1. Just in case you haven’t overdosed on Linsanity yet, David Brooks offers a sympathetic big-picture perspective in his column in The NY Times, highlighting how the culture of achievement and glory in professional sports conflicts with ethical framework espoused by most of the major religious traditions. Some will certainly say that Brooks going overboard, but I’m not so sure. Of course, there are plenty of valid, non-religious ways to rationalize competition, but attempts to do so on the basis of Christianity have always struck this blogger as particularly unconvincing, ht TB:
The moral ethos of sport is in tension with the moral ethos of faith, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim… The moral universe of modern sport is oriented around victory and supremacy. The sports hero tries to perform great deeds in order to win glory and fame. It doesn’t really matter whether he has good intentions. His job is to beat his opponents and avoid the oblivion that goes with defeat….
But there’s no use denying — though many do deny it — that this ethos violates the religious ethos on many levels. The religious ethos is about redemption, self-abnegation and surrender to God…
Ascent in the sports universe is a straight shot. You set your goal, and you climb toward greatness. But ascent in the religious universe often proceeds by a series of inversions: You have to be willing to lose yourself in order to find yourself; to gain everything you have to be willing to give up everything; the last shall be first; it’s not about you.
2. Our friends over at Internet Monk have been hosting a Grace Week, and man, they’re not kidding around! If you’ve never read Michael Spencer’s “Our Problem with Grace” do yourself a favor. There’s also a great interview with Steve Brown about “free sins” and a review of Mark Galli’s Chaos and Grace, which will sound very familiar to those who were at last year’s Mbird Conference in NYC. And if you’re in need of a soul-stirring meditation for the weekend, try Chaplain Mike’s Getting Better Is Not the Goal.
3. The Atlantic posted the provocative “We Don’t Need a Digital Sabbath, We Need More Time,” which surprisingly doubles as a pretty in-depth look at the religious meaning of the day of rest, not to mention the convenient way we scapegoat our gadgets. The conclusion is pretty stunning:
If we allow ourselves to blame the technology for distracting us from our children or connecting with our communities, then the solution is simply to put away the technology. We absolve ourselves of the need to create social, political, and, sure, technological structures that allow us to have the kinds of relationships we want with the people around us. We need to realize that at the core of our desire for a Sabbath isn’t a need to escape the blinking screens of our electronic world, but the ways that work and other obligations have intruded upon our lives and our relationships.
4. While over at the Atlantic, do be sure to check out Daniel Synder’s phenomenal article “In Defense of Nicholas Cage,” which praises the erstwhile Mr. Coppola for his refreshing lack of self-importance. It certainly made me look at the man in a new light:
Neither the interpretation of Nic Cage as an oblivious lunatic nor as a self-aware craftsman can fully explain the greatly varying quality of his work. But the two visions do illustrate what there is to love about Nicolas Cage. Whether he’s lost his mind or is simply pulling a kind of meta-level fast one on the public, he remains—contra what Penn says—simply an actor and nothing more. Unlike many of his peers who exist on the same level of fame, he does not see himself as a force beyond the screen or have delusions of film as a catalyst for social change.
Of course, if you’ve never seen the infamous viral vid, “Nicolas Cage Losing his […Marbles]” you’re in for a treat. Nothing less than a four minute argument for the genius of youtube.
5. Algis Valiunas does an inspired job of unpacking the literary and ideological significance of David Foster Wallace in an essay for The Claremont Institute, “King of Pain” ht MS:
What hope then does Wallace offer? Against the world’s inhuman cruelty, the pointless wreckage of addiction, and the wasting mindlessness of the entertainment culture, he opposes pain that has a plan and a purpose. That is the pain of sobriety, of seeing clearly, of understanding why you ever needed to anesthetize yourself: “…the way it gets better and you get better is through pain. Not around pain, or in spite of it.” It is a teaching only the strong can live by; those who are not strong enough are in serious danger of going down. We are a nation of addicts, Wallace insists, in a chronic state of denial, craving the wrong kinds of pleasure and undone by the wrong kinds of pain. Purification is called for. By no means, however, does Wallace condemn all activity that is not undertaken purely for its own sake; that would be to condemn almost everything people do. What he does condemn is gross self-seeking ambition that cares only for the prizes and the gleam of envy in others’ eyes. In the absence of a genuine calling, which does not exclude honest ambition, whether one happens to be a lawyer or a businessman or an athlete or a writer, success is a corrosive illusion. Wallace updates Tolstoy, who labored all his life against the insidious collusion of sensuality and amour-propre. To live unseduced by media sirens or the longing for celebrity or fatuous simulacra of love or the urge for simple obliteration is the aim Wallace sets for the reader; it is the aim he set for himself as a recovering addict and mental patient and as a writer serious as he had never been before. However the world might have damaged you or you have damaged yourself, however you might believe you need your substance or fantasy of choice to make it through the day, resistance and integrity and moral beauty remain possible.
6. In television, if episode 6 of Downton Abbey left you speechless (and not in a good way), join the club. I can’t decide if it was a bridge too far, or whether the out-of-nowhere Lord Grantham subplot was the forgivably awkward, humbling prerequisite for the powerful scene of grace at the close (with Sybil). Or both. Whatever the case, I can only imagine that the original UK version of the episode(s) was paced less abruptly. Next, I want to like Luck, and I know I should, but three installments in and I have no idea what’s going on… Does anyone? At least the unfortunately titled Cougar Town finally got back in gear with a tremendous season premier (who knew such a supremely silly show could make you cry?) The same cannot be said for The Walking Dead – I’m not sure how much more stressed out, self-righteous screaming matches in bad Southern accents I can take… But if you’re looking for the best (romantic) relationship currently on air, look no further than Parenthood‘s Sarah Braverman and Mark Cyr. While the Amber subplot becomes increasingly ridiculous, Sarah and Mark’s relationship has taken the opposite trajectory, exploring some truly profound emotional space.
8. Finally, The Onion dropped a new classic two weeks ago, “Intelligent, Condescending Life Discovered in Distant Galaxy.”
Scientists have expressed mix feelings about the landmark event, noting that while the thrilling discovery of intelligent alien life signals the dawning of a new age in our ability to answer fundamental questions about the very nature of existence, they had not expected an extraterrestrial species to be so dismissive of virtually every aspect of human life.
“We sent them very peaceful, welcoming messages, and they responded by saying it was ‘marvelous’ that the human race had managed to sustain itself for so long without having made any noteworthy advances of any kind,” Morrison said of the aliens, who described the physical appearance of humans with the phrase “interesting-looking, would be the most polite way to put it.”
That’s all for this week. NYC Conference schedule coming on Monday! Promise.