About Ethan Richardson

Ethan Richardson is a contributing staff member for Mockingbird. Born and raised in Lexington, KY, he graduated from the University of Virginia in 2009, majoring in Religious Studies and English. In June of 2011, he finished two years of teaching 5th grade in the inner city of New Orleans, and now lives in Charlottesville, VA and works for Mockingbird along with serving at Christ Episcopal Church.

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    David Brooks and the Ever-Pinging Status Sonar

    A great way of talking about the continuous feedback loop of self-examination, this is a throwback quote from a favorite, The Social Animal, David Brooks’ investigation of the interior lives of people. The book follows the lives of two fictional lovers, Harold and Erica, from infancy to adulthood, and all the bumps along the way. We pick up as Harold and Erica have fallen in love. Mark, who is mentioned here, is Harold’s exotic, take-life-by-the-horns roommate.

    This “sonar” analogy is a pretty apt picture of little-l law in our lives. It may not be the law of God, but its effect often feels the same. It forces us to rate ourselves on the continuum of righteous living. (It is also interesting what falling in love does to Harold’s self-appraisal.)

    Doctor_jacobyA few weeks later, Harold sat alone in his apartment, feeling that his life was going tremendously well. All human beings go through life with a fully operational status sonar. We send out continuous waves of status measurements and receive a stream of positive or negative feedback signals that cumulatively define our place in society. Harold looked around at his loft. PING. A plus signal came back. He loved its open space and high ceilings. Hard contemplated his abs. PING. A negative signal came back. He really should go to the gym more. Harold looked at his face in the mirror. PING. A neutral signal came back. No sculpted cheekbones, but it could be worse.

    All day long the status sonar hums along–a stream of pluses, minuses and neutrals building in the mind, producing either happiness, anxiety, or doubt. The status sonar isn’t even a conscious process most of the time; it is just the hedonic tone of existence. Much of life, Mark had told Harold, consists of trying to maximize the number of pluses in the stream and minimize the number of minuses. Much of life is a series of adjustments to plus up the flow.

    The problem is, nobody’s status sonar is accurate. Some people are status exaggerators. They wildly inflate their spot in the pecking order. They are sixes they think they are eights and when they ask out women who are nines they are flummoxed when they get rejected. Other people are status minimizers. These people will never apply for jobs for which they are amply qualified because they assume they’ll be crushed by the competition.

    …Harold’s sonar sensor was like a finely crafted Swiss watch. It was balanced, sensitive, and appropriately forgiving. Like most happy people, Harold judged himself by his intentions, his friends by their deeds, and his rivals by their mistakes. The PINGs continued. The pluses flowed. And when Harold imagined himself with Erica, well, it was like a surging torrent of pluses…But there was also something deeper going on. All his life, Harold had lived at a certain level, but now he had discovered deeper compulsions. Coming to this realization was like living in a house all your life and suddenly falling through a trapdoor to find there had been a level underground all along, and then to find another level beneath that, and another level and another.

    Another Week Ends: Modern Love, Measured Grief, Moral Progress, and Invisible Sciences

    Another Week Ends: Modern Love, Measured Grief, Moral Progress, and Invisible Sciences

    1) Kicking off this week’s roundup we have a story that posted last week over at Modern Love. Entitled, “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This,” it posits the theory that intimate love can happen between any two people willing to open themselves up. We read to find that not only has this theory been tested, by a scientific researcher named Dr. Arthur Aron, but that it is also put to the test by the writer herself, on a first date, in a bar. And it works.

    It sounds like another sensationalized love algorithm, but the thought behind it makes…

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    The Guru’s Distinction Between Power and Force

    The Guru’s Distinction Between Power and Force

    Opening up Power vs. Force by 1990s self-help psychiatrist-guru David R. Hawkins, I must confess I should’ve done some background on what I was getting into. Dr. Hawkins worked with Linus Pauling on the Nobel-prize winning Orthomolecular Psychiatry. And then he left clinical psychiatry to travel and speak about his pursuit of “pure consciousness”–his theory on the accessibility of the great Truth of life. Power vs. Force is his blueprint–an “anatomy of consciousness,” he calls it–the map of the hidden motivators of human behavior.

    There’s lots of kooky stuff in here. For one, Hawkins’ fundamental “database of consciousness” is based in…

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    Lucinda Williams and All the Forgettable Epiphanies

    Lucinda Williams and All the Forgettable Epiphanies

    Tuesday was the Feast of the Epiphany, the day in which we celebrate the Christ child revealed to the Magi, the rulers of the East, the Word of God made plain to the Gentiles. It brings to a close the twelve days of Christmas, and what a way to do it–with the showcasing of God’s Son to the whole pagan world, not just the choicest cuts.

    And what was Lucinda Williams doing? Besides preparing for a short tour along the Gulf of Mexico, she was mourning the death of her father, Miller Williams, the acclaimed poet whose lyrics actually open the…

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    Terrence Malick’s Prodigal Son

    The trailer for Knight of Cups is out! Christian Bale, come home! Come home!

