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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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    Eat Your Fancy Sandwich

    Eat Your Fancy Sandwich

    It’s obvious that David Brooks really struck a nerve with his most recent op-ed regarding sandwiches. I mean, as a huge fan of sandwiches, I understand. There’s nothing better than a great sandwich—I’m eating a chicken salad sandwich right now. And while I wouldn’t fight for much, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for a nice chipotle mayo or garlic aioli.

    Brooks’ sandwich illustration, if you haven’t read it, is a picture of a wider problem, though. He’s talking about classism, the widening gap in the middle class between those who can afford the best for their progeny and those who get…

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    The Real (Suppressed) You

    An amazing little passage from Frank Lake’s book on pastoral care. This could be filed away under “what not to do” in moments of great suffering. Lake discusses the human need to have negative feelings, that therealities of rage, anxiety, loneliness or grief should not be kept hidden or suppressed. In the realm of church groups, though, or really any other kind of group, Lake notes that these negative feelings are often seen as problematic and unattractive, even unacceptable. They are often, in these circles, evidence of a lack of faith, a lack of self-esteem, a lack of personal grit. When we are this person, the suffering one in need of a listening ear, we are aware that this is a risk, putting ourselves out there like this. Lake, like Brené Brown, argues that it is a huge act of bravery to be vulnerable about these unseemly emotions.

    Sometimes, though, the pain is too great and we just have to share. And instead of finding friends who have faced the same demons, we find strangers who seem not to know what we’re talking about. There are awkward silences, darting glances, pained faces, a quick change of the subject. Someone in the group gets the group “back on track,” and our negative feelings–the thing that derailed the conversation–are cast aside as if they were never spoken to begin with. Here’s Lake:

    The effect of this put-down on the anxious sharer is devastating. They feel the group life they have come to depend on and their acceptance in it are tottering on the brink of disintegration. They have shared the worst that they fear to be true of themselves and the group quite plainly did not want to know.

    Next week there is a crisis: do I go again or do I stay away? If I do go, who is it that goes? The chastened/corrected John or Mary, resolved never again to risk being disgraced, resolved to act the cheerful charismatic cover-up to the evident satisfaction of all? But that is not the essence of renewal but of the old religion. However skillfully last week’s well-shamed sharer contrives…there will be anger hidden.

    Isn’t this, after all, the defining character trait of “religion,” why it so often carries connotations of phoniness, grandiosity, and abstraction? And isn’t this what Jesus came to save us from, from our contrived sense of personal wellbeing? Throughout the gospels, Jesus seems to ask the question of the wounded ones he encounters (and, by extension, of us): where is the real you, not the corrected you? Where is the wound? Everything that is hidden will be brought to light, and released, made new.

    Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Twenty Verses One Through Sixteen

    “…Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-16, NRSV)

    We humans are in love with justice. It is probably one of the most recurring themes in cultural expression since the Stone Age. Today, it’s not just that we have our Judge Judy and Law & Order courtroom obsessions—we also just love the narrative of justice served. This is Quentin Tarantino’s shtick (Kill Bill and, more recently, Django Unchained), and this is why his movies are so critically successful. They playfully enter into a long line of comeuppances and vengeance stories that people have loved since their dawn-of-time inception.

    More than just the retributive brand of justice—of bad guys getting what’s coming to them—we are also fascinated with the restorative form. Politicians, policy-makers, and administrators all use words like “social justice” and “the common good” and “equality” to talk about defending the defenseless and bringing up the lowly. This is a very good and true thing—the Bible itself speaks highly of advocacy for the poor.

    But it seems that we only want this kind of advocacy for others so long as it is expressed in terms of “deserving.” One of the most glaring examples of this is the feel-good era of reality television, like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. We’ve all seen it: Ty Pennington yells aloud, “Move that bus!” and a disadvantaged family is captured, mouths agape, before their brand new house, their excessively nice cars, their new full-size basketball court. For a moment, it feels like the cosmos has been generously righted, but in truth, this kind of generosity is only warranted for the “right” kind of poor. These programs—and people in general—are comfortable with generosity only as a leg up for the hardworking, stand-up variety of unfortunates. Generosity for us does not mean blind “handouts,” but trustworthy “investments” with reimbursements. (I wonder how long these shows would last if the same generosity landed upon chronic gamblers, crooks, and sexual deviants?)

