Identity

Another Week Ends: Abrahamic Evolution, More Cookie Monster, The Law of Higher Ed, G.K. Chesterton as Saint, and the Puritan Legacy

Another Week Ends: Abrahamic Evolution, More Cookie Monster, The Law of Higher Ed, G.K. Chesterton as Saint, and the Puritan Legacy

1. Over at aeon, Benjamin Grant Purzycki once again demonstrates the poverty of discourse about religion – the fact that little understanding of its required to make grand pronouncements. Anyway, he says some interesting things along the way, and it’s worth a read. First, we’re all biased toward thinking of God as a cosmic judge:

In a 2013 article in Cognition, I reported that Christian students from the University of Connecticut who claim that God knows everything will nonetheless rate His knowledge of moral information (Does God know that Sebastian robs grocery stores?) as better than His knowledge of non-moral information (Does God…

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Social Media, Shame, and the Prescience of DFW

Social Media, Shame, and the Prescience of DFW

This month’s edition of Christianity Today features a cover story, “The Return of Shame,” that draws a clear, causative link between the prevalence of social media and its corollary stripping of privacy with the emergence of a shame-fame culture. I couldn’t help but relate this to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (and Billy Idol’s “Eyes without a Face”).

In contrast to a guilt culture wherein morality is evaluated on the basis on individual conscience, a shame culture’s efficacy rests on community’s conception of your behavior. According to Crouch, “you know you are
good or bad by what your community says about you.”…

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Birthdays and Broken Cisterns: What Exercise, Adultery, and Suicide Have in Common

Birthdays and Broken Cisterns: What Exercise, Adultery, and Suicide Have in Common

This reflection on aging comes to us from Ryan Sanders:

A recent study conducted by two professors at New York University revealed that people are more likely to make big decisions or create big regrets just before milestone birthdays. The study divined that “people audit the meaningfulness of their lives as they approach a new decade in chronological age, further suggesting that people across dozens of countries and cultures are prone to making significant decisions as they approach each new decade.”

This study tells us what we already know: as people face milestone events, they often review their lives and make adjustments. And often,…

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Thursday Afternoon Law, pt 1 – Conrad’s Lord Jim

Walker Percy said that Wednesday afternoon is the worst time of the week, when an existential fugue settles over you – and as T-Bone Walker sang, “Thursday’s also sad.” The narrator of Ikiru said, “he will have to get a lot worse before he can get better.”  So here’s some afternoon Law to help, from Conrad’s Lord Jim, as he describes a man trying to define himself, to narrate a shameful mistake from his past in such a way as to lessen his guilt:

It was solemn, and a little ridiculous too, as they always are, those struggles of an individual trying to save from the fire his idea of what his moral identity should be, this precious notion of a convention, only one of the rules of the game, nothing more, but all the same so terribly effective by its assumption of unlimited power over natural instincts, by the awful penalties of its failure.

The (Beginning and) End of Scorekeeping

Here’s my presentation at last month’s Liberate Conference, which is much indebted to Paul Walker’s talk on the same subject back in 2011. Those who came to the Fall conference in Houston (or have read the new issue of The Mockingbird) may be tempted to subtract points for the overlap:

LIBERATE 2015 | David Zahl from Coral Ridge | LIBERATE on Vimeo.

David Carr Took Good Cards and Set Them on Fire

David Carr Took Good Cards and Set Them on Fire

A remarkable passage from the opening to the late David Carr’s unbelievably good memoir of addiction, The Night of the Gun, in which he lays out the difficulty of investigating and recapitulating one’s past. Reminded me of Tavris and Aaronson’s description of memory as editor, i.e. one of the chief instruments of self-justification. Turns out the stories we tell about ourselves, especially the harrowing ones, reveal the narratives we have constructed around our identities–AKA the laws to which we are beholden and which drive our editing/dishonesty, such as Thou Shalt Be Transformed (and Stay That Way). Also one of the…

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Nadia Bolz-Weber Pawns Off Narcissism as a Virtue

2015 NYC Conference speaker Nadia Bolz-Weber‘s book, Pastrix, is a curious beast: self-deprecating memoir, accidental handbook for church planters, compendium of dark comedy, and loads of inspiration, though not (remotely) the Hallmark variety. Among the many excerpt-worthy passages, one about darkness, light, and self-deception stood out to me. As backstory here, Candace was a fellow alcoholic, though less of a recovering one, whom Nadia tried to support for a while, before her sister accused her of  imprudently squandering her emotional energy just to maintain her idea of herself as a loyal friend:

