1. Not sure exactly what The American Interest is, but Walter Russell Mead’s reflection on the meaning of Advent is the most moving and poetic thing I’ve read on the subject this season, ht TH:
As a kid I could never understand why Advent was a season of fasting and solemnity in the church rather than a time of feasting and dancing. What better way to prepare for a really big celebration than to have a lot of little celebrations as you approach it? What better way to get into the mood?…
But as I’ve reflected on the holiday over the years, I think I see more reason for making Advent a season of restraint and reflection rather than anticipatory fun. We can never really understand Christmas unless we understand how much we need that baby in the manger. Advent is a time to think about the ways that life without God is an empty husk…
I remember Christopher Hitchens saying once that we were all like mudballs, catapulted up into the air and sailing along very nicely, but that one day all of us, sooner or later, will hit something and go splat. Advent is a time to remember that it will all end and end in a splat. There are those who think that we should try not to think about depressing subjects like that, but in fact the ability to face the prospect of life’s end with some dignity and courage is part of what makes the rest of life rich and worth living.
For Christians, and nobody else really has much business thinking about Advent or observing it, there is something else. If there is no Christmas, there is no Cross, no answer to the problems of sin, separation, failure and pain. Advent is a time to think about what life would be like if we didn’t have faith in a Redeemer, a Savior who was ready, willing and able to complete the broken arc of our lives, forgive what is past and walk with us step by step to help us build something better in the time that is left.
Advent is a time to remember that we need something more than what we can summon with our own resources to make our lives work. It’s a time to remember how lost we would be if Someone hadn’t come to find us.
Also Advent-related, The Vulture put together a Les Miserables Advent Calendar that is more than worth all the “one day more” puns.
2. Of course, all this Advent talk ignores the fact that Christmas came early this year. Judd Apatow guest-edited the most recent issue of Vanity Fair and took the opportunity to reunite, officially, the cast of our beloved Freaks and Geeks. The image below made my month:
JUDD APATOW: Whenever I see an opportunity to use any of the people from Freaks and Geeks, I do it. It’s a way of refusing to accept that the show was canceled. In my head, I can look at Knocked Up as just an episode of Seth’s character getting a girl pregnant. All of the movies relate in my mind in that way, as the continuous adventures of those characters.
Years from now, I predict that the chemistry of that cast will studied by people looking to explore the relationship between creativity and fun/love (it’s positively Wilbury-esque). And right on cue, a wonderful (and highly relevant) article about the show went up on Curator this week, Nick Olson’s “Freaks, Geeks, and Subverting the Politics of Fashion.” In other Apatow news, amidst all the hubbub about Graham Parker reuniting with The Rumour for the soundtrack to Apatow’s This Is 40, no one seems to have mentioned that Lindsey Buckingham recorded three new songs for the project! And Ryan Adams donated a top-notch track as well–not to mention Paul McCartney.
While we’re talking television, though, we’d be remiss not to mention the somewhat deceptively titled “What The Walking Dead Says About the War on Terrorism,” the key paragraph being, ht MCD:
“It’s the reversion to this tribalism that makes The Walking Dead‘s apocalypse so chillinglly real. Modern moral progress, as Peter Singer argues, has proceeded by expanding the sphere of moral concern to an ever-larger group of people. People may have once only cared about those who share their nationality, race, or gender, but as Enlightenment ideals about universal human rights took root, humans have moved inexorably towards treating everyone as equally worthy of moral concern. The Walking Dead‘s third season has suggested that, when you demolish a stable society, this purported moral progress will have proved a smokescreen, and that our enlightened selves are just as brutally tribal as our ancestors.”
3. Next, there’s the powerful column by Michael Cheshire in Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal entitled “Going to Hell with Ted Haggard: What I Learned About Grace and Redemption Through My Friendship with a Christian Pariah.”
