Letter from the Editor: Before Summer Slips Away

As summer fades into fall, I feel the sunshine slipping through my fingers. Soon the Midwest skies will be overcast with gray that will hang heavy overhead until spring. I wonder if I’ve enjoyed summer enough; I wonder if my time in the sun will brighten my countenance long enough to outlast the gray that’s to come.

In an attempt to boost your emotional Vitamin D, we have a special summer issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine—a double dose of bright and sunny features that speak to the way summer affects us, mind, body, and soul.

For many, summer means tracking the latest round of American Ninja Warrior. Jessica Snell’s article, “American Ninja Warrior: Villains Need Not Apply,” explains why this show is different from most reality TV:

There’s a different kind of reality show, though, and that’s the kind that invites us to admire virtue rather than to wallow deliciously in vice. This kind of show includes hits like Top Chef and Project Runway. Though contestant fights and foibles are still a part of the plot, the real joy of these shows comes from the simple delight of watching people who are good at something do the something they are good at.

Modern summer includes special TV shows like Ninja Warrior, but for children, it’s always been about a break from school. In “Stand by Me and the Magic of Summertime Questing,” James Cain presents a case for childhood questing by looking at the classic film Stand by Me:

For a school-aged child, summer provides a magical in-between place, where schedules slip and the artificial boundaries that school sometimes creates between people give way. Summer makes room for a different, and deep, and lasting kind of education, one that strengthens friendships apart from the relentless routine of the school year.

[…]

[Stand by Me] takes viewers along on a quest that encapsulates coming of age; deep, transforming friendship; and the possibilities of a “summertime kind of life.”

Summer becomes a hinge season for growing up, as youth leave one grade behind and move on to the next. That repeats (for most) twelve years or more, which forever fills summertime with a sense of change and new horizons. In “Shedding Summer Skin,” Abby Perry writes of how her favorite Death Cab for Cutie album became the soundtrack of her college and early adulthood years, summarizing how she was growing out of her out self with each passing year:

I learned then that summer skin not only refused to cloak me in its comfort when the fall came, but that each summer’s skin was different. Camp strained my heart and body, fueling a cognitive dissonance that bred guilt and confusion—I loved this last year, why can’t I now? I think I am in love with this boy. Am I losing myself? If so, is he the reason why?

I had left my love for the rigor of camp in the prior year’s summer skin. At 18, I couldn’t yet see that part of the brutal beauty of life is its relentless shedding of comforts from us, over, over, over again, leaving us raw and tender, asking ourselves why we cannot bring our own hearts along the way we want, catch ourselves up to wherever it is we think we should be. I couldn’t see that tenderness and rawness could be a gift to myself and to others. All I wanted was to be with the boy, and all I wanted was to be the summer skinned version of myself from the year before, and all I wanted was to convince my heart to do whatever would help me not feel this way anymore.

Change is never easy. Growing into our grownup skin takes seasons, even a lifetime. But we do change, year after year, which may be why we can have repeat experiences each summer without them turning to rote. We aren’t the same people we were back then, making familiar things fresh once again. Olivia Ard speaks to this phenomenon as it related to reading favorite stories each summer in her feature, “Our Beloved Stories of Summer“:

In this way, revisiting good fiction—while by no means a replacement for Scripture—can become a vital part of the Christian life. I’m not suggesting that we should never expose ourselves to new material—novelty and discovery are just as important. But when our bodies, minds, and spirits are overwhelmed by the sadness and monotony so often found in the world, we can retreat to the familiar stories we know so well, relax into them, and rest. Just as liturgy provides a structure to worship on which we can hang our weary souls, the worn cover of a well-loved novel with themes that point us to the true myth of Christ can be a soothing salve indeed.

Summer’s longer days give us more time to read favorite books as well as enjoy family, friends, and neighbors. Ashley Hales, in her feature, “The Kingdom of God Is Like a Sticky Movie Theater Floor and a Neighborhood Concert,” asks an important question and speaks truth to our summer longings:

What if the spaces of summertime were right in the middle of our daily life, too, hidden in plain sight?

We spend much of our summer not in week-long sports camps, but at the local movie theaters with their weekly dollar shows and at our neighborhood concerts. These are a far cry from the Hawaiian vacations, epic road trips, and the fancy meals of summer. But these are the spaces of summer I want my children to remember. These are our weekly liturgies that press me away from pursuing comfort and glorifying the nuclear family. These are my bread and wine, my oil, and where I find the pearl of great price.

