1. The best thing that hit the web this past week, as far as I can tell, came from Harrison Scott Key, whose name you may remember from such publications as the Thurber award-winning memoir The World’s Largest Man or The Humor Issue of The Mockingbird. His recent “Confessions of a Bad Christian” is, well, just go read it and behold a master humorist at work. Excerpting robs the piece of its brilliant snowball effect but since this is the Internet, here’s a taste:

While I do believe in the Good News that during the late Iron Age a wizard-like Jewish bachelor died and came back to life so that I might eat Chick-fil-A for all eternity, the other Good News is, I’m probably not going to talk to you about him at the bar, even though it was impressed upon me by Sunday school teachers that the one thing I should be doing is telling people about this Israeli magician, especially at bars…

Course, there’s something deeply beautiful and true undulating under the surface of the manifold witticisms, which surfaces toward the end via the realization that:

A good human being is a temporary and imaginary creature, that even the best of us can believe ourselves gods. We are all fools, in various states of lapse and relapse. I am grateful to the thing we call God for that enduring awareness of my tendency to forget I am no god, not even close, which is what allows me, if not to do good in every moment and for the right end, at least to spot the good from far off and pray for the strength to walk in that direction.

If there’s one thing my long internship at Jesus Enterprises, LLC, has taught me, it’s that I should be much more watchful of what’s inside me than what’s inside you. That is where we have to start, I am told, by the invisible God-Man who has limitless powers to change the weather or the outcome of a sporting event.

I am sorry I do not care more about causes that make my pagan friends seem insane, because some of those causes are important, and I am sorry I do not like church as much as many of my Christian friends say they do, although I have a feeling most are there for the same reasons I am, not because church is fun, but because it is a kind of hospital. That’s where I’ll be, sitting with my family, all of us dreaming about being at home eating lightly toasted bagels and feeling like sloths, highly refreshed and useless. Even as I say it I am feeling envy. Forgive me, Lord.

2. Have you seen the Fyre Festival documentary on Netflix?! Holy moly. Run don’t walk. It’s the Instagramming of Life taken to its most radical, jaw-dropping (and incredibly entertaining) extreme, one long colossal sermon illustration that feels almost too on-the-nose to be true. Sophie Gilbert picked up the thread over at The Atlantic in an expert article tying Fyre to Marie Kondo phenomenon entitled “How Millennial Burnout Is Being Televised.” She writes:

Millennials don’t just gravitate to Marie Kondo because they don’t have apartments big enough to own things. What Tidying Up offers is both a counterpoint to the way they’ve been raised (less is more, versus more is always better) and an endorsement: The promise, at least as Millennial culture seems to have interpreted it, is that if people work to organize their lives to look just right, the rest will follow. The performance of the self has become more important than the reality. Even TV has noticed…

Fyre Fraud [documentary on Hulu] uses the selling of the festival to consider the ways some Millennials understand identity, including their anxieties about affirming their existences online—literally, Pics or it didn’t happen.

Fyre Fraud posits that, for all the sloppiness of his grift, [Fyre Festival chief conman Billy] McFarland actually has a surprisingly intuitive sense of what Millennials want, and how to market it to them. Having been raised with the sense that being exceptional is the only way to thrive, Millennials can be hyperaware of their own status relative to others, and ferociously invested in elevating themselves above the pack.

Announcement coming Monday! Click on the image for a preview.

As preposterous as the Fyre Festival promotional video might seem now, it pings all the right dopamine receptors in an ongoing loop of stick (the acute FOMO of knowing everyone important is somewhere doing something fabulous without you) and carrot (countless Instagram opportunities for personal branding and self-curation). Influencers, the New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino says in Fyre Fraud, are people who have refined and monetized the art of this “performance of an attractive life.”

Only real addendum is what Jonathan Malesic noted in The New Republic and that’s “Millennials Don’t Have a Monopoly on Burnout.” I mean, look no further than…

3. Chuck DeGroat’s heart-wrenchingly urgent article for Christianity Today, “Pastor, Why Are You Hiding?” in which he details decades of interactions with scores of “lost pastors, lonely and busy and empty and radically disconnected from any kind of inner conversation with their hearts and with the God who is more near to them than their very breath.” Of course, you don’t have to be in ministry to know full-well what DeGroat is talking about. The same force that leads millennials to perform their exceptional hipness leads Christians perform their holiness (rhymes with ‘jaw’). And just in case we’re tempted to limit the phenomenon to the present, the soul-deep illustration he chooses comes from Susan Howatch’s never-been-bettered 1988 novel of clergy life, Glittering Images. So perhaps the takeaway is that in an age of social media-fied #seculosity, everyone now suffers the burdens of the professionally religious. Here’s the passage in question:

In the novel, Charles Ashworth is a conflicted Anglican priest and canon who meets with Jon Darrow, a spiritual director who confronts his false self, what he calls his “glittering image,” that public persona he takes while neglecting a deeper, inner conversation.
Darrow does something interesting. He speaks directly to the “glittering” part of Ashworth, saying, “He must be exhausted. Has he never been tempted to set down the burden by telling someone about it?”
“I can’t,” Ashworth replies.
“Who’s ‘I’?” Darrow responds.
“The glittering image.”
“Ah yes,” says Darrow, “and of course that’s the only Charles Ashworth that the world’s allowed to see, but I’m becoming interested in this other self of yours, the self nobody meets. I’d like to help him come out from behind that glittering image and set down this appalling burden which has been tormenting him for so long.”
“He can’t come out,” Ashworth responds.
Darrow asks, “Why not?”
In a moment of stunning self-clarity, Ashworth says, “You wouldn’t like or approve of him.”
With gentleness and honesty, Darrow responds, “Charles, when a traveler’s staggering along with a back-breaking amount of luggage he doesn’t need someone to pat him on the head and tell him how wonderful he is. He needs someone who’ll offer to share the load.”