4. Along somewhat similar lines, perhaps you were as caught off guard by Adam Gopnik’s words about General Petraeus in the recent The New Yorker as I was, ht SMB:
If there is a small truth to cherish here, it lies in the reminder that Bill Clinton and Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner and all the other earlier, undecorated sinners were not heated by undignified lusts because they were baby boomers or Democrats, or because they lacked the moral core of real men making real decisions, or because they had spent too much time on Twitter, or whatever the latest explanation for self-destructive sexual behavior is. The truth is that the force which through the not so green fuse drives all our flowers, and much else besides—the force of wanting that can cause women of substance to send pestering e-mails, leaving distinguished generals caught in the middle—is the force of life.
Petraeus, and his defenders and attackers alike, referred to his “poor judgment,” but if the affair had had anything to do with judgment it never would have happened. Desire is not subject to the language of judicious choice, or it would not be desire, with a language all its own. The point of lust, not to put too fine a point on it, is that it lures us to do dumb stuff, and the fact that the dumb stuff gets done is continuing proof of its power. As Roth’s Alexander Portnoy tells us, “Ven der putz shteht, ligt der sechel in drerd”—a Yiddish saying that means, more or less, that when desire comes in the door judgment jumps out the window and cracks its skull on the pavement.
6. Alfred Hitchcock sure has been back on the cultural radar screen these past three months, the subject of not one but two feature-length films. Neither portrayal has been terribly positive. Then, out of the blue, an article by Mark Henniger, a Jesuit priest, appears in The Wall Street Journal, describing how the notoriously non-religious Hitchcock asked for communion in his final days. The reflections toward the end of the piece are particularly poignant, ht BG:
Some people find these late-in-life turns to religion suspect, a sign of weakness or of one’s “losing it.” But nothing focuses the mind as much as death. There is a long tradition going back to ancient times of memento mori, remember death. Why? I suspect that in facing death one may at last see soberly, whether clearly or not, truths missed for years, what is finally worth one’s attention.
Weighing one’s life with its share of wounds suffered and inflicted in such a perspective, and seeking reconciliation with an experienced and forgiving God, strikes me as profoundly human. Hitchcock’s extraordinary reaction to receiving communion was the face of real humanity and religion, far away from headlines . . . or today’s filmmakers and biographers.
One of Hitchcock’s biographers, Donald Spoto, has written that Hitchcock let it be known that he “rejected suggestions that he allow a priest . . . to come for a visit, or celebrate a quiet, informal ritual at the house for his comfort.” That in the movie director’s final days he deliberately and successfully led outsiders to believe precisely the opposite of what happened is pure Hitchcock.
7. It’s been a remarkable week for movie trailers. The one for Shane Carruth’s long-awaited follow-up to Primer, Upstream Color, is downright creepy, while the one for Roman Coppola’s “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III” contains some undeniable elements of potential greatness. And then there’s the one at the bottom of this post, which speaks for itself (kind of?). Lastly, while I haven’t gotten to see Leos Carax’s new film Holy Motors, Michael Leary’s review had me pulling out the babysitter list.
8. Speaking of Carax, my introduction to his work came via his connection with Scott Walker, a longtime musical hero (Walker composed the soundtrack to Carax’s Pola X). Walker released a new “record” this week, Bish Bosch, and like the last few, the material is so challenging that most reviewers have opted to take a look back at the singer’s absurdly fascinating career instead of focusing on the borderline indescribable new tracks. The AV club’s primer is pretty solid, though perhaps not quite as pertinent as the mini-profile in The New Yorker. Truth be told, if you’re even remotely interested in the man responsible for bringing both Radiohead and Blur together (and producing Pulp’s final record!), 30 Century Man is as fine a music documentary as I’ve ever seen. Methinks a post breweth… Also, as a follow-up to the post about Judge Santa earlier this week, The Killers dropped their annual Christmas single and video couldn’t be a more appropriate illustration:
9. Finally, Jonathan Fisk’s new Broken: 7 “Christian” Rules That Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible is worth a look. And Liberate posted a preview of Paul Zahl’s presentation in February (while you’re over there, be sure to check out Mbird’s own Lauren Larkin’s touching “He Loved First”).
P.S. For those in need of a n0t-so-quick pick-me-up, or simply an excuse to boogie down this weekend, we’ve got you covered, ht JAZ: