1. First, there’s Steve Hall’s remarkable podcast about one of our favorite books, Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life. Thoughtful, heartfelt, and ingeniously brief, he manages to do the book justice–and capture something genuinely important–in a mere five and a half minutes:

Those living in the tri-state area take note: Dr. Zahl will be presenting at Olmsted Salon in NYC this coming Monday evening, 11/24 at 7pm, on the topic of “An Odd Sighting of the Paranormal: ‘Penrod’ Crosses Over to the Great Beyond” Fans of The Magnificent Ambersons (those proto-Tenenbaums), both the Orson Welles film version and the original novel by Booth Tarkington will find much to chew on. Word has it, there may even be free copies of the new issue of The Mockingbird on hand for those who get there first. Go here for more info.

2. A beautiful essay on “My God. My Enemy. My Eating Disorder” by Kathryn van Scoter appeared OnFaith this past summer but is only now coming to my attention. A difficult subject, to be sure, but an urgent one which she handles with care and conviction. The way she describes little-l laws morphing into big L ones is both familiar and sad. (Mainline churches have their own forms of legalism, do they not? Unspoken perhaps, but no less crushing). Stick with it to the end, though, as the affirmations on the other side of her ordeal ring true in a very hopeful way. Here’s how she describes her upbringing, ht BJ:

While media influences affirmed my parents’ living example of the idea that only thin, beautiful people matter, my Episcopalian congregation implied an even-more ominous message: only thin, beautiful people are acceptable in the eyes of their God.

I was raised with the understanding that I must better the world in order to enter the pearly gates of heaven. And if the world could not accept me for the overweight child I was, there was no hope that I could change the world. Therefore, how could I be good in the eyes of this God?

This sentiment was reinforced each and every time I attended Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in my size-16 sundress from Talbot’s Kids. Standing next to my perfect family, I could feel the disapproving gazes and, worse, the pity held by the congregation as a whole. Feeling rejected by my church and its many 105-pound housewives, I grew to resent both the institution and my faith as a whole. I grew to resent God.

Read the rest here.

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3. Back in August, just after Robin Williams’ died, Tim Kreider penned a devastating column on depression and comedy for the new Al Jazeera America, entitled “The Death of Our Clown”. As as per usual with Mr. Kreider, there were a couple of paragraphs too germane not to reproduce:

Humor is an antidote to — or at least an analgesic for — a condition we’re all suffering from. I would call this condition clarity, not depression; humor and depression are two different, but not mutually exclusive, responses to it. I know we’re told to regard depression as a disease, its victims no different from people who succumb to cancer or diabetes. But because it’s a disease whose symptoms take the shape of ideas, it can get hard to parse out pathology from worldview. The Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert once told me that “there are people who have no delusions; they’re called clinically depressed.” Depression’s insights aren’t necessarily invalid; they’re just not helpful. Depression uses clarity as an instrument of torture; humor uses it as a setup. Comedy tells us, “But wait — that’s not the good part.” Depression condemns the world, and us, as hateful; laughter is a way of forgiving it, and ourselves, for being so.

4. Fortunately for us, it’s been a pretty amazing week as far as humor is concerned. First, it’s probably mean to admit, but that NY Times interview with Jaden and Willow Smith really is the most transfixing and entertaining thing I’ve come across in months. Color me imprinted! As the images adorning this post indicate, Buzzfeed’s “If Martin Luther Quotations Were Motivational Posters” was an idea whose time had come. Next, the Hipster Business Name Generator is a prime example of what the Internet does best. The Christian Girl Instagram video is funny (below). And lastly, many thanks to The Toast for giving us “Bible Verses Where The Word ‘Philistines’ Has Been Replaced With ‘Haters'”, a couple favorites being, ht JD:

“After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred haters with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel.” (Judges 3:31)

“With men hidden in the room, she called to him, ‘Samson, the haters are upon you!’ But he snapped the bowstrings as easily as a piece of string snaps when it comes close to a flame. So the secret of his strength was not discovered.” (Judges 16:9)

5. Speaking of haters, The New Yorker put together a fascinating piece of commentary with “Our Hate Saved Nickelback”, which doubles an exploration of aesthetic orthodoxies among ‘elites’. According to Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger, all the hate has not just galvanized the band and their fans, it has more or less kept them in the spotlight lo these many years. Meaning, the law against liking, or even not hating, their music has backfired. (Did you know that in 2011, more than fifty thousand people signed an online petition to protest the fact that Nickelback had been hired to play the halftime show at the Detroit Lions’ Thanksgiving game?! Woah.)

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6. On a more uplifting note, music-wise, The AV Club took a look back at The Hold Steady’s masterpiece, Separation Sunday, and did an admirable job of unpacking the album’s incredible religious content. The final paragraphs sums it up:

Finn has continued to tell stories about sketchy kids doing drugs and trying to find heaven wherever they can, but he’s never done so as ambitiously or successfully—or with as much humor—as he did on Separation Sunday. By using composite characters to hash out unbelievable narratives rooted in absolute truths, he was doing what secular scholars insist the compilers of the bible were doing and creating his own gospel.