RNS-FALSANI-COLUMN

Years later, after I had started House for All Sinners and Saints, I thought of Candace when I was writing a sermon about when Jesus goes on and on about how we really actually like darkness more than light because, let’s face it, the darkness hides our bullshit. (Revised Nadia Version.) I thought of all the time I spent trying to be good and all the time she spent trying to pretend she wasn’t high and how perfectly matched all our crap was. And all it took was my sister speaking the truth about it for light to come in and scatter the darkness. I thought about how, just like Candace, when I want desperately for something about myself to be hidden, for it to stay in the darkness, I am really good at lying. And if I can go an extra step and make it look like I’m actually being good – if I can pawn off narcissism as a virtue – then I win. Like when I am just sick of giving a shit about other people and want to be selfish so I call my two days of watching Netflix and getting mani-pedis ‘self-care.’ Or when I say I’m on ‘a cleanse’ so no one knows I’m really on a diet.

The list goes on, and the last thing I want is for any light to be cast on the darkness that I’ve spent so much energy curating, protecting, enjoying. But it’s not a cleanse. It’s a diet. It’s not about my health, it’s about my vanity.

There’s a popular misconception that religion, Christianity specifically, is about knowing the difference between good and evil so that we can choose the good. But being good has never set me free the way the truth has…

Very often I will avoid the truth until my face goes red like a toddler avoiding her nap; until limp limbed, she finally stops flailing and falls asleep and receives rest – the very thing she needs and the very thing she fights. When someone like me, who will go to superhero lengths to avoid the truth, runs out of options – when I am found out or too exhausted to pretend anymore or maybe just confronted by my sister – it feels like the truth might crush me. And that is right. The truth does crush us, but the instant it crushes us, it somehow puts us back together into something honest. It’s death and resurrection every time it happens.

My Relationship With God Is Better Than Ever

My Relationship With God Is Better Than Ever

(This essay was originally published in issue 3 of The Mockingbird. All issues and subscriptions, including issue 4 which ships tomorrow, are available available here).

“We can permit ourselves to be more romantic than the romanticists and more humanistic than the humanists. But we must be more precise.” —Karl Barth, “The Christian’s Place in Society”

image courtesy of Lutheran Satire

Every recess for eight years, I was picked last on the team for two-hand-touch football. The turning point came in the ninth grade, when recess was replaced by study hall.

But, before that, there was another turning point I had blundered right past: the opportunity…

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Girls Rule the World?

Girls Rule the World?

I saw the original Pitch Perfect on a spring afternoon, taking advantage of a day off work and a child in daycare to indulge in some solo popcorn-eating and foot-tapping in the darkness of a movie theater–one of this introvert’s favorite refuges. Now that this introvert is a mother of two, I watch movies in thirty-minute increments via On Demand from the “refuge” of my bed–a decidedly less interruption-free zone than that inviting theater. Perhaps this is why I so enjoy the movie trailers that I watch on my phone these days during nursing sessions or in stolen/guilt-ridden moments on…

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The Ever-Present According to George Eliot

A fantastic quote from her novel Middlemarch concerning, interestingly enough, a devoutly Christian man. She wrote like no one else, ht PW:

The terror of being judged sharpens the memory: it sends an inevitable glare over that long-unvisited past which has been habitually recalled only in general phrases. Even without memory, the life is bound into one by a zone of dependence in growth and decay; but intense memory forces a man to own his blameworthy past. With memory set smarting like a reopened wound, a man’s past is not simply a dead history, an outworn preparation of the present: it is not a repented error shaken loose from the life: it is a still quivering part of himself, bringing shudders and bitter flavors and the tinglings of a merited shame.

Winners and Losers Under Your Own Inner-Editor

Winners and Losers Under Your Own Inner-Editor

I have to admit, as a watcher of The Bachelor, that I participated in this phenomenon without ever thinking about it. Colson Whitehead, in the most recent NYT Magazine, talks about the “loser edit” in most competition-based reality television shows, the fact that, in winnowing 30 TV faces from total strangers into winners and losers, requires some narrative-building and, in the case of the losers, narrative-obliviating. As many of us (I hope?) can recall, there are the moments at the end of each of these shows where the ousted suitor, the ousted chef, the ousted whatever creates this reaction among…

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Not Ideas About Love But the Thing Itself: A Review of Birdman

Not Ideas About Love But the Thing Itself: A Review of Birdman

This is the epigraph that shows in the opening credits of Birdman, and it’s also the real-life epitaph on Raymond Carver’s tombstone. It serves as a good starting point for a movie that basically seconds as an adaptation for Carver’s famous short story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” But it’s also a good starting point for Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), aka “Birdman,” ex-superhero-of-the-nineties, awash in irrelevance amidst a bigger, newer wave of Marvel stars.