection on the same subject comes to us in Crisis Magazine in their reflection on “The Blessings of Sin,” ht DJ:
In the effort.. to overcome our little snits of scrupulosity, we need to be both mindful and more than a tad grateful for the fact that we are all certifiably stupid—that is, sinners—since there is no other way to qualify for the mercy and love of God. “Blessed would be the sins that left any shame in you,” declares the saintly young curate, to Mme la Comtesse—an old and obdurate woman living an outwardly pious life yet seething with inward despair on the very cusp of hell—in Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest. Thanks be to God, too, for the sudden whiplash of his words, because otherwise the thick bastion of her pride would never give way to the grace of that forgiveness he’s come to dispense. How beautifully Bernanos’s novel, one of the enduring monuments of French Catholic literature, reveals both the abyss of her need for mercy and the infinite capacity of Christ to bestow it.
3. Speaking of mercy, CNN reported a touching story of grace, ht BJ:
4. In the theologosphere, a wonderful and thorough tribute to Robert Capon appeared on the blog Lingua Divinia, “Flights of Fancy over a Pedal Note of Grace”. And in honor of Reformation Day, Thinking Reed posted two fantastic quotes from Paul Tillich about the nature of justification by grace through faith.
5. A moderately interesting case was made on The Atlantic for people to “Study Theology, Even If You Don’t Believe in God.”
6. “Why I Quit Major League Baseball” appeared in the New Yorker, the quitter in question being Adrian Cardenas, a Chicago Cubs pinch-hitter. I’m told that “Wally Pipped” means getting outshined/replaced by another player who takes your job. Wally Pipp’s job was taken by none other than Lou Gehrig, ht CB:
I came to realize that professional baseball players are masochists: hitters stand sixty feet and six inches from the mound, waiting to get hit by a pitcher’s bullets; fielders get sucker punched in the face by bad hops, and then ask for a hundred more. We all fail far more than we succeed, humiliating ourselves in front of tens of thousands of fans, trying to attain the unattainable: batting a thousand, pitching without ever losing, secretly seeking the immortality of the record books. In spite of the torments—the career-ending injuries, the demotions, the fear of getting “Wally Pipped”—we keep rolling our baseball-shaped boulders up the impossible hill of the game, knowing we’ll never reach the top. Baseball is visceral, tragic, and absurd, with only fleeting moments of happiness; it may be the best representation of life. I was, and still am, in love with baseball. But I quit.
7. If you’ve been living under a rock, you might be unaware that Katy Perry has a new record out. To promote it, the singer was interviewed by NPR this week, and in baseball terms you might call her comments a big fat pitch down the middle. Perry begins by talking about what it was like to grow up in a home where TBN was the only acceptable viewing option, i.e. a house filled with law masquerading as gospel. It’s a form of religion which she has apparently walked away from–walked all the way to “Unconditionally”, a track on the new record which she describes as (ht DR): “This song is about universal love. It’s about this higher love or that love that hits you for the first time it feels like a car crash or maybe it’s the love of a mother seeing, you know, her firstborn child. But it’s almost like a spiritual level of love and acceptance.” You don’t say?
Also on NPR, Robert Hilburn spoke about his new biography of Johnny Cash, which doesn’t shy away from the darkness of the Man in Black, ht JD:
“Johnny Cash was a good man. He tried to live up to his faith. It was just difficult. He struggled, and that was the great drama of Johnny Cash. And I think John Carter, his son, said it best. He said, ‘My dad’s life was a struggle between darkness and light, and in the end, the light won.’ “
8. Some funny stuff out there this week. The Onion reports on “27-year Old Lies About Every Single Aspect of His Life to Keep Parents From Worrying”. The new tumblr “Selfies at Funerals” may mark a definitive low point in Western civilization. And the War on Kinkade is a clever warm-up for this recently unearthed blooper reel from Star Wars:
9. Daniel Mendelsohn’s review of A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones for The New York Review of Books is a must-read for anyone familiar with the series, especially the printed version. He rightly highlights the theological potency and sophistication of the books, which seem mostly to be missing from the HBO adaptation, at least thus far.
10. Lastly, two links we overlooked in yesterday’s Halloween round-up would be the Huffington Post’s creepy rundown of Haunted churches and a new Washington Post profile of Exorcist scribe (and Ninth Configuration director!) William Peter Blatty, ht JD:
The cuffs on his denim jacket are flipped. Underneath his navy T-shirt is a silver medal etched with the three crosses of Calvary, where Jesus was crucified in the Gospels. The medal belonged to his son Peter, who died seven years ago. One reason “The Exorcist” has endured, Blatty thinks, is because it shows that the grave does not mean oblivion. That there is something after death. “I’m not sure of what’s there,” he says, “but it isn’t oblivion.”… [Furthermore, Blatty mentions] the fear that something can possess you — not the Devil, but something like rage or jealousy or despair — that haunts everyone regardless of their belief system.
Blatty has a gravity about him, and also, somehow, a lightness. An impishness. This is a man who is quick to laugh to the point of tears and also thinks that these may be “the last days.” This is a man who says, after a sip of coffee with Equal sweetener, “It’s a fallen world,” like he’s noting the weather.