1) Something’s in the water at The Atlantic lately, because inspired after inspired article seems to be finding its way into the proverbial stream, including an intriguing article about tv show The Walking Dead‘s “Come-to-Jesus Moment.” As the review is aware (and mind you, if you’re not caught up on the show, spoilers), it’s certainly a dissatisfying presentation of faith’s power in crisis, but it has a lot to say about the human compulsions to lean on something in hard times, and the ease of and inevitable infidelity of that leaning becoming a leaning on one’s self. In a hellish landscape, the land of the dead, death to self in prayerful reliance seems to be the opposite of what the rest of the show has been conveying as ‘staying alive.’

As Rick and Hershel debate the group’s next move, the rest of the survivors continue to develop coping strategies for the nightmare that surrounds them. In last week’s “Save The Last One,” Glenn confessed to his new lover Maggie that he had begun to pray for the first time in his life. Shane continues to be haunted by his betrayal of Otis, and the awkward, stilting eulogy he offers at Otis’ funeral is far less authentic a remembrance than Shane telling Andrea to “turn off the switch” that allows you to feel.

Throughout it all, there’s one survivor who has consistently opted out of the religious debate entirely: Darryl, whose sole comment on the subject was “it’s a waste of time, all this hoping and praying” earlier this season. If God helps those who help themselves, Daryl is His prophet (and, perhaps significantly, the survivor you’d most want on your side by far). By contrast, Carol—Sophia’s mother—spends much of her time hoping, praying, and looking nervous. Given the alternative, it’s hard not to get behind Daryl’s secular, pragmatic approach.

But whatever role God plays or doesn’t play in this world, religion has one immediate, tangible function: It changes the way people treat each other. The most poignant moment in “Cherokee Rose” comes when Glenn and Maggie arrive at the pharmacy, which bears a hand-painted sign: “Take what you need and God bless.” And Rick is understanding enough (or, perhaps, manipulative enough) to know that appealing to Hershel as a “man of belief” is the group’s best chance of being granted permission to stay at the farm.

2) In music, over at Pitchfork, Craig Finn of The Hold Steady revealed his first solo album, to be released in January, shamelessly entitled, get this, “Clear Hearts Full Eyes.” Clear hearts–honesty, full eyes–experience. Check out his interview about the album here.

The wait is over, and the glowing write-ups are in. Mockingbirds The Hill and Wood release their debut, self-titled album today, 11/11/11, with a CD release party in Charlottesville. In a review done by The Hook entitled “Shelter from the Storm: Garage Founder Branches Out,” writer Nick Rubin describes frontman Sam Bush’s lyrical treatment of the sacred:

So when Bush notes that The Hill and Wood’s CD release show would take place at the Haven, a converted church that he says “still captures that sacred feeling which, kind of, like, gets you more tuned in to the show,” it’s natural to wonder whether religious themes will dominate the Hill and Wood’s music. Yes and no. As Bush puts it, “Whatever you’re into is going to be part of your output.”

But for Bush, religious themes are universal– how we move through the world, how we engage those close to us. The album doesn’t succumb to the noxious Hallmarkisms that plague most of the music carrying the appropriately anodyne “Christian Contemporary” label. These are intricate compositions– exploratory, and definitely not numbingly banal wallpaper that does your listening for you…The results are lush, yet retain a homemade vibe. Simultaneously cinematic and intimate, it’s not unlike a feedback-free flipside to Andrew Cedermark’s excellent Moon Deluxe, which Bush calls a favorite.

Bush’s voice can evoke Sufjan Stevens– with whom Wardell and Foote have worked– and The Hill and Wood also bring to mind Ben Kweller and Wilco. Now Bush and company are hitting the road, and it’s hard to imagine the group won’t burst into view. Fittingly, the tour capitalizes on the goodwill Bush and his comrades have shown out-of-town bands at The Garage. Now those bands have set up shows for the Hill and Wood in their own towns. Do unto others…

3) It seems our liquids have a lot to say about the counterproductivity of bans and laws on our own self-oriented urges. So observes the Atlantic’s Hans Villarica in his article “What that Venti Coffee Really Says About You.” It turns out that, all the health risks aside (or all health risks realized, for that matter), the bigger the cup, the bigger the compensation, the bigger we conceive our own importance, for now. Similarly, the Soda Bans continue, and continue to fail to meet its ends. So says the NY Times:

State laws that ban soda in schools — but not other sweetened beverages — have virtually no impact on the amount of sugary drinks middle school students buy and consume at school, a new study shows.

The study, which looked at thousands of public school students across 40 states, found that removing soda from cafeterias and school vending machines only prompted students to buy sports drinks, sweetened fruit drinks and other sugar-laden beverages instead. In states that banned only soda, students bought and consumed sugary drinks just as frequently at school as their peers in states where there were no bans at all.

