Check out this week’s edition of The Mockingcast, which features an interview with writer/theologian Peter Leithart!

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1. To start, let’s go back to Mayberry… 

Don Knotts, who played Barney Fife in “The Andy Griffith Show,” is being honored in his hometown with a statue of himself in front of the local theater. This story from The Clarion-Ledger discusses Knotts’s life and history, and delves into his childhood–it reminded me of when one of my most cheerful friends told me the truth about his own ‘inner demons’. I’d known him for years and, from the outside, he’d always seemed to be a beacon of endless joy.

Knotts lived a similar story, constantly refreshing both his family and his viewers with a wonderful sense of humor (my dog was named after Barney, so you know he had lasting impact) while still not immune to the harsher realities of life.

In the 2015 book “Andy and Don” by Daniel de Visé, Don Knotts explained that he was “an accident.” His mother, Elsie, was 39 when he was born. His father blamed him and harbored an anger that often flew out of control.

Wrote de Visé: “Elsie Knotts would ask Don (after he grew into adulthood), ‘Do you remember when you were in nappies, and your father used to hold a knife to your throat?’ Don did not. Only in therapy did the memories come flooding back. Don spent his first years living in fear of the monster on the couch.”

All this to say that the origins of Mayberry weren’t always so lighthearted. As Nadia Boltz-Weber writes in Pastrix, “There’s something about courting the darkness that makes some people see the truth in raw, twisted ways, as though they were shining a black light on life to illuminate the absurdity of it all. Comics tell a truth you can only see from the underside of the psyche.”

2. As far as your weekenderly psychology goes, over at The New York Times, Alex Rosenberg pointed out that results from experiments in cognitive and neuroscience are showing–increasingly–that we have historically overestimated our knowledge of our own minds.

Rosenberg explains that humanity found its way to the top of the food chain after developing what is referred to as “mind reading” capabilities–the ability to predict the behavior of other predators based on previous behavior. The problem, of course, is that we can’t actually read minds. We merely sift through data from past sensory experiences in order to define other beings (and ourselves).

While such a technique has helped our species survive, it is also, in the end, totally fallible. Rosenberg writes:

There is compelling evidence that our own self-awareness is actually just this same mind reading ability, turned around and employed on our own mind, with all the fallibility, speculation, and lack of direct evidence that bedevils mind reading as a tool for guessing at the thought and behavior of others.

We are often incorrect in understanding our basic motivations for doing things, he argues.

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To take it in a theological direction, this is why it’s so horrifying when Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, takes the Law of God and directs it at the human heart–not at the action but the motivation; it’s no longer what we do but why we do it. The ‘why’ is the deeper, more inscrutable layer, the thing we can’t always understand or control. For this reason, Martin Luther suggested that it is useless for us to confess our “sins,” because we don’t know them. Rather, we should confess our sinfulness–“Oh God forgive my mind” (Brandi Carlile).

Since we are essentially locked out of our minds, merely surveying previous behavior and thoughts in order to determine who we are now, Rosenberg concludes:

There is no first-person point of view.

Our access to our own thoughts is just as indirect and fallible as our access to the thoughts of other people. We have no privileged access to our own minds. If our thoughts give the real meaning of our actions, our words, our lives, then we can’t ever be sure what we say or do, or for that matter, what we think or why we think it.

Philosophers’ claims that by reflecting on itself thought reliably reveals our nature, grounds knowledge, gives us free will, endows our behavior with moral value, are all challenged. And the threat doesn’t stem from some tendentious scientistic worldview. It emerges from the detailed understanding of the mind that cognitive science and neuroscience are providing.

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3. Even as a fan of both Taylor Swift and Kanye West, I had no idea that their “feud” had taken such dark, twisted turns! It began in 2009, you may remember, when Kanye unexpectedly grabbed a microphone from TS at the VMAs.

This article from The Atlantic covers the latest, juiciest details of their battle, but for our purposes, you need only check out these first paragraphs about the popular use of the word “narrative”:

It’s instantly iconic, the last line of Taylor Swift’s latest statement on her media tiff with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian: “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative, one that I have never been asked to be a part of, since 2009.”

