Damaris Zehner: The Signpost

Note from CM: On this final week of IM, we will be hearing from some good folks who have made contributions of excellence to this blog. We start today with one of my dear friends, Damaris, one of the most gifted and eloquent people I know. Thanks for sharing your wonderful writing with us over the years, Damaris.

The Signpost
By Damaris Zehner

I know a teenaged boy who hasn’t gotten out of bed for days. He used to. He used to play football on his high school team, but now football is canceled and he’s been told to stay home. Despite his youth and strength, society has made it very clear it has no need of him. His only value is the negative one of not spreading disease or causing trouble. He might as well stay in bed.

He is emblematic of the larger crisis of meaning that’s been revealed by, though not caused by, the pandemic. As newspapers, governments, and businesses talk about essential workers, it’s become clear that most of us are not “essential.” Few of us work at jobs that lead directly to the well-being of our families and neighbors, except through a paycheck. Most of us have been told, like my teenaged friend, that the only thing we can contribute to the greater good is to stay home and watch Netflix—oh, and shop from local businesses if they’re open, but since they’re not, then make Jeff Bezos a little richer instead.

This is an unusual and dysfunctional response to a crisis. During the Depression, unemployed people worked outdoors to create campgrounds, bridges, shelter houses, and other public goods. During World War Two, my mother was a high school student in Long Island but also a trained plane-spotter posted on the roof of her school, as well as a messenger skilled enough to navigate during black-outs. She received a certificate from the federal government thanking her for her work after the war. My husband’s grandfather, although he was a full-time farmer and had three sons in uniform, was also asked to work the late shift at a factory to support the war effort. People grew gardens, recycled, knitted, and cooked frugally – not just because they were good people and wanted to help, but because they were asked to.

This stands in sharp contrast to the vacuum of leadership and vision we face today. State or federal government could form another WPA and send the football teams out to repair and improve infrastructure. We could be asked to work shifts at PPE factories, or to grow extra food for local distribution to the unemployed, or even to deliver groceries and school supplies to those who are shut in. We could be asked to suit up and work alongside nurses and doctors, doing unskilled work to free them to care for the sick. Why aren’t we?

There are two reasons no one is asking us to help our neighborhoods and country. First, our late-stage capitalism and lack of leadership leave tasks like infrastructure and manufacturing in the hands of industrialists and entrepreneurs who, unless they can see how to make money out of them, ignore them. And second, in the hedonistic, consumeristic society we’ve become, sacrifice is a bad word. It is assumed that no one does anything without an immediate reward. I believe people would sacrifice for others if they were asked. Since they’re not, they do what they are asked: they stay home. And suicide rates rise and teenaged boys lie in bed because they have nothing to live for.

We see the bitter results most clearly now, but this crisis of meaning has been looming for years. Still, there have been bright spots along the way. In the last almost two decades, Internet Monk has been one place where people could come to discuss culture and sacrifice and the ultimate meaning of life. I and many like me have navigated, with the help of Internet Monk, away from the post-evangelical wilderness to a religious community that feels more authentic. We’ve formed relationships of a sort with each other. We have been blessed to be a part of this . . . community? Book club? Online class? Whatever it is, I’ve learned many things from posts and from the comments to my posts. This has been a wonderful thing, and Michael Spencer, Mike Mercer, and everyone else who has contributed over the years can and should feel satisfaction with the impact they’ve had.

Now the site is closing in a few days. What can replace Internet Monk for us? Where should we go next to find meaning in a world that encourages despair?

Not to another blog. I suggest that we bear in mind what we’ve learned here about God, others, and ourselves, turn off the computer, and find something else to do. Something meaningful, that is essential to the well-being of our neighbors and families, that involves physical objects in the physical world, that makes us get sweaty and sore and look forward to dropping off to sleep at the end of the day, instead of doomscrolling or propping ourselves up in front of Netflix. Something that gives us reason to get out of bed in the mornings.

Internet Monk has been an essential signpost in the wilderness, but it hasn’t been the road. The road is in the physical world, not the cyber world. The road is hot, cold, flat, hilly, smooth, or rough. It is frequented by people with bodies, pilgrims seeking meaning and connection – our neighbors, friends, families, and enemies. It is something that has to be walked, not just written about. Yes, signposts are essential: pilgrims have to stop to study the signposts occasionally, but then they pick up their packs and set out again.

