1. Under the auspices of “How and Why to Ban the Silent Treatment from Your Relationship”, The Wall Street Journal issued a perceptive and even quite touching treatise on how the dynamic of demand and withdrawal comes to poison so many loving relationships. The article starts out with the same old line about judgment and expectation snuffing out affection (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), and ‘law’ making bad things worse, with some token men-are-from-Mars-women-are-from-Venus thrown in–but it doesn’t end there. That is, while some of the diagnosis (and rather patronizing advice) falls under the heading of the perilously obvious, what distinguishes the article is the remarkable story recounted at the end of prayer-induced humility leading to reconciliation. It’s too involved to reproduce here, but suffice to say, there may yet be hope for relationships stuck at a communicative impasse:

seesawA meta-analysis of 74 studies encompassing more than 14,000 participants, published in the March 2014 Communication Monographs, found the demand-withdraw pattern to be one of the most damaging types of relationship conflict and one of the hardest patterns to break. It often is a predictor of divorce…

Researchers found people who engaged in a demand-withdraw pattern had lower relationship satisfaction, less intimacy and poorer communication with their partner. They showed personality changes, such as less agreeableness and conscientiousness and more aggression and neuroticism

Each person has a hand in it, yet each blames the other, says Paul Schrodt, a professor in the department of communication studies at Texas Christian University and lead researcher on the analysis. The demander feels her partner won’t open up to her and her emotional needs aren’t being met, while the withdrawer feels he is being hounded. “The more polarized the partners become, the more difficult it is for them to stop engaging in the behaviors,” Dr. Schrodt says.

2. Next, we missed a fabulously insightful essay from conference speaker Tim Kreider (don’t worry – the video of his talk is coming!) when it appeared in The NY Times a couple months ago, “The Feast of Pain”. Sounds fun, I know, but just get a load of this:

Couldn't resist!

Couldn’t resist!

Some people — quite a lot of them, evidently — are sustained by the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book franchise. Yet I require something more pungent than schmaltz in my emotional diet. I never go to any movie I suspect might be about the Triumph of the Human Spirit, either. Maybe it’s perverse of me, but I am comforted by the knowledge that we’re all suffering a lot more than we let on.

A pastor I know, who gets a more privileged vista of human suffering than I do, told me she was sick of the phrase “first-world problems” — not just because it delegitimizes the perfectly real problems of those of us lucky enough to have enough to eat and Internet access, but because it denies the same stupid trivial human worries to people who aren’t. Are you not entitled to existential angst or tedium vitae if you live in Chad — must you always nobly suffer traditional third-world problems like malaria and coups d’état? If we’re lucky, we graduate to increasingly complex and better problems, and once all our material needs are satisfied we get to confront the insoluble problem of being a person in the world.

3. Some very interesting television articles popped up this past week–and I’m not talking about Buzzfeed doing what it does best in giving us “17 Important Life Lessons Coach Taylor Taught Us”. I’m talking about the always excellent Matt Zoller Seitz tweeting that “RECTIFY is proof that Christian themes can connect with agnostics and atheists if the work is good & isn’t actively selling anything.” Which he followed up with a great review of the new season for Vulture, in which he calls it “Truly Christian Art”. He writes:

Rectify is a straightforwardly spiritually minded drama in which Southerners weave talk of the presence or absence of God into everyday conversation, along with allusions to prayer and doubt, heaven and hell, sin and redemption. Daniel’s deeply devout sister-in-law, Tawney Talbot (Adelaide Clemens), has casual conversations about God, sin, and afterlife with Daniel, and much pricklier ones with his sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer), who isn’t too big on the whole “God has a plan” thing, given all that’s happened to Daniel and their extended family. Tawney knows her husband Ted Talbot Jr. (Clayne Crawford) is growing apart from her because “we don’t pray together anymore.” This is a world that a lot of Americans live in, and yet you rarely see it depicted on TV. Here it’s portrayed without hype, and with zero condescension.

In other words, people, set your DVRs–at the very least, it’ll give us something while we wait til the end of August for The Cosmopolitans. (I’d be doing us a disservice if I didn’t mention that Ethan picked up on the Rectify thread last year.) But that’s not all. On the AV Club, Todd VanDerWerff caught my attention with his headline Rev.’s remarkable third season contemplates the difficulty of forgiveness”. I’ve been hearing raves about the Hulu show for several years now, but man if this paragraph didn’t send me over the edge, especially since, if reports are to believed, it tackles the following without sacrificing laughs:

photo 2

Click on Slash to order your copy today!