    This is what Jesus is saying about the human brand of justice in relation to God’s. As Feist sang, “There’s a limit to your love.” The kind of deep generosity we may accept for ourselves runs counter to the deep judgment we hope others get. This parable gives a new—and too-often revolting—take on equality: everyone gets this generosity, without repayment plans, starting with those who deserve it least.

    What Is It About Fargo?

    What Is It About Fargo?

    This past week, the third season wrapped up in FX’s Fargo. Just like the first two seasons, I remain blown away that show creator Noah Hawley and company have continued to create new narrative worlds that fit so perfectly into the landscape of the Coen brothers’ original film. What I’m writing here below is not just for those who have seen this season—the final episode of this season just got me thinking about what it is exactly that makes the show’s (and the original film’s) storytelling so compelling, beyond the impressive cinematography and soundtrack and Minnesotan accents and Peter and…

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    Another Week Ends: The Big Sick, The Bigger Sick, Hard Drive Malfunctions, Us-Them Problems, "Psychological Safety" and Creative Relaxation

    Another Week Ends: The Big Sick, The Bigger Sick, Hard Drive Malfunctions, Us-Them Problems, “Psychological Safety” and Creative Relaxation

    1. Another week ends, another writer gets fed up with positive thinking. This one was written by Freddie deBoer, a writer and teacher who just moved to New York and become acquainted with the writer scene there. This new world is as meritocratic and ambitious as he once suspected it was. As he says, “There’s a series of mini-Hollywoods that are tiny and meaningless to the wider world but which are tracked as obsessively as real Hollywood is by the tabloid press, by the people inside them. I never had this problem in Indiana.”

    But what’s exceptional about this piece, entitled,…

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    Gregory Boyle’s Touchstone Image of God

    Another great excerpt from Gregory Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart, about the Jesuit priest’s twenty years as director of Homeboy Industries in LA. Seriously, if we wouldn’t get in trouble for copying the entire book on the site, we’d do it.

    God can get tiny, if we’re not careful. I’m certain we all have an image of God that becomes the touchstone, the controlling principle, to which we return when we stray.

    My touchstone image of God comes by way of my friend and spiritual director, Bill Cain, S.J. Years ago, he took a break from his own ministry to care for his father as he died of cancer. His father had become a frail man, dependent on Bill to do everything for him. Though he was physically not what he had been, and the disease was wasting him away, his mind remained alert and lively. In the role reversal common to adult children who care for their dying parents, Bill would put his father to bed and then read him to sleep, exactly as his father had done for him in childhood. Bill would read from some novel, and his father would lie there, staring at his son, smiling. Bill was exhausted from the day’s care and work and would plead with his dad, “Look, here’s the idea. I read to you. You fall asleep.” Bill’s father would impishly apologize and dutifully close his eyes. But this wouldn’t last long. Soon enough, Bill’s father would pop one eye open and smile at his son. Bill would catch him and whine, “Now, come on.” The father would, again, oblige, until he couldn’t anymore, and the other eye would open to catch a glimpse of his son. This went on and on, and after his father’s death, Bill that this evening ritual was really a story of a father who just couldn’t take his eyes off his kid. How much more so God? Anthony De Mello writes, “Behold the One beholding you, and smiling.”…What’s true of Jesus is true for us, and so this voice breaks through the clouds and comes straight at us. “You are my Beloved, in whom I am wonderfully pleased.” There is not much “tiny” in that.

    “Behold the One beholding you and smiling.” It is precisely because we have such an overactive disapproval gland ourselves that we tend to create God in our own image. It is truly hard for us to see the truth that disapproval does not seem to be part of God’s DNA. God is just too busy loving us to have any time left for disappointment.

    Another Week Ends: Greenblatt's Eden, Fidget-Spinning, Fake News Biases, Mandatory Euphoria, and A Horse Named Grace

    Another Week Ends: Greenblatt’s Eden, Fidget-Spinning, Fake News Biases, Mandatory Euphoria, and A Horse Named Grace

    1. Well, you just can’t make this up. An urban cowboy riding through the gang-ridden streets of Fresno, California, preaching the gospel of Jesus? On a horse named Grace? Aeon covered the story here, with a video. This below is not the full video, but you’ll get the picture. Totally cool.