I’ve loved much of the blogosphere and grown from my time spent on it, but I don’t think ultimately it is the healthiest thing for us. Like Chaplain Mike, I too will turn my energies elsewhere. I’ll continue to garden and preserve food, make things of cloth and yarn, play with my grandkids, and do whatever music is currently allowed for church. As soon as I can, I’ll be back in the classroom. And I’ll be working on writing a book, something that can exist in the same physical form for years and be held in people’s hands. I’m grateful for the signpost of Internet Monk. Now, with its guidance, I’ll leave it behind and get back to the road.

89 thoughts on “Damaris Zehner: The Signpost

  1. My routine: Being an introvert is finally paying off! I would rather have more in-person social contact than I do, but it isn’t a huge burden. As for my kids, aged eleven and thirteen, they both have maintained their social lives, mostly remotely. They are very comfortable with virtual socializing. I take this as a generational thing. The idea of texting as conversation is utterly bizarre to me, but they were doing it before the shutdown.


  2. It sounds to me like that young man is severely depressed- likely from having all social contact cut off. While he didn’t get to play football, i really, really don’t think that’s what’s making him feel like he does.

    Telepsych stuff has been OK in all 50 states since March.

    It would be great if he could find a kind therapist to talk to. All of us are going through something we were completely unprepared for – i mean, who could possibly comprehend a global pandemic and what we are (or aren’t) living through? Even if we had 100-year stockpiles of PPE in every town and city around the globe, we wouldn’t and don’t have anything that can protect our minds and emotions from the depredations of the pandemic.

    I’m really concerned for this young man, and hope he gets the help he needs.

    As for online relationships not being “real,”. I disagree completely. If i didn’t have the support and kindness of folks online, navigating this month (it’s just over 30 days now) since my mom died of COVID wouldn’t have been possible.

    Now, having been on disability for many years, my routine is, in contrast to most folks’, pretty well unchanged since mid-March. But the lack of social contact is definitely getting to me. The thing is, iMonk is a hangout for me, regardless of whether I’m posting replies or not. This has been a home for *real* conversations with *real* people, in *real* time.

    Yeah, a lot of things about the internet aren’t terribly real, but this place, and all of you? You’re very, very real to me.

    Thanks, all, for being part of my life.

    Yes, things change, but i would love to continue the convo elsewhere.


  3. Damaris, thanks for your writing and for your wisdom.

    I should tell you that a few years ago I put a copy of your book The Between Time on the bookshelf of our rental cottage. It’s in there with Philip Yancey and other religious lit, also fiction, history, nautical books, poetry, humor (Garrison Keillor for ex), and lots of children’s books. And at least twice, while cleaning, I’ve found it lying about, once in the bedroom. So I’m assuming that people take interest. I have also given copies as gifts, and have found personally that it’s a great devotional and not one bit sappy, as most are.

    I’ll click onto your blog from time to time. Mine seems dormant. I ran out of steam about five years ago, felt I had nothing left to say. Not Trump’s fault; he hadn’t even declared candidacy. No, it’s more of a discouragement with evangelicals, with a local church, and weariness from feeling like a voice crying in the (evangelical) wilderness. And it became hard to write.

    We’ll keep praying for God’s will on earth, and hope for 2021.


  4. The house we all live in was built around 1900, back when large, extended families were the norm. Depending on how you count, it’s got about 8 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, and plenty of common space – and living there is still a whole lot cheaper than if we were each living in 1-2 bedroom apartments by ourselves.


  5. “The common thread here is that the work world is a lot more specialized than it was a century ago. There are a lot fewer types of work where you could pull a kid from the high school football team and put him to genuine useful work. And frankly, even fewer he would be willing to do.”

    The first summer after moving to rural Arkansas in 1972 I signed on with a couple other guys, one of which had a 1.5 ton Chevy flatbed truck, and hauled hay–regular square bales. $.03/bale.

    Don’t have to go back a century. However, I must admit that if I had fore-sworn that job and my next one (stone mason’s helper) during the summers between college semesters I might well have been a couple inches taller.


  6. Mule, the “household collapse” you rightly point to is a collapse BACK to a real, experienced “normal.”

    What I’ve seen since the early 80’s especially in housing and the way families function is NOT REAL relative to history and our history. It is non-sustainable. It is artificial. AND, as a metaphor of that non-sustainability is what I see in the construction of all the McMansions I’ve worked in/on; the materials are “engineered” for ease and economy of construction; low cost, short life–30-40 yrs.. Except in high rainfall areas, say in excess of 35-40″/yr — which is essentially the Bible Belt, a development of the past 30 yrs or so is an exterior called “Dryvit”, a faux stucco system which is much less substantive than traditional stucco but much more economical and faster to apply. If done right it will last 30-40 years. How long does tradition stucco last? Wrong question. The better question is how long will the framing system last that is inside the stucco?

    An even bigger issue is this; why does it take 4000-5000 sq. ft. of floor space for a family of 3 or 4 to live? And, in my experience I go into houses of that size and it’s an older, often retired couple who are maintaining that size of house. WHERE DID THAT IDEA OF “NORMAL” COME FROM??

    It never has in history been “normal.”


  7. ” The defender of that socio-cultural despair is Fear; a fear without foundation.”


    Only to add that that fear is the fear of change, going into something not experienced. My parents as children moved into that Unknown with their parents and I grew up knowing how that affected my parents and how they dealt with it. Granted, it was my parents who initiated and developed and participated in the creation of the middle class of the 50’s and 60’s, but they wouldn’t tell you that was a bad thing. However, that good thing for the time began to go rotten in the 70’s and the Republicanism beginning with Tricky Dick and coming to fruition with Ronnie’s voodoo economics rapidly began the shift of power from the Middle back up to the Uppers. Now we’re all WallyWorld gig employees…much of the fear is fear of loosing our part time job of being a Greeter at one of the two entrances of our SuperCenter.

    And to think I only meant to add a short comment…


  8. Mule, I refuse to give in to the darkness. I’m not saying it isn’t there, I am saying that it doesn’t take much light to make the darkness considerably less powerful and demanding.


  9. I was good for the first six months. Lost weight. Focused on my work. Last four months… well lets just say it didn’t go quite so well.


  10. > and the idea that you can find salvation / meaning / fulfillment through spending

    My quibble is that I do not believe people believe that. People aren’t that dumb.

    What we’ve done is so constrained form that what else can people do? It is the default. One reason I expect a softer “social cost” than many is I don’t believe this is a great ideological transition for most people.

    What we have is not an ideology but a failure of imagination.


  11. America has no shortage of gargantuan houses.

    In 2019 78% of new homes constructed in the Midwest had 3 or more bedrooms, 33% [1 in 3] had 4 or more bedrooms…. and it is rare in the last four decades for that number [78%] to have dropped below 80%, and the 4 bedroom+ percentage actually trends upwards.

    Meanwhile household sizes have trended down.

    It is absurd consumerism reformed as spare capacity for new types of households! 🙂


  12. But to Burro, ORTHODOXY!!!! is the solution to Everything.

    During the Festivus post, I wanted to go nuclear on him so bad, but I was way too busy keeping my head afloat and surviving the 2020 Post-Election Dumpster Fire..


  13. One of the reasons for Microsoft’s early rise was that Bill Gates’ father was one of the top contract lawyers in the country. Guess who vetted and wrote all the contracts for Microsoft during those early years?


  14. There is one ESSENTIAL SERVICE(TM) I’d like to see die as horribly as possible:

    I’ve been working from home for nine months now, and on weekdays my landline phone keeps ringing with Robocall after Robocall after Robocall after Robocall after Robocall. I have not been under Telemarketer Siege like this for thirty years when I had to keep the phone cord pulled out of the wall unless I was actually using it; every time I’d hang up on one telemarketer, within seconds the phone would ring with the next telemarketer.


  15. On the last day of his life, in conclusion to the the last talk he ever gave before an international gathering of monastics in Bangkok, Thomas Merton related a story he had heard from Tibetan Buddhist monk Chogyam Trungpa. Trungpa had been absent from his monastery on a visit to another monastery when the Chinese invaded Tibet. Uncertain what to do, he managed to get a message through to an abbot friend asking for advice. He received this reply: “From now on, Brother, everybody stands on his own two feet.”

    “From now on, Brother, everybody stands on his own two feet…”


  16. I hear ya. I grew up playing wargames and things like APBA football and baseball all by myself. I’m pretty good at doing solitaire and “loner”… but this Covid shut-in crap is ridiculous!!!!


  17. I prefer Chrysostom’s words here to the Magnificat. This is what I hope the eschatological reality is like, rather than just an inversion of the existing dispensation.


  18. Damaris – Thank you so much for your contributions here. I came across you a decade or so ago and found a voice in common to express many of my own perspectives — much better than I could. I often found myself chiming in with a line or two of support.

    I enjoyed your book and will keep an eye out for another in the time ahead. Good luck with the canning, grandkids and the return to the classroom.

    Blessings on your journey.


  19. > And will that entirely be a bad thing?

    The collapse of American consumerism and the idea that you can find salvation / meaning / fulfillment through spending is certainly not a bad thing. But the social and economic cost for people who gave everything they had to that idol will be devastating.

    > But amidst despair we need to always remember that collapse creates a release of energy and a liberation of form. Already we are seeing a rise in co-op and multigenerational housing…

    You’re preaching to the choir; I live in a muiltigenerational Christian intentional community with my wife and five housemates. 🙂


  20. I admit to not having read the book, but merely several reviews. The thing is, I have a pretty good idea of why companies have lawyers, and how it goes if they don’t, or if they ignore their lawyer. (Spoiler Alert: It goes poorly.) The whole thing smacks of not knowing what they do and concluding therefore that they don’t do anything, combined with all those lawyer jokes. So what do corporate lawyers do? Lots of things. For many companies, negotiating contracts is a big part of the job. If you believe that long, complicated contracts are just a waste of paper, and a handshake is all that is necessary, well, I have a bridge I would like to sell you.


  21. Richard, read the book. It is much like than admin assistant. In fact, veryboften it is the admin assistant that actually does the work. Not the one they are “assisting”.


  22. Yep, he’s in my feed reader. The context of California, in the particulars, can seem like a world away from my “legacy” “rust belt” neighborhood; but we certainly share a lot of values and beliefs in common.


  23. Finn,

    Changing the subject, I wonder if you know the blog Granola Shotgun? The author talks about things that interest you, and I think you’d find some interesting things to think about and discuss with him in the comments.



  24. Thank you, Damaris, for helping to turn us to think about serving others and caring for creation – not only in today’s post, but all through your time writing here. You have called us to consider what is really important – and that’s really important. Blessings. Pray for me.



  25. I agree, Richard.

    While I agree that online relationships are not “real” relationships, the last 9 months have truly made me reassess many of my relationships as I have seen some of the seemingly nicest people show little concern for others’ health & well being by doing something as simple as wearing a mask. Someone I work with came to work for several days in a row when she didn’t feel well, didn’t wear a mask, and guess what? She had COVID. Our office is small but I am the only one there who didn’t catch it from her. One of my co-workers came back to work a few days later knowing he had the disease! Now, they are all extremely careless, since they’ve all had the virus. My cousin’s wife died of COVID that she almost certainly contracted at her job.
    I have to work so I go, do, and try to keep safe but I am honestly tired of hearing people complain about having to stay home. I realize that staying home has its own issues and concerns, but there are things I can do for my own mental health while I cannot stop someone from carelessly spreading virus. I feel bad for kids who are missing their sports, etc, but as you said, Richard, that’s not the only reason to get out of bed. And there are people out here like me who get out of bed, go to work, and wonder every day if this is the day the virus is going to be at work, too.


  26. –> “Does that mean that my lack of ‘works ‘ go against my salvation”

    Recommendation #1: Don’t go reading the book of James any time soon. LOL.

    Recommendation #2: Ignore any religious ignoramuses that suggest that, Yes, your salvation IS at risk.


  27. I’ve always been a bit of a loner and stay-at-home type, but nine months of Cabin Fever is getting to even me.


  28. Thanks Damaris for all your work here over the years. May you be wrapped in the Lord’s tender embrace (outside, in the yard, composting and such 🙂 )all your days!


  29. > If people who care about the integrity of the American system have time on their hands…..

    You will get a lot more bang-for-the-buck contacting your state reps, county commissioners, mayor,, city alderman/commissioners, etc…

    Not only can you help to solve issues in the near-term which directly impact people’s lives it is also extremely important to remember that today’s sate reps, county commissioners, mayors, city commissioners, etc… are tomorrow’s senators, representatives, and presidents. Supporting the best people near you is one of the best things you can do for the nation, today, and for its future.


  30. “State or federal government could form another WPA and send the football teams out to repair and improve infrastructure. We could be asked to work shifts at PPE factories, or to grow extra food for local distribution to the unemployed, or even to deliver groceries and school supplies to those who are shut in. We could be asked to suit up and work alongside nurses and doctors, doing unskilled work to free them to care for the sick. Why aren’t we?”

    Is this a rhetorical question? I’m not sure. So here goes: Even if there happens to be a PPE factory near that football team, labor for the third shift is not likely to be the limiting factor, much less unskilled labor. Growing zucchini in the backyard for the local food bank would largely be symbolic. If everyone was doing it, the likely result would be a lot of rotting zucchini in the dumpster out back. Deliver groceries? We are on better ground here. Some churches have organized groups for this sort of thing. But supermarkets also deliver nowadays. For those shut ins who can afford to shop at supermarkets, delivery isn’t really the problem. Well, it might be in more rural areas. I would also expect the local churches to step up. Working in medical care? Like the PPE factories, I am skeptical that lack of unskilled labor is the issue, with the added factor that those football players would be both putting themselves at risk and getting in the way.

    The common thread here is that the work world is a lot more specialized than it was a century ago. There are a lot fewer types of work where you could pull a kid from the high school football team and put him to genuine useful work. And frankly, even fewer he would be willing to do. Send him into the fields to pick ground crops? Good luck with that. The thing of it is about this specialization is that it mostly is a good thing. Nursing being a skilled profession means we can’t pull people off the street to do it, but it also means that the nursing is far better than a century back.

    As for our football player being useless, while it sucks that he missed a year of ball, that isn’t supposed to be all he was doing, even before Covid. He was supposed to be in school preparing for adult life. He is still supposed to be doing this. Remote learning sucks. Both my kids have struggled with it. It turns out that attending in person makes a huge difference. My wife and I have had to step up our supervision of them getting their work done. But the message most certainly is not that they have no reason to get out of bed. To be blunt, if football was this kid’s only reason, his problem long predates the shutdown.


  31. You can hear echoes of St. John Chrysostom’s Paschal Homily there:

    You rich and poor together, hold high festival!
    You sober and you heedless, honour the day!
    Rejoice today, both you who have fasted
    And you who have disregarded the fast.
    The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
    The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
    Enjoy ye all the feast of faith:
    Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.
    Let no one bewail his poverty,
    For the universal Kingdom has been revealed.
    Let no one weep for his iniquities,
    For pardon has shown forth from the grave.
    Let no one fear death,
    For the Saviour’s death has set us free.

    My children and my grandchildren are going to need a far more robust Christianity than I am capable of giving to them. And yes, Klasie, it has to be Christianity or something similar. Something that promises life from death, and not just metaphorical death but real organ-failure, flat-lining, f*ck-you-let’s see-how-you handle-THAT death


  32. I have never cared for this “bullshit jobs” concept. Sure, there are genuinely bullshit jobs, but often what are talked about are jobs where the benefit to the employer is not immediately obvious from the outside. Or even sometimes where it is pretty readily apparent. An admin assistant answering the phones? Take them away and either someone else has to answer the phones or the phones don’t get answered. There are companies that make it very difficult to talk to a real person. I greatly prefer doing business with the other kind.


  33. > we’re going to see millions of such households collapsing

    And will that entirely be a bad thing? There is something insidious and self-defeating about the way America does “Middle Class”. It is clearly dying – – – which is probably wound up somehow in the Evangelical “Collapse” – – – and I’ll be happy to stand and wave as the towers crumble.

    “The World Is Always Coming to an End” by Carlo Rotella tells the story of the “middle class” South Short neighborhood, so many clear examples of how the middle-class is self-defeating; it’s privitism and insularity are its own undoing.

    > parents who feel social pressure to either take on tremendous debt or work exhausting
    > hours in order to provide their kids with

    … with what? That’s the thing.

    But amidst despair we need to always remember that collapse creates a release of energy and a liberation of form. Already we are seeing a rise in co-op and multigenerational housing (see “Brave New Home: Our Future in Smarter, Simpler, Happier Housing” by Lind). The world is being remade.

    And personally, around me, I don’t find despair or apathy [or even many closed businesses for that matter]. It is so counter-intuitive that those with the resources to spare are the most averse to [let’s be honest: extremely minimal] risk. The defender of that socio-cultural despair is Fear; a fear without foundation.


  34. (This is a wish on my part)
    Something that could stir up many people right now would be a mask wearing, socially distanced March on Washington to condemn the actions of a lame duck President who is potentially stirring violence in the near future. Make a call to as many Republican leaders as could be cobbled together on one stage to speak against actions that are clearly detrimental to democracy. Some statements from police and military as well as high courts. It is wildly inappropriate, at best, for the President to be running a campaign against a certified President elect when the election has been completed. These young people could perhaps be stirred to action in this arena. Flash mob protests locally even. A time to step up and protect our great country from a self serving man bent on power at the expense of democracy. If people who care about the integrity of the American system have time on their hands…..


  35. “Not another blog” – good words. With this site closing down and another one I am a regular at becoming a cesspool of arguing and politics, I will have to “re-invent” and refocus elsewhere (not online).


  36. At my previous job (at a tech company) we had a corporate lawyer. Once, in our ignorance, some of us in the software department who had a question about what open source licenses were valid for use in our product figured, “She’s a lawyer, and she works for a tech company, and her job is to do legal stuff for the company, so maybe she should review these licenses.” She told us in no uncertain terms that not only did she not understand any of the legal issues surrounding licensing, but that she had no intention of learning them, and we’d need to find someone else to do the legal review instead.

    I never actually did figure out what she did all day; I think she mostly sat at her desk playing games on her phone. But a lot of upper management jobs were also BS, so there was a strong incentive for none of them to point out anyone else’s BS position…


  37. Re: Lamp posts.

    Internetmonk is more like the Lamp Post in the northern wastes of Narnia, a relic from an another world kept shining and illuminating through a power not its own. Alas, the Calormenes have invaded the surrounding forest and are busy felling the trees. A donkey disguised as a lion has been braying that this is a Good Thing. Even though the false lion has been deskinned and revealed for who he is, this is no guarantee that things will improve. The legitimate authorities of Narnia have been severely weakened and no longer have the strength to hold back the darkness,

    Wrenching into another metaphor, I hesitate to mention Os Guinness. He is, after all, an Evangelical and if not a supporter of the false lion, at any rate he wasn’t a critic of him. Mr. Guinness said that the astounding brilliance of the last few centuries has been due to the combustion of the fuel of Christianity in the oxygen of Rationalism. The last few logs have been piled on, it’s getting a little hard to breathe, and there are drums and noises in the encircling darkness. It’s been nice for a little while to huddle around a place with there is still a few stout branches left to burn and a little oxygen to burn them in.


  38. The flip side of that is the “hollow middle class” – parents who feel social pressure to either take on tremendous debt or work exhausting hours in order to provide their kids with all the signifiers of a middle-class lifestyle, because of the expectations our society places on them of what “success” needs to look like. I suspect that in the coming years as the economic effects of the pandemic drag on we’re going to see millions of such households collapsing.


  39. We’ve got the book Bullshit Jobs, Klasie, and we refer to it almost daily. Thanks for the insights. I’ve really appreciated your thoughts here on iMonk.

    And Adam, absolutely true. I like your distinction between essential jobs and essential people — that’s a phrase I’ll use.


  40. Exactly. A serious conversation about labour will bring down many idols, hence the fear of entering into it.


  41. There’s a poem, attributed to Rumi, that’s been stuck in my head for a while:

    Come, come, whoever you are.
    Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
    It doesn’t matter.
    Ours is not a caravan of despair.
    Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.
    Come, yet again, come, come.

    In the US, that “caravan of despair” comprises tens of millions of people who have nothing positive to hope for and have instead sunk into self-medicating behavior, resentment, and fatalism. And because human beings are such intensely social creatures, it’s almost impossible for us to live healthy and hopeful lives if we aren’t part of a healthy and hopeful community, so the despair perpetuates itself, generation after generation.

    Just giving people jobs wouldn’t be enough, although it would probably help. We also need to find ways to repair the social fabric.


  42. > In fact, in our society, often the more useful the work is, the less they pay you.

    This has bugged me all along in the coverage of “Essential Workers” – – – and that effectively nobody has called out the BS that is this phrase.

    Many of the under-paid over-praised “essential workers” aren’t. These are ESSENTIAL JOBS, that’s the rub. The Workers are very much NOT Essential, they are interchangeable. This could have been a spring board to an interesting and constructive conversation about labor, instead we do what we always do: we ignore systems, personalize everything, write some so-sincere human interest pieces, and engage in some civic theatrics.


  43. A good, discussion-provoking post Damaris, in the best tradition of this blog!

    Some remarks:

    I recently got recommended, and listened to the very interesting “Bullshit Jobs” by the anthropologist, David Graeber. Here is an extract from a 2018 interview he did with Vox:

    What are “bullshit jobs”?

    David Graeber
    Bullshit jobs are jobs which even the person doing the job can’t really justify the existence of, but they have to pretend that there’s some reason for it to exist. That’s the bullshit element. A lot of people confuse bullshit jobs and shit jobs, but they’re not the same thing.

    Bad jobs are bad because they’re hard or they have terrible conditions or the pay sucks, but often these jobs are very useful. In fact, in our society, often the more useful the work is, the less they pay you. Whereas bullshit jobs are often highly respected and pay well but are completely pointless, and the people doing them know this.

    Sean Illing
    Give me some examples of bullshit jobs.

    David Graeber
    Corporate lawyers. Most corporate lawyers secretly believe that if there were no longer any corporate lawyers, the world would probably be a better place. The same is true of public relations consultants, telemarketers, brand managers, and countless administrative specialists who are paid to sit around, answer phones, and pretend to be useful.

    A lot of bullshit jobs are just manufactured middle-management positions with no real utility in the world, but they exist anyway in order to justify the careers of the people performing them. But if they went away tomorrow, it would make no difference at all.

    And that’s how you know a job is bullshit: If we suddenly eliminated teachers or garbage collectors or construction workers or law enforcement or whatever, it would really matter. We’d notice the absence. But if bullshit jobs go away, we’re no worse off.

    (end of quote)

    And that is just the thing that this pandemic highlighted to us once again. In my own little company we were lucky enough to have work, and also spend some of our time developing new technology that will make the world a better place. We recently got our first trial contract in this regard, and are working with others to test some of our advances. This is in part possible because we do not operate on a classic employment model – we are all contactors, including the owner, with no employees, no admin staff, and an external accountant. There are no office hours – the key figure behind much of the development often works at night. We started working exclusively from home early in 2018, so we were well poised for the pandemic challenges. We care about outcomes, not box ticking, not hours.

    This isn’t possible for everybody, I realize. But at the same time, it closely connects with the message of my last post here (“The campaign for real humans”, Nov 17). Deconstructing our world to find out what is real, and abandon the unfulfilling, unproductive, unnecessary fluff and toil is essential. Only then can we free ourselves to help, to get engrossed, to create, to live.


  44. Thank you Damaris
    I have valued your writing here over the years
    I wish you God’s blessings


  45. Liz, I’m not calling for unemployed workers to work for free. I want our leaders to see all 326 million of us as contributors to the common good and to ask us to care for each other — and that means paying each other a living wage as well as calling for volunteer work where appropriate.


  46. oh no…I’m so sad this site is shutting down. I hope the archives will love forever. I haven’t been here much in the last few years, but I’ve missed it.


  47. To Susan and others who have limited opportunity to get out, for whatever reason: I do not mean to imply that you are falling short of God’s or society’s demands on you or that your lives are less meaningful than those who can work physically. What we can and can’t do is largely dictated by our stage in life and our circumstances. I am speaking more generally, though, about the physical and social decline and even despair that can occur in people who lack contact with other people. Online communities are a blessing, certainly, especially now when many of us are stuck inside; but they are not all we require as social animals.


  48. “I’m grateful for the signpost of Internet Monk. Now, with its guidance, I’ll leave it behind and get back to the road.”

    Sounds great.

    … where’s the road?


  49. You are speaking for yourself regarding the importance or lack of importance of blogs. But it is true that everything comes and goes, not just blogs. Lifelines, like life, end. Whatever it is that you do consider a lifeline, know that it will end too.


  50. Wait so you are a teacher who is getting paid to sit at home and you are calling for unemployed Americans to work on front lines for free because you don’t think they do enough? Go talk to the ctu about who should be working and who should be sitting home.