If the remarkable, near-perfect third (and possibly final) season of the British sitcom Rev. has an idea at its center, it stems from all of the above and zeroes in on how difficult forgiveness is for us small, petty human beings, so caught up in our own concerns and unable to see things through another’s eyes. Rev. has always been about the conflict not between faith and doubt—though it has a fair amount of that as well—but between belief and religion, between the idea that there are things we can believe so acutely that they fill us with a kind of awe and terror at our own significance, only to be confronted with religious institutions designed to repackage that feeling so it’s less threatening. The series’ lead character, London vicar Adam Smallbone (Tom Hollander), is constantly trapped between his own limited conception of the universe and the brief moments when he feels a presence that might be God. And whenever he feels that presence, it’s inevitably whisked away by having to deal with church politics. In the world of Rev., the thing that stands the most in the way of the clergy having a relationship with the divine is their own job.

4. With the rest of the world engulfed in World Cup hysteria, it feels appropriate to revisit David Brooks’ assessment of the sport from four years ago, ht JZ:

We in this country prefer pastimes that are rational and quantifiable. Football plays can be drawn up in a playbook and baseball lends itself to statistical analysis. But the rest of the world follows a sport that rewards resilience and neuroticism. Soccer is a sport perfectly designed to reinforce a tragic view of the universe, because basically it is a long series of frustrations leading up to near certain heartbreak.

5. In the music-related sphere, lots of interesting identity excavation going on in Chuck Klosterman’s “Perpetual Topeka” which unpacks his conflicting feelings about LeBron James and Kanye West. It starts with the statement: “I like Kanye West. I don’t particularly like LeBron James. I do, however, want LeBron James to succeed. And I want Kanye West to fail (at least once).”

I’ll tell you who I like this week and want to succeed – Sinead O’Connor. Her new single “Take Me To Church” (“but not the ones that hurt”…!) shot to the top of my favorite songs of the year when it became available the other day. Sing it from the rooftops, ht JS:

6. In books, an exclusive sneak peek of Marilynne Robinson’s forthcoming novel Lila appeared on her publisher’s site! Then, The New Yorker published a fascinating review of the short Freud biography that Mbird fave Adam Phillips recently penned. The reviewer, Joshua Rothman, reproduces a fabulous quote from Phillips on the nature of Freud’s primary discovery, which should ring a few psychoanalyst-as-new-kind-of-priest bells:

“[Freud discovered] just how ingenious and disturbing modern people had become as the unconscious artists of their own lives. It was their capacities for representation—for finding ways and means for making their desires known in however disguised or self-defeating forms; as dreams, or slips, or perverse and neurotic symptoms—that had impressed Freud … His patients, Freud realized, were working on and at their psychic survival, but like artists not like scientists; and their material was their personal history encoded in their sexuality. They were not empiricists, or only fleetingly; they were fantasists. Their adaptations were ingeniously imaginative, however painful; but they were stuck. Their symptoms were the equivalent of writer’s block, or rather, speaker’s block. Indeed, Freud was becoming their new kind of good listener, and their champion; someone who could get, who could make something of, their strange ways of speaking. Someone who, like a good parent, or a good art critic, could appreciate what they were up to, what they could make, and make a case for it.”

7. Humor-wise, The Onion was on a roll, with “Study Finds Americans Lead World In Ability To Justify Unnecessary Purchases” and “Nation Wondering Why Struggling Mental Health System Can’t Just Pull Itself Together” and “Man Unaware All His Friends Think Of Him When They Want To Put Things Into Perspective“. Elsewhere, wunder-author George Saunders’ “Liner Notes” in The New Yorker is a true laugh riot, esp for those of us who have spent far too much time reading that unheralded “genre”. (If you are of that illustrious tribe, it’s likely this will make you happy, too). On the more shocking, laugh-or-you’ll-cry end of things, Dangerous Minds ran a fascinating collection of “the gory and grotesque art of Soviet antireligious propaganda.” Finally, in the viral brilliance department, these musicless music videos are pretty glorious, this one in particular:

8. Finally, Jonathan Merritt interviewed our friend Justin Holcomb about his new book Know the Heretics (which is a great little volume, btw). Favorite exchange would have to be:

RNS: What are some modern thoughts that you consider to be heresy?

JH: I think many of the old heresies are repackaged today. For example, there is plenty Sabellian Modalism—the belief that God is one actor wearing three hats—floating around today. Also, I think a repackaged version of Pelagianism is most “live” today. (My summary of Pelagius’ heresy is “God has already given us the tools we need.”)

Pelagius correctly saw human nature as something good created by God, and there is no such thing as original sin. Adam’s sin in no way makes humans guilty or corrupt. Humans by nature have a clean slate — a state of neutrality — according to Pelagius. Potentially, then, one could live a sinless life and merit heaven, for there is nothing intrinsically sinful about humans. To me, this sounds like lots of the gobbledygook that is passed around today in popular Christian TV, radio, and publishing.

P.S. RIP Gerry Goffin: