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The Faithful 7 min read

The Faithful

After another week off, back in your inboxes with MLK remembrances, bad-faith actors in Georgia politics, the passing of literary giant Larry McMurtry, COVID vaccine nonsense, and Godzilla vs. Kong.

By Cary Littlejohn

*You’ll notice a new look for the newsletter, primarily to get my face off of every single email that I sent, and I have to send a shoutout to my dear friend Kellyn Nettles who designed the new look for me.

**I also missed another week’s email. It was mostly the result of a combination weekend work schedule and an unexpectedly beautiful weekend for weather, which I used as an excuse to get out of the house whenever possible.

I’m thinking a lot about faith today. It’s Easter Sunday for millions of Christians around the world, and it’s a day defined by faith. It’s a day of faith much more so than Christmas, and not just because of the mass commercialization of Christmas. It’s due to the very essence of what each of those holidays represent.

Christmas, in all honesty, should require no less faith to accept. The virgin birth is a fantastical thing and is hard for any human to intellectually grasp. But the reality of a man known as Jesus is fairly undisputed. He walked the earth. There’s plenty of debate about his divinity, but the thought of celebrating someone’s birthday on Dec. 25 isn’t so hard when you can feel pretty certain that he was in fact born, even if the dates are somewhat dispute.

But Easter epitomizes faith. The story goes that on the third day, the stone was rolled away and he was not to be found in the tomb. Same sort of miracle as defined his birth, but without the same sort of comfort provided by verifiable historical facts. An empty tomb raises questions of alternative explanations in skeptics, but proves the point of a living God in believers. It all hinges on your belief of the Gospel accounts.

I thought of this sort of faith while reporting a recent story for the paper. I was pointed to  a mother-daughter duo who’d been diagnosed with breast cancer just weeks apart. They were clearly women of faith. They showed me, with so much pride, the prayer blankets that one of their churches had made for both of them. The daughter told me how they’d sprinkled it with anointing oils, and when she would struggle to fall asleep at night, unable to turn off the whirring of her brain, she’d pull that blanket up to her nose and breathe in those oils. It calmed her. She could finally sleep.

At one point during an interview, the daughter wrestled out loud and in real time with the conflict such an event poses in the lives of believers.

From my story:

“I’ve never asked why,” Holden said, making a noise that was not a wail, cry or grunt, but some hybrid of the three. Mostly, it was an acknowledgement that tears are coming, that they’ve risen to the level of spilling over.

“God has a plan,” Holden said. “And I’m part of that. I was like, ‘God, I don’t want to do this.’”

Each word is punctuated with a fist hitting her upturned palm, a sharp staccato under her shaky voice.

“But I feel like he was like, ‘I’ll catch you. It’s going to be OK, and you’ll get through it,’” Holden said. “So it’s for a reason. Much, much bigger than myself, but I don’t like that I’m the vessel in this.”

Stories like these are countless. They span all sorts of events, not just cancer diagnoses. They span all sorts of belief systems, not just Christianity.

But there’s no denying the fact that what carries her, and millions like her, through tough times and dark days is her faith.

Some people profess no faith. Spiritual faith, that is. But most of us have faith in something. Maybe it’s our families. Our friends. That our favorite team can still find a way to come back and win even though they’re behind and the game is nearing its end.

Maybe it’s in karma. Or the stars’ and planets’ alignment and relationship to each other and to us.

Maybe it’s in the concept of true love. Maybe it’s in ourselves when we go to new places, try new things, chase our dreams.

Having faith is a beautiful thing. A wonderfully human thing. An oftentimes impractical and irrational thing. Sometimes it breaks our hearts. It’s just as likely that it will restore our hearts and justify our having had it in the first place. No matter the case, sometimes you’ve just got to have it.

Ten Worth Your Time

  1. On this day in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Forty-nine years later, Wendi C. Thomas created what was supposed to be a one-year project: a non-profit newsroom dedicated to economic justice through journalism, to continue on the work that brought Dr. King to Memphis in April of 1968. It was supposed to end a year later, on the 50th anniversary of his death. But it’s only grown. Here’s a collection of lessons learned by Thomas and her staff in those four years. Here’s a collection of photography that captures those four years more powerfully than words. While thinking on the topic of photography and MLK, here’s a story of my great-uncle, Gil Michael, who was the only photographer allowed to photograph King’s assassin, James Earl Ray, and a lost trove of his photos were released around this day in 2011. My great uncle left his fingerprint on some great coverage of Dr. King’s time in Memphis, as he sent one of his Memphis State University students to cover Dr. King’s support of Memphis’s striking sanitation workers.

  2. In King’s very own Atlanta, the essence of the struggle he led continues all these years later with the ongoing response to an outrageously brazen effort to make voting more difficult for the citizens of Georgia. Atlanta Magazine has a brief roundup of the latest response, that of Major League Baseball’s decision to remove its All-Star game from the state in protest of Georgia’s passage of this retrograde and restrictive laws.

  3. I’m back on the Lonesome Dove train, working my way through the behemoth of a book, one that sought to demythologize the cowboy novel and ended up revered as the cowboy novel of all-time. Its author, Larry McMurtry, died recently, and this comprehensive Texas Monthly profile can tell you pretty much all you need to know about the man who rewrote Texas.

  4. This week, I got fully vaccinated.  The simplicity of the task here in Wyoming, the nonchalance of it all, the painlessness of the actual prick itself all led to a slight feeling of anticlimax. That’s just the result of viewing it from my own limited bubble; I was reminded of that when, the very next day, a friend in NYC told me she’d just gotten on a list for her first shot. The rate of vaccinations has picked up over this weekend, with more than 8 million shots administered in just two days, which is encouraging. But there’s still a lot of misinformation floating around about not only COVID-19 but the vaccinations as well. The Atlantic takes one of the most consistently wrong, Alex Berensen (“the former New York Times reporter, Yale-educated novelist, avid tweeter, online essayist, and all-around pandemic gadfly,” says the article), to task, and deconstructs much of his fear-mongering about the vaccines. 

  5. Speaking of The Atlantic and the topic of vaccinations, check out this episode from its new podcast, The Experiment, which looks at one particularly relevant Supreme Court case where the court upheld a state’s requirement that a man be vaccinated against his will amid a smallpox epidemic. Listen at: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Pocket Casts. Here’s a detailed article from the American Journal of Public Health if you want more background on the case and discussion of the intersection of constitutional law and public health.

  6. Every now and then I think about how we’ll appear to history. Documentaries and history books study the lives of people in our past by reading their correspondence. But what happens to that as a source when we reach the point in time where the people we want to study communicate exclusively the way we do now — by email or text message or social media post? Those thoughts came flooding back to me as I read about the efforts to preserve a record of the Internet, which seems impossibly daunting as a task but is actually being done by the Internet Archive. This article from Protocol profiles the challenges now facing that effort, besides the sheer enormity of the task. One can debate whether it’s necessary to preserve the Internet’s past or whether it’s even a good idea, but it’s an interesting project when we stop to consider how much of our culture now exists as ones and zeros. 

  7. The New Yorker reviewed a new book called Remember by Lisa Genova which details how and why we forget most things that ever happen to us. In its first paragraph, the reviewer writes:

    The fragments of experience that do get encoded into long-term memory are then subject to “creative editing.” To remember an event is to reimagine it; in the reimagining, we inadvertently introduce new information, often colored by our current emotional state. A dream, a suggestion, and even the mere passage of time can warp a memory. 

    None of this is particularly surprising, but if one sits and thinks on it for more than a minute, it’s a sad realization. Our most cherished memories  are more than a little bit fictional, and indeed perhaps that’s why they persist as our cherished memories. But here’s the thing: Genova’s book lets us off the hook from that slightly despairing thought because it’s what’s required and expected of a health brain. Read more about it here.

  8. An engaging look at what helps explain the trend observed in the 2020 election of Latino men voting for Trump at a bigger percentage than  they had in 2016 from The Washington Post Magazine. It combines analyses of statistical findings that might explain it, but the most relatable aspects of the article deal with the author exploring the reasons offered by his third-generation Mexican American father.

  9. I’m really looking forward to the Q: Into the Storm finale on HBO Max.  The six episodes have been released two at a time on Sunday evenings. What starts off as a relatively surface-level investigation into the conspiracy cult soon spirals outward into more of a whodunnit centered on the king-daddy question of them all: Who is Q? Whether or not he actually answers the question definitively, his focus on the Watkinses, a father-son duo that run Q’s preferred platform for posting, is compelling viewing.

  10. Godzilla vs. Kong is demolishing the pandemic box office records, bringing in more than $285 million globally. Does that mean that there’s still hope for theaters going forward? One can only hope. As far as the movie itself, is it dumb? Aggressively so. Does it make sense? Oftentimes, not even a little bit. But is it fun? Absolutely. It’s perfectly aware of how nonsensical it is, but when it comes to classic movie monsters squaring off against each other, it delivers an enjoyable two hours of escapism.

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