1. Wow. The award for Best Unintentional Good Friday Article goes to novelist Diana Spechler, writing in The Times. It’s her latest entry in a series of short essays documenting the process of tapering off her anti-depressants, “Going Off”. This one has to do with her relationship to the popular dating app Tinder, appropriately titled “Tinder While I Taper”. She not only captures the Romans 7/bondage of the will aspect with harrowing vividness, she does a remarkable job of  exposing the underside of a culture built on bootstrapping and the veneration of self-sufficiency, namely, the shame of self-insufficiency–the taboo of true inadequacy. It may be alright to fess up to imperfection (in the name of vulnerability), but need is a different story. Of course, as she jokes, if we can’t fix ourselves, we can always try to fix others. The whole thing couldn’t resonate more with the liturgical calendar, ht JK:

On Tinder, men claim heights well over six feet. They scale mountains and cannonball into pools. They play hard and don’t take life seriously and want a partner in crime. In New York City, I never meet towering optimist-adventurers. They exist only on dating apps…

easter-bunny-scaryYears ago, I accidentally drove into the side of a house. Flustered, I backed up and drove into it again. Is that what I’m doing on Tinder? Backing up from one painful relationship, promptly accelerating into another?…

There is shame in serial monogamy. I’m not supposed to need a man. I’m not supposed to chain-smoke relationships. There is shame in medication, too. They say there isn’t, but there is. I can feel people flinch when I mention my meds; I feel them pause and recalibrate. We’re not supposed to rely on outside sources. We’re not supposed to medicate our moods — with pills or romance or tequila or sex. We’re supposed to validate ourselves from the inside. We’re supposed to be enough for ourselves.

I want to circumvent my grief. I want every quick fix. I want to fix myself. I want to fix all broken things. I wanted to fix my relationship, but that proved unfixable. On Tinder, I want to fix strangers. I want to tell them, Ask someone you trust if you look good in a baseball cap.If you removed those mirrored sunglasses, you’d get more matches. May I correct the spelling in your profile description?

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2. Speaking of ‘fixing’–both the self-help and mafia connotations–I’m not sure we could find a sharper juxtaposition with Good Friday than the new HBO doc Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. Essentially a treatise on the perils of right-handed power (assertion, coercion, control, manipulation) as opposed to the left-handed power displayed so viscerally on Calvary (surrender, defeat, silence, passivity). The story of how they got their tax-exemption from the IRS knocked me flat.

Earlier this year Jerry Seinfeld did an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Sarah Silverman in which they drive around LA. When they pass the Scientology building (or celebrity center), Silverman goes on a tangent about Scientology being wacko, but no more wacko than any other religion–we’re just less used to it. It’s one of those things that must pass as a legitimate insight in certain sectors of the world (Seinfeld–much as I adore him–nods in agreement), when in fact it’s just a lazy way to dismiss a set of claims without having to actually engage their content. Still, if Silverman’s flippancy has any merit, then this doc serves as a useful check on believers everywhere, i.e., do we sound like that?! Please tell me we don’t.

0120-Kinsley-superJumboGoing Clear profiles every aspect of the religion organization, from its eccentric beginnings to its present existence as an organization in which the ends apparently justify all sorts of means, and the main end appears domination and power ($$$) rather than enlightenment or even self-realization. To hear these people tell it–and most of them are former top brass–Scientology is more than non-Christian, it is anti-Christian, containing no room for weakness or frailty or even love, to say nothing of forgiveness. As far as I recall God is only mentioned once, and in an extremely vague fashion, so if they’re worshiping anything, it seems to be the organization itself (or, to be generous, the ‘knowledge’ it contains), and their progression in it. Suffice it to say, I found it ironic that possession–by alien spirits–is an overriding theme of the documentary.

3. On a considerably more positive note, Anthony Bradley’s exploration of “The Pro-Easter vs. Anti-Easter Response to Levi Pettit” is worth its weight in gold. For the purposes of this column, you might almost say he looks at the right-handed response to the OU debacle before landing squarely on the left-handed side, ht BJ:

If Peter can deny Christ and be forgiven then so can Levi Pettit. Because of Easter, we can forgive a repentant 20-year-old man who has asked for mercy and pledged himself to live differently in the future empowered by grace.

Thankfully, we do not have prove ourselves worthy of forgiveness nor do we have to demonstrate the proof of change in order for God’s forgiveness to be bestowed. This is the essence of grace… If God has forgiven Pettit because of Easter, then I have no reason to withhold forgiveness either.

For those interested in the conversation on race, esp as it relates to grace and forgiveness, I found these excerpts from James Baldwin and Margaret Mead’s landmark conversation to be helpful. Favorite line would have to be Mead’s rejoinder, ht CM: “If you state a crime impossible of forgiveness you’ve doomed everyone”. On the reconciliation tip (racial and otherwise), this happened:

4. Mr. Pettit is far from the only person who has found themselves on the receiving end of an online stoning shaming recently. The trend has been front and center this week, what with the outrage about new Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s twittter transgressions. (Patton Oswalt’s response was tres brilliant). Comedian Jim Norton didn’t put too fine a point on it when he wrote “Trevor Noah Isn’t the Problem. You Are”, claiming, correctly in my opinion, that we have become “addicted to the rush of feeling offended.” Pretty uncanny that all this would be coming to light the very week we intentionally remember an act of monumental avoidance and scapegoating.

The other main reason the subject is enjoying such a high profile is Jon Ronson’s new book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, which deals with the phenomenon at length. One almost wonders if the marketers chose Holy Week on purpose (‘crucify him!’). But much recommended is the new episode of the excellent Reply All podcast, in which Ronson discusses his findings, namely that “no matter what their transgressions, now that social media gives everyone the opportunity to pile on, their punishments were always much worse than their transgressions”. Interesting that one cannot avoid legal–and even religious–language when it comes to mass psychology. Also, I for one did not know that “reputation management” was a thing people paid for.

61v+gsNPcLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Amusingly enough, all this outrage about outrage is already creating its own backlash. On and on it goes… I’m reminded of Gerhard Forde’s formulation of Good Friday: “[God] refuses to be the wrath that is resident in all our conditionalism. He can indeed be that, and is that apart from the work of Christ. But he refuses ultimately to be that.”

5. The Onion let loose a few zingers this week, most notably  “Man Thinking About Just Packing Up And Making Exact Same Mistakes Someplace Far Away” and “Siblings Quietly Relieved Oldest Brother Setting Bar So Low”. And nothing makes me laugh harder than a list of 47 Easter Bunnies More Terrifying Than a Crucified Man.

6. Sufjan Stevens’ new record, Carrie and Lowell, has been getting raves, and rightfully so. The occasion has generated at least two thinkpieces worth mentioning: The Atlantic assessing “How Sufjan Stevens Subverts the Stigma of Christian Music” and Christianity Today issuing a memo on  “How Not to Listen to the New Sufjan Stevens Record”. I was especially touched by Sufjan’s own meditation on Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, an Mbird fave, reproduced in the CT article:

To objectify art is to measure its commercial value and squander its transcendental powers of benevolence. Reciprocity demeans art; or, rather, it functions to incarcerate its powers, to judge it for its charity. Like putting Mother Teresa on trial, or in prison, for the crime of compassion. On the contrary, perfect art, as a perfect gift (without ulterior motive, without gain, without compensation) courageously gives itself over to the world asking nothing in return.

Do I engage with my work as a father cultivates his child, with loving-kindness, with fierce enrichment, with awe and wonder, with unconditional love, with absolute sacrifice? I make this my impossible objective.

Also in music, our beloved Brian Wilson has a new solo record coming out next week, No Pier Pressure (get it?), and everything I’ve been pleasantly surprised by everything I’ve heard. Also, anyone else notice a cover of one of his songs playing in The Walking Dead season finale (which was pretty darn good)? High irony and very creepy, but still.

7. Buzzfeed’s 16 Ways to Celebrate Holy Week Around the World is better than it sounds.

Strays

  • A couple of enterprising New Yorkers are opening a preschool for adults. I’m game for a field trip in a couple weeks if you are.
  • Fortunately, if they decide to invest in a toy kitchen, they can keep it artisanal. The foodie revolution keeps pushing the vanguard, god bless ’em, ht MM.
  • Hugh Jackman is all set to play Saul of Tarsus in a major motion picture being produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. I’m skeptical too, but hey, we may finally get some intel on the thorn in his flesh.
  • Audio from Texas should be up sometime next week.
  • Finally, in honor of Good Friday–and the worst our species has to offer (and the compassion extended to those depths!)–none other than Rick Astley is attempting to, er, resurrect his career. Happy Easter: