1. Midway through The New York Times Magazine’s lengthy profile of America’s favorite all-around man-of-excellence Stephen Colbert, a bomb drops. To comment on his words might detract from their power. Holy Smokes, ht NM:

In 1974, when Colbert was 10, his father, a doctor, and his brothers Peter and Paul, the two closest to him in age, died in a plane crash while flying to a prep school in New England. “There’s a common explanation that profound sadness leads to someone’s becoming a comedian, but I’m not sure that’s a proven equation in my case,” he told me. “I’m not bitter about what happened to me as a child, and my mother was instrumental in keeping me from being so.” He added, in a tone so humble and sincere that his character would never have used it: “She taught me to be grateful for my life regardless of what that entailed, and that’s directly related to the image of Christ on the cross and the example of sacrifice that he gave us. What she taught me is that the deliverance God offers you from pain is not no pain — it’s that the pain is actually a gift. What’s the option? God doesn’t really give you another choice.”

2. Curlew River has an excellent write-up of British literary theorist/public intellectual (and Mird fave) Terry Eagleton’s somewhat recent book on New Atheism, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate. He may not be a professing Christian, per se, but he sure does a great impression of one. The non-New Perspective variety, that is:

As Eagleton observes, what Jesus inaugurates is “not a prudently reformist project of pouring new wine into old bottles, but an avant-gardist epiphany of the absolutely new” in which: “God’s love and forgiveness are ruthlessly unforgiving powers which break violently into our protective, self-rationalising little sphere, smashing our sentimental illusions and turning our world upside down.”

3. The Atlantic ran a stunning piece recently by psychologist Michael Addis on the subject of male silence and its consequences. With the help of an incredibly moving case study, he sheds light on a tragic reality: that for some men (and women too, no doubt), asking for help or admitting failure really is a fate worse than death. A tragic reminder, perhaps, of the urgency of the Gospel of Grace.

4. On a somewhat similar note in television, John Jeremiah Sullivan offered a powerful eulogy in The NY Times Magazine for the year’s deceased Reality TV stars, one that touches on issues of celebrity, addiction, guilt, death and grief (and will have you digging out your old Alice in Chains records). Secondly and significantly more uplifting, I may have made a mistake in not including Parenthood in the list of Top Television of 2011. Sure, the season has had a few clunker subplots, but the consistently gracious spirit of the show (ergo the tear-jerking) more than qualifies it. Emily Nussbaum in The New Yorker put it this way:

The revelation of “Parenthood”—and of shows like it—is how little they are about individual characters, and how much they are about larger systems. The show has been particularly smart in dramatizing Max’s effect on everyone around him: the way his condition has at once divided and united his parents, built tricky bridges with his cousins, forced his sister into a good-girl role, and made his mother, Kristina—who shoulders the task of overseeing Max’s therapies—anxious and vigilant. On other shows, Kristina’s high-strung personality might be satirized, portrayed as shrill. On “Parenthood,” she’s seen with loving eyes. But, then, so are all the characters: the default setting of the show is generosity; it grades every character on a curve.

5. And speaking of major blindspots in our year-end coverage, I watched the documentary Buck last night and WOW! You might as well call it Grace with Horses. Buck is the real McCoy, and the wellspring of what can only be called his Christ-like approach to his favorite species consists of a profound combination of suffering and rescue. To see the Beyond Deserving insights translated into the animal kingdom caught this mockingbird completely off guard in an immensely encouraging way. The film also serves as a timely reminder for us cityfolk that there’s a whole ‘nother America out there.

6. The Economist published a piece on “The Psychology of Service,” and while the conclusions may not exactly be Earth-shattering, the self-justification shadings are too indelible to ignore, ht CB:

Bridget Anderson of Oxford University’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society has interviewed employers of domestic staff in a number of rich countries, and found that many prefer immigrants to locals because “it lets them talk about the wonderful things [the maid] is doing with her money back home”, thus portraying a dead-end job as a golden opportunity. Inequality is part of what employers are buying. Simel Esim and Monica Smith of the International Labour Organisation studied domestic workers in the United Arab Emirates, and concluded that servants were there in part to raise their mistresses’ status by slotting into the household below them… Employing people you look down on may be a cheap way to feel better about yourself.

Prosperous and busy people employ nannies and cleaners to make life easy for themselves. But sometimes the point of having a servant is simply to be a master.

7. Over at The Onion, if this morning’s tidbit wasn’t enough, there’s “High Integrity, Moral Decency Has Cost Idiot Man Millions,” and the inspired close-to-home mock-headline “Man Thinks It’s About Time He Went Back to Website He Just Visited 15 Seconds Ago.” And when Boing Boing reports on The Best NY Times Correction Ever, they’re not lying.

8. Finally, we have renowned author/illustrator Maurice Sendak’s inspiring words on inspiration, especially in reference to William Blake and Herman Melville, and renowned drinker Cal Smith’s equally well-informed comments on Pharisaism, ht MM:

P.S. Pre-registration for our 2012 NYC Conference (April 19-21) opens on January 16th!