    A Real Advent Hero: St. Peter, The All-Reminding Forgetter

    A Real Advent Hero: St. Peter, The All-Reminding Forgetter

    The Advent reading this morning in the Daily Office Lectionary is a zinger, the way it’s laid out. (Don’t get any ideas—this isn’t something I do with any regularity.) First off, we’re given the Old Testament reading, the Lord’s promise through the prophet Isaiah, that a child will come, and that through him the heavy burdens of the “people in darkness” will finally see light: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…

    Another Week Ends: Elephant Mothers, New Journalism, More Lumbersexuals, Passwords, Tauntauns and Nettles

    Another Week Ends: Elephant Mothers, New Journalism, More Lumbersexuals, Passwords, Tauntauns and Nettles

    It’s Christmas time, and it feels like everyone on the Internet is talking about…the Internet.

    In Hard Cover!

    As the debate continues about what journalism is becoming—in light of the fall of the New Republic and the retracted reporting of a certain Rolling Stone article—much of what gets talked about is money, and the kind of click-bait that tends to get corralled for the sake of it. As the age of online news matures, it seems that content is more the handmaiden to investors than public dialogue and interest.

    But deeper than this, other discussions have emerged pointing to the “radical liberal”…

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    A Skeptic of the Transformation Enterprise

    A Skeptic of the Transformation Enterprise

    Good News for the weary Advent Amazon shopper. An amazing bit from Phillip Cary’s Good News for Anxious Christians, which I am unashamedly speed-reading this Advent. Consumerist? No way! Cary here is talking about the false, consumerist focus on change, and how that focus has bled into the way we think about our very souls. Rather than helping us see that our lives should not be about us, Cary says this kind of transformation-trance makes us incapable of thinking about anything but. Our attention deficit leads us perpetually into the trap of correcting the selves that Christ came to transform.

    Ever…

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    As If There Were Only One – Martha Serpas

    In the morning God pulled me onto the porch,
    a rain-washed gray and brilliant shore.

    day-after-the-snow-and-white-sycamore-under-the-bright-blue-skyI sat in my orange pajamas and waited.
    God said, “Look at the tree.” And I did.

    Its leaves were newly yellow and green,
    slick and bright, and so alive it hurt

    to take the colors in. My pupils grew
    hungry and wide against my will.

    God said, “Listen to the tree.”
    And I did. It said, “Live!”

    And it opened itself wider, not with desire,
    but the way I imagine a surgeon spreads

    the ribs of a patient in distress and rubs
    her paralyzed heart, only this tree parted

    its own limbs toward the sky–I was the light in that sky.
    I reached in to the thick, sweet core

    and I lifted it to my mouth and held it there
    for a long time until I tasted the word

    tree (because I had forgotten its name).
    Then I said my own name twice softly.

    Augustine said, God loves each of us as if
    there were only one of us, but I hadn’t believed him.

    And God put me down on the steps with my coffee
    and my cigarettes. And, although I still

    could not eat nor sleep, that evening
    and that morning were my first day back.

    The Trivial Pursuits of Lena Dunham

    The Trivial Pursuits of Lena Dunham

    In one of the final chapters of Lena Dunham’s new memoir Not That Kind of Girl, entitled “Therapy & Me”, Lena describes her first anxiety-ridden experience of sitting down as a germophobic, obsessive-compulsive nine-year-old with a prospective shrink. It is a “quirky, self-destructive Lena” moment, like so many moments in her book, and her show Girls, and so it would be nearly unremarkable if it weren’t for the subtext:

    The first doctor, a violet-haired grandma-aged woman with a German surname, asks me a few simple questions and then invites me to play with the toys scattered across her floor. She sits…

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    Sinner and Saint Vincent

    Sinner and Saint Vincent

    St. Vincent arrived in theaters just in time for All Saints’ Sunday, the day the church recognizes and remembers those in the parish community who have died, and all the other “saints” that went before them. It is not a coincidence; first-time director Ted Melfi must have known what was on the church calendar in some regard, given the assignment that’s handed out by Brother Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd), to his middle school class. The assignment is this: to find out about and present on a living saint in the community—not Athanasius, not Mother Teresa, not even Pope Francis—but a “saint…

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    When the Grief Index Backfires

    When the Grief Index Backfires

    The church I attend is trying to reboot their “pastoral care ministry”, which is one of those amorphous seminary terms for something that could (and maybe should) mean more than it intends. Isn’t the job of a pastor to care? I got a little worried when I heard ours needed rebooting! I haven’t gone to seminary, but it doesn’t take long in a tour of church websites to see what is generally meant by pastoral care: hospital visits, home visits, prayer shawls, marriage counseling, baptisms, funerals. In other words, pastoral care has a lot to do with the church sharing…

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