4. On a not unrelated note, Quillette interviewed journalist Will Storr, whose recent book Selfie we’ve gotten quite a bit of mileage from. Speaking with Clay Routledge, he discusses the continued fallout of the self-esteem movement, and while none of the conclusions could be considered groundbreaking, Storr certainly has a gift for distilling the core dynamic in ways that sound downright Pauline and/or Augustinian:

CR: There are also concerns about rising rates of psychological problems such as depression and anxiety. How do these problems connect to the self and perhaps the self-esteem movement?

WS: We can’t oversimplify this complex and serious problems, but one part of the story is that we tend to become stressed and depressed when we set overly high expectations for ourselves and repeatedly fail to meet them. When we tell ourselves we can be anything we want to be, which is the myth that emerges from Human Potential and self-esteem ideas, we’re setting ourselves up for unhappiness, because it’s simply not true….

CR: The blank slate view that people can craft any self they want is common but at odds with research on the stability of personality and other traits… Is there a way to balance self-improvement and self-acceptance?

WS: The blank slate view is instinctively, addictively attractive to people because we want to believe that anyone can achieve anything. It’s a lovely story, and it’s one our culture tells us repeatedly. But it’s not true. I’m a left-wing person, and we especially seem to confuse the pursuit of equal rights with the idea that all individuals are the same. I’m in despair at how the people around me are currently treating even the discussion of the science of gender difference, for example, as taboo, “alt-right” or somehow evil. It’s disorientating and quite scary. You see how ideology trumps reason in even the most intelligent of people.

5. In humor, the find of the week has to be the video embedded above from Everything Is Terrible(!!), but I also chuckled at The Onion’s burnout-resonant “Man Beginning to Worry Best Meals Are Behind Him.” On the more-sigh-than-laugh-inducing #seculosity front, The Bee gave us “Increasingly Secular Nation Replaces Outdated Religious Ideas With End Times Prophecies, Moral Judgments.” And then The New Yorker’s Tongue Twisters of Tech Start Ups had me smiling too. Favorite is probably:

Peter Piper’s podcast publicized a pivot.
Did Peter Piper’s podcast pick the proper point to pivot?
If Peter Piper’s podcast picked the proper point to pivot,
Where’s the pivot platform Peter Piper’s podcast picked?

6. When it comes to the Covington fiasco, on the off chance that you’re not completely saturated, Fahrad Manjoo said everything that needs to be said in his NY Times column, namely, “Never Tweet.” It may sound naive, but I’m more and more convinced that the technological factors informing the awfulness of our ‘moment’ precede the ideological ones–at least, more than we’re currently willing to acknowledge. Manjoo’s approach has a real logic to it, too: the only surefire way to get people off Twitter will be to marshal performancist pressure, i.e. somehow spread the notion that ‘good’/smart/responsible/successful/woke journalists don’t tweet. I’m not holding my breath. If you’re looking for a more ‘Mockingbird take’ on the topic, I thought David Brooks’ assessment was astute, esp in how it exposed the justification dynamics at work:

The crucial thing is that the nation’s culture is now enmeshed in a new technology that we don’t yet know how to control. In this technology, stereotype is more salient than persons. In this technology, a single moment is more important than a life story. In this technology, a main activity is proving to the world that your type is morally superior to the other type.

7. In music, the new Vampire Weekend songs have me pretty excited for that record, the Permanent Greenlight reissue is a fantastic addition to the power pop archives, I’ve had Pedro the Lion’s new single “Quietest Friend” on repeat this past week (intermixed with J Walter Weatherman’s stellar new record I’m Down), The Well of Sound dropped an epic-length McCartney Solo episode, and my-oh-my how well the Phoebe Bridgers/Conor Oberst collaboration album (Better Oblivion Community Center) works. But the biggest and most relevant discovery would be the crazy-good devotional content buried on the solo records of the (tragically) recently deceased Richard Swift (Shins, Arcs). One of the highlights would be:

8. Let’s close on a hopeful note with this sermonette from Wade Johnston, via his excellent little primer on “God’s Two Contradictory Words” over on 1517:

Law and Gospel must be constants in the Christian life, but there is little doubt about which gets the last word—the eternal word. The Law always serves to prepare us for the Gospel, to drive us to be desperation to be saved, which is what Christ came to do. The Law is not meant to be the last word. God’s proper work is the Gospel. There we see God fully for who He really is.

What God is really like is God on a cross, for you and for me. God is mercy, love on full display, arms stretched wide to take hold of us and all sinners in grace. Give thanks, therefore, for God’s two words. Stand condemned, and rightly so, by the Law. But be free through the Gospel—eternally free! Trying to get righteousness from the Law is like trying to get orange juice from apples. It isn’t happening. There is a righteousness in reach, however. Even more, it’s in our beggarly hands, entirely gift received through faith, which is gift as well. Christ didn’t die for no purpose. He died for you. He is your righteousness. You need look nowhere else. You need nothing else in Him.

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