“Redemption, salvation, forgiveness—those are beautiful, profound things you can always come back to,” Finn told The Florida Times-Union in 2006. The same is true of life-altering rock ’n’ roll albums, and many years from now, when Finn meets Saint Peter and tries to sweet-talk his way through the Pearly Gates, he can say he made at least one.

What’s been rocking my world this past week is Father John Misty’s new tune “Bored in the USA”, which was sent to me under the description of sounding “eerily like one of Mbird’s (better) posts set to music”. I don’t know about that, but he’s sure doing something cool, and dare I say, courageous. Just get a load of his press release for the new record, I Love You, Honeybear [emphasis his]:

enhanced-27791-1416344986-16I Love You, Honeybear is a concept album about a guy named Josh Tillman who spends quite a bit of time banging his head against walls, cultivating weak ties with strangers and generally avoiding intimacy at all costs. This all serves to fuel a version of himself that his self-loathing narcissism can deal with. We see him engaging in all manner of regrettable behavior.

“In a parking lot somewhere he meets Emma, who inspires in him a vision of a life wherein being truly seen is not synonymous with shame, but possibly true liberation and sublimeunfettered creativity. These ambitions are initially thwarted as jealousy, self-destruction and other charming human character traits emerge. Josh Tillman confesses as much all throughout.

“The album progresses, sometimes chronologically, sometimes not, between two polarities: the first of which is the belief that the best love can be is finding someone who is miserable in the same way you are and the end point being that love isn’t for anyone who isn’t interested in finding a companion to undertake total transformation with. I won’t give away the ending, but sex, violence, profanity and excavations of the male psyche abound.

“My ambition, aside from making an indulgent, soulful, and epic sound worthy of the subject matter, was to address the sensuality of fear, the terrifying force of love, the unutterable pleasures of true intimacy, and the destruction of emotional and intellectual prisons in my own voice. Blammo.

7. On the high culture front, James Wood’s review of Hermione Lee’s new biography of British author Penelope Fitzgerald is an incredibly absorbing read. Fitzgerald was about as close to a real-life Amberson as Britain could lay claim to in the 20th century, a remarkable woman through and through, as well as one of those wonderful exceptions to the notion that creativity is the realm of the young – her first novel appeared when she was 62 (after Fitzgerald had lived several novels worth of reversals, it would appear). Readers will be struck by how deeply suffused with religiosity her entire story is, especially her late-in-life renaissance. In fact, only distraction here is Wood’s obvious befuddlement at Fitzgerald’s Christianity (reflective of a different sort of culturati orthodoxy…). Where he sees a stiff-upper-lip in the face of adversity, I sense a deep and abiding faith in God:

Fitzgerald, for instance, maintained a strong Christian faith, and was a lifelong churchgoer. But you will find no revealing personal statement, either in this biography or in her writing, about the status of that faith. She preferred not to talk about the most important events in her life, or has left sparse and evasive records of what she felt. Lee’s book is crossed with wounds; but they cannot speak.

Suffice it to say, the biography sounds fabulous. Those looking for a place to start with Penelope’s work, The Blue Flower is absolutely exquisite, with Offshore a close second.

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8. Over at The Pacific Standard, Noah Berlatsky asks, “Would Science Exist Without Religion?”, and what follows is a review of Lawrence Lipking’s new book, What Galileo Saw: Imagining the Scientific Revolution, which attempts to redress the revisionist (and false) dichotomies which have come to characterize the history of science, i.e. as always being at odds with faith. I for one learned quite a bit, for example:

The pop culture account of science is, as Lipking, a Northwestern University emeritus professor of English, notes, one of continuous advancement and ever-clearer sight—or, alternately, one of ever-encroaching spiritual death, as cold technology alienates us from our true selves. But both narratives of progress and those of apocalypse erase the extent to which the scientific revolution was fired by religious fervor. Galileo, forced to recant his heliocentrism by the Church, nobly refused “to be swayed by myths or orthodoxies,” and boldly declared, “Nevertheless it moves.” Except, there’s no record that he said that; the rejection of myths and orthodoxies is itself a myth—one of the founding stories of modernity’s science code.

Along the same lines, Descartes’ famous mental experiment, in which he stripped the world down to what can be rationally known, was, it turns out, inspired by a series of vivid dreams, in which, Descartes believed, God had called him to a great work.

Strays:

– Grantland published a fantastic “Requiem for Rod Serling”.
– David Brooks unpacks some of the religious symbolism of Interstellar (and quotes Christian Wiman in the process!).
– University of Georgia’s new hype video has to be watched to be believed, not the least for its religious overtones.
– Great story about a Football-coaching nun in The NY Times.

Finally, while there will be new content next week (Mon-Weds at least), it will be less than usual. Time to catch our breath a bit after a busy Fall! But stay tuned after the break for some super exciting announcements.