America

Salvation by Sweat Alone

Salvation by Sweat Alone

An uncannily resonant follow-up to Evan’s recent post about the Church of CrossFit appeared in the NY Times Magazine this past weekend, courtesy of Mbird fave Heather Havrilesky. “Why Are Americans So Fascinated With Extreme Fitness?” she asks, and her answers are nearly identical to our own, i.e. we are all deeply religious, and a religion of law plays to our controlling inclinations. The line about the similarities with the faith of our pilgrim forebears is particularly telling; the roots of asceticism, regardless of the form it takes, can often be traced to the same place. Say what you will…

Read More »

Ebola, “Friends” and the Reasons We Give

Ebola, “Friends” and the Reasons We Give

Tim Keller has said that a Christian is someone who knows that they need to repent not only for the wrong things they do, but for the reasons they do the right things. That is to say, whatever we do, no matter how seemingly altruistic, almost always has some sort of selfish motivation mixed in – as Joey points out to Phoebe in “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS” (or so my wife tells me). Who would’ve thought that Joey Tribbiani would subscribe to what Calvin (following Sts. Augustine and Paul) called “total depravity”?

Further illustrating this point was a recent…

Read More »

House of Yoga, Church of CrossFit: Filling the Spiritual Void With Exercise

House of Yoga, Church of CrossFit: Filling the Spiritual Void With Exercise

Fight club isn’t about winning or losing fights. Fight club isn’t about words. [...] There’s hysterical shouting in tongues like at church, and when you wake up Sunday afternoon you feel saved.

-Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

In an effort to fill the void, many Americans are beginning their search not in the pew but in the gym. Intense forms of exercise, from CrossFit to Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts, have grown tremendously in popularity. Some gyms attempt to directly adapt “combat sports” to a more fitness-friendly environment: “cardio kick boxing” for the stay at home dad, mitt work and sparring for the…

Read More »

Another Week Ends: American Immortals, Henry James, U2charists, Authentic Nerdists, AWK Prays, and Reclusive Deities

Another Week Ends: American Immortals, Henry James, U2charists, Authentic Nerdists, AWK Prays, and Reclusive Deities

1. Part and parcel of the juvenilization we touched on earlier this week is the phenomenon UPenn bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel (best name ever?!) describes as “the American immortal”, that not-so-peculiar species that devotes so much of its time/energy to prolonging life that it kills them (often before they die). Surprise surprise–underneath the aversion to growing up may lurk a denial of human limitation which is ultimately a denial of death. In the latest bit of watercooler bait from The Atlantic, “Why I Hope To Die at 75″, Emanuel challenges the notion of “compression of morbidity”, the widespread presumption that the…

Read More »

Where Have All the Grown-Ups Gone?

Where Have All the Grown-Ups Gone?

There I was, reclining in the waiting room while my son met with his speech therapist, as I do every week. Computer on my lap—heaven forbid I sit there unoccupied—I was reading A.O. Scott’s new treatise for The Times on “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture.” I like Scott’s writing, so I ignored the instinct to roll my eyes at the prospect of yet another think-piece about stunted millennials; I had time to kill, after all. It opens with some bold claims:

Something profound has been happening in our television over the past decade, some end-stage reckoning. It is the…

Read More »

Another Week Ends: Commodified Experience, Counterproductive Shaming, Fake Asia Trips, Net Addiction, and Star Wars Minus Williams

Another Week Ends: Commodified Experience, Counterproductive Shaming, Fake Asia Trips, Net Addiction, and Star Wars Minus Williams

1. The New Yorker weighs in on “bucket lists“, ht DH:

Whence the appeal of the bucket list? To stop and think about the things one hopes to do, the person one hopes to be, is a useful and worthwhile exercise; to do so with a consciousness of one’s own unpredictable mortality can be a sobering reckoning, as theologians and philosophers recognized long before Workman Publishing got in on the act…

As popularly conceived, however, the bucket list is far from being a reckoning with the weight of love in extremis, or an ethical or moral accounting. More often, it partakes of a…

Read More »

Ideology and Its Discontents (an Apology for Eutyches)

Ideology and Its Discontents (an Apology for Eutyches)

Maybe you’ve noticed this trend too: Lena Dunham’s Girls, despite critical acclaim, has suffered from reviewers saying it’s not racially diverse enough. Game of Thrones has been lambasted for its sexism and weak female characters. The Cosmopolitans has been written off for lacking socioeconomic variety.

Such things can be painful and troubling to watch, and sometimes it’s best not to view them, perhaps not even to screen them. But such criticisms, for me, are also strangely reminiscent of the one-dimensional cultural lenses prevalent in the Christian world. Drugs are bad, so watching media which contains drug use should be avoided. Affairs are bad, so Madame Bovary was listed…

Read More »

Joan Rivers Fought the Law…

Joan Rivers Fought the Law…

If you’re like me (and I hope you’re not), then the name Joan Rivers meant little more to you than “that horribly plastic old woman who can’t think of anything better to do than provide red carpet snark for E!”. Which is why, as news of her passing spread last week (having occurred during a “minor elective procedure”) it seemed at best trivial and at worst ironic, especially in light of other recent celebrity comic deaths.

And then I saw this video, from April 1967…

… and I had the following thoughts:

1. Joan Rivers used to look like a human being!

2. Wow. She’s really…

Read More »

From the Magazine: The Hidden Spirituality of Teach For America

From the Magazine: The Hidden Spirituality of Teach For America

A throwback from the first issue! Ethan Richardson’s long-form treatise on the promise and perils of America’s great education reform movement.

And let this be a reminder: the first issue is on sale on the magazine webpage for $10. And we’re not far from the release of the Fall Relationships Issue. Click here to subscribe.

My two-year career as a teacher began much as my Evangelical education did—in a single summer in the Arizona desert, far and away from where my training would be put to use. Teach For America placed me in the Greater New Orleans region to teach middle school…

Read More »

The Vices of Leisure by the Virtue of Speed

The Vices of Leisure by the Virtue of Speed

Another missive from the busy trap. This one comes from Brigid Schulte’s book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. In the age of humblebragging, about the achievements you’ve undergone, the vacations you’ve eye-rollingly sped through, the go-gurt you’ve got jammed in the glove compartment, Schulte reminds us that this talk is all about the righteousness of purpose which, in the modern parlance, is held up by the metric of time. And, she notes, it’s not just for the frenzied East Coast corporate lawyer–people in North Dakota are crunched, too. She takes a trip to Fargo…

Read More »

Another Week Ends: Cosmopolitans, Accepting Feedback, Instagram Envy, Ideology Trumping Art, Hawaii Sucks, Muggles, and Mudbloods

Another Week Ends: Cosmopolitans, Accepting Feedback, Instagram Envy, Ideology Trumping Art, Hawaii Sucks, Muggles, and Mudbloods

1. While we try to stay away from plugging anything too exuberantly, and Lord knows TV/movie recs can make one less likely to watch, not more, still – writer/director Whit Stillman is coming out with a new show on Amazon, Cosmopolitans, which sounds like a not-so-veiled reference to his acclaimed feature debut about young WASP life in NYC. Vanity Fair this week got a preview of the pilot, and TV snobs will be heartened to know that Stillman cited Everybody Loves Raymond and Desperate Housewives as favorites. Cautiously optimistic, Stillman said that even if the show doesn’t get picked up, he’s happy to have just a pilot: “I really feel that…

Read More »

500 Miles from Bir-ming-ham: Umberto Eco and the New South

500 Miles from Bir-ming-ham: Umberto Eco and the New South

The New South aesthetic is farcical, but not irredeemably so.

Over pimento cheese fritters with bacon jam at a restaurant in South Georgia, I marveled at waiters in chambray shirts under plaid vests, distressed brick walls, and cocktail names like ‘rockin porch’. How, I wondered, had things down there come to such a pass? My companion, a Virginian who’d gone to a New England college, lightly objected to the rusty scythes and plows adorning the walls – wasn’t this a bit much?

The farm tools were almost a New South parody, the chiks comin’ home to roost. To the Georgian, it seems,…