Here in the office we’re drowning in Food & Drink! The issue, that is, which arrived today and is already out the door to subscribers. To quote Seinfeld’s Poppy, it turned out “more succulent than even we hadda hoped”! Click here to check out the Table of Contents and whatnot. #humbled

Why not kick things off then with a couple of food-related items from the world of social science? First, The Telegraph reported on a new study out of UPenn on the effects of fat shaming. Surprise surprise, it tends to have the opposite effect than what’s intended:

Professor Rebecca Pearl, of the University of Pennsylvania, said: “There is a common misconception that stigma might help motivate individuals with obesity to lose weight and improve their health.

“We are finding it has quite the opposite effect. When people feel shamed because of their weight, they are more likely to avoid exercise and consume more calories to cope with this stress.

Feel like I said everything I wanted to on the subject here. On the upside, though, NPR reported on Why Eating the Same Food Increases People’s Trust and Cooperation. Meaning, it’s not just the act of sitting down at the same table that bonds people together, but the act of consuming the same foodstuffs. Like, say, bread and wine:

To eat the same food suggests that we are both willing to bring the same thing into our bodies. People just feel closer to people who are eating the same food as they do. And then trust, cooperation, these are just consequences of feeling close to someone.

They go on to cite an experiment in which groups of volunteers who ate the same food reached agreement on an issue twice as fast as groups in which some ate candy and others salty food. Go figure!

2. Shifting from sacrament to word, over on Slate, Episcopal minister Bernard Owens reflected on “Writing My First Sermon in the Age of Trump” and the takeaways might surprise you. They certainly did me. Essentially a (pastoral) rejoinder to those who would interpret our national climate as an invitation to double-down on topical sermons:

Preaching the issues of the day can be satisfying and even necessary, but given our polarized society, a pastor who only preaches current events can quickly burn through the capital he or she needs to keep the church from becoming an echo chamber.

A sermon that proclaims that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice but over and around Ralph in pew No. 8 isn’t going to work in the long run… I have learned that there are a whole host of words or thoughts that, once uttered, will be all that many people remember—even if they were peripheral to the main point…

The church remains one of the few places in a polarized America where people welcome rhetoric that challenges their assumptions and proclaims a different vision of the world. We still have that ability because of the relational nature of our work: A blogger won’t call you when you lose a parent, and a politician doesn’t greet you every Sunday. So while we have a job to do in the pulpit, we have to keep those channels open if our word is to have any authority.

A hearty amen to that. Naturally, lurking underneath all such discussions are disagreements about what a sermon actually is or can/should be. Is it an opportunity to tell/teach/convince people how to think or act, a la the popular understanding of the verb “preach” (a fact that’s telling in its own right)? Or is the pulpit the place for the proclamation of, ya know, the gospel? The perch from which the announcement of the forgiveness of sins sounds forth? A bit of a strawman when one phrases it that way, I know, depending entirely on what you mean by Gospel. But the article seems to hint that the solution to addressing hot button issues from up front is to couch the law (present here under the euphemism “call”) in slightly less immediate/loaded terms. Rather than, in light of our failure to act/think righteously, address good news to the sinner–impart divine comfort and lasting hope to those who’ve walked on glass to get there.

Oh well. Still love the spirit of the piece, and strongly concur with the line about the increasingly countercultural function of the church, i.e., as a physical place where people hear something other (God willing) than the counsel of despair that is worldly performancism, whether it be blue-state or red-state in form.

3. In the grace in practice department, Jane Brody consulted author Harriet Lerner about “The Right Way to Say ‘I’m Sorry'” for the NY Times wellness section. Suffice to say, the slightest whiff of self-justification poisons even the most heartfelt apology. She even suggests that blame/guilt is seldom a black-or-white affair, that there may even be a link between healing and humility:

Apologies followed by rationalizations are “never satisfying” and can even be harmful. “When ‘but’ is tagged on to an apology,” [Lerner] wrote, it’s an excuse that counters the sincerity of the original message. The best apologies are short and don’t include explanations that can undo them…

As to why many people find it hard to offer a sincere, unfettered apology, Dr. Lerner pointed out that “humans are hard-wired for defensiveness. It’s very difficult to take direct, unequivocal responsibility for our hurtful actions. It takes a great deal of maturity to put a relationship or another person before our need to be right.”…

As [Lerner] wrote: “Nondefensive listening [to the hurt party] is at the heart of offering a sincere apology.” She urges the listener not to “interrupt, argue, refute, or correct facts, or bring up your own criticisms and complaints.” Even when the offended party is largely at fault, she suggests apologizing for one’s own part in the incident, however small it may be.

Dr. Lerner views apology as “central to health, both physical and emotional. ‘I’m sorry’ are the two most healing words in the English language,” she said. “The courage to apologize wisely and well is not just a gift to the injured person, who can then feel soothed and released from obsessive recriminations, bitterness and corrosive anger. It’s also a gift to one’s own health…”

Speaking of soothing, the trend has hit the city streets in record numbers. I don’t know about you but I’ll take all the hugs I can get…

4. Or better yet, someone to commiserate with. Cue the new dating app launching next week that goes by the (inspired) name of Hater. The hook? You guessed it: it matches people based on mutual dislikes. Hard to believe no one had thought of it before.

A swipe-based app, Hater first has you swipe down for hate, up for love, right for like, and left for dislike or opt out for neutral… There are over 2,000 topics right now — including Donald Trump, gluten-free, camping, marijuana, butt selfies, and Taylor Swift as a person — and eventually, the plan is to add user-generated topics. [ed note: oh boy].

“It’s not that we enjoy disliking people,” [social psychologist Jennifer] Bosson told The New York Times Magazine then. “It’s that we enjoy meeting people who dislike the same people.”

5. In humor, just discovered the Onion classic, “Distracted Driving Results In More Than 5,000 Unfinished Texts Each Year”. McSweeney’s “What Space-Time is the Super Bowl?” drew a handful of guffaws from yours truly’s throat. And speaking of Sunday’s game, The Wall Street Journal compiled a can’t-look-away photo essay of “snackadiums”, AKA the most gloriously American thing ever.

6. Next, as we venture into Black History Month, Mark Galli penned a moving essay on “The Inconceivable Start of African-American Christianity” for Christianity Today, a couple of key paragraphs being:

The Christianity that finally took hold of black souls, that grew and blossomed in its own distinct way, and that comforted and gave hope to a sorely oppressed people, was a different thing altogether than what whites had imagined. It was in some sense created and nurtured by blacks themselves, who refused to let whites frame their faith.

Instead they discovered for themselves the biblical message, as historian Arnold Toynbee put it, “that Jesus was a prophet who came into the world not to confirm the mighty in their seats but to exalt the humble and the meek.”

7. Documentary find of the year is definitely Finders Keepers (2015), which is on Netflix right now. About as uncanny an illustration of “the best thing being the worst thing” and vice versa as one is likely to find. Incredibly colorful characters, yet chock full of other favorite themes (addiction, grief, fathers and sons, self-deception, redemption). Just found out that it was directed by the guy who edited King of Kong (Clay Tweel). Plus, you’ll never think of Judge Mathis the same way, God bless his straight-talking–and deceptively tender–heart.

8. Alain de Botton quote of the week goes out to Tamara Sansbury and comes from this article in the Guardian in which he extols the virtues of going to an office:

It can be the greatest freedom, sometimes, to have to repress some of what you are. I sit quietly for hours. I’ll have a sandwich at the desk. I can’t sink into despair, scream or act all poetic: other people are watching. At the office, there’s a chance to edit yourself, thankfully. That’s why I go there.”

Strays