All these amazing photos, including the featured image, come from Roger Minick’s “Sightseer” series.

1. For those of you who are, like me, already devotees of Esther Perel’s Where Should We Begin? podcast, much of her interview with the New Yorker will come as no surprise. On multiple platforms I’ve heard her give this explanation about our current marital malaise, but that doesn’t matter because it’s great:

Marriage is an aggregate of multiple narratives. It belongs to the people who are in it, but it also belongs to the people who are supporting it and living around it: family, friends, community. As I once said, and it became a kind of a saying for me, when you pick a partner, you pick a story, and then you find yourself in a play you never auditioned for. And that is when the narratives clash.

But there’s a lot more from the Belgian psychotherapist, including an in-depth conversation about the nature of apologizing, how an apology is different from an admission of guilt, and how the current cultural spin cycle of blame makes it very difficult for anyone in the hot seat to move towards restitution.

As you might expect from a woman whose become a TED celebrity by speaking about infidelity, Perel is no moral policewoman. You can tell on the podcast that she has a therapeutic reticence to make value judgments. But she understands the Law of Perfection, specifically how catastrophic its weight can be in the love department. She understands that, as a culture, love bears a metric of perfection we will never meet in another person. When asked about her definition of love, here’s what she says (pardon the, eh, French):

It’s a verb. That’s the first thing. It’s an active engagement with all kinds of feelings—positive ones and primitive ones and loathsome ones. But it’s a very active verb. And it’s often surprising how it can kind of ebb and flow. It’s like the moon. We think it’s disappeared, and suddenly it shows up again. It’s not a permanent state of enthusiasm. I’m thirty-five years in a relationship, I practice. And I have two boys—I practice. It’s not just romantic love.

I think that definition today of love—“you are my everything”—where you really see it, this complete exaltation, is in wedding vows. Have you ever noticed? I mean, it’s, “I will wipe every tear that streams down your face before you even notice it’s going down.” I think a realistic vow is “I will fuck up on a regular basis, and, on occasion, I’ll admit it.”

2. How does one keep a family of undocumented immigrants safe from deportation? Duh, you keep them in a church service…

Under an obscure Dutch law, the police may not disrupt a church service to make an arrest. And so for the past six weeks, immigration officials have been unable to enter Bethel Church to seize the five members of the Tamrazyan family, Armenian refugees who fled to the sanctuary to escape a deportation order.

The service, which began in late October as a little-noticed, last-gasp measure by a small group of local ministers, is now a national movement, attracting clergy members and congregants from villages and cities across the Netherlands. More than 550 pastors from about 20 denominations have rotated through Bethel Church, a nonstop service all in the name of protecting one vulnerable family.

Gives all new meaning to the parable of the one lost sheep.

3. A couple weeks back, Aeon published a short piece by a neuroscientist entitled, “The Bad News on Human Nature: 10 Findings from Psychology.” These findings include, among others: evidence suggesting that we are “blinkered and dogmatic,” evidence suggesting that we experience schadenfreude by the age of 4, evidence that we see the world through the lens of karma, assuming that the “least of these” got what was coming to them, evidence that we are more vain and overconfident than we ever thought before; evidence that we are all potential trolls. And, most importantly, evidence suggests that we are moral hypocrites:

It pays to be wary of those who are the quickest and loudest in condemning the moral failings of others – the chances are that moral preachers are as guilty themselves, but take a far lighter view of their own transgressions. In one study, researchers found that people rated the exact same selfish behaviour (giving themselves the quicker and easier of two experimental tasks on offer) as being far less fair when perpetuated by others. Similarly, there is a long-studied phenomenon known as actor-observer asymmetry, which in part describes our tendency to attribute other people’s bad deeds, such as our partner’s infidelities, to their character, while attributing the same deeds performed by ourselves to the situation at hand. These self-serving double standards could even explain the common feeling that incivility is on the increase – recent research shows that we view the same acts of rudeness far more harshly when they are committed by strangers than by our friends or ourselves.

4. Walker Percy said it first, but tourists are the worst. They go to these marvelous peaks and vistas, they drive for hours to all the glorious sites, and they never actually see them. It eludes them. Percy believed that we went to places as tourists to certify our own existence, and what better way to do that than with photographs? Wired picks this idea up in a new essay and repackages it for the age of smartphones and selfie sticks.