Staying put in the summer to experience the common liturgies around us is a beautiful thing. To do so will require a slowing down, a shifting of gears, the very thing Michael Morgan speaks of in his feature, “Wisdom in the Summer Garden.” He speaks of finding life in summer gardening by stepping back from the frenetic pace of life and how summer’s signature sport of baseball offers us the perfect metaphor for it in the physics of the curveball:

Slowing down has a vital purpose. It is not to catch our breath in order to better serve the machine upon our return. Summertime is a precious opportunity to completely re-think pace. A chance to stand up from the batter-like crouch of one who has surrendered to the endless accept, react, compete cycle of The Way Things Are. We compete as though life itself were going out of stock. Maybe not as directly as a pitcher and a batter trying to win the day at the other’s expense, but close. Look at the hoops we jump through to keep ourselves marketable. The late-night emails we answer. The moments we sacrifice to the intrusion of the screen. The terms and conditions we accept to stay available and so prove ourselves worthy.

In “A Priest for All Seasons: Murder, Mystery, and Contentment in Father Brown and Grantchester,Amanda Martinez Beck compares two murder mystery shows and how each one reflects seasons of life and faith:

The murders in Grantchester are intense and often deeply painful, giving viewers a complex situation where right and wrong are not always clear. Its darker tone is notable when contrasted with the light, always-summer feeling of Father Brown. England is notorious for its overcast weather, but somehow Father Brown is always cycling around the countryside in his black cassock, solving murders in the hot and humid summertime. The scenes are shot with bright lighting and an optimism in the sleuthing priest that gives me joy as I watch him solve the crime, often confronting the episode’s murderer with the truth of their dark deeds and urging them to repent, for the sake of their mortal soul. When the wrong person is behind bars, Father Brown is their advocate. And for everyone he encounters, whether guilty of murder or innocent as a dove, the priest offers truth and an ear for confession.

As a practicing Catholic, I know that confession must occur even in the summertime, when the confessional booth is stuffy and both priest and penitent are itching to be elsewhere. Much like participation in the Eucharist, the act of confession roots a believer to a local body of Christ, making room for every person to hear the comforting words of the forgiveness God offers.

I long for that “light, always summer feeling” in all aspects of life, but especially my faith. Bring on the endless blue skies and bright sunshine! But reality is, my faith endures the stuffy, humid days, when my sin is suffocating me. That’s when I wish for a change of season, the relief of confession. Whatever the season, we can rest assured that change isn’t far away, and summer will be back in full after the gray skies part.

In This Issue

American Ninja Warrior: Villains Need Not Apply

The real joy of shows like American Ninja Warrior comes from the simple delight of watching people who are good at something do the something they are good at.

by Jessica Snell

Stand by Me and the Magic of Summertime Questing

Stand by Me takes viewers along on a quest that encapsulates coming of age; deep, transforming friendship; and the possibilities of a “summertime kind of life.”

by James Cain

Shedding Summer Skin

The nostalgia, wistfulness, and ache that Death Cab conjures up in the hearts of listeners is like no other.

by Abby Perry

Our Beloved Stories of Summer

Revisiting good fiction—while by no means a replacement for Scripture—can become a vital part of the Christian life.

by Olivia Ard

The Kingdom of God Is Like a Sticky Movie Theater Floor and a Neighborhood Concert

When people are wary of the church, these places show us what community can be: parties, music, good food, experiencing a good story, and the careful art of negotiating communal relationships.

by Ashley Hales

Wisdom in the Summer Garden

Unlike the pitcher, the gardener cannot rely on her own strength to get her very far. Can she, after all, cause a seed to sprout?

by Michael Morgan

A Priest for All Seasons: Murder, Mystery, and Contentment in Father Brown and Grantchester

As a practicing Catholic, I know that confession must occur even in the summertime, when the confessional booth is stuffy and both priest and penitent are itching to be elsewhere.

by Amanda Martinez Beck

The Kiddy Pool: Summertime, and the Livin’ Ain’t Easy

Reflecting on summer vacation prompts me to consider just how ordinary poverty is for so many of my neighbors, literal and figurative.

by Erin Wyble Newcomb

Morning Has Broken, Summer Is Over: A Eulogy for ‘Phineas and Ferb’

Phineas’ irrepressible smile and insatiable drive to create quickly became as pleasantly overpowering as the warmth and light of the sun itself.

by Luke T. Harrington

10 Summer Movies Every Christian Needs to Know About

Here are ten of the most anticipated movies hitting theaters this summer and a few themes to look out for.

by Wade Bearden

Grace Notes: Music to Help You Survive the Summer

Four albums that will help you make it through this oppressively hot summer.

by Jason Morehead

Summer Shootings, Pokémon Go : Rebuilding Community in the Wake of Destruction

In a season of sorrow, Pokémon Go is a bit of common grace sprinkled on the horror blazing around us.

by Luke T. Harrington

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