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Psychology

Waffle Makers and Blueberry Forests: Learning to Live Again (in Prison)

Waffle Makers and Blueberry Forests: Learning to Live Again (in Prison)

In the same Sunday issue, The New York Times Magazine published two articles that drew some not-so-subtle conclusions about the American prison system, about its problematic rise in numbers, about its entrenched recidivism, and about its inherent contradictions to the American themes of freedom, opportunity, and hope. Of the two articles, one of them was a character study of ADX in Colorado, “America’s Toughest Federal Prison.”

Since opening in 1994, the ADX has remained not just the only federal supermax but also the apogee of a particular strain of the American penal system, wherein abstract dreams of rehabilitation have been entirely…

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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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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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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.

Mindful of Our Busyness: Notes on Another Epidemic (and Its Relief)

Mindful of Our Busyness: Notes on Another Epidemic (and Its Relief)

A pair of (somewhat) related articles came across my desk yesterday that seem especially relevant with the new ‘Work and Play’ issue of The Mockingbird shipping today. The first is the latest dispatch on that cultural flashpoint known as Busyness. In a pithy blogpost for The Huffington Post, Scott Dannemiller contends that “Busyness Is a Sickness”. Particularly interesting to me was the distinction he makes between ‘busyness’ and ‘stress’, one being elective (in theory) and the other not, ht SM:

Dr. Susan Koven practices internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. In a 2013 Boston Globe column, she wrote:

In the past…

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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.

A Life of Aching Beauty: Vincent van Gogh as Preacher, Failure, and Painter

A Life of Aching Beauty: Vincent van Gogh as Preacher, Failure, and Painter

Originally posted on Tides of God.

PART I: FALL

Undergrowth with Two Figures is the only Van Gogh painting I have seen in real life. Several times my wife and I have sought it out on visits to the Cincinnati Art Museum. It is not one of Van Gogh’s well-known paintings. The work was completed during his almost manic period of productivity from May to July 1890 when Vincent turned out nearly one hundred paintings and drawings in the last seventy days of his life. Undergrowth with Two Figures is an island of peace in sea of turmoil. Van Gogh biographer Philip…

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The Cost and Benefit of Forgiveness (Class)

The Cost and Benefit of Forgiveness (Class)

I remember a conversation some years ago where a friend was voicing her chief objection to Christianity. It had nothing to do with science, or politics, or even suffering (at least not explicitly). What she found offensive about the faith was the notion/assertion/accusation that one of our primary needs as human beings is for forgiveness. In her view, the Christian emphasis on forgiveness was part and parcel of a defeatist anthropology that undermined human dignity, perpetuating negative self-understandings that we would be better off without. Furthermore, it set people up as guilty by default, which, when it came to systemic…

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Spiritual To-Do Lists and Mental Acrobatics

Spiritual To-Do Lists and Mental Acrobatics

A few items were added to my New Year’s to-do list in a Bible study last week:

‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

‘If you…

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Reflections on America’s Happiest City

Reflections on America’s Happiest City

Four and a half months ago, Charlottesville, VA was named the happiest city in America. As the happiest blogger in the happiest city, I feel like I should do some commenting.

In the original paper for the happiness study, the researchers are careful to note that they’re measuring only “self-reported” happiness, a qualifier lost in some of the news outlets which reported it. To oversimplify things, we could view one’s self-reported level of happiness as consisting of three factors: (1) happiness itself, (2) pressures to lie on the survey, and (3) self-deception about perceived happiness. Since the survey was anonymous and Sandford,…

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Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash: A Parable of Stifling Perfection

Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash: A Parable of Stifling Perfection

[Mild spoilers follow.] As a writer, I’ve found, you’re always searching for material. A friend’s talking to you about a bad breakup, years of religious doubt and self-recrimination for doubting, a car wreck, DUI, or lost job. Suddenly, once an insight seems to hit you – or even a situation with a certain intellectual appeal – the ideas become all, and their textures, contexts, and the unfortunate people living in them become pared back, leaving you with what feels like the beginnings of a great article, essay, even poem. The real world fades away, and all you’re left with, all you…

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Another Week Ends: Life in Psychiatric Records, Faith as Ambiguous Blessing, Evangelical Women, Relentlessly Positive Millennials, Flawed In-Laws, and Friends of Sinners

Another Week Ends: Life in Psychiatric Records, Faith as Ambiguous Blessing, Evangelical Women, Relentlessly Positive Millennials, Flawed In-Laws, and Friends of Sinners

1. If anyone thought that medical records couldn’t be riveting and deeply touching, you’re not alone. But George Scialabba, an acclaimed thinker, writer, and book reviewer, voluntarily posted his psychiatric medical history in the current issue of The Baffler. Apart from the courage and vulnerability  such a move shows, as well as the compassion for fellow sufferers which presumably undergirds his release, Scialabba’s post offers a curious mixture of elements as a reader: self-reproach for such intimate voyeurism combined with a feeling that you’re really seeing yourself; wonder at how far short even highly accomplished people can fall far short of…

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