David Zahl is the director of Mockingbird Ministries and editor-in-chief of the Mockingbird blog. He and his wife Cate currently reside in Charlottesville, VA, with their two sons, Charlie and Cabell, where David also serves on the staff of Christ Episcopal Church.
What do you get when you throw Owen Wilson, Harry Dean Stanton, Dawes, and The Killers into an animated Warren Zevon-shaped (eggnog) blender? You get “Christmas in LA”, this year’s Christmas single from The Killers, and another entry in their immaculate seasonal catalog. As great as the song is–the perfect mix of the Vegas band’s wonderfully overblown Pet Shop Boys-meets-Springsteen sugar rush and Dawes’ Asylum Records-meets-Big Pink-isms–the video makes it even better, especially Harry Dean Stanton’s opening salvo. “Kind of takes the pressure off,” indeed:
P.S. Mbird is in the midst of sending out our year-end newsletter/appeal. If you’d like to receive one, be sure to sign up for our mailing list! Bill Watterson’s beloved creations may or may not make an appearance.
We promised there would be more excerpts from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest! This one comes from a clandestine mountain-top conversation between a Quebecois nationalist/”Wheelchair Assassin” named Marathe and the US undercover agent Hugh/Helen Steeply. Some people consider their (lengthy) sparring matches to be the lowpoints of book, real momentum killers (pun intended), and I’m not sure I’d disagree. Still, taken out of context, DFW packed quite a bit of beauty and weight and humor into them. Their standing disagreement about the nature of freedom sticks out as particularly quotable–and lest you think DFW is being overly didactic, be sure…
When it comes to articulating religious insights in secular terms, no one does it better than philosopher Alain de Botton, AKA he of Religion for Atheists fame. We’ve written about his rather Bultmannian genius before, but none of that prepared me for the TED talk he gave in 2009 about notions of success (and failure). Whereas elsewhere he mines Christian wisdom more generally, here he goes straight for law and grace, albeit in their aggressively lower-cased forms. The conclusion may naturally be a little fuzzy/abrupt–be sure to listen to the Q&A–the diagnosis is absolutely stunning. If you’re at all like me, you’ll be hooked from the first sentence, ht JD:
Speaking of de Botton, much to his credit, when asked by The New Statesman to select his favorite book of 2012, he went with the following:
This year, I was touched by Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense. As a non-Christian, indeed a committed atheist, I was worried about how I’d feel about this book but it pulled off a rare feat: making Christianity seem appealing to those who have no interest in ever being Christians. A number of Christian writers have over the past decade tried to write books defending their faith against the onslaughts of the new atheists – but they’ve generally failed. Spufford understands that the trick isn’t to try to convince the reader that Christianity is true but rather to show why it’s interesting, wise and sometimes consoling.
I can’t pass up the opportunity to link to Alan Jacobs’ rave review of the same liked-it-so-much-we-invited-the-author-to-speak-book, which just went live on the Books & Culture website.
Well, this is about as interesting as it gets, especially during a week that so revolves around food. In the past 48 hours, I’ve been forwarded not one but four separate articles about the religiosity inherent in the juice cleanse phenomenon. It would appear that, after receding for a number of years following the boom in the early 00s, juicing has come back with a vengeance, especially in affluent circles. While each of the articles takes a slightly different angle, all of them agree that when someone pays close to $10 for a small bottle of green liquid, there is…
What a gift! Prada, of all places, released a beautiful (and gently cruciform) new short film from Wes Anderson a few days ago, ht RW:
Can’t resist making three quick observations: 1. Notice who/what Schwartzman crashes into (and the posture of said person/object). 2. As we never tire of saying in reference to this, what looks like a disaster here turns out to be something else. Control lost–literally–serves as prelude to receiving. Along those lines, 3. The moment Schwartzman’s drink gets comped, aka the moment he’s shown a little kindness/grace by the people whose public square he’s just ruined, he decides to stick around. Of course, Wes seems characteristically more interested in the (amazing) scenery than the narrative, but even if these elements are purely, er, accidental, that just makes them all the more meta. Ciao!
Normally we prefer to stick to the convention of not talking Christmas until after Thanksgiving, but Nick Lowe has made it way too tempting this year. His Quality Street record arrived last week and it’s brilliant! Definitely the Mbird pick for this holiday season. To wit:
P.S. In the great-job-internet department, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Have you ever seen My Bodyguard (1980)? Not exactly the apex of American movie-making, but it does contain a pretty powerful instance of grace. The movie tells the story of a teenager named Clifford who moves to a new school and immediately runs into trouble with bullies (the lead one played by Matt Dillon, in a dry run for his Outsiders peak). Out of desperation Clifford decides to befriend a kid that even the bullies are afraid of, a guy named Ricky Linderman (a young Adam Balwin aka Jayne in Firefly). Rumors are that Ricky killed someone. As their touching friendship develops, it becomes clear that Ricky is a tortured kid, extremely withdrawn and unhappy. Come to find out, Ricky accidentally shot and killed his younger brother when they were playing with guns as boys.
Clifford takes Ricky to meet his hotel-dwelling family, warning him beforehand about his eccentric Gramma, played by the immortal Ruth Gordon (also known as Maude from Harold and Maude). The following interaction ensues, ht JAZ:
Where Clifford (and Ricky) see death, Gramma sees life (Luke 20:37-38), and that small act of imputation, which even has the slight ring of dementia to it, is the beginning of healing. The brief smile we catch in that last shot is the first we see on Ricky’s face in the movie.
We’re not finished milking Tim Kreider’s essay collection We Learn Nothing. Not by a long shot. The following passage from “The Czar’s Daughter” has made the rounds a bit and is worth reproducing here, as it touches on a dynamic we talk about with some frequency in reference to social media, namely, the difference between who we’d like to be or feel we should be and who we actually are. The essay is a rumination on, and almost a eulogy for, a deceased friend of Tim’s named Skelly. Apparently Skelly was quite the character, reputed in their circles for the…
“I once believed in some notion of a pure ambition, which I defined as an ambition for the work rather than for oneself, but I’m not sure I believe in that anymore. If a poet’s ambition were truly for the work and nothing else, he would write under a pseudonym, which would not only preserve that pure space of making but free him from the distractions of trying to forge a name for himself in the world. No, all ambition has the reek of disease about it, the relentless smell of the self–except for that terrible, blissful feeling at the heart of creation itself, when all thought of your name is obliterated and all you want is the poem, to be the means wherein something of reality, perhaps even something of eternity, realizes itself. That is noble ambition. But all that comes after–the need for approval, publication, self-promotion–isn’t this what usually goes under the name of “ambition”? The effort is to make ourselves more real to ourselves, to feel that we have selves, though the deepest moments of creation tell us that, in some fundamental way, we don’t. (Souls are what those moments reveal, which are both inside and outside, both us and other.) So long as your ambition is to stamp your existence upon existence, your nature on nature, then your ambition is corrupt and you are pursuing a ghost.”