    2. Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt is working on a new book project about the legacy of Adam and Eve, which led to his New Yorker piece this week on Augustine, a less-than-judicious reading of the man he claims “invented sex” (and sex as sin) to the literary world. Greenblatt argues…

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    The New Gnosticism of the Transhumanists

    The New Gnosticism of the Transhumanists

    For the (very very quickly) upcoming Love & Death Issue, I had the chance to interview the journalist, Mark O’Connell, who is the author most recently of To Be A Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death. He also wrote that amazing piece in the New York Times Magazine a few months ago about Zoltan Istvan, the transhumanist who ran for president and drove across the country in a coffin-shaped bus. O’Connell’s new book reads like a travelogue among characters like Zoltan, futuristic types (mostly from California) that O’Connell describes with a…

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    The King of Dissonance

    The King of Dissonance

    Well, I’ve been taking up DZ’s advice and making my way through Harriet Lerner’s slim little power-punch of a book, Why Won’t You Apologize? (He actually left it on my desk before the sabbatical…Soooo, did he mean for me to read it? Did I say, or not say, something?) The book is a powerful glimpse into all the strategies and self-deceptions we have around our wrongdoing–on what counts as an apology, and on what keeps us from doing it. As Dave mentioned, Lerner keys in on the prime impulse that makes the non-apologizer a non-apologizer: the need to be perfect.

    Some people are so hard…

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    Another Week Ends: Angelism and Gnosticism, Hero Donors, Internal Fact-Checking, Parent Gardeners, More Fleming, and Lots of Fishing Line

    Another Week Ends: Angelism and Gnosticism, Hero Donors, Internal Fact-Checking, Parent Gardeners, More Fleming, and Lots of Fishing Line

    1. “Gnostic” is the dig du jour, apparently. Has anybody else noticed it everywhere? Perhaps it is because “righteousness by knowledge alone” pretty aptly describes what’s going on in the never-ending politically divisive/campus sensitive saga we can’t seem to get clear of. Another article to add to that pile came to us from American Conservative this week, about the inherent gnosticism of the term “woke.” “Woke,” which is an ever-changing, never-achievable term, represents the ideal form (or infinitude of forms) of social consciousness:

    This new adjective woke is a stamp of approval, a self-congratulating label, a goal, a challenge. Most importantly,…

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    The Absorption of All Our Rage

    The Absorption of All Our Rage

    In an age defined by emotional rage, political divisiveness and correctness, the recurring themes of the victim-culprit blaming, I have been comforted by God’s message to us in the cross. This passage comes from Frank Lake’s short book on pastoral counseling, in which he deals with both the problem of rage in social justice/injustice, but also the problem of individual victimhood and its corresponding rage. Where can it go? What can be done with it? Lake offers the supercessory response offered to the angry by God in the cross of Christ. 

    Many years ago, I met, in a friend’s rectory, which he kept as a home…

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    Jesus and Therapy: A Conference Breakout Preview

    The recent New Yorker cartoon (above) says it all. We’re living in an age of “subjective sovereignty,” where life is “all the feels” and emotional offense is king. It is a time less describable by policy discord and differences of opinion, but instead by vindictive joy and holy rage. Arguments are couched in first-person noise—disagreements have the sting of personal attacks—which means the arguments are, on the whole, harder to argue or critique. As we’ve become “touchier” about the things we care about, the logic behind those sensitivities has also faded.

    This trend goes hand in hand with another trend that’s been provoked, namely, that America is only becoming more spiritually bankrupt/unmoored. David Brooks recently wrote along these lines, that

    Religious frameworks no longer organize public debate. Secular philosophies that grew out of the Enlightenment have fallen apart. We have words and emotional instincts about what feels right and wrong, but no settled criteria to help us think, argue and decide.

    You’d think this would lead to the age of great moral relativism, where all the objective strictures are let go and the only mantra remaining is “You Do You.” But this hasn’t happened. Instead, Brooks writes, “society has become a free-form demolition derby of moral confrontation.” It seems we feel so much, but we can’t seem to agree on why we feel it and who’s to blame.

    So the answer, of course, is to get some Truth, right? Get to church! Fall on the Rock! God provides the mooring—the why behind your hurt—and the cross gives you your scapegoat. The Good News gives you your needed justification.

    But what do you do with all that rage? Therapy? I don’t know about you, but the term “therapeutic” has always bristled—it sounds like the hippy-dippy opposite of “grounded” or “objective.” It sounds a lot more like “You Do You”—do what feels good to you. But this is largely a misunderstanding, mostly because of counseling that truly hasn’t helped. Just as God gives us the Good News, God also administers his healing in the gracious counsel of another.

    With the help of some of our favorites, let’s look into the relationship between the objective News of the Gospel, and very subjective (though no-less-real) needs we carry around with us every day, and how those needs are addressed within the realm of pastoral care and counseling.