Not long ago—pre-2009?—it might have seemed strange for most people outside an English seminar to casually throw around the word “narrative,” much less a Nashville pop star known for her love of cats and Christmas. But here we are in the age of the personal brand, where people like Swift, West, and Kim Kardashian have popularized the notion of popular culture—and maybe all of life—as a tangle of managed storylines that may or may not be rooted in fact. There are political and personal and social readings to be made of the ongoing spat between these three celebrities. Yet Swift has presented her current problem as purely meta: She’s mad, explicitly, at not being in control of this narrative.

Right; so put aside everything else for a second–put aside the racial differences and the highly gender-ized water boiling underneath all of this–and sit with the fact that Kanye seems to have–very much at random–grabbed a giant set of kitchen shears and begun chopping up the manuscript of Taylor’s life–but not her life itself. Just the manuscript. To many of us, the two may be inseparable.

As she says herself, he’s disrupting the story she wants the public to know about her–he’s pulling her into this “narrative.” Her intended linear course of direction, whatever that may have been, has been re-routed down a curly exit ramp by a wild-eyed Kanye (and his “publicist” Kim). But that concept of a ‘linear track’ doesn’t include all that life is; it is merely an example of how all of us tend to place ourselves as the heroic protagonists of an ultimately happy (love?) story. Taylor Swift–and all of us–are more (and, in many ways, less) than the narrative that we want to tell about ourselves.

Further reading: Ethan’s “Deconstructing the Story of Your Life” and Stephanie’s “Your Best Story, Now!” And dance to this in the shower this weekend:

4. Also from The New York Times, the increasingly tender David Brooks brought us back to Jonah Lehrer, a writer whose unfailingly low anthropology gave great fodder to the Mockingbird blog in the past (as did his downfall due to plagiarism). His new book, A Book About Love, seems to maintain that same low anthropology regarding relationships and love.

The book is one of, as Brooks says, many newish books “deromanticizing” love–books that downplay the importance of the falling-off-the-camel phase of infatuation and emphasize the importance of wonted farting, i.e. everyday forgiveness.

Brooks (via Lehrer) writes about “everyday attachment,” a concept that explains how relationships develop over time beginning with basic human vulnerability–the need of a “secure base” from which to operate, something to which every person is inextricably tethered day to day. This tethering begins with parenting (usually) and develops later in romantic relationships.

Brooks argues that the phase of infatuation, “the deep magic,” which cannot be quantified or measured for pie charts, may very well serve not just as a supplement but as a fundamental piece of a relationship’s level of everyday attachment.

While not exactly challenging Lehrer’s low anthropology, Brooks complements it by waxing romantic about the power of paradox and the mystery of love:

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In “Middlemarch,” [George Eliot’s] heroine does something crazy and marries the wrong guy. The marriage is miserable. But then when she has the chance to marry again, she doesn’t play it safe and settle for something conventional. She does something else crazy and marries the right guy this time.

I think Eliot understood that when it comes to love, there is safety in danger. That early mad passion — the craziness, the shocking and inexplicable sweep of emotion, the daring leap that defies convention, the love that takes everyone by surprise — can be the refiner’s fire that welds two people together into one thing. It makes the love about something other than self.

Love defies cost-benefit analyses. In family life one is compelled to give more than one receives. Having kids does not make you happier; it makes you different. So it’s probably reckless to go into a marriage with a prudential frame of mind and safer to go in with that form of intoxication that fuses you into a unit and makes giving feel better than receiving.

Not to say that the above descriptions should becomes standards for relational success but only that the power of looking backwards should not be forgotten. A similar sentiment can be found in Grace in Practice: “What was the octane sufficient to bring together two such different people from two such different lives?…Whatever formed the unity is the only agency that can re-create the unity.”

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5. This is an amazing near-deathbed story from the perspective of a cultural titan–Ricardo Lockette, who went to the Super Bowl three times, who was rich, successful, and famous. In this article, he writes about what it was like lying on the ground with a broken neck. He asked himself, “Am I going to die?” His perspective began to change–he began to ask the big questions

When I was laying motionless on that turf in Dallas, I was completely dependent  upon the help of others. It was the exact opposite of the mindset I had from the moment I got to Seahawks camp as a rookie: You’re a rock star. You’re a leader. You’re the alpha. This is all yours for the taking.

Then, in one second, you’re helpless.

I wouldn’t be here telling my story if those EMTs hadn’t done everything perfectly to protect my life.

It’s a beautiful story. In the end, he says what we would all say were we in that same situation: “I need to repay the Lord for helping me get up. That’s my new mountain.” The thing is, though, the Lord isn’t in the business of loans.

Nothing we do could repay the Lord for sustaining us–Lockette is strapping up to climb a tall, craggy and ultimately impassible mountain. This Gift is so great that it makes us uncomfortable to receive it, no strings attached. We can’t help but try to offer some sort of payback, though, because if we had to sit and admit time and time again that we are totally dependent, that we are football players with broken necks, and that any life we have left is a gift from God, all we could afford to do is fall down and weep.

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6. A very cool article in The Guardian discusses the discovery of Caribbean cave drawings which feature both Native American symbols and 16th-century Christian symbols.

Jago Cooper, the British Museum curator who…led the research team [said,] “It is proof that the first generation of Europeans were going into caves and being exposed to an indigenous world view. I can’t think of another site like this in the Americas.” …

In one area, they discovered markings which were clearly 16th-century European, including Christograms, letters used as an abbreviation for Jesus Christ, and religious sentences in Latin.

Samson said the marks were made by some of the earliest colonisers to arrive in the Americas. These colonisers would have been taken to the caves, places considered particularly sacred, and were responding with respect to what they saw, engaging in a religious dialogue.

“We have this idea of when the first Europeans came to the New World of them imposing a very rigid Christianity. We know a lot about the inquisition in Mexico and Peru and the burning of libraries and the persecution of indigenous religions.

“What we are seeing in this Caribbean cave is something different. This is not zealous missionaries coming with their burning crosses, they are people engaging with a new spiritual realm and we get individual responses in the cave and it is not automatically erasure, it is engagement.”

This should be quite useful for contemporary ministry–spirituality cannot be erased and replaced no matter where the lightning strikes. We all carry memories and “baggage” with us, our histories, the events deep in our minds that have shaped who we are (and who we think we are (see: No. 2 above).

The caves, which show a “dialogue” between the natives and the colonists, serve as illustrations for a form of ministry in which the missionary enters into the history of whoever may be the object of the mission, by sitting with them and listening to them (and making cave drawings with them). Such an exchange is obviously very different from the inquisitions which have marred church history.

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7. Season three of Will Arnett’s Bojack Horseman is out on Netflix today! Yesterday Brian Willett, over at The Federalist, wrote about how Bojack “represents total depravity and the God-shaped void.”

We’ll only find peace and satisfaction when we pursue God, yet we constantly pursue everything else in this world instead. In BoJack we see a character regularly galloping toward his vices, vices that serve as offerings to his idol of self.

The over-sexed, envious, gluttonous, angry, and arrogant titular character regularly exhibits all sorts of fatal sins that someone should probably categorize. In spite of the regret these transgressions produce, he can’t help but continue chasing them (his justifiable honeydew hatred notwithstanding).

8. And, in honor of wedding season, here’s an oldie but a goodie from The Onion (which reminds me of Will’s piece on “The New South”) “Farmer Chases Fifth Wedding Party Out of His Barn This Month”:

BEREA, KY—Calling the problem “damn near out of control,” local farmer Cliff Contreau confirmed that the 125-person wedding reception he chased out of his barn Saturday evening was the fifth such wedding party he’s had to scare off his property this month. “They come in here almost every weekend stringing up incandescent light bulbs and taking photos next to my hay bales. This is private property, for Pete’s sake!” said Contreau, 63, who added that he now instinctively reaches for his rifle any time he hears a string quartet launch into the opening notes of Pachelbel’s Canon. “At first, all I had to do was bang on the walls with my shovel and a whole mess of them in identical blue gowns and tuxedos would come running out, but I tried that last week and they just kept on chattering like I wasn’t even there. I’m almost all out of ideas at this point.” Contreau later said that he plans to try ringing the barn with barbed wire, which he hoped would snag and slow the movement of anyone in billowy chiffon.

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Strays: