1. Good Friday, here we go! First up, courtesy of Duke Divinity, is Wesley Hill’s devastating “Anger Room”. After reflecting on the loss of a childhood friend–and the inclination to whitewash negativity–he recounts an anecdote about W.H. Auden that cuts straight to the heart of what today means:

Martin Luther famously distinguished between a “theology of glory” and a “theology of the cross.” In the former you find yourself substituting a crown of thorns and a body of nailed flesh for a more palatable scene. But with a “theologia crucis,” you can call a spade a spade. You can look grief and loss in the face and identify them for what they are. There’s room — maybe even a literal room that you set aside in a basement — for rage and sobbing and protest and fear and horror.

The great English-American poet W. H. Auden once heard a lecture in which, as Edward Mendelson recounts the scene, the speaker said that, “Jesus and Buddha were the same in effect: they were both attacked by spears, but in the Buddha’s case, the spears turned into flowers.” Auden bristled at this, shouting from the back of the lecture hall, “ON GOOD FRIDAY THE SPEARS WERE REAL.”

If those spears were real, we can admit the spears we’ve felt are real, too. There’s no need to pretend we’re smelling roses when all we feel is metal piercing skin.

2. The spears were real. Alas, so too are the bombs. Which makes this next item all the more astonishing, a clip from an Egyptian news broadcast in which a Muslim journalist reacts to an interview with the widow of the gatekeeper who prevented a suicide bomber from entering an Alexandria church yard on Palm Sunday, thereby saving countless lives. Stunning is an understatement:

3. Humor: A couple of real diamonds this week. First, in “Cookie Monster on the Dole ” The New Yorker captures the Muppet in a melancholy mood, contemplating a career change (“Me think me has everything Tom Waits has, plus me is blue. Sad songs from blue person, very good, very meta. Agent laugh. Agent say more realistic direction is recovery memoir and TED talk.”). But considerably more timely (and laugh-out-loud funny) would be McSweeneys’ take on “The Modern Confessions of St. Augustine”, e.g, I Have Bought Groceries But Then Eaten Out and Let The Food Rot (“The sin, it does weigh heavy as heavy as Jimmy John’s does lay heavy in my stomach)–or I Haven’t Texted My Mom Back in a Few Days:

She, this provenance of my own consciousness, did alert me of deals upon Amazon.com for a mattress for my worried and failing back, and too a sweater for the winter (her sweetness unrelenting). In jolly glee on Friday night, mirth pouring over with each pleasurable and vacuous sip of fermented drink, I did see the piercing light of affection glow through my jeans. O new text from Mom, how I did efface you with scorn!

4. From comedy to comedian, Mbird fave Tim Kreider produced a brilliant column about “The Wisdom of Don Rickles”. Really more of a meditation on “offense” and how it relates to anger and laughter and discourse than a paean to Mr Warmth, but still:

It seems as if the liberal program of attempting to shame and berate people into being more open-minded and tolerant may have backfired. ...apparently telling people they’re not allowed to say certain things or feel certain ways, that their opinions aren’t just incorrect but morally wrong, does not, after all, make them better people; it makes them hate your guts.

So was Mr. Rickles a bigot or a mensch? The truth, probably, is that he was both. We all are, albeit most of us not in such cartoonishly binary form. Maybe trying to stifle and disown the former makes the latter more brittle and false, more of an act. And maybe it’s venting the former persona onstage, as it were, set off from real life by the quotation marks of humor, that allows us to be more genuinely decent.

5. Another week, another (massive) study about how social media is making us miserable. Which, I suppose, is a truth worth highlighting until we actually take it on board (AKA forever?). First time I’ve heard the term “self-comparison effect”, though. We have Holly Shakya at the University of San Diego to thank this time:

The more hours Facebook users logged on the social network over time, the more their sense of wellbeing and happiness declined, according to the researchers. Facebook users who spent a very large amount of time on the social network showed meaningful decreases in physical and mental health compared to the average….

Meanwhile participants who cultivated real-world friendships over time… were happier overall. Investing more into Facebook relationships appeared to take a toll on offline friendships, the researchers found, perhaps because people have only so much time and energy to spend on either one…

The “self-comparison effect” is likely compounded by “time lost in more meaningful relationships,” Shakya told Quartz. In other words, worrying about how your life stacks up to others on social media costs you time with real friends.

6. TV: No spoilers but the season finale to Crashing was basically a grand-slam. Some reviewers didn’t appreciate the Artie Lange subplot, but yours truly found it to be both moving and brave. The subtext about pastors being amateur comics made me chuckle and even if the office scene veered a bit too much into the absurd, that won’t stop it from being my new go-to clip about horizontal prayer. So glad this show is being made. Plus, Leif!! Season premiere of Better Call Saul may have been a bit languid–even by its standards–but it still underscored the Prodigal Son-Elder Brother element, big-time. The Mike montages were pretty terrific too. Still, my favorite TV experience of 2017, hands down, is Amazon’s Patriot. Just wonderful.

7. Long-ish read of the week would have to be Kate Massinger’s “Present in Grace: Bach, Mahler and the Divine” on Commonweal. After some stirring remarks about Bach’s St Matthew Passion (and its composer), she asks, “Does religious art lose its potency when we know its maker didn’t believe? Or at least, wasn’t sure?” Which is where Mahler comes in. You’ll have to read the whole thing to find out where she ends up. But… here’s where she lands with JSB:

Faith inspires art. Art also enlivens faith—not as a moral teacher, but as an insidious catalyst. The plaintive, counterpoint cries of “Kyrie, eleison” give suffering a tune. The horrifying, choppy “Laß ihn kreuzigen” chorus positions singers as angry mob members. I feel the weight of sin more acutely in these measures than I do after the most brimstone homily. The chorales can be moments of peace, a resting in God that one feels in comfortable harmonies. When dissonance returns, we long for God, and know, in our ears and muscles, what both His presence and absence feel like.

8. I’ll leave you with a quote from rapper Kendrick Lamar, whose new record Damn. dropped today. Via an interview last month with T Magazine:

“We’re in a time where we exclude one major component out of this whole thing called life: God. Nobody speaks on it because it’s almost in conflict with what’s going on in the world when you talk about politics and government and the system… It’s very urgent.”

Strays

  • Two photo essays to accompany the day(s) at hand: The Atlantic’s Scenes from Holy Week photo essay is pretty mind-blowing (scary!). Chris Arnade’s “A Town Forgotten”, for different reasons. You could almost title the latter, “If Good Friday Were A Physical Location in the Mid-West”.
  • In The Guardian of all places, a refreshingly no-nonsense rundown of the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died, courtesy of Dr. Simon Gathercole.
  • PZ lays out–in style!–an increasingly unpopular take on the liturgical trends one sees this time of year.
  • We’ve said it before but in case you were dozing, The NY Times made it official: Sleep Is the New Status Symbol.
  • First single from the new Lindsey Buckingham-Christine McVie duet record is out!
  • We sent out a big e-blast this week – click here to read, and here to sign up for our mailing list to make sure you get the next one.
  • We’ve had a little trouble with a couple of our podcast feeds–you may need to re-subscribe/re-submit your reviews for The Mockingcast here. Or, for Same Old Song here. Again, those programs are on break for the time being.
  • As you may have read elsewhere, we have officially reached capacity for dining at the NYC conference. If you have yet to pre-register but would like to eat, please purchase your tickets ASAP and send us an email at info@mbird.com to reserve a spot on the waiting list. We’ll do all we can to accommodate everyone and will let you know as soon as your plate(s) is guaranteed. Thanks for understanding!
    Please note: there’s still plenty of room for those who want to attend the sessions. Last-minute walk-ins are always welcome.
  • Finally, The Last Jedi…!