4) The week’s end brought an onslaught of venomous opinion and self-justification in regards to the Penn State scandal, and the sacking of already-lionized and -legendary head coach Joe Paterno, based on his all-too-passive response to sexual assault allegations of a former assistant coach. The gravity of the horrific misdeeds aside, it is interesting to see how quickly the time-tested tables of favor have turned for many analysts and Americans, but all the more shocking to see how quickly the media utilizes a scandal’s energy to point the camera back at their own unblemished omniscience. Famed Paterno contemporary and current ESPN analyst Lou Holtz used the opportunity to make a statement absolving himself from any connection he might have had with the assistant coach in question, Jerry Sandusky, and his charity organization, for which Holtz was a boardmember, saying:

“I not only refused a fee, but made a few thousand dollars donation as I was impressed with their organization…I normally make a contribution when I speak at a fundraiser because I can’t ask people to donate if I am not willing to do so as well…The contact I had with Jerry Sandusky was basically limited to taking pictures with he and the sponsors.”

Other journalists just noted the utter complication these moments bring to our natural tendency to heroize. When a 40+ year coaching career at a university brought up a football program from the ground, and exemplified noteworthy humility and hard work, and included the laurels of Presidential honors, dedicated libraries, not to mention an unheard-of student loyalty–it seems an impenetrable glory, like Caesar or Elvis. In a week, though, with one thing “left undone” it’s tarnished forever. We aren’t Caesars–it’s just not true. Michael Weinreb, a Nittany Lion over at Grantland, puts it this way:

Last night, I watched the news until 1:30 in the morning, and I cried a little, and then I went to bed. I woke up this morning and my hometown was quiet again. On the front page of my old college newspaper, a senior marketing major named Andrew Hanselman said this: “Being accepted to Penn State felt like a family, and Joe Paterno was the father.” Well, we’re on our own now, Andrew. It’s time to grow up.

Still, there is an obsession with scandal in our culture. Why is that? Is it because the downfall of a celebrity is the hoped-for reckoning that brings us back to an equal footing? Is it because there’s some innate desire to live by law, to bring down by law? Is it because we innately love to destroy goodness, as Nick Lowe calls out, “I love the sound of breaking glass, especially when I’m lonely.” I think it’s all of these things. It’s like Katie Roiphe so poignantly points out about the Herman Cain scandal over at Slate: our judgments are immovably fixed.

Let’s just do the thought experiment: If Herman Cain had stood there, under television lights, and said: “I have been lonely, I have been misguided by power, and I have made passes at women who were perhaps unhappy that I did. I have perhaps overstepped in social situations in which I was still the boss, and I am sorry.” Would the liberals attacking him attack him less? Would the conservatives defending him defend him more? Would his rivals cease their jubilant attacks? Or would it make, in the end, no difference at all? I would think the last because our judgments are hardwired, our outrage so automatic, our scripts about these things already written.

We are not as forgiving or fluid in our opinions as we pretend; the idea that it’s the lie or the evasion that matters to us is a self congratulatory fiction. We are more comfortable objecting to the dishonesty, perhaps, in the chattering classes, in cities and other liberal pockets, because we like to pretend to a tolerance and sexual open-mindedness that we don’t quite have.

It is only this kind of recognition pointed at an accuser that can bring about a kind of common-sense charity for someone like Cain or Paterno. Is that why so many people came outside his home two nights ago to say, “We love you, Joe”? Or is it still merit-based loyalty?

5) Family conflict’s everywhere, and over at New Wine James Mumford has got some great biblical perspectives on the paradox of Christian family, how conflict runs in congruence with the command of honor, and that one’s true identity stands in a radical sense of detachment with one’s family. Identity in Christ is identity as new children.

Another key paradox…is the Bible’s view of families. Not just marriage, but families. Because if you read today’s critics, once again you find double charges. On the one hand the Church, insofar as it laments the scale of family breakdown in Western societies, is often dismissed as socially conservative, unthinkingly traditional and quaintly pro-marriage. But on the other hand a different set of critics scorn the church for being anti-family.

…As a follower of Jesus one’s primary loyalty is no longer to one’s blood relatives: that is the profound implication of this troubling text. That doesn’t abolish families, but it does relativise them. It doesn’t mean you automatically abandon your family, but it does mean you’re no longer determined by it. It means that now your fundamental identity lies elsewhere. It means that your mother, father, brother or sister’s view of how you live your life is no longer the most important one – and sometimes that causes trouble; it means that sometimes there is a place for rebellion. Sometimes there is a moment to sing, with Bob Dylan, ‘mothers and fathers throughout the land…don’t criticise what you can’t understand! Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command’.

And, finally, there’s the parents we always wished we’d have.