1. At the top of the docket, two beautiful and deeply encouraging examples of grace in practice, the first programmatic and the second person-to-person. Nigeria, as you may know, currently suffers from the highest rate of HIV-positive infants in the world. Apparently many of the transmission prevention methods that work elsewhere have had a hard time catching on there, partly because so many mothers aren’t aware they’re infected (and understandably reticent to get tested, partially out of fear, partially out of shame). Instead of sounding the alarm bells more loudly, a new program called Baby Shower–developed in the church(!)–has taken a much more gracious approach, celebrating the pregnancies with gifts, dancing, and basically imputing joy and even holiness to all involved. The women who test positive are not met with a wagging finger but with encouragement, humor, and medication, and the results have been staggeringly positive. The lady spearheading the program, Amaka Ogidi, strikes me as an honest-to-God saint, almost giddy with joy in the presence of such deep suffering. Watch above and be astounded.

2. Secondly, there’s the video that pops up at the end of listening expert Mark Goulston’s recent article on Medium,  “Why people kill themselves. It’s not depression.” Clickbait title aside, he identifies something he calls “des-pair” as the tie that binds most acts of self-harm. “Des-pair as in feeling unpaired with and without reasons to live.” You’ll have to read the article for a complete description–it’s worth it–but what blew me away was the video he included at bottom, an example of “pairing” that has incarnation written all over it, implicitly from the get-go and then, mid-way through, explicitly. Watch with tissues in hand, ht TB:

3. Next, on a somewhat related note, David Brooks gave an interview to Tyler Cowen at George Mason University in which he made an observation about loneliness and success that put words to a trend that’s getting harder and harder to ignore, at least in so-called educated circles. To question the trajectory in question, you risk getting one of those “Huh, I didn’t know he was a communist” looks. Anyway:

I would say that one of the things that’s noticeable about affluent people — and this has happened to me — is, as soon as people make money, they seem to purchase loneliness. I grew up in the city, super crowded. When I had a book sitting over there, I had a best seller, which allowed me to buy a house. And I bought it out in Bethesda with a big yard because I thought that was cool. I remember the moment I put the garage door thing on the visor of my car. That was one of the biggest moments of my life. I had made it to suburbia. But then you realize, “I got a big acre yard, and I’m lonely.” And I think that’s a common phenomenon, that people take money and translate it into loneliness.

4. The most moving reflection I’ve read on the sadness unfolding on the Texas border comes from B.D. McClay at Commonweal, “Tearful with Women.” The theme of children being separated from parents inspires her to contemplate the Pietà afresh, an image with which this Protestant has in all honesty never engaged with much. To my chagrin:

Like the crucifixion itself, the Pietà is an image of the love which pours forth for the world and which is revealed in the depth of suffering. Where Jesus offers his salvific blood, Mary offers her tears, weeping for her son, for herself, for those who have lost him, and for those who killed him; it’s an image by which I am consoled even as I am implicated.

Who are we in the Pietà? Are we the mourners, the mourned, or those who caused this situation to happen? There’s not a single answer to this question, which is part of its value as an image. Since we can’t situate ourselves to it in a permanent way, we have to keep coming back to understand it anew.

5. Next, on the performancism tip, a column in the Wall Street Journal catches us up on the boom in meditation among our Type-A brothers and sisters, reporting that as the practice has grown (counter-intuitively) competitive,  that “Meditation has never been more stressful.” There are a couple of gems in the article, esp from a works-righteousness perspective. Atonement even garners a mention, ht MM:

Some people are using goal-tracking services like Beeminder, which charges fees when users don’t stick to new habits, including meditation. Michael Merchant, a 29-year-old San Francisco tech entrepreneur, found the site helpful about five years ago even though he “felt so much shame” when he lost $810 after repeatedly failing to practice mindfulness an hour a day. He could have logged false data but decided to come clean. “It’s weird to admit, but it was kind of cathartic,” said Mr. Merchant. “I’ve paid for my screw-up. Literally.”

“I’m fairly certain that there is no precedent for this in traditional Buddhist practice,” said Benjamin Brose, associate professor of Chinese religions at the University of Michigan. “Many monks meditate every day for decades, and I have never heard of anyone keeping track.”

Pavlok, which sells wearable electronic shocking devices to help people change their behavior, suggests meditation as one of the top uses for its wristbands, which cost $145 to $245.​

6. Humor-wise, parents will enjoy McSweeney’s “Yes, Your Toddler Is Gaslighting You.” The Babylon Bee gave us “Study: Effectiveness Of Prayer Directly Linked To Number Of Times You Say ‘Father God’“. I got a chuckle out of Highschoolers Who Nailed Their Yearbook Quote.

 

7. In music, Craig Finn’s new single “Galveston” (below) certainly doesn’t disappoint, boasting the oh-so-singalong refrain, “seems like the faith we attain is a function of how much we suffer.” More please! I’m happy to report that Call the Comet, the Johnny Marr solo record which hit today, is terrific, as are the two brand new tracks that dropped from Spiritualized earlier this week. The full length comes out on Sept 7th. While I wait for the latest batch of newly discovered Gene Clark recordings to arrive in the mail, the best recent discovery from years gone by would have to be The Choir’s Artifact, that rare album which actually deserves its “lost classic” status. Oh and there’s no easy way to say this: the new Father John Misty record is really good.

8. Finally, writing in The New Yorker, author Richard Russo traces his complicated relationship with an mbird fave in “Learning to Love the Stories of Andre Dubus.” What does one do with unwanted context, indeed. The last few paragraphs are more than worth the price of admission, but here’s teaser from the intro:

A lapsed Catholic, I’d been an altar boy for many years and was belatedly discovering that, though I’d successfully flushed most Catholic doctrine from my system, the vocabulary of my former faith—sin, redemption, grace—obstinately remained. I admired the serious way Dubus allowed matters of faith to occupy the center of his fiction, like those Renaissance paintings of the Madonna and Child. Reading him, I even allowed myself to wonder whether my decision to quit the faith had been precipitous, because, in truth, I missed how warm the church of my youth had been in winter, how cool and dry in summer. The smell of incense, the tinkling of the bell at communion, the sense of an entire community humble in the face of mystery—these were the very elements of faith that Luke Ripley extols in Dubus’s “A Father’s Story,” the soothing rituals that nonbelievers throw out with the doctrinal bath water.

Strays

  • Recommended listening this weekend would be Virtue in the Wasteland’s fantastic two-part series on Deconstruction/Deconversion. Oh and a couple weeks ago Russell Brand sat down again with Jordan Peterson and this time they tackled the Twelve Steps. Een-ter-esting.
  • If I could nominate just one episode of television for the Small Screen Grace in Practice award thus far this year, it would be the third installment of Showtime’s devastating Patrick Melrose. Those familiar with the books know that the subject matter is gruesome (“stomach-turning” is the only way to describe Hugo Weaving’s performance), but the grace on display in that third chapter, and to a lesser extent the final one, is something to behold. Fireworks going off at the moment of confession could have been too much, but combined with the Chilly Willy interaction and Patrick’s kindness to the little girl, well, I was in tears.
  • A touching follow-up to the viral “You May Want to Marry My Husband” Modern Love column that ran last year, written by the husband in question. A beautiful image of what it looks like to bless (rather than curse) your loved ones when the end comes a-knockin.
  • Great write-up of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? on Vox from recent conference speaker Alissa Wilkinson. And the Incredibles 2 reviews which have come in so far have this fanboy pumped. We’ll run a review of our own next week most likely.
  • In case you needed further evidence that we live in a golden age (of some kind), this Japanese genius is baking elaborate images into their bread. PTL.