  51. And it has been more than just a social club to me. In the ten years I’ve spent here, this place has become a school in which my thinking about many things has changed, and I’ve learned many things that facilitated that change. Spiritually, intellectually, morally, this place has exerted as much or more influence for the good on my development than the social institutions, including churches, that I was plugged into as a matter of social default from childhood up.

    But nothing lasts, and it’s time for this to end. That’s the nature of existence in this phenomenal world.


  52. For my part, as a worker in an essential business — medical and dental supplies distribution — apart from a six month furlough at the beginning of this when dentist offices were closed thus cutting into my company’s business, I’ve been busier than ever, though I’m definitely not an essential worker, just doing essential work. But I feel completely disposable and of little value, a near-the-front line worker at great risk who receives little recognition and poor pay, and actually wish it were possible to stay home with my wife where the two of us, as individuals at high-risk for severe cases of coronavirus, would be safest until these vaccines are thoroughly deployed and things are hopefully better.

    Let’s pray this ends sooner rather than later, Susan. In any case, I definitely agree with you that iMonk is not merely a stand-in for true community, but the real thing in a different form. And for those with limited options — and many of us regulars here at iMonk have limited options of one kind or another — it is and has been an oasis of sane communal life.


  53. Damaris, “crisis of meaning” is so right. I see so often teenagers who’s only meaning is one given to them by a nagging parent(s) to make good enough grades and have enough “service” experiences on their resume so they can get into good universities to get an “education” so they can make boat loads of money so they can be “successful” which in reality means being a consumer. “Those who die with the most toys win.”

    Those sons and daughters actually resent parents like that and many of those kids are forced into some form of rebellion–and often a self-destructive rebellion.

    Being pushed to the edge of physical limits, being near the birth and death of life, and the challenges of environments that don’t have paved streets and cell reception–a decent dose of those things will shape “meaning” for life. Some form of required national service I think would help.


  54. Susan,

    I’ve been incapacitated for two months now. I’m mid-60’s, do house remodeling, and I fell off a roof on 10/30. I still can’t do much without some intense pain. I am learning something of what it is to experience what you deal with. It’s too bad we live so far apart or we could start a “rocker’s club” — sit in rockers on the porch and tell each other tales ;o)

    iMonk has meant a lot to me over the years, but especially over the last couple of months.


  55. Susan you are a wonderful person. Your incapacitation is unfortunate and a circumstance just about all of us who live long enough will experience to some degree.

    Grace is never opposed to effort. However, grace is antithetical to merit. Your good work has preceded you in this present time and is already bearing the fruit of a life well lived. Let’s take joy in that reality because that’s what I see when I read your comments.

    “Lord, please restore to us the comfort of merit and demerit. Show us that there is at least something we can do. Tell us that at the end of the day there will at least be one redeeming card of our very own. Lord, if it is not too much to ask, send us to bed with a few shreds of self-respect upon which we can congratulate ourselves. But whatever you do, do not preach grace. Give us something to do, anything; but spare us the indignity of this indiscriminate acceptance.”

    ? Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace


  56. Thank you Damaris. Well thought out and written.

    I think your “sign post” metaphor is apt, but I think of iMonk as more a lamp post on a corner of a quiet residential street where neighbors gather any time of day, but especially so in the evening, to share the day’s experiences and news and to process those things with each other. There’s always a low buzz of conversation. Often laughter crackles from the corner lamp, and, sometimes an argument erupts for a short while. When I was younger we had a “porch culture” in much of the country that served much the purpose as our lamp post here at the corner of iMonk and 21st.

    Ditto to your observations and conclusions.

    It is shameful that our culture has been so intimidated by Death that we’re afraid to live…


  57. And all it does is hurt
    I am incapacitated and needing lots of assistance
    I have trouble leaving home
    My parameters are limited to my I phone
    Does that mean my lack of ‘good’ works count against me?
    Feeling bereft

    6phone or internet
    I did a host of community hrlf on years past
    Does that mean that my lack of ‘works ‘ go against my salvation


  58. So much of this resonates with me.

    I have spent roughly 800 hours writing for Internet Monk. And while it has been good and helpful and necessary it has been 800 hours that often cut into my sleep time, reduced my work efficiency, and generally made me less physically healthy.

    I don’t regret it for a minute, but it also makes me want to pause and take a long look at what comes next.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: