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Social Science

A Circle of Uncertainty and the Blessed (Interruption of) Assurance

A Circle of Uncertainty and the Blessed (Interruption of) Assurance

I almost called this post “The Cage of Anxiety,” but that seemed a little hokey. Still—playing off Auden’s poem is as good a place as any to start a discussion on anxiety, which was what Nitsuh Abebe does in the recent First Words essay for the New York Times Magazine:

In 1947, W.H. Auden published a very long poem that, despite winning a Pulitzer Prize, is now remembered less for its contents than for its title: “The Age of Anxiety.” Something about the idea that an age can be anxious must resonate deep in America’s cultural bones, because the phrase has been…

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An Un-Earnable Love and the Tragic Death of Performance: “Emotional Stuff” on 3 Mics

An Un-Earnable Love and the Tragic Death of Performance: “Emotional Stuff” on 3 Mics

This reflection comes from Julian Brooks.

Lately I’ve been on a standup comedy binge thanks to the power of Netflix, and I recently stumbled upon Neal Brennan’s special, 3 Mics. For those of you that don’t know, Neal Brennan was the co-writer of Chappelle’s Show oh too many years ago and has since been quietly writing behind the scenes for several other comedy shows.

The special is fantastic in its own right. As the title suggests, there are three mics set up on stage for Neal when the show opens. Each mic represents a different part of the show. One mic for witty one-liners…

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Blazes of Selfish Glory and Scary Clowns

Blazes of Selfish Glory and Scary Clowns

I once told a couple of friends while having a dark moment, and only half-jokingly, that my dream was to move to India, volunteer at the Sisters of Charity and die of the inevitable dysentery that would swiftly follow. I mean, my first world immune system would have all the resilience of wet tissue paper. That’d give me about, let’s say, over/under, two months of usefulness, but at least I would go out in a useful blaze of glory. It would certainly be good filler for my eulogy.

What’s that about? Simply, my desire to control my own narrative. We feel…

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Identity Narratives from the Bathroom Floor

Identity Narratives from the Bathroom Floor

If you’ve never seen The Bachelor (though chances are you probably have), then you’ve missed some of reality TV’s best attempts to turn real people into caricatures. Whether it’s the intention of the contestant, the careful edits of the producers, or a combination of both, every person who steps out of the limo has a cohesive and clear-cut identity. Usually this is executed in the narrative portion of the show when we “meet” the contestant and get a nice video montage of her life, but it can also be done through behind-the-scenes commentary (“My friends all consider me the party girl…

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The Beautiful Truth of Collateral Beauty

The Beautiful Truth of Collateral Beauty

In the Gospel reading appointed for Good Friday, Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?” He seems to really want to know. He seems to be searching for an answer to explain this bruised and beaten Jew standing before him and the chaotic scene outside in his courtyard. And the truth is what we come to church seeking each Good Friday. With Pilate we ask, “What is truth?” We show up before God on the day commemorating Christ’s death for us, asking such questions as, Why was this necessary? Why did God have to die for us? Why would God die for…

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A Passage from William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep

A Passage from William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep

William Deresiewicz (who will be speaking at our upcoming conference on Friday afternoon, 4/28!) made waves in 2008 when the American Scholar published his essay, “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education.” His full length book from 2011, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite & The Way to a Meaningful Life, expounded upon the earlier essay and was a bestseller. The book’s premise is that kids arrive at Ivy league schools and other elite colleges proven experts at jumping through hoops. But beyond their noteworthy ability to ace tests, students are woefully unprepared for the real world. Deresiewicz found,…

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And of Thine Own Have We Given Thee

And of Thine Own Have We Given Thee

Recently, the Facebook page for my Wisconsin hometown’s history has exploded with photos. There are 19th century photos of the town, including charming photos of tree-lined streets and horse-drawn carriages, and also the town’s darker history, including an “Indian School,” where Native American children were taken to assimilate to white culture after being removed from their families. There are photos of the library, and the Main Street, and school board meetings. There are fierce debates about a potato cheese soup recipe that my dad brought into the town’s restaurant community. The debate, believe it or not, centers around whether the…

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Something Missing (in Recovery Services)

Something Missing (in Recovery Services)

Compulsion is brutal.

But the last decade has seen a huge cultural effort to remove spiritual death from the tragedy of addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous was, and largely still is, the model for treatment, but a Higher Power does not play well in the wave of commercial exploitation of “recovery services.”

Squeaky clean, dead serious ads put coifed “addicts” and similarly serious “therapists” in front of us. With all the sincerity of “ethical” car sales shills, the very worst in any of us has the same cure as a dirty floor: buy me. There is a new, aggressive PR explosion everywhere, which loudly…

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Freedom Isn’t Free

Freedom Isn’t Free

Another glimpse into our Food & Drink Issue. This essay is written by Connor Gwin. 

It is a funny thing, getting sober in seminary. I spent years discerning my call to ordained ministry and answering questions from committee after committee, only to find myself in front of the mirror in my seminary dorm room. It was the morning after a blur of a day spent drinking to celebrate St. Patrick. The celebration ended in a blackout, as they seemed to more and more, and there I stood in front of my bathroom mirror. I gazed into my own eyes and spoke…

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Hallelujah Anyway: Anne Lamott’s Latest on Rediscovering Mercy

Hallelujah Anyway: Anne Lamott’s Latest on Rediscovering Mercy

I have loved Anne Lamott since I read her first memoir, Traveling Mercies, when I was in law school. In a world where I was, quite literally, surrounded by law, I heard grace in her words, and it was the drink I didn’t even know I was thirsty for. Later, Lamott’s Operating Instructions, her memoir about her son’s first year, prepared me for motherhood in a way that all of the What to Expect books failed to do.

Naturally, I wanted to share my enthusiasm for my favorite lay theologian with my friends, some of whom scoffed at Lamott’s personal history: how could they…

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NCAA Final Four: The Gamecocks are “Letting the Sun Go Down On Their Anger”

NCAA Final Four: The Gamecocks are “Letting the Sun Go Down On Their Anger”

You may say, “Well that’s not biblical,” but the Gamecocks have to, or they don’t get to play. No, seriously, if a player doesn’t show up angry, he sits the bench. “If you’re not matching his intensity, you’re not going to be on the floor,” said freshman guard Tommy Corchiani, while describing coach Frank Martin. That intensity? It ain’t no joke. I remember first noticing Martin when he coached Kansas State in the NCAA tourney a few years back. On a court full of very large, physically imposing people, he stood out to me as (by far) the most ominous presence,…

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Liars and Madmen and You: The Art of Narrative – A Conference Breakout Preview

Here begins our conference breakout previews–sneak peeks of the various topics we’ll talk about in NYC this April! Check out the conference site for more details

Most people will recognize Stephen King’s It as the one about the killer clown. Which it is. But at 1100 pages, it has to be more than that, you know? In his dedication King writes: “Fiction is the truth inside the lie”—which, I’ll admit, I still don’t fully get—but that’s nevertheless a good place to begin investigating one of It’s running themes: extracting the truth from the lies, particularly the ones we tell ourselves. Centered around a group of raggle-taggle tweens, It is a story about growing up and facing fears, about selectively remembering (and discarding) our early painful memories. What the characters develop, as their first line of defense against the killer clown in question, is an elaborate but ultimately fragile method of narrative construction that carries them into adulthood: Mike Hanlon, one of the story’s protagonists, explains, “We lie best when we lie to ourselves.”

It’s true for all of us. With the recent deluge of social studies concerning #confirmationbias, and with the self-righteousness of American politics cropping up wherever we look—not to mention moral dispatches from Starbucks cups—there’s never been a better time to take a second glance at the stories we tell ourselves. If spun right, “taking control of your narrative” can sound just as liberating as “taking a trip to Aruba”; but the late David Carr, in his memoir, The Night of the Gun, illustrates the exhausting side of this self-embossed coin: “You spread versions of yourself around, giving each person the truth he or she needs—you need, actually—to keep them at one remove.”

So let’s get all our narratives in one place and talk about them, Friday, April 28, 3:30PM, at the 10th Annual Mockingbird Conference. We’ll discuss some of the best stories told by liars and madmen, including some by me and some by you. And—of course—we’ll talk about the great, final page-turner that illuminates the truth about us and pulls us into it, not as tragic heroes but as pardoned villains.

Register for the conference here!