1. This week let’s start with a beautiful, seasonal reflection from B.D. McClay at Commonweal. Relentless summer heat inspires this moving commentary on the tension between absence and presence, eternity and finitude, the ever-presence of God and man’s inability to comprehend that presence. It’s called “Summer Blues: Anticipating Eternity”:

What would it be like if I could see every moment as a gift, supplied with everything that it needed, sufficient unto itself? Not worrying it would go away, not cultivating indifference, but simply accepting the moment and God’s presence in that moment, even in the summer? Would that even be possible?

…Could I keep doing that, I wonder? To say, with every step or keystroke or breath: Christ is here. Christ is here. Christ is here. Christ is here. Thanks be to God. Thanks be to God, for the heat and the misery and the headache; thanks be to God for the cool of the evening; thanks be to God for fingers that type. Christ is here. Thanks be to God. I love you. Surely, if I could live that way, as if I were never alone, surely, that would be more than enough.

2. “More than enough” is not something you’re likely to feel when responding honestly to the law, whether that be God’s Law or the little-l laws of everyday life. A rich illustration of this quandary came from the Times this week, in a profile on a certain luminous celebrity.

I think we already have a whole archive on Gwyneth Paltrow and her lifestyle-brand/phenomenon Goop, but this write-up by Taffy Brodesser-Akner is really something special. A question: How did a simple newsletter, featuring a celebrity’s favorite brands, become a $250-million-dollar industry? In search of that silver bullet, Harvard Business students recently interrogated Paltrow herself. Observing, Brodesser-Akner notes:

For all the students’ questions about those newsletters and their use of all kinds of three-letter acronyms, it felt to me as if everyone was missing the point. G.P.’s business began in 2008 and was incorporated in 2013, but it really started when she was being hunted by the paparazzi and living in such a lonely, high-altitude world that she could basically be friends with only Madonna. Or even before that when, as a 19-year-old, she would run lines with her mother, the actress Blythe Danner, and Danner noticed that it was all too easy for her, that there was something preternatural about her talent (an assessment one of her former co-stars also said to me almost verbatim). Or maybe even before that, when some combination of her parents’ DNA formed a genetic supernova that would allow for her name to appear in the same paragraph as the word “luminous” 227 times when searching in a LexisNexis database.

…When G.P. said “aspirational,” she wasn’t kidding. Her business depended on no one ever being able to be her. Though I guess it also depended on their ability to think they might.

In Brodesser-Akner’s view, Goop’s success was founded by fate, not merit. Paltrow’s cookbook, titled “It’s All Easy,” is telling. In her article, Brodesser-Akner reveals the pursuit of “wellness” for the endless staircase it can so easily become, noting that at the heart of the “aspirational lifestyle” is a general, unquenchable dissatisfaction:

I thought about the word “aspiration,” how to aspire seems so noble, but how aspiration is always infused with a kind of suffering…

The ridiculousness of Goop and G.P.’s lifestyle is not underreported; both have been heavily criticized. (“She remembers the week that Star Magazine called her the most hated celebrity in the world. ‘I remember being like: Really? More than, like, Chris Brown? Me? Really? Wow.’”) But the more hate she received, the more attention she got, and the more people sought her out for healing — because human beings are rarely not unwell or at least yearning to be well-er.

G.P. disrupted the contract between the celebrity and the civilian who is observing her. In a typical women’s magazine profile, the implicit pact is that the celebrity will not make the woman feel bad by implying that the woman could have what the celebrity has if only she would work: “It’s all in my genes, what can I say!” the celebrity proclaims. But G.P. was different. She would talk openly about the food habits and exercise obsessions that allowed her to look the way she did. “It’s so much easier to sit home and not exercise and criticize other people,” she told Elle magazine in 2011. “My life is good,” she wrote on Goop’s website, “because I am not passive about it. I want to nourish what is real, and I want to do it without wasting time.”

Paltrow believes she has earned her wellness. So her healing ministry is conditional — “if you do this, you can be like me, Gwyneth.” Which is simply not true and leaves her followers feeling spurned or — as is the case for Brodesser-Akner — crashing and burning.

Anyone interested in this should make a point to read to the end of the article, where the writer records her own spectacular breakdown following a heavenly weekend at a Goop healing summit. Christians will recognize this as the mountain-and-valley experience.

3. Another fantastic illustration of the law and its effects comes from the annals of obscure cooking history (!): “How to make maultaschen, Germany’s sacrilicious meat dumplings,” by Adam H. Callaghan. Maultaschen, for those who’ve not yet heard the good news, is a delicious-looking treats-filled dumpling, but the best thing about it is its irreverent origin story.

Maultaschen was first devised at a monastery:

The prayerful monks ate a frighteningly austere diet in the best of times: a strictly measured pound of bread a day, likely some fish and vegetables, and no meat whatsoever. That list shrunk even further during Lent, when the brothers fasted during the 40 days leading up to Easter.

Human nature complicates godly devotion, though, and the monks found ways of expanding their menu. They labeled the water-loving beaver, for example, a “fish,” which made its meat fair game for the dinner table. (I hadn’t guessed beaver meat would be good enough to risk God’s wrath, but now it’s on my bucket list.)

Enter maultaschen. According to local legend, an enterprising monk figured that if he tucked herbs, cheese, and ground meat into a pocket of pasta dough and sealed it, it would be safely hidden from God’s eyes. With this audacious tale, maultaschen (singular: maultasche) were born, as was their sacrilicious nickname “herrgottsbescheißerle,” which means “little God-cheaters.”

Also funny: “Police: Naked Man Arrested At Planet Fitness Said He Thought It Was A ‘Judgment Free Zone.’” Sir!

And in breaking news, from The Babylon Bee: “New Extremist Political Movement Recklessly Engages In Civil Discourse” (ht KW): “The Southern Poverty Law Center says that it is currently tracking more than 2,300 extremist civility groups in the country, citing an alarmingly high rate of instances of open interactions at unprecedented levels of respectfulness.”

4. This week brought some wonderful illustrations of grace in practice. First, the Minneapolis Health Department helps a pop-up hotdog stand meet its standards (ht JS):

“The department helps me let other people know I’m officially ready to take care of business.”

And another: “Cop helps homeless man get a shave for job interview.” The cop didn’t realize he was being recorded!

5. For your weekly dose of literature, if you haven’t yet looked into Mary Karr’s latest faith-infused collection of poems, Tropic of Squalor, now’s a good time. We’ve excerpted a couple on the site already (here). An in-depth and largely positive review of the collection appeared this week over at the Claremont Review of Books. Looking back over Karr’s entire body of work, A.M. Juster writes:

Karr’s conversion [to Catholicism] and recovery reshaped her poetic vision as well as her life. Tropic of Squalor is less inwardly focused and more ambitious than her earlier poetry. The most obvious example is her new elegiac bent…

Tropic of Squalor is an important book that should remind critics that Mary Karr is one of our best poets in addition to one of our best memoirists. Looking ahead, she has already put us on notice that her next memoir will address aging rather than the traumas of her much-explored past. If her poetry parallels her memoirs again, then we can look forward to poems in which she confronts the challenges of faith with the urgency that comes from contemplating one’s mortality.

For those unfamiliar, Karr was an Mbird conference speaker in 2013. Additionally, we’re excited to share a selection of poems from Tropic of Squalor in the upcoming issue of The Mockingbird! Eyes peeled…

6. Over at The Living Church, Fr. Sam Keyes penned a good reminder for Christians of all denominations. In a fast-moving world of expectations and disappointment, political turmoil, and increasing (and troubling) amounts of transparency, it’s easy to forget what Jesus is all about in the midst of things:

The reason the message of Christ spread so rapidly among the poor and outcast of the first century (and every century) is not that it promised to fix all injustice or “speak truth to power,” but that it offered the hope of salvation. Even if this life involves unjust suffering, even if we cannot make your life better, we have confidence in a God who raises the dead, forgives sin, and transforms evil into good.

And, at the end of the day, it’s not just the poor and the marginalized who need saving. I need saving. We all do…

Is evangelism just sharing a message that makes us feel good — like the discounted avocados this week at Walmart — or is there something eternal at stake, something like “eternal life in our enjoyment of God” vs. “eternal death in our rejection of God,” as our Catechism puts it (p. 862)?

Is the church a more established version of Goop (see above)? Is it focused on healing or saving? (I think Larry Brown illustrates this tension cleverly in his short story “A Roadside Resurrection.”) Importantly, however, as Keyes acknowledges, healing and saving need not be opposed “in principle.” But certainly one is more eternal than the other, as Jesus seemed to acknowledge in his ministry when he emphasized the forgiveness of sins over and above bodily healing.

7. And still he healed. So: not to exclude bodily healing, or to suggest that it may be somehow unimportant. Just the opposite. Along these lines, NPR’s Morning Edition highlighted the heightened rates of crippling anxiety in adolescents (ages 13-18) — and offered a potential balm in Gilead (or America as it were): “Empowering Kids In An Anxious World”:

These days, free play is on the decline, [journalist Katherine Reynolds] Lewis says, and so are the social and emotional skills that come with it. Part of the problem, according to Lewis, is parents who worry that unsupervised play is just too risky. But the risk is part of the point — for kids “to have falls and scrapes and tumbles and discover that they’re okay. They can survive being hurt.” …

[Neuropsychologist William Stixrud] says academics are important, but that, in most cases, kids should be in the driver’s seat, learning to manage their work, their time and, ideally, being able to pursue their own interests. That freedom, Stixrud says, helps them develop internal motivation in a way that rewards and grades just can’t.

Stixrud encourages play over performance and puts his money where his mouth is, literally, offering his daughter $100 to get a C. She doesn’t take him up on the offer, but appreciated the gesture.

Similarly, in the words of Dr. Nimi Wariboko: “In its nature of purposelessness, play transcends the instrumental demands and constraints of the present given world in the direction of possibilities and not yet defined potentialities.” For more, check out the “Work and Play” issue of the magazine, and don’t miss Jamin Warren’s Mockingbird talk, “Life at Play.”

8. Jack Dylan Grazer and something like imputation feature in this awesome-looking entrant to the superverse. I feel like I saw the whole film already but, still, great fun:

As a reminder, registration is now open for our upcoming conference in Oklahoma City! Check out the details here. Also, there’s a new episode of The Mockingcast up. Happy weekend everyone!