That lemming-like practice didn’t change much with the democratization of tourism in the late 20th century, or even with the explosion of digital photography and social media in the 21st. Now there are more tourists than ever, more trips than ever, and more lookalike photographs than ever. They still depict the same definitive sites set out long ago in travel books, but as these attractions have become ordinary, the ordinary has also become the attraction. Your smartphone lets you snap an unlimited stream of Airbnbs, infinity pools and urban art—all of which you probably first saw on Instagram.

The article quotes Susan Sontag’s 1977 essay “On Photography,” that by photographing something you possess it and collect it as your own, you stake your claim on the world as your object. Of course, that sense of mastery seems pretty childish when there are line of backpacked nimrods right behind you doing the exact same thing. Plus, as Sontag said it, it basically guarantees that the experience you are certifying has not been “kept” at all, but more likely to be forgotten and discarded.

Ironically, though, “collecting the world” might mean also losing it. “A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it—by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir,” Sontag wrote. Some recent studies support that idea. One suggested that taking a photo of something makes it harder to remember it. Another found museum-goers were less likely to remember objects if they took photos. And yet, photography is an impartial technology like any other.

 

5. Funny stuff here from The Hard Times: “Alcoholic Uncle Still Planning to Somehow Ruin Booze-Free Wedding.”

But not as funny as this one: “I Brush My Teeth At Work Just To Make You Feel Bad About Yourself.” Pure gold:

This is not about teeth. The teeth are merely 32 gleaming ivory towers from which to look down on you. This is about what the teeth represent. It’s about what else we both might surmise from this moment: That I am likely far better positioned for retirement. That my houseplants enjoy regular watering and seasonal fertilizer. That I have enviable cholesterol and triglyceride levels. All of that with which you struggle in life, that which eludes you? These things are effortless for me.

…You emerge from the stall and I smile at you, incisors and bicuspids frothy, like a rabid hound. Outwardly, the smile is warm. Casual. A greeting. But we are both adults. We can read the subtext. It is the smile of a man who revels in being your superior in every possible way.

6. And speaking of superiority, and speaking of the perils of authentic experiences, this amazing Vox article tells of one woman’s search to have the best of every kind of product, for one week in November.

The premise was this: I would surround myself with the products whose entire raison d’être was being the best. The stuff that claimed it was “the only one you’ll ever need,” or “the last one you’ll ever have to buy.”…I would try them all at once, in the service of a single question: Would they actually improve my life?

Her answer: Yes! Duh! But, at the same time, not really.

And because we are Americans, we have a preternatural tendency to dig our way out of that unhappiness with stuff. “It ends up overgeneralizing to self-worth,” [psychologist Jessica] Pryor continued. “So unless I have that best product or achieve that promotion, I’m useless. It can also result in this really cultivated, groomed presentation style with other people, so usually what happens is people end up feeling one way inside and acting a different way on the outside.” Of course, this was precisely what happened to me over the course of my eight days of living as a perfect consumer. The widening incongruity between the products I used and the person I was meant that the nicer my life looked in a photograph, the worse it looked to me.

7. Over at Christ Hold Fast, one of the best titles I’ve seen this season: “I am the Reason for the Season.” Dominick Santore writes:

I apologize to you, all the people of the world. I apologize for my part in making Christmas necessary. I have learned that Christ is NOT the reason for the season, I am. It’s true. All the sin and shame I bear for all my wrongdoings have made it a necessity for Christ to come in the form of a man, being born of a virgin. Right from my birth, scarred with a heart that needed cleansing, my very existence meant that a sacrifice would be needed on my behalf.

Strays:

-Our very own Duo Dickinson writes in the Living Church about the “Next Church” and what role Mockingbird might have in it.

Ellen DeGeneres and the Law of Niceness

The Jewish Man Who Became Santa in a Home Depot

-Our friend Nuwamanya Mategyero has a new (free!) 22-day devotional out, called Lifeline. You can download it here.

-George MacDonald’s classic fairytale The Light Princess is being rendered in comic book form! From Cave Pictures Publishing.